The XX Factor
What Women Really Think

March 6 2015 1:15 PM

On Wikipedia, Gamergate Refuses to Die


As a media phenomenon, Gamergate may have died out a few months ago, but that doesn't mean the die-hard Gamergaters have gone away. Lauren Williams at ThinkProgress has written an in-depth investigation of how Gamergaters, who make up in doggedness what they lack in argumentative coherency, have managed to get five Wikipedia editors banned or restricted from editing Wikipedia—for tweaking the Wikipedia pages of feminist critics and developers to erase slander that anti-feminists were trying to pass off as factual information.

As is generally the case with Gamergate, piecing together the story of what really happened amid the cacophony of finger-pointing and recrimination is nearly impossible, but Williams does a great job of summarizing. It all began when some Gamergaters started to harass women like video game critic Anita Sarkeesian and developer Zoe Quinn by editing their Wikipedia pages, usually to inject accusations of sluttiness or hypocrisy. "To get the situation under control, Wikipedia community members quickly asked for other editors to pitch in and help bring on the site’s notice board," Williams writes. Five editors, eventually nicknamed the Five Horsemen, took up the call, jumping in and trying to remove slanderous or irrelevant statements put up by Gamergaters.


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March 5 2015 4:31 PM

Catholic Bishops Want to Deny Raped Migrant Girls Access to Health Care

ThinkProgress reports that the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops is demanding, in the name of religious freedom, the right to keep underage migrants who have been raped from accessing medical care to prevent them from becoming pregnant. In a letter sent to the Office of Refugee Resettlement, the USCCB, which has received $22 million in federal funds to help set up group shelters to house refugees coming in over the southern border, protested a regulation requiring those who take this money to offer "unimpeded access to emergency medical treatment, crisis intervention services, emergency contraception, and sexually transmitted infections prophylaxis, in accordance with professionally accepted standards of care, where appropriate under medical or mental health professional standards." The USCCB wants to be able to impede access to this care out of fear that some rape victims who use it might try to avoid having a baby by their rapists. 

From the USCCB letter:

March 5 2015 12:35 PM

Ellen Pao Trial Reveals the Subtle Sexism of Silicon Valley

Ellen Pao, now serving as the interim CEO of Reddit, is suing her former employer, the venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, of gender discrimination because they failed to promote her during her time there and fired her when she complained in 2012. The ongoing trial, as Mother Jones discovered, is a fountain of hilarious details about life in the upper echelons of the tech world: $300 board games about excelling in business, confusing corporate jargon that sounds ridiculous in a courtroom setting, discussions of the Playboy Mansion on private jets, and debates about the difference between "cocky" and "confident." At one point, the court reporter had to ask about the spelling of "Klout," a detail that will likely find its way into the third season of Silicon Valley

But despite all the goofiness, the question at the heart of the trial is one that will resonate with plenty of women who aren't vying for offices in the "power corridor" of a VC firm: How do you determine what is and isn't gender discrimination in a world where you're competing with men on decidedly subjective terms? Pao is arguing that she didn't get promoted because a sexist, bro-y environment didn't make room for women. The defense, however, is arguing that it wasn't her gender but her inability to meet their standards on frustratingly vague measures such as "thought leadership."

Of course, men tend to get judged very differently than women on a lot of those subjective measurements. Nitasha Tiku at The Verge explains how this is playing out in court: 

March 4 2015 1:37 PM

Two-Thirds of Unintended Births Are Paid For by the Government

As I wrote on Monday, unintended pregnancy is increasingly concentrated among lower income women. That suggests a lot of the costs for those pregnancies will be covered by public health care systems such as Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program. But even knowing that, it's still surprising to read a recent report from the Guttmacher Institute that shows exactly how much the government has to step in to cover the costs of unintended childbirth. In 2010, over half of all births in the U.S. were covered by public health insurance. Unintended pregnancy was a huge driver of this phenomenon. "Public insurance programs paid for 68% of the 1.5 million unplanned births that year," the fact sheet from Guttmacher reads, "compared with 38% of planned births."

Pregnancy-related medical care isn't cheap. Total government expenditures on unintended pregnancy in 2010 totaled $21 billion, or approximately $336 for every woman aged 15-44 in the country. That's an important number to keep in mind when you hear Republicans touting their willingness to slash family planning funding or even just denying that there's a need to make contraception more affordable: For less than what we spend on the costs of unintended pregnancy, we could make sure every woman who wants reliable contraception can get it. In fact, as Guttmacher notes, "In the absence of the current U.S. publicly funded family planning effort, the public costs of unintended pregnancies in 2010 might have been 75% higher."

March 3 2015 5:32 PM

There Are More Men Named John Than Women Running Large Companies  

More large companies in the United States are run by men named "John" than by women. Not by women named anything specific. Just, women. That's what the Upshot discovered after creating a cheeky analytical measure they call the Glass Ceiling Index, meant to figure out just marginal women really are when it comes to holding leadership positions in major institutions. Justin Wolfers explains:

Among chief executives of S.&P. 1500 firms, for each woman, there are four men named John, Robert, William or James. We’re calling this ratio the Glass Ceiling Index, and an index value above one means that Jims, Bobs, Jacks and Bills — combined — outnumber the total number of women, including every women’s name, from Abby to Zara. Thus we score chief executive officers of large firms as having an index score of 4.0.
Our Glass Ceiling Index is inspired by a recent Ernst & Young report, which computed analogous numbers for board directors. That report yielded an index score of 1.03 for directors, meaning that for every one woman, there were 1.03 Jameses, Roberts, Johns and Williams — combined — serving on the boards of S.&P. 1500 companies.

The findings are amusing, but there's a real story here that shouldn't be overlooked. As Wolfers notes, "most companies understand that an all-male board looks bad, and so most of them appoint at least one woman, although only a minority bother to appoint more than one." By sprinkling a few female faces in the mix, major corporations can deflect accusations of sexism. After all, if some women get through, then it can't be discrimination, right? 

March 2 2015 5:52 PM

CPS Finds “Free Range” Parents Responsible for Unsubstantiated Child Neglect. Now What?

Remember the Maryland parents who let their two kids walk home from a park alone and then had to deal with police and child protective services? They heard from the state today. The couple was found responsible for “unsubstantiated” child neglect, a confusing charge that resolved nothing and left the couple possibly more nervous and paranoid than ever.

In December, Danielle and Alexander Meitiv let their 10-year-old son, Rafi, and his 6-year-old sister, Dvorah, walk 1 mile home through Silver Spring, Maryland, alone. The kids got picked up by the police, who then turned the case over to child protective services. The Meitivs, as it happens, are “free-range parents” who have a very coherent philosophy about giving children more independence. They had let their children walk home alone that day only after practicing and felt the kids were ready.

What they learned from the latest CPS decision, Danielle Meitiv wrote me, is that “teaching independence clearly IS a crime.” As she understands it, the charge means “something happened but kids were not at substantial risk.” Why then, she reasonably asks, “find us responsible for neglect?”

In the letter to the Meitivs, dated Feb. 20, CPS says that it has closed the investigation. But a charge of “unsubstantiated” is not quite as definitively closed as “ruled out.” (The third option is “indicated,” the equivalent of guilty.) Danielle told the Washington Post she felt numb when she first opened the letter and then told her husband, “Oh my God, they really believe we did something wrong.”

“I was kind of horrified,” she said to the Post. “You try as a parent to do what’s right. Parents try so hard. Even though I know they are wrong, it’s a painful judgment.”

CPS officials did not say they would keep an eye on the Meitivs. But now they have a charge of child neglect in their file, which puts them in a precarious position. They believe strongly that children should be able to roam the neighborhood unsupervised. But they no doubt believe even more strongly that they don’t want to be at any risk of having their children taken away from them for a second charge of neglect. Why on earth should the state have any right to put them in that predicament?

March 2 2015 4:27 PM

How Barbara Mikulski Transformed the Senate  

Maryland Sen. Barbara Mikulski is retiring. Mikulski may stand less than five feet tall, but she casts a long shadow as the person who has probably done more than any other in Congress to redefine the role of women in the legislature. On top of holding the record as the longest-serving woman in Congress, Mikulski is, according to the Washington Post, the first woman elected to the Senate on her own and not on the legacy of a husband or male relative holding office before her. She was also the first woman to chair the Senate Appropriations Committee, a position she lost when Republicans gained control of the Senate in 2014. 

But Mikulski was not content to play the role of the token woman. Her time in office has been marked by her passion for putting more women in power. When Mikulski was first elected to the Senate in 1987, she was only one of two women there (the other was Nancy Kassebaum, who was the daughter of a former Kansas governor).  Now there are 20, in no small part because of Mikulski's efforts at mentoring and championing her female colleagues. 

Mikulski's interest in improving the lives of women wasn't limited to her coworkers. She's worked to increase research in women's health care, to protect reproductive rights, to secure equal pay, and to reduce sexual and domestic violence. One of best examples of Mikulski's feminism in action comes from Liza Mundy's recent piece on women in the Senate for Politico:

March 2 2015 12:31 PM

Why Do Poor Women Have More Abortions? 

Richard Reeves and Joanna Ventor of the Brookings Institution have a new paper out examining the impact income level has on unintended childbearing among single women.* They found that women have about the same amount of sex regardless of class, but poorer women are five times as likely to have unintended births than more affluent women. A huge chunk of the reason, they conclude, is because of the gap in abortion and contraception access. From the study summary:

Using National Survey of Family Growth Data from the Centers for Disease Control, the authors calculate that women living at 100 percent or less of the federal poverty level (single households earning approximately $11,200 per year or less) who are not actively trying to conceive are twice as likely not to use contraception as their wealthier counterparts (those at 400 percent or above of the poverty level, or earning over $44,700 per year). Poor women not trying to conceive are also three times more likely to get pregnant than their higher income counterparts (9 percent compared to 3 percent), and ultimately at 5 times more likely to give birth. In addition, abortion rates among the poor are lower, with 32 percent in the highest income bracket having an abortion compared to 9 percent of low-income terminations. 

Using economic modeling, they found that if poorer women had the same access to contraception as more well-off women, it would cut the birth rate for single women living in poverty in half. Doing the same for abortion would also have a dramatic impact, reducing the birth rate from 72 births per 1,000 women to 49. Of course, the real solution would be to make both contraception and abortion accessible to lower-income women, which would probably result in their unintended birth rate coming very close to what it is for higher-income women. 

Feb. 27 2015 10:35 AM

Todd Akin Is Thinking About Running for Senate. Legitimately.  

After he published a book and did some disastrous press coverage to support it, it's no big surprise that Todd Akin is taking the next step in his attempted comeback: Floating the possibility of running for office. The Hill reports that Akin is considering another go at becoming a senator from Missouri, this time intending to challenge Republican Sen. Roy Blunt in 2016. Akin, you probably remember, was a congressman from Missouri on track to beat the incumbent Democrat, Sen. Claire McCaskill in 2012, until he claimed that women cannot get pregnant from "legitimate rape," which cost him the election. 

“I have not ruled anything out,” Akin told The Hill, which is standard politician-speak for "I am running" or "I am dying for attention even though I won't ultimately run." Why might Akin go for it? “I think there is a high level of dissatisfaction among conservatives, that they have to some degree been pushed out of the Republican Party,” he said. In reality, research by political scientists shows that the GOP has been drifting right-ward for decades now, and hardline conservatives have more control over the party now than they have had in more than 100 years. 

Feb. 25 2015 2:53 PM

This Drug for Binge-Eating Disorder May Be Shady. That Doesn’t Mean the Disease Isn't Real.  

The New York Times has an excellent article this week about how pharmaceutical companies bypass doctors to market drugs directly to consumers. The company Shire got FDA approval to sell Vyvanse—an addictive amphetamine that was already prescribed for ADHD—as a treatment for binge-eating disorder last month, and it immediately began spreading the word about the disorder. Shire’s publicity machine is really quite impressive: It hired former tennis pro Monica Seles to go on a media tour to talk about her experience with binge eating, gave tens of thousands of dollars to eating-disorder advocacy groups, and secured the domain, which is billed as “A Resource for Understanding B.E.D. in Adults” and encourages patients to be persistent with their doctors if they don’t get their desired diagnosis. Meanwhile, drug abuse experts worry that the drug is being subtly marketed as a treatment for obesity, “despite the fact that, for decades, amphetamines, which suppress the appetite, were widely abused as a treatment for obesity.”

Unfortunately, the Times article not only casts doubt on Vyvanse’s safety, and on Shire’s promotional tactics—it also subtly casts doubt on binge-eating disorder as a diagnosis. The online headline, “Shire, Maker of Binge-Eating Drug Vyvanse, First Marketed the Disease,” implies that Shire first manufactured a sham disorder, and then manufactured a drug to treat it. This, at least, seems to be the message gleaned by many readers, whose skepticism about the disorder and scare quotes around it abound.

Shire deserves all the scrutiny it’s getting, but binge eating disorder is a real problem, and it has been long before Shire began marketing Vyvanse. I know from experience: For several years beginning in my teens and continuing through my early twenties, I had a binge-eating problem. That’s what I always called it, “a binge-eating problem”; at the time binge-eating disorder hadn’t been officially recognized by the DSM. (It finally was in 2013.)  Food occupied most of my waking thoughts, and my binge eating distressed me and embarrassed me more than anything else in my life—and it wasn’t because I’d been brainwashed by Big Pharma. If anything, it was because I’d been brainwashed by a sexist, fat-phobic culture.