A major hidden ideology that runs through sports and that affects all women participants is the need to appear feminine, according to research that I’ve conducted in the United Kingdom. My study leads me to conclude that the fight to gain equality in sports will mean addressing the enforcement of a heterosexual norm.
In one store, you’re a Size 4, in another a Size 8, and in another a Size 10 — all without gaining an ounce.
It’s a familiar problem for many women, as standard sizing has never been very standard, ever since custom clothing gave way to ready-to-wear.
So, baffled women carry armfuls of the same garment in different sizes into the dressing room. They order several sizes of the same shirt online, just to get the right fit.
Now, a handful of companies are tackling the problem of sizes that are unreliable. 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.
This is such a frustrating problem for women of all sizes. I understand the purpose of vanity sizing — if someone who is usually a size 6 fits into a size 2, she’s perhaps more likely to purchase that garment. And I’ve certainly hesitated to size up because the number seemed too high. But vanity sizing makes size tags virtually meaningless, and makes shopping much more challenging (especially if you don’t want to spend an hour trying on clothes at the store, or if you prefer to shop online):
Take a woman with a 27-inch waist. In Marc Jacobs’s high-end line, she is between an 8 and a 10. At Chico’s, she is a triple 0. And that does not consider whether the garment fits in the hips and bust. (Let’s not get into length; there is a reason most neighborhood dry cleaners also offer tailoring.)
There’s a class aspect to this as well. Higher-end brands, I’ve noticed, are sized much smaller than middle-market and mall-store clothes. The cuts, too, are different — mall-store brands like Ann Taylor, Banana Republic and J Crew are not only wildly over-sized as a general rule (especially Ann Taylor, sweet Jesus), but also cut wider in the waist. I am by no means a tiny person, but I don’t even attempt to go shopping at the Gap (or a lot of similar national stores) anymore, unless it’s for an over-sized sweater, because I’m going to waste my time trying on a million different ill-fitting items. Talking about this stuff can feel a little bit whine-braggy (“Ugh don’t you hate it when you don’t even fit into a size zero?”), but really, tiny sizes should fit tiny people (and I am not in their ranks). At the same time, a lot of these stores don’t advertise or adequately stock plus-sized clothes, so larger women aren’t going to walk in, either. And as the Times article details, pants that fit my short legs and big butt and thick thighs and smaller waist are not going to fit my friend’s long skinny legs and straight waist; so why are we both trying on the same size and the same cut?
Stores should be able to cater to larger people by adding additional sizes, not just by cutting garments larger and calling them size 10. It goes back, in part, to how size is tied not only to perceptions of attractiveness but also to social class. Carrying sizes in the 16+ range can add to the perception that a store is down-market; if the store is Chico’s then it’s no biggie, but if it’s J. Crew, that’s going to be a marketing problem. Instead of offering sizes for a wide range of bodies, stores will cut a size 14 to fit a size 20 so they don’t lose the larger customer (and in turn, the size 8 customer fits into a size 2 and feels great and buys more clothes). But stores also can’t afford to lose their smaller customers, so Size 2 items in a particular store have wildly different measurements. The small (but not too small) woman can usually find something and the large (but not too large) woman can usually find something too, but neither of them can walk in to any given store and grab their size and be reasonably confident it will fit.
And despite vanity-sizing and cutting clothes larger and larger, women who are size 20 plus (and there are a lot of women who are size 20 plus) are generally out of luck when it comes to shopping at stores that don’t advertise themselves as “plus-sized.” And since there are so few plus-sized stores, there are not only fewer options generally, but far fewer choices when it comes to cut — and a pear-shaped size 24 is going to fit clothes very differently than a size 24 who carries her weight at her waist. At least if you’re a size 6 (even if that means your clothing tags list sizes that range from 2 to 10) you can try on 15 different pairs of pants at 6 different stores; if you’re a size 20-something, you’ve got Lane Bryant and maybe one or two others.
It would be nice if women’s clothes, like men’s, were sized in inches and were fairly standard; it would also be nice if so much value weren’t assigned to the size on your pants tag.
Ross Douthat apparently finds it paradoxical that some women want to have children but can’t, and some can have children but don’t want to, and the ones that don’t want to aren’t giving birth for the ones who can’t. Which leads me to believe that Ross Douthat has no idea what pregnancy or childbirth actually entails, since he doesn’t seem to understand that it involves significant physical and emotional difficulty.
Or perhaps he does, and doesn’t care. He writes:
This is the paradox of America’s unborn. No life is so desperately sought after, so hungrily desired, so carefully nurtured. And yet no life is so legally unprotected, and so frequently destroyed.
It’s as if the “unborn” exist unto themselves, and we are callously and casually destroying them. Douthat neglects to recognize that there’s a woman involved, and that the desire of one woman to have a child doesn’t mean that a second woman is morally obligated to undergo nearly ten months of physically and emotionally trying pregnancy.
In every era, there’s been a tragic contrast between the burden of unwanted pregnancies and the burden of infertility. But this gap used to be bridged by adoption far more frequently than it is today. Prior to 1973, 20 percent of births to white, unmarried women (and 9 percent of unwed births over all) led to an adoption. Today, just 1 percent of babies born to unwed mothers are adopted, and would-be adoptive parents face a waiting list that has lengthened beyond reason.
Some of this shift reflects the growing acceptance of single parenting. But some of it reflects the impact of Roe v. Wade. Since 1973, countless lives that might have been welcomed into families like Thernstrom’s — which looked into adoption, and gave it up as hopeless — have been cut short in utero instead.
It is absolutely true that legal abortion has decreased the number of “desireable” (white, able-bodied, infant) children available for adoption. Forty years ago, the women giving birth to those babies were mostly young and unmarried; a lot of those women were shipped off to boarding houses for pregnant girls, or cloistered away so they wouldn’t shame their families. Adoption wasn’t much of a choice — the girl in question wasn’t often given the option of raising her own child. Women who did raise children without husbands were not looked upon kindly.
It’s also absolutely true that birth control has decreased the pool of potentially adoptable babies. I suppose in Douthat’s world, that’s a bad thing too, since any control over your reproduction is suspect. But for most of us, being able to prevent pregnancies we don’t want is a net gain.
Douthat also talks a big game about valuing and protecting the unborn, but neglects to lay out the specifics about how he proposes we actually do that. Implicit in his column is the argument that we outlaw abortion, but he never actually comes out and says that — probably because he realizes that when it comes right down to it, a lot of people really don’t like the idea of criminalizing women who don’t believe it’s their burden to provide babies for anyone who wants one. It’s also a lot easier to talk about “valuing life” (and to really mean “punishing women”) than it is to take the sometimes costly steps that actually value that life — providing affordable health care, early-childhood education, childcare, paid maternity leave, and on and on. You know, things that social conservatives like Douthat routinely oppose because of “personal responsibility” and “keeping the government out of our lives.”
We all know that Douthat isn’t a big fan of the ladies (or the rights of ladies). But his concern here isn’t just for fetuses — it’s also for “good” families that, in his estimation, deserve children from not-good women. The old era of adoptions, where middle and upper-middle-class families were able to adopt babies birthed in secret by teenage mothers, required not only a crackdown on women’s bodily autonomy, but also a social model that deemed single mothers inherently bad, and certain families (largely white, headed by a heterosexual couple, and on the wealthier side of not) to be the only acceptable ones. It’s not just about abortion. It’s about a return to an idealized, gender-inegalitarian, racially divided and socially stratified time. It’s about making sure women know that their place isn’t just at home and in the service of their husbands, but also in the service of “better” families.
Good luck with that.
Also, Ross Douthat? Abortions were had on those “most libertine programs” Sex & the City and Mad Men. Characters also decided to give birth. So while you’re learning about the birds and the bees and how pregnancy actually impacts a woman’s body, maybe Netflix some of those shows too.
Here’s a great idea: Invite a bunch of lawyers to an annual meeting of the Bar association. At the meeting, have two panels devoted to female attorneys: One titled "What’s Our Problem?," featuring lady-lawyers discussing "a changing legal market where competition is tougher and expectations are higher" for women who "are currently in or are looking to re-enter the legal field" (because we leave to have babies!), followed by a panel titled "Their Point of View: Tips From the Other Side," where "A distinguished panel of gentlemen from the legal field will discuss the strengths and weaknesses of women in the areas of communication, negotiation, mediation, arbitration, organization, and women's overall management of their legal work."
Got that, ladies? We'll start the day by asking "What's Our Problem?" and discussing all the issues facing us and all the ways we’re sucking in our careers, and then a distinguished panel of gentlemen will tell us how we suck but where we're also good, and then they'll fix our problems. I was personally hoping they would also give us a talking-to about office-appropriate attire, but maybe next year.
Now, don't get me wrong -- I’m sure that both panels would have helpful information. I'm sure that the distinguished gentlemen on the second panel are indeed distinguished, and are probably very smart and nice people who do genuinely want to help female lawyers. And female lawyers do face specific challenges in our field. But the Bar association really framed this one poorly. And maybe we would face fewer challenges if it wasn't always assumed that we're the ones with the problem.
Today, New York Governor David Paterson signed an executive order barring discrimination against state employees on the basis of gender identity and gender expression. Seeing the high numbers of transgender people who report discrimination in the workplace, this is great news for those current and future employees who will be affected.
But it’s also only a first step in the right direction. While New York is now ahead of many states, it’s also really behind many others:
While supporters of transgender legal protections said they were encouraged by Mr. Paterson’s order, they noted that New York was not a pioneer in extending such rights.
“It has been a long road, and I think New York is behind,” said Dru Levasseur, a transgender rights attorney for Lambda Legal. “So this will bring New York up to par with other states that are taking the lead on workplace fairness.”
Twelve states and the District of Columbia have broad laws prohibiting discrimination based on gender expression or identity, according to gay and transgender rights groups. In addition, more than 100 cities and counties across the country provide similar legal protections
Indeed, just within the state, New York City, Albany, Binghamton, Buffalo, Ithaca, Rochester, Westchester County and Tompkins County already have workplace discrimination laws applying to trans people in place.
Further, the executive order only applies to state employees, because a law is required to extend those same protections to all workers in New York. What is truly needed is the passage of GENDA, an anti-discrimination bill affecting trans New Yorkers that the legislature has allowed to languish for several years — or, as many would argue, a revamped version of GENDA that doesn’t risk causing as many problems as it solves. (Better yet, an inclusive ENDA would extend workplace protections on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation to all employees across the United States.)
In other words, it’s great news that Governor Paterson finally got around to doing this. But he and the rest of New York’s elected officials still have significantly harder work ahead of them.
This is absurd. Via Raven’s Eye, Danny Westneat at the Seattle Times has uncovered a case in which the IRS audited a single mother with two kids, who earns $10 an hour at Supercuts and lives with her parents. What was their reason for doing so? Random selection? An incorrectly completed return? No, they just thought that she was too poor to be telling the truth:
“I asked the IRS lady straight upfront — ‘I don’t have anything, why are you auditing me?’ ” Porcaro recalled. “I said, ‘Why me, when I don’t own a home, a business, a car?’ ”
The answer stunned both Porcaro and the private tax specialist her dad had gotten to help her.
“They showed us a spreadsheet of incomes in the Seattle area,” says Dante Driver, an accountant at Seattle’s G.A. Michael and Co. “The auditor said, ‘You made eighteen thousand, and our data show a family of three needs at least thirty-six thousand to get by in Seattle.”
“They thought she must have unreported income. That she was hiding something. Basically they were auditing her for not making enough money.”
Seriously? An estimated 60,000 people in Seattle live below the poverty line — meaning they make $11,000 or less for an individual or $22,000 for a family of four. Does the IRS red-flag them for scrutiny, simply because they’re poor?
The IRS must either think that the United States is just filled to the brim with liars, or that they receive an awful lot of tax returns for people who don’t exist. A whole lot of people in this country, not just in Seattle, live under the poverty line — even though the poverty line is actually placed ridiculously low. And more still live above the official poverty line while still being poor. It’s usually not pretty. It’s sure as hell not just. And often, those people need the help of friends and family to get by. But as they will tell you, it can be done — because, simply, it has to.
As Westneat points out, it’s not as though low-income people can’t commit tax fraud. But choosing them as audit subjects specifically because of their low income is incredibly classist, and far from cost effective. It can also be just plain cruel and vindictive, as it turned in Porcaro’s case:
Part of the funding for the Senate's health care bill will come from a 5% tax on cosmetic surgery. The tax would generate $5 billion over ten years, and would only tax procedures where surgery "is not necessary to ameliorate a deformity arising from, or directly related to, a congenital abnormality, a personal injury resulting from an accident or trauma, or disfiguring disease."
It sounds fine and good on its face to tax unnecessary procedures -- especially those that are primarily accessed by the upper middle class. I couldn't find statistics on the average income of people who get cosmetic surgery, and certainly there are low and lower-middle income people who seek out cosmetic procedures, but by definition it seems like plastic surgery would be accessed most often by upper-middle and upper-class people (it is at least accessed disproportionately by white people). But 91 percent of cosmetic procedures are performed on women. While they're generally cast as simple vanity procedures, the fact is that women are under extreme pressure to maintain a particular physical appearance -- to look young, thin and attractive. Men certainly don't escape that pressure either, but women face it to a much higher degree. It seems a little unfair that women are inundated with messages that we need to constantly improve our physical appearance, and then taxed when we take steps to do just that. As Lindsay Beyerstein said on a feminist listserve I’m on, “It’s one of those classic sexist double binds: Society tells you that you have to look perfect and then sticks you with a ’sin’ tax when you do what’s expected of you. Boob jobs would titillate men AND subsidize their health care.”
On the other hand, I don't have much of a problem taxing luxury goods, so why not also tax luxury surgeries? And I know a lot of Feministe readers disagree with me on this one, but I’m also a proponent of taxing things like soda and cigarettes, which offer zero benefits but many health costs.
French legislators are considering introducing legislation to ban the burqa in their country, in the name of respecting women. The burqa, these politicians argue, is a “prison” and “degrading” to women.
I’m personally of the mind that calls for women to cover their bodies because the female form is somehow inherently tempting or representative of sex are misogynist, regressive and certainly out of line with the most basic tenets of feminism. But women make choices about the way we dress for all kinds of reasons -- sometimes to follow a religious tradition, sometimes to be perceived as attractive, sometimes to be invisible, sometimes to just cover our bare asses. Most of our motivations aren’t feminist or anti-feminist. When it comes to religious requirements especially, we know that outlawing certain garments in public doesn’t make women shed the offending item of clothing; it just makes women refrain from public interactions.
Even including the 20 or so beds that would make up the new women's home, Ms. Kiss described a grim calculus for female veterans. Ten years ago, women represented 3 percent of homeless veterans, she said, compared with 5 percent now. About 180,000 female troops now serve in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Of course, it's still important to note that the vast majority of homeless veterans are male, and the number of homeless female veterans is rather disproportionately low compared to their numbers in the military overall. But the bad news is, first, their numbers just may rise when they finally come home from Iraq and Afghanistan. And second, there are fewer services out there to cater to them:
So, what's in the package for women? "Expanding health for them, child care, unemployment insurance, direct help in higher food stamps and energy assistance," said Joan Entmacher, vice president for family economic stability at the National Women's Law Center, a nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy group that has worked closely with the Obama transition team and key members of Congress. "It also protects a lot of jobs for women in education, early education and social work services."
"You don't get everything you ask for," said Entmacher, "[But] we're pleased with the funding specifically targeted to child care and Head Start and other investment for children with disabilities."
Other feminist leaders are also guardedly positive about the stimulus.
"We're pretty happy with what we're seeing so far," said Kim Gandy, president of the National Organization for Women, "But we're waiting to see details."