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]
    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]
    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]
    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]
    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?

Getting Women Back to Work

The recession has hit women and men differently, but globally, the consensus is there. Economies will grow if women work. Or as the World Bank puts it, investing in women is "smart economics." In this piece for Women in the World Foundation, I profiled three innovative non-profits getting women back in jobs across the United States. One trains women to work in construction; another focuses on microfinance, and a third helps women launch and grow small businesses.

When the recession hit in December 2007, men took the first hit: jobs in construction, real estate and finance, where men are overrepresented, vanished from the labor market. But the so-called “man-cession” has given way to yet another neologism: “the he-covery.”  In fact, over the last two years, women’s unemployment has risen while men re-enter the work force. As stimulus money dries up and states and municipalities struggle to balance their budgets, public sector jobs (of which women have already lost 72.3% in the last two years) will face further cuts.

These figures reflect a changing economy, in which certain sectors where women are overrepresented, like administrative and secretarial work, are in decline. Others in which they are underrepresented, like the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields, are projected to grow.  Construction and extraction jobs are expected to grow at a rate of 1.2% through 2018, but women only make up 2.6% of the industry’s employed.

Read the rest of the story, "Bucking the Trend: Getting women back to work in the face of the 'woman-cession,'" here.

Another easy-to-grasp equation, via Eve Ensler: No women, no future, duh.

When I was in high school, my godmother took me to see the Vagina Monologues, written and performed by Eve Ensler. I loved it. So much that I tried to work for Eve Ensler, and was given a job in the gift shop instead, which I worked at the weekends until I got vagina fatigue (they pipe the show into the gift shop and there's only so much repetition of the word "vagina" I could stand.) Ensler, whose V-Day organization has raised millions of dollars to fight violence against women around the world, has a bit of rape fatigue these days. She expounds on her rape fatigue this week in the Huffington Post.

I am over rape.

I am over rape culture, rape mentality, rape pages on Facebook.

I am over the thousands of people who signed those pages with their real names without shame.

I am over people demanding their right to rape pages, and calling it freedom of speech or justifying it as a joke.

I am over people not understanding that rape is not a joke and I am over being told I don't have a sense of humor, and women don't have a sense of humor, when most women I know (and I know a lot) are really fucking funny. We just don't think that uninvited penises up our anus, or our vagina is a laugh riot.

I was feeling the same way back in May of this year when, between the two NYPD rape cases, the DSK allegations, and the reports of mass rape in Libya, seemed to invite an official recognition of May as Rape Month.

It's November now, and I'm with Eve. I'm over rape.

2+2 = 4; Health Enables Returns

2+2 = 4

Health enables returns.

One of those equations probably looks familiar to you. The other one should be equally apparent: how well do you work when you're coughing, sneezing, or, in the case of some factory workers in Bangladesh, substituting fabric scraps steeped in toxic dyes for menstrual pads? None of those situations is a recipe for productivity, which is why BSR (Business for Social Responsibility) launched HERproject, or Health Enables Returns. I wrote about this initiative for Women in the World Foundation last week:

At four Primark garment factories in Dhaka, Bangladesh, the fabric scraps that lay on the cutting room floor were often repurposed on the sly. Female workers snatched them up and used them as improvised sanitary napkins, subsequently developing infections from the strong, toxic dyes and dirt present on the fabric. In addition to the pain and suffering they experienced, they were missing work. It was a phenomenon Racheal Yeager had seen throughout Asia.

Last year, Yeager, 29, arrived in Dhaka with a solution: HERproject, a yearlong factory-based health education program that works in partnership with local non-profit and medical service organizations, trains women to become peer educators and spread valuable information about basic hygiene and reproductive health care. The project, an initiative created by BSR, launched in 2007. It has so far reached approximately 100,000 women in more than 80 factories in eight countries in Asia and the Middle East HERproject counts as its participants some of the biggest names in the apparel and electronics industries, including Levi Strauss, Abercrombie and Fitch, J. Crew and HP, all of whom have a vested interest in ensuring their factories comply with international standards.

While there is no precise data available, women are thought to make up 60% to 80% of factory workers globally, a figure that can go even higher, depending on the country. Although most of the factories have clinics on-site, workers often arrive from rural villages, with little, if any, knowledge about preventing sickness, sexually transmitted diseases, or unwanted pregnancy. For these women, the biggest barrier to robust health is a lack of information. But with a demanding work schedule and little time off for school or doctor’s visits, there’s little opportunity for them to seek that information independently. HERproject brings it to the factory floor.

Read the full story, "Meeting Women Where They Are: Health Education on the Factory Floor," here.

How Hanna Rosin discovered, described and defended the End of Men

For a case study assignment for my Writing and Reporting I class at NYU, I had the enormous pleasure of interviewing Hanna Rosin, a founder and editor of's DoubleX blog, and the author of "The End of Men," a controversial reported essay that appeared in the July 2010 issue of the The Atlantic magazine. I had seen her debate the proposition "Men Are Finished" as part of the Intelligence Squared series at the Skirball Center; she wiped the floor so thoroughly and so entertainingly with the other side that I almost gave them a pity vote. She was just as humorous, quick and insightful over the phone, and graciously took the time to share the following with me: The Story: “The End of Men,” by Hanna Rosin, ran on the cover of the July 2010 issue of the Atlantic magazine. The story poses the question: “What if modern, postindustrial society is simply better suited to women?” and, by way of an answer, details an economic, social and cultural shift underway in America and beyond. Equal parts research, reporting and argumentation, the story presents compelling evidence from a range of sources that, taken together, indicate a profound social change Rosin believes is irreversible.

The Writer: Hanna Rosin is a longtime journalist who has written for many, if not all, of America’s most respected titles, including The New Yorker, the Washington Post, the Atlantic, GQ, New York, and The New Republic, where, according to Professor Penenberg, she was all buddy-buddy with Stephen Glass. Much of her work focuses on issues of gender and sexuality, such as “A Boy’s Life,” a deeply-reported story on an 8-year-old transgender male-to-female boy. She is the author of the 2007 book God's Harvard: A Christian College on a Mission to Save America, and is currently at work on the book-length version of “The End of Men.” By day, she is an editor at’s DoubleX site, and she is also a senior editor at the Atlantic.

The Germ: The story was born of an evolving thought process that Rosin traces back to Susan Faludi’s 2000 book “Stiffed,” which explored how cultural trends, changing economic structures and recurrent recessions are warping modern masculinity. “It’s not a new idea,” she admits readily, that men are on the decline. But with only more recessions since 2000, she thought, “Surely it’s gone a step beyond – have women started surpassing men? Could that possibly be true?”

Her editor at the Atlantic, Don Peck, pushed it along. Having just written a book himself, “Pinched,” about the squeezing of the middle class, he was familiar with much of the data on men’s job loss during the recession.

The Reporting: Once she had this question in mind, she said, it was a matter of building a case.

“I started looking in various corners where it might be true, and it turned out it was true, or surprisingly true, or true in various ways,” she said.

Her research and reporting meandered across disciplines: education, pop culture, labor economics, fertility, the men’s movement. She estimates that the reporting process took about two and a half months, during which time she was also editing DoubleX. Because of the breadth of the topic, she likened it to reporting six different stories.

“First you have to familiarize yourself withal the education research and talk to all those people, and then you have the fertility research, and you have to go talk to all those people, and that’s kind of unusual for a piece,” she said. “Usually you’re working in one universe, but here you’re working in several different universes.”

The bulk of the field reporting that made it into the piece was from a one-week trip she took to Kansas, where she sat in on several male-support group meetings and spent time on several universities there, including a community college and the University of Missouri at Kansas City, visiting the business school, the women’s studies center, and different sororities. She estimates she had individual conversations with about 30 students in all, both female and male.

“I knew I had to do some college reporting since that’s central to the argument, the idea that women have taken over higher education,” she said.

She had to drive to different fertility clinics to collect data in person about which sex offspring parents were requesting, information they were collecting for regulatory purposes but they could not give out over the phone. She also spent a lot of time at men’s support groups that did not make it into the story.

The process of reporting the story – building a case by amassing a truckload of data and anecdotes – was in some ways a departure for her.

“To be honest, this is not my favorite kind of reporting to do,” she said. “My favorite kind of reporting is writing about an offbeat topic that illustrates a particular larger phenomenon and you get to follow a particular person or family and report it deeply. In this case, you’re starting with the idea not w the person or family and have to figure out where to report that big idea, and I think that’s really, really hard.”

The Writing: As with the reporting, the writing was a change from the straightforward long-form narrative writing she preferred to do for the Atlantic. “It’s partly an act of rhetoric,” she said, “and trying to get people to think about something they think of as fairly impossible.” Initially, she planned to open with data on women’s dominance in higher education, since the data are clear on this [excerpt]:

We’ve all heard about the collegiate gender gap. But the implications of that gap have not yet been fully digested. Women now earn 60 percent of master’s degrees, about half of all law and medical degrees, and 42 percent of all M.B.A.s. Most important, women earn almost 60 percent of all bachelor’s degrees—the minimum requirement, in most cases, for an affluent life. In a stark reversal since the 1970s, men are now more likely than women to hold only a high-school diploma. “One would think that if men were acting in a rational way, they would be getting the education they need to get along out there,” says Tom Mortenson, a senior scholar at the Pell Institute for the Study of Opportunity in Higher Education. “But they are just failing to adapt.”

On the advice of her editor, she moved that information down. He reasoned that this was information most people already knew. Instead, she opened with an anecdote about a biologist who had developed a way to separate out female and male sperm in the 1970s, allowing parents to select the sex of their child. Back then, his experiments raised concerns among feminists about a “dystopia of mass-produced boys.” But by the 1990s, when Ericsson surveyed the clinics using his method, he found a clear and consistent preference for girls. [excerpt]

In some clinics, Ericsson has said, the ratio is now as high as 2 to 1. Polling data on American sex preference is sparse, and does not show a clear preference for girls. But the picture from the doctor’s office unambiguously does. A newer method for sperm selection, calledMicroSort, is currently completing Food and Drug Administration clinical trials. The girl requests for that method run at about 75 percent.

Ordinarily, Rosin, who used to be a columnist, might offer a fact or anecdote that illustrates a counterbalancing phenomenon. To fight that instinct, she recalled advice from her first boss, the columnist Andrew Sullivan.

“If you’re going to write this kind of essay, it’s one thing Andrew taught me,” she said. “If you’re going to argue it, argue it. Otherwise, it’s not interesting for anyone to read. I had to work against my bias, which is very ‘on the one hand, on the other hand.’”

An Atlantic piece like Rosin’s, which describes imminent “vast social consequences,” would usually contain some policy prescriptions towards the end, what I think of as the “So here’s what we can do” part. Rosin said she doesn’t know why she didn’t do that in this piece, but thought it could be due to how she and her editor framed the story: as a work of cultural anthropology, and not a policy piece. In the forthcoming book, there will be a larger focus on policy, she said.

The Fallout: Perhaps due to its provocative title, which Rosin said she had nothing to do with, the piece provoked considerable backlash. Everyone found something to pick apart; Nation columnist Katha Pollitt wrote that “One problem with Rosin's optimistic picture is that every fact she cites in support needs about a dozen asterisks after it.” Men’s rights groups and feminists pushed back in equal measure against her message.

But Rosin thinks the reaction is based on a misread of her thesis, again perhaps due to the provocative title, which makes it sound as though the battle is over. To her, the fact that women still suffer from wage discrimination, or are a tiny percentage of CEOs or political leaders, does not mean that what she is describing is not true.

“These are not answers to my argument,” she said. “It just means these are two realities that can coexist at the same time.”

By August of 2010, the Observer reported her book deal. She hadn’t sought one, she said, but her agent called and suggested it. In addition to more exploration of the policy implications of the end of men, she’s also expanding her research into sex and dating for the book. In the meantime, she’s hit the lecture circuit, giving a TEDx talk and appearing at an Intelligence Squared debate this past September in New York City, where she and her teammate Dan Abrams set a record for the debate series, demolishing opponents Christina Hoff Sommers and David Zinczenko with a 46% vote swing.

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 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.

A new generation of Taliswomen?

My professor at NYU, Adam Penenberg (he is not normally sad like in the photo on his website), turned me onto a great blog, Pretty Little Head, written by "Farrah Bostic, a strategist, thinker and maker honing my creative technology chops while living in Brooklyn, NY." In the post he sent me, "The Trouble with Talismen," she muses thoughtfully and at length on why a list of who might be "The Next Steve Jobs" was all Steves, no Stephanies. Her answers are worth reading in their entirety, but here are a few:

Because despite the author’s apparent lack of a criteria for assembling his list (other than the Charlie Rose Booking rule), there was a common thread among those who made the list – and it wasn’t just that they are all men.

What struck me as the true criteria was that the men on this list (with a few exceptions) are inventors.


And this is the real problem for women in tech.  It’s not (just) that the media don’t like us or sex sells or that bias and sexism exist.  It’s that we don’t have enough women who are true inventors in our midst who take their inventions and turn them into multi-billion dollar businesses… And either stay on to be CEOs or sell the business to a bigger fish.

The sad truth is we don’t have enough inventors right now, especially in the US, where enrollment in STEM degree college programs (which would at least give you the basic skills and knowledge for inventing physical things – or say, getting a job even in this economy) is down across the board.

Even those with an interest in engineering don’t get degrees – 1/3 of the list Karbasfrooshan assembles didn’t finish college, much less get a computer science degree.  So it’s not required to have a STEM degree to invent something, but in terms of skills acquisition, women are poorly represented in the shrinking population of those who do study science, technology, engineering or math.

While these women have much to be proud of, not one invented the product their company sells or have revolutionized the businesses they helm.  They have made them profitable, made interesting acquisitions, improved productivity or efficiency or morale.  But they haven’t utterly transformed the way people think about packaged food or cosmetics or pumping gas.

But here’s the thing.  Most Fortune 500 CEOs are not the inventors of their products, not the visionaries, not the game-changers.  So this is not a female problem.  It’s a CEO problem.


In other words, it’s about that vision thing.  Karbasfrooshan didn’t omit women because of sexism and bias and discrimination – at least not directly.  He omitted women because there just aren’t any playing at the level these very few guys play at who are visionaries about new products and services built out of technology.  There aren’t enough women who are inventors and cultural visionaries or industry game-changers… because there aren’t enough of those kinds of people, full stop.  They are, almost by definition, rare.

As ever, I come back to the wise words oft-repeated by Cindy Gallop: you can’t be what you don’t see.

I recently wrote a piece, "This is What a Computer Scientist Looks Like," for Women in the World Foundation about a great initiative sponsored by the National Center for Women and Information Technology (NCWIT) to recruit and retain more young women in IT. Here's a brief description of how it works and why it works.

In 2007, Sanders’ colleague Ruthe Farmer launched a small awards program, the NCWITAward for Aspirations in Computing, to recognize girls in high school who showed an aptitude for computer science and invite them to NCWIT meetings. To her surprise, the girls found the experience transformative. It provided much-needed validation to counteract the discouragement they often found at school, where they were a small minority – or sometimes the only female student – in Advanced Placement computer science classes.

With the resources of firms including Bank of America, Google and Motorola, Farmer has scaled up the Aspirations in Computing Award to a nationwide program, with regional and local events so that girls are recognized within their own communities.

“Young women who self-identify as technical is kind of a priceless group,” she said. “They’re very attractive to everybody.”

Nearly 800 girls have been recognized nationally, regionally and locally so far, including Williams, who was an Illinois affiliate winner in 2009-2010. National winners receive a $500 cash prize, a laptop computer courtesy of Bank of America, and a trip to Bank of America’s corporate headquarters in North Carolina.  Every winner gets not one, but two, plaques.

“Each of the girls gets a plaque that goes home with her,” said Farmer, “and then we send a second one for the school to put in their trophy case.”

The winners also provide each other with peer support through a 290-member Facebook group. At the beginning of this school year, one girl posted on the group’s Facebook page that she was the lone female student in her programming class. The others jumped in with encouragement: “Don’t worry!” “Hang in there!” “You can talk to us.”

Farmer said the award’s impact is crucial to countering the self-doubt that they face for having what are considered unorthodox interests. According to an evaluation survey, 79% said that it has made them less “afraid, worried, or nervous.”

The New York Times reported earlier this month about efforts by universities to recruit more women to their STEM programs. But when so many young women are feeling "afraid, worried, or nervous" to study a STEM or IT subject, it's worth stopping to ask why that is, and how we can address that earlier. It's not to say that each of these women can and will go on to become "The Next Steve Jobs," since, as Bostic pointed out in her original post, Steve Jobs-y type people are by definition rare. At the end of her post, she asks:

So, who are the women (or the men we haven’t heard of, for that matter) who are inventing new OSes, software that changes the way you interact with the world, social platforms that alter the infrastructure of the internet, technologies that enable new kinds of transactions and business models, boxes of wires and silicon that transmit and calculate data in new ways?

If you know who they are, please say so in the comments here, and I’ll follow up with that list.

It would not surprise me if the NCWIT program produced a few women for that list.

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, 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.

This one's for you, Hitch.

Katha Pollitt is so damn funny. Here is her latest column in the Nation. It is funny. Subtly funny, intelligently funny, straight-up funny. In it, God drunk dials her and tries to get her to run for POTUS. Hilarity ensues. In my heart and on my blog, I dedicate this column to Christopher Hitchens. When I was Katha Pollitt's intern at The Nation in the fall of 2005, one of my assignments was to photocopy all of her columns from the previous five years so that the hard copies could be messengered over to her publisher for what was later to become the book "Virginity or Death!: And Other Social and Political Issues of Our Time," a best-of collection of her biweekly columns (Hitchens' own collection of columns, Arguably, came out recently).

Her columns were right across the page from those of Christopher Hitchens, who later left the magazine over his stance on the Iraq war (he was pro, entire rest of the office down to the plants and the carpeting was anti). Standing there by the copy machine, I absorbed a lot of vintage Hitch. He's absolutely brilliant, one of the funniest writers I've ever read, especially when he decides to be mean. But a few years ago he lost me with an incoherent Vanity Fair essay on why women aren't funny:

"Women appeared to have less expectation of a reward, which in this case was the punch line of the cartoon," said the report's author, Dr. Allan Reiss. "So when they got to the joke's punch line, they were more pleased about it." The report also found that "women were quicker at identifying material they considered unfunny."

Slower to get it, more pleased when they do, and swift to locate the unfunny—for this we need the Stanford University School of Medicine? And remember, this is women when confronted with humor. Is it any wonder that they are backward in generating it?

This claptrap leads to outcomes like SXSW's 29 men:1 woman comedy lineup this past March (and reinforces outdated, unhelpful gender roles). But a study out a few weeks ago put this nonsense to bed, as the consistently and highly funny Amanda Marcotte noted in Slate:

It's worth noting that this study didn't get as much coverage as other, less scientfically sound evolutionary-psychology ramblings that actually promote sexist stereotypes. Which is a shame, because this study neatly debunks the unevidenced claims of evolutionary psychology that there's a "sense of humor" gene on the Y chromosome that's there—why else?—so men can get women to sleep with them. What the researchers actually found was that the slight edge given to men in humor rankings was because men find men funnier than women find men. So much for that "will get you laid" theory.

When my late father, Gerald Sussman, worked as a humor writer at The National Lampoon in the late 1970s, the staff was all male. But that was then. This is now.

Updated Monday 8:15 am I forgot to add a list of a few other people to read if you love the funny. Send me your favorites and I'll post them too! Please you enjoy: