Julia Lurie is a Mother Jones fellow whose work has appeared in The Atlantic, the Washington Post, and the Huffington Post. A proud Minnesota native, she enjoys playing violin, camping, running, and dessert baking. You can reach her at email@example.com.
The NHL's Philadelphia Flyers have been embroiled in controversy over the past few days—not because of anything hockey-related, but because of the team's treatment of its ice girls, the women who clean the ice in crop tops and short shorts during stoppages in play. After the Flyers' ice girls were replaced with "ice men" earlier this fall and fans booed relentlessly, the team announced Tuesday that the ice girls would be reinstated.
A little background: For years, several NHL teams have employed women who, in addition to shoveling ice, are responsible for things like greeting fans at the doors and leading cheers on the sidelines. Earlier this year, after writing an article about how five NFL cheerleading squads had sued their teams for labor violations (examples include having to pass a "jiggle test"—more on that here), I received an email from a former Flyers ice girl. "Speaking from personal experience," she wrote, "ice girls are treated very similarly." I went on to speak with three ice girls from the Flyers, and four from the Los Angeles Kings, who were then competing for the Stanley Cup.
The Flyers ice girls had mixed experiences overall but corroborated a few disturbing trends, which I wrote about in a June article. They were paid $50 per game, with their game-day duties lasting about seven hours. They got cold when greeting fans at the doors in skimpy uniforms, but were told that they couldn't put jackets on. In 2012, when the Flyers hosted a three-day outdoor festival called the Winter Classic, they walked around in shorts, wearing two pairs of stockings, in 20-degree weather. They weren't allowed to eat in public, despite the long hours and cold.
When I asked both Kings and Flyers ice girls why they continued to do the work, the response was unanimous: Despite the working conditions, there was something uniquely thrilling about being the center of attention on the ice, about being icons to a community of fans.
At the team's first preseason game of the year, on September 22, the Flyers surprised fans with a change: The ice girls had been eliminated, and in their place, a team of men in bright orange jackets cleaned the ice. The team gave no reason for the change, and as the video below suggests, fans weren't too happy about it.
At the game three days later, more booing:
boos so loud for Ice Men that referee actually waited before he announced the penalty
In the meantime, I spoke with a couple of former ice girls about the team's reactions. "The ones that actually wanted to try out weren't too happy that there wasn't going to be a team this year," said one. "They thought it was unfair. I couldn't care less. I don't know why you'd want to go back to that abusive relationship."
One veteran acknowledged that the issues from my June article were valid, and "sometimes it sucks that we have to stand outdoors in the cold." But still, she had been thinking about trying out for the team again, and she was frustrated with herself and her teammates for having complained: "I'm sure you talked to some of the girls that do come back every year and they shot us all in the foot by expressing their unhappiness. I'm also guilty of that. Look where it got us."
The Flyers maintained their radio silence until the third game, on Tuesday night. As fans started to boo the ice men, a sign appeared on the scoreboard announcing tryouts for—you guessed it—a new team of ice girls. Fans roared in approval.
On the ice team's website, candidates are encouraged to submit a photo and résumé and come to auditions this Sunday with "professional-looking hair and make-up." Applicants will be judged, among other things, on their ability to skate, turn, stop, do crossovers, and "push a wheel barrel on/off the ice surface"
Still, the response to the team's announcement on Twitter wasn't entirely enthusiastic. A sample of reactions:
Of course, the fans' reactions, and the dozensofarticles about the Flyers ice team, stem from bigger, messier questions: What should we make of ice girls and cheerleaders in 2014? What about the women who want to cheer? And what happens if those women also happen to have some complaints about the job?
Regardless, it seems that most reasonable folks would support simple changes, like paying ice girls more than $50 for seven hours of work, and maybe even letting them put layers on if they're unbearably cold. But when I emailed Ike Richman, the VP of public relations for the team, to ask if the ice team's working conditions or pay would change this year, he simply replied, "The organization has declined to answer any of your detailed questions. Thanks."
For the first time, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended long-acting reversible contraception, like IUDs and contraceptive implants, as "first-line contraceptive choices for adolescents." The guidelines, published in the journal Pediatrics on Monday, encourage pediatricians to discuss these long-acting options, known as LARC methods, before other contraceptive choices for adolescents because of the products' "efficacy, safety, and ease of use."
It's no secret that a lot of teens have sex; according to the report, nearly half of US high school students report having had sexual intercourse. Each year, 750,000 teenagers become pregnant, with over 80 percent of the pregnancies unplanned.
But the recommended AAP guidelines are a huge step away from the current practices of the 3.2 million teenage women using contraceptives; in fact, it seems that the frequencies with which teens use contraceptives are inversely related to their efficacy. Here's a breakdown of contraceptive use among today's teenagers:
Male condoms are by far the most frequent choice of contraception, with over half of teenage women reporting condom use the last time they had sex. According to the Centers for Disease Control, condoms have an 18 percent failure rate.
The pill, used by 53 percent of teenage girls using contraceptives, has a 9 percent failure rate.
Contraceptive implants are small rods that, when inserted under the skin of the upper arm, release steroid hormones, preventing pregnancy for up to three years with a .05 percent failure rate. According to the Guttmacher Institute, implants and other hormonal methods, like hormonal patches or rings, are used by 16 percent of teens using contraceptives.
Intrauterine devices, or IUDs, are small, T-shaped devices that, once implanted in the uterus, can prevent pregnancy for up to 10 years with a failure rate of less than 1 percent. IUDs are one of the most popular contraceptive methods in other developed countries, but, largely due to misconceptions that developed in the 70s, they're used far less frequently in the US. Only 3 percent of teens using contraceptives rely on IUDs.
Following similar guidelines published in 2012 by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the AAP report makes clear that teenagers using LARC methods should still use condoms to prevent STIs, and doctors should still talk to their patients about all contraceptive methods, tailoring "counseling and recommendations to each patient." The Affordable Care Act requires insurance plans to cover LARCs, including progestin implants and IUDs.
Charles Blow is known to readers of the New York Times as a guy who distills complex news events into tidy concepts and charts. But his unabashedly honest memoir out this week, Fire Shut Up in My Bones, reveals a painful, messy childhood in rural Gibsland, Louisiana, "a place with whites and blacks mostly separated by a shallow ditch and a deep understanding."
Blow's early childhood was a succession of traumas, none more scarring than his own sexual abuse by an older cousin, which he alludes to in his most recent column. But Blow later reinvented himself as an athlete, star student, and, later, president of a college fraternity with violent hazing rituals. He became the Times' graphics director at age 25, did a stint as art director at National Geographic, and earned the title of Gray Lady columnist in April of 2008. "I was in a panic the day that I got this job," he admits. "An absolute panic!"
Mother Jones: What was the catalyst for your memoir?
Charles Blow: I had an insanely long commute—New York to DC—when I worked at National Geographic. I hate to waste time, so I spent my time by writing about my life on the premise that I might be able to pitch those as short essays to magazines. It wasn't until later that I realized that I was writing a book.
MJ: You have an amazing memory.
Blow in a school photo Courtesy Charles Blow
CB: Trauma stays alive and stays with you. You relive it every day, so those scenes are incredibly fresh. In addition, the house where I grew up was still there. Nothing had been changed inside. So I'd just sit in the room, forcing myself to remember in the actual space where [events] happened. It helps with the dimension and gritty granularity that you can provide. I did the same thing with the church and with the cemetery.
MJ: Now, the cemetery in your hometown was once segregated—grandiose on the white side, rundown on the black side. Is it still like that?
CB: It is more even. But there is still the chain-link fence between them. In my mind, it would be such a wonderful thing just to take down the fence.
MJ: As a questioning teen, you found the word "homosexual" in the Bible and discovered that it was viewed as an abomination. What would you say to that kid today?
CB: Something along the lines of this: Different is not deviant, no matter what the world may say. You have the moral obligation to love yourself.
MJ: As a father of three, did you feel any trepidation about putting certain details about your sex life out in the public realm?
CB: That, to me, was a rather simple decision. The facts are nonnegotiable. I always say to my friends, "I sleep well at night."
MJ: You also write about a time in high school during which you were trying to change the way others perceived you. Will you talk about that?
"I had set about trying to make myself more polished than a country boy would be."
CB: I had set about trying to make myself more polished than a country boy would be. When I won my way to the international science fair, I didn't want to embarrass myself. It was the first time I was going to be away from home, the first time taking an airplane. I went to the local library, checked out every single etiquette book, and I read those books like I was uncovering some sort of treasure. I committed every one of the rules to memory. When somebody puts down four forks on one side and four spoons on the other side, what does that mean? All of a sudden I knew what to do when the food dropped from the table and how to signal that you were finished and how to signal that you wanted coffee—all these little intricacies that just did not come into our lives because we were poor.
MJ: And you continued with this polishing effort after high school.
CB: When I was a freshman in college, I went to a broadcast class by mistake. The first day, the instructor said, "Television anchors sound like they could be from everywhere and nowhere." From that point on, every time I was near an anchor, when no one was around, they would say something and I would say it right after them. It was this effort to get rid of my accent.
MJ: You became the Times' graphics editor at 25. What was that like?
CB: I loved that job! You have to become an "afternoon expert." You start by not knowing anything about it in the morning. You go read and quickly come up to speed so you can be somewhat literate. An illustration is a visual editorial—it's just as nuanced. Everything that goes into it is a call you make: every color, every line weight, every angle.
MJ: What was the transition like from graphics guru to Times columnist?
Being a Times columnist "has been the most excruciating and public on-the-job training exercise I could imagine."
CB: It's great to circle back to a first love, of language and writing. But it has been the most excruciating and public on-the-job training exercise I could imagine. I had no professional writing experience before this job! I started to lean much more on what made me different from the other columnists than what made me like them. I wasn't the only African American when I started, but I'm a Southerner, and I grew up in a poor part of the rural South. I learned how to appreciate the cadence of that language and to bring that to my writing.
MJ: What was the feedback like when you were just starting out?
CB: The internet is ruthless. [Laughs.] And people are very, very happy to let you know when they don't like something. In addition, I put my email address after every column so that I can hear even more of it, because I felt like I really needed as much feedback as possible—even negative feedback.
MJ: You write in the book that hazing fraternity pledges put you at the top of the male hierarchy—the apex of the sort of social subjugation that had caused your seven-year-old self to contemplate suicide.
"I'm trying to illuminate how perilously narrow we draw the concepts of masculinity and sexuality in our male culture."
CB: I'm trying to illuminate how perilously narrow we draw the concepts of masculinity and sexuality in our male culture—particularly in black male culture—and to help people to see that there's room enough for everyone. Part of the book is to highlight all of these very tricky social settings that young men navigate, including that hazing session, which is about brutality but also about bending yourself until you break in order to fit in—blending instead of standing up and standing out. I guess what I'm trying to do is say, "I know that life, I've done all those things, and I can still tell you that just being you is perfectly fine."
MJ: In one of your columns about the killing of Trayvon Martin, you asked, "What do I tell my boys?" What did you tell them?
CB: Part of the great sadness of that episode is that I was never able to find the language to both empower and protect my boys. I still don't know what to tell them.
Correction: The print version of this interview incorrectly indicated that Charles Blow is married. In fact, he is divorced.
Coproducers Sarah Koenig (left) and Julie Snyder with "This American Life" host Ira Glass.
Sarah Koenig and Julie Snyder, producers for the popular radio show This American Life, are about to launch their latest project, a weekly podcast called Serial, hosted by Koenig. Here’s the gist: Rather than having short stories on a theme, like TAL, Serial draws out a single story for an entire season. As This American Life host Ira Glass puts it, "We want to give you the same experience you get from a great HBO or Netflix series, where you get caught up with the characters and the thing unfolds week after week, but with a true story, and no pictures. Like House of Cards, but you can enjoy it while you're driving."
The new podcast's name refers to the story format—not a serial murderer. But the first season of Serial, premiering on October 3, explores the 1999 murder of a Baltimore high school senior, Hae Min Lee, for which her 17-year-old ex-boyfriend was convicted and sentenced to life in prison. I spoke with Koenig and Snyder about the origins of the project (which began as an experiment in Koenig's basement), their deep-reporting process, and the ever-evolving ways in which we tell stories.
Mother Jones: Tell us more about the first season of Serial.
Koenig: We're bringing you the story of not only the facts of the case, but the whole world of who they were and all their different relationships and cultural things that were happening. There are a lot of lingering questions about what happened, in big and small ways, and so we're also trying to bring clarity to what happened to this girl.
"The thing that hooked me is realizing that the story they're telling at trial is just one layer."
Snyder: I'm afraid "bringing clarity to it" sounds…
Koenig: It's not! When you hear about a case—even if you've attended a trial—there's a story presented which is a kind of agreed-upon narrative that each side brings. Maybe this is too obvious, but the thing that hooked me is realizing that the story they're telling at trial is just one layer that's just sitting on top of this whole super-interesting ocean that we don't ever get to hear about. All this interesting stuff is tamped down by this clean narrative of, "Here's what happened, and this must have happened this way and this must be what this relationship was." And then you start piecing it apart.
MJ: Why did you choose this case in particular?
Koenig: Someone who knows the family of the guy who was convicted came to me to look into it, just: "Could somebody please, please, please take a look at this case, because we think all sorts of things went wrong in the trial." I used to be a reporter at the Baltimore Sun, and the defense attorney on the case was someone that I had written about way back when. It didn't have to do with this case, but other stuff: She had gotten in all sorts of trouble with the state regulatory board for lawyers and ended up getting disbarred. So they came to me because they had seen my name attached to these newspaper stories.
MJ: What was the catalyst for the concept of Serial?
Koenig: We just wanted to try something new! Julie and I worked together on other higher-adrenaline shows for the radio, like [ThisAmerican Life's] "This Week" show, where we were trying to just do stories from the previous seven days. It was in the spirit of fun. We we haven't heard of anybody else who's tried this, so let's try it!
"That's the awesome thing about with a podcast: We can do a story that unfolds over time."
Snyder: Telling a serialized story with cliffhangers and plot developments and stuff is not conducive to broadcast radio because it's difficult for listeners and it's difficult for stations to program. That's the awesome thing with a podcast: We can do a story that unfolds over time. You can either go along—we'll release them every Thursday—or people can binge once they've all been released.
MJ: Are you worried about keeping it interesting for 10 or 15 episodes?
Koenig: [Laughs.] Are you worried it will be bad? Is that what you're asking, Lurie? No, it's gonna be good! My worry is that I've gotten so up inside this thing that it's like when you find something out about your family and you're like, "You are not gonna believe: My Grandpa…" And nobody else cares but you. What's good is that I have a check on me all the time. I’m relaying this info to other people and they're still interested.
MJ: What storytelling devices have you learned at This American Life that you’re going to apply here?
Koenig: Everything. To get a little dorky about it, I think one of the things that makes This American Life really special—and maybe people that don't do this work aren't totally aware that this is happening—is the way that we structure stories with great care. What order we're bringing you the information—that’s the art of it. And for this, where you're really thinking over the course of a few months, it's just a huge structural puzzle. That's where I hope we're good.
MJ: Who's backing you?
Snyder: We're essentially doing it out of This American Life's budget, just for the launch part. After that, we'll have to start generating our own revenue. Everyone's saying "It's podcasting! It's internet! Ofcourse there'll be money somewhere." We're not exactly sure yet.
MJ: Sarah, it sounds like you've really thrown yourself deep into this. Has your Serial reporting experience been different than it has been for other big projects?
Koenig: Yeah, I've now gotten to know a bunch of people in this story—some of them I feel like I know them know them. That doesn’t happen very often, and in some ways it's great—it's good for the story. Personally, sometimes it makes it harder. I'm struggling with separating my personal feelings about people from what they're telling me and what the reporting is telling me to do. I have to check myself a lot to make sure, am I being fair to everybody? Obviously, in any story you're trying to be careful, but if you don't know somebody, you're freer. They're not friends, exactly, but I know them and they know me and now we've got that responsibility to each other. So that's definitely different. I don't know if the next season will be like that, but this story will. Because it's about the basics: Love and death and justice and truth. All these big, big things.
In this moving account of his time as a sergeant in Iraq, Brian Turner, whose poem "The Hurt Locker" was the namesake for the Oscar-winning film, delivers a succession of oddly beautiful, appropriately devastating reflections that drive home the realities of war. Turner takes us from training camp to war zone and home again, where, in bed with his wife, he dreams he's a drone, flying over countries of wars past.