The XX Factor
What Women Really Think

July 11 2016 4:22 PM

The Accusations Against Roger Ailes Are Happening in a Post-Bill Cosby Era

As allegations mounted last week that Roger Ailes, Fox News’ chairman and chief executive, has sexually harassed women in his workplace throughout his career, the lawyer for one of his accusers shared a perhaps inevitable coinage. “Someone suggested he’s the Bill Cosby of media,” attorney Nancy Erika Smith told New Yorkmagazine. It might be more accurate to say that Ailes’ case illustrates a distinctly post-Cosby moment: one in which the testimonies of a powerful man’s alleged victims are taken more seriously by the mainstream media, and by many of its consumers, than would have been imaginable even a few years ago.

July 8 2016 5:26 PM

HPV Cancers Are on the Rise. Why Aren’t Parents Protecting Their Kids With Vaccines?

Rates of cancers connected to the human papillomavirus (HPV) are rising in the U.S., the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced in a report on Thursday. There were an average of 38,793 annual cases of HPV-related cancers in the country between 2008 and 2012, a 16 percent increase from the average of 33,369 cases diagnosed each year from 2004 to 2008.

Of the new cases of HPV cancers that cropped up annually from 2008 to 2012, the majority were oral cancers in men and cervical cancers in women, about 12,600 and 11,700 respective cases of each. (HPV cancers also present in the genitals of both sexes, as well as the anus, neck, and throat.) The CDC reports that 80 percent of the new cancer diagnoses in the study were direct results of HPV infections; the majority of which could have been prevented by the HPV vaccine, which protects against three of the four strains of the virus.

This latest report gives new urgency to calls for increased adoption of the HPV vaccine, where the U.S. still lags far behind many other nations. Here, in 2014, 60 percent of girls aged 13-17 had gotten one dose of the vaccine; just 40 percent had gotten the complete set of three doses. The 2014 rates among boys were even lower: 42 percent and 22 percent, respectively. The rate of completely vaccinated girls in Australia is 75 percent; in the U.K., it’s 84 percent; and in Rwanda, it’s 93 percent.

HPV rates among teenage girls have fallen by two-thirds since doctors began administering the vaccine about a decade ago, the CDC announced earlier this year. It may take some time for boys to catch up, since the vaccine was initially marketed to and recommended for girls. In 2011, when a new study definitively linked HPV to oral cancers, the CDC started recommending it for all boys, too. But it’s often been sold to boys and their parents as a public-health good—that they should get vaccinated to protect the women from whom they might contract it and to whom they might pass it. The new CDC report gives parents a more direct reason to protect their boys against HPV: Men are more than four times more likely than women to get mouth and throat cancers, and HPV puts them at a much higher risk.

The CDC recommends the vaccine for all 11- and 12-year-olds since their immune responses are high, they’re going to the doctor for other shots anyway, and most are not yet sexually active. But health professionals have said that the biggest contributor to the United States' dismal record of HPV vaccination is our head-in-the-sand approach to teens and sex. As much as American parents fear cancer and call for a cure, many fear their children’s burgeoning sexuality even more.

“In order to increase HPV vaccination rates, we must change the perception of the HPV vaccine from something that prevents a sexually transmitted disease to a vaccine that prevents cancer,” Electra Paskett, co-director of the Cancer Control Research Program at The Ohio State University, told Agence France-Presse in response to the CDC’s new HPV cancer numbers. “Every parent should ask the question: If there was a vaccine I could give my child that would prevent them from developing six different cancers, would I give it to them?”

That’s the thinking behind a new commercial from Merck. In it, kids who went on to develop cancer (actors, not real kids with cancer) ask their parents through the camera if they knew about the HPV vaccine. It’s a heart-wrenching video that hits on the absurdity of denying a child a proven method of cancer prevention because of some abstract fear of sex. If the CDC’s appeals to numbers and logic can’t convince parents to protect their kids, maybe a child actor on a big pharma ad will have better luck.

July 8 2016 5:16 PM

Attachment Theory Is Far More Forgiving Than Dr. Sears Makes It Seem    

The notion that children benefit from a secure attachment with their parents is a perfectly lovely and intuitive idea that has been put in service of a number of not particularly lovely or intuitive practices over the years. The one most people are familiar with is Dr. William Sears’ take on “attachment parenting,” a highly prescriptive—and burdensome—parenting philosophy that recommends near constant contact with an infant. The other is the less known but potentially more damaging holding therapy, in which an insecurely attached child is forcefully held, or “rebirthed” by a caretaker or parent in an attempt to heal her. Some critics claim that this type of therapy is a form of child abuse, an argument well-supported by the fact that it has resulted in death on a number of occasions.

This makes Bethany Saltman’s recent essay on attachment theory an act of redemption. Writing in New York magazine, Saltman offers an overview of attachment free of co-sleeping and birth reenactments, focusing instead on what science says about parent-child relationships. Driven by her own maternal insecurity, Saltman grew interested in attachment theory, which was  developed by a British psychoanalyst named John Bowlby who studied homeless and orphaned children in post-World War II Europe. Before this, psychologists underestimated the importance of parent-child relationships in our emotional development.

Saltman presents our early relationships with our parents as a scattering of tea leaves from which we can predict all our future relationships, both with our children and others. “The most important parenting you’ll ever do happens before your child turns one—and may affect her for the rest of her life,” the headline reads. What follows is an explanation of how.

Likely driven by my own maternal insecurity, I wondered whether Saltman presented early childhood attachment and its long-term effects as being more precarious than it is. She argues about how important it is, but she doesn't take a second to indicate: But hey, you readers probably don't really need to worry about this in a practical sense. So many of us, like her, experience anxiety, depression, and frustration during that first year of parenting. Yes, she, and therefore we readers, learn that, according to psychologists, she and her daughter are just fine. (Turns out even the best parents are only “sensitively attuned” 50 percent of a the time.) But we never learn if, according to the science, there was good reason for Saltman to put herself through attachment analysis in the first place. It’s good to know we’re resilient, but what is the bar for questioning that resilience?

Saltman’s story focuses exclusively on one parent’s relationships with the young child. Between the occasional appearance of the word maternal and the fact that the essay was illustrated exclusively by photos of women with what appear to be their biological children, it was clear that this was all about mom. She never accounts for the fact that many children build close relationships with more than one caregiver, and as a result their sense of security in the world might be the product of a collaborative effort. How much can mothers expect to split the sometimes burden and sometimes gift of providing their kin with a sense of security and belonging?

Howard Steele, a professor at the New School for Social Research and an attachment expert, says the answer is: a good amount. While most children have a sense of who their primary parent is, they can and do build secure attachments with more than one caregiver. The fact that my son had a relationship with me, my husband, and his nanny through his first year in life was in no way a disadvantage to him. In fact, it was an advantage.

“We form relationships with all who are important to us and who we depend on. Strength in one relationship will beget strength in another,” Steele said. “Having more than one person is a form of insurance.”

Steele also said parents of infants should not buy into the idea that there is one single moment or experience during which these relationships can form. He resists the notion of “bonding” with one’s child and says parents should view this as a long, complicated process that can evolve over time. “Infants are hearty souls, and they can cope with some disconnect and separation,” he said.

According to Richard Barth, dean and professor and president of the American Academy of Social Work and Social Welfare at the University of Maryland School of Social Work, even if children encounter undesirable levels of disconnection and separation as infants, they aren’t necessarily doomed to a life of bad relationships. For one thing, he says, the infant stage isn’t as crucial as some followers of attachment theory make it out to be.

“This idea that we get stuck in stages doesn’t capture the fluidity of relationships over time and how we respond to them,” Barth said. Both Steele and Barth agreed that a rough year during one’s childhood, no matter when it happens, doesn’t determine one’s fate. A single secure relationship, even at a later age, can have a large impact on one's ability to be reflective and respond to others in the future—both important ingredients for a healthy connection.

What's more, studies in which early childhood attachment are used to predict future behaviors yield mixed results. While there is some evidence of a link between early attachment patterns and adult relationships, it’s not inevitable. And even when there is a connection, Steele says that research shows that only a small amount of our adult personality is attributable to that first year of life.

Talking about the importance of parenting is always a tricky endeavor, especially for women. We need to emphasize how much parenting matters in order to instigate change to our woefully inadequate parental leave and childcare policies. But emphasize it too much, and we abet the paternalistic, suffocating worldview that gave us Dr. Sears and natural birth. A close look at attachment theory reveals that yes, our presence is important. And no, the majority of us won’t screw it up. That works.

July 8 2016 1:54 PM

Judge Calls Women “Gorilla-Like,” “Buxom”; Keeps His Job While Whistleblower Is Disciplined

Like so many jurists, administrative law judge John H. Pleuss has a way with words. But unlike his more esteemed superiors, Pleuss’ writing style falls somewhere between insult comic and grotesque bigot. Here is his description of one claimant in his courtroom: “Very black, African looking woman (actually a gorilla-like appearance).” Another: “obese” and “buxom.” Yet another: an “obese, young” woman wearing a “skimpy black top.” And more: “looks like a man”; “Young, white, female; long brown hair; attractive; looks innocent.”

“I'll pay this lady when hell freezes over!” Pleuss wrote of one claimant. Note the “lady” bit, which is no coincidence: Every one of Pleuss’ offensive descriptions pertained to a woman.

July 8 2016 12:28 PM

Clue Changes Out Mrs. White, a Housekeeper, for Dr. Orchid, a Female Scientist

In what can only be the doing of a devious feminist branch of the Illuminati, the makers of the board game Clue plan to replace the character of a female domestic worker with a female scientist. Come August, Mrs. White, the housekeeper-slash-cook-slash-nanny of the mansion where the game takes place, will be toast. Dr. Orchid, a biologist with a Ph.D., is set to take her place.

Orchid’s backstory is suitably sinister: The adopted daughter of the game’s mansion-owner, Samuel Black, Orchid was expelled from a fancy Swiss boarding school after a “near-fatal daffodil poisoning incident.” Then, Mrs. White herself (gasp!) homeschooled Orchid, who went on to get her Ph.D. in plant toxicology. In promo images, Orchid looks to be of Asian descent, making her the only discernable person of color in the game.

“It was a difficult decision to say goodbye to Mrs. White,” a Hasbro marketing executive said in a statement, “but after 70 years of suspicious activity, we decided that one of the characters had to go.”

Why poor old Mrs. White, though? Lizzy Acker of the Oregonian suspects White’s termination may have been a result of her uninspired name. It could be also that, seeing the modernizing shifts traditional toys have made in the name of diverse and realistic representation—Barbie, for one, can now be “curvy,” a game developer, and a political black film director with hair twists—Hasbro higher-ups opted to pre-empt any protests of its matronly servant in a maid’s outfit by swapping her out for someone with a sexier STEM career. Or maybe Dr. Orchid just seemed more relevant to our contemporary age of global terrorism, in which the threat of biological warfare looms larger than that of death by candlestick.

In some ways, the White-Orchid switcheroo represents a return to form for the game. Some reports claim that White was originally conceived as a nurse, and the game’s arsenal of weapons included a syringe. This made her far more career-driven than any of the other female characters in the game: Mrs. Peacock is a widow and socialite; Miss Scarlet is a femme fatale with no apparent occupation, though some versions of the game describe her as an “aspiring actress.” Hasbro might have been better off revealing that one of those two had a secret plant toxicology business on the side instead of changing out the only woman who had a job to begin with.

Or why not change the gender of one of the male characters? All three—Professor Plum, Colonel Mustard, and Reverend Green—have nongendered titles. Given the news that black women are now the most educated demographic in the U.S., the recent campaign to make women Catholic priests, and the fact that women (both cisgender and transgender) can now serve in all military combat roles, making one a female murderer would be a timely shift.

July 8 2016 10:47 AM

Ruth Bader Ginsburg Disses Trump, Hints She Wants Clinton to Name Her Successor

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg may be irreplaceable, but she’s also a pragmatist—and it appears that she has mapped out her eventual exit from her beloved court. In a July 7 interview with Mark Sherman of the Associated Press, Ginsburg said she presumes Hillary Clinton will be elected president in November. When asked about the possibility of Donald Trump assuming the presidency instead, Ginsburg responded, “I don’t want to think about that possibility, but if it should be, then everything is up for grabs.” The justice then acknowledged that the future of the court will be decided by the next president:

“It's likely that the next president, whoever she will be, will have a few appointments to make,” Ginsburg said with a smile.

Sherman notes that Ginsburg “didn’t sound as though she is preparing to step down soon,” so her retirement is by no means imminent. The 83-year-old justice, Sherman adds, “shows no signs of slowing down” after a successful term during which Ginsburg authored several influential majority and concurring opinions. Ginsburg spoke to Sherman about her most widely read opinion this term—a two-page concurrence she attached to Justice Stephen Breyer’s majority opinion striking down Texas’ draconian abortion regulations. In it, she declared that it was “beyond rational belief” that the Texas law “could genuinely protect the health of women,” while it was “certain that the law would simply make it more difficult for them to obtain abortions.”

“It seemed to me it was a sham to pretend this was about a woman's health,” Ginsburg elaborated on Thursday. “I fully subscribed to everything Breyer said, but it was long and I wanted something pithy,” she said. “I wrote to say, ‘Don't try this anymore.’ ”

July 7 2016 6:17 PM

Renée Zellweger, Margot Robbie, and Hollywood’s Obsession With the Female Face

Renée Zellweger had plastic surgery, and Variety’s Owen Gleiberman is worried that she’s ruined Bridget Jones for the rest of us. As he watched the new trailer for Bridget Jones’ Baby, the forthcoming third entry in the film franchise, Gleiberman mourned the loss of his favorite squinty-eyed, plump-cheeked lush next door. “Celebrities, like anyone else, have the right to look however they want, but the characters they play become part of us,” Gleiberman writes in an essay published last week. “I suddenly felt like something had been taken away.”

He goes on to ponder the niche Zellweger found as the “extraordinary ordinary girl,” one who possessed a distinctive, attainable kind of beauty that seemed of this earth, not above it. Zellweger was no doe-eyed picture of perfect symmetry, and that made her the perfect actress to embody Jones, the error-prone everywoman who finds love in spite of her flaws. Now that Zellweger has succumbed to the pressures of Hollywood perfection, Gleiberman postulates, she’s become the anti-Jones.

July 7 2016 1:20 PM

Germany Finally Updated Its Archaic Rape Law After a “No Means No” Activist Campaign

The German parliament passed a new rape law on Thursday, broadening the country’s definition of sexual assault to include any sexual act that a victim declines through verbal or physical cues. Previous law made no mention of consent and required that a victim physically fight back against her rapist to prove that he overcame her with force.

Activists have been protesting this antiquated definition of rape for years, at least since the Council of Europe’s 2011 convention classified any non-consensual sexual act as sexual violence. But it took two recent events—and the buy-in of right-wing politicians bent on closing Germany’s borders—to force change in parliament. One was the acquittal of two men whom German model Gina-Lisa Lohfink accused of drugging and raping her, which raised a level of public ire that’s been compared to the aftermath of the recent Brock Turner trial in America. The defendants filmed themselves having sex with Lohfink and posted the video online; in it, she reportedly says “stop it” and “no” as they force themselves on her. Since a judge dismissed the rape charges, he also fined Lohfink the Euro equivalent of about $27,000 for falsely accusing her alleged rapists.

July 7 2016 12:47 PM

When Women Take Power, It’s Usually Because Men Have Made a Big Mess

It is now absolutely certain that Britain’s next prime minister will be a woman. Every male candidate for party leader was eliminated after Conservative members of Parliament voted to narrow the field to two nominees. Grass-roots party members will decide between Home Secretary Theresa May and Energy Secretary Andrea Leadsom in an election that will last until September. Elsewhere in Britain, the Scottish National Party, the Green Party, Welsh nationalist party Plaid Cymru, Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party, and the Scottish Labour and Conservative parties are all led by women. The left-wing Labour Party has never had a female leader, but Angela Eagle is expected to challenge Jeremy Corbyn if he ever opens his eyes, takes his fingers out of his ears, and stops saying, “I’m not stepping down! I’m not stepping down! I’m not stepping down!”

It’s hard not to notice that this blossoming of female political power comes at a time when British politics is in a stonking great mess. The June 23 referendum vote to leave the European Union means that the next prime minister will spend half her time negotiating with Europeans who want to boot the ungrateful Brits out of their union and the other half calming down Brits who want to kick Europeans out of their not at all united kingdom. In other words, the gig is a poisoned chalice. And that list of women-led U.K. political parties is less impressive when you realize that with the notable exception of the SNP’s Nicola Sturgeon (and possibly the Greens, who have had more than one female leader), the women took the top spots when their parties were in crisis.

July 6 2016 6:26 PM

Being a Woman Isn’t a Pre-Existing Condition, Says This California Workers’ Comp Suit

A class-action lawsuit filed Wednesday alleges that California’s workers’ compensation system discriminates against women, routinely attributing work-related injuries to the pre-existing condition of being a woman. Plaintiffs claim that diagnoses of carpal tunnel syndrome were brushed off as the result of menopause or breastfeeding rather than consequences of years typing at a work computer, and disability benefits provided for female-specific cancers were significantly lower than those for cancers that affect the male body.

Filed by a group of individual female workers and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) California State Council, the suit describes several cases in which women’s disability benefits were slashed because state-trained qualified medical evaluators (QMEs) attributed their work-related health conditions in part to the “risk factors” of their gender or reproductive capacity.