Gender & Sexuality

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 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. This is a good time to consider one of the few exceptions, an athlete whose cultural impact was probably second only to that of Jackie Robinson. Forty years ago this month, Billie Jean King participated in a sporting event like nothing before or since. It was an absurd spectacle, and it could have been disastrous for the cause she championed. When King left the Houston Astrodome after roundly defeating Bobby Riggs...

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
AP Photo Chelsea Manning I n 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. Last week's announcement that Bradley Manning—the Army private who was sentenced Wednesday to 35 years in prison for releasing government files to WikiLeaks—is female and now wants...

Total Eclipse of the Fetal Heart

AP Images/Rogelio V. Solis
B y 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. This...

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-...

No Sushi for You, Pregnant Lady

Zippaparazza/Flickr
For pregnant women, a trip to the pregnancy-advice section of their local bookstore can be an overwhelming experience. The shelves are stacked high with suggestions and prohibitions for expectant mothers in a nine-month period when everything they do seems to matter. Using hair dye, drinking alcohol or coffee, gardening without gloves, or riding a bike are just a few no-nos on a long list. If women slip up, the consequences seem immense. “You’ve got nine months of meals and snacks with which to give your baby the best possible start in life,” the authors of What to Expect When You’re Expecting write. “Try to make them count. As you raise fork to mouth, consider: ‘Is this a bite that will benefit my baby?’” The problem is, pregnancy-advice books often contradict each other. (Is fish a pregnancy superfood, or a mercury-laced toxin? Is peanut butter a delicious, protein-filled snack or a guarantee that your child will have peanut allergies?) Many aren’t written by experts— What to Expect...

Brian Sims Wants to Fix Pennsylvania

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AP Photo Representative Brian Sims, a Democrat, is blocked from speaking on the floor of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives by a colleague citing "God's law." S ince he beat longtime incumbent Babette Josephs in the race to represent Philadelphia’s Center City, Brian Sims has made a name for himself as a strong supporter of LGBT rights. As one of the first openly gay representatives in the state—shortly after he was elected to office, Republican Mike Fleck also came out—he has introduced legislation to legalize same-sex marriage as well as an employment nondiscrimination bill protecting LGBT workers in the state. But Sims is also a strong progressive across the board: He’s voted against privatizing the state’s liquor industry , which he says would kill “good union jobs,” spoken against Republican efforts to restrict access to abortion, and fiercely criticized current Governor Tom Corbett’s massive cuts to education spending. He most recently made headlines after a scuffle on...

When I'm Old and Gay

The American Prospect/Steve Moors
Steve Moors W hen Marcia Hickman and Sue Spirit first started talking retirement 20 years ago, they mostly worried about the location and the weather. In Ohio, where they met and ran a women’s retreat together, Marcia missed the mountains of her upstate New York youth. Sue wanted a place “with seasons.” The pair, who will celebrate 30 years together in August, describe themselves as “mostly out”—Marcia hasn’t told her three children she and Sue are a couple, but she figures they’ve put it together by now. She and Sue hadn’t thought about settling down with other gay people until they learned about Carefree Cove. “Around 2000 we heard about ‘lesbian land’ being started in North Carolina,” Sue says. A planned residential community for older gay men, lesbians, and transgendered people, “the Cove” was then an empty 165-acre plot 20 miles outside of Boone, a small university town in the Blue Ridge Mountains. The backers had an opening bargain: For $2,000, you could come down and pick your...

Promises Aren't Enough to Deter Campus Sexual Assault

As a recent report at Yale shows, voluntary resolution agreements won't stop rape.

Flickr/CanWeBowlPlease
Flickr/CanWeBowlPlease O n a blistering day in mid-July, several dozen college students rallied on an unshaded plaza in front of the Department of Education’s headquarters in Washington, D.C., wearing their schools’ colors and carrying megaphones. When Martha J. Kanter, the undersecretary of education, heard their shouting and emerged from the air-conditioned building, they handed her a stack of boxes containing a petition with more than 100,000 signatures. The petition called on the government to take a more punitive stance against universities that fail to protect survivors of sexual assault. These schools, the document declared, are in violation of Title IX, a law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in higher education. The rally was just one part of a growing national movement of college students, alumni, and faculty who are fed up with universities’ unwillingness to reform their policies on sexual violence, which they say punish survivors for reporting assaults and...

Sticking It to Sochi: Russian LGBT Activists on What Works

AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis
AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis T here’s no sugarcoating what’s happening in Russia in the days since the Duma and Prime minister Vladimir Putin passed its anti-gay laws earlier this summer. In a jaw-dropping video that Moscow-based journalist and longtime LGBT activist Masha Gessen posted to her Facebook page over the weekend, Dmitry Kiselev, anchorman and deputy director of VGTRK, the Russian state broadcast holding company—in short, a top representative of the Kremlin’s media machine—makes the following statement: I believe it is not enough to impose fines on gays for engaging in the propaganda of homosexuality among adolescents. We need to ban them from donating blood and sperm, and if they die in car accidents, we need to bury their hearts in the ground or burn them as they are unsuitable for the aiding of anyone's life. Kiselev’s audience claps and cheers. So let’s be very clear, very fast about what will and won’t matter to Putin and his cronies when it comes to protesting. There’s...

Against Douthat on Abortion Restrictions, Round Two

AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez
Ross Douthat has a thoughtful response to two critiques—one from me at the Prospect and another from Katha Pollitt at The Nation —of his recent column on European abortion policy. It would help to clarify some of the empirical issues that are central to our disagreement. I'll leave it to Pollitt to address the dispute about the content of Texas's new abortion restrictions and focus on the points Douthat claims that we didn't respond to. I'll handle them individually: This variation, in turn, gives us more data on the original question that my column asked: What happens to a modern society when abortion is restricted? And I don’t think that either Pollitt or Lemieux offered much of a rebuttal to my suggestion that Europe’s variations and their apparent consequences pose a problem for two commonplace pro-choice assumptions: That restrictions on abortion don’t actually reduce abortion rates (which appears to be true in neither the U.S. nor in Europe )... To be clear, I have never...

Sex Workers vs. Spitzer

The former "Love Guv" is back in the public eye and calling himself a feminist, but the anti-prostitution measures he signed into law make life more dangerous for women in the sex trade. 

AP Images/Seth Wenig
AP Images/Seth Wenig Y es," Eliot Spitzer told host Chris Hayes on MSNBC , he is a feminist. Hayes had just played him a clip in which Sonia Ossorio, the National Organization for Women's (NOW) New York City chapter president, denounced him for paying for sex. "Do we want an elected official," Ossorio asked, who has "participated in sustaining an industry that we all know has a long history of exploiting women and girls?" Spitzer countered that, as governor, he passed a tough anti-sex-trafficking law (never mind that he broke part of it). It was a conflict you rarely see in public: two people competing for feminist cred over sex work—Spitzer the prosecutor (and repentant customer), Ossorio the spokeswoman (that sex workers never asked for). As is often the case, their sex trade bona fides don't extend to actually having done sex work, but in using sex workers to make a political point. What they missed was that they were shouting from the same side of the stage: Both NOW's Ossorio and...

Will North Carolina's Abortion Restrictions Backfire on the GOP?

Jenny Warburg
Jenny Warburg I n the days since North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory signed a restrictive new abortion bill into law, directing state officials to regulate abortion clinics like surgical centers, the first-term Republican has gotten a sharp taste of abortion-rights advocates’ wrath. Only one clinic in the state currently meets the new regulations; the rest will have to undergo expensive renovations or face closure. On Monday, dozens of protesters held a 12-hour vigil outside the governor’s mansion as they waited to hear whether McCrory would sign the law. Returning the next day, after they learned that McCrory had approved the measure, the protesters wore Mad Men -style shirtdresses and old-fashioned lace gloves to emphasize the law’s regressiveness. They waved signs and chanted slogans, encouraging passing motorists to honk in support of their cause. In a nod to the motorcycle safety bill that contained the restrictions, motorcyclists circled the mansion. (No one crashed.) On Tuesday...

Should Rape Porn Be Banned?

Given that consumption of "extreme" pornography does not lead to real-world violence, outlawing it only sends the message that those who enjoy it—including women—are deviant.

Press Association via AP Images
Press Association via AP Images L ast week, British Prime Minister David Cameron announced plans to make it a criminal offense to own or view pornography that simulates rape. It’s already illegal to produce such “extreme” pornography in the United Kingdom; the proposed law will make it illegal to possess it, too. Some American groups, such as the interfaith non-profit Morality in Media, have been fighting for the United States to pass similar legislation for a long time. Morality in Media’s “ War on Illegal Pornography ” campaign holds violent porn responsible for a host of social ills, including domestic abuse and increased crime. These activists have an important goal: to protect women from real-life sexual violence. The crux of the argument against this genre of pornography is that it promotes violence against women in real life, but research on the topic does not bear out this premise. In a study of four countries , Danish criminologist Berl Kutchinsky found that the availability...

Going Rogue for Marriage Equality

AP Photo/Matt Rourke
AP Photo/Matt Rourke Tamara Davis, left, and Nicola Cucinotta kiss after obtaining a marriage license in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania despite a state law banning such unions. L ast week, Montgomery County, a sleepy suburb of Philadelphia, was thrust into the national spotlight when its elected register of wills, D. Bruce Hanes, put principle above policy and began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples in defiance of Pennsylvania's long-standing ban on gay unions. Since July 24, Hanes has issued more than two dozen of the licenses. Thus far, two lesbian couples have used the licenses to tie the knot in the first officially sanctioned same-sex marriages in Pennsylvania history. Hanes's pioneering effort—which materialized over the course of a single week after a lawyer representing two women contacted his office to inquire about obtaining a marriage license—has elevated Pennsylvania's stature as a gay-rights battleground and put Governor Tom Corbett on notice that, on the...

Iowa's High-Tech Abortion Battle

Free Verse Photography (http://www.flickr.com/photos/ennuipoet/5479828006/sizes/l/in/photostream/)
O ne night in 2007, Jill June, CEO of Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, couldn’t sleep. She was grappling with a problem that vexes rural pro-choice advocates everywhere: the lack of access to abortion. At the time, Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, which performs most of the abortions in Iowa, had 17 clinics in its network but only three with an on-site physician. Doctors would travel, sometimes as far as 200 miles, to three other clinics in the state to perform intermittent care. The remaining 11 clinics did not offer abortion services. In all, 91 percent of Iowa’s counties, the more sparsely populated regions that are home to more than half the state's women, lacked an abortion provider . For June, providing access to medical abortion—the termination of an early pregnancy using a pill, rather than a surgical procedure—was especially challenging. In a few states, nurse practitioners or other midlevel medical staffers are allowed to dispense medical abortion pills, widening the...

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