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What Women Really Think

Aug. 21 2015 4:40 PM

First Female Soldiers Graduate From Ranger School. Now They’re Waiting for the Army to Catch Up.

On Friday, Capt. Kristen Griest and 1st Lt. Shaye Haver became the first female graduates of the U.S. Army Ranger School. Beyond the dozens of pounds of weight expected to be carried by the course’s grads, these women shouldered an extra burden as they struggled to change gender expectations and break the “camo” ceiling.

Griest, who has served as a military police platoon leader, and Haver, who was a pilot on an Apache attack helicopter in an aviation brigade, entered Ranger School with 17 other women but were the only two to complete it (one more is repeating a prior phase), although not without serious setbacks and renewed determination. Even after the women were sent back to repeat parts of the training, they continued on successfully to complete the grueling nine-week course, which, according to the Atlantic, is known as the most “physically and mentally demanding program in the Army.” And if you want a peek into what earning that Ranger Tab really means, the magazine on Friday published the extreme requirements it demands.

Griest’s and Haver’s accomplishments are significant in their own right, but what is especially heartening is the generational connection they feel to the women who will follow them. At their press conferences and interviews this week, the women, who are in their mid-20s, commented on their unique historical place and how it will affect future servicewomen.

According to NPR, Griest said those thoughts inspired her. “I was thinking really of future generations of women, that I would like them to have that opportunity so I had that pressure on myself,” she said. “And not letting people down that I knew believed in me, people that were supporting me.”  

The women’s success also speaks to how quickly minds can be changed about gender roles. While some of their male counterparts were initially skeptical, they grew to respect their female colleagues.

The New York Times printed testimonies by some of the men in their training:

Second Lt. Zachary Hagner said his mind “completely changed” one day as he was growing weary of carrying a heavy machine gun, and others in his group would not help. But Captain Griest stepped in.
“Nine guys were like, ‘I’m too broken, I’m too tired.’ She was just as broken and tired, and took it from me almost with excitement,” Lieutenant Hagner said.

Another one of their colleagues, 2nd Lt. Michael V. Janowski, praised Haver for her strength and trustworthyness:  

“No matter how bad she was hurting, she was always the first to volunteer to grab more weight,” Lieutenant Janowski said. “I wrote about how I would trust her with my life.”

But, as Slate mentioned earlier this week, even with their Ranger Tabs and their hard-won respect, the two new graduates won’t yet be allowed to serve in the 75th Ranger Regiment. Change may come early next year when Defense Secretary Ash Carter reviews the position of women serving in all combat units. While these women may have forged ahead, they’re still waiting on the Army. Let’s hope it catches up to them soon.

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Aug. 21 2015 12:22 PM

Calling Their Children “Anchor Babies” Is Just One More Way We Dehumanize Poor Women

The term “anchor babies” has once again reared its ugly head this election season, spouting from the mouths of not just say-whatever Donald Trump but also I’m-my-own-man Jeb Bush and son-of-immigrants Bobby Jindal.

It’s shorthand for the idea that immigrant women purposefully and illegally come to the United States to give birth to their children, thus securing citizenship for their kids and perhaps also a chance to stay in the country themselves (even though in reality they can easily be deported). It gets thrown around whenever conservatives want to question the 14th Amendment guaranteeing citizenship to babies born on American soil.

The phrase, which turns a newborn into dead weight dropped like mooring, implies that these mothers are simply using their pregnancies as vehicles for their own desires. It dehumanizes them. They are transformed from mothers who want to bring life into the world to cherish and nurture it into creatures that use their own offspring to get what they want.

This dehumanization isn’t terribly uncommon, unfortunately. In fact it’s the way we often discuss the actions and choices that poor women and women of color make as mothers. We can’t pretend that using the term anchor babies is a one-off; it’s part of the fundamental way we both talk about and legislate the lives of poor women. 

It’s particularly true when these actions are mere hypotheses with no data or evidence to show that women are actually making these choices. Anchor babies fall into this category. While some immigrants do come to the United States to give birth, they tend to be more affluent, arriving here as tourists with proper legal documents. Children born to undocumented parents make up a tiny slice of all American children. And if a mother comes to the U.S. to give birth in hopes of getting citizenship for herself, she’ll have to wait until her child is 21 and can petition for it.

Another dreamed-up bugaboo has recently popped up: poor mothers who deliberately poison their children to get housing. Maryland’s housing secretary warned a convention audience last week about a mother putting lead fishing weights in her child’s mouth, taking the child in for lead testing, and getting a free place to live at her landlord’s expense until the kid turns 18. When pressed, he said that he had no evidence of this ever taking place, but that “This is an anecdotal story that was described to me as something that could possibly happen.”

The poisonous mother is even more depraved than the mother trying to drop her anchor baby. This mother’s lead anchor roots her in a house, but her actions could kill her child or leave him physically or mentally impaired. Most people would barely recognize someone like that as human. But a poor woman’s poverty is assumed to make her act in barbaric, unthinkable ways to get what she needs. She doesn’t view her own children with the devotion and delight that we expect from any other parents. She is something other.

It’s a trope that’s been with us for some time. It dates at least as far back as the welfare queen, the mythical poor woman who defrauds the government out of anti-poverty funding rather than put in a hard day’s work. She started out as a real woman who stood trial for fraud in the 1970s. But she’s come to mean far more than that, standing in for a poor, usually black woman who has lots of children out of wedlock in order to get more government money.

This image took hold so strongly that it worked its way into legislation. After welfare reform passed in the 1990s and states were given wide authority to change their programs, many instituted welfare caps that cut poor mothers off of additional benefits after they have more than a certain number of children while enrolled. The caps have their origin in the House Republicans’ 1994 Contract With America, which called for “denying increased [benefits] for additional children while on welfare … to promote individual personal responsibility.” Others at the time more explicitly tied the caps to the idea that poor mothers were having extra babies just so they could get extra cash. The welfare queen, then, decided to add more people to her family not out of love and joy, but to cash them in like poker chips.

The legacy of this view remains with us today. Sixteen states give a family no extra money to care for additional children after a certain number. Yet welfare queens look nothing like reality for the people who receive public assistance. They have the same average family size as families who don’t need public benefits to get by. And there’s no evidence the caps work as intended.

These fantasies about poor mothers and women of color that treat them as some other species of human work their way into legislation in other ways. The Maryland housing official who warned against mothers poisoning children told the story to promote limits he wants to place on the liability landlords can face in lead paint cases. And of course anchor babies are doing important work for conservatives trying to make a case to end birthright citizenship, enshrined in the Constitution.

Once these policies get legislated, these mythical, monstrous mothers become canonized into our culture. And they shape the way we view poor mothers, to the point where it’s assumed that they are willfully neglecting and abusing their children when they leave them within sight to take a job interview or in a nearby park while they work. After all, if we believe poor women will poison their children or bring them into the world solely for financial gain, why would we believe that they try to do right by them at any other time?

Aug. 21 2015 11:59 AM

Josh Duggar’s Apology Shows He’s Learned Nothing

Josh Duggar, the eldest son of the Duggar clan of TLC's 19 Kids and Counting, was outed to the nation as a potential adulterer Wednesday, after Gawker found his name on a database of Ashley Madison users that hackers posted online. By Thursday, Duggar, who had previously lost his job with the conservative Family Research Council after it was revealed he had molested underage girls as a teenager, posted his apology on the Duggar family website

“I have been the biggest hypocrite ever,” it reads, in part. “While espousing faith and family values, I have been unfaithful to my wife.”

Or so it reads for now, anyway. As Gawker reports, the apology has undergone a few very public rewrites. “The last few years, while publicly stating I was fighting against immorality in our country, in my heart I had allowed Satan to build a fortress that no one knew about,” read part of the first draft. The second draft had the Satan reference removed but still had Duggar saying, “I have secretly over the last several years been viewing pornography on the internet and this became a secret addiction.” Now the attempts to foist blame onto Satan and Internet pornographers have been removed, with Duggar owning more personal responsibility for what has happened. 

It's good to see that Duggar has decided to take personal responsibility for his own choices. Still, there’s much in this letter that suggests Duggar hasn’t really learned any larger lessons from this whole experience. “The last few years, while publicly stating I was fighting against immorality in our country I was hiding my own personal failures,” Duggar writes.

But by “immorality,” Duggar isn’t talking about sexual abuse or even adultery. He hasn't actually lifted a finger to fight either of those behaviors. During his stint as a lobbyist for the Family Research Council, much of Duggar’s work was focused on fighting the legalization of same-sex marriage. He's anti-choice and has fought against transgender rights. He’s even used his own marriage as a cudgel to bully gay people for being different:

Marriage = Man + Woman. I'm glad to support the corporate leaders defending traditional values! #Chickfila

A photo posted by Josh Duggar (@joshduggar) on

In other words, he’s spent his life trying to stop people from making the best personal choices they can for themselves and their families. It’s good he acknowledges that he’s a hypocrite because he committed adultery while holding himself out as a model of monogamous marriage. Too bad he won’t own up to his even worse behavior, attacking the private and yes, moral choices other people make about their own lives just because those choices conflict with his religious dogma. 

Aug. 20 2015 1:34 PM

Missouri Legislature Rejects Idea to Respond to Sexual Misconduct With an Intern Dress Code

Earlier this year, Missouri state House Speaker John Diehl, a Republican, resigned after it was revealed that he was sexting with a legislative intern. Diehl, who held himself out as an anti-gay and anti-choice family-values conservative, was caught exchanging texts with the college freshman that had such bons mots in them as, “Will have my way with you” and “And leave you quivering,” which were obtained from her phone, where the intern had Diehl listed as “Frank Underwood.”

Now another school year is starting, and Missouri legislators are trying to figure out how to prevent future embarrassing scandals involving “family values” hypocrites who try to strip women’s reproductive rights away with one hand while sending dirty messages to college girls with the other. Republican state Rep. Kevin Engler was chosen to lead the effort to teach his fellow legislators to keep their hands off the girls in between rounds of attacking contraception and abortion access. He sent out a memo of recommendations, including mandatory sexual harassment training and banning personal text messaging with interns. 

As reported by the Kansas City Star, two of his fellow Republicans immediately chimed in, insisting that the real solution here is to start measuring hemlines. Rep. Bill Kidd responded to the memo with just the suggestion: “Intern dress code.”

Another Republican, Nick King, rapidly agreed, writing, “We need a good, modest, conservative dress code for both the males and females.”

“Removing one more distraction will help everyone keep their focus on legislative matters,” he added. 

Giving legislators a pretense to investigate the clothing choices of college girls to make sure they're “modest” enough certainly sounds more fun than boring stuff like adopting a code of ethics and just generally remembering that it's never a good idea for grown men, especially those who hold themselves out as moral arbiters for the rest of us, to start messing with college girls. But, as some Democratic joy-killers were quick to point out, it's a bad look to blame girls for having such hot sexy bodies instead of expecting grown men to behave with a modicum of dignity and common sense. 

“We’re really not going to require interns to dress so we’re less distracted, are we?” Democratic Rep. Bill Otto messaged. “All we need is a code of ethics and a penalty provision.”

The Missouri intern handbook already has a general dress code requiring interns to wear “appropriate business attire,” which is defined as “a jacket and necktie” for men and “dress, suit, dress slacks and jacket” for women. 

Claire McCaskill, a Democrat who represents Missouri in the U.S. Senate, got wind of what was going on and sent out a letter to legislators that reads, “This problem has nothing to do with how interns are dressed.” She continues, “I refuse to stand by idly while any suggestion is made that victims of sexual harassment in the Missouri State Legislature is the responsibility of anyone other than the legislators themselves.”

State House Speaker Todd Richardson, a Republican, quickly released a statement explaining that a new, stricter dress code will not be part of the new intern policies. Chasing college girls down and explaining to them how you think their skirt is hugging their butt just a little too tightly to please the Lord will have to remain, sadly, a fantasy to be enjoyed at home instead of a part of daily life in the Missouri Legislature. 

Aug. 20 2015 8:29 AM

Astronomer Celebrates Female Scientists’ “Special Natural Gift for Caring and Educating”  

At the closing ceremony of last week’s general assembly in Honolulu, the International Astronomical Union (you know, the people who demoted Pluto to dwarf planet status) announced three new female members to its board, in a series of long, somewhat boring speeches.

But when the new general secretary, Piero Benvenuti, spoke, many perked up, although not for the reasons he intended.

Benvenuti began by celebrating the fact that three of the four incoming board members were women. This is indeed something to celebrate in a field dominated by men. It was his next comment that garnered a reaction. According to a transcript, he said:

I believe a woman scientist is not just another scientist. Women have a special natural gift for caring and educating—and I underline the [etymology] of the word: e-duco, I pull out the best of someone—therefore a woman who is also an astronomer can have a greater impact on the society than a simple scientist.

At the moment those words left his mouth, I witnessed a small explosion on Twitter.

I’m a computer scientist, not an astronomer, but the sexual stereotyping of female scientists resonated with me and should be something that’s in the forefront of all scientists’ minds right now. Social media has seen hashtag-based backlash to Tim Hunt’s comments about “girls in the lab” and demonstrations that women actually can look like engineers.

“When he said that women’s innate nurturing abilities made them good for work in outreach and development projects, and I felt like we had lurched back to the ’50s,” said David L. Clements, an astrophysics at Imperial College London, who attended the speech.

Furthermore, many women have no interest in being nurturing and resent the implication that they are, simply by nature of their gender. Even those who are nurturing don’t necessarily want it considered as part of their suitability as scientists.

Rachael Livermore, a postdoctoral fellow in astronomy at the University of Texas at Austin, also attended the IAU speech and was outraged. “It completely misses the point that we should be striving for equality because excluding huge swaths of people for arbitrary reasons is bad for science as well as being unfair to those excluded,” she said, “not because the excluded groups have some sort of special magical skill to offer."

That really is the core of the problem. Benvenuti, by all accounts, sincerely supports the inclusion of more women in the field and in these leadership positions. Even the most critical attendees I spoke with believed he was trying to compliment his colleagues whom he held in high scientific esteem.

But women aren’t superhero scientists. We’re just scientists. Benvenuti was trying to be supportive, but when stereotypes enter the discussion to justify why women—or other underrepresented groups—should be fairly represented in science, it undermines the premise that we should be included simply for our scientific abilities.

“I am willing to give my colleague the benefit of the doubt and assume he didn’t mean any harm by his comments,” Emily Rice, an astronomer at the College of Staten Island–CUNY, told me. “Unfortunately, even well-intentioned comments are representative of the benevolent sexism that many women face every day in science. We should be valued as scientists, for our research and other contributions to the field, not by how well we conform to gender stereotypes."

And the benevolence is a tricky part of this. It can feel bad to criticize someone for celebrating diversity because he did it in the wrong way (not to mention that such criticism can spark the hated and dismissive response that we’re being oversensitive). At the same time, it feels worse to hear statements that imply that in order to receive equal treatment, we are expected to have “greater impact on the society than a simple scientist.” Being equivalent to a white male “simple scientist” should be enough.

Thankfully, Benvenuti has heard the criticism. He posted a statement on his blog Wednesday that heralded his new female colleagues for their scientific achievements and acknowledged the critiques of his comments.

While we hardly need another incident to focus our discussion on sexism in the sciences, it’s only by calling out these statements—even those made with good intentions—that we can begin to rid ourselves of the limiting, stereotypical expectations that hinder the progress of diversity.

Aug. 19 2015 3:48 PM

Fox News Guest Says That the Owen Labrie Case May Be a Matter of “Regret Sex”

The trial of Owen Labrie, a Harvard-bound student who is accused of raping a younger student at the famous St. Paul’s boarding school, is getting a lot of media coverage because of the elite nature of the school and because the alleged rape was part of a school tradition of senior boys competing to have sex with younger girls. A lot of media coverage is titillating, but one Fox News guest, a defense attorney named Keith Sullivan, went to the next level on Wednesday, dusting out some hoary and downright ridiculous myths about rape

“The prosecution is painting him out to be a monster,” Sullivan said to Fox host Bill Hemmer. “And as she pointed out, the prosecution, on the clip, he doesn’t look like a rapist. He sits there, he looks like Harry Potter. He sits there with his glasses on, this young innocent kid. How could he possibly violently and maliciously rape this woman and plan it for months and months at a time as the prosecution claims?”*

Hemmer pushed back, pointing out that you can't actually tell if someone is a rapist by how he looks, but Sullivan was already onto rape myth No. 2, which is that it's not really rape unless she puts up a physical fight. “There’s not ripped clothing. There’s no defensive marks on her,” he argued. “There’s no marking, there’s no bruising. The only indication is that some form of sex took place.”

But then Sullivan rounded out the entire jaw-dropping display by digging out the silliest myth there is: that women routinely accuse consensual sex partners of rape out of some sort of slut panic. “Look, many women have what's known as ‘regret sex,’ ” he said. “They feel dirty afterwards. They feel guilty. She’s a very young girl. She’s only just maturing. I’m not claiming that’s what happened here, but that’s a possibility.”

This claim, that women make up rape accusations to conceal consensual sex, is still a popular rape myth, but nowadays, most people pushing it know well enough to simply hint at this idea instead of stating it so boldly, much less using a term like “regret sex.”* There are, of course, false rape reports, though they are much rarer than anti-feminists would have you believe. But if you look at the real-world examples, this notion that it’s a matter of “regret sex” starts to fall apart. Take, for instance, the most recent famous example, of a woman going by the name “Jackie” who told a Rolling Stone reporter she was gang-raped at a frat party. Whatever happened there, one thing seems certain: It was not a matter of a woman having consensual sex with a man and then framing him for rape after the fact. Same story with the infamous Duke lacrosse case or the Tawana Brawley case. In each case, there wasn't a rape but there wasn't consensual sex, either. The alleged victim made the encounter up whole cloth for reasons that have nothing to do with covering up for consensual sex. 

Claiming the sex was consensual is Labrie’s defense lawyer’s strategy, too. It’s an odd choice, considering that Labrie denied the sex took place when he spoke to police, claiming instead that he experienced a “moment of divine inspiration” that caused him to stop before penetration. However, text message and physical evidence seems to suggest that sex did happen, leaving the defense with few options but the “regret sex” defense. 

*Update, Aug. 20, 2015: This paragraph was updated to include an additional portion of Sullivan’s remarks. (Return.)

*Correction, Aug. 20, 2015: This post originally implied that the phrase "regret sex" had not been used before Sullivan's appearance on Fox News on Wednesday. An Urban Dictionary entry dates the phrase to at least 2009. (Return.)

Aug. 19 2015 12:06 PM

Americans Still Back Family Planning Services at Planned Parenthood, New Poll Shows

A majority of Americans, including Republicans, support the current federal funding system for Planned Parenthood, according to a new poll conducted by Reuters/Ipsos. That’s despite relentless efforts from anti-choice activists this summer to demonize the organization. When asked if the federal government should continue the current funding for contraception and other nonabortion health services, 54 percent of respondents said yes. This isn't much lower than the 59 percent of Americans who generally believe that federal funding should go to contraception services. 

Make no mistake, the anti-choice propaganda efforts have had some effect. Forty-four percent of people who had seen the videos by the “pro-life” Center for Medical Progress said their views of Planned Parenthood were more negative, even though state and federal investigations into the organization have discovered that anti-choice accusations that the group sells fetal tissue for profit are completely baseless. Still, even when pollsters asked questions designed to elicit a disgust reaction, by describing the false accusations made in the videos, fewer than 40 percent of respondents were willing to agree with defunding the organization.

Even though the videos were ostensibly about abortion and fetal tissue research, none of the legislative response to the videos has had anything to do with either practice. On the contrary, all anti-choice efforts that have been justified by the video have been focused strictly on cutting off women's access to contraception, STI testing and treatment, and cancer screenings through the organization. By law, almost none of the funding, either from Medicaid or Title X, that goes to Planned Parenthood contributes to abortion services, which are paid for in full by the patients. (There are a handful of Medicaid patients who, because they are rape victims, get funded abortions, but their numbers are so tiny, numbering 331 women in 2009, not all of whom even went to Planned Parenthood, as to be inconsequential.) Even the revelation that GOP presidential candidate Ben Carson had experimented on fetal tissue hasn't slowed things down

This polling data sheds a lot of light on why so many Republican politicians have seized on these videos, even though they are nothing more than religious-right urban legends, like the “satanic panics” of the ’80s. Republican politicians, particularly those running in the crowded presidential primary, have a difficult needle to thread. On one hand, attracting voters on the religious right, who are necessary to do well in the primaries, takes more than simply being anti-abortion these days. You also need to show a willingness to attack contraception, which is increasingly demonized by conservatives.

But, as this polling shows, contraception—and contraception access—remains popular with the public at large, meaning that overt attacks on it could hurt a Republican in the general election. These videos are, therefore, a perfect solution to the dilemma. They allow Republican candidates to pander to the religious right on the anti-contraception issue while spinning it, for the general public, as more abortion politics. The truth doesn't stand a chance in the face of so much political expediency. 

Aug. 18 2015 12:46 PM

Teen Girls Love Video Games, but They’re Really Quiet About It

Chris Suellentrop at Kotaku has posted an in-depth analysis of one of the more interesting findings from a recent Pew Research Center report on teens and technology: Despite sexist stereotypes that cast video games as a male hobby, teen girls love to play them. Sure, more boys ages 13 to 17 play than girls—84 percent and 59 percent, respectively—but both genders play a lot of games and a lot of different kinds of games. “More than 35 percent of the girls in the Wiseman and Burch study said they play role-playing games,” Suellentrop writes, adding that this is “a larger number than the 32 percent who said they played mobile games.”

But while games are popular with both boys and girls, there is a striking difference in how they play. Video games, for boys, are a social activity, but for most girls, gaming is a solitary pursuit. Even though the stereotype is that it’s girls who are always chattering with friends on digital devices, researchers found that boys were far more likely than girls to put gaming at the center of their social lives. Thirty-eight percent “of all teen boys share their gaming handle as one of the first three pieces of information exchanged when they meet someone they would like to be friends with,” Amanda Lenhart, one of the authors of the study writes, while “just 7% of girls share a gaming handle when meeting new friends.”

Boys were far more likely to play with other people both online and in person, as this chart shows:

150818_XX_GamingGirlsPew

Pew Research Center

What particularly interested Suellentrop was the revelation that even when girls play games online, they are far less likely than boys to turn on their mics to talk to other players. “Only 28 percent of the girls who play video games online use voice chat to talk to other players,” he writes, in contrast to the 71 percent of boys who play online do. Taken together, that means that talking with people during online games is part of life for the majority of teen boys, but, according to Lenhart's estimate, only about 9 percent of teen girls.

Why do girls shun being seen playing video games, particularly to strangers, while boys embrace it? Suellentrop shies away from speculating, but the answer seems obvious to me, a woman who has played video games in some form or another since junior high school. There is just a huge gulf in the hassle factor. For women and girls, playing with friends, at least if you’re in a mixed-gender group, means that your performance is under a lot more scrutiny and that any failures are more likely to be blamed on your gender than if you were a guy. (For an illustration of this phenomenon, I recommend this famous XKCD cartoon.) If you’re online and other players realize you’re female, it can be even worse, with men saying abusive things to you just because of your gender. Games are supposed to be fun, so it’s not surprising that girls will gravitate toward modes of play that avoid all this stress. 

No one should blame women and girls for choosing to play games in a way that renders them invisible to the larger gaming community, but an unfortunate side effect of this is that many guys who play are under the impression that it’s therefore a male hobby. The result is that women who do turn on their mics are often accused of being “fake geek girls” who are only doing it for male attention. Worse, the entire Gamergate controversy that exploded last summer was a direct result of too many male gamers seeing gaming as “their” hobby and women, particularly those who want to participate as equals, as interlopers who need to be run out. But by garnering so much attention, Gamergate inadvertently revealed that women are, in fact, a large part of the gaming world. Perhaps that is the nudge that was necessary to break the cycle of invisibility and silencing in the world of video game playing. 

Aug. 17 2015 12:17 PM

Ben Carson Attacks Reproductive Health Care Access for Women of Color and Rape Victims

Last week, it was revealed that Ben Carson had done research on fetuses obtained from the very abortions he would like to ban women from accessing. But being a known hypocrite hasn't slowed the retired neurosurgeon and current GOP presidential candidate down one bit when it comes to casting judgment on women. On the contrary, Carson had a moment on Neil Cavuto’s Fox News show last week that should rival Todd Akin’s infamous “legitimate rape” moment, both in terms of ugliness to women and ignorance of biology. 

When asked by Cavuto on Wednesday whether he supported exceptions for rape and incest in his proposed ban on abortion, Carson, like Akin before him, tried to argue that such exceptions weren't really necessary. “I would hope that they would very quickly avail themselves of emergency room,” Carson argued, referring to rape victims. “And in the emergency room, they have the ability to administer, you know, RU-486, other possibilities, before you have a developing fetus.”

As with Akin, it's hard even to know where to begin. The biological ignorance on display here is astounding. RU-486, commonly known as the “abortion pill,” would not be given to a rape victim in an emergency room. The pill can only work on established pregnancies and is usually administered at abortion clinics. The pill Carson is likely thinking of is emergency contraception, which, as its name would suggest, prevents conception in the first place. Anti-choicers who don't like the idea of women having post-sex contraception have frequently claimed that emergency contraception works by killing embryos, but in reality, it works by suppressing women’s ovulation so no conception can occur while she has the live sperm in her system. That Carson, who is an actual doctor, would conflate the two is particularly troubling. 

Just as insidious is his implication that a rape victim only deserves our sympathy—or, if you prefer, a rape victim is only legitimate—if she behaves in a certain way after the rape. To earn the right not to bear a child for a rapist by force, you have to pull it together right after the rape and go straight to the emergency room, keeping in mind to avoid Catholic hospitals, even if that means driving for hours out of your way. If you are in shock or denial after your rape or you fear the repercussions of reporting, too bad, so sad. Only the most pulled-together, brave rape victims get to say no to forced pregnancy. And even then, only 89 percent of the time, which is the effectiveness rate of emergency contraception

But even though he seems to break with the hard-line anti-choice stance against emergency contraception, Carson continues to appeal to anti-choice voters by going hard after reproductive health care access for women of color. 

“That 30 percent of abortions occur among black women, whereas their population number is 13 percent, so it's almost triple the number of abortions rate for African Americans as whites,” Carson told Fox News host Eric Bolling on Thursday night. “It brings up a very important issue and that is do those black lives matter? The number one cause of death for black people is abortion.”

Comments like this suggest why Carson's popularity is rising among the ranks of conservative voters, who love hearing a black man explain that black women making personal choices about their own lives is a greater threat to black people than police violence or economic inequality. He's not wrong that black women have disproportionately high abortion rates, but that's not because black women are some kind of murderous threat to their own people. It's because black women have much higher unintended pregnancy rates than white women, in no small part because black women are more likely to have inadequate access to affordable gynecological care, including contraception. If black women had the same access to care as white women, these abortion rate discrepancies would likely shrink dramatically. 

But even though we know that contraception access prevents abortion, Carson is pushing for less access, particularly for women of color. “One of the reasons you find most [Planned Parenthood] clinics in black neighborhoods is so that you can find ways to control that population,” Carson told Cavuto on Wednesday. 

He doubled down on this claim on Thursday, telling Bolling, “And it is quite true that the majority and plurality of their clinics are in minority neighborhoods.”

In reality, most abortion clinics are in white-majority neighborhoods, and 14 percent of Planned Parenthood patients are black, which is directly proportional to the population at large. But this talking point is a popular one on the right, because under the guise of anti-racism, black women’s access to contraception and other health care services is being targeted for cuts, while white women’s access isn't under nearly as much scrutiny. If conservatives such as Carson had their way, already existing disparities in reproductive health between black and white women would expand dramatically. 

Donald Trump continues to suck all the oxygen out of any room he's in, but Carson is quietly building up a base of support among conservative voters. Sure, he may have done some fetal tissue research, but he is willing to go hard after reproductive health care access for both rape victims and women of color. And it's that vein of cruelty that will keep him afloat, even amid legitimate charges of hypocrisy.

Aug. 14 2015 12:12 PM

Gendering Toys Isn’t About Nature or Tradition. It’s About Ideology.

Last week, in response to customer feedback, Target announced their decision to reduce the amount of gender-based signage for kids' products in their stores. "For example, in the kids’ Bedding area, signs will no longer feature suggestions for boys or girls, just kids," reads the Target press release. "In the Toys aisles, we’ll also remove reference to gender, including the use of pink, blue, yellow or green paper on the back walls of our shelves."

This is a smart move that simplifies things. Customers can categorize Barbies and Hot Wheels perfectly well without a store assigning gender to them. Plenty of toys, from bikes to building blocks to stuffed animals to art sets, are generally gender-neutral. Why, for instance, should this striped bedspread be considered a "boy's" bedspread? 

But Target's common-sense move has created an explosion of anger on the right, with Fox News devoting at least four segments to churning up pointless outrage over it.

"I don't see what this does for kids having labels for boys and girls because to mix it all together is to deny that there's differences between the sexes," Andrea Tantaros argued. "I also think, and I think you'd agree with me that, boys and girls are different," Tammy Bruce said in another segment. "And that there are naturally different interests."

Unsurprisingly, the teeming masses of conservative America responded with knee-jerk outrage, as well. As AdWeek chronicled, one comically inspired hero named Mike Melgaard posed as Target customer service on Facebook to taunt those who were expressing their what-is-this-country-coming-to-boys-are-born-loving-toy-trucks umbrage.

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Screenshot/Facebook

Reading the outpouring of anger at fake-Target, it's clear that the two arguments against this are rooted in "nature" ("God created males and females differently," one man grouses) and "tradition" ("MORE PUSSIFICATION of America," decries another). But if gender preferences are inborn and natural, then they should sort themselves out, even if Target has fewer signs that say "boys" and "girls." The only reason to relentlessly gender everything is to teach and enforce gender roles, which you would not have to do if gender preferences were as "natural" as these folks would like to think.

While there have always been some toys meant for one sex more than another, heavily gendering toys is a practice that waxes and wanes. As Elizabeth Sweet explained in the New York Times in 2012, "Gender was remarkably absent from the toy ads at the turn of the 20th century"—an era, presumably, of rampant "PUSSIFICATION"—and it wasn't until World War II and the postwar era that separate marketing of boys and girls really came into vogue. Then the tide turned again; by 1975, "very few toys were explicitly marketed according to gender, and nearly 70 percent showed no markings of gender whatsoever." That reversed again in the 1990s, when gender-based marketing started creeping up to today's ridiculous levels. 

And yet, as Hanna Rosin detailed in Slate in 2012, even studies that show gender differences in toy preference find that most popular toys, such as Lincoln Logs or stuffed animals, are gender-neutral.

Oddly, many of the people who are so angry about Target's decision grew up in the era when toy gendering wasn't much of a thing. My childhood blanket was covered with pictures of Peter Rabbit, and my favorite toy was a record player. I played with Barbies, sure, but most of my toys were not "girl" toys or "boy" toys—just toys. I imagine lots of the people losing their minds about gender-neutral toys have similar memories. What they're defending is neither nature or tradition, but an ideology—one that doesn't reflect the diverse desires of kids, who should be treated like individuals instead of as little boxes marked "Boy" and "Girl."

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