The Global Public Health Crisis We're Ignoring


It’s gender-based violence—a slow, consistent,  menacing reality in the lives of women, girls and gender-nonconforming people worldwide that’s been quietly getting worse, not better.


September 13, 2023

In 2015, world leaders convened at the United Nations to announce the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals. Target 5.2 was one of the most thrillingly ambitious: to eliminate all forms of violence against all women and girls in the public and private sphere by the year 2030. 

Halfway to 2030, though, not only are we far from that goal—we’re regressing.

Every day in Mexico, at least ten women are killed—a rate that has more than doubled since 2015. In Iran, intimate partner violence rose 20% during the pandemic’s first few months; in Spain, 23%. And in the United States, femicide—the killing of a woman because she is a woman—has increased by almost 25% since 2014. These aren’t isolated examples; recent surveys indicate that gender-based violence (GBV)—a public health crisis that encompasses femicide, female genital mutilation, rape, online abuse, harassment, and more—is on the rise globally

“There’s never been a more urgent time to address gender-based violence, and I’ve been doing this work for decades,” says Rosa Bransky, CEO of Purposeful, a Sierra Leone-based organization that works with women and girls across Africa. “Globally, most of the advances of the past 20 years have been rolled back, and we’re seeing both a rise of profound violence against women and a rise in women-led activism against it.”

The data points are everywhere. Pick up your phone in late summer 2023, and you might see documentation of GBV in Italy, where the gang rapes of two young girls seized the country’s attention; in Bosnia, where a man killed his ex-partner on Instagram Live; or even on a remote ice sheet in Antarctica, where women scientists report that harassment and assault are so commonplace that they work with hammers tucked into their uniforms to stay safe.

Like many epidemics, this one seems borderless, especially in our tech-fueled world. “Yet unlike any other epidemic, we’re failing to properly research it or even take it seriously,” says Leila Milani, program director at Futures Without Violence, a United States-based nonprofit. “When was the last time you heard a political candidate talk about it as a top issue? You don’t—because it’s not considered to be one.” 


The scene at Las Catrinas CDMX 2020, a march demanding justice for victims of femicide, in Mexico City in November 2020. Photo by Claudio Cruz/AFP via Getty Images.

First, let’s be clear: even when politicians don’t always see this as an issue, the public certainly does. The last decade has brought wave after wave of powerful protests led by survivors and their allies. In South Africa, there was 2018’s Total Shutdown movement, in which women took to the streets to protest the government’s failure to deal with steep femicide rates. In Argentina, Ni Una Menos (“Not one less”) started as a massive 2015 protest after the murder of a 14-year-old pregnant girl by her boyfriend; it ultimately helped usher in major political victories on abortion and other issues across South America. In 2017, the viral #MeToo campaign became a global movement demanding accountability from perpetrators.

But while survivors’ voices still ring loud, rates continue to rise. 

The reasons are complex. COVID, of course, took a toll; domestic violence rates increased by 25 to 33 percent globally, and girls left school in greater numbers, elevating their odds of child marriage and intimate partner violence.

Other global trends play a role as well. The world is facing the highest number of violent conflicts since the Second World War, in places from Ukraine to Ethiopia—and women in conflict zones are more than twice as likely to be brutalized by an intimate partner. Add to this the fact that climate change, which disproportionately impacts the world’s poorest and most vulnerable, also puts women at increased risk of violence—and Indigenous land defenders are frequently threatened with sexual violence while rarely being protected by the state.

“If you’re a woman, non-binary or trans person, you’re facing a level of risk in any context,” says Celia Turner, partnerships management officer at Urgent Action Fund, a global consortium of regional feminist funds. “So in conflict zones, of course this risk escalates. We’re also seeing that conflict is tied with climate change, so gender-based violence is often at the intersection of overlapping crises.” 

The effects of climate change particularly impact Indigenous women and farming communities, who are accustomed to living off of the land. Additionally, Indigenous land defenders are frequently threatened with sexual violence, and are rarely protected by the state.

“Often, gender-based violence is seen as a private issue, but it is a highly political issue,” says Rosa Bransky, the CEO of Purposeful. “It is connected to the climate crisis and the rise of authoritarianism—just as the world is burning, so are women’s bodies.”

Undergirding all these trends is our current era of what scholars call “patriarchal authoritarianism,” in which strongmen leaders in dozens of countries have launched simultaneous assaults on women’s rights and on democracy. In the U.S., the implications have been immediate: the overturn of Roe v. Wade in 2022 triggered  a doubled rate of reproductive coercion—in which an abuser sabotages a partner’s contraception, intercepts birth control, or otherwise hinders their ability to control their own fertility.

“We are confronting a global anti-rights movement that wants to set back any progress on gender equality,” says Monica Aleman, international program director for Gender, Racial and Ethnic Justice at the Ford Foundation. “And they must be stopped.”


In order for it to be stopped, Aleman notes, we must first recognize that violence doesn’t affect everyone equally. Women of color and other communities with overlapping marginalized identities—for instance, gender-nonconforming people, or those with disabilities—experience the epidemic of violence disproportionately. “When we talk about gender-based violence, there are a lot of stereotypes and you think of ‘cis man physically attacks cis woman,’” says Paige Andrew, a Trinidad and Tobago-based co-manager for FRIDA Young Feminist Fund. “But we need to address how violence shows up for people with diverse gender expressions.” 

And it shows up more viciously: While nearly one out of every three women experiences physical or sexual violence in their lifetime—a number advocates agree is a vast understatement—almost half of trans women and nonbinary people do. (In the U.S., Black transgender women are especially vulnerable; they comprise 66 percent of all trans murders.) 

Black trans lives matter: the message at the Brooklyn Liberation’s Protect Trans Youth event, organized in response to anti-trans legislation across the United States in June 2021. Photo by Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images.

GBV also cuts along socioeconomic lines. “It is particularly bad in rural areas, where there are fewer resources for abused women,” says Kristen Rand, government affairs director at the Violence Policy Center. Their 2022 report found that Native women in Alaska and Black women in the Deep South—historically the most economically marginalized groups—experience the highest rates of femicide in the United States. “Along with a lack of resources for women, there is easy access to guns and no mechanisms in place to make sure that abusers have their firearms removed,” Rand explains. 

Still, these stories rarely make the front pages of our newspapers—and when they do, they are often treated as “true crime” tales, says Rand. “We are constantly frustrated with how the media covers [domestic violence] as just an incident,”—rather than as a systemic public crisis that might actually have solutions.


Patriarchal defenses of GBV lie deep in our society—the idea that men brutalizing women is central to their gender roles, or an evolutionary fact. “The inevitability of violence—and the way that girls are taught that [it] is part of life—is one of the most violent things about violence,” says Bransky.

That said, she and other advocates do have hope—mainly because they are watching young activists pioneer bold solutions to GBV around the world. In Sierra Leone, where Purposeful works, Bransky points to a group of girls living in the rural north who used grant money to set up a reporting protocol for instances of rape and sexual violence; activists also led the overturning of the country’s ban on pregnant girls from attending school. 

And government will and political leadership are crucial here. After the Total Shutdown protests, South Africa hosted a presidential summit and created a committee to end GBV, resulting in the 2020 launch of a National Strategic Plan on Gender-Violence and Femicide. In the U.S. last May, the White House launched the United States’ first national plan to combat gender-based violence. Advocates like Milani (who was an advisor) say this was overdue, pointing out that the U.S. is the only industrialized democracy in the world that has not ratified the United Nations’ Convention to End All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), nor has it been able to pass the Equal Rights Amendment. 

Another solution, of course, is funding for solutions to ending GBV—something many advocates say is shockingly low. At The National Domestic Violence Hotline, calls have hit a historic high, but “at the end of the day, domestic violence will remain an epidemic in the U.S. because it is viewed as a ‘women’s issue’ and thus is significantly under-resourced,” says Katie Ray-Jones, CEO of The Hotline.

And even when funding exists, it can also reinforce geographic and social inequities, since major funders are often based in the Global North and set the agenda about how money should be spent, says Aleman. “Even when this funding reaches the Global South, it often only reaches the capitals—and isn’t easily distributed to rural areas who need it the most,” she says. “We need to make sure we’re not reproducing the colonial model in our grantmaking.”

But still—there are those thousands of people on the streets and social media everywhere from Rome to Johannesburg, showing us that they will not stop fighting for the eradication of  this epidemic. Advocates say that their passion provides a roadmap that politicians and funders should follow. 

For Aleman, it’s all about having the courage to treat gender-based violence like the public health crisis it clearly is. “I want us to be more decisive in our response to the anti-rights movement here and abroad,” she says. “We need to fund the feminist movement unapologetically and without hesitation.”

Bransky agrees. The solutions are known and within reach, she says, if only we listened to the survivors themselves. “We don’t need more innovation or task forces,” notes Bransky. “The solutions exist”—and they’re being led by feminist leaders everywhere. 

Anna Lekas Miller is a writer and journalist who covers stories of the ways that conflict and migration shape the lives of people around the world. She is the author of the book Love Across Borders and runs a newsletter by the same name. Follow her on Instagram: @annalekasmiller.

This is part of a new series between the Ford Foundation and The Meteor. Learn more at

How common is gender-based violence?


September 13, 2023

The violence that women, girls and gender-nonconforming people experience is so ubiquitous that it can take on this feeling of inevitability or mundane everydayness. But the violence we experience is shocking and it should remain so. In this series of illustrations, I use U.S. statistics about other common experiences in an effort to reawaken us to the unacceptable rate at which this violence happens around the world.

Finding a statistic to show the enormity and frequency of this violence was nearly impossible. The 31% figure, from the World Health Organization, is high—but it still vastly understates the problem because it does not count femicide, harassment or the many ways that systemic violence against women, girls and gender-nonconforming people affects their lives.

Perhaps if we see the true scale of GBV, world leaders might finally treat it like the deadly global public health crisis that it is.

This illustration is part of a new series between the Ford Foundation and The Meteor. Learn more at


About the artist

Mona Chalabi is an award-winning writer and illustrator. Using words, color and sound, Mona rehumanizes data to help us understand our world and the way we live in it.Her work has earned her a Pulitzer Prize, a fellowship at the British Science Association, an Emmy nomination and recognition from the Royal Statistical Society.


Serving Looks While Serving the Lord

Meet Flamy Grant, the drag queen with a chart-topping Christian music album.


Flamy Grant is a “shame-slaying, hip-swaying, singing-songwriting” drag queen from western North Carolina. Her name is a reference to 90s Christian pop star Amy Grant, and her album Bible Belt Baby centers on her journey as a queer person of faith—which, apparently, some people aren’t too happy about.

On July 26, infamous MAGA pastor Sean Feucht angrily tweeted about Grant, lamenting that “these are truly the last days,” and that Christian music from a drag queen was the “end goal” of the progressive Christian movement.

“End goal?” Grant tweeted back. “Baby, we’re just getting started. 😘”

And she meant what she said. Feucht told Grant that “hardly anyone listens or cares what you do,” so she rallied her fans on social media to get her songs on the Christian music charts. And by the next morning, her album had reached No. 1 on iTunes.

As a drag queen/queer Christian myself, I had to sit down with this diva and get into it all: the drama, the trauma, and what she hopes to give any Christian—both queer and the other kind.

God's gorgeous creation. (Photo by Haley Hill)

Bailey Wayne Hundl: Over the last ten days, you have been in People, Rolling Stone, Billboard—when you put out your album, did you ever envision something like this happening?

Flamy Grant: Not to this degree. You know, I saw what happened with Semler, a good friend of mine, and they're the first out queer artist to hit number one on the [Christian] iTunes charts. So I knew that it would be a big deal if a drag queen got on the iTunes charts. But I just thought it would be a cool moment of representation. I would've been happy with that, but like, my gosh, to have a Rolling Stone article that I can now point to… It's crazy. It's massive. 

When you started doing drag and mixing that with Christian music, was that your intention—to get as many eyes on it as possible? 

My intention has been to have a career, so whatever it takes to pay my bills. That's been my intention. 

And that's just the first rule of drag. Get your bag.

(laughs) Exactly. Yes. My second purpose and intention is to— I always tell people that I write for queer folks, specifically queer folks who grew up in evangelicalism or other high-demand religions who will resonate to that story of having to unburden yourself of a whole heap of oppression that was dropped on you. And then finding freedom, finding liberation, finding your sparkle.

You’ve been a worship leader in church since high school. What led you to add drag to that?

Well, the pandemic, honestly. I got super into drag in my mid-thirties. I've always been a late bloomer at everything because, you know, religious trauma. I mean, I didn't even come out fully until I was 28. So it took a few more years to really become ingrained in queer culture. So once I fell in love with drag, I was just all about it.

And the pandemic gave me the time. I live [in] this house with some housemates who are also musicians. So we started a livestream, like many artists did during the pandemic, where we would just sing cover songs every Thursday night to, like, 30 people on Facebook. I started showing up to those in drag and really that's where Flamy developed her chops, if you will.

[One day] my pastor asked me to give the sermon in drag…so I made a TikTok video to practice and gave a little [uplifting message] in 60 seconds while I was painting my face. And I woke up the next morning and it had completely blown up and gone viral. And I was floored at the responses: “This makes me feel so seen.” “It makes me feel so safe.”

And that inspired you to release a Christian album.

First of all, my record feels like a spiritual record, and I come from the evangelical world, so why not call it a Christian record? It's telling a spiritual journey. It's speaking to people who are still in the church. It's speaking to people who have oppressed queer people in the church. That's the audience that it's for, really. So it just made sense to put it in the Christian category.

I struggled with that a lot because the word “Christian” is so loaded in America—because it's been co-opted by evangelicals. I always like to make this point: Evangelicalism is a sect of Christianity. It is not representative of the entire faith. What we understand to be mainstream Christianity in America is not actually, like, historically Christian.

One thing that queer people of faith get asked a lot is, “How do you reconcile these two disparate worlds?” But I'm curious: Why do you continue to reconcile the two worlds?

Well, I mean, first and foremost, I think the main reason is simple: It's representation. I don't see anybody else who's intentionally trying to be a Christian in the [contemporary Christian music] genre, trying to do that as a drag queen in particular.

And then, because I grew up the way I did, I know what it's like to be a kid who has just nothing to look at that looks or feels like me—to feel like you are such an anomaly and to feel like you are such a broken thing.

So knowing that I can be there, present, especially in such a visible way—because that's the thing about drag: It's a very visibly queer art form. You know, we can see a picture of a drag queen, but then if you get to spend 45 minutes with her, listening to her heart…to hear a full record where I'm talking about this stuff…that's gonna make [an impact].

And a good record, too, if you don't mind me saying.

Thank you! I don't mind you saying it at all. You can say it many times. I'm very proud of it.

Shining brighter than the burning bush. (Photo courtesy of Flamy Grant)

Last question: If you could get just one thing across to the church, what would that be?

My answer might be a little skewed right now, because the past two weeks I've just been inundated and saturated with comments from Christians on the internet who make wild assumptions.

But my encouragement to Christians would be to just listen a little bit. Go listen to three of the songs on my record. And if you don't wanna engage with me, at least take that posture to queer people in your life. And if you don't know any queer people in your life: Yes, you do. You just don't know that they're queer yet.

Just push pause for just a little bit. I know you feel righteously compelled to speak. You feel educated about it because you've read six Bible verses. But there's a whole life story in each of us that I promise if you really hear—it's gonna have an impact on you. And it may not change your mind about homosexuality, but it may give you a window into a life that you would otherwise roll your eyes at or type a vomit emoji at.

Just listen as hard as you can for as long as you can. And see what happens.

"The world stopped paying attention"

The women of Afghanistan are still there ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌

Understanding Florida's batshit curriculum

A professor explains the madness ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌

Barbie, Child-Free Icon

There's only one thing this doll hasn't done. Why, exactly?

By Scarlett Harris

The opening scene of Barbie, the much-anticipated movie event hitting cinemas tomorrow directed by Greta Gerwig and starring Margot Robbie, is a parody of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. In it, young girls smash their baby dolls in favor of Robbie’s Barbie. Outfitted in the fashion doll’s original get-up of a black-and-white-striped bathing suit, cat-eye sunglasses, and permed bangs, Robbie stands in the center, a glamazon, signaling the dawn of a new woman.

Barbie, the doll, was conceived by Ruth Handler, an executive at Mattel, in the 1950s. After observing her daughter, Barbara, for whom Barbie is named, assigning adult roles to her paper dolls, she came up with the idea—and modeled her creation after a doll based on a German comic strip chronicling the life of a sex worker, Bild Lilli.

Before Barbie hit the market in 1959, dolls for girls were primarily babies meant to teach their owners the caregiving skills they would inevitably need for lives of housewifery and childrearing. But Barbie brought something new: She represented a wide range of fulfilling lifestyles outside of traditional feminine responsibilities. Barbie could be anything she wanted: an astronaut, an artist, even the President. But, in all these years, she’s never wanted to be a mother.

Barbie’s impact has been widely debated, and Barbie leans into this. Is she a feminist icon or nightmare? But one thing cannot be denied: Since her inception, Barbie has been the main character of her own story. She was made to be someone rather than someone’s someone. And in keeping with Barbie tradition, the film’s fantastical Barbieland does away with traditional gender roles. Ken (launched as a boyfriend doll in 1961) lives in service of Barbie, even going so far as to be referenced as “and Ken” in his mugshot—a pure appendage, even if Ken doesn’t have one himself. In a reversal of the biblical creation myth, Ken is spawned from Barbie. “I only exist in the warmth of your gaze,” he says. And, unlike Barbie, he has no occupation—his job is literally described as “beach” in the film.

The message was radical for its time: When the doll debuted, there were few images of female breadwinners. Women couldn’t even get a credit card in their own name without permission from a father or husband until 1974, almost twenty years after Barbie had enjoyed financial independence and career achievement in fields such as modeling (her first occupation), nursing (1961), space and aeronautics (1965 and 1966, respectively), surgery (1973) and Olympic gymnastics (1974).

All those jobs become even more impressive when you consider that, canonically, Barbie is 19 years old. Maria Teresa Hart, the author of the book Doll, points out that her age at the time of her introduction would have put her on the precipice of two possible paths: marriage and babies or continuing her current lifestyle as a Career Girl with a bevy of friends. “That ambiguity is part of the attraction: she’s at this tipping point where she could make a variety of choices,” says Hart. “Every avenue is open to her.”


And yet Barbie never travels down the avenue of parenthood, unless you count the amount of time she spent caring for her sisters, Stacey and Chelsea. (If, during your childhood, Barbie’s youngest sister was named Kelly: congratulations, you’re officially old and missed Kelly’s rebrand as Chelsea in 2011.) Barbie’s childlessness was intentional: Handler wanted to show her daughter that fulfillment can exist outside of the home. In the film, her open-plan, multi-story dream house is a dwelling for one—no child safety, no doors. “It’s very definitely a house for a single woman,” production designer Sarah Greenwood told Architectural Digest.

Barbie’s other accessories weren’t made with would-be kids in mind, either—the Barbie Porsche convertible I had as a child definitely didn’t have a car seat, and the only baby in sight belonged to the much-maligned Midge, a visibly pregnant doll who was discontinued as Barbie’s bestie in 1967, only to reappear later as Barbie’s married mother friend sans baby bump (though she still angered conservative parents who thought she wasn’t coded strongly enough as a married woman). Documentary filmmaker Therese Schechter, who most recently directed the child-free doco My So-Called Selfish Life, expresses incredulity about Midge’s predicament. “No one has children in that world; why is Midge going to have a baby?”

For some, Barbie might still just be a silly doll with an eternally perky and unattainable body. But, as Willa Paskin wrote, Barbie being child-free “remains one of the most radical things about her.” And in a country hell-bent on forcing more and more people to give birth, her childlessness takes on a new and refreshing meaning. As Robbie noted in Vogue, Barbie doesn’t have reproductive organs—which is probably why the elected representatives of Barbieland haven’t tried to police what she does in the Dreamhouse bedroom.

Scarlett Harris is a culture critic and author of the book A Diva Was a Female Version of a Wrestler: An Abbreviated Herstory of World Wrestling Entertainment. You can follow her on Twitter @ScarlettEHarris and read her previously published work at her website, The Scarlett Woman.

Moms Can Do Anything…Even Shape an Election

By Dr. Gillian Frank


This headline appeared on Fox News’ chyron on June 7 beneath Nikki Haley, the former governor of South Carolina and current presidential candidate. It punctuated her defense (and praise) of the far-right group Moms for Liberty, an organization that the Southern Poverty Law Center recently classified as a hate group. But Haley isn’t the only one signing up to be a “joyful warrior”; conservative politicians are lining up to court the group’s endorsement, which, if gained, can go a long way to securing a victory in 2024. 

Why are conservatives glomming onto a fringe group of so-called concerned parents? Over the past two-and-a-half years, Moms for Liberty has established branches across the United States and become a powerbroker in local and statewide elections. And the group’s ascent has been fueled, in part, because it has revitalized decades-old conservative rhetoric of “mother knows best,” “family values,” and “parental rights.” That language has helped MFL become the chosen vehicle for conservatives to express anti-Black, anti-LGBTQ, and anti-statist ideas and policies. 

A little backstory: The founders of Moms for Liberty are three Floridian women with deep ties to the state’s Republican Party. They organized the group in 2021 to oppose masking requirements and other COVID remediation measures. Their slogan “We Do Not Co-Parent With the Government” quickly caught on in far-right circles, and MFL’s leaders became fixtures on right-wing media platforms, their organization swiftly growing across dozens of states. 

Screenshot via Twitter

After Florida’s governor prohibited vaccination and masking requirements in public schools in mid-2021, MFL no longer had their initial cause to cleave to and became a solution in search of a problem. The group remained focused on classrooms but trained its sights on long-standing conservative targets like textbooks, library books, and classroom curricula; anything that, in their words, promoted “woke indoctrination.” Right-wing media outlets with national audiences continued to showcase and validate these efforts, prompting local and national politicians to attend their fundraiser events and conservative donors to support them financially. Together right-wing media, politicians, and funders helped the group rapidly grow its membership, cultivate and endorse candidates, and spread its message even further.   

The core of that message involves policing gender, racial, and sexual diversity, putting the group in lockstep with the priorities of the Republican Party. Trans youth hold an outsized place in MFL’s imagination. And in the name of “protecting” kids from trans folks and what they call “Gender Critical Theory,” they have successfully undertaken drives to fire teachers, censor books, and restrict what can be taught in the classroom. 

But these maternalist campaigns are far from new. Since the 20th century, as historian Michelle Nickerson notes, conservative mothers have “put themselves forward as representatives of local interests who battled bureaucrats for the sake of family, community, and God.” Such conservative mothers’ groups, Nickerson explains, launched “local crusades” and often “successfully overpowered school administrators, boards of education, and teachers…by anointing themselves spokespeople…” Crack open the annals of conservative activism and you can find self-identified mothers battling sex education, school integration, communism, the ERA, and numerous other issues. 

Republican presidential candidate Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks during the Moms for Liberty Joyful Warriors national summit (Photo by Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images)

But, of course, MFL’s simultaneous opposition to “critical race theory” and “gender critical theory” has local roots in Florida. And the electoral vote-rich state, which has historically been the centerpiece of presidential campaigns, has in turn shaped national politics.

Since the 1950s, conservative opposition to LGBTQ rights in Florida has been intertwined with its opposition to African American rights. And the language used to oppose both the full inclusion of African Americans and LGBTQ folks was (and remains) protecting (white) children and (white) “parents’ rights.” In 1956, two years after the Supreme Court's Brown v. Board of Education decision, and against the backdrop of massive resistance to integration, the Florida Legislative Investigative Committee, known as the Johns Committee, worked to neutralize African American civil rights organizations and the ongoing attempts to integrate Florida’s schools. When lawsuits stopped these racist pursuits, the committee shifted gears to investigate lesbian and gay teachers in Florida’s schools. Cheering on the Johns Committee’s efforts were White Citizens Councils and women’s groups like the Women’s Republican Club of St. Petersburg.

Using language that presaged MFL’s accusations of “grooming” and “indoctrination,” the Johns Committee argued that homosexual teachers were especially dangerous to schoolchildren because of a “desire to recruit them” and went even further by claiming “homosexuals are made by training rather than born.” 

Republican presidential candidate former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley speaks during the Moms for Liberty Joyful Warriors national summit at the Philadelphia Marriott. (Photo by Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images)

As the Johns Committee hounded civil rights leaders in the 1950s and terrorized teachers suspected of being gay or lesbian in the 1960s, reactionary Floridians continued to support statewide and local Citizens Councils. One of the first statewide efforts (which MFL members have since mirrored) was a 1957 attempt to purge progressive books from school libraries across the state, including a book containing the work of African American artists. In an effort to force the Florida Congress of Parents and Teachers to adopt a segregation resolution, Citizens Councils also targeted local PTAs with letter-writing campaigns, in which they alleged “a lot of teachers in the state are brainwashing the children and are teaching that white and Negro students should mix socially. A check should be made on all teachers through the state and anyone found guilty should be fired immediately.” Parents’ rights and white supremacy became interchangeable terms in the conservative lexicon, with the former becoming code for the latter.

History is not quite repeating itself, but it certainly is rhyming. There are numerous MFL-led or inspired efforts underway: In South Carolina, MFL school board members fired one district’s first Black superintendent and are seeking to ban books from libraries that teach “critical race theory.” In Tennessee, MFL members are seeking to remove children’s books about Martin Luther King Jr., Ruby Bridges, and Sylvia Mendez. In one Pennsylvania county, MFL-backed school board members have implemented policies that have, among other things, barred rainbow pride flags. With 275 MFL-endorsed candidates now holding office, the list goes on. In yoking together racial anxieties and sexualized fears, Moms for Liberty has taken the greatest hits out of the far-right playbook and reinvigorated them. 

 In the 1930s, James Waterman Wise famously warned that American fascism would be “wrapped up in the American flag and heralded as a plea for liberty and preservation of the constitution.” Wise was partially right. These anti-democratic impulses also come wrapped in images of family and as pleas to save “our” children. Indeed, MFL’s well-tested strategy of protecting “our” children from external dangers reinforces the notion that LGBTQ and African American youth are not “us,” and that they and their stories do not belong in “our” spaces. Even more pernicious, the language of maternalism and child protection seeks to obscure the anti-democratic political machinery at play—to make the work look homey and grassroots. 

When presented with the image of a mother acting in the “best interest” of children, we are meant to not ask important questions like: Whose mother are you? Whose liberty do you stand for? Are all children being protected by your efforts? With the 2024 elections looming, these are some of the questions that we’ll need to keep asking over, and over, and over.  

A Seat at Audie Cornish's Table

“The goal isn't to make people feel foolish or dumb.”


Veteran journalist Audie Cornish does not come to play. The former co-host of NPR’s All Things Considered has long been considered a serious interviewer (at CNN, where she moved last year, she recently took now-former chief Chris Licht to task for platforming Trump). Now she has a new podcast on CNN called “The Assignment.” And whether it’s questioning a parent activist on their true motivations or talking to an OnlyFans star, she knows exactly what she’s doing and why she’s doing it. As a fellow interviewer who is slightly obsessed with the process, I was eager to hear more about Cornish’s own style—and what stays with her after it’s all said and done. 

Rebecca Carroll: You’ve long emphasized your commitment to amplifying the voices of “regular people” in your work. In this social media-crazed landscape—I think I’ve heard you refer to it as the attention economy, where people are not really interested in regular folks unless they go viral—my question for you is, how do you make regular folks interesting?

Audie Cornish: ...There wouldn’t be social media if we weren’t all interesting and interested in each other, and it wouldn’t have changed the celebrity journalism landscape. We have a system that rewards what we call “stars”—people who we think have a singular magnetism and talent who are cultivated as such, and put on a pedestal for much of their lives, until we tear them down. I think what I'm saying is…We also can share our actual knowledge, share the wisdom that we've learned in our lives, and I'm finding that to be really deeply engaging.

I went all the way back to listen to the first episode of “The Assignment” in preparation for this interview. And in that episode, you are engaged with two parent activists from Florida whose primary concern, it seemed to me, was that teachers in schools are teaching their children with the bias that America is a racist country. But America is a racist country. You navigated the conversation deftly, but I wondered if you ever felt, specifically during that interview, like saying, “Actually, you’re wrong. That’s just not factually correct”? 

I think what you’re asking for is a different kind of show. And I don’t mean to be obtuse here, but you saying with such certainty that it’s a racist country—there are very many people who would say the exact opposite with complete and total certainty! And I think that in that first episode what I wanted to introduce to the audience was that this is a show where you're going to get heard all the way out, and if people dislike you, it’ll be for your best take, not your worst take. The goal is not to make people feel foolish or dumb; it's to find people who are in the middle of a maelstrom of some kind, who are in the middle of a story that's changing rapidly, and to find out what it's like for them.

I think what I wanted to do with that first show is to get everyone situated, no matter what your political beliefs are—to say, “Okay, this is how we're going to talk at my table.” And there are plenty of places for you to go where people will be like, “You're racist, please leave.” But this table is not that.

The most distinctive voice in journalism. (Photo by Dave Pedley/Getty Images for SXSW)

What is it that you’re really trying to do with the show? And how you are feeling as you do it in a climate where we are grappling with divisive news outlets and audiences, and an industry that is under enormous scrutiny in general? 

Every single episode is through the lens of: This is a weird corner of the world [where] something's going on, and what really is it? Is it really a fight about school boards, or is it about your fundamental vision of this country and how you seek to 'rectify' a story that's been told about it? I think [the existing news landscape] makes it really hard for people to understand the scope of problems sometimes. Everything is just kind of something on the internet that makes me mad. I just think not knowing is not helping.

What drives your curiosity, and how do you keep the faith that an interview is going to yield that unique conversation?

I have no such faith. No audience is given unearned. Nobody is owed anything. This is the news. This is journalism. This is actually how my brain works: I want to know, “What are you really getting at? What's your motivation for being here? Why are you here and not there?” And to me, that’s everything, that’s life. It’s the root of us. 

Say more about that.

I just approach everything like a listener. I have questions, and I think that's really it. That's not a catchphrase. I think if I had more answers, I'd be an activist. Because then my job as an activist is to imagine the world as it could be and try to convince people to get there. What drives me is question, question, conversation, question, question, conversation. That's where I live and breathe. I keep going because there's more stuff to ask, because there’s more to tease out and pull apart to help find clarity.

Public radio icon. (Photo by Brad Barket/Getty Images for Vulture) Festival

So who helps you find the clarity? 

I mean, my guests? I pick my topics for a reason. I think everyday people do have answers and common sense. They want the same things. They want to take care of their kids. They want to take care of their families. And in general, they don't want to hurt other people to do it, ideally. I think my nature, as I learned from one of our episodes, as a Libra, is to try to find some kind of balance. I want to find the person who really knows the answer. And I'm just going to keep booking guests until I find them.

And what does it feel like when you find the answer?

Imagine that feeling you had as a kid, that high. Like the moment when you learn something you didn't know, or you heard something you didn't know. You never feel that?

But I’m asking you, because you do have a tendency to answer questions with questions.

I mean, it's real. It's not a shtick. That's my high, that's my drug. And now I've learned something new—this conversation is going to transform how I think of you and us, because we had this moment. And that's very different from the relationship we had before, which was at a distance. I mean technically, I know what you think, I've read your work, but I didn't really know you. I think that people sometimes mistake those online personas as knowing people and what they're all about, and being able to say, “Fuck off.” I will never be able to say that to you, because we had our moment of intimacy and dialogue, and that’s amazing. I could do that all day.

I wonder about these moments, and both the connections made between you and your guests, and the connection your guests make with each other. Do you miss them after the conversation is over? 

Oh my god, I hear their voices in my head all the time. Whatever they felt, I feel for days after. But I don't regret having [the conversation], and I've exchanged lovely notes with them since. But all my notes are pretty much the same, which say, “Thank you.”

Rebecca Carroll is a writer, cultural critic, and podcast creator/host. Her writing has been published widely, and she is the author of several books, including her recent memoir, Surviving the White Gaze. Rebecca is Editor at Large for The Meteor.

"Your worst case scenario is something we would kill for"


Reproductive rights advocate Robin Marty on what's really happening in states with abortion bans

April 5, 2023

In the wake of Friday’s Supreme Court decision to block a Texas’ judge ruling that would have overturned the Food and Drug Administration’s 2000 approval of the abortion drug mifepristone, many reproductive justice activists rejoiced. But Robin Marty, the director of operations for the West Alabama Women’s Center and the author of Handbook for a Post-Roe America, tells The Meteor, “I did not give a crap either way.”

That’s because where she lives, access to medical abortions is already illegal.

Marty spoke to The Meteor after the decision about what the case meant to patients in states like hers—and what we all can do to help.

Megan Carpentier: As someone working in reproductive healthcare in a state that recently made abortion illegal, why did you find the Friday’s decision anticlimactic?

Robin Marty: I did not give a crap either way because it feels like this entire lawsuit exists solely for two reasons: It exists so that the anti-abortion movement feels like they’re doing something. They needed another fight to keep pressure on politicians, to keep activists engaged, and to keep raising money.

But it also exists because it could divide our movement. Until the point at which this decision happened, blue states were at least trying to provide some sort of assistance to states like mine. After the decision, they all got distracted and began thinking: How do we maintain our own status quo? and began spending all their money buying as much medicine as they can.

They are so busy trying to make sure that abortion remains exactly as it is in blue states, and the red states are left to flounder.

What do you think the end game is for anti-abortion activists?

We know that the goal is to end up with a complete federal abortion ban. They believe that, somehow, they are going to be able to create a Christian theocracy. I don’t see how that’s ever truly going to exist—but also, I did not imagine democracy falling apart as quickly as it has over the last four years. And, being in Alabama, I can see what it will look like if we end up in a place where we no longer have a functioning federal government that ties all these states together.

Honestly, Alabama opted out of the federal government years ago. They opted out of expanding Medicaid under Obamacare. They opted out of using federal COVID funding on actual healthcare; instead, they chose to build a prison for a billion dollars. And after abortion was made illegal and the federal government tried to say, “The veterans’ hospitals are federally-funded sites, so we can have this tiny little bit of abortion available there, for people who are on veterans insurance and either have had pregnancies as a result of sexual assault or are having health complications.” Our attorney general literally said, “No, you can’t do that. If a doctor does that, I’m going to arrest him and throw him in jail for 99 years.”

And then the federal government just kind of said, “Oh, I guess you’re right.”

[Ed note: They did offer to defend healthcare workers who get arrested.]

Alabama is not playing by the rules of the rest of the country and what worries me is that Alabama is the bellwether of what red states are going to try and get away with.

What should women or organizations be doing to help in states like Alabama?

I would love to see something really big and bold. I would love to see people actually pressing back against these laws.

I have this fantasy and, in my fantasy, I contact 50 really well-known superstars—actors, musicians, etc.—and they all come down to Alabama with one pack of medication abortion. And patients come (because patients aren’t supposed to be able to be arrested over this) and each one of these superstars—Gweneth Paltrow, everybody—says, “OK, here’s your medication.” They hand it out to the patients and they risk the 99 years in jail, because we can’t do it. People like me, people like Dr. Leah Torres, we can’t take that risk right now…but they can.

They have the resources, they have the endless amounts of money to spend on lawyers. Imagine if they just came down here and did that as an active act of defiance.

What is one thing blue state readers should take away?

There is a possibility that mifepristone could disappear but, if that does happen, it’s not that big of a deal. The sky is not falling. There are other medications that can be used. Yeah, it’s not as pleasant, but they will still have access to all misoprostol, to methotrexate, to all the other things that you can use. You’ll be able to still get your procedural abortions. Your worst case scenario is something that we would kill to be able to have access to here.

Megan Carpentier is currently a freelance editor. She’s also worked at Oxygen, NBC News, The Guardian, and Jezebel, among other places. Her work has been published in Dame, Rolling Stone, Glamour, The New Republic, and many more.

"You can't just cherry-pick history"

A right-wing icon dethroned ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌