The Advantages (for Men) of Women at Work

In both the print and online versions of James Fallows’ recent article for the Atlantic on manufacturing, the following line became a pull quote:

Many factory managers say openly that they prefer women: women, they say, learn new jobs faster, handle high-precision work better and pose fewer disciplinary challenges.

It’s an aside from the overall article, but it’s interesting to consider. But what really got me is the part that immediately follows (emphasis mine):

But as the modernizing Chinese economy creates more options for women, fewer of them are choosing factory work. That leaves men.

Among the consequences is greater fractiousness in the typical Chinese factory force. In September, a Foxconn plant in Shanxi province was temporarily closed because of a late-night riot that eventually involved several thousand workers. According to Louis Woo, the riot was touched off not by worker-management tensions but by the Chinese equivalent of an ethnic-gang war in an American prison, as workers from one province took the side of a colleague who was fighting a worker from somewhere else. This is the sort of thing that happens more frequently with more men in the workforce.

It is always difficult to talk about gender without getting wrapped up in nature versus nurture. How many of our strengths in the workforce come from innate advantages (physical strength or adaptability) versus learned behaviors and training (which can affect both those factors and many more)?

I seem to get in the most trouble – with others and with my own mind – when I engage in the old hormones game. Women have for far too long suffered under the cultural misperception that our judgment is impaired by ovulation and menstruation, and I do not wish to inflict the same limitations on men and their so-called “other brain.”

And yet, whether the cause of increased aggression among males is testosterone (as the Seattle Seahawks’ football coach recently argued in his defense); genetics, as a team of Australian researchers argued earlier this year; or cultures that glorify conflict, patterns like this bear out globally. Continue reading

Beggars Who Choose

Anne Hathaway as working girl-turned-“working girl” in 2012’s Les Miserables.

We saw Les Miserables on Christmas Day. As the scene of Fantine’s descent into a messy and unregulated underworld unfolded, I was struck by how incredible it is that vulnerable women were able to demand money for sex in the first place. We owe a lot to prostitutes, perhaps more than we are willing to admit, for asserting ownership of their own bodies – something that we (yes, we) still cannot take for granted.

We owe a lot to the grisettes who stood up to their filthy bosses, even when it cost them their jobs, until their collective resolve turned the tide. We owe a lot to the first women who refused marriage proposals to men who were not their equals. We owe a lot to every woman who ever saw an obstacle and turned it into an opportunity. Continue reading

To the World-Changers

I can think of no better way to celebrate Christmas than to raise a toast to the change-makers. While I in no way compare myself to Jesus Christ, I do look to his example for how to make the world a better place. In his teachings, justice and compassion are the same thing. For me, that is both a vexing paradox and a infinite source of inspiration.

There is a tendency among advocates to become a bit self-righteous. We see all this injustice, and we recognize that the path of least resistance ends in greater suffering by the powerless. We have to call attention to these violations without giving in to the idea that we live in a black-and-white world of pure guilt and innocence. It is never that simple, even in the case I wrote about on Saturday. It appears that the plaintiff legitimately wanted to save his marriage. We can sympathize with his struggle while still recognizing that this ruling is wrong.

This morning, a friend of mine who is traveling through Asia asked for advice on dealing with men there, who misinterpret her warm personality as a sign that she wants to have sex. Having been molested on a massage table in China and stalked by a Middle Eastern man in the U.S., I struggled to advise her. Should she smile and risk violation or stuff her personality and perpetuate their misconceptions? Continue reading

Sorry, I Had To Fire You For Being Hot

This is for everyone who thinks I’m joking when I say that women who are in any way up-front about their sexuality (ie refuse to wear that modern version of the burqa, the ill-fitting grey suit) face workplace discrimination.

“These judges sent a message to Iowa women that they don’t think men can be held responsible for their sexual desires and that Iowa women are the ones who have to monitor and control their bosses’ sexual desires,” said attorney Paige Fiedler. “If they get out of hand, then the women can be legally fired for it.”

Yeah, just like it’s our fault for having boobs.

Continue reading

It Gets Better For Us, Too

When I sat down to write something last night about the rape in New Delhi, I didn’t want to. When I finally started writing, what came out is not what I eventually posted, but a very sad reflection on how the feminists I mocked in college were proving to be right about so many things. When I began seriously to track women’s rights in the media and society, I came rapidly to the conclusion that the problems affecting me were just the tip of an iceberg, far too much of which was invisible. I think it’s important to call attention to those issues, but others are doing that quite well. The Women Under Siege project is just one of many to focus necessary attention on issues surrounding rape. Plenty of feminist blogs with a clear political agenda are offering insightful commentary on the problems in our society. That, however, is not what I set out to do.

I am here to advocate, to make us think, but most importantly, to inspire you. As I am interviewing many women on the front lines of public policy careers, I am encouraged by their stories of perseverance in the face of hardship. Determined to “have it all” – to contribute professionally toward making the world a better place and raise children who do the same – they have blazed trails in so many new areas. They are proof that no matter how difficult the circumstances, we can make the world a better place. I plan to collect these interviews in book format, but in the meantime, I want to find a way to share more of them with you. 

I leave you for the weekend with the testimony of one such woman: Shabana Basij-Rasikh, a young woman who had the opportunity to study in the United States thanks to a Congressionally-funded, Department of State-operated program called Youth Exchange and Study, which for several years sent talented Afghan youth to live with host families in the United States. They came back profoundly changed and are making profound change in Afghan society. If they can do it, well, so can we.

I hope that this holiday finds you all free from suffering. While I am not suggesting we turn a blind eye to the obstacles, I hope that we will all learn how to steer around it, to press on, and, when possible, to break a path so that others can follow. No matter how bad things are, we can always make a difference.

Newtown, India

[My response] was anger. It was anger at what our society has become. It was anger at what kind of monsters we are actually raising in our society. […] What is extremely shocking is how a human being can do this to another person. That was in fact my first, initial reaction. And then we started thinking about where are we going wrong, from a social and a legal point of view? And why are incidents like this repeating again and again?

That’s Prabhsahay Kaur, Delhi-based rights lawyer, talking about the brutal gang rape of a 23-year-old woman earlier this week, on CBC’s As It Happens (the first in this podcast). But it didn’t have to be about what happened in New Delhi. It could have been about what happened in Newtown. Continue reading

Keepin’ It Classified

[The] next time a cabinet official sleeps around, he’d better make sure his mistress keeps the affair offline.

— Spencer Ackerman, at, naming Paula Broadwell one of “The 15 Most Dangerous People in the World”

Classy, Spencer, classy – especially when just one paragraph before, you’ve noted that the General was a willing participant in the cyber portion of this affair, if not its driver. (And please, would all the women who’ve been hit on by Petraeus over the years please stand up? I know you’re out there, but I can’t do it for you.) That’s without even mentioning that we still aren’t clear how she got the information in the first place. In the actually existing world of security clearances, you get a violation not for reading stuff you shouldn’t, but for letting others have access to information they don’t need to know.

In Ackerman’s defense, he’s less lenient toward another officer: Brigadier General Jeffrey Sinclair, who stands accused of rape. However, that case is unsettling for additional reasons. Continue reading

The Trouble with Football

“NFL Coach Blames Hormones for Poor Judgment.” That’s the headine I would have given this article about ill use of a fake punt during yesterday’s Seattle Seahawks-Buffalo Bills blowout. Not that you’ll read it at that link; head coach Pete Carroll’s shifting of the blame to “hormonal moments” was scrubbed from the online version.*

It’s amazing to hear men blaming their own bodies for self-sabotage, when that argument has so often been used to dismiss women as serious candidates for positions of leadership. But at the center of it is an excuse worth examining: Aggression – testosterone, if you will – is what we celebrate. As the harrowing story of a rape by Ohio football players explodes in the national media, it’s a good time to look at the culture of impunity that surrounds male athletes and to ask a possibly unpatriotic question: Why football? Continue reading