TIME Education

All Teachers Should Be Trained To Overcome Their Hidden Biases

Soraya Chemaly is a media critic and activist.

They don’t mean to play favorites, but it’s happening anyway with critical consequences for young girls

Last week, two studies revealed that unexamined teacher biases are having a significant effect on girls’ education. The first found that gender stereotypes are negatively affecting girls’ math grades and positively affecting boys’. The second revealed how disproportionately penalized young black girls are for being assertive in classroom settings. Together, they make the clearest possible case for making it mandatory for teachers to be trained in spotting and striving to overcome their implicit biases.

The findings of the first study reveal both the short and long-term effects of primary school teachers’ implicit beliefs about gender on children’s math skills and ambitions. Researchers found that girls often score higher than boys on name-blind math tests, but once presented with recognizable boy and girl names on the same tests, teachers award higher scores to boys. The long-term effects are amplified by socioeconomic factors and family structure—girls from families where fathers were better educated than mothers and who are from lower socioeconomic communities were the most negatively affected.

The impact of unconscious teacher bias is long understood and well-documented. This new research confirms decades of work done by Myra and David Sadker and Karen R. Zittleman. Through thousands of hours of classroom observations, the Sadkers and Zittleman identified specific ways in which implicit and stereotypical ideas about gender govern classroom dynamics. They, as others have, found that teachers spend up to two thirds of their time talking to male students; they also are more likely to interrupt girls but allow boys to talk over them. Teachers also tend to acknowledge girls but praise and encourage boys. They spend more time prompting boys to seek deeper answers while rewarding girls for being quiet. Boys are also more frequently called to the front of the class for demonstrations. When teachers ask questions, they direct their gaze towards boys more often, especially when the questions are open-ended. Biases such as these are at the root of why the United States has one of the world’s largest gender gaps in math and science performance. Until they view their videotaped interactions, teachers believe they are being balanced in their exchanges.

The two reports released last week were focused on girls. However, the same biases have been implicated in teachers unconsciously undermining boys’ interest in the arts and language, enabling harmful gender gaps in self-regulation, and tacitly accepting certain male students’ propensity to believe that studying is “for girls” – all factors that contribute to boys’ lower academic performance. An understanding of implicit bias, coupled with data analysis, shows the degree to which what is typically portrayed as a “boy crisis” in education is actually more a crisis of income disparity and related to class-based constructions of masculinity. However, while boys lives are impoverished in these ways, boys within each racial/class category benefit overall from beliefs that institutionalize “boys being boys” attitudes, a problem directly related to the second report released last week.

The report, which included data on black girls’ heightened vulnerability and overpolicing, showed extraordinarily high rates of school suspension for African American girls in New York, where Black girls are twelve times more likely than their white counterparts to be suspended. In Boston, eleven Black girls face suspension for every white girl that does. U.S. government surveys show that while Black children make up less than 20% of preschoolers, they make up more than half of out-of-school suspensions. Black boys have the highest rates of suspension overall, but nationally up to 12% of black girls are suspended annually. This is twice the rate of suspension of white boys. In effect, teacher biases are resulting in black girls being disproportionately punished for behavior that boys-crisis-in-education advocates want schools to accommodate by becoming more “boy friendly.” In the words of researcher Megan McClelland, “In general, there is more tolerance for active play in boys than in girls. Girls are expected to be quiet and not make a fuss. This expectation may be coloring some teachers’ perceptions.”

Teacher (and parent) biases regarding science and math reflect the profound degree to which the “target student” implicitly remains white, male and of higher social status. Last year, rates of girls taking STEM-related advanced placement tests reached a record low. In two states not a single girl (in some states there were also no boys of color) took the Computer Science AP. Parental and teacher biases are the root cause of the systemic inhibition of diversity in the tech pipeline that we face today. Our two-decade long flat lining of girls’ STEM participation will affect sex-segregated wage and wealth gaps for years to come. If we want to disrupt this reality, we need to understand why, by the time American girls reach the age of 10, simply checking off a “female” box at the top of a test results in lower test scores. For girls of color, gender and race create a double jeopardy stereotype threat. If anything at all is evident from studies of classroom interactions it is how dynamic the interplay between gender, race, ethnicity and social class are.

The issue of whose assertive qualities, self-expression, and imagination are being cultivated and whose are being penalized speaks directly to the broader harms of not taking a nuanced intersectional approach to the problem of education. Everyone’s lives are impoverished by these bias and the stereotype threats they cultivate in children. When we tackle the ugly sexism of the tech industry, try to understand why young boys are killing themselves, or contemplate the aggrieved racialized and gendered entitlement at the heart of so much of our violence, we are fighting rear-guard actions. It’s too little, too late. Very little of this is done with malicious forethought. Training teachers to understand bias will not eliminate it, but it could create an institutional environment in which it is clear that understanding bias and its effects is critically important. The long-term return on investment is inestimable.

 

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME women

10 Most Sexist Responses to Reducing Women’s Public Toilet Lines

Close up of bathroom symbol
Adam Gault—Getty Images

Soraya Chemaly is a media critic and activist.

The response isn’t about toilets, but about women demanding more than they are “given”

Last week, many people took time out of their busy schedules to tell me I was a moron, should shut up, and should learn to urinate like a man. These suggestions, ranging from irritable to misogynistic and violent, came in response to an article I wrote for TIME about the history and politics of women waiting in line for public toilets. In an effort to better understand opposing points of view, I’ve categorized the objections into 10 themes:

  1. Women should learn to stand, commonly understood to be a superior method of elimination. Many people even pointed me to helpful products. The argument goes that women should stand to overcome their “inferior biology,” whereas men sitting “like women” is emasculating—even though 30% of men surveyed prefer sitting. After millions of sit-to-pee gadgets were sold in Germany and people in Sweden started teaching boys to “be a sweetie and take a seatie,” there was a backlash among men in Britain and the United States lamenting the end of men. If you think women standing is “empowering” but men sitting is emasculating, tell the U.S. Navy, which eliminated urinals on aircraft carriers in 2012.
  2. Women may have to wait in lines, but men’s rooms are disgusting. However true, this objection is irrelevant to women disproportionately waiting in long lines. And there are efforts to clean up men’s bathrooms. In Taiwan, Japan, and Sweden, there are public health initiatives for men to sit because standing is less sanitary and less healthy, and urinals take longer to clean and come at greater public cost.
  3. Women should stop preening in front of the mirror. I could find no studies that measure this stereotype. However, several consumer surveys found that men spend more time grooming in general. In any case, women aren’t standing in lines for mirrors, but for stalls.
  4. Women should stop going to the toilet together. In many countries, including ours, girls are frequently socialized to go to bathrooms with others because they have to be ever vigilant about avoiding rape. In point of fact, young boys, sexually assaulted just as frequently, should be taught precautions too. Instead, rape myths maintain that boys can’t be raped, so we put them at higher risk and mock girls for “staying safe.”
  5. Your female opinion must be dismissed. Many people didn’t read the article, concluding that I was saying, for example, that “peeing standing up is sexist.” They saw the word “sexism,” and responded with a profusion of unimaginative gendered slurs, like “dumb b**ch.”
  6. Stop lying. Among the rebuttals I received were: “No woman breastfeeds in public restrooms,” and “How can you say women stand in lines more than men?” Yet there is an entire campaign to raise awareness about women breastfeeding in public restrooms. As for men waiting in lines: yes, this happens, most often in places where there are comparably few women (e.g., Silicon Valley or the military).
  7. This isn’t “the battle that feminism should be focused on.” The issue here is a centrally important one: we need to understand and stop perpetuating discriminatory norms developed when women had almost no legal rights and were largely barred from contributing to defining culture. This basic problem is as true in the law, medicine, and media as it is in the design of public spaces.
  8. Stop “being a victim” because “no one is making women wait in line.” Unfortunately, women can’t actually walk away from the bodily-fluid-filled reality of our lives, including leaking breast milk, seeping blood, or bladders possibly being crushed by pregnancy. Pointing out this reality no more makes a woman a victim than if a man describes a problem with the low height of stroller handles.
  9. This is the result of biology, so deal with it. As one person on Twitter put it, “biology doesn’t design toilets.” It matters that people who do not have these concerns make up the vast majority of legislators, the foreign service, our military, and humanitarian aid decision makers. Women’s input and meeting women’s basic physical and safety needs are important, and incorporating them would mean more effective solutions to everything from urban design that includes better sanitary facilities to disaster relief to environmental policies.
  10. This is a “first world problem” because “women in the middle east (sic) are getting acid thrown in their faces after they’ve been raped” and “men go to war.” These issues are global ones, as India’s “Right to Pee” campaign, and China’s “Occupy Men’s Toilets” protest illustrate. Setting aside the implied dismissal of egregious gender-based violence in the United States, which is firmly in the middle of the global pack, women do suffer gravely elsewhere, including, notably, from having no safe access to sanitary facilities. Even in our recent past, this problem has inhibited girls’ ability to attend school and women’s ability to work. It contributes to illness and exacerbates poverty. In disasters, our inability to plan for women’s bodily needs results in higher mortality rates for girls and women. As for war, militarism is directly linked to gender inequality and sex segregation.

All of this in response to the simple question of why women are still not having their basic needs equitably met. During the past three decades, laws focused on “Potty Parity,” an infantilizing term redolent with Victorian shame, have been passed in the United States, and yet the problem persists. Increasingly, as the result of effective LGTBQ activism, communities are developing organic and often hybrid solutions, including gender-neutral bathrooms, that more equitably address everyone’s needs. If Viennese urban planners have done it for their city, surely we can do it for our public toilets?

Outraged people, employing ad hominem attacks, suggested I’d posited a “conspiracy,” and were particularly put out by the word “sexism,” something they associate with an individual’s explicitly intended discriminatory behavior. So why such virulent responses to an article about reducing women’s wait times and recounting history? The response isn’t about toilets but about when women—and other historically marginalized people—demand more than they are “given” and stop quietly accepting historically permissible marginalization in the public sphere.

Read next: The Everyday Sexism of Women Waiting in Public Toilet Lines

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME women

The Everyday Sexism of Women Waiting in Public Toilet Lines

Close up of bathroom symbol
Adam Gault—Getty Images

Soraya Chemaly is a media critic and activist.

Long lines for women's restrooms are the result of a history that favors men’s bodies

If you’re a woman, chances are you’ve a) spent time fidgeting in a long line waiting to use a public toilet, b) delayed a bodily function because you don’t want to or haven’t the time to waste standing in line to use a public toilet, c) considered sneaking into a men’s room—illegal in some places, or d) cursed loudly because of all of the above.

Faced with a long restroom line that spiraled up and around a circular stairwell at a recent museum visit, I opted not to wait. Why do we put up with this? This isn’t a minor pet peeve, but a serious question. Despite years of “potty parity” laws, women are still forced to stand in lines at malls, schools, stadiums, concerts, fair grounds, theme parks, and other crowded public spaces. This is frustrating, uncomfortable, and, in some circumstances, humiliating. It’s also a form of discrimination, as it disproportionately affects women.

After counting the women, I tweeted, “Dear @britishmuseum there are FIFTY women and girls standing in line for the loo while the men’s room has zero line #everydaysexism.” Immediately, people responded with the suggestion that women use the men’s room. But even more responses were defensive, along the lines of “How on god’s green earth did you arrive at the conclusion that this was sexist?”

Let me count the ways.

Women need to use bathrooms more often and for longer periods of time because: we sit to urinate (urinals effectively double the space in men’s rooms), we menstruate, we are responsible for reproducing the species (which makes us pee more), we continue to have greater responsibility for children (who have to use bathrooms with us), and we breastfeed (frequently in grotty bathroom stalls). Additionally, women tend to wear more binding and cumbersome clothes, whereas men’s clothing provides significantly speedier access. But in a classic example of the difference between surface “equality” and genuine equity, many public restrooms continue to be facilities that are equal in physical space, while favoring men’s bodies, experiences, and needs.

Legislation to address the design and provision of public restrooms in new construction often requires more space for women’s rooms. But that has hardly made a dent in many of our oldest and most used public spaces. This is especially true in powerful institutions, such as schools and government complexes, where old buildings, and their gendered legacies, dominate. In the United States, for example, women in the House of Representatives didn’t get a bathroom near the Speaker’s Lobby until 2011. Prior to that, the nearest women’s room was so far away that the time it took women to get to the bathroom and back exceeded session break times. The nearby men’s room, meanwhile, had a fireplace, a shoeshine stand, and televised floor proceedings.

Additionally, old building codes required more space for men, as women’s roles were restricted almost entirely to the private sphere. That reality has often confused the “is” with the “ought.” As scholar Judith Plaskow noted in a paper on toilets and social justice, “Not only does the absence of women’s bathrooms signify the exclusion of women from certain professions and halls of power, but it also has functioned as an explicit argument against hiring women or admitting them into previously all-male organizations.” She cites examples, including Yale Medical School and Harvard Law School, both of which claimed that a lack of public facilities made it impossible for women to be admitted as students. Schools like the Virginia Military Institute used this excuse as recently as 1996.

When spaces are changed so that everyone experiences equal waiting time, backlash has been quick. In 2004, for example, new rules resulted in men waiting in line to use the bathrooms at Soldier Field in Chicago. They complained until five women’s rooms were converted to men’s. The result was that, once again, women’s wait times doubled. No protests have yielded a commensurate response to reduce them. That women are socialized to quietly deal with physical discomfort, pain, and a casual disregard for their bodily needs is overlooked in the statements, “No one is making them wait,” or “Why don’t they demand changes?” Last year, when writer Jessica Valenti made the sensible argument that tampons should be free in public bathrooms, the way toilet paper is, it resulted in a misogynistic hate-fest.

In the meantime, the male-centeredness of our restroom standards can also be seen in the constant stream (no pun intended) of products cheerily encouraging women to expand their excreting options, by peeing, for example, “like a man.” On the other hand, attempts to encourage men to emulate women in equal measure, sitting to urinate, are seen as degrading assaults on masculinity. This growing trend, a more sanitary and less expensive option in public restrooms (because less cleaning is required), horrifies many people.

It matters that 83% of registered architects and an eerily similar percentage of legislators in the U.S. are the very people least likely to have to wait in lines. As urban planner Salma Samar Damluji put it during a 2013 discussion about why women’s input is so important to designing public space, effective urban planning is “not a luxury, it’s a basic need.” In the United States, laws are rapidly changing, largely due to effective LGTBQ advocacy and a generational sea change in how gender is understood. Organic solutions, particularly at high schools and colleges, include combinations of male/female facilities alongside gender-neutral ones. Single-stall designs that can be used by everyone, such as airplane bathrooms and family/handicapped facilities are the most space and time efficient, and least discriminatory. They are also philosophically palatable to a broad spectrum, as they represent not so much a contested segregations or de-gendering of restroom spaces, as much as a rethinking of privacy and the uses of public space.

Women aren’t standing in lines because we bond over toilet paper pattern or because we’re narcissistic and vain. We’re standing in line because our bodies, like those of trans and queer people, have been historically shamed, ignored, and deemed unworthy of care and acknowledgement. We shouldn’t have to wait or postpone having these needs fairly met in public space.

Soraya Chemaly is a media critic and activist whose work focuses on the role of gender in politics, religion and popular culture. Her work appears in Salon, CNN, Ms. Magazine, The Guardian, The Huffington Post, RHRealityCheck, Role Reboot and The Feminist Wire.

Read next: A Better Feminism for 2015

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Media

Don Lemon Didn’t Just Victim-Blame–He Perpetuated Multiple Rape Myths

Don Lemon in weekend anchor spot at CNN.
Robin Nelson—Zuma Press/Corbis Don Lemon in weekend anchor spot at CNN.

Soraya Chemaly is a media critic and activist.

An interview with one of Bill Cosby's accusers displayed an unethical lack of knowledge about sexual assault

On Tuesday, CNN’s Don Lemon interviewed Joan Tarshis, one of more than a dozen women who have come forward over several years to accuse Bill Cosby of sexual assault. These allegations resurfaced after a comedian pointedly commented on them during a routine. This, in turn, prompted Barbara Bowman to ask publicly in an op-ed in The Washington Post, “Bill Cosby raped me. Why did it take 30 years for people to believe my story?” Former supermodel Janice Dickinson is now the 15th woman to come forward with allegations.

The allegations are hardly new, and the interview could have been an occasion for a serious and nuanced conversation about rape, about how survivors respond to and survive assault and about well-documented techniques used by serial abusers. Instead, what proceeded was appalling. Lemon, in a few brief lines, blamed the victim for not stopping her assault, while also managing to subtly convey a whole series of rape myths.

Lemon’s most repugnant suggestion was this: “You know, there are ways not to perform oral sex.” He went on to clarify that he meant the “using of the teeth” as a “weapon” to stop the alleged assault. Put crassly, “Why didn’t you bite his dick if you didn’t want to perform oral sex?” Lemon continued, “If you didn’t want to do it… In other words, “you really wanted it.”

Lemon’s belief that a woman being raped should simply bite her rapist’s penis isn’t just ridiculous, dangerous victim blaming, but is based on what is possibly the oldest and most enduring rape myth: that “real” rape must be “forced” and corroborated by evidence of struggle. This was the FBI’s definition of rape until 2012.

First, sexual assault victims frequently respond physiologically with shock. Survivors often describe being paralyzed and unable to process or respond to what is happening to them. It’s a well-documented immobility response common in cases of rape.

Second, rape victims often have to quickly assess risk, as in, “This man is raping me. If I fight, will he beat me up or kill me?” Angering an aggressor by resisting or inflicting pain on him is not a survival strategy that women and children can pursue in equal measure to men. Lemon seems blithely unconcerned with immobility, or the risk of death, being a real effect of assault.

“Forcible rape” is rooted in the idea that some women aren’t “rapeable” and that men are entitled to sex. Historically, in this country, legally unrapeable people included, until relatively recently, black women (who were property), wives (also property), single women (who “give it away”), women who didn’t put up a fight, women who didn’t say “no,” and men. The idea of “forcible rape” is shaped by a history of racism and sexism, and Lemon’s approach to Tarshis’ accusation is common, and legally consequential, despite decades of challenges to its assumptions.

Lemon’s line of questioning was a lost opportunity to inform his audience about how predatory rapists work. Rape doesn’t happen by accident because women get drunk. It happens when predators target them. Incapacitation has been a consistent element in all of the cases leveled against Cosby. Tarshis herself admits that she was stoned during the encounter. Barbara Bowman, Tamara Green, Beth Ferrier and others have all told strikingly similar stories of being drugged and raped. And though it shouldn’t need stating, incapacitated people are not capable of consent.

Lemon also managed to undermine Tarshis’ accusations by pointing out that she “lied.” He explained, “You lied to him and said ‘I have an infection, and if you rape me, or if you do — if you have intercourse with me, then you will probably get it and give it to your wife.’” “She lied” is a persistent, and comforting, rape myth. It’s also the laziest, because it’s so clearly and consistently debunked. False rape accusations, though, are rare and no more common than false accusations for other crimes. Tarshis herself has subsequently gone to great and graphic pains to explain her failed attempted to dissuade Cosby.

The final myth Lemon implied in his interview is one that is rarely stated but that underlies most of the others: a rapist without a knife or a gun isn’t a “real” threat. The only reference to a weapon was to the possibility of a woman using her teeth. No mention was made of the reality that rape is the weaponization of the assailant’s body. Regardless of the fact that most men do not fit the profile of the rapist, we live in a world where girls and women are taught that to avoid rape means, to some degree, to fear men. That fact is the scaffolding of patriarchal oppression.

Ultimately, rape is a crime of status and entitlement. Cosby, who has declined to address the allegations, is a revered celebrity father figure. Longtime fans are flummoxed by the idea that this person, adored and emulated, could be a rapist. Most rapes, however, are perpetrated not by strangers, but by acquaintances, family members and friends. RAINN and the Department of Justice report that 73% of sexual assaults are perpetrated by a non-stranger: 38% of rapists are friends or acquaintances, 28% are an intimate partners and 7% are a relatives. They don’t use weapons to rape; they use authority and power.

Lemon’s words may have seemed few and simple, but the sum of their meaning and history is neither. I admire Lemon’s ability to pack so much rape mythology into just a few minutes of airtime. And, he got paid for it, to boot. But in seriousness, he, and his employer, displayed an irresponsible and journalistically unethical lack of knowledge about sexual assault. Lemon apologized on Wednesday if his comments “struck anyone as insensitive,” but no apology can undo the damage done.

Soraya Chemaly is a media critic and activist whose work focuses on the role of gender in politics, religion and popular culture. Her work appears in Salon, CNN, Ms. Magazine, The Guardian, The Huffington Post, RHRealityCheck, Role Reboot and The Feminist Wire.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME women

A Million Peeping Toms: When Hacking Is Also a Hate Crime

"Serena" Premiere - 58th BFI London Film Festival
Stuart C. Wilson—2014 Getty Images Jennifer Lawrence attends the premiere for "Serena" during the 58th BFI London Film Festival at Vue West End on October 13, 2014 in London, England.

Soraya Chemaly is a media critic and activist.

Technology isn’t just mirroring offline crimes but amplifying them in ways that qualitatively change their impact

In her first public statements about the theft and distribution of her private nude photographs, Jennifer Lawrence called the act “a sex crime.” There are differences of opinion about using those words to characterize what happened. What is not debatable however is that, of the reportedly more than 100 celebrities targeted in this episode involving Lawrence, the overwhelming majority have been women. So, why aren’t we seriously discussing this in terms of gender-based hate? That’s also a serious charge.

The nonconsensual distribution of intimate photos is similar to offline voyeurism in many ways. We call these voyeurs Peeping Toms, a classic linguistic minimization of a sex crime that, like revenge porn, is gendered. Peeping Thomasinas aren’t really a thing. (The crime is treated differently state by state. In some states, but not all, voyeurs must register as sex offenders. Revenge porn is a non-registry offense.)

“There is no principled way to argue that this is any less serious than voyeurism,” explains Mary Anne Franks, Associate Professor of Law at the University of Miami School of Law and Vice-President of the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative. “There is no denying the blunt truth of [Lawrence’s] words: she alone has the right to control access to her naked body, and anyone who violates that right has committed a profound and inexcusable wrong. That means that laws against hacking are insufficient to address this violation.” Danielle Citron, author of Hate Crimes in Cyber Space, has also argued that these crimes clearly infringe on women’s civil rights.

However, what happens when there are millions of Peeping Toms? Given the scope and number of people who participated, and the time and effort the hackers took to gather the photographs and carefully plan their release, it’s clear that technology isn’t just mirroring offline crimes but amplifying them in ways that qualitatively change their impact and should prompt serious debate about gender-based hatred and bias crimes.

Federal hate crime legislation does not actually require that perpetrators of crimes express explicit hatred for the people they target. Instead, the salient information is that hate crimes are those in which a person is targeted because of, in this case, his or her gender. In addition, a “prominent characteristic of a violent crime motivated by bias is that it devastates not just the actual victim and the family and friends of the victim, but frequently savages the community sharing the traits that caused the victim to be selected.” While men are also the victims of revenge porn, as with the threat that a serial rapist of women poses to a community, how can anyone doubt that girls and women experienced the theft and sharing of these photos, which overwhelming involved women, in ways that men did not?

This wasn’t a privately executed sex crime, but a public one infused with gender bias. As the systematic theft, accumulation and mass sharing of these photos shows, we live in a culture in which violations of women’s privacy are normalized, where harms to women are routinely trivialized, where our sexual objectification is the norm and where society resists legitimate and reasonable consideration of the role gender and status play in what happened. (There have been at least four waves of photo released, the last of which included the first man.)

It’s not just that photographs like Lawrence’s violated women’s rights to privacy and constituted theft, or that they might be considered pornographic or offensive. It’s that the perpetrators sought to attack the women, humiliate them, assault their dignity, and interfere with their lives and well being because they are women. Revenge porn is overwhelmingly perpetrated against women by men, and is rooted in displaying male dominance. There is nothing new in this type of female dehumanization. What’s new is its digitized and scalable industrialization. The attack on female celebrities sends a clear message that even the most admired and powerful women can be treated this way.

We have a national predisposition to downplay gender as consequential. This November marks the fifth anniversary of the Matthew Shepard & James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, in which sexual orientation, gender, gender identity and disability were finally added to federal hate crimes law.

The purpose of the 2009 act was largely to ensure that people have the chance to pursue justice if they feel that their state courts have failed. Only some states have hate crime statutes and, of those, a sub-segment include gender as a category for consideration. The battle to include gender at the federal level was long and hard fought. Either way, social recognition of gender-based hate, as post Elliot Rodger’s public discussions showed, remains controversial.

Bias and hate crime laws exists so that members of groups that were historically discriminated against know that the societies they live in support their equal right to live their lives, raise their children, travel in public, and pursue their work, free of fear and discrimination. They are a challenge to social norms that would perpetuate violence and subjugation, an old-fashioned word no one likes to use in the United States, on the basis of immutable characteristics. Like being female.

If there is one silver lining in this, it’s that the women who were targeted are not being stigmatized or punished and that the trajectory of traditional shame seems to be reversing in a way that accrues to the perpetrator, and not the victims, of these assaults.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME feminism

There’s No Comparing Male and Female Harassment Online

Hacker
Getty Images

Recent arguments have suggested that men get harassed more than women on the Internet, but this ignores the violent reality

News about cyber-misogyny has steadily increased during the past year, since the publication of Amanda Hess’ “Why Women Aren’t Welcome on the Internet,” but many people challenge the notion that women’s online harassment is a matter of specific and particular concern. For example, a piece in the Daily Beast last week argued that men are harassed more often than women online. It’s a common refrain.

The starting point for the article, written by Cathy Young, is a recent survey by British think tank Demos that found that male celebrities are recipients of more abuse overall on Twitter than their female counterparts. This was a relatively narrow and unrepresentative study. There are many others documented in Danielle Citron’s new book, Hate Crimes in CyberSpace, that illustrate pronounced abusive sexism online.

In addition to the difficulty of comparing data sets of varying size and depth, however, comparing male versus female online “harassment” is problematic for many reasons.

First, as Young points out, women’s harassment is more likely to be gender-based and that has specific, discriminatory harms rooted in our history. The study pointed out that the harassment targeted at men is not because they are men, as is clearly more frequently the case with women. It’s defining because a lot of harassment is an effort to put women, because they are women, back in their “place.”

Second, online comparisons like this decontextualize the problem of harassment, as though a connection to what happens offline is trivial or inconsequential.

Third, the binary frame camouflages the degree to which harassment of people, often men, is frequently aimed at people who defy rigid gender and sexuality rules. LGBT youth experience online bullying at three times the rate of their straight peers.

For girls and women, harassment is not just about “un-pleasantries.” It’s often about men asserting dominance, silencing, and frequently, scaring and punishing them.

According to Erica Olsen, Deputy Director of Safety Net, a program created by the National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV), “In a 2012 survey, 89 percent of local domestic violence programs reported that victims were experiencing intimidation and threats by abusers via technology, including through cell phones, texts, and email.”

Online harassment is a key weapon in intensified stalking, for example. Intimate partners create impersonator content online, sometimes with brutal results. This type of harassment also includes rape and death threats, such as those at the heart of an upcoming Supreme Court case.

Rape and death threats made by strangers are also common, however. They coexist online with violent sexist, racist commentary on Twitter, YouTube and Facebook and the sharing of gifs, images, jokes and memes depicting gross violence against women as “humor.” The “humor” can sometimes spill over into aggressive cyber mob attacks, which, as Citron explains in her book, disproportionately target women and people of color. These mobs include hundreds, sometimes thousands of people, systematically harassing their targets. #Slanegirl, a trending global public shaming of a teenage girl filmed performing fellatio is one example. Attacks on public figures like Anita Sarkeesian or Caroline Criado-Perez can take on surreal qualities whose effects can’t be underestimated—either on the individual attacked or on the environment.

Women are also the majority of people experiencing revenge porn, the distribution of non-consensual photography, often involving nudity and sex. Last month’s theft and distribution of the private photographs of more than 100 celebrities, almost all female, was a case in point.

Rape videos also harass women. In country after country, including ours, boys and men are recording and sharing their raping of girls and women. Some cases, such as the most recent, #Jadapose, explode into social media consciousness, but there are far more cases that most people never hear about. Videos like this are of a philosophical cloth with the common sexual surveillance of women in public spaces, from public bathrooms and changing rooms to rental apartments and subway platforms. These images are then used to populate online spaces created for sharing them, cyber-cesspools whose sole purpose is to deprive people of dignity by humiliating, and harassing them.

And then there’s the matter of human trafficking online. Social media is used by traffickers to sell people whose photographs they share, without their consent, often including photographs of their abuse of women as an example to others. Seventy-six percent of trafficked persons are girls and women and the Internet is now a major sales platform.

In theory, these things can happen to anyone—but they don’t. They happen overwhelming to women and the abusers are overwhelmingly men. Stalking, off and online, is a crime in which men are the majority of perpetrators and women the targets. Justice Department records reveal that 70 percent of those stalked online are women. More than 80 percent of cyber-stalking defendants are male. Similarly, a study of 1,606 revenge porn cases showed that 90 percent of those whose photos were shared were women, targeted by men. In gaming, an industry known for endemic sexism, studies cited by Citron show that 70 percent of women in multiplayer games play as male characters in order to avoid abuse.

As far as “harmless threats” are concerned, the reality of rape and domestic violence qualitatively changes the meaning and effect of threats when leveled against women by men. Women have a 1 in 5 chance of actually being raped and a 1 in 4 chance of being physically assaulted by an intimate. For men, the chances of being raped are 1 in 71, and 1 in 7 for being physically abused, also an asymmetrical comparison.

The harassment men experience also lacks broader, resonant symbolism. Women are more frequently targeted with gendered slurs and pornographic photo manipulation because the objectification and dehumanization of women is central to normalizing violence against us. Philosophers Martha Nussbaum and Ray Langdon describe in detail how this works: women are thought of and portrayed as things for the use of others. Interchangeable; violable; silent and lacking in agency.

Women take online harassment more seriously not because we are hysterics, but because we reasonably have to. There is no gender equivalence in terms of the denigrating, hostile and sometimes exceedingly dangerous environmental effect that misogyny has, online or off. It has a long history and cannot be isolated from actual violence that we adapt to avoiding every day. The fact that that violence has always suppressed women’s free speech is only now becoming too obvious to ignore.

TIME feminism

I Shouldn’t Have to Dip My Nails In a Drink to Reduce My Risk of Rape

102757479
Tetra Images—Getty Images/Tetra images RF

There's a lost opportunity every time we make girls and women individually responsible for avoiding rape

Every few months, a new product to help women avoid rape hits the market. This week’s is an innovative new nail polish that can identify the presence of drugs when dipped in a drink.

Considering that conservative estimates put the percentage of American women who’ve suffered sexual assault between 20%-25%, there’s huge market potential for this product. Of course, there is the fact that roofies, a nickname derived from the sedative Rohypnol, are less commonly used by serial predators than alcohol itself. A 2007 National Institute of Justice study found that only 2.4% of sexually assaulted female undergraduates were either certain or thought that they’d been drugged. On the other hand, studies conducted on college campuses show that alcohol is involved in anywhere between 50%-90% of sexual assaults. It is the weapon of choice, as expert David Lisak puts it.

I don’t want to dip my nails into a drink. Or stop wearing my hair in a ponytail. Or start wearing hairy tights. Before I die, I’d like to not have to ask a man to walk me home at night. Cool new nail polish is just the latest in way for us to adapt to rape.

From the moment we are born, girls are told to change: change our clothes, our hair, our belt buckles, our underwear, our walks, our commutes, our friends, even our vaginas.

At the same time, the topic of avoiding rape for men is usually just a bad joke. What do men do if they want to avoid rape? “Stay out of jail.” The sick irony of this joke is that it’s true. In reality, the only place where male adults in the U.S. come close to facing the same level of risk for rape as women is in jail. Even then, women inmates face twice the risk. But that bad joke perpetuates a rape myth. Most men who have experienced rape, reported at 1 out of 71, are assaulted as boys. But what does it say that women’s day-to-day reality of “staying safe” is thought to be comparable to the plight of men in jail?

Despite everything we are trained to do, we can’t change the one thing that matters the most: the fact of our femaleness. The most highly ranked risk factor for being raped is being a female. Girls and young women below the age of 30 make up more than 80% of rape victims, regardless of what they wear, what they drink or where they walk. While women can and do rape boys, girls and women are raped by men in an overwhelming number of cases. (Men are also the primary offenders in the rape of boys.)

And yet, in the popular commodification of sexual assault, there are no deodorants rapists can wear that stain their armpits with indelible ink when they’re about to rape someone. Or binding underwear that makes it impossible for them to whip out a weaponized John Thomas. Or electrified jock straps.

According to the CDC, in the United States nearly one in five women reports having been raped or experiencing an attempted rape at some point. One in four suffer violence at the hands of an intimate partner. One in six women report being stalked. This level of violence is terrorism. Women and non-gender conforming people live with fear in ways that men, particularly those who present as straight men, find hard to fathom. Women have heightened awareness of stranger dangers related to sexual assault, even though the chances they are assaulted by an acquaintance or partner are higher. Women change their lives, at great cost, because of threats to their physical safety that are largely tied to the fear of rape.

Every time we focus on making girls and women individually responsible for avoiding rape, we lose the opportunity to address the systemic root problem that our mainstream culture grows rapists like weeds. Despite my snark, I do understand the need to balance safety with change. I don’t doubt the good intentions of the inventors of these products, but their true value resides less in their questionable efficacy than in the fact that young men like the creators of this one are engaged in confronting rape culture. However, each and every instance of “how to avoid rape” that media takes up is one less instance of explaining rape and reducing its pervasive threat.

Soraya Chemaly is a media critic and feminist writer whose work focuses on the role of gender and sexualized violence in culture, politics, religion and free speech. You can find her at @schemaly.

TIME politics

The Supreme Court Ruled in Favor of Patriarchy, Not Democracy

Supreme Court Issues Rulings, Including Hobby Lobby ACA Contraception Mandate Case
Chip Somodevilla—Getty Images Supporters of employer-paid birth control rally in front of the Supreme Court before the decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores was announced June 30, 2014 in Washington, DC.

The Hobby Lobby decision displays the profound depth of religious and male norms that deny women autonomy and the right to control our own reproduction.

On Monday morning, the Supreme Court delivered a severe blow to women in the United States when it ruled that “closely-held” corporations, such as Hobby Lobby, can refuse to provide insurance coverage for birth control based on owners’ religious beliefs. Liberal Justices Stephen Breyer, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor partially joined Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg in a 35-page dissent against the majority decision of the five conservative, male justices.

That the Court ruled this way should surprise no one. What should surprise, however, is the continued expectation that we overlook patriarchal religious fundamentalism, its collusion with constitutional “originalism” and its discriminatory expression in our political system.

Most analyses of this case will parse the law and, in doing so, make no challenges to two fundamental assumptions: 1) that the law and the Court are both “neutral” to begin with and 2) that we should not question the closely held religious beliefs of judges and politicians, even when those beliefs discriminate openly against women. This is a judgment. And judgments come from norms. And norms are based on people’s preferences. The Court is made up of people who have beliefs, implicitly or explicitly expressed.

In the practice of many religions, girls’ and women’s relationship to the divine are mediated, in strictly binary terms, by men: their speech, their ways of being and their judgments. Women’s behavior, especially sexual, is policed in ways that consolidate male power. It is impossible to be, in this particular case, a conservative Christian, without accepting and perpetuating the subordination of women to male rule. It is also blatant in “official” Catholicism, Mormonism, Evangelical Protestantism, Orthodox Judaism and Islam.

The fundamental psychology of these ideas, of religious male governance, does not exist in a silo, isolated from family structures, public life or political organization. It certainly does not exist separately from our Supreme Court. Antonin Scalia, for example, makes no bones about his conscientious commitment to conservative Catholic ideals in his personal life and the seriousness of their impact on his work as a judge. There are many Catholics who reject these views, but he is not among them. These beliefs include those having to do with non-procreational sex, women’s roles, reproduction, sexuality, birth control and abortion. The fact that Scalia may be brilliant, and may have convinced himself that his opinions are a matter of reason and not faith, is irrelevant.

What is not irrelevant is that we are supposed to hold in abeyance any substantive concerns about the role that these beliefs, and their expression in our law, play in the distribution of justice and rights. They are centrally and critically important to women’s freedom, and we ignore this fact at our continued peril.

Ninety-nine percent of sexually active women will use birth control at some point in their lives. The Court’s decision displays the profound depth of patriarchal norms that deny women autonomy and the right to control our own reproduction—norms that privilege people’s “religious consciences” over women’s choices about our own bodies, the welfare of our families, our financial security and our equal right to freedom from the imposition of our employers’ religious beliefs. What this court just did was, once again, make women’s bodies, needs and experiences “exceptions” to normatively male ones. This religious qualifier was narrowly construed to address just this belief and not others, such as prohibitions on vaccines or transfusions. It is not a coincidence that all three female members of the Court and only one man of six dissented from this opinion.

While there are hundreds of bills and laws regulating women’s rights to control their own reproduction, I’m not aware, after much looking, of any that similarly constrain men or tax them unduly for their decisions. As a matter of fact, we live in a country where more than half of our states give rapists the right to sue for custody of children born of their raping and forcible insemination of women. Insurance coverage continues to include medical services and products that help men control their reproduction and enhance their sexual lives.

As Ginsburg outlined in her dissent, the costs that this decision will accrue to women are substantive. The argument that employers shouldn’t pay for things they don’t believe in is vacuous. Insurance benefits are part of compensation. Even if you reject that notion, it is clear that we all pay for things we don’t like or believe in through our taxes and, for employers, through insurance. That’s how insurance and taxes work—except when it comes to women and their bodies. That’s sexism.

That we live with patriarchy is evident. That this dominance is and always has been the opposite of democracy is not to most people. SCOTUS’ decision is shameful for its segregation of women’s health issues and its denial that what should be valued as “closely held” in our society is a woman’s right to make her own reproductive decisions. American women’s equality continues to be undermined by the privileging of religion in public discourse.

Soraya Chemaly is a media critic and feminist writer whose work focuses on the role of gender and sexualized violence in culture, politics, religion and free speech. You can find her at @schemaly.

TIME The Good Mother Myth

School Volunteering and Parental Pressure: One Mom’s Unapologetic No

155374926
Getty Images

Learning to resist the unhealthy pressure to volunteer for every possible activity in a child's school

For me, having children was like being run over by a small, fast locomotive. I had, to my enduring surprise, three babies under the age of three. From the moment I woke up to the moment I fell asleep (note that I did not say, go to bed) I was doing something, and someone was an expert in why I was doing it wrong. Bottles or breast. Co-sleep or no sleep. Mozart on. Mozart off. Clean floor. Dirty floor. Pets. No pets. Shots or no shots. Too much holding. Not enough holding. Being was an exercise in inadequacy. And that was just the mothering bit. I was also working. Outside of the home, which means for money. Deadlines, conference calls in bathrooms, meetings, overdue reports.

When my children all began school, I foolishly thought that I would have more time. Instead, it introduced a new pressure: parental volunteering. I’d never had children in school, so when it came to anything related to this experience, I, mom-in-headlights, did it. Book fair? Yes! Fieldtrip? Yes! Bake sale? Yes! I felt like a skirted flip-book stick figure that someone else was maniacally flipping. I said ‘Yes” because saying “No” filled me with maternal guilt. And, I wasn’t alone. Everywhere I looked women were frantic, engaged in contrived activity, exhausted by work, vigilance and maternal frenzy. What I saw around me in schools were women, talented, energetic and smart, often creating inefficient systems to pass the day in an effort to make up for workplace systems that made it as hard as possible and financially irrational for them to work once they’d become mothers.

One day, I woke up and my hands were numb. Then my arms. It took six weeks and a slew of medical tests for doctors to tell me what I already knew – I did not have brain cancer. I had children and was tired.

Then came the Incident of the Corn Husk Dolls. Are you familiar with cornhusk dolls? They were a toy that Colonial children played with. One year, I volunteered to staff the cornhusk doll station at a school event where children and parents (read mothers, 95% of the volunteers), dressed in colonial garb, pretended to spend a day in Plymouth. I did not know that prior to the event I was supposed to buy an obscene amount of corn, husk it, and lay the husks out to dry on my nonexistent lawn so that the children could have an “authentic experience.” I suggested that we should, children and adults alike, drink the colonial equivalent of beer all day, but this idea, sadly, met with failure. After many panic-stricken phone calls and emails about cornhusks from frantic mothers, I ordered, for the ridiculously low cost of $30, 3,000 husks and delivered them to the school, with a note that no other woman should have to think about this for several years.

Of course the scenarios I’m describing are reflexively associated with affluent, mainly white upper middle class women, and, it may be that this school is more gender imbalanced then most. However, a 2013 Bureau of Labor Statistics study revealed that, regardless of age, education or race, women volunteer more than their male demographic peers. (Volunteer rates for women and men are 23.2% and 29.5% respectively.) Schools benefit hugely from the unpaid labor of mothers – most of whom, today, don’t have the luxury of not needing jobs. The pressure to donate unpaid labor at schools is inextricably entwined with ideas about mothering and work. Every time volunteer cultures are gender imbalanced it is almost certainly a symptom of women’s work being taken for granted, invisible and unpaid. The “maternal labor” credit that gets applied to school budgets feeds into a lifetime of sex-based wealth and wage gaps and sex segregation in the workforce.

I know volunteerism is a kindness without which much that is necessary would not happen. It brings diverse people together for the common good and is vitally important. Communities, and individuals, benefit tremendously from this work. This is not to denigrate the real societal good of volunteering, which is not, per se, a problem. Additionally, value is calculated in many ways, not through financial compensation. I, for example, publish articles in the Huffington Post – and don’t get paid to do it. That may seem hypocritical, but to me, the compensation I receive is an audience, an asset that has value. And that is true regardless of whether or not I am a mother or a woman.

School volunteering is part of “good mother” mythologies that reinforce ideas about gender, sexuality, ideal workers and complementary roles for men and women. Additionally, because of our economic and social realities, volunteer demands also contribute to subtle race and class divides in school communities.

When I stopped volunteering at schools, I explained this to friends and to my children, who could not care less if I painted stage sets, or bought bake sale items instead of making them. I found other ways to contribute to communities that we belong to. Equally important, I learned to say no, politely, but unapologetically.

*Excerpted from The Good Mother Myth: Redefining Motherhood to Fit Reality, edited by Avital Norman Nathman. Available from Seal Press, a member of the Perseus Books Group. Copyright 2014.

Your browser is out of date. Please update your browser at http://update.microsoft.com