What Women Really Think
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.
Posted Monday, June 17, 2013, at 8:30 AM
Photo by Juan Barreto/AFP/GettyImages
It was great to read your replies last week—many thanks. Another question is on the way, after some thoughts about the role of the visual in female sexuality.
For a long time, we’ve been told that female desire isn’t powerfully sparked by visual turn-ons, by, say, great shoulders or a great package. That is, the visuals might matter but not so much, and certainly not as much as they do for men. This fits with evolutionary psychology’s perspective, which suggests that female eros is innately more measured and cerebral, more about future plans than present gratifications. But are women less visual?
Meredith Chivers, one of the inventive researchers and original thinkers in my book What Do Women Want?, does not dwell on attempting to compare men’s reactions to women’s. In her lab, she shows all kinds of porn to women and men and graphs the changes in their genitals. She can’t statistically compare what a vagina does to what a penis does—they do different things. What she can do, though, is show that women get physically aroused, strongly and swiftly, while watching all sorts of X-rated scenes. To stare at her graphs is to doubt the old assumptions.
But our culture goes right on perpetuating those notions. Ronnie Koenig, former editor in chief at Playgirl, wrote wisely about this month in the Atlantic:*
It's certainly more socially acceptable for men to value physical appearance. Case in point—male nudity at the movies. When we see male nudity on film it's often played for laughs. While men (and women) are treated to Halle Berry's breasts, the best we girls can get is "joke dick"—think Jason Segel in Forgetting Sarah Marshall or Mark Wahlberg at the end of Boogie Nights. If we acknowledge that women are visual creatures then it puts more pressure on men to look good.
So, for a moment, please forget my fragility and the fragility of my fellow men and tell us the truth. How important is the visual to you? How does it play out in your sexual life? Is it essential? Peripheral? Do you bring home the visual turn-ons of the day when you get into bed with your partner? If the visual is important to you, is your partner aware of this? As always, please write from personal experience and be as specific and honest as possible, but stop short of pornographic. We want to be able to publish some of your responses later this week. Send your replies to email@example.com and put “what do women want—visual” in the subject line. We will use your name unless you specify otherwise. (Let us know if you prefer that we only use your first name.) Please check out Slate's submission guidelines before you write in. We look forward to hearing from you.
Correction, June 17, 2013: This post originally misspelled former Playgirl editor in chief Ronnie Koenig's last name.
Posted Friday, June 14, 2013, at 5:50 PM
(NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)
In 2012, the number of women serving in the U.S. Senate reached a historic high: 20 out of 100. And so we continue to debate about the low representation of women in political office, and the debate continues to hinge on the differences between men and women: Some argue that women are unsuited for political office because they’re naturally less assertive and dominant than men; others claim that women are better suited for modern leadership roles because they’re more compassionate than their male peers. But a new study suggests that the public doesn’t associate female politicians with stereotypically feminine qualities at all. When women enter political office, we stop seeing them like women everywhere else.
In “Measuring Stereotypes of Female Politicians,” published in Political Psychology this month, political scientists Dr. Monica Schneider and Dr. Angela Bos surveyed a group of students about the traits they associate with women in general, and the characteristics they ascribe to female politicians specifically. They found that while over 90 percent of respondents described women as feminine, emotional, motherly, and beautiful, they were far less likely to associate female politicians with those traits. Eighty-four percent of participants described women as “gorgeous.” None of them said the same of female politicians. Female politicians didn’t even benefit from those stereotypes—like compassion and sensitivity—that are often cited as potential advantages for women in office. Ninety-one percent of people described women in general as “compassionate,” but only 21 percent described female politicians that way. And female politicians weren’t associated with stereotypically masculine traits—like leadership, competence, confidence, assertiveness, and charisma—either. You’d think that “leader” would be a defining characteristic for any politician, but only 39 percent of participants described female politicians with that term; 93 percent of them described male politicians that way. Women in politics were, however, more likely to be described as “uptight” and “dictatorial.”
Meanwhile, stereotypes of male politicians generally fall in line with stereotypes about men in general. The students saw men as competitive, driven leaders, and they said the same of male pols. Only when it came to stereotypically masculine physical traits—like “muscular” and “athletic”—did the perception of male politicians fail to conform to the wider male type.
What is going on here? Schneider and Bos suggest that “despite gains in the percentage of politicians who are female, there may still not be enough women in office for voters to form a consensus of stereotypical qualities.” We don’t know what female politicians are like—we aren't able to generalize them—because we don’t know enough of them. But the utter mismatch between stereotypes of women in general and stereotypes of women in office also speaks to Americans’ begrudging acceptance of this very low level of women in power. We might be OK with letting 20 women serve in the U.S. Senate, as long as their political representation doesn’t threaten our conception of most women, who are still expected to fulfill their feminine duties of raising children and looking pretty. At some point, you’d hope that the growing representation of women in political office would start to influence the stereotypical traits we associate with all women. But that would require us to actually see female leaders as … leaders.
Posted Friday, June 14, 2013, at 5:39 PM
Earlier this week we asked female readers to write in telling us whether they experience their sexuality as relatively passive and male readers to write in telling us if they see female sexual passivity as the norm (or not). Many responded. We published some responses yesterday and today. Here is the last one.
My girlfriend and I had a fight recently after a weekend away in which we didn't have sex. She was upset that it hadn't happened, but had at no point initiated or indicated that she wanted to. (I was too tired to initiate by they time we got in bed, but would have been receptive if she had initiated.) After a year of dating in which I was the initiator 99% of the time she got used to assuming that I would do it—and had internalized my initiating as the fundamental indication that I even wanted sex with her. I, on the other hand, felt increasing pressure as it was clear that I was more or less solely responsible for our sex life happening at all. It was clearly a wake-up call for her when she realized that if I stopped initiating we just wouldn't have sex. She has no shortage of desire, but I think a combination of inexperience, natural reticence and having grown up in a culture that strongly disapproves of premarital sex made it easy for her to leave the initiation to me—with eventual bad results (but we've made substantial progress).
Previously in this series:
Posted Friday, June 14, 2013, at 4:37 PM
Photo by Yiannis Kourtoglou/AFP/Getty Images
I'm beginning to wonder if the folks that write for the Knot Yet website simply have an unnatural affection for going to weddings. The site, which purports to be about the “benefits and costs of delayed marriage in America,” is really mostly about the costs—reading it is like talking to your delusional grandmother who has convinced herself that you could still be a virgin on your wedding day.
This recent blog entry by Amber Lapp is typical. Lapp rejects sociologist Andrew Cherlin's proposal that "we" should be just as interested in encouraging stable cohabitation as marriage. Lapp is skeptical, because most Americans claim to want to be married, and so she thinks if they're not, that inherently makes their relationships less stable. She cites her neighbors to bolster her argument:
I’m all for finding ways to help my cohabiting friends and neighbors with children become more stable. I’ve watched, sadly, as the 20-something cohabiting couple next door went from attached-at-the-hip in-love-ness as they delighted in parenting their toddler son together, to the bitterness of a break up brought on by cheating, to the birth of a second child, and now to the ambiguity of late night visits and subsequent all-nighters spent trying to piece the relationship back together before he has to leave in the dusky dawn morning for his electrician’s job in a nearby city 45 minutes away.
This passage does more than out Lapp as the Gladys Kravitz of her neighborhood. It also exposes the emptiness of her conclusion, later in the post, that "the instability of cohabitation is also an emotional instability driven largely by a trust deficit" and that "added symbols of meaning like rings and weddings" provide trust and stability. But since when have wedding bands stopped a spouse from cheating? Or from having to take a job far from home? If I didn't know this couple wasn't married, in fact, I would assume they were headed for divorce.
Indeed, what all this sentimentalizing of marriage—especially young marriage—repeatedly brushes past is that now that people wait longer to get married, the divorce rate is falling. Maybe the ugly truth is that relationships formed in one's late teens and early twenties are more unstable, which has very little to do with whether you and your significant other have gone through the process of putting together seating arrangements and ordering flowers together or not. So let's adjust our expectations and let young people go through the romantic tumults of youth, even if that means they have living arrangements that make Granny uncomfortable. Then maybe we'll get invited to some awesome weddings for marriages that actually last.
Posted Friday, June 14, 2013, at 2:32 PM
Photo by Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images
Everyone is saying that Rupert Murdoch’s history of exceptional business decisions applies to his just-filed divorce from his wife of 14 years, Wendi Deng. They had a prenuptial agreement, Murdoch makes deals for a living, and this is his third time at the divorce rodeo. These people are so rich—Murdoch’s net worth is more than $11 billion—that any outcome of the split will leave both of them more than loaded. But everyone may be wrong. As a business matter, Murdoch v. the New York matrimonial system could be disastrous.
The cheapest and safest way for an ultra-high-net-worth person to get out of a marriage is often not to get divorced at all but to buy his way out of the presence of his spouse. Live independent lives. Cultivate separate interests. It doesn’t matter. But at such a sensitive moment, you might not want to risk the potential financial disaster of a divorce.
Rupert Murdoch is 82 years old, and he’s two weeks away from a major corporate restructuring in which his entities will be divided. Why now enter into a process of separating assets, defending or fighting a prenup, and negotiating or litigating payments to his soon-to-be ex? Add to that the public relations overtime and the coordination of the divorce with the corporate deal and the business sense behind Murdoch’s filing is a mystery.
Ignore for a moment the psychological and emotional impact of divorce on children (there are two children, ages 9 and 11, of the Murdoch-Deng marriage), and just look at the money here. Divorce guarantees major expense of money and energy and carries the risk of reputational harm. No other kind of litigation, aside from trial for serious felonies, declares open season on personal or business dealings to quite the extent that divorce does. When people with children and money divorce, three main cost types are on the table: a division of assets, payment of maintenance (alimony) and child support, and legal fees. Then there’s the opportunity cost of divorce: Every bit of attention to negotiation or litigation could otherwise go to making more money. Defending one’s reputation, especially for famous, high-net-worth divorcing people, also carries necessary costs and risks. An unofficial separation in which Mr. and Mrs. can afford to live well and to be far from each other, as these two already seem to have mastered, costs less across all spheres.
Even with the existence of a prenuptial agreement, dissolving a marriage of this length that involves the support of two children (again, we’re not talking about custody, just money) and that spanned years in which Murdoch’s already enormous wealth increased dramatically is a major undertaking. His last divorce is said to have cost him more than $1 billion.
We may learn today or soon enough of a deus ex coniugium or of “shocking details” behind the split that made filing for divorce Murdoch’s best option. Maybe, as his wife, she posed a not-yet-known legal risk to the upcoming corporate separation. Maybe she did something personally reprehensible. Maybe, as his companies count down to their own breakup, Murdoch is just in a splitsville kind of mood. Business-school modeling can’t account for that.
Posted Friday, June 14, 2013, at 1:35 PM
Good news, dads who co-parent and take responsibility for your children's schedules: Your co-workers are annoyed at you. I’m being sarcastic, of course, but in a way it is good news that in 2013 there are enough of us dads who bend the timetables of the office to fit our family lives, and not vice-versa, for people to notice. In fact, according to Marc Tracy at the New Republic, we are finally on the verge of the “Daddy Wars”—a time when issues of work/family balance for fathers will finally come to the fore, when dads will start having the kinds of debates with one another and themselves that moms have been having for decades. And thank God for that.
This week I participated in an afternoon conference call in which several Slate editors interviewed a job candidate. The call was scheduled for 4 p.m. (Why are the calls always scheduled for 4?)! I left the office at 3:20, got home just before 4, and called in on my cell. At 4:25 I muted my phone; climbed in the car; and drove to the house where my kids, having been released early from school that day, were having their playdate. At 4:30 I parked in front of the house and, as my daughters barreled out the front door, apologetically signed off the call.
I’m sure this was annoying to my colleagues. (I did warn them ahead of time that I would be departing early.) I know for a fact that, more broadly, many of my childless co-workers (and perhaps some of my child-having co-workers!) get frustrated with the fact that I am often unavailable between 4 and 6, or that I missed the Friday meeting because of a kindergarten performance, or that my kids have a lot of doctor’s appointments. I understand their frustration: Even though I work pretty much every night and weekend, many of them do, too, and when you’re trying to do your job, it is a huge pain when someone isn’t there when you need him or her to be. And while it’s indisputably a good thing that parents at Slate feel comfortable enough to be transparent about their daily plans—as opposed to other workplaces, where parents lie or try to quietly duck out—it also means that nonparents have the pleasure of receiving daily emails from their colleagues about all the times they won’t be working.
But there’s no solution to this problem. Or rather the solution is simply that they will have to remain annoyed at me, and I will have to remain feeling guilty about it, because I am a dad as well as an editor, and I will have daily family responsibilities from now until 2026. I hope that I will do my job well and productively enough that their frustration doesn’t evolve into full-on resentment. (I’m very lucky that my boss-of-bosses is also an engaged dad facing the exact same situation as I do and is extremely sympathetic. This has never been true in any other job I’ve ever had and is not true for most dads.)
So bring on the Daddy Wars. If we start running a lot more pieces about these issues, at least my colleagues will know that we’re not the only company facing them and I’m not the only dad struggling to balance my family and my job. If the Mommy Wars have taught us anything, it’s that there are no easy answers—but it makes a huge difference when more people are, at least, aware of the questions.