Gender & Sexuality

Akin Unmasks the Pro-Life Movement

Akin's comment stems from basic assumptions anti-choicers make about women.

If you’re going to slander the estimated 32,000 women a year who become pregnant after being raped, it’s probably not wise to do it on a Sunday, when it will lead the next week’s news coverage. Republican nominee for Missouri Senate Todd Akin chose not to follow this bit of wisdom, instead declaring in a television interview yesterday that women can’t get pregnant from rape. “First of all, from what I understand from doctors [pregnancy from rape] is really rare,” Akin told KTVI-TV in an interview posted Sunday. “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.” For people who don’t follow the anti-choice movement closely, this statement might be a stunner for the simple reason that it makes no biological sense; a rapist’s sperm swims as well as a non-rapist’s. But for those of us who do, it’s no surprise. The myth that “real” rapes don’t result in pregnancy is widespread among anti-choicers—and not just the fringe (Akin, for instance, used to...

Breaking Bad TV Expectations

Skyler White and other anti-hero wives have been doused in haterade lately instead of getting the sympathy they deserve.

(AP Photo/AMC, Ursula Coyote)
Breaking Bad’s Skyler White should be taking her place as one of the most beloved TV characters of all time. Performed with vanity-free honesty by Anna Gunn, Skyler, wife of the show’s protagonist Walter White, has gone through a lot the past three seasons: discovering her husband’s secret meth business, agreeing to cover it up with him, and eventually realizing that she’s stuck in a domestic violence situation with no clear path to escape. Despite all this, the character has shown remarkable fortitude and cunning that often equals her husband’s, as if she were a better version of Walter, equipped with the compassion and humility he lacks. So why do the fans hate her so much? That fans hate Skyler isn’t up for debate. In a recent poll during the show’s online scrolling service Story Sync, 55 percent of fans disagreed with Skyler’s assertion that she’s Walt’s “hostage” and not his wife, even though in the very episode before he made a speech where he explained to her that he controls...

More on Rhetoric, Hatred, and Violence

Yesterday, I wrote about Floyd Corkins, the man who shot a security guard at the Family Research Council. (By the way, many people have called him a gay activist. I haven’t yet seen any reporting that identified him as gay; so far we only know that he was a volunteer at a D.C. LGBT community center. Straight people do volunteer for LGBT groups these days.) More recent reporting says that he was carrying Chik-Fil-A bags, apparently in an attempt to make a point about opposing LGBT rights. I was deeply disturbed that anyone would do such a thing, as if in my name. As my post’s title suggested, fighting hate with violence is absurd and appalling. But after my post yesterday, Zack Ford of ThinkProgress and Jeremy Hooper of Good As You called me out on suggesting that we all dial down the rhetoric. Zack tweeted: Are you serious? The rhetoric of equality and inequality are not two sides of the same coin. That comparison is outlandish. This isn't just he-said, she-said. This is one side...

Fighting Hate with ... Violence?

Yesterday, a gunman entered the Washington, D.C. offices of the Family Research Council , a religious group that advocates far-right positions on social issues, and shot a security guard in the arm. Floyd Lee Corkins II, the shooter, reportedly yelled that it wasn't personal; it was about FRC’s policies. (You can see the shooter in this local news report.) The security guard is now in the hospital, in stable condition—thank God—and the FBI has Corkins. Is this what the state of our public conversation has come to? Unstable people on all sides deciding that someone else’s beliefs must be exterminated, that hateful rhetoric must be answered with execution? Corkins was a volunteer at the D.C. LGBT community center, where the executive director was shocked by what the young man did. Here’s what he said, according to Chris Geidner over at BuzzFeed: The suspect in today's shooting, Floyd Corkins II of Virginia, had been volunteering on some weekends at the front desk of The Center, D.C.'s...

Pride and Prejudice

A week or two ago—how quickly it disappears in the rearview mirror!—my family went on vacation to Provincetown, the gorgeous seaside town at the at the tip of Cape Cod. Formerly a whaling town, Ptown has for the last century been an arts colony and LGBT haven, which suits my primary interests. After many years of vacationing there, I have my favorite galleries, gardens, beaches, shops, and perches, like everyone else. Ptown has specialty weeks, formal or informal, targeted to various demographics. On the LGBT side, there’s carnival for the insanely creative dress-up and party crowd; bear week for hairy and hefty men and the men who love them; women’s week for the ladies who aren’t baby dykes any more; and family pride week , when the beaches and streets are packed with two-mom and two-dad families. Guess which week we went? About a decade ago, when family week was in its infancy, I ended up talking with a young woman in her twenties who’d grown up with two moms before the “gayby boom...

Today in Gay and Women's Rights

I know we've all been preoccupied with that dude who's going to be the Republican veep candidate when the convention rolls around. But a few lines down, there's been some sweet news. In a first, we now have the very first openly gay brigadier general in the army. New general Tammy S. Smith had her wife Tracey Hepner pin the medal on in the ceremony. Just the thought of it makes me feel all quavery. How sweet is that? (Thanks to Rex Wockner for bringing this to my attention.) Here are some relevant quotes from The New York Times article about it: [Smith] said in a statement that the Defense Department had made sexual orientation a private matter, but that “participating with family in traditional ceremonies such as the promotion is both common and expected of a leader.” Sue Fulton, a spokeswoman for OutServe , a two-year-old organization of lesbians and gay men in the military, said Sunday that it was “highly unlikely” that General Smith was the only gay officer of her rank. She called...

Back Off, Masculinity Patrol

This Olympics, we witnessed the results of an American gender revolution. Did you notice all those American women athletes who excelled on the field? As Amanda Marcotte noted here with pride and praise, our gals have clearly shaken off the pressure to overcompensate for their athleticism by playing sweetly feminine off the field. Once upon a time, you had to be seriously gender-nonconforming— i.e. , a lesbian—to risk your feminine credentials by playing sports. (Based on an entirely unscientific but extremely appreciative view of some of the other women's soccer teams, I would guess that dykes are still the ones venturing onto the field in some countries like, cough, Japan.) American women clearly know they can be strong, powerful, and kick some ass on the field. American girls can, from a very early age, play with trucks, wear pants, and run, kick, and throw without sanctions. As I've written about here several times, however, boys have no such freedom . Their behavior is overseen by...

Thrown Away for Being Gay

(Letter image courtesy of
Over at ThinkProgress, Zack Ford quotes and verifies a letter from a father disowning his son for being gay. Here’s an excerpt: Don’t expect any further conversations with me. No communications at all. I will not come to visit, nor do I want you in my house. You’ve made your choice though wrong it may be. God did not intend for this unnatural lifestyle. If you choose not to attend my funeral, my friends and family will understand. Read it in full . It’s heartbreaking. Yes, I often celebrate here how much LGBT rights are winning. But here’s what we haven’t won: safety for children growing up in families that have been taught to consider their own offspring an abomination if they were gay. About ten years ago, when I was doing public speaking on marriage equality, I found myself talking to LGBT college kids across the country. The best part was getting to spend time with the kids who volunteered to pick me up from the airport and ferry me to and from my hotel. But I was stunned by how...

It's Official: Vibrators Are Mainstream

No matter what the politicians do, acceptance of women's sexuality is here to stay.

(Wikimedia Commons/Eva Kröcher)
While jokes about porn and casual references to male masturbation have made their way into mainstream culture, female pleasure—and especially masturbation—has typically been a touchier subject. But August 7, 2012 might be the day that female sexuality finally became a “mundane fact of life.” That’s when Trojan—the company that made its name selling condoms— inaugurated a line of vibrators by giving 10,000 of them away on the streets of New York City from hot-dog carts emblazoned with cheeky slogans such as, “Getcha vibes here!” According to company representatives, the giveaway is part of an effort to normalize vibrator use. As Bruce Weiss, vice president for marketing at Trojan, told The New York Times , “What we’re doing is taking something like a hot dog cart that is so everyday and so mainstream ... We’re showing people that vibrators are mainstream.” The shift toward accepting female sexuality has been a long time coming. Almost as soon as the sexual revolution kicked off in the...

The Boy Scouts' Learning Curve

(Flickr/David Blumenkrantz)
Since the Sandusky horror story first broke, we’ve seen a lot of articles exposing horrific behavior from the 1970s and 1980s. Serial abuse at the Horace Mann School. Philadelphia sprtswriter Bill Conlin 's long history of molesting children. Surely, there are more to come. This week's news comes from The Los Angeles Times, which has published an explosive, in-depth account of how the Boy Scouts of America have responded over the decades to child sexual abuse: by keeping a central file of volunteers banned for molesting Scouts, with detailed information about the relevant allegations and investigations. The headline, subhead, and introduction (the “nut graf,” in the lingo) suggest that the system failed: Boy Scout files reveal repeat child abuse by sexual predators Los Angeles Times review of Boy Scout documents shows that a blacklist meant to protect boys from sexual predators too often failed in its mission. A Los Angeles Times review of more than 1,200 files dating from 1970 to...

Female Firsts at The 2012 Olympics

A slideshow of women who are taking the year's biggest athletic event by storm.

With the addition of women to the Olympic teams of Saudi Arabia, Brunei, and Qatar, the London Olympics mark the first time that every country participating in the Games is sending at least one female athlete. Many of them are only high school or college students, but they've overcome obstacles ranging from ultraconservative opposition to civil war to participate in the 2012 Olympics. The Prospect takes a look at the women who are breaking ground—and in some cases, national records—in fields from judo to shooting. Slideshow Female Firsts at the 2012 Olympics

Who Said Women Can Have It All?

Remember that Anne-Marie Slaughter article in The Atlantic about a month and a half ago, whose title—"Why Women Still Can't Have It All"—drove feminists bonkers, while the substance nevertheless rang true for roughly 70 gazillion working parents in this country who are doing the impossible every single day? Rebecca Traister proposed forever retiring the phrase " having it all " here, and I chastised the magazine for the framing. But the article's core idea was right, as I wrote at the time: She’s right about this core truth: Being both a good parent and an all-out professional cannot be done the way we currently run our educational and work systems . When I talk to friends who’ve just had children, here’s what I tell them: Being a working parent in our society is structurally impossible. It can’t be done right, so don’t blame yourself when you’re failing. You’ll always be failing at something—as a spouse, as a parent, as a worker. Just get used to that feeling. Slaughter’s entire...

Abortion: The New Wedge Issue

The GOP's extremism on reproductive rights gives Democrats an oportunity to pick up moderates.

(Flickr/Paul Weaver)
Last Friday, the Obama campaign released an ad in several swing states attacking Mitt Romney for his stance on abortion. “It’s a scary time to be a woman—Mitt Romney is just so out of touch,” says a woman named Jenni. A narrator explains that Mitt Romney opposes requiring insurance coverage for contraceptives, supports overturning Roe v. Wade , and once backed a bill that would outlaw all abortion, even in cases of rape or incest. The ad concludes: “We need to attack our problems, not a woman’s choice.” In recent elections, presidential candidates have been wary of diving into explosive abortion politics; in 2008, only $4 million was spent on abortion-related advertising, compared with $39 million on budget-related ads or $88 million on environmental ones. It's an issue the public remains divided on. According to Gallup, the proportion of Americans identifying as “pro-choice” hit a record low of 41 percent this year, while those describing themselves as “pro-life” hovered around 50...

Olympic Girls Go Bad-Boy

Women at the world's top sporting event are shaking off pressure to be feminine in the public eye.

U.S. Women's National Soccer Team striker Abby Wambach (Twitter/@AbbyWambach)
Athleticism in women has generated social unease going back at least as far as the Greek myth of Atalanta, the princess who refused to marry a man who couldn’t beat her in a footrace and was finally conquered by a “hero” who beats her by cheating. Women in sports flout the feminine not only by being competitive, but by using their bodies for an end other than sex and child-bearing. Since they first started competing in 1900, female Olympians have faced pressure to relieve sexist anxieties by turning up the girliness, even if doing so hurts their performance. In the past, the need to distinguish female from male athletes—and thus preserve their femininity—has led the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to enforce silly uniform requirements like bikinis for beach volleyball and skirts for tennis. Social ideals about femininity have also guided which female sports get the most attention: It tends to be those that highlight beauty and grace, such as gymnastics or figure skating. Note...

Pro-Life Sentences

Dissenting in Gonzales v. Carhart , the 2007 case that upheld a federal ban on "partial birth" abortion, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg charged that the majority "refuses to take [Planned Parenthood v.] Casey ... seriously." This inclination, not surprisingly, has filtered down to the lower federal courts as well. Two recent cases conspicuously refuse to take a woman's reproductive rights seriously, and indeed one judge failed to apply Casey at all. The first recent decision , by the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, upheld a South Dakota statute that requires doctors to inform women seeking abortions that obtaining one will lead to an increased risk of depression and suicide. The law, which interferes with the doctor-patient relationship and forces doctors to lend the weight of their authority to assertions not supported by scientific evidence, should be considered an "undue burden" on a woman's right to choose and hence invalid under Casey . As the dissenters point out, "In order to be...