The XX Factor
What Women Really Think

Sept. 23 2015 2:09 PM

The Pope and the Dalai Lama Share a Taste for the “Women, Amirite?” Joke

First-time U.S. tourist Pope Francis has done right by some women: He’s made it easier for Catholic women who’ve had abortions to seek absolution, promoted the idea of women as equals in the church, and advocated for more humane treatment of sex-trafficking survivors.

But the pontiff has his limits. He’s stood firm on male-only priesthood on the grounds that priests are representatives of Christ, who was a man and only chose his fellow bros as apostles. Pope Francis isn’t above making a hackneyed joke about nagging women and their whipped men, either. When Italian newspaper Il Messaggero asked him if he’d ever appoint a female leader of a Vatican department, the pope answered in the “take my wife—please!” tradition: “Well, pastors often wind up under the authority of their housekeeper!” Women, amiright?

Religious leaders have a Henny Youngman anxiety of influence. In a BBC interview released on Monday, the Dalai Lama affirmed that when he dies, he could be reincarnated as a woman, who’d be the next Dalai Lama. The leader recalled a statement he made in Paris some years ago: “If [a] female Dalai Lama [were to] come, then that female must be very attractive—otherwise, not much use,” he quipped, laughing along with the startled BBC reporter.

Like Donald Trump’s comments about his daughter’s sex appeal but without the complicating aura of incest, the Dalai Lama’s joke was a recycled bit he’s latched onto, perhaps, as a way to connect with the everyman. He’s previously said that he could be reincarnated as a “mischievous blonde woman,” but if she were not conventionally attractive, “nobody [would] pay much attention.” We may not all agree on whether reincarnation is actually a thing or how to talk about the occupation of Tibet, but hot women are hot in any dogma.

In his Il Messaggero interview, Pope Francis used the book of Genesis to defend himself against accusations of misogyny. “The fact is,” he said, “woman was taken from a rib.” Hey-o! “I am kidding; that was a joke,” he clarified. What he didn't mention is that Genesis was actually produced by the writers of Married With Children.

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Sept. 23 2015 12:11 PM

A Fond Salute to “Honey Badgers,” the Ladies’ Auxiliary of Online Anti-Feminism

Jen Ortiz, a senior editor at Marie Claire, pulled on her wellies and rubber gloves and proceeded to write a feature piece on one of the stranger subcultures of the Internet, the ladies' auxiliary of the "men's rights" movement. They don't call themselves the ladies' auxiliary, to be fair. In a rather unwholesome display of subterranean feminist feeling, they call themselves the "Honey Badgers." Like their male counterparts, they claim to be champions of that beaten-down underclass known as men, whom they champion mostly by screaming vitriol at feminists. 

"A difficult relationship with her mother showed her that women are human," Ortiz writes of Janet Bloomfield, a prominent Honey Badger. "In other words, a woman has the capability to be just as terrible (or presumably, as not-terrible) as a man."

It's true! Women can indeed be hateful and cruel and toxic, just like men can be. The Honey Badgers themselves provide all the proof you need. Ortiz shares some tasty examples, such as a Honey Badger blog post titled, "Going Mental: She Might Be a Crazy Bitch If … Red Flags!"" or a post that read, "Ladies, there is a difference between flirting and cockteasing. One makes you fun and sassy, the other makes you a cunt, so stop doing it!"

There simply isn't enough space in any magazine to demonstrate just how much misogynist venom pours out of the ladies who hate ladies. Take, for instance, ringleader Karen Straughan, who runs a YouTube channel under the name GirlWritesWhat where she posts videos explaining that men are oppressed by women. She recently did an Ask Me Anything at Redditwhere she dropped bon mots such as "A woman has to be more emotionally stable than 85% of women to be as emotionally stable as the average man" and "A rapist is a very damaged man (usually damaged by women) or a man who really really really wants sex but can’t convince a woman to willingly lie down with him.” Those poor rapists! 

Domestic violence is also a woman's fault, according to Straughan, because victims need it for sexual arousal:

I used to live under a young couple with a baby. I'd listen as she followed him from room to room upstairs, stomping, slamming things, throwing things, screaming. After about an hour, he'd eventually hit her, and everything would go quiet. An hour after that, they'd be out with the baby in the stroller, looking perfectly content with each other.
A man I know who has experience with men in abusive relationships would get his clients to answer a questionare. Things like, "after the violence, did you have sex?" "If so, how would you rate the sex?" 100% of men in reciprocally abusive relationships said "yes" to the first, and "scorching" to the second.
He also posited that the much-quoted cycle of violence--the build-up, the explosion, the honeymoon period--correlates with foreplay, orgasm and post-coital bliss.

Mrow. Surely we're all getting turned on just thinking about men beating women. 

Ortiz also interviews Janet Bloomfield, who goes under the name JudgyBitch, author of the "cockteasing" post. Bloomfield wrote a post in 2013 in which she defended Jimmy Savile, the British entertainer who has been accused of sexually assaulting 500 minors and even dead bodies. "So basically, the girls were groupies," Bloomfield wrote of the teenage victims. "They wanted all the benefits of hanging out with a big star and they understood it came with a price and they paid it, perhaps reluctantly, but with full knowledge that the trips to London... weren’t free.

"And now they are claiming the MEN abused THEM? Looks to me like it was the other way around," she added. It is worth noting that Saville also abused boys, which is an issue "men's rights activists" claim they want to raise more attention and concern about. 

Bloomfield has lots of colorful opinions about how women should be imprisoned if they have a child without the father's explicit consent and that "Black women resent and hate their sons." She also enjoys taking her anti-feminism to a personal level, by harassing people online. ("Wah. You weren't raped. You're a whore," reads one charming tweet she sent someone.) She also has a special love for harassing the feminist writer Jessica Valenti by making up fake quotes, mostly man-hating stuff (e.g., "Let's destroy men's happiness."), and attributing them to Valenti. 

"Intriguingly, and confusingly for us feminists, once you get past the trolling, there are actual not-crazy changes men's rights activists (MRAs) want to see: prohibiting circumcision of baby boys, domestic abuse aid for male victims, refining paternity rights," Ortiz writes. This is the only misfire in an excellent piece. There is no core of good intentions underneath the trolling. They're not fighting for men's well-being. That's just the cover story for the real agenda, which is fighting women's equality and making it impossible to speak out for women without having to withstand a torrent of abuse. The women's role is to spew the most vile misogyny, because they can hide behind their gender to deny what's really going on. 

Sept. 22 2015 4:49 PM

Teen Girls Visit Tanning Salons for Confidence, Not Bronzed Skin

As summer ends and sun-baked skin starts to blanch, New Hampshire wants to make it harder for teens to keep up their tans. The state’s legislature passed a bill in March that will prohibit people under the age of 18 from visiting indoor tanning booths and beds starting next Thursday.

Twelve other states have banned minors from indoor tanning, and many more constrain them in other ways. Currently, New Hampshire minors must have signed consent from a parent or guardian to use the tanning devices. But even where it’s illegal, and despite the extraordinarily well-publicized risks, teenagers are finding ways onto tanning beds.

"It's weird to say that something that could possibly harm me gives me confidence, but it's the truth," Micki Hirschhorn, 17, told Women's eNews; Hirschhorn says she piles on make-up to avoid being carded on her three-to-five visits to a Texas tanning salon each week. Many teens know that confidence comes with a price, and they’re still willing to pay it. “I don’t think anybody should be tanning. [But] I still tan,” 19-year-old McKenzie Thorpe, who has been tanning regularly since she was 14, told the Concord Monitor.

Tanned skin used to be a marker of outdoor laborers and other members of the underclass in Western society; it first became fashionable in the 1920s, when doctors prescribed sunbathing as a remedy for maladies such as tuberculosis. Once Coco Chanel and Cary Grant took it up, tanning became the new normal for pale seekers of beauty. Impressionable teens aren’t the only ones charmed by the allure of a bronzed body; adult women say it makes them feel more confident, too. The sunless-tanning industry has wrung tons of business from the word: Spray-tanning purveyor Mystic Tan markets its goods as “the color of confidence,” and plenty of other companies list confidence as one of the main results of their wares. (Incidentally, it's a big day for ladies seeking confidence here at DoubleX!) 

A University of South Florida study found that warnings about the dire health risks of tanning weren’t enough to keep women away—but when researchers warned the subjects about skin cancer and gave them magazine articles about the beauty of pale skin, the women were less likely to tan and felt more favorably toward sunscreen. In an Australian study of more than 4,000 adolescents, girls who were least satisfied with themselves sunbathed and used tanning beds more often than girls with high self-esteem. (With boys, it was the opposite, which helps to explain the curious case of Mike “The Situation” Sorrentino.)

It’s no wonder, then, that medical warnings and increasingly stringent laws have failed to keep teenage girls away from UV rays. Tan skin in and of itself isn’t what women seek when they go to the salon: We seem to have a crisis of confidence, not of tanning beds.

Sept. 22 2015 4:34 PM

Angry Actor Sean Penn Is Angry About Being Compared to Angry Actor Terrence Howard

Terrence Howard, star of Empire, does not have the best of reputations. He’s long been known for being an alleged domestic abuser (as exhaustively chronicled in this Defamer post). And in a recent Rolling Stone profile, he admitted to at least one of the allegations made against him by an ex-wife. Of course, none of this has stopped him from earning an Oscar nomination or starring in one of television’s biggest hits. “That poor boy,” Empire co-creator Lee Daniels told the Hollywood Reporter recently. "[Terrence] ain't done nothing different than Marlon Brando or Sean Penn, and all of a sudden he's some f—in' demon. That's a sign of the time, of race, of where we are right now in America."

That statement didn’t sit well with Penn, who’s now filed a $10 million defamation lawsuit against Daniels. According to the Hollywood Reporter, part of the complaint reads,

Daniels falsely equates Penn with Howard, even though, while he has certainly had several brushes with the law, Penn (unlike Howard) has never been arrested, much less convicted, for domestic violence, as his ex-wives (including Madonna) would confirm and attest.

Whoo, boy. Well, let’s see: In case you’ve forgotten, Penn, like Howard, is known for for using violence and rage to get his point across. The actor is familiar with being sued himself, like when he kicked a photographer a few years back (he pleaded no contest), and he served a little over a month in jail for assaulting a photographer back in 1987. The following year, he also allegedly attacked his then-wife, Madonna.

“Attacked” might not do justice to what happened. J. Randy Taraborrelli, in his extensively researched Madonna: An Intimate Biography, published by Simon & Schuster, details the police reports of the December 1988 encounter, which occurred after the pop star asked for a divorce from Penn. According to the reports, the actor broke into her Malibu home and began arguing; he then “tried to bind her hands with an electric lamp and cord,” but Madonna fled. He chased after her, and then tied her to a chair with twine, where, Taraborrelli writes, he abused her physically and emotionally over the course of several hours while drinking heavily. The book continues:

In desperation—again, according to official documents—Madonna finally persuaded Sean to untie her by telling him she needed to go to the bathroom. Finally free, she ran out of the house. Sean stumbled while racing after her, which gave her an edge. She got into the coral-colored 1957 Thunderbird, which Penn had bought her on her 28th birthday. She locked herself inside the car.

From there, she spoke with police via cell phone, then drove to the Malibu sheriff's office; Penn was arrested and handcuffed at the house. Later, as Taraborrelli reports, Madonna withdrew the charges against him.

These details, as well as other instances of Penn’s alleged abuse towards Madonna, have been brought up again and again and again. Lee Daniels hardly conjured his remarks out of thin air—they are representative of public perception of both Penn and Howard.

Besides, as he must be well aware by now, Penn—like Howard—hasn’t let a little thing like alleged abuse get in the way of a successful career, which includes a relatively rare two Oscar wins. Daniels, the industry writ large, and yes, we the public—who continue to hire and indulge in the entertainment Penn provides onscreen—can look past it, even as we remain outraged by it.

Sept. 22 2015 11:26 AM

College Talk vs. “Girl Talk” at a Texas Elementary School 

While 14-year-old Ahmed Mohamed was being arrested for bringing a clock to his Irving, Texas, high school, a much smaller but still telling school controversy was erupting in another Dallas suburb, this time Plano, Texas. Last week, parents at Borchardt Elementary School were up in arms after receiving an email explaining that fourth- and fifth-grade students would be separated by gender for their monthly guidance counseling class. Boys would attend a class on going to college and the importance of a career, whereas girls would have “girl talk” about friendship and confidence—and whether they had too much of the latter. 

Here is a screenshot from the newsletter via WFAA:



The school sent out a follow-up email that didn't clarify much. “Girls and boys in these grades will take part in guidance lessons separately, but both groups will cover the same topics,” principal Jodi Davis wrote. “Lessons may be slightly staggered in the timing of their delivery, but all students will have the same exposure to the same guidance curriculum during the course of the year.” But if the boys and girls are getting the same lessons, what's the point of segregating them? 

As a 2011 paper published in Science found, sex segregation in public schools doesn't improve education outcomes but it does—no big surprise here—result in retrograde gender stereotypes being pushed on kids. Sexist beliefs, particularly the belief that girls are bad at math and higher-level thinking, are more prominent in kids who are subject to this form of education. 

American Civil Liberties Union research found that the vague differences in learning styles between girls and boys are often interpreted in sexist ways. Educators are instructed that girls are small thinkers while boys are more capable of handle abstract concepts like “pure” math. Boys are encouraged to be competitive, while girls are discouraged from it. One example the ACLU found is telling:

Committee meeting notes of a community working group for single-sex programs in secondary schools in Pennsylvania documented a desire among the participants to ensure that students would experience “male-hood and female-hood defined space” exhibiting characteristics of “warrior, protector, and provider” for boys and giving girls “space/time to explore things that young women like [including] writing, applying and doing make-up & hair, art.”

Proponents of sex-segregated public education often make a separate-but-equal claim, but when you dig in, it's really about putting limits on girls' ambitions and talents. That's why it's not enough for a school to hand-wave about how they'll eventually get around to that college talk with the girls.

Sept. 21 2015 5:01 PM

Ryan Adams Will Tell You If Taylor Swift’s High Was Worth the Pain

Today, Ryan Adams released his highly anticipated 1989 cover album, a folksy classic-rock take on Taylor Swift’s entire bestselling 2014 release. Swift’s music and public persona have riled up both fans and haters in part for their gender politics: her defense of the confessional break-up tune; her send-up of aspirational femininity in “Blank Space”; her apparent espousal of “girl-on-girl” sexism. Those gender politics are amplified in a new way when her songs are done up by a dude.

In fact, Adams chose Bruce Springsteen, America’s champion of heady, high-octane manliness, as his muse, and it shows. With acoustic strumming and throaty vocals awash with reverb, Adams’ covers bring a driving, melancholy masculinity to the album.

He also upends the record’s self-possessed effervescence. Adams’ interpretation of “Shake it Off” is a direct descendant of Springsteen’s “I’m on Fire,” recasting Swift’s earnest pep talk on unconditional self-worth as a jaded muttering under his breath. Swift’s 1989 imagines a ready audience of girlfriends and party pals chatting about the excruciating pain and beauty of young love; even Adams’ most upbeat renditions play like defeatist self-talk. When she’s burned or busted, Swift gets on with an irreverent flip of her hair; Adams lets his flop in front of his eyes and broods. As Slate’s Willa Paskin points out, it’s as if one of Swift’s mopey, much-maligned exes turned around and wrote a comeback album of his own.

It’s an effective tribute to the album that made the biggest splash of 2014; his take on her songs underlines their infectious versatility even as it dampens their spirit. But Adams fell victim to one of the most aggravating traps of song covers: rigid heterosexuality. Adams finds ways around Swift’s pronouns and other indications of gender, sometimes cleverly—in “Style,” Adams swaps a Sonic Youth reference for Swift’s nod to James Dean: “You got that James Dean daydream look in your eye” becomes “You got that Daydream Nation look in your eye.” Elsewhere, he switches in “she” for “he” or subs himself in for the male character in Swift’s songs, which can come across as lazy or condescending, depending on the listener’s mood. Singers and musicians very often play songs that don’t come from personal experience (Bob Marley did not, so far as we know, actually shoot the sheriff), but when it comes to love-interest characters, gender difference seems immutable. Maybe Adams is taking more notes from the Boss, whose cover of Lorde’s “Royals” included the modified phrase “king bee,” even though there is no such natural thing as a king bee.

Cover songs have the wonderful potential to bring new life to songs, subvert their messages, or add deeper color, and some musicians—Tori Amos, for one—have swapped gender pronouns in their covers to make a political point. But when covers hold faithfully to other lyrics and elements of song structure while subbing every he for a she, they pull a no homo, making the song’s (and the artist’s) heterosexuality its main point.

Though indie-music heads have begun to give pop music more cred in recent years, and Swift has won over an audience far broader than the teen-girl demographic she was once assigned, the early buzz around Adams’ release suggests that his interpretation will be more heartily lauded by Serious Musicians than hers. The music industry has a history of dismissing the musical contributions of women, people of color, and purveyors of certain music genres (notably pop and rap—often the domains of women and people of color, wouldn’t you know) until they’re covered by a more palatable artist. On “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together,” Swift fingered her ex for retreating into himself "with some indie record that's much cooler than mine." Today, Adams delivered it.

Sept. 21 2015 3:47 PM

Planned Parenthood Shows Us What Consent Looks Like

On Monday, Planned Parenthood released a series of videos on the subject of consent: what it looks like, how you know you have it, and how to handle rejection without being a jerk about it. Consent education is a big issue right now, and these videos offer sex educators a clear, concise way to illustrate the topic. 

Aimed at people ages 17-22, these videos work because they show viewers that consent simply isn't confusing. The actors in the third and fourth video model soft refusals, such as telling someone you're busy right now or making a face and pulling away. It helps show the audience that it's not as hard to hear someone telling you no as some folks might say. The videos also address the question of alcohol use, showing that the critical issue is to pay attention to see if someone is all there or just needs to be put to bed instead. 

The videos also model what enthusiastic consent looks like, both in terms of verbal consent (which is indistinguishable from sexy talk) and nonverbal (kissing back, reaching for your clothing to remove it). The contrast shows that it is—despite what critics of affirmative consent standards saynot that hard to tell the difference between someone who is leaning in and someone who is trying to slow or stop the action.

Sept. 21 2015 1:30 PM

Fox News Wants Women to Show Off Their Legs, Be Ashamed of Showing Off Their Legs

Media-related umbrage-taking reached new levels of confusing in the past week. It started when Conan O'Brien, in a segment called “Coffee Table Books That Didn't Sell,” held up a fake book titled Fox News Anchor or Porn Star?, featuring a picture of Fox News host Jenna Lee smiling while sipping from a straw.



The picture didn't evoke a pornographic image so much as a fast-food commercial or a tooth-whitening testimonial, so there was that. But then Lee expressed her outrage on Facebook, noting that the picture was taken “for a food blog” “before I got married” but also that O'Brien's comment was “inappropriate, it's clearly ridiculous” because she is “a wife, and a new mom.” Noting that O'Brien has a daughter—who she names—Lee lamented that she is “growing up in a world where porn references to successful, educated women are somehow considered ‘funny’ and appropriate, even when made by fathers.”

Fair enough, right? But WAIT:


“Conan brings up a sad truth”? “Some women feel they need to dress and look like porn stars to make it on TV”?? “Maybe they don't care about their ‘traditional career’—the Twitter followers are enough”?!? We don't know who these hussies are, but man are they burnt.

“As many of you have noted—I dress more conservatively than many of the women on TV,” Lee continued. “My theory is my body should never be more important than my body of work—and I'm not done building the latter.”

O'Brien's joke, while misfired, wasn't about social media but plain old media-media—specifically, Fox News, which is famous for the heavy makeup and short-skirt dress standards for its female anchors. Roger Ailes wants to see bare legs perched in skyscraper heels on his TV screen. Showing off the gams is a big part of the “traditional career” of a Fox News female host. 

Indeed, Lee had to walk back her modesty-bragging a bit, where she said, “Sometimes I look back on what I wore in the very beginning when I first started on the air; I think the skirts were too short.” But that was probably before she was a married mom:

So it's unclear why Lee took umbrage in the first place. It can't be that O'Brien took a sexist swipe at women who wear short skirts—Lee agrees that women who do so should be scolded. It can't be that O'Brien was wrong in his choice of target, as Lee pleads guilty for the crime of skirt-wearing. It seems she just wishes he'd picked on someone who hasn't earned wife-and-mom status. Andrea Tantaros, maybe? She has a Twitter account. Just look at all those legs in her cover photo!

As Paul Waldman of the American Prospect wrote last year, Fox News presents itself as an ally to Christian conservatives in “the grand battle against sexual depravity,” but they also “work extremely hard to find excuses to put images of scantily clad women on the air.” Often those efforts to titillate go hand-in-hand with the moralizing about how young women have lost their way. Sean Hannity's annual spring break ratings grab, which offers a stream of pictures of college girls in bikinis to accompany angry ranting about how girls these days are out of control, is the ideal distillation of this formula. 

Or it was until now. Going onto a network where women are instructed to show off their legs to explain how women should be ashamed of showing off their legs might be the most perfect Fox News moment ever. You may not make a lot of sense, Jenna Lee, but you are definitely speaking the Fox News language. 

Sept. 21 2015 1:15 PM

Why Do Women Care More About Lunch Breaks Than Men?

There’s a fine line between a lunch spent laughing alone with salad and one with a sad desk salad. According to a new poll on factors that lead women to quit their jobs, workplace policies could make the difference.

In a study of 400 workers commissioned by TINYPulse (a tech company that makes tools to help organizations measure employee satisfaction), women who worked at companies that encouraged or obligated them to work through lunch were more likely to want to leave their jobs within the next six months than those who were able to take lunch breaks. Meanwhile, the survey’s male respondents were more likely to intend to quit if they were given a lunch break.

Why do women care more about the midday meal than men? When employers give their workers breaks, whether in the form of lunch hours or vacation time, it’s a sign that they value their employees’ well-being, appreciate their efforts, and trust them to get their work done. TINYPulse’s survey shows that women feel less valued by their employers across the board: They perceive their benefits and salaries to be lower relative to the industry standard than men do; they feel they receive less recognition from their peers; and they report worse onboarding experiences and less freedom on work projects. Women may see a culture of desk lunches as one more way their employers take their hard work for granted while shorting them much needed recharge time.

A 2013 study indicated that lunch autonomy might matter more than lunch location: Employees who choose to work through lunch are less fatigued at the end of the day than those whose bosses force them to feed at their desks. In TINYPulse’s poll, women reported feeling burned out at higher rates than men, even though they received less pressure to work overtime. This gender discrepancy in attitudes toward overtime has been credited with upholding the wage gap.

Then again, the women surveyed were twice as likely as men to receive no paid time off from work and—due to the pressure of domestic responsibilities—women are more stressed at home than at work on weekdays. A lunch hour could be an important mental respite for those who don’t get one when they clock out at day's end.

What to make of male employees’ contempt for the lunch break? It could be that employees who already feel valued see being asked to work through lunch as a testament to their importance to the company. Or maybe men are such high-functioning beings that they’ve evolved past the need for a midday meal. Thanks to helpful trend pieces from the likes of the New York Times, we know for certain that women eat lunch. Do men? If so, they don't seem to care where.

Sept. 18 2015 3:23 PM

Why Monica Bellucci Is a “Bond Woman,” Not a “Bond Girl”

In Spectre, the James Bond film set to drop next month, Monica Bellucci will become the oldest woman ever to play a Bond love interest. When The Guardian asked the actress, who turns 51 this month, what she thinks of the term "Bond girl," she replied: “I can’t say I’m a Bond girl, because I’m too mature to be a Bond girl. I say Bond lady, Bond woman.”

Former actresses in Bond films, including Skyfall’s Naomie Harris, have accepted the term as a benign relic of the series. Its suitability has been shaken in the past few Bond installments: Skyfall, for example, found Harris holding her own as Bond’s fellow sharpshooting spy Eve Moneypenny, but the film was still beholden to the classic Bond trope of a tragic girl whose suffering is irresistibly sexy—in this case, a former sex worker who, after submitting to sneak-attack shower sex with Bond, ends up beaten and (this would be a spoiler if it weren’t so endemic to the genre) executed.

Insisting that female-identified adults be called women, not girls, has long been a way for feminists to assert their full, independent personhood. But a quarter-century after riot grrrls claimed the term in the manner of a territorial grizzly bear, women have redefined the space, with Lena Dunham giving “girls” a hip sheen and Beyoncé crediting them with global domination. The word—depending, of course, on who’s using it—has lost some of its infantilizing bite.

“The world is a man’s world,” Bellucci told The Guardian. “…Men think that women, when they’re not able to procreate any more, become old. That is not true—they are still amazing!” In a woman’s world, they can still be girls, too.