Tag Archives: discrimination

Invisible Racism

Racism exists. Surely, no one would deny that, except perhaps right-wing extremists and, um, GOP presidential canditate Herman Cain. People of color are the victims of hate crimes, hate speech, discrimination in the labor market, discrimination in the housing market, harmful stereotypes etc. The list is long and outrageous, and I am going to add to it.

This rant is about another kind of racism, that I am going to call invisible racism. It is invisible in two ways:

1. It renders people of color invisible.

2. White people are often unaware of it, meaning they just don’t see it. In fact, some PoC might even be unaware of it; Herman Cain, for example.

Here is what I mean: not all forms of racism directly harm people. Racism can work a lot more subtly than that. Because it is so deeply embedded in our daily lives, it has become normalized.

But how can this be normal? In European countries where the population of people of color continues to grow, how is it normal that characters in popular movies are almost exclusively white? Most of mainstream cinema stems from the United States, so this shortcoming on their part is just as sad, if not sadder. But even in Europe the national productions largely favor white actors and actresses. In Germany, for example, the top 100 movies watched in 2010 include 14 German productions, none of which seems to feature more than one person of color among the leading characters.

But this is just one example. We all consume hundreds of advertisements and commercials on a daily basis (whether we want to or not) and the large majority of them feature white people. This has very little to do with proper marketing, but a lot more with racism and race erasure. After all, it’s not like people of color aren’t consumers and don’t need to be considered as a potential customer base. Rather, their wishes and desires are supposed to be implied in the white lifestyles the ads represent, and the white characters are considered universal templates for identification. Just like man is the default sex, white is the default race. As a woman, I have at least a slight idea of the schizophrenia these circumstances produce.

Then again, sometimes other races are in fact excluded as customers, which becomes obvious when walking into the cosmetics section of any old supermarket chain. All the products on offer are for white people: make-up items for light skin, hair products for white people’s hair. As a white person who doesn’t need any other products, you will never know that something is missing. And people of color open up their own specialty stores, food markets, hair salons and barbers, and in the end they get accused of not assimilating enough.

"make-up for every skin tone" - or not.

This is normalized racism which we all partake in without questioning or criticizing. Adequate representation is more than just minority quotas in political parties etc. We have to focus on the everyday things we take for granted. We have to look for the invisible and paint it in signal colors. Only then will we begin to fathom what constitutes racism and how to effectively fight it.

Barcamp Frauen 2011

Last Saturday I attended the Barcamp Frauen 2011 in Berlin, and no, it is not an ERASMUS party. To be honest, I had never been to a barcamp before and no one I asked had any clue what it was. Turns out it is an overall great idea, some sort of unconference, where the participants decide what should be talked about and are actively engaging in the debates. The upside is that you get to choose which workshops you are going to attend; on the downside, however, you often have to choose between two or more great sessions that happen at the same time. That was precisely my dilemma, and I am not sure I always made the right choice.

The first workshop I participated in was presented by a woman working for the German Trade Union Federation and was titled Work and Future – Future without work? The aim was to talk about women’s desire to have “everything”: a career, a loving partnership, children etc. How can this be achieved, can it be achieved at all and, perhaps more importantly, is it necessary to have to want all these things?

I figured this could be a good session for me to attend, considering that I have almost finished my studies with no clear plan of what to do next. Turns out I wasn’t the only one. At least twenty women attended the session, aged 15-45 and none of them seemed to be entirely sure of what the future might hold for them. Hopes and fears were exchanged between the not so carefree white girls, fuelled by personal stories and examples of structural discrimination.

I guess what irked me a little bit about the discussion was the matter of course way in which we talked about having a career, when so many people these days are struggling just to have a job. Of course, we were discussing these issues because we could, and we should be very happy about that. Nevertheless, the overall mood was defined by uncertainty and worriedness.

I talked to a woman in her mid-thirties who had been successful in the career of her choice and was hoping to have children one day. However, she was well aware of her ticking biological clock and her lack of a partner to start a family with. I listened to a woman who managed to leave the Turkish village she was born in to become a well-respected academic who just had her second child at the age of 41. A success story, one might think, but she still worried about being an “old mum” and having waited too long to have children.

The one thing we could all agree on was that no life is perfect and that there are different paths in life to becoming happy. However, the one thing that almost no one could imagine was having children and a successful career at the same time. The main obstacles were easily identified as structural and systemic problems that cannot be eliminated straight away. So what’s a girl to do if she “wants it all”? Get informed, be aware, find allies and put pressure on employers, political leaders and partners.

After lunch break I only managed to go to one other session which was about feminist politics on the web. Unfortunately much of the time was wasted trying to establish the average web and tech-savviness of the group, and discussing data privacy protection for half an hour made me wish I had gone to “Radical feminist muslima” instead. Nevertheless, I truly enjoyed this event, I got to know some fantastic women, and felt inspired to contribute more to next year’s barcamp – perhaps by offering a workshop myself?

You can find pictures and more info on the respective Facebook page (which is down at the moment, I don’t know why). I am not in any of the photographs, which is a good thing considering I was suffering from a major hangover and was still wearing last night’s make-up. Thanks, sis’.

It’s Your Turn, Darling! – Whatever Happened to Male Contraceptives?

We’ve been hearing it for years: new methods for male contraception are on the way. Well, where are they?
Last week some of our hopes were shattered when the news broke that an international trial of a male hormonal injection was cancelled due to its serious side-effects in about 10% of the test persons. A percentage too high to be viable? That depends on the side-effects, one might think, so what are they?
“One in ten men experienced side-effects including depression, weight gain, increased libido and acne. The older the trial person, the worse the symptoms were.” (Times Live, 2011.)
Hmm, I dunno, but speaking from experience, personal and other, I’d like to venture and say that sounds eerily familiar. The birth control pill for women has had to battle equally annoying side-effects, most of which are still an issue 50 years after it was first sold to the average woman, and not just test persons: Weight gain is typical, so is the loss of libido (increased libido is considered a side-effect these days, really?), not to speak of the increased risk of yeast infections, cancer and thrombosis. Strangely, that never stopped anyone from putting this product on the market.

mood swings, weight gain, libido changes? clearly, these chicks could take it.

And rightly so. As we all know, the birth control pill had huge effects on the women’s liberation movement of the 1960’s, as it promised women’s bodily autonomy and sexual emancipation. Unfortunately, this freedom comes at a price and “being on the pill” is never as simple and self-evident for a woman as many men (doctors and boyfriends) make it out to be. Therefore, sharing this responsibility within a relationship could come as a great relief, ideally for both partners. So why is there so little progress regarding the research of male contraceptives?

Clearly, side-effects are not the problem here. It’s not too far-fetched to claim that the test persons of the trial might have simply been too whiny and exaggerating their symptoms. I’m not being mean; this is a conclusion that can be drawn from comparing this German trial to a 2009 study in China, which has been considered successful despite some minor side effects. No, something else is cooking here, and it has to do with male sensibilities other than their susceptibility to side-effects:
“In the next 10 to 15 years there are no market opportunities for this,” said Friederike Lorenzen of Bayer HealthCare Pharmaceuticals in Berlin. (Times Live, 2011.)
In other words: men wouldn’t buy it because they wouldn’t use it. Amanda Marcotte has written an interesting article about this dilemma. Even though she is talking about the male birth control pill, it is even truer for the injection, since it would generate even less money. That is, if men would use it. But why wouldn’t they? There are benefits, after all. Using male contraception in a relationship would take the burden off the shoulders of the female partner, at least for a while. A happy girlfriend makes for a happy relationship, one should think. But even more selfish-minded guys could enjoy the advantages: care-free sex in a relationship in which they can’t trust their partner not to trap them into baby-making (these kinds of relationships are obviously heavily flawed but there seem to be a few guys out there who fear that sort of thing…). But obviously these reasons are not enough. According to Marcotte, the proof can be found in an easy comparison:
“One way to do this is to look at forms of birth control men do have, and look and see how much responsibility men take towards using these.
One good place to look is rates of sterilization.  Vasectomies are safer, less invasive, and quicker to heal from than tubal ligations, but the rate of female sterilization in the U.S. is twice the rate of vasectomy. (Actually, according to the CDC, women get sterilized at three times the rate of men.)” (Marcotte, Pandagon, 2011.)
What it all boils down to is a stereotype, whose constant reinforcement (by men and women) has made it come true: Women are responsible for contraception, because they are the ones that have the main responsibilities concerning unwanted pregnancies and are more at risk of contracting dangerous STIs. How many times do men pass on using a condom because they simply assume that the woman is on birth control? Sure, some women are negligent as well, but it is rarely in their own interest. In the long run, hormonal contraception is never ideal, neither for men nor women. Alternatively, one could ask why the existing birth control methods for women aren’t being improved, or rather why are some of them not as heavily promoted and encouraged as the pill? The answer lies with doctors and pharmaceutical companies, and I’m afraid it has little to do with reducing health risks and everything to do with money.
So what’s a girl to do? Do some research, find out what works best for you, or bear the burden until the day you get to say: It’s your turn, darling!

False Accusations About False Allegations – On One of the Most Insidious Rape Myths

Trigger Warning!

DSK, Kachelmann, Julian Assange – what do these scandals have in common besides being about alleged rapes and sexual assaults by powerful celebrities? All of the alleged victims of these rapes had to face the accusation, made by public figures, the media and public opinion, of having falsely accused their rapist. Can you think of any other crime where this has repeatedly been the case?

Sure, one could argue that these particular cases all involve celebrities, are thus much more relevant to the public, and false accusations seem more probable when money and exposure appear to be a possible motive. However, the truth is that it is not just extreme or extraordinary cases that seem to justify the questioning of the accusers’ honesty. In fact, it is a widespread habit to distrust the word of sexually abused women, one of the reasons why only 13% percent of rape cases end in a conviction and only 15% of rapes are reported in the first place. But what makes this crime so suspicious, compared to any other?

The myth of the stranger rape has long been debunked, that is in circles that have actively looked into rape research. However, the idea of an anonymous man lurking in a dark alley to wait for his random female victim still persists. In reality, the majority of rapes and sexual assaults are committed by people personally known to the victim: relatives, colleages, friends, boyfriends… Other myths include the assumption that rape victims would naturally go to the police immediately after the offense, their memory of the crime would be coherent and without gaps, and they would have obvious physical injuries as proof. Often, so-called victim blaming enters the equation as well; the belief that if the victim drank alcohol and/or dressed or behaved provocatively, she was somehow tempting her rapist and wanted to have sex to begin with.

All of these assumptions do not reflect the reality of most rape cases, yet they are deeply ingrained in our consciousness. It would be naive to believe that police officers, judges and lawyers are completely free from their own moral prejudices. In fact, investigations into so-called false rape accusations have shown that cases were labelled as such simply based on the police officers’ judgment (for example if the victim did not “appear credible” because she had personal relations with the aggressor), or because the allegations were later withdrawn or retracted (for which there could be many reasons that don’t exclude the actual veracity of the crime).

The numbers that I could find for actual false allegations of rape and sexual assault are settled somewhere between 3% and 9%; an almost insignificant amount when compared to other crimes. These numbers need to be recalled when talking about alleged false accusations. Following the media reports during such high-profile cases as the DSK scandal, one could easily get the impression that false allegations among women are rampant, when this is simply not the case. Feminists have fought for centuries to actually make rape a crime under any circumstances and to make it possible for women to report these crimes and be taken seriously. An increase in charges can therefore be considered progress, not the result of some feminist conspiracy in order to oppress men. But the reinterpretation of the male aggressor as the actual victim is a common and unfortunate trend. This becomes evident in the reappropriation of certain terms or sayings, such as the proverbial elevator, which women were not supposed to share alone with a man in order to protect themselves from sexual assault. These days the common belief is that it is the man who should avoid riding an elevator with a single female, in order to protect himself from false accusations.

The idea is that women are now in a more powerful position, in which they can destroy a man’s reputation and life in a moment’s notice, when in fact accusing someone of rape is not equal to a Sunday afternoon stroll. Victims have to endure medical tests and, of course, repeated interrogations that are often traumatizing, as well as detailed investigations into their most intimate private lives. In the process, women are often subjected to the judgment, scrutiny and misgivings of male doctors, police officers and judges, which is not to say their female counterparts were immune to the pervasiveness of rape myths.

Rape myths protect men as sexual aggressors in allowing them to justify their actions, while at the same time calming the public: after all, it could never happen to them or their daughters, because they play by the rules (i.e. don’t drink alcohol, don’t wear “slutty” clothes, aren’t promiscuous…). Moreover, they help to manifest hierarchical power structures between men and women, in that they encourage women to self-police and to seek the “protection” of other men, whereas men are allowed to do as they please and to shift responsibility to the victims. Claiming that in large parts women falsely accuse men of rape is a false accusation in itself. It is another rape myth that needs to be publicly debunked in order to ensure that women no longer remain silent about their suffering. Innocent until proven guilty – we have to remember to apply this first and foremost to the victim.

edgar degas "interior (the rape)" 1868/1869


about false allegations: Liz Kelly, The (In)credible Words of Women: False Allegations in European Rape Research, 2010.

about the power of rape myths (in German): Susen Werner, Stereotype Vorstellungen über Vergewaltigungen (Vergewaltigungsmythenakzeptanz) als Prädiktoren der Beurteilung von Vergewaltigungsdelikten durch RechtsanwältInnen, 2011.

a brief summary about the most common rape myths: click here

Troubled Genders and Double Standards – “What Makes a Body Obscene?”

Sociological Images has commented on the recent cover of a magazine called Dossier. The image referred to depicts the up-and-coming male model Andrej Peijic who is famous for his androgynous fashion spreads and walking in fashion shows for women’s clothing. The cover image for Dossier takes the same line, presenting Pejic in a feminine hairdo and submissive pose while removing his shirt, which clearly reveals the naked chest of a young man. Or does it?

I have to admit, I find this way steamier...

Apparently, the American book store Barnes & Noble wasn’t quite so sure, and “banned” the nudity from its customers’ eyes, meaning they [..] “bagged” the magazine, like they do pornographic ones, such that one can see the title of the magazine but the rest of the cover is hidden. Sociological Images points out that while nude chests of non-ambiguous cisgender men are completely acceptable on the magazine racks accessible to the general public, women’s naked breasts are considered pornographic and must be hidden, which induced the blog to ask: “What makes a body obscene?”

There are at least two major issues with the treatment of this image. First of all it raises the question of what is considered an unambiguous and therefore non-pornographic male body. Apparently, Pejic’s features are too close to the feminine ideal of beauty in order for him to be considered ‘genuinely’ male. When in doubt, go for the safe option, Barnes & Noble must have thought. There is no room for ambiguity in a context of labelling. Or could it also be that gender ambiguity is considered obscene by default? The latter suggestion fits in with our heteronormative, two-sexed society that has trouble accepting other genders, sexualities and bodies that don’t conform to the standard and are considered deviant and/or unacceptable in opposition to normal and acceptable.

...than this. Yuck!

The other point is just as problematic. If a nude body has to be censored, because the body is considered feminine, it begs the question: Why are women’s naked chests considered pornographic, and not men’s? Is it because we’re afraid of women’s bodies, as the author of the Sociological Images post suggests?

A reader commenting the article writes: “Well, it could also be that “we”re turned on by naked women and naked femininity and while not afraid of it, want it segregated to places where it is appropriate. If I’m in a bookstore looking for news magazine, I’m not looking for a boner.”

The comment is harshly criticized, and rightly so, but he may be on to something. When he uses the word “we”, he is clearly referring to heterosexual men, and there’s nothing wrong with suggesting that heterosexual men don’t necessarily want to get sexually aroused while shopping for certain magazines, and that Barnes & Noble may just be trying to accommodate them. The problem is, and it’s the same mistake the commentator makes, that B&N only tries to accommodate heterosexual males. Women’s sexuality doesn’t even factor into the equation, unless, of course, magazine stores would censor all naked chests. Are women’s nipples (and it is primarily women’s nipples that are considered scandalous) more erotic than men’s? You tell me! Clearly, this is a question of preference, which has somehow evolved into an entirely random social standard. Or not so random after all, since patriarchy doesn’t concern itself with female desire: While men’s heterosexual longing is considered inevitable, uncontrollable and needs to be policed, women’s sexuality is quasi non-existent because it doesn’t matter. This ambiguous magazine cover is just the tip of the iceberg, but at least it has started a conversation. Because in your every-day life, do you ever question the requirement for bras and bikini tops, the perfectly acceptable habit of men going shirtless in summer, and, more importantly, the double standard regarding male and female bodies and sexuality, hetero- and homosexual desire, and everything in between…?

Who’s Afraid Of Steven Pinker? – A Brief Analysis Of A Debate

A lot of people who have issues with some of the basic understandings of feminism are strong advocates of evolutionary psychology, because it aims to explain behavior patterns among men and women that they believe to be typical and innate. For those implicit or explicit anti-feminists, Stephen Pinker is somewhat of a hero who is referenced so often, he even made it onto the Evolutionary Psychology Bingo card, which feminists enjoy very much. In fact, I would go so far as to say that Pinker is for fans of evo psych what Judith Butler is for the LGBTQ community. Naturally, I’m intrigued, so I googled around for a bit and came across an interesting debate from 2005 between Pinker and his fellow psychologist Elizabeth Spelke regarding the “science of gender and science”. You can watch the video and read the transcript here.
Full disclosure: I am no fan of evolutionary psychology, especially not the kind that focusses on sex differences. Which is not to say that I am anti-science or a denier of Darwinian evolution. However, it is not uncommon that different studies on the same subject produce different results, and that these results are often related to the convictions of the persons conducting the study and/or to the current ideology. Scientific evidence is not free from interpretation; therefore it does not hold the key to ultimate truths. It it wasn’t so, there wouldn’t be any scientific debates to begin with. Science can be skewed, too, so a little scepticism is always in order.
The debate from 2005 that I am commenting on is not so much about whether or not there is scientific evidence for differences between men and women, but why there are so few women who are making careers in the sciences.
So what does Pinker actually say in this debate? First of all, he distinguishes between the extreme “nature” and the extreme “nurture” positions. He positions himself somewhere in between and his colleague Elizabeth Spelke as part of the extreme “nurture” team (which, as it turns out, is the first incorrect statement he makes during the debate). He then goes on to claim to be a feminist, briefly accrediting 1st and 2nd wave feminism and the “effort to increase the representation of women in the sciences”. So far, so acceptable.
His next step is to prove his point, namely that there are innate differences between men and women that influence the abilities and behavior of the sexes in such a way, that men are naturally more likely to succeed in the sciences than women. However, some of the differences he points out, such as priorities in life, career choices and the likelihood to take risks, can easily be explained by nurture. In fact, Pinker doesn’t even find it necessary to give biological evidence for these claims, only statistics that say nothing about the nature-nurture debate.
The other factors – differences in three-dimensional mental transformation, mathematical reasoning, relation towards objects vs. people – may well be justified, at least according to the scientific evidence that Pinker provides. However, as Elizabeth Spelke will show during her speech, all of this “evidence” can just as well be reinterpreted and debunked. Cordelia Fine has done so as well more recently. I am also confused by Pinker’s refusal to acknowledge any sort of bias from parents and teachers. If he doesn’t even recognize the basic assumptions of the nurture position, why bother with this debate?

nature or nurture? photos by jeong mee yoon

Needless to say, I find his part of the debate very unconvincing and was quite relieved but also a bit disappointed by Spelke’s comeback. She concentrates on the actual issue, the under-representation of women in science, saying: “Notice that I am not saying the genders are indistinguishable, that men and women are alike in every way, or even that men and women have identical cognitive profiles. I’m saying that when you add up all the things that men are good at, and all the things that women are good at, there is no overall advantage for men that would put them at the top of the fields of math and science.
Differences, yes. Advantages, no. Or, to quote Diane Halpern, as Spelke does: “Differences are not deficiencies.”
So let’s try and answer the initial question: Why are there so few women making careers in science? Answer: We don’t know. Neither do Pinker and Spelke, apparently. They both have their suspicions, based on their respective findings, but neither of them can give surefire proof. Based on my own views, I am siding more with Spelke’s theory, which blames socialization and discrimination over biological factors, but here is where I disagree with her: “Scientists find things out. The much more difficult questions of how to use that information, live our lives, and structure our societies are not questions that science can answer. Those are questions that everybody must consider.”
The problem I have with this statement is that it seems to absolve scientists from any responsibility. Of course, we have to ask ourselves what conclusions we want to draw from new findings, but scientists have to ask themselves not only what they are trying to find out but also why.
When Pinker states that there is scientific evidence for the assumption that women are biologically slightly less inclined or capable to be math professors, what does this mean politically? The implication would be that girls should be even less encouraged to get into sciences, because overall they’re less likely to succeed. I do not mean to say that this is Pinker’s intention, but that these are the consequences that can easily be drawn from such claims. Which is why I find studies like The Bell Curve morally reprehensible. By no means do I endorse the censorship of scientists; I’d just like to encourage the questioning of motivations. And I have to point out that Pinker is either negligent or incredibly naive when he states that  “none of this provides grounds for ignoring the biases and barriers that do keep women out of science”, because – unfortunately – for many it does.

That Pesky XY% – The Gender Pay Gap

It’s spring and countries all over the world are “celebrating” their specific Equal Pay Day on the day that symbolizes “how far into 2011 women must work to earn what men earned in 2010”. The global gender pay gap amounts to 15.6 %***; the European rate is 17.5 % on average. However, there are large differences between the nations that contribute to these average rates: Georgia’s pay gap is more than 50%, Japan’s more than 30%, Canada and the United States more than 20% and in Europe the numbers range from 4.9% (Italy) to 30.9% (Estonia). You can find the data of your home country here (only Europe). Note that these numbers do not mirror the countries’ overall progressiveness regarding gender equality. So what do these numbers actually tell us?
What needs to be pointed out first and foremost, because it has led to a lot of misunderstandings, is that the European 17.5%  gender pay gap is for the most part NOT a result of direct discrimination, meaning women generally DO NOT get paid less than men for doing the exact same job. While this form of discrimination may still occur, it has been outlawed by the European Union and can be subjected to prosecution. The more relevant reasons that factor into the wage injustice are the undervaluing of women’s work, the segregation of the labor market into “male” and “female” professions, the traditions and stereotypes that are often responsible for this segregation, and the difficulties of balancing work and private life (for example, only 62,4% of women with dependent children are employed, compared to 91,4% of men). From the website of the European Commission:

“Jobs requiring similar skills, qualifications or experience tend to be poorly paid and undervalued when they are dominated by women rather than by men. For example, the (mainly female) cashiers in a supermarket usually earn less than the (mainly male) employees involved in stacking shelves and other more physical tasks.

In addition the evaluation of performance, and hence pay level and career progression, may also be biased in favour of men. For example, where women and men are equally well qualified, more value can be attached to responsibility for capital than to responsibility for people.”

While these inequalities certainly are a problem in Europe, they become even more pronounced in a global perspective, especially in developing countries where women can be found more often in vulnerable working positions, while at the same time working for free as primary care-takers of the home and children:

“Women may get paid less than men for the same work, or be denied access to better paid jobs because of entrenched attitudes that incorrectly assume men are the main breadwinners and need to earn more. Or women may not be able to compete equally with their male colleagues because they cannot invest an equal amount of time in work when they remain responsible for the greatest share of household and child-rearing tasks. In other words, women’s unequal status can restrict their ability to choose to leave a job as an accountability strategy if their rights are infringed.”(Unifem, p. 55)

It is useful to mention that the feminisation (i.e. the expansion and outsourcing of the tertiary service sector) and informalisation of labor go hand in hand, and that these developments sustain gender discrimination by keeping the female working sectors (subsistence agriculture, care-taking and services) low-paid and free of “fixed costs” (benefits, social security etc.)(p. 57/58). While the statistics show that the wage gap has been decreasing over the last few years, there are studies that claim that this development can be attributed to a decrease of male workers’ wages. So while work that is traditionally considered “feminine” is on the rise, this does not mean that overall working conditions or wages have improved for women. The neoliberal labor market requires well-trained, flexible and less demanding workers, and women who, as mothers and homemakers, are often forced to work part-time, are the ideal employees.

In conclusion, there is not a lot to celebrate on Equal Pay Day, not even the steady reduction of the global gender pay gap. German journalist and blogger Antje Schrupp has gathered some interesting and clever ideas on what we really need to talk about, when we talk about equal pay. I have taken the liberty to translate them here:

1. The actual upsetting “pay gap” we should be talking about is not the one between men and women but the one between rich and poor. Therefore it is wrong to be focussing exclusively on the gender aspect.

2. The gender pay gap is not an illness in itself but a symptom of a much more profound problem of our society. Therefore it cannot be our goal to simply cure the symptom, but we have to tackle the illness – the crass material inequality between people. If we end up having a fifty-fifty quota of men and women among the rich and the poor, but the divide between the two remains as big as ever or even increases, I don’t see how we’ve achieved anything.

3. It is not very useful to compare “men” and “women” regarding their income. Statistics are per se not very conclusive regarding our real lives, but in this context it makes even less sense, because not many men and women find themselves to be in these average situations: in fact, the difference is especially big among the lower income bracket and among the ones who earn a lot; in between among the white-collar employees and other professions, the difference is not that distinct.

4. There is a lot of talk about women earning less money than men, but in my opinion there is too little talk about (some) men simply earning way too much. Now and then, the wages of managers are being debated, and rightly so. But why has no one ever considered presenting the female managers as role models, who are satisfied with earning less money for the same work?

5. All studies show that women confronted with the question of what they should do with their lives, seem to care less about money and status than men, and more about the meaning and the community (study here (in German)). For some reason, this is considered to be a problem. I don’t see why. Rather, it is a problem ( and not just regarding gender relations) that there are still too many men who mainly care about money and status and not so much about the meaning and necessity of their work. We should be talking about this, and about the images of masculinity that lie underneath, and whether or not we still want them. Fortunately, many men don’t want them anymore either.

6. Incidentally, this happens to be my suggestion for getting more women into leading and executive positions: simply pay these positions much less in general. That way, all of those who are attracted to these positions only because of the money and status that they offer, will stay away. Which would surely be to the advantage of the directorates’ quality. Consequently, the amount of women would probably increase on its own.

7. There is always a lot of talk about women choosing the wrong professions. But who should do all the work of the nurses, the carers of the elderly and the nursery school teachers? As a society, we should be thankful that there are enough women who want to work in these professions (and if men want to follow their example, go for it!). It is imperative to have a discussion about the value and the importance of these professions – and, consequently, about how to increase their wages.

8. It is appropriate to encourage women to talk and reflect more about money, and to question their historically socialized distaste for monetary issues. However, the goal should not be that they take on the “normal” approach to money according to “male” standards, but rather the goal should be that they develop their own approach and introduce it to the world.

9. Finally, we need to abandon the idea that men and what they do should be considered the norm to which women need to adapt themselves to, and if they don’t they are to blame for their discrimination. What men do, their tendency to overvalue money, is just as much historically socialized and not at all “normal”. Moreover, it is often enough detrimental to the world at large; financial crisis etc.

10. Therefore I would like to suggest to celebrate Equal Pay Day in autumn from now on: on the day when men can stop working, while normal people (joke) have to keep working until December.

You can find the original text here.

*** I have found different numbers from various sources, some as high as 22%. This variability can be explained by the lack of data from some countries, especially in the developing world.

European Court Of Justice Rules Against Gender-Based Insurance Rates

I have the privilege of having been born the daughter of two public servants, thus making me eligible for private health insurance. Until recently, I was insured under my mother’s coverage, so I never bothered much with the details. Therefore I was quite surprised when one day my mother pointed out to me: “Of course, I pay more for my insurance for being a woman!”
Of course? Why?
“Because we get older than men and have children, and therefore have to go to the doctor more often.”
That got me thinking. It’s true, my mother had two children, me and my sister. But for some reason I strongly believe that my father was just as concerned about our and my mother’s health during and after the pregnancy. You don’t get pregnant without a man involved, so why is it a woman’s responsibility only to pay for her “special needs” when she has private health insurance? We should all be concerned with bringing children safely and healthily into this world, no matter if we are men or women (with or without children).
The difference in the life expectancy of men and women may be debatable. Statistics say it exists, but is it biologically invariant or rather subject to the respective living conditions? Perhaps women get older, because they (are obliged to) go to the doctor more often. The only reason for why I could see my mother potentially getting older than my father is the fact that she is an absolute exercise and health freak. To hold an entire gender financially accountable for their health choices, strikes me as, well, ridiculous. And discriminatory.
So I can’t help but feel a little relieved that this practice has now been outlawed in the European Union. 

On March 1st the European Court of Justice ruled that insurance companies can no longer discriminate on the basis of gender. This law affects life insurance, pension insurance, health insurance and car insurance, all of which offer different rates for men and women according to their risk potential. Statistically, men are considered more likely to cause traffic accidents and women are considered more likely to live five years longer and to give birth. According to these statistics men and women had to face different rates for their insurances, a practice that has now been outlawed in the European Union. The law takes effect in December 2011.

Critics have argued that this law will only lead to more costs for everyone, instead of balancing out the inequalities. However, it should be noted that the loudest voices among the critics come from the insurance companies themselves. Why, in the face of generally higher premium rates, they would be critical of this regulation is a mystery to me, unless, of course, they have been hugely benefiting from this discriminatory practice. Naturally, it is more difficult and takes more effort to determine someone’s individual risk potential if gender is no longer a valid category, even though it would make for a fairer and more appropriate calculation.

In this context, it is worth looking at articles from the 1980’s, when unisex insurance rates were a heatedly debated issue in the United States. Back in 1985, Montana was the first American state to introduce a unisex insurance law, and today it is one of two American states that have outlawed gender-based discrimination in insurance policies, with this law being constantly under threat .
In this article from 1985, the authors offer a cost-benefit analysis of different kinds of discrimination (race, sex and age) regarding insurance policies, based on “the premise that American society has reached a collective judgment that discrimination against individuals on the basis of innate human characteristics is repugnant” (p.332). They come to the conclusion that unlike the elimination of age discrimination, which may be morally desirable but not affordable for society, the elimination of the discrimination on the basis of race and gender is both desirable and affordable.

I welcome this law here in Europe as a means to limit discriminatory practices in the economy. Just like discrimination on the basis of race should never be acceptable, gender should not be a valid category to determine premiums and payments.

"Of course men are better drivers than women, even though my car insurance doesn't seem to think so..."

Happy 100th International Women’s Day!

Here is why we celebrate:

The feminist revolution has come to the Middle East.

Feminist academia embraces diversity.

Feminism goes global.

Women’s reproductive rights improve in Nepal. In the United States not so much.

And here is why we need to keep on fighting:

The war on women’s reproductive rights is a war on all women’s rights.

Marine Le Pen may win the presidential election in 2012. A woman at the top doesn’t necessarily make for a more just society.

Circa 80 percent of the world’s refugees are women and children.

To be continued…


How To Be A Successful Artist

Speaks for itself. Via Sociological Images.