Gender & Sexuality

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...

Don't Fear the Backlash

(Flickr/David Schumaker)
(Flickr/Dave Schumaker) Supporters and protestors of same-sex marriage gather outside San Francisco's City Hall in 2008. Many observers have criticized the approach of using litigation to achieve social change ever since a Hawaii court ruled in 1993 that the denial of marriage benefits to same-sex couples was unconstitutional —criticism that only accelerated after Massachusetts's landmark Goodridge decision in 2003 ruling that bans on same-sex marriage are unconstitutional. Much of this criticism takes the form of what I call the " countermobilization myth "—that is, the idea that victories won through the courts produce a unique amount of political backlash that make them counterproductive. The remarkable wave of success for LGBT rights on Election Day, combined with a steady increase in support for same-sex marriage, makes the countermobilization myth even more untenable. Michael Klarman's invaluable new book, From the Closet to the Altar , remains ambivalent about the use of...

Hell No, Elmo!

(AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
Earlier this week, I said that I just don’t care about General David Petraeus’s affair. I’ve since heard political writers explaining that the affair itself may be immaterial; what matters was that Petraeus was compromising intelligence, granting line-crossing levels of access to someone unknown to the CIA. That may be so. But no matter how giddily silly the whole thing has become—what with the threatened good friend and the shirtless anti-Obama FBI agent (why are men “shirtless” and not “topless”?)—I don’t care about the affair itself: consensual adults, and all that. But the Elmo puppeteer story does bother me. In case you missed it, Kevin Clash is a six-foot-tall African-American man, now 52, who does the voice of the Sesame Street icon. Earlier this week, word came out that a young man, now 23, accused Clash of getting involved with him when the accuser was 16 years old—under the age of consent. Sesame Street put Clash on a leave of absence while it investigated. The accuser has...

Maggie & Me

(AP Photo/Dennis Cook)
On Friday, Maggie Gallagher and I had a conversation on Blogginheads in which we continued our attempt to, as she puts it so brilliantly, “achieve disagreement” about whether it is good or bad to gender-neutralize marriage’s entrance rules—i.e., to allow same-sex couples the freedom to marry. Maggie, as you may know, is one of the chief opponents of same-sex marriage, and has made arguing against our marriages a large part of her career. As you also know, just three days before we spoke, the pro-marriage equality side had won four different state referenda by about 52-48. Maggie was generous in loss; looking at the video, I am embarrassed to say I was testy and not as generous in return. I will apologize. At the same time, I do think our differing philosophies of marriage become clearer and clearer. She is correct in that hers is losing. As she says, “the fact that sex between men and women makes babies is the central fact about it.” She believes that the purpose of marriage is to...

Liberté, Égalité, Homosexualité

When it comes to marriage equality, the French are surprisingly behind the times.

(Flickr/Guillaume Paumier)
(Flickr/Guillaume Paumier) A gay pride march in Toulouse, France. The placard quotes Brigitte Barèges, a member of the French National Assembly who sparked controversy for her comments on same-sex marriage: "Why not let people get married to animals too?" F rance exists in the American imagination mostly in caricatured form. On matters of sex, in particular, the French are thought of as being ahead of the curve, transcending the bounds of traditional morality—a perception shared by American progressives, who admire them for being liberated, and by conservatives, who consider them amoral libertines. It may therefore come as a surprise that on matters of gay marriage and the full legal recognition of gay couples, France has lagged behind both the United States, where nine states recognize same-sex marriage, and a number of other European countries. But this is about to change: A few days ago, the French cabinet approved a draft bill on the legalization of gay marriage and adoption in...

The Reproductive Rights Checklist

Delegates cheer as President of Planned Parenthood Action Fund Cecile Richards addresses the Democratic National Convention. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
After an election in which Republican rape philosophers —from Todd Akin in Missouri to Richard Mourdock in Indiana— went down in defeat , and after 20 women, the most in any year in history, were elected to the Senate, it would be reasonable to hope the political chatter devoted to concern-trolling over ladyparts will decline. But we shouldn’t assume the issue is going away. Battles over funding are likely to become a bigger priority for both pro- and anti-choicers. With that, here’s a review of the good, the bad, and the ugly for the future of reproductive rights. The Good Because Obama won the election, the Affordable Care Act will continue to be implemented, which bodes well for reproductive health care. The ACA requires insurance to cover a slate of women’s preventive health services without requiring a copay , including well-woman visits, testing for HPV—a virus that causes many forms of cervical cancer—and, most contentiously, contraception. Many insurance plans have started...

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