The XX Factor
What Women Really Think

Nov. 24 2015 4:50 PM

Anyone Who Opposes Abortion for Rape Survivors Should Watch This Jessica Jones Scene

In a way, Netflix’s Jessica Jones is one long commentary on rape survival. The 13-episode series follows the self-reliant, deeply troubled titular semi-superhero as she grapples with traumatic memories of her repeated assaults and their aftermath. Jones drinks heavily to dull her flashbacks and, like so many rape survivors, struggles with the nagging notion that maybe, just maybe, she was partly to blame.

The rapist in this story is Killgrave, a slick sociopath with the ability to control the minds, desires, and actions of anyone who crosses his path. In a piece titled “The Villain in Jessica Jones Is the Most Terrifying Bad Guy on Television,” Slate’s Willa Paskin called Killgrave an “adult bogeyman” and a “walking consent metaphor”—whether he’s coercing his victims into sex, murder, or something banal and humiliating, he invades their innermost selves and makes them look like willing participants. For Jones and Killgrave’s latest victim, college track star Hope Schlottman, Killgrave’s puppeteering meant rape, among other violent indignities.


By episode six (spoiler alert!), Schlottman is in prison for killing her parents at Killgrave’s command. She’s also pregnant, and ready to do just about anything to get rid of the aftermath of Killgrave’s assault. Jones finds Schlottman laid up in the prison hospital after she’d paid a fellow inmate to beat her up, hoping to induce a miscarriage. When Jones suggests Schlottman wait until a doctor can provide a clinical abortion, Schlottman refuses. “Every second it's there, I get raped again and again,” she says.

This year’s slate of Republican presidential candidates is crowded with men who wouldn’t give Schlottman’s case a second thought. In today’s increasingly conservative GOP, it’s not enough for a candidate to decry abortion as baby-murder and push for laws that block women’s access to reproductive care. They must also hold the line against exceptions that would allow abortions in cases of rape and incest. Marco Rubio, for one, even doubts there’d ever be a justifiable reason for a doctor to perform an abortion to save the life of a pregnant woman.

Schlottman’s pleas testify to the injustice of abortion politics that don’t include exceptions for rape, incest, and women’s safety. Politicians who would force a woman to carry to term a fetus created by assault are inflicting yet another violation on a survivor who’s already had her desires trampled. Part of Schlottman’s reason for wanting her pregnancy over with now is that the resulting baby would be the spawn of a genuine supernatural devil-being. But for actual survivors of sexual violence, memories of a perpetrator without Killgrave’s evil superpowers can be equally painful as Schlottman’s. A resulting pregnancy can be an equally distressing reminder of that trauma—to say nothing of the sadism of forcing a rape victim to endure the excruciating, sometimes days-long ordeal of labor and delivery.

In the Jessica Jones episode, Jones tells Schlottman that her commissioned attack was more likely to kill her than terminate her pregnancy. “It was worth the risk,” Schlottman says. “It’ll be worth the next risk. Whatever it takes.” If women—especially rape survivors—can’t access abortion services, we’ll see more devastating effects of home or black-market abortions, not fewer abortions or safer women. Politicians should be concerned with punishing rapists, not their victims.

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Nov. 24 2015 3:36 PM

Katy Perry’s H&M Christmas Video is a Nausea-Inducing Pile of Creepy

If your Thanksgiving turkey comes laced with magic-mushroom stuffing this Thursday, your post-feast visions won’t be half as grotesque as Katy Perry’s holiday H&M commercial. The two-minute video features Perry dancing around with jazz hands and wide eyes like an evil Rockette in a slew of sparkly costumes, singing her new Christmas song, “Every Day is a Holiday.”

How creepy is this winter wonderland? Let me count the ways.

  • Perry kicks off the video with a line (“Welcome! Bienvenue!”) meant to evoke the opening number of Cabaret, as sung by the emcee of a sleazy nightclub witnessing the first breaths of the Nazi takeover in Weimar Germany.
  • Then, she’s surrounded by human-sized, unblinking gingerbread cookies with permanent bloodless grins iced across their gigantic faces.
  • Speaking of gigantic faces: nutcrackers. Glassy-eyed, wooden-jawed crackers of nuts every bit as menacing as the ones in that famous ballet.
  • Miley Cyrus’ stoned, brainwashed teddy bears stumble about in Christmas sweaters, ready to pass out on the Yule log and ruin the holiday for everyone.
  • About 35 seconds into the video, the deranged face of a giggling child-demon face fills the screen, making this a prime addition to the list of YouTube screamer videos you’ve been meaning to forward to your impressionable little cousins.
  • There are several creatures in this video that can only be the product of unholy intercourse between Ronald McDonald and a candy cane, or an Are You Afraid of the Dark? clown and an inflatable blowing man outside a car dealership.
  • The video’s second nutcracker invasion is even more ominous than the first—these wear mustachioed half-masks, leaving no doubt that they’re planning a night of violent, anonymous crime.
  • But I’m more concerned about the legions of reindeer in lederhosen and Marie Antoinettes in sparkly sweaters, who are forced to pull sleighs and cars against their will, like poor Iditarod dogs.
  • Santa was never meant to be seen topless, and it appears that he’s sedated his kittens to quell certain uprising.
  • The video wraps up with a “Happy & Merry” (H&M!) roar from a polar bear who’s been captured and isolated from its family, and who will certainly perish in our looming climate-changed future.

If you can survive all that doom and sinister gloom, you might get ill from all the quick cuts, characters spinning around in concentric circles, and a chorus that repeats over and over, louder and louder, higher and higher, like a broken music box. This fever-dream confection is best served on an empty stomach.

Nov. 24 2015 12:12 PM

Planned Parenthood Strikes Back Against Texas Medicaid Ban With a Federal Lawsuit

The Texas government’s blitz on women’s health hit a snag on Monday, when Planned Parenthood filed a federal lawsuit against state officials for kicking the organization out of the Texas Medicaid program without just cause. Along with 10 patient co-plaintiffs, Planned Parenthood is suing on the grounds that Texas has violated both federal law and the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.

Last month, the Texas Office of the Inspector General raided Planned Parenthood facilities in three cities, demanding patient records and employee addresses in what was said to be an investigation of whether the organization made unlawful use of Medicaid funds. The state’s evidence of Planned Parenthood’s alleged breach of Medicaid standards came from undercover videos whose false claims about the nature of fetal tissue donation have long been debunked.


Planned Parenthood’s case against Texas hinges on the allegation that the state is breaking its legal obligation to its more than 13,500 Medicaid enrollees, who must be allowed to seek medical care from whichever qualified providers they choose. Medicaid dollars can’t be used for abortions, but they can be used for the other services Planned Parenthood provides, like STI screenings and contraception. The suit also claims that Texas has antagonized Planned Parenthood with legal attacks without sufficient reason, in violation of the 14th Amendment.

“We have seen the very real and very devastating consequences for Texas women when politicians block access to care at Planned Parenthood—with tens of thousands going without access to birth control, HIV tests, and cancer screenings,” said Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards in a statement. The release cites statistics from a January report that showed a 30,000-patient drop from the Texas Women’s Health Program for low-income women between 2011, when the state took over the program, and 2013. New barriers to reproductive health care have caused many Planned Parenthood clinics to shutter, leading to crises of access in primarily rural and low-income areas.

Planned Parenthood is also suing Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Utah for their similar attempts to bar the organization from state Medicaid programs. “Taken together, these measures threaten to devastate access to critical health care and education across vast regions of the country—all in the name of politics,” Richards said in Monday’s statement.

Texas has already weathered some troubling effects of its radical anti-choice legislation. More than half of the state’s abortion providers have shuttered in recent years, leading to longer wait times for abortion appointments, which will mean more second-trimester abortions and unsafe home abortions. As I wrote last week, Texas is becoming a dystopian premonition of what our country’s future could look like if the Supreme Court takes some of the bite out of Roe v. Wade this session. We can rest a little easier knowing that Planned Parenthood will throw its legal weight behind the opposition.

Nov. 24 2015 9:46 AM

Delightful Fashion Advice From Female Meteorologists (and Why They All Wear the Same Dress)

Over the weekend, for perhaps the first time in the history of the Internet, meteorologist fashion went viral. One woman posted an Amazon link to an inexpensive, brightly colored dress in a Facebook group for female TV meteorologists about a month ago. Since then, weather broadcasters all over the country have ordered it, making for a surreal aggregation of screenshots and photos that went wild on Reddit. Now, meteorologists on Twitter are talking about the Sisterhood of the Traveling Dress.

The dress costs around $23 on Amazon and $61 straight from the vendor, Homeyee, a China-based e-commerce site whose website is full of “lorem ipsum” placeholders and mistranslations. The low price point; wide variety of bright colors; stretchy fabric; and flattering, structured cut made it a shoo-in for meteorologists who need to build a high-volume wardrobe without, in most cases, an employer-provided clothing budget.


Meteorologists, it turns out, are hungry for clothing recommendations. Their jobs require clothes that are comfortable enough to move around in (the sweeping arms of a cold front! the quick steps of an incoming hurricane!), fancy enough for a TV broadcast, and cheap enough to buy more than one. “Sometimes what to wear is biggest stress of my job,” the Weather Channel’s Jen Carfagno told me over email. “Don't look too old, or too young. Too tight will make you look like ready for the dance club. Too baggy will make you look frumpy. Black every day is boring. Patterns are tough with the lights and camera. Staying wrinkle-free is tough. How many styles of red dresses are there anyway?”

Heather Sophia of Mississippi News Now says the standard wardrobe for female meteorologists has changed a lot over the past decade. “When I landed my first TV job, I had two to three suits with a variety of blouses,” she told me. “Now, I have a closet full of dresses. I honestly can't recall the last time I wore a suit on air.” Sophia thinks that women preferred suits in previous generations of broadcasting, when they felt pressure to look as authoritative as the men who dominated the industry. “As more and more females were hired and climbed the ladder, I believe dresses and clothes outside the suit became more acceptable with the same credibility,” she says. Now, dresses offer on-air women a way “to embrace their femininity.” 

The Weather Channel’s Stephanie Abrams says the prevalence of dress-clad meteorologists is a sign of a more dressed-down society. And dresses, more than suits, are easily available in colors other than black, a color she calls “unfriendly.” A blue suit could be even worse. “For a while there, you had to be really careful with what color blues you wore, what color greens you wore,” Abrams says. Luckily, her network uses TV monitors instead of the blue or green screens that could make ill-dressed meteorologists disappear, although color is still a major concern. “Remember the gold/black/blue dress thing? That happens all the time,” Carfagno says. “I have about six purple dresses. They all look blue on TV.” Sophia is conscious of her dresses’ texture, too. “I don't want my clothes to be a distraction from the weather story I'm telling, so I shy away from leather and anything with sequins … because it tends to reflect the light,” she says. 

Since meteorologists can’t plug their mics into a desk like anchors sometimes do, they have to wear something that can accommodate a bulky mic and earpiece communicator device. Carfagno wears hers on a strap around her thigh—like “a Bond girl,” she says—and Abrams tucks hers into her Spanx on her back; other women use a bra strap to keep it stable.

Viewers have registered their disapproval when Carfagno’s worn something they considered too tight; some have even asked if she was pregnant. “Then I generally take that outfit off frequent rotation,” she says. Abrams advises women to wear whatever makes them feel comfortable so they can focus on their jobs. Still, amateur opinions come in from all sides. “Nowadays with social media, [viewers] tell you everything you want to hear and not hear,” she says.

Carfagno says female meteorologists are always asking one another, “Who are you wearing?” According to Abrams, there’s no shame in copying a colleague's dress as long as you buy it in a different color if you work at the same network. Pro tips are even more crucial when it comes to reporting in inclement weather. Abrams loves to share her secret to staying warm in rain and snow: She buys heating wraps and pads from the pharmacy and sticks them all over her body, then wears a wetsuit. She puts other heating pads in her jacket while she’s getting ready in the morning, so when she goes out into the storm, she’s “raging hot, sweating, like, you feel like you’re going to pass out.”

Freezing temperatures are a problem in the studio, too. Like many office buildings, the Weather Channel studio is colder for Abrams and the other women in dresses than it is for the men in suits. One of Abrams’ recent Instagram posts shows her and two other women wearing winter jackets and clutching a heating lamp during a commercial break while their male colleague claims sweaty armpits. (And yet the winter-unfriendly sheath dress remains queen on TV.)

Very few on-air meteorologists get wardrobe budgets, which can make for a substantial financial burden if they don’t shop wisely. “I love French Connection, but they can be pricey,” Sophia says. “I wait until their dresses go on clearance and when it's marked an extra 30 to 40 percent off the clearance price.” She owns more than 100 dresses, each of which cost an average of $40 to $60, from clearance racks at outlets like Dillard's, Saks Off 5th, Michael Kors, BCBG, J.Crew, and H&M; she finds January to be the cheapest month for dress-buying. “This month, I've spent about $250 on my wardrobe and came home with six dresses,” she says. “There are some female reporters/meteorologists that have worked out trades with clothing stores that will allow [them to] borrow an outfit in trade for a 10- to 15-second ad during the newscast.”

Abrams sees a silver lining to the hefty wardrobe demands. “You always have dresses for every event,” she says. She and one of her meteorologist friends, WABC’s Amy Freeze, swap dresses to keep things fresh. “I have, like, five of her dresses right now, and then I’ll give them back to her, she’ll take mine,” Abrams says. “We need to start this in our whole community with everyone who’s the same size.”

Nov. 23 2015 1:29 PM

We’ve Got 118 Years Until We Close the Gender Pay Gap, Study Says

“Not in my lifetime,” goes the tired refrain about the social changes we’d most like to see. Well, according to a new study from the World Economic Forum, that mantra is accurate when it comes to the global gender pay gap, which is projected to persist for another 118 years.

As the Guardian notes, the pay gap has barely narrowed worldwide since the 2008 economic crash. Women’s wages lag about a decade behind men’s, meaning women make more or less what men did in 2006. “Adjusted for inflation, the picture is worse,” the Guardian points out. Men make about $20,000 a year on average worldwide to women’s roughly $11,000. But when men were making $11,000 in 2006, “in today’s money, men were earning more than $13,000.”


The United States, where women make roughly 78 cents to a man’s dollar, still manages to land in sixth place in the economic section of the WEF’s “Gender Gap Index” of 2015, which measures “the participation gap, the remuneration gap and the advancement gap.” (Our overall ranking, 28th, is dragged down considerably by the U.S.’s terrible “political empowerment” score—just one more reason that we need more women in higher office.) The WEF scored countries on a scale of 0 (total inequality) to 1 (total equality). Norway leads the economic field with a B-plus (0.868), followed by Barbados, Burundi, Sweden, and Iceland. It’s notable that in roughly the top 40 countries, the gender education gap has been all but eliminated—parity in academic credentials has not translated to parity in the workplace. The U.S. scored a 0.999 in educational equality but a 0.826 in economic equality.

The WEF also surveyed the policies and business practices in countries that have managed to narrow the wage gap in recent years and compiled a list of things that seem to be working:

• It’s a no-brainer that better maternity and parental leave enables women to participate in the workforce. It’s possible to have too much of a good thing, though: In some Nordic countries where mothers can take more than two years off, female economic participation goes down. Policies that split parental leave evenly between mothers and fathers may address this unforeseen downside—and new legislation in Iceland, Germany, Japan, and South Korea will provide a good test.

• Child care is essential. The report found, “A majority of economies have public daycare assistance with government allowance or subvention (66.7 percent) while there are fewer countries that have government allowance for private daycare (55.2 percent).” The U.S. remains in the minority of countries that do nothing to assist women and families with child care even though it’s often the most expensive item in a family’s budget, costing more per month than rent.

• Companies need to set themselves goals—or countries need to do it for them. In the U.K., a group of the biggest public companies have agreed to work toward boards that are 25 percent female. In the WEF report, 92 percent of responding countries had some legislation in place to prevent gender discrimination in the workplace: “88 percent have legislation imposing gender-neutral practices in the workplace, 12 percent have legislation for mandatory percentage of both genders on corporate boards.”

Women have a long way to go to achieve pay equity with men. In addition to these big areas for improvement, companies and legislators can also make substantial changes through smaller innovations. Research suggests that encouraging employees to negotiate their salaries means women will get the short end of the stick, for example, and transparently setting the salary for a role before seeking a candidate to fill it is more fair. A bill that didn’t make it into law in California this fall would have prevented employers from asking about job applicants’ salary histories, keeping old inequities from following women into new work. With ideas like these, maybe we’ll finally close the gender wage gap by 2133.

Nov. 20 2015 5:08 PM

The U.S. Rate of Incarcerated Women is Shockingly High, and Rising

Though it’s home to only 5 percent of the world’s female population, the U.S. claims nearly 30 percent of the world’s women in prison. That's according to a startling new report from the Prison Policy Initiative. 

West Virginia has the highest rate in the U.S.: 273 women out of every 100,000 are incarcerated there. The study points out that Illinois and El Salvador imprison women at around the same rate—88 and 87 per 100,000, respectively—even though El Salvador, which criminalizes abortion, regularly throws women in jail for having miscarriages. Even the state with the lowest incarceration rate for women—Rhode Island, at 39 women per 100,000—outpaces all but 14 countries, not including the U.S.


Using 2010 census data, the Prison Policy Initiative found that 206,000 women are imprisoned in the U.S. today, or 127 per 100,000 women. That number has risen sharply since the late 1970s, when state and federal lawmakers started enacting aggressive policies such as mandatory minimums and three-strikes rules. In the years between 1980 and 2010, the U.S. incarceration rate for women increased by 646 percent, and it’s continuing to rise at nearly double the rate for men.

The vast majority of women in U.S. prisons have not committed violent crimes; a third are in for drug charges. As with the male prison population, women of color and black women in particular are overrepresented in U.S. prisons. Thirteen percent of the country’s women are black, compared to 30 percent of incarcerated women.

“Within the U.S., it is commonly noted that women are incarcerated far less frequently than men,” the study concludes, “but comparing women's incarceration rate to that for men paints a falsely optimistic picture.” Women face gender-specific brutality in prisons, including rape by prison authorities, shackling during labor, and inferior medical care. The tighter we pack our prisons with women, the worse their conditions will get.

Nov. 20 2015 2:37 PM

Jenny McCarthy Applies Her Anti-Science Quacktivism to Charlie Sheen’s HIV Status

“Ick,” declared famous science skeptic Jenny McCarthy on her SiriusXM radio show on Wednesday. Charlie Sheen had revealed his HIV-positive status in conversation with Matt Lauer on the Today Show, which made McCarthy think back on the years she spent playing one of Sheen’s love interests on Two and a Half Men; she shuddered to think she may have unwittingly kissed a man with HIV. “That’s not fair,” she said. “It’s scary.”

She went on to reveal what she later called a “double standard” in show biz:

Before we do a job, we have to sign a piece of paper that says, “Do you have cold sores?” You have to sign a release that says, “Yes I have cold sores.” You need to show the medication. … I’m like, wait a second, if I have to be up front about a herpe, how could you not be up front about HIV? I look back and I’m like, “OK, that would have been some valuable information.”

It’s not surprising that the woman who thinks vaccines cause autism and a gluten-free diet can cure it hasn’t absorbed the basic facts of HIV transmission. Unlike oral herpes, which afflicts the majority of people on planet Earth, HIV is all but incommunicable through kissing, especially in the kind of abbreviated smooches you might see on the likes of Two and a Half Men. And what’s more, Sheen has emphasized that, since his diagnosis, his treatment regimen has kept his viral count so low that it’s undetectable in his blood, making his chance of passing it on very slim, even through actual risky behavior.

After hearing public criticism along these lines, McCarthy addressed her remarks on Twitter:

The point I raised about Charlie Sheen on my Sirius radio show had nothing to do with whether or not I think he put me at risk. I simply took issue with a double standard in the industry. Every actress (and actor for that matter) must disclose hundreds of personal health matters before ever being allowed to set foot on a film set. Yet an actor who interacts physically with dozens of actresses in intimate scenes, is not required to disclose that he has HIV? I am very aware that HIV is not spread through kissing, but I also believe that if an actress has to disclose all of her business before kissing a male costar, that actor should be required to disclose something as major as an HIV infection too.

Unless actors are engaging in actual sexual activity that could put them at risk for HIV and other STIs—as they do in the porn industry, which requires pre-filming HIV tests—there’s no reason why they should have to submit themselves to the kind of public shame and stigma that’s risen in the wake of Sheen’s disclosure. An HIV-positive person who simply “interacts physically” with other actors isn’t doing anything reckless, and to suggest otherwise plays into the worst kind of misinformation about the virus.

But misinformation has long been McCarthy’s M.O. Her anti-vaccination quacktivism positions her as a crusading mom who’s taking on a medical establishment that preys on innocent, dutifully vaccinated sheeple, when all she’s doing is using fearmongering tactics to get more listeners to follow along.

The wildest part of McCarthy’s diatribe is that Sheen didn’t get his HIV diagnosis until after their time on the show together, so he couldn’t have disclosed a positive status even if it were required. McCarthy’s last episode with Sheen was in 2010; Sheen says he got his diagnosis about four years ago. "Charlie was infected long after he left Two and a Half Men and long after he worked with Jenny," Sheen’s manager told People

Of course, it’s possible that Sheen could have been HIV-positive and not known it at that time; even the best HIV tests have a window period. That’s one reason why, as Slate’s J. Bryan Lowder points out, it’s safer to have sex with someone who knows his status and getting treated than someone who doesn’t. But unlike some of the porn actors and ex-girlfriends who are rightfully angered that Sheen didn’t tell them his status even when he knew, McCarthy didn’t have sex with Sheen. All she’s doing by worrying aloud is giving stigma another foothold.

Nov. 20 2015 11:24 AM

Scandal’s Take on Abortion and the Planned Parenthood Fight Was Perfect

Mellie Grant took a few cues from Wendy Davis in Thursday night’s episode of Scandal. With bare feet, a full bladder, and a hefty binder full of words, the former first lady and current senator from Virginia staged a 16-hour filibuster over reproductive rights. But the best part of the episode came near the end, when (spoiler alert!) one of TV’s most beloved characters gave us an honest look at a positive experience with abortion.

In a delightful switcheroo on reality, Grant (played by Bellamy Young) threatened to shut down the government over her stand to keep Planned Parenthood funding out of the discretionary column, where it could be easily cut. The Senate leaders who made up Grant’s opposition are old white men cackling in Southern accents over glasses of bourbon, telling Grant they’ll pass the damn funding bill whether she likes it or not. 


The episode is filled with not-so-subtle one-liners in support of Planned Parenthood. When she first takes the Senate floor, Grant tells her peers that she can’t vote for the funding bill and go home for the holidays “at the expense of women’s health.” Later, she calls Planned Parenthood’s services “basic human rights.”

Television news pundits don’t get off so easy. On Scandal’s news networks, they speculate on how long Grant can go without peeing, a length of time they say depends on her fluid intake, bladder capacity, and urethral elasticity that may have degraded after the birth of her children. (It all echoes the icky intimacy that accompanies so many debates on women’s health issues, where men ponder the basic functioning of women’s bodies without using the word vagina, if possible.)

Grant dodged the kind of urinary catastrophe that’s fascinated political reporters for generations. (During Davis' 13-hour filibuster, she didn’t take one bathroom break or even lean on anything.) On Scandal, Olivia Pope Olivia Pope’d the situation, sending the vice president in to ask a protracted question so Grant could run out to pee. VP Ross tells the Senate she wants to talk about gonorrhea, playing on the same gross-out tactics one brave Portland woman used when she broke up a Planned Parenthood by yelling “yeast infections!”

The Planned Parenthood fight offered an apt metaphor for Fitzgerald Grant (Tony Goldwyn), one of the most insufferable, whiny, controlling men on television, who has upped his domination over Pope in recent episodes. He’s kept her from making her own life decisions since she got to the White House, just like anti-choice politicians purport to know what’s best for pregnant women. Mellie Grant fought the paternalistic nutjobs in the Senate; Pope finally released herself from Fitz’s overbearing drama and unrealistic demands.

But first, she got an abortion.

Kerry Washington played out Pope’s self-determination with sensitivity and grace; the closing shot of Pope comfortable and smiling for the first time in a long time says everything about why abortion access is such a crucial part of women’s health. Kudos to showrunner Shonda Rhimes for giving viewers an affirming depiction of a woman who gets an abortion because it’s the right decision for her in that moment, without any fanfare or hackneyed drama. 

Nov. 19 2015 5:38 PM

Spotify Took Major Action on Paid Parental Leave. Now, It’s America's Turn.

Today, Spotify announced an ample new paid-leave plan for working parents. Any full-time Spotify employee can now take up to six months of 100 percent paid leave, either all at once or split into three sections, from 60 days before their child’s arrival to the child’s third birthday. All parents are included under the plan, including parents who adopt or use a surrogate, and employees who had children between the beginning of 2013 and now can take their leave retroactively.

Spotify’s release lists “gender equality” among the reasons why company leadership chose to enact the new policy. This rationale correlates with an argument made in a recent Bloomberg piece on what it calls a “parental leave arms race” among elite tech corporations trying to keep employees on board. Paternity leave, Rebecca Greenfield writes, is as rare as it is crucial to workplace gender equity:

Working moms already face what's called "the wage penalty for motherhood," a phrase used by sociologist Michelle Budig in her research showing that a woman's earnings decrease by 4 percent with each additional child. New mothers without paid leave tend to drop out of the workforce, as many studies have found, and the longer they remain out of work, the more it hurts their careers. Yet the average mother takes two months more time off than the average dad, who takes only two weeks off, according to a 2014 study from the Boston College Center for Work & Family. A study from last year found 86 percent of men said they would take paternity leave, as long as they received at least 70 percent of their normal salary.

Only 11 percent of U.S. workers have formal paid family leave coverage according to employer data in a 2014 White House report, though 39 percent of workers report being able to take some kind of paid leave after the birth of a child. Most of the companies that have paid leave policies concentrate on the medical necessity of time off for women who’ve gone through labor. According to the Society for Human Resource Management, just 17 percent of employers surveyed say they offer paid paternity leave.

Spotify’s gender-blind parental leave policy mirrors recent steps taken by tech companies like Amazon, Netflix, and Microsoft to make their companies more attractive in a competitive employment market. At today’s Spotify announcement in New York, White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett said the United States’ lack of federal paid leave saddles us with a handicap in the global marketplace, too, as one of just three nations without such a policy.

Barack Obama’s administration has been the big political mover behind several U.S. advancements in paid leave in recent months. Sidestepping a Congress that’s unwilling or unable to tackle the issue, the Labor Department is issuing $2 million in grants to state and local governments to support family-leave legislation that could provide models for the country at large. Last month, with the help of $96,000 in Labor Department cash, two members of the Washington, D.C., city council put forth a plan that may provide 16 weeks of paid leave for every working D.C. resident.

Paid family leave has made a few brief appearances in the 2016 presidential race: Marco Rubio has distinguished himself as the only Republican with a (barely-there, unlikely-to-work) paid-leave plan, and Hillary Clinton has called out the GOP for its hypocrisy on using government intervention for Planned Parenthood instead of paid leave. But the topic is a non-starter in the current Republican-controlled Congress.

Today, the Center for American Progress released a new report that sketches out a few possible options for federal paid family and medical leave programs based on what’s worked in other countries, including employer-funded plans, social insurance programs, and federally funded plans. Most private businesses are loath to provide this kind of benefit on their own; for the sake of our country’s economy and the health of the American worker, political leaders need to take some kind of decisive action. For now, for every parent who’s not lucky enough to work at a wealthy tech company, anything is better than nothing.

Nov. 19 2015 3:29 PM

Where C-Sections Are Most Common in the U.S. and Why They’re Performed

For a procedure so common, there’s surprisingly little information about how, why, and where Cesarean sections are performed. Last year, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data placed the U.S. C-section rate at 32.2 percent, with a higher rate for women of color than for white women. The World Health Organization, meanwhile, stresses that doctors in many wealthier nations are performing unnecessary C-sections, which can put infants and the people birthing them at risk.

In April, the WHO reiterated its global target for C-section rates: 10 percent. Less than that, and maternal and infant mortality rates rise. More than that, and risks increase but mortality rates don’t improve. Accordingly, U.S. health officials hope to shrink the country’s C-section rate among women with low-risk pregnancies.


Patients now have a new tool to help them gather more information about potential doctors and ask better questions once they’re on the exam table. Amino, a company that runs a free site to help patients find and book an appointment with a doctor based on how many people with the patient’s given condition the doctor has treated, released a study yesterday that analyzes U.S. patients’ likelihood of getting a C-section. Using data from insurance claims from 4.4 million deliveries between 2010 and 2015—that’s 3.5 million people who’ve given birth, and about 22.6 percent of all U.S. births—Amino examined the medical conditions that are likely to lead to a C-section and sorted the C-section rate by the day of the week and patients’ age and geographic location.


Courtesy of Amino


Courtesy of Amino


Courtesy of Amino

The interactive map Amino’s created shows a few clear hotspots for C-sections: Florida has the nation’s highest rate, 42.8 percent, with New Jersey not far behind at 42.3 percent. Wisconsin has the lowest C-section rate in the U.S.: 20.8 percent, more than 7 points below the next lowest state, Utah. Here’s how the study explains the wide discrepancy between states:

A woman’s ethnicity, race, culture, and socioeconomic status all might affect her chance of having a C-section. There are also staff practices at hospitals that can affect childbirth outcomes. For example, one recent study shows that 24-hour on-call obstetricians and availability of midwifery care may lead to a lower rate of C-sections.

Amino has also built a C-section predictor, which takes in information about a pregnant patient’s age, location, history of C-sections, pregnancy complications, and medical history, compares it to data collected from the 4.4 million deliveries, then spouts out the patient’s likely chance of getting a C-section.

In most pregnancies, the decisions surrounding a C-section don’t stem from the patient—a 2013 third-party report from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists found that “elective” or “maternal request” C-sections only accounted for 2.5 percent of all U.S. births. This new information could help empower pregnant patients to assess their own needs and risks, giving them a leg up in discussions with their doctors.