The XX Factor
What Women Really Think

May 31 2016 4:19 PM

The Military Used to Get Rid of Rape Victims by Claiming They Were Mentally Ill

Liz Luras was a promising U.S. Army private, tracked to do intelligence work because of her high test scores, when she was raped by her date to the Marine Corps ball in the early 2000s. When another soldier reported what had happened, Luras says she became the subject of hazing and abuse. She was raped two more times and kept silent about it. Still, Luras says that not long after the latter assault, her drill sergeant ordered her to sign papers agreeing to her discharge. It was only later, when she looked closely at the papers, that she realized they described her as having a “personality disorder”—a mental health condition with which she had never been diagnosed. That label changed the course of Luras’ life, barring her from reenlisting in the military and lowering her chances of securing other work. Now an activist for other survivors, Luras says that even within the veteran community, she has felt “this whole other layer of shame.”

Luras is one of over 200 sexual assault survivors from all branches of the U.S. Armed Forces whose stories are part of a new Human Rights Watch report. It’s an old strategy to undermine a victim of sexual assault by calling her crazy—and this is exactly what the U.S. military is accused of doing to thousands of servicemen and women. “‘Personality Disorder’ discharges—a term used to describe a mental health condition that can disqualify someone from military service—were once ‘the fastest and easiest way to get rid of someone’ in the military,” the report explains. From 2001 to 2010, over 31,000 service members received PD discharges, “often after only a single cursory interaction with a doctor.” The report continues: “PD does not have greater prevalence among females. However, between 2000 and 2010, the services discharged women for PD at rates nearly double what would be expected given the proportion of women in service.”

May 31 2016 1:58 PM

Women Can Now Drink Beer Named for Ladies’ Shoes. Yay?

In a few weeks, women will have the perfect beer to sip while writing diary entries with dainty Bic “For Her” pens and blocking out the ugly noise of an unrefined world with “Pretty in Pink” earplugs. Rather than chugging unisex swill labeled in silver and blue, ladies can luxuriate in the more feminine hues and cutesy labels of High Heel Brewing, a new beer company that will release its first women-targeted products—a cider-ale fusion called Slingback and an American IPA titled Too Hop’d to Handle—in Florida this June.

The flirty puns and on-the-nose shoe imagery are just the tip of High Heel Brewing’s gender-specific marketing strategy, which includes pink and purple packaging (because how else are women supposed to know they can drink it?!) bedecked in ambiguous inspirational quotes that sound like things an amateur yoga instructor might slur after one too many kombucha-tinis: “Savor the now”; “Be fearless in the pursuit of what sets your soul on fire.” High Heel Brewing’s logo is a stylized hop perched atop a heel. The in brewing is highlighted in pink. For woman.

May 31 2016 11:36 AM

Harambe the Gorilla’s Death Is a Tragedy. But Stop Blaming the Little Boy’s Parents.

High-profile animal deaths are a reliable source of moral outrage. This comes from frustration with human beings’ inability to cohabit respectfully with the other creatures on our planet. Also, getting sad about these losses comes easy, as the grief requires little in the way of change to one’s behavior or ethics.

On Saturday, a 3-year-old boy found his way into the silverback gorilla enclosure at the Cincinnati Zoo; zookeepers made the decision to shoot and kill a gorilla named Harambe in order to protect the boy. Predictably, outraged ensued.

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The circumstances surrounding the killing are—as is the case in most split-second decisions made under extreme duress—debatable. Some experts, including Cincinnati Zoo Director Thane Maynard, pointed out that these animals are enormous, incredibly strong, and unpredictable, and that the only way to guarantee the boy’s safety was to kill Harambe. Others, including primatologist Frans de Waal, remain uncertain as to whether the boy was really in danger and whether such measures were necessary. But people—with their aversion to uncertainty and villianless tragedy—need someone to blame and are targeting the boy’s parents with their ire.

A petition on Change.org with more than 300,000 signatures states the following:

This beautiful gorilla lost his life because the boy's parents did not keep a closer watch on the child. We the undersigned believe that the child would not have been able to enter the enclosure under proper parental supervision. … We the undersigned want the parents to be held accountable for the lack of supervision and negligence that caused Harambe to lose his life. We the undersigned feel the child's safety is paramount in this situation. ...We the undersigned actively encourage an investigation of the child's home environment in the interests of protecting the child and his siblings from further incidents of parental negligence that may result in serious bodily harm or even death.

This condemnation of the parents is making its way around social media, too. Comedian Ricky Gervais—not, last I checked, a primatologist—tweeted: “It seems that some gorillas make better parents than some people.” It has more than 5,000 retweets and 11,000 likes. D.L. Hughley tweeted that he thinks the boys’ parents should go to jail. There’s a meme that reads: “I was killed because a bitch wasn’t watching her child.” And de Waal concludes his popular Facebook post with: “At least, we can all agree that people should watch their children!” There are those, including PETA, who are criticizing the zoo for failing to have an adequate barrier around the gorilla enclosure. But that critique is gaining less traction than the one focused on the boy’s parents.

Children can’t always be watched, even by the most competent of parents. I am also a mother of a 3-year-old boy and have had to take my eyes off of him in a public setting for a variety of reasons, many of which involve digging through the bottom of the stroller to locate sunscreen or his water bottle. Other times it’s to assess oncoming traffic or to find the cereal he absolutely must eat in the morning. The brief absence of surveillance involves a calculated risk, sure, but it’s one parents must take in order to take care of their families. While I can’t speak about the competence of the parents of the boy who fell into the gorilla enclosure, I can say with certainty that there is no parent out there who has never looked away from his or her child for even a moment.

There’s also a layer of deep irony to this critique. Today’s mothers and fathers are constantly denounced as helicopter parents—micromanagers and overcoddlers of their children who will never learn how to be independent. The finger-pointing at the parents of the boy at the zoo suggests that there is no such thing as the right amount of parenting. Things go wrong because either we’ve done too little or done too much. Either way, it’s all our fault.

I understand the sadness about Harambe. I am sad about Harambe. But the rage would be much better spent on supporting conservation efforts of silverback gorillas than on demanding that the parents of the boy be held accountable. They’ve already been through enough.

May 27 2016 3:15 PM

Amber Heard Files for Divorce From Johnny Depp, Accuses Him of Repeated Abuse

Update Friday, May 27, 4 p.m. ET: After this story went live, TMZ published another story, claiming that police officers found no evidence of injury on Heard when they went to her home Saturday night.

Amber Heard has filed for a restraining order against Johnny Depp, her husband of just over a year, accusing him of repeated assaults. Heard filed for divorce early this week and, TMZ reports, arrived in court on Friday with facial bruises and abrasions that Depp had allegedly inflicted.

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A source told People that this was “only the latest incident” in a pattern of Depp’s abuse.

Heard says that Depp hit her face with his iPhone on Saturday. From TMZ:

Amber claims during the alleged attack, Johnny shattered various objects in the apartment. She says she was on the phone with a friend during the fight, and when Johnny grabbed her phone she screamed to her friend, “Call the cops!” The friend called 911 and cops came to the residence. Amber says when cops arrived Johnny had already fled, so they took a report.
We're told cops told Amber they would find Johnny and arrest him if she gave a statement about the alleged violence, but she refused. Officers told her if she changed her mind she could call them. 
Cops gave Amber this business [card] and told her to call if she [wanted] to press charges. As far as we know, she has not gone back to the cops. Heard claims after he allegedly hit her he offered her money to stay quiet, but instead she filed for divorce.

Depp has not publicly responded to Heard’s allegations, but he released a statement on the pending divorce through a spokesperson earlier this week: “Given the brevity of this marriage and the most recent and tragic loss of his mother, Johnny will not respond to any of the salacious false stories, gossip, misinformation and lies about his personal life. Hopefully, the dissolution of this short marriage will be resolved quickly.” Depp has asked a judge to deny Heard’s request for alimony.

May 27 2016 2:05 PM

Donald Trump Called Pregnancy an “Inconvenience” for Business Owners

At a time when a gender-blind parental leave arms race is sweeping America’s private sector, it’s a special kind of ironic that a man who just clinched the nomination of one of our two major parties on the supposed strength of his business acumen thinks pregnancy is an “inconvenience” for companies.

On Thursday, NBC News reupped an October 2004 Dateline segment on Carolyn Kepcher, then a top executive at Trump Golf Properties and Apprentice star. In an interview about Kepcher’s maternity leave, Trump expressed ambivalence about her decision. “Pregnancy is never—it’s a wonderful thing for the woman. It's a wonderful thing for the husband. It's certainly an inconvenience for a business,” Trump said. “And whether people want to say that or not, the fact is it is an inconvenience for a person that is running a business.”

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The segment, pegged with the Trump-esque title “Blonde Ambition,” finds Kepcher recalling her apprehension when it came time to tell Trump about her pregnancy. “I thought, oh, if I tell him I’m pregnant, he’s going to think ‘oh, this is going to be a long nine months.’ So, If I tell him at six months, it’s only—it will be over in three months,” she recounts. “Maybe in my mind he might think this would perhaps be a setback or ‘maybe I'm going to have to bring somebody in to replace her throughout her pregnancy, or when she takes a maternity leave.”

Kepcher only took three weeks of full-time maternity leave, then “part-time after that,” she says in the clip. Asked if he thought his employee might have felt that she had to hurry back or risk getting replaced, Trump said, “I don’t think so. I think she loves her job.” But, he said, the concept of Kepcher feeling pressured to cut leave short is “an interesting premise. Maybe she should feel that way a little bit. But the fact is that would not have happened.”

Trump is notoriously repulsed by the concept of pregnancy and the women who contend with its fruits. In its Thursday Dateline post, NBC called up a bizarre anecdote from earlier this year:

Ivanka, who gave birth on March 27, was back on the campaign trail within two weeks, appearing with her father at a rally in Bethpage, New York. “You know, she had a baby like five days ago,” Trump praised her during the rally, which was actually held 10 days after Ivanka gave birth. “She did a good job. So I should not say Ivanka, you're fired, right? I promise.”

The Republican presidential nominee has also said that the workplace pumping of breast milk, a necessary practice for many new mothers, is “disgusting.”

May 27 2016 12:16 PM

The Senate Passed a Unanimous Resolution Supporting Equal Pay for U.S. Women’s Soccer

For the second time this week, the U.S. legislative body best known for its obstructionist leanings managed to squeak out a unanimous vote for the public good. Following Monday’s passage of a progressive rights bill for sexual assault survivors, the Senate passed a resolution on Thursday asking U.S. Soccer to grant equal pay to its female players.

Introduced by Sen. Patty Murray, D-Washington, and 21 other Democrats in mid-May, the resolution urges the federation to “eliminate gender pay inequity and treat all athletes with the same respect and dignity,” then it throws some much-needed shade at U.S. Soccer, listing the women’s team’s historic accomplishments in clinical deadpan. “The United States women’s national team is ranked first in the world as of the date of adoption of this resolution,” it reads. “The 2015 final Women’s World Cup match generated an audience of approximately 750,000,000 viewers worldwide and more than 25,000,000 viewers in the United States, the largest audience of any soccer game shown in the United States on English language television.”

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The resolution comes two months after five big-name members of the U.S. women’s national team filed a wage discrimination complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against U.S. Soccer, alleging that the members of the comparatively mediocre U.S. men’s team get paid more just to show up at a game and kick the ball around than the World Cup and Olympic champions of the women’s team do when they win.

By all visible measures, those allegations are true. Women’s team members make a $72,000 annual salary, plus occasional bonuses; men’s team members get paid in a series of guaranteed bonuses that get bumped up based on each type of game the men play and whether they win. The men's pay structure is such that they always get get a much higher take than the women, even if they have a losing record while the women take the World Cup and Olympic gold. Some of the most egregious examples, as I wrote in Slate last month:

For a friendly match against a team ranked in the top 10, a women’s team member gets $1,350 for a win and nothing for a loss. For the same match, a men’s team member gets a whopping $17,625 for a win and $5,000 for a loss. The women make $75,000 each for a World Cup win; the men make around $335,000 each.
Or they would, if they ever made it that far. U.S. Soccer has maintained inequitable bonus structures, which are negotiated separately in collective bargaining agreements, for decades. In 1998, each U.S. women’s team player got a $2,500 bonus for making the World Cup team. They ended up taking home the championship. The men each got a $20,000 bonus for making their team, and finished dead last. U.S. Soccer reported a $20 million jump in national team revenue last year, which the women’s team credits to their World Cup win and the victory tour that followed. “The men’s most notable achievement in the past half-century was a quarterfinal appearance at the 2002 World Cup,” the New York Times deadpanned.

In a parallel suit, the player’s union that covers the women’s team brought U.S. Soccer to court on Thursday to establish the legality of a strike, a measure the team is considering as it looks to the upcoming summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. The federation maintains that the union is hamstrung by a no-strike clause in the contract; the union says that clause expired in the players’ last contract.

The most impressive part of Thursday’s unanimous Senate resolution—impressive in that all 54 Republican senators co-signed the message—is the way it contextualizes the struggles of the U.S. women’s team within the broader scope of gender pay inequity and addresses the far wider pay disparities women of color face relative to those of white women. U.S. Soccer’s biased pay structure is “reflective of the reality of many women in the United States who, more than 50 years after the enactment of the Equal Pay Act, still make on average only 79 cents for each dollar made by a male counterpart,” the resolution reads. “Those pay disparities exist in both the private and the public sectors and, in many instances, the pay disparities can only be due to continued intentional discrimination or the lingering effects of past discrimination.” It’s a document better suited for a feminist rally than a non-binding resolution few will ever see.

And that’s the sad part: Thursday’s resolution isn’t a law. It will get sent to U.S. Soccer, and it will spur articles like this, which may enliven some dormant activists for pay equality, but it has no binding effect on the money women make in soccer or elsewhere. Still, the resolution is a powerful symbolic message to the soccer federation, particularly because it’s unanimous. It would have been easy for some conservative senators to make thin excuses for the pay gap in athletics, in the way that scores of major sports figures have uttered incoherent grumbles about gendered differences in viewership and money brought to the federation or league, but they didn’t. (In addition to being beside the point, in the case of the U.S. women’s national team, this argument is out-and-out hooey, as the resolution makes clear.) Now that we’ve got them on record saying they “[support] an end to pay discrimination based on gender and the strengthening of equal pay protections,” let’s see how fast they actually do something about it.

May 27 2016 11:51 AM

SB Nation Shows Why It’s Not OK to Treat Women as “Gatekeepers of Sensitivity”

Remember when SB Nation published, and then retracted, a 12,000-word apologia for convicted rapist (and former college football star) Daniel Holtzclaw? Three months later, SB Nation’s parent company Vox Media has released a report explaining how such a boneheaded, poorly written, offensive article got published. I know, I know: You’ve moved on to other internet outrages, and besides, didn’t Deadspin report this out months ago? But if you care about broken workplace cultures and the tokenization of minorities and women, you’re going to want to read this postmortem. The most important lesson from the Vox report: There’s a fine line between valuing the perspective of women and minorities and burdening them with the work of keeping institutions sensitive and thoughtful.

May 27 2016 10:56 AM

The New Inquiry Says Feminists Should Defend Cliques. That’s Ridiculous.    

The New Inquiry, newly inquiring into the eternally relevant topic of cliques, has found that this social arrangement's been cruelly maligned. In “The Clique Imaginary,” Alana Massey defends tight-knit circles of women from cultural ignominy, suggesting that while “outsiders are preoccupied with how the members of the clique perceive them, … clique members are not preoccupied with outsiders at all.” A moderate interpretation of the essay’s argument is that close female friends are often penalized for the envy their bond produces in outsiders—and that this misallocation of blame reflects the harmful idea that women must always be attending to the comfort of others rather than to their own happiness. Fair enough! Please do not fault lady compadres for making you wish you were part of their world, like a vindictive Little Mermaid.

But a more extreme interpretation of its argument (promoted by its title) advances a much odder claim: that cliques don’t actually exist, and are instead a way of policing ties among women of social capital, like Taylor Swift. “Navigating one’s own clique dynamics is challenging enough,” writes Massey. “To demand that the clique members be responsible for the negative emotions of outsiders is beyond an undue burden.”

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Is it, though? More to the point, is that not exactly what a Mean Girl would say? Perhaps Massey is right that society unfairly slams some friendship covens as exclusive cliques, and that these women truly have no inkling of the ghostly out-group shadow-people prowling their borders. But it is equally true that exclusive cliques exist, that they are not good, and that they should be held accountable for the negative emotions their behavior elicits.

(Disclaimer: I don’t know Massey, I like her writing a lot, I realize that I am typing words against female meanness that could be perceived as criticizing another woman. Bear with me?)

By way of example, the piece cites an article in Psychology Today in which a woman complains about the “clique” of gymnastics moms terrorizing her at her son’s class.

No one, it seemed, was interested in making a new friend … these women seemed to want me to know that they were leaving me out. Two of them appeared to intentionally wait until I was within earshot to make their plans to have lunch together.

Massey bolded the subjective verbs to underscore how the writer’s “feelings of rejection are all things she’s imagined, sensed, and believes herself to have intuited.” But come on: We are social creatures, and we know how this works. When you flaunt your intimacy with certain people in front of many people—when you telegraph intense interest in the few while projecting pure indifference to the many—you are being rude. Ignoring those who pass through open social spaces in order to only associate with your favorite folks is not OK for men or women. The solution to the gymnastics clique problem isn’t releasing female buddies from the obligation to demonstrate social grace on the assumption that guys don’t typically tread lightly when it comes to each other’s feelings. It is to demand from men an equivalent sensitivity, when they fall short, and to strive for politeness in all your interactions.

“Clique members are not preoccupied with outsiders at all”—Massey’s essay suggests that a lack of overt malice absolves people of rudeness. If only. When you are in public, it is your job to show some awareness of and consideration for the people around you. This means acknowledging them when they walk into a children’s gymnastics class, saying “gesundheit” when they sneeze, and showing them that they are welcome to participate in the ambient small talk. Massey places the onus on individuals outside of the clique not to be offended by offensive behavior, writing, “that the women in the class have elevated the value of their social circle over [the writer’s] demand to befriend a stranger … should be celebrated as a victory for women.” It should? Of course, close female friendships are things of power and beauty, soul-restoring and even feminist. I want as badly as Massey does to celebrate their magic. But provocative and badass as it seems to reclaim cliques for a political movement, it just doesn’t pass the “don’t be a jerk” sniff test. Don’t make lunch plans with your squad in front of someone you aren’t planning to invite. Full stop.

Massey implies that more confident (and thus likeable?) observers are less prone to worry about cliques: “Whether or not a pop-culture representation of a female friend group will be categorized as a clique hinges largely on whether viewers believe they would be accepted into the group.”

I’d argue that what distinguishes a clique from a non-clique is not whether you can imagine yourself being friends with the members, but whether those members evince a baseline friendliness. Viewers watching the Plastics in Mean Girls correctly deem that group a clique because the Plastics are unlikely to practice polite human behavior in a social interaction with an outsider. Viewers watching the four tweens in Now and Then don’t perceive a clique because that quartet mostly treats other people who cross their path as individuals worthy of basic respect and courtesy.

Massey’s slyest move is to cast the clique member as a powerfully charismatic women whose social capital is resented and attacked by pariahs. “Her approval and her confidence are seductive prospects,” she purrs, “but they are only entitlements in the most hollow politics of solidarity.” As bewitching as Massey may find this person, most of us don’t really require a stranger’s approval and confidence—only some basic social graces. “Frankly, it isn’t her job to think of you, much less be your friend,” the essay concludes. Alas, it is her job to think of me, just as it is my job to think of her, and the man to the left’s job to think of both of us. The goal of feminism is to create a kinder world for women, not to absolve women of the need to be kind. 

May 27 2016 8:34 AM

Breast Pumps Are Finally Getting Better. Here’s How.

I’ve never come across a woman, physically or virtually, who enjoys pumping milk. It’s an activity done out of a sense of duty, one that sucks one’s time and nipples with equal might. To sit down to pump milk is to submit oneself to the one-two punch of physical discomfort and a mind flooded with all the other things you could be doing at the very same moment. For the many women who lack adequate, or any, maternity leave, this includes being with their baby.

Women don’t like pumping, but unless they spend all day with their babies, they must pump. As such, there’s demand for better gadgets, ones that make women feel a little less bovine and a little more like the having-it-all queens that popular culture has told them they can be. I recently did some informal research on moms’ opinions of traditional breast pumps via Facebook mom groups, and the most common complaints I heard include: the noise, the weight, the discomfort, the many parts to clean, the way they force you to hunch over, and their dependency on an outlet.

May 26 2016 6:37 PM

The Crisis at Baylor Proves Colleges Should Handle Rape Cases, Not Leave Them to the Courts

Baylor University has done what earlier this week seemed unthinkable: The football-crazed school fired its coach, Art Briles, due to the persistent mishandling of sexual assault charges leveled against his players. The school’s president Kenneth Starr (yes, that Ken Starr) has also been demoted. On Thursday, Baylorreleased a report—which it commissioned from the law firm Pepper Hamilton—that shows why both Briles and Starr needed to go. That report also makes a point that needs to be heard far beyond Waco, Texas: It is essential for schools to adjudicate charges of sexual assault on their campuses rather than leaving them to the criminal justice system.

The Obama administration has made an unprecedented push for schools to improve their handling of sexual assault cases. This started in 2011, when the Department of Education sent out a “Dear Colleague” letter reminding colleges that they must provide recourse for victims of sexual harassment and assault. Schools that did not do so would be in violation of Title IX, the federal law that prohibits sex-based discrimination in education. Given colleges’ horrendous track record in this area, as well as their institutional interest in keeping accusations out of the public eye, some argue that this approach is wrong-headed—that police departments and courts of law are better-equipped to handle such serious crimes. Bernie Sanders, for one, expressed exactly that view at a presidential forum in January.

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