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The Way You Grab Me

The science-for-kids show 3-2-1 Contact once had a visual depiction of how water boils that has stuck with me for years. A cartoon pot is filled with blue circles, which are supposed to represent water molecules at room temperature. A lid is placed on the pot and a flame is placed underneath it, and as time goes on, the molecules begin to move and bump into one another, increasing their temperature and the speed at which they move around. Eventually all that movement and heat results in the pot coming to a full boil, represented by the circles turning a bright red.

This image always enters my mind when I read internet discussions that catch fire and turn into vicious flame wars—the individual actors in the argument are the molecules, their words a cool blue before the bouncing up against each other increases the velocity and the temperature of the discussion, until the metaphorical lid is about to be blown off. Flames, boiling water, same difference, right?

2013 has been an up and down year for women, to say the least, although how far those fluctuations go depends on where, and how closely, you're looking. Republican politicians are still saying stupid things about rape while trying to legislate any uterus located within their jurisdiction; comedians are ham-handedly defending their right to tell rape jokes instead of workshopping said one-liners to realize why they for the most part aren't funny; pick-up "artistry," which effectively reduces male-female interactions to a game cruder than the original Leisure Suit Larry, exists; marketers of video games and film continue to narrow their demographic targets to males 18-34. And then there is popular music, which has always grappled with the gulfs between the sexes, and which is in the throes of another mini-war right now.

For the seventh week in a row, the No. 1 single in the country is Robin Thicke's "Blurred Lines," a Pharrell-produced, T.I.-cameoing club come-on tha...