The XX Factor
What Women Really Think

May 9 2015 6:00 AM

Worst State of the Week for Women: Deluxe Mother’s Day Edition

For this edition of Worst State of the Week, we honor the mothers of America by looking at some cold, hard statistics in order to answer the question: What member of the Union makes it harder on women just to do the daily work of parenting? We looked across several categories to spread the love among numerous worthy states.

Unintended pregnancy is riskier than planned pregnancy both in terms of the mother and child's health, and in terms of the mother's ability to still achieve her education and employment goals. Rates of unintended pregnancy vary widely by state, but while usual suspects such as Mississippi and Texas are way up there, Delaware, of all places, is the actual winner. As Olga Khazan at the Atlantic explains, the First State "has an unusual confluence of factors that add up to a surprising rate of mistimed conceptions," such as bad access to transportation and poor sex education. Since most teen pregnancy is unplanned, it's worth a look at the teen birth rate, which is highest in Arkansas, with a rate of 43.5 births per thousand teenage girls

One of the biggest challenges facing mothers is lack of health insurance, which can make it hard not only to get prenatal care but to stay healthy for your children. While Obamacare is steadily improving this problem, many gaps remain. Kaiser has a breakdown of uninsurance rates by gender, and Texas is the clear winner, with 27 percent of women ages 19-64 going without health insurance.

Though everyone likes to talk about work-life balance, there's surprisingly scant comparative data on how the states are doing on family-friendly policies such as sick leave, paternity leave, and safe places at work for mothers to express breast milk. In 2012, the National Partnership for Women and Families put together a state-by-state report card, but because so many states offer little to nothing in terms of parental protections, it's impossible to pick a clear-cut winner for the worst. So let's simply give a shout-out to each state that received an F on this metric: Alabama, Delaware, Georgia, Idaho, Kansas, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Utah, West Virginia, and Wyoming. (California and Connecticut were the only two states to receive A grades.)

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May 8 2015 10:25 AM

An Ode to the “Mom’s Night Out”

Before I had kids, the idea of a “Mom’s Night Out” would have evoked in me the kind of whole body/soul revulsion usually associated with disgusted teenagers. I pictured gossipy cliques of bougie, Lilly Pulitzer–clad housewives chugging Chardonnay from giant wine glasses emblazoned with “Mommy’s Sippy Cup” in Curlz font. The idea that you would need to schedule a single night out per month to drink with friends was anathema to me, and the desperately high expectations behind this one night seemed like a recipe for emotional letdown—the same recipe that leaves super-psyched young women out for THE BEST TIME EVER on a Friday night drunkenly vomit-weeping in a Brooklyn gutter by Saturday morning (not that I have any experience with that).

The Mom’s Night Out would not be my lot in parenting life. I would not be thrown in with grown women who chose to self-identify as “mommy,” women who fetishized these meager little scraps of social time. Clearly these women had forgotten that they could still go out whenever they wanted like they’d always done, with the same friends they’d always had, drinking anything but Chardonnay.

So it was an especially cruel irony that in the early days of motherhood, when I was in the most alien state of my life—surging with hormones, completely exhausted, manically talking about my son’s every movement like a meth-y Mary Poppins—that I needed to make new friends. Specifically mom friends. During this period six years ago, my mother gave me some wonderful advice after an incident in which I skulked by the post office solely in hopes that a fellow adult female might talk to me. “Today,” she said, “you’re going to get yourself dressed, go out, and make yourself a friend with a baby.”

And though I was a sweaty, leaky mess, I did. My opening salvo to a smiling woman at a postpartum yoga class I could barely complete: “My mom said I have to make friends!” As an ordinarily socially adept adult, this was not my finest moment. But it worked, because I was talking to someone who was in the exact same position as me. Soon, I was broadening the circle through “playdates” with other moms and babies that were really excuses to get together and talk with other women, since 2-month-olds do not play with anyone.

But it was when we began to enjoy occasional nights out, without the babies, that real friendships developed. During these first evenings away from the responsibility of child care, we were again adult women with other adult women. We talked—hesitantly at first, then with the unabashed flush of women whose alcohol tolerance has tanked with motherhood—about our struggles, our frustrations, and how our expectations compared with our realities. As Heather Havrilesky wrote last year in the New York Times, “Somehow, as we’ve learned to treat children as people with desires and rights of their own, we’ve stopped treating ourselves and one another as such.” These nights out with my new friends—women who were also moms—were game-changing correctives in my post-baby life.

For the last couple of years, I’ve organized a monthly event I call Super Awesome Lady/Momz Night. The name has evolved into its current state to include broader identifications—some of my friends wanted it to be more “Lady” and less “Mom”; some are in two-mother or gender-queer households and don’t identify as Mom (which I’ve rather cryptically accommodated with the “z.”) As long as it stays dad-free and retains the “Super Awesome” part, I’m happy. At SALMNs (terrible acronym; suggestions welcome!), everyone is invited to bring anyone she wants: a mom they connected with at the playground, a colleague new to the area, even someone she picked up on the street who just looked cool. (I’ve done all three.) The result connects women from a range of backgrounds, classes, religions, races, political persuasions, sexualities, countries, and work situations. It is expansive, inclusive, without the Mean Girl Moms that some writers find behind every Bugaboo (maybe they just all live in Park Slope?). We talk about the triumphs and frustrations and minutiae of parenting, but we also talk about work, books, sex, gossip, and politics. There is laughing. There is drinking. There is maybe even some Chardonnay.

There are also serious conversations that offer sustenance through times of hardship. In my six years of parenting, I’ve found that a regular Mom’s Night Out is anything but a trivial indulgence. This is in part because when I delivered my first child, I also delivered a pernicious internal uber-mom into the world: one who looked like a Gwyneth-Gaia hybrid and who made her own baby food, who constantly judged me a failure, and who urged me to deprioritize my own well-being in order to become a selfless—therefore a good—mother. But self-abnegation helps no one, and neither does social isolation. The idea that you don’t need “mom friends” and their “mommy juice” is, in addition to being misogynistic, ultimately self-destructive. Women are nearly twice as likely as men to suffer from major depression, and between 6-13 percent of mothers suffer from depression in their first postpartum year; peer support groups have been shown to be pivotal in preventing and recovering from mental illness. Obviously, getting together with other mothers should not take the place of treatment for serious depression. But communities of women sharing their lives--whether or not those lives are concerned mostly with “mom” stuff-- is empowering; that’s like Feminism 101. Psychologists across the board find that social supports help to augment treatment, ease stress, and improve well-being for all women, especially mothers.  

Mom’s Nights Out helped shut down my pernicious internal uber-mom by replacing her with real mothers. As Havrilesky put it, “The current culture demands that every mother be all in, all the time.” Our Mom’s Nights Out are a refutation of this model, which all the women I know would like to burn to the ground. The first step in setting ourselves free from the culture’s trap is to find open, boozy communion with real moms unafraid to acknowledge how much we all struggle. Mom’s Nights Out help you see that the mother you think has it all together is actually stumbling, that she thinks someone else—maybe even you!—has it all figured out. This isn’t schadenfreude. It’s liberation. 

May 7 2015 1:33 PM

The Cleveland Cavaliers Promote Themselves With a Textbook Narrative of Domestic Violence

The Cleveland Cavaliers aired a promo ad for their playoff game against the Chicago Bulls that is so thoughtless about domestic violence that it's more baffling than it is offensive. In it, a couple reenacts the “Time of My Life” dance scene from Dirty Dancing; when the woman goes in for the jump, and her Cavs-loving boyfriend, realizing she's wearing a Bulls shirt, drops, or maybe throws, her to the floor, where the camera lingers over her curled up in pain. Last we see her, she's chastened and snuggling on the couch with her boyfriend, wearing a Cavaliers shirt and holding an ice bag to her head while he continues to needle her for the crime of being a Bulls fan. 

The ad is a platonic narrative of domestic abuse: a woman lulled into thinking she has a loving relationship, then cowed into submission by a seemingly out-of-the-blue act of violence. Thanks for making me rethink my plan to root for you, Cleveland, even if you do have LeBron James now. 

The inevitable rebuttal is “It's just a joke,” because we all know that abusers come up with the idea to abuse all on their own, with no cultural input guiding their choices. There is no reason to believe an advertisement, which exists solely to mold behavior, could mold anyone's behavior.

There's actually a growing body of research into how humor can affect male attitudes toward women. A 2007 study from West Carolina University laid some groundwork, creating a scenario in which men exposed to sexist, women-demeaning jokes were more inclined toward cutting money to women's organizations. A number of other studies have found similar results. The research looking at the link between sexist jokes and sexist violence is less common, but there are some troubling preliminary studies. One, published in the journal Sex Roles, found a correlation between enjoying sexist jokes and willingness to rape women; women's enjoyment of the jokes correlated with their willingness to accept male violence. Another study from the University of Granada in 2014 took it a step further, showing that how “relaxed” you were about sexist jokes correlated with rape proclivity. 

What's more, as comedian and science educator Raj Sivaraman explained in a 2013 blog postlong-standing research that shows that disparaging humor toward a group of people increases willingness to be aggressive—even violent—toward those people. Taken together, it becomes increasingly hard to argue that humor has no effect on people's attitudes about domestic violence.

Update, 2:07 p.m.: The Cavaliers have issued an apology for the promo: “While the video was not intended to be offensive, it was a mistake to include content that made light of domestic violence. ... We sincerely apologize to those who have been affected by domestic violence for the obvious negative feelings caused by being exposed to this insensitive video.”

May 7 2015 10:47 AM

Mothers Still Doing More Housework Than Fathers

For the past few years, we've seen a spate of articles notingoften lamenting—Americans' tendency to open their wallets wider for Mother's Day than Father's Day, spending $7 billion or even $8 billion more a year on moms than dads. A new report from the Council for Contemporary Families, timed to Mother's Day, hints at why: a mother's "position as most hardworking at home is undisputed." Wipe more butts, get a better card—the math is not too complicated here. 

That women continue to do more housework than their male partners isn't news, but it's been getting more attention lately—in no small part due to the Lean In campaign illustrating how domestic disparities have an impact on women's work lives. (Because it's NBA playoffs season, I've been seeing a lot of those Lean In commercials asking men to do their part and must admit my heart soars a little every time.)

The CCF report (which is a collection of recent studies) shows a major shift in how this dynamic plays out. It used to be that all kinds of women were doing more around the house; now, the gender gap between childless couples is closing. When you become a mother, though, look out—that's when the gender gap widens again. One study in particular focused on this shift:

Ohio State’s Claire Dush and colleagues used time diaries with self-defined egalitarian couples before and after the baby arrived. Before baby, couples shared housework equally. Nine months after the baby arrived, couples continued to report putting in the same hours of work, but their diaries revealed that in fact “women added 22 hours of childcare (physical and engagement) to their work week while doing the same amount of housework and paid work as before. Men added 14 hours of childcare to their work week, but did 5 fewer hours of housework after the baby’s birth.” Kuperberg found the same trend—it is children, not marriage, that leads to an uneven division of labor at home.

The skewed division of labor at home is partly explained by new mothers scaling back at work more than new fathers, meaning "the combined paid and unpaid work hours of men and women are now about even." (However, men still get an hour more a day of leisure time than women when you control for factors like age and education.) The new balance may seem fair, but as Stephanie Coontz, CCF's director of research and public education, explains, "When a woman quits work, reduces hours, or takes a less-challenging job, she sacrifices earnings, raises, promotions, unemployment insurance, and pension accumulations, thereby undermining her future economic security." As my colleague Torie Bosch wrote on Monday, those sacrifices leave women less prepared for worst-case scenarios such as death or divorce. 

It's not all bad news for moms: Men are leaning in more around the house than they used to, according to the CCF write-up. "University of Maryland’s Liana Sayer finds that as of 2012 married mothers were doing almost three and a half times" as much of the "core housework"—i.e., scrubbing stuff instead of playing with the kids—than married fathers do. But that's way down from 1965, where mothers did 22 times as much. Both parents spend more time engaging with children than they used to, because of cultural pressure "to provide intensive parenting advantages to their children."

We could ask fathers to honor this Mother's Day by giving Mom a break around the house—at least give her that extra hour of leisure time that you have and she doesn't. But that would suggest you're doing her a favor. Maybe the ideal Mother's Day gift would be a year-round commitment to closing the household gender gap once and for all. 

May 6 2015 3:16 PM

Campus Sexual Assault Reports Are Up. Don’t Panic.

The rate of sexual assault reports on campus has skyrocketed in the past five years, nearly doubling in number, according to the U.S. Department of Education. In response to a request from Sen. Barbara Boxer's office, the department provided details on their numbers, which increased from 3,264 in 2009 to 6,016 in 2013.

That doesn't mean, however, that the actual number of sexual assaults is going up. "We believe this increase is the result in the increase in federal enforcement efforts, as well as the growing public attention paid to the issue of campus sexual assault," the letter explains. Boxer, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, and Sen. Tim Kaine released a statement calling for better funding to fight sexual assault on campus and accommodate this surge of college women stepping forward with their stories. 

Sexual assault continues to be a dramatically underreported crime, but these numbers suggest that raising awareness and demonstrating public support of victims can have a huge impact on victim willingness to step forward. Jon Krakauer's new book Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town takes an in-depth look at the scandal at the University of Montana, which was put under federal investigation for mishandling campus sexual assault. "There seems to be this tipping point where there’s now this support women feel—it’s easier for them to report because they have support among themselves," Krakauer said in a recent media roundtable.

It's a terrible thing that there continue to be so many sexual assaults. But strange as it may sound, it's a good thing that there are more reports overall. More victims reporting means that more rapists are facing consequences, more victims are accessing help, and more wannabe rapists are thinking twice before choosing to rape.

Of course, as the Department of Education letter details, while this uptick in reporting is a good thing, it also means that their offices are being overwhelmed by the increased workload. In particular, investigations of schools facing complaints about noncompliance with Title IX are taking longer than the Education Department would like. More funding could go a long way to helping resolve these complaints more quickly, which in turn would help reduce some of the anger and tensions at schools where students don't feel enough is getting done to address the problem. 

May 5 2015 3:56 PM

One in 15 Students at a West Texas High School Has Chlamydia

When you're on the high school speech-and-debate team in rural West Texas, you spend a lot of time on weekends napping in school buses in front of other small-town high schools. For me, one of those was Crane High School, where I wiled away many hours playing card games while waiting for my round. From San Antonio Express-News:

Officials with the Crane Independent School District are meeting to discuss their sex education program after nearly two dozen cases of Chlamydia were reported among the high school student body.
KOSA-TV reported the Crane Independent School District sent a letter to parents last week regarding 20 cases of chlamydia among the Crane High School student population, which totals about 300 students.

News West 9 spoke with some parents in the area who expressed shock and horror at the situation. “I mean I have a kid, honestly I don't want my kid growing up in an area where nasty stuff like that happens,” Edward Martinez told the station.

People often express shock when things like this happen, but having grown up in the area, this is literally the least surprising thing ever to me. The combination of a repressive culture and a small population where everyone is up in everyone else's business all the time makes it hard for people— especially teenagers—to take necessary precautions against disease transmission: getting tested, communicating openly with partners, obtaining condoms. 

The area's repressive attitudes toward sex are illustrated in the school's sex education program, which takes up three days in the fall semester and, of course, is focused on abstinence. Raw Story reports that in 2012, the School Health Advisory Committee recommended a program titled Worth the Wait for that three-day course; the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States pointed out that Worth the Wait discourages condom use by suggesting they're just going to fail you anyway. 

The school district's superintendent, Jim T. Rumage, stands by his chlamydia-friendly strategy of telling kids to wait until marriage. “If kids are not having any sexual activity, they can’t get this disease,” he told the Express-News in a phone interview. That is true! Also true: If you never eat any food, you probably won't get cavities, and so there's no point in manufacturing toothbrushes.

Texas is the eighth-worst state in the country for STI transmission rates. West Texas, in particular, clings to the belief that we can finger-wag away our entire species' storied history of enjoying sex. Two nearby counties, Midland and Ector, were Nos. 19 and 21 in 2013 among the most sexually infectious counties in the state. (The number of young men flowing in to work the oil fields—and to drink and party and screw around after work—has not helped.) Lubbock, Texas, which is so Bible Belt they only just recently started allowing the sale of alcohol, ranked No. 11. But maybe the Crane High School story, which is winning headlines like the Daily Caller's (“This Texas High School Is CRAWLING WITH VENEREAL DISEASE”) might finally embarrass locals enough to consider changing their ways. 

While the future of sex ed in Crane is up in the air, there is one thing I can tell you beyond a shadow of a doubt: The rumor mill at this high school is churning about who infected who, and where, and when.

May 5 2015 12:00 PM

Google Doodle Honors Nellie Bly, Stunt Journalist Extraordinaire

Today’s Google Doodle honors the 151st birthday of Nellie Bly, a woman who proved that stunt journalism isn’t always a bad thing. The remarkable Bly (whose real name was Elizabeth Jane Cochran) embodied gumption—she famously traveled the world in 72 days, for instance. But her most noteworthy work focused on the lives of the poor and disenfranchised in late 19th-century New York City.

The animated Google Doodle is accompanied by an original song from Karen O, titled “Oh Nellie.” Karen O sings, “We gotta speak up for the ones who been told to shut up/ Oh Nellie, take us all around the world and break those rules ’cause you’re our girl.”

The song’s first line—“Someone's got to stand up and tell them what a girl is good for”—nods to the way Bly got her start. Her first writing gig, with the Pittsburgh Dispatch, came after she sent an angry response to a columnist who wrote a piece titled “What Girls Are Good For” about the need for women to stay at home.

And then she was off. Bly pretended to be a woman interested in buying an infant so that she could write an exposé on baby sellers. She spent hot summer nights in an infamous tenement building. One of her pieces carried the subtitle “Nellie Bly Tells How It Feels to Be a White Slave; She Tries Her Hand at Making Paper Boxes; Difficulty in Getting a Job; Most Work Two Weeks for Nothing; After One Learns the Trade It Is Hard to Earn a Living; A Fair Picture of the Work.”

Most importantly, on her very first assignment for the New York World, the 23-year-old Bly got herself placed in an insane asylum so she could report firsthand on the conditions. Talk about commitment. In the landmark piece “Ten Days in a Madhouse,” she wrote:

On the 22d of September I was asked by the World if I could have myself committed to one of the asylums for the insane in New York, with a view to writing a plain and unvarnished narrative of the treatment of the patients therein and the methods of management, etc. Did I think I had the courage to go through such an ordeal as the mission would demand? Could I assume the characteristics of insanity to such a degree that I could pass the doctors, live for a week among the insane without the authorities there finding out that I was only a "chiel amang 'em takin' notes?" I said I believed I could. I had some faith in my own ability as an actress and thought I could assume insanity long enough to accomplish any mission intrusted to me. Could I pass a week in the insane ward at Blackwell's Island? I said I could and I would. And I did.

She did indeed. Bly’s 10 days in the asylum, where she witnessed mistreatment, neglect, and hopelessness, helped spur reform and made her a journalism star. Sadly, Bly died alone and poor in 1922 of pneumonia. But more than a century after her career began, her work remains relevant and affecting. She tried to make the powerful and well-off confront the fact that their decisions and buying habits affected real human beings, who were capable of real suffering.

NYU Libraries has collected her work here.

May 4 2015 1:46 PM

Lean In Isn’t Just About Professional Fulfillment. It’s Also About Worst-Case Scenarios.

David Goldberg was the CEO of SurveyMonkey. But after he died unexpectedly Friday night while exercising on vacation in Mexico, most headlines referred to him in terms of his wife, Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg, and her famous women-in-the-workplace philosophy. One Associated Press headline read, “David Goldberg, Tech Exec Married to ‘Lean In’ Author, Dies.” The cascade of tributes to Goldberg discussed his considerable professional achievements, but they took a backseat to praise about his dedication to his wife, to his two young children, and to supporting women. In the New York Times, Jodi Kantor wrote that people saw Goldberg as “the living, breathing, car-pooling center of a new philosophy of two-career marriage”—one in which women keep their professional ambitions intact even when starting a family.

So far, one remarkable thing has been missing from the conversation. Sandberg’s Lean In approach to a work-family balance has its flaws, contradictions, and omissions—among other things, it is applicable only to the relatively privileged, those who can afford child care and have an accommodating co-parent. But staying connected to the workforce even when you have young children isn’t just about professional fulfillment. It’s about staying prepared for a worst-case scenario. And the death of a beloved fortysomething husband, while you have young children, is a worst-case scenario.

After I was born, my mother, Regina Bosch—a very smart woman who has an MBA from Wharton—abandoned her consulting career to focus on her children. It seemed like a noble sacrifice: While her work meant a great deal to her, she thought that it would be better for my two brothers and me to have a stay-at-home mom. My father made a good living as an attorney, and our lives were comfortable.

But then, when I was 11, my father killed himself. My mother had been out of the workplace for more than a decade (with the exception of a part-time job she had just started, at a bank). Worse, she had just experienced the most traumatic event of her life: the suicide of her college sweetheart, whom she met at 17 and married at 21. Re-entering the workforce is difficult enough for women (and men) who take a few years off until their kids enter school or until a divorce changes circumstances. Jumping back into a career after 11 years, in the immediate aftermath of a spouse’s suicide, while trying to support three mourning children? Close to impossible.

“I had my age working against me. … I was 42, so people thought of me as perhaps older and not as vigorous,” she told me today. “And of course I had children to take care of, and I couldn’t do a lot of the schmoozing.” So she used the life insurance money to go back to school and get another master’s degree. But even with her skills and more up-to-date résumé, it was a major struggle. And the acute, complicated grief of losing my father to suicide didn’t help.

“I just didn’t have the emotional resources to dedicate myself to work 100 percent,” she said. “I was mourning Dad, but I also had to keep an eye on you guys, to make sure that you were OK.” Though she worked lots of jobs in the years that followed, her career never got back on the proverbial track; she didn’t earn the money or the personal fulfillment that she had before she leaned out. The gap in her résumé, emotional distress, health problems—many of them linked to trauma and the “mixed-up grief” suicide brings—all of it held her back.

Now, she regrets the time she took off after my brothers and I were born. “It would have been much better if I were working when he killed himself. I would have gotten another layer of support and had someplace to go that wasn’t so sad. And of course trying to prove yourself in a new job, when part of your mind is just this constant swirl of emotions, is really hard.”

Sandberg faces a terrible situation, but a situation that will not be made more terrible by worries about how to feed her children or pay the mortgage. She can focus on the most important issues—her grief and that of her children. Given Goldberg’s own successes, Sandberg would probably have been financially stable in widowhood even if she hadn’t leaned in. But in some ways, her message is even more powerful now: It looked like she had the perfect life, but no one is immune to shocking upheavals. Whatever her philosophy’s shortcomings, leaning in even a little bit—staying connected to the professional world while focusing on your children—can help keep you on your feet, if and when the universe lands a sucker punch.

May 4 2015 12:20 PM

Carly Fiorina Will Steal All Your Gender Cards

After running a lengthy shadow campaign, former Hewlett-Packard CEO and sheep demonizer Carly Fiorina has formally announced her presidential candidacy. Among the growing crowd of no-chance-in-hell Republican contenders, Fiorina stands out not just because of her gender, her obsession with Hillary Clinton (which my colleague Josh Voorhees detailed Monday morning), or for her remarkable lack of basic Internet aptitude, despite being a former tech executive—looks like she forgot to register, which someone lifted to illustrate how many people she laid off at Hewlett-Packard.

Fiorina also distinguishes herself from the pack because her pitch to voters is uniquely incoherent. Rand Paul is the Wannabe Libertarian Guy. Marco Rubio is the Young Guy. Ted Cruz is the Obama-of-the-Christian-Right Guy. Jeb Bush is the Guy Who Will Win the Nomination Guy. 

And Fiorina is, by her own account, the woman in the race who will stand up against those who want you to vote for the other woman in the race. 

In recent months, Fiorina has shown that the only thing she loves more than deriding those who play the “gender card” is playing the gender card. Oh, how she hates that gender card, telling the National Journal that Clinton “will play the gender card over and over again, which is unfortunate but predictable.” The gender card is a dirty move that brings shame onto all those who play it!

All those except for Carly Fiorina. “If Hillary Clinton were to face a female nominee, there are a whole set of things that she won't be able to talk about,” Fiorina told reporters in April. “She won't be able to talk about being the first woman president. She won't be able to talk about a war on women without being challenged. She won't be able to play the gender card.” No she won't, because I, Carly Fiorina, will play it for her!

Hypocrisy aside, Fiorina's entire pitch is also based on a false premise, which is that being female gives politicians some kind of novel advantage—a notion easily disabused by a Congress that's more than 80 percent male and a 100 percent male presidency. In American politics, if anyone's been playing a gender card for the last 239 years, it's been men.

May 4 2015 11:47 AM

Satanists Claim Abortion Waiting Periods Violate Their Religious Beliefs

Conservatives are increasingly citing their right to religious liberty to defend using state property to proselytize and disobey laws protecting women and LGBTQ people from discrimination. But those efforts are getting a little more complicated, thanks to a group of pranksters who claim to worship Satan.

Whenever Christians erect Christian monuments on state property or distribute religious materials at public schools, the New York–based Satanic Temple is there doing its part, passing out satanic materials or erecting statues celebrating Satan. Now these expert trolls are tackling anti-abortion regulations, which they claim violate satanic religious beliefs; followers of the king of hell should be allowed to opt out of those regulations, they say. 

Satanists are rallying around “Mary,” who lives in rural Missouri and needs an abortion but is struggling to afford the extra expenses that the state's 72-hour waiting period will impose on her. Mary has the money for the abortion, but she doesn't have the estimated extra $800 that she needs to travel to the only abortion clinic in the state, in St. Louis, a trip that will require gas, hotel, and child care. “I personally would have liked to have the procedure done as soon as possible,” Mary told the Riverfront Times. “But with all the difficulties, how hard it is do this, it's been put off for several weeks.” She's now nearly 12 weeks pregnant. 

The Satanic Temple raised the money for Mary in a day; its plan is to present a letter to the abortion provider asking for an exemption on the grounds that, as a Satanist, Mary believes her body is “inviolable” and the waiting period imposes a “substantial burden on my sincerely held religious beliefs.” As a legal maneuver, this leaves much to be desired: The clinic, too, is being victimized by the regulation, and they're not the authorities standing between Mary and her abortion. The legally sound way to demand “religious liberty” exemptions to waiting periods is sue the state government, but the Satanists don't have those sorts of resources—they're not Hobby Lobby.

While the Satanists did misfire by taking aim at the clinic, as a public act of trolling, this stunt gets an A-plus. It exposes the double standards of those who claim to stand for “religious freedom,” and it highlights how waiting periods and other restrictions are actually an attempt to impose religious dogma about abortion on those who don't agree with it. Being denied medical care is actual religious oppression. Letting someone access her own medical care is not.