Fashion, Feminism and Food

I recently went suit-shopping. What a horrible experience, and not just because I don't like wearing suits and I didn't have a lot of money to spend on one. Spending hours in a department store, surrounded my literally thousands and thousands of garments, all priced in the hundreds and thousands (yes, really) of dollars, and not finding the one garment I needed to purchase, was totally depressing. One thing I noticed, though, was that everything I saw seemed really cheaply made. Whether the dress cost $200 or $2,000, an inspection of the tags inevitably revealed humble provenances behind the designer label: "Made in China/Bangladesh/Laos/Vietnam/some sweatshop somewhere that's too far away for you to contemplate too deeply."

In the middle of my renewed relationship with retail (I didn't have any spare time last semester to go to any stores), this new post on the Ms. blog entitled "If the Clothes Fit: A Feminist Takes on Fashion" came out. The title is somewhat misleading. I'm not sure what counts as "taking on" fashion, but while it provided some interesting history and made some obvious points about fashion being a signifier, I think the post failed to confront some of the more central issues about the fashion industry, and in particular, questions about labor practices, sourcing of materials, supply chains, etc. (I'm not going to even delve into the body image issue here. That's another post entirely.)

First of all, it helps to define what "fashion" is (the Ms. post doesn't.) For the purposes of discussion, I'll go with Merriam-Webster definition 3b:

(1) : the prevailing style (as in dress) during a particular time (2) : a garment in such a style <always wears the latest fashions>

This definition, with the word "prevailing," implies notions of mass adoption, fleetingness ("during a particular time"), and to me, a certain coerciveness to either conform or be "out of fashion."

I make a distinction between "clothing," which I like, and "fashion," with its insistence on consumption and staying up-to-date. I like to sew (although I rarely make time for it), I love textiles, and I like getting dressed up for nice things. I like buying new things every now and then, and I like to buy things I think are nice - cozy sweaters, comfortable flip-flops, warm boots, pretty dresses, etc. In general, I buy something originally pretty expensive, at a drastically reduced sale price, a few times a year, and then I wear those items for years. It's been a long time - probably eight or nine years - since I bought something at a chain store like H&M or J. Crew.

I recently started thinking harder about my consumption practices as I reported my most recent story for Women in the World about three entrepreneurs who are making global trade work for women and artisans, two groups who have, particularly of late, not always benefited from the rise of free trade. One of the business owners I spoke to, Kavita Parmar, left the fashion houses she was designing for (I think DKNY or Donna Karan was one) in order to start a fair-trade clothing company that works closely with artisans in India and Italy and documents their faces and names so that each piece of clothing is attached to the person who makes them. Another, Farah Malik, seeks out disappearing craft traditions and preserves them by paying high-prices for extremely high-quality scarves that are woven, knitted or embroidered by skilled artisans in different post-conflict zones in eight countries.

Farah and I discussed the concept of "Slow Fashion," analogous to Slow Food, and why there was so much resistance to it within the fashion industry. Is it antithetical to an industry based on newness, on constant pressure to conform (to certain body types, say), on constant pressure to create, to knock off, to buy? Or is it, as Farah pointed out, that there is much less consumer awareness of supply chains, of labor practices, of sourcing within the fashion industry?

After our interview, I stopped by the farmer's market in Union Square to get some groceries. As I sorted through some produce, I chatted with the farmer about his growing practices, whether and when he sprayed his vegetables, etc. This kind of discussion is at the heart of conscious consumption, and while I find it perfectly normal within a food context, I realized I never have these conversations in stores. There are obvious reasons for that: unlike the farmer, who did the spraying himself, the salesperson at a New York branch of J. Crew likely won't know which exact dodgy Guangzhou factory that $39 shirt was made in. But I'm surprised there is very little discussion of this outside of the anti-sweatshop movement. Is it because we don't ingest our clothing, so we assume it's not important to know where it came from? Why demand a little more transparency? Why not put questions to a clothing brand about its manufacturing process? Aren't you curious?

Or do we not want to know?

I made a video.

And it is the third one I've made this year! Every time I am editing, I feel like a Lumiere brother all over again. Images? Moving?!? It all feels so very...mmm...okay, I guess it's not that exciting. But for a longtime print-only reporter whose nickname is Old Lady Sussman, it is pretty exciting. Here is the thing: the hardest part about doing video is trying not to feel like a gigantic poseur walking around with all the pro-looking equipment when you know you are about to pull some Amateur Night at the Apollo s**t.

Holding a tripod signals to the world that I know what to do with a tripod; same with the little clip-on mic, and the videocamera itself. Until this semester, I didn't know what to do with any of those things. I'm still not sure "know" is the right word, but here's the cool part: the companies who manufacture them have made using them virtually fool-proof. Even the editing gets easier with a bit of practice, and now I can even export movies from Final Cut Pro without having to sit through the "how to export movies from Final Cut Pro" tutorial on Vimeo. My friend Casey Neistat is a big proponent of this "anyone can do it" approach. I'm inclined, finally, to believe him.

Without further ado, I present my latest masterpiece, informally titled "A Random Walk Down Atlantic Avenue with Sandy Balboza who has Lived There for 41 years (going on 42) and Who Was the President of the Atlantic Avenue Betterment Association for 17 years, but May Not Be for Much Longer, Because Atlantic Avenue is Getting a BID."

[vimeo http://www.vimeo.com/33938396 w=400&h=300]

Untitled from Anna Sussman on Vimeo.

The BID (Business Improvement District) designation is the topic of a forthcoming story, to be posted soon.

Also: special mega big shout-out to Professor Jason Maloney, whose patience and fortitude in teaching me video skillz this semester have been epic.

Single mothers, their kids, and the big American holidays

This week, Leslie Bennetts crafted an ode to American moms, who are doing the best they can in this lousy economy.

The latest Census data revealed that 42 percent more women than men now live in poverty—and among those over 65, twice as many women live in poverty, compared with men. Single mothers are particularly vulnerable; more than 40 percent of their families are poor, and more than half of all poor children live in female-headed households.

My father passed away when I was seven, so for most of my life, it's been just me and Big Mama, kicking it live. She is a SuperMom if there ever was one, working at nights and weekends writing books to supplement her income as "the assistant to the editor of the Home section" (her official title) at the New York Times.

Single motherhood is associated with all kinds of negative life outcomes for the next generation. I'd argue that the outcomes are correlated with many of the other factors that, in turn, correlate with single motherhood -- poverty, lack of access to or education about reproductive health services, etc. Those factors, in my case, were not present.

Both of my parents were writers and had high expectations for me. We lived in a safe, low-crime neighborhood in Manhattan. When my father passed away, we weren't well-off, and we weren't even financially "comfortable" (that's not how I'd ever describe my mom while I was growing up), but we were definitely not poor by either the federal definition nor in our day-to-day life, which was rich with love, with learning, museums, books, basketball, and friends. So I was fortunate in my circumstances to avoid the negative life outcomes (lower school achievement, lower lifetime earnings, etc). In my more rebellious phases, I went out of my way to date a drug dealer and stay out really late, but that was a phase. In my family, by which I mean "in my mom's eyes," there was no question that I would go to college, do well at college, and go on to work. My friend with whom I regularly debate this says I am the exception, not the rule. If that is the case, I do not think the mothers nor the fact of their singleness are to blame.

One thing that never bugged me was what to do over the holidays while everyone else was getting together with their greater-than-binomial families. We always had places to go, loving family friends who took us in, a large table to sit at with many people around it, many plates of food on it, and two seats saved for my mom and I.

My dear friend Cara Hoffman reminded me of this today when she sent me this little essay, "How do Atheists and Families of Two Celebrate Christmas?" Good families are about quality, not quantity. And to her and my mom and all the other single mothers, I dedicate this song:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=96sFW-3vGv4]

Hitchens, Mentors and Muses

When Christopher Hitchens died last week, writers and thinkers and anyone who's ever picked up a copy of Vanity Fair or, less commonly, the Nation, lit the internet on fire with songs of praise and adulation. The first thing I read by him was his 2001 book The Trial of Henry Kissinger. A solidly argued book that made a deep impression on me morally, it did not stand out for its writing. I fell for his writing later on, in 2005, as an intern for the Nation. Tasked with photocopying the entirety of Katha Pollitt's oeuvre for a compilation of her essays, I found my gaze wandering over to his column, which lay just across the staples, facing hers. There, standing next to the photocopy machine, I realized what a truly tremendous wit he had, and how spectacularly effectively he could deploy it. In the fall of 2005, "Christopher Hitchens" was a dirty word around that office. He had left the magazine over his pro-Iraq War position, and a green stench like a cartoon fart trailed behind the mere mention of his name. So, I enjoyed his verbal prowess privately, in a dingy corridor, piles of back issues around my ankles.

Then, he lost me. It wasn't just the Iraq war stuff: his Islamophobia, his relentless sexism, and the way he handled a question at the Hay Festival, where he was touring with "God is Not Great," that really put me off. Nevermind that he totally dismissed my question ("Could you describe what a secular morality would look like and on what principles it would be founded?") with an incoherent ramble on blood donation. What upset me was how disrespectful he was to another audience member who, admittedly, perhaps shouldn't have opened with "I'm an Episcopalian." I don't remember the substance of her question, but I do remember that he attacked her intelligence on the basis of her being a person of faith, and thinking that his attitude was arrogant, inappropriate, and most of all, intellectually cowardly.

Was he drunk? Perhaps. That, to me, is another form of disrespect for his audience.

I've written before on his utterly unconvincing "Women aren't funny" stance, and in retrospect, should have noted that in that loathsome Vanity Fair article, his writing falters, as though he can't even bring himself to fully unsheathe the wit and rhetoric required to defend the indefensible. But nobody takes on sexism better than Katha Pollitt. In "Regarding Christopher," her column for the Nation this week, she bids him farewell in her own way, with an evaluation more honest and, in its own way, more respectful, than many of the other verbal shrines that have been built over the past few days. Here's my favorite part:

So far, most of the eulogies of Christopher have come from men, and there’s a reason for that. He moved in a masculine world, and for someone who prided himself on his wide-ranging interests, he had virtually no interest in women’s writing or women’s lives or perspectives. I never got the impression from anything he wrote about women that he had bothered to do the most basic kinds of reading and thinking, let alone interviewing or reporting—the sort of workup he would do before writing about, say, G.K. Chesterton, or Scientology or Kurdistan. It all came off the top of his head, or the depths of his id. Women aren’t funny. Women shouldn’t need to/want to/get to have a job. The Dixie Chicks were “fucking fat slags” (not “sluts,” as he misremembered later). And then of course there was his1989 column in which he attacked legal abortion and his cartoon version of feminism as “possessive individualism.” I don’t suppose I ever really forgave Christopher for that.

This leads me to another thing that disappoints me about him. While journalism is by and large a meritocratic field, a great deal of success (as in many other fields) depends on connections, friendships, and mentorship. My understanding was that Hitchens mentored very few women journalists; instead, he focused his attention on young male journalists, including Jacob Weisberg, the chairman and editor of Slate.com, whose column describes how "nothing was headier" than grabbing a drink with Hitchens in DC. I've been lucky enough to have a few journalism mentors, one of whom, whether she knows it or not, is Katha. I also know that Katha looks out for other young women writers, since it was through her citations of their ideas and writings that I got to know the work of Jessica Valenti, founder of Feministing, and Dana Goldstein, who now specializes (and how!) in education reporting.

But mentorship is not easy to come by, as Kathryn Minshew, founder of the Daily Muse, discovered as a consultant working at McKinsey. I wrote up the site, which is targeted at young, ambitious women who want to know how to kick heinie at work.

The Daily Muse is an online magazine that provides content geared towards career-focused women. Minshew’s own experience as a consultant at McKinsey, which she joined after graduating from Duke University in 2008, inspired her to launch the Daily Muse. She realized very quickly that, as a woman, “the workplace experience was different.” Take mentoring, for instance. Minshew cited research showing that senior male executives are uncomfortable mentoring younger women because of concerns about appearances, which may leave women at a disadvantage.

“It’s hard to find a mentor if you work with a boss of a different gender,” she said. The Daily Muse offers the kind of career advice and feedback that ambitious young women like her need, often written by ambitious young women like herself.

Read the rest here.

The Daily Muse: A new kind of women's magazine

Author's note: I was assigned to cover a start-up for class, and having just come off the heels of an interview with Hanna Rosin, was feeling very End-of-Men-y. Her thesis - that patriarchy is on the wane, at least in America - sure rings true when you're in the company of the women behind The Daily Muse. I'm not convinced that patriarchy is giving up without a fight, but as someone who finds mainstream women's magazines very problematic, it's great to see content that's geared towards getting women ahead, instead of making us feel fat or inadequate.  With Professional Women on the Rise, New Startup Hopes to Link its Readership with Hungry Employers

NEW YORK CITY – On a Friday evening at 5 pm, the elevator at 33 West 17th Street discharged half a dozen young women into an unseasonably warm New York City evening. On the ninth floor, Alexandra Cavoulacos and Kathryn Minshew, co-founders of the Daily Muse, were still huddled over a table in their bright white Silicon Alley office, documents in hand, preparing for a conference call.

Cavoulacos and Minshew, along with their co-founder Melissa McCreery, are banking on the idea that there are millions more women like the ones just spotted leaving work (whom they guessed worked for handbag designer Rebecca Minkoff, who has offices on the sixth floor) -- young, ambitious and tired of traditional women’s magazines offerings – and that companies recognize their potential.

The Daily Muse is an online magazine that provides content geared towards career-focused women. Minshew’s own experience as a consultant at McKinsey, which she joined after graduating from Duke University in 2008, inspired her to launch the Daily Muse. She realized very quickly that, as a woman, “the workplace experience was different.” Take mentoring, for instance. Minshew cited research showing that senior male executives are uncomfortable mentoring younger women because of concerns about appearances, which may leave women at a disadvantage.

“It’s hard to find a mentor if you work with a boss of a different gender,” she said. The Daily Muse offers the kind of career advice and feedback that ambitious young women like her need, often written by ambitious young women like herself.

“For me, the person who is most qualified to give advice to a recent law school grad who’s experience a law office for the first time is another recent law school grad, or a group of recent law school grads, who are one to five years older,” she said. “Some of our most powerful articles have been by women in their late 20s and early 30s saying ‘Here are the five mistakes I made in my most recent job, and how you can avoid making them too."

The site, which soft-launched in early September of this year, comes at an auspicious time for working women, who are infiltrating the workforce at an impressive clip. Bureau of Labor Statistics data show that 51.4% of managerial and professional jobs are now held by women, versus 26.1% in 1980. A May 2011 BLS report on women’s employment during the recovery noted that “women college graduates are likely to outnumber male college graduates in the near future.”

In addition to career advice, the site features contributions from some of the most successful women in their respective industries, such as a contribution to the “Letters to My Younger Self” column by media mogul Arianna Huffington (her tip: get more sleep.) While the first four categories on the home page are Career, Job Search, Entrepreneurship and Education, there are regular contributors on beauty, fashion, hobbies, and technology, among other topics.

Minshew and her colleagues are not the only ones hoping to target this demographic. In recent years, the mainstream media have caught on to their potential Forbes magazine launched ForbesWoman in 2009; the Wall Street Journal hosted a Women in the Economy conference in 2010; Bloomberg has scaled up its coverage of women in the past year; and the Financial Times has maintained a “Women at the Top” blog for professional women since 2009. More specialized sites like Vivanista, dedicated to women in philanthropy, and Ladies Who Launch, focused on women entrepreneurs, as well as more general career-oriented sites like the Levo League and Hello Ladies!, are all hoping for a piece of the pie.

Unlike most mainstream media sites, whose large audiences appeal to advertisers, Minshew does not plan to rely on advertising for revenue. Instead, the Daily Muse will offer services like headhunting, professional development courses and other networking opportunities.

“We’ve been approached by employers who are excited, who tell us ‘Oh my goodness, you’ve got this pool of incredibly qualified, ambitious women who want to read about how to be good managers, and good employees and good speakers. How can we hire them? How can we work with you to share our job opportunities with them?’” Minshew said.

“Beyond that, the workplace is becoming more skill-based and less industry-based,” she said, noting that women may have an advantage in a new economy that prioritizes excellent verbal and written communications skills over the physical brawn that once-dominant industries like construction and manufacturing required.

Pattie Simone, a serial entrepreneur and founder of WomenCentric.net, a platform for women professionals, said the crowded field is both a blessing and a curse.

“As more people realize the buying power and overall influence of more women in the workforce, as well as the explosion of women-founded entrepreneurial ventures, the more content providers there will be, vying for the same audience,” she said. She encouraged them to think about finding multiple revenue streams, citing Ladies Who Launch and the Women’s Leadership Exchange as two other sites that have done this successfully.

Sarah Granger, a writer and new media innovator and strategist, advises them to keep refining their voice and their offerings over the next few years, and also predicted a redesign of the site in that time-frame, which she said is normal for media-based startups. While they have “a unique collection of content for the target audience they selected,” she said, “They'll need to find a unique niche where they provide the best content or services in order to survive as a for-profit venture.”

The Daily Muse is currently self-funded, said co-founder and fellow McKinsey alum Alexandra Cavoulacos, but they hope to have their seed round of outside funding commitments finalized by the end of the year. In the two months since it’s been up, they have met their 30% month-on-month readership growth rate. They have already completed some revenue deals already, including helping an internet start-up fill a general manager position by announcing it to their readers and then filtering applications.

Jennifer L. Pozner, a media critic and founder and director of Women in Media and News (WIMN), applauded the Muse’s effort to seek alternative revenue streams.

“Advertisers are permeating our media content at a more extreme level than ever before,” she said. “Women deserve to be valued as media consumers, rather than simply traded for our eyeballs.”

What Would Christine Lagarde Do?

Do you ever wake up in the morning, pour yourself a cup of coffee, and wonder, "What Would Christine Lagarde Do?" To be honest, she would probably not put herself on a mug. But you know what? I did.

Some bits and pieces on her from around the web:

Old but ahead-of-the-curve Bloomberg profile, from June 2010, when Lagarde was still finance minister of France. NB that one of the authors, Lisa Kassenaar, is now Bloomberg's Global Editor-at-Large for women's coverage.

The New York Times profile from just after her appointment to head the IMF, "Mme. Lagarde Goes to Washington."

A blog post by my friend Ken about her call this past August for European banks to raise capital. Prescient call on her part, prescient of Ken to notice that she is a terribly smart cookie.


Jon Corzine: How can you steal when you look like Santa?

There's a man in the news with twinkly eyes, rimless spectacles, and a lush white beard. But instead of bearing gifts, he's ignoring warnings about European debt risk and gambling with what is thought to be $1.2 billion of missing customer money in his former role as CEO of the now-bankrupt firm MF Global. In the headline of a story I did for class last month, I likened Mr. Corzine to the fabled Emperor who believes he's wearing fine robes when in fact he is nude. I was delighted to see that Financial Times' writer John Gapper chose the same analogy and ran with it, in this brilliant piece. Meanwhile, here's my stab at it.

“That Robe Looks Fabulous on You, Emperor.” Why did no one raise any alarms on Corzine’s big European bets?

NEW YORK CITY -- Now that its bankruptcy papers have been filed, observers of the collapsed brokerage firm-turned-investment bank MF Global are asking: why did no one see this coming?

The signs were there. Since former Goldman Sachs executive Jon Corzine took over the firm in April 2010, it scaled up its proprietary trading business until it was leveraged nearly 40 to one as recently as June of this year. By comparison, Lehman Brothers was leveraged at 35 to one at the time of its collapse.

Over 10% of its assets were long-term peripheral European government bonds, most of which were due to mature towards the end of 2012. As the Eurozone crisis intensified in recent weeks, investor lack of confidence caused capital to flee, resulting in downgrades from ratings agencies Moody’s and Fitch’s.

But asking whether that strategy could have succeeded in a different investment climate, or what was driving Corzine to take on so much risk, misses the point, said Joseph A. Cotterill, who has been covering MF Global for the Financial Times’ Alphaville blog.

“For me, the real question isn't so much about why MF Global turned into a massive proprietary trading outfit, it's why no one stopped them -- auditors, ratings agencies, and so on,” he said.

There is no one answer, and observers have pointed to several factors that could have made it difficult to put the brakes on Mr. Corzine’s ambitious strategy: his Goldman Sachs “halo,” the politician connections he brought from his career as a New Jersey senator and governor, and internal structure and personnel problems at MF Global.

Francine McKenna, who blogs about the “Big Four” auditing agencies at re: the Auditors and is a regular contributor to American Banker and Forbes, believes the auditing agencies failed to honestly evaluate MF Global’s long-term prospects.

“Their job is to go in, look at the internal and external figures, and decide ‘What is the likelihood that this company is going to survive the next 12 months?,’” she said. A company with MF Global’s risk levels should have been marked with a “qualified concern” rating as far back as last December.

“Given their losses over the last three years, there was a reasonable expectation that one of the auditors should have said, ‘I think we need to raise our hand and say this firm is in potential danger of not being here 12 months from now,’” she said.

Over the past two years, Fitch and Moody’s credit ratings reports have consistently reflected a “negative outlook” on MF Global. But continued confidence from Standard and Poor’s, an agency to which Mr. Corzine has close ties through former Goldman colleagues, delayed the inevitable crash, according to Ms. McKenna. Standard and Poor’s rated the company “stable” in December 2010.  A “qualified concern” rating, on the other hand, would have called the company’s credit lines and debt liens into question, since those covenants require a clean opinion to hold.

“The auditors don’t want to be the ones to light the match, because changing their opinion has automatic consequences,” she said. “All the things you’re dealing with now would have happened then.”

In an article for American Banker, Ms. McKenna noted that many of Mr. Corzine’s inner circle of advisors were men he had known for years, and as such were unlikely to provide a lucid, outsider’s perspective. For example, MF Global’s Chief Financial Officer, Henri Steenkamp, came from PricewaterhouseCoopers, which audited Goldman Sachs for the many years he was there.

Yesterday, the firm filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy, news followed by reports of hundreds of millions of dollars gone missing.  This prompts another important question, said Ms. McKenna.

“How do you make sure that anyone’s looking out for the shareholders?”



Sexual harassment exists.

  1. Recently, author Katie Roiphe wrote in the Sunday New York Times, "After all these years, we are again debating the definition of unwanted sexual advances and parsing the question of whether a dirty joke in the office is a crime."
  2. It is strange that she does not remember this lady, Anita Hill. Do you remember her, and all the gross stuff that she testified about under oath that her boss, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, told her? My mom told me that when I was watching it at the tender age of 9 or so, I ran out of the room and locked myself in the bathroom because I was upset by the bestiality mentions. I dream of a world in which the United States can boast a full bench of Supreme Court justices who do not scare small children.
  3. [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w3_4hp_XYxI?wmode=transparent&showinfo=0]
    We Still Believe Anita Hill
  4. Sexual harassment has a legal definition. It is made of words. Words, as she notes, can be "slippery." But the law is less slippery, and these cases have been adjudicated many times over. Here is the legal definition:  “unwelcome verbal, visual, or physical conduct of a sexual nature that is severe or pervasive and affects working conditions or creates a hostile work environment.” It is from the website of Equal Rights Advocates.
  5. It's hard to tell if something is "unwelcome," or if it is "severe," or even if it's "sexual," sometimes, right? In Herman Cain's case, some of his actions were described by Politico as "physical gestures that were not overtly sexual but that made women who experienced or witnessed them uncomfortable and that they regarded as improper in a professional relationship."

  6. This prompted New York magazine to speculate: "Jazz Hands?....or boob-grabbing hands?"
  7. By the severity definition, even if it occurs once, it can count as "sexual harassment" if, for example, it is severe or violent, as in the case of rape. In this case, which was eventually dismissed, Jamie Leigh Jones, a contractor for Kellogg, Brown and Root testifies in front of the House Foreign Affairs Committee about her rape by colleagues while working in Iraq and her subsequent treatment by her employer. 
  8. [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U2WyitSWa0Y?wmode=transparent&showinfo=0]
    Jamie Leigh Jones Testifies Before House Judiciary Committee
  9. Here's one of many parts of Anita Hill's testimony. I picked one at random so hopefully I did not hit upon the bestiality clip by chance. That would be awkward. 

  10. [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IchXtV4Jyl0?wmode=transparent&showinfo=0]
    Anita Hill's Testimony Part 24 - Clarence Thomas 2nd Hearing Part 33 (1991)
  11. But I digress. I would like to demonstrate that sexual harassment exists, and it has quantifiable effects. Off to the statistics we go! [NB: Huge thank you to Tanya at the National Women's Law Center, for her help in researching this.] Let's start with recent statistics, courtesy of the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. From 1997-2001, the number of complaints it received hovered in the mid-high 15,000s. In 2010, that number was 11,717. The percentage of cases filed by men has crept from 13.7% to 16.4%. Here's a full chart with all the data, including how the cases were resolved:

  12. What does that mean for companies, businesses, harassment victims? Here is some more interesting data, from a fact sheet by the Feminist Majority Foundation (emphases mine).

    Sexual harassment psychologically hurts the women involved and the work atmosphere. According to the National Council for Research on Women, women are 9 times more likely than men to quit their jobs, 5 times more likely to transfer, and 3 times more likely to lose jobs because of harassment (The Webb Report, June 1994). There may be serious economic consequences as a result of sexual harassment. A woman's job status may be jeopardized and and she may lose wages if she is fired or takes extended leave to avoid the harasser.
  13. Okay, so, women are far more likely than men to quit their jobs, transfer or lose a job because of harassment. And women are still 84% of the victims. What does this mean? It means that this is not inconsequential for all of the other factors that relate to female poverty: more time spent out of work, more time spent looking for a job, the unease of having to explain what happened in your last job, the decreased likelihood of promotion to higher-paying positions, etc. It also costs employers a bunch of money. From the ERA site:

    "The costs are borne not only by the victims of harassment; they create financial havoc for employers as well. Sexual harassment costs a typical Fortune 500 company $6.7 million per year in absenteeism, low productivity and employee turnover. That does not include additional costs for litigation expenses, executive time and tarnished public image should a case wind up in court."

    The federal government loses cash over this too. Taxpayer cash. Our cash.

    Sexual harassment cost the federal government $327 million from 1992-1994:

    o   Job turnover -- $24.7 million

    o   Sick leave -- $14.9 million

    o   Individual productivity -- $93.7 million

    o   Workgroup productivity -- $193.8 million

    o   Total -- $327.1 million

    Full report here:


    There are other sucky things that happen because of sexual harassment, such as:

    "A Cleveland State Law Review Article entitled “The Present State of Sexual Harassment Law: Perpetuating Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in Sexually Harassed Women” reported that 90% to 95% of sexually harassed women suffer from some debilitating stress reaction, including anxiety, depression, headaches, sleep disorders, weight loss or gain, nausea, lowered self-esteem and sexual dysfunction. They experience job-related costs as well: from job loss, decreased morale, decreased job satisfaction to irreparable damage to interpersonal relationships at work."

    If you need money to survive (most of us do) and you need to work to make money (most of us do), then sexual harassment will be a significant impediment to staying alive. And what about sexual harassment that starts before one gets to work? What if you're a student? Imagine if female students were 9 times more likely than male students to quit school, 5 times more likely to transfer schools, and 3 times more likely to get kicked out of school because of harassment? Luckily, they're not, but the statistics are still chilling. A new report out this month by the American Association of University Women documents this phenomenon, which affects 56% of girls and 40% of boys.

  14. One more time, all together now: 56% of girls in the survey of nearly 2,000 students reported harassment. Is it just me or is that, oh, 56% too many? That's more than half of the girls in the survey. And only 12% of those girls told someone in authority about their experience. Consider Amanda Marcotte's response: 

    "In the real world, one cannot simply separate an occasional comment from its context, particularly with adolescents. Being called "so hot" by your actual boyfriend is not harassment. Being called "so hot" or a "whore" in the context of pervasive harassment can often be traumatizing. Leora Tanenbaum's book Slut! Growing Up Female with a Bad Reputation is useful for understanding how serious this problem is."

    And now consider what the costs of childhood sexual trauma are, according to a 17,000-person study conducted by Kaiser Permanente. Findings: 

    1. There’s a direct link between childhood trauma and adult onset of chronic disease, such as diabetes, heart disease, emphysema, and some types of cancer.

    2. If a person experienced one type of trauma, there was a 90-plus percent chance that there would be more. In other words, trauma such as child sex abuse rarely occurs alone – substance abuse, mental illness or one of the other traumas also exists.

    3. Only 30 percent of people in the study had zero ACEs.

    4. Here’s the final stunner – the 17,000 people who participated in the study were 75 percent white, middle to upper-middle class, 76 percent had attended or graduated from college, and, since they were members of Kaiser through their employers, they had jobs and great health care. See the article below for a fuller explication:

  15. And this video for how exactly childhood trauma can cause long-term adverse health effects:
  16. Meanwhile, we know how to stop it. Here's a video of how to avoid sexually harassing. (Note: if it's being narrated by furry animals in robot voices, it's likely a joke.)
  17. [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rDcN8tfQ0sE?wmode=transparent&showinfo=0]
    Sexual Harassment Training
  18. The bigger takeaway, though, comes from Lori Adelman at Feministing:

    "The only thing that this op-ed elucidates for me is that Katie Roiphe doesn’t care about women’s feelings of workplace safety and comfort as much as she does her own reputation for going against the grain.

    Her central question: “In our effort to create a wholly unhostile work environment, have we simply created an environment that is hostile in a different way?” implies that the real “victims” of sexual harassment charges are the people who are inconvenienced or annoyed by what she considers excessive political correctness in relation to sexual harassment claims. But this concern reflects an unhinged viewpoint of reality, one that doesn’t take into account real women’s real experiences in the workplace.

    Rather than aspiring to a “drab, cautious, civilized, quiet, comfortable workplace” I think many women would settle for one that is safe and fair."

    Fatima Goss Graves, Vice President of education and employment at the National Women's Law Center, thinks that companies do recognize this. 

    "Having sexual harassment in the workplace isn't good for employers," she told me. "The question is whether they know how to handle it properly."

    Unfortunately, as this Businessweek article points out, companies are increasingly employing mandatory arbitration clauses to keep workplace disputes like harassment cases from going to court.


  19. You may recall another recent case or two or three in which the victims settled instead of going to court. It is not clear why this was done - whether the settlements were mandatory or that was simply the way they were resolved - but it is troubling that without a legal record of the incidents, we are left to wonder...jazz hands?...or boob-grabbing hands?

The Lady Blogosphere and Tahrir Square: Why all the Backlash?

I blogged last week about two contrasting takes, one more celebratory, one more realistic, on the "lady blogosphere," the big wide tent of blogs and sites dedicated to reporting on, commenting about and debating women's issues. I forgot to mention the "on the other hand," an issue that has been bubbling beneath the surface for a while and recently has come out in a series of stomach-churning, enraging, upsetting, smoke-out-of-ears-causing posts and articles. It's the misogyny directed at the lady blogosphere, with the transparent goal of silencing and intimidating it. Here's a taste of what's been written recently on "Blogging While Female."

In April of this year, I wrote on TheAtlantic.com about the backlash against Egyptian women after the protests in Tahrir Square.

The current crop of 31 ministers contains just one woman, down from three under Mubarak. And as the political space narrows, the physical space for women to assert themselves is also shrinking. A gathering of a thousand or so demonstrators on March 8th to celebrate International Women's Day turned ugly by the afternoon, with arguments about gender roles degenerating into violence and gunshots.

What's the connection? These women had claimed a place in the public sphere, as equal partners in the protests that toppled former president Hosni Mubarak. And yet the backlash was so immediate, and so sharp, that it raised troubling questions about any gains that Egyptian women had made during the course of the revolution.

When I studied abroad in Rabat, Morocco as a junior, we had endless orientation meetings that took up hours of each morning for our first two weeks in-country, during which every female student stood up and recounted all the sexual harassment they'd encountered on the street on their way to school, on their way home from school, and pretty much any other time they were out in the public sphere. Our advisor told us that Moroccan men where threatened by the growing presence of [working] women in the public sphere, and that harassment was a way of reclaiming that space as their own.

As the bloggers and commentators above point out, the internet is the ultimate public sphere, but with a critical difference: anonymity. The sheer hate directed anonymously at opinionated, articulate women serves the same purpose as the street harassment in Morocco: to silence, intimidate, and push women out.

I am ashamed to say that during the year I lived in Cairo, I let the sexual harassment get to me. I spent more time indoors than, say, when I lived in Beirut or even Damascus. It was so intense, and relentless, and unpleasant, that I preferred to stay home and read or study rather than wander about the city. What's the takeaway? That harassment works. That sometimes women, or whoever the minority is under threat (see: the countless number of LGBT teenagers who withdraw from school or, worse, commit suicide), will retreat if it gets unbearable.

But what's the policy solution? To moderate comments and only let the nice ones through? Set up high schools specifically for trans and LGBT students? Set aside train cars for women only? The "sequester the victim" approach only goes so far. Not only does it not address the harassing behavior, but it paints the victim as weak, defenseless, and in need of special protection - as a class. I don't think this one has been solved, but I'd love to see any examples of constructive policies that address harassment in its myriad forms.

In the meantime there are campaigns like Hollaback!, to address street harassment, and online campaigns like #mencallmethings, started by Sady Doyle of Tiger Beatdown. And there's the inspiring examples of all the women who continue to blog, take to the streets, and come up with innovative solutions to call out the slobs who would keep them from their rightful place in the public sphere.

Long Live the Lady-Centered Blogosphere; Please Fund the Lady-Centered Blogosphere

In the same week that New York magazine's cover story celebrated "the lady-centered blogosphere," the Nation ran a story about the realities of maintaining the lady-centered blogosphere. Here are excerpts from the two articles, one written largely to describe and celebrate, and one written mostly to explain and gripe. One sounds like ad copy for a new kitchen appliance. The other sounds like the trouble-shooting section in the instruction manual. From the New York magazine article by New York editor-at-large Emily Nussbaum:

Like feminism itself, it would be a mistake to peg the lady-centered blogosphere as just one thing (“lady” being the term of choice for many online writers, an ironized alternative to the earnest “woman” or problematic “girl”). Some posters consider themselves primarily activists, some journalists, some artists. Many sites operate less as magazines and more as collectives, in which like-minded thinkers burn out or are snatched up to high-profile gigs. Among ambitious writers, this game of musical chairs goes on each day: When I meet with Jezebel blogger Irin Carmon, she describes her decision to take a job at Salon, replacing Rebecca Traister, who is now writing for the Times—which means Carmon’s job will be taken by “MorningGloria,” a Jezebel commenter who left her finance job to take the gig and who now writes under her full name, Erin Gloria Ryan.

Sounds awesome, right? A young-girls-club where everyone shares broader goals of social justice and refers each other for great jobs, but there's plenty of room for feisty debate on intersectionality, what Kim Kardashain's divorce means for women, or whether "SlutWalk" protests are inherently exclusive to women of color.

From the Nation piece by Courtney Martin, an editor emeritus of Feministing:

Blogs like Feministing, of which I am an editor emeritus, have operated without any formal structure for years. Third-party advertising networks, like Google Adwords, provide the majority of our revenue, but most often there is no money left over—after tech and hosting fees—to pay any of our eleven bloggers. We’ve been caught in a seven-year chicken-or-egg-cycle; at annual retreats, we discuss next steps for formalizing our structure and focusing on becoming financially sustainable, and then our full-time jobs (largely as communications consultants at feminist nonprofits and freelance journalists) crowd out any time to follow up. We’re too busy trying to make ends meet to figure out how to make ends meet.

Nussbaum's story ends with a list of lady blogs to check out, which includes many of the dead-broke blogs whose participants are also in Martin's piece, more of which I excerpt below (it's really worth reading the whole thing, though - please go on ahead).

This leads us to the biggest misperception of all—this one even held by many bloggers and online organizers themselves: that online feminism is free. It’s not. Many feminists innovated remarkably early on in the Internet’s existence, founding blogs and online communities, but we’ve largely stalled in progress over the last few years because we are under-resourced and overwhelmed. Samhita Mukhopadhyay, the executive editor of Feministing.com, explains, “Blogging has become the third shift. You do your activist work, then you have a job to make money and then you blog on top of that. It’s completely unsupported.”


Online organizing has infused new energy—not to mention drawn thousands of newly minted feminists—into the feminist movement, and yet the movement’s financial backers haven’t caught up to the new reality. Despite the high-profile rise of women’s-focused philanthropy in the past few years, including initiatives like Women Moving Millions, only a few foundations or individual donors publicly purport to be focused on supporting online movement building. The Media Consortium’s Jo Ellen Kaiser acknowledges that “a handful of foundations and donors--especially the smaller foundations--that may previously have given mainly to advocacy movements, are beginning to understand that they need to give to media as well in order to support online movement building.”

As someone who has been doing my best to write about women's issues and keep a roof over my head all at the same time, the Nation story struck me as the more important of the two. Yes, New York, online feminist activism is an important cultural phenomenon to document. But the Nation story asks, how can we sustain it? Why are major philanthropists, eager to "empower women," ignoring it?

That the more wild, lefty, disruptive shades of the lady-blogosphere are underfunded (which, long-term, can come to mean "silenced") I guess should come at no surprise. But meanwhile, over in the mainstream media, women's issues are all the rage. I wrote a blog post for the Financial Times' Women at the Top blog that should appear in the next few days, in which I describe the explosion of women-focused coverage at places ranging from Bloomberg News to the International Herald Tribune to the Huffington Post to Forbes magazine.

It remains to be seen how this demand in the mainstream media for lady-focused content will interact with the voices, talents and financial troubles of the lady-focused blogosphere.  Their respective needs and goals are not exactly aligned, but I'm optimistic that there's room for productive overlap.