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What Women Really Think

April 22 2015 4:31 PM

The UVA Dean Who Was Smeared by Rolling Stone Has Broken Her Silence

Nicole Eramo is the associate dean of students who heads the sexual misconduct board at the University of Virginia. She was also the villain of the now-infamous and recently retracted Rolling Stone story about the gang rape of a freshman named Jackie that never happened at a UVA fraternity.

In Rolling Stone's piece, Eramo was painted as the frontline responder who never really responded. She was the one who, when she heard Jackie’s story, tried to steer her away from reporting it, supposedly to protect the university’s reputation. Reporter Sabrina Rubin Erdely never spoke to Eramo, but she did put words in her mouth, presumably told to her by Jackie. 

“If Dean Eramo was surprised at Jackie's story of gang rape, it didn't show,” Rubin Erdely wrote, and then topped it off with an all-too-perfect quote. When Jackie asked the dean why UVA doesn’t publish statistics on sexual violence, “she says Eramo answered wryly, ‘Because nobody wants to send their daughter to the rape school.’ ”

Eramo has been silent since the story came out. Today, she issued “An Open Letter to Rolling Stone,” in which Eramo condemns “the article's false and grossly misleading portrayal of the counseling and support that I provided to Jackie, including encouraging her to report” and arranging for Jackie to meet with detectives. She also accuses Erdely of having “purposefully omitting information that she received during interviews” with UVA's president and students that did not fit “her preconceived narrative” about the university's callous response to a horrific crime.

Most viscerally, Eramo details how the debacle impacted her personally:

Using me as the personification of a heartless administration, the Rolling Stone article attacked my life's work. I saw my name dragged through the mud in the national press ... protestors showed up at my office, demanding I be fired. Perhaps most egregious and shocking were the emails I received expressing hope that I be killed or raped, and commenting that they hoped I had a daughter so that she could be raped. Equally distressing ... is the fact that while the false allegations in the magazine were being investigated, the University had no choice but to remove me from working with the students with whom I had spent so much time building a relationship, forcing them to “start over” with someone else.

Whatever Eramo decides to do in the future, her name will likely be “forever linked” to the article, as she writes. Even now, if you do a Google Image search of her name, you will see the Rolling Stone caricature of her smiling in her office as protests rage outside.

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April 22 2015 1:21 PM

Medical Marijuana Activist Threatened With Losing Custody of Her Son

In many states, marijuana is being legalized or gradually decriminalized in response to the growing body of evidence showing that the drug is relatively harmless compared to popular drugs like alcohol. But in Kansas, a medical marijuana activist is facing the possibility of losing custody of her son just because he admitted in school that his mother is a pot user.

Shona Banda doesn't hide her enthusiasm for the drug. She's an activist for medical marijuana, using her experience using cannabis oil to treat her Crohn's disease as an inspirational story. "Banda's legal problems began March 24 when police were called to her son's school for a child welfare check following a drug and alcohol presentation," CBS News reports. "Investigators allege the boy told school officials that his mother and other adults in his home were avid drug users and that there was a lot of drug use occurring at the home."

While that sounds dire, when officials raided her home, what they found was equipment to turn marijuana into cannabis oil, as well as some marijuana. Authorities emphasized that it was within reach of a child, but it is worth noting that her child is 11 years old, not exactly a toddler who stuffs random things into his mouth. 

Banda's legal defense page explains her side of the story: Her son was annoyed by the anti-drug presentation at the school, which isn't hard to believe for anyone who had to sit through the histrionics of D.A.R.E. or any similar programs. When he spoke up and said his mom used cannabis and it's fine, the school officials flipped and called the police. 

Banda's son is currently being held by child welfare while it's determined if charges will be filed or her custody challenged. "The most important thing here is the child's well-being," Wichita Police Capt. Randy Ralston told the press. "That is why it is a priority for us, just because of the danger to the child."

It's possible that Ralston believes what he's saying—but it requires thinking it's somehow better to subject a child to hours of intensive questioning, raid his home, and take him from his parents than to let him see people use marijuana, a drug that half of Americans admit using to little ill effect. Sorry, but being man-handled by the state is a lot more traumatic for a kid than seeing Mom puff up periodically. 

April 22 2015 12:58 PM

Tennessee Anti-Choice Politician Can’t Decide if Women Are Stupid or Cunning

Back in November, voters in Tennessee passed a ballot initiative to amend the state constitution, making abortion the only medical procedure not protected under the state's stringent privacy protections. Proponents of the amendment ran a campaign downplaying the severity of the bill, claiming it wasn't about restricting abortion access but about making the constitution "neutral" on the subject. In a completely unshocking turn, those reassurances that this is no big deal were immediately forgotten, and the Tennessee legislature got right to passing invasive, punitive bills meant to make abortion as miserable and expensive an experience as possible. 

One of the two bills the legislature passed this week requires a 48-hour waiting period to get an abortion, during which time you will be subjected to a government-mandated guilt trip under the guise of "informed consent." Standard stuff, but the floor debate over this bill, posted at Raw Story, was a master class in the doublespeak and contradictory arguments forwarded by anti-choicers these days. 

It all started when Democratic state Rep. Craig Fitzhugh offered an amendment allowing a mental-health exception to the rule. "We know mental health issues are just as, even more serious sometimes, than physical health issues," he explained.

Republican state Rep. Sheila Butt was not having it. Butt positioned herself as a good-hearted soul simply trying to protect women from evil abortionists. "Putting this psychological harm bypass into the bill is really a loophole for the abortion industry,” she argued. “It allows someone who is going to profit from abortion to get the waiting period waived.” 

Fitzhugh then tried again, offering an amendment that allowed exceptions for rape and incest victims. Butt, who just moments before was portraying women as hapless and in need of protection from greedy abortionists, immediately switched gears to another favorite anti-choice stereotype: the crafty villainess who cries rape. “This amendment appears political, because we understand in most instances, this”—by which she means rape—“is not verifiable.”

She then pivoted seamlessly right back to the women-are-dummies line: “Let’s make sure that these women have the information and the understanding to act.”

Women: They're soft-hearted fools who are too dumb to know what "abortion" is without a condescending lecture and they're cunning liars who cry rape to conceal their wanton ways. Whichever you need to believe right this second in order to keep them from getting abortions.

This isn't the first time that Butt has grabbed headlines for talking from both sides of her mouth. Back in February, Muslim rights group CAIR denounced Butt for a post on her Facebook page that read, "It is time for a Council on Christian Relations and an NAAWP in this Country." CAIR noted that NAAWP is a common acronym on white supremacist sites for National Association for the Advancement of White People. Butt protested, saying it actually stands for National Association of Advancement for Western Peoples and complained, “It saddens me that we have come to a place in our society where every comment by a conservative is automatically scrutinized as being racist.”

The bill passed, without any of Fitzhugh's proposed amendments, and is expected to be signed by Gov. Bill Haslam.

April 21 2015 1:50 PM

More Female Cops Leads to More Arrests of Female Sexual Predators

Barbara Goldberg at Reuters has a new article about the apparent rise in arrests of female teachers for sexually abusing male students. There's a growing understanding, Goldberg argues, that the underage victims of female sexual predators are just that—victims—and not some lucky young punks who got to live a “hot for teacher” fantasy: 

In U.S. schools last year, almost 800 school employees were prosecuted for sexual assault, nearly a third of them women. The proportion of women facing charges seems to be higher than in years past, when female teachers often got a pass, said Terry Abbott, a former chief of staff at the U.S. Department of Education, who tracked the cases.

A Saturday Night Live skit earlier this month perpetuated the idea that it's an honor and a privilege for a young man to be statutorily raped by a female teacher, with the victim saying he instigated it, calling it “the best day of my life” and fist-bumping the judge.

The skit drew ire on social media not just because it regurgitated tired clichés about how sex is a male victory and a female shame, but because it distorted the realities of this kind of sexual abuse. Female sexual predators work the same way male ones do, by flattering vulnerable young people who want to feel more grown-up than they are; the effects can be the same, too. “Depression, low self-esteem and difficulty maintaining future relationships are among the long-term consequences that male victims face,” Goldberg writes. The expectation—reinforced by skits like the one on SNL—that you should prove your manhood by gloating about the affair can cause “confusion and guilt over whether they are actually victims.”

Fortunately, law enforcement is slowly getting better at taking this problem seriously—likely because more women are entering law enforcement. “Law enforcement is increasingly feminized, and women are much less prone to the old attitude: ‘Oh, this is just some kid who got lucky,’ ” David Finkelhor, director of the Crimes Against Children Research Center, told Golberg. “They recognize the issues involved and they go after women who violate the statutes.”

It makes a lot of sense that an increase in women in law enforcement results in more consideration of male victims. After all, women aren't under pressure to “prove” their manhood by yukking around about how “lucky” one is to be targeted by a sexual predator. A creep is a creep, regardless of gender.

April 20 2015 4:51 PM

Post and Courier Wins the Pulitzer for South Carolina Domestic Homicide Exposé

Congratulations to the Post and Courier out of Charleston, South Carolina, for winning the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service. The prize-winning story was a seven-part series titled “Till Death Do Us Part,” an exposé of the policy and cultural failures that have made South Carolina at or near the top of the list in domestic homicides every year. 

I praised the piece—written by journalists Doug Pardue, Glenn Smith, Jennifer Berry Hawes, and Natalie Caula Hauff—here at Slate when it came out in August for its comprehensive approach to the problem, showing how cultural attitudes, law enforcement neglect, and legislative indifference all work together to create a state where there's very little protection for women who have had the misfortune to fall in love with dangerous and violent men. Particularly impressive was the series' willingness to look at how traditional gender norms work against women seeking relief from abuse. The Post and Courier journalists discovered that legislators on both sides of the aisle had an unfortunate tendency to prioritize keeping couples together, even though experts agree that separating the abuser from his victim until he's had months—years, really—is the best way to keep her safe. The result is a state where the first-offense punishment for beating a dog is five years but only 30 days for beating your wife. 

The South Carolina legislature did initially respond to the reporting by introducing bills meant to curb the problem of domestic violence in the state. But as the Post and Courier reported on Monday, those bills all seem to be stalling out. The reflexive right-wing politics of the state—which the Post and Courier flagged as the problem—continue to make movement on this issue impossible, it seems. “Among one of the sticking points is a provision that would remove guns from the homes of domestic abusers,” Andrew Knapp of the Post and Courier writes. More than three-quarters of voters in this highly conservative state support a law that would bar convicted domestic abusers from owning guns, but pro-gun legislators in the state keep killing even the mildest attempt to separate convicted abusers from their guns. 

April 20 2015 12:42 PM

Education Reformer Praises Standardized Tests for Boosting Home Prices in Wealthy Suburbs

Parents in suburban New York districts are revolting against the over-reliance on standardized testing in schools by organizing a boycott of the tests. The Journal News of Westchester reported last week that 155,000 students refused the tests, and some districts had nearly half of kids opting out: 

Yet collecting educational data is important for the future of education and can help define the the character of a town, said Nicole Brisbane, state director at Democrats for Education Reform.
"Schools are one of the biggest differentiators of value in the suburbs," she said. "How valuable will a house be in Scarsdale when it isn't clear that Scarsdale schools are doing any better than the rest of Westchester or even the state? Opting out of tests only robs parents of that crucial data."

"And I thought it was all about the children?" responded blogger Duncan Black at Eschaton. "Nope. Real estate prices."

This bit of honesty from a test-supporter is more than a hilarious gaffe. Right now, a number of educators in the Atlanta area are going to jail on racketeering charges for fudging the results of standardized tests. While cheating is wrong, this excessive punishment suggests that there's more going on here than a simple interest in improving educational standards. If testing is partly about creating "objective" measurements of which neighborhoods are better—and therefore more expensive and exclusive—than others, then the nationwide overkill when it comes to standardized testing starts to make more sense.  

April 20 2015 12:16 PM

New Report Shows Insurers Are Falling Short on Covering Contraception

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services requires contraception to be covered by your insurance plan without a copay. Yet many women still face serious obstacles getting their contraception of choice covered—and not just those who work for conservative employers. A new report from the Kaiser Family Foundation shows that a lot of insurers are interpreting the coverage mandate in ways that limit women's access to certain forms of contraception, especially the vaginal ring, emergency contraception, and the IUD. 

"Information was collected from 20 different insurance carriers in five states (California, Georgia, Michigan, New Jersey, and Texas) about how they are applying reasonable medical management (RMM) techniques in their coverage of women’s contraceptive services," reads the report. RMM is insurance policy–speak for cost management. For instance, your insurance plan may require you to use generics in order to get coverage or, in some cases, refuse a course of treatment entirely if they believe that there's a more cost-effective way to get the same results. 

Some carriers interpret their right to RMM so aggressively that they are forcing women into contraception methods that may be less effective. For instance, Kaiser found that six of the plans they researched don't fully cover the Nuva-Ring, which is the only Food and Drug Administration–approved vaginal ring on the market: Five of the six required a copay, and the other didn't cover it at all. As Emily Crockett at RH Reality Check explains, because the Nuva-Ring and other methods "have the same hormonal formulation as the pill but are more expensive," insurance providers argue "it’s reasonable to cover the pill but require a co-pay for other methods." In other words, pushing a woman to switch from the Nuva-Ring to the birth control pill is the equivalent of switching from brand-name pills to generic. The problem with this logic is that methods such as the patch and the ring were developed because the pill is simply less effective for some women.

Kaiser found a similar problem cropping up with emergency contraception. Almost half the carriers in the study didn't cover Ella emergency contraception, presumably because they did cover some other form of emergency contraception. The problem is that Ella "is a different formulation and has a longer window of effectiveness and it may be preferable for women with a higher body mass index (BMI) than progestin-based EC pills," the report reads. 

HHS requires that insurers allow women's doctors to contest the limitations by citing medical necessity, but none of the carriers Kaiser researched had a formal waiver process. 

Insurance companies have a right to put limitations on coverage so long as they meet their obligations to cover medical care for their policyholders. That helps keep costs down for all of us. That said, when it comes to contraception, insurers need to err on the side of more generous coverage. Just because the pill and the ring may look the same on paper doesn't mean that they work the same way for every woman—and unplanned pregnancy costs a lot more than even the most expensive kinds of contraception

April 16 2015 2:41 PM

Vatican Decides American Nuns Don’t Actually Have a “Radical Feminist” Agenda

At the end of last year, the Vatican ended its controversial six-year investigation into the lives and actions of American nuns with an approving report. The entire exercise was a strange waste of time that rightfully angered many Catholics: Though the report scrutinized the nuns for their commitment to social justice—referred to as their “feminist spirit” and “secular mentality”—it concluded by essentially telling them to keep doing what they’re doing to work toward “the elimination of the structural causes of poverty.”

That wasn't the church's only pointless nun investigation. Even after Pope Francis’ call “to create still broader opportunities for a more incisive female presence in the church,” the Vatican was still in the midst of another nun review. This one focused on the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, an umbrella group representing about 80 percent of American nuns, who were accused of indulging in “radical feminist themes” and therefore straying from Catholic doctrine.

The timeline for the review was always murky, but on Thursday morning, the Vatican abruptly announced an end to that investigation as well. Cardinal Gerhard Mueller, head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and leader of this effort, did little in the way of explanation—the official joint statement speaks in the abstract, mentioning “fruitful conversation” and “substantive dialogue,” with few, if any, details. As the Jesuit priest and Slate contributor James Martin posted on Facebook:

In a press release and statement the LCWR agreed to implement some changes, mainly regarding speakers and liturgies at its annual conventions. But overall, the operations of the LCWR remains intact. Early fears of the outright elimination of the group, a wholesale Vatican takeover or a complete reordering of their statutes have proven unfounded.

In the end, this confusing outcome can only be seen as a victory and vindication for the LCWR. Charged in 2012 of straying from the church’s doctrine for focusing on social-justice issues, they were subjected to the Vatican's surprise assessment, with what seemed like plans to take over the group and refocus it. The Vatican wanted the nuns to pay more attention to the church’s stance on sexuality and abortion and not promote health care reform in the U.S. Unsurprisingly, the sisters were outraged, and many Catholics supported them in this anger.

It’s encouraging that the Vatican is trying to move forward from these pointless exercises. But as I said in my post at the conclusion of the first investigation last year, the Catholic Church needs to do more than find a way to “broaden” female participation, as Pope Francis suggested in December—it also needs to figure out how to retain nuns. There only about 50,000 nuns in the U.S., and the median age for nuns is now in the late 70s. This dwindling, aging workforce is typically underpaid for their work running Catholic hospitals and schools. Now that the church is no longer investigating these women, it should use its free time to find ways to help them.

Correction, April 17, 2015: This post originally included a photo of nuns from Sister of Life, which is not part of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious community. The photo has been changed. 

April 16 2015 2:04 PM

Katie Couric, Floyd Mayweather, and the Dark Art of the Redemption Interview

Daniel Roberts of Deadspin unleashed the fury on Katie Couric for her softball interview with Floyd Mayweather, in which she allowed the boxer to downplay his history of domestic violence and even blame his victim—saying he was merely trying to "restrain a woman that was on drugs" without explaining how you can bruise someone repeatedly on the head by restraining them. Couric did not challenge Mayweather's claims of being a victim of persecution, failing to point out that he's pleaded guilty multiple times to domestic violence charges. When Couric briefly mentions Mayweather's public defense of Ray Rice for knocking out his fiancée, she hastens to add that Mayweather apologized. Otherwise, Couric was all smiles, nods, and compliments—she even gave him a hug.

This isn't the first time Couric has provided a space for an abuser to paint himself as a good man who had a minor, nearly inconsequential lapse in judgment. Late last year, she interviewed actor Stephen Collins about sexual misconduct involving three young girls. Couric allowed Collins to go on at length about why he shouldn't be judged by his actions, because his heart is in the right place. "A pedophile is someone who is mainly or wholly attracted to children. I'm not. I had a distortion in my thinking where I acted out in those ways. But I'm absolutely not attracted, physically or sexually attracted to children. I'm just not," Collins explained. Couric questioned Collins a little harder than she does Mayweather, but by and large, Collins successfully used the forum she gave him to rehabilitate his bruised image. 

Couric's circumspect approach to these public abusers might be a matter of access: "Maybe that’s what it takes to land an interview with Mayweather these days," Roberts suggests. Certainly, Ray Rice's recent streak of softball coverage implies that using access as bait for sympathetic pieces is standard operating procedure for abusive men trying to rehabilitate their public reputation. 

Softball interviews are attractive to people who are trying to recover from scandal, and even big-league journalists often take the bait in order to catch the ratings. But it's a particularly nasty practice when the "scandal" in question is one of sexual assault or domestic violence. These stories perpetuate the notion that it's common for abuse to be an isolated incident, when, in reality, most men who assault women do it repeatedly. Many victims stay in dangerous relationships because they believe their abuser when he says he didn't mean it and will mend his ways. If the media is full of glowing stories about a guy who slipped up once but will never (we swear!) do it again, victims might get false hope that their abuser could also be redeemed, if they just hang in there long enough. 

April 15 2015 12:36 PM

Michelle MacLaren Deserves Better Than Wonder Woman

Back when a Wonder Woman movie was first announced, fans had mixed feelings. On one hand, it was exciting to hear that, finally, the main character in a big-budget superhero movie would be a woman. On the other hand, unlike lighthearted Marvel, D.C. mistakes moroseness for gravitas, even when it comes to Wonder Woman's costume. That's enough to drain away a lot of anticipation. 

Hopes kicked up when Michelle MacLaren, one of the more interesting directors on both Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones, was picked to helm Wonder Woman—surely she could give us the Wonder Woman we deserve, who is feminist and fun instead of brooding and boring. Alas, our hopes were dashed when MacLaren exited the project, citing the usual "creative differences" with Warner Bros. A lot of the feminist press is bummed about this, and making matters worse, there's been chatter that the opinions of the joyless and hypermale sector of nerddom known as "fanboys" may have influenced the decision.

But I'm not bummed. It's hard to imagine that even MacLaren could have eked a fun Wonder Woman that could adhere to D.C.'s dreary tone. She shouldn't be hitching her wagon to this franchise. She should be doing something much cooler. 

And she might be doing just that. The Wrap reports that MacLaren is rumored to be in the running for the upcoming Captain Marvel movie, Marvel's first female-driven movie. While D.C. has "a history of underutilizing, underwriting and just plain ignoring their biggest female icon," as Shoshana Kessock explained in 2013, Captain Marvel has become a cult hit for Marvel Comics, particularly with female readers: She's a badass Air Force pilot who leads the Avengers and has a devout following of women who call themselves the Carol Corps. She even wears pants! She's a dynamic character who lacks Wonder Woman's baggage—with Captain Marvel, there's no particular need to dance around the tender sensitivities of the fandom. It's a much better vehicle for a talented director like MacLaren, and I hope that this rumor comes to pass.