The XX Factor
What Women Really Think

April 28 2016 5:56 PM

Today We Brought Our Kids to Work. You Know Who Else Should Get a Trip to the Office ...

You may have noticed that some of your co-workers are looking particularly young this Thursday. Not young like millennials, usually the token youthful presence around the office—younger. Grade-school young. Shopkins and Legos young. You’ve stumbled upon Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day, observed the fourth Thursday of April at workplaces around the country.

Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day evolved from Take Our Daughters to Work Day, which the Ms. Foundation for Women started in 1992 to encourage girls to pursue careers in all sorts of fields, including male-dominated ones. As the day has strayed from its original purpose—the Ms. Foundationis no longer involved—now it’s mostly seen as a time for kids to gain an understanding of what their parents really do all day (while also getting to skip school) and parents to show off the adorable time and money suckers they’re so proud of. But kids are far from the only people who fail to grasp what some jobs actually entail; there are plenty of people we’d like to invite to the office for a day of education about the places we spend most of our time. As an added benefit, people who don’t have kids can participate in these days too. HR departments, please plan ahead for the following events next year.

April 28 2016 1:36 PM

Oklahoma Court: Making an Unconscious Victim Perform Oral Sex Isn’t Sexual Assault

It’s hard to out-daft the Oklahoma state legislature. In recent months, what is almost certainly the country’s most sadistic and ignorant lawmaking body has proposed banning HIV-positive people from marryingpreventing depressed suicidal queer youth from seeing gay-affirming therapists, andmandating anti-abortion education in public schools. Any day now, the state could authorize a (100-percent unconstitutional) law that would revoke the medical license of any doctor who performs an abortion.

But the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals is proving to be a formidable competitor to the legislature in the state government’s race to the bottom. Last month, the court ruled 5-0 that a boy who allegedly put his genitals in the mouth of an unconscious, intoxicated victim did not commit the crime of forcible sodomy. Oklahoma prosecutors and anti-rape advocates say the ruling is a miscarriage of justice that defies both common sense and decades of legislative and judicial progress on sexual assault.

April 28 2016 1:03 PM

Yale Will Name a New Residential College After Awesome Civil Rights Activist Pauli Murray

Yale University’s year-and-a-half-long naming debate has finally come to a close. In a university-wide message sent Wednesday evening, Yale president Peter Salovey announced that the campus’s two new residential colleges will be named after Anna Pauline Murray and Benjamin Franklin. Salovey also announced that Calhoun College—the residential college named after pro-slavery vice president John C. Calhoun—will keep its name, despite a student- and alumni-led campaign to change it.

The decision to continue memorializing Calhoun is the aspect of Salovey’s announcement that will likely get the most attention, but Yale’s choice to honor Murray is noteworthy, as it represents a departure from the roster of white men whose names grace the facades of the 12 (soon to be 13) other colleges. Murray will be not only the first woman but also the first person of color to serve as a residential college namesake.

April 28 2016 10:05 AM

If You’re the Only Woman or Person of Color Being Considered for a Job, You Won’t Be Hired

According to conventional wisdom, simply getting a foot in the door is a step toward equality for women and people of color in white-male-dominated fields. If hiring managers actually consider and interview women and non-whites, then women and non-whites have a good chance of actually getting ahead on their merits, right?

Maybe not. A series of studies described in a recent Harvard Business Review article indicate that having a single woman or a single person of color among your finalists for the job is effectively equivalent to having zero women or people of color. “If there’s only one woman in your candidate pool, there’s statistically no chance she’ll be hired,” write business professors Stefanie K. Johnson and David R. Hekman and Ph.D. candidate Elsa T. Chan.

April 27 2016 5:27 PM

These Jeans Are Designed to Give You A Wedgie, Which Seems Wrong

Form has officially surpassed function at America’s best-loved dungaree company. For the sake of a more prominent butt, a new line of Levi’s jeans promises to keep wearers in a permanent state of the most common jean malfunction: the wedgie.

Levi’s Wedgie Fit jeans (yes, that is the actual name of the collection) are billed as “the cheekiest jeans in your closet,” because each pair “hugs your waist and hips to showcase your best assets.” I can only assume that the designers were nerds who got noogied and shoved into lockers in their elementary school days and are now reclaiming the terms of their abuse. Levi’s launched the line of pants earlier this year, and it was so popular, the company recently started selling pairs of wedgie shorts.

April 27 2016 1:03 PM

Men Reading Online Harassment to Women Is Powerful to Watch. But Will the Trolls Listen?

Everyone knows it’s easier to spew vitriol on the internet than to confront someone in real life. If it weren’t, the majority of online comment sections would devolve into “no, you hang up” lovefests, and all those Twitter report evaluators would have to find work as peer mediators instead.

On Monday, Just Not Sports, a podcast that covers the non-sports interests of sports figures, tried to use the gap between acceptable internet language and acceptable IRL language to draw attention to the truly gut-wrenching harassment female sports journalists face on an average workday. The hosts roped a bunch of male sports fans into reading aloud some of the tweets and comments online abusers have launched at Sports Illustrated writer Julie DiCaro and ESPN reporter Sarah Spain.

April 27 2016 10:50 AM

Paul Nungesser Tries Again To Sue Columbia ... Using a Strategy That Has Never Worked Before

Last month, Paul Nungesser—the Columbia University graduate who Emma Sulkowicz accused of rape and made infamous in her “Carry that Weight (Mattress Performance)” art piece—argued in a lawsuit that his alma mater had violated his rights by allowing Sulkowicz to brand him a rapist. A New York judge shredded that argument on the grounds that Nungesser had fundamentally misunderstood Title IX—the federal statute that protects victims of sexual assault, and that Nungesser is trying to turn to his own use—but he left the door open for a second attempt. Now, Nungesser has tried again, borrowing a legal strategy from other male students accused of rape—one that’s growing in popularity despite that fact that it has yet to work. 

In the new suit, Nungesser once again claims that by permitting Sulkowicz to carry her mattress in public protest after Columbia had found him “not responsible” for the alleged assault, the school violated his rights under Title IX, which prohibits sex-based discrimination at schools that accept federal funds. Nungesser’s previous suit misinterpreted what it means for discrimination to be “sex-based,” according to U.S. District Judge Gregory Woods: “Implicit in Nungesser’s claim is the belief that sex-based discrimination, for the purposes of Title IX, means ‘based on the act of sex’ rather than ‘gender,’” Woods wrote in March. This, he said, is “wrong,” as is Nungesser’s assertion that “because the allegations against him concerned a sexual act that everything that follows from it is ‘sex-based’ within the meaning of Title IX.”


On Monday, Newsweek reported that Nungesser had filed a new, 100-page complaint. This time, he seems to have figured out the meaning of “sex-based.” Accordingly, he will be arguing that Columbia discriminated against him “as a male.” As Newsweek explains, the complaint

urges the judge to consider “the case at hand if the genders were reversed,” and then proposes a scenario involving people named Paula and Emmet, with details mirroring what happened between Nungesser and Sulkowicz.
The new complaint also alleges that Columbia’s policies and practices “perpetuate the stereotype of the sex-driven male,” which violates Title IX. For example, the complaint says, Columbia’s policies include no examples of sexual violence involving a male victim and a female perpetrator, only female victims and male perpetrators, or gender-neutral victims and perpetrators. Also, it says, all videos shown during a mandatory sexual respect program for students focused on “violence against women” and not gender-based violence more generally. Further, the complaint alleges, the school’s sexual violence policies focus only on penetration as opposed to someone being “made to penetrate.”

Of course, it’s a fair bet that Columbia focuses on cases involving “female victims and male perpetrators, or gender-neutral victims and perpetrators” because cisgender women and people on the trans spectrum are so much more likely than cis-men to be the victims of sexual violence. A recent survey by the Association of American Universities found that 27.2 percent of female college seniors had experienced unwanted sexual contact in their time at school, as opposed to 8.6 percent of male seniors. Other studies have found an even larger gap: The Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) suggests that one in six women will experience rape or attempted rape, as opposed to one in 33 men.

Nungesser is far from the first accused perpetrator to try to spin this age-old sexual power dynamic into an argument that colleges’ attempts to punish rapists are a form of discrimination against men. Last spring, Inside Higher Ed counted “at least 68 pending lawsuits alleging gender bias by accused students, many of them filed in the last two years.” One of the most widely reported-on cases of this nature was initiated by former Vassar student Peter Yu, who argued after his expulsion that he’d experienced gender discrimination because “Vassar’s guidelines and regulations are set up to disproportionately affect the male student population of the Vassar College community as a result of the higher incidence of female complainants of sexual misconduct against male complainants of sexual misconduct.”

But the fact that campus justice systems mete out far more discipline to male perpetrators of sexual violence does not mean that they are biased. “Nobody will argue with you that [Title IX] doesn’t cover maleness, or that men as a class can’t be harmed,” Wendy Murphy, an attorney who has filed suits under Title IX, has told Inside Higher Ed. But no male student who has made an argument like Nungesser’s has so far managed to prove that his school targeted him for reasons directly linked to his sex. Newsweek argues that male students’ discrimination suits “have gained traction in recent months,” pointing toward cases, for example against Washington and Lee University and Brown University, that have “survived motions to dismiss.” Still, as Tyler Kingkade has reported at the Huffington Postthis line of attack has failed in cases against Vassar, Saint Joseph’s University, Miami University, and the University of South Florida; another male student’s lawsuit against Columbia was also dismissed. (Male students accused of sexual assault have had more success arguing that their universities violated their due process rights.)

Precedent suggests that Nungesser’s case is unlikely to prevail. To win, he would have to prove that Columbia would have responded differently, for reasons directly based on gender, to complaints that an “Emmet” made against a “Paula.” It’s not enough to show that, for reasons outside of its control, Columbia’s disciplinary system has considered many fewer “Paulas” than it has “Pauls.”

April 26 2016 5:41 PM

This Subscription Sex Toy Box Wants to Be a Sex Educator, Too

There are sex toy subscription boxes, and then there are sex toy subscription boxes. When Birchbox fever hit in the early 2010s, intrepid reviewers at AlternetBustle, andNew York magazine surveyed the landscape of new services that popped up promising a monthly or quarterly shipment of bedroom products.

What they found was underwhelming. The boxes were crammed with cheap lingerie, lip gloss, snake-oil “sexual performance” drinks, and decidedly unsexual fillers like Luna Bars and tea. Aimed squarely at women and hetero couples, most of these boxes offered novelty kitsch better suited for a bachelorette party than a grown-up sexual encounter.

When Meg Ross considered starting a sex toy subscription service last year, she wanted to improve on the status quo. “I know there’s a lot of people out there that are really excited about getting packages in the mail. That part’s easy,” she told me. The hard part: figuring out what she should put in them. “I started having little parties at my house and said, ‘I’ll give you wine if you tell me what you love in this industry, and what’s missing.’”

April 26 2016 3:34 PM

Can a “Teaching Moment” Over a Sexist Artwork Really Combat Rape Culture at UVA?

On university campuses littered with symbols of sexism and racism, it can be convenient to think that simply acknowledging the sins canonized in artworks or committed by the namesakes of buildings is a solution. After all, talking about them is far easier than removing or replacing them. 

From the University of Mississippi to Princeton, when protestors have demanded the dismantling of emblems, administrators have promised to "contextualize" them instead—but how do you footnote a statue or a building that students walk by everyday? This is one of the questions driving a debate at the University of Virginia, where a small group plans to gather Wednesday to "critique" a mural called “The Student’s Progress.” (Update, April 27, 2016: The protest has been canceled.) The artwork, by the painter Lincoln Perry, fills the foyer and stairwell of the music department’s Old Cabell Hall and depicts a redheaded violinist’s imaginary journey through the school. In January 2015, UVA formed a committee to review it, driven by criticism of two of its panels. One shows “a male faculty member standing on a porch and tossing a mostly naked student her bra as his beleaguered wife comes up the stairs,” as UVA music professor Bonnie Gordon put it previously in Slate. Another portrays a bacchanal scene, with an apparently unconscious female student being hoisted from her armpits by a male peer at its center.


Some faculty members are concerned that to walk through Old Cabell Hall—which holds the school’s primary auditorium and is a preferred venue for hosting prospective students and visiting speakers—is to see a vision of campus culture not so distinct from the one in Rolling Stone’s now-discredited story, “A Rape on Campus.” History professor John Mason told the student paper that he can “see why some people believe that the artwork makes a joke out of what might be called sexual harassment. … I know for certain that it makes some people uncomfortable when they see it.” Then again, he told the C-VILLE Weekly this month, he likes the mural. “I’m not saying it should be painted over,” he said. “Do you offer the painter a chance to redo it? Do you make it a teaching moment?”

The idea of a “teaching moment” can provoke eye-rolls on all sides. In this case, the mural’s defenders are portraying its critics as an illiberal Inquisition determined to censor every nuance of culture and art. Lincoln Perry is “arguably the best mural painter in the country,” according to Paul Barolsky, who teaches Italian Renaissance art and literature at the university. (Perry declined to comment for this story, but he elaborated on his vision in a 2005 conversation with his wife Ann Beattie that was published in BOMB Magazine. “Murals give a reassuring sense that you can connect with people, that they will see your work over and over and perhaps get something new from it each time,” he said then.) Barolsky told the C-VILLE Weekly that tampering with the panels would set “a dangerous precedent,” asking, “If you start to cover up paintings that offend one person or another, where do you draw the line? Should I not teach Italian masters because of nude figures?”

In some cases—such as at Princeton—the activists pushing schools to reconsider where they pay homage are the first to argue that talk is cheap, or at least insufficient. At UVA, however, the faculty members I spoke to seem to think that discussion is likely the best they can hope for. Law professor Anne Coughlin told me she’s disturbed by the panels, but also by the fact that “there’s been no acknowledgement that these concerns are even legitimate.” She added in an email that she’d like to see the university “remove the panels or … supplement them in some meaningful way,” but that “At a minimum, it is time to have a dialogue about the mural.” Claire Kaplan, a program director at the UVA Maxine Platzer Lynn Women's Center, agreed. “[A]s someone who is highly appreciative of the arts, I am sympathetic to concerns about censorship, but don’t buy that we can’t critique art,” she wrote to me in an email. “So we will be critiquing on Wednesday at 11:30 am.”

No one I interviewed seemed to believe that the school would actually paint over the offending panels of the mural—and it’s far from obvious that it should. Still, the artistry of the images in question doesn’t make them innocuous—especially on a campus where, as of last year, not a single student had ever been expelled for sexual assault, even in cases where the perpetrator admitted to it. In this case, there may be no better option than to turn the controversy into a “teaching moment.” Maybe if the critique recurs often enough, it will amount to more than talk. 

April 26 2016 1:55 PM

Why Are More and More Teen Girls Getting Cosmetic Genital Surgery?

An increasing number of American teen girls are asking their doctors for cosmetic genital surgery, according to a new paper from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Between 2014 and 2015, the number of girls aged 18 and under who received labiaplasties—procedures that alter the external appearance of the vulva—almost doubled.