The XX Factor
What Women Really Think

May 4 2015 1:46 PM

Lean In Isn’t Just About Professional Fulfillment. It’s Also About Worst-Case Scenarios.

David Goldberg was the CEO of SurveyMonkey. But after he died unexpectedly Friday night while exercising on vacation in Mexico, most headlines referred to him in terms of his wife, Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg, and her famous women-in-the-workplace philosophy. One Associated Press headline read, “David Goldberg, Tech Exec Married to ‘Lean In’ Author, Dies.” The cascade of tributes to Goldberg discussed his considerable professional achievements, but they took a backseat to praise about his dedication to his wife, to his two young children, and to supporting women. In the New York Times, Jodi Kantor wrote that people saw Goldberg as “the living, breathing, car-pooling center of a new philosophy of two-career marriage”—one in which women keep their professional ambitions intact even when starting a family.

So far, one remarkable thing has been missing from the conversation. Sandberg’s Lean In approach to a work-family balance has its flaws, contradictions, and omissions—among other things, it is applicable only to the relatively privileged, those who can afford child care and have an accommodating co-parent. But staying connected to the workforce even when you have young children isn’t just about professional fulfillment. It’s about staying prepared for a worst-case scenario. And the death of a beloved fortysomething husband, while you have young children, is a worst-case scenario.

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After I was born, my mother, Regina Bosch—a very smart woman who has an MBA from Wharton—abandoned her consulting career to focus on her children. It seemed like a noble sacrifice: While her work meant a great deal to her, she thought that it would be better for my two brothers and me to have a stay-at-home mom. My father made a good living as an attorney, and our lives were comfortable.

But then, when I was 11, my father killed himself. My mother had been out of the workplace for more than a decade (with the exception of a part-time job she had just started, at a bank). Worse, she had just experienced the most traumatic event of her life: the suicide of her college sweetheart, whom she met at 17 and married at 21. Re-entering the workforce is difficult enough for women (and men) who take a few years off until their kids enter school or until a divorce changes circumstances. Jumping back into a career after 11 years, in the immediate aftermath of a spouse’s suicide, while trying to support three mourning children? Close to impossible.

“I had my age working against me. … I was 42, so people thought of me as perhaps older and not as vigorous,” she told me today. “And of course I had children to take care of, and I couldn’t do a lot of the schmoozing.” So she used the life insurance money to go back to school and get another master’s degree. But even with her skills and more up-to-date résumé, it was a major struggle. And the acute, complicated grief of losing my father to suicide didn’t help.

“I just didn’t have the emotional resources to dedicate myself to work 100 percent,” she said. “I was mourning Dad, but I also had to keep an eye on you guys, to make sure that you were OK.” Though she worked lots of jobs in the years that followed, her career never got back on the proverbial track; she didn’t earn the money or the personal fulfillment that she had before she leaned out. The gap in her résumé, emotional distress, health problems—many of them linked to trauma and the “mixed-up grief” suicide brings—all of it held her back.

Now, she regrets the time she took off after my brothers and I were born. “It would have been much better if I were working when he killed himself. I would have gotten another layer of support and had someplace to go that wasn’t so sad. And of course trying to prove yourself in a new job, when part of your mind is just this constant swirl of emotions, is really hard.”

Sandberg faces a terrible situation, but a situation that will not be made more terrible by worries about how to feed her children or pay the mortgage. She can focus on the most important issues—her grief and that of her children. Given Goldberg’s own successes, Sandberg would probably have been financially stable in widowhood even if she hadn’t leaned in. But in some ways, her message is even more powerful now: It looked like she had the perfect life, but no one is immune to shocking upheavals. Whatever her philosophy’s shortcomings, leaning in even a little bit—staying connected to the professional world while focusing on your children—can help keep you on your feet, if and when the universe lands a sucker punch.

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May 4 2015 12:20 PM

Carly Fiorina Will Steal All Your Gender Cards

After running a lengthy shadow campaign, former Hewlett-Packard CEO and sheep demonizer Carly Fiorina has formally announced her presidential candidacy. Among the growing crowd of no-chance-in-hell Republican contenders, Fiorina stands out not just because of her gender, her obsession with Hillary Clinton (which my colleague Josh Voorhees detailed Monday morning), or for her remarkable lack of basic Internet aptitude, despite being a former tech executive—looks like she forgot to register carlyfiorina.org, which someone lifted to illustrate how many people she laid off at Hewlett-Packard.

Fiorina also distinguishes herself from the pack because her pitch to voters is uniquely incoherent. Rand Paul is the Wannabe Libertarian Guy. Marco Rubio is the Young Guy. Ted Cruz is the Obama-of-the-Christian-Right Guy. Jeb Bush is the Guy Who Will Win the Nomination Guy. 

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And Fiorina is, by her own account, the woman in the race who will stand up against those who want you to vote for the other woman in the race. 

In recent months, Fiorina has shown that the only thing she loves more than deriding those who play the “gender card” is playing the gender card. Oh, how she hates that gender card, telling the National Journal that Clinton “will play the gender card over and over again, which is unfortunate but predictable.” The gender card is a dirty move that brings shame onto all those who play it!

All those except for Carly Fiorina. “If Hillary Clinton were to face a female nominee, there are a whole set of things that she won't be able to talk about,” Fiorina told reporters in April. “She won't be able to talk about being the first woman president. She won't be able to talk about a war on women without being challenged. She won't be able to play the gender card.” No she won't, because I, Carly Fiorina, will play it for her!

Hypocrisy aside, Fiorina's entire pitch is also based on a false premise, which is that being female gives politicians some kind of novel advantage—a notion easily disabused by a Congress that's more than 80 percent male and a 100 percent male presidency. In American politics, if anyone's been playing a gender card for the last 239 years, it's been men.

May 4 2015 11:47 AM

Satanists Claim Abortion Waiting Periods Violate Their Religious Beliefs

Conservatives are increasingly citing their right to religious liberty to defend using state property to proselytize and disobey laws protecting women and LGBTQ people from discrimination. But those efforts are getting a little more complicated, thanks to a group of pranksters who claim to worship Satan.

Whenever Christians erect Christian monuments on state property or distribute religious materials at public schools, the New York–based Satanic Temple is there doing its part, passing out satanic materials or erecting statues celebrating Satan. Now these expert trolls are tackling anti-abortion regulations, which they claim violate satanic religious beliefs; followers of the king of hell should be allowed to opt out of those regulations, they say. 

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Satanists are rallying around “Mary,” who lives in rural Missouri and needs an abortion but is struggling to afford the extra expenses that the state's 72-hour waiting period will impose on her. Mary has the money for the abortion, but she doesn't have the estimated extra $800 that she needs to travel to the only abortion clinic in the state, in St. Louis, a trip that will require gas, hotel, and child care. “I personally would have liked to have the procedure done as soon as possible,” Mary told the Riverfront Times. “But with all the difficulties, how hard it is do this, it's been put off for several weeks.” She's now nearly 12 weeks pregnant. 

The Satanic Temple raised the money for Mary in a day; its plan is to present a letter to the abortion provider asking for an exemption on the grounds that, as a Satanist, Mary believes her body is “inviolable” and the waiting period imposes a “substantial burden on my sincerely held religious beliefs.” As a legal maneuver, this leaves much to be desired: The clinic, too, is being victimized by the regulation, and they're not the authorities standing between Mary and her abortion. The legally sound way to demand “religious liberty” exemptions to waiting periods is sue the state government, but the Satanists don't have those sorts of resources—they're not Hobby Lobby.

While the Satanists did misfire by taking aim at the clinic, as a public act of trolling, this stunt gets an A-plus. It exposes the double standards of those who claim to stand for “religious freedom,” and it highlights how waiting periods and other restrictions are actually an attempt to impose religious dogma about abortion on those who don't agree with it. Being denied medical care is actual religious oppression. Letting someone access her own medical care is not.

April 30 2015 5:52 PM

What Is the Dad Bod? America’s Leading Expert Explains.

The youth of America have been whispering about something they call the “dad bod” for years, trading definitions on Urban Dictionary and presenting photographic evidence on Total Frat Move. But it wasn’t until last month—when 19-year-old Clemson University sophomore Mackenzie Pearson published the explanatory essay “Why Girls Love The Dad Bod” on the college-focused website the Odyssey —that the term broke out of the teenage vernacular and into the general population.

“In case you haven't noticed lately, girls are all about that dad bod,” Pearson wrote. “The dad bod is a nice balance between a beer gut and working out. The dad bod says, ‘I go to the gym occasionally, but I also drink heavily on the weekends and enjoy eating eight slices of pizza at a time.’ ”

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“There is just something about the dad bod,” Pearson continued, "that makes boys seem more human, natural, and attractive.”

Pearson’s piece has since emerged as the definitive primer on the dad bod, educating the women of the Cut and the guys of GQ on the appeal of the body type. I talked to Pearson about Hollywood’s most famous dad bods, what men think of the term, and how her own dad maintains his dad bod. (Our interview has been condensed and edited.)

Slate: Nobody at Slate had ever heard the term “dad bod” before reading your piece. But then I Googled it and learned that the younger generation has been discussing the dad bod for quite some time. Do you remember when you first heard about it?

Mackenzie Pearson: My friend pointed it out at the beginning of this year. We’d be walking around campus, and she’d whisper: That’s a dad bod. That’s a dad bod. I eventually became really familiar with the body type and was able to identify it. I don’t hear it a lot in daily conversation; it’s not really common lingo. But it’s a lot more common now. … I have no idea why the article took off so fast, but it really has caught fire. People are loving it. It’s been crazy.

Slate: If you used the term “dad bod” with 100 American 19-year-olds, how many of them do you think would know what you were talking about?

Pearson: I’d say about 40 percent, maybe 50. It’s definitely something where, if you know the term, you are very familiar with it. You know what a dad bod is and what it looks like. But if you don’t know, you kind of have to look at it and learn about it a bit more to be able to identify it.

Slate: So what is a dad bod?

Pearson: A dad bod is a guy who is not incredibly chiseled, but at the same time, is not unhealthy. He’s not overweight. He’s probably that guy who played football in high school and came to college and didn’t play football. Maybe he had a few too many slices of pizza, or a few too many ramens, and just ended up with a little bit of squish on top of his muscle. It’s a healthy body. It’s a boy-next-door look. He’s the kind of person you go on a hike with, and then at the end of the day, you eat pasta and lay in bed and watch a movie.

Slate: Is there a female equivalent to this?

Pearson: Hah. Probably. I haven’t really thought about the name for that. It’s probably just a normal girl body; maybe a little wider in the hips, and maybe a little bigger-chested.

Slate: Like “curvy”?

Pearson: Maybe. I feel like a good word to describe it would be thick. Not a big person, but just a thick person. Someone who isn’t too thin-looking, but has got some meat on her bones.

Slate:  Which famous men have dad bods?

Pearson: Chris Pratt, before he got all bulked up for that movie. He definitely has one. John Mayer kind of has one. Any dad celebrity, for the most part, is probably going to have a dad body.

Slate:  What about Jon Hamm?

Pearson: Yes. He’s got a great one. Jason Segal. He’s got a good one.

Slate:  What have men had to say about the article?

Pearson: I’ve had a surprising number of men and boys contact me saying, “I’ve had trouble with my body image. I’ve been insecure about my body because I’m a bigger guy. I’m a thick guy.” They’re reaching out and saying, “This really helped me with my self-confidence.” A lot of guys have been tweeting pictures of themselves at the beach, like, “Thanks for the encouragement. I’m strutting my dad bod proud today.” That’s been really great to see, that it’s caused such a positive ripple effect.

Slate:  Are some of these guys trying to go out with you?

Pearson: I’ve had a few offers. Yeah. Quite a few.

Slate: Some of my colleagues were saddened by the dad bod article, because it seemed to say that a lot of the appeal of the dad bod lies in a woman’s own insecurities.

Pearson: That was totally not the intention of the article. I think of myself as a very secure woman. I’m very proud of my body and who I am. But it is something that my friends have talked about, and like any other girl, I do have insecurities. I don’t want a guy to tell me what I can or can’t eat.

Slate: Has your dad read it?

Pearson: My dad has read it. He called me this morning to talk about it. My dad is super into CrossFit. He’s super, super fit and really healthy. He actually found a comment where someone had uploaded a picture from Facebook saying, “This is her, this is actually her and her dad!” My dad looks young. People think we’re dating all the time, because he’s in such great shape. He told me that he got a kick out of it. He sent it to my entire extended family, saying, “Look how funny my daughter is!” He’s really enjoyed the comments and the attention.

Slate: So does your dad have a dad bod, or is he too fit to have a dad bod?

Pearson: My dad actually does have a pretty good dad bod. He’s a dad, obviously, and he’s fit. But like any guy who’s in his late 40s, early 50s, he’s got that little bit of flab you just can’t get rid of.

Slate: All the other terms I’ve heard to describe male bodies are specifically for gay men. Bears, otters, twinks. Dad bod feels like something new.

Pearson: Yeah. You really don’t hear a lot of people talking about male bodies. Nobody talks about shapes of guys; they’re just guy-shaped. Some people have told me that the article is shallow, because it’s solely focused on the body. But there are a lot of terms for girls’ bodies—like ‘thigh gap’—that promote really unhealthy bodies. The dad bod is just a name for an average, healthy-looking male. I will say that whenever you’re going to date someone, don’t date them just for their body. It’s about personality and attraction. The body’s only one part of it.

April 30 2015 2:52 PM

Which State Was the Worst for Women This Week?

Welcome to the second edition of DoubleX's Worst State of the Week award, recognizing distinguished and meritorious service by state legislative bodies and other entities in blocking the advancement of women's rights. Last week's winner was Alabama, but a busy legislative season means lots of movement in the rankings, and we have a fresh crop of victors this week.

Third place goes to Florida, which passed a bill mandating a 24-hour waiting period to get an abortion, plus a state-mandated guilt trip in the form of a handout on fetal development and a list of local so-called crisis pregnancy centers. But for all its efforts, Florida flagged badly behind silver medalist North Carolina, where the state house passed a bill extending their waiting period to 72 hours. "These young girls, when they go in there—very abrupt, very quickly—they make that decision that they’re going to get rid of this baby," North Carolina state Rep. Michele Presnell explained in defense of the three-day pause. (In reality, the majority of abortion patients are in their 20s and more than 60 percent have had at least one child already.)

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But neither of these worthy states could hold a candle to Texas's fetus-fetishizing sadism this week. During debate over a bill regarding the management of the Texas Department of State Health Services, Rep. Matt Schaefer attempted to add an amendment restricting abortion after 20 weeks. What, you say? Aren't abortions already banned in Texas after 20 weeks? Well, yes, but no—Schaefer feels the ban isn't strict enough, because it allows women to abort in the case of severe fetal abnormalities.

Opponents of the amendment—which was eventually tabled—pointed out that it would inflict needless suffering on women by forcing them to give birth to babies who will simply suffer and die. But Schaefer was unmoved. He agreed that the babies in question "are going to suffer; they’re going to feel pain," but invoked a religious defense of creating this unnecessary suffering: "That’s part of the human condition, when sin entered the world, and it grieves us all."

Of course, when Texas lowered the abortion threshold from 28 to 20 weeks in 2013, it created ample opportunities for people like Schaefer to celebrate the human condition by forcing women to give birth to babies who would not survive outside the womb, as Charles Vestal wrote in an unforgettable and heartbreaking personal essay for Medium last year.

It's also worth noting that the original 20-week ban was justified on the scientifically unfounded grounds that fetuses at 20 weeks can feel pain. But when abortion bans create pain and suffering for women, pain and suffering suddenly becomes something God intended us to endure.

Though Schaefer's proposal didn't go anywhere, we've chosen to recognize his ambition by awarding the grand prize this week to Texas—and you can bet this legislation will pop up again before the session is over.

April 29 2015 2:15 PM

Bud Light Dreams Up the Worst Possible Slogan for a Beer Company

This week’s installment of “no, really, what was that marketing team thinking?” is brought to you by Bud Light, which is getting shredded on the Internet for a new slogan on bottles. The tag line: “The perfect beer for removing ‘no’ from your vocabulary for the night. #UpForWhatever.” Reformulated slightly, the slogan basically translates to “no means up for whatever,” and it didn’t take long for others to begin pointing out that such a statement can be interpreted as an endorsement of rape culture. In the hallowed tradition of Not an Onion Headline, the Bud Light campaign scanned as Not an Amy Schumer Sketch.

There are, of course, plenty of other terrible readings that can be teased from a slogan like that: “No means I’m up for drunk driving!” “No means I'm up for binging all of Daredevil tonight even though I have an early meeting tomorrow!” But the rape-culture overtones seem particularly glaring when “yes means yes” is so commonly tossed around in affirmative consent discussions, and a “no means yes” chant on Yale’s campus previously incited national outrage. As Christopher Ingraham points out at Wonkblog, there’s also the unavoidable fact that at least half of sexual assaults are associated with alcohol consumption.* To quote Ingraham: “That makes alcohol, by far, the most common date-rape drug.”

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This slogan isn’t just your run-of-the-mill dumb marketing idea (see: SeaWorld). It’s an epically, mind-bogglingly bad marketing idea, especially as Bud Light already knows it needs to tread carefully with the #UpForWhatever campaign. Last month, the brand was widely criticized for a St. Patrick’s Day tweet it sent out that encouraged imbibers to “pinch people who aren’t #UpForWhatever” and included a photo of women partying. That tweet was later deleted. Of this latest party foul, Bud Light brand vice president Alexander Lambrecht says in a statement, “It’s clear that this particular message missed the mark, and we regret it. We would never condone disrespectful or irresponsible behavior. As a result, we have immediately ceased production of this message on all bottles.”

You still can’t help but wonder how the slogan ever got approved in the first place. It seems like pretty much any sentient being could have determined that it wasn't in Bud Light's best interest to run it. Or maybe Bud Light’s marketing team is just really, truly #UpForWhatever.

*Correction, April 29, 2015: This post originally misspelled the last name of Christopher Ingraham.

April 28 2015 5:54 PM

The Sherri Shepherd Surrogacy Case Is a Mess. Prepare for More Like It.

Last week, a Pennsylvania judge issued a ruling in a surrogacy case involving the actress Sherri Shepherd. It’s a sad and complicated scenario: Shepherd and her ex-husband, Lamar Sally, conceived a baby using Sally’s sperm, a donor’s egg, and a surrogate’s womb. Shepherd and Sally split in the middle of the pregnancy, and Shepherd subsequently claimed that she was tricked into signing the surrogacy documents so that Sally might get more money from her in the form of child support. Shepherd disavowed the child, who was born in August. The Pennsylvania judge ruled that Shepherd’s name must go on the birth certificate as the child’s legal mother. Before the ruling, the surrogate’s name was on the certificate, and she, not Shepherd, was held responsible for child support in California.

To complicate matters further, this decision is just from one of three court cases pending in Shepherd and Sally’s split, all of which are in different states. In addition to the Pennsylvania parentage case, which has been decided, there’s a divorce action pending in New Jersey and a child support case pending in California. The surrogate resides in Pennsylvania, where the baby was born; Shepherd filed for divorce in New Jersey, and Sally filed in California.

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This type of dispute is rare, says Raegen N. Rasnic, an attorney at the Seattle law firm Skellenger Bender who focuses on assisted reproduction. Andrew W. Vorzimer, a surrogacy lawyer, told the New York Times in 2014 that there have been 81 cases where intended parents changed their minds about a surrogacy agreement, and 35 in which the surrogate wanted to keep the baby (24 of those involved surrogates whose eggs were also used).

But what leaves the door open for these sorts of disputes is that surrogacy resides in a bit of a legal vacuum. In the United States, “There are not hard and fast rules,” governing surrogacy, Rasnic writes in an email. “Each state sets its own laws governing parentage and assisted reproduction. Most states have no laws at all applicable to surrogacy.” Increasingly, surrogates are residing in different states than intended parents. Ideally, Rasnic says, a written surrogacy contract should include “a choice of law provision specifying which state’s laws will apply to the determination of parentage and to interpretation of the agreement in the event of a dispute.”

Though Shepherd is not a biological parent of this child, Rasnic says the Pennsylvania court made the right decision “from a policy standpoint and from a legal standpoint, because it enforced Shepherd and Lamar’s intent.” A somewhat similar case in the 1990s may have set a precedent for the Pennsylvania court’s decision. A California couple, Luanne and John Buzzanca, commissioned a baby with a donor egg and a surrogate but divorced before the child was born; John did not want to pay child support. At first, the court decided that the child had no legal parents, and John was not responsible—but that decision was overturned because, as the California appeals court decision put it, the baby “never would have been born had not Luanne and John both agreed to have a fertilized egg implanted in a surrogate.”

Despite the fact that Shepherd now claims she was tricked into the surrogacy agreement, her past statements to the press tell a different story. In June 2013, she spoke frankly and jokingly about finding a surrogate to Essence.com. “We’re starting the process of making sure the uterus that we picked is not crazy,” she said back then. And she did sign the papers, even if she now says it was under duress.

So what does it mean that Shepherd has been declared the parent of this baby? It means she’s responsible for child support until the child is 18—or longer, if college support comes into play, says Rasnic. Shepherd can also seek custody or visitation, and the child could be entitled to certain benefits, like Social Security, upon Shepherd’s death. The Pennsylvania ruling does not cover these specifics, though; the specifics will be determined by the other cases pending in Shepherd and Sally’s divorce proceedings.

Though these sorts of complicated messes are rare, they are going to continue to come up. As Joan Heifetz Hollinger, an affiliate of Berkeley Law School’s Center for Reproductive Rights and Justice told me in regard to a different surrogacy mess, “One of the reasons we have so little consensus in this country or in the world, in terms of legality and the most appropriate ways to regulate [surrogacy], is there’s no consensus in the moral and ethical dimensions.” Until such a philosophical consensus is reached, there will unfortunately be real, live children caught in the middle.

April 28 2015 11:50 AM

Latest Sexting Scandal Shows Many Adults Have Some Growing Up to Do

Anna Merlan at Jezebel has uncovered a rash of old-school victim-blaming that's cropped up around a nude photo scandal at Liberty High School in Liberty, Missouri. Eight high school boys have received suspensions of two to 10 days for distributing nude photos of their female classmates around school and online. The girls received a lecture about keeping their pants on. All in all, it's about the best outcome you can expect from a conservative small-town school, in that the school's response was focused on the issue of consent.

But no good deed goes unpunished, and people in the town, stoked by provocative news coverage from the local Fox affiliate, are furious that the girls aren't getting punished alongside the boys.

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Fox 4 fired up the controversy by posting a poll asking, among other things, if the decision was correct or if the girls should have been suspended, too. Eighty percent of the thousands who responded said that the girls should have been suspended. Fox 4 then doubled down, with a choice quote from Liberty-based lawyer Eric Vernon: “I think if a young woman was to take a picture of herself, and then send it, that arguably, that’s a worse crime than what the young man did in just receiving it, because she’s the one that produced it, and she’s the one that distributed it, and those things are fairly serious felonies.”

This is missing the point entirely, since the pictures only came to light because the boys shared them. The problem with sexting isn't that women and teen girls are sexual and want use modern technology to share their sexuality (privately). The issue here is, once more with feeling, consent, and why you shouldn't share pictures like this without it. 

It's time for a nationwide reckoning on sexting. It's clearly not a temporary fad but, like oral sex and Rule 34, a permanent part of modern American sexuality. We need to move onto the second phase, which should involve educating people—especially young people—on how to sext responsibly. While some risk reduction should be taught (only sext with people you trust, consider keeping your face out of pictures), the bulk of this education should be focused on respect and consent. While so many adults who should know better are ranting and raving about these girls and their phone pictures, at least Liberty High School is, however imperfectly, modeling the way that adults should address the issue with young people.

April 27 2015 4:36 PM

Girls Who Play Minecraft Can Now Play Minecraft as Girls

Fans of Minecraft—especially girls—have long felt frustrated that the only default character available in the popular building game is a man. Now, the game's programmers have announced that players will get a lady option. The Washington Post describes this new character, Alex, as "a seemingly female character with thinner arms, pinker lips, and a swoop of hair around her neck," in contrast to default character Steve, "a bulky man with short, dark hair and a 5 o'clock shadow." Owen Hill of Mojang, the game studio that created Minecraft, explains that this move will better "represent the diversity of our playerbase."

This announcement contrasts dramatically with a blog post written in 2012 by Markus Persson, the founder of Mojang and original lead developer of Minecraft: "The human model is intended to represent a Human Being," Persson wrote. "Not a male Human Being or a female Human Being, but simply a Human Being." The name "Steve" was just a joke, Persson said; it was just an accident that the "blocky shape gives it a bit of a traditional masculine look"; his intention with Minecraft was to create a world where "gender doesn’t even exist."

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The problem with that logic is that the supposedly genderless character looks very male, right down to his stubble. In a sense, it's worse to call that character genderless, because that just reinforces the sexist notion that "male" is the default status of human beings and that women are the deviation. That's not the lesson you want to be imparting to girls who look to this game to empower them and provide a creative outlet. 

Minecraft isn't unique when it comes to the gender-default problem, which has been around since a little yellow circle named Pac-Man. In one of the videos in her series "Tropes vs Women in Video Games," Anita Sarkeesian laid out how "male" is treated as the default in video games. Even when designers do bother to create female characters, they don't have the kinds of rounded personalities that male characters get—being female is all you need to know about her. The most obvious example is the Super Mario series, where you get a variety of male characters and ... the Princess.

Earlier this year, 12-year-old Madeline Messer wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post demonstrating that the default character on most phone games was male, and that you had to pay money to access female characters in most of the apps. The op-ed sufficiently embarrassed the makers of one game, Temple Run, that they promised to offer a default female character for free

April 27 2015 2:05 PM

A Woman Alone Is Not Necessarily a Lonely Woman

Jesse Singal at Science of Us highlights a new study about the value of having fun in public all by yourself. Studies in the Journal of Consumer Research showed that people are often afraid to partake in leisure activities solo, mostly because they fear others' assumptions “that they could not find friends to accompany them.” However, when authors Rebecca Ratner and Rebecca Hamilton encouraged college students—over protests—to visit an art museum alone, they found that the solo museum-goers had just as much fun as the people who brought friends.* 

It's a small study but an intriguing one, and it hopefully will compel more of its kind. This particular research isn't about gender, but anecdotal evidence suggests that women feel this fear of going out by themselves more keenly than men do. Part of this is practical; being a woman alone in public often means men will bother you. But part of it is psychological, a fear that women are more likely to be judged as lonely if they're seen out by themselves. This fear that people will pity you if you are eating or otherwise doing fun things in public by yourself is so serious that Cressida Howard of Gloucestershire, England, created the Invite for a Bite website in 2012, so that strange women who otherwise might dine alone can find each other and instead sit together. 

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Doing stuff by yourself really isn't as scary or off-putting as you might think. I haven't been single in nearly a decade, but I've maintained my tendency to take off and do all sorts of things by myself without drafting my partner to join me. It helps if you have interests that your friends don't share—not having to worry if your companion is bored with your activity of choice more than makes up for the occasional pitying look you get from someone who assumes a woman alone must be a lonely woman. 

One of the most important lessons you learn as a woman who likes to go about solo is that far fewer people are looking at you than you think. Women are socialized to feel as if we're on constant display, but I've learned over the years that most people are too busy with their own lives and concerns to pause quizzically over the woman who asks for a table for one. Plus, now that everyone has a smartphone, there's no reason to be bored because you have no one to talk to. Just stay off Facebook—you're cheating yourself out of your precious time alone. 

*Correction, April 27, 2015: This post originally misspelled Rebecca Hamilton’s last name.

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