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The tricky gender politics of child allowances


I’m your new host of WOMEN RULE, Katie Fossett. I’m an associate editor at Politico Magazine. Writing a regular newsletter is new for me, but I’m excited to get started! I’m also very grateful for the help of Maya Parthasarathy, who will continue writing parts of the newsletter, and Elizabeth Ralph, who will lend her expert editing eye to the newsletter.

A little about me: I’m originally from Covington, Kentucky, right across the river from Cincinnati, Ohio. I’ve spent the pandemic re-learning how to drive and falling down mountains, or as some people call it, learning to snowboard in your 30s. (I’m getting better.) I’m often in my kitchen, if perhaps less enthusiastically these days when we’re all trapped inside. Still, here are some recent cooking successes I’d recommend to you: Detroit-famous poundcake, Genevieve Ko’s chile crisp dumplings and cabbage and farro soup.

I’ve been interested in gender dynamics since before I got into journalism, and I’m particularly interested in the intersection of class and gender. But send me any and all gender-related tips, scoops, data, think pieces, upcoming books—anything you think the author of Women Rule should have on her radar. You can always reach me at [email protected].

THE TRICKY POLITICS OF THE CHILD ALLOWANCE — Cash allowances for parents have emerged as a surprisingly bipartisan solution to help families struggling in the pandemic economy—but the topic is also tricky terrain for feminists.

President Joe Biden and Senator Mitt Romney are both proposing direct payments for parents. Both plans would send monthly payments of $250-350 per month per child, with allowances phasing out at $400,000 per couple in Romney’s plan and $150,000 in Biden’s. (According to an analysis by Matt Bruenig of the People’s Policy Project, Romney’s plan is more generous over the long term.)

Even though they have attracted support from some new allies, child allowances have also faced familiar criticism in recent days by some conservative economists who say they could disincentivize parents from working. (Economist Gene Sperling points out in Politico Magazine that there is little evidence for this argument.)

But in a Thursday op-ed, New York Times columnist Ezra Klein asked a different question. “Even if a child allowance would lead some parents to drop out of the formal work force,” he writes, “would that be a bad thing?”

He continues: Forcing parents into low-wage, often exploitative, jobs by threatening them and their children with poverty may be counted as a success by some policymakers, but it’s a sign of a society that doesn’t value the most essential forms of labor. The problem lurks in the very language we use. If I left my job as a New York Times columnist to care, full time, for my 2-year-old son, I’d be described as leaving the labor force. But as much as I adore my child, there is absolutely no doubt I’d be working harder. I’d have fewer days off, a more demanding boss and worse pay.

The article set off a debate among progressive women. Given that society has been devaluing work traditionally done by women for centuries, many feminists see such a tonal shift—the admissions that caring for a family is hard, valuable work—as a long-overdue course correction. But some are wondering if the pendulum is swinging too far, at the expense of valuing work done by women outside the home.

“I’m seeing this creeping argument on the left that it’s just not important for women to work outside the home, and that’s concerning,” feminist author Jill Filipovic wrote on Twitter on Thursday, saying that she was almost in near-total agreement with Klein on the child allowance issue itself. She continued: “Ezra is not arguing for a return to a traditional gender division of labor. But a lot of folks on the left, including some he quotes, seem to think that there isn’t an issue with the traditional gender division of labor, because paid work can be exploitative & care work matters.”

I called Linda Hirshman, a lawyer and cultural historian and author of Get to Work: A Manifesto for Women of the World, whose work Filipovic cites in her tweets, about her take on this developing dynamic on the left.

“It’s staggering when you think about it,” she told me. “The left keeps suggesting policy solutions—like Ezra Klein’s solution [the child allowance]—which are good ideas. I would never say that working three jobs at $7.50 an hour is a good solution.”

But, says Hirshman, the answer isn’t encouraging women to drop out of the workforce. “The solution is raising the minimum wage. … If women’s situation in the world is terrible, then yeah, we need to address how we treat their work. … Forgiveness of your student loans, a higher minimum wage and mandatory child and parental leave and proper health care. There are many ways that the women Ezra Klein describes could be helped to stay in the public world.”

She also points to the hypocrisy of some who support the child allowance. “So he recognizes the value of life in the world for himself. And then he proposes something that would keep poor women in the private world and says that would be better.”

Democrats hope to pass their Covid-19 relief bill, of which the child allowance is a part, by the end of February.

RUSH LIMBAUGH’S LEGACY — The conservative radio host died this week, and his legacy — the good and the bad — was remembered across the Internet. One element that was crucial to his appeal: the misogyny that gave birth to one of Limbaugh’s trademarks, the term “feminazi.” “Anti-feminism had been part of conservative media and the conservative movement from the beginning,” says Nicole Hemmer, a historian of conservative media. “What made Rush Limbaugh different was he brought a kind of shock jock approach to his anti-feminism,” which found its way into the mainstream, she continued.

Revisiting the Sandra Fluke incident: When the Georgetown law student testified at an unofficial congressional hearing that religious institutions should provide contraception coverage to staffers and students, Limbaugh called her a “slut.” He said that women could pay taxpayers back for providing birth control by posting videos of themselves having sex “online so we can all watch.” Some advertisers pulled out of his show, but the episode also showed just how important Limbaugh and his listeners were in Republican politics.

“Mitt Romney, who was running for president at the time and battling the idea that his campaign was conducting a war on women, could only muster saying, ‘That’s not the language I would have used,’” Hemmer says. That shows you just how much power and in a way control Limbaugh had. And loyalty to Limbaugh played in Republican politics, even at a time that it was genuinely harming Romney’s campaign.”

THE SCHOOL RE-OPENING WARS — “GOP tries to weaponize pandemic-exhausted parents against Biden,” by Christopher Cadelago and Natasha Korecki: “The pandemic has disrupted lives and exacerbated inequities and a raft of public and private surveys show clear political potholes and opportunities because of it. The coronavirus is spawning sweeping policy prescriptions from Democrats and Republicans alike, from billions in school reopening funds to the creation of a federal child allowance. And it’s prompting pollsters to loosely coin emerging voter demos like ‘women in chaos’ and ‘families in crisis.’

“Within the GOP, there is a belief that the pandemic and resulting turmoil make Biden and Democratic incumbents especially vulnerable among those demographics. Republicans see room to capitalize on the grim public health and economic situation the White House inherited from Donald Trump by trying to put Democrats on the defensive for being too removed from the pain or too slow-moving to address it.” POLITICO

PENTAGON PROBLEMS — “Promotions for Female Generals Were Delayed Over Fears of Trump’s Reaction,” by Eric Schmitt and Helene Cooper: “Last fall, the Pentagon’s most senior leaders agreed that two top generals should be promoted to elite, four-star commands. For the defense secretary at the time, Mark T. Esper, and Gen. Mark A. Milley, then the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the tricky part was that both of the accomplished officers were women. In 2020 America under President Donald J. Trump, the two Pentagon leaders feared that any candidates other than white men for jobs mostly held by white men might run into turmoil once their nominations reached the White House.

“Mr. Esper and General Milley worried that if they even raised their names — Gen. Jacqueline D. Van Ovost of the Air Force and Lt. Gen. Laura J. Richardson of the Army — the Trump White House would replace them with its own candidates before leaving office. So the Pentagon officials agreed on an unusual strategy: They held back their recommendations until after the November elections, betting that if Joseph R. Biden Jr. won, he and his aides would be more supportive of the Pentagon picks than Mr. Trump, who had feuded with Mr. Esper and had a history of disparaging women. They stuck to the plan even after Mr. Trump fired Mr. Esper six days after the election.

“‘They were chosen because they were the best officers for the jobs, and I didn’t want their promotions derailed because someone in the Trump White House saw that I recommended them or thought D.O.D. was playing politics,’ Mr. Esper said in an interview, referring to the Department of Defense. ‘This was not the case. They were the best qualified. We were doing the right thing.’” The New York Times

TWEET OF THE WEEK:

AROUND THE WORLD — “Japan’s ruling party invites more women to meetings, as long as they don’t talk,” via Reuters“Princess Latifa: What are women’s rights in Dubai?” via BBC“Likely new head of Tokyo 2020 is ex-Olympian, minister for women’s rights,” via Reuters“Iranian skier makes appeal for women’s rights in her country,” via ABC News

WOMEN AT WORK — “Women make less in the gig economy. A new study asked why,” by Sharon Goldman: “[Even] on a platform where opportunities for overt discrimination, labor segregation and inflexible work arrangements are removed, and even after experience, education and other capital factors are accounted for, a pay gap stubbornly remains, according to one of the study authors, Leib Litman, a social and behavioral scientist who is an assistant professor of psychology at Touro College and co-chief executive and chief research officer at Cloud Research. The reason? The authors’ new follow-up study found that women expect to be paid less than men do, which can lead them to make lower-paid gig choices.

“Previous studies had already highlighted gender pay gaps on gig economy platforms. For example, a 2018 study of more than 1 million Uber drivers found that while Uber’s app isn’t structurally set up to discriminate, there was still a 7 percent gender pay gap for three main reasons: Men tended to drive faster, had more experience on the platform and had fewer constraints about where they could drive. However, even on a gig platform where all those specific structural factors that could be responsible are eliminated, there is still a pay gap. ‘We found that, on average, women tended to choose tasks that paid less,’ Litman said. And while each gig app is structured differently, he maintained the model would predict the same results on any platform.

“The authors found this is the case because women have lower ‘reservation wages’ than men. That is, when women were asked the minimum amount they needed to be paid to do any kind of task, on any platform, they consistently responded with a number that was 10 to 15 percent lower than men — no matter their demographics, age or family status. ‘We found a clear correlation between people’s income, or how much people earned in traditional jobs, and their “reservation wages,”’ Litman explained. ‘Since women tend to make less money in traditional job environments, we believe they unconsciously bring that “baggage” to gig platforms, influencing the kind of behavior and opportunities they seek out.’” The Lily

— “The Lockdown Showed How the Economy Exploits Women. She Already Knew,” via The New York Times Magazine “Could more women-led tech companies make the internet less awful?” via Marketplace

PERSPECTIVE — “Why Are There So Few Monuments That Successfully Depict Women?” by Megan O’Grady: “In her 1792 tract ‘A Vindication of the Rights of Woman,’ Mary Wollstonecraft argued that men and women should be educated together as equals, ‘for only by the jostlings of equality can we form a just opinion of ourselves.’ Wollstonecraft was that rare thing in 18th-century England: a female public intellectual, one who argued passionately for women’s place in society.

“More than two centuries later, men and women jostle in all matters of public life, and yet their likenesses in the public space do not. In the United Kingdom, by one estimate, only some 3 percent of public statues are of nonroyal women. The number is thought to be about 7 percent in the United States, but in New York City, up until last summer, there were famously only five statues of historic women: the Catholic saint Joan of Arc, the former Israeli prime minister Golda Meir, the Modernist writer Gertrude Stein, the former first lady Eleanor Roosevelt and the abolitionist Harriet Tubman. If humankind vanished tomorrow and aliens arrived from another galaxy, they wouldn’t be faulted for believing that the whole of human history was composed of men on horseback.

“So it was with a great deal of anticipation that a statue of Wollstonecraft, following a decade-long fund-raising effort, was unveiled in a north London park last fall. As it turned out, the statue wasn’t of Wollstonecraft but rather for her, an ‘Everywoman,’ the commissioning committee wrote, ‘who challenges the traditional statue form by elevating an idea, personifying the spirit, rather than depicting the individual.’ Made of silvered bronze, it featured an abstract, wavelike base of varying textures, topped with a small nude figurine of a woman. The outcry was immediate: The alloyed genericness of the figurine and its tiny blank face had an unfortunate cyborglike quality, reminding some of the Terminator T-1000, or the hood ornament on a Rolls-Royce. …

“It was hard not to view the monument as a victim of its own good intentions, inadvertently becoming yet another example of a female form as emblem of an abstract idea, such as the Statue of Liberty or Marianne, a symbol of the French Republic, or any number of nameless angels, goddesses or graces on memorials. We’ve no lack of statues of women, really; it’s just that too many of the ones we have are devoid of personhood.” The New York Times Style Magazine

— “A year without dating,” via The Lily

SPOTLIGHT — “Jennifer Carroll Foy Almost Died After Childbirth Because — Like Many Black Women — Her Pain Was Dismissed,” via Elle “A 14-year-old was told she couldn’t play volleyball because of her hijab. She fought back,” via The Lily

CULTURE CLUB — “Newspaper cartooning is dominated by White men. Will a new White House spark change?” by Michael Cavna: “Pick by pick, President Biden aims to assemble an administration so diverse that it will ‘look like the country.’ Yet what about the prominent visual critics who will be mocking his White House and Cabinet — will they, too, be a wide-ranging representation of the nation? Whither the female and LGBTQ political cartoonists and creators of color on staff at mainstream American newspapers?

“Matt Lubchansky, a queer nonbinary cartoonist for the Nib who was a Herblock Prize finalist last year for work reflective ‘of a new generation,’ is among the artists considering that question. ‘There are plenty of extremely talented young cartoonists that aren’t cis white men doing good topical work,’ says the New York-based Lubchansky, who believes minority voices often face institutional prejudice when seeking publication in mainstream papers.

“According to the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists, the Biden-Harris White House is being visually satirized in mainstream U.S. papers mostly by White men — by a wide margin. The AAEC estimates that fewer than 30 staff newspaper jobs remain for full-time editorial cartoonists. (The Washington Post has one position open after the departure of Tom Toles.) None of those positions is held by a woman, according to industry experts, and Michael Ramirez of the Las Vegas Review-Journal and David G. Brown of the Los Angeles Sentinel are two of the rare American political cartoonists of color who have a dedicated paper.” The Washington Post

— “Chloé Zhao’s America,” via Vulture“‘Hysterical Girl,’ Reviewed: An Extraordinary Look at a Case of Freudian Gaslighting,” via The New Yorker“Women Take The Lead In Fighting ISIS In ‘Daughters Of Kobani,’” via NPR

VIDEO — ‘Birds of Prey’ director Cathy Yan on Hollywood and the pandemic

TRANSITIONS — Swati G. Sharma will be the new editor-in-chief of Vox.com. She is currently a managing editor at the Atlantic. … Morgan Rako is now deputy director at College to Congress. She previously was press secretary for Rep. Mike Turner (R-Ohio). … Sarah Mucha is now a politics reporter for Axios. She previously was a campaign embed for CNN.





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