The XX Factor
What Women Really Think

Nov. 21 2017 7:29 PM

Why the SNL Women’s Statement Is Not the Same as Lena Dunham’s

If there’s one thing this moment of sexual reckoning has taught us, it’s that we should listen to women. But does that extend to the women speaking up to defend the men other women have accused of sexual harassment? This last week has seen multiple high-profile women ripped apart for coming in to bat for the accused. On Friday, there was Lena Dunham’s now-retracted defense of Girls writer Murray Miller. Tuesday morning saw the release of a letter of support for Al Franken from the women he worked with on Saturday Night Live:

Nov. 21 2017 5:36 PM

Ban Men’s Bathrobes

As allegations of misdeeds by powerful men continue to pile up in the aftermath of the Harvey Weinstein accusations, it’s becoming clear that if we don’t want to live in a society where abuse so plainly thrives, there’s a lot of work ahead. We need to question and rethink the power structures that have allowed men to act with impunity. We need to pay attention to ensuring the safety of people in lower-profile, lower-paying fields. And by God, we need to cut off men’s access to bathrobes.

Perhaps it’s gender-essentialist to argue that all men should be denied the fluffy comforts of bathrobes based on just a few men’s bad behavior. But in a world where Mike Pence refuses to meet with women alone and pundits have suggested that everyone should follow suit, I feel OK about saying the following: Men, it’s time to grow up and put on your big-boy pants, because your bathrobe days are over.

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Post-Weinstein, reading allegations of abuse has become part of a horrifying routine all media consumers share; one starts to develop a sense of each alleged abuser’s arsenal of tricks, some of which overlap with or echo other abusers’ tricks. It’s a sick game of Clue where instead of candlesticks and lead pipes, we’ve got masturbation into potted plants and forced kisses. Or a game of bingo where your prize for spotting the telltale accessories is … the sinking feeling that workplaces have let this go on unchecked for years. There are many reasons for that, and bathrobes surely are not the primary thing keeping bad men in power. But I do think that if we pull the robes out of the Jenga tower that is the patriarchy, it will be ever so slightly more likely to topple.

Let’s examine the role men in bathrobes have played in some of the recent revelations. On Monday, the Washington Post reported on eight women’s accounts of being sexually harassed by Charlie Rose. The TV host’s M.O. involved showing off his Long Island home and that old hand-on-the-thigh maneuver: palming his female employee’s legs while they were riding next to him in cars. But it doesn’t take any special knowledge of terry cloth thread count to spot that other reliable standby in the harasser’s playbook that appeared in the Washington Post report: a bathrobe. One night, Rose allegedly invited a female job candidate to his house and gave her a tour of the property:

At the pool, Rose dangled his legs in the water and then said that he needed to change because his pant legs were wet. He returned wearing a white bathrobe, which was open; he wore nothing underneath.

Harvey Weinstein, the man whose alleged abuses kicked off this current moment, was also known to favor a bathrobe, which came up repeatedly in the New York Times and New Yorker’s reporting on his victim’s stories. One appears in the lead of the very first Times story:

Two decades ago, the Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein invited Ashley Judd to the Peninsula Beverly Hills hotel for what the young actress expected to be a business breakfast meeting. Instead, he had her sent up to his room, where he appeared in a bathrobe and asked if he could give her a massage or she could watch him shower, she recalled in an interview.

The robe also makes appearances in subsequent reports about Weinstein: He reportedly was wearing one when he asked Rosanne Arquette for a massage and with at least one other accuser. Yet another man who loved robes was of course the late Hugh Hefner, who, in the words of my colleague Christina Cauterucci, “earned millions off the bodies of the women in Playboy while spinning it as a win for sexual liberation.” And he accomplished all that while wearing a robe—even on TV.

One wonders, was it the same robe that Weinstein carted from hotel suite to hotel suite, like an athlete’s good luck charm, except for abuse? Did Charlie Rose have the same one? Did they both come from a mail-order catalog for dirty old men along with instructions for use that laid out some tried-and-true harassing tips? Or could any robe be an accessory to lechery?

We don’t yet know, so until we’ve worked out this current crisis—as our president might say, until we know what the hell is going on—the safest thing to do is to bar men from wearing the kind of loose clothing where only a flimsy sash stands in the way of their genitals flapping around for all to see and be traumatized by. They simply can’t be trusted, and if the result is that they’re less cozy and secure, then so be it. Sorry, dudes, you have lost the privilege to put on a soft, snuggly transitionary item of clothing after bathing. Now, you must towel off and get fully dressed, even if it means getting your clothes a little damp because you aren’t fully dry. Boo freakin’ hoo. Protesting will not earn you back your robe privileges, but may, in fact, bump you down to the apparel your mindset most deserves: a diaper.

Nov. 17 2017 3:02 PM

Gwen Stefani Finally Admits That Her Boyfriend Blake Shelton Isn’t Sexy In the Least

People magazine caused a bit of a stir this week when its editors selected Blake Shelton, the human equivalent of a wood-paneled PT Cruiser with sexy-lady mudflaps, as this year’s Sexiest Man Alive. After a year of unprecedented White House villainry, white supremacists marching openly in the streets, and nonstop revelations about sexual abusers in our midst, naming a neck-bearded bully “sexy” was a generous pinch of sea salt in America’s gaping wounds.

Recognizing the unique opportunity to page through images of topless Idris Elbas and Mahershala Alis for “work,” bloggers across the internet made their own respective lists of 10, 11, 25, and 27 options better than Shelton. BuzzFeed found a whopping 85 sexier people, then went so far as to make a video about how not sexy Shelton is.

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It soon became clear that even people who purport to love potato-looking, mayonnaise-tasting white dudes don’t think Shelton is worthy of the dubious honor. His own girlfriend, Gwen Stefani, delivered several nice burns in a People interview that ran alongside Shelton’s feature. “He's perfect for it,” she said of the title. OK, but why? “Somebody that is funny and has a sense of humor is sexy—that's the No. 1 thing.” Eek! No! Everyone knows that the No. 1 contributor to being sexy is sexiness, and trying to change the subject to talk about Shelton’s sense of humor—which consists of jokes about boogers and wanting to fuck his co-worker’s wife—is her way of acknowledging that he’s a floppy, ill-kempt piece of pleather.

Stefani went on: “It’s interesting because I don’t think any of those things like beauty or sexy or whatever way you want to describe humans is necessarily a physical thing that people are attracted to. It’s all about the heart, and he has that big ol’ gigantic heart in there, so he’s quite an attractive human. I’m not the only one that thinks it!”

Oof. Imagine being so disgusted by your partner’s looks that, when asked about a magazine naming him the sexiest living man, you can only protest that none of “those things like beauty or sexy” actually have anything to do with physical features. Imagine being Blake Shelton, excited to read what your boo has to say about you, and finding out that all she could muster in the way of a compliment was something along the lines of “well, let’s just say he has a sexy…personality?”

Of course, Shelton’s personality is a rotting dump of gay-bashing gags, rape jokes, and racism, so Stefani’s decision to highlight his character over his looks is kind of like saying Shelton is even uglier than racism. Or, uglier than racism would be if racism also had a dad bod (not the hot kind!) and badly needed a haircut.

Nov. 17 2017 2:16 PM

These Are Probably the Awesome Fox Tights Radhika Jones Wore to Conde Nast

Condé Nast announced this week that Radhika Jones will be the next editor in chief of Vanity Fair, the influential magazine of celebrity, politics, and culture. Jones comes to the job from the books department of the New York Times, and has previously served as a high-ranking editor at Time and the Paris Review. She has a PhD in English and comparative literature from Columbia University. She is also, according to one Condé Nast fashion editor, an “interesting” dresser—if you know what I mean.

Jones made her first official visit to Vanity Fair’s office in Lower Manhattan to meet with her new staff this week, and the trade publication Women’s Wear Daily overheard the reaction of a fashion editor who was there. The account of “one of the company’s fashion editors in candid conversation with industry peers” is an inspiring reminder that even a financially and creatively floundering publishing empire can maintain its status as the white-hot epicenter of misplaced pretension. Here are the worst paragraphs:

“She seemed nervous. The outfit was interesting,” the staffer noted. According to the fashion editor—who omitted Jones’ admirable literary accomplishments from conversation—the incoming editor wore a navy shiftdress strewn with zippers, a garment deemed as “iffy” at best.
Jones’ choice of hosiery proved most offensive, according to the editor. For the occasion, Jones had chosen a pair of tights—not in a neutral black or gray as is common in the halls of Vogue—but rather a pair covered with illustrated, cartoon foxes.
The animal caricatures may have also been too much for Vogue editor in chief and Condé Nast artistic director Anna Wintour, who is said to have fixed one of her trademark stoic glares upon Jones’ hosiery throughout the duration of the staff meeting.
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The Women’s Wear Daily item prompted much questioning within the small world of media people who care. Should this thinly-sourced piece of gossip have been published? (Yes.) Does the post describe a scenario that makes Jones look bad, or the fashion editor? (The fashion editor.) Is this anecdote representative of the larger culture at Conde Nast? (We feel safe to say yes.) And most importantly, what did the tights look like?

After several exhausting minutes of fashion research (Googling various combinations of “tights with foxes”), I believe I may have discovered the offending hosiery. Here they are:

fox_tight

Screenshot via Anthropologie.com

The evidence:

  • The tights were available in navy blue, which would match with the navy dress that Jones was said to pair them with.
  • The foxes are stylized enough to be described as “cartoons” by a snob.
  • They were $40 at Anthropologie, which feels about right for a books editor at the New York Times who will be making a lot at Vanity Fair but not as much as her predecessor.
  • They are extremely cute, befitting a woman who seems to always look stylish in public.

The good news is that, from what I’ve read, Jones does not seem to be the type of person to care about insults from an underling who disses her appearance from behind a cloak of anonymity. Foxes eat chickens for dinner.

Update, 2:35 p.m.: The writer Rachel Syme found more fox-patterned tights for those inspired by Jones's style.

Nov. 16 2017 10:14 AM

It’s Astonishing That It Took This Long for the Bill Clinton Moment of Reckoning to Arrive

One of the many remarkable things about this cavalcade of comeuppance for sexual abusers and harassers is that it’s taking down men who once seemed untouchable to the media in part because they were on the right team: editors and executives at media outlets beloved by progressives, actors and comedians who were the faces of prestige TV shows, Democratic donors. Having “good” politics, it turns out, isn’t the same thing as having good sexual politics. Donating or pontificating on behalf of progressive values doesn’t stop men from pressing their erections against unwilling colleagues, or kissing coworkers on the mouth, or taking out their penises in front of aspiring mentees.

The nonpartisan nature of the current moment of reckoning helps explain why the Bill Clinton moment has finally arrived.  On Monday, Caitlin Flanagan published an essay in The Atlantic arguing that it’s time for liberals to reassess Bill Clinton’s moral legacy. On Tuesday, Michelle Goldberg wrote a column in the New York Times titled “I Believe Juanita.” “I think we got it wrong,” Matt Yglesias wrote in Vox on Wednesday. “The [Lewinsky] scandal was never about infidelity or perjury—or at least, it shouldn’t have been. It was about power in the workplace and its use.” In hindsight, he concludes, Clinton should have resigned.

Nov. 14 2017 10:13 AM

One Group That Thinks Grown Men “Courting” Teen Girls Is Natural? Fundamentalist Home-Schoolers.

Last week, the Washington Post reported that four women have accused Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore of pursuing them romantically when he was in his 30s and they were just teenagers. Moore has denied the most shocking allegation, that he initiated sexual contact with a 14-year-old, but will only say he didn’t “generally” date older teens in his 30s. Over the weekend, a former colleague of Moore’s said it was “common knowledge” that he dated high-school girls. On Monday, a new accuser came forward to allege that Moore groped and assaulted her when she was 16 years old.

Most of Roy Moore’s dwindling group of defenders at least acknowledge that a 30-something-year-old man “dating” a girl in her mid-teens is wrong. Many of them simply deny the allegations, or argue that the accusers are out to get him. When an Alabama state auditor defended Moore by comparing the relationships to Joseph and Mary, seemingly the entire country, including theologically conservative evangelicals, recoiled in horror.

Nov. 10 2017 6:26 PM

Louis C.K.’s Public Statement Unnervingly Misunderstands the Concept of Consent

After a month of writing almost exclusively about sexual harassment, a week of listening to powerful men explain how they shrugged when confronted with a predator in their workforce, and 24 hours of watching right-wingers contort their moral codes to defend child molestation, Louis C.K.’s attempt to justify his sexual abuse hit me like a glob of saliva to the face.

In a statement released on Friday, the comedian tried to explain why he’d exposed his penis and masturbated in front of several nonconsenting women over a period of several years. “At the time, I said to myself that what I did was okay because I never showed a woman my dick without asking first,” he wrote, claiming he never learned until it was “too late” that power differentials could make those women feel overpowered or coerced. The statement got mixed reactions from observers on Twitter. Some called the statement “about as good an apology as one can give” or praised C.K. for “taking accountability” and being a “straight-up guy” who should be “a lesson for other men.”

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To my mind, the only good thing the statement did was confirm that the allegations were true and refrain from smearing the accusers’ reputations. That is the lowest possible bar a society could set for a response to credible allegations of abuse. We have become so accustomed to powerful men calling accusers liars, money-grubbers, and too ugly to assault that a simple admission of truth strikes us as alarmingly mature.

Even so, nestled into C.K.’s admission of fact—“these stories are true”—are several deliberate lies. C.K.’s phrasing is cunning and specific: Perhaps he did ask each woman if he could take out his penis before he showed it to them, but he doesn’t say they said yes, because many didn’t. (The New York Times piece that broke the allegations included just one woman who said she “went along with his request” before realizing “he abused his power” and “it was wrong.”) And he omits his offense against Abby Schachner, who told the Times he suddenly started masturbating over the phone when she called to invite him to her comedy show. Here, C.K. is squeezing his history of harassment into a narrative of misunderstood consent. He is claiming that, as an adult man, he believed that repeatedly asking a woman in his workplace to watch him masturbate in his office was appropriate. The Times article says he proposed his favorite sex act to another pair of women he didn’t know (but who admired him) “as soon as they sat down in his room, still wrapped in their winter jackets and hats.” When they “laughed it off,” he did it anyway. C.K. would have his fans believe that he honestly thought this would be erotically pleasing for the two bundled-up women, and that he truly believed he had their consent.

This is an insult both to the women he harmed and to the concept of consent itself. The skewed power dynamic of which C.K. claims complete ignorance is just one contributing factor to his abuse. Asking someone if you can take out your penis—especially if that person is a co-worker, and especially if she has shown absolutely no sexual interest in you, like if she’s just walked into your room with her winter coat and a friend—will often be enough to make her feel threatened. (For C.K., that was probably part of the thrill.) It’s enough to make female industry peers question their worth, doubt their own talent, restrict their movements, and decline career opportunities. His words alone—the words he claims he believed established consent—were a major part of his harassment. Men who force women to watch them masturbate, or force them to field a request to do so, get off on causing women fear.

What makes this statement even worse is C.K.’s carefully crafted reputation as a self-aware, self-deprecating guy who’s given a lot of thought to gender dynamics and exploitation. He writes that he had no idea that “the fact that I was widely admired in [the victims’] community … disabled them from sharing their story and brought hardship to them when they tried because people who look up to me didn’t want to hear it.” This is another obvious falsehood. No abuser—especially not one who has written entire television episodes about sexual harassment and assault—is ignorant to the forces that silence survivors. Nearly all the women who have publicly shared stories of being harassed by C.K. have one thing in common: They admired C.K., and he knew it. He was further along in his career and highly successful; they were trying to protect their careers. There is a reason why Harvey Weinstein, C.K., and other men whose abuse has come to light in recent weeks always target people younger or less connected than they are. Those people are far less likely to talk.

C.K. never says he’s sorry in his statement. The closest he comes to apologizing is “I have been remorseful of my actions.” His decision to blanket over his history of abuse with explanations and justifications instead of offering a straightforward apology probably means he’s looking for a way back into the good graces of his audience. It was a letter about his own mindset and thought process, or what he would have us believe them to be, an attempt to help us see ourselves in him—a misguided dude who didn’t know that what he was doing was so wrong—as much as we may see our own histories of abuse in those of his victims. His argument is undermined by his recent actions. For years, he has denied rumors that he did the things he now says he did, letting the women he harassed sit in silence, reliving and possibly questioning their own experiences. But it wasn’t until Thursday, he writes, that he “learned” how wrong his actions were. Not when he aged into some kind of new understanding of gender and power. Not when he read any one of the zillions of first-person accounts of sexual harassment that exist on the internet. His revelation came Thursday. When the New York Times called him out by name. C.K. wants his fans to take him at his word when he says that he couldn’t have known the extent of the harm he caused until the women he harassed told their stories to an international newspaper.

In his statement, C.K. says he will “now step back and take a long time to listen.” How long is he taking? Surely not forever. By offering nice-sounding but demonstrably false rationalizations for his strategic exploitation of power, C.K. has already set the stage for his rehabilitation tour. If the fans who have already rushed to commend his statement are any indication, it will be a smashing success.

Nov. 10 2017 2:32 PM

Here’s What Happened When “Pro-Life” House Republicans Tried to Make Adoption More Expensive

The version of the Republican tax plan unveiled last week went out of its way to make adoption more expensive. The proposal, debated this week by the House Ways and Means Committee, eliminated the tax credit for adoptive families. On Tuesday, Republicans on the committee doubled down, killing an amendment proposed by Democrats that would have restored the credit to the bill. But on Thursday, after an outcry from religious conservatives, Republicans reversed course and said they would retain the tax credit in both the House and Senate versions of the tax bill.

In attempting to quietly slash the credit, Republicans seem to have missed how important adoption has become to one of their most important constituencies. An evangelical pollster found in 2013 that 5 percent of practicing Christians had adopted a child, compared to 2 percent of Americans overall. Many churches in the have designated this Sunday, November 12, as “Orphan Sunday,” with a special focus on international adoption. Many social conservatives see adoption as a way to not just care for needy children, but to discourage women from getting abortions.

Nov. 9 2017 6:39 PM

Republican Voters Won’t Care One Bit Whether Roy Moore Molested an Underage Girl

On Thursday afternoon, the Washington Post published on-the-record allegations from four women who said Roy Moore, a former judge and the Republican nominee in December’s U.S. Senate race in Alabama, pursued romantic and sexual relationships with them when they were teenagers. Leigh Corfman said that Moore introduced himself to her outside an Alabama courtroom in 1979, when she was 14 years old and he was a 32-year-old assistant district attorney. Corfman’s mother was waiting for a custody hearing, and Moore offered to watch the 14-year-old when her mother went inside the court. Moore got the girl’s number and took her out twice, Corfman said. The second time, he allegedly molested her and put her hands on his genitals.

“I wanted it over with,” she told the Post. “Please just get this over with. Whatever this is, just get it over.” Her mother and two of her childhood friends corroborated parts of her story. Three other women, none of whom knew one another, said they were between the ages of 16 and 18 when Moore, still in his 30s, tried to date them. One was a high school student Moore met when he spoke to her class.

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Moore, who is 70, has denied the accusations, calling them “completely false,” “garbage,” “the very definition of fake news,” and “a desperate political attack by the National Democrat Party and the Washington Post.” His campaign released a statement contending that “after over 40 years of public service, if any of these allegations were true, they surely would have been made public long before now.”

In the years before Donald Trump was elected president, observers might have expected that on-the-record, well-supported child molestation allegations would have tanked a candidate’s chances at winning elected office. That’s certainly not the case today! Moore’s friends in conservative media have been quick to blame the liberal press for lying and exaggerating his misdeeds. Sean Hannity asked on his radio show, speaking of Corfman, “Why do people wait in some cases 38 years? Is it about money?” A Breitbart editor argued on MSNBC that it was just fine for a 30-something Moore to pursue 16- and 18-year-old high-schoolers because the legal age of consent in Alabama was, and still is, 16.

Members of the Republican Party in Alabama are performing bizarre contortions of logic to justify Moore’s alleged molestation. A Toronto Star correspondent reports that David Hall, the chair of the Marion County GOP, said he didn’t “see the relevance” of the allegations because “it was 40 years ago.” “He was 32. She was supposedly 14,” Hall said. “She’s not saying that anything happened other than they kissed.” (She is.) Alabama state auditor Jim Zeigler said that “even if” the story is true, it’s “much ado about very little.” He compared Moore to two Biblical figures, Zachariah and Joseph. “Zachariah was extremely old to marry Elizabeth and they became the parents of John the Baptist,” Zeigler said. “Also take Joseph and Mary. Mary was a teenager and Joseph was an adult carpenter. They became parents of Jesus.” Zeigler also noted that Moore ended up marrying a woman 14 years younger than him—implying, perhaps, that his intentions were noble when he touched and kissed high-school-aged girls. “There’s just nothing immoral or illegal here,” Zeigler said. “Maybe just a little bit unusual.”

Some Republican senators, among them John McCain and Rob Portman, have called for Moore to step aside as a candidate in Alabama’s upcoming special election. And there is a kind of precedent here, as Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley resigned earlier this year in the wake of a sex scandal, though his departure was spurred more by the misdemeanors he committed while covering up his affair than by the affair itself.

Nevertheless, it seems unlikely that Moore will drop out, given that he’s committed to the “fake news” angle and his state party comrades still seem to love him. If he stays in the race, the chances that these allegations will harm his candidacy are vanishingly slim. He’s already called the whole thing made-up, and if he does back down and admit that the Post’s reporting is true, his allies have already furnished him with a playbook of excuses. It was a long time ago. It was a different era. It was all legal. It was consensual. It was just a kiss. And the Bible says sexual relationships between teenage girls and adult men are OK, even holy. He could also break out that old chestnut beloved by pastors accused of sexual abuse: Only God can judge me, and he has forgiven me for my sins.

For Moore to lose his race, Alabamans would have to be willing to put a Democrat in the Senate. Recent polls show that Doug Jones is trailing Moore by roughly 10 points. That’s impressive considering that Alabama went for Trump by a nearly 28-point margin. In 2016, the state re-elected its incumbent Republican senator, Richard Shelby, by a 28.2-percentage-point margin. The state hasn’t elected a Democratic senator since 1990.

Besides that, Republicans are remarkably forgiving of candidates who have been accused of—or admitted to—sexual assault. After the leak of the Access Hollywood video showing Trump bragging about grabbing women’s vulvas, 90 percent of surveyed Trump supporters in Ohio and Pennsylvania said it didn’t affect how they saw him. Another poll found that 11 percent of people who’d voted Republican in 2014 said the video made them view Trump more favorably, and 42 percent said it didn’t change their opinion of him at all. Only 12 percent said they’d be less likely to vote for a candidate who continued supporting Trump after the video, and 42 percent said they’d be even more likely to vote for a candidate if he or she showed their support for Trump after the video aired.

In Alabama, Rep. Martha Roby, an incumbent and Republican who was reelected in 2014 with 67 percent of the vote, retracted her endorsement of Trump after the Access Hollywood video came out. Alabama voters and party leaders immediately punished her for her disloyalty. A local Republican women’s group revoked a speaking invite. Republicans in the district launched a write-in campaign for the primary challenger Roby had beaten months earlier. On election night, she squeaked by with 49 percent of the vote, while write-ins got 11 percent. This summer, an attack ad against Rep. Mo Brooks of Alabama chastised him for his failure to formally endorse Trump. Brooks hit back by boasting that not only does he love Trump, but he had gone so far as to earmark a $2,500 PAC donation for the Trump campaign “at a time when many others were abandoning him after the release of the Access Hollywood video.”

The capacity of Republican voters to overlook and justify credible allegations of sexual harassment and assault cannot be overstated. Corfman, an alleged survivor of sexual abuse at the hands of Moore, told the Post that even she voted for Trump, who several Miss Teen USA contestants have accused of deliberately walking in on them while they were changing. Moore has garnered deep support in his state as he’s stoked voters’ fears of “abortion, sodomy, sexual perversion,” and “transgender troops in our bathrooms.” The predators are always elsewhere, not at the highest rungs of politics or behind the judge’s bench. Republicans have built entire campaigns on a manufactured epidemic of transgender people hiding in bathroom stalls waiting to molest children. But when one of their own is accused of such a crime, they respond along the lines of Bibb County GOP chairman Jerry Pow, who said on Thursday that he would vote for Moore even if he did commit a sex crime against an underage girl. “I’m not saying I support what he did,” Pow said. Supporting child abuse is one thing—supporting an alleged child abuser, to some in the GOP, is another.

*Correction, Nov. 10, 2017: This piece originally misspelled Jim Zeigler’s last name.

Nov. 9 2017 1:13 PM

It’s Remarkable How Wrong This Newsweek Cover of a Woman Deflating a Balloon Penis Is

Something weird must be wafting through the HVAC system over at Newsweek, where the storied weekly has chosen to illustrate a story about sexual harassment and assault with a larger-than-life set of male genitalia, rendered as a bright orange balloon animal, being popped by a needle in a white lady’s hand.

In no imaginable universe is “woman poking a fake penis with a sharp object” the appropriate visual shorthand for “women bravely sharing their experiences with sexual harassment.” The #MeToo movement at the center of Newsweek’s cover story is not a group of women trying to emasculate men or punish them for having sexual desires. It’s about illustrating the magnitude, pervasiveness, and diversity of violations that women endure at the hands of powerful people. Some of these men have suffered well-deserved harm to their careers. Their penises, though, as far as I am aware, are still very much intact.

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Making a penis (or its inflatable equivalent) the central image for a story about women seizing power over their assailants is actually a pretty good example of how rape culture distorts discussions of sexual violence. The problem with sexual harassers isn’t their boners! Boners in a vacuum are neither good nor evil! If the teenage boy–cum–carnival worker in charge of Newsweek covers these days really wanted to go with the woman stabbing body parts idea, it would have made more sense for her to be slicing up a male brain, where decisions to abuse and exploit women are made.

Not to belabor the point here, but there are even more things wrong with this cover, like the fact that making a penis out of a balloon is not an original magazine concept. Also, the story is about Trump and the penis is orange, which—is that supposed to be Donald Trump’s penis?! Why did you make all of your readers and angry Twitter followers think about Donald Trump’s penis, Newsweek? Why did you make it so big, so that the only thing the president will take away from it is “Newsweek made a model of my dick and now everyone thinks my dick is big”? Why are you forcing women passing by newsstands to think about penises at all, when your cover line says the story is about women “taking down powerful men in all fields”? Could a white lady’s hand not have been toppling tiny statues of bad men, or squashing cockroaches in suits, instead of deflating a penis? I don’t know, I’m not an art director (and neither, from the looks of it, are you), but I have enough sense to know that depicting the courageous women who have been sharing #MeToo stories as no-fun boner killers is irresponsible, insulting, and very, very sexist. It’s also inaccurate, because you do not torpedo the career of a serial abuser by poking his dick with a needle. If it were as easy as that, Jo-Ann Fabrics would be trading at the top of the New York Stock Exchange.

While we’re on the topic, it’s pretty gross that an entire group of despicable men is reduced to a penis, something they would probably take as a compliment. An impeccably manicured hand (for some reason, the accepted magazine symbol for womanhood) is the stand-in for all women, who hold their weapons not with anything approaching ferocity, but with the delicate grip of a thumb and forefinger that looks almost flirtatious. The only way this Dylan Maxwell–designed cover could have worked would have been if the balloon animal were twisted in the shape of American masculinity, which is so fragile that it interprets a movement against sexual abuse as an attack on men and their genitals.

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