What Women Really Think

Oct. 22 2014 10:00 AM

On the Internet, Men Are Called Names. Women Are Stalked and Sexually Harassed.

This summer, the Pew Research Center surveyed 2,849 web users about their experiences with online harassment—anything from being “called offensive names” to being physically threatened or stalked. In a report released today, Pew found that 44 percent of men and 37 percent of women who use the internet reported experiencing harassment there. Men “are somewhat more likely than women to experience certain less severe forms of harassment like name-calling and being embarrassed,” Pew found, but they’re also more likely to receive physical threats—I’d call that “severe.” Meanwhile, “women are significantly more likely than men to report being stalked or sexually harassed on the internet.” And women aged 18 to 24 are at a heightened risk of receiving harassment of every kind: They are “uniquely likely to experience stalking and sexual harassment, while also not escaping the high rates of other types of harassment common to young people in general,” like physical threats.

At a glance, Pew’s findings conform to the gender split in crime victimization in general: Men are more likely to be murdered or violently assaulted by strangers, while women are more likely to be abused by their partners, stalked, or sexually assaulted, and young women in particular are targeted for gendered forms of violence. But while offline crime victimization surveys deal in precise definitions—even if they don't always define crimes the same way—“online harassment” remains an amorphous category. Pew did not define terms like “offensive names,” “physically threatened,” “stalked,” “sexually harassed,” “harassed for a sustained period,” or “purposefully embarrass” in its interviews. (What’s the difference between being stalked and “harassed for a sustained period?”) The survey questions were often devoid of context: Eighteen percent of users said they believed online dating sites to be more “welcoming to women” than men, but were they referring to the likelihood of women actually getting a response on these sites (high) and not considering the probability of women getting harassed in the process (also high)? It's impossible to know. Meanwhile, while men were much more likely than women to report being harassed on gaming sites, 44 percent of users agreed that online gaming was more welcoming to men than women. Because half of harassed users said they didn't know the identity of the person harassing them, the gender breakdown of online harassers remains unclear.

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Oct. 21 2014 3:03 PM

Renée Zellweger’s New Face Is Too Real

When Jerry Maguire hit theaters in December of 1996, 27-year-old Renée Zellweger was tagged as Hollywood’s new “It Girl.” By January, Toronto Star lifestyle reporter Judy Gerstel was praising the actress’s staying power: “In a business that regards lovely young things as a raw, renewable resource—witness Alicia Silverstone and Liv Tyler of recent memory—Zellweger is here to stay.” But by March, Gerstel had replaced Zellweger with another young blonde: Hope Davis, she wrote, was “This year's Renée Zellweger.” Wasn’t Renée Zellweger supposed to be that year’s Renée Zellweger? “It Girl” is both a welcome and a warning shot.

Actresses who receive the label are said to possess an ineffable quality that defies the vocabulary of even the most competent critics. Gerstel pegged Zellweger as a “beguiling concoction of wholesomeness, ingenuousness, vulnerability and sensuality.” And in her review of Jerry Maguire, New York Times critic Janet Maslin praised Zellweger’s “open, eager, unconventionally pretty face,” and noted that her “fetching ordinariness” was somehow “quite extraordinary.” The word these writers were searching for was “young.”

Oct. 21 2014 1:12 PM

George Tiller’s Murderer Threatens Another Abortion Provider, Claims Right of Free Speech

In 2010, Scott Roeder was sentenced to 50 years in prison for the 2009 murder of Kansas abortion provider George Tiller. But that doesn't mean he's given up his hobby of threatening abortion providers. Roeder is now in a court battle with the Kansas Department of Corrections, arguing that they violated his freedom of speech rights when they disciplined him for making threats against Julie Burkhart, the woman who reopened an abortion clinic in the Wichita location where Tiller's clinic used to be. Roeder got "45 days in disciplinary segregation with no outside communication," reports the Topeka Capital-Journal, for comments he made during a phone call with David Leach of the radical anti-choice group Army of God. 

Leach posted a recording of the phone interview on YouTube in 2013, which RH Reality Check reported on at the time. Here's Roeder:

It is a little bit death-defying for someone to walk back in there... and reopen a murder mill where a man was stopped. It’s almost like putting a target on your back, saying, “Well, let’s see if you can shoot ME!" I have to go back to what Pastor Mike Bray said: If 100 abortionists were shot, they would probably go out of business. I think eight have been shot, so we’ve got 92 to go. Maybe she’ll be number nine. I don’t know, but she’s kind of painting a target on her.

Earlier in the call, Leach said that reopening an abortion clinic is "not the act of someone who values their own safety," to which Roeder eagerly agreed.

Oct. 20 2014 6:17 PM

I Am 25. I Don’t Work at Facebook. My Doctors Want Me to Freeze My Eggs.

The day Apple joined Facebook in deciding to pay for its female employees to freeze their eggs, I joined a hundred or so fashionably dressed women—most in their 30s and 40s—at the Harvard Club in New York City to hear doctors discuss this game-changing technology over cocktails and hors d'oeuvres. This was the second egg freezing party I had attended over the past two months. I wore my reading glasses so that I’d look older and not attract as many stares as I did at the last event, the ones that said, You and your young eggs don’t belong here. I am 25, a decade younger than most of the women seriously considering freezing their eggs. But they are not the ones for whom this technology was developed. I am.

In 2001, when I was 12, doctors removed my right ovary and fallopian tube in an emergency surgery. A benign cyst had caused a torsion that cut off blood supply—when I got to the emergency room, my ovary was dead on arrival. Eight years later, when I was 20, a cyst burst on my left ovary. This time, I was luckier: The doctors were able to save my remaining ovary in surgery. They said I could probably still have children later in life, but recommended I consider freezing my eggs. “Who knows what your ovary will do next,” they said.

Oct. 20 2014 1:10 PM

Women Are Still Losing Jobs for Getting Pregnant

It's been one year since New York City passed the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, which is supposed to prevent employers from pushing pregnant women out of their jobs by making physical demands that the women cannot handle. While some women have been helped by the new law, Rachel Swarns of the New York Times found that enforcement leaves much to be desired.

Swarns interviewed one woman, Angelica Valencia, who lost her job at the Fierman Produce Exchange due to her high risk pregnancy. The new law requires employers to provide "reasonable accommodation" of a pregnant worker's temporary health care needs, but when Valencia tried to get such an accommodation—asking to not work overtime at the request of her doctor—she was met with significant resistance.

But when Ms. Valencia told her supervisors in July that she had a high-risk pregnancy, they told her she could work only without restrictions, she said. After taking time off to try to negotiate an accommodation with the company, she returned when her co-workers volunteered to handle the heavy machinery and lifting.
In August, she said, her supervisors insisted that she work overtime. Ms. Valencia felt so ill after two lengthy shifts that she went to the hospital and then to her doctor, who gave her the letter that she handed to her boss.

Oct. 17 2014 4:23 PM

A Former FBI Agent On Why It’s So Hard to Prosecute Gamergate Trolls

For months, a slice of the gaming subculture has waged a campaign of online harassment against prominent women in the videogame industry, including game developers Zoe Quinn and Brianna Wu and feminist critic Anita Sarkeesian. The reasoning behind the targeting of these women is too batshit to unspool here—if you’re interested in falling down the rabbit hole, Deadspin has a decent primer on “Gamergate”—but what’s clear is that some people just don’t like seeing women play, design, and discuss video games, and seek to punish them with “virtual” violence.

Quinn has previously detailed how her online critics have spread revenge porn, harassed her family, and released her personal information in an attempt to terrify and silence her. Last Saturday, Wu fled her home after an online stalker posted her address and threatened to rape and kill her in a series of gruesome tweets. And this week, administrators at Utah State University received an anonymous email threatening to carry out “the deadliest school shooting in American history” if they went through with a planned campus event featuring Sarkeesian; she cancelled the talk over Utah’s gun laws, which prevent the school from banning concealed firearms at the event.

So far, the anonymous perpetrators of these threats have yet to be unmasked. How hard is it, really, for law enforcement to catch them? I called Tim Ryan, a former FBI supervisory special agent who led investigations into cybercrimes ranging from the distribution of child pornography to corporate espionage, to find out.

Oct. 17 2014 1:54 PM

Republican Midterm Debate Strategy: Be Pro-Life, But Not Anti-Abortion

As the midterm campaigns hit their final weeks, a clear picture of the Republican strategy on reproductive rights issues has emerged: However anti-choice you are, downplay it.

Iowa Senate candidate Joni Ernst usually trumpets her radical anti-choice views that include support for a federal personhood law, but she started to go squishy during Thursday night's debate against her opponent, Rep. Bruce Baley. According to TPM, Ernst admitted she wants to ban abortion, but said:

“There would be certain exceptions but again it’s something that has to be discussed,” Ernst said. “I support life. Those things come together when there is consensus upon what is put into legislation. Right now there is not consensus but I do believe in supporting life.” When asked about what those exceptions might be, Ernst would not commit: "Going back to the life of the mother I think that would be important. But again, civil discussion needs to happen."

Oct. 16 2014 6:16 PM

The Very Popular Store That Only Sells Clothes for Skinny Girls  

If you’re a teen girl, or have shopped with one lately, you’ve probably heard of Brandy Melville, the Italian brand that came to the U.S. five years ago, and has lately enraptured teens’ hearts and wallets with its social media savvy, targeted product research, and very special niche: They only offer one size, small, under the banner "one size fits most."

A quick look at Brandy Melville’s Instagram will tell you most of what you need to know. With more than two million followers, @brandymelvilleusa predominantly features white girls with long, blonde hair wearing cozy, loose-fitting clothes, worn-in and distressed to perfection. The girls have something else in common: Without exception, they are very, very thin.

Unsurprisingly, not everyone likes this brand strategy. Browsing Brandy Melville’s online store, where most pants come in sizes 00 to 2, one has to wonder, "'One size fits most' of whom?" A store has the right to sell to whomever it pleases, and Brandy Melville certainly has the right to only make clothes for the select few to whom every other store in the country already caters. But in the words of my mother and probably yours, "Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should."

Though Brandy Melville is extreme, it is not alone in its skinny-only mindset. Abercrombie and Fitch drew criticism last year because of its refusal to make clothes for bigger girls. Many stores don’t bother carrying above a size 18 (and that’s being generous) despite the fact the average American woman wears a size 14. In other words, women up to seven sizes below average can find clothing, but women more than two sizes above are told to, "eat less."

And teen girls are getting the message loud and clear: More than half of them use unhealthy weight control methods, including skipping meals and purging, in obsessive pursuit of bodies that Brandy Melville implies "most" people already have. In an ideal world where body size, character, and worth were not conflated, perhaps a store like Brandy Melville could coexist with the department stores and plus size stores. But we do not live in that world, and girls above a certain size are already taught they’re not good enough.

While there’s plenty of criticism, Brandy Melville has its defenders (not to mention customers—Business Insider says it’s "ranked No. 1 among brands that teen girls say they are starting to wear"). The most prevalent defense I’ve seen is, to paraphrase, "if plus size stores exist, so should tiny size stores." As one Huffington Post commenter put it, "I don't complain Torrid is 'shaming' me because they don't carry my size... I just go shop somewhere else."

But this misses the point. Yes, girls larger and smaller than the idealized body both can face challenges and insecurity. But Brandy Melville isn’t a specialty store for the girls who are so skinny they can’t find clothing at an average department store. Sizes 00, 0 and 2 can be found in most teen stores. (You may have seen them on the rack, after all the 6s and 8s have disappeared.) Plus size stores emerged out of necessity—for girls who couldn’t find any clothing because stores won’t make and carry their size. Plus size stores are what prevent girls above a certain size from being forced to wear the few, often unsightly or ill-fitting items department stores do carry. Size zero teenagers just do not have that problem.

Brandy Melville is very good at catering to its target audience. The brand’s product research strategy is smart: According to Racked, by employing a team of roughly 20 teen girls to brainstorm new concepts and offer feedback on existing designs, the store manages to stay completely in tune with what their customers want—and launches some girls’ careers in the process. But on the flip side, this strategy can create an echo chamber that ignores how exclusivity, experienced from another perspective, is exclusion. The company’s social media-heavy marketing, in lieu of paid advertising, also shows that it knows where its customers are and how to speak to them. If only they would recognize that there are so many other girls worth reaching.

Oct. 16 2014 12:39 PM

A Thot Is Not a Slut: The Popular Insult Is More About Race and Class Than Sex

This spring, a lewd Instagram account sprang up in Louisa County, Virginia. Its anonymous administrators had collected dozens of nude selfies that local middle- and high-school girls had sent to friends and boyfriends, exposed them publicly on the site, and branded the girls in the pictures “thots.” If you listen to rap music and follow trending Twitter memes, you have likely heard the word thot before. If you listen to NPR and read the Atlantic—where this week, Hanna Rosin investigates how Louisa County is dealing with the fraught legal and social implications of teenagers taking naked photos of themselves and sending them to one another—you may have heard the term for the first time on Wednesday, when Rosin spoke it aloud on Fresh Air.

A thot, for the uninitiated, is shorthand for a constellation of riffs on a central theme: “that ho over there,” “that ho out there,” “thirsty hoes out there.” On the surface, it appears to be a synonym for slut. (And for rappers and Internet meme producers, it is conveniently both easy to rhyme and effortless to pun.) But the thot label is wielded to indicate class status as much as it refers to sexual activity. Thots are criticized based on sexual behavior, yes, but they’re more broadly identified via their consumption habits; this makes it possible to denounce them on sight even when their sexual histories remain private.

Oct. 16 2014 8:52 AM

In Defense of Egg-Freezing Benefits

Earlier this week, Apple announced that it would join Facebook in offering benefits that cover egg-freezing for female employees who are not ready to bear children, but want to have some eggs in the freezer before their fertility starts to decline. That decision has gotten a lot of backlash, with many expressing concern that offering women a way to defer child-bearing is tantamount to hanging a sign that says “moms need not apply,” others lamenting women’s waning commitment to incubating the next generation, and yet others wondering if egg freezing perks just distract from more important benefits, like paid family leave and flexible work schedules.

Boy, do I wish these egg-freezing benefits were on the table alongside better parental leave, friendlier lactation policies, and free universal daycare. But I don’t think the egg-freezing coverage has to be instead of family friendly policies, and I also don’t think egg-freezing has become necessary because of women’s career trajectories or their sexual tendencies or their persistent desire for equal pay and civil rights. Egg-freezing is simply a need, one of many, that women may have.

I’m a maternal fetal medicine specialist, and so I field lots of questions from women, both in my professional and personal life, about egg freezing. Patients, but also friends, cousins, colleagues and neighbors will turn some age (36? 38? 40? everyone’s panic button is different), and I’ll get a call or an email about where to get this “done,” and what the experience might be like. How much will it cost? Will it work? How will it feel? I get these questions from women who span the gamut in terms of race, ethnic background, and cultural expectations.

But here’s one way in which these women are the same: They’re usually single. And that makes sense, right? Because if these women were partnered, but still wanted to delay child-bearing, they would probably pursue IVF with their eggs and their partner’s sperm, and freeze the resulting embryos. IVF and embryo cryopreservation is an older, more refined, and arguably more successful technology, although as egg-freezing becomes more sophisticated, it is reportedly beginning to approach the same success rates. (I’m focusing this discussion on heterosexual women, for whom the alternative to egg-freezing seems to be an easy fix: making babies the old-fashioned way. This means that I’m excluding a bunch of other wonderful kinds of families here, and not discussing the ways that assisted reproductive technology offers some great options for those people too.) Before you ask: These are women who can’t achieve their goal with a sperm donor. What they want is a baby, yes, but with a willing partner for child rearing and a present father for their child. Sometimes this is called “social infertility.”

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