The Pandemic & Its Detriment to the Female Workforce

“Women have never experienced an unemployment rate in the double digits since the Bureau of Labor Statistics began reporting data by gender in 1948 – until now.” Women’s unemployment was almost 3 points higher than men’s in April, and has not experienced the same amount of recovery as men’s in subsequent months. This is due to a confluence of factors, one being the disproportionate amount of women, particularly women of color, in industries that were hit hardest by the pandemic. A National Women’s Law Center analysis showed that prior to the pandemic, women held 77% of jobs in the education and health industries and have accounted for 83% of jobs lost in these industries. A similar pattern has been observed in the retail industry as well.

In addition to this phenomenon, women are bearing the majority of childcare and family-related labor, which creates another barrier to reentering or staying in the workforce. Specifically, the Census Bureau reported that women are three times more likely to not be working due to COVID-19 related childcare needs. This may be due to cultural and social norms that relegate women to the default caregiver role, which is only worsening with many schools not reopening. As the pandemic has drastically changed both home and work life, women have been forced to carry a disproportionate share of the burden– they are not only more likely to lose a job, but also more likely to be responsible for childcare.

This issue has long term implications and manifests in numerous forms, depending on family situation, economic class, geographic location, and other factors. Betsey Stevenson, an economics professor at University of Michigan, warns against the lasting effects of this current dilemma, and states, “We could have an entire generation of women who are hurt…They may spend a significant amount of time out of the work force, or their careers could just peter out in terms of promotions”. The longer women are out of the workforce, the harder it is for them to return. These hardships and disparities come at a time when women were finally comprising more than half of the labor force, despite simultaneously bearing the majority of domestic work. This double burden has reared its ugly head during the pandemic and will ultimately take many years, and strong public policy, to mend.

Sources: Washington Post 5/9/20, CNBC 7/8/20, Marketplace 8/21/20, New York Times 6/3/20

Celebrating Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s Enormous Contribution to Women’s Rights

The impact Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg left on the contours of American society are unmatched, unprecedented, and too numerous to count. Below are a few examples of her impact, both in and out of the courtroom.

  1. ACLU Women’s Rights Project: in 1972, Justice Ginsburg founded the Women’s Rights Project in the ACLU. One of its earliest successes was the litigation of Reed v. Reed, which “challeng[ed] the automatic preference of men over women as administrators of estates”. The court ruled in favor of the plantiff, whose brief was written by Justice Ginsburg herself. This was the first time that sex discrimination was viewed as a violation of the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment, and set a major precedent for future legal rulings.
  2. Supreme Court Nomination: Justice Ginsburg’s nomination to the court was a victory for women and people everywhere. She was nominated in 1993 and served 27 years. She was the second woman to serve on the Supreme Court and was a champion for gender equity and civil rights and liberties throughout her career.
  3. Virginia Military Institute: in 1996, Justice Ginsburg wrote the Supreme Court’s 7-1 opinion ruling that the Institute could no longer remain an all-male institution. She wrote, “Reliance on overbroad generalizations…estimates about the way most men or most women are, will not suffice to deny opportunity to women whose talent and capacity place them outside the average description”.
  4. Lilly Ledbetter Dissent: Justice Ginsburg’s dissent in Ledbetter v. Goodyear (2007) concerning back pay for those who experience employment discrimination was so compelling and directed at Congress that it spurred the creation of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, the first bill passed by Obama in 2009.  This law overturned the Supreme Court’s decision in that case, which severely restricted the time period for filing complaints of employment discrimination concerning compensation.
  5. Professorship at Columbia University School of Law: after graduating tied for first in her class, Justice Ginsburg returned a little over a decade later, as the first female professor with tenure at Columbia. She also taught at Rutgers Law School.

Justice Ginsburg’s life’s work majorly contributed to progress in civil rights and liberties and gender equity. The country mourns her loss while celebrating her legacy as a champion for the feminist movement.

Sources: ACLU, The New Yorker 9/18/20, NPR 9/18/20; EEOC 2009

Texas Clinics See a Rise in Later Abortions After a Temporary State Ban Expires

Many clinics in Texas have observed an increase in later-term abortions, following a temporary ban on the procedures lasting from March 22 until April 22.

On March 22, Governor Greg Abbott issued an executive order banning most abortions, citing coronavirus and hospital capacity as reasons for this ban. The order stated that “all licensed health care professionals and all licensed health care facilities shall postpone all surgeries and procedures that are not immediately medically necessary”.

The attorney general, Ken Paxton, made this ban explicit by stating “This prohibition applies throughout the State and to all surgeries and procedures that are not immediately medically necessary, including routine dermatological, ophthalmological, and dental procedures, as well as most scheduled healthcare procedures that are not immediately medically necessary such as orthopedic surgeries or any type of abortion that is not medically necessary to preserve the life or health of the mother.”

After a month of uncertainty and legal debate, clinics in Texas were allowed to resume administering abortions on April 22. Almost immediately, these clinics saw an influx of patients, particularly those seeking later abortions. For example, the Southwestern Women’s Surgery Center in Dallas observed a 57 percent increase in second-trimester abortions in the month following April 22, as compared to the month leading up to March 22. Additionally, the Planned Parenthood Center for Choice in Houston saw a 28 percent in abortions for 10-week or later pregnancies.

This 10-week marker is important, as it serves as the limit for receiving medication abortions in Texas. Medication abortions are very effective and provide some people with more privacy and a less invasive feeling. Soraya Dadras heard this sentiment from her patients at Whole Woman’s Health in Austin and said that “The idea of having an in-clinic procedure was more daunting for them than having a medication abortion in the safety of their home with their partner”.

The month-long ban made this option inaccessible for many people, a fact echoed by Dr. Bhavik Kumar from Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast: “At the first visit, folks had expressed wanting to do a medication abortion, but then so many people weren’t able to come back for several weeks, which put them out of the window when they would have been able to access that care,” and “We were ready, capable and able to do what we needed to do to take care of our patients, but we legally weren’t able to do that”.

A 21-year-old Houston resident named Paige experienced the repercussions of this ban firsthand. Not only was she worried about the cost of abortion, but also had to travel outside the state to receive an abortion at the time. She said, “I felt like I was being punished in some way for getting pregnant…I felt like I was on an emotional and physical roller coaster.” Once she returned to Texas, after receiving an abortion in Albuquerque, she finally felt relieved. “I was back in the comfort of my own space, where I knew COVID couldn’t get me, and I was finally able to lay down and breathe, because I didn’t feel like I was breathing through any of it”.

 Sources: NBC News 8/12/20; Feminist Newswire 3/26/20; Texas Attorney General 3/23/20; Planned Parenthood

Study Measuring the Attractiveness of Women with Endometriosis Finally Removed

A peer-reviewed study rating the attractiveness of women with rectovaginal endometriosis, released seven years ago, has finally been finally retracted from the medical journal Fertility and Sterility.

 

The study, titled “Attractiveness of women with rectovaginal endometriosis: a case-control study”, concluded that “Women with rectovaginal endometriosis were judged to be more attractive than those in the two control groups. Moreover, they had a leaner silhouette, larger breasts, and an earlier coitarche (age of first sexual intercourse).” Not only is this problematic, but it also brings up ethical concerns – namely, the participants of the study did not give their consent to be rated on their attractiveness, nor were they aware that this rating was occurring.

 

Despite all of this, the study has continued to be defended by many of its authors and the journal itself. The official article withdrawal request states that “We [the entire group of investigators] conducted the study in good faith and according to correct methodology. We believe that our findings have been partly misinterpreted, but at the same time realize that the article may have caused distress to some people.”

 

Rectovaginal endometriosis is a severe form of endometriosis, a “condition in which tissue similar to the lining of the uterus (the endometrium) is found outside the uterus, most commonly in the pelvic cavity…It can grow on organs (ovaries, uterus, bowel, and pelvic sidewall), causing inflammation and pain.” 10 percent of women who are of childbearing age are affected by endometriosis worldwide, which is more than the percentage of adults affected by diabetes globally.

 

In addition to being painful and debilitating, endometriosis is linked to infertility – 30-40 percent of women with endometriosis may not be able to have children, and 50 percent of infertile women are impacted by endometriosis. Moreover, there is no cure, and it takes an average of 7.5 years to be diagnosed. This means, on average, endometriosis patients experience 7.5 years of undiagnosed and incurable pain, a loss in work productivity, and additional healthcare costs.

 

Additionally, only white women were selected to participate in this study, thus excluding women of color who also experience endometriosis. Dr. Jennifer Gunter, an American gynecologist, condemned this study by statingWhile I am not an endometriosis researcher, as I only treat women with pelvic pain, I see many women every single day with endometriosis and I have yet to identify a severe-endometriosis phenotype. But, then again, I don’t ever consider my patients’ attractiveness, just, you know, their medical and social history, their physical findings, and response to treatments…If the goal were to look at BMI, or some other validated measurement of body habitus, the title of the article and main outcome measure wouldn’t be attractiveness.”

 

She concluded “Objectifying women has no place in medicine. It is even more horrifying that such a publication comes from a department on OB/GYN.” This sentiment was echoed by Dr. Kate Young, a public health researcher who said “That paper is a really good example of what happens when we do research about women but not for them. And that’s partly a reflection of the patriarchal society that we live in and also the way we’ve structured research and research funding…We really need better systems in place that come from the bottom up. We need research to be influenced by the people who it is for.”

Sources: The Guardian 8/5/20, Fertility and Sterility 1/1/13, The Guardian 9/27/15, Dr. Jen Gunter 10/20/12

Women Experiencing COVID Symptoms Are Disbelieved & Disregarded by Medical System

The story of one woman, Ailsa Court of Portland, Oregon, illuminates an issue that has existed far before the COVID-19 pandemic – disbelieving women’s pain.

Court’s symptoms began in early March, and she is still experiencing “shortness of breath, achiness in her lungs, and a strange tingling in her calves”. Throughout her struggle, numerous doctors discounted her testimonies and downplayed the severity of her symptoms. Her primary care doctor believed she was “stressed because of the economy”, and an urgent care physician rolled his eyes when she explained her symptoms – memory loss, a severe migraine, chest tightness, and leg numbness.

The one word Court has been using to describe this disbelief is “gaslighting”, otherwise known as the “psychological tactic of making a person second-guess whether something they know to be true is real”. Sadly, Court is not alone in her pain and struggle, as many other female coronavirus survivors are fighting both residual symptoms and doctors that won’t take them seriously.

This phenomenon highlights an issue that has permeated much of medical history – the belief in the “hysterical female”. Hysteria was described by ancient Egyptians and Greeks and was first scientifically taught by Jean-Martin Charcot in 1880 – one of whose pupils happened to be none other than Sigmund Freud. Moreover, female hysteria wasn’t dropped by the American Psychiatric Association until the 1950s, and “hysterical neurosis” wasn’t removed from the DSM until 1980.

This history plays a dangerous part in present-day medicine – women in pain are more likely than men to receive sedatives instead of pain medication, women have to wait longer in emergency departments to be seen, and women are nearly three times more likely to die after a heart attack due to inadequate care.

These disparities are compounded for women of color. Black patients are 40% less likely to receive pain medication, and 34% less likely to receive opioids than white patients. A study found that almost half of medical students maintained the belief that Black people have thicker skin than white people.

Adrienne Crenshaw, a Black woman from Houston, Texas, was prescribed anti-anxiety medication, despite her asserting that her symptoms align with a heart attack, not anxiety. Alisa Valdés of Albuquerque, New Mexico, was told that her severe symptoms were the result of a “mental issue”. She believes that her doctors have been “minimizing me as a woman, minimizing me as a Latina”.

Clearly, these cases demonstrate the biases against women that exist in healthcare and must be addressed, given the unprecedented nature of the pandemic and the severity of its consequences.

Planned Parenthood To Remove Margaret Sanger’s Name from Manhattan Health Center

Planned Parenthood of Greater New York (PPGNY) announced yesterday that it plans to remove Margaret Sanger’s name from the Manhattan Health Center as a “public commitment to reckon with its founder’s harmful connections to the eugenics movement.” This removal is accompanied by a commitment to also rename an honorary street sign that marks the Margaret Sanger Square.

Karen Seltzer, the Board Chair at PPGNY, stated that “the removal of Margaret Sanger’s name from our building is both a necessary and overdue step to reckon with our legacy and acknowledge Planned Parenthood’s contributions to historical reproductive harm within communities of color”, and that “Margaret Sanger’s concerns and advocacy for reproductive health have been clearly documented, but so too has her racist legacy. There is overwhelming evidence for Sanger’s deep belief in eugenic ideology, which runs completely counter to our values at PPGNY. Removing her name is an important step through representing who we are as an organization and who we serve.”

Planned Parenthood has previously addressed Sanger’s connection to eugenics, and has an 8-page document titled “Opposition Claims About Margaret Sanger”. This document aims to delineate fact from fiction regarding Sanger’s stances and to acknowledge both her successes and harms. In regard to the latter, Sanger favored beliefs about hospitalization, sterilization, and preventing the immigration of disabled, “feebleminded”, etc. groups of people. She also endorsed the 1927 Buck v. Bell Supreme Court decision, which ruled that “compulsory sterilization of the ‘unfit’ was allowable under the Constitution”.

This move to further acknowledge Sanger’s legacy and her part in systemic racism is part of PPGNY’s Reviving Radical Initiative, a three-year initiative that centers communities of color through historical reckoning and building accountable relationships with these marginalized communities. Dr. Lynn Roberts, the Commissioner of Reviving Radical, echoed that “I am heartened by the decision by PPGNY to rename its Manhattan Health Center. While this comes at a time when the entire nation is reckoning with its sordid past and present realities of racial injustice, I am even more encouraged that this symbolic gesture is also accompanied by a deeper commitment to take even bolder steps toward institutional transformation.”

Dr. Roberts ended the statement by expressing, “may this organization’s realization of these mandates serve as a guide to other organizations embarking on becoming anti-racist organizations not only in name, but in practice.”

 

Sources: Planned Parenthood of Greater New York 7/21/20, Planned Parenthood 10/1/16, Planned Parenthood of Greater New York

Young, College-Educated, Democratic Women: You are Most Likely A Feminist

A new Pew Research study, conducted during March and April, confirms that age, education level, and political affiliation can indicate whether or not someone identities as a feminist.

Overall, 61% of women said that “feminist” describes them “very” or “somewhat well”. Across different age groups, the 18-29 cohort was most likely to identify as a feminist, whereas the 50-64 cohort was least likely to. In fact, a majority of women across generational and educational lines use the term to describe themselves.

Regarding education, having a bachelor’s degree or higher predicted higher feminist self-identification. Additionally, women who are Democrats or lean toward the Democratic party are 33% more likely to identify as feminists than their Republican/Republican-leaning counterparts at 75% vs 42%.

A related Pew Research study, also conducted during March and April, reveals that most Americans say gender equality is important, regardless of whether they identify as feminists or not. More specifically, 79% of adults believe “it is very important for women to have equal rights with men”. Within that category, 69% of non-feminists and 89% of feminists support the aforementioned statement. This indicates that a belief in gender equality goes beyond feminist identification. Many scholars contend that feminist values and principles – namely gender equality and empowerment – are increasingly accepted by society, regardless of the label “feminist”.

With this increased support for gender equality, comes another statistic – 28% of men believe the women’s gains in society have come at the expense of men. When looking at Republican/Republican-leaning men, this proportion increases to 38%. Similar to the first survey, education level and political affiliation indicate differences in these beliefs regarding gender equality. Nonetheless, 65% of all adults believe that the United States has made progress in gender equality and equal rights in the last 10 years.

It must be noted that all of these statistics and surveys exist within the context of the fact that 98% of Americans believe that gender equality is “very” or “somewhat important”. Women are slightly less optimistic than men about gender equality in America at 86% vs 93%, but still, it appears that more progress, and more feminism, are on the horizon.

Sources: Pew Research Center 7/6/20, Pew Research Center 7/14/20, Pew Research Center 7/7/20, Pew Research Center 4/30/20

Millions of Dollars of Federal COVID-19 Aid Goes to U.S. Anti-Abortion Groups

Numerous Christian anti-abortion groups received millions of dollars in forgivable loans from the federal coronavirus aid program the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). Fortunately, money from this program also went to pro-choice, reproductive rights groups. Notably, Planned Parenthood received $80 million in PPP loans.

This allocation of taxpayer-backed dollars comes in the context of a pandemic that has limited reproductive rights and abortion access everywhere, as many states have used coronavirus as an excuse to restrict access to these services – see Texas, Ohio, Louisiana, Kentucky, Alabama, Wisconsin, and Oklahoma.

One of the Christian rightwing groups that received funding is the American Family Organization, an anti-abortion, homophobic conservative organization, which has been described as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. In addition, the American Center for Law & Justice, an anti-abortion group led by Trump’s personal attorney Jay Sekulow, has also received funding.

Moreover, the Small Business Administration (SBA), the agency in charge of the PPP, has attempted to take back loans from Planned Parenthood following Republican criticism. The same attempts have not been made with the Christian anti-abortion groups. Frederick Clarkson, an expert on America’s religious right, stated that this incongruity “is absolutely a double standard” and “an egregious violation of ethical norms.” He also emphasized the unprecedented nature of this funding, saying “What we’re seeing with this is a lightyear leap into direct government financing of major Christian right political entities on a scale we’ve never seen before”.

In May, the SBA sent a letter to a Planned Parenthood affiliate in Delaware, explaining that they are “a local affiliate of Planned Parenthood Federation of America,” and therefore “ineligible for a PPP loan under the applicable affiliation rules and size standards, consistent with Congressional intent.”

In response to the SBA’s actions, Jacqueline Ayers, VP of Government Relations & Public Policy at Planned Parenthood, stated “This is a clear political attack on Planned Parenthood health centers and access to reproductive health care. It has nothing to do with Planned Parenthood health care organizations’ eligibility for COVID-19 relief efforts, and everything to do with the Trump administration using a public health crisis to advance a political agenda and distract from their own failures in protecting the American public from the spread of COVID-19”.

Sources: Feminist Newswire 3/24/20, Feminist Newswire 4/27/20, Feminist Newswire 4/22/20, Feminist Newswire 4/3/20, Feminist Newswire 4/1/20, The Wall Street Journal 5/22/20, The Guardian 7/8/20, CBS News 5/22/20, Planned Parenthood 5/20/20

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis Signs Bill Requiring Parental Consent for Abortions

Yesterday, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed a bill that requires minors to have parental consent before having an abortion. This bill goes into effect today and could significantly obstruct abortion access in the state.

The law states that a physician must “obtain written consent from a minor’s parent or legal guardian before performing or inducing a termination of the pregnancy of a minor”, with the exception of a medical emergency. A minor could also petition for a judicial waiver, which requires a judge to evaluate the child’s age, intelligence, emotional development and stability, credibility, responsibility, and assessment of short- and long-term risks. Previous to this bill, minors were required to notify their parent or guardian at least 48 hours before the abortion.

Throughout his election year, DeSantis touted this legislation as one of his goals. DeSantis did not make a statement concerning the bill; rather, Senate President Bill Galvano (R) voiced his praise of the bill. He argued that “the serious and irrevocable decision to end a pregnancy involves undergoing a significant medical procedure that results, in many cases, in lifelong emotional and physical impacts,” and “the parents of a minor child considering an abortion must be involved in such a substantial and permanent decision.”

Meanwhile, opponents of this bill assert that it will “endanger teens who could be subject to retribution or abuse if their parents find out they are pregnant or considering an abortion”. In a statement, Stephanie Fraim, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Southwest and Central Florida, said that “This law will put already at-risk young people in even greater danger at the worst possible time”. Galvano, in his statement, said that for “those who are in a situation of abuse or where parental consent is not in the child’s best interest, the bill provides a judicial waiver process that still involves the intervention of an adult.” Planned Parenthood indicated that research on this process reveals “little to no information” from court clerks, and that the coronavirus pandemic and its impact on court access will make matters worse.

Fraim also stated, “What’s worse, it could open the door to a reinterpretation of our constitutional right to privacy and the right to a safe and legal abortion in Florida.” Moreover, a similar law was struck down in 1989 by the Florida Supreme Court, but now, the court is composed of a solid conservative majority.

Sources: Florida Senate 6/30/20; Health News Florida 7/1/20; Sun Sentinel 6/30/20; Tampa Bay Times 6/30/20

Sex Segregation is On the Rise in America’s Public Schools

Deliberate sex segregation is on the rise in public K-12 classrooms across the country, despite evidence that it is often illegal and educationally unsound.

map-report-2

Map of All-Girl & All-Boy Public K-12 US Schools 2011-2014

Tuesday, the Feminist Majority Foundation’s Education Equity Program released a second multi-year study “Identifying US K-12 Public Schools with Deliberate Sex Segregation.”

According to the new study, there has been a 24 percent increase in public coed schools with single-sex academic classes since the period covering 2007-2010. In the first FMF study, there were 564 public coed schools with single-sex academic offerings. That number jumped to 699 in the new study, with a slightly larger increase in the number of all-female and all-male public schools. The number of single-sex schools jumped 29 percent, from 82 schools to 106 schools by 2012.

South Carolina, Florida, Texas and North Carolina had the most public coed schools with single-sex classes. As seen in the above map, New York and Texas had the most all-girl and all-boy schools.

The FMF study also found that more of the single-sex academic classes were for male students than females, however, the number of all-girl schools exceeded the number of all-boy campuses.

Most of the coed schools with single-sex academic offerings are middle and high schools.

“We are concerned that the numbers of single-sex K-12 public education programs are growing despite increased evidence that they are legally and educationally unsound,” says Sue Klein, Ed. D., Education Equity Director for the FMF.  “This growth is of particular concern because schools with deliberate sex segregation often serve a predominantly African American and/or Latino student populations in urban areas. Only 35 percent of coed schools with single-sex academic classes had a 75 percent or higher white student population,” Klein said.

Writing for the fall 2013 issue of Ms. Magazine, Susan McGee Bailey wrote that the data supporting the persistence of single-sex education “have not withstood scientific scrutiny.”

“Rather than offering a hoped-for fix to problems of low student achievement, single-sex instruction has failed our students and encouraged school districts to risk breaching both Title IX and the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause,” Bailey wrote.

While federal law mandates that public school single-sex education must be voluntary, the new FMF study found that almost none of the schools provided information on their websites about the nature of, or justification for their single-sex environment, leaving parents and students without adequate information to make informed decisions about their child’s participation in a deliberately sex-segregated setting.

Earlier this month, the US Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) issued long awaited guidance for K-12 schools interested in offering single-sex classes while staying in compliance with federal laws barring sex-based discrimination.

Media Resources: Feminist.org 12/23/14; Department of Education Office for Civil Rights 12/1/14; Ms. Magazine Fall 2013


Take Action!

The new study contains lists of 805 public K-12 schools with intentional single-sex settings by name and state. Help FMF take the data further:

  1. Do the schools on the above lists in your state still practice deliberate sex segregation?
  2. Are there other public schools that should be added to the lists?
  3. Are schools with sex segregation violating any of the equity principles in the December OCR guidance or other review criteria such as the FMF suggestions for evaluations?

Please share what you learn with FMF’s Education Equity Director, Sue Klein at sklein@feminist.org

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