George Washington’s bodies

—Thomas A. Foster

[Note: An expanded version of this piece was originally posted on Nursing Clio.]

Many Americans could tell you that George Washington was tall and that he had false teeth. Why? Although he is disembodied in national symbols such as the portrait on the one dollar bill and the massive obelisk and the capital city that bear his name, Americans are no strangers to George Washington’s body. The history of representation of his physical body illustrates neatly the ways in which the body informs norms of manhood and how masculinity has long been part of his popular image and even our national identity.

Washington’s earliest portraits highlight his achievements as a military leader. His images express power and confidence, often situated on the battlefield.

In his own lifetime, he dressed that body in the military uniform of the day and portrayed himself as a leader. His detractors similarly focused on his body and put it in a dress to detract from his power. This engraving of Washington was published during the American Revolution and sought to undermine his status.

That same body could speak to the virtuous project of Republican self-governance when positioned in other ways. In the Early Republic his body was portrayed in statue that featured him in a toga, to capture not just physical power but also the virtue associated with Republicanism and the Greco-Roman system of government that relied on virtuous manhood.

In the nineteenth-century popular portraits featured Washington with his wife and her children and grandchildren. The family scenes presented his body in the domestic sphere and situated it next to dependents, celebrating him as a national masculine role-model head-of-household.

At the turn of the twenty first century his body would be the site of curiosity and also anxiety. Mt Vernon launched a forensic examination of Washington to create statues of his youthful self.

His image would also trouble some, however, given a particular feature of nineteenth-century portraits. In 1999, a Georgia school district instructed teaching assistants to erase the image of his watch fob by hand-painting twenty-three hundred fifth-grade textbooks that featured Emmanuel Leutze’s masterpiece, Washington Crossing the Delaware. In another county, they tore the page from thousands of copies of the book. In 2002, several editions of an American history high school textbook that contains the image of Leutze’s nineteenth-century masterpiece were also altered because administrators feared that it would draw attention to this private area of Washington’s body or, worse, might actually appear to be his manhood, exposed.

Nearly eroticized depictions of Washington’s body have continued in the new millennium. David Hackett Fischer’s, Washington Crossing, for example, notes Washington’s “muscular legs” in the opening paragraph, and that he, “at forty-two, looked young, lean, and very fit” at the time of his famous crossing of the Delaware River.

Other authors specify that Washington was unusually desirable to those around him. Richard Brookhiser provides the usual description of Washington’s body and explicitly links it to sex appeal: “Women also took note of him,” he writes. About John Trumbull’s 1792 portrait of Washington striking a classical pose after the Battle of Trenton, he claims that it “clearly shows a pair of well-developed thighs.”

The increased emphasis on crafting an appealing body for Washington can be illustrated by comparing one author’s descriptions over time. Twenty-one years after publishing a description that included the phrase “wide across the hips,” John Ferling changed it to “broad shoulders,” “muscular arms,” and “small, flat waist,” with no mention of the wide hips that many associate with femininity. He also emphasized instead that Washington “exhibited the striking look of what we would expect today in a gifted athlete.”

The depictions of such a muscular body are not just about sex appeal. They symbolize character and idealized manhood. Comments about size, appeal, and physical attributes stand on their own and are intended to suggest that somehow nature had endowed him with a physical presence that indicated his superior skills and capabilities and the pivotal role he would play in the founding of the nation. In this way, large hands and big muscles are connected to founding the national government and acting as figure head to a fledgling country.

Washington’s reproductive body has also been the subject of national scrutiny. The father of the nation had no children with his only wife, Martha, and no definitive explanation for this lack. Nonetheless, Americans have generally ruled out impotence. “There is nothing in his behavior,” writes one biographer, “to suggest that he was impotent, or that his sexual nature caused him any deep uneasiness.” Another portrays Washington as a man who was clearly performing his husbandly duty beyond question and claims, without any evidence, that Washington was “mystified why, year after year, he and Martha could produce no Washington heir.”

The assertion that Washington was decidedly not impotent is not just limited to popular biography. In the academic medical journal, Fertility and Sterility, John K. Amory published his conclusion that Washington could not likely have been impotent given what we know about him as a “healthy, vigorous man.” Tellingly, the author also ruled out sexual infertility as the result of a sexually transmitted disease (despite their commonness in eighteenth-century America), noting Washington’s “character and strong sense of moral propriety.”

At their webpage, The American Society for Reproductive Medicine features Dr. Amory’s work which concluded: “Could Washington have had sexual dysfunction? … Erectile dysfunction due to diabetes or vascular disease seems implausible in such a healthy, vigorous man. Inadequate sexual frequency is theoretically possible but unlikely because Washington’s relationship with Martha was intimate, and as a farmer and expert mule breeder he was certainly well aware of the necessary means!”

In the absence of documentation, Americans have conceded that their virile Founding Father may have been infertile but impotence is beyond the pale. Sexualized manhood has long been predicated on the ability to penetrate. On the scale of emasculating sexual deficiencies, sterility ranks slightly lower than impotence.

Satire has poked fun at this American embrace of the super-man Founding Father. The Real Brad Neely’s YouTube video crudely mocks the national emphasis on Washington’s greatness by emphasizing especially his heights and prowess (here giving him multiple “dicks”).

Similarily, a large mural depicting Washington in a dress, featured on the side of a building in Cincinnati, jolts the viewer in part because of his traditional association with American masculinity.

The variety of ways that Americans have thought about George Washington’s body and its militaristic, domestic, and sexual and reproductive capabilities, should not surprise us as we’ve long known that gender and sexuality inform our national identity. That it occurs in our most basic understandings of our most primary national figures serves as a reminder of the influence of gender, sexuality, and the body in our national identity.

Thomas A. Foster is Associate Professor of History at DePaul University in Chicago, and the author of Sex and the Founding Fathers: The American Quest for a Relatable Past (Temple University Press, 2014) and New Men: Manliness in Early America (NYU Press, 2011).

Depictions of masculinity on television

Amanda D. Lotz

It is revealing that so little has been written about men on television. Men have embodied such an undeniable presence and composed a significant percentage of the actors upon the small screen—be they real or fictional—since the dawn of this central cultural medium and yet rarely have been considered as a particularly gendered group. In some ways a parallel exists with the situation of men in history that Michael Kimmel notes in his cultural history, Manhood in America. Kimmel opens his book by noting that “American men have no history” because although the dominant and widely known version of American history is full of men, it never considers the key figures as men. Similarly to Kimmel’s assertion, then, we can claim that we have no history of men, masculinity, and manhood on television—or at best, a very limited one—despite the fact that male characters have been central in all aspects of the sixty-some years of US television history. It is the peculiar situation that nearly all assessments of gender and television have examined the place and nature of women, femininity, and feminism on television while we have no typologies of archetypes or thematic analyses of stories about men or masculinities.

For much of television studies’ brief history, this attention to women made considerable sense given prevailing frameworks for understanding the significance of gender representation in the media. Analyses of women on television largely emerged out of concern about women’s historical absence in central roles and the lack of diversity in their portrayals. Exhaustive surveys of characters revealed that women were underrepresented on television relative to their composition of the general populace and that those onscreen tended to be relegated to roles as wives, love interests, or sex objects. In many cases, this analysis was linked with the feminist project of illustrating how television contributed to the social construction of beliefs about gender roles and abilities, and given the considerable gender-based inequity onscreen and off, attention to the situation of men seemed less pressing. As a result, far less research has considered representations of men on television and the norms or changes in the stories the medium has told about being a man.

Transitioning the frameworks used for analyzing women on television is not as simple as changing the focus of which characters or series one examines. Analyzing men and masculinity also requires a different theoretical framework, as the task of the analysis is not a matter of identifying underrepresentation or problematic stereotypes in the manner that has dominated considerations of female characters. The historic diversity of stories about and depictions of straight white men has seemed to prevent the development of “stereotypes” that have plagued depictions of women and has lessened the perceived need to interrogate straight white men’s depictions and the stories predominantly told about their lives. Any single story about a straight white man has seemed insignificant relative to the many others circulating simultaneously, so no one worried that the populace would begin to assume all men were babbling incompetents when Darrin bumbled through episodes of Bewitched, that all men were bigoted louts because of Archie Bunker, or even that all men were conflicted yet homicidal thugs in the wake of Tony Soprano. Further, given men’s dominance in society, concern about their representation lacked the activist motivation compelling the study of women that tied women’s subordinated place in society to the way they appeared—or didn’t appear—in popular media.

So why explore men now? First, it was arguably shortsighted to ignore analysis of men and changing patterns in the dominant masculinities offered by television to the degree that has occurred. Images of and stories about straight white men have been just as important in fostering perceptions of gender roles, but they have done their work by prioritizing some attributes of masculinity—supported some ways of being a man—more than others. Although men’s roles might not have been limited to the narrow opportunities available to women for much of television history, characteristics consistent with a preferred masculinity have pervaded—always specific to the era of production—that might generally be described as the attributes consistent with what is meant when a male is told to “be a man.” In the past, traits such as the stoicism and controlled emotionality of not being moved to tears, of proving oneself capable of physical feats, and of aggressive leadership in the workplace and home have been common. Men’s roles have been more varied than women’s, but television storytelling has nevertheless performed significant ideological work by consistently supporting some behaviors, traits, and beliefs among the male characters it constructs as heroic or admirable, while denigrating others. So although television series may have displayed a range of men and masculinities, they also circumscribed a “preferred” or “best” masculinity through attributes that were consistently idealized.

The lack of comprehensive attention to men in any era of television’s sixty-some-year history makes the task of beginning difficult because there are so few historical benchmarks or established histories or typologies against which newer developments can be gauged. Perhaps few have considered the history of male portrayal because so many characteristics seemed unexceptional due to their consistency with expectations and because no activist movement has pushed a societal reexamination of men’s gender identity in the manner that occurred for women as a component of second-wave feminism. Male characters performed their identity in expected ways that were perceived as “natural” and drew little attention, indicating the strength of these constructs. Indeed, television’s network-era operational norms of seeking broad, heterogeneous audiences of men and women, young and old, led to representations that were fairly mundane and unlikely to shock or challenge audience expectations of gender roles.

One notable aspect of men’s depictions has been the manner through which narratives have defined them primarily as workers in public spaces or through roles as fathers or husbands—even though most male characters have been afforded access to both spaces. A key distinction between the general characterizations of men versus women has been that shows in which men functioned primarily as fathers (Father Knows BestThe Cosby Show) also allowed for them to leave the domestic sphere and have professional duties that were part of their central identity—even if actually performing these duties was rarely given significant screen time. So in addition to being fathers and husbands, with few exceptions, television’s men also have been workers. Similarly, the performance of professional duties has primarily defined the roles of another set of male characters, as for much of television history, stories about doctors, lawyers, and detectives were necessarily stories about male doctors, lawyers, and detectives. Such shows may have noted the familial status of these men but rarely have incorporated family life or issues into storytelling in a regular or consistent manner.

This split probably occurs primarily for reasons of storytelling convention rather than any concerted effort to fragment men’s identity. I belabor this point here because a gradual breakdown in this separate-spheres approach occurs in many dramatic depictions of men beginning in the 1980s and becomes common enough to characterize a sub-genre by the twenty-first century. Whether allowing a male character an inner life that is revealed through first-person voice-over—as in series such as Magnum, P.I.Dexter, or Hung—or gradually connecting men’s private and professional lives even when the narrative primarily depicts only one of these spheres—as in Hill Street Blues or ER—such cases in which the whole lives of men contribute to characterization can be seen as antecedents to the narratives that emphasize the multifaceted approach to male characters that occurs in the male-centered serial in the early 2000s. Though these series offer intricately drawn and complex protagonists, their narrative framing does not propose them as “role models” or as men who have figured out the challenges of contemporary life. The series and their characters provide not so much a blueprint of how to be a man in contemporary society as a constellation of case studies exposing, but not resolving, the challenges faced.

The scholarly inattention to men on television is oddly somewhat particular to the study of television. The field of film studies features a fairly extensive range of scholarship attending to changing patterns of men’s portrayals and masculinities. While these accounts are fascinating, the specificity of film as a medium very different from television in its storytelling norms (a two-hour contained story as opposed to television’s prevailing use of continuing characters over years of narrative), industrial characteristics (the economic model of film was built on audiences paying for a one-time engagement with the story while television relies on advertisers that seek a mass audience on an ongoing basis), and reception environment (one chooses to go out and see films as opposed to television’s flow into the home) prevent these studies of men on film to tell us much about men on television. Further, gender studies and sociology have developed extensive theories of masculinity and have been more equitable in extending beyond the study of women. Although theories developed in these fields provide a crucial starting point—such as breaking open the simple binary of masculinity and femininity to provide a language of masculinities—it is the case that the world of television does not mirror the “real world” and that the tools useful for exploring how societies police gender performance aren’t always the most helpful for analyzing fictional narratives. Sociological concepts about men aid assessments of men and masculinity on television, but it is clearly the case that the particularities of television’s dominant cultural, industrial, and textual features require focused and specific examination.

Why Cable Guys?

One of the motivations that instigated my 2006 book Redesigning Women: Television after the Network Era was frustration with how increasingly outdated frameworks for understanding the political significance of emerging gender representations were inspiring mis-, or at least incomplete, readings of shows and characters that indicated a rupture from previous norms. Tools established to make sense of a milieu lacking central female protagonists disregarded key contextual adjustments—such as the gradual incorporation of aspects of second-wave feminism into many aspects of public and private life—and were inadequate in a society profoundly different from that of the late 1960s. For example, it seemed that some aspects of gender scripts had changed enough to make the old models outdated, or that there was something more to Ally McBeal than the length of her skirts, her visions of dancing babies, and her longing for lost love that had led to scorn and dismissal from those applying conventional feminist analytics. Given generational and sociohistorical transitions apparent by the mid-1990s, it seemed that this series and its stories might be trying to voice and engage with adjustments in gender politics rather than be the same old effort to contain women through domesticity and conventional femininity, as was frequently asserted.

I’m struck with a similar impulse in reflecting on how stories about men, their lives, and their relationships have become increasingly complicated in the fictional narratives of the last decade. Indeed, this evolution in depictions of male identities has not received the kind of attention levied on the arrival of the sexy, career-driven singles of Sex and the City and Ally McBeal or the physically empowered tough women of Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Xena: Warrior Princess. Assessments of men in popular culture, and particularly television, haven’t been plentiful in the last decade. Most of the discussion of men on television merely acknowledges new trends in depiction—whether they be the sensitivity and everymanness of broadcast characters or the dastardly antiheroism of cable protagonists. Such trend pieces have offered little deeper engagement with the cultural and industrial features contributing to these shifts or analysis of what their consequences might be for the cultures consuming them.

While these curiosities might motivate any scholar, I suspect the motivations of a female feminist scholar embarking on an analysis of men and masculinity also deserve some explanation. In addition to curiosity about shifting depictions and stories on my television screen, for well over a decade I’ve also had the sense that “something is going on” with men of the post–Baby Boomer generation, who, like me, were born into a world already responding to the critiques and activism of second-wave feminism. Yet nothing I’ve read has adequately captured the perplexing negotiations I’ve observed. For example, on a sunny Tuesday morning just after the end of winter semester classes, I took a weekday to enjoy the arrival of spring with my toddler. We found ourselves in the sandpit at the neighborhood park, and shared it that day with two sisters—one a bit older, the other a bit younger than my nearly two-year-old son—who were being watched over by their father. He was about my age and was similarly clad in the parental uniform of exercise pants and a fleece jacket. With some curiosity I unobtrusively watched him interact with his daughters. Dads providing childcare aren’t uncommon in my neighborhood—overrun as it is with academics and medical professionals with odd hours that allow for unconventional childcare arrangements—but something in his demeanor, his willingness to go all in to the tea party of sandcakes his oldest was engaging him with, grabbed my attention for its play with gender roles. It reminded me of the many male friends with whom I share a history back to our teen years who have similarly transformed into engaged and involved dads; they’ve seemingly eradicated much of the juvenile, but also sexist, perspectives they once presented, and also have become men very different from their fathers. Then his phone rang. Immediately, his body language and intonation shifted as he became a much more conventional “guy.” Was it a brother? It was definitely another man. An entirely different performance overtook his speech and demeanor as he strolled away from the sandpit, yet, suggesting that all was not reversed, he proceeded to discuss attending a baby shower, whether he and his wife would get a sitter, and the etiquette of gift giving for second babies. When the call ended he shifted back to the self I had first observed.

Watching this made me reflect on how the gender-based complaints I might register regarding balancing work and family—such as the exhausting demands, the still-tricky negotiations of relationships that cross the working mom/stay-at-home mom divide, and the ever-ratcheting demands to be the Best Mom Ever while maintaining pre-mom employment productivity—have been well documented by others and are problems with a name. My male peers, in contrast, must feel out to sea with no land or comrades in sight. Esteemed gender historian Stephanie Coontz has gone so far as to propose the term and reality of a “masculine mystique” as an important component of contemporary gender issues.

This wasn’t the first time I’d been left thinking about the contradictory messages offered to men these days. The uncertain embodiment of contemporary manhood appears in many places. For years now I’ve wondered, even worried, about the men in my classes. In general, they seem to decrease in number each year, perhaps being eaten by the ball caps pulled ever lower on their foreheads. As a hopefully enlightened feminist scholar, I try to stay attuned to the gender dynamics of my classroom—but what I’ve commonly found was not at all what I was prepared for or expected. Consistent with the Atlantic cover story in the summer of 2010 that declared “The End of Men” and touted that women had become the majority of the workforce, that the majority of managers were women, and that three women earned college degrees for every two men, the young women in my classes consistently dominate their male peers in all measures of performance—tests, papers, class participation, attendance. I haven’t been able to explain why, but it has seemed that most—although certainly not all—of the young men have no idea why they find themselves seated in a college classroom or what they are meant to do there. Though I must acknowledge that despite evidence of female advancement in sectors of the academy like mine, men still dominate in many of the most prestigious and financially well-rewarded fields, including engineering, business, and computer science.

I brought my pondering about classroom gender dynamics home at night as I negotiated the beginning of a heterosexual cohabitation in the late 1990s and thought a lot about what it meant to become a “wife” and eventually a “mother.” There were also conversations about what it meant to be the husband of a feminist and how being a dad has changed since our parents started out, although the grounds for these talks were more uncertain and role models and gender scripts seemed more lacking. Both in charting our early years of marriage and still in facing parenthood, my husband and I have often felt adrift and without models. Although we had little to quibble with in regard to our own upbringing, neither of us was raised in households in which both parents had full-time careers, which seemed quite a game changer and has proved the source of our most contentious dilemmas. While a wide range of feminist scholarship and perspectives has offered insight into the challenges of being a mom and professor, my husband and his compatriots seem to be divining paths without a map or a trail guide. As the mother of both a son and a daughter, I feel somewhat more prepared to help my daughter find her way among culturally imposed gender norms than my son; at least for her the threats and perils are known and named.

Amanda D. Lotz is Associate Professor of Communication Studies at the University of Michigan. She is the author of Cable Guys: Television and Masculinities in the 21st Century (NYU Press, 2014).

[Read a fuller version of this excerpt from Amanda D. Lotz's new book, Cable Guys on Salon.com.]

Cycles of gender testing

—Ellen Samuels

A friend who cycles competitively just sent me a link to the new policy on transgender participants in the Eastern Collegiate Cycling Conference. It seems like a progressive and welcoming policy, stating that:

The ECCC particularly recognizes the challenges facing transgender athletes. Such members of the community should compete in the gender category most appropriate to their unique personal situation.”

The release of this policy highlights the growing centrality of issues of non-normative gender and sexuality in athletic competitions as well as in the wider cultural sphere. The prominence of such concerns, as well as the challenges ahead, were highlighted in the weeks leading up to the 2014 Olympic games, as tennis great Billie Jean King called for a LGBTQ “John Carlos moment”—referring to the African American 1968 Olympic medalist who stood on the winners’ podium with lowered head and raised fist, becoming an iconic symbol for social justice.

In Sochi, despite extensive media coverage of Russian anti-gay policies, that moment never came.

Meanwhile, a little-noted story out of Iran highlighted the extent to which international sports must still contend with its own legacy of gendered injustice. In February, on the cusp of Women’s History Month, it was reported that players in Iran’s women’s soccer league were being subjected to “gender testing” and that a number of players were subsequently expelled from the team for failing to qualify as “real women.”

Sex testing in female athletics has a long and tarnished history dating back to the 1940s, and has included requiring female athletes to parade naked before male doctors, performing invasive medical exams, and mandating genetic and hormonal testing. Indeed, from 1968 until the early 1990s, all elite athletes competing as female were required to carry “certificates of femininity,” issued by the International Association of Athletics Federations. Such universal sex testing was abandoned more than a decade ago, but female athletes who are perceived as overly “masculine” are still required to undergo sex testing and even medical treatment in order to remain eligible.

Representations of the Iranian soccer controversy in the Western media have invoked anti-Islamic stereotypes of backwardness, suggesting that gender confusion was caused by the body-masking uniforms worn by the soccer players. These stories ignore the long history of female athletes from all nations and in the skimpiest of running outfits being challenged and subjected to sex testing, their bodies closely analyzed for signs of masculine “hardness,” “strength,” and “power.”

Media reporting on the Iranian women’s soccer team also reflects a common and disturbing tendency to blur together the very different topics of transgender athletes, intersex athletes, and athletes suspected to be cisgendered men deliberately pretending to be women. The International Olympic Committee recently revised its gender policies in part to attempt to disentangle these categories—although the new policies are rife with their own problematic understandings of “sex” and “gender.”

To return to the ECCC policy, after appreciating its initial trans-positive language, I was dismayed to read the next paragraph:

“Competitors may be asked by the Conference Director(s) and/or their designee(s) to furnish two pieces of documentation from relevant legal, medical, or academic authorities documenting personal sex, gender, or gender dysphoria supporting their selected competition gender category.”

Such requirements show how assumptions about the necessity for biocertification can both underpin and undermine even the most well-meaning of policies directed toward people who do not fit neatly into gender binaries.  It is likely that, just as in international female athletics, the cyclists most likely to be asked to provide documentation are those who appear suspiciously “masculine,” yet identify as female.

However, I did notice a peculiar difference in this policy compared to those adopted in the Olympics and other sports settings: The athlete can provide material from “relevant legal, medical, or academic authorities” to support their gender identification.

To my knowledge, no other athletic gender policy allows for “academic” documentation, and I can’t help but wonder what such documentation would look like: Would a note from Judith Butler suffice? Certainly, this unusual addition to a biocertification policy indicates that queer, trans*, and feminist scholars should not discount the relevance of our work to the everyday contestations of gender in sports and other sites of global exchange.

Ellen Samuels is Assistant Professor of Gender and Women’s Studies and English at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. She is the author of Fantasies of Identification: Disability, Gender, Race (NYU Press, 2014).

Women’s History Month: Remembering Viola Wyle, “a mother to all”

—Caroline E. Light

Many common threads link the lives of the orphans and widowed mothers documented in the case files of the Hebrew Orphans Home of Atlanta. They came to the home when life circumstances left them no other choice: economic crisis, illness, death, and abandonment recur in these records, and the institution extended to each the helping hand of Jewish gemilut hasadim, or “loving kindness.” But another constant, from just before the Great Depression until World War II, was their contact with a woman who many came to see as a surrogate mother during a time of extreme hardship and emotional strain.

Viola Wyle, the orphan home’s Director of Case Work starting in January 1929, was born in Ohio in 1881, the daughter of a native-born father and a Czechoslovakian mother. Before arriving at the Atlanta home at age 49 with her husband Armand, the home’s new superintendent, and her daughter, Eleanor, she had served Jewish orphan homes in Rochester, New York; Newark, New Jersey; and Cleveland, Ohio.

Early in her career, Wyle had attended the first White House Conference on the Care of Dependent Children in January 1909—less than one year before she herself became a mother—where she joined two hundred other social work professionals to discuss the effects of institutionalization on young children. Declaring that “home life is the highest and finest product of civilization,” President Theodore Roosevelt called for an end to the institutionalization of impoverished children. Twenty years later, Viola Wyle would make it her mission to provide loving homes for the Jewish orphans and half-orphans of the southeast.

The Wyles moved to Atlanta in January 1929, just months before the Stock Market crash would send the nation hurtling into economic crisis, with a catastrophic impact on southern immigrant communities. While the wives of past Superintendents had assumed the role of “Matron” or home mother, Viola Wyle worked as a vital part of the home’s professional team, overseeing the process of assigning children to foster families in the community and supervising widowed mothers who received monthly subsidies to care for their own children. It was through her efforts and ingenuity that the home ended its institutionalized care by 1931.

Wyle’s substantial personal qualities and warmth helped generate trust and cooperation among her clients throughout the home’s five state region, and her impact is evident in the extensive case files she compiled and managed during her tenure. As a result of a combination of meticulous record-keeping and what one might call sentimentality, the case files she left behind provide a treasure trove of insight into the lives of Jewish southerners who struggled for survival during the Depression. Her tendency to keep and file the sometimes personal correspondence that transpired between herself and the widows and orphans whose lives she touched illuminate the complexity and ambivalence that characterized the relationship between social workers and their clients.

Hers was difficult and sometimes heartbreaking work, in which she had to balance sympathy for her clients with discerning attention to the institution’s strained budget. For example, Wyle visited the homes of subsidized mothers, ensuring that their children were properly socialized and educated. She determined which local families could provide suitable foster homes for orphans. She collected report cards from all children in the home’s care, providing additional support for subsidized and foster mothers whose children struggled academically.

Yet beyond her provision of guidance and supervision for the home’s regionally dispersed clientele, Wyle served as a source of warmth and reassurance, a listening ear and a shoulder to cry on, for many of the struggling families she served. Her death in March 1944 sent shockwaves through her community, and the home sent letters to clients both past and present notifying them of the tragic loss of a “mother to all.” Viola Wyle’s personal mementoes—the wedding and bar and bat mitzvah invitations, New Years and Mothers’ Day cards, and baby announcements—are all preserved alongside the professionally assembled case records documenting the lives touched by this “professional altruist.” We owe the depth and richness of this archive to her.

Caroline E. Light is Director of Undergraduate Studies at Harvard’s Program in Studies of Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. She is the author of That Pride of Race and Character: The Roots of Jewish Benevolence in the Jim Crow South (NYU Press, 2014).

A call to men: Ending violence against women

—Silvia Domínguez

During my research for Getting Ahead: Social Mobility, Public Housing and Immigrant Networks, I developed a framework that demonstrates how women get ahead through social networks and their own individual agency. The majority of the Latin American immigrant women I followed for the project were negotiating networks of support and agency towards social mobility. Nevertheless, there were some women who were stagnating in poverty.

In the book, I demonstrate how violence against women can result in lingering traumatic dynamics, which curtail the life chances of at least three generations. This was only possible due to the information gathered through lengthy ethnography and extensive engagement with women, their families and in the field.

Through other areas of my work, I discovered how one can examine any ethnographic data on low-income women and find structural, symbolic, and interpersonal violence affecting most of the women and families in the sample. I have also shown how trauma resulting from violence against women is evidenced in ethnographic data. As a result, trauma, depression and anxiety disorders are ramped in low-income communities where culturally responsive mental health services are most difficult to find.

We know that violence not only curtails life chances but it also results in health disparities that reduce life expectancy. Violence against women affects both genders, as male children suffer as a result of their mother’s lingering trauma dynamics. Despite this, the issue of violence against women has always been relegated to women to resolve. In fact, violence against women has always been a woman’s problem. While I know well that many see the need to empower women as a response to violence against them, in circumstances such as those found in developing countries, such empowerment leads to further retaliation, and in developed countries, it does nothing to prevent what are record numbers of quotidian acts of violence against women.

As we celebrate Women’s History Month, I feel the need to call on men to take responsibility for violence against women. I know I am not alone in urging them to the task—as more and more men have been stepping up to make it a men’s problem as well. Think of how powerful it would be for the president and other elected officials to take on this effort. What is required now is a sustained effort by men of stature that will result in the change in culture necessary to respect women.

What are men afraid of? Is it fear that they will lose some of their privilege in the process? What can be said of men who would rather maintain the privilege gained through violence against women than to stop such violence?  Unless men take responsibility and teach other men that violence against women is wrong, violence will continue to curtail the lives of women and their children.

Silvia Domínguez is Associate Professor of Sociology and Human Services at Northeastern University in Boston, Massachusetts. She is the author of Getting Ahead: Social Mobility, Public Housing and Immigrant Networksnow available in paperback from NYU Press.

Muslim women’s dress, a tool of liberation

—Jamillah Karim

It was in a black feminist/womanist course at Duke when I realized that black Muslim women fit squarely within black women’s tradition of navigating the complex of race, class, and gender struggles. Not, though, because there were any readings on black Muslim women. I understood that black Muslim women had fascinating narratives to be told because I grew up in a Sunni Muslim community in Atlanta with historical roots in the Nation of Islam.

Although readily imagined as a sign of oppression and male control, Muslim women’s dress is a prominent example of the ways in which black Muslim women have used their faith to address overlapping race and gender struggles. Black women scholars including Patricia Collins, bell hooks, and Melissa Harris-Perry have analyzed the ways in which pervasive stereotypes of black women have worked to deny them dignity and rights. The “jezebel” image, stereotyping black women as sexually loose, has its roots in slavery to justify the systematic raping of enslaved women. It is in fighting this image that I see long dresses, or the hijab, as tools of liberation.

Growing up, I constantly heard women in my Sunni community making a case for dressing modestly. “It is a protection,” they always told me. Former Nation women shared these sentiments again during research interviews. Islah Umar, who joined in 1970s Queens, noted that she loved the Nation’s modest dress codes for women: “It was a nice relief from being [seen as] a piece of meat in the street.” Jessica Muhammad, of Atlanta, similarly notes that it was great to be a part of a group whose men “respected women who covered and who called black women queens…[and other honorable names] we didn’t hear in the streets at that time.”

Dress may have even played a role in the very beginnings of the black Muslim movement. One report notes that Clara Poole, soon to be Clara Muhammad, decided to attend a meeting by Fard Muhammad, the founder of the Nation in 1930s Detroit, after a friend told her, “There’s a man who’s saying some things about our people, said we didn’t always dress like we dress. We once dressed in long flowing cloth and we were royal.” Clara brought her husband Elijah to the meeting with her, who would later become the leader of the Nation of Islam.

Contemporary Nation women continue to use dress as a liberating tool. Minister Ava Muhammad of Farrakhan’s Nation has encouraged women to resist the portrayal of the black woman as “an over-sexed woman on display.” Tamorah Muhammad founded Modest Models, Inc. as a platform to prove that “the [demeaning] images can be reversed when black women who have awakened to their true consciousness grow in numbers…[and] create their own images.”

The modest dress that has been embraced by and made meaningful to black Muslim women—from the time of Sister Clara Muhammad to the time of Minister Ava Muhammad—indicates the persistent damage of false racial images on black women and their ongoing faith resistance.

Jamillah Karim is co-author (with Dawn-Marie Gibson) of Women of the Nation: Between Black Protest and Sunni Islam (NYU Press, 2014). The two authors anticipate that their book will help to correct the absence of black Muslim women’s voices in women’s studies scholarship.

“Untitled Feminism”

—Juana María Rodríguez

In their 2013 video, performance artists Amber Hawk Swanson and Xandra Ibarra (aka La Chica Boom) capture feminism’s ambivalent and decidedly vexed relationship to sexual politics. Their piece, Untitled Fucking consists of the always titillating Xandra, dressed in cucaracha pasties, stilettos, and not much else, fucking a bent over, equally feminine and sultry, Amber, first with a bottle of Tapatío, and then with her hand.

Photo and Object by Xandra Ibarra.

Throughout the 15-minute video, Amber repeats, over and over again, the same singular phrase that has been buzzing in my head: “Feminism? That’s deep. I think I need a minute to think about that, so… I don’t know.” A few times during the scene, when the litany gets interrupted by moans of ecstasy and the delectable bottom forgets to repeat her lines, Xandra yanks her hair to bring her face, and her repeated refrain, back into focus. (See a still from the video here.)

Being compelled to talk about feminism, as she is getting pounded from behind with a bottle of Mexican hot sauce, registers the ongoing difficulty of feminist discourse to reconcile the complexities implicated in political (and sexual) postures organized around pleasure, power and difference. Feminism becomes precisely what we don’t want to talk about when we are in the throes of sex, particularly when that sex is twisted through the erotics of race, signified here by the valley-girl cadence of Amber’s dialogue, and the ‘Mexi-sexy’ iconography of a hot sauce bottle on a strap-on.

The messy combination of pleasure, power, and racialized femininities gets even stickier in the final moments of the video when Xandra ejaculates her red-hot Latina spiciness all over Amber who is rendered speechless as she tumbles into orgasm. A Latina power top with cockroach covered nipples? Feminism taking it from behind, and loving it? Cross-racial feminine erotics as condiments for our consumption? Or a riotous encounter with the dangerous pleasures and difficult politics that feminism still has trouble articulating?

Feminism, of course, is still about water, war, work and a host of other material issues. But feminism also needs to be about imagining a sexual politics that does not require the abandonment of fun and pleasure. It is precisely because our sexual realities are so often steeped in abjection and violence that insisting on depictions of sex that represent the viscous substances of our lives becomes so urgent.

When feminists refuse to take up issues of sex, including its censorship and regulation in the institutional public spaces where sex also lives, we perpetuate a discourse that locates sex within the confines of a private domestic sphere. Instead, questions of sex and sexual expression need to be part of feminist discussions on public education, immigration reform, the prison industrial complex, technology, urban planning, militarization, art and yes, pleasure.

The sexual gestures looming behind Untitled Fucking might be imagined as too perverse, too dangerous, or simply too trivial to be worthy of feminism. But if those of us invested in imagining our own sexual futures allow a politics of respectability to set the terms of what might constitute a feminist agenda, we vacate the space of public discourse on sex to others who will not hesitate to assign meaning to our psychic and corporeal practices. And that is something we all need to think about.

Juana María Rodriguez is Professor at the University of California at Berkeley. She is the author of the forthcoming Sexual Futures, Queer Gestures and Other Latina Longings (NYU Press, 2014), and Queer Latinidad: Identity Practices, Queer Practices (NYU Press, 2003).

Who wants to work for a woman?

—Joan C. Williams

The year my husband was born (1953), only 5% of Americans preferred a female boss. That number has climbed to 23%, according to a new Gallup survey. The proportion of people who prefer to work for men fell precipitously, from two-thirds in 1953 to about one-third today.

Perhaps even more important is the sharp rise in Americans who expressed no preference, even when cued to care. Gallup’s question asked, “If you were taking a new job and had your choice of boss, would you prefer a man or a woman?” Only 25% of Americans expressed no preference in 1953 but today it’s 41%. More good news: more people judge their bosses not by their gender, but as people. This is more likely to be true the higher the level of the job. Only 36% of those with high school or less, but 46% of those postgraduate degrees, expressed no preference.

Male privilege, you might say, ain’t what it used to be.

Once we scratch the surface, though, the news is nastier. Americans who currently work for men are twice as likely to prefer to do so. Only 16% of Republicans prefer a woman boss. American women still face a steep uphill climb, something the pipeline won’t fix: young people (18 to 34) are more likely to want a male boss and less likely to express no preference than Americans aged 35 to 54.

Most striking is that a much higher percentage (40%) of women than men (29%) prefer to work for a man. Women also are more likely than men to prefer to work for a woman: 27% of women versus only 18% of men.

Both these statistics are puzzling, but I may have an explanation for each. Women might prefer to work with women for two reasons. They might, first, feel this offers them some protection from gender bias, including sexual harassment. Second, women without college degrees typically are in pink-collar jobs that have a distinctly feminine feel a male boss might disrupt.

How about the women who prefer a male boss? Have they just been burned by Devil’s Wearing Prada?

They may have experienced workplaces where gender bias pits women against other women, a pattern The New Girls’ Network calls the “Tug of War.” An important 2010 study of legal secretaries by law professor Felice Batlan illustrates this dynamic, as does my own research. Batlan surveyed 142 legal secretaries and found that not one preferred to work for a woman partner (although, importantly, 47% expressed no preference).

Why did many secretaries prefer male bosses? Simple: they aren’t dummies. In most law firms, most people who hold power are men. Women stall out about 10 to 20% of the time in upper-level management in professional fields like business and law, so if you’re aiming to hitch your wagon to a shooting star, men are a better bet. This is one way gender bias pits women against women.

Another is when women stereotype other women. “I just feel that men are more flexible and less emotional than women,” one secretary said, while another described women lawyers as “too emotional and demeaning.” The stereotype that women are too emotional goes back hundreds of years.

But “demeaning”? That’s interesting. Her boss may just be a jerk — some people are — but perhaps she was just busy. While a busy man is busy, a busy woman, all too often, is a bitch. Because high-level jobs are seen as masculine, women need to behave in masculine ways in order to be seen as competent. But if they behave too much like men — watch out.

This no-win situation fuels conflict between women who just want to be one of the guys and those who remain loyal to feminine traditions. “Secretaries are expected to engage in traditionally feminine behavior such as care giving and nurtur[ing], where[as] women attorneys are supposed to engage in what is stereotypically more masculine behavior. Given these very different expectations and performances of gender that occur in the same space, the potential for conflict is enormous,” Batlan concludes. Indeed, many professionals find themselves expected to do what Pamela Bettis and Natalie G. Adams, in an unpublished paper, call “nice work”: being attentive and approachable in ways that are often time-consuming and compulsory for women but optional for men.

Conflict also erupts due to Prove-It-Again problems: women managers have to provide more evidence of competence as men in order to be seen as equally competent. This pattern again pits women against their bosses. “It would seem as if female associates/partners feel they have something to prove to everyone,” noted one secretary. “Females are harder on their female assistants, more detail-oriented, and they have to try harder to prove themselves, so they put that on you,” said another.

But it’s not just female assistants who voice concerns about their bosses.

The interviewees for my forthcoming book What Works for Women at Work, co-written with my daughter Rachel Dempsey, illustrate yet another dynamic: some admins make demands on female bosses that they don’t make on men. And like many types of gender bias, this one’s inflected by race. One black scientist I interviewed felt her relationship with white administrative assistants was strained because, she said, she didn’t share their habit of bonding by sharing personal information (what Deborah Tannen called “troubles talk”). Black admins “just do not expect me to want to know anything about their personal business,” she said with some relief.

Women bosses also often feel that admins prioritize men’s work. One scientist I interviewed noted that administrative staff took longer to complete work given by women than men. Another agreed: “My stuff won’t get done first.” “They say the bosses are too demanding,” said a third, recalling a conversation with admins who worked with her. She had responded, “Well, the boss that you had before was equally demanding. The guy that you were working under was equally demanding.” The admins’ reaction: “Yeah, but that’s different.” Again, the secretaries know which side the butter’s on. And the female scientists I interviewed typically felt less powerful than their male counterparts.

As usual, gender dynamics are far from simple. The Gallup study confirms the eternal story: when it comes to gender flux, the glass is half full — employees now are more comfortable with female leaders and are more likely to simply treat people as people, leaving traditional gender stereotypes behind. But the glass is also resounding, maddeningly, persistently half empty. I read the evidence that more women than men prefer to work for women as evidence of persistent gender bias. And I read the evidence that more women than men prefer to work for men the same way.

Joan C. Williams is Distinguished Professor of Law and Founding Director of the Center of WorkLife Law at the University of California, Hastings College of the Law. She is the co-author, with Rachel Dempsey, of What Works for Women at Work: Four Patterns Working Women Need to Know (forthcoming from NYU Press, 2014).

[This article was originally featured on the Harvard Business Review blog.]

Marriage? Meh.

—Karen M. Dunak

In the aftermath of DOMA’s overturning and state after state legalizing same sex unions, there have been a flurry of articles to suggest the wedding industry has struck gold with the impending rush of gay and lesbian weddings. Maybe. But the New York Times suggests the onslaught may not be what vendors within the “wedding-industrial complex” have hoped for. Many gay men and women will look at the opportunity to marry, be happy for the move toward marriage equality and extension of citizenship rights, and then go about their daily lives.

To some degree, I think the best part of this article is that it uncovers the assumption that those who share a single element of identity are one community. In fact, there is never really just one community but rather multiple communities to consider. When teaching women’s history, I have to remind my students over and over that we can’t say “women” and imagine it’s a catchall term. Differences in race, class, region, religion, political affiliation, and so on make the population impossible to lump as one uniform group. So, too, with gay men and women.

As the Times article notes, “For some, marriage is an outdated institution, one that forces same-sex couples into the mainstream. For others, marriage imposes financial burdens and legal entanglements. Still others see marriage not as a fairy tale but as a potentially painful chapter that ends in divorce.” Exactly. Straight society’s elevation of the married relationship – with all its flaws – above all other relationships is just one area where homosexuals are glad to emphasize their difference from a problematic heterosexist value system.

It’s interesting to consider what influence homosexuals’ negotiation of newfound marriage rights will yield. Even as they existed outside the mainstream, gay relationship styles have been largely influential. In the 1960s and 1970s, as homosexual relationship became increasingly visible, many couples were happy with to live together outside the bonds of matrimony (and for many of the reasons outlined above). In fact, many historians (myself included) argue that gays’ rejection of marriage and celebration of the cohabitation alternative ultimately influenced the straight world, where cohabitation went from almost a non-existent occurrence in the early 1960s to one that was fairly common by the end of the 1970s. Likewise, an emphasis on egalitarianism within gay partnerships influenced a move toward greater equity in straight relationships.

I wonder if it’s possible that the younger generation – the one the Times describes as post-marriage – will wield a similar kind of power and influence. Those in their early twenties, disillusioned by a world in which expectations of marital success are fairly low and divorce is common, may celebrate the acquisition of the right to marry but likewise embrace the right to not marry. It’s possible that marriage equality will stand as a hallmark of sexual civil rights, but the reality of how people live their lives and organize their relationships will remain flexible. Here we may see a community of those committed to marriage alternatives, a community that may be influential but is likely to remain outside the mainstream. And it may well be a community linked not by sexual preference but by age and experience.

Karen M. Dunak is Assistant Professor of History at Muskingum University in New Concord, Ohio. She is the author of As Long as We Both Shall Love: The White Wedding in Postwar America (NYU Press, 2013).

[This piece originally appeared on the author's blog here.]

Bullying, teasing and the gender trap

—Emily W. Kane

With National Bullying Prevention Month underway and a focus this year on the sponsoring organization’s tagline, “The End of Bullying Begins with Me,” I find myself thinking back to what I heard from parents of three- to five-year-old children during interviews for my book, The Gender Trap: Parents and the Pitfalls of Raising Boys and Girls.

I talked to parents from all social backgrounds and all family types, and found that quite a few wanted to give their kids the freedom to pick activities, toys, colors, and approaches that were not strictly determined by gender. But even those parents who wanted to encourage a moderately more fluid approach to gender, expressed fear and anxiety about how their children might be treated if they didn’t conform to typical gender expectations.

I heard reports of an everyday world teeming with social pressures, judgments from friends, relatives, their children’s peers and even strangers if their kids didn’t stick to a pretty narrowly gendered path. These parents were very much conscious of the social costs their children might face and, consistent with decades of scholarship in gender studies, these costs and anxieties loomed larger in relation to boys. With frequent mention of phrases liked “picked on” and “ostracized,” parents expressed the fear that their sons would be bullied by other children if they wandered even a little bit off that socially-dictated path.

The trap of parents pushing children toward traditionally-gendered outcomes is sometimes baited by beliefs about biology, personal preferences, and unconscious actions. Even when it isn’t, though, the everyday judgments of friends, relatives, and teachers can bait that same trap. Gender nonconformity is much too often met with bullying behavior, and if adults are not vigilant about responding to that bullying and responding to the more minor policing of gender expectations (which parents in my study labeled as teasing), many parents will enforce gendered constraints they don’t even agree with out of fear for what their children might face.

Individual parents can try to create a less constraining world for their children, but only if the rest of us suspend our judgments, applaud their efforts, and seek to interrupt the everyday teasing and more significant bullying that are too often ignored in children’s daily worlds. Suspending our judgments, offering that applause, and executing those interruptions are all ways that the end of bullying can indeed begin with each of us.

Emily W. Kane is a Professor of Sociology at Bates College and the author of The Gender Trap: Parents and the Pitfalls of Raising Boys and Girls (NYU Press, 2012).

“I can’t call the police—he is the police”: Intimate partner abuse by police officers

—Leigh Goodmark

On May 7, 2013, law enforcement was called to the home that Kendra Diggs shared with her boyfriend, Baltimore City police officer James Walton Smith. After hearing a woman crying for help, the officers kicked in the door and removed Diggs from the home. Smith, who was off-duty at the time, ran upstairs, ignoring officers’ pleas to stay to talk.  While officers stood with a bleeding Diggs on the sidewalk, a shot rang out from a second floor window. Diggs, shot fatally in the head, fell to the ground as officers ran for cover. On Monday, August 5, 2013, Smith killed himself in jail while awaiting trial for Diggs’ murder.

What happened to Kendra Diggs is far from an isolated incident. Research shows that intimate partner abuse is two to four times more prevalent in the families of police officers than in the overall population. During the same week that James Walton Smith killed himself, the Cato Institute’s National Police Misconduct Reporting Project documented six other claims of intimate partner abuse involving police officers. Some of these cases have made national news in recent years, such as the 2003 murder of Crystal Brame by her husband, Tacoma police chief David Brame; as well as the domestic violence allegations faced by San Francisco sheriff Ross Mirkarimi in 2012. (Brame committed suicide after killing his wife, while Mirkarimi was reinstated as sheriff after pleading guilty to the false imprisonment of his wife.)

Because of their training, police officers can be particularly dangerous abusers.  As Diane Wetendorf, an expert in officer involved domestic violence, explains, police officers are taught how to intimidate suspects, conduct surveillance, find someone who doesn’t want to be found, and interrogate suspects. Police officers expect compliance with their orders, bolstered by the authority granted to them by the state. Officers learn how to use force without causing serious bodily injury. When used to protect the public, these are all valuable and important skills. When used against an intimate partner, they can be devastating.

The partners of police officers may have few options available to them for addressing their abuse. Most police departments have no specific policy for responding to intimate partner abuse perpetrated by one of their own, despite the efforts of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, which promulgated a model policy in July 2003. Officers’ intimate partners fear calling the police, because he is the police. They are well aware, too, of the culture of silence that cloaks officers’ actions. They know that their partners are well versed in courtroom procedures and are known and respected by judges and prosecutors—making the prospect of court proceedings daunting. Their abusers have access to information systems that allow them to track their partners. They know where the shelters are and often have working relationships or are engaged in collaborations with shelter staff and service providers. Officers’ partners also know that pursuant to federal law, a domestic violence conviction means the officer will lose his gun, and therefore his job, making him that much more vindictive and dangerous. In a society in which the primary response to domestic violence is through the criminal legal system, the partners of police officers often have nowhere to turn.

How can we better protect the intimate partners of police officers? Urging local police departments to adopt strong policies for addressing intimate partner abuse by officers would be a good start. But it is also worth questioning the nature of our response to intimate partner abuse more generally. Should the criminal justice system be the primary response to domestic violence in a country where police officers are disproportionately committing such abuse? Providing options beyond the legal system would help many people subjected to abuse, but few would benefit as much as the partners of abusive police officers.

Leigh Goodmark is Professor of Law, Director of Clinical Education, and Co-Director of the Center on Applied Feminism at the University of Baltimore School of Law, and is currently a Visiting Professor of Law at the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law. She is the author of A Troubled Marriage: Domestic Violence and the Legal System (new in paperback from NYU Press).

Obamacare and women’s access to reproductive care

—Theresa Morris

In a recent opinion piece for the Washington Post, Joann Weiner shares her thoughts on the ways in which Obamacare will affect women. Though the title of her article is “Women win some, lose some under Obamacare,” Weiner makes clear in her analysis that women gain more than they lose under the Affordable Health Care Act. Probably the most significant gain for women is in the area of reproductive health. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, women with private insurance have gained expanded preventative services with no co-pays for well-woman visits, mammograms, cervical cancer screenings, prenatal care, gestational diabetes screening, breastfeeding supplies, and contraceptive services.

Beginning in 2014, insurance companies will no longer be able to charge higher premiums to women. Companies charge these higher premiums with the justification that women use health care more than men do. Surprisingly, some insurance companies charge higher rates to women even when the plan excludes maternity care. Gender disparity in insurance premiums especially affects women with prior c-section deliveries, who are often charged higher premiums unless they are sterilized or past their childbearing years. The Affordable Care Act forbids using gender in computing insurance premiums. Further, 18.6 million uninsured women will gain access to health insurance through the Health Insurance Marketplace and preventative reproductive healthcare will be guaranteed to these women (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services).

It is hard not to see the House Republicans’ 42 attempts to defund Obamacare as part of the Republican Party’s War on Women. This can be seen, especially, in the September 29th House vote to fund a stopgap spending measure to prevent an October 1st government shutdown by tacking on a “conscience clause,” which would delay an Obamacare requirement that employers provide health insurance that covers contraceptive care.

The holes in the Affordable Healthcare Act that will most affect women are holes that have plagued women with private health insurance for years. First, health insurance providers in the health exchange systems will not cover all hospitals and providers. I advise women to always seek intervention rates (e.g. rates of labor induction, epidural use, labor augmentation) and c-section rates of hospitals and providers in deciding on a care provider and place for birth. Because rates vary drastically by provider and hospital, women should be given choice in this matter to lower their likelihood of an unnecessary c-section. Second, for the most part, Obamacare does little to help abortion access and probably hurts access if the Stupak-Pitts Amendment, which forbids government funding of abortion except in the cases of rape or incest or when the mother’s life is in danger, is not overturned. This amendment has a more far-reaching effect than does the current Hyde Amendment, 1976 legislation that does not allow federal Medicaid dollars to be spent on abortion except in the cases listed above, because The Stupak-Pitts Amendment affects health insurance policies offered by the health insurance exchange systems and is, thus, more broad in its reach.

On the whole, Obamacare addresses many women’s reproductive health issues, but continues to leave women a lack of choice in health providers and hospitals and a lack of coverage of abortion care.

Theresa Morris is Professor of Sociology at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut. She is the author of Cut It Out: The C-Section Epidemic in America (NYU Press, October 2013).