Friday, March 15, 2013

Women's have-it-all fantasy often spells heartbreak

Facebook chief Sheryl Sandberg’s 'Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead' ignores the sorry fate of those who miss out on motherhood

The difficulty with a successful woman setting out to write a book about work and ambition is that half her target audience won’t know what she’s talking about because they’re too busy trying to make ends meet. The other half will hate her because she’s successful.

Sheryl Sandberg, the chief operating officer of Facebook and an Alpha female, is running this gauntlet right now, thanks to her controversial new book, Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead.

I once spoke at a glitzy event in New York on much the same theme. It was sponsored by a clothing company, which planned to sell women’s officewear in the interval. While the Mrs Alphas were sipping their soya lattes and debating whether they really could have it all, I popped backstage and got talking to some of the sales staff.

Mainly Hispanic and white women from poorer boroughs, they told me they were lucky if the clothing company let them have three weeks off after they gave birth. They didn’t want to leave their newborns, but they had bills to pay. The new infant would either be left with a family member or placed in production-line daycare with as many as 100 other babies. In the industrialised world, the United States is the only nation without a paid parental leave policy. Instead, mothers are eligible for something called, unbelievably, “sickness and disability”.

I felt distinctly queasy as I returned to the podium to banter about the challenges of balancing a career and motherhood. Did the privileged women in that hall ever spare a thought for the weary mum of three handing them a fancy linen jacket to try on?

Of course not. We are so subsumed in our own daily struggle to reply to work emails at midnight while assembling a Pippi sodding Longstocking costume for World Book Day that the fate of other working mothers is too hard to take on board. Reading Sheryl Sandberg’s book, I kept thinking, “Yes, fabulous, Sheryl, honey, but as Mrs Alpha of Silicon Valley you really have no idea what it’s like for Miss Beta, let alone Mrs Delta.”

Sandberg is not just privileged, she is worth an estimated $500 million. Money can’t buy you love, but it sure as hell purchases a lot of child care. The fact that Sheryl barely mentions her children’s nanny or the crack support team that smoothed her path to Time’s 100 Most Impressive People list is all too typical of the “Look, no hands!” it’s-easy-to-juggle brigade.

Instead, Sandberg bemoans the fact that highly trained women are scaling back or dropping out of the workforce in high numbers. Girls, she says, take their foot off the pedal too early in their career because they know they want to have kids. Instead, they should “lean in”, work ferociously hard and get a job it will be rewarding to return to.

Rubbish! As the latest figures reveal, the fastest-growing trend among professional women is involuntary childlessness. Far from “leaning out”, most ambitious young females work like stink and figure that they will find time to get pregnant at some convenient date in the future. For one in four, that day never comes. Fertility clinics in the West are full of tearful 40-year-olds who have latterly discovered that becoming Project Director for Asia may not, after all, be the meaning of life.

Only this week, Erin Callan, former chief financial officer at Lehman Brothers, admitted that the price she paid for working so insanely hard was divorce and not becoming a mother. “I sold myself short,” says Erin, who is now trying for her first baby at the ambitious age of 47. No doubt, this will involve the costly purchase of eggs or the rental of a friendly womb.

If, in order to get a seat on the board, you have to act like a man for 20 years, then sub-contract your biological function to a younger, poorer woman, it’s hardly surprising today’s girls are not exactly queuing up to join Sheryl and the Mrs Alphas.

To be fair to Sandberg, she is very good on the way that men will have to take their place at the kitchen table to enable women to take theirs at the boardroom version. What really riles in this book, though, is its author’s cool dismissal of the negative “stereotype” of the “harried and guilt-ridden woman” – such as the heroine of my novel I Don’t Know How She Does It – who tries to divide her time between work and family. Guess what? It’s not a stereotype, Sheryl. If you don’t have a chauffeur, a boss who lets you leave work at 5.30pm (as Sheryl does), a team of researchers to write your book, oh, and $500 million in the bank, then guilty and harried are the daily deal.

God made mothers guilty for a reason. If we hear a nagging inner voice whispering that we’re not spending enough time with our children, we should heed it, not “lean in”. On Tuesday, Swedish psychologist Jonas Himmelstrand warned British MPs that babies and toddlers aged under three should not be in daycare. Sweden, he said, is seeing a huge raft of social problems caused by sending children to nursery at too young an age. Swedish teenagers who spent long hours in daycare are today experiencing serious psychological problems. Performing badly at school, they are unmanageable out of it. Himmelstrand said that the Swedish experiment had failed: “Daycare means parents have lost a grip on their responsibilities: they cannot set limits.”

I suspect history will relate that parents who neglected their young in pursuit of their ambitions caused more problems for society in the 21st century than those slackers who failed to “lean in” to their careers.

Sheryl Sandberg’s colleagues ran a sweepstake on how long it would take their boss to be back on email after the birth of her first child. She lasted a whole day. Poor baby.


What Can Israel Do?

When Israel took action against Hamas in the Gaza Strip last year, the world media did its damndest to try to paint the Jewish state as a human rights violator. One of their chief cards in this effort was a photo of BBC video editor Jehad Misharawi holding his son Omar's body. Supposedly Omar had been killed in an Israeli missile strike.

The picture quickly went viral. The Washington Post ran with the story. The BBC suggested that Israel was responsible for the death. BBC Middle East bureau chief Paul Danahar tweeted, "Questioned asked here is: if Israel can kill a man riding on a moving motorbike (as they did last month) how did Jihad's son get killed." The story became ubiquitous, a sign of Israeli brutality in an impoverished area of the world.

There's only one problem: the story wasn't true.

A report from the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) stated that Israel was likely not the source of the fire that killed Omar. Instead, they said that Hamas likely fired the rocket that killed Omar.

This is not rare. Civilian casualties in Palestinian-controlled areas are common -- not because Israel is targeting civilians but because Palestinian forces often target civilians as human shields to protect against Israeli strikes. And the media often buys the propaganda efforts of Palestinians attempting to demonstrate the supposed evils of the Jews.

Israel is under assault, as usual, by both a Palestinian population largely interested in its destruction and a media that refuses to believe that uncomfortable fact. Meanwhile, President Obama is heading to Israel where he will likely call for a renewal of the failed "peace process" -- a process that has resulted in thousands of deaths, both Palestinian and Jewish, and has brought Israel no closer to peace.

So what must Israel do to protect herself?

Some on the left have proposed more land concessions by Israel. Nothing could be a greater incentive to terrorism and violence by the Palestinians. Each and every time Israel hands over land, a wave of terror follows from an emboldened anti-Semitic population bound and determined to use any territorial gains and military launching points.

Some on the right have proposed population transfer from the Gaza Strip or West Bank as a solution. This is both inhumane and impractical. Moving millions of Palestinians out of areas they have known for their entire lives will certainly not pave the way to peace. Moreover, these Palestinians will have no place to go, since their brethren across the Arab would prefer to keep them cooped up in dismal poverty than house them in their own lands.

In the end, both right and left agree that a population separation is necessary. That does not mean Palestinian statehood, which will undoubtedly result in another Iran directly on Israel's borders. It means instead moving beyond utopianism and making mental peace with the fact that no solution will be permanent. Israel will have to protect its citizens, and it will have to continue to police Palestinian borders. Settlements are not the problem here. Removing settlements is not the solution. The problem is intractable.

Recognizing that the problem is intractable is the first step toward real security for Israel. Signaling to the Palestinian population that occupation will remain permanent so long as they continue supporting terrorism should provide a disincentive to do so. As for the propaganda wars, Israel has no choice but to weather them. Omar Misharawi will always end up on the front page; the U.N. retractions will always end up on the back pages. Israel must live with that. It's difficult but not impossible. A lasting two-state solution, however, is both easy and impossible under current circumstances.


"Disparate impact"

Once we recognize that large differences in achievement among races, nations and civilizations have been the rule, not the exception, throughout recorded history, there is at least some hope of rational thought -- and perhaps even some constructive efforts to help everyone advance.

Even such a British patriot as Winston Churchill said, "We owe London to Rome" -- an acknowledgement that Roman conquerors created Britain's most famous city, at a time when the ancient Britons were incapable of doing so themselves.

No one who saw the illiterate and backward tribal Britons of that era was likely to imagine that someday the British would create an empire vastly larger than the Roman Empire -- one encompassing one fourth of the land area of the earth and one fourth of the human beings on the planet.

History has many dramatic examples of the rise and fall of peoples and nations, for a wide range of known and unknown reasons. What history does not have is what is so often assumed as a norm today, equality of group achievements at a given point in time.

Roman conquests had historic repercussions for centuries after the Roman Empire had fallen. Among the legacies of Roman civilization were Roman letters, which produced written versions of Western European languages, centuries before Eastern European languages became literate. This was one of many reasons why Western Europe became more advanced than Eastern Europe, economically, educationally and technologically.

Meanwhile, the achievements in other civilizations -- whether in China or in the Middle East -- surged ahead of achievements in the West, though China and the Middle East later lost their leads.

There are too many zig-zags in history to believe that some single over-riding factor explains all, or even most, of what happened, either then or now. But what seldom, if ever, happened were equal achievements by different peoples at the same time.

Yet today we have bean counters in Washington turning out statistics that are solemnly presented in courts of law to claim that, if the numbers are not more or less the same for everybody, that proves that somebody did somebody else wrong.

If blacks have different occupational patterns or different other patterns than whites, that arouses great suspicions among the bean counters -- even though different groups of whites have long had different patterns from each other.

When American soldiers were given mental tests during the First World War, those men of German ancestry scored higher than those of Irish ancestry, who scored higher than those who were Jewish. Mental test pioneer Carl Brigham said that the army mental test results tended to "disprove the popular belief that the Jew is highly intelligent."

An alternative explanation is that most German immigrants came to the United States decades before most Irish immigrants, who came here decades before most Jewish immigrants. Years later, Brigham admitted that many of the more recent immigrants grew up in homes where English was not the spoken language and that his earlier conclusions were, in his own words, "without foundation."

By this time, Jews were scoring above the national average on mental tests, instead of below. Disparities among groups are not set in stone, in this or in many other things. But blanket equality of outcomes is seldom seen at any given time either, whether in work skills or rates of alcoholism or other differences among the various groups lumped together as "whites."

Why then do statistical differences between blacks and whites set off such dogmatic assertions -- and "disparate impact" lawsuits -- when it is common for different groups to meet employment or other standards to different degrees?

One reason is that "disparate impact" lawsuits require nothing more than statistical differences to lead to verdicts, or out of court settlements, in the millions of dollars. And the reason that is so is that so many people have bought the unsubstantiated assumption that there is something strange and sinister when different peoples have different achievements.

Centuries of recorded history say otherwise. But who cares about history anymore? Certainly not as much as they care about the millions of dollars available from "disparate impact" lawsuits.



Speech restrictions in England

While the Human Rights Act 1998 (“HRA”) gives us the “right” to be free from interference with “with peaceful enjoyment of property, (deprivation)… of... possessions or (subjection of) a person’s possessions to control,”  interference which is carried out “lawfully and… in the public interest” is above board. Furthermore, evidence obtained from illegal searches and seizures is prima facie admissible in an English court (which has a discretion, not an obligation, to exclude it).  Lacking a credible prohibitory function, the HRA's provisions are less rights, more self-imposed guidelines. They flow from the state rather than delineating its boundaries, their function being to restrain only transgressions deemed by the state itself to be sufficiently grave.

Other “rights” under the HRA are similarly wet. As was made very public over the course of last year's Reform Section 5 campaign relating to the Public Order Act 1986, freedom of speech is far from absolute in Britain, especially when compared to the United States. In America, picketing the funeral of a murdered seven-year-old is permissible; in Britain, however, what is fairly ordinary political speech in the U.S. is not protected, and often criminal, even despite the Section 5 campaign.

It is thus by design. Convention rights are subject to express restrictions, including such as “are necessary in a democratic society...  for the protection of the reputation or rights of others.” This is a contentious concept from a civil liberties standpoint and has most publicly been brought to the fore in the context of Section 5. But the debate pre-dates the 21st century, an early iteration taking place in the context of the Public Order Act 1936, the 1986 Act's predecessor.

Quite how far this concept of the rights of others has moved Britain down the slippery slope is only evident when one compares cases decided under the old rule, prior to the passage of the HRA (under section 5 of the 1936 Act), with cases after it. The 1936 legislation reads:

"Any person who in any public place or at any public meeting uses threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour with intent to provoke a breach of the peace or whereby a breach of the peace is likely to be occasioned, shall be guilty of an offence."

This is very similar to the Section 5 we know and love. However, in the absence of the HRA the rule was applied far differently, as illustrated by the case Brutus v Cozens from 1973. In Brutus, the defendant dared to interrupt a tennis game at Wimbledon by staging a sit-in while throwing anti-apartheid leaflets in the air; after being peacefully removed from the grounds of the All England Club, Brutus was arrested and charged with “using insulting behaviour.”

At first instance, the judges hearing the case acquitted Brutus; however the prosecutor, perhaps a closeted tennis fan, appealed, arguing that “insulting behaviour” under the 1936 Act was that which was “disrespectful and contemptuous.” The Court of Appeal agreed, and interpreted the statute to also include:

"behaviour which affronts other people, and evidences a disrespect or contempt for their rights..."

...however, this view was decisively overruled on further appeal to the House of Lords, which found that “an insult has a narrow meaning which is... aimed at or intended at a person's susceptibilities... the words must hit the man in question.”  The Lords opined that “behaviour which evidences a disrespect or contempt for the rights of others” does not “of itself establish that that behaviour was threatening, abusive or insulting.”

Brutus, therefore, set down two principles. First, insulting, threatening or abusive behaviour must be insulting, abusive, or threatening per se in order to fall within its scope; second, it is perfectly possible to be disrespectful and even contemptuous of the rights and sensibilities of one's fellows without falling within its ambit. The statute banned insults, abuse and threats, it did not ban contempt for the rights of others. The two types of conduct, while potentially very similar in certain circumstances, were legally not the same.

The rights of others

As of 1973, then, the “rights of others” were not a consideration in question relating to freedom of expression. Thirty years later, however, the formalisation of the protection of the “rights of others” by the HRA changed the landscape. In McCann (2002), Lord Hope pointed to it as an express justification to interfere with freedom of speech, adding that “respect for the rights of others is the price that we must all pay for the rights and freedoms that it guarantees.” McCann was followed by Norwood v DPP (2003), where it was found that a criminal conviction for hanging a poster that read “Islam out of Britain” was “a necessary restriction of... freedom of expression... for the protection of the rights of others” (those rights being, as argued by counsel for the prosecution but not expressly confirmed by the Court of Appeal, the convention rights of freedom of conscience and belief, and freedom from discrimination).

Or, for example, see Abdul v DPP (2011), where the convictions of seven Muslim activists picketing the Royal Anglian Regiment on its return from Iraq (using fairly explicit language, but language only)  were upheld on the grounds that “it can properly be said, in this particular case, that prosecution and conviction was proportionate in pursuit of... the protection of the reputation or rights of others.”

The decisions in the three individual cases mentioned above do not make express mention as to which “rights of others” are being protected in each; what is clear from each, however, is that the courts are willing to employ a broad-brush application of Article 10(2) of the HRA to justify restraining freedom of speech.

From a civil liberties standpoint, this is unacceptable. The starting point about the “rights of others” is a simple one: in each, the defendants were speaking on matters which they believed “were not abusive and insulting because they were true.” None has a monopoly on truth in politics, and the protest outlined in reported cases, though distasteful, does not involve the application of coercion by the speakers upon their listeners. It is merely the meeting of widely differing points of view in a public space.

Caution is advisable, then, when one hears that the Government is planning to “(pull) Britain out of the European Convention of Human Rights” because, per Chris Grayling, “we cannot go on... where people who are a threat to our national security... are able to cite their human rights when they are clearly wholly unconcerned for the human rights of others."

Where one day the “rights of others” serve to justify the deportation of a particularly infamous philosophical opponent of the British state, on many other days our own courts – not European ones – have shown considerable willingness to construe these “rights of others” to criminalise offensive and inflammatory, yet honestly held, political beliefs of ordinary people.

As the debate on the HRA and its possible repeal unfolds in the run-up to the next election we should not, therefore, be lulled into the commonly held, and false, impression that the HRA protects us as fully as we might like it to. Relating to speech alone, expression relating to the merits of political violence - whether such violence takes place at home or abroad -  is thoroughly proscribed by section 1(3) of the Terrorism Act 2006, a vexing dilemma for prosecutors before the Arab Spring, in that their discretion to ignore “plots against the Libyan regime (which) were possibly encouraged years ago” was rather fettered by the “rapprochement” initiated by the Blair government, while concurrently “plots against Syria are openly tolerated."

Written or electronic communications of an offensive but nonetheless firmly political nature remain illegal.

Furthermore, in Section 5, though “insulting” is gone, “abusive” remains – which gives one pause to wonder whether the Reform Section 5 campaign achieved anything significant as, looking to Abdul, the courts are very willing to conflate the two ideas: “the words shouted by the defendants were both abusive and insulting,” it was said at first instance, with Mr. Justice Davis adding on appeal that “it is not... possible to establish in advance a bright line statement of approach whereby prospective conduct or language can be styled as within or outwith the proper exercise of freedom of expression.”

That the only legally safe speech relating to Section 5 seems to be silence speaks volumes about the nature of the “rights” created by the HRA. However, we can sum the problem up in just one sentence. It's not that the HRA goes too far, it's that it doesn't go nearly far enough.



Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the  incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.

American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of  other countries.  The only real difference, however, is how much power they have.  In America, their power is limited by democracy.  To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already  very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges.  They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did:  None.  So look to the colleges to see  what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way.  It would be a dictatorship.

For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH,   EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, AUSTRALIAN POLITICSDISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL  and EYE ON BRITAIN (Note that EYE ON BRITAIN has regular posts on the reality of socialized medicine).   My Home Pages are here or   here or   here.  Email me (John Ray) here


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