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What Women Really Think

Nov. 25 2015 3:21 PM

American Leftists Need to Pay More Attention to Rojava

There is an astonishing story in Sunday’s New York Times about Rojava, a Kurdish region in Northern Syria that’s ruled by militant feminist anarchists. Rojava’s constitution enshrines gender equality and religious freedom. An official tells journalist Wes Enzina that every position at every level of government includes a female equivalent of equal power. Recruits to Rojava’s 6,000-strong police force receive their weapons only after two weeks of feminist instruction. Reading Enzina’s piece, it’s hard to understand how this radical experiment in democracy in one of the bloodiest corners of the world isn’t better known internationally, particularly on the left.

At the start of piece, Enzina himself isn’t quite sure Rojava is real. It sounds too fantastical:

The regime of President Bashar al-Assad doesn’t officially recognize Rojava’s autonomous status, nor does the United Nations or NATO — it is, in this way, just as illicit as the Islamic State. But if the reports I heard from the region were to be believed, within its borders the rules of the neighboring ISIS caliphate had been inverted. In accordance with a philosophy laid out by a leftist revolutionary named Abdullah Ocalan, Rojavan women had been championed as leaders, defense of the environment enshrined in law and radical direct democracy enacted in the streets.

The reports, Enzina eventually finds, are largely true. In Rojava’s three Kurdish cantons, together comprising an area about the size of Connecticut, society is being organized according to the principles of an American anarchist-ecologist philosopher named Murray Bookchin. (Bookchin’s most famous work is The Ecology of Freedom.) This unlikely turn of events springs from the ideological conversion of Abdullah Ocalan, the founder of the Kurdistan Workers Party, or P.K.K., which was once a Marxist Leninist terrorist group in Turkey. With America’s help, Turkey captured Ocalan in 1999, and he was imprisoned alone—surrounded by over 1,000 soldiers—on an island near Istanbul. There he discovered Bookchin, who inspired a manifesto he issued in 2005. Enzina writes:

The manifesto called on all P.K.K. supporters to implement a version of Bookchin’s ideas; Ocalan urged all guerrilla fighters to read ‘‘The Ecology of Freedom.’’ He instructed his followers to stop attacking the government and instead create municipal assemblies, which he called ‘‘democracy without the state.’’ These assemblies would form a grand confederation that would extend across all Kurdish regions of Syria, Iraq, Turkey and Iran and would be united by a common set of values based on defending the environment; respecting religious, political and cultural pluralism; and self-defense. He insisted that women be made equal leaders at all levels of society.

In Rojava, the Kurds, under the government of a P.K.K. affiliate, are following Ocalan’s directive. More amazing still, Rojava’s militias, the Y.P.G., or People’s Protection Units, and the all-female Y.P.J., or Female Protection Units, are successfully taking on ISIS. The New York Review of Books has just published a story by Jonathan Steele about their military successes, titled “The Syrian Kurds Are Winning!” In January, with the aid of U.S. airpower, the Y.P.G. drove ISIS out of Kobani, a town on the Turkish-Syrian border. In July, again with American help, the Kurds rousted ISIS from another border town, Tal Abyad. “This meant ISIS had lost two of the three crossing points from Turkey through which it could bring foreign volunteers, finance, and weaponry to strengthen the jihad,” Steele writes.

Given this, how has Rojava remained relatively obscure? Some have certainly tried to raise awareness: Over a year ago David Graeber, a major figure in Occupy Wall Street, published a piece in the Guardian titled “Why is the world ignoring the revolutionary Kurds in Iraq?” He compared the hellish conflict in Syria to the Spanish Civil War, where leftists from around the world went to fight fascism. “If there is a parallel today to Franco’s superficially devout, murderous Falangists, who would it be but Isis? If there is a parallel to the Mujeres Libres of Spain, who could it be but the courageous women defending the barricades in Kobane? Is the world—and this time most scandalously of all, the international left—really going to be complicit in letting history repeat itself?”

If calls like this aren’t resonating, I suspect it’s because similar ones were made in the run-up to the Iraq war. Over the years, it has become hard to imagine why more than a few prominent progressives either supported that war or opposed it only ambivalently. But at the time, several Iraqi leftists—most notably Kanan Makiya—pleaded with their ideological allies in America not to oppose the overthrow of the fascist Saddam Hussein, however compromised George W. Bush’s motives were. I remember appeals to the memory of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, the American leftists who fought Franco in Spain. The memory of Bosnia was still fresh, and at least some progressives believed that Western military force could be a force for good.

Very few on the left believe that anymore. The Iraq war not only destroyed Iraq, destabilized the Middle East, and lead to the rise of ISIS; it also destroyed Western faith that much can be done to help the people who are now struggling to stop ISIS’s spread. Maybe part of the reason Americans haven’t heard more about Rojava is because we don’t want to. We’re ashamed at having unleashed the horror that besieges them, and ashamed that we have no idea how to help them stop it without making things even worse. Writing in Dissent about international apathy towards Rojava, Meredith Tax asks, “Are we in the United States too cynical or depressed to believe anything new can happen? Are we able to recognize revolutionary ideas when they come from Greece, Spain, or Latin America but not from the Middle East?”

Yet aiding the revolutionaries of Rojava needn’t be framed purely as a question of American intervention. Tax writes:

I recently spoke to someone from the Kurdish women’s movement in Rojava and asked what they need most. She said they need a massive international solidarity campaign, beginning with political education about the evolution of the PKK and its politics, including its emphasis on democratic governance, anti-sectarianism, secularism, ecology, and women’s liberation. In practical terms, they need all possible international pressure to be put on Turkey and the KRG to end the embargo and let supplies through. They need the terrorist designation to be lifted so they can travel and raise money and do public speaking.

That doesn't seem like too much to ask for the feminists dying for America’s foreign policy sins.

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Nov. 25 2015 2:17 PM

Charli XCX Attempts to Define Feminism for Pop Music in a New Film

It’s been more than a year since Beyoncé placed her flawless self in front of an enormous, glowing “FEMINIST” sign, but the music industry has only just started grappling with the term, according to Charli XCX. In a new BBC documentary called The F Word and Me, the 23-year-old British pop star and songwriter uses her summer 2015 tour as a vehicle for exploring gender in today’s music scene. “Girls are ruling the charts like never before, so it feels like a great time to be a woman in pop,” Charli XCX says in the 42-minute film. 

Aside from a few musician-on-the-street comments at the beginning of the documentary, viewers don't hear much from women of color, though—despite the fact that the upper ranks of the industry are largely filled out by people of color. Women of color fight against singular stereotypes, demands, and barriers to success, and hearing about those firsthand would have given this film a much more honest and nuanced view of how gender plays out in the field.


In interviews with her fellow musicians and label heads, Charli XCX details the dogged double standards that still plague the industry. “When I am assertive I’m a bitch, and when a man is assertive, he’s a boss,” said Nicki Minaj in a now-famous clip from a few years back. Lizzy Plapinger, co-founder of Neon Gold Records and one half of MS MR, tells Charli XCX that one of the hardest parts of her job as a label head is meeting with old white male executives. They won’t look her in the eye, she says, and only talk to her business partner, Derek. Her contributions aren’t taken as seriously as his; even the New York Times has said she “helps run” the label.

Working with Taylor Swift on her recent records has helped Bleachers’ Jack Antonoff understand this kind of subtle bias in music journalism, as revealed in The F Word and Me. “No one wants to believe that she writes the songs, and that’s such crap. Kanye makes a record, it’s just like, ‘You’re Kanye, you’re a genius,’” Antonoff says. He’s done tons of interviews where people ask of Swift, “Is she really as good a writer as everyone says?” Meanwhile, it took a male artist covering Swift’s songs to get cool-kid music outlets like Pitchfork to pay attention. (Journalists generally don’t fare too well in the rest of the film, either.)

Azealia Banks recently disavowed the term feminist on Twitter, arguing that feminism has contributed to the oppression of women of color; she aligns with the black-centered womanist movement instead. It may seem like petty word-parsing, but terms this heavy with real-life implications for all women are worth all the careful dissection we can muster. Charli XCX mentions that she admires Rihanna for dismantling "society's idea of what a pop star should be—i.e., perfect, polished, and usually white." The interviews she chose to conduct for The F Word and Me—which stick to her very white inner circle of tourmates, label heads, and affiliated acts—seem to prove that point.

Nov. 25 2015 12:29 PM

When It Comes to Men and Parental Leave, Modeling Matters

Last week, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg announced his plan to take two months of paternity leave after his wife Priscilla Chan gives birth. Compare that to Yahoo’s Marissa Mayer, who is expecting twins at the end of the year: She says she’ll be “taking limited time away and working throughout.”

Virtually everyone agreed on which CEO was setting the right example. “The boss taking a leave sends an important message to employees that the company policy is authentic,” said Ellen Bravo, executive director of Family Values @ Work.  “It’s hard to overstate what a big deal this is,” Catherine Rampell wrote in the Washington Post.


Something to add to the conversation: a newly published study on how men use parental leave by the National Bureau of Economic Research. Its findings show how much Zuckerberg accomplished with one simple announcement—and, perhaps, how much more he and others could still do.

California began offering up to six weeks of paid family leave for mothers and fathers in 2004, issuing payments of up to 55 percent of pay up to a set amount (in 2015, that’s $1,104 a week), funded out of the state’s disability insurance program. According to the NBER paper, men filed almost 20 percent of claims under the program in 2005, a proportion that increased to 30 percent by 2013.

The researchers found the California dads were more likely to take leave following the birth of their first child, but to forego paid time off for the birth of other children. They were also more inclined to spend time with a newborn son over a newborn daughter, especially if they were filing a claim for a second-born child.

Finally, the chances that new dads would take leave at all increased if they worked in a field with significant numbers of women. This may be a form of self-selection, but researchers also suspect that men working in these fields are falling prey to a positive form of peer pressure. “When there are more mothers taking leave in a given occupation, it may be easier for fathers to do the same,” they write. “Taking parental leave becomes more socially acceptable as more people use it.”

The last finding is key. Research shows that millennial couples start out wanting both partners to contribute equally to family life, but that desire doesn’t seem to last into parenthood. Workplaces offer a seemingly insurmountable roadblock to the best-laid plans, frequently penalizing men for seeking work-life balance. When Claire Cain Miller broke down the data for the New York Times, her headline concluded that Millennial Men Aren’t the Dads They Thought They’d Be. “They say, ‘I didn’t realize how much of a ding it would be on my career,” Laura Sherbin, the director of the Center for Talent Innovation, a workplace research group, told Cain Miller. Others come to similar conclusions. In his Los Angeles Times opinion piece “Face it, Most Millennial Dads are Hypocrites,” Steven Weiss described how his decision to co-parent was unusual among his neighbors and friends, declaring, “It’s apparent that relatively few Millennial men are walking the walk.”

So perhaps Zuckerberg should be simultaneously lauded for his announcement and pushed to do more. The Times reported that while Facebook offers both men and women four months of paid time off to spend with a newborn, only a majority of women were taking full advantage of the benefit. Facebook’s male employees typically took two months to be home with their newborn children, despite the human resources department’s best efforts to convince them to use all their allotted time.

It seems a bit much to suggest that the chairman and chief executive of a $300 billion company can simply absent himself for a third of the year. But if two months is okay, why not four? Or at least three? The data is clear: Modeling matters.

Nov. 25 2015 11:45 AM

How to Have an Altruistic Thanksgiving

It may be harder than usual to get into the holiday mindset this year, after a month of watching governors grandstand about their desire to turn away Syrian refugees while Black Lives Matter protesters are being shot by homegrown terrorists. And in a year when a national dialogue exemplified by the phrase “check your privilege” has exhorted all of us to consider what we have to be thankful for, Thanksgiving may feel redundant, or even a little tone-deaf.

That’s why a new app called “Thanksgiving for Syria,” from computer programmer Paul Katcher, is so timely. The idea is simple: The app asks how many guests you’ll be feeding and what you’ll be serving them (turkey or ham? Will it be organic?), calculates roughly how much your meal will cost, and then offers up a list of well-regarded charities for Syrians to which you could donate the same amount, or half of it if you prefer. (The charities on the list were aggregated by Public Radio International earlier this year.) It’s a tidy way to convert what you have to be thankful for into what you have to give—and to channel conflicted feelings about the symbolism of celebration into a minor act of altruism.


Katcher told PRI that his family always donated half the cost of their Thanksgiving meal to charity when he was growing up. “I know so many other people that would do this if it was just easy enough for them,” he said. “I got some experience as a developer here in the Silicon Valley, so it was no big deal just to put the site together once I had the idea.”

Here are a few other ways to turn your Thanksgiving feast toward a broader purpose this year:

• You could serve one of the international stews from the new book Soup for Syria, a “humanitarian cookbook” assembled by celebrity chefs including Yotam Ottolenghi, Mark Bittman, and Alice Waters. Proceeds go to fund food relief through the United Nation's UNHCR.

• You could join the Black Lives Matter protests planned for the day after Thanksgiving; as they did last year, activists are hoping to make “Black Friday” into “Black Lives Matter Friday”—to urge Americans to put their energy into halting police violence rather than shopping.

• You could give to organizations that combat police brutality, such as the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights in Oakland, California, and the American Civil Liberties Union, which have teamed up on creating an app to record and report civil rights violations by law enforcement.

• Speaking of protest: The group the United American Indians of New England will hold its annual “Day of Mourning” on Thursday in Plymouth, Massachusetts. “There's nothing wrong with having a meal with friends and family,” Mahtowin Munro, a co-leader of the organization, told the Huffington Post. “The real underlying issue is the mythology; there's a view that we're this big melting pot country, or there's a view that the Natives and the Pilgrims lived happily ever after and the Native people just evaporated into the woods or something to make way for the Pilgrims and all of the other aspects of the European invasion.”

• The National Museum of the American Indian has educational materials on the real story of the first Thanksgiving. As Dennis Zotigh, a cultural specialist at the museum and a Kiowa/San Juan Pueblo/Santee Dakota Indian, wrote in an essay called “Do American Indians Celebrate Thanksgiving?”: “The Thanksgiving myth has done so much damage and harm to the cultural self-esteem of generations of Indian people, including myself, by perpetuating negative and harmful images to both young Indian and non-Indian minds. … Do I celebrate Thanksgiving? No, I don’t celebrate. But I do take advantage of the holiday and get together with family and friends to share a large meal without once thinking of the Thanksgiving in 1621.”

At the very least, as SNL illustrated this week, you can make a small contribution to peace on earth by refusing to talk politics with xenophobic relatives and/or by playing Adele’s “Hello” on repeat until the last of the pumpkin pie crumbs are gone.   

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.

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.