Of Netroots Nation Sex (Or Lack of It), Glamour, and…Reproductive Rights Framing?

Amanda Marcotte

Win the framing war, win the argument: It makes liberals squirmy, but it's true. Our Netroots Nation panelists talked about how we need to argue forcefully that anti-choicers do not have a monopoly on American values but actually oppose them.

Netroots Nation: The sex.  Or lack of it.  The glamour.  Or at least the glamorous Mac laptops.  The politics.  The politicians showing up at parties and shaking everyone’s hand. The profanity. The whining about the profanity from those who have editors. The ridiculous confrontations with right wingers involved with counter-programming.  And of course, the panels, featuring a roomful of people both listening to you speak and blogging your words for posterity’s sake.   In other words, if you go to one conference any year, you could do worse than Netroots Nation.

This year was my second Netroots Nation, but my first coming not just to represent myself, but also on behalf of Rewire.  We had the most fun wandering around the convention asking people to give their opinions about reproductive rights.  One thing that you can always count on at Netroots Nation is that any random group of people there will have intelligent, opinionated things to say.  I recommend that anyone looking for "man on the street" interviews stake out Netroots Nation.  Most of the time, you have to chase people around with the camera to get much out of them.  At Netroots Nation, we had people flagging us down and saying, "What are you doing a video of?  Can I be in it?"   

But I digress.  This column is about the Rewire-sponsored panel "Breaking The Frame: Revitalizing and Redefining Reproductive Rights Media Coverage", which I participated in, alongside Andrea Camp, Marcela Howell, and Eesha Pandit, and our own Amie Newman moderating.  The panel was organized around the rather unspectacular but still befuddled observation that the mainstream media tends to cover the reproductive rights debate inside the framework of the anti-choice movement.  Unspectacular, because it’s obvious; the mainstream media prefers to let the right wing frame that it’s about the fetus dominate over the pro-choice frame that it’s about women’s rights.  The mainstream media also tends to cover the issue as if it’s only about abortion, but we all know that the anti-choice movement is also gunning to ban comprehensive sex education, contraception, and STD protection. But befuddled, because it’s not that easy to see why the mainstream media goes this route in a nation that’s majority pro-choice on abortion rights, not to say other reproductive rights issues like the right to use contraception or the right to have a baby.  

Before I get into the panel— you can watch a highlight reel here—I’d like to offer an intriguing possibility as to why the mainstream media kow-tows so often to anti-choice frames. Digby suggests that the mainstream media prefers right wing frames as a sort of cultural tourism that makes them feel magnimous towards "salt of the earth" types that they’ve defined as inherently right wing.  

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It’s that phony Village provincialism running amok again spreading patronizing, anti-intellectual drivel that allows these elites to wallow in salt of the earth moral superiority that they do not personally possess but take credit for by writing glowing paeans to primitivism and barbarity that nobody but a few fundamentalist weirdos actually believe in.

I think that’s it.  A lot of mainstream media types feel acutely aware of their urbane privilege, and they allow the right wing to guilt them into letting right wing frames dominate the conversation on the theory that it’s somehow more homespun that way.

What we panelists talked about was how we need to argue forcefully that anti-choicers not only don’t have a monopoly on American values, they actually oppose real American values.  We speak from a genuinely decent and kind values system.  We value women’s lives.  We value families that thrive when the adults can exert some control over the number of children they have and when they have them.  We value children, who should be wanted and cherished, not treated as anti-choicers do, like a punishment served out to sexual sinners.

More importantly, we’re the ones speaking from the place of heartland American values. Most people use contraception and support the right of women to participate in the public sphere, instead of be chained to the stove as a cooking-and-breeding machine.  Most people don’t put the imaginary rights of a blastocyst or even of a sperm above the rights of living, breathing, feeling human women.  Most people don’t think that some right wing nutbar high on misogyny and religious fundamentalism knows better than you what choices you need to make for yourself and your family.  

On my part of the panel, I talked about how right wingers win by sentimentalizing the fetus and calling it a baby.  They’ve made so many inroads against abortion by doing this that they’re looking for other things they can label as "babies" in order to make inroads against other behaviors besides abortion they’d like to legislate against. Now they want to claim that preventing ovulation is killing a baby, so they can take action against birth control pills.  

On the panel, I suggested that they’re doing so well with the "baby-killing" frame that we can expect to see them try to redefine all sorts of activities as "baby-killing" outside of abortion, birth control pills, and IUDs.  Perhaps next we’ll see arguments about how condoms kill babies.  Maybe comprehensive sex ed kills babies. The argument could be that learning about various birth control options is too much for the tender female brain, and it sucks away energy that will make the uterus inhospitable.  There is precedent — in the 19th century, it was argued that education could render women infertile through just this pseudo-scientific logic.  And anti-choicers are nothing if not willing to idealize the era before women could vote.  

Win the framing war, win the argument:  It makes liberals squirmy to think about it, but it’s unfortunately true.  We need to stay on-topic and continue to pressure the mainstream media to remember that women have rights, and the reproductive rights debate is about that, not about imaginary babies.

Commentary Economic Justice

The Gender Wage Gap Is Not Women’s Fault, and Here’s the Report That Proves It

Kathleen Geier

The fact is, in every occupation and at every level, women earn less than men doing exactly the same work.

A new report confirms what millions of women already know: that women’s choices are not to blame for the gender wage gap. Instead, researchers at the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), the progressive think tank that issued the report, say that women’s unequal pay is driven by “discrimination, social norms, and other factors beyond women’s control.”

This finding—that the gender pay gap is caused by structural factors rather than women’s occupational choices—is surprisingly controversial. Indeed, in my years as a journalist covering women’s economic issues, the subject that has been most frustrating for me to write about has been the gender gap. (Full disclosure: I’ve worked as a consultant for EPI, though not on this particular report.) No other economic topic I’ve covered has been more widely misunderstood, or has been so outrageously distorted by misrepresentations, half-truths, and lies.

That’s because, for decades, conservatives have energetically promoted the myth that the gender pay gap does not exist. They’ve done such a bang-up job of it that denying the reality of the gap, like denying the reality of global warming, has become an article of faith on the right. Conservative think tanks like the Independent Women’s Forum and the American Enterprise Institute and right-wing writers at outlets like the Wall Street Journal, Breitbart, and the Daily Caller have denounced the gender pay gap as “a lie,” “not the real story,” “a fairy tale,” “a statistical delusion,” and “the myth that won’t die.” Sadly, it is not only right-wing propagandists who are gender wage gap denialists. Far more moderate types like Slate’s Hanna Rosin and the Atlantic’s Derek Thompson have also claimed that the gender wage gap statistic is misleading and exaggerates disparities in earnings.

According to the most recent figures available from the Census Bureau, for every dollar a man makes, a woman makes only 79 cents, a statistic that has barely budged in a decade. And that’s just the gap for women overall; for most women of color, it’s considerably larger. Black women earn only 61 percent of what non-Hispanic white men make, and Latinas earn only 55 percent as much. In a recent survey, U.S. women identified the pay gap as their biggest workplace concern. Yet gender wage gap denialists of a variety of political stripes contend that gender gap statistic—which measures the difference in median annual earnings between men and women who work full-time, year-round—is inaccurate because it does not compare the pay of men and women doing the same work. They argue that when researchers control for traits like experience, type of work, education, and the like, the gender gap evaporates like breath on a window. In short, the denialists frame the gender pay gap as the product not of sexist discrimination, but of women’s freely made choices.

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The EPI study’s co-author, economist Elise Gould, said in an interview with Rewire that she and her colleagues realized the need for the new report when an earlier paper generated controversy on social media. That study had uncovered an “unadjusted”—meaning that it did not control for differences in workplace and personal characteristics—$4 an hour gender wage gap among recent college graduates. Gould said she found this pay disparity “astounding”: “You’re looking at two groups of people, men and women, with virtually the same amount of experience, and yet their wages are so different.” But critics on Twitter, she said, claimed that the wage gap simply reflected the fact that women were choosing lower-paid jobs. “So we wanted to take out this one idea of occupational choice and look at that,” Gould said.

Gould and her co-author Jessica Schieder highlight two important findings in their EPI report. One is that, even within occupations, and even after controlling for observable factors such as education and work experience, the gender wage gap remains stubbornly persistent. As Gould told me, “If you take a man and a woman sitting side by side in a cubicle, doing the same exact job with the same amount of experience and the same amount of education, on average, the man is still going to be paid more than the woman.”

The EPI report cites the work of Harvard economist Claudia Goldin, who looked at the relative weight in the overall wage gap of gender-based pay differences within occupations versus those between occupations. She found that while gender pay disparities between different occupations explain 32 percent of the gap, pay differences within the same occupation account for far more—68 percent, or more than twice as much. In other words, even if we saw equal numbers of men and women in every profession, two-thirds of the gender wage gap would still remain.

And yes, female-dominated professions pay less, but the reasons why are difficult to untangle. It’s a chicken-and-egg phenomenon, the EPI report explains, raising the question: Are women disproportionately nudged into low-status, low-wage occupations, or do these occupations pay low wages simply because it is women who are doing the work?

Historically, “women’s work” has always paid poorly. As scholars such as Paula England have shown, occupations that involve care work, for example, are associated with a wage penalty, even after controlling for other factors. But it’s not only care work that is systematically devalued. So, too, is work in other fields where women workers are a majority—even professions that were not initially dominated by women. The EPI study notes that when more women became park rangers, for example, overall pay in that occupation declined. Conversely, as computer programming became increasingly male-dominated, wages in that sector began to soar.

The second major point that Gould and Schieder emphasize is that a woman’s occupational choice does not occur in a vacuum. It is powerfully shaped by forces like discrimination and social norms. “By the time a woman earns her first dollar, her occupational choice is the culmination of years of education, guidance by mentors, parental expectations, hiring practices, and widespread norms and expectations about work/family balance,” Gould told Rewire. One study cited by Gould and Schieder found that in states where traditional attitudes about gender are more prevalent, girls tend to score higher in reading and lower in math, relative to boys. It’s one of many findings demonstrating that cultural attitudes wield a potent influence on women’s achievement. (Unfortunately, the EPI study does not address racism, xenophobia, or other types of bias that, like sexism, shape individuals’ work choices.)

Parental expectations also play a key role in shaping women’s occupational choices. Research reflected in the EPI study shows that parents are more likely to expect their sons to enter male-dominated science, technology, engineering, and math (often called STEM) fields, as opposed to their daughters. This expectation holds even when their daughters score just as well in math.

Another factor is the culture in male-dominated industries, which can be a huge turn-off to women, especially women of color. In one study of women working in science and technology, Latinas and Black women reported that they were often mistaken for janitors—something that none of the white women in the study had experienced. Another found that 52 percent of highly qualified women working in science and technology ended up leaving those fields, driven out by “hostile work environments and extreme job pressures.”

Among those pressures are excessively long hours, which make it difficult to balance careers with unpaid care work, for which women are disproportionately responsible. Goldin’s research, Gould said, shows that “in jobs that have more temporal flexibility instead of inflexibility and long hours, you do see a smaller gender wage gap.” Women pharmacists, for example, enjoy relatively high pay and a narrow wage gap, which Goldin has linked to flexible work schedules and a professional culture that enables work/life balance. By contrast, the gender pay gap is widest in highest-paying fields such as finance, which disproportionately reward those able to work brutally long hours and be on call 24/7.

Fortunately, remedies for the gender wage gap are at hand. Gould said that strong enforcement of anti-discrimination laws, greater wage transparency (which can be achieved through unions and collective bargaining), and more flexible workplace policies would all help to alleviate gender-based pay inequities. Additional solutions include raising the minimum wage, which would significantly boost the pay of the millions of women disproportionately concentrated in the low-wage sector, and enacting paid family leave, a policy that would be a boon for women struggling to combine work and family. All of these issues are looming increasingly large in our national politics.

But in order to advance these policies, it’s vital to debunk the right’s shameless, decades-long disinformation campaign about the gender gap. The fact is, in every occupation and at every level, women earn less than men doing exactly the same work. The right alleges that the official gender pay gap figure exaggerates the role of discrimination. But even statistics that adjust for occupation and other factors can, in the words of the EPI study, “radically understate the potential for gender discrimination to suppress women’s earnings.”

Contrary to conservatives’ claims, women did not choose to be paid consistently less than men for work that is every bit as valuable to society. But with the right set of policies, we can reverse the tide and bring about some measure of economic justice to the hard-working women of the United States.

News Abortion

Blackburn Punts on Next Steps in Anti-Choice Congressional Investigation

Christine Grimaldi

Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) deflected questions about targeting later abortion care in her interview with Rewire.

What are the next steps for the U.S. House of Representatives investigation into a market of aborted “baby body parts” that according to all other accounts—three other congressional committees, 13 states, and a Texas grand jury—doesn’t exist?

Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), the chair of the so-called Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives, said she had not decided on the topic of the next hearing, nor whether to subpoena the leader of the anti-choice front group fueling the investigation.

“We’ll have something that we’ll look at in September, but no decisions [yet],” Blackburn said in a July 14 interview with Rewire.

Blackburn’s remarks followed a press conference coinciding with the one-year anniversary of the first Center for Medical Progress (CMP) videos that still serve as the basis for the $1.2 million investigation.

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“We’re continuing to pursue [options], we have a tremendous amount of information that has come through to us through whistleblowers and individuals, so we’ll continue to work,” she said.

Congress adjourned for a seven-week recess the day after Blackburn presented House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA) with the panel’s interim update, which repeats many of the same widely discredited allegations from CMP and other anti-choice groups cited in the document.

The panel will release a final report by the end of the year. That’s the only definitive next step in an investigation that started with allegedly falsified evidence of fetal tissue trafficking and pivoted in recent months to later abortion care, including subpoenaing a prominent provider and calling for a state-level criminal investigation of a university and abortion clinic supposedly in collusion.

Blackburn would not commit to subpoenaing David Daleiden, the CMP leader under felony indictment in Texas and the subject of lawsuits in California. Republicans’ interim update called Daleiden an “investigative journalist,” even though more than two dozen of the nation’s preeminent journalists and journalism scholars recently filed an amicus brief explaining why that isn’t so in the federal court case between CMP and the National Abortion Federation.

“I think it’s inappropriate to predetermine any decisions,” Blackburn said about the possibility of a Daleiden appearance before the panel. “We’re an investigative panel. We’re going go where the facts take us.”

The interim update indicates that the investigation will continue to focus on later abortion care. Blackburn, however, deflected questions about targeting later abortion care in her interview with Rewire.

Blackburn seemingly walked back the pledge she made at a faith-based conference last month to pursue contempt of Congress charges for “middle men” and their suppliers—“big abortion”—who she alleged have not cooperated with her subpoenas. Blackburn’s panel spokesperson previously told Rewire that the panel required the names of those involved in fetal tissue transactions and research in order to understand how things work.

Democrats have repeatedly objected to the subpoenas, escalating their concerns after Blackburn initially failed to redact researchers’ names and contact information in her call for a federal abortion inquiry.

“We’re going to pursue getting the truth and delivering a report that is factual, that is truthful, and can be utilized by the authorizing committees,” Blackburn said in response to a question about the contempt charges at the press conference.

Blackburn and her fellow Republicans had no such reservations about going after Democrats on the panel.  They accused Democrats of furnishing subpoena recipients with a memo to subvert requests for information. The final pages of the interim update includes a chart alleging the extent to which various organizations, hospitals, procurement companies, abortion providers, and others have or have not complied with the subpoenas.

Emails obtained by Rewire show a Democratic staffer refuting such accusations last month. Democrats produced their own status update for members, not a memo advising noncompliance for subpoena recipients, the staffer said in a June email to a Republican counterpart on the panel.