What Women Really Think

Nov. 5 2014 3:29 PM

Sexual Assault, Football, and a Mole Inside the Air Force Academy

In 2009, Eric Thomas enrolled in the Air Force Academy to play soccer and serve in the military. He soon found that certain cadets were privileged for providing another type of service. “If I’m a good football player, then I’m bringing the Academy a lot more than just points on a board: I’m bringing fame, I’m bringing money, I’m bringing a lot to the table,” he told ESPN newsmagazine E:60 in a report, "Operation Gridiron," that aired last night. In return, Thomas says, football players were afforded special treatment by academy brass.

In 2010, the Air Force’s internal law enforcement agency began looking into claims of sexual assault allegedly perpetrated by cadets at a post-game party attended by Thomas. After interviewing him about the events of the night, the Office of Special Investigations soon recruited Thomas to work as a confidential informant, gathering information at more parties about several football players who were suspected of assaulting cadets. “I didn’t see it as [spying],” he told E:60. “I saw it as protecting some cadets.” Over the next two years, Thomas provided information to OSI—about one football player he witnessed attempting to rape a female cadet after she passed out, and a group of cadets he saw lace a liquor bottle with Rohypnol to serve only to women—that eventually led to three Air Force players being convicted of sexual assault, the first such convictions of academy cadets to come down in over 15 years. In August, the New York Times reported that sexual assault complaints at the academy “almost doubled” in the wake of those convictions.

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Nov. 5 2014 1:14 PM

Revenge of the White Male Voter

Wednesday morning after elections: the time to sift through the various exit poll data to take the temperature of the country, or at least the people who bothered to turn out to vote. Lots of interesting information out there today to explain the Crushing of the Democrats last night. Millennials didn't bother to votesingle women were a little less pro-Democratic than usual, and the racial divide among voters remains stark. But one number stands out above all others: 64 percent of white men voted for Republicans. It's the "widest GOP advantage in this group in data since 1984," according to ABC News. 

Revenge of the white guys! There are two ways to interpret this news: that the "war on women" narrative is no longer working for the Democrats, or that the "war on women" isn't just a Democratic campaign slogan but a brutal fact of our modern political landscape. I lean toward the latter: The Democrats got their asses handed to them by a white male electorate that turned out in an effort to fight their eroding cultural dominance. Republicans got a further assist by the traditional lower midterms turnout among single women, younger people, and people of color—the very demos that have white men so worried.

Nov. 5 2014 12:57 PM

Personhood: Coming to a City Near You

“Personhood”—the granting of legal rights and protection from the moment a sperm penetrates an egg—has once more failed to pass any popular, statewide votes. This midterm it not only failed for the third time in Colorado, where backers tried to disguise Amendment 67 as a fetal homicide law, but also in North Dakota, where supporters attempted to portray that state’s proposed personhood measure as just a constitutional change to strengthen anti-abortion state restrictions already in place.

However, despite yet another election proving that voters overwhelmingly reject personhood when it offered as a ballot amendment (personhood amendments have now lost in every one of their five times on the ballot), advocates remain undaunted. Their new tactic? Bringing personhood to a city near you.

Nov. 5 2014 12:39 AM

There Are 100 Women in Congress for the First Time Ever

The gender breakdown of the next Congress is still to be determined, but a major milestone was reached Tuesday night: For the first time in American history, the number of women sitting in Congress will hit triple digits. Democrat Alma Adams of North Carolina won a special election for representative of the 12th Congressional District. Because it was a special election, she will be seated shortly and will not have to wait for January’s swearing-in ceremony, making her the 100th woman currently sitting in Congress, as the graph below shows.


(The source for this graph is a fact sheet from Rutgers’ Center for American Women and Politics, which notes that this data shows the “maximum number of women elected or appointed to serve in that Congress at one time. Some filled out unexpired terms and some were never sworn in.”)

It’s hard to deny the historical importance of Emily’s List, the enormous PAC devoted to electing pro-choice female Democrats that was formed in 1985. Since then, 100 female House members and 19 female senators have been elected with its support, which is a major reason that the congressional surge in women has been largely a Democratic one. 

Yes, this may be a temporary historical event. After the votes are tallied and the next Congress is sworn in come January, the number of congresswomen and female senators may fall back below 100. Or it may not. We’ll update this post on Wednesday morning with the latest results. But for now, and for the rest of this year at least, we’re looking at 100 women sitting in Congress, and a general trend in the right direction.

Nov. 5 2014 12:37 AM

Not a Great Night for the Democrats: Female Senate Candidate Edition

Three of the tightest Senate races in the country were between female Democrats and male Republicans, contests that could be read as meaningful for the possible outcome of a 2016 match between Hillary Clinton and the almost surely male Republican running against her. The night didn't go well for the liberal ladies. Incumbent Sen. Kay Hagan of North Carolina and Michelle Nunn of Georgia went into the polls in tossups against their opponents, Thom Tillis and David Perdue, respectively. Both lost, though Hagan lost in a squeaker, with little more than a percentage point between herself and Tillis. 

On the flip side, incumbent Sen. Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire beat out challenger Scott Brown, who has previously lost to Sen. Elizabeth Warren in Massachusetts, making him the only person in U.S. history to lose to two separate female senators. (Take the historical moments where you can get 'em.) Brown spent much of the night resisting the results, but he finally conceded close to midnight.

While it's tempting to look at this not-so-hot showing and assume the worst for a Clinton 2016 run, presidential elections can't really be meaningfully compared with midterm elections, which have older and more married voters, traditionally a bad group for Democrats. Single female voters, in particular, don't turn out for the midterms. Between 2008 and 2010, there was a 20-point drop-off in the percentage of single women at the polls. Since that's a demographic that votes Democratic, that loss in the midterms can mean a bump during presidential elections. Clinton will simply be looking at a much different landscape of likely voters. 

Nov. 4 2014 10:55 PM

Colorado Says No to Personhood for the Third Time

For the third time, Colorado voters have been asked to vote for a "personhood" law, and for the third time, a resounding majority of voters declined. Proponents of Amendment 67, which defined a fertilized egg as a legal "person" from fertilization on, thought they could woo voters this time by narrowly wording the amendment so it would seems to only define fertilized eggs as persons for the purposes of prosecuting people who commit crimes against pregnant women. Supporters, such as Keith Mason of Personhood USA—which has backed more blatantly worded attempts to define fertilized eggs as persons in the past—even had a habit of taking umbrage at the idea that this law was an attack on women's rights.

Considering that the law was expressly intended to make it illegal to kill a fertilized egg, it's hard to imagine that it would have not been used to try to define abortion, legally, as murder. But the concerns extended well beyond that. Since the law would have made it a matter of homicide to cause a miscarriage, it could have been used to prosecute women who had miscarriages by accusing them of somehow failing to do more to care for their fertilized egg babies. "If you get a prosecutor who wants to make a statement about unborn life," Aya Gruber, a law professor at the University of Colorado, told Politico, "Absolutely, you could have prosecutions for miscarriages. This law allows it. It allows it!"

Luckily, Colorado voters shot down personhood for a third time. Republican Senate candidate Cory Gardner, who supported previous efforts to define fertilized eggs as people, declined to do so this time around. Perhaps that's what helped him eke out a win in Tuesday night's heated race against incumbent Mark Udall. Now we'll have to wait to see if anti-choice activists think fourth time's the charm.  

Nov. 4 2014 6:06 PM

Patrick Witt’s Op-Ed About Harvard’s Sexual Assault Policy Is Infuriating. It’s Also Right.  

Patrick Witt, the former Yale quarterback at the center of a highly-covered 2012 sexual assault scandal, is back in print. Witt wrote an op-ed for the Boston Globe Monday deploring Harvard’s new sexual harassment policy, which resembles Yale’s in its “informal complaint” option: At both schools, students can file unofficial, secret accusations with a group of university staff. At Yale, this triggers a procedure that entails (per Yale’s website) “limited or no investigation” and results in measures like “a warning conversation with the respondent, a no-contact agreement, a recommendation for counseling, a change in housing, etc.”

Three years ago, Witt became a press darling when he announced his decision to miss his Rhodes Scholarship interview in order to lead the Yale Bulldogs against Harvard at the annual Harvard-Yale football game, which took place on Nov. 19. Months later, the New York Times published a story revealing that someone had filed an informal sexual harassment complaint against Witt in September, and that news of the allegations had leaked to the Rhodes Trust, which suspended Witt’s candidacy pending another letter of endorsement from Yale (one they may or may not have been willing to write). The Times reporter and many others—hi—concluded that Witt had actually turned down the interview because he knew his chances of gaining the Rhodes had significantly dimmed due to the complaint. At the time, I wrote that perhaps playing in The Game was Witt’s way of reestablishing control over his story, of reframing a potential disgrace as a heroic sacrifice. (Other reporters were also unimpressed by the QB’s membership in a notoriously misogynistic frat house and by his two arrests, one for entering a co-ed dorm drunk after hours, going upstairs without an escort, and shoving a student guard who tried to kick him out.)    

Nov. 4 2014 12:07 PM

Lena Dunham’s Totally Normal Childhood

In this week’s issue of the National Review, Kevin Williamson accuses actress and screenwriter Lena Dunham of sexually abusing her little sister when Dunham was a child. It’s “the sort of thing that gets children taken away from non-millionaire families without Andover pedigrees and Manhattanite social connections,” he writes. The evidence of this abuse, he says, comes directly from Dunham’s new memoir Not That Kind of Girl, in which she describes masturbating next to her six-years-younger sister; bribing her sister to kiss her; and looking inside her sister’s vagina.

Williamson hardly has the authority to call this behavior sexual abuse—a claim that should not be thrown around lightly. Not only does he not have a background in human sexuality or child psychology, but it also seems he didn’t consult with anyone who does, or he would have quickly learned that Dunham’s behavior as a youngster was normal. “This is clearly not a case of abuse,” says developmental psychologist Ritch Savin-Williams, Ph.D., director of the Sex & Gender Lab at Cornell University. “Children have been doing this stuff forever and ever and ever and ever, and they will do it forever and ever and ever.”

Let’s start with the episode for which Williamson says “there is no non-horrific interpretation:” when Dunham approached her one-year-old sister Grace and, as she writes, “leaned down between her legs and carefully spread open her vagina.” According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, touching and looking at new siblings’ genitals is a “normal, common” behavior in kids aged two to six. (Yes, Dunham was apparently seven when it happened, but still.) This was happening between sisters, too, which is important. It’s not necessarily OK for a child to play sexually with a younger child if they don’t typically play together, but among siblings or close friends it can be different. Sexual play often arises naturally out of pretend play, in part because, psychologists have theorized, friends and siblings become curious about each other’s body parts. Indeed, Dunham doesn’t describe trying to play with her sister’s vagina; she just wanted to see what it looked like.

Nov. 4 2014 9:48 AM

Four Major Senate Campaigns to Watch on Election Day  

While the "war on women" narrative hasn't had quite as much power this election season as it did during the 2012 elections, gender politics have still played a major role in shaping the course of an election where Republicans hope to seize the Senate. With that in mind, here are some of the Senate races to watch on Tuesday night. 


Joni Ernst, running against Rep. Bruce Braley to replace retiring Sen. Tom Harkin, has attracted a lot of attention for running a campaign that could be a case study in how to appeal, as a woman, to Republicans. As Sheryl Gay Stolberg of the New York Times explained, Ernst hits that uncannily perfect blend of being masculine enough to draw conservative confidence but feminine enough so as not to provoke gender anxieties: She's ex-military and motherly. She shoots guns and bakes cookies. Her campaign tagline is "Mother. Soldier. Independent Leader." Strangely, her first major ad in which Ernst brags about "castrating hogs," which many guessed would send male voters running, had the opposite effect and appears to have coalesced early support around her. She's working the same territory as Sarah Palin once did, but doing it better. 

Ernst was pulling ahead in the polls in recent weeks, but a recent Quinnipiac University poll puts her in a dead heat with Braley. The Ernst campaign's last big maneuver before the election was gender-related, accusing Sen. Tom Harkin of sexism for his comments comparing Ernst's demeanor to that of a combination of Mr. Rogers and Taylor Swift, and suggesting that the true Joni Ernst is closer to Michele Bachmann.

Nov. 3 2014 2:12 PM

An Elegy for Delia’s (and Shopping at the Mall in the Mid-1990s)

Over the weekend, Buzzfeed reported that the tween clothing company Delia’s, a 1990s catalog mainstay that liked random capitalization and asterisks (dELiA*s), is on financial life support. Sales are down and the company is set to be taken off the Nasdaq global market on Monday. This news was met with chagrin from the Millennial women around Slate’s office, to which our baffled, one-time Limited Express-shopping Gen X editor replied, “Please explain why it mattered.” I’ll give it a try.

If you were 12 in 1994, as I was, and lived in the suburbs, you didn’t have a way to get to the mall on your own. Even if you did get to the mall, a lot of the stores there—Contempo Casuals, Wet Seal—had much more revealing clothing than many tweens would feel comfortable wearing (I recall a brash friend of mine buying a particular cropped mohair sweater from Contempo that used to shed on everything). But Delia’s had baggy skater pants and chunky chain jewelry and cute, but not too tight baby t-shirts that offered a different, yet still fashionable, aesthetic. The brand offered a cool yet still wholesome adolescent look to aspire to.