TIME Opinion

Monica Lewinsky and Why the Word ‘Slut’ Is Still So Potent

Monica Lewinsky
Amanda Edwards—WireImage/Getty Images Monica Lewinsky in Los Angeles, Dec. 7, 2014.

Lewinsky was a 22-year-old intern when her affair with Bill Clinton branded her with a ​Scarlet ​L​etter​ S. Nearly two decades later, she's still suffering the repercussions.​ Why is the word slut still so damning?

Slut.

​Tart.

​Whore.

That Woman.

​Those were the word​s​ used to describe Monica Lewinsky, the once 22-year-old intern who had an affair with the President. She is 41 now and speaking ​publicly about the impact of that relationship for the first time. When those words weren’t used to describe her, they were simply known as what defined her.

​Almost two decades later, those are the same words — though slightly updated — used daily to harass, threaten and humiliate young women and girls who deviate from the sexual (and sometimes not-so-sexual at all) norm, both at school and online.

History met the present recently at a Manhattan performance of a play called SLUT, where Monica Lewinsky watched the story of a teen girl who is assaulted, reports it, and is slut-shamed by her peers. I sat next to Lewinsky as she watched the drama play out. At the end, ​she stood up, surveyed the young faces in the audience, and spoke​: ​“Thank you,​” she ​told the crowd, “for standing up against the sexual scapegoating of women and girls.” Afterwards, girls crowded around Lewinsky to express their own gratitude for her outspokenness.

The Lewinksy scandal broke in in 1998. ​SLUT the play takes place today. In between, the word has been used by Rush Limbaugh to discredit Sandra Fluke a law student who spoke up for birth control; to debate the validity of sexual assault claims; and more often than one could count, to talk viciously about women on the Internet. (Just this week, Ashley Judd proclaimed she would sue her slut-shaming harassers on Twitter.)

What is it about the word slut that is still so potent?

​Slut didn’t begin as a bad word — or a word for women at all — but merely an “untidy” one. Chaucer (yes, that Chaucer) put it in print in the early 1300s, referring to a sloppy male character as “sluttish” in The Canterbury Tales.

But if the word was used for men more broadly it was only for a second: by the 1400s, it had morphed into a term for maids and unkempt, dirty women (like actually dirty, not sexually dirty). It wasn’t long before that notion was infused with sexual connotations. Today, the term is defined by Oxford Dictionary as a woman who “has many casual sexual partners” or one with “low standards of cleanliness” — though it’s clear that in our modern lexicon, those two might as well be one and the same.

Sure, there have been positive usages or attempts to take slut back: Kathleen Hanna famously scrawled the word across her stomach while on stage with Riot Grrrl in the 90s; there is the SlutWalk movement, an effort to reclaim the word.

But by and large one definition remains: Slut is loaded. Slut is bad. Much in the way that Lewinsky became a kind of public symbol, said the linguist Robin Lakoff, “​of all that is sexually loathsome and scary about women,” ​the word slut — and its linguistic sisters, ho, whore, tramp, and skank — is a stand-in for the same: used to describe women who deviate from the norm.

“Girls are still targeted when they cross some kind of boundary,” said Eliza Price, ​a ​16​-year-old cast member in the SLUT play, which is produced by an all-girl theater group called the Arts Effect. ​​

But that boundary can almost anything: clothing, behavior, attitude or something else. As a group of Mississippi teens described it to the author Rachel Simmons, in her book, Odd Girl Out, a girl can be a slut — or in this particular interview, a “skank” — if she sits with her legs open, wears baggy clothes, wears tight clothes, talks in slang, gets into fights, or shows too much PDA. “In other words: almost anything,” said Simmons. “‘Slut’ and its cousin ‘skank’ are used to denote girls who take up space and break the good girl rules.”

And sometimes that has nothing to do with sex. Leora Tanenbaum, the author of a new book, I Am Not a Slut, has interviewed girls and women who’ve been labeled with the word — coining, in 1999, the term “slut-bashing,” which would later evolve into “slut-shaming.” But being called a slut, she found, actually had little to do with whether or not these girls were sexually active. Rather, anybody could be called a slut, she said. The word was a catch-all to discredit women; for young women, it was a way to define them before they got the chance to define themselves.

And while words like bitch have an action associated with them — i.e., if you change your behavior you might be able to shed the label — the word slut is forever.

“Once you’re labeled a slut, it’s pretty much impossible to rid yourself of it,” explains Winnifred Bonjean-Alpart, 17, the lead actress in the play and a high school student in New York. As another young actress explained it: You can be valedictorian, class president and prom queen, but if more than one person calls you slut, all that gets wiped away.

And the Internet makes that even more the case. “In the 90s, when girls would come to me and say ‘I’m the slut in my school and I can’t bear it, what should I do?’ One of the things I would say is ‘Have you looked into transferring to another school?’” said Tanenbaum. “But you can’t say that anymore, because her reputation is going to follow her. You can’t go off the grid.”

The way slut as epithet plays out is multifold:

It’s the reason young women are so obsessed with their “number”— how many sexual partners they’ve had. It might explain why some women lie to their healthcare providers about those numbers, even when it’s not in their best interest.

It’s the reason why, on more than one occasion, as a young woman I would say “no” when I really wanted to say “yes”: yes, of course, would be considered slutty. (You can imagine how that plays into the complicated conversation we’re now having about consent.)

In one case that Tanenbaum describes, a young college woman believed that being called slut contributed to the reason she was raped. “He must have thought, ‘Well, she sleeps around all the time, so she’ll say yes to me,’” the woman told her.

In Monica Lewinsky’s case, that label is the reason she still can’t find work, and has largely stayed out of the public eye for close to a decade. As she said in her TED talk this past week, “It was easy to forget that ‘that woman’ was dimensional, had a soul and was once unbroken.”

Back in 1998, Lewinsky was condemned by the left and the right, by men and women alike, even self-proclaimed feminists (including the New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd, whose columns on the scandal of President Clinton’s affair and “slutty” Monica Lewinsky won a Pulitzer Prize). Today Lewinsky would be likely to have defenders: there are simply more avenues to push back against a singular media narrative; and we have a new language with which to talk about it.

But the word still has the power to wound, diminish and discredit — as so many victims of sexual assault can attest. Which begs the question: Instead of discrediting women, can we simply discredit the word?

Jessica Bennett is a contributing columnist at Time.com covering the intersection of gender, sexuality, business and pop culture. She writes regularly for the New York Times and is a contributing editor on special projects for Sheryl Sandberg’s women’s nonprofit, Lean In. You can follow her @jess7bennett.

Read next: Monica Lewinsky TED Talk: ‘I was Patient Zero’ of Internet Shaming

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TIME year of the man

More Sex—and 7 Other Benefits for Men Who Share in the Housework

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8 reasons why it's good for men to embrace their inner feminist.

As Sheryl Sandberg likes to say, if a woman can’t find a partner, she should consider another woman—for the sake of equality, of course. Study after study shows that same-sex couples are more egalitarian, meaning they split chores, decisions and finances more evenly than the rest of us.

Us hetero gals aren’t so lucky, at least not yet. While the men in our lives may want to be all 50/50 when it comes to work and chores (and indeed, some of them are) it just doesn’t usually happen that way in practice. Gender roles run deep, and women still do the vast majority of the domestic work.

But if 2014 was the year of the female protagonist, then this will be the year of male feminist as icon. I’m not talking about men marching down Fifth Avenue (though I’d welcome it) but subtly adapting to the way things ought to be: New research shows there are more stay-at-home dads now than ever; and men of all walks are demanding more in the way of work-life balance, even if it means ridicule from their peers (or ignorant talk radio hosts).

Men are suiting up for more than just the rec football league—they’re suiting up in the kitchen. And if they’re cooking, it means they’re probably cleaning too, which would explain why proud fathers and sensitive betas are suddenly dominating the ad world, too. (Swiffer? A guy’s gotta mop the floor. Nissan SUV? It’s for shuttling kids to soccer practice, obviously.)

Now they’re entering the feminist Public Service Announcement circuit, which typically gets very active around this time of year. (It’s Women’s History Month, after all.) There is a new film, The Mask You Live In, that tackles our narrow definitions of masculinity. (It’s available for screenings in schools). There is a three-day conference—the first ever to take on “masculinities studies”— in New York City the first weekend in March. There is a campaign from the United Nations, He for She, to engage men on the topic of gender equality. You may remember the rousing opening speech to the campaign, from non-man but one of that gender’s favorite people, Emma Watson.

And now there is Lean In Together, a partnership between Sheryl Sandberg’s women’s nonprofit, LeanIn.org (where, in full disclosure, I am a contributing editor) and the NBA, to encourage men to support women at home and work. As Sandberg and business professor Adam Grant put it in a New York Times op-ed, the final in a four-part series on women and work, “equality is not a zero-sum game.” In other words: It’s good for men, too.

It’s easy to understand how women benefit from men doing their share both at home and at the office. When men chip in at home, women thrive at work (and feel less resentful and guilty). When men advocate for female colleagues in the office, women rise up. Yet beyond the obvious—that, uh, it’s the right thing to do—how do men benefit from the extra effort?

From raising healthier daughters to more sex at home, here are eight reasons why men supporting women is actually good for men.

1. Sex. You’ll Have More of It.
Call it the economics of choreplay: women are turned on by the idea of a man with his elbows up to suds. Sure, maybe they have a Mr Clean fetish, or maybe they’re just freaking exhausted, and not having to do the dishes for one night might put her in the mood. These days, women are the primary or co-breadwinners in two-thirds of American households, yet only 9% of dual-income marriages share childcare, housework and breadwinning evenly. Which means that when the first shift (work) is over, the second shift (home, dinner, laundry, dishes) begins. Which puts this next statistic into context: When couples share chores and breadwinning more equally, divorce rates go down. Men who share in dishwashing and diaper changing have happier wives, and more stable marriages.

When marriages are happy, couples, ahem, have more sex. So, the laundry: strip down and toss it in.

2. Your Daughters Will Have Higher Self-Esteem.
Engaged fatherhood is good for all kids: tots of more involved dads are better off cognitively, emotionally, socially and, ultimately, educationally and economically. But fathers have a particularly measurable impact on girls, whose self esteem develops —and then often falls—as early as middle school. Daughters with active fathers have more autonomy. They are more empowered. And if they watch their dad do chores, they’re actually more likely to aim higher. As Sandberg and Grant write, a study by a University of British Columbia psychologist found that when fathers shouldered an equal share of housework, their daughters were less likely to limit their aspirations to stereotypically female occupations (like nurse or teacher). “What mattered most was what fathers did, not what they said; no amount of saying ‘you can do anything’ is as compelling for a daughter as witnessing true partnership between her parents,” they write. For a girl to believe she has the same opportunities as boys, it makes a big difference to see Dad doing the dishes.”

3. You’ll Breed Feminist Sons.
And that will start the cycle over, as studies have found that boys who grow up in more equal homes are more likely to create equal homes as adults. As Sandberg and Grant point out, the flip is true too: sons reap rewards when their mothers have meaningful roles at work.

4. You’ll Be Happier.
This one’s for dads: Employed fathers who spend more time at home with their kids actually feel greater job satisfaction and less work-life conflict, according to a recent study. They’re also less likely to consider quitting their jobs.

5. You’ll Live Longer.
Caring for kids has been shown to make men more patient (ha!), empathetic and flexible, as well as lower their rates of substance abuse. Fatherhood has also been linked to lower blood pressure and lower rates of heart disease. But also: there’s longevity, even if you don’t have kids. Studies have found that there’s a longevity boost for men (and women) who provide care and emotional support to their partners.

6. You’ll Be More Successful At Work.
Know this, male bosses: diverse teams perform better. And when it comes to women specifically, here are a few attributes: they put in more effort, stay longer on the job, take fewer unnecessary risks, and collaborate more. (It’s no surprise, perhaps, that successful venture-backed start-ups have more than double the median proportion of female executives to failed ones.) But this isn’t just about women: companies that have family-friendly work environments are actually more productive, and higher employee retention.

7. Your Company Will be More Profitable.
Companies with more women in leadership perform better — full stop. Twenty-five percent of U.S. GDP growth since 1970 is attributed to women entering the paid workforce, and economists estimate that bringing more women into the workforce could raise GDP by 5%.

8. You’ll Get a Free Pass to the Revolution.
And free passes rock.
Jessica Bennett is a contributing columnist at Time.com covering the intersection of gender, sexuality, business and pop culture. She writes regularly for the New York Times and is a contributing editor on special projects for Sheryl Sandberg’s women’s nonprofit, Lean In. You can follow her @jess7bennett.

TIME life hacks

How Not to Be ‘Manterrupted’ in Meetings

2009 MTV Video Music Awards - Show
Kevin Mazur—WireImage/Getty Images Kanye West takes the microphone from Taylor Swift and speaks onstage during the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards on Sept. 13, 2009

A guide for women, men and bosses

Manterrupting: Unnecessary interruption of a woman by a man.

Bropropriating: Taking a woman’s idea and taking credit for it.

We all remember that moment back in 2009, when Kanye West lunged onto the stage at the MTV Video Music Awards, grabbed the microphone from Taylor Swift, and launched into a monologue. “I’m gonna let you finish,” he said as he interrupted Swift as she was accepting the award for best female video. “But Beyoncé had one of the best videos of all time!”

It was perhaps the most public example of the “manterruption” – that is, a man interrupting a woman while she’s trying to speak (in this case, on stage, by herself, as an award honoree) and taking over the floor. At the VMAs it might have counted as entertainment, but ask any woman in the working world and we all recognize the phenomenon. We speak up in a meeting, only to hear a man’s voice chime in louder. We pitch an idea, perhaps too uncertainly – only to have a dude repeat it with authority. We may possess the skill, but he has the right vocal cords – which means we shut up, losing our confidence (or worse, the credit for the work).

We might have thought we were just being paranoid. But thanks to Sheryl Sandberg and Wharton business school professor Adam Grant (a man!) we can feel just a little less crazy when we mentally replay those meetings gone wrong. In a new op-ed in the New York Times, they point out the perils of “speaking while female,” along with a bevy of new research to prove that no, this is not all in our heads. (Disclaimer: I edit special projects for Sandberg’s women’s nonprofit, LeanIn.Org. Though I did not edit her Times op-ed.)

Sandberg and Grant cite research showing that powerful male Senators speak significantly more than their junior colleagues, while female Senators do not. That male executives who speak more often than their peers are deemed more competent (by 10%), while female executives who speak up are considered less (14% less). The data follows a long line of research showing that when it comes to the workplace, women speak less, are interrupted more, and have their ideas more harshly scrutinized.

“We’ve both seen it happen again and again,” Sandberg and Grant write. “When a woman speaks in a professional setting, she walks a tightrope. Either she’s barely heard or she’s judged as too aggressive. When a man says virtually the same thing, heads nod in appreciation for his fine idea.”

My friends have come up with terminology for it: Manterrupting. Manstanding. (Or talk-blocking, if you want the gender-neutral version.)

And the result? Women hold back. That, or we relinquish credit altogether. Our ideas get co-opted (bro-opted), re-appropriated (bro-propriated?) — or they simply fizzle out. We shut down, become less creative, less engaged. We revert into ourselves, wondering if it’s actually our fault. Enter spiral of self-doubt.

But there are things we can do to stop that cycle: women, men, and even bosses.

Know That We’re All a Little Bit Sexist — and Correct for It

The reality is that we all exhibit what scholars call “unconscious bias” — ingrained prejudices we may not even know we have. (Don’t think you’re among the culprits? Take this Implicit Association Test to be proved wrong.) When it comes to women, that bias is the result of decades of history; we’ve been taught that men lead and women nurture. So when women exhibit male traits – you know, decision-making, authority, leadership – we often dislike them, while men who exhibit those same traits are frequently deemed strong, masculine, and competent. It’s not only men who exhibit this bias, it’s women too: as one recent study found, it’s not just men who interrupt women more at work — it’s women too. But acknowledging that bias is an important step toward correcting for it.

Establish a No-Kanye Rule (Or Any Interruption, for That Matter)

When Glen Mazarra, a showrunner at The Shield, an FX TV drama from the early 2000s, noticed that his female writers weren’t speaking up in the writer’s room – or that when they did, they were interrupted and their ideas overtaken — he instituted a no-interruption policy while writers (male or female) were pitching. “It worked, and he later observed that it made the entire team more effective,” Sandberg and Grant wrote.

Practice Bystander Intervention

Seriously, stop an interrupter in his (or her) tracks. Nudge him, elbow him, or simply speak up to say, “Wait, let her finish,” or “Hey, I want to hear what Jess is saying.” The words are your choice — but don’t stay silent.

Create a Buddy System With a Friend

Or, better yet, if you’re a woman, create a buddy system with a friend who is a dude. Ask him to nod and look interested when you speak (when he’s interested, of course). Let him to back you up publicly in meetings. Seriously, try it. It’s not fair, no. But dammit, it works.

Support Your (Female) Colleagues

If you hear an idea from a woman that you think is good, back her up. You’ll have more of an effect than you think and you’ll establish yourself as a team player too.

Give Credit Where It’s Due

Yes, everyone wants credit for a good idea. But research shows that giving credit where it’s due will actually make you look better (as well as the person with the idea).

Women: Practice Assertive Body Language

Sit at the table, point to someone, stand up, walk to the front of the room, place your hand on the table — whatever it takes. Not only do these high-power poses make you appear more authoritative, but they actually increase your testosterone levels – and thus, your confidence. In some cases, it may actually help to literally “lean in”: in one study, researchers found that men physically lean in more often than women in professional meetings, making them less likely to be interrupted. Women more often leaned away — and were more likely to be interrupted.

… And Own Your Voice

Don’t undermine your authority with “I’m not sure if this is right, but—.” Speak authoritatively. Avoid the baby voice (leadership and authority are associated with the deep masculine voice, not with a softer, higher pitched tone). And please, whatever you do, don’t apologize before you speak.

Support Companies With Women in Power

We know that companies with more women on their corporate boards have higher outcomes and better returns. Teams with more diverse members perform better too. But having more women in power may actually encourage women to bring their ideas forward. In one study cited by Sandberg and Grant, researchers looked at the employees of a credit union where women made up 74% of supervisors and 84% of front-line employees. Shocker: women here were more likely to speak up, and be heard.

If all else fails, you can always learn how to talk really, really loud.

Jessica Bennett is a contributing columnist at Time.com covering the intersection of gender, sexuality, business and pop culture. She writes regularly for the New York Times and is a contributing editor on special projects for Sheryl Sandberg’s women’s nonprofit, Lean In. You can follow her @jess7bennett.

Read next: A Better Feminism for 2015

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Illustration by Kathleen Edison for TIME
TIME Opinion

The Problem With Frats Isn’t Just Rape. It’s Power.

The Phi Kappa Psi fraternity house at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Va., Nov. 24, 2014. A Rolling Stone article last week alleged a gang rape at the house which has since suspended operations.
Steve Helber—AP The Phi Kappa Psi fraternity house at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Va., on Nov. 24, 2014. A Rolling Stone article alleged a gang rape at the hous

Too many frats breed sexism and misogyny that lasts long after college. Why we need to ban them—for good.

At the university I called home my freshman year, fraternity row was a tree-lined street full of Southern style mansions, against a backdrop of the poor urban ghetto that surrounded the school. Off-campus frat parties weren’t quite how I pictured spending my weekends at a new school – I wasn’t actually part of the Greek system – but it became clear quickly that they were the center of the social structure. They controlled the alcohol on campus, and thus, the social life. So there I was, week after week, joining the throngs of half-naked women trekking to fraternity row.

We learned the rules to frat life quickly, or at least we thought we did. Never let your drink out of your sight. Don’t go upstairs – where the bedrooms were housed – without a girlfriend who could check in on you later. If one of us was denied entry to a party because we weren’t deemed “hot” enough – houses often ranked women on a scale of one to 10, with only “sixes” and up granted entry to a party – we stuck together. Maybe we went to the foam party next door.

In two years at the University of Southern California, I heard plenty of stories of women being drugged at frat parties. At least one woman I knew was date raped, though she didn’t report it. But most of us basically shrugged our shoulders: This was just how it worked… right?

If the recent headlines are any indication, it certainly appears so. Among them: women blacked out and hospitalized after a frat party at the University of Wisconsin, only to discover red or black X’s marked on their hands. An email guide to getting girls in bed called “Luring your rapebait.” A banner displayed at a Texas Tech party reading “No Means Yes, Yes Means Anal” – which happened to be the same slogan chanted by frat brothers at Yale, later part of a civil rights complaint against the university.

And now, the story of Jackie, who alleged in a Rolling Stone article — swiftly becoming the subject over fairness in reporting whether the author was negligent in not reaching out to the alleged rapists — that she was gang raped by seven members of the Phi Kappa Psi house at the University of Virginia, and discouraged from pressing charges to protect the university’s reputation.

The alleged rape, it turned out, took place at the same house where another rape had occurred some thirty years prior, ultimately landing the perpetrator in jail.

“I’m sick about this,” says Caitlin Flanagan, a writer and UVA alumna who spent a year documenting the culture of fraternity life for a recent cover story in the Atlantic. “It’s been 30 years of education programs by the frats, initiatives to change culture, management policies, and we’re still here.”

Which begs the question: Why isn’t every campus in America dissolving its fraternity program — or at least instituting major, serious reform?

Not every fraternity member is a rapist (nor is every fraternity misogynist). But fraternity members are three times more likely to rape, according to a 2007 study, which notes that fraternity culture reinforces “within-group attitudes” that perpetuate sexual coercion. Taken together, frats and other traditionally male-dominated social clubs (ahem: the Princeton eating club) crystalize the elements of our culture that reinforce inequality, both gender and otherwise.

For starters, they are insulated from outside perspective. It wasn’t until the late 1960s that Greek organizations eradicated whites-only membership clauses; as a recent controversy at the University of Alabama revealed, only one black student had been permitted into that Greek system since 1964. Throughout the country, the fraternities grew into “caste system based on socioeconomic status as perceived by students,” John Chandler, the former president of Middlebury, which has banned frats on campus, recently told Newsweek.

And when it comes to campus social life, they exert huge social control: providing the alcohol, hosting the parties, policing who may enter–based on whatever criteria they choose. Because sororities are prohibited from serving alcohol, they can’t host their own parties; they must also abide by strict decorum rules. So night after night, women line up, in tube tops and high heels, vying for entrance. Even their clothes are a signifier of where the power lies. “Those with less power almost invariably dress up for those who have more,” Michael Kimmel, a sociologist at Stony Brook University, wrote in a recent column for TIME. “So, by day, in class, women and men dress pretty much the same … At parties, though, the guys will still be dressed that way, while the women will be sporting party dresses, high heels and make up.”

And when frat boys grow up? They slide right into the boys club of the business world, where brothers land Wall Street jobs via the “fraternity pipeline,” as a recent Bloomberg Businessweek piece put it — a place where secret handshakes mean special treatment in an already male-dominated field. Fraternities have graduated plenty of brilliant Silicon Valley founders: the creators of Facebook, Instagram, among others. They’ve also brought us Justin Mateen, the founder of Tinder, who stepped down amid a sexual harassment lawsuit, and Evan Spiegel, the Snapchat CEO, whose recently apologized for e-mails sent while in the Stanford frat where Snapchat was founded, which discussed convincing sorority women to perform sex acts and drunkenly peeing on a woman in bed.

(VIDEO: My Rapist Is Still on Campus: A Columbia Undergrad Tells Her Story)

If we lived in a gender-equal world, fraternities might work. But in an age where 1 in five college women are raped or assaulted on campus, where dozens of universities are under federal investigations for their handling of it, and where the business world remains dominated by men, doesn’t the continued existence of fraternities normalize a kind of white, male-dominated culture that already pervades our society? There is something insidious about a group of men who deny women entry, control the No. 1 asset on campus – alcohol – and make the rules in isolated groups. “[Colleges] should be cultivating the kind of sensibility that makes you a better citizen of a diverse and distressingly fractious society,” Frank Bruni wrote it in a New York Times column this week. “How is that served by retreating into an exclusionary clique of people just like you?”

The argument for Greek life – at least for the mainstream, largely white frats that seem to be the problem – goes something like this: It’s about fostering camaraderie. (According to a 2014 Gallup Poll, fraternity and sorority members have stronger relationships with friends and family than other college graduates.) It’s about community: As the Washington Post reported, chapters at UVA reportedly raised $400,000 for charity and logged 56,000 hours of community service during the past academic year. It’s part of a student’s free right to congregate. And also about training future leaders. According to Gallup, fraternity and sorority members will end up better off financially, and more likely to start businesses than other college graduates.

But the real benefit – at least the unspoken one – may be about money. Frats breed generous donors: as Flanagan pointed out in her Atlantic piece, fraternities save universities millions of dollars in student housing. At least one study has confirmed that fraternity brothers also tend to be generous to their alma maters.

All of which is part of the problem. Who wants to crack down on frats if it’s going to profoundly disturb campus life?

UVA, for its part, has suspended the frat in question until the new year, what the Inter-Fraternity Council described as a helpful opportunity for UVA’s Greek system to “take a breath.” The university’s president has said that the school “is too good a place to allow this evil to reside.” But critics saw the punishment as a slap on the wrist: a suspension, when most students are out of town for the holidays?

There are other options on the table: The school is reportedly considering proposals to crack down on underage drinking and even a ban on alcohol. Other universities have explored making fraternities co-ed. And there’s some evidence that fraternity brothers who participate in a rape prevention program at the start of the academic year are less likely to commit a sexually coercive act than a control group of men who also joined fraternities.

Yet all the while, the parade of ugly news continues. A group of frat brothers at San Diego State University interrupted a “Take Back the Night” march last week by screaming obscenities, throwing eggs and waving dildos at marchers. The next night, a woman reported she was sexually assaulted at a party near the school’s campus; she was the seventh person to come forward this semester. And on Monday, Wesleyan announced that its Psi Upsilon fraternity would be banned from hosting social events until the end of 2015, also because of rape accusations.

Fraternities have created something that’s fairly unique in the modern world: a place where young men spend three or four years living with other men whom they have vetted as like them and able to “fit in.” What do you expect to happen at a club where women are viewed as outsiders, or commodities, or worse, as prey, and where men make the rules? It should be no surprise they end up recreating the boys club — and one that isn’t all so great for the boys, either.

Jessica Bennett is a contributing columnist at Time.com covering the intersection of gender, sexuality, business and pop culture. She writes regularly for the New York Times and is a contributing editor on special projects for Sheryl Sandberg’s women’s non-profit, Lean In. You can follow her @jess7bennett.

Read more views on the debate about preventing sexual assault on campus:

Caitlin Flanagan: We Need More Transparency on the Issue of Fraternity Rape

A Lawyer for the Accused on Why Some Rules About Consent Are Unfair to Men

Ban Frat Parties–Let Sororities Run the Show

TIME Opinion

Lena Dunham and Feminism: Beware the Vitriol of the Sisterhood

The debate over revelations in Dunham's memoir is not just about the propriety of a child's sexual curiosity. It’s about women who make us uncomfortable.

Correction: Appended, Nov. 5.

“Sisterhood is powerful. It kills. Mostly sisters.”

Those were the words of Ti-Grace Atkinson, an author and philosopher, when she resigned from the Feminists, a radical group she had founded in the late 1960s. They were repeated, forty years later, in the New Yorker​ by Susan Faludi​, who ​described them as “one of the lines most frequently quoted by feminists.”

​If Lena Dunham’s latest lambasting is any indication, the words are still applicable today. The vitriol of the sisterhood is alive and well.

The latest controversy over Dunham goes like this: Last month, the 28-year-old creator of Girls published a memoir, Not That Kind of Girl. In the book, much in the same way her HBO series does, Dunham takes on all sorts of taboos, in revealing, unfiltered, at times uncomfortable sections on virginity, sisterly intimacy and platonic bed sharing, date rape, and more. She is graphic in her sexual descriptions, including a passage where she describes, as a 7-year-old, looking inside her younger sister’s vagina (to discover that her sister had placed pebbles in it, presumably as a prank).

The scene is cringe-inducing. It’s uncomfortable, no doubt. It’s also funny. I ​laughed, ​turned the page and kept reading. Little kids do bizarre things.

I​t appeared that so did everybody else — until last week. That’s when an article in the National Review – written by Kevin Williamson, a man notable for an article on how “Laverne Cox Is Not a Woman” and seeming to suggest that women who get abortions should be hanged– eviscerated Dunham for the chapter in her book about rape (he questioned why, if the story of an assault she suffered in college were truthful, she never “felt the need to press charges, file a complaint, or otherwise document the encounter.”) The right​-wing website TruthRevolt then picked up the ​thread, ​homed in on the sisterly vagina scene ​(along with a typo stating that Dunham was seventeen not 7) and declared in a headline (over which Dunham is now allegedly suing): “Lena Dunham describes sexually molesting her sister.”

In the version of things in my head, here’s how I would have expected this scenario to play out: ​

A few right wing publications and gossip blogs would pick up the story. ​The New York Post would write a ​snarky headline. ​Dunham would respond ​on Twitter (which she did). Her sister, who is her best friend and tour manager, would chime in (which she did). Feminists would jump to her defense. What she did as a seven-year-old may bother people, but that’s precisely Dunham’s form of art. That doesn’t make it abuse.

And yet​…​ here is how it did play out. ​Dunham was swiftly called a “predator without remorse” — mostly by other feminists on Twitter.​ She was compared to R. Kelly, Bill Cosby, and Jian Ghomeshi. She became the subject of a hashtag, #DropDunham, which called on Planned Parenthood – which has joined Dunham on a number of stops on her book tour – to disassociate from her immediately.

​And on feminist listservs, Tumblr blogs and elsewhere, the pile-on began. She was “creepy.” “Not normal.” A “self-promoter.” “Full of herself.” A woman who needs to “sit the f–k down and learn something.” ​She was told to “get some boundaries.” To “stop being weird.” Her story was, as one blogger put it, “best kept in the confines of your family kitchen over Thanksgiving.”

This was not the National Review talking. These were fellow feminists.

Yes, she had defenders: Jimmy Kimmel tweeted that suggesting “a 7 yr-old girl is even capable of ‘molestation’ is vile​”; a sex researcher at the Kinsey Institute wrote that “it’s normal for kids to explore with each other;” prominent feminist voices like Roxane Gay (who called Dunham “gutsy” and “audacious” in a review of her book), Katha Pollitt (who donated to Planned Parenthood in Dunham’s honor); and a group of women who launched a Tumblr to curate all sorts of youthful (and at times unsettling) stories of sexual exploration. ​(Dunham responded again, too, writing in TIME that she takes abuse seriously and noting that her sister had given permission for her to publish the story.)

And yet the vitriol from her critics was so intense, so personal, so almost gleeful, that it was hard not to wonder if this was really about Lena Dunham at all.

“Honestly, I don’t think I’ve even seen this level of outrage over Bill Cosby,” one friend commented, referring to the allegations of sexual abuse against Cosby.

Why, whenever there is a powerful woman speaking about feminism publicly (including, ahem: Sheryl Sandberg, and please see the disclosure in my bio) must they become so polarizing as to make feminism, as one journalist put it, “a bipartisan issue“?​ (It’s worth noting that among my cohort, anyway, there has been far more discussion about Dunham than about the elections).

Feminism is about giving women equal opportunity, equal voice, equal power. And yet, over and over again, when female voices attain that power, we – other women – parse and analyze their every move, public and personal, with an absurdly critical eye. We see it in politics, in pop culture, in film. From Hillary Clinton to Sandberg to Anne Hathaway. (As Roxane Gay put it in a piece for The Rumpus, “Young women in Hollywood cannot win, no matter what they do.”)

To be clear: There are plenty of people who think Dunham’s behavior toward her sister was questionable, and that’s a valid argument to have. (Though “inappropriate” is a whole lot different from “molestation” so say the experts.) There are others who’ve argued that acknowledging Dunham’s race, and privileged background, are crucial to this conversation. (I happen to disagree – but that too, is a discussion worth having.)

But this has become a witch hunt – and it has everything to do with​ how we view women like Dunham.

Feminism has a long history of what Ms. Magazine, in a 1976 piece by Jo Freeman, called “trashing.” That is, taking jabs at women who suddenly rise up, helping elevate them, but then tearing them down when they become too successful. “This standard,” Freeman wrote, “is clothed in the rhetoric of revolution and feminism. But underneath are some very traditional ideas about women’s proper roles.”

Dunham is a perfect target for trashing – because she doesn’t fit into our traditional molds. She is loud, out there, imperfect, messy, and some might say maybe even a little gross. She speaks openly about feminism, and sex, the ambiguity of consent, and she doesn’t apologize for it. She makes people uncomfortable. And while she may have risen up propelled by the support of other women, somewhere along the way, she lost her likability – as powerful women often do. She is just a little too loud, a little too unapologetic, a little too overtly sexual, a little … successful.

But that doesn’t make her a molester.

Dunham has always presented herself as flawed. She has never made herself a paragon, or claimed to represent us all. Yes, her character on Girls called herself a “voice of her generation.” She is also not her character (and has said repeatedly that it was just a line). And she’s not a politician, she’s an artist. It is her job is to push boundaries. To speak loudly. And, yes, to self-promote – and sell books.

Dunham’s accomplishments are what feminists should want women to aspire to: she is the writer, director and star, making art about women, from a woman’s point of view, in an industry that is still dominated by men. She doesn’t represent all women — and she shouldn’t have to. But she is willing to say what many other high-profile women won’t (at least not publicly). Yes, she has a voice that creates controversy. Yes, she makes people uncomfortable.

But why do we hold her to a seemingly higher standard? Why must her voice represent us all?

No one can be “everything to everybody,” Freeman wrote back in 1976. And neither can Lena Dunham. Like her, don’t like her. Watch Girls, don’t watch it. But let’s not forget: There is room for more women than Lena Dunham at the top.

Jessica Bennett is a contributing columnist at Time.com covering the intersection of gender, sexuality, business and pop culture. She writes regularly for the New York Times and is a contributing editor on special projects for Sheryl Sandberg’s women’s non-profit, Lean In. You can follow her @jess7bennett.

Read next: Lena Dunham: ‘I Do Not Condone Any Kind of Abuse’

Correction: The original version of this story attributed a quotation to National Review writer Kevin D. Williamson that he did not say. The story has been updated to remove the quotation.

TIME health

Why So Many Women Are Crying at the Gym

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Stefano Oppo—Getty Images Yoga mudra

For a generation of stressed-out working women, exercise is as much about emotional release as it is physical training.

“Let it out! Let out the sludge!”

It’s 7am on a Tuesday, at a small dance studio in Manhattan’s Tribeca neighborhood, and Taryn Toomey is stomping her feet into the floor like thunder. “Get rid of the bullsh*t!” she shouts. “Get rid of the drama!”

Two dozen women in yoga pants and sports bras sprint in place behind her, eyes closed, arms flailing. Sweat is flying. The Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage” is blaring in the background. There are grunts and screams. “Hell yes!” a woman bellows.

When the song ends, Toomey directs the group into child’s pose, torso folded over the knees, forehead on the floor, arms spread forward. Coldplay comes on, and there is a moment of rest. “Inhale. Exhale. Feel your center,” Toomey says. Heads slowly come up, and suddenly, tears are streaming down the faces of half the room. A woman in front of me is physically trembling. “I just let it all out,” a middle-aged woman in leggings and a tank top whispers.

This is “The Class”—one part yoga, two parts bootcamp, three parts emotional release, packaged into an almost spiritual… no, tribal… 75 minutes. It is the creation of fashion exec turned yoga instructor Toomey, and it is where New York’s high-flying women go for emotional release (if, that is, they can get a spot).

“During my first class I didn’t just cry, I sobbed,” says McKenzie Hayes, a 22-year-old New Yorker who has become a regular in the class. “Whether it’s your job or your relationships, I literally picture my emotional problems being slowly unstuck from my body and moved out.”

Toomey calls that “sludge”: it’s the emotional baggage we carry in our muscles that has nowhere else to go. She’s not a doctor. But week after week, she encourages participants to sweat, scream and cry out those emotions, in the company of a group of mostly women who are doing the same. “I’ve had classes where people are literally on all fours sobbing,” Toomey says. “But it’s not just my class, it’s happening everywhere. Emotional release in public can feel very uncomfortable. But I think there’s a growing movement of people who want to find a space for it.”

Indeed, the message to women has long been to hide your tears lest you look weak. (Among the tactics: jutting out your jaw. Breathing exercises. Chewing gum. Drinking water.) Yet while crying in the office may remain a feminine faux pas, tears at the gym seem to have lost their stigma — to the extent that there are a bevy of fitness courses that even encourage it.

For Asie Mohtarez, a Brooklyn makeup artist, it began in hot yoga. The music was on, the floor was warm, the instructor was standing over her encouraging her to let go. “I was in child’s pose and I just lost it,” she says. Then, two weeks later, it happened again – this time at Physique 57. The Dirty Dancing soundtrack came on and it was waterworks again. “There’s something about these classes that feel safe,” says the 33-year-old. “I can’t cry at work. I’m not emotionally distraught enough to cry in the shower. I can’t just burst into tears in front of my husband. So, what does that leave you with?”

You could go to therapy – or you could hit the gym. Women are getting teary in SoulCycle, and misty-eyed at Pure Barre. They are letting out wails in yoga and rubbing the shoulder of the weepy woman next to them at CrossFit. “I think people have started to notice that their clients are just showing up to class and just unloading, and so they’re tailoring their classes to create space for this,” says Hayes, who is a pilates instructor by day. “When I take private clients I end up feeling like a therapist for them.”

These fitness instructors aren’t trained in that, of course. But they’ve probably been there.

“I usually just go over to the student after class and quietly ask how they’re feeling,” says Kristin Esposito, a yoga instructor in Los Angeles who sees criers often. “My classes are focused on release so it feels pretty natural.”

Physiologically, it is: Exercise releases endorphins, which interact with serotonin and dopamine, the chemicals that impact mood. In yoga, deep hip openers – like the “pigeon pose” – are meant to stir emotions (yogis believe our emotional baggage lives in our hips).

But many of the newer courses are specifically choreographed to release emotion, too – making it all that much more intense. The lights are dim, candles flicker in the background. It’s not an accident that just as you’re starting to relax, coming down from the adrenaline, you’re blasted with a throaty ballad. Those playlists are meticulously constructed. “I’ve been teaching for almost 20 years, so I’ve basically seen it all: crying, laughing, throwing up, overheating,” says Stacey Griffith, a Soul Cycle instructor. “There are moments in the class that are directly programmed for that reason – but it’s not like we’re trying to get people to cry. We’re giving them the space to step outside of themselves.”

And indeed, that may be necessary. We’re busier, more stressed and more connected than we’ve ever been. Simply finding the time to have that “space” can be near impossible, making the release that these courses offer – packaged neatly into an hour – a kind of fix. “The night before, I can’t wait,” says Hayes of Toomey’s class. “I already know what will be the flood that I’m working through. And sometimes conversations with friends just don’t cut it.”

Getting those emotions out is a good thing – at least in moderation. Emotional tears contain manganese, potassium, and a hormone called prolactin, which help lower cholesterol, control high blood and boost the immune system. Crying reduces stress, and, according to one study, from the University of Minnesota, actually improves the mood of nearly 90 percent of people who do it. “You really do feel lighter after,” says Hayes.

“To me, it’s a sign of being present, it’s a sign of feeling your feelings, of being in the moment,” says Toomey, just after “the class” has ended. Plus, shoulder to shoulder in a hot room, there is almost a sense of communal release. Of high-charged emotional camaraderie. “I so needed this,” a woman tells her on the way out, with a hug. And, of course, with that much sweat, the tears are almost hidden anyway.

Read next: I Taught Fitness and Failed a Fat Test

TIME Opinion

Company-Paid Egg Freezing Will Be the Great Equalizer

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Science Photo Library—Getty Images/Science Photo Library RF Egg storage

From Facebook to Citigroup, more companies are covering the cost of elective egg freezing for women who want to delay child-bearing. Is this the key to real gender equality?

Updated on October 16 at 11:25 am.

I spent last Thursday on the 15th floor of a fertility clinic with a dozen women. It was a free seminar on egg freezing, and I listened, wide-eyed, as a female physician described how, by the time a woman reaches puberty, her egg count will already be reduced by half. The women in the room had presumably come for the same reason as I had – we were single, in our 30s and 40s, and wanted to know our options – and yet we might as well have been entering a brothel. We didn’t make eye contact. We looked straight ahead. It was as if each of us now knew the other’s big secret: the fertility elephant in the room.

Women talk about sex, their vibrators, their orgasms – but a woman’s fertility, and wanting to preserve it, seems to be the last taboo. There’s something about the mere idea of a healthy single female freezing her eggs that seems to play into every last trope: the desperate woman, on the prowl for a baby daddy. The woman who has failed the one true test of her femininity: her ability to reproduce. The hard-headed careerist who is wiling to pay to put off the ticking of her biological clock. That or – god forbid – the women who ends up single, childless and alone.

But that may be changing, in part thanks to an unlikely patron saint: the Man.

This week, Facebook and Apple acknowledged publicly for the first time that they are or will pay for elective egg freezing for female employees, a process by which women surgically preserve healthy eggs on ice until they’re ready to become parents, at which point they begin the process of in vitro fertilization. Facebook, which told NBC News it has had the policy in place since the start of the year, will cover up to $20,000 under its “lifetime surrogacy reimbursement” program under Aetna (a typical cost of the procedure is around $10,000 fee, plus annual storage fees.) Apple will begin coverage in 2015.

There are other companies who cover the procedure, too: Citigroup and JP Morgan Chase tell TIME that their coverage includes preventative freezing. According to interviews with employees, Microsoft includes some preventative coverage, too. And sources say Google is weighing the coverage option for 2015.

The revelations appeared to unleash more immediate questions than they answered: Were these companies simply putting even more pressure on women to keep working and put their personal lives on the back burner? Was it a narrow effort by prosperous tech companies to recruit , or retain, female talent in an industry whose gender breakdown remains dismal? Or was it a step toward actually legitimizing the procedure, and leveling the playing field for women? Could the move – and the public nature of it — destigmatize the practice for good?

It’s been two years since the American Society of Reproductive Medicine lifted the “experimental” label from egg freezing – a procedure initially created to help patients undergoing chemotherapy — leading to a surge in demand. Yet because the non-experimental technology is so new, researchers say it’s too soon to give real qualitative efficacy data. (While doctors typically recommend women freeze at least 18 eggs — which often requires two rounds of the procedure – there’s no guarantee that the eggs will lead to successful pregnancy when they are implanted via IVF years later.)

Nonetheless, the very idea that there might be a way for women to build their careers and their personal lives on a timetable of their own choice — not dictated by their biology — is so intriguing that single women are filling informational seasions at clinics and holding egg freezing “parties” to hear about it. They are flocking to financing services like Eggbanxx, which reports it is fielding more than 60 inquiries a week. And on email lists and at dinner parties, women trade egg freezing tips like recipe binders: which insurers cover what, the right terminology to use when asking for it, side effects of hormone injections that stimulate egg production and the outpatient procedure one most go through to retrieve the eggs.

Sometimes, they’re talking about careers: the relief of knowing that – with your eggs on ice – there is simply more flexibility around when to make the decision to give birth. But more often, they’re talking about dating: the “huge weight lifted off your shoulders,” as one single 32-year-old friend described it, knowing that you no longer have assess every potential prospect as a future husband and father.

For women of a certain age, reared with the reliability of birth control, this could, as the technology improves, be our generation’s Pill — a way to circumvent a biological glass ceiling that, even as we make social and professional progress, does not budge. Women today have autonomy – and choice – over virtually every aspect of their lives: marriage, birth control, income, work. And yet our biology is the one thing we can’t control.

“It’s almost as if evolution hasn’t kept up with feminism,” says a friend, a 34-year-old Facebook employee who underwent the procedure using the new policy this year. “But I think that, like with anything, the culture takes a while to catch up. And sometimes it takes a few big people to come out and say, ‘We’re doing this’ to really change things.”

From a practical standpoint, covering elective egg freezing makes sense. It’s an economic issue that could help companies, especially tech companies, attract women and correct a notorious gender imbalance. “Personally – and confidentially – this made me immediately look at Facebook jobs again,” a 37-year-old marketing executive who worked at both Facebook and Google tells me. “I’m looking to control my career and choices around motherhood on my terms, and a company that would allow me to do so — and provide financial support for those choices — is one I’d willingly return to.”

It’s a social issue, against a backdrop that men and women are waiting longer than ever to tie the knot, and there are now more single people in this country than at any other moment in history. (No, you’re not some kind of failure because you haven’t met someone and reproduced by 35. You’re just…. well, normal.)

And for businesses, of course, it’s a financial issue too. As the Lancet put it in a medical paper earlier this month, covering egg freezing as a preventative measure could save businesses from having to pay for more expensive infertility treatments down the line – a benefit that is already mandated in 15 states. As Dr. Elizabeth Fino, a fertility specialist at New York University, explains it: with all the money we spend on IVF each year, and multiple cycles of it, why wouldn’t healthcare companies jump on this as a way to save? And while success rates for IVF procedures vary significantly by individual, and are often low, using younger eggs can increase the chances of pregnancy.

“Companies with good insurance packages have been paying for IVF for a long time. Why should egg freezing be any different?” says Ruthie Ackerman, a 37-year-old digital strategist who had her egg freezing procedure covered through her husband’s insurance.

Egg freezing is also, of course, an issue of equality: a potential solution to the so-called myth of opting out. An equalizer among both gender – men don’t usually worry about their sperm going bad, or at least not with quite the same intensity or cost – and class (the procedure has typically only been available for those who could afford it). The way egg freezing has worked so far, many women don’t necessarily return to retrieve their eggs. Still others get pregnant naturally. And so, even though it’s too soon to say how successful the procedure down the line will be — for women who return, thaw, and begin the process of IVF — it’s almost like an insurance policy. An egalitarian “peace of mind.”

“I have insurance policies in every other area of my life: my condo, my car, work insurance,” says another friend, another employee of one of these firms, another woman who doesn’t want to be named, but for whom hopefully this will soon no longer be an issue. She points to a recent survey, published in the in the journal Fertility and Sterility, which found that a majority of patients who froze their eggs reported feeling “empowered.” “This is my body, and arguably the most important thing that you could ever have in your life,” she continues. “Why wouldn’t I at least protect that asset?”

And if your boss is offering it up to you for free, what do you have to lose?

Jessica Bennett is a contributing columnist at Time.com covering the intersection of gender, sexuality, business and pop culture. She writes regularly for the New York Times and is a contributing editor for special projects for Sheryl Sandberg’s women’s nonprofit, Lean In. You can follow her @jess7bennett.

Read next: Perk Up: Facebook and Apple Now Pay for Women to Freeze Eggs

TIME Culture

Caitlin Moran on Teen Girls, Sex and Pretending to Be Courtney Love

BAILEYS WOMEN'S PRIZE FOR FICTION
Splash News/Corbis Caitlin Moran at the "Baileys Women's Prize For Fiction" at Royal Festival Hall in London on June 4, 2014.

The "How To Build a Girl" author offers up her candid advice

Caitlin Moran doesn’t give a damn if you think she’s polite. Nope, the author and columnist — en route back to London after a whirlwind New York City tour — has never bothered to check her words at the door. An in an era where lives, and voices, can be literally curated, her prose is refreshing.

Moran made headlines when her first book, How to Be a Woman, a memoir, earned her comparisons to Lena Dunham and Tina Fey. Her latest, a novel, is called How to Build a Girl, and is a coming of age story – of sorts that’s being published as young adult fiction, but read by women of all ages. (A coming of age story with a lot, a lot, of sex.) Moran spoke with TIME about feminism, sex, the revolution and all sorts of other things:

TIME: I don’t know if I realized that in addition to your books, and doing a standup comedy tour, you write weekly for the Times of London. How do you manage to be so prolific?

MORAN: Two years ago, when How To Be a Woman took off, I got people coming up to me saying “Do you want to make a sitcom? Do you want to make a film? Do you want to write a novel? Do you want to do stand-up? Do you still want to write two columns a week for The Times?” And I said yes to everything. So now my ass is cashing the check my mouth wrote. Also: coffee.

Do you think you could have attracted the same audience for a “feminist” piece of work a few years ago?

It is an amazing time to be a female artist. There’s clearly a wave of women at the moment — Amy Schumer, Lena Dunham, Tina Fey, Chelsea Handler, the Broad City girls, Mindy Kaling, Amy Poehler — who have all come to the same realisation: you just don’t get any credit if you carry on being a timid, polite girl scared of talking about sex, abortion, politics, the physical bullshit of being a woman. You go to all this effort to be non-controversial and ‘good’ and not only does it f–k you up personally and emotionally, but there’s no career in it, either.

So how do you make a career?

With my working class ghetto background, I love telling girls that there’s money to be made in the revolution. You don’t just have to do it out of love. And you’re making your money out of being amusing and honest and unclenching women’s buttocks and making them feel like ‘Hey! Rather than trying to be a thin, hairless, well-groomed woman in uncomfortable shoes and a tight expensive dress, I’m just going to PURSUE JOY instead. I’m going to enjoy my life, because you’re a long time dead, and what I actually want to do is eat a cheese sandwich, have a shag, go for a brisk walk, and then watch Ghostbusters.’

On the shag point… there are a lot of people who are still surprised by a woman talking so candidly about women and sex. Why do you think we’re so afraid of female sexuality?

The funny thing about me writing ‘frankly’ about sex is that my generation still doesn’t get it. We still don’t realize what our 12 and 13 and 14 year olds are doing – they’re watching hard core pornography. So me writing an amusing, warm, kind book about hetero-normative consensual sex and masturbation is like … whatever. I mean, most teenagers would be like ‘where is the sex in here?’ But what is important is the tone in what I write. For teenage girls – and boys – to read about sex being discussed cheerfully, and truthfully, and with a sense of glee and gossipy ‘Oh my god NO!’

Your daughter is 13. Your protagonist is 14. I think my parents were scared to death when I was that age. How do you describe the glorious teen mind?

Teenagers are extraordinary – I remember all my teen years with utter clarity – because everything’s new. Everything’s a first. First kiss, first party, first outfit you chose and bought yourself, first train journey, first cigarette – first record you love so much you think the love will actually, utterly kill you. Or make you rule the world. It’s why pretty much everything I’ll ever write will be about teenage girls. Fat, gobby working class clever gleeful brilliant idiot teenage girls. It’s a Woody Allen deal. He does New York Jewish men. I do gobby working class teenage girls.

Your column is not an advice column, but you give pretty damn good advice. Got any for the teen girl in all of us?

You just need three hobbies: long country walks – get some air into your lungs – masturbation, and the revolution. With those three things, the chances of a teenage girls’ worst enemy – self-loathing – taking root are minimal. Wank away the pain!

One of the things I observe constantly among women my age is this utter lack of confidence. The fumbling over owning our voice. The apologizing before we speak. The ending statements in a question. Where’d you get the, er, balls to just not care?

Fake it ‘til you make it, as Johanna [her new book’s protagonist] discovers, is the key thing. I wrote my first novel when I was 15, and when I went down to London to have a meeting about publishing it, I froze in the doorway, thinking ‘I can’t take this meeting! I don’t know what to do!’ I was a very overweight virgin too poor to have a coat – I was wearing a dressing gown, instead – with no friends, and no education, and no idea of how to talk to adults. And I had a brilliant and revolutionary thought, as I stood in that doorway: ‘Well – just pretend to be someone who does know what to do.’

Like who?

I chose Courtney Love. I spent the next five years pretending to be her. Because she seemed fearless. Because she didn’t care what people thought about her. This is why culture is so important – why it’s key for us to see as many different people as possible; why its embarrassing that people of colour, LGBT and woman are so under-represented on TV, in movies, in the media. Or that, when we appear, it’s still in largely stereotypical, non-lead roles. You cannot be what you cannot see. Give us more strong, amazing, fantastical people that we can pretend to be, in those difficult years when we’re building ourselves.

There’s a new documentary that premiered on PBS this week about women and comedy. How do you think humor informs your work? Do you think feminism could use a dose of …. gasp, humor?

Humour is key, because I’m piously committed to TOTAL REVOLUTION. I’m not just writing and performing about mental illness, abortion, feminism, socialism, LGBT equality, intersectionality, poverty, welfare because I like the sound of my own voice – mainly because my own voice is horrible: I sound like a rasping goose. I properly want to change people’s minds. And if you communicate with anger, 90% of what people hear is the anger. They’re not listening to what you’re actually saying. They’ll just start arguing back at you. And that is exactly what you can see happening with so much online activism.

And with humor…?

Everyone’s buttocks immediately unclench. People actually listen to what you’re saying. Plus, the revolution becomes fun again.

TIME Internet

Behold the Power of #Hashtag Feminism

Janay Rice Ray Rice NFL
Patrick Semansky—AP Janay Rice listens as her husband, Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice, speaks during a news conference at the team's practice facility in Owings Mills, Md on May 23, 2014.

Women are using social media to have a voice in a way that organizations like the NFL do not afford them.

At the time, the ad campaign — modeled on efforts to curb drunk driving — was considered shocking. It was 1994, the year that OJ Simpson would be arrested for murder, his history of domestic abuse exposed. Yet even so, domestic violence was not a crime that anybody seemed willing to talk about back then. It was, as then Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala put it, “our dirty little secret” — something that happened, and stayed, behind closed doors.

But Esta Soler, the president of a group called Futures Without Violence, was determined to get people talking. Under the banner, “There’s No Excuse for Domestic Violence,” she distributed a series of advertisements to 22,000 media outlets — including ones published in TIME and People. In one, the blurred image of a woman is pictured cowering under a man. “If we remain silent,” Soler told the Washington Post at the time, “our silence will breed even more fear.”

Twenty years later, domestic abuse is again making headlines (and again with a star football player). But this time women are talking about it en masse.

When TMZ released a damning video of Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice beating his girlfriend (now wife) unconscious on Monday, the response was swift: commenters called the NFL response an “epic breach of trust.” Rice was cut from the team. Cable news commenters began to question, in light of the revelation, why Rice’s wife would have stayed with him in the first place.

Beverly Gooden, a Cleveland HR manager, had had enough. Under the hashtag #WhyIStayed, she tweeted a staccato response:

“I stayed because my pastor told me that God hates divorce,” she wrote of her own abusive relationship.

I stayed because I was halfway across the country, isolated from my friends and family.”

“I stayed because I thought love was enough to conquer all.”

It was the antidote to the simplistic view of many of the “experts” who’d weighed in, and it went viral in an instant. “You can feel voiceless,” Gooden told PolicyMic, as the hashtag collected thousands of women’s (and men’s) stories. “I want people to know that they have a voice.”

She was talking about domestic violence, and yet it could have been a metaphor for the way that women like her are using social media daily to make their voices heard. From #StandWithWendy to #HobbyLobby to #YesAllWomen, they are bypassing the gatekeepers, simply by sheer mass — forcing attention on the issues they deem important. “This conversation would have been impossible even 10 years ago,” says Soler, reflecting on more than 30 years as an advocate. “Social media has created space for people of all kinds to express themselves, and to see their voices amplified.”

The women’s social media revolution began some time ago — but reached its tipping point this year. In May, #YesAllWomen practically broke the Internet — a response to the misogynist killings at UCSB that turned into a three day global movement. Since then, the stream of hashtag causes has been hard to keep up with: #SurvivorPrivilege, the response to a George Will column that asserted being a rape survivor on a college campus was now a “coveted status” (he was dumped by the St. Louis Dispatch as a result). There’s #EverydaySexism, about daily harassment, #YouOKSis, to challenge street harassment, #AskHerMore, which calls out the questions we wish reporters would ask women on the red carpet. The list goes on. It’s no huge surprise that, according to data from Twitter, conversation about “feminism” has increased by 300 percent on the platform over the past three years. Women’s issues are everywhere, relentlessly spread by the women they impact. For the mainstream media, tracking the feminist hashtag of the moment has become a virtual sport.

In the 1970s, feminists often said “the personal is political.” It meant that the more women could connect with issues in their own life, the more attention they’d pay to the politics around them. But if consciousness-raising groups were the personal for thousands of women then, then the intimate personal stories curated in hashtags like #WhyIStayed are the modern-day equivalent. “What I think is most unique now is that we’re able to attach our own stories to elevate the issues beyond just a video of a man punching a woman,” says Tara Conley, an ethnographer who studies online media and the creator of a blog called Hashtag Feminism. “Social media can play an important role in opening up spaces for women — particularly those who’ve been marginalized.”

Social organizing has always existed in the women’s space — from word of mouth to letter-writing to telephone chains and flyers, methods of organizing has adopted to the times. And yet in a pre-Internet era, unless a woman accidentally stumbled into a protest, or a consciousness-raising group, she likely wasn’t hearing much about it. Which is why #WhyIStayed, and movements like it, are even more significant. They manage to take issues frequently confined to small circles — feminist circles — and bring them to the masses. “What is interesting to me is how these issues are going mainstream,” says Matthew Slutsky, who runs partnerships at Change.org. “It’s not feminists, or even activists, talking about rape, or domestic violence, or abortion rights, anymore. It’s just people.”

Those people happen to be women — mostly. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Women’s power on the internet continues to rise: they now dominate every major social media platform but one (LinkedIn), they log in more often than their male counterparts, and they are more engaged when they do. When it comes to activism, they are ruling there, too: women are 2.5 times more likely to sign petitions than their male counterparts, and more likely to have successful organizing campaigns, according to data from Change.org. “Women don’t just dominate social media, they drive traffic,” says Elizabeth Plank, the executive social editor at PolicyMic. “That’s a massive game changer.”

It means that they don’t just have a voice, they are forcing institutions to listen.

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 College

An Ode to the Random College Roommate

Room mates
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A host of new apps are making roommate selection less random than ever. Here's what too much control means you might just miss out on

I met my best friends in the world on Craigslist. I also lived with a bulimic, a woman who taped “Bush/Cheney 2000″ posters all over our dorm room, and one who communicated only through passive aggressive Post-It notes on the house refrigerator.

There was the roommate whose bedroom didn’t have a door — only a curtain — and whose boyfriend I saw naked more times than my own. Then there were the two best friends who happily welcomed me in, sweet as pie, only for me to discover I’d signed a yearlong lease to become the buffer in their roommate feud. Roommate A had taken all of the kitchen supplies — pots, pans, silverware, dishes — and locked them, with a padlock, inside her bedroom. (Maybe that’s why I still don’t cook.)

For decades, the random college roommate has been a right of passage. Every year around this time, hoards of students show up to dorm rooms across the country, racing — with parents in tow — to claim the side of the room with the window. But in the age of social media, the randomness of that experience has been all but erased. As Rolling Stone reported last month, today’s college students are using apps to find harmonious bunk matches. RoomSync, a Facebook app reportedly used at more than 60 campuses, crunches data based on questionnaire responses to suggest a roster of choices. The unthinkable has finally happened: college students are suddenly able to avoid the awkwardness of getting thrown together with the last person they’d ever choose as a companion.

And yet, as Stephanie Wu, the author of a new collection of essays called The Roommates puts it, “There’s something to be said about being squeezed into very small quarters for a long period of time.” There are lessons learned — about love, rivalry and friendship. You learn to negotiate. You learn to move your own boundaries. And for every horror story, there is a tale of best friends and overcoming odds.

I asked my senior year college roommates — still some of my best friends — to help me come up with a list of things we all learned from the old way of doing things. Here are our top 10:

1. How to Stage An Intervention

Going through a bottle of mustard in a single day just isn’t OK, OK? Even if you really love the taste.

2. Clothes Exist for a Reason

No, really. Can you tell your boyfriend to put some on?

3. Sharing Closets Only Works When Both of You Have Equally Great Wardrobes

Borrowing each other’s clothes is best left to Sweet Valley High.

4. Teamwork Is Necessary

Specifically, when you must remove a screaming mouse trapped inside the coils of your oven with your bare hands.

5. The Bathroom and Its Mysteries

There will always be hair in the tub and yet it will belong to no one. The layers of soap scum will eventually come to resemble the faces of roommates past. Your most important heart-to-hearts will end up taking place across the six inches between the toilet and the shower.

6. Patience Is a Virtue

You know the roommate who always swears she’ll be ready in “just 15 minutes”? Get ready to uncork some Yellow Tail and wait.

7. Binge-Watching Should be Offered for Credit

There’s nothing like a pleather a pleather couch, a box of Wheat Thins and animated feminist discourse over Carrie’s relationship with Mr. Big.

8. It’s Possible to Know More About Your Roommates’ Intimate Parts Than What’s Going on in the World

Periods, sex partners, STD results: the dorm room as OB-GYN office.

9. Your Friends Will Always Be There to Listen (Because they Have to Be)

An unwritten rule of room-sharing is that I get to crawl into your bed after an epically disastrous night and have you help me relive the gory details.

10. It Can Always Be Worse

Even when your patience is strained beyond what you thought possible, just be thankful you’re not living with that roommate down the hall. Need a reminder? Just take a flip through Wu’s “The Roommates.” From mental disorders to harassment to cleaning up sewage, there’s always a roommate story worse than your own.

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

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