The XX Factor
What Women Really Think

Oct. 2 2015 1:06 PM

Mouse Sperm May Hold the Key to a Male Birth Control Pill

A future where men might bear equal responsibility for pregnancy prevention just got a little closer. In a new study from Osaka University, scientists report that when they gave male mice a drug to inhibit a sperm-specific protein—one found in both mice and humans—the mice became infertile. When the mice stopped taking the drug, their fertility returned in just one week.

Scientists have figured for a while that the protein, calcineurin, was a crucial player in the male fertility game. But calcineurin exists in many forms in the testes, making it difficult to isolate the types that only affect sperm. Researcher Haruhiko Miyata and his colleagues identified the sperm-specific type of calcineurin and found that without it, the mouse’s sperm became ineffective without affecting the mouse’s capacity to get it up.


The drug’s effect on mouse sperm underscores just how weirdly lifelike sperm can be. Without proper calcineurin, a sperm cell can’t swim properly, and its midsection can’t bend enough to get through a mouse egg’s membrane. Even in vitro fertilization is impossible with these mutated sperm. In Miyata’s study, mice became infertile within four to five days of their first drug dose, which indicates that the protein affects developing sperm cells, not mature ones.

Seventeen percent of U.S. women take oral contraceptives, which have long been the most common birth control method in the country, barely edging out sterilization. Vasectomies remain a popular and nearly 100 percent effective form of male birth control, but a pill would be far less invasive and perfect for temporary or intermittent use. Giving people who produce sperm the opportunity to take charge of their own birth control—and giving women a break or a backup—would mark a huge step forward for gender equity in pregnancy prevention. And a pill that works by inhibiting a sperm-specific protein would be a lot less of a pain than today’s oral contraceptives, which mess with hormones that can affect the entire body.

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Oct. 1 2015 4:00 PM

Catholic Hospitals Refuse Health Care to Pregnant Women. So the ACLU Is Suing. 

Under strict religious directives, Catholic hospitals refuse to help a woman carry out a miscarriage until the fetal heartbeat stops on its own. They also prevent doctors from performing tubal ligation—also known as getting your tubes tied—even if the procedure would benefit the woman’s health.

On behalf of women denied care in the name of those directives, the American Civil Liberties Union announced that it is suing Trinity Health Corporation, one of the largest Catholic health systems in the country. The formal complaint is based on the health system’s “repeated and systematic failure to provide women suffering pregnancy complications with appropriate emergency abortions as required by federal law,” according to an ACLU press release.


“We’re taking a stand today to fight for pregnant women who are denied potentially life-saving care because doctors are forced to follow religious directives rather than best medical practices,” Brooke A. Tucker, an ACLU of Michigan attorney, said in a release.

Those directives are set by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, which consider abortion and sterilization “intrinsically evil.” Catholic hospitals, which constitute more than 12 percent of hospitals in the U.S., have applied those rules to women in life-threatening circumstances.

One of those women is Jessica Mann, whose Michigan Catholic hospital refused to perform a tubal ligation despite recommendations from her doctors. Mann has a dangerous brain tumor, and getting pregnant again could pose serious health threats. In September, ACLU of Michigan sent a letter to the hospital urging them to reconsider the refusal. The hospital stood by their decision, citing the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Facilities.

“Rejecting us seems arbitrary and cruel,” Mann’s husband wrote in an essay published on Refinery 29.

In December 2013, ACLU sued the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops on behalf on Tamesha Means, whose water broke when she was 18 weeks pregnant. Instead of terminating the pregnancy and safely completing the miscarriage, Means said the Catholic hospital gave her false hope that the fetus could survive. After getting sent home twice, enduring “excruciating pain,” and developing an infection, Means finally miscarried the fetus in a painful, prolonged delivery, according to the lawsuit. That case is currently on appeal.

Oct. 1 2015 3:38 PM

What We Learned from the Arizona Diamondbacks Sorority Selfie Scandal 

Wednesday a group of Arizona State University students attended an Arizona Diamondbacks game and taught us all a powerful lesson. It was the bottom of the fourth inning, the Arizona Diamondbacks were down one run to the Colorado Rockies, and as a Diamondback prepared to bunt, a television camera roved the stands in search of a more interesting visual. Because the students were young white women with long, bleached hair and the kind of sports apparel that is specially cut “for her,” the camera chose them.

Two Diamondbacks broadcasters urged fans to take photos of themselves and submit them for consideration in the T-Mobile Data Strong® Fan of the Game competition. The students complied. They held out their arms and turned their cellphone cameras on themselves. One student positioned a churro next to her mouth. Snap. Another stuck out her tongue. Snap. A third sucked in her cheeks. Snap.


“Look at the one on the right,” one Diamondbacks announcer said.

Do you have to make faces when you take selfies?” asked a second Diamondbacks announcer.

“Wait, one more now,” said the first.

“Oooh-yoo-yoo-yoo-yoo,” said the second.

“Better angle. Check it. Did that come out OK?”

“That’s the best one of the 300 pictures of myself I’ve taken today.”

“Every girl in the picture is locked into her phone. Every single one is dialed in. Welcome to parenting in 2015! They’re all just completely transfixed by technology.”

The camera cut to the baseball game for three seconds, then returned to the stands.

“Oh, hold on. Gotta take a selfie with a hot dog. Selfie with a churro. Selfie ... just of a selfie.”

“I can’t even get my phone to take pictures.”

“Took a picture of your thumb last week. That was good.”

“Here’s my first bite of the churro. Here’s my second bite of the churro.”

The camera cut to the baseball game for five seconds—base hit—then returned to the stands.

“And nobody noticed.”


“Help us, please. Somebody help us.”

“Can we do an intervention? How about if we send Baxter out there”—Baxter is a person dressed as a cat dressed like a person—“and he collects all of the phones? You're not getting them back until the end of the game!”

What have we learned today? Men like to look at young women. Young women like to look at themselves. Men don't like it when young women look at themselves. But they don't dislike it enough to stop looking at them when they're looking at themselves.

Oct. 1 2015 2:30 PM

Elizabeth Warren Has Fighting Words for GOP on Planned Parenthood

Elizabeth Warren has been a reliable proponent of both reproductive justice and incredulous zingers. In August, the Massachusetts senator expressed concern over the mental health of her cohorts who’d threatened to shut down the government if the federal budget included funding for Planned Parenthood: “Do you have any idea what year it is?” Warren asked. “Did you fall down, hit your head, and think you woke up in the 1950s or the 1890s? Should we call for a doctor?”

In a live interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper at the Atlantic’s Washington Ideas Forum Thursday morning, Warren was in similarly fine form. She stepped around several questions on who she plans to endorse for president (“I’m pretty sure it won’t be a Republican”), threw shade at trickle-down economics, and commented on Donald Trump and Jeb Bush’s support for closing the carried interest loophole that enriches hedge-fund managers (“Even when your ears are stuffed with money, you get a little sound that comes through”).


She also had a few choice words for Republicans who’ve prioritized defunding Planned Parenthood over any other budget negotiations:

It just seems to me that is so out of touch with reality—it’s so out of touch with what it means to govern this country, that they think they’ve got to argue something so they can try to move women back to 1955, that that’s first on their agenda. And they’re just wrong on this. And they’re gonna be in real trouble over it.

Tapper asked her later about the Center for Medical Progress’ heavily edited videos on fetal tissue donation: “Is there nothing on those videotapes that even bothers you at all?”

“Let’s remember what we were debating on the floor of the U.S. Senate, and that was defunding Planned Parenthood,” Warren replied. “It was not, you know, let’s do a review of videotapes. It was defunding Planned Parenthood. And so we have to start by remembering what that means.”

Warren cited statistics on the health care services Planned Parenthood delivers to 2.7 million people every year, many of whom don’t have access to any other health care providers. After breaking down how much of that care is abortion-related (3 percent), she went on:

Make no mistake—what this is really about is about women’s access to abortion. And even though not one federal dollar goes to pay for abortions through Planned Parenthood, the Republicans want to find one more way to make it harder—to make it impossible—for a woman who is facing one of the most difficult decisions of her life, they want to find a way to make it harder on her to get the health care she needs. And all I can say is we’ve been in that world before. When I talk about 1955, I’m talking about a world where women died. I’m talking about a world where women committed suicide rather than go forward with a pregnancy they could not handle. And what the Republicans are saying is that they want us to go back. And I want to make it clear that we’re not going back, Not now, not ever.

“It’s too bad they’re not doing a straw poll here,” Tapper said when the audience applause died down. Warren continued:

I’m going to tell you something. We are doing a straw poll. It’s called the 2016 elections. And the Republicans out there, if they want to run on shutting down women’s access to cancer screenings, and shutting down women’s access to birth control, and shutting down women’s access to not-government-paid-for abortions, then they’re gonna have a real fight on their hands. Let ’em do it.

Watch Warren’s full statement:

Oct. 1 2015 12:42 PM

Sorry, House GOP, but Planned Parenthood’s Cecile Richards Makes an Average Salary

At Tuesday’s congressional hearing on the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, when Republicans weren’t repeating bogus claims about selling fetal tissue or talking over CEO Cecile Richards’ testimony, they were feigning horror at her salary. The chair of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Utah’s Jason Chaffetz, noted that Richard’s annual compensation had topped half a million dollars in recent years. Later, referring to Planned Parenthood's revenues, endowment, and fundraising, Wyoming Rep. Cynthia Lummis quipped, “You make a ton of dough.” 

New York Democratic Rep. Carolyn Maloney came to Richards’ defense: “The entire time I've been in Congress I've never seen a witness beaten up and questioned about their salary,” she said. What’s more, a quick look at Richards’ peers puts her salary in perspective: As far as income goes, she’s just about average among her peers. With an annual take of $524,000, Richards ranks 19th among 38 heads of health care nonprofits with revenue comparable to Planned Parenthood’s.


It’s worth noting, too, that all but two of the CEOs who make more than Richards are men.* How kind of House Republicans to grant us this opportunity to shine a light on the nonprofit gender wage gap. (Click to enlarge the chart below.)

Cecile Richards Planned Parenthood Salary

Chart by Holly Allen/Slate

Correction, Oct. 1, 2015: This post originally misstated that all but one of comparable CEOs who make a higher salary than Cecile Richards are men; it is all but two.

Sept. 30 2015 4:55 PM

HBO’s Westworld: What’s the Difference Between “Genital-to-Genital Touching” and ... Sex?

Extras currently filming for HBO’s forthcoming Westworld series are facing some unusually taxing demands—or, depending on their dispositions, fringe benefits. Consent agreements from Central Casting informed the background actors that their roles require full nudity, riding people as if they were horses, and performing an abstruse act the casting company calls “genital-to-genital touching.” The list of activities is too titillating not to publish in full:

This document serves to inform you that this project will require you to be fully nude and/or witness others fully nude and participate in graphic sexual situations. By accepting this Project assignment, you may be required to do any of the following: appear fully nude; wear a pubic hair patch; perform genital-to-genital touching; have your genitals painted; simulate oral sex with hand-to-genital touching; contort to form a table-like shape while being fully nude; pose on all fours while others who are fully nude ride on your back; ride on someone’s back while you are both fully nude; and other assorted acts the Project may require.

If this listing triggered images of a John Cameron Mitchell–orchestrated orgy to dance in your head, that's because the sexual activities described in the consent form sound a lot like, well, sex. (FYI, genital-to-genital touching between two people with vaginas has earned the disquietingly sharp term of "scissoring," which Orange Is the New Black dubbed mythical but which is actually a fine-and-dandy sex act.)

The line between pornography and a film with unsimulated sex often lies less in the actual sexual acts than in the non-sexual parts. Films that feature unsimulated sex, like Mitchell’s Shortbus, aren’t generally thought of as porn if they have substantial artistic and emotional merit. Actors in non-pornographic films, including the Westworld extras, are backed by SAG-AFTRA, a notoriously exacting union with highly specific requirements for sex scenes and nude scenes. The set must be closed; no still photos can be taken without written consent; and, perhaps most importantly, the actors can retract their consent for the scene any time before it’s filmed. For this reason, the Westworld consent agreement is unenforceable. Porn actors, by contrast, have no union or stipulations to protect them on set.

“It’s important that performers understand their rights, especially in circumstances like these that pose a high risk of exploitation," SAG-AFTRA's chief communications and marketing officer Pamela Greenwalt told me. "Employers should not be requiring performers to sign consent forms that do not accurately describe their rights under the collective bargaining agreement.”

The premise of Westworld doesn’t offer any immediate clues vis-à-vis the kinds of genital-to-genital touching viewers can anticipate. The series, based on a 1973 sci-fi thriller, takes place in a theme park of the future, where patrons can “kill” and have sex with lifelike androids in a historically accurate reenactment of the old American West. What with the bordellos, the transient gunslingers, and the outfits I’ve witnessed at those old-timey photo studios on the boardwalk, the possibilities for genital-to-genital touching seem endless!

In a 2012 interview, actor Richard Benjamin discussed the skills that helped him get the lead in the 1973 film, and they’re not nearly as strenuous or carnal as what today’s extras must do:

Well, it probably was the only way I was ever going to get into a Western, and certainly into a science-fiction Western. It’s that old thing when actors come out here from New York. [Casting directors] say, “Can you ride a horse?” And you say, “Oh, sure,” and then [you’ve] got to go out quick and learn how to ride a horse. But I did know how to ride a horse!

Today, Benjamin would have had to be the horse and the rider, and do it all in the dusty Western nude.

Sept. 30 2015 1:56 PM

Lean In’s Major New Study Busts Myths About Gender in the Workplace

After surveying nearly 30,000 employees at 118 companies, and McKinsey & Company have a whole horde of new stats on gender representation and attitudes toward gender in the workplace.

Let’s get the bad news—or the worst news, since in studies like these, there’s always lots to rage about—out of the way first. Here it is: If the percentage of women in C-suite roles continues to rise at the same rate as it has over the past three years, it will take a full 100 years to achieve gender parity. Happy hump day!


The report, which is worth flipping through for the Lean In stock photos alone, relates some top-line numbers that track what most interested parties already know, or assume they know:

• At each level of the corporate ladder, there’s a lower percentage of women than the level below.

• Nearly everyone, regardless of gender, thought that taking extended family leave would harm their careers.

• Across the board, women were nine times more likely than men to report doing more child care than their partners or spouses, and four times more likely to report doing more chores.

The data suggest a double-bind for women in the choice between line roles, which contribute directly to a company’s bottom line and core functions, and staff-support roles in areas such as human resources and legal departments. Women in staff-support roles are more likely to advance in their departments than those in line roles—and it's line roles that are more likely overall to lead to C-suite positions, since they provide necessary experience in the company’s main operations. For women who set the uppermost leadership positions in their sights, there’s no clear path to the top.

Some of the report’s findings fly in the face of some conventional wisdom about women in the workplace—for one, the idea that fewer women than men want the top jobs, perhaps because they want to spend more time with their children and families:

• Mothers who took the survey were 15 percent more likely to want a top leadership position than childless women.

• Women were more likely than men to name the stress and pressure of senior leadership roles as their main reason for not pursuing them, while balancing family and work was the biggest concern for men. Senior positions, and what it takes to get them, are perceived to be more stressful for women than for men

• Women of color wanted to be promoted more than white people of any gender: They reported 43 percent more interest in higher-up leadership positions than white women, and 16 percent more than white men. Considering the racial discrepancies at the highest levels of business leadership, it’s possible that straight-up discrimination holds women of color back even more than we thought.

Another myth seemingly busted by this new report: the impact of attrition rates on the gender wage gap. Deloitte, for one, has claimed to have reduced its wage gap by cutting disproportionate attrition rates among woman employees; women who stayed were more likely to be promoted. But the survey shows that women are leaving their jobs at comparable or lower rates than men, and the discrepancy increases at the highest levels: C-suite women are about half as likely as men to leave their companies. Since men negotiate—and receive—higher salaries than women when they start new gigs, staying in one place could limit women to incremental raises that never catch up to the salary bumps of men.

With several pages of recommended strategies and detailed explanations of how gender bias manifests at work, the report is positioned as a way to support business leaders who gun for gender equality in their own companies. But it could be just as useful as a guide for rank-and-file women trying to understand their options and avoid the stumbling blocks of the current corporate landscape. The barrage of stats doesn’t paint a happy picture, but if the working world is going to make any progress in the next 100 years or so, it helps to start with a hard look at the facts.

Sept. 30 2015 1:10 PM

The Planned Parenthood Hearing Shows How out of Step Republicans Are With America

Watching Republicans repeatedly interrupt and yell at Planned Parenthood's Cecile Richards on Tuesday, one might get the impression that there's some kind of national uprising against the existence of affordable women's health care. Republicans repeatedly excoriated the organization for focusing on contraception and Pap smears instead of on mammograms, which are typically done at radiology centers. Cancer research, the Boys and Girls Clubs, mental health counseling for nonexistent issues like abortion regret": Viewers got a laundry list of things that Republicans felt should be funded instead of low-cost birth control and STI treatment at Planned Parenthood. Rep. Glenn Grothman even argued (bewilderingly) that since there's medical care he can get "as a guy," then Planned Parenthood—and by implication, its gynecological services (?!?)—is unnecessary. The message was clear: Taxpayer-funded gynecological care is an illegitimate use of government funding.

But if you look away from the horror show in Congress and to the public at large, the message is very different. In the real world, affordable gynecological care is mainstream and even virtuous, although (gasp) it allows women to have sex with fewer risks to their health. Children's author Daniel Handler, known by the pen name Lemony Snicket, and his wife, illustrator Lisa Brown, donated $1 million to Planned Parenthood in response to the hearings. This move was huge not just because of the size of the donation but as a reminder that there is no conflict whatsoever between wholesome activities such as writing children's books and believing that women have a right to a healthy, safe sex life, even if they're young or low-income. 


As Rebecca Traister at New York’s the Cut wrote on Tuesday, Americans continue to love Planned Parenthood, despite the relentless attempts to demonize the organization. Not only do 61 percent of Americans polled support funding the organization, she writes, but “Planned Parenthood, and every politician who supports Planned Parenthood, remains more popular with Americans than every politician and party that opposes Planned Parenthood.”

Despite all the hand-waving about fetal tissue, Tuesday's hearings were a confirmation that the attacks on Planned Parenthood are a proxy for the larger religious-right movement to reverse the sexual revolution brought to Americans by feminism and reliable contraception. Recreational sex, however, continues to be wildly popular among the public. Deluging people with bloody fetus pictures isn't dissuading them from their enthusiasm for affordable contraception that makes stress-free recreational sex possible.

Watching Republicans, mostly men, gang up on Cecile Richards indicates the deep contempt for women that drives the anti-choice movement. It reminded me of the Clarence Thomas hearings in 1992, or more specifically, of the way that a group of men condescended to and sneered at Anita Hill for daring to come forward with allegations of sexual harassment against Thomas. Thomas was confirmed, but the hearings shocked many American women, and led to a surge of feminist sentiment in the '90s. 

The media consensus about Tuesday's hearings seems to be that the Republicans looked like a bunch of petulant bullies and Cecile Richards came out looking like one tough cookie. Dana Milbank of the Washington Post called the Republicans “so many Captain Ahabs.” MSNBC called out Republicans' ham-fisted attempts to trick people into believing that Planned Parenthood does more abortions than preventative services. (They do nearly three times as much of the latter.) Celebrities such as Elizabeth Banks, Lena Dunham, and Connie Britton joined the popular #IStandWithPP social media campaign.

As Sarah Kaplan of the Washington Post notes, “activism is almost always energized by opposition.” It's hard to understand why Republicans are picking this particular fight. They might make some gains, defunding women's health services here and there and sneaking abstinence-only programs back into some schools. But the larger culture war over sex? That battle was lost long ago. 

Sept. 29 2015 4:47 PM

WATCH: Every Single Time a Republican Interrupted the President of Planned Parenthood

This morning, Planned Parenthood Federation of America president Cecile Richards was scheduled to testify before the Republican-controlled House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which is ostensibly investigating the women’s healthcare provider’s use of federal funding following the release of videos that purportedly suggest that PPFA profits from fetal tissue donations. But before most of the Republican questioners, Richards didn’t end up testifying so much as simply absorbing a barrage of questions that she would begin to answer only to be interrupted, criticized, and/or talked over by Republican congressmen, as you can see in the video below.

Sept. 29 2015 3:55 PM

Why Are We Always Asking Rich Famous Ladies If They Are Feminists?

For the past several years, reporters have delighted in subjecting woman celebrities to a gender-specific litmus test: “Are you a feminist?” Those who demur or question the term are vilified in progressive circles as feeble-minded dandelions blowing in the winds of patriarchy; those who identify with it often reduce its meaning to the blandest, most innocuous strain.

And still, the query persists. In a Q&A in today’s inaugural Lenny newsletter, Lena Dunham posed it to Hillary Clinton, a woman whose personal statements and extraordinary professional accomplishments are so deeply aligned with feminism that any answer she could give would be almost irrelevant. Still, Dunham declared, the question was “on every Lenny reader’s lips.” Clinton passed the test:

I’m always a little bit puzzled when any woman…says something like, ‘Well, I believe in equal rights, but I’m not a feminist.’ Well, a feminist is by definition someone who believes in equal rights…It’s not going to be good for you as a woman to be denying the fact that you are entitled to equal rights.

Today’s out-and-proud non-feminist is Marion Cotillard, who’s played sympathetic, admirable women in films such as Two Days, One Night and the Édith Piaf biopic La Vie en rose. In an interview with Porter magazine, the actress and singer waffled when asked about the Cannes film festival’s gender diversity problem:

Filmmaking is not about gender. You cannot ask a president in a festival like Cannes to have, like, five movies directed by women and five by men. For me it doesn’t create equality; it creates separation. I mean, I don’t qualify myself as a feminist. We need to fight for women’s rights but I don’t want to separate women from men. We’re separated already because we’re not made the same and it’s the difference that creates this energy in creation and love. Sometimes in the word feminism there’s too much separation.

Though the feminist-identification question has become a moot indicator of a celebrity’s politics, Cotillard’s thoughts on gender inequity in the film industry are telling. Her words recall a statement made by then–Cannes head Gilles Jacob in 2012, when all of the festival’s 22 major films were directed by men. Jacob blamed the previous year’s abundance of woman-made films (four in total!) for the 2012 protests. "That was maybe a wrong move," he told the Observer. "Now everyone this year was expecting five films, then six, then seven. In France nowadays, they speak of parity. They want parity in government, parity everywhere, so why not at the Cannes film festival?"

Both Cotillard and Jacob misconstrue the point of calls for equal representation in the film industry, or any industry, really. Gender parity for the sake of appearances isn’t a goal in and of itself, but gender disparity is a symptom of bias further down the pipeline. Cotillard’s privileged status as a sought-after movie star and all-around rich lady might insulate her from some of the more severe consequences of sex discrimination; she was, after all, featured in one of 2012’s man-made Cannes films, and the very real gender pay gap among high-profile stars—until recently, not even Jennifer Lawrence could escape it!—still leaves actresses with abundant piles of cash to soften the blow.

But the gender differences that Cotillard claims spur “energy in creation and love” also limit the salaries of women working behind the scenes and the roles available to Cotillard and her peers. In fact, the state of affairs in Hollywood is so bad for women, the ACLU has gotten involved. Women exist in the film industry, ergo sexism does, too, ergo filmmaking is at least in part about gender.

Now that I’ve disproven Cotillard’s contention that discussions of gender are out of place in the film world (sorry, Marion), what to make of her anti-feminist declaration? On the one hand, it’s sad to hear an actress who’s benefited from feminism and promoted feminist principles in her work boil the concept down to a battle of the sexes. But even the most visible advocates for gender equality in Hollywood—looking at you, Patricia Arquette—have some troubling ideas about what feminism is (in Arquette’s case, it does not include, but should be heartily championed by, queer people and people of color). The feminist movement is broad and strong enough to serve both of these women, but not fragile enough to buckle under a few throwaway comments from either.