The XX Factor
What Women Really Think

July 28 2015 2:27 PM

States That Sell Anti-Abortion “Choose Life” License Plates, Mapped

Across the country, motorists can purchase specialty license plates to show their support for state-approved groups or institutions, such as public universities, firefighters, veterans, and … anti-abortion activists? Twenty-nine states offer anti-abortion “Choose Life” license plates. Among them, 15 states explicitly route the proceeds to anti-abortion organizations or crisis pregnancy centers, nonprofits that advise pregnant women against abortion. CPCs have been caught lying about the physical and mental health risks of abortions, and many of them are affiliated with religious organizations.

Take a look at the map below to find out if your state is supporting anti-abortion activists.

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Note: North Carolina OK’d the “Choose Life” license plates in 2011, but the American Civil Liberties Union sued the state, arguing that the state was engaging in “viewpoint discrimination” by not also offering a pro-choice plate. A federal appeals court ruled in favor of the ACLU but must reconsider its decision after a Supreme Court’s ruling on a different plate earlier this year. Currently, North Carolina does not offer the plates.

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July 28 2015 12:17 PM

The American Public Is Wising Up About Rape

Donald Trump's lawyer Michael Cohen shared some very interesting opinions about marital rape this week. “You cannot rape your spouse,” he told Daily Beast reporters. “There’s very clear case law.” 

Reporters Tim Mak and Brandy Zadrozny had contacted Cohen for a response to their story about the 1993 book Lost Tycoon: The Many Lives of Donald J. Trump by Harry Hurt III. Hurt recounts how Trump's ex-wife Ivana Trump, in a deposition during their divorce, described Trump raping her. Trump denied the allegations when the book came out, and Ivana, at the behest of Trump's lawyers, issued a statement saying that she didn't mean rape in “a literal or criminal sense,” but just that she “felt violated.” 

Rape is a crime, however; it's not contained by how you feel but by objective questions such as Did she consent to the sex? By that measure, the scene in the book reads like rape. What's more, New York state banned marital rape in 1984, and this alleged incident happened in 1989. If it happened as described, it was rape in both the legal and “emotional” senses. 

It's shocking that the incident described might have been legal if it happened just five years earlier. It seems obvious that it should be criminal to force your protesting spouse into sex while pulling out chunks of her hair. Yet marital rape was only banned in all 50 states in 1993, when North Carolina and Oklahoma finally got around to it. As of 2014, eight states still had laws treating marital rape differently than other rape.

Along with the recent rush of women accusing Bill Cosby of rape or sexual assault, the Trump story shows how rapidly public opinion is shifting on the subject of rape. We are reaching a cultural consensus that the dividing line between rape and not-rape is consent. It's hard for these women to speak out, but it's also increasingly impossible to argue that nonconsensual sex is somehow a “gray area” or just “bad sex” instead of rape.

Even while people shied away from the R-word in the past, they still had an intrinsic understanding that it's wrong to force women to have sex. Cosby's accusers describe the great pains he took to conceal his behavior. Ivana Trump described crying all night long; Lost Tycoon claims Trump gloated about how he hurt her—causing pain was the point. In reality, men who rape usually aren't confused about the question of consent. They do, however, enjoy it when others confuse the issue for them. 

What is shifting is that the rest of us are less and less willing to play that game for them. We still have a long way to go, however, as seen in this New York Times story by Sandy Keenan about affirmative consent standards on campus. “Men tend to rely on nonverbal cues in interpreting consent (61 percent say they get consent via body language), but women tend to wait to be asked before signaling consent (only 10 percent say they give consent via body language),” Keenan writes. “No wonder there’s so much confusion.”

Human communication is complicated, but that doesn't necessarily make it confusing. Other research has shown that men are just as capable as women of understanding subtle cues of nonconsent. We're all capable of telling if someone looks bored or reluctant or of interpreting “soft” noes such as “Gosh, I have to get up early.” Most of us practice affirmative consent implicitly: looking for signs of interest before proceeding, pulling back if someone stiffens up or starts issuing “soft” noes such as “I really can't right now.”

The “no means no” movement was about shutting down rapists who tried to confuse the issue over whether it really counts if she came to your room/she's your wife/she wore a short skirt/she accepted the drink you drugged. “Yes means yes” is about shutting down rapists who claim, falsely, to not know it's wrong to rape someone even if she is too drunk to stand/she said “I want to go home”/she just laid there crying instead of asking me to stop. It's about shutting down bad-faith excuses by shifting the discussion to how the aggressor knew he had a yes.

I hope future versions of us will be amazed that anyone thought this was confusing—just as amazed as our present selves are that the encounters described by Ivana Trump or Cosby's accusers constitute anything but rape.

July 27 2015 10:52 PM

A Facebook Post May Have Driven Topshop to Ditch Its Scary-Skinny Mannequins

Topshop, the British retailer with around 500 stores in 37 countries around the world, is known for reasonable prices, a coveted young customer base, and a rapid expansion rate that's the envy of many competing clothing chains. But starting last fall, the fashion giant ran into a serious problem with body image.

When images of a new style of Topshop mannequin surfaced last October, many observers pointed out that the mannequins—absurdly thin, taller than 6’0"—were unrealistic and ridiculous. Last week, after seeing the figures in a store in Bristol, a customer-service rep named Laura Berry posted a comment on Topshop’s Facebook page criticizing the ways in which the mannequins encourage young women to aspire to a “cult image.” Here’s part of Berry’s post, which received thousands of likes and hundreds of shares on Facebook:

I'm calling you out Topshop, on your lack of concern for a generation of extremely body conscious youth. I'm old enough and wise enough to know I will never be this size, but as we've all been impressionable teens at one point, I'm fairly certain if any of us were to witness this in our teenage years, it would have left us wondering if that was what was expected of our bodies... Perhaps it's about time you became responsible for the impression you have on women and young girls and helped them feel good about themselves rather than impose these ridiculous standards.

Though it's unclear whether or not Berry and the company ever communicated privately, Topshop announced this week that it will stop ordering the mannequin style in question. The company is sticking to its claim that the mannequin is “based on a standard UK size 10” (!?!) while simultaneously insisting that it was never meant to “be a representation of the average female body.” 

Topshop can take comfort: Its mannequin faux pas wasn't as grave as that of La Perla last year. The luxury lingerie brand removed a mannequin with protruding ribs after it alarmed customers in a New York store. 

Berry's post, alongside a photo she uploaded as well.

Screenshot Facebook/Laura Berry

July 27 2015 12:30 PM

New York Magazine’s Cosby Cover Inspires a Great Twitter Hashtag: #TheEmptyChair

Late Sunday evening, New York magazine commanded what seemed like the entire Internet's attention with the collected stories and portraits of 35 women who have accused Bill Cosby of sexual assault. As New York's Noreen Malone and Amanda Demme put it, the women are “an unwelcome sisterhood.” For the magazine's cover, each of the women was photographed seated in a chair and gazing into the camera; the last chair sits empty, symbolizing all the women who can’t come forward with their stories.

As of early Monday morning, the magazine’s website had undergone a distributed denial of service attack; the site is still down as of this writing, but an archived version is available here. It's unclear what the hacker's motivation is, but the coincidental timing couldn't be more appallingly apt, given the culture of silence and shame that journalism like Malone and Demme's is trying to change. To combat the still mysterious censor of New York and to offer support to all survivors of sexual assault, Twitter users began using the hashtag #TheEmptyChair. Below is just a sampling of the countless messages so far. To see more, click here.

July 24 2015 4:29 PM

Men Kill Women in the U.S. So Often That It’s Usually Not Even Newsworthy

When news emerged that a middle-aged white man in Lafayette, Louisiana, opened fire at a showing of the Amy Schumer vehicle Trainwreck, I immediately had this sinking feeling that the movie choice wasn't a coincidence—that this was, like the Elliot Rodger and George Sodini killings, an act of rage at women. While Trainwreck is a fluffy rom-com, it's also a popular topic of chatter in the feminist-sphere and therefore likely to be noticed by the seething misogynists who monitor the online activities of feminists with unsettling obsessiveness. 

That fear is now moving from the uneasy-feeling column to the likely possibility column, with Dave Weigel of the Washington Post reporting that alleged shooter John Russell Houser was a rabid right-winger—he even went to one of those unranked conservative Christian law schools—who had particularly strong anger toward women for their growing independence and rights. Former talk show host Calvin Floyd had Houser on as a frequent guest, knowing that his off-the-wall opinions would generate audience interest: “The best I can recall, Rusty had an issue with feminine rights,” Floyd said. “He was opposed to women having a say in anything.” Houser also had a history of domestic violence.

It would be nice, as Jessica Winter argued in Slate after the Charleston shooting, if this country could have a grown-up conversation about gun control in the wake of crimes like this. Instead, we're just going to hear a bunch of ridiculous rhetoric about how more guns will fix this problem, as if Lafayette isn't one of those parts of the country where everyone and his poodle is packing heat. But since that's not happening, maybe we can talk about the continuing role that misogyny plays in the relentless drumbeat of gun violence in this country.

As my colleague Ben Mathis-Lilley noted today at Slatest, there were 14 other gun-based murder-suicides in the past week in this country, resulting in the loss of 36 lives. If you look down the list of the killings, an unmistakable pattern pops out: “shot and killed his 37-year-old wife ... shot and killed his ex-wife ... shot and killed his 62-year-old wife ... shot and killed his 23-year-old girlfriend ... ” and so on. Most of these killings involve men killing women that they were in relationships with, had lost relationships with, or likely wanted relationships with but were rejected. This last week also featured a bizarre story of a woman who not only survived being kidnapped and raped by a man but also saw her boyfriend and a random other man killed in the rapist-murderer's rampage.

Hearing that some man's entitled attitude toward women led him to kill is so common that it hardly counts as newsworthy. We don't know exactly why Houser shot up a theater that was showing a movie written by an unapologetic feminist, but this moment should still be a wake-up call about the problem of misogynist violence in our culture. If we're not going to talk about gun control, then let's talk about how to get fewer men to see guns as the solution to their inchoate rage at women. 

July 24 2015 3:40 PM

Ingrid Sischy Made the Avant-Garde Accessible

This morning, the legendary editor and writer Ingrid Sischy died of breast cancer. She was just 63. An imposing and polarizing figure, Sischy was one of a handful of people who can truly be said to have changed the way we think and write about art, fashion, culture, and celebrity.

For those of us who grew up before the Internet, and grew up longing and hungry for a grittier and more glamorous world than the strip malls surrounding their high schools, what we mostly had were magazines. In the 1980s and 1990s, Sischy wrote and edited for the best of them, demanding attention for challenging artists like Laurie Anderson and Robert Mapplethorpe in a voice free of cant, pretention, or bombast. As editor of Artforum, and then editor-in-chief of Andy Warhol's Interview for an astonishing eighteen years, Sischy made the avant-garde accessible to people whose nearest bookstore was as close to artsy opulence as we could get.

Born in Johannesburg in 1952 to a physician father and speech therapist mother, Sischy grew up in Scotland and the U.S. before graduating from Sarah Lawrence. She began her career in New York’s iconic shop Printed Matter—all endless shelves of handmade chapbooks and gorgeous exhibition tomes. At 27, she became editor of Artforum, where she transformed the voice of the High Art establishment into a megaphone for feminist and postmodern art; her very first issue talked up queer partners in life and art Gilbert and George, a kind of relationship she’d later mirror with her spouse Sandra Brant, with whom she’d serve as international editors of Italian, German, and Spanish Vanity Fair in the late 2000s.

While at Artforum, doing those things mere mortals only dream of—almost coming to blows with sculptor Richard Serra at an Anselm Kiefer opening while Janet Malcolm takes notes; commissioning an attack on MoMA for a racist and retrograde show one month and then printing lengthy curatorial responses the next—Sischy carved out space in the mainstream, eventually serving as art and photography critic for the New Yorker, where she wrote a definitive chronicle of queer artist Robert Mapplethorpe and the U.S. government’s censoring of his work. During her Interview tenure, the magazine perfected its imitable blend of surface worship, critical thinking, and inspired chatter. To outsiders, the world of Sischy’s Interview could look ridiculous, elitist, aspirational, and brilliant—and that was only looking at the cover. Who knows how many Sischy inspired to move to New York or become writers (or not to) with such inspiration.

And then there was Sischy’s increasingly prominent persona: the huge glasses and fitted shirts, that only-in-New-York mix of Fran Lebowitz’s butch bookishness and Diana Vreeland’s imperial whimsy. She was—as women in charge so often are—painted as domineering, bossy, distastefully ambitious. Perhaps she was, and what of it? The best of the thousands and thousands of pages she wrote and edited over the course of her too-brief life deserved the push.

Back in 1986, for Janet Malcolm’s New Yorker profile that described her fight with Serra, Sischy described the challenges of her own ambition:

"I sat there looking at this pile of articles that were ready to go into the issue, and I just couldn’t do it. I thought to myself, If this thing isn’t going to suck you up, if it’s not going to kill you, the only way you can do it—even though it will irritate everyone…[is to] do only what you know and feel secure about. The minute you do something that isn’t yourself, the minute you publish something you can’t stand, the minute you answer somebody faster than you want to, it’s all over. I’m positive it is.”

At a time when people are reading more than ever, when more people are eulogizing print media than are buying it, when editors announce they’ve calibrated the acceptable percentage of niceness their publications will embody while publishing transcripts of a bigot’s sex tape—at this moment, the loss of a figure like Ingrid Sischy really comes as a blow even to those of us who never knew her, but always wanted to.

In a New Yorker piece from 1991, Sischy wrote, “Beauty is a call to admiration, not to action.” Ingrid Sischy admired for a living, and fought for a world where such a thing was valued. That world lives on, even after her passing. A lot of us wouldn’t be here without her. 

July 23 2015 9:58 AM

Accused Batterers Get Free Attorneys. Domestic Violence Victims Don’t. That Needs to Change.

When domestic violence cases make their way through the legal system, accused batterers have the right to a free court-appointed attorney in criminal cases. But a domestic violence survivor isn’t assured access to reduced-cost legal services. It’s a problematic imbalance, and correcting it could likely reduce the rate of domestic violence.

Giving accused batterers free legal representation it is hardly controversial—our justice system prioritizes a fair defense for the accused. But what if we took the additional step of subsidizing legal services for domestic violence survivors?

For survivors, having an attorney can increase the likelihood of obtaining a civil restraining order from 32 percent to 86 percent. Restraining orders, in turn, can reduce the occurrence of violence and help survivors feel safer and more empowered in their relationships and lives. Attorneys can also assist with other legal issues, such as child custody, divorce, housing, and government benefits, which may be holding survivors back from leaving abusive relationships.

However, domestic violence survivors are frequently not in a position to hire their own attorneys. Victims in low-income households experience five times the rate of domestic abuse of victims in higher-income households. Studies show that low-income individuals are often unable to obtain the legal services they need or desire, with only half of those seeking legal aid being able to be served and more than 70 percent of the legal issues faced by low-income individuals not finding their way to the justice system. An abusive partner may also control the finances in a relationship, which could make it more difficult for a survivor to collect the funds needed to hire a lawyer.

So what would a solution look like? Dozens of legal aid groups around the country already focus on helping survivors, often with amazing results. If their work was scaled up, with states or municipalities offering free or reduced-cost legal assistance for those reporting abuse, evidence suggests that domestic violence rates would fall, along with the share of costs borne by the municipalities. New York City alone spends more than $44 million per year responding to reports of domestic violence, and arresting, prosecuting, and supervising batterers. Costs for health care and homeless services would also likely fall—studies indicate that half of all homeless women and children are fleeing domestic violence, and nearly 38 percent of all victims of domestic violence become homeless at some point in their lives. Given the probable cost savings, funding for civil legal assistance would likely pay for itself in many communities.  

Our society foots the bill when someone accused of a heinous crime can’t afford a lawyer, because we don’t want anyone to be failed by the justice system. But many victims of abuse lack the resources to access the justice system in the first place. Civil legal assistance could put them on equal footing with their abusers, saving both costs and lives in the process.

July 23 2015 9:41 AM

Teen Sex Rates Stay Down While Contraception Use Remains High

A new report out by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicates that the rates of teenagers having sex have declined significantly in the past 25 years. Only 44 percent of girls and 47 percent of boys age 15-19 surveyed between 2011 and 2013 were sexually active, compared with 51 percent and 60 percent, respectively, in 1988. However, it seems the drop has leveled off. The study period before it—2006 to 2010—showed similar rates of sexual activity for teens. 

The main reason for this shift is that kids are waiting longer, which has been shown in previous analysis by the Guttmacher Institute. Basically, 19-year-olds are still mostly having sex, but 15- and 16-year-olds are having less of it, which accounts for the majority of the drop. The average age to lose your virginity for American teens is 17.

There's a lot of reasons for this shift, but one can be safely ruled out: abstinence-only education. The theory behind abstinence-only is that if you discourage contraception use, you'll scare kids straight. However, general contraception use remains high among teenagers, and use of emergency contraception has gone up. As analysis by Danielle Paquette and Weiyi (Dawn) Cai at the Washington Post suggests, kids are making better choices—both in delaying sex and being more responsible when they do have it—despite abstinence-only education, not because of it. Brooke Bokor, an adolescent medicine specialist at the Children's National Health System, told them that the explosion in Internet access and smartphones in particular gives teenagers unprecedented access to sexual health information, which promotes better contraception use and teaches kids how to put off sex until they're ready. 

This comports with research showing comprehensive sex education can help kids delay sexual initiation. The idea that knowing more about sex might disincline kids to have it early seems counterintuitive to a lot of people, but it's not. Research focusing on specific comprehensive sex-ed programs shows that learning to be comfortable thinking and talking about sex helps kids have healthier, more respectful relationships, which can make it easier to delay intercourse. Knowledge gives kids confidence, in other words, and confidence leads to more communication and better decisions.

Sites like Bedsider and Scarleteen offer information about relationships and personal decision-making right alongside information about contraception, reframing sex as something you can do responsibly when you're ready instead of treating it like it's always a terrible mistake. Instead of telling kids “just say no,” they offer things like charts of sexual behaviors based on risk levels. Turns out when you treat kids like they're capable of responsible decision-making, they often rise to those expectations. We should be doing more of that. 

July 22 2015 12:16 PM

Yes, This Plus-Size Model Looks Like a Runner. And I Do Too.

I was at a party in a friend’s neighborhood a few weeks ago when I found myself talking with a guy from nearby. It came up over the course of our conversation that one of my primary hobbies is running. Upon discovering this, my interloper gave me a dubious look before responding, “Huh, you don’t look like a runner.”

I resisted the urge to throw my beer in his face or challenge him to wind sprints, but his comment still stung.

What does a runner look like anyway?

It should be common knowledge at this point that the contours of a woman’s body are not up for discussion, but when it comes to fitness and gym culture, fat shaming runs rampant. For many, fitness, unfortunately, gets intertwined with appearance, and it’s thus imperative that athletes “look” a certain way.

That’s why I’m excited to see the August issue of Women’s Running hit newsstands this week. The magazine’s cover features Erica Schenk, a plus-size model and runner who’s been at the sport for 10 years.  

Seeing Schenk run, strong and confident, across that cover is a beautiful reminder that female runners come in all shapes and sizes. There is no single “look” of a runner and there needn’t be.

“Some women believe that since they have curves they can’t run or shouldn’t run,” Schenk told Women’s Running. “Running is for every body anytime.”

Sure, putting Schenk on the cover is an easy publicity grab for Women’s Running and a way to convert rah-rah body positivity into big bucks for a brand (one that’s likely lagging as most print magazines are these days). Plus, given that women, of all sizes, accounted for nearly two-thirds of the 18.8 million U.S. race finishers in 2014, it shouldn’t have taken so long to get this sort of representation in a magazine that’s explicitly about women’s running.

But representation is still important. Elite female athletes experience eating disorders at more than twice the rate of the average woman, according to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Eating Disorders. And among female high school and college runners, disordered eating is disturbingly common. Having a one-size-fits-all image of women who run is not only upsetting, it’s dangerous.

When we run, especially outdoors on these hot summer days, we’re putting our bodies on display. We’re choosing to be vulnerable for our sport and the numerous physical and mental benefits it offers. Having the very magazine that on previous covers boasted of ways to “Run Yourself Slim + Happy,” celebrated “Sexy Abs Fast!,” and offered “The 24-Hour Diet” finally acknowledge on its cover that “Your weight doesn’t matter” is a step toward making that vulnerability a little less scary. 

One magazine cover isn’t a cure-all, but it is a reminder that I do look like a runner, because runners come in all stripes.

Besides, I’m pretty sure I could outrun that guy at the party anyway.

July 22 2015 10:57 AM

Inspired by Hobby Lobby, a Father Tries to Deny His Daughters Birth Control Coverage

Usually, lawsuits that try to use “religious freedom” to prevent women from using their health plans for birth control are launched by employers, such as Notre Dame and Hobby Lobby. (This overlooks that the plans, like paychecks, technically belong to the people who earn them through working—but onward.) 

One of the anti-contraception lawsuits on the dockets, however, gets more personal. It's focused on stopping just three individuals—two grown women and one minor—from obtaining birth control coverage. And thanks to the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, this individualized challenge to these three people's access is being kept alive. 

Missouri Republican state Rep. Paul Joseph Wieland does not want his three daughters to have access to birth control, in their case through the group plan offered by Wieland's employer, the state of Missouri. The plan does not require women to use birth control, of course, but the mere fact that his daughters might disobey his anti–birth control teachings bothers Wieland. A judge asked why Wieland doesn't just tell his daughters, “We expect you do abide by our religious tenets.” Wieland's lawyer, Timothy Belz, replied, “Well, we all have high hopes for our kids, that is true. We all expect and want them to obey us, they don’t always … ” Thus Wieland would like a little help from the government just in case his girls disobey Daddy's religious beliefs. 

Belz also argued that federal minimums on what a standard health care plan must cover is the equivalent of passing “an edict that said that parents must provide a stocked, unlocked liquor cabinet in their house whenever they’re away for their minor and adult daughters to use.” The Wieland team also compared contraception to pornography. I suppose both prevent pregnancy, in their way.

Wieland's argument is pretty straightforward: If Hobby Lobby gets to deny its employees contraception coverage, why can't he do the same for his daughters? If you're disturbed by the amount of control he wants to exert over his children, then it's also disturbing to consider how much control Hobby Lobby wants over its employees. The only real difference is that Hobby Lobby could claim it is just trying not to “pay for it”; Wieland is a little more honest about his real aims. Because of this, the 8th Circuit Court reinstated Wieland's lawsuit on Monday. 

Of course, just because the gist of Wieland's argument sounds like Hobby Lobby's doesn't mean that Wieland will win. Hobby Lobby v. Burwell was decided on a balancing test: The court argued that the Department of Health and Human Services could find a way to make sure women get birth control while also protecting Hobby Lobby's desire not to pay directly for plans that cover it. (The administration has already found just such a fix, creating a mechanism for insurance companies to offer coverage directly to women whose employer plans do not cover it. So far, Hobby Lobby hasn't challenged this workaround.) But Wieland can't argue that he's just trying not to pay for it, since the conservative argument is that the employer is the one “paying for” the insurance, not the employee. 

Wieland's big ask also creates a much bigger bureaucratic headache for insurance companies and HHS: the standing of individuals on a group insurance plan to challenge the right of other individuals on the same plan to use it for birth control on the basis of familial connection. As Ian Millhiser at ThinkProgress notes, “[I]t is a relatively simple administrative task for an insurance company to note that the plan that covers Hobby Lobby’s employees does not include birth control and to adjust premiums accordingly,” but another thing entirely “for insurers to keep track of the particular religious beliefs of every individual in their network of customers and adjust each plan according to those religious beliefs.”

We certainly don't want a “Daddy said I could” checkbox for women who want to buy birth control through their insurance plans, but that is exactly what Wieland and his lawyers are trying to make happen.