What Women Really Think

July 31 2014 3:18 PM

I Didn’t Need a Double Mastectomy to Save My Life. Here’s Why I Did It Anyway.

Last week, the New York Times published an op-ed by Peggy Orenstein under the unfortunate headline “The Wrong Approach to Breast Cancer.” In her essay, Orenstein—a journalist and breast cancer survivor—joins the handwringing about the “skyrocketing” numbers of breast cancer patients who are diagnosed with cancer in one breast but choose to have the healthy breast removed along with the diseased breast in a procedure called “contralateral prophylactic mastectomy,” or CPM.

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The author with her 12-year-old boxer-lab mix, Emma.

Photo by Mary Gray

Orenstein highlights research showing that removing a healthy breast does not significantly increase a woman’s chances of survival in the long run. But other aspects of the procedure—like how CPM affects a woman’s quality of life—are more difficult to measure. I know because I chose CPM after being diagnosed with breast cancer in 2009. I was 38. I was a magazine journalist who wrote about women’s health. I knew that removing my healthy breast would not enhance my odds of survival. I chose to do it anyway. Some would call me emotional, ill-informed, and just plain “wrong.” But five years later, it still feels very right.

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It’s true that if survival had been my only concern, my decision would have been simple. The location of my tumor made a lumpectomy impossible. The data clearly pointed to a single mastectomy. But the decision to remove a breast is never a simple calculation. Suggesting as much negates the fact that behind the survival statistics are real women—women who value not just living but also living as comfortably as possible in their post-cancer bodies.

In my case, I didn’t want reconstruction, and I couldn’t picture having only one breast. I tried to imagine my singleton, and it looked as forlorn as the lone survivor of identical twins. And I knew it would be on probation: My remaining breast would require biannual mammograms. Each screening would drum up anxiety and cancer treatment flashbacks. At that cost, I wasn’t sure what I would gain by keeping it. Certainly, my breasts had once conveyed great physical and emotional pleasure. But, post-cancer, I feared the remaining breast would only offer a painful reminder of how much I’d lost.

So I chose symmetry. I had both breasts removed and left my chest flat. Did it increase my odds of survival? No. Did it increase my quality of life? Absolutely. In one fell swoop, I was finished with breast surgeries and with mammography. I could wake up, slip on a T-shirt, and walk my dog without fussing with a bra and prosthesis. During yoga, I could kick up into a handstand without worrying that my fake boob might thud to the floor.

Orenstein derides women who choose CPM for symmetry’s sake by comparing breasts to ears. She writes, “It’s hard to imagine that someone with a basal cell carcinoma on one ear would needlessly remove the other one ‘just in case’ or for the sake of ‘symmetry.’ ” But the comparison of breasts to ears rings false in our hypersexualized society. And Orenstein herself appears to appreciate symmetry, given that she chose reconstruction after her single mastectomy even though she describes her new breast as a “glued-on tennis ball.”

Let’s talk about those tennis balls: I was shocked by the dearth of safe, minimally invasive reconstruction choices for breast cancer patients. Given my options, I chose not to reconstruct even though the pressure to do so was enormous. During the early days of my diagnosis, my plastic surgeon explained how much easier it would be for him to remove and reconstruct both of my breasts instead of just one. He described how my breasts would never truly match and how, as I aged, the bio-breast would sag while the implant would perk along. His sales pitch was smooth. He sounded like a car salesman pressuring a buyer into an expensive upgrade. No doubt he’d delivered the same speech to hundreds of other women. No one mentioned “going flat” as a possibility. I understand it’s not a popular choice, but it wouldn’t hurt to put it on the menu.

Even Orenstein leapfrogs over the option: She moves fluidly between discussing the removal of the breast and the risks of reconstructing it. “Breasts don’t just screw off, like jar lids,” she writes. “Infections can occur, implants can break through the skin or rupture, tissue relocated from elsewhere in the body can fail.” She lists these as arguments against CPM, but she’s talking about the dangers of breast reconstruction, not simply removing the breast, which is a relatively simple procedure.

I see the value of good data: They are crucial for educating breast cancer patients about the pros and cons of treatment options. But data’s blunt edge can’t extract the nuances regarding the value a woman puts on her breasts. Instead of telling us that we are misinformed for choosing CPM—with or without reconstruction—experts and journalists should instead explore the complexities that lurk beneath data’s bright light. In my ideal world: Once survival odds and quality-of-life issues are discussed, and it’s time for a woman to make her final decision—to remove one breast or two, to have a lumpectomy or mastectomy, to reconstruct or not, silicone or saline—we would step back and honor her choice. And why not? She’s the only one who is, we hope, going to live with it.

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July 31 2014 12:54 PM

The Christian Compassion of Dr. Willie Parker, the Doctor at Mississippi's Last Abortion Clinic

Stern scolding about the consequences of sex, and maudlin paeans equating embryos with babies, failed to get the anti-abortion movement very far in the decades after Roe v. Wade. So in recent years, conservatives have shifted tactics toward arguing that legal abortion must be ended for women's own sake. In this new framework, which was on full display in the Republican testimony at this month’s Senate hearing on the Women’s Health Protection Act, women who seek abortions are portrayed as dimwitted victims, and abortionists are characterized as craven profiteers who divert women from their true desires to have babies in order to make a buck. Thus, conservatives argue, abortion needs to be heavily restricted—preferably out of existence—to protect women from these terrible abortionists. The strategy has been incredibly effective, moving a shocking amount of anti-abortion legislation into law in recent years, and getting a draconian abortion law in Texas past the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, thereby ending half the abortion provision in the state.

July 30 2014 2:43 PM

Putting More Restrictions on Abortions Doesn't Magically Inspire Women to Embrace Their Pregnancies

New regulations requiring Texas abortion providers to have hospital admitting privileges forced more than half of the clinics in that state to stop offering abortion services. This was expected, by both pro- and anti-choicers, to cause a significant drop in the abortion rate in the state. But as Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux reports at The Week, the drop was much less significant than expected. Research by the Texas Policy Evaluation Project at the University of Texas at Austin found a 13 percent drop in legal abortions over the previous year, which is significant, but not nearly as big a drop as you’d expect when half the clinics in the state shut down. “In some ways, we were expecting a bigger decline,” study author Daniel Grossman told the Texas Tribune. Abortion rates have been falling on their own nationwide for decades, likely due to improved contraception use. That suggests that while most of this drop is due to the law, some of it might just be part of the larger national trend.

The findings demonstrate a fairly serious flaw behind the push for more and more restrictions on abortion laws. “If more clinics close, one might reasonably assume, the demand for abortion will also decline, either because wait times at the existing facilities are too long or because women will decide that an abortion isn't worth the hassle or expense,” Thomson-DeVeaux writes. However, this thinking relies on the false belief that women enter into the abortion decision lightly, and that a few obstacles will deter them. Avoiding the expense and hassle of having a child when you don’t want one remains extremely motivating, more than many health care experts realized.

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It’s important to note that researchers only measured the legal abortion rate by asking for numbers from clinics. Those numbers won’t count the women who instead resort to buying the ulcer drug misoprostol, which can induce a miscarriage, on the black market or in Mexico, where it’s sold over the counter. Andrea Ferrigno, who ran an abortion clinic that had to close in the Rio Grande Valley, told Jill Filipovic of Cosmopolitan that she contacted the hospital in the area to talk about the widespread use of Cytotec, a brand-name version of misoprostol. “The director of one ER said to us, ‘Oh, I was wondering what was going on, since I've been seeing a lot of miscarriages lately,’ ” Ferrigno recalled. “We tilted our heads and said, ‘It's not miscarriages. It's underground use of Cytotec.’ ” It’s impossible to say how many women are doing this, but it’s likely that some of the legal drop in the abortion rate is due to women aborting anyway, but doing so on the sly.

Meanwhile, legal medication abortions in the state have dropped by a stunning 70 percent. Part of the drop is likely because the restrictions mean that women are putting off abortions until it’s too late in the pregnancy to get a medication abortion. (According to the National Abortion Federation, medication abortions are typically only conducted within nine weeks of a pregnant woman’s last menstrual period.) Part of it is that the law now requires patients to go to the clinic a whopping four times to take what amounts to two pills—a hassle that women can avoid by just getting the surgical abortion instead.

Women are doing a remarkable job overcoming these restrictions to get the abortions that they need, but that doesn’t mean that the restrictions are no big deal. Come September, a new restriction requiring abortions to be performed only in ambulatory surgical centers will reduce the working-clinic number in Texas to six. At that point, the clinics will not be capable of handling the current number of women seeking abortion, which will mean that women will have to take increasingly drastic measures to secure the procedure. Putting up obstacles to abortion doesn’t magically persuade women to joyously embrace their pregnancies. It only serves to raise the expense, put women through unnecessary stress, delay an abortion until later in the pregnancy, and push women to seek abortion drugs on the black market. Proponents of the law say it’s about protecting women’s health, but the effects look much more like punishing women for seeking a safe and legal health care procedure.

July 30 2014 1:36 PM

When Bachelors Talk About Sex, The Bachelorette Gets Blamed

Some relationships formed on The Bachelor do not last as long as the brouhaha that erupted Monday night after the season finale of The Bachelorette. During the After the Final Rose special, mumbly, heartbroken, nervous, jilted runner-up Nick had the bad manners to ask Bachelorette Andi Dorfman, now happily engaged to “former pro baseball player” Josh, “If you weren’t in love with me … I’m just not sure why you made love to me.” Nick’s provocation was the first time that anyone on the show has explicitly mentioned sex—and revealed what goes on in the fantasy suites, those fancy, usually tropical hotel rooms introduced very late in the season for the obvious (though previously unstated) purpose of an off-camera sexual interaction. It was Nick who broke the implicit rules surrounding the fantasy suite, but his revelation has, perhaps inevitably, led to a referendum not on male sexuality, but female sexuality. Nick may have, as Andi said, gone “below the belt” with the question, but it’s Andi who has now been labeled both a “slut” and a kind of feminist hero for doing what men and women on the show have always done.

I have written before about the way that The Bachelor and Bachelorette franchise simultaneously pimps out its contestants while playing coy and classy, packaging its meat market as a kind of pure-of-heart undertaking: Please don’t mind all the women cattily competing for the sexual attention of one man they don’t know! They are doing it for true love! The two shows try for reciprocity, but there are different social dynamics and expectations at play when a man is flirting with a field of eager women, and when a woman is flirting with a field of eager men. Though Bachelors and Bachelorettes—and the contestants on both of these shows—often find themselves in similar situations, true-love-seeking behavior in a woman dictates a kind of sexual propriety that true-love-seeking behavior in a man does not.

andi nick bachelorette
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There is a reason that Nick is the first person on the show to bring up sex after being dumped, and that reason, at the risk of essentializing, is that he is a man. “Knowing how much I loved you, how could you make love to me?” is, within the context of The Bachelor/ette a hugely gendered question. It’s impossible to know the exact number, but Nick is certainly not the first person to sit on the After the Final Rose stage who could have asked it. But he is the first person who did ask it, because the jilted women before him didn’t need to ask. (They may have also been less confident about breaking the rules or revealing their own sexual exploits.) These women already know the answers, which are myriad, obvious, and socially acceptable: Because I wanted to! Because I could! Because I liked you at least enough to want to have sex with you! Because, duh, I am a man!

On its face, Nick and Andi’s interaction reversed these gender roles. Andi, the woman, had sex with two people and is being uncomfortably confronted by an extremely emotional Nick, the man, who thinks that the sex—the making love, to be more precise—meant more than it did. But the moment reinforced gender roles as much as it flouted them. Nick, operating under the auspices of hurt, sexual naïveté, and a dash of hubris, does not believe that Andi, the good, classy girl he loves, could have been sexually comfortable and voracious enough to have really good sex with someone— him!—if he was not “the one.” No woman who has ever appeared on The Bachelor suffers from this delusion.

By bringing up the sex, Nick is also upholding the specific gender roles of The Bachelor, in which men basically get to decide what is kosher. Women on The Bachelor do not appear to expect the fantasy-suite sex to mean more than it means (unless it happens way before the fantasy suite) because they understand that having sex in the fantasy suite is part of the game (and, to put it less crassly, part of building a relationship that could lead to marriage). Moreover, I suspect no woman has brought it up because she would worry that mentioning the sex would make her, and not the Bachelor, look bad. Nick suffered no such anxiety.

This kerfuffle only serves The Bachelor/ette as a franchise. The two seemingly at-odds aspects of the show—its faux-Victorian sensibility and its completely pervy setup—are, in fact, both entirely essential to its watchability. It’s not so prudish that it’s boring, but it’s not so crass that it’s gross. Nick’s question (aggressively prompted by host Chris Harrison) burnishes both of these aspects of the show: Look, sex is really being had! And look at how deeply felt it is! Anything that gives credence to the myth of The Bachelor as a crucible of real feeling is a boon to The Bachelor, even if its contestants end up as punching bags for a few days.

July 30 2014 11:16 AM

Couples Who Share Housework Don't Actually Have Less Sex

Today, the Council on Contemporary Families released a big report assessing the state of American attitudes about marriage and women’s equality within it. Its researchers found that despite “a seeming stall in markers of progress toward gender equality,” particularly in regard to women’s access to jobs and equal pay, “there has been more motion behind the scenes than previously recognized.” Americans have become markedly more progressive in their beliefs about equality in marriage, with an all-time high of 68 percent of Americans disagreeing that men should make more money than their wives, and 65 percent of Americans disagreeing that preschool children are harmed if their mothers have jobs.

Of particular interest is a paper by Sharon Sassler of Cornell University debunking the widely publicized claim that men who do more housework “get” less sex. Research showing that couples had less sex when they split chores equally was “based on data gathered over a quarter of a century ago,” Sassler found, and “was focused on the sexual behaviors of married couples in the late 1980s, many of whom had met and married in the 1960s and 1970s.”

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When Sassler and her colleagues turned to newer data from 2006—data that examined married and cohabiting couples that formed in the '90s or later—they found much different results. “Couples who shared domestic labor had sex at least as often, and were at least as satisfied with the frequency and quality of their sex, as couples where the woman did the bulk of the housework,” Sassler writes. So good news for people who like fairness, cleanliness, and sex.

This study is a useful retort to people who are still clinging to the pathetic hope that women don’t actually want equality—see, they turn limp and frigid at the sight of a man pushing a broom! It’s also a much-needed corrective to the unfortunate narrative that’s arisen to try to establish a link between sex and housework in romantic relationships. Too often, sex is treated like a reward that women dole out to men for performing their chores well. Women are expected to perform housework because it needs to be done, but men ostensibly need an extra incentive, such as sex, to be bothered with it. Sassler’s research shows that, really, there’s not much of a relationship between sex and housework at all. In real life, women might have sex because they want to, and men might do their fair share of housework because taking out your own trash is the right thing to do.

Sadly, Sassler found that the number of men who do the right thing is still pretty low. Only “about three out of ten couples in our sample reported that housework was equally shared,” she writes. For 63 percent of couples, “woman did approximately two-thirds of the housework.” Perhaps if we stopped talking about housework as something men need extra goodies to perform, then those numbers would shift more rapidly.

July 29 2014 2:46 PM

One Reason Women Fare Worse in Negotiations? People Lie to Them.

When my 1998 Volvo finally broke down last year, my first worry was not about being carless, but about my impending trip to a car repair shop. It’s a common stereotype that women don’t know much about cars, and while there are plenty of car-savvy women, I’m not one of them. I knew that when the shop told me about all the costly new parts I needed, I’d have no way of evaluating whether they were being straight with me or taking me for a ride. And new research supports my fear: The stereotype that women are incompetent makes people more likely to lie to them during negotiations.

Researchers at the University of California–Berkeley and the University of Pennsylvania asked MBA students to participate in role-plays of face-to-face negotiations. The faux negotiation took the form of a real estate deal, where one student played the role of the buyer’s agent and the other the seller’s agent. The seller’s agent was directed to sell to someone who wanted to keep the property for residential purposes, but the buyer’s agent knew that the client planned to turn the seller’s property into a tourist hotel and had been explicitly instructed not to tell the seller this information. Thus, the student playing the role of buyer’s agent had to decide whether to tell the truth, or to lie.

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“We found that in the role-play, people were significantly more likely to blatantly lie to women,” says Laura Kray, the lead author of the study. “To women, for instance, the buyer’s agents would say, ‘They will be luxury condos,’ but to men, they would say, ‘I can’t tell you.’ ” After the negotiation, students were asked to disclose whether they lied. Both men and women reported lying to women more often. Twenty-four percent of men said they lied to a female partner, while only 3 percent of men said they lied to a male partner. Women also lied to other women (17 percent), but they lied to men as well (11 percent). Perhaps even more telling: People were more likely to let men in on secrets. “Men were more likely to be given preferential treatment,” says Kray. In several instances, buyer’s agents revealed their client’s true intentions to men saying, “I’m not supposed to tell you this, but … ” This sort of privileged information was never offered to women.

Kray and her colleagues also asked students to rate the hypothetical buyers’ characteristics and found that participants perceived women as less competent than men (or a hypothetical person whose gender was not revealed). “When people perceive someone as low in competence and easily misled, they assume the person will not scrutinize lies, and that you can get away with [lying],” says Kray. Participants were asked to report how likely they thought other people would be to take advantage of a male or female buyer, and the participants correctly reported that people would lower their ethical standards when dealing with women. “People are aware of stereotypes, and use them to their advantage when they’re motivated to do so,” Kray says.

This set of experiments can’t tell us everything about how men and women fare in negotiations in the real world. Maybe these MBA students were more cutthroat than the average person, given that they were being graded on their negotiation skills. (There’s research suggesting that— surprise, surprise—business school students cheat more often than their nonbusiness peers.) Also, real estate transactions may not be the most realistic proxy for other real-life scenarios involving negotiations. Still, these studies show how women may be generally perceived in business transactions, where many of the players will be similar to the business student sample.

Kray suggests that it may help women in negotiations to signal their competence and confidence. She recommends showing up prepared, asking questions, and scrutinizing terms throughout the process. Her advice fits in with feminist campaigns that aim to empower women to take control of their careers: Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg recommends leaning in to opportunities for success; media veterans Katty Kay and Claire Shipman instruct women to get ahead by being more confident.

But for all our leaning in and confidence-building, women’s attempts to reach the top can be stalled by factors we can’t control, like the gendered evaluations Kray and her colleagues uncovered in their study. Another study published last week echoes this finding: While white men are lauded for promoting diversity, women who do the same receive lower performance ratings and are perceived as less warm. Ultimately, encouraging women to act like men is a losing battle; the assertive moves that make men appear competent in the workplace backfire for women, who are perceived as cold and bossy instead. The problem doesn’t lie in women’s actual skills—it lies in stereotypes about what we’re capable of. And until we chip away at those, telling women to try harder won’t get us fair treatment.

July 29 2014 12:21 PM

Why Do Texas Feminists Hate This Pro-Choice Group?

This article originally appeared in The Cut.

When the radical feminist group Stop Patriarchy held a rally outside Mississippi’s sole remaining abortion clinic last summer—as part of its cross-country Abortion Rights Freedom Ride—Mark Ruffalo supplied a moving letter of support. On the eve of this year’s Freedom Ride rerun, which will focus exclusively on Texas, Stop Patriarchy received an open letter much less friendly in nature.

“We, a united group of Texas reproductive justice activists, organizations, and nationwide allies, oppose this ‘freedom ride,’” reads a letter of concern signed by more than 100 people calling themselves Texans for Reproductive Justice. “We oppose Texas’ abortion restrictions. We also oppose Stop Patriarchy’s messaging, tactics, dishonesty, and racism.”

Published on Tumblr last week, the letter condemned Stop Patriarchy for its “lack of transparency,” “questionable tactics,” and “racist” language (comparing unwanted pregnancy to “enslavement,” co-opting civil rights language like “freedom ride”). The letter also alleged that Stop Patriarchy “undermines the work already being done in Texas by suggesting that Texans have not yet begun to fight back.”A double-negative hashtag— #fuckstoppatriarchy—ensued.

July 29 2014 11:34 AM

Moms Leave the Workforce Because They're Rational Actors, Not Maternal Softies

There’s an insidious undercurrent of thought in the American corporate world: Mothers just don’t make good workers. Their brains get hormonally addled when they have children, and they take their eyes off the prize and onto their newborns. Most people aren’t dumb enough to say this out loud, but occasionally someone—like the billionaire investor Paul Tudor Jones—slips up. In 2013, he said:

As soon as that baby’s lips touched that girl’s bosom, forget it. Every single investment idea, every desire to understand what’s going to make this go up or go down is going to be overwhelmed by the most beautiful experience which a man will never share about a mode of connection between that mother and that baby.
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Though Tudor Jones walked that statement back with a mealy mouthed explanation—he said he was speaking “off the cuff”—a similar assumption often lurks behind public discussions of “opting out”: Mothers are leaving the workforce because they just can’t hack it. But the truth is women are rational economic actors, just like men are. That’s underscored by new research showing that women who get paid maternity leave are less likely to leave their jobs.

In the New York Times, Claire Cain Miller points out that our country’s lack of family-friendly policies compared with other wealthy nations has caused the U.S. to fall behind in women’s labor force participation. According to a study by economists Francine D. Blau and Lawrence M. Kahn, the U.S. had the highest labor force participation among women in 1990. By 2010, we’d fallen to 17th. This is due in no small part to the fact that we are the only wealthy nation that does not have any federal paid maternity leave, and that our child care system is comparatively terrible.

That means that more American women are knocked out of the workforce when they have biological children: not because of some magical mind-meld between mother and child, but because having a baby is exhausting and requires a measure of physical recovery. A woman has to take a break when she has a baby, whether it’s paid or not, while a male partner can get by without time off unless he’s paid to take it. And when mothers are the primary caretakers from day one, that sets a precedent: If a family can’t afford child care, it’s generally the mother who will leave her job to pick up the slack. This phenomenon is backed up by census data: Wealthier first-time moms who can afford child care are more likely to work full time until their last months of pregnancy, they’re more likely to benefit from paid leave, and they’re more likely to return to their jobs once their babies are born.

The fact that poor women don’t have access to paid leave isn’t just contributing to the pay gap between men and women; it’s also widening the wealth gap between poor mothers and their wealthier counterparts. As Cain Miller points out, in California, where paid family leave exists, low-income moms nearly doubled their maternity leaves since paid leave was instituted. But after the maternity leaves end, mothers of small children in California both work more and earn more than they previously did. If the rest of the country would just follow suit, we could begin to stamp out gendered biological stereotypes about what mothers can achieve—and we’d make everybody more productive.

July 29 2014 10:21 AM

A Female Candidate in Michigan Won't Help Republicans Win Women Voters

Republicans have organized game plans and boot camps in an attempt to battle the "war on women" narrative. But in practice, their strategy has boiled down to one major initiative: ladies to the front. Put some female faces on the conservative agenda—particularly in the parts where equal pay and reproductive rights are being resisted—and hope that the disconnect between policy and politician is enough to stump the voters.

This year, that strategy is being put to the test in the Michigan Senate race between Republican Terri Lynn Land and Democrat Gary Peters. Peters and his supporters have been highlighting Land's opposition to equal pay legislation and to legal abortion, even in cases of rape. Land has replied with an ad where she scoffs at Peters’ accusation that she’s waging a "war on women," and sarcastically replies, "Really? Think about that for a moment," before sipping her coffee quietly to let viewers take a long look at her female face. "As a woman, I might know a little bit more about women than Gary Peters," she concludes, in case some people didn't get the point. 

Terri Lynn Land
Terri Lynn Land

Photo courtesy Michigan Secretary of State's Office via Wikimedia Commons (http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Terri_Lynn_Land_portrait_crop.jpg)

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How's the strategy working out for Land? Not well, reports Benjy Sarlin of MSNBC. While the race was tight for a while, Peters "now boasts a significant lead in recent polling," Sarlin writes. "This month an NBC News/Marist poll put him up 43-37 and the most recent survey by EPIC-MRA gave him his biggest lead yet: 45-36."

Sarlin notes that "Pollsters credited a surge in Peters’ position to a widening gender gap." As for the commercial, "Republican messaging guru Frank Luntz later said on FOX News that Land’s ad tested worse with focus groups than any other he had seen this election cycle." Sarlin interviews voters and finds that the messaging about the war on women is hitting close to home, with voters expressing concerns about reproductive rights, equal pay, and fears about gender rating in insurance returning. In retrospect, Land probably shouldn't have asked voters how it could be possible for a woman to oppose other women, because that just encouraged them to look for the answer. 

In fact, running female candidates has never done much to improve Republican performance with female voters. In June, the Washington Post’s Aaron Blake "looked at eight marquee Senate races between 2006 and 2012 in which [Republicans] nominated a female candidate," and found an average 15-point gender gap between male and female voters in these races, which aligns with the gender gap for Republicans overall. Women don't favor other women so much as they favor Democrats of either gender, a preference that stems mostly from women being less hostile to a social safety net than men are. 

The biggest blunder that Republicans have made is they've grown bolder about tying traditional "women's" issues to the social safety net issues that actually move women at the polls. Women are protective of health care access, welfare, and protections for workers. These are three issues that Republicans have made even more gendered by using contraception coverage to attack Obamacare, single mothers to attack welfare, and opposition to equal pay legislation (as well as attacks on contraception coverage in employer-offered health care plans) to undermine worker's rights. By singling out women for abuse in the attacks on the liberal agenda, Republicans have really bolstered the image that they have something against women. Running a few female candidates isn't enough to erase that picture.

July 28 2014 4:37 PM

Gender Role Reversal in Music Videos Can Only Be Achieved By Objectifying Women

The video for “Girl In A Country Song,” Maddie & Tae’s catchy critique of female objectification in country music, begins with a shot of two lithe young women in cowboy boots, cut-off jean shorts, and bikini tops, tousling their hair as they strut down a country road. Three men gawk from their perch on the bed of a pick-up truck; musicians Maddie Marlow and Tae Dye clutch their guitars and roll their eyes. Then, Maddie & Tae flip a switch labeled “ROLE REVERSAL,” and suddenly, the male gawkers are the ones wearing the short shorts and the flannel crop tops, flipping their hair back in an outdoor shower, and wrapping their lips around strawberries in slow motion. “Being a girl in a country song, how in the world did it go so wrong?” the women sing. “Like all we’re good for is looking good for you and your friends on the weekend, nothing more.”

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But apparently, Maddie & Tae’s role reversal switch only works on one gender. The objectified women from the first shot don’t get a masculine wardrobe change; throughout the video, they’re filmed pushing out their butts as they play at farming and making eyes at the camera as they writhe on a tree swing. Meanwhile, the gender-flipped guys are styled and directed to appear purposely ridiculous, not actually sexy. The video’s ostensible aim is to demonstrate how ludicrous it is that women in country (and in music, and in America) are treated like candy for men to consume, but turning “sexy men” into a joke just ends up poking fun at the very idea of a female (or a gay male) gaze. Conveniently, the “sexy women” are preserved throughout the video to satisfy the straight men in the audience. As for Maddie & Tae, they appear in full makeup and slightly “classier” sexy clothes. The video ends up looking like a call for a more modest presentation of femininity, not a real rejection of sexism in country.

Maddie & Tae’s take recalls Shania Twain’s 1999 video for “Man! I Feel Like A Woman,” which is an homage to Robert Palmer’s “Addicted to Love” with a gender-bending twist—but again, not a full turn. In the video, Twain recruits a band of hunky automatons to don skintight sweaters, stand behind her, and plunk ineffectually at instruments (just as Palmer did with his fleet of leggy female models faking on their guitars). But unlike Palmer, who survives his own video with his shirt intact, Twain executes a slow striptease over the course of the song, starting out in a full-length coat, top hat, gloves, and closing out the video in a corset and short shorts. Twain’s video succeeded in showing that women can objectify men, too—but not that they can release a successful music video without taking off their own clothes, too.

Also dancing this line is Jennifer Lopez’s April video for “I Luh Ya Papi,” which opens with a meta scene: J.Lo and her female entourage dream of filming a music video that objectifies men instead of women, featuring Lopez lounging on a bed surrounded by “a bunch of naked guys, for no reason.” So Lopez brings in a crew of immaculately-toned male models to lay naked on her bed, wash her car with their asses, don speedos on her yacht, and comply silently as Lopez pokes at their glistening abs. But while Lopez takes on the role of objectifier to these men—she snaps creepshots of the guys with her tablet and pours a drink down one of their swimsuits—she herself functions as an object for the video’s viewer. Her short shorts, plunging jumpsuits, and pantsless leotards aren’t any less revealing than the guys’ getups, and her dance moves are as sexualized as they are in any of her other videos. Meanwhile, French Montana, who raps on the song, somehow gets through the entire video wearing jeans and a sweatshirt. Lopez’s dancers writhe before him in animal-print leggings and bikini tops; the male artist is never expected to drop his pants.

Compared to Maddie & Tae’s version, it’s a victory that the men in Lopez’s video aren’t simply meant to look ridiculous—they look legitimately hot, too. Still, it’s telling that none of these music videos manage to flip the script all the way around, even for the length of a five-minute fantasy sequence. Part of the problem may be that the “role reversal” switch is a little too limiting for both women and men. A pop-feminist vision of sexuality shouldn’t literally require a full switch, wherein women in hoodies ogle men in speedos. Amore equitable vision of sexual expression, where everyone’s allowed to be sexy without adhering to strict gender roles, seems more fun for everyone involved. Back in February, Ingrid Michaelson took a stab at that version of sexuality with her video for “Girls Chase Boys.” The video starts out as a straightforward gender reversal of Robert Palmer’s “Simply Irresistible: As Michaelson sings, gorgeous men dance in red lipstick and hot-pink tank tops. But as the video progresses, women join them, and by the time the song ends, they’re dancing side by side.

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