Gender & Sexuality

Rape on TV—More Than Just a Plot Twist

Producers often use sexual assault to heighten drama, but depictions of sexual violence offer a greater opportunity to educate viewers.

Courtesy of PBS/Masterpiece
Mild spoiler warning for U.S. Downton Abbey viewers. Courtesy of PBS/Masterpiece O h, Anna. Couldn't you have become a Jazz Baby or something? For those who missed out, this Sunday's episode of the British upstairs/downstairs saga Downton Abbey wrapped up with a visiting valet abruptly raping beloved ladies' maid Anna. I wasn't the only one tempted to break up with the Crawleys over it. Downton 's clumsy attempt came right on the heels of another botched rape plot, Scandal 's flashback rape of First Lady Mellie at the hands of her father-in-law. How these shows handle rape matters. I was sexually assaulted over 20 years ago, and even after all this time, unexpectedly watching Fitz' dad rape Mellie on Scandal kept me up into the wee hours that night. When it was Anna's turn, I turned off the TV and curled up in a ball. That said, I never want narrative television to stop depicting rape. Television is perfectly suited to telling complex, challenging stories that evolve over time. And TV...

Rebuffing the Zones?

AP Images/Steven Senne O utside Planned Parenthood’s clinic in downtown Boston, a painted yellow line swoops across the sidewalk and into the well-trafficked street, marking a 35-foot half-circle around the entrance. Most days, anti-abortion demonstrators gather on the edge of the line, holding signs and rosaries, and clutching bundles of pamphlets. As women approach the half-circle, the demonstrators spring into action. The goal is getting the women to pause and talk to them before they cross into the “buffer zone” on the other side of the line, which Massachusetts law declares a protest-free space. The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments about the constitutionality of these buffer zones tomorrow, in McCullen v. Coakley . The arguments won’t tackle the polemical question of whether abortion should be available; instead, the justices will be asked to consider whether the buffer zones violate anti-abortion demonstrators’ First Amendment rights. The petitioners are a small group of...

I'll Be Gay for Christmas

On (not) going home for the holidays

Flickr/MTSOfan
Flickr/MTSOfan I haven’t been home for Christmas in ten years. The excuse I always gave was that the holidays stress me out, which isn’t untrue. I can’t stand to watch once the local news station starts its seasonal coverage. You know the hard-hitting journalism I’m talking about: brave reporters staked out at Wal-Mart before it opens at 6 a.m. on Black Friday; with a frumpy Jane Doe browsing Amazon.com on Cyber Monday; and, around now, live on the scene at the airport giving updates about the bad weather, long lines, and flight delays. Just thinking about standing in a security line for two hours makes me want to punch Santa. There’s buying and wrapping gifts, writing and sending cards. If your family is anything like mine, Christmas is also when everyone comes together, gets drunk, and airs the grievances they’ve been holding onto all year. After that come the teary expressions of love and forgiveness. I’m one of five kids, my dad is one of eight, and my mom is one of four. All that...

Polyamory, the Right to Privacy, and Religious Freedom

Last week, a federal District Court judge in Utah struck down a law used to prosecute members of polyamorous relationships. Predictably, some conservatives immediately brought up the slippery slope to legalized adult incest and legal " teen sex cults ." However, the decision is a very rational and straightforward application of core principles of the right to privacy and religious freedom. It is crucial to understand, first of all, that Judge Clark Waddoups's decision in Brown v. Buhman did not "legalize bigamy." The lawsuit was brought by the reality television star Kody Brown, who lives in a polyamorous relationship with four women but is only legally married to one. Brown did not even contest Utah's limitation of marriage to couples, and Judge Waddoups deferred to a Supreme Court precedent dating back to the 19th century holding that bans on bigamy are constitutional. Rather, the decision concerns an unusual, extraordinarily broad provision of Utah law under which "[a] person is...

Out of Birth Control—At Least the Long-Term Kind

Press Association via AP Images
Beleaguered fans of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) got some encouraging news on Wednesday morning: The contraceptive mandate is working. A study released by the Guttmacher Institute, a think tank that supports abortion rights, revealed that the number of privately insured women who paid nothing out of pocket for birth-control pills nearly tripled since the fall of 2012, from 15 percent to 40 percent. More women are also getting the vaginal ring at no cost. This financial bonus is courtesy of an ACA rule requiring private insurance companies to cover preventive care—like contraceptive products, procedures, and counseling—at no cost to the patient. Although some insurance plans are still “grandfathered in,” which means they don’t need to conform to the ACA’s requirements for now, millions of women became eligible for no-cost birth control at the beginning of the year, and they’re taking advantage of it. There is some bad news sandwiched in with the good. Although the number of women who...

The Year in Preview: Taking the Offensive on Reproductive Rights

(AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais
Read our earlier "Year in Preview" pieces on the media and voting rights here. Check back tomorrow for previews on the 2014 Supreme Court schedule and poverty politicking from the right. AP Photo/Eric Gay T he four horsemen haven’t appeared on the horizon yet, nor has the sea turned to blood, but you’d be forgiven for thinking that when it comes to reproductive justice in the United States, the end times are just around the corner. In 2013 alone, states enacted gobs of restrictions on early access to abortion. From Texas to Ohio to Iowa, dozens of clinics shut their doors. The courts are abortion-rights advocates’ best hope for stemming the tide of regressive legislation, but as Scott Lemieux has extensively documented here at the Prospect , their judgments have been decidedly mixed. In this ever-growing maelstrom of incursions on abortion rights, pro-choice politicians have stayed on the defensive, clinging to the standards established by Roe v. Wade even as conservatives whack...

NBC's Big Fat Gay Mistake

The network's half-hearted attempts to appear gay-friendly while broadcasting the Sochi Olympics only underscore its complicity with the Kremlin's crackdown on LGBT rights and freedom of the press.

Flickr/Edgar Zuniga
Flickr/Edgar Zuniga T here is no longer even the illusion of a free press in Russia—not after yesterday, when the Kremlin posted a decree on its website announcing the liquidation of RIA Novosti , the leading state news agency. “The move,” the news service wrote in its own account of the story, “is the latest in a series of shifts in Russia’s news landscape, which appear to point toward a tightening of state control in the already heavily regulated media sector.” That “tightening,” which intensified when Russian President Vladimir Putin returned to power last year and immediately set about silencing any form of opposition to his notoriously crooked government, has reached a fever pitch in the months leading up to Russia’s hosting of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi this February. The country and the games have come under increasing international scrutiny and criticism: First, in the wake of the Kremlin’s passage, this past June, of a trifecta of draconian anti-LGBT laws...

Bishops May Not Be the Crooks This Time

AP Images/Luca Zennaro
T amesha Means was only 18 weeks pregnant on the morning of December 1, 2010, when her water broke. In a haze of pain, she called a friend for a ride to the only hospital in her central Michigan county. She had no idea that the hospital, Mercy Health Partners, was part of a Catholic health system. She just knew she needed help. What happened next, contend the plaintiffs in a new lawsuit filed by the ACLU on Means’s behalf , was not just the fault of a doctor, emergency room staff, or even the hospital. The blame goes right to the top—to the U.S. Catholic bishops. According to the lawsuit, over the course of the next 36 hours, Means was never told that her fetus had little chance of surviving. Nor was she told—as she would have been in a secular hospital—that doctors could induce labor or terminate her pregnancy. Instead, Means was twice sent home with painkillers and told to return only if she was having contractions three to four minutes apart. Unaware of the risks of continuing the...

The Affordable Care Act v. Supreme Court, Round 2

AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez
AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster Y esterday, the Supreme Court agreed to hear two cases questioning the Affordable Care Act's contraception mandate: Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. v. Sebelius and Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc . These rulings could have potentially major implications for the rights of American women. Let's consider the issues at hand, one at a time: Does the contraceptive mandate violate religious freedom? The key question in both cases is whether the contraceptive mandate violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. This legislation requires any policy placing a "substantial burden" on religious Americans prove that said burden serves a compelling government interest. Both Conestoga Wood and Hobby Lobby contend that the Affordable Care Act's demand that they offer contraception coverage to their employees does not pass the Religious Freedom Restoriation Act's test. But, as the Prospect 's Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux asks , is the mandate actually violating the religious...

Razing Arizona Women's Health Care

AP Images/The Fort Worth Star-Telegram/ Dave Kent
L ike Napoleon forging into the Russian winter, anti-choice politicians are loath to give up on abortion restrictions, however minor, until the Supreme Court forces them to. On Wednesday, Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne asked the Supreme Court to reinstate a law that would strip Medicaid funding from doctors and clinics who perform abortions. Poor women already can’t use federal dollars to cover abortion procedures—that’s been illegal since the late 1970s. The law, which was struck down by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in August, instead would prevent the state’s abortion providers from being reimbursed by Medicaid for providing any kind of care to low-income women, whether it’s breast exams, cervical cancer screenings, or contraceptive services. The law’s supporters allege that public money is trickling into abortion providers’ pockets because they offer preventive care services, enabling them—however indirectly—to perform more procedures. If it hadn’t been overturned, the...

No, Ladies—Birth Control Pills Won’t Make You Go Blind

AP Images/Jens Kalaene
Over the course of the past day or so, you may have seen some alarming news: Long-term use of birth control pills, according to a study released at the Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Ophthalmology , may be linked to glaucoma, one of the leading causes of blindness in the US. If you happen to be one of the more than 80 percent of women who has used oral contraceptives during her life, you’d be forgiven for feeling a little nervous. Long-term contraception is pretty much unavoidable for sexually active women who would rather not get pregnant. The researchers, undoubtedly aware that a link between birth control and blindness would make millions of women just a tad uneasy, were careful to emphasize that their findings are not conclusive. One of the lead authors told NPR that women shouldn't stop using birth control pills based on this study, adding that a lot more work needs to be done to find out if this apparent connection is real or just a coincidence. But most media reports...

White Hot Rage

Sociologist Michael Kimmel explores the history of the aggrieved American male, but fails to capture what drives our age's most prominent discontents: the men's rights movement. 

T he most surprising thing about Michael Kimmel’s new book Angry White Men is that the title was still available. We’ve been hit by wave after wave of angry white dudes for decades, from the so-called “silent majority” of the seventies incensed by “forced busing” and braless “women’s libbers,” to your Tea Partier brother-in-law who’s always forwarding terrible jokes about Obama being born in Kenya. Largely ignoring Tea Partiers and Glenn Beck fans to focus on more extreme examples of angry white manhood, Kimmel, a sociologist at the State University of New York at Stony Brook and an influential writer on masculinity, devotes chapters to such charming folks as white supremacists, domestic abusers, and guys who “snap” and shoot up their schools and workplaces. Kimmel does an excellent job in explaining the whys and wherefores of racist skinheads and violent men and manages to write about some pretty damaged and hateful men with a remarkable degree of empathy. But he doesn’t ever get a...

Liz Cheney's Firm Ideological Consistency

Ah, family. The source of our greatest strength, and our greatest frustrations. Ask yourself: Is there anyone in the world who can more easily put you into a blinding, murderous rage than your siblings? Now what if one of those siblings was running for office, and you could stick it to them? If you had a fight—and not just a fight over something trivial like who should wash the dishes, but a real fundamental fight, like whom Mom loved best, or why he crashed your bike when you told him a hundred times that he could only ride it if he was super-careful, or whether you're worthy of equal rights under the law—would you be tempted to take that fight public? I speak, of course, about Liz Cheney, vice-presidential progeny, proud daughter of the Virginia suburbs—I mean Wyoming, wonderful Wyoming, which has always been home!—and contender for the U.S. Senate from the aforementioned state. According to at least one poll , Cheney is trailing badly in her attempt to unseat conservative...

The Gay Awakening

While Christian leadership has held fast against the changing tide of public opinion on same-sex marriage, congregations have moved on without them.

AP Photo/Jacqueline Larma
AP Photo/Jacqueline Larma Supporters of same-sex marriage outside Camp Innnabah, the Methodist retreat center where Rev. Frank Schaeffer is facing trial for officiating his son's same-sex wedding. A ny other day, Reverend Frank Schaeffer might look out onto the 179 acres of woods at Camp Innabah—a Christian retreat center 40 miles outside of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania—and stop to ponder God's design in the natural beauty. But today, his mind is on another matter: his trial. "There probably won't be an acquittal," says Schaeffer, who faces losing his credentials to preach in the United Methodist Church, the country's largest mainline protestant denomination. "I just hope the penalty will be restorative rather than punitive." The 51-year-old pastor's crime? Officiating his son's same-sex wedding in 2007. Schaeffer informed the church leadership that he would be performing the ceremony at the time, but disciplinary proceedings were not started against him until last April, when a member...

20-Week Abortion Bans: Coming to a City Near You?

AP Images/ALBUQUERQUE JOURNAL/GREG SORBER
AP Images/ALBUQUERQUE JOURNAL/GREG SORBER If you want to take a plunge into the roiling id of the anti-choice movement, go to Albuquerque, New Mexico. Tomorrow, the half-million residents of the state's most populous city will vote on a ballot measure that would ban abortion after 20 weeks. Although 13 states have enacted similar laws, if Albuquerque’s measure passes, it will become the first municipality to impose a 20-week abortion ban. Anti-choice activists are gleefully proclaiming the launch of a local rebellion against abortion. A woman made the Albuquerque evening news after handing out anti-abortion propaganda to trick-or-treaters on Halloween. Teenagers protested outside the New Mexico Holocaust and Intolerance Museum, holding signs calling abortion a modern-day genocide. Hundreds of thousands of dollars from national groups on both sides of the issue have blanketed the city with television and radio ads. Some local residents seem more befuddled than galvanized. “I don’t even...

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