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June 8 2015 6:34 PM

The One Creepy Misstep in the Otherwise Great Spy

As just about every review of the weekend’s No. 1 movie has noted, the Melissa McCarthy vehicle Spy is a delightfully smart and feminist take on the espionage genre. Writer-director Paul Feig’s comedy “lampoons sexism without abandoning sex,” Slate’s Dana Stevens wrote, citing how the movie makes its star the “object of erotic interest” while also turning her into a confident, top-notch agent. Yet there’s one place its deft treatment of its feminist hero and its nimble needling of casual sexism begins to fumble: In the character of Aldo (Peter Serafinowicz), the Italian agent who claims he just can’t keep his hands off of McCarthy’s Susan Cooper, even though she repeatedly asks him to stop.

From the moment we meet him, Aldo is the human, Italian version of Pepé Le Pew. When he picks up Susan from the airport during her undercover mission, his approach to supporting his colleague is all too hands-on; he's constantly finding excuses to grab her “bosoms” or attack her face with his tongue. It’s kind of funny, at first: Susan, focused on her mission, turns him down each time with a look of exasperation, in a manner that conjures up sympathy for her while we chuckle at his pathetic advances. For as long as it works, it’s because the joke’s clearly on him.

But just as with Pepé, Aldo’s shtick goes on far too long, and it gradually becomes creepier with each scene. Toward the end, the movie contrives to have Cooper and Aldo tied up together. The act inevitably becomes yet another uncomfortable exercise in unwanted touching: He finds a way to get on top of her, crotch squarely on her neck, while fumbling to untie her hands, and—if that weren’t icky enough—soon she describes feeling something “wet” on her neck. She continues to protest, of course, but he remains uncowed to the end: When she runs off to finish the mission, he stays back, looking longingly at her and saying, “One day maybe, super spy Susan Cooper, I will fuck you.”

Of course, there’s nothing wrong in itself with depicting sexual harassment, and perhaps Aldo was less a misstep than a missed opportunity. Over the course of the movie, he becomes more and more an especially egregious version of the kind of sexual harassers many women encounter on a daily basis, a sort of walking-and-talking symbol of society’s persistent allowances for the casual sexist treatment of women. (The kind of casual sexism that, coincidentally, often comes cloaked in “jokes.”) By the end of the movie, McCarthy’s formerly shy and reserved super spy has learned to assert herself in just about every imaginable way, including through brash insults and roundhouse kicks. Yet our feminist hero never turns any of those skills on Aldo. If she can take down a whole ring of gangsters and terrorists and prevent a nuclear bomb from taking out New York City, surely she can knock a bumbling, grabby Italian agent down a few pegs.

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June 8 2015 12:58 PM

Fifty Years After Griswold, the American Working Women’s Revolution Is Stalled

This week marks the 50th anniversary of Griswold v. Connecticut, the landmark Supreme Court ruling that gave married couples access to contraception and paved the way for women’s increasingly widespread ability to take the pill. The capacity to plan and space births revolutionized their lives, and with them our economy. They flooded the workplace, investing in their own careers without fear that surprise babies would throw them off track.

But in the past quarter-century, American women’s rush to work outside the home has flatlined. Women have made as much progress as they can with birth control; they need a second revolution to continue working and expanding our economy.

The impact of contraception on the economy is hard to understate. Economists have found that access to the pill allowed women to spend time and money getting training and education without worrying about whether they’d have to stop for unwanted pregnancies. In turn, they were able to pursue careers. They were also able to delay marriage, which helped career women attract husbands.

The outcome was extraordinary. Access to contraception accounted for more than 30 percent of women’s expansion into skilled professions between 1970 and 1990. It’s also responsible for at least 15 percent of the sharp spike in how many hours women between the ages of 16 and 30 were spending at work during the same period. We can trace this directly back to Griswold: Women who were affected by the decision worked about two to three weeks more a year compared with those who weren’t able to access contraception right away.

We have all benefited from this revolution. In 1950, just 18 million women worked outside the home. By the 1980s, after access to contraception had become widespread and normalized, 60 percent of women of reproductive age were employed. If women hadn’t dramatically increased the time they spent working for pay since the 1970s, GDP would have been 11 percent smaller in 2012. That’s nearly twice the economic boost we got from information, communication, and technology-producing industries combined that same year. Put another way, women contributed more than $1.7 trillion to greater economic output, about equivalent to our combined spending on some of the largest government programs—Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.

But the revolution is now stalled. American women’s labor force participation peaked in the 1990s but has since plateaued, only reaching about 75 percent. Other developed countries have done a lot better: In 21 of them, the average is nearly 80 percent. In 1990, the United States ranked at No. 6 among them for our share of women who worked outside the home. Since then, we’ve plummeted to No. 17.

Economists have been able to pinpoint the reasons we’re lagging behind. We haven’t guaranteed access to paid family leave. We don’t facilitate employees’ ability to adjust their schedules at work. And we don't spend enough on child care and early childhood education. In short, we’ve failed to make life feasible for families with two working parents. We are one of just three countries in the world that doesn’t guarantee paid maternity leave (70 also guarantee fathers paid time off when their children arrive), and we rank 21st among developed countries for spending on preschool. If we had kept up with the rest of the world on these policies, American women’s labor force participation would be 82 percent.

American women have done a remarkable job of using the power they gained from contraception to change their lives and thus change our economy and society. The country would look completely different if they weren’t in charge of their fertility and if they hadn’t marched into the workplace in such huge numbers. But the country would also look a whole lot different today if we had kept pace with their desire to work. If we don’t meet them at least halfway with a policy regime that gives them adequate support to stay in the workforce, we’ll know precisely who’s to blame when they start giving up.

June 8 2015 9:24 AM

Caitlyn Jenner Isn’t Fodder for Your Academic Feminist Squabble

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Caitlyn Jenner on the cover of the July issue of Vanity Fair.

Courtesy of Vanity Fair

A tedious intrafeminist academic argument that has been raging since at least the 1980s—the battle between feminists who oppose transgenderism and feminists who accept it—was dragged onto the pages of the New York Times on Sunday. Unfortunately, writer Elinor Burkett (last seen crashing the stage at the Oscars) brought along for the ride one of the worst tendencies of academia: highly intellectualized arguments made in bad faith. Her argument is that Caitlyn Jenner in particular, and trans women generally, constitute a major threat to feminism because—well, it's hard to say. Anti-trans feminist arguments tend to be long on jargon and short on logic and consistency.

Burkett's argument is disingenuous from the get-go:

Do women and men have different brains?
Back when Lawrence H. Summers was president of Harvard and suggested that they did, the reaction was swift and merciless. Pundits branded him sexist. Faculty members deemed him a troglodyte. Alumni withheld donations.
But when Bruce Jenner said much the same thing in an April interview with Diane Sawyer, he was lionized for his bravery, even for his progressivism.

That would be a fair argument if Jenner had argued that there is a biologically “female brain” that is materially different in an objective way from the male brain. However, if you take the quote in context, you can see that Jenner is not saying that at all. “I was not genetically born that way,” she explained to Sawyer. “My brain is much more female than it is male. It's hard for people to understand that. But that's what my soul is.”

Summers was making a fundamentally biological argument, suggesting that female DNA acts as a natural limiter on women’s ability to do math. Jenner was making the opposite argument, saying that DNA is not destiny, and that even being awash in testosterone your whole life doesn’t mean you can’t be female. Sure, Jenner could have used more exacting language—using the word mind instead of brain, for instance—but we all got the gist of the argument. It’s intellectually dishonest for Burkett to seize on Jenner’s inexact language to pretend Jenner meant the opposite of what she clearly meant.  

The rest of the piece doesn't get any better. Burkett argues that “the very definition of female is a social construct.” If so, then why so suspicious of trans women? After all, their gender is quite obviously socially constructed, not based in biology. Burkett dances around this point but does make sure to voice support for “women-born women” space, which only make sense if you believe that gender is more biological than socially constructed.

Burkett tries to fluff up her claim that trans women are a dire threat by pointing to a couple of cases where lefty academics, trying to burnish their more-P.C.-than-thou credentials, attacked feminist activists online for perceived slights:

In January 2014, the actress Martha Plimpton, an abortion-rights advocate, sent out a tweet about a benefit for Texas abortion funding called “A Night of a Thousand Vaginas.” Suddenly, she was swamped by criticism for using the word “vagina.” “Given the constant genital policing, you can’t expect trans folks to feel included by an event title focused on a policed, binary genital,” responded @DrJaneChi.

Burkett offers no evidence that a few nit-picky social media warriors are representative of trans women, much less that Caitlyn Jenner has anything at all to do with them. 

I will grant that academic types who use all their intelligence and education to craft half-baked, jargon-y arguments meant more to score political points than to enlighten are aggravating. But Burkett needs to check her own glass house before throwing that stone. Nit-picking the use of the word vagina in a comical pro-choice slogan is dumb. But it's just as dumb to overread Caitlyn Jenner's use of the word brain to argue that she was somehow positing a biological theory of gender when it's clear that she was just explaining, in ordinary, nonacademic language, how she feels about herself. Here's an idea: Why don't we call a truce and let ordinary people express themselves without lighting their asses on fire for not sounding like they're reading out of a doctoral thesis? 

June 5 2015 5:18 PM

The New “Female Viagra” Works Not on the Genitals, But on the Brain

When it comes to addressing sexual dysfunction, men have no shortage of options. For women, alas, there are none. True, there have been a few half-hearted attempts to address the problem: Doctors have occasionally prescribed estrogen pills and creams, and some European countries have briefly experimented with testosterone patches before taking them off the market. But, for the most part, women’s lack of desire—or hypoactive sexual desire disorder (HSDD)—remains an “unmet medical need.” Enter flibanserin, the pill that gives you back your sex drive. Finally, the Female Viagra!

This at least is the argument put forth by Even the Score, a coalition of women’s groups including the National Council of Women’s Organizations and the American Sexual Health Association. (The argument is further summed up in this fairly hilarious parody Viagra ad.) The coalition is working with the drug’s developer, Sprout Pharmaceuticals, to bring this libido-in-a-pill to the masses. Looks like it worked: On Thursday, the FDA advisory committee voted 18-6 to recommend approval of flibanserin. It was a surprising about-face, given that the FDA had previously rejected the drug—twice—for failing to prove that its results justified its risks, which include fainting, low blood pressure, and drowsiness.

Alas, notwithstanding any risks, this is not Viagra for women. Viagra is an impotence aid used to treat erectile dysfunction. It relies on a simple physical mechanism for a simple physical problem: It sends more blood to the penis to keep it erect. Viagra assumes that sexual drive is present, just not physical ability. In fact, neither men nor women have ever had a pill that does what flibanserin purports to do, which is to address something trickier and altogether more vague: the locus of sexual desire.

Flibanserin works not on the genitals, but on the brain. In fact, the pill was originally developed to treat depression; researchers initially feared it would hurt, not promote, sexual desire. Flibanserin is what's known as a 5HT1A agonist and a 5HT2A antagonist; it shares mechanisms in common with the antidepressant and anti-anxiety drug buspirone (Buspar).* As a 5HT1A agonist, it promotes dopamine release. But nobody’s really sure exactly how it elevates lust. “Flibanserin’s mechanism in the treatment of HSDD is unknown,” according to the FDA briefing.

We have a tendency to want to swallow a pill and be done with it. But unlike an erection, sexual desire is a mysterious, many-layered thing. Is it really a good idea to medicate it with a pill whose effects you can’t even explain chemically? “Sexual response is a delicate dance between multiple neurotransmitters,” as Andrew Thomson, a psychologist at the University of Virginia who has researched the side effects of antidepressants on sexuality and romantic love, puts it. “Whereas with Viagra, you just engorge the penis with blood.” A more accurate female equivalent to Viagra, Thomson says, would be “a drug that has a direct response on the clitoris.”

*Correction, June 6, 2015: This post originally misstated that flibanserin is a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI). It is in fact a 5HT1A agonist and a 5HT2A antagonist. 

June 5 2015 10:38 AM

Pomona College Does Damage Control After Sexual Assault Protest at Graduation

Despite some setbacks and an aggressive derailment campaign conducted by anti-feminists, efforts to improve campus response to sexual assault are continuing to pay off. Wednesday, the president of Pomona College, which is part of the Claremont College system in Claremont, California, sent out a letter to students and staff explaining an extensive reworking of the school's policy for responding to sexual assault and harassment claims on campus. In the letter, the president outlined the extensive changes the school has made to help prevent sexual assault: instituting a bystander intervention training program, hiring a full-time sexual assault responder, working with other Claremont schools to create a sexual violence prevention and resource center that opens in the fall, and even creating a phone app that is meant to help keep students safer. 

Pomona's decision here doesn't come out of the blue. The school just underwent a massive audit of its sexual assault response that helped form these new policies. But it couldn't have hurt that one student, Yenli Wong, has been publicly criticizing the school, both in a letter in the school newspaper and at the Huffington Post, for what she says was a massive mishandling of her own sexual assault case. Wong describes being sexually assaulted twice by the same student, once on her first day of college. The school found her assailant responsible for his actions but, according to Wong, "the sanctions imposed were extremely light." The details are vague because, disturbingly, the school has told Wong she cannot share any of the details, a restriction that does quite a bit to shield her assailant from larger consequences for his behavior. 

In response to Wong's allegations, students reportedly protested at Pomona's graduation this year, turning their back on the college president and covering their mouths with their hands to represent the silencing of victims. 

Given these circumstances, it's hard to avoid concluding that the president is engaging in damage control by sending this letter. Unfortunately, most of the steps the school has taken don't address the primary concern brought forth by Wong and her supporters, which is that victims are being silenced. It's hard to determine if the penalties meted out are fair, after all, if we're not even allowed to know what the penalties are. 

That said, one step that the school is taking does hold some promise. Pomona is instituting an online service called Callisto, one which happened to be created by Pomona College alum Jessica Ladd. Callisto is a brand-new system that has only been adopted by one other school so far, the University of San Francisco. The program was developed by sexual assault survivors to accommodate the fact that a lot of victims are unsure about reporting and may need time or more information before committing to an official accusation. Victims go online and, through the service, write an account of what happened, with as much detail as they feel like sharing. Kate Wheeling at Pacific Standard describes what comes next:

Once survivors start a time-stamped incident report online, they can choose to store their information in one of three states: they can anonymously and indefinitely store their information; they can record their experience and report automatically if another user within the system identifies the same perpetrator, or they can use the system to immediately file an official report. Until the incident is officially reported, users can transfer their report between the first two states as many times as they want, and they can even completely delete their file from the system.

What makes the system ingenious is that it allows the victim to get the details down while the memory is still fresh, but allows her to gather more information and think about her options before she chooses to report. A lot of rapists, for understandable reasons, prefer to rape in situations that they can spin as murky or ambiguous, trying to get the victim to second-guess herself or, if that's not possible (say, in situations where he uses violence to subdue her), at least get the victim into a place where she worries no one would believe her anyway. In some cases, victims might feel it's not worth it to report, but would change their mind if they found out that their assailant is a serial rapist. By being able to detect if there's multiple reports about the same man, the system can help resolve this concern for victims. 

Callisto also has safeguards against false accusations, allowing only authorities, the accused, and the victim to see reports that the victim chooses to share. This isn't people writing names on a bathroom wall, but a rigorous evidence-collecting service that alleviates victim concerns about reporting. 

As a colleague of mine noted when I told him I was writing this story, Callisto is an elegant workaround for one of the biggest problems when it comes to campus rape, which is the lack of institutional memory. Schools have high turnover by nature, with a new group of students coming in and others leaving every year. Any individual victim or assailant will likely be gone before too long, incentivizing heel-dragging and secrecy for schools to keep anyone from detecting a pattern. Callisto could help fix that problem. If multiple women report being assaulted by a single rapist, then there's a record of what happened that isn't hidden by the churn of campus life. 

June 5 2015 9:53 AM

Which State Was the Worst for Women This Week? 

The state legislative season is beginning to wind down, so it's time to squeeze in some last-minute attacks on women's access to health care. Last week's Worst State of the Week honors were handed out on grounds of sheer weirdness, but this round is defined mostly by mean-spiritedness. 

Third place goes to North Carolina, where the state Senate passed a bill that would expand the abortion waiting period from 24 hours to 72 hours, because lately women have become even more slow-witted and need yet more time to think over their decisions. This move isn't just about hassling women and their doctors, however. State legislators are also screwing over Republican Gov. Pat McCrory, who won his swing state in 2012 by promising not to sign more abortion restrictionsMcCrory has been dodging and weaving when reporters ask if he plans to sign this bill. You'd think McCrory's Republican colleagues would avoid putting him in this no-win situation, but apparently forcing women to stay pregnant 72 hours longer than they'd otherwise choose was just that important.

Second place goes to last week's winner and perennial contender Texas, for its devotion to expanding anti-woman attacks past mere abortion restrictions. Now it's cancer screening for women that's on the chopping block, as state lawmakers there cut Planned Parenthood from the breast and cervical cancer screening program that provides free cancer screening to uninsured, low-income women. Planned Parenthood handles about 10 percent of women who get screened through the program. 

The excuse for this is “abortion,” of course. “Texans have made it abundantly clear that they do not want their tax dollars flowing to abortion providers and their affiliates,” Texas Sen. Jane Nelson explained. Of course, the money is actually flowing through Planned Parenthood—which is a nonprofit—to women who are benefiting from the free screenings. But that's anti-choice logic for you: It can't stop Planned Parenthood from providing abortions, so it's going to take away your cancer screenings instead.

This week's winner is Wisconsin, where anti-choice legislators showed their true colors by drafting a bill that will allow men to sue doctors who provide abortions to women they've impregnated. As Laura Bassett of the Huffington Post explains, it's a provision tucked away in a bill banning abortions after 20 weeks. On top of the outright ban, the bill allows “father of the aborted unborn child” to sue the doctor “for personal injury and emotional and psychological distress.” This is even if the woman who had the abortion is fine with her decision. (Women are also allowed to sue, but the larger concern is controlling, abusive men trying to create problems for their exes.) Guess Wisconsin legislators really needed to let the world know that impregnating women should give men ownership over their bodies. 

June 4 2015 11:42 AM

The Duggar Interview Shows How Much Fox News Exploits Its Audience

On Wednesday night, Megyn Kelly of Fox News interviewed Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar over the brouhaha regarding their son Josh's lengthy stint of child molesting in his teens. The interview was a straightforward clean-up job; mostly, it served to allow the Duggars to minimize Josh's behavior and to make excuses for covering it up. Prior to this heavily pro-Duggar presentation, Fox News ignored the story as hard as it could

A big part of the interview was giving the Duggars a chance to portray themselves as victims of a meanie anti-Christian media, with Michelle Duggar claiming that critics have “an agenda” and Kelly asking if their “Christian beliefs” were the reason people were hating on them. So much for Megyn Kelly's reputation for being a tough interviewer. 

The Duggars have made a career out of being sanctimonious religious fanatics who obsessively police consensual sex to the point of treating even contraception like it's a perversion. Of course, the perverts among us—who are, by the Duggars' measure, roughly 99.99 percent of us—are going to find it very interesting that these supposedly hyperwholesome people shielded a child molester and then offered him up on reality TV and as a moral leader in his role at the Family Research Council. But no, they're the victims here. 

What even more interesting, however, is that Fox News went all-in on running interference for the Duggars. The conservative movement, particularly the religious-right faction, angrily denies that there's some kind of anti-woman agenda behind their relentless attacks on women's rights, claiming instead to be protecting women (and giving them “cool” stuff) by making it harder to access abortion and contraception. Under the circumstances, it seems unwise to embrace a family that seems more worried about women having consensual sex than it is about sexual abuse. 

But while Fox News generally supports the conservative movement, it is also a capitalist enterprise. Nursing the grievances of its right-wing audience is big business. Its audience wants to hear all about how the meanie liberals are picking on this cute little Christian family for an itty-bitty multimonth rampage of child molesting. Conservatives love Fox News, but this entire interview shows that Fox is not really their friend. Given the choice between making money off its audience's worst impulses and protecting the best interests of the conservative movement, Fox will pick the former every time. 

June 3 2015 5:16 PM

Why Is the Maternal Wage Gap So Much Worse in Some States than Others?

We hear a lot about the wage gap between men and women, but we hear less about the one between mothers and fathers. As the wage gap between single men and single women closes, sociologists have found that motherhood “is now a greater predictor of wage inequality than gender in the United States.”

With this in mind, the National Women’s Law Center created a map showing the wage gap between mothers and fathers by state, using data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey. The range among states is big: In Louisiana, a mother makes 58.2 cents per a dad’s dollar, while in Vermont, a mother makes 82 cents.

I called Kate Gallagher Robbins, NWLC’s director of research and policy analysis, to ask her what states with narrower disparities between moms and dads had in common. “States with smaller wage gaps, generally speaking, have higher than average minimum wages,” Robbins says. Because women are the majority of minimum wage workers, states (such as Louisiana) that pay just the federal level— $7.25 an hour—tend to have bigger gaps.

The place that has the smallest gap between mothers and fathers—just 10 cents—isn’t a state; it’s Washington, D.C. Robbins surmises that the gap is so small in D.C. because many of its workers are employed by the federal government. Government workers have “a very standard pay scale, and there’s a lot of transparency,” two factors that are related to smaller gender pay gaps, Robbins says.

Some of the states with the biggest gaps between moms and dads—including Louisiana, Wyoming, and West Virginia—are ones where many of the available jobs are concentrated in the energy industry. “Those are types of jobs where there’s a lot of occupational segregation, and they pay reasonably well, even if you don’t have a degree,” Robbins explains. So a woman without a high school education in Louisiana might be a waitress making a tipped employee minimum wage of $2.13 an hour, while her male counterpart is working on a oil rig, making a great deal more.

One surprising thing about NWLC’s map is that paid parental leave is not necessarily correlated with a small wage gap between mothers and fathers, even though mothers are more likely to stay in the workforce when they get paid leave. Take California and New Jersey, two of the three states in the Union with state-mandated paid leave: While California moms make 76.4 cents per a dad’s dollar, New Jersey moms make just 66.7 cents—putting it in the bottom 20. That shows that the maternal wage gap is a knotty, complicated problem and that we’ll probably need several different kinds of solutions to close it. 

June 3 2015 12:43 PM

It’s a Very Good Thing That Elizabeth Warren Isn’t Running for President

Only halfway through 2015, Run Warren Run, a group formed by MoveOn.org to persuade Elizabeth Warren to run for president in 2016, has accepted that Warren isn't listening and is closing up shop. In an editorial for Politico, Ilya Sheyman of MoveOn.org and Charles Chamberlain of Democracy for America, which helped set up the Run Warren Run effort, explained their decision. “There’s no sugar-coating it: We didn’t achieve our central goal,” they write, adding that while they “may not have sparked a candidacy, [they] ignited a movement” to fight income inequality. 

Sheyman and Chamberlain are right about the groundswell of attention on income inequality and that Warren's presence in the political landscape has helped keep the issue front and center. In fact, that's one reason why it's good Warren decided to ignore her own fan base and not to run for president. Warren understands what some of her biggest supporters don't: that sometimes it's best not to fix what isn't broken. 

A huge part of me would love to see Warren run for president, just to watch the squirming of all those bro-gressives who swear they'd support a female candidate so long as it wasn't Hillary Clinton. However, a presidential run isn't necessarily the best way to advocate for fixing our unfair, broken economic system. The office of presidency is a generalist one, meaning that to run a successful campaign, Warren would have to spread her energies much thinner, focusing on social issues and foreign policy and bureaucratic headaches like the running of the Department of Health and Human Services under Obamacare. I'm sure she would be great on all those fronts, but it would mean she couldn't play the role that she's best at: attack dog on income inequality and Wall Street corruption.

Being in Congress is perfect for a specialist. Let the rest of your caucus handle issues like reproductive rights and foreign policy; all you need to support them is show up and vote. The rest of your time can be spent hammering at this one major issue, by doing media appearances, drafting legislation, and building a coalition of support. In addition, Warren has shown that, as a senator, she is plenty powerful at fighting some of the more economically conservative impulses in her own party. While she wasn't able to stop the Trans-Pacific Partnership bill, her coalition-building skills made it a lot harder to push it through the Senate than its supporters, including President Obama, thought it would be. 

We can also look forward to watching the fireworks as Warren goes after Hillary Clinton for her economic centrism. Warren doesn't hold back from attacking Obama, and she won't hold back from attacking Clinton. On the contrary, having her in Congress, ready and waiting to attack, is the left's best hope for keeping Clinton honest. 

June 2 2015 5:04 PM

Lauren Conrad’s “Body Positive” Message Is a Good Start but Misses the Mark

Lauren Conrad has come a long way from her beach-bum days on Laguna Beach. She’s a fashion designer with a huge following and a great deal of influence—three fashion lines, several books—which is why many were thrilled to see her take a stand for body positivity today, banning words such as thin, slim, and skinny from her lifestyle and fashion blog, especially in reference to health and fitness:

It’s that time of the year again… swimsuit season. I make an effort to eat healthy and exercise all year round. But when summer hits and the layers of clothing come off, fitness becomes even more of a priority for me. So with that in mind, our June theme here on LaurenConrad.com is going to be Shape Up. You can expect all the great fitness content you’ve come to know and love here on the site, including my LaurenConrad.com Bikini Boot Camp series. But, you’ll also notice one key difference…
When we’ve talked about getting in shape in the past, words like “skinny,” “slim,” and “thin” have often come up. Starting this month, we’ll be banning any body shaming terms from the site, and replacing them with words like “fit” “toned,” and “healthy.” We try do to [sic] this for the most part anyway, but now we’re making it official! The word skinny will now be reserved for skinny jeans. My editorial team and I had a long talk about it, and we want to make sure that the focus is on being fit as opposed to a number on the scale. Every body is created differently—and healthy bodies come in all shapes and sizes.

Eliminating words about weight and size in reference to fitness is a well-intentioned move, and Conrad should be commended for questioning the widespread notion that someone’s pant size says anything about her physical fitness. But is her message body-positive or simply fitness-positive? And anyway, hasn’t “fit” become the new “skinny” already?

Let’s start with the obvious: The entire post assumes every woman is worrying about getting a “bikini-ready” body—pacing her room, surrounded by magazines and pictures of women with taut tummies, perky butts, and statuesque arms, fretting over how to look her best for all those sangria-soaked trips to the beach. It’s that time of year again … swimsuit season. Implication being that we need to gear up and get fit—something Conrad is prepared to help us do, as her June theme will be “Shape Up.”

This isn’t just Conrad’s assumption, as anyone who remembers Protein World’s beach-body poster controversy knows. (That ad just made its way to America, by the way.) Fitness has become its own religion. For some, kale is revered like holy water. Men on dating apps say they want “healthy” women as a socially acceptable way of saying “no fatties.” Words like fit, healthy, and toned are, in a way, even more vexing than skinny. What does an amply “fit” body look like? And before you say the whole point is that it’s not about how you look, remember this fitness theme is being presented specifically because of bikini season, when “the layers of clothing come off.” You don’t have to be skinny, but you’re going to be awfully naked, so wouldn’t it be great to be fit? the post seems to imply, hands gripping tighter and tighter on a bottle of kale juice. It’s the same old message, repackaged: “Your body isn’t presentable as-is. Let’s fix it.”

Although Conrad writes that “healthy bodies come in all shapes and sizes,” it seems she only feels obligated to clothe some of them: At least two of her clothing lines do not offer plus sizes. So, either not all “healthy” bodies deserve to be clothed, or girls above a certain size simply don’t exist. But don’t worry, if you do enough bikini yoga and drink enough fructose-free smoothies, you, too, could get the “fit,” “toned,” “healthy” body you always dreamed of. And it has “nothing” to do with being “thin.”

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