What Women Really Think

Nov. 3 2014 12:12 PM

Tom Harkin Said Something Dumb About Joni Ernst

Sunday, Buzzfeed released a video of retiring Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin, campaigning on behalf of Rep. Bruce Braley, who he hopes will succeed him. In it, Harkin takes a rather foolish swipe at Braley's opponent, Republican candidate Joni Ernst. "In this Senate race, I’ve been watching some of these ads," Harkin said in a speech that was recorded a week before it was released Sunday night. "And there’s sort of this sense that, ‘Well, I hear so much about Joni Ernst. She is really attractive, and she sounds nice.’”

"Well I got to thinking about that. I don’t care if she’s as good looking as Taylor Swift or as nice as Mr. Rogers, but if she votes like Michele Bachmann, she’s wrong for the state of Iowa," he added. 

Harkin was talking about the fact that, in a close race, Ernst's likeability could push her over the top. But his comment was dumb and sexist, despite the Mr. Rogers reference, because ultimately he was focusing on Ernst's looks, when her flirtation with conspiratorial right wing views should have been the real issue. 

It's particularly dumb for a Democrat to make sexist attacks on female Republicans in an era when Republicans are on the defensive about the "war on women" and eager to seize on anything they can use to argue that Democrats are just as bad. Ernst, unsurprisingly, did just this, releasing a statement that says, "I think it's unfortunate that he and many of their party believe you can't be a real woman if you're conservative and you're female," Ernst said. "I believe if my name had been John Ernst attached to my resume, Sen. Harkin would not have said those things."

The other problem with Harkin's comments: Telling people that are undecided but leaning towards Ernst that they are shallow and thoughtless isn't going to shame them into switching over to Braley. It will just make them even more fond of the candidate who doesn't insult their intelligence. You'd think Democrats would have figured this one out, considering how they like to highlight any sexist comment made by Republicans in order to garner the female vote. 

Video Advertisement

Oct. 31 2014 4:45 PM

Chelsea Handler Stands Up for Freed Nipples

Chelsea Handler pushed Americans forward in our struggle to get over hang-ups about exposed female nipples on Thursday night. On Instagram, Handler posted a photo of herself parodying Russian president Vladimir Putin's famous topless horse-riding photo. Instagram, not appreciating the hard work that had to have gone into getting Handler on a horse with her boobs out, took the picture down. Handler protested, putting up a screenshot of the "community guidelines" warning she got, writing, "If a man posts a photo of his nipples, it's ok, but not a woman? Are we in 1825?"

To be fair, I think that both men and women generally felt, in 1825, like they couldn't walk around with their nipples out. (A couple decades before is a different story, as see-through dresses were the rage in the very early 1800s. The more you know!) But her larger point stands: Men are so free to share their nipples with the world that world leaders have no problem letting everyone know what they've got going on under their suits and ties, but women's nipples are still treated like looking at them in public might blind you.

Oct. 31 2014 4:30 PM

White Men Don't Catcall. They Harass In Other Ways.  

In the three days since Hollaback’s exposé on New York City’s street harassment epidemic went viral, the video—in which we see men ceaselessly approach a young woman with a hidden microphone and camera as she strolls around the city for 10 hours—has generated a lively conversation. Some men, in their first reaction, questioned the video’s loose definition of the term “harassment”—many arguing that a semi-cordial “good morning” isn’t comparable to stalking a woman for five minutes, as we watch one man do in the video. Then, Wednesday, as the video reached more eyes, some people—including Slate’s Hanna Rosin—noted another potential flaw: Hollaback edited out nearly all the white male catcallers. “The video also unintentionally makes another point,” Rosin writes, “that harassers are mostly black and Latino, and hanging out on the streets in midday in clothes that suggest they are not on their lunch break.”

In a statement explaining the absence of white guys in the video, Rob Bliss of Rob Bliss Creative, the firm that partnered with Hollaback on the video, said, “We got a fair amount of white guys, but for whatever reason, a lot of what they said was in passing or off camera.” I’d bet this is because, as Bliss gets at in his quote, white men, on average, don’t catcall in the same way that men of color do—and oftentimes, as I’ve learned, they don’t do it at all.

Oct. 31 2014 3:32 PM

Two Lawsuits Allege Rape at the “Rapebait” Frat House

Last October, a Georgia Tech student was serving as the social chair of campus fraternity Phi Kappa Tau when he sent out a frat-wide email entitled "Luring Your Rapebait.” It culminated in this advice:

A short guide … the 7 E’s of HOOKING UP! 1. Encounter (spot a girl or group of girls) 2. Engage (go up and talk to them) 3. Escalate (ask them to dance, or ask them to go up to your room or find a couch, depending on what kind of party) 4. Erection (GET HARD) 5. Excavate (should be self-explanatory) 6. Ejaculate (should also be self explanatory) 7. Expunge (send them out of your room and on their way out when you are finished). IF ANYTHING EVER FAILS, GO GET MORE ALCOHOL. I want to see everyone succeed at the next couple parties.

The email went viral, and the PKT brother swiftly apologized for what he characterized as a bad joke. “As hard as it may be to believe, it was written as a joke for a small audience that understood the context and that it is not my nor my fraternity’s actual beliefs on the subject,” he wrote in in the George Tech student newspaper Technique. “Misogynistic behavior is everywhere online and unfortunately, my attempt to ridicule it in an immature and outrageous satire backfired terribly and in a manner I mistakenly underestimated.” After an investigation of the chapter, the national Phi Kappa Tau organization chalked up the incident to “the poor decision-making of a member.”

Now, two young women are claiming that Phi Kappa Tau’s casual promotion of rape was no one-off joke. In separate lawsuits filed in Georgia this week against the national PKT organization, the Georgia Tech chapter, and the official advisor appointed to the chapter by PKT, college students “Jane Doe” and “June Doe” allege that they were both raped by a PKT brother in the Georgia Tech frat house; they say they were raped by the same guy in separate incidents following PKT parties.

Oct. 30 2014 4:46 PM

Emma Sulkowicz Inspired Students Across the Country to Carry Their Mattresses. Now What?

A pine green air mattress floats through the Columbia University campus, climbs the steps toward the library, passes a line of reporters and a couple of girls clutching worn white pillows, and settles into the back of a crowd of students wearing hoodies with sleeves marked “X” in red tape. A few steps up, more people are holding 28 bare white mattresses like protest placards, one for each Columbia student who has signed on to a Title IX complaint against the university. Each mattress is taped up with a slogan: “IX,” for the federal law that’s meant to prevent sexual harassment on campus to ensure equal educational opportunities for women; “NO RED TAPE,” for an administration that some students believe is failing victims of sexual assault; or just “MOCKTRIAL” and “CU SWING,” signs of solidarity from slices of the school’s social scene. In front of them, the small circle of Columbia students who have emerged, in the past year, as national leaders against sexual assault on college campuses pass a megaphone to women who share their stories, and activists who call out the school’s response. Thin navy mattresses ripped from dorm beds form a halo around them; auxiliary air mattresses dot the crowd.

Since September, Columbia senior Emma Sulkowicz has been hauling her own dorm mattress around campus every day, everywhere she goes. Part protest, part performance art, Sulkowicz’s mattress serves as a visual reminder that the student she says raped her—two other Columbia women have filed sexual assault claims against him, too—is still free to attend the school without formal consequences while she carries the burden of the alleged attack. (Columbia doesn't comment on individual cases, but Sulkowicz says that a disciplinary hearing found the man "not responsible"—a decision that sparked her protest against the school. The man has never commented on the matter.) The mattress has also become a calling card for “No Red Tape,” a Columbia activist group launched by Sulkowicz and another student, Zoe Ridolfi-Starr, who also says the administration brushed off her rape report, and began rallying other victims and activists to hold the school accountable.

When Sulkowicz steps out on campus, friends and strangers emerge to help her lug the thing around. Now, the phenomenon has transformed into an international activist movement. On Wednesday, students around the world pledged to help “Carry That Weight” for victims of sexual assault, propping up a mattress in the quad of Iowa’s Drake University, clutching colorful pillows at Oregon’s Pacific University, and raising a mattress above their heads at Bangor University in North Wales.

Oct. 30 2014 12:48 PM

Eight Women Have Now Come Forward With Jian Ghomeshi Allegations

The Toronto Star reports that four more women, including TV actress Lucy DeCoutere, have come forward with allegations of sexual abuse and harassment against popular CBC host Jian Ghomeshi, bringing the total number of accusers to eight. That's a lot of women, but Ghomeshi's lengthy, pre-emptive self-defense on Facebook has already provided his explanation for why so many women are pointing fingers at him. It's a conspiracy:

After this, in the early spring there began a campaign of harassment, vengeance and demonization against me that would lead to months of anxiety.
It came to light that a woman had begun anonymously reaching out to people that I had dated (via Facebook) to tell them she had been a victim of abusive relations with me. In other words, someone was reframing what had been an ongoing consensual relationship as something nefarious. I learned – through one of my friends who got in contact with this person – that someone had rifled through my phone on one occasion and taken down the names of any woman I had seemed to have been dating in recent years. This person had begun methodically contacting them to try to build a story against me. Increasingly, female friends and ex-girlfriends of mine told me about these attempts to smear me.

For those inclined to believe Ghomeshi, then, these new accusers are not evidence of his guilt but of the far-reaching female cabal of post-breakup revenge. But there's often a much simpler reason these kinds of accusations tend to come in waves, a combination of safety in numbers and a newfound sense of urgency that comes with finding out that other people have been victims. Many victims stay silent out of fear and a belief that speaking up won't do any good anyway, as the assailant will simply deny the accusations. But when one woman comes forward, other victims not only feel safer about speaking up, but they often realize this man has a pattern of behavior that won't be stopped unless more women tell their own stories and, in doing so, bring added credibility to the original accusations.

You see this pattern time and time again. Sharon Bialek, who accused then-presidential candidate Herman Cain of sexual harassment, only came forward after hearing that two other women had anonymously accused him. She wished to "to give a face and a voice to those other women," as she explained in a press conference. Thirteen separate women have accused Bill Cosby of sexual assault, and those who did on-the-record interviews cited the other women coming forward as the reason they felt the need to speak out. San Diego Mayor Bob Filner initially tried to paint himself as a victim of a "lynch-mob mentality" when 18 women came forward with accusations of sexual harassment, but eventually he had to admit instead that it was his own pattern of behavior that was the problem and not a conspiracy against him. 

In a piece in Dame magazine, Kate Harding examined Ghomeshi's claim that he's the victim of an elaborate conspiracy:

I do not know for sure whether Ghomeshi is an abuser or the victim of an elaborate revenge campaign. But here's what I do know for sure: He is asking us to believe that multiple former sex partners have chosen to accuse him of sexual violence—not the fun kind—in solidarity with one particularly bitter ex. 
It's not just that one woman is so angry about being rejected by him that she falsely accused him of criminal behavior. It's that she rounded up a bunch of other women, who all agreed they would lie to reporters in an effort to smear an innocent man. He has done nothing wrong, nothing non-consensual, yet all of these women hated him enough to conspire to get him fired and publicly humiliate him. They "colluded" to establish a false "pattern of [nonconsensual, potentially life-threatening] behavior." Because one of them was rilly, rilly mad.

As Harding notes, these kind of conspiracy theories rely on a pernicious stereotype of women as inherently deceitful, greedy, and downright sociopathic in their willingness to hurt men for the lulz. After the new wave of accusations came out, Ghomeshi returned to Facebook today with a more succinct statement. "I want to thank you for your support and assure you that I intend to meet these allegations directly," he writes. "I don’t intend to discuss this matter any further with the media." In comments, a supporter posted an image of a lynch mob

Oct. 29 2014 4:37 PM

The Problem With That Catcalling Video

On Tuesday, Slate and everyone else posted a video of a woman who is harassed more than 100 times by men as she walks around New York City for ten hours. More specifically, it’s a video of a young white woman who is harassed by mostly black and Latino men as she walks around  New York City for ten hours. The one dude who turns around and says, “Nice,” is white, but the guys who do the most egregious things—like the one who harangues her, “Somebody’s acknowledging you for being beautiful! You should say thank you more,” or the one who follows her down the street too closely for five whole minutes—are not.

This doesn’t mean that the video doesn’t still effectively make its point, that a woman can’t walk down the street lost in her own thoughts, that men feel totally free to demand her attention and get annoyed when she doesn’t respond, that women can’t be at ease in a public space in the same way men can. But the video also unintentionally makes another point, that harassers are mostly black and Latino, and hanging out on the streets in midday in clothes that suggest they are not on their lunch break. As Roxane Gay tweeted, “The racial politics of the video are fucked up. Like, she didn’t walk through any white neighborhoods?”

Oct. 29 2014 3:21 PM

Female Republicans, Like Male Republicans, Rely on the Male Vote to Win  

There are a lot of Republican women running for Senate this year. In fact, there are so many that, in a surprising twist, it might be Republicans, not Democrats, that help raise the number of women in the Senate over the current record of 20 female senators. As Kay Steiger of Talking Points Memo explains, a full 16 out of the 20 current sitting female Senators are Democrats and many of them are facing tough campaigns for re-election this year. If the Senate is going to have more than 20 women in it, it's likely because of Republican women picking up seats. 

But a surge in female Republicans winning elections shouldn't be mistaken for a change in the basic gender dynamics driving modern politics. In a piece on Republican Joni Ernst's surprisingly robust Senate campaign against Rep. Bruce Braley in Iowa, New York Times writer Sheryl Gay Stolberg focuses on how much Ernst is relying on the male vote to push her over the top. "If Ms. Ernst winds up in Washington, it will be largely because Iowa’s men sent her there," she writes. "Ms. Ernst has a 12-point advantage among men deemed most likely to vote, while she and Mr. Braley are closely divided among such women, according to an NBC News/Marist College poll released this week." Ernst has picked up some female voters—mostly older, likely married ones—but, like for most Republicans, it's male voters that will win her the election. 

This isn't to say that Ernst's gender isn't an asset here. Stolberg writes:

Oct. 29 2014 1:21 PM

The Parody Twitter Account That Gets 21st-Century Progressive Parenting Pretty Right

Los Feliz Day Care does not accept immunized children. One of its classrooms is called the “Ohm Sweet Ohm” room. Please don’t use the word “teacher” at LFDC; the school prefers “emotional/spiritual/ethical guides as your children explore the cosmos of independent learning.”

Los Feliz Day Care also is not real. It’s the Twitter handle of a 27-year-old Los Angeles-based comedy writer named Jason Shapiro, who is a script coordinator on the ABC show Cristela and was a writer on the Betty White show Off Their Rockers. Shapiro’s not a parent himself, but a lot of his coworkers are, and his girlfriend is getting her PhD in education. That’s how he gets some of the really funny, well-observed details about the fictional Los Feliz Day Care—like the tweet about allowing princess costumes only if they’re “okayed in advance” and everyone (girls, boys, teachers and helpers) gets one.

In real life, a recent Los Angeles Times look at kindergarten vaccine data showed that wealthy California communities, like the trendy Los Feliz neighborhood, are leading the pack in “personal belief vaccine exemptions” (21.7 percent of kindergarteners at the very real Los Feliz Charter School of the Arts have personal belief exemptions from their vaccines). In fact, @LosFelizDayCare is so believable that many readers don’t realize it is satire at first. “I had a state regulator in Indiana reach out to me because she thought the regulations sounded very different from state to state and she wanted to learn more,” Shapiro said in a phone call.

Oct. 28 2014 3:19 PM

A Hidden Camera Reveals How Women Are Constantly Harassed on the Street

Whenever I bring up the topic of street harassment with men, they tell me they just don’t see it. Literally: When they’re walking down the street with a woman, other men don’t make a noise. Enter Hollaback, an anti-street harassment organization, which recently teamed up with the video marketing agency Rob Bliss Creative to show what it’s like to walk down the street alone as a woman: totally exhausting, reliably demeaning, and occasionally, terrifying.

To film the video, Rob Bliss outfitted a backpack with a hidden camera and walked across New York City streets for ten hours in front of actress Shoshana B. Roberts, who was dressed in jeans and a T-shirt and holding a microphone in each hand. Bliss’ camera caught men approaching, leering, and trailing Roberts’ movements; the mics recorded their comments, which ranged from ostensibly friendly greetings (“Have a nice evening!”) to unsolicited commentaries on Roberts’ body (“Sexy!”) to absurd commands (“Smile!”) to pure expressions of entitlement (“Somebody’s acknowledging you for being beautiful! You should say thank you more!”). The ceaseless chatter (plus some light stalking!) adds up to a constant reminder that, just for walking from point A to point B, some men believe that women’s bodies and minds should be made accessible to them on command. “How are you this morning?” doesn’t sound so sinister. But when a male stranger shouts it, it’s just another unearned claim for a woman’s attention—one that could escalate should the woman so much as bat an eyelash. Roberts didn’t; she still got harassed at every turn. Bliss recorded more than 100 instances of verbal harassment in all, and that doesn't include winks and whistles.

I sent the video around to some men in my office to gauge their reactions. “I knew this stuff happened—I see and hear it every once in a while—but the frequency of the remarks was astounding,” one colleague told me. “As a (fairly obvious) gay guy, I like to think I know something about being surveilled and self-aware in public, but this style of direct confrontation is pretty rare,” another said. The video is a “great reminder of how even the most ‘innocuous’-seeming comments pile up over the course of an hour, day, and life to feel oppressive and awful,” added a third. And he noted that the harassment caught on Bliss’ camera only catches one half of the equation: “In the wild,” he told me, “I pretty much only see the once-over from behind, which is legion, and is often accompanied with meeting another dude's eyes like, amiright?

Some men, though, still aren’t seeing it. On Twitter, some are pushing back against the video, claiming that it’s not harassment, it’s just annoying, and that refusing to reply is, frankly, impolite. Of course, it’s largely women who are singled out for constant annoyance just for stepping outside, and are dismissed as rude for not accepting it graciously. If you don't get it after watching this video, the problem isn't just the guys caught yelling at Roberts. The problem is you.