The XX Factor
What Women Really Think

April 22 2016 9:40 AM

Prince Was One of Pop Music’s Greatest Champions of Women

Prince wasn’t just one of the 20th century’s great artists, who left behind an unrivaled discography of hundreds and hundreds of monumental classics and bewildering oddities. He was also one of music’s great champions of women, who were indispensable to him onstage and in the studio. Some of them co-wrote his biggest hits; others had the biggest hits of their own careers with songs he wrote or produced or both. Part post-gender Svengali, part macho pig in a teddy and lipstick, Prince was talented enough to work as a one-man band, and often did. Real and complicated magic came, though, when he collaborated with women.

First there was Lisa Coleman, who at 19 had already been in the business for seven years when she joined Prince on his Dirty Mind tour in 1980 (which featured another future r&b legend, Teena Marie, as an opening act). Prince was still playing all the instruments himself on record, but live, Lisa’s keyboards and vocals were an essential foil to him as his shows grew stadium-sized for the 1999 tour, serving up the irresistible hooks on songs like “1999,” “Controversy,” “Delirious,” and “Little Red Corvette.”

When Coleman’s girlfriend Wendy Melvoin joined the band in 1983 as preparations began for Purple Rain, the artists known as Wendy & Lisa joined him in the spotlight. Wendy came up with the iconic opening chords of the title track; the pair wrote the album’s beguiling “Computer Blue” with Prince’s father. They damn near stole the movie out from underneath the Purple One, sweating bullets to make the concert sequences the best rock show ever captured on film and reading him to filth in the campy backstage scenes, all while he simultaneously denied and relied upon their musical contributions. (In a must-read interview in Out from 2009, Wendy and Lisa talk candidly about their role in Prince’s success and his radical concepts of gender.) They joined Prince onstage (“This is Lisa... and this is Wendy”) when he accepted the Academy Award for original song score for Purple Rain in 1985. 

Meanwhile, Prince snatched up Sheila E., one of the great percussionists of her generation; he helped her put a band together for a debut record, the hit The Glamorous Life, and gave her an opening gig on his blockbuster Purple Rain tour. The two were briefly a couple (in her 2014 memoir, she says of the relationship, “I was dating a vampire,” and other not-great things). But Sheila E. was far more than the other pretty faces he tarted up, gifted a song or two to, and then promptly abandoned. (More on them in a minute.) They collaborated on a second album for her, 1986’s underrated Romance 1600. Crucially, she anchored the constantly shifting lineup of his post-Revolution period, helping him through assembling the messy masterpiece Sign “O” the Times and serving as musical director for his marathon Sign and Lovesexy tours.

If Sheila E. was his rock behind the drum kit, Susan Rogers was his studio support. One of the few female engineers in the industry, Rogers was generally the only person Prince allowed in the room as he recorded and re-recorded and re-re-recorded his tracks. Alan Light’s 2014 Let’s Go Crazy  persuasively makes the case that, without Susan’s technical wizardry, keen eye, and boundless patience, it’s possible Prince might never have finished a song in the 1980s.  

He finished thousands of them, of course, not only for himself but for a staggering number of other musicians. There were his famous girl groups, of course. In 1982 Vanity 6, fronted by his then girlfriend Denise Matthews, gyrated their way to stardom with their Linn drum machine and lingerie fantasia “Nasty Girl” and a still-underrated eponymous album. Her breakup with Prince was acrimonious, her post-Vanity life troubled; when Matthews died just two months ago, he paid tribute to her in what turned out to be one of his final shows. For Purple Rain, Vanity 6 became Apollonia 6 when Apollonia Kitero replaced Matthews as Prince’s girl-group lead singer, girlfriend, and movie co-star. Wendy Melvoin and another talented woman in Prince’s orbit, Jill Jones, helped bring to fruition the trio’s self-titled album, led by the ribald hit “Sex Shooter.”

Beyond acting like a pop Svengali, though, Prince worked with an astounding range of female stars, all while releasing his own, unrivaled string of triumphs in the 1980s and ’90s. He provided both inspiration and instrumentation for Stevie Nicks’ ferocious “Stand Back.” He wrote the Bangles’ second-best song, “Manic Monday.” He offered Sheena Easton “Sugar Walls,” a track that not only shored up her star status in America but also, along with his own masturbation anthem “Darling Nikki”, launched Tipper Gore’s career as a culture scold. Chaka Kahn covered his “I Feel for You” with legendary results. He and Madonna co-wrote and dueted on the stiff “Love Song” from her Like a Prayer album. Sinead O’Connor repurposed “Nothing Compares 2 U,” a track originally performed to little notice by Prince’s protégés The Family, into the 1990s’ great anthem of heartbreak and grief. He took a prayer written by Martika, a former star of Kids Incorporated and later sample source for one of Eminem's biggest hits, and turned it into the godlike “Love...Thy Will Be Done.” And for 1993’s “Why Should I Love You,” he became one of the very few stars to collaborate with Kate Bush—who was, along with Bowie, perhaps Prince’s only true peer when it came to the ability to summon technical wizardry, aesthetic prophesy, and sheer charisma for the honorable purpose of a pop song.

To be sure, Prince often used women as eye candy. (As the bathing-beauty poster included with Controversy or the strip-tease cover of Parade attest, though, he never asked them to do a pose he wouldn’t do himself.) But as one of the biggest stars in the world for almost 40 years, Prince went out of his way to shine a spotlight on the women he gathered around him, from Lisa Coleman on the early records to the countless women he brought on tour to open for him to the all-female power trio 3rdeyegirl, who backed him on his final albums. He forced his fans to face the truth that the best drummer in the world could be a Latina in heels, the best guitarist (apart from his own multi-gendered self) a lesbian in ruffles and sneers. Prince promised a world where men and women looked and acted like each other, and also like nobody else, and if you didn’t come to party, don’t bother knocking on the door. It still feels like a revolution.  

April 22 2016 8:33 AM

Is Supersweet Kelly Ripa Secretly a Diva? The Live! With Kelly and Michael Drama, Explained.

The friendly-bordering-on-flirtatious banter between Kelly Ripa and Michael Strahan is the fuel that fires their daytime TV show, Live! With Kelly and Michael—which is why it’s so surprising to see Page Six using words like “meltdown” and “betrayal” to describe what’s going on right now between the pair behind the scenes. On Tuesday, TMZ reported that Ripa was furious that her co-host was leaving the show for a spot on Good Morning America. She reportedly called in sick for the rest of the week in protest, leaving Strahan to vamp alongside a succession of fill-in co-hosts, including Ana Gasteyer and Erin Andrews. What exactly is going on here, and whose side should you be on? Read on for our best attempt to explain.

April 21 2016 5:21 PM

Why I’ll Miss Chyna, the Female Wrestler Who Broke All the Gender Rules

The “Ninth Wonder of the World” is dead, the only female wrestler to hold the World Wrestling Federation Intercontinental Championship, the female wrestler who fought the men and, as often as not, beat them. 5-foot-10. Muscles on her muscles. Chyna wasfound dead in her apartment by police after a friend discovered her there, unresponsive. She was 45.

Chyna, who was born Joan Marie Laurer, was something of a hero of mine. I can still remember watching wrestling, at my childhood home or in my dorm room at college, and the feeling of excitement and wonder that would come over me whenever she was on camera. She made me want to scream. She made me want to punch boys. She made my heart feel as if it might burst with pride, or break.

April 21 2016 4:33 PM

Bravo’s New Show Reveals How Mommy Groups Aren’t Always a Force for Good

Anton Chekhov’s famous storytelling rule is that if a gun appears at the beginning of a work, it has to be fired by the end. Bravo’s method for storytelling is to hand every cast member a gun at the beginning, and then sit back and watch as these emotional assassins clumsily, and often incoherently, fire bullets at one another. It’s a formula that’s worked well for the reality juggernaut that is the Real Housewives franchise, and that Bravo has replicated in the new unscripted show There Goes the Motherhood, which premiered Wednesday night.

The show stars seven bronzed and coiffed women, all with access to many-zeroed bank accounts to which they don’t contribute. (Yes, they are mothers. Yes, care work is real work. The point isn’t that they don’t do anything, just that they are all rich.) The conceit is that they belong to one of  “the most coveted mommy groups in” Los Angeles, in which they are supposed to seek and provide support from and for the other moms. But this is Bravo, so instead we get lots of sideways eye rolls and occasional full-frontal personal attacks, the content of which frequently has little to do with parenting. One would hope that the specter of their children, if not their actual presence at family get-togethers, would prompt these women to at least conceal, if not put down, their weapons once in awhile. This rarely happens.

April 21 2016 4:23 PM

How One Extremely Raunchy Prince Song Led to Those “Explicit Content” Stickers on CDs

One sign of how well Prince’s music has stood the test of time is that, even to a jaded listener in 2016, his songs about sex can still sound utterly, joyously filthy. And there is perhaps no greater tribute to the power of the man’s dirty talk than the fact that, back in the 1980s, it helped lead to the creation of the “Parental Advisory” label, those little black stickers that signaled to teenagers which albums would be the most fun to listen to all through the CD era.

As the story goes, Al and Tipper Gore were listening to Purple Rain with their 11-year-old daughter, when they found themselves awkwardly ambushed by “Darling Nikki,” Prince's somewhat strange but rollicking ode to getting it on with a sexually adventurous young woman. 

April 21 2016 12:38 PM

Trans College Students Are More Likely to Attempt Suicide When Denied Bathroom Access

Transgender college students are more likely attempt to suicide at some point in their lives if their schools do not offer them gender-appropriate bathroom and housing accommodations, according to a new report from Georgia State University.

Researcher Kristie Seelman, an assistant professor of social work, pulled the data from 2011’s landmark National Transgender Discrimination Survey, the largest-ever study of transgender people. That survey included 6,450 participants, 2,325 of whom attended college and identified as trans while they were there, making them eligible for Georgia State’s analysis.

April 20 2016 5:31 PM

Utah Declares Porn a “Public Health Crisis,” Furthering a Mormon Myth About Porn Addiction

Utah officially declared pornography a “public health crisis” in a resolution Governor Gary Herbert signed at the state capitol in Salt Lake City on Wednesday. The text of the resolution claims that porn has a “detrimental” effect on brain function, contributes to “emotional and medical illnesses,” and gives rise to “deviant sexual arousal.” State senator Todd Weiler introduced the resolution in January; it passed the state legislature—unanimously!—in March. “Weiler maintains that the resolution is not a ban on porn or an attack on masturbation,” USA Today reported.

So, a curious Utahn might ask, what is it? It says Utah needs “education, prevention, research, and policy change at the community and societal level,” but it does nothing it provide those things, nor does it offer any evidence for the claims it makes. It’s a nonbinding, symbolic measure to legislate morality and shame Utah residents for seeking out a product that most people consume at some point without ill effects.

April 20 2016 3:00 PM

Please Ask Me About My Womb

Next week is National Infertility Awareness Week, and Resolve, the infertility advocacy organization that began the annual event in 1989, has introduced a new hashtag in its honor. The #StartAskingcampaign encourages anyone who has experienced infertility—which, according to CDC numbers provided by Resolve, includes one in eight American couples—to demand better treatment. Suggested actions include asking one’s employer for insurance coverage, calling for better protections from lawmakers, and seeking support from family and friends.

The logic behind this campaign proceeds from the idea that infertility treatment, including especially the exorbitant costs involved, won’t improve until there is more conversation about it in public. It’s a reasonable strategy—change often comes as a result of people speaking out as a group. But what’s interesting about #StartAsking is that it convincingly challenges the widely held belief that the status of a woman’s womb is her business and her business alone.

April 20 2016 1:53 PM

A Lot of Hillary Clinton’s New York Supporters Kept Quiet About Their Allegiances

Until Tuesday night, I had assumed that my neighborhood, Cobble Hill, Brooklyn, was overwhelmingly supporting Bernie Sanders. Sanders bumper stickers and T-shirts outnumbered those for Hillary Clinton by what seemed like 20 to 1. A couple of times, I thought about putting my baby daughter in a Clinton onesie—whatever my hesitations about Clinton’s candidacy, I love the idea of my girl’s first image of an American president being female. But I always hesitated, not wanting to invite playground harangues from local dads about Goldman Sachs and the Fed.

When I looked up Cobble Hill on the nifty New York Times tool providing neighborhood-by-neighborhood results, however, it turned out that Clinton won the immediate area around my apartment by 59.4 percent. A block over, she won by 72.5 percent. She won all around me. A lot of Clinton supporters, evidently, have been keeping quiet about their allegiances.

There are a couple of explanations for this. Sanders fans seem to be more enthusiastic, though it takes a certain amount of enthusiasm to vote in a primary at all. Registered independents couldn't vote in New York’s closed primary, particularly given the absurd, undemocratic October deadline for switching parties. But I think there might be something else at work as well: an optical illusion that the candidate with the most white male support had the most support, period. I had let myself mistake the loudest people for The People.

I’m not trying to deny that the Sanders coalition is diverse or to erase the many passionate women and men of color who supported him. But the fact remains that according to exit polls, Clinton won every racial and gender demographic except white men. And somehow, I’d become convinced that, in my own backyard, their preferences were far more widespread than they really are.

I’ve heard anecdotally from other women who’ve kept their support for Clinton somewhat quiet, because they assumed they were in a minority. On Tuesday I spoke to Bushwick resident Savannah Cox, a 26-year-old writer and researcher at the New School, a famously progressive Greenwich Village university. “As a Clinton fan, I have had to be diplomatic even though I am patronized,” she says. “I am honestly sick of it.” She describes one male friend who offered to speak more slowly so she could fully grasp his point about Clinton’s complicity with the fossil fuel lobby. Cox says she has stopped talking about politics with her friends: “I can’t do it. I don’t want to engage.” (Bushwick’s neighborhoods were divided between Sanders and Clinton.) Again, this is a single anecdote, but it makes me think I’m not alone in being reluctant to advertise my support for Clinton.

I’m a little abashed that I missed what was going on in my own community. One of the most searing experiences of my political life was covering Ohio during the 2004 election, where it seemed as if the entire civilized world had mobilized to stop George W. Bush. I followed celebrities like Steve Buscemi, Julianna Margulies, and Matt Dillon as they campaigned door-to-door, often surprising people who weren’t quite sure why the canvassers looked so familiar. On election eve, Bruce Springsteen performed “No Surrender” for tens of thousands of elated Kerry supporters in Cleveland. I sobbed, unprofessionally, in the press stands. I was sure our national nightmare was over. The next day was one of the worst of my life. People took many different lessons from Kerry’s defeat, but one that I learned was not to mistake a massive, passionate crowd for a majority.

At least, I thought I’d learned it. Tuesday night, I learned it again, less painfully. Brooklyn is full of a certain kind of archetypal Sanders voter—young, hip, highly educated, and ideological. But in Brooklyn as a whole, Hillary Clinton beat native son Bernie Sanders by 20 percent. The borough was with her, even if it didn’t always feel like it.

April 20 2016 1:15 PM

Harriet Tubman Will Replace Andrew Jackson on the $20, Leaving Hamilton on the $10

Hamilton fans can stop their hyperventilation and money-hoarding: The Founding Father and recent Broadway celebrity will remain on the $10 for the foreseeable future.

According to Politico, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew will reveal a plan on Wednesday to keep Alexander Hamilton on the $10 bill and replace Andrew Jackson with Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill, rather than giving a historically important woman a place on the $10, as the Treasury had previously planned.

Replacing Jackson on the $20 instead of Hamilton on the $10 wasn’t the good-willed genius of the Department of Treasury, nor was it the bright idea of unofficial Hamilton lobbyist Lin-Manuel Miranda. It was the original demand made by the women who launched the Women on 20s campaign in 2015. The campaign crowdsourced nominations for the female currency candidate and collected more than 600,000 votes over three rounds. Tubman won, beating out Eleanor Roosevelt by just 7,000 votes. Women on 20s presented the results and the proposal in a petition to Barack Obama last May.