What Women Really Think

Sept. 15 2014 3:31 PM

My Year As an Abortion Doula

This article originally appeared in The Cut.

My first patient ever stares at me blankly when I say the doctor will see her soon. Her two small children treat the waiting room chairs like monkey bars; they’ve been sitting around for hours. Dee (some names have been changed throughout) is here to get laminaria inserted, the small seaweed sticks positioned in the cervix that expand upon contact with moisture, producing enough dilation to enable a second trimester abortion, which will happen tomorrow. I know I’m not succeeding at giving her the warm, confident assurance I’ve practiced in the mirror.

I stand by her head as she spreads her legs. She begins to moan, softly and then without control. “You’re doing great,” I tell her, clenching my jaw, smiling still. Through her moans I hear one doctor tell the other that there’s too much blood. They call for a hospital transport and tell her they’re going to do the abortion today, right now. Then we’re running across the hospital floor as the doctors yell for people to move out of the way. It’s my first day, but I know enough to know that this is serious. I keep my hand on Dee’s, murmuring words of support. Once she’s under anesthesia, I get out of the way, stand in the back, hope that I can handle this.

I’m in a large public hospital in Manhattan, volunteering as an abortion doula with an organization called the Doula Project. My role is to provide women with emotional and physical support, offer comfort or distraction, answer their questions, and, most of all, just be with them during their first or second trimester abortions. A year ago, when I was still in college, I got the idea to apply for the job when my roommate told me about her childhood friend Elise. Raised in a conservative, Catholic family in a wealthy Boston suburb, Elise had an abortion in high school and was harassed by classmates, churchgoers, and townspeople. Now she was volunteering as an abortion doula in New York. I’ve considered myself pro-choice since sixth grade when I learned the word, and I had manned the phones at the NARAL office in downtown New York when I was in high school. But I had never been anywhere near an abortion clinic. I had no idea what to expect.

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Sept. 15 2014 1:51 PM

Why Not Just Turn Campus Rape Allegations Over to the Police? Because the Police Don't Investigate.

In the urgent conversation about how universities should be dealing with campus sexual assault, there are some who object to the idea of university disciplinary boards handling these cases to begin with, asking: Why not just go straight to the police? This question is misleading, as Emily Bazelon pointed out in July: "It’s not either/or," she wrote. There "are supposed to be two parallel tracks," with the police handling its responsibility to enforce the law and the university handling its responsibility to protect student safety. But, as a Sunday New York Times story demonstrates, there's another reason that universities should not just turn these cases over to the police and walk away: The police are often eager to walk away, too.

Richard Pérez-Peña and Walt Bogdanich examined a series of sexual assault allegations reported by students at Florida State, the university that drew national attention after the school's star quarterback Jameis Winston was accused of rape, and, as Bogdanich reported in April, both the school and the police failed to properly investigate. This new reporting shows exactly why it's not enough to tell victims to report to the police instead of their schools and leave it at that: Florida State students are already calling the police, but the police aren't investigating. 

From the New York Times:

Sept. 15 2014 12:08 PM

“Love” Is Not a Defense for Beating Your Child

The details, on their face, are inexcusable: Adrian Peterson, a 217-pound running back for the Minnesota Vikings, was indicted last week for "reckless or negligent injury to a child." Peterson allegedly whipped his four-year-old son with a stick, leaving bruises on his back, open wounds on his legs, cuts to his scrotum, defensive wounds on his hands, and perhaps more: “Daddy Peterson hit me in the face,” the child reportedly told authorities after doctors examined him and identified him as a victim of child abuse. In case the testimony of a four-year-old kid and his doctors isn’t enough, there are pictures to prove that this was more than just a swat on the rear end. But proof is not the issue here. Peterson himself admits that he beat his child. His defense is that he beat him lovingly.

According to reporting by TMZ and others, Peterson sent a text message to the child’s mother after the beating that said: “Never do I go overboard! But all my kids will know, hey daddy has the biggie heart but don’t play no games when it comes to acting right.” Peterson’s lawyer, Rusty Hardin, stuck to the theme in a statement on the incident: “Adrian Peterson is a loving father who used his judgment as a parent to discipline his son.”  

Reactions from around the NFL imply that "love" is a valid reason for beating a child. “I got a ass whippn at 5 with a switch that's lasted about 40mins and couldn't sit for 2days. It's was all love though,” Arizona Cardinals defensive end Darnell Dockett tweeted in Peterson’s defense. Added New England Saints running back Mark Ingram, Jr.: “When I was kid I got so many whoopins I can't even count! I love both my parents they just wanted me to be the best human possible!”

Sept. 12 2014 4:05 PM

Life as an NFL Wife: “He's the Star. Keep Him Happy.”

Tracy Treu, a former Mother Jones employee who is married to former Oakland Raiders center Adam Treu, sat down with Ian Gordon at Mother Jones and explained what life is like when you're the wife of an NFL player. The headline, "Support the Player and Be Quiet," really says it all, but Treu digs into some of the details about how much wives are expected to build their entire lives around their athlete husbands. For instance:

The NFL is a culture that values secrecy. When you're with an NFL team, the message to you is clear: Don't fuck anything up for your partner, and don't fuck anything up for the team. Don't be controversial. Don't talk to the media. Stay out of the way. Support the player and be quiet.

While the team doesn't officially say this to wives, Treu explains, veteran wives will absolutely sit down with rookie wives and lay out how much their lives are going to be about the team winning games, and that everything else is secondary. Treu worked during her stint as an NFL wife, but, "A lot of these wives don't work. They can't." Part of it is that there's always a chance of moving, but part of it is, "He wants her home." Being a player is an all-consuming lifestyle, and having that support system at home is invaluable. But what is asked of women can get ridiculous.

Sept. 12 2014 10:29 AM

The Problem With Talking About Sexual Assault as “Violence Against Women”

This month, GQ published a long, reported piece on the under-discussed topic of male victims of military sexual assault. We're all so used to thinking of sexual assault as a "women's issue," but because far more men enlist in the military than women, male victims of sexual assault outnumber female ones. Nathaniel Penn of GQ does a great job digging into the problem, interviewing a variety of men who were assaulted by their fellow soldiers, and then, often, victimized again by a military system that all to frequently sees sexual assault as a problem to be covered up rather than a crime to be punished.

The extent to which the military would do anything to cover up sexual assault by pressuring these victims to disappear is astounding. "Research suggests that the military brass may have conspired to illegally discharge MST victims by falsely diagnosing them with personality disorders," writes Penn. Not only did this mean they could wash their hands of the victim, but the "diagnoses also spare the government the costs of aftercare" because the "VA considers a personality disorder to be a pre-existing condition, so it won't cover the expense of treatment for PTSD caused by a sexual assault." This, even though many of these alleged assaults are bone-chillingly brutal, with victims who were subjected to gang rapes, brutalized with items like broomsticks, and held captive by men they thought were their comrades.

Sept. 11 2014 10:28 PM

Watch CBS Sportscaster James Brown Deliver a Powerful Speech About Domestic Violence

Thursday night's pre-game show before the Ravens-Steelers match-up was probably the best example thus far of how much the Ray Rice video has impacted the culture around the NFL. At the end of the half-hour show—which featured a live news update on the Rice situation, complete with an airing of the elevator video—CBS sportscaster James Brown looked straight into the camera and gave a powerful speech about male responsibility, not just for domestic violence, but also for our collective devaluation of women. It's one thing when a tampon company recognizes the dangers of the phrase "You throw like a girl." It's something else when a male sportscaster says, "Our language is important. For instance, when a guy says, ‘You throw the ball like a girl’ or ‘You’re a little sissy,’ it reflects an attitude that devalues women, and attitudes will eventually manifest in some fashion."

The news cycle moves fast and we all hop from one scandal to the next with remarkable speed. For James Brown and the CBS Sports team to deliver this forceful and straightforward message tonight gives me a little hope that the machinery around the NFL is not going to let the Ray Rice story go quite so easily.

Sept. 11 2014 4:13 PM

Ray Rice Defenders Have Found Their Argument: He’s a Victim Too

The release of the video of Ray Rice knocking out his then-girlfriend Janay Palmer in an elevator was notable mainly because it decimated all attempts by the NFL, the Ravens, and Ray Rice apologists to argue that Palmer and Rice shared the blame. But some are bravely forging ahead, pushing the claim that men are the real victims here and suggesting there's no reason to think there's any sort of gendered component to domestic violence. 

"Some might even say, watching that video, that Ray Rice is the bigger victim of domestic violence here," A.J. Delgado, a National Review writer, said on Sean Hannity's radio show earlier this week, even though Hannity—usually a dependable anti-feminist—pointed out, mere moments before, that Rice could have killed Palmer with that blow to the head.

On Hannity's Fox News TV show, contributor Tamara Holder also pushed the line that Ray Rice is the real victim here. "I think it’s interesting that the anti-testicular police are coming out and just taking this guy’s balls and ripping them off and not paying attention to the fact that there is a family here,” she argued. “That there were decisions to be made behind closed doors. That also, Miss Rice, formerly Miss Palmer, she played a role in it." 

Sept. 11 2014 2:09 PM

Mastectomies Are on the Rise, Despite the Evidence Against Them. Why?

Buried in last week's news that double mastectomies don’t improve survival outcomes for women with breast cancer (among the general population— not those with a genetic predisposition to the disease) was another interesting tidbit: Women with early stage disease treated with lumpectomy and radiation had higher survival rates than those who’d had a single mastectomy alone. This is not the first time I’ve read that finding. In 2013, the largest-ever observational study of women with early breast cancer also found lumpectomy with radiation was associated with not just equivalent, but better survival odds than mastectomy. Women over 50 with hormone-receptor positive disease had the greatest advantage—a 13 percent lower risk of death from breast cancer. These results are significant because, after declining throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, the rates of mastectomy among women with stage I or II cancer began rising again in 2005.

Why has there been an uptick in women choosing mastectomy? And what would make those women less likely to survive? The studies don’t answer those questions, but one clue may be that women who choose mastectomy are more likely to be lower income and uninsured (making the word “choose” deceptive). These women may be financially or logistically unable to go through six weeks of radiation, especially if they also need chemotherapy, which is, in itself, time-consuming and expensive. Such patients may have reduced access to care or other, complicating health issues that would affect survival. The women who choose mastectomy are also more likely to be women of color. Minority women contract breast cancer less often than white women, but when they do, they tend be younger and have a more virulent form of the disease, so their outcomes are, inevitably, worse.

What about women who feel they do have a choice (and some do not, depending on the placement and size of their tumor)? Why would  they  opt against breast-conserving surgery when outcomes are the same or possibly better than mastectomy?

Sept. 11 2014 11:28 AM

A Blog Post About Taylor Swift and Women That Does Not Ask if Taylor Swift Is a Feminist

On the eve of her fourth album, Taylor Swift invited Rolling Stone into her home to discuss her “reinvention.” 1989, set for release next month, has finally stomped out the last traces of Swift's country twang in favor of a “blatant pop” sound. Rolling Stone’s Josh Eells reports that Swift “won't be going to country-awards shows or promoting the album on country radio.” When her record label implored her to add three country songs to 1989, she refused. And the album represents a shift in Swift’s lyrical focus as well. It’s “not as boy-centric of an album," Swift told Eells, "because my life hasn't been boycentric."

During an extended single period, Swift has found a network of new female friends, embraced feminism through new pal Lena Dunham, and stopped rating herself based on an “imaginary guy’s perspective,” she says. When she sings about another female singer on the not-yet-released 1989 track “Bad Blood,” she insists that the rivalry she describes is purely professional. "I know people will make it this big girl-fight thing," she says in Rolling Stone. (Page Six already has.) "But I just want people to know it's not about a guy.”

Sept. 10 2014 2:27 PM

The NFL Needs to Learn What Domestic Violence Really Looks Like

Since the story of Ray Rice abusing his then-girlfriend, now-wife Janay Rice broke earlier this year, both the NFL and the Baltimore Ravens have used the fact that Janay forgives and defends her husband—and has even been willing to blame herself—as cover for their own willingness to punish him harshly. Ray and Janay Rice held a dual press conference at the Ravens training camp in July to send the message that they share the blame in the elevator incident (this was before we saw the video of what transpired in there). The Ravens Twitter account trumpeted back in May, "Janay Rice says she deeply regrets the role that she played the night of the incident." (The tweet was deleted just this week.) And Mike Freeman of Bleacher Report reported that Rice was blaming his wife to his fellow players, quoting an anonymous Ravens player as saying that "Rice told teammates that he had no choice but to defend himself that day in the elevator."

Ravens owner Steven Bisciotti basically admitted that he went easy on Ray Rice by foisting much of the blame on Janay Rice in an open letter to fans on Tuesday:

Assessing the situation at of the end of February, this is what we knew: A player who had been a model citizen in the community and terrific teammate for six seasons had been charged with simple assault against his fiancé. At that time, his fiancé Janay had been similarly charged.

Ray and Janay both told us nothing like this had happened before. He was showing great remorse; they were meeting regularly with our team chaplain and were diligently attending couples counseling.

Now that the video is out, Janay Rice continues to defend her husband, telling ESPN, "I love my husband. I support him. I want people to respect our privacy in this family matter." But the release of a video showing exactly what happened in the elevator—Ray Rice knocking out Janay—and being forced to confront the vast gulf between her behavior and his has compelled both the Ravens and the NFL to stop hiding behind Janay Rice's defense. 

The release of the video may have changed everything, but no one should have had to see it to understand that Janay’s defense of her husband says little about his guilt or innocence. Setting aside the question of what the team and league management knew about the video and when, if they are going to investigate domestic violence claims about their players, they should know something about domestic violence. For instance, that victims frequently defend and stay with their abusers. That they do this because they are human and it's very difficult to accept that someone you love has this capacity for cruelty. That an abuser often isolates his victim from friends and family, making her emotionally dependent on him. By the time a man is beating a woman, he has gained some assurance that she will not leave him for it.

As memoirist Leslie Morgan Steiner, a survivor of domestic violence and now an activist, wrote at CNN last year, domestic violence victims "want the abuse to end" but they "don't want the relationship to end." And this isn’t just because abused women love their abusers. In our society, where divorce is seen as a failure and working on your marriage is considered virtuous, it can be easy for victims to think that if they just stick with the marriage, and keep trying to improve it, the abuse will stop. That's why hundreds of survivors flooded Twitter this week with the #WhyIStayed hashtag, explaining how easy it is to fall into the trap of defending the relationship instead of getting out. The Ravens themselves fell into the trap of thinking "couples counseling" was the answer, so it's not remotely surprising that any individual who wants to believe in the man she loves would also hope for a fix. 

The lack of basic knowledge about the psychology of domestic violence is particularly inexcusable in light of the 2012 murder of Kasandra Perkins at the hands of Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher. Prior to the murder, the Chiefs had pushed Belcher into couples counseling with Perkins. The murder and Belcher’s subsequent suicide should have been a wake-up call for the league to learn more about the realities of domestic violence and why it’s not appropriate to treat it like just another relationship problem, like poor communication skills or sexual dysfunction, to be worked on in therapy.

There are several valuable lessons the NFL must learn from this debacle, but one I hope they really get is that domestic violence is not just physical abuse, it is mental abuse, a dominating act that can and does lead women to stand by their men. As Jodi Kantor wrote in the New York Times, Janay’s reactions all along have been “an extraordinarily public example of the complex psychology of women abused by men.” In other words, from the punch in the elevator to Janay and Ray Rice’s reactions outside of it: This is what domestic violence looks like. If the NFL really didn’t know this, they do now.

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