What Women Really Think

Nov. 17 2014 3:46 PM

Anti-Abortion Protesters in Massachusetts Want Women to Stop Having Sex, Please

During arguments for the recent Supreme Court case McCullen v Coakley, which eventually led to the court striking down Massachusetts' buffer zone protecting abortion clinics from protesters crowding the door, it was revealed that many abortion clinic protesters think of themselves less as protesters and more as "sidewalk counselors." Jill Filipovic of Cosmopolitan decided to go to Massachusetts Planned Parenthood clinics to find out, exactly, what these protesters want to counsel women about. The answer turns out to be a little more complex than "don't get an abortion."

"Men and women are made different," Father Andrew Beauregard explains on camera while protesting at a clinic, "in that women, as the church teaches, reach their full potential in motherhood." There's a tight, if inhumane logic to this thinking: Women exist to give birth. Thus, if a woman is choosing not to give birth, she is not working as she is supposed to. Which means she must be broken and needs fixing. Ergo, "counseling."

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Nov. 17 2014 11:56 AM

Rep. Tammy Duckworth Is Pregnant and Can't Travel. Democrats Won't Let Her Vote By Proxy.

Last week, in a move that seems acutely blind to basic political optics, House Democrats denied Rep. Tammy Duckworth's request to vote by proxy in this week's House Democratic Caucus leadership elections. Duckworth, who lost both her legs in the Iraq War a decade ago, is now eight months pregnant and her doctor has forbidden travel until she delivers her baby. So why won't her colleagues let her vote by proxy? According to Rep. Rosa DeLauro, the Democrats are reluctant to give exceptions to the in-person voting requirement for leadership and committee chair elections because if one person gets one, everyone will want one. “There are many meritorious situations where the argument could be made for a waiver, including Congresswoman Duckworth's," DeLauro's spokesperson told the National Journal. "The question is, how do you choose?" As ABC News notes, Rep. Gwen Moore was also denied a proxy vote to attend a funeral. No request for a proxy vote has been granted in the more than four decades for which they have records.

This is a sticky situation. Though the principle of fairness in doling out exceptions is compelling, as Nia-Malika Henderson of the Washington Post points out, Democrats "have framed themselves as the party of working women" and this "does put them in an awkward position," particularly as the Supreme Court will soon be hearing a case over whether or not UPS should have given one of its pregnant employees a temporary accommodation, moving her to light work duty during her pregnancy. Making matters worse, the denial of Duckworth's request might be political. Duckworth supports putting Rep. Frank Pallone on the Energy and Commerce Committee, but Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who objected to Duckworth's request, is campaigning for Rep. Anna Eshoo to get the job instead. 

Nov. 14 2014 4:58 PM

Is It Wrong to Watch the Viral Video of the Father Singing to His Dying Baby?  

A video of a father singing to his dying newborn after his wife suddenly passed away has gone viral. Chris and Ashley Picco named their son Lennon, for John, before he was born via emergency C-section, and in the short film the widower gently strums the chords to Blackbird. “You were only waiting for this moment to be free,” he sings. Lennon died a few days later.

Nov. 14 2014 4:26 PM

The Bizarre Fight Over a Scientist’s Sexy Lady Shirt

On Wednesday, Matt Taylor, a scientist on the Rosetta Project, which landed a spacecraft on a comet for the first time ever earlier this week, was interviewed on TV about his amazing accomplishments while wearing a shirt. That's good. But unfortunately, the shirt featured a design of scantily clad women in pornographic poses. On Friday, Taylor apologized for wearing that shirt. What transpired in between has been dubbed Shirtstorm. So what happened?

After seeing Taylor on TV in his sexy lady shirt, Atlantic journalist Rose Eveleth tweeted:

That was Eveleth's fairly casual way of expressing that it was not so awesome for Taylor to wear a shirt like that during such an important moment when so many people are trying to persuade women and girls to take up STEM careers. Then chemist and Skepchick contributor Raychelle Burks wrote a cheeky piece agreeing that it's fun to wear loud clothes when being a scientist in the public eye and recommended some alternatives to Taylor's chosen shirt, like "Think Geek" T-shirts or a shirt covered in planetary bodies instead of naked women. "There are appropriate places and times to wear clothing with sexual imagery on it — sex parties, erotica readings, erotic art openings, I can probably think of a few others," Greta Christina, a sex writer and pornographer herself, wrote. "But the very public announcement of a major event in the history of scientific discovery — landing a robot on a comet! — is not one of those places or times." The reaction, in total, was pretty lighthearted. This should be a learning moment and an opportunity to talk about the subtle ways to make science more welcoming to women and leave it at that, right? 

This is all over a shirt that common sense should tell you is not appropriate, even by the loose and free standards that the science community often (wonderfully, mind you) employs in its dress standards. Something to remember next time you see a feminist going over the top or taking cries of sexism too far, which does happen: Feminists have nothing on anti-feminists when it comes to going overboard. 

Nov. 14 2014 10:30 AM

Reddit Now Has a Female CEO. Will She Make Reddit Less Horrible to Women?

And just like that, Reddit—Reddit, of all companies—has a female CEO. Nitasha Tiku at Valleywag reports that Yishan Wong resigned as Reddit CEO, leaving Ellen Pao, the head of business and partnerships, to take over as interim CEO. Lead investor Sam Altman announced that Wong voluntarily left over a dispute over office space. As for Pao, Altman says, "Because of her combination of vision, execution, and leadership, I expect that she’ll do an incredible job."

Wong presided over a rough time in Reddit's history. The website has been at the center of many scandals that make investors nervous, several involving gross and sexist behavior from some users, like the sharing of celebrities' stolen naked photos and misogynist subreddits devoted to harassing women. While Wong doesn't dispute Altman's story about office location, he says there was more to his decision to resign than that. "The job as CEO of reddit is incredibly stressful and draining," he writes in an explanation published at Forbes. "After two and a half years, I’m basically completely worn out, and it was having significantly detrimental effects on my personal life."

This stress and these difficulties are why it's hard to feel too much excitement over a woman taking the reins. As Bryce Covert wrote for Slate in March, "Evidence suggests that women are more likely to get promoted into leadership during particularly dicey times; then, when fortunes go south, the men who helped them get there scatter and the women are left holding the bag." Just to make give more weight to suspicions that Pao is standing on a glass cliff, Reddit cofounder Alexis Ohanian, who has returned to the company as executive chairman, told the Wall Street Journal, "This is technically Ellen’s job to lose." (He later backtracked on Twitter, saying the quote was "out of context" and "I have total confidence in Ellen as CEO and I’m grateful we have her.")

Nov. 13 2014 4:32 PM

The Dangers of the Fake Sexual Assault PSA

On Tuesday, a disturbing video appeared on a site called “Total Frat Move,” and quickly racked up more than 7 million YouTube views. The video, filmed in the style of a “social experiment,” purported to show what happens when a “super drunk young woman” stumbles around Hollywood Boulevard looking for help finding her bus home: Namely, numerous would-be sexual predators drag the stumbling woman around, in broad daylight and within sight of supposedly “hidden” cameras, and try to guide her back to their cars or homes.

“I’ve got a water bed and all that,” one charmer says.

The video was eerily reminiscent of another viral clip that exploded last month, demonstrating the mind-bending (if you’re a dude) levels of street harassment that a woman in New York City experiences in a typical ten-hour period. This new video upped the ante: A woman walking down the street won’t just get incessantly harassed; she might just get sexually assaulted, too. And a number of news organizations, including Gawker, Jezebel, and New York Magazine, reinforced that message by publishing outraged commentary on the behavior of the men in the video. The New York Daily News’ headline typified the coverage: “'You're coming home with me': young ‘drunk’ woman records unsuspecting men luring her to their apartment.”

Except that the “unsuspecting men” weren’t actually sexual predators in action; they were just normal dudes recruited on the street by a viral marketing company for the purposes of staging a hoax. The Smoking Gun tracked down several of the men in the video, who said that they were led to believe that they were acting in a comedy sketch. They knew that the drunk girl was an actress, and their “creepy” lines were totally staged. One of the creators of the video, 22-year-old Seth Leach, even Facebook messaged one of these men after the video went viral and warned him not to blow the lid off the story. “The important thing to consider," Leach wrote, "is that this video is going to get you well known and have a future with us and our company. … We are going to be huge and you are apart of it. Just go with it dude, you are in our team now and we will take care of you.” The “players” in the video were not asked to sign release forms to give their consent for being portrayed as would-be-rapists in a viral hit.

When these falsified depictions are taken seriously and given a mainstream audience, only to be revealed as fake, they offer ammunition to anyone seeking to deny rape culture itself as a myth propagated by “social justice warriors.” A quick look at the #gamergate hashtag on Twitter, or the Men’s Rights Activists forum on Reddit, reveals that the hoax is already being used to try to shut down the very real work that activists are doing to end sexual assault:

These conspiracy theorists have it wrong: The reason that sites publish stories like this without confirmation is that there is often more traffic potential in quickly publishing the hoax story than in waiting to publish the debunking. When Gizmodo published a fake viral “strangers kissing” video with the completely credulous (and misleading) headline “Watching complete strangers kiss for the first time is really beautiful” it got nearly 10 million page views. When we ran a debunking of that story by Amanda Hess under the headline “This Video of Strangers Kissing Is 'Beautiful' Because It Stars Models” it did well, but only garnered 665,125 page views.

That’s not to say that Slate is always on the right side of the hoax-traffic equation: This is an internet-wide problem. And while fake videos of kissing strangers or disastrous twerkers may be just annoying, proliferating a fake PSA for sexual assault carries more serious costs. After Jezebel reviewed the film, it declared Hollywood Boulevard—a major tourist and shopping destination in Los Angeles—“a breeding ground for sketchy men. … Hollywood is crawling with aspiring date rapists. Got it." But while alcohol-assisted sexual assault is a real problem, the vast majority of rapes are committed by acquaintances of the victim, not dudes who hang out on Hollywood Boulevard looking for prey. Videos like this one promote the myth that rapists take the form of strangers walking down a busy, well-lit street—not the victim's friends, colleagues, spouses, or ex-boyfriends.

Nov. 13 2014 12:27 PM

The NYT Asks War Photographer Moms How They Do It All. We Asked a Dad.

The New York Times’ Lens Blog wrote this week about mothers who are conflict photographers. They interviewed several women—including Lynsey Addario, who was held prisoner in Libya in 2011 while covering the war there, and now has a 2-year-old son—about how their work and lives have changed since becoming mothers. They all still go to dangerous parts of the world, and many spoke of the guilt, both culturally imposed and self-inflicted, that they feel over traveling for such long periods of time. Some take their children with them on assignment when possible, as evidenced by the accompanying slideshow of babies in Bjorns and on the hips of their moms as they work.

I loved the Times piece, but it made me wonder about the other half (well, more) of the story: war photographers who are dads. As the Lens post points out, the image of the war photographer is a hard-drinking Hemingway type, who puts work before family. But because men now have a different relationship to family than they did just a few decades ago, I wanted to talk to male conflict photographers about how they managed families as well.

Nov. 13 2014 12:16 PM

Ammunition for People Who Judge Parents for Looking at Their Phones Instead of Their Kids

As a blissfully childless person I was unaware that—along with having your own bed (and the sex life to go with it), diapers, and bottle-feeding—another modern convenience parents are supposed to give up is the use of the smartphone. As David Plotz chronicled for Slate back in 2012, taking your eyes off your precious offspring to read emails or crush some candies is considered by some to be such a parental foul that there's an entire Tumblr dedicated to shaming people over it. How, after all, will your children learn that they are the center of the universe if they can't hold a parent's attention captive at all times?

But now the finger-wagging phone haters have some real ammunition: Craig Palsson, an economics graduate student at Yale, has published a paper arguing that the expansion of smartphone services is behind the rise in emergency room visits for small children. E.R. injuries for kids under 5 increased about 10 percent between 2005 and 2012. Palsson's research shows that visits to the E.R. rose in individual communities only after they got the 3G network, and that the injuries that increased were mostly from activities, both in and out of the house, where parents were supervising, instead of teachers or coaches.

Nov. 13 2014 10:15 AM

The Devastating Pattern of Sexual Abuse in Competitive Swimming

A heartbreaking story in Outside magazine drills deep into the scourge of sexual abuse in competitive swimming. Written by Rachel Sturtz, the piece moves from the case of Anna Strzempko, who alleges that her middle school coach raped her repeatedly in a storage room above her YMCA pool in 2008, to the USA Swimming officials who for many years went to perverse extremes to look the other way in situations like hers.

This is not a new story. In 2010, ABC’s 20/20 and the ESPN documentary series Outside the Lines sparked a flare of publicity with its pieces on Brian Hindson, an Indiana coach who secretly videotaped female swimmers in the locker room shower, and Andy King, a serial rapist and coach who preyed on at least 15 girls as he drifted between California towns. Those earlier reports also revealed a bigger pattern of abuse in the sport. As of 2014, more than 100 USA Swimming coaches have received life bans—and those bans reflect only the small sliver of incidents that were reported, then adequately investigated, then justly punished.

Sturtz’s deeply researched article makes clear that many sex crimes committed against young athletes never leave the locker room shadows. In the wake of allegations that prominent D.C. swim coach Rick Curl sexually abused a 13-year-old butterfly champion, the blog Cap and Goggles ran a post on how often these crimes occur, and how rarely they’re discussed. Allegations like the ones against Curl (who was later convicted of child sexual abuse and sentenced to seven years in prison) are “not news at all—not to the swimmers and coaches and parents who grew up swimming,” wrote author Casey Barrett. “This has been an open secret for ages.”

Nov. 12 2014 1:48 PM

India’s Ugly History of Coerced Sterilization

India's "sterilization drives"—state-sponsored initiatives in which the government pays women to get sterilized—are an attempt to control the country's population, which is projected to become the world’s largest by 2028. As of Tuesday night in the Indian state of Chhattisgarh, one of India’s poorest, 11 women had died after one such drive. The women had been paid 600 rupees, or around $10.

According to the New York Times, 83 women were operated on by a single surgeon over the course of six hours on Saturday, allowing for an average of less than five minutes per procedure. (It’s not safe to perform more than two to three sterilizations per hour because it takes 20 to 30 minutes just to sterilize and prepare the necessary surgical instruments, according to an expert interviewed by the Times). In the aftermath, 68 of those women were treated for septic shock, which Chhattisgarh health officials attribute to the surgeon’s failure to sterilize his instruments.

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