Patty Dineen

The view from here

Judging by Gender

Attitudes towards professional women have changed over recent decades in America, but there are always reminders that many prejudices remain.  Laws have changed, but in many realms attitudes have not.


I read David Brooks op-ed piece in today’s New York Times, The Way We Live Now, with great disappointment.  Although superficially, Brooks seems to be acknowledging Supreme Court nominee Judge Sonia Sotomayor’s achievements up to this point in her life, he is really pointing out (admonishing?) things (negatives made to sound more negative for the fact that she is a female) that are far less often brought up in articles about high-achieving men: at a young age she lost a parent; she had a lot of mentors; she worked really hard; she smoked and drank a lot of coffee (would this really even be mentioned if we were examining a man as the next Supreme Court Justice?); her marriage ended in divorce; and yes, again, she worked really hard.


Brooks makes a point of saying that he isn’t just writing about a professional woman balancing aspects of her life (except that he is) and that the pressures he is referring to affect both women and men (except that, in that case, why point out the obvious now, and why use Judge Sotomayor as an example?)


The kind of thing David Brooks is doing is very subtle, and very potentially damaging, because it is a “read between the lines” attack on someone who has become successful the same way most people have– by working very hard and by learning from others who are willing to be helpful.  By delineating what it takes to rise to this point in her life, Brooks implies that there is something perverse about it (or by association, about the person), and oh yes, he bemoans that too many of us are subjected to these same pressures…sigh…isn’t life tough.  And, I almost forgot another “strain” (an odd choice of words until you remember he is writing about a woman) in Sotomayor’s life– she spends time with a lot of other “high achievers.” 


Written by dineenp

July 14, 2009 at 4:26 pm

Having children by the litter

Humans aren’t designed to safely and successfully bear more than one or two children at a time.  Before the modern advent of medical treatments for infertility, anyone who gave birth to more than two or three children at one time was celebrated as a phenomenon.  Public judgements about the parents’ wothiness or intentions did not enter the picture.  It’s a different story today– a morality story where parents are judged as either good or bad.

Today, twins seem to be everywhere, and higher numbers of multiple births are becoming less rare.  Still, when one pregnancy results in the birth of six, or seven, or eight babies, it becomes the target of public attention…and of moral judgements.  Apparently we, as a society, have come up with a checklist to decide what is acceptable (even laudable) and what is not (even despicable).  Two large families in the public eye today have drawn starkly different judgements from the public.

Nadya Suleman, a 33-year-old single mother of six young children delivered eight babies after receiving infertility treatments.  She and her children live with her parents in a small house.  She is unemployed and receives food stamps.   Jon and Kate Gosselin, a couple in their late twenties, and their eight children (a set of twins and a set of sextuplets, all born after infertility treatments) are the stars of the very popular Jon & Kate Plus 8 show on The Learning Channel.   The judgement is in: the Gosselins are good and Nadya Suleman is bad.  

Both families are the center of attention right now–Suleman gets public assistance because she is officially poor; the Gosselins get public assistance (as in viewers and advertisers of their show) because they are cute and pass the morality tests we have apparently set.  One family has no father/husband present, is poor, had six children to begin with (apparently already having two is under the limit needed for disapproval), and doesn’t so far, seem to have a clever, engaging personality.  The Gosselins are married (although increasingly impatient and bickering with each other- their way of “communicating”); he has a job; they trot out their religious beliefs just often enough to make the point, but not so often as to seem self-righteous; and the kids are adorable.  They have turned their life with their eight young children into a money-making television show, complete with sales of DVDs, t-shirts, and books.  The ethics problems and the trade-offs are worth at least considering. 

Adults can understand and consent to giving up privacy in return for financial gain.  Such young children can’t possibly understand, let alone consent to, the kind of invasion of privacy they are being subjected to.  The show also seems increasingly out of place in today’s economic climate.  How many hardworking families with just one or two children can barely afford to go to the movies, as they watch the Gosselins take fabulous trips and get free services like plastic surgery, hair transplants, and tooth whitening?  It’s probably almost time to give the Gosselin children back their privacy and let them grow up without the whole world watching them do it.  Their loyal fans will miss them, but reality shows should stick with exploiting adults, not children.  And they won’t any longer present a tempting (to some with poor judgment and immature thinking) role model of hyper-infertility-fertility to emulate.

Meanwhile, public contempt is being heaped on Nadya Suleman, who may or may not be seeking to use her children as an ATM.  Her children also deserve to grow up with love and support, amidst caring adults.  And without the rest of the world watching their every move.  I wish them well.

Written by dineenp

February 11, 2009 at 9:58 pm

Dreams and celebration today, reality and work tomorrow

Today, we will celebrate one of those galvanizing historic moments in our country’s history.  There’s lots to celebrate and everyone’s personal list is probably at least a little different.  But for today, as a country, we are possibly as nearly united in sharing happiness and optimism as such a diverse and free population can be.  Let’s hope it doesn’t last too long.

I say this for President Obama’s sake as well as for the country’s sake.  It’s been exhilarating but we have decidedly not done him any favors by placing him on such a frightentingly high and narrow pedestal.   Much of a move in any direction (perhaps even moving at all) poses the risk of a serious fall.  Great hope was sown and fermented during the last two years of his campaign for the presidency.  Like yeast in a warm, sugary environment, it has grown and spread.  It smells good, it looks good, it feels good.  But lately, if you’ve been listening, even Obama has been throwing some seeds of caution into that frothy mix.

Just in the area of the economy, he’s been pointing out that the new fiscal stimulus package won’t please everyone; that he will make mistakes; and that things will likely get worse before they start to get better.  This all sounds reasonable – who would fault him?  But eventually the campaign promise (that we all cheered) to “cut programs that don’t work,” will have to become a list of real programs — programs that employ people, that communities and individuals may have come to cherish, that have at least some meaning or they wouldn’t have been created in the first place. 

 Obama has warned us that there will be sacrifice and work.  We’ve cheered that too, but we haven’t heard much yet about what kind of sacrifices and who will do the work.  Recent public outreach campaigns and photo-ops have been satisfying but misleading.  Will we donate time and energy to help paint the walls in a deteriorating school?  No problem.  Will we get rid of teachers who can’t teach, and pay more taxes to support those who can?  Maybe. Maybe not.  Will we pack gift boxes for those serving in war zones overseas?  Happily.  Will we support the reinstitution of a draft if it is deemed necessary. Uhm…  Will we support an energy independence “revolution?”  Sign me up.  Will we welcome (or even tolerate) a significant new tax on gasoline?  How about the building of a nuclear reactor in our community?

The generalities are fun; the details of making choices…not so much.  Obama knows this and he’s been dropping hints.  He has lately referred to the difference between the reality of doing the hard work as compared to what has been said in “campaign rhetoric” — his phrase, not mine.  It is a worrisome testament to what sparse civics and history education we have required of the last couple of generations that so many youthful Obama supporters believe that the sentiments and ideas they are hearing in his speeches are being expressed by him for the first time ever.  Yesterday I watched Richard Nixon’s inaugural speech on C-span — if you just listened to the words you could easily imagine large parts of the same speech sounding right on the mark today.  But that’s okay.  What matters is what happens next.

Obama needs to move quickly to use his tremendous political and social capital to help us learn how to disagree with him without rejecting him; how to live with choices that are not the ones we would make; and how we can hold him and his administration accountable.  He needs to help us not panic that all is lost when we see that, after all, he is just human like the rest of us.  Today we need to celebrate; tomorrow we need to start to get real.

Written by dineenp

January 20, 2009 at 3:19 pm

The audacity of hoping Barack Obama would send his children to public schools

The public school system — even with all its problems– remains a shining example of something our country did spectacularly right in its formative years.  Innovative and daring, the idea of providing publicly-financed education for all children became a reality because there was the political will to make it happen.  It may be the single thing that bears the most responsibility for making this country great.

President-elect Barack Obama and his wife Michelle have chosen not to send their two young children to public schools, but rather have enrolled them in the expensive, elite, private Sidwell Friends School located in the Washington, DC area. 

Sending their children to a public Washington, DC school would have conveyed an incredibly powerful message to the country, not to mention to public school students, their families, teachers and administrators, about belief in the importance and effectiveness of public education– and belief in hope and change.  It would have demonstrated in unequivocal terms that public schools can be safe, secure, and effective — can be good places to be for anyone, even the children of the President of the United States — especially the children of the President of the United States.  Talking about the importance of public education but then choosing otherwise for your own children speaks loudly indeed.  This message will not be lost on the country.

Arguments citing concerns about security, quality of education, and safety to rationalize the choice of a private school for the President’s children are hollow and disingenuous.  It is true that many of the public schools in the Washington, DC area are not providing a good education, but there are some that are.  Chancellor of DC public schools, Michelle Rhee’s two children attend public school.  Rhee invited the Obamas to consider DC public schools in their school search but the Obamas reportedly visited only private schools.

Safety and security are certainly huge factors, and it might be easier to secure a private school adequately for the children of the President, but the Secret Service can secure many kinds of settings and the extra effort of securing a public school would be well worth the gains that would ensue.  In one fell swoop it would greatly enhance the safety and security of an entire school’s population of students and teachers; showcase the educational possibilities of public schools; and motivate and reinvigorate an entire school district’s worth of students, teachers, administrators and parents in a way that nothing else could do.  Now that would be change we could believe in.

Written by dineenp

January 5, 2009 at 6:52 pm

Henry Paulson’s “I’m doing a heckuva job” column

As an ordinary citizen following – as best as I can – the country’s financial problems and attempts at amelioration, I found Henry Paulson’s column in today’s New York Times pretty unsettling.  After recapping the “here’s how we got here” part of his story, he spent the rest of the column space pointing out what a great job he’s done.  If the job had been as well done as he claims, this column would be written by someone else, or wouldn’t be needed at all.

In his column, titled Fighting the Financial Crisis, One Challenge at a Time, Paulson, current secretary of the Treasury, doesn’t hesitate to start a short list of all those who should be very grateful to him:

I am very proud of the decisive actions by the Treasury Department, the Federal Reserve and the F.D.I.C. to stabilize our financial system.  We have done what was necessary as facts and conditions in the market and economy have changed, adjusting our strategy to most effectively address the crisis.  We have preserved the flexibility of President-elect Barack Obama and the new secretary of the Treasury to address the challenges in the economy and capital markets they will face.

I guess he’s saying we should all be feeling better but somehow it is not working.

Written by dineenp

November 18, 2008 at 4:35 pm