Child and Forced Marriage in South Sudan

In addition to barriers to education, child brides… are at a higher risk of life-threatening complications during pregnancy and childbirth. Statistics prove that younger girls’ vulnerability to prolonged labor, obstetric fistula, or maternal death is significantly higher than older women whose bodies are fully developed. South Sudan currently has the highest maternal mortality rate in the world, approximately 2,054 maternal deaths for every 100,000 live births.

The UN places the number of girls under 18 married each year at 14 million.

"Sex 101 Class"

Women in Liberian universities have frequently had to exchange sexual favors to professors for passing grades. Even if they report the man and he loses his job because of disciplinary action, he can usually find another teaching job elsewhere because no universal system for tracking such offenses exists.

Elizabeth Gbah, programme manager for women’s and girls’ rights at ActionAid Liberia, says transactional sex is so entrenched in university life that it’s a seemingly accepted practice. And tackling the problem is not helped by the fact that some women willingly choose to do it – knowing they are unlikely to pass their course if they don’t “pay” for grades – or believe that this is how women get on in life. Gbah says girls grow up thinking they are inferior to men, and often don’t feel able to articulate their concerns or fight back.

This is why there’s no such thing as benevolent patriarchy, or at least, not benign patriarchy.

Radical Woman of the Day: Michelle Bachelet

On this day in 2006 Verónica Michelle Bachelet Jeria took office as the first female President of Chile. Forced to flee the country when a military coup overthrew the democratic government in 1973, Bachelet had to continue her studies as a medical student in Germany, although she returned to Chile in 1979 and graduated with her M.D. in 1983. Working in non-governmental medical organizations for the remainder of the 80s, she took a position in the Ministry of Health after democracy was restored in 1990.

In the mid–90s Bachelet began to study military strategy, eventually earning a Master’s degree in the subject from the Chilean Army’s War Academy in 1998. In 2000, then-President Ricardo Lagos appointed her Minister of Health. During her tenure in that position she was able to reduce waiting lists at public hospitals by 90% and gave away the morning-after pill to victims of sexual abuse. In 2002 Lagos appointed her Defense Minister, making her the first female minister of defense in a Latin American country. She was subsequently nominated by the Concert of Parties for Democracy to run for president in the 2006 elections. She won in a runoff election with 53.5% of the vote, having taken 46% in the general election.

During Bachelet’s term as President she focused on several social issues, reforming Chile’s pension system, introducing legislation mandating gender pay equality, distributing books to 400,000 poor families with 1st–4th-grade children, and passing a law allowing emergency contraception to be distributed to children under 14 without parental consent. She also passed an education reform bill and created the National Institute for Human Rights.

Following her single term as President—the Chilean Constitution prohibits consecutive presidential terms—Bachelet was appointed head of the newly-created UN Women, taking office in September 2010. A May 2012 poll indicates that 51% of Chileans would like her to return to the presidency.

University Of North Carolina May Expel Rape Victim For Telling Her Story

Landen Gambill has been accused of “disruptive” and “intimidating” behavior because she went public with the story of her rape by another student. She will have to attend a hearing before the school’s “Honor Court”.

Most likely, UNC’s action against the student is revenge. Gambill’s story first came to light as part of a case against the school in which a former assistant dean accused UNC of intentionally under-reporting cases of sexual assault. Gambill was one of three students providing evidence to prove the dean’s case. After it went public, Gambill publicly addressed the failings of UNC’s system, reporting that they “were not only offensive and inappropriate, but they were so victim-blaming… They made it seem like my assault was completely my fault.” The school even tried to leverage her suicide attempt, which happened after her sexual abuse, against her.

Do the people who dream up these accusations really not think about the terrible publicity they’ll get as a result, or are they just that sure they’re going to win?

♀ The Sex-Directed Educators

Photograph by  diepuppenstubensammlerin  via  Photopin  ( cc ).

Photograph by diepuppenstubensammlerin via Photopin (cc).

This is the seventh post in my chapter-by-chapter analysis of The Feminine Mystique, as I read the book for the first time in an effort to educate myself about the roots of modern feminism. You can read the other posts here.

When I was in college we used to joke about women getting their “MRS degree”—a stupid, sexist joke predicated on the notion that most women at an evangelical college probably want to get married more than they want to get a degree. Most of the students came from conservative backgrounds, so many of the women probably had been conditioned to assume they would marry soon after college and start cranking out the babies. Certainly a vague sense of unease began to creep across each class of women as they neared matriculation without serious prospects in that direction. No one discouraged women from taking their studies seriously, though. Everyone I knew would have been appalled at the idea of deliberately steering women away from academia.

In the 1940s and ’50s, though, educators and guidance counselors were doing exactly that. Having bought into the oversimplified lie of functionalism, society decided that because women needed to be “feminine” to be happy girls should be encouraged to skip serious academic or professional study. In part they were reacting to what many saw as a failing of the earlier feminist movement: that enabling and supporting education for women broadened their horizons and made them discontented with domestic life. Betty Friedan quotes Lynn White, former president of Mills College:

On my desk lies a letter from a young mother, a few years out of college:

“I have come to realize that I was educated to be a successful man and must now learn by myself to be a successful woman.” The basic irrelevance of much of what passes as women’s education in American could not be more compactly phrased… The failure of our educational system to take into account these simple and basic differences between the life patterns of average men and women is at least in part responsible for the deep discontent and restlessness which affects millions of women….

It would seem that if women are to restore their self-respect they must reverse the tactics of the older feminism which indignantly denied inherent differences in the intellectual and emotional tendencies of men and women. (Friedan, Betty, The Feminine Mystique. Norton & Company, 1997, p. 159)

White and others advocated that women, instead of preparing for a career outside the home, should take courses—actual college courses—that would prepare them to be wives and mothers. Friedan refers to them as “the sex-directed educators”:

Instead of opening new horizons and wider worlds to able women, the sex-directed educator moved in to teach them adjustment within the world of home and children. Instead of teaching truths to counter the popular prejudices of the past, or critical ways of thinking against which prejudice cannot survive, the sex-directed educator handed girls a sophisticated soup of uncritical prescriptions and presentiments, far more binding on the mind and prejudicial to the future than the traditional do’s and don’ts. (157–158)

This, of course, applied only to girls who actually chose to go to college, but more and more women began to opt out of higher education as a result of this sort of ideology. High school guidance counselors began to steer young women away from further education or encourage them to take less academically-rigorous courses, even during their secondary education.

When Dr. James B. Conant went across the nation to find out what was wrong with the American high school, he discovered too many students were taking easy how-to courses which didn’t really stretch their minds. Again, most of those who should have been studying physics, advanced algebra, analytic geometry, four years of language—and were not—were girls. They had the intelligence, the special gift which was not sex-directed, but they also had the sex-directed attitude that such studies were “unfeminine.” (161)

Even some middle schools had started conditioning girls to think of themselves in gender-essentialized terms, using a lesson plan called “The Slick Chick”, which taught the “do’s and don’ts” of dating to girls as young as eleven.

Though many have nothing yet with which to fill a brassiere, they are told archly not to wear a sweater without one, and to be sure to wear slips so boys can’t see through their skirts. It is hardly surprising that by the sophomore year, many bright girls in this high school are more than conscious of their sexual function, bored with all the subjects in school, and have no ambition other than to marry and have babies. (162)

How unsurprising, then, that fewer and fewer women were going on to college. Among Indiana high school graduates in 1955, 85% of the boys who ranked in the top 10% of their classes went on to college; for girls that number was only 64%. Girls also dropped out of college at a higher rate than boys; the graduation rate for women in the ’50s was 37%, as opposed to 55% for men. Because colleges were growing more and more selective, the girls who were accepted tended to be among the strongest academically, and they were therefore less likely to drop out because of academic failure. Rather, they were quitting to get married. (162–163)

Even among those who did graduate from college, an attitude of disinterest in academics began to grow, forcing the few women who retained a passion for their studies to pretend a blitheness they didn’t feel. Friedan visited many colleges and universities, talking to women across the country, and she found them disturbingly disconnected from the ostensible purpose of attending college. Whereas Friedan recalls staying after class, or up late in the dorms, with her classmates, talking about politics, art, religion, sex, and philosophy, the college girls of the late ’50s and ’60s were talking about dates they’d been on, boys they’d met, and their future plans for marriage and children. They were no longer interested in “issues”, or at least had to pretend not to be.

A dark-eyed senior in a raincoat admitted, as a kind of secret addiction, that she liked to wander around the stacks in the library and “pick up books that interest me.”

You learn freshman year to turn up your nose at the library. Lately though—well, it hits you, that you won’t be at college next year. Suddenly you wish you’d read more, talked more, taken hard courses you skipped. So you’d know what you’re interested in. But I guess those things don’t matter when you’re married. You’re interested in your home and teaching your children how to swim and skate, at and night you talk to your husband. I think we’ll be happier than college women used to be. (153)

As a result, fewer and fewer women had any real direction or purpose after bearing and raising children. They had never done the hard work of advancing fully into adulthood, choosing instead to embrace the childish dependence of being kept women with no need to form outside interests or determine their own passions and strengths. As their children began to leave the nest, they found they had nothing to do—no real identity. A study of Vassar graduates conducted in 1956 found some disturbing trends:

  1. Twenty or twenty-five years out of college, these women measured lower than seniors on the “Development Scale” which covered the whole gamut of mental, emotional, and personal growth. They did not lose all the growth achieved in college (alumnae scored higher than freshmen) but—in spite of the psychological readiness for further growth at twenty-one—they did not keep growing.

  2. These women were, for the most part, adjusted as suburban housewifes, conscientious mothers, active in their communities. But, except for the professional career women, they had not continued to pursue deep interests of their own. There seemed some reason to believe that the cessation of growth was related to the lack of deep personal interests, the lack of an individual commitment.

  3. The women who, twenty years later, were most troubling to the psychologist were the most conventionally feminine—the ones who were not interested, even in college, in anything except finding a husband. (177)

Friedan ultimately blames women themselves for rejecting education and career when it was offered to them, albeit in misleading pseudo-scientific terms. But I don’t know that I agree. Women should certainly be able to choose early marriage and limited education if they want, without being judged. But the choice should be informed, not based on well-meaning lies—or it doesn’t really qualify as “choice”.

Let's Not Panic Over Women With More Education Having Fewer Kids

Philip Cohen feeds my voracious appetite for data with a series of charts showing that educated women are actually having more children than they used to, while less-educated women are having fewer. Here’s why this matters:

The general relationship between the number of children women have and their relative status in society is clear: Fewer children means higher status. And the relationship is reciprocal: Higher status for women also leads to lower fertility.

Further, the relationship appears at both the individual level and the societal level. Countries with lower fertility levels have, on average, less gender inequality in the realms of education, income, political and social power.

If you like to make decisions or form opinions based on numbers, you really must read this.

The Challenges Ahead for Girls' Education in Pakistan

Responding to the good news that Malala Yousafzai’s recovery continues to progress, Isobel Coleman paints a bit of a bleak picture for Yousafzai’s stated goal of education for every girl in Pakistan:

The statistics are appalling. In 1981, 45 percent of male youth (15 to 24) in Pakistan were literate, versus only 24 percent of female youth—a literacy gap of 21 points. Since that time, while overall literacy rates have improved, Pakistan’s gender gap has barely budged. In 2009, 79 percent of male youth were literate, but only 61 percent of female youth—a literacy gap of 18 points.

The contrast with Bangladesh’s numbers from the same period is particularly damning.

Science: Girls v. Boys

For years… researchers have been searching for ways to explain why there are so many more men than women in the top ranks of science.

Now comes an intriguing clue, in the form of a test given in 65 developed countries by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. It finds that among a representative sample of 15-year-olds around the world, girls generally outperform boys in science — but not in the United States.

Fantastic graphical presentation of the data. The worst part, though, is that not only does the U.S. have a large gender disparity in science—it has the third largest.

Spend some time poking around with this chart; I found it fascinating.

Malala Yousafzai Gives First Interview Since Taliban Attack

It’s a fairly short statement, and if it seems like it gets cut off in the middle, that’s only because, in the full recording, Yousafzai switches to a different language. She seems amazingly articulate for a 15-year-old with a head injury speaking a language other than her native tongue.

Radical Woman of the Day: Julia Morgan

On this day in 1872 was born Julia Morgan, the first woman to be licensed as an architect in the state of California, and the first woman accepted to study as an architect at the École nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris.

Raised by a strong, independent mother, Morgan put off having a debutante party in favor of starting a career and took a civil engineering degree from the University of California at Berkeley in 1894, the only female engineer in her class. At the encouragement of Bernard Maybeck, who had mentored Morgan in architecture during her time at the University, she applied to the Beaux-Arts school. At first refused entrance in 1896 because the school did not accept women, she reapplied in 1897 when activist pressure forced a change to the rule. Although Morgan initially failed to pass the entrance exam, she studied for two years under François-Benjamin Chaussemiche to pass the exam the second time, placing 13th out of 376.

Obtaining her certificate in architecture from the Beaux-Arts school in 1902, Morgan worked for a time as a draftsman in San Francisco before being licensed as a California architect in 1904. The San Francisco earthquake of 1906 brought her initial success, but her later fame would come primarily from commissions by William Randolph Hearst, for whom she built (among others) Hearst Castle and its guest house, The Hacienda, and Wyntoon, another “castle” residence with accompanying smaller houses.

Morgan believed strongly in the advancement of women, and she built several YWCA buildings, some of which are still standing, and a number of buildings for Mills College, a women’s college in Oakland, CA. She died in 1957 and in 2008 was inducted into the California Hall of Fame.

Via Shelby Knox.