From Theory to Praxis: Marriage and Taxes through a GSS lens

As I prepare to pursue a Masters in Accountancy, it may be difficult to see how topics we discussed in GSS101 will connect to my future career. One of those topics was marriage and the reasons for and against same-sex marriage. Advocates often cited tax benefits as a “pro” for the passage of same-sex marriage, so I wanted to explore what tax benefits couples can receive when married versus not, and how the tax code may subtly discriminate against certain groups.

Married taxpayers can file either of two ways: either individually by the head-of -household or jointly, but only if the marriage is recognized. Before the 2015 Supreme Court Decision in Obergefell v. Hodges that legalized same-sex marriage, couples could not file their taxes jointly, and therefore may have been disadvantaged in the amount of taxes they paid. To determine how much someone pays to the government, every individual is placed in a bracket by the amount he or she earns. The tax code places married couples in brackets by the amount the couple earns together. In progressive tax structures, which many states and the federal government currently use, those in the higher income brackets are taxed at a higher rate. For joint filers, the 10 and 15% brackets, where most people tend to fall, are twice as wide, and the higher tax brackets are less than twice as wide, so a joint-filing couple might be more likely to fall into this lower tax bracket than two individual filers would.

Not all same-sex couples may benefit from joint filings. Married couples usually receive either a penalty or a bonus on their taxes. Penalties occur when a couple has to pay more taxes than it would if it filed individually, and bonuses occur when couples save money by filing jointly. When spouses earn similar and relatively high-incomes, they are more likely to receive a penalty. These penalties tend to occur because as joint filers, these couples are less likely to be able to take deductions for children, but if they separated into single and head-of-household, they would be able to receive deductions for dependents.

On the other hand, joint filers can also receive marriage bonuses, which most often occur when one spouse earns all the familial income. A joint filing would likely shift this couple into a lower tax bracket because the lower brackets are twice as wide and, therefore, incorporate even some high earners. In reality, those who make less money, like many LGBTQ individuals who felt same-sex marriage argument was only a battle for upper-class, white gays and lesbians, could benefit from a decrease in taxes if married. These people, however, were largely arguing against this very idea. They realized that the institution of marriage is all about protecting wealth, not love, and if LGBTQ couples want to “redefine love,” they should not feel the need to buy into the heteronormative institution of marriage. In examining this tax structure, I would argue that, beyond LGBTQ individuals, heterosexual women should also be more aware of the patriarchal assumptions that the tax code for joint-filers makes. While a heterosexual couple can still earn a marriage bonus if the woman earns most of the income, it is clear that those who have set up the code over the years have assumed that women would not earn an income, or at least not one that would be competitive enough to negate a bonus.

As we have learned, using a GSS lens can give a new perspective to the assumptions and subtle discrimination that exists in every part of our society. Even in progressive tax structures, ones that liberals fight to protect, discrimination, unfortunately, still exists, and if we intend to ameliorate this pervasive issue, we must at first recognize it. It will be beneficial to take this interpretation into my future career, as I may help people choose a filing, not necessarily just based on money, but also understanding their stance in their relationships.

Sources Referenced:

http://taxfoundation.org/blog/how-many-taxpayers-fall-each-income-tax-bracket

http://www.bankrate.com/finance/taxes/3-tax-traps-same-sex-couples-can-avoid-2.aspx

http://www.taxpolicycenter.org/briefing-book/what-are-marriage-penalties-and-bonuses

The Making of Man?

Advertisements should ideally be smart and catchy, leaving viewers with an immediate desire to purchase that product. In the United States, some see the Super Bowl, with its hefty fees for commercial time, as the pinnacle of advertising. In 2014, an ad for Summer’s Eve Cleansing Wash appeared on screens across the country. The ad begins with a husband showering and using what he believes to be body wash while his wife brushes her teeth in the bathroom. When she realizes he is using the wash designed to douche, she explains the benefits of this brand to him – a quick sell of the product. The husband, however, ignores all the information his wife describes after she first mentions its intended use. His face sinks, as he feels his masculinity threatened, and proceeds to attempt an outrageous amount of tasks to assert his manliness, such as drumming like a true rock star and prepping for a boxing workout by eating raw eggs. He finishes these activities by jumping onto the couch next to his wife, crushing a beer can against his skull as she rolls her eyes, most likely intending to mirror the look on viewers’ faces as they watch this ridiculous sequence. Despite the silent, eye-rolling critique from the wife, this ad does not give a powerfully positive message about gender equality or inclusivity. Instead, on the largest stage in advertising, Summer’s Eve chose to display gender conventions. Specifically, while the creators of this ad intended to make the man look foolish and the woman look smart and realistic, a deeper analysis reveals this ad as more offensive than progressive.

The horrified look on the husband’s face as his wife reveals the advertised nature of the product he is using re-emphasizes obsolete gender stereotypes, hinting that not only should women avoid talking about their bodies, but that men cannot even comprehend these conversations. As the wife begins discussing the benefits of her cleansing wash, the man immediately stops listening, more worried about his threatened identity, and, in the end, contributing to a woman’s lack of confidence in opening up a dialogue about her body. This ad, as many have before, manages to sell a product to women by shaming its key clients. In the Victorian Era, “True Women were defined by their distance from lust” and any sexual topics, and, in a way, this ad brings women back to that time period, suggesting many people, especially men, will not listen to a discussion as “inappropriate” as one about a woman’s bodily functions (Katz 232). In an attempt to deflect the conversation from a potentially uncomfortable topic, the husband physically leaves the scene and begins a new activity, leaving the wife appearing like a lecturer as opposed to a participant in a dialogue. While this ad is clearly targeted to women, portraying her husband as a child-like figure who ultimately discourages her discussion about her body, only further strengthens those dichotomous gender stereotypes.

The extremity of the activities the husband takes part in to recover his masculinity ignores any attempts to disrupt timeworn gender stereotypes, showing that any signs of femininity in a man must be eradicated. The husband karate chops wooden blocks, tows a car with his teeth, and even fashions himself a Spartan helmet, all in an effort to cleanse himself of any traces of femininity stemming from accidentally using the genital wash. While the man is clearly mocked in the ad for his excessive actions, this parody ultimately affirms the hegemonic structure that men are fundamentally different from women, and therefore need specific products. This ad exemplifies this facet of the marketing industry that “spend[s] massive amounts of time and money ratifying and supporting the versions of masculinity that we enjoy and trust,” (Halberstam 1). Validating a world in which men must be completely masculine, this ad “depend[s] absolutely on the subordination of alternative masculinities,” (Halberstam 1). The ad ignores the existence of men who can still enjoy playing sports while being the primary caregiver for their children or manicuring their appearance. Or even use a vaginal wash product manufactured for and advertised to women that, in fact, is basically just soap.

The characters in this commercial represent a white, seemingly upper class, heterosexual relationship, again omitting many other gender, sexual, and even race and class identities from the customer base of the product. Many ads today attempt to cast diverse actors, in order for their products to appeal to more people. This commercial not only displays traditional gender norms, but also portrays a stereotypical heterosexual relationship, which does not exist for many people, including those who might want to purchase the product. Even as scientists and sociologists alike release more information debunking previous assumptions about gender and sexuality, “a scientific fact, once established, may sometimes be disproved in one field, remain a “fact” in others, and have a future life in the popular mind” (Fausto-Sterling 169). While many more people today are realizing and accepting non-heterosexual and/or gender queer people, advertisements like these are still ignoring the emerging acceptance of these lifestyles. This ad, even while using younger actors who may be part of this tolerant generation, does not cater to those who identify outside of gender and sexuality norms.

Advertisements must balance between appealing to the masses and pioneering the portrayal of new societal trends, but this ad focuses much more on old and insulting conventions of gender roles as opposed to engaging people in the 21st century. The creators undoubtedly thought an ad, even one meant for a women’s product, playing during the Super Bowl, must connect with the typical audience of a football game, again making assumptions about the gender make-up of the audience. This targeting, however, not only excludes many people, but also makes gross stereotypes about those who enjoy sporting events. While not everyone today recognizes or accepts the changing discourse on gender and sexuality, advertisements have the ability to change public opinion. An ad created specifically for a women’s product, therefore, should best portray the shifting culture acceptance of previously undermined groups, like women and those who do not identify with traditional ideas of gender and sexuality.

 

Works Cited

Fausto-Sterling, Anne. Sexing the Body: Gender Politics and the Construction of Sexuality. New York: Basic Books, 2000.

Halberstam, Judith. Female Masculinity. Durham: Duke University Press, 1998.

Katz, Jonathan N. The Invention of Heterosexuality. New York: Dutton, 1995.

Wilchina, Riki Anne. Quuer Theory, Gender Theory: An Instant Primer. Los Angeles: Alyson, 2004.

A Body Not Her Own: The Role of Policy in Limiting Women’s Reproductive Rights

On the morning after Thanksgiving in 2015, a gunman attacked a Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood, eventually killing a police officer and two civilians while injuring nine more before surrendering. In the following court hearings, the attacker, Robert Lewis Dear, Jr., expressed his anti-abortionist and anti-Planned Parenthood opinions, identifying himself as a “warrior for the babies” (Turkewitz and Healy, 1). This attack followed similar violent assaults on clinics or doctors’ offices where abortions are performed, adding to the aggressive climate brought by protestors who harass women and professionals outside of these facilities daily. The topic of abortions and, more generally, women’s reproductive rights has divided Americans, prompting some to execute what they believe is vigilante justice to protect the unborn, while allowing women to suffer physically and emotionally. Women’s reproductive rights, however, go beyond pro-life and pro-choice arguments. When lawmakers begin to judge who should be allowed to get pregnant and see pregnant women as merely a vessel that carries the valuable life of a fetus, as opposed to cherishing the already-existing life of the woman, women effectively lose any bodily integrity. These policies degrade all women, but also disproportionally affect minority, poor, and young women.

As a sociologist, author Jeanne Flavin takes an interesting choice by analyzing policies and other qualitative data, as opposed to gathering her own data. This choice, however, allows for a synthesis of many pieces of information, not yet put together in one place. Flavin, who worked in a prison as a young woman, admits her bias toward protecting women in the criminal justice system. She also hints that she does not intend to have children of her own. This creates a new perspective on the topic: from a woman who has personal experience with mothers in the criminal justice system and, while not planning to become a mother herself, wants to share the importance of supporting these women.

The monograph follows the same timeline of reproduction, focusing on the government’s involvement in women’s lives and bodies before, during, and after pregnancy. The first section “Begetting,” discusses sterilization laws, like those upheld under Skinner v. Oklahoma, that some states use to control “who” has the right to reproduce. Again, these unjust and invasive laws disproportionally affect women of color or of a lower socioeconomic class. The lawmakers justify this by saying these women are not in a position to raise a child to be a productive member of society. Instead of fixing the injustices in government and social institutions that unfairly keep people of color and lower income levels in these positions, the government at every level consistently chooses to punish these women and control their bodies.

This section also discusses the most prevalent reproductive rights issue: abortion. Often the argument of abortion focuses on a choice: whether to end an unwanted or unsafe pregnancy or carry to term and raise the child or give it up for adoption. The famous Roe v. Wade case established a woman’s right to choose, but since this decision, states have tightened their laws as far as they can to render this landmark case relatively ineffective. While this affects all women, Flavin notes that for most minority women, there still is no “choice.” Because of a lack of information, money, transportation, and, on a larger scale, education, women with an unwanted pregnancy cannot often obtain an abortion. This incredibly hypocritical statement by the government – that minority women should not be able to raise children, but if they do get pregnant, they shouldn’t be allowed to have an abortion – puts these women, and their future children, in a dangerous situation. In this section, Flavin flawlessly brings the discussion of abortion out of a pro-life/pro-choice argument, so readers realize the more damning effects these policies have on women without a choice, women who have been betrayed by their own government in many ways and now must give over control of their own bodies.

In the second section, “Bearing,” Flavin examines the discriminatory policies that turn pregnant women into second-class citizens. As soon as a woman becomes pregnant, her fetus becomes the one who must be protected, and she is simply a body, which the government can control in order to protect her future child. Again using policy to enhance her argument, Flavin notes how “fetus-centered laws” such as the Unborn Victims of Violence Act (UVVA), which claims a fetus as a second victim in domestic violence cases, leaves the pregnant women out of the realm of security. These kinds of laws do little to protect the woman, a victim in this violence, from the perpetrator, and instead only emphasize the harm done to the unborn child. Here, Flavin brings in an argument about drug uses, explaining how they have not made a choice to do drugs and instead institutional racism has driven them to this decision. Therefore, these women should not be further punished and deemed unfit to be a mother. While I follow this argument, as I note later, this segue may take away from Flavin’s strong argument.

In this section, Flavin also begins to note how the criminal justice system, not just government policy, devalues pregnant women. These women do not receive proper medical attention for diseases like HPV or even access to an abortion if impregnated by a guard. Flavin again notes the hypocrisy in the viewpoints of lawmakers who fear for the future lives of fetuses, but do not give the proper health care for imprisoned women, which will inevitably have public health consequences.

Lastly, Flavin delineates how, even after a child is born, policies subjugate the mother to high levels of scrutiny, continuing to impede on her rights to her body and her children. First, for women in the criminal justice system, the government strips them of any rights to motherhood. While Child Protective Services policies tend to deter child visitation to their incarcerated mothers, Flavin notes how important the relationship between a child and mother is to their future growth, and by taking that visitation away, children may be sucked back into a dangerous world. Going beyond just the benefits to the child, a mother who has the chance to build ties to her child will be more motivated in her own rehabilitation, better prepared to re-enter society. While not incarcerated, battered women also must battle for custody of their children if they speak of their abuse, as again, ineffective policies, like the flawed Violence Against Women Act, tend to protect the children over the mothers. While the children should certainly be safe, this fear of losing their children, silences many women who stay in abusive situations which continue to harm them and their children. Laws must defend the mother and the child and ensure they will not be separated.

          Our Bodies, Our Crimes fits most easily into feminist studies, as it highlights the impediment of women’s citizenship and their place in society. This monograph also fits into legal studies as Flavin uses myriad court cases and policies as examples in her argument. Notably, this book does not incorporate queer studies. While some queer populations cannot become pregnant, they can still be subjected to the same discriminatory treatment in sexual assault or parenting cases that infringe on their own rights to their bodies and their privacy.

The strength of this monograph lies in its organization. It clearly separates the information into pre-birth, during birth, and post-birth consequences of governmental interference into women’s bodies and lives. As the book proceeds, the reader realizes how extensively policies have been enacted to keep women under governmental control and to place the life of a fetus above that of a woman. The breath of research, legal and academic, Flavin performs roots her argument in evidence, giving more credibility to her case, that at times, can be controversial. She also redirects the conversation at certain points to make readers re-consider their perspectives on the age-old issue of reproductive rights. She does not focus on the pro-life/pro-choice debate as she points out that many women do not really have a choice even if the laws say they do. She also notes the implications of a discriminatory criminal justice system that gives up on its inmates, automatically assuming they cannot and should not be pregnant or mothers. These topics are largely overshadowed in the discussion of reproductive rights, which often focuses on the plight of upper-class white women, which while still relevant, as most social movements, leaves out many other affected women.

While Flavin fills Our Bodies, Our Crimes with an abundant amount of relevant citations from other legal and academic work, in order to make her argument more coherent, I would have left out her interlude into drug users. While after careful thought, I understand her point about the institutional racism that inevitably can cause women to take drugs but should not determine her ability to have a child and mother, this argument may not be easily accepted by other readers. For a more conservative reader, it is difficult to believe that drug users, whose habits may harm the child – a detail she dedicates only a few sentences to – should be able to raise their children away from government agency surveillance. While Flavin may not be targeting this more conservative group of readers, in order to spread her well-thought-out and developed argument to more people, she should tailor her argument a little more. This added point complicates the details of her argument even more, so leaving it out could make for an even more definitive conclusion.

In all, Our Bodies, Our Crimes, opens up the discussion about reproductive rights – moving away from just a debate between pro-life and pro-choice – and toward an inclusion of all intersectional backgrounds. While I would implore everyone to read this book, I believe at least white, liberal-minded people must pick it up. Flavin’s research shows that this group, while often well-intentioned, tends to mistake their rhetoric as improvement for all. Many liberals center themselves in the pro-choice debate, not recognizing how many other people lack the fundamental right of a choice. Institutional racism and classism often place women at a position where they do not have the means of information to make the same decisions upper-class, white women can, and their doubled struggles should be brought to the forefront. This book outlines the effects of infringing reproductive laws at every stage of a pregnancy – from conception to motherhood – with an eye, not just on the effects on upper-middle-class white women, but on those from a lower-socioeconomic or minority background. While these laws burden less-privileged women even more, laws that limit any woman will have a lasting negative impact on the lives and opportunities of all women.

 

Works Cited

Flavin, Jeanne. Our Bodies, Our Crimes. NYU Press : 2009.

Turkewitz, J. and Healy, J. “3 Are Dead in Colorado Springs Shootout at Planned Parenthood Center.” The New York Times, 27 Nov. 2015.