The XX Factor
What Women Really Think

Feb. 19 2015 11:46 AM

Beyoncé Has Skin. Did You Think Otherwise?

In an age of celebrity photo leaks, a new seepage has dribbled from the Internet’s drainpipe: 224 seemingly un-retouched images of Beyoncé, from a 2013 L’Oreal ad shoot. In the photos, Beyoncé’s skin looks like skin, with bumps and irregularities, rather than a glowing continuous gel-like substance. Her makeup is visible, which will shock everyone who believes Beyoncé wears no makeup during photo-shoots organized by makeup companies to sell makeup.

The images appeared on a fan site called The Beyoncé World long enough to create low-to-medium levels of existential crisis. They were taken down when furious Beyhive drones swarmed the premises. “Some of the things we have seen posted were just horrible, and we don’t want any parts of it,” the website whimpered of the rabid fan reaction, by way of explanation.

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Feb. 18 2015 4:17 PM

Guns Will Not Solve the Campus Rape Problem

In case the public discussion around campus sexual assault wasn't enough of a circus, now we have the gun people getting involved. The New York Times reports that pro-gun advocates are hijacking the issue of campus sexual assault to advocate for the long-standing goal of getting more colleges to allow guns on campus, arguing that women need them to be safe from rapists. “If these young, hot little girls on campus have a firearm, I wonder how many men will want to assault them," Nevada assemblywoman Michele Fiore, who is sponsoring a bill to force colleges to allow guns on campus, told the New York Times.

That kind of contemptuous language is a good indicator of what is going on here, which has little to do with sincere concern about campus safety and everything to do with finding angles, any angles, to inject guns into every walk of life. "The gun lobby has seized on this tactic, this subject of sexual assault,” Andy Pelosi, the executive director of the Campaign to Keep Guns Off Campus, told the New York Times.

Feb. 18 2015 3:02 PM

Feminists Claim the FDA Is Blocking “Female Viagra” Because of Sexism. They’re Wrong.  

For the third time since 2010, Sprout Pharmaceuticals has applied for FDA approval to start selling a drug called flibanserin, aka "female Viagra." The drug, which is a combination of psychiatric medications Sprout claims can reignite a dampened libido, has been rejected twice. The FDA claims that's because flibanserin doesn't work, especially not well enough to justify the side effects and potential dangers from long-term use.

Sprout would like you to believe, however, that it's because of sexism. And they've got some feminists out there backing them up. "We live in a culture that has historically discounted the importance of sexual pleasure and sexual desire for women," Terry O'Neill of the National Organization for Women told NPR. "And I fear that it's that cultural attitude that men's sexual health is extremely important, but women's sexual health is not so important" that is keeping the FDA from approving the drug.

Feb. 17 2015 4:18 PM

The Federal Nutrition Program for Pregnant Women Is a Bureaucratic Nightmare

A new study, commissioned by the USDA and executed by the nonprofit research group Institute of Medicine, attempts to answer one very specific question: Should women enrolled in WIC—the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children—be able to spend their vouchers on potatoes?

Whether or not pregnant women should be allowed to buy potatoes using WIC vouchers has been a political controversy for several years. WIC is a program intended to help poor pregnant and postpartum women supplement their diets with exceptionally nutritious foods. (WIC also provides vouchers for baby food and formula.) In 2006, the IOM decided that potatoes aren’t healthful enough to be considered a crucial food for pregnant and postpartum women, a decision that lobbyists for the potato industry immediately began trying to undo. Now comes this new study, reversing the IOM’s earlier conclusion and recommending that potatoes be included in the list of WIC foods. Whether or not WIC eventually adds potatoes to the list, the hoopla over one starch sheds light on the bureaucratic nightmare that is America’s social support system.


Feb. 17 2015 1:52 PM

Lesley Gore, Feminist Icon

Singer Lesley Gore passed away on Monday from lung cancer at age 68. Gore became famous as a teenager in the early-1960s "girl group" era, when the charts were dominated by pretty young girls singing songs about high school heartbreak. Gore's 1963 hit "It's My Party" is a perfect example of the form: Lush production, overwhelming emotion, all in service of a story about teen drama that feels like the end of the world when it's happening but seems a bit silly to adult ears. 

But while the girl group genre, at the behest of older male producers like Phil Spector, was dominated by songs that portrayed girls as boy-crazy damsels in distress—"The Leader of the Pack" by the Shangri Las and "Will You Love Me Tomorrow" by the Shirelles being iconic examples—Gore stood out by showing a more defiant, feminist side with her 1963 hit "You Don't Own Me." The song portrays a narrator standing up to her controlling, possessive boyfriend: "You don't own me, don't try to change me in any way/You don't own me, don't tie me down 'cause I'd never stay."

Feb. 17 2015 9:00 AM

We Never Wanted Kids. Now We Have Two.

Over the past few years, there has been a great deal of discussion about why women aren’t achieving as much in their careers as their male counterparts, even though women have been enrolling in and graduating from college in greater numbers than men since the 1980s. Explanations for this gender gap range from women aren’t “leaning in” enough, to entrenched sexism in the workplace, to husbands’ careers taking precedence, to a lack of social supports for mothers in American society.

But when we discuss the issue in a macro way, we don’t hear the stories of men and women who are making career choices not as statistics in a think piece, but as part of an often complicated balancing act between various interests and responsibilities in their lives. Here is the seventh interview in an occasional series, Best Laid Plans, about how career decisions get made over time and are altered by the unpredictability of life.

Names: Robyn and Ian

Ages: 39

Robyn’s Occupation: Environmental due diligence assessor

Ian’s Occupation: Employee at a local government environmental agency

Children: 4 year old and 1 year old

Location: Long Beach, California

Hi, Robyn. What were your career expectations when you first started working, and how have they panned out?

My original expectation was that I would be a research scientist. But that’s not what happened. I met my now-husband when we were both in grad school for geology, on opposite coasts. We met at a conference in Costa Rica and then developed a long distance relationship. I was about two years ahead of him in grad school, so the idea was that I would find a post doc in California, because his school was in California and I was in Massachusetts. I only applied to post docs and teaching jobs on the west coast so I could be closer to Ian.

But unfortunately for me—or so it seemed at the time—I didn’t get any of the post docs I applied for. One of the problems in academia is you need to be willing to go wherever geographically to secure a position, and I just wasn’t willing to sacrifice my personal life. We both knew after two years of a long distance relationship, it wasn’t sustainable indefinitely. I could have conceivably gotten a post doc somewhere else, but it probably would have meant our relationship had to end.

I went ahead and moved to California with no job. I had been living as a grad student so I didn’t have a whole lot of savings, and I realized I needed to figure out what I was going to do quickly. I couldn’t sponge off my also-grad-student-salaried boyfriend for too long. That’s when the expectations went out the window. I temped as a secretary for several months and tried to figure out what to do. I was throwing out resumes left and right in both the public and private sectors. I discovered having a PhD with no real life work experience makes private sector employers—in my experience—reluctant to hire you. They think you’re expensive, over-educated and under-qualified.

An old college friend of mine had gotten a job with an environmental consulting company, and it sounded like something I could do. It was a small mom-and-pop owned firm, and she was willing to give my resume straight to the owner. That’s how I got my first job in the environmental consulting field. Then I did 10 years of that, and now my new job, which I just got this past May.

Hi, Ian. What has your career trajectory looked like?

Feb. 16 2015 2:08 PM

A Fifty Shades of Grey Think Piece Roundup

Fifty Shades of Grey, which sold 100 million copies by stealing the plot of every '70s-era Harlequin romance and adding BDSM, started out as Twilight fan fiction and has now morphed into a box office winner starring the daughter of '80s-era Hollywood stars. What does it all mean? Several writers in the past week, including Slate's own, have tried to explain what Christian Grey and Anastasia Steele say about society, sex, and the state of the human soul, circa 2015. Here are some of the highlights.

Feb. 13 2015 10:16 AM

New HPV Study Shows That the Vaccine Has No Impact on Sexual Behavior

Not even the MMR can beat the HPV vaccine when it comes to brewing anti-vaccination hysteria. On top of the usual baseless fears that vaccines have "toxins," there's also a widespread concern that the HPV vaccine, which prevents a common STI that can lead to cervical cancer, will cause girls to become promiscuous. The fear is that by signaling to your daughter that you believe she will probably have sex one day, you are giving her "permission" to have sex right now. Yale researchers found that this fear is the primary reason parents reject the HPV vaccination, leading to a situation where more than 40 percent of teen girls remain unvaccinated

New research shows that this fear of teen girl promiscuity is completely unfounded. In a paper published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, medical researchers from Harvard and the University of Southern California, Los Angeles compared the rates of transmission for other STIs like chlamydia, gonorrhea, and herpes between vaccinated and unvaccinated girls. If parental fears about the HPV vaccine are right, we should see a spike in these STI rates for the vaccinated girls, because of all the unrestrained sex. But researchers found no such link. There is no reason to think the HPV vaccine influences sexual decision-making one way or another.

Feb. 12 2015 4:12 PM

Fifty Shades of Grey Is Not a “Good” Movie. I Loved It.

After you’ve seen Fifty Shades of Grey, come back and listen to Amanda Hess, Dan Kois, and Dana Stevens discuss the film in Slate’s Spoiler Special:

Fifty Shades of Grey is a ridiculous movie. Why are the main characters, Christian Grey and Anastasia Steele, named like 19th-century ballerinas? How is it that newcomer Dakota Johnson (Ana) manages to come off so wry, stunning, and sensitive, while recovered Calvin Klein model Jamie Dornan (Christian) rolls through the movie like a Brooks Brothers mannequin? BTW, how is Christian just 27 years old but has already amassed, like, a billion dollars? (“Telecommunications”?) Wait—Rita Ora’s in this? At one point, Christian steals away to a corner of his penthouse to plunk sadly at his grand piano (LOL). But then, Anastasia drops her robe, straddles him on the bench, and he carries her off to bed in his capable arms, and, uhhhh: Are you turned on by Fifty Shades of Grey right now?

In a 2013 Sexualities article, academics Sarah Harman and Bethan Jones posited that “anti-fans” of Fifty Shades have been more central to its wild popularity than sincere readers of the book. Hate-readers argued over, obsessed, and reenacted the book with the zeal of true believers; perhaps they’re even secretly responsible for the book’s best-seller status. “One wonders whether this constructed Other of the ‘vanilla’ housewife, the undiscerning reader of ‘trash’, truly exists except as an imagined spectre,” Harman and Jones write. Perhaps for most readers of the book, it’s actually the hate-reading experience that “offers the real readerly pleasures of performing and sharing distinctions of taste.” Emma Green reports in the Atlantic that contrary to the aging housewife stereotype, “about a third of the people who bought the books in the U.S. were actually 18 to 29 years old.”

Fifty Shades of Grey began as racy online fan fiction inspired by the tween vampire romance series Twilight. A middle-aged British Twihard named Erika Leonard, writing under the handle Snowqueen Icedragon, recast Twilight’s romantic leads as a Pacific Northwest college student and a handsome local billionaire, but the shuffled details do not matter—the whole thing was just a pretext to inject some kinky sex into their chaste relationship. “I’m not a great author,” Leonard, now going as E.L. James, admitted when her story was republished in novel form by Random House and, to her bemusement, debuted as an instant best-seller. But as James’ fan-fic amassed a fandom of its own, she started to take herself more seriously, and even earned the ire of Twilight author Stephenie Meyer, who has denounced the books as “too smutty” for her bookshelf.

Now, Fifty Shades the movie has emerged as a kind of fan-fic of Fifty Shades the book, and the leap from page to screen has also opened a rift between author and imitator. Director Sam Taylor-Johnson and E.L. James reportedly feuded on set as Taylor-Johnson struggled to wrest control of the story from James. The end product does not abdicate its responsibility to titillate, but it fills its sex scenes with exaggerated winks to the hate-reader. And as the movie’s attitude toward itself ping-pongs between deprecation and indulgence, it allows the audience to feel superior to the source material while experiencing the guilty pleasure of discovering that maybe they actually really like this stuff. The book only did the latter.

Fifty Shades of Grey is not a “good” movie, but it’s a mistake to judge it like any other: Buying into the Fifty Shades experience is more like purchasing a ticket to a funhouse tour through Fifty Shades’ weird, wild fandom. The Anastasia Steele of the book is an aww-shucks virgin in constant dialogue with her “inner goddess,” but the Anastasia of the movie is a stand-in for the Fifty Shades skeptic—the literal plot finds her seduced into the kinky world of Christian, but the obvious subtext is that our heroine has fallen down the rabbit hole of the cultural phenomenon of Fifty Shades itself. Director Taylor-Johnson says she deliberately recast the story in the image of a “a deep, dark, romantic adult fairy tale,” and the film is riddled with references to Alice in Wonderland (Anastasia wakes up with a hangover to find that Christian has left her painkillers marked “eat me” and juice marked “drink me”), and Beauty and the Beast (this time, the mysterious beast with the opulent mansion is already ridiculously good-looking, and the heroine is tasked with transforming him from a tortured control freak and into a regular boyfriend). The audience already knows Christian’s “terrible” secret, and the film exploits our ironic awareness that the sweet, innocent Ana is pratfalling straight into his dungeon. Right before Christian lets her into his “playroom” for the first time, she asks if they’re going to play his Xbox.  

Some scenes in Fifty Shades play like viral parodies—those late-night talk show routines where a celebrity is forced to keep a straight face while reading lines like “I’m 50 shades of fucked up!” and “I don’t make love. I fuck. Hard!” Then there’s a warmly silly Dancing With the Stars routine, as Christian and Ana rub cheeks and bop around his austere modern apartment. And a glamour porn clip—Christian tears open Ana’s sports bra and blindfolds her with her own T-shirt—which inevitably leads to more disturbing fare, as Christian angrily whips Ana’s naked ass with his belt while she cries in pain.

The soundtrack—Annie Lennox, Sia, a breathy Beyoncé retread of “Crazy in Love”—is a Spotify playlist from a woman with good but unpretentious taste. And the scene where Anastasia and Christian sit at opposite ends of a low-lit conference table to negotiate the terms of their dom-sub contract plays like a Funny or Die video ribbing the concept of affirmative consent. Ana wryly nixes anal fisting and vaginal fisting; Christian agrees to a scheduled romantic date, up to and including ice-skating, once a week. Ana blurts out “what’s a butt plug?” just as his leggy assistants walk in the door.

The Fifty Shades team has done an expert job capitalizing on its sophisticated guilty-pleasure appeal. Though Charlie Hunnam, the bad boy biker of FX’s Sons of Anarchy, was originally tapped for the role of Christian, he was soon replaced by Dornan, best known to discerning Netflix watchers as the sexy serial killer of the feminist BBC thriller The Fall. On the Tonight Show, Dornan joined Jimmy Fallon to mock the book by reading its most absurd passages aloud in various ridiculous accents (all are better than the terrible American imitation the Northern Irish Dornan attempts in the film). And Jezebel has gleefully reported on how, in every appearance on their obligatory PR tour for the movie, Dornan and Johnson look constipated at best. The nasty gossip that bubbled up on the set about creative differences between author James and director Taylor-Johnson also functioned as a wink to the hate-readers: This adaptation makes E.L. James mad, so it might just please you. The very idea of all these skilled, funny, sophisticated professionals sinking millions of dollars into such a dumb book is thrilling in its extravagance. Jamie Dornan showed the top of his penis for this!

Pandering to ironic and sincere viewers at the same time is more than a clever marketing tactic. Pairing the humorous with the erotic produces a sensation of nervous, off-kilter euphoria; laughter and sex both leave you flushed, tingly, a little out of control. I left the movie feeling like I’d just been on a first date with someone I’d secretly crushed on for a long time. I’d definitely see it again.

Feb. 12 2015 4:00 PM

Anastasia Steele Leans In

The two words most conspicuously absent from the movie version of Fifty Shades of Grey are “Holy crap.” In the book, our heroine Anastasia Steele uses the phrase the way people used “dude” in the ’90s: to underline every emotion, from furious to indignant to scared to embarrassed to utterly delighted. Given the extreme control series author E.L. James is said to have exerted over the movie, the omission is curious. Perhaps Dakota Johnson, who plays Anastasia in the movie, convinced James that no woman of her acquaintance has ever said those words to signify anything. Missing too from the movie is Anastasia’s internal monologue, the quickening and spinning and clenching and “flying, flying high”—those oddly quaint and euphemistic soft core idioms of the book that no live, post-Victorian female in heat has ever said.

In the book, Anastasia is described as “pale,” “scruffy,” clumsy, a virgin because she floats through life never touching the ground. She fancies herself literary and writes a witty e-mail or two, but as a wallflower without a body she is putty in Christian Grey’s well-manicured hands. In the movie Anastasia is an altogether more knowing creature. She purchases her own sexy office wear and has perfect comic timing. She is clearly a virgin by choice. Johnson’s performance is more in line with Melanie Griffith (Johnson’s mother, by the way) than an awkward, blushing Kristen Stewart. Her haplessness and quirks are entirely within her control, and thus seem to elide the grasp of men. So when Anastasia resists Christian Grey, played by Jamie Dornan, it doesn’t seem like she’s fighting her deepest desires so much as making the obvious, sensible choice.

This more self-possessed version of Anastasia exerts an oddly destabilizing force on the movie. Johnson’s character lives in the 2015 Pacific Northwest, and Dornan’s lives in a timeless ad for luxury real estate. She makes jokes about serial killers and drunk dials while waiting in line for the bathroom; he uses corporate jargon such as “incentivize” and “harnessing my luck.” She seems with it and he seems clueless. She is acting in the movie directed by Sam Taylor-Johnson; he is trapped in the novel by E.L. James.