TIME Opinion

The Beta Marriage: How Millennials Approach ‘I Do’

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Archive Holdings Inc.—Getty Images

We are a generation reared on technology and choice. Why wouldn’t we want to test a lifelong relationship first? How millennials are redefining "forever"

You could say I beta-tested my relationship.​

It began with a platform migration ​(a cross-country move) and a bandwidth challenge (cohabitation in a 450-sq.-ft. apartment). There was a false start (botched marriage proposal). Then, an emergency deglitching (couples therapy). We tried to take the product public before we were ready (I wrote about our relationship in Newsweek). And then, finally, we abandoned launch. There were simply too many bugs.

It’s a joke, kind of — except that when it comes to millennials and marriage, the beta test may be par for the course. And really, why wouldn’t it be? For a generation reared on technology, overwhelmed by choice, feedback and constant FOMO, isn’t testing a marriage, like we test a username, simply … well, logical?

The findings of a new survey certainly reveal so. In conjunction with a new television drama, Satisfaction, which premiered on USA Network last week, trend researchers asked 1,000 people about their attitudes toward marriage. They found all sorts of things: among them, that people cheat on the Internet (uh huh), that young people don’t think their relationships are like their parents’ (of course), and that everyone seems to have taken to the term uncoupling (yuck).

marriage

They also uncovered a surprising gem. Buried in the data was the revelation that almost half of millennials (43%, and higher among the youngest subset) said they would support a marriage model that involved a two-year trial — at which point the union could be either formalized or dissolved, no divorce or paperwork required. Thirty-three percent said they’d be open to trying what researchers dubbed the “real estate” approach — marriage licenses granted on a five-, seven-, 10- or 30-year ARM, after which the terms must be renegotiated. And 21% said they’d give the “presidential” method a try, whereby marriage vows last for four years but after eight you can elect to choose a new partner.

In total, nearly half of all of those surveyed, ages 18 to 49 — and 53% of millennials — thought marriage vows should be renewed, and nearly 40% said they believed the “till death do us part” vow should be abolished. In other words: Beta marriages! Unions you can test and deglitch, work out kinks or simply abandon course without consequence. “This is a generation that is used to this idea that everything is in beta, that life is a work in progress, so the idea of a beta marriage makes sense,” the study’s author, Melissa Lavigne-Delville, tells me. “It’s not that they’re entirely noncommittal, it’s just that they’re nimble and open to change.”

It’s not a new concept, entirely. In the 1970s, the anthropologist Margaret Mead predicted the growing popularity of “serial monogamy,” involving a string of monogamous marriages. Helen Fisher, the biological anthropologist, has advocated for much of the same: she believes humans aren’t meant to be together forever, but in short-term, monogamous relationships of three or four years. Stephanie Coontz, the author of Marriage: A History, has advised a marriage contract “reup” every five years — or before every major transition in life — “with a new set of vows that reflect what the couple has learned.”

More recently, Mexico City lawmakers proposed (unsuccessfully) a “renewable” marriage concept, whereby couples could simply renew or dissolve their unions after a period of two years. It’s not so unlike the setup described by a young writer in a Modern Love column in the New York Times last month, about how she overcomes “marriage anxiety” by renewing her vows with her husband every year like clockwork. “I think people are indeed trying to avoid failure,” says Andrew Cherlin, the author of The Marriage-Go-Round.

And, why wouldn’t they? The U.S. has the highest divorce rate in the Western world. The data show clearly that the longer we wait to get married the more successful our marriages will be. And it’s not like we can’t move in together in the meantime: the rate of unmarried cohabitation has risen 1,000% over the past four decades. Not all of our marriages will work, no — but when they do, they’ll work better than at any other time in history, say scholars. And when they don’t, why not simply avoid the hassle of a drawn-out divorce?

“Millennials aren’t scared of commitment — we’re just trying to do commitment more wisely,” says Cristen Conger, a 29-year-old unmarried but cohabitating podcast host in Atlanta. “We rigorously craft our social media and online dating profiles to maximize our chances of getting a first date, and ‘beta testing’ is just an extension of us trying to strategize for future romantic success.”

In an era where, according to the survey, 56% of women and men think a marriage can be successful even if it doesn’t last forever, that might just make sense. Scholars have observed for some time that attitudes toward divorce have become more favorable over the past decade. Millennials in particular are more likely to view divorce as a good solution to matrimonial strife, according to the sociologist Philip Cohen — and more likely to believe it should be easier to obtain.

And, of course, it’s easy to understand why. We’re cynical. We are a generation raised on a wedding industry that could fund a small nation, but marriages that end before the ink has dried. (As one 29-year-old survey respondent put it: “We don’t trust that institution.”) We are also less religious than any other generation, meaning we don’t enter (or stay) committed simply for God. We feel less bound to tradition as a whole (no bouquet tosses here).

And while we have among the highest standards when it comes to a partner — we want somebody who can be a best friend, a business partner, a soul mate — we are a generation that is overwhelmed by options, in everything from college and first jobs to who we should choose for a partner. “This is a generation who has not had to make as many long-term commitments as previous generations, so the idea of not having an out feels a little stringent,” says Lavigne-Delville. “Divorce has happened for a long time. Maybe we should rethink the rules.”

Indeed, at the end of the day, whatever you want to say about the hookup generation, or millennials’ inability to commit, the vast majority (69%, according to Pew) of millennials still want to get married. We simply need a little extra time to work out the kinks.

“Getting married is so much more weighted today, I get the impulse to want to test it,” says Hannah Seligson, the 31-year-old married author of A Little Bit Married, about 20-somethings and long-term unmarried relationships. At the same time, she adds, “I wonder if this is a false control study in a way. Yes, marriage terrifying, it’s probably the biggest leap of faith you’ll ever make. But you’ll never be able to peer into a crystal ball — or map it out on a spreadsheet.”

Bennett is a contributing columnist at TIME.com covering the intersection of gender, sexuality, business and pop culture. A former Newsweek senior writer and executive editor of Tumblr, she is also a contributing editor for Sheryl Sandberg’s women’s foundation, Lean In. You can follow her @jess7bennett.

TIME Culture

Why Masters of Sex Is the Most Feminist Show on Television

Michael Sheen as Dr. William Masters and Lizzy Caplan as Virginia Johnson in Masters of Sex
Michael Sheen as Dr. William Masters and Lizzy Caplan as Virginia Johnson in Masters of Sex Frank W Ockenfels—Showtime

How do you make a show about sex interesting in an era when we’re bombarded by it? Easy. Put three women behind the lens.

Michelle Ashford, Amy Lippman and Sarah Timberman are seated around a conference table ticking off a list of Hollywood sex scenes.

“Basic Instinct.”

“Out of Sight.”

“Remains of the Day.”

“Ohhh, Remains of the Day,” Lippman coos. “That’s a beautiful sex scene.”

It’s all research, of course. As the brains behind the Showtime series, Masters of Sex – which traces the lives of pioneering sex researchers William Masters and Virginia Johnson – the women needed to understand: What makes a sex scene sexy?

(Read this week’s story on the women behind Masters of Sex)

So they each sat down one night, with a series of sex scenes collected on a DVD. One by one, they dissected each carnal moment. “We literally had 50 movies,” says Ashford, the show’s creator and showrunner. “We wanted to find out what actually makes something, honest to God, sexy.”

What they found, naturally, was that it had little to do with the physical act – and everything to do with narrative. And so as the trio – creator and executive producers, respectively – prepared to film the pilot of Masters of Sex, Ashford made a rule: sex on this show couldn’t just be about sex. “We decided that sex had to be completely connected to story,” she tells TIME, in a profile in this week’s magazine. “So it was either funny or humiliating or curious or revelatory or… something.”

Ashford, Lippman and Timberman spoke to TIME about Masters and Johnson, sex on television, and how you keep a show about sex interesting in an era where we’re bombarded by it.

So you guys watched 50 sex scenes. What was the sexiest?

Ashford: We all agreed that Don’t Look Now, the Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie movie, from 1973, was memorably sexy. Michael Sheen (who plays Masters) loved it. We loved it. And our director, John Madden, said, ‘Every love scene I’ve ever directed was influenced by that movie.’ So when we went and watched the film again, we tried to figure out what were we all responding to. We just assumed it must not be trying to be sexy. But that’s actually not true — the sex is very sexy. But what they did was they shot that sex scene and then they intercut it with all these shots of that couple after sex, getting ready to go out for the evening. And so the aftermath of being together is on their faces, what this intimacy has meant to them. And so all of a sudden you get a whole story, because you’re seeing the sex but you’re also seeing the effect of the sex.

Is it rare to get that level of story and sex these days?

Ashford: I think in a lot of shows it’s still as if, OK, we’re going to have a lot of exposition, so we’re going to have two people humping in the background to make it more interesting.

Part of what makes Masters of Sex great is its willingness to treat sex like science.

Ashford: We show a lot of sex, but the discussion of sex is incredibly frank. We use the words vagina and clitoris, like, endlessly, and you really don’t find that on other television shows.

Lippman: I mean, I’m not a prude about this stuff, but [before this show] I don’t think I’d spoken the word dildo publicly … well, ever.

Ashford: And now you say it six times a day.

Lippman: An hour! It’s like, is the masturbation with the dildo, with out the dildo…

You talk about more serious topics too – there’s an episode on vaginismus, a rare sexual disorder, and even male impotence. Those are like the least sexy topics possible in a show about sex.

Ashford: We want this show to feel relatable … We want people out there watching, who don’t have perfect sex lives, who suffer from sexual dysfunction and insecurities and many nights of the worst dates ever, we all want those people to watch and say, ‘Well, that’s me.’

So there’s almost an underlying social mission.

Timberman: The show has really given us license to talk about a lot of these taboos.

How do you make sure you get the science right?

Ashford: One of Masters and Johnson’s claims-to-fame is that they disproved Freud’s theory that vaginal orgasms were superior to clitoral orgasms — which made half in the women in the world think they were “frigid.” But when we actually went to write that part of the script, we realized we didn’t understand the mechanics. So at one point, we had all these diagrams out to try and understand the difference between. It was hilarious, all of us writers gathered around this drawing, going, “Really, that’s how it works?”

It’s still pretty rare to find women running the show in Hollywood. How do you think your gender influences the way this story is told?

Timberman: It’s something that’s come up a lot in talking about the show that we almost forget – that this is a show that’s run by a lot of women. That’s not by design. But, sure, it’s not the male gaze.

Lippman: And female pleasure is well represented. As women writing a show about sex, the expectation might be that we are most interested in telling stories about love and romance, and while that’s a component of the series, it isn’t necessarily our focus.

Timberman: Right. And, you know, in season one, we make a big deal of that line by Masters, where he says that women are ‘greater sexual athletes’ than men, because they have multiple orgasms.

I was watching the preview of the second season, and within the first five minutes we hear Virginia Johnson talk about asking for a raise, the farce of diet pills, dildos, and female competition. You watch something like that and it’s hard to imagine this not being a show produced by women.

Lippman: I think the thing that gives us license is not necessarily being female, but having Virginia Johnson as a character. She was a remarkable woman, very flawed, very complicated, but absolutely a groundbreaker. And her attitude toward sex was truly unusual – even for today. She was able to separate love and sex.

Right. And she’s a working mom.

Lippman: You know, we all have children. We’re working. We’re struggling with things like, ‘When do I get home because my kid’s in an All Star game?’ and ‘I need to take a week off to take my kid back East to go look at colleges.’ So I think there is a lack of judgment on our part about Virginia as a working mother and an appreciation for how hard it must have been, in the late 50s, to balance one’s professional ambitions with having a family.

When I spoke with Lizzy Caplan [who plays Virginia Johnson], she made the point that your portrayal of female friendships is really quite nuanced. Can you speak to that a bit?

Ashford: I think sometimes female friendships tend to be portrayed as either ‘We’re best friends and tell each other everything’ or ‘I did like you but now we want the same man, so I hate you.’ But the truth of female friendships is they are often as complicated as romantic relationships, sibling relationships, mother/daughter relationships — there’s competition between women, and envy, women can be both very judgmental and incredibly selfless in the love and support they offer one another. There are a million emotions under the sun that play out in female friendships, and I think we’re just committed to making the women (and their friendships) that we portray on our show as very specific.

Jessica Bennett is a contributing columnist at TIME.com covering the intersection of gender, sexuality, business and pop culture. A former Newsweek senior writer and executive editor of Tumblr, she is also a contributing editor for Sheryl Sandberg’s women’s foundation, Lean In. You can follow her @jess7bennett.

TIME Advertising

I’m Sorry, but Women Really Need to Stop Apologizing

A new Pantene ad calls attention to how the apology is too often used as a crutch and a way to downplay female power

Here are a few of the dumbest things I’ve apologized for in the last week:

  • To a waiter, when I asked again for water, after he repeatedly forgot to bring it
  • To the dude who bumped into me at a party, spilling his drink down the front of my dress
  • To a friend of a friend of a friend I agreed to give advice to, when she had to change the time

I started thinking about sorry this morning after watching the latest empowerment ad from Pantene (yes, the shampoo brand) titled “Sorry, Not Sorry.” In it, we see women apologize at work (“Sorry, can I ask a stupid question?”), at home (“Sorry,” a mom says, handing her baby over to what appears to be her husband), to strangers (the man who bumps a woman as he spreads out in a seat), and friends. It’s followed by a click moment: “Don’t be sorry,” the ad states, followed by a hashtag sales pitch to “Shine Strong.”

As far as ads go, this one is good — and yet when a shampoo brand is telling us to stop apologizing, it’s fair to say we’ve reached a sorry tipping point.

“I realized my sorry habit was bad when I heard myself apologizing to my boyfriend for a burned dinner that he cooked,” my friend Cristen Conger, the creator of a feminist podcast called Stuff Mom Never Told You, told me.

I forwarded her response to another friend. “What’s up with ladies and ‘I’m sorry’?” I asked.

“Sorry I didn’t reply sooner,” she replied, 45 minutes later.

Sorry is a crutch — a tyrannical lady-crutch. It’s a space filler, a hedge, a way to politely ask for something without offending, to appear “soft” while making a demand. It falls in the same category as “I hate to ask” or “I know this is a stupid question” or another version of “No offense, but” or ending your statements with a question. It’s bled into our text messages (“sorrrrrryy!!!!!!”), our emails (“SO SORRY for the delay”), our emoji (you know, the bashful “eeek” face), and our workplaces. Even the rise of “sorry-not-sorry” — a joke, and hashtag, that implies I’m saying sorry but I don’t really mean it — is couched in apology. (Can’t we even own the apology–or the insult?!)

Sorry is a ritualized form meaning something like, ‘I hope this is O.K. with you,’” says Robin Lakoff, a linguist at University of California, Berkeley, and author of the famous linguistic text from the 1970s, Language and Woman’s Place. “It lets people — especially women — get away with saying what the other person doesn’t want to hear.”

But as the Pantene ad conveys accurately, you’d be hard-pressed to find a guy who says sorry with quite the same frequency.

Some have argued that’s because men don’t want to admit they’re wrong; Deborah Tannen, a gender linguist, has reasoned that men are simply more attuned to the fact that an apology can symbolize defeat. (“Like a wolf baring its neck or a dog rolling over on its back,” she has written, “an apologizer is taking a one-down position.”)

Still other studies have determined that what we deem worthy of an apology differs. In one from 2010, researchers determined that men are just as likely to apologize if they think they’ve committed some transgression, but men and women can easily disagree on what kinds of things require an apology.

“Once, I was my trying to leave a bookstore and my way was blocked by a woman who was sitting on the floor,” screenwriter Nell Scovell tells me. “I hesitated and was about to turn around when she noticed and started to get up. ‘Sorry,’ she said, because she’d been blocking my path. ‘Sorry,’ I said, because I made her move. Then she bumped another woman who turned around and said, you guessed it, ‘Sorry.’ Three grown women all apologizing to each other for no reason in under five seconds. A world record?”

Maybe.

But there are some — repeat some, as in, a few — instances when apologizing makes sense. “In email, where communication is so terribly impersonal,” Alisa Richter, a digital publicist in New York, explains, “phrases like I’m sorry make me feel like I’m coming across as a real human being.” In other cases, perhaps the impulse to apologize is part of the same skill set that allows women to work more collaboratively than men, as studies have shown.

And yet the modern-day apology — at least when it comes to women at work — is rarely an apology at all. We’re not sorry to be asking a question, we’re simply trying to be polite. We’re trying to make a statement, a direct one, without being deemed “bossy” or “too aggressive.” Sorry is simply another way of downplaying our power, of softening what we do, to seem nice.

“Women know they have to be likable to get ahead. Apologizing is one way to make yourself more accessible and less threatening,” says Rachel Simmons, author of The Curse of the Good Girl. “Apologizing is one way of being deemed more likable.”

And yet, how can we be deemed likable and competent if we’re always sounding defensive or unsure?

As I was making edits on this piece, I was sitting at a panel at an advertising conference in France, where the moderator — Sheryl Sandberg — had just finished speaking about marketing to women. She showed the Pantene ad, and Joanna Coles, editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan, chimed in. “Sorry, but I want to back up,” she began — only to catch herself.

Jessica Bennett is a contributing columnist at TIME.com covering the intersection of gender, sexuality, business and pop culture. A former Newsweek senior writer and executive editor of Tumblr, she is also a contributing editor for Sheryl Sandberg’s women’s foundation, Lean In. You can follow her @jess7bennett.

TIME

The Shame of the Male Virgin

Vigil Held At UCLA For Santa Barbara Shooting Rampage Victims
Students of UCSB and UCLA mourn at a candlelight vigil at UCLA for the victims of a killing rampage over the weekend near UCSB on May 26, 2014 in Los Angeles, Calif. David McNew—Getty Images

Yes, the UCSB tragedy is a story about misogyny and violence. But it's also a story about the narrow way we still define what it means to be a man.

What’s craziest about the story of the young man who killed six people and himself at UC Santa Barbara over the weekend is not that he was obsessed with sex, or even that he thought he was entitled to it. Reading his 141-page “manifesto” — and the series of YouTube videos he filmed and posted online — what was most surprising was how ordinary his complaint seemed.

Elliot Rodger had never kissed a girl. In a culture of casual sex, he was a virgin — at 22. ​He was lonely, angry, humiliated, depressed, and also likely struggling with mental illness. He couldn’t understand why others got to have what he didn’t; why girls always seemed to go after the “obnoxious jocks,” not the nice guys like him; why he had to see it all around him — from porn to campus party culture — as if taunting him. He was always missing out.

It was the kind of teen agony that is common enough: garden variety Diary of a Wimpy Kid. And yet when this same young man added to his stream of misery something less ordinary — that he wanted to annihilate what he couldn’t have — it almost seemed like a bluff. Perhaps that’s why, when Rodger vowed to enter the “hottest sorority” at UCSB and “slaughter every single spoiled, stuck-up, blond slut I see” — a boast he laid out in the last of a series of threatening videos posted in the weeks before his death — nobody responded sooner.

In the days since the killings, his mad crusade has launched a ​vigorous ​conversation about misogyny and the kind of culture from which a man like Elliot Rodger, so-called “Virgin Killer,” could emerge. It’s sparked a viral protest by way of the #YesAllWomen hashtag, a collective outrage about sexism and violence. And it will likely draw attention​ to UCSB, a campus ​fondly known as “University of Casual Sex and Beer.”

But this is also a story about the narrow way we still define what it means to be a man. If Columbine taught us about school bullying in the 1990s, then the brutal killings at UCSB give us a glimpse into the toxic way that failed sex, misogyny and modern masculinity are intertwined.

“To me the central issue is masculinity,” says Jackson Katz, the author of The Macho Paradox: Why Some Men Hurt Women and How All Men Can Help. “Elliot Rodger didn’t come out of nowhere.”

It’s a complicated tale — about culture and privilege, guns and mental health. But it’s also about sex, pornography, and the increased pressure on young men to live up to some mythical “player” status — now amplified in a thousand social updates and dating apps. American college students today may not actually be having more sex than their parents, but it’s easy to see how an isolated young man might perceive the opposite. Like most boys, Rodger described seeing his first porn at age 11. It’s a safe bet that what he learned about sex on the Internet was not the stuff of three-dimensional women.

Part of the issue, say experts, is that while sex is all around us, we still don’t have the language to talk about it — or its impact on the generation who’s grown up in this toxic soup. And so instead of talking, we internalize the messages that are insidious: that sex is our most valuable social currency; that “boys will be boys”; that women are sluts if they put out, prudes if they don’t, and bitches if they object. Women may still be on the losing side of this sexual equation, but men too are not immune. “The message men get, that their number of sex partners is equal to their value as a male, is part of the same patriarchal structure that judges, values and punishes women for their sexual choices,” says Therese Shechter, a filmmaker whose recent documentary, How to Lose Your Virginity -- and its accompanying V-Card Diaries project — takes on the concept of sexual stigma. (The film will air on Fusion in the fall.)

It’s possible that Rodger did hate all women. “They are all spoiled, heartless, wicked bitches,” he wrote. Or maybe his hatred of women was simply what he latched onto in his suffering. What is certain is that Rodger perceived his inability to lose his virginity as his greatest failure, and a failure on the aspect of life on which many men judge themselves most harshly. As he put it: “No one respects a man who is unable to get a woman.”

“This is one place where women have more flexibility than men,” says Philip Cohen, a University of Maryland sociologist who studies family and gender dynamics. “Especially in adolescence, the question is: If you can’t be good at sports or have sex, what makes you man? Maybe it’s violence.”

Most men do not resort to killing sprees, of course. And yet there is something in this terrible story that reveals how anger is frequently the only way that men know to express their depression or frustration. From film to music, we often see images of young men reclaiming lost manhood through spectacular violence. Combine that with a mentally unstable mind, access to guns and a campus culture that revolves around sex, and the result was tragic.

“In a horrible, totally twisted way, when young men act out like this, they are doing what the culture says that boys should do when they’re angry,” says Rosalind Wiseman, the author of Masterminds and Wingmen: Helping Our Boys Cope with Schoolyard Power, Locker-Room Tests, Girlfriends, and the New Rules of Boy World.

The reality is that we don’t spend enough time helping men learn how to navigate the new world order.

Jessica Bennett is a contributing columnist at Time.com covering the intersection of gender, sexuality, business and pop culture. A former Newsweek senior writer and executive editor of Tumblr, she is also a contributing editor for Sheryl Sandberg’s women’s foundation, Lean In. You can follow her @jess7bennett.

TIME feminism

The Shaming of Monica: Why We Owe Her an Apology

Monica Lewinsky in Washington DC just after the scandal broke in 1998.
Monica Lewinsky in Washington DC just after the scandal broke in 1998. Timothy Clary—AFP/Getty Images

America turned its back on a young intern, and the media called her tubby, slutty and predatory. A TV network even asked people to vote on whether she was a "tramp." Long before slut-shaming was a term, Monica Lewinsky was its original target.

Ask any child of the 1990s, and she remembers — vividly — when she first heard about the Monica Lewinsky scandal (as well as the particular sex acts involved).

I was 16, perched with a group of friends in the hallway of my high school, devouring the contents of the Starr report like a trashy romance novel. (He did what with a cigar?!) None of us was old enough to truly comprehend the complexities — or power dynamics — of a 22-year-old intern fellating the President of the United States. And yet we did know one thing: we didn’t like that raunchy Lewinsky girl. What kind of woman flashes her thong at the President, anyway?

Long before slut-shaming was a term, Monica Lewinsky was its original target. My teenage friends and I were among her critics, though the rest of the country, too, seemed to be acting like horny misogynist teens. The basics of Lewinsky’s story we all remember: Young intern makes idiotic mistake and, like many before her, starts a sexual relationship with the President. Affair leads to legal explosion, investigation, impeachment and, ultimately, one of the first tests of the Internet’s viral capabilities. (The story was blasted out on Drudge.) The young woman is permanently cast as a semen-smeared laughingstock.

Nearly two decades later, Lewinsky is still a punch line and a sly euphemism for oral sex. She reappears in the press this week by way of a 4,000-word Vanity Fair essay about the hellish aftermath of her “mutual relationship” with President Bill Clinton. She says she’s had trouble getting jobs. (Everyone knows her name, after all.) She turned down lucrative offers to tell all — because they “didn’t feel like the right thing to do” — and survived on loans from family and friends. If humiliation is indeed the most intense human emotion, as a new study found, then Lewinsky is my generation’s Hester Prynne. She had suicidal thoughts, and her mother feared that she would be “literally humiliated to death” (a consequence we now know is not so far-fetched in the Internet and social-media era).

The timing of Lewinsky’s essay, as we await a Hillary Clinton presidential run, is no doubt strategic, taking us back to an era that the Clintons would rather not revisit. But perhaps it also shows how far we’ve come. Does the media owe Monica Lewinsky a collective apology?

To look back on the specifics now is mind-blowing. The Wall Street Journal referred to Lewinsky — in print — as a “little tart.” New York magazine reported that as an adolescent, Lewinsky had spent two summers at fat camp, where she “paid particular attention to the boys.” (Code word: slut.) Maureen Dowd won a Pulitzer Prize for her coverage of Lewinsky, in which she called her a “ditzy, predatory White House intern” and “the girl who was too tubby to be in the high school ‘in’ crowd,” among other ugly caricatures. Fox News actually released a poll investigating whether the public thought Lewinsky was an “average girl” or a “young tramp looking for thrills.” Fifty-four percent rated her a tramp.

“It was a different time back then. There was no consciousness raised about slut-shaming. Bullying wasn’t even in the vernacular,” says Leora Tanenbaum, the author of Slut!, which first established the term slut-bashing (a precursor to slut-shaming) when it came out in 1999. “​People who were decisionmakers and influential writers were making comments about her hair and body. It was a textbook case of the sexual double standard.”

Indeed, it wasn’t just Bill Clinton who didn’t even grant Lewinsky the dignity of using her name when he finally, partially, admitted the affair. (She was “That Woman” — as in, “I didn’t have sexual relations with that woman.”) There were no websites like Jezebel back then, no feminist bloggers, no Women’s Media Center to call out sexism in the press. And so the media vilified her, painting her as that scary feminine trope: the crazy, emotional Single White Female — or, to borrow the phrase from the political sex scandal before her, “a little bit nutty and a little bit slutty.” “This is all sort of part of the water at the time, where the woman is the evil seductress — and the poor, weak man had no power to resist her,” says Jennifer Pozner, a media critic and the author of Reality Bites Back, about women and reality TV. “That’s how Monica Lewinsky entered the fray.”

In reality, it’s not actually that hard to imagine being in Lewinsky’s shoes. The thrill of the flirtation. The flattery of being wooed by a President. The naiveté about the consequences. The stupidity … of being 22.

“I doubt most people could survive being defined by the least advisable sexual encounter they’ve engaged in,” says the feminist writer Amanda Marcotte. “She was young and dumb, but it was consensual. He has more responsibility, being both married and older.”

And yet at the time, Lewinsky had few defenders, even among feminists — her identity, not just her behavior, systematically torn apart. In a column in TIME, Barbara Ehrenreich lamented that the days after the Monica Lewinsky scandal broke had been “The Week Feminists Got Laryngitis.” And when they did speak up, it wasn’t pretty: “My dental hygienist pointed out she had third-stage gum disease,” quipped Erica Jong. “If anything, it sounds like she put the moves on him,” said Backlash author Susan Faludi. “Even mainstream feminists, who you’d think would come out and say, ‘You know, here’s this poor young woman being exploited, let’s take her side,’ they’re not taking her side,” Katie Roiphe mused as part of a New York Observer roundtable with Jong and others held at the time that is once again making the rounds.

“The national reaction against Monica was reminiscent of the way teen girls will rally around a high-status boy and throw the ‘slutty’ girl under the bus,” says Rachel Simmons, the author of Odd Girl Out and Curse of the Good Girl, who was working for Senator Charles Schumer at the time. “Girls do it to protect their own status and preserve their own relationships with the guys. Bill Clinton was the golden boy.”

And indeed, that was part of the problem. Sure, Clinton was charming and charismatic. (“All of my women friends and I would be happy to have sex with Clinton and not talk about it,” New Yorker writer Patricia Marx joked at the time.) But he was also good for women at large. He supported reproductive rights. He put Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the Supreme Court. And then there was Hillary. So when Lewinsky asks now, “Where … were the feminists back then?” we know the answer. As the president of the Feminist Majority Foundation put it five months after the affair was revealed, “We’re trying to think of the bigger picture, think about what’s best for women.”

There’s very rarely sympathy for “the other woman.” Or, as Erica Jong tells me when asked if the reaction to Lewinsky would be any different today, “Blaming women is always in fashion.”

And yet the Lewinsky scandal would play out differently today. Remember, this was pre-sexting, pre-orchestrated sex tapes, pre-Paris Hilton. There was no social media, no feminist blogs, no Rachel Maddow. “No infrastructure,” as Pozner puts it, “to push back against the echo chamber.” Yes, there’s a long history of political sex scandals, but today we’re somewhat immune from the shock factor: we’d never remember where we were when one or another was first revealed. There have simply been too many to count.

“I think it was a unique moment in time,” says Pozner of the collective shaming of Lewinsky. “She was young, she was single, she wasn’t connected to money or much of a support system, and so she was sort of like an Etch A Sketch for whatever the right wing and/or media wanted to map onto her. And she didn’t have a PR machine behind her, she didn’t have an activist machine behind her, so she didn’t have the support or audience to change the narrative.”

She’s got it now. The problem: it’s too late.

Correction: The original version of this story misspelled Rachel Maddow’s name.

TIME career

Leaning In at Work, Traditionalist at Home: Women Who Hide Their Success

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Retro housewife Bojan Kontrec—Getty Images/Vetta

Why we need to stop worrying about emasculating men

I once hid my raise from my live-in boyfriend for a full year before he found out. I was already the decision-maker in our relationship, and I didn’t want him to feel bad that he made less than I did.

It’s the kind of scenario we hear often: ambitious, hard-charging women purposely shaving off a couple digits when talking about money with their partners. Women who subtly downplay their accomplishments in order to protect their boyfriends’ egos. Those who play the damsel in distress to cater to some caveman-like need to save. Even toning down an online dating profile – deleting accolades and advanced degrees – to sound less “intimidating” to potential suitors.

“I would let him make the decisions even when I knew they weren’t the right ones,” one friend told me recently, of her (not coincidentally) now ex-husband.

“I never reveal where I got my PhD on a first date,” said another, who is an Ivy League grad.

“I think my biggest fear in a relationship,” a New York editor quipped over brunch recently, “is emasculating the guy and ending up alone.”

It’s a feminist by day, traditionalist by night way of life, and it would make our Second Wave mothers cringe. By day, these women are successful and self-assured – part of a cohort dominating the working world and outpacing their male peers in college and advanced degrees. The under 30 set are outearning their male counterparts in nearly every major city in America. And when it comes to married couples, the number of female breadwinners has been steadily rising: 24 percent of wives now make more than their husbands.

And yet when it comes to their romantic lives, these women are unabashedly shrinking violets, their behavior influenced by age-old stereotypes about men, women and power that have simply not shifted as quickly as the working world. They’re also being influenced by a bevy of advice books – including a new one, When She Makes More: 10 Rules for Breadwinning Women, by financial advisor and journalist Farnoosh Torabi.

One part financial manual and two parts primer in retro-femininity, the book is a guide, she says, for single women whose success may intimidate potential suitors. Rule No. 1: Face the Facts. And the facts, she explains are clear. “When a woman makes more than her man, the odds are stacked against her in many ways: she’s less likely to get married, more likely to be unhappier in marriage, and there are many psychological and sexual costs,” writes Torabi.

Torabi is wrestling with the contradictions of a particular cultural moment: women are less dependent and passive than ever before. And yet, as Ronald Levant, the editor of the journal Psychology of Men and Masculinity, put it recently, “men are stuck” – caught between caveman-like desires to protect and provide, and the fact that more and more women are the ones doing the providing. One recent study found that men subconsciously suffer a bruised ego when their wives or girlfriends excel — regardless of whether they are in direct competition. Another survey, from Pew, found that 28 percent of Americans believe that it is “generally better for a marriage if the husband earns more than his wife.”

Where that leaves us? If you believe Torabi, with a complicated set of rules to follow – lest we end up, as the Princeton Mom warned, a “spinster with cats.” Not only must we achieve at work, we must stroke our partner’s ego. We can land the big deal, but we still must play the damsel in distress. We can go to Pilates, but might still consider asking him to lift that box – to make him feel like a man. Oh, and we may be the primary breadwinner, but we should still let him pay in public (as Torabi often does with her own husband) – even if it’s coming out of a joint checking account.

“Calling it stroking his ego can sound controversial, but money is a huge source of power and self worth for a lot of people,” she says. “So you have to understand that.”

Or better yet: you can reject it altogether.

Yes, men have been breadwinners for 10,000 years. They’ve been conditioned to be dominant. Hunters, gatherers … you know the drill. But let’s give dudes some credit.

College-aged men and women almost universally say they desire unions in which housework, child-rearing, ambition and moneymaking will be respectfully negotiated and shared. There are plenty of men – as a recent Cosmo survey on the topic helped made clear — who would happily date a woman who made more money than they did (and like it). (Of more than 1,000 straight men ages 18 to 35, nearly half say they’ve dated a woman who made more money than they did. Fifty seven percent say they are “more attracted” to a woman who is ambitious at work.)

We are, as the biological anthropologist Helen Fisher recently told me, “in a time of tremendous transformation.”

So here’s a rule for when you make more than your male partner: Don’t believe everything you read.

TIME career

It’s Not You, It’s Science: How Perfectionism Holds Women Back

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How can women rise to the top if they don't believe they belong there? Jacquie Boyd—Getty Images/Ikon Images

A new book by journalists (and recovering self-doubters) Katty Kay and Claire Shipman looks at why women still lack confidence no matter how much they've accomplished

There are certain things one might assume you’re supposed to have mastered as a columnist. One is how to start a column. But if you’re me, you can spend hours writing and rewriting and deleting and restructuring a piece before coming to the conclusion that you have no business having a column at all. Crumpled over your sad desk in your living room, in your freelance uniform (pajamas), you are pretty sure your new writing contract will be revoked by the end of the week.

Then you realize: you’re doing precisely what it is you’re supposed to be writing about — doubting yourself, over and over again, to the point of crippling paralysis. The perils of feminine self-doubt — and how they impact women’s professional aspirations — are the subject of a new book, The Confidence Code, by journalists (and recovering self-doubters) Katty Kay and Claire Shipman.

Through dozens of interviews, scientific research and even experiments in genetic testing, The Confidence Code takes on the science and art of self-assurance, as well as the fact that women (like me) tend to struggle with it disproportionately. Why it matters? Well, by now most of us have heard the stories about how women are climbing the corporate ranks, dominating the workforce and graduating in higher numbers than men. “Lean In” has become part of the pop lexicon. But what does any of that matter if women can’t have the confidence to own their accomplishments and strive for their goals? How can women equal the ranks of the professional world, the authors ask, if we don’t even believe we’re supposed to be there?

“I think there’s a mainstream recognition now that organizations are better off with a diverse group of women at the top​ — and a focus on how to get more women in the pipeline and in power,” says Shipman. “But there’s also something inside of us that’s holding us back.”

Longtime friends Kay and Shipman realized over dinner one night that each struggled with the same problem of self-doubt. Kay, a news anchor for the BBC, has covered three presidential elections, the wars in Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq, and speaks several languages. And yet she spent her career convinced she wasn’t smart enough to compete for the top jobs. Shipman, a contributor to ABC and Good Morning America, had a habit of telling people she’d gotten “lucky” when she asked how she got into journalism. She began her career as a foreign correspondent at CNN, reporting from Moscow.

But the confidence problem wasn’t just limited to them. In two decades covering American politics, the two journalists had interviewed some of the most powerful women in the nation — lawmakers and CEOs, professional athletes, leaders of social movements. Time and again, they saw the same self-doubt: bright women with ideas afraid to raise their hands, speak up, ask for a raise or a promotion; that inexplicable feeling that they don’t own the right to rule at the top.

“If they are feeling all that,” the authors write, “imagine what it is like for the rest of us.”

What it’s like looks something like this.

When a professional endeavor goes wrong, women are more likely to blame themselves. Yet when something goes right, they credit circumstance – or other people – for their success. (Men do the opposite.)

Women are more likely than men to be perfectionists, holding themselves back from answering a question, applying for a new job, asking for a raise, until they’re absolutely 100 percent sure we can predict the outcome. (Women applied for a promotion only when they met 100 percent of the qualifications. Men applied when they met 50 percent.)

Women are a quarter as likely as men to negotiate a raise. We doubt our opinions and begin our sentences with “I don’t know if this is right, but—.” We are more prone to “rumination” than men – which causes us to overthink and overanalyze. (Sound familiar?)

I was watching Hillary Clinton up on stage recently, at a conference for women. She was asked to give the younger generation career advice. “At this point in my career, I’ve employed so many young people,” Hillary began. “One of the differences is that when I say to a young woman, ‘I want you to take on this extra responsibility,” almost invariably she says, ‘Do you think I’m ready?’ But when I ask a man, he goes, ‘How high, how fast, when do I start?!’”

“Too many young women,” Clinton continued, “are harder on themselves than circumstances warrant. They are too often selling themselves short.”

In other words, they lack confidence. And confidence, as the authors make clear, is as important to professional success as competence.

Now naturally, there are plenty of ways that women can gain confidence. And in fact, it’s not quite so simple as learning those skills. (In many cases, it’s the same qualities that make women good for business — they are more collaborative, for example — that holds them back from touting their accomplishments or taking credit.) We also need to address structural changes that hold women back — as, naturally, there’s only so much leaning in a person can do.

But perhaps the most useful aspect of all of this talk about confidence is recognizing that it’s a problem at all. Knowing that it’s there, that it’s backed by science, that it’s not just you – and then trying to correct for it.

“I think it’s important for women to recognize that it’s totally normal for us to feel nervous, particularly in situations in which we’re so often the only woman in the room,” says Kay. “That realization — for me, anyway — has helped me work to overcome it.”

 

Jessica Bennett is contributing columnist at Time.com covering the intersection of women, business and pop culture. A former Newsweek senior writer, she is also a contributing editor for Sheryl Sandberg’s women’s foundation, Lean In. You can follow her @jess7bennett

TIME politics

Ask an Expert: Will Getting Pregnant Screw Up My Mom’s Career?

Dear Pregnancy Pundit,

Yesterday I let slip that I’m expecting. But my mom is expecting a big new job. Will getting pregnant screw up my mom’s career?

Chels

Dear Chels,

That depends. As USA Today put it, “It’s unclear how [your] pregnancy will affect [your mom], who is considering a race for president in 2016.”

But many other presidents have had grandchildren while in office.

Most of these presidents are dead. All of them are men. This raises an interesting question. If it’s ordinary when it happens to “regular” women, is it extraordinary when it happens to a woman candidate?

PP

Hi again Pregnancy Pundit,

I keep feeling happy for myself, even though I know this is really about my mom. What can I do to be less selfish?

Chels

Dear Chels,

We both know you can’t have it all. It might help you feel less guilty to participate in a choreographed family tweet-off about your news. That will show that you’re a team player.

PP

Pregnancy Pundit,

Sorry last question. Politico published a photo retrospective of my life. Am I dying?

Chels

Chels,

You’re not dying. But your whole purpose these last 20 years has been to illuminate whether your parents would become grandparents. Now that we know the answer, it’s time for a sentimental look back.

Enjoy!

PP

TIME work

Stop Being Polite. Talk About Your Salary.  

President Obama To Sign Order On Pay Equality
President Barack Obama looks on as pay discrimination victim Lilly Ledbetter delivers remarks at an event marking Equal Pay Day in the East Room of the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Tuesday, April 8, 2014. Bloomberg—Bloomberg via Getty Images

Women don’t like talking about money, much less asking for more of it. But that needs to change if we are to close the gender wage gap.

I first negotiated a salary after finding out what a male friend doing a similar job was making — and that it was thousands more (tens of thousands, actually). No, I didn’t get slipped an anonymous note — a la Lilly Ledbetter. I asked, and my colleague told me. When he realized how much less I made, he encouraged me to ask for more.

I’d never asked for more money before. I’d hardly even thought about it. This was journalism, after all — I felt lucky to be employed. But a few weeks later, when I walked into my boss’s office to ask for a promotion, I had that piece of information as a grenade in my back pocket. I didn’t need to use it — but it made me feel more confident to know I could have.

On Tuesday, “Equal Pay Day,” President Obama signed an executive order that, in theory, would make my own outcome an easier reality for millions of women, who still make, on average, 77 cents to every male dollar. That number has been debated and shifts depending on how you account for hours worked, job choice, college major and so forth, but one thing is clear: women don’t negotiate for higher pay. They are one-quarter as likely as men to do so, according to statistics from Carnegie Mellon University.

The Obama directive bans employer retaliation against federal contractors’ employees who discuss their salaries openly. According to a 2011 survey from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, nearly half of all workers in the United States are either banned from talking about their salaries — by contract — or strongly discouraged from doing so by their employers. (I still don’t know if I was breaking a rule by talking to my colleague.)

When Obama signed the executive order Tuesday, he had Lilly Ledbetter — for whom the Equal Pay Act is named — by his side. Ledbetter was a 19-year Goodyear employee who discovered, via an anonymous note, that she was making many thousands less than her male counterparts. “I thought I was earning good pay, I thought they were treating me fairly, but to my shock later on, I found out they were not,” Ledbetter has said. This new presidential directive won’t help the stalled Paycheck Fairness Act, which would make it easier for all workers, not just federal contractors, to prove that their pay is unequal. The legislation unlikely to make it through Congress this week, but that’s all the more reason women should learn the art of asking for better pay.

Negotiating for money sucks. It’s hard, it’s awkward, and it puts everyone at risk for rejection. But Negotiating While Female is a near-impossible feat. No, women are not biologically ordained to be worse negotiators — a new study proves it. And yet women who negotiate are more likely to be disliked, and thus, less likely to be hired. They can’t use a competing outside offer as a tactic, because it’s likely to come off as aggressive. They may even risk — as was the case for one philosophy professor — having a job offer revoked. Even the best advice often requires women to conform to gender stereotypes to get what we want: we must use communal language (“we,” not “I”) and smile while using it (lest you be deemed “pushy” or “aggressive.”)

To top it off, most of us have had ingrained in us, from an early age, that talking about money is impolite. That it’s somehow not a ladylike thing to do. And the reality is that until we’ve achieved gender parity across the board — in hiring, leadership, and salary — it will be viewed that way. And it doesn’t just mean we don’t receive our fair share, sometimes it means the men beside us are actually taking our share: as one former bank executive recently explained, many managers have a limited pool of money to distribute for their department. If a guy asks for more off the bat, they’ll have to give the other person less, and that’s a whole lot easier if that other person doesn’t even ask for more.

“I see it in all my workshops,” says Annie Houle, the national director of the WAGE Project, which runs negotiation trainings on college campuses around the country. “Women are too timid to equate their worth in dollars.”

But simply talking about money with a colleague — or, who knows, maybe even a friendly supervisor — can yield results. It helps determine whether you’re being fairly compensated in the first place. Research from Linda Babcock, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University , along with Harvard negotiation expert Hanna Riley Bowles, has shown that gender differences in negotiation outcomes are more likely when there is ambiguity about the appropriate standards. “When I interview executives about their career negotiations, they typically describe conversations with multiple people that occurred over the course of weeks if not months,” says Bowles. “Women need to think strategically about laying the groundwork and planting seeds of support for their negotiation ambitions.

And, it’s worth bearing in mind that most employers don’t actually think – or want to think — they’re paying women at a firm less. That’s why the second part of Obama’s executive order matters too. In addition to allowing federal workers to talk about salaries, federal contractors will be required to hand over data on pay, broken down by race and gender, to the Labor Department. Consider that bit of bureaucracy a kind of public guilting, or at least forced awareness. Experts say that while the new requirements only apply to federal contractors, they might spur companies to look voluntarily at their own staffs.

“Secrecy feeds suspicions, rumors, half-truths,” says Evelyn Murphy, the author of “Why Women Make Less.” “There is no doubt in my mind that once employers enable workers to discuss their compensation among themselves and with those who make salary decisions, whatever inequities exist will likely be adjusted.”

I have one friend — a New York businesswoman — who walked into a salary negotiation and led with the following: “The research shows you’re going to like me less after I negotiate. So I just wanted to get that out of the way.” The tactic won’t work for everyone, but it’s one way of broaching the conversation. Talking about gender bias is key. Because the reality is you’re sure to get nothing if you don’t ever broach the subject at all.

 

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