What Women Really Think

July 29 2014 12:21 PM

Why Do Texas Feminists Hate This Pro-Choice Group?

This article originally appeared in The Cut.

When the radical feminist group Stop Patriarchy held a rally outside Mississippi’s sole remaining abortion clinic last summer—as part of its cross-country Abortion Rights Freedom Ride—Mark Ruffalo supplied a moving letter of support. On the eve of this year’s Freedom Ride rerun, which will focus exclusively on Texas, Stop Patriarchy received an open letter much less friendly in nature.

“We, a united group of Texas reproductive justice activists, organizations, and nationwide allies, oppose this ‘freedom ride,’” reads a letter of concern signed by more than 100 people calling themselves Texans for Reproductive Justice. “We oppose Texas’ abortion restrictions. We also oppose Stop Patriarchy’s messaging, tactics, dishonesty, and racism.”

Published on Tumblr last week, the letter condemned Stop Patriarchy for its “lack of transparency,” “questionable tactics,” and “racist” language (comparing unwanted pregnancy to “enslavement,” co-opting civil rights language like “freedom ride”). The letter also alleged that Stop Patriarchy “undermines the work already being done in Texas by suggesting that Texans have not yet begun to fight back.”A double-negative hashtag— #fuckstoppatriarchy—ensued.

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July 29 2014 11:34 AM

Moms Leave the Workforce Because They're Rational Actors, Not Maternal Softies

There’s an insidious undercurrent of thought in the American corporate world: Mothers just don’t make good workers. Their brains get hormonally addled when they have children, and they take their eyes off the prize and onto their newborns. Most people aren’t dumb enough to say this out loud, but occasionally someone—like the billionaire investor Paul Tudor Jones—slips up. In 2013, he said:

As soon as that baby’s lips touched that girl’s bosom, forget it. Every single investment idea, every desire to understand what’s going to make this go up or go down is going to be overwhelmed by the most beautiful experience which a man will never share about a mode of connection between that mother and that baby.
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Though Tudor Jones walked that statement back with a mealy mouthed explanation—he said he was speaking “off the cuff”—a similar assumption often lurks behind public discussions of “opting out”: Mothers are leaving the workforce because they just can’t hack it. But the truth is women are rational economic actors, just like men are. That’s underscored by new research showing that women who get paid maternity leave are less likely to leave their jobs.

In the New York Times, Claire Cain Miller points out that our country’s lack of family-friendly policies compared with other wealthy nations has caused the U.S. to fall behind in women’s labor force participation. According to a study by economists Francine D. Blau and Lawrence M. Kahn, the U.S. had the highest labor force participation among women in 1990. By 2010, we’d fallen to 17th. This is due in no small part to the fact that we are the only wealthy nation that does not have any federal paid maternity leave, and that our child care system is comparatively terrible.

That means that more American women are knocked out of the workforce when they have biological children: not because of some magical mind-meld between mother and child, but because having a baby is exhausting and requires a measure of physical recovery. A woman has to take a break when she has a baby, whether it’s paid or not, while a male partner can get by without time off unless he’s paid to take it. And when mothers are the primary caretakers from day one, that sets a precedent: If a family can’t afford child care, it’s generally the mother who will leave her job to pick up the slack. This phenomenon is backed up by census data: Wealthier first-time moms who can afford child care are more likely to work full time until their last months of pregnancy, they’re more likely to benefit from paid leave, and they’re more likely to return to their jobs once their babies are born.

The fact that poor women don’t have access to paid leave isn’t just contributing to the pay gap between men and women; it’s also widening the wealth gap between poor mothers and their wealthier counterparts. As Cain Miller points out, in California, where paid family leave exists, low-income moms nearly doubled their maternity leaves since paid leave was instituted. But after the maternity leaves end, mothers of small children in California both work more and earn more than they previously did. If the rest of the country would just follow suit, we could begin to stamp out gendered biological stereotypes about what mothers can achieve—and we’d make everybody more productive.

July 29 2014 10:21 AM

A Female Candidate in Michigan Won't Help Republicans Win Women Voters

Republicans have organized game plans and boot camps in an attempt to battle the "war on women" narrative. But in practice, their strategy has boiled down to one major initiative: ladies to the front. Put some female faces on the conservative agenda—particularly in the parts where equal pay and reproductive rights are being resisted—and hope that the disconnect between policy and politician is enough to stump the voters.

This year, that strategy is being put to the test in the Michigan Senate race between Republican Terri Lynn Land and Democrat Gary Peters. Peters and his supporters have been highlighting Land's opposition to equal pay legislation and to legal abortion, even in cases of rape. Land has replied with an ad where she scoffs at Peters’ accusation that she’s waging a "war on women," and sarcastically replies, "Really? Think about that for a moment," before sipping her coffee quietly to let viewers take a long look at her female face. "As a woman, I might know a little bit more about women than Gary Peters," she concludes, in case some people didn't get the point. 

Terri Lynn Land
Terri Lynn Land

Photo courtesy Michigan Secretary of State's Office via Wikimedia Commons (http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Terri_Lynn_Land_portrait_crop.jpg)

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How's the strategy working out for Land? Not well, reports Benjy Sarlin of MSNBC. While the race was tight for a while, Peters "now boasts a significant lead in recent polling," Sarlin writes. "This month an NBC News/Marist poll put him up 43-37 and the most recent survey by EPIC-MRA gave him his biggest lead yet: 45-36."

Sarlin notes that "Pollsters credited a surge in Peters’ position to a widening gender gap." As for the commercial, "Republican messaging guru Frank Luntz later said on FOX News that Land’s ad tested worse with focus groups than any other he had seen this election cycle." Sarlin interviews voters and finds that the messaging about the war on women is hitting close to home, with voters expressing concerns about reproductive rights, equal pay, and fears about gender rating in insurance returning. In retrospect, Land probably shouldn't have asked voters how it could be possible for a woman to oppose other women, because that just encouraged them to look for the answer. 

In fact, running female candidates has never done much to improve Republican performance with female voters. In June, the Washington Post’s Aaron Blake "looked at eight marquee Senate races between 2006 and 2012 in which [Republicans] nominated a female candidate," and found an average 15-point gender gap between male and female voters in these races, which aligns with the gender gap for Republicans overall. Women don't favor other women so much as they favor Democrats of either gender, a preference that stems mostly from women being less hostile to a social safety net than men are. 

The biggest blunder that Republicans have made is they've grown bolder about tying traditional "women's" issues to the social safety net issues that actually move women at the polls. Women are protective of health care access, welfare, and protections for workers. These are three issues that Republicans have made even more gendered by using contraception coverage to attack Obamacare, single mothers to attack welfare, and opposition to equal pay legislation (as well as attacks on contraception coverage in employer-offered health care plans) to undermine worker's rights. By singling out women for abuse in the attacks on the liberal agenda, Republicans have really bolstered the image that they have something against women. Running a few female candidates isn't enough to erase that picture.

July 28 2014 4:37 PM

Gender Role Reversal in Music Videos Can Only Be Achieved By Objectifying Women

The video for “Girl In A Country Song,” Maddie & Tae’s catchy critique of female objectification in country music, begins with a shot of two lithe young women in cowboy boots, cut-off jean shorts, and bikini tops, tousling their hair as they strut down a country road. Three men gawk from their perch on the bed of a pick-up truck; musicians Maddie Marlow and Tae Dye clutch their guitars and roll their eyes. Then, Maddie & Tae flip a switch labeled “ROLE REVERSAL,” and suddenly, the male gawkers are the ones wearing the short shorts and the flannel crop tops, flipping their hair back in an outdoor shower, and wrapping their lips around strawberries in slow motion. “Being a girl in a country song, how in the world did it go so wrong?” the women sing. “Like all we’re good for is looking good for you and your friends on the weekend, nothing more.”

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But apparently, Maddie & Tae’s role reversal switch only works on one gender. The objectified women from the first shot don’t get a masculine wardrobe change; throughout the video, they’re filmed pushing out their butts as they play at farming and making eyes at the camera as they writhe on a tree swing. Meanwhile, the gender-flipped guys are styled and directed to appear purposely ridiculous, not actually sexy. The video’s ostensible aim is to demonstrate how ludicrous it is that women in country (and in music, and in America) are treated like candy for men to consume, but turning “sexy men” into a joke just ends up poking fun at the very idea of a female (or a gay male) gaze. Conveniently, the “sexy women” are preserved throughout the video to satisfy the straight men in the audience. As for Maddie & Tae, they appear in full makeup and slightly “classier” sexy clothes. The video ends up looking like a call for a more modest presentation of femininity, not a real rejection of sexism in country.

Maddie & Tae’s take recalls Shania Twain’s 1999 video for “Man! I Feel Like A Woman,” which is an homage to Robert Palmer’s “Addicted to Love” with a gender-bending twist—but again, not a full turn. In the video, Twain recruits a band of hunky automatons to don skintight sweaters, stand behind her, and plunk ineffectually at instruments (just as Palmer did with his fleet of leggy female models faking on their guitars). But unlike Palmer, who survives his own video with his shirt intact, Twain executes a slow striptease over the course of the song, starting out in a full-length coat, top hat, gloves, and closing out the video in a corset and short shorts. Twain’s video succeeded in showing that women can objectify men, too—but not that they can release a successful music video without taking off their own clothes, too.

Also dancing this line is Jennifer Lopez’s April video for “I Luh Ya Papi,” which opens with a meta scene: J.Lo and her female entourage dream of filming a music video that objectifies men instead of women, featuring Lopez lounging on a bed surrounded by “a bunch of naked guys, for no reason.” So Lopez brings in a crew of immaculately-toned male models to lay naked on her bed, wash her car with their asses, don speedos on her yacht, and comply silently as Lopez pokes at their glistening abs. But while Lopez takes on the role of objectifier to these men—she snaps creepshots of the guys with her tablet and pours a drink down one of their swimsuits—she herself functions as an object for the video’s viewer. Her short shorts, plunging jumpsuits, and pantsless leotards aren’t any less revealing than the guys’ getups, and her dance moves are as sexualized as they are in any of her other videos. Meanwhile, French Montana, who raps on the song, somehow gets through the entire video wearing jeans and a sweatshirt. Lopez’s dancers writhe before him in animal-print leggings and bikini tops; the male artist is never expected to drop his pants.

Compared to Maddie & Tae’s version, it’s a victory that the men in Lopez’s video aren’t simply meant to look ridiculous—they look legitimately hot, too. Still, it’s telling that none of these music videos manage to flip the script all the way around, even for the length of a five-minute fantasy sequence. Part of the problem may be that the “role reversal” switch is a little too limiting for both women and men. A pop-feminist vision of sexuality shouldn’t literally require a full switch, wherein women in hoodies ogle men in speedos. Amore equitable vision of sexual expression, where everyone’s allowed to be sexy without adhering to strict gender roles, seems more fun for everyone involved. Back in February, Ingrid Michaelson took a stab at that version of sexuality with her video for “Girls Chase Boys.” The video starts out as a straightforward gender reversal of Robert Palmer’s “Simply Irresistible: As Michaelson sings, gorgeous men dance in red lipstick and hot-pink tank tops. But as the video progresses, women join them, and by the time the song ends, they’re dancing side by side.

July 28 2014 12:06 PM

The Anti-Vaccination Movement Has Become an Anti-Vitamin Movement, and Babies Are Suffering

It’s hard to believe it was possible, but anti-vaccination fanaticism has taken a darker turn, as Chris Mooney reports for Mother Jones: Now, it's not just vaccines that parents are foolishly rejecting for their children, but also a simple injection of vitamin K that has been a standard part of newborn care since the 1960s. Some parents now find themselves rushing to the emergency room with babies sick with vitamin K deficiency bleeding. “This rare disorder occurs because human infants do not have enough vitamin K, a blood coagulant, in their systems,” Mooney writes. “Infants who develop VKDB can bleed in various parts of their bodies, including bleeding into the brain.” Bleeding in the brain can cause brain damage and, in some cases, death. 

The problem started to attract attention this spring, when Tom Wilemon, writing for The Tennessean, reported that seven babies had been admitted to the Monroe Carell Jr. Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt in a mere eight months with vitamin K deficiency bleeding, which doctors believe may be on the rise because of parents refusing the vitamin K shot at birth. That certainly seems to be the case with Mark and Melissa Knotowicz, who refused the vitamin K shot when Melissa gave birth to twins because they heard that the shot causes leukemia. As Wilemon writes: “An old study did draw a correlation between the preservative and leukemia, but followup studies disproved that theory, according to Vanderbilt doctors.”

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When one of the twins got sick, doctors first assumed it was some kind of blood poisoning, but quickly learned about the vitamin K shot refusal. Both babies were diagnosed with vitamin K deficiency and given the shot, but for the baby who had bleeding, damage had already been done:

The tests showed the baby had suffered multiple brain bleeds. He spent a week in the hospital and is now undergoing physical therapy for neuromuscular development issues. Doctors do not know yet whether he will suffer problems with intellectual development.

Mooney profiled pediatrician Clay Jones, who is working to raise awareness of the dangers of refusing the vitamin K shot. Jones points out that the shot is even more necessary for women who want to breast-feed exclusively, which is darkly ironic, considering how breast-feeding has been elevated to a near-religious status in the same circles that tend to be hostile to vaccinations and now the vitamin K shot. Mooney writes:

VKDB comes in two versions, an "early" form (occurring in the first week of life) and the much more dangerous "late" form, which tends to strike infants between two and 12 weeks old who have not received Vitamin K, and who are "exclusively breastfed" by their mothers. The problem, writes Jones, is that "levels of vitamin K in breast milk are low, much lower than in infant formula."
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, infants who do not receive a vitamin K injection have an 81 times greater chance of coming down with late stage VKDB. Even then the risk remains small: Between 4.4 and 7.2 infants out of every 100,000. But a Vitamin K injection is "virtually 100 percent protective," Jones explains.

Mooney also chronicles the various crunchy websites trying to scare parents into opting out of the vitamin K shot, with the usual gobbledygook accusing the shots of having all sorts of scary ingredients—or else arguing that a little needle prick is some kind of great trauma for babies. The anti-vaccination movement has morphed into an anti-shot movement, and it's children who are paying the price.

July 28 2014 11:17 AM

Sarah Palin to Sell Her Real American Lifestyle for $10 a Month

On Sunday, Sarah Palin announced on YouTube that she is starting a new venture for those who can't get enough right-wing misinformation packaged in a chirpy Midwestern accent. (See also: Glenn Beck’s The Blaze.) For a mere $10 a month, subscribers to the Sarah Palin Channel can gorge on the typical conservative news reports and anti-Obama hysteria offered by her competitors, with a twist: She’ll also serve up plenty of videos of the Palin family doing stuff around the house and probably shooting at things. “Believe me, it is fun,” Palin says in the introductory video. “Because it’s real life.”

Like Beck and Rush Limbaugh (who also offers a members-only website, for a fee), Palin has built a personal brand around right-wing grievance: The Man is oppressing Real America, and Palin alone is brave enough to tell is like it is. “Are you tired of the media filters? Well, I am. I always have been,” explains Palin, a known victim of not being asked to be on TV as much as she'd like. “Together, we'll go beyond the sound bites and cut through the media's politically correct filter, and things like Washington, D.C.'s crony capitalism,” she continues. “We'll talk about the issues that the mainstream media won't talk about. And we'll look at the ideas that, mmmm, I think Washington doesn't want you to hear.” She's kicking off that promise with a video demanding the impeachment of Obama. (“Enough is enough from the years of abuse from this president,” Palin says in the video. “His unsecured border crisis, for me, is the last straw. It makes the battered wife say, ‘No mas. That’s enough.’”)

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But Palin is also building a lifestyle website, which requires her to present an image of an enviable home life (one that has, against all odds, survived all these ostensible attacks from the left). The Sarah Palin Channel will pick up where Palin’s one-season TLC reality show, Sarah Palin’s Alaska, left off, with Todd, Sarah, and the kids snowmobiling around America; Bristol will have her own blog, on “life,” “family,” and “Alaska.” This is where Palin can really distinguish herself as a woman on the right: Subscribers to Rush Limbaugh’s website can pay to watch a live video recording of his radio show, but nobody really wants to go home with him. Palin’s one-two punch offers viewers both an outlet for their victimhood and a vision of the life they’re fighting for.

So while the $10-a-month paywall may seem like a bad idea in a world where video advertising has proved a more reliable way to make money while getting views, the subscription model may actually work in Palin’s case. Palin’s audience is composed of people who are steeped in the paranoid belief that everyone else is out to get them, a paranoia she's happy to stoke at every turn. The paywall offers a sort of protection, then: A safe space to communicate without the fear that outsiders are listening in, and a rare enclave where a life that looks like “Sarah Palin’s Alaska” still persists.

July 25 2014 5:04 PM

Keith Olbermann Wonders Why the NFL Doesn't Think Women Are Worthy of “Basic Human Respect”

On Thursday night, ESPN’s Keith Olbermann delivered an on-point condemnation of the NFL’s pathetic sanctions against the Baltimore Ravens’ Ray Rice. Rice was charged with assault after being caught on video dragging his unconscious fiancée from a casino elevator. As my colleague Ben Mathis-Lilley noted, "Rice was indicted by a grand jury on a felony assault charge, but avoided further prosecution by agreeing to participate in a pretrial intervention program." Many assumed that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell would issue a severe punishment of his own. After all, this is the league that issues four-game suspensions for marijuana use. In this case, however, Goodell handed Rice a fine and a two-game suspension.

Olbermann paused for 45 seconds during his ESPN monologue to show the silent surveillance footage of Rice removing his then-fiancée, now wife, from the elevator. Olbermann then notes that defensive lineman Albert Haynesworth was suspended five games for stepping on a player’s head during a game—an infraction the NFL took very, very seriously.

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By being so lenient with Rice, Olbermann argues, the NFL displays an offensive disregard for women. As Justin Peters reported in Slate two years ago, 21 of 32 NFL teams “had employed a player with a domestic violence or sexual assault charge on his record” during the 2012 season.

While Olbermann’s points about the NFL are well-taken, I am particularly impressed by his attention to the responsibilities of sports journalists. Yes, pro football has a woman problem, but so do many other sports, as well as the people who comment on them. Olbermann took the opportunity to highlight comments about Marion Bartoli’s looks, Brittney Griner’s gender identity, and Gabby Douglas’ hair, noting how each of them “lowers the level of basic human respect for women in sports.”

A change in attitude across an industry does not come easy. On Friday morning, not long after Olbermann’s segment ran, his ESPN colleague Stephen A. Smith opined that while, sure, domestic violence is bad, women should make sure they don't do "anything to provoke wrong actions.” In such a climate, Olbermann’s words are not only refreshing, but incredibly important. Well done, Keith.

July 25 2014 3:23 PM

Republican Congressional Nominee: A Woman Can Run for Office With Husband's Permission

Just because Tea Party favorite Chris McDaniel lost to incumbent Sen. Thad Cochran in Mississippi doesn't mean that conservatives are done using the primary system to drive the Republican party further to the right. Finding someone more right wing than the Rep. Paul Broun of Georgia may have seemed impossible.  Conservative group the Madison Project gushed, “It is not an exaggeration to say that Congressman Paul Broun (R-GA) has sustained the most conservative voting record over the longest period of time of any sitting Republican in Congress.” But as Think Progress reports, Georgia's 10th District voters did it on Tuesday, booting Broun and awarding Baptist minister and bizarro talk radio host Jody Hice the Republican nomination to Congress instead.

July 24 2014 5:09 PM

Republican Strategy on Women: "Rape Is a Four-Letter Word. Purge It From Your Lexicon."

In the New York Times, Jeremy Peters covers the next chapter of the continuing saga of Republican efforts to appeal to women without having to give up warring on women. This time it’s about conservative strategists' efforts to help Republican politicians talk about abortion.

"Our self-mute strategy permits the Democrats to frame the issue on their own terms," says a report written by the Republican group American Principles in Action. On the other hand, Marjorie Dannenfelser, the president of the anti-choice Susan B. Anthony List, thinks the self-mute button could be hit more frequently. "Two sentences is really the goal" when talking about abortion. "Then stop talking." (For what it's worth, hers is probably the right answer, as the more people hear about conservative views on abortion, the less they like them.) 

Rape is another subject to play dumb about. "Rape is a four-letter word,” Peters reports that a Republican consultant advises. “Purge it from your lexicon." How Republicans are supposed to do that when rape exceptions in abortion legislation are real issues in campaigns is a mystery.

July 24 2014 1:56 PM

The Scientific Case for Decriminalizing Sex Work

This article originally appeared in The Cut.

Arguments in favor of decriminalizing prostitution often rely on empathy for sex workers themselves: Journalist Melissa Gira Grant contends, for example, that criminalizing sex work implicitly condones violence against sex workers, who are often afraid to go to the police to report violence and are frequently ignored when they do. Current laws (sex work is illegal in 116 countries) require that sex workers render themselves largely voiceless and invisible—which makes their interests easy to ignore.

But new research suggests that existing legislation against sex work may also be harming society at large—and that decriminalizing sex work could help slow the spread of HIV.

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