The Election: What Do Black Women Think?

When faced with a choice between Clinton and Obama, what do black women do?  Do they vote their race? Do they vote their gender?  All the reporters want to know…. 

So what are African-American women talking about when the cameras aren’t watching or, more importantly, what are we telling the media that is not being fairly reported? African-American women are talking about the issues!  

We talk about the vision that each candidate has for leading this country. We enthusiastically discuss the possibility that real, positive change will come from this election. We even parse the policy distinctions in the candidates’ positions on education, creating jobs and ending the war in Iraq.

Sometimes, the issues we talk about do deal with aspects of gender and racial identity. We debated Sen. Hillary Clinton’s statement implying that Martin Luther King’s civil rights movement did not fulfill its promise until Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act. We argue and marvel at the significant generational divide in the African-American community that is being exposed by this election process.

If you listen closely to the women in the news features at the beauty shops, they are commenting on these issues, even when the voice-over in the same feature is telling you that the women are discussing whether it’s more important to have the first woman or the first black president. 

What? Huh? They talk about the issues? If only somebody would listen. (For more, see Danielle Holley-Walker’s column here. Thanks, Jender-Parents, the for the link!)

Anonymous refereeing: some evidence

I’ve argued before that philosophy journals should all take up fully anonymous refereeing.  (Actually, I’ve argued that papers’ authors should also be unknown to the editor, but this doesn’t address that.) Here‘s some evidence that this is a good idea.  (Via The F-Word.)  It seems anonymous reviewing is only rarely practised in ecology and evolution journals.  But Behavioural Ecology recently decided to take it up.  They found a significant increase in acceptance of papers by women after the change, and there were apparently no negative effects.  (The article uses the widely employed term ‘double-blind’.  If you want to know the reasons I am now using ‘anonymous’ instead, check out the discussion in the comments here.) 


Strange and Disturbing Statistics

From an improbable source (a NYRB article  on global warming), I’ve learned:

that between 1992 and 2004, the percentage of Americans who agreed with the statement “The father of the family must be the master in his own house” went from 42 to 52 percent. But at the same time, the percentage who agreed that “taking care of the home and kids is as much a man’s work as women’s work” rose from 86 percent in 1992 to 89 percent in 2004.   

What did I find so striking about this? Well, if I’d only seem the second set of figures, I might well have thought that 89% of Americans in 2004 had abandoned the idea of traditional gender roles within the family– it sounds great that 89% think “taking care of the home and kids is as much a man’s work as women’s”. And it is great. But the shocking thing is that at the very same time 52% still think the man must be “master in his own house”. If I’d read this one alone, I would have thought over half of Americans supported traditional gender roles in the family. So I found this quite an important lesson regarding how crucial it is not to just look at one set of figures and think we have the full picture. (In fact, it makes me want to go look at the rest of the study– who knows what might be in there?– but I haven’t had the chance.)

Another surprise: if I’d been told that there was a big difference in answer to the two questions, I would have guessed that more people would be willing to say that taking care of children is women’s work than would be willing to say that a man should be “master in his home”. After all, the first fits well with rather widely accepted claims about innate differences between men and women, and the second sounds (to me anyway) like a very obvious endorsement of male dominance. I would have expected the latter to be less socially acceptable and so less likely to be agreed to.

The final surprise: the number assenting to the “master of his house” claim went UP. Eek.

More on feminism and economics

Further to points raised in JJ’s post, below: in the field of economic development, theorists have been looking at the relationship between gender inequality and economic growth. Stephanie Seguino argues, in a paper that looks at economic growth in Asian economies between 1975 and 1995, that (amongst other factors) gender inequality had a key role in boosting economic growth (this view is apparently at odds with research else where which suggests equality is good for growth).

(The reference is
Seguino, S. (2000) ‘Accounting for Gender in Asian Economic Growth’, Feminist Economics, 6 (3) pp. 27-58, but I’m afraid subscriptions are required).

The claim is that gendered economic structures, in which women receive lower pay, or perform unpaid domestic work, and accept a lower social and economic status, boost growth due to a number of factors:

  • women’s lower wages lowers unit labour costs (how much per product), so makes for good foreign exchange relations
  • women’s acceptance of lower status means risk of labour strife is lower (reassuring for investors)
  • women’s lower wages mean they have reduced bargaining status – with employers, husbands – so traditional family structures and hierarchies are maintained, control over women’s labour is sustained.

So, when it comes to economic growth, not exactly great motivation to address issues of gender equality, then. I’m not familiar with much of the literature or issues in this realm. Any one else?(thanks to .h. for passing this on)

Grace Lee Boggs


 As Amy Goodman of Democracy Now tells us, 

Grace Lee Boggs, the legendary 92-year-old civil rights activist, who has been pivotally involved with the civil rights, black power, labor, peace, environmental justice, Asian American and feminist movements.

And from Bill Moyer’s site:

Born in 1915 to Chinese immigrant parents, Boggs received her BA from Barnard College in 1935 and her Ph.D. in Philosophy from Bryn Mawr College in 1940.

Boggs’ comments on Democracy now can be seen as continuing discussions about racism and sexism that have been occurring on this blog, perhaps particularly in the observations and references made in comments on an earlier post about Bob Herbert on misogyny. Violence toward women is not likely to be an isolatable problem, one whose causes reflect just what happens between individuals. How deeply does it reside in our values and practices? And what today is holding that in place?

 One can see Boggs as calling a discussion of just such issues:

And we don’t see how what we have done and the way that we have tried to be robust in our economic growth has created all these crises for the world. That’s why I like to start looking at the economy. How can we take advantage of this opportunity, this crisis, to reorder our priorities?

And it is clear that her conception of “reordering priorities” is not a trivial idea, for it is to be done in terms of Martin Luther King’s insights

what people don’t realize is at the end of his life, King was looking at our crisis, a profound spiritual and material crisis, and he said that we had advanced economic growth at the expense of community and of participation, that our works had become larger and we ourselves had become smaller.

Asked if she is worried that the US will increase its military activities because of concerns about the economy, she remarked:

this is a question of choice, we are not at the mercy of circumstances. We are human beings. We can become more purposeful. We can choose. We don’t have to go the way of empires. Or, going the way of empires, we don’t have to continue to go that way.

Of course the causes of violence against women have ancient roots, but it seems very likely that the crisis MLK saw also does.
Boggs says that she is optimistic. I’m less sure. I am not confident, for example, that our society, or at least the US, is prepared to address the issues. Nor does there seem to be a clear way to get us to do so.

Vote Pro-Reproductive Justice

Blog for Choice DayFeminist philosopher Laurie Shrage has posted an online version of a 35th anniversary lecture on Roe. It’s well worth checking out. One thing that’s very important about it is that she makes it very clear that one can be staunchly in favour of reproductive justice (she gives good reasons for preferring this formulation to ‘pro-choice’) without being an enormous fan of the details of the Roe V Wade decision. Her work is extremely thought-provoking, and I highly recommend it.  Even if you don’t end up agreeing, you will have been given much to think about.  There are many ways to vote, and be, in favour of reproductive rights.  And it’s worth thinking very hard about how best to accomplish the goal.

Vote Pro-Choice III

Blog for Choice Day  ‘Blog for Choice Day provides us with an opportunity to raise the profile of reproductive rights in the blogosphere and the media, while celebrating Roe’s 35th anniversary’, say the folks at Blog for Choice.

The film industry has recently been doing its bit with regards raising the profile of reproductive rights, with the newly released (in the UK) 4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days. Reviews here and here. A horrifying tale of illegal abortion, in Ceausescu’s Romania, and its repercussions, which brings to the fore the grim and potentially brutal options that face women who are denied the right to reproductive control.

Go see it! (and try to find some pro-lifers or fence-sitters to see it with you!)

Vote pro-choice II

Blog for Choice Day An embryo is not a baby and it is wrong to force a pregnant woman to treat hers as though it is.

Whether or when the fetus becomes the moral equivalent of a baby is only one of the issues involved in the debate over freedom of choice, but it’s a big one.  Michael Gazzaniga, in The Ethical Brain, looks carefully at the stages of fetal development to  consider when and how characteristically human capacities  develop.  The scientific facts are  enlightening.  For example, a  fetus looks human quite far in advance of its having a capacity for any consciousness of anything, pain included. Those pictures of those very tiny fetuses blown up in a way that disguises the fact that one of them would fit on the head of a pin?  They’re also misleading about the stage at which one has anything that is more than superficially like a baby.

This is not to say that Gazzaniga’s book gets an honorable mention in feminist literature, and his views about the extent to which “neuro-logic” can issue the right decisions may strike one as misguided at some important points.  Ditto for his convictions about the lack of  value of thousands of years of  philosophical thought.  At the same time, he has the facts and he uses them to take on some of the biggest bioethical issues of our times.  

The book is also a document about an important period in America’s history.  One can get from it a picture of the debates that informed the commission on bioethics that Bush convened, of which Gazzaniga was a member.  He leaves us with the sense he was appalled by what sort of view dominated in decisions, and rightly so.  The book is disturbing in its picture of the extent to which, under the guidance of the current president,  government laws and practices are driven by conservative religious values.

We have to stop this.  

Vote pro-choice. Or else.

 Blog for Choice DayWhen I read about Blog for Choice Day, I thought “of course Feminist Philosophers must be a part of this!”.  Then I read that to do this I had to answer the question “Why Vote Pro-Choice?”.  And writers’ block set in, as I utterly failed to come up with a new reason.  Then I saw this sculpture of Anita Garibaldi by Emilio Galloni (late 19th C), and found a new reason.  If you don’t, legions of gun-toting women, mothers or not, will hunt you down.  (While sitting side-saddle on a leaping horse, gun in one hand and baby in the other!  Don’t mess with us.)the-equestrian-statue-of-anita-garibaldi.jpgSeriously, though, voting pro-choice is no laughing matter. We have a chance to elect a President who can begin to reverse the horrendous damage that’s been done to reproductive freedom in America. The alternative is one who will continue and heighten that damage. That is an unimaginably bleak thought. So get yourselves registered if you’re not. If you’re an ex-pat like me, go here. And don’t just vote pro-choice; tell others to do it. And, if you can, spend some time or money working for candidates who oppose forced childbearing. This election is a biggie.  (Thanks to Mr Jender for his help on this.)