The XX Factor
What Women Really Think

March 17 2015 11:26 AM

Google Chairman Gets Called Out by His Own Employee for Interrupting a Female Panelist at SXSW

South by Southwest Interactive has been stepping up its programming on social justice and diversity in the tech world, but, as Karissa Bell of Mashable reports, an incident at a panel on Monday shows how far the tech world really has to go. 

On Monday, Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt and acclaimed Steve Jobs biographer Walter Isaacson were wrapping up a SXSW Interactive panel that had focused on diversity, when an audience member called out the two men for repeatedly interrupting their fellow panelist, the United States' Chief Technology Officer Megan Smith.
Even more awkward? The audience member who posed the question was apparently Judith Williams, who heads up Google's unconscious bias program.
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March 16 2015 4:58 PM

Professional Theater Has a Sexual Harassment Problem

In the New York Times this weekend, reporter Patrick Healy detailed a burgeoning movement to reduce the problem of sexual harassment and violence in the world of professional theater. Healy interviewed "45 performers, dancers, writers, directors and other theater artists from around the country" and found that the problem of sexual harassment is endemic, and that most of the current solutions are toothless. 

At the heart of the matter is how different it is working in theater than in typical work environments:

While sexual misconduct and harassment policies have become more stringent in places from university campuses to dot-com start-ups, theater remains largely unregulated. And it is a unique work environment, one that asks employees to flirt and kiss, argue and fight, strip naked and simulate sex eight times a week for what can be months on end. After hours, sexual encounters are common among cast members; actors date one another, and directors sometimes date their actors. When powerful people behave badly, they have agents to protect them.

March 16 2015 11:46 AM

Cops on an 11-Year-Old Who Says She Was Raped: “Child’s Promiscuous Behavior Caused This”

Rape victims often feel like they're the ones being put on trial, but Joanna Walters of the Washington Post published a story late last week about a young victim of repeated gang rapes who actually was. When Danielle Hicks-Best was only 11 years old, she says a group of two or three young men took her to a house to sexually assault her. Her parents reported this to the police and Hicks-Best was taken to the hospital, where the doctor discovered vaginal tears and scrapes. A few days later, when Hicks-Best was walking to the store, she says, the same group of young men grabbed her and did it again. Again, the rape kit showed evidence of assault. 

Despite all this, no young men were arrested for the crime. Instead, Hicks-Best was arrested six weeks later and charged with filing a false police report. She had just turned 12 years old. Hicks-Best denied any guilt but, apparently exhausted with fighting according to the Post, allowed an Alford plea, where the defendant accepts "that there was enough evidence for a conviction — in effect, consenting to the court’s finding of guilt," Walters writes. Hicks-Best spent the next few years spiraling out of control, running away and acting out. Now, at age 18, she's trying to get her life back on track and is speaking out about what happened to her.

March 12 2015 12:15 PM

“Choreplay” Is a Lie

Moments in my life when I wished I weren’t female have been rare. One of them happened this week, when I noticed the word “choreplay” was entering the lexicon. It came up prominently in a New York Times op-ed co-written by Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant about how men also benefit from gender equality. The authors cite the dubious study showing that couples who share chores also have more sex. Sandberg says that she advises men who want to please their wives to skip buying the flowers and instead, do a load of laundry.

“A man who heard this was asked by his wife one night to do a load of laundry,” she writes. “He picked up the basket and asked hopefully, ‘Is this Lean In laundry?’ Choreplay is real.”

I don’t fully understand what this man toting the basket of “dirty” clothes was hoping for. Is “lean in” now a sexual term? Did men used to say these are “pretend to be my secretary” flowers? Did that couple “choreplay” right there on the laundry room floor or does the innuendo carry you deep into the night? Either way, I really, truly do not relate.

March 12 2015 11:49 AM

Why the Fringe Fundamentalist Belief in Demonic Possession Has Real-Life Dangers

This story of Arkansas state legislator Justin Harris’ adoption debacle has been a classic, slow-moving trainwreck, as the Arkansas press discovers disturbing new details on a near-daily basis that have launched what started as a local scandal into national headlines. It’s a story that touches on many hot-button issues—the evangelical enthusiasm for adoption, the disturbing practice of “rehoming,” child sexual abuse—but what has really sent this story to the next level are reports of children being subject to abuse due to the Harris’ alleged belief in demon possession.

The story first surfaced when the Arkansas Times discovered that a man named Eric Cameron Francis, who was arrested for raping a 6-year-old in his care, had previously worked for Harris and his wife, Marsha Harris, at their day care, named Growing God’s Kingdom. Harris copped to having hired and then fired Francis, but he didn’t admit to what the Times dug up: The only reason that Francis had the little girl in the first place was the Harrises gave her to him.* The victim and her sister had been adopted by the Harrises in 2013 and then, six months later, were rehomed with Francis and his wife, a practice that is apparently legal in Arkansas. 

March 11 2015 3:30 PM

The Texas Republican Defending Planned Parenthood

Texas Republicans are trying, yet again, to undermine women's access to reproductive health care in their state, but this time they are getting some pushback from within their own party. On Tuesday, Republican state representative Sarah Davis spoke out against the state legislature's attempts to restructure the Breast and Cervical Cancer Screening program in the state to exclude Planned Parenthood, as part of the Republicans' endless war on that organization. “I don’t think it is appropriate to continue to fund the women’s health program so that we can make some type of a political statement as Republicans that we care about women, only to chip away at the safety net of the providers,” Davis said during a legislative meeting. “If we don’t have the provider network, women cannot be served. And they will die.”

March 11 2015 9:00 AM

When Career Ambitions Break Up a Marriage

Over the past few years, there has been a great deal of discussion about why women aren’t achieving as much in their careers as their male counterparts, even though women have been enrolling in and graduating from college in greater numbers than men since the 1980s. Explanations for this gender gap range from women aren’t “leaning in” enough, to entrenched sexism in the workplace, to husbands’ careers taking precedence, to a lack of social supports for mothers in American society.

But when we discuss the issue in a macro way, we don’t hear the stories of men and women who are making career choices not as statistics in a think piece, but as part of an often complicated balancing act between various interests and responsibilities in their lives. Here is the eighth interview in an occasional series, Best Laid Plans, about how career decisions get made over time and are altered by the unpredictability of life.

Names: Caitlin and Stephen

Ages: 27 and 26

Caitlin’s Occupation: Full-time law student

Stephen’s Occupation: Squash professional

Children: none

Caitlin’s Location: Washington, D.C.

Stephen’s Location: Richmond, Virginia

Hi, Caitlin. What were your career expectations when you first started working?

I went into historic preservation right out of college. I planned to rise up in management and eventually end up in a directorship position, possibly with a small historical preservation society. I was a history major, and I worked in a museum between college and graduate school. I did a master’s in architectural history at the University of Virginia. There’s a lot of opportunity in the field because architectural history is becoming more relevant as cities age—federal laws require that you do an analysis on the impact of historic structures.

Hi, Stephen. What were your career expectations?

When I was a kid back in Ireland, my dad had a construction company and I worked there every summer throughout high school, and then I went into business with him after high school. But I always wanted to play sports. I excelled at sports: I played nationally in rugby and squash. I met Caitlin in Ireland though a friend of mine I played rugby with, and we started dating. We were both studying at the University of Limerick at the time. I got a couple of bad injuries playing rugby, so I went back to working with my dad in construction. But growing up in Ireland, I thought my rugby career would be the be-all end-all, as every young Irish kid does.

Did you expect to get married and have kids in the future?

Caitlin: Family had always been a goal. I wanted to have a family, have a job, and be successful. But financial security and a fulfilling career were priorities. I met my husband when I was a junior in college studying abroad in Ireland in 2008. He’s Irish. We kept in touch for a year and a half when he was still living over seas. We made the decision together that he would move to the states. He was accomplished at the sport of squash at home, and he wanted to work in squash in the states, because there’s a lot of money and opportunity in private coaching here. I helped him get his green card, and we got married at the courthouse when I was 23 and he was 22. I did his paper work, got him into squash in Virginia, and helped him out with a place to live.

As soon as he got on his feet, I started grad school. We were struggling then. He camped out with my parents in Richmond, Virginia, and I had a small apartment in Charlottesville. But it was very much a partnership then. My mother accepted I wanted to go to grad school. She wished I was working, too, but she put up with it.

After I got my master’s in architectural history, I worked for the state of Virginia as an architectural historian. I was getting paid $13 an hour and my contract was renewed every 3 months. I had no benefits and no job security. So I took a job with a consulting firm in Washington D.C., and it doubled my salary. I was still only making $45,000 a year, but it was something. Stephen had an opportunity to work for a squash club here in D.C., but it fell through. So he thought it would be best for both of us to move back to Virginia because there was a squash job for him there. My mother agreed with him—that I would find something to do there. That really frustrated me. When you’re pursuing a real career, you don’t want to just find “something.” You want to move vertically or horizontally. I didn’t want to go back to $13 an hour.

That’s when we started having issues. He moved back to Richmond full time. He got a job as the director of squash for a health and fitness club in Richmond. He runs his own squash program. There’s upward mobility in this position because the club he’s with is starting to expand, and they’re opening up new locations. The more expanding and the more popular the sport gets, the more he stands to rise.

So he kept insisting I move back to Richmond, too. I lost my job last spring, and he said, “Now you have no reason to stay in D.C., you have to move home.” I said, “I want to apply to law school,” and he said, “Absolutely not. You have no job. We have no money. You need to move home. I know you said you have career ambitions, but it’s best to focus on my career for now. I can support us. I can give us the life we want, and that’s not your responsibility.” But it wasn’t about my responsibility, my work was fulfilling to me. I got a full scholarship to law school here in D.C., so I decided to stay. He decided to stay in Richmond, and that was that.

March 10 2015 2:12 PM

Fullback Bruce Miller Arrested for Domestic Violence. How Will the NFL and 49ers Respond?

After enduring months of controversy and criticism after the release of a video showing Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice punching his then-fiancée in an elevator, the NFL finally released updated policies regarding the handling of players accused of domestic violence in December. Now it appears the policies are undergoing their first real test. Bruce Miller, a fullback for the San Francisco 49ers, was arrested late Thursday night, accused of battery against his girlfriend. So far, the 49ers have not said much. "The San Francisco 49ers organization is aware of the matter involving Bruce Miller,” the team wrote in a statement. “We were disappointed to learn of these reports and will do our due diligence in collecting all relevant information.”

In the midst of the controversy last year, several teams took decisive action. The 49ers already let another player, Ray McDonald, go in December after sexual assault allegations were leveled against him. The charges have since been dropped and McDonald is now a free agent. Carolina Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy sat out most of last season because of domestic violence accusations, and was formally released by the Panthers to become a free agent this week. The charges against Hardy were also dropped and it's still up in the air whether or not the NFL will suspend him, but teams like the Atlanta Falcons are already hastily denying any intention of picking him up as a player. Miller's arrest, however, comes during the off-season, with much less media attention on the NFL. How the 49ers act when not as many eyes are watching matters a lot.

March 9 2015 1:12 PM

The Clinton Foundation Accepts Money From Countries That Mistreat Women. Is That Bad?  

Anyone who writes about feminist issues has likely encountered what I like to call the "Islam gotcha." "How can you be focused on equal pay or reproductive rights," the line from conservative critics tends to go, "when women in Saudi Arabia aren't even allowed to drive cars?" Once the province of talk radio callers and internet commenters, the Islam gotcha is now being rolled into a GOP talking point against Hillary Clinton, who is expected to forefront feminist concerns in her 2016 campaign for president.

Amy Chozick of the New York Times reports that Republicans are highlighting that the Bill, Hillary & Chelsea Clinton Foundation "has accepted tens of millions of dollars in donations from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Algeria and Brunei — all of which the State Department has faulted over their records on sex discrimination and other human-rights issues." Republicans are seizing on this issue in the hope of undermining Clinton's reputation as an advocate for women and girls both at home and abroad. Chozick writes:

March 6 2015 1:31 PM

Two Moody Bitches Discuss Moody Bitches

“As women, we learn from an early age that our moods are a problem,” writes psychiatrist Julie Holland in her new book, Moody Bitches: The Truth About the Drugs You’re Taking, the Sleep You’re Missing, the Sex You’re Not Having, and What’s Really Making You Crazy. To succeed, we medicate ourselves into a static and unnatural state. Is that true? Are women actually more emotional than men? And would we be better off if we just stopped trying to tamp it all down? We discuss.

Jessica Grose: “We are designed by nature to be dynamic, cyclical, and yes, moody. We are moody bitches, and that is a strength—not a weakness.” The overarching argument in Julie Holland’s book seems to be that, because of our hormonal fluctuations, women are hard-wired to be more emotional than men, and that we are medicating ourselves into submission instead of embracing and harnessing that powerful emotionality.

Unfortunately for me, that argument—which is an interesting argument!—is totally obscured and unsupported by a mess of contradictions, and a lot of unverified science alongside the much more established science. For example, Holland writes page after page about oxytocin, the so-called “love hormone,” and how magical it is: It makes you calm, generous, loving, attached, trusting, and even does your laundry. Too bad that the science around oxytocin is very young and that the real effects of the molecule are far, far more nuanced than Holland would have you believe. She also rages against the excessive advertising of anti-depressant medications, and then spends half the book recommending certain drugs over others and giving advice for usage.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. I wonder if you were convinced by what I felt was the main argument: Do you believe women are naturally more emotional than men are? And if so, are we as a culture medicating that away? I would describe myself as semi-persuaded. I buy that, as a population but not on an individual level, women are more emotional than men. I’m not sure I buy that women are overmedicated.

I think it’s hard to gauge who “really” needs medication and who does not. Though researchers are working on a blood test to diagnose depression in adults that would help determine who would best be served by medication and who would best be served by therapy, at this point, doctors and patients can only go by observation and self-reports. But what do you think?

Hanna Rosin: I’m not a moody bitch. I’m a skinny bitch. Or a basic bitch. Or maybe I suffer from bitchy resting face. Or work at Bitch Media. Or … can we stop calling each other bitches? It’s making me depressed.

I am intrigued by one set of numbers in the book. One in 4 American women now takes psychiatric medication, compared with 1 in 7 men. And American women are twice as likely to be diagnosed with depression or anxiety disorder as men are. That’s a big difference, and you have to wonder why that is. Holland’s explanation is that big pharma has penetrated our soft female brains with those commercials for drugs like Abilify, which run in between ads for tampons and yogurt. She describes how her patients used to come to her office and describe specific symptoms that hint at depression—I can’t feel joy, I can’t sleep—and now they come talking about the pros and cons of Prozac versus Celexa. The starting point for her patients, she says, has moved from “Should I?” to “Which one?”

But this seems too simple—and conspiratorial—an explanation. I can think of lots of reasons why women might take more meds than men. Maybe women have more pressure on them these days. For upper-class women to excel in every realm, and for single-mom working-class women to keep their families from falling apart. Maybe we all feel the darkness, but men have been socialized to ignore it. (And the darkness is no joke. One problem I have with this book is that Holland never stops to explain what real depression actually feels like, as opposed to emotional volatility or hormonal ups and downs. For that, you need Andrew Solomon, who is, by the way, a depressed man.) Maybe the American workplace has not yet gotten to the point where it can tolerate the idea that workers are human beings who cry and get moody sometimes, and women are making a reasonable decision not to take the risk. Hell, it barely accepts that workers procreate.

Theoretically, I love the idea of the monster PMS bitch raging her way through the board meeting. I love contemplating the possibility Holland throws out that most of the time I am an overly pliant, simpering, always-apologizing, pale version of the real me—the PMS-ing me—who, a few days each month, leans her big, vicious self ALL THE WAY IN. But I don’t know. Those days of the month I don’t feel powerful. I just feel irritable, and I am mean to my kids. Is that where true femininity lies? Isn’t the point of feeling more to have more fulfilling connections?

I will leave you to take up the question of whether women are more volatile than men. My guess is no, and Holland doesn’t offer any convincing evidence otherwise. All bodies are always in some kind of biochemical flux, and I bet men are just differently volatile, and have historically medicated with drinking and drugs. Also, a personal question, which you have to answer honestly: Did you recognize yourself in any of her generic descriptions?

Grose: I didn’t recognize myself, no. When I’m irritable before my period, I lash out in ways that are ugly and often unfair; I don’t think they necessarily reflect bigger problems in my life that I’m sweeping under the rug of happy hormones at the beginning of my cycle. Just because I can be brutally honest with my husband about how goddamn ugly his brown corduroys are in the second half of my cycle doesn’t mean it’s something I wouldn’t be better off suppressing.

And I don’t recognize myself in the women Holland describes who are muted by their antidepressant intake. I’ve been on SSRIs for more than a decade and experienced what I would describe as three major episodes of clinical depression. Holland discusses all the way in which anti-depressants can potentially blunt your emotions: They can prevent you from reaching orgasm, they can make it hard for you to feel empathy, they can make it harder for you to connect. You can’t speak to my ability to orgasm (it’s fine!), but knowing me IRL, as the kids say, would you say that I am unemotional now that I’m medicated? I’m guessing no.

As to the question of why more women are on anti-depressants than men are, I don’t find that statistic very surprising. Women just see doctors more, period. According to a 2010 survey from the Commonwealth Fund, three times as many men than women have not seen doctors in the past year. Four times more men commit suicide than women do—so maybe more men should be medicated. I don’t know. I don’t have answers to these questions, and I don’t think Holland does, either, though she purports to.

I’m drawn to the workplace culture explanation, the idea that “emotion interferes with the forward-moment agenda so prevalent in our society,” as Holland puts it (or the American workplace is not ready for a “monster PMS bitch” raging through the board room, as you put it). But I’m not sure it holds water. Antidepressant use all over the world—even in the wonderful Nordic countries with their subsidized child care and enviable work/life balance and commitment to leisure—has skyrocketed since 2000. A whopping 32 percent of French people are on psychoactive drugs, and I’ve always thought of the French as more accepting of darkness than Americans are. (These stats also poke holes in Holland’s thesis that we’re on drugs because of direct-to-consumer drug ads, because those are illegal everywhere but the U.S. and New Zealand.)

What do you make of the international data? Were we all—both men and women—always miserable and just medicating with absinthe/opium/moonshine in ye olden days before sweet, sweet Prozac?

Also, how do you say “beetcheeez” en francais?

Rosin: I must confess, being in my 40s, I skipped straight to the section on perimenopause and recognized some things and thankfully, not others—at least not yet. Holland and I are both trapped between teenage daughters (“moody little bitches,” she calls them) and aging moms (whom she refrains from calling “old bitches”). She writes about sluggishness, dry skin, sudden weight gain, low sex drive followed by an embarrassing cougar phase, hot flashes, and urinary incontinence— basically, a horror show in my near future. Holland’s aim is to warn us that perimenopause is a “natural transition” and we shouldn’t be afraid of it, that we shouldn’t need more than a few vitamins and herbs to take the edge off. But it also sounds really depressing. I can imagine that, looking back on my life, I will eventually notice that the hardest periods were the transitional ones—the teenage years, having a baby, and menopause. Just because something is “natural” doesn’t mean that you don’t need some help getting through it.

The third part of Holland’s book is the “Moody Bitches Survival Guide,” where a reader can pick up tips on how to ride these hormonal swings more graciously. It is made up of disappointingly familiar tips I could have picked up from Goop: Eat fewer carbs and less sugar, eat lots of leafy vegetables, avoid processed foods, sleep more, have more sex, and generally chill out—by smoking a lot more pot if necessary. (Holland also wrote The Pot Book: A Complete Guide to Cannabis.) Also more vitamin D, maca, which is a “root cultivated in the Andes,” and chasteberry, which sounds like a food from Twilight. All these are sensible suggestions and I live by many of them, but they don’t prevent me from sometimes getting depressed.

I think over time I will forget many of the specifics, though, and just revel in Holland’s formulation (which Miranda Purves also points out in her Elle review) that “estrogen creates a veil of accommodation,” making women far too agreeable and prone to compromise. It’s only when the estrogen sloughs off that we can feel our true power. In this way, Holland creates a medical counterpart to Lean In. Being a “good girl,” she writes, will take its toll, by creating or exacerbating illness. “Suppressing emotions like anger or neediness negatively affects hormonal balance, immune status, GI functioning, and skin, to name just a few.” I’m not actually sure I believe that, but life will be more fun if I pretend that I do.