The XX Factor
What Women Really Think

Feb. 14 2017 5:57 PM

New Study Suggests Delayed Pregnancy Could Yield Kids With Stronger Cognitive Abilities

Women in the U.S. continue to have children later and later in their lives, with the average woman approaching 30 for her first pregnancy. With more advanced motherhood has comes better average wages and educational levels for the mothers, alongside anxiety over riskier pregnancies. But a new study published in the International Journal of Epidemiology challenges the conventional wisdom that being an older mother is bad for the baby and indicates that, in a shift from previous research, children born to older mothers today may be more likely to perform well cognitively.

The study authors posit that the children of older mothers performed better because the mothers tended to be wealthier and more educated. The study, which divided women into age ranges of 25 to 29 and 35 to 39, found that the older women who gave birth in 2000–02 had children who performed better on tests. (The children were tested when 10 or 11 years old.) These studies are surprising when compared to similar studies done in 1958 and 1970, which found that children born to older mothers performed slightly worse. This study does not invalidate those studies but instead may point to changing educational and financial trends for women in the U.K., where the research was conducted.

More advanced maternal age is still associated with a greater chance of genetic defects, and having a first child over the age of 35 is associated with a higher risk of pregnancy complications. But these concerns focus on the health of babies before and at birth, not on their health and development afterward, which can become entangled with external factors. Cognitive ability, which includes problem solving and memory abilities, has been shown to be hampered by poverty. This may be because poorer families tend to experience more stress, while wealthier families can afford healthier food and proper medical care, as well as more time to spend with their children and the resources for books and educational toys and other forms of mental stimulation. It makes sense, then, that because older mothers tend to have greater resources, they could therefore also have children more likely to perform well on tests of cognitive function.

This research did not, however, account for race. As Elissa Strauss writes of the delayed motherhood trend, black women in the U.S., for instance, can’t always “count on a better, healthier, more financially stable future.”

Feb. 14 2017 5:24 PM

Melinda Gates Credits Contraception With Her Personal and Professional Success

In its annual letter published Tuesday, the Gates Foundation reports on the impact of its initiative to get contraception into the hands of women around the world. Placing contraceptives alongside vaccines as “one of the greatest lifesaving innovations in history,” Bill and Melinda Gates write that 300 million women in “developing countries” now have access to modern contraception, about a 50 percent increase from 13 years ago.

Feb. 14 2017 4:27 PM

When Melania Trump Is Thanking You for “Support[ing] Women,” Something Is Very Wrong

Let's try to sort out what’s going on with Emily Ratajkowski and Melania Trump. OK, so Melania Trump, you’ll recall, is our embattled first lady. And Ratajkowski you might know from her breakout performance in the “Blurred Lines” music video and movies like Gone Girl and We Are Your Friends. On Monday, Ratajkowski tweeted that a journalist she sat next to, presumably at a private event, had told her that Melania was a “hooker.”

Feb. 14 2017 2:19 PM

Why Oklahoma’s Anti-Abortion Fetal “Host” Bill Is So Noxiously Unconstitutional

The constitutional doctrine that protects a woman’s right to terminate her pregnancy is often diluted into an abstraction. We frequently discuss how the 14th Amendment prohibits anti-abortion laws, but we seldom explain why. Even the Supreme Court’s excellent 2016 decision striking down Texas’ absurd abortion restrictions largely took “a woman’s right to have an abortion” as a given. But some anti-abortion bills so obviously and egregiously invade women’s personal liberty that the constitutional backdrop of the abortion battle comes sharply back into view. Oklahoma’s fetal host measure is one of those bills.

Feb. 14 2017 11:12 AM

EEOC Continues Fight Against Trans Discrimination Despite “Administration-Related Changes”

On Friday, the EEOC filed an appeal in a critical trans rights case, quashing—at least temporarily—concerns that the agency would withdraw from the litigation and affirming that it will continue to fight on behalf of LGBTQ employees from the time being.

The case, EEOC v. R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes, involved a funeral home employee named Aimee Stephens who transitioned from male to female. Her employer fired her, explaining that he could not tolerate her “dress[ing] as a woman” at work. With the help of ACLU attorneys, Stephens filed a claim of sex discrimination under Title VII with the EEOC, which sued the funeral home on her behalf. A lower court judge ruled against Stephens, holding that although her employer had engaged in sex discrimination, specifically gender stereotyping, it had a religious right to do so.

Feb. 10 2017 5:42 PM

Florida Bill Letting Women Sue Doctors for Terminating Their Pregnancies Passes Out of Subcommittee

A Florida bill letting women sue the doctors who performed their abortions for emotional distress—up to 10 years after obtaining the procedure—passed out of subcommittee on Thursday by a 10-6 vote. Should the bill become law, all doctors who terminate a pregnancy in Florida will open themselves up to a decade of liability. Former patients who sue under the law could receive damages equivalent to those in a wrongful death action.

The bill initially states that only those physicians who are negligent, or fail to “obtain the informed consent” required by Florida law, may be held liable. But it then adds that “the signing of a consent form by the woman”—the proof that both doctor and patient followed Florida’s byzantine consent procedures—“does not negate the cause of action.” Instead, it only “reduce[s] the recovery of damages.” The upshot of this strange caveat is that even if a doctor complies with Florida’s “informed consent” requirements, and has proof of this compliance signed by the patient herself, the patient can still sue if she feels she did not really have the information she was owed.

Feb. 10 2017 4:47 PM

Betsy DeVos Needn’t Look Further Than Michigan to Understand Why Free, High-Quality Pre-K Is Possible and Necessary

It’s hard to determine what is more frightening about new Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. Is it the issues she has opinions about? Or is it those she seems to lack an opinion on, and perhaps even an understanding of? Among the many subjects that DeVos has yet to reveal any insight into is early childhood education, despite the fact that the expansion of such programming has bipartisan support and was a priority for the previous administration.

Fortunately, DeVos need not travel far beyond her apparently limited comfort zone in order to gain insight into how and why high-quality, large-scale preschool programs can work. Like Dorothy, the answers have been in her own back yard the entire time, something a new paper from the Brookings Institution on the success of free early education in her home state of Michigan should help her see.

Measuring the long-term benefits of early childhood programs has proved difficult, a problem complicated by the fact that the quality of such programs can vary tremendously, even on a classroom-by-classroom basis. But the success of Michigan’s Great Start Readiness Program should help put critics' fears at ease. The state’s program, which is for “children with factors which may place them at risk of educational failure,” has served more than 500,000 4-year-olds since 1985 and currently serves more than 32,000 a year. In 1995, Michigan began an independent evaluation of its program that followed the children over the course of their public education. (Many evaluations only follow children into the early elementary school years.) The Michigan program is currently the only state-funded preschool evaluation that stayed with children up until high-school graduation, which allowed researchers the rare opportunity to determine the long-term gains of early education.

The study found that: “At every stage (kindergarten entry, second grade, fourth grade, middle school, high school graduation), GSRP participants outperformed comparison groups on school success indicators, most prominent being grade retention. At high school graduation, students who participated in GSRP also graduated on time significantly more than those who did not participate.”

The paper’s authors argue that one of the reasons this has been so successful is because of Michigan’s ongoing commitment to ensuring that the program retain its quality, even as it expanded. This involved both the creation of high standards, as well as regular monitoring to make sure those standards are met. The takeaway here is that it isn’t enough to simply offer pre-K, whether to low-income families or, as in New York, to everyone, but the curriculums must be well thought-out and the teachers properly trained.

Yes, this sounds like a no-brainer; but investment in early childhood education hasn’t always been matched with the realization that if it isn’t done well, the children might not end up benefiting much from it. (For example, in 2007, only 38 percent of teachers for Head Start, the federal early childhood education program for low-income families, had bachelor's degrees. Today that number is 74 percent, largely because of efforts made by the Obama administration. Over this time, the classroom quality has also improved.) If and when publicly funded preschool programs fail, it is most often because of our failure to take them seriously, and not because they weren’t really necessary in the first place.

Currently, between a third and half of American 4-year-olds are not enrolled in preschool, a figure that should give DeVos, and the rest of America, pause, considering the results of the Michigan study as well as other mounting evidence in favor of free, high-quality preschool. Here’s hoping that DeVos will carry on with the work done by both the Bush and Obama administrations and help guarantee that preschool becomes available to all.

Feb. 10 2017 12:08 PM

After Utah Rejects Comprehensive Sex Ed, Porn Site Offers Sex-Ed Videos to Utahns

After Utah lawmakers rejected a bill that would have provided an alternative to its abstinence-based approach to sexual education in schools on Monday, a surprising organization stepped in to fill the educational gap: a porn site.

On Wednesday, the porn site xHamster altered its website so that when users with Utah-based IP addresses log on, they are asked if they’d like to be redirected to xHamster’s series of non-pornographic sex-ed videos. In a (NSFW) blog post, xHamster says it decided to proactively offer Utahns the educational videos both because of the legislature’s recent rejection of the comprehensive sex-ed bill and because “over the past few years, politicians in the state have … waged war on porn.” Indeed, last year the state legislature unanimously passed a resolution declaring porn a “public health crisis,” even though there’s no solid evidence that porn is harmful.


Feb. 9 2017 4:27 PM

A 1979 German Photo Book Traces Manspreading Back to Ancient Civilizations

Though the term manspreading is a recent addition to the personal-is-political feminist lexicon, the posture itself has a history that spans centuries and continents. Compare Michelangelo’s David, extending his marble leg in nude confidence, to the Venus de Milo, coyly angling her knee toward her other leg. In ancient Greece and Renaissance Italy alike, the bodies of men have expanded to fill available space, and women have folded themselves inward.

Insofar as there is a scholarship of manspreading, German photographer Marianne Wex is a seminal thought-leader. Her 1979 book Let’s Take Back Our Space: Female and Male Body Language as a Result of Patriarchal Structures is one of the most extensive pieces of visual research into men taking up way too much space ever published. Translated into English in 1984, the photobook, brought to Slate’s attention by Tristan Bridges at Sociological Images, contains around 5,000 photographs of men and women in a wide range of postures and settings. Many images are candids, taken by Wex in and around Hamburg. Other photos, of models and celebrities, are taken from advertisements and German magazines.

Feb. 9 2017 1:51 PM

GE Publicly Commits to Hiring More Women With a Gorgeous Ad Directed by Nicole Holofcener

One reason for the dearth of female leadership in science, technology engineering, and math (STEM) fields is that there aren’t enough women in the lower-level jobs that feed into those leadership roles. According to Business Insider, women occupy just 13 to 24 percent of tech-related positions at seven of the largest American tech companies.

Citing that Business Insider report, GE announced an ambitious plan to hire 5,000 women in STEM positions within the next few years. The company already employs about 15,000 women in technical roles, so the numerically pleasing new goal is to employ 20,000 by 2020. It is also aiming to achieve gender parity in its entry-level training program focused on recent college graduates, in part by making a recruitment push at colleges and universities with higher proportions of women in relevant majors. And it vowed to hold managers accountable for failing to “foster a more inclusive environment.”