THE BIG PICTURE
July/August 1980 vol.5, no.6
Enclosed please find one of the most blatant
sexist articles I've come across. I attended a
Real Estate Component Depreciation seminar
in March sponsored by North Texas State
University and taught by two professors from
Arizona State University. I was appalled when
copies of the enclosed "humorous" article were
passed out to me and the participants after
lunch. As copies were passed to the only other
woman [present], it was apparent that the
lecturer was a little embarrassed, but made the
comment that it had been his experience "that
women in business were tough and could take
it"!! I believe your readers would be interested
in excerpts from this unsavory article. (The
author, Robert L. Nessen, teaches real estate
law at Boston University Law School.)
The Overwhelming Case for Allowing Depreciation Deductions on Married Women as a
Matter of Equitable and Sound Tax Policy
It has been frequently suggested that
women do not get older, but better. Whether or not they do get better is a matter of
individual judgment and, as such, beyond
the scope of the commission's study. What
is clear, however, is that a woman does get
older. And as she gets older her physical
value diminishes according to good, old-
fashioned economic theory. It is with this
concept in mind that we suggest that a
woman, if married, be characterized as depreciable property, allowing her husband to
take her as an income tax deduction. ... it
is clear that an overwhelming social need
would be served by allowing for the depreciation of married women.
It would, for example, encourage the
marriage of those now living together out of
wedlock, thereby restoring the virtue of virtue in American life ...
As marriage is a virtue to be encouraged,
so is chastity. The purchaser of new real
estate, oil tankers, and other property is
entitled to take what is known as accelerated depreciation. This means that the "first
user" of property is allowed a larger depreciation deduction than one who has pur
chased used property. To determine first
user in the case of a wife may create some
difficulties of proof, but since they have already been overcome by the Internal Revenue Service in the case of cattle, it seems
reasonable to think the principle can be applied elsewhere.
This part of the program may seem unfair to older women who have made a concerted effort to keep fit. In these cases, we
might look to appropriate analogies-the
preservation of historic properties and the
rehabilitation of housing, where special
depreciation benefits have been granted.
Perhaps similar approaches could be applied
to wives who have undertaken a certified
program of physical renewal.
This extension of tax policy enjoys not
only a social but an economic justification.
As a wife grows older her ability to work
declines. Housework gets harder, and the
conception and raising of children become
more difficult. As a matter of quantitative
economics, she is wearing out, as any honest
woman trying to slip past 40 will admit.
This may necessitate the hiring of outside
domestic help, a cost which is not deductible. Depreciation will help to compensate
for the extra cost
I find it most interesting that the author of
this article is also on a faculty of a university
and even horrifying that this article was written
in the 70's, not the 50's or the 60's!!
I must protest the way you cut my article on
the Battaglia Fund (Breakthrough June 1980).
I realize that articles must be cut to fit available
space, but in this instance, you cut the article
at least in half, leaving out much of the substance and emphasis of the story. I wrote the
story, at your request, to be an article on wom
en's networking-on the impact of having
women in influential leadership positions and
on the workings of our city government. Had
you wanted a mere press release I would have
What makes the situation particularly painful is that you did manage to find space to run
a lengthy article on a new "soft sex" queen. I
think this raises serious questions on the editorial policies of Breakthrough. My understanding
is that you were expanding your coverage
beyond strictly feminist issues but that you
were still placing an emphasis on women's
affairs-issues which are generally poorly
covered by other local media.
In this past edition, it seemed that you
chose to run features at the expense of covering
women's affairs. Is this indicative of a new editorial policy?
And, please, if you must cut my articles
beyond recognition again, just leave my name
off of it.
Editor's note: We regret that this story was
edited so drastically. Unfortunately, editing for
space is a fact of life in newspapers. In this case,
however, the story was typeset in whole (with
minor editing), but cut 10 inches due to an
error in copy measurement. The two stories
which preceded it (on Cindy Pickett and on the
run-off election) were already pasted down.
Sandy Long has written several articles forus-
this is her first complaint. We have not introduced any new editorial policy, this was a logistical problem. You might say we had painted
ourselves into a corner.
We must take exception however, to Long's
definition of Cindy Pickett as a "soft sex"
queen. The story's sub-head read: "no soft soap
life for this Houston actress." The story made
observations on the Houston art scene-"Small
town minds have the arts on a leash here" in
Pickett's view. Writer Morris Edelson described
Pickett's difficulties getting roles in Houston,
and called it "a banana republic of the arts."
Breakthrough emphasizes politics and the
Pickett article dealt with the politics of art.
Cruel and unusual punishment for poor women
In ancient Greece, the oracle of Zeus was
Dodona, in the land of oak trees. The will of
the mighty lawgiver was revealed by the rustlinp
of the oak leaves, which the priests interpreted.
We've come a long way since then, or have
we? In modern America, nine old men in Washington, the land of rustling paper, dress themselves in black robes and interpret the Constitution. The same body which legalized abortion
in 1973 has now decreed that that constitutional right cannot be exercised by the poor.
The Hyde Amendment, which has been
attached to appropriations bills each year since
1976, has been ruled constitutional (June 30)
by the narrowest of margins, 5-4. The measure,
named for its sponsor, Rep. Henry Hyde, R-lll,
bars Medicaid spending for abortions except
when a woman's life would be endangered by
childbirth or in cases of promptly reported rape
It is bitterly ironic that our Supreme Court,
political appointees with not an ovary among
them, should presume to limit so cruelly the
options of poor women-the women who can
least afford the burden of an unwanted pregnancy.
Justice Potter Stewart, writing for the
majority, displayed an insouciance to human
needs reminiscent of Jimmy Carter's "life-isn't-
fair" philosophy. "The fact remains," wrote
Stewart, "that the Hyde Amendment leaves an
indigent woman with at least the same range of
choice in deciding whether to obtain a medically necessary abortion as she would have had if
Congress had chosen to subsidize no health care
costs at all."
Congress has, of course, chosen to subsidize
most other medically necessary health care
costs for the poor. This selectivity, argued
Stewart, does not violate a woman's constitutional guarantee of equal treatment under
Four of the justices disagreed with the
majority. Justice Thurgood Marshall said poor
women must now "resort to back-alley butchers, attempt to induce an abortion themselves
by crude and dangerous methods or suffer the
serious medical consequences of attempting to
carry the fetus to term." Justice William Bren-
nan, Jr., called it "brutal," Justice Harry A.
Blackmun said it means "the cancer of poverty
will continue to grow," and Justice John Paul
Stevens called the decision "tantamount to
Stevens, by the way, is the 1975 Ford nominee to the court whose confirmation was vigorously opposed by the National Organization for
Women because his record on women's rights
was abysmal. He had ruled, for example, that
Illinois could require a three-fifths vote of the
legislature to pass the ERA. Because of this
ruling, the ERA is still unratified in Illinois.
It would seem, then, that the Supreme
Court, like Mount Olympus, is out of our reach
-that we have no control over its decisions.
And that is as it should be. Rather than giving
free rein to despotic and opinionated decisionmaking, this system safeguards the integrity of
What we, the society, must control is the
calibre of our representation in Congress, because it is Congress who confirms the Supreme
Court nominations. The message is clear: an
elected Congress is our opportunity to take part
in policy-making. We must participate in that
process if we expect law makers to be receptive
to the needs of our whole society. It is essential
to support and elect women and men of fairness and decency, from the statehouse to the
Like the pilgrims who listened to the priests
at Dodona, we can only listen to the interpretations of our Supreme Court. But we can effect
change through the legislature; and we must, so
that atrocities such as the Hyde Amendment
will no longer have a place in our Constitution.
Shirley Bryson, Jane Codings
Missy Hauge, Debra Thornton
Morris Edelson, Victoria Smith
Janice Blue, Gabrielle Cosgriff
David Crossley, Morris Edelson
Janice Blue, Jane Collings
Bruce Baillie, George Barnstone
Harry B. Blue, David Crossley
Jane Hartney, John Lee Simon
Janice Blue, Jane Collings
David Crossley, Nancy Dahlberg
Janet Meyer, Gary Allison Morey
Co-hosts on KPFT-FM 90.1:
Nancy Lane Fleming, RitaSaylors
Bianca Balderas, Gertrude Barnestone
Michelle Batchelder, Leslie Conner
Jack Drake, Stella Fleming
Marge Glaser, Karen Saylors
Jane Collings, Ernie Shawver
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