HOUSTON — Wearing brick-red scrubs and chatting in Spanish, Miguel Alquicira
settled a tiny girl into an adult-size dental chair and soothed her through a
set of X-rays. Then he ushered the dentist, a woman, into the room and stayed on
to serve as interpreter.
A male dental assistant, Mr. Alquicira is in the minority. But he is also part
of a distinctive, if little noticed, shift in workplace gender patterns. Over
the last decade, men have begun flocking to fields long the province of women.
Mr. Alquicira, 21, graduated from high school in a desolate job market, one in
which the traditional opportunities, like construction and manufacturing, for
young men without a college degree had dried up. After career counselors told
him that medical fields were growing, he borrowed money for an eight-month
training course. Since then, he has had no trouble finding jobs that pay $12 or
$13 an hour.
He gave little thought to the fact that more than 90 percent of dental
assistants and hygienists are women. But then, young men like Mr. Alquicira have
come of age in a world of inverted expectations, where women far outpace men in
earning degrees and tend to hold jobs that have turned out to be, by and large,
more stable, more difficult to outsource, and more likely to grow.
“The way I look at it,” Mr. Alquicira explained, without a hint of awareness
that he was turning the tables on a time-honored feminist creed, “is that
anything, basically, that a woman can do, a guy can do.”
After years of economic pain, Americans remain an optimistic lot, though they
define the American dream not in terms of mansions and luxury cars but as
something more basic — a home, a college degree, financial security and enough
left over for a few extras like dining out, according to a study by the Pew
Center on the States’ Economic Mobility Project. That financial security usually
requires a steady full-time job with benefits, something that has become harder
to find, particularly for men and for those without a college degree. While
women continue to make inroads into prestigious, high-wage professions dominated
by men, more men are reaching for the dream in female-dominated occupations that
their fathers might never have considered.
The trend began well before the crash, and appears to be driven by a variety of
factors, including financial concerns, quality-of-life issues and a gradual
erosion of gender stereotypes. An analysis of census data by The New York Times
shows that from 2000 to 2010, occupations that are more than 70 percent female
accounted for almost a third of all job growth for men, double the share of the
That does not mean that men are displacing women — those same occupations
accounted for almost two-thirds of women’s job growth. But in Texas, for
example, the number of men who are registered nurses nearly doubled in that time
period, rising from just over 9 percent of nurses to almost 12 percent. Men make
up 23 percent of Texas public schoolteachers, but almost 28 percent of
The shift includes low-wage jobs as well. Nationally, two-thirds more men were
bank tellers, almost twice as many were receptionists and two-thirds more were
waiting tables in 2010 than a decade earlier.
Even more striking is the type of men who are making the shift. From 1970 to
1990, according to a study by Mary Gatta, the senior scholar at Wider
Opportunities for Women, and Patricia A. Roos, a sociologist at Rutgers, men who
took so-called pink-collar jobs tended to be foreign-born non-English speakers
with low education levels — men who, in other words, had few choices.
Now, though, the trend has spread among men of nearly all races and ages, more
than a third of whom have a college degree. In fact, the shift is most
pronounced among young, white, college-educated men like Charles Reed, a
sixth-grade math teacher at Patrick Henry Middle School in Houston.
Mr. Reed, 25, intended to go to law school after a two-year stint with Teach for
America, but he fell in love with the job. Though he says the recession had
little to do with his career choice, he believes the tough times that have
limited the prospects for new law school graduates have also helped make his
father, a lawyer, more accepting.
Still, Mr. Reed said of his father, “In his mind, I’m just biding time until I
decide to jump into a better profession.”
To the extent that the shift to “women’s work” has been accelerated by
recession, the change may reverse when the economy recovers. “Are boys today
saying, ‘I want to grow up and be a nurse?’ ” asked Heather Boushey, senior
economist at the Center for American Progress. “Or are they saying, ‘I want a
job that’s stable and recession proof?’ ”
In interviews, however, about two dozen men played down the economic
considerations, saying that the stigma associated with choosing such jobs had
faded, and that the jobs were appealing not just because they offered stable
employment, but because they were more satisfying.
“I.T. is just killing viruses and clearing paper jams all day,” said Scott
Kearney, 43, who tried information technology and other fields before becoming a
nurse in the pediatric intensive care unit at Children’s Memorial Hermann
Hospital in Houston.
Daniel Wilden, a 26-year-old Army veteran and nursing student at the University
of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, said he had gained respect for
nursing when he saw a female medic use a Leatherman tool to save the life of his
comrade. “She was a beast,” he said admiringly.
More than a few men said their new jobs had turned out to be far harder than
But these men can expect success. Men earn more than women even in
female-dominated jobs. And white men in particular who enter those fields easily
move up to supervisory positions, a phenomenon known as the glass escalator — as
opposed to the glass ceiling that women encounter in male-dominated professions,
said Adia Harvey Wingfield, a sociologist at Georgia State University. More men
in an occupation can also raise wages for everyone, though as yet men’s share of
these jobs has not grown enough to have an overall effect on pay.
“Simply because higher-educated men are entering these jobs does not mean that
it will result in equality in our workplaces,” said Ms. Gatta of Wider
Opportunities for Women.
Still, economists have long tried to figure out how to encourage more
integration in the work force. Now, it seems to be happening of its own accord.
“I hated my job every single day of my life,” said John Cook, 55, who got a
modest inheritance that allowed him to leave the company where he earned
$150,000 a year as a database consultant and enter nursing school.
His starting salary will be about a third what he once earned, but database
consulting does not typically earn hugs like the one Mr. Cook recently received
from a girl after he took care of her premature baby sister. “It’s like, people
get paid for doing this kind of stuff?” Mr. Cook said, choking up as he
recounted the episode.
Several men cited the same reasons for seeking out pink-collar work that have
drawn women to such careers: less stress and more time at home. At John G.
Osborne Elementary, Adrian Ortiz, 42, joked that he was one of the few Mexicans
who made more in his native country, where he was a hard-working lawyer, than he
did in the United States as a kindergarten teacher in a bilingual classroom.
“Now,” he said, “my priorities are family, 100 percent.”
Betsey Stevenson, a labor economist at the Wharton School at the University of
Pennsylvania, said she was not surprised that changing gender roles at home,
where studies show men are shouldering more of the domestic burden and spending
more time parenting, are now showing up in career choices.
“We tend to study these patterns of what’s going on in the family and what’s
going on in the workplace as separate, but they’re very much intertwined,” she
said. “So as attitudes in the family change, attitudes toward the workplace have
In a classroom at Houston Community College, Dexter Rodriguez, 35, said his job
in tech support had not been threatened by the tough economy. Nonetheless, he
said, his family downsized the house, traded the new cars for used ones and
began to live off savings, all so Mr. Rodriguez could train for a career he
regarded as more exciting.
“I put myself into the recession,” he said, “because I wanted to go to nursing
HERE’S what a woman in Texas now faces if she seeks an abortion.
Under a new law that took effect three weeks ago with the strong backing of Gov.
Rick Perry, she first must typically endure an ultrasound probe inserted into
her vagina. Then she listens to the audio thumping of the fetal heartbeat and
watches the fetus on an ultrasound screen.
She must listen to a doctor explain the body parts and internal organs of the
fetus as they’re shown on the monitor. She signs a document saying that she
understands all this, and it is placed in her medical files. Finally, she goes
home and must wait 24 hours before returning to get the abortion.
“It’s state-sanctioned abuse,” said Dr. Curtis Boyd, a Texas physician who
provides abortions. “It borders on a definition of rape. Many states describe
rape as putting any object into an orifice against a person’s will. Well, that’s
what this is. A woman is coerced to do this, just as I’m coerced.”
“The state of Texas is waging war on women and their families,” Dr. Boyd added.
“The new law is demeaning and disrespectful to the women of Texas, and insulting
to the doctors and nurses who care for them.”
That law is part of a war over women’s health being fought around the country —
and in much of the country, women are losing. State by state, legislatures are
creating new obstacles to abortions and are treating women in ways that are
patronizing and humiliating.
Twenty states now require abortion providers to conduct ultrasounds first in
some situations, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research organization.
The new Texas law is the most extreme to take effect so far, but similar laws
have been passed in North Carolina and Oklahoma and are on hold pending legal
Alabama, Kentucky, Rhode Island and Mississippi are also considering Texas-style
legislation bordering on state-sanctioned rape. And what else do you call it
when states mandate invasive probes in women’s bodies?
“If you look up the term rape, that’s what it is: the penetration of the vagina
without the woman’s consent,” said Linda Coleman, an Alabama state senator who
is fighting the proposal in her state. “As a woman, I am livid and outraged.”
States put in place a record number of new restrictions on abortions last year,
Guttmacher says. It counts 92 new curbs in 24 states.
“It was a debacle,” Elizabeth Nash, who manages state issues for Guttmacher,
told me. “It’s been awful. Last year was unbelievable. We’ve never seen anything
Yes, there have been a few victories for women. The notorious Virginia proposal
that would have required vaginal ultrasounds before an abortion was modified to
require only abdominal ultrasounds.
Yet over all, the pattern has been retrograde: humiliating obstacles to
abortions, cuts in family-planning programs, and limits on comprehensive sex
education in schools.
If Texas legislators wanted to reduce abortions, the obvious approach would be
to reduce unwanted pregnancies. The small proportion of women and girls who
aren’t using contraceptives account for half of all abortions in America,
according to Guttmacher. Yet Texas has some of the weakest sex-education
programs in the nation, and last year it cut spending for family planning by 66
The new Texas law was passed last year but was held up because of a lawsuit by
the Center for Reproductive Rights. In a scathing opinion, Judge Sam Sparks of
Federal District Court described the law as “an attempt by the Texas legislature
to discourage women from exercising their constitutional rights.” In the end,
the courts upheld the law, and it took effect last month.
It requires abortion providers to give women a list of crisis pregnancy centers
where, in theory, they can get unbiased counseling and in some cases
ultrasounds. In fact, these centers are often set up to ensnare pregnant women
and shame them or hound them if they are considering abortions.
“They are traps for women, set up by the state of Texas,” Dr. Boyd said.
The law then requires the physician to go over a politicized list of so-called
dangers of abortion, like “the risks of infection and hemorrhage” and “the
possibility of increased risk of breast cancer.” Then there is the mandated
ultrasound, which in the first trimester normally means a vaginal ultrasound.
Doctors sometimes seek vaginal ultrasounds before an abortion, with the
patient’s consent, but it’s different when the state forces women to undergo the
The best formulation on this topic was Bill Clinton’s, that abortion should be
“safe, legal and rare.” Achieving that isn’t easy, and there is no silver bullet
to reduce unwanted pregnancies. But family planning and comprehensive sex
education are a surer path than demeaning vulnerable women with state-sanctioned
abuse and humiliation.
A wave of mergers between Roman Catholic and secular hospitals is threatening to
deprive women in many areas of the country of ready access to important
reproductive services. Catholic hospitals that merge or form partnerships with
secular hospitals often try to impose religious restrictions against abortions,
contraception and sterilization on the whole system.
This can put an unacceptable burden on women, especially low-income women and
those who live in smaller communities where there are fewer health care options.
State regulators should closely examine such mergers and use whatever powers
they have to block those that diminish women’s access to medical care.
Gov. Steve Beshear of Kentucky, for example, recently turned down a bid by a
Catholic health system to merge with a public hospital that is the chief
provider of indigent care in Louisville. He cited concerns about loss of control
of a public asset and restrictions on reproductive services.
The nation’s 600 Catholic hospitals are an important part of the health care
system. They treat one-sixth of all hospital patients, and are sometimes the
only hospital in a small community. They receive most of their operating income
from public insurance programs like Medicare and Medicaid and from private
insurers, not from the Catholic Church. They are free to deliver care in accord
with their religious principles, but states and communities have an obligation
to make sure that reproductive care remains available. This should be a central
goal for government officials who have a role in approving such consolidations.
As Reed Abelson wrote in a recent report in The Times, these mergers are driven
by shifts in health care economics. Some secular hospitals are struggling to
survive and eager to be rescued by financially stronger institutions, which in
many cases may be Catholic-affiliated. By one estimate, 20 mergers between
Catholic and non-Catholic hospitals have been announced over the past three
years and more can be expected.
The 2009 “Ethical and Religious Directives” issued by the United States
Conference of Catholic Bishops warns that Catholic institutions should avoid
entering into partnerships “that would involve them in cooperation with the
wrongdoing of other providers.” Catholic hospitals have refused to terminate
pregnancies, provide contraceptive services, offer a standard treatment for
ectopic pregnancies, or allow sterilization after caesarean sections (women
seeking tubal ligations are then forced to have a second operation elsewhere,
exposing them to additional risks).
In one case, the sole hospital in a rural area in southeastern Arizona announced
in 2010 that it would partner with an out-of-state Catholic health system, and
would immediately adhere to Catholic directives that forbid certain reproductive
health services. As a result, a woman whose doctors wanted to terminate a
pregnancy to save her life had to be sent 80 miles away for treatment. A
coalition of residents, physicians and activists campaigned against the merger
and it was called off before it was finalized.
Over the past 15 years, MergerWatch, an advocacy group based in New York City,
has helped block or reverse 37 mergers and reached compromises in 22 others that
saved at least some reproductive services. As mergers become more common, state
and local leaders would be wise to block proposals that restrict health
February 17, 2012
The New York Times
By JASON DePARLE
and SABRINA TAVERNISE
LORAIN, Ohio — It used to be called illegitimacy. Now it is the new normal.
After steadily rising for five decades, the share of children born to unmarried
women has crossed a threshold: more than half of births to American women under
30 occur outside marriage.
Once largely limited to poor women and minorities, motherhood without marriage
has settled deeply into middle America. The fastest growth in the last two
decades has occurred among white women in their 20s who have some college
education but no four-year degree, according to Child Trends, a Washington
research group that analyzed government data.
Among mothers of all ages, a majority — 59 percent in 2009 — are married when
they have children. But the surge of births outside marriage among younger women
— nearly two-thirds of children in the United States are born to mothers under
30 — is both a symbol of the transforming family and a hint of coming
One group still largely resists the trend: college graduates, who overwhelmingly
marry before having children. That is turning family structure into a new class
divide, with the economic and social rewards of marriage increasingly reserved
for people with the most education.
“Marriage has become a luxury good,” said Frank Furstenberg, a sociologist at
the University of Pennsylvania.
The shift is affecting children’s lives. Researchers have consistently found
that children born outside marriage face elevated risks of falling into poverty,
failing in school or suffering emotional and behavioral problems.
The forces rearranging the family are as diverse as globalization and the pill.
Liberal analysts argue that shrinking paychecks have thinned the ranks of
marriageable men, while conservatives often say that the sexual revolution
reduced the incentive to wed and that safety net programs discourage marriage.
Here in Lorain, a blue-collar town west of Cleveland where the decline of the
married two-parent family has been especially steep, dozens of interviews with
young parents suggest that both sides have a point.
Over the past generation, Lorain lost most of two steel mills, a shipyard and a
Ford factory, diminishing the supply of jobs that let blue-collar workers raise
middle-class families. More women went to work, making marriage less of a
financial necessity for them. Living together became routine, and single
motherhood lost the stigma that once sent couples rushing to the altar. Women
here often describe marriage as a sign of having arrived rather than a way to
Meanwhile, children happen.
Amber Strader, 27, was in an on-and-off relationship with a clerk at Sears a few
years ago when she found herself pregnant. A former nursing student who now
tends bar, Ms. Strader said her boyfriend was so dependent that she had to buy
his cigarettes. Marrying him never entered her mind. “It was like living with
another kid,” she said.
When a second child, with a new boyfriend, followed three years later — her
birth control failed, she said — her boyfriend, a part-time house painter, was
reluctant to wed.
Ms. Strader likes the idea of marriage; she keeps her parents’ wedding photo on
her kitchen wall and says her boyfriend is a good father. But for now marriage
is beyond her reach.
“I’d like to do it, but I just don’t see it happening right now,” she said.
“Most of my friends say it’s just a piece of paper, and it doesn’t work out
The recent rise in single motherhood has set off few alarms, unlike in past
eras. When Daniel Patrick Moynihan, then a top Labor Department official and
later a United States senator from New York, reported in 1965 that a quarter of
black children were born outside marriage — and warned of a “tangle of
pathology”— he set off a bitter debate.
By the mid-1990s, such figures looked quaint: a third of Americans were born
outside marriage. Congress, largely blaming welfare, imposed tough restrictions.
Now the figure is 41 percent — and 53 percent for children born to women under
30, according to Child Trends, which analyzed 2009 data from the National Center
for Health Statistics.
Still, the issue received little attention until the publication last month of
“Coming Apart,” a book by Charles Murray, a longtime critic of non-marital
Large racial differences remain: 73 percent of black children are born outside
marriage, compared with 53 percent of Latinos and 29 percent of whites. And
educational differences are growing. About 92 percent of college-educated women
are married when they give birth, compared with 62 percent of women with some
post-secondary schooling and 43 percent of women with a high school diploma or
less, according to Child Trends.
Almost all of the rise in nonmarital births has occurred among couples living
together. While in some countries such relationships endure at rates that
resemble marriages, in the United States they are more than twice as likely to
dissolve than marriages. In a summary of research, Pamela Smock and Fiona Rose
Greenland, both of the University of Michigan, reported that two-thirds of
couples living together split up by the time their child turned 10.
In Lorain as elsewhere, explanations for marital decline start with home
economics: men are worth less they used to be. Among men with some college but
no degrees, earnings have fallen 8 percent in the past 30 years, according to
the Bureau of Labor Statistics, while the earnings of their female counterparts
have risen by 8 percent.
“Women used to rely on men, but we don’t need to anymore,” said Teresa Fragoso,
25, a single mother in Lorain. “We support ourselves. We support our kids.”
Fifty years ago, researchers have found, as many as a third of American
marriages were precipitated by a pregnancy, with couples marrying to maintain
respectability. Ms. Strader’s mother was among them.
Today, neither of Ms. Strader’s pregnancies left her thinking she should marry
to avoid stigma. Like other women interviewed here, she described her children
as largely unplanned, a byproduct of uncommitted relationships.
Some unwed mothers cite the failures of their parents’ marriages as reasons to
wait. Brittany Kidd was 13 when her father ran off with one of her mother’s
friends, plunging her mother into depression and leaving the family financially
“Our family life was pretty perfect: a nice house, two cars, a dog and a cat,”
she said. “That stability just got knocked out like a window; it shattered.”
Ms. Kidd, 21, said she could not imagine marrying her son’s father, even though
she loves him. “I don’t want to wind up like my mom,” she said.
Others noted that if they married, their official household income would rise,
which could cost them government benefits like food stamps and child care. W.
Bradford Wilcox, a sociologist at the University of Virginia, said other
government policies, like no-fault divorce, signaled that “marriage is not as
fundamental to society” as it once was.
Even as many Americans withdraw from marriage, researchers say, they expect more
from it: emotional fulfillment as opposed merely to practical support. “Family
life is no longer about playing the social role of father or husband or wife,
it’s more about individual satisfaction and self-development,” said Andrew
Cherlin, a sociologist at Johns Hopkins University.
Money helps explain why well-educated Americans still marry at high rates: they
can offer each other more financial support, and hire others to do chores that
prompt conflict. But some researchers argue that educated men have also been
quicker than their blue-collar peers to give women equal authority. “They are
more willing to play the partner role,” said Sara McLanahan, a Princeton
Reviewing the academic literature, Susan L. Brown of Bowling Green State
University recently found that children born to married couples, on average,
“experience better education, social, cognitive and behavioral outcomes.”
Lisa Mercado, an unmarried mother in Lorain, would not be surprised by that.
Between nursing classes and an all-night job at a gas station, she rarely sees
her 6-year-old daughter, who is left with a rotating cast of relatives. The
girl’s father has other children and rarely lends a hand.
“I want to do things with her, but I end up falling asleep,” Ms. Mercado said.
December 29, 2011
The New York Times
By PEGGY ORENSTEIN
NOW that the wrapping paper and the infernal clamshell packaging have been
relegated to the curb and the paying off of holiday bills has begun, the toy
industry is gearing up — for Christmas 2012. And its early offerings have
ignited a new debate over nature, nurture, toys and sex.
Hamleys, which is London’s 251-year-old version of F.A.O. Schwarz, recently
dismantled its pink “girls” and blue “boys” sections in favor of a
gender-neutral store with red-and-white signage. Rather than floors dedicated to
Barbie dolls and action figures, merchandise is now organized by types (Soft
Toys) and interests (Outdoor).
That free-to-be gesture was offset by Lego, whose Friends collection, aimed at
girls, will hit stores this month with the goal of becoming a holiday must-have
by the fall. Set in fictive Heartlake City (and supported by a $40 million
marketing campaign), the line features new, pastel-colored, blocks that allow a
budding Kardashian, among other things, to build herself a cafe or a beauty
salon. Its tasty-sounding “ladyfig” characters are also taller and curvier than
the typical Legoland denizen.
So who has it right? Should gender be systematically expunged from playthings?
Or is Lego merely being realistic, earnestly meeting girls halfway in an attempt
to stoke their interest in engineering?
Among the “10 characteristics for Lego” described in 1963 by a son of the
founder was that it was “for girls and for boys,” as Bloomberg Businessweek
reported. But the new Friends collection, Lego says, was based on months of
anthropological research revealing that — gasp! — the sexes play differently.
While as toddlers they interact similarly with the company’s Duplo blocks, by
preschool girls prefer playthings that are pretty, exude “harmony” and allow
them to tell a story. They may enjoy building, but they favor role play. So it’s
bye-bye Bionicles, hello princesses. In order to be gender-fair, today’s
executives insist, they have to be gender-specific.
As any developmental psychologist will tell you, those observations are, to a
degree, correct. Toy choice among young children is the Big Kahuna of sex
differences, one of the largest across the life span. It transcends not only
culture but species: in two separate studies of primates, in 2002 and 2008,
researchers found that males gravitated toward stereotypically masculine toys
(like cars and balls) while females went ape for dolls. Both sexes,
incidentally, appreciated stuffed animals and books.
Human boys and girls not only tend to play differently from one another — with
girls typically clustering in pairs or trios, chatting together more than boys
and playing more cooperatively — but, when given a choice, usually prefer
hanging with their own kind.
Score one for Lego, right? Not so fast. Preschoolers may be the self-appointed
chiefs of the gender police, eager to enforce and embrace the most rigid views.
Yet, according Lise Eliot, a neuroscientist and the author of “Pink Brain, Blue
Brain,” that’s also the age when their brains are most malleable, most open to
influence on the abilities and roles that traditionally go with their sex.
Every experience, every interaction, every activity — when they laugh, cry,
learn, play — strengthens some neural circuits at the expense of others, and the
younger the child the greater the effect. Consider: boys from more egalitarian
homes are more nurturing toward babies. Meanwhile, in a study of more than 5,000
3-year-olds, girls with older brothers had stronger spatial skills than both
girls and boys with older sisters.
At issue, then, is not nature or nurture but how nurture becomes nature: the
environment in which children play and grow can encourage a range of aptitudes
or foreclose them. So blithely indulging — let alone exploiting —
stereotypically gendered play patterns may have a more negative long-term impact
on kids’ potential than parents imagine. And promoting, without forcing,
cross-sex friendships as well as a breadth of play styles may be more
beneficial. There is even evidence that children who have opposite-sex
friendships during their early years have healthier romantic relationships as
Traditionally, toys were intended to communicate parental values and
expectations, to train children for their future adult roles. Today’s boys and
girls will eventually be one another’s professional peers, employers, employees,
romantic partners, co-parents. How can they develop skills for such
collaborations from toys that increasingly emphasize, reinforce, or even create,
gender differences? What do girls learn about who they should be from Lego kits
with beauty parlors or the flood of “girl friendly” science kits that run the
gamut from “beauty spa lab” to “perfume factory”?
The rebellion against such gender apartheid may have begun. Consider the latest
cute-kid video to go viral on YouTube: “Riley on Marketing” shows a little girl
in front of a wall of pink packaging, asking, “Why do all the girls have to buy
pink stuff and all the boys have to buy different-color stuff?” It has been
viewed more than 2.4 million times.
Perhaps, then, Hamleys is on to something, though it will doubtless meet with
resistance — even rejection — from both its pint-size customers and
multinational vendors. As for me, I’m trying to track down a poster of a 1981 ad
for a Lego “universal” building set to give to my daughter. In it, a
freckle-faced girl with copper-colored braids, baggy jeans, a T-shirt and
sneakers proudly holds out a jumbly, multi-hued Lego creation. Beneath it, a tag
line reads, “What it is is beautiful.”
Peggy Orenstein is the author, most recently,
of “Cinderella Ate My Daughter: Dispatches From the Front
November 14, 2011
The New York Times
By KIMBERLE WILLIAMS CRENSHAW
and CATHARINE A. MacKINNON
HARD as it has been to watch, harder still to live through, the spectacle of
Herman Cain’s dodging sexual harassment allegations is a real step up for the
status of women. Their sexual treatment is now part of the open political
process, rather than a smarmy rumor to be passed among cognoscenti in the dark.
The fact that what several women have said might register in a presidential
campaign — as if women’s sexual mistreatment at work might really matter — could
be a potential game changer, even though the prevailing dynamics of sex, race
and power that made sexual harassment so difficult to denounce in the first
place are amply on display.
The firestorm surrounding Clarence Thomas’s defense to Anita F. Hill’s
allegations in his confirmation hearing for the United States Supreme Court 20
years ago not only falsely set up race and gender as mutually exclusive and
opposing forces, but also framed subsequent defenses to sexual harassment
charges by Bill Clinton and others as mere personal peccadillo or political
fodder. Predictably, in this latest remix, political intrigue and racial
grandstanding, combined with vicious attacks on the accusers, have obscured the
principal inquiry: the leadership potential of a presidential candidate.
Sexual harassment is not a Democratic or Republican issue, a liberal or
conservative issue, or a black or white one, although those politics can shape
it. As a consequence, it does not present a test of group loyalty but a chance
to evaluate the reported behavior of someone who seeks to govern.
Sexual harassment is no private problem, readily compartmentalized, or a merely
symbolic disqualifier. The allegations of sexual harassment go to the core of
Mr. Cain’s qualifications to lead. Even lacking certainty about facts, what
emerges as the Cain story unfolds is a picture of a man with significant
deficits in terms of temperament, judgment and, potentially, veracity.
The seeming lack of concern about behavior that cost his former employer money,
the sense of entitlement and belief in personal impunity, and the supposed
failures to remember are disturbing enough; the accusations about his behavior
toward women, abuse of authority, and inability to follow the law should be
presumptively disqualifying in a person who seeks to unite and lead.
Polls indicate that some may be swayed by Mr. Cain’s denials, suggesting that
the disclosures are a smear campaign, implying that these women fabricated their
claims to derail his nomination. How inconvenient that the two initial claims
surfaced over a decade before there was any political campaign to derail, and
that Mr. Cain’s own employer apparently concluded that prudence dictated their
settlement. This decision does not reflect how easily employers can be cornered.
Sexual harassment law sets the bar high, even for the kind of quid pro quo
demands reported by Sharon Bialek, the first of Mr. Cain’s accusers to go
That the National Restaurant Association decided to resolve the prior claims
with compensation provides some picture of their nature: they were most likely
not a one-time event (unless extremely severe), they were most likely not made
by someone whose credibility could be easily demolished, and they were most
likely not behaviors that would offend only an overly sensitive woman (as Mr.
Cain suggested when he said that he had merely compared the height of one of his
accusers, Karen Kraushaar, to the height of his wife). The law requires a
pervasive pattern of unwelcome behavior of a sexual nature or acts of real
severity as viewed by a reasonable person that create a hostile working
environment, or demands to exchange sexual compliance for workplace benefits.
Anything less would have provided the company little incentive to settle.
Mr. Cain’s assertion that the public attention to these reports is “a high tech
lynching” threatens to insulate his behavior from the deeper assessment it
demands. Like Mr. Thomas, whose elevation to the Supreme Court was facilitated
by this statement, Mr. Cain rides a wave of suspicion and empathy. It would be
wrong to dismiss the appeal of his defense, given the common dimension of public
sexual humiliation and how deeply “lynching” resonates as a metaphor for black
men in the real context of the sexual politics of racial hierarchy.
But neither Mr. Cain nor Mr. Thomas stands in the shoes of those crucified for
offenses against the powerful. No one was, or will be, killed and hung from a
tree for defending the prerogatives of the top 1 percent. And it is germane that
women of all races face a specific kind of public sexual humiliation for
reporting their abuse at the hands of those with power over their employment.
This is a major reason that so many, rather than speaking out, have opted for
silence, and in overwhelming numbers still do. Simply put, women do not want to
Remarkably but not atypically, Ms. Bialek’s Republicanism and her personal
respect for Mr. Cain remain intact. Women who come out of the shadows, like Ms.
Bialek and Ms. Hill before her, are not silenced as others can be, including by
confidentiality agreements routinely forced on them by companies as the price of
relief. These women want and expect the harasser to man up: acknowledge what he
did, genuinely apologize, and change, meaning never do it again. And the failure
of a candidate to do so should not be considered a winning political strategy
but instead regarded as presumptive evidence of unfitness to lead. That would be
a step toward real progress. Our leaders owe us nothing less.
Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw is a professor of law
at Columbia University and the University of California, Los Angeles.
Catharine A. MacKinnon is a professor of law
at the University of Michigan
and a visiting professor of law at Harvard University.
The Obama administration has rightly decided to reject a mean-spirited and
dangerous Indiana law banning the use of Medicaid funds at Planned Parenthood
clinics, which provide vital health services to low-income women.
The law, signed by Gov. Mitch Daniels of Indiana in May, is just one effort by
Republican-led state legislatures around the country to end public financing for
Planned Parenthood — a goal the House Republicans failed to achieve in the
budget deal in April. The organization is a favorite target because a small
percentage of its work involves providing abortion care even though no
government money is used for that purpose.
Governor Daniels and Republican lawmakers, by depriving Planned Parenthood of
about $3 million in government funds, would punish thousands of low-income women
on Medicaid, who stand to lose access to affordable contraception, life-saving
breast and cervical cancer screenings, and testing and treatment for H.I.V. and
other sexually transmitted diseases. Making it harder for women to obtain birth
control is certainly a poor strategy for reducing the number of abortions.
On Wednesday, the administrator of the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid
Services, Donald Berwick, said the Indiana law, which is already in effect,
violates federal Medicaid law by imposing impermissible restrictions on the
freedom of Medicaid beneficiaries to choose health care providers.
Although Mr. Berwick’s letter to Indiana officials did not say it explicitly,
Indiana could lose millions of dollars in Medicaid financing unless it changes
its law. In a bulletin to state officials around the country, the Medicaid
office warned that states may not exclude doctors, clinics or other providers
from Medicaid “because they separately provide abortion services.”
So far, Indiana isn’t budging. The issue will be taken up on Monday in federal
court in Indiana where Planned Parenthood has filed a suit challenging the
state’s action on statutory and constitutional grounds. The organization
properly argues that it may not be penalized for engaging in constitutionally
protected activities, like providing abortion services with its own money.
The Obama administration’s opposition to the Indiana law could help deter other
states — including North Carolina, Texas, Wisconsin and Tennessee — from moving
forward with similar measures to restrict payments to Planned Parenthood, either
under Medicaid or Title X, the main federal family planning program. Kansas, for
example, has enacted provisions to block Planned Parenthood from receiving any
Title X money.
The measures against Planned Parenthood come amid further efforts to limit
access to abortion. Just since April, six states — Indiana, Virginia, Nebraska,
Idaho, Oklahoma and Kansas — have enacted laws banning insurance coverage of
abortion in the health insurance exchanges created as part of federal health
care reform, bringing the total to 14 states. Two states — Arizona and Texas —
joined three others in making ultrasounds mandatory for women seeking to
terminate pregnancies. Bills expected to be signed soon by Florida’s Republican
governor, Rick Scott, contain both types of provisions.
Many of these fresh attacks on reproductive rights, not surprisingly, have come
in states where the midterm elections left Republicans in charge of both
chambers of the legislature and the governor’s mansion.
Republicans in the House of Representatives are mounting an assault on women’s
health and freedom that would deny millions of women access to affordable
contraception and life-saving cancer screenings and cut nutritional support for
millions of newborn babies in struggling families. And this is just the
The budget bill pushed through the House last Saturday included the defunding of
Planned Parenthood and myriad other cuts detrimental to women. It’s not likely
to pass unchanged, but the urge to compromise may take a toll on these programs.
And once the current skirmishing is over, House Republicans are likely to use
any legislative vehicle at hand to continue the attack.
The egregious cuts in the House resolution include the elimination of support
for Title X, the federal family planning program for low-income women that
provides birth control, breast and cervical cancer screenings, and testing for
H.I.V. and other sexually transmitted diseases. In the absence of Title X’s
preventive care, some women would die. The Guttmacher Institute, a leading
authority on reproductive health, says a rise in unintended pregnancies would
result in some 400,000 more abortions a year.
An amendment offered by Representative Mike Pence, Republican of Indiana, would
bar any financing of Planned Parenthood. A recent sting operation by an
anti-abortion group uncovered an errant employee, who was promptly fired. That
hardly warrants taking aim at an irreplaceable network of clinics, which uses no
federal dollars in providing needed abortion care. It serves one in five
American women at some point in her lifetime.
The House resolution would slash support for international family planning and
reproductive health care. And it would reimpose the odious global “gag” rule,
which forbids giving federal money to any group that even talks about abortions.
That rule badly hampered family planning groups working abroad to prevent infant
and maternal deaths before President Obama lifted it.
(Mr. Obama has tried to act responsibly. He has rescinded President George W.
Bush’s wildly overreaching decision to grant new protections to health providers
who not only will not perform abortions, but also will not offer emergency
contraception to rape victims or fill routine prescriptions for contraceptives.)
In negotiations over the health care bill last year, Democrats agreed to a
scheme intended to stop insurance companies from offering plans that cover
abortions. Two bills in the Republican House would go even further in denying
coverage to the 30 percent or so of women who have an abortion during
One of the bills, offered by Representative Joe Pitts of Pennsylvania, has a
provision that would allow hospitals receiving federal funds to refuse to
terminate a pregnancy even when necessary to save a woman’s life.
Beyond the familiar terrain of abortion or even contraception, House Republicans
would inflict harm on low-income women trying to have children or who are
Their continuing resolution would cut by 10 percent the Special Supplemental
Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, better known as WIC, which
serves 9.6 million low-income women, new mothers, and infants each month, and
has been linked in studies to higher birth weight and lower infant mortality.
The G.O.P. bill also slices $50 million from the block grant supporting programs
providing prenatal health care to 2.5 million low-income women and health care
to 31 million children annually. President Obama’s budget plan for next year
calls for a much more modest cut.
These are treacherous times for women’s reproductive rights and access to
essential health care. House Republicans mistakenly believe they have a mandate
to drastically scale back both even as abortion warfare is accelerating in the
states. To stop them, President Obama’s firm leadership will be crucial. So will
the rising voices of alarmed Americans.
December 12, 2008
The New York Times
By ROBERT D. McFADDEN
Bettie Page, a legendary pinup girl whose photographs in the nude, in bondage
and in naughty-but-nice poses appeared in men’s magazines and private stashes
across America in the 1950s and set the stage for the sexual revolution of the
rebellious ’60s, died Thursday in Los Angeles. She was 85.
Her death was reported by her agent, Mark Roesler, on Ms. Page’s Web site,
Ms. Page, whose popularity underwent a cult-like revival in the last 20 years,
had been hospitalized for three weeks with pneumonia and was about to be
released Dec. 2 when she suffered a heart attack, said Mr. Roesler, of CMG
Worldwide. She was transferred in a coma to Kindred Hospital, where she died.
In her trademark raven bangs, spike heels and killer curves, Ms. Page was the
most famous pinup girl of the post-World War II era, a centerfold on a million
locker doors and garage walls. She was also a major influence in the fashion
industry and a target of Senator Estes Kefauver’s anti-pornography
But in 1957, at the height of her fame, she disappeared, and for three decades
her private life — two failed marriages, a fight against poverty and mental
illness, resurrection as a born-again Christian, years of seclusion in Southern
California — was a mystery to all but a few close friends.
Then in the late 1980s and early ’90s, she was rediscovered and a Bettie Page
renaissance began. David Stevens, creator of the comic-book and later movie
character the Rocketeer, immortalized her as the Rocketeer’s girlfriend. Fashion
designers revived her look. Uma Thurman, in bangs, reincarnated Bettie in
Quentin Tarantino’s “Pulp Fiction,” and Demi Moore, Madonna and others appeared
in Page-like photos.
There were Bettie Page playing cards, lunch boxes, action figures, T-shirts and
beach towels. Her saucy images went up in nightclubs. Bettie Page fan clubs
sprang up. Look-alike contests, featuring leather-and-lace and
kitten-with-a-whip Betties, were organized. Hundreds of Web sites appeared,
including her own, which had 588 million hits in five years, CMG Worldwide said
Biographies were published, including her authorized version, “Bettie Page: The
Life of a Pin-Up Legend,” (General Publishing Group) which appeared in 1996. It
was written by Karen Essex and James L. Swanson.
A movie, “The Notorious Bettie Page,” starring Gretchen Mol as Bettie and
directed by Mary Harron for Picturehouse and HBO Films, was released in 2006,
adapted from “The Real Bettie Page,” by Richard Foster. Bettie May Page was born
in Jackson, Tenn., the eldest girl of Roy and Edna Page’s six children. The
father, an auto mechanic, molested all three of his daughters, Ms. Page said
years later, and was divorced by his wife when Bettie was 10. She and some of
her siblings were placed for a time in an orphanage. She attended high school in
Nashville, and was almost a straight-A student, graduating second in her class.
She graduated from Peabody College, a part of Vanderbilt University in
Nashville, but a teaching career was brief. “I couldn’t control my students,
especially the boys,” she said. She tried secretarial work, married Billy Neal
in 1943 and moved to San Francisco, where she modeled fur coats for a few years.
She divorced Mr. Neal in 1947, moved to New York and enrolled in acting classes.
She had a few stage and television appearances, but it was a chance meeting that
changed her life. On the beach at Coney Island in 1950, she met Jerry Tibbs, a
police officer and photographer, who assembled her first pinup portfolio. By
1951, the brother-sister photographers Irving and Paula Klaw, who ran a
mail-order business in cheesecake, were promoting the Bettie Page image with
spike heels and whips, while Bunny Yeager’s pictures featured her in jungle
shots, with and without leopards skins.
Her pictures were ogled in Wink, Eyeful, Titter, Beauty Parade and other
magazines, and in leather-fetish 8- and 16-millimeter films. Her first name was
often misspelled. Her big break was the Playboy centerfold in January 1955, when
she winked in a Santa Claus cap as she put a bulb on a Christmas tree. Money and
offers rolled in, but as she recalled years later, she was becoming depressed.
In 1955, she received a summons from a Senate committee headed by Senator
Kefauver, a Tennessee Democrat, that was investigating pornography. She was
never compelled to testify, but the uproar and other pressures drove her to quit
modeling two years later. She moved to Florida. Subsequent marriages to Armond
Walterson and Harry Lear ended in divorce, and there were no children. She moved
to California in 1978.
For years Ms. Page lived on Social Security benefits. After a nervous breakdown,
she was arrested for an attack on a landlady, but was found not guilty by reason
of insanity and sent to a California mental institution. She emerged years later
as a born-again Christian, immersing herself in Bible studies and serving as an
adviser to the Billy Graham Crusade.
In recent years, she had lived in Southern California on the proceeds of her
revival. Occasionally, she gave interviews in her gentle Southern drawl, but
largely stayed out of the public eye — and steadfastly refused to be
“I want to be remembered as I was when I was young and in my golden times,” she
told The Los Angeles Times in 2006. “I want to be remembered as a woman who
changed people’s perspectives concerning nudity in its natural form.”
May 18, 2007
Filed at 11:32 p.m. ET
The New York Times
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
TRENTON, N.J. (AP) -- Women looking for a simple way to avoid their menstrual
period could soon have access the first birth control pill designed to let women
suppress monthly bleeding indefinitely.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is expect to announce approval Tuesday for
Lybrel, a drug from Wyeth which would be the first pill to be taken
Lybrel, a name meant to evoke ''liberty,'' would be the fourth new oral
contraceptive that doesn't follow the standard schedule of 21 daily active
pills, followed by seven sugar pills -- a design meant to mimic a woman's
monthly cycle. Among the others, Yaz and Loestrin 24 shorten monthly periods to
three days or less and Seasonique, an updated version of Seasonale, reduces them
to four times a year.
Gynecologists say they've been seeing a slow but steady increase in women asking
how to limit and even stop monthly bleeding. Surveys have found up to half of
women would prefer not to have any periods, most would prefer them less often
and a majority of doctors have prescribed contraception to prevent periods.
''I think it's the beginning of it being very common,'' said Dr. Leslie Miller,
a University of Washington-Seattle obstetrician-gynecologist who runs a Web site
focused on suppressing periods. ''Lybrel says, 'You don't need a period.'''
While that can be done easily -- sometimes more cheaply -- by skipping the sugar
pills or replacing birth-control patches or vaginal rings sooner, doctors say
the trend is fueled mainly by advertising for the new options. They expect
plenty for Lybrel's July launch, although Madison, N.J.-based Wyeth says it will
market to doctors first.
Analysts have estimated Lybrel sales could reach $40 million this year and $235
million by 2010. U.S. sales of Seasonique, launched last August, hit $6.1
million in the first quarter of 2007. Predecessor Seasonale, which got cheaper
generic competition in September, peaked at about $100 million. Yaz, launched
last August, had first-quarter sales of $35.6 million; Loestrin 24, launched in
April 2006, hit $34.4 million in the first quarter.
Still, some women raise concerns about whether blocking periods is safe or
natural. Baltimore health psychologist Paula S. Derry wrote in an opinion piece
in the British Medical Journal two weeks ago that ''menstrual suppression itself
is unnatural,'' and that there's not enough data to determine if it is safe
Sheldon J. Segal, a scientist at the nonprofit research group Population
Council, wrote back that a British study found no harm in taking pills with much
higher hormone levels than today's products for up to 10 years.
''Nothing has come up to indicate any unexpected side effects,'' said Segal, who
co-authored the book ''Is Menstruation Obsolete?''
Most doctors say there's no medical reason women need monthly bleeding and that
it triggers health problems from anemia to epilepsy in many women. They note
women have been tinkering with nature since the advent of birth control pills
and now endure as many as 450 periods, compared with 50 or so in the days when
women spent most of their fertile years pregnant or breast-feeding.
Dr. Mindy Wiser-Estin, an obstetrician-gynecologist in Little Silver, N.J., has
long advocated menstrual suppression.
She has seen a big increase in the last year in patients asking about it, but
has one concern that leads her to encourage younger women to take a break every
12 weeks. About 1 percent of oral contraceptive users become pregnant each year,
and young women taking continuous pills who have never been pregnant may not
recognize the symptoms, she said.
''They may not know it in time to do something about it,'' Wiser-Estin said.
Barr Pharmaceuticals of Woodcliff Lake, N.J., whose subsidiary Duramed already
is developing a lower-estrogen version of Seasonique, said its research with
consumers and health care providers indicates they feel four periods a year is
optimal, said spokeswoman Amy Niemann.
Wyeth obviously thinks otherwise.
''It allows women to put their menstrual cycle on hold'' and reduces 17 related
symptoms, from irritability to bloating, based on one small study, said Dr. Amy
Marren, director of clinical affairs for Wyeth Pharmaceuticals.
Marren said Lybrel contains the lowest dose of two hormones widely used in
birth-control pills, ethinyl estradiol and levonorgestrel.
That might cause too much breakthrough bleeding, already a problem with some
newer pills with low hormone doses, said Dr. Lee Shulman, a Chicago
obstetrician-gynecologist who chairs the board of the Association of
Reproductive Health Professionals.
In testing of Lybrel, 59 percent of women ended up with no bleeding after six
months, but 18 percent of women dropped out of studies because of spotting and
breakthrough bleeding, according to Wyeth.
''You're now basically trading scheduled bleeding for unscheduled bleeding, and
I don't know whether American women will buy into that,'' Shulman said.
MINISTERS are considering new laws to give women a right to breastfeed their
babies in public and take statutory breaks at work to suckle their infants.
The move follows research showing that only a minority of new mothers breastfeed
their babies for the full six months recommended by the World Health
It would become an offence for anyone to stop a woman from breastfeeding in
public, a change that has already been enacted in Scotland. It follows
complaints from mothers that they have been accused of indecency and barred from
breastfeeding when they have attempted to do so in public.
Employers would also have to allow mothers to take breaks each working day to
breast feed. In France women with a baby under 12 months are entitled to two
30-minute breaks a day. In Italy, new mothers can take two one-hour rest
The proposals are central planks of a campaign by the five royal colleges of
medicine, nursing and midwifery to which health minister Andy Burnham has signed
up. He said he backed the campaign for a new policy on breast feeding in public
and a new law on work breaks.
Caroline Flint, the public health minister, has already had a meeting with the
coalition, which includes Unicef, the United Nations Children’s Fund, and will
address doctors and midwives at the launch of its manifesto on Wednesday.
“All the evidence says that ‘nothing is fitter than a breastfed nipper’,” said
Flint. “We’ve made good progress over the last 30 years encouraging more and
more women to breastfeed. But we cannot be complacent. There are communities
where breastfeeding rates remain low, adding to the health inequalities gap. We
need to do more to close this and to ensure babies receive the best form of
nutrition and to give them the best start in life.”
According to official figures, only 21% of British women breastfeed for up to
the recommended period of six months.
Young mothers are particularly reluctant to breastfeed. A television advertising
campaign will be launched this week by the Department of Health to encourage
more mothers aged 25 and under to suckle their infants.
Rosie Dodds, policy and research officer for the National Childbirth Trust, said
the statistics would improve if the government made it an offence to ask women
to stop breastfeeding in public.
Lindsey Black, a 29-year-old mother of two from Southport, Merseyside, was asked
to leave a branch of McDonald’s while breastfeeding her baby daughter in the
restaurant. After twice being told to stop breastfeeding or leave, Black was
forced to breastfeed in the lavatories.
“The older generation tend to tut-tut. I am not doing anything wrong — you do
not see much,” said Black. “It is not as if I am lifting my top and exposing
myself. The public need to be more understanding.”
The breastfeeding manifesto, which has been signed by more than 180 politicians
including Margaret Hodge, the trade and industry minister, and Sir Menzies
Campbell, the Liberal Democrat leader, says returning to work is the most common
reason for women stopping breastfeeding.
The manifesto says: “We call on the government to legislate for breastfeeding
breaks for women at work, in line with other European countries.”
Alison Baum, co-ordinator of the Breastfeeding Manifesto, said: “By ensuring
that employers provide appropriate work schedules and places to allow women to
continue breastfeeding, women could breastfeed for longer.
“Employers who are breast-feeding-friendly benefit in the long run because the
babies of those mothers will end up having fewer bugs and suffering less
illness. The parents will, therefore, have fewer absences.”
If companies had on-site crãches, women would take a break to breastfeed their
child but, more commonly, they would express milk and store it for their baby to
Natalie Marshall, a mother of two from Wiltshire, is an IT support worker for a
large manufacturing company and is allowed to takes two breastfeeding breaks a
day. Marshall, who is still breastfeeding her two-year-old daughter and
breastfed her three-year-old son until he was 14 months, said all companies
should be as sympathetic as her employer.
“Those breaks were absolutely essential and without them I would not have
managed to keep breastfeeding,” she said.
“It did add a bit of stress to the rest of the team because when I was having a
break there were fewer people to respond to urgent problems, but they were all
Marshall expresses milk in a room provided by the occupational health department
of the company. Her employer also provides a fridge for her to store it.
A legal entitlement to breastfeeding breaks is opposed, however, by the
Confederation of British Industry and the Federation of Small Businesses.
McDonald’s said breastfeeding was allowed within its restaurants and that staff
had been made aware of this policy.
COLUMBUS, Ohio (Reuters) - Twelve-year-old Bridget Bailey has been cheerleading
since she was eight, and devotes at least 10 hours a week to her passion -- a
uniquely American sport that combines dance, gymnastics and acrobatic stunts.
On one recent Friday at the Arnold Sports Festival in Columbus, Ohio, Bailey
cheered her way to a 1st place finish in the solo youth non-tumbling division.
She described the day of competition.
"I got up this morning at about 6:30, I got to school at 7:40 and then I got out
at 12:40," she said. Before she left school, Bailey collected the assignments
she would miss because of the competition.
Bailey, her mom, Kim, and aunt, Christina Fisher, traveled from a northern
Columbus suburb to the downtown convention center -- a relatively short trip.
She regularly travels to other cities for cheerleading events which also involve
beauty pagent-worthy hair and makeup skills.
"We had to come and get my hair done, and then I have to get all my makeup and
glitter on," she said, sitting patiently in a quiet corner of the convention
center while her mom and aunt styled her thick brown hair with curling irons,
one on each side.
The beauty aspect of the routine takes "between a half hour and an hour,
depending," Bailey said.
Once her makeup is done and glitter applied, the sixth grader heads to the
cheerleading venue, an auditorium half-filled with competitors, parents and
fans, for the contest, which lasts from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m.
"We stretch for about 15 minutes to half an hour," said Bailey. "And then you
wait in line to compete, and then you compete. And then you wait for awards,"
she said matter-of-factly.
An announcer bellows out the name of each contestant and the cheerleading club
they represent. A DJ plays their chosen music, and a handful of judges perched
high above the competition floor scrutinize the cheerleaders as they strut their
Bailey describes her routine:
"My first thing, I do dance and a few jumps, and then I do more dance and jumps,
and then I do my cheer, which is about halfway through. After the cheer, I jump,
dance and cheer, and then after that I do triple jumps, and then do some more of
the dance and then it's ending."
"Fusion. All Stars. Remember the name. If cheering is my sport, then winning is
my game. Step back. Watch out. We're the best of the best. We're Fusion All
Stars, we're F-A-S."
After four hours of competition, the winners receive their awards -- gleaming
golden trophies and medals on red, white and blue ribbons.
After her first-place award, Bailey had a long night planned, with more
gymnastics with friends at her cheerleading club, the iYooWee gym.
"I'm going to the gym to tell my coach how I did, and then I'm staying at the
gym for this thing called Kids Night Out, where you can just go play," she said.
"More cheerleading," her mom translated.
Summing up her long day, Bailey said she wouldn't want to be spending her Friday
in any other way.
OAKLAND, Calif., Dec. 1 — Until recently, many children who did not conform to
gender norms in their clothing or behavior and identified intensely with the
opposite sex were steered to psychoanalysis or behavior modification.
But as advocates gain ground for what they call gender-identity rights,
evidenced most recently by New York City’s decision to let people alter the sex
listed on their birth certificates, a major change is taking place among schools
and families. Children as young as 5 who display predispositions to dress like
the opposite sex are being supported by a growing number of young parents,
educators and mental health professionals.
Doctors, some of them from the top pediatric hospitals, have begun to advise
families to let these children be “who they are” to foster a sense of security
and self-esteem. They are motivated, in part, by the high incidence of
depression, suicidal feelings and self-mutilation that has been common in past
generations of transgender children. Legal trends suggest that schools are now
required to respect parents’ decisions.
“First we became sensitive to two mommies and two daddies,” said Reynaldo
Almeida, the director of the Aurora School, a progressive private school in
Oakland. “Now it’s kids who come to school who aren’t gender typical.”
The supportive attitudes are far easier to find in traditionally tolerant areas
of the country like San Francisco than in other parts, but even in those places
there is fierce debate over how best to handle the children.
Cassandra Reese, a first-grade teacher outside Boston, recalled that fellow
teachers were unnerved when a young boy showed up in a skirt. “They said, ‘This
is not normal,’ and, ‘It’s the parents’ fault,’ ” Ms. Reese said. “They didn’t
see children as sophisticated enough to verbalize their feelings.”
As their children head into adolescence, some parents are choosing to block
puberty medically to buy time for them to figure out who they are — raising a
host of ethical questions.
While these children are still relatively rare, doctors say the number of
referrals is rising across the nation. Massachusetts, Minnesota, California, New
Jersey and the District of Columbia have laws protecting the rights of
transgender students, and some schools are engaged in a steep learning curve to
dismantle gender stereotypes.
At the Park Day School in Oakland, teachers are taught a gender-neutral
vocabulary and are urged to line up students by sneaker color rather than by
gender. “We are careful not to create a situation where students are being boxed
in,” said Tom Little, the school’s director. “We allow them to move back and
forth until something feels right.”
For families, it can be a long, emotional adjustment. Shortly after her son’s
third birthday, Pam B. and her husband, Joel, began a parental journey for which
there was no map. It started when their son, J., began wearing oversized
T-shirts and wrapping a towel around his head to emulate long, flowing hair.
Then came his mothers’ silky undershirts. Half a year into preschool, J. started
becoming agitated when asked to wear boys’ clothing.
En route to a mall with her son, Ms. B. had an epiphany: “It just clicked in me.
I said, ‘You really want to wear a dress, don’t you?’ ”
Thus began what the B.’s, who asked their full names not be used to protect
their son’s privacy, call “the reluctant path,” a behind-closed-doors struggle
to come to terms with a gender-variant child — a spirited 5-year-old boy who, at
least for now, strongly identifies as a girl, requests to be called “she” and
asks to wear pigtails and pink jumpers to school.
Ms. B., 41, a lawyer, accepted the way her son defined himself after she and her
husband consulted with a psychologist and observed his newfound comfort with his
choice. But she feels the precarious nature of the day-to-day reality. “It’s
hard to convey the relentlessness of it, she said, “every social encounter,
every time you go out to eat, every day feeling like a balance between your
kid’s self-esteem and protecting him from the hostile outside world.”
The prospect of cross-dressing kindergartners has sparked a deep philosophical
divide among professionals over how best to counsel families. Is it healthier
for families to follow the child’s lead, or to spare children potential
humiliation and isolation by steering them toward accepting their biological
gender until they are older?
Both sides in the debate underscore their concern for the profound vulnerability
of such youngsters, symbolized by occurrences like the murder in 2002 of Gwen
Araujo, a transgender teenager born as Eddie, southeast of Oakland.
“Parents now are looking for advice on how to make life reasonable for their
kids — whether to allow cross-dressing in public, and how to protect them from
the savagery of other children,” said Dr. Herbert Schreier, a psychiatrist with
Children’s Hospital and Research Center in Oakland.
Dr. Schreier is one of a growing number of professionals who have begun to think
of gender variance as a naturally occurring phenomenon rather than a disorder.
“These kids are becoming more aware of how it is to be themselves,” he said.
In past generations, so-called sissy boys and tomboy girls were made to conform,
based on the belief that their behaviors were largely products of dysfunctional
Among the revisionists is Dr. Edgardo Menvielle, a child-adolescent psychiatrist
at the Children’s National Medical Center in Washington who started a national
outreach group for parents of gender-variant children in 1998 that now has more
than 200 participants. “We know that sexually marginalized children have a
higher rate of depression and suicide attempts,” Dr. Menvielle said. “The goal
is for the child to be well adjusted, healthy and have good self-esteem. What’s
not important is molding their gender.”
The literature on adults who are transgender was hardly consoling to one parent,
a 42-year-old software consultant in Massachusetts and the father of a
gender-variant third grader. “You’re trudging through this tragic, horrible
stuff and realizing not a single person was accepted and understood as a child,”
he said. “You read it and think, O.K., best to avoid that. But as a parent
you’re in this complete terra incognita.”
The biological underpinnings of gender identity, much like sexual orientation,
remain something of a mystery, though many researchers suspect it is linked with
hormone exposure in the developing fetus.
Studies suggest that most boys with gender variance early in childhood grow up
to be gay, and about a quarter heterosexual, Dr. Menvielle said. Only a small
fraction grow up to identify as transgender.
Girls with gender-variant behavior, who have been studied less, voice extreme
unhappiness about being a girl and talk about wanting to have male anatomy. But
research has thus far suggested that most wind up as heterosexual women.
Although many children role-play involving gender, Dr. Menvielle said, “the key
question is how intense and persistent the behavior is,” especially if they show
Dr. Robin Dea, the director of regional mental health for Kaiser Permanente in
Northern California, said: “Our gender identity is something we feel in our
soul. But it is also a continuum, and it evolves.”
Dr. Dea works with four or five children under the age of 15 who are essentially
living as the opposite sex. “They are much happier, and their grades are up,”
she said. “I’m waiting for the study that says supporting these children is
But Dr. Kenneth Zucker, a psychologist and head of the gender-identity service
at the Center for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto, disagrees with the
“free to be” approach with young children and cross-dressing in public. Over the
past 30 years, Dr. Zucker has treated about 500 preadolescent gender-variant
children. In his studies, 80 percent grow out of the behavior, but 15 percent to
20 percent continue to be distressed about their gender and may ultimately
change their sex.
Dr. Zucker tries to “help these kids be more content in their biological gender”
until they are older and can determine their sexual identity — accomplished, he
said, by encouraging same-sex friendships and activities like board games that
move beyond strict gender roles.
Though she has not encountered such a situation, Jennifer Schwartz, assistant
principal of Chatham Elementary School outside Springfield, Ill., said that
allowing a child to express gender differences “would be very difficult to pull
Ms. Schwartz added: “I’m not sure it’s worth the damage it could cause the
child, with all the prejudices and parents possibly protesting. I’m not sure a
child that age is ready to make that kind of decision.”
The B.’s thought long and hard about what they had observed in their son. They
have carefully choreographed his life, monitoring new playmates, selecting a
compatible school, finding sympathetic parents in a babysitting co-op.
Nevertheless, Ms. B. said, “there is still the stomach-clenching fear for your
It is indeed heartbreaking to hear a child say, as J. did recently, “It feels
like a nightmare I’m a boy.”
The adjustment has been gradual for Mr. B., a 43-year-old public school
administrator who is trying to stop calling J. “our little man.” He thinks of
his son as a positive, resilient person, and his love and admiration show. “The
truth is, is any parent going to choose this for their kid?” he said. “It’s who
your kid is.”
Families are caught in the undertow of conflicting approaches. One suburban
Chicago mother, who did not want to be identified, said in a telephone interview
that she was drawing the line on dress and trying to provide “boy opportunities”
for her 6-year-old son. “But we can’t make everything a power struggle,” she
said. “It gets exhausting.”
She worries about him becoming a social outcast. “Why does your brother like
girl things?” friends of her 10-year-old ask. The answer is always, “I don’t
Nila Marrone, a retired linguistics professor at the University of Connecticut
who consults with parents and schools, recalled an incident last year at a Bronx
elementary school in which an 8-year-old boy perceived as effeminate was thrown
into a large trash bin by a group of boys. The principal, she said, “suggested
to the mother that she was to blame, for not having taught her son how to be
But the tide is turning.
The Los Angeles Unified School District, for instance, requires that students be
addressed with “a name and pronoun that corresponds to the gender identity.” It
also asks schools to provide a locker room or changing area that corresponds to
a student’s chosen gender.
One of the most controversial issues concerns the use of “blockers,” hormones
used to delay the onset of puberty in cases where it could be psychologically
devastating (for instance, a girl who identifies as a boy might slice her wrists
when she gets her period). Some doctors disapprove of blockers, arguing that
only at puberty does an individual fully appreciate their gender identity.
Catherine Tuerk, a nurse-psychotherapist at the children’s hospital in
Washington and the mother of a gender-variant child in the 1970s, says parents
are still left to find their own way. She recalls how therapists urged her to
steer her son into psychoanalysis and “hypermasculine activities” like karate.
She said she and her husband became “gender cops.”
“It was always, ‘You’re not kicking the ball hard enough,’ ” she said.
Ms. Tuerk’s son, now 30, is gay and a father, and her own thinking has evolved
since she was a young parent. “People are beginning to understand this seems to
be something that happens,” she said. “But there was a whole lifetime of feeling
we could never leave him alone.”