Jenny McCarthy Applies Her Anti-Science Quacktivism to Charlie Sheen’s HIV Status
“Ick,” declared famous science skeptic Jenny McCarthy on her SiriusXM radio show on Wednesday. Charlie Sheen had revealed his HIV-positive status in conversation with Matt Lauer on the Today Show, which made McCarthy think back on the years she spent playing one of Sheen’s love interests on Two and a Half Men; she shuddered to think she may have unwittingly kissed a man with HIV. “That’s not fair,” she said. “It’s scary.”
She went on to reveal what she later called a “double standard” in show biz:
Before we do a job, we have to sign a piece of paper that says, “Do you have cold sores?” You have to sign a release that says, “Yes I have cold sores.” You need to show the medication. … I’m like, wait a second, if I have to be up front about a herpe, how could you not be up front about HIV? I look back and I’m like, “OK, that would have been some valuable information.”
It’s not surprising that the woman who thinks vaccines cause autism and a gluten-free diet can cure it hasn’t absorbed the basic facts of HIV transmission. Unlike oral herpes, which afflicts the majority of people on planet Earth, HIV is all but incommunicable through kissing, especially in the kind of abbreviated smooches you might see on the likes of Two and a Half Men. And what’s more, Sheen has emphasized that, since his diagnosis, his treatment regimen has kept his viral count so low that it’s undetectable in his blood, making his chance of passing it on very slim, even through actual risky behavior.
After hearing public criticism along these lines, McCarthy addressed her remarks on Twitter:
The point I raised about Charlie Sheen on my Sirius radio show had nothing to do with whether or not I think he put me at risk. I simply took issue with a double standard in the industry. Every actress (and actor for that matter) must disclose hundreds of personal health matters before ever being allowed to set foot on a film set. Yet an actor who interacts physically with dozens of actresses in intimate scenes, is not required to disclose that he has HIV? I am very aware that HIV is not spread through kissing, but I also believe that if an actress has to disclose all of her business before kissing a male costar, that actor should be required to disclose something as major as an HIV infection too.
Unless actors are engaging in actual sexual activity that could put them at risk for HIV and other STIs—as they do in the porn industry, which requires pre-filming HIV tests—there’s no reason why they should have to submit themselves to the kind of public shame and stigma that’s risen in the wake of Sheen’s disclosure. An HIV-positive person who simply “interacts physically” with other actors isn’t doing anything reckless, and to suggest otherwise plays into the worst kind of misinformation about the virus.
But misinformation has long been McCarthy’s M.O. Her anti-vaccination quacktivism positions her as a crusading mom who’s taking on a medical establishment that preys on innocent, dutifully vaccinated sheeple, when all she’s doing is using fearmongering tactics to get more listeners to follow along.
The wildest part of McCarthy’s diatribe is that Sheen didn’t get his HIV diagnosis until after their time on the show together, so he couldn’t have disclosed a positive status even if it were required. McCarthy’s last episode with Sheen was in 2010; Sheen says he got his diagnosis about four years ago. "Charlie was infected long after he left Two and a Half Men and long after he worked with Jenny," Sheen’s manager told People.
Of course, it’s possible that Sheen could have been HIV-positive and not known it at that time; even the best HIV tests have a window period. That’s one reason why, as Slate’s J. Bryan Lowder points out, it’s safer to have sex with someone who knows his status and getting treated than someone who doesn’t. But unlike some of the porn actors and ex-girlfriends who are rightfully angered that Sheen didn’t tell them his status even when he knew, McCarthy didn’t have sex with Sheen. All she’s doing by worrying aloud is giving stigma another foothold.
Scandal’s Take on Abortion and the Planned Parenthood Fight Was Perfect
Mellie Grant took a few cues from Wendy Davis in Thursday night’s episode of Scandal. With bare feet, a full bladder, and a hefty binder full of words, the former first lady and current senator from Virginia staged a 16-hour filibuster over reproductive rights. But the best part of the episode came near the end, when (spoiler alert!) one of TV’s most beloved characters gave us an honest look at a positive experience with abortion.
In a delightful switcheroo on reality, Grant (played by Bellamy Young) threatened to shut down the government over her stand to keep Planned Parenthood funding out of the discretionary column, where it could be easily cut. The Senate leaders who made up Grant’s opposition are old white men cackling in Southern accents over glasses of bourbon, telling Grant they’ll pass the damn funding bill whether she likes it or not.
The episode is filled with not-so-subtle one-liners in support of Planned Parenthood. When she first takes the Senate floor, Grant tells her peers that she can’t vote for the funding bill and go home for the holidays “at the expense of women’s health.” Later, she calls Planned Parenthood’s services “basic human rights.”
Television news pundits don’t get off so easy. On Scandal’s news networks, they speculate on how long Grant can go without peeing, a length of time they say depends on her fluid intake, bladder capacity, and urethral elasticity that may have degraded after the birth of her children. (It all echoes the icky intimacy that accompanies so many debates on women’s health issues, where men ponder the basic functioning of women’s bodies without using the word vagina, if possible.)
Grant dodged the kind of urinary catastrophe that’s fascinated political reporters for generations. (During Davis' 13-hour filibuster, she didn’t take one bathroom break or even lean on anything.) On Scandal, Olivia Pope Olivia Pope’d the situation, sending the vice president in to ask a protracted question so Grant could run out to pee. VP Ross tells the Senate she wants to talk about gonorrhea, playing on the same gross-out tactics one brave Portland woman used when she broke up a Planned Parenthood by yelling “yeast infections!”
The Planned Parenthood fight offered an apt metaphor for Fitzgerald Grant (Tony Goldwyn), one of the most insufferable, whiny, controlling men on television, who has upped his domination over Pope in recent episodes. He’s kept her from making her own life decisions since she got to the White House, just like anti-choice politicians purport to know what’s best for pregnant women. Mellie Grant fought the paternalistic nutjobs in the Senate; Pope finally released herself from Fitz’s overbearing drama and unrealistic demands.
But first, she got an abortion.
Kerry Washington played out Pope’s self-determination with sensitivity and grace; the closing shot of Pope comfortable and smiling for the first time in a long time says everything about why abortion access is such a crucial part of women’s health. Kudos to showrunner Shonda Rhimes for giving viewers an affirming depiction of a woman who gets an abortion because it’s the right decision for her in that moment, without any fanfare or hackneyed drama.
Spotify Took Major Action on Paid Parental Leave. Now, It’s America's Turn.
Today, Spotify announced an ample new paid-leave plan for working parents. Any full-time Spotify employee can now take up to six months of 100 percent paid leave, either all at once or split into three sections, from 60 days before their child’s arrival to the child’s third birthday. All parents are included under the plan, including parents who adopt or use a surrogate, and employees who had children between the beginning of 2013 and now can take their leave retroactively.
Spotify’s release lists “gender equality” among the reasons why company leadership chose to enact the new policy. This rationale correlates with an argument made in a recent Bloomberg piece on what it calls a “parental leave arms race” among elite tech corporations trying to keep employees on board. Paternity leave, Rebecca Greenfield writes, is as rare as it is crucial to workplace gender equity:
Working moms already face what's called "the wage penalty for motherhood," a phrase used by sociologist Michelle Budig in her research showing that a woman's earnings decrease by 4 percent with each additional child. New mothers without paid leave tend to drop out of the workforce, as many studies have found, and the longer they remain out of work, the more it hurts their careers. Yet the average mother takes two months more time off than the average dad, who takes only two weeks off, according to a 2014 study from the Boston College Center for Work & Family. A study from last year found 86 percent of men said they would take paternity leave, as long as they received at least 70 percent of their normal salary.
Only 11 percent of U.S. workers have formal paid family leave coverage according to employer data in a 2014 White House report, though 39 percent of workers report being able to take some kind of paid leave after the birth of a child. Most of the companies that have paid leave policies concentrate on the medical necessity of time off for women who’ve gone through labor. According to the Society for Human Resource Management, just 17 percent of employers surveyed say they offer paid paternity leave.
Spotify’s gender-blind parental leave policy mirrors recent steps taken by tech companies like Amazon, Netflix, and Microsoft to make their companies more attractive in a competitive employment market. At today’s Spotify announcement in New York, White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett said the United States’ lack of federal paid leave saddles us with a handicap in the global marketplace, too, as one of just three nations without such a policy.
Barack Obama’s administration has been the big political mover behind several U.S. advancements in paid leave in recent months. Sidestepping a Congress that’s unwilling or unable to tackle the issue, the Labor Department is issuing $2 million in grants to state and local governments to support family-leave legislation that could provide models for the country at large. Last month, with the help of $96,000 in Labor Department cash, two members of the Washington, D.C., city council put forth a plan that may provide 16 weeks of paid leave for every working D.C. resident.
Paid family leave has made a few brief appearances in the 2016 presidential race: Marco Rubio has distinguished himself as the only Republican with a (barely-there, unlikely-to-work) paid-leave plan, and Hillary Clinton has called out the GOP for its hypocrisy on using government intervention for Planned Parenthood instead of paid leave. But the topic is a non-starter in the current Republican-controlled Congress.
Today, the Center for American Progress released a new report that sketches out a few possible options for federal paid family and medical leave programs based on what’s worked in other countries, including employer-funded plans, social insurance programs, and federally funded plans. Most private businesses are loath to provide this kind of benefit on their own; for the sake of our country’s economy and the health of the American worker, political leaders need to take some kind of decisive action. For now, for every parent who’s not lucky enough to work at a wealthy tech company, anything is better than nothing.
Where C-Sections Are Most Common in the U.S. and Why They’re Performed
For a procedure so common, there’s surprisingly little information about how, why, and where Cesarean sections are performed. Last year, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data placed the U.S. C-section rate at 32.2 percent, with a higher rate for women of color than for white women. The World Health Organization, meanwhile, stresses that doctors in many wealthier nations are performing unnecessary C-sections, which can put infants and the people birthing them at risk.
In April, the WHO reiterated its global target for C-section rates: 10 percent. Less than that, and maternal and infant mortality rates rise. More than that, and risks increase but mortality rates don’t improve. Accordingly, U.S. health officials hope to shrink the country’s C-section rate among women with low-risk pregnancies.
Patients now have a new tool to help them gather more information about potential doctors and ask better questions once they’re on the exam table. Amino, a company that runs a free site to help patients find and book an appointment with a doctor based on how many people with the patient’s given condition the doctor has treated, released a study yesterday that analyzes U.S. patients’ likelihood of getting a C-section. Using data from insurance claims from 4.4 million deliveries between 2010 and 2015—that’s 3.5 million people who’ve given birth, and about 22.6 percent of all U.S. births—Amino examined the medical conditions that are likely to lead to a C-section and sorted the C-section rate by the day of the week and patients’ age and geographic location.
The interactive map Amino’s created shows a few clear hotspots for C-sections: Florida has the nation’s highest rate, 42.8 percent, with New Jersey not far behind at 42.3 percent. Wisconsin has the lowest C-section rate in the U.S.: 20.8 percent, more than 7 points below the next lowest state, Utah. Here’s how the study explains the wide discrepancy between states:
A woman’s ethnicity, race, culture, and socioeconomic status all might affect her chance of having a C-section. There are also staff practices at hospitals that can affect childbirth outcomes. For example, one recent study shows that 24-hour on-call obstetricians and availability of midwifery care may lead to a lower rate of C-sections.
Amino has also built a C-section predictor, which takes in information about a pregnant patient’s age, location, history of C-sections, pregnancy complications, and medical history, compares it to data collected from the 4.4 million deliveries, then spouts out the patient’s likely chance of getting a C-section.
In most pregnancies, the decisions surrounding a C-section don’t stem from the patient—a 2013 third-party report from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists found that “elective” or “maternal request” C-sections only accounted for 2.5 percent of all U.S. births. This new information could help empower pregnant patients to assess their own needs and risks, giving them a leg up in discussions with their doctors.
Josh Duggar Shame Spiral Continues With Allegations That He Assaulted a Porn Actress During Sex
Josh Duggar, he of the Christian fundamentalist worldview and secret Ashley Madison account, is facing a lawsuit after allegedly “manhandling” a porn actress during two instances of consensual sex. The actress, Danica Dillon, is asking for $500,000 in damages, asserting that Duggar caused her physical and emotional trauma.
Dillon says she was dancing at a Philadelphia strip joint, the Gold Club, in March, when Duggar paid her $600 for lap dances. He allegedly asked her back to his hotel room, where they decided to have sex and he paid her another $1,500 for her “company.”
“I tried to be sexy and seductive,” Dillon told ET in September. “And then he was like, ‘No, let's get straight to the point,’ and [we] took our clothes off, took his clothes off, and he was very rough with me. … He threw me on the bed and, in all honesty, though it was consensual, it more or less felt like I was being raped.” She says Duggar made her perform oral sex. “I never told him no, but I did push him back and push him off and say that's too rough, that's too rough.” The next month, Dillon alleges, Duggar found her dancing at another strip club and claimed he wanted to apologize, but she says he assaulted her again when they had sex a second time.
Duggar cost his family its reality show in May after admitting that he’d molested multiple underage girls, including four of his sisters, when he was a teenager. That revelation, coupled with the Ashley Madison revelations, led him to hide out in August at an Illinois rehab center, where he’s still getting treatment for “porn addiction.” Porn addiction, as Amanda Marcotte points out, is a handy way for Christian leaders to turn sexual desires into a treatable disease on which to blame their bad behavior without taking responsibility for their own hypocrisy.
Duggar was raised on fundamentalist Christian teachings that denigrate sinners such as gay people, women who wear revealing clothing, and sex workers. The facility that “treated” Duggar in his teens after he molested his sisters—the Institute in Basic Life Principles, which is now facing a lawsuit for allegedly covering up sex abuse—has advised survivors of sexual abuse that God might have let their abuse happen because they were dressed immodestly or disobeying their parents.
“Everything he had to do was like he had to be in control and had to be in power,” Dillon told ET of her second sexual interaction with Duggar. That’s exactly how the school of thought Duggar was raised in teaches men to behave around women. #NotAllMen exposed to this radical patriarchal philosophy will grow up to abuse women, but it's hardly surprising when they do.
This Woman Wore an American Flag Hijab on Fox News. That’s a Revolutionary Act.
On Tuesday night, Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly brought Trump spokesperson Katrina Pierson on The Kelly File to defend the candidate’s suggestion that he’d shut down American mosques to fight terrorism. On the flipside, Kelly invited Republican Muslim Coalition founder Saba Ahmed to try and convince them both that a government war on mosques is neither a Constitutional nor a smart tactical response to terrorist attacks.
Ahmed showed up literally wrapped in an American flag, an outfit so patriotic it might have blended right in at any Tea Party rally—if it didn’t represent a religion that many Republicans see as fundamentally dangerous.
Ahmed tells me she made the decision to wear her flag scarf as a hijab just a few minutes before she went on the air; originally, she had planned to wear a purple scarf on her head and keep the American flag over her shoulder. “I was in the makeup room watching Fox, and lots of people were talking against Islam,” Ahmed says. “So I asked the makeup lady if I could just wear [the flag scarf].”
Wearing an American flag isn’t a revolutionary act for everyone. For people who fit the dominant narrative of what a patriotic American citizen should be—a white Army veteran, say, or a presidential candidate—it just reinforces the norm.
But in mainstream U.S. culture, the hijab is a marker of the other. Since Sept. 11, American Muslims have been targeted by violent threats and hate crimes. In the days since the Paris attacks, politicians and private citizens alike have upped their vocal suspicions of Muslims as trespassers on U.S. soil. By making one of the most visible Islamic traditions garishly American, Ahmed is subverting two reductive stereotypes: that of an all-American patriot and that of a devout Muslim. To the many political leaders who’ve been popping off about the danger of allowing Muslim refugees from Syria into the U.S., Ahmed’s statement does not compute with the logic they trust.
“A lot of people think that Muslims should not be part of America, and they somehow associate Islam with just terrorists,” Ahmed says. “I just don’t think terrorists should be the ones to define our religion. … My whole point was that I just wanted to share that we are patriotic American Muslims.”
Around the world and throughout history, Muslim women have used the hijab as an instrument of resistance in the face of anti-Muslim prejudice and cultural imperialism. Ahmed used her hijab as a testament to her American identity and her right to claim this country as much as any other resident.
Ahmed has appeared on Fox a few times over the past week, and while she’s gotten a lot of feedback, she’s dealt with “haters,” too. “That will always be the case. That’s part of the territory of going on Fox,” she says. She’s also met with several Republican presidential candidates, who’ve fallen all over themselves to be the one to take the hardest line against Islam. “[The candidates] are closed-minded, but that’s our job. That’s why I founded the Republican Muslim Coalition: to educate them and change their perspective,” Ahmed says. “I’m an American Muslim and I’m going to live here for the rest of my life. I’d like to live in peace.”
The Hollywood Reporter Explains Its All-White Actresses Roundtable. It’s Awkward.
Every year, the Hollywood Reporter coats itself in the gold lacquer of awards-season glamour with its actor and actresses roundtables, featuring some of the most esteemed performers from the most buzzed-about recent films. The stars pose together in gorgeous spreads and speak deeply on their craft while (un)subtly making the case for why they deserve an Oscar nomination. The roundtables signal that the campaign season is underway and help predict what the Academy Awards race will look like in the coming months. This year, if the Hollywood Reporter is any indication, the awards season for actresses—much like last year—will be all white.
The dearth of women of color getting prime roles on the big screen has always been a problem, even in the unicorn cycles where two or three such women find themselves nominated in the same year. (The last time this happened was in 2012, when Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer, the latter of whom won, were nominated for The Help.) But that’s not why I’m writing about the Hollywood Reporter’s whiteout cover. No, the reason I bring this cover to your attention is because reporter Stephen Galloway, who profiled the eight actresses for this year’s roundtable—which includes Kate Winslet, Cate Blanchett, and Jennifer Lawrence—knew that you or I, we conscious observers of Hollywood’s inability to engage with race in a thoughtful way, would see that cover and wonder what was up. And then he decided to pre-empt all of our criticisms by explaining, in a separate piece coinciding with the release of the cover story, exactly why the cover is all white.
“Even for me, a white man, it was impossible to ignore the fact that every one of these women was white,” he writes. “That was appalling.” Whoo, boy. Can someone give this guy a biscuit, or at least a reassuring pat on the back? All that whiteness coursing through his veins, yet he can still recognize that the Hollywood Reporter cover just might be contributing to the industry’s inherent preference for white stories and white actors over non-white ones. This is good—he’s aware! That’s the first step towards progress.
He notes that a couple of years ago, the roundtable included Lupita Nyong’o, Oprah Winfrey, and Octavia Spencer, and how he had hoped, “perhaps naively, that this represented a sea-change in the film business.” “I was wrong,” he continues, pointing to Viola Davis’ incredibly moving Emmys speech from earlier this year and Spike Lee’s and academy president Cheryl Boone Isaac’s calling out of their industry for its dragging feet on the issue of diversity. He’s done his homework—Stephen’s definitely “down.”
And then he asks the most obvious and necessary question of all: “So who’s responsible?”
Galloway first points to the nameless Hollywood execs—because they always remain nameless, hidden safely under a cloak from direct, pointed criticism—who so often fail to hire black (and other non-white) directors, producers, and fellow execs. But in a truly brave, soul-baring confession, Galloway also blames himself and his colleagues for perpetuating this white-as-default mentality. (Well actually, first he drops in Hollywood Reporter’s “time and money [spent] launching a mentoring program for under-served girls that is now about to enter its seventh year.”) For instance, for a recent directors’ roundtable, he went with the uninspired choice of old white guy Ridley Scott, who helmed The Martian, over F. Gary Gray, black director of the highest-grossing biopic of all time, for the coveted last spot. He regrets this choice now, but fear not, Galloway is sleeping OK at night: “At least I can take comfort in having three men of color on our upcoming actors roundtable,” he opines.
The Hollywood Reporter’s preemptive deflection of the backlash for its so-very-white cover may just represent a new era in America’s racial climate. It’s definitely a sign that things have gotten weird when a major publication is aware of its own lack of imagination, indulges it anyway because it's the easiest thing to do, and then tries to quell the criticism before anyone has had a chance to see the result. Galloway is probably right that when this roundtable was put together in early September, there were no actresses of color in the awards season conversation—I’ve felt this way since the Toronto and New York film festivals came and went, and have made note of it publicly. (A few folks have since offered Gugu Mbatha-Raw as a long-shot contender for the forthcoming NFL drama Concussion.) Galloway’s companion piece somehow manages to be defensive and self-congratulatory at once in rejecting any accusations of the Hollywood Reporter’s lack of unawareness. But that's not the same as being part of a solution. Sorry—these days, simply being aware is not enough.
Men Eat Nearly Twice as Much Pizza When They’re Eating With Women
Cornell researchers have an important piece of advice for buffet patrons: “Calm down when eating with the opposite sex.” After spending two weeks watching 105 adults have lunch at an all-you-can-eat Italian buffet, the authors of a new study found that men who dined with at least one woman ate nearly twice as much pizza as men who ate with other men.
The researchers conclude that the men were trying to impress their female company by proving their ability to slay calories by the slice and pack pounds of pepperoni into their big manly guts. These male diners were so frazzled by the women at their tables that they defied their gender’s fear of vegetables and ate 86 percent more salad than their peers at men-only tables, too.
In this study, women’s eating habits didn’t change based on the gender of their company. But in post-lunch surveys, women who ate with men were more likely to report that they’d overeaten and felt rushed. That finding aligns with a paper published by South Korea’s Semyung University earlier this year, which reported that men in the study took bigger bites and employed more “chewing power” than women, while women chewed each mouthful more times than men.
The Cornell study points to the prevalence of men in competitive eating events as evidence that men see overconsumption as an indicator of their masculine competence. But there could be less obvious factors. Maybe the men at the Italian buffet were so exhausted by eating with women who “talk too much” that they had to shovel in more calories to keep up. Or maybe they were following the lead of a recent investigation from researchers in Scotland and the Czech Republic. Women in that study attested that sweaty armpit pads worn by men who’d eaten garlic smelled more attractive than pads from sweaty guys who’d eschewed the fragrant bulb. You know what they say: The bigger the Italian buffet, the smellier the garlicky armpits.
At Least 100,000 Women Have Attempted Self-Induced Abortions in Texas
Texas is giving us a vision of what our dystopian future might look like under a defanged Roe v. Wade. The state’s onerous HB2 anti-abortion law, over which Wendy Davis staged her famous filibuster, has contributed to the closure of 23 abortion clinics since it was introduced in 2013. As a result, wait times for abortion appointments with the state’s remaining 18 providers have spiked, rising to 20 days in some cities.
A new paper from the University of Texas’ Texas Policy Evaluation Project (TxPEP) predicts that the law will escalate the incidence of self-induced abortions across the state, too. TxPEP’s 2012 study on the subject revealed that 7 percent of abortion-seeking patients in Texas had attempted to end their own pregnancies before coming to the clinic, compared to less than 2 percent in the country at large in 2008. The study released today shows that between 1.7 and 4.1 percent of all Texas women aged 18 to 49 have tried to induce an abortion at home. In other words, between 100,000 and 240,000 women in Texas have attempted to terminate a pregnancy by using herbs, teas, vitamins, caffeine, alcohol, drugs, abdominal trauma, or a medical abortion pill (misoprostol) obtained on the black market or from a Mexican pharmacy.
Through interviews with patients who’ve tried to induce their own abortions, TxPEP found that most would have preferred a clinical abortion, but found it inaccessible because of financial barriers or lack of nearby facilities. Latina women living near the Mexican border and women who, due to cost or clinic proximity, had a hard time getting any reproductive health care at all, including Pap smears and contraception, reported abortion self-induction at significantly higher rates.
This doesn’t bode well for the future impact of HB2. Increased wait times at Texas’ dwindling abortion-providing clinics will mean more second-trimester abortions—a grim prospect for everyone. And diminished access to clinics will push many women to risk bodily harm and terminate their own pregnancies rather than spend the time and money traveling across the state to find a doctor’s help.
Last week, the Supreme Court agreed to review HB2’s constitutionality, and its decision could determine the future efficacy of Roe v. Wade. In the short term, if the court upholds the law, at least eight more Texas clinics stand to close, which will make matters much worse for women’s health in the state. TxPEP cites a survey from 2004 that found that, around the world, legal barriers to abortion are followed by a rise in unsafe abortions, but no decrease in the overall abortion rate. If the Supreme Court affirms HB2, Texas is likely to see the same results—and the rest of the country is likely to follow.
What Women Want, According to “Female-Friendly” Restaurants
Ladies of Virginia, your table is ready! A new Ashburn outpost of Matchbox, a D.C.-area wood-fired pizza chain, promises a menu that’s more “female friendly” than ever. Do women pay 77 percent of the list price, to account for the national wage gap? Can women servers take orders from customers without sexually charged comments attached? Nope. There are salads, though!
The mystery of female desire has puzzled pen companies and car manufacturers alike since the dawn of the marketing major—it was only a matter of time before restaurants started weighing in. The first frontier of gender-specific dining outside the home was the steakhouse, that bastion of dark wood and leather, the materials of the patriarchy. Morton’s and Ruth’s Chris tried feminizing their old boys’ clubs with menu additions and targeted ad campaigns; other chains like STK (tagline: “not your daddy’s steakhouse”) opened up specifically with women in mind.
On its face, explicitly marketing food to women seems like a smart business decision: Women hold the bulk of their families’ purchasing power, and they make up a little more than half the population. But some women, especially younger ones who never felt excluded from regular old restaurants in the first place, have pushed back against the trend. Still, given how little we know about what women really want, it’s worth taking a look at what restaurants think we crave.
The image of women laughing alone with salad is so iconic, it’s spawned multiple blog tributes and a play. Of course women like to eat their vegetables! “Don’t worry,” Matchboxfoodgroup CEO Ty Neal told Northern Virginia Magazine. “We still have Angus beef mini-burgers, pizza, and the ginormous meatball.” Pizza is carbohydrate hell, but those mini-burgers sound like the perfect size for a dainty lady-mouth.
Caloric intake is of utmost concern to the womanly diner. Eva Longoria’s now-shuttered Las Vegas SHe steakhouse, which was affiliated with Morton’s, made clear distinctions: They were dubbed He-Cuts, She-Cuts, and We-Cuts.
White Star Ale House in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, offers the same helpful gender prescriptions for beer, which comes in a "man-sized" 23-ounce serving or a "smaller, lady-sized" glass. Twenty-three ounces sounds more like a preemie than a man to me, but hey.
Nothing that tastes like icky liquor!
Women can handle a beer, sure, but probably not anything stronger than that. Ken Emery told Eater that at his restaurant, Burwell's Stone Fire Grill in Charleston, South Carolina, he and his employees "work hard to try to make bourbon more palatable" to women. Ruth’s Chris catered to the female palate with all drinks pink and fruity, like pomegranate martinis and strawberry basil gimlets. At STK, the cocktails have cutesy names that feel sexy—and that women can pronounce—like “French Kiss” and “Pink Elegance.”
A greasy steak is bound to mess up a gal’s lipstick. SHe included handy mirrors on its dessert menus so women could indulge in something sweet (mmmm, chocolate!) without rushing to the bathroom to re-do their faces.
Men hitting on them!
Devon Mosley, the marketing and PR director of STK’s parent company, told Washington City Paper’s Jessica Sidman that the restaurant is “for the crowd that wants that sleek sexy flirtatious experience.” He even admitted that the women who flock to STK for lady-sized portions were essentially bait for horny dudes. “Our CEO’s mentality is where the girls go to play, the men will follow.”
Ditto the Bracket room, a “female-friendly” sports bar in Arlington, Virginia, which is quickly becoming America’s best state for lady diners. “Our whole thing was to get girls to come because, basically, [then] the guys come,” owner Chris Bukowski told Sidman.
SHe had a catwalk; STK has ads that spotlight the legs and lips of the women who are supposedly the restaurant's target customers. If anything stirs up a woman's appetite for a piece of meat, it's seeing another woman being treated like one.