The XX Factor
What Women Really Think

July 26 2016 4:56 PM

Meet the Allens, the “Off-Grid” Family That Wants Your Support to Survive

The first thing the Allens, a British family of four, want you to know about them is that they are followers of something they call off-grid parenting. This includes common, and sometimes questionable, alternative parenting practices like homeschooling, avoiding vaccinations and modern medicine, co-sleeping, and extended breastfeeding. There are also less common ones like “lotus birthing” (letting the placenta and umbilical cord fall off naturally) and avoiding shoes for their children. Still, all this is not enough for the Allens. They yearn for a family life even further off-grid, and have hatched a plan that will help them move closer “towards self sustainability and being a bit more free range and less institutionalized.”

July 26 2016 3:55 PM

Channeling Trump, Italian Politician Compares Colleague to a Sex Doll

Proving that America has no monopoly on gross misogyny—as the GOP nominee for president Donald Trump might make some believe—on Monday the leader of Italy’s anti-immigrant Northern League party, Matteo Salvini, compared Laura Boldrini, the speaker of the lower house of the Italian parliament, to a sex doll. In his speech at a rally near Cremona, Italy, his supporters held a blow-up doll behind him. Referring to it, Salvini said “Boldrini's clone is here on the stage.” He offered no explanation as to why he made that particular comparison.

Salvini has long been opposed to Boldrini’s political views. Before being elected to parliament, she served as Italy’s spokeswoman for the United Nations High Commission for Refugees. Since her election, she has been appealing for the humane treatment of immigrants in Italy—a view that the anti-immigrant Salvini clearly opposes. When asked by Sky Italia television if he would apologize for his sex-doll comparison, Salvini went so far as to say, "You must be joking, it's Boldrini who should apologize because she is a racist towards Italians."

The doll joke received much laughter from his supporters in the crowd, but as soon as it appeared on social media, Salvini began receiving criticism. Emanuele Fiano, a deputy for Prime Minister Matteo Renzi’s Democratic Party said that “Salvini misses no opportunity for insults and vulgarity, but with this rally he has passed every limit of decency.”

Sound familiar? Turns out Salvini found something of a role model in Trump when the two met in November of last year.

(Translation: Renzi chooses the spectacular disaster of Obama & Merkel, I prefer the law and order proposed by #Trump2016!)

The bromance makes a lot of sense. Though Trump hasn’t gone so far as to compare Hillary Clinton to a sex doll (yet), he has participated in his fair share of gendered criticism. He’s accused Clinton of playing the “woman’s card” on multiple occasions, saying that “If Hillary Clinton were a man, I don’t think she’d get 5 percent of the vote.” And Trump has even said that "The only thing she's got going is the fact that she's a woman."

This, of course, is a ridiculous statement. But it’s totally on par with a sexist worldview—one shared by Trump, Salvini, and many individuals—that treats women as empty, disposable shells. Salvini might wish that Boldrini was more like a mute sex doll, but in reality, she is an accomplished politician who allows her ideas to speak for her—and such a basic comparison isn’t going to stop her anytime soon.

July 26 2016 3:03 PM

The CDC Says Doctors Should Screen More Pregnant Women for Zika

Doctors in the U.S. should proactively screen at-risk pregnant women for the Zika virus, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “All pregnant women in the United States and U.S. territories should be assessed for possible Zika virus exposure at each prenatal care visit,” reads a new memo the CDC released on Monday.

That’s the most aggressive recommendation yet to come from the CDC in the past several months of mounting preparation for Zika’s landfall in the continental U.S. It doesn’t mean that doctors must test all pregnant patients for Zika, but that they should discuss risk factors—travel to a Zika-afflicted area, a symptomatic partner—to determine the need for further testing.

The new guidelines also broaden the population of patients for whom testing is recommended. It used to be that a pregnant patient or her sexual partner had to travel to an area in the current Zika danger zones and develop symptoms before the CDC would unequivocally recommend testing. Now, in part because about 80 percent of Zika-infected people don't end up showing symptoms of the virus, the CDC also recommends testing some asymptomatic pregnant women, too. If a patient might have been exposed to Zika through travel or a traveling sexual partner, the CDC now says a doctor should offer her a test even if she exhibits no symptoms.

The CDC has also highlighted the importance of timely Zika testing using multiple methods. Kaiser Health News reports:

Both symptomatic and asymptomatic pregnant women should be screened within two weeks of the date of possible Zika exposure through a DNA-based test known as PCR. PCR has been in use already, but until recently, was believed to only work within one week of exposure. If the PCR test turns up negative or an at-risk pregnant woman missed that initial two-week window, the CDC calls for screening with a test that searches for antibodies the virus produces. That test, which is effective for as long as 12 weeks after exposure, is considered a less reliable indicator and has drawn some criticism because it can generate false positives.

According to the new memo, “emerging data” suggests that Zika RNA can be detected in some pregnant women for longer than that initial one-week window, which makes the more reliable PCR test a far preferable option. The CDC has reemphasized how critical it is that doctors test pregnant women within a short period of time following potential exposure to try to catch the virus on the PCR test.

It may be another month or two before Zika begins to spread by mosquito in the Gulf Coast region, where it’s expected to hit first and worst. If researchers do develop a vaccine, it won’t become available until months later. Until then thorough conversations and vigilant screening are the best doctors can do to prevent the devastating effects of the virus on pregnant women and their fetuses.

July 26 2016 2:56 PM

Florida Rep. Alan Grayson Accused by Ex-Wife of Decades of Domestic Abuse

According to documents obtained by Politico, Florida Rep. Alan Grayson’s ex-wife, Lolita Grayson, went to police repeatedly over a two-decade period with accusations of domestic abuse. Congressman Grayson is in a tight Senate race against Rep. Patrick Murphy (the primary is on Aug. 30), and these accusations might just tip the election. Alan Grayson’s current wife, Dena Grayson, is running for his congressional seat.

The police reports Lolita Grayson submitted show that she called the police on her husband twice in Virginia and twice in Florida, and pursued medical attention on at least two occasions. She also claims that in one case her husband had threatened to kill her.

In 2014, Grayson actually accused his ex-wife of abusing him and strongly denied ever engaging in domestic abuse during their relationship. Grayson’s lawyer, Mark NeJame told Politico that “Lolita is a disturbed woman. She has made one false allegation after another. Her own daughter refutes her,” referring to a statement from Skye Grayson, the couple’s oldest child, who has claimed that her father never did anything wrong during the marriage. NeJame went on to point out that “there never has been a witness or any proof whatsoever of her claims. The claims have been so ridiculous that not one time has there even been enough probable cause to bring a charge or an arrest against Alan Grayson.”

Skye Grayson, who was also once accused of domestic abuse by her mother, has said that her mother “physically lashed out at me, my siblings and our father, and then blamed us for it, victimizing us. This resulted in a considerably troubled childhood home.”

These accusations could greatly impact the race for Grayson. By Tuesday afternoon, reports that progressive groups were planning to withdraw support were already spreading. The news represents something of a reversal for the politician, who, in 2012, accused his congressional opponent Todd Long of domestic abuse. (The accusations were refuted by Long’s ex-wife.) Back then, Grayson criticized the media for not doing more to highlight his claims, saying that he was “disgusted that no major media in this town will let people know things that our polling shows they regard as highly relevant.”

July 26 2016 12:43 PM

Donald Trump Thinks He’s Doing Well With Women, Needs a Math Lesson

When it comes to the needs and wants of female voters, the best Donald Trump can do is shrug. At a campaign rally in North Carolina on Monday, the most openly misogynist presidential candidate in modern history explained the yawning gender gap among his supporters by saying “I don’t know what is going on with the women here.”

July 26 2016 10:09 AM

BoJack Horseman's Abortion Episode Refuses to Take its Topic Seriously

Warning: This post contains spoilers.

In a recent episode of the terrific Hulu original series Difficult People, stars Julie Klausner and Billy Eichner blithely push through a crowd of protesters. Caught up in conversation, their characters pay little attention to the crowd, dismissing the placard-waving assemblage as a group of tourists. Only when they’ve made it across the street do they learn that they’ve unknowingly escorted young woman to an abortion clinic.

It’s a refreshingly casual moment, at once acknowledging the ugly vehemence of anti-choicers and suggesting that television might be able to confront abortion without stumbling into Very Special Episode territory. It’s also a tone that would be difficult to recreate on another series, not least of all because the joke is on Klausner and Eichner’s self-involved protagonists. The newly released third season of Netflix’s BoJack Horseman takes a broader, and potentially more revelatory, approach, laughing at abortion itself, and doing so in the name of choice.

Near the close of the season’s fifth episode, social media manager to the stars (and erstwhile ghostwriter) Diane (Alison Brie) finds herself in the hospital after breaking her arm while on psychotropic drugs. Examining her bloodwork, a doctor casually informs her that she’s pregnant. “Motherf—” Diane begins, only to be cut off when the show cuts to its credits. In a nod to the relentless continuity of modern binge watching, she concludes the phrase as the sixth episode begins.

Diane’s anger aside, her next steps are surprisingly uncomplicated. We soon cut to Diane in a car with her boyfriend, the relentlessly earnest anthropomorphic labrador Mr. Peanutbutter (Paul F. Tompkins), awkwardly discussing “options.” There’s little debate, though, as both quickly acknowledge that they would rather not raise children—and that they would both prefer Diane have an abortion. Easily as that decisions arrives, it still weighs on Diane, and later—while crankily explaining the situation to BoJack—she inadvertently tweets “I’m going to get an abortion” from the account of teen popstar Sextina Aquafina (Aisha Tyler).

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Though Diane initially offers to throw herself on her sword for the mistake, it quickly turns into a PR coup for Sextina after Taylor Swift tweets that she’s “brave” and BuzzFeed assembles a listicle celebrating her ostensible honesty. Leaning into the controversy, Sextina anoints herself the “new voice of choice” and, to Diane’s horror, releases “Get Dat Fetus, Kill Dat Fetus,” a deeply bonkers single (with an accompanying video), in which she chants, “I’m a baby killer, / baby killing makes me horny. / Alien’s inside me / Gonna smash it like Sigourney.”

In what follows, the episode focuses primarily on Diane as she struggles to come to terms with Sextina’s glib response. Despite the ease of her initial choice, she still perceives abortion as a fundamentally serious topic—one that demands levity and calm. At one point, she tells Sextina that she’s worried the star is “actually giving the pro-life movement something to latch onto,” prompting the celebrity to dismissively respond, “Can I abort talking to you?”

Sextina has a point: Without realizing it, Diane may have let abortion opponents set the terms of the debate. BoJack implies that her own insistent severity overlaps with the attitudes of those who attempt to make abortion as burdensome as possible, whether they do so by imposing waiting periods, forcing them to listen to the fetuses heartbeat, or, as it goes here, obliging them to “watch 20 hours of cute puppy videos as Sarah McLachlan’s ‘I Will Remember You’ plays softly.” Though Diane rightly ridicules these legal obligations, she’s nevertheless internalized the proposition that having an abortion is a profoundly consequential act.

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To be sure, Diane isn’t the only one to embrace this approach in the episode, any more than she takes who takes it most seriously. (To the contrary, she’s evidently open to a certain degree of silliness, if Mr. Peanutbutter’s “It’s a boy” balloon—on which “boy” has been crossed out and replaced with “borted”—is any indication.) That honor instead goes to a “diverse panel of white men in bow ties” on MSNBSea, a news network hosted by an anthropomorphic whale who earlier wonders aloud whether “the concept of women having choices has gone too far.”

One of the panelists claims that he’d carry a child to term if he could get pregnant, even as another (described on the chyron as an “actual doctor”) suggests that abortions may not be necessary, since “if a woman really has an unwanted pregnancy, the body has a way to break the fetus down into gas particles and then she can just fart it out.” The extremity of these stances is parodic, of course, but it’s not that far removed from the real claims of abortion opponents. More realistic, though, is their tone, a stone-faced earnestness that suggests their every remark is deeply meaningful.

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A collective commitment to seriousness, BoJack suggests, ultimately serves those who are saying the silliest things, since they can go right with their silliness so long as you keep yourself from laughing at them. Near the end of the episode, in the waiting room of a “Planned Parrothood” clinic, Diane meets a young woman who claims that Sextina is an inspiration. “Getting an abortion is scary with all the protesters out front and how you have to listen to the heartbeat and all that,” she tells Diane. Tellingly, it’s not abortion itself that weighs her down, but everything we pile on top of it. Though Sextina’s attitude is ludicrous, Diane seems to at last realize, it at least offers an alternative to that culture of fear.

In an interview with the Daily Beast, showrunner Raphael Bob-Waksberg explains that the series’ writing staff wanted tell a different sort of abortion story, building it around “a woman who knows what she wants to do and she does it and it gives her some feelings, but she never has doubt about it.” Fittingly, then, we don’t follow Diane’s journey toward a decision, but toward a slow acceptance of laughter.

July 25 2016 11:32 PM

Michelle Obama Just Made the Best Possible Argument Against Donald Trump: Our Kids

There are few, if any, politicians who can give a speech through the lens of parenthood without sounding like they’re putting on folksy airs while their nannies put the kids to bed.

Good thing Michelle Obama isn’t a politician. Her Monday night speech at the Democratic National Convention, a rhetorical gem delivered with deep conviction, drove home the most convincing omnibus argument the party can make against Trump: America’s children.

In the first truly inspiring speech of the night (as far as this cynic is concerned), Obama laid out an affirmative case for Hillary Clinton as a president who’ll hand off a better country to the next generation. She also hinted at the global disasters a Donald Trump presidency might bring—“when you have the nuclear codes at your fingertips and the military in your command … you can't have a thin skin or tendency to lash out”—but she never even said his name. Her thrust was uplifting, buoyed by hope and gratitude, a welcome reprieve from the persistent anxiety and low-grade panic many of us have been feeling in the days since the RNC wrapped up.

Introduced by a J.J. Abrams–directed video of children saying adorable things about her (“she’s definitely one of my favorite first ladies—probably first or second out of three”; “she’s not just a woman standing next to a man”), Obama recalled her apprehensions about bringing her daughters to Washington after Barack was inaugurated in 2009. Watching Sasha and Malia leave for school in Secret Service vehicles “with all those big men with guns,” Obama said, “the only thing I could think was ‘what have we done?’ ”

Back then, Obama’s misgivings about raising kids in the White House were no secret; for many, that protective instinct and skepticism of political glamour was a clear testament to her superlative competence as a parent. That history made her Monday night speech about parenting to kids in the age of Trump all the more convincing. In Obama’s house, she and Barack “insist that the hateful language they hear from public figures on TV does not represent the true spirit of this country,” she said. “We explain that when someone is cruel or acts like a bully, you don't stoop to their level. No, our motto is, ‘When they go low, we go high.’ ”

And who does this exemplary parent with an unimpeachable moral compass and instinct for leadership trust with the keys to the nation we’ll leave our children? “Our friend Hillary Clinton,” who has long advocated for “every child who needs a champion.” Obama listed Clinton’s much-trumpeted bona fides: Clinton fought for kids with disabilities as a lawyer, championed health care for children as first lady, and worked for affordable child care in the Senate.

But Obama knows that the effect of the presidency is nearly as much symbolic as substantive, that policy proposals may wither or fade or lose in the next election, but character and narrative echo for generations. She recounted one of the most heartwarming anecdotes from the Obama era: the moment a little black boy asked to touch Barack’s hair to see if it felt like his own. Then, she connected Clinton’s candidacy to the historic arc of representative politics that Barack’s presidency hearkened. “I wake up every morning in a house that was built by slaves. And I watch my daughters—two beautiful, intelligent black young women—playing with their dogs on the White House lawn,” Obama said. “And because of Hillary Clinton my daughters and all our sons and daughters now take for granted that a woman can be president of the United States.”

Clinton has used the “children are watching” angle to great effect in a frightening ad that shows kids watching a reel of Trump’s lowest blows. Earlier on Monday night, Kirsten Gillibrand tried the mom angle in a speech about the struggles of working parents. (“Some people know me as United States senator from New York. But during school dropoff and pickup, I'm better known as Theo and Henry's mom,” she said. Did anyone believe her?) But Michelle Obama is maybe the only person—and certainly the best person—who could credibly give a children-centered speech from the perspective of a concerned mother without coming across as quaint or condescending. This will be a speech for future aspiring first ladies to plagiarize for years to come. And if Clinton wins, she’ll have Obama in part to thank. America’s children will, too.

July 25 2016 6:28 PM

The WNBA’s Black Lives Matter Protest Has Set a New Standard for Sports Activism

This month, the WNBA has become the site of one of the most united, persistent political statements in sports history. In recent weeks, entire teams and their owners have come out in support of the Black Live Matters movement, and their sustained protest effort has forced the league to back off the fines it charged players who used their warm-up outfits to stake ground against racism and police brutality.

July 25 2016 4:29 PM

Important Question: Was Tim Kaine a Hottie Once?

It has come to our attention that some people are asking whether Tim Kaine, the Democratic candidate for vice president, used to be hot. First of all, we thank you for raising this important issue. Evaluating a politician’s past hotness is one of the most crucial parts of our democratic process, but it can also be confusing terrain. Was he really hot, or was he just young? If he was hot then, does that mean that he’s hot now? We are happy to assist in guiding you through this anxious time.

Let’s evaluate the evidence and some of the chatter on Twitter.

Above we have conclusive proof that Tim Kaine used to be younger than he currently is. Many of us looked hotter when we were younger. Does it follow that young Tim Kaine = hot Tim Kaine? Not necessarily—some people improve with age. But the people that posted these tweets are ready to throw down the hotness flag based on these photos. Should we all?

The truth is that these are very compelling photos. The cheekbones certainly earned Kaine some points with our judges, as did the plaid and the young-dad-vibes of the color pictures. The full head of brown hair stands in contrast to Kaine’s current look. The man knew which buttons to leave undone on his shirts.

But a few stray pictures alone does not hotness make. We all know about angles and lighting and tricks cameras can play and the classic wisdom about how when you are running for office you only release the most attractive photos from your youth. What if this is a hotness mirage? After all:

Then again:

Surely if he were really hot, there would be abundant pictures of said hotness. We have many, many pictures of Hillary Clinton in full vintage regalia, for instance. We hate to say it, but we are not yet ready to declare Tim Kaine hot, at least until further examples surface. We need more photos, Sen. Kaine. Show. Us. The. Receipts. One really mustn’t rush to judgment on such important matters.

July 25 2016 2:22 PM

New Reports of Sexual Harassment at Fox News Are Horrifying, Unsurprising

In her sexual harassment lawsuit against Roger Ailes, former Fox News host Gretchen Carlson hinted at a company culture nearly as hostile to women as the alleged creep at the top. Her Fox & Friends co-host Steve Doocy “shushed” her on air, mocked her during commercial breaks, and treated her like a “blond female prop,” Carlson claimed. That Ailes allegedly brushed off her complaints and ordered her to “get along with the boys” was no surprise, coming from a man who’s facing sexual harassment accusations from more than 20 women who’ve worked with him.

According to a new New York Times investigation, the other leaders of Fox News may have been emboldened by Ailes' alleged sexism. More than 10 women told the Times they’d endured sexual harassment as employees of Fox News or Fox Business Network, and several others said they saw fellow employees become victims of harassment. Just two of these cases involved Ailes; the rest of the acts were perpetrated by other supervisors at the networks. They are uniformly horrifying.

Multiple people said that the Fox networks housed pervasive discussions of female employees’ looks and sex lives. Fox supervisors would try to date their employees or proffer them for dates with higher-ups. Several sources recount dates and sexual acts being used as conditions of assignments, appearances, and employment. A one-time Fox reporter told the Times that every time she met with Ailes, he bookended their encounters with a hug and a kiss, the latter of which he’d try to land on the lips. Another woman recalled an executive whispering in her ear at a happy hour about the sexiness of the zipper on her dress.

Most of the Times’ sources spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of torpedoing their current TV careers. Just one went public with her name: Rudi Bakhtiar, who joined Fox News in 2006 after several years at CNN. She earned a three-year contract after a freelancing stint, taking on weekend correspondent gigs in Washington, D.C. on a fill-in basis. In 2007, she says she had coffee in her D.C. hotel’s lobby with co-worker Brian Wilson, who was set to become the Washington bureau chief. He told Bakhtiar he could help her get the weekend Washington correspondent gig full-time, but, Bakhtiar told the Times, Wilson repeatedly asked her “You know how I feel about you?”

When Bakhtiar asked him to clarify his question, she claims he responded, “I’d like to see the inside of your hotel room,” and told her he wanted them to be friends with benefits. (Wilson told the Times he takes “strong exception to the facts of the story” as Bakhtiar recounted it.) After she turned him down, Bakhtiar says, the network began to cancel her gigs in Washington. A supervisor told her to make an official harassment report to the network’s human resources department, and soon after, Ailes fired her for good, claiming that her reporting skills weren’t up to par. Fox News granted Bakhtiar an undisclosed payment in a settlement that legally bound her to remain silent about the incident. Bakhtiar risks a lawsuit by speaking out about Wilson’s alleged harassment and the company’s alleged retaliation.

The saddest part of the Times’ findings are the accounts of women bucking up and dealing with a workplace engineered to belittle them and remind them that their value as employees is contingent upon their sex appeal. Bakhtiar says she apologized to Wilson when she rejected his advances for leading him on in any way. One woman said she laughed politely and treated it like a joke when a supervisor demanded oral sex in return for a desirable reporting assignment. Another said she endured Ailes’ hugs and simply turned her face so his kisses wouldn’t make it to her lips.

These are the small, humiliating behavior modifications women make in every industry to keep their sanity and their jobs in workplaces where misogyny festers unchecked. Television news may foster a particularly hostile space for female employees: “Many women viewed the behavior [at Fox] as par for the course in the broadcasting industry, where appearance is so highly valued,” the Times reports.

Still, by most accounts, the climate at Fox News is unique in its tacit endorsement of sexual intimidation, misogynist power plays, and physical harassment. Few were surprised to hear that Ailes had been accused of sexual harassment earlier this month—his lechery has been an open secret for years—and anyone with a working knowledge of the Fox News worldview won’t be baffled by these new reports of a news network built on devaluing and sexualizing female employees. But thanks to the brave women who are coming forward to lend credence and specificity to our suspicions, those who continue to defend Ailes and his ilk are looking more backward by the day.