MONEY Careers

7 Ideas That Could Make Life Easier for Working Parents

140623_HO_WorkingParents_1
Alamy

Experts gathered Monday at The White House Summit on Working Families to discuss ways to reduce the conflicts between the office and home. One working mom thinks these seven ideas would make for a good start.

All that “girls can, too” stuff that was popular when I was growing up seems to have paid off.

Women now comprise 47% of U.S. workers, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and 6 in 10 women are now the sole, primary, or co-breadwinners for their families—echoing the results of Money’s own recent survey.

So great, we did it. Kudos to us. We are a new generation of women on top.

But for those of us who are also moms, working a double shift—at the office for the big cheese and then at home for the little bosses—doesn’t give us time to rest on our laurels. Or rest at all. Life is a constant juggling act, and one in which the balls are always dropping and the audience is booing.

Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg may make work-life balance sound like a cakewalk, but a $800 million pay package buys flexibility that’s not really available to those of us with less made-up sounding salaries, not to mention workers making the $7.25 federal minimum wage.

For most working moms like me, work and home are in near-constant conflict. While your family gets that you need to work in order to put dinner on the table, your employer may not make it easy for you to make it home in time to put that healthy meat-and-veg casserole in the oven. (Pizza again?) Or pick up your fifth grader from school. Or take care of a sick baby. (Did I mention that my son is home with a fever today? Insert mommy guilt here.) And then there’s child care, which presents special challenges this time of year when school lets out for summer. (Check out some ideas for saving here.)

Only 14% of Americans think our public policies and workplace policies are keeping up with the changes in the workforce, according to a Center for American Progress survey.

On Monday, the White House and the Center for American Progress convened an event—The White House Summit on Working Families—aimed at finding solutions for the challenges working families face. At the plenary session, Claudia Goldin, a professor of economics at Harvard University; Mark Weinberger, CEO of professional services firm EY; Makini Howell, owner of Seattle’s Plum Bistro Restaurant; and Mary Kay Henry, president of Service Employees International Union; came together to offer their thoughts for what could help. These seven ideas caught my eye:

1. Make the school day more reflective of the work day. “There’s no reason school begins with a six-year-old,” said Goldin. “There isn’t any reason why it can’t start at three or four years old. There is no reason why school ends at 2 or 3 o’clock. And there is no reason—and sorry to all the kids—why it ends in June.”

2. Get parents at the top to set a standard. “When I was offered this job, I asked my kids, ‘Should I do this?'” recounted Weinberger, CEO of EY, which surveys its employees annually on flexibility. “My daughter asked ‘Will you still be able to keep the commitment to us?’ And I said absolutely, I was a father first.” Three months later, he said, he was in China giving his first speech as CEO when he was asked if he would be attending that evening’s dinner. Weinberger responded by saying that he had to leave for his daughter’s driving test. “Not a single person remembers my great speech, but I got hundreds of emails from people telling me what that freed them up to do.”

3. Require paid sick leave. “If I have a worker who dedicates five, 10 years of their life to my success and my small business, my question is why not pay a sick day?” says Howard, who helped pass paid sick leave legislation in Seattle. “When you care enough about your employees to provide a safety net, they don’t abuse what you offer…and if I can’t trust you to tell me when you’re sick, I should have more issues than you having a paid day off.”

4. Make paid maternity leave a must. “If someone who is working has a child or has a disability and has to leave that job, and then has to search for another job, that’s a cost for everyone in the system,” said Goldin, pointing to California’s law, which pays 55% of an employee’s base weekly wages for up to six weeks.

5. Boost wages for caregivers. “Childcare workers are building the brains of the next generation to be globally competitive,” said Henry. To that end, caregiving needs to be better rewarded as a profession, she said. “These need to become jobs people could raise their families on. Home-care and childcare workers could be the autoworkers and steelworkers of the future.”

6. Bump up minimum wage. “The number one issue is how do we drive wages up at the bottom of economy so that wage pressure on jobs in the middle can increase,” said Henry. “It’s not about whether we can make ends meet with one job, it’s about families doing three jobs and becoming ships passing in the night to care for children.” Howell, who was involved in helping bump Seattle’s minimum wage to $15, echoed this sentiment. “We have this race-to-the-bottom mentality in wages,” she said. “But raising the minimum to $15 puts more money into the economy since my workers are another business’s consumers.”

7. Encourage companies to invest in flexibility. “Many industries have become more flexible,” said Goldin. That’s in part due to technologies that allow employees to work remotely, she added, noting that she hopes other industries will follow.

TIME Syria

Watch: Syrian Children Talk About Life As Child Soldiers

Recruited under the guide of education programs, child soldiers have been acting as snipers, soldiers and even suicide bombers in Syria, a new report says.

Before the ongoing conflict in Syria began in early 2011, Majed, 16, used to farm tomatoes in the fields near his hometown of Inkhil, Daraa, in the country’s southwest.

But when the Nusra Front, which has been labeled a terrorist group by the U.S. State Department, came to his town, he and other children as young as 12 years old started to spend time with members of the group in a local mosque, Majeb told Human Rights Watch.

“They would bring a car and go around to houses to pick up children. They taught children how to read the Quran, then taught us about weapon(s),” Majed said. “They taught us how to take apart and put together a weapon, they put up a target for us to practice shooting outside the mosque. Anyone who hit the target got a reward.”

Majed ended up fighting against government forces for three months. Another boy, Amr, 15, who fought with an extremist Islamist group in northern Syria, said his unit’s commanders encouraged children to volunteer for suicide bombing attacks. He reluctantly signed up, but he was able to get away before his turn came up, he told Human Rights Watch.

Majer and Amr are just two of many children who have been recruited as combatants by non-state armed groups involved in the Syrian conflict.

It’s not clear exactly how many child soldiers are fighting in Syria, but groups like the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), an al-Qaeda offshoot aligned with rebels fighting against forces aligned with Syrian President Bashar Assad, as well as the Nusra Front have encouraged boys as young as 15 to fight, at times recruiting them through free schooling campaigns, Human Rights Watch said in a report released Monday. While the report focused on use of child soldiers by rebel forces, the United Nations International Commission of Inquiry on Syria has documented the use of child soldiers by pro-government forces as well.

As Syria’s civil war is set to enter into its fourth year, human rights groups have been able to document that boys and girls were recruited to fight in battles, act as snipers, participate in suicide bombing missions, treat the wounded on battlefields and carry ammunition to and from the front lines. A Syria-monitoring group called the Violations Documenting Center documented 194 deaths of “non-civilian” male children in Syria from September 2011 until June of this year, for example.

In the video above, Zama Coursen-Neff, the Executive Director of Human Rights Watch’s Children’s Rights Division, said that armed opposition groups in Syria across the political spectrum are using children to fight.

“It’s bad enough that the Syrian government is dropping bombs on children, armed opposition groups in Syria should not in turn be sending children into harm’s way,” Coursen-Neff said.

Under international law, armed group leaders who recruit child soldiers can be tried as war criminals. The United Nations estimates that hundreds of thousands of boys and girls, some as young as 8 years old, are used as soldiers in numerous conflicts in Africa, Latin America and Asia.

 

 

TIME Opinion

Jenny McCarthy Doubles Down on Deadly

McCarthy's ad may have been pulled but the images have gone viral
McCarthy's ad may have been pulled but the images have gone viral

The legendary anti-vaxxer becomes an e-cig peddler, once more endangering children

Jenny McCarthy is apparently determined to be present at the birth of every possible bad idea. Let’s pretend–pretend—for a moment that there was anything at all to the dangerous junk McCarthy has been peddling in falsely linking vaccines to autism and a host of other ills. Presumably her goal would be to protect children, to keep them safe and well.

And so what does McCarthy now propose to do with that generation of kids whose welfare she’s ensured? Why, hand them over to the tobacco companies, of course.

In a jaw-dropping bit of make-a-bad-thing-worse reputation management, McCarthy appeared in a cringe-inducing commercial for blu eCigs—which has since been pulled from the company’s website—peddling the increasingly popular product. Shot in what is meant to be a club, McCarthy appears in a skimpy dress with a silent piece of beef-cake by her side, going on about the virtues of e-cigs, including the fact that “I can whip out my blu without scaring that special someone away—know what I’m sayin’?”

But here’s the thing McCarthy isn’t sayin': e-cigs are way, way too young a product for anyone to be able to say with certainty how safe or how dangerous they are. They may well be a gateway out of smoking for some people, a healthier alternative to traditional cigarettes. But they may certainly be a gateway in too—particularly for kids.

A study of electronic cigarette advertising from June through November of 2013 by the American Legacy Foundation found that Lorillard Tobacco Company’s blu brand spent more on marketing than “all other brands combined,” and that blu’s advertising was the most commonly viewed by teenagers, “with 73% of 12- to 17-year-olds exposed to blu’s print and TV ads.”

Worse, as my colleague Eliza Gray reported, advertising for e-cigs jumped 256% from 2011 to 2013, and more than 1.78 million middle school kids have tried them. No surprise since “last year 14 million kids saw ads for electronic cigarettes on TV [and] 9.5 million saw them in print.” And with e-cig brands sold in sweet tooth flavors like cherry and vanilla, it’s hard to pretend they’re not being marketed directly to consumers with immature palates—otherwise known as, you know, children.

At this week’s hearing before the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, e-cig makers got blowtorched by lawmakers who had already been through the lies and obfuscations from tobacco executives denying their deadly products were addictive, and are now hearing the same dissembling from the new generation of nicotine peddlers. Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W. Va.) was the most blistering, saying, “I’m ashamed of you. I don’t know how you go to sleep at night.”

It’s impossible to say how they do, but Jenny McCarthy, if her own words are an indicator, sleeps like a baby. “Now that I’ve switched to blu I feel better about myself,” she said. As the legendary U.S. Army counsel Joseph Welch might have put it, at long last, Jenny, have you left no sense of decency?

TIME

Yes, You Could Forget Your Kid in the Car—I Did

476543095
Flickr RF/Getty Images

Another sad story of a child dying from being left in a hot car should remind us of one thing: it could happen to any parent

“Oh my God, what a horrible parent. I would NEVER let that happen!”

This is a common refrain shouted across the Internet when summer inevitably brings a smattering of tragic stories involving young children who die after a parent forgets they’re in the car. This time it was 33-year-old Justin Ross Harris of Georgia, who apparently forgot to drop his 22-month-old son off at daycare on Wednesday, leaving him in the searing backseat of his SUV for seven hours while his dad was at work. Harris has been charged with murder.

Perhaps it’s human nature to automatically assign blame, or the simple power of denial in convincing yourself you would never forget your child – which is understandable. But it’s also inaccurate. I can tell you in brutal, intimate honesty, because it happened to me.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says 25 kids every year die from similar incidents; this year, that count is already at 13. There is of course no stat on the number of kids who get forgotten, but then remembered in enough time to survive. If you have the emotional fortitude to read Gene Weingarten’s Pulitzer Prize-winning piece on the subject, you’ll see it happens to moms, dads, parents young and old.

I won’t sit here and tell you I’m a great parent, but I’m not a bad one. I love my kids and they are my world. I take great pains to make sure they are kept safe and out of harm’s way, and yet… I’m human. That’s what we are. Our perpetual capacity to make mistakes is innate, and should be reason not to judge.

Six years ago, when my oldest was born, I was his primary caregiver. I worked full time but my schedule was flexible, and my wife made most of the money. That meant I had the privilege of making him breakfast, getting him ready, and doing all the drop off/pick up from daycare. And I had my routine that went like clockwork every day.

Every day except Wednesday.

I had Wednesdays off, and one of my relatives was nice enough to come down for a few hours and help me out by watching Will. I used this time to run errands, go to the gym, and decompress from the standard pressure of raising a 10-month-old.

But on this specific Wednesday, she couldn’t come. And since errands wait for no man, I had to take Will with me to all the stores on my list. I remember feeling very grateful he fell asleep just before we left, and even stayed asleep as I transitioned him into the car seat. Then, just like every other hump day, my mind wandered to the litany of things I had to do and places I needed to be.

It was winter in Massachusetts, and temperatures were in the single digits. As I parked the car I was more intent on bracing myself for the arctic blast of cold air than anything else. I took a deep breath, pushed the door open, and hustled out into the deep freeze. As I got to the door of the grocery store—roughly 50 feet from the car—I kicked myself. I had forgotten my shopping list on the passenger seat.

Oh, and one other thing.

When I realized what else I had forgotten, I learned the true meaning of “panic attack.” I just stood there, paralyzed by a deeper fear than I have ever known. I could try to sugarcoat it by saying I was sleep-deprived and out of my normal routine—factual statements—but there was no denying another fact: I simply forgot about my son. If not for remembering the grocery list, there is a very good chance my boy would’ve been frozen to death upon my return.

I’m a writer. More specifically, I’m a parent blogger. That means I’ve detailed some very personal and often humiliating stories. Yet it wasn’t until yesterday that I told my wife this happened, and it’s taken six years to get the courage to post it publicly. The shame was just too great.

There are times when parents leave kids to die in cars because they’re doing drugs. With cases of clear neglect I have little difficulty joining the masses in summoning righteous anger and outrage. (And in Harris’s case, the investigation has not at this time been completed.) But when well-meaning parents have a tragic memory lapse that leads to a lifetime of guilt, shame, and blame, I can’t help but muster up some sympathy and recall that day six years ago.

The day a missing grocery list was the only thing that prevented me and my son from becoming a headline. And I’m willing to bet I’m not alone in the close-call department.

 

Aaron Gouveia is a husband, father of two boys, and writes for his site, The Daddy Files.

MONEY Shopping

School’s (Almost) Out! Just In Time for Back-to-School Sales

BSIP SA / Alamy—Alamy

If you thought now was the time to relax and celebrate the end of the school year, J.C. Penney, Walmart, and Lands' End have a back-to-school sale for you.

Last summer, retailers raised eyebrows by rolling out back-to-school sales in early July, within a week or two of when kids escaped the clutches of teachers, principals, and algebra homework. “In seven and a half years, I’ve never once seen so much emphasis put on back-to-school before July 4,” National Retail Federation spokeswoman Kathy Grannis told AdAge at the time.

Fast-forward to June 2014, and retailers are at it again, pushing back-to-school sales earlier than ever. Consumers are getting the message that the time to purchase gear for the upcoming school year is before the current school year has ended. Like, now.

J.C. Penney began promoting back-to-school sales last weekend, according to Consumerist. Walmart already has a back-to-school web page for student fashions, backpacks, and other school gear, as well as another page devoted to back-to-college apparel and tech. Target just introduced a college registry program, so that students can try to get other people to buy them stuff. Apple’s back-to-school promotional deals are expected to be announced any day now. And Lands’ End? It started zapping customers with e-mails a couple of weeks ago, pushing the idea that early June is a fine time to buy school uniforms that kids won’t wear until around Labor Day.

It’s totally understandable why retailers try to move back-to-school shopping earlier and earlier each year. Families generally have finite resources they can allocate to back-to-school fashion and paraphernalia, and once the pencils, protractors, glue sticks, notebooks, and a few new outfits are purchased, their back-to-school expenditures are done (in theory). Retailers want to beat the competition to the punch, before the family’s back-to-school budget is depleted.

“Retailers are going to do what they can to try to get consumers into the stores to shop, but the fact of the matter is they might not have much luck,” Britt Beemer, chairman of America’s Research Group, explained to CNBC. “There aren’t any parents that I can find who have even thought of back-to-school shopping, because for most kids, they haven’t even gotten out of school yet.”

Still, even if shoppers don’t actually buy back-to-school stuff in June, the enticements may get them thinking about their needs for the upcoming school year. Panic sets in for a lot of overwhelmed parents, and they’re more apt to want to cross all of their children’s back-to-school items off their list as soon as possible. How can you relax on a summer vacation when you know there will be dorm rooms to decorate and Number 2 pencils that need to be purchased?

What’s more, early-season promotional efforts are limited mostly to the digital world. It’s much cheaper and easier for a retailer to send out an e-mail blast or put up a back-to-school web page than it is to rearrange shelves and create promotional sections inside thousands of stores. That’ll happen soon enough, of course, during the especially puzzling period when you’re likely to encounter Fourth of July, back to school, Christmas in July, and plain old summer sales in your local megamart, perhaps mixed in with the odd early Halloween aisle.

Of course, retailers risk some customer backlash by taking the expansion of shopping seasons too far. So-called “Christmas creep,” the phenomenon in which the Christmas shopping season kicks off in September and Christmas ads air within a few days of Labor Day weekend, has caused many an observer to groan in exasperation.

When the calendar says one thing and retailers are telling consumers something very different via sales and promotions, the result can be jarring, even off-putting. Yet retailers assume shoppers have short memories, and they hope that whatever bad feelings a too-early sale produces are outweighed by deals that are just too good to pass up.

TIME Television

We’re Getting a Half-Hour Version of Sesame Street

12th Annual Sesame Workshop Benefit Gala
Many of the Sesame Street characters at the 12th annual Sesame Workshop Benefit Gala at Cipriani 42nd Street on May 28, 2014 in New York City. Robin Marchant—Getty Images

They will air in the afternoons and stream online

Famed children’s show Sesame Street has finally succumbed to our shortening attention spans. PBS will begin broadcasting and streaming a half-hour version of the show this fall, the company said Wednesday.

For almost 45 years, Sesame Street has run only hour-long episodes, even as other children’s shows got shorter. But a jump in use of the PBS Kids Video app last year and slumping broadcasting ratings convinced the network to design a mobile-friendly version of the show.

“30 minutes is about as long as you can get [for mobile],” Lesli Rotenberg, PBS’s general manager of children’s programming, told the New York Times about the new format. “The hourlong show didn’t lend itself as well to that.”

The new half-hour shows will join PBS’ afternoon lineup starting Sept. 1. PBS will also stream more than just clips from the show for the first time in Sesame Street history: some episodes will be streamable via the PBS website, its mobile app and its Roku channel.

Hour-long Sesame Street episodes will continue to run in the mornings.

TIME Culture

The Female Superhero May Finally Take Flight

I Am Elemental action figures I Am Elemental

A successful Kickstarter campaign for female action figures and action movies starring women promise a future where girls can kick butt too

G.I. Joe was built to be a hero. His body is engineered for action, not posing. So imagine if certain parts of his anatomy were so large that he fell over. How would he get any world saving done? That’s not a question that anyone seems to be asking about action figures modeled after Wonder Woman.

Why do these heroines look a lot more like Victoria’s Secret models than strong women capable of rescuing civilization (or at least bending their limbs)? Dawn Nadeau, co-founder of I Am Elemental, a new toy company for girls explains it like this: “The few female action figures that are on the market are really designed for the adult male collector. The form is hyper-sexualized: The breasts are oversized; the waist is tiny. When you make the figures sit, their legs splay open in a suggestive way.”

What was missing, Nadeua and her co-founder Julie Kerwin realized, were female action-figures who looked as athletic, powerful and flexible as the male-oriented toys like G.I. Joe and Captain America do. Thanks to overwhelming support from a KickStarter campaign — the company reached its $35,000 goal in the first 48 hours after launching in May and eventually went on to raise almost $163,000 from supporters in all 50 states and six continents — I Am Elemental‘s first group of action figures will hit toy stores this holiday season.

The toys come at a time when female superheroes are starting to invade the zeitgeist but still play second fiddle to men, as with Jennifer Lawrence in X-Men: Days of Future Past or Scarlett Johansson in The Avengers. Most toys are byproducts of what’s onscreen and are a large part of their profit: Last year, the success of the Hunger Games franchise inspired a set of purple and pink Nerf guns and crossbows for girls called Nerf Rebelle. But the swell of financial support for I Am Elemental proves that there is a demand for more strong heroines in both toy stories and our culture.

1009_sl_DF-09307_v04
Jennifer Lawrence as Mystique in X-Men: Days of Future Past. Alan Markfield—TM and © 2013 Marvel and Subs. TM and © 2013 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

What’s different about the I Am Elemental action figures is that they don’t look anything like Barbie or, for that matter, Jennifer Lawrence’s Mystique in X-Men, whose entire costume consists of blue body paint. The creators spent months perfecting the action figures’ measurements to make them as realistic, athletic and as non-sexualized as possible. “We were obsessed with the breast-to-hip ratio,” says Nadeau. “We were obsessed with the bum because so many of these figures have these incredible butt cracks on the back. We kept saying ‘Bridge the gap.” The result is a figure that’s decidedly feminine but could still leap into battle.

There are several action figures in the I Am Elemental sets. Each has a theme inspired by a historical muse (the first, based on Joan of Arc, is “courage”). And each figure in that set personifies a virtue and possess a power: For example, Persistence has the ability to push through any obstacle with super-strength.

Though all the characters are women, Nadeau says they hope the action figures can have a place in boys’ toy boxes too. “If you don’t over-qualify it and just say here’s a great toy play with it, the kids will be off and running. I don’t think everything needs to be gender specified,” she says. “I’d like to see them in the girl aisle and the boys aisle, next to Barbie and next to the Transformers. They should be in boys’ toy boxes too because 50% of the human population is female, and shouldn’t women be part of story lines that boys are creating?”

What toys girls play with when they are young affects how they perceive themselves and what they can accomplish later in life. In a recent study published in the Journal of Sex Roles, researchers asked one group of girls play with large-breasted, thin-waisted Barbie dolls and another group play with ambiguously shaped Mrs. Potato Head dolls. Upon interviewing the girls after they played, the scientists found that girls who played with Barbie believed they had far fewer career choices than those who played with Mrs. Potato Head. That was true even when Barbie was dressed up like a doctor.

It makes a compelling argument for giving girls tools to envision themselves as heroes. “Children feel so powerless, and that’s why they play. And the idea that you could be the person who could save the world is a very powerful story line and fantasy to have,” says Nadeau.

MCDAVEN EC005
Scarlett Johansson in The Avengers Walt Disney Co.

But no matter how popular I Am Elemental gets, it will never be as big as Marvel. The most popular action figures are based on blockbuster films, and Hollywood has been slow to correct the gender imbalance in summer blockbusters. Despite the success of films like The Hunger Games, Maleficent and Kill Bill — all of which feature powerful female protagonists — studios consider female-driven successes to be flukes rather than a formula for success: Recent studies found that women made up only 15% of protagonists and 30% of all speaking roles in the top 100 grossing films of 2013.

There have been plenty of women sidekicks on the big screen: Anne Hathaway as Catwoman in The Dark Knight Rises; Halle Berry, Jennifer Lawrence and Ellen Page as X-Men in the X-Men films; Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow in The Avengers; and even Gwyneth Paltrow as Pepper Potts saved Tony Stark in Iron Man 3. But all of these women take a backseat to their more powerful, quippier and more heroic male counterparts. After all, these franchises aren’t named after the female characters.

Avengers director Joss Whedon, who tried and failed to bring a Wonder Woman film to the big screen in 2007, has expressed his frustration with the lack of female superheroes before. “Toymakers will tell you they won’t sell enough, and movie people will point to the two terrible superheroine movies that were made and say, You see? It can’t be done. It’s stupid, and I’m hoping The Hunger Games will lead to a paradigm shift,” he told Newsweek in 2013.

And even the female characters Whedon does get onscreen, like Black Widow, are too lame to attract some actresses. Emily Blunt says she was up for the Black Widow role in Iron Man 2 and the Peggy Carter part in Captain America and turned both down. “Usually the female parts in a superhero film feel thankless: She’s the pill girlfriend while the guys are whizzing around saving the world,” she told Vulture. “I didn’t do the other ones because the part wasn’t very good or the timing wasn’t right, but I’m open to any kind of genre if the part is great and fun and different and a challenge in some way.”

ALL YOU NEED IS KILL
Emily Blunt in Edge of Tomorrow David James—(c) 2013 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.- U.S., Canada, Bahamas & Bermuda (c) 2013 Village Roadshow Films (BVI) Limited- All Oth

Blunt currently stars in Edge of Tomorrow (an action flick featuring Tom Cruise in a Groundhog Day-like battle sequence), in which she cuts an imposing figure as the best soldier on the battlefield. She even mercilessly kills Tom Cruise over and over again every time the two reach a dead-end in their mission and he needs to restart the day. She’s no pill girlfriend but Cruise’s equal — if not superior — in power.

Edge of Tomorrow isn’t the only film that promises a heftier role for women in action movies. At the end of the summer, Scarlett Johansson will play a ruthless warrior in Lucy — the success of which may be a litmus test for whether Marvel feels comfortable green-lighting a Black Widow spin-off. Jennifer Lawrence will star in another Hunger Games film next year, and producers have hinted that she could also headline her own Mystique X-Men film. The original ambassadors of girl power, The Powerpuff Girls, are returning to children’s television in 2016, the Cartoon Network announced Monday. Wonder Woman will wield her golden lasso on the big screen in the 2016 Batman vs. Superman movie, and — if fans get their way — maybe even carry her own franchise.

On Saturday, DC Comics President Diane Nelson promised greater female representation in upcoming movies: “At DC Entertainment, we talk frequently about how we heighten the presence of female storytellers and creators with our comic books — digital and physical. How do we bring the female characters to light more?” she said. “We have more work to do. But I think if we talk again in a couple of years, you’ll be pleased with the results.”

Maybe then they’ll make a Wonder Woman action figure with a normal hip-to-waist ratio.

TIME Parenting

Breaking News: Having a Father Is a Good Thing

Hey dads, they like you, they really like you!
Hey dads, they like you, they really like you! Jekaterina Nikitina; Getty Images

A new book 'discovers' the obvious—and the headlines follow. Enough already with the wonder of the dad

Science has a deliciously entertaining habit of stating the obvious. For every ingenious, truly groundbreaking insight that has a researcher sitting bolt upright at 3:00 a.m. entertaining dizzy visions of an inevitable Nobel, there other insights—researched, peer reviewed and published—that you don’t exactly need a double Ph.D to figure out. And so you get studies showing that “Moderate Doses of Alcohol Increase Social Bonding in Groups” or “Dogs Learn to Associate Words With Objects Differently Than Humans Do” or the breaking story that opened with the tantalizing headline, “Causes of Death in Very Old People.” Um, old age?

But the thing about these studies is this: somebody had to do them. Science is nothing if not persnickety about proof, and if you don’t have the data, you can’t officially establish the case. So the work gets done and the box gets checked and progress marches on. It was with that in mind that I tried to read with equanimity a Father’s Day gift from The Washington Post, which led its review of Paul Raeburn’s book Do Fathers Matter? with the headline, “Yes Dads, You Do Matter.”

And so, too, I tried to embrace the idea that Raeburn’s book needs to exist at all.

It’s not that the book isn’t a good, solid piece of science journalism. It is. And it’s not that Raeburn isn’t a good, solid science reporter. He’s been in the game a long time and is the media critic for MIT’s Knight Science Journalism Tracker.

The deeper question is: are we not yet past this? It’s a question Raeburn himself raises but seems to answer with an emphatic no simply by having written his book. There seems to be no killing the idea of dad the extraneous; dad the superfluous; dad, who’s nice to have around the house but only in the way that air conditioning is nice to have in the car — it makes things more comfortable, but you’ll still get where you’re going without it.

It’s as if the steady shrinking of the Y chromosome over the ages is somehow being mirrored by the dwindling relevance of the parent who carries this dying scrap of DNA. That vanishing Y, as recent studies have established, has been both arrested and overstated, but not before giving rise to headlines like “As Y Chromosome Shrinks, End of Men Pondered.” And that bit of silliness came from NPR, not, say, TMZ.

The idea of the father’s expendability has been exacerbated by the persistence of the doofus dad stereotype, something else Raeburn addresses: the well-intentioned bumbler who is still a staple of kid-targeted TV (thank you, Disney Channel). He’s the guy who can’t quite boil an egg and can’t be trusted to go shopping, but is eventually bailed out by mom or one of the kids, who set things right. Eyes roll, dad looks abashed and hilarity ensues. Except it’s not really funny—though not because it’s profoundly offensive or causes deep wounds to the sensitivities of a newly defined oppressed group. There’s enough elective umbrage at large already without adding one more voice of grievance to one more cable news show.

It’s just … off, somehow—like Jay Leno’s cringe-worthy performance at the 2010 White House Correspondent’s dinner, during which he made jokes about President Obama’s courage because (wait for it!) he invited his mother-in-law to live in the White House. There was a time, maybe, when the mother-in-law as harridan image was an apt—or at least fresh—source of humor, but that time is long past. Ditto dad as dunce.

Raeburn’s book is guilty of none of this. It’s stuffed with studies showing the vital role fathers play in their children’s lives from the moment of conception, through the mother’s pregnancy and onward. But there’s still a sense of wonder that comes with it. “The discovery of the father is one of the most important developments in the study of children and families,” is a nice line. But is it true? Is this really something that needs “discovering?” And do fathers really need a new book and a major newspaper reminding them that “You Do Matter?” Not on Father’s Day at least. And certainly not on one in the 21st century.

TIME celebrity

Watch Nicole Kidman and Keith Urban Sing ‘Amazing Grace’ at a Children’s Hospital

A rare glimpse into the couple's private life

Celebrity power couple Nicole Kidman and Keith Urban — whose celebrity couple name, we just decided, is Nikeith — visited Melbourne’s Monash Children’s Hospital last week to visit patients and lift spirits. Nikeith (okay, that works pretty well, right?) also performed a little impromptu concert. Urban grabbed his guitar and sang “Amazing Grace,” with his wife accompanying him on vocals.

Now, we must note that the crowd appears to be composed entirely of staff members rather than patients, but we’ll assume the kids were within earshot, or that they at least got to watch the show on a Jumbotron from another wing.

Your browser, Internet Explorer 8 or below, is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites.

Learn how to update your browser