Gender & Sexuality

2012's War on Women

Flickr/Vince Connare
For the ladies, the year’s sound track could have been a strangled gasp, followed by snorting and laughing out loud. The attacks on women’s health, on contraception, on abortion, on the definition of rape—it was all so over the top that very early on it seemed that the Republicans were determined to get out the ladies’ vote for the Democrats in 2012. In one outrageous incident after another, old white dudes and anti-choice women made it clear that they think single women should spend their time smiling modestly, gazing at the floor hoping for a marriage proposal—and that married women should stay barefoot and pregnant, relying on menfolk for pin money and taking care of their babies. By August, it was obvious that women, especially young women and single women, would turn out in force to be sure that President Obama kept the keys to the White House. And we did. We shook up the capital with an electoral genderquake. But before we hoist our year-end champagne, let’s recall some of the...

States of Play

Flickr/Paul Weaver
If you’d forgotten just how much state legislatures impact citizens’ day-to-day lives, 2012 was a year full of reminders. From unions to health care to basic civil rights, states have a tremendous amount of power in shaping public policy. That’s no secret to groups like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which offers model bills lawmakers can introduce and has pushed issues like voter ID and the “Stand Your Ground” bills that many believed helped pave the way for the Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis shootings in Florida. Thanks to a whistleblower and Common Cause, a nonpartisan good government group that supports a variety of reforms to campaign finance and lobbying, a number of ALEC’s tactics were exposed this year, and many lawmakers and corporate members dropped their affiliation with the controversial group this year. Many state debates took on national significance this year, especially those involving birth control, abortion, and unions. Both the right and the left...

Prostitution for the Price of a Happy Meal

Why food-stamp bans are perpetuating risky behaviors among America’s most vulnerable

AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast, file
Carla walked into my office with despair in her eyes. I was surprised. Carla has been doing well in her four months out of prison; she got off drugs, regained custody of her kids, and even enrolled in a local community college. Without much prodding she admitted to me that she had retuned to prostitution: “I am putting myself at risk for HIV to get my kids a f---ing happy meal.” Despite looking high and low for a job, Carla explained, she was still unemployed. Most entry-level jobs felt out of reach with her drug record, but what’s worse, even the state wasn’t willing to throw her a temporary life preserver. You see, Carla is from one of the 32 states in the country that ban anyone convicted of a drug felony from collecting food stamps. With the release of the Global Burden of Disease Study last week, it bears looking at how we are perpetuating burdens among the most vulnerable Americans with our outdated laws. If she’d committed rape or murder, Carla could have gotten assistance to...

Paying for Having Been Raped

AP Photo/Cliff Owen
Cross your fingers, but it looks a s if Congress is going to let women in the military rely on health insurance to pay for abortions in cases of rape or incest. That’s been a long time coming, as Mother Jones reports : Current Department of Defense policy only provides abortion coverage if the life of the mother is at stake. Under the 1976 Hyde Amendment, federal money cannot be used to provide abortion services, except in the case of rape, incest, or if the woman's life is endangered. But since 1979, the DOD has had an even stricter limit on abortions, refusing to cover them in cases of rape despite the high rate of sexual assaults in the military. (Over 3,000 sexual assaults were reported in the armed services in 2010 alone.) If [New Hampshire Sen. Jeanne] Shaheen's measure passes, the 400,000 women in the armed services will have the same access to abortion that other federal employees get. If a Department of Health and Human Services employee working in Washington, D.C. is raped,...

What Do You Tell the Children?

When the Sandy Hook news first came along, my wife and I had the same instinct: turn off the news before the boy gets home. We’re practiced, here, in information lockdown; we’ve protected him from hearing about Aurora or the Sikh temple or any other of the mass shootings. There would be no NPR and no TV news; newspapers would go face down, into a private pile, where he couldn’t see a headline. The fact that someone had shot up a school whose oldest children were in his grade, maybe two hours from where we live, was not a fact we wanted to enter his emotional world. Every parent I know had a different strategy, and rightly so. Every child is different. Ours has long had a particular anxiety about “bad guys” breaking in and trying to hurt him or his family. His mom is a prosecutor; while she doesn’t talk details, he does know there are some really bad people in the world who do bad things, and that when she can she keeps them in jail. His Lego projects have regularly included jails...

While You Weren’t Looking, Michigan Turned Into Texas

Flickr/CedarBendDrive
The Michigan legislature’s lame duck session is only three weeks long, but the state house didn't need more than 18 hours to move the state sharply to the right. During a marathon session Thursday and Friday, the state house passed a variety of very conservative bills on issues from abortion to gun control to taxes. You can’t say they’re not efficient. The state, which favored Obama by 9 points and has long been home to a moderate-progressive movement, may now have a set of laws that puts it on America’s more conservative end. Perhaps most shocking for pro-choice advocates was the effort to restrict abortion rights—or, as Mother Jones put it, “ the abortion mega-bill. ” Assuming the governor signs the bill into law, women in Michigan will now have to buy separate insurance policies to cover abortion. Otherwise, even in cases of rape or miscarriage, the abortion will not be covered. Clinics that provide more than 120 abortions a year will now face significantly more stringent licensing...

Hillary's Burden

Hillary Clinton is basking in the warm glow of public affection. Her approval ratings have risen steadily since the 2008 campaign ended, and now stand at around 65 percent. She has gotten high marks from members of both parties for her work as Secretary of State. So naturally, since she'll be stepping down soon, speculation has begun about whether she'll run for president. I could add one more uninformed guess about whether she'll run, but what's the point? Nobody knows right now, maybe not even Clinton herself. One thing's for sure: 2016 is her last chance. She'll be 69 on election day, as old as Reagan was when he was first elected. But she's smart enough to know that the current esteem she enjoys will be cut back severely the instant she becomes a candidate. As Nate Silver has detailed , over the years her approval ratings have gone up and down in direct relation to how close she has been to the battle of partisan politics. It's also tempting to forget, when looking at her today,...

For Women Executives, Still Lonely at the Top

(Flickr / Sheraton Hotels and Resorts)
On Monday, the research team at Catalyst released their 2012 Census of women board directors . They found women held just 16.6 percent of board seats in corporate America. As Bryce Covert notes , this is the seventh consecutive year without significant growth in the percentage of women on corporate boards. What can be done? We can look at Norway for one path forward. In 2002 only 7.1 percent of boards consisted of woman. Though up from 3 percent in 1993, progress was slow. This is in a country with significant gender equality, where over 80 percent of women work outside the home. In order to jumpstart gender equality in the boardroom, the Norwegian government decided to use the law to speed things up. In 2002 a trade minister proposed a law requiring 40 percent of company board members to be women by 2005, and in 2003 the Norwegian Government passed it. Compliance with this law was encouraged but voluntary, with no penalties in place. Few companies, only around 20 percent, were...

Whether Scalia Likes It or Not

Flickr/U.S. Mission Geneva
Last week, when the Supreme Court decided to take both the Proposition 8 case, which challenges California's constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage and a challenge to the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which barrs the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages performed in the states, my inner Eeyore got a little carried away. I realized that when Brian Brown—head of the National Organization for Marriage (NOM), the chief opponent of marriage equality, started quoting me in his fundraising e-mails. While I’m honored he would notice, that made me recognize I should explain my thinking more clearly. So here it is: Within ten years, most American states will be marrying same-sex couples. Within 15, the Supreme Court will knock down the remaining bans on marriage equality. All of that could come sooner if the Court rules with us this year in the two gay-marriage cases. But marriage equality is going to win within our lifetimes. (Here, I am morally obligated to...

Jim Moran: How Not to Respond to Domestic Violence

AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite Representative Jim Moran during a 2011 news conference on Capitol Hill W ednesday afternoon, the news broke across D.C. media and disconcertingly excited right-wing blogs that Patrick Moran, the son of Representative Jim Moran, a Democrat from Virginia, had pled guilty to assaulting his girlfriend of six months . The police report stated that two officers saw Moran grab his girlfriend by the back of the head and smash her head into a metal trash can, breaking her nose and fracturing her skull. Sadly, the aftermath of this crime has followed a pattern that prosecutors, police, and anti-violence activists know well: Moran successfully pled down to a slap on the wrist, in this case probation. Moran’s girlfriend is sticking by him , claiming she tripped and fell and that all this is a mistake. This entire pattern of events is what activists call the “cycle of violence,” which is not—despite the inevitable media blather after any domestic-violence incident—the...

Will Defenders of DOMA and Prop. 8 Have a Leg to Stand On?

Wikimedia Commons
The most hotly-debated issue with respect to the Supreme Court's announcement that it will hear two major gay-rights cases is whether it will decide the cases at all. In addition to the crucial substantive issues relating to the constitutional status of sexual orientation, the Court has asked the parties in both the DOMA and Prop. 8 cases to brief questions of "standing." Because the source of the Court's power of judicial review is their authority under Article III to resolve "cases and controversies," parties have to demonstrate that they have a direct stake in the case for the courts to have jurisdiction. In both the the DOMA and Prop. 8 cases, the executive branch—either the White House or the California governor's office—whose law has been held unconstitutional by lower courts has refused to defend it, so there's an argument that nobody has an interest in appealing the decisions. There are two questions about standing and these cases: 1) should the Court find standing, and 2)...

Stop Blaming Single Mothers

Taking male pundits—liberal and conservative—to task for pushing marriage before motherhood.

Flickr / 50s Family
What magic power do single mothers possess that make them the target for so much blame for social ills? What witchery are they engaged in that can turn even liberal men—even those who pride themselves on supporting feminist causes!—into reactionaries breathlessly opining that the poor only have themselves to blame for their sexually incontinent ways? Whatever it is, the latest victim is Nicholas Kristof, once champion of ending sex slavery and improving maternity care, but most recently hitting The New York Times to accuse rural single mothers of turning down perfectly nice offers of marriage and forcing their kids to be illiterate in order to get disability checks from the government. Kristof is but the latest in a long line of mostly male pundits, both liberal and conservative, to argue that the best way to patch up women’s economic concerns is for the little ladies to settle down with one of their no doubt many eligible suitors. Indeed, The New York Times this past month alone has...

Down with DOMA, Up with Prop. 8

Flickr/Brian Kusler
Flickr/Renee Rivers Demonstrators against Propsition 8 at the California Supreme Court building A shrinking violet the Roberts Court is not. Since the chief justice was confirmed in 2005 promising to call “balls and strikes,” the Court unleashed super PACs in its 2010 Citizens United decision, injected itself into the middle of a presidential campaign by taking on the Affordable Care Act earlier this year, and recently heard a case giving it the chance to cut back or end affirmative action. Under Roberts, the Court has a bit of a swagger. Bill Clinton might say they have some brass. True to form, last Friday the Court agreed to hear two cases that could decide the central civil-rights issue of our day: gay marriage. One of the cases concerns the constitutionality of Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which defines marriage for purposes of federal law as between one man and one woman. The second focuses on the constitutionality of Proposition 8, the 2008 California...

How Will SCOTUS Rule on Prop. 8 and DOMA?

WikiMedia Commons
The Supreme Court has announced that it will be hearing both of the major gay-rights cases it was considering this term. Facing constitutional scrutiny are key provisions of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which prohibits the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages performed in the states, and California's Proposition 8, which banned same-sex marriage in the state. When combined with the major affirmative-action and voting-rights cases the court will also be handing down this term, this could be the most consequential Supreme Court term in decades. The two gay-rights cases face slightly different prospects. As I've said before, the argument that DOMA infringes on states' rights is likely to appeal to both Justice Anthony Kennedy's sympathy for gay rights and his skepticism of federal power. I would not even be shocked if Justice Clarence Thomas joined an opinion striking down the heart of the law, Section 3, and at least 5 votes seem very likely. The Prop. 8 case...

For Washington, Same-Sex Marriage Was "Worth the Wait"

The state became the first to offer same-sex marriage as a result of a victory at the ballot box this week.

(AP Photo/The Columbian, Zachary Kaufman)
(AP Photo/The Spokesman-Review, Dan Pelle) COEUR D'ALENE PRESS OUT Wedding decorations and cookies greet couples entering the Spokane County Auditor's Office to pick up their marriage licenses, Thursday, December 6, 2012, in Spokane, Washington. Two by two, dozens of same-sex couples obtained their marriage licenses in Washington state early Thursday, just hours after Governor Chris Gregoire signed a voter-approved law legalizing gay marriage. A fter waiting for years, even decades, for the right to marry, hundreds of same-sex couples lined up in Seattle on Wednesday night for one last wait. At 12:01 a.m on Thursday, Washington state’s decision to legalize same-sex marriage—passed by the state legislature in February, blocked by opponents, and then confirmed by citizen referendum in November—went into effect. By that time, the first couple in line for a marriage license had been waiting outside the county Recorder’s Office for eight hours. But for many, that was just the tip of the...

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