What Hurts the Institution of Marriage the Most?

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Opponents of same-sex marriage say that allowing homosexuals to marry would hurt the institution of marriage. I don’t quite see why: if gays and lesbians want to marry, isn’t that reinforcing the idea that getting married is a good thing?

People who use this argument are failing to see the forest for the trees. They freak out over a handful of relationships nationwide and ignore the relationship that may have hurt the institution of marriage more than anything other kind: that of the cohabiting couple.

My oldest daughter and I were watching “She’s Having a Baby” the other night and for me it brought back memories of a time when marriage was treated with much more respect and honor than it is now. In 1988, when “She’s Having a Baby” was made, living together was only just beginning to be a common phenomenon. (The number of cohabiting unmarried partners increased by 88% between 1990 and 2007. Source: U.S. Census Bureau. “America’s Families and Living Arrangements: 2007.”)

But when my first husband and I thought about living together before getting married back in 1972, we didn’t have the guts to do it. We didn’t want to be an aberration or the object of unkind gossip. Besides, to our parents at least, marriage was a very big deal. It was the ultimate state of commitment. So, like the couple in “She’s Having a Baby” we went ahead and got married despite the fact that we were young and naive and didn’t know each other very well.

Would our relationship have survived if we’d lived together before getting married? I doubt it, since getting married didn’t cause us to break up—it just made it harder to. (And more expensive.)

Consider these statistics:

About 75% of cohabiters plan to marry their partners. 55% of different-sex cohabiters do marry within five years of moving in together. 40% break up within that same time period. And about 10% remain in an unmarried relationship for five years or more.  (Source: Smock, Pamela. 2000. “Cohabitation in the United States.” Annual Review of Sociology.)

Cohabitation implies that marriage isn’t as important as we were once led to believe. Many couples go into a living-together arrangement because they don’t trust the institution of marriage. They look at their parents’ generation and wonder why they should even bother to get married. (I’ve even heard people say that the main reason they would consider getting married is to get wedding gifts. Really.)

So why aren’t conservatives berating couples who have opted to not marry (like Goldie Hawn and Kirk Russell)? Why aren’t they holding them up as examples of relationships that hurt the institution of marriage?

Same-sex marriage isn’t weakening the institution of marriage; on the contrary: gay couples’ desire to marry is a vote of confidence. They’re saying that marriage matters. Cohabiting couples aren’t as sure about that.

Sometimes it seems that gays are doing more to promote the sanctity of marriage are than straight people are.

 

 

The Roles, They Are A’Changing

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I’ve recently had some correspondence with a rabid anti-feminist (see my post “The Equal Rights Amendment: Overdue or Overblown?“). It’s easy to write off his comments as the rants of a troll (Internet-speak for someone who deliberately leaves comments intended to rile up the writer or other readers), but I took him seriously enough to answer him and to write about his comments today. For one thing, he appears to be quite serious about his anti-feminism; when he writes on his Anti Feminism Blog he takes the time to address specific arguments for feminism with counter-arguments that sometimes have some validity to them.

For example, he writes that the gender pay gap exists because women choose to work part-time and take off more time than men do because of their child-rearing responsibilities. In other words, they undercut their own advancement by their lifestyle choices. This is a well-documented phenomenon all over the world. But he refuses to acknowledge that women who are willing to accept the same conditions as men traditionally do are treated as if they are going to suddenly turn into women who would rather stay home with their children, even if they are childless.  They are being stereotyped just as surely as African-Americans are who are typified as lazy.

It’s patently unfair, as well as unrealistic, to assume that just because a job candidate has male genitalia he will be a better or harder or more consistent worker than a woman will be.  The real problem lies with society. Not only do we socialize women to be less ambitious in the workplace, we also make it hard for her to juggle her other responsibilities if she does choose to work outside the home. There is no such problem with men, because they have wives. What women need are wives of their own—or else husbands who will contribute as much to home and child care as they do.

I suspect that anti-feminists who are male (sadly, there are female anti-feminists) resent the perception that they are being asked to do all the changing while women reap the benefits. What they don’t realize is that women who enter the work force have to make a lot of changes, too. In a way it was much easier for both sexes when their roles were strictly defined by social expectations. Now that those expectations are shifting, both men and women are finding themselves lost without a template.

Another thing that anti-feminists fail to see is that it is not just feminists who are calling for these changes. Women who would never identify as feminists are standing up for their right to work at whatever job they choose and to be paid as much as men. They welcome more help around the house and with the children. Anti-feminists blame feminists for the ills of society when in fact it is society that is changing.

And it is not only women who benefit when men conform to the “demands” of feminism. Men are no longer expected to be the sole breadwinner for their families. They’re being given custody of children and alimony more often than ever before. (Shared custody is much more common than it used to be.) They don’t carry the full brunt of being our country’s protectors (i.e., in the military). It has become much more acceptable for men to show their emotions and even to express their “feminine” side. They get to spend more time with their children.

It’s human nature to react with fear and anger whenever we think something we’re used to is being taken away from us. But what anti-feminists need to realize is that they’re gaining much more than they’re losing.

Co-ed Wrestling: Feminism Gone Wrong?

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Here’s the scenario:

It’s the Iowa state wrestling tournament and Joel Northrup and Cassy Herkelman are supposed to compete in a wrestling match. Except the match doesn’t happen, because Northrup defaults to Herkelman on the grounds that he can’t/won’t wrestle her because of his religious faith.

Perhaps Northrup is sincere, but the whole thing smacks of sexism. After all, Northrup knew going in that he might have to wrestle a girl at some point in his high school wrestling career: Iowa’s wrestling teams have been coed for two decades. It’s just that it’s not often that a girl makes the cut all the way up to the state championship. (In fact, Herkelman and Megan Black are the only two girls who have made it so far.)

Secondly, I’d be really surprised if Northrup’s religious upbringing didn’t teach him that homosexuality is a sin, in which case you’d think that he would object to wrestling a homosexual as well.  (Shades of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in the military.) But supposedly that’s not the same thing. It’s all right for guys to pit their brute strength against each other (even if one is homosexual), but it’s definitely not okay for guys and gals to do so.

This story has received a lot of media attention for two reasons:

1) Northrup has been cast as a “religious hero” by commentators with similar religious backgrounds.*

2) The case has called into question how Title IX is applied in school programs.

Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 which prohibits sex discrimination in any program or activity at educational institutions that receive federal funding. Although Title IX affects all areas of education, it has come to be most famous for the huge impact it has had on girls’ and women’s sports.

Title IX has popularly been construed as meaning that academic and sports funding have to be equal for men and women. But it has also come to mean that neither sex can be prohibited from participating in a program that is dominated by the opposite sex.

It wasn’t that long ago that women were considered to be intellectually inferior to men which meant that men and women could not compete with each other academically. But since that belief has been (mostly) debunked, there has been relatively little hoopla about the mixing of the sexes in academic programs.

Sports, however, are a whole other ball game (no pun intended). The argument goes that males and females just aren’t equal physically; therefore, they can’t be on the same team or compete against each other. But should it be “can’t” meaning “not allowed to” or “can’t” meaning “unable”?

It’s hard to argue with the statement that women don’t usually have the physical strength that men have. However, wrestling is a sport where physical strength is not a major component. Also, the combatants are matched weight-wise.

But the question is, if a girl does meet the physical requirements of a given sport, why shouldn’t she be allowed to compete with the boys?

We used to think that the military was the last bastion of sexual discrimination. Now it appears that it’s the sports world.

* Read Ms. Blog‘s article about the religious world’s response to Northrup’s action.

House Republicans Jeopardize Women’s Health Care

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Last Friday (Feb. 18)  House Republicans voted 240-185 to ban federal funding for Planned Parenthood.

I find this incomprehensible. Planned Parenthood is a respectable, indispensable source of health care for low and middle income women that has been around for 95 years. For some women it is their first, and sometimes only, contact with gynecological health care. Since we still don’t have universal health care in this country, that’s not likely to change any time soon.

Planned Parenthood is not an abortion mill. Only 3% of its services have to do with abortion counseling and procedures. That means that most women who walk into a Planned Parenthood facility do so for birth control, breast exams and Pap smears, and testing for STDs.  [Planned Parenthood’s 2008-2009 annual report states: “For the three million patients our doctors and nurses saw, we provided contraception (36 percent of our total services), testing and treatment for sexually transmitted infections (31 percent), cancer screening and prevention (17 percent), and abortion services (three percent).”]

Estimated savings from this proposed bill are $347,000. That’s peanuts in a $3.6 trillion dollar federal budget, but one-third of the yearly income for Planned Parenthood. Where is that money going to come from if the federal government withdraws its support? But if the fact that Planned Parenthood offers abortion services at all bothers some people, then why not cut the amount being given to Planned Parenthood by the amount of its income that comes from abortions: 3%?  Why take away all federal support of an institution that provides essential health care for over 3 million women a year.?

Ironically, those who argue for limited government intervention are more than willing to put the government in charge of what women can do with their bodies. Government should never be about restricting choices, but about freedom.

Some argue that the private sector will have to pick up the cost of abortions. What that means is that all women should have to pay for their abortions completely out of pocket unless they’re victim of rape or incest or their health is compromised by a pregnancy. Because more and more health insurance plans are refusing to pay for elective abortions, and some won’t pay for abortions under any circumstances. In some instances, women are being forced to buy additional riders for abortion coverage. That’s ludicrous. Women don’t plan to have abortions any more than they plan to get cancer.

If these lawmakers were really concerned about cutting the budget, they should be for, not against, abortions. For example, one of my daughters recently had a D&C after a miscarriage. It cost $4600. If she had had an abortion when her baby’s abnormalities were first diagnosed, it would have cost approximately $350-950 at Planned Parenthood. [Source here.] If she had not had a miscarriage or an abortion, but her baby had been born with severe complications, it would have cost a great deal more.

Conservatives like to cite the irresponsibility of single mothers and “welfare queens” as one reason why our federal budget is so high. And yet they are willing to severely cripple the effectiveness of one organization that helps women to be more responsible about when or whether they will have children. Shame on the House Republicans and anyone else who votes for this proposal.

Read Rebecca Traister’s excellent article about this issue here.

Why You Should Care About Reproductive Rights

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Just because a person is pro-birth control does not automatically mean that he or she is pro-abortion. I wish pro-lifers would get that through their heads. Some groups like the U.S. Council of Catholic Bishops and the Family Research Council are pushing for changes to the health reform bill that would make it harder for women to get birth control. The bill, as it now stands, provides women with birth control coverage as preventive care. Get it? It’s to prevent pregnancies and the fewer unintended pregnancies, the fewer abortions. Why isn’t everyone behind that?

But the Catholic Church and various right-wing pro-life groups insist that birth control is a “lifestyle” choice, and that women therefore do not have a right to it. That’s ludicrous. Couldn’t you say that any kind of medical or dental check-up or procedure is a lifestyle choice? After all, no one says that you have to have screenings for various cancers, but let’s face it, if you don’t and you end up with end-stage cancer, your health costs are going to be much higher than they would be if you had caught the cancer in its early stages.

The same goes for preventing pregnancy. Birth control coverage is a lot less expensive than the costs associated with pregnancy.  The average hospital bill is $5,000-$10,000 for a vaginal delivery. Add at least $2,000 if you need a C-section. These figures do not include the medical costs associated with nine months of prenatal visits, ultrasound costs and other lab costs. If your baby is born premature or with health problems, neonatal costs can range from a few thousand for a short stay to more than $200,000 if your baby is born more than 15 weeks early. And that’s not even taking into account the costs you incur after having the baby! [Source:  Cost of Having a Baby.]

One reason pro-lifers are against birth control is because some of them think that birth control causes “mini-abortions,”  (i.e., they cause fertilized eggs to be expelled from the uterus before implantation can take place). While that might be true of some forms of birth control, there are many other options that definitely do not. (It’s also important to note that this can happen naturally, causing what is known as “spontaneous abortions.”)

The National Women’s Health Information Center provides a fairly exhaustive list of birth control methods on their website. Some of the methods they list do not have abortive mechanisms, some of the methods they list do have abortive mechanisms, and the rest of the listed methods are subjects of much debate. [Source.]

The United States has the highest rate of unintended pregnancies of any other industrialized country. (Nearly half of all U.S. pregnancies are unplanned. [Source.]) And that’s in a country where abortion is legal. It’s estimated that 4 in 10 unplanned pregnancies end in abortion. If those pregnancies were prevented in the first place, 1.2 million abortions a year would be eliminated. [Source.] So why is anyone in their right mind against birth control coverage in health care plans?

Obviously, if you’re one of the 4.8 million in the U.S. who doesn’t have any health care coverage at all, you’re going to find it even more difficult to pay for birth control. Is it any surprise then that 42% of women obtaining abortions have incomes below 100% of the federal poverty level ($10,830 for a single woman with no children)?  And that 27% of women obtaining abortions have incomes between 100-199% of the federal poverty level?

You don’t have to be pro-abortion to be pro-birth control. But if you don’t want to be in a position where you have to decide whether or not to have an abortion, then you need to care about your reproductive rights. Don’t let conservatives take away the only means that most women have to prevent pregnancy. (Abstinence is not an option for most women. Forty-six percent of women who have abortions had not used a contraceptive method during the month they became pregnant. Of these women, 33% had perceived themselves to be at low risk for pregnancy, 32% had had concerns about contraceptive methods, 26% had had unexpected sex and 1% had been forced to have sex. [Source.])

Women can and should control their own fertility. We are the ones who have to be responsible. In a perfect world, men and women, conservatives and liberals, pro-lifers and pro-choicers would work together to make sure that every baby is not only wanted, but cared for. But until that day comes, we need to be aware of what is being done to erode our reproductive rights and to fight against it.

What Motivated Ginny Thomas?

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Whether you believe Anita Hill or Clarence Thomas, it still seems weird that, almost twenty years after Hill made sexual harassment allegations against Thomas, Thomas’ wife, Virginia (Ginny) is still seeking absolution for her husband. The message* that she left on Hill’s office phone at 7:30 on a recent Saturday morning makes her seem like a woman who “doth protest too much.” She sounds like a woman who desperately needs confirmation that her husband was innocent and she knows that the only way she’ll get it is if Hill admits that she “did something” to the Supreme Court Justice.

But all she has really accomplished is to bring the charges out into the open again, with the result that people too young to remember the Senate hearings have had their curiosity piqued. Now a whole new generation will remember Clarence Thomas for his alleged sexual harassment of Anita Hill.

Is Thomas so tortured by what happened  that she can’t let it go? Is she obsessed with Anita Hill? Why hasn’t she been able to move on? Or is she trying to get publicity for her own political activities?

In January, Thomas formed a lobbying group known as Liberty Central, which will be able to rake in corporate money to finance the fight against what she calls President Obama’s “hard-left agenda.”  She is a fan of hard-line conservatives like Rush Limbaugh,  Glen Beck and Laura Ingraham and she just loves the tea partiers.

Maybe she’s trying to send some kind of message that people like Anita Hill are enemies of conservatives like her and her husband. She might think that bringing it up again will cause other conservatives to get fired up about what liberals try to do to conservatives (although I don’t even know if Hill could be considered a liberal). If so, her plan could backfire: it might cause liberals to get fired up about what conservatives are trying to do to them.

Or maybe she’s just a kook.

The New York Times article about this is here.

*”Good morning, Anita Hill, it’s Ginny Thomas. I just wanted to reach across the airwaves and the years and ask you to consider something. I would love you to consider an apology sometime and some full explanation of why you did what you did with my husband. So give it some thought. And certainly pray about this and hope that one day you will help us understand why you did what you did. OK, have a good day.”