Feminists Shouldn’t Roll Our Eyes at Men-Only Books Clubs. We Should Applaud Them.
On Wednesday, the editors of the New York Times’ Style section proved that they are not even trying to write creative headlines anymore. “Men Have Book Clubs, Too” is, on its surface, ambiguous: Do men have book clubs in addition to other things (elevated levels of testosterone, an indelible interest in grilling, control of all three branches of the federal government)? Or do men, in addition to women, have book clubs?
Unfortunately for those looking to read a complete accounting of men’s possessions, the latter interpretation is the correct one. Times writer Jennifer Miller profiles a number of men-only book clubs whose members want everyone to know that they’re extremely masculine, thank you very much. The 16-member Man Book Club in Marin County, Calif. abides by a cardinal rule: “No books by women about women.” The International Ultra Manly Book Club of Kansas City, Kan. consumes “manly—like, spicy” food and rates books “on a five-hand-grenade system for ‘manliness.’ ” Members of the Houston Men’s Book Club contend with false assumptions that they’re gay, while the actually gay founder of the NYC Gay Guys’ Book Club protects its grateful constituents from having to read “a 1,000-page book on lesbians who were persecuted in Russia.”
This May Be the Most Disturbing Thing Woody Allen Has Ever Said About His Wife
From the public’s perspective, Woody Allen’s 20-year marriage to Soon-Yi Previn has always been veiled in a shroud of skepticism. Their love began under inauspicious circumstances, as a secret affair during Allen’s 12-year relationship with Mia Farrow. The couple’s 35-year age difference—Previn was college-aged when she started dating Allen, who was in his late 50s—might have seemed merely quirky, not sinister, had Previn not been Farrow’s adopted daughter.
Add that to persistent allegations that Allen molested his and Farrow’s then-7-year-old adopted daughter, Dylan, in 1992, and the coupling of Allen and Previn takes on a disturbing connotation. Allen hasn’t done much to counter the appearance that his conceptions of fatherhood and sexuality are pathologically intertwined. In an interview with NPR last July, he explained his union with Previn thusly:
Brazil’s Sex-Themed Amusement Park Sounds Boring. Here’s How to Make It Better.
Genital-shaped bumper cars are at the center of a municipal battle in southern Brazil, where a proposed sex-themed amusement park near the city of Piracicaba has rubbed local lawmakers the wrong way. “We cannot be known as the capital of sex,” Piracicaba City Council head Matheus Erler said, worrying that ErotikaLand would draw a libidinous, depraved element to his fair city.
Developer Mauro Morata says Erler has nothing to worry about. Yes, there will be a “7D” movie theaterwith vibrating seats. Yes, there will be an erotic sculpture garden, à la South Korea’s Loveland. Yes, there will be a haunted train ride with go-go dancers, a nude pool, a sex-toy bazaar, and, because it wouldn’t be a theme park without one, a funicular. But “it’s not like we’re trying to recreate Sodom and Gomorrah,” Morata told the New York Times. Actual sexual contact is verboten within the park’s bounds, though Morata says he plans to open a short-stay motel nearby for visitors who want an additional thrill.
An Abortion Doctor Is Suing Her Own Hospital for Silencing Her, and I’m Proud to Know Her
In one of the most notable oh snap! moments of 2016 so far, abortion doctor Diane Horvath-Cosper has announced that she is filing suit against the hospital where she is employed for banning her from speaking publicly on the topic of abortion. MedStar Washington Hospital Center in Washington, D.C., is now facing a federal civil rights complaint for placing what she calls a “gag order” on her work as a public advocate.
Here is why this matters. Horvath-Cosper—as well as other abortion providers around the country, including myself—are fighting hard to keep abortion legal and accessible. Whether it’s speaking openly about the safety and normalcy of abortion or working in the most underrepresented parts of the country to provide care, there is a growing fraction of us providers who are not backing down to anti-choice bullying. As her friend and colleague, I can personally attest to Diane’s plight with this week’s news. MedStar silencing her work as an abortion rights advocate was a huge slap in the face. Her lawsuit is the ultimate mic drop, and believe me, everyone heard it fall.
It’s not enough to support reproductive rights in theory. We are facing a legislative climate where anti-abortion laws are popping up all around the U.S. In Oklahoma, a bill just reached the governor’s desk that would revoke the medical licenses of any physician who provides abortions. In Utah, the governor just signed a bill into law that requires all women having abortions over 20 weeks to undergo the risks of complete general anesthesia, even though there is absolutely zero medical evidence that this is necessary. And the whopper of them all: Abortion clinics in Texas are nearly extinct because of HB2, a law that prohibits clinics from providing care unless they are structurally equivalent to full-on operating rooms, requiring useless million-dollar renovations.
Loosely supporting reproductive rights has done nothing to stop this madness. And what’s worse, obstructing support of these rights by remaining complacent or embarrassed about the controversy it can cause is the pilot light in the anti-choice flame. Opponents of legal abortion are banking on this complacency. That’s why bans against speaking out in support of abortion hurt more than just an isolated provider here or there; they hurt the entire cause. Diane knows this, and her move to challenge the system is a heroic step in the right direction.
I recently talked to Diane on the phone about what would happen when news spread that she was stepping up to the very hospital that employs her to perform abortions but forces her to remain silent about them. We’re friends. She texted me immediately when a gunman opened fire at the Planned Parenthood in Colorado Springs last fall. And I’ve called her countless times to talk through the challenges that this type of work creates in your personal life. Before word of her lawsuit hit the press, we talked about how awful it is to not have a strong support system as an abortion provider, whether it’s at work with your colleagues or at home with your friends and family. A lack of support in these areas hurts far more than any protester shouting nasty comments or legislator vowing to make your job harder. It’s an undermining of everything we do as abortion providers and a sad reminder that anti-abortion terrorism is working.
Diane spoke openly about these issues last fall after receiving personal threats against her family members. In the face of true terrorism, when no legal authority would stand up to protect her, she did the bravest and most terrifying thing imaginable: She went on television to formally and unapologetically say, “There are two ways to respond to bullies. One of them is to be intimidated and to stop doing what you’re doing … my response is to keep providing this service … to let women know that I’ll be there for them no matter what.”
In true Diane form, she has done the same thing with her lawsuit, but against much bigger stakes. “Our silence has never and will never protect us,” she texted me today. “Patients deserve better than shame and secrecy.” To my friend and colleague, thank you for the work you do and for having the ovaries to stand up for women everywhere.
Is Sexual Harassment Training Hopeless?
Most sexual harassment training is a waste of time at best and a menace to office culture at worst. That’s not the thesis of a post on a men’s rights blog, but rather the suggestion of several peer-reviewed studies at the center of a recent piece in the Guardian.
The basis of the Guardian piece is a depressing study published in The Journal of Applied Behavioral Science in 2001, which found that men who underwent 30 minutes of sexual harassment programming were less likely than a control group to perceive or report sexual harassment, and more likely to blame the victim. The authors posited that the training might have made the men feel attacked—consciously or not—and that the backlash might have been an “effort at self-preservation.” In other words, trying to get men to recognize the threat that sexual harassment poses to women in the workplace may have raised their hackles so suddenly and immediately that all hope of constructive discourse was lost. “All we really know about sexual harassment training is that it protects employers from liability,” University of California, Berkeley professor Lauren Edelman told the Guardian. “We don’t know whether it protects employees. We don’t know whether it reduces sexual harassment.”
In fact, we know a little more than Edelman is giving us credit for. That argument “misses the nuance,” says George Mason University psychologist Eden King, who studies sexual harassment and diversity training. “What we’re doing isn’t working well, it’s true, but we have found evidence that there are ways to improve the effectiveness of training programs.”
A meta-analysis of 65 studies on diversity and sexual harassment training, published in the Journal of Organizational Behavior in 2013, suggests that it is possible to teach people how to identify sexual harassment—and to convey how company policies treat it—without inciting a backlash effect. The authors found trends that seemed to determine a program’s level of effectiveness: Trainings that happened in-person and lasted longer than four hours produced a bigger effect; short and virtual trainings had less of an impact. Trainings that asked participants to interact with each other worked better than straight lectures. Participants learned more from trainings led by their supervisor or an external expert, and less when the leader was a colleague without direct authority over their day-to-day work—for example, an HR official.
The finding the researchers emphasize most is that trying to impart knowledge and skills—“this is what harassment looks like”; “this is what you can do if you witness harassment”—worked better than trying to change attitudes. Maybe this means that even the most successful training programs are shallow in their reach, but the authors don’t seem to see it that way. “Perhaps diversity training may have stronger effects on attitudes over time as opposed to post-training,” they write. “Moreover, attitude change may be preceded by and influenced by knowledge and/or behavior change. For example, an individual might learn first how to communicate with diverse others (knowledge and/or behavior change), and attitude change might follow.”
Slate’s L.V. Anderson has written about similar research suggesting that confronting sexist and racist attitudes head-on often exacerbates them. “Attempting to change attitudes about diversity by emphasizing the social unacceptability of prejudice actually increases prejudice by triggering “a direct counterresponse (i.e., defiance) to threatened autonomy” (in other words, by triggering people’s inner toddlers),” she writes. That “threat effect” was just as evident in white men who self-identified as liberals. It may feel wrong on principle to tiptoe around egos so fragile that 30 minutes of anti-prejudice boilerplate can send them into self-defensive convulsions. But the most successful programs, as Anderson writes, “engage managers in diversity efforts, so that managers feel like they’re a part of the solution rather than part of the problem.”
The same basic logic may be the key to preventing sexual harassment in the workplace. King found that training is “enhanced” when people are asked to set personal goals for how they will change their workplaces for the better. (Asking trainees to free-write from the perspective of a stigmatized colleague also seemed effective at generating empathy.) One of the items on the agenda at a recent meeting of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s Select Task Force on the Study of Harassment in the Workplace was “bystander intervention,” an approach that’s also become popular on college campuses dealing with sexual assault. As Bobby Eckstein, a lead trainer and curriculum development specialist in the University of New Hampshire’s pioneering “Bringing in the Bystander” program, has told me: “I always assume that my participants have the potential, that they have the ability to be good—that their hearts are in the right place. By addressing them as potential allies, you’re inviting them to be part of the solution, and that goes a long way in terms of lowering their defenses.”
Both in the workplace and on college campuses, the people who enter sexual assault and harassment training with the most biased attitudes exit having learned the least. Bystander intervention training, then, is pragmatic in its focus on arming the benevolent majority against the malign minority—and, at the same time, palliative in its construction of scenarios that don’t place the trainee in the perpetrator’s shoes.
Of course, to say that sexual harassment training can work is very different from arguing that it usually—or almost ever—does. That 25-minute online survey was probably exactly the time-suck that you thought it was. The perfunctory workshop that seemed to send everyone home in a bad mood may have been even worse. But creating a better sexual culture isn’t a hopeless task, even if on some days it threatens to appear that way.
Jennifer Hudson Doesn’t Get Tony Nom, Accuses The Color Purple of Using Her for Her Fame
The 2016 Tony nominations dropped Tuesday morning, and one star’s name was conspicuously absent from the list: Jennifer Hudson, who’s earned laudatory reviews for her turn as Shug Avery in the revival of The Color Purple that opened on Broadway in December.
This is Hudson’s first Broadway role, and some thought she was bound for a Tony nod. When producers announced in April that Heather Headley will replace Hudson when Hudson’s six-month contract expires on Sunday, the New York Times called the timing “a bit awkward.” Hudson would be eligible for the Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Musical category, but she’s leaving in the short window after officials announce the nominees and before a good number of voters have sent in their picks. If she had been nominated, voters would have had only eight chances to see her perform.
She didn’t get the nod, and in a tweet on Tuesday morning, which Hudson has since deleted, she said she expected as much:
Two of Hudson’s Color Purple co-stars, Cynthia Erivo and Orange Is the New Black’s Danielle Brooks, were nominated in the leading and featured actress categories, respectively. Erivo plays the main role of Celie, and Brooks is cast as Sofia, the character Oprah Winfrey played in the 1985 film adaptation of Alice Walker’s book. Hudson congratulated both of them in an Instagram post on Tuesday afternoon. The show as a whole got nominated for Best Revival of a Musical—and in the Tony website’s description of the production, Hudson is the lede: “Jennifer Hudson makes her Broadway debut as the sultry Shug Avery in a new production of the joyous musical based on the Pulitzer Prize–winning story of enduring love and triumph over adversity.”
Both the press and the show’s producers have foregrounded Hudson’s involvement in the production, even though her role is smaller than Erivo’s. Before it offers any information about the show’s plot or history, The Color Purple’s “About the Show” page starts with a list of Hudson’s bona fides. Hudson has been the subject of solo features about the show and often gets first billing in review headlines, despite the fact that she plays a smaller role than that of Erivo, who doesn’t have near as much name recognition as the former American Idol star.
So it makes sense that The Color Purple’s producers would have cast Hudson—a well-loved talent who’s never performed on Broadway before—to generate buzz and draw in new audiences. A six-month contract could mean that, after Hudson’s celebrity gave the production a burst of momentum, the producers could switch her out for a star with lesser financial demands.
Headley is no second-rate schlub: She won a Tony as the title character in Aida in 2000 and originated the role of Nala in The Lion King in 1997. But she’s almost certainly cheaper to cast in a featured role than Hudson. There’s no question that Hudson is a breathtaking talent who brings more than just star power to a Broadway role, and it’s possible that her Tony snub was unjustified. From the outside, it sure seems like the show’s short-lived, full-throated deployment of Hudson’s fame isn’t stunt casting—it’s just business.
The Proto-Trolls Who Attacked the First Woman to Sell Products with Her Face On Them
Internet trolls can trace their lineage even further back than the internet itself. Long before the birth of anonymous email accounts and the Twitter mute button, people with big, important opinions used pen, paper, and the postal service to air their grievances about women in the public eye.
One of the first subjects of such ire was Lydia E. Pinkham, a popular 19th-century purveyor of tonics and supplements that claimed medical benefits. Recently Atlas Obscura published a marvelous piece on Pinkham’s labels and ads, all of which prominently featured her portrait. “Until [Pinkham] came along, the only woman whose image showed up regularly in public was Queen Victoria,” Cara Giaimo writes. But by the late 1800s, “Pinkham's face became among the most recognizable in the world.”
When Pinkham’s sons took her locally well-loved Vegetable Compound national, they slapped a drawn portrait of Pinkham on the product’s labels and ad campaigns. The elixir was supposed to ease menstrual cramps; the boys thought Pinkham’s likeness would give the brew an air of familiarity, like a time-honored family remedy a doting grandmother might offer. Plenty of men were using their own faces to hawk their wares—W.B. Mason debuted his mustachioed seal around the same time—but Pinkham’s personal touch was thought to be untoward for a lady.
Giaimo reports that unwitting journalists used Pinkham’s portrait in place of photos of women in the news, including Susan B. Anthony and multiple first ladies. Pinkham and her image also got a torrent of hate mail from men who disapproved of her appearance. Proto-troll T.G. Scott wrote in 1880:
If it is necessary that you should parade your portrait in every country paper in the United States can’t you in mercy to the nation have a new one taken once in a while? Do your hair a little differently say—have a different turn to your head & look solemn. Anything to get rid of that cast iron smile! You ought to feel solemn any way that your face pervades the mind of the nation like a nightmare & that you have become a bug bear to innocent children. Also that portrait is destroying the circulation of the newspapers. I have stopped my county paper to get rid of it & I know of several flourishing papers that have been absolutely killed by it. I think my words express the heartfelt desire of a long suffering people & that I am sustained in this request by the strongest public sentiment ever brought to bear on any subject!
Scott’s 19th-century complaint echoes notes sent to today’s female journalists so faithfully, it’s almost delightful—or it would be, if it weren’t so sad. “For heaven sake, comb your hair—your picture instills not one iota of a knowledgeable person,” wrote one hater to Chicago Tribune columnist Heidi Stevens, who has received dozens of messages from readers—mostly women—with bones to pick about her hairstyle in her headshot. Another put a finer point on her criticism: “My neighbors and I give you permission to shoot your hairdresser.” Stevens’ Tribune colleague, Pulitzer winner Mary Schmich, says some readers have gone so far as to clip her column from the newspaper and draw new hairstyles onto her head, then mail the drawing to her office.
Like Scott, many of today’s critics of women’s portraits take the tone of someone doing a favor for the woman, or the world. In 2011, Poynter recounted the story of a journalist who turned her Facebook profile into a public page that accepts subscribers. The first response she got to an initial post was appearance advice: “Change your Profile Pic First! It Isnt as good as you thought!” Skepchick blogger Rebecca Watson decided not to attend a prominent annual gathering of skeptics in 2012 because she’d faced repeated harassment from attendees, some of whom told her she “should get a better headshot because [the current] one doesn’t convey how sexy I am in person.”
This gender-specific image policing plays out differently for women of color than it does for white women. Pinkham, at least, was a real woman whose presumably faithful facial rendering adorned her own products. The most visible black woman on consumer goods in Pinkham’s time was Aunt Jemima, a minstrel-like caricature of a slave woman that stirred antebellum nostalgia in the late 1890s. Today, while most women in the public eye face some degree of appearance-based criticism, the reaction to their reaction may vary, especially if the hate is racialized. When, in 2012, black meteorologist Rhonda Lee defended her short, natural hair against a Facebook commenter who thought “the black lady” on the Louisiana ABC affiliate should “wear a wig,” Lee got fired (supposedly for violating the station’s “social media policy”). That same year, white anchor Jennifer Livingston, who worked at a CBS affiliate in Wisconsin, got an email from a viewer who thought Livingston’s large body set a poor example for young girls. Her husband posted the email to Facebook, and the TV station let Livingston discuss the criticism on air.
The impulse to notify a widely visible woman of one’s dissatisfaction with her looks rests on the notion that women’s bodies are made for public consumption. When a man dares show his face in public, he opens himself up to criticism of his ideas, charisma, and industry acumen. When a woman does the same, her looks often become the most-criticized element of her performance. Andrea Bartz told Buzzfeed’s Erin La Rosa that her former weekly online CNN column regularly got more comments about her and her co-author’s headshots than about the content of their writing. “I’d do the short one but not the tall one,” someone wrote on their first piece. “She’d look better with longer hair,” countered another. It got so bad that “finally, our editor stopped running our headshots.”
We don’t know how Pinkham dealt with her haters, but she didn’t pull her face from her products—her brand prevailed through the generations, and a modified portrait still adorns the packaging of today’s version of her remedies. That cast-iron smile must have worked for someone.
At the Met Gala, the Future of Fashion Was Silver, Feathered, and a Lot Like the Early 2000s
Theme parties work best as the stuff of college frat parties and middle-school spirit weeks, but no one told that to the Met Gala, where last year’s “China Through the Looking Glass” theme yielded a red carpet’s worth of Orientalist show-and-tell material.
The 2016 gala theme, “Manus x Machina: Fashion in an Age of Technology,” prevented the event from becoming a racist costume ball, but it also ensured that the futuristic path of least resistance would prevail. The odds that we’d see the equivalent of Rihanna’s 2015 gown—one of the color yellow’s most magnificent earthly showings, a fur-trimmed cape that scarcely needs an introduction—were slim.
Therefore, as expected, Monday night’s Met Gala looks took most of their cues from mainstream robot-beauty ideals. There was silver, chrome, metallic gray, and gleaming white, all in structured, geometric-patterned forms—and not a hell of a lot else.
Beauty entrepreneur Julie Macklowe and model Karolína Kurková offer two glaring examples of taking a theme too literally. Macklowe’s neck-to-ankle patchwork jumpsuit looks like a garment Scientology leaders might force their followers to wear during a solar eclipse. Kurková’s gown lights up to reflect emotions (“joy, passion, excitement, encouragement, and curiosity”) detected in tweets about the gala, setting a new high-water mark on the red-carpet thirstometer. The only way to do a light-up gown is like Claire Danes*, whose elegant white number is equally chic in the dark—about as minimalist as a glowstick costume could be. Before it appeared on the red carpet, the dress was rumored on Twitter to be Heidi Klum's.
In architectural white gowns, Danai Gurira and Karlie Kloss present two alternate views, on opposite ends of the skin-showing spectrum, of a future that doesn’t revolve around gray machinery or LED bulbs.
Kudos to Alicia Vikander for not crumbling under the pressure of dressing for a gala basically named for a movie she just headlined. (Why no one took the slyer, more understated route and dressed up like one of the Ex Machina characters is anyone’s guess.) Vikander, who so aptly played a robot in Ex Machina, brings similar joy and restraint to the Met Gala in a lovely Louis Vuitton dress that reminds us that machines can be made of copper, too. The leather bustier top and asymmetrical hem make this one sexy without being overtly sexual, and Vikander’s red fishnet combat boots are what shoe dreams are made of. Also in a short Louis Vuitton number: Taylor Swift, one this year’s gala co-chairs, whose ruffled crocodile-print dress is far outshone by her fabulous new bleach-blonde bob and blue-black lipstick.
Like Swift, Saoirse Ronan and Anna Wintour mixed organic textures with stark structure—Ronan in asymmetrical ostrich feathers and Wintour in a floor-length column with what looks like branches of coral across her collarbones and lengthy fringe at the shoulders and hem. If Ronan would kindly remove the inexplicable butterfly appliqué from her waist, this not-for-the-ticklish gown would be a go.
Ronan has a few feathered friends at the gala, including Zoe Saldana in a luxuriant confetti-strewn train and Rita Ora in a kind of bird-robot get-up straight out of a Hunger Games-themed Vegas act.
Three stand-up gals rejected the Met Gala’s future-baiting theme altogether in favor of outfits from the recent past. Grimes has never looked more Grimes, or more like a teen hanging out at a Hot Topic in the early aughts, than she does in this oversized satin short-sleeved number, cross-body purse, and metallic boots. Also repping the mall directory is Selena Gomez of dELiA*s and flare-clad Amandla Stenberg, who’s doing the Claire’s headband-and-choker thing.
Further back in time, we find Nicole Kidman and Kerry Washington in two interpretations of Kidman’s 1998 witch romance Practical Magic. Kidman’s dazzling gown is worthy of moon worship with its cape and cutouts, but Washington’s magenta streaks and shaggy black lace are better left to the costume closet.
As for the men—matching the risk-taking extravagance and all-out glamour of the women is an impossible task. Still, Tremaine Brown Jr., Will.i.am, and Zayn Malik all gave it a go, and they ended up looking silly. (Malik hewed so close to the theme, he must have lost his arms in its whirring cogs.) To their credit, these men stood out at a party that still sees most of its male attendees arrive in traditional tuxes. At an event E! calls the “most exclusive dress-up party” of the year, that still registers as success.
*Correction, May 3, 2016: This post originally identified the wearer of the white light-up dress as Heidi Klum. It was Claire Danes.
Happy Birthday to Princess Charlotte, the British Monarchy’s Most Effective Messaging Strategy Yet
As she celebrates her first birthday, let’s all congratulate Princess Charlotte on being very good at this princess thing. Pink cardigan, a pink floral dress with a Peter Pan collar, pink tights, pink bow barrette, and to top it all off, a wooden baby walker with alphabet blocks: Never has a first-birthday ensemble better represented a budding English rose. For her birthday, Charlotte received the customary round of gifts from world leaders: a toy version of Bo the dog and a jigsaw puzzle from the Obamas, a silver rattle from the president of Mexico, a set of silk figurines from the president of China, a snowsuit and a $100,000 donation to a good cause in her honor from the prime minister of Canada, and a Hans Christian Andersen book from the prime minister of England, among others—all gifts fit for a princess.
In Performance Reviews, Women Get Vague Generalities, While Men Get Specifics
Do employers see their male and female employees differently? Yes, in that they see the work men do a lot more clearly. That's the take-away of a new study from two Stanford researchers who ran a gendered comparison of written performance reviews. Across three high-tech companies and one professional services firm, and in evaluations that conveyed both praise and criticism, feedback to men was full of granular detail and "actionable" advice. Feedback to women was blanketed in stereotypes and uselessly vague.