What Women Really Think

Nov. 20 2014 12:08 PM

House Republicans Give 20 Out of 21 Committee Chairs to Men

The number of women in Congress may finally have cracked 100 this year, but with Republicans in charge, don't expect to see those gains reflected in leadership. As reported by both Nia-Malika Henderson of the Washington Post and Rachel Maddow this week, Republicans announced the chairs for next year's House committees. Twenty out of 21 of the spots are going to men. The only woman is Rep. Candice Miller, who will be heading the Committee on House Administration.

Compare this to the list of chairs for the Democratic-controlled Senate in 2013, where women chaired six out of 20 committees, including really big ones like the Senate Budget Committee. The Democrats also fail as spectacularly as the Republicans on the racial diversity front, but the fact remains that they are the more female-friendly party not just in electoral representation, but also when it comes to putting women in leadership positions in Congress.

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Nov. 19 2014 5:04 PM

You Can Now Put Zits, Cellulite, and Bruises on Your "Normal Barbie"

Soon, kids will be able to trick out a “Normal Barbie” with stretch marks, acne, and bruises. Designer Nickolay Lamm has created an 11-inch doll of typical female proportions: no ginormous boobs stuck on a teeny frame atop permanently arched feet. For $6, you can also order a page of 38 reusable stickers, made of clear vinyl, which include—in addition to the stretch marks, contusions, and zits—cellulite, freckles, glasses, bandages, moles, stitches, scrapes, scars, and mosquito bites. The idea, Lamm explains on his website, is to give girls toys that reflect the lovable imperfections of their own bodies.

“Normal Barbie,” also known as Lammily, is “the first fashion doll made according to typical human body proportions to promote realistic beauty standards,” says the site. Since launching a crowd-funding crusade on Kickstarter back in March, Lamm has received more than 19,000 pre-orders from 13,621 backers, and a blizzard of positive press. He used measurements deemed average for a 19-year-old woman by the Centers for Disease Control to sculpt his prototype, whose epigones now cost $25 (not bad!) and will be shipped out to purchasers starting on Nov. 28. (The stickers won’t be available until January.)

stretch_marks
Lammily with stretch marks

Nickolay Lamm

I like the black humor and whimsical Schadenfreude of kids gleefully pasting acne, surgical scars, and cellulite beads all over their “Barbies.” Doll play often has a whiff of latent sadism—think of the terrible haircuts and decapitations children inflict on their figurines—and these toys lay it bare. The dolls also reflect the idea that cultural products should be relatable—that kids should be able to customize their playthings and experiences, because their individuality is special and worth nurturing. In this case, such solicitous tailoring seems like a positive step. We want girls to see themselves mirrored in their role models and fantasy characters. We want them to know that their particular scrapes and bumps and puberty stretch marks are normal—beautiful, even. (And indeed, if it’s individuality that makes someone precious, then flawless Barbie has nothing on scabbed-up Lammily.)

freckles
Lammily with freckles

Nickolay Lamm

You could argue that the Lammily doll is political correctness and gushy self-acceptance run amok. But I think she represents something better than that, if also more complicated. Beauty remains a real perk for women, a sort of cloud of privilege you might not realize you have. When you’ve got it, you can always fall back on it, usually unconsciously, no matter how terrible everything else is. When you don’t have it, you have to focus on stuff that actually matters. (Which is not to say that gorgeous women do not prioritize meaningful issues, only that they aren’t forced to.) Anyway, this recalibration is hard but worth it. And the dream is that one day, the pretty people and the not-pretty people will be judged by the same standard. But until then, maybe we need average-looking dolls. To get people to pay attention to the right things. To not grow distracted by the glittering object with the perfect unbroken skin and the minuscule arms.

I wish I could appreciate the old Barbie’s appearance the way I appreciate someone’s athleticism or wit. But it’s hard to value looks in a pure, uncomplicated fashion when they’ve assumed such outsized importance in people’s minds. Maybe—until we’ve done a better job dethroning beauty as the be-all-end-all—these new dolls can direct girls’ fantasies in other, healthier directions.

Nov. 19 2014 9:55 AM

Don Lemon Asks Cosby Rape Accuser Why She Didn’t Just Gnaw Her Way Out of Danger

Don Lemon, whose reputation for obtuseness generated the only light moment to come out of the Ferguson protests, has struck again. Tuesday night, in an interview with Joan Tarshis, the fifth named woman to accuse Bill Cosby of drugging and raping her, Lemon decided to Monday morning quarterback her self-defense when Cosby allegedly forced himself on her. He found her performance inadequate. Media Matters transcribed the exchange:

Nov. 18 2014 3:35 PM

Publicly Shaming Bill Cosby Is the Best We Can Do

What should happen to Bill Cosby now that more than a dozen women have accused him of sexual assault? In a better world—or a world where justice was more satisfying—these women’s stories would be investigated by the police and prosecuted in court. In that world, the allegations, if true, would lead to convictions, and Cosby would be headed to prison on sexual assault charges. “Actually, he’s a serial rapist,” Joan Tarshis, one of the latest victims to tell her story, said on CNN.

Tarshis’ story begins like most of the others: “He made me a drink and very shortly afterward I passed out. I woke up very groggily with him removing my underwear.” It was 1969, and she was an aspiring comedian. Cosby told her he wanted to work on a sketch with her and invited her to his bungalow. Then came the drink, the groggy moment, and, according to Tarshis, forced oral sex.

Tarshis, like the others, is defensive about not having spoken out for so many years. She worried no one would believe her, because he’s the great Bill Cosby, “the all-American dad.” But it’s hard not to believe her now, because her story sounds so similar to all the others. Here is Barbara Bowman, another alleged victim telling almost the exact same story. She was a 19-year-old aspiring actress when she met Cosby. He “talked incessantly about trust issues,” she said, and made her believe she had to open up to him. Then in an Atlantic City hotel room came the drugs, the wooziness, the “screaming, yelling, scratching.”

So why isn’t Cosby in handcuffs? Andrea Constand was a young Temple University employee when she went to Cosby for career advice in 2004. She tells the same story of pills and grogginess. Unlike the others, though, she took her case to Bruce Castor, then a Pennsylvania district attorney who declined to press charges and today explained why. “I didn’t say that he didn’t commit the crime. What I said was there was insufficient admissible and reliable evidence upon which to base a conviction beyond a reasonable doubt. That’s ‘prosecutors speak’ for ‘I think he did it but there's just not enough here to prosecute.’ ” Castor said he had every incentive to go forward—it would have been a career-making, front-page news story for him, after all. But after a year, “you lose the ability to test for blood or intoxicating agents.” He says he thought Cosby probably did “something inappropriate,” but “thinking that and being able to prove it are two different things.”

These decades-old cases are virtually impossible to prosecute. Not only does the physical evidence no longer exist, but most states have statutes of limitation on sexual assault cases. We can debate about whether there should be statutes of limitation on sexual assault, given that women often feel too ashamed to come forward right away. But for the moment, that’s the law. So where does that leave us?

In the house of public shame. Yes, the court of public opinion is thoroughly sloppy, as Dahlia Lithwick wrote in Slate after Dylan Farrow’s New York Times essay exploded the Internet. “There are no rules of evidence, no burdens of proof, no cross-examinations, and no standards of admissibility.” But in this case, unlike either the Woody Allen case or the R. Kelly case, there are now five women who have spoken to major media outlets, under their real names, telling a very similar story. Constand filed a civil suit against Cosby, which was settled for an undisclosed amount in 2006. In that case, her lawyer had lined up 13 supporting witnesses, all apparently with their own pills-and-grogginess stories. At the time, Constand’s case did not make a dent in Cosby’s reputation. But now that we know what we know, or perhaps now that we know it at a time of heightened awareness about sexual assault, a quiet settlement and a financial hit seem insufficient punishment given the scale of the crime. So Netflix, don't air that Cosby post-Thanksgiving special, even though you have already paid for and shot it; NBC, cancel that Cosby sitcom. And if that doesn’t happen, then shame on anyone who watches them.

Nov. 18 2014 12:07 PM

It’s Not Your Kids Holding Your Career Back. It’s Your Husband.

Almost a decade ago, the writer Linda Hirshman exhorted ambitious women to marry men with less money or social capital than they had. In articles and her book, Get to Work, she told women that they should avoid ever taking on more than half of the housework or child care. How to do it? Either marry a man who is extremely committed to equality, or do what she says is the easier route, and “marry down.” Hirshman explained in the American Prospect that such a choice is not “brutally strategic,” it’s just smart. “If you are devoted to your career goals and would like a man who will support that, you're just doing what men throughout the ages have done: placing a safe bet.”

This was a highly controversial piece of advice at the time, but Hirshman might have been right. A new study of Harvard Business School graduates from HBS’s Robin Ely and Colleen Ammerman and Hunter College sociologist Pamela Stone shows that high achieving women are not meeting the career goals they set for themselves in their 20s. It’s not because they’re “opting out” of the workforce when they have kids, but because they’re allowing their partners’ careers to take precedence over their own.

Nov. 18 2014 11:42 AM

Strippers Follow Cheerleaders in Suing Their Exploitative Employers—and Winning

Turns out cheerleading isn't the only job where an employer treats you like you should be paying him for the privilege of being ogled by men you'd usually ignore in your off-hours: The strip club industry exploits loopholes in labor law to routinely underpay strippers or even charge women for the opportunity to work in a club. It's a practice that caused a judge to award $10 million in back pay to strippers who worked for Rick's Cabaret in New York City, and leave open the possibility for even more judgments in favor of the workers in the future. 

CBS News talked to the dancers' lawyer, E. Michelle Drake, who described how the club exploited her clients—who are the reason the customers are there in the first place:

Nov. 18 2014 8:52 AM

What Cops Are Really Thinking When a Woman Claims She Was Raped

Fewer than half of rapes committed in the U.S. are reported to the police, and the vast majority of reported rapes never lead to an arrest. What are these cops thinking? For a study published this month in the Journal of Interpersonal Violence, Dr. Rachel Venema, a social work professor at Calvin College, interviewed ten cops working in the police department of a midsized, Midwestern city about their experiences responding to reports of sexual assault. Seven of the police officers were male, six of them were white, and their ranks ranged from patrol officer to detective to sergeant. It’s a very small sample, but it provides a fascinating peek into how one police department deals with rape reports in the face of limited departmental resources, and the officers’ own assumptions about who constitute “real” victims.

Nov. 17 2014 4:43 PM

School Argues in Court That a 14-Year-Old Girl Could Consent to Sex With Her Teacher

Before the 1970s, most rape victims who dared to take their case to trial were forced to undergo a humiliating and degrading experience: The rapists’ attorney would call up a series of witnesses to testify that his female victim was promiscuous, licentious, and immoral. The purpose of this exercise was to convince the jury that the victim was actually a whore, a woman who couldn’t say no to sex. It built on the era’s conventional wisdom about virtue—namely, that if an alleged rape victim wasn’t a virgin, she was a slut who was likely lying about her rape.

Today, almost every state has a “rape shield” law to keep this kind of odious testimony out of trial, including California. That’s why it’s so shocking to read KPCC’s investigation into a recent Los Angeles trial at which a judge permitted evidence of a 14-year-old girl’s sexual history. The girl, a student at an LA public school, had sued her school district for allowing her 28-year-old teacher to molest her, arguing that she was emotionally traumatized. (The teacher is now in prison.) In response, the school district’s lawyer, Keith Wyatt, first claimed that the student was sexually mature enough—at age 14—to engage in consensual sex with her teacher, introducing evidence that she had previously been sexually active. Wyatt then argued that the student was suing the school district only out of greed, telling the jury:

Nov. 17 2014 4:23 PM

Solange Knowles Looks Like a Telepathic Space Queen in Her Wedding Portrait

Solange Knowles’ luminous, all-white wedding photos have landed. They come from a place outside of the space-time continuum and require nothing so ordinary as context, but here it is anyway, frail mortals: Over the weekend Solange, 28, married music video director Alan Ferguson, 51, in a three-day New Orleans spectacular. It began with a movie night—after a video of their courtship, the couple played Diana Ross’ Mahogany, which they saw on their first date—and at one point Solange and her 10-year-old son broke it down to Rae Sremmurd’s “No Flex Zone.” Sunday morning, Knowles and Ferguson biked to the ceremony on matching white antique bikes festooned with white flowers, dressed all in white. And photographer Rog Walker shot this:

Here are some words and phrases in the word-and-phrase cloud I made while gazing at this photo: CAPE, Illuminati, aliens, mind control, Cleopatra, scary, zombies, not human, CAPE. Solange and her wedding army, including sister Beyoncé (always a bridesmaid ... ), look amazing. The bride, her hands clasped regally on her stomach, evokes the calm, benevolent leader of a colony of superwomen who communicate only through eye contact and wear metals mined from distant planets. Her outfit is by Humberto Leon for Kenzo. As I've mentioned, it has a cape. (Bey also rocked a cape in her “Bow Down” video, though not a nuptial cape.) The women, taking their positions in a mystically dilapidated old room with a mosquelike tile floor, appear bound by no dress code aside from color. (A colleague wonders: Can Knowles help the coastal-elite practice of letting bridesmaids choose the cuts of their own dresses go mainstream?) They stand simply, arms at their sides, almost like backup dancers for the bride.

If Kim Kardashian broke the Internet last week, Solange just broke Pinterest.

The big questions: Are the Knowles sisters bound by cosmological contract to make all things either more empowering or more cool looking? Is Beyoncé technically allowed to be center left? Will Solange’s artistically ambitious wedding photos change the entire wedding photo game?

It would be pretty awesome if hive mind space-core became the new norm in bridal party pictures. But while we wait to find out just how much this mind-blowing image impacts the heartland: Your move, Jennifer Aniston.  

Nov. 17 2014 3:46 PM

Anti-Abortion Protesters in Massachusetts Want Women to Stop Having Sex, Please

During arguments for the recent Supreme Court case McCullen v Coakley, which eventually led to the court striking down Massachusetts' buffer zone protecting abortion clinics from protesters crowding the door, it was revealed that many abortion clinic protesters think of themselves less as protesters and more as "sidewalk counselors." Jill Filipovic of Cosmopolitan decided to go to Massachusetts Planned Parenthood clinics to find out, exactly, what these protesters want to counsel women about. The answer turns out to be a little more complex than "don't get an abortion."

"Men and women are made different," Father Andrew Beauregard explains on camera while protesting at a clinic, "in that women, as the church teaches, reach their full potential in motherhood." There's a tight, if inhumane logic to this thinking: Women exist to give birth. Thus, if a woman is choosing not to give birth, she is not working as she is supposed to. Which means she must be broken and needs fixing. Ergo, "counseling."

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