Category Archives: Sexism

“They’d rather die than have these pregnancies.”

Flickr / Jon Chiang

The Washington Post ran a lengthy profile of Leroy Carhart, a Nebraska doctor who travels to Maryland twice a month to perform late-term abortions:

Carhart, who once dreamed of becoming a hand surgeon, said he witnessed how abortions often went bad when he was a medical resident in Philadelphia in the 1970s. In emergency rooms, he saw women who had tried to self-abort with knitting needles and coat hangers. Many required serious surgery; some died.

After retiring from the Air Force in 1985, he worked for a few years as a general surgeon but began performing abortions part time at an Omaha clinic at the request of a former patient, also the clinic’s nursing director.

On Sept. 6, 1991, the day Nebraska passed its parental-notification law, his farm burned down. No family members were hurt, but the fire destroyed his house and other buildings, and killed his dog, cat and 17 horses. The next day, Carhart received a letter informing him that the fire was in retaliation for the abortions. Local officials were unable to determine the fire’s cause.
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In Defense of A Certain Celebrity Profile

I could not disagree with Alyssa more about her take on Edith Zimmerman’s brilliant GQ profile of Chris Evans. She found it “disconcerting” and writes:

It’s not so much this profile, which is really not so much a profile as a chronicle of hanging out with an action star, that read as odd to me. It’s that Zimmerman’s piece comes on the heels of the March issue, in which GQ published Jessica Pressler’s account of spending the night with Channing Tatum, a couple of Snuggies, and a bottle of tequila. For GQ, sending out a female reporter to get tipsy and a little frisky with an otherwise indistinguishable slab of beef appears to be their stab at creating a novel and enduring journalistic form, akin to the New Yorker’s revealing anecdote, followed by a statement of a larger problem, followed by an origin story. At this rate, I’ll be making it rain in strip clubs with Ryan Reynolds by November.

Her point about Jessica Pressler’s night with Channing Tatum is somewhat well-met. But it’s also fairly common for GQ profiles to boil down to a few hundred words of “I hung out with this person.”

Still, I think Alyssa is missing what made the story so wonderful. Chris Evans is essentially a nobody (an up-and-coming nobody, sure) in Hollywood — he’s not a great actor, and he’s not even playing a great hero (sorry, Captain America fans). If Edith did this with a person who was important or particularly interesting, like Barack Obama or even Robert Downey, Jr. that would be one thing. But Evans is exactly what Alyssa describes him to be: an indistinguishable slab of beef (who is apparently much loved by his mother, as all boys should be).

So, what do you do when faced with an assignment to profile of a handsome movie star whose credits include “Harvard Hottie” in the Nanny Diaries and the lead in Push, a movie I think I was the only person in America to see?

I guess you could dig around and try to find out what makes him interesting. Or you could take this opportunity to explore the absolutely bizarre experience of writing a celebrity profile. Edith writes:

Despite his publicist specifically telling him not to, he invited me to come to his going-away party. “My poor publicist,” he said. “She knows I like to drink. She was like, ‘Please don’t drink too much, please just don’t drink too much—you’re gonna take this person out, and they’re going to ruin you.’ ”

We were heading our separate ways for dinner first. I said I was going to call a cab, but Chris laughed and insisted on his driver taking me back to my hotel. In the vast backseat, Chris was even more flirtatious than before, touching my arm and my knee. At this point, which was a…number of drinks in, it was easy to forget that it really was an interview, and I’d be lying if I said it didn’t cross my mind that something might happen (and that we’d go to the Oscars and get married and have babies forever until we died?). But there was always the question of how much of it was truly Chris Evans, and whom I should pretend to be in response.

Let’s face it: most celebrity profiles are completely worthless. Either you suffer through Hirschbergesque atmospherics like what the weather is like and if the person has a purple couch (for 95-lb female stars, it’s all about how much pasta, or burgers, or beers they consumed), or you get long, winding profiles that will ultimately conclude that so-and-so is “complicated.”

Maybe it’s because I’m a journalist, but I’d much rather read a story about what it’s like to try and interview a handsome, charming celebrity and spend time in fancy places and fall a little bit in love with one’s subject. In divulging the ethical roadbumps all journos in these situations are sure to face, Edith is telling us more than we would ever learn by reading what Evans’ workout routine is. And that is writing by a woman that I can get behind.

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Some Writing I’ve Been Doing

I’ve got two pieces out today that I’m pretty proud of, in different ways. First there’s the first post in a series I’m beginning for Colorlines that explores the jobs crisis, and why it’s so hard to get things done in Washington. I talked to a couple of economists who have some theories:

“If you go back to that time, I think we were worried that the unemployment could get up to 6, or maybe 7 percent,” says economist Lawrence Mishel, president of the liberal Economic Policy Institute. “There was bipartisan effort to stimulate the economy when we were worried about 7 percent. Now we’re at 9 percent,” he adds—but now no one cares.

Chad Stone, an economist at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, argues that unemployment has fallen away as a real priority because Washington politicians are now caught up in a short-sighted argument over the budget deficit.

“The idea has caught on in this town that we have to cut spending really quickly to address a perceived budget crisis,” Stone says, but “cutting spending immediately goes in the wrong direction for solving the jobs crisis.”

Read the rest at Colorlines.

Second, I did a post for The Hairpin that I’m pretty excited about because I love The Hairpin/Awl. Thanks to Edith for running it! I wrote about the ridiculous Psychology Today post that postulated theories for why black women are objectively less attractive than all other women.

I know, right?

The problem with race-based assessments of attractiveness or intelligence — particularly when it comes to black people — is that it completely ignores a couple of things. First, that black people can be Paul Robeson or Anatole Broyard or Butterfly McQueen or Lena Horne. There’s no one kind of blackness. This leads directly to point number two, which is that most black Americans have varying degrees of white genetic material, and, traditionally, fairer skinned black women — those who are closer to white — have been considered most beautiful.

That means that you could conclude that a) the blacker a lady is, the less attractive she is, that or b) in order for racism to work, people have to believe irrational, crazy things about other races — like that black women are less attractive and less feminine than other ladies.

Read the rest at The Hairpin.

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Hollerin’ Season

Image: Flickr / chriscardinal

Yesterday I stopped at the grocery store to pick up some yogurt to go with dinner. On my way in, a store employee lingering outside smiled at me. I smiled and nodded and walked in. On my way out, I vaguely heard someone else calling to me, “Hey baby! Baby!” Quietly, then louder and more insistent.

I hurried through the parking lot, trying to ignore the person cat-calling me. The store employee who had smiled at me earlier then started calling to me from 30 feet away as I headed to my car. “Hey miss lady! Alright now!” I glanced at him, and it was clear he didn’t want anything but my attention.

Annoyed, I got into my car where my dog was waiting. As I was exited the parking lot, another man flagged me down, pointing to my headlights. Thinking something was wrong, I slowed to a stop. He smiled and said, “I like your dog.”

Me: “Thanks.”
Him: “Are you single?”
Me: “No.”
Him: “Are you really not single?”
Me: “On my way to my man’s house right now.” [True fact: The easiest way to get a strange man to leave you alone is to tell him that you’re someone else’s property. Equally true fact: It doesn’t always work.]
Him: “Do you want to make a friend?”
Me: [Blank stare, preparing to pull off]
Him: “Well, do you need some CDs, DVDs…?”

I drove away.

As harassment goes, it certainly wasn’t the worst I’ve experienced. Neither of these men made remarks about my body or called me a bitch because I wasn’t receptive. Neither of them blocked my path. (All of these things have happened to me. All of these things have probably happened to all of the women you know.) It was just a deluge of unwanted attention. I joked about it — the bootleg DVD offer was funny — to my boyfriend when I got to his house. But I was joking because it was so infuriating. And I knew that if I were at the store with him, it wouldn’t have happened. Being a woman alone in public means I can’t even buy a tub of yogurt without fielding unwanted advances.

I left that grocery store never wanting to go back. I’ll avoid it if I’m by myself. Here’s the thing street harassment apologists don’t seem to understand when they say “don’t get offended just because a man says hello to you.” It’s just plain stressful being approached by multiple male strangers — especially when I don’t know how they’ll react to my disinterest. I’ve been yelled at, I’ve been cursed out, and physically intimidated. I’ve also been wished a blessed day. But the unpredictability is what makes it so upsetting. Even as I make the choice to avoid certain places, I hate it, because it’s just another example of the ways street harassment limits women’s access to public spaces.

Of course, I don’t have a choice much of the time. Standing at the bus stop on Rhode Island Avenue on fine mornings means being called to by all kinds of men who are sitting, bored, in their cars on their way to work. There are different methods of dealing. There’s snapping back, there’s being silent, and there’s being polite and dismissive. Still, the result of each tactic depends solely on the guy and whether he’s willing to leave me alone; it has little do with whether I desire to be left alone.

It seems there’s only one thing to do when warm weather arrives and, as my friend Dayo puts it, “hollerin’ season” has arrived: Put my game face on.

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Ben and Jane

Historian Jill Lepore has an op-ed in the Times comparing the life of Benjamin Franklin with his closest sister, Jane Mecom, and I honestly can’t remember the last time I read something so relevant to my interests in the NYT.

Franklin, who’s on the $100 bill, was the youngest of 10 sons. Nowhere on any legal tender is his sister Jane, the youngest of seven daughters; she never traveled the way to wealth. He was born in 1706, she in 1712. Their father was a Boston candle-maker, scraping by. Massachusetts’ Poor Law required teaching boys to write; the mandate for girls ended at reading. Benny went to school for just two years; Jenny never went at all.

Their lives tell an 18th-century tale of two Americas. Against poverty and ignorance, Franklin prevailed; his sister did not.

At 17, he ran away from home. At 15, she married: she was probably pregnant, as were, at the time, a third of all brides. She and her brother wrote to each other all their lives: they were each other’s dearest friends. (He wrote more letters to her than to anyone.) His letters are learned, warm, funny, delightful; hers are misspelled, fretful and full of sorrow. “Nothing but troble can you her from me,” she warned. It’s extraordinary that she could write at all.

“I have such a Poor Fackulty at making Leters,” she confessed.

He would have none of it. “Is there not a little Affectation in your Apology for the Incorrectness of your Writing?” he teased. “Perhaps it is rather fishing for commendation. You write better, in my Opinion, than most American Women.” He was, sadly, right.

It continues this way, sketching the trajectory of their lives, and the fact that Mecom bore 12 children and buried 11 — something that surely stood in the way of any self-improvement she wished for. Lepore writes, “the story of Jane Mecom is a reminder that, especially for women, escaping poverty has always depended on the opportunity for an education and the ability to control the size of their families.”

There’s nothing I can add to this excellent essay, of course, so I encourage you to read the whole thing.

As an aside, I hit my 20-article limit last week, and the site kindly informed me. But I keep clicking links and have yet to be blocked by a paywall.

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In Defense of the Short Men

My colleague and friend Kay Steiger tweeted something this morning that made a lot of people defensive:

Declared History’s Greatest Monster by many, she followed it up with an awesome blog post this afternoon:

Height discrimination seems to be one of the last socially accepted irrational dating biases. If you’re short, there’s literally nothing you can do about that. When I say that I think women who refuse to date a man simply because of his height I usually get a litany of reasons defending this position—pretty much all of which are irrational.

I’m just not attracted to short men.
Fine. I don’t really get why you’d eliminate an entire population simply based on height, but there is some evolutionary psychology to back up the idea that women tend to be attracted to greater height. But if we’re totally being honest, there are tons of “evolutionary” romantic biases that modern people work around pretty effectively: People tend to be attracted to people that look most like them, women are “attracted” to wealthier men, or that women evolutionarily want to be more submissive to men. Why we adhere to the height “evolution” reason and tend to reject others as biased is beyond me.

Short men have a “Napoleon” complex.
I don’t have any scientific data to back this up or anything, but I’m pretty sure Napoleonism isn’t a universal trait among men under a certain height. What women mean when they say this is they once dated a short guy who was an asshole and so they’ve taken to assuming all short men are assholes.

And so on. Go read the rest, it’s good.

I just want to follow this up with something one of my followers brought up, and something Kay touched on a bit, but bears teasing out. Women are socially conditioned to want to feel smaller than men. Superhero women are smaller than superhero men (mostly). Wanting a bigger guy than oneself is often about wanting to feel small and protected, and less visible. There’s nothing inherently wrong with wanting what you want, but casting aspersions on a whole group of men because of personal preference quite literally is bigotry. And if we’re getting personal, I actually have a slight preference for shorter men because I’m only 5’3″ and I like looking a guy in the eye. It also makes other logistics easier. But! I would never not date a much taller man because of that, and people, I suspect, would call me crazy if I said I just wasn’t into tall guys.

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Why Don’t Lady Superheroes Have Muscles?

Via my friend Sean, Bleeding Cool has a bunch of pics up from the new Wonder Woman tv show shoot. Most of the pictures are of Adrienne Palicki, but there are a few of her stunt double, Shauna Duggins as well.

Here’s Palicki:

Here’s Duggins:

A couple of things. One, I’m glad the promo shots of Palicki in high heeled boots and plasticky pants are not the actual costume. I’m also glad she’s wearing pants — in this day and age, blue hot pants with stars would just look silly (sillier? We are talking about a superheroine here).

Second, the contrast between Palicki’s and Duggins’ physiques jumps out at me. Duggins is muscled — not “toned” — which is totally to be expected for a job that requires leaping, fighting, and just generally being physically strong. Palicki, who is clearly fit, doesn’t actually have much muscle to speak of. And it reminds me of how, 10 years ago, Sarah Michelle Gellar, playing Buffy, a woman who was supposed to be able to fight men twice her size, had very little muscle tone. Sure, she was obviously fit, but check out the arms on one of her stunt doubles, Sophia Crawford. But this is nothing new: ’70s Wonder Woman Lynda Carter wasn’t particularly buff, either.

I guess you could argue that, as superheroes, neither Buffy Summers nor Diana Prince need big muscles to do their jobs. They’re inherently strong. But their male counterparts are heavily muscled. Tom Welling is pretty cut on Smallville (am I the only person shocked that that show is still on?), as was Tobey Maguire when he played the somewhat lithe Spider-Man.

My suspicion is that live-action women superheroes aren’t buff because in order to be traditionally sexy and feminine, they just can’t be. A Wonder Woman with powerful muscles would be intimidating to fanboys, not attractive. Plus, as a working actress, Palicki can’t afford to be “too buff” when she wants to be cast other roles — a problem I doubt many actors have.

Anyway, I’m tempted to call this a moot point, since it’s entirely likely that Wonder Woman will be terrible and won’t make it out of the first season. Still, it’s worth noting, since we’ll probably continue to see this disparity in superhero build.

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