The XX Factor
What Women Really Think

Feb. 27 2015 10:35 AM

Todd Akin Is Thinking About Running for Senate. Legitimately.  

After he published a book and did some disastrous press coverage to support it, it's no big surprise that Todd Akin is taking the next step in his attempted comeback: Floating the possibility of running for office. The Hill reports that Akin is considering another go at becoming a senator from Missouri, this time intending to challenge Republican Sen. Roy Blunt in 2016. Akin, you probably remember, was a congressman from Missouri on track to beat the incumbent Democrat, Sen. Claire McCaskill in 2012, until he claimed that women cannot get pregnant from "legitimate rape," which cost him the election. 

“I have not ruled anything out,” Akin told The Hill, which is standard politician-speak for "I am running" or "I am dying for attention even though I won't ultimately run." Why might Akin go for it? “I think there is a high level of dissatisfaction among conservatives, that they have to some degree been pushed out of the Republican Party,” he said. In reality, research by political scientists shows that the GOP has been drifting right-ward for decades now, and hardline conservatives have more control over the party now than they have had in more than 100 years. 

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Feb. 25 2015 2:53 PM

This Drug for Binge-Eating Disorder May Be Shady. That Doesn’t Mean the Disease Isn't Real.  

The New York Times has an excellent article this week about how pharmaceutical companies bypass doctors to market drugs directly to consumers. The company Shire got FDA approval to sell Vyvanse—an addictive amphetamine that was already prescribed for ADHD—as a treatment for binge-eating disorder last month, and it immediately began spreading the word about the disorder. Shire’s publicity machine is really quite impressive: It hired former tennis pro Monica Seles to go on a media tour to talk about her experience with binge eating, gave tens of thousands of dollars to eating-disorder advocacy groups, and secured the domain, which is billed as “A Resource for Understanding B.E.D. in Adults” and encourages patients to be persistent with their doctors if they don’t get their desired diagnosis. Meanwhile, drug abuse experts worry that the drug is being subtly marketed as a treatment for obesity, “despite the fact that, for decades, amphetamines, which suppress the appetite, were widely abused as a treatment for obesity.”

Unfortunately, the Times article not only casts doubt on Vyvanse’s safety, and on Shire’s promotional tactics—it also subtly casts doubt on binge-eating disorder as a diagnosis. The online headline, “Shire, Maker of Binge-Eating Drug Vyvanse, First Marketed the Disease,” implies that Shire first manufactured a sham disorder, and then manufactured a drug to treat it. This, at least, seems to be the message gleaned by many readers, whose skepticism about the disorder and scare quotes around it abound.

Shire deserves all the scrutiny it’s getting, but binge eating disorder is a real problem, and it has been long before Shire began marketing Vyvanse. I know from experience: For several years beginning in my teens and continuing through my early twenties, I had a binge-eating problem. That’s what I always called it, “a binge-eating problem”; at the time binge-eating disorder hadn’t been officially recognized by the DSM. (It finally was in 2013.)  Food occupied most of my waking thoughts, and my binge eating distressed me and embarrassed me more than anything else in my life—and it wasn’t because I’d been brainwashed by Big Pharma. If anything, it was because I’d been brainwashed by a sexist, fat-phobic culture.

Feb. 25 2015 1:59 PM

Why Do Women Vote Republican?

A new poll from Public Policy Polling is making headlines this week because it reveals that 57 percent of Republican primary voters want to make Christianity the national religion, even though doing so would require removing the first amendment from the constitution. Even more interestingly, the data shows a stark gender divide amongst Republicans polled on this question: 66 percent of Republican women versus 49 percent of Republican men would like to see America become more theocratic.

Feb. 25 2015 1:56 PM

Women May Not Seek Help for Heart Attacks Because They Fear Being Seen as Hypochondriacs

Women under 55 who are hospitalized for a heart attack are twice as likely to die as hospitalized men of the same age group, resulting in a whopping 15,000 women under 55 dying of heart disease every year. One big reason for that giant discrepency is that women are less likely to seek help when they first start experiencing symptoms. NPR reports on a small new study published in Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes that examines why. It turns out that fear of conforming to sexist stereotypes might just be a factor. 

Feb. 24 2015 4:59 PM

Kim Gordon on Kurt Cobain, Breast Milk, and Discovering Thurston Moore’s Affair

Foxy perpetual girl crush Kim Gordon has a new memoir out Tuesday, called, tongue-deeply-in-cheek, Girl in a Band. For about three decades, Gordon was Sonic Youth’s bass player and one of its singers, until her husband and band-mate, Thurston Moore, had an affair that tore both the band and their marriage apart. Gordon is an artist, first—she came to New York in 1980 and her book has some delightful, gossipy bits about her days in the downtown art scene. It also has a lot of poignant, smart insights on marriage, motherhood, and being a woman and creative soul. Here are five standout moments from Gordon’s memoir—though you should really read the whole thing.

On the first video shoot postpartum, 1994:

When Coco was two months old, Thurston and I flew to L.A. to shoot a video for our cover of the Carpenter’s song “Superstar,” shot by Lance Accord—who brought in a gold microphone that, to my mind, made the whole video—with Dave Markey directing. I loved Thurston’s singing, and the whole production looked gorgeous (“Superstar” has some of the best lyrics ever.) I was still feeling heavy with extra baby weight and managed somehow to fit into a giant red velvet prom dress. Traveling to California with a two-month-old baby was another ‘new mom’ thing to have to worry about; dripping breast milk during a video shoot is not very rock! [Ed note: Disagree. It’s totally rock]

On Lana Del Rey:

Feb. 24 2015 1:29 PM

Idaho Lawmaker Who Doesn’t Understand Female Anatomy Knows What’s Good for Women

Another day, another Republican legislator showing the world how painfully ignorant he is when it comes to the female anatomy he's so interested in regulating. This time it's Idaho state representative Vito Barbieri who, when hearing testimony from a doctor on a proposed ban on telemedicine abortions, asked if a gynecological exam can be done by a woman swallowing a camera. The Minneapolis Star Tribune reports:

Dr. Julie Madsen, a physician who said she has provided various telemedicine services in Idaho, was testifying in opposition to the bill. She said some colonoscopy patients may swallow a small device to give doctors a closer look at parts of their colon.
"Can this same procedure then be done in a pregnancy? Swallowing a camera and helping the doctor determine what the situation is?" Barbieri asked.
Madsen replied that would be impossible because swallowed pills do not end up in the vagina.
"Fascinating. That makes sense," Barbieri said, amid the crowd's laughter.

Feb. 23 2015 5:21 PM

The Gender Wage Gap Is Especially Terrible in Hollywood

For many of the female Oscar attendees who jumped for joy when Patricia Arquette brought up the gender wage gap Sunday night, the delight might have been personal.

The data point you’ve probably heard most often on how gender affects wages is that women earn 77 cents for every dollar that men earn. This particular number, which Democrats have touted to make the case for legislative efforts that would let women sue for punitive damages over wage discrimination, is controversial for a number of reasons. (Read Hanna Rosin’s take here and the Washington Post’s fact-check here.) Gender numbers don’t take into account race-based wage discrepancies: White women’s earnings typically outpace the earnings of black and Hispanic men, for instance. And the size of gender pay discrepancies varies between industries.


The Bureau of Labor Statistics has a lot of fun (though slightly old) data on this last point here. In 2009, for instance, women in construction earned 92 percent of what men made. You might think that when it comes to gender pay equity, ultraprogressive Hollywood studios would be a little better than an industry infamous for employing our nation’s best catcallers. You would be wrong. Forbes crunched the 2013 numbers and showed that among the kind of lavishly compensated thespians who fill seats at the Oscars, men make way, way, way, way more than women. The men on Forbes’ list of top-paid actors for that year made 2½ times as much money as the top-paid actresses. That means that Hollywood’s best-compensated actresses made just 40 cents for every dollar that the best-compensated men made. No wonder Meryl Streep and J-Lo are pissed.

And this Hollywood gender wage gap isn’t just a first-world problem for the mostly white women who get skillions of dollars thrown at them all day long and tote around free goody bags worth $168,000. As Mollie Hemingway catalogs at the Federalist, women lag absurdly far behind men in basically every Tinseltown gig. The most shocking stat: Since 1998, women’s representation in behind-the-scenes roles other than directing has gone up just 1 percent. And don’t get your hopes up about directing, either. The data Hemingway cites, from the Women’s Media Center, shows that women directed the same percent of the 250 top-grossing films in 2012 (9 percent) as they did in 1998. And we haven’t even talked about the fact that most of the roles women get in movies are lifeless, boring, and terrible.

In short, Arquette gave her pay-gap speech to an audience full of studio brass responsible for the industry that has one of the most miserable records on pay for women. Too bad she flubbed it.

Feb. 23 2015 3:45 PM

The Three Most Popular Images in Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In Stock Photo Collection  

It's been one year since Sheryl Sandberg's Lean In organization partnered with Getty Images to create the Lean In Collection, which hoped to replace the tired, often sexist stock imagery used by countless media outlets (including this one) with photos that are more diverse, more modern, and less stereotyped. The New York Times described it at the launch:

The new library of photos shows professional women as surgeons, painters, bakers, soldiers and hunters. There are girls riding skateboards, women lifting weights and fathers changing babies’ diapers. Women in offices wear contemporary clothes and hairstyles and hold tablets or smartphones — a far cry from the typical stock photos of women in 1980s power suits with a briefcase.

I welcomed the collection at the time, noting that "many people often just scan headlines and look at pictures, so what kind of imagery we use counts for a lot." I hoped that the new partnership could nudge the world of stock imagery away from its tendency to portray women in power as scary or men doing domestic chores as comedic fodder. 

The typical stock images you get when you search for a term like "feminism" or "working woman" speak volumes about some of the lingering anxieties around women's growing power in the world: Women stomping men, women neglecting babies, stuff that wouldn't be out of place in anti-suffragette cartoons from the 19th century. The Lean In Collection, on the other hand, gives more feminist-minded writers and photo editors a chance to express a more aspirational view of life and the workplace. So, a year later, what do the Lean In Collection's most popular pictures tell us about those aspirations?

The No. 1 seller in the United States is captioned: "Designers examining sample shoes and design drawings on floor of design office." It shows a white woman and a black man, both dressed in business casual, staring at some shoes, and says: Just because a diverse, egalitarian workplace is important to me doesn't mean that I can't also have a deep and abiding love of shoes.

Designers examining sample shoes on floor.

Photo by Thomas Barwick

The second best selling image is captioned: "Two friends riding in the backseat of convertible off road vehicle driving on desert dirt road at sunset laughing." Which is much better than laughing alone with a salad. This is how I hope my friends from high school picture me spending my time on the weekends, as opposed to binge-watching Orange Is the New Black on Netflix with a bottle of pinot grigio.

Two friends riding in the backseat of convertible.

Photo by Thomas Barwick

The third-best-selling image: "Business woman looking over the city at sunrise." This business woman, however, is wearing a sleeveless shirt, because it's fine for women to show their arms at the office. 

Business woman looking over the city at sunrise.

Photo by Oli Kellett

The most popular images may still be a very narrow view of what women look like, but they are all better than baby-in-briefcase. Hopefully the best-sellers in year No. 2 will be pics of fathers who know their way around diapers and women gazing at the latest digital gadgets with knowing, confident smiles. 

Feb. 23 2015 12:14 PM

Patricia Arquette’s Feminism: Only for White Women

It's easy to laugh at the timid way that celebrities frequently wade into feminism, offering pat statements scripted by a team of public relations experts to be as non-offensive as possible. But Patricia Arquette's performance at Sunday night's Oscars shows exactly why that's the best way to go.

Arquette tried to use her win for Best Supporting Actress as an opportunity to speak out for wage equality, and, to be fair, her actual speech on the podium wasn't the worst thing ever. "To every woman who gave birth, to every taxpayer and citizen of this nation, we have fought for everybody else's equal rights," she said. "It's our time to have wage equality once and for all and equal rights for women in the United States of America." A bit jumbled and shallow—9th grade debate club debut-ish— but her heart seemed to be in the right place. At least, Meryl Streep and J-Lo thought so

But when Arquette was asked to elaborate backstage, she gave a lengthy answer that included this statement: "And it's time for all the women in America and all the men that love women, and all the gay people, and all the people of color that we've all fought for to fight for us now." 

Where to begin? Perhaps with pointing out that "gay people" and "people of color" are both categories that include women. Indeed, when it comes to wage inequality, race is as much a factor as gender. The American Association of University Women analyzed Census data on the wage gap and found that while white women make 78 cents to a white man's dollar in the United States, African-American women make a mere 64 cents and Hispanic/Latina women a paltry 54 cents. Similarly, being gay or transgender often means taking a hit in income. The Center for American Progress finds that same-sex couples raising children make about 20 percent less than straight couples in the same situation. Transgender people have a poverty rate that is four times that of the general population. It is definitely not time for "all the gay people" and "all the people of color" to set aside their own battle for equality in order to fight for straight, white women now.

Feb. 23 2015 9:27 AM

MacGyver Will Be a Woman Soon. It's Time.  

Michaeleen Doucleff at NPR reports on an interesting new experiment in crowd-sourcing TV writing: Asking the public to decide who the next MacGyver should be. 

The creator of the original MacGyver, Lee Zlotoff, has teamed up with the National Academy of Engineering and top Hollywood TV producers to launch a crowdsourcing competition. Anyone around the world can submit ideas for the fictional character. Five winners will get the chance to work with a Hollywood producer to develop the character and write a pilot script.

The entire project is open-ended, but there's one hard-and-fast rule: The new MacGyver has to be a woman. She can be any race or ethnicity and from anywhere in the world, but she definitely has to be a woman. "We put so many images [of women] out on TV and cable, and it's really up to us to start portraying people the way they actually are, not that old-fashioned idea of what we think they must be," Lori McCreary of Revelations Entertainment, who is producing the project, told NPR.