The XX Factor
What Women Really Think

Aug. 20 2015 1:34 PM

Missouri Legislature Rejects Idea to Respond to Sexual Misconduct With an Intern Dress Code

Earlier this year, Missouri state House Speaker John Diehl, a Republican, resigned after it was revealed that he was sexting with a legislative intern. Diehl, who held himself out as an anti-gay and anti-choice family-values conservative, was caught exchanging texts with the college freshman that had such bons mots in them as, “Will have my way with you” and “And leave you quivering,” which were obtained from her phone, where the intern had Diehl listed as “Frank Underwood.”

Now another school year is starting, and Missouri legislators are trying to figure out how to prevent future embarrassing scandals involving “family values” hypocrites who try to strip women’s reproductive rights away with one hand while sending dirty messages to college girls with the other. Republican state Rep. Kevin Engler was chosen to lead the effort to teach his fellow legislators to keep their hands off the girls in between rounds of attacking contraception and abortion access. He sent out a memo of recommendations, including mandatory sexual harassment training and banning personal text messaging with interns. 

As reported by the Kansas City Star, two of his fellow Republicans immediately chimed in, insisting that the real solution here is to start measuring hemlines. Rep. Bill Kidd responded to the memo with just the suggestion: “Intern dress code.”

Another Republican, Nick King, rapidly agreed, writing, “We need a good, modest, conservative dress code for both the males and females.”

“Removing one more distraction will help everyone keep their focus on legislative matters,” he added. 

Giving legislators a pretense to investigate the clothing choices of college girls to make sure they're “modest” enough certainly sounds more fun than boring stuff like adopting a code of ethics and just generally remembering that it's never a good idea for grown men, especially those who hold themselves out as moral arbiters for the rest of us, to start messing with college girls. But, as some Democratic joy-killers were quick to point out, it's a bad look to blame girls for having such hot sexy bodies instead of expecting grown men to behave with a modicum of dignity and common sense. 

“We’re really not going to require interns to dress so we’re less distracted, are we?” Democratic Rep. Bill Otto messaged. “All we need is a code of ethics and a penalty provision.”

The Missouri intern handbook already has a general dress code requiring interns to wear “appropriate business attire,” which is defined as “a jacket and necktie” for men and “dress, suit, dress slacks and jacket” for women. 

Claire McCaskill, a Democrat who represents Missouri in the U.S. Senate, got wind of what was going on and sent out a letter to legislators that reads, “This problem has nothing to do with how interns are dressed.” She continues, “I refuse to stand by idly while any suggestion is made that victims of sexual harassment in the Missouri State Legislature is the responsibility of anyone other than the legislators themselves.”

State House Speaker Todd Richardson, a Republican, quickly released a statement explaining that a new, stricter dress code will not be part of the new intern policies. Chasing college girls down and explaining to them how you think their skirt is hugging their butt just a little too tightly to please the Lord will have to remain, sadly, a fantasy to be enjoyed at home instead of a part of daily life in the Missouri Legislature. 

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Aug. 20 2015 8:29 AM

Astronomer Celebrates Female Scientists’ “Special Natural Gift for Caring and Educating”  

At the closing ceremony of last week’s general assembly in Honolulu, the International Astronomical Union (you know, the people who demoted Pluto to dwarf planet status) announced three new female members to its board, in a series of long, somewhat boring speeches.

But when the new general secretary, Piero Benvenuti, spoke, many perked up, although not for the reasons he intended.

Benvenuti began by celebrating the fact that three of the four incoming board members were women. This is indeed something to celebrate in a field dominated by men. It was his next comment that garnered a reaction. According to a transcript, he said:

I believe a woman scientist is not just another scientist. Women have a special natural gift for caring and educating—and I underline the [etymology] of the word: e-duco, I pull out the best of someone—therefore a woman who is also an astronomer can have a greater impact on the society than a simple scientist.

At the moment those words left his mouth, I witnessed a small explosion on Twitter.

I’m a computer scientist, not an astronomer, but the sexual stereotyping of female scientists resonated with me and should be something that’s in the forefront of all scientists’ minds right now. Social media has seen hashtag-based backlash to Tim Hunt’s comments about “girls in the lab” and demonstrations that women actually can look like engineers.

“When he said that women’s innate nurturing abilities made them good for work in outreach and development projects, and I felt like we had lurched back to the ’50s,” said David L. Clements, an astrophysics at Imperial College London, who attended the speech.

Furthermore, many women have no interest in being nurturing and resent the implication that they are, simply by nature of their gender. Even those who are nurturing don’t necessarily want it considered as part of their suitability as scientists.

Rachael Livermore, a postdoctoral fellow in astronomy at the University of Texas at Austin, also attended the IAU speech and was outraged. “It completely misses the point that we should be striving for equality because excluding huge swaths of people for arbitrary reasons is bad for science as well as being unfair to those excluded,” she said, “not because the excluded groups have some sort of special magical skill to offer."

That really is the core of the problem. Benvenuti, by all accounts, sincerely supports the inclusion of more women in the field and in these leadership positions. Even the most critical attendees I spoke with believed he was trying to compliment his colleagues whom he held in high scientific esteem.

But women aren’t superhero scientists. We’re just scientists. Benvenuti was trying to be supportive, but when stereotypes enter the discussion to justify why women—or other underrepresented groups—should be fairly represented in science, it undermines the premise that we should be included simply for our scientific abilities.

“I am willing to give my colleague the benefit of the doubt and assume he didn’t mean any harm by his comments,” Emily Rice, an astronomer at the College of Staten Island–CUNY, told me. “Unfortunately, even well-intentioned comments are representative of the benevolent sexism that many women face every day in science. We should be valued as scientists, for our research and other contributions to the field, not by how well we conform to gender stereotypes."

And the benevolence is a tricky part of this. It can feel bad to criticize someone for celebrating diversity because he did it in the wrong way (not to mention that such criticism can spark the hated and dismissive response that we’re being oversensitive). At the same time, it feels worse to hear statements that imply that in order to receive equal treatment, we are expected to have “greater impact on the society than a simple scientist.” Being equivalent to a white male “simple scientist” should be enough.

Thankfully, Benvenuti has heard the criticism. He posted a statement on his blog Wednesday that heralded his new female colleagues for their scientific achievements and acknowledged the critiques of his comments.

While we hardly need another incident to focus our discussion on sexism in the sciences, it’s only by calling out these statements—even those made with good intentions—that we can begin to rid ourselves of the limiting, stereotypical expectations that hinder the progress of diversity.

Aug. 19 2015 3:48 PM

Fox News Guest Says That the Owen Labrie Case May Be a Matter of “Regret Sex”

The trial of Owen Labrie, a Harvard-bound student who is accused of raping a younger student at the famous St. Paul’s boarding school, is getting a lot of media coverage because of the elite nature of the school and because the alleged rape was part of a school tradition of senior boys competing to have sex with younger girls. A lot of media coverage is titillating, but one Fox News guest, a defense attorney named Keith Sullivan, went to the next level on Wednesday, dusting out some hoary and downright ridiculous myths about rape

“The prosecution is painting him out to be a monster,” Sullivan said to Fox host Bill Hemmer. “And as she pointed out, the prosecution, on the clip, he doesn’t look like a rapist. He sits there, he looks like Harry Potter. He sits there with his glasses on, this young innocent kid. How could he possibly violently and maliciously rape this woman and plan it for months and months at a time as the prosecution claims?”*

Hemmer pushed back, pointing out that you can't actually tell if someone is a rapist by how he looks, but Sullivan was already onto rape myth No. 2, which is that it's not really rape unless she puts up a physical fight. “There’s not ripped clothing. There’s no defensive marks on her,” he argued. “There’s no marking, there’s no bruising. The only indication is that some form of sex took place.”

But then Sullivan rounded out the entire jaw-dropping display by digging out the silliest myth there is: that women routinely accuse consensual sex partners of rape out of some sort of slut panic. “Look, many women have what's known as ‘regret sex,’ ” he said. “They feel dirty afterwards. They feel guilty. She’s a very young girl. She’s only just maturing. I’m not claiming that’s what happened here, but that’s a possibility.”

This claim, that women make up rape accusations to conceal consensual sex, is still a popular rape myth, but nowadays, most people pushing it know well enough to simply hint at this idea instead of stating it so boldly, much less using a term like “regret sex.”* There are, of course, false rape reports, though they are much rarer than anti-feminists would have you believe. But if you look at the real-world examples, this notion that it’s a matter of “regret sex” starts to fall apart. Take, for instance, the most recent famous example, of a woman going by the name “Jackie” who told a Rolling Stone reporter she was gang-raped at a frat party. Whatever happened there, one thing seems certain: It was not a matter of a woman having consensual sex with a man and then framing him for rape after the fact. Same story with the infamous Duke lacrosse case or the Tawana Brawley case. In each case, there wasn't a rape but there wasn't consensual sex, either. The alleged victim made the encounter up whole cloth for reasons that have nothing to do with covering up for consensual sex. 

Claiming the sex was consensual is Labrie’s defense lawyer’s strategy, too. It’s an odd choice, considering that Labrie denied the sex took place when he spoke to police, claiming instead that he experienced a “moment of divine inspiration” that caused him to stop before penetration. However, text message and physical evidence seems to suggest that sex did happen, leaving the defense with few options but the “regret sex” defense. 

*Update, Aug. 20, 2015: This paragraph was updated to include an additional portion of Sullivan’s remarks. (Return.)

*Correction, Aug. 20, 2015: This post originally implied that the phrase "regret sex" had not been used before Sullivan's appearance on Fox News on Wednesday. An Urban Dictionary entry dates the phrase to at least 2009. (Return.)

Aug. 19 2015 12:06 PM

Americans Still Back Family Planning Services at Planned Parenthood, New Poll Shows

A majority of Americans, including Republicans, support the current federal funding system for Planned Parenthood, according to a new poll conducted by Reuters/Ipsos. That’s despite relentless efforts from anti-choice activists this summer to demonize the organization. When asked if the federal government should continue the current funding for contraception and other nonabortion health services, 54 percent of respondents said yes. This isn't much lower than the 59 percent of Americans who generally believe that federal funding should go to contraception services. 

Make no mistake, the anti-choice propaganda efforts have had some effect. Forty-four percent of people who had seen the videos by the “pro-life” Center for Medical Progress said their views of Planned Parenthood were more negative, even though state and federal investigations into the organization have discovered that anti-choice accusations that the group sells fetal tissue for profit are completely baseless. Still, even when pollsters asked questions designed to elicit a disgust reaction, by describing the false accusations made in the videos, fewer than 40 percent of respondents were willing to agree with defunding the organization.

Even though the videos were ostensibly about abortion and fetal tissue research, none of the legislative response to the videos has had anything to do with either practice. On the contrary, all anti-choice efforts that have been justified by the video have been focused strictly on cutting off women's access to contraception, STI testing and treatment, and cancer screenings through the organization. By law, almost none of the funding, either from Medicaid or Title X, that goes to Planned Parenthood contributes to abortion services, which are paid for in full by the patients. (There are a handful of Medicaid patients who, because they are rape victims, get funded abortions, but their numbers are so tiny, numbering 331 women in 2009, not all of whom even went to Planned Parenthood, as to be inconsequential.) Even the revelation that GOP presidential candidate Ben Carson had experimented on fetal tissue hasn't slowed things down

This polling data sheds a lot of light on why so many Republican politicians have seized on these videos, even though they are nothing more than religious-right urban legends, like the “satanic panics” of the ’80s. Republican politicians, particularly those running in the crowded presidential primary, have a difficult needle to thread. On one hand, attracting voters on the religious right, who are necessary to do well in the primaries, takes more than simply being anti-abortion these days. You also need to show a willingness to attack contraception, which is increasingly demonized by conservatives.

But, as this polling shows, contraception—and contraception access—remains popular with the public at large, meaning that overt attacks on it could hurt a Republican in the general election. These videos are, therefore, a perfect solution to the dilemma. They allow Republican candidates to pander to the religious right on the anti-contraception issue while spinning it, for the general public, as more abortion politics. The truth doesn't stand a chance in the face of so much political expediency. 

Aug. 18 2015 12:46 PM

Teen Girls Love Video Games, but They’re Really Quiet About It

Chris Suellentrop at Kotaku has posted an in-depth analysis of one of the more interesting findings from a recent Pew Research Center report on teens and technology: Despite sexist stereotypes that cast video games as a male hobby, teen girls love to play them. Sure, more boys ages 13 to 17 play than girls—84 percent and 59 percent, respectively—but both genders play a lot of games and a lot of different kinds of games. “More than 35 percent of the girls in the Wiseman and Burch study said they play role-playing games,” Suellentrop writes, adding that this is “a larger number than the 32 percent who said they played mobile games.”

But while games are popular with both boys and girls, there is a striking difference in how they play. Video games, for boys, are a social activity, but for most girls, gaming is a solitary pursuit. Even though the stereotype is that it’s girls who are always chattering with friends on digital devices, researchers found that boys were far more likely than girls to put gaming at the center of their social lives. Thirty-eight percent “of all teen boys share their gaming handle as one of the first three pieces of information exchanged when they meet someone they would like to be friends with,” Amanda Lenhart, one of the authors of the study writes, while “just 7% of girls share a gaming handle when meeting new friends.”

Boys were far more likely to play with other people both online and in person, as this chart shows:

150818_XX_GamingGirlsPew

Pew Research Center

What particularly interested Suellentrop was the revelation that even when girls play games online, they are far less likely than boys to turn on their mics to talk to other players. “Only 28 percent of the girls who play video games online use voice chat to talk to other players,” he writes, in contrast to the 71 percent of boys who play online do. Taken together, that means that talking with people during online games is part of life for the majority of teen boys, but, according to Lenhart's estimate, only about 9 percent of teen girls.

Why do girls shun being seen playing video games, particularly to strangers, while boys embrace it? Suellentrop shies away from speculating, but the answer seems obvious to me, a woman who has played video games in some form or another since junior high school. There is just a huge gulf in the hassle factor. For women and girls, playing with friends, at least if you’re in a mixed-gender group, means that your performance is under a lot more scrutiny and that any failures are more likely to be blamed on your gender than if you were a guy. (For an illustration of this phenomenon, I recommend this famous XKCD cartoon.) If you’re online and other players realize you’re female, it can be even worse, with men saying abusive things to you just because of your gender. Games are supposed to be fun, so it’s not surprising that girls will gravitate toward modes of play that avoid all this stress. 

No one should blame women and girls for choosing to play games in a way that renders them invisible to the larger gaming community, but an unfortunate side effect of this is that many guys who play are under the impression that it’s therefore a male hobby. The result is that women who do turn on their mics are often accused of being “fake geek girls” who are only doing it for male attention. Worse, the entire Gamergate controversy that exploded last summer was a direct result of too many male gamers seeing gaming as “their” hobby and women, particularly those who want to participate as equals, as interlopers who need to be run out. But by garnering so much attention, Gamergate inadvertently revealed that women are, in fact, a large part of the gaming world. Perhaps that is the nudge that was necessary to break the cycle of invisibility and silencing in the world of video game playing. 

Aug. 17 2015 12:17 PM

Ben Carson Attacks Reproductive Health Care Access for Women of Color and Rape Victims

Last week, it was revealed that Ben Carson had done research on fetuses obtained from the very abortions he would like to ban women from accessing. But being a known hypocrite hasn't slowed the retired neurosurgeon and current GOP presidential candidate down one bit when it comes to casting judgment on women. On the contrary, Carson had a moment on Neil Cavuto’s Fox News show last week that should rival Todd Akin’s infamous “legitimate rape” moment, both in terms of ugliness to women and ignorance of biology. 

When asked by Cavuto on Wednesday whether he supported exceptions for rape and incest in his proposed ban on abortion, Carson, like Akin before him, tried to argue that such exceptions weren't really necessary. “I would hope that they would very quickly avail themselves of emergency room,” Carson argued, referring to rape victims. “And in the emergency room, they have the ability to administer, you know, RU-486, other possibilities, before you have a developing fetus.”

As with Akin, it's hard even to know where to begin. The biological ignorance on display here is astounding. RU-486, commonly known as the “abortion pill,” would not be given to a rape victim in an emergency room. The pill can only work on established pregnancies and is usually administered at abortion clinics. The pill Carson is likely thinking of is emergency contraception, which, as its name would suggest, prevents conception in the first place. Anti-choicers who don't like the idea of women having post-sex contraception have frequently claimed that emergency contraception works by killing embryos, but in reality, it works by suppressing women’s ovulation so no conception can occur while she has the live sperm in her system. That Carson, who is an actual doctor, would conflate the two is particularly troubling. 

Just as insidious is his implication that a rape victim only deserves our sympathy—or, if you prefer, a rape victim is only legitimate—if she behaves in a certain way after the rape. To earn the right not to bear a child for a rapist by force, you have to pull it together right after the rape and go straight to the emergency room, keeping in mind to avoid Catholic hospitals, even if that means driving for hours out of your way. If you are in shock or denial after your rape or you fear the repercussions of reporting, too bad, so sad. Only the most pulled-together, brave rape victims get to say no to forced pregnancy. And even then, only 89 percent of the time, which is the effectiveness rate of emergency contraception

But even though he seems to break with the hard-line anti-choice stance against emergency contraception, Carson continues to appeal to anti-choice voters by going hard after reproductive health care access for women of color. 

“That 30 percent of abortions occur among black women, whereas their population number is 13 percent, so it's almost triple the number of abortions rate for African Americans as whites,” Carson told Fox News host Eric Bolling on Thursday night. “It brings up a very important issue and that is do those black lives matter? The number one cause of death for black people is abortion.”

Comments like this suggest why Carson's popularity is rising among the ranks of conservative voters, who love hearing a black man explain that black women making personal choices about their own lives is a greater threat to black people than police violence or economic inequality. He's not wrong that black women have disproportionately high abortion rates, but that's not because black women are some kind of murderous threat to their own people. It's because black women have much higher unintended pregnancy rates than white women, in no small part because black women are more likely to have inadequate access to affordable gynecological care, including contraception. If black women had the same access to care as white women, these abortion rate discrepancies would likely shrink dramatically. 

But even though we know that contraception access prevents abortion, Carson is pushing for less access, particularly for women of color. “One of the reasons you find most [Planned Parenthood] clinics in black neighborhoods is so that you can find ways to control that population,” Carson told Cavuto on Wednesday. 

He doubled down on this claim on Thursday, telling Bolling, “And it is quite true that the majority and plurality of their clinics are in minority neighborhoods.”

In reality, most abortion clinics are in white-majority neighborhoods, and 14 percent of Planned Parenthood patients are black, which is directly proportional to the population at large. But this talking point is a popular one on the right, because under the guise of anti-racism, black women’s access to contraception and other health care services is being targeted for cuts, while white women’s access isn't under nearly as much scrutiny. If conservatives such as Carson had their way, already existing disparities in reproductive health between black and white women would expand dramatically. 

Donald Trump continues to suck all the oxygen out of any room he's in, but Carson is quietly building up a base of support among conservative voters. Sure, he may have done some fetal tissue research, but he is willing to go hard after reproductive health care access for both rape victims and women of color. And it's that vein of cruelty that will keep him afloat, even amid legitimate charges of hypocrisy.

Aug. 14 2015 12:12 PM

Gendering Toys Isn’t About Nature or Tradition. It’s About Ideology.

Last week, in response to customer feedback, Target announced their decision to reduce the amount of gender-based signage for kids' products in their stores. "For example, in the kids’ Bedding area, signs will no longer feature suggestions for boys or girls, just kids," reads the Target press release. "In the Toys aisles, we’ll also remove reference to gender, including the use of pink, blue, yellow or green paper on the back walls of our shelves."

This is a smart move that simplifies things. Customers can categorize Barbies and Hot Wheels perfectly well without a store assigning gender to them. Plenty of toys, from bikes to building blocks to stuffed animals to art sets, are generally gender-neutral. Why, for instance, should this striped bedspread be considered a "boy's" bedspread? 

But Target's common-sense move has created an explosion of anger on the right, with Fox News devoting at least four segments to churning up pointless outrage over it.

"I don't see what this does for kids having labels for boys and girls because to mix it all together is to deny that there's differences between the sexes," Andrea Tantaros argued. "I also think, and I think you'd agree with me that, boys and girls are different," Tammy Bruce said in another segment. "And that there are naturally different interests."

Unsurprisingly, the teeming masses of conservative America responded with knee-jerk outrage, as well. As AdWeek chronicled, one comically inspired hero named Mike Melgaard posed as Target customer service on Facebook to taunt those who were expressing their what-is-this-country-coming-to-boys-are-born-loving-toy-trucks umbrage.

screen_shot_20150814_at_11.29.03_am

Screenshot/Facebook

Reading the outpouring of anger at fake-Target, it's clear that the two arguments against this are rooted in "nature" ("God created males and females differently," one man grouses) and "tradition" ("MORE PUSSIFICATION of America," decries another). But if gender preferences are inborn and natural, then they should sort themselves out, even if Target has fewer signs that say "boys" and "girls." The only reason to relentlessly gender everything is to teach and enforce gender roles, which you would not have to do if gender preferences were as "natural" as these folks would like to think.

While there have always been some toys meant for one sex more than another, heavily gendering toys is a practice that waxes and wanes. As Elizabeth Sweet explained in the New York Times in 2012, "Gender was remarkably absent from the toy ads at the turn of the 20th century"—an era, presumably, of rampant "PUSSIFICATION"—and it wasn't until World War II and the postwar era that separate marketing of boys and girls really came into vogue. Then the tide turned again; by 1975, "very few toys were explicitly marketed according to gender, and nearly 70 percent showed no markings of gender whatsoever." That reversed again in the 1990s, when gender-based marketing started creeping up to today's ridiculous levels. 

And yet, as Hanna Rosin detailed in Slate in 2012, even studies that show gender differences in toy preference find that most popular toys, such as Lincoln Logs or stuffed animals, are gender-neutral.

Oddly, many of the people who are so angry about Target's decision grew up in the era when toy gendering wasn't much of a thing. My childhood blanket was covered with pictures of Peter Rabbit, and my favorite toy was a record player. I played with Barbies, sure, but most of my toys were not "girl" toys or "boy" toys—just toys. I imagine lots of the people losing their minds about gender-neutral toys have similar memories. What they're defending is neither nature or tradition, but an ideology—one that doesn't reflect the diverse desires of kids, who should be treated like individuals instead of as little boxes marked "Boy" and "Girl."

Aug. 13 2015 10:19 PM

Carly Fiorina Comes Out in Favor of Kids Getting Measles

At a town hall today in Alden, Iowa, former Hewlett-Packard CEO, onetime California Senate candidate, and Republican presidential hopeful Carly Fiorina stated that all Americans should have the right to contract diseases from unvaccinated children.

According to Jenna Johnson in the Washington Post, Fiorina received a question from a mother of five who said vaccines went against her religious beliefs because they were manufactured from cells of "aborted babies." Fiorina responded, “When in doubt, it’s always the parent’s choice," meaning that all parents should decide for themselves if their unvaccinated child should have the opportunity to transmit a disease to an infant, elderly person, or otherwise immunosuppressed person. "We must protect religious liberty," she added.

Fiorina disclosed that her own daughter had been "bullied" by a school nurse to protect her preteen daughter from cervical cancer by administering the HPV vaccine.

“When you have highly communicable diseases where you have a vaccine that’s proven, like measles or mumps, then I think a parent can make that choice," Fiorina continued, supporting parental discretion in determining whether or not unvaccinated children should be free to spread diseases throughout their community.

Update, 8:02 a.m., August 14, 2015: Fiorina's campaign has asked us to include the rest of Fiorina's quotation, as follows: "—but then I think a school district is well within their rights to say: 'I'm sorry, your child cannot then attend public school.' So a parent has to make that trade-off." Unvaccinated children are presumably free in this scenario to pursue opportunities to spread measles and mumps in all other locations that are not public schools. Fiorina does not think that public schools should be able to make such judgment calls when it comes to "more esoteric immunizations."

Fiorina is on record as opposing California’s school vaccination law, which requires all children in public or private school or day care to be vaccinated against a host of diseases, with no exceptions for religious or personal beliefs. “California is wrong on most everything, honestly,” Fiorina said. “I’m not at all surprised that they made that mistake as well.” Fiorina remains hopeful that the state will eventually revoke children's right not to get measles.

Aug. 13 2015 2:13 PM

Ben Carson Doesn’t Apologize For Fetal Tissue Research, Because It Was Never About That

As seen in the Slatest this morning, Dr. Ben Carson—who has been hungrily exploiting right-wing hay-making over Planned Parenthood donating fetal tissue to research—has done research using fetal tissue himself. Credit to OB-GYN and pro-choice blogger Dr. Jen Gunter, who found Carson's 1992 paper on research done using fetal samples obtained from abortions.

Carson's response? His case was different. Why? Because it just was

"You have to look at the intent," Carson said to David Weigel of the Washington Post. "To willfully ignore evidence that you have for some ideological reason is wrong. If you’re killing babies and taking the tissue, that’s a very different thing than taking a dead specimen and keeping a record of it."

What?

Parsing Carson's self-defense is probably impossible, but fetal tissue donations have never really been the issue here. The actual target has always been programs that make contraception and other non-abortion sexual health care affordable to women. All those supposedly outraged Republicans in the Senate, for instance, didn't draft a bill to ban fetal tissue research or donation. They drafted a bill that would strip Planned Parenthood of its ability to offer low-cost contraception to women. 

It's also worth remembering that Sen. Mitch McConnell, who fast-tracked the Senate bill targeting funding for contraception and cancer screenings, voted for fetal tissue research in 1993

This is all why Cecile Richards, the head of Planned Parenthood, sent a letter to the National Institutes of Health asking for a blue ribbon panel to review the value of fetal tissue research. The message that sends is loud and clear: If this is really about fetal tissue research, let's act like it. Why attack contraception funding if your supposed point of outrage is fetal tissue research? 

The Carson revelation just drives home how this faux scandal is transparent opportunism in service of a radical agenda, aimed at separating low-income women from accessing the kind of quality gynecological care that better-off women can get through private insurance. Everything else is just noise. 

Aug. 13 2015 2:01 PM

Why A Racist, Porn-Inflected Slur Started Haunting GOP Politics

Oh dear. The New York Times is covering the "cuckservative" phenomenon, which must have been a hard editorial decision—it's impossible to talk about this while maintaining the paper's famous sense of decorum. "The phrase has caught on among a segment of disaffected Republicans, some of whom hold white nationalist ideologies and who feel many of the party’s presidential candidates are not conservative enough," explains writer Alan Rappeport. 

In other words, it's a new and uglier way to call someone a "RINO." But where does it come from?

"Cuckservative is an amalgamation of the word cuckold — the husband of an adulterous woman — and conservative," Rappeport explains. "The implication is that mainstream Republicans, like jilted husbands, are facing humiliation and have lost sight of their futures."

That's one way to put it. Another way to put it: The term is drawn from a popular form of pornography in which men get off on the fantasy of a woman humiliating her man by cheating on him. A lot of it is what you might delicately call "racial," wherein the white male viewer eroticizes the humiliation of having your wife cheat on you with a black man. (Vice, bless them, has an entertaining review of one cuckold porn imagining former Los Angeles Clippers owner and noted racist Donald Sterling in such a scenario. This surprisingly sober-minded discussion on Reddit is also in understanding the phenomenon.)

As Rappeport notes, cuckservative tends to be flung around by some of the more racist elements of the Republican party, something easy enough to confirm via Twitter search, whereby you can watch a lot of hollering about immigration and exhibiting some weird defensiveness about white male virility. All of which makes sense, even if it's stomach-churning sense. Racist ideology has always been about asserting the "purity" of white people—particularly white women—against the supposedly corrupting influence of non-white people. Racist cuckold porn pushes two big buttons for the far right: a sense of ownership over women's bodies and a fear of black men. It's gross but not particularly surprise to see them eroticize their ugly paranoias. 

So cuckservative boils down to this: white supremacists insinuating that white male politicians are emasculated if they fail to take a sufficiently racist hard line against immigration and race-mixing. 

The larger story here is one of the far-right fringe gaining a foothold in mainstream Republican politics. Fringe anti-abortion types have managed to get their vendetta against Planned Parenthood mainstreamed, and now the scary racists are making the same move, using Donald Trump as their wedge: His jibber-jabber about Mexican immigrants and rape plays off their favorite obsession. 

It also suggests that social media will continue to present a problem for Republicans, as it gives right- wing fringes the opportunity to bypass the gatekeepers and keep pumping out their conspiracy theories and psychosexual obsessions into public view. This creates a double bind: It embarrasses the party, but it also increases pressure on them to move further right to avoid accusations of softness and treachery. The fringe isn't a majority, but there are enough of them——and they are finding unity online—that they can't just be ignored until they go away.

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