(VIDEOS) Bad Boys and Runaway Husbands?

Jodi Jacobson

CNN and Good Morning America run two sensationist and largely unfounded stories about "bad girls" and then ask whether "women should be worried?"  You know...I am.  About the media.

This article was updated at 11:31 am, Tuesday, April 27th to add a response from Jaclyn Friedman, who appears in the CNN video, and critiqued it elsewhere.

Early last Friday morning, I started a workout at the gym by getting on the elliptical and plugging my headphones in so I could alternate between two of the four televisions provided. One of those sets is tuned 24-7 to sports (which I don’t usually watch at the gym), another one to VHS1 (for who knows what reason), a third to CNN and a fourth to a changing array of other channels.

That morning, I alternated between CNN and the fourth channel set tuned to Good Morning America, and found to my amusement and disbelief that both programs devoted themselves to “bad men.”

First, came the one on CNN entitled Bad Boys A Dangerous Trend? CNN’s Carol Costello spoke about a trend of “dirty boys,” warning, “they’re crude and sometimes violent.”

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Costello then went on to point out the many popular male comedians who use raunchy sex talk, the profusion of popular male performers who focus on easy sex, the proliferation of male morning drive-time talk-show hosts who use violent, sexist, homophobic and otherwise offensive language, and the vast array of prime-time programming depicting women only as sexual objects for the purpose of entertaining men. She raised questions about the most recent spate of sexual violence and infidelity among highly-paid athletes, the culture of rape in our society and recent studies revealing that relatively little is being done to punish serial perpetrators of rape on our campuses. 

And, noting there are so few good role models for male behavior, Costello asked, “Is this something men need to worry about?”

Then, I flipped to GMA, which spent nearly 7 minutes on a segment entitled “Runaway Dad Wanted a ‘New Life'” about a man who suddenly left his wife and one-year old child.  The focal point of this story was widespread disbelief that any man could leave “his precious one-year-old daughter.”

It was soon discovered that, in search of that new life, the man had run off with another woman of “questionable character.” The spurned wife and her family appeared on national television to plead for the husband to return, promising forgiveness. Friends and members of the same church as the man in question wondered, “how any father could ever leave his child?”

And I thought: Sad story, but this happens every day. The fact that a man leaves his wife and children is prime-time national news?

Except it wasn’t.  And it wouldn’t have been.

Because both stories were instead about “bad girls.”

And those of course were “national news.”  Even though they shouldn’t have been.

Both programs had that air of forced urgency and drama, that sense of living tabloid, including the fake-ominous sounding tone of reporters trying to convince you that this particular story was so important that what once passed for major news organizations in the United States were willing to put their names on them. Both “reports” relied on and simultaneously perpetuated deeply embedded sexist stereotypes. And basically neither one of them would likely have aired if you put the words “boy,” “man,” or “men” where you otherwise heard the words “girl,” “woman,” or “women.”

First take the CNN story.  It was a sorry piece of journalism if I ever saw one and there is a lot of sorry journalism out there these days.

As a mom (and a woman) I was first drawn in by the headline: Bad Girls a Dangerous Trend?  The clip veered from a couple fist-fighting on Jersey Shore (haven’t seen it, but hey, I grew up in New York) to the George Carlin-like material of Chelsea Handler, a female late-night talk show host (so what), to the movie Kickass (haven’t seen that either) and then on to Kei$ha’s song about drunken sex. By this point, I was already completely confused as to what this segment was supposed to be about and what it was trying to tell me.

But then, Carol Costello came on to put it all together, presumably anyway: “While it may be just a catchy dance tune, a funny shtick and a clever movie, is this something women need to worry about?”

Is what something women need to worry about? And which women?  At first I thought we were supposed to be talking about “girls,” a term I took to mean “near-children” or adolescents. But now we were talking about women.  Who are these “bad-girl” women?

Then an unidentified “expert” is shown stating that “It’s like a hazing ritual or a badge of honor: How drunk can you get; how bad can you behave; how close to the edge can you go.”

“I don’t get it,” she says.

I didn’t either, frankly because one minute and five seconds into discussing this “bad girls trend” I still didn’t know what or who we were talking about or in what age group they supposedly resided. Who was wearing drunkenness as a badge of honor? And what made it a trend among women in the general population?

By then, however, we were on to “girls celebrating the worst of frat-boy behavior as a way to female empowerment.”

So was this about college women? My 13 year-old daughter?  Women in my group of friends and acquaintances ranging from 20-somethings to 60-somethings and beyond?

The answer came in the form of a single “woman on the street interview” whose answer to an unaired question was: “Yeah, definitely, that’s it.  I think it is women trying to challenge men.”

Ya followin’ me?  No?  I don’t blame you.  I was not following them.

The program took a sharp–very sharp–turn to binge drinking, and warned us that “when it comes to binge drinking, sadly women are up to the challenge.”

What challenge? 

Binge drinking among women we are told “shot up” from 33 percent in 1996 to 40.9 percent in 2008.

These stats, however, are false and misleading or at least are not easily available from the source cited by CNN.

According to the program, they come from Southern Illinois University, which tracks drinking among college students and has set the standard for tracking alcohol abuse and alcohol abuse prevention programs on campuses throughout the country.  I tried for a couple of hours to find these very stats on “women” on the reports cited on SIU website, but could not. I did find information about something I already knew–drinking is a problem on college campuses and binge drinking is a problem among a segment of students, particularly those belonging to fraternities and sororities which generally (though not universally) have the highest rates of alcohol abuse.

So was this segment on CNN supposed to be a program about binge drinking on college campuses?  If so, they never let me in on the secret. And they certainly did nothing to report on this issue responsibly.

According to SIU’s Core Institute most recent report:

The Core Alcohol and Drug Survey assess[es] the nature, scope, and consequences of alcohol and other drug use on college campuses. The following statistics are drawn from a sample of 71,189 undergraduate students from about 134 colleges in the United States. These colleges conducted Core Survey during 2006. All institutions used methods to insure a random and representative sample of their respective student bodies.

The report states:

Despite the best efforts of many colleges, the national rates of
heavy drinking and other drug use have remained unchanged for
over two decades.

Yet, the rates of substance abuse vary greatly from college to college, and some colleges have demonstrated remarkable success at combating alcohol and other drug problems on their campuses.

This conclusion was supported by surveys conducted throughout the University of Wisconsin system (my own alma mater is UW-Madison) where recent data show binge drinking is declining, and at Louisiana State University, where active prevention programs are apparently having a positive effect.

Among all students included in the 2006 survey data (from freshmen through seniors, graduate students, non-degree students and “other” students), 31.7 percent of males and 30.6 percent of female students reported “non-frequent heavy use of alcohol.” Thirty-four percent of males and 18 percent of females in all categories reported “frequent heavy use” of alcohol.”

A problem for the US in alcohol abuse on campuses? 

Yes. 

A problem that means there is a national trend of “bad girls” (whatever that means) among a non-descript category of “women?” 

No.

Indeed, it is clear that binge drinking is still primarily and unfortunately a problem among male students.

Yet the CNN program went on to interview our respected colleague Jacelyn Friedman, whose sound bites on this program I can only imagine were carefully crafted to fit whatever the story line was supposed to be (and it never does become clear).

“It’s a really troubling message,” Friedman is clipped as saying, and Costello continues to–conveniently–finish Friedman’s sentence, “that is disturbing to feminist editor Jaclyn Friedman. She says women having fun or making stupid mistakes is one thing but adopting destructive raunchy behavior is…scary!”

Freidman is then quoted talking about the connection about alcohol and sexual assault.  On campuses?  In the general population? Where?  Who?  What was the question posed to her?

Indeed, Friedman, a leading thinker and writer on rape culture, was herself furious about the final product.  In an interview with Friedman, Kate Harding cites this very exchange and writes:

If you’re looking at that part I bolded and going, “WTF, Jaclyn?” well, you should be. You’re absolutely right that it sounds nothing like the position of a feminist activist who spends half her life explaining and decrying rape culture. Mostly because it’s not her position. Not even a little bit. On Twitter, Jaclyn’s explained that she actually “said there was a double standard worrying about girls’ drinking and not boys’, and that the trouble with the binge drinking culture in general is that it gives plausible deniability to rapists. And that we should be telling men that THEY need to drink responsibly, because alcohol’s not an excuse to rape! ARGGGGHHHHHH.”

Still, undeterred by the facts (or lack of them), CNN’s Costello goes on her merry way:

“So is this something women need to worry or is this just entertainment?” Costello asks, adding in conclusion, “Experts say that is something parents ought to ask their daughters about.”

In effect, this program was a montage of unrelated and unconnected tidbits of sensationalist media aimed at building an unproven and probably unprovable case of a “bad girl” trend.  Do some women “behave badly” according to someone else’s standards? Sure. I probably have more than once in my lifetime according to at least some standards. Do some men behave badly?  Yes. Does the fact that some women behave “badly,” again whatever that means (do they dance too provocatively? drink too much? dress inappropriately?  what?) mean there is a trend?

Using apparently untraceable and certainly unrelated information depicting some unproven trend among “women,” CNN wants us to believe we should be worried about being “bad girls” because of “messages” they are receiving.  They suggested we “talk to our kids” (a parental intervention on which, thankfully, I do not need CNN to advise me).  But I did ask my (13-year-old) daughter and my (10-year-old) son about this, and shared with them the video. They both rolled their eyes and proceeded to tell me the ways in which they each thought it was “stupid.”

Even they were not taken over by the program supposedly adult people at CNN program created a non-controversy about. It would be one thing to air a responsible program on campus sexual abuse, campus alcohol use or anything specific to actual data and real trends.  It is quite another to create a non-specific, deeply sexist, stereotypical and false trend aimed at calling women “bad girls.” Except given the culture right now, it’s a popular thing to do.

So that’s why I was not surprised when I turned to GMA and got the story about the “bad mother.”

It’s not that I condone running out on your one-year old daughter, whether you are a mother or a father.  But I also know enough about life to know that a) there are so many cases of child and family abandonment in the United States that if this is “news” we need a whole new channel devoted just to the topic; b) if this were a story about any old guy (not the disappeared governor of a southern state), we’d never hear about it; and c) we have no idea what was going on in that marriage.

So to answer Carol Costello’s lament, I am not worried about the role models I provide for my kids, because I know who those role models are: They are friends, family, members of our synagogue, neighbors, and people like the president. My son, the ultimate sports fanatic, was the first one in our family to state quite emphatically how “stupid” it was that Rothlisberger was not being held responsible for his actions.

I am not worried about “women gone wild” writ large, because for one thing there is no proof such a thing is a trend for women generally, am not sure what it would mean anyway, and yes, there are some women who are “challenging” men in both conventional and not-so-conventional ways. I do know that any small step out of the roles women are expected to play is deemed “wild” no matter how wild men are or have been. I think the real fear is that women are challenging their prescribed roles.  Period.

And right now I am not worried about binge drinking and sexual abandon in regard to my kids, because I talk to them all the time about what is ok, what is not and where to draw lines and when. 

But I am worried, especially for my daughter but also for my son, about a culture that constantly seeks to sensationalize the behaviors of some women and apologize for those of some men; to cover women with a broad brush and excuse the behaviors of (some) men because they are powerful, wealthy or make someone else wealthy.  I do worry when a supposedly respected national news source makes a mockery of reporting on something as serious as alcohol abuse (again, if that was the point) or child abandonment (not the point of the GMA story).

And on that score neither CNN nor GMA gave me much hope.

News Human Rights

Remaining Charges Dropped Against Officers in Freddie Gray Case

Michelle D. Anderson

Gray, who was Black, died of a neck injury a week after being taken into police custody in April 2015. The 25-year-old’s death led to widespread protest and civil disobedience against racial injustice and a number of reforms in Baltimore and across Maryland.

Three Baltimore Police Department officers charged in the 2015 death of Freddie Gray will not go to trial as originally planned.

Chief Deputy State Attorney Michael Schatzow of the Baltimore City State Attorney’s Office said during a court hearing Wednesday that his office would not prosecute Officer Garrett Miller and Sgt. Alicia White or attempt to retry Officer William Porter, whose case ended in a mistrial in December.

Baltimore City State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby had charged Miller, White, and Porter, along with Officer Edward Nero, Officer Caesar Goodson Jr., and Lt. Brian Rice, in Gray’s May 2015 death in police custody.

The officers faced an array of charges, ranging from second-degree depraved-heart murder and reckless endangerment to second-degree assault and involuntary manslaughter.

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All of the officers pleaded not guilty.

Judge Circuit Judge Barry G. Williams acquitted Nero, Goodson, and Rice during bench trials that ended in May, June, and July, respectively. Miller’s trial was set to begin Wednesday; White, October 13, and Porter, September 6.

Gray, who was Black, died of a neck injury a week after being taken into police custody in April 2015. The 25-year-old’s death led to widespread protest and civil disobedience against racial injustice and a number of reforms in Baltimore and across Maryland.

Mosby, in filing charges against the officers, attempted to hold law enforcement accountable for failing to secure Gray in a seat belt after transporting him in a police van following his arrest, among other alleged negligent acts. Prosecutors charged that Gray was illegally detained before police officers found a knife in his pocket.

Mosby stood by her decision to bring charges against the six officers during a brief press conference held near the Gilmor Homes public housing project, where Gray was taken into police custody.

“We stand by the medical examiners determination that Freddie Gray’s death was a homicide,” Mosby said.

She touted her team’s success during the trials, including an appellate court victory that led some officers to testify against one another and asserted that a summary judgment was among many reasons she had “legitimate reasons” to pursue criminal charges.

Mosby praised the reforms that had come over the past year, including a new “use of force” policy Baltimore police instituted this year. The new policy emphasizes de-escalation and accountability. It marks the first rewrite of the policy since 2003.

“For those that believe I am anti-police, that’s simply not the case. I am anti-police brutality,” Mosby said.

The conference was the first time Mosby had spoken in months, since a gag order imposed by Williams had kept prosecution and defense alike from commenting on the police trials.

The decision to drop charges stemmed from “an apparent acknowledgement” that convictions were unlikely for the remaining officers, the Baltimore Sun reported.

This was because the prosecution would face major challenges during Miller’s trial since they wouldn’t be able to use anything he said on the witness stand during Nero’s trial in an attempt to convict him. Miller had spoken during Nero’s trial in an immunized testimony and with protections against self incrimination, the Sun reported.

Williams said in previous trials that prosecutors failed to show sufficient evidence to support their stance that the officers acted recklessly and caused Gray’s death. He said prosecutors wanted him to rely on “presumptions or assumptions” and rejected the notion that police intentionally gave Gray a “rough ride” in the police vehicle, according to numerous news reports.

The decision to drop charges drew criticism from many activists and citizens alike, but drew praise from the Baltimore City Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 3 union, which had repeatedly urged the prosecution to drop charges.

Baltimore Bloc, a local grassroots group, said in a statement this spring that Mosby should be removed from office for failing to secure convictions against officers and continued to criticize her on Twitter after the announcement that charges would be dropped.

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.