The XX Factor
What Women Really Think

June 26 2015 3:47 PM

A Short History of Bristol Palin’s Lectures

Bristol Palin's canceled-wedding debacle was just fading from public view when we got hit with another bit of tabloid-y Palin news: Bristol is pregnant again. Likely because of all her work preaching abstinence, she knows what you're thinking and would like you to cut it out. "I do not want any lectures and I do not want any sympathy," Palin wrote in her announcement

You will get no lectures on how to live your life from me, Bristol. As a feminist, I really do believe it: Your body, your choice. The world is full enough with people reducing women's morality to what they do with their vaginas. 

Instead let's talk about what you do with your mouth, or really your keyboard. This "no lectures" policy sounds great in theory, but you've never applied it to other people. Cases in point: 

1) Wendy Davis. After discovering that Texas state senator and gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis spent some of her marriage living apart from her kids while attending Harvard Law, Palin launched a memorable grenade in the Mommy Wars. "Is everyone paying attention?" Palin asked, warming up into lecture-mode. "This woman is the hero of the Left?  A woman whose ambition and ego were so big she couldn’t have both a career and kids at the same time," Palin sneered. "Gosh, children are sooo inconvenient, huh?"

2) Barack Obama and his daughters. After President Obama credited his daughters for helping him see the light on same-sex marriage, Palin lectured Obama on his parenting skills. "While it’s great to listen to your kids’ ideas, there’s also a time when dads simply need to be dads," she wrote. "In this case, it would’ve been helpful for him to explain to Malia and Sasha that while her friends' parents are no doubt lovely people, that’s not a reason to change thousands of years of thinking about marriage."

3) Miley Cyrus. When Miley Cyrus said that conservative Christian beliefs shouldn't dictate the rights LGBT people have and explained why she thinks creationist Christianity is silly, Palin lectured Cyrus about, well, a lot of things, including Cyrus's "hippie lifestyle" and her tendency to "drop lots of profanity." "She wants everyone else to let her be 'free to be Miley,' but seems unwilling to offer the same respect to her parents and those who wish to live out their Christian faith," Palin said.

4) Meghan McCain. It appears that Meghan McCain did not want to be Bristol Palin's friend, an offense that could not be borne. And so Palin ripped into McCain in her memoir, complaining that the first time the Palins visited the McCains, Meghan "ignored us during the entire visit." "I'd never seen people with so much Louis Vuitton luggage, so many cell phones, and so many constant helpers to do hair and makeup," she added.

5) Keith Olbermann. Bristol Palin took umbrage at Keith Olbermann's skepticism regarding her sincerity as an abstinence-only spokeswoman and lectured him about it on Facebook. "Mr. Olbermann fails to understand that in order to have credibility as a spokesperson, it sometimes takes a person who has made mistakes," she explained. "Parents warn their children about the mistakes they made so they are not repeated." 

While Palin mostly enjoys dishing out the lectures she does not appreciate receiving, she has on occasion doled out the sympathy she wants no part of. Here are two bonus beneficiaries of the gentle rains of Palin sympathy. 

1) Phil Robertson. When Phil Robertson compared gay sex to bestiality and praised the era of segregation, Palin used her blog to defend the Duck Dynasty star's sacred right to say bigoted things without criticism. In a post titled "Leave Phil Robertson Alone!", Palin expressed sympathy the only way she knows how: by lecturing liberals about how much they suck. " I think it’s so hypocritical how the LGBT community expects every single flippen person to agree with their life style," she griped. "Everyone needs to treat others like God would, with love."

As a reminder, here are some of the loving words Robertson bestowed upon gay people: 

It seems like, to me, a vagina—as a man—would be more desirable than a man’s anus. That’s just me. I’m just thinking: There’s more there! She’s got more to offer. I mean, come on, dudes! You know what I’m saying? But hey, sin: It’s not logical, my man. It’s just not logical.

2) Josh Duggar. When it was revealed the eldest son of the 19 Kids and Counting clan had molested five underage girls and had his family help cover it up for him, Palin went on the offense against Duggar critics. "Josh Duggar touched a sleeping girl's breast—a terrible thing to go. But now their ENTIRE family is punished and their hit show is canceled? He’s labeled as a pedophile? His family is crucified!" she exclaimed

"Liberals in today’s media can do no wrong, while conservatives can do no right," she added. Bristol, you have our sympathy—oops, sorry!

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June 25 2015 1:06 PM

Margaret Atwood Joins the Mix for The Secret Loves of Geek Girls

Drop what you are doing, female geeks and the men who love them: Margaret Atwood is contributing to a comic book anthology about the love lives of your misunderstood tribe. This is not a drill. 

The book is called The Secret Loves of Geek Girls, which is being put together by comics editor Hope Nicholson. Nicholson started fundraising for the book on Kickstarter this week, and she's nearly reached her $30,000 goal with a hefty 29 days left to go. “I find myself very optimistic whenever I see an article on advice or information on geeks and dating,” Nicholson explains in her fundraising appeal. “But soon this excitement turns to disappointment; the articles are almost always written with only the male geeks in mind.” This book intends to fill that gap with stories about female geeks dealing with “relationships and crushes, rejections, unwanted advances, and general romantic and sexual entanglements.” And it's told in the geekiest form possible: the comic book. 

Atwood is up there with Stanley Kubrick as a figure who's helped elevate the literary and artistic status of science fiction, showing mainstream audiences that truly great art can come out of this genre. Her most famous book is, of course, a sci-fi novel, the dystopian classic The Handmaid's Tale. But sci-fi and fantasy, as genres, leave their fingerprints all over Atwood's work, from the sci-fi novel-within-a-novel of The Blind Assassin to her recently completed Oryx and Crake trilogy of speculative fiction. 

“I'm white-hair w. cat; pleased I have long legs at last!,” Atwood jokingly tweeted about her promotional image for the book. Having a white-haired lady in the mix is a great thing for us all. Female geekdom is on the rise in recent years, which is partly why you're seeing such ugly backlashes against it. But it's important to be reminded that it's not a new phenomenon. There are plenty of OGs of female geekdom running around such as Atwood and Elena Kagan, who outed herself as a comics nerd this week with a multitude of goofy Spider-Man jokes in her opinion in Kimble v. Marvel. Our people have always been around, lady geeks. Don't let anyone say that you're late arrivals to the party.

June 25 2015 11:17 AM

Ricki Lake Starts a Crusade Against Hormonal Birth Control

Meet the newest hero of the anti-choice movement. Talk show host and actress Ricki Lake, who some hailed as a feminist hero for her 2008 anti-obstetrician documentary The Business of Being Bornis raising money on Kickstarter for a documentary based on the book Sweetening the Pill, by self-declared feminist Holly Grigg-Spall. Sweetening the Pill was widely praised by the Christian right for discouraging women from using hormonal birth control.

When Grigg-Spall's book came out, Lindsay Beyerstein, writing for Slate, thoroughly debunked Grigg-Spall's half-baked arguments, scientific illiteracy, and regressive attitudes toward female gender roles. “Women are encouraged to suppress their monthly ovulatory cycle in order to not miss any days of work or so as they can remain sexually available,” Grigg-Spall writes. In reality, many women actually do enjoy either working outside the home or having sex for their own reasons, as opposed to simply being “sexually available” for male use.

Grigg-Spall's retrograde attitudes about women are the most fun to unravel, but the more serious issue was her bad science. She leveled accusations about the pill—that it causes depression, weight gain, or headaches—that double-blind studies have debunked. The one bona fide risk of the pill, increased risk of blood clots, is slight and falls far below the blood clot risk of pregnancy

But pregnancy is “natural” and hormonal contraception is “unnatural,” and “unnatural” is the problem, according to Grigg-Spall and now Ricki Lake. “Our goal with this film is to wake women up to the unexposed side effects of these powerful medications and the unforeseen consequences of repressing women’s natural cycles,” Lake and her director, Abby Epstein, said last year in a fundraising statement.

A similar faith in the benevolence of nature is all over The Business of Being Born, which conflates the naturalness of childbirth with safety. Human history should say otherwise, but medical experts concur: Some people make it out of home birth OK, even at the hands of noncertified midwives, but the inherent danger of childbirth suggests you're just better off in a hospital or in a birthing center, in the hands of people who have actual medical training and access to modern technology. 

Lake and Epstein present themselves as pro-contraception, but their trailer and Kickstarter page primarily pushes the same “fertility awareness method” beloved by the Catholic Church. I like its other name, “periodic abstinence,” because avoiding sex at certain times of the month is the central concept behind it.

Despite their feminist veneer, The Business of Being Born and Sweetening the Pill are little more than a 21st-century spin on the very old belief that women's beings should be reduced to and defined by our reproductive functions. As nice as it would be to believe otherwise, nature—which produces mosquitoes and measles and sunburns—is not your friend. And the human ability to manipulate nature and extract what we want out of it is the defining feature of our species.

June 24 2015 12:40 PM

We May Have a Chlamydia Vaccine for Future Generations

Most people don't fear the STI chlamydia quite like they do the dreaded herpes, even though it's both really common (the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates there are nearly 3 million cases a year) and a major cause of infertility and ectopic pregnancy. Chlamydia can be cured with antibiotics, which likely explains why it freaks people out less. The problem, however, is that most women who are at risk don't get tested nearly enough. There are efforts to change that, but we need more and better prevention efforts.

Now there's a tendril of real hope about a vaccine. Science has published a study showing that vaccines administered to mice offered six months of protection against the disease. It's a small start that could lead to further research in humans. Even if the end result is only a vaccine that offers temporary protection, that would be a huge boon. Risk for chlamydia varies dramatically over a woman's life. Rates are much higher, for obvious reasons, in women under 25 and for women who have multiple partners in a year. Targeting at-risk people not just with testing but preventive vaccines could do a lot to curtail the disease's spread. 

It's important to sound a note of caution here, because these findings are extremely preliminary. As anyone who has seen the endless news items about how we're going to get a new form of male birth control any day now can attest, there's a lot of promising research in sexual health that ends up going nowhere. 

That said, this story is important for big-picture reasons. As the public panic over the HPV vaccine has demonstrated, there's still a lot of anxiety over novel approaches to sexual health care, which many fear are tantamount to giving “permission” to have sex. That fear perpetuates a sexual double standard and treats a normal and happy part of human life like it's some kind of tragedy to be avoided.

What we need is a countervailing narrative about how taking responsibility isn't about “just say no,” but about accepting that sex is something nearly all of us do. Condoms are great, but vaccines offer more long-term protection and help normalize the idea that one can be prepared to have sex in the future, instead of just getting caught up in the moment.

June 23 2015 12:17 PM

Scott Walker Argues That Equal Pay Pits Women Against Men

Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin has gone on the offensive against women again, despite the backlash against his previous ugly remarks about rape victims seeking abortionAs reported by Right Wing Watch, Boston Herald Radio host Adriana Cohen asked him about the issue of equal pay for women, using largely discredited numbers to accuse Hillary Clinton as a hypocrite who pays her staff unequally. Walker could have scored the easy point on hypocrisy and left it at that. Instead he doubled down on why he finds it so offensive to be for equal pay in the first place.

“But I think even a bigger issue than that,” he said, “and this is sadly something that would make her consistent with the president, and that is I believe that the president and now Hillary Clinton tend to think that politically they do better if they pit one group of Americans versus another.” 

Walker added that Democrats’ “measure of success in government is how many people are dependent on the government, how many people are dependent, on whether it's Medicaid or food stamps or health care or other things out there.”

That's the way to win women's vote, Walker: Imply that their paychecks are akin to government handouts. This line of argument started by telling women that their contraception health care benefits—which women work for—are also government handouts, so framing their actual pay in the same way isn't that big a leap. 

Walker's implication on equal pay is that Democrats are pitting men against women. But when women make more money, men do better. For couples, when the woman is underpaid, that means less money overall for the household. Sixty percent of married couples with children are two-income families: When those women make less, the men's standard of living goes down alongside theirs. That's where Walker misses the sense in helping women become less dependent on men.

Walker is the one actually stoking conflict by falsely implying that advocating for women puts them in opposition to men. He makes it sound as though equal pay for women takes away from men. But for most men, the numbers don't lie: More money in women's paychecks means more cash in men's wallets.

June 22 2015 1:27 PM

Inside Out Is a Universal Tale With a Feminist Kick

Audible weeping could be heard all around me over the weekend at Pixar's new movie Inside Out, which has received high praise as an intellectually interesting caper and an honest, ultimately optimistic exploration of the loss of childhood innocence. For plenty of adults, Inside Out will represent a moment of catharsis as they remember their own transitions into the more subtle and nuanced emotions of adulthood.

While the movie's themes are universal, Pixar has also worked in a subtle but surprisingly feminist theme about how girls are raised. When we first peek inside the head of 11-year-old Riley (voiced by Kaitlyn Dias), she is a generally happy child whose emotions are ruled by Joy (Amy Poehler), who stands taller and speaks more forcefully than the other four emotions. This is how it should be, the movie suggests: Riley is an inherently cheerful girl with a pretty easy life. 

When Riley's family moves, however, other emotions—Fear and Sadness—start grabbing at the controls. Most of the movie is dedicated to Joy learning to give up some control and accept that Riley doesn't need to be happy all the time to be OK. But when the camera pops out of Riley's head and into her world, we see that this pressure to be happy all the time isn't completely self-imposed. At separate times, both of Riley's parents (played by Kyle MacLachlan and Diane Lane) ask Riley to be the happy little girl they're used to. They're clearly well-meaning, but they're guilt-tripping their kid. (The scenario echoes a 1990 Simpsons episode in which sweet Marge Simpson implores a down-in-the-dumps Lisa to “take all your bad feelings and push them down, all the way down past your knees, until you're almost walking on them.”)

Of course, we all have to suppress negative feelings for the sake of social harmony, but girls experience a lot more pressure to be pleasant and cheery for the benefit of others. “This sounds a lot like the beginning of gender conditioning,” writes Flavorwire's Sarah Seltzer, pointing out how Riley is made to feel as though “her family relies on her being their happy girl.”

But Riley's mom and dad aren't demonized for putting these subtly gendered expectations on their daughter. On the contrary, their appeals are so effective because they're not only loving parents but also professional, liberal San Francisco types who push their girl to be in sports. They do learn to give Riley a little more space to be a pouty preteen, and the implication is clear: We are all capable of falling into these gendered traps. The only thing to do is forgive yourself and try to do better next time. (Marge Simpson came around, too; she apologizes to Lisa and says, “Always be yourself. If you want to be sad, honey, be sad. We’ll ride it out with you.”)

Feminist themes are trendy right now in pop culture. Frequently, they're laid out in broad strokes with easy heroes and easy (sexist) villains, in movies as diverse as Frozen and Mad Max: Fury Road. I enjoy a fantasy of girl power conquering menacing patriarchal creeps as much as the next gal. But I was also refreshed by Inside Out's subtle, villain-free narrative about a girl overcoming some pernicious but subtle gender training to find a truer version of herself. 

June 22 2015 12:03 PM

Republican Candidates Compete for Evangelical Votes at a Faith & Freedom Coalition Event

Over the weekend, the Faith & Freedom Coalition held its Road to Majority event in partnership with the anti-feminist organization Concerned Women for America. A solid chunk of the roughly 8 billion Republicans running for president showed up to try to win over the assembled crowd of evangelical voters. Phyllis Schlafly helped kick off events by highlighting her work defeating the Equal Rights Amendment, which would have made it unconstitutional to discriminate against women on the basis of gender.

Two Republican hopefuls, Jeb Bush and Chris Christie, continued in Schafly's vein. “When I became governor, I was shocked by the total lack of regulation of abortion clinics,” Bush said, even though abortion clinics were subject to the same regulations as any other medical facilities when he took office as Florida governor in 1999. “So what we did was we put regulations on abortion clinics. And we narrowed the number of them.”

Christie focused on his cuts to Planned Parenthood. “When [the Democratic legislature] sends me Planned Parenthood funding year after year after year and I am the first governor to veto Planned Parenthood funding out of the budget, there is no room for compromise there,” ThinkProgress reports him telling the audience

By all reports, however, Ted Cruz won the conference with a wild speech that largely focused on redefining “religious liberty” to mean imposing evangelical faith on nonbelievers. “I will never, ever, ever shy from standing up and defending the religious liberty of every American,” he argued, with examples including defending a Ten Commandments monument on the Texas Capitol grounds, fighting to keep “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance, and defending laws that allow evangelical business owners to discriminate against gay people.

Cruz also claimed that there are 90 million evangelical voters but that 50 million of them stay at home, and thus could really take over the country if they just got more organized. In reality, evangelicals are about 27 percent of voters but only 25 percent of the population, which means they are slightly overrepresented at the polls. 

Although Cruz accused his Republican competitors of insufficient dedication to the cause of “religious liberty,” the presence of so many Republicans at this conference suggests otherwise. The only competition left is who can thump the Bible the hardest. 

June 19 2015 3:33 PM

A Kansas State Rep Faces Censure Because She Called a Bill Racist

Conservative efforts to create a taboo around ever suggesting that a person or act is racist—unless the racism is directed against white people—hit a new low this week on Fox News, where commentators bent over backward to avoid acknowledging the racism that drove the mass shooting in Charleston, South Carolina. But the Kansas state Legislature is doing its part, too. Tierney Sneed at Talking Points Memo reports that the Legislature has scheduled a disciplinary hearing on June 26 for state Rep. Valdenia Winn. At stake: whether or not Winn will be censured or ejected for daring to suggest that proposed anti-immigration legislation might be rooted in racism. 

During a March committee meeting considering the legislation, which would have repealed in-state tuition rates for undocumented immigrants, Winn called the proposal "a racist, sexist, fear-mongering bill," according to the Lawrence Journal-World.
"I want to apologize to the students and parents whose lives are being hijacked by the racist bigots who support this bill, because this bill is an act," she said, before being interrupted by Rep. John Barker (R). 
"She just referred to this committee as racist," he objected.

According to the spokeswoman for the state's Democratic caucus, this is only the fourth time in the Legislature's history that this kind of hearing has been called. Pedro Irigonegaray, Winn's lawyer, pointed out that in 2011, state Rep. Virgil Peck "jokingly" suggested that hunting human beings and killing them would be a solution "to our illegal immigration problem." In 2012, House Speaker Mike O’Neal sent an email reading in part, "I can honestly voice a Biblical prayer for our president"; the prayer in question was Psalm 109:8, which asks God to kill your enemies.

However, neither Peck nor O'Neal called anybody a racist, which, to judge from this evidence, is apparently a fate worse than death.

June 18 2015 12:59 PM

Hillary Clinton Defies Right-Wing Critics, Endorses Universal Pre-K

This week, Hillary Clinton rolled out the first big policy proposal of her campaign: universal prekindergarten. Building on the Obama administration's work on preschool for all children, Clinton endorsed programs to make affordable preschool available to low-income families and offer tax cuts to middle-class families with preschool children. Doing this would help the country “invest in our most important assets, our children,” Clinton explained.

On its surface, this announcement seems like no big deal. Research shows that preschool is good for kids, and struggling to pay for child care is a major issue for working parents. But this move is bolder than it might look, because universal pre-K touches on what may be the hottest button for Hillary's haters on the right: their fear that she's out to undermine paternal authority at home. 

Conservatives love sneering at Hillary Clinton for titling her 1996 book of child advocacy It Takes a Village. (The title is based on a vaguely sourced proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child.”) The American right went nuts over the name, interpreting it as a broad attack on the nuclear family and parental rights to control your child's upbringing, and even an implicit endorsement of mothers returning to work instead of being housewives. 

Bob Dole gave voice to this fury when he gave his acceptance speech at the 1996 Republican National Convention. “And after the virtual devastation of the American family, the rock upon which this country was founded, we are told that it takes a village, that is collective, and thus the state, to raise a child,” he said, as the crowd jeered. “And with all due respect, I am here to tell you it does not take a village to raise a child. It takes a family to raise a child,” he continued.

Since then, taking swipes at “it takes a village” is right up there with “Al Gore invented the Internet” and cigar jokes about Bill Clinton. “The town doesn't raise a child, village, or what have you,” groused Rush Limbaugh in 2009, 13 years after the book was released. “That was just code word for the parents don't really matter.” Andrea Tantaros was blaming the phrase for teen sexuality on Fox News in 2013. It's such a common phrase in conservative circles that Jonah Goldberg felt free to use it without context in a National Review article swiping at Clinton for hiring consultants to craft her image on the campaign.

So this announcement can be read as a “come at me, bro” gesture, inviting her opponents to expose her secret desire to take your kids away to be warehoused by the government. It suggests, yet again, that Clinton is going to run a bold campaign, embracing feminism and liberalism instead of trying to run away from right-wing accusations of radical feminism—accusations that will fly no matter what she does anyway. It's a smart move. Sixty-four percent of mothers with children under 6 work outside of the home. Most of them are too worried about paying for child care to pay attention to lurid right-wing fears about the end of the nuclear family.

June 18 2015 12:24 PM

For Their Civic Participation, Girl Scout Troop Rewarded With Racist Abuse 

This past spring, a group of Girl Scouts went to a public meeting in Cecil County, Maryland, to protest what they saw as inhumane conditions at the local animal shelter. Apparently, their reward for this spirited youthful foray into civic participation was to have a bunch of adults yell gross, racist things at them. Now, video of the incident has started to circulate online, and this week, ABC 2 in Baltimore reported on the incident, interviewing the girls who claim they were called “animals” and told to “go back to Baltimore.”

Things started when Chesapeake Bay Troop 176 arrived at the public meeting with handmade signs and asked questions about how the animals were being treated in the local shelter, which has recently been under fire for cramped conditions. The audio ABC 2 captures shows that things got heated immediately (one of the troop leaders was accused of pursuing a vendetta against the shelter, or something), and a gang of adults angrily followed the girls out of the meeting. “You guys, no racial comments, OK?” you can hear a troop leader saying on the audio. “Saying that they belong in Baltimore because they're black, that is wrong. Please don't say that OK?”

A Buddy for Life Inc., which runs the shelter in question, posted a statement on Facebook disavowing responsibility for the incident and reiterating the allegations of vendetta; one of the troop leaders, it argues, has “personal reasons stemming from dissatisfaction with a case where the law did not provide the outcome she wanted.”

That may be true! Let's redirect the conversation toward that hazy grievance and away from the spectacle of adults screaming racial abuse at little girls. 

This incident comes on the heels of the pool party debacle in McKinney, Texas, which highlighted police abuse against black teens and children, and which also started when adults decided to hurl racial abuse at minors doing things they disapprove of, such as swimming in a pool or advocating in defense of cute animals.