The XX Factor
What Women Really Think

May 23 2017 2:49 PM

Trump’s Budget Takes an Amateurish, Inadequate, Insulting Stab at Paid Parental Leave

Donald Trump’s federal budget proposes significant cuts to nearly every federal agency and program that doesn’t involve weapons or border walls. But one of the few big-ticket spending proposals in the document is paid family leave, an issue Ivanka Trump has claimed as her own.

May 22 2017 11:00 PM

The Bombing at a Manchester Ariana Grande Show Was an Attack on Girls and Women

British authorities have identified a suspect in what appears to have been a suicide bombing and an act of terrorism outside an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, England on May 22. Details are still emerging, but as of late Monday night, authorities had confirmed 19 people dead and more than 50 injured.

The victims of Monday’s bombing will almost certainly be mostly girls and women. The Grande fan demographic also includes a number of older millennial women, gay men, and general lovers of pop music, of course, but her live concerts are largely populated by tween and teenage girls and their moms. By staging the attack at a Grande show, the perpetrator or perpetrators chose to target children who may or may not have had an adult around to help them through an emergency situation.

And they targeted fans of an artist whose global brand is one of blissful, unsubdued feminine sexuality. Grande has long been the target of sexist rhetoric that has deemed her culpable for any sexual objectification or animosity that’s come her way. Her songs and wardrobe are sexy, yet she’s maintained a coy, youthful persona; the combination has led some haters to argue that she’s made her fortune by making people want to have sex with her, so whatever related harm befalls her is entirely her fault.

Like her pop-superstar predecessor Britney Spears, Grande has advanced a renegade, self-reflexive sexuality that’s threatening to the established heteropatriarchal order. If the Manchester bombing was an act of terrorism, its venue indicates that the attack was designed to terrorize young girls who idolize Grande’s image. Terrorism works by making people afraid to go about their daily lives, doing the things that make them feel human and whole: going to work, shopping at the mall, traveling by plane, dancing to Latin music at a gay club, singing along to a fun pop tune that lets young women envision themselves as powerful, sexual beings. All concertgoers whose nights ended in panic or tragedy on Monday will suffer some degree of post-traumatic consequences in the coming months and years. But the teens and children in the audience, who are still in the middle of developing their conceptions of themselves and the world, may find those notions irrevocably altered.

Some observers on Twitter are using this moment to take cheap shots at Grande’s music and roll their eyes at the makeup of her audience, as if a disproportionately young, female fanbase makes an artist somehow unserious. “MULTIPLE CONFIRMED FATALITIES at Manchester Arena. The last time I listened to Ariana Grande I almost died too,” one Boston-based journalist tweeted. Meanwhile, some reports are saying dozens of unaccompanied children are holed up at hotels, waiting alone until their parents and guardians can come find them. These girls are survivors of an orchestrated attack on girls and girlhood, a massive act of gender-based violence.

May 22 2017 6:03 PM

We Don’t Know a Lot About Melania, but We Do Know She Loves Belts

Notoriously private first lady Melania Trump doesn’t give us a lot to go on. In the absence of numerous words and actions to interpret, the media is left to obsess over tiny public moments, like the time on Monday when Melania seemed to slap her husband Donald Trump’s hand away from hers on a tarmac in Israel. What do these sorts of subtle cues between the couple reveal about Melania’s emotional state? What does her strangely repetitive Instagram say about how she sees the world? Tantalizing though they are, these are questions that may never be answered fully.

Here’s one thing we do know about Melania, though: She loves to belt it. From the gold belt that achieved meme status over the weekend to the white belt she matched to an all-white skirt suit in the outfit she was wearing when she swatted her husband’s hand away, as far as she’s concerned, the best waist is a cinched waist. She belts jackets; she belts dresses; she even belts jumpsuits.

Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images, REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque, REUTERS/Yuri Gripas, and Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images

Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images, Reuters/Kevin Lamarque, Reuters/Yuri Gripas, and Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images

But what are we supposed to take away from Melania’s proclivity for belts? As with Madeleine Albright and her pins, is Melania trying to send a message with her belts? Where her voice whispers quietly in her Slovenian accent, do her belts … belt out something more? I have a few theories:

The staunch commitment to belts could be a way of communicating her disapproval of Trump son-in-law and famous belt-hater Jared Kushner. He's now reportedly a person of interest in the ongoing Russia investgation—tsk, tsk. What she can’t say in words (he’s family!), she says in buckles.

Or maybe the belt-aphilia is just an extension of Melania’s traditional, feminine style: She married a man who has criticized women working outside the home and has herself said of her marriage, “We know our roles ... I didn’t want [Donald] to change the diapers or put Barron to bed.” It wouldn’t be too much of a jump for such a person to also be an adherent of the 1950s-era philosophy that a woman looks best when her waist looks smallest.

What if the belts are a reflection of Melania’s increasing lack of contact with the real world, surrounded as she is with handlers and Secret Service agents? Giant belts were all the rage in the aughts; has no one in Melania’s inner circle informed her that they went out with trucker hats? Perhaps Melania chooses to inhabit an imaginary world where belts are still the height of chic. Maybe in that world, Trump isn’t president. The appeal is undeniable.

Upon seeing Melania’ jumpsuit-and-gold-belt getup from this weekend, some Twitter users surmised that she had worn the seatbelt off the plane—because that’s one function of belts, to provide safety. Maybe wearing a belt is one way Melania provides herself with a feeling of security in increasingly uncertain circumstances. The man she married may have thrust her into the role of political wife without giving her a say in the matter and the world may be going to hell, but as long as her belt stays buckled, everything will be OK.

May 19 2017 1:39 PM

Iowa “Defunds” Planned Parenthood, Causing Four Clinics Serving Thousands of Patients to Close

The Republican Party’s offensive on reproductive health struck a major win in Iowa on Thursday, when Planned Parenthood announced that it would close four of its 12 health centers in the state. The closures are the upshot of a recent appropriations bill the GOP-led state legislature and Republican Gov. Terry Branstad ushered through, rejecting $3 million in federal Medicaid funding for family-planning services just for the privilege of blocking family-planning dollars from going to facilities that provide abortion care.

A federal “free choice of provider” Medicaid provision requires that states allow patients to use their Medicaid coverage at any qualified health-care provider, including clinics that focus on reproductive health. Iowa has now joined Texas and a few other states in turning down that free money to make a political statement about abortion.

May 18 2017 5:45 PM

Without Planned Parenthood, Women Who Need Affordable Contraception Would Be Lost

One of the most-repeated arguments the GOP brandishes in its efforts to crush Planned Parenthood is that if affiliated clinics close or stop offering certain services, women can simply seek the same care elsewhere. Whatever federal money was going to Planned Parenthood’s health centers through Medicaid reimbursements or Title X grants would go to other health clinics, so all patients would have to do is change their providers.

May 18 2017 11:54 AM

Roger Ailes Will Be Remembered As a Pitiful Abuser, But His Legacy Lives On in Trump

When news broke this morning that Fox News founder Roger Ailes had died, his critics cast about for the appropriate emotion. “Whatever your thoughts about him, Roger Ailes deserves credit for dying,” journalist Virginia Heffernan tweeted. “Skirts at Fox News today will be lowered to half-mast,” quipped Washington Post humor writer Alexandra Petri. Ailes spent the last year of his life making news as a serial sexual harasser instead of producing it as the head of a cable news station. Even before his reputation crumbled and his career collapsed, for those who lament the racist and misogynist apologism Fox News helped usher into the mainstream, it was hard to find anything nice to say about the guy.

Ailes will be remembered as both the creator of one of the world’s most effective propaganda machines and the sovereign of a certain kind of oppressive workplace that is gradually meeting its end. Thanks in large part to the dogged reporting of New York magazine’s Gabriel Sherman, we know that for decades Ailes wielded his power over women in his workforce to gain their sexual compliance. Those who resisted were punished or shunned. Women at Fox News were told that dealing with Ailes’ advances was a condition of their employment; men were either roped into Ailes’ scheme as procurers of his sexual partners or given free reign to grope, proposition, and demean their female co-workers as they wished. He created his dream workplace as a magnified model of society as he wanted it to be. As the supreme ruler of Fox News, he made man and woman as unequal beings whose prescribed roles served his own desires. His marriage to Elizabeth Tilson, a former television producer who’d worked under him before he started Fox News, was a footnote, rarely mentioned, in reports of his predatory behavior. Ailes’ sexual misdeeds were so ghastly and manifold, adultery seemed normal by comparison.

Had he died just one year earlier, his legacy might have been that of an extraordinarily successful businessman and communicator who was something of a creep. Women have been accusing him of sexual harassment for years, but the allegations didn’t clear the threshold for public furor until last summer, when a major lawsuit from Gretchen Carlson preceded a series of damning stories from current and former Fox News employees. Because of those women, history will remember Ailes not as a brilliant manipulator of mistruths, but as a sad, insecure predator who built a business on the subjugation of women’s bodies. Because of them, the “post-Ailes era,” in which women’s stories of sexual harassment can conceivably cause the downfall of a world-famous millionaire, began before the man even died.

The occasion of Ailes’ death bears some similarities to February 13, 2016, when Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia died. Both men advanced worldviews that placed women under men, doing measurable harm to women in the United States and elsewhere. Advocates for gender equity and women’s dignity were glad to see both of them go. But Scalia was still in a position of power when he died. Ailes was already fading into the background, invoked in recent months only in comparison to his lackey Bill O’Reilly, whose ouster marked another chapter in the slow but steady purging of Ailes’ brand of sexual predation from the modern workplace. One wonders whether the emotional impact of watching his sins catch up with him accelerated Ailes’ physical demise.

Then again, with the election of Donald Trump, Ailes may have seen his life’s work as complete. He probably never imagined, as few Americans did, that a lewd sexual assailant like Trump, who openly encouraged white nationalists and demonized the free press, could ever make it to the White House. Still, that’s the world Ailes and his minions fantasized about and worked toward for 20 years. When Ailes died, America was living through the Fox News endgame. He deserved far less, but just before he died, the self-aggrandizing abuser at the head of the country’s most popular distributor of hateful lies got exactly what he wanted.

May 17 2017 6:04 PM

The Skimm Is the Ivanka Trump of Newsletters

 

For many concerned citizens of the world, the scariest part of Donald Trump’s election wasn’t that a lying, authoritarian know-nothing was about to become president. It was the fact that around 63 million voters wanted him to.

 

 

This is an accurate analogy for the dispiriting phenomenon that is the Skimm, a wildly popular “news” newsletter that comes out every day except on weekends because, as the welcome email states, “we're a company that respects brunch.” Founded by two 20-something women in 2012, the Skimm summarizes all the big stories of the day for people—women, mostly—who can’t or won’t pay attention to the actual news. The newsletter keeps readers’ attention by peppering serious news items with conversational quips, like a thirsty high-school history teacher rapping about current events. Imagine if Politico’s Playbook were translated by a chatbot that learned the English language from The Simple Life, Daily Mail headlines, and Nick Jr.

 

May 17 2017 4:50 PM

For the First Time Ever, Thirty-Something Women Are Having More Babies Than Their Twenty-Something Counterparts

For decades, American women have gradually pushed back the age at which they choose to become parents. Now, for the first time, women in their 30s are having more children than those in their 20s, according to preliminary 2016 data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Wednesday.

The CDC data shows that the birth rate among women aged 30 to 34 last year just barely surpassed that of women aged 25 to 29, the demographic with the highest birth rate for more than three decades. While women in the early thirties bracket had about 103 births per 100,000 people, the rate for women in their late twenties was 102 per 100,000. On average, the CDC data suggests, women are having their first child at roughly age 28.

May 17 2017 2:11 PM

Major Employers Like Starbucks Shaft Low-Wage Workers When It Comes to Paid Parental Leave

Only 13 percent of nongovernmental employees in America get any kind of paid parental leave, and they’re far more likely to have the benefit if they work at a major corporation. But even the nation’s largest employers, many of which have relatively generous leave policies in place, often make distinctions between white-collar corporate employees and hourly workers, leaving their lowest-paid employees to suffer financial setbacks when they become parents.

May 16 2017 4:59 PM

Trump to Pope: Take Newt Gingrich's Third Wife, Please

Callista Gingrich will be named the next American ambassador to the Vatican, according to multiple reports. The previous three Vatican ambassadors have been a former president of Catholic Relief Services, an academic specializing in systematic theology, and a professor at Harvard Law School. Gingrich, best known as the wife of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, is the author of six children’s books about a patriotic elephant.

The appointment comes at a delicate time for the Trump administration’s relationship with the Holy See. Trump’s policies on issues including climate change, immigration, and refugees diverge strongly from Pope Francis’s priorities. Trump is scheduled to meet with the pope for the first time on May 24 at the Vatican. “Even if one thinks differently we have to be very sincere about what each one thinks,” the pope said on Monday, displaying his own diplomatic skills. “Topics will emerge in our conversations. I will say what I think and he will say what he thinks. But I have never wanted to make a judgment without first listening to the person."

Gingrich’s main qualification for the job seems to be her marriage to one of President Trump’s earliest and most vigorous supporters. Other entries on her C.V. include a stint as a congressional aide in the 1990s; her current title is president of Gingrich Productions, which she runs with her husband. The company has made documentaries including one about Pope John Paul II, produced in partnership with the right-wing Citizens United Productions. Meanwhile, Newt Gingrich’s Trump biography, Understanding Trump, which includes a “thorough analysis of how President Trump thinks and makes decisions,” will be published June 13, with a foreword by first son Eric Trump.

It is not just Callista Gingrich’s thin resume that makes her new appointment surprising. Her marriage to Newt Gingrich started as an affair. Callista herself testified under oath during her now-husband’s 1999 divorce proceedings that their relationship began in 1993, six years earlier. Their affair had been widely whispered about in Washington, with Vanity Fair archly referring to Callista as Newt’s “frequent breakfast companion” as early as 1995. In 1999, Newt apparently told his wife of 18 years, Marianne, that the marriage was over by phone, as she was celebrating her mother’s 84th birthday in Ohio. Marianne later told reporters that he then informed her he had been having an affair with Callista, and that he proposed an open marriage so he could keep seeing Callista without a divorce.

Callista’s scandalous past may be commonplace among the depraved “elites in Washington,” but it's an unusual calling card for an ambassador to the world capital of Catholicism. "In the 1970s, things happened,” Newt Gingrich said in 1994, brushing off his failures of fidelity. “I start with an assumption that all human beings sin. So all I'll say is that I've led a human life.” He was referring to his first marriage to his high-school geometry teacher, but at the time he was already having an affair with Callista. Newt told the Christian Broadcasting Network in 2011 that his relationships sometimes suffered because he was working so hard, “partially driven by how passionately I felt about this country.” He has never gone more than six months between divorce and remarriage.

Perhaps it’s unfair to pin all of this on Callista, a lifelong Catholic on her first marriage. She is an alto in the church choir at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, a choir Newt has credited with inspiring him to convert to Catholicism in 2009. She also has a delightfully chipper Instagram feed, featuring many shots of her spectacular platinum hairdo. She seems like a perfectly nice lady, and ambassadorships have been doled out for less. Maybe we shouldn’t act surprised that President Trump sees no incompatibility between a casual approach to fidelity and access to power.

In this, of course, he may find himself at odds with the Pope, who wrote last year in his major encyclical on the family:

The lasting union expressed by the marriage vows is more than a formality or a traditional formula; it is rooted in the natural inclinations of the human person. For believers, it is also a covenant before God that calls for fidelity: “The Lord was witness to the covenant between you and the wife of your youth, to whom you have been faithless, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant… Let none be faithless to the wife of his youth. For I hate divorce, says the Lord.”

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