Gender & Sexuality

Toxic Masculinity

AP Photo/Herald Star, Mark Law
AP Photo/Herald Star, Mark Law Judge Thomas Lipps listens to arguments in Jefferson County Juvenile Court in a case involving two Ohio high school football players charged with raping a 16-year-old girl. L ast summer, two young football players in the Ohio town of Steubenville carried the unconscious body of a local girl from party to party, violating her in ways you’d probably prefer not to think about. (I’m not pretending this incident is merely “alleged,” because there’s video and this column isn’t a court of law.) Today, she’ll face her attackers in court for the first time. It’s a brave act, as she surely knows she’ll not only be facing down the boys who did this to her, but also the adults whose jobs it is to blame her and call her a liar. Only she can know what will make this sacrifice worthwhile: Is it enough for her to be heard in court? Will it only be healing if the boys are convicted? Whatever it is she needs, I hope she gets it. But rape prosecutions are argued on behalf...

Sheryl Sandberg’s Can-Do Feminism

AP Photo/Gregory Bull
AP Photo/Gregory Bull Sheryl Sandberg at a luncheon for the American Society of News Editors in San Diego in 2011 I n 1956, when Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg entered Harvard Law School, her class of more than 500 students included nine women and one black man. Erwin Griswold, the school’s dean, summoned the nine women and asked each to answer a question: How could she justify taking a place that would otherwise have gone to a man? Griswold would later insist he’d just been playing devil’s advocate. Ginsburg, who still tells this story with a tinge of resentment, emerged from the meeting determined to prove him wrong. A half-century later, Angie Kim, Harvard Law School class of ’93, surveyed 226 women in her class. A decade and a half after graduating, almost one-third of the women described themselves as stay-at-home mothers, which they indicated was a temporary status; nearly another third had arranged “mommy track” part-time or flexible work. With numbers like these among women with...

Life at the Bottom

Flickr/Sport Suburban
Flickr/SportsSuburban A female cashier at the McDonalds in Spokane, Washington. T he release of 2012 minimum-wage data last Wednesday—which shows that the number of minimum-wage workers has fallen but is still higher than any period since 1998—has underscored the importance of making good on Obama’s pledge of raising the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $9 an hour. As many have pointed out, women stand to benefit disproportionately from the increase: Two-thirds of the country’s roughly 1.6 million minimum-wage workers are women. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the data show that work at the bottom of the pay scale tends to be highly segregated by gender—the three largest occupational groups, making up 67 percent of minimum-wage jobs, are 65 percent female—and includes jobs historically performed by women such as child care and home health services. According to experts, the problem is twofold: While essential, businesses tend to underpay for these types of work, a problem compounded by the...

Rand Paul's Blinkered Libertarianism

Gage Skidmore / Flickr
Gage Skidmore / Flickr Rand Paul at a book signing at LPAC 2011 in Reno, Nevada. Even if you disagree with Senator Rand Paul's broader politics, there's something inspiring about a politician willing to speak at length—and at some discomfort—for what he believes in. That's even more true when you consider the subject—civil liberties. Paul joins many other civil libertarians in his disdain for targeted killings, the administration's drone policy, and its general approach to due process. Still, for all of Paul's eloquence on this sphere of civil liberties, he's decidedly less interested in the other areas where government uses the threat of force to compel action. Paul's brand of civil libertarianism—the war on drugs as assaults on freedom—doesn't extend to women's bodily autonomy. In his two years as the junior senator from Kentucky, Paul has supported "personhood" legislation (which would outlaw abortion and put major restrictions on several forms of contraception), threatened to...

Yet Another Thing Guns Can't Solve

Flickr/ Texas Lightbox
The GOP is worried about women’s safety on campus. Or at least that’s what they’d have you believe of late, howling in protest at Colorado state Democratic representative Joe Salazar’s clumsy remarks about callboxes , and calling out the University of Colorado for teaching young women to vomit, pee, or tell an assailant they have their period in order to avoid rape . And they’re right: Neither call boxes nor vomit are particular effective rape-prevention strategies. Most rapists choose a victim they know, and get them alone in private before they attack—even a pathway fully lined with call boxes won’t prevent much rape, because most of them happen in rooms. And I’m not sure what vomit is supposed to accomplish; rape isn’t inspired by sexual desire, so attempting to douse it is a misdirected strategy. Rapists choose targets they think seem vulnerable, not hot. But there’s a bigger problem with Repubicans’ newfound passion for rape prevention. Their antidote to callboxes and puke is...

Victory for the Violence Against Women Act

Phil Roeder / Flickr
Early this morning, the House of Representatives passed the Senate's version of the Violence Against Women Act, which includes the protections for LGBT victims, immigrants, and Native Americans that House Republicans rejected at the end of last year. As Amanda Marcotte writes , "their ongoing resistance to this popular legislation was starting to make them look like monsters," and so they caved. The bill will soon head to the president's desk, and once signed, the federal government will—again—begin providing funds to better prosecute violence against women, and to assist shelters and services for victims of domestic abuse. It's an unqualified piece of good work by a Congress that has been slow to do "good" and "work" for the last two years. There's also an important political point to take away from this. The House passed the VAWA by a vote of 286 to 138, with all Democrats voting in favor. Only 87 Republicans voted to support the bill. The remaining members of the GOP conference...

Leaning Out—of This Fight

AP Photo/Keystone, Laurent Gillieron, File
I am leaning in just a little as I write this. OK, I’m not. But I am feeling a little sick as I ponder the next unpleasant installment of the “mommy wars” that’s hurtling toward us. This past Friday, The New York Times’ Jodi Kantor assembled the ingredients for yet another bitter and prolonged back-and-forth about women and work. At its center is Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead , a new book that purports to show American women the way out of our relative powerlessness. In it, Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook, gives women advice on how to assume leadership roles by, among other things, understanding our strengths and reassessing how we hold our bodies in business meetings. On the other side of the ring, we have Anne Marie Slaughter , the Princeton Professor and former Obama Administration official, who with her viral “we can’t have it all” essay in The Atlantic this past summer, can serve as a foil to the first. Finally, critically, we have the media , who (myself...

Why Old Men Love Being Naked in the Locker Room

Why are these men smiling? (Flickr/Boston Public Library)
What is it with old men in the locker room? If you're a man, and you've been to a gym, or the Y, or the JCC, you know what I'm talking about. In locker rooms, there's a nearly straight-line correlation between a gentleman's age and the time he enjoys spending chatting with other people, or merely walking about, with his junk on display for all to see. Not long ago I was in a locker room and saw two men talking, one of whom was a 60-ish fellow standing completely naked, holding forth on something or other. I left, worked out, and came back 45 minutes later to find the guy still standing there in the altogether; the only thing that had changed was that his previous conversation partner had managed to slip away, and he was now having an animated discussion with someone else. I don't know whether this is a particularly American phenomenon or it's world-wide, but it's been true in every multi-age locker room I've ever visited, and apparently I'm not the only one who has noticed. Here's Max...

Oscar-Worthy Outrage

Conservatives pretend to care about rape on campus. It's not convincing.

I f you’ve been tuning into the right-wing media this week, you might be startled to discover a seeming concern about preventing rape. But don’t get too excited: It’s nothing but a gambit to persuade the public on issues of gun safety. It all started in Colorado, where the legislature is debating whether to ban concealed weapons on college campuses. One of the favorite arguments offered by gun advocates for concealed carry on campus is that arming college women prevents rape. On the floor of the state House, Democratic representative Joe Salazar addressed this claim : It’s why we have call boxes, it’s why we have safe zones, it’s why we have the whistles. Because you just don’t know who you’re gonna be shooting at. ... You don’t know if you feel like you’re gonna be raped, or if you feel like someone’s been following you around or if you feel like you’re in trouble when you may actually not be, that you pop out that gun and you pop … pop a round at somebody. Admittedly, it was a badly...

Stopping Domestic Violence: A Radical Feminist Idea?

AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin
AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, accompanied by fellow House Democrats, discusses the reintroduction of the Violence Against Women Act. O f all the strange choices made by the GOP in recent years, the sudden opposition to the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) is among the most confusing. The act had long counted on bipartisan support for its reauthorization—George W. Bush signed it without incident in 2005—but now Republicans in the House seem intent on killing it. Republicans haven’t suddenly morphed into evil comic-book villains who openly support rape and wife-beating, so what gives? Obviously, Republicans don't want voters to think they have it in for victims of gender-based violence. But the objections being offered by VAWA opponents are inconsistent or nonsensical. Some say the law represents an unconstitutional overreach and takes away state and local jurisdiction over domestic violence; in fact, the act provides federal support to local law...

A Valentine's Day Vote for Same-Sex Marriage

Flickr/Shira Golding
For Illinois's same-sex couples wishing to wed, the Valentine's Day candy should be extra sweet. The state senate is expected to vote on a same-sex marriage bill today. “This is an exciting time to be a gay-rights lawyer,” Camilla Taylor, counsel for Lamdba Legal, told me. Taylor has good reason to be excited. With a Democratic supermajority, just about everyone expects the chamber will pass the measure. Then the bill will go to the House, where the leadership is also supportive. The news is part of a larger trend. Many expect the number of states recognizing same-sex marriage to grow significantly this year; activists have their sights set on five different states—Illinois, Rhode Island, Delaware, Minnesota, and Hawaii. All have supportive governors and Democratic majorities in the legislature. In New Jersey, where Republican governor Chris Christie vetoed a marriage-equality bill last year, people are working to build enough support to overturn his decision. Nine states already...

Crowdsourcing Sexual-Assault Prevention

Egypt's HarassMap and its efforts to end sexual violence

AP Images
Two years after Mohamed Bouazizi lit himself on fire in an act of protest that sparked revolutions across the Middle East, the Arab Spring smolders with grief and a lingering sense of lost purpose. For Egyptians, their revolution’s anniversary is both a joyful remembrance and a haunting torment, a reminder that while one Pharaoh was toppled another still reigns. For Egypt's women, the lack of political freedom is especially acute. The 2011 uprising featured a kaleidoscope of head scarves in Tahrir Square and the winding city avenues rumbled not just with furious men but with daring, defiant women. But since then, the revolution has exposed and aggravated Egypt’s gender inequality; harassment of women—especially politically active ones—has become a troublingly regular feature of the country’s day to day existence. Charged with heightened symbolism and exposed to the harsh light of international press, several episodes mark the disarray and discord of revolutionary Egypt. After being...

What Will It Take to Stop Violence Against Women?

Flickr/ Donovan Shortey
My lord, it’s a privilege opining in this spot week after week. But periodically I get a hankering to dig deeply into meaty and underreported issues, so that I can return with something more informed to say. In collaboration with broadcast journalist Maria Hinojosa’s The Futuro Media Group, we’ve landed a seed grant to do just that. I’ll return to blogging in April. The topic is one on which I’ve written here with passion: violence against women, which House Republicans don’t seem to believe merits a law . In all its forms, this is an epidemic that impoverishes and scars on women and their families in ways that can last generations. A few years ago, Hinojosa and I discovered that we were both passionate about telling the untold stories—and exploring the potential policy solutions—of this ongoing public health emergency. While our country has come a long way in the decades since advocates first introduced the concepts of "domestic violence," "no means no," "sexual harassment," and "...

Going Back Too Soon

Without pay, many new parents can’t take the time off granted them by the FMLA.

AP Photo/Greg Gibson
Rex Features via AP Images P erla Saenz went back sore and exhausted just four weeks after giving birth—and two weeks after the incision from her C-section reopened. (She had heard her older child cough in the night and instinctively tried to pick him up, forgetting for a moment her doctor’s warning against lifting anything heavier than ten pounds.) Weak and sometimes feverish, she often found herself clutching the counter for support. Bernadette Cano was back on the job five weeks after giving birth. Though she was in better physical shape, she wasn’t ready to be apart from her son. “I was thinking about the baby all the time,” she told me tearfully from the break room of Walmart, where she worked in the dressing room. Under normal circumstances, she enjoyed the job tidying up the dressing rooms and returning clothes to the racks. But with her newborn son at home, she couldn’t think of anything else and even broke the company policy against texting so she could check in with her...

A Contraception Compromise

Stacy Lynn Baum / Flickr
Last year, as part of implementation for the Affordable Care Act, the Obama administration rolled out a rule on contraception that inspired a huge backlash from religious conservatives and began the “war on women” fight that extended through the presidential campaign. In short, Health and Human Services required all employers to include contraception in health insurance plans, without extra charge. Religious institutions could receive an exemption as long as they met particular requirements: Said organizations had to be nonprofits who mainly employed co-religionists, and had “the inculcation of religious values” as their primary purpose. This definition precluded exemptions for certain religious charities—like Catholic hospitals—which prompted a variety of lawsuits, as well as a huge political spectacle that tarnished Republicans for the rest of the year. But the Obama administration listened to complaints, and has adopted a new definition of “religious organization” that’s a little...