TIME Business

Execs Like Emil Michael Don’t Hate Women—They’re Terrified of Them

Emil Michael senior vice president of business for Uber Technologies Inc. stands for a photograph after a Bloomberg Television interview in San Francisco on July 29, 2014.
Emil Michael senior vice president of business for Uber Technologies Inc. stands for a photograph after a Bloomberg Television interview in San Francisco on July 29, 2014. Paul Morris—Bloomberg/Getty Images

Laura Kipnis is the author of Men: Notes from an Ongoing Investigation.

Uber mensches they are not—they're simply scared, and women should not contribute to their power

In Neil LaBute’s coruscating black comedy In the Company of Men, two reptilian male executives concoct a scheme to deceive and emotionally humiliate a vulnerable deaf secretary who works at the branch office they’ve been temporarily assigned to. The plan is to shower her with attention, get her to fall in love with both of them, then simultaneously drop her. Why? Because they can. Because they’re angry at women. Because they think women have power over them.

Over the last few days we witnessed a scenario that could have been authored by LaBute, our bard of misogyny, play out in real life, a terrific satire about corporate America, sexual swaggering and contemporary masculine angst, improvised by a couple of executives at Uber. Yes, in case you haven’t heard, another male in a position of power has created another dungstorm by making ill-considered remarks in a public setting; the usual swell of public indignation has ensued.

“His remarks showed a lack of leadership, a lack of humanity, and a departure from our values and ideals,” tweeted Uber CEO Travis Kalanick, about Emil Michael, his senior vice president of business. Kalanick was referring to threats Michael issued at a dinner attended by a number of prominent journalists, involving a harebrained plan to do opposition research aimed at Uber-critical journalists. He was going to dig up dirt on their personal lives, their families, and give the media a taste of its own medicine. Michael later said he thought the dinner was off the record, and that he was just venting, not serious.

Why am I so much less outraged than everyone seems to be about the story? To begin with, who ever thought such guys were role models for enlightened masculinity anyway? Social responsibility? Come on. New corporations and start-ups come and go these days in a flurry of mergers, acquisitions and rebranding, in it for a quick payday. They owe no one anything—not in their eyes, anyway. The Great Recession was brought to us by just such swashbucklers, who still believe they earn their unconscionable incomes by taking insane risks with other people’s money and turning the economy into a casino. Ever since Reagan, corporate America’s indifference to any value other than profits has been writ large in their refusal to pay their fair share of taxes. They’re not role models for anyone other than pirates.

The mistake is to regard Uber and its execs are though they’re the exception to something. Indifference to customers? Sounds like the airlines. Silicon Valley corporate greed? It pales compared to Wall Street corporate greed. Misogynist mud-throwing aimed at a threatening woman? Consider the ongoing and deeply ugly Republican war on Hillary Clinton.

In this case it was one woman in particular— Sarah Lacy, editor of the Silicon Valley website PandoDaily—who was the special target of Michael’s animus. Lacy has repeatedly taken Uber to task for what she calls the company’s outrageous sexism, including CEO Kalanick’s boasts that he gets so much “tail” since starting Uber that the company should really be called “Boober.”

Her response to hearing about Michael’s dinner-party threats, Lacy has recently written, was a shocked sense of her own vulnerability, and fears for her children’s well-being. She imagined them at home in their kitten and dinosaur pajamas and felt terror.

The pajamas are a nice touch (heartstrings tugged!). But what Lacy neglects to say is that she has these guys running scared. They’re afraid of her. Lacy should be taking a victory lap. Her opponents are acting like “scared little girls” in the current idiom—they’re simply masking it behind a lot of macho posturing. Which is exactly what most macho posturing generally comes down to: fear of one sort or another. And pathos. And, vulnerability, real or imaginary. We have a habit of forgetting that.

Let me say something else that might be controversial. I’m rather intrigued by Kalanick’s references to how much sex he’s getting just because he’s Uber’s CEO. Here’s another hard truth of the sort that Neil LaBute is so good at exposing: As much as some women protest the kind of misogynist culture that Uber apparently exemplifies, there are plenty of other women who eroticize male power and wish to bask in its aura, even when it comes packaged in buffoonish and objectionable forms. This is a contradiction worth examining. Women, too, play a contributing role in upholding the conditions that also abject us, something we’re in the habit of forgetting.

Memo to the “tail” of which Kalanick speaks: Ladies! You can do better.

For my part, I’d far rather hear what guys like Michael say when behind closed doors than carefully burnished platitudes from some PR firm. When people go off-message, or mistakenly think they’re off the record, or un-mic’ed (don’t forget Mitt Romney uttered the fatal “47%” line when he thought he was among friends), what you usually hear is what they actually think, as opposed to what they think they’re supposed to say. The only thing that was outrageous about this latest episode was getting socked in the face with a few unvarnished truths.

Laura Kipnis’s new book, Men: Notes from an Ongoing Investigation, is out this week.

 

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME movies

The Movie Adaptation of Donna Tartt’s Novel The Goldfinch Is Underway

NETHERLANDS-LITERATURE-TARTT
Donna Tartt at a book launch for The Goldfinch in Amsterdam, on September 22, 2013. Bas Czerwinski—AFP/Getty Images

The author’s third novel will be her first to make it to the silver screen

What happens to a book after it wins the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, lands in the New York Times Book Review’s 10 best books of 2013, and earns its author a spot in the TIME 100? A movie adaptation, of course.

Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch will be adapted for the screen by award-winning screenwriter Peter Straughan. Straughan won a BAFTA and received an Oscar nomination for Tinker Tailor Solider Spy, which he adapted from the John le Carre novel with his late wife Bridget O’Connor. He also penned the script for The Men Who Stare at Goats and co-wrote the indie dramedy Frank, a favorite this year at Sundance.

The nearly 800-page novel revolves around Theo Decker, a teenaged boy who comes into possession of a 17th century Dutch painting called “The Goldfinch” moments after his mother is killed in a terrorist explosion at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The story unravels over the course of two decades, the painting informing the ins and outs of Theo’s tumultuous life.

Warner Bros. and RatPac Entertainment will produce the film.

TIME TIME for Thanks

Jodi Picoult: What I’m Thankful For

Writer Jodi Picoult poses for a portrait at the Oxford Literary Festival on March 28, 2012 in Oxford
Writer Jodi Picoult poses for a portrait at the Oxford Literary Festival on March 28, 2012 in Oxford David Levenson—Getty Images

This year, I’m thankful for my family, as it expands in very wonderful directions.

My son Kyle is a remarkable 23-year-old who graduated from Yale with exceptional distinction in the Egyptology department; who ran a children’s theater program while there; went on to get a Masters at Harvard, and now teaches at an inner-city Boston school. He’s also gay, but that’s really the least interesting thing about him. For four years, he’s been dating Kevin – a brilliant, socially-conscious young man who works daily to make the world a better place.

What I love about Kevin and Kyle is that they truly make each other better people – which is what we parents want for our children, after all. But the truth is, this country that I adore so much is not always kind and supportive to LGBTQ individuals, and as a parent, sometimes I couldn’t help but worry if for Kyle, life would be incrementally more difficult because of his sexual orientation. Just two years ago, in Massachusetts – a very liberal state – Kyle and Kevin were walking down the street, when a guy in a truck rolled down his window and called them faggots. The year after that, I was sitting on a plane with them. In spite of the fact that a straight couple in front of us was practically undressing each other in a moment of passion, the judgmental looks and huffs of some passengers coming down the aisle were reserved for Kyle and Kevin, whose hands were linked on the seat between them.

This Labor Day, Kevin proposed to Kyle. On paddleboards. In the middle of a lake. With a hand-made titanium earring shaped like the infinity symbol. When I posted a photo to my Facebook page, thousands of fans congratulated Kyle, and shared the news with a friend. About 200 told me my son is going to Hell. But really – that’s a ratio I can handle, because I feel that the balance is tipping more, every day. I am grateful that Kyle and Kevin will be wed in New Hampshire – Kyle’s home state – in which gay marriage is legal. Every time I look at Kyle’s engagement earring, I silently hope that other LGBTQ people will have the same joy in their lives as he does at this moment, that the positive feedback will outweigh the negative, and that one day all Americans will look back at the debate over gay marriage and wonder why anyone ever considered it problematic.

Jodi Picoult is an award-winning author. Her last 8 novels have debuted at # 1 on the New York Times bestseller list.

TIME Books

These Are the Winners of the 2014 National Book Awards

Ursula K. Le Guin attends 2014 National Book Awards on Nov.19, 2014 in New York City.
Ursula K. Le Guin attends 2014 National Book Awards on Nov.19, 2014 in New York City. Robin Marchant—Getty Images

Honoring the year's best work in literature

The 65th annual National Book Awards were held on Wednesday, rewarding the greatest literary works of the past year. The National Book Foundation hosted the award ceremony, presenting high literary nods to authors in fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and young people’s literature. Novelist and children’s author Daniel Handler hosted the ceremony.

Early in the night, the National Book Foundation presented Kyle Zimmer, the founder of the Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit First Book, with the Literarian Award, awarded to those who seek to expand access to book and literature. According to the Foundation, First Book has provided 120 million books to low-income kids and families in Canada and the U.S.

Renowned science fiction and fantasy author Ursula K. Le Guin was presented with the foundation’s Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters for her “exceptional impact on this country’s literary heritage.” During her remarks, Le Guin called for authors and writers to remember the value of their art.

“‘I have had a long career,” Le Guin said. “I really don’t want to watch American Literature get sold down the river.”

 

Nonfiction Winner: Evan Osnos, Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth, and Faith in the New China (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

Fiction Winner: Phil Klay, Redeployment (The Penguin Press/ Penguin Group (USA))

Poetry Winner: Louise Glück, Faithful and Virtuous Night (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

Young People’s Literature: Jacqueline Woodson, Brown Girl Dreaming (Nancy Paulsen Books/ Penguin Group (USA))

TIME society

Mattel Apologizes for Making Barbie Look Incompetent in Barbie: I Can Be a Computer Engineer

Barbie

The sexist picture book has been slammed online

One of Barbie’s future careers should be in damage control.

Mattel and Random House found themselves at the center of an online firestorm this week when the Internet lampooned a book called Barbie: I Can be a Computer Engineer. A more accurate title would be Barbie: I Can be a Computer Engineer… If the Boys Do All the Work For Me.

Although Amazon lists the book as being published in July 2013, VP of Barbie’s Global Brand Marketing Lori Pantel told TIME that it came was published in 2010 and that “since that time we have reworked our Barbie books.”

On Monday, comedian Pamela Ribbon found the book at a friends house and ripped it to shreds on her blog, inspiring major backlash.

So what did the Twitterverse get in a tizzy about? Although the book’s title would indicate that its fights stereotypes against the tech industry’s gender gap, readers only need only get it to the second page to find out that Barbie is completely incompetent. While she’s capable of conceptualizing a game about a cute robot puppy (gender cliche, but we were ready to go with it — who doesn’t like robot puppies?), Barbie needs boys to actually do the computer programing for her. When Skipper asks if she can see the program, “Barbie says, laughing, ‘I’ll need Steven’s and Brian’s help to turn it into a real game!'” Silly Skipper and your high expectations!

The rest of the book involves Barbie crashing her computer (duh), passing a virus to Skipper (a pillow fight ensues… I mean, really), ignoring her female computer teacher’s advice on how to fix the virus (because if we’ve learned one thing, it’s that ladies should not be trusted with such things), and finally letting brogrammers come to her rescue. While Steve and Brian seem like nice enough guys, they don’t even teach Barbie what to do on her hot pink laptop.

“The portrayal of Barbie in this specific story doesn’t reflect the Brand’s vision for what Barbie stands for,” says Pantel. “We believe girls should be empowered to understand that anything is possible and believe they live in a world without limits. We apologize that this book didn’t reflect that belief. All Barbie titles moving forward will be written to inspire girls imaginations and portray an empowered Barbie character.”

In case they were in need of inspiration, people have been tweeting funny rewrites of the text so that it actually empowers women.

Barbie has been derided for a lot of things — her anatomically impossible figure, for example — but her career goals seemed on track if not admirable. She has been to space and business school But success involves more than just dressing the part. If you pair a doll with a hot pink laptop, she better know how to use it.

Maybe we should all just stick to GoldieBlox, a toy that teaches and encourages girls to do engineering themselves.

Read next: Watch Little Kids React to a Realistic-Looking Barbie Alternative

TIME Science

Sorting Fact From Fiction and What the Best Science Writing Can Teach Us

Barbara J. King is a biological anthropologist at the College of William and Mary.

The latest volume of 'The Best American Science and Nature Writing' puts today's diseases and outbreak in context

My bedside table holds a jumble of fiction and non-fiction books, since in my reading I trade off across genres. In any given week, my mood swings between a desire to lose myself in the vivid writing of novelists who create imaginary worlds and a competing wish to keep up with breaking knowledge in science. Sometimes, though, vivid writing and scientific material happily collide in a single volume, as it has done in The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2014.

Edited by the Pulitzer-Prize winning writer Deborah Blum, this book isn’t, of course, fiction. It is a work of science, not a novel. But it does contain worlds of imagination, as 26 scientists and science writers offer enticing essays spanning mutliple disciplines and topics. (I am honored to be included for a piece I wrote called “When Animals Mourn” that originally appeared in Scientific American and is based on my book How Animals Grieve.)

In her introduction, Blum promises readers “stories that range from the shimmer of deep space to the wayward nature of a wild sheep,” tales that show “the stumbles and the hopes, the the unexpected ideas and unexpected beauty” of doing science.

Several of the chapters focus on the body, health and disease. Do you know which is the most infectious microbe in the world, with a 90% rate of transmission? I didn’t, until reading Seth Mnookin‘s chapter “The Return of Measles” (originally published in The Boston Globe Magazine). “The fact that measles can live outside the human body for up to two hours,” Mnookin writes, “makes a potential outbreak all the more menacing.” Alarmingly, parents who refuse to allow their children to be vaccinated against measles and other diseases turn this theoretical public-health risk into a risk quite concrete: In 2013 an unvaccinated 17-year-old from Brooklyn caught the virus while in the UK, and once he returned home it spread rapidly through a community where many other deliberately unvaccinated children lived. Fifty-eight people came down with measles, making it, Mnookin says, “the largest outbreak in the country in more than 15 years.” The costs–health- and money-wise–were significant. Measles may be fatal, as it was during France’s recent prolonged outbreak: in 2007 only 44 measles infections were reported there; over the next four years, Mnookin notes, 20,000 people were sickened, almost 5,000 people were hospitalized, and 10 died.

By contrast, a disease that’s still greatly misunderstood–and feared–as highly contagious isn’t at all. Rebecca Solnit‘s piece “The Separating Sickness” (first published in Harper’s Magazine) profiles people who have Hansen’s Disease, also known as leprosy. Somehow I’d thought that this condition was no longer present in the U.S., but in 2011, 173 people were diagnosed with it in this country. The U.S.’s largest leprosy clinic is located in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and Solnit’s profile of what goes on there is informative and inspiring. “Contrary to long-standing belief,” Solnit writes, leprosy “is very nearly the least contagious contagious disease on earth. Ninety-five percent of us are naturally immune to the disease, and the rest have a hard time catching it.” Yet those who did catch it in past decades suffered not only physically (with skin lesions and sometimes the need for amputation of limbs owing to neuropathy) but also emotionally, because of the disease’s terrible stigma. At places like the Baton Rouge clinic, that stigma has vanished (though, sadly, it persists in other places). And, if the disease is caught early, the cure may be total.

It’s a real challenge, it seems to me, for the human brain to assess relative risks accurately. We see this also with the Ebola epidemic in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, specifically in the fear and anxiety that regional epidemic has caused for people living in other parts of the world. This striking map of Africa without Ebola and its accompanying text puts the matter into perspective. Yet when isolated cases occur in the U.S. or European countries, panic has ensued, along with disturbing patterns of discrmination against people thought (incorrectly) to be possible sources of contamination through casual contact. (As scientists have widely reported, the virus is transmitted during the acute phase of the illness via bodily fluids.)

Mnookin’s and Solnit’s chapters intersect powerfully with one about the effect of sudden, violent and debilitating trauma on the body and the mind. In “A Life-or-Death Situation” (originally published in The New York Times Magazine), Robin Marantz Henig describes the day when a retired English professor named Brooke Hopkins goes out for a bicycle ride in Utah canyon country and collides with another cyclist. Gravely injured, with a snapped neck, Hopkins stopped breathing but is revived on the trail; his living will, a document unknown to his rescuer, had specified no heroic measures in the case of catastrophic injury or illness. In one of life’s dark ironies, his wife Peggy Battin is a well-known scholar in the bioethics of end-of-life decisions. In captivating prose, Henig recounts the twisting course over the next years as Hopkins copes–just as happens with sufferers of Hansen’s Disease–in rollercoaster ways both physical and emotional. He catapults from good to poor health, from steely determination to shaky hesitation about wanting to continue on.

Henig’s was one of the pieces in the book that affected me mostly deeply, perhaps because I know that what happened to Hopkins and Battin could happen to any of us when we begin an apparently routine day with a bicycle ride: at some subconscious level, our brains know the risk of trauma exists, but we don’t dwell on it, and surely this is the right approach. (We would do better to be alarmed daily at the rising costs of anthropogenic climate change, after all.)

Since the Paleolithic age, when we gathered in small groups in front of glorious cave images of animals or around a community fire to weave tales of the natural world, we humans have learned best through storytelling. The Best American Science And Nature Writing 2014 is a modern-day equivalent, in written form, of those conversations, this time between science writer and science-intrigued reader.

Barbara J. King is a biological anthropologist at the College of William and Mary who teaches, writes and speaks about animal studies, primate behavior, human evolution and evolutionary perspectives on gender. Her latest book is How Animals Grieve, published in 2013.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME politics

Is This the Solution to Partisan Gridlock in Washington?

John F. Kennedy
President and Mrs. John F. Kennedy arrive at the Georgetown home of Joseph Alsop in Washington for dinner, Feb. 14. 1961. William Smith—AP Images

A long-abandoned Washington tradition hints at a simple remedy; one reducible to a single word, in fact: gin. Or vodka, if you prefer

History News Network

This post is in partnership with the History News Network, the website that puts the news into historical perspective. The article below was originally published at HNN.

The mid-term elections have passed and the country remains in partisan gridlock. Despite ongoing crises in Ukraine, the Middle East, and Africa, the president and his critics can seemingly do no better than snipe at each other in the media. Meanwhile, as the Pew Research Center points out, the 113th Congress is about to set a record—for the fewest laws enacted of any Congress in the past two decades. By comparison, the notorious “do-nothing-Congress” of 1947-49 was downright frenetic—passing the Truman Doctrine, the Marshall Plan, and the National Security Act (which created the CIA) in the equivalent timeframe. The legislative accomplishments of the Senate and House this year include the Harmful Algal Bloom and Hypoxia Research and Control Amendments Act and the Huna Tlingit Traditional Gull Egg Use Act. What is to be done?

A long-abandoned Washington tradition hints at a simple remedy; one reducible to a single word, in fact: gin. Or vodka, if you prefer.

What most distinguishes the “then” from the “now” is that important people in the capital used to talk to one another—even party together. For nearly thirty years, from 1945 to 1974, the influential residents of Georgetown—a leafy, cobblestoned enclave of Washington, D.C.—gathered on Sunday evenings to discuss and debate the pressing issues of the day. The Georgetown set included Joe and Stewart Alsop, authors of “Matter of Fact,” a syndicated column appearing in more than 200 daily newspapers; Phil and Katharine Graham, publishers of one of those papers, the Washington Post; and an important but lesser-known figure: Frank Gardiner Wisner, who headed up the CIA’s department of dirty tricks.

The pundits, publishers, and spies of Georgetown shaped public opinion, advised presidents (John Kennedy was a frequent guest at Joe Alsop’s table), and—in some instances—became the instruments of American foreign policy. There was even a term coined to describe the power that the Georgetown set wielded in Washington: salonisma. It was, as Phil Graham observed, “a form of government by invitation.”

The most coveted invitation back then was to one of Joe Alsop’s “zoo parties” at 2720 Dumbarton Avenue, where the guest list was independent of party affiliation and typically included prominent senators and foreign ambassadors, a Supreme Court justice or two, some rising young star of the current administration, and, of course, Alsop’s own well-connected friends and neighbors. There, over strong martinis and Joe’s signature dishes of leek pie and terrapin soup, as the gilt-framed portraits of Alsop ancestors peered down at diners from walls covered in blood-red Chinese silk, the Cold War played out: the containment of the Soviet Union, McCarthyism, the nuclear arms race and the missile gap, and—inevitably, tragically—the escalation of the conflict in Vietnam. Indeed, it was Joe’s unapologetically hawkish stand on the war that alienated American readers and led to his downfall. “Matter of Fact” ceased publication late in 1974, weeks before North Vietnamese tanks broke down the gates of the U.S. embassy in Saigon.

The zoo parties took place in staid and proper Georgetown, but they were notoriously raucous. Loud, alcohol-fueled disagreements often led to Joe’s kicking a guest out of his house for some untoward remark. (It was not considered an argument in the Alsop household, Joe said, until someone had stormed out of the dining room at least twice. At one Sunday supper, Phil Graham was halfway out the door before he realized that the house he was being ejected from was his.) But a letter of abject apology almost always promptly followed. It was rare indeed for any feud to be enduring.

The influence of the Georgetown set in Washington was all the more remarkable considering that Joe Alsop had a secret: he was gay, and, in 1957, had been ensnared in a honey trap at a Moscow hotel that was secretly filmed by the KGB. The Columnist, a 2012 Broadway play starring John Lithgow in the title role, opens with Joe in bed with his KGB lover, Andrei. (Alsop wrote an account of the Moscow incident at the time and sent it to the FBI and the CIA, which only recently declassified it. For the record, the name of the spy who seduced Alsop was Boris, not Andrei.) Subsequently, the KGB, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, and numerous others of Joe’s enemies in Washington tried to blackmail Alsop into moderating his liberal anti-communist views—all without success.

Joe Alsop was ahead of his time in warning against Joe McCarthy (whom he and his brother savaged in their column long before Edward R. Murrow’s TV show), wrong about the missile gap (although it helped elect his friend, John Kennedy), and very much wrong about Vietnam. But he was right in despising those he called “the ideologists.” And the upcoming election may be the test of a prediction that he made thirty years ago, in 1984: “Either great American party that yields to its extreme group is doomed there and then.”

The Georgetown set and Joe Alsop are long gone, as is that staple of the Washington salon, terrapin soup—whose main ingredient has been declared a threatened species. The houses where once the Alsops, Wisners, and the Grahams lived are currently occupied by a D.C. real estate mogul, a hedge fund manager, and a young venture capitalist. And consequential foreign policy debates no longer take place over Georgetown dinner tables but between rival partisan think tanks, vying for space on editorial pages and blogs.

American leaders once understood the relationship between cocktails and comity: Historians attribute the legendary effectiveness of Senate majority leader Lyndon Johnson to the latter’s one-on-one, bourbon-and-branch water “conversations” with his political foes. Ronald Reagan’s diary reveals that the drinks he shared after hours with hisnemesis, House Speaker “Tip” O’Neill, contributed to the success of the Reagan presidency. (“We’re all friends here after 6,” the Tipper reportedly told the Gipper.) Why can’t a new host and a fresh venue be found for the long-gone zoo parties?—which served a political as much as a social purpose, and are sadly missed, and missing, in today’s Washington.

A final, cautionary note: the failure of the 2009 “beer summit”—where President Obama tried, unsuccessfully, to defuse a racial incident by sharing a brew with the antagonists at the White House—suggests that stronger spirits may be required.

Gregg Herken is an emeritus professor of modern American diplomatic history at the University of California, and author of The Georgetown Set: Friends and Rivals in Cold War Washington, to be published this month by Knopf.

TIME Books

New Jonathan Franzen Novel Purity Arriving September 2015

Jonathan Franzen pose at Axel Springer Haus on Nov. 8, 2013 in Berlin.
Jonathan Franzen pose at Axel Springer Haus on Nov. 8, 2013 in Berlin. Timur Emek—Getty Images

The celebrated Freedom author's new novel is a departure from his previous work, his publisher said

Next fall is already shaping up to be a good one for lovers of literature. Jonathan Franzen will release his fifth novel, Purity, in September 2015, the author’s publisher announced Monday.

Jonathan Galassi, the president and publisher of Farrar, Straus & Giroux, said that the story of a young woman working to uncover her father’s identity is somewhat of a departure from Franzen’s previous work, the New York Times reports.

“There’s a kind of fabulist quality to it,” Galassi said. “It’s not strict realism. There’s a kind of mythic undertone to the story.”

Franzen’s last two novels, 2010’s Freedom and 2001’s The Corrections, have each sold more than one million copies. In 2010, Franzen was the subject of a TIME cover story, becoming the first author to do so since Stephen King did a decade earlier.

[NYT]

TIME society

You Can Buy Mr. Darcy’s House

61st Berlin Film Festival - The King's Speech - Photocall
Actor Colin Firth Sean Gallup—Getty Images

The British estate that inspired Jane Austen is up for sale

You might not be able to live out the rest of your days with Pride and Prejudice’s fictional Mr. Darcy, but you can spend them at his British estate.

Wentworth Woodhouse — the residence that reportedly inspired Jane Austen’s depiction of Darcy’s home, Pemberley — is reportedly going on the market for a mere $10.9 million. A spokesperson for U.K. estate agency Savills told the Daily Mail that the manor will go on the market “in the new year.”

The estate will serve as the perfect muse for all that Pride and Prejudice fan fiction you’ve been dying to write.

The estate, which has five miles worth of corridors, was home to the fourth Earl Fitzwilliam, who reportedly inspired Darcy himself.

While $10.9 million might seem like a bargain, keep in mind that there is an estimated $65.6 million of required repairs.

Worth it.

TIME reproductive rights

6 Myths About Abortion

Katha Pollitt is the author of the recently published Pro: Reclaiming Abortion Rights.

The anti-abortion side of the debate has created fiction from fact

1. The Bible forbids abortion.

It shouldn’t matter what the Bible says about abortion. The United States is not a theocracy. Still, given the certitude of abortion opponents that abortion violates God’s Word, it might come as a surprise that neither the Old Testament nor the New mentions abortion—not one word.

It’s not that the Old Testament is reticent about women’s bodies, either. Menstruation gets a lot of attention. So do child- birth, infertility, sexual desire, prostitution (death penalty), infidelity (more death penalty), and rape (if the woman is within earshot of others and doesn’t cry out . . . death penalty). How can it be that the authors (or Author) set down what should happen to a woman who seeks to help her husband in a fight by grabbing the other man’s testicles (her hand should be cut off) but did not feel abortion deserved so much as a word? Given the penalties for nonmarital sex and being a rape victim, it’s hard to believe that women never needed desperately to end a pregnancy, and that there was no folk knowledge of how to do so, as there was in other ancient cultures. Midwives would have known how to induce a miscarriage.

A passage often cited by abortion opponents is Exodus 21:22–23:

If people are fighting and hit a pregnant woman and she gives birth prematurely but there is no serious injury, the offender must be fined whatever the woman’s husband demands and the court allows. But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life . . .

Contemporary abortion opponents interpret this passage as distinguishing between causing a premature birth (fine) versus causing a miscarriage (death penalty), which is indeed what most modern translations suggest. Unfortunately for abortion opponents, at least one thousand years of rabbinical scholarship say the fine is for causing a miscarriage and the death penalty is for causing the death of the pregnant woman. If anti-abortion exegetes are only now finding in this rather obscure passage evidence for an absolute biblical ban on abortion, you have to wonder why no one read it that way before. The Talmud permits abortion under certain circumstances, in fact requires it if the woman’s life is at stake.

The New Testament was a second chance for God to make himself clear about abortion. Jesus had some strong views of marriage and sex—he considered the Jewish divorce laws too lenient, disapproved of stoning adulteresses, and did not shrink from healing a woman who had “an issue” (vaginal bleeding of some sort) that had lasted twelve years and would have made her an outcast among Jews. But he said nothing about abortion. Neither did Saint Paul, or the other New Testament authors, or any of the later authors whose words were interpolated into the original texts.

2. Women are coerced into having abortions.

Abortion opponents claim girls and women are frequently forced or bullied into terminating wanted pregnancies. That 64% of women “feel pressured to abort” is a claim that shows up over and over. As the journalist Robin Marty was the first to report, the 64% statistic comes from a 2004 article in Medical Science Monitor, “Induced Abortion and Traumatic Stress: A Preliminary Comparison of American and Russian Women” by Vincent M. Rue, Priscilla K. Coleman, James J. Rue, and David C. Reardon. But David Reardon is a major anti-abortion activist, tireless promoter of “post-abortion syndrome,” a condition rejected by the American Psychological Association, and director of the anti-abortion Elliot Institute. (According to its Web site, the name was “picked from a baby names book” because it sounds both friendly and academic.) His PhD in biomedical ethics comes from Pacific Western University, an unaccredited correspondence school. Medical Science Monitor, an online journal, has published other spurious research, for example, papers defending the discredited vaccine-autism connection. In 2012 it was exposed as one of a circle of journals that agreed to inflate their citation rankings by citing one another.

There are a number of problems with the paper in question, which was actually not about coercion but a comparison of post-abortion trauma in American and Russian women. Its sample was tiny (217 Americans), self-selected, far more white and middle-class than the general population of women who’ve had abortions, plus the women were reporting on abortions a decade earlier. Half thought abortion was wrong; only 40 per- cent thought women should have a right to it. Thirty percent said they had “health complications” after the abortion, which could mean anything. (According to the Guttmacher Institute, only .05 percent of first trimester abortions have complications “that might require hospital care.”) Interestingly, the American women, though not the Russian women, reported staggering amounts of violence and trauma in their lives before the abortion.

How common is it for a woman to be pushed into an abortion she doesn’t want? In a 2005 Guttmacher Institute survey, 1,209 women were asked their reasons for choosing abortion. Fourteen percent cited “husband or partner wants me to have an abortion” and 6 percent cited “parents want me to have an abortion.” (Interestingly, both these answers were down from a similar survey in 1987, when 24 percent of women mentioned the wishes of husbands/partners and 8 percent mentioned those of parents.) But when asked to name the single most important reason, less than 0.5 percent each cited the wishes of husband/partner or parents.

3. Abortion is dangerous.

Anti-abortion literature is full of stories about women gravely injured or even killed in clinics. Such places exist: A woman died in Kermit Gosnell’s Philadelphia clinic, some were injured, and all received inferior care. Steven Brigham has been in legal trouble in several states. Such doctors stay in business because they are cheap, they are in the neighborhood, they perform abortions later than the law allows, and they zero in on low-income patients who, sadly, are used to being treated badly by people in authority. No doubt there are other inferior clinics out there. But only in abortion care do the few bad providers taint all the others—and taint them so much that opponents can pass laws that would virtually shut down the entire field in the name of patient safety.

And yet, abortion is remarkably safe. The CDC reports that from 2003 to 2009, the most recent period for which it has figures, the national mortality rate was .67 deaths per 100,000 abortions. In 2009, a total of eight women died due to abortion. Tragic as that is, compare it with fatal reactions to penicillin, which occur in 1 case per 50–100,000 courses. And what about Viagra? According to the Association of Reproductive Health Professionals, it has a death rate of 5 per 100,000 prescriptions. But you don’t find legislators calling for a ban on Viagra.

Really, though, there is only one directly relevant comparison of risk with respect to abortion, and that is pregnancy and childbirth. The death rate for that is 8.8 women per 100,000. Continuing a pregnancy is 12 to 14 times as potentially fatal as ending it. (And maternal mortality rate is rising in the US even as it is falling around the world.) Curiously, no one suggests that obstetricians be compelled to read pregnant women scripts about the dangers that lie ahead before sending them home for 24 hours to think about whether they wish to proceed.

4. There are too many abortions.

Sometimes what people mean when they say there are too many abortions is that we need to help girls and women take charge of their sexuality and have more options in life. According to the Guttmacher Institute, in 2011 abortion declined by 13 percent from 2008, mostly because of better access to birth control and to longer-acting birth control methods like the IUD. That is very good news.

But often what people mean is that women are too casual about sex and contraception. When Naomi Wolf writes about her friends’ it-was-such- good-Chardonnay abortions, she is saying women get pregnant by accident because they are hedonistic and shallow. It is difficult to come down hard on abortion as immoral, to insist that the ideal number of abortions is zero, as Will Saletan maintains, without blaming the individual woman who got herself into a fix and now wants to do a bad thing to get out of it.

5. Abortion is racist.

In February 2011, a three-story-high billboard popped up in New York City. Featuring an adorable little black girl in a sweet pink dress, it pro- claimed, “The Most Dangerous Place for an African American Is in the Womb.” The previous year, billboards in Atlanta showed a little black boy with the slogan “Black Children Are an Endangered Species.” The brainchild of Life Always, a Texas anti-abortion group, these signs, and similar ones around the country comparing abortion to slavery, aroused so much indignation from black women that they were quickly taken down. But the charge that abortion is racist is commonplace in the pro-life movement.

If the womb is the most dangerous place for an African American, that makes black women, the victims of racism, the real racists. Put like that it doesn’t make much sense. The metaphor ignores the subjectivity of black women; once again, a woman is a vessel, a place—in this case a hostile place. Imagery of abortion as slavery or genocide allows abortion opponents to posture as anti-racists without having to learn anything about the lives of black women or lift a finger to rectify the enormous and ongoing legacy of slavery and segregation. Just shame black women into giving birth to more children than they feel they can safely bear or care for, and all will be well.

6. Abortion opponents would never punish women.

That’s what they always say: Women are abortion’s “other victim.” Only the providers should be charged with a crime. That view would come as news to the many countries where women are in prison for ending their pregnancies.

Right now, putting women on trial for abortion sounds far- fetched, I admit. There’s little heart for it in the ranks of the pro-life movement. But the groundwork is being laid. Women have been arrested for self-abortion in several states, although few have been convicted. Many have been arrested and some imprisoned for drug use or other behavior during pregnancy, even when no bad outcome occurred, and even when the law was clearly designed for some other purpose (to protect living children from meth labs, for example). For decades the anti-abortion movement has striven to enshrine in law the view that the embryo and fetus are persons. They won passage of the federal Unborn Victims of Violence Act, which made causing the death of embryos and fetuses a separate crime from the harm caused to the pregnant woman, and versions of that law in many states. In the spring of 2014, despite strenuous objections from women’s groups and medical organizations, the Tennessee state legislature passed with bipartisan support, and the moderate Republican governor signed, a bill that would subject to criminal penalties of up to fifteen years in prison drug- using women who had a poor pregnancy outcome.

As abortion becomes restricted, and the embryo and fetus are regarded as legal persons in more and more areas of the law, it becomes increasingly difficult to say why a pregnant woman’s conduct during pregnancy should not be subject to legal scrutiny.

 

Katha Pollitt, the author of Virginity or Death! and Learning to Drive, is a poet, essayist, and columnist for The Nation. She has won the National Book Critics Award for her first collection of poems, Antarctic Traveler, and two National Magazine Awards—for Essays and Criticism, and Columns and Commentary. She lives in New York City.

Excerpted from Pro: Reclaiming Abortion Rights by Katha Pollitt, published by Picador. Copyright © 2014 by Katha Pollitt. All rights reserved.

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