Sunday, June 24, 2007

What Are You Doing Outside the House?

You haven't probably read Echidne's op-ed in today's Dallas Morning News, so here is the link. And may I say, it's really telling. Hecate considers it depressing, but on the other hand, I think it's great that it's getting published. It's a treat to have my independence stamped with approval for a change, and Dallas is a great place for that to happen.

An important parenting study came out in March. It tracked the effects of good fathering on 19,000 children born in 2000 and 2001 and found that by age 3 a child would have more emotional and behavioral problems if the father had not taken time off after the birth.

Don't recall reading about it? You don't remember seeing experts lined up on the morning news shows to explain how crucial the findings were, or advocacy groups noting how this proves it's important to support paternity leave?

That's probably because, although such a study was indeed published, it got virtually no media attention.However, another study, published the same month, did get that kind of attention, from outlets ranging from ABC's Good Morning America to The New York Times. The key difference was that study was not about fathers at all. It was about daycare and its possible deleterious behavioral effects on children, especially when compared with children reared by stay-at-home mothers. It found that children who had attended high-quality daycare had better vocabularies as late as age 10 but also exhibited more "problem behavior," with their teachers more likely to report aggression and disobedience. The researchers stressed that the children's behavior was "within the normal range and was not considered clinically disordered."
But the popularized message was a little different, at least as seen in the headlines selected for reports on the study. The Times chose "Poor Behavior Is Linked to Time in Day Care." The International Herald Tribune picked "Study Links Extensive Child Care with More Aggressive Behavior in School." And the Telegraph of the U.K. went with the even more guilt-inducing "How Nurseries 'Still Breed Aggression.' "

You're supposed to worry.

Now what could possibly explain the difference in the media treatment these two studies got? As Caryl Rivers speculates in her new book, Selling Anxiety: How the News Media Scare Women, could it just be that studies that appear to support traditional roles for women tend to get picked for instant popularization?

This phenomenon doesn't just apply to studies about daycare with the potential to guilt-trip working mothers. Rush Limbaugh, also in March, cheerfully reported the results of a Swedish study that seemed to show a correlation between poor health and a more gender-equal distribution of societal resources. That same study was picked up by the British Independent.

The popularized message was that feminism makes you sick.

Neither Mr. Limbaugh nor the Independent paid any attention to an earlier study by the same researchers showing the reverse. They also ignored other studies finding a positive correlation between greater gender equality and better overall health.

It seems that a researcher can garner more press just by publishing a study with results that social conservatives wish to hear. And if the research doesn't suit conservatives' worldview, they can always find a way to twist it. Take, for example, the "Queen Bee" syndrome: the idea that women in managerial positions wish to remain the only females at that level of power and achieve this by sabotaging the careers of other women. The "Queen Bees" were a hot topic of discussion in conservative circles of the Internet a few months ago.

Why? Because a sociological study, not about "Queen Bees" at all, found that women rated the promotion chances of a fictional female manager as lower than did the men in the same study, and the researchers of the study decided to call this "prejudice."
It could very well be that the women in the study rated the fictional female manager's promotion chances as lower because women, in general, get promoted less often than men. The study summary points this out. But this is not the interpretation the media ran with.

Somehow the most prominent analysis was the office "Queen Bees" theory, never mind that the women in the study were randomly drawn from the general population and unlikely to be female managers in the first place.

We have so much encouragement, it's amazing. Step right up and buy the product of my choice, ladies, I get so used to hearing. I am so glad to see Echidne do this and to see my local paper feature it.

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