Gender

Jeffrey Toobin is back on CNN in an incredibly awkward segment and I have questions

On Thursday afternoon, were you also surprised to see disgraced legal analyst and Ryan Murphy adaptee Jeffrey Toobin re-emerging from a seven-and-a-half-month shame hiatus to reclaim his seat at CNN, where he had been placed on leave following an incident in which he was observed by New Yorker and WNYC co-workers masturbating on camera during a work Zoom call? In his first few minutes back on the air, Toobin performed a ritual act of penance — which, in a concession to discipline, I will not describe as "self-flagellation" — and after witnessing the good-natured grilling by anchor Alisyn Camerota, I still have questions beyond her opening salvo of "What the hell were you thinking?"

Is the cable news on-air legal analyst hiring landscape so dire that the network had no choice but to hold Toobin's position for him for two-thirds of a year while he worked on becoming, as he told Camerota, "a person people can trust again"? Was his masturbation incident, as Toobin said, a "deeply moronic and indefensible" choice that made performing community service while "trying to be a better person" necessary, or was it "one terrible mistake," as an unnamed CNN executive told The Washington Post, that shouldn't "define a person"? Is the cable news audience this hungry for legal analysis from makers of "deeply moronic" decisions? (And what Olivia Pope knock-off advised Toobin to tell us he has been "working in a food bank" in order to improve himself, like a slacker staring down the end of junior year and desperate to cobble together an adequate college application? Is it possible to cringe so hard at the TV you develop a cramp?)

Does this set a precedent at CNN that the entire staff understands and feels comfortable with? Would the network hire Toobin today if he hadn't already been a contributor before he got fired by the New Yorker as a result of their internal investigation — which Toobin assures us revealed no further incidents than the one caught on camera? If so, is this climate of forgiveness transparent in CNN's job postings? What types of previous workplace misconduct that might come to light during a pre-employment background check would qualify for red-flag status in the network's HR department? If he had gone Inner Toobin (don't look at me, I didn't name his Harvard column!) during a CNN meeting instead, would the network have fired him for it? If the answer is no, how many times can CNN's on-air talent masturbate in front of their colleagues before HR takes action? Is there a different number for workers who don't appear on air? Is this information shared with all new hires in an orientation, or just the men?

Are the four years Kathy Griffin has remained fired from her CNN gig after one terrible mistake, compared to Toobin's seven and a half months of personal leave, an example of a gender grace gap? If one agrees with the network executive that a terrible mistake shouldn't "ruin [a person's] employment opportunities for life," is there not a wide terrain of other opportunities available for someone of Toobin's experience and stature, outside of TV news celebrity, that could keep him from eviction or ruined credit? To paraphrase Ebenezer Scrooge, are there no Substacks, no Netflix option checks, no quiet consulting gigs? Is downgrading a man's celebrity status considered a cruel and unusual punishment in the media industry? On a scale of one to "flashed by a coworker," how degrading should we understand that to feel?

And finally, how should viewers expect CNN to handle legal analysis of stories about workplace sexual misconduct or harassment, especially when covering the industry itself? Level with us: Just how awkward is that going to get?

A scandal at Yale exposes a major gap in sexual harassment law

Yale law professors Amy Chua and Jed Rubenfeld, who are married to each other, are in the news. Again. It's not because of an important book or a pro bono constitutional law case. As the Times put it, it's their "boundary-pushing behavior" with students.

Everyone loves a good scandal about good-looking, influential and wealthy people. And since we are also in a political moment during which exposing college faculty as phonies is in vogue, it's no surprise this colorful pair is getting negative press.

The couple was unknown outside of scholarly circles before Chua wrote a best-selling book in 2011, The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. A memoir about perfectionist helicopter parenting verging on self-parody, Chua's success pushed her husband and two daughters to the front page. There they stayed. But then things took a dark turn.

Chua defended Yale grad Brett Kavanaugh as a "mentor to women" during Supreme Court hearings marred by sexual harassment allegations. Then the accusations about Chua and Rubenfeld's behavior toward students became public. In August 2020, Rubenfeld was suspended for two years after a sexual harassment investigation. Chua was barred from socializing with students. The couple denies some of the allegations while other allegations, they say, have been misunderstood and misreported. But this week, Chua is again under scrutiny due to accusations she broke her agreement.

Recent investigative reporting on Chua and Rubenfeld reveals every element that a juicy higher-education scandal requires. A power couple, known to student critics as "Chubenfeld," holds court in a lavish home. There are allegations of boozy dinner parties, sexual harassment and favorites pushed for coveted Supreme Court clerkships. Students spy on each other to get more ammunition against other law professors.

But this is more than a delicious celebrity-faculty scandal. It's about the role that discrimination and harassment, the stepchildren of Title IX, a federal gender equity and inclusion law passed in 1972, are playing right now on elite university campuses.

The complaints against Chua and Rubenfeld do not all claim discrimination and harassment. But connecting the dots between those that do, and other behaviors that are simply noxious and unwelcome, reveals a world that Title IX made. And it also reveals a major problem in higher education. There's no consensus about where sexual harassment begins and ends or even why it affects equity and inclusion on campus.

This is why Title IX should be revised to make its governance over sexual harassment explicit as well as to define what sexual harassment is, and by implication, is not.

Currently, the words sexual harassment do not appear in Title IX at all. The law was initially conceived as an amendment to crucial civil rights bills passed in the 1960s. Written by Congresswoman Patsy Mink and Senator Birch Bayh, it was intended to close gaps in existing law. The 1964 Civil Rights Act did not cover education. The Higher Education Act of 1965 did not specify gender as a protected category.

Equity in secondary school and colleges would, Mink and Bayh argued, determine whether women could compete with men for the opportunity education provided. The language is simple: "No person in the United States shall, based on sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance."

Initially, the law targeted overt discrimination against women. It also addressed covert spending priorities—such as school athletics, which could be converted into college scholarships—that produced discriminatory educational outcomes for women.

Sexual harassment, a term that was just beginning to circulate in feminist circles, was not one of the problems Title IX addressed. These cases were understood primarily as employment problems and litigated under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

But in 1980, Yale law professor Catharine MacKinnon, who had popularized the term "sexual harassment" in a ground-breaking 1979 book, changed that. She employed the novel argument that Yale, faced with multiple sexual harassment claims, had a duty under Title IX to provide an institutional remedy. In part, this was to provide redress. But Yale also, MacKinnon argued, had a duty to address the needs of female faculty who were functioning as an unpaid, informal counseling staff to traumatized women.

Though dismissed, Alexander v. Yale established the principle that sexual harassment could be litigated under Title IX. It is now common that in any educational setting receiving federal funds, unwanted sexual attention is prohibited as discriminatory.

So are behaviors that can lead to, or follow from, sexual harassment, like preferential treatment, unsolicited personal comments and social intimacy linked to the workplace. But in the absence of actual sexual harassment, should they be?

There seems to be little evidence that Chua, however noxious and unwanted her behavior, has set the stage for behavior Rubenfeld is accused of. Nor is there evidence that students have been denied opportunities because they refused to tolerate them.

Some students defend Chua. Some students of color note she's the only woman of Asian descent on the faculty and a vital mentor. Others are clearly uncomfortable with and angered by her behavior. They have a right to say so and to ask for change. But do Chua's social intimacies and favoritism rise to a level of university discipline?

In the world Title IX has made, yes. But they aren't Title IX violations, nor does Yale say as much. So on what grounds can she be punished? Title IX needs to be clearly revised to make this point. It doesn't seem to be protecting anyone's rights at Yale.

The Supreme Court punts a major question on women and the military draft to Congress

by Max Margulies, United States Military Academy West Point and Amy Rutenberg, Iowa State University

The Supreme Court has declined to hear arguments in the case of National Coalition for Men v. Selective Service System. In doing so, it acceded to the Biden administration's wishes that it not address the question of whether women should join the millions of young men required to register each year with the Selective Service – the federal agency responsible for the draft. It will now be up to Congress to decide what, if anything, to do with the law governing registration and the draft.

As scholars of the draft, we have seen Congress grappling with the question of selective service for years. A bill to include women in the draft was introduced in 2020 after a national commission studied the issue for four years. Congress is also considering two other proposals to dismantle the entire Selective Service System.

The future of the draft, and registration for it, depends on two questions. One is about the role of women, but the bigger one is about the role of the registration itself.

A brief history of registration

Registration and the draft are not the same thing, although they are related. Registration is the process by which people identify themselves to the government as potentially eligible to be drafted to serve in the military.

In the U.S., Congress and the president must pass a law authorizing a draft, at which point the government agency known as the Selective Service System oversees the administrative process of conscription. There has not been a draft in the U.S. since 1973, when Congress allowed the existing draft authorization, conscripting men into service in the Vietnam War, to expire.

Two years later, President Gerald Ford suspended men's responsibility to register for the draft. But in 1980, after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, President Jimmy Carter reversed Ford's position, reinstating registration – though not the draft itself. Since then, all male permanent residents of the United States, both citizen and noncitizen, between the ages of 18 and 26, have been required to register and update their information with the Selective Service every time they move.

Women, who have served in every U.S. war, and legally in all combat roles since 2016, have remained exempt from this requirement; they may not even voluntarily register.

It's not really about women

Politicians and activists are rehashing the same decades-old arguments about gender stereotypes and traditional gender roles.

But women serve honorably and effectively in every military role and branch of service. The rationale used by the Supreme Court in 1981 to exclude them became moot as soon as all available positions, including combat positions, opened to women in 2016.

If registration continues, and if there ever again is a draft in the U.S., we and many others believe that women clearly deserve to share equally in the responsibility to serve and the opportunity to earn the benefits of military service.

So the real question is about how draft registration serves society, or doesn't.

Mind the civil-military gap

One common belief is that maintaining draft registration bolsters the link between civilians and soldiers, which has weakened significantly since the U.S. military became an all-volunteer force. Through the last two decades of war, only 1% of Americans have served in the military.

Some experts suggest that such a weak civilian-military connection contributes to a number of problems, including a lack of familiarity with the military, a military that is not representative of society and an unfair distribution of the human costs of war.

But the Selective Service System is not designed to address those issues. Most registrants do not give much thought to the ramifications of checking the box when they renew their drivers' licenses or register to vote. In early 2020 a viral misinformation campaign about an imminent draft led a flood of worried information-seekers to crash the Selective Service's website.

And normally, as the 2020 national report noted, the mere act of registration without any real chance of being drafted does not greatly affect people's lives.

A force for social change?

Evidence shows that registration shapes society only when it is accompanied by a draft – though not always in ways that national leaders might hope. During the Cold War draft, men factored military service into their life choices by marrying, having children, going to college or choosing professions that offered them legal deferments from the draft.

That, in turn, introduced inequities into the draft, undermining the legitimacy of the process. Men with means, especially white men, were significantly more likely to obtain a deferment than working-class men, particularly men of color.

The government seems to have learned from that experience. If the draft ever were renewed, these types of deferments would likely not be allowed.

But many more Americans reach draft-eligible age each year than the military could possibly use. Any new draft would still raise new questions about the fairness of who serves and who does not.

A mobilization mechanism?

Without the draft, registration on its own has been likened to an “insurance policy" against any future threat. Any major conflict with a great power adversary – however unlikely – would require a much larger military than the country has at present.

Registration is supposed to provide Selective Service with a list of everyone eligible to be drafted and their contact information. So registration theoretically speeds up the process of bringing hundreds of thousands of soldiers into the military. And planning is important. Failure to plan adequately for bringing large numbers of recruits into the military has made wartime mobilization complicated in the past, as in the U.K. at the start of World War I.

But it's not clear that registration as currently organized would work this way. Historically, relatively few people keep their addresses up to date, and the agency is more focused on getting men to register – not on what happens after they're on the list.

The mobilization process itself is a massive production. During World War II, more than 183,000 volunteers helped evaluate men at over 11,000 local draft and appeal boards. Every person was examined; classified as available, deferred or exempt; and then processed through the system appropriately, including considering appeals.

In 1967, during the Vietnam War, with a much smaller draft than in World War II, more than 31,000 people staffed thousands of local and appeal boards around the nation. The present system has just 11,000 volunteers identified as ready to help.

With no real way to immediately conduct a draft, it's not clear that registration serves any purpose. For one thing, 97% of registrations are handled electronically, and much of the information duplicates data already stored in other government databases, including driver's license records.

In rejecting National Coalition for Men v. Selective Service, the Supreme Court has made it clear that Congress needs to act. But as it does so, policymakers need to evaluate whether the law is able to meet its objectives. If policymakers have other goals, like improving social equity or better linking civilian life with those who serve in the military, perhaps something less abstract and less bureaucratic – and less expensive – might serve the nation better than simply adding women to the existing legislation.

[You're smart and curious about the world. So are The Conversation's authors and editors. You can read us daily by subscribing to our newsletter.]The Conversation

Max Margulies, Director of Research, Assistant Professor of International Affairs, United States Military Academy West Point and Amy Rutenberg, Associate Professor of History, Iowa State University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The politics of violence against women

Last week, I wrote about the causal connection between domestic violence and mass shootings, and the urgent need to take domestic violence seriously. While this is true and while domestic violence remains relevant in 60 percent of mass shootings, we should be concerned with domestic violence outside of public safety. Intimate partner violence accounts for 15 percent of all violent crime, but it's often left out of crime debates. Perhaps this is because 85 percent of domestic violence victims are women.

Historically, domestic violence has been ignored or even legally accepted. Until the 19th century, Anglo-American common law allowed wife-beating as long as the husband did not inflict permanent injury on his wife. Domestic violence wasn't illegal in every state until 1920, but it took the feminist movement of the 1970s to get the culture to begin to take it seriously. More often than not, American jurisprudence viewed marital relations as something protected under a right to privacy, which served to ignore violence within a marriage in order to protect "marital harmony."

This view was aided by the decidedly gendered lens used to see domestic violence, often referring to it as "wife-beating," for example. As many laws allowed for male control of the household and marriage, the gendered lens minimized safety. This began to change in the 1970s. After Craig v. Boren in 1976, a case concerning gendered language in a law governing alcohol consumption, sex-based state action became subject to a heightened level of scrutiny under the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment. This led to the removal of gendered language in criminal codes in favor of phrases like "spousal assault" and "domestic violence." While this effort was supported by advocates at the time, it hurt legal challenges to domestic assault policies because they seem gender neutral, despite 85 percent of victims being women.1

In Thurman v. City of Torrington, domestic violence victim Tracey Thurman sued her local police department in Connecticut for violating her civil rights and failing to protect her from an abusive husband. In 1982, she left her husband, Charles "Buck" Thurman, with their young son. The following eight months involved ongoing verbal abuse, trespassing, stalking and threats of violence from Buck Thurman that were repeatedly ignored by police. In that time, police refused to charge Buck Thurman with criminal trespass after he forcibly entered Tracey Thurman's home to remove their son; charged Buck with disturbing the peace only after he broke Tracey's windshield (but did little to keep Buck away from Tracey); and ignored reported threatening behavior, including five visits to the police station by Tracey.

Tracey Thurman was eventually granted a restraining order. On June 10, 1983, a police officer arrived 25 minutes after Tracey called police to report her husband on her property. The cop sat in his car while he stabbed her over 20 times outside the house. The police officer eventually took the knife away but watched as Buck kicked Tracey in the head multiple times breaking her neck. Buck was not arrested until 40 minutes after police arrived and Tracey was loaded into an ambulance. The suit claimed that Tracey was ignored by the police because she was married to the perpetrator.

The suit's constitutional basis rested on the claim that as a woman and a victim of violence, Tracey Thurman was treated differently than other victims of violence. A federal district court found that "a pattern of affording inadequate protection, or no protection at all, to women who have complained of being abused by their husbands ... is tantamount to an administrative classification used to implement the law in a discriminatory fashion." She was awarded $2.3 million but settled for $1.9 million.

As a response to the Thurman lawsuit, Connecticut passed the "Thurman Law" (aka the Family Violence Prevention and Response Act) in 1986, which required police to make arrests in domestic violence cases, even if the victim doesn't press charges. Outside Connecticut, police departments all over the country were motivated to change their responses to domestic violence to avoid a financially damaging lawsuit.2

In 1994, the passage of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) was intended to address the lack of resources available to victims of gender-based violence. However, the inclusion of a civil-rights remedy for the disparate treatment of women victims caused controversy. Title III of the statute treated violence against women as a form of sex discrimination and established a federal civil-rights cause of action for victims of gender-based violence to be able to sue their abusers in federal court. The act was meant to "protect the civil rights of victims of gender-motivated violence and to promote the public safety, health, and activities affecting interstate commerce."3

Its "interstate commerce" clause was necessary to give Congress authority to enact civil-rights protections under the Constitution's Commerce Clause. Unfortunately, this provision was struck down in 2000 in United States v. Morrison. VAWA provided a federal rape shield law, community violence prevention programs, protections for victims evicted due to events related to domestic violence or stalking, funding for victim assistance services, and legal aid for survivors of domestic violence.

Domestic violence is still the leading cause of physical injury to women, more than car accidents and muggings combined, and more than half of female homicide victims are killed as a result of intimate partner violence. About 25 percent of women have experienced severe domestic violence (compared to one in nine men), and a third of women have experienced some sort of physical violence by their intimate partner.

Trans people and women with disabilities are particularly vulnerable to domestic violence. Domestic violence affects women of all races and incomes but Black women experience intimate partner violence at a rate 35 percent higher than that of white women, and about 2.5 times the rate of women of other races. Over half of Indigenous women have experienced physical violence by an intimate partner and Indigenous women face the highest incidents of rape and assault of any ethnic group.

Indigenous women also face an additional legal hurdle for bringing charges, as tribal courts do not have jurisdiction to prosecute non-members. Unlike other gender-based violence, the majority of violence committed against Indigenous women is committed by men outside their ethnic group. The 2013 reauthorization of VAWA included provisions to address violence against Indigenous women but tribal jurisdiction and the crimes included must be expanded. While VAWA was reauthorized multiple times, it has yet to be reauthorized since in 2018. Joe Biden ran on a promise to reauthorize it. House Democrats did so in March. Next time a senator expresses concern for the safety of women in trans-inclusive spaces, remind them that the real danger is intimate partner violence and demand that they vote to reauthorize VAWA.

Texas high school valedictorian scraps approved speech — and speaks out on new anti-abortion law

A Texas high school valedictorian's graduation speech garnered attention from Democratic lawmakers and rights advocates Wednesday after going viral on social media—not for the typical optimism contained in such addresses, but for the student's decision to go off-script and speak out against her state's assault on reproductive rights.

At Lake Highlands High School's graduation on Sunday in Dallas, Paxton Smith scrapped her valedictory address—which had been approved by school officials—and told her audience it felt wrong to her "to talk about anything but what is currently affecting me and millions of other women in this state."

"Starting in September, there will be a ban on abortions that take place after six weeks of pregnancy, regardless of whether the pregnancy was a result of rape or incest," Smith said, referring to Senate Bill 8, which Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law last month.

In addition to banning abortion care after six weeks of pregnancy, at which point many women don't yet know they're pregnant, the law allows any citizen to sue anyone who "aids or abets" a patient who has an abortion—including clinic employees, friends or family members who drive the patient to their appointment, or providers.

"I have dreams, hopes, and ambitions," said Smith. "Every girl here does. We have spent our whole lives working towards our futures, and without our consent or input, our control over our futures has been stripped away from us. I am terrified that if my contraceptives fail me, that if I'm raped, then my hopes and efforts and dreams for myself will no longer be relevant. I hope you can feel how gut-wrenching it is, how dehumanizing it is, to have the autonomy over your own body taken from you."

Smith's speech begins at the 4:38 mark below:

Paxton Smith Speech at Lake Highlands Graduation www.youtube.com

Smith won praise from lawmakers including Rep. Veronica Escobar (D-Texas) and state Rep. Julie Johnson, both of whom applauded the graduate's "brave" decision to speak candidly about abortion care in a congressional district that has historically been solidly Republican before voters elected Democratic Rep. Colin Allred in 2018.


"It gives members of the Texas Women's Health Caucus hope to know that young women like Paxton Smith are out there to carry the torch," said Johnson.

Others on social media echoed the lawmakers' admiration, calling Smith "a force" and thanking her for articulating "the connection between a woman's achievements, opportunities, and control over her body."

This is courage. In one of the most conservative districts in Texas. I am in awe. https://t.co/xfClYhb6bc

— Lauren Hough (@laurenthehough) June 2, 2021




"I refuse to give up this platform to promote complacency and peace, when there is a war on my body and a war on my rights," Smith said in her speech. "A war on the rights of your sisters, a war on the rights of your mothers, a war on the rights of your daughters. We cannot stay silent."

The military has a massive sexual assault crisis — but Congress is actually on course to address it

Given the more than 60 Democratic and Republican votes lined up, the Senate is poised to move forward with a new bill that would change the way the military handles sexual assault and other felony crimes by service members. Sponsored by Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Joni Ernst (R-IA), the new law would assign decision-making on sexual-assault cases and a host of other felonies, including some hate crimes, to a specially trained team of uniformed prosecutors. While the bill will indeed inch the military away from its antiquated practice of allowing commanders to decide whether to prosecute their own officers and soldiers on sexual-assault allegations, if baffles me that it's still allowed to handle its own violent crimes rather than having them dealt with through our criminal justice system.

Why should our troops enjoy such protected status, as though they exist in a separate reality from the rest of society? Arguably, in these years, the face of America has indeed been militarized, whether we like it or not. After all, we've just lived through two decades of endless war, American-style, in the process wasting significantly more than $6.4 trillion dollars, more than 7,000 uniformed lives, and scores of health- and safety-related opportunity costs.

Meanwhile, it's taken years for the public and members of Congress to begin to recognize that it matters how the military treats its own — and the civilians with whom they interact. (After all, many felonies committed by such personnel against civilians, at home and abroad, are prosecuted within the military-justice system.) That Congress has taken so long to support even such a timid bill in a bipartisan fashion and that few think to question whether felonies committed by American soldiers should be prosecuted within the military, suggests one thing: that we're a long, long way from taking responsibility for those who kill, maim, and rape in all our names.

I'm a military spouse. My husband has been a U.S. Navy officer for 18 years. During the decade we've been together, he's served on two different submarines and in three Department of Defense and other federal staff jobs in Washington.

In many ways, our family has been very fortunate. We have dual incomes that offer us privileges the majority of Americans, let alone military families, don't have, including being able to seek healthcare providers outside the military's decrepit health system. All this is just my way of saying that when I critique the military and my experiences in it, keep in mind that others have suffered so much more than my family.

The Military Criminal Justice System

Let me also say that I do understand why the military needs its own system for dealing with infractions specific to its mission (when, for instance, troops desert, defy orders, or make gross errors in judgment). The Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) is federal law enacted by Congress. Analogous to our civilian legal system, it is of no small importance, given the potential cost to our nation's security should the deadly equipment the military owns not be operated with the utmost sobriety and discretion.

In such cases, the standards listed in the UCMJ are implemented according to procedures outlined in another document, the Manual for Courts-Martial (MCM). Essentially, the MCM provides a framework for trying alleged offenses of various kinds within the military, laying out the maximum penalties that may be imposed for each of them.

Included in this are procedures for nonjudicial punishments in which a commanding officer, rather than a court-martial judge and a panel of other personnel (functionally, a jury), determines what penalties are to be imposed on a service member accused of a crime. Crucially, the results of such nonjudicial punishment do not appear on an officer's criminal record.

Among other things what this means is that a commanding officer can decide that a soldier accused of sexual assault will be subjected to nonjudicial punishment rather than a military trial. In that case, the public will have no way of knowing that he committed such an act. No less crucially, the MCM leaves it entirely up to the commanding officer of a soldier's unit whether or not such allegations will be dealt with at all, no matter the format. That's why the Senate bill under consideration is of importance. At least it will remove the decision-making process on prosecuting reported assault cases from officers who may have a vested interest in covering up such assaults.

Because here's the grim reality, folks: sexual assault in the military is a pandemic all its own. According to a 2018 Defense Department survey across five branches of the armed services (the most recent such document we have), 20,500 assaults occurred that year against active duty women and men. Yet fewer than half of those alleged crimes were reported within the military's justice system and just 108 convictions resulted.

What this tells us is that commanding officers exercise a stunning decision-making power over whether allegations of rape get tried at all — and generally use it to suppress such charges. Consider, for example, that, of the 2,339 formally reported sexual assaults that military investigators recommended for arbitration in 2019, commanders took action in only 1,629 of those cases. In other words, they left about a third of them unexamined.

Of the ones brought to the military justice system, fewer than half were actually tried in front of a judge through the court-martial system. At worst, the remainder of the accused received nonjudicial punishments from commanders — extra duties, reductions in pay or rank — or were simply discharged from the service. And all this happened entirely at the discretion of commanding officers.

Those same commanders, who have the power to try (or not try) allegations of violence, generally have a vested interest in covering up such accusations, lest they reflect badly on them. And while you might think that sexual-assault survivors would have a say in command culture, as it happens their "anonymous" contributions to such reports sometimes turn out not to be anonymous at all. In smaller units, commanders can sometimes figure out who has reported such incidents of violence and misconduct, since such reports regularly include the gender and rank of those who have come forward.

All of this explains why the Gillibrand-Ernst bill is a welcome departure from a classic case of the fox guarding the henhouse. At least those with less of a conflict of interest and (hopefully) more than just a token amount of training when it comes to sexual assault, harassment, and other forms of violence will be assigned the job of deciding whether or not to try alleged felonies.

Let's Take This Further

And yet, while that bill is far better than nothing, it's distinctly a case of too little, too late. The real problem is that Americans generally view the military just as the military views itself — an island apart from the general populace, deserving of special allowances, even when it comes to sexual crimes.

I recently spoke with a young female Air Force recruit who saw the military as her sole means of paying for a four-year university without carrying crippling debt into middle age. What struck me, however, was how much more she feared attacks by male airmen than the possibility that she might ever be wounded or killed in a combat zone. And in that ordering of fears, she couldn't be more on target, as the stats on combat deaths and reported sexual assault bear out.

In addition, these days, new recruits like her enter the military in the shadow of the bone-chilling murder of Spc. Vanessa Guillen, a 20-year-old Army soldier. She went missing in April 2020 from Fort Hood, Texas, shortly after reporting that a superior officer had sexually solicited her, repeatedly made an example of her after she refused him, and finally approached her while she was taking care of her personal hygiene. Her dismembered body was later found in a box on the base. Her alleged killers included a soldier who had been accused of sexual harassment in a separate case and his civilian girlfriend. An Army report on Guillen's murder and the events that led to it concluded that none of her supervisors had taken appropriate action in response to her allegations of sexual harassment.

The murder sparked public outrage, including among women in the armed services who quickly coined the Twitter hashtag #IamVanessaGuillen, and went public with their own accounts of being assaulted while in the military. Her case would, in fact, be a major catalyst driving the Senate bill, which has attracted support from a striking range of sponsors, including Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Ted Cruz (R-TX).

Though I never thought I'd find myself quoting Ted Cruz, let me echo his reaction to the bill: "It's about damn time."

A Small Start

Yet Guillen's murder and the legislation it sparked begs this question: If it took the death of a young woman who reported sexual harassment to launch such a relatively timid bill, what will it take to move the judging of violent crimes entirely off military bases and into the regular court system? I shudder to think about the answer to that question.

The morning I went into labor with my daughter, my husband was on a military base a few minutes away, carrying out his duties as executive officer on a ballistic missile submarine. As the pains grew stronger with each passing hour, I phoned the base to let him know that I was in labor. I was eager to reach him in time to be taken to the hospital before a pending snow storm made driving through the foothills of the Cascade Mountains treacherous.

His colleagues repeatedly insisted that he was unavailable, even to them. Finally, I said to one of them between gasps, "Oh for Christ's sake, just tell him I'm in labor and I need him to drive me to the hospital!"

Four hours later, having heard nothing from the base, I watched my husband, looking beleaguered and sad, walk through the door. No one had even bothered to give him my message. As I sat up on the floor where I was trying to cope with the pain, he slumped momentarily on the couch in his blue camo uniform and told me that he'd been called upon to assist in the hearing of a sexual-abuse and possible rape case involving the daughter of one of his sailors. I listened, while he prepared to take me to the hospital, as he described what he had dealt with. I could see the stress on his face, the drawn look that came from hours of listening to human suffering.

At least, that case was heard. However, another point is no less important: that a group of men — my husband and other commanding officers with, assumedly, zero knowledge about sexual assault — had been placed in charge of hearing a case on the possible rape of a child.

In scores of other cases I've heard about in my years as a military spouse and as a therapist for veterans and military families, I've been similarly struck by the ways in which male commanders without training have treated the survivors of such assaults and women more generally. I've seen some of those same men joke about how women's behavior and moods, even abilities, change depending on their "time of the month" or pregnancy status. I've heard some make sexist or homophobic jokes about female and gay service members or heard about them threatening to "rip them another asshole" when fellow shipmates failed to meet expectations. Within the military, violence is the first thing you notice.

That day, trembling with the pangs of late-stage labor as my husband rushed me through the falling snow to the hospital with our daughter about to be born, I thought: Where will she be safe in this world? Who's responsible for protecting her? For protecting us? I hugged my belly tighter and resolved to try to do my part.

And today, years later, I still wonder whether anyone beyond a group of senators and military advocates will show an interest in holding service members accountable for respecting the dignity of the rest of us.

Copyright 2021 Andrea Mazzarino

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Books, John Feffer's new dystopian novel Frostlands (the second in the Splinterlands series), Beverly Gologorsky's novel Every Body Has a Story, and Tom Engelhardt's A Nation Unmade by War, as well as Alfred McCoy's In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of U.S. Global Power and John Dower's The Violent American Century: War and Terror Since World War II.

Andrea Mazzarino, a TomDispatch regular, co-founded Brown University's Costs of War Project. She has held various clinical, research, and advocacy positions, including at a Veterans Affairs PTSD Outpatient Clinic, with Human Rights Watch, and at a community mental health agency. She is the co-editor of War and Health: The Medical Consequences of the Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The simple truth behind the Supreme Court's decision to take up a major abortion case

The United States Supreme Court announced on Monday that it would formally review a Mississippi law that bans abortions before viability. The question before the court will be whether pre-viability abortion bans can ever be constitutional. In order to say yes, the Republican-appointed majority on the Supreme Court would have to overthrow 50 years of precedent and strike down Roe v. Wade in fact, if not in name.

The justices had to conference an astonishing 12 times before agreeing to hear the case, suggesting that the conservative justices needed time to come up with a plausible reason to hear it in the first place. There is no new legal or constitutional question at stake. The federal appeals courts agree that pre-viability bans are unconstitutional, so there's no circuit split to be resolved. The court has agreed to hear this because at least four conservative justices want to overturn Roe v. Wade. It's that simple.

The Supreme Court has affirmed repeatedly that pre-viability abortion bans are unconstitutional. The precedent is so clear-cut that no federal court has ever upheld a pre-viability ban. That's because all of abortion jurisprudence in the United States comes down to the following kludgy compromise: A woman has a right to terminate a pre-viable pregnancy under the 14th Amendment. States may not ban the procedure outright. However, they can make it almost as difficult as they want to by piling on frivolous regulations designed to make abortion more expensive, time consuming and onerous—as long as nothing is an "undue burden" on a woman's right to choose. The whole edifice depends on treating pre-viability bans differently from restrictions.

For the last 30 years, anti-choice legislators have been methodically piling on frivolous restrictions designed to push abortion care out of reach of more and more women. And pro-choicers have been countering with court battles, abortion funds and clinic defense. Now that the balance of power has shifted on the Supreme Court, anti-choice forces are preparing to break the stalemate and gut abortion rights once and for all.

Now Mississippi has banned abortions after 15 weeks' gestation, which everyone agrees is pre-viability. The state's lawyers are arguing that the government should be allowed to do so because it's just another regulation and, therefore, allowed as long as it's not unduly burdensome. This is not a serious argument. This argument doesn't even rise to the level of sophistry, because sophistry is supposed to seem clever. Mississippi is simply asking the Supreme Court to relabel their ban as a regulation.

Even the conservative Fifth Circuit court of appeals was not persuaded, noting that Mississippi's 15-week ban is a ban, not a regulation. Again: any pre-viability ban on abortion is a violation of a woman's right to due process under the 14th Amendment.

Now that Republican-appointed justices rule the court, Mississippi may well prevail. The only question is whether the conservative majority will strike down Roe outright or preserve the figleaf. If Mississippi is allowed to ban abortions at 15 weeks, there's nothing to stop states from banning abortion at six weeks or earlier. At least 22 states already have laws that would restrict abortion if Roe were struck down outright.

The right to a pre-viability abortion has been sacrosanct for nearly 50 years. Poplar opinion is firmly behind reproductive freedom. Sixty-one percent of Americans agree that abortion should be legal under most if not all circumstances, and 70 percent want to see Roe endure. And no wonder: Social progress has for generations been contingent on women controlling their reproductive destinies. If Roe is struck down, it should refute once and for all the myth that conservative justices are reverent of precedent. Yet they are happy to legislate from the bench in order to control women's bodies.

I’m a pediatrician who cares for transgender kids — here's the truth about their treatment

by Mandy Coles, Boston University

When Charlie, a 10-year-old boy, came in for his first visit, he didn't look at me or my colleague. Angry and crying, he insisted to us that he was cisgender – that he was a boy and had been born male.

A few months before Charlie came into our office, he handed a note to his mother with four simple words, “I am a boy." Up until that point Charlie had been living in the world as female – the sex he was assigned at birth – though that was not how he felt inside. Charlie was suffering from severe gender dysphoria – a sense of distress someone feels when their gender identity doesn't match up with their assigned gender.

I am a pediatrician and adolescent medicine specialist who has been caring for transgender youth for over a decade using what is called a gender-affirmative approach. In this type of care, medical and mental health providers work side by side to provide education to the patient and family, guide people to social support, address mental health issues and discuss medical interventions.

Getting on the same page

The first thing our team does is make sure our patients and families understand what gender care is. We always begin initial visits in the same way. “Our goal is to support you and your family on this journey, whatever that may look like for you. My name is Mandy and I am one of the doctors at CATCH – the Child and Adolescent Trans/Gender Center for Health program. I use she/her pronouns." Sharing pronouns helps transgender people feel seen and validated.

We then ask patients and families to share their gender journey so we can better understand where they are coming from and where they hope to go. Charlie's story is one we often hear. A kid may not think much about gender until puberty but begins to experience worsening gender dysphoria when their body starts changing in what feels like the wrong way.

Social transitions with family help

Transgender and gender-diverse youth (those whose gender identity doesn't conform to the norms expected of their assigned sex) may face transphobia and discrimination, and experience alarmingly higher rates of depression, anxiety, self-harm and suicide than their cisgender peers. One option can be to socially transition to their identified gender, both at home and in the outside world.

An important first step is to help parents become allies and advocates. Connecting parents with one-to-one as well as group support can help facilitate education and acceptance, while helping families process their own experience. Charlie's parents had been attending a local parent group that helped them better understand gender dysphoria.

In addition to being accepted at home, young people often want to live in the world in their identified gender. This could include changing their name and pronouns and coming out to friends and family. It can also include using public spaces like schools and bathrooms, participating on single-gender sports teams and dressing or doing other things like binding breasts or tucking back male genitalia to present more in line with their gender identity. Though more research needs to be done, studies show that youth who socially transition have rates of depression similar to cisgender peers.

Many young people find that making a social transition can be an important step in affirming identity. For those that still struggle with depression, anxiety and managing societal transphobia, seeing a therapist who has knowledge of and experience with gender-diverse identities and gender dysphoria can also be helpful.

However, most young people also need to make physical changes to their bodies as well to feel truly comfortable.

Gender-affirming medical interventions

When I first met Charlie, he had already socially transitioned but was still experiencing dysphoria. Charlie, like many people, wanted his physical body to match his gender identity, and this can be achieved only through medical interventions – namely, puberty blockers, hormonal medications or surgery.

For patients like Charlie who have started experiencing early female or male puberty, hormone blockers are typically the first option. These medications work like a pause button on the physical changes caused by puberty. They are well studied, safe and completely reversible. If a person stops taking hormone blockers, their body will resume going through puberty as it would have. Blockers give people time to further explore gender and to develop social supports. Studies demonstrate that hormone blockers reduce depression, anxiety and risk of suicide among transgender youth.

Once a person has started or completed puberty, taking prescribed hormones can help people match their bodies with their gender identities. One of my patients, Zoe, is an 18-year-old transgender woman who has already completed male puberty. She is taking estrogen and a medication to block the effects of testosterone. Together, these will help Zoe's body develop breasts, reduce hair growth and have an overall more female shape.

Leo, another one of my patients, is a 16-year-old transgender man who is using testosterone. Testosterone will deepen Leo's voice, help him grow facial hair and lead to a more male body shape. In addition to testosterone, transgender men can use an additional short-term medication to stop menstruation. For nonbinary people like my 15-year-old patient Ty, who is not exclusively masculine or feminine, my colleagues and I personalize their treatments to meet their specific need.

The health risks from taking hormones are incredibly small – not significantly different, in fact, than the risks a cisgender person faces from the hormones in their body. Some prescribed hormone effects are partially reversible, but others are more permanent, like voice deepening and growth of facial hair or breasts. Hormones can also impact fertility, so I always make sure that my patients and their families understand the process thoroughly.

The most permanent medical options available are gender-affirming surgeries. These operations can include changes to genitals, chest or breasts and facial structure. Surgeries are not easily reversible, so my colleagues and I always make sure that patients fully understand this decision. Some people think gender-affirming surgeries go too far and that minors are too young to make such a big decision. But based on available research and my own experience, patients who get these surgeries experience improvements in their quality of life through a reduction in dysphoria. I have been told by patients that gender-affirming surgery “literally saved my life. I was free [from dysphoria]."

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Ongoing gender care

In March 2021, nearly five years after our first visit, Charlie walked into my exam room. When we first met, he was struggling with his gender, anxiety and depression. This time, he immediately started talking about playing hockey, hanging out with friends and making the honor roll. He has been on hormone blockers for five years and testosterone for almost a year. With the help of a supportive family and a gender-competent therapist, Charlie is now thriving.

Being transgender is not something that goes away. It is something my patients live with for their entire lives. Our multidisciplinary care team continues to see patients like Charlie on a regular basis, often following them into young adulthood.

While more research is always needed, a gender-affirmative approach and evidence-based medicine allows young transgender people to live in the world as their authentic selves. This improves quality of life and saves lives, as one of our transgender patients said about his experience receiving gender-affirming care. “I honestly don't think I would be here had I not been allowed to transition at that point. I'm not always 100%. But I have hope. I am happy to see tomorrow and I know I will achieve my dreams."The Conversation

Mandy Coles, Clinical Associate Professor of Pediatrics, Boston University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

There's a profound moral problem that the pro-life movement ignores

Once upon a time, I was a straight news reporter freelancing for a new national religion publication. My assignment was to attend religious services in my area to see what faith leaders were saying on the Sunday before the 2012 presidential election.

I decided to go to a Roman Catholic Church here in New Haven that offers mass in English, Polish and Latin (obviously, not at the same time). The Latin Mass, if you've never experienced it, is truly moving what with the incense and cathedral setting and so on. I was enjoying myself all the way up to the homily. It was in English. I got my notepad. "Abortion is the greatest humanitarian crisis of our lifetimes," the priest said. The message was clear: don't vote for the (Black) candidate supporting infanticide.

I don't think abortion is murder, but I can see why others do. I can see why people see it as a "humanitarian crisis." I can even see why some think of the pro-life movement as a civil-rights movement. For these believers, life begins at conception, meaning a person becomes a person at what they believe is a sacred moment. Even if you don't think it's murder, you might credit the view with having a profound moral weight.

Yes, yes. I know. Anti-abortion politics is really about putting women back in their place in the natural order of things.1 It's about maintaining the local authority of white man, for the most part, and their dominance over women, especially the women in their lives. This, to me, is transparently true. Even so, abortion is what it is. It's not like the pro-life movement is based on nothing serious. There is a moral foundation, no?

What if it's not what you think it is? The energy driving 40 years of partisan politics, to strike down Roe, has been described as a moral crusade. The moral dimension has been strong enough to wedge apart liberals and social-gospel Catholics, wrote Christopher Jon Sprigman. "But for so many I knew, the struggle over abortion overwhelmed their other political commitments. For many, it was the Supreme Court's constitutionalization of abortion that turned disagreement into a great moral schism."

Again, what if it's not that? What if the question is not centered on the morality of ending a pregnancy but on something quite different? Most liberals don't even bother asking the question. They just deny the premise of the argument. They deny a fetus is a person. But what if a fetus is a person, as pro-lifers say? Then what? Well, then we have a titanic ethical dilemma no serious person in the pro-life movement talks about. And by refusing to talk about it, they give up the game. This isn't really about babies.

Think about it. The pro-life movement wants the government to outlaw access to abortion, the result being women carrying out pregnancies. Put this together with the belief that a fetus is a person. What are pro-lifers asking for? That the government force one person to permit another person to use her body. Though it's true this person requires another person's body for its survival, that doesn't change the fact that forcing one person to permit another person to use her body for its survival is a moral question as profound as the question of whether ending a pregnancy is good or bad.

Even if you think ending a pregnancy is bad, on account of your belief that a fetus is a person, you should be downright disturbed by the idea of the government forcing one person to allow another person to use her body for its survival. These are different moral problems, sure, but they are equally problematic. If the pro-life movement is not ignoring one in favor of the other, it's deciding one is OK while the other is not. And the consequential burden of either decision falls entirely on who? Pregnant women.

If abortion really were a "great moral schism," its opponents would be struggling to untangle the vexing moral knot of a government forcing one person to use another person's body. But I don't see serious abortion opponents doing that. What I do see is what everyone else sees—debate over whether the US Supreme Court will strike down Roe, or enfeeble it, out of the profound moral conviction that abortion is wrong.

But abortion is not a "moral debate." It's a one-sided moral debate. It's a debate over which one side won't look at the moral implications of winning the debate. Or it's a debate over which one side understands the moral implications and accepts them, because accepting them is in keeping with its view of the natural order of things. What's sacred isn't so much the life inside the mother as her presumed social role.

How evangelicals got fixated on gender roles

by Susan M. Shaw, Oregon State University

Prominent evangelical leader Beth Moore, who announced in March 2021 that she was leaving the Southern Baptist Convention over its treatment of women, among other issues, recently apologized for supporting the primacy of the theology of “complementarianism."

This belief asserts that while women and men are of equal value, God has assigned them specific gender roles. Specifically, it promotes men's headship or authority over women, while encouraging women's submission.

As a scholar of gender and evangelical Christianity who grew up Southern Baptist, I watched how complementarianism became central to evangelical belief, starting in the late 1970s, in response to the feminist influence within Christianity.

The start of the doctrine

In the 1970s, the women's movement began to make inroads into a number of arenas in the U.S., including work, education and politics. Many Christians, including evangelicals, came to embrace egalitarianism and to champion women's equality in the home, church and society.

In response, in 1977 evangelical biblical studies professor George Knight III published a book, “New Testament Teaching on the Role Relationship of Men and Women," and introduced a new interpretation of “role differences."

Other evangelical biblical studies professors, such as Wayne Grudem and John Piper, began to write about submission and headship in the mid-1980s and early 1990s, making the claim that women's submission to men was not, as many Christians at that time believed, a result of the Fall in the Garden of Eden when Eve and Adam ate the forbidden fruit.

Rather, they argued, the requirement for women's submission was part of the created order. Men, they explained, were created to rule and women were created to obey.

Southern Baptists incorporate the belief

Evangelical leaders began to hold secret meetings, conferences and evangelical associations to work out, and then promote, a fully developed framework for complementarianism.

In 1987, a group including Piper and Grudem met in Danvers, Massachusetts, to prepare a statement that came to be known as the Danvers Statement on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. It set out the core beliefs of complementarianism.

Among other things, the Danvers Statement affirmed the submissive role of women. It said, “Wives should forsake resistance to their husbands' authority and grow in willing, joyful submission to their husbands' leadership."

The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood was created at the same time. The goal of the council was to influence evangelicals to adopt the principles of complementarianism in their homes, churches, schools and other religious agencies.

Within a decade, the council and the Danvers Statement began to have significant influence among evangelicals, particularly Southern Baptists, the nation's largest Protestant denomination.

Entrenched evangelical beliefs

The Southern Baptist Convention soon incorporated these beliefs into its confessional statement – a document of generally shared beliefs. In an amendment in 1998 to the “Baptist Faith and Message," the convention included the complementarian language.

The amended section on “The Family" stated, “A wife is to submit herself graciously to the servant leadership of her husband even as the church willingly submits to the headship of Christ. She, being in the image of God as is her husband and thus equal to him, has the God-given responsibility to respect her husband and to serve as his helper in managing the household and nurturing the next generation."

For some, the theology of complementarianism became so deeply entrenched in evangelical belief that they came to see it as an essential doctrine of the faith. As Piper said in 2012, if people accept egalitarianism, sooner or later, they're going to get the Gospel wrong.

While Moore has not entirely renounced complementarianism, she has now decried its use as a first-tier doctrine. First-tier doctrines are the ones that evangelicals believe people must accept in order to be Christians. For some evangelicals, however, complementarianism remains a litmus test for theological faithfulness, right alongside belief in God and acceptance of Jesus.

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Susan M. Shaw, Professor of Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, Oregon State University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The right wing launches a new sexist attack against First Lady Jill Biden

Over the weekend, First Lady Jill Biden's patterned tights went viral on conservative Twitter. It began when a photograph of her deplaning at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland — wearing a tailored black blazer, an A-line leather skirt, the aforementioned tights and black booties — was shared on the platform and a user likened them to "fishnet stockings."

It started a really nasty pile-on, underscored by a lot of Republicans drawing comparisons to former first lady Melania Trump; a couple of the tamer comments read, "Jill Biden is too old to be wearing fishnets. It's gross. Melania, on the other hand, would rock them," and "Madonna called and wants her trashy look back, Doc."

Biden's supporters were quick to defend her. "She is wonderful, you are jealous," one wrote, while another added: "She looked very chic."

For what it's worth, Biden's tights weren't actually fishnets. They were sheer tights with a geometric pattern — not that it should matter, obviously. However, the immediate backlash to Biden's outfit echoes past pearl-clutching, especially from conservatives, about what type of clothing is "appropriate" for the first lady of the United States.

It's an exercise that often speaks to a certain societal discomfort with reconciling cultural understandings of what femininity and power look like, and has since extended to criticism of how other women politicians dress.

According to Carl Sferrazza Anthony, the author of "First Ladies: The Saga of Presidents' Wives and Their Power," first ladies of the United States have held a "highly visible, yet undefined, position in the U.S. government."

"The role of the first lady, the U.S. president's spouse, has evolved from fashion trendsetter and hostess of White House dinners to a more substantive position," he wrote. "While there have been diverging views on the roles of women in society, the first lady is still a role model for American women. One of the highest-profile jobs in the U.S. government comes with no official duties, no paycheck, and almost limitless possibilities."

Inherent to that concept of being a role model is an understanding that the first lady will be, well, "ladylike." The meaning of that term has shifted some throughout time, though it denotes politeness and a certain demureness or docility. As such, it's no surprise that male politicians have weaponized the term against their female counterparts, like when Republican Todd Akin complained that his Democratic opponent, Claire McCaskill, was not sufficiently "ladylike" in 2012.

This expectation of demureness has long extended to FLOTUS fashion, which has ignited a number of fashion scandals throughout history. When Mary Todd Lincoln wore shoulderless, sleeveless dresses, she was criticized as "showing off her bosom." Several years later, the Women's Christian Temperance Union started a petition over Florence Cleveland's sleeveless gowns, claiming they were an immoral influence on America's young women.

While some first ladies have been criticized as being "frumpy" — Mamie Eisenhower with her pressed shirt dresses and Hillary Clinton in her pant suits, for instance — it seems that there's no bigger affront to being in a position of political power or prestige than being considered provocative. We've seen this reaffirmed over and over again as more and more women take office of their own.

For example, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has been criticized for her signature red lip – which she wears as a nod to Latina culture – as being too frivolous or seductive, a sentiment that was echoed by some conservatives when a video of her dancing in college was released hours after she was sworn in.

It remains to be seen, however, how or if eventual first gentlemen (FGOTUS?) will be judged by their attire. The closest search result that comes up when you Google "Doug Emhoff too sexy" is a lighthearted piece by The Forward, "Kamala Harris' husband Doug Emhoff is our hot Jewish dad crush," and we all know that male politicians' style choices rarely cause a blip on the radar. I don't think I've ever seen a commentator decry an especially vibrant red tie as too much for the House floor, for instance.

Yet in more recent memory, Michelle Obama ignited controversy by wearing a pair of shorts while exiting Air Force One at Grand Canyon National Park Airport which caused the blogosphere, as Time reported in August 2009, to explode with debates over whether they were "hot pants? Cutoffs? Booty Shorts?"

Obama's shorts were far from "booty shorts." They were gray, loose and looked like they could have been pulled off the shelf at GAP or J. Crew. To me, this is reminiscent of the Jill Biden tights situation. Sure, fishnets — like hot pants — are culturally recognized as sexy, if a bit campy in certain contexts (in "The Pleasures of the Text," French essayist Roland Barthes posited that the appeal was found in "intermittence, which is erotic: the intermittence of skin flashing between two articles of clothing").

But in both situations you have commentators who seem intent on positioning certain items of clothing as more seductive than they actually are as a way to shame or discredit the women wearing them.

There is, of course, a certain amount of hypocrisy that comes from Trump supporters criticizing either Michelle Obama or Jill Biden over the appropriateness of their attire. Before marrying Donald Trump, Melania worked as a model and occasionally posed nude. Those photos ran on the cover of the the New York Post in 2016, during Trump's campaign.

The New Yorker's Adam Gopnik posited at the time that this was potentially done with Trump's knowledge, or even blessing, as the Post was resolutely pro-Trump. It could have been Trump's way, Gopnik wrote, of trying to lure his feminist opponents into "revealing their hypocritical readiness to turn on a woman with the wrong politics." That didn't happen.

"The photographs were received almost entirely without scandal, because, well, because education does happen, and change does take place, and even the most benighted among us, Trump quite possibly aside, now understand that a woman's body is hers to pose and have photographed more or less as she chooses, and that it is for the rest of us to respect her choices and to look or not at the photographs as we choose," Gopnik wrote.

It seems that Jill Biden's detractors could take that advice, as well.

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