Court Allows Wal-Mart to Get Away with it Again

Yesterday, the U.S. Supreme Court did not find that Wal-Mart routinely discriminates against its female employees. That doesn’t mean that Wal-Mart is innocent. All it means is that the Court refused to hear the case. It seems that the 1.5 million plaintiffs in this class action suit have experiences that are too disparate and don’t show enough commonality to qualify for class action status.

Excuse me? Of course their experiences are disparate: you’re talking about 1.5 million women. And what could be more in common than the fact that they were discriminated against because they were all women?

This is the problem with proving sex discrimination in this country: it happens to women, one at a time, whenever a woman is passed over for a variety of types of promotions: better hours, more hours, positions of greater responsibility, higher pay. But the result is still the same: a woman is denied the opportunities that are routinely offered to men. And she can’t do a damn thing about it.

Because that’s the other thing about sex discrimination: it’s carefully packaged as something else. The discriminators don’t say that all women lack ambition or the requisite managerial skills and personality traits. They don’t say that women don’t work as hard or as long. Instead they pick out one reason and match it to one woman and voilà, it’s not discriminatory policy, it’s the manager’s “informed” opinion. And we all know that every manager is free of sexual bias.

Wal-Mart covers its ass by saying that its policy is equal employment opportunity for men and women, but then allowing its supervisors wide leeway in how they interpret that policy. All a supervisor has to do is show that he had a “valid” reason for promoting a man over a woman and the big wigs at Wal-Mart are satisfied that their non-discriminatory stance is being promoted. They don’t look over their supervisors’ shoulders or second-guess his decisions.

The Supreme Court therefore ruled that since a non-discrimination policy is in place at Wal-Mart, there is no case. Period. Any deviations from that policy are to be handled by Wal-Mart internally. Well, I’m sorry, but I thought the main reason a suit is brought against a company is to get them to do something they aren’t already doing.

The fact that the Court dismissed the complaints of 1.5 million women is an outrage. Does it think these women are delusional? That they all imagined that they were being discriminated against? Surely out of 1.5 million plaintiffs there was enough evidence to warrant hearing the case. Instead, the Justices who voted for dismissal said that there wasn’t enough evidence; only “about 1 [anecdote] for every 12,500 class members.” I’m sure the women could have come up with far more if they’d realized that the Justices were going to consider 120 anecdotes “insignificant.”

The most troubling aspect of this ruling is that it will undoubtedly make it even harder for class action suits to be successful in the future—especially when they’re filed against huge corporations. All the Justices have to say is that the company is too large to hold it responsible for the actions of all its managers.

The women filed a class action suit expressly because it would have been cost-prohibitive for each woman to file a suit against each manager. And why should they when it’s clear that Wal-Mart condones discriminatory practices by its managers by looking the other way?

Maybe we shouldn’t be blaming Wal-Mart for sexual discrimination in the workplace. Maybe it’s actually our society that should be on trial. Because Wal-Mart’s climate exists within a larger system. One in which comments like, “Everyone knows women don’t like to work long hours” are common.

One commenter said that Wal-Mart couldn’t be guilty of sex discrimination because if it was “why would it hire women at all if they’re such poor workers?” Apparently this idiot isn’t acquainted with the practice of hiring people for the “grunt work.” Who better for those positions than women who don’t care about getting ahead anyway?

[Source: New York Times]

Also check out Room for Debate: “A Death Blow for Class Action?

 

Androcentrism: It’s Still a Man’s World

Sociologists use the term “androcentrism” to refer to a new kind of sexism, one that replaces the favoring of men over women with the favoring of masculinity over femininity. According to the rules of androcentrism, men and women alike are rewarded, but only insofar as they are masculine (e.g., they play sports, drink whiskey, and are lawyers or surgeons w00t!). Meanwhile, men are punished for doing femininity and women… well, women are required to do femininity and simultaneously punished for it.

The above quote is from Sociological Images, a great site which specializes in social commentary based on visual information (posters, advertisements, magazine covers, billboards and so on). The article the quote is from also refers the reader to the image to the right which a reader sent in (the source is unknown):

Originally intended for the cover of “Candy,” a magazine about transversal fashion, the model is none other than James Franco, but it is the message that is important.

Girls can wear jeans and cut their hair short, wear shirts and boots, because it’s okay to be a boy. But for a boy to look like a girl is degrading. Because you think being a girl is degrading.

In my intro to women’s studies course we were taught that male characteristics are the standard against which female characteristics are measured. Men are stoic, women are emotional. Men are aggressive, women are passive. We don’t turn it the other way around and say that women are empathetic, men are insensitive. Well, we can, but if we do, we’re accused of being feminists (which usually means that we hate men). We’re not allowed to criticize men or masculinity, but it’s all right to criticize women and femininity.

Masculinity is the ideal. When a girl likes to do masculine activities, she’s called a tomboy, when a boy likes to do feminine activities, he’s called a girl. As if that’s the worst epithet that can be thrown at a man. “You’re such a boy” doesn’t carry the same sting as “You’re such a girl.” We don’t usually think that a little girl who wears pants is a butch or a dyke, but a little boy who wears pink is a faggot or a queer.

It’s actually men who are the losers according to this mindset. Women are relatively free to express their “masculine” side (as long as they don’t go overboard), but the reverse is definitely not true. It’s no wonder that boys and men hide their “feminine” side. So in a way women have more emotional freedom than men do.

Except for one thing: men like women to be feminine, but when they are too feminine, men just don’t take them seriously. (Think of Reese Witherspoon’s character in “Legally Blonde.”) That’s because overt femininity is devalued in our society. We want women to be feminine and then, as the quote at the beginning of this post points out, we punish them for it.

That’s one reason why it’s so dangerous to allow ourselves to be seen as sex objects. When men sexualize women, they don’t do it because they respect them. They do it to cut women down to size, to reduce them to their narrowest role, so that they can take over the important roles and retain their power.

Women are usually more accepting of feminine men than men are, because we see it almost as a form of flattery. We’re comfortable around them precisely because they’re not always trying to put down our female characteristics. On the contrary, they embrace them.

And yet women usually pick masculine men as partners. That could be because a masculine man makes them feel more feminine. The catch is, he doesn’t necessarily value their feminine characteristics. So women and men are constantly at odds with each other.

I’ve heard it said that men who are raised with sisters make better husbands. That’s probably a sweeping generalization; I’m sure it depends on whether or not they were taught to respect them. But a man who is raised in a “man’s” world is conditioned to devalue and disrespect the females in their lives.

The battle between the sexes will never be resolved until men and women learn to respect each other for who they are, whether they are masculine or feminine or a mixture of both. Men need to learn that their masculine qualities don’t make them kings of the hill and women need to learn that their feminine qualities are not weaknesses.

 

 

 

Co-ed Wrestling: Feminism Gone Wrong?

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.

Protecting the Rapist

Representative Bobby Franklin (R-Marietta, GA) apparently has a soft spot for rapists. He doesn’t want them to be traumatized any more than is necessary when they’ve been accused of rape. He’s introduced a bill that would change the language of state criminal codes so that those who file charges for rape, stalking, and domestic violence will be called accusers, not victims, until there has been a conviction.

For some reason it’s still okay to say that people who have been burglarized, assaulted (other than sexually) or defrauded are victims as soon as they (or the police) file charges. But Carolyn Fiddler, communications director for the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, points out that ” … if you have the misfortune to suffer a rape, or if you are beaten by a domestic partner, or if you are stalked, Rep. Franklin doesn’t think you have been victimized.”

Either that, or he thinks you’re lying.

Why is it that some men are so insensitive about the suffering of rape victims? And so protective of the men who have been accused of rape? They wouldn’t protect someone who stole their car or their wallet. But when it comes to a sexually-motivated conflict between men and women, they’re awfully quick to blame or discount the woman. Because we all know that the man can’t be at fault; the woman is the one who brought the action upon herself. 

A woman who accuses a man of sexual violence is basically saying that men don’t have the right to do anything they want to women. And men don’t like being told that. There are still plenty of patriarchal Neanderthals out there who think they have been ordained by God to keep women in their place, by whatever means necessary.

They also think that women should be punished, for being too sexual (slutty), independent (uppity) or disrespectful (bitch). So if a woman dares to stand up for herself and accuses a man of sexually assaulting or abusing her, Representative Franklin wants the law to warn her that she better have an airtight case—enough for a conviction—or no one is going to believe her.

The law enforcement system is reluctant to prosecute cases of violence against women because it’s a woman’s word against a man’s. Also, it’s harder to prove rape than it is the theft of a car, for example. The reason why there was so much outrage over the wording in H.R. 3 was because the bill’s originators were basically saying that rape is not punishable unless it’s clear that it was “forcible.” Unless there’s undeniable proof that a woman was raped (by bruising or tearing, etc.), she is simply not going to be believed when she says she was raped. If the wording had gone through as planned, it would have been the same as saying that it’s the federal government that doesn’t believe her.

Why wasn’t I surprised that it was a man who introduced this bill (Rep. Chris Smith [R-NJ], who is also the Congressional Pro-Life Caucus Co-Chair), and that House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) supported him? Thank God they had enough sense to back down when they saw how pissed off people were about the wording.

[To clarify: HR 3, which purports to prohibit taxpayer funding of abortions and ensure that the healthcare reform law does not cover the cost of abortions, had provided for an exception only when the woman’s life is endangered, in cases of “forcible” rape, or in cases of incest if the woman was a minor. The exemption in the bill will now cover all forms of rape.]

Media Resources: CNN 2/7/11; Huffington Post 2/8/11; Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee Website 2/8/11; Feminist Daily Newswire 2/4/11; RH Reality Check 2/4/11.

The Wife Dilemma, Part Two

There’s an old saying (no one seems to know who said it first) that “behind every great man is a good woman.” During the late ’60s that was amended by feminists to: “Behind every great man is a great woman.” I like that better. The first version seems to imply that great men are successful when their women are good wives. The second recognizes that “even” wives have skills and talents that go unrecognized because of our society’s prejudice against women in general and wives in particular.

I myself was a minister’s wife for ten years. The ministry is a little more accepting of the wife having her own accomplishments, if only because churches like to hire “two for the price of one.” Minister’s wives are expected to be just as active in the church as their husbands. But no church I know of would ever accept the wife as a replacement for the husband. She is seen as only an adjunct.

Part of the reason for that is because a minister has to be ordained to serve in a ministerial role in most churches. But the truth is, I could have done everything my husband could do except officiate at weddings. (I sang at them, though). When he was going through seminary, I read his books and helped him with projects and papers (although he would deny the latter). I helped him hone his sermons. I taught Bible Studies, helped out in the church office, worked with the youth group and directed the children’s choir. Later on, after our divorce, I became a certified lay speaker and preached on several occasions. But should I try to use any of these accomplishments to beef up a resumé, forget it. It’s as if I spent ten years doing nothing.

The feminist movement doesn’t have a good record when it comes to fighting for housewives’ rights. It’s as if feminists themselves agree that anything a woman does in the home isn’t worth all that much. Oh, you’ll hear feminists say that what a woman does in the home is as important as what she does out of the home, but their words sound hollow. One reason why many women have become disenchanted with feminism is because it doesn’t attach value to anything but paid work. A woman isn’t considered truly liberated unless she has her own job or career.

I say that women who are married and/or stay home should be considered just as liberated, if that is their choice. Feminists should be demanding more respect for women who are wives or homemakers. They should be pushing for legislation that recognizes that a homemaker’s contribution to a marriage is just as valuable as her husband’s and should be compensated in some way.

One thing this means is getting credit for Social Security benefits based on her own record of working in the home. After all, the things a wife does to support her husband (like entertaining, raising his children, keeping his house, etc.) would have to be paid for if she wasn’t there to do them.

It also makes me crazy when a mother isn’t considered gainfully employed when she stays home with her kids. Many women who were “stay-at-home mothers” (SAHMs) are forced to go to work outside of the home if they get divorced because the courts require them to “pay” their share of child support and “just” staying home with the kids isn’t considered to be of any monetary value. (Not to mention welfare programs that require SAHMs to go to work when their children are not even in school yet. Does it make sense that they have to pay someone else to watch their kids when they could be the ones taking care of them?)

Many women today are refusing to marry even when they’re in a committed relationship. Whether they realize it or not, I think they shy away from wifehood because of the way society treats married women. But marriage is what you make it; it doesn’t have to mean that you stand behind the man. Demand respect for the great person you are in your own right. And don’t let anyone call you “just” a wife.