The Notorious RBG talks ‘unconscious bias,’ abortion, and push-ups

Image via Wikipedia
Image via Wikipedia
Originally posted on Feministing

In an exclusive interview that appeared on The Rachel Maddow show on Monday, U.S. Supreme Court Justice, feminist hero, and Tumblr sensation Ruth Bader Ginsburg talked to MSNBC’s Irin Carmon, sharing her thoughts on abortion, her push-up routine, and how she describes President in Obama in one word.

See the video here…
Here are some of the greatest moments from their discussion…

On unconscious bias:

…what’s still with us and harder to deal with is what I call unconscious bias. And my best example is the symphony orchestra. When I was growing up, one never saw a woman in the symphony orchestra, except perhaps playing the harp. People who should have known better like The New York Times critic, Howard Taubman said, “You could put a blindfold on him and he could tell you whether it’s a woman playing the piano or a man.”

Someone had the simple idea, “Let’s drop a curtain. Let’s drop a curtain between the people who are auditioning and the people who are judging.” And almost overnight, there was a sea change. Once the curtain was dropped, the testers couldn’t tell whether it was a man – or a woman. And they made their judgments based on the quality of the performance.

Some years ago, when I was telling this story, a young violinist told me, “You left out something.” “Well, what? What did I leave out?” “You left out that we auditioned shoeless, so they won’t hear a woman’s heels behind the curtain.” That device of the dropped curtain isn’t so easy to duplicate in other areas.

On abortion access:

It’s not true that it’s [abortion] inaccessible to women of means. And that’s the crying shame. We will never see a day when women of means are not able to get a safe abortion in this country…. It hurts women who lack the means to go someplace else… all the restrictions, they operate against the woman who doesn’t have freedom to move, to go where she is able to get safely what she wants.

On how she does 20 pushups: We do ten at a time. And then I breathe for a bit and do the second set.”

On what she hopes young women take away from her work:

I would like them to have the enthusiasm that we had in the ’70s – determining that the law should catch up to the changes that have occurred in society, changes in the way people whatever, the realization that no one should be held back, boy or girl – because of gender, artificial gender barriers. That everyone should be – in the words of a wonderful song that Ms. Magazine popularized, everyone should be free to be you and me.

On the one word that comes to mind when she hears the name President Obama: “Sympathy. That’s a French word. It means more than sympathetic. It means who cares about other people.”

Read the rest of the interview here.

Saudi Arabian historian claims ban on women drivers protects them from rape

image via youtube
image via youtube
Originally posted on Feministing

In an unintentionally viral video, a Saudi Arabian historian justified his nation’s ban against women drivers by arguing that it protects them from roadside rape.

Saudi Arabia’s prohibition on women driving instituted in 1990, has been defied several times in recent years by women who have filmed themselves driving in protest. The government has responded with a crackdown, arresting women who break the law and even sending two women to a the Specialized Criminal Court in Riyadh which handles terrorism cases.

But don’t worry. There’s a good reason for this ban.

In a recent TV interview, historian Saleh Al-Saadoon claimed that the reason women are allowed to drive in Europe, America and parts of the Arab world is because women there don’t care about getting raped if their car breaks down: “They don’t care if they are raped on the roadside, but we do,” Al-Saadoon said on Saudi Rotana Khalijiyya TV.

The understandably incredulous host, who isn’t named, responds by saying, “Hold on. Who told you they don’t care about getting raped on the roadside?” To which Al-Saadoon replies, “In our case, however, the problem is of a social and religious nature.” When the host pointed out that the two other guests were shocked by the historian’s comments, he said, “They should listen to me and get used to what society thinks, if they are really so out of touch with it.”

Never fear — the women of Saudi Arabia may not be allowed to drive, but they are waited on by a gaggle of male relatives who have nothing to do but serve them: “Saudi women are driven around by their husbands, sons and brothers,”Al-Saadoon explained. “Everybody is at their service. They are like queens. A queen without a chauffeur has the honor of being driven around by her husband, brother, son and nephews. They are at the ready when she gestures with her hands.”

The host then wondered about the risk of being raped by these drivers, asking, “You are afraid that a woman might be raped by the roadside by soldiers, but you are not afraid that she might be raped by her chauffeur?”

“Of course, I am,” replied the concerned historian. And then he dropped a radical policy recommendation that could forever change the transportation system of Saudi Arabia: “There is a solution but the government officials and clerics refuse to hear of it. The solution is to bring female foreign chauffeurs to drive our wives.” No, he didn’t! He then asked the host, “Are you with me on this?”

Her response was a face palm, followed by laughter.

So, to summarize: the solution is to bring in foreign female drivers who may very well get raped on the side of the road if their car breaks down. But it’s all good, because it’s no big deal for them.

Apparently, SCOTUS thinks firing women for breastfeeding isn’t discrimination
US Supreme Court
Originally posted on Feministing

The Supreme Court refused to consider the case of Angela Ames, a woman who was forced to quit her job because she needed to breastfeed, deciding that firing a woman for breastfeeding isn’t discrimination because men can lactate. The argument may sound progressive and inclusive, but
it’s the total opposite.

Image via Wikipedia

When Angela Ames returned to work at the Nationwide Insurance Company after her maternity leave, she found another employee’s belongings in her workspace. She needed to pump breast milk for her child but was denied access to the lactation room because the company needed three days to process the paperwork. Unfortunately, nobody had bothered telling Ames about this lengthy lactation-room-admissions policy before she came back to work. She tried to express milk in a “wellness room,” but it was occupied. By this point, Ames, who had been unable to express her milk, was in pain and had started leaking. When she asked her supervisor where she could pump, he responded, “Just go home to be with your babies.” And then, like the chivalrous, selfless prince that he is, dictated her letter of resignation.

Ames tried to sue over what seems to be obvious pregnancy and gender discrimination. But in March 2014, the Eighth Circuit Court decided that she had not met the legal burden of showing that her treatment was so bad that any reasonable person would have resigned. Because, a reasonable person would totally tolerate the humiliation of having someone else’s stuff in their workspace, being denied access to a place she can nurse, being in pain and leaking, being told to go be with their babies, and then having their letter of resignation written for them.

But here’s the kicker! The Eighth Circuit was refusing to overturn an earlier decision, which also sided with Nationwide in 2012. This ruling said that if Ames had, indeed, been fired over her needing to breastfeed, that wouldn’t constitute pregnancy-related discrimination, anyway. Want to know why? Because you don’t have to be pregnant to lactate. Nor do you have to be a woman. As the Court wrote in its decision, “It is a scientific fact that even men have milk ducts and the hormones responsible for milk production.”

Now, this may sound like a progressive inclusive point. But let’s not kid ourselves. This is about refusing to recognize blatant discrimination, not about challenging the gender binary. As the ACLU’s Galen Sherwin wrote on Monday,

It’s certainly important to acknowledge that some men (including some trans men) can and do lactate. But it should also be self-evident that firing someone because they are breastfeeding is still a form of sex discrimination, and one that is all-too-frequently experienced by new mothers.

Sherwin also points out that finding loopholes to justify discrimination has a long and rich history.

The court’s reasoning in this case echoes old Supreme Court pronouncements that discriminating against pregnant women at work isn’t sex discrimination because both men and women can be non-pregnant. Congress long ago rejected this ridiculous reasoning when it passed the Pregnancy Discrimination Act. It’s disheartening to see it resurface again.

As Sherwin also explains, this case,

shines a harsh light on the multi-layered workings of structural discrimination: Workplace policies that don’t make space for the realities of pregnancy and motherhood, employers’ entrenched sex stereotypes and implicit bias, and courts that — despite decades-old legal protections — still manage to turn a blind eye to the pervasive discrimination faced every day by working women.

This isn’t just sanctioned discrimination. This is institutionalized.

RIP Aishah Rahman: playwright, author, professor, renaissance woman

Aishah Rahman was a playwright, author, professor, and renaissance woman who lives on through her her work.

Aishah Rahman was born in Harlem on November 4, 1936 and died on December 29th at her home in San Miguel de Allende, as the New York Times announced this week. Along with Amiri Baraka, Larry Neal, and Sonia Sanchez, Rahman was part the Black Arts Movement of the 1960’s and described her writing style as using a “jazz aesthetic.” Rahman graduated from Howard University with BS in Political Science in 1968 and got an MA in playwriting and dramatic literature from Goddard College in 1985.

image via New York Times
image via New York Times

Rahman wrote several plays including “Unfinished Women Cry In No Man’s Land While a Bird Dies in Gilded Cage, ” “The Mojo And The Sayso,” “Only in America,” “Chiaroscuro” as well as three plays with music, “Lady Day A Musical Tragedy,” “The Tale of Madame Zora” and “Has Anybody Seen Marie Laveau?” two collections of one act plays Transcendental Blues and Mingus Takes 3. Ms. Rahman’ plays are published in Plays by Aishah Rahman and are widely anthologized in several collections including Nine Plays Moon Marked and Touched by Sun and Plays by African Americans. Her plays were produced across the United States at theaters including the Public Theatre, Ensemble Theatre, BAM and universities. Rahman published a Chewed Water: A Memoir, the story of growing up in Harlem in the 1940’s and 50s, in 2001. Her countless awards and prizes included a recognition by the Rockefeller Foundation of the Arts for dedication to playwriting in the American Theater and received The Doris Abramson Playwriting Award as well as a New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship.

Rahman served as director of playwriting at the New Federal Theater in New York, taught at Nassau Community College on Long Island and most recently at Brown University, retiring in 2011.

Rahman is survived by a daughter, Yoruba Richen, a son, Kevin Brown, grandchildren Thalia Zephyrine and Ishyah Yisrael and great grandchildren; Thelonious Gatling, Amir Yisrael-Mosby, Eliyahkim Yisrael, Jelani-YechiYAH, Neriyah Yisrael.

When I asked Yoruba Richen, the award-winning documentary filmmaker (The New Black)  if there was anything she wanted people to know about her mother she said, “Her plays were focused on exploring the black female experience in all its joys and pain and complexity.”

Yoruba also had these inspiring and moving words to say:

My mom was dedicated to her craft.  Despite frustrations that sometime arise in the life of an artist – she was committed to her writing and to  using her voice to contribute to some kind of understanding of those who are often marginalized.   She inspires me to be dedicated to my work and to telling stories that have often been ignored and  give voice to the voiceless.  And she instilled in me to never be bitter, to have faith and humor and generosity of spirit and, as she wrote to me one time,  to always remember- in spite all of the pain, and the misery and injustice the world is good.

RIP Aishah Rahman.

Originally posted on Feministing

Bess Myerson: The only Jewish Miss America, pianist, politician you’ve never heard of

Image via wikipedia
Image via wikipedia
Bess Myerson
Bess Myerson
Photo credit: Wikipedia

Meet the late Bess Myerson: the first and (as of today) only Jewish Miss America, pianist, adviser to three presidents, Senate primary candidate and consumer rights advocate. I’m not sure about you, but I had never heard of Bess Myerson before Monday when headlines announced that she had died at the age of 90 at her home in Santa Monica California. (Though she died last month, her death wasn’t confirmed until January 5.) Nor had I heard about Miss America’s rule number  seven, which required that contestants be “of good health and of the white race.”

Born on July 16, 1924, Myerson grew up in the Sholem Aleichem Cooperative Houses in the Bronx. She started piano when she was nine years old, and after she graduated from Hunter College, hoped to get a graduate degree in music. Despite teaching piano at 50 cents an hour, Myerson was unable to afford the piano or education she wanted. According to Myerson, her sister Sylvia sent Bess’s photo to the Miss New York City contest, without telling her, during the summer of 1945. Myerson borrowed a bathing suit and performed the piano and flute. After becoming Miss New York, Myerson went to Atlantic City and participated in the Miss America pageant.

Before heading to Atlantic City, however, Myerson had a private meeting with the Miss America pageant director and Southern Baptist, Lenora Slaughter, who urged her to change her name to something more “attractive” — i.e. less Jewish-sounding — like Betty Merrick or Betty Meredith. Slaughter, who directed the pageant from 1935 to 1967, had, at some point in the 1930s, made it a rule that the Miss America “contestant must be in good health and of the white race.” This rule was abolished in 1950 but the first Black candidate was not until 1970 and the first Black Miss America, Vanessa Williams, was not crowned until 1984.

Myerson recalled the conversation with Slaughter and why she refused to change her name:

I said… the problem is that I’m Jewish, yes? And with that kind of name it’ll be quite obvious to everyone else that I’m Jewish. And you don’t want to have to deal with a Jewish Miss America. And that really was the bottom line. I said I can’t change my name. You have to understand. I cannot change my name. I live in a building with two hundred and fifty Jewish families. The Sholom Aleichem apartment houses. If I should win, I want everybody to know that I’m the daughter of Louie and Bella Myerson.

She would later tell her biographer, “Already I was losing my sense of who I was; already I was in a masquerade, marching across stages in bathing suits. Whatever was left of myself in this game, I had to keep, I sensed that. I knew I had to keep my name. It turned out to be one of the most important decisions I ever made.”

Another way Myerson maintained her identity was by being the only woman in the Miss America pageant who appeared in her cap and gown and not a bathing suit. And when she won the contest, the announcer said, “Beauty with brains, that’s Miss America of 1945!”

Not everyone was so happy about her victory, however, and three of the five sponsors pulled out of their partnerships with Miss America because they didn’t want their products to be represented by someone Jewish. During her Miss America tour around the nation, country clubs and hotels barred her and appearances were canceled. Myerson recalled, “I felt so rejected… Here I was, chosen to represent American womanhood, and then America treated me like this.” She also witnessed segregation in the South.

So Myerson cut the tour short, went back to New York and went on tour again, this time lecturing for the Anti-Defamation League, in cooperation with the NAACP and the Urban League, reading from her speech against anti-semitism and racism titled, “You Can’t Be Beautiful and Hate.”

Nor did her accomplishments stop there. Meyerson performed piano with the New York Philharmonic at Carnegie Hall. She became New York City’s first commissioner of consumer affairs in 1969, passing some of the toughest laws in the country, including “sell-by” dates and unit pricing. In 1977, she chaired Edward Koch’s successful campaign for New York City mayor and served as director of cultural affairs under him. In 1980, she entered the Democratic Senate primary, but was defeated by Representative Elizabeth Holtzman. Myerson was an advisor on the White House conference on crime and violence under Lyndon B Johnson, on a board dealing with workplace issues under Gerald R. Ford, and on commissions on mental health and world hunger under Jimmy Carter.

Photo credit: Wikipedia

Originally posted on Feministing

New study shows that sharing abortion stories changes people’s minds

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A new study shows that when anti-choice people hear in person accounts from women who have had abortions, they are more likely to start supporting reproductive freedom. 

A public opinion research team led by UCLA doctoral candidate Michael LaCour has already demonstrated how door-to-door canvassing can change people’s opinions on LGBT issues. A study from earlier this month, for instance, determined that when conservatives talked to an LGBT canvasser for 20 minutes, they became more supportive of LGBT rights and remained supportive even nine months later.

Now, the same research team has started working with Planned Parenthood and is looking at the effect of talking to canvassers who have had abortions and those who haven’t. The preliminary results show that in-person conversations with both groups of volunteers lead to increased support of legalizing abortion. In initial surveys, 39 percent of voters said they supported legal abortion access but after talking with the volunteers support reached almost 50 percent.

Ant the effect of speaking with the volunteers who had had abortions was even stronger. For instance, people who spoke to that group were more likely to tell other members of their households about their conversations. In addition, after the Supreme Court struck down Massachusetts’ buffer zone around abortion clinics, anti-abortion attitudes were strengthened among most participants except for those who had spoken to a volunteer who had discussed her own abortion. As LaCour explains, “This finding suggests that discussion at the doorstep affected the way in which people subsequently received and interpreted the news.”

Just a reminder that the personal is very much political, and telling abortion stories can be powerful.

Originally posted on Feministing

New survey shows the gender leadership gap in the non-profit world

The corporate world is famous for its all-too-often shatter-proof glass ceilings and old-boy network sexism. But, as a new study of Jewish non-profits highlights, the non-profit sector isn’t exactly a beacon of gender equality either.

When Jane Eisner became the editor-in-chief of The Forward, the largest and oldest running national Jewish newspaper, she was shocked by how few of the leaders of non-profits were women. As she explained to me, “I come to The Forward and that first summer in 2008 my boss takes me around to meet all these Jewish leaders and they were all men. So, I’m thinking, well, just because this was my anecdotal experience doesn’t mean that’s in fact the landscape.”

So, Eisner decided she would look at the actual data. In 2009, The Forward published its first salary survey which determined that only 11 of the 75  biggest Jewish non-profits had women leaders. Today, The Forward came out with its 6th annual salary survey. Continue reading “New survey shows the gender leadership gap in the non-profit world”

The sexual violence of the CIA torture program

image via RT
image via RT

Originally posted on Feministing

This week’s Senate report reveals gruesome and grisly details about the way the CIA used torture after 9/11. While the revelations are sparking outrage and disgust, few people are making the important and disturbing point that the regimented, systemized, and dehumanizing abuse actually included sexual violence and rape.

While organizations like Human Rights Watch and Center for Constitutional Rights have been documenting and even filing suit against the abuses that occurred under CIA watch for over a decade, a Senate report released on Tuesday confirms that the CIA did indeed engage in torture — and lied about it.

The CIA doesn’t call this torture “torture,” opting instead for the euphemism of “enhanced interrogation techniques.” But it’s hard to call the following anything but torture: beating people; “walling” people (which is slamming them against a wall using an improvised “collar,” such as a rolled-up towel); binding them with tape; hanging them from their wrists for days; waterboarding them until they turn blue; making them stand on broken feet or limbs, dragging them naked down hallways; and punching and slapping them.

The CIA also used threats of sexual abuse and actual sexual abuse against detainees. Continue reading “The sexual violence of the CIA torture program”

The best and worst moments in the Supreme Court hearing on pregnancy discrimination

image via wikipedia
image via wikipedia

Yesterday, the question of whether it is legal to fire someone for becoming pregnant went before The Supreme Court. December 3, 2014. That’s not a typo. TWO THOUSAND AND FOURTEEN!

Peggy Young had been working for UPS for four years when she became pregnant. When she told her employer that her doctor told her not to lift packages heavier than 20 pounds, she didn’t anticipate she would lose her job and health insurance for nine months. But that’s what happened, and that’s why her case is now in front of the Supreme Court.

Though UPS requires that its drivers be able to lift up to 70 pounds, Young assumed she could keep her job during her pregnancy because almost all of the packages she handled were under 20 pounds. She only handled packages weighing over 20 pounds a few times each month, and a co-worker had already offered to help on those rare occasions.

And here’s the thing. Part of the reason Young expected more flexibility from her employer was because UPS does, in fact, accommodate other workers by giving them light duty if they need it due to a disability or an on-the-job-injury. Its policy even accommodates workers who lose their commercial driver’s license because of a DUI. But if you get pregnant, instead of busted for driving while drunk, you’re screwed.
Continue reading “The best and worst moments in the Supreme Court hearing on pregnancy discrimination”

‘Orange Is the New Black’ actress remembers coming home from school to learn that her family had been deported

Originally posted on Feministing

Actress Diane Guerrero experienced our draconian immigration policies first-hand when she was 14 years old, and came home from school to an empty house. Hours later she would find out her family had been taken to a detention center and would be deported. Guerrero is using her voice to speak out for humane, fair, and sensible immigration reform.

Guerrero is best known for her roles in shows like Orange is the New Black and Jane the Virgin. But she is also an advocate for undocumented people and their families and volunteers with the Immigrant Legal Resource Center. This past weekend Guerrero penned an op-ed for the LA Times about her experience with our broken immigration system. While Guerrero was born in New Jersey and thus a legal citizen, her parents and older brother had immigrated from Colombia. She writes,

Throughout my childhood I watched my parents try to become legal but to no avail. They lost their money to people they believed to be attorneys, but who ultimately never helped. That meant my childhood was haunted by the fear that they would be deported. If I didn’t see anyone when I walked in the door after school, I panicked.

And then one day, my fears were realized. I came home from school to an empty house. Lights were on and dinner had been started, but my family wasn’t there. Neighbors broke the news that my parents had been taken away by immigration officers, and just like that, my stable family life was over.

Not a single person at any level of government took any note of me. No one checked to see if I had a place to live or food to eat, and at 14, I found myself basically on my own.

Guerrero uses her painful experience to push for reforms that are not only just, but in the best interest of legal citizens:

[I]t’s not just in the interest of immigrants to fix the system: It’s in the interest of all Americans. Children who grow up separated from their families often end up in foster care, or worse, in the juvenile justice system despite having parents who love them and would like to be able to care for them.

I don’t believe it reflects our values as a country to separate children and parents in this way. Nor does it reflect our values to hold people in detention without access to good legal representation or a fair shot in a court of law. President Obama has promised to act on providing deportation relief for families across the country, and I would urge him to do so quickly. Keeping families together is a core American value.

Congress needs to provide a permanent, fair legislative solution, but in the meantime families are being destroyed every day, and the president should do everything in his power to provide the broadest relief possible now. Not one more family should be separated by deportation.

While her piece was eloquent and moving, it was her television appearance on Monday that caught people’s attention and made the headlines. During a CNN interview with Michaela Pereira, Guerrero spoke from the heart and off the cuff and broke into tears, saying, “We’ve been separated for so long, I feel like sometimes we don’t know each othe… I’ve grown up without them. There are things about them that I don’t recognize. I know that I’ve been by myself, but I feel like they have lived a very lonely existence themselves.”

See the transcript in this article and watch the video above.

See more of my posts at Feministing