What Women Really Think

Jan. 20 2015 10:10 PM

Obama Declares Child Care “a Must Have”

In his 2015 State of the Union address, President Obama told the story of Rebekah and Ben Erler of Minneapolis, your typical middle-class American family with two kids. Rebekah was a waitress when their first child was born; Ben worked construction. When the recession hit, Rebekah went back to school so she could get a better job. They’re both working hard, but they’re struggling to get by, because, as President Obama pointed out, their child care costs more than their mortgage—a fact that’s true for Americans in 20 states and Washington, D.C.

President Obama used Rebekah and Ben as a jumping-off point to make a full-throated endorsement of high quality, affordable child care. “It’s not a nice-to-have — it’s a must-have,” Obama said of child care. “It’s time we stop treating child care as a side issue, or a women’s issue, and treat it like the national economic priority that it is for all of us.”

This is an extremely important rhetorical shift—the move from child care as a mushy, emotional, frivolous extra, to a serious imperative. And it’s a real leap from Obama’s 2013 and 2014 addresses, where he mentioned the need for universal pre-K, but barely discussed child care.

He went even further in emphasizing his support for working moms and dads by talking about paid parental leave and sick leave, too. “Today, we’re the only advanced country on Earth that doesn’t guarantee paid sick leave or paid maternity leave to our workers,” Obama said. “Forty-three million workers have no paid sick leave. Forty-three million. Think about that. And that forces too many parents to make the gut-wrenching choice between a paycheck and a sick kid at home. So I’ll be taking new action to help states adopt paid leave laws of their own.”

We knew some of this was coming, but still: It’s exciting to hear Obama use this moment to make a plea for these things. So how much of it can actually get done? Obama got into some specifics when it comes to child care, saying he will create “more slots” and give middle-class and low-income families a tax cut of up to $3,000 per child, per year. I have some hope that the latter might come to fruition and actually be helpful. The former is going to take a lot more work, considering that as of 2012, there were only enough slots for 4 percent of eligible children in the Federal Early Head Start program, which serves children under age 3.

Unfortunately, although he said he’s outraged that America is one of the only countries that doesn’t have it, the president mentioned no specifics about making paid parental leave happen. As for paid sick leave, Obama asked Congress, “Send me a bill that gives every worker in America the opportunity to earn seven days of paid sick leave. It’s the right thing to do.” I will eat my hat if that happens at any point during Obama’s last two years in office.

But enough griping. Words do matter. I’m glad Obama made the issues of working parents a focus of this speech. Because if we’re ever going to make progress on these issues, they need to be brought front and center over and over and over again.

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Jan. 20 2015 1:44 PM

What Happens When Kids Eat Pizza

Your kids are eating too much pizza. That's the conclusion of a paper published in Pediatrics this month looking at how much pizza consumption contributes to overeating in children and teenagers. While overall pizza consumption is down among kids in the past decade, researchers found that when kids eat pizza, they eat too much in general.

Children in this study, which tracked subjects ages 2 to 19 using Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data, netted 84 extra calories on days they ate pizza, and teenagers netted 230 extra calories over kids who did not eat pizza on that day. "Pizza consumption as a snack or from fast-food restaurants had the greatest adverse impact," researchers write. One of the co-authors of the study, Lisa Powell, director of the Illinois Prevention Research Center and professor of health policy and administration at the University of Illinois at Chicago, told ThinkProgress that she and the other researchers focused on pizza because "it’s such a prevalent item in children’s diets." 

"This is not saying don’t eat pizza," she explained, but instead emphasized that there are healthier ways to eat pizza—homemade instead of Pizza Hut, for instance—and that parents could make "small changes" to improve their kids' diet. “These observations emphasize that pizza, like sugary drinks, may be a significant contributor to excess caloric intake and obesity, and should become a target for counseling for the prevention and treatment of obesity in pediatric practice,” the study authors write. 

As NPR reported last week, there's a growing understanding in the medical research community that it's difficult, if not impossible, to accurately measure exactly how many calories people are eating during the course of a day. People don't remember what they ate, or they downplay how much. It's easy to see how, if adults struggle to monitor their own caloric intake, it's even harder to do so for kids, especially once they go to school and start making their own food choices. But while counting calories is nearly impossible for most people, the researchers on this paper hope that focusing on specific goals like reducing the amount of pizza you eat or cutting back on sugary drinks could be a better approach. You don't need to know exactly how many calories is in a slice of pizza to know that your kid probably shouldn't have a third slice. 

Jan. 20 2015 1:09 PM

The Pope Tells Catholics Not to Breed “Like Rabbits” but Refuses to Endorse Contraception

This past weekend, during a small press conference on a jet back to Rome from his visit to the Philippines, Pope Francis criticized the tradition—usually encouraged by the Vatican—of Catholic couples having large broods. "Some think that—excuse the word—that in order to be good Catholics we have to be like rabbits," the National Catholic Reporter quotes the pope as saying. "No."

Pope Francis illustrated his point by telling the story of a woman he met in Rome who was pregnant with her eighth child, despite the fact that all her previous births had been by Cesarean section. "Does she want to leave the seven orphans?" he asked, declaring the choice to have so many children in a row "an irresponsibility" and calling on Catholic ministry to teach "responsible parenthood."

Don't get too excited. The pope did not just endorse contraception, even though he was returning from a country where Catholic priests' efforts to curb reproductive rights have contributed to overpopulation. Instead, the pope argued that there are ways to avoid both contraception and excessive childbearing. "I know so many, many licit ways that have helped this," he told reporters. "God gives you methods to be responsible."

Jan. 20 2015 12:15 PM

Sorority Girls Fight for Their Right to Party

Today, the New York Times’ Alan Schwarz investigates a persistent inequality in the culture of campus drinking: America’s frat boys are allowed to throw booze-fueled parties in their houses, but sorority girls are not. All 26 sororities in the National Panhellenic Conference voluntarily agree to keep their houses dry; only a couple of fraternities make the same call. The result: The parties only happen in the frat houses, where the men control the substances being served; choose the themes of their parties, which determines what women wear; man the entrances and exits to decide who gets in, who gets out, who gets kicked out, and for what; and lord over parties’ private spaces, like bedrooms and bathrooms. So far, three studies have demonstrated that fraternity members are three times more likely to commit sexual assaults than other guys on campus. “I would definitely feel safer at a sorority party,” one female student at the George Washington University told the Times as she passed a row of frat houses on Saturday night. “It’s the home-court advantage.”

So now, some young women on campus are fighting for their right to party. It seems obvious that sorority members (and the other women on campus) would be safer in their own homes than at frat parties. The problem is that the scenario is risky for the sororities themselves. For the national organizations and local chapters, banning alcohol is a financial calculation, not a moral one—staying dry helps them to avoid the legal liabilities shouldered by raucous fraternities. Drinking contributes not just to campus rape but also to physical fights, accidents, poisoning, and other destructive behaviors. James R. Favor & Company, an insurance company that covers more than a dozen fraternities, told the Times in 2012 that one national fraternity was paying an average of $812,951 in annual settlements until it went dry, at which point its annual payout dropped to $15,388. An officer with the National Panhellenic Conference told the Times that “she preferred to preserve the relative calm of sorority houses, and continue to let fraternities assume the cost, risk and cleanup of house parties.”

But by protecting themselves from legal risk, sororities are putting their college-aged members in greater danger of sexual assault. Consuming alcohol with members of the opposite sex is such a cornerstone of American social interaction that it’s unreasonable to expect college students not to indulge. So if they want to participate fully in campus life, sorority women are shuffled into fraternity house “Hunt or Be Hunted” theme parties, where they are cast in the role of prey.

At least one sorority, Dartmouth’s Sigma Delta, has no national affiliations, so it’s free to throw its own parties—and its members are now evangelizing the simple pleasures of the sorority rager. On a typical campus, “Fraternity members feel so entitled to women’s bodies, because women have no ownership of the social scene,” Sigma Delta social chair Molly Reckford told the Times. “You can’t kick a guy out of his own house.”

Jan. 19 2015 10:15 AM

Work, Life, Decisions, and Sacrifice in a Military Family  

Over the past few years, there has been a great deal of discussion about why women aren’t achieving as much in their careers as their male counterparts, even though women have been enrolling in and graduating from college in greater numbers than men since the 1980s. Explanations for this gender gap range from women aren’t “leaning in" enough, to entrenched sexism in the workplace, to husbands’ careers taking precedence, to a lack of social supports for mothers in American society.

But when we discuss the issue in a macro way, we don’t hear the stories of men and women who are making career choices not as statistics in a think piece, but as part of an often complicated balancing act between various interests and responsibilities in their lives. Here is the fourth interview in an occasional series, Best Laid Plans, about how career decisions get made over time and are altered by the unpredictability of life.

Names: Shana and Chris

Ages: Both 35

Shana’s Occupation: Air Force Major

Chris’s Occupation: Stay-at-home dad

Children: Two daughters, ages 2 and 3

Location: Ohio

Hi, Shana. What were your career expectations when you first started working?

I joined the military right out of college, where I was in ROTC. I thought I’d do my four years and get out. I majored in aerospace engineering and I thought I’d work for some kind of tech company as an engineer. But I ended up staying in the military. I incurred more of a commitment when I got my masters because I got tuition assistance. I hit 10 years and figured, I’m already half way to retirement, so I might as well stay the other 10. And there were aspects of the job that I was pretty good at.

Hi, Chris. What were your expectations?

I came from a background where my dad had one steady job for his entire adult career and I thought I would more or less follow that, except that he was an accountant and I was a software engineer. I thought I would gain seniority and work in the same place forever, like he did. But I graduated at a time where economically things were pretty rough. I endured a couple of layoffs early on, and with Shana having to relocate every couple of years, I had to revise my career expectations pretty quickly coming out of school.

Jan. 19 2015 9:11 AM

Andrew Cuomo Proposes Affirmative Consent for New York Universities

In a speech at NYU on Saturday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced plans to push for legislation that would codify how all universities and colleges in the state of New York defined "consent" in their school policies regarding sexual assault. His proposal, modeled on the law that passed in California last year, would require schools to use an "affirmative consent" standard. The law in California, signed by Gov. Jerry Brown, was passed in the state senate with a unanimous vote.

Under the governor's direction, the board of SUNY schools has already adopted such a standard, which they define as "clear, knowing and voluntary" and "active, not passive." But for those who invariably worry that the standard is too strict, rest assured: "Consent can be given by words or actions, as long as those words or actions create mutually understandable clear permission regarding willingness to engage in (and the conditions of) sexual activity." In other words, only have sex with people who want to have sex with you and are communicating that fact. If you are unsure, ask.

Jan. 16 2015 3:25 PM

The February Cover of Cosmo Does Not Show a Suffocating Woman

The internet is abuzz with images of a limited edition February cover of Cosmopolitan UK featuring a foggy photograph of a model with her hair disheveled and her hand reaching out for help—designed to look as if she’s suffocating inside the magazine’s plastic wrapping. The image is inspired by Shafilea Ahmed, a British Pakistani girl who was murdered by her parents in 2003 at the age of 17: After Ahmed rejected a suitor that her parents had arranged for her to marry, her father forced a plastic bag down her throat and suffocated her to death. Stylite calls the cover “provocative, powerful, and potentially polarizing”; Business Insider deems it “truly shocking.”

It’s also not really the February cover of Cosmo. It’s a mocked-up image that’s been circulated as a part of Cosmo’s campaign, alongside the UK-based charity Karma Nirvana, to establish a day of remembrance to commemorate victims of honor killings and raise awareness about the issue. Last July, Cosmo commissioned three ad agencies to “design an iconic image” for the campaign, and Leo Burnett came up with one that riffs on the look of the Cosmo cover. A Cosmopolitan spokesperson told Slate that “the image has been used for promotional use in a mocked up cover wrapped around the magazine … it is not a cover that is available to buy on the newsstand—readers can’t purchase it. Our February issue has been on sale for nearly two weeks, and does not feature the image that Leo Burnett created.” Instead, the February cover features Khloe Kardashian talking about “Justin Bieber, sex, and doing the dishes.” It does not reference honor killings or domestic abuse.

Jan. 16 2015 12:53 PM

FIFA Won’t Put in Natural Grass for the Women’s World Cup. So the Women Are Suing FIFA.

A group of nine senators from the United States just joined an increasingly ugly controversy over the upcoming Women's World Cup, scheduled for this summer in Canada. At stake is the issue of artificial turf, which FIFA, soccer’s international governing body, has installed in three of the four stadiums commissioned for the World Cup, claiming that Canadian weather outside of Toronto doesn't allow for growing natural grass fields. But the players, including stars Marta from Brazil and Abby Wambach from the United States, disagree, arguing that FIFA's unwillingness to do what it takes to give them natural grass to play on constitutes discrimination, because players in the men's World Cup aren't expected to play on artificial turf. Marta and Wambach, along with other players, are suing FIFA and the Canadian Soccer Association in Canadian court, citing the country's strong anti-discrimination laws in hopes of forcing FIFA to allow them natural grass, which they say is safer and more conducive to good play.

Jan. 16 2015 9:18 AM

Police Investigate Family for Letting Their Kids Walk Home Alone. Parents, We All Need to Fight Back.

On a recent Saturday afternoon, a 10-year old Maryland boy named Rafi and his 6-year old sister Dvora walked home by themselves from a playground about a mile away from their suburban house. They made it about halfway home when the police picked them up. You’ve heard these stories before, about what happens when kids in paranoid, hyper protective America go to and from playgrounds alone. I bet you can guess the sequence of events preceding and after: Someone saw the kids walking without an adult and called the police. The police tracked down the kids and drove them home. The hitch this time is, when the police got there, they discovered that they were meddling with the wrong family.

Jan. 15 2015 5:54 PM

Are the Oscars Biased Against Female Directors?

The Academy for Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced its 2015 Oscar nominees this morning, sparking analysis over the films it has blessed (Birdman, Boyhood) and those it has snubbed: namely, Selma, which was nominated for Best Picture and Best Song, but failed to yield a Best Director nod for Ava DuVernay. Since the Academy switched up its rules in 2010—allowing for up to 10 Best Picture nominations, but sticking with just five directors—a handful of directors of nominated films have ended up in the rejection bin every year. Joining DuVernay this year are American Sniper director Clint Eastwood, Whiplash’s Damien Chazelle, and The Theory of Everything’s James Marsh; Bennett Miller got a nomination for directing Foxcatcher, though the film was ignored in the Best Picture category.

The omission of DuVernay stings more than the others. She would have been the first black woman nominated for best director in Oscar history, and just the fifth woman, following Lina Wertmüller for Seven Beauties, Jane Campion for The Piano, Sofia Coppola for Lost in Translation, and Kathryn Bigelow for The Hurt Locker. Instead, she’s been added to the list of female directors who have seen their films get nominated while they’ve been snubbed: Randa Haines for Children of a Lesser God in 1987, Penny Marshall for Awakenings in 1991, Barbra Streisand for The Prince of Tides in 1992, and Valerie Faris (who shared directing credit with Jonathan Dayton) for Little Miss Sunshine in 2007. When the Academy switched up the rules in 2010—allowing for 10 Best Picture nominations, but sticking with just five directors (a similar arrangement to the one it used in 1931 to 1943)—the list of left-out women expanded: Lone Scherfig for An Education in 2010; Debra Granik for Winter’s Bone and Lisa Cholodenko for The Kids Are All Right in 2011; Kathryn Bigelow for Zero Dark Thirty in 2013. And in two cases, female co-directors have been denied credit as their male partners snagged nominations, sparking controversy and speculation over the extent of their contributions . In 2004, Fernando Meirelles was nominated for City of God, but his co-director, Kátia Lund, was not; in 2009, Slumdog Millionaire co-director Loveleen Tandan—who started as a casting director but was promoted to a co-director when her role expanded during filming—was left out, while Danny Boyle went on to win. Tandan has expressed embarrassment at the suggestion that she should be honored alongside Boyle, saying, “It would be a grave injustice if the credit I have should have the effect of diminishing Danny Boyle's magnificent achievement.” But Lund seemed pissed. ''If I was not directing,” she told the New York Times in 2004, “what was I doing?''

Vanity Fair sees this as a “troubling pattern” for female directors”; HitFix calls it a “disappointing Academy statistic.” But in the academy’s history, male directors of nominated films have been snubbed over 180 times. That was particularly true between 1931 and 1943, when eight to 12 films and just five directors were nominated each year, but it’s also happened consistently when the categories were well matched. In fact, there are only five years in Oscar history when a director of a Best Picture-nominated film wasn’t snubbed. Among the dissed are Francis Ford Coppola for The Conversation, Martin Scorsese for Taxi Driver, and Bruce Beresford for the Best Picture-winning Driving Miss Daisy. The year Bigelow was rejected, Ben Affleck was also robbed of a Best Director nomination for Argo, which went on to win Best Picture. And Wertmüller actually accomplished the opposite feat: While she snagged a directing nomination for the Italian Seven Beauties in 1977, her film was not nominated for Best Picture; it was nominated in the Best Foreign Language Film category.

Still, there is some ammunition to the argument that the Academy may be particularly biased against female directors. Every Academy voter can vote in the Best Picture category, but individual categories like Best Actor and Best Director are voted on by their peers. A 2012 survey conducted by the Los Angeles Times found that overall, academy members are 94 percent white and 77 percent male, and that their median age is 62. But some branches are even less diverse than others: Women make up 19 percent of the academy’s screenwriting branch and 18 percent of its producers branch, but only 9 percent of its directors branch. Perhaps a body that’s 77 percent male is slightly more likely to recognize women-driven films than one that’s 91 percent so.

I suspect that the outrage over omissions like DuVernay’s doesn’t hinge on the idea that female directors are being ignored while their films are being celebrated. The central problem is that female directors and their work are so disadvantaged across the board in Hollywood, from mentorship to funding to awards. And each year that the Academy fails to nominate a woman—in 2010, Bigelow became the first, and so far last, female director to win—the frustration mounts. It doesn’t help that the industry’s most powerful body sees no need to improve. Academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs, herself the first black woman to gain that role, told Vulture today that the Academy doesn’t have a diversity problem “at all.”