What Women Really Think

Oct. 28 2014 1:01 PM

The Gloriously Strange, Kinky, and Feminist History of Wonder Woman

Last week, Warner Bros. and DC Comics announced that they are seeking a female director to helm the upcoming Wonder Woman movie. The announcement buoyed hopes that we might actually get a genuinely good Wonder Woman movie, something many of us doubted would ever happen after Joss Whedon was fired from a previous attempt. Still, the character has a notoriously inconsistent history, and there are many wrong turns any director could take. So what's the surest route to creating a 21st century version of Wonder Woman worthy of her lasso of truth? Go back to the original Wonder Woman comics, which debuted in 1941, for inspiration.

New Yorker writer Jill Lepore has a new book out called The Secret History of Wonder Woman that traces the strange but intriguing story behind the first major female superhero. In a recent New Yorker piece, Lepore recounts how Wonder Woman was created by Harvard-trained psychologist William Moulton Marston, the inventor of the lie detector and an all-purpose kook who nonetheless had some ideas, particularly about homosexuality and kink (and comic books), that were well ahead of his time. Marston was a bundle of contradictions. On the one hand, he was an ardent feminist who went well beyond believing in female equality and instead argued that women were superior to men and that humanity would be better off under a matriarchy. But his personal life, viewed from our comfortable stance many decades into the future, raises some eyebrows. He lived in a ménage à trois with two women—his wife Elizabeth Holloway and his girlfriend Olivia Byrne—whose own talents and ambitions were subsumed in order to support him. Marston got to enjoy the political and sexual fantasy of a world run by women while benefiting from a world where women were still expected to cater to men.

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Oct. 28 2014 12:07 PM

Sweatpants Are a Form of Protest

This article originally appeared in The Cut.

Nineteenth-century activist Amelia Bloomer, originator of the eponymous pants, once said of her invention, “The costume of women should be suited to her wants and necessities. It should conduce at once to her health, comfort, and usefulness; and, while it should not fail also to conduce to her personal adornment, it should make that end of secondary importance.” Though she could hardly have imagined the juggernaut that is jeggings, Bloomer's vision was prescient. Whether you call it “soft dressing,” as Gap has dubbed it,athleisure,” or the “third wardrobe,” this new aesthetic of casual comfort suits those of us who like to live somewhere in between gray flannel suits and, well, flannel pajamas.

Oct. 27 2014 4:36 PM

The Jian Ghomeshi Accusations Are Not About BDSM. They Are About Consent.

Jian Ghomeshi, host of the popular Canadian radio show Q, is suing the CBC after the network fired him in the wake of allegations that he is a serial abuser of women. The story is a fairly straightforward one, as far as these things go: The Toronto Star has collected the stories of three separate women who dated Ghomeshi and told the paper he abused them and forced them into non-consensual sexual activities. A fourth woman, a colleague at the CBC, told the paper he grabbed her behind and whispered that he wanted to "hate fuck" her. Accusations of dating violence, sexual abuse, and sexual harassment, if true, are all good reasons for the CBC to terminate its relationship with Ghomeshi. But Ghomeshi is fighting back, not just by accusing these women of lying, but also by painting himself as an oppressed sexual minority who is being mistreated because he has a taste for BDSM.

Oct. 24 2014 4:42 PM

Jewish Women Forced to Use Tiny Torah and Magnifying Glass to Celebrate Bat Mitzvah

Let me tell you a story; it may sound familiar. In it, Jews are forced to come up with sneaky ways to practice their religion in secret.

Excited to celebrate the age on which one accepts the Jewish commandments as an adult—the age of mitzvah—a young adult has prepared to read from the Torah. A group assembles and they joyously march to the holiest place of worship they know, but the people praying there stop them from entering with the Torah they’ve brought. They are not discouraged! They have a back-up plan: a 200-year-old miniature scroll lent to them by a London family. They march in with the tiny Torah, hidden away. To read it, the young adult uses a magnifying glass.

And thus with cleverness and subterfuge, despite the difficulty and discouragement from the people attempting to stop the event, the young adult enters adulthood.

This isn’t some tale from Nazi-era Europe. This happened this morning, Oct. 24, 2014, in Jerusalem. The Jews hoping to celebrate? They were women. And the people trying to stop them? Other Jews.

Last year, my colleague Dahlia Lithwick reported on the Women of the Wall, the group behind this clever—and embarrassingly necessary—celebratory tactic. Since 1988, at the start of each new Hebrew month (tonight marks the beginning of Cheshvan) these women come to pray at the Western Wall. And each month, other Jews tell them it’s not OK. As Lithwick wrote:

On any given day on the men’s side you’ll hear boisterous public services and song. On ordinary days, on the women’s side—in keeping with the Orthodox prohibition on hearing women’s voices raised in song—you can hear women praying softly by themselves and to themselves. But once a month on rosh hodesh, the celebration of the new Jewish month, the Women of the Wall show up to do their thing. That’s what they are asking for: an hour a month.

The New York Times, in their coverage of what they are calling the first “full” bat mitzvah at the Western Wall, makes a similar comparison—noting the differences between the men’s side, where ”rowdy bar mitzvah ceremonies for boys are common,” and the women’s side, where they’re forbidden. (In traditional services, men and women sit separately during prayers.) I’ve been to the Western Wall more times than I can count, and let’s put it this way: I have never been there when a bar mitzvah—a celebration for a boy—was not taking place.

After the 2013 arrests of some of these women, again, for praying and reading from the Torah, the Jerusalem magistrates’ court ruled that they were not disturbing public order—which, the Times reports, “effectively overturned a 2003 Israeli Supreme Court ruling barring practices that might offend more traditional worshipers at the site.” Yet the rabbis who control the Western Wall continue to prohibit these women from entering with a Torah or using one of the many that are kept on the men’s side.

The police, on the other hand, were not as interested. The Times ends their coverage of this hilarious and unnecessary tale with a dose of reality.

Micky Rosenfeld, a spokesman for the police, said the security forces were more focused Friday on preventing unrest in the Aksa mosque compound and in some predominantly Palestinian areas of East Jerusalem, where tensions are running high. Some scattered disturbances were reported.

In other words, the police are busy with more important things. The people policing these women should be, too. I have to ask, again: How long will educated, committed women want to be a part of a community that doesn’t want them?

Oct. 24 2014 12:22 PM

“Men’s Rights” Group Tries To Lure Visitors Away From Anti–Domestic Violence Website

Until recently, an online community of anti-feminist men (and a couple of women) who consider themselves "men's rights activists" were content to perform most of their "activism" by complaining about women online and overwhelming the comment sections of any feminist website, rendering them virtually unusable for people who actually want to discuss feminism. But under the direction of Paul Elam for the site A Voice For Men, they've upped their game a bit in the past few months, holding a small conference to complain about how men are victimized by feminism and, of course, egging on Gamergate.

But now Elam and his crew at A Voice For Men have done something that's outright shocking in its ugliness. It seems they're trying to undermine a Canadian anti-domestic violence organization, the White Ribbon Campaign, by setting up a copycat website that's clearly aimed at bamboozling people searching for the White Ribbon Campaign. The real White Ribbon Campaign is at whiteribbon.ca, where you can find information about preventing domestic violence and sexual assault, as well as order materials and hire speakers for community efforts.

Elam, however, purchased the URL whiteribbon.org and created a website with a similar aesthetic and the tagline "End Violence Against Everyone." The clear hope here is to divert traffic and hopefully funds away from the White Ribbon Campaign, straight into the pockets of "men's rights activists."

On the website, you can read a bunch of articles pushing the claim that female violence against men is just as bad a problem—if not worse—than male violence against women. (This is a common claim used to deflect attention away from the realities of domestic violence, but it's simply not true by any reasonable measure.) For instance, the site makes excuses for Baltimore Ravens player Ray Rice: "So Ray Rice was not guilty of beating up on a completely defenseless woman," because she "was not some cowering woman in the corner covering her face with her arms."

Another article describes domestic violence as a mutual behavior, almost a form of foreplay: "It’s impulse, reckless dysfunction that as many times as not has the two people in the bedroom enjoying make up sex not long after it is over, and then building the tension between them till it happens again." 

Their misguided attempts to discredit others only make clear the extent to which they see the success of our equality-driven, evidence-based, ally-focussed work on gender justice as a real threat to their ill-informed, isolated views on this issue. This latest example is clear evidence of their insincerity and lack of commitment to developing compassionate solutions for the issues they claim to care about. It also showcases their real focus: attacking, harassing and directing anger towards others.

Blogger David Futrelle discovered this website and a couple of other sites have picked up the story; Paul Elam is furious. He responded to his critics at A Voice For Men by saying, "Go right straight to Hell, you gang of bigoted, lying scumbags. That is, if Hell will even have you pieces of shit." He also justified trying to trick people by pointing out that "White Ribbon Campaign is not trademarked by anyone. Deal with it."

The White Ribbon Campaign says they are "exploring all of our options" but that they "will not be engaging with this group in a public screaming match."

Oct. 24 2014 8:19 AM

Online Misogyny Levels Up as Gamergate Targets Gawker

Gamergate, a diffuse but relentless online anti-feminist movement aimed at drubbing feminist women out of game development and criticism, continues to expand the scope of its attacks. First it started as a traditional anti-feminist campaign, targeting individual women in hopes that they'd quit the industry rather than suffer any longer. When that didn't work, they moved into targeting advertisers of websites that hire feminist women. They were sadly successful when Intel pulled its advertising from a website Gamasutra, which had offended the Gamergaters by running a piece that argued video games should be for everyone instead of just for angry white guys. Now the circle of victims has expanded even beyond just the gaming press, as the website Gawker is being threatened with the loss of its Mercedes advertising after Mercedes got a deluge of emails from Gamergaters who take offense at the multiple pieces Gawker and its sister sites have run criticizing Gamergate. 

Sure, Gamergaters inevitably claim some moral high ground in attacking Gawker. The B.S. excuse this time is to pretend that writer Sam Biddle was dead serious when he tweeted something that is an obvious joke. At this point, no one in the media is bamboozled by the lies and obfuscations of Gamergaters, who, like the Know-Nothings of 19th century, prefer to play dumb to outsiders about their real goals. That's what makes it so confusing to see companies like Mercedes, Intel, and Adobe give any credence to a bunch of squalling from an online army of mostly teenage boys and social maladepts who are worried that girls are going to ruin the experience of playing Call of Duty. These people don't speak for the majority of anyone-—not gamers, not computer users, and certainly not Mercedes buyers-—so why so much fear?

The likely truth is they don't want the hassle. Most of these big corporations desperately want to be perceived as floating above the ugly fray of politics. Intel pulled its advertising from Gamasutra and then issued a mealy-mouthed apology after the fact, saying, "Our action inadvertently created a perception that we are somehow taking sides in an increasingly bitter debate in the gaming community." Adobe pulled a similar stunt, rushing to agree with Gamergate attacks on Gawker while claiming some kind of general anti-bullying stance. It's like watching a kid fight back against a bully who is torturing him and have the teacher put them both in detention. Bullies like those of Gamergate know how to exploit the desire not to "take sides" in order to force people to take the bully's side against the victim. 

Gamergate doesn't have good arguments, which is why they dissemble and hand-wave rather than engaging in honest debate about the role of women in gaming. But the power they do have is what a colleague of mine characterized as "asymmetrical warfare": Gamergaters, particularly since they recruit so heavily amongst teenagers and young men, have nothing but time and nothing to lose, making it relatively easy for them to target advertisers with these campaigns. 

Many feminist writers know this phenomenon very well, having been targeted for over a decade now by an online guerrilla campaign of "men's rights activists" and other anti-feminists who dogpile individual women with harassment in hopes of driving them to quit writing. But this kind of behavior was the online equivalent of street harassment, conducted on Twitter and in blog comments and meant to be seen only by the target herself and maybe an audience of your bros, but not really a public statement.

The relative invisibility allowed the harassers to claim the victims are exaggerating the extent of the abuse, but it also limited the actual damage the harassment could do. Victims could turn off Twitter mentions, refuse to read the comments, or get rid of comments altogether. They could decide that they won't be silenced by this harassment, because what they have to say matters more to them than the emotional price that's extracted from them for saying it. 

Which is why Gamergate is so worrisome, because it represents a shift away from targeting individual women and towards targeting notoriously skittish advertisers. It does mean it will be harder for the harassers to deny that they're actively working to silence feminists online, but the tradeoff is, as we've seen with Intel and possibly Mercedes, it might just work. The recent surge in positive attention and Beyoncé endorsements for feminism owes a lot to the relative freedom online media provides women who write about women's issues, so it's no wonder those who want to shut it all down are getting more aggressive. Whether or not it works, however, remains to be seen. 

Oct. 23 2014 11:33 AM

Watch Little Princesses Curse for the Feminist Cause

“What is more offensive? A little girl saying ‘fuck’ or the fucking unequal and sexist way society treats girls and women?” That is the premise of a new ad for progressive apparel company FCKH8, which recruited a group of little girls, dressed them in frilly princess costumes and plastic tiaras, and instructed them to swear like sailors to promote feminist causes. (Also: to sell T-shirts.) “What the fuck? I’m not some pretty fucking helpless princess in distress!” one shrieks. “Here’s a hot tip!” another yells. “Stop telling girls how to dress, and start teaching boys not to fucking rape.” Later, a special co-star joins in: A boy, also dressed like a princess, screaming, “Bro, when you tell a boy it’s bad to act ‘like a girl,’ it’s because you think it’s bad to be a girl.” As one of his fellow little princesses says: “Fuck that sexist shit.”  

As BuzzFeed notes, ad producer Mike Kon has “defended” the ad, writing: “Some adults may be uncomfortable with how these little girls are using a bad word for a good cause. It is shocking what they are saying, but the real shock is that women are still paid less than men for the same work in 2014, not the use of the F-word.” Eh. Videos of kids cursing are YouTube staples that are mostly passed around for the adorable factor, not shock value. The ad works because it’s fun to watch girls and boys shatter precious princess tropes and refreshing to see little kids straightforwardly announce the necessity of feminism at a time when grown men and women are still tip-toeing around the word. Plus, it's hard to criticize cute little kids, even when the statistics they spit out about the pay gap and the rates of sexual assault are a little fuzzy, and mining political causes to sell T-shirts is a little crass. Well-played, adults.  

Oct. 23 2014 8:51 AM

The Male-Dominated Culture of Business in Tech Is Not Great for Women

A few weeks ago, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella put his foot in it at the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women and Computing. He said women shouldn’t ask for raises because, “It’s not really about asking for a raise, but knowing and having faith that the system will give you the right raise.” A new report out today from Catalyst shows that the system isn’t working out so great, at least for women who are on the business side of tech companies.

Catalyst surveyed nearly 6,000 MBA grads working in business roles in tech companies in the U.S. and Canada. Women with MBAs are six percent less likely to take their first post-MBA job in the tech industry, compared to men. Of those who do enter tech, women MBAs are hobbled by their gender: They are significantly more likely to start off at an entry-level job than their male counterparts (55 percent of women start off entry-level, compared with 39 percent of men), and because they’re starting at a lower level, they earn less money. (The Wall Street Journal has a good accounting of how these salary differentials can have huge impacts over time.)

It’s not just the pay gap that’s an issue for women. I talked to two women who work on the business side of tech companies, and their experiences jibe completely with Catalyst’s research.

Oct. 22 2014 4:27 PM

Three Ways Your Text Messages Change After You Get Married

This article originally appeared in Science of Us.

When you’re in a new relationship, you waste endless words telling your partner how much you looove him or her. After you’re married, the conversations shift to the things that really matter. Things like dinner. 

That’s what one data scientist discovered about her own relationship, anyway. For a recent anniversary, Alice Zhao analyzed all the texts she and her husband had ever sent each other, from the first flirty days of dating to their current status as newlyweds. Here’s her interpretation of how her relationship changed, judging strictly from the ever-so-romantic world of text-message logs:

Oct. 22 2014 1:19 PM

Want Kids to Delay Sex? Let Planned Parenthood Teach Them Sex Ed.

Abstinence-only sex education has fallen out of favor in recent years, after repeated studies show it not only doesn't convince kids to abstain but that it is likely to discourage kids from using contraception when they do have sex. But while it's good to shift toward a more realistic sex ed approach that accepts that most people will start having sex in their late teens, we still have to educate younger teenagers, particularly middle schoolers, who should delay having sex for a few more years at least. Does an abstain-for-now message work better on young teens than the abstain-until-marriage message did? New research from the the Wellesley Centers for Women shows that yes, a comprehensive sex education program that includes messaging about abstaining for now produces impressive results.