Gender & Sexuality

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...

The Geography of Abortion Access

Mapping the national decline in abortion providers

Flickr/womenscampaignforum
As a collective unit, Americans are pretty keen on the civics-class idea that life in the 6,106,012 square miles of God’s green earth that is the USA is more or less equitable for the 313,847,465 people who have hunkered down to live on the craggy coasts, fruited plains, and purple mountains filled with majesty. We’ve got proportional representation in Congress, a legal system that presumes innocence before guilt, and the ability to walk into any 7-Eleven to get a Slurpee and slice of pizza that will cost you $4 and a year of your life, which has to say something about the level playing field we’ve got going, right? But as we mark the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade , the truth is that access to abortion isn’t anywhere close to equitable for women around the country. In fact, things are worse in certain parts of the U.S. than they were in the 1970s and 1980s. In nearly every state, the total number of abortion providers has dropped since 1978—even in traditionally liberal havens like...

Our Customers Don't Want a Pregnant Waitress

Fox Searchlight
Having a family shouldn’t cost you your job. It does, again and again—especially if you’re female. Which is one of the reasons women’s pay still isn’t equal. I’ll be writing about this in the months to come, but for today, here’s one way having a family can cost you your job: women still get fired for being pregnant. Although it’s been illegal since the 1978 Pregnancy Discrimination Act , women are still refused a job or let go if they’re pregnant. You’d be shocked, EEOC and employment law folks tell me, at how often employers say so point-blank: Come back after you have the baby . The guys don’t want to look at a pregnant waitress . Housekeeping is hard work; your pregnancy is a potential liability. Our customers are uncomfortable with a pregnant driver . All that’s illegal. It’s wonderful that we can talk about Sheryl Sandberg going home every day at 5:30 to be with her kids. And it’s wonderful that we can have the advanced conversation about women needing to stand up for themselves...

Homophobia in Sports and Changing Hearts

49ers cornerback Chris Culliver, celebrating his newfound respect for gay people. (AP photo by Paul Spinelli)
Almost all of us, at some time in our youth, had the experience of saying something that turned out to be way more inappropriate than we thought it was, whereupon people turned to us and said, "Dude. Not cool." In most cases, it concerned something we just hadn't thought that much about, and it often occurs when you move from one milieu to another with different mores and ideas, like going from high school to college. Or existing in a world of football players and suddenly finding yourself quoted in the media on a sociopolitical topic because your team is in the Super Bowl, which is what happened to San Francisco 49ers cornerback Chris Culliver. When it happens in your dorm room, someone will explain to you why the joke you made or the term you used was out of line, and you'll probably say, "Huh—I hadn't thought about it that way, but OK." And armed with that knowledge, you'll adapt to your new surroundings and the changing times. But Culliver found himself in hot water when he was on...

The Worst State for Women?

North Dakota joins the list of states reversing decades of gains in gender equality.

Flickr/ ggolan
AP Photo/ James MacPherson I n the past couple of years, so many states have passed laws restricting women’s rights it seems they’re competing for the dubious honor of being the worst place for women to live. Texas rejected federal family-planning funds and is busily whittling away subsidized contraception access for poor women. Virginia passed a series of regulations on abortion clinics aimed at putting them out of business. The governor of Mississippi has been bragging about ending legal abortion in his state. In this new year, though, another state has risen to the top of the competitive field: North Dakota. Anti-abortion activists and legislators in North Dakota have been quite busy. Inspired by a Mississippi law , the North Dakota Legislature is considering a measure that could close the state’s only clinic—the Red River Women’s Clinic in Fargo—by requiring that it employ only doctors who have privileges allowing them to admit patients to a local hospital. Because the clinic is...

Leave Julia Alone!

Obama campaign
The life of Julia at age 27 In early May, shortly after the peak of the GOP's war-on-women problem, the Obama campaign released a simple online infographic that inspired outrage from conservative commentators. Titled "The Life of Julia," the slideshow followed a hypothetical woman named Julia throughout various stages of her life in order to compare Obama's policies to the ones proposed by Mitt Romney. At age three, toddler Julia plays with a bead maze and enjoys the benefits of Head Start under Obama's America, while the infographic warns that Romney would cut Head Start by 20 percent. By age 27 the adult Julia is a web designer—a knowing wink to the young urban hipsterati loathed by conservatives—whose birth control is covered by her health insurance thanks to Obamacare's reforms, but would have lost those if Romney had his way. It was silly, simple fodder that should have faded quickly amid the deluge of media noise. Except conservatives took it as the symbol of all that is wrong...

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