What Women Really Think

Oct. 30 2014 4:46 PM

Emma Sulkowicz Inspired Students Across the Country to Carry Their Mattresses. Now What?

A pine green air mattress floats through the Columbia University campus, climbs the steps toward the library, passes a line of reporters and a couple of girls clutching worn white pillows, and settles into the back of a crowd of students wearing hoodies with sleeves marked “X” in red tape. A few steps up, more people are holding 28 bare white mattresses like protest placards, one for each Columbia student who has signed on to a Title IX complaint against the university. Each mattress is taped up with a slogan: “IX,” for the federal law that’s meant to prevent sexual harassment on campus to ensure equal educational opportunities for women; “NO RED TAPE,” for an administration that some students believe is failing victims of sexual assault; or just “MOCKTRIAL” and “CU SWING,” signs of solidarity from slices of the school’s social scene. In front of them, the small circle of Columbia students who have emerged, in the past year, as national leaders against sexual assault on college campuses pass a megaphone to women who share their stories, and activists who call out the school’s response. Thin navy mattresses ripped from dorm beds form a halo around them; auxiliary air mattresses dot the crowd.

Since September, Columbia senior Emma Sulkowicz has been hauling her own dorm mattress around campus every day, everywhere she goes. Part protest, part performance art, Sulkowicz’s mattress serves as a visual reminder that the student she says raped her—two other Columbia women have filed sexual assault claims against him, too—is still free to attend the school without formal consequences while she carries the burden of the alleged attack. (Columbia doesn't comment on individual cases, but Sulkowicz says that a disciplinary hearing found the man "not responsible"—a decision that sparked her protest against the school. The man has never commented on the matter.) The mattress has also become a calling card for “No Red Tape,” a Columbia activist group launched by Sulkowicz and another student, Zoe Ridolfi-Starr, who also says the administration brushed off her rape report, and began rallying other victims and activists to hold the school accountable.

When Sulkowicz steps out on campus, friends and strangers emerge to help her lug the thing around. Now, the phenomenon has transformed into an international activist movement. On Wednesday, students around the world pledged to help “Carry That Weight” for victims of sexual assault, propping up a mattress in the quad of Iowa’s Drake University, clutching colorful pillows at Oregon’s Pacific University, and raising a mattress above their heads at Bangor University in North Wales.

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Oct. 30 2014 12:48 PM

Eight Women Have Now Come Forward With Jian Ghomeshi Allegations

The Toronto Star reports that four more women, including TV actress Lucy DeCoutere, have come forward with allegations of sexual abuse and harassment against popular CBC host Jian Ghomeshi, bringing the total number of accusers to eight. That's a lot of women, but Ghomeshi's lengthy, pre-emptive self-defense on Facebook has already provided his explanation for why so many women are pointing fingers at him. It's a conspiracy:

After this, in the early spring there began a campaign of harassment, vengeance and demonization against me that would lead to months of anxiety.
It came to light that a woman had begun anonymously reaching out to people that I had dated (via Facebook) to tell them she had been a victim of abusive relations with me. In other words, someone was reframing what had been an ongoing consensual relationship as something nefarious. I learned – through one of my friends who got in contact with this person – that someone had rifled through my phone on one occasion and taken down the names of any woman I had seemed to have been dating in recent years. This person had begun methodically contacting them to try to build a story against me. Increasingly, female friends and ex-girlfriends of mine told me about these attempts to smear me.

For those inclined to believe Ghomeshi, then, these new accusers are not evidence of his guilt but of the far-reaching female cabal of post-breakup revenge. But there's often a much simpler reason these kinds of accusations tend to come in waves, a combination of safety in numbers and a newfound sense of urgency that comes with finding out that other people have been victims. Many victims stay silent out of fear and a belief that speaking up won't do any good anyway, as the assailant will simply deny the accusations. But when one woman comes forward, other victims not only feel safer about speaking up, but they often realize this man has a pattern of behavior that won't be stopped unless more women tell their own stories and, in doing so, bring added credibility to the original accusations.

You see this pattern time and time again. Sharon Bialek, who accused then-presidential candidate Herman Cain of sexual harassment, only came forward after hearing that two other women had anonymously accused him. She wished to "to give a face and a voice to those other women," as she explained in a press conference. Thirteen separate women have accused Bill Cosby of sexual assault, and those who did on-the-record interviews cited the other women coming forward as the reason they felt the need to speak out. San Diego Mayor Bob Filner initially tried to paint himself as a victim of a "lynch-mob mentality" when 18 women came forward with accusations of sexual harassment, but eventually he had to admit instead that it was his own pattern of behavior that was the problem and not a conspiracy against him. 

In a piece in Dame magazine, Kate Harding examined Ghomeshi's claim that he's the victim of an elaborate conspiracy:

I do not know for sure whether Ghomeshi is an abuser or the victim of an elaborate revenge campaign. But here's what I do know for sure: He is asking us to believe that multiple former sex partners have chosen to accuse him of sexual violence—not the fun kind—in solidarity with one particularly bitter ex. 
It's not just that one woman is so angry about being rejected by him that she falsely accused him of criminal behavior. It's that she rounded up a bunch of other women, who all agreed they would lie to reporters in an effort to smear an innocent man. He has done nothing wrong, nothing non-consensual, yet all of these women hated him enough to conspire to get him fired and publicly humiliate him. They "colluded" to establish a false "pattern of [nonconsensual, potentially life-threatening] behavior." Because one of them was rilly, rilly mad.

As Harding notes, these kind of conspiracy theories rely on a pernicious stereotype of women as inherently deceitful, greedy, and downright sociopathic in their willingness to hurt men for the lulz. After the new wave of accusations came out, Ghomeshi returned to Facebook today with a more succinct statement. "I want to thank you for your support and assure you that I intend to meet these allegations directly," he writes. "I don’t intend to discuss this matter any further with the media." In comments, a supporter posted an image of a lynch mob

Oct. 29 2014 4:37 PM

The Problem With That Catcalling Video

On Tuesday, Slate and everyone else posted a video of a woman who is harassed more than 100 times by men as she walks around New York City for ten hours. More specifically, it’s a video of a young white woman who is harassed by mostly black and Latino men as she walks around  New York City for ten hours. The one dude who turns around and says, “Nice,” is white, but the guys who do the most egregious things—like the one who harangues her, “Somebody’s acknowledging you for being beautiful! You should say thank you more,” or the one who follows her down the street too closely for five whole minutes—are not.

This doesn’t mean that the video doesn’t still effectively make its point, that a woman can’t walk down the street lost in her own thoughts, that men feel totally free to demand her attention and get annoyed when she doesn’t respond, that women can’t be at ease in a public space in the same way men can. But the video also unintentionally makes another point, that harassers are mostly black and Latino, and hanging out on the streets in midday in clothes that suggest they are not on their lunch break. As Roxane Gay tweeted, “The racial politics of the video are fucked up. Like, she didn’t walk through any white neighborhoods?”

Oct. 29 2014 3:21 PM

Female Republicans, Like Male Republicans, Rely on the Male Vote to Win  

There are a lot of Republican women running for Senate this year. In fact, there are so many that, in a surprising twist, it might be Republicans, not Democrats, that help raise the number of women in the Senate over the current record of 20 female senators. As Kay Steiger of Talking Points Memo explains, a full 16 out of the 20 current sitting female Senators are Democrats and many of them are facing tough campaigns for re-election this year. If the Senate is going to have more than 20 women in it, it's likely because of Republican women picking up seats. 

But a surge in female Republicans winning elections shouldn't be mistaken for a change in the basic gender dynamics driving modern politics. In a piece on Republican Joni Ernst's surprisingly robust Senate campaign against Rep. Bruce Braley in Iowa, New York Times writer Sheryl Gay Stolberg focuses on how much Ernst is relying on the male vote to push her over the top. "If Ms. Ernst winds up in Washington, it will be largely because Iowa’s men sent her there," she writes. "Ms. Ernst has a 12-point advantage among men deemed most likely to vote, while she and Mr. Braley are closely divided among such women, according to an NBC News/Marist College poll released this week." Ernst has picked up some female voters—mostly older, likely married ones—but, like for most Republicans, it's male voters that will win her the election. 

This isn't to say that Ernst's gender isn't an asset here. Stolberg writes:

Oct. 29 2014 1:21 PM

The Parody Twitter Account That Gets 21st-Century Progressive Parenting Pretty Right

Los Feliz Day Care does not accept immunized children. One of its classrooms is called the “Ohm Sweet Ohm” room. Please don’t use the word “teacher” at LFDC; the school prefers “emotional/spiritual/ethical guides as your children explore the cosmos of independent learning.”

Los Feliz Day Care also is not real. It’s the Twitter handle of a 27-year-old Los Angeles-based comedy writer named Jason Shapiro, who is a script coordinator on the ABC show Cristela and was a writer on the Betty White show Off Their Rockers. Shapiro’s not a parent himself, but a lot of his coworkers are, and his girlfriend is getting her PhD in education. That’s how he gets some of the really funny, well-observed details about the fictional Los Feliz Day Care—like the tweet about allowing princess costumes only if they’re “okayed in advance” and everyone (girls, boys, teachers and helpers) gets one.

In real life, a recent Los Angeles Times look at kindergarten vaccine data showed that wealthy California communities, like the trendy Los Feliz neighborhood, are leading the pack in “personal belief vaccine exemptions” (21.7 percent of kindergarteners at the very real Los Feliz Charter School of the Arts have personal belief exemptions from their vaccines). In fact, @LosFelizDayCare is so believable that many readers don’t realize it is satire at first. “I had a state regulator in Indiana reach out to me because she thought the regulations sounded very different from state to state and she wanted to learn more,” Shapiro said in a phone call.

Oct. 28 2014 3:19 PM

A Hidden Camera Reveals How Women Are Constantly Harassed on the Street

Whenever I bring up the topic of street harassment with men, they tell me they just don’t see it. Literally: When they’re walking down the street with a woman, other men don’t make a noise. Enter Hollaback, an anti-street harassment organization, which recently teamed up with the video marketing agency Rob Bliss Creative to show what it’s like to walk down the street alone as a woman: totally exhausting, reliably demeaning, and occasionally, terrifying.

To film the video, Rob Bliss outfitted a backpack with a hidden camera and walked across New York City streets for ten hours in front of actress Shoshana B. Roberts, who was dressed in jeans and a T-shirt and holding a microphone in each hand. Bliss’ camera caught men approaching, leering, and trailing Roberts’ movements; the mics recorded their comments, which ranged from ostensibly friendly greetings (“Have a nice evening!”) to unsolicited commentaries on Roberts’ body (“Sexy!”) to absurd commands (“Smile!”) to pure expressions of entitlement (“Somebody’s acknowledging you for being beautiful! You should say thank you more!”). The ceaseless chatter (plus some light stalking!) adds up to a constant reminder that, just for walking from point A to point B, some men believe that women’s bodies and minds should be made accessible to them on command. “How are you this morning?” doesn’t sound so sinister. But when a male stranger shouts it, it’s just another unearned claim for a woman’s attention—one that could escalate should the woman so much as bat an eyelash. Roberts didn’t; she still got harassed at every turn. Bliss recorded more than 100 instances of verbal harassment in all, and that doesn't include winks and whistles.


I sent the video around to some men in my office to gauge their reactions. “I knew this stuff happened—I see and hear it every once in a while—but the frequency of the remarks was astounding,” one colleague told me. “As a (fairly obvious) gay guy, I like to think I know something about being surveilled and self-aware in public, but this style of direct confrontation is pretty rare,” another said. The video is a “great reminder of how even the most ‘innocuous’-seeming comments pile up over the course of an hour, day, and life to feel oppressive and awful,” added a third. And he noted that the harassment caught on Bliss’ camera only catches one half of the equation: “In the wild,” he told me, “I pretty much only see the once-over from behind, which is legion, and is often accompanied with meeting another dude's eyes like, amiright?

Some men, though, still aren’t seeing it. On Twitter, some are pushing back against the video, claiming that it’s not harassment, it’s just annoying, and that refusing to reply is, frankly, impolite. Of course, it’s largely women who are singled out for constant annoyance just for stepping outside, and are dismissed as rude for not accepting it graciously. If you don't get it after watching this video, the problem isn't just the guys caught yelling at Roberts. The problem is you.

Oct. 28 2014 1:39 PM

To California Cops, Stealing and Sharing Naked Photos of Women in Custody Is a “Game”

On August 29, officers with the California Highway Patrol stopped a 23-year-old driver in a Bay Area suburb on suspicion of driving while drunk. The woman’s blood alcohol level registered over three times the legal limit, and she was arrested and brought to the Martinez County jail for processing. Five days after her release, the Contra Costa Times reports, the woman was tooling around on her iPad when she discovered that explicit photographs of herself had been forwarded to an unknown number while she had been sitting, deviceless, in jail. CHP officer Sam Harrington later admitted that he had seized the woman’s confiscated phone, searched it for nude photographs, sent five of them to his own phone, then forwarded some along to two fellow officers. Harrington had attempted to erase the evidence on the woman’s cell phone, but her synced iPad revealed the trail.

According to court documents obtained by Matthais Gafni and Malaika Fraley of the Contra Costa Times, Harrington described the behavior to investigators as a “game” he had learned in the CHP’s Los Angeles office. Officers across the state play along, passing around naked photographs along with disgusting commentary about the women they pick up. Sometimes, the material is sent to civilians, too. Harrington said that he’d done the same thing a “half dozen” times over the past few years. In a second known incident, this September, Harrington scoured a DUI suspect’s phone while she was receiving X-rays for her injuries and sent bikini shots to another officer. He replied: "No fucking nudes?"

Oct. 28 2014 1:01 PM

The Gloriously Strange, Kinky, and Feminist History of Wonder Woman

Last week, Warner Bros. and DC Comics announced that they are seeking a female director to helm the upcoming Wonder Woman movie. The announcement buoyed hopes that we might actually get a genuinely good Wonder Woman movie, something many of us doubted would ever happen after Joss Whedon was fired from a previous attempt. Still, the character has a notoriously inconsistent history, and there are many wrong turns any director could take. So what's the surest route to creating a 21st century version of Wonder Woman worthy of her lasso of truth? Go back to the original Wonder Woman comics, which debuted in 1941, for inspiration.

New Yorker writer Jill Lepore has a new book out called The Secret History of Wonder Woman that traces the strange but intriguing story behind the first major female superhero. In a recent New Yorker piece, Lepore recounts how Wonder Woman was created by Harvard-trained psychologist William Moulton Marston, the inventor of the lie detector and an all-purpose kook who nonetheless had some ideas, particularly about homosexuality and kink (and comic books), that were well ahead of his time. Marston was a bundle of contradictions. On the one hand, he was an ardent feminist who went well beyond believing in female equality and instead argued that women were superior to men and that humanity would be better off under a matriarchy. But his personal life, viewed from our comfortable stance many decades into the future, raises some eyebrows. He lived in a ménage à trois with two women—his wife Elizabeth Holloway and his girlfriend Olivia Byrne—whose own talents and ambitions were subsumed in order to support him. Marston got to enjoy the political and sexual fantasy of a world run by women while benefiting from a world where women were still expected to cater to men.

Oct. 28 2014 12:07 PM

Sweatpants Are a Form of Protest

This article originally appeared in The Cut.

Nineteenth-century activist Amelia Bloomer, originator of the eponymous pants, once said of her invention, “The costume of women should be suited to her wants and necessities. It should conduce at once to her health, comfort, and usefulness; and, while it should not fail also to conduce to her personal adornment, it should make that end of secondary importance.” Though she could hardly have imagined the juggernaut that is jeggings, Bloomer's vision was prescient. Whether you call it “soft dressing,” as Gap has dubbed it,athleisure,” or the “third wardrobe,” this new aesthetic of casual comfort suits those of us who like to live somewhere in between gray flannel suits and, well, flannel pajamas.

Oct. 27 2014 4:36 PM

The Jian Ghomeshi Accusations Are Not About BDSM. They Are About Consent.

Jian Ghomeshi, host of the popular Canadian radio show Q, is suing the CBC after the network fired him in the wake of allegations that he is a serial abuser of women. The story is a fairly straightforward one, as far as these things go: The Toronto Star has collected the stories of three separate women who dated Ghomeshi and told the paper he abused them and forced them into non-consensual sexual activities. A fourth woman, a colleague at the CBC, told the paper he grabbed her behind and whispered that he wanted to "hate fuck" her. Accusations of dating violence, sexual abuse, and sexual harassment, if true, are all good reasons for the CBC to terminate its relationship with Ghomeshi. But Ghomeshi is fighting back, not just by accusing these women of lying, but also by painting himself as an oppressed sexual minority who is being mistreated because he has a taste for BDSM.