In Court, Andrea Constand Gives a Chilling Description of Bill Cosby’s Alleged Sexual Assault
Before Tuesday, Andrea Constand had never uttered a word in public about the incident that brought her to a Norristown, Pennsylvania, courtroom this week: a sexual encounter with Bill Cosby in 2004 that she calls assault and he says was consensual. Under a settlement Constand and Cosby reached in 2006, Constand was prohibited from speaking publicly about her accusation.
Now, Constand is the only one of five-dozen women who’ve accused Cosby of sexual assault who stands a chance of getting retribution in court. Statutes of limitations have expired in all the other cases. Constand, with a story that closely mirrors those of Cosby’s other alleged victims, has become a stand-in for all the other women who will never get to force Cosby into a courtroom reckoning of his alleged crimes.
The assault Constand described in her testimony on Tuesday, the second day of Cosby’s trial, is the stuff of nightmares. The two had met through Cosby’s alma mater, Temple University, where Constand was on the basketball staff. After a year and a half of cordial friendship, they met at Cosby’s home in suburban Philadelphia. According to Constand, the comedian gave her three blue pills to help with the stress she was feeling over an upcoming career shift. “These will help you relax,” he said, according to her testimony. “Put ’em down, they’re your friends. They’ll take the edge off.” When Constand asked if they were herbal supplements, she said, Cosby nodded and gave her a glass of water with which to swallow them. A few minutes later, “I began to slur my words, and I also told Mr. Cosby that I had trouble seeing him, that I could see two of him,” Constand testified, according to a report from Billy Penn. Cosby told her to relax and brought her to a couch. She lost consciousness.
When Constand was “jolted awake,” she said on the stand on Tuesday, Cosby was assaulting her. “I felt Mr. Cosby’s hand groping my breasts under my shirt. I also felt his hand inside my vagina moving in and out. And I felt him take my hand and place it on his penis and move it back and forth,” she said. “In my head, I was trying to get my hands to move or my legs to move, and I was frozen. I wasn’t able to fight … I wanted it to stop.” After it was over, and she could move her body again, she says she moved into Cosby’s kitchen, where he gave her a muffin and some tea, then exited his house without saying anything to him, because “I felt really humiliated, and I was really confused.”
Some time later, according to Constand, she returned to Cosby’s home to demand to know what was in the pills he gave her. “Mr. Cosby looked at me and said, ‘I thought you had an orgasm, didn’t you?’ ” Constand said. “And I said, ‘I did not. I just want to know what you gave me.’ ” After a while, she decided he wasn’t going to give her an answer and left.
In a 2005 deposition for the civil suit that led to Constand’s settlement, Cosby admitted to giving women alcohol and Quaaludes when he wanted to have sex with them. But he still insists that the drug-taking and sex acts Constand describes were consensual. Constand, who was 30 years old to Cosby’s 65 when the alleged assault took place, was dating a woman at the time and identifies as gay.
Constand’s testimony on Tuesday casts new light on Cosby’s assertion that Constand consented to the sexual activity because, as he said in the 2005 deposition, “She does not look angry. She does not say to me, ‘Don't ever do that again.’ She doesn't walk out with an attitude of a huff.” In Constand’s telling, she was physically incapacitated during the assault and thoroughly shaken afterward, as a reasonable person might be after such a violation. She also said he had tried to undo her pants on another occasion, and she’d told him, “I don’t want that.” A victim should not have to scream and slam a door to prove she did not want to be drugged and penetrated.
During opening remarks, the New York Times reports, a defense attorney told the jurors in Norristown that Constand had made the whole thing up. She made 53 calls to Cosby after the alleged assault, the lawyer said—why would she do that if he’d violated her? There are a hundred possible reasons, one of which Constand got at in her testimony: She’d been betrayed by an admired friend and wanted answers. Cosby’s defense suggests that there is no correct response for a survivor of sexual violence. Anything you do can and will be used against you.
And Now to Watch Amal Conquer Supermomdom as George Clooney Descends Into Bumbling Dadhood
There’s been some debate about whether we should refer to Amal Clooney as a renowned international human rights lawyer or an impossibly chic movie star’s wife. Now she has yet another role to further complicate things: mother!
That’s right, it’s time to baby-proof the Clooney villa in Lake Como, because Amal and her husband George Clooney became parents Tuesday morning with the arrival of their twin bambinos, Ella and Alexander! Surely Amal’s new status as a mom will allow us, once and for all, to solve the quandary of whether women can be more than one thing at the same time. Having it “Amal,” they’ll call it, shorthand for the new generation of raven-haired, terrorism-fighting, jet-setting, twin-parenting exemplars of modern femininity.
But as the world applies scrutiny to Amal’s performance of motherhood, we’ll also get to watch George Clooney, onetime poster boy for the bachelor life, perform fatherhood. For years, it seemed like the last thing the famously handome and charming (and famous!) movie star would ever do is settle down. It’s a far cry from what George himself used to say about his future plans: In 2006, he said that he never wanted kids, and he even had a bet with Michelle Pfeiffer and Nicole Kidman that he would never get married again. (He was married to Mona Sterling from 1989 to 1993.)
Asking George how he’s taking to fatherhood will probably make for fun red carpet banter. His press statement reads: “Ella, Alexander and Amal are all healthy, happy and doing fine. George is sedated and should recover in a few days.” Har har. George, by the way, is 56, so at this rate Leonardo DiCaprio, a young buck of 42, still has over a decade of wild-oats-sowing left should he opt for fatherhood.
Amal is 39. She had to fit her goals of becoming an international superlawyer and a wife and parent into a more confined timeline, like almost all mothers do. Maybe being a late-in-life father, especially the father of a girl—chalk it up to the Daughter Clause—will enlighten George to the struggles and double standards that women face. More likely is that next time he has a movie to promote, we’ll get a few anecdotes about him changing diapers, his transformation into bumbling husband of Queen Amal now complete.
Texas Is Poised to Effectively Ban Second-Trimester Abortions
Texas legislators have been skipping an important item on their “Should we pass this law?” checklist lately: the step that asks “Has this law already been passed?” and “If so, did it hold up in court?”
A far-reaching new abortion bill on Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk fails this test several times over. It bans intact dilation and extraction procedures, which pro-life advocates have dubbed “partial-birth abortions.” Those are already illegal under a federal law passed a decade and a half ago. It also bans the sale of fetal tissue, another no-no under existing federal law. And the bill resurrects an existing health department requirement that abortion providers bury or cremate all fetal remains. After a state employee testified in January that fetuses would be buried in a mass grave for $2 apiece to avoid saddling women with funeral costs, a federal judge blocked that rule from taking effect.
But the part of the new bill that promises to have the most damaging effect on Texas women is on more ambiguous legal ground. If Abbott signs the bill—and, considering the fact that he’s called fetal tissue donation “the butchering of unborn babies for trade in the open market,” it would be shocking if he didn’t—Texas doctors will face felony charges if they perform a dilation and evacuation. D&Es are by far the safest and most common form of abortion performed in the second trimester, when about 11 percent of all abortions take place. D&E bans are currently in place in West Virginia and Mississippi, and the governor of Arkansas signed one into law earlier this year. Similar bans in Oklahoma, Louisiana, Kansas, and Alabama have been blocked from taking effect while advocates challenge the laws in court.
During a D&E, a doctor dilates the cervix and removes fetal tissue with forceps, a scraper, and vacuum suction, as she would if a patient experienced a miscarriage. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends that medical practitioners use the D&E procedure in any abortions performed after 14 weeks’ gestation. The only other options for terminating a pregnancy after that threshold are inducing premature labor or performing surgery akin to a Cesarean section—both of which are unnecessary and far more expensive and dangerous than a D&E, meaning few doctors would be willing to go there. In practice, D&E bans function as second-trimester abortion bans.
Supreme Court rulings have upheld Americans’ right to abortion care before fetal viability, around 22 to 24 weeks’ gestation, so judges are likely to find D&E bans unconstitutional. If the Texas law stands, women in Texas will face an abortion window two and a half months shorter than they should be guaranteed by law.
This is of particular concern in a state that saw nearly two dozen women’s health clinics close in recent years after legislators enacted stringent restrictions on abortion providers. Nearly a year after the Supreme Court struck down those restrictions, barely any clinics have reopened. Women in more remote areas still have to travel far and spend a great deal of money to access care, and the existing clinics are overburdened with patients. When women have to save money and wait to get an appointment, their abortions are delayed and the need for second-trimester abortions spikes. If Texas legislators wanted to reduce the need for abortions past 14 weeks’ gestation, they would have supported the recovery of women’s health providers they’d regulated out of existence. Instead, they are trying to delay women’s access to care for as long as possible, in the hopes of denying them any care at all.
How ’90s-Vintage Bitch Magazine Survives in the Age of Trump
Bitch magazine has been around since 1996, long before Jezebel or DoubleX or Beyoncé performing in front of a giant “Feminist” sign.* The publication’s objective—to provide a feminist response to pop culture—is evident is its most recent issue, where a piece on “the contentious intersection of Western capitalism and the hijab” ran alongside a tribute to MTV’s Daria. During an idle scroll through social media last week, I came across a fundraising campaign for Bitch Media, the Portland, Oregon–based nonprofit that publishes the magazine; in the wee hours of the drive, it looked like it wasn’t going to hit its $30,000 goal. I called up Bitch’s publisher, Kate Lesniak, who talked about the challenges of running an independent feminist media organization in the age of Trump. (The following interview has been condensed and edited.)
Slate: You just finished up a fundraising campaign, right?
Kate Lesniak: Yes. The campaign ended on May 31. We run about four fundraising campaigns a year. And we do that because that’s the rhythm of our cash flow. Bitch prints a print magazine, and that can be very expensive.
I got worried when I saw that the campaign was going to end in a few hours and the goal hadn’t been met yet.
I’ve been a fundraiser for a long time, whether in politics or here in a feminist media organization, and thinking about deadlines and the way that people respond to deadlines—hands down, people will give at the last possible moment. The closer you are to a deadline, the more likely folks are to say, “Hey, wait a minute, I think this is really important, I’m going to step up and do something about it.” One of the results of not expecting corporate sponsorship or angel investors is that we don’t have a consistent big check coming from somebody. It means that we have to ask our readers for support.
You’re trying to move away from tireless fundraising toward a more sustainable model with the B-Hive membership program, but it seems like now you’re caught in this moment of having to do both.
We’ve had to shift and tell a different story and say, “Bitch is not just a magazine. We’re a multimedia organization.” Honestly, we have more listeners for some podcasts than we do print subscribers. It’s about shifting our revenue model to match the organization that we are now and paying as much attention to funding those different programs as we do to printing the magazine and mailing it out.
Despite it being a difficult climate for media and journalism, institutions like the New York Times and the Washington Post have received big postelection subscription bumps.
One of the things that people are starting to say is, “What media outlets provide the media that I believe in, or some sort of values that I ascribe to?” You see the New York Times say, “If you believe in truth, subscribe to the New York Times.” You see these values statements put out by news organizations because they want to say, “We have a theory of change about how the world should work, and this is our role in that,” and that is just ripped straight from the playbooks of social justice and community organizers.
Has politics taken on a new emphasis in your fundraising?
Bitch has always been political, but we want to be intentional about not letting political coverage, especially of Trump and Trump’s administration, take over the other things that are happening at Bitch. We’ve tried to compartmentalize that coverage of Trump. I think the last time I ran the numbers on it, the readership of our political coverage has been up by 17 percent since the election.
The fact that we’ve elected a white supremacist to the White House reflects the culture that we’ve always been living in. Now that more people know about that and believe it, because it’s been validated by 63 million Americans, let’s talk about that. Bitch has always been here to do the same work, and I think that speaks to the lasting power of the mission we were founded with.
How do you think about Bitch’s place in the landscape now, with such an explosion of feminist media?
First of all, it’s awesome to see so much feminist media out there. It’s a testament to the work we’ve also been doing for 21 years and that other outlets have been doing for so long. For example, Teen Vogue is doing amazing work right now. However, if you look at the difference between Teen Vogue and Vogue, the natural progression from Teen Vogue is not to Vogue—it’s to Bitch, it’s to some other magazine, it’s to reading Everyday Feminism.
We have the opportunity to say that “empowertising” and the co-optation of feminist language by corporations—this stuff is dangerous. We’re independently funded and we don’t have to answer to anybody. We believe that there’s a connection between where you get your funding from, who’s controlling your bottom line, and the things that you’re able to say.
What if a corporation comes along that also seems to have a feminist message and wants to advertise?
We don’t ever want to be reliant on the success of an advertising campaign with our readers. If there’s a massive corporation that wants to reach out to our readers and our readers call bullshit on it, then that’s not living up to our values. This is something that Andi Zeisler, the co-founder of Bitch who still runs our fellowship programs, talks about, and a lot of folks talk about this: When you believe that you’re buying a product with a feminist message, you get this underlying sense that you are doing the feminist work that needs to be done in order to change the world by buying that product. And the truth is that buying a T-shirt, buying a stick of deodorant, getting “Fuck Trump” lipstick—that’s not the work that needs to be done in order to change the world. It waters down both the tactics and the language of feminism as a movement and co-opts them for corporate profit.
*Correction, June 6: This post originally misstated that Beyoncé performed in front of a "Feminism” sign. It said “Feminist.”
I Wish Wonder Woman Were as Feminist as It Thinks It Is
While reading my colleagues’ laudatory reviews of Wonder Woman this week, I kept wondering if I’d blacked out during some essential scenes. “Wonder Woman Made Me Finally See the Importance of Female Representation,” Dana Stevens wrote on Thursday. Two of Slate’s male editors compared notes on which parts of the new DC Universe film made them cry. My eyes were not only dry during the movie—half the time, they were rolling out of my head.
To me, whatever chance Wonder Woman had of being some kind of feminist antidote to the overabundance of superhero movies made by and for bros was blown by its prevailing occupation with the titular heroine’s sex appeal. Characters frequently note that Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman, who goes by Diana in the film, is “the most beautiful woman you’ve ever seen.” Her male companions in the fight against Germany’s WWI forces drool behind her back at the notion that there may somewhere be an island full of women who look like her, with no men in sight. When she walks into a room, even dressed in a plain gray suit and bowler hat instead of her usual sensual armored leotard, men go silent and stare. “I’m both frightened and aroused,” goes one character’s response to Diana’s ass-kicking moves, prompting one of the audience’s loudest, longest laughs at the screening I attended.
“Her femininity is part of the story, for the way it makes even the other heroes in the movie underestimate and discount her. But her gender is never the story’s primary thrust,” wrote a critic at the Verge this week. Disagree. By the time the action got too fast-paced and loud for any more characters to marvel at Diana’s fine bod and bone structure, I was about an hour past being sick of the “sexy lady is also hypercompetent” joke.
One of the Slate colleagues who cried at Wonder Woman’s scenes of female physical strength assured me that Thor, too, featured characters going googly-eyed over Chris Hemsworth’s godlike good looks. I don’t usually watch superhero movies, in part because I can’t tell the white Chrises apart, and in part because I cannot abide the cheesy, thin romance that gets shoehorned into every plot. Wonder Woman is far more enjoyable than most superhero movies I’ve seen, and its love-‘n’-lust narrative, for what it’s worth, is a few centimeters meatier than average. One wonders whether that has anything to do with the fact that a woman is at the center of the story, and prominent women in films almost always end up driving the romantic happenings.
The love story in Wonder Woman also seems positioned as a “no homo” response to the heroine’s inherently queer backstory: Diana was raised on a hidden island that contains only women, some of them fairly jacked and butch-of-center. A few hours after she meets the film’s leading man—Chris Pine as American spy Steve Trevor—Diana lets slip that she’s learned men are integral to reproduction, but “unnecessary” for purposes of pleasure. Truth drop!
And yet. Just a couple of days into their jaunt to stop the Germans from employing new chemical weapons, he’s shutting himself into her hotel room, presumably so they can do sex things. Diana is so clueless about men, human activity, and the basic concepts of manipulation and evil—think mute air-breathing Ariel in The Little Mermaid, if she could incapacitate an entire village of German sharpshooters—that her capacity for consent is somewhat blurry. She can’t even understand why Trevor thinks it would be improper for them to sleep in the same bed when they’ve just met. Diana’s naïveté and innocence are crucial to the film’s moral thrust, but they cast her sexual relationship in a shiftier light.
Perhaps I, a person who writes about gender and feminism every day and hasn’t seen enough superhero stuff to be impressed by the mere existence of a female protagonist, am the wrong audience for this film. Perhaps I was too distracted by the figure-skater dress Diana wears for most of the film, sculpted with tiny bumps for her apparently ever-erect nipples, to applaud the heavy-handed lines (“What I do is not up to you!”) that gesture toward female empowerment. I wondered why I’d come into the movie expecting some energizing woke-feminist manifesto instead of a film that stars one sexy woman surrounded by throngs of horny men, barely passing the Bechdel test after the opening scenes on Diana’s home island. Maybe it’s because, as with the Ghostbusters reboot, insecure men have seized upon Wonder Woman and its all-woman screenings as evidence of a misandrist, matriarchal uprising that threatens their place in the world. Maybe I’d secretly hoped those men were right.
After the Portland Tragedy, Bystander Intervention Training Is More Important than Ever
In an upstairs classroom at a Washington, D.C. Unitarian Universalist church on Wednesday, Jessica Raven filled a whiteboard with examples of violence. Her students had come for training on bystander intervention, and she asked them to call out types of harassment they’d experienced or witnessed. Raven placed them on a scale of severity: from threats and hate speech on one side to sexual assault and police brutality on the other.
“What connections do you see between these behaviors?” asked Raven, who is executive director of Collective Action for Safe Spaces, a D.C.-based group that works to prevent sexual harassment and assault. A trainee noted that incidents often started on one side of the spectrum and ended on the other. “Exactly—there’s always a threat of escalation,” Raven said. “That’s why we have to intervene.”
Bystander intervention has been at the forefront of public conversation for the past week, since a Portland, Oregon white supremacist killed two men and critically injured another on a public train after they tried to stop him from harassing two young women he perceived to be Muslim. The tragedy has hit hard for people who teach others how to do exactly what three men were stabbed for doing on May 26.
“Standing up in solidarity when anybody in our community is targeted is the best of who we are,” says Kit Bonson, who wrote a bystander-intervention training curriculum with the Montgomery County Civil Rights Coalition. “Those of us doing this work in the D.C. area feel such an enormous kinship with those three men.”
Debjani Roy, deputy director of anti-harassment organization Hollaback, says she’s been “living and breathing this story ever since it happened.” Roy does digital bystander-intervention trainings with Hollaback and helped the Southern Poverty Law Center develop its campus bystander training program. In her curriculum, directly confronting the antagonist, as the men in Portland did, is just one of five strategies discussed, and it can be framed as something of a last resort. “With a direct intervention, there are many different kinds of risks—the number one risk being an aggressor or harasser redirecting the harassment toward the bystander who’s trying to help,” Roy says. “In no way do we want to say, ‘This is the right way and this is wrong way.’ What we can say is that there are other ways.”
Kids are taught that standing up for someone getting picked on means telling the bully to stop. As adults, it’s natural to default to that mode of intercession. One goal of most bystander-intervention training programs is to offer alternatives that are accessible to different kinds of bystanders—like introverts, who may be too timid to approach an aggressor. Those alternatives can be just as effective in achieving the ultimate goal: preventing physical violence.
To that end, groups like Hollaback and Collective Action for Safe Spaces teach what they call the “Five Ds.” Direct intervention, the method practiced by the Portland men, is one. There’s also document, delegate, delay, and distract. Documenting is easy: Record an incident and ask the targeted person if they’d like to post it online or share it with law enforcement. Delegating involves bringing in some kind of authority figure, like a bus driver or security guard, or asking the aggressor’s friends to get their buddy in line. (Most advocates caution against involving police officers, whose presence may increase the potential for violence, especially if the target is a person of color.) If bystanders witness a passing act of harassment that ends before they can intervene, they can ask the targeted person if she is okay or needs any help—this is the “delay” tactic.
In a comic that went viral after reports of hate crimes spiked following Donald Trump’s election, French illustrator Maeril writes that bystanders who see verbal harassment should ignore the aggressor completely and strike up a random conversation with the person being harassed. Trainers call this the “distract” strategy. Bonson’s de-escalation training materials use the same hypothetical situation as a role-playing scenario. The curriculum suggests “focusing only on the woman, offering her support, breaking the line of sight with the attacker, and ignoring the attacker.”
“Attention is a valuable thing,” it continues, “and when an attacker doesn’t get it, that person can often feel the wind go out of their sails—or they may try to escalate. In either case, we will continue to ignore the attacker unless s/he becomes physical.”
Raven says one of the most surprisingly successful distractions she’s ever seen is intervenors singing “I’m a Little Teapot,” complete with the accompanying choreography. “It’s effective because it channels energy away from the aggressive situation, and it’s hard to be aggressive after you hear that song,” she says. “It gives people a second to collect themselves, and sometimes that’s all they need to be able to walk away. Also, it isn’t likely that someone will turn their aggression toward the intervenor, because it’s not clear it’s an intervention.” She also recommends the tactics of “Snackman,” a New York City subway rider whose low-key intervention in a violent fight got a lot of press in 2012. A YouTube video from another passenger shows the man stepping in between the two aggressors, chomping on his Pringles, never making eye contact with either party. Blocked by a snacking man, the two people in the fight could no longer see each other, forcing them to take a second to cool down and giving other passengers an opportunity to step in.
Bonson’s curriculum teaches that bystanders should choose escape rather than intervention in any situation of immediate danger. “If you encounter a person who is threatening harm to you or another person, it is important that you do what you can to leave the situation as fast as possible and to encourage others to do so as well,” the training materials read. But Bonson is quick to point out that none of this—the distraction technique, the suggestions to retreat if an aggressor threatens violence—means the men in Portland, who reportedly continued their direct confrontation after the perpetrator said he would kill them, brought the violence upon themselves.* “Any time a man comes onto public transportation with a knife and subsequently wounds one person and murders two others, it’s pretty clear he was intent on visiting violence on someone, based on any random excuse,” she says. Trainees often worry that aggressors will see their intervention as provocation, but some attackers don’t need to be provoked to do harm.
“No matter what we do as bystanders, whether we intervene or don’t intervene, we can’t control the actions of an aggressor,” Raven says. “We can take steps that are most likely to de-escalate an aggressive situation, or make it less likely that violence will happen. But every intervention isn’t going to be 100 percent successful 100 percent of the time.”
Trainers hope that, after the attack in Portland, potential intervenors aren’t deterred by the small but ever-present chance that a de-escalation tactic might fail and end in violence. “Even if goodness still has strength in numbers, those numbers feel less safe than they did before Friday,” wrote Slate’s Lowen Liu earlier this week. “I worry that in a similar situation I may hesitate before saying something. And if we all do, then hate … has shaken off yet another social restraint.” In the best-case scenario, the Portland tragedy might push responsible bystanders to seek information and learn their options. Bonson says she’s already heard from an activist group in Portland that wants to use her scripts for a just-scheduled training.
The best any training can do, advocates say, is give people a wide range of choices and the opportunity to practice intervening in role-plays, which help make split-second decisions easier. “We see a huge value in thinking through these scenarios in advance, especially since there is a very clearly documented spike in hate violence and harassment happening around the country,” Roy says. “What these guys [in Portland] did was stand up for people who are being actively targeted all across the country. They did something that I think more of us are going to be asked to do.”
*Update, June 6, 2017: This sentence was altered to better represent Bonson's view of the Portland MAX train attack.
UC Berkeley’s Gym Plans to Open an All-Gender Locker Room Next Fall
Next fall, the University of California, Berkeley will open a new resource for its transgender and gender-nonconforming students: a gender-inclusive locker room. Nestled in between the men’s and women’s locker rooms, the new 4,500-square-foot space in the on-campus gym will have private changing rooms, individual showers, and bathroom facilities open to people of any gender.
The only gender-neutral changing facility in Berkeley’s existing gym is a single-stall bathroom meant for campus staff, and the only way to access the gym’s swimming pool is through either the men’s or women’s locker room, where trans or transitioning students may not feel safe. Trans people already face harassment in multi-stall bathrooms, where pants are only dropped behind closed doors and no one has to take their shirts off. Locker rooms, which often require gymgoers to change and shower in open spaces, are more dangerous for students with gender-nonconforming bodies. A trans Berkeley alumnus told the San Francisco Chronicle that the men’s locker room at the current gym has no private shower facilities or curtains in changing areas. He opted to pay to use an off-campus gym rather than subject himself to the risk of violence or insulting questions.
Trineice Durst, senior associate director of Berkeley’s Department of Recreational Sports, says conversations about building an all-gender locker room began in 2012. “At the time, I think higher ed was just starting to understand the necessity and the impact that these types of facilities could have,” she says. When she and her colleagues got back from a conference organized by the National Intramural-Recreational Sports Association, which has publicly advocated for better support for trans athletes for years, they were motivated to look at their own policies for trans inclusion.
The renovation will take some space from both the men’s and women’s locker rooms, with the expectation that trans and non-binary students won’t be the only ones who want a gender-inclusive facility. Families and students with disabilities may also feel more comfortable in a more private, ungendered space. When the University of Arizona announced plans to build an all-gender locker room in its campus gym last year, officials noted that it would also be a welcome option for faculty members who’d prefer not to change in front of students.
Colorado State University also added gender-inclusive locker rooms when it renovated its recreation center in 2010. Durst says university administrators all over the country are considering adding these kinds of spaces when it comes time to renovate major recreation facilities. What makes Berkeley’s forthcoming space unique among UC schools and most other U.S. universities is its size and the breadth of its amenities. At UC San Francisco, for instance, gymgoers have access to gender-neutral changing stalls, but no gender-neutral showers.
California already has several laws in place that protect residents’ rights to gender-inclusive facilities in public spaces. In March, a law mandating that all single-stall bathrooms be gender-inclusive went into effect, three years after the University of California system became one of the first in the country to institute a similar policy. Since 2013, state law has required that K-12 students be allowed to use whichever set of gendered restrooms and locker rooms match their gender identities.
A gender-neutral, extra-private locker room offers an even better solution that accommodates people with disabilities and those who don’t identify with either gendered sign on the existing locker rooms. “We want to try to eliminate as many barriers as we can to wellness, because studies have shown that [physical] wellness has a tremendous impact on student experience and student wellbeing,” Durst says. “It really just came down to needing a bit more privacy in order to feel safe and welcome.”
Why So Many People Care That Wonder Woman Is Israeli
In the epoch that has elapsed between DC’s announcement of the new Wonder Woman and its actual premiere this weekend, the film’s gender politics have dominated much of the discussion: Its female director, female lead, and the handful of recent women-only screenings that were perfectly calibrated to enrage the Internet’s lamest men.
But the new Wonder Woman is not just a woman; she is also Jewish—or at least played by a Jewish woman. (Somewhere, Chuck Woolery stirs.) Gal Gadot was born in the small city of Rosh HaAyin, became Miss Israel at age 18, and served a compulsory two years in the Israeli Defense Force as a combat trainer. As publicity for Wonder Woman has ramped up, Gadot’s Israeli and Jewish identity has mattered an awful lot to an awful lot of people.
Gadot’s origins landed in headlines this week when Lebanon banned the film from theaters just days before it was scheduled to premiere. The movie had passed the country’s usual guidelines, but pressure from the Campaign to Boycott Supporters of Israel–Lebanon prompted the government to pull its approval at the last minute. (Gadot’s IDF service overlapped with the 2006 Israel-Lebanon conflict, which resulted in, according to Human Rights Watch, “at least 1,109 Lebanese deaths, the vast majority of whom were civilians, 4,399 injured, and an estimated 1 million displaced.”) Bragging on Wednesday about the boycott’s success on Facebook, the Campaign referred to Wonder Woman as “the israeli Soldier film.” The group also tried and failed to block Batman v. Superman last year, when Gadot debuted in the Wonder Woman role.
Gadot herself has proudly discussed her experience in the IDF, touting her combat training in interviews as helpful in preparing for the role. (A decade ago, she participated in a Maxim feature on women of the IDF, “the world’s sexiest soldiers.”) She has also been outspoken in her political support for her country. In 2014, as the Gaza conflict escalated, she posted a message of support to her official Facebook page. “I am sending my love and prayers to my fellow Israeli citizens,” she wrote, next to a photo of herself praying with her young daughter. “Especially to all the boys and girls who are risking their lives protecting my country against the horrific acts conducted by Hamas, who are hiding like cowards behind women and children...We shall overcome!!! Shabbat Shalom! #weareright #freegazafromhamas #stopterror #coexistance #loveidf.”
Her views prompted an online backlash, and then a backlash-to-the-backlash by conservative American websites that slammed “SJWs” for their objections. The dynamic escalated this week with the news of Lebanon’s ban. Actress Gina Rodriguez tweeted that the ban “sucks,” received a flood of angry responses, and then deleted her tweet and apologized; outlets like National Review then held up the commotion as proof that feminism is about “[throwing] Jewish women under the bus.” What a delightful corner of the Internet!
Jewish and Israeli media outlets, meanwhile, have covered the movie with a sense of hometown swagger. A critic for Haaretz nodded in his review to those who would watch the film with “national Israeli pride,” and the Forward asked if Gadot is on her way to becoming “the biggest Israeli superstar ever” and a “global feminist torch-holder for decades to come.” “It isn’t just a triumph for women that the new savior of the world is female,” a writer for the Jewish Journal wrote. “It is a triumph for the Jews.” Although the new movie is set during World War I, Wonder Woman was created in 1941 and her first enemies were the Axis powers of World War II—so “fighting Hitler,” the Journal said, “is in the character’s DNA.”
Expect the squabbling over Gadot’s politics and identity to continue as Wonder Woman enters theaters. Who would have thought that a story that involves both comic book culture and Middle Eastern politics would prompt such furor?
The Dentist’s Office Is a New Front in the Fight Against Domestic Violence
According to some dentists and hygienists, routine appointments should be more than an opportunity for garbled chit-chat. Stat reported this week on an “activist group” of dental professionals who are urging their colleagues to use appointments as a chance to screen patients for signs of domestic violence. Dentists, they point out, typically see patients for cleanings twice a year, more often than the recommendation for medical checkups. Studies of domestic violence victims have found that the overwhelming majority suffer injuries on their head, neck, or face, where dentists can observe them. Horribly, signs of sexual abuse in children are often present in the mouth.
The efforts are being led by a Maryland-based organization called PANDA, which stands for “prevent abuse and neglect through dental awareness.” As of 2015, Maryland dentists who want to renew their licenses must receive two hours of training on abuse and neglect. PANDA says dental organizations in Pennsylvania, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee have looked into instituting similar requirements. Meanwhile, some dental schools now also train students to recognize signs of abuse. At Tufts, for example, students are taught to look for obvious signs like visible bruises, but also more subtle things such as patients who miss appointments, are jumpy or anxious in in the chair, or are accompanied by someone who never leaves their side. Tufts also has a program called Dental Outreach to Survivors that offers free and confidential care to victims in shelters.
Medical doctors have long been seen as uniquely positioned to spot signs of domestic abuse: They meet with patients privately, observe physical injuries, and have the standing to ask personal questions. As a result, many general practitioners now screen for intimate-partner violence along with posing questions about alcohol and smoking. But the effectiveness of domestic-violence screening has been debated within medical circles since the practice started becoming widespread. A 2014 analysis published in The BMJ found no evidence that screening increased referrals to domestic-violence support services or decreased experiences of violence. “The emphasis on how to identify victims distracts attention from the real issues,” one of the study’s authors told NPR at the time. Rather than spending time identifying victims, he said, the medical community should focus on connecting known victims with resources.
Whether or not mandatory formal screenings in the dental chair makes sense, however, it can’t hurt for dentists to be attuned to signs of abuse, and be prepared to point their patients to local support services. “A lot of dentists say, ‘I only do teeth,’” hygienist Sue Camardese, who runs PANDA, told Stat. “But this is health. This is part of health.”
Unpopular President Intends to Kill Popular Birth Control Mandate
The Trump administration is reportedly planning to roll back the Affordable Care Act’s mandate that requires employers to include cost-free contraception in their health insurance plans. The Supreme Court ruled in the 2014 Burwell v. Hobby Lobby decision that “closely held” private companies, in addition to religious groups and organizations, could refuse to offer birth control coverage on moral grounds. Under a drafted regulation published by Vox on Wednesday, any employer would be able to claim moral or religious objections to the contraceptive mandate, exempting them from the federal requirement.
“Expanding the exemption removes religious and moral obstacles that entities and certain individuals may face who otherwise wish to participate in the healthcare market,” the draft states. It also argues that the “substantial governmental resources” have been spend defending the mandate against lawsuits brought by organizations that claim religious exemptions, and capitulating with blanket permission to refuse to cover birth control would resolve the still-pending suits.
Just one month ago, it looked like the Trump administration might be preparing to defend the ACA’s contraceptive mandate. Attorney General Jeff Sessions filed a request in late April for a two-month extension during which to negotiate a compromise, as ordered by the Supreme Court, with a coalition of religious groups that has challenged the mandate in court. These groups contend that the Obama administration’s concession, which allowed them to opt out of birth-control coverage if they submitted a form indicating their religious objection, would still make them complicit in a sinful act, even though the form would make sure any employee contraception would be covered by outside entities. “Maybe these guys are too busy to restrict birth-control access right now,” I wondered at the time. “Maybe they don’t know what they’re doing, or they’re lulling progressives into complacence in preparation for some big unexpected reversal.”
Now, it looks like my latter, most pessimistic guess was the right one. Instead of continuing or ceasing its defense of the mandate in this one suit, the Trump administration is planning on proactively expanding the capacity for religious or moral exemption to anyone who wants it: gigantic public corporations, secular universities that offer health insurance to students, random companies that want to give as little health coverage as possible to their employees without flouting federal law. If the Office of Management and Budget allows the regulation to go forward after its current review period, companies of any size and affiliation will be able to offer any religious or moral reason they can come up with—that contraception encourages extramarital sex, for instance—as an excuse to deny employees the birth-control coverage they’ve been guaranteed under the ACA.
If the Trump administration submitted the draft regulation to OMB in the form Vox obtained, health insurers would also be able to opt out of contraception coverage, though if any insurers wish to do so, they’ve been very quiet about it. Employers that decide to request an exemption could do so as soon as the regulation goes through OMB, potentially costing employees immediate out-of-pocket expenses for medication they’ve been getting for free for years.
The vast majority of Americans don’t want this to happen. A 2016 Pew survey found that more than two-thirds of respondents, including half of respondents who regularly attended church services, thought employers with religious objections should still have to cover contraception for their employees. The Trump administration’s latest move will be expensive for women, which the president may not care about. But it will also be wildly unpopular, and unpopular is one thing Trump very much doesn’t want to be.