The XX Factor
What Women Really Think

Nov. 16 2015 5:32 PM

There’s a Boy in This Barbie Commercial, and He Is a Sign of the Girly-Capitalist End Times

Before you watch this commercial for Barbie’s new $150 Moschino-branded doll, I should warn you: There is a boy in it. In the lead-up to this year’s holiday gift-buying hubbub, which is sure to incite yet another round of gender-specific toy fundamentalism, Mattel has come down on the side of dolls for all.

Towleroad points out that the adorable little boy, who ends the commercial with a wink that far exceeds the fine motor skills of the rest of his age bracket, is a dead ringer for Jeremy Scott, Moschino’s creative director. Accordingly, the kid is a parody of what you might imagine a 5-year-old who knows the word Moschino would be like. “Moschino Barbie is so fierce!” he declares. So that’s how you pronounce it.

The commercial is bound to draw angry rants from right-wingers convinced that our country is becoming a haven for femme supremacy and girly-men because of this kind of doll-based propaganda. (Take a gander at the video’s YouTube comments for a sampling.) For the record, a country of femme supremacy and girly-men sounds like my own personal dreamhouse. But the video is far more offensive for its indoctrination of children into good capitalist behavior.

First of all, the children use the word Moschino, the name of a fashion brand, as a standalone descriptor. “She’s the most Moschino Barbie ever!” says the little girl at the start of the commercial. Barbie’s shirt says it’s “The Most Moschino T-Shirt Ever.” The lesson: Corporations are people, and brands are adjectives.

Then there’s the Moschino tie-in, a line of adult garments that range from a $225 T-shirt (yes, it’s the most Moschino ever) to a $1,695 purse that matches Barbie’s. It’s a built-in conduit for a Barbie-loving kid to become a debt-ridden adult with a purse habit.

So while the right-wing mob cries over the demise of our country’s gender-segregated doll history and everyone else celebrates Mattel’s admission that boys like dolls, too, I’ll remind the kids in my life about the basic underpinnings of the free market. It stands to reason that Mattel—a company that makes its money selling dolls—wants more kids to want dolls. More parents buying dolls means more money for Mattel. Bah humbug.

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Nov. 16 2015 5:14 PM

Gawker’s Other “Problem With Women” Is How Gawker Treats Its Female Subjects

Last night, former Gawker writer Dayna Evans published “On Gawker's Problem with Women” in Matter. Through a close read of a recent oral history of the site and interviews with former and current employees, Evans chronicles indignities both micro and macro. There were the incessant rape gifs in Jezebel comment threads that Gawker refused to address. There were dismissive comments, few women in leadership roles, and editors who threw the good scoops to male writers, who subsequently earned more money and public acclaim.

Evans’ piece in Medium exposes a few inequities that aren’t limited to Gawker. The gender wage gap is, of course, a nationwide phenomenon that doesn’t rest entirely on one-off discriminatory behavior. Employees are often paid based on previous salaries and their willingness to negotiate; while men benefit handily from kinder perceptions of their hardball negotiating, many hiring managers just want to pay out as little as possible for the best talent. And the leadership pipeline that Evans describes—where women are shunted into managerial editing roles that require some of a publication’s hardest, most thankless work—is a pervasive dynamic in an industry that produces a disproportionate number of male bylines and male top editors. Ditto Gawker’s lack of racial diversity.

But the sniping, backstabbing culture Evans depicts is unique to Gawker, and despite Evans’ thesis, it’s perpetuated by the company’s women, too. A comment on the article names several instances of women writers and editors lobbing mean-spirited blog posts at other women who did nothing to deserve a public shaming. Women writers linked to hacked nude photos of women celebrities—a hallmark of Gawker’s editorial strategy—on multiple occasions; Evans herself sent a boatload of traffic to the shameful “fappening” photos on 4chan last year. Natasha Vargas-Cooper used emails unearthed in the Sony hack to mock the “crotch-intensive” personal hygiene products purchased by former Sony head Amy Pascal. Maureen O’Connor negotiated for nonconsensual nude photos with a creepy celebrity stalker.

It’s impossible to extricate the will of the writer from the directives of the mostly male Gawker leadership, but it’s safe to say that the men of Gawker—including founder Nick Denton—weren’t the only ones nurturing a culture that exploited women in decidedly misogynist ways for traffic. Gawker’s business model rewards the kind of salacious, ethically questionable stories that are particularly harmful to women in the public eye. In Carla Blumenkranz’s n+1 assessment of Gawker from 2002 to 2007, she places some of the blame on former editor Jessica Coen:

Gawker had always sold itself as mean but it now became, actually, very mean. [Former editor Choire] Sicha, who liked to pretend to be a news organization, had sent “correspondents” and “interns” to official media events. Coen found more of them, and she sent them not only to launches and readings but also to private parties, where they took embarrassing party photos. This was the important development: the decision to treat every subject, known or unknown, in public or private situations, with the fascinated ill will that tabloid magazines have for their subjects.

On Twitter today, journalist Melody Kramer shared an old email she received during Coen’s tenure after applying for a Gawker internship in 2005. In the response she received, someone writing from the email address invited Kramer and another female applicant to “formally be my bitches” along with the other “editorial punkins.” At 20 years old, Kramer tells me, she just wrote it off as “bizarro.” Now, she thinks it’s “completely inappropriate.” 

In her Medium article, Evans relates an anecdote from 2008, when the New York Times Magazine was set to publish a personal essay from former Gawker writer Emily Gould.

Days before the story — which would embarrass both Denton and the company — was published, Denton saw a video of Gould mimicking a blow job on a plastic tube and fed it to Gawker writer Andrew Krucoff to post. Even now, in 2015, while being interviewed for the Oral History, Denton remarked: “Why not? She’s a public person. I’m a public person. This was publicly available.”

That little phrase—why not?—is a neat sum-up of Gawker’s editorial philosophy. Shame that it’s so readily deployed against its female subjects, by men and women writers alike.

Nov. 16 2015 1:07 PM

The People Who Brought You “Period Underwear” Now Have a Line for Men Who Menstruate

Recent advances in menstrual hygiene have finally collided with a growing market in underwear made specifically for transgender people. THINX, the company that makes absorbent underwear built to replace or complement pads and tampons, is advertising its newest cut as an option for trans men.

Around this time last year, the company acknowledged that its tagline, “For Women With Periods,” left out trans men, who still menstruate if they aren’t on testosterone therapy regimens; the hormone can cause permanent changes in voice, facial hair, and genital size, but even if a trans man has taken testosterone in the past, his period will soon return if he stops taking regular doses.

THINX displays its new boyshorts on both a woman and a trans man, model Sawyer DeVuyst. For trans men who don’t identify with the shape their genitals take, wearing a tampon or menstrual cup could be physically and psychologically uncomfortable. Absorbent underwear in an androgynous cut is a sleek, discreet option that could even hold up in a locker room or other highly exposed setting.

Underwear is a notoriously fraught frontier for trans or genderqueer people, because undergarments are specifically tailored to binary ideas of genitals. There’s extra fabric (or not) where bulges might be (or not), and sizing options are limited to the average body types of the target gender. Many options for trans people—binders for the chest, tuckers for the groin—have prioritized function over fashion and comfort. In some cases, as at one Austin, Texas lingerie store, trans people are snubbed or humiliated when shopping.

But the past few years have seen trans people and allies launch companies to make better-fitting, better-looking underwear for trans bodies. Cy Lauz started Chrysalis Lingerie, a brand targeted at trans women that sells bras made to hold breast enhancers and underwear that cinches the waist and smooths the crotch. All is Fair is preparing to unveil a “genderless” line of chest binders, tuckers, and groin packers. There’s also the more DIY BulletBriefs, which sews pockets for prosthetic genitals inside traditional men’s underwear. THINX's new boyshorts don't purport to shape or enhance any body parts, but for trans men who menstruate, its stylish recognition of their bodies' needs is a fundamental affirmation.

Nov. 12 2015 4:54 PM

A Company Mislabeled Its Birth Control. Women Got Pregnant and Sued. Do They Have a Case?

In 2011, drugmaker Qualitest manufactured a faulty batch of birth control pills. The pills themselves worked fine, but the packaging flipped the order of the pills 180 degrees, putting a row of inert pills—which a patient would normally take during her period—where the first week of active hormones should be. Now, 113 women from across the United States have filed a class action suit against the company, claiming that the defective blister packs resulted in unplanned, unwanted pregnancies.

Brian Palmer wrote a Slate Explainer in 2012 that mentioned a related case, in which just one plaintiff sued Qualitest for the same messed-up birth control batch. “If you get pregnant because of faulty pills, do you have a case against the manufacturer?” Palmer asked. His answer:

Yes, in most states. The majority of U.S. courts recognize a tort called “unwanted conception” or “unwanted pregnancy,” but most cases involve tubal ligation or vasectomy rather than the pill. In such cases of botched sterilization, doctors don’t have a particularly good defense, because the procedure is extremely effective when performed correctly. The pill, by contrast, is only 98 to 99 percent effective, even when free of defects. So it’s hard to prove an unwanted pregnancy is due to a flawed pill. In addition, if a woman chooses to sue, the manufacturer can try to convince a jury that she didn’t take her pills on schedule. (Surgical sterilization requires no such vigilance by patients.)

Since Qualitest admitted its error and issued a voluntary recall after a woman returned her faulty pack to her pharmacy in 2011, the plaintiffs in this class action are spared from having to prove the company’s wrongdoing. But proving that a pregnancy is the direct result of a manufacturing error is next to impossible. Dates of conception are never 100 percent accurate. Oral contraceptives are only 98 to 99 percent effective when taken exactly as directed, and on top of that, they’re notoriously prone to user error. And Qualitest’s parent company has only confirmed that one of the recalled blister packs was sold in the first place.

It’s even less likely that the plaintiffs in this case will recover compensation for the entire cost of raising their unintended children to adulthood, which some of them are requesting. Historically, courts have been hesitant to award plaintiffs this kind of cash on the grounds that the benefits of parenthood (joy, fulfillment, Spanish-language education from Dora the Explorer) make up for the fact that the parents didn’t want those benefits in the first place. Courts don’t want to frame birth and parenthood as “damages” even though, for people who were taking birth control to avoid pregnancy—especially those might not consider abortion an option—they certainly are.

The plaintiffs filed their suit in Pennsylvania, where Endo, Qualitest's parent company, maintains a U.S. headquarters. Just three years ago, it would have been impossible for the women to sue for wrongful life—in which a fetus was only conceived due to the negligence of the defendant—in the state at all. Since 1988, Pennsylvania had kept a law on the books that prohibited wrongful life suits. The law was struck down in 2012, and is currently making its way through the state’s court system on appeal. That means the 113 plaintiffs have a legitimate case against Endo—now they just have to prove it.

Nov. 12 2015 1:38 PM

Is Missy Elliott’s New Track a Miley Cyrus Diss?

Missy Elliott, the once and forever queen of vivid sex euphemisms and bedazzled sportswear, is back in the game today with a video for her new track, “WTF (Where They From).” It’s Missy at her Missyest: There’s some choice deployment of “blah blah blah,” crowds of lip-syncing b-girls and -boys, and hoop earrings the size of Indiana. There’s also the skipping rhythms and cheeky puppeteering of Shamir, disco-ball lip jewels, and one colorful get-up that channels Roy Lichtenstein. For the love of thigh-high sweatsocks, watch it:

The release also falls in line with Missy’s long history of championing young girls as featured dancers in her videos. “WTF” opens with a dance solo from a precocious youngster in an oversized jersey, a segment that recalls the impressive kid moves in “I’m Really Hot,” “Gossip Folks,” and “Work It.” One of Missy’s old guard, Alyson Stoner, recreated her little-kid moves in a Missy tribute video earlier this year. Missy has given girls some of the choicest spots in her videos, treating them as her badass equals.

That’s why I interpreted the “WTF” hook as a sardonic response to haters who tell young girls they’re too young and dumb to hang in circles of power, whether it be a dance crew or the upper echelons of hip-hop. “The dance that you’re doing is dumb/ How they do where you from?” Missy raps as the little girl dances. “Stickin' out your tongue girl/ But you know you're too young.”

But some of my Slate colleagues and plenty of Internet commenters have read this as a diss aimed at Miley Cyrus, who is both young and a frequent exposer of her tongue. In her Bangerz era, Miley indiscriminately co-opted black culture and hip-hop tropes—twerking, bandannas, pseudo­–gang signs—without hesitation, using their cultural cachet to earn the favor of mainstream white pop fans. Much of her rise took place while Missy was out of the spotlight; Miley's 2007 breakout single “See You Again” dropped just as Missy was coming off of her last big solo single, “Lose Control.” Now, perhaps, Missy’s ready to show Miley how a veteran hip-hop–pop crossover does the damn thing.

Or maybe, since it’s unlikely that a superstar like Missy would feel threatened by the likes of Miley, it’s a generic smear in a song full of delicious, Missy-worthy braggadocio. Either way, it’ll make you want to play the video on repeat, which is probably the point.

Nov. 11 2015 1:12 PM

Marco Rubio’s Meager Offerings for Working Parents Are Still the Best in the GOP Field

Tuesday night’s Republican presidential debate didn’t touch much on workplace issues like child care and paid family leave, and for good reason: Nearly every candidate on the stage thinks the federal government should not get involved in such matters.

Sen. Marco Rubio, who gave one of the debate’s strongest performances, is a stark exception. His tax plan includes a new child tax credit up to $2,500 per child, available to single parents making up to $200,000 and married parents making up to $400,000 total. Rubio positions the tax credit, which the Tax Foundation says could cost up to $170 billion a year, as a way to help working families manage the rising costs of child care.

This kind of relief, through tax credits or otherwise, is desperately needed. Despite the fact that child care workers often don’t earn enough to make ends meet, in nearly 81 percent of the country, child care for two kids costs more than rent. This harsh climate encourages rational economic actors—that is, women—to stay home with their kids rather than enter or re-enter the workforce, which is no good for families or the economy at large.

But Rubio knows the program could chafe conservatives. “Isn’t there a risk you’re just adding another expensive entitlement program to an already overburdened federal budget?” asked moderator Gerard Baker of the Wall Street Journal Tuesday night.

So Rubio labeled his tax plan “pro-family” and loaded on the right-wing buzzwords. First of all, child tax credits would shore up our country’s morality. “You can’t have a strong nation without strong values, and no one is born with strong values,” Rubio said. “They have to be taught to you in strong families.” Child tax credits would help nurture hard-working, money-making citizens of tomorrow, too. “Families that are raising children are raising the future taxpayers of the United States,” Rubio declared. “The pro-family tax plan I have will strengthen the most important institution in the country: the family.”

Word’s still out on whether tax credits would actually strengthen families (a hazy goal not easily achieved by policy proposals), but extra money for child care would absolutely make life more livable for working parents and their kids. That could be a hard sell for most Republicans. Rand Paul pushed back against Rubio’s plan Tuesday night, calling it a “new welfare program” that, combined with Rubio’s proposed inflated military spending, makes the candidate look “not very conservative.”

But as the Republican candidates scramble to win over female voters, Rubio has stood alone on policies that advance family-friendly workplaces. In addition to his proposal for child care relief, Rubio has put forth a proposed set of tax breaks to encourage businesses to offer paid family leave. None of the other candidates have voiced any support for federal action on the issue.

Unfortunately, Rubio’s paid leave plan would likely work better in theory than in practice. Tax breaks installed to nudge companies to treat their workers better have rarely succeeded. Since 1981, for example, the federal government has extended a tax credit to businesses that offer onsite child care; today, only 7 percent of companies do. And because of the way businesses work, the parents who need paid leave most—those working low-wage, hourly jobs—are the least likely to work for companies who’d take the tax break under Rubio’s plan.

Still, given the bleak landscape of GOP candidate proposals on child care and paid leave, Rubio has cleared the terrifyingly low bar to become the party’s best candidate on policies that support working families. Add that to his brutal stance on reproductive rights, and a Rubio Republican nomination becomes an even gloomier prospect.

Nov. 11 2015 10:21 AM

Rubio’s Success in Tuesday Night’s Debate Should Terrify Women

After Tuesday night’s debate, it seems increasingly likely that the contest for the Republican nomination is going to come down to Marco Rubio versus Ted Cruz; Marco Rubio versus Donald Trump; or, less likely, Marco Rubio versus Ben Carson. Jeb Bush once again failed to register; Rand Paul’s refreshingly rational views on foreign policy are out of step with those of his hawkish party; John Kasich is running for the nomination of a Republican Party that no longer exists; and failed CEO Carly Fiorina is a joke, despite her humorless blue steel intensity.

Widely declared the debate’s victor, Rubio is moving into the position that Mitt Romney held four years ago—the establishment pick, not quite trusted by die-hard conservatives, with a series of wacky foils arrayed against him. On most issues, Rubio is a Romney or George W. Bush redux. But on reproductive rights, he’s more like Todd Akin. Rubio has been very clear that he believes that when a woman is impregnated through rape or incest, the state should force her to carry the pregnancy to term. The fact that the mainstream Republican favorite holds this position is a sign of just how far right the GOP has moved.

On Tuesday, the New York Times reported that the super PAC supporting Jeb Bush, Right to Rise, has filmed a video attacking Rubio as “ultimately unelectable because of his hard-line stand against abortion.” But when the Huffington Post asked Bush himself about the subject, he declined to press the critique, instead stressing his own anti-abortion bona fides. This makes sense, because Rubio’s position, not Bush’s, is now the normative one in their party.

Tuesday night, Rubio said that parenthood is the most important job anyone will ever have. It was, on the surface, an utterly banal statement, a routine recitation of reverence for the family. But when you consider that Rubio believes in a nationwide program of coerced motherhood—which is what an abortion ban is—his words take on a slightly different cast. He’s an extremist who seems like an earnest Boy Scout. There’s a not inconsiderable chance that he’ll be the next president.

Nov. 10 2015 7:58 PM

Stars Getting Paid Less Because They’re Women: They’re Just Like Us!

It’s easy to scoff at the wage disputes of the 1 percent. When film and TV actresses advocate for pay equity, people listen. Still, since celebrities rake in tens of millions of dollars each year, their plight can feel less urgent than the gender wage gap in less lucrative industries.

But Hollywood’s pernicious, widely discussed pay gap has much to teach us about how gender and money intersect in the workplace. Thanks to last year’s Sony Pictures hack and the obsessive attention thrown upon film stars, we know a lot more about the ins and outs of Hollywood salaries than we do about those in nearly every other sector. And, as this week’s Variety cover story reiterates, the way pay-based sex discrimination manifests in that rarefied sphere isn’t so different from nonrich, nonfamous women’s experiences just about everywhere else.

One reason why the gender wage gap persists in all industries is a heavy reliance on previous pay rates during salary negotiations. Women are taught to talk around their former salaries in job interviews, because their new employers could use the information to justify a smaller pay bump. Likewise, entertainment attorney John Logigian told Variety that he uses an actor’s salary history as a guide when making deals for film studios. “If female actors are not getting the high salaries of their male counterparts, they are handicapped in negotiations,” he said. With each step up the career ladder, the pay gap instated with a first or second job only widens.

And even when women are making Bentleys full of cash, they’re less likely to negotiate their salaries in the first place, starting the previous-salary cycle at a lower grade than their male counterparts. “I would be lying if I didn’t say there was an element of wanting to be liked that influenced my decision to close the deal without a real fight,” Jennifer Lawrence wrote in a Lenny essay about her intimate knowledge of the wage gap last month. “I didn’t want to seem ‘difficult’ or ‘spoiled.’” Lawrence’s experience echoes a common dynamic in pay talks: Women don’t play hardball in salary talks because they believe they’ll alienate future co-workers, which scores of studies have shown they actually will.

Women in business can see their pay rates plateau as men get promoted and funneled into top leadership positions. Women in Hollywood are likewise hampered by a pipeline that elevates men into boldfaced marquee parts while keeping women in supporting roles. Ramin Setoodeh writes in Variety:

Male actors are able to quickly build on their incomes, because blockbusters like The Dark Knight, Spider-Man, and Superman offer more opportunities for them as heroes and villains in megabudget movies. Women are less commonly hired for such tentpoles (for example, the lone female star in The Avengers is [Scarlett] Johansson). As a result, female salaries remain stagnant, while their male counterparts see paychecks continue to climb.

Of course, the entertainment industry’s singular demands have some singular effects on hiring and pay. Hollywood’s fixation on youth, which is magnified for women, has yielded a substantial age wage gap among actresses that’s unparalleled in other spheres. Maven Pictures’ Celine Rattray told Variety that sales agents nearly always prefer a male lead to a female one—and when that’s not possible, as in The Kids Are All Right, they ask for younger women. “We had a quite a few people saying, ‘What if you made it a bunch of lesbians in their 20s, not in their 40s?’” she said. For all the ageism and sexism in the business world, despite the million-dollar paychecks, in some ways, the stars still have it worse.

Nov. 10 2015 1:08 PM

The Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show vs. the GOP Debate: Which Should You Watch?

The gods of public ritual have produced a strange parallel for us: Today, the Republican presidential candidates will debate in Milwaukee as Victoria’s Secret films its famous fashion show in New York*. 

If you're a devotee of both right-wing politics and bejeweled unmentionables, and you've got tickets to both, which one should you attend? Here’s some help.

Which is the more fascinating financial move: spending $2 million on a bra, or spending $2 million on a doomed presidential bid?

Head to New York for the former, Wisconsin for the latter.

Does your preferred industry prize “candy prints & peek-a-boo everything” or an “ample supply of underwear”?

You’ll enjoy the fashion show and the political debate, respectively.

You’d like to see a parade of professionals at the top of their game, having bested hundreds of their peers in ruthless competition.

Watch the fashion show, a culmination of years of political maneuvering, shattered dreams, and pandering to the base.

You’d like to watch a bunch of image-obsessed, delusional bimbos prance around on a stage.

Watch the other thing.

Is “angel” a Secret Service code name for a potential First Lady, a coy moniker for a lingerie model, or an anecdotal nickname for a neurosurgeon with a savior complex?

Debate, fashion show, debate.

Do you think America’s going down the tubes, and most of us are probably headed straight to hell, and you’ve got half a mind to write a strongly worded letter to that very effect?

Tune in to the Republicans—the Victoria’s Secret show will give you heart palpitations.

You’d enjoy an evening full of masturbatory fantasies for lonely white men.

You’re golden either way.

*Correction, Nov. 10, 2015: Blinded by the glitz of the fireworks fantasy bra, this post originally confused Victoria's Secret's filming date for its air date, and has been updated. The fashion show will air on CBS on Dec. 8, not tonight.

Nov. 10 2015 6:00 AM

The Yale Student Protests Are the Campus PC Wars at Their Best

The protests at Yale, where students of color have staged public confrontations with administrators to express their feelings about discrimination on campus, are not just about an email.

Here’s a cliff-notes version for anyone who has not been following the controversy in New Haven: The email in question was written by the assistant master of Silliman College—one of twelve residential communities around which Yale organizes undergraduate life—in response to a university-wide email sent by the Intercultural Affairs Council that asked students, in advance of Halloween, to “take the time to consider their costumes and the impact [they] may have” on peers, and to avoid things like “feathered headdresses, turbans, wearing ‘war paint’ or modifying skin tone or wearing blackface or redface.” This smacked of PC overreach to Erika Christakis, a child development researcher and wife of the Silliman College master, who sent out her own email on Friday, October 30, telling students: “[I]f you don’t like a costume someone is wearing, look away, or tell them you are offended. Talk to each other. Free speech and the ability to tolerate offence are the hallmarks of a free and open society.”