Tag Archives: Choice

After 28 Years, What Should We Keep and What Should We NIX?

Richard Nixon signed Title IX into law on June 23, 1972. Title IX most famously applies to women’s sports, but in fact the law is much broader than that:

Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 prohibits discrimination based on sex in education programs and activities that receive federal financial assistance.

The U.S. Department of Education gives grants of financial assistance to schools and colleges. The Title IX regulation describes the conduct that violates Title IX. Examples of the types of discrimination that are covered under Title IX include sexual harassment, the failure to provide equal opportunity in athletics, and discrimination based on pregnancy.

On its 28th anniversary today, Title IX continues to elicit controversial opinions with regard to its extension from sports to science. Though extenders’ laudably recommend supporting women in a male-dominated field, the problem with legislative “support” is that it leads to twisted legal realities.

In school sports, Title IX has developed a controversial reputation for its creation of a de facto “quota” system. Just as true supporters of civil rights disdain quotas as racial basis for education, it makes little sense to impose equality on high school students at the expense of their choice.

Title IX supporters promote the legislation as permitting women to enter athletic fields formerly reserved exclusively for men. Dissenters argue that we should not cancel men’s sports if there is no female equivalent — if women are more interested in the arts, for example, it makes more sense to encourage participation there, rather than require young women to match the interests of their Y-chromosomed counterparts in the interest of quota metrics.

Feminism is, after all, about choice. Stated the New York Times in a 2008 article:

The members of Congress and women’s groups who have pushed for science to be “Title Nined” say there is evidence that women face discrimination in certain sciences, but the quality of that evidence is disputed. Critics say there is far better research showing that on average, women’s interest in some fields isn’t the same as men’s.

In this debate, neither side doubts that women can excel in all fields of science. In fact, their growing presence in former male bastions of science is a chief argument against the need for federal intervention.

American law is premised on protecting negative rights. This means that we are “free from” interference with our right to live as we please. If there is some outside force restricting our choice, legally we are entitled to ask for that force’s removal.

Yet if, as the NYT reports, women’s interest is lagging in pursuing scientific careers, there is no infringement. Feminism is about choice, not about forcing women into certain careers simply because there are few women already represented in those fields.

The Times goes on to quote psychologist Susan Pinker:

Now, you might think those preferences would be different if society didn’t discourage girls and women from pursuits like computer science and physics. But if you read “The Sexual Paradox,” Susan Pinker’s book about gender differences, you’ll find just the opposite problem.

Ms. Pinker, a clinical psychologist and columnist for The Globe and Mail in Canada (and sister of Steven Pinker, the Harvard psychologist), argues that the campaign for gender parity infantilizes women by assuming they don’t know what they want.

Women know what we want. Feminism is about feeling empowered to achieve whatever it is that we want. Feminism is not about imposing some mandated quota across fields, be they professional or athletic.



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Rose-Colored Glasses

At The New Agenda:

One of the best parts of my tiny, rigorous law school is the spiritual generosity of its affiliated community. Last year one evening I spirited myself away to a secluded restroom to freshen up before a late interview. I ran into my Property professor similarly composing herself; for a moment we leaned together towards the mirror over the sink and gossiped like sisters.

In that brief conversation my professor taught me two important lessons:

First, it is possible to be powerful and to be feminine.

Second, and perhaps more importantly: Women control the happiness factor in relationships.

When I say “feminine” I mean the way I’ve internalized the word. “Feminine” like my father’s mother, who rolled meatballs between her palms and kept her five kids tidy and respectful at the tail end of the Depression. “Powerful” then connotes the ability to command a room without being aggressive; without resorting to cheap ploys or wiles.

From time to time I am struck with the realization that we have bastardized the concept of femininity. Rather than appreciate and enjoy those fairer instincts to nurture, many women follow the Old Male Lead and assume Old Roles. Coquettish, apologetic, and cute. Or strong, aggressive, like our fathers. Finding balance proves difficult as each generation promptly outgrows our role models, and few female role models tend to bridge that generational gap.

Indeed my professor’s two critical notes of advice come hand-in-hand. The path to powerful femininity requires a woman to exhale, relax, and realize that she is already in fact powerful. No role playing necessary.

That exhalation becomes critical. We live in a time of gender flux. There is little need to burn our bras or march for suffrage, but this generation’s Lily Ledbetters do suggest that we are not yet accustomed to choice.

Choice represents a sort of responsibility conundrum. In this flux time women encounter glass ceilings only as high as we permit. We find statutory relief in equal pay for equal work. Key to that formula remains the requirement that we work as hard as we’d like to be paid.

Similarly, my professor suggests – and studies support – that both of a relationship’s parties’ happiness rests in the woman’s choice to be happy. Yesterday yet another study surfaced showing that not just a man’s happiness but his life span improve dramatically when a woman knowingly, intentionally determines that we will be happy.

Evidently a man’s education proves less determinative to his longevity than his partner’s education. This study’s authors postulate that the difference lies in educated women’s ability to sift through and find the best health messages available in our media-saturated age, or possibly that women’s greater responsibility for the household results in a cleaner, more livable environment for their men.

These hypotheses resonate, but I can’t help linking all of these case anecdotes together. Women, not men, initiate the lion’s share — more than 70% — of all divorce filings. Women, more than men, struggle with timely gender flux and a dearth of appropriate cross-generational role models. Greater even than the effect of tidiness on health lies the effects of stress.

That choosing an educated partner permits greater longevity suggests that powerful femininity leaves both partners happier in the long run. Indeed:

The general consensus of sociologists is that, whereas a woman’s marital satisfaction is dependent on a combination of economic, emotional and psychological realities, a man’s marital satisfaction is most determined by one factor: how happy his wife is. When she is happy, he is [happy].

Feminism isn’t about getting what we want; it’s about having equal opportunity in the pursuit of happiness. Powerful and feminine models ebb and flow; it remains to us to decide what will make us happy and then pursue it.

I, for one, would trade a fat male Ledbetter Act paycheck for flexible hours at home with my family. This choice may invite derision from the Winifred Banks types who marched for my choice in the first place, but here we are, and, frankly, I choose my choice.

And that is the interesting part. Flux comes not from external pressures, but from my generation’s own inner turmoil as we learn to exercise that grave responsibility, choice. Happiness, health, longevity. It may fail thresholds for both romance and sex appeal to choose a thousand times a day to remain powerful, feminine, happy, and yet that choice proves solid. Strong. Sustainable.

Employers pay women less because women seldom demand more. Failed relationships flounder at least as frequently in her restlessness as in his. Health, wealth, and longevity all rely on this simple co-dependence between women’s decision to exhale, to trust our instincts, and the less stressful, divorce-free environment (ideally) fostered by it.

I search frequently for a better word for equal opportunity than “feminism.” Until I find that term I’m grateful to my professor and to the female role models who remind me that the key is not to analyze, but to enjoy. There is something satisfying in accepting that the pursuit of happiness absent gendered caveats represents a profoundly noble goal, even as a young woman, even in flux, even for free.

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More and Less

In 2007, when I lived in France, then President-elect Sarkozy incurred a lot of criticism for being “too American.”  Instead of taking introspective French strolls, he went for aggressive, ambitious runs like an American.  His policies, his taste in women, his clothes all suggested this same “new world” tendency.

That same year my most “American” French friend noted that the characteristic he most associates with Americans is our desire for more.  More wine.  More money.  More love.  We are greedy.  More is more.  What an accusation, from the people who invented l’amour a trois!

Whenever I first run after a long hiatus — no time like the present to start training for the Army Ten Miler this Saturday — I’m reminded of Sarkozy’s American tendencies.  I’m reminded that I want more.

Tonight I went from my apartment down through Rosslyn and over the Key Bridge.  That’s my favorite run; it’s the Potomac that keeps me going.  There’s something about that moment when a huge brackish breath rolls off the river and smacks my nostrils that just wakes up parts of me I tend to forget are asleep.

My running season starts when it cools down around here, so it makes sense that this first run, coincident with autumn and freshly-sharpened pencils and harvest would make me think of More.

When I first heard this indictment of Americans my reaction was: Of course we want more.  That’s the point.  To put ourselves in a position where we have the options, the opportunity.  We’ve learned we need to protect our power to choose later.

If I give it up and embrace the simple life too early — if I start dipping my hands in dried lentils before I finish reading my Tax homework — then when I graduate I will have no choice but to satisfy myself w/ the touch of dried lentils, because ain’t no firms hiring wayward law grads this year.  Money can’t buy me love, but frankly love can’t replace my broken brakes.

Part of what I loved so much about living in France was that people tend to be satisfied.  There’s something profoundly elegant about not wanting more.  I can count on two hands the number of Americans I know who are similarly so satisfied.

I am neither elegant nor satiable.  I am voracious.  There are times when I opt for less — less money, when an unpaid job is really interesting; less chocolate, when it’s winter and I want my pants to fit — but I always, always, want more.

For all of this I find the Eurofication of America so unsettling.  Many theories can explain why Americans want more while Europeans do not:

My personal standby, the American Dream, suggests that the American self-made man (and his daughters) cannot ever be satisfied, or he’s finished.  Americans raise ourselves by our bootstraps; to settle, to stop, undermines what it is to belong to this country.

We can look to the great European middle class, where everyone has always lived in close proximity to their neighbors, and the only difference between this bracket and that one is the depth of velvet on the walls or the name sewn into your boots.  Status symbols simply matter less, so status itself becomes imperceptible even among friends.

Finally, American suburban sprawl permits those hungry folks to grow.  If you work hard you can find a bigger house and feel like you’ve succeeded.  For many areas in Europe, keeping a house in the country isn’t even on the wish list — people have forgotten that they used to like space.

There are many other theories, of course, but the more critical point is that the thing that defines Americans is not having more, but wanting more. We are not satisfied with status quo.  We do not settle for “good enough.”  We have worked hard for our choice and damnit, our choice we shall have.

There is something noble about wanting more.  We may not be elegant, but we will work harder and we will reach more.  And the key to all of this is that what “more” implies is choice.

This is what I’m missing about the powers at be right now.  I have long called myself “libertarian,” but the reality is that we are all libertarians.  We all believe that your right to swing your fist ends at my nose.  Your right to mandate payments stops at my purse.  We have celebrated vocal minorities and voted with our feet.  The only thing all Americans agree that we demand in excess is choice.

When I say “choice” in this context I don’t mean any one decision an individual makes.  I mean that in general we prefer to enjoy the full bounty of our profits, we prefer to wear what we like, drive as quickly as we please, etc.  Community requires order in these areas, but we’re talking about the margins.  At the margin, I’d rather keep one more dollar for myself rather than throw it into a communal pot for whatever he would like to buy.

Of course what separates political philosophies is the degree to which a person believes other people are capable of making the proper choice for themselves.  Of course, I want my choice, but you?  You cannot be trusted.  And so it goes.

Indeed, I am no noninterventionist; I believe that Iran’s right to swing its nukes ends at Israel’s nose, and that this limitation should be enforced.  There is always some degree of intervention, some empowering a decision-maker who knows better than The People what is best for them.  The nature of government is to aggregate choice, that is to say, to take away individuals’ ability to make active choices at every turn.

And all of this comes back to more.  The purpose of a community is to thrive together, to find something more than the sum of its parts.  Certainly not everyone will remain hungry for more, but we will all benefit when there is an option for more.

And this is what I don’t understand about politics.  An attempt to aggregate decision-making seems wholly reckless.  I don’t know what will solve our policy failures, but I do know that what makes this country great lies in our vigorous obsession with preserving future opportunity.  We have voted with our feet for so long, via the Market, to have as disaggregated a decision process as possible.  What part of that patterned, active, determined choice indicates that we would prefer a central decision-maker to decide for each of us what’s best?

To vote with one fell swoop to aggregate after all that just seems …ridiculous.  Of course it’s tempting to take away his choice – it’s obvious he doesn’t know any better – but once we start down that path we’ve given up control over our own margins.  First they came for the gypsies, right?

Here’s the thing about America, and about more.  The way to deal with being swept off one’s feet is to hit the ground running.  Cooler heads cannot prevail if they are not sufficiently cleared.  There may be something elegant about satisfaction, but that something cannot hold a candle to the nobility and humility of the American Dream.


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Roe v. Obamacare

This AmSpec article has been making the rounds, claiming that Obama’s health care plan is incompatible with Roe v. Wade.

It makes some interesting points, but makes no sense to me.  Roe is a little legally retarded, and its only healthcare-related statement is that “the gov’t” can’t prevent a woman from aborting her fetus until the point where the fetus is viable.  Roe doesn’t guarantee abortions as a matter of right; it merely precludes government intervention up to a certain point.

Of course everything will be much more difficult under socialized health care — there’s a reason Americans aren’t absconding en masse to Cuba or, for that matter, Canada.  Taking away an individual’s right to choose health care providers will clearly affect our right to choose other things.  But focusing on this dubious case is a little far-fetched.

Let’s just go forward with our strongest arguments in this area, based on economics and fact rather than Al Gore statistics and legal “penumbras.”  Especially when abortion is so heavily subsidized.  Yes, Obama’s health care proposition violates Roe‘s penumbras.  But first Obamacare violates every decision-making dignity and basic human decency affiliated with medicine.  This Roe stuff is tenuous and far-fetched and unnecessary when the sins of socialized health care are so perilously close to home.

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