What Women Really Think

Sept. 17 2014 6:14 PM

Today in Gender Gaps: Biking

Elizabeth Plank at Mic took to the bike paths of New York City to investigate the "huge and under-reported" gender gap in, of all things, bicycle-riding. Turns out way more men ride bikes than women: "In the U.S., 1 woman for every 3 men gets around on a bicycle," Plank writes. "In London, 77% of bike trips are taken by men and only 5% of women identify as frequent cyclists."

This is a gender gap that actually surprised me. After all, if you stick your head into any given spin class, 80-100 percent of the people huffing through sprints are women, guaranteed. So why isn't that the case out on the street? Plank dug in and found that women face a number of obstacles: "Women's aversion to risk, women's clothing, economic and time poverty, as well as sexual harassment." Some of the problems really are insurmountable—it's hard to grocery shop for a family and drop your kids off at soccer and school on a bicycle—but as someone who is both a lady and a major fan of using a bicycle for transportation whenever I can, I would like to encourage more women to bike. Here are some reasons to hop on:

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Sept. 17 2014 4:36 PM

Is Nonfiction the Patriarch of Literary Genres?

National Book Awards season is upon us: The judges have just announced the longlist for 2014’s nonfiction contest. The ten-book lineup includes a historical account of Paris under German occupation (by Ronald C. Rosbottom), a biography of Tennessee Williams (by John Lahr), a study of economic ambition in the “new China” (by Evan Osnos), and E.O. Wilson’s meditations on “the meaning of human existence.” There is also No Good Man Among the Living, by Anand Gopal, and The Mantle of Command: FDR at War, 1941-1942, by Nigel Hamilton. Finally—like a breeze that floats into a history classroom when someone finally opens the window—there is Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?, the cartoonist Roz Chast’s memoir about her aging parents.

I don’t mean to diminish the acheivements of the other nominees, but it is striking that, after winnowing down a pool of almost 500 contenders, the judges came up with a male-to-female ratio of nine to one, with Chaz as the whimsical outlier. The skew is especially notable given that, in general, the NBA is recognizing more and more women: Though winners and finalists in the 1950s were almost 80 percent male, recent years show women gaining ground and even surpassing their male peers in some prize categories. Look at the names of this year’s Young Adult and poetry finalists, and you’ll find an even split between men and women. Is the heavy maleness surrounding the 2014 nonfiction roster just a statistical fluke?

Sept. 17 2014 1:26 PM

Hey CBS, Rihanna Is Exactly Who I Want to See on My TV Before NFL Games

Last Thursday night, CBS and the NFL Network decided to pull its planned opener—the Jay Z and Rihanna song “Run This Town”—during its pregame broadcast, hoping to strike a more serious tone in light of the Ray Rice video. “At the time, CBS Sports President Sean McManus said Rihanna's own history as a victim of domestic violence was one part of the decision but not the overriding one,” reported ESPN

Rihanna was not having it, taking to Twitter to complain:

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Now, CBS has decided to cut Rihanna from Thursday Night Football altogether. “Beginning this Thursday, we will be moving in a different direction with some elements of our Thursday Night Football open,” a CBS statement reads. “We will be using our newly created Thursday Night Football theme music to open our game broadcast.”

While the network may have been peeved at Rihanna's reaction, this is a terrible decision. The Ray Rice controversy blew up not just because of the video, but also because the Baltimore Ravens and the NFL initially portrayed domestic violence as a couple's mutual responsibility, instead of holding the abuser solely responsible. By cutting Rihanna's song in part because she got beat up by her now-ex Chris Brown in 2009, CBS is treating yet another victim like she's the problem here. The move is also troubling because it suggests that no matter how many records she sells or where she goes with her career, in many people's eyes (such as those of CBS executives), Rihanna is defined by someone else's choice to attack her.

Rihanna is exactly the person to put up front if you want to show that you are supporting victims of domestic violence. Sure, she is a flawed person, as we all are, and it was hard watching her struggle so publicly to free herself of a relationship with Brown. But Rihanna is also an example for women who are currently trying to escape the vortex of domestic violence, showing that, while it may be difficult, it can be done. You can escape. You can thrive.

Most importantly, changing the music that runs before games as a way to address the NFL's domestic violence problem is a joke—an empty symbolic gesture, which in this case, sends the exact opposite message presumably intended. But hey, at least Chris Brown's new record stinks.

Sept. 15 2014 3:31 PM

My Year As an Abortion Doula

This article originally appeared in The Cut.

My first patient ever stares at me blankly when I say the doctor will see her soon. Her two small children treat the waiting room chairs like monkey bars; they’ve been sitting around for hours. Dee (some names have been changed throughout) is here to get laminaria inserted, the small seaweed sticks positioned in the cervix that expand upon contact with moisture, producing enough dilation to enable a second trimester abortion, which will happen tomorrow. I know I’m not succeeding at giving her the warm, confident assurance I’ve practiced in the mirror.

I stand by her head as she spreads her legs. She begins to moan, softly and then without control. “You’re doing great,” I tell her, clenching my jaw, smiling still. Through her moans I hear one doctor tell the other that there’s too much blood. They call for a hospital transport and tell her they’re going to do the abortion today, right now. Then we’re running across the hospital floor as the doctors yell for people to move out of the way. It’s my first day, but I know enough to know that this is serious. I keep my hand on Dee’s, murmuring words of support. Once she’s under anesthesia, I get out of the way, stand in the back, hope that I can handle this.

I’m in a large public hospital in Manhattan, volunteering as an abortion doula with an organization called the Doula Project. My role is to provide women with emotional and physical support, offer comfort or distraction, answer their questions, and, most of all, just be with them during their first or second trimester abortions. A year ago, when I was still in college, I got the idea to apply for the job when my roommate told me about her childhood friend Elise. Raised in a conservative, Catholic family in a wealthy Boston suburb, Elise had an abortion in high school and was harassed by classmates, churchgoers, and townspeople. Now she was volunteering as an abortion doula in New York. I’ve considered myself pro-choice since sixth grade when I learned the word, and I had manned the phones at the NARAL office in downtown New York when I was in high school. But I had never been anywhere near an abortion clinic. I had no idea what to expect.

Sept. 15 2014 1:51 PM

Why Not Just Turn Campus Rape Allegations Over to the Police? Because the Police Don't Investigate.

In the urgent conversation about how universities should be dealing with campus sexual assault, there are some who object to the idea of university disciplinary boards handling these cases to begin with, asking: Why not just go straight to the police? This question is misleading, as Emily Bazelon pointed out in July: "It’s not either/or," she wrote. There "are supposed to be two parallel tracks," with the police handling its responsibility to enforce the law and the university handling its responsibility to protect student safety. But, as a Sunday New York Times story demonstrates, there's another reason that universities should not just turn these cases over to the police and walk away: The police are often eager to walk away, too.

Richard Pérez-Peña and Walt Bogdanich examined a series of sexual assault allegations reported by students at Florida State, the university that drew national attention after the school's star quarterback Jameis Winston was accused of rape, and, as Bogdanich reported in April, both the school and the police failed to properly investigate. This new reporting shows exactly why it's not enough to tell victims to report to the police instead of their schools and leave it at that: Florida State students are already calling the police, but the police aren't investigating. 

From the New York Times:

Sept. 15 2014 12:08 PM

“Love” Is Not a Defense for Beating Your Child

The details, on their face, are inexcusable: Adrian Peterson, a 217-pound running back for the Minnesota Vikings, was indicted last week for "reckless or negligent injury to a child." Peterson allegedly whipped his four-year-old son with a stick, leaving bruises on his back, open wounds on his legs, cuts to his scrotum, defensive wounds on his hands, and perhaps more: “Daddy Peterson hit me in the face,” the child reportedly told authorities after doctors examined him and identified him as a victim of child abuse. In case the testimony of a four-year-old kid and his doctors isn’t enough, there are pictures to prove that this was more than just a swat on the rear end. But proof is not the issue here. Peterson himself admits that he beat his child. His defense is that he beat him lovingly.

According to reporting by TMZ and others, Peterson sent a text message to the child’s mother after the beating that said: “Never do I go overboard! But all my kids will know, hey daddy has the biggie heart but don’t play no games when it comes to acting right.” Peterson’s lawyer, Rusty Hardin, stuck to the theme in a statement on the incident: “Adrian Peterson is a loving father who used his judgment as a parent to discipline his son.”  

Reactions from around the NFL imply that "love" is a valid reason for beating a child. “I got a ass whippn at 5 with a switch that's lasted about 40mins and couldn't sit for 2days. It's was all love though,” Arizona Cardinals defensive end Darnell Dockett tweeted in Peterson’s defense. Added New England Saints running back Mark Ingram, Jr.: “When I was kid I got so many whoopins I can't even count! I love both my parents they just wanted me to be the best human possible!”

Sept. 12 2014 4:05 PM

Life as an NFL Wife: “He's the Star. Keep Him Happy.”

Tracy Treu, a former Mother Jones employee who is married to former Oakland Raiders center Adam Treu, sat down with Ian Gordon at Mother Jones and explained what life is like when you're the wife of an NFL player. The headline, "Support the Player and Be Quiet," really says it all, but Treu digs into some of the details about how much wives are expected to build their entire lives around their athlete husbands. For instance:

The NFL is a culture that values secrecy. When you're with an NFL team, the message to you is clear: Don't fuck anything up for your partner, and don't fuck anything up for the team. Don't be controversial. Don't talk to the media. Stay out of the way. Support the player and be quiet.

While the team doesn't officially say this to wives, Treu explains, veteran wives will absolutely sit down with rookie wives and lay out how much their lives are going to be about the team winning games, and that everything else is secondary. Treu worked during her stint as an NFL wife, but, "A lot of these wives don't work. They can't." Part of it is that there's always a chance of moving, but part of it is, "He wants her home." Being a player is an all-consuming lifestyle, and having that support system at home is invaluable. But what is asked of women can get ridiculous.

Sept. 12 2014 10:29 AM

The Problem With Talking About Sexual Assault as “Violence Against Women”

This month, GQ published a long, reported piece on the under-discussed topic of male victims of military sexual assault. We're all so used to thinking of sexual assault as a "women's issue," but because far more men enlist in the military than women, male victims of sexual assault outnumber female ones. Nathaniel Penn of GQ does a great job digging into the problem, interviewing a variety of men who were assaulted by their fellow soldiers, and then, often, victimized again by a military system that all to frequently sees sexual assault as a problem to be covered up rather than a crime to be punished.

The extent to which the military would do anything to cover up sexual assault by pressuring these victims to disappear is astounding. "Research suggests that the military brass may have conspired to illegally discharge MST victims by falsely diagnosing them with personality disorders," writes Penn. Not only did this mean they could wash their hands of the victim, but the "diagnoses also spare the government the costs of aftercare" because the "VA considers a personality disorder to be a pre-existing condition, so it won't cover the expense of treatment for PTSD caused by a sexual assault." This, even though many of these alleged assaults are bone-chillingly brutal, with victims who were subjected to gang rapes, brutalized with items like broomsticks, and held captive by men they thought were their comrades.

Sept. 11 2014 10:28 PM

Watch CBS Sportscaster James Brown Deliver a Powerful Speech About Domestic Violence

Thursday night's pre-game show before the Ravens-Steelers match-up was probably the best example thus far of how much the Ray Rice video has impacted the culture around the NFL. At the end of the half-hour show—which featured a live news update on the Rice situation, complete with an airing of the elevator video—CBS sportscaster James Brown looked straight into the camera and gave a powerful speech about male responsibility, not just for domestic violence, but also for our collective devaluation of women. It's one thing when a tampon company recognizes the dangers of the phrase "You throw like a girl." It's something else when a male sportscaster says, "Our language is important. For instance, when a guy says, ‘You throw the ball like a girl’ or ‘You’re a little sissy,’ it reflects an attitude that devalues women, and attitudes will eventually manifest in some fashion."

The news cycle moves fast and we all hop from one scandal to the next with remarkable speed. For James Brown and the CBS Sports team to deliver this forceful and straightforward message tonight gives me a little hope that the machinery around the NFL is not going to let the Ray Rice story go quite so easily.

Sept. 11 2014 4:13 PM

Ray Rice Defenders Have Found Their Argument: He’s a Victim Too

The release of the video of Ray Rice knocking out his then-girlfriend Janay Palmer in an elevator was notable mainly because it decimated all attempts by the NFL, the Ravens, and Ray Rice apologists to argue that Palmer and Rice shared the blame. But some are bravely forging ahead, pushing the claim that men are the real victims here and suggesting there's no reason to think there's any sort of gendered component to domestic violence. 

"Some might even say, watching that video, that Ray Rice is the bigger victim of domestic violence here," A.J. Delgado, a National Review writer, said on Sean Hannity's radio show earlier this week, even though Hannity—usually a dependable anti-feminist—pointed out, mere moments before, that Rice could have killed Palmer with that blow to the head.

On Hannity's Fox News TV show, contributor Tamara Holder also pushed the line that Ray Rice is the real victim here. "I think it’s interesting that the anti-testicular police are coming out and just taking this guy’s balls and ripping them off and not paying attention to the fact that there is a family here,” she argued. “That there were decisions to be made behind closed doors. That also, Miss Rice, formerly Miss Palmer, she played a role in it." 

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