The XX Factor
What Women Really Think

April 14 2015 4:22 PM

Gwyneth Paltrow Is on Food Stamps This Week. Stop Making Fun of Her.

Let’s get a few things out of the way. First of all, Goop is ridiculous, right? Gwyneth Paltrow’s lifestyle empire is the pristine Fortress of Solitude for New York Times Style section superelites. It will make a chiffonade of your mockery and serve it back to you as garnish on a cucumber-dandelion-cayenne smoothie. But the latest Gwyneth contretemps—more on that in a second—is not about whether Goop should exist or whether people living in poverty can live their very best Goop lives. Per usual, it’s about whether Gwyneth Paltrow is entitled.

Specifically, it’s about whether Gwyneth Paltrow is entitled to participate in what is commonly known as a “SNAP challenge,” an exercise that asks people to live only at a food stamps–level budget for all of their food expenses, usually for about a week. Celebrities including Josh Groban, Hugh Jackman, and Sophia Bush have taken part, and so has Gwyneth’s ex Ben Affleck. Paltrow took up the SNAP challenge this week, posting a photo of her grocery cart and getting pan-seared for it by various online magazines and especially the Twitter masses. According to her critics, Gwyneth’s choices—she dared to include cilantro, limes, and a hot pepper, alongside black beans, eggs, and rice—are too Goop-y, photographed too preciously, not Dickensian enough. For some, it was not enough food (um, part of the point of the exercise?). In any case, it was wrong, wrong, wrong.

To which I say: Cool your burners. In this case, we should all be Team Gwyneth.

SNAP is an acronym for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program—it’s what people mean when they use the dated term food stamps. For a single adult, an average SNAP benefit is around $28 per week, or less than $1.40 per meal. Depending on net monthly income, a family of four may receive about $160 per week. The great majority of SNAP users are either children, senior citizens, or people with disabilities, and nearly two-thirds of those kids are living in single-parent households, the majority of which are led by women. And inconsequential though those amounts may sound, this small benefit has helped lift millions of households out of poverty.

SNAP is on Gwyneth’s radar this week because, once again, it’s on conservative policymakers’ radar. Missouri State Rep. Rick Brattin recently introduced legislation that would ban the use of SNAP dollars for, among other food items, “seafood or steak.” Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker wants a clean drug test from SNAP applicants before they can receive benefits, even though time and again such initiatives only prove that people on assistance do not test positive at higher rates than the general population. Still other states are planning to lift waivers that permit able-bodied adults without dependents, or ABAWDs, to receive SNAP when they live in high-unemployment areas. Add to this to the House of Representatives’ own plan to convert SNAP to a block grant program—which would eventually kick millions off its rolls and reduce funding by $125 billion—and you have a supersized threat to what is arguably one of the most successful government programs currently in existence.

The SNAP challenge isn’t a perfect promotional opportunity for SNAP. It doesn’t address the fundamental, systemic issues that lead to hunger and food insecurity. It doesn’t even remotely begin to replicate the experience of living in poverty or needing SNAP. It can’t meaningfully recreate the ways in which persistent stress, lack of sleep, hunger, and just simply not having enough money affect the decision-making or well-being of people living in poverty, or how a lack of adequate transportation or community infrastructure can create barriers to accessing nutritious or fresh foods. And by providing a weekly food allowance, it doesn’t contemplate how difficult it can be to budget for an entire month’s groceries and still fill your basket with food that doesn’t come in a box or a can. It is simply not a facsimile of the lived lives of the people who actually depend upon and use SNAP.

And that’s OK. No one expects the people who complete the SNAP challenge—and those people include me—to have sudden-onset epiphanies about protecting the social safety net, or even to find the exercise all that challenging. Paltrow was asked to participate by her friend, renowned chef Mario Batali, who serves on the board of the Food Bank for New York City. Organizations and advocates who work on behalf of those who are homeless or living in poverty often use campaigns like the SNAP challenge or Walk in Their Shoes days to help support their cause and communicate to a wider audience. The point is not to offer an authentic experience, but to plant a seed of personal connection between serious issues (food insecurity, homelessness) and those whose wealth, power, and resources shield them from those issues. That personal connection can grow into advocacy, donations, or even simply a powerful (and free) marketing tool from the media it generates—resources that most nonprofits are perpetually hungry for.

And yes, we even need champions with FoodTV shows and rarefied lifestyle websites. People such as Batali and Tom Colicchio have evolved from chefs to celebrity chefs to charity-minded celebrity chefs to understanding that, as Colicchio says, “It’s about votes.” Colicchio has become vocal about food access and nutrition, not just on Twitter or at charitable galas, but in committee hearings with lawmakers and in print on editorial pages. He’s not alone. When Cory Booker, then-mayor of Newark, New Jersey, did a SNAP challenge, he shared its daily effects by blogging and tweeting throughout the week to his 1.5 million followers: how burning a sweet potato while living on a slim budget left him with the choice of eating the blackened food or going without anything; how the sheer boredom of the same food each day affected his mood; how his low energy reduced his attention span at work. His experience corroborated a strong policy argument for school breakfast and lunch programs.

Poverty issues need these privileged, wealthy champions because SNAP, like many government assistance programs, suffers from word-of-mouth mythology. Look under any article that mentions food stamps and you’ll undoubtedly read comments from those who insist that no one actually ever goes hungry in the United States. You’ll find at least three eagle-eyed people who have “seen someone on welfare in the grocery store” using their EBT card to make any number of illegal or in-the-eyes-of-the-beholder immoral purchases. Brattin himself claims he personally witnessed “people” using EBT cards to purchase “filet mignons and crab legs,” and goes so far as to call that “system abuse.” It’s like that old children’s game of telephone—each time the story is told, it gets more distorted yet accepted as correct.

Here’s the thing: There’s no “winning” a SNAP challenge. Perhaps the one thing it can accurately replicate is the judgment that both rich celebrities and underserved single moms can expect for even the smallest of personal decisions—putting a candy bar in your cart instead of an apple, or daring to buy a bag of coffee beans. Both Gwyneth and those probably-fictitious people buying crab legs can (and should) tell you: There’s nothing wrong with buying nice food with your EBT card.

Gwyneth Paltrow believes that good food is important—the sheer breadth and scale of Goop is proof enough of that. Is it really beyond the pale that she could make a good advocate for eliminating food deserts, for example, or maximizing SNAP benefits at farmers markets? We don’t yet know if taking the SNAP challenge is her version of empathy-chic, but good grief, give her a chance. And give organizations like the NYC Food Bank the chance to deputize powerful people to help their cause. If GOOP is truly the cultural opposite of food stamps, then maybe Gwyneth Paltrow is exactly the right person to learn from a SNAP challenge.

This article represents the writer's views and not necessarily those of her employer.

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April 14 2015 3:14 PM

A Miscarrying Woman Was Denied Medication Because of “Conscience”

Earlier this month, in my piece about the Purvi Patel “feticide” case in Indiana, I predicted increased harassment of women who are miscarrying, on the suspicion that they're trying to obtain misoprostol to induce abortions. (Because the drug expels the contents of the uterus, misoprostol can be used both in abortions and to treat incomplete miscarriages.) That day has come already to Milledgeville, Georgia, where Brittany Cartrett claims that a pharmacist refused to fill a prescription for misoprostol that her doctor prescribed for her miscarriage. 

After discussion with my Doctor, we decided to go the less invasive route and choose a medicine that I could take at home to help miscarry naturally, especially since my body wants to hold on to the little miracle. I get a phone call from the doctor stating that the ‪#‎Walmart‬ in Milledgeville, GA (yes the one I used to work at) doesn't feel comfortable with filling this prescription. She was going to call and figure out what is going on and call me back. Well about 5 minutes later she calls and says, "They won't fill it. They won't tell me why. But they won't fill it." So we find another place to fill it and I thank her. ....They WON'T fill it. Not that they CAN'T. But they WON'T. Now, I have another prescription there that I have to get. So I go up to Walmart and I get my prescription and the #Walmart pharmacist comes to me for my consultation and asks If I have any questions. I tell her yes, but not about this one. I ask her why they refused to fill the other prescription I had. She looks at me, over her nose and says "Because I couldn't think of a reason why you would need that prescription." ..... Excuse me?! I tell her my reasons for needing it, and she says "Well, I don't feel like there is a reason why you would need it, so we refused to fill it."

WGXA followed up with Walmart and found pharmacist Sandip Patel, “who said he was aware of the situation and also said that pharmacists have the ability to turn down prescriptions at their own discretion.” Georgia law has broad provisions allowing pharmacists to refuse service based on “conscience.”

Abortion-inducing medications are troubling for the anti-choice movement, because they blur the biological difference between miscarriage and abortion; many miscarriages are only resolved through the very same interventions used to terminate pregnancies at will. As Cartrett's alleged experiences suggest, the blurring creates suspicion. Appointing a bunch of busybody pharmacists as informal judges over whether you are emptying your uterus for the right reasons is a terrible idea that only compounds the pain of a miscarriage. But it's unavoidable if we continue taking away women's discretion over their own pregnancies—even when those pregnancies are over.


April 14 2015 12:53 PM

Why Is Jeb Bush Touting His Role in the Terri Schiavo Debacle?

Jeb Bush has complained about “the narratives” that paint him as a moderate Republican, insisting (truthfully) that he's in fact very conservative. In the effort to solidify his right-wing bona fides in a recent interview with Focus on the Family President Jim Daly, Bush highlighted the role he played in one of the biggest Christian-right debacles of the George W. Bush presidency: the Terri Schiavo case. 

Answering Daly's question about his views on “the issue of life, generally,” Bush affirmed that “the most vulnerable in our society need to be protected.” He first highlighted his efforts to make it harder to get a legal abortion in Florida, including new parental-notification rules and funding for so-called crisis pregnancy centers. “Terri Schiavo is another example of this,” Bush continued, “where our laws in our country, and Florida in particular, made it hard for us to do this”—“this” meaning “protect life.” “I did this all within the confines of the power I had,” he concluded.

That's one way to put it. Another way to put it is that Bush overstepped his authority as governor of Florida and, in a naked display of pandering to the religious right, waged an ugly war on a private citizen, Michael Schiavo, whose only crime was wanting to put his wife to rest after more than a decade in a persistent vegetative state, after her brain had atrophied to less than half its weight. As Michael Keegan of the People for the American Way reminds readers this month at Huffington Post, Bush pushed through a laughably unconstitutional law trying to usurp Michael Schiavo's marital rights to remove his wife's feeding tube. When the Supreme Court upheld the decision to strike down the law, Bush tried to go over their heads to his brother, the president. Even after Terri Schiavo died, Bush continued his baffling attacks on Michael Schiavo, pushing a prosecutor to open an investigation insinuating that the man had somehow tried to let his wife die when she first collapsed into a coma 15 years before. 

“He should be ashamed,” Michael Schiavo told Politico in January. “And I think people really need to know what type of person he is. To bring as much pain as he did, to me and my family, that should be an issue.”

Families quietly let the bodies of brain-dead patients die every day without having the governor imply they should be tried for murder. In fact, hospitals sometimes pull the plug against familial wishes simply because of inability to pay, without a single peep from Terri Schiavo's self-appointed defenders. At the time, a majority of Americans disapproved of the efforts to interfere with Michael Schiavo's decision to remove his wife's feeding tube. The grotesque theater around trying to keep this one patient alive served the anti-abortion movement's larger cause, of trying to brand itself as a global “pro-life” movement.

The Schiavo campaign was also the beginning of an overall shift in anti-choice messaging, away from claims to be protecting innocent babies from their slut mothers and toward protecting women from the selfish men (like heartless Michael Schiavo) who use and discard women. That narrative persists in the anti-choice world, where abortion patients are painted as hapless victims who need to be protected from cads and the greedy abortion doctors who want to profit off them.

Bush could probably shove the whole Schiavo mess down the memory hole, pretend it never happened. Not only were his actions rejected by most Americans at the time, but the press coverage appeared to have inspired an uptick in interest in signing living wills. That Bush has decided instead to highlight his ghoulish behavior in preparation for a presidential run suggests that he, like his brother before him, is aggressively courting the religious right. That might be enough to win him the Republican nomination, but as conservative Christianity is in decline, it's a risky proposition for getting into the White House. 

April 13 2015 4:06 PM

New York A.G. to Investigate Employers Who Keep Low-Wage Workers “On Call”

Last summer, a New York Times exposé by Jodi Kantor brought attention to corporate retailers that increasingly force erratic, unpredictable schedules on their employees; Kantor focused on a single mother named Janette Navarro, who struggled to absorb the impact of these labor-saving practices. Now New York attorney general Eric Schneiderman is getting involved. His office has sent letters to 13 major retail chains, including Target and the Gap, asking them how they schedule shifts for their retail employees. 

“Our office has received reports that a growing number of employers, particularly in the retail industry, require their hourly workers to work what are sometimes known as ‘on call shifts’ — that is, requiring their employees to call in to work just a few hours in advance, or the night before, to determine whether the worker needs to appear for work that day or the next,” the letter reads. Schneiderman's office adds, “For many workers, that is too little time to make arrangements for family needs, let alone to find an alternative source of income to compensate for the lost pay.”

Kantor's original New York Times piece demonstrated how painful on-call work can be, detailing the endless scrambling that Navarro had to do to juggle her job and child care for her daughter—a day-to-day hassle that strained relations with her family and helped break up her relationship with her boyfriend.

Schneiderman's office is concerned that “a number of companies in New York State utilize on-call shifts and require employees to report in some manner ... to learn whether their services are ultimately needed on-site that day.” New York state labor law says that employees who report for work but are sent home should be paid for four hours' work or the regularly scheduled shift, “whichever is less.” Hopefully the A.G.'s message will help convince employers that an employee's time off the clock is supposed to be just that.

April 13 2015 3:01 PM

What Hillary Clinton Learned from No-Drama Obama

Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign started with great media fanfare over the weekend, although the announcement itself was notably anti-fanfare. The two-minute video, in which Clinton only appears toward the end, strikes a note of boring optimism: people starting jobs, starting retirement, starting families, starting businesses, and oh yeah, almost as an afterthought, Hillary Clinton starting her campaign. In a political environment in which a Clinton run is being variously treated as doomed from the start or a sign of the apocalypse, the launch feels like it floats above the haters, as if Clinton doesn't notice all the carping.

The question on the minds of politics watchers is whether Clinton retained any lessons from her failed bid against Barack Obama in the 2008 Democratic primaries. This announcement shows that she's learned at least one: how to be chill. Obama fairly earned the nickname "No Drama Obama"; his 2008 campaign was marked by his general unwillingness to acknowledge people dishing out haterade. Even when the campaign felt forced to respond to attacks, such as the racially loaded ruckus regarding comments made by his minister Jeremiah Wright, he always highlighted his persona as the only grownup in the room, reducing both Wright and his attackers to the role of children throwing tantrums. This is why the Obama "I got this" meme has flourished.

Clinton may not brush the dirt off her shoulder so easily, but trying an above-it-all approach is a smart campaign move. There's no doubt that the conservative attacks on her will be all about derailment and drama, not policy. The next 18 months are going to be an exhausting litany of attempts to create scandal around Clinton, and even if there's no substance to the attacks, the relentless harping will make people weary of hearing Hillary Clinton's name. So here's hoping she can resist the urge to tangle with her detractors, and instead resolves to treat them like a bunch of online trolls—a no-drama approach is the likeliest one to get her into the White House. 

April 10 2015 3:40 PM

Men Reject the Label “Masculine” More Than Women Reject the Label “Feminine”

Vox has been releasing a series of results from its poll regarding American attitudes about issues such as sexism and abortion rights. Thursday, German Lopez posted about one of the poll's more original questions, which is how masculine/feminine you think you are. About 15 percent of respondents said they don't feel particularly masculine or feminine. But here's the result that genuinely surprised me: Men were more likely to reject the term "masculine" than women were to reject the term "feminine." Lopez reports:

Men were more likely to reject traditional notions socially attributed to their gender. Roughly one in five men said they're very masculine, and one in five women identified as very feminine. But 25 percent of men didn't identify as more masculine, while 20 percent of women didn't say they're more feminine.

If you check out the chart he provides, you can also see that men were more likely to identify as "feminine" than women were to identify as "masculine." 

In terms of gender roles, things seem to be changing more quickly for women than they are for men. We live in an era where even women who reject the label "feminist" still embrace many of feminism's core values, such as getting women into the public sphere and empowering women to take care of themselves. Traditional femininity, is, to be blunt, about being helpless and dependent, and modern American women like to see themselves as strong and capable. But men aren't running away from their traditional roles as fast, and in some cases—like when it comes to being ambitious or being independent—there's no reason for them to do so. 

Perhaps that is exactly the reason for these results. As women are freeing themselves from a lot of traditional gender constraints, perhaps the word "feminine" is changing. I suspect a lot of women who identified with the word were thinking of a definition of femininity more akin to Beyoncé's "Run the World (Girls)" than "I Feel Pretty." But because masculinity doesn't get debated and interrogated as much as a concept, it persists as an inflexible, caveman-esque stereotype, which many men understandably don't relate to. 

April 9 2015 11:33 AM

Is Rand Paul Sexist or Just a Jerk?

Rand Paul's newly minted presidential campaign is already plagued with accusations that he's sexist, after he lectured Today's Savannah Guthrie on Wednesday, following a February incident where he literally shushed CNBC’s Kelly Evans. Now Paul has responded, telling CNN's Wolf Blitzer:

I think I've been universally short tempered and testy with both male and female reporters. I'll own up to that. And it's hard sometimes. As you know, like during our interview right now, I'm looking only at a camera and it's hard to have a true interaction sometimes, particularly if it's a hostile interviewer and so I do think that interviews should be questions and not necessarily editorializing.

It's a sign of feminist progress that a major politician thinks it's worse to be perceived as sexist than as an imperious jerk who thinks that reporters should be stenographers. But is it really true that Paul gets equally fussy with every reporter who challenges him? 

Paul appears to be thinking of a recent encounter with the Associated Press’ Philip Elliott.* In this interview, Elliott presses Paul to clarify whether his proposed abortion bans should include rape and health exceptions. Paul rambles on about his personal feelings on abortion, but when Elliott tries to pin him down on actual policy positions, Paul gets annoyed and interrupts: "I gave you about a five-minute answer; put my five-minute answer in," he says. 

No doubt Paul was openly irritated with Elliott. But his behavior here doesn't hold a candle to how he talked down and mansplained to Guthrie and Evans about how to do their jobs properly.

By mounting the "I'm not a sexist, just a jerk" defense, Paul can shift the discussion from whether he's hypersensitive toward whether women in general are hypersensitive—and, better yet, continue dodging questions about his abortion policy.

Correction, April 9, 2015: This post originally misspelled Associated Press reporter Philip Elliott’s first name.

April 8 2015 2:39 PM

To Keep Women Safe, North Carolina GOP Tries to Stop Med Students From Learning How to Provide Safe Abortions

For the past few years, Republicans at the state level have passed a frenzy of abortion restrictions while arguing that they're doing it to protect women and make abortion safer. North Carolina state Rep. Pat McElraft says as much about her latest bill, HB 465: “There's no effort here to try to restrict a woman's right to have an abortion,” she told WRAL. “What we're trying to do is make her care competent.”

Except that the bill would ban medical students from learning how to provide that competent care. On top of extending the waiting period for an abortion to 72 hours and banning anyone but OB-GYNs from performing abortions, the bill also bans the University of North Carolina and East Carolina University from providing abortion training to medical students

When WNCN asked McElraft about this provision, all of her previous concern for competent medical care for abortion patients dried right up. “There are opportunities for doctors to learn,” she said. “Abortion doctors learn from all kinds of training—in spontaneous abortions and sometimes miscarriages.” So which is it, McElraft? Is abortion such a delicate procedure that only one kind of doctor can even begin to understand it? Or is it such a no-brainer that you don't even need training? 

For what it's worth, common methods of abortion—such as medication abortion (which only requires pills) and aspiration abortions—are simple enough that most doctors, as well as nurses and physician assistants, can learn to do them safely. However, providers still need training, even if bills such as HB 465 serve to obscure this reality. 

As Rachel Maddow reported on Monday night, UNC has one of the best OB-GYN residency programs in the country, and its gynecological programs are the pride of the school. Now, the accreditation of this part of the medical school is under threat. “The Accreditation Council of Graduate Medical Education is the accreditation entity that provides for maintaining a medical education program within the United States,” UNC spokeswoman Jennifer James told WRAL. “They have stated that access to experience with induced abortion must be part of residency education.”

The idea that the abortion restrictions being passed across the country are meant to protect women's safety has always been transparent nonsense, as these laws only serve to shut down safe abortion clinics and drive women to seek abortion pills on the black market. But this North Carolina bill rubs your nose in how cynical the “protect women” line is. McElraft tipped her hand when she told WRAL that her hope is to have “a few more little taxpayers born.” Even if it means threatening women's safety to get there. 

April 7 2015 12:13 PM

Anti-Choicers Say Women Who Want Abortions Are Like Children Near a Hot Stove

Meaghan Winter of Cosmopolitan attended the Heartbeat International conference, where volunteers from anti-abortion crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs) gather to socialize, share tips, and murmur disapprovingly about all the sex that women are having these days. CPCs are storefront operations, often placed near abortion clinics, that try to lure women seeking abortion into their offices in hopes of talking them out of it. Heartbeat International is an umbrella organization for about 1,800 CPCs across the country, and they have helped popularize some of the dishonest tactics that CPCs use to manipulate women. For instance, their outreach website OptionLine appears to be a site on abortion and contraception, when its real purpose is to scare you out of using either. 

The theme of this year's conference was Love Is Our Language, i.e., don't hate women who have abortions, because they are simply too dumb to realize that they really want their babies. Winter reports:

Over the course of the three days of the conference, I chatted with a few dozen pregnancy center workers. Multiple women told me it was their job to protect women from abortion as "an adult tells a child not to touch a hot stove." Another oft-repeated catchphrase was, "Save the mother, save the baby," shorthand for many pregnancy center workers' belief that the most effective way to prevent abortion is to convert women.

It's insulting to suggest that women who have sex are silly little girls who don't know what's good for them, but anti-choice activists don't have a better alternative. The only other real option is to denounce sexually active women as wantons and to call women who have abortion murderers—all of which gives credence to pro-choice claims that the anti-choice movement is fundamentally misogynist. (“I don't think it's disrespectful to shout, ‘You're killing your baby,’ ” one attendee told Winter. “That's not saying, ‘You dirty whore.’ ”)

Winter's piece also makes clear that conference speakers encourage volunteers to use manipulative tactics with women seeking contraception and abortion. (For instance, you could say to a woman in need of emergency contraception, "You might not be at a fertile time in your cycle, and it's not worth taking hormones for no reason.") Clearly, if you've convinced yourself that women who want abortions are the equivalent of children close to a hot stove, you could also convince yourself to lie to them for their own good.

April 7 2015 11:47 AM

Women Read More Books, but Men Get to Write More Book Reviews

Women read more than men—by a particularly wide margin when it comes to fiction. So why is it that male voices, both as authors and as critics, continue to be given way more authority in the world of book reviewing? A new study out by VIDA, a group dedicated to improving women's representation in the literary world, shows that while things are improving slowly, men are still way overrepresented when it comes to book reviewing. Hannah Ellis-Petersen at the Guardian reports:

One of the worst culprits was found to be the London Review of Books which featured 527 male authors and critics on their pages in 2014, compared with just 151 women. It also saw a rare drop in reviews of books written by women from the year before, with 14 fewer than in 2013.
The New York Review of Books displayed a similar imbalance, featuring an overall 677 men to 242 women. The New York Times book review featured an overall 909 male contributors and authors, compared with 792 women; The Nation’s male-female split was 469 to 193; and at Harper’s fewer than half the authors reviewed were women.

Erin Belieu, the co-founder of VIDA, emphasized to the Guardian that “our goal has always been consciousness not quotas.” The cultural default is to treat men as voices of authority and wisdom while relegating women to the role of mere consumers whose opinions are given little weight. That problem is not easily reducible to numbers.

Still, surveys like this can help tremendously to highlight how those prejudices are reflected in and perpetuated by the world of book reviewing. A lot of women hesitate to put themselves and their opinions out there, fearing the blowback that comes with being an opinionated woman. But the more women who are seen in public sharing their opinions and being treated with respect and authority, the more the stigma of the opinionated woman recedes. Happily, VIDA found that the number of outlets with increased female representation—including the Slate Book Review—solidly outnumbered those that stayed the same or fell behind.