The XX Factor
What Women Really Think

Aug. 15 2017 2:51 PM

Fox News Spent $50 Million on Harassment Claims in a Year, Proving That Enabling Sexual Harassers Is a Bad Business Move

It’s been an expensive year to be a company with a sexual-harassment problem. According to regulatory paperwork filed Monday, 21st Century Fox paid out about $50 million in the fiscal year that ended on June 30 to cover costs related to a slew of sexual-harassment and discrimination settlements at Fox News. The New York Times reports that $50 million is $5 million more than what the company said it had paid out as of the end of March, meaning that either the company’s calculations have changed since then or Fox News continued racking up settlement expenses through the end of spring.

The network’s costly tailspin began last July, when former host Gretchen Carlson filed a blistering suit alleging that she’d been subjected to repeated instances of sexual harassment at Fox News, including regular come-ons from then-chairman Roger Ailes. Carlson got a major chunk of the network’s FY2016 settlement costs—$20 million—after Ailes walked the plank onto a $40 million lifeboat. A few months later, the Times revealed that Fox News and former primetime star Bill O’Reilly had paid a cumulative $13 million since 2002 to settle harassment suits brought against him by fellow employees and network contributors. When he got ousted, O’Reilly got about $25 million from Fox News to help ease his pain.

The $50 million figure reported on Monday doesn’t include these payouts to Ailes and O’Reilly; nor does it include the millions of dollars spent before the summer of 2016 to settle with O’Reilly’s accusers. According to the Securities and Exchange Commission form, 21st Century Fox spent $224 million on “management and employee transitions and restructuring” at a group of businesses that includes Fox News, where management shake-ups and extra human-resources burdens have created the need for a significant hiring expenses and severance packages. Monday’s filing also notes that the harassment and discrimination allegations could cause a ripple effect of liabilities and hard-to-quantify losses. In a section titled “Risk Factors,” the form notes that “prospective investors should consider carefully,” among other possibilities, the chance that the misconduct allegations against Fox News could lead to future payouts, expensive litigation from related investigations, and diminished ratings due to the departures of several network personalities. Some of those consequences could materialize in the very near future: More than 20 current and former Fox News employees are currently enmeshed in racial- and gender-discrimination suits against the company, which recently declined to settle them all for a lump sum of $60 million.

If you’re a business leader looking at Fox News right now, you’re probably pretty pleased that you’re not responsible for digging the company out of its self-created trap. (If you are a Fox News executive, thanks for reading, and please accept my best wishes on your future endeavors.) Companies are known to quietly shell out cash to protect their employees from public scrutiny over sexual-harassment claims—and if that doesn’t work, they often give big-time stars-cum-harassers tidy sums to get them to resign. These corporate behaviors are not unique to Fox News. But, in part because the major players in the Fox News sexual-harassment scandals visited millions of Americans in their living rooms each night at the time the allegations arose, the network has become one of the most visible case studies of how much it can cost a business to enable the toxic behavior of its precious stars.

Personnel decisions made around sexual-harassment allegations are all about risks and rewards. Businesses don’t run on good feelings—toxic employees get fired because they pose a risk to a company’s bottom line, whether through litigation costs or reputational damage. For a decade and a half, Fox News executives had to weigh O’Reilly’s worth against the financial damage he caused: How much money does it cost to hush up O’Reilly’s accusers? How much prestige does he bring the Fox News brand? How much money do his advertisers bring in? How famous are his accusers? Would their complaints be enough to cause widespread public condemnation? At the same time, 21st Century Fox and its Murdoch family owners were asking similar questions about Ailes: How many more women will bring suits against him in the next few years? What will the average suit cost to settle? How many more potential harassers would he bring on board and cover for? When do the risks outweigh the benefits?

For the business leaders of Fox News, emboldening famous men to hit on, grab at, and demean women who worked for and with them was cheaper than creating a workplace free from sexual intimidation—until it wasn’t. In O’Reilly’s case, that balance shifted when advertisers, under pressure from consumers, began pulling out of his top-rated show. For Ailes, it shifted when an investigation and reporting hotline revealed an alleged pattern of abuse too entrenched, long-running, and public to squash. Because so many women made their allegations known to the world outside the network, Fox had to do its calculations out in the open. Everyone could read the lawsuits, learn about the payouts, and see companies tweeting their decisions to end their advertising relationships with O’Reilly. Now, thanks to the SEC form, we have a bit of a better idea of how much it’s cost so far.

That makes Fox News an exemplary cautionary tale of the expense that may befall a 21st-century business led by a man who molds his workplace in his own pitiful, lecherous self-image. And it’s not just Fox: Harassment and discrimination claims at Uber helped relieve the company of its CEO, Travis Kalanick, and the company he built is still struggling to overhaul its culture. Women are more likely to share their experiences of sexual harassment today than they’ve ever been, and observers in the general public are more likely to believe them. The dozens of millions of dollars Fox News has spent making amends for and covering up its sexual-harassment problem are not “material” to 21st Century Fox, its SEC form claims. Other business leaders making their own calculations may feel differently.

Aug. 14 2017 5:09 PM

Texas Is Poised to Ban All Insurance Coverage for Abortions, Forcing Women to Buy “Rape Insurance”

The Texas Legislature is in the home stretch of a special session Gov. Greg Abbott called last month to push through a slew of his legislative priorities, including restrictions on where transgender people can use the bathroom. That bill is losing steam in the less conservative House, but another bill restricting abortion access is headed to the desk of the governor, who has indicated that he’ll sign it into law.

The bill would prohibit all insurance companies from covering abortion care in their standard plans, requiring women to pay extra premiums for coverage if they think they may need abortions at some point in the next year. The ban would apply not only to insurance plans on the exchanges established by the Affordable Care Act, but also to any plans sponsored by employers or purchased on the private market. A plan would only be allowed to cover an abortion in the case of a pregnant woman’s life-threatening health emergency and not those performed in cases of rape, incest, or extreme fetal abnormalities.

This weekend, the GOP-led Texas Senate approved the bill after it passed the House. (Similar bills were raised and debated during the regular legislative session, which closed in May, but none passed.) Right-wing legislators and advocates in Texas say they are currently forced against their will to help fund abortions simply by taking part in a health insurance system that covers them. Rep. John Smithee, who sponsored the bill in the House, said in floor debate that the bill promotes “economic freedom” for people who oppose abortion rights.

Half the states in the country prevent insurance policies purchased on ACA health exchanges from covering abortion procedures. Ten of those also restrict insurance coverage for abortion in all private insurance plans. Only two of those 10—Utah and Indiana—make exceptions for abortions sought in cases of rape and incest. That’s why Democratic Texas legislators say this bill would necessitate “rape insurance”—no one expects to have an unplanned pregnancy, and no one can predict the likelihood that she’ll be raped in a given year. It is a demeaning form of gender discrimination to ask women to lay down extra money just in case they get pregnant through sexual assault.

According to a national 2014 survey of abortion patients, 53 percent paid for the procedure or pill out of pocket, and another 24 percent paid for their abortion care with Medicaid. (Federal Medicaid dollars cannot go toward abortions in most circumstances, but a handful of states use their own health funding to cover abortion care for women on Medicaid.) Just 15 percent of abortion patients used private insurance to pay for their abortion care, while 61 percent of women with private insurance said they paid out of pocket, due to either high deductibles or a lack of coverage. Without insurance coverage, an abortion can cost between $300 for an early medication abortion in some places and a few thousand dollars for a surgical one later in pregnancy. The later, more expensive ones are often those performed under the most heart-wrenching circumstances, due to fetal anomalies undetectable in early pregnancy or a woman’s inability to access earlier health care because of her age, remote location, financial resources, or immigration status.

By restricting abortion care to those who can either afford an additional monthly health care expense or a hefty one-time payment out of the blue, Texas is ensuring that low- and middle-income women with health insurance will find it significantly more difficult to access a constitutionally protected medical procedure. To satisfy the whims of anti-choice advocates, the Texas Legislature has used one population’s personal beliefs to justify what amounts to a sexual-activity tax on Texas women.

Aug. 10 2017 5:19 PM

Taylor Swift’s Sexual Assault Testimony Was Sharp, Gutsy, and Satisfying

Taylor Swift took the stand on Thursday in a Denver federal courthouse to describe the moment in 2013 when she says she was “violated” by a then–country radio DJ in a way she “had never experienced before.” David Mueller, who was 51 to Swift’s 23 at the time, “grabbed my ass underneath my skirt,” Swift said in her testimony. He “stayed latched on to my bare ass cheek as I moved away from him, visibly uncomfortable.”

Mueller claims he never touched Swift’s butt, explaining at various points that he only touched her “rib cage” and that a colleague was probably the one who groped her. They were posing for a photo, he said, and their body language was awkward but not inappropriate. On the witness stand, Swift did not suffer that argument, insisting that the grope was intentional and could not have been an accident. “It was horrifying, shocking,” she said, according to a BuzzFeed report. “He had a handful of my ass. I know it was him. I thought what he did was despicable.”

On Wednesday, Swift’s mother, Andrea, testified that the family hadn’t gone to the police after the alleged assault because they didn’t want to cause a public uproar. “I did not want this event to define her life,” she said. “I did not want every interview from this point on to have to talk about it.” Instead, they contacted Mueller’s employer—he was backstage at Swift’s concert on a work assignment when the alleged incident took place—who fired him two days later. Two years after that, Mueller sued Swift for $3 million, alleging that she cost him his job for an assault that never happened. She countersued for $1, determined to prove that she wouldn’t back down from what she says is the truth.

When Swift and her team told Mueller’s radio bosses about the alleged assault, they enclosed a photo that appeared to show Mueller with his hand behind Swift’s butt. In court this week, both parties attempted to use that photo, a sealed document that leaked last year, to prove their respective points. Swift’s side says it shows that she’s edging toward Mueller’s girlfriend and away from him, and that his hand is clearly far below her ribcage. Mueller’s attorney Gabe McFarland asked Swift why the photo shows the front of her skirt in place, not lifted up, if Mueller was reaching underneath to grab her butt. “Because my ass is located in the back of my body,” Swift replied. She offered a similar response when asked whether she saw the grope taking place. When McFarland pointed out that the photo shows Swift closer to Mueller’s girlfriend than Mueller himself, Swift answered, “Yes, she did not have her hand on my ass.”

Swift has said several times that she wouldn’t settle with Mueller or let his claims stand because she wants to be a visible example of strength to other women considering their options after a demoralizing sexual violation. Full of rightful exasperation, her testimony on Thursday was a galvanizing example of a so-called victim testimony in which the victim refused to be victimized. Swift was confident in her version of the story, unintimidated by a cross examination that implied she was a liar and unmistakably incensed when McFarland tried to cast doubt on her behavior during the evening in question. Wasn’t Swift critical of her bodyguard, who didn’t prevent such an obvious assault? “I’m critical of your client sticking his hand under my skirt and grabbing my ass,” she told the attorney. But, McFarland said, Swift could have taken a break in the middle of her meet-and-greet if she was so distraught. “And your client could have taken a normal photo with me,” Swift countered, explaining that a pop star has a responsibility to her fans.

For young fans of Swift’s, hearing a beloved artist speak candidly about the emotional damage of sexual assault and stand up to a courtroom of men trying to prove her wrong could be a formative moment for their developing ideas of gender, sex, and accountability. Swift certainly has advantages most women who endure similar violations will never have: the money and time to mount a strong case against her alleged assailant, the jury-endearing privileges of white skin and a beautiful face, and millions of supporters rallying publicly behind her. And since he’s suing her for money and she’s already one of the biggest superstars in the world, detractors can’t argue, as they so often do in sexual-assault cases, that she’s making up a story for money or fame.

But Swift also faces some of the same obstacles other assault survivors endure if they bring their perpetrators to court. She must relive a distressing moment over and over again to dozens of observers, recounting in detail how her body was allegedly touched without her consent, while lawyers on the other side try their hardest to make her look unreliable, petty, and fake. When McFarland asked her how she felt when Mueller got the boot from his job at the Denver radio station, Swift said she had no response. “I am not going to allow your client to make me feel like it is any way my fault, because it isn’t,” she said. Later, she continued: “I am being blamed for the unfortunate events of his life that are a product of his decisions and not mine.” Women who allege sexual assault are scolded all the time for ruining men’s lives, even if those men are proven guilty. Swift’s sharp testimony is a very visible condemnation of that common turn in cases like these. That’s an important message for women who may find themselves in Swift’s position someday, and maybe even more so for the men who’ll be called on to support or rebuff them.

Aug. 10 2017 2:46 PM

Court Ruling Says Anti-Abortion Protesters Can’t Be Disruptively Noisy Outside Maine Clinics

A federal appeals court on Tuesday affirmed the right of medical patients in Maine to receive care without noisy disruptions from protesters. The three-judge panel overturned a previous judge’s ruling that found part of the Maine Civil Rights Act—a provision that has been used to control the volume of anti-abortion protesters outside health clinics—likely to be unconstitutional.

This week’s decision concerns the case of Andrew March, a man in his 20s who regularly stood outside a Portland, Maine Planned Parenthood health center and shouted religious invective at patients inside. When police told him to quiet down, March sued Maine Attorney General Janet Mills, the city of Portland, and law enforcement officials in December 2015. His suit came just a month after Mills filed a civil rights lawsuit against a different protester who allegedly violated the state prohibition on disrupting medical care with loud noises. According to the attorney general’s complaint, the protester was screaming about “murdering babies, aborted babies’ blood and Jesus … so loud that it could be heard within the examination and counseling rooms of the building.”

In May 2016, U.S. District Judge Nancy Torresen ruled that the noise provision in the Maine Civil Rights Act violated protesters’ First Amendment rights because it policed the content of the protesters’ speech. The appeals court found that the noise provision was not based on the message of the speech, but the volume and location of the protest, which could interfere with other residents’ rights to constitutionally protected health care procedures.

The Maine law was enacted in 1995 with input and support from both supporters and opponents of abortion rights—it applies to crisis pregnancy centers, too. At the time, Judge David Barron’s Tuesday decision states, the state attorney general justified the law as a violence-prevention measure. “The most extreme violence tends to occur in situations where less serious civil rights violations are permitted to escalate,” the attorney general noted back then. “When the rhetoric of intolerance and the disregard for civil rights do, in fact, escalate, then some people at the fringes of society will take that atmosphere as a license to commit unspeakable violence.” In other words, if anti-abortion activists are allowed to interfere with medical care with excessive noise, some might decide to try interfering with their bodies or physical obstacles, too.

Assistant Attorney General Leanne Robbin told the Bangor Daily News that the law was written after “a number of groups,” including anti-abortion groups, “came together at a time when there was violence around the country against family planning clinics.” The state has no problem with protests outside clinics, she continued, but “once patients have run the gauntlet outside the clinic, once the door to the exam room or the consultation room is shut, that should be a sanctuary.”

In its defense of the law, Maine argued that March was and is free to yell his message outside the clinic so that entering patients can hear him, but not so loudly that it can be heard inside. Such disruptions can cause elevated stress levels, respiratory rates, and blood pressure, according to affidavits from medical professionals. March contended that the Maine provision specifically targets anti-abortion speech by only prohibiting noises made with an intent to “jeopardize the health of persons receiving health services within the building,” not any and all random loud noises.

“We do not agree,” Barron wrote in the panel’s decision. “… Given the limitless array of noises that may be made in a disruptive manner, there is no reason to conclude that disruptive intent is necessarily a proxy for a certain category of content.” There is nothing in the law that prevents March from making his disruptive noises outside most government buildings or other location of political import, either.

Since the Supreme Court struck down a Massachusetts law that established no-protester “buffer zones” around abortion clinics, health facilities that provide abortion care have had few legal options for protecting patients from external threats to their physical and mental health. Tuesday’s ruling suggests that speech may not be constitutionally protected if it penetrates the walls of a private examination room.

Aug. 9 2017 6:46 PM

Wall Street Journal Declares Hot New Teen Trend for Parents to Worry About: Short Shorts

The eagle-eyed style-spotters at the Wall Street Journal have done young people a solid by identifying “summer’s hottest teen fashion trend” in a Wednesday afternoon post. That trend, according to this dispatch from the cutting edge of fashion-industry gossip, is short shorts.

If your definition of trend is “item that has been around since legs immemorial,” then yes, short shorts are a trend. This kind of evergreen piece would be as believable with a publish date in 1997 as in 2017.

But still, as reliable as the Band-Aids that find their way into every public pool, every summer brings with it a new crop of parents worrying about teens exposing too much leg skin while they put Burt’s Bees on their eyelids and chug hand sanitizer. This year, the Journal claims, dads are telling their daughters to wear more clothes; moms are “plunging into back-of-store racks” for more covered-up cuts; and parents of all genders are sending stern-worded letters to stores that don’t stock capri pants. It’s worse than ever out there—for parents, for shorts, for modesty itself.

So, what are we talking here? Thongs, bootpants, assless chaps? No, just shorts, but ones with inseams a quarter-inch shorter than usual. Those inseams measure 2.25 inches long, where stores with “more modest styles,” according to the Journal, offer shorts with 2.5- to 3-inch inseams, though those are still considered “short-shorts.” Imagine what inappropriate fantasies that extra quarter to three-quarters of an inch of skin could inspire.

Scandalized parents will be relieved to know that teen shorts have been short for decades, while teen sex rates dropped, then leveled off over the past 10-or-so years. Check out these 3-inch inseam Delia’s shorts from 1996, or these 1990s Tommy Hilfiger juniors shorts with a 2-inch inseam. The teens who wore those shorts are probably running your favorite companies and maybe even writing your favorite Slate articles these days, parents. All that extra skin exposure and resulting vitamin D absorption did wonders for our brain development.

Aug. 9 2017 5:16 PM

Trump’s Evangelical Adviser Says God’s OK With “Taking Out” Kim Jong-Un

What’s the only thing more frightening than an unstable man with the nuclear codes? A unstable man who is being told that God himself has given his blessing to push the big red button.

On Tuesday, President Trump said North Korea would “be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen” if it continued to threaten the United States. Soon afterward, an evangelical adviser to the president released a statement saying that God has given Trump authority to “take out” North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. “When it comes to how we should deal with evil doers, the Bible, in the book of Romans, is very clear,” Robert Jeffress, pastor of a Southern Baptist megachurch in Dallas, said in a statement given to the Christian Broadcasting Network. “God has endowed rulers full power to use whatever means necessary—including war—to stop evil. In the case of North Korea, God has given Trump authority to take out Kim Jong-Un.”

Aug. 9 2017 2:45 PM

Wonder Woman Was Reportedly Funded by the Koch Brothers. That Shouldn’t Surprise Any of Us.

Wonder Woman hit a major milestone on Tuesday, when its North American box-office take topped $400 million. The film is now the highest-grossing film ever made by a female director and the third highest-grossing domestic release in Warner Bros. history.

Woohoo! Feminist #win! Think of all that money flying out of women’s paychecks and into the pockets of female actresses and a female director, keeping it in the sisterhood! And also, think of the way, way, larger sums of money going into the bank accounts of the right-wing billionaires who funded it!

Want to listen to this article out loud? Hear it on Slate Voice.

Listen to an audio recording of this article

Get Slate Voice, the spoken edition of the magazine, made exclusively for Slate Plus members. In addition to this article, you’ll hear a daily selection of our best stories, handpicked by our editors and voiced by professional narrators.

Your Slate Voice podcast feed

To listen to an audio recording of this article, copy this link and add it to your podcast app:

For full instructions see the Slate Plus podcasts FAQ.

It turns out that the feminist fave of the summer reportedly counts among its investors not just any rich dudes, but the literal Koch brothers. These are the men we can thank for the Tea Party, the funding of the “education reform” movement and organized opposition to Obamacare, and some of the most concerted efforts against environmental regulations the country has seen. They are some of the wealthiest men in the world, and they use their money to influence policies that protect the rich at the expense of the poor.

The Hollywood Reporter published a piece Wednesday morning describing Charles and David Koch’s “significant stake” worth “tens of millions of dollars” in RatPac-Dune Entertainment, which invested $450 million in 2013 to cover Warner Bros.’ entire slate of up to 75 movies over four years. That includes the “masterpiece of subversive feminism” that argues, according to the Washington Post’s Alyssa Rosenberg, that a world without misogyny “would be liberating and wonderful for men.” Post-Wonder Woman, misogyny is still around, but the success of the film has no doubt been liberating and wonderful for the men who funded it. (A Koch Industries spokeswoman gave THR the vague assurance that the brothers themselves and Koch Industries “do not have any involvement with this investment.”)

Full disclosure: I did not find Wonder Woman to be the tear-jerking feminist masterwork so many of my colleagues and contemporaries claim to have seen. To me, the movie baited women into the theater with some heavy-handed surface-level empowerment schtick, then gave us 180 minutes of jokes about how sexy half-dressed women are when they know how to fight. That normally wouldn’t have bugged me so much—blockbuster films are blockbuster films, and superhero movies are among the most formulaic of blockbuster genres—if critics and lay-viewers and men’s rights activists alike hadn’t made the movie out to be some kind of monumental step for womankind. Of course Wonder Woman wouldn’t star an average-looking bulked-up fighter, because they don’t look hot on movie posters. Of course the titular character would sleep with the first man she meets in her entire life, because otherwise people might think an athlete from an all-woman island was a lesbian.

I don’t think many, if any, of the people extolling Wonder Woman’s feminist bona fides believe that supporting the film meant they were supporting feminist causes in any significant way. Warner Bros. is not a nonprofit, and big profits are how big, splashy movies get made. But it’s just so rich to consider that the money it cost to send these little girls who “might make your heart explode” to see Wonder Woman now support the Koch brothers’ efforts to call climate science into question, making it measurably less likely that those little girls will grow up with a livable Earth to inhabit. The price we pay to see a woman kick ass with killer CGI effects is the continued electoral dominance of Koch-funded politicians who want to force women to give birth against their will. It’s no surprise—it’s how the system is designed. It’s what happens when unimaginable wealth is concentrated in the hands of a few white men looking out for themselves and their buddies. It’s called capitalism.

And under capitalism, in case you haven’t heard, there can be no ethical consumption. Every dollar spent in this messed-up marketplace supports exploitation, a fact that’s become even harder to swallow since the Supreme Court’s Citizens United v. FEC decision allowed corporate entities to all but cast physical ballots for their preferred political candidates. The Koch brothers aren’t the first right-wing puppeteers to invest in a corporation that produces a seemingly feminist product, and Wonder Woman is far from the only girl-power movie to enrich men working hard to make the world a harder place for women to thrive.

In fact, one of the last blockbuster action movies with a woman in the leading role, Mad Max: Fury Road, was also funded by RatPac-Dune, the company that bankrolled Wonder Woman. One of the founders of that company, Steven Mnuchin, was the finance chair of Donald Trump’s campaign, donated $425,000 to the campaign and the Republican party to help him win, and now serves as his Treasury Secretary. In other words, if you bought a ticket to see Imperator Furiosa bust the heads of a bunch of sexual abusers, you may have helped America elect one.

Aug. 8 2017 5:51 PM

France Is Trying to Decide Whether Being a First Lady Should Be a Real Job Or Not

French President Emmanuel Macron wants his wife to do more than sit next to him at fancy dinners and endure the leering compliments of fellow heads of state. Brigitte Macron would like a more formal position in government than one merely requiring her to smile at her husband when the photographers come out. The French public is seemingly not so sure.

A Change.org petition that started a few weeks ago has garnered nearly 300,000 signatures from people who don’t want the first lady to get an official public title and office, as the president has proposed. The author of the petition, Thierry Paul Valette, says Macron’s desire to install his unelected wife in an official role is hypocritical in light of his repeated calls to rid politics of corruption. The French legislature was in the process of banning nepotism in parliament at Macron’s encouragement, Valette writes, while the president planned to give Brigitte Macron a real title ("Première Dame,"), a new budget of public funds, and an expanded role in the affairs of the executive branch. CNN reports that the Macron administration “appears to have…abandoned” the plan as vocal opposition mounted.

Macron campaigned in part on a vision of ethical leadership, which some say conflicted with his first-lady proposal. The petition asks that the question giving the first lady’s position a budget and greater influence be put to a public referendum rather than left to Macron’s sole discretion. The public isn’t so hot on Macron at the moment: His approval ratings hover in the mid-30s just three months after his electoral victory, in part because of budget cuts that spurred the resignation of the head of the French armed forces. Detractors accuse Macron of displaying authoritarian and even monarchical behavior, ignoring advisors and avoiding journalists amid calls for greater transparency. During Macron’s campaign, one of his fellow candidates, François Fillon, was accused of embezzling hundreds of thousands of Euros by paying his wife and two children for fictitious jobs over a period of multiple decades. Though Brigitte Macron reportedly would not have accepted a salary for the role she and her husband were trying to create, it looked too close to the intrafamily status-boosting of his one-time opponent.

The spouses of French presidents already get special security, hired assistants, and office space, but they don’t have any official status, significant staff, or defined role in the French constitution. French-Algerian journalist Nabila Ramdani claims that giving Brigitte Macron a title and a go-ahead to do more work would not vastly increase the budget already devoted to the first lady’s needs. Instead, Ramdani believes, the opposition to Macron’s plans rests on the sexist notion that a political wife should know her place, far away from the big kids’ table. “The Brigitte Macron I interviewed during her husband’s electoral campaign was uninterested in making money, or having more flunkies around her,” Ramdani writes. “She was not in the slightest bit pushy or personally ambitious. On the contrary, the retired teacher wanted to be taken seriously as a well-educated and highly experienced public servant.” Opponents of a larger role for Brigitte Macron “want to reduce her to another upstart who should be locked away in a quiet salon while her man sorts out domestic and world affairs.”

It sounds like the first lady role into which Brigitte Macron would have ascended only differed from her current role with a couple of capital letters—she would be First Lady, not first lady. And the extent of her work would have been explicitly “public,” not “political”—more along the lines of a Michelle Obama or Laura Bush, with their speeches and agreeable causes, than a Hillary Clinton, who had a legislative agenda, or an Ivanka Trump, who stands in for the president at major diplomatic meet-ups and serves as a close adviser.

Part of the French public’s objection to an expanded first lady role was undoubtedly symbolic: What would it mean for a president’s family to acquire unearned status from his position? Part may have been confusion: Macron merely asked for a proposal that would lay out a more formal, defined job for his wife, and no one quite knew how her position would change or what she might gain. The U.S. is used to first ladies taking active roles in their husbands’ administrations; in fact, the seeming uninterestedness and deliberate ornamentalism of our current one is a shocking departure from what has become the norm. As journalists monitor the promotion of unqualified family members in our current White House, it may be hard to decipher the differences between an indifferent spouse and a woman who’s been told to keep quiet, or a robust first-ladyship and a wife reaping political benefits she didn’t earn. Debates over the role of a 21st-century president’s wife are worth having. France won’t get past the opening arguments if Brigitte Macron doesn’t get a chance to try something different.

Aug. 8 2017 2:25 PM

Jurors In Taylor Swift’s Sexual Assault Case Had to Admit Whether They Were Fans of Her Music

Taylor Swift is expected to testify in a case coming before a jury this week in Denver, Colorado, where she says a former country-music radio DJ groped her more than four years ago.

“He took his hand and put it up my dress and grabbed onto my ass cheek, and no matter how much I scooted over, it was still there,” Swift claimed in a deposition. David Mueller, the then–morning show host, was backstage at Swift’s Denver concert with his girlfriend in 2013 when the alleged incident took place during a photo op. He was 51 at the time; she was 23. When a member of Swift’s security personnel approached Mueller with her allegation, he refuted the claim and was ushered out of the venue. Later, Swift and her team provided Mueller’s bosses with the photo they’d posed for, which appears to show Mueller with his hand on Swift’s butt. He was fired two days later.

It took Mueller two more years to sue Swift for allegedly getting him fired for something he still says he didn’t do. His 2015 lawsuit, in which he seeks $3 million in damages for losing his $150,000-a-year job, claims Swift should have called the police instead of his managers. He also claims a colleague is the one who assaulted Swift. She countersued for $1, maintaining that the assault was “completely intentional.” Swift says she doesn’t care about money, but it’s important to her to win a verdict in her favor to serve “as an example to other women who may resist publicly reliving similar outrageous and humiliating acts.”

Fans lined up outside the courthouse on Monday and Tuesday, gunning for some of the 32 courtroom seats and 75 overflow seats in a room with a closed-circuit screening of the proceedings. But Swifties are unlikely to make it onto the jury. Judge William Martinez had all prospective jurors fill out a mostly standard questionnaire to root out any biases or conflicts of interest, and the questions in 15-page document are likely to exclude the vast majority of the American population. It asks whether potential jurors have listened to Swift on the radio, seen any of her videos, read any articles about her, bought any of her albums, paid any money to listen to her music online, or listened to her songs through a free streaming service. The only way someone could not have heard a Swift song on the radio or seen a clip from one of her videos is if he was specifically trying to avoid her to maintain the possibility of appearing on a jury for a Swift-related court case someday. The questionnaire even asks whether prospective jurors have immediate family members who are fans of Swift’s. Does anyone not?

The best answers probably came from the open-ended questions. One of them—“Do you have any opinion of singer Taylor Swift?”—is a question I would like to ask any potential friends, lovers, and employees before committing to a full-on conversation. (The only incorrect answer is “No.”) One woman reportedly noted on her sheet that she thought Swift was “petty and dishonest,” perhaps because she followed the Kardashian-West receipts debacle of 2016 or believes in the Swift break-up squad conspiracy. Another possible juror is a man who said his wife runs “women’s empowerment workshops,” but that he could still make impartial judgements about the merits of the case. Mueller’s lawyer argued that a wife who is into empowerment stuff could bias a juror against a guy who allegedly groped a young woman under her skirt with his girlfriend standing two feet away. The judge kept that juror on Monday, and jury selection is set to wrap up on Tuesday.

Swift’s determination to see this case through, even though she stands nothing to gain from it, is admirable. By all accounts, she didn’t want Mueller’s alleged assault to blow up into a big public debate, but when he sued her, she didn’t negotiate a quiet settlement. She took him to court. Her attorney says Swift was shocked by Mueller’s assertion that “for some reason she might have some incentive to actually fabricate this story,” because there’s no logical reason why she would. She isn’t asking for money. She didn’t even drag Mueller in public until he filed his suit. Someone with Swift’s income could easily pay Mueller to make this all go away. Instead, she’s spending a week or three in Colorado, trying to convince a panel of people who’ve never heard her songs that an old man violated her in 2013.

Aug. 8 2017 8:15 AM

When It Comes to LGBTQ Acceptance, Muslims Are More “Assimilated” Into American Culture Than White Evangelicals

One of the most memorable motifs is the presidency of Donald Trump is the notion that Muslims are somehow incapable of assimilating into American culture.  “Assimilation has been very hard,” Trump told Sean Hannity last summer, in response to a question about how to vet Muslim immigrants to determine if they want to proselytize and import theocracy. “I won’t say nonexistent, but it gets to be pretty close. And I’m talking about second and third generation. For some reason, there’s no real assimilation.”

On at least one issue, however, recent surveys suggest Trump’s fears about assimilation are directed at the wrong group. According to a poll of American Muslims conducted this year by Pew, more than half (52 percent) say “homosexuality should be accepted by society.” In a wider survey on the same question last year, 63 percent of the general population said the same—compared to just over a third of white evangelicals. On the question of LGBTQ acceptance, in other words, American Muslims look much more like “mainstream” America than white evangelicals do.

READ MORE STORIES