TIME Opinion

How Caitlin Stasey’s NSFW Website Is Moving Feminism Forward

Actress Caitlin Stasey attends the 25th Annual GLAAD Media Awards at The Beverly Hilton Hotel in Los Angeles on April 12, 2014.
Jason Merritt—Getty Images Actress Caitlin Stasey attends the 25th Annual GLAAD Media Awards at The Beverly Hilton Hotel in Los Angeles on April 12, 2014.

"Our feminism is nothing less than freedom," the 24-year-old CW actress says

Australian actress and CW star Caitlin Stasey recently launched a website, Herself.com (NSFW), featuring interviews with ordinary women (aka non-celebs) about topics like masturbation, pornography, reproductive rights, sexual identity and the female body. The site is the latest addition to the ongoing conversation about women and the media, which in recent years has stretched from the #freethenipple campaign (which advocates women’s right to go topless in public) to Dove’s “Real Beauty” advertisements to Beyonce’s 2014 VMA performance.

Herself is a much-needed feminist tribute to both the minds and bodies of women, and there’s an abundance of nudity featured on the site — hardly a surprise given Stasey’s outspoken stance on female sexuality. In fact, naked women are the first things visitors of Herself.com see. Sure, the site’s thought-provoking interviews may get glossed over by viewers focusing on the subject’s naked bodies, but their overt nakedness is giving a different attitude about the female body the push forward it needs in mainstream media.

“A woman rarely gets the opportunity to just live in herself, as herself, a fully autonomous, self-determining human being. I wanted to give women the chance to reclaim that for themselves,” Stasey said in a recent interview. “The fact that it is a matter of controversy that a woman should choose to be nude without it being an act of sex just shows how backward and oppressive our society is. It shouldn’t matter. It shouldn’t warrant questioning.”

By overtly displaying the female form, Herself has the potential to expose its subjects to objectification, and the site’s garnered a mild amount of criticism on social media. But major publications such as Glamour and People are eager to praise Stasey’s uncensored tribute to women of all kinds.

Stasey encourages readers to “witness the female form in all its honesty without the burden of the male gaze.” The initial buzz surrounding Herself lead to the site trending on Facebook with the description “actress launches website for women featuring personal interviews and nude photos,” basically guaranteeing men will visit. Yet even allowing for the fact that she’s exposing herself to the male gaze, Stasey remains unfazed.

“I sincerely hope men come to the site and learn to see how women present themselves, how women look when they are not merely objects, but the living, breathing subjects of their own stories,” she says. “This is a site made by a woman for women about women,” Stasey adds.

Going full-frontal in the name of feminism isn’t without its controversies, but the women in Herself are showcasing their own bodies on their own terms. Not only that, but they’re reaching a new generation of teen readers thanks to the 24-year-old actress’ star role on the CW’s Reign. Ultimately Herself gives women the opportunity to decide whether they want their bodies showcased online — and no one should judge them for that.

“If [feminism] is anything less than a woman getting to live her life proudly and freely, then I probably wouldn’t march for it,” says Stasey. “If you think feminism is telling other women how to live, then we’ll never agree, and I’m fine with that. Our feminism is nothing less than freedom.”

Herself is about as safe as it gets for like-minded feminists wanting to share their beliefs, fears and hopes, as well as for Stasey’s teen fans who are just becoming aware of their bodies, sexuality and sexual identity. And for someone visiting the site for the nude pics? They’ll definitely learn something while they’re at it.


Punishing Kids for Lying Only Makes Them Lie More

Young child sitting in corner as punishment
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Kids who are given a moral reason to tell the truth tend to do so more often

Do you punish your children when they’re caught in a lie? That’s what many parents do, but a new study from researchers at McGill University suggests it might be time for a different approach. The study finds that kids reprimanded for lying are more likely to bend the truth, while kids who are given a moral reason for truth-telling tend to believe that honesty is the best policy.

Researchers traced the effectiveness of punishment in 372 kids between the ages of 4 and 8, finding that children were less likely to tell the truth when threatened with punishment, and more likely to tell the truth when they thought it would please an adult.

In order to gauge the implications of punishment on a child’s propensity to lie, researchers placed each participant alone in a room with a toy, and asked the child not to peek at the toy for an entire minute. It’s hardly surprising that curiosity got the best of most children, with 67.5 percent peeking, and 66.5 percent of those who peeked going on to lie about it. (Note: older children were less likely to peek, but were also more likely to lie about peeking after they’d done so.)

“Children often lie to conceal transgressions,” says study researcher and McGill professor Victoria Talwar. “Having done something wrong or broken a rule, they may choose to lie to try to conceal it. After all, they know they may get in trouble for the transgression. Thus, punishment doesn’t have much of an effect. It doesn’t deter them from using the strategy of lying to try to get out of trouble.”

So, how should parents go about encouraging their children to tell the truth when the impulse to lie is so strong? McGill’s study indicates that kids respond best to a strong moral appeal for honesty. Younger children were inclined to tell the truth to make an adult happy, while older children were inclined to do so because of their own internalized definition of right and wrong –– facts that might come in handy when your little one is caught red handed with the leftover Halloween candy.

“Threats about punishment are not deterrents for lying, and they do not communicate why children should be honest,” says Talwar. “If a child is playing with a ball in the house and breaks your vase but tells the truth about it when asked, you should recognize that he came clean. He may still have consequences for his transgression, but the child learns that honesty is valued.”

These findings reinforce a more progressive approach to parenting, and indicate that it’s better to explain truth-telling to children using positive reinforcement than the threat of harsh consequences. “Globally, we generally think of lying as a negative behavior,” says Talwar. “However, we sometimes fail to recognize the positive behavior –– honesty. If a child is confessing his transgression, we need to recognize that he was honest.”

Read next: Parents Should Try Being Present Instead of Perfect


Scooters Leading Cause of Toy-Related Injuries This Christmas

Young boy riding scooter
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Toys are leaping off the shelves faster than ever now that we’ve officially entered the holiday season, but a new study finds that many toys cause serious injury to children. The study, out Dec. 1, from the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, found that an estimated 3,278,073 kids in the United States were treated in emergency rooms after suffering toy-related injuries from 1990-2011. Even more alarming, every three minutes a child was treated for a toy-related injury in the year 2011 alone.

Toys foster imaginative learning and creativity, but parents may want to consider the types of toys their children are playing with. Study researchers found that the rate of toy-related injury rose by about 40 percent between 1990 and 2011–– in part because of the increased popularity of foot-powered scooters. From 2000 onward, there was an estimated one toy-related injury every 11 minutes, and children who were injured thanks to scooters were three times more likely to break or dislocate a bone.

“All children should use safety precautions when using a scooter or other riding toys,” says Dr. Gary Smith, study author and director of the Center for Injury Research and Policy. “The first three safety tips I give for preventing injuries on those toys are: 1. Wear a helmet. 2. Wear a helmet. 3. Wear a helmet. Buy a scooter, buy a helmet.” He notes that any adult planning on giving a scooter to a child should also make sure to get a helmet that fits. And take worthwhile precautions: only ride scooters on flat, dry surfaces away from motor vehicle traffic.

Hundreds of toys are recalled every year for being defective (Mattel alone recalled 19 million toys back in 2007), and there are numerous other ways kids can inadvertently injure themselves while playing –– from choking on a Lego to getting hit with a rogue baseball. Yet, researchers found that falls and collisions (as opposed to other injuries such as ingestion or aspiration) were the most frequent cause of toy-related injuries among children in all age groups. Falls accounted for 46 percent and collisions were responsible for 22 percent of injuries.

While more than half of toy injuries are sustained by children younger than five, injuries due to riding toys like scooters were shown to increase later into childhood. A whopping 42 percent of injuries in children ages 5 to 17 were attributed to scooter, tricycle or wagon accidents, while only 28 percent of injuries in children under five were attributed to these ride-along toys. (Though, it’s worth noting, that young children are at an increased risk for swallowing or ingesting small toy parts.)

So, how can parents protect their children from toy-related injuries this holiday season? “First, follow a toy’s age restrictions and any other guidelines from the manufacturer,” says Smith. “If a package label says that children younger than 3 years of age should not use the toy inside, it often means that the toy poses a choking risk to young children because of small parts. In addition, parents should check the website, Recalls.gov, to be sure that toys they already own have not been recalled, especially since there have been hundreds of toy recalls in the last decade.”

For more parenting stories and advice on raising a child in today’s world, check out the new TIME for Family subscription.

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Breakfast: Not All It’s Cracked Up to Be?

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New study suggests morning meal is no academic cure-all

Breakfast has long been considered the most important meal of the day, especially for elementary school students. Everyone from parents, to teachers, to cereal manufacturers have touted the importance of a nutritional morning meal, but is there evidence to back the positive effect of breakfast on academic performance? A recent study has somewhat muddied the waters on this issue.

A 2005 study by Tufts University researchers found that elementary school children who ate common breakfast foods (oatmeal and cereal) once a day for three consecutive weeks scored better on a battery of cognitive tests—particularly on measures of short term memory, spatial memory and auditory attention. But a study out on Nov. 24, also from Tufts, finds that students enrolled in Breakfast in the Classroom (BIC) programs did not obtain higher math and reading standardized test scores than students in non-BIC schools.

Like the national School Breakfast Program (which provides free or low-cost breakfast to children before the start of the school day), Breakfast in the Classroom meals are available to all students regardless of income level. However, BIC is served in the classroom after the opening bell—ensuring that children enjoy a well-balanced meal without having to wake up early and get to school in time for SBP. Students in 18 states across the nation have had the benefit of a free in-classroom breakfast with their peers thanks to BIC, a huge feat considering that millions of children live in households where a healthy breakfast isn’t an option. But while the immediate nutritional value of Breakfast in the Classroom is apparent, research is ongoing as to how the program affects academic achievement.

In order to ascertain whether students in BIC programs performed better academically, Tufts researchers looked at 446 public elementary schools in urban areas that served low income minority students—189 of which did not participate in BIC during the 2012-2013 school year, and 257 of which did. While BIC schools demonstrated increased overall attendance, there was no notable difference in academic achievement between BIC and non-BIC schools—specifically regarding standardized tests in math and reading.

The results are curious, because the increased attendance at BIC schools presumably means that more students are getting more instruction on important coursework, yet the scores didn’t point to better results. It’s possible that breakfast programs aren’t the solution to narrowing the achievement gap between children whose families face poverty and those who don’t, as educators were hoping.

Tufts researchers, however, insist that the study’s failure to duplicate previous findings that breakfast increases academic performance shouldn’t necessarily cause parents to doubt the benefits of BIC —nor the importance of a healthy breakfast in general.

“These findings should not be interpreted as a definitive conclusion on whether Breakfast in the Classroom affects achievement,” says study author and Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy research associate Stephanie Anzman-Frasca.”There are a number of potential explanations for the lack of differences in standardized test scores across schools with and without Breakfast in the Classroom.”

One of those explanations might be that schools often encourage parents to feed kids breakfast on test days, so students who weren’t in the program may have arrived well fed anyway. There’s also the question of whether standardized tests are an appropriate measure for academic achievement. “Given the mixed findings across studies linking school breakfast and academics, it is important to continue to conduct research in this area, with longer-term follow-ups and multiple measures of academic outcomes, before drawing definitive conclusions,” adds Anzman Frasca.

Rather than abandoning the programs, she’s calling for more research. “Collecting multiple measures of academic performance, such as test scores as well as classroom behavior and attention, would be a good way to gain a more comprehensive understanding of Breakfast in the Classroom’s impacts as research in this area continues.”


Why Nevada Students Should Continue to Fight for Comprehensive Sex Ed

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Most high school students aren't learning about rape or sexual assault prevention as part of their required curriculum. This needs to change.

Students in a Nevada school district are taking sex education into their own hands by pushing for a comprehensive curriculum that touches on anatomy, contraception, sexual identity and gender identity–a far cry from the usual practice of rolling condoms on bananas and calling it a day (the highlight of my own sex-ed experience.)

The Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS) published guidelines that many Clark County students hope will inform their sex-ed curriculum, specifically discussing rape and sexual assault–both of which are increasingly pervasive on college campuses. One in five women will experience sexual assault while attending college, and there are many programs (including The White House’s It’s On Us public service campaign) that are actively working to reduce this alarming statistic. But what are high schools doing to teach students about physical boundaries before sending them off to college? Thanks in part to parental opposition, not nearly enough.

Students in Nevada are hoping their voices will be heard in Clark County’s open forums, which occurred as a result of parents being outraged over the proposed SIECUS curriculum. The program’s expansive coverage includes information about harassment and rape (as well as ultra-controversial information on masturbation), and goes too far for many parents who believe these issues shouldn’t be taught in the classroom. Sure, educating children about their bodies is generally considered to be an effective way of preventing assault, but some parents feel “uncomfortable” about the new sex-ed curriculum, and emphasize the need to educate kids on their own terms, in the comfort of their own homes. Parental concern was reason enough for Clark County superintendent Pat Skorkowsky to ditch SIECUS and offer up a public apology, but students aren’t giving up the fight.

“As a rape survivor myself I know firsthand what I received in my sex-ed classes here in Nevada, and what I didn’t,” Nevada Learning Academy student Caitlyn Caruso tells TIME. “And I know that in my sex-ed classes I received a lot of scare tactics, a lot of shaming, a lot of information that made me feel ‘othered’ and didn’t really arm me with any real knowledge to protect myself.” Caruso believes sex-ed courses can help educate teens dealing with this issue. “I’ve had so many other students confide in me about sexual assault and rape, and how they didn’t know what had happened to them with rape or sexual assault because they were never given those words and they were never given those skills from their sex-ed courses.”

Despite the fact that sex-ed programs like that of SIECUS offer the tools needed to deal with sexual assault head-on, only 22 states and the District of Columbia actually require schools to teach sex-ed– meaning students in 28 states aren’t necessarily learning how to use condoms, let alone being taught not to sexually assault their peers. (Note: Nevada has an “opt-in” policy, which means parents may choose to have their children attend sex-ed). “High schools have been very resistant to taking on the issue,” says Oklahoma State University professor and rape-prevention researcher Dr. John D. Foubert. “But if we’re going to make any progress in ending sexual assault, we’ve got to get them on our side.”

Brenda Aguilar, coordinator of Planned Parenthood of Southern Nevada’s Responsible Sex Education Institute Program, reinforces this belief, telling TIME that “open communication about sexual activity is a skill that needs to be learned,” and that “sexual assault prevention requires in depth education, [as well as] talks about consent, communication, negotiation and refusal skills, which is included in comprehensive sexuality education.”

Al Jazeera recently published a by-the-numbers breakdown of sexual assault instances among teens, reporting that 58% of students per year in grades 7-12 experience sexual harassment (typically defined as “unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature”), while 1 in 5 girls report being sexually assaulted at school, and 1 in 8 girls report being raped. “The risk for sexual assault goes way up for high school aged folks,” says Scott Berkowitz, Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN) president and founder. “[Ages] sixteen through twenty-four are in general the highest risk years, so it is too late to wait until college [to talk about this]. I think it’s an appropriate thing to include in high school curriculum.”

About two thirds of sexual assaults are committed by an acquaintance of the victim, so it stands to reason that peer-level education is vital to prevention. And while Nevada’s controversial sex-ed guidelines do discuss sexual assault and rape at length, there’s still an underlying feeling that teens are primarily being taught how to avoid getting sexually assaulted, as opposed to being taught not to sexually assault. The SIECUS guideline advises students that “avoiding alcohol and other drugs” is a valuable protective tool, but Dr. Foubert’s research shows that teens (specifically men) can actually be educated on how to prevent assault.

“The approach I take is to appeal to men as potential helpers, both in terms of helping a friend who’s survived sexual violence, and in terms of intervening to prevent a sexual assault from occurring,” says Foubert. “It has multiple benefits…it actually does decrease sexually violent behavior on the individual level in men, but [also] when we train men to intervene as bystanders, it can help them become part of the solution. When we approach them through that learning channel, it tends to encode in their minds more strongly.”

The White House’s recent It’s On Us Public Service Announcement is a great example of the growing effort to educate college students about bystander intervention, but again, the message is clearly targeted toward an older crowd. The fact remains that most high schoolers just aren’t learning assault prevention or bystander intervention as part of their required curriculum. “There are obviously a lot of areas where there’s resistance to teaching sex-ed,” says Berkowitz. “In those areas, our approach has been to find another place to incorporate the sexual assault messaging. Even if you’re uncomfortable with talking about birth control and other topics in a birth control class, that’s not an excuse for ignoring sexual violence.”

Not only will sex-ed programs like that of SIECUS teach kids about birth control, they’re also a vital opportunity for high schoolers to be taught the sexual and physical boundaries that help prevent sexual violence. Sure, on some nostalgic level I hope my kids learn how to roll a condom onto a banana (contraceptive education is important!), but sex-ed has the equally important ability to prevent sexual assault at a developmental level…if we give it the opportunity to do so.




Reasons It’s Ok to Dress Your Kid in Kardashian Baby Clothes

Kim Kardashian takes baby North West on late night flight from LAX Airport
Diabolik/Splash News/Corbis Kim Kardashian takes baby North West on a late night flight from LAX Airport in Los Angeles, CA, on August 10, 2014.

Kim Kardashian has thrived in male-dominated businesses like television and gaming. Shouldn't she be celebrated as a successful businesswoman by us and our leatherette-wearing kids?

Kim Kardashian and daughter North West have certainly made their mark in the fashion world recently. On Monday, the reality TV star showed up to a meeting in Woodland Hills sporting a stylish Birkin Bag with a one of a kind design: the fingerpainting by daughter Nori. What else? And yes, this was obviously Kanye West’s idea.

Speaking of bold fashion moves, Kim and her sisterhood of the traveling pants (AKA Khloe and Kourtney) recently released a line of children’s clothes at Babies R Us, and it’s causing even more drama than Bruce Jenner’s mane of free-flowing hair. To put it simply, there are three types of people in this world: people who love the idea of dressing their infants in “leatherette skirts,” people who have no idea what a “leatherette skirt” is and people who fear a “leatherette skirt” will doom their innocent baby to a lifetime of sex tapes, 72 day marriages and questionable taste in floral print.

Professional Concerned Mother, Amie Logan of Roeland Park, Kansas, falls into the third category and tried to rally fellow moms in a petition to ban Kardashian Kids from Babies R Us. “I don’t want my child to grow up to be a sex tape star,” Logan’s Change.org petition initially read. “You pulled the Breaking Bad toys because they promoted drug use. You should pull this clothing line because it promotes bad behavior as well. The madness has to stop. If the toys are damaging so is the clothing.” Logan later withdrew the petition, saying that she had just wanted to start a conversation.

Considering that Babies R Us is a company that until recently felt totally comfortable selling action figures of meth dealers, it’s unlikely it will pull Kardashian Kids. (In fact, the store recently said as much to The Huffington Post.) But Logan’s concern–and that of the 2,941 moms who signed her petition–is just one more example of the shaming that’s been associated with Kim Kardashian’s name ever since she made her sex tape.

Many adults don’t see anything wrong with two people filming their consensual “love making,” but ever since Kim’s then-partner, Ray J, sold their x-rated tape to Vivid Entertainment, her public life’s been judged. For those of you who blocked out this harrowing time in early aughts pop culture, Kim filed a lawsuit against Vivid Entertainment and eventually settled for somewhere around $5 million. In other words, she turned exploit into profit, and made the first of many solid business decisions–including Kardashian Kids, which I’m guessing will do quite well considering the Kardashian reign of success.

The tabloid-reading denizens of middle America (myself included) have accepted most of Kim’s business pursuits as a natural by-product of her status as a sex star (of course she’d design lingerie–and more power to her.) But, her foray into children’s clothing crosses a line for parents like Amie Logan, who fear Kim has no place at the family dinner table—or, shall we say, changing table. “I would not choose to put my daughter in these clothes, and because the Kardashians are not people that have the family values that I uphold,” Logan’s petition now reads (having been updated since the initial post). “This whole petition, and the very negative responses I have received, has gotten larger than I ever expected when I started it last week. In the end it did get people discussing the issue…The original article seemed to leave out that this petition wasn’t a crusade, but a means to get people discussing who should be raising their children, and what things retailers have the right to sell.”

While I don’t want Kim Kardashian raising my children (though I would take Khloe as a sassy godmother and I wouldn’t mind an Hermes Birkin bag no matter whose drawing is on the front) I’m fine having my kids grow up with Kim and her sister-friends on the sidelines of their lives. With a net worth of $28 million, Kim has been at the center of a successful reality franchise, owns a chain of boutiques with her siblings, has lent her name to multiple clothing lines and even made a tanning lotion titled Kardashian Glamour Tan. Plus, let’s not forget the highly addictive waste of time that is the game Kim Kardashian: Hollywood, which could earn a predicted $200 million in 2014. In an industry that’s still dominated by men, shouldn’t Kim be celebrated as a successful businesswoman by us and our leatherette-wearing kids?

Feminism is more on trend than ever with stars like Taylor Swift, Beyonce and Miley Cyrus self-identifying with The F-Word. While there’s been some backlash against calling Kim Kardashian a feminist (Jezebel accurately points out that she represents impossible beauty standards that play into “the patriarchy”), there’s no denying that she’s a model of female success among a sea of male entrepreneurs. So, what exactly is the problem with our kids growing up with her name plastered on their clothing?

No child will be fated to a life of sex tapes and loose morals simply by wearing Kardashian Kids at the tender age of two. And, to be honest, most of the clothes look like something you’d find at Baby Gap (only designed by whoever makes Kanye West’s pants). Toddlers would probably go through life blissfully ignorant of their leatherette skirt’s sinister plans if it weren’t for their parents teaching them that there’s something innately wrong with clothing designed by a former sex tape star.

There’s no denying that Kim Kardashian’s empire rests on a foundation of overt sexuality, but let’s admire the fact that she successfully built said empire on her own. Sure, some of Kim’s endorsements are less than inspired (Charmin Toilet Paper, for one), but she did what she had to do to succeed, and her business decisions are only getting more daring –– especially now that she’s a mom to burgeoning fashion icon North West. Just look at Kardashian Kids: instead of a bright pink palette, the line gives off a progressive, cutting-edge vibe with gender-neutral tones and the implied message that girls don’t have to be overtly “girly” to be feminine.

Kim once mused, “I have so much going on in my life. I never wanted anyone to think of me as Kim Kardashian, sex tape star.” There’s no doubt that it’s hard to shake this notion, but fans and haters alike should learn to look past Kim’s tape and start applauding her for being both a successful momtrepreneur and a potential business role model for our children. No, I don’t want my daughter building an empire based on her looks, but I do want her building an empire as successful as Kim Kardashian’s.


Why Having an Epidural Should Count as Having a Natural Birth

Pregnant Pregnancy
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Most people define a “natural birth” as delivering a baby without the aid of any kind of medication. But maybe the definition of "natural" needs to be broadened.

Three things happened when I went to my first Lamaze class: I was forced to slow dance to “Just Breathe” by Faith Hill (almost as horrifying as labor), I learned about the joys of episiotomies, and I was repeatedly asked if I’d made a birth plan. Actually, make that a natural birth plan. I quickly came to learn that natural birth is just like regular birth, only better because you aren’t medicated while a watermelon-sized human mercilessly makes its way down your birth canal. I also heard that if you really want to get in touch with your body, popping out a baby in an inflatable kiddie pool definitely earns you extra mommy-points.

Most people define a “natural birth” as delivering a baby without the aid of any kind of medication. But maybe the definition of “natural” needs to be broadened so that women don’t feel like second-class citizens for requesting an epidural.

A 2012 CDC study found that out-of-hospital deliveries (arguably the most natural of natural births) have a lower risk profile than hospital births, while a 2013 CDC study found that the c-section rate has declined to just 32.7 percent. All good news, but with the growing trend toward organic birth comes a growing (and misplaced) judgment toward mothers who embrace pain relief with open arms. I was met with more than a few side-eyes at Lamaze class when I flirted with getting an epidural, but what’s so terrible about having medication shot into your spine during the most agonizing moment of your life?

The Natural Birth Movement is becoming increasingly in vogue among millennial mothers, and of course this isn’t a bad thing. The CDC ran a 2008 survey of epidural and spinal anesthesia use during labor, and 39 percent of documented vaginal births in the U.S. were natural. This implies that somewhere around 61 percent of women had “unnatural” (read: medicated) births, and I’m guessing they didn’t feel less connected to their birthing experience.

For some natural birth enthusiasts, it’s the fear that pharmaceutical drugs will increase the likelihood of an emergency Cesarean section that makes them go med-free. For others, it’s the fear that drugs will cross the placenta and harm the baby. Both are frightening possibilities, but the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists released a statement in 2006 (reaffirmed in 2013) explaining that epidurals do not increase the chances of C-section and a 2011 English study found that there’s no difference in the Apgar scores of babies born via medicated vaginal delivery and babies born au naturale. Of course, sometimes it’s impossible to avoid a C-section, but the delivery of a baby through medical intervention doesn’t make a mother’s birth experience any less natural. One way or another, she’s still going through labor, welcoming a child into the world, and entering parenthood –– one of the most fundamental, and yes, natural, experiences a human body can go through, whether you indulged in drugs or not.

By classifying Cesarean and medicated vaginal births as unnatural, mothers who prioritize natural delivery are potentially put in a position of feeling inferior if their birth plan is unexpectedly thrown out the window. An unplanned emergency C-section is stressful enough without worrying that your birth experience was somehow less legitimate and authentic than you’d hoped.

“I wanted a low-intervention birth, but that changed when my daughter was delivered via emergency C-section at 25 weeks due to severe pre-eclampsia,” says Adele Oliveira of Santa Fe, New Mexico. “A high degree of medical intervention saved both of our lives. For many women, natural birth just isn’t an option, but that doesn’t make our experiences less valid or valuable.”

While medication-free labor is certainly a cause for celebration, new mom Lucy Foma believes we can simultaneously embrace the natural birth experience while also welcoming hospital births. “To me, a natural birth is one in which I used as little intervention as possible: no medications, no inducing, and very little help from the midwife,” says Foma. “I chose to do this because I believe that my body is built to perform this task and medications would inhibit my intrinsic ability. I wanted my own experience of this process, as well as my baby’s, to be intact and fully conscious so that we could embrace the moment when we first met each other. However…ultimately I think the only thing that matters in birth is that the baby and mama are ok.”

The health of mother and baby is certainly paramount, and the natural birth movement does its part to educate women in the benefits of vaginal delivery (The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists says an estimated 2.5% of births in the U.S. are elected C-section), and encourage mothers to assume more control of their birth experience –– both great things. But the idea that women should prove their physical and mental prowess by grinning and bearing pain seems outdated, and the implication that choosing medication is unnatural is divisive. More importantly, restricting the definition of “natural” to only encompass un-medicated birth has the potential to alienate those who fear the pain of labor and want help managing that pain.

I myself felt alienated by the natural birthers in my Lamaze class, but didn’t hesitate to ask for an anesthesiologist as soon as I arrived at the hospital to deliver my son. I received my epidural straight away, but after a few blissful hours of napping and watching The O.C., my medication bag sprung a leak and I spent the last six hours of my labor drug-free. The majority of my delivery fit the current definition of natural, yet being drug-free felt decidedly less organic than lying in bed with my epidural while Seth Cohen and Marissa Cooper lulled me to sleep. In fact, watching my favorite high school drama and lounging around with my boyfriend felt familiar and comforting, while being suddenly catapulted into pain felt scary, foreign and completely unnatural.

Whether you have an epidural (or a partial epidural, in my case), an emergency C-section, or an un-medicated birth, every mother’s experience is special and unique. But the one thing we should have in common is permission to define our labor experience as natural. This can only happen once the term’s currently restrictive definition expands to include medicated and unmedicated births, regardless of whether a child was delivered with the help of doctors, or delivered by a doula to the dulcet sounds of Sting playing a lute.

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Outlander Recap: Claire Discovers the Folkloric Key to Her Escape

Outlander 2014
Neil Davidson—© 2014 Sony Pictures Television

In this episode: a way out!

Things are getting intense on Outlander, and by “things,” I mean Claire Randall’s heaving bosom, which is literally begging to be unleashed all over the Highlands’ verdant pastures. Last week, Claire’s plan to go back to the future failed when she was made an official prisoner of Castle Leoch, and this week she spent most of her time finger-wagging, being wistful, and facing off against the evil demons who roam Scotland.

But before parsing through Claire’s life as a sexually charged sassenach, Outlander‘s third episode gifts us with a flash to the future, wherein Claire’s historian husband bids her farewell as she leaves for the front lines. Because yes, it’s Claire — not Frank — who occupied the trenches during World War II, and this reversal of traditional roles sets the viewer up for Claire’s insistence on challenging gender norms in 18th century Scotland. You know, where she enjoys life as a glorified witch-doctor / professional groper of shirtless man-breasts.

While Claire spends much of this episode diligently asserting her feminist beliefs (and getting to know an entirely different brand of feminism), we’re also re-introduced to the omnipresent supernatural, which — unlike almost every male on this show — might be an adversary that Claire can’t outwit. With that in mind, let’s take another trip to the rippling moors of Outlander, shall we?

Claire Experiences The Real-Life Version of Drunk History

Thanks to Claire humble-bragging about the fact that she’s a nurse every five seconds, she spends most of her time in a dank infirmary — the very same infirmary where Future Frank performed oral sex on her just days earlier. But rather than bemoan her new role as Castle Leoch’s doctor, Claire partakes in a cheerful montage of wound-tending (set to a Celtic jig), and happily conducts the unfortunate task of massaging Colum MacKenzie’s naked backside to ease the pain of his pycnodysostosis. Though the job is fifty shades of horrifying, it should be noted that Claire in a position of physical control over Colum. He might be her captor, but even his most demeaning treatment of Claire renders him physically vulnerable.

As a reward for Claire’s compliance, Colum invites her to a concert, which is essentially an opportunity for her to dive into yet another love triangle — this time between Jamie and Laoghaire Mackenzie, the damsel in distress whom he valiantly saved from a public beating last week. Laoghaire is obviously in love with Jamie (get in line, friend), but instead of Claire following through with her promise to set them up, she and Jamie get drunk and wander off to “dress his wound.” By now we know this is just an excuse for Jamie to muse about flogging while Claire strokes his shoulder, but the highlight of this particular bonding session is Jamie staring deeply into Claire’s eyes. They’re the windows to her soul, after all, and as a flag-waving feminist, Jamie knows that beauty is only skin deep. He’s so wise, despite his floggy malaise!

Claire Denounces Demons, Comes Down With An Acute Case of Love Sickness

Turns out everyone in the 18th century is full-on obsessed with demons, especially those that reside at the ruins near Castle Leoch. Apparently, this place is swarming with supernatural townies who love nothing more than possessing children, and Claire decides to protest an exorcism that’s being performed on one such child — the nephew of her friendly maid, Mrs. Fitz. Unfortunately, Claire’s attempt to save this bonny lad is thwarted by woman-hating Father Bain, and she fails to overcome the confines of her gender and seize control of the situation as she’d hoped. But is her failure really Father Bain’s gain? Or is Claire’s real foe in this situation the ever-intangible supernatural forces at play? Surely, if she can find a logical answer to Castle Leoch’s demon problem, she can find a logical answer to her own time travel conundrum.

More on that later, because important things are afoot: Claire catches Jamie kissing Laoghaire in a hallway. The good news? Jamie probably isn’t a virgin (I was worried). The bad news? He’s betraying his core belief system. Laoghaire obviously represents everything Claire doesn’t: she’s innocent, naive, definitely hasn’t read anything by Virginia Woolf, and most importantly, she’s all wrong for Scotland’s resident dreamboat. And considering that this semi-mulleted hero spent last week being the world’s best feminist, I’m slightly surprised that he’d so quickly fall into caricature by philandering with Laoghaire solely because she’s attractive. What about her personality, Jamie? WWBFD (What Would Betty Friedan Do)?

Claire Bests the Paranormal, Forms Cunning Plan

After mooning over Jamie atop yet another buttress, Claire visits her friend Geillis and meets Arthur, a flatulent fellow who dispenses justice among the locals. This is a learning moment for Claire, as she’s introduced to a conflicting brand of feminism when Geillis uses her “wiles” to convince Arthur not to chop off a little boy’s hand as punishment for stealing. While Claire attempts to reason with Arthur as one intelligent person to another, Geilles uses prototypical gender roles to her advantage and succeeds in changing his mind (though the poor boy still gets his ear nailed to a post). The question is, will Claire abandon her scruples and embrace new-wave feminism?

Claire doesn’t have to ponder this issue for too long, because Jamie wanders in and (after releasing the boy’s ear) whisks her off to the possessed ruins near Castle Leoch so they can discuss demons. (Not to be confused with flogging, which was shockingly not discussed.) It only takes Claire about five minutes to realize that Scottish children are being “possessed” thanks to their consumption of lily of the valley, which they binge-eat like it’s going out of style. Claire’s discovery not only shows that she’s smarter than her haters, but also that she’s rationalized the pervasive supernatural element in this episode. She’s found an explanation for demons, and now she’s free to find one for her own inexplicable journey through time.

Claire stumbles upon the answers she’s looking for after saving Mrs. Fitz’s nephew, and though she initially fears that she’ll forever be Castle Leoch’s “miracle worker,” she comes to an epiphany while listening to a folk song about — you guessed it — time travel. The key to Claire’s escape according to folklore? Returning to Craigh na Dun at night and touching the stone that whisked her to the 18th century. Claire might not know what she’s up against, but she’s ditching Castle Leoch with or without permission from her captors. Way to reclaim your agency, Claire, but I can’t be alone in hoping you stay long enough to educate Jamie in the ways of 20th century sex. Who’s with me?

TIME Television

Outlander Recap: Claire and Jamie’s Road to Star-Crossed Love

Ed Miller—Copyright 2014 Sony Pictures Tel Outlander 2014

On the second episode of Outlander, things heat up between Claire and her suitor

Last week on Outlander, burgeoning feminist Claire Randall flitted off to Scotland for a post-war tryst with her husband, touched an ancient stone that was high on magical Druid fumes, and time-traveled to the 18th century. (Normal.) This week, Claire found herself fully entrenched in the highlands’ undulating moors, and spent much of her time treading the line between spirited free-thinker and whatever word best describes “the urge to bosom-heave at a gaggle of unwashed Scots.” (Maybe there’s a Gaelic word for it!)

Claire’s transformation into a stoic adversary of sexism is more than fully realized, but don’t confuse her for a misandrist. Sure, the former Mrs. Randall now inhabits a world where she’s casually threatened with rape by a bunch of kilted randoms, but she’s all about discovering what lies beneath the skirts of a certain Scottish dreamboat named Jamie. Unfortunately, Jamie’s technically Claire’s captor — and she risks acquiescing the little power she has over her own body by surrendering to their undeniable sexual tension.

Getting around this troubling dynamic is central to this week’s episode of Outlander, which carefully crafts Jamie into a victim of equal standing to Claire. We’re encouraged to forget the fact that he captured Claire against her will, and instead focus on moments that give her power over him — like her ability to seductively tend to his wounds. And speaking of seductive wound-tending, let’s gird our loins, shout “Och aye!” and time-jump into another episode of this torrid show.

Claire Keeps Up Appearances, Jamie Remains Shirtless

In an effort to convince her captors that she can sashay around Scotland like the best of ’em, Claire fully immerses herself in highland life. She ditches her 20th century smock, dons a choker necklace reminiscent of something Britney Spears might have worn in 2004, and even squeezes herself into a corset. But first things first: she must tend to Jamie’s bullet wound, which is a great opportunity for a bonding session — not to mention a great opportunity for Jamie to recount his flogging by Captain Black Jack Randall, aka the Redcoat ancestor of Claire’s husband, Frank.

Thanks to a gloomy flashback, we learn that Jamie was tilling the land / merrily enjoying his kilt flapping in the breeze, when Jack and his ponytail of doom descended from on high and tried to sexually assault his sister. Jamie valiantly tried to protect her from Jack’s physical attack, and though he failed (hence the flogging), he’s clearly a hero in the fight against sexual abuse. In this moment, Jamie becomes more than just Claire’s dashing captor — he’s a champion of women’s rights, he’d rather die than see his sister raped, and his body is a wonderland of sexy scars for Claire to massage with a tragic rag.

But we can’t forget that Claire has a nerdy husband waiting for her in the future, and as she basks in the soft glow radiating from Jamie’s pectoral muscles, she’s overcome with emotion. What if Frank thinks that Claire’s suffered death-by-Druid — or, “worst of all,” that she’s left him for another man? Either way, Claire’s fear that Frank would prefer her death to her infidelity makes me feel less sympathetic to his loss, and totally on board with Claire and Jamie’s quivering lips.

Claire Educates Scots In the Feminine Mystique and Enjoys a Breezy Buttress

Claire’s officially in 1743 Scotland under the reign of King George II — a fact that she familiarizes herself with while snooping around the offices of her host, Colum MacKenzie, before sitting down for a chat and unleashing her feminist fury upon him. Not only does Claire spare no detail recounting Black Jack’s attempted sexual assault, she muses, “Is there ever a good reason for rape?” when Colum ventures into the territory of victim-blaming. Basically, Claire pulls the 18th century equivalent of a #yesallwomen campaign, and celebrates her victory by standing on a buttress and smiling vacantly at some wee bonny children.

But wait — I’m concerned about Colum, and not just because his beard is a different color than his free-flowing wig. This inquisitive Scot and his brother, Dougal, are the only people in 1743 who’ve noticed that Claire has a sporran full of secrets, and they suspect that she’s an English spy. Will Colum and Dougal allow Claire to travel back to Inverness so she can hop in the stone circle equivalent of a DeLorean and go back to the future? Probably not, but while Claire waits in limbo she decides to visit Jamie in “the stables,” where he spends his time prancing around with his horse friends and living out the real-life version of a romance novel.

It should be noted that upon seeing Claire, Jamie compliments her personality rather than her staggering beauty, and then muses on his favorite subject: flogging. Turns out there’s a price on Jamie’s head for allegedly murdering a Redcoat soldier, and as such he’s an outlaw. Jamie’s revelation is verification of his outlander-status (yet another thing he has in common with Claire), but also proves his willingness to shift the power dynamic in their relationship. Jamie might have captured Claire by force, but he’s purposefully giving her information that could lead to his death. Or at the very least to some more flogging.

Claire Befriends a Pro-Choice Witch, Jamie Morphs Into 18th Century Feminist Ryan Gosling

Claire’s transition from progressive modern woman to full-throttle feminist wouldn’t be complete without an assertion of her pro-choice beliefs, which are reflected in townie witch Geillis Duncan. Claire meets Geillis while picking poisonous mushrooms in a field (as ya do), and she promptly schools Claire in the local abortifacient botany. We’ll see how this pointed chat plays out during the rest of Outlander‘s first season, but for now the fast friends head to a banquet hall where Jamie once again reminds everyone that he’s super-duper into women’s rights. Basically, our favorite hirsute clansman sacrifices his own body to save a local woman from public beating as punishment for being “loose.”

I repeat, in the course of one episode, Jamie stands up to rapists, compliments Claire on her personality, and scorns 18th century slut-shaming. His reward? Sponge baths from Scotland’s most hardcore feminist prisoner (because nope, Dougal and Colum don’t release Claire), and the promise of me (and you, viewer!) tuning into another stirring episode of Outlander.

TIME Television

Outlander Recap: Feminism and Time Travel in a Bodice-Ripping Romance? Sure!

Ed Miller—© 2014 Sony Pictures Television

Outlander's debut episode delivers on multiple counts

If you have a predilection for epic romances and the super-specific sub-genre that is historical time-travel fiction, then you’re likely to find Outlander to be a sensory feast. Superficially, Starz’s new show is a torrid romance primed for an eager fandom desperate to re-direct their Game of Thrones enthusiasm. But Outlander is more than a sweepingly cinematic bodice ripper: it manages to shroud what fans (myself included) guilt-love about the genre in the much broader themes of history, feminism and free-will.

Though the show begins just after World War II, it largely takes place during 18th century Scotland’s Jacobite uprisings. And while Outlander doesn’t necessarily seek to give viewers a history lesson, the fact that combat nurse Claire Randall’s husband, Frank, is a historian certainly helps. Frank’s incessant musings about his Redcoat ancestors might get yawn-inducing, but they serve as a necessary device to contextualize Claire’s time travel. As she re-lives Frank’s history lessons, Claire’s melancholic voiceover firmly roots the viewer in both worlds, building a bridge between the past and present.

It’s clear from the onset that Claire will spend the majority of Outlander diligently playing the part of an English Rose who eye-sexes thistly Scots, but time travel also becomes a means for Claire to unleash her inner feminist all over a bunch of kilted bros. The creators of Outlander want us to see Claire as a freethinker, and while she is on the surface, she’s also powerless against the romance genre’s inherent constraints against true feminism. Yes, she’s smarter than her male captors and she doesn’t want to be “saved,” but she also acquiesces to the genre’s stipulation that she must be — no matter how resilient a modern-day woman she is. With that in mind, let’s dive sporran-first into Outlander‘s premiere.

Meet Claire Randall: Feminist, Sex Goddess, Hausfrau

Outlander introduces us to Claire and Frank as they celebrate their post-war reunion with a romantic trip to the Scottish Highlands, which — thanks to this show — will now be the go-to setting for fan-fic writers the world over. Claire spends much of the episode trying to mend her war-torn marriage to Frank, but while she seems content enough with her life, there’s clearly something lacking in their relationship.

Claire remained faithful throughout her time apart from Frank during the war, but his willingness to forgive any possible dalliances should be kept in mind throughout Outlander‘s freshman season. Does Claire’s eye wander because she’s asserting the right to explore her sexuality Scot-style, or because her husband gives her permission to do so? Either way, Claire and Frank spend almost all their time having sex in derelict castle cellars and creaky hotel rooms, but Claire — like Heathcliff and Cathy before her — clearly needs to unbridle her passions all over some moors, ASAP. That’s a problem that can only be solved by time travel!

Scottish Highlands Morph Into Supernatural Hot Bed

Since something is wanting in her married life, Claire spends much of her second honeymoon frolicking in the ferns of Scotland and having dusty flashbacks to her past. But then Samhain (aka Halloween) strikes, a holiday that denizens of The Highlands celebrate by pouring blood on their door frames and being macabre. Of course, Samhain also happens to be the day that Scotland’s ghost population emerges from the indistinct twilight, and Frank runs into a particularly perverted phantom on his way home, whom he catches peeping at Claire through the window. This is the first of many supernatural elements in Outlander‘s premiere, and it doesn’t feel forced, despite the first half of the episode being rooted in the business of everyday life. What’s unclear is whether there’s something innate in Claire that’s attracting the paranormal (her palm reading certainly implies as much), or whether she’s simply found herself hanging with the wrong gamboling Druids at the wrong time. (It happens to the best of us.)

In Which Claire Experiences The 1940s Version of Throwback Thursday

After some X-rated intimacy that capitalizes on Starz’s clothing-optional policy, Claire and Frank get up early and visit Craigh na Dun, an ancient stone circle that becomes a literal touchstone for Claire’s thematic journey. Along with Claire and Frank (who somehow manage not to have sex in the ferns), we witness what has to be the best slow-motion Druid dancing scene in the history of television, complete with accompanying chanting and Celtic music. It was basically like watching a vintage Kate Bush music video, with a little Mists of Avalon thrown in for good measure. How can we blame Claire for paying Craigh na Dun another visit? Only this time, she makes the mistake of touching a rock, and promptly gets transported to the 18th century.

Claire Fully Embraces Stockholm Syndrome

Apparently the 18th century Jacobite rebellions were a much more visually vibrant time than the 20th, because Claire leaves the muted tones of 1940s Scotland and wakes up in an Instagram filter. She immediately starts panic-frolicking through the grass until happening upon Frank’s doppleganger ancestor, Redcoat captain Black Jack Randall, who wastes no time trying to rape her. Luckily, Claire’s rescued by a band of kilt-wearing Scotsmen, and sets to relocating the shoulder of the hunkiest clansman, Jamie Fraser, who drops this classic pick-up line: “I’ll get me plaid loose to cover ye.” (Heard that one before.) After proving her worth, Claire puts Frank’s history lessons to use by alerting her captors of a Redcoat ambush, ultimately saving their lives.

Claire’s role as a savior certainly bolsters her unspoken identity as a feminist, but she’s not exactly free of the patriarchy, no matter what year it is. And considering that the 20th century should give her greater opportunity to be a liberated woman, it’s all the more noteworthy that her true feminist leanings surface in a world where she’s threatened with rape and casually called a whore. Claire will likely spend the remainder of Outlander navigating her new role as a clanswoman — and while she does make a failed attempt to flee her captors, by premiere’s end, our plucky heroine is almost as entrenched in her new life as we are. And I’m already cueing up my DVR for next week’s episode and hand-sewing myself a celebratory Druid costume.

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