The XX Factor
What Women Really Think

Nov. 6 2017 2:55 PM

Why the Republican Tax Plan Gives Fetuses the Right to Save for College

Careful readers of the GOP’s atrocious tax plan were rewarded with a little anti-abortion Easter egg. In a provision about tax benefits for college savings accounts, a section wholly unrelated to health or pregnancy, the bill’s authors proposed a new definition of life itself.

“Nothing shall prevent an unborn child from being treated as a designated beneficiary or an individual under this section,” the legislation reads. “For purposes of this paragraph…the term ‘unborn child’ means a child in utero. … The term ‘child in utero’ means a member of the species homo sapiens, at any stage of development, who is carried in the womb.”

It takes some audacity to slide ostensibly “pro-life” language into a bill whose egregious tax cuts for the wealthy would be funded by life-threatening cuts to Medicaid and Medicare. It’s also completely unnecessary as a matter of tax policy. People can already open 529 plans, the savings accounts in question, under their own names to save for college before their child’s birth. All they need to do is switch the account beneficiary to their child once she’s born. The only way fetuses could suffer under the current 529 regulations would be if they matriculated at a university before exiting the womb, thereby requiring their college funds earlier than most.

There are three possible reasons why Republicans would try to legally rename a fertilized egg or fetus in the middle of a tax bill. One is to troll pro-choice advocates and legislators, who will now be forced to argue against this silly provision along with all the more substantive offenses that lie within the bill. The GOP might also hope for a fetal domino effect: To have a 529 account, you need to have a Social Security number. Babies usually get their Social Security numbers along with their birth certificates. Giving fetuses access to tax benefits could trigger an If You Give a Mouse a Cookie situation that ends with microscopic clumps of human cells getting birth certificates, marriage licenses, and political appointments.

This is completely absurd, not least because only half of fertilized eggs—the first “stage of development” referenced in the GOP’s tax plan—actually implant in a uterine wall, when the medical community says pregnancy begins. Many anti-abortion activists would rather refer to these naturally expelled fertilized eggs as “pre-born humans,” which explains the GOP’s third reason for wanting to give blastocysts a nod in the tax code: To garner support for curbing abortion rights, the party tries at every turn to shift the cultural conversation away from women’s rights and toward the rights of fetuses.

Authors of “personhood” bills, which have been proposed and voted down in several states over the past decade, have tried to confer all the legal and constitutional rights of a human being onto fertilized eggs. If passed, such laws would necessarily define abortion as murder and abortion-seeking women as murderers. But states have found other less severe ways to sneak legal rights to fetuses without scaring away moderates with the idea of outlawing birth control methods that prevent fertilized eggs from implanting.

For example: Louisiana legislators have given embryos, which are even less developed than fetuses and still need another week of growth before embedding in a uterine wall, the right to sue people in court. The state calls embryos “juridical persons,” a kind of halfway point between clusters of cells in a woman’s body and actual human beings. This is how Sofia Vergara’s frozen embryos were able to sue her for their “right to live.” (The Louisiana judge ruled that the embryos were, in fact, “citizens of California,” and thus had no standing in the only state that would let them serve as plaintiffs.)

Other states prioritize fetal rights over women’s rights with “chemical endangerment” laws, under which women have been imprisoned for using drugs, even marijuana, while pregnant. Like the tax plan the GOP is trying to pass, chemical endangerment laws have no bearing on abortion rights but still punish pregnant women through the legal argument that the fetus she carries is a “life” with rights the state must protect. And, like the personhood language in the tax bill, any law that establishes rights for fetuses adds grease to an already slippery slope of the government dictating what a woman can do to her body once her uterus holds a fertilized egg. (Can she drink? Breathe fumes at a nail salon? Take antidepressants?)

The Republican Party also has a long tradition of passing fetal-rights laws under the guise of protecting pregnant women from abusive partners or family members, then using those laws to prosecute the women themselves. Dozens of women, the most famous of whom is Purvi Patel, have been arrested on charges of “feticide” or “fetal homicide” for attempting suicide, experiencing stillbirths, and having miscarriages. National Advocates for Pregnant Women (NAPW) has gathered hundreds of other examples of states detaining, arresting, and incarcerating pregnant women for allegedly violating their fetuses’ rights.

The federal feticide law, the “Unborn Victims of Violence Act of 2004,” was passed in the wake of Californian Scott Peterson’s murder of his pregnant wife, Laci. It defines “child in utero” in the same exact way as the GOP’s 2017 tax plan: “a member of the species homo sapiens, at any stage of development, who is carried in the womb.” Advocates pushed the 2004 bill by arguing that it would prevent would-be murderers from killing pregnant women, since they’d be charged with two counts of homicide instead of one. At the time, NAPW argued against the bill with data from South Carolina, where a judge established similar fetal rights in 1984.

Since then, NAPW wrote, the concept of fetal personhood had only led to the conviction of one man on murder charges; in the same time period, it had led to the arrests of 50 to 100 women, some of whom were sentenced to 10 years in prison for putting their fetuses at risk. The immediate impact of fetuses being able to save for college in tax-advantaged accounts isn’t entirely clear. But whenever Republicans have given fetuses rights in the past, it has only served as an excuse to punish the women who carry them.

Nov. 1 2017 6:58 PM

Maybe Tom Brady and Trump Are Friends Because They Both Have Daffy Beliefs About Health and Wellness

There’s always a frisson of satisfaction when one is reminded that extremely beautiful people sometimes have brains that are the equivalent of as a box of sparkly rocks. It suggests the existence of a kind of cosmic balance—that assets like smarts and beauty are doled out fairly, and not heaped willy-nilly on one person. With that in mind, please enjoy this new ESPN the Magazine profile of Tom Brady, who is both talented and good-looking, but also believes that drinking a lot of water prevents sunburns.

Here’s how reporters Tom Junod and Seth Wickersham sum up Brady’s quixotic belief in the SPF powers of H2O:


Oct. 31 2017 7:21 PM

Notre Dame Ends Birth Control Coverage for Students and Employees

Early this month, the Trump administration made good on its promise to roll back the Affordable Care Act’s contraception coverage mandate. The Supreme Court’s 2014 decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby allowed “closely held” private companies and religious organizations to refuse to cover birth control in their employee health insurance plans, and on Oct. 6, Trump's Department of Health and Human Services issued two new rules that allow almost any employer to claim a religious or moral exemption in order to deny contraceptive coverage.

The University of Notre Dame is one of the first and most prominent organizations to take advantage of the new loophole. On Friday, Indiana Public Media reports, Notre Dame notified employees and students that starting next year—on Jan. 1, 2018, and Aug. 15, 2018, respectively—birth control will no longer be covered under the insurance plans the university offers. Thousands of Indiana women stand to lose their contraception coverage in coming months, putting them on the hook for a greater risk of unwanted pregnancies or, if they choose to pay out of pocket, thousands of dollars in expenses their male colleagues will never have to pay.

Because the university is affiliated with the Catholic Church, which prohibits the use of all modern contraception, it didn’t offer standard health insurance plans with birth-control coverage even before the change. Instead, Notre Dame students and employees could use a third-party service to include no-cost birth control in their existing university-provided health insurance plans. This setup was one of the Obama administration’s accommodations for religious organizations under the Affordable Care Act: Rather than force religious employers to pay into the premiums that indirectly funded birth control, the government footed the contraception bill. All Notre Dame had to do under the law was submit a waiver stating its religious objection, which would trigger the third-party services.

The university and other religiously-affiliated groups objected to that requirement, claiming that even signing the two-page form made them complicit in an immoral act. Notre Dame was one of several organizations that sued the government over the waiver. A federal judge appointed by George W. Bush rejected the university’s claim, writing that “Notre Dame wants to eat its cake, and have it still, at the expense of … the employees who will be affected.” He continued: “The government isn’t violating Notre Dame’s right to free exercise of religion by letting it opt out, or by arranging for third party contraception coverage.”

When the Supreme Court considered the issue, it made an inscrutable attempt to find middle ground. As part of that Supreme Court ruling, the religiously affiliated organizations that sued the Department of Health and Human Services over the mandate were supposed to find an acceptable compromise with the federal government. They never did.

Now, the Trump administration has completely abandoned the contraception mandate for any company that purports to have a mission incompatible with birth control coverage. In a statement given when the rollback was announced, Notre Dame’s president, the Rev. John I. Jenkins, said, “we welcome this reversal” because “critical issues of religious freedom were at stake.”

Notre Dame has now been included in the ACLU’s lawsuit against the Trump administration over the rollback; one of the plaintiffs of the suit, Kate Rochat, is a law student at the university. “No woman should ever be denied health care because her employer or university’s religious views are prioritized over her serious medical needs,” Rochat said in a statement.

Oct. 30 2017 4:24 PM

Kevin Spacey’s Coming-Out Uses the Whole Gay Community as a Flak Jacket for His Own Image

On Sunday night, Kevin Spacey became the latest of several big-name Hollywood players to come under scrutiny for alleged sexual misdeeds. Actor Anthony Rapp told BuzzFeed that in 1986, when he was just 14 and acting on Broadway, 26-year-old Spacey climbed on top of him on a bed after a party at Spacey’s house. According to Rapp, he was bored at the party, which was full of adults, and had been watching TV in Spacey’s bedroom. He said Spacey picked him up and “pressed” against him on the bed, tightening his arms before Rapp was eventually able to push Spacey away.

Rapp writes that the sexual advance was both unwelcome and hard to understand, as he was too young to fully grapple with the concept of a grown adult abusing a child. He was also figuring out his own sexuality at the time, making the idea of confessing to his mother a non-possibility. If Rapp’s allegations are true, these two factors probably figured into Spacey’s decision to target him. A young boy exploring what it means to be gay in the 1980s is ill-equipped to recognize abuse when he sees it and unlikely to tell any authority figures about a sexual encounter, however nonconsensual or stunted, with another man.

Because Rapp is a man, the public reception to this allegation will be different from the response to the accusations against Weinstein. As Joseph Fischel and Gabriel N. Rosenberg wrote in the wake of Milo Yiannopoulos’ reckoning with the complexity of sexual relationships between gay teenagers and adult men, “queer youth, facing a resolutely hostile world of peers and family, often search out older friends, mentors, and lovers.” Boys are also socialized differently than girls in the realm of sex: “Boys tend to learn how to be agents where girls tend to learn how to be available (or alternatively, learn to be dirtied by sex like a football player dirties sneakers),” Fischel and Rosenberg wrote. The power dynamic between a teenage boy and a man is not the same as that between a teenage girl and a man. Readers will surely consider these complicating factors as they evaluate Rapp’s story and adjust their estimations of Spacey accordingly.

That’s one of many reasons why Spacey’s decision to come out as gay in his non-apology feels like a despicable, cynical distraction tactic that employs a marginalized community as a flak jacket. What allegedly happened between Rapp and Spacey was not consensual; it has nothing to do with mutually gratifying sexual relations between gay teenagers and adult men. Spacey’s alleged violation of Rapp was neither gay nor straight—it was abuse. The only way that Spacey and Rapp’s common gender affects the scenario is by making it more difficult for a gay boy in a homophobic world to report what went down.

Spacey’s spin on the allegations—“This story has encouraged me to address other things about my life. … I now choose to live as a gay man”—tracks the narrative other media outlets have been reporting for years. In 2015, Gawker collected reader-submitted anecdotes about what it called Spacey’s “aggressive love for men.” Many were reported by anonymous people a few degrees removed from the witness of Spacey’s advances—a friend’s uncle or a mom’s ex-boyfriend said they heard Spacey got a hand job from Bryan Singer’s boyfriend on the set of The Usual Suspects or saw him making out with a man in his 20s on a beach in Puerto Rico, or witnessed him offering to perform oral sex on a man at a house party. Most of the tales described sexual contact that appeared consensual or sexual advances Spacey abandoned when rejected.

Some of the other stories Gawker relayed detailed alleged coercion or assault, though there were no allegations of abuse against underage boys. A couple of readers said they knew people who knew people who worked with Spacey on films, where he allegedly harassed the young male crew members, sometimes until the workers were reassigned or fired. But all these anecdotes were simply framed as evidence that Spacey was queer, in the vein of the other less-than-ethical “outings” on which Gawker made its name, not as evidence that he was a sexual abuser. A consensual dalliance with a male vacation partner and a nonconsensual grope at a party were presented alongside each other as variations on the same behavior: gay sex. Now, Gawker founder Nick Denton is trying to elevate the site as a hero in the Spacey story, as if all the sexual abusers whose reputations have crumbled this month would have been exposed a lot sooner if the site hadn’t been bankrupted in a bogus lawsuit.

Spacey is using the logical fallacy of Gawker’s posts—the idea that consensual gay sex belongs on the same plane as a gay man’s sexual abuse—to his advantage in the face of Rapp’s allegation. To divert attention away from his alleged sexual intimidation of a child, Spacey is counting on homophobia to do its work: the homophobia that makes coming out a cause for surprise or celebration among heterocentric progressives, and the homophobia that conflates unwanted sexual advances toward a male child with a history of consensual sexual relations with men in their 20s. Spacey has also ignited—deliberately, I have to believe—the terror gay men may still feel in a society whose most bigoted members publicly paint them as child molesters. By outing himself as gay, Spacey hopes gay communities will defend him, if only to forestall the addition of someone who has been accused of child molestation to their ranks. His statement cheapens the bold, political act of a public coming-out, using a seeming admission of vulnerability as a weapon against the vulnerable.

Oct. 28 2017 10:57 AM

Gillibrand and Klobuchar Rally the Troops at Women’s Convention

DETROIT— Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand opened her address at the Women’s Convention Friday evening with a nod to the women’s marches that came before. She invoked the suffrage parade Alice Paul organized in Washington, D.C., in 1913, the day before Woodrow Wilson’s presidential inauguration. “They believed in having a spectacle,” Gillibrand said. “They wanted women to wear white and gold and purple, and carry banners, with horses and floats. … But the crowds were not cheering back then. They were spitting at them, shouting insults, blocking their path.”

The Women’s March that filled the streets of D.C. in January was not so different. It had hats named for genitalia in place of the white skirts, but the color-blocking aesthetic still prevailed. It also had its own internecine struggles over race and class—though the racial conflict of January’s march came in the form of Facebook debates, not the segregation at the 1913 march. But Gillibrand focused on the unity. “It was so powerful because it was intersectional and intergenerational,” Gillibrand said of the Women’s March on Friday. “It was the most inspiring moment of my political career.”

It would be hard to imagine a friendlier audience for the rousing calls by Gillibrand and her colleague, Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota. The room was packed with thousands of progressive women eager to hear that their voices matter, that someone in Washington feels their frustration with the current administration, and that the arc of America is still reaching ever so slightly toward justice. At several points, Gillibrand and Klobuchar were each interrupted with standing ovations.

Both senators urged the attendees—who came to Detroit to learn how to turn their enthusiasm for the movement into action—to believe in their own power to effect change, even with a troll in the White House and Republican majorities in both chambers of Congress. At a nearby hotel restaurant after the event, Klobuchar told me the momentum captured by the Women’s March has already made an impact. “Without that grassroots activism and people feeling that they could stand up, we would not have had that health care bill defeated,” she said, recalling the nationwide protests against Trumpcare.

In her speech, Gillibrand applauded those protests, too, warning the audience not to put too much faith in politicians, even Democrats. “The only time our democracy ever works is when regular people just like you stand up and demand it,” she said. “Do not wait for some white knight in Washington or the party to ride up and save us all. You will wait forever.”

Klobuchar managed to throw a bit of shade in the direction of the Hillary Clinton campaign. First on the “to-do list” she proposed for Democrats: “The Midwest matters, and next time we cannot leave the middle of the country behind.” Klobuchar told me she was pleased to see the Women’s Convention organizers choose Detroit as a host city. “The only thing better would have been Minnesota,” she said. “I think it was the point that this is not a coastal thing, you know? The marches were in Anchorage, in Des Moines, and everywhere in between.”

Gillibrand has reportedly ruled out running for president in 2020, and Klobuchar has said she’s happy with her current gig, but both senators have been conspicuous in raising their national profiles recently. Seeing both address a sizable audience of their most vital constituency—progressive women—gave viewers an early idea of what either senator might sound like in a national campaign. They were particularly charmed by Klobuchar’s droll anecdotes about texting her distraught daughter the night of Trump’s election (she mistook an existential “Mom, what should we do now?” as a request for transit advice) and traveling with fellow Minnesotan Sen. Al Franken, when a flight attendant announced to the whole plane that “Mr. and Mrs. Al Franken” were on board. “We have come a long way, women,” Klobuchar concluded from that tidbit, “but not far enough.”

Oct. 27 2017 5:57 PM

Confronting White Womanhood at the Women’s Convention

DETROIT—The Facebook invite for a Women’s March had barely made it onto the internet last November before the conversation turned to race. It was the day after 53 percent of white women voted for Trump, and the name of the march was a casual rip-off of both a 1997 march for black women and a 1995 march for black men. People of color wanted to know why a bunch of white organizers were selling their protest with the intellectual property of black people. White people wanted to know why everyone couldn’t just put their differences aside and unite against Donald Trump.

In short order, three veteran organizers of color stepped in to help take the march from a hastily-created Facebook page to the largest global protest the world had ever seen, with a progressive platform that demanded, among other things, the demilitarization of American law-enforcement bodies and the end of mass incarceration. Some black activists still boycotted the march for its apparent roots in white feminist thought. Some white women boycotted the march, too, because they didn’t think issues of race and racism belonged next to issues like equal pay and reproductive rights.

The clash in perspectives had little to do with the Women’s March itself. But the march served as an illuminating microcosm of progressive American society in general, and the feminist movement in particular, which has only just begun to account for how the white supremacy of its past still affects its present. For white feminists unacquainted with contemporary discussions of intersectionality, it was an abrupt introduction to the topic.

On Friday, hundreds of white women lined up to discuss the issue, as part of the Women's Convention in Detroit, where thousands of activists — women and otherwise — convened in an attempt to carry forward the momentum of the march. Only a small fraction were able to make it into the panel discussion, titled “Confronting White Womanhood," making it the most popular event I’ve seen that didn’t boast a big-name headliner.

Billed as a space for white women to “unpack the ways white women uphold and benefit from white supremacy,” the panel began with a clarification. “This is not a safe space, because the world is not equally safe for all people,” one of the facilitators said. Instead, she termed it a “brave space,” where participants would be encouraged to speak honestly and suspend knee-jerk judgments against others in the group. After a brief welcome, facilitator Sophie Ellman-Golan, deputy director of communications for the Women’s March team, got right down to business: “I’m going to start things out with Emmett Till.”

What followed was a capsule history of how white women have been used (and have used themselves) to justify violence against black men. In addition to Till, a 14-year-old black boy who was killed in 1955 after a white woman falsely accused him of whistling at her, there was Dylan Rooff, who murdered nine black churchgoers in Charleston while accusing them of raping white women. There was also Terence Crutcher, whose killer is a female police officer, Betty Shelby, who is back on duty after she convinced a jury that she was scared for her life in Crutcher’s unarmed presence.

“When white women say we’re frightened of scary black men, really bad things happen,” said Ellman-Golan. She encouraged the women in the room to reconsider their perceptions of safety, especially when what makes them feel safe may compromise the safety of others around them. Acknowledging that what she was about to say was provocative, she offered a suggestion: “Don’t call the police. Don’t do it. How dare we choose as the enforcer of safety an institution that has demonstrated how deeply unsafe it is?”

After a primer on "white savior-ism" from artist Heather Marie Scholl, the attendees split into groups of 15 to discuss how they’ve propagated white supremacy and how they might help build an anti-racist future. Sinead O’Donnell, a white 40-year-old from Denver, told her group that the panel was part of a personal reckoning that was prompted in part by the Women’s March. O’Donnell was active in Hillary Clinton’s campaign and booked her flight to D.C. for the March on November 9, shocked and appalled by Trump’s election. The day of the march was “the first positive thing I had felt since the election,” she told me. Still, the long lineup of speakers focused on racism, immigrant rights, and religious persecution had her feeling “a little excluded” by the end of the day. “At the same time, I was uncomfortable feeling that way. I didn’t want to feel that way,” she said.

O’Donnell returned to Colorado after the march and formed a “huddle” of women in her own community, at the suggestion of the Women’s March organizers. They’re mostly white women, and while they’ve learned about local political issues and intend to get involved in the upcoming gubernatorial race, a lot of their time has been spent learning about social issues like racism. O’Donnell calls it “taking a good hard look at ourselves,” as opposed to, say, blaming everything on Trump. When she first saw the Confronting White Womanhood panel on the Women’s Convention schedule, she immediately ruled it out as something that would be far too uncomfortable. “But then I thought, no, I need to feel that discomfort,” she said. “It’s been a journey this year, and even in this session, trying to address my own biases that I didn’t know existed.”

The panel was an encouraging sign that organizers and participants might be making good on the great promise of the women's march — its big-tent approach to the concept of “women’s issues." With such a gigantic outpouring of activist energy from women who’d never before been compelled to carry a protest sign, the march had the potential to force participants in homogenous feminist circles to confront the diversity of women’s experiences.

The 200-or-so white women who sat in circles this afternoon discussing white supremacy may have been a self-selected group; a woman invested in the narrow-mindedness of white feminism would not have spent 90 minutes unpacking her own privilege when she could have been attending a seminar on self-care. But various women in the session described the talk as “difficult” and “eye-opening,” indicating that perhaps they still had space to nudge their woke-ometers up a few notches. At the end of the session, a latecomer noted that dozens of women down the hall were milling around for substitute panels, sad they couldn’t get in to confront their own white womanhood. The organizers promised they would look into holding the session again tomorrow.

Oct. 27 2017 2:13 PM

It’s Time to Admit That Allowing Men Into the Workplace Was a Mistake

American men entered the workforce in unprecedented numbers as they returned from World War II, and employers welcomed these men as a matter of patriotic duty. Many men proved to be diligent, competent professionals over the ensuing decades. Sadly, however, many did not. The cascade of recent revelations of male workers abusing co-workers, threatening subordinates, and masturbating into potted plants leaves only one conclusion: The long experiment of having men in the workplace has failed.

Let’s start by asking an important question: Is it even natural for men to be in the workplace in the first place? It is well known, for example, that men are not good with money. Companies run by female CEOs perform better in the stock market, and women are better at both saving and investing. It feels uncomfortable to assume that male irresponsibility with money is a biological trait. But with their higher salaries and disproportionate representation in business schools and and boardrooms, men have been given every opportunity to succeed in the corporate world by now. Many industries have essentially operated decadeslong affirmative action programs for men.

Yet even after all these advantages, men have not only failed to live up to their potential but have also been responsible for the subprime mortgage crisis, defrauding investors, destroying hardworking people’s retirement funds, and triggering worldwide economic crashes. Instead of learning from their mistakes and misdeeds, they have often rewarded themselves with bonuses and lobbied to remove regulations that prevent them from hurting people again. We must ask ourselves, do men really have judgment and intellectual abilities to be entrusted with our most important resources?

But let’s give men a generous benefit of the doubt, and chalk all of this up to male incompetence, rather than malice. You might be able to make the case that if we just put strict limits of their leadership opportunities, we could avoid banning them from the workplace entirely. Sadly, however, it has now become clear that many men are not just incompetent but also dangerous. One recent poll found that 30 percent of women have endured unwanted advances from men they work with, with the majority of those women saying those advances rose to the level of sexual harassment. Here is a partial list of industries in which sexual harassment is an ongoing, systemic problem: advertising, acting, agriculture, animation, construction, food, journalism, higher education, law, law enforcement, medicine, mining, politics, science, technology, and yoga. We can hold endless conferences and panel discussions on “Men in the X Industry.” But when will we admit that “the industry” is not the problem?

Many male workers are also simply too emotional to thrive in the modern workplace. They struggle with anger, jealousy, and pride; they are easily distractible and prone to tantrums. And have I mentioned the "constant sexual harassment" issue yet? Now, it’s important to remember that some male behaviors, like drinking Soylent and playing Nerf basketball in the office, are nothing more than harmless quirks of their sex. But in other cases, a man’s “adorable” childishness—his tendency to tweet angrily at other world leaders, for example—can actually be dangerous. It’s simply not worth the risk to entrust men with real power.

To be fair, some men have tried their best to adapt to the working world, instituting strict guidelines for themselves like refusing to dine alone with women. And yet, over and over, they have failed: harassing, assaulting, leering, grabbing, menacing, rubbing, “joking,” and on and on. These failures have cost employers tens of millions of dollars in legal fees and settlements, and harmed tens of millions of women. Think of all the financial and emotional damage that could have been avoided if men simply stayed home where they belong.

While certain exceptional men are able to control their weak natures and rise to the challenge of behaving appropriately in the workplace, it’s time to do what’s right and end this grand experiment before anyone else gets hurt.

Oct. 26 2017 8:01 PM

How Predators Take Advantage of Photo Ops to Assault Women

In the flood of stories about sexual harassment this bad October, here’s one recurring theme: men using “photo opportunities” as chances to touch women without their consent. Heather Lind and Jordana Grolnick report that former president George H.W. Bush, wheelchair-bound, played the role of “David Cop-a-Feel” (his terrible joke) while taking photos with them. Jenny Listman wrote that Elie Wiesel touched her during a photo op when she was 19. Emma Cline remembered an older writer “put[ting] his hand on my back, then drop[ping] it lower to grab my ass” after “someone gestured to us to stand together for a photograph.” And though it feels like it happened a hundred years ago, recall that Taylor Swift filed a lawsuit, which she won in August, after a man named David Mueller put his hand up her skirt as they smiled for the camera.


“There is an aggression implicit in every use of the camera,” Susan Sontag wrote in 1977 (an insight derived from, and since amplified by, a whole body of historical and cultural academic critique). In its relatively short history, Sontag observed, photography has been “enrolled in the service of important institutions of control,” like the police, the military, the colonial state, and the family. A photograph poses as reality, but is inherently the product of a whole lot of social interaction; in turn, a photo can serve to reinforce patterns of dominance and hierarchy in the social world.


In each one of these cases, the alleged male harassers took advantage of a setting in which women are forced to smile no matter what’s going on out of view of the camera. Listman’s memories of her encounter with Wiesel—how he waited until the exact moment the photo was taken to move his hand from her back to her buttocks—show how a predator can abuse the mutual understanding that nobody will disturb the image. Women are socialized not to ruin the work that goes into making a photograph: to stop moving, to smile at the right time, to control unruly children or animals. It’s a testimony to the strength of this social imperative that even Mueller, who is much less socially powerful than Taylor Swift, felt he could score a butt grab while the camera flashed. (He didn’t get away with it. But we’re not all Taylor Swift.)

Oct. 26 2017 5:59 PM

Congress Will Hold a Hearing on a “Heartbeat” Abortion Ban

The House of Representatives will hold a hearing next week on a bill that would ban all abortions after the fetus has a detectable "heartbeat," which typically comes around six weeks’ gestation, or before many women find out they’re pregnant. The Judiciary Committee has scheduled the hearing on the “Heartbeat Protection Act of 2017” for Nov. 1, marking one more step toward a law that would send doctors to prison for up to five years for performing an abortion after that time.

There’s little question that this bill is unconstitutional. Roe v. Wade prohibits laws that would ban abortions performed before fetal viability, around 24 weeks gestation. Each time “heartbeat” bills have passed state legislatures and been signed into law, federal judges have struck them down. The Supreme Court declined North Dakota’s request to appeal its blocked “heartbeat” bill in 2015.

While the word is commonly employed in discussions of fetal development, "heartbeat" is deliberately inaccurate when it comes to the debate over reproductive rights. What anti-abortion bills call a “heartbeat” is a bit of motion in the thickened side of an embryo’s minuscule yolk sac. Since the thickened end is called the fetal pole, a more accurate term is “fetal pole cardiac activity.” As no-nonsense OB/GYN Jennifer Gunter pointed out last year, calling what doctors see on a vaginal ultrasound at six weeks a “heartbeat” is a right-wing politician’s way of “making a 4 mm thickening next to a yolk sac seem like it is almost ready to walk.”

It’s highly unlikely that the “heartbeat” bill would ever pass the Senate, what with its robust minority of Democrats and their filibuster power. But that may not be the point. Last month, the president of the Susan B. Anthony List, an anti-abortion group, told Rewire that activists want to force Democrats in Congress to vote on abortion legislation in preparation for the 2018 midterm elections. Now that the Democratic Party is making known its intent to back anti-abortion candidates, anti-abortion activists hope Democrats in swing districts will vote against the abortion bans, giving Republicans (or right-leaning Democratic challengers) ammunition for their campaigns.

Another way to look at the House’s “heartbeat” bill is through the lens of Ohio, where the legislature passed a nearly identical bill in December. State legislators also passed a similarly unconstitutional 20-week abortion ban in quick succession, sending both to Gov. John Kasich’s desk. The pairing allowed Kasich to thread the eye of a vanishingly small needle: He was able to veto one anti-abortion bill (the “heartbeat” bill) while preserving his conservative bona fides by signing the other (the 20-week ban). The “heartbeat” bill also functioned as something of a distraction, riling up pro-choice activists in one direction while a stealthier rollback of abortion rights was happening in the other. Putting six weeks up against 20 made the latter appear more reasonable, too, making use of the old salary-negotiation tactic that has job-seekers put forth an outrageous number (in this case, six weeks) to skew the terms of the discussion.

Janet Porter, the president of anti-abortion group Faith2Action, wrote the Ohio "heartbeat" bill; she then passed it on to Rep. Steve King, R-IA, who introduced it in Congress at the start of this session. King and his allies may be looking to replicate the Ohio playbook in Washington. A few weeks ago, Congress passed a 20-week abortion ban sponsored, incidentally, by two representatives who’ve been caught urging their extramarital girlfriends to terminate their own pregnancies. The more severe ban makes the 20-week one look like something of a middle ground, a possible compromise for legislators with mixed feelings on abortion rights. The "heartbeat" bills also pushes the acceptable bounds of the abortion debate ever lower, anchoring the conversation at the anti-choice extreme. The more Congress debates a “heartbeat” bill, the more likely other infringements on abortion rights will come to be seen as acceptable compromises.

Oct. 26 2017 1:00 PM

Let’s All Chip In to Buy Ivanka Trump a Better Thesaurus

Twilight vampire Ivanka Trump uses the English language differently from mere mortals. Or rather, she does not use it. She utilizes and employs and just kind of glistens at it. Unlike Donald Trump, who approaches words the way our caveman ancestors approached rocks, Ivanka displays a fondness, whilst conducting her verbal curations, for the most floridly multisyllabic or extravagantly Latinate option. Numerous, not a lot. Architecting, not building or creating.

I wrote a cheat sheet earlier this year with tips for identifying when an anonymous quote comes from the White House’s most glamorous adviser. Here are a few tells:

The president’s silver-tongued daughter tends to speak in the melodious, lavish tones of ad copy. … She never omits words. (“I would ask them if that [criticizing my father] would render me more effective or less effective with the people ultimately making decisions.”) She piles on superfluous but elegant descriptors as if carpeting a floor in an array of soft fabrics. (She told Gayle King she expresses herself in the White House “quietly and directly and candidly.”) Her diction inclines toward the corporate-aspirational.

That document, though, did not encompass the multitudinous ways in which Ivanka Trump repurposes everyday vocabulary. At this point, the American people have begun to notice that, as the AV Club puts it, “Ivanka Trump does not, in fact, know how to use words.” For instance, she admitted to being “complicit” in her dad’s agenda, “if being complicit is wanting to, is wanting to be a force for good and to make a positive impact.” (It is not!) As lexical whistleblower Eve Peyser observed, Trump also wished her ostensibly human child Theodore a “happy birthday” on the eight-month anniversary of his birth. That is not how birthdays work.

Also, what is otherwise doing here?

It’s possible Ivanka means that, even apart from hugging her nephew Luke, she had an incredible day. (Such proclamations of #blessedness feel on brand for her.) You and I might say already in this context. But Ivanka is a Trump, and no dictionary can tell a Trump how to modify her adjectives.

Now consider this endive word salad with pears and pumpkin seeds:

Well, here is a tweet that profoundly misunderstands who wears the pants in the sexy, unpredictable relationship between Ivanka Trump and the English language. “On a relative basis” is a distinctly Ivankan phrase: complex, businesslike, indecipherable. When Trump says she tries to keep her hours on (on?) a relative (what?) basis (to her husband’s hours?), what she means is … I will leave this as an exercise for you the reader to complete on your own time.

A logical thought to express at this moment might have been “I try to arrange my day so it complements Jared’s tough schedule.” Maybe that’s what the first daughter was going for, relatively. If you are not Ivanka Trump, you should probably avoid the word albeit in most situations. If you are Ivanka Trump, feel free to think of it like salt in soup. Toss it in there!

An editor would likely tweak a normal person’s quote to read “We eat breakfast as a family every morning, although Jared is taking his toast and running out the door” or even “We eat breakfast as a family every morning, albeit the sort of family breakfast in which one of us is taking his toast on the go.” Ivanka plays by more rarefied rules, per se nevertheless indeed. In her world, words are frills, and extra frills are glamorous and desirable, even and especially when they are purely decorative and, albeit, make no fucking sense.