The XX Factor
What Women Really Think

June 24 2016 5:08 PM

Without EU Employment Protections, U.K. Women May Suffer After Brexit

The United Kingdom’s decision to #Brexit the European Union on Thursday will have far-reaching effects on economies, politics, and environmental well-being around the globe. As in all geopolitical turmoil, women will bear a disproportionate share of the burden of change as their rights and protections hinge on a U.K. untethered from a progressive, stabilizing force.

In the Telegraph last week, feminist journalist Caroline Criado-Perez outlined the many steps toward gender justice the EU has fomented in the U.K. over the past few decades. In matters of employment rights, sexual harassment, and equal pay, the EU has prodded the U.K. time and time again to do better by its women. Once the nation is no longer subject to the broader protections the EU requires, women of the U.K. may see their country regress on issues integral to their prosperity and fair treatment.

June 24 2016 1:57 PM

GOP Excludes Birth Control From Zika Bill, Playing Political Games with Children’s Health

There’s good news and bad news on the Zika front this week. Good news first: After months of stalling since the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention begged Congress for funding to halt a looming outbreak, Republicans have finally made a move to get money into the hands of public health professionals. In the wee hours of Thursday morning, House Republicans passed a bill almost straight down party lines allocating $1.1 million to fighting the mosquito-borne Zika virus, which is rapidly spreading throughout Latin and Central America.

Where to begin with the bad news? The funding bill is still $800 million short of the number the White House deemed necessary to mount an adequate defense against a Zika epidemic. The $1.1 billion the House did approve redirects $107 million from the budget used to fight Ebola, even though the deadly virus is still a threat to the U.S. And in a move that will thoroughly undercut the bill’s efficacy, Republicans devoted no resources to the distribution of contraceptives and condoms and stipulated that none of the Zika-prevention funding should go to Planned Parenthood or other family planning groups. Instead, the funding will go toward diagnostic efforts, mosquito control, and vaccine development.

June 24 2016 9:32 AM

New Hampshire’s the Latest State to Make Requesting Flextime a Little Bit Easier

Requesting flexible working arrangements is a risky endeavor. Numerous studies have found that when men and women sought flexible schedules, they were evaluated more negatively and less likely be recommended for a raise or a promotion than people who didn't. Men experienced this worse than women. The absence of flexible workplaces is considered by some to be an explanation for why the number of American women in the workforce has declined over the last two decades, with the number of married women in the workforce the lowest it’s been in 25 years.

Undoing the stigma against flextime, a shift that would help us move past the tired men-are-breadwinners-and-women-are-caregivers mindset, is something workplaces have long resisted. Now a new law in New Hampshire is attempting to normalize such flextime requests, by requiring businesses to listen to them. This is the second such law in the country, following Vermont’s 2013 passing of an equal pay bill that includes similar protections. San Francisco offers similar protections to caregivers, and similar legislation is being considered in other cities as well.


The legislation is fairly simple. It gives workers the right to request a flexible arrangement and demands only that their employers explain, if the request is denied, why it is “inconsistent with business operations.” Under the law, employers are also forbidden from firing, threatening or discriminating against the employee for making such a request. Emma Plumb, director of the advocacy group 1 Million for Work Flexibility, said that while caregivers stand to benefit the most from such legislation, it could help other groups, including those with a disease or chronic health condition, the elderly who are not ready or can’t afford to retire but would like a reduced workload, and military spouses who move around a lot with their partners.*

New Hampshire State Sen. Dan Feltes, the bill’s sponsor, said he got behind the law because he wanted to help working families, but it wasn’t hard to convince state Republicans that it is good for businesses, too. New Hampshire’s population is aging, and he wagers that policies like this one will help make the state more attractive to young families looking for a welcoming environment.

“Once you lay out the business case for it, that it enhances worker retention, greater job satisfaction, and that companies are losing workers because they are too afraid to request flexibility, it becomes clear that it is good for everyone,” Feltes said.

While there hasn’t been any research testing the effectiveness of these laws to change workplace culture in United States, Joan C. Williams, founding director of the Center for Work-Life Law at the University of California, Hastings College of the Law, says that even though such legislation is “very much a soft touch,” similar efforts in the United Kingdom have been effective. She said the most important aspect of the New Hampshire law is how it protects employees from being discriminated against for asking for flexible arrangements “If, for example you never see a promotion after asking for a more flexible arrangement, which is not an uncommon situation, you can make a case.”

Still, she’s uncertain as to how far such legislation can take us in instigating real change.

“What I’ve always said, what I’ve been saying since 1989, is that we need to redefine the ideal worker as someone who has caregiver responsibilities. It has gotten nothing but worse since then,” Williams said. “These [laws] are nice, but how much impact they will have on our definition of the ideal worker is the question.”

Despite the growing discussion of work/life balance in recent years, American workplaces are actually becoming less flexible—the reason why so many are saying goodbye to traditional 9-to-5 jobs and joining the less financially secure gig economy or cooking up alternative arrangements. Writing in the New York Times, journalist Tara Siegel Bernard pointed to studies showing that employers are cutting back on programs that would allow workers to reduce hours to take care of a family member, leave programs for dads and adopted parents, and pay given to birth mothers during maternity leave. Also disappearing are programs that evaluate workers by what they accomplish rather than hours worked.

Employers are becoming more flexible about where employees work, but not about how much they work. This shift toward telecommuting is a relief for many, as it allows them to avoid commute time or to work after the baby falls asleep. But it doesn’t do anything to correct for the fact that Americans work some of the longest hours in the world, nor does it help the many for whom telecommuting is not an option.

“The people who have the least access to flexible work arrangements are the ones who need it to the most,” said Jennifer Fraone, associate director of the Boston College Center for Work & Family. “These are workers who are working on an hourly basis and juggling caring for their children and parents at the same time. It’s feasible to think that these new laws might help get their managers to stop and consider their employees’ requests and whether or not they can be met.”

Correction, June 24, 2016: This post originally referred to the advocacy group 1 Million for Work Flexibility as 1 Million for Workplace Flexibility.

June 24 2016 8:14 AM

Caring About Strong Handshakes Is Sexist

Occasionally when I meet someone who gives me a good, strong handshake, thereby communicating his or her (usually his) steadfast belief in the importance of a firm handshake, I will give his hand my customary light quiver and think, Welp, he probably thinks I am weak. Maybe I lack confidence; maybe it’s my underdeveloped upper-body strength; maybe I’m just above such superficialities; but to me, it’s always felt more natural to gently clasp hands—enchanté!—than to squeeze the other person’s with much force.

Now I can blame it on my generation, too. In recent weeks, several news outlets have reported on a study that that found that millennials give weak handshakes. More precisely, it was a study on grip strength, published in the Journal of Hand Therapy: Researchers at Winston-Salem State University tested the grips of men and women under 30 using something called a dynamometer, and their results indicated that young people’s hand strength has declined since 1985. The study’s authors asserted that this is probably due to people spending less time working with their hands and more time on their ding-dang cellphones.

June 23 2016 6:17 PM

The First Openly Gay Miss America Contestant Will Compete This Year. How Should We Feel?

This September’s Miss America competition will mark an important milestone for the 95-year-old institution: Erin O’Flaherty, who was crowned Miss Missouri on Saturday, will be the first openly gay contestant to compete for the crown.

O’Flaherty, 23, told St. Louis alt-weekly the Riverfront Times that she hopes to “open up people’s eyes and minds a little bit” with her public platform. She’s well aware that her win might bring escalated harassment—she said she had “concerns” about coming out in public when she was 18 because “progressive is not exactly a word people might think of when you think Missouri.”

June 23 2016 2:58 PM

A New Study Suggests Disney Princess Culture Is Bad for Girls but Potentially Good for Boys

A new study has found an association between engagement with Disney princess culture and body image issues in young girls, confirming what many parents have long suspected. Girls and boys who consumed more princess media and played with more princess toys were more likely to display traditionally feminine behavior, researcher Sarah Coyne found, while boys who spent more time with princess stuff were more likely to have higher self-esteem.

Published in Child Development, the Brigham Young University study analyzed the behavioral patterns of 198 preschoolers. Of the study participants, 96 percent of the girls and 87 percent of the boys had seen some Disney princess media in their lives; four percent of the boys and more than 61 percent of the girls used princess toys at least once per week. Coyne observed the children and noted the frequency and depth of their engagement with Disney princess products, then did the same a year later.

June 22 2016 5:50 PM

New York City Council Approves Free Tampons and Pads in Schools, Prisons, and Shelters

The New York City Council unanimously decided on Tuesday to fund the provision of menstrual supplies in all city public schools, prisons, and homeless shelters. Once Mayor Bill DeBlasio signs the bill package, which he is expected to do, women and girls with some of the greatest barriers to adequate menstrual hygiene will have access to free pads and tampons.

Proposed by council member Julissa Ferreras-Copeland, the new legislation is the first of its kind in the U.S. Currently, in some schools, girls have to wait for an overburdened nurse to give her a pad or tampon, sometimes missing class in the process. In others, girls must go through multiple school employees or sign a list explaining why they didn’t bring a pad or tampon to school, Ferreras-Copeland told New York magazine. Many people have heard that unmet need for menstrual health productscauses girls to miss school in other countries, but in a city like New York, where more than 76 percentof students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, it’s also not unheard of.

June 22 2016 5:07 PM

This Bill Would Finally Put More Changing Tables in Men’s Restrooms   

Over the past few years, daddy blogs have become more and more popular as fathers chronicle the unique obstacles they face. One of the greatest, and perhaps the most fixable, of all their problems is the struggle to locate restrooms with changing tables. Fathers have found themselves forced to change their babies’ diapers on bathroom floors, knees, on top of toilet seats, and sometimes on the hoods of their cars (a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do). To address this complaint, some buildings offer family bathrooms where both mothers and fathers can tend to their children’s needs. But the fact that most women’s restrooms contain changing tables while most men’s restrooms don’t is a ridiculous reflection of outdated assumptions.


June 22 2016 12:52 PM

Rep. Steve King Tries, Fails to Unite America by Keeping Harriet Tubman Off the $20 Bill

America has cleared the second major hurdle in its quest to get a woman on U.S. paper currency. First, earlier this year, Hamilton fans looked like they might derail the effort to put a woman on the $10 for the sake of the “ten-dollar Founding Father.” Fortunately, current secretary Jack Lew, who’s a bit #Ham4Ham himself, opted to leave the Broadway muse on the $10 and put American hero Harriet Tubman on the $20 instead, relegating genocidal slave-owner Andrew Jackson to the back of the bill.

Then, this week, Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) proposed a Congressional challenge to Tubman’s rightful place of honor, filing an amendment to a Treasury Department funding bill that would have forbidden officials from altering currency to include Tubman’s image. On Tuesday night, the Rules Committee blocked King’s amendment from reaching the floor of Congress.

June 22 2016 10:36 AM

Pope Francis Marriage Shocker!

Pope Francis is a remarkable religious leader in part because he acts more like a jazz soloist than a marching-band leader. Instead of guiding his followers through practiced routines based on a shared score, he riffs alone and then traipses backwards, making up his own melodies and repeating old themes in new keys. He’s a joy to listen to, even—or especially—if you have no idea where he’s going.

Last week, Francis casually improvised on a favorite theme when he remarked that “the great majority” of Catholic sacramental marriages are invalid, or null. As the Catholic News Agency reported, he blamed a contemporary “culture of the provisional” that puts people in a mindset where everything is temporary. “They say ‘yes, for the rest of my life!’ but they don’t know what they are saying,” the pope said, answering an audience question after an address to the Diocese of Rome. “They say it, they have good will, but they don’t know.” He invoked a young man he had heard about who wanted to become a priest—another lifetime vow, ostensibly—but for only 10 years; he also remarked that some cohabiting couples have “the grace of a real marriage” because of their faithfulness.


So a religious leader is lamenting that kids these days don’t take marriage seriously. What else is new? To understand how shocking this is, a quick primer on the concept of “Catholic marriage,” which means more than just a marriage of two Catholics. To be viewed as properly married by the church, Catholics must fulfill a number of requirements, including having “the intention to marry for life, to be faithful to one another, and be open to children.” So for the pope to say most Catholic marriages are not valid is much more serious than saying “most people don’t take marriage seriously.”

Catholicism frames marriage somewhat paradoxically as both a totally natural human state and one that requires hitting specific marks to attain. In one fell swoop, the pope appeared to suggest that the majority of well-meaning everyday Catholics cannot successfully achieve true marriage—and, by the way, is it really so important anyway?

Conservative Catholics are not pleased with this, to put it mildly. New York Times columnist Ross Douthat, already a sharp critic of the pope’s approach to marriage, unleashed a 21-part tweetstorm. “From a Catholic perspective, the West's obvious problem is too few marriages, not too many invalid ones,” Douthat wrote, lamenting the pope’s “weird and un-Catholic counsel of despair.” Another influential observer compared the implications of the pope’s remarks to a “nuclear winter.”

Three years into Francis’s papacy, it’s getting hard for some of his critics to conceal their disdain for his style. “It turns out that the pope isn't just unguarded and especially candid,” columnist Michael Brendan Dougherty wrote in The Week. “He’s juvenile and irresponsible. Maybe even a little stupid.” Dougherty continued:

“What if Catholic marriages are mostly shams, and the sham marriages are mostly Catholic?” is a sophomoric, dorm-room level effusion. And it would be good for a laugh, save for the fact that this was the freaking pope expressing his Olympian contempt for his co-religionists. In effect, he told millions of Catholics that they are not just unmarried, but were incapable of being married, because the modern world has corrupted them and because the Church failed to “catechize” them. This is a view of such sour pessimism, it is hard not to spit.

Hold the spit for now. The Vatican rapidly “clarified” Francis’s remarks, revising the official transcript of the remarks to say that it’s only “a portion” of Catholic marriages that are null, not necessarily “a great majority.” A Vatican spokesman explained that transcripts of the pope’s spontaneous remarks are always reviewed for precision, and sometimes revised after the fact with the pope’s approval. The initial comments, in other words, are just temporary. Talk about a “culture of the provisional.”