The XX Factor
What Women Really Think

Sept. 21 2016 3:14 PM

A Federal Court Ruled That Companies Can Fire People Just for Having Dreadlocks

In a decision that delimits the concept of race to physical characteristics that are “immutable,” a federal appeals court ruled last week that firing an employee for wearing her hair in dreadlocks is not racial discrimination.

The case centers on Chastity Jones, a black woman who accepted a job at a Mobile, Alabama, insurance claims processing company in 2010. The company, Catastrophe Management Solutions, required its employees to project “a professional and businesslike image”; Jones claims a white human resources employee told her that she’d need to get rid of her dreadlocks because they “tend to get messy.” When Jones refused to modify her hairstyle, the company rescinded her offer of employment.

Last week, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court’s dismissal of Jones’ Equal Employment Opportunity Commission lawsuit from 2013. The EEOC’s initial claim contended that Catastrophe’s actions, and all policies forbidding dreadlocks, are racially discriminatory because “dreadlocks are a manner of wearing the hair that is physiologically and culturally associated with people of African descent.” Essentially, the EEOC was arguing for a theory of race as a social construct, rather than some kind of biological classification with easily definable bounds. Race “has no biological definition,” the claim read, and besides that, “hairstyle can be a determinant of racial identity.”

The Alabama appeals court disagreed, voting 3–0 to dismiss the suit. “We recognize that the distinction between immutable and mutable characteristics of race can sometimes be a fine (and difficult) one, but it is a line that courts have drawn,” Judge Adalberto Jordan wrote in the decision. “So, for example, discrimination on the basis of black hair texture (an immutable characteristic) is prohibited by Title VII, while adverse action on the basis of black hairstyle (a mutable choice) is not.”

This decision is one setback among a series of recent victories among black women fighting to wear their hair in traditionally black hairstyles at work. Last year, a black Baltimore woman fired from Hooters for having blond streaks in her hair (it was “unnatural,” managers claimed) won $250,000 in a discrimination suit. In 2014, at the urging of female members of the Congressional Black Caucus, the U.S. military changed hairstyle regulations that forbade women from wearing the kinds of cornrows, dreadlocks, twists, and double ponytails that black troops might use to keep their hair out of their faces. The recommended styles, advocates argued, were difficult to manage for black women with natural hair. The Pentagon eventually agreed.

That’s one reason why last week’s appeals court decision is so wrongheaded. Dreadlocks don’t just have a long, deep history within black culture—they’re also directly connected to black hair texture. But focusing on physical traits while ignoring cultural signifiers of race is to misunderstand the entire construct. Nothing is permanent or absolute in race. Even the traits the court describes as “immutable” can be changed: Skin can be lightened; hair can be straightened. Theories of race as a clear-cut system of binary physical attributes have led to such dehumanizing classification measures as the paper bag test and the pencil test. Racial categories have always been subjective and culturally informed. “Professional,” “businesslike,” and “neat” are subjective, too. It’s no coincidence that traditional black hairstyles so often fall on the adverse side of those terms’ interpreted meanings. It’s discrimination.

Sept. 21 2016 12:39 PM

Jim Carrey Gets Sued for His Ex-Girlfriend’s Suicide, Calls It a “Heartless” Profit Grab

One year after Jim Carrey’s girlfriend died of an intentional prescription drug overdose, her estranged husband is suing the actor for allegedly getting her the drugs under a fake name.

The wrongful death suit, filed in Los Angeles Superior Court on Monday by Mark Burton of Portland, Oregon, alleges that Carrey acted with “reckless disregard of causing serious harm and injury” to Cathriona White, a 30-year-old makeup artist and hairstylist from Ireland whom Carrey had reportedly been dating off and on for about three years. This summer, new details about White’s September 2015 suicide emerged with her autopsy report, including a note addressed to Carrey, with whom she’d split just before her death.

Sept. 21 2016 10:36 AM

Cool, Health-Conscious Teens Have a New Hobby: Getting “Fruved”

A new study published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics indicates that teaching children how to garden might make them more inclined to eat healthfully. Researchers from the University of Florida and other universities surveyed 1,351 college students and found that the ones who reported that they had gardened as a child ate more fruits and vegetables than the ones who had never gardened. Of course, studies that rely on participant recall are notoriously unreliable (especially the ones that involve diet), but this study provides a promising foundation for future research. “This finding is particularly relevant, given the recent popularity of school gardens and farm-to-school projects,” said the lead author of the study in a press release.

The most important takeaway from this study, however, is not its implications for public gardening programs. It’s the name of the project that funded the study. Are you ready? The project that funded this study on gardening is called “Get Fruved.”

Sept. 21 2016 9:31 AM

Bridget Jones Needs a Better OB-GYN

The basic plot of Bridget Jones’s Baby, which opened last weekend to a disappointing third-place finish at the U.S. box office, seems simple enough. Bridget (Renée Zellweger) has sex with two men (Colin Firth and Patrick Dempsey) in the span of a week, gets pregnant, and doesn’t know which of her lovers is the father. Her obstetrician (Emma Thompson) recommends an amniocentesis because, at age 43, Jones runs a higher risk of having a fetus with chromosomal abnormalities. Amniocentesis, a test in which a long needle penetrates a pregnant woman’s abdomen and uterus to draw fluid from the fetus’s amniotic sac, can also determine a DNA match with a potential father.

But when Bridget sees the needle (and hears from her doctor about the attendant risk of miscarriage), she panics and flees—and so her life becomes ripe material for a Dear Prudence column. Both guys accompany Bridget to prenatal classes and obstetrician appointments. Hilarity, as much as can be expected from a three-quel two decades past the golden age of rom-coms, ensues.

Is a relatively risky procedure involving an enormous needle really the only way to determine a fetus’s father? It might have been back when the first Bridget Jones film came out in 2001, but there’s been a safer and much less invasive way to figure it out for years. Around 2011, a new test that could confirm a DNA match arrived on the U.S. and U.K. markets. The Non-Invasive Prenatal Paternity Test, one of a series of screening tests under the non-invasive prenatal testing (NIPT) umbrella, requires only a sample of the pregnant woman’s blood and a DNA sample from the suspected father. It works as early as 12 weeks into pregnancy, while amnios are usually performed between 14 and 20 weeks’ gestation.

It’s true that amnios come with a slight chance of miscarriage, but women often get mixed information about just how risky it is. Some doctors say it’s 1 in 200; the American Pregnancy Association puts it at around 1 in 400; a much-publicized study in 2006 said the risk was much lower, around 1 in 1,600. Bridget’s doctor warns her about the chance of miscarriage without giving her any specific numbers to help her weigh the risks.

Women have been able to pay out of pocket for NIPT tests since they first became available; they’ve cost between several hundred and a few thousand dollars. Now, more U.S. insurance companies are beginning to cover them, though some only do so under particular circumstances of risk and provider. Earlier this year, Britain’s National Health Service (NHS) approved NIPT, meaning low-income women will also have access to amnio alternatives. So Bridget almost certainly would have been able to figure out her baby’s paternal identity without taking her chances with an amnio, if only her doctor had thought to tell her.

That’s not the only thing Bridget Jones’s Baby fudges for the sake of making Firth and Dempsey bounce through a birthing class on yoga balls. Under the NHS, pregnant women meet with midwives, not obstetricians, for the most of their pregnancies. Liz Humphreys, a writer who moved to London from the U.S. soon after becoming pregnant, told me she got a different midwife at each visit. Under the NHS, amnio is only offered if initial scans show high risks of genetic or chromosomal abnormalities. At 42, Humphreys was a “geriatric mother” like Jones, but she says that neither her midwives nor her GP even mentioned the need for an amnio. This was partially because she paid to get the NIPT Harmony blood screening test not covered by NHS, which showed that her fetus was at low risk for Down syndrome and other chromosomal disorders.

In real life, Bridget’s midwife probably wouldn’t have pushed the amnio option without other indicators of risk beyond age. “Here in England, and in Europe in large I would say, since the medicine is public, you are not encouraged to get multitudes of tests, scans, procedures unless there is a genuine need,” Alona Cherkassky, a London-based mother, told me over email. Her 12-week scan indicated that her baby had about a 1 in 11,000 chance of having Down syndrome, far too low for doctors to recommend an amnio. She opted to pay out of pocket for a less invasive, less risky MaterniT21 test, in the NIPT category of blood tests, instead.

Not everyone weighs the respective risks of miscarriage and genetic disorders the same way. One friend of mine got pregnant by accident when she was 38; she and her husband weren’t sure they wanted to be parents at all. “We both agreed 100 percent that if there were anything wrong with the fetus we would be terminating,” she told me. She got the Materniti21 blood test, which showed low risk for fetal abnormalities, but she wanted the “gold standard” of an amnio to be sure. Her doctor fought hard to discourage her; my friend says the doctor’s words are seared in her memory: “If I had 20,000 women in a room, your age with your Materniti21 results, there would probably be one woman who had a problem with the baby. There is a 1 in 300 chance you will miscarry from an amnio. I can't really sleep well at night with those odds. Can you?” She could, and she did. Her fetus was fine.

In other words, an entire short film could be made about one woman’s internal and external deliberations around amniocentesis. But it would have been no fun if a simple blood test had returned the answer Bridget was looking for—that would have meant no love triangle drawing out the mystery for another 90 minutes and certainly no slapstick too-many-cooks-in-the-delivery-room labor scene. Fortunately for the rest of us, there’s a better way.

Sept. 20 2016 4:42 PM

Maybe Angelina Jolie Is Just Another Working Mom Tired of the Second Shift

The #Brangelexit has already yielded a number of steamy theories: tales of on-set lust, substance-abuse, and totally unrelated discussions of French person Marion Cotillard. But what if the explanation is less tabloid cover and more just-like-us? What if Angelina Jolie isn't so much a scorned wife as she is just another working mom, sick and tired of the second shift. A look at old interviews with the couple yields a fair amount of evidence that Brad Pitt’s co-parenting skills leave much to be desired.

Sept. 20 2016 4:05 PM

A Power Ranking of Our Most Precious Commodity: Remaining Power Couples

Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie were one of history’s great power couples, right up there with Lucy and Desi; Antony and Cleopatra (the latter of whom Jolie still might get around to playing in a movie one day); and dare we say it, Adam and Eve. They didn’t invent this game, but they surely perfected it. The two towered over others who might hope to call themselves power couples with their spectacular credentials: Both were beautiful and fully A-list, Hollywood stars in an increasingly post-star era. They were famous enough on their own to turn a relationship with any nonfamous into a formidable pairing, making their combined star power all the more potent. But all great things must come to an end—or at least that’s what we tell ourselves every time another one of our beloved power couples calls it quits. The dissolution of this particular union has thrown the world’s tenuous power couple power rankings into complete disarray. Who will we look to now for leadership, to model domestic bliss, to stand together on the red carpet reflecting and enhancing each other’s radiance?

Sept. 20 2016 2:10 PM

A Primer on the Philosophies of Marion Cotillard—Just Because, for No Reason at All

Today’s a slow, boring news day. Yawn! Not much going on in the realm of celebrities, or relationships, or couples’ portmanteaux. So here’s a totally random, just-for-funsies primer on Marion Cotillard, who is a beautiful actress from France.

Sept. 20 2016 11:23 AM

Angelina Jolie Has Reportedly Filed for Divorce From Brad Pitt in Stunning #BRANGELEXIT

According to a report from TMZ, Angelina Jolie filed for divorce from Brad Pitt on Monday, citing irreconcilable differences in their marriage.

Paraphrasing “sources connected with the couple,” TMZ writes that Jolie decided to break it off with Pitt because of his parenting methods, which made her “extremely upset.”


Sept. 19 2016 5:02 PM

Leslie Jones Turned the Emmys Into Her Own Personal Selfie Playground

If you’d recently been the subject of hackingand harassment, like comedian and Ghost Busters reboot star Leslie Jones has, maybe you’d shy away from the spotlight. But that’s precisely why you, and all of us peons, are not Leslie Jones and never will be. A cadre of hacker enemies and online trolls were no match for the comedian’s adventuresome spirit. Her perseverance was on full display at the 2016 Emmys, where she cast shade upon the abusers from the stage and from which she tweeted with the enthusiasm and ruthless pursuit of selfies of a social media-obsessed teen. Oh, and she’s also missing the filters many stars usually hide behind, meaning she will say whatever she wants, including joking about having sex with John Mayer. Hey, it’s charming when she does it!

Sept. 19 2016 3:52 PM

Rice’s Marching Band Trolled Baylor for Sexual Assault Scandal

At a Friday night football game against Baylor University, the Rice University marching band made fun of the opposing team’s recent sexual-assault scandal byforming an “IX,” for Title IX, on the field. The Marching Owl Band, also known as the MOB, is known for trolling opposing teams and mocking controversial issues by making weird shapes on the field. But this particular stunt struck many viewers as tactless and insensitive, since real people have suffered due to Baylor’s alleged negligence and protection of its football team at the expense of its female students.