What Women Really Think

Sept. 22 2014 12:21 PM

Watch John Oliver Take on Miss America

Last night, John Oliver took on Miss America in a 15 minute Last Week Tonight segment that skewered the pageant's backwards approach to offering college scholarships to young women—one that, as Oliver puts it, operates on the assumption that "the intelligence portion of the brain is located somewhere on the upper thigh.”

As the pageant struggles to maintain relevance in its ninth decade, it's attempted to put increased emphasis on contestants' intellect without taking its pervy eye off their bodies. (When they weren't parading around in bikinis, which Oliver notes were actually glued to their butts with a spray adhesive backstage, this year's contestants were asked to propose solutions to the wiretapping of civilians, the prosecution of whistleblowers, international hostage negotiation, and ISIS' threat to America, all in just 20-second sound bites.) The disconnect is nothing new, but Oliver's pointed commentary elevates the delicious irony to the next level: "How did the scholarship interview go?" Oliver asks mockingly at one point. “Well, my butt’s still sticky. I think I got it!”

But Oliver's takedown of the pageant goes above and beyond these longstanding complaints of objectification to reveal that the pageant's central claim that it substantively supports women—it aggressively bills itself as “the world’s largest provider of scholarships for women," and claims to make $45 million in scholarship money available to its local and national contestants annually—is a sham. Oliver produces tax documents from the pageant's local and state organizations to show that while the organization claims to "provide" tens of millions of dollars in scholarship money to women, it actually awards just a fraction of that sum every year. That $45 million number? Miss America gets to it by "offering" a handful of winners scholarships to multiple colleges—even though each winner will conceivably enroll at just one school—then counting each scholarship offer in its total sum to get to $45 million, whether they've actually paid out or not. Miss Alabama, for example, claimed to provide nearly $2.6 million in scholarship money to just one college, Troy University, in 2012; Troy told Oliver that because no Miss Alabama contestants accepted a scholarship at the university that year, the actual sum paid out to women was $0. If the horrific sight of the bikini competition isn't enough to take down Miss America in 2014, perhaps its tax forms will.

Update, Sept. 22, 2014: A Miss America Organization spokesperson has emailed this statement:

John Oliver reaffirmed that the Miss America Organization (MAO) is the largest scholarship organization for women when he stated the number of scholarship dollars claimed "…is more than any other women-only scholarship we could find."
We highlight the impressive, generous $45 million in scholarships made available in an effort to honor every one of our academic partners nationwide who make available cash and in-kind financial opportunities to the MAO and young women who participate in the program. Each year, more than 8,000 young women compete for scholarships through the volunteer, grassroots-driven Miss America pageant system in more than 950 local, state, and national competitions. These scholarships are awarded not just to winners of each pageant but to runners-up and participants.
As with any scholarship, the full amount awarded may not always be used as recipients’ plans change or evolve. The Miss America Organization works every day to administer these scholarships to young women across the country and encourages our participants to utilize these scholarships provided by colleges and universities nationally who partner to fund education.
The Miss America Organization is dedicated to improving the opportunities available to our program participants and remaining at the forefront of providing opportunities to women.
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Sept. 19 2014 4:58 PM

Steubenville Gets the Lifetime Treatment (And a Cheerleader Erupts Into Flames)

Did you follow the Steubenville rape case and think, “Eh. Needs more firepower”? The Lifetime original movie The Assault is for you.

A Lifetime PR rep describes The Assault, which premieres Saturday, as “ripped from actual news headlines of a case in Steubenville, Ohio” (as well as “other shockingly similar incidents in communities across the country”). But the true facts of the case—girl from across the river is raped by small-town high school football stars, evidence of the assault spreads between the town’s teenagers on social media, and a rift erupts between the town’s football fans and victim’s advocates—are too banal for Lifetime’s melodramatic impulse. So the film begins with the victim, Sam (in the film version, she’s a cheerleader), walking onto the school football field in the middle of a game, pouring gasoline over her head, and lighting herself on fire.

Sept. 19 2014 3:07 PM

Everything Is a "Women's Issue"

Matt Yglesias at Vox reports on an interesting development out of an all-female panel of Democratic luminaries on Thursday: Hillary Clinton kept using feminism to frame her arguments, particularly when talking about the concerns of working class women. 

"Women hold two-thirds of all minimum wage jobs," Clinton observed, and "nearly three-quarters of all jobs that are reliant on tips" and thus eligible for sub-minimum wages.
Clinton discussed the plight of a working-class mother with a service-sector job that provides low pay and little flexibility. "We talk about a glass ceiling," she said, "but these women don't even have a secure floor under them."

Sept. 19 2014 1:11 PM

Why Men Never Remember Anything

This article originally appeared in Science of Us.

Recently, I was visiting my family in Seattle, and we were doing that thing families do: retelling old stories. As we talked, a common theme emerged. My brother hardly remembered anything from our childhood, even the stories in which he was the star player. (That time he fell down the basement steps and needed stitches in the ER? Nope. That panicky afternoon when we all thought he’d disappeared, only to discover he’d been hiding in his room, and then fell asleep? Nothing.) “Boys never remember anything,” my mom huffed. 

She’s right. Researchers are finding some preliminary evidence that women are indeed better at recalling memories, especially autobiographical ones. Girls and women tend to recall these memories faster and with more specific details, and some studies have demonstrated that these memories tend to be more accurate, too, when compared to those of boys and men. And there’s an explanation for this: It could come down to the way parents talk to their daughters, as compared to their sons, when the children are developing memory skills.

To understand this apparent gender divide in recalling memories, it helps to start with early childhood—specifically, ages 2 to 6. Whether you knew it or not, during these years, you learned how to form memories, and researchers believe this happens mostly through conversations with others, primarily our parents. These conversations teach us how to tell our own stories, essentially; when a mother asks her child for more details about something that happened that day in school, for example, she is implicitly communicating that these extra details are essential parts to the story.

Sept. 19 2014 11:33 AM

Planned Parenthood Is About to Make It a Lot Easier to Get Birth Control

We've all become accustomed to buying everything from books to clothes to even furniture online, but for many people, getting birth control still means taking the time to go to the doctor and sit through a consultation before getting a prescription, then schlepping that prescription to the local pharmacy. But Planned Parenthood has just launched a pilot program to change all that. Now, patients in Minnesota and Washington will be able to talk to a nurse online and even get their birth control medication mailed to them at home in an unmarked package. In October, the program will be expanded to STI consultation, and even mail-order medications for chlamydia. There's even a phone app!

Sept. 18 2014 3:30 PM

How Crisis Pregnancy Centers Trick Women

Crisis pregnancy centers bill themselves as organizations out to offer "pro-life counseling," in the words of Chris Slattery, the president of E.M.C. Pregnancy Centers. Pro-choicers, however, argue that the centers are deceptive, presenting themselves as medical facilities and even abortion clinics in order to lure pregnant women in, and then bombard them with guilt trips, emotional abuse, and even lies in an effort to keep them from having abortions.

Vice News decided to find out more, going undercover in crisis pregnancy centers and a training session to see how they really operate, and producing a short film. Vice’s Fazeelat Aslam starts by interviewing anti-abortion activist Lila Rose, who paints a rosy picture of crisis pregnancy centers. "The whole intention is to help women and give them positive options," Rose explains. But Vice found a clip of a crisis pregnancy center training run by Abby Johnson, where help seemed to be less of a priority than trying to trick women. "We want to look professional. We want to look business-like. And, yeah, we do kind of want to look medical," Johnson explained to a crowd of crisis pregnancy volunteers. "The best client you ever get is the one that thinks they're walking into an abortion clinic, the ones that think you provide abortions," she added.

Sept. 18 2014 12:03 PM

The NFL Opines on “the Role of the Female”

Today, the New York Times’ Ken Belson reports on how some female football fans are growing disillusioned with the sport in the wake of a wave of domestic violence arrests of NFL players, and an endlessly bungled response by league officials. “Before this week I held the N.F.L. in a different view,” Chicago Bears fan Nicole Larvick told Belson. “It seemed different—like families and communities were important to them. But I know it’s just a business now.”

But Belson’s piece moves the needle past Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson to show that the NFL’s woman problem did not originate this week, that football has always been just business, and that the disconnect runs far deeper than the domestic violence issue. “I think the league is tone deaf to a lot of cultural things,” said 50-year-old Elise Johnson. “Society has evolved. I don’t think the N.F.L. has evolved.” Take this quote from NFL chief marketing officer Mark Waller, talking about why women are important to the league:

The matriarch of the family predetermines an awful lot that goes on, from what sport you play to what media you watch to what products get bought … The role of the female in the household is huge. On the emotional side, the role that the female builds that a family can gather around is fundamental. That sort of communal aspect, which is such a part of the game in America.

Sept. 18 2014 11:40 AM

Where Pregnant Women Aren’t Allowed to Work After 36 Weeks  

The state of American child care is pretty abysmal. Day care is not well-regulated, the quality is often poor, and it’s expensive: In 35 states and Washington, D.C., it costs more than a year’s in-state college tuition. We are the only wealthy nation that does not guarantee paid vacation or sick days, so when a snow day or a fever keeps a child out of school, it can mean a career setback for many parents. And for working parents with low-wage jobs, things are even worse.

We point to other countries—often ones in Europe—as models of how to do child care right. But is it really so much easier to be a working parent in Paris than it is in Peoria? We asked working moms and dads from all over the world to tell us their child care experiences. Here is the fifth in our occasional series, from a mother in Utrecht, the Netherlands.

Name: Maartje van 't Riet

Country: Netherlands

Occupation: HR manager

Partner’s occupation: Assistant professor

Children: A daughter, almost 3, and an 8-month-old son.

Hi, Maartje. What are your work hours?

Both my husband and I have a day off a week. On paper, we each work 32 hours a week. Full-time contracts are 40 hours a week. We both have flexible working hours, which means we can both work from home and we can also work during evenings and weekends if it means we start our working day later or end it earlier.

Who takes care of your children while you work?

Sept. 17 2014 6:14 PM

Today in Gender Gaps: Biking

Elizabeth Plank at Mic took to the bike paths of New York City to investigate the "huge and under-reported" gender gap in, of all things, bicycle-riding. Turns out way more men ride bikes than women: "In the U.S., 1 woman for every 3 men gets around on a bicycle," Plank writes. "In London, 77% of bike trips are taken by men and only 5% of women identify as frequent cyclists."

This is a gender gap that actually surprised me. After all, if you stick your head into any given spin class, 80-100 percent of the people huffing through sprints are women, guaranteed. So why isn't that the case out on the street? Plank dug in and found that women face a number of obstacles: "Women's aversion to risk, women's clothing, economic and time poverty, as well as sexual harassment." Some of the problems really are insurmountable—it's hard to grocery shop for a family and drop your kids off at soccer and school on a bicycle—but as someone who is both a lady and a major fan of using a bicycle for transportation whenever I can, I would like to encourage more women to bike. Here are some reasons to hop on:

Sept. 17 2014 4:36 PM

Is Nonfiction the Patriarch of Literary Genres?

National Book Awards season is upon us: The judges have just announced the longlist for 2014’s nonfiction contest. The ten-book lineup includes a historical account of Paris under German occupation (by Ronald C. Rosbottom), a biography of Tennessee Williams (by John Lahr), a study of economic ambition in the “new China” (by Evan Osnos), and E.O. Wilson’s meditations on “the meaning of human existence.” There is also No Good Man Among the Living, by Anand Gopal, and The Mantle of Command: FDR at War, 1941-1942, by Nigel Hamilton. Finally—like a breeze that floats into a history classroom when someone finally opens the window—there is Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?, the cartoonist Roz Chast’s memoir about her aging parents.

I don’t mean to diminish the acheivements of the other nominees, but it is striking that, after winnowing down a pool of almost 500 contenders, the judges came up with a male-to-female ratio of nine to one, with Chaz as the whimsical outlier. The skew is especially notable given that, in general, the NBA is recognizing more and more women: Though winners and finalists in the 1950s were almost 80 percent male, recent years show women gaining ground and even surpassing their male peers in some prize categories. Look at the names of this year’s Young Adult and poetry finalists, and you’ll find an even split between men and women. Is the heavy maleness surrounding the 2014 nonfiction roster just a statistical fluke?