Gender & Sexuality

A New York State of Self-Esteem

NYC Girls Project

Over the years, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has gotten plenty of flak for his public-health campaigns. Efforts to curb soda drinking, reduce teen pregnancy, and shrink daily caloric intake all fed into an image of Bloomberg as a nagging pest who used the weight of the city government to scare New Yorkers into submission. But in the last few months of his tenure, the Bloomberg administration is offering a more uplifting message. The latest campaign from the mayor’s office isn’t about frightening city residents into kicking a bad habit; targeted at preteen girls, it’s designed to thwart body-image problems before they begin.

The New Pornographers

AP Images/Rich Pedroncelli

California passed a law last month to prevent a form of online harassment known as “revenge porn”—explicit images almost exclusively of women posted online by their former partners. The victims of revenge porn are often left without recourse, ignored or extorted by website hosts and discounted by local authorities who either lack awareness of federal cyber stalking and harassment laws or see little point in pressing charges. Frustrated by lack of recourse, campaigns such as End Revenge Porn have started fighting for state legislation to criminalize the practice. Until the passage of California’s law, New Jersey was the only state that had criminalized revenge porn.

Why Liberals Love TV's Fictional Conservatives

AP Images/ABC/Eric McCandless

When the third season of Scandal premieres tonight you can bet I’m going to be glued to my set (and Twitter feed), like millions of other Americans. Shonda Rhimes creates mighty good, sexy, nail-biting, oh-my-sweet-God-that-didn’t-just-happen TV. But, good liberal that I am, I can’t help feeling that my love of ABC’s hit show should be attended by some guilt. No, not because what Rhimes calls “fluffier” entertainment is inherently inferior; I don’t feel guilty about it in that sense. But instead because beneath plotlines like that of black political fixer Olivia Pope’s interracial love with the white president and a gay White House Chief of Staff raising a baby with his husband, Scandal is, in essence, the story of an allegedly apolitical (amoral?) woman who routinely abets an illegitimate conservative administration, complete with a radical Evangelical vice-president a heartbeat away from being president. Rhimes and Co. actually have me rooting for these people.

Daddy's Home!

AP Images/Edmond Terakopian

Many mornings this year Matt Nuttall and his friend Ryan Faulkner met up in one of several neighborhood parks located between their houses in Pleasant Hill, California. While they changed diapers, dispensed snacks, and made sure their little ones didn’t fall off the playground equipment, the dads “talked to each other in adult,” as Nuttall puts it. Before too long, their children would begin to fade, and they’d head back to their respective houses to prepare lunch and oversee afternoon naps.

Time to Give America a Raise

AP Photo/Louie Balukoff

It’s been a good week for the nation’s numerous poverty-wage workers. They’ve been way overdue for a good week.

On Tuesday, the Labor Department issued a much anticipated and delayed extension of the federal minimum wage and overtime regulations to the nation’s 2 million homecare workers. Last Thursday, the California legislature passed (and Governor Jerry Brown pledged to sign) a bill that raised the mega-state’s minimum wage from $8-an-hour to $10.

A Long Way from the End of Men

AP Photo/Mark Lennihan

Though we’ve technically been recovering from the Great Recession since late 2009, the poverty rate in the United States has been stuck at about 15 percent since 2010. New data released yesterday from the Census Bureau showed that last year wasn’t much better. Poverty rates are stuck at the highest levels in a generation. Median incomes have fallen in the last ten years by more than 11 percent. Coupled with recent studies showing that most of the recovery’s gains have gone to the top 1 percent of income earners, the data on poverty confirms what many already knew: Inequality is growing, and the middle class is dying. That’s especially true when you examine the status of women and racial minorities.

Step Aside, I'm a Doctor

AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli

It’s hard to miss the fallout from the barrage of abortion restrictions that hit state legislatures this year. Four abortion clinics in rural Texas announced plans to close after determining it would be too expensive to comply with a new state law imposing unnecessary medical standards. Clinics in Ohio and North Carolina, where similar laws have been passed, say they may also have to close. Iowa’s telemedicine abortion program—a creative workaround designed to bring first-trimester abortion to women in rural parts of the state—was recently shut down by the state medical board. In states nationwide, the hurdles to access safe, high-quality abortion care are getting higher and higher.

Anti-Choicers' New Mexico Experiment

The American Prospect/Chloe Hall; AP Photo

In early August, several dozen teenagers and a few adult supervisors descended on the Holocaust and Intolerance Museum in Albuquerque, New Mexico with a request: They wanted the curators to add an exhibit on abortion. When their demand was rebuffed, the teens—who were spending the week in the city as part of a pro-life training camp sponsored by Survivors of the Abortion Holocaust—unfurled a banner outside the building calling Albuquerque “America’s Auschwitz.”

The protest catapulted Albuquerque into the national media, but the demonstration is just one part of a larger experiment by the recent wave of pro-life activists flocking in from out of state: Can they transform New Mexico—a moderate state with liberal abortion laws—into another combat zone in the abortion wars? After a number of failed efforts to change policy in the legislature, abortion opponents have homed in on Albuquerque. Earlier this summer, they gathered enough signatures to put an ordinance banning abortion after 20 weeks before city voters in a special election. While similar bans have been passed in a dozen states, the proposed law would be the first to limit legal abortion at the local level. The immediate goal is to end the controversial practice of third-trimester abortion, but the campaign could also serve as a model for pro-life activists who are eager to spread red-state extremism into more moderate parts of the country.

Christianity: Not Just for Haters Anymore


John Shore and his wife Catherine had been attending the First Presbyterian Church of San Diego for six years when they were nominated to serve as deacons. But before they could be ordained, they were asked to sign a document agreeing that no person in a same-sex relationship should hold any position of authority within the church, which is one of the city’s oldest. It was 1990. The couple had never heard the pastor or any of his fellow church-goers talk about homosexuality.

"At first I thought she was kidding," John says. "I said something to the effect of, 'Wouldn't it be funny if there really were a document like that?'" John and his wife refused to sign. A few days later, stacks of an article the pastor had written calling acceptance of homosexuality a heresy were stacked at the church's entrances. "That's how we learned there was a whole world of Christians out there that doesn't condone homosexuality," he says.

Game, Set, Match—Feminism

AP Images

We often talk about athletes "transcending" their particular sport and having a wider cultural impact, but the truth is that for nearly all of them, becoming rich and famous for your physical feats doesn't have an effect on people that goes beyond entertainment. LeBron James may bring in $60 million a year and have 10 million followers on Twitter, but I doubt that a few decades from now people are going to talk about how much he changed America. Tom Brady may have won three Super Bowls and married a supermodel, but no one looks to him for leadership on critical social issues confronting our nation.

What's Killing Poor White Women?

For most Americans, life expectancy continues to rise—but not for uneducated white women. They have lost five years, and no one knows why. 

AP Images/Lars Halbauer

On the night of May 23, 2012, which turned out to be the last of her life, Crystal Wilson baby-sat her infant granddaughter, Kelly. It was how she would have preferred to spend every night. Crystal had joined Facebook the previous year, and the picture of her daughter cradling the newborn in the hospital bed substituted for a picture of herself. Crystal’s entire wall was a catalog of visits from her nieces, nephews, cousins’ kids, and, more recently, the days she baby-sat Kelly. She was a mother hen, people said of Crystal. She’d wanted a house full of children, but she’d only had one.

Chelsea Manning and the Politics of a Pronoun

The end of the Wikileaks trial has led to a much-needed discussion on how the media treat gender.

AP Photo

In all the fact-checking I've ever done, I never called up a source and asked, "Just making sure: You're a guy/girl, right?" Nor have I asked to see their genitals, the results of a chromosome test, or their medical records. If the interview was over the phone, I infer from the name and the sound of the person's voice. In the few instances that hasn't been enough, I've turned to Google to see if they have an official headshot that'll provide more clues, or a company bio that settles the matter. In person, you have additional data—the choice of clothes, mannerisms we've come to read as "feminine" or "masculine." In other words, reporters do what everyone else does, and it turns out to be a very un-journalistic thing to do: We go by what we see, take a guess, and assume it's right.

Total Eclipse of the Fetal Heart

AP Images/Rogelio V. Solis

By the end of July, it was clear opponents of abortion were going to have a banner year. In the first half of 2013, state legislatures across the country enacted dozens of restrictions on abortion clinics that will slim their hours or shutter them completely. States like Wisconsin and Indiana added requirements like ultrasounds and waiting periods for women seeking the procedure. After a high-profile debate, Texas passed a law that bars abortion after 20 weeks, bringing the total number of states with similar bans to 11.

The show’s far from over. Earlier this month, at a press conference that featured the Duggar family of 19 Kids and Counting fame, two Ohio state legislators announced they were restarting the fight for one of the most restrictive abortion laws in the country. House Bill 248, generally known as the “Fetal-Heartbeat Bill,” was introduced on August 22 in the House Committee on Health and Aging, chaired by the bill’s co-sponsor, state representative Lynn Wachtmann.

Not That There's Anything Wrong with That

New Jersey Senate candidate Steve Lonegan, a man's man. (Flickr/Nick Step)

Any time a politician gets past his or her 20s without getting married, the rumors about him or her being gay start to bubble up. That's certainly true of Cory Booker, and has been for some time; I happen to know a friend of a relative who knows a guy who swears he had a serious relationship with Booker. The most common response from the politician is to laugh at the rumors to show how secure he is, but make sure everyone knows that he is, in fact, straight. Which was why it was somewhat refreshing to see Booker say this in a profile in yesterday's Washington Post: "And people who think I'm gay, some part of me thinks it's wonderful. Because I want to challenge people on their homophobia. I love seeing on Twitter when someone says I'm gay, and I say, 'So what does it matter if I am? So be it. I hope you are not voting for me because you are making the presumption that I'm straight.' "

But the really interesting thing was how Booker's opponent reacted. That opponent is a testosterone-fueled, pulsating slab of man-meat named Steve Lonegan, whose chances of winning the election pretty much depend on Booker strangling and eating a puppy on camera between now and election day. When an interviewer read Booker's comments to Lonegan (here at about the 5 minute mark), Lonegan said, "I didn't see that, Steve. It's kind of weird, as a guy I personally like being a guy." Not that you asked, but he's going to tell you anyway.