The XX Factor
What Women Really Think

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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.”

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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.”

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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

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The next generation of Barbies and Kens.

Barbie

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.

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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.

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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.

June 20 2017 5:43 PM

The GOP’s Plan to Slash Medicaid Will Hit Double for Women Who Care for Aging Parents

Republicans in Congress have big plans for Medicaid. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the House bill would cut $834 billion and 17 percent of enrollees from the program over a decade. The Senate GOP is keeping its bill secret—only “13 guys in a secret room” know what’s going on—but word around the Capitol is it would make it even harder for low-income and disabled Americans to get the lifesaving care they need.

Slashing Medicaid would cause disproportionate harm to women, who make up 53 percent of all enrollees and, since they live longer, comprise 69 percent of the 9 million Americans who qualify for both Medicaid and Medicare. But this direct impact is just the beginning of the story—there’s also an intergenerational ripple effect. Women are far more likely than men to take on family caregiving responsibilities as their parents age. Without adequate backing from Medicaid, the next generation of caregiving women will find it much harder to keep their jobs and provide for themselves while supporting elderly family members.

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The New York Times editorial board argued last week that “a system of caregiving that is already clearly strained would implode” if the GOP’s proposed Medicaid cuts go through. Daughters already provide 31 percent of all informal (that is, unpaid) elder care—the same amount as spouses and just under the combined caregiving hours of sons, children-in-law, grandkids, and other family members. About 17 percent of adults will care for an aging parent or two, contributing an average of 77 hours a month to that unpaid work. The time they spend on unpaid caregiving work in 2012 was worth about $522 billion, according to the Times’ estimates, more than twice as much as the $211 billion adults spent on formal elder care. Female caregivers are more likely than male ones to leave the workforce for caregiving duties, and they’re almost seven times as likely as men to cut back from full-time to part-time work.

Currently, almost 40 percent of the nation’s long-term care expenses and more than 62 percent of the 1.4 million U.S. nursing-home spots are paid for by Medicaid. If that funding diminishes or disappears, women will be left with the responsibility to fill in the gaps for seniors who no longer have access to paid care. They will put a larger proportion of their own income into parental care and may have to reduce their own earnings to spend more time at home. This means less money going into these women’s savings accounts and retirement funds, putting them at risk of financial peril when they reach their parents’ age.

If those women had reached old age with inadequate retirement savings under the current status quo, they might be eligible for Medicaid assistance. In 20 years or so, if Republicans get their way, it may be much harder to qualify, passing a costly burden onto the next generation of daughters. Those caregivers will be saddled with far greater elder-care responsibilities than any prior generation—the U.S. Census Bureau projects that one-fifth of the U.S. population will be 65 years of age or older in 2030, up from 13 percent in 2010. The number of dementia patients in the U.S. is expected to increase by more than 50 percent in that same time period. Without the Medicaid support previous caregivers have relied upon, a far greater number of family caregivers will be forced to leave the workforce or spend down their own savings to keep their parents in good care.

Some states are starting to address the looming elder-care crisis on their own. The Hawaii state legislature recently passed a bill that would give $70 worth of professional home care each day to family caregivers who work outside the home at least 30 hours a week. In Maine, advocates are trying to establish a universal home care system for all elderly adults. But the few pieces of in-progress state legislation out there could take years to become policy, and a patchy map of intermittent coverage does not a safety net make. Aging Americans, who make up a fast-growing proportion of the population, will undoubtedly suffer if their Medicaid support is snatched from under them. Their daughters will feel the repercussions for decades.

June 20 2017 2:07 PM

In Praise of Rough Night’s Hilarious, Empathetic Take on the Emasculated Boyfriend Trope

To the extent that there is one at all, the message of this weekend’s big R-rated bachelorette party comedy Rough Night is that women can behave just as badly as men. They too can do drugs, get rowdy, make messes, and break the law. Which is all well and good: Nobody ever said they couldn’t. While the movie falls into the same trap as many female-driven comedies before it—assuming “that women acting out is still a novel concept,” as Vanity Fair has put itRough Night does manage to launch one fresh salvo into the pop culture–gender politics wars: It rescues and remixes the trope of the emasculated boyfriend.

In Rough Night, Scarlett Johansson’s Jess is engaged to Paul W. Downs’ Peter, and theirs is a modern partnership, the sort where sometimes her professional needs come before his personal ones. (In a modern partnership of their own, Downs co-wrote the movie with his real-life romantic partner Lucia Aniello, the movie’s director.) Jess is running for office right now so her career is top-priority. Who knows—maybe they’re one of those seesaw couples, where eventually they’ll switch off. But in any case, for the time being Peter is perfectly fine with supporting her. This being an R-rated comedy, he even (sweetly?) offers to masturbate in the shower so she doesn’t have to devote any of her precious working hours to sex.

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And once the bachelorette party antics get going, the movie periodically checks in on Peter, reminding us that while we're reimagining our ideas about what women, we should maybe rethink our ideas about masculinity as well. It's all right there in the trailer: "We are gonna be swimming in dick, girl!" Jillian Bell's Alice declares to Jess before they leave. "Hi Alice," Peter says, still standing right there, as if to to raise the important philosophical question that if women are swimming in dick, what does that mean for the menfolk?

As Jess and co. head to Miami for a wild girls’ trip, Peter is having a bachelor party of his own, but it’s a decidedly more staid affair. He and his male buddies have a wine tasting, where they sip reds and try to identify their flavor notes. All is going fine at the vineyard until Jess hangs up him mid–check-in phone call and Peter starts to get worried. Does she still want to marry him? One of his male companions convinces him that he needs to pull a “sad astronaut”: that is, inspired by the tale of astronaut Lisa Nowak, drive to Jess in Miami, and in order to reach her as soon as possible and minimize breaks, make the journey in a diaper. Peter stocks up on diapers (in a silly rap-soundtracked sequence) and hits the road, Downs selling an out-of-left-field plotline with commitment and hysterical energy. Along the way, he gets into a few scrapes, and soon enough he’s running around a gas station in a diaper, trying to make a buck to continue on his journey. The gender reversal is partly played for laughs: Look at these sissy men! But Downs' plotline has an imaginative specificity that the rest of the movie often lacks, from the unforgettable "sad astronaut" coinage to the wacky descriptors the men give the wine (“beeswax?”). The bachelor party scenes riff hilariously on the awkwardness of relatively enlightened, past-their-hard-partying-years men trying to strike the right celebratory, masculine but not macho, dudely but not bro-y tone. While it’s not clear that couldn’t have just worn pants over the diaper (would pants have slowed him down?), Downs is surprising and funny—earnest, put-upon, panicked, all the while convincingly playing the adoring fiancé who just wants to make sure his betrothed is OK.

Downs may be the funniest and most memorable thing in the movie, a bit of a dubious honor in a comedy ostensibly built to showcase a powerhouse female ensemble cast that includes Kate McKinnon, Ilana Glazer, Zoë Kravitz, and Jillian Bell. But it's still notable that Downs' portrayal feels like a new and improved spin on the trope of the beta, impotent boyfriend goes. In other movies featuring emasculated boyfriends, the man is often depicted as a one-dimensional sad sack and the woman doing the emasculating tends to fall on the shrew spectrum: Picture Sarah Silverman torturing Mike White in School of Rock, or Rachael Harris controlling Ed Helms in The Hangover. Rough Night, to its credit, doesn't paint Jess as abusive or even bitchy, and she genuinely seems to love Peter just as much as he loves her. Peter's emasculation is successfully played for laughs, but it's also a slyly touching display of male vulnerability and devotion. He makes the less-than-macho boyfriend trope look less like a lame dishrag than a pretty desirable romantic partner himself.

June 19 2017 6:22 PM

Do Women Like Being Sexually Harassed? Men in New Survey Say Yes.

Almost every woman who’s been catcalled has wondered, to herself or to friends, what men get out of the sport. Do they really think she’s going to stop, take out her earbuds, and hand over her phone number? How many instances of street harassment actually end in dates, sexual encounters, or loving relationships? Or do they just like watching women get uncomfortable?

A report released in May offers a bit of insight into why men harass women in public and what environmental factors predispose them to such behavior. U.N. Women and Promundo, a global organization that involves men and boys in gender equality advocacy, surveyed 4,830 men in four countries in the Middle East and North Africa: Egypt, Morocco, Lebanon, and Palestine. Between 31 percent (in Lebanon) and 64 percent (in Egypt) of men admitted to harassing women in public spaces with actions that ranged from ogling and sexual comments to sexual groping and rape, and a large majority—almost 90 percent in Egypt—said they harassed women just because it was fun.

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In almost every country the survey touched, better-educated men were more likely to say they’ve harassed women than their less-educated counterparts. This was an unexpected result for Promundo researchers, NPR reports, because men with more education usually have more progressive views about women and their place in society. One researcher proposed to NPR that these men might have high expectations for their own achievements but see themselves as failures because of high unemployment and an inability to keep their families safe from political unrest. They might harass women “to put them in their place” because “the world owes them,” the researcher suggested.

Women surveyed generally reported higher levels of sexual harassment than men admitted, from 40 percent in Palestine and 57 percent in Lebanon to 60 percent in Egypt. (For comparison, in a nationally representative 2014 survey, 65 percent of U.S. women reported enduring public harassment.) Populations of different countries varied widely in their opinions about how and when women are to blame for the harassment they suffer. Nearly two-thirds of both men and women in Palestine said provocatively dressed women deserve to be heckled, while 52 percent of men and 43 percent of women say women out in public at night are “asking to be harassed.” Nearly a third of Palestinian men and 23 percent of Palestinian women said women without headscarves “deserve to be insulted.” In Egypt, 74 percent of men and 84 percent of women would blame a woman for being harassed if she dressed provocatively; in Morocco, those figures are 72 and 78 percent, respectively. More than half of Moroccan women said women who go out at night are asking for harassment.

Often, when women advocate against public harassment, concerned men propose that some women like the attention, and because there’s no way to know which women will appreciate a catcall or take it as a threat, stopping men from catcalling will deprive some women of sexual affirmation. In every country the Promundo study surveyed, far more men than women said that “women like the attention” when men sexually harass them. In Morocco, for instance, 71 percent of men said women enjoyed sexual harassment, but only 42 percent of women agreed. Only 20 percent of Egyptian women said women enjoyed harassment, but 43 percent of men said they did.

Because the survey also asked men about their home lives, childhood development, and views on society, researchers were able to sketch a profile of men who harass women in public spaces. In addition to being young, on the wealthier end of the socio-economic spectrum, and generally more educated, harassers are more likely than their peers to have been abused at home or witnessed abuse against their mothers. Palestinian men who admitted to committing intimate partner violence were more likely to also admit to sexual harassment, as were Lebanese men who hold sexist beliefs about women. These results aren’t particularly surprising, but new statistics that appear to prove long-standing beliefs can offer some hope for progress: If there are indeed some commonalities among harassers, advocates stand a better chance of stopping harassment before it starts.

June 18 2017 12:24 PM

The Deck Is Stacked Against Every Sexual Assault Victim in America. The Cosby Case Is No Different.

On Saturday, the sexual assault trial of Bill Cosby ended with a hung jury. We still have not learned how the jurors were split, nor do we know why those who held out for acquittal remained unconvinced beyond a reasonable doubt of Cosby’s guilt. Regardless, the prosecution’s failure to convict is very much in keeping with a longstanding criminal justice tradition of skeptically treating women’s accounts of sexual violation. The staying power of what I have called “credibility discounting,” or biased disbelief, is a notable feature—perhaps even the dominant feature—of our legal response to sexual assault.

For much of our nation’s history, our laws formally adopted a stance of incredulity toward sexual assault allegations. Complainants in these cases faced a set of unique procedural requirements. An alleged victim’s testimony was insufficient without further corroboration. Only complaints made “promptly” could proceed. Jurors were explicitly warned to evaluate the complainant’s testimony with special suspicion.

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While modern reform efforts have mostly succeeded in abolishing formal rules of disbelief, credibility discounting has now moved to the realm of law enforcement. As I describe in a recent paper, credibility discounts are meted out at every stage of the criminal process—by police officers, prosecutors, jurors, and judges. This fact is not lost on victims of sexual assault, the vast majority of whom decline to report to law enforcement, in essence preempting the discounting of their credibility.

The widespread perception that police, in particular, will likely not pursue allegations of nonstranger sexual assault is accurate. Law enforcement officers often disregard truthful allegations, not only because sexual assault and its impact on victims are misunderstood, but also because the incidence of false reporting is substantially overestimated. (It is worth emphasizing that the existence of credibility discounting does not mean that all sexual assault allegations are true; the problem, rather, is that perceptions of falsity dwarf incidents of actual falsity.)

Empirical research on policing consistently establishes the inferior treatment of sexual assault across the nation, including in the cities of Los Angeles, Baltimore, St. Louis, New Orleans, New York, Salt Lake County, Detroit, and Missoula, Montana. Although the poor handling of sexual assault allegations is rampant, police responses tend to be particularly defective in cases involving women of color, immigrants, LGBTQ individuals, women in poverty, and sex workers. I argue in the recent paper that police failures to investigate sexual assault are commonly a result of credibility discounting.

Even when police move forward with a sexual assault complaint, prosecutors may choose not to pursue the case. Especially where acquaintances are involved, prosecutors frequently express a concern that jurors will downgrade the accuser’s credibility, leading to anticipatory discounts. Many prosecutors acknowledge, as one put it, that they do “consider jury bias when determining whether to prosecute,” and that “a lot of the cultural attitudes about sexual assault …  are part of the consideration about whether or not we would be able to prove [guilt] beyond a reasonable doubt.” In short, the ubiquity of credibility discounting helps to explain why, according to estimates, out of nearly 1,000 rapes that are committed, only seven will result in a felony conviction.

It remains to be seen if a jury will ultimately convict Bill Cosby of felony sexual assault. (The district attorney for Montgomery Country, Pennsylvania, immediately announced plans to retry the case.) What is clear is that, for many of the 60 women who have come forward in recent years with sexual assault allegations against Cosby, the credibility discount was a powerful reason to keep silent. Indeed, as New York reported in its profile of 35 accusers, Cosby himself allegedly told some of his victims that they would not be believed if they spoke up. Andrea Constand, the complainant in the case that just ended in a draw, was apparently believed when she first made a report in 2005—but still a jury would probably not convict, the district attorney at the time concluded.

In the intervening years, however, a he-said-she-said case was transformed—or so it appeared. Shortly before trial, the prosecution asked the court to admit the testimony of 13 accusers whose experiences were reportedly quite similar to Constand’s. In each instance, Cosby gave the woman a pill or another intoxicant and she awoke later having been sexually assaulted. One of these 13 women—Kelly Johnson—was allowed to testify. Her account suggested that Cosby knew exactly what he was doing when he gave Constand three pills before sexually penetrating her.

The prosecution also sought, successfully, to admit Cosby’s deposition testimony, in which he confessed to having used Quaaludes to “have sex with young women.” Describing his sexual encounter with Constand, Cosby recalled, “I don't hear her say anything. And I don't feel her say anything. And so I continue and I go into the area that is somewhere between permission and rejection. I am not stopped.”

Notwithstanding this evidence that corroborated Constand’s account, at least one juror was not persuaded. What if anything would have made the difference? Had all 13 women been permitted to testify, this would surely have made Cosby’s defense—that Constand consented—seem even less plausible. But if 13 women—or seven, or four, or even two—is what it takes to convict, along with the incriminating words of the defendant himself, sexual assault will continue to go largely unpunished. And incredible women will continue to be denied justice.

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