The XX Factor
What Women Really Think

May 25 2016 2:35 PM

What Is the Deal With This $149 Vagina Costume?

A Brooklyn couple is making headlines for launching a new business venture in the costume industry: manufacturing Lycra and polyester tunics roughly designed to look like a white person’s vulva.

Conceived in Brooklyn is the company’s name, and its proprietors are coloring their project in shades of philanthropy. “A vagina costume can provoke an uncomfortable response,” reads their website. “Our intent is to draw attention to a topic that many people aren’t aware of.”

May 25 2016 12:51 PM

Comedians Are Finally Taking on Motherhood—but Not Everyone Is Happy About It

A few months ago, I wrote about my consternation that the women’s comedy revolution has been mostly bereft of moms. But now, quite suddenly, we appear to be entering a miniature golden age of comedy about motherhood. There’s Ali Wong’s Netflix comedy special Baby Cobra, in which she riffs on baby-making and pregnancy while seven-and-a-half months pregnant; the second season of Amazon’s Catastrophe and its razor-sharp dissection of early parenthood; and the upcoming film Bad Moms, the trailer for which promises a relevant, and crude, skewering of contemporary parenting culture.

I’m loving it. This is because I am, like most people, a little solipsistic and want what I watch to reflect my life. It’s so satisfying to see my experiences as a mom, the petty vanities and the legitimate struggles, alchemized into a laugh by highly competent entertainers. However, as personal as watching mom comedy feels, the new genre serves a social good, too. Humor liberates us from our idealized selves, and there are few roles shellacked with as many layers of idealization as motherhood. Good mom humor strips off the many, often ridiculous, expectations placed on mothers by both showing us that it’s all right to fail, and, more importantly, making it clear how the world is failing us.

May 24 2016 7:43 PM

Baylor Cares More About Winning Football Games Than Dealing With Its Sexual Assault Crisis

On Tuesday, the website Horns Digest reported that Baylor University plans to fire President and Chancellor Kenneth Starr—yes, the one-time Clinton-hounding special prosecutor—due to an investigation into the school’s repeated mishandling of sexual assault cases. Though that report was confirmed by a Texas TV station, another station reported that Starr “is still the school’s president,” at least at this very moment. As of Tuesday evening the school is saying that it “will not respond” to reports about Starr’s ouster.

While Starr’s reported firing is something of a surprise, it would be far more shocking if the school did anything to damage its football program. As soon as the Horns Digest report came out, the private Baptist university was accused of sacrificing the school president to save Art Briles, the football coach who took the Baylor Bears from irrelevance when he was hired in 2008 to an all-time high No. 2 ranking in 2015. “The feeling is if the board got rid of Art (Briles), they’d be sitting in a $300 million mausoleum instead of that new football stadium,” one anonymous source told Horns Digest. The Chicago Tribune’s Teddy Greenstein called the possibility that Starr might take the fall “a superficial ouster that would not threaten a program that has produced 32 victories in the last three seasons.” And the Sporting NewsKami Mattioli wrote: “While it seems logical to conclude that axing Starr amid the growing scandal is necessary, doing so without also giving head coach Art Briles the boot would send the exact wrong message—that the football program is, as always, untouchable.” 


Placing the Bears’ winning record above all else seems to be what got the school into its current mess. Baylor’s questionable institutional behavior first drew nationwide attention in August 2015, when a football player named Sam Ukwuachu was sentenced to six months in jail and 10 years’ probation for sexually assaulting a BU freshman two years earlier. As Jessica Luther and Dan Solomon reported in Texas Monthly, school officials “either knew, or should have known, that Ukwuachu had a history of violent incidents at Boise State,” where he’d played before transferring to Baylor. When Ukwuachu was accused of raping a fellow student-athlete, Baylor “cleared” him without even looking at the rape kit a hospital had collected. “To be blunt, Baylor seemed mainly interested in protecting its football player,” wrote Joe Nocera in the New York Times.

Ukwuachu’s case isn’t the only one in which Baylor is alleged to have ignored serious accusations, nor is it the only one in which a Baylor football player has recently been convicted of sexual assault. In 2014, former defensive end Tevin Elliott was sentenced to the maximum of 20 years for raping a Baylor freshman twice at a party near campus in 2012. The woman, Jasmin Hernandez, sued the university this spring for failing to take action when she reported the attack. Hernandez’s lawsuit claims that her parents called Briles, but received no response except a phone call from a secretary. It also states that Hernandez wasn’t the first person to be victimized by Elliott—and that Baylor was fully aware of his treatment of women. Another woman who was allegedly assaulted by Elliott, identified in the lawsuit as Jane Roe, allegedly reported the incident to Baylor, and was informed by the school’s chief judicial officer, Bethany McCraw, that she was the sixth person to make a claim against him. (Two of the women reportedly were not Baylor students.)

Roe and her mother asked if Briles knew of these reports, to which McCraw responded that Briles was aware of the reports. McCraw told Roe and her mother that there was nothing the school could do for Roe unless there was a court determination that Elliott had indeed raped Roe. Otherwise, McCraw said, it would come down to a “he said-she said” situation, and the school could not act on it.

In this case, and others, Baylor appears to have been in flagrant violation of Title IX—which, in fact, requires that schools take action when students experience sex-based harassment or discrimination. A deep dive by ESPN’s Outside the Lines, published last week, turned up allegations against at least three more football players who played under Briles. Former safety Ahmad Dixon was accused of sexual assault in 2012; he told OTL that his coaches were aware of the charge and mentioned it to him. In the same year, then-cornerback Tyler Stephenson was accused of violently assaulting his girlfriend when she attempted to break up with him; in this case, it’s unclear whether Baylor was notified. In 2014, running back Devin Chafin was accused of assaulting his girlfriend on two separate occasions, one of those in front of his teammates. She told OTL that Briles and Starr knew of the incidents but never punished Chafin. She didn’t press the issue, she said, because “I’d seen other girls go through it, and nothing ever happened to the football players. … I think as long as they’re catching footballs and scoring touchdowns, the school won’t do anything.”

Amazingly and horribly, that’s not the last of it: Shawn Oakman, a former All-American defensive end, was arrested last month on charges that he sexually assaulted a Baylor graduate student. It was later revealed that Oakman, who graduated from Baylor in December, had been accused of attacking a former girlfriend in 2013.

In a statement released on Tuesday, Baylor said it would announce the results of an external review of the school’s actions by June 3. The fallout from Horns Digest’s report gave Baylor a taste of the anger it will face if Briles remains at the head of his football program—but that may not be enough to counterbalance the glory of “catching footballs and scoring touchdowns.” As for Starr, Horns Digest’s anonymous sources suggest that he may be reassigned to Baylor’s law school with his salary intact—a move that would suggest that the school isn’t all that serious about cleaning up its act.

May 24 2016 5:12 PM

Victims of Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood Shooting Sue Clinic for Poor Security

A woman wounded in the 2015 terrorist attack at a Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood and the widow of a man killed in that shooting rampage are suing the health clinic for what they say was inadequate security, making the clinic negligent and liable for the deaths and injuries wrought by gunman Robert Lewis Dear.

Dear killed three in the Nov. 27 attack, including Ke’Arre Stewart, an Iraq war veteran who was slain near the clinic’s entrance, and wounded nine, including Samantha Wagner, who sustained a gunshot wound in her upper arm. Wagner and Ashley Stewart, Ke’Arre’s wife, are plaintiffs in the suit, filed by attorneys on Friday.

May 24 2016 1:57 PM

A Bill Extending Rights to Rape Survivors Actually Passes the U.S. Senate

Something unusual happened in the U.S. Senate on Monday: a unanimous vote, on a bill to grant new rights to sexual assault survivors.

The bill solves a host of problems that most people only become aware of if forced to confront them as victims of sex crimes. It stipulates that victimscannot be charged for the forensic examinations—colloquially known as “rape kits,” in which evidence is collected—and establishes a right to have the kit preserved for the duration of the maximum applicable statute of limitations. It also requires that victims be kept informed about the location of their kit, whether it has been tested, and its results. The bill would also guarantee that survivors have access to trained sexual assault counselors, and would form a working group “to develop, coordinate, and disseminate best practices regarding the care and treatment of sexual assault survivors and the preservation of forensic evidence.”

The organization that lobbied for the bill was founded by a 24-year-old whose story perfectly demonstrates the need it would address. Amanda Nguyen, a “State Department liaison to the White House in training to be an astronaut,” according to a recent Guardian profile, was sexually assaulted in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 2014. Though the statute of limitations in the state is 15 years, current law only requires that rape kits be stored for a span of six months, after which the evidence they contain is destroyed. For survivors like Nguyen, the only way around this is to obtain an official extension twice a year. “The system essentially makes me live my life by date of rape,” Nguyen told the Guardian. Once, she even had to fly from Washington, D.C., to Massachusetts to confirm its location and keep it out of the trash. She founded a nonprofit called Rise to lobby for legislation that could keep disjointed government systems from re-traumatizing victims—or from shutting them out of the justice system by quietly destroying the evidence they’d need.

May 24 2016 1:47 PM

The Amount of Housework a Mom Does Is Influenced by Where She Lives


Within couples, who does what around the house can appear to depend on personal situations that lead to individual arrangements. Work schedules and habits are considered, sometimes consciously, sometimes not, and a pattern of domestic work emerges. We may not always like the arrangement, but many of us slog through them with the belief that we mainly have ourselves and our partners to blame.



But a new paper from sociologists Leah Ruppanner and David J. Maume published inSocial Science Research suggests that division of housework is heavily influenced by a number of outside factors, including where we live. Ruppaner and Maume write that research on domestic work in the United States often treats the country as a single entity, when, in fact, the division of housework varies widely around the country. By comparing housework patterns from state to state, they discovered that the amount of time a woman spends on domestic chores is connected to how likely women are to work in that state and how culturally traditional or progressive the state is.


May 24 2016 12:53 PM

Samantha Bee Unearthed a Horrifying Film From the Dawn of the Pro-Life Movement

For those of us born long after the religious right had secured its chokehold on the sanity of liable Americans, the history of the movement—and its obsession with abortion in particular—can get lost in the chaotic rancor of its current proponents. But it’s worth reminding ourselves every now and again of the bizarre details of its oft-forgotten roots.

Samantha Bee has pinpointed one of the weirdest relics of the movement’s infancy: a horror flick made to strike fear into the hearts of baby-loving conservatives across the country. “Many people think the new religious right arose as a response to the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, but that’s not true,” Bee began in her bit from Monday night’s Full Frontal. She traces the movement back to a few years after Roe, when religious leaders such as Jerry Falwell and Paul Weyrich rather arbitrarily chose abortion as their next issue with which to ignite Christian furor.


Enter Frank Schaeffer, a sci-fi filmmaker who tells Bee and her team that contributing to the launch of what became the pro-life movement is “the single greatest regret of my life.” In the ’70s, Schaeffer made a film called Whatever Happened to the Human Race? with the help of his father—and the clips Full Frontal pulled are almost too disturbingly on-the-nose to be believed. There are images of children with white faces painting in blood-red, baby dolls scattered on the shores of present-day Sodom; other baby dolls rolling down a conveyor into a garbage incinerator; and a real toddler crying in a cage, banging on the bars to escape. “Ten bucks says that kid is still ‘making films’ in the Valley,” says Bee of the tot, who Schaeffer says was volunteered for the role by his California Christian parents.

But the creepiest part of this early anti-abortion film fest is a cartoon Bee calls “Homeschool-house Rock.” The video, made to screen at churches around the country to enlist them in a fight most evangelical leaders would have rather left to Catholics, shows evil doctors using hoses to suck up dancing fetuses wearing top hats and canes while scantily clad nurses drop-kick a series of swaddled infants. In the vein of so many propaganda films, it would seem like a hilarious parody if it weren’t such an effective, damaging piece of political messaging.

Bee also nails the hypocrisy of abortion clinic terrorists who call themselves pro-life and points out the willful ignorance of Bible-thwacking abortion-clinic protesters who don’t care that the Bible says exactly nothing about abortion. And lest any of us think 9/11 conspiracy theories are the stuff of fringe nutjobs and the Westboro Baptist Church, Bee reminds us that Falwell, a religious leader regularly hailed by mainstream American politicians all the way up to the president, believed abortion was to blame for the terrorist attack. “The abortionists have got to bear some burden for this, because God will not be mocked,” Falwell says in a clip from Sept. 13, 2001. “When we destroy 40 million little innocent babies, we make God mad. I point the finger in their face and say ‘You helped this happen.’ ”

May 24 2016 12:35 PM

The Canon Is Sexist, Racist, Colonialist, and Totally Gross. Yes, You Have to Read It Anyway.

Hello, Yale students. It’s me, a random internet writer. I have some unfortunate news for you, but first, let me step back and catch everybody up.

Recently, the requirements for the Yale English major have come under fire. To fulfill the major as it currently stands, a student must take either the two-part “major English poets” sequence—which spans Chaucer, Spenser, Shakespeare, Donne, Milton, Pope, Wordsworth, and Eliot—or four equivalent courses on the same dead white men. Inspired in part by articles in the Yale Daily News and Down magazine, Elis have crafted a petition exhorting the college to “decolonize” its English curriculum. Their demands: abolish the major English poets cycle and revise the remaining requirements “to deliberately include literatures relating to gender, race, sexuality, ableism, and ethnicity.” “It is your responsibility as educators to listen to student voices,” the letter concludes. “We have spoken. We are speaking. Pay attention.”


This is great, and I applaud your commitment to inclusivity and diversity (as well as your command of rhythm and anaphora.) Rethinking the major’s prerequisites to reflect a wider array of perspectives, gifts, and experiences is an awesome idea. Also, you’ve pointed elsewhere to some deplorable statistics: Of 98 English faculty members, only seven identify as nonwhite, and none identify as Hispanic or indigenous. Yale urgently needs to address the homogeny of its professorship, both for students’ sake and its own.  

Here’s the thing, though. If you want to become well-versed in English literature, you’re going to have to hold your nose and read a lot of white male poets. Like, a lot. More than eight.

The canon is what it is, and anyone who wishes to understand how it continues to flow forward needs to learn to swim around in it. There is a clear line to Terrance Hayes (and Frank and Claire Underwood, and Lyon Dynasty) from Shakespeare. There is a direct path to Adrienne Rich (and Katniss Everdeen, and Lyra Belacqua) from Milton. (Rich basically says as much in “Diving into the Wreck.”) These guys are the heavies, the chord progressions upon which the rest of us continue to improvise, and we’d be somewhere else entirely without them.

You’ve written that “it is possible to graduate with a degree in English language & literature by exclusively reading the works of (mostly wealthy) white men.” It is possible to graduate a lot of ways, and every English major is responsible for taking advantage of the bounty of courses the department offers to attain a full and deep education. What is not possible is to reckon with the racist, sexist, colonist poets who comprise the canon—and to transcend their failures—via a “see no evil, hear no evil” policy.

I want to gently push back, too, against the idea that the major English poets have nothing to say to students who aren’t straight, male, and white. For all the ways in which their particular identities shaped their work, these writers tried to represent the entire human condition, not just their clan. A great artist possesses both empathy and imagination: Many of Shakespeare’s female characters are as complexly nuanced as any in circulation today, Othello takes on racial prejudice directly, and Twelfth Night contains enough gender-bending identity shenanigans to fuel multiple drag shows and occupy legions of queer scholars. The “stay in your lane” mentality that seems to undergird so much progressive discourse—only polyamorous green people really “get” the “polyamorous green experience,” and therefore only polyamorous greens should read and write about polyamorous greens, say—ignores our common humanity.    

But even if you disagree, there’s no getting around the facts. Although you’ve written that the English department “actively contributes to the erasure of history,” what it really does is accurately reflect the tainted history we have—one in which straight white cis-men dominated art-making for centuries—rather than the woke history we want and fantasize about. There are few (arguably no) female poets writing in Chaucer’s time who rival Chaucer in wit, transgressiveness, texture, or psychological insight. The lack of equal opportunity was a tremendous injustice stemming from oppressive social norms, but we can’t reverse it by willing brilliant female wordsmiths into the past. Same goes for people of color in Wordsworth’s day, or openly queer people in Pope’s, or …  

Here is what I am not saying. I am not saying that Yale shouldn’t offer a rich panoply of courses on female writers, queer writers, writers with disabilities, and writers of color. And it does! In addition to featuring names like Elizabeth Bishop and Ralph Ellison in its survey classes, the course catalog presents such titles as “Women Writers from the Restoration to Romanticism,” “Race and Gender in American Literature,” “American Artists and the African American Book,” “The Spectacle of Disability,” “Asian American Literature,” “Chaucer and Discourses of Dissent,” “Postcolonial World Literature: 1945-present,” “Black Literature and U.S. Liberalism” … and I’m not even counting the cross listings with the comparative literature; American studies; and women’s, gender, and sexuality studies departments.

Moreover, I am not arguing that it is acceptable for an English major to graduate from college having only read white male authors or even 70 percent white male authors. But you cannot profess to be a student of English literature if you have not lingered in the slipstreams of certain foundational figures, who also happen to be (alas) both white and male: In addition to the majors listed above, Jonson, Shelley, Keats, Pound, Auden, and Frost. This is frustrating, unfair, and 100 percent nonnegotiable. (But hey, try to have some fun reading Frost? You could do so much worse!)

The canon of English literature is sexist. It is racist. It is colonialist, ableist, transphobic, and totally gross. You must read it anyway. 

May 24 2016 7:02 AM

The Quiet Violence of the Unwanted Kiss

In photos from last Thursday’s amfAR gala at Cannes, it might look like auction host Uma Thurman wasn’t perturbed by the surprise open-mouthed kiss she fielded from “playboy industrialist” and Fiat heir Lapo Elkann. With a gracious smile, she stood for the cameras as he pressed his sweaty face against hers and dangled his lit cigarette dangerously close to her updo.

Elkann, who formerly worked as the CEO of Fiat and a personal assistant to Henry Kissinger, had placed the winning $196,000 bid for two tickets to the Victoria’s Secret fashion show. When he posed for a series of celebratory photos with Thurman, he went in for the kiss.

Those pictures belie the reality of the situation: As Thurman’s rep later made clear, the kiss was “not consensual.” “It is opportunism at its worst. She wasn't complicit in it,” Thurman’s rep said in a statement. “Somewhere in his head [Elkann] must have thought it an appropriate way of behaving. It clearly wasn’t. She is very unhappy that this happened to her and feels violated.”

May 23 2016 6:02 PM

Neo-Nazis Consider Taylor Swift Their “Aryan Goddess”

If her pop stardom ever stalls, Taylor Swift has another solid career option waiting in the wings: fascist dictator—or at least symbol of the fascist movement, if said fascists would not consent to being ruled over by a woman. Apparently, neo-Nazis already consider Swift an “Aryan goddess,” according to Broadly: Her blond hair, her thin frame, and her roots in country music make her the perfect avatar for the people who populate the internet’s “alt-right” subculture.

It may have started as a meme, but now actual white supremacists count themselves as fans of Swift, and some of them insist that she shares their beliefs: “It is also an established fact that Taylor Swift is secretly a Nazi and is simply waiting for the time when Donald Trump makes it safe for her to come out and announce her Aryan agenda to the world,” one white supremacist told Broadly. This is not an association the pop star has courted, but if you read her public profile selectively, there are a few elements it’s easy to see why the alt-right might find appealing: She’s never revealed her political beliefs in public, and because she started as a country singer, some people think that qualifies as conservative. And conservative, as we all know, is just a hop, skip, and a jump from Nazi.


There’s also her squeaky-clean public persona. Swift sings about sex, wears revealing outfits and costumes, and was once known as a serial dater—in short, she does the things that pop stars do. In spite of this, parents continue to cite Swift as a better role model than other female celebrities—she’s Teflon that way; just because she has a cat and likes polka dots, people tend to associate her with innocence. As one self-proclaimed fascist told Broadly, “Take Kim Kardashian or Miley Cyrus as examples of this: Both began their lives with the same Nordic blood that Swift did, but what makes these two degenerates unfit for consideration as fascist icons? It is because, although Aryan in blood, the two are not Aryan in spirit. To be Aryan in spirit is what completes the fascist.” Swift and her “spirit” remain popular and well-respected even as she engages in subtle slut-shaming of other stars and rules over her squad of friends with an iron fist, only choosing model-hot members and making them appear in her videos and by her side. (Though hey, would a white supremacist have let that one black girl in?) What reads as wholesome to some looks overly calculating to others, but any way you slice it, both are qualities that are resonate with neo-Nazis’ imaginations.

So should we start interpreting “Bad Blood” in a whole new light? Hearing “You Belong With Me” as a secret conversion anthem? Reading her most recent album, 1989, as an alternative history of what would have happened had the Berlin Wall never come down? Though she would be a coveted recruit in any political movement, it’s safe to say Taylor Swift is not a Nazi. Maybe it’s just true that the skills that it takes to turn yourself into a successful multimillion-dollar brand, if applied elsewhere, could also make for a very successful tyrant. What’s the difference between selling pop music and selling a fascist agenda, when you get down to it? It’s all propaganda.