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18 Jun 22:35

"Ask the gays"

by Mark Liberman
Madison Metricula

Syntax remains hard to follow even in context WHAT IS GOING ON

In a speech yesterday, Donald Trump reacted to the Orlando massacre by suggesting that his audience should "ask the gays, and ask the people, ask the gays what they think and what they do":

The predictable reaction was a twitter storm of memetic responses, of which this is one of the milder examples:

There are plenty more where that came from:

But this is Language Log, not Socio-Political Reaction Log, so let's take up another aspect of this exchange:

We discussed this issue last summer in the post "Phenomenal to the women", 8/11/2015. And as in that case, we should be fair to Donald Trump by giving the context of his "ask the gays" phrase:

Now Saudi Arabia, think of this — I have a lot of friends in Saudi Arabia —
look, Saudi Arabia,
Saudi Arabia,
don't forget these are the people who gave many many millions of dollars to the
Clinton foundation, I wonder why we take care of them.
And for the women out there, ask
the people of Saudi Arabia what they think of women.
And for the-
for the gays out there
ask the gays, and ask the people, ask the gays what they think and what they do
in not only Saudi Arabia, in many of these countries
with the gay community, just ask.
And then you tell me
Who's your friend,
Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton, you tell me.
You tell me.

It seems that he meant to say something like the following:

And for the women out there,
ask the Saudis what they think of women.
And for the gays out there,
ask the Saudis what they think and what they do with the gay community.

But he got his noun phrases tangled up, and said "Ask the gays" instead of "Ask the people of Saudi Arabia". So he did repeatedly say "the women" and "the gays", but the whole "Ask the gays" meme was a response to a speech error. Richly deserved, in my opinion, but still.

The effect of the definite article with plural nouns on stance and attitude towards the referenced group is subtle and complicated. A bare plural is indefinite, so if someone urges us to "ask men", they're referencing some indefinite sample of adult males. In the generic case, they imply that any sample of men will do. But if they tell us to "ask the men",  they're talking about a specific and delimited group. That group might be contextually delimited — "ask the men (in the class) to leave the room" — but if the phrase is entirely generic, there's an odd implication of homogeneity and otherness.

Thus Donald Trump might urge us to "ask men" what they think of his positions. But it would be weird for him to suggest that we "ask the men" in general what they think of him, or to claim that "I'm popular with the men" (which in his idiom might be "I'm phenomenal with the men").


01 Apr 17:42

Pretty things - Click Through For a Screencapped Post

Madison Metricula

Infuriating but sad :(

Fascinating story about a woman who finds out  her seemingly normal husband is a vicious online troll.

And yes, this guy is really willing to refuse therapy and sacrifice HIS MARRIAGE AND FUTURE CHILD simply so he can continue to harass people.


01 Apr 17:40

Ender's Game

Madison Metricula

This does something to my cockles


The Government: we need children to run the military

Bonzo: welcome to battle school
the only thing you need to know about life up here is that we only have two kinds of swearing
“fart face” and vicious racial slurs

Ender: oh

Bonzo: we’ll kill you as soon as look at you
but we’ll never say “shit”

Peter: now that Ender has gone to space to become a general, we must do our part to change humanity

Valentine: absolutely
what should we do

Peter: let’s leave comments about political theory on the internet until the government offers us jobs

Alai: Ender
let’s kiss

Ender: yes
unrelatedly, gays and Jews?

Alai: monstrous, both of them
also, unrelatedly
we call our greatest enemies the “buggers”
but don’t read too much into it
it’s just a longer, more difficult way of saying bugs that has nothing to do with the more common definition of the term

The President: look at this

Secretary of State: Sir?

The President: someone is talking about John Locke online
give them my job at once

Secretary of State: Yes, sir

Bug Ghost: Ender we knew you would come
and we knew you didn’t mean to genocide us
please don’t feel bad about it
the genociding
when we were murdering you
we thought we were actually just disfiguring you
we were just trying to cripple your society, not murder it
so it was all just a big misunderstanding

Ender: oh

Bug Ghost: just please don’t worry about it, genocide-wise

Tags: books, i'm into hard sci-fi, literature probably, probably
01 Apr 17:32

When Did Porn Become Sex-Ed: Excerpt

Madison Metricula

Permalink to article:

It became sex-ed because that's all you can get when parents/society/lawmakers drop the ball. :(

No wonder that according to the largest survey on American sexual behavior conducted in decades, published in 2010 in The Journal of Sexual Medicine, researchers at Indiana University found only about a third of girls between 14 and 17 reported masturbating regularly and fewer than half have even tried once. When I asked about the subject, girls would tell me, “I have a boyfriend to do that,” though, in addition to placing their pleasure in someone else’s hands, few had ever climaxed with a partner.

Boys, meanwhile, used masturbating on their own as a reason girls should perform oral sex, which was typically not reciprocated. As one of a group of college sophomores informed me, “Guys will say, ‘A hand job is a man job, a blow job is yo’ job.’ ” The other women nodded their heads in agreement.

Frustrated by such stories, I asked a high school senior how she would feel if guys expected girls to, say, fetch a glass of water from the kitchen whenever they were together yet never (or only grudgingly) offered to do so in return? She burst out laughing. “Well, I guess when you put it that way,” she said.

01 Apr 17:26

Jury Duty

Madison Metricula

Damn, this is bleak

There are twelve of us left. The first thing the prosecutor did during voir dire was ask all the men of color whether we trusted cops. Every black man had a story: police harassment, spurious arrests, intimidation. They were all eliminated. I was asked if I had any experiences of this kind, and I said no. It was the truth. Perhaps this was the time to mention that having witnessed the murders of Eric Garner and Walter Scott on video made personal experience unnecessary. I didn’t mention it.

In the end, only two men of color make it to the jury, and I am one of them. The other is Latino. There are two Latina women, one African-American woman, and one Asian woman. The remaining six jurors are white.

I admit I had gotten excited. I love courtroom dramas. I love the thrill of argument, the language games the law comprises. I don’t believe in guilty pleasures — pleasure is nothing to feel guilty about — but I’m not altogether proud of how much I admire Sam Waterston in Law and Order, Tom Cruise in A Few Good Men, even Joe Pesci in My Cousin Vinnie. I doubt I could ever be a lawyer like their iconic characters. I shy away from confrontation. But when I got my summons, I must have been the only citizen in the county who looked forward to reporting.

Then, with the rush to single out men of color, a bad taste starts to settle in. The prosecutor is slender and severe, with a face made up entirely of right angles. He’s a fast talker. He mispronounces my name. I start to worry about what I’m getting myself into.

The defense attorney, like the defendant, is black. He speaks with a languid drawl, in stark contrast to the prosecutor’s shrill bark. He precedes nearly every question with the phrase, “let me ask you this question.“ He is profoundly outclassed by his adversary. They could both be Law and Order characters.

The judge is genial and fair, but I’m already starting to hate the appellation “your honor.” Judges are glorified fact-checkers. You know who they should call your honor? Me. And the rest of the citizens on the jury who will be rendering a verdict.

Once we’re all assembled in the jury room, I soon learn that we’ll be spending the majority of our time here. Some of the most exciting moments on Law and Order are pretrial motions and sidebars, where Waterston does some of his most vehement sputtering. When you’re a juror, you don’t get to see this stuff. You have to go sit in the jury room.

To pass the time, I’ve started reading Bryan Stevenson’s book Just Mercy. Stevenson is an African-American lawyer, and the book is a memoir that deals with his struggle against the excessively punitive, racially biased nature of the American criminal justice system. One of the things I learn from Stevenson is how commonplace it has always been to exclude people of color from juries in the United States, with prosecutors still tending to use peremptory strikes to eliminate black jurors.

The judge has already instructed us directly that we are not to do any research on the law while sitting on this jury. This is the first of several times I will violate those instructions.

Through eavesdropping and small talk, I start to pick up on the cast of characters. The courtroom drama most relevant to this scene is, of course, 12 Angry Men. But trapped here in close quarters with a small group of people, I feel instead like I’m in The Breakfast Club. The most vocal members of the jury line up in a neat one-to-one correspondence with the archetypal characters written by John Hughes.

Emilio used to play baseball in college. Now he’s a salesman for a large corporation. He drips with confidence, and everyone is charmed by him. He’s the type of guy I would have resented in high school, but he seems to be going out of his way to establish a rapport with me. I’m flattered. In spite of myself, I want him to like me. Molly works in finance. She’s attractive. Emilio, who is married, starts hitting on her right away. It seems inevitable that the two of them will form a clique. I want Molly to like me too, and to my surprise she does, at first.

Ally is clearly intelligent, but acts deliberately childish. She’s loud and brash, and even light conversation with her turns into an argument. She makes me uneasy. Anthony wears a tie with a Transformers pin. He’s a classic nerd, so classic it’s hard to believe he didn’t step off the screen from a Hughes movie. Hardly a subject comes up that he doesn’t respond to with a useless tangential fact. He’s a staunch logical positivist, though I doubt he would know to describe himself as such. I’ve known plenty of guys like this in my life. I sat at a table full of them in my high school cafeteria.

I flatter myself that I’m Judd Nelson. To be honest, I never did get detention in high school. But I did walk out in protest of the Iraq War. I do believe in jury nullification. And I think the American carceral state is so corrupt that I’m starting to doubt if I could bring myself to render a guilty verdict under any circumstances. This thought will continue to haunt me.

I’ve always thought that The Breakfast Club, for all its flaws, is a remarkably perceptive account of the dynamics of teenage society. Its resemblance to the jury makes me wonder if we ever really grow out of the roles we adopt, or are imposed on us, as teenagers. The way I remember high school is that only a few people stood out of the pack — the cool kids on top, the outsiders on the margins. Everyone else just kind of drifted along with the tide.

I will find that a jury, too, is not quite about justice but instead about the direction of the tide.

The charge is homicide. A man is accused of killing another man. It’s serious.

It’s also boring. Testimony mainly consists of dates and names and places and times. I didn’t realize just to what extent lawyers are bound to ask only questions, which leads to some convoluted back-and-forth when a witness doesn’t know what answer to give.

There is a glaring lack of evidence in this case. A single eyewitness, who has a sexual history with the accused, who lied under oath in previous testimony, who was high at the time of the incident. No murder weapon. Claims of an accomplice, who has never been found. No forensic evidence — fingerprints, DNA, surveillance camera footage — tying the defendant to the scene of the crime. During breaks, I consider parallels to the prosecution of Walter MacMillan, one of Bryan Stevenson’s clients, whose story is woven through Just Mercy. It’s also a case with one witness, whose unreliable testimony snowballs into a death sentence.

There’s a handwritten confession that the defendant claims he didn’t write. He says he signed a blank page that appeared later containing a confession. In the months since the arrest, changes have been made to local precincts that now allow them to record all interrogations on video. In this case, no video was taken.

The suggestion of a police conspiracy is laughable to the prosecutor, and, I will learn, to many of my fellow jurors. I suppose this is why every black man was eliminated from the jury pool. If it’s biased to presuppose police officers are corrupt, it should be considered equally biased to presuppose that they always act lawfully. Instead, it’s considered ridiculous. The presumption of innocence is dangerously misplaced.

I keep thinking of Walter Scott, whose uniformed murderer is seen on camera shooting him while he runs away, and who plants a weapon on his freshly killed corpse. While doing all this, the officer reports over police radio that Scott attacked him.

The cops testify. Everyone concedes that they look nervous.

There is one other person in the room who doesn’t quite fit in, the Latino man who is the only other male juror of color. He sits and stares out the window. He doesn’t join in on small talk.

“I haven’t been sleeping,” he says, when asked why he is so silent. “A man’s life is at stake.”

I think of him as Henry Fonda in 12 Angry Men. We will share this role.

An old lady reminds me of Edith from All in the Family. She talks too much, usually about her grandchildren. Unlike Edith, she vies shamelessly to be the center of attention, though her inability to relate to others prevents her from retaining this position.

Three other women are on the late side of middle-aged, and are affable and pleasant. One is the foreman, but shrinks from taking the lead. Another always goes to Macy’s instead of eating lunch, returning with shopping bags. The last never speaks. There is a young man who hates being on the jury even more than the rest of us. “I’m so over this,” he keeps muttering to himself. Given the gravity of the situation, I find it hard to respond to this level of self-involvement.

The African-American woman is a cop. She immediately begins to violate the judge’s instructions not to introduce any personal expertise into deliberations. I don’t necessarily have a problem with ignoring the judge’s edict, but meanwhile, I’m frequently informed that I cite too many external facts and figures. It’s the privilege of the majority to enforce a double standard.

A couple days into deliberation, we take an anonymous vote. Ten for conviction. Two for acquittal. No one is surprised.

Outside of court, I tell everyone I can’t talk about the case. Then I usually talk about the case a little. I ask others if they would feel comfortable rendering a guilty verdict, even if they knew for sure the defendant was guilty. A friend says she would, but I don’t know if I believe her. I ask the same people if they’ve ever been in a situation where they were forced to make a moral choice that would have consequences outside of their own personal lives. A different friend says yes, but refuses to tell me what choice he made. Normally I would pry, but I don’t have the energy.

When acquaintances who don’t know me as well find out I’m on a jury, they ask what for. When I say it’s a murder trial, their eyes widen. They’re excited. They want to know more. I can’t blame them. I felt the same way before I got selected. I’m not excited anymore.

One morning I notice I’ve suddenly developed bald patches in my beard. I’m not a hypochondriac — I usually need someone to point out to me that I look sick before I recognize it myself. But this symptom is so bizarre I research it exhaustively. It’s called alopecia areata barbae, and is the result of an overactive immune system mistakenly attacking hair follicles. It’s generally believed to be a result of stress. WebMD points out this correlation is not clinically proven, but fails to offer an alternate theory.

During lunch, deliberation ceases. I haven’t practiced the kind of jovial one-upmanship that characterizes the interactions of male teenagers in years, but Emilio seems to have never abandoned it. I take some pride in being able to keep up with him. I’m less and less intimidated by Molly, who even suggests at one point we exchange numbers after the end of the trial. I’m surprised by how much they seem to be tolerating me, even as I stand in the way of their return to their everyday lives.

In the course of describing his affinity for computer programming, Anthony advances his positivist ideology to the group. He acknowledges the inherently incomplete nature of affirmative proof, but is untroubled by it.

I think of a story about Wittgenstein. He asked a class why people before Copernicus believed that the sun revolved around the earth. A student said, because it looks that way, of course. Wittgenstein then asked, so what would it look like if the earth revolved around the sun?

“There’s a story about Wittgenstein…” I start to say.

“Who?” asks Anthony. I realize his understanding of logic must come only from computers.

“Ludwig Wittgenstein,” I say.

“Never heard of him!” Edith interrupts.

I drop it.

I try to stick to evidence and logic in my arguments. I emphasize that in the absence of a direct evidentiary tie between the crime and the defendant, it’s legally improper to deliver a guilty verdict. Henry makes a more emotional appeal. Without questioning whether the defendant wrote the confession, he suggests that its contents may have been written under duress. He is shouted down by the others, who tell him that because this possibility was not presented by the defense, it’s merely a conspiracy theory and we can’t consider it.

Secretly, I’m considering it too. According to Stevenson’s Innocence Project, out of the hundreds of prisoners exonerated by DNA evidence after its introduction in the 1980s, one in four made a false confession. If the defendant did in fact write a confession but is claiming he didn’t, it doesn’t necessarily follow that the account given by the police is therefore the truth. An innocent man facing a monolithic judicial system accusing him unjustly might well lie if it seemed like his best hope of exonerating himself. How would we know, if not for his testimony? What would it look like if the earth revolved around the sun?

The defendant also claims he was never notified of a call from a lawyer to the precinct where he was being held. The form noting the call is marked with a time just minutes after the time noted on the confession. The proximity seems to me to be cause for unease. I’m suspicious of the chronology. The others tell me that if the confession was made after a call from a lawyer, it would have been illegal, and should have been excluded from evidence. If it hasn’t been excluded, I need to consider it. The implication is that if cops break the law, we have no means and no right to stop them.

The defendant did sign a Miranda waiver, a fact made much of by some of my fellow jurors. An innocent person wouldn’t talk to the cops, they say. I remember an article I once read about the psychology of interrogation. In actual fact, 80% of suspects decline their Miranda rights in order to appear cooperative. Hostile officers, interrogation rooms, hunger — it’s hardly a stretch to say that these factors can cause intimidation and hasty compliance, especially in light of growing awareness of police brutality. Would a young black man who is under arrest sign a blank page if instructed to do so by a cop? I don’t know whether or not this one did, but it would be unmistakably prejudicial to rule it an impossibility.

Anthony is angry at the direction taken by our deliberations, which he believes should proceed with the inexorable logic of a mathematical proof. He surreptitiously writes a jury note, which the judge told us should be delivered with the whole jury’s consent. He privately asks the foreman to sign it. Before he’s able to deliver it, I stop him. The note accuses another juror of improperly insisting on “baseless speculation.” It’s a coded attempt to eliminate Henry from the jury. To the rest of the jury’s credit, no one allows it to reach the judge. The foreman admits she didn’t know what it said when she signed it.

I’m struck by the incident’s resonance. It’s a conspiracy that hinges on a person signing a form she didn’t read.

Edith and Ally have clearly stopped caring. Edith brought a deck of cards, and they play card games while I try to present an argument. I think of a scene partway through 12 Angry Men, where Henry Fonda crumples up a tic-tac-toe game other jurors are playing, angrily hissing, “This is not a game!”

I’m no Henry Fonda. I ignore them and continue. I write up all the incriminating facts on a whiteboard in green dry-erase marker. In blue, I add all the facts in evidence that contradict them. Doing this kind of presentation, for an adversarial audience, is difficult for a preternatural introvert like me. I’m reminded of the comedian George Jessel’s line: “The human brain is a wonderful thing. It starts working the moment you’re born and never stops until you stand up to speak in public.”

At some point, one of the older women gets out her makeup kit and gives Ally a makeover. This is literally a scene from The Breakfast Club. Edith looks up from a game of solitaire and casually mentions that she actually thinks the murder was committed by the accomplice, who was never found and is not on trial. But since the defendant’s lawyer did such a poor job exonerating him, she concludes, she’s going to deliver a guilty verdict. My jaw drops. No one questions her obviously flawed reasoning, because she’s on their side.

Molly mentions that she watched 12 Angry Men over the weekend.

“It’s so good,” she says. “It’s just like this.”

She favors conviction. I imagine what an inverse 12 Angry Men would be like, starting with 11 jurors ready to acquit and Henry Fonda as the only one willing to convict. Would we applaud at the end, once he convinces the others and the boy is sentenced to death?

“I’ve lost my faith in trial by jury,” says Anthony, shaking his head.

The jury has given up on democracy.

I watch 12 Angry Men again. I notice this time that the boy’s innocence is never proven, and no alternate theory of the crime is produced. A possibility remains that the defendant is guilty. The brilliance of the story is that it shows this to be a defensible, democratic ideal, as in the formulation classically stated by William Blackstone: “Better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer.”

The movie demonstrates how much of the judicial process hinges on transference, the imposition of preexisting ideas about people from one’s past onto others. Janet Malcolm describes its consequences in Psychoanalysis: The Impossible Profession. “The concept of transference at once destroys faith in personal relations and explains why they are tragic: we cannot know each other. We must grope around for each other through a dense thicket of absent others. We cannot see each other plain.”

At the climactic moment of 12 Angry Men, the sole remaining juror who favors conviction suddenly becomes aware of his transference of an Oedipal drama onto the defendant. He has identified the boy, accused of murdering his father, with his own son, who has cut him out of his life. After he lets the connection slip in an anguished outburst, he buries his head in his hands.

“Not guilty,” he finally says.

After the movie ends, I call my own father.

“You just have to spend a couple more days in court,” he tells me. “But you’ll have to live with this decision for the rest of your life.”

“Walk with me,” says Henry.

We’ve finally been dismissed for the day, and it seems like we’re the last to leave. Exiting the empty building feels just like leaving detention. Henry and I splinter off from the others. Jurors aren’t supposed to talk about the case outside of deliberations. We talk about the case. Henry assures me he’s not going to change his vote. He thanks me for standing with him. He is emotional. I wonder if either of us would have held our ground if we were alone. It’s becoming clear that there are two possible outcomes for this trial. Either Henry and I vote against our beliefs, or there is a hung jury.

Again I violate the judge’s instructions and research the law. I learn that while up to 7% of trials end in a hung jury, a 2009 study showed that 54% end with at least one juror voting for an outcome with which they do not agree. Call it Breakfast Club Justice. The desire to be part of the crowd can be stronger than the courage to render the verdict you believe in.

Henry gets into a shouting match with Molly. I get into a shouting match with Ally. Emilio is too used to getting his way to shout, but his disdain for me and Henry is increasing.

“I can’t vote against my conscience just to reach a consensus,” I say. “I took an oath.”

“If you change your vote to reach a false consensus,” says Anthony, “I’ll report you to the judge.”

I realize that for him, threatening to snitch on me for voting against my convictions is a strange way of showing respect. He accepts that my reasoning followed a logical process, albeit one that emphasizes uncertainty more than he is comfortable with. He has stopped arguing with me, but he isn’t changing his vote either.

We tell the judge we’re “hopelessly deadlocked.” I heard this phrase on Law and Order, and it sounds official.

The judge sighs and tells us to keep deliberating.

By the second week I feel catatonic. There is no institutional support for a holdout, even though a trial that does not reach consensus is an inevitable outcome of the jury system. Being in the minority is excruciating. I question whether I have the stomach for it. I think of people like Edward Snowden, Chelsea Manning, Thomas Drake. Their lives were irreversibly altered, in some cases ruined, as a consequence of their moral fortitude.

For some reason, Molly and Emilio refuse to submit another note that identifies us as a hung jury. No one opposes them. I’m mystified as to why they’re so determined to prolong the tedium of circuitous deliberation. Is it out of lawful piety? Punitive sadism? Subservience to authority? Whatever the reason, arguments drag on. I feel like I’m the one on trial.

I never did expect to be Henry Fonda, but now I know who I do feel like. I’m Bartleby. Asked to render a conviction, I am reduced to repeating, “I prefer not to.” I fear that like Bartleby, I may be destroyed by my act of refusal.

Emilio no longer looks me in the eye, but Molly has become vicious.

“You shouldn’t even be here,” she screams. “You lied during voir dire!”

“So report me to the fucking judge!” I shout back. I’ve never raised my voice like this with anyone outside of my immediate family, but she did just accuse me of perjury.

They report me to the judge. The jury note accuses me of not using “common sense” during deliberation. Since it will be read out in front of the court and it would be a violation to name a juror, it does not identify me specifically, instead referring generally to “one or more jurors.”

We file into the courtroom to see the judge, who reads out the Webster’s Dictionary definition of common sense.

As I scan the news one morning before the jury is called in, I come across a report from an organization called Law Enforcement Leaders to Reduce Crime and Incarceration. The group consists of both current and former police chiefs, prosecutors, and attorney generals. They do not mince words.

“We need less incarceration, not more, to keep all Americans safe,” says their boldest statement.

The facts about our excessive incarceration rate are well-known — we have 5% of the world’s population and 25% of its prisoners — and acknowledged even by the members of this committee, whose livelihoods formerly consisted of increasing it. Looking at these rates, not to mention considering life sentences and the death penalty, it’s clear that American criminal justice is not interested in rehabilitation. Rendering a guilty verdict in a court of law means voting to maintain a separate prison population for perpetuity. It’s an endorsement of a system that is undeniably failing.

All this time, Henry has been shrewder than I realized. While telling me in private that he will never vote guilty in this case, he leads the rest of the jury to believe he’s still undecided. He wears the others down, forcing them to push to call us a hung jury. It’s a more effective strategy than my attempt to push for it singlehandedly, based on rational argument and impassioned appeals to the Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Amendments of the Constitution.

I write the note myself, carefully wording it to convey certainty and finality. The note submitted, deliberation comes to a halt. Awkward small talk simmers. Molly and Emilio have fallen asleep. Edith, who is preternaturally incapable of silence, proudly tells stories of occasions on which she beat her kids, lamenting the lack of corporal punishment in modern childrearing. She would even sometimes beat other people’s kids, she tells us, if they misbehaved and their own parents weren’t around. But you can’t do that anymore, she complains.

She thinks she’s being charming. I think of the final holdout in 12 Angry Men, and wonder if she thinks the defendant deserves a good beating.

The judge calls us in again and declares a mistrial.

The prosecuting attorney is waiting outside the hallway.

“You don’t have to talk to me,” he says, struggling to keep calm. “But it would help.”

I assume that none of us will talk to him, that no one would compromise the confidentiality of the jury. I walk off.

Needless to say, I am wrong. As soon as Henry and I have clearly separated from the group, the remaining jurors gather round.

“Was it split?”

Emilio shakes his head.

“Eleven to one?”

“Ten to two,” says Emilio. I wonder why either extreme had seemed more likely than the imperfect reality.

The ten eagerly offer a caricature of the position Henry and I had taken. They take pleasure in throwing us under the bus. The prosecutor seems to have sought out this conversation more for personal vindication than to accumulate data for the retrial. I speculate on how often he gets hung juries. I bet it’s going to happen more and more in the future.

“I’ve never had a jury request a definition of common sense before,” he smirks.

I resist the urge to argue. I’m tired of arguing and I’m no longer required to do it.

I walk out the door for the last time.

30 Mar 20:36

Donald Trump Says Women Who Get an Abortion Must Have 'Some Form of Punishment'

Madison Metricula

Sadly, he's not the only person saying this publicly.

Donald Trump Says Women Who Get an Abortion Must Have 'Some Form of Punishment'

Just when you think Donald Trump’s opinions about women and their rights had reached rocked bottom, he managed to quarry even further into some ring of hell that, until previously, only existed in Dante’s Inferno. On Wednesday, while speaking with Chris Matthews on MSNBC, Trump said that he believes abortion should be banned and women who have abortions should be punished.

During a town hall-style question and answer, Matthews pressed Trump to explicitly state his abortion platform, something Trump had largely resisted expanding upon.

“Should abortion be punished?” Matthews asked. “This is not something you can dodge,” he added.

Trump responded:

“Look, people in certain parts of the Republican Party, conservative Republicans, would say, ‘Yes, it should.”

It was clear that Trump was evading the question, but Matthews pursued his line of questioning, asking Trump to stake his personal position on the issue.

“I would say it’s a very serious problem and it’s a problem we have to decide on. Are you going to send them to jail?” Trump asked almost as if he were looking for an answer. Matthews reiterated that he was asking Trump for clear policy and Trump gave him one:

“I am pro-life. Well, you go back to a position like they had where they would perhaps go to illegal places but we have to ban it.”

Though Trump weirdly acknowledged that banning abortion led women to pursue unsafe and potentially life-threatening options, it didn’t seem to matter to the candidate. When asked whether or not abortion should be punishable under law, Trump replied that it should. Bloomberg reports:

“There has to be some form of punishment,” Trump said. “For the woman?” Matthews asked. “Yeah,” Trump said, nodding.

Trump’s stance—that women should individually be punished—is out of step with the anti-choice community, which has recently generally focused on regulation and dissuading physicians rather than arresting women. Trump did not elaborate on what “punishment” would entail, saying that it would need to be decided and then pivoted to some unintelligible comments on the Supreme Court.

Matthews returned to his line of questioning and asked Trump about whether or not punishment would be applied to men who are equally responsible for an unwanted pregnancy.

“Is [the man] responsible under the law for these abortions? Or is he not responsible for an abortion decision?” Matthews asked. Unsurprisingly Trump responded, “Different feelings. Different people. I would say no.”

Welcome to Donald Trump’s world, where crazy, lying women are compelled to carry every pregnancy to term. But hey, he was joking about hating women. Or maybe, he has no idea what he’s talking about. After the interview, Trump’s campaign issued the following statement:

Update: Donald Trump’s son wants everyone to “be fair.” Stunning.

Image via Getty.

10 Mar 14:03

The Best Time I … Tried to Adopt a Cat

Madison Metricula

"Now we have two cats, Ollie and Nucky. And they do watch the Real Housewives with me. And our apartment smells like poop. And my boyfriend and I are engaged and he’s stuck with me and our two cats forever. The end."

For many years, I’d wanted to get a cat. And for just as many years, my boyfriend had resisted. He claimed that cats were creepy, would poop in our house, would never really love us, and would rip up our furniture. Cats are not creepy and they do love you, I tried to tell him (I didn’t have much ground on the pooping and furniture-ruining points), but he wouldn’t budge, so I spent many nights watching Real Housewives alone, wishing I had a cat to keep me company. Sad me! No, it wasn’t that dramatic, I just wanted a cute cat to pet.

So I pestered and pestered, and would read him heartbreaking listings from (if you’re ever in the mood for a good weep, just peruse those adoption blurbs — “Little Albie, a 4-month-old male kitten, was found in a dumpster. We’ve nursed the friendly guy back to health, and now he’s looking for a forever home!” You’re crying now, right? I am!). Finally, after a nice dinner, a few margaritas, and particularly intense Petfinder session in which I read aloud a listing about a kitten named Emma — my name! — with one leg — one leg! — my boyfriend said to me, tears in his eyes (not really): “Fine, get the cat, but if our apartment smells like poop, it’s on you.” “Hooray,” I yelled, and quickly began Googling “how to adopt a cat in NYC.”

The next weekend, I set out on my mission. I even wore my glasses to convey just how serious I was. I took out my contacts! That’s how serious I was. I arrived at a Petco in midtown and was thrilled to see a number of kittens displayed for adoption. I liked one in particular, a small gray guy with green eyes. “Can I see that one over there?” I asked the volunteer manning the cats. She eyed me suspiciously — she was somewhere between 30 and 60 years old, had butt-length brown hair, and was in worn-out overalls. “Do you already have a cat at home?” she responded. “No, this will be our first!” I gave a chipper, cat-loving smile, one I hoped read ‘happy’ instead of ‘hoarder.’ “I’m sorry, then. You can’t adopt any one of these cats. You can only adopt them in pairs. Otherwise, it’s inhumane. Are you willing to do that?” I was confused, and started to sweat under her cat-lady glare. “I think we just want one cat,” I replied softly. I showed her my list of other adoption sites. “Will any of these places let me get just one cat?” She squinted at my iPhone. “Nope. No way. It’s a citywide policy for all the non-profits. We only allow kittens to be adopted in pairs.” I had just spent years convincing my boyfriend to get one cat, and now this scary lady was telling me we had to get two? 

I wandered out of the store, dejected, and called another organization.


“Can I adopt one kitten from you?”

“Only two, sweetheart.”

And another. “Can I adopt one kitten from you?”

“No, not if you don’t have another cat at home.” But she did recommend a Humane Society an hour uptown.

So, fine, I thought, what’s the big deal? I’ll go up and get a cat. One cat. I got to the Humane Society with high hopes. And then I went in. It was poorly lit and smelled overwhelmingly of wet animals. People were elbowing me and dogs were barking loudly. I followed the signs to the cat area, and on the way up some narrow stairs, I started to get dizzy. Like, really dizzy. Like, panic attack dizzy. Once in the cat room, a tiny square filled with cages of the saddest meowing cats you’ve ever seen, I began to choke on clumps of fur floating in the air like dandelion fluff. I know that the Humane Society is a wonderful organization that saves the lives of so many animals. And yet, at the moment, all I could think was: For the love of god get me out of this hellhole GET ME OUT OF HERE!! My chest tightened, and I felt like I was going to pass out on the floor of the cat room and forever be deemed unsuitable to raise a kitten. I ran out, gasping, eyes tearing up, glasses falling down my face. I got into a cab and sobbed.

I called my boyfriend. “So, did you find us one?” he asked cheerfully. “I CAN’T BREATHE. I THINK I’M DYING.” I tried to explain what happened, but wasn’t making a lot of sense. “I was going to get us a cat. But then I could only get two. So then I came here. And then I couldn’t breathe.” After several minutes (during which I debated telling the cab driver to take me to the hospital), I calmed down, and by the time I got home, I was tear-streaked but semi-recovered.

The next weekend, I adopted one cat from a different Petco. That lady had lied to me. But you know what? It is kind of tragic to only have one. He was lonely, I could just tell. So a couple months later, I adopted another. Now we have two cats, Ollie and Nucky. And they do watch the Real Housewives with me. And our apartment smells like poop. And my boyfriend and I are engaged and he’s stuck with me and our two cats forever. The end.

Emma Rosenblum is an editor at Glamour. She spends her free time watching TV and looking up diseases that she might have on

10 Mar 14:01

20 Irrational But Nonetheless Persistent Beauty Fears I’ve Picked Up From My Time as a Female Human Being

Madison Metricula

The fear of looking like Powder is instilled in many young white girls as soon as sentience is confirmed

If I forget to wear bronzer, I’ll look like Powder.

If I don’t replace my mascara every six months, I will develop huge, painful styes on both eyes. And then I’ll probably go blind.

My deodorant is definitely giving me armpit cancer, right this very minute.

If I use the wrong shade of foundation, women’s magazine editors will swoop down from the sky, hawk-like, and pelt me to death with bottles of the correct shade.


If I neglect to wash my face before bed, I will wake up the next morning with cystic acne, dirty sheets, and probably cancer?

I will likely contract tetanus from shaving with a rusty razor.

If I overpluck my eyebrows, they’ll never grow back, and I will be stuck looking like Powder (again!) for the rest of my godforsaken life.

If I part my hair in the middle, my face will look fat. If I part my hair on the side, my face will look long. If I don’t part my hair, I’ll look like Cousin Itt.

If I use chapstick every day, my lips will become addicted, to the point that if I don’t apply it every 10 minutes, they’ll peel off and just be two bloody lines under my nose.

If I use two different kinds of zit treatments on top of one another, my face will become so dry it ignites, like lightning on loose kindling.

That gel polish turns your nails yellow, brittle, and witch-like, right? No? I thought I read that somewhere.

If I shave my bikini line instead of waxing it, the hair will grow back in the shape of the words ‘YOU IDIOT.’ And it will all be ingrown.

Exfoliating scrubs with big beads will rip off many layers of my skin, leaving me red, scabby, and pale like Powder.

If I put on too much makeup, I’ll look like a character on Toddlers & Tiaras. If I put on too little makeup, I’ll look like a character on Deadliest Catch (one of the fish).

If I wear too much perfume, I will get eaten alive by mosquitos. If I wear too little perfume, I will be mistaken for a large and odorous man.

If I borrow an eyelash curler from you, I will die. Like, right there and then. But at least my eyelashes will look good at my funeral.

Previously: I … Tried to Adopt a Cat.

Emma Rosenblum is an editor at Glamour. She spends her free time watching TV and looking up diseases that she might have on

02 Mar 21:20

Some Republicans Are Trying to Blame Obama for Trump's Rise

Madison Metricula

This is so astute

And neocon Robert Kagan is calling bullshit:

Let’s be clear: Trump is no fluke. Nor is he hijacking the Republican Party or the conservative movement, if there is such a thing. He is, rather, the party’s creation, its Frankenstein’s monster, brought to life by the party, fed by the party and now made strong enough to destroy its maker. Was it not the party’s wild obstructionism — the repeated threats to shut down the government over policy and legislative disagreements, the persistent calls for nullification of Supreme Court decisions, the insistence that compromise was betrayal, the internal coups against party leaders who refused to join the general demolition — that taught Republican voters that government, institutions, political traditions, party leadership and even parties themselves were things to be overthrown, evaded, ignored, insulted, laughed at? Was it not Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), among others, who set this tone and thereby cleared the way for someone even more irreverent, so that now, in a most unenjoyable irony, Cruz, along with the rest of the party, must fall to the purer version of himself, a less ideologically encumbered anarcho-revolutionary? This would not be the first revolution that devoured itself.

Then there was the party’s accommodation to and exploitation of the bigotry in its ranks. No, the majority of Republicans are not bigots. But they have certainly been enablers. Who began the attack on immigrants — legal and illegal — long before Trump arrived on the scene and made it his premier issue? Who frightened Mitt Romney into selling his soul in 2012, talking of “self-deportation” to get himself right with the party’s anti-immigrant forces? Who opposed any plausible means of dealing with the genuine problem of illegal immigration, forcing Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) to cower, abandon his principles — and his own immigration legislation — lest he be driven from the presidential race before it had even begun? It was not Trump. It was not even party yahoos. It was Republican Party pundits and intellectuals, trying to harness populist passions and perhaps deal a blow to any legislation for which President Obama might possibly claim even partial credit. What did Trump do but pick up where they left off, tapping the well-primed gusher of popular anger, xenophobia and, yes, bigotry that the party had already unleashed?

The whole piece, which was published six days ago, is worth your time if you haven't already read it. And it looks Harry Reid read Kagan's piece too...

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) had a message for Republicans just hours after Donald Trump won big on Super Tuesday: Don't act surprised. You made Trump. "Donald Trump is the standard-bearer for the Republican Party," Reid said from the Senate floor Wednesday. "Republicans created him by spending seven years appealing to some of the darkest forces in America. Now it's up to the Republicans to try and undo what they have done by denouncing Donald Trump. It's time for the Republicans to stop the Frankenstein they created."

02 Mar 17:58

Donald Trump Supporters Are White and Scared

Madison Metricula

"“I come home and someone’s occupying my house and they’re eating my food and then they’re taking the kids from my bed; they’re taking the money out of my pocket,” said Deena from South Carolina, probably speaking figuratively."

probably speaking figuratively

Donald Trump Supporters Are White and Scared

It is the end of January and soggy, abandoned suede couch Donald Trump is still leading in the polls. Who is doing this? Stupid America. Why are they doing it? Because they are scared.

A team of hardened CNN reporters spoke with over 150 Trump supporters and undecided rally attendees in 31 cities to understand why this anthropomorphic STD had seen such massive success. The answer will not surprise you.

Scared of Immigrants

“The people that are coming here from China, Indonesia and all of them countries, they’re getting pregnant and coming here and having babies,” said Paul Weber, an Iowan who described himself as “kind of a redneck”: “They get everything and the people that were born here can’t get everything.”

“I come home and someone’s occupying my house and they’re eating my food and then they’re taking the kids from my bed; they’re taking the money out of my pocket,” said Deena from South Carolina, probably speaking figuratively. “Why should we have to support someone else and then make our kids suffer, our families suffer?”

Scared of Muslims

“Islam is traced patrilineally. I am a Muslim if my father is Muslim. In that sense, it is undeniable that Barack Obama was born a Muslim,” said Michael Rooney, a respiratory therapist. “It is true that [Obama] now identifies as a Christian in the same sense that Bruce Jenner identifies as a woman.”

“Islam is not a religion. It’s a violent blood cult, okay?” said 68-year-old veteran Hoyt Wood. “All they know is violence, that’s all they know.”

Scared of Being Treated Like Donald Trump Treats Minorities

“It seems like we really go overboard to make sure all these other nationalities nowadays and colors have their fair shake of it, but no one’s looking out for the white guy anymore,” said North Carolinian white man Rhett Benhoff.

“White Americans founded this country,” said South Carolinian Patricia Saunders. “We are being pushed aside because of the President’s administration and the media.”

Scared of the Alternative

“I like him because he’s a businessman,” said North Carolinian Linda Wilkerson. “He does what he says he’s going to do. I’ve seen him lose a ton of money and bounce back. We’re in terrible financial debt. I hope he can bail us out.”

“Sometimes he’ll say things and I’ll go, ‘Oh gosh, seriously?’ But at least he’s willing to say it,” said Ohioan Curt Handschug who said 2016 is the year of “Donald Trump or nobody.”

“All these politicians are afraid to tell the truth.”

Read the article at CNN.

Image via Getty.

02 Mar 17:10

Rebecca Solnit: The Case of the Missing Perpetrator

Madison Metricula

"I wish all this telling women alcohol is dangerous was a manifestation of a country that loves babies so much it’s all over lead contamination from New Orleans to Baltimore to Flint and the lousy nitrate-contaminated water of Iowa and carcinogenic pesticides and the links between sugary junk food and a host of health conditions and the need for universal access to healthcare and daycare and good and adequate food. You know it’s not. It’s just about hating on women."

In a detective novel, you begin in a state of ignorance and advance toward knowledge, clue by clue. The little indicators add up at last to a revelation that sets the world to right and sees that justice is done, or at least provides the satisfaction of a world made clear in the end. If detective fiction is the literature of disillusion, then there’s a much more common literature of illusion that aspires to deceive and distract rather than clarify.

A perfect recent example is the Center for Disease Control’s new and widely mocked guidelines to drinking. They are like a detective novel run backward—if you read them with conviction, you’d become muddled about what a woman is and how violence and pregnancy happen and who is involved in those things. On the other hand, if you read more carefully, you might know why the passive tense is so often a cover-up and that the missing subject in a circumlocutionary sentence is often the guilty party.

What is a woman? According to the CDC, all women are in danger of becoming pregnant. “Drinking too much can have many risks for women,” their chart tells us, and itemizes them for “any woman.” “Injuries/violence” top the list and “unintended pregnancy” brings up the rear. “Drinking too much can have risks for women including… any alcohol use for women who are pregnant or might be pregnant.” Medical professionals should “advise a woman to stop drinking if she is trying to get pregnant or not using birth control with sex.” This in a few deft, simple strokes reduces all women to fertile females in their breeding years who have what you might call exposure to fertile men. It denies the existence of many other kinds of women and the equal responsibility of at least one kind of man. Maybe it denies the existence of men, since women seem to get pregnant here as a consequence of consorting with booze, not boys.

Women is a category covering a great variety of us who fall outside the CDC criteria. Quite a lot of us are past the age of knock-up-ability and all the uncertainty that goes along with it. Even if we do laps with handsome sommeliers in the great barrels of pinot noir ripening in the Napa Valley, we will not accidentally become pregnant. Many younger women are not fertile at all for some reason or other, from longterm birth-control implants and tubal ligations to consequences of medical conditions and treatments and genetic lotteries. Not even with fountains of mojitos spouting up from the ground like geysers will they become pregnant, no matter what. Thirdly, a meaningful population of women are lesbians and/or, when they drink, keep company with other women and not with men or not with men who have sex with women or who have unprotected sex with women. No river of whiskey will have any impact on whether they get pregnant either. Finally, trans women generally don’t get pregnant even in the presence of a Niagara falls of prosecco, though some trans men have borne children intentionally, but that’s another story and a kind of nice one, much nicer than the one we have to investigate here.

Because here’s the really wild thing: how do (fertile cis-) women get pregnant? Get on back to sex ed, sixth grade style: remember that bit about the union of the sperm and the egg? Because what struck a lot of us when we read about the new CDC guidelines is that it avoids reference to how women get pregnant. Pregnancy results when particular subsets of men and women get together in particular ways. No man, no pregnancy. If that language is too strong for you, then just say that women become pregnant when a bit of male genetic material is introduced by a male organ (no one becomes unintentionally pregnant by the other methods of introducing sperm or fertilized eggs to uteruses). Oh, and I should mention that the male organ is pretty much always attached to a male person.

A woman can be fertile as the Tigris Valley in the time of Abraham and she’s not going to get pregnant absent consort with a seed-bearing man. But if you listened to the way it’s often framed, you might believe that women get pregnant on their own. Conservatives assert this when they excoriate women for having “fatherless” children or having sex for pleasure. The anti-abortion narrative is often about depraved women having sex for the hell of it and devil take the consequences; the fact that they cannot be having this risk-of-pregnancy type sex in the absence of men is the freaky part of it, a freakiness that is covered up by its familiarity.

A few election cycles ago politician Todd Akin claimed that women did not get pregnant from “legitimate rape.” He was the one who said that women’s bodies had ways of “shutting that thing down” as though a uterus has some sort of remote-controlled door on it. Sometimes overlooked in all the attention to the craziness of his idea was that his comment was in the service of denying rape victims abortion rights. In the current extremes of anti-abortion advocacy and enforcement (like the cases of women prosecuted for trying to produce miscarriages), women have no value in relation to the fetuses in their wombs, though about half of those fetuses will turn into women who will, in turn, be assessed as having no value in relation to the next potential generation of fetuses. Women may be worthless containers of containers of containers of things of value, namely men. Embryonic men. Or perhaps children have value until they turn out to be women. I don’t know. It’s a mystery to me how these people think.

Meanwhile, the mechanisms of pregnancy are assiduously avoided in this mystification of reproduction story. First there is what we could call the mystery of the missing man: it absents guys from reproduction and absolves fathers from what is called fatherlessness, as though their absence from the life of a child was somehow something that had nothing to do with them. (And yeah, there are bad women who shut out nice men from contact with their kids, though from personal experience I know more cases of dads missing in action and moms on the run from violent creeps.) Seriously, we know why men are absented from these narratives: it absolves them from responsibility for pregnancies, including the unfortunate and accidental variety, and then it absolves them from producing that thing for which so many poor women have been excoriated for so long: fatherless children. The fathers of the fatherless are legion.

You can imagine a parallel universe of non-misogyny in which men are told that they carry around this dangerous stuff that can blow a woman up into nine months of pregnancy and then the production of other human beings and that they are irresponsible, immoral, and lacking in something or other—what is it that women are lacking?—when they go around putting that stuff in pregnable people without consent, planning, or care for longterm consequences. There is not much scolding along those lines, outside of warnings about women entrapping men with pregnancy, which is often a way of describing male withdrawal of responsibility but not of sperm.

As others have mentioned, recommendations for women around the Zika virus have been similar to these alcohol guidelines for women: the responsibility for preventing pregnancy in the presence of a disease that causes birth defects has been portrayed as entirely up to women, even in countries like El Salvador where abortion is illegal in all circumstances, birth control is not readily accessible, and (like pretty much everywhere else) women do not always have a safe and easy time saying no to sex. Seventeen women accused of having abortions (which is sometimes how a miscarriage is interpreted there) are in prison for homicide in El Salvador. It’s arguable who their bodies are thought to belong to but clear their bodies are not regarded as belonging to them. Brazil did get around to telling men to use condoms during sex with pregnant women (but not with women at risk of being impregnated).

This mystification of reproduction is full of missing men and missing access to resources. The CDC’s highlighting of unintended pregnancy in the United States raises the questions of how maybe better access to reproductive rights and education and healthcare might have more to do with reducing unintended pregnancies than asserting that all reproductive-age women not on birth control should not drink alcohol (a mandate that ignores how many women get pregnant unintentionally while actually on birth control).

I wish all this telling women alcohol is dangerous was a manifestation of a country that loves babies so much it’s all over lead contamination from New Orleans to Baltimore to Flint and the lousy nitrate-contaminated water of Iowa and carcinogenic pesticides and the links between sugary junk food and a host of health conditions and the need for universal access to healthcare and daycare and good and adequate food. You know it’s not. It’s just about hating on women. Hating on women requires narratives that make men vanish and make women magicians producing babies out of thin air and dissolute habits. This is an interesting narrative for the power it affords women, but I would rather have an accurate one. And maybe a broader one talking about all the ecological and economic factors that impact the well-being of children. But then the guilty party becomes us, not them.

Language matters. We just had a big struggle around the language about rape so that people would stop blaming victims. The epithet that put it concisely is: rapists cause rape. Not what women wear, consume, where they go and the rest, because when you regard women as at fault you enter into another one of our anti-detective novels or another chapter of the mystery of the missing protagonist. Rape is a willful act, the actor is a rapist. And yet you’d think that young women on campuses in particular were raping themselves, so absent have young men on campuses been from the mystificational narratives. Men are abstracted into a sort of weather, an ambient natural force, an inevitability that cannot be governed or held accountable. Individual men disappear in this narrative and rape, assault, pregnancy just become weather conditions to which women have to adapt. If those things happen to them, the failure is theirs. This training begins early. Girls in middle and high school even now, even in supposedly progressive places like New York and San Francisco, are told their forms and garments cause male behavior. Who is responsible for the behavior of boys in these narratives about spaghetti straps and leggings? Girls.

We have a lot of stories like this in this country, stories that, if you believe them, make you stupid. Stories that are not expositions but cover-ups on things like the causes of poverty. Stories that unhitch cause from effect and shunt meaning aside. The CDC extends the absence of perpetrators from crimes by telling women, in their simple orange and green chart, about why they shouldn’t drink, that drinking too much carries the risks of “injuries/violence.” Now, falling over and breaking something is a risk of being drunk, but since “injuries” here is coupled with “violence”, and tripping over a chair is not commonly regarded as violence, it’s clear that what’s meant is: someone might hurt and injure you. In sane worlds and grammatically coherent narratives, violence has a cause, and that cause has agency and consciousness: it has to be another living entity. Alcohol cannot be that entity, since alcohol doesn’t have agency and consciousness. A tree that falls on you is not violent, though a landlord might be responsible if your ill-maintained house collapses on you

You drink, you get injured, but who injures you must not be mentioned, so that it’s as though there’s only women and alcohol in the room. Even when that someone is the person being addressed; the CDC guidelines telling men that they too should watch their drinking notes that “Excessive alcohol use is commonly involved in sexual assault.” It’s as though there’s a person named “excessive alcohol use, or rather Excessive Alcohol Use whose shirts or maybe hip flasks would be monogrammed EAU. We have all met EAU. He is often involved in sexual assault. But here’s the point: he never acts alone. Because the CDC is twisting itself into baroque knots to avoid saying “you” or “men” or “drunk guys” or “perpetrators.” They seem less worried that someone might get beat up or raped than that someone’s feelings might get hurt. But people get hurt in part because we don’t want to talk about who does the hurting.

Excessive Alcohol Use has a brother named Excessive Alcohol Consumption on this list, and he’s trouble too: “Excessive alcohol consumption increases aggression and, as a result, can increase the risk of physically assaulting another person.” EAC apparently acts alone in this narrative, which is a sentence in search of a subject. Whose aggression? Who will assault? Maybe the CDC should cut to the chase and issue warnings about men. After all men are the main source of violence against women (and for that matter the main source of violence against men). Imagine the language! Use of a man may result in pregnancy or injury; men should be used with caution. Assess each man carefully for potential risks. Be careful about using men with alcohol. Maybe they should come with warning labels? But that too would exonerate men from responsibility for their acts, and I think a world in which we don’t perform that exoneration so often would be a better one. Seriously, domestic violence is the leading cause of injury to women ages 15-44 in the United States.

In the wildlife sanctuaries of literature, we study the species of speech, the flight patterns of individual words, the herd behavior of words together, and we learn what language does and why it matters. This is excellent training for going out into the world and looking at all the unhallowed speech of political statements and news headlines and CDC instructions and seeing how it makes the world or in this case makes a mess of it. It is the truest, highest purpose of language to make things clear and help us see; when words are used to do the opposite you know you’re in trouble and that maybe there’s a coverup.

Detective work and the habits of perception it generates can save us from believing lies and sometimes show us who’s being protected when a lie is also an alibi. The CDC is right to warn about the dangers of misusing alcohol, if not in how it did so. I am myself trying to warn about the misuses of language. We are all language detectives, and if we pay enough attention we can figure out what things mean even when they don’t mean to tell us, and we can even tell when stories are lying to us. So many of them do.

02 Mar 16:56

Coffee table book about the design of sex toys

Objects of Desire: A Showcase of Modern Erotic Products and the Creative Minds Behind Them by Rita Catinella Orrell is a coffee table book that has photos of 100 design-centric sex toys and interviews with their designers. The cover features Crave's hit Vesper vibrator.













Design website Core77 interviewed the author, Rita Catinella Orrell about Objects of Desire, which out March 28 from Schiffer Publishing.

Former Starbucks designer on what makes a "third place" feel like home


Suppose you wanted to design a home away from home. What would you put in? What would you leave out? What kind of seating would you have? (Soft? Hard? Low? High?) What kind of tables — big working slabs or intimate little two-tops? A good “third place” may seem casually homey, but its design is […]


Voice and gesture interface from 1979!

In 1979, MIT professor Christopher Schmandt and colleagues developed “Put That There,” a voice and gesture interactive system, in the Architecture Machine Group (that later evolved into the famed MIT Media Lab). In this video, a researcher demonstrates the system while sitting comfortably in a stylish Eames Lounge Chair. From a 1982 paper about the […]


Rugs woven/squirted from extruded urethane foam


Dutch design house Nightshop sourced soft urethane nonskid foam, which starts off as a liquid that you squirt out of a syringe, and they proceeded to weave a series of handmade rugs out of it.


Take a long drive down the road to peace of mind with this Dash Cam and save 71% while you're at it

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Point, click and blow-up your Instagram with the Lytro Gen 1 camera: now 49% off

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Build it, light it, code it, turn it, fix it, crash it, crush it with Arduino: 3 great deals to get you started

Arduino is awesome. It goes beyond coding to actually connect the physical world of gadgets to computer programming. So many rad devices are built using this language and now it’s easier to learn than ever with this trio of laid back course packs. It doesn’t matter if you’re a total tech rookie or silicon rock […]


02 Mar 16:37

Christian conservatives push child marriage with creepy meme comparing girls to apples

Madison Metricula

So, so much wrong. Evangelicals love alpha male imagery.

White girl lies on the ground with apples (Shutterstock)

“Girls are like apples on trees. Their fathers are the farmers, whose job is to care for them. He must protect his apples from pests and disease. He must guard them against thieves who may pick his apples prematurely. Neither those at the top nor those at the bottom can help their location. But, when each reaches peak ripeness, it is the farmer’s job to harvest that fruit and give it to whom he will, to those in need. So there is nothing wrong with the apples still on the tree and nothing wrong with the boys who seek them. But it is the farmer’s duty to provide for both, in due season.”

Perhaps one of the most disturbing images on the Internet recently comes from the Christian fundamentalist website, “Let Them Marry.” Formerly called, “True Love Doesn’t Wait (It Marries)”, the pro-early marriage site is a Quiverfull ministry dedicated to teaching fathers the truly biblical path to marriage for their young sons and daughters.

Girls are like apples on trees

The site’s main author, and patriarch extraordinaire, Vaughn Ohlman, believes Christian youth are not marrying early enough because Christian dads are way too picky about which “boys” they’re willing to give their “girls” to in marriage:

We believe that not only should most people marry, they should marry in their youth. The Bible speaks of the “wife of thy youth” (Prov. 5:18; Is. 54:6; Mal. 2:14-15) and “children of the youth” (Ps. 127:4). Scripture also speaks of not letting children pass the flower of their age (1 Cor. 7:36) … Leaving the physically mature young man struggling with fornication and leaving the physically mature young woman wallowing in fruitless, barren celibacy—these are both unscriptural and ungodly actions.

The onerous quote above, which likens daughters to apples and their fathers to farmers, is an apt representation of the creepy objectification of young girls and women by their own fathers which pervades the Christian purity movement. The message is clear: the value of a young woman is in her virginity — a consumable commodity owned by her future husband, kept in trust by Daddy.


Vaughn Ohlman is a sick man with a twisted sense of fatherly love.

Suzanne Titkemeyer, administrator of the No Longer Quivering blog, frequently features the bizarre rantings of “Let Them Marry” in the “Quoting Quiverfull” section and has had numerous interactions with Vaughn, whom she describes as, “a nonsensical pain in the ass who refuses to accept logic, facts and legitimate figures,” reports that Ohlman was interested in a girl at his church and her daddy judged him not good enough and rejected him.

(That story is all kinds of messed up, but the good news is … whew, she dodged a bullet!)

Of the “girls are like apples” quote, Titkemeyer says, “Girls and women are NOT consumable objects without thoughts, feelings, humanity or needs.”

Cindy Kunsman, author of the Spiritual Abuse Survivors blog, Under Much Grace, says this comparison of girls to fruit falls short on several counts. “The words belie the writer, for they demonstrate the grandiosity of the patriarch who is cast as the farmer as well as the theme of the eldest head of household in this national folk religion. Everyone and everything derives its existence from the patriarchal, head-of-household farmer who seems to be entirely responsible and omnipotent over flora, fauna, and other adult men, too.”

Kunsman adds, “A good father loves and cares for his daughters and sees these apples of his eye as beloved people, not objects. This meme reduces girls (who are assumed to be daughters if not all women) to products for consumption and men the devourers. But even the suitors who desire them (because of nature, not the farmer’s nurture) are subject to bounded choice. It appears that young men procure apples to devour, but they are also subjects of the farmer. It’s amazing to me just how many dynamics of thought reform and spiritual abuse this homegrown meme illustrates in just a short narrative.”

“Girls are like apples on trees” … a nauseating idea, indeed. Sadly, it’s classic Quiverfull and no surprise coming from the hyper-patriarchal Christian culture which views women as property and children as commodities.

You can read our stories at No Longer Quivering. If you like Twitter drama, you can also follow me: @NoQuivering.

Vyckie Garrison was once a minor celebrity in the Quiverfull Movement, made famous by TV’s Duggar family. As a devout, Bible-believing Christian and the mother of seven homeschooled children, Garrison spent 16 years, with her husband, publishing a newspaper for families on a similar path. Today, via a website called No Longer Quivering, she publishes resources for women leaving the movement.

02 Mar 16:36

On Going Off My Depression Medication During Pregnancy

Madison Metricula

This is hard and confusing to decide what level of risk to accept--not just for the fetus, but for yourself and your quality of life or ability to function.

When my daughter was about 3 months old, I attended a party with a bunch of other new moms. They were gushing — GUSHING — about parenthood. I stood silently in a circle of the rosiest faces you ever did see, wondering what on earth they were experiencing. Someone turned to me to ask how my daughter was. 

"She's kind of a jerk?"

Audible gasps followed. 

"I didn't say I wished her dead, I'm just not enjoying the newborn phase." 

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At the grocery store, strangers would ask if my baby was my "first."

"She's my only," I'd respond. End of discussion.

I'd be chatting with close friends who were thinking about getting pregnant and my advice became, "I wouldn't recommend it."

"Really? But your kid is awesome!"

"I know, she's incredible, I got very lucky. But yeah, no, really. If I had it to do over, I wouldn't."

If you think this makes me sound like a monster, you've probably never been a depressed new mother.

A new documentary called Moms and Meds, coming out spring 2016, explores what happens when anxiety and depression collide with pregnancy through interviews with moms at all stages of parenthood. It's riveting. You know how you get teary-eyed at stories about mothers with cancer postponing treatment for the sake of their unborn children? Rarely do we treat women who suffer from deadly mental illnesses with the same compassion, but the filmmakers here did an excellent job with that. However, I'm not here to review the film. (I actually don't even know how to do that? "I liked it!" "I hated it!" The end.) I am here to say that it broke my heart because I've been there and it is a largely invisible struggle.

I knew about six months before I got married that I was going to try to get pregnant immediately. Lots of things factored into that, including my age (34 at the time) and indecision about how many children I even wanted. What if I loved pregnancy and motherhood? There wasn't much time left to manufacture a brood. What if I couldn't get pregnant easily or at all? I'd need to get the ball rolling on other options, or start saving up for a vacation home and settle comfortably into our life as DINKs. Whatever the outcome, I wanted answers sooner than later. But, according to my therapist and family doctor, pregnancy meant no more antidepressants or anxiety medications. Which meant I would probably be depressed going into my wedding and pregnancy. Which meant I'd probably stay depressed until I went back on medication. And when would that be? How long did I want to nurse? The decisions surrounding this were endless, like all parenting decisions, except for one part: the only guaranteed outcome of this decision is that I would be a miserable piece of shit the entire time.

Having a mood disorder sucks — sometimes it sucks so much that you want to die. Plus, a lot of times it makes you suck, publicly, and then people are uncomfortable around you, and friends and family fall away rather than deal with you. It's understandable. Add bringing a child into the world on top of all that garbage? Become a mentally ill  mother — "mother" being the most publicly criticized job in the world — and you're pretty much fucked. None of your choices are right, including the one to get pregnant in the first place, and not only that, you will be forced to suffer for almost two years and it had better be in silence lest you disturb the fetus, the baby, your partner, or friends and family. 

Depression has been a presence in my life for as long as I can remember. After suffering a traumatic brain injury at 6 years old, depression was almost a guaranteed part of my future. Some studies put the coincidence of depression after TBI at rates as high as 77 percent. Add to that any family history, and you can see the odds stacking up. Panic attacks followed years later, in high school, and kept me off flights for seven years until I found a drug that helped me even get to the airport. I've always managed my depression with a combination of therapy and medication when needed, though I've consistently been on medication for about the last 10 years. 

But when you're pregnant, or even thinking of letting sperm into your vagina, and you have a mental illness, the standard advice from therapists and doctors is to go off your meds for the sake of the potential kid. Why? Mainly because we can't do controlled drug studies on pregnant women and babies, duh. Therefore, we don't know what happens to a developing fetus when, say, the mother needs to take 300 milligrams of Wellbutrin every morning, 25 milligrams of Trazodone at night, and 5 milligrams of Valium as needed for fear of flying and wide open spaces and heights. Your guess is as good as mine, literally, and guessing and mothering don't mix well. 

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22 Feb 17:14

Neuroscientist: Meth Is Virtually Identical to Adderall—This Is How I Found Out

Madison Metricula

At first I was like, "No shit," but the piece focused on having greater empathy for meth users/abusers.

Like, drugs are regulated very differently depending on who uses them. Meth is a scourge on rural areas, but so is oxycontin abuse. The difference is poor people are likely to use meth, while prescription drugs like oxy and Adderall are the province of white, middle and upper middle class people with education.

My mom's friend went into rehab for prescription painkiller abuse and the friend actually said, "It's not like I was doing *street* drugs."

The long subway ride from DC’s airport to Silver Spring was unusually pleasant. It had been about an hour since I had taken a low dose of methamphetamine. It was my 40th birthday—October 30, 2006—and I was headed to a National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)-sponsored meeting.

A friend, who had a prescription for the drug, had given me a couple of pills as a gift, knowing that I was an expert on amphetamines but had never actually taken any myself. I sat on the train feeling alert, mentally stimulated, and euphorically serene.

And when the effects had worn off after a few hours, I thought, “that was nice,” worked out, and enjoyed a productive two-day meeting. Well, maybe not enjoyed—it was a NIDA meeting after all. But I didn’t crave the drug or feel the need to take any more. I certainly didn’t engage in any unusual behaviors—hardly the stereotypical picture of a “meth head.”

So why is it, then, that the general public has such a radically different view of this drug?

Perhaps it has something to do with public “educational” campaigns aimed at discouraging methamphetamine use. These campaigns usually show, in graphically horrifying detail, some poor young person who uses the drug for the first time and then ends up engaging in uncharacteristic acts such as prostitution, stealing from parents, or assaulting strangers for money to buy the drug. At the end of advertisement, emblazoned on the screen, is: “Meth—not even once.” We’ve also seen those infamous “meth mouth” images (extreme tooth decay), wrongly presented as a direct consequence of methamphetamine use.

These types of media campaigns neither prevent nor decrease the use of the drug; nor do they provide any real facts about the effects of meth. They succeed only in perpetuating false assumptions.

Swayed by this messaging, the public remains almost entirely ignorant of the fact that methamphetamine produces nearly identical effects to those produced by the popular ADHD medication d-amphetamine (dextroamphetamine). You probably know it as Adderall®: a combination of amphetamine and d-amphetamine mixed salts.

Yeah, I know. This statement requires some defense.

This is not to suggest that people who are currently prescribed Adderall should discontinue its use for fear of inevitable ruinous addiction, but instead that we should view methamphetamine rather more like we view d-amphetamine. Remember that methamphetamine and d-amphetamine are both FDA-approved medications to treat ADHD. In addition, methamphetamine is approved to treat obesity and d-amphetamine to treat narcolepsy.

In the interest of full disclosure, I too once believed that methamphetamine was far more dangerous than d-amphetamine, despite the fact that the chemical structure of the two drugs is nearly identical (see figure). In the late 1990s, when I was a PhD student, I was told—and I fully believed—that the addition of the methyl group to methamphetamine made it more lipid-soluble (translation: able to enter the brain more rapidly) and therefore more addictive than d-amphetamine.

It wasn’t until several years after graduate school that this belief was shattered by evidence not only from my own research, but also by results from research conducted by other scientists.

In our study, we brought 13 men who regularly used methamphetamine into the lab. We  gave each of them a hit of methamphetamine, of d-amphetamine, or of placebo on separate days under double-blind conditions. We repeated this many times with each person over several days and multiple doses of each drug.

Like d-amphetamine, methamphetamine increased our subjects’ energy and enhanced their ability to focus and concentrate; it also reduced subjective feelings of tiredness and the cognitive disruptions typically brought about by fatigue and/or sleep deprivation. Both drugs increased blood pressure and the rate at which the heart beat. No doubt these are the effects that justify the continued use of d-amphetamine by several nations’ militaries, including our own.

And when offered an opportunity to choose either the drugs or varying amounts of money, our subjects chose to take d-amphetamine on a similar number of occasions as they chose to take methamphetamine. These regular methamphetamine users could not distinguish between the two. (It is possible that the methyl group enhances methamphetamine’s lipid-solubility, but this effect appears to be imperceptible to human consumers.)

It is also true that the effects of smoking methamphetamine are more intense than those of swallowing a pill containing d-amphetamine. But that increased intensity is due to the route of administration, not the drug itself. Smoking d-amphetamine produces nearly identical intense effects as smoking methamphetamine. The same would be true if the drugs were snorted intranasally.

As I left DC and travelled home to New York, I reflected on how I had previously participated in misleading the public by hyping the dangers of methamphetamine. For example, in one of my earlier studies, aimed at documenting the powerfully addictive nature of the drug, I found that when given a choice between taking a small hit of meth (10 mg) or one dollar in cash, methamphetamine users chose the drug about half the time.

For me, in 2001, this suggested that the drug was addictive. But what it really showed was my own ignorance and bias. Because, as I found out in a later study, if I had increased the cash amount to as little as five dollars, the users would have taken the money almost all of the time—even though they knew they would have to wait several weeks until the end of the study before getting the cash.

All of this should serve as a lesson on how media distortions can influence even scientific knowledge about the consequences of drug use.

It took me nearly 20 years and dozens of scientific publications in the area of drug use to recognize my own biases around methamphetamine. I can only hope that you don’t require as much time and scientific activity in order to understand that the Adderall that you or your loved one takes each day is essentially the same drug as meth.

And I hope that this knowledge engenders less judgment of people who use meth, and greater empathy.

Carl L. Hart is a professor (in psychiatry) at Columbia University. He is also the author of the book High Price: A neuroscientist’s journey of self-discovery that challenges everything you know about drugs and society. You can follow him on Twitter: @drcarlhart

19 Feb 16:36

Whistleblower Says Abortion Ban at Catholic Hospital Led to Life-Threatening Miscarriages

Madison Metricula

This is something I specifically fear and within the realm of feasibility.

Like, having a doctor know there is a problem--even this early in a wanted pregnancy--but having to wait until I'm septicemic or my kidneys are actively failing is SO SCARY.

Whistleblower Says Abortion Ban at Catholic Hospital Led to Life-Threatening Miscarriages 

A former Michigan state employee specializing in reducing infant mortality rates told the Guardian that a Catholic hospital’s ban on performing abortions led doctors there to force pregnant women to go through life-threatening miscarriages. She alleges that the doctors were observing a ban on inducing delivery, even when it was medically necessary.

The Guardian reports that they were given previously unpublished documents by Faith Groesbeck, a former health official in Muskegon County whose job was to try to reduce infant mortality rates. Groesbeck provided documentation that five women in 2009 and 2010 at Mercy Health Partners hospital suffered through painful and prolonged miscarriages, despite having symptoms “indicating that it would be safest for them to deliver immediately.” None of the women were more than 24 weeks pregnant, the commonly agreed-upon timeframe for fetal viability.

Usually, when a pregnant person starts showing signs of serious complications, there are a few options, outlined in a recent Southern California Public Radio story: use drugs to induce labor so that the fetus is expelled, perform a dilation and evacuation, or simply monitor the patients for infection. Mercy chose to do the last one in every case, Groesbeck alleges, even when it created serious medical complications or incredibly unsafe home-miscarriage situations:

One of the women described in the complaint was given Tylenol for a potentially deadly infection and sent home – twice – where she miscarried by herself on the toilet. Another woman, the report says, spent three days in the hospital and eventually required additional surgery.

In one case, a miscarrying woman brought to the hospital in ambulance wasn’t induced for 10 hours, despite her specialist begging Mercy’s doctors to do so, the Guardian reports:

Doctors decided they would delay until the woman showed signs of sepsis – a life-threatening response to an advanced infection – or the fetal heart stopped on its own.

In the end, it was sepsis. When the woman delivered, at 1.41am, doctors had been watching her temperature climb for more than eight hours. Her infant lived for 65 minutes.

The allegations against Mercy aren’t new: in 2013, a woman named Tamesha Means, with the help of the ACLU, sued US Conference of Catholic Bishops in federal court, saying they were enforcing a policy that caused her to suffer a painful and drawn-out miscarriage at 18 weeks at Mercy because the doctors refused to induce labor.

She was sent home twice, she alleged, before returning to the hospital a third time and miscarrying, delivering her dead fetus in a painful, breech (feet-first) position. The lawsuit was dismissed in July, however, with the judge ruling that it was requiring the courts to interfere in “religious doctrinal decisions.” (The ACLU and Means are appealing.)

Meanwhile, the ACLU in California is suing Mercy Medical Center in Redding, in the northern part of the state, for refusing to perform a tubal ligation sterilization procedure on a woman who needed one. (Sterilization, too, is against Catholic doctrine). This summer, a Michigan woman named Jessica Mann was also denied a tubal ligation at a Catholic hospital.

The ACLU said in 2013 that Catholic hospitals were growing while secular healthcare options had declined, potentially placing more pregnant women in a position of being forced to go to a facility where religious doctrine overrides good medicine.

None of the fetuses delivered by the five women at Mercy survived.

Contact the author at

Tamesha Means. Photo via ACLU

15 Feb 19:14

The fall... and rise and rise and rise of chat networks

Madison Metricula

The before time

At the end of October 2014, something very important came to an end. After 15 years of changing the way people communicated forever, Microsoft closed down its MSN Windows Live service.

Originally named MSN Messenger, its demise was not an overnight failure. Microsoft’s acquisition of Skype for £5.1 billion in 2012 meant it was only a matter of time before it was finally closed. China was the last territory to migrate the service to Skype; other countries did so 12 months earlier.

At its height, MSN Messenger had more than 330 million users after originally being launched to rival the emerging chat networks of AOL's AIM service and ICQ, followed by the entry of Yahoo Messenger. It was the social network of its day and as influential and dominant as Facebook is today.

Enlarge / MSN Windows Live Messenger for Passport—the IM client that we all loved to hate.

The closure in October 2014 followed that of AOL’s Instant Messenger, which quietly axed its chat rooms in 2010. Two years later, Yahoo Messenger followed suit and closed its public chat service in 2012, explaining only that it was no longer a "core Yahoo product." More pointedly, the ubiquitous use of the mobile phone and messaging relevant to that more immediate platform had made them redundant.

The cessation of these networks signalled a nominal end to the first wave of chat networks before the tsunami of chat ingénues Snapchat and WhatsApp swept over them. While early chat networks went from thousands to millions of users, these chat networks have billions of users... and are worth billions of dollars.

WhatsApp was acquired by Facebook (who else?) for $19 billion (£13.5 billion) in 2013, and a $500 million (£350 million) investment in Snapchat in 2015 now values the company at more than $20 billion (£14 billion). More recently, the success of these giants has driven a new, third wave of chat networks, where emerging companies are offering all forms of niche content to attract and retain new users—but more on that later.

First, let's go back to the start and see how chat technology emerged to become the most important human connector of the age and how the rise of chat networks began.


Enlarge / This is what Talkomatic, the world's first multi-user chat room, looked like back in 1973.
Like many digital technologies, multi-user chat started life in an American university and developed in a remarkably similar way to that of the Internet. In this case, the world’s first chat network happened in 1973 with Talkomatic, which was based on PLATO, a computer-based education program in Chicago’s University of Illinois.

It was primitive at its inception—Talkomatic had six channels, and only five people could chat at the same time—but what started as something for use in the classroom quickly became something for use outside of school; a place to chat with friends in a safe and personal environment. Sound familiar?

Talkomatic would continue to grow slowly over the next decade, but it was in 1980 when the emergent ISP CompuServe released its commercial CB Simulator to the general public that chat networks exploded into talkative life.

The CB prefix was important, because it represented citizens band radio, a technology that had earlier reached its apogee when the 1975 novelty song Convoy reached No 1 in the US, based on the worldwide fad for CB radio. This song by C. W. McCall was a three-way conversation between US truckers using CB radio and CB slang to create a narrative where users of the technology were able to undermine society’s mores, rather like the hackers of today. “We’re about to go hunting bear” (bear meant "police") was as popular a catchphrase in 1975 as any around in 2015.

Enlarge / CompuServe's CB Simulator, which launched way back in 1980, was a rather simple affair. This screenshot is probably running on either a Commodore or an MS-DOS PC.

Many chat pioneers liked to think of themselves as subversive, and the CompuServe CB simulator appealed to their outsider status. Like CB radio it had 40 "channels," and its similar CB nomenclature such as "squelch" and "monitor" only underscored this connection.

CompuServe CB was hugely successful, and other companies built on the shoulders of its gigantism when AOL acquired CompuServe in 1998 and used an updated chat network as one of its features to encourage Americans to buy dial-up subscriptions.

The company had launched Instant Messenger a year earlier and within 12 months had 19,000 chatrooms. What was once an almost insurrectionary network had gone mainstream. Over the next 15 years it would become a locked-in technology with further evolutions via the respective networks of Friendster and MySpace.

You call that a chat network?

So, that was the past. What's next? An October 2015 report, Connected Life, from market research consultancy TNS, polled 60,000 Internet users in 50 markets and revealed the sharp rise in instant messaging (IM) usage. More than half the planet’s population (55 percent) is using chat networks every day on platforms such as WhatsApp, Snapchat, Viber, and Line.

This trend is being led strongly by Asia, where daily usage jumps to 69 percent in China and 73 percent in Hong Kong. Chat networks are particularly dominant in emerging "mobile-first" markets, with daily usage rising in Brazil (73 percent), Malaysia (77 percent), and South Africa (64 percent). By contrast, some Western markets are lagging behind, including the UK (39 percent) and the US (35 percent).

“Apps such as Snapchat, WeChat, Line, and WhatsApp are sweeping up new users every day, particularly younger consumers who want to share experiences with a smaller, specific group, rather than using public mainstream platforms such as Facebook or Twitter," said Joseph Webb, global director of the Connected Life report. “As people’s online and mobile habits become ever more fragmented, companies need to tap into the growing popularity of IM and other emerging platforms. The need for a content-driven approach across IM, social and traditional channels has never been clearer."

Enlarge / In China, you can take out a microloan from within the QQ messaging app, and WeChat is coming soon.
With more than 606 million unique global users, one of the fastest rising networks is Viber, which gives its users the ability to connect in the way that works best for them for free, whether that is through individual or group text messaging, video and voice calls, or stickers.

Viber Games features mobile games for users to play socially against one another, using the Viber platform to send game invites, see what their friends are playing, and brag about their scores. It also features Public Chats, which allows its users to follow brands, celebrities, media, and entertainment content.

“Traditional social networks centre on the idea of users ‘broadcasting themselves’ to anyone who will listen. The recent growth in messaging app use reflects mobile users’ interest in real conversations with closed networks of friends and family," Viber CMO Mark Hardy told Ars. “With mobile now the primary screen, chat apps will continue to develop as leaders in the app space, expanding their services and functionality to act as a hub platform aggregating multiple mobile experiences. Now is the time for the chat apps to fully engage the huge audiences they have built."

Gamification... of chat?

Viber recently announced a $9 million (£6.3 million) acquisition of social gaming startup Nextpeer, the creators of a system that allows games developers to easily incorporate social gaming features into their apps. Such a social gaming feature is a huge incentive for chat network users to remain loyal to their network of choice and also one that drives user retention and acquisition.

Many of these new chat networks like to offer a games element, but one company, London-based Palringo, is offering a more innovative approach when it comes to games.

Palringo’s app has been downloaded more than 40 million times and not only offers in-chat games across more than 350,000 chat groups, it also publishes games on the main app stores to leverage its 40 million installed user base.

Some of these 350,000 chat groups have more than 2,000 members, and over the past 18 months the company has acquired mobile and social games developer companies in Finland and Sweden to bolster its games offering.

Enlarge / We don't talk about it much on Ars, but simple mobile games like Balloony Land are where a growing percentage of gaming profits are being made.
Its latest published game, Balloony Land, has been hugely popular on both the iOS and Android app stores, and, when prompted, players can click on the Palringo button within the game to further immerse themselves in the Palringo community.

Upcoming games from the company include Eternal Enemies, a clan-based game where users can play as Ninjas or Pirates and wage war against each other. Palringo then acts as a social and strategic hub where clan members share intelligence, pick targets, and unlock additional content in the game.

Palringo’s model appears to be working very nicely. Recently nominated for two categories in the annual Meffys awards, the company also came 7th in the Sunday Times Fast Track 100, a league table showing the 100 fastest-growing companies in the UK. This position was based on annual revenues of $14 million (£9.7 million), more than double those of 2013. On these figures, 85 percent of revenue was from games with a very steady profit margin of 50 percent.

“We’ve been in existence in different iterations since 2007, and it became increasingly clear two years ago that we should build a messaging-based business. Moreover, our data showed that our users wanted more than communication, they wanted entertainment," Palringo CEO Tim Rea told Ars.

“A lot of our customers were also on our network because if was fun to communicate with people they didn’t already know, but could come to know. That is people, who were into the same type of things, and not their existing base of people they did know."

Beyond mere chat and games

Another company operating in the same space as Viber and Palringo is North American chat company Kik. The company was spun out, rather like Talkomatic 30 years ago in Chicago, from academia.

In this case, it was a group of students at the University of Waterloo in Ohio who modelled the app on Blackberry Messenger, a strategy that was to be problematic when Blackberry later sued the company for copyright infringement.

Once this was settled out of court in 2013, the company’s growth accelerated, and it secured $38.3 million (£26.6 million) Series C funding in November 2014. Three months later Kik announced it had 200 million subscribers, most of whom were in North America.

Kik is continuing to grow, and at the end of last summer raised another $50 million (£35 million) from Tencent, the Chinese company behind WeChat (Weixin), a chat network that has more than half a billion users in China. With an updated figure of 240 million users, the company’s valuation is currently in excess of $1 billion (£700 million).

Kik, in the same way as its WeChat investor, offers more than just chat and games. From within the app, you can access payment and location tools to pay at restaurants or book a taxi; it's almost an Internet ecosystem in itself.

“More than 40% of American teenagers are active on our network. Chat is already the way this new generation connects with their friends, but there is a huge opportunity to power more of their lives by building a range of useful services that can be delivered through chat,” said Chris Best, co-founder and CTO of Kik.

China’s WeChat is certainly a chat network to emulate. While not particularly known for releasing numbers, late last year the company delivered a handful of jaw-dropping data points at owner Tencent’s Global Partners Conference in Chongqing. As of September 2105 there are now more than 570 million people on WeChat’s network, and the average user reads the equivalent of a novel every month. Unsurprisingly, it is dominated by younger users in the so-called higher and more populated "tier cities."

Tencent says that 15 percent of its users play games, of whom 75 percent play for more than ten minutes. Other features such as money platform Lucky Money and health platform WeRun are also hugely popular; like Kik, WeChat is effectively an app store itself, offering a multitude of services under the umbrella of one app. It’s not difficult to see why Kik is attempting to emulate WeChat’s business model.

Enlarge / KakaoTalk, which is used by 93 percent of South Korea's population, is so popular that its stickers have been turned into toys, figures, plushies, and various other knickknacks. (We know this because our editor, Sebastian, actually owns a KakaoTalk toothbrush holder thingee.)

Asia's love affair with stickers

Elsewhere in Asia, chat companies such as Line in Japan, Hike in India, and Korea’s KakoaTalk all dominate their respective territories.

Line differs from WeChat in that it offers emoji-like stickers to retain its audience. While the West has yet to deeply engage with stickers, they are a huge business in Japan. Line has more than 560 million users across Asia and has recently launched other services such as Line Pay, Line Music, and Line Taxi to further encourage its users to stay in its relatively unfenced (and welcome) garden.

In India, Hike is growing at an explosive rate, the market at the end of the rainbow being a subcontinent with more than 1.25 billion people. Founded at the end of 2012, the company has already raised $86 million (£60 million) through three rounds of funding and now has more than 100 million users. Hike expects to double that user count within 12 months.

Meanwhile, in South Korea, KakaoTalk has more than 140 million users and is used by an extraordinary 93 percent of smartphone users in the country.

So, what's next?

Finally, in this global roundup of the next chat network super-companies, we turn our attention to Telegram. Founded just over two years ago, the company says the platform now sends more than 10 billion messages daily and is "the fastest-growing chat app network in the world."

Enlarge / Telegram is the slick, feature-rich, open chat platform to watch out for.
What makes Telegram stand out from its major rivals of Viber, Palringo, Kik, Line, Hike, WeChat, and KakoaTalk is that this chat network is a solely non-profit organisation. It was founded in Russia by Pavel Durov and Nikolai Durov, two Russian entrepreneurs best known for co-founding social networking site VK.

Now based in Berlin, Telegram’s mission is to be completely open and allow developers to create their own Telegram apps. Unlike the likes of WhatsApp, Telegram is a cloud-based chat network, which means its users can access their messages from several devices at once and share an unlimited number of large files such as videos and images.

Because of Telegram’s use of an open custom data protocol that is synced with multiple data servers, Telegram has the opportunity to become a truly global chat network and may piggyback on territory-centric chat networks who are all finding it difficult to export their offerings to different countries and continents.

But, this utopia apart, the amount of money that investors are putting behind chat networks is proof that there is more than enough room for scores of chat networks, especially those that offer extra and personalised services.

Even while Telegram’s non-profit offering is interesting, none of these other emerging chat platforms would make any money if they weren’t offering add-on services; nobody makes money out of a standalone chat network. Telegram’s rising emergence may fizzle out if it doesn’t diversify, but its aims are more about social enterprise than a commercial chat network.

But, for this rising chat network tide that is lifting all the boats at Viber, Palringo, Hike, KakoaTalk, Line, WeChat, Kik, and countless emulators and imitators that haven't even been founded yet, the future looks very, very bright indeed. We have come a long way from CB radio, and in the argot of those subversive CB days, that’s a big 10-4!

Monty Munford has 15 years of experience in the mobile, Web, and digital sectors and is a weekly tech columnist for Forbes in New York and The Telegraph in London. When he isn't writing, you can find him speaking on the BBC World Service or in various cities and conferences around the world, such as South By Southwest and Mobile Web Africa. You can find him on Twitter at @montymunford.

This post originated on Ars Technica UK

31 Dec 14:58

Ohio Bill Would Require Women to Bury or Cremate Aborted and Miscarried Fetuses

Madison Metricula

So insensitive. "Oh, you went to a hospital to be treated for a miscarriage at 14 weeks? Yeah, you have to pay extra for that so we can make a tiny grave."

Ohio Bill Would Require Women to Bury or Cremate Aborted and Miscarried Fetuses

Republican lawmakers in Ohio are planning on introducing legislation that would require women who have undergone abortions at clinics or been treated for a miscarriage to sign a form designating burial or cremation of the fetal remains.

After Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine’s months-long investigation into Planned Parenthood’s fetal tissue donation program came up empty (like every other state investigation so far), he’s moved on to a report alleging that PP is disposing of fetuses in landfills, an allegation Planned Parenthood called “flat-out false.”

Planned Parenthood has filed a federal lawsuit against Ohio, arguing that DeWine, who has made a career out of blocking abortion access, is making a “plainly political attempt to restrict women’s access to safe and legal abortion.” A federal judge on Monday temporarily blocked officials from taking legal action against Planned Parenthood regarding fetal tissue disposal; however, now three (male) Ohio lawmakers—Sen. Joe Uecker, R-Miami Township, Rep. Rob McColley, R-Napoleon, and Rep. Kyle Koehler, R-Springfield—have picked up the baton with legislation of their own.

Ohio Public Radio quotes Rep. Koehler as saying, “Whether they are selling body parts or simply tossing them into landfills doesn’t matter to me anymore.” (Koehler did not remark on whether it might matter to taxpayers, whose money was wasted on a bogus investigation.)

The proposal, which will be formally introduced in the next few weeks, would require women to designate which burial method she prefers on a form, a designation which would reportedly not be public. And according to Ohio Public Radio, “the cost of that would be passed on to the facility, which could then pass it on to the women being treated.”

Kellie Copeland, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio, said in a statement: “It is just the latest in the constantly changing, medically unnecessary legal hoops that abortion providers and their patients must jump through.” Not only would this legislation serve to further intimidate and shame women seeking abortion care (not to mention women who have experienced traumatizing, completely non-elective miscarriages), but it could potentially burden the women themselves with the excessive cost of cremation or burial—the former is $1,100 on average, the latter much more. (It’s also worth mentioning that it could be yet another tax on the environment.)

Both Indiana and Arkansas passed similar laws this year, and Wisconsin has legislation pending. Ohio abortion access is steadily, quietly becoming among the most limited in the country; according to NARAL’s Copeland in a statement made back in March of this year:

“Governor John Kasich has enacted more restrictions on access to reproductive health care — including safe, legal abortion and family planning services — than any governor in memory. None of his policies will help prevent unintended pregnancy and therefore the need for abortion. In fact, quite the opposite. And more anti-choice measures are pending in the Ohio Legislature. On top of all of that, Governor Kasich is abusing his regulatory authority in an attempt to close abortion clinics across Ohio.”

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31 Dec 14:54

Men’s Rights Activists are cave dwelling idiots

Madison Metricula

Never read the comments, but in the comments Paul Elam personal responds and I am drunk on male tears.

The Men's Rights Movement begins and ends with the argument that there is no pre-existing imbalance between the rights of men and women, or that if there is any injustice it is an imbalance which prejudices men. This is dressed up in any number of concerns, some of which might seem entirely sensible, but which cumulatively amount to an activism which is hostile to women. Issues like the rights of fathers in family proceedings are used to prop up a nostalgia for a time when men had an easier time of it: a time when men could be assured of jobs, power and status, a time before feminism. 

The aura of victimhood adopted by MRAs extends to criticising the extent of coverage of female genital mutilation at the expense of discussing male circumcision. MRAs routinely deny the existence of what many feminists call "rape culture" by suggesting that failures to prosecute sexual violence are the result of endemic false rape allegations, rather than societal attitudes towards consent. When the founder of MRA site "A Voice For Men" Paul Elam wrote a piece entitled "Bill Cosby's victims? Or just a bunch of drug whoring star fuckers?" he was displaying an overt hostility towards women that characterises the movement. Over 50 women have accused Bill Cosby of sexual assault. Yet Elam goes to bat for Cosby. 

When Reggie Yates investigated these men who think feminism has gone "too far" for a BBC documentary, he found advocates for decriminalising rape on private land, homophobes, and racist defenders of Men's Rights, and a tsunami of death and rape threats aimed at prominent feminists.

The near-universal consensus on the mistreatment and inequality of women stems from a statistical tide which MRAs choose to ignore:

  • Women and girls account for about 70 per cent of the victims of human trafficking. 
  • The UN estimates that 35 per cent of women worldwide have been the victims of violence. 
  • Fewer than one in 30 rape victims in the UK see their attacker convicted. 
  • Women with full-time work still earn only about 77 per cent percent of their male counterparts. 

None of this seems to matter to MRAs, who are more fixated on what they perceive to be the decline of men in a society which is slowly trying to advance female equality. On any fair analysis of gender inequality, the MRAs are the ones whinging and clinging to a victimhood they cannot justify. The long death rattle of a movement nostalgic for an unfair past has resulted in hateful abuse of women both online and in the real world. 

The deniers of feminism's core argument - that women are given a raw deal - are standing on a flat earth. Men have been able to assert their physical dominance over women, more able to kill and suppress them. That's led to centuries of inequality and oppression, but slowly, the arc is bending towards justice. Only a cave dweller, intimidated by the concept of equality, would see that as a bad thing.

Follow Rupert Myers on Twitter

31 Dec 14:53

IT HAPPENED TO ME: I Was Trolled and Fat-Shamed by One of My Male College Students

Madison Metricula

This is both bizarre and completely believable.

I’m 5’10” and a size 22. 

I’m used to being aware of exactly how much space I take up. When I teach, I use my physical presence to my advantage. I can write way up high on the white board. I can clap my hands with my extra long fingers and command attention. I can rock a hot pink dress and the students have no choice but to lift their gazes from the phones in their laps to figure out what the fuck their teacher is wearing.

My eight-year teaching career is full of unforgettable moments. I’ve taught in all manner of odd circumstances: at midnight in a school that used to be a prison, while holding a 17-year-old student’s sleeping newborn, in the hours before I reported to the hospital to have metastasized cancer removed from my neck and lymph nodes. 

But, far and away, the most memorable day of my teaching career was March 2 of last year.

Boston had been slapped with a steady succession of blizzards, such that the syllabus for my LIT201 course had become almost completely irrelevant. We were behind, only a third as far into Hamlet as we needed to be. My alarm was set for 4:55 a.m., so I could give a quick once-over to my lecture notes on Elaine Showalter’s reading of Ophelia as an object of male desire.

Whiteboard in my class
Whiteboard in my class

At 4:02, my phone rang. At first I thought it was time to wake up, but when I looked at it, I saw “unknown” flash across the screen. I thought it was a hospital or a police department and I was so scared I waited for it to go to voicemail.

When I listened, this is what I heard:

I just wanted to let you know that I don’t have any respect for you as a teacher, not a professor, I refuse to call you that. And the reason I don’t have any respect for you is because you obviously have no self-respect at all. How am I supposed to respect you if you can’t respect yourself at all. And you know what really kills me about it is that you don’t feel bad about how you look or how you .. put yourself out there. You don’t look good. You need to take better care of yourself. And people do care what you look like. You’re a slob. You’re the size of a car, Kar-a. Now fuckin’ fix it. And I just gotta say that you’re not good as a teacher … you’re not confident. You can’t be confident being fat. Fuckin’ A. I hate you and everything you stand for. Your fuckin’ feminism is autistic. Nobody thinks it’s cool. You’re not special with your fuckin’ feministic beliefs. Go do something original and stop being a trendy whore. Bye-bye.

At first, I laughed like a maniac. Because no one in my family was dead or hurt or wanted by the CIA, I found the ridiculousness of a student calling me to say mean things hysterically funny. I laughed because he called me KAR-a when my name is actually pronounced KAIR-a. I laughed and I laughed and laughed.

And then I cried.

I didn’t cry because someone called me fat (file that under, “ship that has sailed” … also, I don’t think of fat as insult anymore). No, I cried for my student who had, by 4 a.m., enough hate in his heart to locate the syllabus with my phone number on it, hit *67, call me, and express his misogyny and male entitlement in a freakishly lucid voice. 

I cried for a world in which an intelligent, qualified woman can’t do something as simple as assign a little light feminist theory without being called a fat whore.

I cried because I had no idea which of my male students had left the message; it could have been any of them, and that thought made me terribly sad. I cried because female academics are the target of a truly insane amount of sexist behavior and bias. I cried because there are women in my life and past versions of myself who’d be crushed by a message like that. Women whose days would be wrecked by that hateful, cowardly bullshit. Women who’d think of it and start another crash diet, who’d remember it mornings the shower, pinching their belly rolls and sobbing.

That’s why I did what I did next. For those women. I got up and I wrote a long letter to my students. I went to class and I wrote this Naomi Wolf quote on the board.

“A culture fixated on female thinness is not an obsession about female beauty, but an obsession about female obedience. Dieting is the most potent political sedative in women’s history; a quietly mad population is a tractable one.”

I played them the voicemail on speakerphone, and I read them the letter. I told them that I didn’t care if they forgot everything about Shakespeare or MLA citations as long as they remembered that they always have the choice to be compassionate, that they always have the choice to treat everyone they meet as more than a body.

The next day, I got an email from a woman in my class, thanking me for "being a teacher that teaches beyond the whiteboard and standing so strong in all of the woman that you are."

“All of the woman that you are,” has become a phrase I repeat to myself often. 

I’ve gone most of my life worried over being too much, but something changed for me that day. 

I realized that shame is tricky and ugly. It requires permission. But, of course, the trouble with the patriarchy is that women aren’t always in charge of their permission. Sometimes, it’s taken from them.

That’s why I wrote the letter and read the letter: Because, at this point in my life, I am in charge of my permission, and I refused to give it to one more man. I refused to feel bad about my body or myself. I refused to do that, and I wanted my students across genders to see this, to hear a woman saying, “Hey, that terribly shitty thing you’re saying right now, that’s not about me, that’s about you.”

Ironically, listening to my students clapping and singing along to Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off,” (which I played after reading the letter), I have never felt less aware of my size. Being part of the big warm buzz of love and acceptance in that classroom, I have never ever felt so small.

31 Dec 14:51

Child custody rights for rapists? Most states have them

Madison Metricula


"Prewitt said there are other women like her, who had no idea when they decided to keep their children that their attackers had parental rights.

"If we knew that this possibility loomed on the horizon, that we could spend the rest of lives tethered to our attackers because of our decision to have our children, would we have made the same choice?" Prewitt said, pausing a moment to think.

"I think that's hard to answer.""

(CNN) -- When an Ohio judge denied a request for Cleveland kidnapping suspect Ariel Castro to visit the 6-year-old girl he fathered with one of the women he kidnapped and raped, the reason seemed pretty clear cut.

"I just think that would be inappropriate," Cuyahoga County Judge Michael Russo said last month.

The idea that Castro -- who will be sentenced Thursday after pleading guilty to 937 counts -- would have any parental rights is hard to believe. But in 31 states, rapists do enjoy the rights of a father.

Ohio currently has no laws that would take away Castro's parental rights for fathering the child with Amanda Berry, who he abducted in 2003 when she was a teenager.

"I was astonished," said Shauna Prewitt, who was raped when she was a senior in college.

Her daughter was six months old when she found out that the man who raped her wanted partial custody.

"How could I possibly entrust my beautiful ... baby to him," she wondered, "but beyond that I didn't know how to spend the next 18 or more years of my life tethered to my attacker."

Legislation introduced

Prewitt, who was raped at the age of 21, is now a custody rights attorney, and is working to enact new federal guidelines that would push states to pass laws to strip rapists of their parental rights to children they fathered through rape.

Legislation introduced last week -- the Rape Survivor Child Custody Act -- would do just that.

The bill would provide incentives for legal initiatives on the state level to help women secure full custody of children conceived through rape.

"Without such a law, woman can endure years of being tormented by an abuser," said Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Florida.

Political Ticker: Citing Castro, new bill would strip rapists of custody rights

Pregnancies from rape

Each year, there are approximately 32,000 pregnancies resulting from rape, according to a 1996 study by the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology.

While the majority of those pregnancies were terminated, as many as a third of the women give birth.

Prewitt kept her daughter, in part, because being pregnant helped her get through the pain of being raped.

"Just not feeling so alone, not feeling so dead inside, because I had this life growing inside me and it was a comfort to me," she said.

Not clear cut

But critics say, most cases aren't so clear cut.

They also argue that judges currently have enough power to prevent unfit fathers from seeing their children.

"There are lots of solutions that are short of this (bill) and I think a lot of time when things come in this top-down fashion, based on one or two truly tragic stories, we end up making bad law," said attorney Aviva Orenstein.

Prewitt said there are other women like her, who had no idea when they decided to keep their children that their attackers had parental rights.

"If we knew that this possibility loomed on the horizon, that we could spend the rest of lives tethered to our attackers because of our decision to have our children, would we have made the same choice?" Prewitt said, pausing a moment to think.

"I think that's hard to answer."

Sister: Ariel Castro will present 'other side' at sentencing hearing

31 Dec 14:48

Plight of the Funny Female

Madison Metricula

Amy Schumer. Amy Schumer. Amy Schumer?

Why people tend to appreciate men’s humor so much more than women’s

John Rowley / Ocean / Corbis

A few years ago, Laura Mickes was teaching her regular undergraduate class on childhood psychological disorders at the University of California, San Diego. It was a weighty subject, so occasionally she would inject a sarcastic comment about her own upbringing to lighten the mood. When she collected her professor evaluations at the end of the year, she was startled by one comment in particular:

“She’s not funny,” the student wrote.

Mickes realized that university students didn’t seem to welcome, or even notice, the wit of many of her female colleagues. She’s not the only one. A recent graphic made by Ben Schmidt, an assistant professor of history at Northeastern University, analyzed the words used to describe male and female professors across 14 million reviews on In every single discipline, male professors were far more likely than female ones to be described as funny.

“I thought, ‘maybe I’m not that funny,’” Mickes said. “But people say I'm funny. I have a great time with my female friends.”

Mickes’s story triggered the familiar shot/chaser of recognition and unease in me. I come from the kind of family that deals with minor adversity by making relentless fun of the petty tyrants responsible. (Major adversity, we smother in smoked meats.) Given three adjectives to describe me, most of my female friends would list “funny” as one of them. But I maybe make a man laugh once every other month.

Men might say, “I would love to have a girlfriend who would make me laugh.” But for men, that’s a luxury, not a necessity.

On one hand, we live in the golden age of female comedy. Tina Fey, Lena Dunham, Mindy Kaling, Abbi Jacobson, Ilana Glazer, and their ilk certainly aren’t the first women to have wildly popular TV shows based entirely around their own funniness. But they might be some of the first to do it with fearless jokes about their vaginas. Next year, Amy Schumer will be the first female comedian to headline Madison Square Garden.

Women, suffice it to say, are funny. On the other hand, happy hours during which one man holds forth to a gaggle of raptly amused female onlookers exist. Mickes’s year-end review exists. My deftly hilarious female friends exist, and many are eternally single. If men and women are clearly capable of being equally funny, why does humor by non-famous women so often go unappreciated?

* * *

In 2012, Mickes decided to see whether her student had a point. (Or rather, “I decided to redirect my anger into something productive,” as she described it.)

A common way scientists measure funniness is by making undergrads—the typical guinea pigs for social-science research—play a version of The New Yorker cartoon-caption contest. For her study, Mickes asked 32 students to write captions for 20 New Yorker cartoons. The men were “pretty excited about the task,” but the women were more reluctant. “There was one female subject who came in, looked horrified and said, ‘Uh, but I’m not funny,’” she recalled.

After the students finished writing their quips, a new set of participants rated the captions. They found the men’s punch-lines to be ever-so-slightly more clever—about .11 points more on a five-point scale.

Read Follow-Up Notes

The difference was small, but still, Mickes was horrified by the results. “I thought ‘Forget it, I'm never going to do research again,’” she said.

Past research on gender and New Yorker cartoons had been mixed. In a 2011 study in the journal Intelligence, male participants also penned more amusing captions than women did. But in a study the year before, the men’s and women’s one-liners were equally droll.

Mickes’s study revealed another interesting difference: Men wrote some of the best jokes, but they also used more profanity and sexual humor, and those jokes weren’t rated very funny. If men were truly the funnier sex, though, wouldn’t they be more consistently funny?

In a later experiment, Mickes gave both male and female participants a list of random words, such as “beef jerky” and “water slide,” and asked them to write paragraphs using the words. Without prompting, the men wrote funny paragraphs. The women’s paragraphs were more creative and better-written, but they weren’t funny. However, a surprising thing happened when Mickes explicitly told the participants to try to be funny in their paragraphs: Both genders used humor, and in equal measure.

As in hockey, it appears, so in lols: You miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take. The 2011 Intelligence study similarly found that men wrote more captions overall, both funny and lame. In other words, men make more attempts at humor, so they are successful more of the time.

“Men are willing to take more risks [in humor], and they also fail more miserably,” Gil Greengross, an evolutionary psychologist with Aberystwyth University in Wales and author of the 2011 study. But for the man, “it's worth it. If you fail and you're not funny, you lost maybe a few minutes. But if the person laughs, the benefit can be huge.”

Men make so many joke-attempts, in fact, they are assumed to be funnier—even when they’re not. After they had finished captioning, the students in Mickes’s study filled out a questionnaire about how funny they thought others would find their captions, and also whether they thought men or women were the funnier sex in general. Male participants said that, on a scale from one to five, their cartoons were an average of 2.3 in funniness. The women gave themselves a 1.5. Even worse, 89 percent of the women and 94 percent of men responded that men, in general, are funnier.

In a follow-up experiment, Mickes asked a new set of participants to read the captions generated by the first group and guess the gender of the writer. Both men and women misattributed the funnier captions to male writers.

“Spontaneously, men somehow try harder,” she mused. “And maybe over time they're encouraged more to be funny.”

* * *

But why do men try so hard to make people laugh?

To get some, mostly. Not everyone endorses evolutionary psychology, but those who do would say that women tend to be more selective in choosing their mates than men are because historically, motherhood has been a life-threatening, all-consuming endeavor. If a cavewoman picked the wrong caveman, she might risk a grueling childbirth only to end up raising an illness-addled child without the help of a skillful mate. Thus, choosiness becomes paramount. It behooves women to find a partner who will bestow sufficient time, resources, and good genes on their children—in other words, a smart man.

Funny people are more likely to be smart. (In one of the many New Yorker studies, the students who scored higher on intelligence tests also generated the funniest captions.) Humor “signals a kind of ability to put yourself in someone else's mind and understand what someone else will find funny,” David Buss, an evolutionary psychologist, explained. “It requires social intelligence, and it takes social verve or confidence.”

Since most people don’t go to bars with their completed Sudoku puzzles pinned to their chests, we rely on humor as a proxy for intelligence. On average, women tend to use their laughter to lure in potential mates, while men use their jokes to attract as many women as they can.

Related Stories

I know what you’re thinking. “But I, a man, desire women with a good sense of humor above all else!” #Notallmen.

For decades, this response stumped psychologists. When they would ask men and women what they looked for in their long-term partners, both genders would say they wanted someone “with a good sense of humor.” It was only when researchers pressed their subjects on what they meant, specifically, by “sense of humor,” that the sex difference became clear. Women want men who will tell jokes; men want women who will laugh at theirs.

In 2006, psychologists Eric Bressler and Sigal Balshine showed 210 college students images of two equally attractive members of the opposite sex. Underneath each photo, they pasted either funny or not-funny statements supposedly authored by the person. Female participants said they wanted the funny man, rather than the unfunny one, as a boyfriend, even when they thought the funnier man was less trustworthy. The men did not care about the women’s funniness either way.

In study later that year, Bressler and Balshine again found that, when considering imaginary interactions with people of the opposite sex, women said they wanted men who could make them laugh. Men said it was much more important that a woman enjoy his jokes.

Liana Hone, a psychology postdoc at the University of Missouri, came to a similar conclusion in a study earlier this year: “Men prefer women who are receptive to their humor, whereas women prefer men who produce humor.” Hone gave her study participants an imaginary budget of $5 to “spend” on a trait they’d want in their sexual partners—either a knack for telling jokes or an ability to appreciate them. The more they “spent” on each trait, the more their partner would embody that characteristic. Women, she found, would spend just $1.91 on a mate who laughs at their jokes, but men would spend $3.03 on one.

Many men might contend, “I would love to have a girlfriend or wife who would make me laugh,” said Greengross, who reviewed Hone’s study. “But for men, that’s more of a luxury, not a necessity.”

These preferences aren’t exclusive to college students. Older studies of personal ads in magazines and newspapers found that women were far more likely than men to mention seeking someone funny. Later, when researchers looked at profiles on a Canadian dating website, they found men were more likely to tout how funny they were, while women were likelier to say they wanted a funny man. In a 2007 study that asked 200,000 people in multiple countries to rank their preferred qualities in a mate, women ranked “humor” first. Men ranked it third.

If men try harder to be funny, women do their best to show their appreciation, laughing more enthusiastically and frequently in male company. One study found that when men and women are talking, the amount that the woman, but not the man, laughs can predict whether the pair wants to date each other. The neuroscientist Robert Provine once listened in on dozens of spontaneous conversations in public spaces and identified 1,200 distinct “laugh episodes.” He found that women laughed significantly more than men did, especially when a man was nearby.

When I learned all of this, I immediately ran into the living room and asked my boyfriend if it’s important to him that his sexual partners are funny.

“Apparently not,” he said.

Ouch! But also, that’s so funny! Ugh.

* * *

Once, a guy and I spent several months in romantic no-man’s land, trying to decide if we liked each other. My issue with him was that he took me out for dinner at a fancy place and only ordered chocolate milk. I thought his issue was that there was another girl.

I was wrong:

“I just don’t get you!” he exclaimed one day when we were on a walk. “You’re pretty, but you’re like … goofy. It makes no sense.”

The way men and women laugh and joke has been so different for so long that it’s hardened into a stark, oppressive social norm. Norm violators get punished, and often, that means funny women are punished, too.

In another dating-style study in 1998, about 100 college students were shown photos of people of the opposite sex along with transcripts of interviews supposedly conducted with those individuals. In the interviews, the photo subjects came off as either funny or bland. For the women, a man’s use of humor in the interview increased his desirability. The women’s use of humor, meanwhile, didn’t make the men want to date them more—it actually made them slightly less alluring. That’s right: The men found the pretty, unfunny women more desirable than equally pretty ones who also happened to be funny.

Told that their humor isn’t wanted, many women don’t bother.

It’s possible that men are indifferent to their partners’ funniness precisely because funny women are smarter. There’s some evidence that men are less attracted to women who are smarter than they are. In a study out this month in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, when men were introduced to women they were told had outperformed them on an intelligence test, they rated the woman as less attractive and were less likely to say they wanted to date her.

These biases have a chilling effect on women. The idea that women aren’t supposed to make jokes can trigger stereotype threat, a phenomenon in which simply telling someone that their “group” tends to be bad at something hinders that individual’s performance. Told that their humor isn’t wanted, many women don’t bother.

A 2001 study that analyzed casual conversations among young people found that while men told more jokes and more successful jokes in mixed company, women told many more jokes when they were in all-female groups. “Evidently,” the researchers concluded, “women only joke when men are not around.”

* * *

Sara Benincasa is certifiably funny. She ascended the Internet-comedy scene in 2008, with a series of parody campaign-trail “vlogs” by Sarah Palin, whom Benincasa impersonated in a beehive hairdo, rectangular glasses, and “ooo-keeeys” straight out of Wasilla. More recently, she’s performed a one-woman show about agoraphobia and written several books, including a comedic novel, DC Trip, which came out this month.

She’s so talented, in fact, that I was a little nervous about emailing her to ask for an interview about her relationships. I said if she wanted she could use “pejorative pseudonyms” for her exes. She responded with an encouraging “BWAHAHAH.” This made me think that I, too, am funny. Which, given the scientific literature, made me worry that I will die alone.

Benincasa said that when she was younger, in her teens and early 20s, she would soften her personality in order to please the men she was chasing romantically. She’d tell fewer jokes and laugh more heartily at theirs. Her friends would tell her that she acted differently around her boyfriends.

“I tried to play-act at being a woman,” she said. “This false me was always pretty and always ready for anything, and fun, and carefree. And the real me had a lot of things to say. The ‘me’ I created was not bold and outspoken. She was not very funny.”

Benincasa’s dating strategy changed after she became a comedian. “I had to be myself or the audience wouldn’t accept it,” she says. Her career now serves as a sort of man filter: Dudes know they’re getting a brash lady, and they’d better like it. Her current boyfriend, she notes, is also funny, and he loves her for her wisecracking.

Still, it’s depressing that for many women who aren’t professional comedians, the most valuable social currency is beauty—or worse, “being sweet.” In his infamous Vanity Fair piece about why women aren’t funny, Christopher Hitchens presents humor as an essential tool men can deploy to break a woman’s defenses:

If you can stimulate her to laughter … well, then, you have at least caused her to loosen up and to change her expression.

Women can also stimulate people to laughter—not just for the purpose Hitchens had in mind, but to make a new friend, or to make an old one feel better. To impress a boss or a boyfriend’s parents. To lean in, for cryin’ out loud. If funniness is an implement of power, women deserve access to it, too.

If we acknowledge that these prejudices exist—that men’s humor is encouraged at the expense of women’s—is there anything we can do about it? Buss is skeptical that human desire can be molded; that a stern PSA or even a shift in social mores could encourage men to seek out women who are witty rather than pretty. Entrenched beliefs that are ugly and passé—like racism—persist even when people disavow them. Men’s desire to be the Kings of Relationship Comedy, meanwhile, isn’t even frowned upon.

Hone, from the University of Missouri, is more optimistic. If humankind decides that women’s natural zaniness should be set free, mankind should start to ask funnier women out for drinks. And women could stop dating men who don’t laugh at their jokes.

“Just because a trait has served an adaptive purpose does not mean we should accept it,” she said. “I like to think that there’s hope for all the funny, single ladies out there.”

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The fascinating science behind your giggle fits

31 Dec 14:45

I’m a Woman With a Drink, Not a Mommy Having 'Mommy Time'

I’m a Woman With a Drink, Not a Mommy Having 'Mommy Time'

Social media loves a wine-sipping mom.

I realized this after getting my all-time most Instagram likes on a picture of me holding a giant iced wine, with the kids I was caring for out of frame but not out of mind. If you’re a mom with even a passing thirst for social media props, you’ve probably figured it out, too: the defiant wine shot will get you to double digits even quicker than a kid photo.

Moms In Need of Wine is an essential genre of social media humor, born out of a desire to defend moms’ freedom to have a goddamned wine if they want one. This is a good position, and a fair one, initially staked out in the Mommy Wars against the over-policing of maternal behavior. People seem to enjoy cheerleading for moms while they’re having a drink. It feels like cheering for the underdog. And, as a mom who drinks regularly and feels the dubious warmth of that Instagram love, I appreciate the intentions behind the people who heart the mom with a drink in her hand. But it also frustrates me, a lot. Here is why.


If you’re a mom and you’re tempted to share a photo of yourself drinking, here are the ground rules if you want to avoid flaccid jokes in the comments about “calling Child Services.” (Love that one, guys. So funny.)

First, you should be tidy. You should look happy. You should look generally under control. You should probably not be alone. Above all, you should not be drunk. Never surpass a demure buzz. Jane Marie, the former editor of Jezebel’s Millihelen, remarked in an email, “As long as the drinking has zero effect, you’re good. Like, since it is possible to have a glass of wine and not be inebriated, that’s okay, but god forbid a mom talks about smoking weed or something. A high mother? Are you insane? It even extends to the way we talk. I once called my kid a jerk in front of a group of moms—my daughter was not there but she WAS being a jerk—and you would’ve thought I called for her head.”

These rules, which are very real, indicate the rigid norms that still govern moms’ appearance and behavior. For all the defending of a mom’s right to drink, we sure do have to work for it!


Cutesy jokes and paraphernalia around moms and drinking (“Mommy’s Time Out” is a brand of wine that exists) is meant to create an inclusive space for moms who enjoy the occasional glass of wine, but the effect does the opposite of normalizing moms who drink. Moms Drinking ™ is not a step in the right direction; it shines an unnecessary spotlight on something that should be no more unusual than Moms Being Adult Women™. Is it necessary to make cutesy jokes about moms and wine because the idea that moms could exist untethered from their children is too scary?

There’s something deeply ironic to me about the notion that having a drink or going out with friends could ever pose a threat to my identity as a mother. Motherhood is so totalizing an experience, so oceanic in its scope, that it would take way more than a few drinks, even followed by a mild and very regrettable hangover, to make me forget I’m a mom—or to create a set of circumstances where my kids were actually endangered. I contain within me an overheating server farm of granular data about my children. Even if I wanted to forget they existed for a few hours, I couldn’t; they take up so much space in my brain.

Yes, there are mothers who put their children in danger because of substance abuse. More on that further down. But I don’t think it’s controversial to state that they make up a minority of mothers. Most mothers don’t endanger their kids: their transgressions, if you want to call them that, are moderate and permissible. Most mothers I know have a civilization-perpetuatingly strong commitment to the well-being of their children. Their desire to have a drink should not deserve its own type of wine, or its own cutesy label. When I am enjoying a highball with another mother, we are not “having mommy time.” We are two women drinking.


Heterosexual families have reached a point on the housework-sharing evolutionary continuum that I would characterize as “The Self-Deprecating Dad Years.” Most dads know they are socially expected to pick up more slack at home, but the rubber hasn’t really hit the road yet, so to speak. My household’s distribution of labor is more traditional than I would like it to be—my husband would be the first to admit it. One of the ways he makes up for this is to always encourage me to hang out with my friends or have a drink at the end of the day. His friends seem to have picked up on this and they, too, are enthusiastic supporters whenever I “kick back” around them.

“If mom’s happy, everyone’s happy,” right? Well, the real problem would take a lot more work for us to address: I do more childcare and general household-running than he does, and my relaxation happens within a pretty rigid framework determined by my responsibilities as a mom. Rather than clink glasses with me, it would be far better for him to unburden me of some of these obligations. We’re working on this balancing act, and I have a feeling we’re not alone.


The elephant in the room is substance abuse. I mean, we are talking about a mood-altering substance. When the consensus on your social feeds seems to be that you deserve a drink and fuck anyone who stands in your way, it’s easy to see how unhealthy behavior can be justified.

In 2009, Stefanie Wilder-Taylor, author of best-selling humor books in the mom-needs-a-drink genre, Sippy Cups are Not For Chardonnay and Nap Time Is the New Happy Hour, announced her decision to quit drinking on her blog. Her readers were vocal in their support and some admitted, in the comments section, that they were considering joining her on the wagon. (Wilder-Taylor’s most recent book, Gummi Bears Should Not Be Organic, came out this past spring.)

The fact that moms are as deeply flawed a demographic as any other should not surprise anyone, yet the notion of an alcoholic mom is more shameful and sensational than that of an alcoholic dad. Some moms drink too much. They will do so with or without a chorus of “you-go-girl”s. In an email, Wilder-Taylor wrote, “I still understand the inherent humor in talking about ‘mommy needs a drink’ etc. When used, not overused, it gives moms the sense that we’re all in this together. I know that plenty of moms may joke about drinking a lot when in reality they only have a glass or two. The problem is when there is so much of that messaging, that moms don’t see any other way that people unwind besides drinking. And for women that may have a tendency toward addiction, that is dangerous.”


I used to work for a men’s magazine. We repeated the same advice to young men on an endless loop with slight variations: Confidence is important. Many of your problems are caused by a lack of it. You can fake confidence until, after a while, you’ll find that you really possess it. That’s how it works. That’s the whole trick.

Meanwhile, motherhood media is a discourse of commiseration haunted by perfectionism. In one respect, this can be helpful. I’m grateful to know, when I’m struggling with my children and with my own identity, that I’m not alone. It helps to laugh, to nod in recognition when your kids are making you feel miserable. But the whole enterprise would be a lot more fun if moms were encouraged to be blindly, brazenly confident every once in awhile. (And: more confidence is also a good example for our children, if we must insist that everything moms do contain a nug of utility for the greater good.)

It frustrates me that media messaging around moms and drinking is either defiant or condemnatory. I wish we could speak to moms without having to address invisible specters of disapproval and self-doubt. (Wait: have I been talking about the patriarchy this entire time?) Having a drink does not have to be framed as a stealthy escape from the bonds of family. It can exist alongside it, just like it does for dads. Have a drink because you feel like it, and because you trust yourself, and because you’re an adult.

Illustration by Jim Cooke

Kathryn Jezer-Morton is a writer and graduate student in Montreal.

05 Nov 15:36

Husband Tricked Into Cleaning His Own House Writes Very Dumb Essay

Madison Metricula

Oh wow. How does he adult? I understand it's just a humor essay, but when do we get to leave the bumbling, shirking husband stereotype behind?

Husband Tricked Into Cleaning His Own House Writes Very Dumb Essay

Today in tragic news: another man has been hoodwinked by his malicious wife into participating in what some might call Adult Domestic Life.

Writing at the Globe and Mail, unsuspecting victim/husband David Bannister explains that when his wife first floated the idea of hiring a maid to clean once a week, his heart soared, because he thought he was going to somehow be “off the hook” when it came to cleaning—which, as a man, he is apparently hardwired to despise.

Instead, he discovered that it was all a ruse. Bannister writes:

You see, my wife with her innocent question had cleverly – and yes, I would even say sinisterly – caught me in a cold, dark, windowless semantic trap. She had expressly and deliberately used the word “clean,” which, I was to learn, is a slippery little critter.

The night before our first appointment, just as if the fork hitting my plate signalled an opportunity for clarity, my wife announced that we would have to “straighten up” the house for the next day.

Like any male thinking he had been granted a reprieve from housework, I innocently asked if that wasn’t the job for the person coming in tomorrow.

No, she announced. Her job was to help clean, but she wouldn’t be able to clean if the house wasn’t straight.

Wah-wah. This little tale of an unwitting man forced to clean his own home in preparation for the actual cleaner is meant to humorously elicit our sympathy, of course, but it reads instead like the most retrograde narrative of “my wife made me ____” ever.

As for cleaning before a maid comes over, I think the vacuuming he cites is a bit exaggerated though I understand why people clean up before the maid’s day: it’s because the maid’s job is typically not to organize your clutter—it’s to actually clean your house. You pick up all the mess lying around so they can do what they’ve been hired to do, which is the actual scrubbing, sweeping, wiping underneath it.

So sure, the idea of cleaning before a cleaning can feel ironic, but the writer makes the unfortunate decision to frame this as emasculating. Bannister:

So that night, that wonderful night I’d been waiting for all my life, that night so pregnant with the expectation of freedom, I vacuumed, I dusted and I polished while my wife assessed, directed and adjusted. When all was straightened, the house had never looked so clean.

When I asked if at least the windows would be cleaned tomorrow (for how can you straighten a window?), my wife said, quite matter-of-factly: “Oh, she doesn’t do windows. We will have to look after that next week.”

I had been hoodwinked, bamboozled, conned, duped, flimflammed.

She had me by the balls, see? Between a Swiffer and a dusting glove, I tell ya!

The article is even accompanied by an illustration of a sad, hairy man stuffed into a French maid costume, just to really nail down the perverse indignity of the situation. And when the writer’s wife asked, after some time had passed, if they could perhaps do without the maid after all, he jokes that she may as well have asked, “Do I look fat in these jeans?” Look out, bro! Incoming trick question!

Clearly, for some men, marriage is still framed as some kind of scripted indentured servitude in which wives are nitpicky taskmasters who can’t handle the truth and must be pacified at any cost. Husbands, for their part, are a cross between Tim Allen and Benny Hill—sneaking around comically, trying to avoid lifting a finger until buzzkill wifey charges in to shut it down (Bannister admits he tried to feign both an injury and allergy to cleaning products to get out of cleaning, to no avail).

Lost, of course, is the fact that many women don’t like cleaning any more than they enjoy getting their pubes ripped off, but have accepted that maintenance of a home is simply part of being a decent roommate, a grownup, a human. You just suck it up and do it.

There’s no reason why cleaning should be gendered at all anymore, particularly when same-sex couples tend to divide it based more on negotiation, desire, and skill set rather than sex parts, achieving superior chore equality as a result. And yet, women still do more housework than men, even though households with greater equality tend to produce better marriages and lower divorce rates.

We’ve seen some theories as to why men persist in slacking off on the domestic labor front—reasons range from not “seeing” the work that needs doing to not valuing it, or being too busy with work—but essays like Bannister’s, which frames reluctance to clean as a dude thing all dudes can relate to, make it seem like a deliberate, conscious, sexist ideal of masculinity steeped in a pathetically lazy, dinosaur understanding of what it takes to make a modern, equal household go.

Yes, guilt and embarrassment may lead women to do more than is necessary prior to a maid visit so as to not expose themselves as slobs to other women. I asked a few friends who pay for maid services whether they are guilty of this behavior, and they admitted that they’ve washed dishes and handled any laundry or sheets that were super gross so as to respect the maid’s actual job.

But it’s crazy that we keep circulating this image of the sympathetic man having to clean especially when it’s women who pay the price in more stress and less leisure time. The fact that this system is such a shock to the writer is only further proof of how little time men have spent immersed in the culture of running a household. His sympathy is aimed not at the women doing all the work, but at himself for having to do any of it.

If you can’t get it together to help out at home and you don’t have one of these handy excuses to absolve you of cleaning responsibility, you’re an asshole. If you’re lucky enough to be able to pay someone to clean your house and yet you still can’t be bothered to tidy up beforehand as is custom, you are also an asshole. Wives and partners of such men: please accept our deepest sympathy.

Image via ABC/Modern Family.

03 Nov 17:26

Ladies: We Have Moved Past Marriage Ultimatums, Okay?

Madison Metricula


Here is a rule we all ought to be able to follow: If you want to marry someone and they have not asked you yet, ask them to marry you . Do not, under any…
28 Oct 17:27

First Baby Destroys Happiness Worse Than Divorce Or Death, Says Science

Madison Metricula

Well, yeah. Even if you love it, it sometimes sucks and is really hard and is still harder on women. It's taboo not to treat children like precious, fragile blessings.

We demand that children be watched and shuttled well into their teens; in some states, a child of fourteen can't legally be left home alone.

This burden of increased time falls primarily on women. Fathers spend WAY more time with their kids, but so much of "invisible" child supervision falls to mothers. Like, the fact that people actually see a dad with his kids and say, "Oh, look! Dad's baby sitting today!" when he's with his own fucking kids is inane.

But again, there are many places where fathers simply are not welcome to take on increased childcare. Few men's restrooms have changing tables, for example.

The increased pressure on women is from the invisible, expected care they are expected to nurture, and fathers continue to either be let off the hook or outright prevented from taking on a more involved role.

Also, when we have to watch our kids every fucking second of every day until their 18, we all suffer.

Science just confirmed what many of us have been saying for years: having your first baby zaps your happiness. Seriously. Your first baby comes in like a wrecking ball and totally fucks your life. Don’t worry though, childbirth is beautiful and you’ll never know love until you have a baby of your own. HA!

Researchers set out to figure out why couples said they wanted a certain number of children (before they had them) and ended up with a different (lower) number. The question was “Why do people stop at having one child?” To determine the answer to this question, researchers analyzed the happiness of parents surrounding the birth of their first child: how they felt about childbirth, whether they regarded it as an experience they wanted to “go through again,” and how difficulties in the year after having their first child affected their desire to have more.

After following 2,016 Germans who were childless at the time the study began until roughly two years after the birth of their first child, they concluded the effect of a new baby on a person’s life is “devastatingly bad.” It’s worse than divorce, worse than unemployment, and even worse than the death of a partner.

Holy shit.

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There’s a reason there are millions of parenting memes on the internet about wine, coffee, misery, and generally turning into a zombie. Raising a child in this day and age is hard as hell. Anyone who says it’s not may be highly medicated or working with a team of nannies. The rest of us are just sitting over here like, “Why is everyone pretending this is so great? On a scale of bad to great, this sucks.”

The couples they studied had an increase in happiness before they had children (probably due to the lies everyone tells them about how great it is). After the birth, only 30 percent stayed at about the same state of happiness or better. Everyone else’s joy dropped. Seventy percent. Seventy percent of the new parents were less happy after they had kids.

The study makes sense. I mean, come on. It does.

Before you have your first child, everyone says things like, “You won’t believe the love you’ll feel! You’ve never known love like this before! It hits you like a thunderbolt as soon as you give birth!” Then you have your baby, and you may feel like, “Huh?”

Yeah, you’re in an operating room and you can’t feel anything under your neck. Also, your intestines are sitting on a table next to your body. Isn’t it just great? Or, after nine hours of excruciating pain, an actual human just slid out of your vagina. I’m sure you’re not traumatized or anything. Totally normal day over here. Just feeling the love.

Then you bring your little life-sucker home and everyone around you is saying things like, “Oh my god! Look at him! He’s amazing! You’re so lucky!” You barely hear them, because you’re busy plying yourself with caffeine in an attempt to stay awake and sane. You may also be rocking in place, looking like a scene from Girl, Interrupted, but luckily no one will care because your family will immediately stop noticing you the moment a baby emerges from your womb. Seriously. My mom forgot my birthday for the first time, ever the year after my first baby was born.

Then you’ll start existing on zero sleep, possibly feeding a child from your actual boob on demand all day long. There will be vomit on your clothes, you’ll be changing diapers filled with liquid poop, and you won’t eat a hot meal or pee alone for a while. All the while, people will begin asking you when you’re “having another!?”

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Admitting how hard the transition to parenthood is can be a serious no-no. The researchers said about their study, “Although this measure does not capture respondents’ overall experience of having a child, it is preferable to direct questions about childbearing because it is considered taboo for new parents to say negative things about a new child.”

If everyone told you getting a tattoo was painless and you farted glitter after it was over, you’d feel snowed after you left the parlor. You’d be in pain, there would be no glitter, and you’d be wondering why no one told you how much it hurt, what the recovery would be like, and how much you’d have to care for your new art in the period following getting it. Why is it so bad to prepare parents the same way?

If we’d all stop pretending growing a human and caring for it 24/7 was so enjoyable and easy, we’d be better off. That’s my own scientific hypothesis, from a study of one.

H/T Washington Post

28 Oct 17:24

Why Mothers Are Still Lonely

Madison Metricula

More of the same.

"The shift in language—from housewife to SAHM—suggests that where running a household was once a vocation, now motherhood is. And while the latter may seem “more important”—children are the future of our country and our entire world, after all, whereas a house is just a house—the social status of the woman who doesn’t work, despite our noisy insistence that “motherhood is the toughest job” and so on, has arguably never been lower."

Lots of depressing gender stuff coming up in my feeds lately :(


What has—and hasn’t—changed since The Atlantic published a 1961 essay on the plight of the housewife


“Wives are lonelier now than they have ever been,” Nora Johnson wrote more than half a century ago.

Those words became the first line of a searching and startling essay, a unique amalgam of first person narrative, popular ethnography, and call for social change entitled “The Captivity of Marriage.” It ran in The Atlantic in June 1961.

Fifty-four years later, I read Johnson’s sentence on my iPhone, in the midst of the blaring chaos that I have come to think of as the psychopathology of everyday working motherhood—one kid on his iPad, another rattling around the house, my mind working over dinner and a deadline, my husband in the house somewhere, all the other details.

Turn, Turn, Turn
The 1960s through the eyes of The Atlantic
Read More

An Atlantic editor had sent the essay along, and now I was tugged powerfully by the sentence to follow Johnson through the entire piece, rapt as she wove her observations—wry and insightful and, somehow, deeply hopeless— about the state of housewifery and mommy consciousness in Cheever times.

In writing a deceptively simple and straightforward article about her own life and the lives of other women, Johnson’s mission was profound. She was searching for a language for “the problem without a name,” two years before Betty Friedan published The Feminine Mystique. She wanted to tell us something about the way some people live, people one didn’t normally think of as interesting or worthy of ink, and what it did to them. Her descriptions did something to me as I scrolled, word by word. I wept.

I hid my face as my younger son approached, needing something right that moment, in the impatient way of the youngest child. I anticipated his question: “Mommy, what’s wrong?”

“I read something sad,” I thought I’d say.

The next question was likely to be, “What was it about?” Then what?

“It’s a story about some other people.”

* * *

Things are undeniably different for women now than they were for Nora Johnson, the daughter of the producer Nunnally Johnson. The Pill was new when Johnson sat down to write her essay, and it had not yet revolutionized women’s ability to delay childbearing in order to pursue personal fulfillment and career success. And so only 38 percent of women worked outside the home, most of them in rigidly gender-scripted and relatively low-paying, low-status fields—nursing, teaching, secretarial work. Those who stayed home spent an average of 55 hours a week on domestic chores. Women’s ambitions and autonomy weren’t just undermined by their domestic duties, but institutionally and legislatively as well: With the exception of a right to “proper support,” wives had no legal claim to their husbands’ income or property, while in many states, husbands could control those of their wives through “head and master laws.” How easy could it be—on the days when the thoughts came at you, and the piles of laundry and the obligations like the PTA and your husband’s boss’s wife and the other items on Johnson’s unrancorous but unsparing list piled up—to feel good in your captivity?

Johnson was groping toward feminism’s second wave before it came to be, feeling for a toehold. She listed, in her catalogue not of grievances so much as unsentimental facts about the lives of herself and her conspecifics, the following: isolation, worries about illness and money, and sexual boredom. She referred to the whole schmear as “the housewife’s syndrome, the vicious circle, the feeling of emptiness in the gap between what she thought marriage was going to be like and what it really is like.”

She concluded flatly that the “college-educated mother with a medium amount of money is the one who reflects all the problems at once.” With a keen intellect, but no maid or nanny to whom she could delegate some of her tasks, she found herself marooned on an island of disappointment, ruminating, “This isn’t what I wanted. What did I want?”

You can feel the brutal bursting of a million girls’ dreams as Johnson notes simply, “Marriage, entered upon maturely, is the only life for most women. But it is a way of life, not a magic bag of goodies at the end of the road.”

The third person telling, the removed quality of her narration, her calm disengagement from her own propensity to strip all the window dressing away from the ideological frou-frou of marriage and motherhood is at once dignified, balanced, and riveting. Its dispassion is the very heartbeat of despair. A participant-observer in the bizarre social reality she describes, Johnson conveys without rancor the existentially isolated, restless feeling that my mother’s generation grappled with, and that Friedan wrote about when she quoted one of her subjects: “I’m a server of food and a putter-on of pants and a bed-maker, somebody who can be called on when you want something. But who am I?”

And Johnson might have added, “Why am I the only one?” Johnson starts off with the demographically inflected observation that women are cut off from their extended families and friends by the idealized nuclear family, with its ostensibly perfect evenings of popcorn and TV in PJs, but moves toward darker realities, including the impact of this existence on female consciousness.

Wives are lonelier than they have ever been.

* * *

We no longer call women who stay home with the kids “housewives”—unless we are seeking to at once put them down and sex them up, as with the Real Housewives of Virtually Everywhere franchise. Now they are “full-time mothers,” or “stay-at-home moms.” On internet chat boards like these women use the acronym SAHM. A recent uptick in their numbers, reported by Pew, had demographers intrigued and journalists scratching their heads and, quite often, missing the point.  A 2014 Economist article, “The Return of the Stay at Home Mother,” noted that the number of stay-at-home mothers ebbed from 49 percent in 1967 to 23 percent in 2000, but then began rising steadily again. Poor and immigrant mothers who cannot justify the cost of childcare for menial wages are one part of this trend. But a quarter of the mothers who stay at home have college degrees (and then some).

The shift in language—from housewife to SAHM—suggests that where running a household was once a vocation, now motherhood is. And while the latter may seem “more important”—children are the future of our country and our entire world, after all, whereas a house is just a house—the social status of the woman who doesn’t work, despite our noisy insistence that “motherhood is the toughest job” and so on, has arguably never been lower.

Sure, today’s college-educated women have a degree of autonomy and self-determination that Johnson and her peers only dreamed of, and that required an entire second wave of feminism to engineer, through consciousness raising, lawsuits, and legislation. Thanks to Title IX, they played sports that were off limits to a previous generation. Now, as middle- and upper-income women who stay home with kids they have recourse to no-fault divorce, laws protecting them from workplace discrimination, and access to birth control and abortion.

And yet.

The educated woman who stays home now may face a measure of not only the longing and lack of fulfillment that Johnson and Friedan articulated, but also the awkward silence and turning away at a cocktail party—the lack of interest when she says she is a stay-at-home mother. She is in for a heaping helping of something relatively new: widespread cultural contempt. The Economist piece exemplified this socially sanctioned scorn when it referred to some women who stay home as “highly educated bankers’ wives who choose not to work because they don’t need the money and would rather spend their time hot-housing their toddlers so that they may one day get into Harvard.” The dismissive, judgmental sentiment, if not the precise wording, is commonplace.

Today, some women are more subject to certain forms of misogyny than they have ever been. Because in the post-World War II period, as competent Rosie the Riveters were being shoehorned into suburban domesticity by the G.I. Bill and the ideology of the nuclear family über alles, they were at least told, in so many ways, that their work in the home was important. The flourishing of home-economics courses, with their whiff of pre-professionalization, suggested that being a homemaker was a practice and an identity that mattered, something to learn and to be, proudly. If you did it right, you could save the family unit money. You could contribute, without participating in the labor force for paid work, to the financial health and well being of your household. There was a certain respect for the housewife, even as the very moniker relegated her to a second-class sphere: Her husband couldn’t do it without her.

And not infrequently, this led to a version—albeit a compromised one, easily eroded by forces outside the home—of equality under one roof. As Marlo Thomas told me when I appeared on her AOL webcast Mondays With Marlo, “I knew men who just handed their whole paychecks over to their wives. Their husbands might earn the money, but their wives were in charge of it.” It was a partnership of sorts.

And now? As I prepared to write a book about privileged motherhood and childhood on the Upper East Side, I came to think of the women I’d spoken with and befriended and mothered alongside—the ones I’d had access to because they didn’t go to offices after school drop off—as Glam-SAHMs, for Glamorous Stay at Home Moms. Like their ’50s and early ’60s counterparts, they live in a culture with relentlessly high standards of female beauty, and tend to their bodies, faces, and overall appearances carefully, frequently with stunning results. This is made easier by the fact that, unlike Johnson’s peers, many have delegated much of the domestic work—household management, organizing, cleaning, and cooking—to hired help.

The one thing the privileged mommies I studied were not willing to delegate completely was childcare. Often cut off from extended families, most depend at least in part on nannies to help them with the heavy lifting of motherhood, the schlepping across town, the playdate scheduling and supervising, the nose-blowing and the puzzle playing. And yet they stay home.

“I was offered my dream job. It really was perfect,” said more than one mother, telling me about her decision to stay home with her children. “I asked if I could do it part time and the answer was no. I asked if I could do part of the hours from home and they said no. I asked about flex time—some weekend hours, something—and the answer was no. So I decided to stay home with the baby.”

These women described their shift to stay-at-home motherhood as a choice, but a choice implies options. Work flexible hours while your child is in the care of loving, trusted caretakers—ideally in onsite daycare—or stay home with your baby and don’t work. That is a choice. No, the women I wrote about had been given what was clearly a false choice, even though the culture at large and even the women themselves often insist on believing otherwise. What kind of choice is it when your career as an attorney or investment banker demands that you stay at the office 60 hours a week or opt out of the workforce altogether? When a husband’s significant income gives a woman the “luxury” to stay home with her children, she’ll often feel compelled to choose that option.

As when Johnson penned her essay, we are in an interlude where our lack of vocabulary confounds us. If the wealthiest Glam-SAHMs still haven’t freed themselves from the captivity Johnson described, what does that say about everybody else? Perhaps, that women are as deceived today as we have ever been.

28 Oct 14:46

How Doctors Take Women's Pain Less Seriously

Madison Metricula

God, this is so real. I mean, it can happen to anyone, and ERs in particular are strapped for resources. But my therapist, my psychaitrist, and my (thankfully) sensitive GYN all warned me about advocating for myself. Like, a doctor told me to be evaluated for primary depression even though I told him TWO mental health professionals thought depression wasn't a likely cause of lethargy.

And even then, women are somewhat expected to be unhappy or "crazy" and what can you do?

I dunno. I have a friend with fibromyalgia and it took years to get doctors to take her seriously.

Like, I get it. Doctors see a lot of people that have WebMD'd themselves into hypochondriacs. It's really hard to be taken seriously when you say, "No. I think this is different. I think this is unusual."

"Just go to bed earlier!"


When my wife was struck by mysterious, debilitating symptoms, our trip to the ER revealed the sexism inherent in emergency treatment.

Jessica Rinaldi / Reuters

Early on a Wednesday morning, I heard an anguished cry—then silence.

I rushed into the bedroom and watched my wife, Rachel, stumble from the bathroom, doubled over, hugging herself in pain.

“Something’s wrong,” she gasped.

This scared me. Rachel’s not the type to sound the alarm over every pinch or twinge. She cut her finger badly once, when we lived in Iowa City, and joked all the way to Mercy Hospital as the rag wrapped around the wound reddened with her blood. Once, hobbled by a training injury in the days before a marathon, she limped across the finish line anyway.

So when I saw Rachel collapse on our bed, her hands grasping and ungrasping like an infant’s, I called the ambulance. I gave the dispatcher our address, then helped my wife to the bathroom to vomit.

I don’t know how long it took for the ambulance to reach us that Wednesday morning. Pain and panic have a way of distorting time, ballooning it, then compressing it again. But when we heard the sirens wailing somewhere far away, my whole body flooded with relief.

I didn’t know our wait was just beginning.

I buzzed the EMTs into our apartment. We answered their questions: When did the pain start? That morning. Where was it on a scale of one to 10, with 10 being worst?

Eleven,” Rachel croaked.

As we loaded into the ambulance, here’s what we didn’t know: Rachel had an ovarian cyst, a fairly common thing. But it had grown, undetected, until it was so large that it finally weighed her ovary down, twisting the fallopian tube like you’d wring out a sponge. This is called ovarian torsion, and it creates the kind of organ-failure pain few people experience and live to tell about.

“Ovarian torsion represents a true surgical emergency,” says an article in the medical journal Case Reports in Emergency Medicine. “High clinical suspicion is important. … Ramifications include ovarian loss, intra-abdominal infection, sepsis, and even death.” The best chance of salvaging a torsed ovary is surgery within eight hours of when the pain starts.

* * *

There is nothing like witnessing a loved one in deadly agony. Your muscles swell with the blood they need to fight or run. I felt like I could bend iron, tear nylon, through the 10-minute ambulance ride and as we entered the windowless basement hallways of the hospital.

And there we stopped. The intake line was long—a row of cots stretched down the darkened hall. Someone wheeled a gurney out for Rachel. Shaking, she got herself between the sheets, lay down, and officially became a patient.

We didn’t know her ovary was dying, calling out in the starkest language the body has.

Emergency-room patients are supposed to be immediately assessed and treated according to the urgency of their condition. Most hospitals use the Emergency Severity Index, a five-level system that categorizes patients on a scale from “resuscitate” (treat immediately) to “non-urgent” (treat within two to 24 hours).

I knew which end of the spectrum we were on. Rachel was nearly crucified with pain, her arms gripping the metal rails blanched-knuckle tight. I flagged down the first nurse I could.

“My wife,” I said. “I’ve never seen her like this. Something’s wrong, you have to see her.”

“She’ll have to wait her turn,” she said. Other nurses’ reactions ranged from dismissive to condescending. “You’re just feeling a little pain, honey,” one of them told Rachel, all but patting her head.

We didn’t know her ovary was dying, calling out in the starkest language the body has. I saw only the way Rachel’s whole face twisted with the pain.

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Soon, I started to realize—in a kind of panic—that there was no system of triage in effect. The other patients in the line slept peacefully, or stared up at the ceiling, bored, or chatted with their loved ones. It seemed that arrival order, not symptom severity, would determine when we’d be seen.

As we neared the ward’s open door, a nurse came to take Rachel’s blood pressure. By then, Rachel was writhing so uncontrollably that the nurse couldn’t get her reading.

She sighed and put down her squeezebox.

“You’ll have to sit still, or we’ll just have to start over,” she said.

Finally, we pulled her bed inside. They strapped a plastic bracelet, like half a handcuff, around Rachel’s wrist.

* * *

From an early age we’re taught to observe basic social codes: Be polite. Ask nicely. Wait your turn. But during an emergency, established codes evaporate—this is why ambulances can run red lights and drive on the wrong side of the road. I found myself pleading, uselessly, for that kind of special treatment. I kept having the strange impulse to take out my phone and call 911, as if that might transport us back to an urgent, responsive world where emergencies exist.

The average emergency-room patient in the U.S. waits 28 minutes before seeing a doctor. I later learned that at Brooklyn Hospital Center, where we were, the average wait was nearly three times as long, an hour and 49 minutes. Our wait would be much, much longer.

Everyone we encountered worked to assure me this was not an emergency. “Stones,” one of the nurses had pronounced. That made sense. I could believe that. I knew that kidney stones caused agony but never death. She’d be fine, I convinced myself, if I could only get her something for the pain.

By 10 a.m., Rachel’s cot had moved into the “red zone” of the E.R., a square room with maybe 30 beds pushed up against three walls. She hardly noticed when the attending physician came and visited her bed; I almost missed him, too. He never touched her body. He asked a few quick questions, and then left. His visit was so brief it didn’t register that he was the person overseeing Rachel’s care.

Around 10:45, someone came with an inverted vial and began to strap a tourniquet around Rachel’s trembling arm. We didn’t know it, but the doctor had prescribed the standard pain-management treatment for patients with kidney stones: hydromorphone for the pain, followed by a CT scan.

The pain medicine started seeping in. Rachel fell into a kind of shadow consciousness, awake but silent, her mouth frozen in an awful, anguished scowl. But for the first time that morning, she rested.

* * *

Leslie Jamison’s essay “Grand Unified Theory of Female Pain” examines ways that different forms of female suffering are minimized, mocked, coaxed into silence. In an interview included in her book The Empathy Exams, she discussed the piece, saying: “Months after I wrote that essay, one of my best friends had an experience where she was in a serious amount of pain that wasn’t taken seriously at the ER.”

She was talking about Rachel.  

“Women are likely to be treated less aggressively until they prove that they are as sick as male patients.”

“That to me felt like this deeply personal and deeply upsetting embodiment of what was at stake,” she said. “Not just on the side of the medical establishment—where female pain might be perceived as constructed or exaggerated—but on the side of the woman herself: My friend has been reckoning in a sustained way about her own fears about coming across as melodramatic.”

“Female pain might be perceived as constructed or exaggerated”: We saw this from the moment we entered the hospital, as the staff downplayed Rachel’s pain, even plain ignored it. In her essay, Jamison refers back to “The Girl Who Cried Pain,” a study identifying ways gender bias tends to play out in clinical pain management. Women are  “more likely to be treated less aggressively in their initial encounters with the health-care system until they ‘prove that they are as sick as male patients,’” the study concludes—a phenomenon referred to in the medical community as “Yentl Syndrome.”

In the hospital, a lab tech made small talk, asked me how I like living in Brooklyn, while my wife struggled to hold still enough for the CT scan to take a clear shot of her abdomen.

“Lot of patients to get to, honey,” we heard, again and again, when we begged for stronger painkillers. “Don’t cry.”

I felt certain of this: The diagnosis of kidney stones—repeated by the nurses and confirmed by the attending physician’s prescribed course of treatment—was a denial of the specifically female nature of Rachel’s pain. A more careful examiner would have seen the need for gynecological evaluation; later, doctors told us that Rachel’s swollen ovary was likely palpable through the surface of her skin. But this particular ER, like many in the United States, had no attending OB-GYN. And every nurse’s shrug seemed to say, “Women cry—what can you do?”

Nationwide, men wait an average of 49 minutes before receiving an analgesic for acute abdominal pain. Women wait an average of 65 minutes for the same thing. Rachel waited somewhere between 90 minutes and two hours.

“My friend has been reckoning in a sustained way about her own fears about coming across as melodramatic.” Rachel does struggle with this, even now. How long is it appropriate to continue to process a traumatic event through language, through repeated retellings? Friends have heard the story, and still she finds herself searching for language to tell it again, again, as if the experience is a vast terrain that can never be fully circumscribed by words. Still, in the throes of debilitating pain, she tried to bite her lip, wait her turn, be good for the doctors.

For hours, nothing happened. Around 3 o’clock, we got the CT scan and came back to the ER. Otherwise, Rachel lay there, half-asleep, suffering and silent. Later, she’d tell me that the hydromorphone didn’t really stop the pain—just numbed it slightly. Mostly, it made her feel sedated, too tired to fight.

If she had been alone, with no one to agitate for her care, there’s no telling how long she might have waited.

Eventually, the doctor—the man who’d come to Rachel’s bedside briefly, and just once—packed his briefcase and left. He’d been around the ER all day, mostly staring into a computer. We only found out later he’d been the one with the power to rescue or forget us.

When a younger woman came on duty to take his place, I flagged her down. I told her we were waiting on the results of a CT scan, and I hassled her until she agreed to see if the results had come in.

When she pulled up Rachel’s file, her eyes widened.

“What is this mess?” she said. Her pupils flicked as she scanned the page, the screen reflected in her eyes.

“Oh my god,” she murmured, as though I wasn’t standing there to hear. “He never did an exam.”

The male doctor had prescribed the standard treatment for kidney stones—Dilauded for the pain, a CT scan to confirm the presence of the stones. In all the hours Rachel spent under his care, he’d never checked back after his initial visit. He was that sure. As far as he was concerned, his job was done.

If Rachel had been alone, with no one to agitate for her care, there’s no telling how long she might have waited.

It was almost another hour before we got the CT results. But when they came, they changed everything.

“She has a large mass in her abdomen,” the female doctor said. “We don’t know what it is.”

That’s when we lost it. Not just because our minds filled then with words like tumor and cancer and malignant. Not just because Rachel had gone half crazy with the waiting and the pain. It was because we’d asked to wait our turn all through the day—longer than a standard office shift—only to find out we’d been an emergency all along.

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Suddenly, the world responded with the urgency we wanted. I helped a nurse push Rachel’s cot down a long hallway, and I ran beside her in a mad dash to make the ultrasound lab before it closed. It seemed impossible, but we were told that if we didn’t catch the tech before he left, Rachel’s care would have to be delayed until morning.

“Whatever happens,” Rachel told me while the tech prepared the machine, “don’t let me stay here through the night. I won’t make it. I don’t care what they tell you—I know I won’t.

Soon, the tech was peering inside Rachel through a gray screen. I couldn’t see what he saw, so I watched his face. His features rearranged into a disbelieving grimace.

By then, Rachel and I were grasping at straws. We thought: cancer. We thought: hysterectomy. Lying there in the dim light, Rachel almost seemed relieved.

“I can live without my uterus,” she said, with a soft, weak smile. “They can take it out, and I’ll get by.”

She’d make the tradeoff gladly, if it meant the pain would stop.

After the ultrasound, we led the gurney—slowly, this time—down the long hall to the ER, which by then was  completely crammed with beds. Trying to find a spot for Rachel’s cot was like navigating rush-hour traffic.

Then came more bad news. At 8 p.m., they had to clear the floor for rounds. Anyone who was not a nurse, or lying in a bed, had to leave the premises until visiting hours began again at 9.

When they let me back in an hour later, I found Rachel alone in a side room of the ER. So much had happened. Another doctor had told her the mass was her ovary, she said. She had something called ovarian torsion—the fallopian-tube twists, cutting off blood. There was no saving it. They’d have to take it out.

Rachel seemed confident and ready.

“He’s a good doctor,” she said. “He couldn’t believe that they left me here all day. He knows how much it hurts.”

When I met the surgery team, I saw Rachel was right. Talking with them, the words we’d used all day—excruciating, emergency, eleven—registered with real and urgent meaning. They wanted to help.

By 10:30, everything was ready. Rachel and I said goodbye outside the surgery room, 14 and a half hours from when her pain had started.

* * *

Rachel’s physical scars are healing, and she can go on the long runs she loves, but she’s still grappling with the psychic toll—what she calls “the trauma of not being seen.” She has nightmares, some nights. I wake her up when her limbs start twitching.

Sometimes we inspect the scars on her body together, looking at the way the pink, raised skin starts blending into ordinary flesh. Maybe one day, they’ll become invisible. Maybe they never will.

This article appears courtesy of Creative Nonfiction.

28 Oct 14:29

What to Expect When You Give a Child the Woman's Surname

Madison Metricula

People totes freak out about names. I will say the most interesting part of this and the tons of pieces like it is the reported (and quoted) reactions of men. Like, the "he would never let that shit fly" guy or a clueless dude in a thing I shared a while ago saying he expected his wife to have the same name as him and he refused to "erase his identity".

It's no longer radical to keep your name, merge your SO's name with a hyphen, or invent a new surname as a couple, but what is still radical is giving a child a woman's surname (especially when the parents are married). What happened when Molly Caro May gave it a try is pretty telling.

It's certainly not a common practice. Only about 18% of women keep their surname upon marrying as it is (2009 research). That is down from the previous 23% at peak trend in the late '90s. A more recent look in 2010 discovered that older women (35 to 39) are over six times more likely to keep their names.

But whether the parents in question were married or not, a BabyCenter survey found that only 4% of children were given the woman's surname. There are a lot of practical reasons you would find yourself in that small percentage: If the mother is not marrying the father of the child and is raising the child alone, she may wish to give the child her surname. In a family quoted in the above link where the mother was Korean and the father was Caucasian, the couple chose to give the child the mother's Korean name to preserve heritage.

Many people are happy with the decision they make either way, but it is not without hassle: The BabyCenter piece enumerates the various logistical issues of dealing with a child whose name does not match one parent or the other — confusion when traveling overseas and verifying identity, getting sick of telling everyone that you have different last names from your child, the assumption that you have your partner's last name just because your child does. These are all reminders of just how entrenched the status quo is: "Families" operate with one name, and that is the man's. (This is also a difficulty faced among blended families.)

But within a married couple wherein the woman keeps her name, embracing all these potential snares and giving a child the woman's surname can be an intentional way of shaking up convention. That is the case for Molly Caro May, who, in an essay at The Hairpin, muses on what happened when she and her husband, Chris, went for it simply because they wanted to. And given that their friends and families had always been open-minded, she writes, they were not prepared for the shockwave.

First, she says, her younger brother asked how Chris felt being emasculated. Then her mother warned of future trouble on the playground. Someone else accused her of doing it to "make a point." Another said she risked "the ease of preserving lineage and historical records."


Everyone has to defend the decision they make about it. Over and over again, I watched women acquaintances hear me mention it and then, almost immediately, the mask of self-protection would slide over their faces. They probably saw me as a better-than-thou type. I tried hard not to be that. I didn't want to shame anyone. I only told people when I was asked and purposely acted casual about it. Some of my married women friends said nothing; some smiled big smiles; my single friends told me either they were taking notes or they could never possibly. Men often looked unsure but pretended to be hip to it. One guy friend teased, "Of course you would."

Finally, a friend admitted she would love to give her child her surname, but that her "man would never let that shit fly." It was then May registered how insidious this notion of giving a child the father's name really is:

Many people are coming up with new brave options: blended last names, siblings with different last names, hyphens. But when a couple decides to use both names as a last name, usually the woman's last name gets tucked between her child's and husband's, and usually that's the one that falls away around school age. Very rarely is the man tucked away. How come? It makes me uncomfortable to even ask, because it sounds accusatory of anyone or, especially, the people I dearly love who lined it up like so. I don't mean it like this. We all contend with this history together. I'm starting to think that queer couples with children will lead the way. They'll demonstrate how non-gendered a last name choice can be.

In my anecdotal experience, single mothers raising children alone still give their child the father's surname, perhaps in the hopes of one day getting benefits or assistance from him, even if he is never truly involved. In couples that marry where the woman keeps her surname, the resulting child still carries the father's name. I'm not judging — I took my husband's surname upon marriage and gave it to our child for personal reasons.

May's most "publicly feminist" friend thought the choice May made was unfair to her husband — shouldn't the child have both their names? May responds:

It was uneven, but it had been uneven the other way for millennia (though matriarchal societies did exist once upon a time) and sometimes the pendulum has to swing wildly before it can even out. I would never advocate for all children having their mother's last names. But imagine if 50% them did. Imagine the social impact on our collective unconscious. It would be a movement requiring no money, no lobbying, no elbow grease. It's a choice anyone of any background can make—harder for some, I know. And our naming system would actually be diverse. No one gender would occupy it.

Like interracial marriage, hyphenated last names, gay adoption, boys with long hair, over time, people will get over the shock of the new. And over time, May's family did, too. She reports that the latest response to the news of the surname tends to be what a great guy her husband is for "letting" her do this.

And her essay illuminates how complex and freighted the issue is. Ultimately, the act of naming a child after yourself as a woman is an act of preserving your own name. But that name is probably your father's name.

In the end, what May asks is that we have a conversation about naming conventions rather than a given, assumed choice. More choice in this arena is good, because even though on some level, all families blend in one way or another to become one, what makes a family a family has so little to do with names anyway.

Image by Tara Jacoby.

28 Oct 14:26

We Shouldn't Have First Ladies

Madison Metricula

So, like, I brought this up at lunch yesterday. I hadn't thought about it much, but it is TOTALLY weird we still expect to have a female hostess for the White House, and preferably one who is a spouse or relative.

Why do we still expect the president’s spouse to act like our little princess?

The daughters and wives of 2016’s presidential aspirants are already having a rough time. Melania Trump, Columba Bush, Chelsea Clinton, and Ivanka Trump have all been subjects of recent profiles, not all of them particularly flattering. Chelsea Clinton, for example, has been called “entitled” while Melania Trump is referred to as a “trophy wife.”

The profiles explored what role these women will play on the campaign trail and—should their loved ones be elected—in the White House. (There is already speculation that Chelsea Clinton would step in to fill a traditional “First Lady” role in a Hillary Clinton presidency.) But here’s a rash thought: Why should these women play any role in campaigns and why should we be expect them to?

As America faces the prospect of possibly electing its first woman president, now seems as good a time as any to ask a question: Is it time to do away with the traditional First Spouse role in the White House?

Most people would find it inappropriate, in the year 2015, to explicitly tell any woman that she is expected to spend most of her life supporting her husband’s career goals full-time. Yet we continue to do that for the spouses of politicians who seek the presidency.

When Howard Dean sought the presidency in 2004, there were endless questions about the absence of his wife on the trail. One columnist referred to his wife, Judith Steinberg, an accomplished physician in her own right, as “a ghost” in her husband’s political career. Former First Lady Laura Bush opened a number of her early campaign speeches by noting that when her husband entered politics he promised her she’d never have to give a speech. After a pause she’d then say, “So much for political promises.” 

Despite the humor, profiles made it clear that Mrs. Bush was a private person who was not enthusiastic about her husband entering the family business, specifically because of the disruption and invasion of privacy it would bring to their family’s life.


And she is not the only Bush spouse to have such reservations. Columba Bush, the wife of current presidential candidate Jeb, is notoriously averse to politics and the press. It has been widely reported that the former Florida governor needed time for his wife to come around in supporting his presidential aspirations before he launched his campaign. 

With every profile written about Columba Bush, someone who has not sought the limelight and actively shuns it, I have found myself asking, why a candidate’s spouse can’t simply opt out. Why can’t two people say, “We fell in love, I fell into politics. My wife didn’t, so leave her alone.”

But of course the thinking goes that, in America at least, if I elect a person president, I’m electing his spouse by default to represent our country as well. Therefore we should have just as much right to scrutinize him or her, or their kids, just as we do the candidate.

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In an email, Katherine Jellison, who is chairperson of the Department of History at Ohio University and an expert on first ladies, explained that what we expect from the wives of presidents has evolved drastically over the last century, particularly with the evolution of mass media—first radio in the time of Eleanor Roosevelt, then television, and today the Internet. But Jellison also noted that as mass media evolved, so did women’s place in society.

“The public no longer expects a first lady to merely wear a pretty dress and look adoringly at her husband,” she said. “She is supposed to provide at least some commentary on current events and to adopt and advance selected public service projects.”

Of course any independent woman who marries a man who decides to pursue public service may wonder why should she have to do either. And I wonder that myself.

In other countries, like the U.K., the spouses of political leaders aren’t expected to play the same kind of role as their American counterparts.

In other countries, like the U.K., the spouses of political leaders aren’t expected to play the same kind of role as their American counterparts. Cherie Blair, for example, maintained an impressive career in law and academia while Tony Blair was prime minister.

But part of why she was able to do so is because she was dealing with a different set of expectations. The reason? Because many of the duties filled by our First Lady here are filled by members of the royal family there.

Think for a moment: How many of you know what Kate Middleton looks like? But how many of you know what Samantha Cameron, the wife of Prime Minister David Cameron, looks like? Thanks to their royal counterparts, spouses of high-ranking elected officials in other countries are often free to live the lives they choose, often somewhat under the radar, because someone else is handling the smiling, waving, dinner hosting, ribbon-cuttings—and all of the subsequent scrutiny that comes with it.

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I am obviously not suggesting America become a monarchy. But I am suggesting that maybe it’s time that we recognize the important role that hosting state dinners and the like can play, while also recognizing that in the modern era we should no longer be asking an adult to give up her own life to advance such forms of soft diplomacy if she doesn’t want to. Maybe the solution is to create a sort of domestic ambassadorial role known as a White House host or hostess. The position could be appointed, and the caveat would be that the person, like a royal, is not openly political.

My main fear is if we don’t seriously consider making some changes to the First Lady role, and the scrutiny that comes with it, we are going to severely limit the quality of people we see running for office. If a spouse is expected to campaign, then that means we are already limiting our political process to those who can afford to be a one-income household for at least the increasingly lengthy duration of a presidential race.

But also as women’s place in society improves, in the coming years there are going to be fewer and fewer who will be comfortable with giving up their autonomy for their husband’s job—even if that job is president. That means that people who run for office may be those in marriages that are more old-fashioned in terms of gender roles, even if those relationships are no longer representative of most Americans.

Jellison said that she would like to see us become a country that doesn’t expect a spouse to give up his or her career for an unpaid, largely ceremonial role, because that would be “healthier.” Unfortunately, she also said the research she has seen indicates Americans are not quite ready to let go of the office of First Lady as we know it.

“In terms of what Americans say they want from a First Lady—that she play a largely ceremonial role but also feel free to ‘be herself’—that is a pretty unrealistic role, especially in a day and age when she might think ‘being herself’ would ideally mean continuing her medical practice, her law practice, or CEO position,” Jellison said.

The truth is, as much as we Americans may dismiss the monarchies of other nations as antiquated, we seem to get a kick out of treating First Ladies like our very own Princesses. But the reality is in 2015 what real woman would actually want to trade places with an actual princess? According to multiple reports Prince Harry has had more than one relationship end because the women he’s dated have wanted to maintain their own identities. Today, most people do, whether they fall in love with a president or a prince. So in addition to creating a new White House ambassadorial role, maybe it’s time for someone to update those fairy tales to give a new definition of what happily ever after looks like.