The XX Factor
What Women Really Think

July 19 2016 10:16 AM

It’s Time for Breast-Feeding Advocates to Pay More Attention to Paid Leave

When done well, breast-feeding advocacy works to expand women’s choices by way of support and education for new moms. When done poorly—as a good amount of it is—this advocacy barrages women with overstated claims about the benefits of breast-feeding and commands them to do whatever it takes to breast-feed their children, no matter the toll. There’s little acknowledgment that women should have a choice in the matter, nor is there an understanding that a lot of women simply don’t have the freedom to choose.

This blind spot is, thankfully, absent from a recent op-ed by Jennifer Grayson, author of the new book Unlatched: The Evolution of Breastfeeding and the Making of a Controversy. Writing in the Los Angeles Times, Grayson explains just how much harder it is for poor women to breast-feed their babies. She compares the experience of an affluent Hollywood actress who breast-feeds her 1-year-old to that of a Guatemalan immigrant who feeds her 2-month-old formula. The former has a live-in nurse and access to quality health care and lactation consultants. The latter, like many Americans, lacks paid leave.

“I know both women want the best for their babies: healthy childhoods and, later, adult lives filled with promise. Yet these two mothers—and those who fall between the extremes they represent—live in a nation where the fundamental ability to nourish their young with free, life-sustaining mother's milk has been turned into a luxury for the elite, or a hard-fought prize for the intrepid,” Grayson writes.

Now, breast-feeding is not free; it requires time and energy, physical and emotional, which some women can’t spare. While Grayson doesn’t state this explicitly (in fact, she states the opposite), the rest of her essay makes the point very effectively. She looks at data from the federal Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, known as WIC, and finds that many low-income women initially opt for packages designed for breast-feeders but then switch over to formula-feeding ones. Reasons for this switch include an inability to find the time to take advantage of WIC’s free lactation support, that many of their employers don’t provide them with the legally mandated nursing breaks and a clean, private space to pump, and the fact that many of them lack paid leave and can’t afford to stay home with their infants following childbirth. Grayson also points out that many women don’t have access to baby-friendly hospitals, or hospitals where babies aren't sent to sleep in a nursery (and sleep near their mom instead) or given formula unless medically necessary. However, a recent study suggests that these programs may not be effective in increasing breast-feeding rates after all. (They are effective in increasing some moms’ unhappiness though.)

Other research confirms the relationship between access to paid leave and baby feeding decisions. A 2011 study published in Pediatrics found that women who go back to work shortly after having a baby are less likely to breast-feed their children than those who don’t, and a 2013 survey from Childbirth Connection found that half of new moms say their employment status will affect how they feed their baby. Recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reveals a disparity between the breast-feeding rates of wealthy women and those of low-income women and minorities—again, the women who are least likely to have paid leave.

Advocating for motherhood-related issues is a delicate act. In order to improve things like maternity care and support for new mothers, including breast-feeding, advocates need to explain why mothers are so important. Unfortunately, this importance often gets exaggerated, and women are made to feel as though their own efforts as mothers are inadequate or as if their biology is destiny. The trick then is to show that motherhood matters—but not too much. If breast-feeding advocates would dedicate more of their energy to advocating for paid leave, as opposed to warning women about the evils of formula or extolling the magic of breast milk, they would do just this. There would be more opportunity for women who want to breast-feed and less judgement for those who don’t.

July 18 2016 11:44 PM

Melania Trump Has Elocution and Puffy Sleeves, but No Anecdotes

If only we could have seen the boot camp training montage that preceded Melania Trump’s Monday-night speech at the Republican National Convention. An elocution specialist drilling her on the syllables in “Make Am-er-eek-a Great Again.” An aide with flash cards of old Republicans. Bob Dole, Melania, like the bananas! Wardrobe consultants testing voter reaction to a succession of ever-puffier-sleeved dresses. Now it’s all over, [Teleprompter indicates WINNING SMILE] and you did it, Melania!

A heavy dose of imagination is necessary, because Melania’s speech was not, shall we say, highly evocative. (Nor was it highly original—it seems to have borrowed heavily from Michelle Obama’s 2008 DNC speech, as Jarrett Hill pointed out on Twitter.) Yes, it was a successful performance for a woman who hasn’t spent much time in the public eye. Except for those years when she was a model. But in terms of actually saying words in the public eye, Melania hasn’t played a large role in this campaign—she’s only Trump’s wife, after all—so it was a big deal that she was trotted out to speak to the convention in Cleveland. And she gave a competent speech, especially considering that English is not her first language and most of her career thus far has been about being seen and not heard.

It was not a particularly personal speech. There were no sweet anecdotes to humanize Trump or their love story. She did mention that her mother taught her to love fashion, and that she is proud to be an American citizen. The most personal thing she said—a subtle nod toward the fact that her husband is rather unconventional—was that “it would not be a Trump contest without excitement and drama.” A line better-suited to her Real Housewives opening tagline than a convention, perhaps. For a political convention speech, her words were pretty unpolitical. We know her position on Donald Trump (he doesn’t give up, he won’t let us down—she came close to Rickrolling us, there), but not much else about her values or beliefs. Oh and she’s an immigrant, but not the bad kind, so, that too. She spoke, also exceedingly vaguely, about what she would do as first lady: help women and children. Sounds good!

Mostly what the speech accomplished was to show the softer side of Trump. Immediately before she spoke on Monday night, Rudy Giuliani ranted about how unsafe America is and how we’re all going to die. Before him, a bunch of men relayed similar sentiments. So Melania provided a refreshing change of pace. She talked about inclusion, and representing people of all faiths, races, and income levels. Yes, even poor people! The campaign will be “like no other,” she promised. Hey, isn’t that Fairway’s slogan? Unlike Rudy and the others, Melania came off as sincere, as someone who actually believed what she was saying, that Trump is a man who loves America and can get things done and win. “It won’t even be close!” she added, with a touch of her husband’s bombast. Imagine them giggling over writing that line together—it’s a more intimate picture than anything in this speech.

July 18 2016 4:51 PM

What Do Kim Kardashian’s Snapchat “Receipts” Actually Prove About Taylor Swift and Kanye?

Kim Kardashian’s Sunday-night Snapchats were a gift from the benevolent gossip gods, scandalous manna from heaven that we will feast on for weeks. But once you’ve recovered from the sheer “oh snap!” factor of the videos, take a minute to consider the actual snippets of conversation between Taylor Swift and Kanye West, which offer a rare glimpse at a (relatively) unfiltered exchange between celebrities. Think about it: How often do we get to see the way celebrities talk to each other when they don’t think cameras or prying eyes are around to observe? Finally, a peek into the private worlds of two of our biggest stars, right?

So what do we learn about private Taylor and private Kanye from the call? (Not that they were totally alone, or ever are—Rick Rubin can be spotted in the backdrop, along with other members of team Kanye, one of whom was presumably recording, and as for Taylor, I wouldn’t put it past her to bug every conversation she’s part of, Nixon-style.) Swift seems a lot like you might expect her to be in the conversation—talkative to the point of oversharing irrelevant details (“I still have the Nashville area code, but I had to change it …”), professional, smart, and quick to make connections. She seems to treat every aspect of her life and career as a business. Friendships are business too, so this is a business call. Private Taylor is not really a person at all; there is only success robot Taylor.

July 18 2016 3:09 PM

Kim Kardashian’s Snapchat Campaign Against Taylor Swift Is Some Serious Gender Jujitsu

In a Snapchat story heard ‘round the world on Sunday night, Kim Kardashian posted a series of short videos that appear to show Taylor Swift cheerfully approving a controversial lyric in Kanye West’s recent song “Famous”: For all my Southside niggas that know me best / I feel like me and Taylor might still have sex. The Snapchats capture West talking on the phone to Swift about his plans for the song. “It’s like a compliment, kind of,” she says when he reads her the lyric. “I really appreciate you telling me about it, that's really nice.”

By now, the internet has bloomed with a thousand Talmudic readings of the contretemps. The amount of primary source material is irresistible! There’s “Famous” itself; Swift’s injured reaction to the track, particularly another lyric, “I made that bitch famous”; Kardashian’s June GQ cover story in which she mentioned having the footage calling that reaction into question; the footage itself; other celebrities who have hopped in to take sides; and Swift’s Instagram essay posted late Sunday night, which sleuths have speculated was composed in advance.

July 18 2016 1:33 PM

100 Nude Women Protest Trump at the RNC

Can the power of the female nude neutralize the misogynist bigotry of the presumed Republican presidential nominee? Probably not, but the sight of 100 proudly naked women holding round mirror disks up to the sun in downtown Cleveland, Ohio on Sunday morning—the day before the city was slated to host the Republican National Convention—still reflected rays of hope across the internet.

The women were part of art project by Spencer Tunick, the photographer who has been organizing mass-scale nude shoots since 1994. He usually invites both men and women to take part in his installations, but for the past three years, he’s been planning a project called “Everything She Says Means Everything.” In it, a group comprised entirely of women would “[reflect] their anger through art against the hateful repressive rhetoric of many in the Republican Party towards women and minorities,” as Tunick writes on his website. Tunick told Esquire that the rise of the flagrantly sexist Trump, and his selection of the rigidly anti-abortion rights Mike Pence as his running mate, have only made the project more timely.

July 18 2016 8:00 AM

Revisiting the Fashion of Sex and the City Through the Magic of Instagram

Praise Instagram, because even though it didn’t exist many eons ago in 1998 when a little show called Sex and the City started, it is now providing us with a perfect excuse to revisit Carrie, Samantha, Miranda, and Charlotte under the guise of a new account called everyoutfitonsatc. From Carrie’s knee socks to Charlotte’s cowl necks, it’s all there on your phones, ready to be endlessly scrolled through. The account sprung forth from the minds of friends Lauren Garroni, 28, and Chelsea Fairless, 31, who met in college at Parsons. Garroni is now a writer and director in Los Angeles, and Fairless is designing a line of housewares in New York, but both spent time working in the fashion trenches. They kindly agreed to gab with us about their Instagram coup—after less than a month, they’re up to more than 100,000 followers!

Slate: Tell me about your history with each other and with Sex and the City.

Fairless: I think Lauren and I generally are obsessed with pop culture and we are kind of indiscriminate about it. We’ll watch and make fun of anything basically as we both do have a shared knowledge of television.

Garroni: I like to say that we have a mutual love of camp and all things camp. I don’t know if we had ever talked about Sex and the City together before we started the Instagram account, but as two people who ended up studying fashion and being in the editorial world we obviously watched the show.

Definitely in watching it, as I like to say, with 2016 eyes, there is a sense of camp that I don’t think existed when you watched it in the original run of the show. So I think that kind of set the table for us when we to kind of do this sardonic fashion critique of the looks.

Slate: Did you guys both start watching the show as kids, or when did you really get into it?

Fairless: Yeah, I started watching it as soon as it aired, in 1998, you know, faithfully ever since then. Tragically, I’ve seen both of the movies, I think on opening day.

Garroni: It is sort of a millennial equivalent of Judy Blume books, in the sense that we weren’t supposed to be watching it, but we were all in middle school or high school and we ended up watching it. It all felt very adult.

I had all of the box sets. Which I have taken, I was telling Chelsea, out of my parent’s house. And they are all sort of broken cases, it is very well-worn, but I’ve taken them out of storage for this purpose to start building up our archive of screencaps. There are some well-loved DVDs in my possession.

Slate: How has your view of the show changed over time?

Fairless: At the time, I loved how glamorous it was, and I loved how ambitious all of the characters were and unapologetic about their sexuality, all that stuff was aspirational. And New York is glamourous and fun, and sometimes you do find yourself in a situation that mimics Sex and the City, but for the most part it’s not like Sex and the City. Or it’s like a sadder like more Girls-oriented version of Sex and the City.

Garroni: I definitely think that when you originally watch Sex and the City, it pushed the dial forward on sexuality and opened the doors for television to go to places it hadn’t previously gone. And, so, in that intervening 10 years of television and movies and discourse that has gone on, it now makes the show seem almost puritanical by comparison.

I think Samantha’s sexuality and her sexual persona would more be in line with what Carrie as a sex columnist should be. There’s an episode where Carrie dates a bisexual and is really freaked out by that. And so I created a hashtag that said #canwetalkaboutcarriesbiphobia. And there is another hashtag called #carriesbasicsexuality because in looking back at the show, her sexuality is so basic for a sex columnist.

July 15 2016 3:07 PM

A Hard Look at the Trump-Pence Campaign’s Penetrating New Logo

In Trump University Branding 101, by one Donald Trump and Donald Sexton, our business guru advises that while “you do not need a graphic design house to develop your logo … you do need to be sure that your logo leads to the attributes you want associated with your brand.” Sage advice, surely, and the kind of Trumpian insight we can see on full display in the new logo for his campaign with vice-presidential candidate Mike Pence, released today. 

pence

Without question, no serious design house was involved in the making of this logo. Why pay the markup when an intern can throw it together in Microsoft Paint? And, better still, it very accurately conveys the attributes Trump wants associated with his political and personal brand—namely, that he has a penis and he uses it to screw people.

It doesn’t take a degree in gender studies to suss out what the rigid base of Trump’s virile T plowing into the receptive circle of Pence’s P connotes. He may be forced by convention to choose a running mate to occasionally share the stage, but in this relationship, Trump is on top. That he has chosen to thrust his dom top power preference onto the American flag itself ably signals what he intends for our country. We will take his leadership, and we will like it.

To be fair, referring to America in the feminine is a common practice, so you can’t really fault Trump for bringing his manhood into his campaign to subdue her. I do wonder how Pence feels about being portrayed as a voracious bottom, given his noted history of hostility to both women and LGBTQ people. But the 2016 contest is just getting started! If this logo is any indication, we can look forward to a veritable jackhammer of penetrating messaging from Trump, right through to the climax in November.

July 14 2016 5:45 PM

Parents, Stop Giving Goodie Bags to Other Plane Passengers to Apologize for Your Kids

An assumption of bad faith on the part of other airline passengers is widespread among travelers today. Airports and airplanes are more crowded than ever, and all that spatial scarcity tends to dampen, if not destroy, any sense of camaraderie among seatmates.

It’s not hard to understand then why parents traveling with young children in this high-strung environment would feel compelled to take preemptive efforts to avoid tension. One popular method to put other passengers at ease, beloved on social media, is to distribute goodie bags filled with candy, ear plugs, and a note apologizing for any inconvenience at the beginning of the flight.

Viral tales of parents trying to endear themselves to other passengers with this method have been circulating the web for at least four years now (the oldest example I could find took place in 2012), and the feedback has been mixed. There’s been a good amount of praise for these parents, as well some critique that such efforts are overkill or unnecessary. Two years ago, Today’s Rebecca Dube argued, quite convincingly in my opinion, that nobody should feel as though they have to apologize for the fact that they have young children.

Nevertheless, parents are still goodie-bagging their way to the hearts of fellow passengers and internet readers are still applauding them for it. Earlier this month, Love What Matters, a media site dedicated to feel-good stories, posted a picture of a ziplock bag filled with candy, ear plugs, and a note written from the point of view of 18-month-old twins distributed by parents on a recent flight to Orlando. “Such a thoughtful, simple act of kindness that I am so happy to have experienced,” wrote Christina Galese, the passenger who took the photo. So far, the post has received 22,000 likes and nearly 2,000 shares.

I understand the praise. Two people went out of their way to take other people’s feelings into consideration in a small, enclosed space. That’s lovely. Still, the only reason this type of generosity is considered necessary and praiseworthy in the first place is that we live in a culture that is so patently ungenerous to parents. If most people believed that children are a normal and necessary part of life, instead of an inconvenience, there would be no need for these goodie bags.

The notion that children are inconvenient is pervasive in our culture. It’s why the government—and most businesses, for that matter—fails to provide families with much in the way of guaranteed parental leave, sick days, work flexibility, or affordable childcare. Preparing and passing out little gifts only reinforces this idea that parents, and parents alone, are responsible for their children. It’s also yet another thing to do during the already Herculean task of preparing for a trip with infants or toddlers.

In an Travel + Leisure interview about the etiquette of traveling with kids, Lizzie Post, the great-great granddaughter of Emily Post and co-host of the podcast Awesome Etiquette, says she discourages parents from bringing goodie bags: “I would love to get to a point where we understand that we as human beings need to travel with a child and deal with it. ... Come on, people." Post offers a few tidbits for parents in the interview, but the majority of it, in a refreshing reversal of how these discussions usually go, is about how passengers without children should behave towards families. (Brief eye contact with the parent of misbehaving kid gets a thumbs up. A suggestive glare, thumbs down.) She also points out that children traveling today are some of the best behaved in history, thanks to tablet computers and in-seat entertainment centers.

Of course, even the loveliest infants and toddlers, including those with unlimited access to cartoons and videogames and the attention span to be abosrbed by them, still turn into horrible monsters sometimes. Should this happen, parents absolutely can and should offer to pay for a drink or a movie for anyone being inconvenienced by it. Considering that most people spend the entire flight with headphones on, this is likely only going to be the handful of people right near them. I’ve done this before, and the offer was always appreciated and politely declined. Just showing I cared during the incident was enough—no pre-packaged bite-sized Snickers and apology notes required.

July 14 2016 4:54 PM

Mike Pence Fits Right In With Donald Trump’s Anti-Woman Worldview

If Trump plans to win the presidency, he needs to win women over first. And in his bid to convince women that he isn’t the kind of guy who’d make incessant sexual comments about your body parts thencall you ugly when you refuse to sleep with him, Trump has reportedly chosen the exact opposite of a running mate who could help him succeed.

Mike Pence, the governor of Indiana and Trump’s rumored choice for vice president, is no brilliant speaker who could spin the Republican Party’s chillingly anti-woman platform into something palatable for the average female voter. He’s not even a neutral actor, someone who might not cancel out Trump’s misogyny but at least wouldn’t inflame it.

July 14 2016 2:20 PM

I Ruined Men’s Childhoods by Dressing Up as a Ghostbusters Character for Halloween Last Year

Unlike all the grown men whining that the all-woman Ghostbusters reboot is ruining their precious childhood memories, I never saw the original movie as a kid. I was too preoccupied by old musicals and the same three episodes of The Baby-Sitters Club to notice that I was missing out on a film that would become a major cultural touchstone for my generation. As an adult, I knew the theme song from Halloween parties but didn’t care to learn its origins.

My partner Deb, a Ghostbusters lover of the finest order, did not share my indifference. Thoroughly disturbed by the hole in my ‘80s film scholarship, she sat me down in early 2015 for a mandatory screening. I don’t know what I was expecting—some juvenile amalgam of Scooby-Doo and Casper, I guess—but I assumed the adventures of four ghost-busting dudes wouldn’t appeal to my inner child, who’s as girly a little girl as ever lip-synced “Always Be My Baby” in front of her mirror in a nightgown.

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