The XX Factor
What Women Really Think

Sept. 21 2017 6:22 PM

It’s Hard Not to Feel a Bit Wary About Ivanka Revealing Her Postpartum Depression on The Dr. Oz Show

Postpartum depression is a potentially serious condition with symptoms that can range from anxiety and irritability to panic attacks, suicidal impulses, and a feeling of detachment from one’s newborn. The condition affects about one in 9 women, according to the CDC.

But it’s hard not to feel a bit wary of the way in which Ivanka Trump revealed her own PPD struggle on Thursday’s episode of the syndicated Dr. Oz Show. “With each of my children, I had some level of postpartum depression,” Trump told Oz, perched on a white armchair in front of a studio audience. “It was a very challenging emotional time for me because I felt like I was not living up to my potential as a parent or as an entrepreneur and executive.” The interview was taped Monday.

Sept. 20 2017 4:06 PM

The GOP’s Latest Obamacare Repeal Proposal Finds New Ways to Be Disastrous for Women’s Health

Senate Republicans are taking one last stab at repealing Obamacare before September 30, when their ability to squeeze a filibuster-proof budget reconciliation bill through the legislature expires. The bill Sens. Lindsey Graham and Bill Cassidy have proposed is the most extreme version Congress has considered so far—it would slash essential parts of Obamacare that benefit low-income Americans and those in poor health without offering any meaningful replacement.

And, like the last health care bill the Senate rejected, this one would be disastrous for women’s health. It would cut off poor women’s access to Planned Parenthood, decimate the private insurance market for abortion coverage, allow states to let insurance companies cut essential health benefits for women, and—this is some new garbage—restrict how states can cover abortion care.

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The Graham-Cassidy proposal would accomplish several major rollbacks of women’s health care that Republicans have been trying to push through for years. First, it would block the use of federal Medicaid dollars at Planned Parenthood health centers, a so-called “defunding” measure. Over half of Planned Parenthood’s client base—more than 1 million patients—currently gets its health care through Medicaid. These patients would have to turn elsewhere for care. For all these patients, Graham-Cassidy would cause a possibly dangerous disruption in care; for those who live in rural areas or health care deserts, where the majority of Planned Parenthood clinics sit, it could mean an end to accessible reproductive health care altogether. The average Planned Parenthood serves nine times the number of contraceptive clients as the average federally qualified health center, which Republicans have proposed as alternate sources of publicly funded reproductive health care. The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that the interruption in contraceptive services caused by a nationwide block of federal Medicaid dollars to Planned Parenthood would result in thousands of extra unplanned, unwanted births.

Women who don’t rely on Medicaid would also see their reproductive health care access curtailed by Graham-Cassidy. The bill would prohibit the use of health care tax credits for both individuals and small businesses on private insurance plans that cover abortion care. That means any woman who gets tax credits because she neither qualifies for Medicaid nor gets insurance through her employer would not be able to purchase abortion coverage with those credits on the individual market. People who work for small businesses that use tax credits to offer health insurance benefits would also be left without abortion coverage. Right now, most private insurance plans cover abortion—but if the federal government slashed the population of people and businesses that could buy those plans, insurance companies would be likely to stop offering them, limiting coverage access for those who don’t use tax credits, too.

Like the previous Obamacare repeal bill, Graham-Cassidy would let states end rules that require insurance companies to cover essential health benefits, such as maternal health coverage. Before the Affordable Care Act mandated it, about 88 percent of health insurance plans didn’t cover maternity care. Planned Parenthood estimates that up to 13 million women could lose such benefits if Graham-Cassidy goes through. The bill would also end the Medicaid expansion, causing disproportionate damage to the health of women, who make up the majority of Medicaid enrollees and 69 percent of the 9 million people who qualify for both Medicaid and Medicare. More than half of all U.S. births are currently covered by Medicaid. Substantial cuts to the health program would be devastating to children, mothers, and low-income families.

The most significant bit that sets Graham-Cassidy apart from its predecessors is its introduction of block grants to states. States could spend these grants however they wished, essentially inventing their own health care programs. (As Slate’s Jordan Weissman explains, the loose restrictions on the funds would allow states to put the money pretty much wherever they wanted, making the grants more of a slush fund than a health care program.) But Graham-Cassidy would forbid states from using any parts of those grants on insurance plans that covered abortion in any cases other than rape, incest, or a life-threatening medical emergency. States that currently allow insurance coverage of abortion—including states such as California, Massachusetts, and New York, which require all insurance providers that cover maternity care to also cover abortion care—would be hampered by the rules of the grants. If they wanted to use the block grants to subsidize parts of their health care programs, they would have to limit abortion coverage to those parts that didn’t include federal money.

The GOP’s past proposals for Obamacare repeal met their end in part because of their impact on women’s health. Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins, both Republicans who cast crucial votes against former proposals, have reliably supported the continued federal funding of Planned Parenthood through Medicaid reimbursements. Collins gave an eloquent defense of the organization in her statement on why she voted against the “skinny” repeal proposed in July. “If Planned Parenthood were defunded, other family planning clinics in Maine, including community health centers, would see a 63 percent increase in their patient load. Some patients would need to drive greater distances to receive care, while others would have to wait longer for an appointment,” she wrote. “This is about interfering with the ability of a woman to choose the health care provider who is right for her. This harmful provision should have no place in legislation that purports to be about restoring patient choices and freedom.” So far, Collins seems like the Republican most likely to oppose Graham-Cassidy, and Rand Paul has already said he won’t vote for the bill. If one more Republican doesn’t turn against the bill, millions of women will pay an exorbitant price in both their dollars and health for the benefit of the wealthy, who’ll get a little treat come tax time.

Sept. 19 2017 5:27 PM

Amazon Just Sent a Ton of People a Weird Email About Their (Nonexistent) Baby Registries

If you have an Amazon account, you might be freaking out right now. You just got an email congratulating you on a gift from your baby registry that recently shipped, but you don’t remember notifying Amazon of your pregnancy, choosing items for a registry, or conceiving a child in the first place. What does Amazon know that you don’t?!

Don’t worry—you’re not secretly pregnant. (Unless you are, in which case: Mazel tov!) It looks like Amazon accidentally sent the same email to a lot of people, regardless of the occupancy status of their uterus.

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We’ve confirmed that both men and women got the email, so it’s not a sexist “Amazon sent a thing to all women because women love babies” thing. (One Slate colleague who got the email does in fact have his own baby registry, as he and his wife recently had a baby, so he assumed an actual gift was heading his way.) But a little unscientific polling of my friends and colleagues has revealed that the recipients are mostly women. What gives?

I didn’t immediately think anything was off about this email because I purchased something off my friends’ Amazon baby registry earlier this week, and assumed this email meant it had shipped or something. It wasn’t until I saw Maria Konnikova’s tweet that I realized what had happened, and that I wasn’t the only one. What I’m saying is, I think Amazon accidentally sent possibly millions of people an email that was just meant for me. Sorry!

More unscientific polling of my people reveals a significant but not exclusive correlation between getting the email and having purchased items off friends’ baby registries. And the link in the email goes to the general Amazon page used to set up baby registries. So here’s another theory: Amazon looked at users’ previous purchases, tagged those who’d bought baby things, figured that those users are in the time of life when and social circles where people are starting to have babies, and guessed that they might want to set up a registry sometime soon, too. Or maybe a baby just crawled across the Amazon master keyboard. It’s anyone’s guess!

Update, Sept. 20, 2017: Amazon has issued the following statement on its weird baby email: “We are notifying affected customers. A technical glitch caused us to inadvertently send a gift alert e-mail earlier today. We apologize for any confusion this may have caused.” Cool.

Sept. 19 2017 3:49 PM

Hillary Clinton’s Book Tour Is a Dose of Much-Needed Therapy for Her Fans

Hillary Clinton opened her What Happened book tour on Monday night with what sounded like a retort to the critics who’ve said she should have never written the book in the first place. In a bit of self-aware justification, Clinton told her interlocutor—former speechwriter and campaign advisor Lissa Muscatine—that the writing process gave her the “discipline and deadline” she needed to sort through both her own feelings and her shock at America’s election of a malicious wannabe tyrant. It was an act of “catharsis,” Clinton said. “It was my therapy.”

The product of her efforts seemed to have a similar effect on her audience. The bodies filling the seats at Washington, D.C.’s Warner Theatre quaked when Clinton walked onto the stage, giving her an ear-splitting standing ovation that shook the floor of the venue. Every minor attempt at a joke was met with riotous laughter, every dig at Trump with a lengthy round of applause. There were more than a few tears.

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You’ve got to be a pretty big Hillary Clinton fan to spend up to $82 to sit in a room and listen to her say things you’ve probably heard her say before. Because it’s D.C., the theater also contained several former campaign staffers. These weren’t casual Clinton voters. They were her diehards, the people for whom the termination of a potential Clinton presidency was nearly as devastating as the bombshell of a Trump one. Their enthusiastic support wasn’t just about making the first female president, but electing this specific candidate, with her formidable resume, unflagging composure, and history of pressing on in the face of sexist attacks. The election and American democracy as we once knew it may be over, but the cult of Hillary Clinton is not.

Anyone who doubted Clinton’s “likability” or capacity to inspire hope in young women during her campaign should look to the crowds who’ll flock to her 15-city book tour to understand the magic some attributed to her candidacy. Monday’s event felt strangely intimate, with audience members eagerly nodding along as if they were at a cozy reunion with a friend they hadn’t seen in years. They erupted in cheers when Clinton spoke about turning to friends and family in the difficult days after the election. They booed and hissed when she mentioned Matt Lauer, whom Clinton calls out in the book for incessantly harping on her emails while letting Trump babble nonsense about ISIS. The audience seemed equally enthralled with Clinton the person as with Clinton the candidate, and genuinely concerned for her well-being.

Underlying their concern for Clinton the woman is a deep sense of identification with her. On Monday, Muscatine gave Clinton several pairs of nouns and had her choose her favorite: coffee or tea (Clinton chose coffee); yoga or Pilates (yoga); shower or bath (“it depends on how much time you have”); and vodka or chardonnay (“again, it depends on how much time you have”). It was silly and banal, but dozens of audience members clapped and hooted after each answer. So eager were these people to identify with Clinton that they screamed in a public place simply because she too prefers coffee over tea, like the majority of other U.S. adults. When it came time for audience questions, which were submitted in advance, several were just messages of thanks. One noted that the writer was drinking wine with Clinton “in solidarity.”

This book and attendant publicity tour will mark an important step in the grieving process for those Clinton fans who see themselves, and perhaps their own thwarted ambitions, in her struggles. For them, grappling with the daily horrors of the Trump administration has probably left little time or mental space to process Clinton’s loss. There is no shortage of policies to protest amid righteous, chanting hordes, but few outlets for feelings about the candidate herself. Seeing her onstage, back in the public eye on her own terms and in visibly good spirits, will give some a sense of closure they need. If Clinton can rebound and crank out a book after the worst setback of her professional life, maybe the rest of us can churn on, too.

Clinton made exactly this point on Monday night. “At the end of the day, everybody has disappointments. Everybody has losses,” she said. “I view this book as much about resilience as about running for president. … I want others, no matter what happens to you in life, to understand that there are ways to get up and keep going. Don’t give up on yourselves.” You know else recently wrote a book about resilience? Sheryl Sandberg, whose co-written book Option B chronicles, among other things, her emotional journey after the death of her husband. Clinton and Sandberg are acquaintances, and Sandberg starred in a prominent anecdote about women in leadership that Clinton shared on Monday. In the story, Clinton repeatedly referred to the Facebook COO’s previous book and business philosophy, Lean In, as “Lean On.”

It was a rather endearing flub-up that Clinton never caught and Muscatine was too nice to correct. But, looking out on a sea of faces eager to process their lingering devastation in the company of hundreds of other Clinton fans, the former candidate might have committed a Freudian slip. As far as advice for recovering from electoral trauma goes, “lean on” isn’t half bad.

Sept. 18 2017 4:07 PM

Austin City Official Refused to Meet With a Co-Worker He Thought Had a Crush on Him

A city employee in Austin, Texas, has been taking advice from the Mike Pence handbook on interacting with women-people, according to documents obtained by the Austin American-Statesman. William Manno, the events manager in charge of orchestrating city festivals such as South by Southwest and Austin City Limits, has received a written “reprimand” for refusing to meet with female employees because he feared things could turn, or appear to turn, inappropriate.

The city’s investigation of Manno’s behavior began in early July, after a female business specialist in Manno’s department reported that he had missed meetings because he thought a communications consultant who’d be there “had romantic feelings for him,” the American-Statesman reports. The specialist told investigators that Manno had floated the idea of reassigning both the consultant and a female assistant city attorney with whom he interacted at work because his wife apparently took issue with how they interacted with him. According to a memo about the investigation, Manno also canceled regular lunch meetings with the consultant, explaining to her that “I’ve been told it is not appropriate for a married man to have lunch with a single lady.” The consultant told investigators that she thought that statement was “odd,” because she’d assured him that she didn’t have sexual or romantic feelings for him and just wanted him to mentor her.

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On the surface, this looks like another instance of men being incapable of interacting platonically with women. Pence, like many other religious men, abides by a self-imposed rule that says he can’t dine alone with any woman other than “Mother” (aka his wife). The implication there is that women are temptresses by nature and/or men are just giant floating balls of hormones and urges that can easily drift outside the bounds of marital fidelity toward any passing whiff of a woman’s scent. Then there’s the Rick Ross school of thought, which holds that taking on female protégées is a bad idea, because it’s nearly impossible not to have sex with them. Ross described his theory in terms a bit more vulgar than Pence’s, but the effect is the same: Women miss out on important mentoring and bonding opportunities when the men in charge see them as latent sex threats instead of regular employees with admirable skills and leadership potential.

Manno’s case is a bit more complicated, though. The business specialist who brought the complaint against him was reportedly spurred to action by a discussion with Manno’s wife, who found out that Manno had given the specialist a ride to City Hall. According to the specialist’s statement to investigators, Manno’s wife told the specialist that she and her husband were working through some troubles in their marriage and that he had promised to never again have a female employee alone in his car. There isn’t much in the way of details about why this was such an important issue in their marriage, but one can imagine a few reasonable explanations for his wife’s concern.

Last week, Manno filed a grievance contesting the investigation’s results. “I do acknowledge that I introduced personal information about my marriage into the workplace and to a subordinate,” he wrote. “I recognize that this does not foster a positive work environment and is unprofessional and inappropriate conduct in the workplace. As such, I will ensure that this does not reoccur.” But, he contended, “many of the statements included in the reprimand memo are based on misleading and incorrect information.” The communications consultant hugged Manno multiple times at a 2016 New Year’s Eve event, the business specialist’s statement to investigators confirmed, which Manno named in his grievance as the reason why he didn’t want to be alone with her.

There are many ways Manno could have dealt with this situation—starting with talking honestly to his wife about the kinds of meetings his job entails—without trying to cut off professional contact with women in his workplace. Unless the consultant was actually sexually propositioning or harassing him, which he hasn’t claimed, his actions were based on his own history and hangups with women. Women will never get equal treatment or promotion at a workplace where they’re treated as temptations lying in wait.

Update, Sept. 19, 2017: This post’s headlines have been updated to better reflect Manno’s title.

Sept. 17 2017 10:18 PM

The Most Eye-Popping Outfits at the 2017 Emmys, From Lena Waithe’s Suit to Sam Bee’s Shoulder Pads

The 2017 Emmys got started Sunday night with a parade of precious metals outside the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles. Actresses and actors in sparkles, spangles, sequins, and all-over shine made the biggest footprint on the red carpet this year, reflecting the sunny-mood-in-the-face-of-impending-doom of Stephen Colbert’s opening sequence.

Westworld’s Tessa Thompson and Big Little Lies Zoe Kravitz, who described her dress as “fairy-like,” projected rainbow prisms from their skirts. Jessica Biel wore another of the best looks of the night, a sweeping Ralph & Russo couture gown with a sparkling top half that echoed the texture of micro chainmail.

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Zoe Kravitz, Jessica Biel, and Tessa Thompson.

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Yara Shahidi of Black-ish wore tulle in a perfect shade of nude with kelp-like flourishes of green sequins. In vivid blue, Ellie Kemper went the rhinestone route with her appliques.

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Yara Shahidi and Ellie Kemper.

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Last year’s Emmys saw Sarah Paulson in head-to-toe Kelly green sequins and shoulder pads—one of my favorite looks of the 2016 show—and she went a similar route on Sunday with a puff-sleeved column of semi-matte sequins designed by Carolina Herrera. Laverne Cox and Uzo Aduba, too, glimmered in total silver, while Priyanka Chopra braved the heat in a full-coverage Balmain number quilted with jewels.

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Laverne Cox, Uzo Aduba, Sarah Paulson, and Priyanka Chopra.

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Plunging necklines that require body tape are standard fare on any red carpet. Here are three very different interpretations of the silhouette: The Handmaid’s Tale villain Yvonne Strahovski in elegant red satin, Shailene Woodley in cheeky-casual autumn velvet, and Anika Noni Rose in a striking Thai Nguyen Atelier gown with sequined stripes.

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Yvonne Strahovski, Shailene Woodley, and Anika Noni Rose.

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Allover lace can look fussy or infantile at a black-tie event. Chrissy Metz, Felicity Huffman, and  a breathtaking Ryan Michelle Bathe did it right: smartly tailored in sophisticated shades.

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Ryan Michelle Bathe, Chrissy Metz, and Felicity Huffman.

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With sheer panels and floral patterns, Michelle Pfeiffer, Gabrielle Union, and Leslie Jones elevated long black gowns to a statement-making level.

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Leslie Jones, Michelle Pfieffer, and Gabrielle Union.

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The best colors of the night came from Viola Davis in a shade that’s quite rare for a gown, Samantha Bee in a set of enviably structured shoulders, and Westworld’s Angela Sarafyan in a chartreuse off-the-shoulder Elizabeth Kennedy number—one of the few dresses out there whose useless sleeves actually prove worth the extra fabric.

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Angela Sarafyan, Samantha Bee, and Viola Davis.

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Master of None’s Lena Waithe, the first black woman nominated for a comedy writing Emmy award (and the first to win!), wore a showy gold patterned jacket; Brad Goreski of Fashion Police was her shimmering silver counterpart. Tituss Burgess, known for his flowing scarves and extravagant fabrics on The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, toned it ever-so-slightly down in glowing marigold. With a persona that glaringly bright, it would have been foolish to let a sparkling garment compete for the spotlight.

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Lena Waithe, Brad Goreski, and Tituss Burgess.

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Sept. 15 2017 5:52 PM

Statement Jeans Are Fun to Look At, But an Insult to Pantkind

When clear-knee jeans hit the internet this spring, regular jeans knelt on their sorry opaque knees and wept. For generations, jeans had been the trusty, self-effacing backdrop upon which other showier garments could shine. Jeans let lighter blues join navy in its coveted spot on the lineup of neutrals. They were humble, and in their humility, they found strength.

Now, weird jeans with the capacity to achieve viral fame are everywhere. They are, Slate has learned, called “statement jeans”—like a statement necklace, but for pants. Some stores (ahem) will file anything with distressing or a little embroidery under the moniker. These jeans count as their ancestors those pants with rhinestone pocket designs that were popular in the late ‘90s. According to Glamour, there are some pairs of statement jeans with subtler embellishments that “aren’t crimes against humanity,” including ones with rhinestone flower patches, giant grommets, and floppy denim bows. (Guess there’s many definitions of what constitutes crimes against humanity.)

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Those are not the real deal. The true statement jeans are the ones that defy not only the traditional structure of jeans, but the entire concept of pants. Take, for example, these pairs that have taken on capes and skirts where the normal pants parts should be.

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Or these, with lace ruffles that draw the eye to a part of the body eyes were not meant to be drawn to.

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Or these, which ruin a perfectly fine pair of cigarette pants with the look of the pleated, baggy shorts your dad might wear to wash the car.

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The only “statement” these jeans, descendents of JNCOs, are making is “help, I think a Juggalo is in me.”

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Anyone wearing these pants, which come with a flannel butt-flap in case you’re too poor to buy a flannel shirt but can afford a $560 pair of jeans, should be forced to travel back in time and suffer the withering side eye of one Kurt Cobain.

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But the mother of all statement jeans is this pair, brought to my attention by a friend of a friend. This garment offers the look of wearing a pair of jeans on top of another pair of identical jeans, for absolutely no reason at all. It looks like it was trying to be maternity pants but forgot that the top part was supposed to be stretchy and comfortable.

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It also appears to be a ripoff of a pair of jeans from Rihanna’s clothing line circa 2013. The only thing worse than a bad statement is one that’s plagiarized, right Melania?

Sept. 15 2017 2:15 PM

What I Learned By Looking at 734 Playboy Centerfolds in One Sitting

There’s no wrong way to read Playboy’s new coffee table book of naked ladies. You can breeze through the encyclopedic collection of centerfolds in chunks, stopping when a shiny lower lip or well-groomed clitoral hood catches your interest. You can use the index to find a favorite Playmate, if you’re the kind of person who has a favorite Playmate. You can turn to the year you were born or bat mitzvahed and see what the residents of dudeland were drooling over that month. You can flick the pages like a flipbook, watching faces and skin blur together like a demonic wormhole that really, really wants to have sex with you.

But if you’re going to drop up to $75 on an 8 1/2-pound volume of exposed flesh, I’d recommend taking an hour or so to leaf through the entire thing, page by page. Playboy: The Complete Centerfolds, 1953–2016 offers exactly what it advertises: every single centerfold the magazine has published through February of last year. That is a remarkable number of bodies to trap in one volume. Taken together, they offer a kind of biological survey few humans will experience in their lifetimes. Even the world’s busiest doctors and most-overbooked porn stars don’t see 700-some-odd naked women in a single hour.

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If you take this route, as I did on Thursday afternoon in a painstakingly sequestered corner of the Slate office, you will catalog approximately 1,400 nipples of various shades, textures, and surface areas. You will see several hundred labia and, if you have a set, think carefully about your own. You will despair at how the satin robe and garter belt industries have escaped any attempts at meaningful innovation in the past half-century. You will wonder why, in the 2010s, just as Earth was experiencing the hottest temperatures in recorded history, all women suddenly got visibly cold.

This volume is actually something of a reprint. The first edition was published a decade ago; the book that came out on Tuesday includes the most recent 10 years and a new short essay from Elizabeth Wurtzel on the centerfolds of the 2010s. Playboy is marketing it as a kind of chronology of the female body seen through the proverbial male gaze, a way to track how beauty ideals and sexual fantasies have evolved since Hugh Hefner printed the magazine’s first issue.

The most obvious signifier of the passage of time, and the thing every person has asked about when I’ve mentioned this book, is pubic hair. For the first two decades of centerfolds, there was none at all because it was obscured by strategically placed pillows, undergarments, or even roomy-cut khakis. Bits of hair didn’t start peeking out until around 1972, but by the mid-’70s, bushy vulvas were showing up in almost every photo. A decade later, hairstylists started to groom the puffs, though it wasn’t until the mid-’90s that what’s now known as a “landing strip” hit the runway. The relative newness of the thing about 84 percent of women now do to their genitals was a life-affirming revelation for this millennial, who suffered puberty in the aughts, or as Maureen Gibbon’s essay in The Complete Centerfolds dubs it, “the decade of the smoothie.” After enduring the entirely bare, child-like crotches of the 2010s, flip back to July 1977, where one magnificent image of pubic hair straight-up poking out of a butt crack will restore your internal calm.

The maturation of photo-retouching techniques, which begin in the 1980s and ramp up in the ’90s, delivers another major sea change in the book. Earlier photos exhibit a kind of Vaseline-on-the-lens radiance, with softer lighting than the high-def flashbulbs of later years. Before Photoshop made every limb a perfect cylinder with a computer-assisted color gradient, skin had actual texture, betraying goosebumps, peach fuzz, and tiny wrinkles where the legs meet the hips. In fashions, too, the Playboy timeline charts a shift from the natural-ish to the absurd. Peasant dresses and open argyle cardigans gave way to bathing suits fit for Borat and webs of spangled fabric that wouldn’t impede any sex act the average mind could invent. Mascara and rouge gave way to silicone, suntans, and gigantic, heavily-lined lips. The fantasy of the ’50s was that the women on these pages might actually succumb to the average schmuck’s pick-up lines at the sock hop or milkshake counter or wherever white folks performed their mating rituals in those days. The fantasy of the ’90s and ’00s was that these glistening, medicine ball–breasted women existed at all.

But for all the differences that emerge while flipping through generations of nudies, the similarities stand out far more. After looking at 734 photos of naked women, one can’t help but conclude that the human body has some very strict limitations and the human mind lacks any substantial creativity when it comes to sexy poses. There are only so many ways to slightly part a set of lips, only so many ways to mimic the act of putting clothes on or taking them off, getting in or out of a body of water, and stepping onto or off of a surface that looks reasonably prepared to support sexual intercourse. Some themes have always been hot: cowboy stables (chaps, lassos, bolo ties dangling between breasts); sportsing (phallic sticks and bats, mesh jerseys, kneesocks); childhood (glasses of milk, merry-go-rounds, dolls); servile domesticity (aprons, pies, and once, disturbingly, pinking shears).

It’s a pleasure to see this kind of Playboy world-making get more elaborate and less self-conscious as time goes by. There are a few funny scenes in earlier years: One deeply weird 1967 shot shows a woman standing on a primitive Onewheel with her toe resting on a shuttle cock, and one from 1983 has a gal luxuriating in a tanning bed, eye shields and all. But the fantasies get way more specific in the ’90s, with a flight attendant exiting an airplane bathroom, a military jacket with dog tags worn as a belly chain, more nautical dioramas than a landlubber might expect, and a prescient cigar situation in July 1996, just before the Clinton–Lewinsky “it tastes good” moment became public. Around the turn of the millennium, schoolgirls started dominating the pages of Playboy, with some dorm room arrangements so scrupulously imagined, they could be ads for PBteen. The effect is a creeping feeling that any place can be a sexual place, and any activity a woman does—even those performed in the course of her job—can be a sexual activity. Playing golf, taking your order at a diner, exercising on a Stairmaster, applying a lure to a fishing rod, cuddling with a kitten, delivering the nightly news at a TV station—if you look hard enough, with a few years of Playboy centerfolds filed away in your brain, these everyday pursuits are actually a kind of foreplay. That cyclist lady is naked underneath her flannel, you know.

Should you, like me, choose to absorb each and every centerfold in rapid succession, the outfits will eventually cease to matter. So, strangely, will the human forms. If you say a word too many times in a row, it starts to lose its meaning. If you review hundreds of naked women in one sitting, the fact of their nudity will lose its meaning, too. Curves and lumps and flaps of flesh punctuated by the occasional dimple or mole will become indistinguishable shapes in the void. By the 40th minute of scrutiny, the nearly half an acre of human skin you’ve seen will have lost all erotic potential, each body just another disgusting bag of organs and blood. As one Amazon reviewer put it, “What an awesome treasure for men!!!”

Sept. 14 2017 6:35 PM

Ted Cruz’s New Chill, Sex-Positive Persona Is All Well and Good. It’s Also Preposterous.

Pity Ted Cruz. No one likes the guy. (“I just don’t like the guy”—George W. Bush) He’s spent the last few weeks being called out for his hypocrisy over hurricane aid. And now, just when he’d rather be selling his tax reform plan, he has spent almost an entire week talking about a pornographic tweet.

It is by now the stuff of legend: On Monday evening, Cruz’s official Twitter account clicked “like” on a tweet featuring hard-core porn, causing the tweet from account @SexuallPosts to show up on a section of Cruz’s public profile. Speculation ran wild, including at Slate. Did Cruz himself hit the like button? Did a staffer do it, and under what circumstances? On Tuesday, Cruz called it a “staffing issue,” furthering the story without clarifying it. Concerned watchdogs like CNN’s Chris Cillizza put Cruz on notice, treating the errant finger-twitch like the matter of national security that it was: “Cruz needs to clear this up. Immediately. Possibly sooner.” On Wednesday, he cleared it up—or at least tried to. In an interview with CNN’s Dana Bash, he said a staff member “accidentally hit the wrong button.”

Sept. 13 2017 6:08 PM

A Textbook Now Features Brock Turner’s Crime As the Literal Definition of “Rape.” There’s One Key Problem With That.

Brock Turner earned national fame last summer not for his sexual assault of a passed-out woman behind a dumpster, but for his punishment: six months in county jail, of which he only served three. The internet’s consensus, after reading the victim’s viral statement on BuzzFeed, was that it was far too short a stint for a crime that carried a possible sentence of 14 years in prison.

But, though he left jail just over a year ago, Turner’s consequences are far from over. HuffPost reported on Wednesday that the former Stanford swimmer’s mugshot appears next to a section titled “Rape” in the second edition of Introduction to Criminal Justice: Systems, Diversity, and Change, a book used in college-level criminal justice courses. It sounds like a snarky insult come to life: “Your photo should be in the encyclopedia under ‘rapist!’ ” The crime Turner’s father famously characterized as “20 minutes of action” is now immortalized as the literal textbook definition of rape.

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This should please those who chastised media outlets that didn’t out-and-out label Turner a “rapist” in coverage of his sentencing. But there was a good reason for careful language in his case: Turner wasn’t convicted of rape. He was convicted of three felonies: assault with intent to commit rape of an intoxicated person, sexually penetrating an intoxicated person with a foreign object, and sexually penetrating an unconscious person with a foreign object. In California, a charge of rape requires forcible sexual intercourse, which Turner did not commit.

Putting Turner’s photo next to the heading “Rape,” then, is more than a little misleading in an introductory textbook that should help students differentiate between crimes that are similar but not identical. The description under the heading also identifies the photo as “rapist Brock Turner”—an inaccurate characterization of Turner’s crimes. Under the FBI definition of rape proffered in the book, the crime does include penetration with a foreign object. But under the penal code of California, where Turner was charged, his crime was not rape, and he is not a “rapist.” It wasn’t the particulars of his assault that made him a newsworthy sexual assailant. It was the response to the crime, both from the judge in his case and from the general public.

But to its credit, the textbook does seem to want to present Turner as a case study through which to examine the subjectivity of the justice system. “Some are shocked at how short [Turner’s] sentence is,” the book reads. “Others who are more familiar with the way sexual violence has been handled in the criminal justice system are shocked that he was found guilty and served time at all. What do you think?”

With her heartwrenching statement, the victim in Turner’s case changed the way many people viewed sexual assault. She opened the door for difficult discussions about theories of fair sentencing, including the idea that a permanent spot on a sex offender registry is too harsh a punishment for Turner, or for anyone else—theories that students should absolutely dissect in criminal justice classrooms. If Turner hadn’t become one of most famous noncelebrity sexual assailants of all time, for better or worse, the textbook authors might have chosen another lesser-known figure to illustrate the topic or left the concept in the realm of theory. With the public discourse Turner’s victim began, at least the authors were able to use a familiar case to bring a vivid urgency to both a terrible crime and our inadequate system for punishing it.

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