What Women Really Think

July 8 2014 12:58 PM

Finally, Science Explains Why Rush Limbaugh Gets So Mad About Women Having Sex

Even though 95 percent of Americans have premarital sex, as anyone who advocates for women's reproductive rights on Twitter can tell you, there is still a shocking amount of anger, and many colorful epithets, aimed directly at women who indulge. Why is there so much angst over women's sexual choices? Jesse Singal at Science of Us looks at a recent study that suggests that a lot of the desire to control and punish female sexuality is rooted in the belief that women are, or should be, financially dependent on men. Singal writes:

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July 8 2014 11:48 AM

Your Hatred of Cupcakes Is a Little Sexist

The cupcake chain Crumbs closed abruptly on Monday. Not many are mourning its passage. In fact, there is a distinct edge of glee in response to the close. “Thank jebus, cupcakes are stupid,” a delighted BuzzFeed commenter crows. Gawker celebrates the demise of the cupcake, calling the dessert trend “a ridiculous testament to the power of marketing

The cupcake backlash has been going on for years. In 2013, the Wire called cupcakes “prissy” and a “widely, vocally despised food.” Going further, a psychotherapist told the Washington Post in 2012 that cupcake lovers are narcissistic. “The popularity of cupcakes directly tracks the rise in cultural narcissism that has resulted from the Internet’s impact on our individual and cultural psyche,” Dr. Paul Hokemeyer said. A Jezebel writer simply wrote: “fuck cupcakes.”

July 7 2014 2:09 PM

Small Sign of Progress: A Congresswoman Is Working Out With the Guys

A small sign of social progress: In a recent New York Times fluff piece about how Rep. Markwayne Mullin has created a bipartisan congressional workout club dedicated to hardcore training and muscle-building, the presence of Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii is covered without comment, even though Gabbard is clearly of the lady persuasion.

This is actually a pretty big deal. Writer Ashley Parker notes how these "huffing, grunting gym rats" working out together provides a networking opportunity that could lead to more bipartisanship. One of the ongoing obstacles to getting more women in power is that so many networking opportunities subtly exclude women by being "boys club" activities, like golf outings. These kind of outings put women in a strange double bind, where if they don't go they miss out on the networking, but if they do go, they have to worry about being treated like an oddity for their gender. (Even though plenty of women love sports, women are still subject to more scrutiny than men for having possible ulterior motives for going to sporting events.) Gabbard's unremarkable presence in the Mullin workout group suggests that this may be changing for the better.

That the workout in question is so hardcore makes this story all the more progressive. There's no mention of any ridiculous fear that Gabbard will "bulk up" too much, and her enthusiasm for the workout is treated exactly the same as the men's, complete with pictures of her doing a box jump just ahead of Republican Rep. Aaron Schock. Parker's little Styles piece about gym rat congressional critters shows how easy it is to cover female politicians without resorting to sexist tropes. More stories like this, please. 

Correction, July 7, 2014: This post originally misspelled Rep. Aaron Schock's last name.  

July 7 2014 12:17 PM

In America, There’s No Such Thing as Work-Life Balance

Writer Kate Tuttle became a housewife by accident. She earns a lot less than her husband does, and she’s the go-to parent when it comes to signing permission slips, carting children to and fro, and cooking and cleaning. In a new essay in Dame magazine, Tuttle says that she wants to reclaim the word housewife. “We accidental housewives need to own it,” she writes, arguing that  “the work we do is valuable, difficult, and irreplaceable.”

Tuttle’s essay comes at a time when more and more people seem to be finally acknowledging reality: that in our current system, it’s really difficult to have two working parents with full-time jobs, because home life requires a lot of necessary man-hours and a huge emotional investment, too.  

One of those people who is being radically honest is PepsiCo CEO Indra K. Nooyi. At last week’s Aspen Ideas Festival, Nooyi spoke to Atlantic owner David Bradley about work-life balance. The Atlantic’s Conor Friedersdorf called it “as frank a discussion of work-life balance as I've seen from a U.S. CEO.” Nooyi talked about working until midnight regularly—none of the “you can be CEO and home for dinner every night at 6” fantasy that we hear from Sheryl Sandberg. Nooyi also talked about how her parents and her husband’s parents were intimately involved in the raising of her two children.

July 7 2014 11:53 AM

Finally, a Politician Admits to Having an Abortion Simply Because She Wasn’t Ready for a Baby

Midterm elections are heating up and the race for lieutenant governor in Nevada is shaping up to be one of the more interesting statewide battles of the year. It's not just because there's a slight chance that the winner of the race could become governor if the current one (Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval, set for an easy re-election) manages to successfully challenge Sen. Harry Reid for his seat in 2016, but also because the Democratic nominee, a state representative in Nevada, bucks a stunning array of expectations that people have for politicians: Lucy Flores grew up poor, dropped out of high school, has done time in prison, and has a regrettable ankle tattoo. Oh yeah, and she's open about having had an abortion. 

Benjy Sarlin of MSNBC profiled Flores over the weekend and concludes that none of this is holding her back from becoming a rising star in the Democratic party. On the contrary, Flores campaigns heavily on her biography—after a rough start, she got a GED and eventually a scholarship to USC that led to a career in law and now politics—and she connects it all to the policies she fights for. Example: She talks about her own horror story of having to flee an abusive boyfriend when pushing for a state law allowing domestic violence victims to break their leases. An even more remarkable example: Flores admitted that she had an abortion at 16 during a debate over a bill to improve sex education in the schools. After pointing out all six of her sisters (Flores is one of 13 children) got pregnant as teens, Flores went on to talk about her own life.

July 3 2014 9:28 AM

Are Wall Street Banks Still Dumb Enough to Hold Meetings in Strip Clubs?

On Tuesday, two former Goldman Sachs employees filed papers in federal court in an attempt to bring a class action gender discrimination suit against the bank. According to Bloomberg Businessweek, Cristina Chen-Oster and Shanna Orlich originally filed suit against Goldman in 2010, alleging that the environment was hostile to women, that the company was slow to promote women, that there was a 21 percent gender pay gap, and that Chen-Oster was sexually assaulted by a co-worker and then told not to report it. “Not surprisingly, strip clubs are mentioned multiple times” in the suit, Businessweek’s Sheelah Kolhatkar writes with an obvious tinge of weariness. In one instance, a male colleague set his promotion celebration at the Manhattan strip club Scores and invited all employees to join; Chen-Oster says she was assaulted at the end of the night.

Complaints of Wall Street bros doing business at the Penthouse Club are nothing new. Hydie Sumner, who won $2.2 million in a gender discrimination suit against Merrill Lynch a decade ago, told USA Today in 2006, "When 'business activities' involve the strip club, golf course or hunting ranches ... discrimination is often perpetuated as those in power support and advance those with like minds and tastes." Kolhatkar describes reading the suit’s allegations of exclusion from male bonding sessions and thinking, “The allegations almost have a banal feel to them: Find a Wall Street firm where those things don’t happen.” As New York’s Kevin Roose puts it, “Sound familiar? Probably. Almost every major bank has been sued for gender discrimination at some point.” (A Goldman’s spokesman says the case has a “lack of merit.”) Fictional accounts of Wall Street also lean heavily on strip club tales: In Bond Girl, a 2012 novel written by former Merrill Lynch trader Erin Duffy, male bankers leave their female colleague behind to entertain clients at a topless bar; in The Wolf of Wall Street, strippers are hired to waltz into the office to help bankers celebrate a profitable week.

When it comes to gender bias on Wall Street, strip club parties make for a conspicuous detail, but the reality is not always so obvious—at least, not anymore. Sarah Judd Welch, who worked for Goldman between 2008 and 2010 and has since left finance for the startup world (she founded the community development studio Loyal), says that she never observed any strip club activities at the bank or heard them referenced by anyone else. In fact, during that recessionary period, Goldman employees were explicitly discouraged from hosting any group activities outside the office because of perceived outside hostility toward the firm. (The Scores incident referenced in Chen-Oster and Orlich’s suit occurred in the late '90s.)

“Generally, though, there is definitely a ‘boys club’ atmosphere … dice playing on the trading floor [and] eating contests … which I definitely participated in to build rapport,” Judd Welch told me in an email. She says she worked in a group with a female managing director where women were promoted, but that “Even still, I do have distinct memories of once being told that I was ‘too aggressive and combative’ by a trader and another time that my dress was distracting.”

Strip club outings can be easily nixed to avoid the appearance of sexism, but the banks have a more insidious cultural problem that contributes to the discrimination against women. I asked Judd Welch: If Wall Street’s boy’s club behavior is as prevalent as it seems, then why aren’t there more lawsuits? She chalks it up Goldman’s culture of excellence, which is also the company’s strength. At Goldman, “exceeding expectations is expected,” she said. “If you ever wonder why you aren't making the progress that you'd like, the culture makes you feel that it is due to your own inadequacy and average performance (which would be considered far above average anywhere else).”

On Wall Street, alleging sexism seems tantamount to admitting personal failure, and most women don’t want to jeopardize a great opportunity by speaking up. But the banks would be smart to start listening. They are aware that they are losing “bright, ambitious college graduates” to Silicon Valley and the startup world (though as the Tinder gender discrimination lawsuit shows, that company culture does not necessarily offer a utopia of gender enlightenment). If they want to stop shedding talent, the banks better shape up.

July 2 2014 2:20 PM

NFL Cheerleaders Finally Have Something to Cheer About

When Oakland Raiders cheerleader Lacy T. filed a class-action lawsuit against her team in January—alleging that she and her fellow Raiderettes were paid less than minimum wage, illegally fined for minor infractions (like gaining five pounds), and generally disrespected on the field—plenty of people told her that her legal battle would backfire. Fellow cheerleaders accused her of “breaking the sisterhood bond.” Former squad members argued that NFL teams would rather disband their cheer programs than deal with a bunch of pompom waving plaintiffs. Cheerleaders, they said, just aren’t worth more than a couple of bucks an hour. “This could be the demise of cheerleading,” one former Raiderette told me. “Mark my words: The proverbial you-know-what is going to hit the fan.”

We're still waiting. Following in Lacy’s footsteps, cheerleaders with the Cincinnati Bengals, the Buffalo Bills, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and the New York Jets launched suits against their own teams. Another group of cheerleaders filed a similar wage-theft suit against the Raiders and the NFL last month. And last week, Lacy and her compatriots claimed their first real victory: In a quiet note on the Raiders website, the team announced that cheerleaders who make this year’s squad would now be paid $9 per hour, in keeping with the California minimum wage. In another hopeful twist, Caitlin Y.—a four-year veteran of the Raiderettes who is currently waging her own suit against the Raiders—was redrafted onto the squad last week. That will make her the first pro cheerleader to cheer on the sidelines while speaking out against unfair practices in the courts and in the press.

The Raiderettes’ raise is a minor win: All it means is that, finally, the Raiders will pay its cheerleaders the lowest wage it possibly can without breaking the law. (For comparison, only 3 percent of American workers over the age of 25 are paid at or below the minimum wage; many of these people work in leisure, hospitality, or service industries, where their wages are often supplemented by tips.) All the Raiderettes who cheered on previous years’ squads are still missing the wages that the team effectively stole from them. It’s not yet clear whether the other issues identified in the suit—like the team’s practice of paying all wages in one lump sum at the end of the season, its habit of fining cheerleaders, or its requirement that cheerleaders participate in endless unpaid charity appearances—will be resolved going forward. Other NFL teams have yet to publicize raises for their cheerleaders. As Caitlin Y. performs for the Raiders this year, she’ll serve as a guinea pig—and also a watchdog—for her industry’s post-scandal practices.

Even if the NFL manages to clean up its legal mess, its cheerleading squads will still have a big culture problem on their hands. Caitlin Y.’s suit alleges that squad coaches ridicule cheerleaders for the size of their breasts and the shades of their tans. Cincinnati Bengals cheerleaders are told in their official handbook that working the job means “ABSOLUTELY NO ARGUING OR QUESTIONING THE PERSON IN AUTHORITY!!!” Buffalo Bills cheerleaders say they’ve been auctioned off at golf tournaments—where they're forced to wear bikinis and sit on players' laps—and have been turned into targets at wet T-shirt dunk tanks. The few cheerleaders who have been brave enough to speak out about their working conditions have been met with shaming and derision by their co-workers.

Legal pressure forced the Raiders to finally pay their cheerleaders the minimum wage. But they shouldn’t need a law to force them to treat their employees like human beings. “I do love being a Raiderette, and I love cheering on a football team,” Caitlin told me. “I just want us to be compensated legally, and treated with respect.”

July 1 2014 4:21 PM

The First "Men's Issues" Conference Makes a Good Point. And a Lot of Bad Ones.

On Friday, a group of men’s right activists met in suburban Detroit to discuss the greatest threat to America’s men: America’s women. To outsiders, the first International Conference on Men’s Issues made an easy target for ridicule. The Washington Post’s Monica Hesse called it a gathering of “mostly white college-through retirement age men” discussing their “second-class citizenship” and their victimhood at the hands of “privileged” and “narcissistic women.” According to the Post, one speaker speculated that women are responsible for domestic violence because “having all the power in relationships, they could simply choose to not marry violent men.” Another argued that “the vast majority of women crying rape on campus are actually expressing buyer’s remorse from alcohol-fueled promiscuous behavior involving murky consent on both sides.” Tales of paternity fraud, false rape allegations, and manipulative exes dominated the proceedings.

But nestled in the outrage, a few reasonable claims emerged. Case in point: Gary Costanza of Long Island, the same man who made the unfortunate statement that men like him are second-class citizens, argued that in divorces where children are involved, “custody should always be split.” Always? Not quite. But Costanza’s argument is not too far from a feminist one: When both parents are fit, men should be equally responsible for and entitled to caring for their children. That setup would afford men more access to the “rights” that women supposedly enjoy and would free women to share a greater part of the childcare burden.

That said, it’s not clear how reducing that argument to “men are second-class citizens” will help change the law (which, after all, was codified by politicians and judges who remain overwhelmingly male). These men all have legitimate gripes with how they’ve been treated by society—all humans do!—but their problems aren’t necessarily evidence of systematic discrimination against men as a class. As the Huffington Post described the dynamics of the conference: “When the personal is the political, the politics are going to be pretty distorted and the ideology somewhat incoherent.”

Luckily for guys like Costanza, the rest of society is already grappling with the most reasonable demands of the men’s rights movement, but without the “narcissistic women” rhetoric. As my colleague Hanna Rosin recently pointed out in Slate, though a preference for mothers still persists in family courts, that’s changing fast. The “vast majority of states” have “moved toward an assumption of joint custody” since the 1970s, Rosin writes. A 2011 study of divorce outcomes in Wisconsin found that the percentage of mothers awarded sole custody dropped from 60.4 to 45.7 between 1996 and 2007, and that equally shared custody agreements doubled in that time period. The American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers has registered a rapid increase in the number of mothers paying child support. (Rosin—despite writing dedicatedly about many of the "men's issues" discussed in the conference—was dismissed by the group as a "misandrist.")

Still, we’d all be right to argue that equal parenting rights have a long way to go. But hopefully, that effort will be spearheaded by a diverse group of thoughtful people, not just a bunch of angry white men.

July 1 2014 1:49 PM

What I Learned From Talking to Tinder’s Justin Mateen About Women

A few months ago, I called up Tinder co-founder and chief marketing officer Justin Mateen to talk about women. I wanted to figure out how Tinder—birthed by a group of tech dudes and incubated in a startup accelerator—had grown to become the first hookup app to gain widespread acceptance and even excitement among women. “We didn’t look at men and women as different,” Mateen told me. “We looked at humans in general.” Most hetero dating sites, suffering from a surplus of male users, have bent over backward to telegraph their appeal to women. Not Mateen, who wasn’t interested in engaging in a discussion of gender at all. Tinder is “a social discovery platform for facilitating a connection between two people,” he told me. Tinder doesn’t “discriminate against anyone,” he said. It’s not about “male versus female.” It “just allows you to be you.”

Tell that to Whitney Wolfe, Tinder’s former VP of marketing. Wolfe filed a lawsuit on Monday against Tinder and its majority owner, IAC, alleging that Mateen and Tinder’s other executives engaged in “atrocious sexual harassment and sex discrimination” against her. Wolfe says that they belittled her contributions, boxed her out of her status as Tinder co-founder, subjected her to public and private sexual harassment, ignored her complaints about the abuse, and then fired her.

July 1 2014 10:50 AM

Monday's Other Supreme Court Decision That Attacked Female Workers

The Hobby Lobby decision sucked up most of the media coverage of women’s rights on Monday, but the other big Supreme Court decision, in Harris v. Quinn, was yet another blow to the rights of working women. In that case, the court decided against decades of precedent allowing unions to prevent free riders by charging "fair share" fees to workers who aren't unionized but still profit from collective bargaining by enjoying higher wages and better benefits. The court was unwilling to completely bulldoze that precedent, so the decision only affected a certain group of workers: Home health care workers who are paid by the government but work in the homes of their patients, a group that happens to be mostly female. Unions representing other public employees, like firefighters, police officers, and teachers, can continue to collect the fair-share fees.

At Talking Points Memo, Sheila Bapat argues that the female predominance of the group is not merely a coincidence, but part of the reason the court felt justified in stripping Illinois’ home health care unions of their power and likely ending them completely:

Why did Alito and his conservative brothers on the Court (literally, all 5 joining in the majority are men) rule this way? Principally, the Court bought the argument that “a home is not a union workplace.” The Court bought into the idea that the specifics of the domestic worker’s work arrangement causes domestic work to fall outside of the Abood framework.

This sense that domestic and caring labor is not "real" labor and therefore doesn't need the same protections as other kinds of labor may not be intentionally sexist. (Though it’s worth noting, as Bapat does, that the justices who ruled against the mostly female workforce in question are all men). But regardless of the decision’s intentions, the effect of systematically devaluing forms of labor that just happen to be female-dominated amounts to a type of discrimination against women that, in turn, contributes to the problem of wage inequality. Women of color are hit particularly hard:

Domestic workers—mostly women of color who care for children, elderly, disabled and ill—are among the lowest-paid workers in the United States. There are some 2 million domestic workers in the country, many of whom are serving the most elderly and disabled populations as part of programs like the one in Illinois. Several states have, like Illinois, established programs through which they pay domestic workers to care for their state’s most vulnerable populations. These unions have been shown to reduce worker turnover as well as improve care for those who need it most.

The fact that this decision will degrade the quality of care for homebound patients is particularly ironic, as it was one of those patients, Pam Harris, who sued to end the union. Harris said she didn't want her home to be a "union workplace." There can be no better symbol of the Fox News generation than a person who'd rather suppress the wages of health workers than ensure the quality of her own care.

This decision falls right in line with the an increasingly gendered attack on unions, with female-dominated unions such as teacher's unions or other service industry unions getting the lion's share of abuse from politicians and right-wing media. Part of this just reflects the changing nature of work in America, no doubt. Female-dominated industries are a growing part of the labor force and, as such, are going to attract more abuse from anti-labor forces. But, as this Supreme Court decision shows, "feminine" caring professions like teaching and nursing are still regarded not as real work, but as merely something ladies do to earn a little pin money. The result is lower wages overall for women and increasing hardships for families that rely on their incomes for more than frivolities.