The XX Factor
What Women Really Think

Feb. 10 2017 5:42 PM

Florida Bill Letting Women Sue Doctors for Terminating Their Pregnancies Passes Out of Subcommittee

A Florida bill letting women sue the doctors who performed their abortions for emotional distress—up to 10 years after obtaining the procedure—passed out of subcommittee on Thursday by a 10-6 vote. Should the bill become law, all doctors who terminate a pregnancy in Florida will open themselves up to a decade of liability. Former patients who sue under the law could receive damages equivalent to those in a wrongful death action.

The bill initially states that only those physicians who are negligent, or fail to “obtain the informed consent” required by Florida law, may be held liable. But it then adds that “the signing of a consent form by the woman”—the proof that both doctor and patient followed Florida’s byzantine consent procedures—“does not negate the cause of action.” Instead, it only “reduce[s] the recovery of damages.” The upshot of this strange caveat is that even if a doctor complies with Florida’s “informed consent” requirements, and has proof of this compliance signed by the patient herself, the patient can still sue if she feels she did not really have the information she was owed.

Feb. 10 2017 4:47 PM

Betsy DeVos Needn’t Look Further Than Michigan to Understand Why Free, High-Quality Pre-K Is Possible and Necessary

It’s hard to determine what is more frightening about new Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. Is it the issues she has opinions about? Or is it those she seems to lack an opinion on, and perhaps even an understanding of? Among the many subjects that DeVos has yet to reveal any insight into is early childhood education, despite the fact that the expansion of such programming has bipartisan support and was a priority for the previous administration.

Fortunately, DeVos need not travel far beyond her apparently limited comfort zone in order to gain insight into how and why high-quality, large-scale preschool programs can work. Like Dorothy, the answers have been in her own back yard the entire time, something a new paper from the Brookings Institution on the success of free early education in her home state of Michigan should help her see.

Measuring the long-term benefits of early childhood programs has proved difficult, a problem complicated by the fact that the quality of such programs can vary tremendously, even on a classroom-by-classroom basis. But the success of Michigan’s Great Start Readiness Program should help put critics' fears at ease. The state’s program, which is for “children with factors which may place them at risk of educational failure,” has served more than 500,000 4-year-olds since 1985 and currently serves more than 32,000 a year. In 1995, Michigan began an independent evaluation of its program that followed the children over the course of their public education. (Many evaluations only follow children into the early elementary school years.) The Michigan program is currently the only state-funded preschool evaluation that stayed with children up until high-school graduation, which allowed researchers the rare opportunity to determine the long-term gains of early education.

The study found that: “At every stage (kindergarten entry, second grade, fourth grade, middle school, high school graduation), GSRP participants outperformed comparison groups on school success indicators, most prominent being grade retention. At high school graduation, students who participated in GSRP also graduated on time significantly more than those who did not participate.”

The paper’s authors argue that one of the reasons this has been so successful is because of Michigan’s ongoing commitment to ensuring that the program retain its quality, even as it expanded. This involved both the creation of high standards, as well as regular monitoring to make sure those standards are met. The takeaway here is that it isn’t enough to simply offer pre-K, whether to low-income families or, as in New York, to everyone, but the curriculums must be well thought-out and the teachers properly trained.

Yes, this sounds like a no-brainer; but investment in early childhood education hasn’t always been matched with the realization that if it isn’t done well, the children might not end up benefiting much from it. (For example, in 2007, only 38 percent of teachers for Head Start, the federal early childhood education program for low-income families, had bachelor's degrees. Today that number is 74 percent, largely because of efforts made by the Obama administration. Over this time, the classroom quality has also improved.) If and when publicly funded preschool programs fail, it is most often because of our failure to take them seriously, and not because they weren’t really necessary in the first place.

Currently, between a third and half of American 4-year-olds are not enrolled in preschool, a figure that should give DeVos, and the rest of America, pause, considering the results of the Michigan study as well as other mounting evidence in favor of free, high-quality preschool. Here’s hoping that DeVos will carry on with the work done by both the Bush and Obama administrations and help guarantee that preschool becomes available to all.

Feb. 10 2017 12:08 PM

After Utah Rejects Comprehensive Sex Ed, Porn Site Offers Sex-Ed Videos to Utahns

After Utah lawmakers rejected a bill that would have provided an alternative to its abstinence-based approach to sexual education in schools on Monday, a surprising organization stepped in to fill the educational gap: a porn site.

On Wednesday, the porn site xHamster altered its website so that when users with Utah-based IP addresses log on, they are asked if they’d like to be redirected to xHamster’s series of non-pornographic sex-ed videos. In a (NSFW) blog post, xHamster says it decided to proactively offer Utahns the educational videos both because of the legislature’s recent rejection of the comprehensive sex-ed bill and because “over the past few years, politicians in the state have … waged war on porn.” Indeed, last year the state legislature unanimously passed a resolution declaring porn a “public health crisis,” even though there’s no solid evidence that porn is harmful.


Feb. 9 2017 4:27 PM

A 1979 German Photo Book Traces Manspreading Back to Ancient Civilizations

Though the term manspreading is a recent addition to the personal-is-political feminist lexicon, the posture itself has a history that spans centuries and continents. Compare Michelangelo’s David, extending his marble leg in nude confidence, to the Venus de Milo, coyly angling her knee toward her other leg. In ancient Greece and Renaissance Italy alike, the bodies of men have expanded to fill available space, and women have folded themselves inward.

Insofar as there is a scholarship of manspreading, German photographer Marianne Wex is a seminal thought-leader. Her 1979 book Let’s Take Back Our Space: Female and Male Body Language as a Result of Patriarchal Structures is one of the most extensive pieces of visual research into men taking up way too much space ever published. Translated into English in 1984, the photobook, brought to Slate’s attention by Tristan Bridges at Sociological Images, contains around 5,000 photographs of men and women in a wide range of postures and settings. Many images are candids, taken by Wex in and around Hamburg. Other photos, of models and celebrities, are taken from advertisements and German magazines.

Feb. 9 2017 1:51 PM

GE Publicly Commits to Hiring More Women With a Gorgeous Ad Directed by Nicole Holofcener

One reason for the dearth of female leadership in science, technology engineering, and math (STEM) fields is that there aren’t enough women in the lower-level jobs that feed into those leadership roles. According to Business Insider, women occupy just 13 to 24 percent of tech-related positions at seven of the largest American tech companies.

Citing that Business Insider report, GE announced an ambitious plan to hire 5,000 women in STEM positions within the next few years. The company already employs about 15,000 women in technical roles, so the numerically pleasing new goal is to employ 20,000 by 2020. It is also aiming to achieve gender parity in its entry-level training program focused on recent college graduates, in part by making a recruitment push at colleges and universities with higher proportions of women in relevant majors. And it vowed to hold managers accountable for failing to “foster a more inclusive environment.”

Feb. 9 2017 8:07 AM

Will Saturday’s “Defund Planned Parenthood” Rallies Be Dwarfed by Pro-Choice Counterprotests?

Donald Trump’s presidency doesn’t augur well for Planned Parenthood—but his ascendancy has prompted an enthusiastic new wave of activism on its behalf. In the first month after the election, the organization received more than 315,000 donations, more than 82,000 of them given in the name of staunchly anti-abortion Vice President Mike Pence. The day after the inauguration, unabashedly pro-choice women’s marches drew between 3 and 5 million protesters around the globe. Scarlett Johansson took the stage in Washington, D.C., to describe relying on Planned Parenthood for her healthcare when she was 15. “I bet there isn’t one person here who has not been helped by Planned Parenthood, directly or otherwise,” she told the crowd.

Feb. 8 2017 6:56 PM

Paying Low-Income Moms to Breastfeed Might Raise Breastfeeding Rates, But Is It Ethical?


The benefits of breastfeeding are often exaggerated, but everyone can agree that women should have the resources to breastfeed their infants if they so choose. Unfortunately, many women don’t have those resources, which is part of the reason that low-income women are far less likely to breastfeed than their wealthier counterparts. (Cultural norms also play a role.) Public health advocates are constantly seeking new ways to boost breastfeeding rates among this population and have implemented a variety of educational and support programs in order to do so.

One of the largest efforts to get more low-income women to breastfeed is part of the Women, Infants, and Children Program. This federal nutrition assistance program, which serves around 8 million moms and young children, incentivizes breastfeeding by offering those who do it “a greater quantity and variety of foods” and “longer participation in the program.” Now a new study, recently published in Pediatrics, explores what would happen if WIC upped the ante and gave breastfeeding moms a cash bonus as well. The study’s authors found that this extra compensation was effective in raising breastfeeding rates, but questions about the ethics of cash incentives remain.

Feb. 8 2017 5:52 PM

Russia Decriminalized Domestic Violence With Support from the Russian Orthodox Church

Russian President Vladimir Putin signed into law on Tuesday an amendment that decriminalizes domestic violence, making physical abuse of a spouse, child, or elder parent punishable by a monetary fine rather than time in prison. Both houses of Russian parliament approved the measure handily—the first reading of the amendment in the lower house passed 386 to one.

Under the new law, a person can beat his spouse or child until she’s bloodied and bruised, and as long as her injuries don’t require a hospital stay, he’ll get hit with a fine if his victim presses charges. The most jail time he’ll serve will be 15 days. Previously, domestic abusers faced a maximum of two years in prison. The amendment offers domestic abusers this easy out as long as they don’t commit more than one severe beating a year.

Feb. 8 2017 2:58 PM

Jill Biden’s Rate My Professors Page Is a Strangely Comforting Place in Perilous Times

Jill Biden was reportedly the first person to maintain a paying job during her tenure as second lady. By the time her husband became Barack Obama’s running mate, she had been a writing instructor at a Delaware community college for well over a decade, and she continued teaching throughout the 2008 campaign. When her husband assumed the vice presidency, she moved to Washington and began teaching at Northern Virginia Community College as an adjunct. A representative for the college confirmed she is still teaching there this semester.

“She does the things that regular faculty members do,” an administrator told the Chronicle of Higher Education in 2012. That includes attending faculty meetings, serving on committees, and holding office hours.

Luckily for America, it also includes being subjected to the slings and arrows of Rate My Professors. The website, founded in 1999, invites college students to anonymously review their instructors and weigh in on important matters like their attendance policy, how much homework they give, and how hot they are. And Dr. Jill Biden’s Rate My Professors page is strangely comforting space in perilous times.

Feb. 8 2017 2:11 PM

Mitch McConnell Inadvertently Coined the Latest Feminist Catchphrase: “She Persisted”

Mitch McConnell and his fellow Senate Republicans voted Tuesday evening to stop Elizabeth Warren from speaking during the debate over Jeff Sessions’ nomination for attorney general. Warren was reading aloud from a scathing 1986 letter Coretta Scott King wrote opposing Sessions as a potential federal judge, when McConnell interrupted her mid-sentence to invoke a rule that prevents senators from ascribing “unbecoming” conduct to another senator.

“She was warned,” McConnell said on the Senate floor after the confrontation. “She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.”

It’s hard to imagine a pithier encapsulation of nearly every struggle for justice in the history of humanity. Without even trying, McConnell wrote the future epitaph of hundreds of people who have the phrase “nasty woman” in their Twitter bios.