TIME Nigeria

Nigeria Says Boko Haram Cease-Fire May Lead to Release of Kidnapped Girls

Kidnapped schoolgirls are seen at an unknown location in this still image taken from an undated video released by Boko Haram
Kidnapped schoolgirls are seen at an unknown location in this still image taken from an undated video released by Boko Haram. Reuters

More than 200 schoolgirls were kidnapped in April, sparking the #BringBackOurGirls campaign

A top military official in Nigeria was reported Friday to have announced a cease-fire between the government and the military group Boko Haram, igniting both skepticism and hopes that more than 200 schoolgirls who were kidnapped in April would be released.

The truce was announced by Air Marshall Alex Badeh, Nigeria’s chief of defense, the BBC reports. The release of the girls is still being negotiated, Maj. Gen. Chris Olukolade added, according to the Associated Press, but the cease-fire would begin immediately and could take take several days to reach the groups of militants.

“Already, the terrorists have announced a cease-fire in furtherance of their desire for peace. In this regard, the government of Nigeria has, in similar vein, declared a cease-fire,” said Mike Omeri, a government spokesman on Boko Haram, at a news conference. The AP adds that Omeri confirmed negotiations about the girls’ potential release were held throughout the week.

“They’ve assured us they have the girls and they will release them,” government aid Hassan Tukur told the BBC. “I am cautiously optimistic.” He also said that final negotiations are scheduled to take place next week.

There was no announcement immediately released by the insurgent group, according to the New York Times.

Reports of the deal were met with hesitation by those who have followed the saga since the girls were abducted from their school in Chibok on April 14. The Nigerian government has in the past misled the public about the girls’ status; its fight against Boko Haram has been fraught with challenges since the militant group rose up in 2009, from inefficiency and corruption in the military to lax local support in the northern communities that are threatened most.

Boko Haram, which released a video in May that claimed responsibility for the girls’ abductions and vowed to “sell them on the market, by Allah,” has previously demanded the release of rebel prisoners in exchange for their freedom. But Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, who has faced intense global pressure to free the students, said that’s a trade he will not make.

In August, the Wall Street Journal reported that American surveillance planes spotted groups that appeared to be the missing girls, suggesting that not all of them had been sold into marriage or slavery — as feared — and that some were perhaps being kept as a bargaining tactic.

TIME Nigeria

Why the Girls Kidnapped by Boko Haram Still Aren’t Home

Experts say the plight of the girls are "symbolic" of the larger problems in Nigeria's fight against the militant group

A lot has happened since April 14th. Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was shot down in Ukraine; the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) seized vast swathes of Iraq; and Ebola has killed thousands in Africa, and spread to at least two other continents. In our hyper-speedy news cycle, six months passes in a blink of an eye. But for the schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram militants when they struck the northeastern Nigerian village of Chibok in April, it probably feels like a lifetime. The militants abducted 276 girls; six months on, more than 200 remain in captivity.

Why haven’t they been rescued yet? Largely, observers say, because of Nigeria’s failure to effectively counter Boko Haram, which has claimed thousands of lives over the years in its violent campaign to carve out a hardline religious state in the north of the country. “The problem is that the girls are symbolic,” says Adotei Akwei, managing director for advocacy for Amnesty International USA. “They’re part of a larger human rights catastrophe, a bad situation in Nigeria.”

“Nigeria’s military strategy isn’t working well,” he continues. “We clearly have not been able to get the girls back, or to change the mindset or approach of the Nigerian government in terms of how it responds to Boko Haram or how it protects its citizens”

Carl LeVan, a professor at American University in Washington D.C. who writes about Nigeria, adds that many civilians consider the Nigerian military almost as bad as Boko Haram when it comes to human rights violations, even as the rebels continue their reign of terror in the north.

Akwei says the problems with the Nigerian military also hinder international efforts to lend a hand. “The Nigerian military has got such a bad reputation that even the US military is concerned about how much they can cooperate because of the kind of abuses we’ve documented,” he explains. “There’s no transparency, no accountability whatsoever.”

The military has an embarrassing track record when it comes to fighting the militant group. Earlier this year, they claimed to have rescued the girls the day after the abduction, but then had to retract that claim. In late May, they released a statement saying they knew where the girls were being held, but wouldn’t use force to rescue them. And in a tragic incident early last month, several Nigerian troops were killed by their own airstrikes aimed at Boko Haram.

U.S. planes spotted large groups of girls in early August that might have been the kidnapped students. Time, however, continues to drag on without a rescue—and, says Jennifer Cook, the director of the Africa Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the longer they stay in captivity, the harder it becomes to bring back the missing girls.

“With hostage situations with this many people, to bring one set back without endangering another set is very difficult,” says Cooke. “In some cases, there’s a pretty good idea of where they are, but extricating them from a group of armed criminals who have so little respect for life is a difficult negotiation process. And the longer they’re there, the greater likelihood they become dispersed, and the more difficult they are to track down.”

According to Cooke, the big-picture strategy for fighting the insurgency would involve capturing key Boko Haram leaders and cutting off funding sources to weaken the militant group. But it’s also important for the government to win the support of communities in that part of the country, where many feel both abandoned by the administration and terrorized by Boko Haram.

“A lot of civilians are feeling pinched between the terror of Boko Haram and the misbehaviors of the Nigerian military,” says LeVan, whose book on Nigeria, Dictators and Democracy in African Development, is set to be released later this month. “They said ‘we’re trapped, we’re fleeing Boko Haram but we also don’t have anywhere to go because our military is suspicious of us.'”

Winning the hearts of northern Nigerians is crucial to stopping the violence and finding the girls, but some communities are reluctant to support the government for fear of violent reprisals from Boko Haram, and because they don’t trust the government to protect them. Cooke says that “fundamental distrust” in the north is one of the government’s biggest impediments to finding the girls, because it makes it much more difficult to get accurate information. In the meantime, the girls are no better off. “These girls are being held under absolutely horrific circumstances, subjected to sexual violence and rape, forced into servitude,” she said. “There are reports that some have become pregnant.”

If those reports are true—and there’s a good chance they are, based on Boko Haram’s history of impregnating abducted women—the pregnant girls could face even greater challenges down the road. Sister Rosemary Nyirumbe runs the Saint Monica Girls’ Tailoring Center in Uganda, where she helps girls who have been victims of sexual violence rebuild their lives with their children, who are often outcasts in their communities. “Because the situation they are taken in, I would not be surprised if a good number of them are pregnant,” she says. “Raising the child of a person who has been maltreating you is always [hard.] That is why there is violence and anger returned on these children. Because they give [the mother] that reminder of the pain they have gone through.”

Sister Rosemary says that if the girls are ever released, they may have trouble re-joining their families and communities. That’s why continuing their education will be crucial for helping them move forward.

“If we leave these kids and say, they cannot catch up, I think we just are going to destroy them more.”

But before anybody can worry about education and rehabilitation, the girls have to come home. “Our world must not forget these adolescent girls,” says Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, the Executive Director of UN Women and a United Nations Under-Secretary-General. “The world must come together and make every possible effort to rescue these girls and bring their captors to justice. We cannot and must not move on with this humanitarian tragedy still unresolved.”

TIME conflict

ISIS Defends Enslaving Women in New Magazine

A member loyal to the ISIL waves an ISIL flag in Raqqa
A member loyal to the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) waves a flag in Raqqa, Syria on June 29, 2014. Reuters

Article appears in the latest edition of its English-language online magazine

The militant group Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) appeared to defend its enslavement of women on Sunday in the latest edition of its English-language online magazine.

An article in the fourth issue of Dabiq said the practice of taking women and girls of the enemy is firmly established in the Quran and allowed under the strict laws by which they claim to abide. Anyone who criticized the group’s taking of women and girls as sex slaves, the article continued, would be criticizing Islam and mocking the Prophet Muhammed. Analysts and journalists, among others, began to parse out its contents on Twitter.

The publication came as Human Rights Watch (HRW) published an extensive report on ISIS’s sexual enslavement of women, specifically of the Yezidi minority in Iraq. The organization interviewed 76 Yezidis displaced in Duhok, Zakho, Erbil and other areas of Iraqi Kurdistan. They reported that ISIS was holding 366 of their relatives.

One 17-year old girl who escaped told HRW that a “big bearded man” picked her out from a group of detainees in Mosul. “You are mine,” he said.

TIME Opinion

The Harry Potter Generation Has Been Waiting for Malala

Malala Yousafzai acknowledges the crowd at a press conference at the Library of Birmingham after being announced as a recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday.
Malala Yousafzai acknowledges the crowd at a press conference at the Library of Birmingham after being announced as a recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday. Christopher Furlong—Getty Images

Why Malala Yousafzai's story sounds so familiar

Everybody knows the story: A chosen child. A powerful enemy. A flash of light. A forehead with a scar.

Sound familiar? It should. Nobel Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai’s story sounds like a non-magical parallel version of the Harry Potter story. She was a persecuted child who found refuge in education. She survived a death sentence to become the most famous kid in the world. She uses that fame to fight evil and protect schools. And now that she has a Nobel Peace Prize under her belt and political aspirations in her future, Malala is poised to become the first world leader from Generation Potter.

The tale of a 17-year old Pakistani schoolgirl sharing the Nobel Peace Prize for her work on behalf of girls’ education would bring a tear to anyone’s eye. But something about her resemblance to the most beloved character in Millennial culture makes Malala especially resonant with a generation of young Westerners who were weaned on Butterbeer.

It would be glib to call Malala’s very real fight for justice and Harry Potter’s fictional quest a case of life imitating art. It’s not even clear that Malala has read the entire Harry Potter series — she recently told the New York Times that books were so scarce in Pakistan that she read only seven or eight books before she moved to England. But even if Malala herself might not have been absorbed in the world of Hogwarts (she’s a little busy, after all) the generation she represents is responsible for buying more than 450 million copies of Harry Potter books, making it the most popular book series in history. The people who hear her story have probably read Harry’s, or seen the films, and even if they don’t consciously make the connection, the subliminal echoes are there. Of TIME’s 25 Most Influential Teens of 2014, Malala has been voted most influential by far: just a few hours after the poll was launched, 54% percent of respondents said she was the most influential teen of the year, more than all other candidates combined.

Of course there’s nothing magical about Malala’s fight to educate girls, and if there were a spell against Islamic extremism, the Pentagon would have used it by now. Malala herself seems painfully aware of the lack of easy solutions, writing in I am Malala: “Once again, I prayed for a magic wand to make the Taliban disappear.” But in awarding the 2014 Peace Prize to Malala Yousafzai and Indian child-rights activist Kailash Satyarthi, the Nobel Prize Committee made a statement about the power of youth, one that Dumbledore would surely endorse. “It is a prerequisite for peaceful global development that the rights of children and young people be respected,” the committee said Friday when they announced the award. “The violation of children leads to the continuation of violence from generation to generation.”

Or, as Dumbledore put it in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince: “Age is foolish and forgetful when it underestimates youth.”

Both Malala and Harry became powerful because of their enemies’ attempts to kill them. “They thought that the bullets would silence us, but they failed,” Malala said at the UN in July 2013, in her first public appearance since the Oct. 2012 shooting on her way to school. “And out of that silence came thousands of voices. The terrorists thought they would change my aims and stop my ambitions. But nothing changed in my life except this: weakness, fear and hopelessness died. Strength, power and courage was born.”

If the Taliban had read Harry Potter, they might recognize that in trying to kill Malala, they created a powerful threat. “In marking you with that scar, he did not kill you, as he intended, but gave you powers, and a future,” Dumbledore told Harry in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.

But Malala and Harry share more than their badass scars. They’re both motivated by the belief that schools cultivate the forces for good that are necessary to combat forces of evil, and that justice grows out of the classroom. Harry Potter’s quest to destroy Voldemort is also a quest to save Hogwarts. Malala’s crusade to ensure that every girl has an education is also aimed at eradicating terrorism. Both see education as the antidote to fear. (More after the jump)

The most powerful narratives are often the ones that remind us of stories we’ve heard before. That’s why Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy are compared to the floods in Noah’s Ark, the “Miracle on Ice” hockey upset at the 1980 Winter Olympics was considered a “David-and-Goliath” story, even Will and Kate’s Royal Wedding had an whiff of Cinderella to it. True stories that resemble fictional ones have a feel of mythicism to them, a blurring of the line between reality and legend that allows us to amplify our humble times into something worthy of fable. “Mythology,” wrote Joseph Campbell in his 1949 treatise The Hero With a Thousand Faces, “is psychology misread as biography, history, and cosmology.”

But when you’re just a kid, that kind of mythology can be hard to shoulder. Part of Harry Potter’s appeal comes from being just a regular 11-year old struggling to live up to the legend of the Boy Who Lived. “Famous Harry Potter,” taunted Draco Malfoy in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. “Can’t even go to a bookshop without making the front page.” Malala will surely know what that’s like. While her classmates in England may have gone to field hockey practice or to the movies after school on Friday, Malala accepted the Nobel Peace Prize.

This young woman will grow up freighted with unimaginable challenges and elevated by her uncommon courage. And like Harry, she’s proved that you don’t have to be an adult to change the world. As he puts it in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. “Every great wizard in history has started out as nothing more than what we are now, students. If they can do it, why not us?”

Read next: Malala Yousafzai Wins Nobel Peace Prize 2 Years After Shooting

TIME Crime

Judge Says Women Aren’t Entitled to Privacy in Public Places

The case of an alleged upskirt photographer was at issue

Correction appended, Oct. 15

Prosecutors have dropped a case against a man accused of taking photographs up women’s skirts at the Lincoln Memorial, after a local judge ruled the photographs inadmissible and said women in public places shouldn’t have an expectation of privacy.

Christopher Cleveland was arrested in June 2013 for allegedly taking photographs of the crotches and butts of women sitting on the steps to the national monument. On Aug. 28, D.C. Superior Court Judge Juliet McKenna ruled that the photographs would be inadmissible, leading the U.S. Attorney’s Office to drop the case against Cleveland last last month.

Prosecutors filed a motion to keep the photographs admissible, writing that women are entitled to a “reasonable expectation of privacy” while sitting on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. In her ruling to suppress evidence, Judge McKenna wrote, “Some women are seated in such a way that their private areas, including the upper inches of their buttocks, are clearly visible. … This court finds that no individual clothed and positioned in such a manner in a public area in broad daylight in the presence of countless other individuals could have a reasonable expectation of privacy.”

Which means Christopher Cleveland, and other photographers like him, are free to snap away as they please.

Correction: The original version of this story misstated the date of Judge Juliet McKenna’s ruling.

TIME Nobel Peace Prize

Malala: I Feel ‘More Powerful’ After Nobel Win

Peace Prize laureate said she and co-winner Kailash Satyarthi will use the shared award to strengthen the relationship between India and Pakistan

Updated 2:19p.m. ET

Pakistani education rights advocate Malala Yousafzai said Friday her Nobel Peace Prize would motivate her to redouble her efforts on behalf of girls’ education and children’s rights.

In a short speech reacting to the award, the 17-year-old Nobel laureate also said that she and Indian co-winner Kailash Satyarthi would use the shared award as an opportunity to build peace between India and Pakistan.

“I felt more powerful and more courageous, because this award is not just a piece of metal… its really an encouragement for me to go forward and to believe in myself,” Malala said. “This is not the end of the campaign I have started. This is only the beginning.”

“I want to tell children all around the world that they should stand up for their rights, they shouldn’t wait for someone else,” she continued. “This award is for all those children who are voiceless, whose voices need to be heard.”

Malala also said that she and Satyarthi, an advocate against child labor, had spoken on the phone after winning the award, and had discussed working together to fight for the rights of children in both India and Pakistan:

We are the two Noble award receivers, one from Pakistan, one from India, one believes in Hinduism, one believes strongly in Islam. It gives a message to people, it gives a message to people of love between Pakistan and India, between different religions. If we both support each other it does not matter the colour of your skin, what language you speak, what religion you believe in. It is that we should all consider each other human beings and respect each other and we should all fight for our rights, the rights of children, or the rights of women and the rights of every human being.

She said they also agreed to request that their respective Prime Ministers, Narendra Modi of India and Nawaz Sharif of Pakistan, attend the Nobel Prize Ceremony in December, in order to build a stronger relationship between the two nations.

President Obama, who won the award in 2009, congratulated the winners in a statement. “In recognizing Malala and Kailash, the Nobel Committee reminds us of the urgency of their work to protect the rights and freedoms of all our young people and to ensure they have the chance to fulfill their God-given potential, regardless of their background, or gender, or station in life,” he said. “Even as we celebrate their achievements, we must recommit ourselves to the world that they seek ­— one in which our daughters have the right and opportunity to get an education; and in which all children are treated equally.”

TIME gender

Microsoft’s Leadership Is Less Than 20% Female

Microsoft Corp Chief Executive Officer Satya NadellaSpeaks At Company Event
Satya Nadella, chief executive officer of Microsoft Corp., speaks to students during the Microsoft Talent India conference in New Delhi, India, on Tuesday, Sept. 30, 2014. Bloomberg—Bloomberg via Getty Images

The company released diversity numbers just days before CEO Satya Nadella was lambasted for dissuaded women from asking for raises

Microsoft’s leadership is only 17.3% female, according to diversity numbers the company released Oct. 3, while women make up less than 30% of the entire company as a whole.

Those numbers are coming under new scrutiny after Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella was the target of severe backlash Thursday night after he suggested women should rely on “good karma” for promotions instead of directly asking for a raise.

“It’s not really about asking for a raise, but knowing and having faith that the system will give you the right raise,” Nadella said at the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing on Thursday. “That might be one of the initial ‘super powers’ that, quite frankly, women [who] don’t ask for a raise have. . . . It’s good karma. It will come back.”

Nadella apologized hours later in a tweet and a longer email to Microsoft staff, saying the comment was “inarticulate.”

According to the diversity numbers, women make up almost 45% of the non-tech jobs at Microsoft, but only 17% of the tech positions.

MORE: Microsoft’s CEO Tells Women It’s Bad Karma to Ask For a Raise

 

TIME world affairs

In Photos: 2014 Nobel Peace Prize Winner Malala Yousafzai

Two years and one day after she was shot in the head by the Taliban, the 17-year old education activist becomes the youngest person ever to win the Nobel Peace Prize. (She shares the honor with Kailash Satyarthi, who has long been campaigning against child exploitation in neighboring India)

TIME People

Malala Yousafzai Wins Nobel Peace Prize 2 Years After Shooting

A brief history of her life and work

Update: Oct. 10, 7:06 a.m. ET

Pakistani youth activist Malala Yousafzai was awarded the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize on Friday, an honor she shares with Kailash Satyarthi, who has long been campaigning against child exploitation in neighboring India. But until about two years ago, Malala was just a 15-year old blogger on a school bus with her friends. It was Oct. 9, 2012, when armed Taliban men boarded Malala’s bus and shot her in the head, transforming her from a minor Internet celebrity into an international symbol.

It’s hard to believe that she’s accomplished so much — including recovery from her injuries — in only two years, but Malala’s story actually started long before the assassination attempt that launched her to worldwide fame. She was born in the Swat valley in Pakistan, in 1997, to parents who encouraged her love for education from a young age. Her father, Ziauddin, opened a private school for boys and girls, partly to fight against gender discrimination in Pakistan. “My father educated my brother and me, but he didn’t send my sisters to school,” he told The Guardian. “I thought it was an injustice.” When Malala was born, he named her after a Pashtun heroine and never curbed her ambition.”Don’t ask me what I did, ask me what I did not do,” Ziauddin said in a TEDtalk about his daughter that quickly went viral, “I did not clip her wings.”

As a toddler, Malala would sit in classrooms in her father’s school and follow lessons for 10-year olds. Aryn Baker wrote in her 2012 profile of Malala for TIME:

By the time she was 2½, she was sitting in class with 10-year-olds, according to a close family friend and teacher at the school founded by Malala‘s father. The little girl with the huge hazel eyes didn’t say much, but “she could follow, and she never got bored,” says the teacher, who asked to remain anonymous for fear that she too might become a Taliban target. Malala loved the school, a rundown concrete-block building with a large rooftop terrace open to views of the snowcapped mountains that surround the Swat Valley. As she grew older, she was always first in her class. “She was an ordinary girl with extraordinary abilities,” says the teacher, “but she never had a feeling of being special.”

In 2008, everything changed. The Taliban gained control of the Swat region, banning DVDs, dancing, and beauty parlors. By the end of the year, over 400 schools were closed. Ziauddin took Malala to Peshawar, where she made a famous speech in front of national press titled “How Dare the Taliban Take Away My Basic Right to Education?” She was only 11.

In early 2009, Malala started blogging anonymously for the BBC about what it was like to live under the Taliban. Just a few days after she started, all girls schools were closed.

In retrospect, some parts of Malala’s blog seem like ominous foreshadowing: “On my way from school to home I heard a man saying ‘I will kill you’,” she wrote on Jan. 3, 2009. “I hastened my pace and after a while I looked back if the man was still coming behind me. But to my utter relief he was talking on his mobile and must have been threatening someone else over the phone.” But there are also humorous parts that remind us that, at the time, she was only 11: “My mother liked my pen name ‘Gul Makai’ and said to my father ‘why not change her name to Gul Makai?’ I also like the name because my real name means ‘grief stricken’.”

In December 2009, Ziauddin publicly identified his daughter, even though her real name has been widely suspected for months.

That proved to be a dangerous move. “We did not want to kill her, as we knew it would cause us a bad name in the media,” Sirajuddin Ahmad, a senior commander and spokesman for the Swat Taliban, told TIME for the 2012 magazine profile. “But there was no other option.”

In 2012, armed men boarded the converted truck that Malala and her classmates used as a makeshift school bus. “Which one is Malala?” one of them asked. “I think we must have looked at her,” Malala’s classmate Shazia Ramzan told TIME’s Aryn Baker. “We didn’t say anything, but we must have looked, because then he shot her.” Malala took a bullet to the head.

She endured a traumatic operation in Pakistan that left her with a (temporary) metal plate in her head while they stored a piece of her skull in her abdomen, to reattach when she’s healed enough. She was then airlifted to a hospital in Birmingham, England, where she had more medical treatment and extensive rehabilitation.

The rest of her story has played out in the public eye. Nine months after she was shot, Malala gave a now-famous speech at the UN. “They thought that the bullets would silence us. But they failed,” she said. “And then, out of that silence came thousands of voices. … Weakness, fear and hopelessness died. Strength, power and courage was born.”

Now relocated to England, Malala goes to Edgbaston School for Girls. She’s continued her high-profile campaign for girls’ education with The Malala Fund, which raises money to promote girls’ education. She’s used the fund as a platform to confront Barack Obama about drone strikes, help Syrian refugee children and demand the return of the Nigerian girls kidnapped by Boko Haram. And this September, she announced a $3 million multi-year commitment to partner with Echidna Giving to support girls education in developing countries.

Malala won Pakistan’s National Youth Peace Prize in 2011, before she was shot, but the prize been since renamed in her honor; it’s now the National Malala Peace Prize. She was shortlisted for TIME’s Person of the Year in 2012, and was one of the TIME 100 in 2013. She won a Mother Teresa Memorial Award for Social Justice in 2012 and the 2013 Simone de Beauvoir Prize for international human rights work on behalf of women’s equality.

Read more: “There Are Thousands of Malalas”

 

 

TIME Opinion

How Nudity Became the New Normal

Vanity Fair Cover Jennifer Lawrence November 2014
Vanity Fair

Millennials have no problem with nakedness, as long as they're in control

In an interview for the November issue of Vanity Fair, Jennifer Lawrence finally revealed how it felt to have her nude photos hacked and distributed on the internet this summer. “Anybody who looked at those pictures, you’re perpetuating a sexual offense,” she says. “I didn’t tell you that you could look at my naked body.”

“It’s my body, and it should be my choice, and the fact that it is not my choice is absolutely disgusting,” she continued.

The photos accompanying the Vanity Fair piece show Lawrence topless, in a swimming pool, wearing only a diamond necklace and holding a cockatoo. Lawrence is certainly not the first actress to sit for a tasteful topless shoot, but the difference between being hacked and choosing to pose for Vanity Fair says something about how millennials think about nudity. Nakedness isn’t about lack of clothing anymore– it’s about lack of control.

When it comes to our birthday suits, young people are more comfortable than ever with seeing and being seen. A 2014 Pew survey found that 44% of people aged 18-24 reported that they received sexts (which Pew defines as “sexually suggestive photos or videos”) while 15% reported sending one. That number is almost double the 2012 sexting rates, where only 26% of that age group reported receiving a sext. A study at Drexel University found that 28% of surveyed undergrads said they had sent photographic sexts while underage.

If these are the photos that young people admit to sending and receiving, imagine how many revealing photos are simply being taken. At this rate, 2028 presidential candidates won’t be trying to bury nude photos– they’ll be debating in nothing but red and blue ties.

Everywhere you look, naked is the new normal. Miley Cyrus’s mostly-naked 2013 “Wrecking Ball” video got over 700 million views on YouTube, and Robin Thicke’s 2013 hit video “Blurred Lines” was viewed over 300 million times despite objections to naked supermodels dancing on leashes. HBO has always been skin-friendly, but the last four years has seen an explosion of casual on-screen nudity everywhere from Brooklyn (in Girls) to Braavos (in Game of Thrones.) There’s even a reality show on VH1 called Dating Naked that features couples courting each other in the buff.

And from the ubiquitous shirtless selfie on Tinder to mayoral candidates’ “dick pics,” sexting works as a vehicle of instant intimacy in a world where genuine intimacy is harder than ever. “It’s our image, it’s not us,” explains sexuality educator Dr. Logan Levkoff. “We’re not engaging with someone face to face, so the perception is that we’re not vulnerable.”

In other words, nakedness can be an expression of strength, as long as you’re in control of the image. That’s the difference between Miley Cyrus’s Instagram of herself wearing ice cream-shaped pasties and Jennifer Lawrence’s selfies distributed against her will. It’s not the clothing that matters, it’s the context.

It’s the difference between posing nude and feeling naked. We use “naked” and “nude” like synonyms, but there have always been differences between bare bodies, even in art history. A naked figure is supposed to have clothes on, but doesn’t (like the naked woman surrounded by clothed men in Manet’s Luncheon on the Grass.) A nude figure doesn’t have to worry about pesky social conventions like pants, because it’s usually some kind of Classical or Biblical hero, like Michelangelo’s David.

The new nudity is even being used for political purposes in some contexts. Some people strip down to defy beauty standards, like the plus-size women who Instagram pictures of themselves in bikinis with the hashtag #fatkini. Others wear their birthday suits to protest censorship, like the Free the Nipple campaign. “We’re in a world where we fight so hard to talk about how how bodies come in all shapes in sizes,” says Dr. Levkoff. “So are there some girls that say ‘this is me, this is beautiful and I own it’ and post it online? Could be!”

But even kids who post nude selfies to prove how secure they are probably still bluffing, Dr. Levkoff says. “The majority of adolescents who are out there naked, its not because they’re necessarily comfortable, it’s because they want to show people they’re comfortable.” And when today’s teenagers are photoshopping out their stretch marks in 20 years… maybe the naked thing won’t be so much fun anymore.

When it comes to naked photos, technology acts as both a fig leaf and an vehicle of humiliation. On the one hand, a nude selfie gives the subject some control over the image—we can use filters, lighting, and specific angles to control how we’re represented. But what feels liberating and empowering at one moment can be mortifying when the photo gets into the wrong hands. And it’s not just risky for celebrities—nude selfies sent to jerk ex-boyfriends could be lurking anywhere on the internet, just waiting to crop up as soon as our future bosses Google our names.

Unless all our future bosses are also naked, holding a cockatoo.

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