TIME politics

This Is How Politically Inferior Women Were After the American Revolution

Abigail Adams
MPI—Getty Images circa 1775: Abigail Smith Adams (1744 - 1818), from a painting by C Schessele

When an American woman married a foreign man, she lost her American citizenship altogether

History News Network

This post is in partnership with the History News Network, the website that puts the news into historical perspective. The article below was originally published at HNN.

Hillary Rodham Clinton might become president just a few years short of the hundredth anniversary of the nineteenth amendment, which gave American women the right to vote. But it will have been more than twice that long since this nation in its founding years missed the opportunity to include women in its governance. Images of early twentieth-century suffragists marching for the vote in their long skirts and beflowered hats can give the impression that women’s political power gradually grew from the distant past through today, but American history has not been a constant march toward broader political rights. Although we might finally have a first female president in 2017, by 1776 three women had actually ruled over the British colonies of North America: Queen Elizabeth I, for whom the Virginia colony of Roanoke was named; Queen Anne, who ruled England from 1702 to 1714; and her sister Mary II, who ruled alongside her husband. Yet the founders of the United States created an independent republic that decreased women’s political participation and delayed their inclusion in the governing of this nation.

Of course European and colonial American women did not have equal political rights with men. The fact that the new country had founding fathers reflects women’s political subordination. Regarding legal rights, Britain’s system of coverture meant that married women had no legal identity of their own. As dependents of their husbands, they could not own property or businesses, serve on juries, write contracts, sue, or be sued. (The British and American custom of a wife taking her husband’s last name represented women’s loss of legal identity within marriage.)

Yet colonial women’s inequality to men was part of a complicated hierarchy. Women were dependent on their fathers or husbands, but everyone but the monarch was dependent on someone. Most men did not have voting rights. Common people’s political rights often lay in street protests, and women were part of the crowd. Widows were not subject to coverture and could own property and run businesses.

The founders of the American republic dramatically changed American political life, but they decided not to advance women’s political or legal rights. Women played a vital role in the protests and the war against the British empire. Women were in the crowds protesting the Stamp Act. Because women were in charge of most household consumption, the Revolution depended on their enthusiastic support of boycotts against British goods. Philadelphian Esther de Berdt Reed raised thousands of dollars to support the Continental Army. Countless women contributed and solicited money, sewed shirts for soldiers (each embroidered with the name of the woman who made it), prepared food, and made bullets. Both the Continental Army and the British Army enlisted women as cooks and laundresses. Other women unofficially accompanied the army to stay with their family members, protect themselves from invading armies, and take advantage of the economic opportunities a large army provided. Countless women managed farms and business when their husbands went to war. Not all critical contributions to the founding of a nation take place in a convention hall or on a battlefield.

Some women urged that the United States include women as it expanded political rights. Judith Sargent Murrayargued in the Massachusetts Magazinethat women, too, had the right to self-govern that the Enlightenment declared for men. It made no sense to assume that nature had “yielded to one half of the human species so unquestionable a mental superiority.” The new country should ensure that “independence should be placed within their grasp” as well. In her valedictory address to the Philadelphia Academy in 1793, graduate Priscilla Mason argued that men “denied us the means of knowledge, and then reproached us for the want of it. . . . They doomed the sex to servile or frivolous employments, on purpose to degrade [our] minds, that they themselves might hold unrivalled, the power and preeminence they had usurped.” She hoped that her generation of women would gain access to the professions, including government.

Instead, Congress left coverture in place and let the states decide voting regulations. All of the states eventually explicitly defined voting citizens as male and white. New Jersey’s state constitution initially granted the vote to “all inhabitants” who were adult property-owners, so some white and black propertied widows (as well as some black men) voted in the state’s early years. Female property-owners’ participation was uncontroversial enough that New Jersey’s 1790 election law explicitly referred to the voter as “he or she.” But as elections became more hotly contested in the early nineteenth century, the political parties accused each other of taking advantage of women or even dressing men as women in order to commit voter fraud. In 1807, New Jersey joined the other states with a new state constitution that restricted the vote to free, white, adult male property owners. Some districts in some states allowed women to vote in school board elections, figuring they had particular expertise and concern over children’s education. But generally, as the states dropped the requirement for property ownership to vote or hold office, they increasingly defined political participation as the purview of only white men. Coverture remained the law. When an American woman married a foreign man, she lost her American citizenship altogether.

When regions that had not been British colonies became states in the union, women there lost ground. The colonies of other empires, including France and Spain, had not had coverture, so women had legal rights and usually greater economic opportunities. In most American Indian nations, women owned the farmland, but many of them also fell under coverture as the United States expanded west.

Hillary Clinton’s career is an important milestone in the history of formal female participation in government, but women have been crucial to the founding and the development of the nation since its beginning, despite their lack of recognition.

Kathleen DuVal teaches Early American history and American Indian history at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Her latest book is Independence Lost: Lives on the Edge of the American Revolution (2015).

MONEY Shopping

‘Trophy’ Women’s T-shirt at Target Called Sexist and Demeaning

target employee organizing t-shirts and apparel in target store
Patrick T. Fallon—Bloomberg/Getty Images

Target thinks the shirt is cute and funny.

Does a T-shirt featuring the word “TROPHY” that’s sold at Target help perpetuate rape culture? Indeed it does, according to a new Change.org petition.

“The truth is that millions of women and young girls are taken as ‘trophies’ every year in war, sex trafficking, slavery, and rape,” states the petition, which was created with the goal of pressuring Target to stop selling the shirt. “The word trophy should not refer to any person, man or woman, because we are not THINGS- we are human beings. Labeling any person as a ‘Trophy’ is demeaning their humanity and objectifying them as a tangible object that can be bought, used, and disposed of.”

As of Tuesday afternoon, the petition had a few hundred online signatures. But after attracting significant attention in the media over the past day, the total was up over 12,000 signatures at last check.

As USA Today observed, people offended by the “Trophy” shirt have been hitting Target on social media for weeks. “The fact @Target has a bridal shirt that says ‘Trophy’ on it AND in the juniors section sickens me. How can that seem like a good idea?” one woman Tweeted more than a month ago.

Target responded to the controversy with a statement explaining, “It is never our intention to offend anyone.” What’s more, Target insists that many customers love the “Trophy” shirts. The joke seems to be a play “trophy wife,” a term coined way back in 1989 in a Fortune article about CEOs and their younger second wives. “These shirts are intended as a fun wink and we have received an overwhelmingly positive response from our guests.”

Obviously, not everyone agrees that the shirt’s message is lighthearted and cute. It’s a fun wink “kind of like how catcalls are just friendly observations,” says a writer at Jezebel.

Read next: 5 Ways That Amazon Is Still Far Superior to New Upstart Jet.com

TIME

Study Finds That Men Who Attack Women Online Are, Literally, Losers

Teenager playing video games
Getty Images

Men who perform badly in games are more likely to harass female users

A new study purports to show what we all could have guessed: Men who attack women online are actual losers.

A pair of researchers examined interactions between players during 163 games of Halo 3 to determine when men were most likely to exhibit sexist, anti-social behavior toward their female peers.

According to the study, which was recently published in the journal PLOS One, men who were worse players than their peers tended to hurl more nastiness at female gamers. On the other hand, men who knew their way around the console were nicer to male and female players.

The researchers say the findings support an “evolutionary argument” that low-status men with low dominance have more to lose and are therefore more hostile to women who threaten their status in the social hierarchy.

“As men often rely on aggression to maintain their dominant social status, the increase in hostility towards a woman by lower-status males may be an attempt to disregard a female’s performance and suppress her disturbance on the hierarchy to retain their social rank,” researchers write.

The findings also support the growing body of anecdotal and research-based evidence that women face harsh blowback when they enter into and thrive in male-dominated corners of the Internet.

As the Washington Post points out, however, the study does not offer any solutions on how to solve the issue.

TIME feminism

See What Happened When Feminists Squared Off With Hugh Hefner in 1970

Watch an exclusive clip from the upcoming episode of CNN's 'The Seventies'

When Susan Brownmiller and Sally Kempton appeared as representatives of the women’s liberation movement alongside Hugh Hefner on The Dick Cavett Show in 1970, Cavett joked, “We really set you up tonight, didn’t we?”

Though Hefner’s Playboy was thriving, Cavett’s line really applied more to him. As seen in this exclusive clip from the upcoming episode of CNN’s The Seventies, airing on Thursday at 9:00 p.m., Hefner seemed to have no idea what was coming.

From the minute he referred to the activists as “girls,” he was put in his place. The women took full advantage of their public forum to express thoughts and feelings that had been bottled up for so long, and the nation took notice. When TIME’s Person of the Year honor for 1975 was given to 12 separate Women of the Year, Brownmiller was one of them.

The magazine dubbed her the “second-sex scholar” and explained why she deserved the recognition:

Four years ago Susan Brownmiller, one of feminism’s most articulate and visible activists, disappeared into the library stacks. She surfaced last fall with Against Our Will: Men, Women and Rape, the most rigorous and provocative piece of scholarship that has yet emerged from the feminist movement. Brownmiller’s meticulously researched book—a kind of Whole Earth Catalog of man’s inhumanity to woman or, as Novelist Lois Gould called it, “everything one never wanted to know about sex”—may significantly change the terms of the dialogue between and about men and women. Many shrink from her conclusions: that marriage as an institution has its historical roots in the fear of rape; that the rapist is the ultimate guardian of male privilege; that rape is “the conscious process by which all men keep all women in a state of fear.” But she persuasively argues that all forms of oppression have their origin in the often brutal reality of unequal physical power and that this primal fact of life continues to define and distort relationships between the sexes.

Read TIME’s 1972 special report on the state of feminism: The American Woman

Read the Women of the Year, 1975, issue, here in the TIME Vault: A Dozen Who Made a Difference

TIME feminism

Eve Ensler on Bill Cosby: Let the Mythical Daddy Die

eve ensler
Brigitte Lacombe

Eve Ensler is a Tony-winning playwright activist and author of The Vagina Monologues. She founded both V-Day, a global movement dedicated to ending violence against women, and the One Billion Rising campaign.

Are we finally willing to do what is necessary to make women safe?

No one believed my father was a battering sex abuser. He was handsome, a corporate president. He was successful, charming, a man’s man. He wore tailored suits. He played golf. He drank martinis. He was celebrated at country clubs and knew the first names of head maitre d’s at the fanciest exclusive restaurants. He was arrogant and smug the way Bill Cosby is arrogant and smug. He had an air of superiority and contempt for those who he perceived to be weak or incapable of rising the way he had risen. He set himself up as the chief moral arbiter of right and wrong in the same way that Cosby asserted himself as public moralist on issues of family values and crime. He was righteous, particularly about honesty. He was obsessed with honesty. There were many times when he would beat my head against a wall or whip me with belts for lies he imagined I had told or would one day possibly tell. I never understood why he was so angry. I think I do now. He was raging because he was caught between two competing, demanding personas, one public, one private. He was raging because his whole life was one big seething contaminating lie. A lie that was supported and nurtured by the power that men have over women, adoring and terrified colleagues, and my dependent mother. A lie that got him countless free passes, second chances, and cheeks turned.

Like my father, Bill Cosby was allegedly one thing in public, Dr. Huxtable, and another in the dark or behind closed doors. (Cosby, of course, denies all of the allegations of rape and sexual assault. He’s never been criminally charged for any of these alleged crimes.)

I know something about having two fathers in one. I know something about this agonizing split between the man of moral fervor and the man who sexually and physically decimated my body, the man, who is a model of manners, integrity, and charm and the man of violence, control, and manipulation. I was raised in the center of this psychic chasm. My consciousness was formed in this traumatizing fracture. After years of listening to thousands of women, I know that I am not alone.

I cannot explain why these men did what they did. I’ve given way too many years analyzing their perverse psychology and I’ve exhausted every option. I no longer give a damn. Survivors weave our days making excuses and evolving theories for our perpetrators that steal our lives. In the end they did what they did because they could. They did what they did because their gender, status, wealth, talent, fame, power allowed them access and protection, their inflated sense of self gave them license, their overly enlarged egos endowed them with certain patriarchal rights. And they never feared the ramifications of their violent acts. Even now, after all that has been alleged, Bill Cosby continues to work and acts the victim. No one is taking away his Hollywood star, despite mounting evidence. The President says there is no precedent to revoke his Presidential honor.

I think of my own silence early on, and maybe it was disbelief that stopped my outrage. Or protection of a daddy I desperately needed. Or fear of exclusion, exile, loss. Or the horror and heartbreak of experiencing the death of the hero. My hero. Or making a decision early on that the rare moment of love was worth the nightmares.

I think we have to ask ourselves what have we learned from this. This event with Cosby feels heartbreakingly familiar. Over these last years I’ve found myself compelled to write about the sexual machinations of prominent men. There is a maddening frequency with which the sexual abuse of powerful men is unraveled. How many others are out there? Will we wait another 20 years for countless victims to accumulate? There is something much larger here being revealed about our culture.

It is shocking that Bill Cosby has been able to carry on for so long with the allegations that have been made against him, that his wife and others, the media, the community close to him all felt comfortable standing behind a man who was systematically destroying the lives of women. Have we come to fully accept a world where the elites are untouchables? Are we saying to our young men that as long as you are a rich and famous and successful daddy icon, you too can rape?

Over the last few days I can’t stop thinking about us, about the social structures that surround these men. The world — our world — that not only turns a blind eye to their behavior but in the end becomes complicit in supporting their abhorrent deeds. And there are the economic and social factors that coalesce to make our silence. How could my mother or I, both dependent on my father for money and resources, speak out against his terror? More than forty women have now described their experiences with Bill Cosby, allegedly coaxed into his drug lair early in their careers. How could they speak out and smear and embarrass the moral cuddly king of television, be the slayers of our collective fantasy, and what would that have done to their fledgling careers and lives?

Are we finally willing to do what is necessary to make women safe? I think of the hundreds of brave and broken women I have met — who have come forward with stories of abuse at the hands of men, some powerful and famous. Do we celebrate them? Do we treat them with dignity and respect and kindness? Do we believe them and honor them? No these women are sacked, stigmatized, and exiled, their heads carried on sticks to ensure no woman ever passed that way again.

It is up to everyone to call out the behavior of perpetrators whether they be famous or not. We must, regardless of their status or fame or wealth or talent hold them to the same standards. We must, as a community, break through our own fear and need to sustain and protect our daddy heroes while we sacrifice our women. We must be willing to dispel illusions and look squarely at these perpetrators and denounce their crimes. It cannot be done alone.

We can decide this is the catalytic moment where we finally come out of our collective denial and break our attachment. 
Where we stand unequivocally together and say we believe the women who came forward to accuse Cosby of rape. Where we create a climate where all women are safe and protected socially and economically when they tell the truth. This can be moment where we ensure a world where a father is defined by his wholeness, his tenderness, his honoring, and his care — not by his domination, manipulation, and sexual violence. And where women are valued and believed. It’s up to us.

Let the mythical daddy die.

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 relationships

Women Keeping Their Maiden Names More Often, Report Finds

It may not be for the reason you think

More women are opting against saying “I do” to changing their last names.

According to a new analysis by New York TimesThe Upshot blog, about 30% of women in recent years have decided to keep their maiden names in some way after getting married. The Upshot finds about 20% keep their last name in full, while 10% have opted to hyphenate their two names.

The number of women who have decided not to take on their husband’s last name has risen since the 1980s and 1990s, when only 14% and 18% of women kept their maiden names, respectively. Women most likely to keep their names are high-income urban women—like those featured in the Times wedding section, among whom some 29.5% have kept their maiden names in recent years, up from 16.2 percent in 1990.

Not every woman opts to keep her surname in the name of gender equality, the newspaper reports. “It’s not necessarily a feminist reason, but it’s just my name for 33 years of my life,” said Donna Suh, who married last year. “Plus, I’m Asian and he’s not, so it’s less confusing for me to not have a white name. And on social media I thought it might be harder to find me.”

[NYT]

TIME politics

Exclusive: Girl Who Asked Obama to Put Women on Bills ‘Really Excited’ About a Woman on the $10

She doesn't care that it's not the $20

No one is perhaps more excited about the Treasury’s announcement Wednesday that a woman will be featured on the $10 bill than a 10-year-old named Sofia.

The fourth grader in Massachusetts wrote a letter to President Obama last year asking why there weren’t any women on American bills. In the year since, a grassroots campaign called Women on 20s started a massive online petition to get a woman on the $20 bill instead of Andrew Jackson. In May, Women on 20s announced more than 600,000 people had voted in their poll, and that Harriet Tubman emerged as the winner. On May 12, leaders delivered petitions demanding she appear on the $20 to the White House Council on Women and Girls and to the office of U.S. Treasurer Rosie Rios.

Some have argued they’d rather see a woman featured on the $20 bill instead of Jackson, saving Alexander Hamilton’s likeness on the $10 note, but the Treasury made clear in the announcement that no decision to fully remove him had been made: “There are many options for continuing to honor Hamilton. While one option is producing two bills, we are exploring a variety of possibilities.”

Regardless, Sofia says she’s thrilled. “I’m really excited that they’re going to truly get a woman on currency,” the junior ambassador for Women on 20s tells TIME. “I don’t care that it’s not the $20, I just want a woman on currency.”

Earlier this year, Sofia and her family visited the Treasury to learn more about how money is printed. While there, she left a note for Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, asking him to consider putting a woman on paper bills:

Courtesy of Sofia's mom
Courtesy of Kim B., Sofia’s mother

Rios personally called Sofia on Wednesday to tell her the Treasury would move to introduce a bill featuring a woman in 2020, a century after women were guaranteed the right to vote.

Sofia says she hopes that woman is Anne Hutchinson, the Puritan freedom fighter who inspired her to write Obama in the first place. She’d also be happy to see Rosa Parks on the $10 bill, since she was the person who she voted for out of the four finalists in the Women on 20s poll.

Her role in the movement has caused quite a stir in her fourth-grade classroom. “Whenever there’s a report or something about me, I always show it to all my classmates and share it, because my teachers let me,” she says. “They say it’s really cool and really awesome.”

It has also taught her the importance of speaking up. “I really think that if anyone has an idea that they think would be important or something they think needs to change, then they should do something about it,” she says. “They can do a lot of things, even if they’re kids.”

Read next: What Happened When the U.S. Decided to Put a Woman on Currency in 1978

TIME Sports

It’s Not Women’s Soccer—It’s Just Soccer

Megan Rapinoe #15 of the United States and Ngozi Okobi #13 of Nigeria during the Group D match of the FIFA Women's World Cup Canada 2015 in Vancouver on June 16, 2015.
Rich Lam—Getty Images Megan Rapinoe #15 of the United States and Ngozi Okobi #13 of Nigeria during the Group D match of the FIFA Women's World Cup Canada 2015 in Vancouver on June 16, 2015.

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

The World Cup shouldn't be the only time my son roots for female sports stars

He sat on the edge of his seat, tense, cheering and simultaneously yelling at the refs, shifting from side to side with each movement of the ball. No, my 9-year-old wasn’t watching Le Bron and Curry, he was watching Wambach and Morgan.

He’s got World Cup fever.

Every day he asks, “Who won today, who’s playing next, how did the U.S. do and can we watch, pretty please?” As Team USA advances to the elimination rounds, his excitement grows.

We’re big sports fans. My husband has coached Jake in three sports. Pretty much the only television we watch involves sport – basketball, football, tennis, college, pro, national, you name it. So, when Jake took a keen interest in the Women’s World Cup I wasn’t surprised.

What struck me, though, is that he doesn’t qualify it. He isn’t into the “Women’s” World Cup; he’s into the World Cup. He isn’t watching “girls’” soccer; it’s just soccer.

He watches the sport free from labels and judgments. His enthusiasm is fueled by compelling athletes representing their country, leaving it all out on the field.

So, it begs the question: Will Jake eventually come to view women’s sports as second class or are we witnessing a cultural shift? Is his gender egalitarianism a matter of innocence that will be lost, or an enlightenment never attained by most of the adults around him?

As he cheers on Team USA, Jake isn’t privy to some of the discouraging context surrounding the Women’s World Cup. He doesn’t know that this World Cup is being watched by a minuscule global audience compared to last year’s men’s World Cup, or that its games are played on artificial turf while last year’s were played on carefully manicured grass. He doesn’t know that the players in these games struggle to make a living off soccer, while their male counterparts are wealthy beyond their dreams on account of the deep-pocketed leagues in Europe and elsewhere. And, no one has ever told Jake that the women’s game is supposedly “less exciting” than the men’s game.

He sees hard-nosed competition and he likes it.

I know a thing or two about the elusive quest to have women’s sports be taken seriously, having worked for three seasons as a senior vice president with the NBA Phoenix Suns, which is owned by the same group as the WNBA Phoenix Mercury.

We struggled mightily to engage a broader fan base for the Merc despite having a women’s team that was more successful than its male counterpart. The Suns, while close, have never won a championship. In fewer years, the Mercury have won three. For the last three seasons, the Suns have been devoid of a superstar. The Mercury roster boasts two: Dianna Taurasi and Brittney Griner (she dunks!).

And still, attracting a following and widespread public support (as measured by ticket sales, TV ratings, and merchandise sales) remains a challenge for the Mercury and the WNBA broadly. The funny thing is that when people actually give the Mercury a chance, they turn into fans more often than not. The competitive intensity is all there, minus some of the dunking and flash.

While the skills gap between men’s and women’s soccer may be smaller than it is in basketball, soccer has yet to attain the gender parity you see in tennis. This may be due to the fact that many of the world’s leading soccer powers have been slower to embrace the women’s game. Or, it may be due to the fact that the anemic promotion of women’s soccer is more like what happens in basketball than in tennis. And make no mistake, promotion matters.

In a world of constant noise and chatter, it’s the messages we hear most often that stick with us, and you don’t hear much about women’s soccer outside of the World Cup every four years. It’s the noise that drives interest, interest that drives dollars, and dollars that pay for everything else.

What if the likes of Nike, Adidas, Coke, and Gatorade spent as much promoting female athletes as they did men? What if women’s leagues had the same marketing budget as men’s leagues? What if the National Women’s Soccer League got as much airtime in the U.S. as the English Premier League?

Naysayers will say all of that would happen if the interest were there. I say, increase promotion and the interest will follow. It’s the difference between having a market and creating one. Premier League ratings are growing steadily not because of some pre-existing clamor for these games, but because of NBC’s masterful marketing of the league and its storylines.

It’s what the NBA has been doing in China (and beyond) for years. Before David Stern took over the league, there wasn’t a single NBA game televised in China, so he gave it to them for free. Why? In the hopes that if you build it, they will come. Now, the NBA is one of the most popular brands in China and a growth market for the League.

People weren’t clamoring, likewise, for American football in London, but the NFL is banking on the idea that if you schedule enough regular-season games there over time, an expansion NFL team in Europe will soon be viable, expanding the game’s reach.

Creating a market takes risk and a willingness to lose money over the short haul. But, while we’ve seen a willingness to do that in men’s sports, it’s largely missing on the women’s side. Tennis is the one sport that has been able to create something resembling virtual gender parity in terms of fan interest and resources allotted.

This can’t be accomplished by leagues alone–or overnight. Sponsors have to invest in the effort. The NBA has opened up China, so you know what the big brands are doing? Sending the players they endorse over to China to promote their products. Players are interacting directly with Chinese fans via Chinese social media. The NBA, its sponsors, and players are creating noise. Lots of it. American fans and sponsors should make a lot of noise around women’s soccer: we may be late to the world’s game overall, but we were pioneers in treating the game as one suitable for both boys and girls.

Promotion alone is not enough; you must start with a compelling product. No one watches the New York Yankees, L.A. Kings, or the Washington Wizards just because they saw a billboard. Fans want competition; they want entertainment; they want to associate with winners; and they want to root for likeable players representing their community. Women’s sports already deliver on the first three, and with more promotion, we could get to know more of the athletes.

In my day job now, I work with people who want to be better leaders, have greater influence or grow their companies. One thing I tell them is that if they want something to be different, they need to change the way they think about it.

What if we quit thinking about women’s sports as different? Imagine if no one pointed out the girl who tries out for Little League. What if we took our sons to more basketball games, not women’s basketball game? And for crying out loud, quit telling our kids they “throw like girls.”

Maybe for Jake and his generation, “women’s sports” will become just “sports” – to be followed and enjoyed, concurrently with men’s sports.

But the rest of us need to help this aspiration along, with the right cultural and business infrastructure for women’s sports. Last week Marta, a Brazilian player, broke the record for all-time scoring in the Women’s World Cup edging out Germany’s Brigit Prinz. Her nickname, “Pele with skirts” is unfortunate, but shouldn’t detract from the fact that she is widely considered one of the greatest female soccer players of all time.

I went onto Amazon to see if I could buy Jake a Marta jersey, but no dice, unless of course he wants to wear a women’s fitted t-shirt. So, he’ll keep watching with Neymar, Jr., on his back. But if the women’s game remains in his heart, I’ll chalk it up as a win.

Tanya Wheeless, a former Phoenix Suns senior vice president, runs her own executive coaching business and teaches sports marketing at Arizona State University. On Twitter, she is @TanyaWheeless. She wrote this for 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 society

What It Was Like to Have My Tweet Become National News

xoJane.com is where women go to be their unabashed selves, and where their unabashed selves are applauded

The more loudly people complained that the tweet was a giant overreaction, the more they proved the need for feminism

xojane

Monday morning I was still in my day pajamas – you know the look: yoga pants, tank top, sports bra – when there was a knock at my front door, and I opened it up to find a man with a necktie and thoroughly gelled hair. “Are you Abi?” he asked me through the screen door. “Did you write the tweet about Target?”

I wrote the tweet about Target a week before, while my 7-year-old son and I were browsing the toy section. Actually, that’s not entirely true: I snapped the picture of the aisle sign while we were browsing the toy section, sometime between Pokèmon cards and Minecraft action figures. I wrote the tweet later, while I was waiting for him outside the restroom so we could check out.

“Don’t do this, @Target,” I wrote, and attached the photo of the sign that said, “Building Sets / Girls’ Building Sets” just as my son emerged from the bathroom. “Did you wash your hands?” I asked him as I tapped tweet.

And now my tweet had brought this smiling, be-gelled man to my front porch: a reporter from a Cleveland news affiliate, here to interview me.

“I was actually down here to do a story about LeBron,” he said, “but the office called and diverted me to this instead.” Before the Target tweet, the closest I had come to social media stardom was the time Roxane Gay RT’ed a selfie I took with her at a book signing. Now I had bumped a LeBron story.

I threw on a dress and some makeup, thanked God for dry shampoo, and within 15 minutes was miked and on camera. I was brilliant and articulate, I hoped, as I explained why I thought the sign was a problem – because making girls’ building sets a distinct category from building sets made it sound like girls are a separate category from kids; because the notion that girls would only be interested in special “girly” sets for building pink and purple hair salons and dollhouses and malls is the same nonsense that pigeonholes girls and women into certain roles – as my cat watched us from the front window.

That afternoon when the segment aired, I watched it from the waiting room at my dentist’s office with the receptionist and a hygienist on her break. “SIGN OFFENDS LOCAL MOTHER,” the title bar said, as if the aisle sign had stuck its foot out to trip me while I was shopping and then called me four-eyes.

We watched in silence for two and a half minutes as my onscreen self stammered and gestured through my interview, and when it was over, the receptionist changed the channel to Cartoon Network. “Huh,” she remarked conversationally. “If I’d seen that sign I would never have read anything into it.”

By that evening, Local Mom was being offended in every local news broadcast. The next day the story jumped to national news shows and websites, where I became the Ohio Mom who was “angry,” “upset,” “outraged,” even “furious.”

Strangers tweeted at me that I was just looking for attention and should be spending my time worrying about more important things, oblivious to the irony that they were spending their time seeking me out to give me attention. Libertarians lectured me about how consumers drive the free market, as if I weren’t a consumer who was now doing exactly that.

Men’s Rights forums picked up the story, and my twitter mentions became about what you’d expect from MRAs. I had written a four-word tweet, and now I was being called an ISIS supporter who hates homeless, starving children.

As the conversation unfolded, I found myself being made into a gender stereotype, too. I wasn’t a writer, a grad student, a university instructor; I was Ohio Mom. My critique of Target was angry and offended; they stopped just short of calling me shrill.

In my Twitter mentions, I became fat, ugly, and unlovable. The more loudly people complained that this was a giant overreaction, the more they proved the need for feminism.

And yet, I began to agree with some of the trolls. Maybe I was making a big deal out of nothing. Shouldn’t I be worrying about more important feminist issues, like violence against trans women of color? Didn’t this attention rightfully belong to the activists who had earned it, instead of just some mom from Ohio?

I told my therapist that I felt very aware of the white- and class-privilege that had put me at the center of this story; that I wasn’t sure if I had anything important to say, or if I should even try.

“Women have fought for decades to have a voice,” she said, “and yet so often we minimize the voice we have. Your words are powerful, and you can give yourself permission to use that power. You don’t have to feel guilty for speaking up.”

Together we made a plan for how I could own my power. I started asking interviewers not to label me “angry” or “offended,” and some of them obliged – it didn’t change the narrative that was already out there, but it was a step toward reclaiming my identity.

I gave a friend my Twitter password and asked her to filter my mentions for me for a few days, weeding out the worst of the trolls. I stopped letting the increased attention and scrutiny affect the way I was interacting with my social media communities.

And my community stepped up, too. Online friends made fun of the trolls in my mentions and sent me cat GIFs. Local friends stopped by with wine and moral support.

When a producer from a national talk show scheduled a camera crew to come to my house for an interview, friends offered to watch my kids and help clean my living room.

There is something absurd in a single tweet gaining this kind of national attention. This is how the 24-hour news cycle sausage is made – by taking these small, nuanced conversations and turning them into overblown, oversimplified issues.

But the beauty of social media is that we can use our voices and take our power, support each other, call for change on a whole spectrum of issues. And we don’t need a man to show up uninvited on our doorsteps for that to happen.

Abi Bechtel wrote this article for xoJane.

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 World

These 8 World Leaders Are Taking Major Steps Towards Gender Equality

From closing the pay gap to implementing board quotas to requiring all soldiers to take violence prevention courses, here's how 8 world leaders are embracing HeforShe

UN Women’s “He for She” initiative is in full swing, and on Thursday nine world leaders announced major steps they are taking to bring their countries to full gender equality. Each has pledged to champion HeForShe in their individual nations, and has outlined specific actions they’ll take towards ensuring equal opportunities for women.

The announcements are part of UN Women’s IMPACT 10x10x10 initiative, where 10 heads of state, 10 CEOs, and 10 university presidents commit to taking tangible steps to achieve gender equality, as part of the HeForShe movement that actress Emma Watson announced at the UN last year.

Here are some of the main commitments from 8 heads of state from around the world– the final two leaders will be announced at a later date.

Sauli Niinistö, President of Finland, has vowed to decrease violence against women by 5% over the next five years, partly by requiring all soldiers in the Finnish Defense Forces to learn about aggression control and violence prevention. Since Finland has universal male conscription, that means that almost all young men in Finland will be required to complete an education program on violence against women.

Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson, Prime Minister of Iceland, has committed to eliminating the gender pay gap in Iceland by 2022: currently, women are paid 6-18% less than men. The government will achieve this by conducting major audits of all companies in Iceland, to ensure that women are being paid fairly. Gunnlaugsson’s administration will also sponsor major reports on the status of women in media in Iceland, in order to achieve parity by 2020, and has pledged to make 1 in 5 Icelandic men commit to supporting HeforShe principals by 2016.

Joko Widodo, President of Indonesia, is pushing a to make the Indonesian parliament 30% female (up from 17%.) The government plans to promote more women to senior leadership positions, mandate gender training for all government institutions, and study trends in female voting and women who run for political office. Widodo also pledges to extend national health insurance coverage to reproductive and maternal health care, and improve sexual health services around the country. He also wants to fight violence against women, by launching a nationwide survey in 2016 that could help the government make targeted interventions to help the 3-4 million Indonesian women who face violence ever year. And, providing women migrant workers with financial literacy training is just one way they help give them more independence.

Shinzo Abe, Prime Minister of Japan, is unrolling major reforms to support more women in the workforce. Abe is proposing a bill that would require all public sector institutions and companies with more than 301 employees to demonstrate concrete action plans to increase the representation of women. He’s also increasing nursery school capacity, and enhancing family leave policies. Japan is also leveraging $3 billion in international aid to enhance peace and security and ending sexual violence abroad.

Arthur Peter Mutharika, President of Malawi, is committing to fully ending child marriage in Malawi. Currently, about half of girls in Malawi are married before they turn 18– the government just passed a new law to address this problem, and Mutharika commits to fully implementing this law by creating new local marriage courts and improving marriage registration. Malawi is also making major steps towards economic empowerment of women, by requiring all commercial banks to develop lending options just for women by 2016, in order to increase the number of women accessing credit by 30%.

Klaus Iohannis, President of Romania, is launching a new nationwide analysis of violence against women, to make sure agencies and public institutions have the data they need to inform policy that could protect victims. Based on the data they find, Iohannis plans to create emergency shelters in every region of the country. Romania is also creating two entirely new professions — Expert in Gender Equality and Gender Equality Technician — to implement gender equality strategies, and 70% of Romanian public institutions are required to employ one by 2020.

Paul Kagame, President of Rwanda, is pledging to make sure women have equal access to technology and increase girls’ enrollment in tech fields. Currently, women represent only 20% of employees in the tech sector, and only 35% of women own mobile phones (compared to almost half of men.) Kagame also wants to get more girls enrolled in technical and vocational training programs by launching a national mentorship and career guidance program to encourage girls to take science and technology courses, aiming at 50% of eligible girls enrolled by 2020. Currently, only about 18% of eligible girls are enrolled. Rwanda is also rolling out an initiative to end gender-based violence, by building One Stop Centers all over the country to provide medical, legal, and psychological support to victims, part of what they call a “zero tolerance policy” towards sexual violence.

Stefan Löfvén, Prime Minister of Sweden, says Sweden already has a feminist government, but that more men need to stand up for gender equality. He promises to get more women into the workforce (64% of Swedish women are employed full time, compared to 69% of Swedish men) and close the wage gap– currently, Swedish women make only 87 cents for every dollar a man makes. Sweden has achieved a remarkable level of gender equality in government, but women are still under-represented in business and academia. The government has set a target that boards of top Swedish companies must be 40% female by 2017– if that goal isn’t met, the government will start implementing a quota.

Read more: Twitter, Vodafone and Georgetown University All Commit to Gender Equality

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