The XX Factor
What Women Really Think

June 16 2016 1:13 PM

Why Is Everyone Freaking Out Over Taylor Swift’s Dalliance With Tom Hiddleston?

The world is reeling from the news that Taylor Swift lured a man to Rhode Island to make out with her on a rock. Though Swift has lured other men to other rocks in her day, this conquest was special, because the man in question was Tom Hiddleston, and cameras were strategically placed around the scene so the news of this coupling could be transmitted around the world. Swiftleton—or Hiddleswift, Tiddleswift, or any number of fantastical tiddlywinks-sounding portmanteaus—was born; Brangelina wept; Swift’s rumored Aryan fanbase presumably rejoiced; and the internet nearly exploded.

Just about everyone on Earth tweeted about the news when it broke Wednesday evening. The blog Oh No They Didn’t declared a “pop culture emergency,” with attendant emoji sirens. Lainey Gossip cackled with glee. The Ringer hosted a debate about the seemliness of the pairing. Developments kept coming: Fusion called a Rhode Island archaeologist to ask about the suspicious pile of rocks in some of the photos. The Cut argued that Taylor was attempting to deflect attention away from something Kim Kardashian said to GQ about her.

June 15 2016 6:32 PM

Study: Teen Birth Rates Rose in Schools That Gave Out Free Condoms With No Instruction

A new data analysis of in-school condom distribution programs from the 1990s has added new complexity to our understanding of teen pregnancy prevention. Most previous studies have shown that access to free contraception decreases teen birth rates, but this is the first robust study of condom-only programs. Researchers Kasey Buckles and Daniel Hungerman of the University of Notre Dame found that teen births rose 10 percent at schools that gave out free condoms to students.

The study distinguished between schools with free condoms that provided mandatory counseling about proper condom use and schools that gave out the condoms with no instruction. The authors tracked pregnancy rates before and after the condom programs were introduced in each school, and they compared these numbers to the pregnancy rates at schools that had no condom program at all and the pregnancy rates among young women aged 20 to 24 in the same areas as the school. This allowed them to control for the possibility that broader societal shifts were driving the rising pregnancy rates in the schools that offered free condoms.

June 15 2016 3:13 PM

Upscale Sex Toy Brand Enlists Charlie Sheen to Promote Its Dubious New Condoms

Upmarket sex toy manufacturer Lelo has come out with a new line of latex condoms, Hex, declaring that it has made the first innovation in male barrier methods in 70 years. (Join the club.) The brand is off to an inauspicious start: It’s priced its condoms at twice the cost of regular ones, offered dubious claim about superior benefits, and roped in convicted domestic abuser Charlie Sheen as its first spokesperson.

Lelo’s decision to enlist Sheen—a serial perpetrator of violence against woman and a notorious misogynist anti-Semitic mess—is somewhat unexpected, since the brand is possibly the world’s most upscale mainstream brand of sex toys. Its products are sleek, sophisticated, and nothing like the average sex shop’s cheaply made gadgets in clamshell packaging with photos of greased-up hunks. The company manufactures such lavish erotic goodies as a $15,000 24-karat gold dildo endorsed by Goop, Gwyneth Paltrow’s lifestyle site and exercise in conspicuous consumption.

June 15 2016 1:44 PM

A Lot Fewer American Women Are Choosing to Give Birth Early, Thanks to Obamacare

In 2010, 17 percent of babies in the United States were born by way of early elective deliveries, which are medically unnecessary induced or C-section deliveries done between weeks 37 and 39. Such deliveries carry serious risks. Babies born within this period have a 50 percent chance of ending up in the neonatal intensive care unit and are more likely to develop cerebral palsy, vision and hearing loss, and learning difficulties, and even to die. Infant mortality is at least 50 percent higher for babies born at 37 or 38 weeks compared to those born at 39 or 40. Also, even though many moms are over playing host in their last month of pregnancy, the babies inside of them still have some growing to do. A baby’s brain develops the fastest at the end of pregnancy, and grows by one-third between week 35 and week 39. They also tend to fatten up during this period, which helps them stay warm after exiting the womb.

Elective early deliveries are expensive, too. According to the March of Dimes, babies born in this period tend to stay in the hospital longer and cost an average of $7000 more than a baby born between 39 and 41 weeks. If the baby is born via C-section or ends up in the intensive care unit, that figure is likely to be higher.

June 15 2016 8:30 AM

We Have Questions About the Glorious Public-Bathroom Sperm-Donor Piece in the New York Post

Never has a subject been more deserving of New York Post coverage than Ari Nagel, the Brooklyn man who graced the cover of the tabloid over the weekend with the headline “Great Balls of Sire: NY prof donates free sperm in public restrooms—has 22 kids and counting!”

All credit goes to the Post for finding a man who was willing, nay, proud to talk about how he regularly masturbates in public restrooms in order to give sperm to needy women and couples. (That’s when he’s not doing it the old-fashioned way, by just having sex with them. Charitable!) Nagel, a math professor, is like a modern-day Robin Hood … if Sherwood Forest were an urban Target and instead of stealing from the rich, Robin Hood provided the poor with his own seed.

But the piece still left us with quite a few questions, some of which made us want to consult a medical professional. So we did.

By now, Nagel has a routine down pat: First he meets the women somewhere public, like Target or Starbucks. (Some women don’t feel comfortable meeting him at his home—only comfortable enough to take the sperm of a stranger.) Then he goes to the bathroom and pulls up some porn to masturbate with on his smartphone. “You can’t connect to Target Wi-Fi if you’re connecting to a porn site, so I use my cell service,” he told the Post. What a reasonable and normal statement of fact. Next he ejaculates into an Instead Softcup, a type of menstrual cup. Then he leaves the bathroom and hands the cup off to the lucky woman hoping to get pregnant, who subsequently goes into the ladies’ room and inserts the Softcup into her vagina. Easy-peasy.

Reading the article, one gets the feeling that it will probably result in Nagel’s arrest or at least a few more lawsuits (he has been successfully sued by five women for child support, believe it or not). It just all seems illegal. Gregory Zapantis, medical director of New York Reproductive Wellness, a fertility clinic, was kind enough to talk through the article with Slate. “From a professional standpoint, I was appalled,” Zapantis said of his first reaction to the Post story. “Something like donor sperm is a complex process that requires considering social issues, ethical issues, and legal issues, and it seems like all of those things have not really been thought through carefully. In fact, it was approached in a very blasé and egotistical manner.”

Zapantis said that practices like his “have to adhere to certain guidelines set forth by the American Society for Reproductive Medicine and the FDA,” guidelines put in place for the protection of both donors and recipients. These include things like STI testing, disclosure of medical and family history, and other background checks. “There’s no oversight in what that guy was doing, really.” In this case in particular, “it seems like [psychological testing] would be very appropriate.” Nagel’s case seemed to him like a pretty literal embodiment of the cliché about man’s need to “spread their seed,” he added.

As for Nagel’s public-bathroom donation procedure, “There are definitely hygiene issues to be concerned about,” Zapantis said. And one wonders whose idea the Softcup was. It’s one of the only menstrual cups that is worn high in the vagina, just below the cervix, and women can have sex while wearing it. But no, it is not necessarily a safe or advisable way to transport sperm, Zapantis said. “I don’t even know if that’s a sterile cup,” he said.

There’s also the matter of consanguinity to consider—some countries place limits on the number of times people can donate sperm or eggs in order to prevent the children from eventually meeting and mating. (Nagel still has a ways to go before he catches up with the Dutch man who had fathered 106 children as of October 2015.) Oh, and the emotional lives of the children themselves, some of whom Nagel is permitted to babysit! At least the children will have 21 other people to commiserate with in the support group they eventually form.

June 14 2016 5:20 PM

The GOP’s War on Abortion May Have Cleared the Way for a Zika Disaster

On Tuesday, Kaiser Health News published a lengthy article about a potentially tragic piece of irony: that the U.S. states where the Zika virus will likely hit first, and hit hardest—Florida and Texas—are among the least prepared to minimize its impact. The virus, which generally produces symptoms comparable to a bad flu in adults, can cause severe birth defects or miscarriages if contracted by pregnant women. Texas and Florida, like many Southern states, have spent recent years systematically dismantling reproductive healthcare.

State governments will be the first line of defense against the Zika-infected mosquitoes that are expected to reach the U.S. this summer, especially since Congressional Republicans have so far refused to approve the funding that the Obama administration says it needs to mount an effective defense. Texas and Florida are so far emphasizing “mosquito surveillance and targeted spraying,” according to KHN, but public health experts say that simply won’t cut it:

[T]hose campaigns miss a key element, advocates say, given the heightened stakes for pregnant women. The states aren’t addressing the challenge low-income women face in getting birth control. And, for those who do get pregnant, there are still major barriers to accessing potentially helpful prenatal care.
“No amount of mosquito repellent is going to get us out of this,” said Christine Curry, an assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Miami Miller Medical School.

Officials preparing to combat Zika in Republican-held states such as Texas and Florida are trapped in an unfortunate double bind. On the one-hand, both states declined to participate in the Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act, which means that many of their residents fall into a “coverage gap”: they’re too poor to buy insurance, even with subsidies, on the exchange, but not poor enough to qualify for Medicaid under their state’s highly limited eligibility requirements. For uninsured, low-income women, family planning clinics have long been the best places to seek out contraceptives, prenatal exams, and other forms of reproductive healthcare at manageable prices. But many of these facilities also provide abortions—or, as in the case of some Planned Parenthoods, are affiliated with others that do—and as state-level Republicans have accelerated their war on abortion, hundreds of clinics have been forced to scale back operations or close altogether.

A Supreme Court case has brought national attention to the situation in Texas, where a single omnibus law has reduced a landscape of more than 40 clinics to only 19, forcing many women to drive hundreds of miles for healthcare. Florida passed its own law this spring requiring that abortion providers have admitting privileges at local hospitals—a provision it borrowed straight from the Texas law, and which may have similarly ruinous consequences, unless the Supreme Court rules it an “undue burden” that states can longer impose on women. The Florida law also attempted to defund all clinics that perform abortions, though the federal government made it clear that, legally, the state could do no such thing.

Years of cuts to women’s healthcare may come back to haunt southern Republicans this mosquito season—especially since, as KHN points out, the poorest women are at the highest risk for contracting Zika. The women most likely to rely on clinics for their birth control and prenatal care “might live in housing that lacks air-conditioning, or that allows easy mosquito entry,” KHN reports. “Or they may not have the money for repellent or preventive clothing.” As states have shredded their safety nets for reproductive healthcare, many women have simply stopped seeing OB-GYNs. “It is a daily occurrence that someone who has lived in this state her entire pregnancy presents for delivery having not interfaced with the public health system,” Curry, the University of Miami professor, told KHN. If Zika reaches the U.S., prenatal visits will become “huge opportunities for preventive care” that many women will miss out on altogether.

Worrisome as it is that many women in Zika’s pathway rarely go to the doctor, public health officials are also worried about what will happen if they all try to seek medical attention at once. If “an avalanche of people” descends on affordable family planning facilities after the first few cases of Zika transmission, there’s no way the remaining, beleaguered clinics will be able to meet the demand, Linda Sutherland, executive director of Healthy Start Coalition of Orange County, a Florida maternal health nonprofit, warned KHN. Texas and Florida don’t seem to be doing much to prepare for that possibility. Instead, they’re warning residents to stock up on bug spray, hang some mosquito netting, and, if at all possible, avoid getting pregnant. Unfortunately, Republican lawmakers have made it ever harder for low-income women to follow that advice.

June 14 2016 3:43 PM

The Undefeated’s Jameis Winston Profile Is Sports Journalism At Its Worst

On Tuesday, ESPN’s The Undefeated published a feature by Alex Kennedy headlined “The Continued Maturation of Jameis Winston.” That story featured the following incredible sentence: “Winston’s off-field issues have been well-documented, from his shoplifting citation to the sexual-assault allegation for which he wasn’t charged.”

This is the only mention in the entire article that Winston, now of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, was accused of raping a fellow Florida State student in 2012. The rape accusation against Winston is given equal weight as shoplifting, with both “off-field issues” cited as bits of juvenile adversity that Winston had to overcome to become the man he is today. There is no discussion of the fact that, by their own admission, both Florida State and the Tallahassee police botched the investigation into the alleged rape.

The Undefeated profile, written by Alex Kennedy, reads as a glorified press release. It depicts the Buccaneers quarterback heroically volunteering at his teammate Louis Murphy’s football camp, where he “stayed for nearly seven hours”:

During that time, he ran the campers through stretches, conducted drills, timed 40-yard dashes and gave multiple inspirational speeches to the 400 children. To an onlooker, it might have seemed that this was Winston’s camp.
“It blew me away,” Murphy said with a laugh. “People were surprised, and I didn’t even expect him to be so involved. But he cares so much. He cares about the kids and this community.”

The piece goes on to describe Winston’s amazing work ethic, his off-season weight loss (18 pounds), and his on-field smarts (“I would rate his football IQ at 100 out of 100,” Murphy says).

Here’s a set of facts, courtesy of the Tallahassee Police Department, that the story didn’t mention:

    • The alleged victim had Winston’s semen in her underwear.

    • The alleged victim said she told her attacker to stop and tried to kick him off of her, but he he had her pinned down by her arms.

    • The alleged victim, crying hysterically, told her friend immediately after the alleged assault that she thought she had been raped.

    • Two of the alleged victim’s friends were so concerned that they called both the police and the woman’s parents.

    • A nurse who examined the alleged victim in the emergency room found bruises on her body.

Absent, too, was any discussion of the fact that the police did not contact Winston for two weeks after the alleged victim identified him on campus. Likewise, it failed to mention that it was nearly a year before police collected DNA from Winston. And it didn’t include that the school settled with the alleged victim for $950,000.

As Deadspin’s Tom Ley points out, this piece “was never meant to offer any critical analysis or frank discussion, but to gently remove words like ‘rape’ and ‘cover-up’ from conversations about Jameis Winston, and to replace them with ‘football IQ’ and ‘potential.’ ” This would have been a bad story even if it didn’t whitewash Winston’s “off-field issues.” There is nothing of value in a piece that praises a football player for losing weight and chatting up kids at a football camp. But this isn’t just a harmless puff piece. This is sports journalism at its worst—a writer and a publication treating a horrific criminal allegation as a short-term impediment to football glory. For The Undefeated, an alleged rape is an obstacle to be evaded, something on the order of a pesky pass rusher. 

June 14 2016 2:39 PM

Amber Heard Says She No Longer Wants Spousal Support From Johnny Depp

Like most ugly divorces of famously beautiful people, Amber Heard’s split from Johnny Depp has become a war of perceptions. Is he a violent abuser and she his victim, or is she a gold-digging fabulist and he her mark? Heard tried to take control of the narrative on Monday when she withdrew her request for temporary spousal support. Through her lawyer, she’s accusing Depp’s team of twisting the facts to make it appear that his millions, not his alleged abusive behavior, are at the center of the case, according to TMZ. The issue of spousal support would have been considered at a hearing this Friday, but Heard wants to keep the focus on her other demand—for a restraining order. The money, she argues, has been “used against me to distract and divert the public away from the very serious real issue of domestic violence.”

Heard first filed for, and was granted, a temporary restraining order in late May, days after she appeared in court for divorce proceedings with visible facial bruising that she claims Depp inflicted. Those injuries, which Heard says resulted when Depp hit her in the face with his iPhone, were “only the latest” in a pattern of verbally and physically abusive fights, according to a source quoted in People. “Johnny has a long-held and widely-acknowledged public and private history of drug and alcohol abuse,” Heard has stated in court papers. “He has a short fuse. He is often paranoid and his temper is extremely scary for me as it has proven many times to be physically dangerous and/or life-threatening to me.”

But Depp has his share of defenders. His attorney Laura Wasser—who has also represented A-listers such as Ryan Reynolds, Heidi Klum, and Ashton Kutcher—has said that Heard is “attempting to secure a premature financial resolution by alleging abuse.” As Ruth Graham recently pointed out in Slate, TMZ—often the source of Hollywood reporting least cowed by its subjects’ celebrity—has seemed to take Depp’s side, publishing a story that claimed eyewitnesses found no evidence of injury on the night Heard claimed Depp had hit her in the face. Heard says she was on the phone with her friend, television host iO Tillett Wright, when Depp attacked her; Wright has called the TMZ story “BULLS--T” and written on Twitter, “I saw the bruises. Many times. And the fat lip. And the cut head. … How much evidence does a woman need to present?!”

Heard’s decision to eschew spousal support for now is unlikely to convince Depp diehards that money is no factor here. As TMZ was sure to point out: “Important to note—Amber’s not saying she doesn't want any support. In the docs, she reserves the right to go after spousal support in their divorce ... AFTER the restraining order is handled.” It’s unconfirmed whether the pair had a prenup, though TMZ has reported that they didn’t. The Wrap has reported that Heard originally requested $50,000 a month in spousal support to cover her estimated $43,700 in monthly expenses, including $10,000 a month for rent and $10,000 for “entertainment, gifts and vacation.”

Those figures may make if difficult for some people to relate to—or even to sympathize with—Heard. But the terror and abuse she claims to have suffered at the hands of her partner give her something in common with millions of American women. Hopefully Depp’s great fame and wealth will not, as Heard fears, “distract and divert the public away” from taking her account of her suffering seriously.

June 14 2016 8:57 AM

New Survey About Stay-At-Home Moms Proves There’s No Such Thing as a Stay-At-Home Mom  

I might be a stay-at-home mom. This is not something I have ever considered before because I work 35 hours a week, albeit in my bedroom, while someone else cares for my child. To be fair, I lack a strict definition of “stay-at-home mom”—likely a result of my dislike of the term and how it incorrectly links the passive “stay” with the very active domestic sphere. (I do a whole lot more “staying-at-home” while working than I do while mothering.) Still, I believed that both earning money and spending most of the work day away from my son easily disqualifies me from whatever exactly a stay-at-home mom is.

But the results from a recent Redbook survey about the daily lives of stay-at-home moms have complicated this assumption. They’ve made me realize how fluid, and therefore ultimately useless, a concept the stay-at-home mom is. They’ve also made me see how bad our reliance on the term is for all parents, regardless of how they spend their days.

The survey, designed by writer and time-use expert Laura Vanderkam, asked 558 self-identified stay-at-home moms about their lives, responsibilities, and daily routines. The most surprising thing she discovered was “the blurred line between staying at home and working,” because “most of today's stay-at-home moms aren't just taking care of their kids—they're caretaking and working.” Among the moms they surveyed: 62 percent contribute to the household income; 34 percent work an average of 4.5 hours a day and earn income; 23 percent volunteer often and are “heavily involved with school and activities”; 19 percent are parents with children under the age of 2, 59 percent of whom plan to go back to work in the near future; and 12 percent are caregivers with special-needs children.

So is the mom who spends 20 hours a week volunteering at school a stay-at-home mom? What about the one who plans to go back to work after her child turns one or two? (That’s a period of time that in other countries would be called “maternity leave.”) Is a woman who works a 30-35 hour week from home while her children are in school a stay-at-home mom? Was my husband a stay-at-home parent during the five months he took off to write a book, during which he worked approximately the same number of hours and increased his domestic contributions? What about the mom who spends most of her day tending to a child with special needs? I’m not asking these questions because I think they need to be answered. I’m asking them up because they illustrate how muddy, and ridiculous, the notion of a “stay-at-home” parent is. It’s time to ditch the term.

The perpetuation of “stay-at-home mom” as an identity marker deceives us into believing that there are divisions between women that just aren’t there. Get rid of it, and we would be relieved of a whole lot of frustrating playground politics and defensive, sometimes supercilious think pieces comparing moms who go to the office and moms who don’t. Also, new moms might be less inclined to feel angst and self-doubt after they slowed down or stopped working if the specter of “stay-at-home mom” wasn’t there to haunt them. Same for the new moms who guiltily proceed with their careers while all those other moms who could afford to, or wanted to, “stayed” with their kids. The unncessary drama that comes from figuring out which type of labor is most valuable, on an indiviudal and societal level, and who is doing more of it, would be no more. Instead, we could put our energy toward fighting for a societal shift that would benefit all parents who work (which is to say, all parents): an acknowledgment of the importance of carework. 

(I understand social scientists need a way to distinguish between moms who are in the labor force and moms who aren't. They could easily carry on making this disctinction without relying on the term "stay-at-home mom.")

Writing for the New York Times, journalist Judith Shulevitz recently argued for a new type of feminism that she's calling caregiverism, one that acknowledges that women’s liberation won’t be complete until we acknowledge the contributions to society that happen at home, too. This revolution would include improved parental leave policies, affordable childcare, as well as some sort of universal basic income or Social Security program for unpaid caregivers so that taking care of one’s children or parents doesn’t pose a risk to one’s economic security.

Shulevitz points out that this shouldn’t be interpreted as a counter-revolution to all that glass-ceiling shattering women have focused on in recent decades, as there is “a venerable tradition in feminist history of trying to overturn a status quo that esteems professionals and wage-earners while demeaning those who do the unpaid or low-paid work of emotional sustenance and physical upkeep.” Simply put, carework is real work. Or, in other words, “Why is producing cars more valuable than producing children?” as Silvia Federici, a founder of the New York chapter of Wages for Housework, asked Shulevitz. This is a question that all parents should be asking, no matter what kind of work they are doing, where they are doing it, and whether or not they are getting paid for it.

June 14 2016 8:39 AM

Thousands Petition NCAA to Take a Hard Line Against Rape and Sexual Assault

Last week, USA Swimming imposed a lifetime ban on former Stanford University swimmer Brock Turner in response to his sexual assault of an unconscious woman. A Change.org petition with over 100,000 signatures, written by the son of a rape survivor, is urging the NCAA to take the same hard line against college athletes who are found to have perpetrated violence. “I’m a college athlete, and I watch ESPN religiously,” wrote Darius Adams, whose efforts were first reported in the Huffington Post. “There’s a serious problem in sports. We don’t take sexual violence seriously enough. … Schools are still more worried about money and football than people’s lives.”

Adams isn’t the first person to push the NCAA on this issue; the association’s response has been, essentially, that athletic departments shouldn’t be in the position of arbitrating sexual assault charges. “The first responsibility for student behavior that's not part of the competitive environment resides with campuses themselves” or with “the legal system of that state,” NCAA President Mark Emmert told Al Jazeera in 2015. In most ways, that’s true: When athletic departments get involved in overseeing sexual assault cases, they can introduce a double-standard that privileges student athletes and harms their victims, as Senator Claire McCaskill has pointed out. But, by banning convicted offenders, the NCAA could accomplish something courts and colleges can’t: stopping talented athletes with violent records from transferring to new schools in order to continue their careers.

The issue of players parlaying their skills into second chances is exemplified by the recent series of scandals at Baylor University. In 2013, the Texas university’s football team, the Baylor Bears, brought on a star defensive end named Sam Ukwuachu from Boise State University—even though, as Jessica Luther and Dan Solomon reported in Texas Monthly, school officials “either knew, or should have known, that Ukwuachu had a history of violent incidents.” Not long after arriving at Baylor, Ukwuachu raped a freshman woman. Baylor athletics also has a history of helping accused players transfer to new programs, according to an independent report that Baylor commissioned. It’s unclear whether this occurred in the case of Tevin Elliott, who is accused of assaulting up to six women during his time at Baylor; Elliott transferred to the University of Central Arkansas after he was accused of rape, though he was indicted before ever playing for his new team.

The Baylor case inspired Adams’ petition. His mother, Brenda Tracy, was allegedly drugged and gang-raped by four football players at an Oregon State University party in 1998; only two of the men played for Oregon State, and they were punished with 25 hours of community service and a one-game suspension. When Tracy saw the Baylor news, “she was really, really upset. She was pacing around the house trying to figure out what she could do to help,” Adams told HuffPo. “That’s when the idea of the letter came up.”

Tracy went public with her ordeal in 2014 and has since become an activist working to reduce sexual assault in Oregon. Most notably, she helped lobby the Pac-12, a conference within the NCAA, to create a policy under which athletes whose offense precludes re-enrollment at their original college cannot transfer to play on a Pac-12 team. The national organization has not said whether it will seriously consider Adams’s petition, though Emmert responded to praise his “commendable” and “compelling” activism.

“These schools have proven that they are not going to do the right thing,” Adams writes. “I believe it is your responsibility to step in.” Baylor is far from alone in proving him right. As Adams writes in his petition: “The truth is that some rapists and criminals just happen to possess outstanding athletic ability.” For too long, the NCAA has looked the other way when those gifts shield their owners from just repercussions. If the association would make it clear that rapists and abusers will have nowhere to play, the culture of college sports might finally change. 

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