Gender & Sexuality

Open Playing Field

The professional sports world is slowly beginning to loosen its rigid intolerance toward gays.


The professional sports locker room can be a scary place, with unwritten rules and political rankings that include which players get lockers next to each other—or far, far away from one another. There are cliques, hazing, pranks, and outsize expectations of toughness. It’s the ultimate site where the stereotypes of what it means to be a man get played out, and the challenge is to fit in and not shake up the coveted “chemistry” teams strive to create. So it isn’t surprising that not a single active gay athlete has come out in American baseball, hockey, football, or basketball. But as the gay-rights movement makes strides in society at large—including the Obama administration backing marriage equality, more states voting to legalize gay marriage, and the military ending its “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy—the sports world is starting to change, too, with more and more athletes speaking out in support of the LGBT community.

Marry Me in Maryland?


This fall, opponents of marriage equality will lose a much-beloved talking point: that in every state in which the issue has gone on the ballot, voters have rejected same-sex marriage. On November 6, the freedom to marry someone of the same sex is up for a vote in four states: Maine, Maryland, Minneosta, and Washington. Each state's initiative and situation is quite different, but in at least one, and possibly three, voters are going to offer marriage licenses to their lesbian and gay neighbors.

Let's start by looking at Maryland. The backstory: In February, the Maryland legislature passed, and on March 1, Governor Martin O'Malley enthusiastically signed, a marriage-equality law. The law was set to take effect in January. Named in jujitsu fashion, "The Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Protection Act" explicitly addressed the canard that allowing civil same-sex marriage would force churches to perform religious marriages that they oppose theologically. As expected, opponents launched a petition drive to put the measure on the ballot after it passed.

Are Women Better Off Than We Were Four Years Ago: Take Two

The story so far. Last week I objected to the question “Are you better off now than you were four years ago?” I object to the idea that my well-being can be reduced purely to economics, or to few things that the president can affect. (One colleague wrote: My 90-year-old mother would certainly say she’s not better off than she was four years ago, but that’s more about her health than about her wallet!) So I’m going to hijack that question for my own purposes and ask: Are women better off than we were four years ago—not just financially, and not just in ways affected by President Barack Obama’s administration, but overall?

Scott Brown: Pro-Choice for Limiting Abortion Access

(AP Photo/Winslow Townson)

Mitt Romney launched a new strategy to position himself as a moderate Republican during the first presidential debate, a move that has already reaped moderate successes in the polls. But, the strategy has a forerunner. Senator Scott Brown, the two-year Massachusetts incumbent facing a strong challenge from Democrat Elizabeth Warren, claimed the mantle of "Last Remaining Sane Republican" while Romney was still trying to outdo Rick Santorum in a contest of who had the least respect for women’s basic health care rights.

Show Me The Money: Correction

Last week, I launched a series simultaneously attacking and hijacking the quadrennial question: Are you better off than you were four years ago? For the first one, I reported on how women are doing economically compared to four years ago. But one of my sentences confused readers—apparently because I myself was confused. For my correction, let me simply quote what Heidi Hartmann of IWPR, one of the labor economists I cited, wrote me:

I do have a little trouble with this sentence though because I’m not sure what you were trying to get at.  If I said something like this I was not very accurate:

Sorry Feminists—NOT!

A Twitter meme pokes fun at the stereotype of feminists as unsexy.

(Photo by Matt Sayles/Invision/AP)

A good internet meme may last but a day, but the concerns it addresses are often perennial. So it was with the Twitter hashtag #sorryfeminists, which was born, matured, and perished within the span of a workday, as chronicled at the Atlantic Wire. But while the meme got boring fast, the problem it addressed remains. Why do stereotypes of feminists as anti-fun, unsexy, and humorless persist? Generation after generation, going all the way back to the suffragists, feminists have tried to crush these tropes by proving their "pants on fire" status.

We Blinded Her from Science

Why are there so few women in STEM fields? Hint: The problem is not just about "lifestyle choices."

(Flickr/Argonne National Laboratory)

As an undergraduate at Stanford, Debbie Sterling once ran out of a mechanical drafting course, crying.

Sterling was one of about five women in the class, and even though she loved drawing, she was having trouble with her final assignment. “I couldn’t get it quite right,” she admitted. But she never thought a struggle with one assignment would lead to what happened next.

During a critique, the two male teaching assistants asked the class, “OK, who thinks that Debbie should pass this class?”

The room remained silent. “Nobody raised their hands. I was mortified,” she said. “That’s the moment where I was really considering just giving up and thinking I didn’t have what it takes.”

Better Know a Ballot Measure

(Flickr/radarxlove and jamelah e.)

When Oregon voted on the nation’s first ballot initiative in 1904, the idea—as high-school civics teachers have told students ever since—was to take power away from the industries that ran the state legislature through bribes and corruption and return it to the people. In those days, corporate interests dominated and corrupted state politics all across the United States. Mining and railroad companies loomed particularly large, buying off entire legislative chambers and putting lawmakers on their payroll.

Shame on the Boy Scouts

Just in case the Boy Scouts hadn't hurt their reputation enough, they just told a longtime Boy Scout in California that he can't be an Eagle Scout—because he came out as gay, according to Yahoo. 

Where's the Policy?

Like so many people—most, I would argue—I don’t so much listen to the presidential debates as watch them. As the words drone on in the background, I watch how they stand, where they look, what they emphasize. You’ve already read Bob Moser’s and Robert Kuttner’s detailed critiques of the President’s debate performance, and you don’t need my echo. But what I saw last night—whether accurately or not—was this: An exhausted President Obama isn’t completely sure he still wants the job.

Are Women Better Off than We Were Four Years Ago?


Last week I confessed that I don’t like presidential election season. I don’t like the trivialized reportage, the horse-race-ification of serious subjects, and the narrowed vision that settles in on policy folks during these months. I especially don’t like the question “Are you better off now than you were four years ago?” This suggests two things to which I object: first, that the president is in charge of how well-off I am, when all of us know that American politics and global economics are far more complex . Second, that “better off” or “worse off” can be reduced to my current income and immediate financial prospects, even if those were dependent on the president. So I’m going to hijack that question for my own purposes and ask: Are women better off than we were four years ago—not just financially, and not just in ways affected by President Barack Obama’s administration, but overall?

Life of the Party

Missouri Senate Candidate Todd Akin is not an outlier in the G.O.P. 

(AP Photo/St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Christian Gooden)

Tuesday morning, on a tip from American Bridge 21st Century, a liberal PAC that conducts opposition research on Republicans, I clipped and posted videos for Slate’s Double X blog demonstrating some of the paranoid flights of fancy and routine misogyny that have peppered Todd Akin’s speeches on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives. Akin, who is challenging Democrat Claire McCaskill for her Missouri Senate seat, became infamous after he said that, based on no science whatsoever, pregnancies rarely happen in the case of “legitimate rape.” That remark was hardly out of character; he is indeed every inch the misogynist and denier of reality that his comment suggests.

When the Fringe Shapes the Center

During the AIDS crisis, ACT UP's radicalism forced more mainstream gay-rights groups to step up their game.

(AP Photo/Tim Clary, File)

Starting with my inability to believe Mitch McConnell isn't one of Disney's talking teapots gone rogue, there are plenty of good reasons I don't and shouldn't run the zoo. But if I did, How To Survive A Plague would be mandatory viewing for Occupy Wall Streeters. First-time director David France's new documentary about the 1987-'93 glory years of ACT UP—aka AIDS Coalition To Unleash Power, in case you've forgotten—is a wrenching remembrance of a gay holocaust that's already dimmer than it should be in our memory. The movie is also an exhilarating portrait of human beings discovering what they're capable of in a crisis.  But above all, it's the story of how a never too numerous band of obstreperous activists successfully changed public policy.

On that count, France may gild the lily somewhat. Left out is the groundwork laid from 1982 on by the pioneer AIDS lobby, Gay Men's Health Crisis—co-founded by playwright and veteran thorn in complacency's side Larry Kramer, who moved on to  help birth ACT UP once the GMHC proved too apolitical for him.  The omission slights how ACT UP's radical bent ended up repositioning other pressure groups as the mainstream version of AIDS-era gay activism, an invaluable lesson in how defining the fringe can help redefine the center.

"One Thing I've Learned: We're All Vulnerable."

You want another reason I hate presidential campaign season? It obscures real problems, the very problems the election is about. Okay, so that’s the same gripe I had yesterday. So let me introduce you to someone who's not just griping, but is doing something about it. 

Laura Is a Punk Rocker

The lead singer of Against Me! changes gender and challenges the male punk scene.


Laura Jane Grace and Against Me! take the stage in Belgium earlier this summer.