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.
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 house, which has since suspended operations Steve Helber—AP

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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Yoga mudra Stefano Oppo—Getty Images

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

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

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
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. Patrick Semansky—AP

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
Getty Images

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.

TIME Opinion

How to Reclaim the F-Word? Just Call Beyoncé

Beyonce performs onstage at the 2014 MTV Video Music Awards at The Forum on August 24, 2014 in Inglewood, Calif.
Beyonce performs onstage at the 2014 MTV Video Music Awards at The Forum on August 24, 2014 in Inglewood, Calif. Jason LaVeris—FilmMagic/Getty Images

Beyonce’s brand of empowerment isn’t perfect, but her VMA performance on Sunday accomplished what activists could not: She took feminism to the masses.

Militant. Radical. Man-hating. If you study word patterns in media over the past two decades, you’ll find that these are among the most common terms used to talk about the word “feminist.” Yes, I did this — with the help of a linguist and a tool called the Corpus of Contemporary American English, which is the world’s largest database of language.

I did a similar search on Twitter, with the help of Twitter’s data team, looking at language trends over the past 48 hours. There, the word patterns were more simple. Search “feminist,” and you’ll likely come up with just one word association: Beyoncé.

That’s a product of Sunday’s MTV Video Music Awards, of course, in which the 33-year-old closed out the show with an epic declaration of the F-Word, a giant “FEMINIST” sign blazing from behind her silhouette.

As far as feminist endorsements are concerned, this was the holy grail: A word with a complicated history reclaimed by the most powerful celebrity in the world. And then she projected it — along with its definition, by the Nigerian feminist author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie — into the homes of 12 million unassuming Americans. Beyoncé would become the subject of two-thirds of all tweets about feminism in the 24 hours after her appearance, according to a data analysis by Twitter, making Sunday the sixth-highest day for volume of conversation about feminism since Twitter began tracking this year (the top three were days during #YesAllWomen).

“What Bey just did for feminism, on national television, look, for better or worse, that reach is WAY more than anything we’ve seen,” the writer Roxane Gay, author of the new book, Bad Feminist, declared (on Twitter, naturally).

“HELL YES!” messaged Jennifer Pozner, a writer and media critic.

“It would have been unthinkable during my era,” said Barbara Berg, a historian and the author of Sexism in America.

Feminism may be enjoying a particular celebrity moment, but let’s just remember that this wasn’t always the case. Feminism’s definition may be simple — it is the social, political and economic equality of the sexes, as Adichie put it — and yet its interpretation is anything but. “There was only about two seconds in the history of the world in which women really welcomed [feminism],” Gail Collins, The New York Times columnist and author of America’s Women once told me in 2010, for an article I was writing about young women and feminism. “There’s something about the word that just drives people nuts.”

Over the past 40 years in particular, as Berg explains it, the word has seen it all: exultation, neutrality, uncertainty, animosity. “Feminazi” has become a perennial (and favorite) insult of the religious right (and of Rush Limbaugh). In 1992, in a public letter decrying a proposal for an equal rights amendment (the horror!) television evangelist Pat Robertson hilariously proclaimed that feminism would cause women to “leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism, and become lesbians.”

Even the leaders of the movement have debated whether the word should be abandoned (or rebranded). From feminist has evolved the words womanist, humanist, and a host of other options — including, at one point, the suggestion from Queen Bey herself for something a little bit more catchy, “like ‘bootylicious.'” (Thank God that didn’t stick.)

It wasn’t that the people behind these efforts (well, most of them anyway) didn’t believe in the tenets of feminism — to the contrary, they did. But there was just something about identifying with that word. For some, it was pure naiveté: We were raised post-Title IX, and there were moments here and there where we thought maybe we didn’t need it. (We could be whatever we wanted, right? That was the gift of the feminists who came before us.) But for others, it was a notion of what the word had come to represent: angry, extreme, unlikeable. As recently as last year, a poll by the Huffington Post/YouGov found that while 82 percent of Americans stated that they indeed believe women and men should be equals, only 20 percent of them were willing to identify as feminists.

Enter… Beyoncé. The new enlightened Beyoncé, that is. Universally loved, virtually unquestioned, and flawless, the 33-year-old entertainer seems to debunk every feminist stereotype you’ve ever heard. Beyoncé can’t be a man-hater – she’s got a man (right?). Her relationship – whatever you believe about the divorce rumors – has been elevated as a kind of model for egalitarian bliss: dual earners, adventurous sex life, supportive husband and an adorable child held up on stage by daddy while mommy worked. Beyoncé’s got the confidence of a superstar but the feminine touch of a mother. And, as a woman of color, she’s speaking to the masses – a powerful voice amid a movement that has a complicated history when it comes to inclusion.

No, you don’t have to like the way Beyoncé writhes around in that leotard – or the slickness with which her image is controlled – but whether you like it or not, she’s accomplished what feminists have long struggled to do: She’s reached the masses. She has, literally, brought feminism into the living rooms of 12.4 million Americans. “Sure, it’s just the VMAs,” says Pozner. “She’s not marching in Ferguson or staffing a battered woman’s shelter, but through her performance millions of mainstream music fans are being challenged to think about feminism as something powerful, important, and yes, attractive. And let’s head off at the pass any of the usual hand-wringing about her sexuality — Madonna never put the word FEMINIST in glowing lights during a national awards show performance. This is, as we say… a major moment.”

It’s what’s behind the word that matters, of course. Empty branding won’t change policy (and, yes, we need policy change). But there is power in language, too.

“Looking back on those early days of feminism, you can see that the word worked as a rallying cry,” says Deborah Tannen, aa linguist at Georgetown University and the author of You Just Don’t Understand, about men and women in conversation. “It gave women who embraced [it] a sense of identity and community — a feeling that they were part of something, and a connection to others who were a part of it too. Beyoncé’s taking back this word and identifying with it is huge.”

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 a contributing editor for Sheryl Sandberg’s women’s foundation, Lean In. You can follow her @jess7bennett.

TIME selfies

Our Bodies, Our Selfies: The Feminist Photo Revolution

The Taxonomy of a Feminist Selfie
Illustration by Anna Sudit for TIME

How young women are turning a symbol of narcissism into a new kind of empowerment

As far as selfies go, the photo of 17-year-old Grammy winner Lorde was a coup. “In bed in paris with my acne cream on,” the singer wrote on Instagram, captioning herself in a black T-shirt and messy bun, white splotches visible on her face.

Twenty-four hours and 95,000 Likes later, fans couldn’t stop gushing. “Lorde’s No-Makeup, Acne-Cream Selfie Only Further Proves Her Awesomeness,” the Huffington Post declared. “RESPECT” and “Love u,” commenters screamed. “Finally a celeb who doesn’t have seemingly flawless skin.”

The scene was utterly ordinary — the way most teen girls go to bed each night — which was precisely what made it so out of the ordinary. How often do you see a celebrity looking like a regular awkward teen? (Answer: almost never.)

Over the past year, the selfie has pushed its way into our collective consciousness like a pop song you can’t get out of your head. It was Oxford Dictionary’s word of the year. It has spawned think pieces about think pieces. It will earn you nine points in Scrabble.

Yet when it comes to selfies and girls, much of the conversation has been judgey: selfies are narcissistic, humble-braggy, slutty, too sexy, a “cry for help,” or yet another way for girls’ to judge each other (or seek validation for their looks).

But the Lorde acne-cream selfie is just a tiny example of the ways young women like her — and even, yes, some socially conscious celebs — are using the self-portrait to turn that narcissism notion on its head. In small pockets all over the Internet, women are celebrating their flaws. They’re making silly faces (ugly selfies!) and experimenting with identities. They’re owning their imperfections (whether it be full hair or wrinkles or — dare we say it — fat) and contradicting old stereotypes (for instance, that “#FeministsAreUgly,” as a new Twitter campaign has it). In a culture that places immeasurable value on a woman’s beauty, women are using selfies to show what women really look like — no makeup, acne cream and all.

I’ve spent a good portion of the last year looking at the ways that imagery can impact our perception of women, and how we can overturn sexist tropes through mass media. But the selfie is doing the same thing through mass culture. Here are nine ways the selfie is empowering women.

Selfies Push Back Against Traditional Beauty Norms
Self-portraits have been an outlet for feminist expression, and subversion, for a long time. But when it comes to modern-day beauty representations, what we see daily is often a familiar spectrum of vanilla: white, gaunt, emotionless and airbrushed beyond recognition. Selfies are pushing back against that beauty ideal, through thousands of images of “real” women that they’ve created and shared themselves. “Selfies open up deep issues about who controls the image of women,” says Peggy Phelan, an art and English professor at Stanford University and the author of a recent essay about feminist selfies. “Selfies make possible a vast array of gazes that simply were not seen before.”

Selfies Take Advantage of a Platform That Girls Rule
It should be no surprise that, according to a recent survey by Dove, 63% of women believe social media — not print, film or music — is having the most pivotal impact on today’s definition of beauty. That’s because it’s a world where girls rule. Teens and young women use social media often and in more ways than men on almost every site, from Facebook to Instagram to Tumblr.

Selfies Allow Women to Own Their Flaws
Whether it’s Nicki Minaj sans makeup; the model Cara Delevingne modeling the grotesque; or Tavi Gevinson, the teen creator of Rookie magazine, noting the giant pimple on the “Upper West Side of my face,” there is something powerful in seeing normally flawless celebrities with actual flaws. On Twitter and Tumblr, the #FeministSelfie hashtag reveals an epic stream of women in all shapes and sizes, engaged in all sorts of activities, while #365FeministSelfie project — started by an administrator at the University of Illinois at Chicago — encourages women to take a snapshot of themselves each day for a year, no matter how they look. “We spend so much time trying to hide our flaws because the culture has set it up that you have to be ashamed if you’re not perfect,” Cynthia Wade, a filmmaker and creator of the short film Selfie told me recently, for an article about ugly selfies in the New York Times. “I think girls are tired of it.”

Selfies Give Girls Control
For centuries, we’ve watched as changing standards of beauty have shaped us: it was men, not women, controlling the photos. But selfies put the power in girls’ hands. “It allows you to have complete control over one moment in time,” 15-year-old Harper Glantz, one of the subjects of the film Selfie, told me a few months back. “In school, me and other girls sort of feel smothered just by social pressures that are hard to even detect sometimes. I think what a selfie does is that it really allows you to express yourself in a way that you feel comfortable with.”

Selfies Showcase Faces Not Normally on Display
“A huge swath of women and girls don’t see themselves portrayed in mainstream media,” explains Jennifer Pozner, a media critic and the founder of Women in Media and News, which aims to amplify female voices. And yet, through the sheer number of selfies uploaded daily — selfies that showcase women in all forms — women are upending notions about whose faces are beautiful, or mainstream, enough to be seen. “They’re breaking through the media gatekeepers,” says Pozner. “And they’re saying, ‘I’m great the way I am.’”

Selfies Are a Form of Social Currency
James Franco’s recent ridiculousness aside, the actor made a good point when he wrote, in an op-ed in the New York Times, that “attention is power.” “In a visual culture,” he said, “the selfie quickly and easily shows, not tells, how you’re feeling, where you are, what you’re doing. In our age of social media, the selfie is the new way to look someone right in the eye and say, ‘Hello, this is me.’”

Selfies Challenge the Notion That You Need a Reason to Be Seen
Narcissus may have drowned because he was too enchanted with his own reflection, but selfies challenge the idea that girls can’t revel in their own reflection — or feel good about a photo of themselves. “Selfies are one way for a female to make space for herself in the world: to say ‘I’m here, this is what I actually look like, my story counts, too,'” says Pamela Grossman, the director of visual trends at Getty Images, and my co-curator on a feminist photo-curation project. “They allow girls to shine on their own terms.”

Selfies Aren’t Just About What You Look Like, They’re About What You’re Doing
Whether it’s solving a math equation or crossing a marathon finish line.

Selfies Force Us to See Ourselves
To celebrate what we look like — flaws and all.

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 a contributing editor for Sheryl Sandberg’s women’s foundation, Lean In, where she curates the Lean In Collection with Getty Images. You can follow her @jess7bennett.

TIME Opinion

Stop Telling Women Their Most Valuable Asset Is Their Youth

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MmeEmil—Getty Images/Vetta

Why, in an era when we are succeeding in so many ways, do we buy into sexist tropes about aging?

Last week, I wrote a column about​ millennials and​ beta-marriages: ​young people, like me, who want to beta-test their relationships before they commit to “forever” — by way of temporary marriage contracts. It led to an interesting response,​ in particular,​ from a five-times married, ​71-year-old ​television host who posts semi-nude selfies on the internet.

Appearing on FOX to discuss the piece, Geraldo Rivera noted, to stunned female hosts, that what a woman brings to a marriage “more than anything else” is “her youth.”

Her youth?

Yes, “her youth,​” ​Geraldo continued. Because a woman’s youth, he explained, “is a fragile and diminishing resource.”

Geraldo’s logic went like this: If a woman were to invest two precious years into ​a beta-marriage, and then, God forbid, have her man reject her (his words, not mine), she’ll have wasted her most valuable asset. The thing that is, obviously, going to determine not just whether a woman will have a family, but whether she’ll have a husband, and live happily ever after, at all.

I spent all week trying to ignore that comment. Honestly, who gives a ​sh-t about Geraldo Rivera? And yet I couldn’t get it out of my head. Like the ticking of that clock, I kept hearing it, reading about it, stumbling on it everywhere I turned: Your youth. Your youth. Your youth.

Women have been hearing this argument since the dawn of time. And since the dawn of time, part of it has been true (youth means fertility). But Geraldo’s sin was not simply that what he said was impolitic. It’s that he put bluntly one of the most insidious and persistent smears: that women come with an expiration date.

​It’s a concept that is still pounded into us at every turn, from media to pop culture–and not just by septuagenarian TV personalities. It is there, almost tauntingly, in a recent article in Esquire, which seemed to bask in its own generosity by proclaiming that a woman could still be hot at 42–as if that were a reason to reconsider their value. It’s there in the endless media blitz by Susan Patton, the “Princeton Mom,” who’s managed to create a “mini empire,“as Salon recently put it, from “one crazy op-ed” about how women need to hurry up and find a man.

I’m 32 (though I’m always tempted to shave a year or two from that number). I’m surrounded by other unmarried women in their 30s ​who are ambitious, career-driven, attractive.Intellectually, we know that the longer we wait to ​settle down, the more likely our relationships will be successful. (We’ve read the studies.) And we know that when we do decide to tie the knot, we’re going to bring a whole lot ​of benefits to ​the relationships – things like ​advanced ​education and ​money-earning​ potential​ — ​that would have been inconceivable even a generation ago.

​We also know we’re going to do all of this while slathering our faces with anti-aging cream. Pricking our smile-lines with Botox. Lying about our ages.​ ​And cleaning up after everyone in the house (even ​breadwinning wives still do the majority of chores).​ And on some strange level, we’ve accepted it.

The thing is, reality no longer conforms to those old tropes. Women now get the majority of college degrees. We have careers. We are living longer than ever. We can freeze our eggs to buy us biological time.

And yet our conception of what makes a woman desirable and valuable in society hasn’t caught up. From every angle, we continue to hear that we need to “rush.” That we should make it easier and more comfortable for the men around us. That our youth — not necessarily even our fertility — is our most valuable asset.

And as if that wasn’t already our worst fear, we have people like Geraldo hammering that home.

On Tuesday, while this story went viral, my 33-year-old friend was having her eggs frozen, then tearfully coming over to my house, bloated and emotional, worried she hadn’t bought herself enough time.

On Wednesday, I had a half-hour conversation with another friend, about how many years she was allowed to shave off of an online dating profile​ — because, she feared, nobody would want to date a woman over 30.

On Thursday, I cried to my therapist, about the clock that was ticking in my head. “​But is it really even your clock?” she asked. “Or is it just the pressure you feel from everybody else?”

The youthfulness we’re chasing is not about biology, and it’s not solvable by science. It’s a cultural message. And we need to stop listening to it.

So thanks for the reminder, Geraldo — but I’d rather not listen. Here’s hoping that the fifth time’s the charm.

If not, there’s always the beta-marriage.

 

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