The XX Factor
What Women Really Think

April 29 2016 5:15 PM

Doctors in Houston Are Preparing the Pregnant and Would-Be Pregnant for a Zika Outbreak

Though mosquitoes haven’t yet carried the Zika virus to the U.S. mainland, communities in areas that could be affected by a future outbreak are already taking precautions. For pregnant women or women who are trying to get pregnant, the specter of a virus known to cause birth defects is cause for worry or an abrupt change in plans.

In Houston, where the first Zika-carrying mosquitoes will likely hit the U.S. via the Gulf Coast, women who’d planned to start fertility treatments are putting them off if they or their partners have made a recent visit to Central or South America, NPR reports. The city is home to a large number of people who work in the oil industry in jobs that require regular trips to offshore drilling sites in places like Puerto Rico, where 570 people, including 48 pregnant women, have contracted the disease. A Houston fertility doctor told NPR that Zika is the first thing he mentions when people come in wanting to get pregnant.


Doctors along the Gulf Coast are recommending that women who are already pregnant take special precautions to avoid getting bitten by potentially dangerous mosquitoes, just in case some of them are carrying the virus and haven’t yet passed it on to humans in the area. Pregnant women have often avoided using bug sprays containing DEET, due to a lack of information on its safety for fetuses in their first trimester, when most birth defects arise.

But the serious danger we know—Zika-induced microcephaly—is a greater reason for concern than the hypothetical risks of DEET, doctors say. A 2001 study of pregnant women who used DEET daily in their second and third trimesters found that, while DEET can permeate the placenta, it only showed up in the umbilical-cord blood of 8 percent of the newborns, who did not exhibit any signs of abnormal development. An Environmental Protection Agency official told the New York Times that DEET is safe “for pregnant women at any stage,” a position informed by studies of DEET used on pregnant animals.

But insect repellant isn’t enough to protect against Zika-related birth defects, because pregnant women can transmit the disease to a fetus without ever getting bitten: The first proven U.S. case of sexually transmitted Zika cropped up in Dallas earlier this year. Doctors advise men who have a pregnant partner and who have taken a recent trip to a Zika-affected area to wear condoms or abstain from sex for eight weeks, even if they have no symptoms. Since the virus shows up in semen long after it becomes undetectable in the bloodstream, if a man with a pregnant partner does show signs of Zika, he should wear condoms or abstain from sex for six months. Pope Francis himself has loosened the Catholic Church’s customary chokehold on contraception to endorse condom use in these cases.

Even if pregnant women and their partners do exactly as they’re told, they might want extra assurance of their fetus’s normal development, especially since there’s little data about when a Zika-infected woman can pass the infection on to her fetus. For that reason, Houston doctors have established one clinic, and are planning another, for the purpose of testing and counseling women who’ve recently traveled to Zika-afflicted regions. There’s no straightforward method for testing for microcephaly, but doctors at the Houston clinic have come up with a process to check for normal brain and head development in a 15-week ultrasound.

Will pregnant women and their families panic if and when Zika-bearing mosquitoes reach the Texas shores? Of course—the implications of a fetus exposed to Zika are severe and would be frightening to any soon-to-be parent. Is this inevitable panic rational, though? On one hand, Houston could see an amped-up population of mosquitoes this season, thanks to the standing water left by the historic flooding the city saw earlier this month. Peter Hotez, dean of Baylor’s tropical medicine school, told the Christian Post of one of the two types of mosquitoes known to spread Zika, “This is Aedes aegypti heaven right here.”

But things like window screens, air conditioning, and a tendency to spend more hours indoors put most U.S. households at a lower risk of Zika infection than most of the hardest-hit communities in Latin America. Fewer humans to bite means fewer mosquitoes flying Zika around the Gulf Coast. The odds of a Zika crisis the likes of Brazil’s coming to pass in the U.S. are extraordinarily slim. That still may not be much comfort to the pregnant and concerned or to those who’ve postponed a much-desired pregnancy to prepare for the worst.

April 29 2016 1:55 PM

Reporter Who Profiled Melania Trump in a Generally Positive Light Is Inundated With Anti-Semitic Threats

On Wednesday, GQ published a long profile of Melania Trump, possible future First Lady of the United States, by Julia Ioffe. Ioffe is a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine (and an occasional Slate contributor) who was born in Moscow and writes frequently on international politics, which made her an excellent choice to profile Donald Trump’s Slovenian-born wife. Ioffe is also Jewish, which is irrelevant—or would be irrelevant if not for a group of violently abusive Trump supporters who have been inundating Ioffe with threats since her profile was published.

Ioffe’s profile is an impressively reported portrait of a woman who has stayed mostly out of the spotlight (to the extent that that’s possible when you’re married to Donald Trump). In addition to interviewing the model born Melania Knavs, Ioffe talked to a few of her high-school classmates, a former roommates, a stylist and photographers who’ve worked with her, her father’s neighbor—and her half-brother Denis, whose existence has never been reported before. Ioffe discovered that Melania’s father Viktor initially denied that Denis was his son, then fought a court order to pay child support for him, and finally paid up but never made contact with Denis. The incident paints Viktor as a morally dubious character, but it’s a small part of a thorough, fair longform article that generally depicts Melania in a positive light.

April 29 2016 1:08 PM

Fewer Teens (Especially White and Rural Ones) Are Learning About Birth Control

Despite a shift in federal policy away from abstinence-only sex education in recent years, fewer U.S. teens are getting formal instruction about birth control methods. A new data analysis from the Guttmacher Institute found that 60 percent of girls aged 15-19 reported learning about birth control in 2011-13, down from 70 percent in 2006-10. The proportion of teen boys who reported receiving formal instruction about birth control fell from 61 percent to 55 percent during those periods.

The report drew its data from the 2006-10 and 2011-13 National Survey of Family Growth. In addition to declines in birth control education among teen girls, researchers found that, between 2006-10 and 2011-13, the population of girls taught about STIs, HIV/AIDS, and saying no to sex dropped, too. The most precipitous declines occurred in communities outside major metropolitan areas.


Even though programs to prevent teen pregnancy have received more federal funding in recent years, their scope may not be broad enough to have had a significant national impact, researchers say. Abstinence-only sex education programs still get support to the tune of $75 million from the federal government, though Barack Obama cut that spending from his proposed 2017 budget. During the time periods covered by Guttmacher’s analysis, the proportion of teen girls who were taught about saying no to sex but not about birth control grew from 22 to 28 percent.

Birth control education has been waning across the U.S. for some time. The new report notes that, in 1995, 81 percent of teen boys and 87 percent of teen girls said they’d gotten formal instruction on the topic. In less than two decades, those numbers fell by more than 25 points each. Teen pregnancy rates peaked in 1990 and have fallen sharply since, most drastically in states that provide comprehensive sex education, perpetuate cultural attitudes that discourage teen parenthood, and have accessible contraception services.

Numbers released this week from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that births among Hispanic and black teens have fallen by almost half in the past decade, though the rates are still twice as high as that for white teen girls. The new Guttmacher analysis found that the drop in birth-control education was most drastic among white girls, 71 percent of whom said they’d been taught about birth control in 2006-10, compared with 57 percent in 2011-13. The proportion of Hispanic teen girls who learned about birth control dropped just one point in that time period, from 68 percent to 67 percent, and the proportion of black girls actually rose from 68 percent to 69 percent. This discrepancy could be explained by the concentration of teens of color in cities, where comprehensive sex-ed has remained more consistently available, and the focus of teen pregnancy prevention programs on black and Hispanic teens.

Colorado has found a more direct way to prevent teen pregnancy: providing young women with free or low-cost long-acting reversible contraception like intrauterine devices. These devices can last for years—and are much easier for young people to use than condoms or daily oral contraceptives—but a prohibitive up-front cost makes them an unattractive option for many teens and low-income women. Colorado’s program was funded by donors and foundations for years and saw enormous success—between 2009 and 2014, the birth rate among young women aged 15-19 dropped 48 percent, and the birth rate among women aged 20-24 dropped 20 percent. Conservatives have fought the program and denied it an increase in state funding in 2015, but its unassailable benefit to the state convinced Colorado lawmakers to give it $2.5 million for the 2016-17 fiscal year.

Delaware has followed Colorado’s lead with a free-LARC program of its own, and other states are expected to follow suit as legislators and public-health officials consider its drastic impact. Giving teens free IUDs may be a move too progressive for some states, especially those in more socially and politically conservative regions where teen pregnancy rates are often the highest. There, a simple boost for disseminating information about birth control methods would be a welcome baby step.

April 29 2016 8:33 AM

Ralph Lauren’s Olympic Uniforms Are Straight Out of Prep-School Hell

The U.S. Olympic team has unveiled its costumes for this summer’s closing ceremonies, and boy are they preppy. Our nation’s finest physical sporting specimens will bid farewell to Rio de Janeiro clad in striped Ts, button-down shirts, white shorts, red-white-and-blue boat shoes, and “striped cotton bracelets.” The look is straight out of private-school central casting, bursting with enough moneyed leisure vibes to make Ryan Lochte—sport’s doofiest, fist-pumpiest, archetypal bro, for chrissakes—look even douchier.

These country-club digs come courtesy of Polo Ralph Lauren, major general of “WASPy bullshit,” in Jezebel’s apt parlance. The designer has pulled together outfits for Team USA in the past five Olympics, including the London 2012 games, for which Lauren’s uniforms were manufactured in China.

April 28 2016 5:56 PM

Today We Brought Our Kids to Work. You Know Who Else Should Get a Trip to the Office ...

You may have noticed that some of your co-workers are looking particularly young this Thursday. Not young like millennials, usually the token youthful presence around the office—younger. Grade-school young. Shopkins and Legos young. You’ve stumbled upon Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day, observed the fourth Thursday of April at workplaces around the country.

Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day evolved from Take Our Daughters to Work Day, which the Ms. Foundation for Women started in 1992 to encourage girls to pursue careers in all sorts of fields, including male-dominated ones. As the day has strayed from its original purpose—the Ms. Foundationis no longer involved—now it’s mostly seen as a time for kids to gain an understanding of what their parents really do all day (while also getting to skip school) and parents to show off the adorable time and money suckers they’re so proud of. But kids are far from the only people who fail to grasp what some jobs actually entail; there are plenty of people we’d like to invite to the office for a day of education about the places we spend most of our time. As an added benefit, people who don’t have kids can participate in these days too. HR departments, please plan ahead for the following events next year.

April 28 2016 1:36 PM

Oklahoma Court: Making an Unconscious Victim Perform Oral Sex Isn’t Sexual Assault

It’s hard to out-daft the Oklahoma state legislature. In recent months, what is almost certainly the country’s most sadistic and ignorant lawmaking body has proposed banning HIV-positive people from marryingpreventing depressed suicidal queer youth from seeing gay-affirming therapists, andmandating anti-abortion education in public schools. Any day now, the state could authorize a (100-percent unconstitutional) law that would revoke the medical license of any doctor who performs an abortion.

But the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals is proving to be a formidable competitor to the legislature in the state government’s race to the bottom. Last month, the court ruled 5-0 that a boy who allegedly put his genitals in the mouth of an unconscious, intoxicated victim did not commit the crime of forcible sodomy. Oklahoma prosecutors and anti-rape advocates say the ruling is a miscarriage of justice that defies both common sense and decades of legislative and judicial progress on sexual assault.

April 28 2016 1:03 PM

Yale Will Name a New Residential College After Awesome Civil Rights Activist Pauli Murray

Yale University’s year-and-a-half-long naming debate has finally come to a close. In a university-wide message sent Wednesday evening, Yale president Peter Salovey announced that the campus’s two new residential colleges will be named after Anna Pauline Murray and Benjamin Franklin. Salovey also announced that Calhoun College—the residential college named after pro-slavery vice president John C. Calhoun—will keep its name, despite a student- and alumni-led campaign to change it.

The decision to continue memorializing Calhoun is the aspect of Salovey’s announcement that will likely get the most attention, but Yale’s choice to honor Murray is noteworthy, as it represents a departure from the roster of white men whose names grace the facades of the 12 (soon to be 13) other colleges. Murray will be not only the first woman but also the first person of color to serve as a residential college namesake.

April 28 2016 10:05 AM

If You’re the Only Woman or Person of Color Being Considered for a Job, You Won’t Be Hired

According to conventional wisdom, simply getting a foot in the door is a step toward equality for women and people of color in white-male-dominated fields. If hiring managers actually consider and interview women and non-whites, then women and non-whites have a good chance of actually getting ahead on their merits, right?

Maybe not. A series of studies described in a recent Harvard Business Review article indicate that having a single woman or a single person of color among your finalists for the job is effectively equivalent to having zero women or people of color. “If there’s only one woman in your candidate pool, there’s statistically no chance she’ll be hired,” write business professors Stefanie K. Johnson and David R. Hekman and Ph.D. candidate Elsa T. Chan.

April 27 2016 5:27 PM

These Jeans Are Designed to Give You A Wedgie, Which Seems Wrong

Form has officially surpassed function at America’s best-loved dungaree company. For the sake of a more prominent butt, a new line of Levi’s jeans promises to keep wearers in a permanent state of the most common jean malfunction: the wedgie.

Levi’s Wedgie Fit jeans (yes, that is the actual name of the collection) are billed as “the cheekiest jeans in your closet,” because each pair “hugs your waist and hips to showcase your best assets.” I can only assume that the designers were nerds who got noogied and shoved into lockers in their elementary school days and are now reclaiming the terms of their abuse. Levi’s launched the line of pants earlier this year, and it was so popular, the company recently started selling pairs of wedgie shorts.

April 27 2016 1:03 PM

Men Reading Online Harassment to Women Is Powerful to Watch. But Will the Trolls Listen?

Everyone knows it’s easier to spew vitriol on the internet than to confront someone in real life. If it weren’t, the majority of online comment sections would devolve into “no, you hang up” lovefests, and all those Twitter report evaluators would have to find work as peer mediators instead.

On Monday, Just Not Sports, a podcast that covers the non-sports interests of sports figures, tried to use the gap between acceptable internet language and acceptable IRL language to draw attention to the truly gut-wrenching harassment female sports journalists face on an average workday. The hosts roped a bunch of male sports fans into reading aloud some of the tweets and comments online abusers have launched at Sports Illustrated writer Julie DiCaro and ESPN reporter Sarah Spain.