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Ruth Sidel, WOMEN AND CHILDREN LAST  (Penguin, 1992)

Ruth Sidel, BATTLING BIAS (Viking, 1994)  

From Subject
"Robert Huck" <rohuck@ilstu.edu> Review: Sidel's WOMEN AND CHILDREN LAST(Huck)
"james otterstein" <jrotter@ilstu.edu> Review: BATTLING BIAS (Otterstein)
"ashaki daneen baker" <adbaker@ilstu.edu> review: BATTLING BIAS (Ashaki Baker)

Date: Thu, 5 May 1994 13:42:38 -0500 
From: "Robert Huck" <rohuck@ilstu.edu>
Subject: Review: Sidel's WOMEN AND CHILDREN LAST(Huck) 

Review: WOMEN AND CHILDREN LAST - Ruth Sidel (Penguin, 1992)

Robert Huck Illinois State University April 30, 1992  

In November 1951, Henry and Mary got married. Henry was a low-paid accountant at a women's clothing manufacturer. Mary was a homemaker. They lived in a small, one-bedroom, second-story flat in a working-class neighborhood in St. Louis. The following November they had their first child. Two years later, they had another. A year-and-a-half after that, they had a third child. And so on. Between November 1952 and June 1964, Mary gave birth to nine children. In 1960 Henry got a VA home loan and the family moved to Cahokia, Illinois, one of St. Louis' growing suburbs.

Once in Cahokia, Mary got a part-time job and Henry stayed with the women's clothing company. In 1969 they were both offered new jobs and the family moved to Springfield, Illinois. Henry and Mary stayed at these jobs until their retirement in 1992. Henry died in 1993.

Throughout their marriage, Henry and Mary never received any form of public assistance (not even food stamps). This is not because they were rich. They weren't. They could not even afford a car during the 1960s. The could not afford to buy a home in Springfield until 1986, after all but one child had moved away. However, they realized that they and they alone were responsible for their welfare. More important, they were responsible for the decisions they made. If they chose to have nine children, they knew they should not rely on anyone to raise them, clothe them, feed them, or house them.

I was reminded of Henry and Mary while reading Ruth Sidel's WOMEN AND CHILDREN LAST, an analysis of how poverty policy affects women and children. Sidel makes extensive use of anectdotes to illustrate these effects. Her stories, however, do not turn out quite like the story of Henry and Mary. In chapter 1, "Who are the Poor?", Sidel tells us of Sandra, a black woman in her mid-thirties who was married to a Boston disc jockey. For some reason, Sidel does not explain why, Sandra and her husband moved from Boston to California even though they had no jobs waiting for them. Her husband was unable to find work in California and eventually they split up. This story is a good example of Sidel's greatest weakness. She assumes that poverty just "happens" to people. That poor people are just the victims of circumstances beyond their control. This is the case for many. However, Sandra and her husband were not victims of circumstance. They quit their jobs and moved across the country even though there was no guarantee of employment for them. If Sandra and her husband wanted to avoid poverty, they should have stayed in Boston. Sandra is not a victim of circumstance. She was a willing participant in her own demise. Tragically her two children had to pay for her mistake. Sidel does not realize that Sandra and her husband made a bad decision.

Sidel's failure to point out bad decisions occurs even earlier than Sandra's story. In her analysis of poverty demographics she makes several observations that beg the question: "Doesn't that tell you something?" "Nearly three-fourths of the families who escaped poverty [after the 1982-83 recession] were male-headed white families" (11). "[F]emale-headed families are still five times more likely to be poor than two-parent families" (16). "More people are said to be hungry and homeless than at any time since the Great Depression, and the high-school dropout rate is almost 40 percent" (21). "In 1968 black familes in which two parents worked had an income 73 percent as large as white families in which both parents worked. By 1981 those black families were earning 84 percent of comparable white earnings" (23). Sidel inadvertently offers solutions in her analysis of the problem. Her argument falls apart when she fails to realize these solutions.

Sidel's book shows there is a direct correlation between female-headed households and poverty. She does not, however, come to the obvious conclusion. Our country has far too many female-headed households. At the risk of sounding sexist, the solution seems rather simple. We should have more families like Henry's and Mary's and fewer like Sandra's. This may seem simplistic, but Sidel's own observations prove this. Sidel, however, does not make these obvious conclusions. Instead she goes on to say that our "miserly" welfare system only exacerbates poverty.

In her "solutions" Sidel advocates raising State-based welfare payments to match the poverty level. She does not, however, say where the States are going to get the money. Most States, and Illinois is no exception, are facing financial ruin. This is due largely to the explosion of Medicare and Medicaid costs. How can States triple their welfare payments and still find the money for their share of Medicare and Medicaid? Sidel does not even address that question.

Sidel does offer one good suggestion - preventive health care. In Illinois, the State Health Department offers free childhood vaccinations to local governments that cannot afford vaccine clinics, except in Madison County. These immunization clinics must be supervised by a local physician and the Madison County Medical Association will not allow any of its members to supervise a State clinic. No other county medical association has this policy. As a result, poor families in Madison County are faced with the choice of paying $50 or more for just one vaccination or not getting the vaccine at all. Many must choose the latter. When these children get sick, Illinois' taxpayers must pick up the tab for their hospitalization. The additional costs are obvious. Aside from her recommendation for greater preventive health care, Sidel's solutions are really no solutions at all.

To find solutions we must look back to Henry and Mary. Henry and Mary raised their children at a time of economic growth and stability. This is the key to everything. Henry did not have to worry about being laid off. They also lived in a time when people took responsibility for their actions. They had a large family, but they stayed together. Teen pregnancy was all but unknown back then, largely because it was a bad idea. There were many penalties (both economic and societal) for illegitimacy and few rewards. We have reversed that. The main federal welfare program, Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) is offered only to single parents (mostly women) or two unemployed parents. Marriage, cohabitation or employment will result in an AFDC cutoff. This should change. AFDC will also be stopped if the recipient attends college full-time. In other words, if a single mother wishes to improve her job marketability, she must starve herself and her children to do so. This is insane. Our welfare system is predicated on the idea that bad decisions (such as having children out-of-wedlock or not going to school) should be rewarded. We got this system precisely because of people like Ruth Sidel, not in spite of them. Ronald Reagan (who draws much criticism from Sidel) would never have thought of such a system. Sidel cannot blame conservatives for the philosophy behind AFDC. Again Sidel fails to recognize this.

There is an old saying that the only worse than not getting what you want is getting it. Sidel's liberals wanted a welfare system that would "protect" the victims of our racist and sexist society. They gave us AFDC which punishes good decisions like getting married, getting a job, or going to school. They also gave us Medicaid which punishes people with jobs. Now Sidel says that her system is not working. She is right. But to find solutions, we should look to Henry and Mary, not to Sandra and her husband.  


Robert Huck |rohuck@ilstu.edu   =============================================================================    

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Date: Fri, 3 Mar 1995 15:54:31 -0600 
From: "james otterstein" <jrotter@ilstu.edu> 
Subject: Review: BATTLING BIAS (Otterstein) 

Ruth Sidel, BATTLING BIAS (Viking, 1994)  

Reviewed by: James R. Otterstein Illinois State University March 3, 1995

Do the attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors of college students accurately depict those of society? According to Ruth Sidel's BATTLING BIAS, campus life does in fact provide an accurate "reading" of societal views regarding homosexuality, racism, and sexism. This conclusion was reached after Sidel conducted a two year in-depth study of college students, whom were representative of different ethnicities, genders, lifestyles, regions, and institutions of higher learning. And it is from these interviews on which BATTLING BIAS is formed.

Sidel spends the first section of her book bombarding her readers with a number of statistical references related to demographics, economics, and education. This technique is used to demonstrate the uphill societal-battle facing the future generations of Ameria, especially minorities. And it is this characterization which sets the stage for Sidel's campus-life discussion.

From her point of view, students arrive at college with a number of anxieties. First, students must deal with leaving the proverbial "nest"; for most students, college represents the first time they are away from home for an extended period of time. Leaving the comfortable confines of the home can be an eye-opening experience. Unfortunately for many, this experience is too intimidating; consequently, they catch the next homeward-bound bus. But for those determined to stay, college life can be very different.

This "different" component is the second anxiety often confronting students. According to Sidel, the university setting provides students with a giant identity shopping mall. Inside this mall, students can pick and choose an identity (or indentities) which suit their pleasure: ethnic, gender, lifestyle-orientation, political perspective, etc., the university has it all! However, selecting an "appropriate" identity can prove to be more difficult than purchasing a pair of shoes.

From her interviews, Sidel suggests the identity acquisition stage is the most difficult for minorities to overcome. Students are often pressured by peers and/or administrators to join their respective ethnic-based groups. Sidel favors these groups for adaptation and solidarity-related reasons. Moreover, she believes such groups help students overcome the homophobic, racist, and sexist nature of university settings. However, the pressure to "identify" does not guarantee a pleasant transition from high school to college.

According to Berkeley sociologist Todd Gitlin, "identity politics" creates a "self enclosed world" in which minorities emphasize "victimization." Thus, minority groups attempt to separate their problems from those of other groups. Consequently, minorities compete against one another for the "most victimized" status by pitting one group against another. Unfortunately this behavior often separates and polarizes groups, despite the fact they all "are vying for the same basic rights."

For instance, students stated that: "your're viewed as either for them or against them", therefore, "you have to watch what you say." Moreover, students objected to the fact they were criticized for "losing their race"; as one student commented: "I don't have to wear a bone in my nose." More importantly, this race-playing aspect creates a certain degree of "horizontal hostility" among ethnic groups (i.e. objections to interracial relationships; minorities criticized for excelling academically; etc.).

Furthermore, some students resented the hypocrisy associated with identity politics. In reference to an anti-Columbus Day march, one student said in disgust: "I could hear the hatred toward whites...they are doing exactly what they are screaming others are doing to them." However, for every anti-identity comment provided by students, Sidel discovered many whom were supportive of "victimization" strategies.

Perhaps the most convincing (albeit weak) argument provided by Sidel for the continuation of these strategies is found in the comments levied by (some) minority students. These students remarked how they felt compelled to assume the role of an "educator" on campus. They were dissatisfied because they "had to inform" others about their culture and were looked upon to provide their minority's 'official' position on any given issue. Since others (presumably the white population) remain uninformed, it is argued, they are naturally insensitive to minority needs. Thus, minorities must continue to demonstrate their victimized status.

Even though Sidel devotes an enormous amount of attention to campus race-relations, the underlying objective of her book is to expose the sexist nature of society. She attributes this nature to the socialization of women in the U.S. (i.e. subordination). This socialization remains fully-operational in many sectors of society, including the military (i.e. Tailhook) and college campuses. Although Sidel mentions the military, she directs the majority of her criticisms toward fraternities.

Throughout BATTLING BIAS Sidel levies a heavy hand against fraternal activities, rituals, and traditions, which she contends are inherently sexist. She claims that fraternities operate in this manner because they believe they are "above the law." This mentality, according to Sidel, is the product of their legal status. Fraternities operate independently of universities, therefore, they are virtually free from university sanctions. Hence, administrators grant fraternities a greater degree of (behavioral) latitude than the remainder of the university and student body. And it is this latitude which Sidel claims is responsible for the number of campus-related sexual assaults and rapes. Although she recognizes that drug and/or alcohol use (and abuse) play a significant role in these crimes, Sidel suggests they exist because of sexist fraternal attitudes (e.g. this same argument is applied to explain the persistence f homophobic and racist overtones).

But the fundamental reasons attributed to homophobic, racist, and sexist overtones, can be traced to the First Amendment. Sidel claims this amendment is misused: the Supreme Court's interpretations have granted a license-to-hate by protecting discriminatory behavior (i.e. demonstrations, speeches, newspaper articles, etc.). And as a proponent of P.C., Sidel believes the present state of the First Amendment is contrary to the goals of diversity, multiculturism, and sensitivity. That's why she favors the use of "more suasion" by administrators to sanction "intolerant" First Amendment activities.

Before finishing her piece, Sidel offers a number of observations. First, students view "college as complex worlds with competing...goals." Secondly, her findings demonstrate that students deal with issues differently: they become politically active, concentrate more on academics, volunteer, or study abroad. Third, students expressed difficulty in "playing the roles" on campus. Not all minorities felt comfortable as the 'official' spokesperson for their ethnicity: most were more comfortable operating behind the scenes in "their own way." And Sidel's final observation noted that political activism granted minority students the avenue to move beyond their "victim status."

Taking these observations into account, Sidel tailors her conclusions toward reforming higher education. First and foremost, she opposes college administrators whom practice nepotism-related admission policies (e.g. a number of Ivy League schools reserve as many as 20 percent of their seats for the children of alumni). Instead, Sidel favors an increased emphasis on attracting the "underrepresented" populations of society (i.e. minorities and lower-income students). However, she fails to propose a specific admission policy; perhaps because she feels uneasy about the utility of affirmative action (e.g. she stated that this policy "proved to be extraordinarily difficult and controversial"). Secondly, Sidel opposes the current four/five year degree time-line and also appears to favor a more generalist-orientated degree. Moreover, Sidel suggests administrators and faculty should inform students that "few succeed simply on the basis of merit."

Third, non-traditional students should be encouraged to continue their education. Fourth, more academic-based partnerships between junior colleges and degree institutions should be established. Fifth, students should begin to move "beyond the victim thing" by "working together for a more humane society." And lastly (and somewhat surprising), Sidel suggests taht in the age of multiculturism the interests of "majority students" (i.e. white) cannot be forgotten.

BATTLING BIAS provided an interesting approach for examining race/gender issues on college campuses. Sidel's interviews were informative, enlightening, and entertaining. Although I disagreed with much of what Sidel offered, there were some instances where common ground was shared. One such instance was Sidel's discussion of the nature of "conforming" where she quoted W.E.B. DuBois: "Be in their world, but not of it." Even though the original context of the quote applies to Blacks, its application is universal. Additionally, some of the comments levied by students struck a common cord with me; such as the student who questioned the need to identify: "Don't I have to get in tough with myself first?" Despite these moments of strength, Sidel's book suffered from a number of flaws.

Sidel tried too hard to find students representative of every color/ethnic/socio-economic/socialization in exhistence on the planet. In doing so, I believe some of the real substance to her arguments were lost in favor of traditional, bleeding-heart liberalism. Moreover, she devoted a disproportional amount of time to females. Furthermore, she failed to recognize that sororities, like fraternities, operate according to the same mentality. And because of this skewed depiction of males, her book would be better entitled: "BATTLING SEXISM."

Additionally, Sidel's examination of sexual harassment deserved more attention than a catchy sentence. By cutting her examination short and focusing only on the power argument, Sidel failed to discuss the differences in gender communication and perception processes. She stated from the onset that human conflict was the result of "fear of the unknown." Perhaps Sidel should take some of her own medicine and overcome her harassment-related knowledge inadequacy.

I also found it difficult to understand why Sidel refused to acknowledge the relationship between economics and higher education. The issue was touched upon, however, Sidel appeared to change every economic reference to a race reference. Thus, she became more concerned about the plight of urban minorities while ignoring the thousands of others (non-minorities) who are not prepared nor cannot afford college. Plenty of white students cannot the cost of higher education, nonetheless Ivy League tuition. Perhaps even more troubling was her insistance that everyone attend college. I do not believe that everyone is (or should be) college material.

Furthermore, Sidel suggested reforms for higher education are suspect: she appears to call for more 'generalists' instead of 'practitioners'. College graduates are already turned away because they lack the necessary qualifications- how will a B.A. in Sensitivity/Diversity increase their employment opportunities? More importantly, how long are these students supposed to remain in college? Sidel opposed the current degree time-line, does she propose a 10 year degree, or what?

But perhaps my greatest criticism of Sidel relates to her misinterpretation of First Amendment's purposes. Sidel, muck like other liberals, favors upholding the amendment when it supports their ideological perspectives. However, when it protects the interests of groups they choose not to support (Skinheads), they cry and complain. Unfortunately this phenomena is far too common in American society (i.e. Proposition 187). And the last criticism of Sidel is her characterization of homophobia as strictly a white male hangup. I suspect that a substantial number of males, regardless of ethnicity, find homosexuality offensive on religious and/or moral grounds.


James R. Otterstein

Department of Political Science

Illinois State University


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Date: Fri, 10 Mar 1995 15:43:09 -0600 
From: "ashaki daneen baker" <adbaker@ilstu.edu>
Subject: review: BATTLING BIAS (Ashaki Baker) 
By Ruth Sidel 
Reviewed by 
Ashaki Baker 
Illinois State University 

Do college campuses mirror the realities and beliefs of our society? This is the question that Ruth Sidel's BATTLING BIAS makes the reader ponder. Racism, sexism, and homophobia are the primary themes of this very thought provoking book.

Sidel offers statistics that illustrate that women and minorities have not achieved financial or academic equality. The comparison of income is broken down into those who received doctorates, masters or bachelors's degree.

"Whites who received doctorates had the highest median monthly income $4,679. Recipients of master's degree second largest income: whites earned $3,248 Blacks, $2,786; and Hispanics $2,840." p.26.

On another note, one of the basic ideas stressed is how educational systems choose their criteria for who will who shall learn. The section on who shall learn focuses on the inequality of funding and college prep programs of inner- city and suburban schools. Inner-city schools all over the country face the problem of inequality in funding. An example is the difference between New Trier High school in Winnetka, Illinois and DuSable high school in Chicago Illinois. The principal of New Trier High stated that "Our goal is for students to be successful, the school offers Latin and six other foreign languages; the senior English class is reading Nietzsche, Darwin, Plato, Freud, and Goethe. Every freshman is assigned a faculty advisor whocounsels roughly two dozen students."

As compared to DuSable were each guidance counselor advises 420 students. The disparities in funding do not just apply to secondary schooling but also at the collegiate level. Universities provided 68.8% of the financial support of foreign students while they worked on their doctorates while they only provided 13.8% support to African-Americans who worked on similar degrees.

Sidel relies heavily on students personal experiences rather than on statistics or studies to demonstrate the types of campus problems. The situations discussed throughout the book are common to all college students. When a person leaves the familiarities and securities of home to attend college he/she faces uncertainty. The new challenges of college life lead to self-doubt and self-examination. As college students wonder where they belong. Sidel's BATTLING BIAS focuses on the internal and external struggles of students from coping with sexuality to how to succeed academically.

Another concept that college emphasized throughout the section on whall learn is how campuses only mirror society, in general. Sidel points this out by looking at recent national events. The incident where "six African-American Secret-Service agents assigned to protect the safety of the President were kept waiting an hour for breakfast as all other patrons were being served in an Annapolis, Maryland branch of Denny's restaurant." p.65 exemplifies this point. John Singleton's movie HIGHER LEARNING represents another example. The incident that occurred at Rutgers University where the President made a racist comment that African-Americans are indeed inferior, and therefore need special programs.

The concept of racism and ethnic differences prevails throughout the novel. Another example is the violence that erupted after the Rodney King verdict. The significance of this in Sidel's books was to point out that no matter how far African-Americans think they have progressed, they really have not advanced. The idea after the verdict was African-Americans felt that we had not advanced or progressed at all. One Chicago writer and consultant can be quoted as saying "When I heard the verdict, I couldn't stop crying. It was a crying of the deepest sadness. One piece of it was release the other was 'Will our children ever know the absence of racism?'" p. 68.

The idea that African- American children will not be free from racism is a prevalent thought throughout the African-American community. The only fault of Sidel's book is that she focuses on Ivy League and top ten schools. These schools only represent 10% of the college population. Although it is evident that if incident are occurring at these schools it is probably safe to assume that similar incidents occur at less popular institutions. I have travelled to Europe and the former Soviet Union. I can honestly say that it was not until my sophomore year here at Illinois State University that I was confronted with blatant racism. My future roommates refuse to live with me because of my color. Other incidents occurred on campus also because of a speech given on campus by Minister Farrohcan a Black doll in was hanged outside a girl dorm roo because listen tapes that came from speech from the leader of the Nation of Islam. Racism is not the only concept emphasized in this book. Sexism, sexuality, and sexual harassment also prevail throughout the novel. Sexual harassment is discussed as it has been used in professional, academic and professional academic atmospheres. The Anita Hill controversy was an example given; the basic idea was that Anita Hill was further victimized by the disdain and disbelief of all male Senate Judiciary.

Does academia mirror society? Sidel asserts that yes the views of society are permeated and upheld through academic institutions and also through other institutions like the military. Sidel illustrates this in the following analogy: "Dr Frances Conley, a professor of neurosurgery at the Stanford University School of Medicine resigned her academic position, charging sexism on the part of individual colleagues and a quarter-century of subtle sexism at the medical school." p.71.

Gender differences encouraged and sustained through the educational system. On college campuses fraternities sing songs that advocate and support the degradation and violence against women. At all levels females are faced with discrimination, degradation, and harassment. Sidel emphasized how females are treated in academia in their professional lives and even in grade schools. In grade schools "on playgrounds boys control as much as ten times more space than girls... boys invade and disrupt all-female games and scenes of play much more often than vice versa. Boys treat girls as contaminating [and] participate in larger structures of male dominance." p.33. The socialization that occurs in schools makes the gap between males and females even greater boys grow up thinking that they can degrade and harass men anyway they wish. Sexual differences are permeated even in high school studies show that "two-thirds of students say they have experienced unwelcome sexual behavior at school, that 65% of girls and 42% of boys reported that they were touched, grabbed, or pinched in a sexual way, that 57% of girls and 36% of boys were intentionally brushed up against in a sexual way..." p. 33. It is evident that at all level sexual harassment and gender difference are permeated.

The personal experiences that Sidel uses come mostly from middle and upper class minorities. Sidel devotes a whole section of the novel to describing the different types of experiences. The experiences are divided into those who utilize the political process to achieve equality, those who cope with the bias, and those who speak out against bias. Sidel's illustrates this by providing the following analogy: There was an incident where African-American male that attends Vassar was at home in New York City subway, "notice a young woman staring at his Vassar ring. He watched her glance several times at the ring and then at his face: finally, she asked him, "Is that a Vassar ring?" He replied that it was, and she "Well, where did you get it?" It was clear to Pierre that because of his race the woman was suggesting that he had somehow acquired the ring illegitimately." p. 121

Like most of the students used by Sidel Pierre is a product of an educated upper middle class family. Pierre's existence and experiences were far from the reality that most inner-city youth know and learn. Although, lower class people have similar experiences, at the collegiate level, their experiences are different because they are face with stigmatism and prejudice that accompanies a life poverty. Lower class people also face prejudice all their lives. Lower class Blacks and whites are conscious of the prejudice and are sensitive to class differences that all also stressed continually in Sidel's BATTLING BIAS. Sidel's BATTLING BIAS causes the reader to examine his or her college experiences. It makes the reader ponder whether his/her action were reactions to incident in their college career or just coincidence. All in all if to does nothing else it causes the reader to look at society as a whole. The most important thing Sidel does is cause the reader to examine self and then look at the educational system an ask. "If Academia and educational structures, in general, reflect the attitudes, values, and beliefs of society?"

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