The XX Factor
What Women Really Think

April 25 2016 4:36 PM

Sportscaster Erin Andrews Settles With Hotel in Peephole-Video Case

Sportscaster and Dancing with the Stars host Erin Andrews has settled a lawsuitagainst the Nashville hotel where convicted stalker Michael David Barrett filmed her through a peephole in 2008.

April 25 2016 2:33 PM

A Brief History of Menstruating in Outer Space

In this unprecedented era of menstrual activisminvention, and public discourse, it was only a matter of time before period talk reached outer space. Last week, in a report published in npj Microgravity, researchers made one of the first scientifically backed recommendations for astronauts who menstruate.

Hormonal contraception makes it possible for women to halt their periods, but with the prospect of years-long space missions looming, the authors of the paper advise against taking birth control pills. The bulk of hundreds or thousands of days’ worth of oral contraception and their packaging would create unnecessary weight and waste on the ship, and scientists have not studied the long-term effects of deep-space radiation on hormonal pills. Thus, the researchers recommend long-acting reversible contraception like an intrauterine device or arm implant—preferably the former, since the latter might catch on or otherwise interfere with space garments.

April 25 2016 2:10 PM

Lemonade Is a Master Class in Artful Gossip Management

The Mona Lisa is one of the greatest art works of Western civilization. But the sophistication of its brushstrokes is not the only reason it endures as a cultural icon. Freud speculated that Da Vinci was painting his own mother, who “possessed that mysterious smile which he lost.” Or was Mona Lisa a Chinese slave, or a self-portrait in drag? Just last week, yet another theory emerged: the image is based in part on Da Vinci’s male lover.

In other words, great art and juicy gossip are not mutually exclusive. This is one light in which to read Beyoncé’s Lemonade. The hour-long “visual album,” which hit HBO and the streaming service Tidal on Saturday night and immediately became the cultural story of the weekend/month/year, is absolutely a work of art. It is not a mere journal entry or a magazine interview; it’s a complex musical about monogamy that has been meticulously constructed with the help of dozens of artists and likely millions of dollars. It is certainly about themes larger than Beyoncé—and yet, it is also so totally about her personal life.

April 22 2016 5:38 PM

Harriet Tubman Isn’t the First Black Woman to Appear on Currency in the U.S.

This week, the U.S. Treasury announced that Harriet Tubman will replace Andrew Jackson on the front of the $20 bill.  For some, this is an act of revolutionary change. It is a momentous action for a nation that supported slavery for close to 300 years (including the colonial era) and freedom for half that.  To recognize the life of a formally enslaved woman on federal currency is a significant statement. 

However, for some, placing Tubman on American greenbacks is an extension of the commodification of enslaved people and a slap in the face to her legacy. “I don’t want to see Tubman commodified with a price, as she once was as a slave,” wrote the Guardian’s Steven W. Thrasher last summer. “It’s clear that putting her face on America’s currency would undermine her legacy,” declared Feminista Jones in the Washington Post. How should we evaluate these arguments in a moment where so many relics of the past are being removed, revised, rewritten, and relocated?

April 22 2016 1:43 PM

Florida Tries to Defund Planned Parenthood, Quickly Learns That Doing So Is Illegal

In March, Florida’s overwhelmingly Republican legislature passed a tricky new abortion law whose practical purpose was to defund Planned Parenthood. The measure prohibits state funding for reproductive health clinics where abortions are performed—and for clinics that are associated with abortion providers. (Public funding of elective abortion is already illegal.) In effect, the law would shutter women’s health clinics where abortions aren’t even performed, simply because they are owned and operated by Planned Parenthood.

For many of these clinics, Medicaid provides a major source of income, since the program typically covers non-abortion services like birth control and cervical cancer screenings. The Florida law is designed to starve clinics of cash by blocking Medicaid reimbursements. On Tuesday, however, the federal government gently reminded Florida that it definitely can’t do that. Vikki Wachino, director of the Center for Medicaid and CHIP Services within the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), explained to the state that its abortion measure clearly violates federal law.* Specifically, the funding ban defies the Social Security Act’s “free choice provider” provision, which allows Medicaid beneficiaries to see any qualified provider. As Wachino explained:

This provision limits a state's authority to establish qualification standards, or take certain actions against a provider, unless those standards or actions are related to the fitness of the provider to perform covered medical services—i.e., its capability to perform the required services in a professionally competent, safe, legal, and ethical manner—or the ability of the provider to appropriately bill for those services. Such reasons may not include a desire to target a provider or set of providers for reasons unrelated to their fitness to perform covered services or the adequacy of their billing practices.

Technically, Florida can request a “Medicaid waiver” from the federal government, giving it permission to bypass the free choice provider rule and restrict funding for women’s health clinic. The odds that the government will grant such a waiver to Florida are roughly zero percent. To compound the legislature’s problems, the Florida Supreme Court blocked a separate anti-abortion law, mandating a 24-hour waiting period, on Friday, just days after CMS’s warning. 

In addition to Florida, nine other states have recently passed laws attempting to deprive reproductive health clinics of Medicaid funding. CMS reminded each of them that their abortion extortion plan is illegal. States can still put financial pressure on clinics by cutting other forms of state funding. But with the Medicaid lifeline preserved by federal law, it seems likely that the primary goal of these laws—to destroy Planned Parenthood’s finances, then drive it out of the state altogether—is destined to fail. 

*Correction, April 22, 2016: This post originally misstated Vikki Wachino’s position. She is the director of the Center for Medicaid and CHIP Services, not the director of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. (Return.)

April 22 2016 12:49 PM

The Latest Anti-Choice Lie to Become State Law: “Abortion Reversal”

Earlier this month, South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard, a Republican, signed a bill that compels abortion providers in the state to tell people seeking a medical abortion that they can change their minds in between the two doses of medication and request an “abortion reversal.” The law mandates that doctors give their patients inaccurate information that has no basis in scientific evidence.

This informed consent provision may provide momentum for the next wave of anti-abortion legislation. Arizona and Arkansas already have abortion-reversal laws on the books, and STAT reports that Americans United for Life, an anti-abortion law firm, has put together a similar bill for conservative state legislators to use as a model for their own abortion-reversal notification mandates.

A medical (that is, nonsurgical) abortion involves two medications: At the doctor’s office, a patient takes mifepristone, causing her cervix to dilate and her uterine lining to slough off. Later, at home, she takes a dose of misoprostol, which sets off a series of uterine contractions and what amounts to something like a heavy period. Abortion reversal laws claim that if a patient skips the misoprostol and gets a hefty dose of progesterone, she may halt her pregnancy’s termination.

Anti-choice advocates point to a single paper as proof that midway abortion interruption is a legitimate medical practice. The 2012 report details the cases of seven pregnant women who took mifepristone and then, hours or days later, told their doctors they had changed their minds. The physicians gave the women progesterone injections instead of misoprostol. Two women lost their pregnancies anyway; one dropped off the map; and four carried their pregnancies to term.

Since there’s been no scientific study on this procedure with a respectable sample size and controls, some say right-wing advocacy groups are using conservative politicians to pass these laws so they can experiment on women and see if it could actually work. Daniel Grossman, a University of California, San Francisco professor of obstetrics and gynecology, told STAT that any doctor who’d do so is “essentially testing an unproven, experimental protocol on pregnant women.” “As physicians, we can’t just experiment on patients willy-nilly,” he said.

Informed consent laws are notoriously full of misleading statements and flat-out lies, constructed for the sole purpose of forcing a doctor to try to scare a women out of an abortion. In addition to South Dakota's new abortion-reversal provision, doctors in the state must inform abortion-seekers that “abortion will terminate the life of a whole, separate, unique, living human being”; that a pregnant person has an “existing relationship with that unborn human being”; and that having an abortion will increase her risk of depression and suicide. (It won’t.)

As targeted regulation of abortion provider (TRAP) laws cause surgical abortion centers to shutter around the country, accessible medical abortions have become even more of a critical necessity. They’re only getting more popular—so much so that Berkeley students are protesting for access to the pills on campus. Just last month, the FDA released new guidelines that approved the prescription of mifepristone through the 10th week of pregnancy, a big jump from the original seven-week benchmark. The new guidelines also made medical abortions an easier and more attractive option: They changed the recommended mifepristone dose from 600 milligrams to 200 milligrams, which is just as effective with fewer side effects, and allowed women to take the second pill at home instead of having to come back to the doctor’s office.

So it’s no wonder anti-abortion advocates have made these pills the target of their latest incremental step toward banning abortion. In recent years, right-wing state legislators have tried—and in many cases, succeeded—to ban webcam consultations for medical abortions, which reduced cost and travel time for patients who used them in lieu of face-to-face visits, especially those in rural areas or parts of the country with little access to reproductive health care. Now, these staunch advocates of “protecting women” from their own medical decisions are using them as guinea pigs.

April 22 2016 9:40 AM

Prince Was One of Pop Music’s Greatest Champions of Women

Prince wasn’t just one of the 20th century’s great artists, who left behind an unrivaled discography of hundreds and hundreds of monumental classics and bewildering oddities. He was also one of music’s great champions of women, who were indispensable to him onstage and in the studio. Some of them co-wrote his biggest hits; others had the biggest hits of their own careers with songs he wrote or produced or both. Part post-gender Svengali, part macho pig in a teddy and lipstick, Prince was talented enough to work as a one-man band, and often did. Real and complicated magic came, though, when he collaborated with women.

First there was Lisa Coleman, who at 19 had already been in the business for seven years when she joined Prince on his Dirty Mind tour in 1980 (which featured another future r&b legend, Teena Marie, as an opening act). Prince was still playing all the instruments himself on record, but live, Lisa’s keyboards and vocals were an essential foil to him as his shows grew stadium-sized for the 1999 tour, serving up the irresistible hooks on songs like “1999,” “Controversy,” “Delirious,” and “Little Red Corvette.”

When Coleman’s girlfriend Wendy Melvoin joined the band in 1983 as preparations began for Purple Rain, the artists known as Wendy & Lisa joined him in the spotlight. Wendy came up with the iconic opening chords of the title track; the pair wrote the album’s beguiling “Computer Blue” with Prince’s father. They damn near stole the movie out from underneath the Purple One, sweating bullets to make the concert sequences the best rock show ever captured on film and reading him to filth in the campy backstage scenes, all while he simultaneously denied and relied upon their musical contributions. (In a must-read interview in Out from 2009, Wendy and Lisa talk candidly about their role in Prince’s success and his radical concepts of gender.) They joined Prince onstage (“This is Lisa... and this is Wendy”) when he accepted the Academy Award for original song score for Purple Rain in 1985. 

Meanwhile, Prince snatched up Sheila E., one of the great percussionists of her generation; he helped her put a band together for a debut record, the hit The Glamorous Life, and gave her an opening gig on his blockbuster Purple Rain tour. The two were briefly a couple (in her 2014 memoir, she says of the relationship, “I was dating a vampire,” and other not-great things). But Sheila E. was far more than the other pretty faces he tarted up, gifted a song or two to, and then promptly abandoned. (More on them in a minute.) They collaborated on a second album for her, 1986’s underrated Romance 1600. Crucially, she anchored the constantly shifting lineup of his post-Revolution period, helping him through assembling the messy masterpiece Sign “O” the Times and serving as musical director for his marathon Sign and Lovesexy tours.

If Sheila E. was his rock behind the drum kit, Susan Rogers was his studio support. One of the few female engineers in the industry, Rogers was generally the only person Prince allowed in the room as he recorded and re-recorded and re-re-recorded his tracks. Alan Light’s 2014 Let’s Go Crazy  persuasively makes the case that, without Susan’s technical wizardry, keen eye, and boundless patience, it’s possible Prince might never have finished a song in the 1980s.  

He finished thousands of them, of course, not only for himself but for a staggering number of other musicians. There were his famous girl groups, of course. In 1982 Vanity 6, fronted by his then girlfriend Denise Matthews, gyrated their way to stardom with their Linn drum machine and lingerie fantasia “Nasty Girl” and a still-underrated eponymous album. Her breakup with Prince was acrimonious, her post-Vanity life troubled; when Matthews died just two months ago, he paid tribute to her in what turned out to be one of his final shows. For Purple Rain, Vanity 6 became Apollonia 6 when Apollonia Kitero replaced Matthews as Prince’s girl-group lead singer, girlfriend, and movie co-star. Wendy Melvoin and another talented woman in Prince’s orbit, Jill Jones, helped bring to fruition the trio’s self-titled album, led by the ribald hit “Sex Shooter.”

Beyond acting like a pop Svengali, though, Prince worked with an astounding range of female stars, all while releasing his own, unrivaled string of triumphs in the 1980s and ’90s. He provided both inspiration and instrumentation for Stevie Nicks’ ferocious “Stand Back.” He wrote the Bangles’ second-best song, “Manic Monday.” He offered Sheena Easton “Sugar Walls,” a track that not only shored up her star status in America but also, along with his own masturbation anthem “Darling Nikki”, launched Tipper Gore’s career as a culture scold. Chaka Kahn covered his “I Feel for You” with legendary results. He and Madonna co-wrote and dueted on the stiff “Love Song” from her Like a Prayer album. Sinead O’Connor repurposed “Nothing Compares 2 U,” a track originally performed to little notice by Prince’s protégés The Family, into the 1990s’ great anthem of heartbreak and grief. He took a prayer written by Martika, a former star of Kids Incorporated and later sample source for one of Eminem's biggest hits, and turned it into the godlike “Love...Thy Will Be Done.” And for 1993’s “Why Should I Love You,” he became one of the very few stars to collaborate with Kate Bush—who was, along with Bowie, perhaps Prince’s only true peer when it came to the ability to summon technical wizardry, aesthetic prophesy, and sheer charisma for the honorable purpose of a pop song.

To be sure, Prince often used women as eye candy. (As the bathing-beauty poster included with Controversy or the strip-tease cover of Parade attest, though, he never asked them to do a pose he wouldn’t do himself.) But as one of the biggest stars in the world for almost 40 years, Prince went out of his way to shine a spotlight on the women he gathered around him, from Lisa Coleman on the early records to the countless women he brought on tour to open for him to the all-female power trio 3rdeyegirl, who backed him on his final albums. He forced his fans to face the truth that the best drummer in the world could be a Latina in heels, the best guitarist (apart from his own multi-gendered self) a lesbian in ruffles and sneers. Prince promised a world where men and women looked and acted like each other, and also like nobody else, and if you didn’t come to party, don’t bother knocking on the door. It still feels like a revolution.  

April 22 2016 8:33 AM

Is Supersweet Kelly Ripa Secretly a Diva? The Live! With Kelly and Michael Drama, Explained.

The friendly-bordering-on-flirtatious banter between Kelly Ripa and Michael Strahan is the fuel that fires their daytime TV show, Live! With Kelly and Michael—which is why it’s so surprising to see Page Six using words like “meltdown” and “betrayal” to describe what’s going on right now between the pair behind the scenes. On Tuesday, TMZ reported that Ripa was furious that her co-host was leaving the show for a spot on Good Morning America. She reportedly called in sick for the rest of the week in protest, leaving Strahan to vamp alongside a succession of fill-in co-hosts, including Ana Gasteyer and Erin Andrews. What exactly is going on here, and whose side should you be on? Read on for our best attempt to explain.

April 21 2016 5:21 PM

Why I’ll Miss Chyna, the Female Wrestler Who Broke All the Gender Rules

The “Ninth Wonder of the World” is dead, the only female wrestler to hold the World Wrestling Federation Intercontinental Championship, the female wrestler who fought the men and, as often as not, beat them. 5-foot-10. Muscles on her muscles. Chyna wasfound dead in her apartment by police after a friend discovered her there, unresponsive. She was 45.

Chyna, who was born Joan Marie Laurer, was something of a hero of mine. I can still remember watching wrestling, at my childhood home or in my dorm room at college, and the feeling of excitement and wonder that would come over me whenever she was on camera. She made me want to scream. She made me want to punch boys. She made my heart feel as if it might burst with pride, or break.

April 21 2016 4:33 PM

Bravo’s New Show Reveals How Mommy Groups Aren’t Always a Force for Good

Anton Chekhov’s famous storytelling rule is that if a gun appears at the beginning of a work, it has to be fired by the end. Bravo’s method for storytelling is to hand every cast member a gun at the beginning, and then sit back and watch as these emotional assassins clumsily, and often incoherently, fire bullets at one another. It’s a formula that’s worked well for the reality juggernaut that is the Real Housewives franchise, and that Bravo has replicated in the new unscripted show There Goes the Motherhood, which premiered Wednesday night.

The show stars seven bronzed and coiffed women, all with access to many-zeroed bank accounts to which they don’t contribute. (Yes, they are mothers. Yes, care work is real work. The point isn’t that they don’t do anything, just that they are all rich.) The conceit is that they belong to one of  “the most coveted mommy groups in” Los Angeles, in which they are supposed to seek and provide support from and for the other moms. But this is Bravo, so instead we get lots of sideways eye rolls and occasional full-frontal personal attacks, the content of which frequently has little to do with parenting. One would hope that the specter of their children, if not their actual presence at family get-togethers, would prompt these women to at least conceal, if not put down, their weapons once in awhile. This rarely happens.