What Women Really Think

Oct. 16 2014 12:39 PM

A Thot Is Not a Slut: The Popular Insult Is More About Race and Class Than Sex

This spring, a lewd Instagram account sprang up in Louisa County, Virginia. Its anonymous administrators had collected dozens of nude selfies that local middle- and high-school girls had sent to friends and boyfriends, exposed them publicly on the site, and branded the girls in the pictures “thots.” If you listen to rap music and follow trending Twitter memes, you have likely heard the word thot before. If you listen to NPR and read the Atlantic—where this week, Hanna Rosin investigates how Louisa County is dealing with the fraught legal and social implications of teenagers taking naked photos of themselves and sending them to one another—you may have heard the term for the first time on Wednesday, when Rosin spoke it aloud on Fresh Air.

A thot, for the uninitiated, is shorthand for a constellation of riffs on a central theme: “that ho over there,” “that ho out there,” “thirsty hoes out there.” On the surface, it appears to be a synonym for slut. (And for rappers and Internet meme producers, it is conveniently both easy to rhyme and effortless to pun.) But the thot label is wielded to indicate class status as much as it refers to sexual activity. Thots are criticized based on sexual behavior, yes, but they’re more broadly identified via their consumption habits; this makes it possible to denounce them on sight even when their sexual histories remain private.

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Oct. 16 2014 8:52 AM

In Defense of Egg-Freezing Benefits

Earlier this week, Apple announced that it would join Facebook in offering benefits that cover egg-freezing for female employees who are not ready to bear children, but want to have some eggs in the freezer before their fertility starts to decline. That decision has gotten a lot of backlash, with many expressing concern that offering women a way to defer child-bearing is tantamount to hanging a sign that says “moms need not apply,” others lamenting women’s waning commitment to incubating the next generation, and yet others wondering if egg freezing perks just distract from more important benefits, like paid family leave and flexible work schedules.

Boy, do I wish these egg-freezing benefits were on the table alongside better parental leave, friendlier lactation policies, and free universal daycare. But I don’t think the egg-freezing coverage has to be instead of family friendly policies, and I also don’t think egg-freezing has become necessary because of women’s career trajectories or their sexual tendencies or their persistent desire for equal pay and civil rights. Egg-freezing is simply a need, one of many, that women may have.

I’m a maternal fetal medicine specialist, and so I field lots of questions from women, both in my professional and personal life, about egg freezing. Patients, but also friends, cousins, colleagues and neighbors will turn some age (36? 38? 40? everyone’s panic button is different), and I’ll get a call or an email about where to get this “done,” and what the experience might be like. How much will it cost? Will it work? How will it feel? I get these questions from women who span the gamut in terms of race, ethnic background, and cultural expectations.

But here’s one way in which these women are the same: They’re usually single. And that makes sense, right? Because if these women were partnered, but still wanted to delay child-bearing, they would probably pursue IVF with their eggs and their partner’s sperm, and freeze the resulting embryos. IVF and embryo cryopreservation is an older, more refined, and arguably more successful technology, although as egg-freezing becomes more sophisticated, it is reportedly beginning to approach the same success rates. (I’m focusing this discussion on heterosexual women, for whom the alternative to egg-freezing seems to be an easy fix: making babies the old-fashioned way. This means that I’m excluding a bunch of other wonderful kinds of families here, and not discussing the ways that assisted reproductive technology offers some great options for those people too.) Before you ask: These are women who can’t achieve their goal with a sperm donor. What they want is a baby, yes, but with a willing partner for child rearing and a present father for their child. Sometimes this is called “social infertility.”

Oct. 15 2014 3:56 PM

A New Book Confirms That Male Doctors Have It Really, Really Good

A few months ago, New York Times reporter Jodi Kantor wrote about the havoc that on-call scheduling wreaks on low-income employees with children. She profiled a Starbucks worker who had to rely on a patchy network of relatives and friends to care for her young son because her work hours were so unpredictable. The story resonated, not just because of its frustrating particulars, but also because it was just one more example of how the modern working world is dysfunctional for many working parents: From Debra Harrell, the McDonald’s worker who was jailed for letting her 9-year-old go to the park alone while she worked, to Rhiannon Broschat, the Whole Foods employee who was fired because she missed work to care for her special-needs son when school was cancelled, it has become abundantly clear that our systems of work and care do not fit together.

The new book Unequal Time: Gender, Class, and Family in Employment Schedules explores the clash of childcare and work scheduling. What makes the book—by UMass Amherst sociologists Dan Clawson and Naomi Gerstel—a particularly necessary addition to the topic is that it explores how odd hours affect men and women up and down the socioeconomic ladder.

Clawson and Gerstel look at four different kinds of health care workers: Doctors, nurses, EMTs, and certified nursing assistants. They chose health care because it’s one of the few fields where both white collar and working class jobs need to be filled 24-hours a day, seven days a week. The way these workers dealt with their job scheduling was impacted not just by their class, but also by their gender, in surprising ways.

Oct. 15 2014 12:31 PM

South Carolina Says “Stand Your Ground” Law Doesn’t Apply to Abused Women

South Carolina has an expansive "stand your ground" law that paves the way for someone to get immunity from prosecution by declaring that they killed another person in self-defense. Liberals have been critical of these laws, arguing that they make it far too easy for violent people to deliberately provoke or escalate confrontations and then avoid prosecution when things get out of hand. (There is some proof that such laws correlate with a rise in the murder rate.) There are also concerns that the laws are unfairly applied, due to massive racial disparities in who successfully invokes "stand your ground" to avoid punishment. Now comes a reason for women to be especially worried.

Oct. 15 2014 11:25 AM

Supreme Court Surprises Everyone, Allows Texas Abortion Clinics to Reopen. For Now.  

Tuesday evening, the Supreme Court issued a reprieve for 13 abortion clinics in the state of Texas. The clinics had been closed after a ruling by the Fifth Circuit Court, which overturned a district court's earlier stay on a new Texas law requiring abortion clinics to meet ambulatory surgical center standards. The standards are medically unnecessary, since abortion is a simple outpatient procedure or, in some cases, just a matter of taking a pill. As the American Congress of Gynecologists and Obstetricians noted in a press release denouncing the Texas law, it is "plainly intended to restrict the reproductive rights of women in Texas through a series of requirements that improperly regulate medical practice and interfere with the patient-physician relationship." The Supreme Court largely sided with the original district court stay, which holds that Texas cannot enforce the draconian regulation while it's being fought over in court.

The ruling is surprising. As Irin Carmon at MSNBC writes, "Either or both Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Anthony Kennedy appear to have signed on with the court’s liberals; both voted to let an earlier portion of the law go into effect, which also closed more than a dozen clinics." The earlier portion of the law, which has been upheld by the Fifth Circuit Court, requires doctors who perform abortions to have hospital admitting privileges within 30 miles of their clinic. As with the requirement that abortion clinics meet surgical center standards, the hospital admitting privilege standard is medically unnecessary and clearly meant to force clinics, particularly in rural areas, to close.

Oct. 15 2014 10:33 AM

Is It Impossible to Write a Decent Sexiest Woman Alive Profile?

Has anyone ever written a not horrible Sexiest Woman Alive piece? Chris Jones’ icky profile of Penelope Cruz, Esquire’s Sexiest Woman Alive for 2014, is the latest icky entry in the icky genre. Jones uses rapt, creepy, overheated language to say practically nothing about his subject, except that she is “impossibly beautiful,” “has no physical flaws,” “looks like a thousand different women,” and “can be whatever we want her to be.” (So, nothing.)

Jones’ particular contribution to the grease canon elaborately compares a pure white bull being publicly, erotically, stabbed to death by matadors (“There was a growing intimacy between the matador and the bull in those moments. They had become familiars in each other’s heat”) to what the author/reader would like to do to Cruz, except that she does it to him first (“She picks her splattered white napkin off her lap and rises from the chair. All that remains on her plate is a bone and a puddle of blood”). The whole thing is pretentious, overwritten, and too satisfied with itself for landing its “feminist” reversal—that Cruz is the powerful swordsman, not the fetishized animal. Whatever, Esquire: What’s clear is that your writer had next to no time with the profile subject and is filling in the gaps with a labored allegory that yanks our voyeuristic levers while pulling Cruz closer to myth and far away from anything recognizably human.

Oct. 15 2014 8:52 AM

Male Allies Are Important, Except When They’re the Worst

Male allies are having a moment. In the space of the past month, Emma Watson stood in front of the United Nations and urged men to join the feminist movement under the banner #HeForShe. President Obama responded personally to the NFL’s handling of domestic abuse, saying that as “the father of two daughters,” he knows that “hitting a woman is not something a real man does.” Aziz Ansari sat on David Letterman’s couch, came out as a feminist, and said that anyone who contests the idea that Beyoncé "should be making 23 percent less than Jay-Z" ought to join him. And the Grace Hopper Celebration brought top executives from Facebook, Google, and Microsoft to the stage for the “Male Allies Plenary Panel,” where they were to talk about how high-powered male allies can advocate for women in tech.

Too bad the GHC male allies panel spent less time discussing how men can advocate for women than it did instructing women to advocate for themselves by “speaking up.” (They did, against the tone-deaf panelists.) Ansari’s feminist identification was just “a watered-down version of something so many women have been arguing” for ages, as BuzzFeed’s Katie Heaney noted. (In the tradition of “mansplainers everywhere,” she wrote, he cribbed his definition of feminism from the dictionary.) “As the father of daughters,” Obama apparently needed to create a female human with his very own sperm in order to understand that it’s not OK to beat them. (How far can this dubious claim to feminist identity extend—“as the son of a mother,” “as the boyfriend of a girlfriend,” “as the man who approaches women on the subway”?) And #HeForShe has finally encouraged members of One Direction to hold signs with hashtags on them and post soulful photos of their feminist solidarity to Twitter.

Allies are important, except when they’re the worst. That is my takeaway from this current moment in man-feminist relations, but the idea is not new. In 2012, North Carolina State University sociologist Kris Macomber interviewed dozens of men and women who advocate against gendered forms of violence, and found seemingly endless contradictions embedded in the process of incorporating men into feminist movements. The central conflict is simple: Because men are “members of the dominant group, they have access to social and institutional power that women lack,” Macomber writes, and that makes them valuable to feminism—but it also makes them representatives of a culture feminists are working to change.

Oct. 14 2014 5:14 PM

Next Up for Feminist Activists on Campus: Dating Violence

With all the success feminist activists have had drawing attention to the problem of sexual assault on campus, the next big move appears to be doing the same for the problem of dating violence. As reported by Feministing, student activists have been documenting universities they believe are failing to adequately report incidents of intimate partner violence among their student population. A new provision of the Clery Act, which was added during the 2013 reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, requires universities to publicly disclose the number of incidents of domestic violence and stalking on campus every year, but the activists found at least 20 schools that haven't done so. (Some are already responding to the campaign and trying to fix the situation.)

Perhaps more troubling is that the statistics at some schools that do report are clearly all wrong. Dana Bolger of Know Your IX explains at Feministing:

Oct. 14 2014 1:16 PM

Apple and Facebook Will Now Pay for Employees to Freeze Their Eggs

Apple and Facebook are competing neck and neck in the latest stage of the Silicon Valley “perks arm race”: Employees at both companies will now be able to freeze their eggs under their employee health plans regardless of their reasons for doing so. The companies will cover up $20,000 in costs, typically enough to pay for two rounds of egg harvesting. NBC’s Danielle Friedman reports that egg freezing advocates have also seen “large law, consulting, and finance firms” allocate funds to cover the procedure, albeit quietly. That’s good for female employees of these companies, who will now benefit from a fuller range of reproductive choices: Apple and Facebook also cover costs related to fertility treatments and adoption; Facebook awards $4,000 of “baby cash” to new parents; and California employers are required to cover abortions under state law.

The move is also good for Apple and Facebook, which are competing to hire and retain women in tech:

Will the perk pay off for companies? The benefit will likely encourage women to stay with their employer longer, cutting down on recruiting and hiring costs. And practically speaking, when women freeze their eggs early, firms may save on pregnancy costs in the long run, said [Lynn Westphal, a Stanford University Medical Center associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology]. A woman could avoid paying to use a donor egg down the road, for example, or undergoing more intensive fertility treatments when she’s ready to have a baby.

At the Atlantic, Megan Garber pegs the development as a cultural tipping point toward making egg freezing accessible to more than just "very wealthy" American women. But I’m not sure that expanding the accessibility of egg freezing from "hotel heiress" wealthy to "Facebook employee" rich is much to celebrate.

Oct. 14 2014 1:03 PM

Subsidized Day Care and Paid Parental Leave Can Be Kind of Complicated

The state of American child care is pretty abysmal. Day care is not well-regulated, the quality is often poor, and it’s expensive: In 35 states and Washington, D.C., it costs more than a year’s in-state college tuition. We are the only wealthy nation that does not guarantee paid vacation or sick days, so when a snow day or a fever keeps a child out of school, it can mean a career setback for many parents. And for working parents with low-wage jobs, things are even worse.

We point to other countries—often ones in Europe—as models of how to do child care right. But is it really so much easier to be a working parent in Paris than it is in Peoria? We asked working moms and dads from all over the world to tell us their child care experiences. Here is the seventh in our occasional series, from a father near Mechelen, Belgium, which is about 30 minutes from both Antwerp and Brussels.

Name: Peter Mertens*

Country: Belgium

Age: 36

Occupation: Business IT developer

Partner's occupation: Engineering

Children: Three kids, ages 2,  9, and 10.

Hi, Peter. What are your work hours?

My workweek is usually 39 hours, but currently I'm taking parental leave, so I work four days a week (32 hours). My working hours are flexible: I can start anywhere from 7 a.m. until 9:30 a.m. and can finish work anywhere between 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. On Fridays we can stop work at 3 p.m. My partner works at the same multinational and has the same working hours. We are allowed to work from home two days a week, but I currently only do that once a week since I'm already on a part-time schedule and contact with the office remains important and beneficial.

Who takes care of your children while you work?