The XX Factor
What Women Really Think

Dec. 11 2017 1:59 PM

Trump’s Accusers Hope America Is Finally Ready to Believe Them

Three women who’ve accused Donald Trump of sexual harassment and assault held a press conference in New York on Monday morning to call for a congressional investigation into the president’s alleged history of sexual misconduct.

“In an objective setting, without question, a person with this record would have entered the graveyard of political aspirations, never to return,” said Rachel Crooks, who has accused Trump of grabbing and kissing her without her consent in an elevator in 2005. “Yet here we are with that man as president.”

None of the allegations presented on Monday are new. Crooks and Jessica Leeds, who joined her at the press conference, made their stories public in a New York Times piece published in October 2016, a few days after the leak of an Access Hollywood recording that included Trump bragging about groping and kissing unsuspecting women. At the press conference, Leeds said that after being seated next to Trump on an airplane and enduring his unwanted groping both over and under her clothes, “that was the last time I wore a skirt traveling.” The third accuser, former Miss USA contestant Samantha Holvey, also spoke out before the 2016 election, accusing then–pageant owner Trump of meandering backstage while the contestants were getting dressed and inspecting each woman before they went onstage. Trump bragged about "inspecting" the pageants in an appearance on the Howard Stern Show in 2005.

Now, the women said, they hope the country is more ready than it was last fall to believe their accounts and force Trump to answer for his alleged crimes. In recent months, since bombshell reports of Harvey Weinstein’s decades of sexual abuse appeared in the New York Times and the New Yorker, dozens of men in entertainment, politics, media, law, and the restaurant industry have been exposed as serial harassers. Many observers, including me, have wondered whether the allegations against Trump would have been treated differently if they had been revealed during this cultural moment of increased scrutiny of sexual violence. “The Weinstein story hit, and it was like an explosion in a shingle factory: Things were flying all over the place,” Leeds said on Monday. “And it became apparent that in some areas, the accusations of sexual aggression were being taken seriously and people were being held accountable. Except for our president.”

The three women also appeared Monday morning on the NBC talk show of Megyn Kelly, who has likewise made headlines for accusing a powerful man—in her case, former Fox News chairman Roger Ailes—of sexual misconduct. In the interview, Holvey recalled her shock at Trump’s election win despite several public accusations of sexual harassment and assault. Seeing 53 percent of white women vote for Trump “hurt the most,” Holvey said. “We’re private citizens, and for us to put ourselves out there to try and show America who this man is, and especially how he views women, and for them to say ‘meh, we don’t care’—it was, it hurt,” she continued. “And so, you know, now it’s just like, ‘Alright, let’s try round two. The environment’s different. Let’s try again.’”

The White House addressed the Kelly segment with a statement, calling the claims by all three women “false.” “The American people voiced their judgment by delivering a decisive victory,” the statement read, imputing the accusers with “political motives.” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders recently affirmed that the Trump administration has “been clear” on the fact that all of Trump’s accusers are lying “from the beginning.”

More than 20 women have accused Trump of sexual harassment and assault, many of which are far more severe than the alleged misdeeds that were leveled against Sen. Al Franken, who was pressured to resign his Senate seat last week, before an ethics inquiry he requested could even begin. At Monday’s press conference, Crooks said that if Republicans in the Senate were willing to investigate Franken after several women said he forced kisses on them or groped them during photo-ops, “it’s only fair that they do the same for Trump.”

But when reporters asked the accusers what they hoped might come of a congressional ethics probe, none of the three women had an answer. Crooks and Holvey both said Trump should resign his office, then admitted that the chances of him doing so were nearly zero. None expressed interest in joining the lawsuit of Summer Zervos, who is suing the president for defamation for calling her and her fellow Trump accusers “liars.” The best outcomes the women could come up with were vague notions of shifting attitudes about sexual assault and an indictment of Trump in the ”court of public opinion,“ in Crooks‘ parlance. But even though Trump was elected more than a year ago in a culture that discussed sexual assault somewhat differently, the Republican Party—and Republican voters—have continued to support the Senate candidate Roy Moore amid mounting evidence that he made a habit of preying on teenage girls in his 30s. Public conversations about men who abuse their power to demean women have changed since Crooks, Leeds, and Holvey first told America about their encounters with Trump. The priorities of the party that got him elected have not.

Dec. 8 2017 3:37 PM

In Praise of the One-Boobed Christmas Sweater

If you are Lil’ Kim, or if Christmas sweaters are just too Puritanical for your taste, this season’s fashion outlook will be a big relief. “The Reindeer Boob Is Coming to Town,” promised the BBC this week. Allure documented several cases of people “Decorating Their Boobs to Look Like Reindeer Faces” by popping their breasts out of sweaters and embellishing them with googly eyes and pom-poms. The Sun called it a “nipple trend” in a piece republished by the New York Post, the putative arbiter of urban breast fads. A British blog, with no material evidence, claims bare boobs dressed as reindeer faces constitute a “new craze sweeping Manchester.”

But the original commercialized breast-as-reindeer exposed itself long before the internet caught wind of the concept. It was 2014, in the Salt Lake City, Utah workshop of Sheri and Tyler Wiseman, who run a Christmas sweater Etsy shop called Your Sassy Grandma. The entrepreneurs put together a kit comprising one red pom-pom pasty (for the nipple), googly eyes (for the upper breast), and felt reindeer antlers (for the collarbone). It was meant to be used on a breast flopped over the top of a one-shouldered tank top (not included). The Etsy description talked a big game: “If you want to stand out at your Ugly Sweater Party, Burlesque show or even just to have a fun night in your bedroom, then this reindeer is for you!!”

The arresting image on the site—basically a naked boob!—went semi-viral, Sheri told me in an email, but it wasn’t until the couple made an upgrade in 2015 that the internet really took notice. That year, the Wisemans took regular men’s holiday sweaters and cut out one gigantic hole in each, leaving room for a dude’s entire pec to peep through. Before long, the Wisemans had made a women’s version, including the entire pasty kit and a sweater with a garland-rimmed hole, perfectly aligned over the space where a right breast should be. And this remarkable sweater is the one that has finally sold me on the one-boobed garment trend.



“It was made to be a funny and sexy alternative to your standard ugly Christmas sweater,” Sheri says. “When we were creating it, we hadn’t planned on it becoming the ‘international breastfeeding sweater.’” Sheri is referring to the 2015 Facebook post in a group called “Beautiful Breastfeeding,” which elevated the sweater to global acclaim with a link to the Etsy listing. Now, the listing includes a warning: “This sweater is not intended for breastfeeding…The pasty is for a one-time use, once removed the adhesive is no longer sticky. (We have contacted the Huffington Post and asked them to correct the article.)”

The sweaters have proved so popular, Sheri says, that she and her husband “keep running out of base sweaters and can’t make them fast enough.” They’ve sold more than 150 to date! Sales would be even crazier if there weren’t so many copycats out there. (Check out #reindeerboob on Instagram for some representative examples.)

Against my better judgment and the urging of several colleagues, there’s something about this trend that really speaks to my aesthetic sensibilities. By covering up the entire torso except one breast, then making a cartoonish joke of that breast, the purportedly sexy sweater exposes the social construction of both sexiness and breasts. The costume casts a film of skepticism on breasts as objects of erotic, forbidden fantasy, reminding us that breasts are merely bags of blood and tissue, with some specific biological functions, until our minds transform them into targets of desire. It’s hard to say or think anything remotely suggestive when you’re looking a reindeer straight in its googly eyes. It’s breasts, in drag.

But according to Sheri, there have been some damaging misconceptions about what the sweater actually entails. Some people “don’t believe that it's a ‘real’ breast; they think it’s plastic,” she says. “We started getting a lot of returns and order cancellations because of that. So we ended up typing it in big bold letters ‘NOT PLASTIC!’ Even now people still think it’s plastic and have to cancel their order.” Others doubt that the sweater would work for them. At Slate, a few women pointed out the “perky privilege” one must have to keep the reindeer from running around, and Sheri says some people have told her their reindeer “would be pointing to the ground.”

The Wisemans also offer a family-friendly store stocked with Christmas sweaters for kids and more conservative adults. There’s still a one-shouldered tank top in stock there, with felt antlers glued to the model’s chest. Unlike the Your Sassy Grandma version, this one covers the breast in a festive red-and-white knit. But, like a vestigial organ from a sexier time, the red pom-pom over the nipple remains.



Dec. 7 2017 4:24 PM

Why Franken Had to Go

Minnesota Sen. Al Franken announced on Thursday his plan to resign “in the coming weeks” after a series of allegations that he groped women and kissed them without consent. “There is a big part of me that will always regret having to walk away from this job with so much work left to be done,” Franken said in somber remarks on the Senate floor. “But I have faith that the work will continue because I have faith in the people who’ve helped me do it.”

In recent weeks, as accusers have come forward with stories of Franken allegedly forcing kisses on them and squeezing their butts during photo-ops, there has been much hand-wringing among Democrats and progressives about how he and the party should respond. Should Franken have resigned immediately after L.A. radio host Leeann Tweeden first accused him of shoving his tongue into her mouth, a claim accompanied by a picture of Franken pretending to grab her breasts while she slept? As my colleague Mark Joseph Stern wrote that day, the credibility of Franken’s party, which had called for alleged child molester Roy Moore to quit the Alabama Senate race, was on the line. Or should Franken have stuck it out and left a Senate ethics investigation to decide his fate? After all, it may do women worse if a far-right conservative wins his open Senate seat than it would have been to leave in place a handsy creep who doesn’t vote against women at every turn.

The dilemma boiled down to this: Democrats could either put themselves at a potential political disadvantage by observing rules of decency Republicans have entirely abandoned, or they could lower themselves into the GOP latrine, keep Franken on the roster, and spend the next several election cycles smelling a little like shit. Democrats seemed content to hold their nose and bear with Franken through the first half-dozen accusations. But when a seventh accuser came forward this week, at least 17 Democratic senators—mostly women—publicly urged Franken to step down, leaving him little choice.

However unfair it may be that Franken is leaving Washington while admitted assailant Donald Trump is still in the White House (Franken called it an “irony” in his remarks on Thursday) and Moore might be on his way to the Senate, it is clear that Democrats, and Franken, made the right call.

Republicans have never held themselves to the same standards of behavior as Democrats, and it will never be a good idea to sink to the GOP’s depths of hypocrisy. Theirs is the party that panders to a set of rabid anti-abortion voters who couldn’t care less about the transgressions of its leaders as long as they vote to curtail women’s bodily autonomy. Its tolerance even extends to men who privately tell their own extramarital girlfriends to get the abortions its voters despise. It’s the party that lifted Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court, positions the Violence Against Women Act as an assault on family values, believes equal pay legislation is anti-male, bemoans the days when women stayed home to keep house, and works to make it harder for colleges to combat campus rape. Dems are hardly blameless—no less than Joe Biden did Thomas a big favor by casting doubt on Anita Hill’s claims of sexual harassment—but in the Republican Party, contempt for women is a feature, not a bug. It would do Democrats no good to start hedging their own commitment—new as it is, for some—to gender equity.

Progressives like Kate Harding, who wrote a Washington Post piece last month arguing that Franken’s resignation would do more harm to women than good, believed they were playing the long game when they encouraged Democrats to allow the senator to keep his seat. Kicking him out might make the party look good now, but the potential damage done by the ouster of a good liberal could last for years. I’d counter with an even longer game: Think about the Democrats with long, bright futures ahead of them, the rising stars, the next Obamas, the legislators who might pass universal Medicare or eliminate Medicaid abortion bans or become president someday. If Kirsten Gillibrand, Sherrod Brown, and Kamala Harris didn’t condemn Franken, they’d lose no small degree of faith among women currently feeling empowered by the #MeToo movement to root out abusers. If Franken was allowed to keep his seat while his party comrades twiddled their thumbs, young people who already think the Democratic Party is a corrupt instrument of the bourgeoisie would have one more reason to write it off for good. By sacrificing one senator, however popular he might be and whatever the perils of relinquishing his seat, Democrats were able to prevent irreparable damage to the party’s reputation among the people it should care about most: its base.

There’s another still longer game to think about, too. In the best-case scenario, the hurt caused by Franken’s resignation will be a memorable lesson to Democrats: Don’t mistreat women, or promote the candidacies of people who do—otherwise, your party might take a debilitating loss when it can least afford it, and the whole country will suffer. The moral high ground can be painful to walk, but at least there are fewer gropers there.

Nov. 30 2017 3:12 PM

“I Was Almost Physically Sick”: Hillary Clinton Had Harsh Words for Matt Lauer’s Journalism in What Happened

Before Matt Lauer’s name was added to the ever-expanding list of powerful media men reported to be serial sexual harassers, his uneven treatment of the presidential candidates—one an alleged sexual harasser and the other the first female major party nominee—during a September 2016 “Commander in Chief Forum” drew the ire of none other than Hillary Rodham Clinton. In her memoir What Happened, Clinton’s tone took on the type of scorn usually reserved for now-president Donald Trump as she described how the Today show host dogged her about her emails and then tossed Trump easy questions. “Trump,” the former Secretary of State wrote, “should have reported [Lauer’s] performance as an in-kind contribution.”

Nov. 30 2017 2:30 PM

Why Garrison Keillor’s Fall From Grace Feels Particularly Queasy-Making

On Wednesday, Minnesota Public Radio announced it was severing all ties to Garrison Keillor, citing allegations of “inappropriate behavior” toward a co-worker when he was producing the show. The station will stop distributing old episodes of “A Prairie Home Companion” featuring Keillor, who retired from hosting duties a year ago. And it will rename his show, which is now fronted by bluegrass musician Chris Thile. American Public Media, MPR’s parent organization, will end distribution and broadcast of “The Writer’s Almanac,” a short daily spot featuring poetry and literary tidbits. Within a day, Keillor’s decades-long radio career has been effectively scrubbed from the public square.

Nov. 29 2017 2:05 PM

Garrison Keillor Fired From Minnesota Public Radio Amid Allegations of Improper Behavior

“A Prairie Home Companion” creator Garrison Keillor announced Wednesday that he has been fired from Minnesota Public Radio amid allegations of inappropriate actions toward a co-worker, making him the second round-spectacled nerd from Minnesota to come under fire in recent weeks for workplace misconduct. Keillor hosted the wry Midwestern variety program from its debut in 1974 until 2016.

The Grammy Award–winner emailed the Associated Press with both the news of his firing and a bit of a defense: The story of his alleged misdeeds is “more interesting and more complicated than the version MPR heard,” Keillor wrote.

Just one day ago, in the Washington Post, Keillor published a defense of fellow Minnesotan Al Franken, who has been accused of sexual harassment and nonconsensual touching by several women. Franken participated in USO tours, where some alleged harassment and groping took place, “from deep in his heart, out of patriotism,” Keillor wrote. The sexist jokes Franken made were “broad comedy of a sort that goes back to the Middle Ages,” employed by comics as revered as Shakespeare and Bob Hope. Calls for Franken to resign are “pure absurdity,” Keillor contended, that could lead to “a code of public deadliness.” Keillor also managed to pooh-pooh efforts to rename landmarks christened for enslavers and other violent, racist historic figures in the characteristically rambling piece—arguing, perhaps, that the public should forgive and forget the vast majority of trespasses committed by famous men.

Perhaps he was worried about his own legacy, which is already crumbling fast. NPR’s David Folkenflik reported on Wednesday that Minnesota Public Radio will yank all past Keillor-hosted “A Prairie Home Companion” episodes off the air and rename the four-decade-old program entirely.

Considering Keillor’s immense popularity among public radio diehards, this dramatic break suggests that the allegations against Keillor are severe. In a statement, a Minnesota Public Radio representative said the station was informed of the allegations in October and hired a law firm to conduct an independent investigation. “Based on what we currently know, there are no similar allegations involving other staff,” the statement said.

Keillor once brought up the scourge of sexual harassment in an odd address at the National Press Club in 1994. “We should be careful…not to make the world so fine and good that you and I can’t enjoy living in it,” he said. “A world in which there is no sexual harassment at all is a world in which there will not be any flirtation.” He made the same joke in his 2006 book, Homegrown Democrat. Keillor has not yet indicated whether the “interesting” and “complicated” situation that led to his firing involved flirtation, sexual harassment, or both.

Update, Nov. 29, 2017: In an email to the Star Tribune, Keillor gave a more detailed account of why he claims he was fired:

I put my hand on a woman’s bare back. I meant to pat her back after she told me about her unhappiness and her shirt was open and my hand went up it about six inches. She recoiled. I apologized. I sent her an email of apology later and she replied that she had forgiven me and not to think about it. We were friends. We continued to be friendly right up until her lawyer called.

Nov. 27 2017 1:12 PM

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle Make the Story of Will and Kate Seem Like a Real Snooze

Break out the mince pies and crumpets: Prince Harry and Meghan Markle are getting married. The royal family announced Monday that the prince and his girlfriend got engaged this month and that the wedding will take place next spring. The royal family is an embarrassing anachronism, a financial burden on long-suffering British taxpayers, and an insult to the very idea of democracy. Also, squee, a royal wedding!

The romance between Prince Harry and Markle, an American actress, has been as refreshingly modern as a relationship endorsed by the Queen of England can be. The future Duchess of Sussex is a 36-year-old biracial American divorcee who was previously best known for acting in a basic cable drama. At one point, any one of those descriptors—her age, race, nationality, marital history, or profession—would have effectively disqualified her from a royal marriage. And Markle is not just American, she is the star of a freakin’ 4th-of-July-themed Hallmark movie. (When Sparks Fly is about a big-city journalist who goes back to her small hometown to write an article about her parents’ fireworks business … and to fall in love.)

Nov. 21 2017 7:29 PM

Why the SNL Women’s Statement Is Not the Same as Lena Dunham’s

If there’s one thing this moment of sexual reckoning has taught us, it’s that we should listen to women. But does that extend to the women speaking up to defend the men other women have accused of sexual harassment? This last week has seen multiple high-profile women ripped apart for coming in to bat for the accused. On Friday, there was Lena Dunham’s now-retracted defense of Girls writer Murray Miller. Tuesday morning saw the release of a letter of support for Al Franken from the women he worked with on Saturday Night Live:

Nov. 21 2017 5:36 PM

Ban Men’s Bathrobes

As allegations of misdeeds by powerful men continue to pile up in the aftermath of the Harvey Weinstein accusations, it’s becoming clear that if we don’t want to live in a society where abuse so plainly thrives, there’s a lot of work ahead. We need to question and rethink the power structures that have allowed men to act with impunity. We need to pay attention to ensuring the safety of people in lower-profile, lower-paying fields. And by God, we need to cut off men’s access to bathrobes.

Perhaps it’s gender-essentialist to argue that all men should be denied the fluffy comforts of bathrobes based on just a few men’s bad behavior. But in a world where Mike Pence refuses to meet with women alone and pundits have suggested that everyone should follow suit, I feel OK about saying the following: Men, it’s time to grow up and put on your big-boy pants, because your bathrobe days are over.

Post-Weinstein, reading allegations of abuse has become part of a horrifying routine all media consumers share; one starts to develop a sense of each alleged abuser’s arsenal of tricks, some of which overlap with or echo other abusers’ tricks. It’s a sick game of Clue where instead of candlesticks and lead pipes, we’ve got masturbation into potted plants and forced kisses. Or a game of bingo where your prize for spotting the telltale accessories is … the sinking feeling that workplaces have let this go on unchecked for years. There are many reasons for that, and bathrobes surely are not the primary thing keeping bad men in power. But I do think that if we pull the robes out of the Jenga tower that is the patriarchy, it will be ever so slightly more likely to topple.

Let’s examine the role men in bathrobes have played in some of the recent revelations. On Monday, the Washington Post reported on eight women’s accounts of being sexually harassed by Charlie Rose. The TV host’s M.O. involved showing off his Long Island home and that old hand-on-the-thigh maneuver: palming his female employee’s legs while they were riding next to him in cars. But it doesn’t take any special knowledge of terry cloth thread count to spot that other reliable standby in the harasser’s playbook that appeared in the Washington Post report: a bathrobe. One night, Rose allegedly invited a female job candidate to his house and gave her a tour of the property:

At the pool, Rose dangled his legs in the water and then said that he needed to change because his pant legs were wet. He returned wearing a white bathrobe, which was open; he wore nothing underneath.

Harvey Weinstein, the man whose alleged abuses kicked off this current moment, was also known to favor a bathrobe, which came up repeatedly in the New York Times and New Yorker’s reporting on his victim’s stories. One appears in the lead of the very first Times story:

Two decades ago, the Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein invited Ashley Judd to the Peninsula Beverly Hills hotel for what the young actress expected to be a business breakfast meeting. Instead, he had her sent up to his room, where he appeared in a bathrobe and asked if he could give her a massage or she could watch him shower, she recalled in an interview.

The robe also makes appearances in subsequent reports about Weinstein: He reportedly was wearing one when he asked Rosanne Arquette for a massage and with at least one other accuser. Yet another man who loved robes was of course the late Hugh Hefner, who, in the words of my colleague Christina Cauterucci, “earned millions off the bodies of the women in Playboy while spinning it as a win for sexual liberation.” And he accomplished all that while wearing a robe—even on TV.

One wonders, was it the same robe that Weinstein carted from hotel suite to hotel suite, like an athlete’s good luck charm, except for abuse? Did Charlie Rose have the same one? Did they both come from a mail-order catalog for dirty old men along with instructions for use that laid out some tried-and-true harassing tips? Or could any robe be an accessory to lechery?

We don’t yet know, so until we’ve worked out this current crisis—as our president might say, until we know what the hell is going on—the safest thing to do is to bar men from wearing the kind of loose clothing where only a flimsy sash stands in the way of their genitals flapping around for all to see and be traumatized by. They simply can’t be trusted, and if the result is that they’re less cozy and secure, then so be it. Sorry, dudes, you have lost the privilege to put on a soft, snuggly transitionary item of clothing after bathing. Now, you must towel off and get fully dressed, even if it means getting your clothes a little damp because you aren’t fully dry. Boo freakin’ hoo. Protesting will not earn you back your robe privileges, but may, in fact, bump you down to the apparel your mindset most deserves: a diaper.

Nov. 17 2017 3:02 PM

Gwen Stefani Finally Admits That Her Boyfriend Blake Shelton Isn’t Sexy In the Least

People magazine caused a bit of a stir this week when its editors selected Blake Shelton, the human equivalent of a wood-paneled PT Cruiser with sexy-lady mudflaps, as this year’s Sexiest Man Alive. After a year of unprecedented White House villainry, white supremacists marching openly in the streets, and nonstop revelations about sexual abusers in our midst, naming a neck-bearded bully “sexy” was a generous pinch of sea salt in America’s gaping wounds.

Recognizing the unique opportunity to page through images of topless Idris Elbas and Mahershala Alis for “work,” bloggers across the internet made their own respective lists of 10, 11, 25, and 27 options better than Shelton. BuzzFeed found a whopping 85 sexier people, then went so far as to make a video about how not sexy Shelton is.

It soon became clear that even people who purport to love potato-looking, mayonnaise-tasting white dudes don’t think Shelton is worthy of the dubious honor. His own girlfriend, Gwen Stefani, delivered several nice burns in a People interview that ran alongside Shelton’s feature. “He's perfect for it,” she said of the title. OK, but why? “Somebody that is funny and has a sense of humor is sexy—that's the No. 1 thing.” Eek! No! Everyone knows that the No. 1 contributor to being sexy is sexiness, and trying to change the subject to talk about Shelton’s sense of humor—which consists of jokes about boogers and wanting to fuck his co-worker’s wife—is her way of acknowledging that he’s a floppy, ill-kempt piece of pleather.

Stefani went on: “It’s interesting because I don’t think any of those things like beauty or sexy or whatever way you want to describe humans is necessarily a physical thing that people are attracted to. It’s all about the heart, and he has that big ol’ gigantic heart in there, so he’s quite an attractive human. I’m not the only one that thinks it!”

Oof. Imagine being so disgusted by your partner’s looks that, when asked about a magazine naming him the sexiest living man, you can only protest that none of “those things like beauty or sexy” actually have anything to do with physical features. Imagine being Blake Shelton, excited to read what your boo has to say about you, and finding out that all she could muster in the way of a compliment was something along the lines of “well, let’s just say he has a sexy…personality?”

Of course, Shelton’s personality is a rotting dump of gay-bashing gags, rape jokes, and racism, so Stefani’s decision to highlight his character over his looks is kind of like saying Shelton is even uglier than racism. Or, uglier than racism would be if racism also had a dad bod (not the hot kind!) and badly needed a haircut.