What Women Really Think
Posted Tuesday, June 18, 2013, at 4:45 PM
Photo by AFP/AFP/Getty Images
Thirty years ago today, Sally Ride became the first American woman to travel into space. When Ride died in 2012, Laura Helmuth paid tribute to her by asking what the hell took so long. Her post is reprinted below.
Don’t get me wrong. Sally Ride, rest her soul, absolutely rocked. She was smart and courageous, unabashedly a feminist, and she called out sexism before, during, and after her time as an astronaut. She was a great advocate for science and math education, especially for girls; she wrote science books for kids, and her organization runs science camps and fairs and trains science teachers.
The first American woman in space, Ride flew on the Space Shuttle Challenger in 1983. A few years later she helped identify the systematic failures that led to that shuttle’s explosion. When the Columbia disaster killed another batch of astronauts, she served on an accident investigation board again (Ride was the only person to serve on both boards, which must have been incredibly grueling), and then she helped write NASA’s plans for the future of human spaceflight. She arguably contributed more to NASA, and probably the world, than any other ex-astronaut. She was the Jimmy Carter of ex-astronauts, especially compared with Buzz “Show Me The Money” Aldrin or Harrison “Don’t Fret Climate Change” Schmitt. She dedicated her career to science, space, safety, and girls’ education, and I was crushed to hear of her death.
But back in 1983, when Ride made her historic trip into space, it was already too late. Judging by Google query completions, a lot of people think Sally Ride was the first woman in space. But that was cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova, who was also the first civilian in space. Do you remember how many years the Soviets beat us by in this particular race? Twenty. Tereshkova piloted the Vostok 6 into space in 1963. The first woman to walk in space was Svetlana Savitskaya, in 1982.
By the time Ride got there, we already had a lot of female “firsts,” which made some of the attention lavished on her—what an amazing feat for a woman!—feel a little condescending to, say, a 14-year-old girl in Indiana. Sandra Day O’Connor had just been named to the Supreme Court in 1981—also sadly overdue. Janet Guthrie raced in the Indy 500—one of the most macho, daredevil, balls-scratching sports—in 1977, for crying out loud. And never mind that Amelia Earhart got her pilot’s license exactly 60 years before Ride’s flight.
The fact that it took until 1983 to have a female astronaut just emphasized NASA’s nasty history of sexism. The United States could have sent the first woman into space much, much earlier. The Mercury program trained 13 women starting in 1961. They performed well, but despite their skills (or perhaps because of them), the program was eventually canceled. NASA redefined its astronaut prerequisites to include jet fighter experience, thereby ruling out any possibility of female candidates.
As much as I admire Sally Ride the person, do you know who should have been the first woman astronaut? One of the Mercury 13, definitely—all of whom by the way were honored guests in 2005 when shuttle commander Eileen Collins led the first shuttle flight after the Columbia disaster. But if not them, it could have been Janet Guthrie. She applied to an astronaut training program in 1964 and would have raced circles around those other guys.
Posted Tuesday, June 18, 2013, at 3:26 PM
Most people with siblings can remember an instance where their arguments escalated to inappropriate levels. I recall slamming my older brother’s door so hard when we were teenagers that I splintered the door frame. Though some sparring is normal, aggression between siblings can have lasting negative effects—so says a new study in the July issue of the journal Pediatrics. According to the New York Times, one-third of the children in a study of more than 3,000 said they were victimized by a sibling at some point in the past year, and the victimized children reported higher levels of anxiety, depression, and anger.
Other studies have shown that sibling conflict occurs every day for 50 percent of young children, and 80 percent of siblings ages 3-17 reported experiencing at least one violent episode with their sister or brother in the year that study evaluated. So what are parents supposed to do? And how do we know what’s detrimental bullying versus just regular sibling bickering? I asked Slate’s resident bullying expert Emily Bazelon, the author of Sticks and Stones, and she said that the way to figure out if fighting between siblings is reaching the level of bullying is to see if there’s a pattern.
According to Bazelon, you should ask yourself, “Is one kid (or group of kids) on a campaign to make another kid miserable? Is the aggression chronic, and one-way, as opposed to mutual, where the power shifts back and forth?” If the answer is yes, then it’s important to talk as a family about what’s going on—because it’s a whole family dynamic. “It’s not about just focusing on the bully or the victim,” Bazelon says.
While this study should certainly inspire parents to keep an eye on the dynamics at play among their children, Bazelon cautions that most kids recover from sibling aggression. “These studies show that there’s a risk of depression and other negative psychological consequences. That means a higher rate, not that everyone experiences it,” she says. “Fortunately, most kids do bounce back. But it’s important to look out for the kids who have a harder time doing that.” So: No need to freak out. Look out for your more psychologically fragile offspring, but don’t break up every argument over Legos.
Posted Tuesday, June 18, 2013, at 12:50 PM
Photo by Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images for Time
Last week, Frank Bruni devoted his New York Times opinion column to the “puzzling stamina” of sexism in the United States and “all the recent reminders of how often women are still victimized, how potently they’re still resented and how tenaciously a musty male chauvinism endures.” He covered gender imbalances in the military, the Senate, corporate America, film, television, pro sports, and finally, books. “Even in the putatively high-minded realm of literature, there’s a gender gap, with male authors accorded the lion’s share of prominent reviews, as the annual VIDA survey documents,” Bruni wrote. “Reflecting on that in Salon last week, the critic Laura Miller acutely noted: ‘There’s a grandiose self-presentation, a swagger, that goes along with advancing your book as a Great American Novel that many women find impossible or silly.’ ”
Naturally, Jonathan Franzen was moved to respond.
“There may still be gender imbalances in the world of books, but very strong numbers of women are writing, editing, publishing and reviewing novels,” Franzen wrote in a letter to the editor. “The world most glaringly dominated by male sexism is one that Mr. Bruni neglects to mention: New York City theater.” A note below his byline clarified that—lest we confuse him with some lesser Jonathan Franzen—“the writer is the novelist.”
I’m wondering why the novelist—according to Time, the Great American Novelist—would be moved to file this limp non sequitur of an argument in the paper of record. (Franzen famously refuses to tweet all the half-baked thoughts that pass through his brain; apparently he prints them out and mails them to the New York Times instead.) If Franzen wanted to administer a sweet burn to Frank Bruni for calling out sexism in his profession, he could have criticized the male-dominated field of New York City restaurants. (Bruni served for years as the Times' chief food critic.) He could have dug into the demographics of the Times opinion page, where 10 of its 12 op-ed columnists are men. Instead, Franzen laid into theater with bizarre specificity. Why? I can only conclude that this was a conspicuously ineffective letter from a man considered one of the greatest writers alive. Or else it was a gay joke.
Frank Bruni is gay; Broadway is one of the few American industries that is perceived to be dominated by gay men. Franzen is smart enough not to explicitly chide Bruni for failing to singlehandedly resolve sexism in the gay community before speaking out against chauvinism in all other corners of the United States, but he may be just self-important enough to imply it. Then again, not everyone picked up on Franzen’s subtext. “I applaud Jonathan Franzen for casting a spotlight on sexism in theater,” Jenny Lyn Bader, a member of the executive board of the League of Professional Theater Women, wrote to the Times this week. In light of Franzen’s little note, “maybe the public will finally take note hearing it from a man, who cannot be accused of speaking out of self-interest.”
I'm not clapping. Instead of leveraging his clout to recognize gender imbalances in his own field (“there may still be, but” is an impressive hedge, but it does not count), Franzen deflected responsibility for resolving gender inequality onto gay men. Or maybe he just wrote a terrible letter that makes no sense. I'm not sure which accusation would bother the novelist more.
Posted Tuesday, June 18, 2013, at 12:09 PM
Later Tuesday the House will vote on the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, a GOP-sponsored bill that aims to ban abortion after 22 weeks. As painful as the ongoing Republican battle to restrict access to abortion is, at least it's creating multiple opportunities for conservative legislators to share with the larger world their rather strange views. The latest politician to cause one to wonder what it is they're teaching in medical school is doctor-turned-Rep. Michael Burgess from (naturally) Texas, who trotted out a novel argument during a hearing on the GOP's proposed ban. Burgess argued that abortion needs to be banned even earlier, at 15 or 16 weeks, because:
Watch a sonogram of a 15-week baby, and they have movements that are purposeful. They stroke their face. If they’re a male baby, they may have their hand between their legs. If they feel pleasure, why is it so hard to believe that they could feel pain?
The bill is expected to pass the House but has no chance in the Senate or with the president, which means that perhaps after this one dies, Burgess will be the inspiration for the next bill: Masturbation-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, which under the Burgess "making it up as you go along" scientific standard will only apply to male fetuses, as female fetuses are definitely too modest to even consider such filthy behavior. (Scary side note: Burgess was actually a gynecologist before he decided to go into politics.)
Of course, what all this debate over pain and masturbation is meant to distract from is the very real, utterly indisputable fact that women feel pain: the pain of being so poor that you couldn't get the money together until 20 weeks for an abortion, the pain of being in denial about being raped and pregnant, the pain of discovering at 20 weeks that your fetus has serious birth defects. Also, if we're going be doling out human rights based on who touches themselves to feel good, let's start with actual born women.
Posted Tuesday, June 18, 2013, at 10:54 AM
Courtesy of the Cleveland Plain Dealer
The shocking case of Ariel Castro, who kidnapped three young women and held them for years as rape and torture objects, fascinated the nation when it broke last month. But Cleveland has had a problem with residents living in fear of sexual predators for a while now. As Phillip Morris of the Plain Dealer reported in April, the discovery of serial killer Anthony Sowell's collection of corpses in 2009 created a climate of fear that only escalated as other serial rapists terrorized residents. Clevelanders have been repeatedly reminded of how many monsters live among us, attacking women under the radar, and understandably they are worried.
But there is one item of good news: Cuyahoga County, where Cleveland is located, has decided to go Eliot Ness on rapists. The Plain Dealer reports:
Cuyahoga County prosecutors and investigators are revisiting decades-old unsolved rape cases, using DNA evidence to connect serial rapes, tracking down victims and sending cases to grand juries for indictment—often racing against a 20-year statute of limitations.
The Plain Dealer rightfully takes credit for this, having turned the pressure up for years on authorities. Efforts escalated in 2011 at the request of Ohio's Republican attorney general Mike DeWine, and the result has been a factory line of indictments, often against men who are accused of spending decades attacking women without facing any repercussions for it. Now the newspaper has created a clearinghouse page so readers can follow the stream of indictments since March, as well as other stories about the DNA testing, in one place. (The above screenshot is only part of the page—I couldn't get the entire thing into one screen—but gives you an idea of how many cold cases are being turned into indictments with this move.)
Many of these indictments open up multiple cold cases at once, which is to be expected, as most rapists are serial rapists. Cleveland set aside about 3,000 untouched rape kits to be processed, which is a massive amount of work, but it's hard to argue with results like this. Law enforcement nationwide has been responding to pressure to process their backlogged rape kits, often with mixed results due to poor handling of the kits in the first place. The relative success in Cleveland should serve as a reminder of how effective rape kits can be in getting justice for victims, but only if they're handled properly and law enforcement bothers to use them.
Posted Tuesday, June 18, 2013, at 10:25 AM
Debates about sexism in the geekier corners of the pop-culture universe seem to be operating at amplified volume—and in some cases, to good effect—over the past several years, from the woman dressed as Batgirl asking DC Comics executives tough questions at Comic-Con to the attacks on and outpouring of support for feminist video blogger Anita Sarkeesian after she Kickstarted a project to produce a series of videos about the depiction of women in video games. And in recent weeks, the question of who belongs in science fiction and fantasy has escalated beyond fans and critics into the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, the professional association for genre fiction writers.
At issue is a series of pieces that ran in the SFWA Bulletin, the association's publication. After a period of irregular publication, the publication was resurrected by Jean Rabe, a science fiction author and editor who has written for the Dungeons and Dragons, Star Wars, and BattleTech franchises. Under Rabe's editorial leadership, Bulletin published a number of articles that lead some members to exit the association. The cover of one issue featured an image of a woman in a chain-mail bikini, a decided throwback to science fiction's cheesecakier days. That same issue featured a conversation between two male writers, Mike Resnick and Barry N. Malzberg, ostensibly devoted to a discussion of the genre's female editors but that included odd comments about specific women's appearances. A subsequent issue featured another piece by a man praising Barbie as an image of female submissiveness. (Presumably, he missed the great young-adult novels in which Barbie jet-sets around in pursuit of modeling opportunities and her 2012 run for president.) Then, Resnick and Malzberg responded to reader feedback to their comments by crying censorship. Ultimately, Rabe announced that she would resign.Read More »
Posted Monday, June 17, 2013, at 3:44 PM
Photo by Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images
Grab your hankies: To help kids coping with a parent in prison, Sesame Street created a Muppet whose father can't play with him because he's in jail.
Sesame Street has always made it part of its larger mission to address all children, not just the ones with traditional families or easily digestible experiences. In the latest move toward that goal, the popular children's program created an online toolkit, titled "Little Children, Big Challenges: Incarceration," for those struggling to raise a child who has an incarcerated parent. Released just in time to help kids in need get through Father's Day, the toolkit has its detractors. Alex Jones naturally went into full-blown conspiracy theory mode, calling it a "propaganda program designed to help children accept the fact that daddy is in jail" by dangerously telling kids that "all you have to do is talk about your feelings, draw a few pictures, write letters to your dad, and toddle off to visit him in jail every now and then and everything will be all rainbows and lollipops." (Better to tell them ... what?) Mike Riggs at Reason was also angry, though not at Sesame Street but at the U.S. government for incarcerating so many people that these kinds of materials are necessary. He points out that nearly 7 million people are under correctional supervision in this country, writing, "congratulations, America, on making it almost normal to have a parent in prison or jail."
Obviously, Sesame Street can't do anything about the growth of the police state or the war on drugs that has resulted in the massive incarceration numbers in this country. The show is just trying to help innocent children deal with the repercussions. But Riggs is absolutely right: That this even has to exist in the first place shows how much pointless damage our prison system does not just to people who are caught up in the overly punitive, often racially biased justice system, but also to their families. As Jill Filipovic writes in the Guardian:
Since 1980, the US prison population has grown by 790%. We have the largest prison population of any nation in the history of the world. One in three African-American men will go to jail at some point in his life. Imprisoning that many people, most of them for non-violent offenses, doesn't come cheap, especially when you're paying private contractors. The United States now spends $50bn on our corrections system every year.
Sesame Street isn't the problem, but hopefully the very existence of this video and online toolkit can help wake people up to the way that excessive incarceration is destroying families and hurting the most vulnerable children.
Posted Monday, June 17, 2013, at 3:06 PM
Photo by Allison Joyce/Getty Images
For the past three months, I’ve been participating in a Lean In circle, a small monthly meeting with a group of female peers in New York City who are all interested in professional support and advancement. We’re following the curriculum provided by Sheryl Sandberg’s nonprofit organization, Leanin.org, which is based around the ideas in her best-selling book about women in the workplace.
One topic that Sandberg’s book discusses in-depth is that women often don’t ask for raises or negotiate well for themselves. A 2011 study by Carnegie Mellon University found that men were four times more likely to ask for a pay raise than women. Women were more likely to wait until a promotion or assignment was offered, rather than asking for it in advance. I can definitely relate to this—I’ve always been incredibly nervous to ask for raises, and in the past when accepting new jobs, I’ve taken the first offer rather than negotiating for a higher salary.
In the tiny sample size of my Lean In circle, there’s some anecdotal evidence that Sandberg’s message is working. In the past two months, three of our seven members have asked for raises; two were successful, and the third is waiting to hear back. Each went about it in her own way: One woman who works for a nonprofit with a fixed budget knew she was up for a midyear salary increase. Rather than accepting what they were planning to give her without question, which she would have been more naturally inclined to do, she instead met with her supervisor and made a case for how her roles and responsibilities had expanded. “I think the important fact is that I knew the answer would probably be no, and I asked anyway,” she told me. “I just wanted to voice that I expected to be paid more. So the lesson I learned was that even in an organization with limited resources, asking is a huge deal.” And it worked: After initially saying an additional salary increase was unlikely, her boss came back a week later and gave her the raise.
Another woman who works in sales training asked for a salary increase at the same time as proposing a larger role for herself. The company is considering that expanded role, but in the meantime, she got the raise. The third woman, who still hasn’t heard back and whose organization is in a state of flux, says that regardless of the outcome, she’s proud that she spoke up for herself and made a case to her boss for why she should be better compensated.
All three women credit either Sandberg’s book or our meetings with inspiring them to ask for more money. I think we’re off to a good start.
Posted Monday, June 17, 2013, at 1:08 PM
Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images
There are plenty of valid critiques of Melissa McCarthy's comedic brand, even some that have to do with her weight. I, for instance, might wonder if she should take parts that encourage audiences to think of heavier people as obnoxious or stupid and their sex lives as hilarious. But New York Observer film critic Rex Reed was not making a thoughtful critique when, in his February review of The Identity Thief, he went after McCarthy's body rather than her acting. He called her "tractor-sized," referred to her as a "hippo," and suggested that McCarthy "has devoted her short career to being obese and obnoxious with equal success," as if her weight was a career choice.
McCarthy's taken her time in responding to Reed, but in an interview with the New York Times last week, she got at why remarks like Reed's are so hurtful and so effective at discouraging women who don't look like the Hollywood norm to persist in trying to create new niches for themselves:
Had this occurred when she was 20, Ms. McCarthy said, “it may have crushed me.” But now, as a mother raising two young daughters in “a strange epidemic of body image and body dysmorphia,” she said articles like that “just add to all those younger girls, that are not in a place in their life where they can say, ‘That doesn’t reflect on me.’ ”
“That makes it more true,” she said. “It means you don’t actually look good enough.”
It's one thing for Reed, or any other critic, to dislike a comedian’s physical humor because it's ineffective (i.e., not funny). It's another for Reed to treat his personal distaste for McCarthy's size as if it's a legitimate aesthetic issue and to suggest that being that size disqualifies an actor—or much more frequently, an actress—from being sexual, funny, charming, or heroic, regardless of skill.
McCarthy could have blown off Reed's remarks, but I'm glad she didn't. Her success is a rare exception to the Hollywood rule, and her remarks are a reminder of how much talent we might miss out on because critics such as Reed want to be spared seeing the bodies that happen to be the vehicles for it.
Posted Monday, June 17, 2013, at 12:11 PM
Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images
The ritual of sitting down at night to watch a nationally televised beauty pageant is becoming a relic in American culture, usurped by the ritual of sitting down the morning after to watch the video of the pageant contestant who gave the dumbest answer the night before. This year's Miss USA winner of the unofficial Derpiest Beauty Queen prize goes to Miss Utah, who metaphorically face-planted when asked to register an opinion about the coming lady apocalypse of female breadwinners.
Judge NeNe Leakes asked Miss Utah, whose real name is Marissa Powell, "A recent report shows that in 40 percent of American families with children, women are the primary earners, yet they continue to earn less than men. What does this say about society?"* Powell answered:
I think we can relate this back to education, and how we are … continuing to try to strive to ... ... ... figure out how to create jobs right now. That is the biggest problem. And I think, especially the men are … um … seen as the leaders of this, and so we need to try to figure out how to create education better so we can solve this problem. Thank you.
This ritualized rooting out of the biggest bimbo at the beauty pageant is tough to reconcile. On one hand, it's kind of a cultural protest against the fact that beauty pageants, which feminists famously protested more than 40 years ago, continue to stick around in all their sexist glory. On the other hand, cackling at bimbos is not exactly progressive either. Hard to say which urge any random person is expressing when they pass along these videos.
Of course, the real problem here is that the question-and-answer period at beauty pageants is set up so the contestants really can't win. As ever, pageant contestants know they have to project an image of bland inoffensiveness, which precludes having political opinions beyond a moderate support for sunshine and, in this case, education. (At least until conservatives manage to make the latter controversial, too.) Powell was put in an untenable situation here. On one hand, she really can't go full Fox News and denounce those evil salary-earning women without both offending large numbers of people and also causing the audience to wonder if she aspires for nothing more than trophy-wife status. On the other hand, if she applauds sisters doing it for themselves, the relatively conservative audience for beauty pageants will turn on her. You try coming up with a coherent 30-second sound bite while your brain frantically processes the no-win situation you're in. It's harder than it looks.
Then again, all that empathy just went out to a woman who participates and supports the beauty pageant industry, so maybe it's misplaced. What a dilemma! Clearly, the only solution here is to bring an end to this sordid practice of both beauty pageants and the Monday morning stupidity quarterbacking of them. Try forwarding a cat video instead. No one cares if it does something stupid.
Correction, June 17, 2013: This post originally misspelled NeNe Leakes' first name.