TIME Culture

‘Dad Bod’ Is a Sexist Atrocity

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Brian Moylan is a writer and pop culture junkie.

"The problem with the Dad Bod isn’t what it says about men, but what it says about women and how we treat them"

The Internet often thinks that it found a new thing when it really just came up with a new name for something that has existed for decades. The most recent fad is a fixation on the “Dad Bod,” a physique that looks like a formerly fit athlete has gone a bit to seed and grown a nice layer of protective fat around his muscular girth. He’s less Muscle & Fitness than he is Ben & Jerry’s.

“The dad bod says, ‘I go to the gym occasionally, but I also drink heavily on the weekends and enjoy eating eight slices of pizza at a time,’” writes Clemson University student Mackenzie Pearson in an article that went viral and accounts for the current fixation on the Dad Bod. The problem with the Dad Bod isn’t what it says about men, but what it says about women and how we treat them.

The Dad Bod is nothing new—just look at sitcom dads for proof—but this fixation and the fetishization of it is a recent phenomenon. Maybe it’s a backlash to the more chiseled metrosexual look that has been championed for the last several decades. For his foray as Ant Man in the upcoming movie, ultra Dad Bod Paul Rudd had to shed his extra pounds to show off his superhero abs. Chris Pratt still gets to rock a Dad Bod when playing funny on Parks and Recreation, but when he wanted to be an action star, he had to get buff for Jurassic World. Ryan Reynolds, recently a dad, shows no sign of wanting fatherhood to affect his diet of what I assume must consist solely of chicken breasts and egg-white omelets.

But just as the beauty standards for men were starting to get as stringent as they have always been for women, along comes the Dad Bod. Now all of our prospective Brad Pitts can look more like Seth Rogens. And while it might be nice to cuddle up to Seth Rogen, just look at his romantic partners in his movies. They certainly don’t look like they stopped going to yoga class and let themselves get a little bit thicker than the day they graduated from college.

That’s the problem with the Dad Bod: It continues to reinforce inequality about what is acceptable for men and women. While the ladies have to go to Pilates and watch every single calorie, guys are free to let themselves get lazy, chow down on all the chips and guac they want, and still expect their prospective mates to be fit.

Just look at Pearson’s reasons why she loves a guy with a Dad Bod. “We don’t want a guy that makes us feel insecure about our body,” she writes. “We are insecure enough as it is. We don’t need a perfectly sculpted guy standing next to us to make us feel worse.” She accepts that women have a harder time than men when it comes to body-image issues, but she also uses guys as a prop to make women feel better. Why not try to accept your body for what it is without comparing it to anyone else, male or female?

She also assumes that old stereotype that the woman will be hotter than her guy, which is unfortunate. “We want to look skinny and the bigger the guy, the smaller we feel and the better we look next to you in a picture,” she says. So the Dad Bod actually isn’t about liking the guy’s actual body; it’s more about how his body makes the woman feel. Not only is this incredibly selfish, but it also assumes that the Dad Bod actually looks bad thereby making the woman look better. While her argument seems to support men accepting a body that isn’t sculpted by constant hours in the gym, it’s actually doing the opposite.

There are people who enjoy the Dad Bod for its own aesthetic value, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Having a bit of cushion makes a guy look like he has better things to worry about than his appearance and isn’t so prissy that he only cares about the way his triceps look in a tank top. That just shows you what our society things about the intrinsic values of men versus women. If caring about one’s appearance is shallow, those are qualities that women should assume and men should assay.

A man is perfectly fine if he’s sweet, cuddly, and a good provider. Meanwhile, the female equivalent of the Dad Bod is an acronym not fit for publication on a family website, starting with “mother I’d like…” (You know the rest.) While a man is valued for his warm and fuzzy demeanor, a woman is valued as a sexual object. And the women in question don’t look like they’ve ever entered an all-you-can-eat Buffalo Wing contest like their Dad Bod brethren.

Just because the Dad Bod is yet another symbol of gender inequality doesn’t mean that we should force guys into Cross Fit so that they’ll have washboard abs. (Ironically enough, most of the young fathers I know are already in Cross Fit trying to fight off that spare tire Dad Bod lovers seem to want.) The takeaway from this new phenomenon is that we all need to be happy in our bodies and make good, healthy choices to please ourselves and live the lives that we want, not ones dictated by fashion magazines, the athletic-wear industrial complex (I’m looking at you, Under Armor), or our current or prospective sexual partners.

Guys don’t need much help with this acceptance. After all, the Dad Bod, which has been around as long as there has been canned beer and suburbs, isn’t just being tolerated; it’s being celebrated. Now we need to get all those guys who are rocking that bod to support women in accepting and celebrating their bodies, no matter what they may look like.

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

When Life Hands You Lemons, Make Cinco de Mayo

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Zocalo Public Square is a not-for-profit Ideas Exchange that blends live events and humanities journalism.

In one California town, a holiday co-opted by beer companies has roots in a celebrated citrus crop

What’s with Cinco de Mayo, anyways?

Corporate advertisers treat it as the de facto Mexican Day, if not Latino Day, in this country. In 1998, the United States Post Office issued a Cinco de Mayo stamp featuring two folklórico dancers. In 2005, Congress passed a resolution making Cinco de Mayo an official national holiday to celebrate Mexican-American heritage. And it’s customary for presidents to celebrate Cinco de Mayo on the White House lawn with margaritas flowing, mariachi music playing, and dancers in brightly colored traditional costumes.

Don’t they all know that Mexican Independence Day is actually September 16?

Growing up in rural Zacatecas, Mexico, in the early 1970s, holidays and festivities were big community-building affairs. I attended fiestas with tamborazo-style band music, rodeos with charros showing off their roping and riding skills, and the religious procession honoring the town’s patron saint. What I remember most, though, was El Grito, the traditional cry of “Viva Mexico!” to commemorate Mexico’s independence from Spain on September 16. Like Christmas, the holiday is celebrated on the eve of the big day, and the day itself. But I have no memory of Cinco de Mayo, at least not before migrating to the United States.

It was in my elementary school’s bilingual education classroom in Ventura, California, that I first learned about the holiday, which had been incorporated into lesson plans and school assemblies on cultural diversity. In high schools at the time, Mexican-American students began organizing their own Cinco de Mayo celebrations to show off their cultural pride and make a public claim of belonging.

But what does Cinco de Mayo commemorate originally? It is indeed a holiday in Mexico, to be clear, but a lesser holiday not associated with any particular form of revelry. It is the anniversary of the famous battle of Puebla, in which Mexican liberal forces defeated an occupying French army and its Mexican conservative allies during one of Mexico’s serial 19th-century civil wars. By helping to impose an unemployed Hapsburg prince as Mexican emperor, the French were hoping to gain a new beachhead in the Americas while the U.S. was distracted with its own epic civil war.

There are a number of competing (but not mutually exclusive) theories as to why this, of all Mexican holidays, was the one to stand out on this side of the border, in the face of ostensibly stronger contenders. One theory is that it would have been awkward for Mexicans in the U.S. to be too eager to celebrate the official independence day of another country. The generations of Mexican immigrants who came to America weren’t necessarily on best terms with the authoritarian Mexican governments of yesteryear, and weren’t keen to celebrate as if they were those governments’ blind followers. Better to select a different one: Cinco de Mayo.

There is an additional, more prosaic, explanation for Cinco de Mayo’s stature on this side of the border—and that is the fact that it is a more convenient time for migrant farmworkers to celebrate, as was driven home to me when I did doctoral research on the holiday’s popularity—going strong since 1923—in Corona, California.

The Southern California town once known as the “Lemon Capital of the World” was one of the earliest to celebrate Cinco de Mayo in the U.S. Mexican workers made up the majority of the labor force working in the 2,000 acres of lemon groves, 11 packinghouses, and lemon processing plant in 1930s Corona. Lemons were grown in winter months but harvested in springtime, just in time for Cinco de Mayo. The timing of the lemon harvest made Cinco de Mayo a well timed holiday, when people would welcome a reason to rest and celebrate and have a little more disposable income than usual, not to mention ideal weather. When May 5 fell on a weekday, employers paid workers early, and students were dismissed from class early to attend the festivities. As early as 1939, the Los Angeles Times reported, “All work in the citrus industry was suspended for the Cinco de Mayo holiday and several thousand persons came to participate in the celebration.”

Corona is typical of other agricultural communities in California that rely on Mexican farm labor during harvest time, where Cinco de Mayo became an entrenched holiday both because of what it represented and when it fell on the calendar. For example, La Habra’s Spring Citrus Fair incorporates a full day of Cinco de Mayo activities, and thousands attend the Fallbrook Avocado festival during harvest season to sample delicious guacamole and attend Cinco de Mayo festivities.

Corona’s Cinco de Mayo celebration—which continues to this day—has long sought to keep its events local, intimate, and inclusive. The morning parade still features local heroes and role models as grand marshals—for instance, the mother of a World War II hero killed in action or a Latina superior court judge—rather than outside celebrities. The town limits sponsors to local businesses and nonprofit organizations, continuing the spirit of the late 1940s, when the holiday was used to raise money to finance the first youth community center that later became the Corona Boys and Girls Club, which provided recreation programs for kids and teenagers. Proceeds from the celebration provide college scholarships to local Latino high school students. The crowning of the Cinco de Mayo Queen is not simply a beauty contest, but a way to encourage young Latinas to gain public speaking skills, gain confidence, and take on a leadership role in their communities. When organizers had trouble raising funds during the recent recession, the city stepped in to make it an official civic event—fully incorporating the Mexican holiday into American public life.

There is no beer or alcohol sponsorship of Corona’s Cinco de Mayo, even though you can’t talk about the popularity of the holiday everywhere else without talking about the other Corona. The corporate marketplace started pushing Cinco de Mayo as a day-long happy hour when we’re all supposed to down cervezas and margaritas when it recognized the demographic growth of the Latino population in the 1980s. Corporations thought that advertising, sponsorship, and promotion of Cinco de Mayo events would enable them to tap into that young consumer market. Beer and alcohol companies led the charge by spending millions on marketing the holiday. Corona Extra (the beer—no relation to the town) alone spent $91 million in 2013, according to Kantar Media, advertising around the holiday in both Spanish and English, calling itself “the original party beer of Cinco de Mayo.”

I don’t think that means there were kegs on the battlefield in Puebla, but it’s an amusing image. So go have a drink on Cinco de Mayo. But when you do, take a moment to reflect on the evolution of this holiday that commemorates the Americanization of a Mexican diaspora eager to assert its own identity—and, increasingly, the Mexicanization of mainstream U.S. culture as well. ¡Salud!

José M. Alamillo is professor of Chicano/a studies at California State University Channel Islands and author of Making Lemonade out of Lemons: Mexican American Labor and Leisure in a California Town. He wrote this for What It Means to Be American, a national conversation hosted by the Smithsonian and Zocalo Public Square.

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 Culture

The Modern Day Scarlet Letter

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"We no longer have the kind cruel civic Christianity that The Scarlet Letter depicted, yet we still have the shaming scaffolds"

In the April 1886 issue of The Atlantic Monthly Julian Hawthorne, son of Nathaniel, reviewed his father’s The Scarlett Letter. Towards the conclusion of his stunning, 9,000+ word essay, the younger Hawthorne reflected on the moral irony of Hester Prynne’s world:

This [the scarlet A] is her punishment, the heaviest that man can afflict upon her. But, like all legal punishment, it aims much more at the protection of society than at the reformation of the culprit. Hester is to stand as a warning to others tempted as she was: if she recovers her own salvation in the process, so much the better for her; but, for better or worse, society has ceased to have any concern with her.

“We trample you down,” society says in effect to those who break its laws, “not by any means in order to save your soul,—for the welfare of that problematical adjunct to your civic personality is a matter of complete indifference to us,—but because, by some act, you have forfeited your claim to our protection, because you are a clog to our prosperity, and because the spectacle of your agony may discourage others of similar unlawful inclinations.”

But it is obvious, all the while, that the only crime which society recognizes is the crime of being found out, since a society composed of successful hypocrites would much more smoothly fulfill all social requirements than a society of such heterogeneous constituents as (human nature being what it is) necessarily enter into it now.

Likely as we are as 21st century Americans to congratulate ourselves for not behaving the way our Puritan ancestors did, things aren’t as different as you might think. Millennials may be an urbane, diverse and “tolerant” generation, but they are also caught in a vicious cultural mire of shaming, vindictiveness, and postmodern puritanical preening that rivals their 17th century ancestors.

Owing largely to the recent publication of Jon Ronson’s well-reviewed book So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, some light is being shed on the cavernous world of social media “shaming,” a merciless phenomenon that is more common and more serious than many—perhaps most—believe. Of course, few people would be surprised to learn there are dark corners of the internet or that digital anonymity can bring out the worst in people. But the problem of public shaming goes beyond meanness. In its worst manifestations, shaming is a weapon wielded by volunteer morality gatekeepers to, as Julian Hawthorne put it, “trample you down.”

Ronson’s work has resulted in the publication of several frightening stories, such as what happened to Justine Sacco. Yet few commentators on this social phenomenon–including Ronson–seem willing to explore shaming’s causes or offer a serious moral worldview of public confrontation. Listening to shaming stories is important, of course, but we are not likely to overcome this vicious trend if we cannot speak in clear and objective language about it.

Julian Hawthorne’s insights into his father’s novel might be helpful in remedying our deficient understanding of contemporary public shaming. Hawthorne is on to something when he identifies the public shaming of Hester Prynne as non-redemptive and merely the removal of a “clog” from the engine of the culture. The hypocrisy of the moral authorities of Puritan Boston was not only that they were guilty of sin as well, but that they turned sinners away from the society and the hope of redemption under the pretense of holiness.

In the case of online shaming, this is even more apparent. What happens in social media is far from the reconciliatory purpose of confrontation as taught by Jesus in Matthew 16. As Ronson notes in his chilling accounts, the purpose of social media shaming seems to be to deluge an offending person(s) with enough derision and scorn that they are forced to disappear from the public eye in a kind of enforced penitence. Social media shaming is not at all meant for reconciliation or personal healing; quite the opposite, in fact—the more offense and outrage can be generated, the better. Exacerbating all this is a communication medium that rewards participants not for temperance, patience and forbearance, but for immediacy and cleverness. If outrage is the currency of social media, shaming is a blue-chip stock.

As Hawthorne writes, the impulse behind the shaming of Hester Prynne was not a desire for moral rectitude but removal of a cultural wart. If the sinner is removed from the public square, the people can resume trusting in the merits of their membership in society. This contra-benevolent desire to keep the community free of anything that disturbs a narrative of cultural holiness is remarkably descriptive of much of our culture-warring today. Consider the astonishing absolutism with which some proponents of same-sex marriage engage those who disagree with them. In many cases, the motivations are made explicit: Opinions which contradict a majoritarian view on sexuality must be exiled out of the public square. What is this, if not a Puritanical impulse to keep society “pure” and maintain the citizenry’s religious faith in it?

The Scarlet Letter’s context was, of course, a Christian-Puritan one. That is not the case in our American culture today. Instead of an assumed, civic Christianity, the country is embracing an assumed, civic secularism. Traditional religious beliefs are welcomed as long as they are not exposed to the population at large. Keeping certain beliefs isolated from the mainstream of culture–thereby maintaing a sort of doctrinally “pure” public square–is often peddled under misleading language about “separation of church and state.” What is really happening is the substitution of one culturally-ruling philosophy for another.

In other words, we still have Puritanism today, only of a secular kind.

Our progressive sensibilities have not, alas, resulted in a genuinely compassionate culture. We no longer have the kind cruel civic Christianity that The Scarlet Letter depicted, yet we still have the shaming scaffolds (they’re called social media now) and we still have ineffable moral codes that must not be trespassed. These codes may not be Levitical but they are indeed legalistic: laws about privilege, sexual autonomy, “trigger warnings,” and much, much more. Violation of these laws can and do result not only in public shame but legal prosecution.

It surely must befuddle those on the inside track of our transforming culture—just as we seem to be learning what true progress is, we rebuild the shaming scaffolds of our Puritan forefathers. Can we not have a culture that embraces the moral equivalence of all forms of sexual expression, the existential (read: non-transcendent) nature of love, and the casting off of ancient beliefs about God and the universe, while simultaneously widening the margins of civic life to include all kinds of beliefs, even those that discomfort us? Cannot we live out the promises of the Sexual Revolution while saving a place in our midst for those who opt out?

No, we cannot. The reason is simple: A broken American conscience cannot be trusted. Compassion is a class that secularism doesn’t offer. Exchanging the Puritanism of Arthur Dimmesdale for the Puritanism of Alfred Kinsey is not progress. Cultural elites may say we are becoming a better people because we break with human history on the meaning of marriage or the dignity of human life, but a glance outside suggests otherwise.

Samuel James serves as Communications Specialist for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) of the Southern Baptist Convention. In addition to his main blog on Patheos, Samuel’s writing has also been featured on The Christian Post, World Magazine, The Gospel Coalition, Canon and Culture, Mere Orthodoxy, Real Clear Religion, Commonwealth Policy Center, Jesus Freak Hideout and other places. Samuel is a lifelong resident of Kentucky and is a member of Third Avenue Baptist Church in Louisville. A longer version of this essay first appeared at samueldjames.net.

This article originally appeared on Patheos.

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TIME politics

Veep Creator on Hillary Clinton and the Intense Pressure to Say Nothing

Hillary Rodham Clinton at a meeting in LeClaire, Iowa on April 14, 2015.
Charlie Neibergall—AP Hillary Rodham Clinton at a meeting in LeClaire, Iowa on April 14, 2015.

Candidates running now define themselves by their inaction

It’s possibly no coincidence that Hillary Clinton started her presidential run the same week that astronomical scientists at the University of Hawaii in Manoa announced the discovery of a Supervoid, a structure in space 18 billion light-years across and “distinguished by its unusual emptiness.” The Supervoid sits in a part of the cosmos known as the Cold Spot, where there’s far less matter to observe than elsewhere throughout the universe.

It’s a perfect analogy for how Hillary Clinton’s opponents seek to characterize her: as someone who is profoundly visible yet hard to identify. She is politics’ Dark Matter: We know she’s there, but we just can’t describe her. Is she on the left or the right, is she a friend of the rich or the poor, is she a testosterone-fueled superhawk or a grandmatronly van-driver popping into Chipotle for a chat with the staff?

Yet Hillary’s identity problem is prominent only because she has been on the public stage for so long. It’s a magnified version of a debilitating crisis of identity that sits at the heart of national American politics, the real Supervoid that constricts and confines most presidential candidates: and that is, the intense pressure to say nothing. Knowing that your every speech and interview sits in the digital archive, ready to be analyzed by an army of opponents with time to spare and money to spend, can kill spontaneity dead. Far better to sit contentious debates out. If you hold public office, be careful how you vote on any piece of legislation, no matter how obscure. Your voting record will be used by your opponents just as savagely as if it were a criminal one.

And far better to stand for president before you’ve done anything. It worked for Obama, who moved swiftly in the space of two years from senator to president and kept out of trouble as much as he could while still in the Senate chamber. It’s the same be-a-senator-for-a-few-years-then-jump strategy now being used by Marco Rubio. When you’ve not got much to show for yourself other than your face, you enter the presidential race without baggage and with the opportunity to attack all those who have. You enter not as someone with a legacy but someone who is a brand. The difference with Hillary is that she’s been around a lot longer, so she has had more time in which to try not doing very much. That’s a tougher challenge, and the fact she’s more or less managed it shows what a formidable candidate she’s going to be.

When I first started researching Veep, my comedy show for HBO with Julia Louis-Dreyfus playing Vice President Selina Meyer, I was much taken by the portrayal of LBJ in Robert Caro’s monumental biography of the president. What hooked me was the tragicomic dilemma of a once-powerful senator found sitting in his vice president’s office twiddling his thumbs and waiting for something to do. Looking at it again, I’m reminded of a state of politics now gone: When Johnson was major­ity leader, he got things done. Here was a Democrat, working alongside a Republican White House under Eisenhower and getting legislation passed by extending a hand across the aisle. He sometimes twisted the arm that was extended back; the negotiations certainly weren’t pretty, but they did achieve positive results. This was a time when the two parties in Congress talked to each other and found common ground. It’s worth remembering the Constitution is predicated on people at opposite ends of the political spectrum being forced to compromise.

Now, though, that doesn’t happen. The conversation is stalled, the vote delayed, the bill dropped. Which is why candidates running now define themselves by their inaction: “Vote for me because I voted against this, I stopped it from happening, I got this overturned, I will oppose this measure, I’ll make sure this is thrown out.”

This is the ultimate Supervoid now at the heart of politics. It’s the reason why for most presiden­tial candidates today, the only significant thing they can say about themselves is that they are running for president.

Iannucci is the creator and executive producer of HBO’s ‘Veep.’

This article originally appeared on The Hollywood Reporter.

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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 Culture

The Dark Origins of 11 Classic Nursery Rhymes

The origins of 'Jack and Jill' aren’t as clean-cut as you imagined

In the canon of great horror writing, Stephen King, Edgar Allan Poe, H.P. Lovecraft, Bram Stoker, and Mary Shelley tend to dominate the craft. But Mother Goose isn’t too far behind. Yes, that fictional grande dame of kiddie poems has got a bit of a dark streak, as evidenced by the unexpectedly sinister theories surrounding the origins of these 11 well-known nursery rhymes.

  • 7. Eeny, Meeny, Miny, Mo

    No, there’s nothing particularly inflammatory about the lines “Eeny, Meeny, Miny, Mo, Catch a tiger by his toe.” But there is when you consider that the word “tiger” is a relatively new development in this counting rhyme, as a replacement for the n-word. Even with the lyrical switch-out, any reference to the poem still has the ability to offend. In 2004, two passengers sued Southwest Airlines was for intentional infliction of emotional distress and negligent infliction of emotional distress, following an incident where a flight attendant used the rhyme in a humorous fashion during takeoff when she told passengers: “Eeny meeny miny mo, Please sit down it’s time to go.” (The court sided with the airline.)

  • 8. Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush (1840)

    “Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush” is often sung as part of a children’s game. According to historian R. S. Duncan, a former governor of England’s Wakefield Prison, the song originated with that 420-year-old institution’s female prisoners, who were exercised around a mulberry tree. Which is probably not the connotation your six-year-old self had in mind.

  • 9. Rock-a-Bye Baby (1765)

    One interpretation of this famous lullaby is that it is about the son of King James II of England and Mary of Modena. It is widely believed that the boy was not their son at all, but a child who was brought into the birthing room and passed off as their own in order to ensure a Roman Catholic heir to the throne.

  • 10. Ring Around the Rosie (1881)

    Considering that some of today’s classic nursery rhymes are more than two centuries old, there are often several theories surrounding their origins—and not a lot of sound proof about which argument is correct. But of all the alleged nursery rhyme backstories, “Ring Around the Rosie” is probably the most infamous. Though its lyrics and even its title have gone through some changes over the years, the most popular contention is that the sing-songy verse refers to the 1665 Great Plague of London.“The rosie” is the rash that covered the afflicted, the smell from which they attempted to cover up with “a pocket full of posies.” The plague killed nearly 15 percent of the country’s population, which makes the final verse—“Ashes! Ashes! We all fall down”—rather self-explanatory.

    But Snopes labels this reading false, and quotes folklorist Philip Hiscock with a more likely suggestion: That the nursery rhyme probably has its origins “in the religious ban on dancing among many Protestants in the nineteenth century, in Britain as well as here in North America. Adolescents found a way around the dancing ban with what was called in the United States the ‘play-party.’ Play-parties consisted of ring games which differed from square dances only in their name and their lack of musical accompaniment. They were hugely popular, and younger children got into the act, too.”

  • 11. Old Mother Hubbard (1805)

    To many, “Old Mother Hubbard” is not a mother at all—nor a woman. The poem is speculated to have been written as a mockery of Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, whose refusal to grant an annulment to King Henry VIII, so that he could marry Anne Boleyn, led to his political downfall.

    This article originally appeared on Mental Floss.

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TIME Culture

Why I Left My Religion (and Arranged Marriage) Behind

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I didn’t understand why God would give me a brain if I wasn't allowed to question things

Melissa Weisz is an emerging actress, with a current role in the movie Félix & Meira. The film, which tells the story of a young woman in a traditional Hasidic household who leaves her faith and the strict circle of her community when she falls in love, has strong parallels with Weisz’ own life. She told her story to Laura Barcella.

I never thought I’d be an actress, but not just for the reasons most people think they won’t make it. For most of my life, I lived in a traditional family in a Hasidic Jewish community in Brooklyn, where careers — let alone careers in acting — were rarely discussed. I was fully observant and, when I was 19, I entered into an arranged marriage. Four years later, I left it all behind.

My childhood was loud but happy. I had six sisters and two brothers, so there were lots of kids running around, and lots of makeshift moms — my older sisters were constantly helping out. It felt very safe, because we were in our own super-structured little bubble where everybody was like us. Everyone has one, clear, ultra-traditional direction in life — it was like, “This is where you’re going and this is what you’re doing.” You knew how to dress, how to act at home and at school. You knew what was expected of you.

I’m still not sure why, but one day, I started doubting a lot of what I’d been raised to believe. All of sudden, I was challenging my teachers and crossing the boundaries of what Hasidic kids are supposed to talk about. Some of the stuff I was learning — like the idea of men throughout history having multiple wives, things like that — disturbed me. Why was it okay for men to do that and not women?

It bothered me how, at holidays like Shabbat, the guys would sit quietly and study while the women were expected to serve them. I started to wonder, Why am I serving my little brother? Obviously, I didn’t know anything about feminism then. But, I didn’t understand why God would give me a brain if I wasn’t allowed to question things, and I only got more and more dubious as I grew older.

When I was 19, I had an arranged Hasidic marriage. It was just what was done; my ex-husband and I met a few times, and then we got engaged. Fortunately, he’s a great guy; I actually started to feel like I was falling in love with him during the courtship process. I hadn’t been with anyone else. I didn’t question whether the marriage was right for me (ultimately, it wasn’t). I figured I would make it work no matter what, because I had to. But, when you start questioning things, all the dominoes start to fall.

We were married for four years when I decided to walk away from both my husband and our community. That summer, I’d gone away to Texas and spoken with various Hasidic friends and rabbis, checked out different temples. I was reading a lot about Judaism and realized, once and for all, that it felt false to me. I had been trying to make sense of it and find my own path within it, but I just couldn’t. Religion, in general, just doesn’t really have a place in my life or my belief system.

So, I made the very difficult decision to leave.

After I left, I felt a big sense of relief, but I also realized I needed to figure out how to survive outside the world in which I’d been raised. Practical matters, like finding an apartment, were totally new to me. I was lucky to discover Footsteps, an organization that helps former Orthodox Jews establish new lives outside their communities. I started going to some of its meetings and met a bunch of great people. I found a support system, an apartment, roommates. That was when I finally felt comfortable starting to openly talk about my experiences in the Orthodox world. I put myself through college and got a degree in psychology.

When I left, I didn’t ask my family for their support — I just assumed they wouldn’t give it. I didn’t give them a chance, and after I left there was no real communication for a while. Once, my sister stopped by and left me a care package with a delicious traditional Jewish cake, but she didn’t say “hi.”

Sometimes, still, I feel like a bit of an outsider, and occasionally I miss aspects of my old life. But, we all have moments like that — like when you return to the town where you went to school, or drive past a house you used to live in. It’s nostalgic, but that doesn’t mean you want to be there again. When I pass by Hasidic boys on the street, it gives me a little pang sometimes.

Fortunately, I’ve been able to reconnect with my family. After they realized my leaving wasn’t just a phase, they began to reach out to me again, which was great. My father and I are even thinking about writing a book about the experience.

In my newest movie, I actually play a Hasidic woman. It’s been cathartic because it has forced me to face my past. The house where we shot the film was so similar to the one I grew up in, I walked in and immediately started crying. It felt like home — but it definitely wasn’t my home anymore.

Félix and Meira is now in theaters in select cities around the country.

This article originally appeared on Refinery29.com.

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TIME Humor

11 Smells That Are Slowly Disappearing

Remember how those magic markers smelled?

Nothing can trigger a memory so unexpectedly as an aroma. Clove oil immediately transports you to the dentist’s office. Crayola crayons take you back to elementary school. But some fragrances are being phased out of existence thanks to technology and safety regulations. How many of these do you miss?

  • 1. Spirit Duplicators

    In 1960s and ’70s-era classrooms, it was an olfactory treat whenever the teacher passed out fresh-off-the-machine purple print “ditto” sheets to the class. Virtually every student immediately held the page to his face and inhaled deeply. There was something so pleasing about the aroma that emanated from the printing fluid—a 50/50 mix of methanol and isopropanol. The sole company that still manufactures ditto fluid in the U.S. only sells a few thousand gallons per year these days, as opposed to the over 100,000 gallons they delivered during the 1970s.

  • 2. Burning Leaves

    A common indicator that autumn was winding down and winter would soon be here was the crisp air filled with the smell of burning leaves. The breeze had a bite to it by the time October rolled around and the ground was sometimes coated with a fine layer of frost, but the smoke from the pile of leaves everyone on the block seemed to burn somehow smelled warm and comforting.

    Pollution concerns caused municipalities in the U.S. to enact open burning bans beginning in the 1980s, and today residents are encouraged to either rake and bag their leaves or use them for mulch. Of course, compost piles do have their own aroma, but it’s not particularly enticing.

  • 3. Diesel Exhaust

    City buses and semi-trucks don’t smell quite like they used to when they accelerate on a cold morning. There are a lot of folks that actually enjoyed the old school smell of the black exhaust these vehicles used to belch. But reductions in the sulfur content of diesel fuel along with selective catalytic reduction gives today’s diesel burners more of a cat urine-y type of aroma.

  • 4. Freshly-Opened Polaroid Film

    Polaroid ceased production of their instant film in 2008. The foil packs used to produce a sweetish chemical-y odor when they were first torn open. It was, in fact, the official “smell” of photography for a lot of kids whose first camera was a Polaroid Swinger.

  • 5. Magic Markers

    The classic glass bottle-bodied Magic Marker was first marketed in 1952, and until the early 1990s, the ink formula included a mixture of Toluene and Xylene, two solvents which not only had a distinctive and not unpleasant odor, but which also contained intoxicating properties when inhaled. Today’s permanent markers get their color from less fragrant alcohol-based inks.

  • 6. Bubble Gum Cards

    Topps stopped including a stick of stiff, hard-to-chew bubble gum in their trading cards several years ago when more collectors than kids were buying the product and complaining about the gum sticking to and ruining the bottom card in the pack. So kids today are getting mint-condition cards for their money, but they’re missing out on that distinctive bubble gum smell that wafted from the package when it was opened (and from the cards when they were brand new).

  • 7. Cap Guns

    Even if you didn’t have a toy gun handy, it was easy enough to “shoot off” caps by striking them with a hammer or even a rock. The gunpowder/sulfur smell of an exploded cap is another aroma that immediately propels many minds to summer days spent playing cops and robbers.

  • 8. (Old) New Car Smell

    That aroma we smell today upon delivery of a brand new set of wheels is very different from the new car smell of 30 or so years ago. A lot of that smell comes from off-gassing synthetic materials, plastics and chemical additives that are used in modern vehicles. In 1960, the average American-made car contained 22 pounds of plastics; in 2012, that quantity had increased to 250 pounds. And there’s also matter of the flame retardants and antimicrobials that are now added to the carpeting and upholstery for additional “safety” (even though some of the fumes have been proven toxic).

  • 9. Vacuum Tube Electronics

    Old TVs and radios that were filled with tubes instead of transistors emitted a “warm” or hot engine smell as they heated up. If you weren’t particularly fastidious with the feather duster, a fine layer of dust would accumulate on the equipment inside and add a slight burning aroma to the mix. The old movie and film projectors used in schools had a similar smell once the light bulb inside had been burning for a while.

  • 10. Telephone Book

    Thanks to Google, very few people let their fingers walk through the Yellow Pages anymore when they’re searching for a telephone number or address. Years ago, almost every home and office had a small stack of thick telephone directories (for example, in the Metro Detroit area there were separate books for Detroit, East Area, North Oakland County, and Downriver) that were referred to regularly once Ma Bell started charging for Directory Assistance calls. The inexpensive pulp paper plus the ink and glue in the binding gave the giant tomes a much mustier, paper-y odor than a standard paperback novel.

  • 11. Chalk Dust

    Much like cafeteria food and library paste, chalk dust simply smelled like school. With so many classrooms using whiteboards, chalkboard ledges with piles of white powder on them are becoming extinct.

    This article originally appeared on Mental Floss.

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TIME Culture

Now There’s a Barbie of Ava DuVernay

Ava DuVernay barbie doll

As part of Mattel's "Sheroes" collection

Now there’s Barbie doll of Selma director Ava DuVernay as part of Mattel’s new “Sheroes” collection.

The collection, which was unveiled at Variety’s “Power of Women” luncheon Friday, includes Barbie version of other famous women like Broadway star Kirsten Chenoweth, actress Emmy Rossum and country singer Trisha Yearwood.

“Barbie has always represented that girls have choices, and this spring we are proud to honor six Sheroes who through their trade and philanthropic efforts are an inspiration to girls,” said Evelyn Mazzocco, general manager of Barbie, in a statement. “Started by a female entrepreneur and mother, this brand has a responsibility to continue to honor and encourage powerful female role models who are leaving a legacy for the next generation of glass ceiling breakers.”

DuVernay said on Twitter that she loves her Barbie, which comes complete with her trademark braids and sits in a director’s chair:

TIME Culture

DC and Mattel Team Up to Create Superhero Action Figures and Comics for Girls

DC Publicity

The minds behind Wonder Woman and Barbie team up to create action figures for girls

Ahead of the Wonder Woman movie, set for 2017, DC Comics has teamed up with Mattel on a new initiative focused on reaching young girls. Beginning this fall, the two will create teen versions of DC’s most famous female characters—from Wonder Woman to Supergirl—and bring them to comic books, action figures, LEGO building sets, TV specials, digital content and apparel for children aged 6-12.

The animation and consumer products division of Warner Bros.—the studio that has produced DC Comics films like The Dark Knight and the upcoming Batman v. Superman—has already created concept art for characters like Batgirl, Supergirl, Harley Quinn, Poison Ivy and Wonder Woman.

The move is part of an ongoing effort by DC and rival Marvel to broaden their fan base, especially as their studio branches face accusations of sexism.

MORE: The New Wonder Woman Director Means Warner Bros. Is Listening

Responding to the demands of a growing female audience—47% of comic books fans are women, according to Comics Beat—Marvel has made headlines the past two years for re-imagining their most popular heroes as women. A woman took up Thor’s hammer last year. The Spider-Man writers created an alternate universe in which Peter Parker’s girlfriend, Gwen Stacey, is the one who gets superpowers from a radioactive spider and becomes Spider-Gwen. And they launched a new all-female Avengers-like comic called The A-Force. For its part, DC revised Batgirl last year to appeal to more female readers and launched a new young adult title Gotham Academy.

“DC Super Hero Girls represents the embodiment of our long-term strategy to harness the power of our diverse female characters,” said DC Entertainment President Diane Nelson in a statement. “I am so pleased that we are able to offer relatable and strong role models in a unique way, just for girls.”

Still, there’s no guarantee that DC diversifying its comics means we’ll see these ladies on the big screen anytime soon. DC and Marvel have female superhero films planned for the next few years, beginning with Wonder Woman for DC in 2017 and Captain Marvel for Marvel in 2018. But both franchises have encountered their fair share of controversy. Just today, actors Chris Evans and Jeremy Renner of Avengers: Age of Ultron, a series Captain Marvel might very well join, called Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow a “slut” and a “whore” during an interview. Black Widow is currently the most well-known female character in Marvel’s cinematic universe, and the backlash online was swift. Fans wondered if Captain Marvel writers Nicole Perlman and Meg LeFauve will encounter the same sexist attitude while working on their script.

Meanwhile, DC and Warner Bros. came under fire last week for the Wonder Woman film. Director Michelle MacLaren, who would have been the first woman to direct a major superhero film, left Wonder Woman citing “creative differences.” The vague excuse led to accusations of sexism: Though there have been almost 50 superhero movies in the last decade, none have been directed by a woman. Warner Bros. quickly hired Patty Jenkins—who was originally supposed to direct Thor 2 but left over, you guessed it, “creative differences”—to replace MacLaren.

It was these sorts of sexist issues that drove smaller toy makers to create their own female action figures before DC entered the market. Last Christmas a successful Kickstarter campaign launched the IAmElemental action figures for girls designed to look powerful, not sexual (like, for example, Barbie). “The few female action figures that are on the market are really designed for the adult male collector,” Dawn Nadeau, co-founder of IAmElemental told TIME last year. “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.”

Now DC hopes their new characters can similarly act as a powerful role model for girls.

Whether DC’s new characters can similarly act as a powerful role model for girls has yet to be seen.

MORE: The Female Superhero May Finally Take Flight

TIME Innovation

Vincent van Gogh on Why Never Learning How to Paint Helped Him

van-gogh-self-portrait
Getty Images "Self Portrait," Vincent van Gogh

Shane Parrish writes Farnam Street

"I see that nature has told me something"

In a letter to his brother Theo, dated September 1882, found in Ever Yours: The Essential Letters, Vincent van Gogh describes the advantages of never learning to paint.

While making it I said to myself: let me not leave before there’s something of an autumn evening in it, something mysterious, something with seriousness in it.

However, because this effect doesn’t last, I had to paint quickly. The figures were done with a few vigorous strokes with a firm brush — in one go. I was struck by how firmly the slender trunks stood in the ground — I began them using a brush, but because of the ground, which was already impasted, one brushstroke simply disappeared. Then I squeezed roots and trunks into it from the tube, and modelled them a little with the brush. Yes, now they stand in it — shoot up out of it — stand firmly rooted in it. In a sense I’m glad that I’ve never learned how to paint. Probably then I would have LEARNED to ignore effects like this. Now I say, no, that’s exactly what I want — if it’s not possible then it’s not possible — I want to try it even though I don’t know how it’s supposed to be done. I don’t know myself how I paint. I sit with a white board before the spot that strikes me — I look at what’s before my eyes — I say to myself, this white board must become something — I come back, dissatisfied — I put it aside, and after I’ve rested a little, feeling a kind of fear, I take a look at it — then I’m still dissatisfied — because I have that marvellous nature too much in mind for me to be satisfied — but still, I see in my work an echo of what struck me, I see that nature has told me something, has spoken to me and that I’ve written it down in shorthand. In my shorthand there may be words that are indecipherable — errors or gaps — yet something remains of what the wood or the beach or the figure said — and it isn’t a tame or conventional language which doesn’t stem from nature itself but from a studied manner or a system.

This piece originally appeared on Farnam Street.

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