What Women Really Think

July 17 2014 3:02 PM

Science Has a Gender Problem. Science Just Made It Worse.

The cover of Science magazine’s special AIDS and HIV issue hit mailboxes on Wednesday: It shows the legs and minidress-clad torsos of transgender sex workers in Jakarta. The women have breasts but no heads. “Staying a step ahead of HIV/AIDS,” reads the display text, a winking inch or so away from their stiletto heels. Though transgender sex workers are a “key affected population” for the epidemic in Indonesia, they are often overlooked by government health services, which is ostensibly why Science chose to splash bits of their anatomy on its cover. If transwomen get ignored, though, it’s in large part due to prejudice—and in that respect the optics of the Science tableau do more harm than good.

The Slantist sex blog explains this car wreck of noble intentions pretty well. “Instead of showing viewers a humanizing glimpse into the lives of these women,” writes A.V. Flox, the cover objectifies their bodies. It uses their bare legs as bait to lure in male readers, and then reverses the readers’ expectations in a way that’s supposed to be…funny? “Interesting to consider how those gazey males will feel when they find out,” tweeted Science editor Jim Austin gleefully. Because transgender women with AIDS are great comedic fodder! “Am I the only one who finds moral indignation really boring?” he continued. If only.

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July 17 2014 12:56 PM

Republicans Can't Stop Comparing Immigrants to Rapists

It's estimated that 60,000 to 80,000 unaccompanied and undocumented minors will cross the border seeking sanctuary from violence and adversity, a number only exceeded by the number of tales told by right wing politicians and pundits of the unspeakable horrors that these children supposedly bring with them. Along with disease and general sadness, apparently migrant children are also going to bring rape. 

"Our continued existence is at risk with what’s going on at the southern border," exclaimed Rep. Louie Gohmert, a Republican from Texas, during a House speech on Tuesday where he accused the Obama administration of causing the influx of new immigrants, many of whom are children, by being too lax with border security. "And they’ve committed at least 7,695 sexual assaults. You want to talk about a war on women? This administration will not defend the women of America from criminal aliens! By the thousands, and hundreds of thousands!"

July 17 2014 12:15 PM

Todd Akin: "Legitimate Rape" Doesn't Result in Conception, Unless You're One of My Staffers

Todd Akin continues to expand on his critical contributions to the discourse of rape and abortion rights while he promotes his book. While reiterating that he was not wrong to say, as he did in 2012, “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down,” he’s adding a new twist: On MSNBC’s Daily Rundown, Akin told Chuck Todd that a “number of people” on his staff were “conceived by rape.”

So which is it, Todd? Do female bodies magically prevent pregnancy from rape or is rape so efficient at people production that it’s provided a significant number of staff members for you?

July 16 2014 6:19 PM

Game of Thrones Will Have No Female Directors in Season 5

When it comes to depictions of gender and sexuality, the popular HBO series Game of Thrones is truly a mixed bag. On one hand, few shows have so many female characters who are actual characters instead of placeholders or generic Strong Females. But the show has one of the most egregious nudity gaps on television. And there was that notorious episode in which Jaime raped his sister, Cersei, except that the director insisted that it wasn’t really a rape at all.

This all makes it more disappointing to learn that, according to Entertainment Weekly, season five of Game of Thrones will feature no female directors. (Michelle MacLaren, who handled famous scenes such as Brienne fighting a bear in a pit and the only major wedding storyline that didn’t end in death, will not return.) As Carolyn Cox of the Mary Sue writes, “it’s a scary prospect that women will now have no say in significant parts of the creative process, especially since Martin’s universe often places women in compromising positions—it’s important to have female voices on a series which often depicts women being silenced.”

Despite some missteps, Game of Thrones has been thoughtful and nuanced for most of its run in depicting the way women cope with living in a world where they’re so disempowered. Hopefully, that won’t change with an all-male directing team. But even if the quality remains, I wish a show that I love would give some power to women in the real world even if the women in the show can’t have it.

July 16 2014 2:13 PM

Renee Ellmers Says Her “Bring It Down to a Woman's Level” Comment Is Better in Context. Nope.  

North Carolina Rep. Renee Ellmers, one of the Republicans who is supposed to be working on improving her party's outreach to women, became just the latest in a long line of Republicans saying boneheaded things about women when comments she made during a Friday panel came to light this week. "Men do tend to talk about things on a much higher level," she explained, adding that male Republicans need to "bring it down to a woman's level" to get the women's vote.

Now Ellmers is full damage control mode, sending out a statement accusing the reporter who recorded her comments, Ashe Schow of the Washington Examiner, of being a "liberal woman reporter" who took her words "completely out of context." While playing the victim of the "liberal media" is a reflexive stance for any Republican politician who screws up, the problem here is that the shoe really doesn't fit either Schow, a former writer for the Heritage Foundation, or the extremely conservative outlet she currently writes for. In response, Schow has now posted both an audio recording of Ellmers speaking and a full transcript so you can see the context for yourself.

July 16 2014 1:10 PM

The Psychological Shortcoming That Can Help Explain Why We’re Arresting Innocent Moms

This article originally appeared in Science of Us.

Generally speaking, when you're trying to understand a news event through a behavioral-science lens, it's not a good idea to bold up, loudly invoke some psychological buzzword, and then drop the mike as though your work is done. People are complicated, and their actions can rarely be boiled down to any one mechanism. But still, as I've read Jonathan Chait's and Radley Balko's recent articles about parents being arrested for letting their kids play outside without supervision, one such buzzword has repeatedly popped into my head: the fundamental attribution error.

To review the case Chait highlighted: Debra Harrell of North Augusta, South Carolina, had been bringing her daughter to her (the mom's) job at McDonald's every day, where she would sit with her laptop. After the family's house was robbed and the laptop stolen, the girl asked to be dropped off at a playground for the day. Another parent called police, and Harrell was arrested for unlawful conduct toward a child.

So what is the fundamental attribution error, and how does it apply here?

July 16 2014 12:57 PM

Watch This Awesome Woman Kill It on American Ninja Warrior

Back in October 2012, the New York Times Magazine published an article titled “Why Women Can’t Do Pull-Ups,” using some combination of not enough testosterone and too much fat as an explanation. Unsurprisingly, this led to some heated reactions, but all we really needed was this video of Kacy Catanzaro on American Ninja Warrior last night.

I’ve never seen the show before, and you don’t need to in order to appreciate the superhuman feats of the 5-foot former Division 1 gymnast. She’s the first woman to attempt the finals course, and around the 1:30 mark you can see just how strong a woman’s upper body can be.

July 15 2014 3:28 PM

Parents Are Now Getting Arrested for Letting Their Kids Go to the Park Alone

Debra Harrell, 46, let her 9-year-old daughter play outside alone at the park. The South Carolina child had a cell phone she could use to call her mother in case of emergency. On the girl’s third day alone at the park, someone asked her where her mother was. The girl said her mom was at work (Harrell works at McDonald’s, and didn’t want her daughter to have to sit inside the restaurant for hours on a beautiful summer day.) The result? Harrell was arrested for “unlawful conduct towards a child” and put in jail; her daughter is now in the custody of the department of social services.

Most commentators—save for a few busybodies interviewed by the local news who nattered on about the possibility of the child being abducted by a strange man, something that’s extremely rarethink that authorities went way too far in arresting Harrell. As a citizen, it angers me to see the police overreach this way. How is it benefitting this child to be put in the custody of social services? And as a parent, Harrell’s arrest scares me: How can I appropriately parent my child when doing something that seems relatively safe, if out of fashion, can get you arrested?

July 15 2014 2:20 PM

Does Dawn of the Planet of the Apes Have a Woman Problem?

This article originally appeared in Vulture.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is a rousing, well-directed, soulful blockbuster with a lot on its mind, which makes it quite unlike most of the big and brain-dead movies we’ve gotten this summer. Still, there is one depressing characteristic that it unfortunately shares with some of those other recent sci-fi spectaculars: This Dawn is virtually devoid of female characters.

The movie takes place in the future after a simian superflu has wiped out most of mankind, and of the hundreds of human survivors we see left in San Francisco—plenty of whom have speaking roles—only one is a woman: Ellie, played by Keri Russell. She’s the one who tags along a few steps behind our male lead in all her scenes, and she’s off-screen for most of the movie, including the all-important final act. Ellie’s counterparts at the colony of apes don’t fare much better when it comes to representation: There, too, we meet countless male apes but only one female, Caesar’s love interest, Cornelia. This motion-capture character is played by the talented actress Judy Greer, who has a dancer’s background, studied simian movement for months, and yet has about 90 seconds of screentime in the final film. No one even calls Cornelia by name in the movie—if you wanted to know, you’d have to look it up later.

Do I think that the Dawn of the Planet of the Apes filmmakers made a conscious decision to minimize and exclude female characters? Quite the contrary: I think they didn’t even realize they were doing it.

July 15 2014 1:50 PM

Thor Is Now a Woman

Thor, the Norse god of thunder and Marvel comics superhero, is now a woman. News of the celestial upheaval came Tuesday morning via the ladies of The View, and Marvel now confirms that a woman will wield the hammer Mjölnir in a brand-new series starting in October. “This is not She-Thor,” says writer Jason Aaron in Marvel’s press release, published by the Mary Sue. “This is not Lady Thor. This is not Thorita. This is THOR. This is the THOR of the Marvel Universe. But it’s unlike any Thor we’ve ever seen before.”

I’m not sure there is much thmor to be said here in the way of gender analysis, although perhaps the character’s makeover has something to do with sublimated love for superhero Ruth Bader Ginsburg? (Hammer equals gavel.) But it is fun to chant that evocatively solid syllable in the new Avenger’s honor. While a lot of superheroines—including Marvel’s own Storm, Black Widow, and Captain Marvel—rely on lithe acrobatics to fight evil, Thor favors the brute smashing of things. Thor is mighty and unsubtle and loud. She doesn’t shoot dinky little arrows, like Hawkeye, or bat-shaped boomerangs. As Walter White might say, she is the one who knocks.

Plus, we have delicious logistical questions to consider, now that Asgard has decided to lean in. For instance, Marvel Studios has committed to at least two more Avengers movies, one in 2018 and one (we think) in 2021. Will the comic book Thor diverge from the film Thor until the mainstream catches up with Aaron and his team? Or will Chris Hemsworth hand off the flowing blond locks to a female actor? (If so, we’ll miss your arms, Chris!)

Either way, as Whoopi Goldberg said this morning, “It’s a huge day in the Marvel universe.” And on Twitter, Marvel executive editor had a thunderous response to skeptical fans:

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