The XX Factor
What Women Really Think

Feb. 10 2015 8:32 AM

Teachers Give Girls Better Grades on Math Tests When They Don’t Know They Are Girls

When it comes to explaining why women are underrepresented in STEM, it’s not enough to point to discrimination in hiring, even though that is a real phenomenon. It’s also true that STEM fields have a “pipeline” problem, where not enough girls are choosing to pursue education, and eventually careers in science and tech. New research suggests that part of the problem is girls are being discouraged at very young ages from thinking of themselves as capable at math.

Victor Lavy of the University of Warwick in England and Edith Sand of Tel Aviv University recently published a paper for the National Bureau of Economic Research that suggests one reason girls do less well in math is because teachers expect less of them. Claire Cain Miller of the New York Times summarizes the study:

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Feb. 6 2015 5:03 PM

Buzzfeed Piece on "Men's Rights" Leader Discredits the Movement

The rise of feminism in mainstream culture has had the odd side effect of increasing media interest in a particular strain of anti-feminism: "men's rights activists," who argue that far from being the dominant class, men are actually the ones who are oppressed.

Friday, Adam Serwer and Katie J.M. Baker of Buzzfeed published the most in-depth look at MRAs yet, an investigation into Paul Elam, the most prominent online MRA and the founder of the popular website A Voice For Men. Elam "preaches the gospel that men’s failures and disappointments are not due to personal shortcomings or lapsed responsibility, but rather institutionalized feminism and a family court system rigged against dutiful fathers, as well as a world gripped by 'misandry,' or the hatred of men," they write.

But when they dug into Elam's history, a very different picture emerged. "For example, although Elam compares the family court system’s treatment of fathers to Jim Crow, he abandoned his biological children not once but twice," they write. "Although Elam says that 'fathers are forced to pay child support like it was mafia protection money,' he accused his first wife of lying about being raped so he could relinquish his parental rights and avoid paying child support." Elam's first wife and daughter spoke on the record to Buzzfeed, though they used pseudonyms out of what they describe as fear of retaliation from the MRA community. His other two ex-wives refused to speak on the record at all, with his third ex-wife citing fear of retaliation. 

Feb. 5 2015 12:36 PM

The Vaccine Battle Is Ruining Friendships and Breaking Up Playgroups

There are now more than 100 confirmed cases in the current outbreak of measles, most of which are in California, where parents are allowed to claim both religious and philosophical exemptions to vaccines. Pro-vaccine parents, particularly parents of infants and the immune-compromised, are starting to ask their peers, playgroups, and preschools about vaccine status. That does not always go well.

The New York Daily News talked to New York moms who are thoroughly freaked out by the idea of non-vaccinated kids in their midst. At one pediatrics practice in Brooklyn, moms are demanding a separate waiting room for non-vaccinated kids. Another local mom told me she’s no longer taking her son to a local toddler play space because the woman who runs the joint is open about not vaccinating her child.

Then there is the San Francisco mother I spoke to earlier this week who told me  that she’s fallen out with one of her oldest friends, because her friend refuses to vaccinate her two children. The SF mom of an infant and a toddler (who asked that I not print her name) had booked a trip to see her friend in her small Northern California town before the outbreak happened. “I had seen the KQED article on the vax study and all the California schools and their opt-out rates a few weeks ago. I noticed a ton of schools up in [my friend’s town] that had super high rates (some of the highest in the state),” she said in an email. Because she was planning to introduce her infant to this friend on the trip, the SF mom initiated a Gchat conversation about vaccinations.

“I asked her what school her youngest went to, and what his school opt-out rate was. She asked why, and I said ‘It seems like lots of [schools in her town] have high rates, aren't you scared for your kids?’” The friend responded:

Yeah we have a very high unvaccinated population at our school we are among them ;) thats what happens when you roll with the crazy hippies lol. they've had the tdap but not nearly all. afraid to be around us now? :p

Feb. 5 2015 11:20 AM

Twitter CEO Admits That Trolling Is Running Off “Core Users.” What’s He Going to Do About It?

As reported last night on the Slatest, an internal memo from Twitter CEO Dick Costolo was leaked by The Verge on Wednesday, and it cleared up one of the abiding mysteries of the internet: Do the people at Twitter know how serious their trolling problem really is? The answer turns out to be yes. In response to a question from one of his employees regarding a recent episode of This American Life on this issue, Costolo responded:

We suck at dealing with abuse and trolls on the platform and we've sucked at it for years. It's no secret and the rest of the world talks about it every day. We lose core user after core user by not addressing simple trolling issues that they face every day. I'm frankly ashamed of how poorly we've dealt with this issue during my tenure as CEO. It's absurd. There's no excuse for it. I take full responsibility for not being more aggressive on this front. It's nobody else's fault but mine, and it's embarrassing. We're going to start kicking these people off right and left and making sure that when they issue their ridiculous attacks, nobody hears them.

There have been some high profile examples of how ugly things can get on Twitter over the years, with Gamergaters tweeting death threats to women who dare criticize video games and trolls harassing Zelda Williams after her father Robin Williams committed suicide. But the This American Life episode Costolo's staffer referred to made the whole issue more visceral by having correspondent Lindy West interview a man who thought it would be funny to pretend to be her dead dad—complete with her dad's name and picture and details drawn from his obituary—to tweet abuse at her.

Feb. 4 2015 1:54 PM

Breast-Feeding Mom Loses Discrimination Case Because Men Can Lactate Too

In a recent piece for the New Republic, Rebecca Traister argues that "pregnancy and immediate postpartum life itself plays a serious role in slowing professional momentum for women for whom the simple—and celebrated—act of having a baby turns out to be a stunningly precarious economic and professional choice." Just last week, the Supreme Court took a major step in keeping it that way, upholding a federal appeals court ruling against a breastfeeding mother, Angela Ames, who felt bullied out of her job with Nationwide Insurance. Part of the court's reasoning was, according to Galen Sherwin of the ACLU, "that even if Angela had been fired because she was breastfeeding, that was not sex discrimination, in part because men can lactate under certain circumstances."

Ames's story reads as every woman's worst nightmare of what coming back from maternity leave could be like. Ames alleges that when she returned to work, another employee's things were in her workspace. When she asked for a place to pump breast milk, she was sent to a company nurse. Even though the Nationwide offices had a lactation room, Ames says she was denied access and told she had to fill out paperwork and wait for days for it to be processed in order for them to open the door to let her in. With her breasts swelling and uncomfortable, she says the only options offered to her were rooms that had no privacy. 

At this point, Ames says she reached out to the department head for help in getting that lactation room door open, which is when she was met with a resignation letter to sign. Ames reports that her department head said, "just go home to be with your babies."

Feb. 4 2015 1:23 PM

Indiana Woman Convicted of Fetal Homicide and Child Neglect, Which Makes No Sense

Anti-choice activists and politicians tend to say that, if abortion were banned, they would not want women jailed for the crime, only providers. Women, after all, are "victims" of abortion. But the case of Purvi Patel, who was found guilty of both felony child neglect and fetal homicide in Indiana on Tuesday, suggests that women are in far more danger of going to jail for failing to have living babies than activists and legislators let on. 

Patel showed up at an emergency room in South Bend, Indiana, in July 2013 with heavy vaginal bleeding. She eventually told doctors that she had been pregnant, gave birth to a stillborn, and threw the fetus in a dumpster. Prosecutors claim that Patel had sent text messages indicating that she had purchased black market abortion drugs, but there's no evidence that she took the drugs, as they don't show up in blood tests.

But even if Patel had deliberately aborted a pregnancy illegally, this case is outrageous. That's because she was convicted both of killing a baby and killing a fetus. The problem with this verdict, as Ed Pilkington of the Guardian explained before it was delivered, is that it really should have to be one or the other.

Feb. 3 2015 12:25 PM

USA Today Columnist Worries That Democratic Women Have Stolen All the Power

Democrats are quite likely to nominate a woman for president in 2016, which would be the very first time in American history that a major political party has done such a thing. Ross Baker, a political science professor at Rutgers, explains in USA Today that this possibility should alarm us all. Baker argues that by allowing women to have power, the Democrats "have scared off serious male challengers" and created a "gender problem" in the party.

Baker pays lip service to the idea that it's good to let women have some power by allowing that the "advancement and championing of women has been a source of justifiable pride for Democrats." Then he lets loose with his real argument, which is that allowing women into positions of power is inherently anti-male, because we all know how afraid men are to challenge women. "Take Hillary Clinton and Rep. Nancy Pelosi," he writes. "Both are towering and intimidating figures, who have sucked the oxygen out of the spheres they dominate."

Feb. 2 2015 4:39 PM

American Muslim Women Open First Female-Only Mosque in the U.S.

The people who gathered on Friday evening for the first prayer service at Women’s Mosque of America didn’t need a 2011 study by the Islamic Society of North America to tell them what they already knew—and had experienced first hand: American mosques are not particularly welcoming to women.

The new L.A. Mosque, which caters exclusively to women and is believed to be the first of its kind in America (other similar spaces exist around the world in places like China and India), was created by comedy writer Hasna Maznavi and lawyer Sana Muttalib as a response to the various ways women are made to feel uncomfortable in many mosques—from separate and subpar entrances to the lack of leadership roles available to them. As Maznavi and Muttalib told the Huffington Post, the space will allow for female speakers, or khateeba (the feminine version of khateeb, the person who delivers the Friday sermon), who can address women’s issues from a female perspective. In most mosques, “women do not often get a chance to access the male imam for questions or discussions after prayer, because he is in the men’s section and is inaccessible until a later time.” By creating this space for conversation after services, they are hoping to facilitate a meaningful conversation that will speak to women’s concerns.

Feb. 2 2015 2:29 PM

With Republicans in Charge, Women Are Losing Leadership Positions in the Senate

For the second year in a row, Republicans, anxious to kill off the "war on women" narrative, appointed a woman to give the official response to the State of the Union address. But while Sen. Joni Ernst got to make a speech on TV, don't look for her to be heading up any Senate committees this year. As the New York Times reports, the Republican takeover of the Senate means that far fewer women will be in powerful committee chair positions.

Under Democrats, women held nine committee chairs and under Republicans, they will only have two. The fact that women are losing so many leadership positions is even more remarkable in light of the fact that there are more women in Congress than ever. Sheryl Gay Stolberg of the New York Times explains:

Feb. 2 2015 10:22 AM

Chris Christie Supports Parents Who Choose Not to Vaccinate Their Kids

The battle over vaccinations threatened to become partisan today, as the latest outbreak of measles that has infected over 100 people inspired some political leaders to weigh in.

On Monday's Today, President Obama strongly urged parents to vaccinate their kids, saying, "The science is, you know, pretty indisputable. We've looked at this again and again. There is every reason to get vaccinated, but there aren't reasons to not." 

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, however, begged to differ, telling reporters that while his kids are vaccinated, "I also understand that parents need to have some measure of choice in things as well, so that’s the balance." 

"Not every vaccine is created equal and not every disease type is as great a public health threat as others," he added.