Tag Archives: New York Times

Full-Body Scanners…at your local mall

(Reposted from the New York Times at Sociological Images)

My grandmother worked in a clothing factory a few decades ago, and she always told me how little size tags actually mattered – if you were supposed to sew 20 pairs of size 10 pants and you had only so much fabric and so much time, by the end of the day the tags got put on whatever size pants you’ve made.

On a side note, she also told me that when thongs first came out that they were easy to steal since they were so tiny.  Her boss figured this out pretty quickly on in the production process as barely any thongs made it to the end of the assembly line.  Factory workers were then prevented from wearing long sleeves.

But, alas, I have always thought about the tired factory worker with only size 10 tags every time I go shopping for clothes.  And whether you shop fair-trade or not, sizes vary across brands and even within brands.

Have you ever carried the same pair of pants in three different sizes into the dressing room, wondering which one will fit today?  I sure as hell have.

According to the New York Times, companies have finally begun tackling the problem of unreliable sizes and “vanity sizing”:

Some are pushing more informative labels. Some are designing multiple versions of a garment to fit different body shapes. And one is offering full-body scans at shopping malls, telling a shopper what sizes she should try among the various brands.

NYT writer Stephanie Clifford reports that the company My Best Fit has designed a full-body scanner that can provide you with a shopping guide of your sizes from different stores:

The customer steps into a circular booth, fully dressed. A wand rotates around her, emitting low-power radio waves that record about 200,000 body measurements, figuring out things like thigh circumference.

Next, the system matches the customer’s measurements to clothes in its database. MyBestFit currently measures clothes from about 50 stores, including Old Navy, Eddie Bauer and Talbots.

Customers then receive a printout of the sizes at each store that ought to fit the customer best.

The retailers pay a fee when they appear in the results, but they cannot pay to be included in the results; the rankings are based solely on fit.

This chart demonstrates how a size 8 can vary from store to store:

Although the article didn’t mention variations in men’s sizes, Sociological Images was quick to point out that men’s clothing suffered from size inflation as well.

Ok, great.  So we have proof of the Loch Ness Monster – we know we’re being duped into buying smaller and smaller sizes.

Will this revelation convince men and women that body shape can’t be summed up in a number?

Will full-body scanners teach young men and women who suffer from poor self-esteem that all bodies are different, and that absolute conformity is impossible?

Or will this just teach adults and children to memorize what clothing stores have the smallest sizes?

If I ever have a child, I’m really tempted to cut out the tags of all clothing they wear until they start buying their own.  As revealed by this post, sizes are apparently more than even adults can bear.

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Police Raid Shanghai Gay Bar and Detain More Than 60

Two things:

I visited Shanghai for a seminar last May. There you would see women clasped arm in arm, hand in hand, walking in public.  Any Chinese girl you made friends with wanted to take your hand.  My professor, Bill Mullen, who had lived in China for a while after college a few decades ago said that Chinese men used to do the same until the past couple of decades.

And China always seems to be walking a fine line between maintaining government control through police powers and pissing off the people.  This detainment, along with the detainment of the recent Jasmine Revolution protesters, seem like just the trick to shake things up.

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By ANDREW JACOBS at the NYT.  Published: April 4, 2011.  Read the story in its entirety here.

BEIJING—More than 60 patrons and employees at a gay bar in Shanghai were swept up in a police raid early Sunday morning and held for more 12 hours, according to the state media and several of those detained…

The raid, which coincides with one of the most concerted government crackdowns on dissent in a decade, sent a chill through China’s burgeoning gay community, which in recent years has grown self-confident despite intermittent harassment from the authorities. Gay activists say they cannot recall an incident in which so many people were taken into custody in one fell swoop.

Homosexuality was decriminalized in 1997 and officially removed from a list of mental disorders in 2001 although it remains largely taboo, and invisible.

During the past two years, organizers in Shanghai have tried to stage a low-key gay pride festival, although on both occasions the authorities have ordered the last-minute cancellation of several events — including social mixers, film screenings and a play performance — without explanation.

After bursting into the bar shortly after 1 a.m. on Sunday, the police allowed foreign patrons to leave but took almost everyone else to the Xiaodongmen police station, where they were photographed, questioned and held without food or water until the following afternoon, a number of those detained said….

Read the rest here.

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HAPPY WOMEN’S HISTORY MONTH!!!

March is the month of my birth – a month of spring, passionate politics, and women’s history!!!  Let’s begin with a recent story from the New York Times on the Triangle Shirtwaist Company Fire of 1911 which killed 129 female factory workers.

This story is so important to me, not only because it’s one of the first facts I learned about women’s history, but because it reveals how “women’s history” isn’t just a collection of facts about women – it’s everyone’s history.  This fire and the massive amount of deaths had an incredible effect on worker’s rights and factory conditions for all workers – men and women alike.

Cornell University has a really knowledgeable website on the fire, with a collection of original documents, secondary sources, photos, memoirs and more.  Let’s hear a summary of the incident from them:

The fire at the Triangle Waist Company in New York City, which claimed the lives of 146 young immigrant workers, is one of the worst disasters since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution.

This incident has had great significance to this day because it highlights the inhumane working conditions to which industrial workers can be subjected. To many, its horrors epitomize the extremes of industrialism.

The Triangle Waist Company was in many ways a typical sweated factory in the heart of Manhattan, at 23-29 Washington Place, at the northern corner of Washington Square East. Low wages, excessively long hours, and unsanitary and dangerous working conditions were the hallmarks of sweatshops.Even though many workers toiled under one roof in the Asch building, owned by Max Blanck and Isaac Harris, the owners subcontracted much work to individuals who hired the hands and pocketed a portion of the profits. Subcontractors could pay the workers whatever rates they wanted, often extremely low. The owners supposedly never knew the rates paid to the workers, nor did they know exactly how many workers were employed at their factory at any given point. Such a system led to exploitation…

Near closing time on Saturday afternoon, March 25, 1911, a fire broke out on the top floors of the Asch Building in the Triangle Waist Company. Within minutes, the quiet spring afternoon erupted into madness, a terrifying moment in time, disrupting forever the lives of young workers. By the time the fire was over, 146 of the 500 employees had died. The survivors were left to live and relive those agonizing moments. The victims and their families, the people passing by who witnessed the desperate leaps from ninth floor windows, and the City of New York would never be the same.

From left, Max Florin, Fannie Rosen, Dora Evans and Josephine Cammarata were among the final six unidentified victims of the Triangle Waist Company factory fire of 1911, which killed 146 and influenced building codes, labor laws and politics in the years that followed.

According to the New York Times, Michael Hirsch, an amateur genealogist and historian, helped attach names to the six “unknowns” whose unidentified remains were found at the fire.

NYT journalist Joseph Berger states:

The fire was a wrenching event in New York’s history, one that had a profound influence on building codes, labor laws, politics and the beginning of the New Deal two decades later…

The day the six unidentified victims were buried was the culmination of the city’s outpouring of grief; hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers turned out in a driving rain for a symbolic funeral procession sponsored by labor unions and other organizations, while hundreds of thousands more watched from the sidewalks.

I love history.

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Good News for Same-Sex Nuptials and Unions

February 23, 2011 by Stephanie Hallett at Ms. Magazine

In a move eagerly anticipated by gay rights advocates since his election in 2008, President Obama has ordered the Justice Department to cease its defense of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA)–bringing federal marriage equality one step closer to reality.

The 1996 act defines marriage as a legal union between a man and woman and allows the federal government to deny recognition to same-sex marriages performed in states where the unions are legal. That means legally married same-sex couples are denied the federal benefits afforded to heterosexual married couples, such as Social Security death benefits and veteran benefits. In directing the Justice Department to stop defending DOMA, constitutional challenges to the law can be brought to court with a hope of succeeding.

University of Pennsylvania law professor Tobias Wolff told The New York Times:

The Justice Department and the president have taken the position on behalf of the United States government that discrimination against gay and lesbian people in all cases is presumptively unconstitutional.

It’s the first time the United States government has ever embraced that position, and if the courts agree it will help to eradicate all of the various forms of discrimination that gay and lesbian people suffer around the country.

In another victory for queer couples, same-sex civil unions will soon be allowed in Hawaii. The civil union bill was successful in the state senate today and the governor has vowed to sign it.

The state’s relationship with gay civil unions has been tumultuous; in July, a similar bill nearly passed but was vetoed by then-Gov. Linda Lingle. Today, Gov. Neil Abercrombie said, “For me, this bill represents equal rights for all the people of Hawaii.”

Though gay rights groups applaud Hawaii’s decision, they will continue to push for full marriage equality in that state.

Says Evan Wolfson, founder and president of Freedom to Marry:

Loving and committed same-sex couples have the freedom to marry in 12 countries on four continents–as well as in five states and the District of Columbia here at home–and the sky has not fallen and the sun continues to rise every morning.

While a welcome step, civil union is no substitute for the full measure of respect, clarity, security, responsibilities and protection of marriage itself. States that have created civil union as a means of both giving and withholding–providing legal protections while withholding the freedom to marry and all its meaning–have found that civil union falls far short of marriage with all its tangible and intangible significance in our lives.

Clearly gay rights are taking precedence at the federal level. Last year, a repeal of DADT. This year, an end to DOMA. Upwards, toward an end to discrimination!

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Chinese Government Responds to Call for Protests

When I went to China there were heavily armed police at every metro stop, every tourist site, and especially at Tiananmen Square where the 1989 protests took place.  Every university has a party member censoring what they lecture, and it is strongly discouraged to speak about any rebellion against the government.  Not only is the information everyday Chinese citizens receive censored, as the news media is controlled by the state, but information about the recent protests in Egypt, Tunisia, and Bahrain was especially limited.

Which makes this really interesting!

And no, don’t blame this on communism – this is totalitarianism.

According to BBC News:

Figures published last year suggested the Chinese government spent almost as much on maintaining internal security as on defence.

A leading government think-tank has said there have been 90,000 so-called “mass incidents” – examples of public unrest – in China every year since 2007.

A revolt seems to be fomenting!  If only the story could break in China…

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New York Times, Andrew Jacobs

BEIJING — Skittish domestic security officials responded with a mass show of force across China on Sunday after anonymous calls for protesters to stage a Chinese “Jasmine Revolution” went out over social media and microblogging outlets.

Although there were no reports of large demonstrations, the outsize government response highlighted China’s nervousness at a time of spreading unrest in the Middle East aimed at overthrowing authoritarian governments.

The words “Jasmine Revolution,” borrowed from the successful Tunisian revolt, were blocked on sites similar to Twitter and on Internet search engines, while cellphone users were unable to send out text messages to multiple recipients. A heavy police presence was reported in several Chinese cities.

In recent days, more than a dozen lawyers and rights activists have been rounded up, and more than 80 dissidents have reportedly been placed under varying forms of house arrest. At least two lawyers are still missing, family members and human rights advocates said Sunday.

In Beijing, a huge crowd formed outside a McDonald’s in the heart of the capital on Sunday after messages went out listing it as one of 13 protest sites across the country. It is not clear who organized the campaign, but it first appeared Thursday on Boxun, a Chinese-language Web site based in the United States, and then spread through Twitter and other microblogging services.

Eugene Hoshiko/Associated Press - A man, center, was detained by the police near a planned protest site in Shanghai on Sunday.

By 2 p.m., the planned start of the protests, hundreds of police officers had swarmed the area, a major shopping district popular with tourists.

At one point, the police surrounded a young man who had placed a jasmine flower on a planter outside the McDonald’s, but he was released after the clamor drew journalists and photographers.

In Shanghai, three people were detained during a skirmish in front of a Starbucks, The Associated Press reported. One post on Twitter described a heavily armed police presence on the subways of Shenzhen, and another claimed that officials at Peking University in Beijing had urged students to avoid any protests, but those reports were impossible to verify Sunday.

The messages calling people to action urged protesters to shout, “We want food, we want work, we want housing, we want fairness,” an ostensible effort to tap into popular discontent over inflation and soaring real estate prices.

In a sign of the ruling Communist Party’s growing anxiety, President Hu Jintao summoned top leaders to a special “study session” on Saturday and urged them to address festering social problems before they became threats to stability.

“The overall requirements for enhancing and innovating social management are to stimulate vitality in the society and increase harmonious elements to the greatest extent, while reducing inharmonious factors to the minimum,” he told the gathering, according to Xinhua, the official news agency. Mr. Hu also urged those gathered to step up Internet controls and to better “guide public opinion,” a reference to efforts aimed at shaping attitudes toward the government through traditional propaganda and online commentators who masquerade as ordinary users.

Human rights advocates said they were especially concerned by the recent crackdown on rights defenders, which intensified Saturday after at least 15 well-known lawyers and activists were detained or placed under house arrest. Several of them reached by phone, including Pu Zhiqiang and Xu Zhiyong, said they were in the company of security agents and unable to talk, while many others were unreachable on Sunday evening. Two of the men, Tang Jitian and Jiang Tianyong, remain missing.

Many of those subjected to house arrest had met in Beijing on Wednesday to discuss the case of Chen Guangcheng, a blind lawyer under strict house arrest in rural Shandong Province. The plight of Mr. Chen and his family gained widespread attention last week after a video he and his wife made about his arrest emerged on the Internet.

Mr. Jiang, one of the missing lawyers, was forced into an unmarked van on Saturday night, his second abduction in recent days, his wife, Jin Bianling, said by telephone. She said the police had also searched the couple’s home and confiscated his computer and briefcase.

In an interview after his first detention on Wednesday, Mr. Jiang said that he was taken to a police station and assaulted.

Most of those who thronged the McDonald’s in Wangfujing, the Beijing shopping district, said they had no idea what the commotion was about. Some thought that perhaps a celebrity had slipped into the restaurant for a hamburger. But a young man, a Web page designer in his late 20s, quietly acknowledged that he was drawn by word of the protest.

Despite the absence of any real action, the man, who gave only his family name, Cui, said he was not disappointed by the outcome, in which police officers tried in vain to determine who was a potential troublemaker and who was simply a gawker. He predicted that many people, emboldened by the fact that an impromptu gathering had coalesced at all, would use social networking technology to stage similar events in the future.

“It’s very difficult to do this in China, but this is a good start,” he said. “I’m thankful to be able to participate in this moment in history.”

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Catch up on your news

Republicans have gone awry the country over.  Do you know what’s going on?  Here are some websites to give you the gist on two important legislative happenings: Planned Parenthood and Wisconsin labor unions.

 

Wisconsin state employee unions

(yes, this really does matter to you)

New York Times

**(I’ve linked some definitions for “collective bargaining,” “union,” and “public employee”)**

  • The legislative push by Wisconsin’s new governor, Scott Walker, a Republican, to slash the collective bargaining rights of his state’s public employees could prove a watershed for public-sector unions, perhaps signaling the beginning of a decline in their power — both at the bargaining table and in politics.
  • But Mr. Walker is going far beyond that, seeking to definitively curb the power of government unions in his state. He sees public-employee unions as a bane to the taxpayer because they demand — and often win — generous health and pension plans that help push up taxes and drive budget deficits higher.
  • To end that cycle, he wants to restrict the unions to bargaining over just one topic, base wages, while eliminating their ability to deal over health care, working hours and vacations.
  • By flooding the State Capitol in Madison with more than 10,000 protesters, labor unions are doing their utmost to block Mr. Walker’s plans. They helped persuade Democratic state senators to slip out of the building this week to deny Republicans the quorum they needed to pass the legislation.
  • Democrats say the governor’s “budget repair bill” — strongly supported by the Republicans who control both legislative houses — is political payback, intended to cripple public-sector unions, which spent more than $200 million to back Democrats across the country in November’s elections.

Andy Manis/Associated Press - A Capitol protest in Madison, Wis., over Gov. Scott Walker's bill to slash collective bargaining rights for many state workers.

New York Times

  • Behind closed doors, Scott Walker, the Republican who has been governor for about six weeks, calmly described his intent to forge ahead with the plans that had set off the uprising: He wants to require public workers to pay more for their health insurance and pensions, effectively cutting the take-home pay of many by around 7 percent.
  • Mr. Walker said he had no other options, since he is facing a deficit of $137 million in the current state budget and the prospect of a $3.6 billion hole in the coming two-year budget.
  • “For us, it’s simple,” said Mr. Walker, whose family home was surrounded by angry workers this week, prompting the police to close the street. “We’re broke.”

New York Times

  • Then the surprising drama in Madison this week added a new twist: the Democrats disappeared.
  • That left Republicans, who control the Capitol and had expected to push through the bill, in limbo. Although Republicans control the State Senate by 19 to 14, 20 senators — and thus, at least a single Democrat — must be in the room to call a vote on such fiscal matters.
  • “The plan is to try and slow this down because it’s an extreme piece of legislation that’s tearing this state apart,” Senator Jon Erpenbach, one of the missing Democrats, told The Associated Press by telephone. (He refused, of course, to say where he was.)

Planned Parenthood

(not just birth control or abortions)

Washington Post:

  • The Republican-led House approved an amendment Friday that would prohibit federal funding for Planned Parenthood.
  • The measure, which passed the House 240 to 185, blocks Planned Parenthood from receiving federal funds for any of its activities. The organization already is banned from using federal funds to perform most abortions.

Huffington Post

  • House Republicans voted on Friday to strip federal funding from Planned Parenthood, cutting money for contraceptives, HIV tests, cancer screenings and reproductive health services as part of an attempt to weaken the abortion provider. Planned Parenthood does not currently spend federal money on abortion services.
  • The vote, which passed, 240 to 185, came after an emotional, late-night speech by Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.), who revealed on the House floor that she had had an abortion. Speier criticized Republicans for vilifying Planned Parenthood and abortion-rights supporters.
  • “There is a vendetta against Planned Parenthood, and it was played out in this room tonight,” she said on the House floor. “Planned Parenthood has a right to operate. Planned Parenthood has a right to provide family planning services. Planned parenthood has a right to perform abortions. Last time you checked, abortions were legal in this country.”

And there are massive protests in Bahrain which you should read up on.

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Mengagement Rings

Yes, I know this is not newsworthy, but this New York Times story was popular enough to show up in my Google News feed.

So here’s the scoop: more men are wearing engagement rings.  Why is this interesting?  Because I love gender history.  See, men obviously haven’t always worn engagement rings.  In fact, it wasn’t until about 50, 60 years ago that men even started wearing wedding rings.  Women wore rings.  Why, you ask?  To mark that they were taken or “bought” when marriage used to equate more of a purchase than a union (which actually wasn’t that long ago).

Now, more men are wearing engagement rings, partly because their female fiancees require them to, and also because they are increasingly choosing to do so.

The article also interviewed two incredibly important sociologists of gender, Stephanie Coontz and Barbara Risman, yet their significance is barely mentioned.  Here’s what they say about this move towards gender equality:

While the arrival of men’s engagement rings may not be the next step in gender equality, it is another sign that male infidelity is becoming less and less acceptable, said Stephanie Coontz, a history professor at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash., and the author of “Marriage, a History: How Love Conquered Marriage.”

[I’d like to add that Coontz has written several other fascinating sociological texts, one of which is “The Way We Never Were” about how the happy, white, nuclear family never really existed – we just idealized it on Leave it to Beaver.]

“It’s a logical extension of our increasing rejection of the double standard of sexuality,” she said. “We talk a lot about infidelity, but actually infidelity was much more highly approved of among men in the past than it is today. The double standard was so extreme that in the late 18th century we have letters from men bragging to their wife’s brother about activities outside the marriage.”

Leading up to her first marriage, in 1974, Barbara Risman didn’t wear an engagement ring.

“I was a very serious second-wave feminist, and at that moment in history any marital tradition that seemed gender-specific seemed prima facie oppressive,” said Ms. Risman, 54, who is the head of the sociology department at the University of Illinois at Chicago. [And also the author of Gender Vertigo in which she examines the normality of non-traditional families.]

That was then.

Ms. Risman, who was divorced in 1998, is set to marry Randall Liss, 56, an options trader, next spring. Not only does she want to wear an engagement ring, she expects her fiancé to wear one, too…

“We both made this commitment, and to be quite frank, it’s just fair,” Mr. Liss said. “And it makes me feel good…”

“The feminist movement and I have matured,” she said. “Now there’s a sense that we should look carefully at what the traditions are and reinvent them so that we keep the good part of it and share it…”

Why wear rings at all,  I’m not sure.  Probably because we love shiny things, but at least it’s a move towards gender equality.

Either way, we need to shake up some of these outdated traditions, like a man proposing to a woman.  Shouldn’t we discuss this, rather than being swept up in the romance?  It’s kind of a big decision.

But, then again, more than half of all marriages end in divorce anyway.  And you know what the leading cause of divorce is, right?  Marriage.

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What does the Republican win mean for women?

Personally, I’m taking the road less traveled by society and following the advice of Jon Stewart – everybody’s going to be fine America.  I’m an activist not a fatalist.

Before we begin, if you weren’t paying attention to women running in the election, then here’s a recap from Rutgers on who ran.

With that said, this election was both good and bad for women.  Here’s the gist from news sources and organizations:


“Despite GOP Wins, Hill May See Fewer Women” by Carrie Kahn, NPR:

It started as a banner year for female candidates. More of them ran in party primaries than ever before, especially Republican women, who set a new record.

Many of the winners had the backing of former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, who coined a new nickname for the like-minded conservative moms: Mama Grizzlies.

Republican losses paled compared with those suffered by Democrats. Swept up in the conservative wave, Democratic women took big hits. Nine of them were booted in the House and one in the Senate.

Since most women in Congress are Democrats, the party’s problem this week became theirs. That means there will likely be fewer women in Congress for the first time since the 1970s, said Debbie Walsh, director of the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University.


Planned Parenthood was sure to chalk this election up as a loss:

Despite some bright spots in the election — races in which pro-choice candidates ran and won on our issues and the resounding defeat of an anti-choice ballot initiative in Colorado — it’s clear that the House of Representatives is in the hands of dangerous politicians who oppose women’s health and a woman’s right to choose.

The majority of Americans agree with Planned Parenthood on the issue of choice. While this election was a referendum on the economy and government, the results are truly alarming when it comes to a woman’s right to choose.


“2010 Faltered as a New ‘Year of the Woman’ in Politics by Ashlee Parker, The New York Times

This year’s results for women should be considered in the context of a tough year for Democratic incumbents, many of whom were women, cautioned Jennifer Lawless, the director of the Women and Politics Institute at American University.

“The overall downside of this is people are going to look at a lot of these results and think, ‘Oh, my gosh, women can’t win or women can’t get elected,’ ” Dr. Lawless said.

The idea that 2010 would be the second coming for the Year of the Woman may have been overstated from the beginning. A handful of high-profile candidates, all Republicans — Carly Fiorina and Meg Whitman in California, and Linda McMahon in Connecticut — generated an inordinate amount of news media attention. Upsets in primaries drew national interest to Christine O’Donnell in Delaware and Sharron Angle in Nevada.

“Several of these women,” Dr. Lawless said, “had interesting personal stories or personalities that garnered so much national attention, which obscured the fact that they represented actually a very small portion of the actual candidates.”


“Republican Shift Only Part of the Story of Women Voters” by Bryce Covert, The Huffington Post:

While Democrats took a beating on Tuesday, women were the deciding factor in many victories. A quick list of some of the Democratic winners who benefited:

  • More than half of women voted for comeback kid Harry Reid, Senator from Nevada.
  • Richard Blumenthal, running for Senate in Connecticut, had double-digit leads with women over his female opponent.
  • Michael Bennet, Colorado Senator, led with women over his Republican opponent.
  • Joe Manchin’s winning coalition included women’s support.
  • Ron Wyden and John Kitzhaber in Oregon both drew winning support from women.
  • Women favored New Hampshire’s new governor John Lynch, while men split the vote between him and his opponent.
  • Washington’s Senator Patty Murray drew her support from women.
  • Two-thirds of women backed New York gubernatorial candidate Andrew Cuomo.
  • Deval Patrick owes his gubernatorial win in Massachusetts to women.
  • And in the West in general, women were a huge factor.

Speculation that women will vote for a woman no matter how conservative her policy positions has also dissipated. Many “mama grizzlies” met with defeat, particularly in the Senate. Sayonara to Sharon Angle, Christine O’Donnell, Linda McMahon, and Carly Fiorina, along with gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman. And their defeat was at the hands of women voting for the opponent.


“A Mixed Election for Women” by Kathryn Lopez, Townhall.com

You win some, you lose some; We’ve seen that idea playing out in these midterm elections. And with the loss of the first woman speaker, we gain a presumptive speaker in Rep. John Boehner, who is willing to defend the most defenseless among us — the unborn. Bring him on.

And yet, in the wake of the election — which, frankly, had funereal aspects for all of us — it wasn’t a total win for either party — there were headlines like: “Americans slam women in midterm election.”

That one’s from an article in an online magazine for women executives. Reacting to the Democrats’ relegation to minority status in the House, the article struggled with the loss of Speaker Pelosi: “how will women survive in this man’s world come 2012?”

Quite fine, thank you. This last election cycle has engaged many Americans, including women, in citizen-activist roles — working for women and men in Congress who understand that Washington has been guilty of some comprehensive fiscal, moral and Constitutional malpractice of late.

We’ve got hope for change that will put us all in a much better position — perhaps, before long, with some change to spare, for once. We want good policy from Washington, and we know that men are quite capable of it, too.

Sarah Palin is definitely happy about the win.  I’d like to kill the editor who included the final clip.

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ZERE ees a reason ze villain alvays speaks like zees.

I’ve always had a theory that America’s film villains reflect our country’s changing axis of evil.  In the 1920s and 30s it was sexual women (we continue to have issues with those), in the 1930s and 40s it was Germans, then commies and Russians…. Fast track to the 80s and we’ve got a rise in Eastern Asian and Middle Eastern villains.  Now it’s Muslims or home-grown terrorists.  And there’s always been the fear of the black burglar or rapist.  Let’s not even get into WHY we have these stereotypes.  (ahem, media sensationalism, ahem)

I’ve even read an article about how the upsurge in Zombie attack films reflected the fatalistic and apocalyptic character of 1970s Americans.  You can’t get deny it – our films relay our fears.  And our villains’ thick accents give away our xenophobic discomfort.  Or so we thought?

This is a fascinating article about a social psychology study proving  a) we do distrust people with accents  and  b) we still marginalize these non-native speakers even after learning of our xenophobia.

With the most sensational, xenophobic media at our fingertips, and some crazy racist and xenophobic conservatives claiming Obama isn’t American and that ethnic studies programs should be banned – this will only continue to get worse.  Especially for my accented job-searching friends.  Sorry guys.

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A Failure to Communicate

By PAMELA PAUL, The New York Times

THE GIST Many Americans are wary of people who speak with foreign accents.

THE SOURCE “Why Don’t We Believe Non-Native Speakers? The Influence of Accent On Credibility,” The Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.

ZERE ees a reason ze villain alvays speaks like zees. But it may not be the reason you think. A new study says distrust of those who speak with a foreign accent goes beyond common xenophobia. Apparently, when we don’t understand what someone’s saying, we lose confidence in the speaker altogether.

According to recent research, words and pictures that we can process easily — ones that we don’t have to work to decipher — tend to be perceived as not only more pleasant, clearer and less risky, but also more truthful.

Most data on the subject pertains to the written word. So, for example, if a statement is written in a clear, easy-to-read font, people are more likely to find it true than were it to appear fuzzy, as in a wet newspaper. Likewise, if a statement rhymes (“Woes unite foes”) people are more likely to believe it than if it doesn’t (“Woes unite enemies”).

Could this simplicity-sincerity effect apply to speech as well? “We both have an accent, so we’re interested in questions about how having an accent impacts you,” Boaz Keysar, a psychology professor at the University of Chicago and an author of the study, explained. He and Shiri Lev-Ari, a postdoctoral researcher and the lead author, were born in Israel.

The trick is figuring out whether a person’s distrust of non-native speakers stems from prejudice or incomprehension. To tease these factors apart, the researchers designed two experiments. First, they asked a group of 35 people to judge the truthfulness of trivial statements, like “Ants don’t sleep” and “A giraffe can go without water longer than a camel can,” recited by people with various accents — Turkish, Polish, Korean, Italian and Austrian-German — as well as native English speakers. In all cases, the subjects were told that the speakers were merely reciting statements provided by the experimenter and were not the source of the material. Yet even when speakers were “only the messenger,” listeners distrusted non-native speakers more than they did native English speakers.

The researchers then told the subjects up front that difficulty in understanding leads people to distrust non-native speakers. Would knowing about an accent’s effects erase the effects? Not entirely. While people were capable of adjusting their impressions of people who spoke with mild accents, they still distrusted statements from those with heavier accents. “Even awareness was unable to overcome the effect on credibility,” Dr. Boaz said.

These findings won’t likely assuage an already nervous job applicant who speaks with an accent. “In today’s globalized world, interactions between native and non-native speakers are rampant,” Dr. Lev-Ari said. Businesspeople, newscasters and witnesses often appeal to our capacity for trust, she said, “but we’re judging non-native speakers as less credible than they really are.”

One thing you can believe, though it may offer little consolation: The giraffe is, in fact, able to go longer without drinking water than the camel.

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The Search for the Holy Grail of Female Viagra

Recently the FDA rejected an application to market a new drug to increase women’s libido – flibanserin.  It doesn’t have quite the same ring as Viagra, does it?  However, with the rejection the FDA gave a big thumbs-up to the idea pending more research.  There are reportedly several other companies working on a similar medication.

The issue of women’s frigidity is a historical one.   I’ve recently been reading Barbara Ehrenreich’s The Hearts of Men: American Dreams and the Flight from Commitment, in which she discusses a similar situation in the 1950s.  White upper-middle-class women were housewives while their husbands brought home the bacon.  Marriage was both an economic and social relationship  – both men and women were “required” to marry to fulfill their gender roles.  However, Playboy, first released in 1953, suggested men could be real men without marriage and encouraged a life of bachelorhood.  “Free Love” became women’s libido-enhancer.

Marilyn Monroe on the first issue of Playboy in 1953.

Things have changed a bit post-AIDS epidemic.  Although Samantha from Sex in the City has shown America that women still have a healthy sexual appetite (check out this ABC news poll giving some stats on that), Camille Paglia, professor at the University of the Arts, argues that we’re undergoing a current “sexual malaise” again due to stagnate gender roles.  Paglia explores this and other issues of gender, race, and class in pop culture in her New York Times editorial, “No Sex Please, We’re Middle Class.” Here are some juicy segments:

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The implication is that a new pill, despite its unforeseen side effects, is necessary to cure the sexual malaise that appears to have sunk over the country. But to what extent do these complaints about sexual apathy reflect a medical reality, and how much do they actually emanate from the anxious, overachieving, white upper middle class?

In the 1950s, female “frigidity” was attributed to social conformism and religious puritanism. But since the sexual revolution of the 1960s, American society has become increasingly secular, with a media environment drenched in sex.

The real culprit, originating in the 19th century, is bourgeois propriety. As respectability became the central middle-class value, censorship and repression became the norm. Victorian prudery ended the humorous sexual candor of both men and women during the agrarian era, a ribaldry chronicled from Shakespeare’s plays to the 18th-century novel. The priggish 1950s, which erased the liberated flappers of the Jazz Age from cultural memory, were simply a return to the norm.

In the discreet white-collar realm, men and women are interchangeable, doing the same, mind-based work. Physicality is suppressed; voices are lowered and gestures curtailed in sanitized office space. Men must neuter themselves, while ambitious women postpone procreation. Androgyny is bewitching in art, but in real life it can lead to stagnation and boredom, which no pill can cure.

Meanwhile, family life has put middle-class men in a bind; they are simply cogs in a domestic machine commanded by women. Contemporary moms have become virtuoso super-managers of a complex operation focused on the care and transport of children. But it’s not so easy to snap over from Apollonian control to Dionysian delirium.

Nor are husbands offering much stimulation in the male display department: visually, American men remain perpetual boys, as shown by the bulky T-shirts, loose shorts and sneakers they wear from preschool through midlife. The sexes, which used to occupy intriguingly separate worlds, are suffering from over-familiarity, a curse of the mundane. There’s no mystery left.

The elemental power of sexuality has also waned in American popular culture. Under the much-maligned studio production code, Hollywood made movies sizzling with flirtation and romance. But from the early ’70s on, nudity was in, and steamy build-up was out. A generation of filmmakers lost the skill of sophisticated innuendo. The situation worsened in the ’90s, when Hollywood pirated video games to turn women into cartoonishly pneumatic superheroines and sci-fi androids, fantasy figures without psychological complexity or the erotic needs of real women.

Furthermore, thanks to a bourgeois white culture that values efficient bodies over voluptuous ones, American actresses have desexualized themselves, confusing sterile athleticism with female power. Their current Pilates-honed look is taut and tense — a boy’s thin limbs and narrow hips combined with amplified breasts. Contrast that with Latino and African-American taste, which runs toward the healthy silhouette of the bootylicious Beyoncé.

A class issue in sexual energy may be suggested by the apparent striking popularity of Victoria’s Secret and its racy lingerie among multiracial lower-middle-class and working-class patrons, even in suburban shopping malls, which otherwise trend toward the white middle class. Country music, with its history in the rural South and Southwest, is still filled with blazingly raunchy scenarios, where the sexes remain dynamically polarized in the old-fashioned way.

On the other hand, rock music, once sexually pioneering, is in the dumps. Black rhythm and blues, born in the Mississippi Delta, was the driving force behind the great hard rock bands of the ’60s, whose cover versions of blues songs were filled with electrifying sexual imagery. The Rolling Stones’ hypnotic recording of Willie Dixon’s “Little Red Rooster,” with its titillating phallic exhibitionism, throbs and shimmers with sultry heat.

But with the huge commercial success of rock, the blues receded as a direct influence on young musicians, who simply imitated the white guitar gods without exploring their roots. Step by step, rock lost its visceral rawness and seductive sensuality. Big-ticket rock, with its well-heeled middle-class audience, is now all superego and no id.

In the 1980s, commercial music boasted a beguiling host of sexy pop chicks like Deborah Harry, Belinda Carlisle, Pat Benatar, and a charmingly ripe Madonna. Late Madonna, in contrast, went bourgeois and turned scrawny. Madonna’s dance-track acolyte, Lady Gaga, with her compulsive overkill, is a high-concept fabrication without an ounce of genuine eroticism.

Pharmaceutical companies will never find the holy grail of a female Viagra — not in this culture driven and drained by middle-class values. Inhibitions are stubbornly internal. And lust is too fiery to be left to the pharmacist.

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