Studies About Female Bosses

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In my Sunday paper I found two news shorts about studies having to do with female bosses.

One was originally in the Minneapolis Star Tribune as follows:

“Female managers are substantially more likely to be targets of sexual harassment than women who have no supervisory responsibilities, according to a study by sociologists at the University of Minnesota. Nearly half of the female managers covered in the study reported harassment in the workplace, compared with 30 percent of other female workers.

“The study’s authors said the findings indicate that sexual harassment is about control, rather than sexual desire. ‘Male co-workers, clients and supervisors seem to be using harassment as an equalizer against women in power, ‘ said Heather McLaughlin, a university sociologist and lead investigator in the study.

“McLaughlin and colleagues Christopher Uggen of the U of M and Amy Blackstone of the University of Maine also said that workers who are perceived to be ‘non-heterosexual’ were nearly twice as likely to experience harassment than others.”

My first reaction to this story was that so many women reported sexual harassment, managers and non-managers alike. 30-50 percent! Then I found a March 26, 2009 press release from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission reporting that the Star Tribune settled a sexual harassment suit on the behalf of female workers for over $300,000.  Small change perhaps when you consider the number of women involved (any woman who worked in the mail room at the Heritage Production Facility between August 2005 and the present).

This is indicative of the disconnect that exists between public recognition and private perpetuation of the problem. The Star Tribune is happy to report on a study about the prevalence of sexual harassment in the workplace but conveniently neglects to admit to its own failure to provide a harassment-free work environment. (Not that I really expected it to.)

The second news short had to do with financial risk-taking. A new [unnamed] study suggests that “women with higher testosterone levels seem to be more like men in taking financial risks. Long associated with competitiveness, the hormone usually occurs at higher levels in men. The study examined more than 500 male and female MBA students and found that relative testosterone levels, rather than gender, seem to affect financial risk-taking.

“It also found that married people have less of the hormone than single people do.” [From unspecified wire reports.]

I love the throwaway observations at the end of both these news shorts: Non-heterosexual-seeming females are more likely to be sexually harassed and single people have higher levels of testosterone than do married people. These both seem to relate to homosexual behaviors. Might we then conclude that single women with high-testosterone levels are going to be perceived as non-feminine, and thus non-hetereosexual? If they are also in positions of power, that’s a double whammy. They might have what it takes to be managers and risk-takers, but they’re more likely to be single and seen as masculine, either in appearance or in behavior (or both).

I don’t think it’s the masculine appearance and behavior that bothers men in power, though. At least they can pigeonhole women who are more “like men.” They have more trouble with women who “act like women” but don’t fit traditional womanly roles. This drives men in power crazy. They don’t know how to fight women like that.

Except through sexual harassment?

Rights of Lactating Women

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The Ohio State Supreme Court ruled this past Thursday that the state law banning discrimination against pregnant women cannot be used to protect a woman who was taking unauthorized breaks to pump her breast milk. The ruling did not deal with the issue of whether lactating women should be protected under the same law as pregnant women.

If the mother, LaNisa Allen, had sought accommodation for her situation and the company (Totes/Isotoner) had refused to give her any, she would have had grounds to sue based on the pregnancy discrimination law, thus forcing a ruling to be made about lactating women.  The sole dissenting judge, Justice Paul Pfeifer, wrote that the court should have made such a ruling anyway instead of dealing only with Allen’s dismissal.

I agree that Allen should have sought accommodation but what if she had and Totes/Isotoner had refused? Perhaps she knew from past practice that the company would not have accommodated her, so in an effort to continue to nourish her baby and keep her job, she attempted to handle it by pumping on the sly. I’m not saying that she made the right choice. I am saying that this is a choice that she shouldn’t have had to make.

I know that if lactating women were allowed to take extra breaks to pump their milk, there would be an outcry from people who don’t think women should be given special accommodations for anything to do with pregnancy or child-rearing. As if pumping milk was restful. (They ought to try it some time.) But in this less-than-child-friendly nation, women are all too often told that they chose to have children, so why should others have to bear the consequences of their decisions?

What I would like to know and the article didn’t say was if she received a warning or other disciplinary action first or if she was just fired outright without any chance to redeem herself. I would take issue with that, but I guess there’s no law that says that employers have to go through some kind of disciplinary process before they can fire someone.  (And there is no mention of a union which could have defended her rights.) Then again, maybe Allen had other problems which contributed to her dismissal.

The bottom line is that this is an issue that will have to be dealt with in the courts at some point, probably on a state-by-state basis. Do women have the right to breastfeed or not? Or should they be required to put their babies on the bottle if they’re going to work outside of the home? Another way to put it, of course, is do babies have the right to receive the best nourishment they can get or must their health be compromised when their mothers work? And, are poor mothers who have no choice about working going to be forced to use formula while wealthier women are free to breastfeed?

Apparently no one has asked if Totes/Isotoner would have accommodated Allen if she had asked them to. My guess is not unless they had been forced to by the law.

Friday Videos: The Right to Vote Anniversary

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Two days ago marked exactly 89 years since women received the right to vote.  Considering that it took almost 150 years for women to get the same right that men had from the beginning (except for black men, that is), that isn’t all that long. But it’s far enough back in time that modern women have trouble conceiving of a time when women actually weren’t allowed to vote! I found a timeline on the National American Women Suffrage Association Collection page (of the Library of Congress) that paints an overview of the struggles women had to go through to get to August 26, 1920.

I can’t believe how hard it was to find a good video about the suffrage movement. Most of the hits I got were about some idiot going around trying to get petitions to end women’s right to vote. Funny, ha ha. I finally settled for this music video/trailer for the movie Iron Jawed Angels (starring Hilary Swank). My first reaction to the video was, Yeah, of course they try to make the movie look like it has a romance in it.  It doesn’t. But then I thought that mixing the images of suffragettes with a man and woman dancing wasn’t so off base after all. Because one of the things that women struggled with in those days was how to balance romance with feminism. Wait a minute! Don’t we still suffer from that problem?

Anyway, enjoy the video (I like the music anyway) and if you get a chance, watch the movie. It’s a rare representation of what our foremothers went through.

How Damaging Is Divorce?

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In my search for statistics yesterday I ran across the National Marriage Project at Rutgers University which did have a variety of stats for the year 2008. It also had “Ten Myths About Divorce,” which quite frankly alarmed me (some of its observations were that children of divorce don’t get over it and in fact have more problems in adulthood). As a woman who has had three divorces and remarriages after my first marriage (in which all my children were born), the “report” wasn’t exactly what I wanted to read.

Then I ran across an article about “What’s Wrong With the Work of the National Marriage Project?” Not surprisingly, this article appears on the Alternatives to Marriage Project web site, but it was also included in a popular college textbook series, Taking Sides (see example), as a clear-headed response to the views the National Marriage Project has promoted.

I’m not one to bury my head in the sand and pretend that there is no harm done to children when it comes to divorce, but I still don’t agree with some of the National Marriage Project’s statements. In my case, as far as my first marriage goes, my children all agree that they can’t imagine how their father and I ever got together in the first place and that their lives were much happier (even if they weren’t easy) than if we had stayed married.

That doesn’t mean that divorce leaves no scars. Of course it does. But to say that staying married when there is  marital conflict is preferable, or at least equal, to getting a divorce, is ludicrous. There are too many variables in the equation to say for sure that divorce is always more damaging than staying together. Even if marital conflict is relatively mild, it can erode a child’s happiness if it is experienced day in and day out. Some divorces are less stressful than the marriages were.

Divorce isn’t easy, and remarriage is even harder. I say that because of how difficult it is to establish a successful step-family. Two of my marriages broke up largely because of conflicts within the step-family and the happiness of my current one may have a lot to do with the fact that my children are all grown now. I’m sure there are many successful step-families out there, but the truth is, the divorce rate is higher for subsequent marriages than for the first one.

The National Marriage Project appears to be invested in the idea that marriage is the ideal environment in which to raise children. How does that make the parents and children feel when there never was a marriage or the marriage ended in divorce? I see no advantage in treating children who are born out-of-wedlock or who end up in single parent families like second-class citizens. Why not spend more time strengthening the various forms of families that do exist?

I always told my children that just because their parents had divorced didn’t mean that they were from a “broken” family. We still made up a legitimate family even if their parents no longer lived together.

I also resent the rhetoric that makes it sound like children from single-parent families are severely disadvantaged. They have issues that two-parent families have but not as many as you might think. (The primary one is a lower standard of living.) Many single parents carve out a support network that takes the place of a nuclear family:  a church, extended family, full-time babysitters, after-school care, and role models and confidantes for both parent and child. In some cases, single parents have more lifelines than an isolated two-parent family does.

In my opinion, divorce is only as damaging as we allow it to be. Don’t apologize or feel sorry for yourself. Find new avenues of support, both emotional and financial. Continue to focus on your family and to love your children. Find new ways to celebrate your lives together. Allow and encourage your children to have a relationship with their non-custodial parent. Don’t make them choose sides or put them in the middle. And don’t rush into another relationship just because you’re afraid of being alone.

And always remember that marriage, in and of itself, is no magic talisman. It hardly solves all problems and unless it’s extremely healthy, it may cause new ones. It may be an ideal, but it is never perfect. Only we can make our families, whatever forms they take, strong and nurturing.

Women Vulnerable When It Comes to Health Insurance

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I was surprised, to say the least, when I read these words this morning:

“Amazingly, the majority of insurance companies exclude coverage for child bearing, and many exclude pap smears and mammograms, major reasons women need health care coverage. Over 10 states permit insurance companies to exclude coverage for FDA-approved contraceptives.

“And, at least nine states allow insurance companies to deny applications from victims of domestic violence while numbers vary, women are the vast majority of victims of convicted domestic violence offenders.”

Please refer to the entire article for reasons why women are especially vulnerable when it comes to health care and insurance.

The woman who wrote this article for the Kansas City Star, Jaci Mairs, is an RN and a JD, but her facts were called into question by most of the people who left comments. Most insisted that they had never been without coverage for mammograms and pap smears and that maternity benefits were always offered (albeit as an add-on). No one had anything to say about the exclusion of coverage for FDA-approved contraceptives.

These criticisms don’t negate the fact that women are under-insured and often ignored in the health care debate.

The most obvious obstacles to women receiving adequate (or any) health insurance were the fact that 60% of all women are not in the work force and that when they do work they tend to work part-time or in the kinds of jobs that don’t offer insurance coverage. Some of the comments said that it was a woman’s choice whether or not to work and to work part-time and at low-paying jobs. So I guess that means that these women deserve to not have insurance?? Another comment was that women are usually covered by their husband’s policies. First of all, has this person seen the divorce rate as well as the rate of single-parent households in this country? (Statistics.) And secondly, men are losing their jobs left and right in this economy, so where does that leave their dependents (not to mention themselves)?

Everyone is suffering in this economy, but women are most at risk because they have less say-so and power over what happens to them. Anti-feminists figure that women have gotten all they deserve (good and bad), but the fact that there are anti-feminists proves to me that feminists still have a lot of work cut out for them. If women in general won’t speak up for themselves, then feminists have to do it for them. And one area in which feminists should be most vocal is in the health care debate.

Tuesday Tidbits

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Take Your Husband’s Name…Or Face Jail Time?” from Judy Berman of Broadsheet at

In a Newsweek Web Exclusive, Sarah Kliff recounts her reaction to watching an abortion.

Jonathan Alter says that Obama needs to reframe the debate in “Health Care as a Civil Right.”

Our children are at risk because “Americans Marry Too Much.”

The president of Fuller Theological Seminary writes a thoughtful essay on his views about same-sex marriage. (I still don’t agree with him.) The comments are worth reading as well.

Noble Savage writes an excellent post about “The Hypocrisy of Burqa Banning.”