The XX Factor
What Women Really Think

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.

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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. 

July 21 2015 5:13 PM

Second Heavily Edited Planned Parenthood Attack Video Is Also a Big Bust

The Center for Medical Progress on Tuesday made good on its threats to release more misleading Planned Parenthood “sting” videos into the world. Last week the group released a hidden-camera video in which it tried to lure unsuspecting Planned Parenthood officials into secretly recorded conversations about donating fetal tissue, which CMP dishonestly tried to spin as a video about selling fetal body parts. In the latest heavily edited video, another Planned Parenthood official talks about such donations in terms that come across as overly frank to those of us who don't work in the medical profession but are actually quite normal.

This video, unsurprisingly, is being received with a whimper in the media, especially compared with last week's deceptively edited footage. That original eight-minute video, which purported to show illegal “harvesting” of fetal body parts for profit but demonstrated nothing of the sort, seemed to come out of nowhere. The longer video showed, despite claims to the contrary, that Planned Parenthood's Deborah Nucatola did not offer to sell fetal body parts, but the opposite: She insisted that selling fetal tissue is simply not done. With the same, dishonest crew claiming to have another “shocking” video, you can guess that it's probably the same kind of hoax: misleading editing, outrageous claims not held up by the evidence, and attempts to titillate people with gross details of medical procedures to distract from the fact that they have no evidence of wrongdoing. 

Irin Carmon of MSNBC has pulled the relevant quotes and found that, yep, it's the same story: Despite CMP's attempts to make it look like Planned Parenthood medical director Mary Gatter is “selling” fetal tissue, she repeatedly makes it clear that is not an option. “But see we don’t, we’re not in it for the money, and we don’t want to be in a position of being accused of selling tissue, and stuff like that,” Gatter says very clearly on the tape. She does talk about money, but as was made clear in the debunkings of the video last week, Planned Parenthood's policy is only to take reimbursement for clinic expenses. The low figures she cites in this new video—$50—suggests that is exactly what Gatter is talking about, just as Nucatola was doing in last week’s footage. 

At one point, Gatter makes a joke about buying a Lamborghini, but it's not the big reveal the right-wing press wants you to think it is. In context, it's clearly an ironic joke—an arch statement about how money is not being made by any of this. 

Not only have both videos been misleading, so is the process by which they were released. Even though the people behind the videos would like you to believe they are a totally different organization than the Live Action crew that first publicized the initial footage—a group that is known for its history of misleading “sting” campaigns—this all fits the Live Action pattern: The release of a supposed exposé of Planned Parenthood causes a splash in the media, there’s an inevitable debunking, followed by less successful attempts by Live Action to publicize more videos making similarly fishy claims. In fact, as I argued last week, this pattern has repeated itself so many times that the Live Action brand is hopelessly tainted now, which is likely why a “new” organization that uses the same people and same tactics has popped up. It also helps explain how, just like last week, Live Action was the one to “break” this latest news, putting up a post about the video within an hour of it going up on YouTube. 

While this new video is kicking off another round of disingenuous posturing from Republican officials and demands to “investigate” the noncrime of donating fetal tissue, the real story here is not unethical behavior on the part of Planned Parenthood, but on the part of anti-choice activists. As Eli Clifton and I reported for the Nation last week, CMP shares leadership with the radical anti-choice organization Operation Rescue that devoted itself to harassing George Tiller until he was murdered by one of its regular activists in 2009. (Operation Rescue’s senior policy advisor Cheryl Sullenger also did time for an attempted clinic bombing in the 1980s.) These folks promise they have more videos coming, of course. That's what Live Action always promised and it's no surprise that their apparent spinoff would do the same. What would be a surprise is if any of these videos actually showed any wrongdoing. 

July 21 2015 2:17 PM

Literal Losers Are More Likely to Lash Out at Female Gamers

A newly released study shows what we were all thinking: Abusive and sexist gamers are losers. Literally.

“Insights into Sexism: Male Status and Performance Moderates Female-Directed Hostile and Amicable Behavior,” published last week in PLOS One, found that men who perform poorly in gaming are more likely to be rude and discriminatory toward their female counterparts.

The researchers, Michael Kasumovic of University of New South Wales and Jeffrey Kuznekoff of Miami University, found “that lower-skilled players were more hostile towards a female-voiced teammate, especially when performing poorly. … Higher-skilled players, in contrast, were more positive towards a female relative to a male teammate.”

During the study, the researchers observed 163 games of Halo 3, a game chosen because it relies on a multiplayer game with a team objective, it exists outside of a sexualized storyline, and it makes no reference to facial features or body types. Instead, the avatars are covered in armor.

Kasumovic and Kuznekoff came at this study from an evolutionary study perspective. Interested in what triggers sexist behavior, they root the cause in fear of hierarchical disruption and reorganization: “As men often rely on aggression to maintain their dominant social status, the increase in hostility towards a woman by lower-status males may be an attempt to disregard a female’s performance and suppress her disturbance on the hierarchy to retain their social rank.”

In Halo 3, the player status, which the researchers link to dominance, is on public display. Those “who stand to lose the most status” often compensate by attacking female players. And, as the study points out, this isn’t unlike the practice of “negging.” By bringing a female player down, losing male players believe they are raising themselves up and making themselves more dominant and attractive. This behavior could also be fueled by the anonymity of the game. Since players had pseudonyms, they spoke freely, with no fear of retribution.

Importantly, while the poorly performing men direct their wrath at female players, the study found that these men display submissive behavior with more skilled male players. They are more cordial with these players, likely because they don’t see losing to another man as so threatening.

Therein lies the possibility of at least one small cultural corrective. “By demonstrating that female-directed hostility primarily originates from low-status, poorer-performing males,” Kasumovic and Kuznekoff’s results “suggest that a way to counter it may be through teaching young males that losing to the opposite sex is not socially debilitating.” And that negging on women only makes men look like real losers.

July 21 2015 1:12 PM

What the “ISIS Bride” and Rachel Dolezal Have in Common

Monday night, BuzzFeed posted a lengthy investigative report by Ellie Hall about a young Christian-raised woman from Tennessee who became an “ISIS bride.” The woman, who tweets under the name Umm Aminah but who was christened Ariel Bradley by her parents, grew up in the Chattanooga area and now lives in an ISIS-controlled portion of Syria with her husband and children. From there, she has praised Mohammad Abdulazeez for his deadly attack on a Chattanooga military recruiting center. She tweeted, “Gifted this morning not only with Eid but w/ the news of a brother puttin fear n the heart of kufar [non-believers] n the city of my birth. Alhamdullilah [thanks be to God].”

BuzzFeed pieced together the 29-year-old Bradley's story through conversations with her friends and a brief interview with her mother. Her friend Robert Parker says that Bradley was raised by a fundamentalist mother who was intent on keeping “her away from materials that would make her question Christianity.” Not only was Bradley homeschooled; she didn't even learn to read until she was a preteen. 

Bradley started rebelling against her parents in adolescence and spent her teens and early adulthood drifting from one identity to another, according to her friends. “It was like, when I first met her she was a Christian, and then she was a socialist, and then she was an atheist, and then a Muslim,” one friend explained. “As far as I could tell it was always in relation to whatever guy she was interested in, so if she meets a guy that’s an atheist then she’s an atheist, falls into that for a year.”

This search for an identity led Bradley to convert to Islam and swiftly become quite fanatical about it. She rushed into marriage with Yasin Mohamad, whom she met on Muslim “matrimony site” Half Our Deen. They married in Sweden, had kids immediately, and at some point, moved to Syria to join up with ISIS.

Though the two women are literally worlds apart, there are echoes between Bradley's story and that of former NAACP chapter president Rachel Dolezal. Dolezal became an object of national fascination a month ago when a reporter revealed she's been passing herself off as black, even though she was born to and raised by white people. (In an interview published over the weekend at Vanity Fair, Dolezal tried to explain: “I wouldn’t say I’m African American, but I would say I’m black, and there’s a difference in those terms.”)

Like Bradley, Dolezal was raised by home-schooling Christian fundamentalists, and like Bradley, she has major tensions with her family—tensions that apparently spurred her to transform her identity completely in order to disassociate herself from them. 

Of course, though Dolezal's ruse hurt a lot of people, she's not advocating for war on nonbelievers or needlessly putting her children in harm's way. But these two stories raise many questions about the impact of fundamentalist ideas about child-rearing. TLC has finally canceled 19 Kids and Counting after revelations that the Duggar family shielded their eldest son after he was caught molesting girls as a teenager. Perhaps we're finally beginning to see that the Christian home-schooling movement, and the hypersheltering of children that's all the rage in conservative Christian circles, isn't cute and wholesome at all—that it has a sinister side.

July 21 2015 12:11 PM

Xena: Warrior Princess Is a Fantastic Idea for a Reboot

Genuinely exciting reboot alert: The Hollywood Reporter reports that NBC, along with producers Rob Tapert and Sam Raimi, are looking for a head writer to reboot the '90s-era cheeseball fantasy hit Xena: Warrior Princess. The original show was a 1995 spinoff of Hercules: The Legendary Journeys but quickly surpassed its predecessor in reputation, largely because of the onscreen charisma of New Zealand actress Lucy Lawless, who starred as Xena. (She went on to have a strong career in sci-fi and fantasy TV, playing characters on Battlestar Galactica and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.)

As with Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the original Xena got a lot of attention not just for having female lead characters who kick butt, but for showing women who are actually friends, not catty rivals. Xena took it a step further by heavily implying throughout much of the series that Xena and her female friend and traveling companion Gabrielle are lovers. 

The time is ripe for a Xena reboot. The popularity of Mad Max: Fury Road has shown, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that audiences will pay to see warrior women onscreen so long as the action and story is good. Game of Thrones has demonstrated that mainstream audiences can embrace a fantasy setting as well, even if fantasy isn't usually their go-to genre. Not every superhero story has to have some pseudo-scientific explanation for the hero's powers, as happens in the Marvel universe—maybe it's time for a little more out-and-out magic.

As Rob Bricken at io9 points out, advances in special effects since the first Xena and generally higher audience expectations for story complexity both mean that a reboot can enhance the franchise “as opposed to just trotting it back out because people remember the name.” Perhaps Xena and Gabrielle's relationship can be openly lesbian this time around. Maybe the storylines can be more complex or the world-building can be less lackadaisical. Maybe they could find a way to make it grittier without giving up the elements that make it fun. As shows like The Flash have demonstrated, you can pull off a campy all-in-good-fun tone without losing quality in storytelling or action. Let's just hope they nail the casting as perfectly as the 1995 show did with Lucy Lawless. 

July 21 2015 9:16 AM

Dads Can Also Flaunt Their Post-Baby Bods, According to Science

Is there any way to put this delicately? Men, when they have children, get fatter. We’ve known this for a while, and now the first nationally representative sample confirms it. In a study published in the American Journal of Men’s Health, researchers at Northwestern tracked the body mass index of 10,623 fathers and nonfathers over several years. The typical 6-foot-tall man gained an average of 4.4 pounds in the years after having a child; the new dad who did not live with his child gained about 3.3 pounds. During the same age period, the typical childless man lost 1.4 pounds. Thank you, science, for explaining the dad bod.

The researchers did not interview any men, but in the press release for the study, they made layman guesses about why fathers gained weight. The men were now busy with babies, so they didn’t have time to themselves. Maybe the dads are on the night shift and wake up with an insane craving for Doritos. (Lead researcher Craig Garfield admitted his personal weakness was eating cheese pizza off his kids’ plates.) Maybe they’re too tired to wear anything but sweatpants, so why bother? Maybe they’re temporarily off the dating market, so why bother? Maybe we don’t need a whole lot of explanation for why an infinitely demanding little being is incompatible with maintaining your fitness routine.

The researchers highlighted the study as an opportunity to think about men and obesity. Men often talk about the arrival of children as a chance for self-improvement: a moment when they will quit smoking or exercise more. Instead, their BMI inches up about 2 percent. Since a new father is making regular doctor visits with the baby anyway, the researchers suggest that perhaps the pediatrician should talk to him about his own health and mention the likelihood that his weight will creep up. 

What’s more interesting to ponder is the politics of this social science. Why, all of a sudden, are we so interested in how fatherhood transforms men? We’ve recently learned that after babies, men—like women—go through hormonal shifts. Their testosterone levels, which are associated with aggression and libido, fall while their prolactin levels, associated with care-taking, rise. We’ve learned that men with children make more money and that they are less depressed. We’ve learned, from a corollary body of work, all about how marriage transforms men: It makes them better employees, richer, happier, and healthier. If they have heart attacks, they are likely to make it to a hospital half an hour sooner, and in general, they're much less likely to die. They even report more sexual satisfaction (eat it, bachelors).

In one sense, feminists should cheer all this new research. It’s long been thought that marriage and childbirth are momentous occasions mostly for women. The man shows up at the altar, and then the hospital, but then generally floats off to work to confront his real identity. The new studies show otherwise: that biology is also preparing their bodies for fatherhood. (One survey showed that men gained 10 pounds while waiting for the baby to arrive). They also show that men in fact are the ones who need marriage, that without it they are floundering and lost.

That’s where the politics get tricky. It’s often the pro-marriage crowd picking up on this research. In Slate, for example, researcher Brad Wilcox made the point that men mostly benefit from fatherhood and family if they live with their children, not if they don’t. The new BMI study picks up on this distinction as well, pointing out that while the live-in fathers may have gained more weight, they also tend to be richer and better educated.

The subtle message to men is that they are much better off married and living with their children. Proving this with data has taken on some urgency now because fewer men are doing that—in the study, 20 percent of the fathers they tracked were not living with the child at the time of birth. But the subtle message to women is that it’s their duty to civilize the men, to keep them sane and productive and get them to the hospital on time. How long before magazines like Mothering start suggesting five tips to keep your man trim after childbirth?

July 20 2015 2:32 PM

Ashley Madison Got Hacked. Now 37 Million Would-Be Cheaters Might Get Exposed.

For months, my Slate colleague Jordan Weissmann has been saying that online affair-facilitator Ashley Madison was going to get hacked. “It just seems like an obvious choice,” he would say. And he was totally right! On Sunday, KrebsonSecurity reported news of an extensive breach.

With a slogan like “Life Is Short. Have an Affair” and 37 million users, you can see why Ashley Madison's data might be tempting for hackers looking to wreak some havoc. The culprits are calling themselves “the Impact Team” and say that if Avid Life Media, which owns Ashley Madison, doesn't take the site down, they'll leak all of the data they collected on the service's servers.

But this isn't (just) about a moral objection to cheating. The Impact Team hackers assert that Ashley Madison's “Full Delete” feature, which claims to remove all identifying data from company servers for $19, doesn't actually work. Krebs reports that the Impact Team wrote in a manifesto, “Full Delete netted ALM $1.7mm in revenue in 2014. It’s also a complete lie. Users almost always pay with credit card; their purchase details are not removed as promised, and include real name and address, which is of course the most important information the users want removed.”

Not that the hackers are exactly on the side of Ashley Madison's users. “Too bad for those men, they’re cheating dirtbags and deserve no such discretion,” the group wrote. There's some irony in outing the injured parties whom you're simultaneously trying to defend, but the hackers seem more interested in making a general point about services that claim to erase user data.

In a statement, Avid Life Media said:

We apologize for this unprovoked and criminal intrusion into our customers’ information. ... We have always had the confidentiality of our customers’ information foremost in our minds, and have had stringent security measures in place ... At this time, we have been able to secure our sites, and close the unauthorized access points. We are working with law enforcement agencies, which are investigating this criminal act. Any and all parties responsible for this act of cyber–terrorism will be held responsible.

Ashley Madison's data is even more valuable than what comes out of the usual hack because it's identity theft fodder plus information about who has cheated or considered cheating on a partner and what people's sexual preferences/fantasies are. But the site's privacy setup wasn't exactly stellar before. As developer Troy Hunt showed on his blog, the forgot password feature of Ashley Madison returned a slightly different screen depending on whether an email address was registered with the site. If you wanted to check whether your spouse was on the site, you just had to enter some of his or her addresses.

Of course, if Ashley Madison's users were smart enough to make special dummy email addresses for digital indiscretions, you wouldn't be able to catch them this way, but it's still a big privacy hole, and let's be honest, most people aren't that wily. Hunt told Motherboard that the password reset mistake is a privacy oversight on a lot of sites. “Unfortunately it's all too common. ... I would have been surprised if they'd done it right. I'm saddened, but not surprised,” he said.

Though the Impact Team may have gone about making its statement in a contradictory and, you know, illegal way, it's a good reminder that when a company says it will delete your data, you don't exactly get to watch its physical destruction. It's hard to check that your info has actually been removed. So if it's something that your reputation can't survive, you might not want to trust a service with it in the first place.

July 20 2015 2:15 PM

In One Thread, Everything That’s Awesome and Awful About Reddit

Reddit's leadership is drawing a lot of fire for claiming to take their harassment problem seriously, even though they've moved toward protecting some of the uglier and more hateful content on the site. Under the circumstances, it can be hard to keep in mind that much of Reddit—as explained by Tamar Hiram Arisohn on Slate—is actually devoted to normal people having decent conversations about interesting stuff. One such forum is /r/TwoXChromosomes, where regular women can reach out to a feminist-minded community for discussion, support, and advice about personal and political issues. 

One recent thread, for instance, was started under the headline “I like kissing again! (Kissed a guy for the first time since being sexually assaulted, and I feel damn near invincible).” In it, a sexual assault survivor explains how she was “messed up” for about a year after being “sexually assaulted at a party,” unable to kiss anyone, and having panic attacks. But recently she “hit it off with a cute guy” at a dinner party and, after talking for an hour or so, she “leaned in and kissed him.” 

“I had a semi-romantic interaction with a guy, and he was in my personal space bubble, and he held my hand, and I genuinely enjoyed it,” she adds. “I didn't feel anxious or broken or afraid.”

Underneath, the entire thread is largely support and encouragement, with other survivors—and their spouses or friends—explaining that recovery isn't just possible, but manageable. People tell their own stories and share tips about how to have sexual interaction without pushing any of a survivor's buttons. Despite the ample media and political attention on sexual assault these days, there's not a whole lot of discourse about the surviving part of being a survivor—the part where you piece your life back together and start regaining the happiness and control that your attacker tried to take away from you. Unfortunately, the prevalence of rape denialists and skeptics means that most of the discourse is still focused on the trauma of sexual assault. This focus might send the signal that rape victims will never have a normal life, and that's both inaccurate and dangerous.

That context is part of the reason why this post was such a breath of fresh air, even if Reddit's well-known underbelly of trolls soon appeared to do their worst. “That guy could rape you at any time. He may choose not to, but he could,” one troll remarked. “Wow! congratulations. No one gives a shit,” another sneered.

The trolls are in the minority, but they illustrate the problems Reddit is up against. On one hand, Reddit is a place where smart people can advance the discourse about sexual assault and other important issues. But they risk being drowned out or put off by the site's ongoing tolerance for trolls and haters. For its own good, Reddit needs to get faster and smarter about hitting the trolls with the ban-hammer. Otherwise, those important conversations are going to move somewhere else. 

July 20 2015 6:48 AM

Bill Cosby’s Deposition Reads Like a Nightmare “Field Report” From the World’s Worst PUA

A few weeks ago, the Associated Press reported on a 2005 deposition in which Bill Cosby admitted to procuring drugs in order to have sex with multiple women—an admission in line with dozens of rape and sexual assault allegations against Cosby over the years. On Saturday, the New York Times published excerpts from the entire text of the four-day deposition, which involved a basketball manager at Temple University who accused him of sexual abuse.* (The case was settled out of court in 2006.)

Reading the Times piece by Graham Bowley and Sydney Ember is a deeply disquieting experience. Cosby comes across as arrogant to the point of parody. Although he was supposedly defending himself against very serious charges of sex abuse, Cosby can't resist the opportunity to brag about what a ladies' man he is. Reading his testimony is eerily reminiscent of the far-fetched “field reports” that self-stylized pick-up artists post online. You can tell Cosby wants his audience—which consisted primarily of lawyers who believe he abused their client—to admire his talents for the art of seduction. From the Times:

Early on in his courtship, he arranged an intimate meal alone with [the accuser] at his Pennsylvania home, complete with Cognac, dimmed lights and a fire, he said. At one point he led her to his back porch, out of sight from his chef. “I take her hair and I pull it back and I have her face like this,” he said. “And I’m talking to her ...And I talked to her about relaxing, being strong. And I said to her, come in, meaning her body.”
But the two remained inches apart, he said, and he did not try to kiss her because he did not sense she wanted him to. Nevertheless, at the next dinner he said they had what he described as a “sexual moment,” short of intercourse. He described her afterward as having “a glow.”

Like many a creepy pickup artist, Cosby imagines himself a philosopher when it comes to that tricky creature, the human female. Of his policy of avoiding sexual intercourse, he said, it “is something that I feel the woman will succumb to more of a romance and more of a feeling, not love, but it’s deeper than a playful situation.” 

Cosby took great pains to portray himself as a chivalric hero. “I am a man, the only way you will hear about who I had sex with is from the person I had it with,” he explained. What a rare and exciting opportunity this deposition afforded him! For this consummate gentleman, lady-luring techniques included “seducing a young model by showing interest in her father’s cancer” and “casting himself in the role of an experienced guide and offering [his accuser] the benefit of his contacts, fame and experience.” In a pinch—if, say, you're being accused of sexual abuse—pressure your accuser to tell her mother that she had orgasms with you. Yes, Cosby really did that, and admitted to it.

Researcher David Lisak has found that when interviewing rapists, as long as you avoid calling it rape, you can get them to admit to a whole lot. “In fact, they are eager to talk about their experiences,” he told NPR in 2010. “They're quite narcissistic as a group—the offenders—and they view this as an opportunity, essentially, to brag.”

In this deposition, Cosby doesn't admit to rape. But he does show that same tendency toward self-puffery and braggadocio, and the same inclination to treat sex as a conquest instead of a mutually agreeable situation. 

Of course, that's not proof he's a rapist. Better evidence is the 36 public accusations made so far against him, as well the 13 women (many of whom are now public accusers) who offered sworn statements that he had assaulted them. 

*Correction, July 20, 2015: This post originally misstated that the New York Times article was published on Sunday. It was published on Saturday.