The XX Factor
What Women Really Think

June 15 2015 2:23 PM

Cersei’s Walk of Shame and Game of Thrones’ Evolution on Sexual Violence

Much of Sunday night's season finale of Game of Thrones was hard to watch, but amid all the violence and despair, perhaps the most troubling image was that of a naked female body. The show is notorious for sprinkling the screen with female nudity purely for the sake of titillation (show director Neil Marshall even suggested that HBO executives aggressively push directors for a higher boob quotient onscreen). But there was nothing exciting about seeing Cersei Lannister stripped down naked and marched through a jeering crowd on the streets of King's Landing while a septa yelled "Shame, shame" over her head. 

Cersei's walk of shame capped off a season that inspired controversy over sexual violence on the show—but it also demonstrated why the critics were so off the mark. More than any other in the show's history, this season showed the writers' deep understanding of sexual violence: that it's not about titillation or sexual gratification, but about dominance.

Cersei has committed regicide, treason, and incest, but the offense for which she is marched through the streets naked is the simple crime of adultery. Which, as she points out, should hardly count when her husband, Robert, went "whoring every chance he could." Cersei may be a bad person, but the fact that she's punished so harshly for the most understandable thing she ever did—cheating on a wife-battering adulterer who scattered more than a dozen bastard children around town—exposes the misogynist intentions of the High Sparrow who sentences her. That they cut off her hair, which my colleague Amanda Hess notes was a female-specific bit of medieval sexual humiliation, makes the double standard all the harder to deny. By the time she is done with her walk, even the most hardened Cersei hater is raging not at her, but at the hypocrites and religious fanatics who have put her through this. 

It may startle some to read that Game of Thrones nailed this scene. The show hasn't been the best in the past when it comes to sexual abuse and violence, most notoriously in a scene that viewers clearly saw as rape but, for some reason, the director seemed to think was just a particularly over-the-top sex scene.

But this season marked a dramatic shift, suggesting that the Game of Thrones braintrust really has been listening to the critics. The most fiercely debated rape scene on the show, when Ramsey Bolton attacks Sansa Stark, is also one of the most clearly defined in terms of motivations. Sansa is clearly prepared to have consensual (if reluctant) sex with Ramsey, but he decides to rape her anyway. It has nothing to do with sexual desire, but just a sheer desire to dominate and destroy her.

More reasonable criticisms came up about a scene in which some Night's Watchmen attempt to rape Gilly, but even then, the actual assault was rooted in this understanding that rape is about power, not sex. All season long, writers were seeding the idea that the Night's Watchmen reject Jon's attempts to make peace with wildlings, and this assault was part of that—a way to signal that any wildling left unprotected for a moment was subject to violent assault. It wasn't about an overabundance of lust, but an overabundance of hatred for Gilly simply for being born on the wrong side of the Wall. 

It's a shame to see so many well-meaning critics and feminist writers decide that this is the season when the show went too far, at the very moment when Game of Throne's writers finally have meaningful things to say about how sexual abuse and humiliation actually works in the world. Every terrible instance of sexual abuse in this season has a real-world analogue: The attack on Gilly felt very much like a hate crime, while Cersei's forced march evokes the kind of ritualistic shaming—including forcible hair-cutting—that has re-emerged in the era of social media. A show with dragons and magical forest people has important things to say about the realities of sexual violence. 

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June 12 2015 9:11 PM

It’s Cruel to Blame Moms for a Link Between C-Sections and Chronic Diseases in Their Kids

The latest article making the parenting rounds from the popular website I Fucking Love Science should have been posted on I Fucking Hate Science instead. Titled “Study Suggests Newborns Delivered by C-Section Have a Higher Risk of Developing Chronic Health Problems,” the story, and others like it, would make any mother who has given birth by cesarean section feel guilty, terrified, and (for me anyway) very angry.

The story is based on an analysis piece—not, in fact, a study, as the article suggests—published in the British Medical Journal by researchers at New York University and Peking University in China. The BMJ authors highlight previous research linking C-sections to higher risks of health problems later in life, but they also discuss a number of important caveats that make it difficult to determine, without additional research, whether C-sections actually cause these health problems. These caveats were largely omitted from the IFLScience article. More alarmingly, the IFLScience piece argues that because elective C-sections are to blame for the explosion in C-section rates in countries like the U.S.—actually, they are not—women might, in light of these scary risks, want to make more of an “informed choice” about how they deliver their babies in the future. Here’s the thing: Most women in the U.S. who have C-sections do not want C-sections. They agree to the surgeries because they are advised to do so by the doctors in whom they have placed their trust and because, ultimately, they want to do what is best for their baby. And while it’s true that some American women who have C-sections may not actually need them—I’ll get into that later—it is cruel to make women feel guilty for making a choice that, at the time, is hardly much of a choice.

Let’s start by talking about these “risks” and what they really mean. The discovery that children born via C-section are at an increased risk for health problems is hardly surprising. Women often have C-sections for medical reasons, such as because they themselves suffer from chronic diseases that make vaginal births risky or impossible.  For example, women with type 2 diabetes are often advised to have C-sections because their babies can grow to be too large to birth vaginally. It makes sense that children born to women with chronic health problems might also be at increased risk for chronic health problems. Other women have C-sections because of pregnancy or labor complications, and those issues may directly affect a baby’s long-term health. Birth and pregnancy complications have, for instance, been associated with an increased risk for autism—although to be fair, we can’t be sure about causality from this correlation, either.

Observational studies that compare disease rates among babies born vaginally or via C-section do try to control for these “confounding factors,” but doing so is a highly imperfect science. Making things more difficult is the fact that, as the BMJ authors explain, “detailed information about indication for caesarean is generally not captured in clinical data.” In other words, researchers who study C-section outcomes don’t usually know why the C-sections were done—and that’s important if you’re trying to parse the effects of a C-section itself compared with the effects of the health issues caused that C-section.

I’m not saying there aren’t good reasons to try to avoid C-sections. Vaginas are teeming with commensurate bacteria that babies literally eat when they are traveling down the birth canal; babies born surgically don’t get this snack on the way out, and research suggests that as a result, their intestines become less colonized with some “good” bacteria for at least the first six months of their lives, which could have long-term effects. Women who have C-sections—even medically unnecessary ones—are also at an increased risk for infections and blood loss. And C-sections beget future C-sections, because few doctors are comfortable letting women attempt a vaginal birth after having had a C-section, despite the fact that in most cases the risks associated with these “trials of labor,” as they are called, are very low. The more C-sections you have, the riskier your next pregnancy and delivery become.

Which brings me to two questions: Why are there so many C-sections if C-sections aren’t so great? And what explains the fact that U.S. C-section rates have skyrocketed from a mere 4.5 percent of all births in 1965 to 32.7 percent of all births in 2013? The IFLScience author blames women who are “too posh to push,” noting that “a growing number of women—including high-profile celebrities—are now choosing to have a C-section.” That may be true in a few other countries, but in the U.S., only 2.5 percent of all births are estimated to be elective C-sections, and a 2011 paper concluded that elective C-sections do “not appear to account for the magnitude of the increased cesarean rate.” In a 2013 survey-based report, the nonprofit U.S. Childbirth Connection reported that 28 percent of women who delivered their first babies via C-section had felt pressured by their doctors to do so.

There are a number of potential reasons why C-section rates have skyrocketed. As rates of obesity and chronic disease have increased in the U.S., more C-sections have undoubtedly been required. But some doctors may also prefer C-sections. First: They are often paid more for the surgeries, and the more they are paid, the more likely they are to perform them. Second, OB-GYNs are the second most commonly sued doctors in the country after neurosurgeons. One 2008 survey found that before they even turn 40, half of all obstetricians have been sued at least once. In states where malpractice suits are more common, C-section rates are higher; nearly one quarter of OBs surveyed in 2012 conceded that the fear of being sued made them more likely to conduct C-sections. That’s probably because, when doctors are taken to court for a bad birth outcome, they are less likely to be found liable if they can demonstrate that they did “everything they could” to save or protect the mother or baby. (That said, fear of litigation does not actually help doctors deliver healthier babies.)

Rates of inductions have also been increasing the U.S., and inductions increase the risk of C-sections, too. When I was pregnant with my firstborn, I was induced at 39 weeks for medical reasons. After 28 hours, my labor stopped progressing, the fetal heart rate monitor indicated that my son was having trouble getting oxygen, and I was rushed into surgery. (Continuous fetal heart rate monitoring has also been implicated in promoting more C-sections because variations in the fetal heartbeat can be difficult to interpret and scare doctors into performing surgeries when they might not need to.) When several hospitals that were part of an integrated health system in Utah decided to stop doing labor inductions prior to 39 weeks in women who had never given birth, they found that C-section rates were 30 percent lower in those facilities than they were in facilities that still allowed these inductions.

Clearly a multitude of factors drive our country’s high C-section rate; we have yet to understand them all. One thing, though, seems clear: Women who are “too posh to push” are not the big problem here in the U.S., nor is there any evidence that C-sections are “becoming more common among parents for no medical reason,” as another recent story on the subject claims. To insinuate that women in general are to blame for the rise in C-sections—and to make those who had to go through these surgeries feel that they might be responsible for their children’s future health problems—is ridiculous. Let’s fight to lower the C-section rate, sure. But let’s fight the institutional causes and misaligned incentives instead of blaming the women who have been unwittingly caught in the middle.

June 12 2015 2:32 PM

Why Are We So Nostalgic for the Hypermasculine Playgrounds of Yore?

One of the most commented-upon shifts in the culture of childhood over the past few decades has been the dramatic changes in playgrounds.The childhoods of Baby Boomers and Gen X'ers were all sharp edges and concrete structures; broken bones and missing teeth became a rite of passage that later generations, with their padded playgrounds, were spared.

For those who enjoying shaking their fists over how kids these days are spoiled and soft, the playgrounds of our youth feel classic, as if they were a tradition that's been violated by the low-risk playgrounds of today. But as a new exhibit at the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) makes clear, they were just as much a product of their time as the playgrounds of today. The metal-and-concrete monstrosities that inspire so much nostalgia were part of the postwar architectural trend known as Brutalism. BBC culture writer Jonathan Glancey explains that Brutalism's adherents "were meant to be a new breed of thrusting young architects who, while building a post-war socialist utopia, would challenge the very foundations of what they saw as the fey, bourgeois Modernism of the 1930s." All those mid-century concrete-and-sadness-style buildings that depress the landscape, particularly at college campuses, made up part of this particular trend. 

Brutalist playgrounds did not spring out of some timeless wisdom of child-rearing. They were the result of a very specific, hypermasculine postwar mentality: bold but still stripped-down, aggressively functional. "Risk is something that should be thought about, rather than avoided entirely," Joseph Halligan, a member of the design collective Assemble, argues in a RIBA video.

But looking over the photos of some of the great Brutalist playgrounds, it's hard not to be skeptical of that mentality. Life is already full of risks and pains and disappointments. Isn't play about escape, about padding the world a little so you can flail your limbs without getting hurt? Even the RIBA exhibit tacitly accepts this position, recreating Brutalist playgrounds with foam and rubber so children can go wild without running too great a risk of injury. 

But while it's hard to love the dangers of Brutalist playgrounds, this exhibit shows some of the upsides of the design mentality behind them. The photos of the exhibit showcase how designers put a emphasis on abstraction and openness, which allows encourages experimental, imaginative play. Artist Simon Terrill, who directed the exhibit, says that the playgrounds "are such a wild, strange gesture that these architects made," full of "optimism" and "big ideas about remaking the world anew. We should never bring back the concrete monoliths that busted so many bones, but we could still learn something about openness, sharing, and creativity from these Brutalist playgrounds.  

June 12 2015 2:09 PM

Shaming the Poor: It’s the American Way

Early next week, former Florida governor Jeb Bush is expected to announce that he’s running for the Republican presidential nomination. While he’s been acting like a candidate for some time, this looming deadline has inspired some to dig back into his past musings and take a look at Profiles in Character, the 1995 book he co-authored.

Among those pages is Bush’s call for more shame as a salve for what's ailing our country. In a chapter titled “Restoration of Shame,” he writes, “Society needs to relearn the art of public and private disapproval and how to make those who engage in undesirable behavior feel some sense of shame.”

Shame is not for everyone: Bush had some specific groups that he wanted to ostracize in order to change their behavior. One that gets a good deal of ink is women who have children outside of marriage. He writes, “One of the reasons more young women are giving birth out of wedlock and more young men are walking away from their paternal obligations is that there is no longer a stigma attached to this behavior, no reason to feel shame.” He pines for the days of the Scarlet Letter (missing the point of Hawthorne’s novel).

Another constituency primed for shame is the poor. “For many, it is more shameful to work than to take public assistance—that is how backward shame has become!” he remarked.

Fortunately for Bush, shame has never really been in short supply. Our social safety net is designed with shame in mind; despite evidence that it has little positive effect or even grounding in reality, we heap humiliation on those who seek out public assistance.

There are already policies aimed to deter unwed mothers from having more children. Sixteen states currently have family caps in place for their welfare programs; benefits stop increasing after a certain number of children.

The caps sprang from a Republican proposal in the 1994 Contract with America explicitly aimed at stopping poor and single mothers from having more children. As Jamelle Bouie has written, they were meant to “discourage illegitimacy and teen pregnancy by prohibiting welfare to minor mothers and denying increased [benefits] for additional children while on welfare … to promote individual personal responsibility.” A federal requirement to institute caps never passed, but states were allowed to implement their own.

There is no evidence that they work, however, and no evidence that they’re even addressing a real problem. A 2001 Government Accountability Office report couldn’t conclude one way or the other whether the caps have any impact on birth rates. Meanwhile, people on public assistance have about the same family size as people who don’t receive assistance. What caps do end up doing is pushing people further into poverty while painting poor women as sexually promiscuous and irresponsible. The caps aim to shame these women out of making decisions about their own family sizes that those with more means are free to make without the same scrutiny.

The notion that public assistance writ large doesn’t come attached with enough stigma is also a bit preposterous. Research has found that it’s strong enough to keep some people from participating altogether.

But lawmakers have recently been interested in increasing that stigma. Seven states have started drug testing welfare recipients under the notion that people who use drugs shouldn’t get assistance from the public. They have collectively spent nearly $1 million to administer these tests, although they've gotten more creative in how they design the regimes after courts struck down Florida’s attempt to drug-test every person who applied. The rate of positive tests, however, is miniscule compared to drug use rates among the general population—ranging from 0.002 percent to 8.3 percent, nearly all below 1 percent. Americans at large use drugs at a rate of 9.4 percent.

That hasn’t deterred a number of other states from trying to do the same thing, however. Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker has gone even further, proposing that his state start drug-testing people who want to receive food stamps or unemployment insurance. 

States have also been trying to crack down on food stamp users by limiting what they purchase with the benefits. While none have actually gone through with it—because they would have to tangle with the federal government, which has much stronger oversight over the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program—this year Maine, Missouri, and Wisconsin have discussed restrictions on food stamp purchases to ban them from including “junk food.” At least eight other states have previously considered doing the same.

Since there aren’t any actual standards as to what constitutes junk food, the restrictions can quickly get ridiculous. A version of Wisconsin’s proposal would bar shellfish and make it more difficult to buy spices, dried beans, and pasta sauce. Missouri’s lumps seafood and steak in with cookies, chips, and soft drinks. Incidentally, there’s also little evidence that people who use food stamps are making worse choices when they go food shopping; the random red-listing of certain items only makes it harder to navigate a checkout line.

Not all recipients of government assistance have to endure these kinds of humiliations. No one who uses the home-mortgage interest deduction has to pee in a cup first. No student who takes out a federally subsidized loan faces restrictions on which major she chooses. Medicare recipients aren’t told to limit their families to a certain size. But we go out of our way to implement these demeaning policies among evidence that they don't even work. As a country, we’ve bought into the idea that poor people deserve shame for their financial struggles.

June 12 2015 9:03 AM

Which State Was the Worst for Women This Week?

Summer is here, and the latest competition for Worst State of Week was hot and fierce. Second runner-up is Georgia, where a young woman was arrested and charged with murder after taking the ulcer medication Cytotec to terminate a pregnancy in her second trimester. The murder charges were eventually dropped, mostly because Georgia law exempts women from laws banning “feticide” that were clearly written in hopes of chipping away at abortion rights. The woman will, however, be prosecuted for possessing illegal drugs, although Cytotec is not a pound of heroin but rather a commonly prescribed medication.

Anti-choice activists routinely deny that efforts to ban abortion will result in prosecuting women for pregnancy outcomes. But as the Georgia case demonstrates, creeping criminalization of abortion absolutely will mean that women will be targeted for attempting it, and that women of color and low- income women will be most vulnerable.

First runner-up is North Carolina, or specifically Gov. Pat McCrory, not just for restricting abortion but for assuming women are stupid. McCrory, a Republican, won his swing state in 2012 by promising not to sign any restrictions on abortion. But when the state legislature gave him a bill requiring a 72-hour waiting period, he signed it without hesitation. To excuse this blatant bit of promise-breaking, McCrory said, “The fact of the matter is, due to my work and others' work, we did not add further restrictions to access” to abortion. His reasoning is that since a phone call kicks off the waiting period, it doesn’t count as restricting access. Yeah, we don't get it either.

Being told that you have to sit in a time-out like a naughty girl is the definition of impeding access. Claiming that it’s a “reasonable” restriction doesn’t change the fact that it's a restriction.

But the winner is, once again, Texas for getting farther than any other state in overturning Roe v Wade and making abortion access a privilege of geography and wealth rather than a right. The state’s law created to reduce the number of legal clinics to a mere eight to service the more than 73,000 women needing abortions a year was upheld by the 5th Circuit Court and expected to go to the Supreme Court soon. “For the last several years, opponents of abortion rights have cloaked their obstructionist efforts under all manner of legitimate-sounding rationales, like protecting women’s health,” a New York Times editorial explains. “This has never been more than an insulting ruse.” All three winners this week show that the war on women is about taking your rights, then lying to your face about what's really going on.

June 12 2015 8:56 AM

J. Crew Is Floundering. Blame Tilly.

screen_shot_20150611_at_9.48.08_pm
Tilly, the culprit.

Screenshot/J.Crew

J. Crew had a disappointing couple of months. Their sales fell 5 percent compared with the same period in 2014, their same-store sales are down 10 percent, and CEO Mickey Drexler and the retail press have blamed the brand’s recent woes on some ugly sweaters, in particular a cropped one called “The Tilly.” ("We like to think of her as the slightly shrunken cousin of our beloved Tippi sweater," J.Crew says on its site.) The New York Times quotes a J. Crew obsessive who says, “The Tilly was a disaster. An absolute disaster. They should not have gone that way.” The company has laid off 175 people and fired their head of women’s design in the aftermath.

But…it’s just one sweater. (Which, full disclosure, I tried on once, and didn’t hate. But I have a comparatively short torso, so cropped styles flatter me.) How could one miss seemingly alter the big picture?

It has a lot to do with the loss of related purchases, says Dale Achabal, the executive director of the Retail Management Institute at Santa Clara University. When a company screws up one of its key pieces—and J. Crew’s lightweight sweaters seem to be a key piece for them—a consumer is not only not buying the sweater; she’s not buying the pants that go with the sweater, or the statement necklace that really ties the whole outfit together. The Tilly sweater, which no one bought, is now on sale for $45.99, down from $86, so J. Crew isn’t just losing the money from marking down that sweater—they’re losing the money you didn’t use to buy J. Crew’s “favorite pair of high-rise jeans” that they recommend pairing with the Tilly.

If this was J. Crew’s first miss, they could come back from it fairly easily, Achabal says. “Let’s say they’re doing some e-marketing, and on Facebook. They now put another key item up, and the good news is if that key item resonates, they can recover.”

But if there are a few misses in a row, that can hurt customer confidence in the brand. “There’s going to be some number of customers who delete the emails without opening. Then the loyalty goes,” Achabal says. It sounds like J. Crew is in the middle of this moment right now, as customers are complaining, not just about Tilly’s unfortunate appearance, but about the boxy fit and weird sizing of other items. Still, the brand has turned itself around before—thanks in no small part to CEO Drexler. With a shakeup at the company, they may be able to do it again.

June 11 2015 3:07 PM

The Ontological Mysteries of the iPhone Sex Tracker

The HealthKit app that comes standard on the iPhone previously came under criticism for making it possible to track all the minutiae of what your body is doing—except for menstruation. Now Apple has fixed that problem, adding menstrual tracking, cervical mucus, ovulation testing, and other lady things. Oh yeah, and "sexual activity"—you can track that, too. 

There was a minor flurry of headlines about how Apple is now tracking your sex life, but while the app does automatically track, say, how much walking you do, there's no way for it to know how much sex you're having. As these screenshots show, there's only two things you enter to record "sexual activity": whether it happened and whether you used protection.

So if you, say, had intercourse and used a condom, you're set. But what if you're on the pill but not using a condom? What if you had oral but not intercourse? Does masturbation count? What if you messed around a little with your partner but no one orgasmed? Does it have to have penetration to count? If so, what about lesbians? There's a whole world of sex outside of yes/no and protection/no protection. 

These questions about what is and isn't sex existed long before the iPhone asked you to start counting your sexual widgets. And unless you're looking for in-app alternatives to carving notches in your bedpost, it's hard to imagine that this function on HealthKit has any use whatsoever. Still, it isn't every day that a standard, boring app on the iPhone inadvertently triggers a bunch of hard-to-answer philosophical inquiries about the nature of sex.

June 10 2015 12:44 PM

Domestic Violence Is As Serious a Problem on Campus As Sexual Assault

Katie Baker at BuzzFeed has a new piece out about one of the less attention-getting aspects of Title IX: that it's supposed to protect students against domestic violence as well as sexual assault. Baker interviews students at various schools who have filed Title IX complaints against ex-boyfriends for hitting, sexually abuse, or stalking and emotional abuse. Unfortunately, their stories echo some of what we've heard about how colleges handle sexual assault complaints: Baker's interviewees report that even though their schools did agree that abuse had happened, they failed to take it seriously or keep the abusers off campus.

“The next wave of Title IX activism, researchers and activists say, will focus on how colleges investigate allegations of and provide resources to students in abusive relationships,” Baker writes. “And it’s going to be just as complicated and contentious.”

If anything, getting the public to understand this issue is even more of an uphill battle than it is with sexual assault. There's a widespread public perception, built on movies and hand-wringing articles about “hookup culture,” that campus life is all about partying and casual sex. It's relatively easy to get people to imagine sexual assault occurring in that environment. If anything, the problem is that people are blaming the environment itself for sexual assault, instead of choices made by rapists to rape

In reality, hookup culture is not the exclusive or even dominant culture of colleges, and kids are almost as likely to opt into long-term dating relationships as they were in previous generations. That's why domestic violence is, as Baker notes, just as serious a problem as sexual violence on campus:

Some studies show that the oft-reported statistic that one in five women is sexually assaulted during college also applies to domestic violence, often called “dating violence” or “intimate partner violence.” Around 20% of college students report having experienced dating violence by a current partner, and college-aged women (16–24) experience the highest rate of dating violence than any other age group, according to the Justice Department. Studies also show that dating violence disproportionately affects the long-term health of women of color.

It's worth noting, as the stories Baker relates show, that sexual violence is often present in abusive relationships, neatly disproving the theory that rape is the result of hookup culture instead of people making the deliberate choice to sexually assault. 

One victim in Baker's piece felt that school officials couldn't take her relationship seriously and therefore didn't take her complaints seriously, seeing her as “a crazy ex-girlfriend.” Others complained that the school engaged in foot-dragging or inadequate enforcement, allowing the abuser to get back onto campus where he might have a chance at pestering his victim. 

But if deployed correctly, Title IX could be an incredibly effective weapon to fight domestic violence. College students are of an age when the risk for being victimized is at its highest, for one thing.  Title IX might also have a leg up on law enforcement in some ways. A lot of victims don't want to see their abusers—who they fell in love with, after all—going to jail; they just want the abuse to end. Title IX can help meet victims where they're at, by focusing on protecting the victim from the abuser rather than trying to throw him in jail. 

The blunt instrument of the law also makes it hard to suss out some of the complexities of an abusive relationship. The law is reductive, focused on who hit whom and when. But Title IX allows adjudicators to look at the relationship as a whole, to suss out patterns of abuse. It's not just that he hit you, but that he hit you while also terrorizing you on Facebook, sending threatening emails, dressing you down all the time, and controlling who you see and what you do. Since the question isn't one of putting someone in jail, but rather of deciding if he gets to stay at school, the behavior can be measured in its fullness instead of in discrete, law-breaking moments of guilt. Schools should start taking this question seriously.

June 9 2015 5:27 PM

Abortion Rights Could Become a Scarcity in Texas, and Elsewhere

It's been two years of court battles over HB2, a Texas law that was clearly designed to close most abortion clinics in Texas through pointless red tape. That law was upheld by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which is notorious as one of the nation's most conservative courts. The law's opponents say that this will close down all but seven (or eight, depending on how you're counting) abortion clinics in the entire state. In 2011, the last year the Guttmacher Institute has statistics for, 73,000 women had abortions in Texas. That means that each clinic would have to perform more than 9,000 a year to keep up with demand, or more than one an hour, every hour, for every day of the year. In other words, it's impossible.  

HB2 has been an emblem of legal bad faith from the moment it was conceived. Proponents claim that the regulations, which require abortion clinics to meet ambulatory surgical center standards—even if they only hand out abortion pills—are there to protect women's safety. It's unlikely that anyone sincerely believes that, since abortion is already 14 times safer than childbirth. In addition, the first wave of clinic shutdowns in Texas has already led to women choosing to forgo safe abortions in favor of buying abortion pills on the black market. All this is known and well-documented. But anti-choicers pushed for this law anyway, because legitimate safety concerns were never actually at issue.

This bad faith is baked into the court's decision. As my colleague Mark Stern reports, the court signed off on forcibly shutting down an El Paso clinic on the grounds that women could go to New Mexico for abortions. If you really believe that abortions are unsafe unless performed in a clinic with a "full anesthesia machine," why would you send women to a state that, by your own measure, is treating women's health recklessly? (Driving for hours during this stressful time is, it's worth noting, not an unrisky activity.)

There's almost no way for this not to go to the Supreme Court soon. The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has struck down similar regulations, creating a tension that the Supreme Court will likely feel obliged to resolve. If Texas wins at that level, expect its strategy to become standard in red states. Abortion will become a scarce resource, accessible by those who have the ability to pay and to work around onerous scheduling issues while everyone else scrounges the Internet for black-market abortion pills. 

June 9 2015 1:21 PM

If Someone Has to Change Names Upon Marriage, Why Not the Husband?

In an interview in July's InStyle, actress Zoe Saldana revealed that her husband, artist Marco Perego, took her last name, making him Marco Saldana. She was worried that the choice would cause him to be “emasculated” by others, but he replied, “Ah, Zoe, I don't give a s--t.”

Men taking on their wives' last name is still incredibly unusual. When I put out a call for men who had done it, most who responded had not changed their name to their wife's, but had hyphenated or invented a whole new name. But a few folks had actually gone all the way. 

“I'm against women changing their names; the whole idea that a woman's entire identity somehow changes after a ceremony, and becomes subsumed by her husband's, is ridiculous,” Deborah Kadish, who is working towards an MPH at the University of Haifa, explained over email. However, her husband, Noam Kadish, a master’s student at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, felt “it was important to have a ‘family’ name” for the sake of their children. She told him that “if it was important to him, he should change his name, and he agreed,” Kadish writes. 

Tristan Salazar, who works for a union in New York City, agreed with Noam, saying, “It was important to both of us to have the same name. To identify as a family unit in that way.” He thought it was easier to take his wife's name, however, “because my wife, who is an actor, already had a professional identity under her name.”

“My wife intended to keep her surname, whereas I'd wanted to change mine for a while,” explained writer and stay-at-home father Aaron Grunfeld. “I even considered a pen name when I started writing but found it awkward to invent.” The wedding, then, was a chance to do what he had been wanting to do for awhile anyway. 

Practical considerations dominated the conversation, but at least one respondent, who wanted to remain anonymous, is changing his name to his wife's for political reasons: “The name change feels like a really legit way to walk the talk.”

“I live in the Bay Area,” he adds, “and there are lots of dudes walking around calling themselves feminists whose facade crumbles pretty fast when challenged.”

While the male name-changers did meet some resistance from family members, by and large they reported little pushback from friends and acquaintances—although as Kadish pointed out, “that says more about our choice of acquaintances and friends than about society at large.” Living in liberal enclaves does help. 

Defenders of the practice of naming women after their husbands usually swear up and down that it's about family cohesion and convenience. I've never bought those arguments—my mom and I don't have the same last name, but no one was ever confused about our relationship to each other. But if family cohesion is paramount, why not change the husband's name instead of the wife's? That gets the job done without any implications of sexism. Hyphenating and making up new names are also good solutions, but one does have to admire the elegant simplicity of those who just invert the tradition and call it a day. 

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