Empowered Women Get Raped Less… Eventually.

Okay, I’m paraphrasing. Shankar Vedantam at NPR says this much more elegantly, citing a wide range of studies. (No kidding – if you’ve been waiting your whole life for a comparative analysis of Norwegian, Japanese, and North American pornography, this story is for you.)

When women stand up for themselves, or, in today’s catchphrase, “lean in,” they advance powerful social changes that lead to reduced violence against women. 

But there is a second conclusion, less obvious and also less pretty: When women first achieve greater power, a certain subset of men gets angry. In the short term, that backlash causes all of us to suffer:

One analysis of 109 U.S. cities over three decades found that “the short-term effect of gender equality is an increased rape rate via increased threats to the status quo; whereas the long-term effect of gender equality is reduced rape via an improved climate toward women.

Or, in plain language, it gets worse before it gets better.

One phenomenon Vedantam doesn’t touch on is the tendency of some women to join in the backlash. By distancing themselves from “feminists” and even attacking them, women protect themselves as individuals. It’s a lot like the reaction of kids on a playground when someone finally stands up to a bully. Even if a majority is suffering, it usually stands by and lets the bully take out all his or her rage on the one kid who dared to confront the issue. 

There is no easy way out of this moral trap. If the research is correct, those of us who choose to stand up for women’s rights put everyone at greater risk. It’s no wonder some women get angry at us and wish we would just honor the status quo. Some of them will suffer for a cause they did not want to get involved in. Of course that is unjust.

But what is more unjust is to condemn our sisters, daughters, and granddaughters to discrimination and sexual violence. It doesn’t take much. You don’t have to share your rape story, run around topless, or even support abortion to be a feminist. All you have to do is stand up for yourself — and support other women when they do the same. 

Multimedia Musts: Don’t give up edition

The biggest line from this story on office romances has nothing to do with love and everything to do with the female response to trouble at work:

“And if I had to work harder to prove that my love life wasn’t impacting my work life?” she asked. “Well, so be it. Working harder isn’t the worst thing that can happen.”

Um, ladies? Exactly how much harder do we think we can work?


Speaking of people who work for free, I watched this video of Daily Beast/Newsweek editor-in-chief Tina Brown so I could hear her say, “We don’t have respect for content anymore.” But before getting, there, she made an elegant case for letting go of the idea of “having it all.” Worth a listen.


The brave team at Women Under Siege has released some new data. I can’t summarize it better than director Lauren Wolfe’s Atlantic headline: “Syria Has a Massive Rape Crisis.” Thank God somebody cares.


In more encouraging news, Kate Walsh joins a growing list of actresses (see last month’s NYT Mag profile of Connie Britton) who confess they have been happier and more successful after 35 than before. Sure, they’re actresses. But the barriers they’ve broken are no less real, and I find their continued commitment to their passion incredibly inspiring.


If you’re not a member of Levo League, it’s probably time to join. Their mission is spot-on! You might have missed today’s hilarious and encouraging “Office Hours” with Sheryl Sandberg, but you can catch the video at that link. There’s a bonus at the end: a funny, inspiring ad launching their next initiative: www.levoleague.com/ask4more, showing all the ways we currently settle for less.


I get asked sometimes what all these issues – rape, civil war, and asking for a raise – really have to do with each other. This story from Tbilisi, Georgia by Tara Isabella Burton unintentionally proves my point. The story of a woman trying to get out from under her husband’s abusive hand is a rich reminder of why economic empowerment is so critical for women’s empowerment in every other sphere. It’s also noisy, evocative, and lyrical, a work of literary art in its own right. Well worth our time.

Stashing Scraps

I don’t have any additional comments to make at the time, but I don’t want to lose track of these great conversations currently happening in the world of working women:

* Rachel Rose Hartman pumps breast milk in the White House bathroom. Apparently women journalists have it especially tough when it comes to making motherhood work.

* Megan McArdle compares finding a spouse to the problem of Grandma’s lamp. She might be right, but I think the problem lies with the lamp market, not the living room. There are two options: women can lower their standards, or men can raise them. I’m going to go out on a limb and say the latter is probably best for humanity.

* Rachelle Fawcett offers an overview of (Arab) Islamic feminism.  One of the things I find most fascinating about women’s issues is how much we have in common, no matter where in the world we are from. I’m reading this in the context of the Heinrich study (summarized here by Ethan Waters) and wondering just how well the idea of global feminism holds up and what it says about global notions of gender and gender roles. Nature vs. nurture: the debate continues.

* And finally, everyone’s talking about how Catherine Rampell’s “Lean In, Dad” states the obvious: that men need to demand a greater role at home just as women do at work. I’d love to instigate a National Day of the Kick-Ass Husband.

Onward and upward.



The Final Verdict in Steubenville: The rapists are the victims

One year. That’s the minimum sentence for these boys. Delivered with sympathy by your U.S. media, lamenting their bright futures as if this were a tragic mistake for them and not a trauma for the victim herself. How sad, the “lasting effect” on these boys, rather than the lasting effect on the young woman. How tragic, that Ohio law has “placed on them” the “label” of designated sex offender.

Others have articulated the issues with this better than I can, but I have to wonder how many tears that young woman has cried, off camera, while someone rubbed her back and said, “You know, this is why you shouldn’t drink.” Because that’s how it goes for the rest of us. That’s what happens when you speak up about something atrocious that happens to you. You, victim, are a life-destroyer; you, victim, should feel guilty about what you have done. It will not be easy to change this, but I do think it is worth signing the petition to hold CNN accountable.

Here’s your roundup, should your heart feel up to it today:

* Laurie Penny, at The New Statesman: “Steubenville: This is rape culture’s Abu Ghraib moment”

* Dave Zirin, at The Nation: “The Verdict: Steubenville shows the bond between rape culture and jock culture” [related: “The Trouble with Football”]

* And Michelle Dean, from two months ago at the New Yorker:

… these tweets and photos, as far as public discussion should be concerned, are proof of the flippancy and indifference with which some part of America greets the report of sexual assault. If you want to know why sexual assault is so difficult to prosecute, you needn’t look much further than that.

To which I quietly add one word: Amen.

No One Said It Was Going To Be Easy

This gorgeous woman is Jing Ulrich, managing director and chairman of global markets for JP Morgan China. Her husband is American. (Photo courtesy Fortune Live Media)

This gorgeous woman is Jing Ulrich, managing director and chairman of global markets for JP Morgan China. Her husband is American. (Photo courtesy Fortune Live Media)

In terms of women’s business success, China is far ahead of most of us. According to a recent report by Grant Thornton, 51 percent Chinese businesses’ senior management is female, compared to a 24 percent average for the rest of the world.

But like all trailblazers, they often walk a lonely path.

This past Sunday, the New York Times published a fascinating in-depth article by Brook Larmer on the Chinese marriage market. While she focused primarily on a service for wealthy Chinese men looking for “fresh resources,” the piece touches on the frustrations of women looking for love, too. According to the article, women who are in their 30s, hold graduate degrees, or are wealthy have a much harder time finding love. Matchmaker Yang Jing, explaining why she turned down a $100,000 contract from a wealthy female businesswomen, put it plainly:

 “No wealthy Chinese man would ever marry her. They always want somebody younger, with less power.” [emphasis mine]

It’s not just millionaires who have this problem. One of the most touching anecdotes concerns a 36-year-old economics professor whose father hangs out in the park all day, looking desperately for a husband who won’t reject her for having “too high” of a degree, even though her income is modest compared to a corporate executive.

The thing is, I get it. If someone told me on a first date that I could just marry him and never work again, I’d react like 39-year-old Mr. Zhao:

 “If I accepted that situation,” he asked me, “what kind of man would I be?”

What kind of person would any of us be to accept marriage on those terms? The double standard – that it’s okay for men to be powerful, but not women – is not the real problem here. The real issue is the shift from marriages between equals – mendang hudui, which Larmer translates as “family doors of equal size” – to the expectation that men should hold all the power in a relationship. This has very little to do with what men want from women and everything to do with how men are viewed by society.

Fortunately, on this side of the Pacific, things are changing. Many of the best men I know have married the best women I know. They’re not afraid to be with powerful, educated, successful women – they’re proud of it. Cultural change takes time, but as women continue to push for recognition as equals, social pressures on men are letting up. They are not just free to chose wives of equal standing, their social status actually increases if their partner is as accomplished as they are.

So keep on, women of China. If the rapid progress you’ve made in the business world is any indication, it won’t be all that long before you achieve equality in relationships, too. 

Stay Encouraged

Photo courtesy GO Interactive Media.

Photo courtesy GO Interactive Media.

Four years ago, living lonely in an enormous apartment overseas, I found company in that most welcoming of places: the Internet. At least once a week, I would clear a space on my hardwood floor, crack open one of the vertical windows that faced my alley, and spread out my yoga mat. Arlene Bjork’s warm voice, captured in a podcast that sometimes crackled when the mic got too closer to her lips, filled that overwhelming space with laughter and wisdom. I didn’t know her, but I considered her a teacher and a friend. In the shakiest moments, when holding a particular pose just didn’t seem realistic, her voice would echo off the empty walls: Stay encouraged.

Easier said than done, perhaps, but it’s also easier done when someone is telling you that you can. That’s why, on this occasion of International Women’s Day, I am especially encouraged by the profile of Ruth Bader Ginsberg in this week’s New Yorker, which offers this insight:

Although Ginsberg graduated at the top of her class, in 1959, she did not receive a single job offer. (Neither did Sandra Day O’Connor when she graduated from Stanford Law, seven years earlier.) Ginsberg scrounged for work. A famous professor, Gerald Gunther, essentially extorted a federal judge in Manhattan [to hire her].

As difficult as it is to imagine Justice Ginsberg ever “scrounging,” I am grateful for this insight into her early struggles. If she and O’Connor hadn’t stayed encouraged, hadn’t persevered, hadn’t tenaciously sought out opportunities to prove themselves, and if others hadn’t come along and supported them, we might still be looking at the Supreme Court and saying that putting a woman there just isn’t realistic.

I planned to visit Arlene at her studio in Richmond one day. I wanted to let her know how much her teaching meant to me. How I had carried her encouragement off that yoga mat, out of that empty apartment, and into my life, building something I became very proud of. But after a while, I noticed that there were no new podcasts. When I finally searched the Internet for answers, I learned that Arlene had passed away.

Sometimes we do not get to see the impact we have on others’ lives, whether we are the ones mentoring them or whether we are simply making brave choices for ourselves. But even if we never live to accomplish all that we dream, and even if our voices are only heard in some disembodied future, it’s worth it to keep telling ourselves and others to stay encouraged. You never know what we will achieve.

A Woman’s Worth

cast-of-the-berenstain-bears-5I recently got to be a fly on the wall at a strategy meeting for an organization that wants to create a new staff position. One of the board members outlined three scenarios for this employee: an entry-level option, part-time, with low pay and responsibilities; a mid-level position, 3/4-time, with slightly higher pay and much more responsibility; and a senior hire, full-time, with executive pay and responsibility.

“Or,” he said, “as we’ve taken to calling them, affectionately, Baby Bear, Mama Bear, and Papa Bear.”

Does anyone else see a problem here?

We all know the Baby Bears of American society, 22-year-olds who are willing to work 22-hour days for $22,000 a year (see today’s NYTimes piece, “The No-Limits Job“). Someone else, we assume–parents, most likely–will pay the bills. Mama Bear, then, doesn’t quite need full-time work or a living wage. Her husband pays the mortgage. Maybe she’s a recent mother trying to get back into the workplace, something we all support. Papa Bear, presumably, is the breadwinner, an experienced executive who must be better compensated and bears more of the responsibilities at home.

Let’s set aside, for a minute, the ethics of paying young people and women lower wages for equal work. Is it even true that families rely on male heads of household? The research says no:

Okay. Now let’s say that Mama Bear does have a husband who works. Does he make enough to support the family without her income? Probably not, since over 50% of minimum-wage workers are in families making less than $40,000/year (Economic Policy Institute, 2012). If he does, we can almost guarantee that their family is white or Asian.

The man who was speaking is not a sexist or a racist. I don’t think he meant to suggest that “Mama Bear” would be an actual mama, or that “Papa Bear” would have to be male. Furthermore, the organization in question happens do a lot of work in support of women and girls. They would never consciously pay a woman less for equal work. They simply picked the most salient example from our society, and it happened to be gendered.

And that’s precisely the problem. Stereotypes of women’s work are so deeply embedded in our culture that the best among us remain unconscious of them. But by assuming that women can get by without a living wage, we further entrench the gender pay gap. We pay men more for the same jobs, even when those men are in traditionally female-dominated careers. When a woman does a job, we assume that it’s a source of discretionary, or optional, income; when a man does the same, we assume he is providing for his household and therefore deserves higher pay.

Which brings us back to Mama Bear. I cannot fault cash-strapped do-good organizations for seeking cost-effective ways to expand their operations. But by creating a position that only an affluent person could afford to take, this organization would reinforce the very same gender and racial wealth gaps that it theoretically opposes.

They mean well; I truly believe that. So do the rest of us. However, if we want to move beyond meaning well to actually doing good, we have to consider the Mama Bears of today’s economic reality–not just the ones in our collective imagination.


I once heard Deborah Tannen speak about observed gender differences in the social behaviors of children: Whereas boys were quick to establish a social hierarchy, young girls tended to push everyone toward the mean. It seems that, for a moment, females might actually be born more nurturing and team-oriented.

Doesn’t last long.

In spite of Madeleine Albright’s warning that there’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women, undermining fellow females has become something of a workplace sport. Sometimes they’re even more adamant about solidifying alpha status over other females than men. Worried that there’s only room for so many women at the top, they fight to keep those places for themselves instead of helping other women advance.

As psychology professor Peggy Drexler points out in an essay for today’s Wall Street Journal, woman-on-woman workplace abuse goes far beyond cutting another woman out of a meeting. Women even do some of the sexual harassment ourselves. They attack one another’s wardrobes, hairstyles, voice registers. She’s too thin; she’s too fat; she wears too make makeup; she doesn’t try hard enough

It is really difficult to respond to gender-based criticisms such as these. No matter how you dress, how much makeup you wear, or how “masculine” you act, there will always be someone who finds fault with it. Sometimes it can get so bad that you’re literally afraid to go to work in the morning, and you might just find yourself trying to get revenge. She withholds information from you, so why should you share with her? She calls you a frump, so why shouldn’t you comment on her 3″ hemline?

The short, painful answer: It simply doesn’t work.

It’s hard to watch someone receive accolades for work you helped her to do and not get credit for it. It’s hard to suffer in silence while someone attacks you behind your back. And it’s especially hard if the person is your manager. But the only thing worse than seeing your bully get off scot-free is getting sucked into mutually assured workplace destruction. You might take down her reputation, but I can guarantee you’ll go down with her.

So how can you get through it? There are some helpful suggestions out there (to which I add my personal list: yoga, Rescue Remedy, trying to make your bully a sympathetic protagonist in your next work of fiction). All these strategies can do is help you to maintain your own calm in a toxic environment. They don’t really address the root of the problem.

The truth is, unless you have a more powerful protector or some other form of recourse, you have very few options. I once tried the “kill her with kindness” method against a bully, and I was really upset when it didn’t change her behavior. That’s because I had it all wrong. The only “her” you can kill with kindness is the bully inside yourself.

Of course, all this is easier to say with perspective–it’s a lot harder to keep your cool when you’re being pushed around at work and nobody stands up for you. But in the long run, the best thing you can do is not to be that kind of woman. Share information with others, both women and men. Mentor. Stand up for your colleagues, even bullies, when their appearance or sexuality is used to take them down professionally. Watch your own behavior for signs of bullying–you may be cutting people out without realizing it. Keep in mind that there is still a lot of room for more women at the top.

After all, our little-girl selves understood something important: When nobody gets left out, everybody has more fun.

Why We Need Men on Our Side

We know that most good jobs go to insiders, so in some way’s today’s New York Times article, “In Hiring, Friend in Need is a Prospect, Indeed” breaks no new ground. However, it is news that companies are actively promoting the strategy of hiring through referrals, with Ernst & Young aiming for 50 percent.

How does this affect the diversity of organizations in the long term? For people looking to break into new industries, it is challenging to do so without going back to school full-time. But for groups that are already underrepresented within specific firms, recommendation-based hiring presents an additional hurdle:

People tend to recommend people much like themselves, economists say, a phenomenon known as assortative matching. Mr. Topa’s study for the Federal Reserve Bank of New York found that 63.5 percent of employees recommended candidates of the same sex, while 71.5 percent favored the same race or ethnicity. (emphasis mine)

Wow. Not only does that mean that mean that race and gender imbalances are in danger of becoming more entrenched, it means that individuals from underrepresented groups have even more hurdles to overcome.

This could be read as an argument for women who are underrepresented in the workplace to be even more adamant about recommending other women, and for everyone to be more conscious of their biases toward members of the same race and gender. But I would argue that we need to start further back than that and look at our networks.

Men still dominate powerful networks in business and government. In response to this, many women have taken to forming exclusive networks of their own. I am a member of several such groups (85 Broads, Levo League, Women in International Security), and I support their mission. But these networks by themselves have limited value. Almost every woman I have interviewed credits her first big break to a man who saw her talent and not just her gender.

If we’re ever going to make it to the top, we have to get out of that separate binder marked “qualified women” and into the same binder as everyone else. And the only way to do it is to network.

My Girls Are Stronger Than You. For Real.

I’m not going to say that men and women are “the same.” Who would? Who would want them to be? Who would want to limit any nation to the skills and talents of only half the …

Oh, wait.

As I predicted, lots of men who look like they’ve never done a pull-up in their life are up in arms over women’s fitness for combat. Nevermind the inspiring stories of women who have actually served – including where men cannot – and examples of co-ed combat from countries that  don’t suck at war, such as Israel (“women often exhibit ‘superior skills’ in discipline, motivation, and shooting abilities”). Now that everyone’s sounding off about our military weakening due to women’s supposed inability to meet the standards, let’s hear out our allies in Norway:

 “I have to be clear: You have to meet the physical standards, because the job is still the same. It works very well as long as women hold the standards,” added Colonel [Ingrid] Gjerde, who was the commander of Norwegian forces in Afghanistan in 2012. “It’s not a big deal because women who go into these fields know the standards, and it’s not that hard for women to train up to the standards if they really want.” (Thanks to Anna Mulrine at National Geographic.)

There are some standards that you absolutely need to perform a task – like, er, big femurs. Others serve as a proxy for overall fitness – weeding out people who aren’t so muscled-up that they can’t run (true story) as well as people who aren’t so solely focused on cardiovascular fitness that they can’t lift heavy things. But to develop specific muscles to perform specific tasks of the kind we’re all wringing our hands over, people – males AND females – have to train. There’s no SEAL or Special Forces member who was selected because of his God-given VO2max. They worked hard.

However biased some standards may be (I am still mad that one stupid pull-up got between me, 7th-grade sit-ups-per-minute champion, and the Presidential Fitness Award), I am not worried about whether women will meet them. They’ll probably have to train harder than their male colleagues, but they’ll get there. They will continue to serve faithfully until they’ve proven to the rest of the nation what they proved to Dempsey and Panetta: that women are assets, not liabilities, on the battlefield.

In fact, I think we should get those guys “My girl is stronger than you” t-shirts – fitted ones. Maybe it will inspire them to do a few pull-ups of their own.