Tag Archives: Discrimination

#130: Economics and Racism

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #130, on the subject of Economics and Racism.

When I was in law school, one of my fellow students explained to me how he got his masters degree by proving something everyone already knew.  As I read a recent article, I couldn’t help thinking that the several cited studies were guilty of exactly that.  They demonstrated that the prevalence of racism in a society is inversely proportionate to its economic health:  as unemployment rises, so does racism.  That doesn’t say that economics are the cause of racism, but that they are a contributing factor.  I really hope that doesn’t surprise you.

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It is inherent in our human existence that we want to survive.  We see this survival instinct in creatures as low as cockroaches.  Linked to that notion of survival is the desire for comfort and abundance–if we have better shelter, we are safer, and if we have more food, we are protected against hunger.  Thus almost every one of us wants more than he has.  That is not limited to poor people, or even middle class people–wealthy people usually find that there are things they want that they can’t buy.  It is a phenomenon known as rising aspirations:  the more money you have, the more things you want to buy with it.  And it’s actually easy to understand why that is.

Economies fluctuate.  They get better and worse.  This happens globally, nationally, and even on the individual level.  You have a job, and you make enough that you can afford to splurge on lunch out twice a week.  Then you get a raise, and now you have more money.  Now you eat lunch out three times a week.  Your personal economy is booming.  But then the price of bread goes up, there’s a new gas tax–the extra money is no longer extra, and you have to cut back to eating lunch out once a week.  You feel like you’re going backwards, and in a sense you are.  So is everyone else, of course, but you don’t feel the pinch on anyone else.  You think you should have more than you have, that you should be able to eat lunch out three times a week, or even every day, because you work hard and you deserve it.  You want to know why you aren’t doing better than you are.

You also think that your children should be able to do better, and your siblings, your family generally; and that sometimes extends to your ethnic group, particularly if you are in an ethnic group that has faced discrimination in the past–the Italians, the Irish, people who arrived in America poor and struggled in the working class to rise to a higher level.  We deserve better, is the mantra.  It extends beyond to “people like me”, and becomes contrasted against “people who are different”.

And what you see is that there are some people who are not part of your group who are doing well, doing better than you are.  You are out of work, and these others have jobs.  You are struggling to pay your bills, and these others have nice cars, nice houses, jewelry, meals at restaurants.  They have it good.

It doesn’t matter whether most of those people who are not part of your group are in situations as bad or worse than yours; the fact that some of them are doing well means that those “different” people are getting the money, the food, the jobs, that “should” be going to you and your people–because you deserve better; and that means that people who have what you don’t have have taken it from you.  It’s not fair, and it’s their fault.

And it is so comforting to have someone to blame, to be able to say to yourself that it is not your fault, not some deficiency in you.  It’s because those Jews cheat to get ahead, or those Hispanics are taking all the jobs, or those Chinese are willing to work for a substandard wage.

Racism, seen thus, is our own attempt to view ourselves as better than someone else.  The details are trappings, added to justify our judgments.

Thus when the economy is poor, when unemployment is high and money is not going as far as we remember, racism rises as we blame those who are different from ourselves for putting us in this situation.  It doesn’t matter whether it’s whites deriding Hispanics for taking jobs at low wages, or blacks blaming whites as oppressing them and keeping them out of work, or Hispanics accusing blacks of mistreating them, or everyone blaming Jews for continuing to be successful in hard times.  Our racist attitudes increase when we need someone to blame for our own hardships.  Yet even if it is true that our economic hardships are not our fault, that does not mean they are someone else’s fault:  economies fluctuate, and not everyone can be on the top of the curve.  The fact that you are not reaching your aspirations does not mean it is anyone’s fault, even if it clearly is not your own.

It would be so much better if we could pull together and get out of this economic slump.

If only it were so easy.

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#126: Equity and Religion

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #126, on the subject of Equity and Religion.

I saw an article online, from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, entitled Amendment 3:  A Stealth Attack on Religious Freedom  The title intrigued me, since I had no notion of what was happening in Missouri, so I skimmed the piece–and was rather surprised at what I found.  It struck me that the author did not have a very good grasp on exactly what “religious liberty” is, so I decided to pursue the matter here.

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The purpose of “Amendment 3”, apparently Missouri’s version of what we in New Jersey now call a Public Question, is to create a cigarette tax and use the money to fund early childhood education.  The tobacco industry has not made a lot of noise about it, at least directly–they have learned that people who smoke are very unlikely to stop simply because the amount of money they burn increases.  It seems like a positive idea, that if people are going to kill themselves slowly at least they can help fund the education of our children.

At issue is text that says the disbursement of funds raised will not be limited or prohibited by the State of Missouri Constitution’s “Prohibition of public aid for religious purposes and institutions” clause.  That means that if whatever method of distributing the money to help with preschool education would otherwise mean that a Lutheran- or Baptist- or Muslim or Jewish-run facility would qualify for some of that money, that facility is not automatically disqualified simply because it is administered by a church, mosque, synagogue, or other religious organization.  Opponents of the measure say that this is an attempt to bring funding of religious organizations in through a side door, and so force people to pay for religious education with public money.

It is not at all clear that that is what this is, and in fact from the description it sounds rather as if it is an attempt, not to show religious preference, but in fact precisely not to show it.  It is saying that the fact that a group of people trying to provide early childhood education happen to be believers of a particular religious philosophy will not disqualify them from being funded by this program–exactly what freedom of religion means, that we will not discriminate against you on the basis of what you believe.  As long as the program is administered impartially, part of that impartiality has to be that a program is not disqualified based on religious connections.

That is important for multiple reasons.

Social programs and particularly education have always been spearheaded in the Anglo-Saxon world by Christians and Christian organizations.  Our Ivy League colleges and many other schools and universities were originally founded by Christians to educate doctors, lawyers, and ministers.  Christians were the first to attempt to help the poor in England through education of their children.  In America, many settlers would arrive in a new location and build a church and a school as the fundamental institutions of society.  Meanwhile, the Jews have long put a heavy emphasis on educating their children, going back more than centuries, possibly millennia–a Hebrew boy became a man by proving he could read from the Torah, at least as early as the first century.  Religious people have been proponents of education, and education for all, even when the approved thinking was that education was for the privileged and powerful, to maintain their power and privilege.

Encouraging a group to do what we want them to do and they want to do anyway is good politics.

Besides, if the objectors are saying that it is a violation of the principle of freedom of religion to fund any organization that promotes a religious position, they’re going to have to stop funding public education as well.  St. Louis is a particularly interesting case, as it is the home of the headquarters of the Missouri Synod Lutheran Church–not the most conservative Lutheran group, but conservative enough that they honestly believe in a six-day creation.  You might disagree; I don’t know that I agree.  However, whenever the State of Missouri uses its collected tax money to teach the scientific views about the Big Bang Theory and the Theory of Evolution, it is spending money to promote a religious idea–the idea that the Missouri Synod Lutheran belief in six-day creation is wrong.  Our objectors say that they do not want their tax money spent to fund organizations that will promote religious notions with which they disagree; now they know how their Lutheran neighbors feel.

The only way to treat religious people and their organizations fairly is to make the question of religious belief irrelevant to the question of funding social efforts.  Otherwise, it would be the same as saying that the government will not fund a day care run by a black man, or a preschool run by a woman.  Not discriminating on the basis of religion means that religious views are not a factor in the decision.  That’s what the amendment is saying.

How those programs are going to work has not yet been determined.  The simple way, though, is for the government to provide scholarships or tuition reimbursement for needy families trying to send their children to whatever preschools are available.  Some have argued that this kind of “voucher” system unconstitutionally funds religious schools because the parents can give the money to those schools and the government winds up paying the church, as it were.  However, to do otherwise unconstitutionally discriminates against religious groups, requiring that parents send their children only to schools which reject religious views entirely–itself a religious view–or forego the government assistance they cannot afford to be without.

It would be akin to refusing to provide food stamps to any family that says grace before meals.

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#120: Giving Offense

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #120, on the subject of Giving Offense.

A couple days ago I was asked whether I had again offended a Specifically Named Person by writing another piece on homosexuality.

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I had no idea how to reply to this.  I was unaware that I had offended this individual previously by my writing; I have no reason to believe he identifies as homosexual.  I obviously know that some people in my circle of relationships disagree with me on any subject you care to name, and this is one on which there are some significant disagreements–but I don’t keep track of who holds what positions on which issues, so I could not have told you that he disagreed with my views on this one.  It does not surprise me if he does; I know he disagrees with me on some issues, but then, everyone disagrees with everyone on some issues.  As the anonymous wise Quaker is quoted as having said to his closest friend, “Everyone’s a little queer ‘cept me and thee, and sometimes I’m not so sure of thee.”  I know of no one with whom I am in complete agreement about everything.  That does not bother me.  After all, I know that everyone is wrong about something, and I know that that includes me, but it also includes everyone who disagrees with me.  The trick is figuring out where you’re wrong and where you’re right, and not being more certain of it than you can justify.

What bothers me is that he would be offended by my opinion, or perhaps by my expression of my opinion.

I have probably written about tolerance before.  Being tolerant does not mean not caring about an issue.  It means having a strong opinion but treating others respectfully who hold a different opinion.  Many people who are not religious believe that they are tolerant when they are actually indifferent and condescending.  That is, their attitude is “all religious ideas are nonsense, so it really does not matter what nonsense you believe.”  However, changes in society are forcing these people to recognize that this is not true–that it really does matter what one believes about God, because that in turn controls what one believes about many practical issues, such as abortion, homosexuality, and the “norms” of society.  The criticism is that some religious people–those who disagree with the current attitudes on specific issues–are intolerant; the truth is that those who hold to those current attitudes are proving to be less tolerant.

Being tolerant does not mean that we all agree.  It means that we agree to disagree amicably, and to allow each other to hold differing opinions, to live by them as our own beliefs dictate, and to discuss them openly.  That’s all First Amendment:  the absolute protection of religious and political opinion.  Today those who hold certain viewpoints also hold the opinion that to disagree with those viewpoints ought to be criminal.  We encounter it in the homosexual marriage debate; it is rampant in the environmental field; it appears in issues related to reproductive choice.  If you do not agree with the approved opinion (whether or not it is held by the majority), you will not be tolerated.

On the specific issue of homosexuality, I agree that homosexuality is “natural”; it is as natural as heroin addiction:  you can encourage it, and once you’ve got it you probably can never really be fully rid of it.  There is sufficient evidence that homosexuality is not fixed in the genes, but involves environmental factors and choices on some level.  The position that the unborn are as human as their mothers and deserve equal protection equal to that extended to their mothers–and probably then some, as they are the more vulnerable class–is certainly defensible.  The issue of whether global warming is heading us into an environmental disaster, or whether it is instead staving off potentially disastrous global cooling and an ice age, can also be debated.

I hold some opinions which are apparently minority viewpoints, but I hold them honestly because of what I consider solid rational bases.  To say “I am sorry if that offends you” is not really an apology; it is more an expression of compassion for your disability, that you are such a person as would be offended by the expression of an opinion with which you disagree.  I think better of you than that.  I respect you and your opinions, even, or perhaps particularly, where I disagree.  I am willing to hear your evidence and your arguments.  I expect only the same courtesy in response.

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#112: Isn’t It Obvious

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #112, on the subject of Isn’t It Obvious.

I keep a beverage cup on my desk–usually root beer, usually Barq’s® (I joke that I once had a terrible Coke® habit–two to three liters per day).  It has a lid so that when I inevitably upset it any spill will be minimal.  I recently acquired a replacement for a worn cup, this one with a threaded lid and an airtight stopper.  Twice, maybe thrice, when securing the lid I managed to force beverage out through the threads down the side of the cup and over my hands.  I thought, there must be a way to avoid that–and then I immediately recognized what caused the problem and how to prevent it, and implemented the solution.

A few days later someone was visiting who fancies himself rather intelligent, and he poured some of our coffee into a very similar cup, tightened the lid, and squirted coffee on his hand and the counter.  Helping him clean it up, I gave him the solution to the problem.  To my surprise he responded, “I don’t think I ever would have thought of that.”  Then I recounted all of this to someone I think intelligent (who also has the same kind of cup and admitted having the same problem), who replied, “I don’t think I would have thought of that, either.”

I thought the solution obvious, but I’ll delay telling you what it is in case you want to think about it for a moment.

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When I was in law school, sitting in Professor Lipkin’s Jurisprudence seminar (I have mentioned him before, and have since learned that he has died), he asked a question, and immediately pointed at me and said I was not permitted to answer.  The question was one concerning a problem consistent with my experience, so maybe it’s just because the other students, almost a decade younger, did not have the same experience.  That experience was an enigma about whether or not to hold a door for a girl (or group of girls).  Some girls at that time still believed that gentlemen ought to hold doors for ladies, and were very offended if you were rude enough not to do so; others believed that it was chauvinistic for a man to give special treatment of that sort to a woman, and would be very offended if you did.  The question was how to avoid offending anyone.  When the class was stumped, I provided the same answer he had found.  It just seemed obvious to me.

I have spent a lot of time answering questions about time travel and writing analyses of time travel movies over the years, and sometimes I simply don’t understand why a correspondent or reader does not understand.

When I was about twelve or thirteen I met a kid who wrote songs, and I learned how to write songs from working with him.  I eventually became very good, but I have always had this attitude that anyone can learn to write a song if they apply themselves to learning how to do it.  That might be true.  I think I write some very good songs; I think I’ve written some very bad ones, and that through practice I got better.  Writing music and lyrics seems easy.

I realize that this might sound like I am saying, Look how smart I am.  I don’t feel smart.  I think it was Freeman Dyson who once when asked if he ever wondered why he was so smart answered not exactly, what he wondered was why everyone else was so stupid.  I’ve not had that experience.  Rather, I recognize that there are some things which come quite easily to me and others which I cannot do well at all.  I am awed by people (like my sister) who become fluent in multiple languages, because I struggle with languages despite my grasp of English and of grammar and syntax in the abstract.  I have no skill with the visual arts; my drawings are always warped and out of perspective, and when people ask my opinion of their work I always tell them they are asking the wrong person, they should talk to one of my artists.  I have also learned over time that for all of us, the things which come easily to us we suppose are easy, and the things with which we struggle we think are difficult.  Math is a good example.  Someone–a machinist at a factory where I worked as a security guard–once suggested to me that I could with very little practice add a column of two-digit numbers in my head.  I’d never tried, never even imagined that I could do that, but it wasn’t really that difficult once I got it in mind to do it that way (instead of adding the right column, carrying, and adding the left column).  Simple math seems simple to me; I have no experience with calculus and none worth mentioning with trigonometry.  Yet many people struggle with math, while others enjoy it and like to play math games.  (I don’t like math games; they feel like busy work to me.)

That is, it is easy to think that the things which come easily to you are simple things anyone could do.  It is not necessarily true, and it is not necessarily true that the people who easily do that at which you struggle are smarter than you.  They simply have a abilities and practice in those things.

What seems obvious to me might be completely opaque to you, but I would wager that there are things that seem obvious to you that are just as opaque to me.  I actually am as smart as all that, but there are many things I can’t do, and probably you can do many of them far better than I.

The reason the beverage is pushed out through the threads as the lid tightens is that the pressure in the cup is increasing and has nowhere else to go; if you leave the plug open while tightening it, the air (and possibly the beverage if it’s really full) will come out through the top of the lid instead of through the threads.

Hold the door for everybody.

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#87: Spanish Ice Cream

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #87, on the subject of Spanish Ice Cream.

My sister has what I call a facility for languages.  She was, for a time, a United Nations translator.  Before she finished high school, she sometimes dreamt in French.  When she worked in Taiwan, sometimes people speaking with her on the phone would use a word she did not know, and when she explained in Chinese that her vocabulary was limited because she was an American, they would argue with her that she could not be an American because she spoke Chinese too well.  Her Taiwanese-born husband told us that we should ask her, not him, about Chinese pronunciation, because he had what he called the equivalent of a “Brooklyn accent” and her pronunciation was much better.  She also knows smatterings of Italian and I don’t know what else.

I do not have that.  Our parents spoke French at the dinner table not because they were French (my father was Nth generation Southern) but because they wanted to be able to discuss things in front of the four children without our understanding them.  I took two years of French, but when I get mail in French I reply Je parle un tres petit peux de fran├žais, and ask if they can send again in English.  I have written several articles which have been translated into French, and I can’t read them.  I remember fewer than a dozen words of Romanian from my three-week concert tour there decades ago (thank-you, you’re welcome, what does this cost), but I never knew more than a score and don’t know the syntax or grammar at all despite being rather good at the linguistic side of languages.  I struggle with Koine Greek to teach New Testament, have picked up a bit of church, law, medical, and logic Latin, know probably less Hebrew than Romanian (and to quote a character in my wife’s favorite movie, “Who would ever bother with Romanian?”).  Most of the Spanish I know I learned from not watching Sesame Street when the kids were watching it–numbers through ten, open and closed–plus a few words that I’ve picked up in funny stories.  I use to tell people that I couldn’t speak enough Spanish to say “I don’t speak Spanish” in Spanish.

In short, I understand that some people have trouble learning a new language.  I certainly do.  Fortuitously I speak what is one of the most commonly spoken languages in the world, and the language of my homeland, quite fluently.

In Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Leon’s Frozen Custard, in the south side of the city since 1942, has gotten in serious public relations trouble for what on the surface seems a very foolish reason:  the owner does not permit his employees to speak to customers in any language other than English.  Hispanics and liberals called for a boycott, but current owner Ron Schneider has stuck to his guns.  Not all of his employees are bilingual, and he does not want customers to expect bilingual service.  That’s the simple response; there are a lot of other reasons why an employer might have such a policy.

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The protestors are certainly correct that offering multilingual service is a competitive advantage.  I joke with the guy who is probably the best person for computers in the area, because he is co-owner of a small but busy shop that does mostly cellular phones plus computer equipment, and he genuinely is the only guy in the place who is not fluently bilingual (English and Spanish).  They hire no one out front who cannot deal with both the English-speaking customers who come from outside the small city because they know he’s the best and the local Latino population who come because they can ask questions and get answers without a language barrier.  It is an advantage for the store; it translates into a marketable skill for the potential employee.  I could not get a job there, even if I learned a lot more about computers and cell phones than I care to know.  Leon’s could attract more business by serving Spanish-speaking customers with Spanish-speaking employees.  That is a choice he makes.  On the other hand, he’s a landmark, and people in the suburbs drive into the city just to get his ice cream and sandwiches, and apparently hire him to cater weddings and parties.  More business is usually a good thing, but one weighs the costs against the gain in such questions.

The protestors are also right that they don’t have to buy ice cream there.  That’s a cost against benefit analysis, too, as their protest by boycott means they are sacrificing what some claim is the best food of that category in that area, accepting lower quality in the name of principle.  By the same token, though, doesn’t Leon’s have the right to establish the terms on which they will serve customers?  If they have to allow people to order in Spanish, why not Farsi?  Cantonese?  Japanese?  Russian?  Romanian?

If I were invited to sing in a Spanish-speaking church, I am not certain how I would handle that.  On the one hand, I am of the opinion that the lyrics to songs matter, and when I sing I want you to hear and understand the words.  On the other hand, I don’t think it would enhance the performance to have a translator standing next to me trying to repeat everything I sing in another language–even if he doesn’t disrupt my focus he’s going to be talking over the music.  I wouldn’t trust myself to try to sing a translated version of my lyrics–I might wind up calling myself a jelly donut, which does not put me in bad company but is still embarrassing.  You cannot expect everyone to speak every language, or do business in every language.  To do so is to demand that those who cannot speak multiple languages not be permitted to speak at all.

In this case, though, the argument is made that Leon’s already employs some bi-lingual servers; the rule is that those employees who could talk with customers in Spanish are not permitted to do so.  What possible reason could there be for that?

There are quite a few possible reasons, actually.  We’ll begin with the one advanced by Leon’s’ owner, that he does not want customers to expect to be able to order in Spanish.  Not all of his servers can understand an order in Spanish, and if someone comes to the window and no one is working who can take a Spanish order, that customer has to be chased away; and if that customer does not understand enough English to understand that they cannot help him, that slows the line.  On those days, the line is further slowed by the fact that there will be numerous customers in it who cannot be helped because the servers cannot understand what they are saying, the longer line moves more slowly with fewer sales, and people driving by are less likely to stop to queue onto a long line, which is more lost business.  If Leon’s cannot serve you in English, you become a problem for the business, because they can’t serve you every time you come, and you’re scaring away real business by taking space in the line.

Of course, some days some of the servers can speak Spanish.  Why not just let them do so on those days?  Apart fromn the fact already noted, it is clear that not all of the servers speak Spanish.  If some of the customers expect to do business in Spanish, that fouls the queue when they reach the window and have to wait for the bilingual server to be available to help them while the English-speaking server is now trying to find someone else in the line who wants to order in English without giving anyone the feeling that the service is unfair.  Service is now inefficient again.

There is also the problem of management.  I don’t know whether owner Schneider speaks Spanish, but he probably does not make it a requirement for his management staff to do so.  Even the best of employer-employee relationships are a bit adversarial; your employer might be a friend, but he is not a buddy, and he is watching to ensure that you do the job right.  Customer service is a vital part of any business, and particularly in the food industry.  If I’m running the store, I want to be able to understand what my employees are saying to my customers, and it is important to do so for a lot of reasons–easily illustrated by giving a few ideas of things I do not want to hear my employees saying to my customers.

  • You’re ugly, go away.
  • Hey, can I see you Friday night?  Great movie showing, and a hot girl like you shouldn’t sit home alone.
  • That’s the large cone; pay me for the small, and later you can make it up to me.
  • You don’t want to eat here.  The food here isn’t worth what they charge; you’re better off at the place down the street.
  • My boss is a jerk and the pay is a joke, I’m quitting just as soon as I can find another job.
  • I hate this place and everyone who works here.  By the way, the AR-15 assault rifle I ordered arrived yesterday.
  • They’re going to make the deposit at three-thirty, and that blonde girl will walk across the parking lot to the bank across the street; you can ambush her by the clothing drop.

You get the point–or do you?  Remember, the store is responsible for what its employees say to its customers.  To exercise that responsibility, the managers have to be able to understand what the employees are saying.  In order both to meet the demands of the protestors and protect the interests of the business, Leon’s would have to fire any employees, and particularly any managers, who are not fluently bilingual–a mistake for any business that has been running so long, because they undoubtedly have some excellent and trusted people working there who would be out of work, and would create a lot of disgruntled employees and former employees.

And what happens when the immigrant Middle Eastern population insists that they should be able to order in Farsi or Arabic?

I saw the list a few years ago; I believe that official government publications in these United States come in over a hundred languages.  Every court of law in New Jersey has a Spanish interpreter on staff, and in most jurisdictions they earn their money translating for defendants who do not adequately understand English.

In the Roman Empire, every province had its own language, and people spoke that language with each other locally, much like Italian neighborhoods of the last century and Hispanic neighborhoods today, but on a larger scale.  Yet business was usually conducted in the international language Greek, and legal proceedings generally in the official language Latin, and almost everyone was tri-lingual.  There’s nothing wrong with being multilingual, and there’s nothing wrong with offering multilingual customer service to attract customers who do not speak English.  However, when we attempt to force people who do not speak a foreign language to use it in their business transactions, we are being unfair to someone.  The customer can always find a merchant eager to accommodate his language requirements to make a sale.  The businessman can only work in the languages he knows.  It is therefore the choice of the business what languages will be spoken in their business transactions, and if the customer doesn’t like it he can bring an interpreter or shop somewhere else.

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#83: Help! I’m a Lesbian Trapped in a Man’s Body!

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #83, on the subject of Help!  I’m a Lesbian Trapped in a Man’s Body!

The new view of sexual identity has me examining myself, and wondering if I have been misunderstood all these decades.  I have always perceived myself to be a boy (well, I grew up to be a man, I think), but perhaps that’s only because in those years everyone assumed that if you had male, er, parts, you were male.  We did not then understand that you could really be one gender inside and a different sex on the outside.  Now, apparently, we do, and that might really change things for me.  I might be a girl.  I have the attestation of most of my peers in my elementary school, who repeatedly asserted that I was a girl:  I ran like a girl, fought like a girl, threw, batted, kicked, did everything like a girl.  And I liked to sing–how girly, to like music class.  I might have had a boy’s body, but I didn’t use it like a boy; I was obviously a girl hiding in a boy’s body, pretending to be a boy.

Yet even then, I was always attracted to girls.  Starting in second grade I had a terrible crush on Christina Newcomb (I’ve always wondered what became of her).  By fourth grade I was spending a lot of time at her house down by the brook on Broad Street up near Lambert’s Mill Road.  She was particularly fond of The Beatles, and had a stack of Beatles cards between three and four inches thick.  There were other girls who caught my attention before that, and many more thereafter–moving away from Scotch Plains separated us, although our relationship had fizzled by then.  No other boys were attracted to girls–in fifth grade they used to dare me to wait for her outside the school and try to kiss her, which is what I wanted to do anyway so I usually took that dare and listened to their peals of disgust when I succeeded (although at least as often she ran away laughing).

So then the conclusion is inescapable:  if I am a girl, as all the boys thought, I must be a lesbian.

img0083Scouts

I think this understanding might have changed my youth significantly–maybe not then, when people always thought that someone in a boy’s body was a boy, and to be a girl you had to have a girl’s body.  But Society has recognized, now, that this is not always the case, and the Girl Scouts of America are doing their level best to keep up with progress:  you can be a Girl Scout if you are a girl on the inside, even if you, like me, are trapped in a boy’s body.  I can’t tell you how much different my teen years might have been had I actually been able to go camping with the Girl Scouts instead of the Boy Scouts.  Not that I don’t treasure the hundreds of miles of canoeing and hiking, the places I saw and things I learned in scouts, but really, every Boy Scout I knew wished we could go camping with the girls.  I certainly saw advantages to the idea.

So I think were I that age today I would simply explain it to them.  I’m not really a boy, I’m a girl in a boy’s body, but I’m attracted to girls, so that makes me a lesbian.  Trapped in a boy’s body.  I should be allowed to be a Girl Scout.  From what I understand of their present policies, I think they would agree and let me go camping with the girls.  I think we would have a wonderful time–and since I am, after all, a lesbian, I can’t promise that other things wouldn’t happen on those camping trips, since I would be bound to find all those girls attractive, and particularly whoever wound up as my tent-mate.  She might find that she, too, is a lesbian, attracted to another girl, at least when the girl in question is trapped in a boy’s body.  I know some girls are uncomfortable, being naked around a lesbian, but it might be different if the lesbian has the body of a boy.

I won’t say more about that, because I’m sure there are millions of Boy Scouts wishing they had already thought of this.

I expect that some of the parents would object; parents can be so old-fashioned, insisting that their children be protected from such situations.  They don’t understand that the world has changed, that what you are on the outside is meaningless, it’s the person on the inside that counts, even for such matters as which bathroom you should use, which Scouting organizations you can join, for what social services you qualify, and everything else, really.  If I say I am a lesbian inside a man’s body, how can anyone argue with that?  It could well be the real me.

And if it would have gotten me into those Girl Scout tents, I could have been very comfortable with that idea.

Shame on me?  Is that because you think I’m mocking a very serious matter, that someone could be one gender inside and a different sex outside, and ought to be treated as the kind of person he or she supposes him- or herself to be?  Or is it because you actually do think that girls and boys are different because of biological and physiological characteristics defined by their bodies, and society needs to make that distinction for the protection of its girls and its boys?

I think those peers of mine were wrong, that I was never a girl at all, as much as I was different from them.  This business about really being the other gender on the inside has nothing to do with biology or psychology; it has everything to do with gender stereotypes.  We think some man might be a woman inside because his interests go in directions more common to women–because we have created definitions of male and female “personality types” and then tried to fit people into them.  We persuade people that they are really not the gender of their body’s sex because their character does not fit our stereotypes, and they believe us.  Boys will be boys and girls will be girls, and we need to recognize that the first difference is biological.  Otherwise we lose some basic structures of human interaction, and face some serious social problems.  From there, we need to understand that a man does not have to conform to what we think are manly traits, nor a woman to womanly traits, and understand that bodies are sexually defined but people are individuals.

Without that, talk of sexuality devolves into this kind of nonsense.

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#63: Equal Protection When Boy Meets Girl

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #63, on the subject of Equal Protection When Boy Meets Girl.

United States Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg does not like the Roe v. Wade decision.

To many, that will sound like nonsense.  Ginsburg is the anchor of abortion rights on the United States Supreme Court, and Roe the seminal case which recognized, some would say created, such a right.  Yet Ginsburg does not disagree that there is such a right; she disagrees regarding the basis of that right, and thus with the reasoning of Roe which is its foundation.

Roe v. Wade is in essence a Right to Privacy case.  Beginning with Griswold v. Connecticutt, in which the court found that the state could not criminalize the act of teaching couples how to use contraceptives in the privacy of their own bedroom, the court inferred that the First Amendment protections of freedom of expression, Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable search and seizure, and Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination, implied a right to keep one’s personal matters private.  There were several intervening cases which extended that, and there have been others arising since Roe, but in Roe the argument was that the decision to have an abortion was a medical decision between a woman and her doctor, and as such was a private matter in which the government should not interfere without a very compelling interest.

Ginsburg disagrees.  That argument, she claims, makes a private and personal decision a matter to be discussed with a doctor–a paternalistic oversight that according to Ginsburg violates the fundamental right at stake.  She claims that a woman’s decision should be autonomous, something she decides without involving anyone she does not wish to involve.  She makes it an Equal Protection right, covered largely by the fifth through tenth amendments.  Her assertion is that a woman should have the autonomous right to decide whether to bear a child, unimpeded by any considerations including medical ones, because it is solely the woman’s problem.

Ginberg’s reasoning presents serious challenges for those who oppose abortion.  If her line were adopted, current efforts to regulate abortion providers and facilities would be unconstitutional.  As the decision stands, if abortion is a privacy right as a medical decision on the advice of a medical professional, it is completely reasonable for reasonable regulations of the medical profession to restrict access to abortions based on the government’s regulation of health care.  If it is an autonomous right under equal protection, then a woman in theory should be able to have a doctor or anyone she chooses perform one in the privacy of her own bedroom without any government involvement at all.  Yet Ginsburg’s position suffers from some other problems.  She believes she is defending the concept that a woman should be treated exactly as a man would be in the same circumstance, but (apart from the fact that men would not be in exactly the same circumstance) the treatment of men in this circumstance is already worse than the treatment of women, viewed from the perspective of individual autonomy and equal protection.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg official United States Supreme Court portrait.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg official United States Supreme Court portrait.

Let’s look at the situation:  boy meets girl.  We’ll call our girl Ruth, for Justice Ginsburg, and we’ll name the boy Tony, in memorium of the recent passing of her good friend, colleague, and adversary Justice Antonin Scalia.

Ruth and Tony meet, maybe at work, maybe at a party, maybe at school or in the neighborhood.  They like each other, and start seeing each other.  They find themselves attracted to each other.  Human physiology being designed to promote reproduction, at some point they have desires to have sex.  At this point they are just about equal, as far as reproductive rights are concerned.  Some argue that Tony is disadvantaged in that his drives are stronger than Ruth’s, but there aren’t many ways to test that.  Ruth might have more resistance to those drives because the consequences are more direct for her, but in essence it is within the power of each them them to choose, autonomously, not to engage in sex.  It is also within their power to choose, jointly, to risk a pregnancy.

Yes, Tony could rape Ruth; Tony could coerce Ruth by some other inducement.  Women are raped fairly often, usually by men, sometimes by women.  Men are also raped, by men and sometimes by women, but considerably less often–although more often than reported.  Men are more embarrassed about being raped than women are, and so less likely to report it; and they are taken less seriously when they do, partly because some people think a man can’t really be raped by a woman, and partly because men who have never been raped by a woman somehow think they would enjoy it.  Rape, though, is a separate issue:  anyone who has been raped has had rights fundamentally violated, quite apart from the problem of potential pregnancy.

If Ruth and Tony agree to engage in sex, suddenly the entire picture changes:  they no longer have equal reproductive rights.  A significant part of that is simply technological.  Either of them could have an operation rendering him or her permanently infertile, which is generally a drastic step few want to take and is a considerably more expensive and difficult (but ultimately more reliable) procedure for Ruth than for Tony.  Barring that, though, Tony is limited to the question of whether or not to use a condom–a prophylactic device with a rather high failure rate.  Ruth’s equivalent, a diaphram, is a bit more difficult to get (must be fitted by a gynecologist) but considerably more effective; she also has several other options.  Usually she would use spermicide (sometimes known as “foam”) with a diaphram, but she can also use hormone treatments, usually in pill form but sometimes as implants, that disrupt her ovulation cycle.  All of these options have varying probabilities of preventing conception; there are other options.  Intra-uterine devices (IUDs) usually reduce the chance of conception but also prevent or sometimes disrupt implantation, causing a spontaneous abortion–what in popular jargon is called a “miscarriage”, but at so early a stage that pregnancy was not suspected.  In all these ways, all the reproductive rights are on Ruth’s side:  if she chooses not to become pregnant, she has an arsenal of ways to prevent it.

However, young lovers are often careless.  Birth control is so unromantic, so non-spontaneous.  The young suffer from the illusion of invulnerability, that they are the heroes of their own stories and everything is going to work according to their expectations.  People have sex and don’t get pregnant; some couples try for unsuccessful years to have a baby.  A pregnancy is often a surprise, even for those who want it.  People take the risk, and Ruth and Tony might lose.  So now there is a baby on the way, as they say, and again Ruth’s reproductive rights are more than equal to Tony’s.  She can choose to carry the child to term, or to have an abortion.  He has no say in the matter, even if he is her husband.  She might include him in the decision, but it is her decision; she does not even need to inform him that there is a decision.  She can end the story right here.  He cannot.  He has no say about his own reproductive rights.  He cannot say, “I do not want to be the father of a child; terminate it.”  Nor can he say, “I want this baby, keep it.”  He does not, in that regard, have equal protection.

Maybe he does not care; maybe he figures it is her problem.  However, it is not just her problem–it is also his problem.  The inequities are not yet quite done.  If Ruth decides not to have an abortion–exercising her reproductive rights and overriding his–the child is born.  At that moment Ruth has yet another choice:  she can keep the child, committing herself to the difficulties and expenses of raising it, or she can absolve herself of all further responsibility, agreeing never to see the child again, by putting it up for adoption.  I do not want to minimize the agony of that choice, but it is her choice–it is not his choice, and he has no say in the matter.  His reproductive rights are not equally protected.

In most cases, if she chooses to surrender the child for adoption, he has no say in the matter; he cannot say it is his child and he wants to keep it.  That, though, is only half the problem.  If she decides that she wants to keep the child, she can sue him for child support–and indeed, if Ruth is poor enough that she files for public assistance from the state, most states will find Tony and force him to make child support payments, and jail him if he fails to do so.  It is his responsibility to support the child if she says it is.  He can claim that it is not his child–the tests can be expensive, but there is an avenue to avoid false claims–but we already agreed that it is his, so he is going to have to support it.  She had a choice; he has none.

So by all means, let’s think of abortion as an Equal Protection issue.  Men are not protected in this nearly as well as women.  A lot of things would have to change to get there.

In addition to web log posts with the Abortion, Discrimination, and Health Care tags, see also the articles Why Shouldn’t You Have Sex If You Aren’t Married?, and Was John Brown a Hero or a Villain?

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#62: Gender Issues and Seating Arrangements

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #62, on the subject of Gender Issues and Seating Arrangements.

A lawsuit has been filed against Israel’s El Al airline, alledging discrimination in relation to seating accommodation:  the airline asked a woman to move to a different seat to accommodate the religious considerations of an ultra-orthodox man seated beside her.  Apparently this happens sometimes.

I once read an interview with Freeman Dyson.  (I think it was him; I also read an interview with Gerard K. O’Neill, and I sometimes get some of the trivia confused.)  The interviewer asked him whether growing up he ever wondered why he was so smart.  He responded no, not exactly–or at least that’s not the way the question came to him.  What he wondered was why everyone else was so stupid.

I did not have that experience.  However, I am often surprised that things which seem obvious to me are completely obscure to other people.  I’m sure that’s a common perception of opinionated people–I know some opinionated people who don’t understand why other people disagree with them and conclude that those people are not intelligent, which is only sometimes true and rarely the reason.  I, though, am not talking about people disagreeing with my opinion; that happens all the time, and I have great respect for many people whose opinions are very different from mine, and find great value in discussing our disagreements.  Much is learned through this, even when neither of us change our views.  What I mean is that sometimes problems have what to me are obvious solutions, and yet the people for whom these are problems fail to recognize the solutions even after the problems become serious–like the present lawsuit, which El Al had to know would happen eventually.

So let’s look at the story.

img0062Plane

The story is that Renee Rabinowitz was flying from New York to Jerusalem on El Al.  Rabinowitz is a Jewish woman, a NAZI Holocaust survivor, eighty-one years old.  She was seated beside a Jewish man.  The man, however, objected.  He was of one of Israel’s “ultra-orthodox” denominations (“sects” is such a biased word).  The Torah is understood to forbid any contact at all between any man and any woman not related to each other, even if that contact is accidental.  The man asked that the woman be moved to accommodate his religious beliefs.  The stewardess asked–Rabinowitz says pressured–her to change seats.

It is obviously a problem.  If the Israeli national airline, whose advertising says that they “are Israel”, is unable to accommodate the religious scruples of those Israelis who most strongly uphold the historic traditions of the national faith which long defined them as a people, how can anyone expect to have their religion respected in the wider world of commerce?  To hope that on a transatlantic flight adjacent seatmates would never accidently touch each other–it certainly defies the odds.  El Al is right to attempt to accommodate the request, and there is a sense in which the man is within his rights to make it.  Yet the situation is so riddled with problems that have obvious solutions that the outcome here should never have happened.

First, this apparently is not the first time El Al staff have asked women to move to accommodate the religious scruples of men, and there is no indication that they have ever asked men to move to accommodate the religious scruples of women.  The Israel Religious Action Center (a liberal advocacy group) was waiting for the right case for a lawsuit, which suggests that this has happened before, to the point that it at least implies a policy.  The lawsuit is certainly going to claim that the airline was aware of the potential problem.  That raises the first obvious solution:  why did the airline not ask passengers whether they had this specific concern?  Airlines ask whether you want first class, business class, or coach, often whether you want a window or an aisle seat, whether you have any specific dietary restrictions.  How much trouble would it be to include whether each passenger is male or female, and whether he or she has a religious objection to sitting next to someone of the opposite sex?  Not every airline in the world would, could, or should do that, but certainly El Al should already have been doing it, since they have already had the problem.  This simple policy would eliminate at least most of the complaints in this area.

But more directly, as it will undoubtedly happen again, the stewardess certainly handled the matter inappropriately, and so did the male passenger.  The way to accommodate a religious problem of this sort is to move the person who has the problem.  If I am seated next to someone who so reeks of smoke that it is aggravating my asthma, I seek to move; I don’t expect him to be incommoded for my problem.  The man certainly had a right to have his religious concerns respected, and on that basis to have the stewardess seek a more acceptable seat for him.  He did not have the right to inconvenience a fellow passenger who was a stranger on the basis of his religious liberty.

As I say, the solutions seem obvious to me.  I can only wonder why no one recognized them before the problem became a lawsuit.

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#52: The X-Files Sexism Debate

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #52, on the subject of The X-Files Sexism Debate.

A few days ago I published mark Joseph “young” web log post #49:  Duchovny, Anderson, Sexism, and the Free Market.  It created quite a stir on an IMDB thread where I had announced it, and it seemed that I should provide some kind of response–but the sheer volume of the posts there (which has undoubtedly grown since I wrote this) made it difficult to provide a comprehensive and orderly reply there, so I am writing another post here to address it.

Early in my writing career I learned two important truths that all aspiring writers need to grasp.

First, you are much more likely to hear from those who disagree with you or do not like what you are writing than from those who agree.  As long as you are “preaching to the choir” the choir will nod quietly and let you speak uninterrupted.  Get a few objectors in your audience, and you will hear the objections.  This is good, really.  Those negative responses are valuable.  Some of them are valuable because they give you insight into opposing views; others are valuable because they clearly misunderstood what you were saying, and so may indicate that you need to communicate your points better.  It may be that both of these benefits acrue to me from the comments posted, and for this I am grateful.  Thank you.

Second, there will always be people who will criticize what you wrote without having read it.  They will base their opinion on a title, or a comment from another reader, or their expectations of what you are likely to have said based on such information as they have obtained about you.  My advice is to ignore these people.  Gradually others will realize what their opinions are worth, and arguing with them will not help your position in the least–they do not know and do not care what you are saying, only what they have already concluded regarding what they think you meant.

img0052Actors

The objections began with someone self-identified as alphabase17, who seemed to think that by asserting that the action of the producers was not sexist I was denying the existence of sexism in the world.  Perhaps I was unclear.  My point was actually that the sexism that was reflected in the situation was actually “in the world”, not in the producers.  Assuming arguendo that the facts are as they have been presented (more on that in a moment), the reason male actors are offered more than female actors is not because Hollywood producers are prejudiced, but because viewers are.  Both men and women want more to see male leads in their films and television shows, and so Hollywood produces more shows with male leads.  Over the decades as shows with female leads became more popular, more such shows were produced–but it is ratings that drive television, and the decision concerning what to pay an actor is ultimately a bottom-line decision:  will having this actor sell enough soap to pay that salary and still turn a profit?

Our poster alphabase17 asserts that we know the facts, but when those facts are stated they are the same incomplete facts I included in my article:  We know that at one point Anderson was offered half the salary that Duchovny was being paid.  We do not know what Duchovny was initially offered, and we do know that after negotiations were complete Anderson was being paid the same amount as Duchovny.  The way these negotiations work, of course, is that the producers approach the actor’s agent and say we’d like to have your client in our show and are offering X amount; the agent then says X is not enough, we want Z; the producers then say Z is too much, what about we settle at Y?  Eventually they agree on a number that is usually more than the original offer and less than the original response.  Our problem is that for Duchovny, we don’t know “X”, “Y”, or “Z”; for Anderson, we don’t know “X”, “Y”, or “Z” but we do know that her “X” is half of Duchovny’s “Y”, and her “Y” is the same as his.

Let’s be hypothetical, and extrapolate some thinking.  The numbers I’m using are intentionally unrealistic, for illustrative purposes.

    We’d like to launch a new X-Files.  We want Duchovny.  We can do the series without him, but we’d have to rethink it–whether to make it a reboot with a younger actor playing Mulder (like the 2009 Star Trek), or a next generation with a new lead agent taking Mulder’s job (like Star Trek:  The Next Generation), but we’ll take a hit–the show will be more popular if we have Duchovny as Mulder.  Let’s offer him a thousand an episode and see what his agent says.

    So the agent says no, make it ten thousand, and they dicker, and agree on five thousand.  Now they move to the next step.  If they didn’t have Duchovny, they probably wouldn’t want Anderson at all–if they’re replacing Mulder with a younger version, they’ll want a younger Scully, and if they’re moving to the next generation they won’t want Scully at all.

    Now that we have Duchovny for Mulder, we’ll want Anderson for Scully.  We can’t easily have a new actress play Scully, but we could replace Mulder’s partner with a new, younger, agent.  We’d rather have Anderson, but we have options.  Let’s offer Anderson twenty-five hundred, and see where that puts us.

    The agent thinks that’s a solid offer, but it’s his job to negotiate, so he inquires to find out what they’re paying Duchovny, and when he sees the five thousand figure he says, no, you’re going to pay Anderson as much.  They agree.

    Note that if the producers offered Anderson up front what they were paying Duchovny, her agent would reasonably have thought they were more desperate to get her than they were, and would have asked for more; then they would be in the position that Duchovny’s agent would insist that Anderson can’t be paid more than Duchovny, and the entire negotiation process would be in turmoil.  In a sense, they have to offer Anderson less than they’re paying Duchovny.  However, note in this hypothetical reconstruction, their initial offer to Anderson was greater than that to Duchovny, even though it was only half what they were paying him.  Note, too, that the producers expected to pay more than their initial offer.  Initial offers are almost always low-ball for that reason, and a low offer to Anderson meant Anderson’s agent could earn his commission by getting her more without having to demand that she be paid more than Duchovny.

No, we don’t know that this is an accurate reconstruction of the negotiations; the numbers are certainly not accurate.  However, the point that alphabase17 missed is that this is a plausible reconstruction precisely because we do not know what Duchovny was offered before he negotiated the agreed pay.  Comparing agreed pay to agreed pay, we find they are equal.  Comparing an initial offer to one against a final agreed salary of the other tells us nothing, because we do not have the initial offer to the one.  We can be pretty certain that whatever the number is for which Duchovny’s agent settled, it was more than the initial offer.

alphabase17 makes a valid point with this:

As to audience preferences, you offered no data to support the claim that “more viewers are more willing to spend more money to see male stars.”

I admit that to some degree my argument is circular, but it is not entirely so.  Television producers spend a lot of money trying to determine what viewers will watch.  There are people trying to sell them program ideas of all kinds, starring men, women, children, aliens, animals, and who knows what else.  They do audience reactions, surveys, ratings of what people actually do watch, sponsor interest, and much more, and they attempt to pick shows that will attract viewers–and if those shows fail to attract viewers competitively, they get cancelled.  The facts that more shows have male stars and that male actors get paid more than females are strong indicators that all this analysis points to viewer preference for male leads.  It has never been exclusively true–Lucille Ball was able to hold audiences in the fifties and sixties, Star Trek did a series with the wonderful Kate Mulgrew in the captain’s chair (I did not enjoy the series, but she was good), Cagney and Lacey held viewers to a police drama starring female detectives, and there have been many others–but even now more male-star series succeed than female-star series, and producers put their money where the probabilities favor success.

Maybe it’s wrong, but I think that in law it would be said that I’ve got a rebuttable presumption:  there is enough evidence that the statement is true that to contradict it would require proof.

I want to thank waslah for his contribution.  Mish4 (who specifically chose to criticize without reading the article) had said

Why I always expecting the best from a man when they always erase sexism and dismiss women’s serious complains (sic)?

waslah answered

…this comment is kind of sexist in it’s own right. It seems to suggest that all men are misogynists…and that’s a bunch of man hating, misandrist bullcrap.
(Ellipsis original)

waslah is correct, but he misses a critical point about progressivist philosophy:  for some reason, it is only discrimatory if the target is a “protected class”.  You can make prejudicial comments about straight white men without any fear of retribution, but the assumption is that any negative statement made about a woman, or a black, or a homosexual, is inherently discriminatory.  We see this even with Michelle Obama, who assumes that a short elderly white woman asking her, a tall black woman, to reach something on the top shelf in a Target department store reflects the white woman’s prejudice toward blacks, not a recognition of the advantage of height.  If I say that statistically women have less upper body strength than men (anatomically demonstrable) I’m being mysogynistic, because it doesn’t matter that it’s true, only that it can be taken as a negative statement about women (or a positive statement about men, which comes to the same thing); but if a woman says that all men are misogynists, even though that is demonstrably false (whether or not it applies to me specifically), that is not considered sexist because it is not a negative statement about women (or gays).  No, it does not make any sense, but it is the way the progressivists regard the matter.  It has something to do with the fact that our ancestors mistreated these groups, and so we, their descendants, must bear similar mistreatment.

Returning to alphabase17:

…I commented upon it [the Duchovny/Anderson pay discrepancy] on three websites and got a lot of ironic, belittling, condescending comments from men, and those champions of intellect claimed that of course the male deserves to be paid more than the female and that I know nothing about show business and that I must be a vile feminist and that people like me should be ashamed for finding sexism where there is none.

I certainly apologize if I came across that way.  There is nothing in what I said that I intended as a matter of what anyone “deserves”.  That’s a bit like saying that apples “deserve” to cost more than oranges because apples taste better, or are healthier for you, or something like that.  If apples cost more than oranges, it’s because the demand exceeds the supply.  If actors are paid more than actresses, it is because audiences want actors more than they want actresses.  I did not say that there was no sexism involved; I said that the sexism was in the audience, the culture generally, not in the bean counters trying to get as much as they can for the smallest possible expenditure.  They tried to lowball Anderson.  They probably tried to lowball Duchovny first, and they’ve undoubtedly had to negotiate with a lot of people, such as writers and directors, concerning how much everyone will be paid for this project.  Actors are not paid based on how hard they work; they’re paid based on how much audience they draw.

Pizza restaurants buy their ingredients and sell their pizzas.  As one chain likes to remind us, better ingredients make better pizza–but also more expensive pizza.  There are chains that never tell us they make good pizza, they tell us that they make it cheap.  A decision is being made by each restaurant, is it worth the extra money to buy the better cheese, the fresher spices, the more expensive tomatoes?  Will we be able to sell the pizza for enough more to cover the extra cost of making it, or will we make more money by making the cheaper pizza?  From the perspective of the television producers, actors aren’t employees paid for their work, they’re ingredients in a product, commodities bought and sold.  The question is, how cheaply can I buy this actor, and what’s the return on my investment?  Any sexism that goes into that is the sexism of, “What will the audience pay to see this man in the project, as opposed to that woman?”  It is an assessment of the attitudes of the consumers, finding those often to be sexist.

Many of the things I have said here have been said by others in the thread at IMDB; I have been working on this response for several days, and decided not to remove such points.  I will finish with a quote from nrkist2424, from what was the last post on the thread when I finished this.  It was a point I was considering making, but I had no numbers to support it.

[Gillian Anderson]’s pay outweighs the combined pay for all the returning character actors.  Are you concerned about that?

Indeed, if it really were about “equal pay for equal work”, there is a tremendous amount of disparity there.  I read a quote from an actor who said they paid him a lot of money to stand in the rain and drink coffee; the acting he did for free.  The lead actors do not work much harder than all the others on the set; they aren’t getting paid based on their work.  Their performances are being purchased according to an agreed price based on the resale value of those performances.

And in the end, Gillian Anderson was paid exactly the same thing as David Duchnovny, because the studio agreed that she was worth it when she asked.  That’s how negotiation works.

Again, I extend my thanks to all who read the previous article and provided feedback.  Your input has not gone unnoticed.

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#49: Duchovny, Anderson, Sexism, and the Free Market

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #49, on the subject of Duchovny, Anderson, Sexism, and the Free Market.

The scuttlebutt in the entertainment industry at the moment is that for the new X-Files revival, actress Gillian Anderson, who plays scientist/agent Dana Scully, was offered half the pay that was offered to actor David Duchovny, who plays agent Fox Mulder.  The outrage arises, that an actress (I’m sorry–“female actor”) would be paid only half as much as an actor (that is, a male actor) for the same work.  It screams that the wage gap is still a real issue, even in mostly liberal Hollywood.

No one can argue that Anderson isn’t every bit as good an actor as Duchovny.  She has more awards and more nominations, even in the “big” ones–Duchovny has two Golden Globes (the second in 2008 for Californication) to Anderson’s one, but she also has a Prime Time Emmy and a Screen Actors Guild (SAG) award.  Even supposing that the competition is stiffer for the male awards than the female ones, her credentials are impressive.

Yet in all the hullaballoo a few points are being overlooked.  So, what’s the real issue?

img0049XFiles

First, let’s be clear:  In the new revival X-Files miniseries Gillian Anderson is being paid the same amount as David Duchovny.  The complaint is that when they contacted her initially they offered her considerably less than they had agreed to pay him.  Of course, they did not contact her, and they did not contact him–they contacted her agent and his agent, and made offers, which the agents then negotiated to an agreed salary.  Further, we are not privy to any of this negotiation.  We do not know any of the numbers.  It might be that they offered Duchovny a half a million per episode and then settled for a million per episode, and then made the same half million per episode offer to Anderson and negotiated to the same million dollar mark.  The numbers might be much smaller than that; they might be larger.  No one is talking numbers, and no one is talking about the negotiation process.  However, clearly there was a negotiation process, because Anderson’s complaint was that they offered her half of what they were paying Duchovny, but she does not know what they initially offered Duchovny and she does know that her agent negotiated her the same pay before any filming was done.  Maybe that’s not the case; maybe they really did offer Duchovny twice what they offered Anderson.  Neither we nor she know that.

There is, though, a more fundamental issue here.

Star Trek:  The Next Generation was one of the great “ensemble dramas” of the eighties.  Hill Street Blues, L. A. Law, Dallas, and a number of others dotted primetime.  One of the things that distinguished this type of show from those of the sixties was that there was not really a “star”–that is, the original Star Trek was a vehicle starring William Shatner as Captain Jim Kirk, with Leonard Nimoy’s Spock and the other characters all in supporting roles.  Even when a particular episode was primarily about Spock, such as Amok Time, Kirk was the hero.  By contrast, in Next Generation there were entire episodes in which Patrick Stewart’s Captain Jean-Luc Picard was not on screen at all.  Yet when the first film was made, it was reported that Patrick Stewart was paid twelve million dollars to appear, and Brent Spiner (Commander Data) eight million, the two together making near as much as the other major members of the cast combined.  Sure, they had big roles in that film–but we don’t know to what degree they got paid more for the bigger roles versus were given the bigger roles because they were costing the studio more.  The latter is the more likely.  Studios negotiate with actors (through their agents) individually, and from the studio’s side the question is whether having this actor is worth the money in the sense that more people are likely to buy tickets if he is in the show than if he is not.  Presumably Paramount concluded that Michael Dorn (Lieutenant Worf) could be written out of the script if he wanted more than whatever they paid him, and Dorn agreed that he would rather work for that lesser amount than be dropped from the movie.  Picard and Data were vital characters; Riker, Crusher, Troi, La Forge, and others not so much.

So if we assume that 20th Century Fox actually did initially offer Duchovny more than they offered Anderson, the obvious conclusion is that they thought Duchovny was worth more to the show, or would demand more to be on it.  Further, there is evidence to support such a conclusion.  Duchovny had a starring role in the popular pay-cable series Californication for seven years, and since then has the lead in the police drama Aquarius.  Anderson has had a number of critically acclaimed roles–the National Theatre’s A Streetcar Named Desire, Great Expectations, Bleak House–but no leading roles in something primarily popular.  As important as she is to the X-Files franchise and as highly praised for her other work, her name does not sell as many tickets as his does.  The producers do not have the financial incentive to pay her as much, because they would not necessarily expect–or get–the same return on their investment.

Arguably, Duchovny has gotten popular leading roles and Anderson has been working in less prominent jobs because Hollywood favors leading roles for men.  Yes, it does–but not because Hollywood producers prefer men in leading roles.  It’s because of audience preferences.

Geena Davis played a powerfully compelling action hero in The Long Kiss Goodnight, and Samuel Jackson as the sidekick was every bit as entertaining in it as he was in Die Hard 3 alongside Bruce Willis.  Willis was the actor who made yet another sequel, because men prefer to see men in the action hero roles.  Meanwhile, women prefer hearthrob men in their romantic leads, from Rudolph Valentino to Matthew McConaughey.  The prejudices are not with the producers–they will attempt anything they believe will make money, without regard for names or quality or race or gender.  The track record, though, says that male leads draw bigger audiences, and so make more money, than female leads.  There are some women who buck the trend, get good roles and make them work, but most big roles go to men because that’s what audiences pay to see.

So there is indeed sexism in the video entertainment industry, but it’s not in the producers, not in the people who make the movies and television shows.  They pay for what they perceive themselves to be getting.  What they are getting is viewers, ticket purchasers, and what they are selling is what those viewers want to see.  If most of the world wants V-Neck sweaters, most clothing manufacturers are going to invest in V-Necks and avoid Turtlenecks.  When fast food purchasers move more toward healthy food, McDonalds shifts its emphasis away from burgers into chicken, salads, wraps, and yogurt.  Male actors get more money, in the main, because more viewers are more willing to spend more money to see them.  The sexism Gillian Anderson faces is not that of the people making The X-Files.  It’s the sexism of the people watching, who would pay more money to see David Duchovny than to see her.

Sure, there are people who will scream to high heaven that Gillian Anderson is the important person in the show.  Never mind that she was originally hired to be the sidekick to Duchovny’s starring role, instructed to stand slightly behind him so he would be prominent in most shots in the first season, she became the indispensible equal, for some even superior, partner.  Yet the numbers say that you, the viewers aggregately, pay more to see Duchovny than to see Anderson, even if some of you consider her the real star.  The producers are only trying to provide the product that will draw the most customers, the biggest audience, at the lowest total outlay.  As far as they are concerned, the fact that they might be paying a man more than a woman has nothing to do with gender and everything to do with spreadsheets.  It is, ultimately, what viewers are willing to buy that pays those salaries.  That’s where the prejudice is found.

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