Can Social Media Be Blamed for the Murder of a 13-Year-Old Girl?
Last week the body of Nicole Madison Lovell, a 13-year-old girl from Blacksburg, Virginia, was discovered near the Virginia–North Carolina state line. Police have since arrested two engineering students at nearby Virginia Tech, David Eisenhauer, 18, and Natalie M. Keepers, 19, for the murder. Lovell’s mother told police that she believes Eisenhauer met Lovell through social media, and Lovell’s eight-year-old neighbors say that she showed them texts she had exchanged, using the mobile instant-messaging app Kik, with an 18-year-old about plans for an evening meeting hours before she disappeared.
According to news reports, Lovell had a disturbing history with social media. Friends and family say she was bullied in person and online, and at the beginning of the year she posted a short message on a Facebook group named “Teen Dating and Flirting,” asking members whether she was “Cute or nah.” Over 300 people commented, and, as to be expected, not all were positive. (The post appears to have been taken down.) A quick tour of “Teen Dating and Flirting” reveals that the group is not limited to teens. I quickly found a number of adult men; there was one guy who graduated in 1990 who told a teenage girl that she had a “nice ass” and a gray-haired man requesting cleavage shots. According to the Facebook page Justice for Children Without Voices, Facebook is shutting down “Teen Dating and Flirting” in response to Lovell’s murder.
While we don’t yet know what motivated Eisenhauer and Keepers to possibly kill Lovell, we do know that social media played a role. In a story in today’s New York Times, Jenn Burleson Mackay, an associate professor at Virginia Tech who teaches social media use, told the paper her her “first thought is that this kid was really too young to have been using Facebook.” “To be looking for boyfriends and dating advice on Facebook at age 13 just seems inappropriate,” she added.
But a 2015 PEW report found that most 13- to 17-year-olds have positive experiences on social media. The majority said they use social media for flirting, and that social media makes them feel more connected to their significant others. That said, one-quarter of all teens (35 percent of girls and 16 percent of boys) have unfriended or blocked someone who was flirting in a way that made them uncomfortable, and 22 percent of teens say they had a partner who used the Internet or a cell phone to insult them.
“Why wouldn’t she look for boys on Facebook?” asks Rena Bivens, assistant professor at the School of Journalism and Communication at Carleton University. “It’s easy to demonize technology in these situations, but if you are a teenager looking for a romantic partner and advice on dating and sex, you are going to where it’s available. The biggest threat here is not social media itself, but the anonymity.” Bivens says that it’s easy to put the blame on social media in part because it provides us with a record of events that real life does not.
Robert Faris, an associate professor of sociology at the University of California, Davis, agrees that it is perfectly normal for 13-year-olds—57 percent of whom are on Facebook—to seek romance online, though it’s not without its risks. In “Being Thirteen: Social Media and the Hidden World of Young Adolescents’ Peer Culture,” Faris and Marion Underwood analyzed the social media activity of over 200 13-year-olds and their parents from six states from September 2014 to April 2015. They found that for many teens, social media is a mostly positive experience, but it can amplify or exacerbate pre-existing insecurities.
“Social media creates an almost addictive need for affirmation,” Faris says. “We’ve got both qualitative and quantitative data on that. When teenagers aren’t getting enough of it, they will go and seek it wherever they can find it.”
While there haven’t been studies linking rising social media use to an increase in pedophilila or sexual violence against teenagers, Faris said we shouldn’t ignore how much easier it makes it for “men with pedophilic interest to find children.”
There are a number of things concerned parents can do make sure their children don’t end up in the more dangerous pockets of social media, including banning devices at night, only allowing them to use social media in their company, or sharing passwords with their kids. Overall, though, Faris says, “What really matters is that kids feel like parents are actively concerned about them, that they are trying and open to dialogue. This is what makes the biggest difference.”
Not-Very-Feminist Business Lady Successfully Co-Opts Feminism as a Marketing Gimmick. Hooray?
I love the ads for Thinx, the underwear designed to absorb women’s periods. If you’re female, you, too, probably see those ads daily on Facebook—and maybe you, too, wear a little smile of recognition every time they pop up. One shows the curving sections of a grapefruit leaning against a maroon wall; another pictures a glistening raw egg just beginning to drip down the side of a table. These clever little vanitas tableaus make me feel as if I’m in on the joke: that things are about to get messy beneath the tidy, cultivated shell of the surface.
I know this wry feminist message was likely cooked up in a focus group. Still, I always imagined I could have shared a wink with the woman behind it.
That illusion dribbled away when I read about Thinx founder Miki Agrawal in Noreen Malone’s excellent profile for The Cut. In the paragraph of the piece that has sparked by far the most conversation on Twitter, Agrawal gushes:
“I only started relating to being a feminist, literally, right when I started my company. … Every time I thought about the word feminist, I thought about an angry, ranty … girl. When you hear those spoken-word poets and feminists, who are just like” — she made a high-pitched version of the Charlie Brown grown-up wah wah white-noise sound — “I just couldn’t relate to that. I was always on the ‘women are equal’ front and into empowerment and laughter and inspiration,” she continued. “But I learned so much in the past few years about the plight of women … What I tell my team every day is that we have to be accessible. We have to build a bridge to redefining what feminism is, and we have to do it in a way that makes your mouth go like this,” she said, forming her mouth into what she termed a “smirk.”
Feminism spoke to Agrawal, it seems, not as a political creed, but as a savvy marketing technique. As Malone puts it, “Thinx is unapologetically riding [the] tide of period feminism, to great success.” But how are the feminists who cheered Thinx’s victory over the prudish impulses of the New York subway system—and who might be the underwear’s demographic of buyers—going to feel about Agrawal’s Machiavellian conversion?
If Twitter is any indication, the answer is: not great. “The period underpants founder would like feminism to be more accessible,” novelist Jami Attenberg tweeted, adding a few minutes later, “Also leave the poets out of it.” Bloomberg reporter Rebecca Greenfield asked, “How does someone graduate from a fancy college with this understanding of feminism?” (Agrawal attended Cornell.)
Greenfield’s question is a fair one. Agrawal is 37, came up with the idea for Thinx in 2010, and opened for business in 2013—meaning that she made it well into her fourth decade before figuring out that feminism wasn’t just for spoken-word poets and their dangly-earring-wearing ilk. On the other hand, maybe we shouldn’t be too surprised. Malone characterizes Agrawal as the female version of a “tech bro.” Her fellow bros aren’t exactly known for their warm feelings toward the f-word. Tech entrepreneur David Sacks wrote in the 1990s that feminists “see phallocentrism in everything longer than it is wide.” Former PayPal CEO Peter Thiel, for his part, has written about why women should be unburdened of their right to vote.
It’s not just masters of the universe in northern California. Celebrities say so many dumb things about feminism that some publications make an annual roundup. (On this year’s list: Shailene Woodley, who was asked if she’s a feminist: “No, because I love men, and I think the idea of ‘raise women to power, take the men away from the power’ is never going to work out because you need balance”; and Lana Del Ray, who declared herself “more interested in, you know, SpaceX and Tesla, what’s going to happen with our intergalactic possibilities. Whenever people bring up feminism, I’m like, god. I’m just not really that interested.”) It’s little wonder that even young women who are attracted to the term sometimes have very little idea what it means. A recent Washington Post feature about young self-identified feminists quoted them saying things such as “feminism is not political” and “being a feminist takes all different forms, and at the core of it is being inclusive and not excluding.”
Many people who identify as feminists had to shuck off misinformation before they arrived at a definition they could embrace. In a culture averse to many of feminism’s aims, perhaps that’s unlikely to change anytime soon. (I remember my own conversion moment, when I asked an older friend if it was true that feminists hated men. Thankfully, she knew the answer was no. I think I was twelve.) What could help, though, is if people like Agrawal, upon realizing what they stand to gain from feminism, could ruminate a bit on why their earlier impressions were misguided or damaging. The thing that rankled most in Agrawal’s comments wasn’t that it took her thirty-odd years to realize that feminists aren’t a bunch of ranty whiners—it’s that she still seems to see them in that light, to the point that she’s assigned herself the task of “build[ing] a bridge to redefining what feminism is.” Maybe Agrawal needs to do a little more research before deciding whether feminism needs “redefining.” If it does, I’m not sure she’s the woman for the job.
Trump’s Supporters 11 Times More Likely Than Clinton’s to Expect Sex on the First Date
We know that people who support Donald Trump are older and less educated than the general population. They’re very, very white, and more likely to be a pro football fan than the average American. But what it’s like to date one of these specimens, the squeaky wheels of today’s electoral wagon?
A new study from Match—formerly Match.com, currently a “relationship company”—provides some illuminating details. Using data gleaned from its 2015 survey of 5,504 U.S. singles, Match compared the sex and relationship attitudes of Trump’s supporters to those of Hillary Clinton’s. Among the reveals: Single Trump fans are 99 percent more likely than singles who support Clinton to film themselves having sex, and 1,104 percent more likely to expect sex on the first date. That’s 11 times as many Trump supporters as Clinton supporters who believe that they have the right to pout if their date doesn’t put out as well as the right to take America back from whomever’s currently in possession. Clinton’s base is 2,133 percent more likely than Trump’s to have no expectations for any physical contact at all on the first date.
Match’s study, which was run by Research Now, included responses from people between the ages of 18 and “70+.” About 84 percent of Trump’s fanbase is over 45; according to Match, Trump’s supporters are 54 percent more likely than Clinton’s to have five or more ex-partners. They’re 116 percent more likely to talk about their exes, too, which dovetails with the candidate’s “Make America Great Again” nostalgia.
Demographics-wise, lovers of the real-estate mogul are 82 percent more likely to be unemployed than are followers of the former secretary of state. Meanwhile, Clinton’s supporters are six times as likely to be gay. They’re also twice as likely as Trump supporters to fudge the number of people they’ve slept with, though it’s unclear whether that speaks to their overwhelming sexual experience or their chastity.
Only 64 percent of singles polled said they’d vote for a presidential candidate who’d been divorced, and only 78 percent would vote for a woman. But the most disturbing data in the survey came from single women: Just 36 percent said they’d “ghost” on Donald Trump himself after a first date. That means 64 percent would either continue dating him or initiate a polite, sit-down conversation about why the relationship wasn’t working. Hope they don't expect the same consideration from him.
Ted Cruz vs. Donald Trump: Who Wins the Creepy-Dad Caucus?
Ted Cruz may have won a mandate from Iowa caucusgoers in a decisive victory over Donald Trump, but his detractors are feeling seen by Cruz’s own daughter this morning. In a BBC video that surfaced this weekend, a squirming 7-year-old Caroline rebuffs her father’s repeated attempts at strategic affection, yelling “Ow, ow, ow, ow!” as he insists on going in for a kiss goodbye.
The best part of the clip is right at the start, when Caroline Cruz extends her arm to flick a finger directly in her father’s face at the mere suggestion of an impending hug. This approximates the general vibe of many residents of states with upcoming primaries, in whom Cruz evokes a case of the heebie-jeebies.
Cruz pretends it’s just a little act his daughter puts on when she actually wants to be embraced in his arms: “Hey, hey, hey, hey, hey, hey hey hey,” he implores. He reaches out to touch her, she slaps his hands away, and he acts like it’s a game, slapping hers back. He mimics familiarity with a tiny roar right against her unwilling cheek, then makes one last giant attempt at a kiss for the sake of the camera. She dodges it with practiced finesse, the look of unadulterated disgust steady on her face, refusing to make eye contact with the candidate. Gleeful Cruz-haters on social media have likened the moment to an iconic scene from Alien:
Kids on the campaign trail have it rough—they’re away from home, their parents are busy all the time, and, as in Caroline’s case, they end up getting carried from bleak Iowa town to bleak Iowa town by a guy in a football jersey. “Yeah, they’re goin’ with me,” the jersey guy in this video says of Caroline. “We’re takin’ her.” Clutching her iPad, Caroline looks tired, frustrated, and ready to be done with this whole campaign nonsense. No one could blame her for rejecting an on-camera hug from the dad who’s been gone stumping for the better part of the past year.
But Cruz persists, and he knows how bad it looks. Consider the look of humiliation and panic on Cruz’s face when he glances at the camera, knowing it caught the whole thing—this is the look of a guy who’s so bent on world domination, he’ll do anything to try and force a loving family moment, even if it means ignoring his daughter’s very clear signals that she doesn’t want to be touched.
Voters expect a certain amount of publicity-ready, choreographed family time during a political campaign. The outtakes from Cruz’s family promo video, which contained a lot of coaching and uneasy silences, were embarrassing, but not surprising. Forcing a child to kiss and hug when she feels uncomfortable or isn’t in the mood to be touched, however, is no way to raise a child with a healthy set of boundaries and agency over her own body. A child pressured to kiss in front of the camera is a child used as a pawn.
Luckily for Cruz, Trump’s already got the creepy-dad title in the bag. As if Trump’s implication that he'd have sex with his daughter wasn’t nauseating enough, we now have this image of the candidate and an adolescent Ivanka to surgically excise from our brains:
Donald Trump Got a Huge Number of Votes in Iowa. Imagine If He’d Actually Run a Campaign.
Yesterday, in a story about Donald Trump and Christian conservatives, I wrote, “The outcome of this year’s Iowa caucus may tell us if the American religious right has retained its outsize influence in American politics or if a new populist force has supplanted it.” Now, Iowa voters have told us. A record-breaking number of Republicans—over 180,000, compared to 121,503 in 2012—caucused last night. Contrary to expectations, many of them came not to support Trump, but to stop him. According to the Washington Post, 64 percent of caucus-goers were evangelicals. A third of them went for Cruz, compared to a little more than 20 percent for Trump. Conservative Christians gave Cruz his victory over the brash Manhattan vulgarian.
It turns out that the two things that have always mattered in Iowa Republican politics—faith and an intensive grassroots operation—still do. Throughout this surreal political season, many of us have wondered if Trump’s impersonal, spectacle-driven campaign, built on mass rallies and media exposure rather than one-to-one connection with voters, would actually motivate people to get out and caucus. The answer, actually, is yes. Trump got more votes than either of the last two winners of the Iowa Caucuses: 45,416, compared to 29,839 for Rick Santorum in 2012 and 40,841 for Mike Huckabee in 2008. But Cruz’s religious-right mobilization and sophisticated voter targeting still won out.
In the week before the caucuses, both local and national leaders of the religious right got serious about heading Trump off. Bob Vander Plaats—head of the FAMiLY Leader, and Iowa’s most powerful evangelical—campaigned hard for Cruz. (Vander Plaats has now endorsed all of the past three winners of the GOP Iowa Caucus.) Leading female anti-abortion activists wrote an open letter urging Iowans to support anyone but Trump. A 17,000-strong coalition, Pro-Lifers for Cruz, unveiled itself, with the Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins as its chairman. One of the co-chairs, Troy Newman, is a board member of the Center for Medical Progress, the group behind last year’s Planned Parenthood video sting; Newman has argued that the murder of physicians who perform abortions is legally justifiable.
Besides mobilizing a zealous movement, Cruz also ran the sort of detailed digital operation that propelled Barack Obama to victory in the 2008 Democratic Iowa caucuses. Cruz’s campaign, Bloomberg reported, “divided voters by faction, self-identified ideology, religious belief, personality type—creating 150 different clusters of Iowa caucus-goers—down to sixty Iowa Republicans its statistical models showed as likely to share Cruz’s desire to end a state ban on fireworks sales.” Trump did nothing comparable. Politico reported that his campaign spent significantly more on hats—at least $1.2 million—than on field staff or analytics.
Now that Trump is a loser, it’s anyone’s guess whether his support in New Hampshire and other early voting states falls away. Perhaps some sort of psychic bubble will burst, and would-be backers nationwide will realize that Trump is not an unbeatable übermensch bringing national salvation but rather a cynical, peevish showman. We should not, however, discount the enduring power of the alienated, angry nationalists who rallied to Trump’s banner. They turned out in historically high numbers last night, despite a campaign that couldn’t be bothered to put together even a rudimentary field operation. In states where primary voting is easier and evangelicals don’t predominate, those voters might still put Trump over the top. If they don’t, it’s just a matter of time until someone comes along who speaks to their passions and knows how to organize them. Imagine what would have happened if, instead of breaking all the rules of Iowa campaigning, Trump had bothered to master them.
How Dare the Iowa Caucus Interrupt Fans’ Sacred Communion With The Bachelor
Hello yes 911? I turned on my TV to watch The Bachelor and there was some completely irrelevant news about Iowa and caucuses on instead!!!
Such was the outrage some fans experienced Monday evening when they tuned into ABC for their weekly communion with dreamboat Ben Higgins and his quickly dwindling number of prospective wives, only to find their regularly scheduled programming interrupted for some pesky election news. Good thing democracy is all about making people’s voices heard, and some Bach fans spoke out on Twitter.
ABC I DON'T GIVE A FLYING FRICK ABOUT IOWA'S STUPID DECISIONS. I WANNA WATCH THE BACHELOR.— Janelle Mitzner (@JMitz30) February 2, 2016
Pretty disgusting that they would push the bachelor back until midnight just bc of the caucus. America's priorities I tell you what.— kianna. (@kiannakramper) February 2, 2016
Almost had a heart attack bc they were showing the Iowa caucus instead of the bachelor 😭— rachel (@rachelllmaaarie) February 2, 2016
If Iowa caucus takes over the bachelor time right now I will lose my damn mind— hann (@Hower_Power) February 2, 2016
Every girl when the caucus interrupted the bachelor pic.twitter.com/e8ihcDQEq4— McKenna (@mckennaquinn) February 2, 2016
#1 what the heck is a Caucuses— Miranda Dodson (@MirandaDodson1) February 2, 2016
#2 get off of my bachelor night
#3 another reason Iowa sucks
When the caucus ruins ur whole day bc the bachelor is pushed back <<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<— monique (@monica_copeland) February 2, 2016
POLITICS JUST INTERRUPTED THE BACHELOR IM LIVID— lauren clemence (@loloooo98) February 2, 2016
I'm just tryna see Olivia go home and having the bachelor get interrupted doesn't make my situation any easier— Brianna Rennie (@Brirenn210) February 2, 2016
THE CAUCUS JUST INTERRUPTED THE BACHELOR AND I AM SO ANGRY. I am what's wrong with America.— kat hen (@katiehenry_) February 2, 2016
The Iowa caucuses(?) just interrupted The Bachelor........... Thanks Obama— Ashley Ford (@xoashford) February 2, 2016
HEY I DON'T CARE IF TED CRUZ WON THE IOWA CAUCUS'! YOU'RE INTERRUPTING THE BACHELOR. BEN IS MORE IMPORTANT— arianne (@ari2034) February 2, 2016
This is Week 5 of Ben’s Bachelor season and a crucial juncture in all 11 of the relationships he’s currently having. This is about true love, people! Contrast that to the 2016 election, which has been going on for years at this point and will continue to play out probably over several more months. Like, no matter what position Ted Cruz comes in, his campaign will live to fight another day. Whereas if Olivia and her cankles don’t get a rose, that’s it for her. (Don’t tell me what happens, by the way, I DVR’ed it.)
Dakota Johnson and Leslie Mann’s Shameless Flirting Is Hollywood Under the Female Gaze
Unless you’re Oscar Isaac’s Poe Dameron doll, movie promo interviews can be monotonous, overscheduled affairs with few opportunities for unscripted merriment. All the more reason, then, to praise Dakota Johnson and Leslie Mann for turning their How to Be Single press tour into a piece of performance art by disarming a Miami TV reporter with a barrage of flattery about his attire and alleged good looks.
The giggling pair starts out by giving Chris Van Vliet a compliment on his socks, a bold statement pair covered in fish silhouettes. They ask after his relationship status, applaud his workout regimen, and finally convince him to unbutton part of his shirt. It’s brazen, though not particularly sexy, and just uncomfortable enough to be a gender-politics power grab.
Of course, the indignant men of YouTube are already riled up about the interview’s implications. “Yeah no this is perfectly fine right? Funny, cute, awesome?” the top comment reads. “Except only if it were two male actors hitting on a female reporter, then it'd be labelled 'degrading, low, unprofessional, creepy' etc. If its okay for women to do this it should be okay for men to do it too.”
I disagree: Johnson and Mann’s shameless flirting is degrading, and definitely creepy. That’s what makes it great. (It’s worth noting that Van Vliet appears game throughout their shtick and has been joking about it on Twitter for the past few days.) Men have so often objectified women reporters and interview subjects, minimizing their professional accomplishments by making statements about their looks, that it’s wonderfully unsettling to see a little evening of the score with a glimpse of the world through the female gaze. The patriarchy doesn’t have to crumble under male tears—sometimes, a little chest hair will do.
New Survey Confirms Straight White Women’s Domination of Book Publishing
In the writer Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah’s beautiful profile of Toni Morrison, published in the New York Times Magazine last year, Junot Díaz remembered what he felt when he saw Morrison on the cover of Time in 1998. “At that moment…you could feel the demographic shift, you could feel in the ’90s what the future was going to be,” he said. But when you look at the world of publishing now, he added, “it’s almost like that future was never realized. The literary world has tripled down on its whiteness.”
The results of a new survey to measure diversity in publishing, released last week by the children’s publisher Lee & Low, loudly concur with Díaz’s point. But interestingly, publishing isn’t just white: It’s dominated by white women.
Lee & Low sent its survey to 13,237 people at all levels of the publishing and book reviewing professions, from marketing assistants to senior editors. Some major publishers, including Penguin Random House, participated, although it appears that others, including HarperCollins and Simon and Schuster, did not. The overall response rate was 25.8 percent. Of the respondents, 79 percent were white, 78 percent were cis women, and 88 percent were straight. The pool was 4 percent black, 7 percent Asian/Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander, and 6 percent Hispanic, Latino, or Mexican; 8 percent of respondents reported being disabled.
As Kait Howard, a publicist at Melville House, points out, male representation increases to 40 percent at the executive levels of publishing, suggesting that men and women are still being promoted at different rates. A Publisher’s Weekly survey last year also found that the pay gap persists, citing an average salary of $70,000 for men versus $51,000 for women. In other words, while white women have clearly amassed a great deal of power in publishing, that power is in many cases concentrated at the lower and middle levels of the ranks, suggesting it’s too soon to declare total hegemony. But the survey is an essential, depressing reminder of the extent to which the feminist movement has swept in new opportunities for primarily straight, white, and affluent women while excluding others, especially women of color.
“Just because you are a woman, that doesn’t make you an expert in the marginalization that people of color face or people with disabilities face,” Lee & Low director of marketing and publicity Hannah Ehrlich told Take Part. “Do not assume that because women are successful or are in positions of power that that means that that success or power will automatically be offered out or shared with other marginalized groups.”
Man Booker prizewinner Marlon James made a similar point in response to Claire Vaye Watkins’ essay “On Pandering” in November. Watkins wrote that her literary aesthetic was shaped by a life of “watching boys do stuff”—that her work was about “pandering” to white men. James countered, “We writers of colour spend way too much of our lives pandering to the white woman.” He returned to Facebook after the results of the diversity survey went live to point out, “Not to beat what many hoped would be a dead horse, but I still remember how I was near crucified in certain circles for saying this.”
The survey comes just weeks after the much-lauded news that Penguin Random House’s UK office will no longer require job applicants to have a college degree—but, as Salon reports, the US offices have followed a similar policy for years, with minimal effect on the company’s diversity. Jennifer Baker, creator of the Minorities in Publishing podcast, points out that “marginalized people with degrees” already have a disproportionately hard time getting a foot in the door.
The survey results suggest that instead of patting itself on the back for lowering superficial barriers, the literary world needs to actively recruit more staff who aren’t, well, straight white women. (No bonus points allotted for straight white men.) As Quartz suggests, “Pushing publishing companies to launch diversity initiatives may take things a step in the right direction. Readers and writers can also be more vocal about what they’d like to read; after all, publishers are businesses, and businesses need people to buy their product.”
What’s clear is that as long as publishing houses stay overwhelmingly white, so will the authors they select and the characters and stories that they put into the world. Lee & Low points out that the proportion of children’s books that contain “multicultural content” has hovered at around 10 percent for the past 18 years. Adult publishing isn’t much better. That’s a problem for people of color, who deserve to tell their stories, and to read stories that reflect them. And it’s also a problem for society as a whole. “There’s a currently popular argument that books help us feel empathy,” Rebecca Solnit wrote recently, “but if they do so they do it by helping us imagine that we are people we are not… Which is a reminder that literature and art can also help us fail at empathy if it sequesters us in the Boring Old Fortress of Magnificent Me.” Lee & Low has quantified the extent to which publishing remains a Boring Old Fortress. Hopefully the survey will help to crack open the gates.
Former Trump Staffer Files Complaint Accusing Campaign of Sex Discrimination
A former Iowa field organizer for Donald Trump’s presidential bid has accused the campaign of gender discrimination, filing an official complaint with the Davenport Civil Rights Commission on Thursday. Elizabeth Mae Davidson, a 26-year-old paralegal and former paid Trump staffer, alleges that the campaign paid her male counterparts a heftier salary and gave them more leadership and speaking opportunities. In her complaint, Davidson also claims that Trump made a sexually inappropriate remark to her and a female volunteer at a 2015 rally.
The New York Times reports that Davidson made $2,000 a month on the Trump campaign while some men who shared her job title, district representative, made $3,500 to $4,000 a month. Davidson told the Times the campaign justified her pay by classifying her work as part-time, since she had another job as a paralegal, but a male district representative who also worked a second gig made the higher pay grade.
Davidson’s complaint states that when she and another campaign-affiliated woman met Trump last year, he commented on their physical appearance: “You guys could do a lot of damage,” Davidson alleges he said. Trump told the Times that he never said that, writing off Davidson’s accusations as the bitter retribution of a scorned former employee. “My people tell me she did a terrible job,” he said.
The Trump campaign fired Davidson on Jan. 14; her gender-discrimination complaint says the she was terminated for making “disparaging comments about senior campaign leaders to third parties” and violating a nondisclosure agreement. Her termination came just one day after a Times article called her “one of the campaign’s most effective organizers.” The piece doesn’t quote or mention any interviews between the reporter and Davidson, who claims that male district representatives spoke to news outlets on the record and were not fired.
It does, however, quote Davidson’s recruitment pitch to a potential volunteer:
As people streamed in, a Trump field representative, Elizabeth Mae Davidson, sought to enlist volunteers as precinct leaders.
“What does that entail?” asked Selena Jacobs, who had never caucused before.
“You stand up and say why you want to support Mr. Trump,” Ms. Davidson said.
“Hmm,” Ms. Jacobs replied, adding that she was not sure she would speak well in public.
“I think you would, you’re pretty,” Ms. Davidson said.
A comment about a woman’s looks means something different when it comes from another woman instead of a man, and certainly when it comes from a young organizer instead of a presidential candidate and millionaire. Trump denies that he ever remarked on Davidson’s appearance. “That is not the worst thing that could be said,” he told the Times, “But I never said it. It’s not in my vocabulary.”
Such an aside wouldn’t be completely out of character for the candidate, who’s made crude assessments of the looks of women in all parts of his life, including his employees, GOP competitor Carly Fiorina, and his own daughter. (Poor Ivanka, of whom Trump has repeatedly invoked incestuous images, has defended her father by calling him “highly gender-neutral.”) There is a power differential between Davidson’s “pretty” and Trump’s “do a lot of damage.” But Davidson’s chosen means of flattering speaks to the Trump machine as a campaign that rests on belittling attitudes toward women, who are either commended or disparaged based on their sex appeal.
White Feminism Downplayed California’s Coerced Sterilization of Latinas in the ’70s
In the early 1970s, as feminists advocated for abortion rights in the lead-up to Roe v. Wade, an L.A. county hospital was years into a federally funded population-control program that targeted poor Mexican American women for sterilization when they came to the hospital to give birth. Several only learned years later that they’d had tubal ligations without their consent; 10 testified against the head of the hospital’s OB-GYN program in a federal class-action lawsuit. One woman said a doctor showed her the consent form as she was on a gurney being wheeled into an operating room, midlabor, and asked her to sign it to give them permission to save her and her baby. One said she was told her husband had already read and approved the form, when he hadn’t. Many of these women couldn’t understand the English the doctors were speaking or read the form in front of them. Some heard the doctor say “tubes tied” and assumed they could be untied. Some heard the word sterilize and thought they were being cleaned after an emergency cesarean section.
Lawyers representing the women in the resulting class-action suit, Madrigal v. Quilligan, argued that the plaintiffs had a right to have children, established by Roe, as well as a right to marital privacy under Griswold v. Connecticut, in which the Supreme Court struck down a law banning contraception. But when Latina and Chicana feminists proposed measures that would help protect vulnerable women from reproductive exploitation—like instating a mandatory waiting period between when a woman consented to a tubal ligation and when the procedure took place—many primarily white feminist groups fought them on it, contending that Roe gave them the unalienable right to contraception procedures on demand.
No Más Bebés, a 2015 documentary that airs on PBS Monday night, chronicles the history of this watershed moment in the divide between movements centered on “abortion rights” and those that claim a broader agenda of “reproductive justice.” The clash in priorities has long run parallel to lines of race and class, and its legacy persists. In 2014, the New York Times ran a piece on feminist activists moving from a narrative of “choice” to one that acknowledges the spectrum of reproductive health care and economic barriers to access—a framework that feminists of color have advanced for decades. The article only quoted white women and discussed mainstream feminist organizations with largely white leadership, prompting reproductive justice advocates to protest that their contributions had been erased. Two days after the Times piece ran, a top Planned Parenthood employee wrote a clarification.
“Since the beginning, the narrative of reproductive rights has focused so much on abortion,” No Más Bebés director Renee Tajima-Peña told me. “More and more today, the conversation around reproductive freedom does focus on the full spectrum of a woman’s reproductive rights—to have a child or not have a child. But it’s taken many decades, and a lot of work, especially [by] organizations led by women of color, to change that conversation.”
Some of the film’s most arresting moments come from clips of old newsreels and doctor training videos about birth control programs meant to “space out or limit children born to the poor,” a common U.S. health policy strategy amid a countrywide panic about a population boom that scholars worried would lead to famine and social unrest. But California, which also allowed doctors to perform forced vasectomies on teen boys in group homes and sterilize thousands of people with mental illnesses and developmental disabilities, was known for its extensive, systematic sterilization model. Germany used California’s laws as the basis for its eugenics program under the Nazis. Even in recent years, the state has come under fire for unethical sterilization practices. After an audit uncovered 144 cases where incarcerated women were sterilized without state authorization—39 without proper consent from the inmates—between 2005 and 2011, the state passed a law against it.
Though Madrigal v. Quilligan was decided in favor of the doctors, it was the galvanizing moment for Chicana feminists that Roe and Griswold had been for middle-class white women. Tajima-Peña pegs it as one of the first and few cases that gave the most marginalized women a chance to speak. “Forty years ago, the women of the Madrigal 10 were among the most at risk for losing their rights. They were Latinas, predominantly low-income and Spanish-speaking,” she says. “Even within the women’s movement, they weren’t being heard. That’s always been the case with poor women, then and now.” The mainstream Chicano and Latino civil rights movements in the ’70s, which were dominated by men, didn’t offer them any more power. “We were their workers as well,” one woman recalls in No Más Bebés.
“For me, the larger issue is the idea that some women have children that are more desirable in our society, and others have children that are disposable,” says No Más Bebés producer Virginia Espino. “Forced sterilization or coercive sterilization practices are a symptom of this larger belief, not the cause.” Right-wing activists still often peg poor women of color as irresponsible overbreeders and wealthier white women as abortion-obsessed to advance an anti-immigration or anti-abortion agenda. Feminists cannot battle these related injustices in a vacuum. “I think that some white feminists are realizing that issues affecting the rights of women of color also affect them,” Espino says. “[White feminists and feminists of color] need each other if we are going to defeat the forces that are trying to strip us of our right to bodily autonomy.”