The Alarming Inaccuracy of Prenatal Testing
When I was pregnant with my first child, I got an important call from my doctor’s office. I remember very little of the specifics aside from where I was standing (on the sidewalk, outside of a management training seminar I had to do for work), and the dread I felt as the call proceeded. I’d had a prenatal screening, and the medical professional on the other end was telling me that the fetus was at a higher than average risk for one of the disorders they were screening for.
I no longer remember what disorder it was; what I remember was the sense that my future lay in numbers I didn’t understand. I scribbled down the odds—my chances versus those of an average 33-year-old mother—and tried to parse them. What does a 1-in-385 chance look like? The numbers were so precise that I trusted them as wholly scientifically accurate. The elevated risk seemed ominous, even though I knew there was a much greater chance the baby would be okay. And she was.
The New England Center for Investigative Reporting has a story out that should alarm every woman who’s recently had blood drawn for a prenatal screening.
Conservatives Believe Contraception Is Abortion Only When It’s Politically Convenient
In recent years, there has been a surge in energy behind the conservative argument that some forms of birth control are tantamount to abortion. Anti-choice activists have taken to saying that emergency contraception and IUDs work by "killing" fertilized eggs, a claim that is unsupported by science, which shows instead that these forms work by preventing sperm from meeting egg. Despite that, the Supreme Court ruled in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby that employers can use the abortifacient claim as a way to deny women birth control coverage, as long as the belief in the falsehood is sincerely held.
But is this belief that contraception equals abortion all that sincere, or has it been invented as a pretext to chip away at contraception access? In a new paper for the pro-choice Guttmacher Institute, senior policy communications associate Joerg Dreweke lays out a compelling case that the "belief" that some forms of contraception are abortion fluctuates based on political necessity. "Rather than applying the claim that some contraceptive methods in effect cause abortion consistently to all aspects of their advocacy," Dreweke writes, "antiabortion groups ignore and often contradict their positions when it might hurt them politically."
Wisconsin Is Throwing Pregnant Women in Jail to Protect “Unborn Children”
Last week I wrote about the escalating trend toward arresting women who use illegal drugs while pregnant, even when the science indicates that legal drugs like tobacco and alcohol do the same or more proven harm to babies than opioids and methamphetamine. I cited the case of Wisconsin mother Alicia Beltran, who was arrested and forced to undergo in-patient treatment for a Percocet addiction she’d already kicked, and wrote that it “sounds like a dystopian satire.”
I can now say the same about another case out of Wisconsin: a woman arrested for drug use even though she says she stopped when she realized she was pregnant, brought to court and twice refused lawyers (even though her fetus was given one), and then sent to jail for 17 days, where she was placed in solitary confinement, denied prenatal care even as she began cramping, and not given her thyroid medication for two days, according to the woman and her lawyers.
A Short History of Songs About Masturbation
The subject of Nicki Minaj's new song, "Feeling Myself," is not exactly hidden. Released last week, the collaboration with Beyoncé for Minaj's upcoming record includes lyrics like: "Bitch, never left but I’m back at it/ And I’m feelin’ myself, jack rabbit/ Feelin’ myself, back off, cause I’m feelin’ myself, jack off/ Heard he thinks about me when he whacks off/ Whacks on? Wax off."
Pop musicians have long been inspired by masturbation. Here's a short, not-at-all comprehensive modern history of some of the highlights.
"Pictures of Lily" by the Who (1967)
A young man suffering from insomnia is given aid by his loving father in the form of pin-up photos of "Lily." While the song does not mention masturbation explicitly, Pete Townsend has said that's what it's about. Things ultimately take a dark turn for our hero: "And then one day things weren't quite so fine/ I fell in love with Lily/ I asked my dad where Lily I could find/ He said, 'Son, now don't be silly'/ 'She's been dead since 1929'/ Oh, how I cried that night."
"Orgasm Addict" by the Buzzcocks (1977)
With a name like the "Buzzcocks," this '70s British punk band pretty much had to go there. This particular song is quite clear that it's not about partner sex: "Sneaking in the back door with dirty magazines/ Now your mother wants to know what all those stains on your jeans/ And you're an orgasm addict, you're an orgasm addict." As with all Buzzcocks songs, this one is an undefeatable earworm that will plague you for days, but it's worth it.
"Penetration in the Centerfold" by Devo (1979)
Devo had a habit of invoking masturbation in song lyrics like "Praying Hands" or even in the title of their biggest hit, "Whip It." But this song, a B-side for "The Day My Baby Gave Me a Surprize," skips subtlety altogether: "'Cause there's something in the middle/ And it's giving me a rise/ There's a girl in the middle/ With her finger in her gash."
"Turning Japanese" by the Vapors (1980)
They can deny it all they want, but we all know that this one-hit wonder, with its bafflingly racist title, is about masturbating to memories of the girl who left you.
"Dancing With Myself" by Generation X/Billy Idol (1981)
Basically the same song as "Orgasm Addict," except easier to dance to and not as funny.
"She Bop" by Cyndi Lauper (1984)
First entry by a woman, and the highest charting song about masturbation so far, reaching No. 3 on the Billboard charts. Notable for an overt reference to a gay men's magazine (Blueboy)—Lauper outed the dirty secret of many straight women!—and the fact that my 7-year-old self would embarrass her parents by running around the house singing the song with absolutely no clue what it was about.
"Darling Nikki" by Prince (1984)
"I knew a girl named Nikki/ I guess you could say she was a sex fiend/ I met her in a hotel lobby/ Masturbating with a magazine." This is the song that kicked off those parental advisory stickers and demands for record censorship, when Tipper Gore heard these lyrics on her kid's copy of the Purple Rain soundtrack.
"I Touch Myself" by the Divinyls (1990)
This is the nadir of masturbation tunes, a song that was a huge hit despite having none of the wit or listenability of its masturbation-celebrating predecessors.
"Hands On Experience" and "Hands On Experience Part II" by the High and Mighty (1997 and 1999)
As thoroughly goofy as hip-hop can be about sex, songs about masturbation are surprisingly uncommon in this genre. One fun exception is "Hands On Experience" by the High and Mighty, with its sequel featuring Kool Keith and Jean Grae, the latter beating Nicki Minaj to the vibrator by 15 years: "Holding myself down when I'm on the clit/ I've got gadgets like I'm James Bond and shit."
Feminism Can Stand Without Jackie
I’m told that this has been a bad couple of weeks for the anti-rape movement. “Rolling Stone just wrecked an incredible year of progress for rape victims,” Arielle Duhaime-Ross wrote at the Verge last week. Since the magazine’s November story about a brutal gang rape at a University of Virginia fraternity began to unravel early this month, feminists have raised alarms that the magazine’s whiff will have devastating effects for past and future victims. The story “could be read as a setback for an entire movement,” campus activist Annie Clark wrote in BuzzFeed. UVA is “on its way to becoming the next Duke Lacrosse—a highly publicized incident that misogynists will point to as a way to discredit all people, especially young women and students, who experience rape,” Audrey White wrote at Autostraddle. According to Duhaime-Ross, “the credibility of rape victims will be put into question for years to come,” as Rolling Stone has helped to “perpetuate the dangerous and damaging myth that women lie about rape.”
I’m surprised that these activists and commentators are so quick to hand over the future of this movement to packs of roving social media misogynists. There are people on the fringe who believe that any rape story with any discrepancies is evidence of a vast feminist conspiracy aimed at inventing rapes and vilifying innocent men, but these rape truthers are not reasonable people, nor are they most people, and it is unwise to mold the conversation around their fantasies. I am, however, concerned with how some feminists and progressives have responded to the ever-expanding holes in Rolling Stone’s story.
It's Not Just a Boy Problem: Black Girls Are Suspended at Higher Rates Than White Girls
According to data from the Office for Civil Rights at the United States Department of Education, while white girls at public schools are suspended at a relatively low rate of two percent, black girls face an astounding 12 percent rate of suspension. Tanzina Vega of the New York Times takes a closer look at the forces driving this disparity, and finds that the likeliest explanation is that schools are less forgiving when black girls break the rules than when white girls do.
Vega focuses her story around the case of Mikia Hutchings, a soft-spoken 12-year-old who was harshly handled by her Georgia school for an alleged, and apparently very minor act of vandalism: writing on the bathroom walls. Hutchings, who is black, was accused alongside her white friend, but the penalties they faced were strikingly different. Her friend's parents paid a restitution to the school of $100 and so their daughter was only suspended for a few days. Hutchings's family, however, "disputed the role she was accused of playing in the vandalism and said it could not pay about $100 in restitution," Vega writes. Hutchings was then subject to a school disciplinary hearing and "a visit by a uniformed officer from the local Sheriff’s Department, who served her grandmother with papers accusing Mikia of a trespassing misdemeanor and, potentially, a felony." In order to get out of being hit with these rather serious criminal charges, the preteen has to agree to be put on probation for the summer and to do 16 hours of community service. Now the Georgia Legal Services Program has filed a complaint with the Justice Department arguing this is a case of racial discrimination.
The Long, Controversial History of the National Women’s History Museum, Which Still Does Not Exist
A national museum on women's history seems like it would be the sort of thing that everyone could get behind, until you consider how fraught so much of women's history actually is. The idea for the museum first started in 1996, with the formation of a foundation advocating for its existence, and they've been slowly building support for it ever since. Now, that support has finally coalesced into Congress putting funding authorization into a defense spending bill. However, while the Republican-led House passed the bill that would allow it finally to be built, Sen. Tom Coburn is now holding it up, citing objections to the public lands package that includes the museum. Coburn objects generally to the federal government owning more land for things like museums and national parks, but he has always had it out for this proposed museum specifically, telling Gail Collins of the New York Times in 2010 that we don't need it because there's a Quilters Hall of Fame in Indiana and a National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame in Texas.
Coburn's obstructionism is causing concern about yet another government shutdown. And he’s not alone. Last week, a coalition of conservative groups, led by Concerned Women for America and including the March for Life and the American Family Association, wrote a letter begging the House to remove the public lands package from the defense bill and kill the women's history museum in the process.
The Washington Post Inches Closer to Calling the UVA Gang Rape Story a Fabrication
The Washington Post has an update on Rolling Stone's UVA story that strongly implies, without outright saying so, that the gang rape at the center of Sabrina Rubin Erdely’s article might be fabricated. Post reporter T. Rees Shapiro spoke at length with the three friends who met up with Jackie, the student who says she was raped, on the night in question. In the Rolling Stone story this scene was crucial. Erdely described Jackie as standing mute in her bloody dress, the Phi Kappa Psi house where the alleged rape happened looming in the background, as her friends callously debated whether they should take her to the hospital and risk ruining their social reputations. This set up the larger theme of a university culture and social scene indifferent even to the most brutalized victims of rape.
Earlier, those friends told the Post that Jackie told them she’d been forced to have oral sex—a much different story than what Jackie told Rolling Stone. This new Post article adds some details that make the entire account seem more suspicious. Jackie had told her friends—referred to by the pseudonyms “Cindy,” “Andy,” and “Randall” in the original story and in the Post’s follow-ups—that she had a date on Sept. 28, 2012, with a handsome junior in her chemistry class. (In the version she told to Rolling Stone, that date was with someone she'd met at her lifeguarding job.) But in the Post story, the friends imply that this junior might not exist and may have been invented by Jackie to make Randall jealous.
When the friends first heard about this junior, they were intrigued and asked Jackie for his number. They started exchanging text messages with him, and he described Jackie as a “super smart hot” freshman. He complained, though, that she liked a “nerd 1st yr”— meaning Randall—who is “smart and funny and worth it.” Jackie’s friends could never find this junior in the UVA database nor on social media. She provided her friends with a picture of him, but the Post has since learned that the guy in the picture is a high school classmate of Jackie’s who does not go to the University of Virginia and was in another state participating in an athletic tournament on the night of the alleged rape. (More recently, Jackie gave her friends the name of a different guy. The Post also contacted him, and he said he’d never met Jackie.)
The Post story doesn’t connect all the dots, but it’s not hard to do. Jackie has now given her friends two different names for the man she was with that night. Neither of them was in fact with her, ever dated her, or even knew her all that well. She appears to have invented a suitor, complete with fake text messages and a fake photo, which suggests a capacity for somewhat elaborate deception. Jackie, though, has not recanted her story. Her attorney would not answer questions for the Post's story on Wednesday and has told reporters to stop contacting Jackie.
Here's the most disturbing journalistic detail to emerge from the Post's reporting: In the Rolling Stone story, Erdely says that she contacted Randall, but he declined to be interviewed, “citing his loyalty to his own frat.” Randall told the Post he was never contacted by Erdely and would have been happy to be interviewed.
That could mean one of two things: Jackie could have given Erdely fake contact information for Randall and then posed as Randall herself, sending the reporter that email in which he supposedly declined to participate in the story. Erdely also could have lied about trying to contact Randall. Rolling Stone might have hinted at this possibility in its “Note to Our Readers” when it referred to a “friend of Jackie’s (who we were told would not speak to Rolling Stone)" but later spoke to the Washington Post. That would take Erdely a big step beyond just being gullible and failing to check her facts, moving this piece in the direction of active wrongdoing.
When Erdely came on the DoubleX Gabfest two weeks ago to talk about her story, the first question we asked was how she settled on UVA.
Erdely said she called several universities but kept hearing typical stories about sexual violence. Then she called some activists and heard this sensational story about Jackie and gang rape. Maybe the lesson there is, if one story sounds so outlandishly different than the dozens of others you've heard, you shouldn't decide to make it the centerpiece of your reporting. You should wonder why.
When confronted with what appear to be so many orchestrated lies, it's getting harder to see Jackie as a person whose memory may have been shaken by trauma. But there is still some chance of that. Everyone, including Randall and Jackie’s suitemates, says that she seemed utterly traumatized and continued to be throughout the semester, so much so that she had to go home early before finals.
“She had very clearly just experienced a horrific trauma,” Randall told the Post. “I had never seen anybody acting like she was on that night before and I really hope I never have to again. ... If she was acting on the night of Sept. 28, 2012, then she deserves an Oscar.”
Sorry, but the Abortion Rate Is Not Going Down Because Women “Choose Life”
The abortion rate is down and anti-abortion folks would very much like to take credit for it. Last week, David Frum at the Atlantic wrote a piece arguing that "the pro-life movement really does seem to have changed American minds about the morality of abortion" and that, along with a growing acceptance of single motherhood, has led to a drop in the abortion rate. At the National Review on Wednesday, Ryan T. Anderson and Sarah Torre, while hastening to add that they still think single motherhood is the worst, agree that the dropping abortion rate must be because "more young women are choosing to parent when they understand that there’s a life at stake," due to four decades of bloody fetus pictures and exhortations to "choose life."
UVA’s Heartening Response to the Rolling Stone Fiasco
The discovery of discrepancies in the Rolling Stone exposé of the sexual assault problem at the University of Virginia has prompted a wide range of responses, from the ugly to the thoughtful. Conservatives who are already hostile to the entire discussion about campus rape eagerly pounced, trying to use this controversy to discredit the larger argument about UVA's response to rape claims and to squash discourse about campus rape. Feminists rushed to the defense of rape victims, castigating Rolling Stone for its initial attempt to blame the woman at the center of Sabrina Rubin Erdely's* story, Jackie, for the magazine's reporting mistakes. Social scientists and science journalists tried gallantly to explain the way that memory, particularly in trauma victims, works, and why missed details are not evidence of lying. But the real issue here in the wake of the story and its unraveling is what will happen outside of the media chatter: How are the people with power at UVA responding?