(UPDATED) Rolling Stone Asks Justin Bieber About Abortion and Rape? Oh, Thank God!

Amie Newman

Rolling Stone's upcoming issue featuring 15 year-old pop star Justin Bieber asks the hard-hitting questions I need to know. Does Bieber believe I have the right to an abortion?

Updated, 2/17/11, 3:33pm EST with a quote from Bitch Magazine’s Andi Zeisler.

Justin Bieber is on the cover of Rolling Stone – set to hit stands and online on February 18th (for all of you Rewire/Justin Bieber fans!). The 15-year-old pop mega-star is asked about the usual RS star-topics: music, movies, politics and sex. But Bieber is also questioned about his positions on more controversial issues; namely abortion and rape. Since the issue isn’t available yet, I’m only going on what’s been teased on the web site:

He does have a solid opinion on abortion. “I really don’t believe in abortion,” Bieber says. “It’s like killing a baby?” How about in cases of rape? “Um. Well, I think that’s really sad, but everything happens for a reason. I don’t know how that would be a reason. I guess I haven’t been in that position, so I wouldn’t be able to judge that.”

Despite what you may think, I’m actually not bothered by his position on abortion (other than the fact that he seems to question what it even is). I think his thoughts on abortion and rape are the thoughts of a sheltered 15-year-old pop star who hasn’t been taught to think about women or women’s health in a mature or nuanced way. I think it’s frightening that his opinions will obviously affect many of his fans’ thoughts on the issue. Honestly, though, I don’t feel like Justin Bieber needs to expound upon women’s health and rights from a place of expertise (someone needs to teach him the “no comment” rule though if he hasn’t bothered to construct a coherent opinion).

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As Andi Zeisler, Editorial and Creative Director for Bitch Magazine noted in an email on the subject,

“I can’t necessarily fault Bieber for being uninformed, though I do think it’s sad — if you’ve read any coverage about him, it’s clear that he has very, very little contact with the real world. I do fault the reporter for asking a question that doesn’t need to be asked of a sheltered millionaire pop star, one that may well affect the beliefs of the girls who worship Bieber.”[emphasis mine]

 

The more interesting question to ponder here, then, is:

Just why in the name of conservative, Christian, teen-stars do we need to know Justin Bieber’s “opinion on abortion” in the first place?  Why do Bieber fans care what his personal feelings are about whether women, young women or older women, “should” be able to have an abortion? Or whether a girl or woman who has been raped and impregnated by her attacker should have the right to an abortion? Why should anyone care?

Yes, he’s got the squeaky-clean pop star thing going on and it’s certainly sensationalistic for the magazine to bring up these issues. But I’m asking why the interviewer thought to even ask the abortion and rape question in the first place; why does she even believe it’s okay to ask a 15-year-old about what are some of the most personal experiences imaginable?

Oh, right. Because we’ve arrived at a place in time where women’s and girls’ health and lives are up for public debate and dialogue everywhere we turn. The GOP has turned, with the passive help of the Democrats, women and girls into political issues. 

We are no longer allowed to make our own personal decisions about our health and lives, from the privacy of our homes, or in our doctor’s offices. We’re no longer allowed the autonomy to chose safe, legal abortion or to decide, if we are raped, what to do. Not only have our bodies become a political “issue” to be picked apart on the public stage, but our actual right-to-live is up for political debate?

There is a beautiful video that’s gone viral in response to Iowa’s same-sex marriage fight. An 80-year-old white-haired outspoken grandmother to whom I may have built a shrine in my living room last night, a third-generation Iowan, speaks to her legislators in a homemade video about her gay son and his partner. She discusses the multi-year process through which she struggled to accept her son and his sexuality. Towards the end, she looks directly into the camera and says, “My son is not an issue. He’s a person.” It’s like opening a valve – you just want to sob with joy.

This is the way I feel. Women and girls are not issues. We’re human beings. I’m so tired of seeing male legislators use my own personal, private decisions whether or not to continue a pregnancy as a political tool. I want to be able to go to a hospital – yes, any hospital if my insurance or geographical region does not give me options – and have my life saved like anyone else. I want to be able to be treated for a rape or access an abortion if I’m pregnant from a rape without needing to prove that the rape was “forcible enough” for the male legislators who constructed the bill. Telling young girls who become pregnant as a result of rape or incest that it’s not a good enough reason to terminate a pregnancy –  is not inherently a political issue that needs to be debated by the entirety of society. We’re allowing all of society to have a say in how individuals handle their own personal, private health and medical decisions?

Asking a 15-year-old male pop star what his “opinion” is about whether I or any other woman should be able to make the best decisions and choices for myself and my family is a consequence of where we are right now in regards to the politics of reproductive justice in this country. I’m sort of glad Justin Bieber seemed so shaky in his answer. it shows how uncomfortable he clearly was with the question. And why not? As Bieber says, “I guess I haven’t been in that position, so I wouldn’t be able to judge that.” The fact is, he’ll never be in the position of needing or wanting an abortion or having been impregnated as the result of a rape  – as the majority of the rash of anti-choice bills’ sponsors never will either. It hasn’t stopped our political culture from presiding over these decisions for all women and girls.  

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.