What Does It Mean If Sperm Count Among Western Men Has Shrunk By Half Since the ’70s?
Men in Western nations produce about half as many sperm per milliliter of ejaculate as their peers did in the ‘70s, according to a new research review published in Human Reproductive Update. Between 1973 and 2011, researchers found, the sperm concentration of Western ejaculate fell more than 52 percent, while the total number of sperm per semen sample fell by almost 60 percent.
“If we will not change the ways that we are living and the environment and the chemicals that we are exposed to, I am very worried about what will happen in the future,” co-author and epidemiologist Hagai Levine told the BBC. Those chemicals include phthalates, which recently had their 15 minutes of fame for being present in nearly all tested brands of macaroni and cheese mixes. Phthalates get into foods by way of plastics in packaging and processing equipment, and evidence strongly suggests that they disrupt testosterone production, leading to reduced sperm counts.
Previous studies of sperm count in men over time have been called into question over concerns such as known fertility problems among participants and changing sperm-measurement techniques, which may have overestimated sperm count in earlier studies. For this new study, researchers analyzed data from 185 studies that used the same sperm-count testing procedure on nearly 43,000 men, none of whom were selected for existing infertility issues or other conditions. After correcting for age and length of time since last ejaculation, the authors noted a decline in sperm concentration among Western men from 99 million sperm per milliliter in 1973 to 47.1 million sperm per milliliter in 2011. Researchers found a limited number of studies of non-Western men, but those that did exist did not indicate a similar decline sperm concentration.
The good news is that 47.1 million sperm per milliliter is still pretty healthy. A person’s sperm count is considered “low” when he has fewer than 15 million sperm per milliliter of semen, and plenty of men with low sperm counts are still able to conceive children. Future studies should examine whether there has been a corresponding increase in men clocking in below the 15 million sperm threshold in addition to a general decrease in average sperm concentration. More good news: There are research-based behavioral changes men can make to combat sperm-count decline, such as quitting smoking, eating healthy meals, and avoiding food and drink that have touched pesticides or materials containing BPA.
The bad news, according to Levine, is that the new study’s results may foretell “the extinction of the human species” if we don’t figure out what’s causing the lack of sperm and take action. Well then! I guess it’s less gruesome to imagine the human species dying out gradually because of a lack of sperm, since for the past several years we’ve been imagining the extinction of humanity via, to name a few, climate change, antibiotic resistance, and Ebola.
Trump’s Boy Scouts Speech Is a Reminder of How Different the Girls Scouts Organization Is
If you’d like to test whether your human capacity for shock has been overworked to the point of total ruin by Donald Trump’s presidency, watch his Monday evening address to the Boy Scouts of America’s quadrennial jamboree. Every beat more self-obsessed, petty, and hateful than the last, the speech found Trump cussing and alluding to sexual exploits in front of a crowd of children, congratulating himself and demeaning his ideological opponents at an event that has pretty much steered clear of partisanship for 80 years.
Plenty of member of Trump’s audience were right there with him. They clapped when he insulted the press and the specific videographers at the event. They booed when Trump made a passing mention of Hillary Clinton during an extended rant about how thoroughly he won the presidential election. They chanted “USA!” when he said that former Boy Scout and current Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price is “helping to keep millions of Americans strong and healthy” by getting the Senate votes necessary to start “killing this horrible thing known as Obamacare that’s really hurting us.” (If Price didn’t get those votes, Trump told the scouts, he’d fire the secretary.)
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In some ways, the Boy Scouts represent a perfect slate onto which Trump can project his fantasies about authoritarian rule and a bygone era of white men saying and doing whatever they wanted. As Amanda Marcotte wrote in Slate in 2011, the Boy Scouts were founded in 1910 in response to a “crisis in Anglo-American masculinity.” The growth of U.S. cities had parents worried that their sons were turning into soft, urbane sissies—the cucks and betas of yesteryear. Scouting was supposed to hone a kind of pioneering, colonialist sensibility in these young men, toughening and roughening them up through outdoor excursions and wilderness skills-building. Trump won the 2016 election in part because of a related panic over the slow-declining supremacy of white men in the U.S. There is reason to believe that the proudest misogynist in public life could not have won over anyone but a woman, and that the most openly racist candidate in modern history could not have succeeded any president but a black one. Building campfires and tying knots soothed the masculinist anxieties of the last turn-of-the-century; a Manhattanite heir to a real estate fortune has soothed the masculinist anxieties of this one.
Trump’s speech to the Boy Scouts, and the scouts’ demoralizing response, makes one wonder what a parallel Girl Scout event would have looked like. The Girl Scouts of the USA have jamborees, too, after all, and the organization was founded just two years after the boys’ group. Unlike their male counterparts, though, the founders of the Girl Scouts championed a more forward-thinking conception of their gender. Girls were, and still are, encouraged to embrace outdoor adventure just as the Boy Scouts did and do. “The Boy Scouts had previously backed another girls’ organization, the Campfire Girls, which incorporated some elements of scouting, but with more of an eye towards domestication,” Marcotte wrote in 2011. “Not so surprisingly, the national leadership of the Boy Scouts reacted poorly to the Girl Scouts, which had girls acting more as the Boy Scouts imagined boys should act.” Girl Scouts of the USA is still more welcoming and broad-minded than Boy Scouts of America. In 2015, weeks before the Boy Scouts decided to start accepting gay leaders, one regional branch of the organization returned a $100,000 donation after the donors demanded that the group stop serving transgender girls. For more than a century, Girl Scouts leaders have advanced a generic brand of women’s empowerment that teaches girls they can do and be anything they want—just today, the organization introduced 23 new STEM-related badges—while keeping neutral on political matters.
That hasn’t stopped right-wing organizations from casting the Girl Scouts of the USA as a band of radical leftists indoctrinating young girls into some kind of sex cult. Family Research Council head Tony Perkins has gone after the Girl Scouts for years, suggesting that money from cookie sales goes to Planned Parenthood and accusing leaders of “leaving the door wide open at the chicken coop for the fox” by hiring LGBTQ staff members. (He recommends girls join the Christian-based American Heritage Girls instead.) Some conservative groups once concocted a completely false rumor that the Girl Scouts gave a “graphic sex guide” prepared by Planned Parenthood to a group of girls at a United Nations conference. In 2014, anti-abortion activists signal-boosted by Megyn Kelly boycotted Girl Scout cookie sales after the organization tweeted a link to a Huffington Post discussion of “incredible ladies” who “should be woman of the year for 2013.” The discussion included a mention of pro-choice Texas legislator Wendy Davis, leading right-wingers to accuse the Girl Scouts of endorsing Davis and, thus, abortion rights.
Because the actual curriculums of Girl Scout troops are laughably benign—girls earn badges for first aid skills, pottery, and researching family history—the right-wing fixation on the Girl Scouts as some kind of socialist abortionist training ground seems based in the idea that a group that emits any faint scent of women’s empowerment must, by definition, contain the seeds of a misandrist revolution. Their frenzied boycotts betray the idea that any gathering of women not explicitly devoted to patriarchal ideals, as the American Heritage Girls are, is a threat. On the other end of the ideological spectrum is Trump’s address to the Boy Scouts: a speech akin to any he’d give at a rally of supporters, comfortable in the knowledge that he would not be challenged, that his audience would play along. If a group of empowered, confident girls represents a threat to oppressive systems of power, to Trump and his supporters, a group of young, mostly white men trained to be obedient represents their comfort zone: an insulated, impressionable boys’ club.
It’s no wonder some people find it hard not to politicize the very act of girlhood—female bodies are on the docket in every state and federal lawmaking body, in every legislative term. But the Girl Scouts are not inherently political, and they’re far from a political monolith. I know one Trump-supporting Girl Scout troop leader, and I’m sure there were at least a few Boy Scout troops that boycotted Trump’s speech or sat horrified through the whole sickening thing. If there had been a different outcome in last year’s presidential election, perhaps President Hillary Clinton might have addressed the Girl Scouts and attracted criticism for poisoning members’ young minds with feminist propaganda—or, in other circles, for declining to do so.
The Boy Scouts of America have defended Trump’s speech by reminding observers that his appearance was not politically motivated, since they invite every sitting president, regardless of party, to address their jamboree. Imagine hypothetical President Clinton accepting that invitation, a woman audacious enough to believe she has something to say that men and boys should hear. Would the scouts and troop leaders who cheered on Monday when Trump criticized a sitting female Republican senator, Shelley Moore Capito, have chanted “lock her up” when Clinton took the stage? Or is it Trump’s victory—a triumph of man over woman—that’s begun to erode the Boy Scouts’ capacity for nonpartisanship, respect, and common decency? Under better leadership, a single-gender group of service-minded Boy Scouts could do a lot of good. In the hands of a spiteful misogynist, a crowd of pliable young male minds goes to dangerous waste.
Republican Congressman Would Totes Duel With These GOP Lady Senators if They Weren’t Ladies
A congressman from Texas has caught a belated case of Hamilton fever, suggesting that female opponents of the Senate GOP’s plan to repeal Obamacare have narrowly avoided an “Aaron Burr–style” showdown with him.
In an interview with a conservative Corpus Christi AM radio station, Rep. Blake Farenthold blamed “some female senators from the Northeast” for standing in the way of a move just 13 percent of Americans support. The four-term congressman said that if those senators were not women but “a guy from south Texas,” he might “ask him to step outside and settle this Aaron Burr–style.” For readers not following along in their history books, that means a duel in which two political opponents spin around really quickly and try to shoot each other, leading to one participant’s tragic death, the other’s political downfall, and the centuries-later creation of a hit Broadway musical only fancy people get to see.
Farenthold is right that three Republican women in the Senate recently blocked a vote on Obamacare repeal, protecting health care access for tens of millions of Americans. But he is mistaken about their geographical provenance. Only one, Sen. Susan Collins, is from the Northeast—Maine, as it were. The other two hail from West Virginia (Shelley Moore Capito) and Alaska (Lisa Murkowski), the latter of which happens to be the westernmost state in the union. To be fair to Farenthold, it is also the northernmost. And if the International Date Line were straight instead of squiggly, Alaska’s Near Islands and Rat Islands would cross it, making them very, very far east of Farenthold.
The fact that a sitting congressman just came a nosehair’s breadth from threatening to murder three women in his party with a gun should be disturbing. Unfortunately, have you seen Rep. Blake Farenthold? The guy who goes around in public wearing duck-printed footie pajamas? He hasn’t exactly made front-page news for the kind of agility and cunning that might help him in an Aaron Burr–style shootout. His headlines read more like “Former Staffer Lawsuit Accuses Congressman of Hitting on Her, Generally Being a Total Creep,” a 2014 ditty published after an ex-employee of Farenthold’s congressional office sued him for flirting when he was drunk, suggesting that they might have a sexual relationship, telling staff that a lobbyist had asked him for a threesome, and admitting that he had “wet dreams” about the staffer.
Farenthold also made news last October in the wake of the leaked Access Hollywood tape that showed Donald Trump bragging about sexually assaulting women, when the consummate gentleman said on television that he’d “consider” continuing to endorse Trump even if a hypothetical video showed the then-candidate saying, literally, “I really like to rape women.” In simpler terms: To Farenthold, m’ladies Collins, Murkowski, and Capito are too womanly to be subject to Farenthold’s punishment (death) for having the wrong opinions, but other women who might be raped by the president can go ahead and fend for themselves, because it would be better to have an admitted rapist in the White House than Hillary Rodham Clinton. Hypothetically speaking, of course.
It’s very convenient that Farenthold has identified his enemies as “some female senators,” since he believes a man’s moral code precludes dueling with women. That way, he never has to actually duel anyone! With the caveat that we do not condone political violence, Slate would like to suggest that Farenthold take up his Senate beef with Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio, who has said he would vote against Obamacare repeal. If Farenthold is as manly and murderous as he would have the public believe, he will take his anti–health care rage out on someone he’ll allow to return fire.
Why Does Anthony Scaramucci Keep Making Hair and Makeup Jokes?
Wall Street lifer Anthony Scaramucci got a new job Friday, and he spent the weekend trying to prove his worth to his new boss. When the freshly minted White House communications director shared his inspired vision for the role with Jake Tapper on CNN on Sunday morning, he said things that sounded nice, then immediately contradicted them. “Let’s soften up our relationship with the press,” Scaramucci said. “They’re tough on us, but let’s be tough on them. I have no problem with that.” Soft, but tough—like toilet paper meant for the world’s dirtiest yet most sensitive butts.
Scaramucci had kind words for Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the disarmingly familiar press secretary who will take over for Sean Spicer now that he’s resigned. “I think Sarah does a great job. She’s an incredibly warm person, she’s incredibly authentic,” Scaramucci told Tapper. “I want to do everything I can to make her better at that podium. I think she’s phenomenal there now, but like every athlete that’s training for the Olympics, every day we got to make ourselves incrementally better.” Then, the Mooch used Tapper’s TV show to send a message to his new direct report: “The only thing I ask Sarah—Sarah, if you’re watching, I loved the hair and makeup person that we had on Friday, so I’d like to continue to use the hair and makeup person.”
It sounded to some journalists like Scaramucci thought Huckabee Sanders looked great on Friday, when the two made an appearance together in the White House briefing room, or that he thought she looked kind of blah in her previous appearances, and Friday marked a vast improvement. (To an eye less attuned than Scaramucci’s to the aesthetic particulars of Trump hires, Huckabee Sanders didn’t look all that different in her Friday briefing, though her hair was curled, a look she usually reserves for TV news spots.) Either way, it’s a bizarre first bit of feedback for a new subordinate, both because it has nothing to do with her job performance and because he delivered it via CNN.
Scaramucci insists that the remark was a self-deprecating commentary on his own appearance. “For the record, I was referring to my hair and make up and the fact that I like the make up artist. I need all the help I can get! #humor,” he tweeted Sunday afternoon.
For the record, I was referring to my hair and make up and the fact that I like the make up artist. I need all the help I can get! #humor— Anthony Scaramucci (@Scaramucci) July 23, 2017
For a man making a sad stab at #humor, Scaramucci looked awfully serious on Tapper’s show. But hey! He’s not a comic—he’s a Trump flack, and he has a lot to learn. His justification of his odd plea to Huckabee Sanders suggests that he thinks hiring and managing a makeup and hair stylist is the White House press secretary’s job, which it almost certainly is not. One wonders whether he would have assumed the same of Sean Spicer or Obama press secretary Jay Carney. In Scaramucci’s first press conference on Friday, a reporter asked whether he’d continue to allow cameras in the White House briefing room, a tradition that came under threat when Spicer was at the helm. “If [Huckabee Sanders] supplies hair and makeup, I will consider it,” Scaramucci replied. “I need a lot of hair and makeup.”
This running joke (?) also betrays Scaramucci’s preoccupation with looks, a fixation he shares with the president who hired him. When a New York magazine reporter interviewed him for a piece on Trump’s Wall Street connections that ran earlier this year, Scaramucci asked her how old she was. “You look good,” he said. “No lines on your face. What are you, a Sagittarius?” The very weird, inappropriate compliment sounds a lot like Trump’s remarks to French first lady Brigitte Macron, who is in “good physical shape,” the president said. Perhaps he demands the same ageless, made-up beauty of his communications directors.
Is It Reasonable to Expect R. Kelly’s Former Musical Collaborators to Denounce Him?
R. Kelly’s alleged sexual misdeeds have been in the public record for decades. Half his lifetime ago, in 1994, he married his then-15-year-old protégée Aaliyah with a falsified legal document. At the turn of the millennium, thanks to the reporting of Jim DeRogatis and Abdon M. Pallasch at the Chicago Sun-Times, the world learned that Kelly had paid several settlements to the families of underage girls he’d allegedly raped. Soon after came the actual videotape of a man who looked like Kelly engaged in sexual activity with a girl whom witnesses identified as his then-14-year-old goddaughter. He was later acquitted of charges that he’d produced that piece of child pornography.
In the years that followed, Kelly had no trouble getting gigs. He made albums, toured arenas and stadia, and made fluffy appearances on late-night shows. After BuzzFeed published new allegations against the singer this week from parents and former lovers who say he sexually manipulates and essentially brainwashes teen girls with promises of music stardom, the site asked the publicists of 43 former Kelly collaborators if their clients would ever work with him again. After giving the stars’ representatives “at least 24 hours to respond,” very few had gotten back to the site. Those who did either said they had no comment or couldn’t reach their clients for comment.
As the Outline rightly pointed out in a post yesterday, it’s hard to draw any conclusions from this seemingly clever conceit. Celebrities rarely comment on anything, especially in a relatively short period of time on an extremely touchy issue that doesn’t directly concern them. They would have nothing to gain from staking out any definitive ground on R. Kelly, even if they fully intend to never work with him again. Some of the stars on BuzzFeed’s list hadn’t worked with Kelly in many years: Celine Dion made one song with him in 1998, for example, and Keri Hilson’s Kelly collaboration dropped in 2009.
Still, the vast majority of the artists on the list worked with Kelly after all-but-irrefutable evidence of his pattern of preying on young girls became public. They knew that dozens of people had accused him of child rape, and they worked with him anyway. Their participation in his career both elevated and sanitized his public profile, showing music fans that if Mary J. Blige, Nas, Chance the Rapper, and Pharrell (the Happy guy!) were cool with Kelly, we should probably be cool with him, too. Worse, every collaboration with Kelly helped funneled money into the bank account of a man who has allegedly continued his abuse for at least 26 years and shows no signs of stopping.
We should have raised a stink about artists who collaborate with Kelly a long time ago; some of us, including journalists like DeRogatis and Jamilah Lemieux, have. But news cycles cycle on, outrage dims, and momentum stalls. Each new allegation or reentry of an old one into public discourse offers music consumers another opportunity to ask artists why they participated in the music industry’s cover-up for Kelly and why they haven’t, as a booster of his career, condemned his actions. There is no statute of limitations on the crime of enriching an alleged child rapist. By coming out against him late in the game, these artists still have an opportunity to publicize his pattern of victimization and get their fans to support an industry boycott of his work.
Celebrities already use their public platforms for advocacy against sexual predators all the time. Lady Gaga, who’s spoken publicly about being sexually assaulted when she was 19 by a man 20 years her senior, made an earnest, graphic music video about sexual assault for her song “Til It Happens to You” in 2015, depicting survivors with messages like “BELIEVE ME” scrawled on their bodies. She invited 50 survivors of sexual assault onstage with her to perform the song at last year’s Oscars. Of her friend Kesha, who accused producer Dr. Luke of years of emotional and sexual abuse, Gaga has said, “I feel like she’s being very publicly shamed for something that happens in the music industry all the time, to women and men. I just want to stand by her side because I can’t watch another woman that went through what I’ve been through suffer.”
Yet Gaga made “Do What U Want” with Kelly in 2013, mimed fellatio with him onstage at the American Music Awards, then pulled the already-taped video for the song due to growing allegations against Kelly and director Terry Richardson. (Yes, Gaga made a video with two alleged sexual abusers for a song that advises the listener to “do what you want with my body.”) Gaga blamed her team and her tight schedule for a video she says she didn’t like and didn’t want to release, but other sources claimed that Gaga thought the highly sexual video wouldn’t play well after DeRogatis’ reporting on Kelly resurfaced in December 2013 and reports of Richardson’s alleged harassment came out in early 2014. Instead of addressing the allegations against Richardson and Kelly and taking an ethical stance, Gaga spun her scrapping of the video as a move of artistic self-editing.
In other industries, we expect major players to defend or end their personal and financial connections to bad actors almost as a matter of policy. Dozens of companies pulled their ads from Bill O’Reilly’s show after the New York Times revealed that Fox News had paid $13 million to settle five separate sexual harassment claims against him. Lately, when women come out with stories of discrimination and harassment in the tech industry, big names in the field are pressed to speak up, even if they’re not directly involved. (Venture capitalist Chris Sacca recently bragged about doing just that—tweeting support for Ellen Pao after she lost her discrimination suit against Kleiner Perkins—in a post about his own role in Silicon Valley’s mistreatment of women.) But in the entertainment industry, with a few major exceptions like the singular case of Bill Cosby, celebrities are usually forgiven their connections to abusers, even as they help those abusers appear harmless and amass wealth.
The recent example of Kesha and Dr. Luke provides useful contrast to the nonreaction of music stars to Kelly’s documented history of sexually manipulating teen girls. Taylor Swift publicly donated $250,000 to Kesha for her legal battle against her alleged abuser, a well-known pop producer. Miley Cyrus and Kelly Clarkson, both of whom had worked with Dr. Luke in the past, also came out with public statements to put themselves on Kesha’s side. Adele, the biggest recording artist on Sony, which owned the Dr. Luke’s Kesha-producing label, made a statement in support of Kesha while accepting a BRIT award last year. Sony happens to be R. Kelly’s label, too, but Adele isn’t saying a peep about him. His alleged victims are far more numerous than Dr. Luke’s, as far as the general public knows, but they aren’t famous and, crucially, it seems most of them aren’t white. In a Colorlines piece published this week, Lemieux writes that Kelly’s continued career success is indicative of “the idea that black men are more in need of protection than black women.” Research has shown, she continues, that “black girls are widely perceived as being older or more mature than they actually are, which helps to explain the number of people who don’t see teenage girls who have sexual relationships with men like Kelly as victims, even when they are legally unable to consent.” The women who’ve charged Kelly with rape, assault, and abuse have to watch their alleged assailant make millions off his music because his colleagues have kept mum and recorded with him in spite of his history.
Pushing for Kelly’s former collaborators to renounce him works in two ways: First, it pressures individual artists to stop enriching him and supporting his public profile. It also sends a clear message to unaffiliated observers that the swell of public opinion is falling against Kelly, and they’d be better off not booking him in their arena, hosting him on their talk shows, or inviting him to do a guest spot on a new track. True, it would be sad if DeRogatis’ most recent revelations in BuzzFeed (nearly the only allegations of abuse against Kelly that involve women above the age of consent) were the thing that finally convinced Kelly’s one-time associates to speak out against him. But you know what they say about apologizing for lining the pockets of alleged child rapists—better do it late than never. When some next set of accusations lands on Kelly, as it almost certainly will, Gaga the survivor’s advocate will be glad she did.
Why Asking Job Applicants for Their Salary Histories Is Such a Cruel Corporate Move
The San Francisco Board of Supervisors unanimously voted on Tuesday to prohibit employers from asking job applicants for their salary histories, a move several progressive cities and states have made in recent years in an effort to narrow the gender wage gap. Mayor Ed Lee signed the legislation into law on Wednesday, but it won’t take effect until 2018.
The legislation will also prevent an applicant’s current or previous employers from releasing her salary information without her consent. Advocates say that the salary-history question keeps women and people of color in a cycle of low pay, where one boss who pays white men more than their peers—or one bout of poor negotiation—can diminish a worker’s earnings for the rest of her career.
Mark Farrell, the supervisor who proposed the legislation, told Fortune that the idea appealed to him as a way to make “an immediate impact” on wage inequality by changing the behavior of the supervisors who make salary decisions. Other equal-pay legislation, like the Equal Pay Act of 1963, has proven easier for companies to wiggle around by keeping employees’ salaries confidential and arguing that almost any conceivable reason but gender justifies pay gaps between male and female employees. Farrell has noted that the national gender wage gap has only narrowed by a half cent each year since that act was passed, and if it continued at that rate, women and men won’t make the same salaries until 2059.
That’s a grossly misleading calculation, of course: Women’s work in the ‘60s was largely confined to domestic and service-industry positions, and women’s advancement into positions of leadership in every industry in the past couple of decades has contributed to as much of the wage gap’s closure as the general decline in wage discrimination. But Farrell’s point about the potential immediate benefits of the law is a good one. In the best-case scenario, prohibiting salary-history questions would stop unequal pay before it starts, or at least give employees a way out of underpayment with each new job.
Opponents of such laws, which currently exist in Philadelphia, New York, California, and Massachusetts, say that employers will still be able to introduce discrimination or unconscious bias into salary decisions by assuming that women and people of color are getting paid less at their current jobs and giving them lower starting offers anyway. Advocates argue that applicants can still voluntarily offer their previous salaries if they think it will help them in a negotiation. In an editorial published earlier this year, Bloomberg called a ban on salary-history questions a “gag rule” that hasn’t yet been proven to work as intended.
It’s true that these laws aren’t proven vanquishers of gender and race wage gaps, and there’s a simple reason why: They’re brand new. The first salary-history question ban took effect in California in January; Philadelphia’s was supposed to take effect in May, but it’s on hold while the city’s Chamber of Commerce challenges it in court for allegedly infringing on businesses’ rights to free speech. There is no data on these laws yet because they’ve barely begun to exist. Policymakers and advocates will need at least a few years of data to analyze before making a judgment on the impacts of this kind of legislation.
Still, there is a wealth of research on the gender wage gap, the psychology of negotiations, the trajectories of women’s careers, and the difference in starting salaries offered to men and women for the same jobs at the same companies. The thrust of that research points to a simple conclusion: Tying an employee’s pay to her previous salary will forever exacerbate a gender wage gap that exists even in the first jobs women and men take after college, even when controlling for major, occupation, location, and hours worked. The more cities and states that pass these laws, the better and more diverse data experts will have to help them quantify the impact of this worthy experiment a few years down the line.
Can Mindy Kaling Thwart the Media’s Sick Obsession with the Contents of Celebrity Uteri?
Mindy Kaling is pregnant! The respectful response to this morsel of information is: “Congratulations, actress and author who has already given me much joy and owes me nothing.” The less respectful but more realistic response is, “Ooh, who’s the father?” And herein lies a quandary for self-respecting gossip consumers and producers: Kaling isn’t telling.
In theory, this seems like a potentially satisfying way to thwart the media’s sick obsession with the contents of famous uteri. A source told People that Kaling isn’t even sharing with her close friends who the father is, and also that she is not currently dating anyone. When E! News broke the story of her pregnancy earlier this week, it quoted an “insider” who simply called it “an unexpected surprise.” There’s the ambiguous fact that Kaling has said in the past, “I think I’ve decided that unlike everything else in my life, I’m going to be fast and loose about kids.” We just don’t know, in other words, and it perfectly possible that we will never will. How, then, will the media handle this dangling mystery? Is there a chance celebrity news outlets might treat Kaling’s decision to withhold paternity info as the privacy-protecting measure she surely intends it to be, rather as a thrilling whodunit to be collectively solved? Of course not. As it happens, we have a prime recent example of the way this dynamic plays out in the press: The pregnancy of January Jones.
Want Proof of the Outsized Value of Women in Public Office? Look to the Health Care Fight.
Anyone currently hosting a dance party on the grave of the Senate’s disastrous health care bill can thank Republican women for the freshly-packed soil. After Republican men failed to come up with a health care proposal their own party could abide, a desperate Sen. Mitch McConnell tried on Tuesday to simply repeal Obamacare as a half-measure that might help the legislators save face. Three Republican women—Sens. Susan Collins, Shelley Moore Capito, and Lisa Murkowski—refused to go along, derailing the plan.
It was almost too perfect a conclusion (for now) to a health care debate, and I use the word debate loosely, typified by its exclusion of female legislators. The House’s Obamacare repeal-and-replace shenanigans were held hostage by a sizable caucus of white men whose group photo became one of the most powerful emetic objects in modern political history. When it passed, their Rose Garden celebration looked like a cookout at the world’s oldest, most boring fraternity. On the Senate side, 13 Republican men wrote their party’s bill in secret. They insisted they were not excluding women, and yet, none of the five Republican women in the Senate gained admission to the committee. Capito was invited to meet with the committee to discuss the needs of her opioid-afflicted state of West Virginia, but never became a member.
Any of the health care bills these Republicans proposed would have meant sweeping rollbacks of women’s health care that would have reverberated for generations. They all would have cut off Planned Parenthood’s Medicaid reimbursements for at least a year, which the Congressional Budget Office predicted would cause thousands of unwanted pregnancies and unplanned births due to a steep reduction in contraception access. They would have let insurers charge women out of pocket for birth control, price women out of health care if they had a “pre-existing condition” like a previous Cesarean section, and potentially drop maternity care coverage. All versions of the Republicans’ plan could have completely dismantled private insurance coverage for abortion, keeping the procedure out of reach for most Americans.
It’s likely that the three women who stopped Obamacare repeal in the Senate were swayed in part by their fellow party members’ disregard for women’s health care and the opinions of their female colleagues. Sens. Murkowski and Collins have both been vocal and steadfast supporters of Planned Parenthood and its continued federal funding through family-planning grants and Medicaid reimbursements. Murkowski has also expressed frustration with the secrecy with which Republican men carried out their legislative deliberations. Capito has identified as “pro-choice”; she has also voted to defund Planned Parenthood. But her reasoning for opposing Obamacare repeal—“I did not come to Washington to hurt people”—echoes the concerns of Collins and Murkowski, who recognized the advances Obamacare made in women’s health care and programs like Medicaid, which disproportionately help women.
Watching three women stand against their own party to help Americans keep their health care makes a great argument for the importance of efforts to get women into political office. Numerous studies have shown that female legislators are more likely than men to champion progress in areas frequently dubbed “women’s issues,” such as child care, reproductive rights, equal pay, and women’s health. Women are also more likely to introduce legislation on education, health, and housing, though their proposals on these issues are more likely to get squashed than equivalent proposals put forward by men. A 2016 study of two decades of congressional information found that Republican women are more likely than their male counterparts to get members of the opposing party on board with their legislation. This effect is particularly pronounced on legislation related to—you guessed it!—education and health care. The defection of three Republican women from their party line on this health care issue fits comfortably in that pattern.
One 2013 study found that the more women there are in a legislative body, the more those women talk about the specific needs of female constituents and raising concerns about so-called women’s issues. The study also indicated that, weirdly, having more women in a legislature also makes male legislators more likely to talk about women’s issues. And when a legislative body reaches a certain critical mass of women, everyone starts talking more about the needs of families, children, and low-income people, resulting in decisions that better benefit the poor.
It’s no coincidence, in other words, that Murkowski and Collins, the two Republican senators who most reliably support Planned Parenthood and oppose attacks on women’s health care, are women. It’s no surprise, either, that they’ve become role models for recent efforts by Trump-opposing, centrist Republican women to get more of their kind into office. Their views are much more closely aligned than those of their male peers with public opinion, which has overwhelmingly opposed every version of Trumpcare and supported public funding for Planned Parenthood. Because there are two of them—maybe three if Capito continues to succumb to the captivating thrill of screwing up the terrible plans of arrogant men—they are enough of a bloc to draw strength from one another and have an outsized influence on policy. If three women in the Senate can save health care, imagine what 50 could do.
Inside the Legislative Fight for the Rights of Incarcerated Women
When Sen. Kamala Harris, D-CA, was a law student, she clerked at the district attorney’s office in Alameda County, California. This was in the late ‘80s, in the middle of the crack epidemic, and Harris was tasked with processing cases from a major drug bust on a Friday afternoon. One arrestee was an “innocent bystander,” a woman with young children, Harris said in opening remarks at a Washington, D.C. conference on incarcerated women on Tuesday. The woman’s case probably wouldn’t go before a judge until that Monday, leaving her to sit in jail for the weekend. She might miss work or lose her job. If there was no one to care for her children, they might be seized by Child Protective Services.
Harris was able to find a judge to release the woman “with the swipe of a pen,” demonstrating for the future attorney general how easily a life can be derailed or disrupted—or not—in the banal, everyday workings of a system that currently holds more than 215,000 U.S. women in prisons and jails. “In the criminal justice system, individuals have so much discretion,” she said. “I, as a 20-something-year-old law student, could make a decision about someone’s liberty and life.”
As a U.S. senator, Harris is trying to do more. Last week, along with fellow Democratic Sens. Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker, and Dick Durbin, Harris introduced the Dignity for Incarcerated Women Act, an ambitious bill that would enact much-needed reforms in the treatment of women in federal prisons. A few of the bill’s provisions cover issues of basic safety and dignity: It would ban the shackling of pregnant women, prevent officials from putting pregnant inmates in solitary confinement, and require prisons to provide free menstrual products to inmates, who currently may be given limited supplies or made to buy their own. Male guards would no longer be allowed to supervise female inmates in bathrooms except during emergencies, and inmates would no longer have to pay to call friends and family members.
Other parts of the bill target incarcerated mothers, who have a special set of needs. About 65 percent of women in U.S. prisons and jails have children under 18, and most are primary caretakers. According to Holly Harris, executive director of the Justice Action Network, the convener of Tuesday’s forum, one in four women who become incarcerated are pregnant or have a child under the age of 1. The Dignity for Incarcerated Women Act would require the Federal Bureau of Prisons to take children’s locations into account when choosing a facility for an inmate who is a parent. Inmates who are pregnant or primary caretakers would also be eligible for a residential drug abuse program. The bill would also provide for more generous visitation hours, physical contact in visits, parenting classes, and a pilot program for overnight visits. About half of incarcerated mothers in the U.S. are more than 100 miles from their families, and the facilities where they’re held are often in remote locations, “not on the commuter line,” Sen. Harris noted in her remarks. Andrea James, the formerly incarcerated founder of an advocacy organization for incarcerated women and girls, says mothers in prison serve a “dual sentence,” because they spend their time locked up worried about their children’s well-being. “The lives of their children do not get better” with their mothers gone, James said at Tuesday’s conference. “It causes further harm.”
But if the Senate bill passes, it will only apply to the 12,700-or-so women in federal prison, leaving out the more than 200,000 women in state and local prisons and jails. Women make up the fastest-growing segment of incarcerated people in the U.S., and about half are in jails, where people are held before their trials, after violating the terms of their parole, or after being sentenced to less than a year in lock-up. Between 1970 and 2014, the country saw a 14-fold increase of the population of women in jails, mostly for low-level drug offenses, loitering, and other crimes associated with broken-windows policing. More than 8 in 10 women in jail have survived sexual violence; nearly as many have experienced domestic abuse. About one-third of women in jail are living with severe mental illnesses, more than twice the rate of men in jail.
These troubling statistics point to what Sen. Booker, D-NJ, dubbed “a survivor-of-sexual-trauma to prisoner pipeline.” In a rousing address at Tuesday’s conference, Booker called on attendees to “get folk woke” on mass incarceration, the “biggest cancer of our body politic, the biggest shame of our national society.” Without proper diagnosis and treatment of the mental repercussions of trauma, advocates say, women who’ve been sexual assaulted or abused may self-medicate with drugs, leading to arrests on charges for possession or addiction-adjacent crimes like burglary and prostitution. In jail or prison, they’re often re-traumatized by searches, shackling, and abuse at the hands of guards or other inmates. And once they’re out, with a criminal record, they’ll struggle to find work and face limits on what kinds of government assistance they can receive.
Policymakers of both parties are looking for ways to break that cycle. Gov. Mary Fallin of Oklahoma, a conservative Republican, spoke to conference attendees on Tuesday about her efforts to reduce the state’s incarceration rate for women, which is more than twice the national average and higher than any other state’s. “For low-level, nonviolent offenses, there are alternatives that work better,” she said, to prevent crime and keep children out of foster care. Those alternatives include diversion programs that scrub felony charges from graduates’ records, reforms of policies that send released women back to jail for failure to pay fines, and more accessible substance-use treatment programs for pregnant women and mothers. On the federal level, Harris is working on a piece of legislation that would create competitive grants for states to devise pilot reforms of the cash bail system, which keeps people in jail for months or years before they’re ever convicted of a crime if they’re too poor to pay. In D.C., one of the few jurisdictions that don’t require arrestees to pay for pre-trial release, more than 90 percent of defendants are released without bail. Only 10 percent are arrested again before their trials, the vast majority for nonviolent offenses.
“We’ve been offered a false choice in criminal justice policy,” Harris said. “A choice that suggests one is either soft on crime or tough on crime, instead of asking are we smart on crime.”
Harris is optimistic that if the civil rights argument doesn’t resonate for fellow legislators, the fiscal one will. It cost about $32,000 a year to keep each U.S. inmate in federal prison locked up in 2015. In California, the annual cost per inmate is more than $75,000. One year of methadone treatment cost $4,700 in 2012. Studies have shown that the U.S. could save several billions of dollars by diverting drug offenders into treatment programs rather than prisons. “If we, like our friends in the private sector, are judging ourselves in government, unburdened by ideology, then this information forces us to … ask the question our friends in the private sector ask every day,” Harris said on Tuesday. “What is the ROI? What is the return on our investment? Because guys, as taxpayers, we are not getting a good return on our investment on this issue.”
8 Reasons to Believe Taylor Swift Was Inside the Box That Two Large Men Carried Out of Her Apartment
On Monday, Splash News, an agency that specializes in celebrity news and photos, released a picture of some men on a New York City street loading a large case into a vehicle. What interest would a celebrity photo agency have in this sidewalk scene? According to a caption that went along with the photo, plenty: The men happened to be Taylor Swift’s security force, they were outside the pop star’s Tribeca apartment, and she was reportedly inside the case.
Per BuzzFeed, the mysterious caption read in full ([sic] to all spelling mistakes):
Taylor Swift has been reportedly being transported in a huge suitcase from her Tribecca apartment into her truck. A fleet of cars including two large cadillacs and three suv's arrive at Tailor Swift's apartment in Tribecca to move a large suitcase from apartment to truck. Almost a dozen of Taylor Swift security guards were present to move this package carefully as Taylor Swift remains to be unseen for a long time.
The agency soon retracted the caption. But Pandora’s box was opened, and the theory was out there: Taylor Swift! In a box! In the annals of memorable celebrity modes of transport, it would be hard to top Lady Gaga’s egg and Ariana Grande’s rumored preference for being carried like a baby, but if Swift was indeed inside that box, then the Trojan Horse would have nothing on her. And knowing Swift, despite the retraction, it’s not totally out of the realm of possibility. Let’s marshal the evidence.
Swift has been trying to keep a low profile lately.
Holing up in a box would be one creative way to avoid the paparazzi’s gaze. On that theme, she’s barely made any public appearances in recent months, and she hasn’t released a new album since 2014’s 1989 (though she did have a song on the 50 Shades Darker soundtrack). The star has spoken before about overexposure, and after last summer’s war with Kanye West and Kim Kardashian and the end of her relationship with Tom Hiddleston, disappearing for a while made a certain amount of sense for her career. But how far would she go to disappear? Would she, say, hide in a large suitcase?
Do not underestimate her will and determination.
This is a woman who has smashed record after record, who collects squad members like trophies, and who elaborately engineered a public image so glossy that it felt like a historic feat of self-mythologizing.
Swift is not too big to fit in a box.
She’s on the tall side at 5-foot-10, I’ll grant you. That’s a lot of height to squeeze into a box. But she has a small frame and appears to be in excellent shape—you’ve seen all those stylish gym clothes she wears around. If she does any Pilates or yoga at all, which she definitely does, she can swing this.
To test out this theory, a Slate staffer (associate art director Lisa Larson-Walker) who is similar in size to Swift curled into the fetal position and we measured her.
We then compared her measurements to the dimensions of some of the cases sold on high-quality protective case manufacturer Pelican’s site, and the numbers check out. Lisa is 17" wide, 19" high, give or take lid compression, and 33–35" long, depending how much her feet are sticking out.
The suitcase itself is huge.
Rather than the type of luggage you can fit in the overhead compartment on a plane, it’s a monster protective case. Here's one plausible example: It's 28.20" x 19.66" x 17.63", so a lithe, contorted pop star could ride in relative comfort.
The company, and surely companies like it, manufactures custom cases, too: This one could totally be lined with foam and outfitted with airholes to make the chart-topping artist traveling inside more comfortable.
The case has wheels but instead of being rolled, it is being carried by two men.
A pair of human shock absorbers.
Look at the orange tape in the picture: possible airhole location No. 1?
Or just a reminder of which side has to go down so they don’t flip over the pop star inside? Or just random orange tape? All plausible!
Wait, though—if Swift’s whole reason for getting in the box was to hide from the public, how did Splash News find out?
Perhaps it was actually a bid for attention and she was only pretending to hide, a nesting doll of PR stunts but in no way too advanced a move for Swift to pull. Again, look who we’re dealing with.