What Women Really Think

Aug. 28 2014 10:37 AM

Kirsten Gillibrand, You Don’t Need to Make Excuses for Your Sexist Colleagues. There Is No Excuse.

In promoting her new memoir Off the Sidelines, New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand spoke with People about the way that some of her male colleagues, during her time as a representative and a senator, made comments about her body—some even touching it. People writes:

In Off the Sidelines, Gillibrand, 47, shares a sobering incident in the congressional gym, where an older, male colleague told her, "Good thing you're working out, because you wouldn't want to get porky!" On another occasion, she writes, after she dropped 50 lbs. one of her fellow Senate members approached her, squeezed her stomach, and said, "Don't lose too much weight now. I like my girls chubby!"

The People interview is short, but the New York Post filled it in with some more examples from the book, like the time a congressman told Gillibrand, "You know, Kirsten, you’re even pretty when you’re fat." 

It's not just boorish politicians. Once, a labor leader decided to give her advice on her appearance. "When I first met you in 2006 you were beautiful, a breath of fresh air. To win [the special], you need to be beautiful again," he said.

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Aug. 27 2014 3:50 PM

Spanish Mayor Accuses Women of Framing Men for Rape. Citizens Respond With Bras.

Ashifa Kassam of the Guardian reports that the city of Valladolid in Spain was covered in bras earlier this week, hung by protesters who are demanding the resignation of their mayor, Francisco Javier León de la Riva. Riva recently went on a Spanish radio show and mistook it for Reddit. "I have qualms about getting into an elevator," said the conservative mayor. "Imagine you get into an elevator and there is a girl who is out to get you, she enters with you, tears off her bra or skirt and flees shouting that you have tried to assault her. Beware this sort of thing." 

During the same interview, he also said, "you can't have a police officer in every park" and therefore "at six in the morning a young woman should be careful of where she goes."

Aug. 27 2014 12:51 PM

What If Men Weren't Allowed on Facebook?

The internet is an egalitarian wonderland where women are free to voice their opinions, dodge rape GIFs, meet new people, field rape threats, forge communities, and get asked to show strangers their boobs. What would happen if men weren’t allowed in?

Women.com, a new social network exclusively for women, is currently testing that premise. Launched by former Facebook employee Susan Johnson, Women.com—now in an invite-only Beta stage—is a social network that encourages women to pose questions to the community (current queries range from “How do I get paid what I’m worth?” to “Bra or no bra?”), upvote the most relevant answers, and, if all goes according to plan, engage in the type of real talk that doesn’t surface on massive social networks like Facebook or masculine-aligned comment-driven platforms like Fark.

So far, the site feels a little like a Yahoo! Answers stocked with a diverse crew of smart women—the top answer to one user’s question about whether she should pursue a relationship with her married boss is, in its entirety, “NO”—and speaking as a person who has typed personal questions into Google’s abyss on more than one occasion, I can understand the appeal. With a little more firepower—I’d like to see Laverne Cox weigh in on the question of how parents can teach their daughters that they’re worthy, for example, or reps from the Tech LadyMafia on the issue of how to deal with inappropriate sexual behavior from VCs—it has the opportunity to transcend that guilty-pleasure atmosphere and evolve into a necessary resource. (Johnson says that Quora-style expertise identifiers for contributors are currently in the works.)

I talked with Johnson about what women talk about when Facebook isn’t watching, how a community can get big without going negative, and why the site has the potential to make a boatload of cash. Our interview has been condensed and edited.

Slate: What are women talking about on Women.com that you don’t see them talking about on sites like Facebook?

Aug. 27 2014 11:52 AM

In Australia, Moms Are the Default Parent

The state of American child care is pretty abysmal. Day care is not well-regulated, the quality is often poor, and it’s expensive: In 35 states and Washington, D.C., it costs more than a year’s in-state college tuition. We are the only wealthy nation that does not guarantee paid vacation or sick days, so when a snow day or a fever keeps a child out of school, it can mean a career setback for many parents. And for working parents with low-wage jobs, things are even worse.

We point to other countries—often ones in Europe—as models of how to do child care right. But is it really so much easier to be a working parent in Paris than it is in Peoria? We asked working moms and dads from all over the world to tell us their child care experiences. Here is the second in our occasional series, from a mother in Sydney, Australia.

Name: Karen Beilharz

Age: 36

Country: Australia

Occupation: I write, edit and self-publish, mostly comics.

Partner's occupation: Freelance web developer

Children: 2 girls, ages 4 years and 6 months.

Hi Karen, what are your work hours?

I work whenever I get a chance (which is usually when my children are asleep). My husband works mostly normal business hours, but occasionally evenings and on the weekend too.

Who takes care of your kids while you work?

Our four-year-old is in child care two days a week, Wednesdays and Thursdays. Her session can go from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. but we usually drop her off around 9/9:30 a.m. Where we live—in Sydney's Inner West—it's very hard to get a permanent day-long day care spot. When I was attending ante-natal classes for my first child at the local hospital, one of the women in charge of the classes said that the town planners of Sydney assumed that everyone would move out further west to buy a house; they never thought that couples would choose to live closer to the city and start their families here. As a result, the Inner West is exploding with families with young children, to the point where educators are warning that there may not be enough places in local schools in a couple of years. And of course it means that child care can be hard to find, with many people placing their children on multiple waiting lists.

Aug. 26 2014 2:32 PM

The NRA Launches Sexist Attack on Moms Demand Action

Back in May, Mark Follman of Mother Jones wrote a scathing piece describing the way fringe gun rights groups like Open Carry Texas target female gun control advocates. You'd think that the NRA, which holds itself out as a more professional organization than these fringe groups, would be hesitant to court allegations of sexism by singling out women for attack. But, no.

See the latest issue of the NRA magazine America's 1st Freedom, which features an attempted expose of Shannon Watts, the leader of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense. Written by Dave Kopel, the piece starts with the accusation that Watts is a "stand-in, stay-at-home" front-woman for Michael Bloomberg, even though Bloomberg is no shrinking violet on this issue. But Kopel's main argument against Watts is that she is a phony for presenting herself as a stay-at-home mom, when she actually performs paid work.

Had Watts “been a stay-at-home mom” for the previous five years? Not exactly. In December 2008, Watts announced the formation of her public relations firm, VoxPop Public Relations, including an impressive list of clients for which she was already working. The registered address for her PR firm was a residence, so presumably she was running her pr firm out of her house. Her children were all well into school-age or older, so it’s likely that she had plenty of time to run her business during the day.

Aug. 26 2014 12:24 PM

Stephen Colbert Is Fake Sorry for Having Only One Female Writer

At Monday night’s Emmy Awards, Academy of Television Arts & Sciences president Bruce Rosenblum decided to spice up his annual rote spiel about the Academy’s mission by inviting Modern Family actress Sofia Vergara to stand on a rotating pedestal and pose mutely. As Vergara mimed a clueless international bimbo shtick—”If that’s how you do it in American television, OK!” she said as she moved into position—Rosenblum championed the Academy’s commitment to diversity. “Our Academy is more diverse than ever before, both in front of and behind the camera, resulting in a greater diversity of storytelling,” he said. (Vergara pretend-struggles to face the audience as the pedestal slowly turns her ass toward viewers.) “What truly matters is that we never forget that our success is based on always giving the viewer something compelling to watch.” (Vergara touches her ass).


Aug. 25 2014 3:35 PM

Georgia Says Ex-Cop Convicted of Sexually Assaulting a Woman With His Gun Gets to Own a Gun

What does someone have to do in order to lose gun rights in Georgia? Apparently, sexually assaulting a woman at gunpoint—even threatening to anally penetrate her with the gun—is not enough. Ian Millhiser at Think Progress reports on the shocking case of Dennis Krauss, a now former police officer who was convicted of sexually assaulting a woman in 1999 who had called 911 to complain that her husband was beating her. According to the appeals court decision that upheld Krauss's conviction, instead of helping the woman, Krauss threatened to take her to jail if she didn't have sex with him. 

Krauss checked them into a motel room while the woman sat terrified, thinking she was under arrest, in the car. "I had to, I was afraid to leave, he, you know, he is a police officer;  you don't just leave," the victim explained. Once he had her in the motel room, according to the 2003 appeals court decision, "Krauss took his gun from his gun belt and told the victim he wanted to have anal sex with her with the gun." Then he pushed her, pulled off her pants, and raped her.

Aug. 25 2014 1:29 PM

Sex Offenders Housing Restrictions Are Pointless

This article originally appeared in Science of Us.

On Thursday, Joseph Goldstein of the New York Times reported that “Dozens of sex offenders who have satisfied their sentences in New York State are being held in prison beyond their release dates because of a new interpretation of a state law that governs where they can live.” In short, since 2005, sex offenders in the state can't live within 1,000 feet of a school, and a February ruling from the state's Department of Corrections and Community Supervision extended that restriction to homeless shelters.

Because the onus is on sex offenders to find approved housing before they’re released, Goldstein reported, they’ve been left with very few options, especially in densely-populated New York City, where there are schools everywhere. This has led to an uncomfortable legal limbo and sparked at least one lawsuit (so far) on behalf of an offender who is still in custody even though he was supposed to be out by now.

The unfortunate thing about this situation is that laws designed to restrict where sex offenders can live are really and truly useless, except as a means of politicians scoring easy political points by ratcheting up hysteria. There are many tricky social-scientific issues on which there are a range of opinions and some degree of debate among experts, but this isn't one of them. Among those whose job it is to figure out how to reduce the rate at which sex offenders commit crimes (as opposed to those whose job it is to get reelected, in part by hammering away at phantom threats), there is zero controversy: These laws don't work, and may actually increase sexual offenders’ recidivism rates.

Maia Christopher, head of the Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers, sent Science of Us a policy paper her organization has prepared on this issue (it’s not yet online, but should be later this week). ATSA’s views on housing restrictions for sex offenders are completely straightforward: The group “does not support the use of residence restrictions as a feasible strategy for sex offender management” because of a lack of evidence they do any good.

The paper notes that these laws have proliferated—“[a]t least 30 states and hundreds of cities” have them—because of some basic misunderstandings about how sex crimes are committed. There’s a collective American fixation on the creepy image of a sex offender salivating just beyond the playground fence, but that’s just not how things usually work.

Rather, these crimes are generally committed by someone known to the victim—93 percent of the time when it comes to child victims, according to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics—and the majority take place either in the victim’s home or the home of someone they know. “Therefore,” the authors write, “policies based on ‘stranger danger’ do not adequately address the reality of sexual abuse.”

The policy paper goes on to run through some of the many studies on the subject. In Florida and Colorado, sex offenders who resided near schools or daycare centers didn’t reoffend more frequently than those who did not. In Minnesota, an analysis of 224 “sexual reoffense crimes” found that the “offender was a neighbors of the victim in only about 4 percent of the cases,” and “the authors concluded that residence restrictions would not have prevented even one re-offense.”

All the literature, in short, points to the same conclusion: restricting where sex offenders can live doesn’t appear to increase public safety one iota. It may decrease it, however, because the “unintended consequences of residence restrictions include transience, homelessness, instability, and other obstacles to community reentry.” Since “unemployment, unstable housing, and lack of support are associated with increased criminal recidivism,” and housing restrictions lead to all three, they’re a bad idea, ATSA argues.

As a social-science writer used to the hedge-y language of “This study suggests that A may cause B,” it felt weird to be exposed to a debate in which the evidence is stacked so highly on one side. So I sent emails to Karen Terry and Cynthia Calkins Mercado, both professors at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice whose primary area of expertise is sex offenders.

Would it really be accurate, I asked them, to say that there’s literally no evidence these policies are useful? “You are correct,” Terry wrote back. “To date, there is no empirical evidence that these policies reduce the rate of sexual offending.” Mercado concurred, and added that there’s “considerable evidence that these restrictions make readjustment to the community more difficult and thus may inadvertently increase risk for recidivism.” 

It should be said that these restrictions are just one part of a larger story—as Human Rights Watch, Radley Balko, and others have pointed out, U.S. laws governing sex offenses are broken in a myriad of ways. But getting rid of such housing laws would still be a step in the right direction, so it’s too bad that this is a pipe dream, at least in the short term. After all, what politician wants to stand up and say, “You know what? I think sex offenders should be able to live closer to children”?

Aug. 25 2014 12:09 PM

Why It Felt So Amazing When Beyoncé Stood in Front of That Glowing “Feminist” Sign

Rush Limbaugh's claim that feminism exists "to allow ugly women access to society" is going to be a harder sell now that Beyoncé stood in the dark in front of the glowing word "Feminist" at Sunday night's MTV Video Music Awards.

It's no surprise that Beyoncé identifies as a feminist: She featured a speech on feminism by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie on her song "***Flawless" and wrote a piece for the Shriver Report titled "Gender Equality Is a Myth!" But the VMAs statement was next level—an unusually mainstream flaunting of feminist pride in our image-driven culture. And man did it feel good.

Aug. 22 2014 1:34 PM

Anti-Choice Leaders Denounce The Ice Bucket Challenge Because An Embryo Died Once

The exploding popularity of the "ice bucket challenge"—where people record themselves dumping ice water over their heads to raise money to fight the neurogenerative disorder ALS—has inevitably  attracted people who want to hijack the issue for their own ends. So it’s no big surprise to see  anti-abortion leaders trying to scare their followers off of joining in on the fun. As ThinkProgress reports, anti-choicers are arguing that it's not "pro-life" to try to save the lives of ALS sufferers, because doing so might involve the use of embryonic stem cells. Life, apparently, is at its most precious in the cellular form, as opposed to the your-beloved-grandmother-who-is-dying-of-ALS form. 

Lila Rose—the leader of Live Action who was last seen throwing a fit because sex educators at Planned Parenthood were caught answering direct questions asked by clients—complained that the ALS Association, which has been receiving donations via the ice bucket challenge, “chooses to support research that thrives from experimenting on and killing tiny, innocent human beings.” (Pictured here.) The Ohio Catholic Diocese agreed, discouraging its schools from participating. (The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, meanwhile, is demurring on this question.)

Think Progress contacted the ALS Association about the issue, and it clarified that most of its research is performed with the aid of adult stem cells, not embryonic ones. As for the one exception: "Currently, The Association is funding one study using embryonic stem cells (ESC), and the stem cell line was established many years ago under ethical guidelines set by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS)." So anti-choice fanatics are discouraging people from fighting this horrible disease that causes much suffering to patients before they inevitably die because some embryo was used years ago to create a line of cells, none of which could actually develop into a human being. Got it. 

But even if the ALS Association was going hog wild with the embryonic stem cells, using multiple 4-day-old embryos (pictured here) a week to generate brand-new embryonic stem cell lines, so what? These embryos are taken from IVF clinics, where fertility doctors often make more embryos than they end up implanting so that they have back-ups if the first don't take. Embryos that aren't used for stem cell generation tend to end up in the trash. What anti-choice activists are really arguing is that we should cease intriguing research that could save many lives because there was once an embryo that was used to make stem cells instead of being thrown in the garbage. 

More human cells—mostly skin cells—probably die when you dump a bucket of ice water over your head than are actually in a four-day-old embryo (pictured here). If anti-choicers are really worried about cellular life, telling people to stop killing their skin cells for those greedy ALS sufferers would be the more direct approach.