My Brother’s Keeper: How Does it Affect Girls and Women of Color?

Here’s an article that was not featured in the daily email of headlines I receive from The New York Times, but it should’ve been. Law professor Kimberle Williams Crenshaw argues that U.S. President Obama’s “signature initiative on race, My Brother’s Keeper, a five-year, $200 million program that will give mentorships, summer jobs and other support to boys and young men of color, most of them African-American or Hispanic,” neglects girls and women of color, who not only face many of the same challenges that their male counterparts do but also deal with gender-specific issues such as a worse pay gap, domestic violence, sex trafficking, and others.

It’s a controversial argument––and a courageous one. Check out Crenshaw’s powerful argument here.

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On Single Moms Who Play it Safe in the Age of Economic Inequality–and Stay Unmarried

This great article by historian Stephanie Coontz explores the relationship between progress in gender equality and the rapidly growing economic inequality plaguing the U.S. Of particular interest is her take on the well-known gap in marriage rates between lower- and higher-income mothers:

Low-income women consistently tell researchers that the main reason they hesitate to marry — even if they are in love, even if they have moved in with a man to share expenses, and even if they have a child — is that they see a bad marriage or divorce as a greater threat to their well-being than being single.

Their fears are justified. Chronic economic stress is associated with an increased incidence of depression, domestic violence, alcohol or drug abuse and infidelity, all of which raise the risk of divorce. If a woman’s marriage breaks up or her husband squanders their resources, she may end up worse off than if she had remained single and focused on improving her own earning power.

She concludes,

Turning back the inequality revolution may be difficult. But that would certainly help more families — at almost all income levels — than turning back the gender revolution.

Amen and thank you. It’s great to see someone talking sense about the actual risks and benefits of marriage, but the piece also offers excellent data on wages, marriage rates for various classes, and so forth. Read it here.

On C-Sections and VBACs

This video from The New Yorker (which is offering free content for the next several months, so take advantage!) on rising C-section rates around the world is really well done. The stats are indeed alarming, but it’s not all grim––there’s also a sweet success story that brought tears to my eyes. Check it out.

Rereading Susan Faludi’s Backlash

This is a cool idea. If you’ve never read Susan Faludi’s bestseller Backlash, published in 1991, now’s a good time to do it. The book was groundbreaking because it documents the backlash against feminism that began in the 1980s and continues today, especially in terms of reproductive rights, but also in other ways.

Matter has started a summer book club, where different writers talk about each chapter of Backlash, and readers are invited to join the conversation, of course. Irin Carmon kicked off Chapter 1, and Donna Shalala, Roxanne Gay, and Rebecca Traister discuss Chapter 2 here. New responses to subsequent chapters will be released each week until the end of the summer. Have fun with this classic!

Using Humor to Counter Anti-Choice Protestors

The assault on women’s reproductive rights in the U.S. has been relentless in recent years, but women are fighting back and doing it with humor. Lady Parts Justice, established in 2012, offers info on reproductive laws and setbacks in all 50 states and includes humorous videos.

There’s also this story from The Daily Dot about how one couple decided to use humor to counter anti-choice protestors. This is especially relevant given the U.S. Supreme Court’s rejection of a Massachusetts law requiring a 35-foot buffer zone around clinics. One pro-choice couple in North Carolina decided to join protestors at a local clinic––but with very different signs.

Countering placards screaming “babies are murdered here,” the couple held signs with messages like “Bring Back Crystal Pepsi,” “I Like Turtles,” and “Weird Hobby” with an arrow pointing toward the anti-choice protestors. Obviously we need more than just mocking to reverse the dangerous trends of recent years, but this approach offers a fresh way of calling out the obnoxious, intrusive behavior of these particular anti-choice folks. Read the full story here.

On Kids Alone in Parks: We Need a Larger Collective Response

Responses to the arrest of Debra Harrell, a single, black mother who allowed her 9-year-old daughter to play unsupervised in a park, are largely individual. Stories have focused on Harrell herself, obviously, so that we can understand her situation: unable to afford child care, she allowed her daughter to play in a park so that she could work her shift at McDonalds. She was then arrested, and her daughter was taken into protective custody.

People are rightly outraged at the injustice against Harrell, and have focused on how viciously U.S. society distorts children’s safety through the corrupted lenses of race and class. Jonathan Chait in New York decries Harrell’s arrest and tells of letting his kids play in a park unsupervised, with no consequences (he is white). In her lovely article ‘What Black Latchkey Families Stand to Lose,” Stacia Brown also shares her opinion and personal experience, to make clear exactly what is at stake when people report women like Debra Harrell.

We need these stories because they help to bridge the chasms of lived experience in U.S. culture. We will never resolve issues of race and class if people do not fully hear each other.

And I’ve got my own personal response filtered, of course, through my identity as a single, white mom. Like Chait, I, too, recently let my daughter play hide-and-go-seek in a park with another kid. Adults were watching from across the street, but later that day, my daughter told me that, while she was hiding under a bush, a cop walked by and asked if she was okay because he didn’t see anyone else around. She said she was fine, and that was the end of that. He didn’t ask where her parents were or come looking for me.

There you go, anecdotal evidence at its best. It’s not the same situation as Harrell’s, but for me, it confirms the double standard: a cop perceived my daughter, who is younger than Harrell’s, as sufficiently supervised, and his perception was at least partly informed by race.

The public outrage about Harrell’s arrest has spurred a crowdfunding campaign to help her to regain custody of her daughter (Harrell is reportedly out of jail now). This is a great idea because it will help Harrell with her immediate legal fees.

What interests me, though, is how virtually all the responses, rhetoric, and action I’ve seen (like here, here, and here) are limited to the individual realm. I found one article on Vox focused on the overall problem of childcare in the U.S. But mostly it’s, “Was Harrell right or wrong? What’s my experience with this issue? What can we do for Harrell?”

Again, these are necessary and valuable, but it’s also as if we can’t bear to raise the dire need for collective change, so we limit ourselves to the personal in both responses and solutions. Why? Do we feel too hopeless to advocate (again!) for reasonable, affordable childcare solutions for working moms, especially when we see things like yesterday’s Senate filibuster blocking the Hobby Lobby legislation fix?

Is it too tedious to repeat the obvious––like sending another email about how it’s time (right now!) to get big money out of politics? Is it too risky to repeat a larger truth that everyone already knows?

Individual stories and solutions are valuable but limited and, in a weird way, show how we’ve internalized the relentless privatization that makes the U.S. so hard on everybody, especially on working families. It will never be possible to crowdfund enough money for all the moms who are criminalized for living in poverty.

So I’ll be the uncool one and just say it: we need a collective, public response. We need to force this issue and demand legislation that supports working mothers.