We’re spared MoDo this morning. In “Divided by Abortion, United by Feminism” The Pasty Little Putz has decided to ‘splain to us all how the pro-life movement has learned to love equal opportunity. He has yet to explain to any of us why the “pro life” movement is so entranced with guns and war, or can justify the murder of gynecologists performing a legal procedure. “Pro life” my ass — forced birth is the honest name. The Moustache of Wisdom tells us how “Revolution Hits the Universities” and that nothing has more potential to let us reimagine higher education than massive open online course, or MOOC, platforms. Mr. Kristof, in “She’s (Rarely) the Boss,” says Sheryl Sandberg, the No. 2 executive at Facebook, offers a provocative take on why women are so underrepresented in leadership positions. Mr. Bruni, in “Catholicism’s Curse,” says Roman Catholic leaders pay too much heed to insulating, justifying and protecting their priesthood and themselves. Here’s The Putz:
In 1942, 71 years before last week’s Pentagon decision allowing women on the front lines of combat, the United States government established the Women’s Army Corps, with Athena as its insignia, and welcomed our country’s first female military recruits.
One of these pioneering women was a corporal from Big Spring, Tex., named Nellie Gray. After the war ended, Gray finished college (with an assist from the G.I. Bill) and moved to Washington, D.C., where she worked for decades at the State Department and the Department of Labor, earning a law degree at night from Georgetown University along the way. Then the social upheavals of the 1970s arrived, the soldier-turned-bureaucrat-turned-lawyer helped found one of America’s most enduring mass movements, establishing an annual protest march that continues to the present day.
That protest is the March for Life, the annual rally against Roe v. Wade.
When she organized the first march, in January 1974, it drew 20,000 anti-abortion marchers to the capital. On Friday, 40 years after Roe and six months after Gray’s death at the age of 88, the marchers numbered in the tens or even hundreds of thousands.
If she had chosen a different political cause, Gray’s trajectory — from soldier to working woman to professional activist — would be a case study for students of second-wave feminism. But the cause she did choose — and in whose service she issued strident attacks on “feminist abortionists” — has endured precisely because it has had a more complicated relationship to female advancement than some cultural stereotypes would suggest.
Those stereotypes link the anti-abortion cause to traditionalist ideas about gender roles — to the belief that a woman’s place is in the home, or at least that her primary identity should be maternal rather than professional. Writing in the Reagan era, the sociologist Kristin Luker argued that this dimension of the debate trumped the question of whether unborn human life has rights: “While on the surface it is the embryo’s fate that seems to be at stake, the abortion debate is actually about the meaning of women’s lives.”
This remains a dominant pro-choice understanding of the abortion conflict — and not without reason, since it finds vindication to this day in the idiot “mansplaining” of amateur gynecologists like Todd Akin.
But such an understanding was too simplistic when Nellie Gray founded the March for Life, and it’s grown steadily less compelling with time. As Jon Shields of Claremont McKenna College pointed out last year, pro-life sentiment has been steady over the last four decades even as opposition to women in the work force (or the military, or the White House) has largely collapsed. Most anti-abortion Americans today are also gender egalitarians: indeed, Shields notes, pro-life attitudes toward women’s professional advancement have converged so quickly with pro-choice attitudes that “the average moderately pro-life citizen is a stronger supporter of gender equality than even the typical strongly pro-choice citizen was in the early 1980s.” Among the younger generation, any “divide over women’s roles nearly disappears entirely.”
The pro-life cause has proved unexpectedly resilient, in other words, not because millions of Americans are nostalgists for a world of stricter gender norms, but because they have convinced themselves that the opportunities the feminist revolution won for women can be sustained without unrestricted access to abortion.
This conviction is crucial to understanding why opinion on abortion has been a persistent exception to the liberalizing cultural trends that have brought us gay marriage, medical marijuana and now women in combat. It helps explain, too, why public opinion on the issue doesn’t break down along the gendered lines that many liberals expect — why more women than men, for instance, told the latest Pew survey that abortion was “morally wrong” and (in smaller numbers) that Roe should be overturned.
It also has long-term implications for how the abortion debate plays out. The best way to argue with a Todd Akin is to dismiss him as a chauvinist, a creep and the enemy of a more enlightened future. But the best pro-choice rebuttal to the young idealists at the March for Life or the professional women who lead today’s anti-abortion groups isn’t that they’re too reactionary — it’s that they’re too utopian, too radical, too naïve.
This means that the abortion rights movement, once utopian in its own fashion, is now at its most effective when it speaks the language of necessary evils, warning Americans that while it might be pretty to think so, the equality they take for granted simply can’t be separated from a practice they find troubling.
For its part, if the pro-life movement wants not only to endure but to triumph, then it needs an answer to this argument. That means something more than just a defense of a universal right to life. It means a realist’s explanation of how, in policy and culture, the feminist revolution could be reformed without being repealed.
I defy The Putz to produce a feminist who is against the right of a woman to decide what should happen to her body. Here’s The Moustache of Wisdom:
Lord knows there’s a lot of bad news in the world today to get you down, but there is one big thing happening that leaves me incredibly hopeful about the future, and that is the budding revolution in global online higher education. Nothing has more potential to lift more people out of poverty — by providing them an affordable education to get a job or improve in the job they have. Nothing has more potential to unlock a billion more brains to solve the world’s biggest problems. And nothing has more potential to enable us to reimagine higher education than the massive open online course, or MOOC, platforms that are being developed by the likes of Stanford and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and companies like Coursera and Udacity.
Last May I wrote about Coursera — co-founded by the Stanford computer scientists Daphne Koller and Andrew Ng — just after it opened. Two weeks ago, I went back out to Palo Alto to check in on them. When I visited last May, about 300,000 people were taking 38 courses taught by Stanford professors and a few other elite universities. Today, they have 2.4 million students, taking 214 courses from 33 universities, including eight international ones.
Anant Agarwal, the former director of M.I.T.’s artificial intelligence lab, is now president of edX, a nonprofit MOOC that M.I.T. and Harvard are jointly building. Agarwal told me that since May, some 155,000 students from around the world have taken edX’s first course: an M.I.T. intro class on circuits. “That is greater than the total number of M.I.T. alumni in its 150-year history,” he said.
Yes, only a small percentage complete all the work, and even they still tend to be from the middle and upper classes of their societies, but I am convinced that within five years these platforms will reach a much broader demographic. Imagine how this might change U.S. foreign aid. For relatively little money, the U.S. could rent space in an Egyptian village, install two dozen computers and high-speed satellite Internet access, hire a local teacher as a facilitator, and invite in any Egyptian who wanted to take online courses with the best professors in the world, subtitled in Arabic.
You just have to hear the stories told by the pioneers in this industry to appreciate its revolutionary potential. One of Koller’s favorites is about “Daniel,” a 17-year-old with autism who communicates mainly by computer. He took an online modern poetry class from Penn. He and his parents wrote that the combination of rigorous academic curriculum, which requires Daniel to stay on task, and the online learning system that does not strain his social skills, attention deficits or force him to look anyone in the eye, enable him to better manage his autism. Koller shared a letter from Daniel, in which he wrote: “Please tell Coursera and Penn my story. I am a 17-year-old boy emerging from autism. I can’t yet sit still in a classroom so [your course] was my first real course ever. During the course, I had to keep pace with the class, which is unheard-of in special ed. Now I know I can benefit from having to work hard and enjoy being in sync with the world.”
One member of the Coursera team who recently took a Coursera course on sustainability told me that it was so much more interesting than a similar course he had taken as an undergrad. The online course included students from all over the world, from different climates, incomes levels and geographies, and, as a result, “the discussions that happened in that course were so much more valuable and interesting than with people of similar geography and income level” in a typical American college.
Mitch Duneier, a Princeton sociology professor, wrote an essay in The Chronicle of Higher Education in the fall about his experience teaching a class through Coursera: “A few months ago, just as the campus of Princeton University had grown nearly silent after commencement, 40,000 students from 113 countries arrived here via the Internet to take a free course in introductory sociology. … My opening discussion of C. Wright Mills’s classic 1959 book, ‘The Sociological Imagination,’ was a close reading of the text, in which I reviewed a key chapter line by line. I asked students to follow along in their own copies, as I do in the lecture hall. When I give this lecture on the Princeton campus, I usually receive a few penetrating questions. In this case, however, within a few hours of posting the online version, the course forums came alive with hundreds of comments and questions. Several days later there were thousands. … Within three weeks I had received more feedback on my sociological ideas than I had in a career of teaching, which significantly influenced each of my subsequent lectures and seminars.”
Agarwal of edX tells of a student in Cairo who was taking the circuits course and was having difficulty. In the class’s online forum, where students help each other with homework, he posted that he was dropping out. In response, other students in Cairo in the same class invited him to meet at a teahouse, where they offered to help him stay in the course. A 15-year-old student in Mongolia, who took the same class as part of a blended course and received a perfect score on the final exam, added Agarwal, is now applying to M.I.T. and the University of California, Berkeley.
As we look to the future of higher education, said the M.I.T. president, L. Rafael Reif, something that we now call a “degree” will be a concept “connected with bricks and mortar” — and traditional on-campus experiences that will increasingly leverage technology and the Internet to enhance classroom and laboratory work. Alongside that, though, said Reif, many universities will offer online courses to students anywhere in the world, in which they will earn “credentials” — certificates that testify that they have done the work and passed all the exams. The process of developing credible credentials that verify that the student has adequately mastered the subject — and did not cheat — and can be counted on by employers is still being perfected by all the MOOCs. But once it is, this phenomenon will really scale.
I can see a day soon where you’ll create your own college degree by taking the best online courses from the best professors from around the world — some computing from Stanford, some entrepreneurship from Wharton, some ethics from Brandeis, some literature from Edinburgh — paying only the nominal fee for the certificates of completion. It will change teaching, learning and the pathway to employment. “There is a new world unfolding,” said Reif, “and everyone will have to adapt.”
Next up is Mr. Kristof, writing from Davos, Switzerland:
It’s the annual conclave of the presumed powerful, the World Economic Forum in Davos, with the wealthy flying in on private jets to discuss issues like global poverty. As always, it’s a sea of men. This year, female participation is 17 percent.
Perhaps that’s not surprising, considering that global business and political leaders are overwhelmingly male. In America, only 17 percent of American Fortune 500 board seats are held by women, a mere 3 percent of board chairs are women — and women are barely represented in President Obama’s cabinet.
Indeed, I’m guessing that the average boardroom doesn’t have much better gender equality than a team of cave hunters attacking a woolly mammoth 30,000 years ago.
So what gives? A provocative answer comes from Sheryl Sandberg, the chief operating officer of Facebook, who has written a smart book due out in March that attributes the gender gap, in part, to chauvinism and corporate obstacles — but also, in part, to women who don’t aggressively pursue opportunities.
“We hold ourselves back in ways both big and small, by lacking self-confidence, by not raising our hands, and by pulling back when we should be leaning in,” Sandberg writes in the book, called “Lean In.”
“We internalize the negative messages we get throughout our lives, the messages that say it’s wrong to be outspoken, aggressive, more powerful than men. We lower our own expectations of what we can achieve. We continue to do the majority of the housework and child care. We compromise our career goals to make room for partners and children who may not even exist yet.”
Sandberg and I discussed the issue on a panel here in Davos, and I think that there is something real and important in what she says. When I lecture at universities, the first questions are invariably asked by a man — even at a women’s college. When I point at someone in a crowd to ask a question, the women in the area almost always look at each other hesitantly — and any man in the vicinity jumps up and asks his question.
A McKinsey survey published in April found that 36 percent of male employees at major companies aspired to be top executives, compared with 18 percent of the women. A study of Carnegie Mellon M.B.A. graduates in 2003 found that 57 percent of the men, but only 7 percent of the women, tried to negotiate a higher initial salary offer.
Sandberg, one of the most prominent women in corporate America, is not known as a shrinking violet. She confesses that when she was in elementary school, she trained her younger brother and sister to follow her around, listen to her give speeches and periodically shout: “Right!”
Yet she acknowledges that she has harbored many insecurities, sometimes shedding tears at the office, as well as doubts about her juggling of work and family.
When she joined Facebook as its No. 2, she was initially willing to accept the first offer from Mark Zuckerberg, the founder. She writes that her husband and brother-in-law hounded her to demand more, so she did — and got a better deal.
“I am hoping that each woman will set her own goals and reach for them with gusto,” Sandberg writes. “And I am hoping that each man will do his part to support women in the workplace and in the home, also with gusto.”
Yet I wish that there could be two versions of Sandberg’s book. One marketed to young women would encourage them to be more assertive. One marketed to men (and women already in leadership) would emphasize the need for structural changes to accommodate women and families.
Is Sandberg blaming the victim? I don’t think so, but I also don’t want to relax the pressure on employers to do a much better job of recruiting and promoting women.
Nature and social mores together make motherhood more all-consuming than fatherhood, yet the modern job was built for a distracted father. That’s not great for dads and can be just about impossible for moms — at least those who don’t have great wealth or extraordinary spouses.
Sandberg famously leaves the office at 5:30 most days to be with her kids, but not many women (or men) would dare try that.
Some people believe that women are more nurturing bosses, or that they offer more support to women below them. I’m skeptical. Women can be jerks as much as men.
But we need more women in leadership positions for another reason: considerable evidence suggests that more diverse groups reach better decisions. Corporations should promote women not just out of fairness, but also because it helps them perform better. Lehman Brothers might still be around today if it were Lehman Brothers & Sisters.
So, yes, let’s encourage young women to “lean in,” but let’s also change the workplace so that when they do lean in and assert themselves, we’re directly behind them shouting: “Right!”
Last but not least, here’s Mr. Bruni:
“I have nothing against priests,” writes Garry Wills in his provocative new book, “Why Priests? A Failed Tradition,” and I’d like at the outset to say the same. During a career that has included no small number of formal interviews and informal conversations with them, I’ve met many I admire, men of genuine compassion and remarkable altruism, more dedicated to humanity than to any dogma or selective tradition.
But while I have nothing against priests, I have quite a lot against an institution that has done a disservice to them and to the parishioners in whose interests they should toil. I refer to the Roman Catholic Church, specifically to its modern incarnation and current leaders, who have tucked priests into a cosseted caste above the flock, wrapped them in mysticism and prioritized their protection and reputations over the needs and sometimes even the anguish of the people in the pews. I have a problem, in other words, with the church’s arrogance, a thread that runs through Wills’s book, to be published next month; through fresh revelations of how assiduously a cardinal in Los Angeles worked to cover up child sexual abuse; and through the church’s attempts to silence dissenters, including an outspoken clergyman in Ireland who was recently back in the news.
LET’S start with Los Angeles. Last week, as a result of lawsuits filed against the archdiocese of Los Angeles by hundreds of victims of sexual abuse by priests, internal church personnel files were made public. They showed that Cardinal Roger M. Mahony’s impulse, when confronted with priests who had molested children, was to hush it up and keep law enforcement officials at bay. While responses like this by Roman Catholic bishops and cardinals have been extensively chronicled and are no longer shocking, they remain infuriating. At one point Cardinal Mahony instructed a priest whom he’d dispatched to New Mexico for counseling not to return to California, lest he risk being criminally prosecuted. That sort of shielding of priests from accountability allowed them, in many cases across the United States, to continue their abusive behavior and claim more young victims.
Cardinal Mahony, who led the Los Angeles archdiocese from 1985 to 2011, released a statement last week in which he said that until 2006, when he began to meet with dozens of victims, he didn’t grasp “the full and lasting impact these horrible acts would have” on the children subjected to them. I find that assertion incredible and appalling. It takes no particular sophistication about matters of mental health to intuit that a child molested by an adult — in these cases, by an adult who is supposed to be a moral exemplar and tutor, even a conduit to the divine — would be grievously damaged. The failure to recognize that and to make sure that abusive priests’ access to children was eliminated, even if that meant trials and jail sentences, suggests a greater concern for the stature of clergymen than for the souls of children.
Church officials and defenders note that Cardinal Mahony’s gravest misdeeds occurred in the 1980s, before church leaders were properly educated about recidivism among pedophiles and before the dimensions of the child sexual abuse crisis in the church became clear. They point out that the church’s response improved over time. That’s true, but what hasn’t changed is the church’s hubris. This hubris abetted the crisis: the particular sway that abusers held over their victims and the special trust they received from those children’s parents were tied into the church’s presentation of priests as paragons.
And this hubris also survives the crisis, manifest in the way that the Vatican, a gilded enclave so far removed and so frequently out of step with the rest of the world, clamps down on Catholics who challenge its rituals and rules. Much of what these dissenters raise questions about — the all-male priesthood, for example, or the commitment to celibacy that priests are required to make — aren’t indisputable edicts from God. They’re inventions of the mortals who took charge of the faith.
And yet with imperious regularity, Vatican officials issue their relished condemnations. These officials are reliably riled by nuns, a favorite target of their wrath. And they’ve been none too pleased with an Irish priest, the Rev. Tony Flannery, 66, who was suspended from his ministry by the Vatican last year and informed, he recently said, that he could return to it on the condition that he publicly express his endorsement of a range of official positions that he had questioned, including the exclusion of women from the priesthood. Last Sunday he broke a long silence to say that the Vatican had threatened him with excommunication and to call its approach toward him “reminiscent of the Inquisition.”
Among the Vatican’s issues with him was his stated belief in a 2010 article that the priesthood, rather than originating with Jesus and a specially selected group of followers, was selfishly created later by a “privileged group within the community who had abrogated power and authority to themselves.”
That may sound like an extreme assertion, but the new book by Wills, a Pulitzer Prize winner who has written extensively about Christianity and the church, says that at the start, Christianity not only didn’t have priests but opposed them. The priesthood was a subsequent tweak, and the same goes for the all-male, celibate nature of the Roman Catholic clergy and the autocratic hierarchy that this clergy inhabits, an unresponsive government whose subjects — the laity — have limited say.
“It can’t admit to error, the church hierarchy,” Wills told me on the phone on Thursday. “Any challenge to their prerogative is, in their eyes, a challenge to God. You can’t be any more arrogant than that.”
“We Catholics were taught not only that we must have priests but that they must be the right kind of priests,” he writes in the book, which argues that priests aren’t ultimately necessary. “What we were supposed to accept is that all priesthoods are invalid ones except the Roman Catholic.”
That’s an awfully puffed-up position, and there’s a corresponding haughtiness in the fact that bishops can assign priests to parishes without any real obligation to get input or feedback from the parishioners those priests serve. This way of doing business in fact enabled church leaders to shuttle priests accused of molestation around, keeping them one step ahead of their crimes.
It has also helped to turn many Catholics away from the church, while prompting others to regard its leaders as ornamental and somewhat irrelevant distractions. They cherish the essence and beauty of their religion. They just can’t abide the arrogance of many of its appointed caretakers.