Court Allows Wal-Mart to Get Away with it Again

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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?

 

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.

The Wife Dilemma, Part One

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Here’s one of my biggest pet peeves: women who are written off because they are “only” wives. This especially disturbs me when it is used to dismiss a woman’s expertise or accomplishments because it’s only her husband who is well-known for something. And it really upset me when it was directed at Hillary Clinton.

When Clinton was running for the Democratic nomination in the presidential race of 2008, many people spitefully said that she wouldn’t be where she is today if she hadn’t been married to a President of the United States, as if all she did was stand by his side at ceremonies or pick out his clothes. The ironic thing is that when she did try to take a more active part in her husband’s administration, she was strongly criticized and her efforts were ridiculed.

It’s no wonder that other First Ladies have been careful to pick causes that are considered appropriate for a wife of a President to have. I had high hopes for Michelle Obama; I thought she might take on something like domestic violence or poverty, or even, God forbid, reproductive rights. Instead she settled on childhood obesity, a nice safe cause that won’t rock anyone’s boat. (Although I did read that Sarah Palin criticized her for trying to tell parents what to do with their children; of course she equated that with big government.)

There were times during Bill Clinton’s presidency when I wondered what Hillary Clinton thought she was doing. But that was mainly because there was no precedent for it. At other times I thought, “Why not?” After all, who would be more in tune with what her husband was trying to accomplish than she? And it’s not like she’s a dummy; far from it. She’s an intelligent and accomplished person in her own right.

So is Michelle Obama. And if I sound like I’m saying she has to have her own “outside” job to be considered important, I’m not. On the contrary, I’m saying that we should accord respect to wives no matter what they do in or out of the home and not assume that just because they’re wives they’re incapable of contributing anything important to the world. I would just like to have seen her take on something a little more “earth-shattering” than childhood obesity (and before you jump in, I do realize that it’s a big problem; I just happen to think that getting food to starving children should be a higher priority than taking it away from kids who don’t need it).

But she’s probably responding, at least in part, to people who are ready to pounce on her if she so much as comments on a “touchy” subject. She’s not supposed to have opinions of her own, even if she has the knowledge and experience to back them up. I thought she added a lot to her husband’s campaign but as soon as he was elected, she seemed to have lost her voice.

Eleanor Roosevelt is probably considered the best First Lady this country has ever seen. But even she restricted herself to “feminine” causes like human rights, the status of working women and world peace. The truth is, though, she could probably have taken over for her husband in a heartbeat (and some think she did occasionally). She would have made a wonderful President. Still, she at least received recognition for her own accomplishments. She was never seen as “just” the wife of a President.

We should never underestimate what the woman behind a “great” man is capable of absorbing from being involved in her husband’s world. Wives know a lot more than we give them credit for. If we would just look past the label, we would discover a woman who is just as capable of “running the world” as her husband is.

See my next post for “The Wife Dilemma, Part Two.”

The Paycheck Fairness Act is DOA

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While I was celebrating Eid Al-Adha on Tuesday, the Senate was voting on whether or not to proceed to a vote on the Paycheck Fairness Act. This is called voting on a motion to invoke cloture and is used to end a filibuster. Because cloture requires a two-thirds majority to push it through, it only takes 41 Senators to revoke it. And on Tuesday, that’s exactly what happened.

Since there are only 57 Democrats and two Independents in the Senate now, it would have taken one Republican breaking the ranks to achieve cloture (assuming that the Independents voted with the Democrats). Not only did that not happen, but Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson from Nebraska sided with the Republicans. (Sen. Lisa Murkowski, newly-elected Senator from Alaska did not vote, but since she’s a Republican, it’s assumed that she would have voted along party lines, which would have given the Republicans 42 votes. But even if she would have broken ranks and voted with the Democrats, cloture would still have been rejected 59-41.)

In Great Britain it only takes a simple majority to invoke cloture, but that has been rejected in the U.S. because it’s thought that a simple majority doesn’t do enough to protect the rights of the minority. Silly me: I’ve always been under the impression that in a democracy a simple majority rules. Apparently that’s not the case when it comes to ending filibusters, which is one reason why they’re so hard to end.

Sorry for the civics lesson, but if you’re like me, you find this whole process confusing.

So why would anyone vote against the Paycheck Fairness Act? Because it would put too much of a burden on businesses. In other words, businesses should be allowed not only to pay their female employees less but also to hide the fact that they’re doing so! And people say that there is no more gender inequality in this country.

Another objection to the bill is that it was unnecessary since legislation already exists that makes it illegal to discriminate on the basis of gender (although it has yet to be determined if this means that transgendered people are also protected). (Read Nancy Pelosi’s comments on the issue of wage discrimination.) However, the Paycheck Fairness Act includes many provisions that would make it easier to enforce laws that already exist, provide for research and training, and give women the right to sue over discriminatory practices. (At present, they are only able to collect back pay, or double that amount for willful violation.)

Of course, another objection is that the bill would increase litigation against businesses. Again, if businesses don’t want to be sued, then they should pay women and men the same pay for equal work. It’s as simple as that. Maybe it will take a few lawsuits before businesses finally decide that it’s not in their best interests to shortchange their female employees.

Read more here (Huffington Post)and here (Wall Street Journal). Also, see these statistics about the wage gap. You’ll be astonished.

My Thoughts on Conservative Women

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On the surface, it would seem that being conservative is a natural default for women. Since they are the ones who bear the children and who rely heavily on men to provide for them,  you could say that it’s not in their best interest to rock the boat politically and socially.

Some women blame feminism (and liberalism) for taking away the safety net that women traditionally had beneath them. There was this tacit agreement among men and women that as long as women stayed home and took care of the household and the children, men would do all they could to protect and provide for the family unit. Even though some women did work for pay, it was assumed that they would stop doing so as soon as a man came into their lives. A woman who purposely took on the male role deserved what she often got: economic insecurity and no help with housework or child-raising.

In other words, if women would just stay in their place, men would be more likely to stay in theirs, to both sexes’ mutual benefit.

In my opinion, many conservatives are motivated by fear of change and the unknown.  They feel much more comfortable sticking with the way things have always been. They have trouble entertaining the idea that the world is a different place than it was a hundred, or even twenty, years ago, and therefore might require different solutions to age-old problems. (Not to mention solutions for new problems.)

Conservative women tend to live in the past. They think that life would be simpler and more secure if things would return to the way they used to be. They don’t like to think about things like globalization, world peace, social injustice and gender equality. All they want is to be left alone to take care of their families and their homes. They’re not interested in changing the social contract by making it easier for women to work outside of the home (affordable, quality child care, flex-time, personal days to take care of family members) because they don’t believe that their place is outside of the home in the first place.

When conservative values team up with a distrust of government, as they so often do, what we get is a government that is unresponsive to women’s needs. Stay-at-home moms and full-time homemakers need protection, too, especially because they are so vulnerable. Forty years ago, it was uncommon for a woman to get credit in her own name or to get a portion of her husband’s retirement in case of a divorce.

Women who don’t work out of the home should be just as protected as are women who do. (I’ve read of cases where the mother actually lost custody because she didn’t have a job.) Part of the problem is that housework and child-raising are not considered to be “real” work.

It’s understandable that when women who stay home see that their contribution is not valued, they tend to get defensive. They feel threatened by all the concessions made on the behalf of “working” women. Often in their efforts to get respect, they over-emphasize conservative values. They don’t see that changes also need to be made in the way government responds to them. For instance, full-time homemakers should get credit for working when it comes to Social Security benefits. They should be treated the same as people who are self-employed.

Conservatives aren’t likely to push for changes like that because of their emphasis on less government intervention. But sometimes it is only through legislation and official policy that wrongs such as these can be corrected.

I think most women have a conservative streak, if only because of their strong attachment to their children and their homes. But they shouldn’t let that blind them to injustices that need to be addressed, in the home as well as in the workplace.