What Women Really Think

Aug. 19 2014 11:46 AM

To All My Catcallers: An Apology

New York Post writer Doree Lewak has graced us with a piece on the totally flattering practice of men catcalling women. Lewak chastises feminists for cruelly denouncing the arduous efforts of cat-callers—those beautiful men with their grunts and their hoots—and credits slobbering construction workers with boosting her self-confidence. “Oh, don’t go rolling those sanctimonious eyes at me, young women of Vassar: I may court catcalls, but I hold my head high,” Lewak writes “Enjoying male attention doesn’t make you a traitor to your gender.”

Lewak goes on to detail how getting catcalled has been great for her self-esteem:

When I know I’m looking good, I brazenly walk past a construction site, anticipating that whistle and “Hey, mama!” catcall. Works every time — my ego and I can’t fit through the door!

“I still get that butterflies-in-the-stomach feeling whenever I walk past a construction stronghold,” Lewak continues. “It’s as primal as it gets, ladies! They either grunt in recognition or they go back to their coffee break. It’s not brain science — when a total stranger notices you, it’s validating.”

For so long, I’ve experienced catcalling as a form of harassment leveled by men who use sexual innuendo to dominate and humiliate women. But Lewak’s column, complete with a photo of her standing in front of two male construction workers, lovingly eyeing her ass, has made me re-evaluate my frigid women’s studies response to strangers on the street yelling about my rack. And so, a few apologies:

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Aug. 18 2014 1:12 PM

The Pressure to Breast-Feed Is Hurting New Moms With Postpartum Depression

No one knows exactly what causes prenatal and postpartum depression. It’s a complicated dance of hormones, predisposition to depression, and other factors. A new study, presented at the 109th Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association this week, explores the cultural pressures that new moms face—also dads, but I’m going to focus on moms here—and how they impact depression.

University of Kansas sociology doctoral student Carrie Wendel-Hummell spoke to 30 middle and low-income moms who had symptoms of “perinatal mental health disorders” (PMADs)—which include prenatal and postpartum depression and anxiety, postpartum psychosis, bipolar disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder—and found that some of the biggest factors in exacerbating their PMADs were breast-feeding troubles, sleep deprivation, and unhelpful partners.

While the public health push for breast-feeding is certainly good overall, Wendel-Hummell’s study, while extremely small, should make us consider that the messaging towards and treatment of new moms who are struggling with breast-feeding might be counterproductive and harmful, particularly to moms also dealing with PMADs. “My research findings also demonstrate how these messages lead to significant mental health stress when breastfeeding does not go well, including internalized guilt for not giving their children what is perceived as the absolute best,” Wendel-Hummell writes.

Aug. 18 2014 12:04 PM

Immigrant Woman in Ireland Denied an Abortion, Forced Into a C-Section

After the death of Savita Halappanavar, who died in 2012 from sepsis after she was denied an abortion for a miscarrying pregnancy, Ireland agreed to relax its stringent abortion ban ever so slightly to allow women who are in real medical danger to obtain abortions. Despite that small concession to women’s basic human rights, Ireland has coughed up another horror story of what happens to pregnant women who want to terminate in distressed situations. The Guardian reports that an unnamed immigrant woman in Ireland was forced into a C-section to deliver a baby at a shockingly premature 25 weeks after she was denied an abortion at eight weeks.

Henry McDonald reports:

The woman, who is an immigrant and cannot be named for legal reasons, was refused an abortion even though at eight weeks she demanded a termination, claiming she was suicidal.
After she then threatened a hunger strike to protest the decision, local health authorities obtained a court order to deliver the baby prematurely—at around 25 weeks according to some reports—to ensure its safety. The infant has been placed in care.

Aug. 15 2014 4:02 PM

Even in Video Games, Women Can’t Escape Rape

This article originally appeared in The Cut.

A mysterious assailant known as DEEPER_IN_DA_BUTT has hacked the video game Grand Theft Auto V in order to sexually terrorize fellow online players. “He has his pants down at all times and can butt rape you,” one reported on Reddit. “You cannot kill him and there is nothing you can do about it. Worse, when he’s done, you are stuck doing strip dances.”

Plenty of similar attacks have been proudly documented on YouTube, leading The Huffington Post to declare this week that modifying video games in order to rape other players is “a disturbing new trend.” There’s a certain dissonance to calling virtual rape “disturbing” while accepting virtual murder as a reasonable premise for a video game. Still, HuffPo might be on to something—DEEPER_IN_DA_BUTT is not the only video-game rapist to make the news this year. In March, video-game writer Kim Correa described being virtually raped in the multiplayer zombie apocalypse game, DayZ. Correa says DayZ is a ruthless survivalist hellscape in which players will kill one another for a can opener. Nonetheless, her treatment by a pair of male strangers was startling:

Aug. 15 2014 2:03 PM

Employers Now Making It Impossible to Be a Poor Working Mom  

Jodi Kantor published a devastating expose in the New York Times this week, detailing the latest fresh hell visited upon low wage workers by their corporate bosses: erratic work schedules created by “software that choreographs workers in precise, intricate ballets, using sales patterns and other data” to figure out how many hands are needed on deck at any hour of the day. These programs cut labor costs at the expense of workers, who don’t know when and how many hours they’ll be working, and often only have notice of their schedule a couple of days ahead of time, leaving them in a constant scramble to figure out how to work out child care and other life obligations.

Kantor followed 22-year-old Jannette Navarro, a single mom who works at Starbucks. Navarro’s erratic work schedule means her life is in constant chaos. Friends and family members often can’t make plans because they might be called upon to babysit for her at the last minute. She can’t go to school or even learn to drive because those things require scheduling ahead of time, and she has no idea when work might need her. She eventually ends up a homeless couch surfer as the conflicts created by her work schedule ruin her relationships with family and a boyfriend. All to earn a precious $9 an hour at Starbucks.

Aug. 14 2014 5:55 PM

Robin Williams' Death Inspires Twitter to Crack Down on Online Harassment (Just a Little Bit)

On Tuesday night, Robin Williams’ daughter Zelda took to Twitter to mourn her father’s deaththank fans for donating to St. Jude’s in his honor, and release an official statement on his passing. A few other Twitter users responded to Zelda by blaming her for her father’s death, calling her a “heartless bitch,” and sending her a photograph that appeared to be an autopsy image of her dad. (It wasn’t.) Zelda begged her followers to report the abusive tweets for her: "I'm shaking. I can't. Please,” Williams tweeted. “Twitter requires a link and I won't open it. Don't either. Please.”  (Reporting abuse on Twitter requires a user to click on the offending tweet, which reveals an attached photo in full view.) Then she vowed to take a break from the network “for a good long time, maybe forever.”

Aug. 14 2014 5:15 PM

The NFL Considers Tougher Punishments for Abusive Players, but Not Tough Enough

Late Wednesday, Mark Maske of the Washington Post reported that the NFL is reconsidering its approach to handling domestic violence, after weeks of criticism for the decision to suspend running back Ray Rice from playing for the Baltimore Ravens for a mere two games after he allegedly hit his girlfriend—now wife—Janay Palmer, and dragged and dropped her unconscious body in an elevator. Many observers, such as Louisa Thomas of Grantland, have pointed out that this suspension is only half as long as what is typically handed out to players who fail a drug test, calling into question whether the league thinks smoking weed or dropping molly is worse than hurting your partner so badly she appears to have lost consciousness. 

"The prospective new policy, if it is implemented, could establish guidelines for a suspension of four to six games without pay for a first offense and potentially a season-long suspension for a second incident," Maske writes, attributing the information to anonymous inside sources. Let's hope so. In fact, ideally the league would have a policy where these penalties are more than guidelines but mandatory minimum penalties. While that might seem extreme, there needs to be a system so that players who abuse their partners can't manipulate the emotions of those doling out suspensions.

Aug. 14 2014 12:57 PM

BYU’s Sex Ban Is Terrible for Victims of Sexual Assault

Keli Byers is a sophomore in college, and like many Americans her age, she is sexually active. At Brigham Young University, where she’s enrolled, that makes her “a slut by Mormon standards," she says. At BYU, women “who aren’t virgins are treated as inferiors.” This is a social judgment, but it’s also an institutional one: Students who attend BYU are required to sign an honor code committing to live a “chaste life.” For women, that means no sex, but it also means additional rules, like no skirts worn above the knee. Students who don’t comply risk expulsion.

Now, Byers is speaking out in the pages of Cosmopolitan about how the school’s emphasis on chastity—often framed as a device for protecting female virtue—imposes a sexist double standard against women, and is particularly damaging to victims of rape. As a teenager, Byers was sexually assaulted by a man who had just returned from a Mormon mission. When she told her bishop about the assault, “I was banned from church for a month,” she writes. “I was punished because a man had touched me.” And now, at BYU, she is being shamed yet again by policies that have more consequences for women than men, like the dress code that's framed as a way to "help men control their thoughts."

Aug. 13 2014 2:02 PM

Do Women Not Run for Office Because They're Scared of Being Judged?

Women who run for office are just as likely as men to win their races, and yet somehow women continue to be wildly outnumbered by men in public office. The reason is that women simply don’t run for office nearly as often as men, a discrepancy that attracts quite a bit of social science research. The latest study, reported by Derek Willis of the New York Times, tried to measure if there was something about being voted on specifically that discourages women from running.

University of Pittsburgh researchers Kristin Kanthak and Jonathan Woon designed an experiment, described by Willis:

In the experiment, members of a group volunteered to do math problems (with the possibility of a reward) on behalf of their group. In some cases, the person doing the problems was selected at random from among the volunteers; in other cases, the group elected one of its volunteers to do the problems.

When the volunteers were chosen at random, men and women volunteered at the same rate, but women were less willing to volunteer if they knew it would be put to a vote. Women, it appears, are just less interested in having their worthiness offered up for public debate.

“What if there is something about women that makes them not want to run for office that doesn’t have anything to do with external factors?” Kanthak wondered to Willis.

Aug. 13 2014 1:43 PM

When a Kid Is Sick, Why Is It Mom Who Stays Home?

Atlantic.com deputy editor Alexis Madrigal is getting much-deserved kudos for a post he wrote on Tuesday, “Two Working Parents, One Sick Kid.” In the piece, he described a familiar situation: Your kid is too sick for school or daycare, and one parent has to miss work to stay home. At first, the family assumed that Madrigal’s wife, the writer and editor Sarah Rich, would be the one to miss work. But their son decided that only daddy could comfort him in this moment, and so Madrigal took time off.

The overarching point of his piece is to say that mom should not be the default caretaker. But she is: According to one study, moms and dads have similar access to paid leave, and yet 74 percent of moms stay home when their kids are sick, compared with 40 percent of dads. Madrigal writes, “My hunch is that if enough dads stopped leaning on their partners in these situations—talk about unacknowledged male privilege—the culture would change.” That’s part of it for sure, and I’m glad Madrigal’s piece is getting widely shared and tweeted. But I think women have their part to play as well in changing culture, and so I want to give Sarah Rich major props for releasing her guilt over the situation. At first she felt bad because her husband had to rearrange his schedule so much to accommodate their son, but she let it go.