What Women Really Think

Jan. 22 2015 12:21 PM

GOP Women Stopped the 20-Week Abortion Bill. That’s Not Standing Up for Reproductive Rights.

Today, on the 42nd anniversary of Roe v Wade, the Republicans have betrayed the movement. As my colleague Betsy Woodruff wrote last night, Republicans in the House just killed the vote on a bill that would have banned abortions after 20 weeks, even though a similar bill passed with ease last year in the same Republican-controlled body. Instead, they're going to just vote on another bill attacking Obamacare, which would basically end most insurance coverage of abortion.  

So, what happened here? The short answer is that women happened. Specifically, some female Republicans, led by Rep. Renee Ellmers and Rep. Jackie Walorski, who, according to the Washington Post, wanted to soften the 20-week ban bill, misleadingly named the Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, because they felt the rape exceptions were too stringent. The bill only allowed rape exceptions for women who had filed a report with the police, despite the fact that the majority of rape victims don't report the crime

We've come a long way from 2003, when President George W. Bush signed a bill banning the safest method of performing late term abortions amidst a group of grinning men and zero women. And while Republican women in the House are still far from embracing abortion rights, their growing influence could actually shift the party away from the worst attacks on women's bodies. Maybe my colleague Jessica Grose was right when she argued against the idea that the midterm elections were "bad for women."

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Jan. 21 2015 11:25 AM

Ultra-Orthodox Women in Israel Launch Their Own Political Party

When it comes to Israel’s ultra-Orthodox Jewish women, we tend to hear mostly about the terrible things that happen to them—from having to sit in the back of public busses to being banned from hosting or even calling into radio shows. Last week, the Israeli ultra-Orthodox newspaper HaMevaser created a stir when they Photoshopped German Chancellor Angela Merkel out of a photo of world leaders at the Paris Solidarity march, yet another example of how women are treated, or, more accurately, erased from the conversation in many ultra-Orthodox circles.

Which brings us to the current state of the Israeli Knesset. The two ultra-Orthodox parties—Shas and United Torah Judaism—are, unsurprisingly, exclusively male. In 2012, a small protest group formed under the name, “Lo Nivcharot, Lo Bocharot,” (if we can’t be elected, we won’t vote)—a modern-day version of no taxation without representation. The group, nicknamed LoNiLoBo, petitioned Israel’s Supreme Court to make it illegal for a political party to prevent women from running, but they lost. The following year, a few Haredi women ran for municipal posts (municipal elections operate differently than national ones). They received threats and one woman ended up pulling out as a result, but Shira Gergi won and became the first Haredi woman to sit on a municipal council.

Jan. 21 2015 10:19 AM

Boehner Applauded Equal Pay at Last Year’s State of the Union. Why Not This Year?

Tuesday night’s State of the Union address covered many of the same themes as last year's speech, but President Obama had a little more fire in his belly, and Republicans appeared more hostile to his message. One big change was how congressional Republicans reacted when Obama declared his support for equal pay for women. Last year, Obama mentioned that women make 77 cents on a man's dollar and added, “That is wrong, and in 2014, it’s an embarrassment. A woman deserves equal pay for equal work.” The line drew crazy applause from people on both sides of the aisle, and John Boehner made sure to appear on camera standing and applauding the sentiment. 

Obama used a nearly identical line this year: “That’s why this Congress still needs to pass a law that makes sure a woman is paid the same as a man for doing the same work. Really. It’s 2015. It’s time.” This time, however, Republican butts, including Speaker Boehner's, largely stayed planted to their chairs. There were even some shenanigans as Democrats tried to shame them for it. 

What changed? The 2014 speech mentioned equal pay as more of an abstract principle, whereas this year's speech detailed specific steps Congress ought to take to support it. Republicans have a history of claiming to support the idea of equal pay while shutting down every attempt to turn that ideal into a reality through legislative effort. They're fine with applauding the idea that women “deserve” equal pay but balk when called upon to put their supposed support into action. 

But the Republican messaging on the issue is also shifting. Last year, desperate to shut down the “war on women” narrative, Republicans used the State of the Union response by Cathy McMorris Rodgers to suggest that the party supports working mothers. But doing a little rah-rah-for-moms thing is a lot harder to pull off when the president is laying out concrete policy ideas that women actually need, such as equal pay protections and federally subsidized child care. So while the Republicans once again put a women out front for their State of the Union response speech, their pick this year, Joni Ernst, spent most of her time celebrating the character-building aspects of belt-tightening and largely ignoring overt mentions of gender. 

Certainly, the contrast between the two parties is much clearer this year than last. The president talks about how people, particularly women, need to be paid more and receive more benefits for their work, while Ernst waxes nostalgic about having only one pair of shoes and a family that had “very little to call their own except the sweat on their brow and the dirt on their hands.” Both sides emphasize the value of hard work, but as Obama continues to push the line that people need to get more for that work, expect that Republicans will counter by suggesting that the real reason people are in need is not because of lack of equal pay or child care, but because they aren’t working quite hard enough. 

Jan. 20 2015 10:10 PM

Obama Declares Child Care “a Must Have”

In his 2015 State of the Union address, President Obama told the story of Rebekah and Ben Erler of Minneapolis, your typical middle-class American family with two kids. Rebekah was a waitress when their first child was born; Ben worked construction. When the recession hit, Rebekah went back to school so she could get a better job. They’re both working hard, but they’re struggling to get by, because, as President Obama pointed out, their child care costs more than their mortgage—a fact that’s true for Americans in 20 states and Washington, D.C.

President Obama used Rebekah and Ben as a jumping-off point to make a full-throated endorsement of high quality, affordable child care. “It’s not a nice-to-have — it’s a must-have,” Obama said of child care. “It’s time we stop treating child care as a side issue, or a women’s issue, and treat it like the national economic priority that it is for all of us.”

This is an extremely important rhetorical shift—the move from child care as a mushy, emotional, frivolous extra, to a serious imperative. And it’s a real leap from Obama’s 2013 and 2014 addresses, where he mentioned the need for universal pre-K, but barely discussed child care.

He went even further in emphasizing his support for working moms and dads by talking about paid parental leave and sick leave, too. “Today, we’re the only advanced country on Earth that doesn’t guarantee paid sick leave or paid maternity leave to our workers,” Obama said. “Forty-three million workers have no paid sick leave. Forty-three million. Think about that. And that forces too many parents to make the gut-wrenching choice between a paycheck and a sick kid at home. So I’ll be taking new action to help states adopt paid leave laws of their own.”

We knew some of this was coming, but still: It’s exciting to hear Obama use this moment to make a plea for these things. So how much of it can actually get done? Obama got into some specifics when it comes to child care, saying he will create “more slots” and give middle-class and low-income families a tax cut of up to $3,000 per child, per year. I have some hope that the latter might come to fruition and actually be helpful. The former is going to take a lot more work, considering that as of 2012, there were only enough slots for 4 percent of eligible children in the Federal Early Head Start program, which serves children under age 3.

Unfortunately, although he said he’s outraged that America is one of the only countries that doesn’t have it, the president mentioned no specifics about making paid parental leave happen. As for paid sick leave, Obama asked Congress, “Send me a bill that gives every worker in America the opportunity to earn seven days of paid sick leave. It’s the right thing to do.” I will eat my hat if that happens at any point during Obama’s last two years in office.

But enough griping. Words do matter. I’m glad Obama made the issues of working parents a focus of this speech. Because if we’re ever going to make progress on these issues, they need to be brought front and center over and over and over again.

Jan. 20 2015 1:44 PM

What Happens When Kids Eat Pizza

Your kids are eating too much pizza. That's the conclusion of a paper published in Pediatrics this month looking at how much pizza consumption contributes to overeating in children and teenagers. While overall pizza consumption is down among kids in the past decade, researchers found that when kids eat pizza, they eat too much in general.

Children in this study, which tracked subjects ages 2 to 19 using Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data, netted 84 extra calories on days they ate pizza, and teenagers netted 230 extra calories over kids who did not eat pizza on that day. "Pizza consumption as a snack or from fast-food restaurants had the greatest adverse impact," researchers write. One of the co-authors of the study, Lisa Powell, director of the Illinois Prevention Research Center and professor of health policy and administration at the University of Illinois at Chicago, told ThinkProgress that she and the other researchers focused on pizza because "it’s such a prevalent item in children’s diets." 

"This is not saying don’t eat pizza," she explained, but instead emphasized that there are healthier ways to eat pizza—homemade instead of Pizza Hut, for instance—and that parents could make "small changes" to improve their kids' diet. “These observations emphasize that pizza, like sugary drinks, may be a significant contributor to excess caloric intake and obesity, and should become a target for counseling for the prevention and treatment of obesity in pediatric practice,” the study authors write. 

As NPR reported last week, there's a growing understanding in the medical research community that it's difficult, if not impossible, to accurately measure exactly how many calories people are eating during the course of a day. People don't remember what they ate, or they downplay how much. It's easy to see how, if adults struggle to monitor their own caloric intake, it's even harder to do so for kids, especially once they go to school and start making their own food choices. But while counting calories is nearly impossible for most people, the researchers on this paper hope that focusing on specific goals like reducing the amount of pizza you eat or cutting back on sugary drinks could be a better approach. You don't need to know exactly how many calories is in a slice of pizza to know that your kid probably shouldn't have a third slice. 

Jan. 20 2015 1:09 PM

The Pope Tells Catholics Not to Breed “Like Rabbits” but Refuses to Endorse Contraception

This past weekend, during a small press conference on a jet back to Rome from his visit to the Philippines, Pope Francis criticized the tradition—usually encouraged by the Vatican—of Catholic couples having large broods. "Some think that—excuse the word—that in order to be good Catholics we have to be like rabbits," the National Catholic Reporter quotes the pope as saying. "No."

Pope Francis illustrated his point by telling the story of a woman he met in Rome who was pregnant with her eighth child, despite the fact that all her previous births had been by Cesarean section. "Does she want to leave the seven orphans?" he asked, declaring the choice to have so many children in a row "an irresponsibility" and calling on Catholic ministry to teach "responsible parenthood."

Don't get too excited. The pope did not just endorse contraception, even though he was returning from a country where Catholic priests' efforts to curb reproductive rights have contributed to overpopulation. Instead, the pope argued that there are ways to avoid both contraception and excessive childbearing. "I know so many, many licit ways that have helped this," he told reporters. "God gives you methods to be responsible."

Jan. 20 2015 12:15 PM

Sorority Girls Fight for Their Right to Party

Today, the New York Times’ Alan Schwarz investigates a persistent inequality in the culture of campus drinking: America’s frat boys are allowed to throw booze-fueled parties in their houses, but sorority girls are not. All 26 sororities in the National Panhellenic Conference voluntarily agree to keep their houses dry; only a couple of fraternities make the same call. The result: The parties only happen in the frat houses, where the men control the substances being served; choose the themes of their parties, which determines what women wear; man the entrances and exits to decide who gets in, who gets out, who gets kicked out, and for what; and lord over parties’ private spaces, like bedrooms and bathrooms. So far, three studies have demonstrated that fraternity members are three times more likely to commit sexual assaults than other guys on campus. “I would definitely feel safer at a sorority party,” one female student at the George Washington University told the Times as she passed a row of frat houses on Saturday night. “It’s the home-court advantage.”

So now, some young women on campus are fighting for their right to party. It seems obvious that sorority members (and the other women on campus) would be safer in their own homes than at frat parties. The problem is that the scenario is risky for the sororities themselves. For the national organizations and local chapters, banning alcohol is a financial calculation, not a moral one—staying dry helps them to avoid the legal liabilities shouldered by raucous fraternities. Drinking contributes not just to campus rape but also to physical fights, accidents, poisoning, and other destructive behaviors. James R. Favor & Company, an insurance company that covers more than a dozen fraternities, told the Times in 2012 that one national fraternity was paying an average of $812,951 in annual settlements until it went dry, at which point its annual payout dropped to $15,388. An officer with the National Panhellenic Conference told the Times that “she preferred to preserve the relative calm of sorority houses, and continue to let fraternities assume the cost, risk and cleanup of house parties.”

But by protecting themselves from legal risk, sororities are putting their college-aged members in greater danger of sexual assault. Consuming alcohol with members of the opposite sex is such a cornerstone of American social interaction that it’s unreasonable to expect college students not to indulge. So if they want to participate fully in campus life, sorority women are shuffled into fraternity house “Hunt or Be Hunted” theme parties, where they are cast in the role of prey.

At least one sorority, Dartmouth’s Sigma Delta, has no national affiliations, so it’s free to throw its own parties—and its members are now evangelizing the simple pleasures of the sorority rager. On a typical campus, “Fraternity members feel so entitled to women’s bodies, because women have no ownership of the social scene,” Sigma Delta social chair Molly Reckford told the Times. “You can’t kick a guy out of his own house.”

Jan. 19 2015 10:15 AM

Work, Life, Decisions, and Sacrifice in a Military Family  

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 fourth 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: Shana and Chris

Ages: Both 35

Shana’s Occupation: Air Force Major

Chris’s Occupation: Stay-at-home dad

Children: Two daughters, ages 2 and 3

Location: Ohio

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

I joined the military right out of college, where I was in ROTC. I thought I’d do my four years and get out. I majored in aerospace engineering and I thought I’d work for some kind of tech company as an engineer. But I ended up staying in the military. I incurred more of a commitment when I got my masters because I got tuition assistance. I hit 10 years and figured, I’m already half way to retirement, so I might as well stay the other 10. And there were aspects of the job that I was pretty good at.

Hi, Chris. What were your expectations?

I came from a background where my dad had one steady job for his entire adult career and I thought I would more or less follow that, except that he was an accountant and I was a software engineer. I thought I would gain seniority and work in the same place forever, like he did. But I graduated at a time where economically things were pretty rough. I endured a couple of layoffs early on, and with Shana having to relocate every couple of years, I had to revise my career expectations pretty quickly coming out of school.

Jan. 19 2015 9:11 AM

Andrew Cuomo Proposes Affirmative Consent for New York Universities

In a speech at NYU on Saturday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced plans to push for legislation that would codify how all universities and colleges in the state of New York defined "consent" in their school policies regarding sexual assault. His proposal, modeled on the law that passed in California last year, would require schools to use an "affirmative consent" standard. The law in California, signed by Gov. Jerry Brown, was passed in the state senate with a unanimous vote.

Under the governor's direction, the board of SUNY schools has already adopted such a standard, which they define as "clear, knowing and voluntary" and "active, not passive." But for those who invariably worry that the standard is too strict, rest assured: "Consent can be given by words or actions, as long as those words or actions create mutually understandable clear permission regarding willingness to engage in (and the conditions of) sexual activity." In other words, only have sex with people who want to have sex with you and are communicating that fact. If you are unsure, ask.

Jan. 16 2015 3:25 PM

The February Cover of Cosmo Does Not Show a Suffocating Woman

The internet is abuzz with images of a limited edition February cover of Cosmopolitan UK featuring a foggy photograph of a model with her hair disheveled and her hand reaching out for help—designed to look as if she’s suffocating inside the magazine’s plastic wrapping. The image is inspired by Shafilea Ahmed, a British Pakistani girl who was murdered by her parents in 2003 at the age of 17: After Ahmed rejected a suitor that her parents had arranged for her to marry, her father forced a plastic bag down her throat and suffocated her to death. Stylite calls the cover “provocative, powerful, and potentially polarizing”; Business Insider deems it “truly shocking.”

It’s also not really the February cover of Cosmo. It’s a mocked-up image that’s been circulated as a part of Cosmo’s campaign, alongside the UK-based charity Karma Nirvana, to establish a day of remembrance to commemorate victims of honor killings and raise awareness about the issue. Last July, Cosmo commissioned three ad agencies to “design an iconic image” for the campaign, and Leo Burnett came up with one that riffs on the look of the Cosmo cover. A Cosmopolitan spokesperson told Slate that “the image has been used for promotional use in a mocked up cover wrapped around the magazine … it is not a cover that is available to buy on the newsstand—readers can’t purchase it. Our February issue has been on sale for nearly two weeks, and does not feature the image that Leo Burnett created.” Instead, the February cover features Khloe Kardashian talking about “Justin Bieber, sex, and doing the dishes.” It does not reference honor killings or domestic abuse.