New York Magazine’s Cosby Cover Inspires a Great Twitter Hashtag: #TheEmptyChair
Late Sunday evening, New York magazine commanded what seemed like the entire Internet's attention with the collected stories and portraits of 35 women who have accused Bill Cosby of sexual assault. As New York's Noreen Malone and Amanda Demme put it, the women are “an unwelcome sisterhood.” For the magazine's cover, each of the women was photographed seated in a chair and gazing into the camera; the last chair sits empty, symbolizing all the women who can’t come forward with their stories.
As of early Monday morning, the magazine’s website had undergone a distributed denial of service attack; the site is still down as of this writing, but an archived version is available here. It's unclear what the hacker's motivation is, but the coincidental timing couldn't be more appallingly apt, given the culture of silence and shame that journalism like Malone and Demme's is trying to change. To combat the still mysterious censor of New York and to offer support to all survivors of sexual assault, Twitter users began using the hashtag #TheEmptyChair. Below is just a sampling of the countless messages so far. To see more, click here.
It's a problem when the survivors of sexual assault are treated like criminals/liars & the perpetrators like victims. #TheEmptyChair— Dominic Mitchell (@dominiclm_) July 27, 2015
#TheEmptyChair isn't big enough to fit all the people who have been raped, unheard and shamed.— Charlene Carruthers (@CharleneCac) July 27, 2015
I stand with every women or girl sitting in #TheEmptyChair right now. Your resilience is beyond measure.— Michael Skolnik (@MichaelSkolnik) July 27, 2015
Men and Young Men: I hope you are joining me in listening to and learning from the lived experiences being shared on #TheEmptyChair— jeff perera (@jeffperera) July 27, 2015
To anyone in #TheEmptyChair - you are more than what happened to you. You are loved. You are believed. You are heard.— Kate Stickel (@KateStickel) July 27, 2015
What's fucking with me most is how many women, hell, how many women I KNOW that sit in #TheEmptyChair because of how we treat rape victims.— Elon James White (@elonjames) July 27, 2015
Men Kill Women in the U.S. So Often That It’s Usually Not Even Newsworthy
When news emerged that a middle-aged white man in Lafayette, Louisiana, opened fire at a showing of the Amy Schumer vehicle Trainwreck, I immediately had this sinking feeling that the movie choice wasn't a coincidence—that this was, like the Elliot Rodger and George Sodini killings, an act of rage at women. While Trainwreck is a fluffy rom-com, it's also a popular topic of chatter in the feminist-sphere and therefore likely to be noticed by the seething misogynists who monitor the online activities of feminists with unsettling obsessiveness.
That fear is now moving from the uneasy-feeling column to the likely possibility column, with Dave Weigel of the Washington Post reporting that alleged shooter John Russell Houser was a rabid right-winger—he even went to one of those unranked conservative Christian law schools—who had particularly strong anger toward women for their growing independence and rights. Former talk show host Calvin Floyd had Houser on as a frequent guest, knowing that his off-the-wall opinions would generate audience interest: “The best I can recall, Rusty had an issue with feminine rights,” Floyd said. “He was opposed to women having a say in anything.” Houser also had a history of domestic violence.
It would be nice, as Jessica Winter argued in Slate after the Charleston shooting, if this country could have a grown-up conversation about gun control in the wake of crimes like this. Instead, we're just going to hear a bunch of ridiculous rhetoric about how more guns will fix this problem, as if Lafayette isn't one of those parts of the country where everyone and his poodle is packing heat. But since that's not happening, maybe we can talk about the continuing role that misogyny plays in the relentless drumbeat of gun violence in this country.
As my colleague Ben Mathis-Lilley noted today at Slatest, there were 14 other gun-based murder-suicides in the past week in this country, resulting in the loss of 36 lives. If you look down the list of the killings, an unmistakable pattern pops out: “shot and killed his 37-year-old wife ... shot and killed his ex-wife ... shot and killed his 62-year-old wife ... shot and killed his 23-year-old girlfriend ... ” and so on. Most of these killings involve men killing women that they were in relationships with, had lost relationships with, or likely wanted relationships with but were rejected. This last week also featured a bizarre story of a woman who not only survived being kidnapped and raped by a man but also saw her boyfriend and a random other man killed in the rapist-murderer's rampage.
Hearing that some man's entitled attitude toward women led him to kill is so common that it hardly counts as newsworthy. We don't know exactly why Houser shot up a theater that was showing a movie written by an unapologetic feminist, but this moment should still be a wake-up call about the problem of misogynist violence in our culture. If we're not going to talk about gun control, then let's talk about how to get fewer men to see guns as the solution to their inchoate rage at women.
Ingrid Sischy Made the Avant-Garde Accessible
This morning, the legendary editor and writer Ingrid Sischy died of breast cancer. She was just 63. An imposing and polarizing figure, Sischy was one of a handful of people who can truly be said to have changed the way we think and write about art, fashion, culture, and celebrity.
For those of us who grew up before the Internet, and grew up longing and hungry for a grittier and more glamorous world than the strip malls surrounding their high schools, what we mostly had were magazines. In the 1980s and 1990s, Sischy wrote and edited for the best of them, demanding attention for challenging artists like Laurie Anderson and Robert Mapplethorpe in a voice free of cant, pretention, or bombast. As editor of Artforum, and then editor-in-chief of Andy Warhol's Interview for an astonishing eighteen years, Sischy made the avant-garde accessible to people whose nearest bookstore was as close to artsy opulence as we could get.
Born in Johannesburg in 1952 to a physician father and speech therapist mother, Sischy grew up in Scotland and the U.S. before graduating from Sarah Lawrence. She began her career in New York’s iconic shop Printed Matter—all endless shelves of handmade chapbooks and gorgeous exhibition tomes. At 27, she became editor of Artforum, where she transformed the voice of the High Art establishment into a megaphone for feminist and postmodern art; her very first issue talked up queer partners in life and art Gilbert and George, a kind of relationship she’d later mirror with her spouse Sandra Brant, with whom she’d serve as international editors of Italian, German, and Spanish Vanity Fair in the late 2000s.
While at Artforum, doing those things mere mortals only dream of—almost coming to blows with sculptor Richard Serra at an Anselm Kiefer opening while Janet Malcolm takes notes; commissioning an attack on MoMA for a racist and retrograde show one month and then printing lengthy curatorial responses the next—Sischy carved out space in the mainstream, eventually serving as art and photography critic for the New Yorker, where she wrote a definitive chronicle of queer artist Robert Mapplethorpe and the U.S. government’s censoring of his work. During her Interview tenure, the magazine perfected its imitable blend of surface worship, critical thinking, and inspired chatter. To outsiders, the world of Sischy’s Interview could look ridiculous, elitist, aspirational, and brilliant—and that was only looking at the cover. Who knows how many Sischy inspired to move to New York or become writers (or not to) with such inspiration.
And then there was Sischy’s increasingly prominent persona: the huge glasses and fitted shirts, that only-in-New-York mix of Fran Lebowitz’s butch bookishness and Diana Vreeland’s imperial whimsy. She was—as women in charge so often are—painted as domineering, bossy, distastefully ambitious. Perhaps she was, and what of it? The best of the thousands and thousands of pages she wrote and edited over the course of her too-brief life deserved the push.
Back in 1986, for Janet Malcolm’s New Yorker profile that described her fight with Serra, Sischy described the challenges of her own ambition:
"I sat there looking at this pile of articles that were ready to go into the issue, and I just couldn’t do it. I thought to myself, If this thing isn’t going to suck you up, if it’s not going to kill you, the only way you can do it—even though it will irritate everyone…[is to] do only what you know and feel secure about. The minute you do something that isn’t yourself, the minute you publish something you can’t stand, the minute you answer somebody faster than you want to, it’s all over. I’m positive it is.”
At a time when people are reading more than ever, when more people are eulogizing print media than are buying it, when editors announce they’ve calibrated the acceptable percentage of niceness their publications will embody while publishing transcripts of a bigot’s sex tape—at this moment, the loss of a figure like Ingrid Sischy really comes as a blow even to those of us who never knew her, but always wanted to.
In a New Yorker piece from 1991, Sischy wrote, “Beauty is a call to admiration, not to action.” Ingrid Sischy admired for a living, and fought for a world where such a thing was valued. That world lives on, even after her passing. A lot of us wouldn’t be here without her.
Accused Batterers Get Free Attorneys. Domestic Violence Victims Don’t. That Needs to Change.
When domestic violence cases make their way through the legal system, accused batterers have the right to a free court-appointed attorney in criminal cases. But a domestic violence survivor isn’t assured access to reduced-cost legal services. It’s a problematic imbalance, and correcting it could likely reduce the rate of domestic violence.
Giving accused batterers free legal representation it is hardly controversial—our justice system prioritizes a fair defense for the accused. But what if we took the additional step of subsidizing legal services for domestic violence survivors?
For survivors, having an attorney can increase the likelihood of obtaining a civil restraining order from 32 percent to 86 percent. Restraining orders, in turn, can reduce the occurrence of violence and help survivors feel safer and more empowered in their relationships and lives. Attorneys can also assist with other legal issues, such as child custody, divorce, housing, and government benefits, which may be holding survivors back from leaving abusive relationships.
However, domestic violence survivors are frequently not in a position to hire their own attorneys. Victims in low-income households experience five times the rate of domestic abuse of victims in higher-income households. Studies show that low-income individuals are often unable to obtain the legal services they need or desire, with only half of those seeking legal aid being able to be served and more than 70 percent of the legal issues faced by low-income individuals not finding their way to the justice system. An abusive partner may also control the finances in a relationship, which could make it more difficult for a survivor to collect the funds needed to hire a lawyer.
So what would a solution look like? Dozens of legal aid groups around the country already focus on helping survivors, often with amazing results. If their work was scaled up, with states or municipalities offering free or reduced-cost legal assistance for those reporting abuse, evidence suggests that domestic violence rates would fall, along with the share of costs borne by the municipalities. New York City alone spends more than $44 million per year responding to reports of domestic violence, and arresting, prosecuting, and supervising batterers. Costs for health care and homeless services would also likely fall—studies indicate that half of all homeless women and children are fleeing domestic violence, and nearly 38 percent of all victims of domestic violence become homeless at some point in their lives. Given the probable cost savings, funding for civil legal assistance would likely pay for itself in many communities.
Our society foots the bill when someone accused of a heinous crime can’t afford a lawyer, because we don’t want anyone to be failed by the justice system. But many victims of abuse lack the resources to access the justice system in the first place. Civil legal assistance could put them on equal footing with their abusers, saving both costs and lives in the process.
Teen Sex Rates Stay Down While Contraception Use Remains High
A new report out by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicates that the rates of teenagers having sex have declined significantly in the past 25 years. Only 44 percent of girls and 47 percent of boys age 15-19 surveyed between 2011 and 2013 were sexually active, compared with 51 percent and 60 percent, respectively, in 1988. However, it seems the drop has leveled off. The study period before it—2006 to 2010—showed similar rates of sexual activity for teens.
The main reason for this shift is that kids are waiting longer, which has been shown in previous analysis by the Guttmacher Institute. Basically, 19-year-olds are still mostly having sex, but 15- and 16-year-olds are having less of it, which accounts for the majority of the drop. The average age to lose your virginity for American teens is 17.
There's a lot of reasons for this shift, but one can be safely ruled out: abstinence-only education. The theory behind abstinence-only is that if you discourage contraception use, you'll scare kids straight. However, general contraception use remains high among teenagers, and use of emergency contraception has gone up. As analysis by Danielle Paquette and Weiyi (Dawn) Cai at the Washington Post suggests, kids are making better choices—both in delaying sex and being more responsible when they do have it—despite abstinence-only education, not because of it. Brooke Bokor, an adolescent medicine specialist at the Children's National Health System, told them that the explosion in Internet access and smartphones in particular gives teenagers unprecedented access to sexual health information, which promotes better contraception use and teaches kids how to put off sex until they're ready.
This comports with research showing comprehensive sex education can help kids delay sexual initiation. The idea that knowing more about sex might disincline kids to have it early seems counterintuitive to a lot of people, but it's not. Research focusing on specific comprehensive sex-ed programs shows that learning to be comfortable thinking and talking about sex helps kids have healthier, more respectful relationships, which can make it easier to delay intercourse. Knowledge gives kids confidence, in other words, and confidence leads to more communication and better decisions.
Sites like Bedsider and Scarleteen offer information about relationships and personal decision-making right alongside information about contraception, reframing sex as something you can do responsibly when you're ready instead of treating it like it's always a terrible mistake. Instead of telling kids “just say no,” they offer things like charts of sexual behaviors based on risk levels. Turns out when you treat kids like they're capable of responsible decision-making, they often rise to those expectations. We should be doing more of that.
Yes, This Plus-Size Model Looks Like a Runner. And I Do Too.
I was at a party in a friend’s neighborhood a few weeks ago when I found myself talking with a guy from nearby. It came up over the course of our conversation that one of my primary hobbies is running. Upon discovering this, my interloper gave me a dubious look before responding, “Huh, you don’t look like a runner.”
I resisted the urge to throw my beer in his face or challenge him to wind sprints, but his comment still stung.
What does a runner look like anyway?
It should be common knowledge at this point that the contours of a woman’s body are not up for discussion, but when it comes to fitness and gym culture, fat shaming runs rampant. For many, fitness, unfortunately, gets intertwined with appearance, and it’s thus imperative that athletes “look” a certain way.
That’s why I’m excited to see the August issue of Women’s Running hit newsstands this week. The magazine’s cover features Erica Schenk, a plus-size model and runner who’s been at the sport for 10 years.
Seeing Schenk run, strong and confident, across that cover is a beautiful reminder that female runners come in all shapes and sizes. There is no single “look” of a runner and there needn’t be.
“Some women believe that since they have curves they can’t run or shouldn’t run,” Schenk told Women’s Running. “Running is for every body anytime.”
Sure, putting Schenk on the cover is an easy publicity grab for Women’s Running and a way to convert rah-rah body positivity into big bucks for a brand (one that’s likely lagging as most print magazines are these days). Plus, given that women, of all sizes, accounted for nearly two-thirds of the 18.8 million U.S. race finishers in 2014, it shouldn’t have taken so long to get this sort of representation in a magazine that’s explicitly about women’s running.
But representation is still important. Elite female athletes experience eating disorders at more than twice the rate of the average woman, according to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Eating Disorders. And among female high school and college runners, disordered eating is disturbingly common. Having a one-size-fits-all image of women who run is not only upsetting, it’s dangerous.
When we run, especially outdoors on these hot summer days, we’re putting our bodies on display. We’re choosing to be vulnerable for our sport and the numerous physical and mental benefits it offers. Having the very magazine that on previous covers boasted of ways to “Run Yourself Slim + Happy,” celebrated “Sexy Abs Fast!,” and offered “The 24-Hour Diet” finally acknowledge on its cover that “Your weight doesn’t matter” is a step toward making that vulnerability a little less scary.
One magazine cover isn’t a cure-all, but it is a reminder that I do look like a runner, because runners come in all stripes.
Besides, I’m pretty sure I could outrun that guy at the party anyway.
Inspired by Hobby Lobby, a Father Tries to Deny His Daughters Birth Control Coverage
Usually, lawsuits that try to use “religious freedom” to prevent women from using their health plans for birth control are launched by employers, such as Notre Dame and Hobby Lobby. (This overlooks that the plans, like paychecks, technically belong to the people who earn them through working—but onward.)
One of the anti-contraception lawsuits on the dockets, however, gets more personal. It's focused on stopping just three individuals—two grown women and one minor—from obtaining birth control coverage. And thanks to the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, this individualized challenge to these three people's access is being kept alive.
Missouri Republican state Rep. Paul Joseph Wieland does not want his three daughters to have access to birth control, in their case through the group plan offered by Wieland's employer, the state of Missouri. The plan does not require women to use birth control, of course, but the mere fact that his daughters might disobey his anti–birth control teachings bothers Wieland. A judge asked why Wieland doesn't just tell his daughters, “We expect you do abide by our religious tenets.” Wieland's lawyer, Timothy Belz, replied, “Well, we all have high hopes for our kids, that is true. We all expect and want them to obey us, they don’t always … ” Thus Wieland would like a little help from the government just in case his girls disobey Daddy's religious beliefs.
Belz also argued that federal minimums on what a standard health care plan must cover is the equivalent of passing “an edict that said that parents must provide a stocked, unlocked liquor cabinet in their house whenever they’re away for their minor and adult daughters to use.” The Wieland team also compared contraception to pornography. I suppose both prevent pregnancy, in their way.
Wieland's argument is pretty straightforward: If Hobby Lobby gets to deny its employees contraception coverage, why can't he do the same for his daughters? If you're disturbed by the amount of control he wants to exert over his children, then it's also disturbing to consider how much control Hobby Lobby wants over its employees. The only real difference is that Hobby Lobby could claim it is just trying not to “pay for it”; Wieland is a little more honest about his real aims. Because of this, the 8th Circuit Court reinstated Wieland's lawsuit on Monday.
Of course, just because the gist of Wieland's argument sounds like Hobby Lobby's doesn't mean that Wieland will win. Hobby Lobby v. Burwell was decided on a balancing test: The court argued that the Department of Health and Human Services could find a way to make sure women get birth control while also protecting Hobby Lobby's desire not to pay directly for plans that cover it. (The administration has already found just such a fix, creating a mechanism for insurance companies to offer coverage directly to women whose employer plans do not cover it. So far, Hobby Lobby hasn't challenged this workaround.) But Wieland can't argue that he's just trying not to pay for it, since the conservative argument is that the employer is the one “paying for” the insurance, not the employee.
Wieland's big ask also creates a much bigger bureaucratic headache for insurance companies and HHS: the standing of individuals on a group insurance plan to challenge the right of other individuals on the same plan to use it for birth control on the basis of familial connection. As Ian Millhiser at ThinkProgress notes, “[I]t is a relatively simple administrative task for an insurance company to note that the plan that covers Hobby Lobby’s employees does not include birth control and to adjust premiums accordingly,” but another thing entirely “for insurers to keep track of the particular religious beliefs of every individual in their network of customers and adjust each plan according to those religious beliefs.”
We certainly don't want a “Daddy said I could” checkbox for women who want to buy birth control through their insurance plans, but that is exactly what Wieland and his lawyers are trying to make happen.
Second Heavily Edited Planned Parenthood Attack Video Is Also a Big Bust
The Center for Medical Progress on Tuesday made good on its threats to release more misleading Planned Parenthood “sting” videos into the world. Last week the group released a hidden-camera video in which it tried to lure unsuspecting Planned Parenthood officials into secretly recorded conversations about donating fetal tissue, which CMP dishonestly tried to spin as a video about selling fetal body parts. In the latest heavily edited video, another Planned Parenthood official talks about such donations in terms that come across as overly frank to those of us who don't work in the medical profession but are actually quite normal.
This video, unsurprisingly, is being received with a whimper in the media, especially compared with last week's deceptively edited footage. That original eight-minute video, which purported to show illegal “harvesting” of fetal body parts for profit but demonstrated nothing of the sort, seemed to come out of nowhere. The longer video showed, despite claims to the contrary, that Planned Parenthood's Deborah Nucatola did not offer to sell fetal body parts, but the opposite: She insisted that selling fetal tissue is simply not done. With the same, dishonest crew claiming to have another “shocking” video, you can guess that it's probably the same kind of hoax: misleading editing, outrageous claims not held up by the evidence, and attempts to titillate people with gross details of medical procedures to distract from the fact that they have no evidence of wrongdoing.
Irin Carmon of MSNBC has pulled the relevant quotes and found that, yep, it's the same story: Despite CMP's attempts to make it look like Planned Parenthood medical director Mary Gatter is “selling” fetal tissue, she repeatedly makes it clear that is not an option. “But see we don’t, we’re not in it for the money, and we don’t want to be in a position of being accused of selling tissue, and stuff like that,” Gatter says very clearly on the tape. She does talk about money, but as was made clear in the debunkings of the video last week, Planned Parenthood's policy is only to take reimbursement for clinic expenses. The low figures she cites in this new video—$50—suggests that is exactly what Gatter is talking about, just as Nucatola was doing in last week’s footage.
At one point, Gatter makes a joke about buying a Lamborghini, but it's not the big reveal the right-wing press wants you to think it is. In context, it's clearly an ironic joke—an arch statement about how money is not being made by any of this.
Not only have both videos been misleading, so is the process by which they were released. Even though the people behind the videos would like you to believe they are a totally different organization than the Live Action crew that first publicized the initial footage—a group that is known for its history of misleading “sting” campaigns—this all fits the Live Action pattern: The release of a supposed exposé of Planned Parenthood causes a splash in the media, there’s an inevitable debunking, followed by less successful attempts by Live Action to publicize more videos making similarly fishy claims. In fact, as I argued last week, this pattern has repeated itself so many times that the Live Action brand is hopelessly tainted now, which is likely why a “new” organization that uses the same people and same tactics has popped up. It also helps explain how, just like last week, Live Action was the one to “break” this latest news, putting up a post about the video within an hour of it going up on YouTube.
While this new video is kicking off another round of disingenuous posturing from Republican officials and demands to “investigate” the noncrime of donating fetal tissue, the real story here is not unethical behavior on the part of Planned Parenthood, but on the part of anti-choice activists. As Eli Clifton and I reported for the Nation last week, CMP shares leadership with the radical anti-choice organization Operation Rescue that devoted itself to harassing George Tiller until he was murdered by one of its regular activists in 2009. (Operation Rescue’s senior policy advisor Cheryl Sullenger also did time for an attempted clinic bombing in the 1980s.) These folks promise they have more videos coming, of course. That's what Live Action always promised and it's no surprise that their apparent spinoff would do the same. What would be a surprise is if any of these videos actually showed any wrongdoing.
Literal Losers Are More Likely to Lash Out at Female Gamers
A newly released study shows what we were all thinking: Abusive and sexist gamers are losers. Literally.
“Insights into Sexism: Male Status and Performance Moderates Female-Directed Hostile and Amicable Behavior,” published last week in PLOS One, found that men who perform poorly in gaming are more likely to be rude and discriminatory toward their female counterparts.
The researchers, Michael Kasumovic of University of New South Wales and Jeffrey Kuznekoff of Miami University, found “that lower-skilled players were more hostile towards a female-voiced teammate, especially when performing poorly. … Higher-skilled players, in contrast, were more positive towards a female relative to a male teammate.”
During the study, the researchers observed 163 games of Halo 3, a game chosen because it relies on a multiplayer game with a team objective, it exists outside of a sexualized storyline, and it makes no reference to facial features or body types. Instead, the avatars are covered in armor.
Kasumovic and Kuznekoff came at this study from an evolutionary study perspective. Interested in what triggers sexist behavior, they root the cause in fear of hierarchical disruption and reorganization: “As men often rely on aggression to maintain their dominant social status, the increase in hostility towards a woman by lower-status males may be an attempt to disregard a female’s performance and suppress her disturbance on the hierarchy to retain their social rank.”
In Halo 3, the player status, which the researchers link to dominance, is on public display. Those “who stand to lose the most status” often compensate by attacking female players. And, as the study points out, this isn’t unlike the practice of “negging.” By bringing a female player down, losing male players believe they are raising themselves up and making themselves more dominant and attractive. This behavior could also be fueled by the anonymity of the game. Since players had pseudonyms, they spoke freely, with no fear of retribution.
Importantly, while the poorly performing men direct their wrath at female players, the study found that these men display submissive behavior with more skilled male players. They are more cordial with these players, likely because they don’t see losing to another man as so threatening.
Therein lies the possibility of at least one small cultural corrective. “By demonstrating that female-directed hostility primarily originates from low-status, poorer-performing males,” Kasumovic and Kuznekoff’s results “suggest that a way to counter it may be through teaching young males that losing to the opposite sex is not socially debilitating.” And that negging on women only makes men look like real losers.
What the “ISIS Bride” and Rachel Dolezal Have in Common
Monday night, BuzzFeed posted a lengthy investigative report by Ellie Hall about a young Christian-raised woman from Tennessee who became an “ISIS bride.” The woman, who tweets under the name Umm Aminah but who was christened Ariel Bradley by her parents, grew up in the Chattanooga area and now lives in an ISIS-controlled portion of Syria with her husband and children. From there, she has praised Mohammad Abdulazeez for his deadly attack on a Chattanooga military recruiting center. She tweeted, “Gifted this morning not only with Eid but w/ the news of a brother puttin fear n the heart of kufar [non-believers] n the city of my birth. Alhamdullilah [thanks be to God].”
BuzzFeed pieced together the 29-year-old Bradley's story through conversations with her friends and a brief interview with her mother. Her friend Robert Parker says that Bradley was raised by a fundamentalist mother who was intent on keeping “her away from materials that would make her question Christianity.” Not only was Bradley homeschooled; she didn't even learn to read until she was a preteen.
Bradley started rebelling against her parents in adolescence and spent her teens and early adulthood drifting from one identity to another, according to her friends. “It was like, when I first met her she was a Christian, and then she was a socialist, and then she was an atheist, and then a Muslim,” one friend explained. “As far as I could tell it was always in relation to whatever guy she was interested in, so if she meets a guy that’s an atheist then she’s an atheist, falls into that for a year.”
This search for an identity led Bradley to convert to Islam and swiftly become quite fanatical about it. She rushed into marriage with Yasin Mohamad, whom she met on Muslim “matrimony site” Half Our Deen. They married in Sweden, had kids immediately, and at some point, moved to Syria to join up with ISIS.
Though the two women are literally worlds apart, there are echoes between Bradley's story and that of former NAACP chapter president Rachel Dolezal. Dolezal became an object of national fascination a month ago when a reporter revealed she's been passing herself off as black, even though she was born to and raised by white people. (In an interview published over the weekend at Vanity Fair, Dolezal tried to explain: “I wouldn’t say I’m African American, but I would say I’m black, and there’s a difference in those terms.”)
Like Bradley, Dolezal was raised by home-schooling Christian fundamentalists, and like Bradley, she has major tensions with her family—tensions that apparently spurred her to transform her identity completely in order to disassociate herself from them.
Of course, though Dolezal's ruse hurt a lot of people, she's not advocating for war on nonbelievers or needlessly putting her children in harm's way. But these two stories raise many questions about the impact of fundamentalist ideas about child-rearing. TLC has finally canceled 19 Kids and Counting after revelations that the Duggar family shielded their eldest son after he was caught molesting girls as a teenager. Perhaps we're finally beginning to see that the Christian home-schooling movement, and the hypersheltering of children that's all the rage in conservative Christian circles, isn't cute and wholesome at all—that it has a sinister side.