The XX Factor
What Women Really Think

Aug. 5 2015 3:30 PM

What the 2015 Air-Conditioning Debate Really Needed Was Some Mansplaining

The power of a mansplainer to ruin everything was never better illustrated than in this CNN clip, grabbed by RawStory’s David Edwards, where contributor Richard Quest dresses down all of womankind for wearing summery clothes in the summer. The segment, hosted by Brooke Baldwin, was intended to be a light-hearted discussion of a recent New York Times story exposing the unconscious sexist bias in how offices are air-conditioned. According to a study published in Nature Climate Change, office thermostats are generally set to favor men’s metabolic rates, which are faster than women’s and produce heat more efficiently ... but enough of all that, because it's time for Richard Quest to deliver his lecture:

“Look at what you’re wearing as opposed to sensible clothes,” Quest announced to his colleagues, as the laughing died down and things got weirdly tense. “A proper shirt and a vest and a jacket.”

“So I should be here in the middle of summer in New York in a polo neck and closed shoes and maybe a nice pair of jeans?” guest Samantha Barry asked.

“You don’t necessarily have to go that far. But certainly nothing too skimpy,” Quest continued.

The segment does a good job of distilling the entire debate. On one hand, you could use up less energy and money on air-conditioning, meaning that some people would have to wear lighter clothes instead of a suit and tie. On the other hand, you could ... just do nothing in the face of scientific and anecdotal evidence that lots of women who work in offices are freezing all day. That the latter approach has been winning out for so long tells us a lot about the subtle workings of sexism in day-to-day life.

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Aug. 5 2015 2:52 PM

White House Launches a Diversity-in-Tech Initiative Just in Time for #ILookLikeAnEngineer 

The Obama administration is joining a larger push to increase diversity in Silicon Valley by targeting a broad array of companies and institutions to help make the tech industry a little less white-male-dominated.

"Just three percent of America’s venture capital-backed startups are led by women, and only around one percent are led by African-Americans," the White House announcement read. "At present, only about four percent of U.S.-based venture capital investors are women."

To help improve those numbers, the administration is getting commitments from venture capitalists to invest more in companies run by women and minorities, from companies who are taking steps to improve diversity in hiring, and from public institutions such as governments and schools to think strategically about improving the diversity of people in the pipeline for tech jobs. 

The need for this was driven home this week by a piece in Medium by Isis Wenger, a platform engineer for OneLogin, which is based in San Francisco. Along with three male employees of the company, Wenger posed for recruiting ads that were posted at BART stops. The ads are nothing special, but the fact that Wenger is female (and young and attractive) caused a lot of sexist chatter online. 

"This is some weird haphazard branding. I think they want to appeal to women, but are probably just appealing to dudes," reads one typical example Wenger pulled off Facebook. "But I'm curious people with brains find this quote remotely plausible and if women in particular buy this image of what a female software engineer looks like." The widespread nature of this kind of idiotic sexism shows exactly what women in tech are up against. 

In response, Wenger took a photo of herself with the hashtag #ILookLikeAnEngineer

It started trending on Twitter in no time, with female engineers of all stripes posting pictures of themselves. The more people understand that all sorts of people can be techies, the more opportunities will open up for those job seekers who aren't white men. 

Aug. 4 2015 10:15 PM

A Conversation About “Women’s Health Issues” with Jeb Bush and Elizabeth Warren

Here are four sentences that Jeb Bush said today.

“The next president should defund Planned Parenthood. The argument against this is, well, women’s health issues, you’re attacking, it’s a war on women, and you’re attacking women’s health issues. You could take dollar for dollar, although I’m not sure we need a half a billion dollars for women’s health issues, but if you took dollar for dollar, there are many extraordinary fine organizations, community health organizations, that exist to provide quality care for women on a wide variety of health issues. But abortion should not be funded by the government, any government, in my mind.”

(Bush later said he "misspoke," but then effectively repeated exactly what he said when he misspoke.)

And here are four sentences that Elizabeth Warren said on Monday.

“I come to the Senate floor today to ask my Republican colleagues a question. Do you have any idea what year it is? Did you fall down, hit your head, and think you woke up in the 1950s or the 1890s? Should we call for a doctor?”

Warren declined to address whether or not a woman sustaining an injury in a fall qualifies as a "women's health issue," and if so, whether or not her treatment should be covered by an employer-provided health care plan or Medicaid.

Aug. 4 2015 9:40 PM

Is Unlimited Parental Leave a Recipe for Guilt and Resentment?

On Tuesday, Netflix announced in a blog post that it now offers “an unlimited leave policy for new moms and dads that allows them to take off as much time as they want during the first year after a child’s birth or adoption.” As Business Insider notes, this isn’t so much a new policy as it is an expansion and clarification of an existing policy—Netflix prides itself on its workplace culture of “freedom and responsibility,” and it has allowed employees to take unlimited vacation days and sick days since it went public in 2002

Unfortunately, like unlimited paid vacation, unlimited paid parental leave looks like a recipe for confused, resentful, and stressed-out employees.

An unlimited parental-leave policy looks would seem like a positive development. America is the only developed country in the world without mandatory paid maternity leave. (Women who’ve worked at the same company for more than a year, and whose company comprises more than 50 employees, are entitled to 12 weeks of unpaid maternity leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993; only four states have publicly funded paid maternity leave.) Plus, as Slate contributor Jessica Grose noted in 2013, when it comes to pregnancy and newborns, “everyone’s experience is wildly different and impossible to predict.” So a little flexibility, like the kind Netflix is offering, is most welcome—in theory, at least.

In practice, though, companies that have instituted unlimited vacation often find that employees end up taking less time off than they did when they had well-defined vacation allowances. What's more, employees feel guilty for the time they do take off. When you add in the resentment that parents often face—or fear facing—when they take time off or embrace a flexible schedule to tend to their families, unlimited parental leave could make life more stressful for new parents. If that new mom down the hall came back full-time after only six weeks of leave, will you look like a slacker if you take four months and ramp back up with a three-day-a-week schedule? 

Netflix has been doing this “freedom and responsibility” thing for a long time, so it may be capable of making unlimited parental leave a blessing rather than a curse. And a one-size-fits-all policy of giving parents paid leave immediately after birth isn't necessarily the way to go: Some parents would rather take more time off when their kids are a little older. But a straightforward and humane directive—e.g., “You are required to take five months of paid leave at any point in the first two years of your child's life; go forth and prosper”—would give parents clear boundaries and put them all on equal footing.

I don’t have kids, but if I ever do, I don’t want to be vulnerable to judgment and resentment because of my choices about maternity leave—I’d much rather know exactly how much paid time off I (and all my colleagues) are entitled to. 

To be sure, Netflix should be celebrated for being firmly on the right side of this issue. Too few working parents in America get any paid leave at all, which is a problem that only lawmakers can fix. In the meantime, though, well-meaning companies should be figuring out how much time new moms and dads should take off, rather than burdening parents with yet another tough decision.

Aug. 4 2015 6:30 PM

It’s Official: Birth Control Pills Prevent Endometrial Cancer

Since the 1960s, an uneasy question has been whispered among medical communities, media, and feminist circles: Could the birth control pill—arguably the most important innovation for women of the 20th century, if not the past 2,000 years—cause cancer? It’s now been decades since oral contraceptives were first developed, but the dozens of research studies conducted in those years have clashed on the answer. Some suggest that the hormones in the pill increase a woman’s risk of developing certain cancers; others claim the opposite, or that they have no effect at all. Even the National Cancer Institute lacks a clear answer, noting that studies on the matter “have not always been consistent.”

Here now is a study that ends the debate for at least one form of cancer: endometrial cancer, which grows in the lining of the uterus and usually affects women after menopause. Endometrial cancer is the most common gynecologic cancer in the United States, and it caused 76,000 deaths worldwide in 2012. Researchers from the Collaborative Group on Epidemiological Studies on Endometrial Cancer have put together a massive study showing that birth control pills provide substantial protection against the development of this type of cancer.

The researchers, who are putting out their findings this week in the prestigious journal Lancet Oncology, looked at more than 27,000 cases of endometrial cancer and more than 115,000 control cases in 36 studies across the world. They confirmed that women who used birth control pills experienced a long-term decrease in endometrial cancer risk, regardless of reproductive history, ethnicity, alcohol and tobacco use, and other factors. The protective effects even carried over decades after women stopped taking the pill.

screen_shot_20150803_at_4.12.21_pm
A graph from the study showing that birth control use decreases the risk of endometrial cancer, even after it's discontinued.

Lancet Oncology

In short, here’s what the findings reveal: By taking oral contraceptives for just five years, a woman’s risk of developing the cancer can be cut by roughly a quarter. That risk shrinks even further with five more years of use. And, combining these findings with the prevalence of oral contraceptive use in developed countries, it can be estimated that in the past 50 years, birth control pills have prevented roughly 400,000 cases of endometrial cancer before the age of 75 in high-income countries, including 200,000 cases in the last decade alone. Those are staggering numbers. 

The study shows that massive, in-depth analyses can finally clear up the relationship between birth control hormones and cancer. Oral contraceptives aren't some specialty industry, after all—they're one of the most popular drug prescriptions around the world, used by more than 10 million women in the U.S. alone. Definitive information about their relationship to different types of cancer is a huge contribution to public health.

Aug. 4 2015 3:41 PM

Chris Christie Likes Birth Control ... for Himself, That Is

At a New Hampshire campaign event, Chris Christie tried to prop up his image as a moderate by telling the audience that he has used birth control, even though his church, the Catholic Church, forbids it. This really shouldn't be a big surprise, since 98 percent of Catholics in the U.S. do the same, which means the big reveal here is that Christie isn't evasive about the obvious. Considering how normal hypocritical posturing about sex is in this country, especially for conservatives, it does take a certain amount of bravery for Christie to refuse to front about his own private life like this. 

Still, Christie doesn't deserve any congratulations for this. He's all too happy to declare his own right to defy religious authorities and shape his sex life how he sees fit, but his public record shows that he does not extend that same right to others. Christie has been active in the fight against affordable contraception, repeatedly vetoing funds for Planned Parenthood that go to make sure that low income women have the same right he and his wife enjoy to decide for themselves if and when to have children. 

And while Christie doesn't think the Pope should have a vote in his sex life, he feels very differently about whether or not your boss should have a vote in yours. In a campaign visit to Iowa last year, Christie affirmed the Supreme Court decision in Hobby Lobby v Burwell, where the court found that an employer should be able to deny contraception coverage to employees based on the employer's religious beliefs. 

It isn't hard to see what is happening here. As the anti-choice movement becomes more radical and openly hostile to contraception, that allows Republicans to paint it as a "moderate" position to treat safer sex as a luxury that should only be available to those who can pay out of pocket, rather than a normal part of health care that should be available to all.

The "sex for me, but not for thee" attitude fails to address the way that we all pay when individual women, regardless of income level, are not empowered to make their own reproductive health care decisions. Unintended pregnancy costs this country billions of dollars every year, money that could be saved by simply treating contraception as a right instead of a luxury and doing what we can to make sure anyone who wants it can afford to use it. Christie's attitude makes sex a haves vs. have-nots issue, but in reality, it's a normal part of most everyone's life and smart public policy should reflect that. 

Aug. 4 2015 12:05 PM

Bobby Jindal Uses Planned Parenthood Videos to Cut Care to Medicaid Patients

As expected, Senate Republicans failed in their attempt to cut off contraception and health screening services for Planned Parenthood patients. But Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal rushed to act, announcing that Medicaid patients who go to Planned Parenthood will not be allowed to go there any more. Planned Parenthood estimates that 4,300 women will be cut off from their current gynecological care because of this. 

“In recent weeks, multiple videos have surfaced showing Planned Parenthood ... employees describing how they actively engage in illegal partial birth abortion procedures and conduct these abortions in a manner that leaves body parts intact so that they can later be sold on the open market,” Jindal's announcement read.

The accusations are not true, of course. The entire scandal is a charade to advance the larger war on the sex lives of low-income people in Louisiana. 

Louisiana is already one of the worst states in the country for STI transmissions, ranking second for gonorrhea and fourth for chlamydia infections. The state has the eighth-highest teen birth rate in the nation. The HIV problem in Louisiana is particularly bad, with New Orleans routinely ranking in the top five highest-transmission cities in the country. In 2012, the state went to No. 1 in the country for HIV cases in people ages 13 to 24.

Despite the enormous scale of sexual health problems in the state, efforts to get comprehensive sex education into Louisiana's schools continue to be shut down—Democratic state Rep. Patricia Smith tried last year, only to face a wall of opposition from Bobby Jindal–style religious conservatives, i.e., the same people who think that fetal-tissue research means that low-income women should lose access to Pap smears and birth control pills. Smith's bill lost in a 67–23 vote in the state legislature. The state's current policy pushes abstinence programs, even though research shows a strong correlation between abstinence programs and HIV transmission rates among black youth in the state

This hostility to sexual health services is being fought out not just in government, but on the ground. Over the weekend, a fire broke out at a Planned Parenthood construction site in New Orleans that appears to be an arson. The clinic is going to be much bigger and nicer than the current Planned Parenthood in New Orleans and has thus precipitated a huge amount of protest from religious-right activists in the area, as Rachel Maddow reported last year

There's also an ugly racial bent to all the anger about Planned Parenthood offering a shiny new clinic offering quality medical care, including abortion, to New Orleans residents. Anti-choice activists have been concern-trolling the race angle, strongly implying that black women in particular need protection from grabby abortionists. But the blunt reality is that shutting down clinic construction would result in one of the poorest communities in the city losing the opportunity to access state-of-the-art medical care at an affordable price. 

Louisiana is a microcosm of how the larger anti-choice movement works. It’s a lot of posturing about “fetal life” and “protecting women,” but for some reason, the solution always involves cutting off women from medical care—especially low-income women and women of color. You have to wonder: How does keeping Pap tests away from Medicaid patients stop the supposed horrors of fetal tissue research?

Aug. 3 2015 11:37 AM

Planned Parenthood Defunding Vote Shows How Much the Right-Wing Fringe Owns Republicans

Hopefully, the fabricated “scandal” over Planned Parenthood will be wrapping up today. For the past few weeks, Republicans have been striking poses of outrage and disgust over a series of misleading videos created by the religious-right propagandists at the Center for Medical Progress. CMP claims the videos show illegal activity at Planned Parenthood, a claim that is, simply put, a lie. But Senate Republicans are performing outrage and pushing for a vote to defund Planned Parenthood.

Most congressional watchers expect the bill to fizzle out quickly—the Wall Street Journal calls it “a largely symbolic vote”—because Republicans don't have the 60-vote majority to shut down a filibuster. Fox News optimistically describes the vote as a “first step in a renewed battle” to destroy the venerable women's health organization. But this dog-and-pony show is less about defunding Planned Parenthood and more about giving Republican politicians a chance to reassure their base that they, too, hate the idea of low-income women obtaining affordable reproductive health care. If Republicans are smart, they'll move on—at least until the next time the anti-sex police decide there's some new fake thing they're all outraged over. 

Still, today's vote is a big deal. The fact that it's even happening at all, regardless of the outcome, is another alarming reminder of how much the rabid right-wing base has taken complete control of the Republican Party. Last week, the Shorenstein Center released a paper by New York Times reporter Jackie Calmes on the growing power of this base. “One of the realities here is that these people have always existed,” Norman J. Ornstein explained to Calmes. “But they were at the fringes, the John Birch Society types. Now, because of social media and because you have a culture of extremism that is not culled out more generally, they can move into the mainstream and actually hijack a major party.”

As both the Washington Post and New York Times editorial boards have pointed out, what is really disturbing about the Republican offensive against Planned Parenthood is its utter detachment from reality. As I reported at Slate when CMP's first video came out, it appears to be a spinoff of Live Action, a group that has lost all credibility after years of making similar false claims about nefarious behavior at Planned Parenthood. We should all be alarmed that a bunch of charlatans can snap their fingers and get congressional Republicans to come crawling. 

Unfortunately, some of the biggest panderers, such as Ted Cruz, are already floating the idea of drawing this fake scandal out even longer—calling for a government shutdown if the Senate, as expected, does not vote to take away gynecological care from millions of low-income women. As Paul Waldman at the Week points out, Cruz's is an extremely bad idea. This wouldn't be the first time that Republicans use the threat of a shutdown to pressure Democrats into caving to right-wing extremism; those threats have all failed, and created even more animosity toward congressional Republicans in the public at large.

No doubt Fox News and talk-radio hosts will demonize any Republican who doesn't go all-out in this chapter of the war on women. But Republican leadership needs to draw the line somewhere, before the party is completely defined by its conspiracy-theory fringe. 

July 31 2015 4:53 PM

That’s What the Money Is For

Like all great television, Mad Men was largely about beautiful people treating each other terribly in the service of big philosophical ideas: the rapacity of capitalism, the earthquakes of feminism, racism’s eerie bonhomie, 20th-century American alienation. The show’s genius was to (mostly) avoid prattle. Rare were the Sorkin-y walks and talks. Mad Men showed. Its characters displaced their ambition and inadequacy and nostalgia and fear of death and rage into the objects around them, as good Americans should. This isn’t symbolism. In Mad Men, the props were plots and characters.

And now, as good Americans should, we can compete with each other to spend the most to possess them. The Mad Men auction, which started at 3 p.m. ET today on ScreenBid, is chockablock of life stories, all conveniently mid-century-modernist and certified authentic.

You can, if you’d like, capture Peggy Olsen’s journey from mother’s ruin to corporate baller in just a few bids. First, a set of items from her “old apartment,” including a religious pamphlet and a pack of tissues to dry the tears—all vulgar mementos of a life she’d never have.

peggyoldapt
Starting bid: $100

ScreenBid

150731_XX_PeggyHopes

GIF episodic clip via AMC

Did she have “High Hopes,” as Frank Sinatra sang on her adorable record player? Yes. Would she kill to make a life for herself? Buy the knife she stabbed Abe with and see if it works! But sometimes success, like a L’eggs Egg, is not what it’s cracked up to be.

leggs
Starting bid: $75

ScreenBid

But then you put your life (and what you’ve won) in a box and parade it around.

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GIF episodic clip via AMC

But isn’t there more to life than work?

150731_XX_Joan

GIF episodic clip via AMC

There are shoes. There are chains to wear around your neck like an albatross, and there are chains that dangle in key areas of interest. Joan wears the gifts God (and Man) gave her. They don’t wear her.

joannecklace
Asking: $300

ScreenBid

The same cannot be said for Ken Cosgrove, whose eye patch turned him into some kind of supervillain. Or Sal Romano, whose professional visage failed to hide the glass poodle bottle collector inside. Or “Betty’s Last Pink Hairbrush,” an item perfectly named to encapsulate Betty Draper Francis’ doomed entirety.

bettyhairbrush
Asking: $125

ScreenBid

In the auction as on the show, however, it’s mostly about Don. Almost 250 relics from a life of invention and reinvention, because that’s what the money is for. It’s for fussy tiered dessert trays from his Betty years and modish napkin rings and blank checks from the High Life with Megan. And so much evidence of the mysterious “Don Draper”: an anesthesia tube, a hookah, a pilfered Social Security card, and so much booze.

stag
Starting bid: $75

ScreenBid

Judging from what he left behind, Don Draper was equal parts lothario, addict, genius, and jerk. We’ll never really know him, but at last there’s something beautiful of him we can truly own.

July 31 2015 4:10 PM

In Pregnancy Announcement, Zuckerberg Opens Up About Couple’s Past Miscarriages

Priscilla and I have some exciting news: we're expecting a baby girl!This will be a new chapter in our lives. We've...

Posted by Mark Zuckerberg on Friday, July 31, 2015

On Friday afternoon, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg announced—via a Facebook post and photo starring an incredibly shaggy dog—that he and his wife, Priscilla Chan, are expecting their first child: a girl who gave her soon-to-be father a thumbs-up “like” in an ultrasound.

Along with that exciting news, Zuckerberg also disclosed that the couple had been trying for years to get pregnant and had suffered three miscarriages.

Chan is at a point in this pregnancy where the risk of miscarriage is very low, but Zuckerberg shared their past experiences in order to open up the dialogue the emotional toll of a lost pregnancy.

He wrote:

“You feel so hopeful when you learn you're going to have a child. You start imagining who they'll become and dreaming of hopes for their future. You start making plans, and then they're gone. It's a lonely experience. Most people don't discuss miscarriages because you worry your problems will distance you or reflect upon you—as if you're defective or did something to cause this. So you struggle on your own.
In today's open and connected world, discussing these issues doesn't distance us; it brings us together. It creates understanding and tolerance, and it gives us hope.”

The honesty and sincerity of Zuckerberg’s announcement is a welcome change in attitude to the secrecy that usually surrounds miscarriages. He spoke of the surprise they felt upon talking to friends and realizing that it wasn’t as uncommon as they thought and, most importantly, that they weren’t alone.

Miscarriages are a far more common occurrence than many Americans believe. According to the American Pregnancy Association, “for women in their childbearing years, the chances of having a miscarriage can range from 10-25%, and in most healthy women the average is about a 15-20% chance.” The majority of miscarriages happen within the first trimester.

In 2013, the Huffington Post reported on a study that detailed the misconceptions many hold about miscarriages: Respondents had difficulty identifying the major causes and believed miscarriages were highly unusual. The study also found that “about 40 percent of the women who had a miscarriage said they felt they had done something wrong to cause it, and 47 percent felt guilty… Forty percent of the women in the study who had miscarried said afterwards, they felt very alone.”

Additionally, as Jessica Grose detailed for Slate, the financial difficulty that can come with a miscarriage is another significant and unrecognized topic, and can compound the emotional devastation.

With his Facebook post, Zuckerberg is inviting a conversation about the sense of isolation that accompanies a miscarriage. We should never invade public figures’ privacy, especially when dealing with pregnancy. But when they choose to share their experiences, from Zuckerberg’s recent announcement to Beyoncé’s similar one in 2013, we should listen and amplify their messages because it can help women, and their partners, feel a little less alone.

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