Gender & Sexuality

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...

Babies, Nickled and Dimed

Instead of pressuring women to have more babies, we should be investing in the ones we already have.

Flickr/Katy Pearce
Ross Douthat, whose enthusiasm for 19th-century views on sexuality can always be counted on, struck again this weekend with another column addressing his favorite concern , the sadly empty uteruses of America. He was roundly criticized by feminists, including the Prospect 's E.J. Graff. He outlined a belief that foolishly letting women decide how many babies they have will lead to American decline. The argument, always claimed to be made more in sorrow than in anger, is that women will simply have to give up on the advantages of limiting child-bearing so that we have enough young people around to take care of us when we’re old. Douthat calls for an end to our modern, feminist ways, which he calls "decadent." But I would like to offer a better, more humane solution to the problem of a declining future workforce: Instead of simply flooding the market with babies to buoy the economy, why not invest—with public funds, as a community—in the ones we have to get the same results? In order to...

We Can't All Be Royals

AP Photo
Ap Photo Kate Middleton and Prince William on their wedding day I know you can hardly stand the excitement: Princess Kate is preggers! Finally, the QEII can step out of service, passing off the baton—er, scepter—in a way that skips right past her reprobate son. Finally, she has a new generation in line that understands the royal job: Get married, reproduce, and stay honorably married. Which, as you may have noticed over the weekend, is just what The New York Times 's Ross Douthat wants us reprobate Americans to start doing. In what began as an almost sensible column, Douthat noted that public policy can help encourage working people to have families. But then Douthat ran right off the rails, chiding us for our lack of character, our selfish decadence, our end-of-empire exhaustion, and for preferring the comforts of—oh, I don’t know, maybe paying the mortgage?—to the sacrifices of raising more children. Herewith: The retreat from child rearing is, at some level, a symptom of late-...

Refighting the 1950s

Pat McDermott-public relations
Pat McDermott-public relations Ross Douthat says women should be more open to child-rearing, as in this scene from Leave it to Beaver . I t’s hard to overstate the role of demographics in shaping the challenges that face the United States over the next few decades. To use one prominent example, the rush to reform entitlements and the focus on restraining health-care costs owe themselves to demographics—an unusually large cohort of people are due to retire from the workforce and will begin to strain our social insurance programs. Likewise, efforts to prepare for this inevitability—such as the Affordable Care Act—are hampered by, again, demographics; as we saw in the 2010 midterm elections, older voters are loath to sign on to anything that looks like a change to the status quo. With that said, if the United States has a distinct advantage over its similarly situated fellow travelers in Europe and elsewhere, it’s due to demographics. Thanks to mass immigration, our birthrate has held...

This Goes Out to All the Ladies

(Gabriel Arana)
This past election, President Barack Obama made blatant appeals to female voters to great success. Fifty-five percent of women and a jaw-dropping 68 percent of single women voted for the president this round . Feminist and reproductive-rights groups especially campaigned hard, not just to reward him for some significant wins for women in office but because they widely believed that he could do even more in a second term, especially with 18 congressional seats swapping from anti- or mixed-choice to pro-choice . In other words, feminist-leaning women helped usher in Obama’s victory, and now they’re wondering how he intends to show his gratitude. Even though most of 2012 was a lovefest between feminists and the Obama administration, the administration came under plenty of fire from activists who felt he was often too quick to compromise. Some feminist organizations, like the National Organization for Women , denounced the president for signing an executive order barring insurance plans...

Who's the Boss?

(Flickr/OzinOH)
Earlier this week, the Supreme Court looked into the question of who counts as a “supervisor” for the purpose of employment law. If you’re not an employment-law watcher, it sounds like the legal equivalent of how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. But the answer is going to have real-life consequences for hundreds of thousands of people. Let me illustrate. Imagine this: You’re a teenage girl working at a pizza place. You’re often scheduled to work with John, a leering guy in his twenties who has the same title that you do. But because John’s been working there six months longer, and is ten years older than you are, the assistant manager often leaves him in charge of the shift. John can’t officially fire you—only the assistant manager can do that—but he gets to tell you what to do on a given day. Here's the horrifying part: John gropes you grossly whenever he’s alone with you on the floor, in ways too explicit to be listed here. When you’re standing at the cash register, if...

Forget the Pompoms

With the development of acro and stunt programs, cheerleaders seek official recognition as athletes.

(Cal Sport Media via AP Images)
If the leaves are changing color, it means all things pigskin hog the spotlight, with the main focus on the football field as gridiron gladiators go to battle. But shift the attention to the sidelines to the cheerleading squad, and you’ll find similar athleticism and the same kinds of debates over safety concerns as those currently at the center of football. It’s a reminder of a question that would appear simple on the surface but is in fact bedeviling the world of athletics: Is cheerleading a sport? The argument in favor sees an activity that requires a great deal of athleticism to perform a host of daredevil maneuvers that include flips, twists, and tosses, not to mention equal measures of control, balance, flexibility, and precision. Competitions for national high-school cheerleading championships are as demanding and heated as the win-or-go-home March Madness in the college Division I basketball tournament. Or, as Adams State College cheerleading coach Valerie Hagedorn put it in...

It's Time to Liberate Men

The women’s movement can serve as inspiration for a new generation of men who wish to rewrite masculinity.

(AP Photo/Alik Keplicz)
The “war on men” article on the Fox News website, which—spoiler alert!—blames women for ruining modern men, has been snaking its way around the Internet the past few days and pissing off a lot of people in the process. While it’s ostensibly intended to shame and blame a generation of he-women determined to emasculate their male counterparts, it is instead, somewhat unintentionally, a valuable entrée into what happens when the evolution of gender roles for men does not keep pace with that of women. In it, author Suzanne Venker (a right-wing pundit and niece of Phyllis Schlafly), lays out the logic of her argument as follows: Gender roles and relations are changing, thanks to that pesky thorn in every caveman’s side, feminism. Women’s liberation created a generation of “women who aren’t being women” anymore, so, understandably, men are less interested in marrying them, and pissed off about the lack of “real” women. Meanwhile, all the poor, brainwashed women who unwittingly traded stable...

What's Next for Marriage Equality?

(AP Photo/The Capitol, Paul W. Gillespie)
In case you missed it, Team Marriage Equality just won five different statewide votes (I’m counting the Iowa race, where NOM failed in its attempt to recall one of the Supreme Court justices who voted for equal marriage). Okay, so maybe you heard. Everyone and her brother has been reporting on the ballot breakthrough, including me in my most giddily Tiggerish incarnation. There’s been some fabulous reporting on what made the difference. Chris Geidner at Buzzfeed wrote a careful report on the behind-the-scenes research and the shift in emphasis in the messaging, which is well worth reading in full. Here’s a snippet: Among the key changes were a shift away from talk of "rights" to a focus on committed relationships; a decision to address "values" directly as being learned at home; and an attempt to give voters "permission" to change their minds…. The research was sponsored by Third Way — a centrist Democratic think tank — that conducted an extended round of surveys beginning in...

Kevin Clash, Take Two

(AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
So there’s a second lawsuit against Kevin Clash , formerly the voice of Elmo, alleging that he had sex with an underage teenager. As a result, Clash has resigned from Sesame Street, according to the New York Post , which explains: Clash’s sudden downfall came hours after published reports emerged that a man in his mid-30s filed a lawsuit against Clash, accusing the beloved puppeteer of having underaged sex with him when he was just 15. The federal civil complaint, filed in New York by Cecil Singleton, alleged that Clash—now 52—picked him up in 1993 on a gay phone chat line. Singleton said he was 15 at the time, while Clash was 32. "[Clash] trolled gay telephone chat line rooms to meet and have sex with underage boys,” Singleton claimed in his explosive lawsuit. "[Clash] groomed [the accuser] to gain his trust by, among other things, taking him to nice dinners and giving him money." Now the first accuser wants to “recant his recantation,” again levying his allegation that the sex...

Dying for a Pro-Life Cause

(Rex Features via AP Images)
So now we know they really mean it: They’d rather see a woman die than have an abortion. You may have heard this story. Thirty-one-year-old Savita Halappanavar, who was visiting Ireland from India, was 17 weeks pregnant when she went to University Hospital Galway with back pain. They found out that she was miscarrying. According to the Irish Times , after spending a day in severe pain, Halappanavar started begging to have delivery induced, since there was no way the fetus could survive. She was refused, because the fetus still had a heartbeat. Here’s how the Irish Times reports on what happened next: Her husband, Praveen Halappanavar (34), an engineer at Boston Scientific in Galway, says she asked several times over a three-day period that the pregnancy be terminated. He says that, having been told she was miscarrying, and after one day in severe pain, Ms Halappanavar asked for a medical termination. This was refused, he says, because the foetal heartbeat was still present and they...

Goodbye to Barney Frank

(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
For The Advocate , I conducted an exit interview with Barney Frank, the first voluntarily out LGBT member of Congress. I needn't tell Prospect readers that Frank has had an incredibly distinguished career as a legislator on behalf of the downtrodden, progressive attack dog, gay advocate, and master of the withering soundbite. Before I went, I told my wife that my goal was to be told a particular question was "stupid" fewer than three times. In fact, I didn't hear that once. Do we need any more evidence that imminent retirement has mellowed the man? Frank said a couple of things that I found immensely moving, and which I'll excerpt here. I asked him why, when he spoke with Jason Zengerle of New York Magazine , he listed progress on LGBT issues as the first of the accomplishments he was proud of—before financial reform. Here's what he said when I asked him why: [Financial reform] may be important to more people—but it’s not as important as your own personal dignity and rights. We went...

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