The XX Factor
What Women Really Think

June 13 2016 3:31 PM

Oklahoma Is Siphoning Money From Schools and Pouring It Into an Anti-Abortion Curriculum

Oklahoma’s schools are among the worst in the country, but at least state politicians are tackling that problem head-on with a law outlining an important new curriculum. With the help of a measure signed last week by Republican Governor Mary Fallin, educators will be newly prepared to convey the lesson “that abortion kills a living human being.”

The law, HB 2797, which goes into effect Nov. 1, requires both the state’s Department of Health and its Department of Education to work toward “the purpose of achieving an abortion-free society.” In practice, this means that the Health Department will be developing a barrage of “public service announcements, media,” and other agitprop; posting on its website that “The State of Oklahoma strongly urges you to contact them if you are pregnant”; and otherwise working to make women feel watched. The new law also says that “no program or state employee may refer any student to a medical facility or any provider for the performance of an abortion.” The Health and Education Departments have been directed to work together to create “education programs regarding the humanity of the unborn child” for Oklahoma’s ninth-through-twelfth graders. (Parents would be able to opt their children out of these classes, according to the Tulsa World.)

Critics have already raised concerns about what subjects might suffer to make room in the school day for anti-abortion propagandizing. “Adding yet another mandate on [teachers] and forcing them to have those very emotional and political conversations with young people just takes away instructional time from other areas,” Democratic State Representative Emily Virgin said, according to the World.

Time isn’t the only limited resource that Oklahoma can’t afford to pour into lecturing teenagers about how life begins at conception. Oklahoma has a $1.3 billion budget deficit, and that weight is falling heaviest upon its struggling school system: Reuters recently reported that Oklahoma’s $3 billion education budget had been cut by $58 million since January. Though the law technically establishes a “Public Education on the Humanity of the Unborn Child Fund”—“a continuing fund, not subject to fiscal year limitations”—to pay for the high school programs, it’s not at all clear where the money will come from to fill it. The Education Department estimated this spring that the it would cost up to $160,000 to develop materials for the program and about $10,000 per high school, or about $4.78 million total, to put the program into action.

To make a long story short: If the law does go into effect, it will represent the siphoning of funds away from some other priority in the already desperately squeezed state. If it doesn’t, it will probably be because Oklahoma simply can’t afford it.

Oklahoma’s financial woes appear to have been all that prevented Fallin from outlawing abortion completely last month. The state legislature passed a bill that would have made it a felony, punishable by up to three years in prison, to perform the procedure. When Fallin vetoed, she restated her opposition to Roe v. Wade—the Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion—but called the bill “so ambiguous and so vague” that it “would not withstand a criminal constitutional legal challenge.” As I wrote at the time, Fallin’s signature would almost definitely have embroiled Oklahoma taxpayers in a costly legal battle that their state could not have won.

Of course, while Oklahoma’s methods for “achieving an abortion-free society” have a totalitarian tinge, the goal of creating a society in which abortion happens infrequently makes total sense. That’s why, during debates over the bill, Democrats advocated supplementing it with strategies that might actually work. As reported by Rewire, Rep. Virgin suggested an amendment that would include comprehensive sex education, and another Democrat, Rep. Jason Dunnington, wrote an amendment to “provide family planning services, including all forms of contraceptives.” Without these changes, the bill is like “starting a book at the end,” Dunnington said, according to the World. “A student in Oklahoma would learn about abortion and gestational cycles, but there would be no guarantee that they would learn about sex and pregnancy.” The Republican majority voted down both amendments.

It’s long been said that Republicans’ passion for the unborn doesn’t extend past delivery. In Oklahoma, conservatives believe the rights of fetuses should commandeer valuable class-time and over-subscribed state dollars, regardless of the costs to actual children.

June 10 2016 3:45 PM

Hillary Clinton Proved Her Reproductive-Rights Chops in a Glorious Speech for Planned Parenthood

At a Planned Parenthood Action Fund membership event in Washington, D.C., on Friday, Hillary Clinton sketched out an unapologetic vision of the future of reproductive rights under her presidential leadership. If any future political historians need a reminder of the different tones Clinton and Bernie Sanders have struck on reproductive justice during their campaigns, this speech will do well to represent the Clinton campaign’s firm grasp on the complex, intersectional barriers to health care that women face, and its all-in approach to winning progressive women voters.

Planned Parenthood made its first-ever presidential primary endorsement when it threw its lot behind Clinton in January, and Clinton’s Friday address more than justifies that decision. Clinton opened her speech with a tribute to Planned Parenthood, which kept its health care facilities open in the face of rising harassment and last fall’s lethal terrorist attack. “Thank you for being there for women, no matter their race, sexual orientation, or immigration status ... [and] the transgender teens who come for an appointment and find the first place where they can truly be themselves,” Clinton said, commending the organization for handing out clean water to the residents of Flint, Michigan, and providing some of the most reliable, affordable contraception services in the country. “I’ve been proud to stand with Planned Parenthood for a long time, and as president, I will always have your back.”

Clinton remarked on the progress reproductive rights advocates have made in the century since Planned Parenthood’s founding. When she was a law professor teaching Griswold v. Connecticut, the Supreme Court decision that made birth control legal for married couples in the U.S., Clinton said, “a look of total bewilderment would come across my students’ faces.” She explained that the country’s maternal mortality rate “dropped dramatically” after Roe v. Wade, and that it played an important role in women’s capacity to pursue an education and career. What's more, accurate sex education and affordable contraception have contributed to an all-time low rate of teen births.

Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards said the organization trusts Clinton to quash the Hyde Amendment—the longtime ban on Medicaid funding for abortions, which Clinton condemned earlier this year—and Clinton nodded to the importance of breaking down systemic racism and keeping immigrant families together as part of the fight for reproductive justice. This is a small but significant pivot from the “choice” framework, which limited the scope of reproductive rights advocacy to abortion and contraception while ignoring forced sterilization of women of color and significant cultural and socioeconomic barriers to health care access.

Clinton is banking on her nuanced understanding of these issues to carry her to victory over perhaps the most openly misogynist candidate in modern history. “When Donald Trump says ‘let's make America great again,’ that is code for let’s take America backward,” Clinton said in her address. “Back to a time when opportunity and dignity were reserved for some, not all. Back to the days when abortion was illegal, women had far fewer options, and life for too many women and girls was limited. Well, Donald, those days are over.” 

June 10 2016 1:18 PM

Since Texas Cut Planned Parenthood’s HIV Program, Houston Hasn't Tested a Single Person

In a political gambit to prove that they love fetuses more than anything else in the whole world, Texas lawmakers have put their constituents at higher risk of an HIV outbreak. The Texas Observer reports that since the state ended its 28-year HIV-prevention contract with Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast, which covers the Houston area, at the end of last year, one of the three counties that was supposed to take over the program hasn’t conducted a single HIV test.

PPGC used to get $600,000 per year from the Department of State Health Services to provide HIV testing, prevention education, and condoms to Texas residents. In the wake of last year’s attack on Planned Parenthood by video-camera–wielding anti-abortion activists who have now been indicted in Texas on felony charges, the state opted to let PPGC’s contract expire and divert those funds to three county health departments in Harris, Galveston, and Fort Bend counties.

Harris, which encompasses the city of Houston, got the bulk of the HIV-prevention funds: $250,000. In the five months since it took on the contract, it hasn’t done a single thing. Galveston and Fort Bend began testing patients in March and May, respectively. PPGC estimates that, in those five months, it would have already provided 2,900 HIV tests and given out 165,000 condoms. The former head of PPGC’s HIV-prevention initiative, who’d served in that role for 13 years, was laid off with her seven-person staff when the state ended its contract with Planned Parenthood at the end of last year.

This gap in essential public-health services, which anti–Planned Parenthood state officials promised would not occur in the handoff, is doubly shameful because Harris County has an HIV-diagnosis rate that’s almost twice as high as the Texas average. Nearly 23,000 HIV-positive people live in Harris County, where 25 percent of Texas’ new HIV diagnoses crop up, the Observer reports, and Planned Parenthood played an integral role in identifying new cases to help prevent transmission:

From 1988 to 2015, Planned Parenthood tested more than 138,000 people in Harris, Fort Bend, Galveston, Brazoria and Montgomery counties, and identified almost 1,200 individuals with HIV. The organization conducted testing and prevention at bars, colleges and jails. … [PPGC] provided about 575 HIV tests every month and distributed about 33,000 condoms.

Outrageous as it is, this news isn’t surprising: Case studies elsewhere have shown that—surprise!—limiting patients’ health-care options and transferring long-running programs to hostile state governments makes critical services less accessible and less affordable for those who need them most. When Planned Parenthood sued Texas over its illegal move to strike the clinics from its Medicaid rolls, the organization warned that it would drastically limit low-income patients’ access to health care. In the years after Texas struck Planned Parenthood from its publicly funded women’s health-care program in 2011, tens of thousands of women dropped from its roster. Harris County’s denial of HIV-prevention services could trigger a bona fide public-health crisis: Southeastern Indiana’s ongoing HIV outbreak began in 2013, when funding cuts closed a Planned Parenthood facility, the only HIV-testing location in the area.

Planned Parenthood is currently fighting a similar fight in Florida, where state lawmakers voted to ban Medicaid recipients from receiving health care at any clinic with any association to an abortion provider. The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that as many as 650,000 people would experience a reduction in health-care access within a year of blocking public health funds from Planned Parenthood facilities nationwide.

Texas’ deliberate neglect of crucial HIV-prevention services is a testament to the importance of Planned Parenthood’s public health programs. It also speaks to why lawmakers have no business making politically motivated decisions about essential health-care initiatives they know little about. When dim right-wing state representatives shrug off the potentially grave consequences of meddling with a decadeslong health program because it’ll look good if they can prove that they hate Planned Parenthood more than the next guy, they commit the people they’re supposed to serve to a subpar health system that puts politics before public service.

June 10 2016 12:15 PM

A Very Brief History of Women-Led Reboots of Beloved but Mediocre Classics

Two more boldfaced names have been added to the cast of the female Ocean’s Eleven reboot that was first announced last fallAccording to Jezebel, Helena Bonham Carter and Mindy Kaling have now signed on, joining Sandra Bullock and Cate Blanchett on the forthcoming heist caper. Between this news and the swelling publicity campaign for the controversial women-led Ghostbusters movie before its July 15 release, America may be sick of women-led franchise reboots, even before the first one hits the screen. =

Of course, these ensemble movies aren’t the first time a high-profile cultural artifact has flipped its gender script. Back in 1985, 20 years after The Odd Couple’s Broadway premiere, author Neil Simon returned to the Great White Way with what theatrical publisher Samuel French calls The Odd Couple (Female Version). In TOC(FV)’s Broadway bow, Florence Ungar (formerly Felix) was played by Sally Struthers, and Olive Madison (ne Oscar) was played by Rita Moreno, though the performance did not contribute to her EGOT. Upstairs neighbors the Pigeon sisters became the Costazuela brothers, allowing Tony Shalhoub to make his Broadway debut as Jesus Costazuela. In a sad nod to the 1980s, the opening poker game became a hotly contested evening of Trivial Pursuit.

June 10 2016 11:36 AM

U.N. Panel Slams Ireland’s Anti-Abortion Laws as “Cruel,” “Inhuman,” “Degrading,” “Discriminatory”

Ireland’s repressive abortion laws violate international law, the U. N. Human Rights Committee concluded on Thursday, by subjecting women to “discriminatory,” “cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment” that “encroach[es] on [their] dignity and physical and mental integrity.” The panel ordered Ireland to “amend its law on voluntary termination of pregnancy, including if necessary its Constitution, to ensure compliance” with the decision and the law.

Although Ireland is socially progressive in many ways, the country still has some of the most restrictive abortion laws in the world. Women are forbiddenfrom terminating their pregnancies in cases of rape, incest, and fetal abnormalities, or when the fetus cannot survive outside the womb. Until 2013, Irish law also barred women from receiving abortions even when a pregnancy posed a grave health risk to the mother. The legislature lifted that restrictionfollowing the high-profile death of a woman who died because doctors would not abort her miscarried fetus. But the rest of Ireland’s repressive abortion laws remain in force.

June 9 2016 5:20 PM

Western Children Aren’t Exposed to Enough Microbes—But It’s Not All Parents’ Fault

Being on a restrictive diet is not the hardest part about having celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder that inhibits my ability to properly digest gluten. Far worse is the doubt and blame I regularly encounter upon mention of my condition to others. There are those whose eyes narrow with skepticism as they tell me how crazy  it is that everyone is suddenly gluten free and  how a little crumb of wheat can’t really hurt. And there are those who arrogantly shrug, and then go on to explain that if parents would stop being so neurotic about cleanliness there wouldn’t be so many people with allergies and autoimmune diseases today.

The latter group have likely heard about the hygiene hypothesis, which posits that a lack of exposure to bacteria and viruses in early childhood impedes our immune systems’ ability to develop properly, causing excessive immune responses to things that aren’t actually threatening (like gluten). Scientists began looking into this idea in the late 1980s, and since then evidence has steadily mounted that some of us live in a world too clean for our own good. Over the years, many of the headlines about this hypothesis have focused on personal hygiene, sending the message that all those peanut-free classrooms might not exist if parents could learn to put down the Purell. Now a new study shows that while our individual habits are a factor in autoimmune disorders, they’re hardly the only cause.

June 9 2016 4:01 PM

Should Music Venues Boycott a Band Because One of Its Members Defended Brock Turner?

The wave of internet condemnation that’s crashed against Brock Turner, his father, and the judge that sentenced him in recent days has reached another player in his case: Leslie Rasmussen, a childhood friend from Turner’s Ohio hometown.

Turner, a former Stanford first-year student who was convicted on multiple felony charges for sexually assaulting an unconscious woman behind a dumpster in January 2015, received a sentence of six months in county jail for his crime—maybe half that with good behavior—plus three years’ probation and a lifetime spot on the sex offender registry. Like Turner’s dad, 20-year-old Rasmussen wrote a letter to the Santa Clara County court to try to influence the judge’s sentencing decision.

June 8 2016 5:58 PM

Hillary Clinton Is More Charismatic Than Donald Trump

Late on Tuesday night, after Hillary Clinton finally won a majority of pledged delegates in the Democratic primary, Vox editor-in-chief Ezra Klein published an essay titled “It’s time to admit Hillary Clinton is an extraordinarily talented politician.” As you might guess from the self-evident headline—anyone who clinches his or her party’s nomination for the most powerful office in the world is pretty much by definition an extraordinarily talented politician—Klein’s piece is a perplexing document. Klein muses that “there is something about Clinton that makes it hard to appreciate the magnitude of her achievement,” and mentions that “plenty of Americans hate her”; he makes these observations without once using the word “sexism” or “misogyny.” He suggests that “the reason no one has ever broken the glass ceiling in American politics is because it’s really fucking hard to break,” which comes close to a tautology. He claims that Clinton has prevailed because she’s taken “a more traditionally female approach to leadership: creating coalitions, finding common ground, and winning over allies” (how novel!) but he doesn’t explain why we should consider these tactics “less masculine” than anything else required by the symbolic leader of a major party.

June 7 2016 11:55 PM

Hillary Clinton Didn’t Dwell on Gender in Her Historic Speech. She Didn’t Have To.

“It may be hard to see, but we are standing under a glass ceiling right now,” Hillary Clinton said at the beginning of her speech in Brooklyn on Tuesday night, her first as the Democratic Party’s presumptive nominee. Clinton then went on to bash Donald Trump, focusing most of her speech on his fearmongering, misogyny, and xenophobia. But she did pause to acknowledge the historic significance of becoming the first woman to earn a major U.S. political party’s presidential nomination.

Turns out, on the day Clinton’s mother was born, Congress passed the 19th Amendment, securing women—white women, at least—the right to vote. “I wish she could see her daughter become the Democratic Party’s nominee for president of the United States,” Clinton said.

She briefly traced her candidacy back to the Seneca Falls Convention in 1848, widely considered the birth of the U.S. women’s rights movement. Earlier on Tuesday, the Clinton campaign released a video titled “History Made,” featuring slo-mo shots of Clinton heading into a rally like a Super Bowl champion running through a stadium’s players tunnel. The video presents a laudably inclusive scrapbook of American feminist activism and landmark moments in women’s history, drawing on images from the women’s suffrage movement; the swearing-in of Sandra Day O’Connor; sit-ins at the Texas capitol during Wendy Davis’ fight against HB2; and quotes from Gloria Steinem, Shirley Chisholm, and Clinton’s own “Women’s Rights are Human Rights” speech from Beijing in 1995. Here, Clinton places the diversity of her movement—a stark foil to Sanders’ reliance on white votes—at the forefront. In the video, there are cheers of “sí se puede,” images of native Hawaiian and Chinese American protests and the voices of transgender women.

There are also little girls, burgeoning feminists dreaming of becoming president someday, a theme Clinton echoed in a tweet just before her speech.

Clinton didn’t dwell too long on the groundbreaking accomplishment of her campaign in her speech, though, and that’s OK—news outlets are doing it for her. After the Associated Press reported on Monday night that Clinton had secured enough delegates to earn the Democratic nomination, reporters jumped to check off a box on the country’s bucket list. “Hillary Clinton Shatters America’s 240-Year-Old Glass Ceiling,” wrote the Daily Beast; “Hillary Clinton Shatters Political Glass Ceiling,” concurred NBC. Quoting Clinton’s concession speech from eight years ago, New York magazine declared, “Hillary Clinton Just Shattered the ‘Highest, Hardest Glass Ceiling.’ ”

She hasn’t, though. The “highest, hardest glass ceiling” isn’t the presumptive nomination. It’s the presidency. There are several interstitial glass ceilings between presidential candidate and president, and not all of them are equally important. What headline will we run if she clinches the whole thing? “Hillary Clinton Shatters Yet Another One of America’s Several 240-Year-Old Glass Ceilings!” Editors would be wise to save some breathless enthusiasm and tear-jerking turns of phrase for when she wins the White House.

Clinton knows better than to presume too much at this point—or at least to appear that she presumes too much—and was careful not to limit her accomplishments to the scope of her gender. “There are still ceilings to break—for women, for men, for all of us,” she said in Tuesday’s speech. “This campaign is about making sure there are no ceilings, no limits on any of us. I’m going to take a moment later tonight and in the days ahead to fully absorb the history we’ve made here, but what I care about most is the history our country has yet to write.”

But it’s nice, in the midst of all the infighting and mutual mistrust currently festering among the left, to stand back and appreciate the America today’s young children see, children who’ve only known a black president and a woman poised to succeed him. This moment in time augurs a bright future for America and for the Democratic Party, which has for the second time in a row chosen a nominee who is not a white man, living out the ideals it’s championed imperfectly for decades.

Clinton might not have shattered the glass ceiling, but hers is a remarkable achievement, both for the country and for Clinton herself, who has fought decades of misogynist nonsense and targeted attacks to become the presumptive Democratic nominee for president. The overarching theme of the video Clinton debuted on Tuesday is protest: Women marching in the streets for their own rights, demanding respect, visibility, and power. Big changes in the fabric of a nation do not come without grit in the face of unimaginable hostility and unflagging tenacity against the odds. Clinton might not have harped on it in her speech, but she damn well knows it.

June 7 2016 4:46 PM

Recent College Grads Invent New Rape Kit Swab That Changes Color in Semen

Two recent biomedical engineering graduates from Brown have invented a new way to improve the swabs used in forensic testing after a sexual assault: Make them more like pregnancy tests.

With a swab that changes color when it comes into contact with semen, Bella Okiddy and Richard Park hope to lower barriers to sexual assault reporting and get faster results for survivors and law enforcement. Currently, forensic sexual assault exams can take months or years to yield results for the survivor, who might spend that time agonizing over whether or not his or her rape kit found any physical evidence. These swabs could give them some measure of immediate closure.

Okiddy and Park, who graduated with a master’s and an undergraduate degree, respectively, last month, recently launched a company called Technologies Against Assault with nearly $26,000 from Indiegogo and a matching $25,000 from a Brown post-grad fellowship. They are making prototypes of their designs and hope to release the swabs in hospitals sometime in 2017.