Sunday, December 13, 2015

On Single Mothers and Shame

Jeb Bush was recently asked to clarify his statements on single mothers in his book, “The Restoration of Shame”.  In an amazing feat of political acrobatics, Mr. Bush seemed to both back pedal and double down saying single moms face challenges in the world we are in today (presumably a world of reduced economic opportunities stemming from the collapse of the financial system at the tail end of his brother’s turn as president) that hurt the prospects and limit the possibilities of young people being able to live lives of meaning and purpose. 

Mr. Bush has it backwards.  Yes, being raised by a single mother reduces opportunity and possibility but the conditions that are limiting are due to public policy that is implemented specifically to censure and punish women for being single mothers. In a New York Times editorial, Charles Blow points out that we spend energy blaming births to unmarried women ( ).  I would say we blame unmarried mothers.  The way we treat them is part of the punishment.  Bush laments the flagging sense of ridicule and shame heaped upon the irresponsible conduct of unmarried mothers, but in the absence of shame and ridicule, what we have is the punishment of seeing one’s children struggle in penurious circumstances and reduced opportunities, all due to their mothers’ “poor choices”.  Meanwhile, our society, our culture, makes unintended pregnancies and births inevitable by limiting education about reproductive health and even more so, limiting access to reproductive health services – especially for poor young women whose future offspring will be most impacted by the reduced circumstances and opportunities.

We are in a tenuous cultural space where feminism and the sexual revolution have ruptured the former modified chattel model of marriage where women traded their reproductive capabilities and caregiving services for economic security for themselves and their children.  Women are no longer ostensibly tied to the father of their children, dependent on them for economic security, yet the organization of our society is such that women, especially mothers, are severely disadvantaged in the workplace, degrading the material well-being of their children and even more so the mental and emotional well-being of their family given the emotional stress of poverty. We have organized ourselves as a society in the worst possible way to support children and families.  We have the dual sides of the pincers crushing families with free market capitalist economic theory that pushes the cost of labor down to the lowest point the market can bear; and women will accept less because .72 on the dollar is better than .00.  At the same time, the free movement of capital to places with a lower cost of labor makes the competition for jobs fierce for men and women, but due to the rupture of chattel marriage many men no longer feel obligated to support their families and women no longer feel compelled to remain with men who abuse drugs and alcohol and are violent toward them and their children.  In Jeb Bush’s world, shame and ridicule would keep women locked in marriage and keep men feeling responsible for supporting their families.

What he and others fail to see is the interlocking vice grip of the free market capitalism that forced women into the workplace by gutting middle class opportunities gained by organized labor coupled with the freedom of women to flee unsafe or unsatisfying marriages.  Thanks to the global economy, men are no longer able to hold up their end of the chattel marriage negotiation and require a partner's income. Ergo, conservatives are in a pickle because on one hand, they want the cost of labor to continue to decline, but the decline in wages makes the “traditional” marriage arrangement untenable.
In our attempts to sustain traditional marriage, we make these macro policy decisions that punish some women for unwanted pregnancies and their subsequent children are punished along with them.  I am certain that fathers and men are punished as well for the “poor decisions” by being estranged from their offspring and missing out on the edifying work of parenting and building a family – but I was a single mother not an estranged father, so I can speak more authentically on my reality.  We do make poor personal choices, but given the circumstances, the options we choose from are limited and equally bad.  The greater sin is the choice we make as a society as we evolve from organizing our families in one way to another.

We can recognize that we are liberated from an arrangement based on women trading their caregiving for security.  That was never fool proof and many women and children were left the poorer for it, my own mother and grandmother included.  We should embrace that we are no longer subject to such an arbitrary and insecure arrangement.  We should embrace policies that recognize families, irrespective of their make-up, as the foundation of our culture, society and in this free-market capitalist democracy families are also the foundation of our economy.  A strong family is the foundation of a strong economy, therefore, public policy should support and strengthen families.
Seeing my friends with kids, I know that raising kids is the time when the stress of all the familial responsibilities can become too much to bear, leading to all sorts of ills; an increase in drug and alcohol use, abuse, violence, fractured relationships, anger, resentment or simply alienation.  These in turn can lead to divorce and to single motherhood – the scourge of modern society, according to Mr. Bush.

The lack of access to reproductive health services also contributes to unstable families.  Unplanned pregnancies can create families where there is no foundational commitment between the parents. Access to free, long term birth control without the slut shaming would reduce unplanned pregnancies and probably abortions.  But it would also take away conservatives’ most potent tool in controlling women’s sexuality.  Without the threat of an unplanned birth, women will be free to have sex with whomever they choose.  That’s the other side of the conservative vise grip – cost of labor on one side and the conservative, religious social mores on the other that fears women’s sexual liberation and freedom.

What Mr. Bush displays with his comments underscores the basic misogyny in our commonweal. Women's sexuality should be controlled and managed, women's reproductive rights should be controlled and managed and economically empowered women are more difficult to control and manage.  

Friday, December 11, 2015

Let's Not Take Our County Back

Last night at the Working Partnerships USA reception, Zelica asked me what I want to be when I grow up. I thought about the question and said some stuff, but what I didn’t say was that when I grow up, I want to amplify my voice to influence public policy on behalf of working families to forge a just and equitable commonweal.

Somehow, regressive powers have seized a large swath of public thought and are preying on people’s fears.  First we laughed at the ridiculous buffoonery and now we are scared.  The GOP leaders are really scared because their voters love Trump.  But they are governed by their economic interests and know a Trump presidency would be a disaster and embarrassment and more importantly, very bad for their economic interests.  Now they are preparing for a brokered convention. That will reinforce everything the Trump base believes about Government and Politicians.  They are making their voices heard and the GOP is proving to be as much of a bi-coastal elitist party as the Democratic Party.  It would be kind of funny if their base wasn’t armed and dangerous. When the Democrats forced a brokered convention in Chicago in 1968, the protesters showed up with angry voices and flowers. These people will show up with legally purchased assault rifles and the steely resolve to “take back our country”. 

This is a distorted form of extreme patriarchy where more than a few of the GOP candidates believe they are inherently superior and there are natural differences between “us” and “others”. It is the same rationale that was used to justify slavery – some races and religions are inherently inferior and therefore must not be allowed to have influence or agency.  There’s also a big dollop of misogyny for good measure. For example, Trump “loves the women” but as works of art that exist for the benefit of his male gaze. Unattractive women are an affront to him. He is offended if a women who is old, fat or ugly gains a platform. That is the America that they want to take us back to, where we all know our places and the patrician white males’ place is right at the top by divine right.

Last night fed my soul and I want to see Silicon Valley Rising as a counterpunch to the Fascist Tea Party. I’d like to see SVR replicate like the Occupy movement but really contribute to policy changes in a way Occupy couldn’t. It changed the conversation, but had little effect on the body politic. On a national scale voter ID laws are disenfranchising black voters, gerrymandered districts have guaranteed a GOP House in perpetuity and our economy is built on the hardest working, most productive backs who receive an ever smaller portion of the income generated by their labor. 

That must change and Silicon Valley Rising is an instrument of change.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Women in the NFL: Dancers or Punching Bags?

This is a screenshot of the Yahoo Sports page today:

The sports world is congratulating itself for the harsh punishment that the NFL is handing down to Ray Rice for the assault on his fiancĂ©e (now wife) in an elevator last February.  Yahoo Sports published this excellent article that point by point illustrates the numerous ways that Ray Rice, the Baltimore Ravens, the National Football League, the District Attorney's Office and many others failed Ms. Palmer.

But look closely at the content on the right of the page listed under "Latest NFL Slideshows".  There is a slideshow highlighting athletes who own their own sports franchises, and highlights from the week's games but insidiously - next to an article about a woman whose football player husband punched her in the face and dragged her out of the elevator like she was a rag doll - there are two slideshows of scantily clad women dancing for benefit of the male gaze.

The incongruence of the article about the victimization of Ms. Palmer next to slideshows of nearly nude dancers is tinny at best, sad and disgusting is more like it.  The cheerleaders, like Ms. Palmer, are undeniably beautiful.  But it is sad to see women relegated to a role of either dancing for male pleasure or punching bag/defender.

What is actually much worse than the slideshow (which, as I said, portrays beautiful women celebrating football) is to read the comments left by "fans".  The hate and denigration directed at the women displays a deeply troubling misogyny that explains the mindset of the NFL fan that accepts the violence that star running backs and defensive ends direct toward their wives and girlfriends.  That news of Ray Rice's assault on his wife is covered in the "Sports" section reinforces our society's acceptance of violence against women - it's all just part of the game.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Reflections on Mandela

My husband is travelling in Europe and called me early this morning, bereft that a character in the series “Sons of Anarchy” had died.  I was still waking up, but was dumbfounded that he called to tell me that, but had nothing to say about the passing of Nelson Mandela.

He is about 13 years younger than me.

When Nelson Mandela was released from prison, my husband was still in junior high while I was preparing to leave for El Salvador to support that country’s march toward justice.  Nelson Mandela was a potent symbol of the injustice of the apartheid system that many of my fellow student activists were fighting to overthrow.

I spent most of the 80’s relearning the world order as my perspective shifted from my conservative parents’ devotion to Reagan and certainty of “American Exceptionalism” to one of horrified recognition that the United States often ignored the blatant behavior of dictators and bullies throughout the world or worse, assisted them in their exploitation and oppression of the people they ruled.  The examples were plentiful, Somoza and Pinochet, the Shah of Iran and scores of generals whose names are better forgotten.   But the most cogent and embarrassing symbol of the United States’ official indifference to the suffering of exploited and oppressed people the world over was the Apartheid regime in South Africa.  It was a caricature of every value that Ronald Reagan claimed we possess.  Reagan’s “shining city on the hill” as a beacon of hope the world over was the provenance of cash and arms meant to continue oppression. 

The President’s insouciance in the face of the violent and disgusting treatment of black South Africans left no space for ambiguity.   Official “concern” about communism in South Africa was laughable in the face of the Apartheid.  A generation of social justice activists, myself included, came of age as part of the wave of divesture that finally forced the US to withdraw support from the Apartheid regime and we learned that we did, in fact, have power.

Nelson Mandela began as a symbol of the Apartheid regime’s fatuous racism and willingness of the powerful to crush dissent.  But upon his release from Robbin Island, his stature only grew.  He demonstrated that one did not have to be crushed by anger and bitterness.   He lived and led by example the principle of liberation theology that oppression equally oppresses both the oppressed and the oppressor.  

I believe that he is the greatest man who has lived within my lifetime.  I am saddened by the loss to the world of this great man.  My sadness is greater still because my husband, who I believe is a good man who cares for justice, is untouched by his passing. 

We have been careless with his legacy.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Who Cares: Unpaid care work, poverty and women's / girl's human rights

Several years ago, when I was completing my graduate studies, I had a dream that I was late to my graduation where I would be recognized for my outstanding academic achievement.  In my dream, I could hear "Pomp and Circumstance" playing and I could hear them calling my name, but I wasn't able to reach the stage because there were mountain high piles of dirty laundry that I had to climb and walk over to get to the stage.  I remember as keenly as if it had happened in true life the struggle to wade through the piles of clothes, feeling the pant legs of my husband's jeans tripping me as I fell into the soft mountain of clothes then half swimming and half crawling to get there as they called my name one final time to take my place on the stage.

Then, like a it was a lost dinner reservation, the speaker on stage moved on to the next name, that of one of my male colleagues and he stepped forward in his graduation gown and accepted the recognition.

My piles of laundry that I can easily manage by tossing the clothes into my high efficiency washer do not compare to the hardship of collecting water and firewood in the developing world.  However, this video illustrates so powerfully how the unseen and uncounted labor of women handicaps us in the marketplace.  Caring for a family is hard work.  I love the closing quote that we should have the right to provide the care, and also the right to not be exploited.  Caring for a family is truly beautiful and meaningful work and it should be counted and it should be valued.

Monday, August 26, 2013


"One day you're there, then all of a sudden... there's less of you and you wonder where that part went...
if it's living somewhere outside of you... and you keep thinking... maybe you'll get it back.  and then you realize ... it's just gone"

This blows my mind.  She wanted "other things', she tells Pete.  I just watched this again this morning; a round up of favorite Peggy scenes from Mad Men.  In this scene she tells Pete that she had his baby and gave it away.  As she is telling him the lines quoted above, I initially thought she was talking about the baby.  But seeing it again, she could be talking about her baby or her ambition.  She chose ambition.

Her ambition was such an integral part of her, so central to her being.  I can read this scene as a metaphor for women having children - at least for ambitious women who have children.  You have a child and it crowds out ambition.  It's there, but the quotidian tasks of childrearing consume you and it feels very sudden.  You are a smart and ambitious person, then suddenly you become invisible.  You think that when the baby naps or when the baby starts pre-school you will get it back.  It's still there and you will get it back.  Then you realize that you made different choices and it's just gone.

Peggy knew that by becoming a wife and a mother, she would be less of herself and even though everything about that time and age insisted that she do so; she chose "other things".

and Pete was incredulous...

Saturday, May 11, 2013

women < fetus

I am a Catholic woman who is squeamish about abortion; but I am also a pro-choice feminist.  So that’s where I am starting.

I am so sickened by the multiple forced miscarriages, violent abortions that the pig of Cleveland perpetrated on the woman he held captive.  It is abhorrent.  But I am conflicted about the potential of charging him for murder.  These are the moments when I am most challenged by my faith and by my political philosophy of life.

The charge of murder is, I believe, what prosecutors want so that they can charge him with a capital crime.  I completely understand the urge of the State to murder that man.  But it somehow feels that the lives of the fetuses are somehow more valuable than the lives of the women.  The life of Ariel Castro in exchange for the lives of the fetuses; but not the life of Ariel Castro for imprisoning three women, holding them in chains, locked in a basement and repeatedly raping them for a decade.  The lives and well being of the women are less valued  (prison) than the potential lives of fetuses (death penalty). 

The State, like Arial Castro, sees women as receptacles of future children.  The women were held captive and in at least one case, one of the women was raped and forced to carry the fetus to term.  Like the State and our broader culture, Castro sees women as sources of sexual pleasure that should be dominated and controlled.  In his view, women have no humanity, no agency.  In the eyes of the State, we also lack humanity and agency.  We are sexualized and objectified, but if we become pregnant then we are forced to carry that child to term because our only value is as receptacles of future children.  The lives of future children are of greater value than our own.

So I am angered that the lives of fetuses are more important than the grave wrong that was done to the women.  I am hurt and sad that as a woman, I am less than the seed of a man.  I am enraged at a State that so clearly tells me that my only value as a human is to be sexually available and make babies.

Fuck you, State.