The XX Factor
What Women Really Think

June 27 2017 2:30 PM

Wait, Are Feminists Supposed to Drool Over Women’s Butts or Nah?

Being a feminist is hard work! We must endure weekly lashings from fellow pro-women writers on Twitter, late-night meetings where we craft our feticidal agendas, and the spiky discomfort of the transition phase between smooth- and hairy-leggedness. There is no rest for the feminist, who must follow closely the ever-changing consensus on whether and how we are supposed to dance across the political minefield that is women’s bodies.

Last I heard, we were all supposed to be casting hexes upon David Edelstein and Rich Cohen, magazine writers whose approach to criticism involves analyzing the shape, angle, and degree of sexiness of individual body parts as shorthand for an actress’s character. But also, the same outlets that are telling us to slay all day and clap back at body-shaming haters are salivating over those same body parts.


People Have Just Realised Hilary Duff Is Thick And, Honey, They're Living,” read a BuzzFeed headline from earlier this month. I think that’s supposed to be celebrating Duff and her larger-than-average-for-the-film-industry butt? But it also sounds like something a gross dude would tweet while poking a pair of binoculars through her curtains. Which is it and where are we? The post is full of peach emojis and claims that “she’s got THAT CAKE” and is “👏 SERVING 👏 A 👏 LOOK👏,” approvingly aggregating tweets that would, in another context—and maybe this one, too?—amount to a series of online catcalls. A whole post about Hilary Duff’s butt, on a site that has an entire well-populated tag for stories about the horrors of “objectification”! The post’s URL even comes up with a new nickname for Duff to honor how much her tush arouses people: Thickary Duff, which sounds either like a schoolyard taunt or a secondary Harry Potter character.

As Jessica Roy pointed out on Twitter this morning, Cosmopolitan, too, is taking cheerleading body-positive rhetoric and bending it so far it comes around and slaps your ass on the other side. Here’s how Cosmo explains Rihanna’s airport get-up: “Rihanna's Butt in This Tracksuit Is Straight BOI-OI-OING.” That, reader, is the onomatopoeic rendering of a boner in motion. Where someone who described a woman’s body as ah-OOga, ah-OOga, sproooooing! would once be castigated as a pathetic horndog who thinks of women as heated-up sex dolls, he might now find himself writing headlines for a relatively woke women’s magazine. The duality of man, in one share line.

Plenty of other outlets have turned well-meaning appreciation for bodies and beauty into googly-eyed droolfests. Mic recently published a piece on “the radical power of Wonder Woman’s thigh jiggle,” pinpointing a moment in the film during which the flesh on Gal Gadot’s upper leg moves about. The Huffington Post applauds “23 Crazy-Fine Asian Dudes,” “stunning nude photos” of fat people, and men who are “Gay. Disabled. And Sexy As F**k” in headlines that could easily belong on a magazine in an opaque bag at a gas station. Marie Claire’s post on Khloe Kardashian’s exercise attire features a close-up image of her butt, noting that “Khloé’s butt also attended” the dance class, “as it's attached to her body.” Glad to hear it!

I’m not quite sure which wave of feminism we’re on at this point. I think we agree that people of all genders should be able to look sexy and show off—even flaunt—their bods however they want, but I’m not clear on why it’s empowering or slay-y to write about those bods like we are currently masturbating over them. That seems like something we should leave to fetishists and misogynists—otherwise, what will feminist bloggers have left to internet about, right?! Or maybe I’m just too thick—and 👏living 👏— to understand.

June 27 2017 11:36 AM

The Very Trump-ian Wedding of Steven Mnuchin and Louise Linton

It was every little girl’s dream wedding come to life: a groom in a tuxedo, a bride in a ballgown (though one with “a neckline that plunges nearly to the navel,” as the Washington Post couldn’t help but point out), Vice President Mike Pence officiating.

Wait, do most couples not dream of having their hands joined in marriage by a politician who strikes fear into the hearts of LGBTQ people and who once criticized Disney’s Mulan for attempting to indoctrinate children? Well, most couples aren’t as firmly ensconced in Trumpland as Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, 54, and actress/producer Louise Linton, 36, who tied the knot this past weekend and who will shine for years to come as symbols of love in the time of Trump.


Practically the whole administration cleared their busy schedules of golfing, tweeting, obstructing justice, and dismantling health care to attend the ceremony at the Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium in Washington, D.C.: the president himself, Melania, Ivanka, Jared, Ben Carson, Sean Spicer, as well as the secretaries of Commerce and Veteran Affairs departments. There were also Wall Street tycoons, probably friends from Mnuchin’s days at Goldman Sachs and as a hedge fund founder. You know, just your average everyday populists who survived the swamp-draining long enough to enjoy the evening's performances by “kilted bagpipers and ballerinas in white tutus,” per CNN.

It’s been quite the whirlwind year for Linton. Born in Scotland, she has acted in small movie and TV roles, but you might know her face best from Mnuchin’s confirmation hearings. Thoughout them she could be seen hovering over his shoulder, limpid micro-expressions of pride, concern, and adoring fascination flickering over her high cheekbones and sparking off her immaculate sweep of Ivanka-blond hair as Mnuchin opined on homeowner loan modifications. After Mnuchin stepped back from his position as CEO of film production company Dune Entertainment (which financed Wonder Woman!) to join Trump’s Cabinet, Linton was named—and then quickly un-named—his replacement.

You might also know Linton for her diamond collection, which she recently showed off in Town & Country. (“You never really own a diamond … You just get to keep it for a while before it begins a new journey with someone else.”) You might also-also know her for her “white savior” memoir In Congo’s Shadow: One Girl’s Perilous Journey to the Heart of Africa (!), which was eviscerated last summer for its inaccuracies and fabrications to the point that she pulled the book from Amazon and the Telegraph retracted and removed its excerpt, though not before passages like the below could find immortality online.

I know that the skinny white girl once so incongruous in Africa still lives on inside me. Even in this world where I’m supposed to belong, I still sometimes feel out of place. Whenever that happens, though, I try to remember a smiling gap-toothed child with HIV whose greatest joy was to sit on my lap and drink from a bottle of Coca-Cola.

I wonder if Linton invited that boy to experience possibly greater joys at her wedding! The elegant affair elicited the president’s biggest smile (previously seen when Sarah Palin, Kid Rock, and Ted Nugent visited the Oval Office), the smile Trump wears when hosting celebrities and lavish events inside his Mar-A-Lago of the mind. Here’s to a lifetime of smiles for the new couple—may they find a happiness as lasting as the joy that comes from foreclosing on tens of thousands of reverse mortgages in the wake of a financial crisis.

June 27 2017 10:07 AM

The Economy Has Been Great Since the Election, Say Men. Meh, Say Women.

If Newt Gingrich’s philosophy of crime statistics has taught America anything, it’s that feelings are more important than facts. Violent crime may be way down in the U.S., but if people don’t feel like it is—perhaps due to some potent blend of racist fearmongering and cable news coverage—Republicans will find a way to capitalize on their anxiety.

The reverse is true, too: If a demagogue brags about his made-up accomplishments enough, people will start to believe they’re true. Donald Trump is covering up his administration’s lack of achievement with stupid lies and barking about creating jobs through deals he had no part in. But at least two overlapping groups of Americans believe that the economy is getting better thanks to Trump’s diligent and capable work: old men and Republicans! Three out of four men over age 49 think the economy is doing well, as do 93 percent of Republican men and 61 percent of Republican women. Large majorities of those groups give Trump credit for whatever good stuff the economy has been up to lately.


Throughout history, men have almost always been more likely than women to think the economy is doing great. We can blame the gender wage gap and women’s larger role in purchasing consumer goods for that. According to a new poll from the Wall Street Journal and NBC News, the gender gap in economic outlook is wider now than it’s been in 40 years. Three-quarters of men surveyed said they thought the economy has improved since the election, while less than half of women said the same.

Gender differences in party makeup account for some of this 16-point gender gap, but not all of it. Republican women who were surveyed were four times as likely as their male counterparts to say the economy was not improving, and Democratic women were nearly 20 points more likely than their male peers to say so. In fact, a slim majority of Democratic men say the economy has improved since the election, and 14 percent of Democratic men say Trump deserves credit for that improvement. Since Trump’s election, men have gotten more confident in the country’s economy, while women have gotten less so.

The Wall Street Journal reports that, since the election, there has been no objective change in the labor market that has given men a better deal than women. Unemployment rates among men and women are nearly identical, and job growth for women has actually been somewhat better than it has been for men.

In other words, these economy feelings aren’t tethered to facts—they’re more usefully understood as proxies for general senses of security and well-being. A recent Pew Research Center survey found that men’s confidence in the country’s outlook has skyrocketed since Trump’s election, while Democratic women’s has plummeted and Republican women’s has risen slightly. Women do not feel represented and served by the current slate of policymakers charting America’s future, so their interpretation of the state of the economy is grimmer. It probably doesn’t help that they’re about to be priced out of their health care, either.

Trump and his cabinet have focused their rah-rah economy rhetoric on the jobs of white men: coal mining and manufacturing. Working-class women and people of color are far more likely to do care work, which is grossly underpaid, or hold jobs in the retail sector, which is hemorrhaging a much greater stream of jobs than the coal industry. As my colleague Jamelle Bouie wrote in April, to compare Trump’s devotion to the tiny, already-doomed coal industry with his virtually nonexistent response to the retail industry’s rapid decline is to reveal the racist and sexist biases at the heart of his economic plan. Whether the economy as a whole is up or down, women are watching the very real devaluation of their work. The damage is both economic and emotional.

June 26 2017 3:44 PM

Trumpcare Is the Perfect Document of the GOP: Pro-Birth, Anti-Woman, Anti-Child

A baker’s dozen of white male Republicans will have successfully placed abortion care out of reach for the majority of American women if the Senate passes the latest version of Trumpcare. The 13 men labored in unprecedented secrecy on a bill that would cut off poor women’s access to preventive care, prevent women who care for aging parents from keeping their jobs, and effectively dismantle a longstanding system for insurance coverage of abortion.

On a call with reporters on Friday, Sen. Patty Murray surmised that the all-male Senate committee kept their plan secret for so long because “they were just ashamed of their bill, and it’s easy to see why. … Senate Republicans’ Trumpcare bill is nothing less than an attack on women’s health and rights.”


Advocates had hoped that the Senate, with a much slimmer Republican majority than the House and procedural rules that could prevent targeted attacks on abortion care, would end up with a more moderate stab at Obamacare repeal. But the Senate’s Better Care Reconciliation Act—a response to the House’s American Health Care Act—contains the same attacks on women’s health that the GOP celebrated with the passage of the AHCA.

• It would block Planned Parenthood from accepting patients on Medicaid—more than half of Planned Parenthood’s client base—for one year, though Republicans would almost certainly seek to renew that provision every year they’re in power.

• It would make it possible for states to allow insurers to price people out of health care with sky-high premiums if they have a “pre-existing condition” in their medical histories, such as a previous Cesarean section or sexual assault.

• It would slash Medicaid, the majority of whose enrollees are women.

• It would let states decide whether or not to make insurance companies cover maternity care, which 88 percent of plans did not cover before the Affordable Care Act mandated it. Where the House bill included state subsidies for maternity and infant care, the Senate bill does not; Planned Parenthood estimates that up to 13 million women could lose access to coverage for maternal care if this bill becomes law.

Republicans have also taken the occasion of this bill to make it harder for women to afford abortion care. Conservative lawmakers have always used poor women as bargaining chips in abortion politics—see, for instance, the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits anyone on Medicaid from using her federally-funded health insurance for an abortion not needed for reasons of rape, incest, or a potentially deadly complication.

With their Trumpcare proposals, Republicans are trying to keep women on private insurance plans from getting abortion coverage, too. The Senate’s bill, like the House’s, would block any plan sold on a state insurance marketplace from covering abortion care. Any woman who gets tax credits to help her pay for health insurance—because she neither qualifies for Medicaid nor has insurance through her employer—would be unable to use those credits to purchase a plan that covers abortion. Both the Senate and the House’s versions of Trumpcare would also prevent small businesses from using their tax credits to offer insurance that covers abortion to their employees.

“For many folks, coverage for abortion care means the difference between getting the health care they need and being denied that care,” said Destiny Lopez, co-director of All* Above All, an abortion access advocacy group. “We know through research that the impact of denial can really have long-term devastating effects on a woman and her family’s economic future. … Frankly, it feels like it’s an attempt by antiabortion policymakers who can’t make abortion illegal to just interfere with our personal decision-making.”

Currently, states get to decide what services marketplace plans must or may not cover. Since 1981, California has required all insurance providers in the state to cover abortion care if they cover maternity care—and since the ACA mandated maternity care coverage, all insurance plans in California cover abortion. If Trumpcare becomes law, no person in California who uses federal tax credits for health insurance— about 1.2 million Californians in 2016—will be able to purchase any insurance plan at all, because they will all include abortion coverage. Neither will tax credit–using residents of New York and Massachusetts, where similar abortion-coverage mandates are in place. The immediate conflicts between these state regulations and the restrictions of Trumpcare would almost certainly result in litigation. California’s insurance commissioner told the Los Angeles Times that the GOP’s proposed restriction on private abortion coverage is “directly at odds with California law and California’s constitutional protection of an individual’s right to have access to abortions.”

If Trumpcare becomes law, its blows to the private insurance market for abortion coverage would disincentivize any insurer from covering the service. (Why offer plans that a large segment of employers and individuals can’t buy?) Abortion coverage is currently an industry standard in insurance plans; Trumpcare would attack it from two sides. “You’re going to see women being impacted directly if they rely on the subsidies, but also this chilling effect on insurers, because they’re not going to have that supply and demand in the market,” Lopez said.

“For us, it feels a little bit like a triple or quadruple whammy,” she continued. “Because it not only bans insurance coverage for abortion—it [also] bars reimbursement for Planned Parenthood; it decimates Medicaid; and it is going to make it harder for women who have babies to actually support their families and get insurance coverage for their families.”

Vox noted in a piece on Monday that post-natal care is already lacking in the U.S., and letting states allow insurers to stop covering maternity care will further damage what flimsy infrastructure exists. It is a remarkable feat of hypocrisy for the Republican Party to position its unparalleled crackdown on private abortion coverage as a pro-birth, pro-family policy while dismantling lifesaving health care for new mothers, who are more likely to die in the U.S. than any other country in the developed world. About half of the country’s new births each year are covered by Medicaid, from which the GOP hopes to cut $834 billion over the next decade. Anti-abortion policymakers love to talk about all the fetuses they “save” through draconian restrictions on women’s lives. After all that moralizing, they must have no empathy to spare for the babies and mothers who will suffer for the sin of being too poor to afford health care.

June 23 2017 3:01 PM

Bizarre App Lets Users Swipe Right to “Pray” for Real Women Considering Abortion

On Thursday morning, before I’d even brushed my teeth, I helped save the lives of more than 100 human children.

I achieved this remarkable feat during what might have been most productive 15 minutes of my lifetime, and possibly the most heroic use of an iPhone in recent history. With the help of an app developed by the anti-abortion Human Coalition, it was easy! I saved real-live babies from the clutches of money-grubbing abortion providers with just a couple dozen swipes of my right thumb, as if I were paging through Tinder or wiping a little schmutz off the screen of my phone.


You too can be a baby-saving hero. Your superpower awaits at your favored app store, searchable under “Human Coalition.” The organization, which calls abortion “the worst holocaust in human history” and hopes it will become “unthinkable and unavailable in our lifetime,” runs crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs) in the Atlanta, Pittsburgh, Dallas, and Raleigh, North Carolina, metro areas and has connections to more than 30 other CPCs around the country. On the Human Coalition app, users can browse a feed that purports to tally real women who are engaging with these centers. “Someone considering an abortion in Charlotte, North Carolina contacted a center,” one feed entry reads. “Someone considering abortion in Cleveland, Ohio scheduled an appointment with a center,” reads another.


Screenshot/Human Coalition app

The app leads users to believe that these people (“abandoned and rejected women,” according to the Human Coalition website) are on the verge of committing what the organization calls “mass murder.” But with a simple left swipe, users can register a “prayer” for each woman, pushing her through divine intervention to reconsider. An “impact” tab records how many prayers a user has performed, how many babies she’s helped save, and how many total babies Human Coalition has saved since its founding. An audio guide to the app explains, “If you’ve prayed for a woman who decides to keep her baby, you can be encouraged that, through prayer, you’ve helped save a child from abortion.”

I’ve reached out to Human Coalition several times to ask whether the entries in the feed correspond to real case files opened for real women who contact Human Coalition CPCs. I have gotten no response. It’s also not clear whether Human Coalition is tracking which real women each app user has prayed for, then updating that user’s “babies saved” tally if those specific women choose not to terminate their pregnancies. That is what the app promises, though, making this app either a discomfiting invasion of privacy or a gigantic lie.

Human Coalition makes much of the sort of data-driven action its app claims to track. The organization’s website says employees monitor “the entire marketing to life-decision process,” or the conversion of an ad click to a CPC visit to a woman choosing to carry her pregnancy to term. “We’re able to calculate precisely how much money is needed to reach an at-risk woman and help rescue her baby from abortion,” the site states. That figure currently sits at $265.

Brian Fisher, Human Coalition’s founder, has said that many of the women who come into Human Coalition–affiliated CPCs “will not walk into the pregnancy center voluntarily” if they know it’s not a health center that offers abortion care. This is why CPCs market themselves to seem like women’s health clinics that provide abortions. To those not intimately familiar with the tactics and language of the anti-abortion movement, CPC ads and websites are virtually indistinguishable from those of legitimate care providers. Women often visit these centers expecting medical care, only to find no doctors or nurses—just a free pregnancy test, a pamphlet full of misinformation about abortion complications, and, in at least one case, an ultrasound operator who mistakes an IUD for a fetus. According to Human Coalition’s associate general counsel, Colin LeCroy, other CPCs target “abortion-vulnerable” women who are still deciding what to do about their pregnancies. In contrast, Human Coalition’s CPCs try to get women who’ve already decided to get an abortion to make an appointment at a CPC they think is a comprehensive health care facility. “The average crisis pregnancy center sees about 239 abortion-vulnerable women per year, only 22 of whom are said to be abortion-minded,” LeCroy told the Daily Wire last month. “An average Human Coalition care center will see 563 women, 542 of whom who stated that they planned to get an abortion.”

In other words, like most CPCs, Human Coalition traffics in deception at every level. But unlike most CPCs, this one has cajoled a mainstream media outlet into passing over the megaphone. In the span of less than three months this spring, the New York Times published two op-eds by Human Coalition leaders. One rejected the notion that reproductive autonomy is an essential contributor to economic justice, writing that a woman wants an abortion “as an animal, caught in a trap, wants to gnaw off its own leg.” The other contended that feminism rests on the idea that “freedom can be bought with the blood of our preborn children,” and that a better feminism would “reject the pressure to believe that killing our children and living full lives are mutually inclusive.” Both op-eds battle straw men, contain misinformation—the latter blatantly mischaracterizes a study it cites—and function as free advertisements for Human Coalition. “At Human Coalition, where I work, we extend tangible, compassionate help to pregnant women,” PR manager Lauren Enriquez wrote in February. “There are better solutions” for pregnant women than abortion, wrote client services director Lori Szala in May, “they just require more creativity and more effort.” And who, pray tell, might provide such solutions? “Organizations like mine.”

The Times was clearly trying to show some diversity of opinion in its pages, an objective that’s difficult to achieve when the two sides of an issue are not equally endowed with logic, facts, and humanity. (See also: Bret Stephens, hiring of.) It speaks volumes about the anti-abortion movement that the best representatives the Times could find work for an organization that claims Planned Parenthood has committed greater atrocities than “the Jewish Holocaust” and that there is no difference between killing “kindergartners and preborn children.”

These beyond-the-pale views on women’s health care come through in the Human Coalition “baby-saving” app. The organization claims its methodical data analysis makes it more effective and sophisticated than the average CPC chain. Those claims are highly exaggerated—almost every CPC uses deceptive advertising to get women, and other anti-abortion groups have used technologies like mobile geofencing to track women who enter abortion clinics and send them such ads. But the Human Coalition app is a great example of how things that seem fine in the hands of good people—apps, customer conversion data, prayer—can turn sinister in the hands of those who believe nearly 1 million U.S. women become murderers each year.

June 22 2017 5:39 PM

Bill Cosby Wants to Teach Cheating Husbands and Male Athletes How Not to Get Accused of Rape

Now that his sexual assault trial has ended with a deadlocked jury, Bill Cosby’s got a lot of time on his hands. And with his reputation in tatters, it couldn’t hurt to give back to the community, right?

Right! That’s why the man whom 60 women have accused of rape, assault, and harassment is reportedly planning a series of summer town halls in which he will teach male athletes and cheating husbands how to avoid getting accused of rape, assault, and harassment. “This is bigger than Bill Cosby. This issue”—having a woman say you raped her—“can affect any young person, especially young athletes of today,” publicist Andrew Wyatt said. “They need to know what they are facing when they are hanging out and partying, when they are doing certain things that they shouldn’t be doing. And it also affects married men.”


Cosby family spokespeople announced the comedian’s forthcoming lecture series on Good Day Alabama on Wednesday. “Is it kind of a ‘do as I say, not as I do’ situation?” host Janice Rogers asked with a chuckle. Great point, Rogers! This is like if Stephen Curry gave lessons in missing free throws, or Robert Durst started teaching classes on not getting accused of murder. He’s really, really bad at not getting accused of murder. Literally anyone else (who hasn’t been accused of murder) would be better at teaching people how to avoid inviting multiple accusations of murder. Cosby is the actual poster child for doing things that get you accused of rape.

But hey, you know what people who hate teachers say: “Those who can’t do, teach.” Perhaps Cosby’s syllabus will include such seminal works in the “don’t get accused of rape” canon as “TEN RAPE PREVENTION TIPS,” a list that includes the following nuggets: “Carry a rape whistle. If you find that you are about to rape someone, blow the whistle until someone comes to stop you,” and “When you encounter a woman who is asleep, the safest course of action is to not rape her,” and “Don’t put drugs in women’s drinks,” which should be particularly relevant to Cosby’s lesson plan.

The forthcoming anti-rape-accusation town halls will also apparently include information about statutes of limitations. “Laws are changing. The statutes of limitations for victims of sexual assault are being extended,” said Camille Cosby spokeswoman Ebonee Benson on Good Day Alabama. “So this is why people need to be educated on—a brush against the shoulder, you know, anything at this point can be considered sexual assault.” Sample course titles may include “Damn Laws Making the Legal System Slightly Less Hostile to Victims” and “When People Say You ‘Raped’ Them, They Actually Mean You Stepped on Their Toe.”

Dates for the Cosby town halls have yet to be announced. In the meantime, if he needs a TA, he should give convicted sexual assailant Brock Turner a call. Before a judge sentenced Turner to just a few months in jail for sexually abusing an unconscious young woman behind a dumpster, Turner’s father pleaded for no jail time at all, promising that his son would make the world a better place. “Brock can do so many positive things as a contributor to society and is totally committed to educating other college age students about the dangers of alcohol consumption and sexual promiscuity,” Turner’s father wrote. “By having people like Brock educate others on college campuses is how society can begin to break the cycle of binge drinking and its unfortunate results.” With their powers combined, Cosby and Turner can surely stop the scourges of alcohol consumption and brushing against shoulders, which lead to unfortunate results like rape accusations. The next generation of Stanford students and famous comedians are lucky to have such brilliant role models.

June 22 2017 2:30 PM

“It Could Have Been Any One of Us”: Muslim Community Mourns Murdered Teen Nabra Hassanen 

RESTON, Virginia—Three days after the murder of Nabra Hassanen, a 17-year-old black Muslim girl from Virginia, hundreds gathered at the tip of a manmade lake in her hometown of Reston on Wednesday to share their memories and air their grief. Residents of surrounding towns who’d never met her but had heard of her death came to place flowers at the feet of her family. Friends spoke of her as a big-sister figure, generous and kind, who loved without judgment and would give her last cent to buy a meal for a classmate who didn’t have enough to eat.

“She knew how to make you smile,” said Abidah Ali, the youth coordinator at the Sterling, Virginia, All Dulles Area Muslim Society Center, where Nabra attended religious services. “It is said that Mohammed, peace and blessings be upon him, said smiling is an act of charity. I’m sure Nabra is somewhere smiling right now, because the entire world around her is reaping the benefits of her charity. We are a closer community now because of her sacrifice.”


Nabra and a large group of friends were walking back to the ADAMS Center from a nearby IHOP early Sunday morning when they were accosted by a driver with a baseball bat. (During the current month of Ramadan, when Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset, late-night prayers and meals are the norm.) All of the teens made it back to the ADAMS Center but Nabra. Law enforcement officials found her body in a muddy pond behind the parking lot of an office park on Sunday afternoon and arrested 22-year-old Darwin Martinez Torres in connection with her murder. They are now looking for evidence that Torres may have sexually assaulted Nabra before killing her.

Rafiah, a 20-year-old Muslim woman at Nabra’s vigil, lives in the neighboring town of Ashburn. “We've all made that walk,” she said of the trip from night prayers at the mosque to Suhoor, the predawn meal. “We made it because we felt safe.” Previously, her parents would be OK with her staying overnight at her mosque. Now, she says, they’re going to be much stricter. Mariam, a 25-year-old from Maryland, didn’t know Nabra but feels a deep personal connection to the tragedy. “It could have been any one of us,” she said. “This is a holy month for us Muslims, and we’re doing our best to come together, give back, do good. And then something like this comes into our community. We’re left speechless.”

Rafiah, Sarah, Reem, and Husna didn’t know Nabra but came to her vigil to support fellow area Muslims.

Christina Cauterucci

Though many Muslims in the area are grappling with elevated fear in what seemed like a safe community, police say they are not investigating Nabra’s murder as a hate crime. A spokeswoman for the Fairfax County Police Department in Virginia told CNN that many assume it’s hate-related because the group was on its way to a mosque and Nabra was wearing an abaya, a long religious garment. Nabra’s parents have said that their daughter was killed because she was visibly Muslim. But it can be hard to prove that an act of violence is a hate crime if the perpetrator doesn’t utter derogatory slurs or display any connection to organized hate groups. Local law enforcement officials are calling Torres’ alleged motive “road rage.”

That explanation rang false to attendees at Wednesday’s vigil. “It hurts us as a community to put this under road rage. He ran after her. He beat her. There’s a limit to what road rage can do,” said Reem, a young Muslim woman who lives near the ADAMS Center. “If you put it under road rage, it makes it seems like an accident,” agreed Reem’s teenage friend Husna. “You don’t do something like that in the moment. You don’t beat someone to death and dump her in a lake in the moment.” The chalking up of a vicious murder to everyday traffic concerns reminded some vigilgoers of the 2015 killing of three Muslim students near the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Police described the murders as the culmination of a “parking dispute.”

Farris Barakat lost his brother, sister-in-law, and sister-in-law’s sister in that crime, which Barakat and others still believe was a hate crime. He spoke at Nabra’s memorial on Wednesday after spending a few days this week with her family and friends. “The fear is real. The fear of Muslim women in their day-to-day lives is palpable,” Barakat said. “Muslim lives matter. Nabra’s life mattered. Your lives matter.” He thanked members of the “Spanish community” who came to show support.

Other attendees spoke of Reston and surrounding towns as some of the most diverse communities in the U.S., where residents of faith live side by side in kinship. The ADAMS Center has two satellite prayer locations at area synagogues and hosts an interfaith Seder every year; one pan-Christian parish opened its parking lot for vigilgoers, and a Methodist one sent a representative with remarks from the pastor. Rabbi Michael Holzman from the Northern Virginia Hebrew Congregation said at the vigil that he “knew something was different” when he moved to Reston. “How did his get to be a place where people show up in such numbers for a girl they didn't know?” he asked. “This place came to be because of people like Nabra. She was a leader. Most of the world is not like this.” His synagogue offered dates, a traditional post-fast snack, and water to vigil attendees breaking their Ramadan fast after the proceedings ended.

Teens at Nabra’s vigil.

Christina Cauterucci

Now, for some Muslims in the region, that feeling of safety and peace in diversity is a bit more tenuous. Hasnia, who lives just over the D.C. border in Alexandria, Virginia, says she’s never felt any different from any other American woman, other than the fact that she covers her hair with a scarf. “I’ve never really had an incident like this happen in all the years I’ve been here. This is a reminder to us to be more aware that hate is here in America, that hate exists,” she said. “We will carry on, but we will carry on more mindfully now.” Mariam understands that fear is a logical response to the killing of one of their own, but watching the community gather with non-Muslims to celebrate Nabra’s life has given her hope. “I think this is a way for me to be more empowered, the fact that all these people are coming here together—to be more proud of the headscarf that I wear on a day-to-day basis,” she said. “If we stay strong and show this support and unity going forward, I think we can overcome anything.”

At the vigil, a group of boys from Nabra’s school walked up to the mic, one by one, each with a different descriptor of the classmate they lost. “Nabra was inspiring,” said one. “Nabra was humorous,” said another. “Nabra was open-minded.” “Nabra was compassionate.” “Nabra was fashionable.” Even as they mourned their friend, they were acting like high school boys—jostling for spots, smiling nervous smiles, clapping one another on their backs. A few girls in hijabs watched from the audience, whispering about which ones were the cutest. According to friends, the girl they were there to mourn was full of life and teenage spirit: She loved to flip her hijab with sarcastic exasperation, do silly dances, and pull up rap lyrics on her phone to try to sing along with her favorite songs. Her friends are proud that her story was retweeted by Zendaya and trending in Egypt; they are young, strong, and resilient, children forced to confront profound tragedy and the worst of humanity days before their high school graduation.

Sarah, a 17-year-old from a nearby Virginia town, didn’t know Nabra but came to the vigil with friends to honor a girl whose fate could have easily been her own. She says she refuses to let Nabra’s murder destroy the place where she feels “safest and most secure”—her mosque. “Obviously, it’s not going to stop us,” Sarah said. “We’re still going to go to our night prayers. We’re still going to eat Suhoor. We’ve just got to buddy up. We just have to look out for each other.”

Boys from Nabra’s school wait to speak.

Christina Cauterucci

June 22 2017 2:22 PM

N.H. Republicans Accidentally Approved a Bill Allowing Pregnant Women to Commit Murder

Anti-abortion advocates often frame their arguments in terms of women’s empowerment. But rarely do they go as far as New Hampshire Republicans recently did with a bill that would have given pregnant women impunity to commit murder.

Senate Bill 66 was intended to define a fetus past 20 weeks of gestation as a person in cases of murder or manslaughter. Proponents of such “fetal homicide” bills argue that they protect both pregnant women and their unborn children from violence, and provide recourse when fetuses are victims of reckless drivers, for example. But critics say they are designed to undermine abortion rights. They point out that such laws have ensnared women who experience miscarriages and who are suspected of trying to self-induce abortion. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 38 states currently have some kind of feticide laws on the books.


New Hampshire Republicans tried to reassure critics by including exemptions designed to protect from prosecution doctors and women seeking abortions. The bill’s original language stated that “any act committed by the pregnant woman” or a doctor acting in his professional capacity wouldn’t apply in cases of second-degree murder, manslaughter, or negligent homicide. Unfortunately, “any act” implied, well, any act. The bill “allows a pregnant woman to commit homicide without consequences,” Republican representative J.R. Hoell told the Concord Monitor. “Although that was never the intent, that is the clear reading of the language.” *blooper sound effect*

The bill cleared the state Senate and the House before anyone noticed this fully dilated loophole. To be fair, lawyers consulted by the Monitor said that if the bill actually became law, the state would likely have been protected by existing legal language including the principle that laws cannot be read literally when such a reading would yield an “absurd result.” Still, it’s probably fair to assume that New Hampshire was mere weeks away from having an army of Kill Bill–style avenging mothers-to-be roaming the state with Uzis propped on top of their bulging bellies.

As a New Hampshire resident, I am happy to report that we have been spared this fate. On Thursday morning, the House passed a technical amendment that corrected the bill’s language “to make sure pregnant women don’t go around killing people,” as one Democratic representative put it on the House floor on Thursday. The bill proceeds next to the desk of Republican Gov. Chris Sununu, who has previously said he plans to sign SB66 into law.

June 21 2017 4:05 PM

You Can Draw a Direct Line From the “Dadbod” Phenomenon to the New Ken Dolls

The next generation of Barbies and Kens.


Like everything from Dove body wash bottles to Oreo cookies—duh, they now let you choose from the classic version, Oreo Thins, or Double Stuf—to Barbie herself, Ken dolls will soon come in multiple shapes and sizes, to better reflect our patchwork quilt of a society, in which Goldilocks-ian consumers have become accustomed to options. As a hilarious piece by Caity Weaver in July’s GQ details, this means Ken, Barbie’s sometimes boyfriend and all-purpose male companion, will go from being one blond-haired, blue-eyed hunk to a deitylike being that inhabits many forms: man-bun Ken, mixed-race Ken, and shorter-but-not-in-a-way-that-makes-him-any-less-of-a-man Ken. The Ken makeover follows last year’s Barbie overhaul, which saw the introduction of curvy, petite, and tall Barbie doll shapes to the decades-old line of toys, along with additional skin color and hair options. So now it’s Ken’s turn, which meant Mattel had to ask itself: What would a “curvy” Ken look like?

Well, first of all, you could never call him that. The company eventually settled on producing dolls in “broad” and “slim” body types, in addition to the original model. But make no mistake, “broad” Ken isn’t heavyset any moreso than “curvy” Barbie is fat. He still has muscle definition; he’s just slightly taller, with slightly thicker limbs, than normal Ken, and he makes slim Ken look a little wimpy in comparison. Not that smaller stature has any real correlation to wimpiness.


One of the most fun parts of of the GQ piece is the window it provides into the different ways we talk about male and female body types, as filtered through the different ways we talk about male and female doll body types. As Mattel’s own consumer insights department would probably attest, people have strong opinions with regard to what these bodies should look like, and it is Mattel’s goal to land on types with which consumers have “a neutral-to-positive association.” It quickly becomes clear that, despite being praised for embracing inclusivity, Mattel is not interested in leading the charge on producing diverse toys. So applaud the new dolls, but don’t expect anything radical—actually fat Barbies, or transgender Kens—anytime soon. Mattel’s fundamental conservatism is evident not only in its long history of centering white, blue-eyed, blond, impossibly-shaped dolls but also in the company’s continued commitment to focus-grouping and market-testing its every move. Rather than set the tone, Mattel has followed dutifully behind consumer opinion. It's a corporation, not a think tank, after all.

In any case, it's fascinating to wade into the complicated cultural expectations of male body image, for a change. After many years of tortured discussion of "plus-size" female bodies, we've arrived at a near-universal solution in the form of curvy. Even though it’s a word that has now practically lost all meaning in this context, it's still got a whiff of sexiness that strips it of negative connotations. In the GQ piece, a designer says that “[o]riginally, I made [Ken] paunchy. I gave him a nice healthy gut.” But he pulled back: “It was a matter of finding balance.” The designer knew instinctively that consumers would shun paunchy Ken.

The arrival of broad Ken hearkens back to another moment when the culture attempted to coin a term to describe male bodies that deviated from the standard ideal of beauty: the dadbod frenzy. A college student came up with the phrase dadbod in 2015 to reframe the love handles and soft bellies of comfortable middle age as more of a lifestyle choice than a marker of years. It quickly caught fire as slang—a descriptor not just for the bods of actual dads but for dad-shaped younger male bods, too—so much so that when the new Barbie shapes came out last year, on social media there were calls for “Dadbod Ken,” a version of Ken that was a little less ripped, a little more beer belly. But did dadbod catch on because it was a brilliant coinage or because we’re sorely lacking in words to talk about men’s bodies?

The journey to “broad” Kens shows us that whether we are dealing with dolls or real people, talking about men’s bodies isn’t that much less fraught than talking about women’s. The cultural conversation around the male form is also a mess of unrealistic expectations and heteronormative standards. For instance: Before settling on broad, Mattel tried plus-size, husky, athletic, and brawny, the executives bumbling around like they were trying to name a new line of paper towels.

Dadbod, at least, is whimsical; it's a tongue-in-cheek attempt to bestow intentionality on imperfection, to make beery paunch seem less like the result of a bod gone to seed than like a fun trend that might be gamely embraced. You can feel the word dadbod straining to paint less-than-great physical shape as a virtue, a marker of approachable, everyman normalness, but as a euphemism it is likably self-aware. Broad, meanwhile, has all the charmless bulk of a Subaru. But it might not matter: The concept of “body positivity,” for all its contradictions, still doesn’t really apply to men, much less male dolls.

June 21 2017 3:23 PM

Iran Bans Zumba and Other “Body-Shaking Instruction”

With tensions in Middle East roiling, the government of Iran took a strong step this month to address a matter of deep geopolitical importance: It effectively banned Zumba. The government’s Sports for All Federation issued a statement forbidding “Zumba and any harmonious movement or body-shaking instruction” in public or private settings, accusing the craze of “contravening Islamic ideology.”

The sticky theological question for the country’s Shiite clerics was whether the rhythmic movements of Zumba, an aerobics fad that originated in Colombia, are best classified as dancing or exercise. Authorities have apparently decided that they are aimed at “pleasure seeking,” which makes them haram. They are also concerned about Zumba’s second-order effects on men, who can watch videos of classes online. Some videos have been blocked as pornography since the ban.


But as the Israeli newspaper Haaretz points out, the Iranian clerics are actually behind the curve in noticing Zumba’s problematic sexiness. In 2013, a rabbinical judge in the Israeli community of Betar Ilit banned Zumba because “in form and manner, the activity is totally at odds with both the ways of the Torah and the holiness of Israel, as are the songs associated to it.” (Women simply sought out Zumba classes in other communities.) Around the same time, one American rabbi warned that the “goyish provocative” music would lead to pole dancing, which would in turn lead to prostitution.

Zumba is not the only exercise fad singled out by religious authorities for suspicion. Yoga has been the focus of Christian mistrust for decades, for example, because of its origins in Eastern religious traditions and associations with New Age spirituality. “When Christians practice yoga,” the president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Albert Mohler, warned in 2010, “they must either deny the reality of what yoga represents or fail to see the contradictions between their Christian commitments and their embrace of yoga.” Mark Driscoll, an evangelical pastor who then headed a megachurch in Seattle, called yoga “demonic” the following year.

Other Christians have embraced yoga’s moves while attempting to strip it of its religious associations, or layering their own on top of it. There’s Christ Centered Yoga, PraiseMoves (“the Christian ALTERNATIVE to Yoga!”), Yogod, and Holy Yoga, whose practitioners omit mentions of chakras and the customary chanting of “Om.” This, in turn, has prompted suspicion from traditional practitioners. “Can Yoga Be Christian?” an editorial reprinted in U.S. News & World Report asked Wednesday, which happened to be International Yoga Day.

Religious authorities have a variety of reasons for warning adherents from getting caught up in fitness crazes: too sexy, too New Age, too sexy, too vain, too sexy. But group exercise classes are more than just a way to shed pounds. They’re also places for collective ecstasy, an often-sweaty mixture of inward gazing and outward fervor. They are cousins, in other words, of religious services. That makes them competition.

Meanwhile, in Iran, Zumba instructors and fans are grappling with fallout from the new ban. Zumba remains wildly popular in major cities among all kinds of women, whose exercise opportunities had already been severely restricted by other bans. Instructors there previously used euphemisms like “exercise to music” or “body rhythm” to promote classes, before loosening up in recent years and using “Zumba” openly. One instructor in Tehran told the New York Times she will continue with her classes, but will simply change the name. “Zumba,” she said, “will not be stopped.” If she’s right, that’s something else it has in common with faith.