The XX Factor
What Women Really Think

May 15 2015 3:09 PM

Female Staffers on the Hill Are Being Shut Out Of One-On-One Meetings with Bosses

The National Journal conducted a study of women congressional staffers on the Hill and has been releasing some of the findings in a series of articles. On Thursday, Sarah Mimms highlighted how women are still held back from certain networking and career opportunities. Many staffers, she writes,  are "not allowed to spend one-on-one time with their male bosses."

Several female aides reported that they have been barred from staffing their male bosses at evening events, driving alone with their congressman or senator, or even sitting down one-on-one in his office for fear that others would get the wrong impression.

This is what happens when appearances are put ahead of substance. Sexual harassment shouldn't be reduced to the appearance of impropriety. Sexual harassment is an active choice that the harasser makes, and the way to fight it is to hold men who harass accountable, not to act like life on the Hill is taking place within a Victorian novel. Instead, because some powerful men mistreat women, the solution is to deprive women of opportunities for career advancement. 

In Missouri this week, state house speaker John Diehl was caught in a "sexually charged" relationship with a college freshman interning in his office; Missouri Southern State University responded by shutting down the internship program. That is punishing people who have little or no power because some middle-aged man allegedly gave in to some teenager's flattering attentions. 

You're not taking sexual harassment and abuse of power seriously if your solutions focus on depriving victims and potential victims of job opportunities. These women are willing to run the risk that some gross older man will get grabby with them in order to advance their career; their bosses should meet them halfway by running the risk of "impropriety."

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May 15 2015 1:57 PM

Sorry, Evo Psych Fans. Our Caveman Ancestors Probably Practiced Gender Equality. 

It's a sad week for evolutionary psychology buffs. A new paper out in Science, by a group of scientists led by University College London anthropologist Mark Dyble, suggests that despite widespread claims to the contrary, early hunter-gatherer societies likely practiced equality between the sexes.

“The scientists collected genealogical data from two hunter-gatherer populations, one in the Congo and one in the Philippines,” the Guardian reports, “including kinship relations, movement between camps and residence patterns, through hundreds of interviews.” In more sexist societies, “tight hubs of related individuals emerged” as men try to amass as much power and influence as possible through their own families.

More egalitatarian societies, however, spread out a lot more, as women have more control over how they live and who they sleep with. “When only men have influence over who they are living with, the core of any community is a dense network of closely related men with the spouses on the periphery,” Dyble told the Guardian. “If men and women decide, you don’t get groups of four or five brothers living together.” 

Because of this, Dyble and his team argue that gender inequality is tied directly to agriculture, when owning land and wielding power over others starts to become a big deal. “It pays more for men to start accumulating resources” in an agricultural system, Dyble explained, “and becomes favourable to form alliances with male kin.”

Guess evolutionary psychology aficionados are going to switch gears and start arguing that our “hard-wired” gender roles evolved during the advent of agriculture and not during our hunter-gatherer days. But evolutionary psychology has always been a conclusion looking for an explantion, the reverse of how science is supposed to work. Goodbye paleo fantasies. Hello, pickup artist manuals that romanticize some ancient dude harvesting wheat. 

It might be tempting for feminists to flip the argument around and declare that we're actually hard-wired for equality. That urge should be resisted. What this paper should really do is remind everyone that human beings are incredibly flexible and adapt rapidly to changes in our environment. Under some circumstances, we're more egalitarian; under others, we're more sexist. And because we now have significant power to control our environment, we should choose what's fairest to everyone. 

May 13 2015 4:02 PM

House Passes 20-Week Abortion Ban With Exciting New Hassles for Rape Victims 

Rep. Trent Franks, picture here in 2011, introduced the 20-week abortion ban in January.

Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

Back in January, a handful of Republican women in Congress stopped a bill that would ban abortions after 20 weeks. The women, led by Rep. Renee Ellmers, didn't object to the ban, but were worried that it was unduly hard on rape victims, forcing them to produce a police report in order not to bear a rapist's child. Republicans tweaked the language to take out that requirement, and on Wednesday afternoon, they passed the bill, with all but two Republicans voting for it. 

Still, Republicans made sure that rape victims still have to undergo unnecessary hassles to get an abortion. As reported by Rachel Maddow and RH Reality Check, rape victims have to endure a 48-hour waiting period to get the abortion. And a woman can't start the clock by going to her abortion provider: She has to find someone else—another doctor or counselor—to begin the 48-hour period. Which means more paperwork and more money to shell out, which will likely extend the waiting period past two days for many women, who have to do their jobs and live their lives while also filling out pointless forms and running around to make-work appointments. Guess rape victims should have thought about that before they got raped. 

Republicans say this bill is necessary because fetuses after 20 weeks of development can feel pain. This is, of course, an entirely false claim; what's more, the required waiting period gives the game away. If an abortion at 20 weeks is immoral, why is an abortion at 21 weeks—after you've jumped through your waiting period and paperwork hoops—OK? This bill's goal isn't to protect fetuses; as with all attacks on reproductive rights, the goal is to punish and control women—even women who are perceived as "innocent" because they didn't choose the sex that got them pregnant. 

The good news is that this bill has no chance of becoming law; even on the off-chance it reached President Obama's desk, he would veto it. But Republicans' doggedness about this entirely symbolic attack on women's rights shows that, despite hopeful claims to the contrary, the religious right still wholly owns the Republican Party. 

May 13 2015 12:10 PM

Austin Greets Female-Majority City Council With Workshop on How Women Are the Worst

Recent elections in Austin, Texas, have given the city its first majority-female city council, with seven out of 11 members of the lady persuasion. It's a milestone, though not an earth-shattering one. But city manager Marc Ott—or someone in his office—apparently thought the change needed to be met with a training workshop for city employees on how to deal with this confounding creature, the female human being. 

The first speaker was Jonathan K. Allen, whose claim to fame is being the city manager of Lauderdale Lakes, Florida, which has an all-female city council. Austin-American Statesman writer Lilly Rockwell collected some of the highlights of Allen's talk—which appeared to be given to a majority-female audience—in which he explained that women lack interest in “the financial argument” and would rather ask questions than read handout material. Allen shows heroic forbearance in putting up with all these chattering females, because “my daughter taught me the importance of being patient.”

“They don't process things at [sic] the same way,” Allen said, to women, referring to women. (The same way as what? Woman, you ask too many questions!) 

Shortly after Allen's talk, the women of Lauderdale Lakes fired him as city manager. (Lest you think that a feminist cabal is running all the men out of town: They appointed another man, Dan Holmes, as acting city manager.)

Later in the session, business consultant Miya Burt-Stewart concurred with Allen's assessment that women can be irritating with their endless questions and also argued that men have a “dominating” management style while women have a “compromising” one. 

Training workshops full of self-important puffery are an unfortunate fact of the modern American workplace, but rarely do you see one this ridiculous. That this happened in Austin, generally a laid-back and liberal city, makes it all the more puzzling. When the Statesman asked why the city subjected a majority-female audience to evidence-free stereotypes about their own gender, city spokesman David Green said it was a “timely and relevant professional development opportunity.” Consultancy jargon will also teach you the importance of being patient.

May 12 2015 5:22 PM

To Battle the Scourge of “Double-Dipping,” Australia Will Cut Paid Family Leave

Earlier this year, the New York State Assembly passed the Paid Family Leave Act, which would require local employers to provide 12 weeks of paid leave at two-thirds salary. It's a modest advancement, but also an exceptional one, since America is an embarrassment when it comes to paid parental leave. As John Oliver pointed out on Sunday, only the U.S. and Papua New Guinea do not give their citizens paid family leave. 

Australia was one of the last countries to leave this ever-dwindling group—it didn't introduce paid leave until 2011. Now, it seems, Australia wants to turn its back on some of its leave policies. What's more, the cuts were announced on Mother’s Day. Great P.R. move! 

Currently, Australian parents earning less than $150,000 a year are entitled to 18 weeks of paid leave at the Australian minimum wage. They may take this leave in addition to employer-provided leave, either concurrently or by using the state leave to stretch out their paid time off. So, for example, if your employer gives 12 weeks of paid leave, you could then tack that onto the 18 weeks from the government, and get 30 weeks of paid leave.

According to the government, though, using both sources of leave is “double dipping”—a way for parents to receive double payments for the same time period. But according to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s Fact Check, the leave plan was built this way deliberately; Australia gives parents a potential total of 52 weeks of leave. “That’s not all paid. This is a way of extending the pay period," says Fact Check's John Barron. "It’s all very well to have time off work, but if you’re not getting paid, you have a lot of pressure to try to get back to the workforce even sooner.”

Under the new cuts, women who have no employer-provided leave will still get the same government benefit of 18 weeks. But women whose employer-provided leave is as or more generous than government leave will get nothing. And if your employer-provided leave is less than the government's benefit, the government will only make up the difference.

This is particularly insulting to Australians because the government had previously promised six months of paid leave, an increase from the current scheme of 18 weeks. The Sydney Morning Herald estimates that almost 80,000 new moms will lose their government payments under the new policy. Watching this unfold halfway around the world is hugely dispiriting. It shows that even if we make progress on this issue in America, we can’t relax. We have to keep fighting.  

May 12 2015 12:30 PM

The ACLU Demands an Investigation Into Hollywood’s Gender Discrimination

Gender bias in Hollywood is so entrenched that it seems insurmountable, but the New York Times reports that the ACLU is confronting the behemoth anyway. “On Tuesday the American Civil Liberties Union will ask state and federal agencies to investigate the hiring practices of Hollywood’s major studios, networks and talent agencies, and possibly bring charges against them,” Cara Buckley at the New York Times writes, “for what the organization described as rampant and intentional gender discrimination in recruiting and hiring female directors.”

The ACLU of Southern California, which is leading the effort alongside the national ACLU Women’s Rights Project, has details on the investigation, which could reveal whether Hollywood studios are disregarding state and federal regulations banning discrimination against women. They have plenty of statistical evidence to bring to the table:

Last year, 70 network shows—nearly a third—hired no women directors at all. The numbers for women remained static from the previous report. White men directed 69 percent of all television episodes analyzed. “Women directors simply aren’t getting a fair opportunity to succeed, because of systemic discrimination,” said Ariela Migdal, senior staff attorney with the ACLU Women’s Rights Project.

The go-to excuse for these discrepancies is the claim that there's not enough women in the pipeline who have enough experience for these jobs. But according to ACLU lawyers, female students “are well represented in prominent film schools such as USC, NYU and UCLA,” with a “roughly equal” number of women as men focusing on directing. What's more, the number of women being hired for Hollywood jobs has remained static or worse for two decades: “In 2014, women were only 7 percent of directors on the top 250 grossing films, [which is] 2 percentage points lower than it was in 1998.”

There's reason to believe that women are held to a higher experience standard than men when it comes to directing jobs. Take, for instance, Michelle MacLaren, who was set to be the first female director of a major superhero flick, departing the set of Wonder Woman so hastily. Variety reported that inside sources told them that studio executives “became increasingly concerned about MacLaren directing a large-scale, action-packed production when her experience was limited to the small screen.”

“With most of her recent experience coming from quiet, small-scale kitchen sink dramas like Game Of Thrones and The Walking Dead,” Mike Vago of the AV Club sarcastically wrote, “[MacLaren] clearly didn’t have enough experience with battle scenes or complicated location shooting.” Contrast her experience with the Russo brothers, who directed Captain America: Winter Soldier and are on tap for three more Marvel films—prior to helming some of the biggest superhero movies of all time, the Russo brothers worked mostly in sitcoms such as Community and Happy Endings

It's easy to dismiss this as a bunch of rich people haggling over a few choice jobs. But Hollywood movies and TV shows really define American culture, both in our eyes and around the world, more than nearly any other single institution or industry. The male-heavy leadership has led to that vision being a weird, corrupted one: a world where men seem to outnumber women 10-1, where women disappear from view after they turn 40, while elderly men are treated like they're at the height of virility, and where no one has noticed that men yelling “Let her go!” at a villain manhandling the damsel is a cliché that needed to die years ago. Hollywood needs to hire more women—not for the sake of those women, but for the sake of those of us in the audience who are done watching the same male power fantasies regurgitated again and again.  

May 11 2015 12:12 PM

Surprise! Unwed Birth Rates Are Going Down.

Claire Cain Miller at the New York Times has some bad news for those who enjoy blaming unwed mothers for everything from gun violence to poverty: The birth rate for unmarried women has actually gone down 14 percent since its peak in 2008. “The recent declines were sharpest among teenagers; black and Hispanic women; and those without a college degree — all of whom have typically had the highest rates of single motherhood — according to data from the Census Bureau and the National Center for Health Statistics,” Miller writes. The only group whose unwed birthrates are going up? College-educated women over 35, though they are such a small percentage of unwed mothers that their impact on overall numbers is slight. 

The rise in women without wedding rings having babies—about 40 percent of babies born in the United States have unmarried mothers—creates alarm in conservative circles, in no small part because a lot of people conflate “unwed” and “single.” “Some researchers and marriage advocates say the prevalence of single-parent families could have long-term negative effects,” Miller writes. “These families are more likely than two-parent ones to live in poverty.”

However, a full 58 percent of unwed mothers of newborns are living with the fathers of their children. Many of them will marry, and many of the married mothers will divorce and become single mothers. What these kinds of statistics show is not the end of fatherhood, but that people's approach to marriage and parenthood is becoming more complex and individualized. 

But just because the unwed birth rate is going down doesn't mean that the panic over single motherhood is likely to recede. The majority of Americans believe crime is getting worse, but crime is actually way down since the ’90s. Most Americans also believe teen pregnancy is on the rise, when in fact it's in a sharp decline. So we'll probably continue to hear about how single mothers are responsible for every social ill imaginable. 

May 9 2015 6:00 AM

Worst State of the Week for Women: Deluxe Mother’s Day Edition

For this edition of Worst State of the Week, we honor the mothers of America by looking at some cold, hard statistics in order to answer the question: What member of the Union makes it harder on women just to do the daily work of parenting? We looked across several categories to spread the love among numerous worthy states.

Unintended pregnancy is riskier than planned pregnancy both in terms of the mother and child's health, and in terms of the mother's ability to still achieve her education and employment goals. Rates of unintended pregnancy vary widely by state, but while usual suspects such as Mississippi and Texas are way up there, Delaware, of all places, is the actual winner. As Olga Khazan at the Atlantic explains, the First State "has an unusual confluence of factors that add up to a surprising rate of mistimed conceptions," such as bad access to transportation and poor sex education. Since most teen pregnancy is unplanned, it's worth a look at the teen birth rate, which is highest in Arkansas, with a rate of 43.5 births per thousand teenage girls

One of the biggest challenges facing mothers is lack of health insurance, which can make it hard not only to get prenatal care but to stay healthy for your children. While Obamacare is steadily improving this problem, many gaps remain. Kaiser has a breakdown of uninsurance rates by gender, and Texas is the clear winner, with 27 percent of women ages 19-64 going without health insurance.

Though everyone likes to talk about work-life balance, there's surprisingly scant comparative data on how the states are doing on family-friendly policies such as sick leave, paternity leave, and safe places at work for mothers to express breast milk. In 2012, the National Partnership for Women and Families put together a state-by-state report card, but because so many states offer little to nothing in terms of parental protections, it's impossible to pick a clear-cut winner for the worst. So let's simply give a shout-out to each state that received an F on this metric: Alabama, Delaware, Georgia, Idaho, Kansas, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Utah, West Virginia, and Wyoming. (California and Connecticut were the only two states to receive A grades.)

May 8 2015 10:25 AM

An Ode to the “Mom’s Night Out”

Before I had kids, the idea of a “Mom’s Night Out” would have evoked in me the kind of whole body/soul revulsion usually associated with disgusted teenagers. I pictured gossipy cliques of bougie, Lilly Pulitzer–clad housewives chugging Chardonnay from giant wine glasses emblazoned with “Mommy’s Sippy Cup” in Curlz font. The idea that you would need to schedule a single night out per month to drink with friends was anathema to me, and the desperately high expectations behind this one night seemed like a recipe for emotional letdown—the same recipe that leaves super-psyched young women out for THE BEST TIME EVER on a Friday night drunkenly vomit-weeping in a Brooklyn gutter by Saturday morning (not that I have any experience with that).

The Mom’s Night Out would not be my lot in parenting life. I would not be thrown in with grown women who chose to self-identify as “mommy,” women who fetishized these meager little scraps of social time. Clearly these women had forgotten that they could still go out whenever they wanted like they’d always done, with the same friends they’d always had, drinking anything but Chardonnay.

So it was an especially cruel irony that in the early days of motherhood, when I was in the most alien state of my life—surging with hormones, completely exhausted, manically talking about my son’s every movement like a meth-y Mary Poppins—that I needed to make new friends. Specifically mom friends. During this period six years ago, my mother gave me some wonderful advice after an incident in which I skulked by the post office solely in hopes that a fellow adult female might talk to me. “Today,” she said, “you’re going to get yourself dressed, go out, and make yourself a friend with a baby.”

And though I was a sweaty, leaky mess, I did. My opening salvo to a smiling woman at a postpartum yoga class I could barely complete: “My mom said I have to make friends!” As an ordinarily socially adept adult, this was not my finest moment. But it worked, because I was talking to someone who was in the exact same position as me. Soon, I was broadening the circle through “playdates” with other moms and babies that were really excuses to get together and talk with other women, since 2-month-olds do not play with anyone.

But it was when we began to enjoy occasional nights out, without the babies, that real friendships developed. During these first evenings away from the responsibility of child care, we were again adult women with other adult women. We talked—hesitantly at first, then with the unabashed flush of women whose alcohol tolerance has tanked with motherhood—about our struggles, our frustrations, and how our expectations compared with our realities. As Heather Havrilesky wrote last year in the New York Times, “Somehow, as we’ve learned to treat children as people with desires and rights of their own, we’ve stopped treating ourselves and one another as such.” These nights out with my new friends—women who were also moms—were game-changing correctives in my post-baby life.

For the last couple of years, I’ve organized a monthly event I call Super Awesome Lady/Momz Night. The name has evolved into its current state to include broader identifications—some of my friends wanted it to be more “Lady” and less “Mom”; some are in two-mother or gender-queer households and don’t identify as Mom (which I’ve rather cryptically accommodated with the “z.”) As long as it stays dad-free and retains the “Super Awesome” part, I’m happy. At SALMNs (terrible acronym; suggestions welcome!), everyone is invited to bring anyone she wants: a mom they connected with at the playground, a colleague new to the area, even someone she picked up on the street who just looked cool. (I’ve done all three.) The result connects women from a range of backgrounds, classes, religions, races, political persuasions, sexualities, countries, and work situations. It is expansive, inclusive, without the Mean Girl Moms that some writers find behind every Bugaboo (maybe they just all live in Park Slope?). We talk about the triumphs and frustrations and minutiae of parenting, but we also talk about work, books, sex, gossip, and politics. There is laughing. There is drinking. There is maybe even some Chardonnay.

There are also serious conversations that offer sustenance through times of hardship. In my six years of parenting, I’ve found that a regular Mom’s Night Out is anything but a trivial indulgence. This is in part because when I delivered my first child, I also delivered a pernicious internal uber-mom into the world: one who looked like a Gwyneth-Gaia hybrid and who made her own baby food, who constantly judged me a failure, and who urged me to deprioritize my own well-being in order to become a selfless—therefore a good—mother. But self-abnegation helps no one, and neither does social isolation. The idea that you don’t need “mom friends” and their “mommy juice” is, in addition to being misogynistic, ultimately self-destructive. Women are nearly twice as likely as men to suffer from major depression, and between 6-13 percent of mothers suffer from depression in their first postpartum year; peer support groups have been shown to be pivotal in preventing and recovering from mental illness. Obviously, getting together with other mothers should not take the place of treatment for serious depression. But communities of women sharing their lives--whether or not those lives are concerned mostly with “mom” stuff-- is empowering; that’s like Feminism 101. Psychologists across the board find that social supports help to augment treatment, ease stress, and improve well-being for all women, especially mothers.  

Mom’s Nights Out helped shut down my pernicious internal uber-mom by replacing her with real mothers. As Havrilesky put it, “The current culture demands that every mother be all in, all the time.” Our Mom’s Nights Out are a refutation of this model, which all the women I know would like to burn to the ground. The first step in setting ourselves free from the culture’s trap is to find open, boozy communion with real moms unafraid to acknowledge how much we all struggle. Mom’s Nights Out help you see that the mother you think has it all together is actually stumbling, that she thinks someone else—maybe even you!—has it all figured out. This isn’t schadenfreude. It’s liberation. 

May 7 2015 1:33 PM

The Cleveland Cavaliers Promote Themselves With a Textbook Narrative of Domestic Violence

The Cleveland Cavaliers aired a promo ad for their playoff game against the Chicago Bulls that is so thoughtless about domestic violence that it's more baffling than it is offensive. In it, a couple reenacts the “Time of My Life” dance scene from Dirty Dancing; when the woman goes in for the jump, and her Cavs-loving boyfriend, realizing she's wearing a Bulls shirt, drops, or maybe throws, her to the floor, where the camera lingers over her curled up in pain. Last we see her, she's chastened and snuggling on the couch with her boyfriend, wearing a Cavaliers shirt and holding an ice bag to her head while he continues to needle her for the crime of being a Bulls fan. 

The ad is a platonic narrative of domestic abuse: a woman lulled into thinking she has a loving relationship, then cowed into submission by a seemingly out-of-the-blue act of violence. Thanks for making me rethink my plan to root for you, Cleveland, even if you do have LeBron James now. 

The inevitable rebuttal is “It's just a joke,” because we all know that abusers come up with the idea to abuse all on their own, with no cultural input guiding their choices. There is no reason to believe an advertisement, which exists solely to mold behavior, could mold anyone's behavior.

There's actually a growing body of research into how humor can affect male attitudes toward women. A 2007 study from West Carolina University laid some groundwork, creating a scenario in which men exposed to sexist, women-demeaning jokes were more inclined toward cutting money to women's organizations. A number of other studies have found similar results. The research looking at the link between sexist jokes and sexist violence is less common, but there are some troubling preliminary studies. One, published in the journal Sex Roles, found a correlation between enjoying sexist jokes and willingness to rape women; women's enjoyment of the jokes correlated with their willingness to accept male violence. Another study from the University of Granada in 2014 took it a step further, showing that how “relaxed” you were about sexist jokes correlated with rape proclivity. 

What's more, as comedian and science educator Raj Sivaraman explained in a 2013 blog postlong-standing research that shows that disparaging humor toward a group of people increases willingness to be aggressive—even violent—toward those people. Taken together, it becomes increasingly hard to argue that humor has no effect on people's attitudes about domestic violence.

Update, 2:07 p.m.: The Cavaliers have issued an apology for the promo: “While the video was not intended to be offensive, it was a mistake to include content that made light of domestic violence. ... We sincerely apologize to those who have been affected by domestic violence for the obvious negative feelings caused by being exposed to this insensitive video.”