The XX Factor
What Women Really Think

Jan. 28 2015 2:45 PM

The Ghostbusters Casting News Is Totally Exciting. The Reaction to the News Is Even Better.

Huge news in the world of comedy: Director Paul Feig has announced the four stars of his upcoming Ghostbusters reboot, and they are funny. Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Leslie Jones, and Kate McKinnon will play the four leading roles. This is not a surprise: The fact that the main cast would be all-female was announced long ago, and Feig—director of Bridesmaids and The Heat—clearly likes making movies with funny women at the center of them. But it is still a big deal, given that the original Ghostbusters had an all-male cast and Hollywood is still a hugely sexist industry that underutilizes women's talents. 

The reaction to this casting news is also a big deal. A lot of people are stoked. Look at the reactions under Feig's original tweet, for example: It's a sea of "OMG" and multiple exclamation points. The comment section at Jezebel, which is frequently overwhelmed by grumpy dudes griping about how women are too full of themselves, was a sea of excited GIFs at this announcement. And the excitement is not just about some quota being filled. These women are genuinely pee-in-your-pants funny. Melissa McCarthy was made to play the Venkman role, as Bill Murray did, walking the line between creepy and charming.

The casting, and largely positive reaction to it, is also yet another reminder of how far we've come from the dark days of 2007, when Christopher Hitchens managed to provoke an actual debate over whether women are funny. The subsequent years have firmly answered the question: Of course they are, and the only reason that hasn't always been abundantly clear is because women have not been offered as many opportunities to show their skills. But now those opportunities are coming down the pipe more frequently: everything Tina Fey and Amy Poehler are doing, Saturday Night Live's new female-centric cast, Broad City, Girls, The Mindy Project, and now this reboot of Ghostbusters. You could be excused, in 2015, if you start to wonder if the real question is why men aren't as funny as women.

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Jan. 28 2015 1:22 PM

Another Sign That Men’s Magazines Are Changing: Men’s Health Denounces “Pickup Artists”  

Men's magazines have long been home to some of the most sexist attitudes about women. But a recent exchange between men's magazine writer Tauriq Moosa and the South African edition of Men's Health magazine suggests a bit of good news.

As Moosa recounts at his blog, he recently wrote a piece for Men's Health about why men should care about everyday sexism. His friends hassled him for it, arguing that Men's Health wades into "lad mag" territory too often. Moosa agreed with some of their complaints and shared one example on Twitter, an article about how to get a woman's number that treats women's willingness to engage in social niceties as a weakness to be exploited. 

The issue here, as Moosa's highlighting demonstrates, is not advising men to say "hi." That's fine. It's framing a tossed off "hello" as a way to get one over on a woman, a trick to lure her into an encounter. 

But the Men's Health response is pretty promising:

PUA stands for "pickup artist," a community of men who coach one another on techniques to get women into bed. Men's Health followed up by tweeting, "In fact we'd like to purge our archives totally of the PUA taint. Dating advice is fine. Manipulation is not."

That's exactly it: The issue is not about giving men advice on meeting women, but about treating women like they're obstacles to be overcome, through tricks and bullying, if necessary. Not only does that advice sow needless antagonism, but it's also dangerous. If you teach men to push women's boundaries—to "pressure" them—some men are going to take that advice past irritating women in bars toward actual sexual assault

If Men's Health actually does "purge" its dating advice of "PUA taint," that isn't just good for women. It's also good for men. Coaching men to see women as the enemy to the point where even a simple "hi" is dripping with hostile intent is not exactly the best way to get women to like them, as the growing online genre of women laughing at angry dudes messaging them on dating websites amply demonstrates. It's time to change it up and try seeing what treating women like potential friends instead of enemies to be conquered will get you. 

It's probably also good business for men's magazines. As the downfall of Maxim in recent years shows, misogyny is not selling as well these days. GQ's recent editorial direction, for instance, suggests that the magazine senses its readers are more interested in stories that help them better relate to women instead of dominating them. Sure, the magazine still has plenty of heavily Photoshopped photos of half-naked female celebrities, but recent articles have discouraged benevolent sexism, praised women's artistry, and encouraged men to be respectful of a woman's right to choose how to handle unintended pregnancy. This is an promising new direction for men's magazines, and the smarter ones will continue down this path. 

Jan. 28 2015 8:52 AM

When Career Expectations Are Just About Getting Enough Money to Eat

Over the past few years, there has been a great deal of discussion about why women aren’t achieving as much in their careers as their male counterparts, even though women have been enrolling in and graduating from college in greater numbers than men since the 1980s. Explanations for this gender gap range from women aren’t “leaning in" enough, to entrenched sexism in the workplace, to husbands’ careers taking precedence, to a lack of social supports for mothers in American society.

But when we discuss the issue in a macro way, we don’t hear the stories of men and women who are making career choices not as statistics in a think piece, but as part of an often complicated balancing act between various interests and responsibilities in their lives. Here is the fifth interview in an occasional series, Best Laid Plans, about how career decisions get made over time and are altered by the unpredictability of life.

Name: Marina Martinez

Age: 30

Occupation: Marketing consultant and walking tour guide

Partner’s occupation: Freelance video game editor

Children: None

Location: Portland, Oregon

Hi, Marina. What were your career expectations when you first started working?

I didn’t have any. I just was hungry and needed some way to feed myself. My mom has some pretty serious health issues, both mental and physical, and she just stopped buying food when I was 14. She was still sort of going to work every day, but there was nothing in the house to eat. I called a friend and asked, “What am I supposed to do?” And my friend said, “It looks like it’s time for you to get a job.” So I started cleaning houses. I charged $20 a house, under the table.

Jan. 27 2015 5:48 PM

Watch the First Anti-Domestic Violence Super Bowl Commercial

An anti-domestic violence PSA will air during the Super Bowl this Sunday, courtesy of the No More campaign and the National Football League, which donated its internal ad agency to create the spot and, according to the Wall Street Journal, half a minute of air time on NBC, "where ad time costs roughly $4.5 million for 30 seconds." No More is billing it as the first of its kind.

The NFL and No More previously teamed up for a series of PSAs titled "Speechless," which featured footage of current and former players emoting over domestic violence, that aired during NFL games on Thanksgiving; this ad downplays the NFL’s role, instead borrowing its conceit from a tale first published on Reddit last year by a former 911 dispatcher, who recalled taking a call from a woman who had feigned ordering a pizza in order to get police to respond to her home without tipping off her abuser. In October, BuzzFeed tracked down the Reddit poster—his name is Keith Weisinger, and he’s now a lawyer for the EPA—and his story checked out. (One football-related domestic violence legend that doesn’t stand up to scrutiny is the widespread belief that hotline calls spike on Super Bowl Sunday; hotlines tend to experience an uptick in calls near Christmas and during school breaks.)

The ad will reach a lot of viewers with an important message, is actually an interesting spot, and will boost the NFL’s still-dismal image around taking domestic violence seriously. Then again, it's just a Super Bowl commercial—a 30 second reprieve from ads for beer, cars, or the miracle that is Tim Tebow.

Jan. 26 2015 4:29 PM

What's Stopping New Orleans From Getting a Brand New Planned Parenthood Clinic

New Orleans is in desperate need of a new Planned Parenthood clinic. The current one is housed in a small, converted one-story house that only has two exam rooms and operates at mass capacity. The need for better facilities is great, because Louisiana has some of the highest STI and unintended pregnancy rates in the country. In New Orleans, lasting damage from Hurricane Katrina means that the need for quality, low cost care is particularly high. Planned Parenthood fully intends to step up its game and help meet this demand, hoping to build a 7,000 square foot, state-of-the-art facility in New Orleans that will cost $4.2 million. It was supposed to be built by now, actually, offering affordable Pap smears and contraception to thousands of New Orleans residents, but the lot it was meant to be built on remains empty. 

Jill Filipovic of Cosmopolitan investigated the situation to find out why and learned that anti-choice forces have waged war on Planned Parenthood, scaring off anyone in the community that might make this new clinic a reality.

Jan. 26 2015 1:29 PM

How the Great Blizzard of 1888 Killed the Petticoat

In 1888, a blizzard hit New York City with such ferocity that it propelled the city into the 20th century. Telegraph and telephone wires whipped dangerously in the wind, prompting the New York Times to call for an underground power line system. Thirty-foot snow drifts stranded passengers between elevated railroad stations, spurring plans for a subway system. And heavy petticoats made it so difficult for women to traverse the snow that it’s no wonder a sleeker silhouette would soon come into fashion. Via NYC Subway, here’s the New York Sun account of how the city’s women braved the storm on March 13, 1888:

Few of the women who work for their living could get to their work places. Never, perhaps, in the history of petticoats was the imbecility of their designer better illustrated. “To get here I had to take my skirts up and clamber through the snowdrifts," said a wash-woman when she came to the house of the reporter who writes this. She was the only messenger from the world at large that reached that house up to half past 10 o'clock. "With my dress down I could not move half a block."
It was so with thousands of women; the thousand few who did not turn back when they had started out. Thus women were seen to cross in front of THE SUN office and at many of the busiest corners up town. But all the women in the streets assembled together would have made a small showing. They are said to be much averse to staying in, but they stayed in as a rule yesterday. At half past 10 o'clock not a dozen stores on Fulton street in this city, had opened for business. Men were making wild efforts to clean the walks, only to see each shovelful of snow blown back upon them and piled against the doors again.
"Have the girls come?" an employer asked of his partner. "Girls!" said the porter: "I have not seen a woman blow through Fulton street since I've been here.”

Women who did venture into the storm risked being trapped in a prison of skirt and ice. According to the Sun: “A woman attempting to cross Nassau street was obliged to call for help. She said she had lost her strength, and her clothing was so entangled with her limbs that she could not move.” By the 1890s, the feminine ideal of the "Gibson Girl" wore a tighter, narrower skirt, befitting what the Library of Congress calls her "more visible and active role in the public arena than women of preceding generations."

What fashion trend do we hope will die an icy death in this terrible blizzard? I vote pelvage.

Jan. 26 2015 10:27 AM

Study on Women’s Painkiller Use Causes Concern Over Hypothetical Embryos, Not Actual Women

The Centers for Disease Control released a report Thursday showing that opioid painkiller prescription use is really high among women. Analyzing health insurance data claims, researchers found that an average 39 percent of the women on Medicaid and 28 percent of women on private health insurance filled an opioid prescription every year from 2008 to 2012. These numbers raise a lot of important questions: How many of these women have a pill problem? Are doctors prescribing hard drugs too quickly when aspirin would suffice? How much of this opioid use is due to chronic pain? Is opioid overuse more common in women than men?

Unfortunately, the media coverage of this report has focused primarily on the fortunes of hypothetical embryos that might be lurking in the wombs of the women taking these pills. This NBC News headline is a good example: "Pill-Popping Mommas: 'Many' Pregnant Women Take Opioids, CDC Finds." The story comes complete with a photo of a heavily pregnant woman who is smoking, even though the report is not about smoking and focuses on women between the ages of 15 and 44, not pregnant women specifically. Why does coverage of an important women’s health study ignore actual women and their health problems to instead zero in on how women are treating the pregnancies that may not even exist in their bodies? Even the New York Times headline is, “High Rates of Opioid Prescriptions Among Women Raise Birth Defect Fears.”

Jan. 22 2015 12:21 PM

GOP Women Stopped the 20-Week Abortion Bill. That’s Not Standing Up for Reproductive Rights.

Today, on the 42nd anniversary of Roe v Wade, the Republicans have betrayed the movement. As my colleague Betsy Woodruff wrote last night, Republicans in the House just killed the vote on a bill that would have banned abortions after 20 weeks, even though a similar bill passed with ease last year in the same Republican-controlled body. Instead, they're going to just vote on another bill attacking Obamacare, which would basically end most insurance coverage of abortion.  

So, what happened here? The short answer is that women happened. Specifically, some female Republicans, led by Rep. Renee Ellmers and Rep. Jackie Walorski, who, according to the Washington Post, wanted to soften the 20-week ban bill, misleadingly named the Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, because they felt the rape exceptions were too stringent. The bill only allowed rape exceptions for women who had filed a report with the police, despite the fact that the majority of rape victims don't report the crime

We've come a long way from 2003, when President George W. Bush signed a bill banning the safest method of performing late term abortions amidst a group of grinning men and zero women. And while Republican women in the House are still far from embracing abortion rights, their growing influence could actually shift the party away from the worst attacks on women's bodies. Maybe my colleague Jessica Grose was right when she argued against the idea that the midterm elections were "bad for women."

Jan. 21 2015 11:25 AM

Ultra-Orthodox Women in Israel Launch Their Own Political Party

When it comes to Israel’s ultra-Orthodox Jewish women, we tend to hear mostly about the terrible things that happen to them—from having to sit in the back of public busses to being banned from hosting or even calling into radio shows. Last week, the Israeli ultra-Orthodox newspaper HaMevaser created a stir when they Photoshopped German Chancellor Angela Merkel out of a photo of world leaders at the Paris Solidarity march, yet another example of how women are treated, or, more accurately, erased from the conversation in many ultra-Orthodox circles.

Which brings us to the current state of the Israeli Knesset. The two ultra-Orthodox parties—Shas and United Torah Judaism—are, unsurprisingly, exclusively male. In 2012, a small protest group formed under the name, “Lo Nivcharot, Lo Bocharot,” (if we can’t be elected, we won’t vote)—a modern-day version of no taxation without representation. The group, nicknamed LoNiLoBo, petitioned Israel’s Supreme Court to make it illegal for a political party to prevent women from running, but they lost. The following year, a few Haredi women ran for municipal posts (municipal elections operate differently than national ones). They received threats and one woman ended up pulling out as a result, but Shira Gergi won and became the first Haredi woman to sit on a municipal council.

Jan. 21 2015 10:19 AM

Boehner Applauded Equal Pay at Last Year’s State of the Union. Why Not This Year?

Tuesday night’s State of the Union address covered many of the same themes as last year's speech, but President Obama had a little more fire in his belly, and Republicans appeared more hostile to his message. One big change was how congressional Republicans reacted when Obama declared his support for equal pay for women. Last year, Obama mentioned that women make 77 cents on a man's dollar and added, “That is wrong, and in 2014, it’s an embarrassment. A woman deserves equal pay for equal work.” The line drew crazy applause from people on both sides of the aisle, and John Boehner made sure to appear on camera standing and applauding the sentiment. 

Obama used a nearly identical line this year: “That’s why this Congress still needs to pass a law that makes sure a woman is paid the same as a man for doing the same work. Really. It’s 2015. It’s time.” This time, however, Republican butts, including Speaker Boehner's, largely stayed planted to their chairs. There were even some shenanigans as Democrats tried to shame them for it. 

What changed? The 2014 speech mentioned equal pay as more of an abstract principle, whereas this year's speech detailed specific steps Congress ought to take to support it. Republicans have a history of claiming to support the idea of equal pay while shutting down every attempt to turn that ideal into a reality through legislative effort. They're fine with applauding the idea that women “deserve” equal pay but balk when called upon to put their supposed support into action. 

But the Republican messaging on the issue is also shifting. Last year, desperate to shut down the “war on women” narrative, Republicans used the State of the Union response by Cathy McMorris Rodgers to suggest that the party supports working mothers. But doing a little rah-rah-for-moms thing is a lot harder to pull off when the president is laying out concrete policy ideas that women actually need, such as equal pay protections and federally subsidized child care. So while the Republicans once again put a women out front for their State of the Union response speech, their pick this year, Joni Ernst, spent most of her time celebrating the character-building aspects of belt-tightening and largely ignoring overt mentions of gender. 

Certainly, the contrast between the two parties is much clearer this year than last. The president talks about how people, particularly women, need to be paid more and receive more benefits for their work, while Ernst waxes nostalgic about having only one pair of shoes and a family that had “very little to call their own except the sweat on their brow and the dirt on their hands.” Both sides emphasize the value of hard work, but as Obama continues to push the line that people need to get more for that work, expect that Republicans will counter by suggesting that the real reason people are in need is not because of lack of equal pay or child care, but because they aren’t working quite hard enough.