Tag Archives: Women

Dr Pell and the Pill of Evil

The Australian gave Dr George Pell some space on Saturday, to write about why the pill has made things worse for women. For those of you who don’t know him, Dr Pell is Catholic Archbishop of Sydney, and he is a Cardinal in the Roman Catholic Church. What he writes is utter tosh.

Dr Pell has three arguments about the pill and its terrible impact on women. First, it distorts the marriage market for women. Second, it makes women have abortions. Third, it makes women unhappy.

Let’s take them one at a time.

In the first part of the article, Pell draws on the work of an economist to show that the pill has made things worse for women, because now men don’t have to enter the marriage market in order to get into the sex market, and that means that women can’t find marriage partners anymore, and even if they do, they’re more likely to get divorced.

The economist Pell draws on is Timothy Reichert. His analysis was published in First Things, which is…

published by The Institute on Religion and Public Life, an interreligious, nonpartisan research and education institute whose purpose is to advance a religiously informed public philosophy for the ordering of society.

It was founded by Richard John Neuhaus, a Roman Catholic theologian. So this is not exactly The Economic Journal, or The Quarterly Journal of Economics. It’s a source that’s highly biased towards the results that Pell wants. As for Dr Timothy Reichert, the economist Pell cites so approvingly: his first degree comes from Franciscan University (the name alone should tell you about the religious orientation of the school), and his masters degree comes from The Catholic University of America. I suspect that he’s got some ideological prior commitments. These days, he works as a transfer pricing specialist. Having said that, his PhD is from George Mason University, and the economics school there is very highly regarded. He is clearly very smart, and very able.

I do not like arguments from authority, so I am not impressed by Pell’s regurgitation of Dr Reichert’s thesis. But if I do not like arguments from authority, then I am also committed to counter-arguments that do not consist only in criticising the authority. However, I am not an economist… Nevertheless, there seem to me to be two serious points to be made in respect of Pell’s use of Reichert’s analysis. The first is that because the pill has enabled women and men to separate sex and marriage, men have put off marriage. Women typically start looking for marriage partners earlier than men do. As a result, there is an age mismatch in the marriage market. And oh noes… women can’t get married because there are no men to marry!

Ah… slow down. Let’s imagine that in the absence of the pill, both men and women want to get married at say, age 20, so that they can have lots of sex. Then along comes the pill. Suddenly, people can have sex without having to get married. Even so, sooner or later, lots of baby lights start flashing in women’s heads, and by say, age 30, they want to get married and have children. Unfortunately, men’s baby lights don’t start flashing until say, age 40. So, there’s a 10 year age gap.

And there’s your answer, Dr Pell. Even if the pill enables men to delay marriage, the consequence is only that women marry men who are somewhat older than they would have been had there been no such thing as the pill. Sure, there’s a mismatch early on, when people may not be able to partner up, but over time, the mismatch sorts itself out.

Dr Reichert, and Dr Pell, assume that the age mismatch means that women have less bargaining power, which results in more divorces as men trade in older wives for younger. But that seems odd to me. If men are older when they start looking for child bearing and rearing partners, and older men are more likely to ditch older wives and start looking for younger ones, then surely that increases the number of men looking for wives. There must surely be an over supply of potential husbands, resulting in increased bargaining power for women, not less.

Even so, since when has the church taught that marriage is a transaction, to be engaged in only for what each partner can get out of the other? Many years ago, when we got married in the Catholic church, my partner and I went to a marriage counselling weekend. We talked about all sorts of issues with respect to relationships, and how to build a successful marriage. Absolutely none of the discussion was about what we could sell to each other. It is absurd to cast marriage as a mere transaction in a market place, and normally, the church does not do so. Except when it’s convenient, eh, Dr Pell?

Second, Dr Pell argues that the pill causes abortion. His argument goes like this. The pill creates a contraceptive mentality. The contraceptive mentality means that we regard pregnancy as something to be gotten rid of. Therefore, people are more willing to have abortions. Therefore, the pill causes abortion.

Personally, I find it hard to understand how something that prevents conception causes abortion. It seems to me that it’s ignorance of contraception that causes abortion. That, and ignoring human nature. The Catholic church teaches that all sex outside marriage is wrong (unless it’s priests raping children, of course). As a corollary to that, Catholic girls and boys don’t need to know about contraception, because they don’t need it, because they won’t be having sex.

Pull the other one.

As it turns out, abortion rates are falling, because unintended pregnancy rates are falling. It seems that over time, access to effective contraception is having exactly the desired effect.

Third, Dr Reichert, and Dr Pell, argue that women aren’t as happy now as they were before the advent of the pill. Ah.. because aside from rabble rousers like Betty Friedan, all women were surely much happier when they were required to be housewives raising children. The happiness gap between men and women has been much discussed: the most plausible explanation seems to be that men are still not stepping up.

A big reason that women reported being happier three decades ago — despite far more discrimination — is probably that they had narrower ambitions, Ms. Stevenson says. Many compared themselves only to other women, rather than to men as well. This doesn’t mean they were better off back then.

But it does show just how incomplete the gender revolution has been. Although women have flooded into the work force, American society hasn’t fully come to grips with the change. The United States still doesn’t have universal preschool, and, in contrast to other industrialized countries, there is no guaranteed paid leave for new parents.

Government policy isn’t the only problem, either. Inside of families, men still haven’t figured out how to shoulder their fair share of the household burden. Instead, we’re spending more time on the phone and in front of the television.

Perhaps Dr Pell would like to factor male responsibility, or lack of it, into his thinking.

As a final little point, Dr Pell points out that Western countries are no longer producing enough children to maintain their populations. Ah… so what? If anything, surely this is a good thing?

In any case, since when has the Catholic church ever been concerned about women? It seems to me that the hierarchy only gets worried about women when it seems that women might just gain a little independence, a little autonomy, a little respect, a little being treated as though they were human beings after all.

What Tony said and what I heard

From last night’s leaders’ debate:

What Tony Abbott said: “My wife, Margie, and I know what it’s like to raise a family…”

What I heard: “Unlike that childless woman who couldn’t possibly understand.”

What Tony Abbott said: “And just to take one issue that I intend to drive now and in the future, let’s take paid parental leave. This is not just a visionary social reform but it is an important economic reform too. It will not only give women the real choice that they need and have been denied for too long. It will give families struggling to pay the mortgage the money that they need at a time when they are most vulnerable and in the long run, it will be of great help to Australian businesses.”

What I heard: “It’s all about helping business.”

Also, since when has Abbott been committed to giving women real choice?

What Tony Abbott said: “…Whether Prime Ministers are to be chosen on the basis of the job they’ve done, or gender.”

What I heard: “Vote me for: I’m a man!”

Also, “Silly wiminz, feeling pleased because at long last, a woman is in the top seat. They shouldn’t bother their pretty little heads with important menz business.”

Also, also, carefully ignoring that we’ve chosen Prime Ministers based on gender in every single election since Federation in any case.

I think Abbott does have a problem with women.

Update: Other people who heard the whistling too: Mark at Larvatus Prodeo – Gillard’s attack on Abbott’s great big new tax, and his gender fail, and Pavlov’s Cat at Still Life with Cat: Yeah see if they win it’ll only be because she is a GURL so nyerdy nyer

Update: Annabel Crabb on girlpower at The Drum: Girl power driving the Libs batty. Shorter Annabel Crabb – suck it up, Tony.

Magic phone

The AFL, who are known for their great respect for women, have decided that Brendan Fevola didn’t do anything wrong when the photo he took of his then girlfriend, Lara Bingle (she was in the shower), was somehow circulated to his mates, and ended up being published in a national magazine. It all ended up in a nasty mess, especially for Lara Bingle.

But according to the AFL, they can’t prove that Fevola did anything wrong, so they’ve cleared him.

That phone that Fevola took the photo on must be a magic phone. Somehow, photos must just make their own way off it, and he needn’t do anything at all.

Either that, or the AFL must be really, really stupid.

Oh, wait…

The New Zealand Working Women’s Charter – A Celebration

This is the charter that was adopted by the New Zealand Federation of Labour in 1980.

1. The right to work for everyone who wishes to do so.
2. The elimination of all discrimination on the basis of sex, race, marital or parental status, sexuality or age.
3. Equal pay for work of equal value – meaning the same total wage plus other benefits.
4. Equal opportunity of entry into occupations and of promotion regardless of sex, sexuality, marital or parental status, race or age.
5. Equal education opportunities for all.
6. (a) Union meetings to be held in working hours
(b) Special trade union education courses for women unionists to be held with paid time off for participants
7. Equal access to vocational guidance and training, including on the job training, study and conference leave.
8. Introduction of a shorter working week with no loss of pay, flexible working hours, part-time opportunities, for all workers.
9. Improved working conditions for women and men. The retention of beneficial provision which apply to women. Other benefits to apply equally to men and women.
10. Removal of legal, bureaucratic and other impediments to equality in superannuation, social security benefits, credit, finance, taxation, tenancies, and other related matters.
11. Special attention to the needs and requirements of women from ethnic communities as they see them.
12. Wide availability of quality child care with Government and/or community support for all those who need it, on a 24-hour basis, including after school and school holiday care.
13. Introduction of adequate paid parental leave (maternity and paternity leave) without loss of job security, superannuation or promotion prospects.
14. Availability of paid family leave to enable time off to be taken in family emergencies, e.g. when children or elderly relatives are ill.
15. Sex education and birth control advice freely available to all people. Legal, financial, social and medical impediments to safe abortion, contraception and sterilisation to be removed.
16. Comprehensive government funded research into health questions specific to women.

Reading through the list, it’s impressive that so many of these ideals have been realised, at least formally, in New Zealand law and employment practice. But at the same time, it’s a little shattering to realise that in some ways we are still fighting the same battles that women were fighting thirty years ago. Take a look at item 16: we still have medical barriers to abortion, imposed by individual doctors, and by the requirement for women to get two doctors to give consent to abortion. The formal barriers there have not yet been removed. Or look at item 10. Although the legal impediments to equality in superannuation have been removed, the patterns of working women’s lives, with many years taken out for child bearing and child rearing, and more taken out in order to care for other family members, all of it unrecognised as work of value, means that women have less opportunity to save for their old age, and older women figure disproportionally in poverty statistics.

For all that, what a long way we have come. My daughters will grow up with so much more freedom, so many more real choices, because of the work that was done by people like Sonja Davies and Margaret Wilson and Liane Dalziel and Anne Else and Dale Williams. For the story behind the charter, and an account of what conditions were like for women in the years leading up to its adoption, read this piece by Sue Kedgley, The Working Women’s Charter, from a feminist perspective.

The Labour History Project is running a seminar to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Working Women’s Charter, Working Women: Learning from the Past Looking to the Future, on the 1st of May, May Day, in Wellington. You can download the registration form: PDF (2.1mb) here.

Other things Tony said

The Australian Women’s Weekly is not my usual magazine purchase. In fact, I don’t normally buy it at all, but in a spirit of self-sacrifice, I have paid my $6.80 (inc GST), so that I can read more of what Father Abbott said, following on from his revelations about virginity as a gift (given by a woman to a man, of course, not the other way around), and pre-marital sex and so on, discussed at length on Larvatus Prodeo, and here on In a Strange Land, and at SkepticLawyer, and at An Onymous Lefty, and no doubt elsewhere in the blogosphere too (feel free to add links to other pieces in comments).

Part of the article is on-line, but there’s more in the print edition, including that budgiesmugglers shot, which I could have done without at morning tea time. There are some interesting tidbits there, including this one:

On the problem of businesses paying women on average 16 per cent less than they pay men in the same jobs, Tony is unaware there is still a problem.

Well, that’s good, isn’t it. A man who wants to be prime minister is simply unaware of one of the major obstacles that women face.

And then there’s this, which is not in the on-line edition:

The issue is not whether some women don’t like him because every politician has a core group of people who hate them. The real question is how many women don’t like him. “I suspect that it is probably more than 10 per cent, but less than 70%,” says Tony.

“Look, we are all just guesstimating here because we don’t have this kind of sophisticated polling, but I suspect that [what] we are talking about here is a woman of a certain age, in a certain line of work.

“I think we are talking about younger professional women, essentially, who, for perfectly good reasons, don’t want to be told by anyone else how they should live their lives.”

Nice work on the apostrophising there, Tony. “Women of a certain age” and “in a certain line of work.” Do you get the feeling that he might just be a little scared of some women?

Another little beauty, this time with respect to morals:

Yet before he tackles the big issues… he stops the flow of questions. “Let’s start, if we may, [on] the traditional moral teaching in this area, which until a generation ago, was not regarded as the Catholic Church’s teaching. It was regarded as the accepted wisdom of Western civilisation. It was based on the understanding that, if families were a good thing, intact families were a good thing, happy marriages were a good thing.”

So you see, it’s not that the Catholic church is out of touch with modern society. It’s that modern society is out of touch with the Catholic church. And let’s get those “women of a certain age, in a certain line of work” all married off, and straight back into the family home. Then they won’t be nearly so much trouble.

Tony Abbott, working on restoring the patriarchy, as quick as he can.

As for the Australian Women’s Weekly, February 2010 edition: there’s some excellent recipes in it. I especially like the section on what to put in school lunch boxes.

Cross posted


Previous posts in my occasional series about Father Abbott:
More stripes
Revealing his stripes

A quick note of correction for the SMH

The Sydney Morning Herald is running a story saying that Helen Clark and Peter Jackson have been given New Year’s honours in New Zealand, and with respect to Helen Clark especially, this is a baaaddd thing, because her government abolished New Year’s honours a few years ago. [link]

Ahh…. wrong.

During Helen Clark’s time as prime minister, her government abolished the titles “Sir” and “Dame” and introduced a set of honours specific to New Zealand. Honours themselves were never abolished – just the head-bowing regressive titles that purported to come from the English monarchy. Miss Clark and her colleagues thought that New Zealanders and New Zealand were sufficiently secure to be able to nominate and name those who were recognised as having mae extraordinary contributions to the community all by themselves. But then when the blue-rinse National party came to power in late 2008, in a fit of cultural cringe they re-introduced the titles.

Helen Clark has been admitted to the Order of New Zealand, which is limited to 20 living New Zealanders (there are 17 members at present). I’m delighted by this. Although she was not our first female prime minister, she was the first woman who was chosen by the electorate to fill this role, and during her time as leader she normalised the idea of women being leaders. I don’t think anyone would even bother to comment on having female political leaders in New Zealand any more. She was only the second post-war prime minister to stay in power for three terms.

Because the Sydney Morning Herald reporters didn’t bother to research their story carefully enough, they make Helen Clark seem like a hypocrite for accepting an honour. She is not. The honour has existed since 1987, and it does not carry a title. The SMH should apologise to Helen Clark for its petty story.

Because it’s never wrong to use women’s bodies to sell things

The Otago Daily Times (ODT) is one of New Zealand’s more conservative papers. So it’s not at all surprising that it has turned down this advertisement for a restaurant in Queenstown:


The National Business Review (NBR) reports that the advertisement was turned down because it was “too suggestive.” Apparently, the restaurant and its advertising agents were trying to create an advertisement that would go viral, with “a good level of interaction that would capture people with humour.” The NBR describes the ad as “cheeky” and “naughty” – words that indicate a trivial level of wrong doing, mischief rather than anything wrong at all. Clearly, anyone who doesn’t like the ad just doesn’t have a sense of humour.

Well, that would be me then. Because I see nothing amusing at all in exploiting women’s bodies.

And of course, the ODT is now being derided for being “wowsers.” Great. NB: DON’T read the comments thread in that link.