TIME feminism

Stop Fem-Splaining: What ‘Women Against Feminism’ Gets Right

Young woman using laptop on bed
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The charge that feminism stereotypes men as predators while reducing women to helpless victims certainly doesn’t apply to all feminists—but it’s a reasonably fair description of a large, influential, highly visible segment of modern feminism.

The latest skirmish on the gender battlefield is “Women Against Feminism”: women and girls taking to the social media to declare that they don’t need or want feminism, usually via photos of themselves with handwritten placards. The feminist reaction has ranged from mockery to dismay to somewhat patronizing (or should that be “matronizing”?) lectures on why these dissidents are wrong. But, while the anti-feminist rebellion has its eye-rolling moments, it raises valid questions about the state of Western feminism in the 21st Century — questions that must be addressed if we are to continue making progress toward real gender equality.

Female anti-feminism is nothing new. In the 19th century, plenty of women were hostile to the women’s movement and to women who pursued nontraditional paths. In the 1970s, Marabel Morgan’s regressive manifesto The Total Woman was a top best-seller, and Phyllis Schlafly led opposition to the Equal Rights Amendment. But such anti-feminism was invariably about defending women’s traditional roles. Some of today’s “women against feminism” fit that mold: They feel that feminism demeans stay-at-home mothers, or that being a “true woman” means loving to cook and clean for your man. Many others, however, say they repudiate feminism even though — indeed, because — they support equality and female empowerment:

“I don’t need feminism because I believe in equality, not entitlements and supremacy.”

“I don’t need feminism because it reinforces the men as agents/women as victims dichotomy.”

“I do not need modern feminism because it has become confused with misandry which is as bad as misogyny, and whatever I want to do or be in life, I will become through my own hard work.”

Or, more than once: “I don’t need feminism because egalitarianism is better!”

Again and again, the dissenters say that feminism belittles and demonizes men, treating them as presumptive rapists while encouraging women to see themselves as victims. “I am not a victim” and “I can take responsibility for my actions” are recurring themes. Many also challenge the notion that American women in the 21st century are “oppressed,” defiantly asserting that “the patriarchy doesn’t exist” and “there is no rape culture.”

One common response from feminists is to say that Women Against Feminism “don’t understand what feminism is” and to invoke its dictionary definition: “the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes.” The new anti-feminists have a rejoinder for that, too: They’re judging modern feminism by its actions, not by the book. And here, they have a point.

Consider the #YesAllWomen Twitter hashtag, dubbed by one blogger “the Arab Spring of 21st Century feminism.” Created in response to Elliot Rodger’s deadly shooting spree in Isla Vista, California — and to reminders that “not all men” are violent misogynists — the tag was a relentless catalog of female victimization by male terrorism and abuse. Some of its most popular tweets seemed to literally dehumanize men, comparing them to sharks or M&M candies of which 10% are poisoned.

Consider assertions that men as a group must be taught “not to rape,” or that to accord the presumption of innocence to a man accused of sexual violence against a woman or girl is to be complicit in “rape culture.” Consider that last year, when an Ohio University student made a rape complaint after getting caught on video engaging in a drunken public sex act, she was championed by campus activists and at least one prominent feminist blogger — but a grand jury declined to hand down charges after reviewing the video of the incident and evidence that both students were inebriated.

Consider that a prominent British feminist writer, Laurie Penny, decries the notion that feminists should avoid such generalizations as “men oppress women”: In her view, all men are steeped in a woman-hating culture and “even the sweetest, gentlest man” benefits from women’s oppression. Consider, too, that an extended quote from Penny’s column was reposted by a mainstream reproductive rights group and shared by nearly 84,000 Tumblr users in six months.

Sure, some Women Against Feminism claims are caricatures based on fringe views — for instance, that feminism mandates hairy armpits, or that feminists regard all heterosexual intercourse as rape. On the other hand, the charge that feminism stereotypes men as predators while reducing women to helpless victims certainly doesn’t apply to all feminists — but it’s a reasonably fair description of a large, influential, highly visible segment of modern feminism.

Are Women Against Feminism ignorant and naïve to insist they are not oppressed? Perhaps some are too giddy with youthful optimism. But they make a strong argument that a “patriarchy” that lets women vote, work, attend college, get divorced, run for political office, and own businesses on the same terms as men isn’t quite living up to its label. They also raise valid questions about politicizing personal violence along gender lines; research shows that surprisingly high numbers of men may have been raped, sometimes by women.

For the most part, Women Against Feminism are quite willing to acknowledge and credit feminism’s past battles for women’s rights in the West, as well as the severe oppression women still suffer in many parts of the world. But they also say that modern Western feminism has become a divisive and sometimes hateful force, a movement that dramatically exaggerates female woes while ignoring men’s problems, stifles dissenting views, and dwells obsessively on men’s misbehavior and women’s personal wrongs. These are trends about which feminists have voiced alarm in the past — including the movement’s founding mother Betty Friedan, who tried in the 1970s to steer feminism from the path of what she called “sex/class warfare.” Friedan would have been aghast had she known that, 50 years after she began her battle, feminist energies were being spent on bashing men who commit the heinous crime of taking too much space on the subway.

Is there still a place in modern-day America for a gender equality movement? I think so. Work-family balance remains a real and complicated challenge. And there are gender-based cultural biases and pressures that still exist — though, in 21st century Western countries, they almost certainly affect men as much as women. A true equality movement would be concerned with the needs and interests of both sexes. It would, for instance, advocate for all victims of domestic and sexual violence regardless of gender — and for fairness to those accused of these offenses. It would support both women and men as workers and as parents.

Should such a movement take back feminism — or, as the new egalitarians suggest, give up on the label altogether because of its inherent connotations of advocating for women only? I’m not sure what the answer is. But Women Against Feminism are asking the right questions. And they deserve to be heard, not harangued. As one of the group’s graphics says: “I have my own mind. Please stop fem-splaining it to me.”

Cathy Young is a contributing editor at Reason magazine.

TIME Opinion

#WomenAgainstFeminism Is Happening Now

Let's bite the hand that feeds us, shall we?

When Newton said that every action would have an equal and opposite reaction, he couldn’t have foretold that his Third Law of Physics would apply to internet feminism. But even though the backlash is hardly “equal and opposite,” once again, just like in the 1970s, some women seem to be misunderstanding the basic principles of feminism in order to rail against women’s rights with the hashtag #womenagainstfeminism.

This week, perhaps because of the anti-feminism bubbling up on the internet (although they didn’t explicitly say so), NPR re-promoted its 2011 interview with prominent antifeminist activist Phyllis Schlafly who campaigned to stop the 1973 passage of the Equal Rights Amendment–the legislation that would have provided men and women total legal equality. She basically sums up the conservative mindset about feminism:

A lot of people don’t understand what feminism is. They think it is about advance and success for women, but it’s not that at all. It is about power for the female left. And they have this, I think, ridiculous idea that American women are oppressed by the patriarchy and we need laws and government to solve our problems for us… And they’re always crying around about things like the differences between men and women are just a social construct. So they’re really in a fight with human nature. I would not want to be called a feminist.

It’s no surprise that the 89 year-old Schlafly feels this way. But it is somewhat surprising that a small, yet vocal group of young women has started to echo her rallying cry, first on a Tumblr, then on Facebook (with over 11,000 likes) and now with the adorable #womenagainstfeminism hashtag. Most of the posts include some reiteration of the central misunderstanding about feminism, that a core belief of feminism involves hating men.

While this hashtag is unlikely to undo all the progress made by women like Gloria Steinem and Beyonce, it is troubling, as Jessica Valenti over at The Guardian has explained:

Women stopping the progress of other women – especially those who don’t have the power and prestige to work for DC think-tanks or pen anti-feminist books – stings much more than when men do it. That may be a double standard, or naive – I don’t believe in an all-encompassing sisterhood, after all – though it does remind me of how powerful feminists really are: we’ve taken on not just the men in our way, but the women as well.

But there will always be some women who don’t understand feminism, just like there will always be some people who deny global warming. There’s no use getting all worked up over a few stragglers who haven’t gotten on the bandwagon.

So let’s just try to nip this in the bud. Sorry, Phyllis Schlafly, but feminism is here to stay:

With reporting contributed by Hannah Goldberg

TIME celebrities

Beyoncé Just Posted the Ultimate Feminist Photo

She woke up like this

Well, obviously Beyoncé can do it. The 17-time Grammy winner posted a photo to Instagram Tuesday that mirrors the famous Rosie the Riveter poster, a cultural icon that recognizes the contributions made by women during World War II. Beyonce, a self-described “modern-day feminist,” incorporated ideas often symbolized by Rosie in her most recent album. The photo racked up more than 300,000 likes within half an hour.

Beyoncé is currently on the road with husband Jay Z for their joint “On the Run” tour.

TIME World

Plus-Size Parking Spaces in China Spark Accusations of Sexism

CHINA-SOCIAL-GENDER-TRANSPORT-OFFBEAT
Mall manager Yang Hongjun in front of cars parked in pink spaces in front of the Dashijiedaduhui, or World Metropolis centre, in the seaport city of Dalian, July 7, 2014. The parking spaces are distinctive: marked out in pink, around 30 centimetres wider than normal, and signposted "Respectfully reserved for women". Johannes Eisele—AFP/Getty Images

Mall managers said women had trouble with navigating standard width spots

Extra-wide parking spaces outside a mall in China designed for women have sparked a debate on social media in the country over allegations of sexism.

The mall, located in the northern Chinese port city of Dalian, has 10 spaces with an extra 30 centimeters marked in pink outside the main entrance that were provided after women had trouble parking in the standard basement slots, managers said.

“We just wanted to make things easier for women, who make up most of our customers,” said manager Yang Hongjun, a woman herself.

China’s official line is that of gender equality—Mao Tse-tung said that “women hold up half the sky”—but in reality, sexism persists in the country. Beijing police said in a microblog last year that women drivers “lack a sense of direction” and often “hesitate and are indecisive about which road they should take,” Agence France-Presse reports.

Driving for both men and women is a perilous endeavor in China, where in 2012, 60,000 people died on the roads.

[AFP]

TIME Culture

Leighton Meester Wrote a Feminist Essay That Will Make You Rethink a Classic Novel

American Theatre Wing's 68th Annual Tony Awards - Arrivals
Leighton Meester attends American Theatre Wing's 68th Annual Tony Awards at Radio City Music Hall on June 8, 2014 in New York City. Walter McBride—Getty Images

"If this woman is purely a victim, why is she so hated?"

Just admit it: You haven’t read Of Mice of Men since the ninth grade and only remember the plot in the broadest strokes. If you’re going to see the Broadway version John Steinbeck’s classic American novel about two migrant workers dreaming of their own farm during the Great Depression, it’s probably because the play has an all-star cast that includes James Franco, Chris O’Dowd and Leighton Meester.

Your high school teacher probably didn’t center class discussion on a feminist critique of the work—why does Curley’s wife have no name? Why is she shunned? Why do we cry when Lenny dies but not when she does? But Leighton Meester, a self-avowed feminist who has firsthand experience of playing the only woman in the play, is here to ask you those questions.

“If this woman is purely a victim, why is she so hated? And if she is truly harmless, why is she so threatening? Without question, it was a commentary on the social climate at the time, which still surprisingly applies today,” she writes in an essay for the Huffington Post.

The Gossip Girl actress says she’s struggled with the character: And while the novel gives a reason for why the only black character in the book is given a reason for being shunned—race—Steinbeck offers no similar explanation for why the character is so hated by the other characters. The audience, too, seems to feel animosity toward the woman who becomes a victim of assault. The most disturbing part of her essay highlights the audience’s indifference or even hatred of her character even as she dies:

“The final, eerie moment of her life is often accompanied by the uproar of laughter. She is violently shaken, rendered lifeless. It doesn’t seem to get less painful for me, less terrifying, less tragic with time, yet our unusually young audience seems unfazed, if not amused by the savage act. Perhaps it’s the only response that comforts them in an awkward or tense moment. Curley’s wife’s dead body lies still on the floor as Candy spits at her, ‘You goddamned tramp, you done it didn’t you? Everybody said you’d mess things up, you just wasn’t no good.’ And again, the audience cracks up.”

If it is indeed true that 77 years after the book’s initial release audiences still believe that Curley’s wife is “asking for it” (“it” being death by violent shaking), then perhaps Meester is right that we ought to examine our preconceptions about this nameless woman who is killed because her hair is soft, not because of any action. Meester points out a letter Steinbeck sent to Claire Luce, the first actress to bring the role to life onstage, suggests he had a more nuanced view of the character than our modern audience does.

“She was told over and over that she must remain a virgin because that was the only way she could get a husband … She only had that one thing to sell and she knew it,” he wrote. “She is a nice, kind girl and not a floozy. No man has ever considered her as anything except a girl to try to make … As to her actual sex life — she has had none except with Curley and there has probably been no consummation there since Curley would not consider her gratification and would probably be suspicious if she had any.”

Did Steinbeck leave hints of such a tragic past in his few sketches of the character in the book? Looks like it’s time to crack open Of Mice and Men again.

TIME feminism

‘I Would Never Intend to Be Difficult,’ Says State of Affairs Star Katherine Heigl

Ahead of the premiere of NBC's upcoming State of Affairs, star Katherine Heigl addressed rumors that she and her executive producer mother are challenging to work with

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During a Television Critics Association panel about Katherine Heigl’s forthcoming NBC show State of Affairs, NPR’s Eric Deggans asked the former Grey’s Anatomy star to confirm or deny rumors that she and her mother Nancy Heigl — who is an executive producer on the show — are “difficult” to work with on the set.

According to Variety, the younger Heigl replied, “I would never intend to be difficult. I don’t think my mother sees herself as being difficult. I think it’s important to everybody to conduct themselves professionally and respectfully and kindly, so if I’ve ever disappointed somebody, it was never intentional.”

State of Affairs features Heigl as CIA analyst Charleston Tucker, providing daily briefs to the first female President, played by Alfre Woodard. The show is scheduled to premiere in November. Heigl described the part of Tucker as an “extraordinary” role that allowed her to break out of romantic comedies and to flex “different muscles of my ability,” the Wrap said.

The Wrap reports that when Heigl was asked what her mother actually did on the show, the actress replied, “She makes us cookies.”

Entertainment-news reports have speculated that Heigl and her mother have demanding personalities, while others have suggested that Heigl is being penalized for simply being an assertive and frank woman.

TIME Television

Lizzy Caplan: Masters of Sex Wouldn’t Be the Same Made by a Man

Masters of Sex
Lizzy Caplan as Virginia Johnson and Caitlin Fitzgerald as Libby Masters in Masters of Sex Michael Desmond—Showtime

The show's female creator is important — but not for the reason you might guess

With the second season of Masters of Sex premiering July 13, the women who make the show what it is — creator Michelle Ashford, along with executive producers Amy Lippman and Sarah Timberman — spoke to TIME about how the show addresses the mechanics and the pleasure of sex, all while avoiding voyeurism.

But that’s not where their feminine sides really show through. Star Lizzy Caplan says that there’s no way to say whether a sex scene written by a man versus one written by a woman is more gratuitous — but that there is one element of the show’s arc that wouldn’t be possible if the show weren’t created by women. And, ironically, it’s something that has very little to do with sex (though it does contain spoilers for last season):

Our show would look completely different if it were run by a man instead of Michelle supported by two other strong women. I think the first thing that would look a lot different would be the love triangle between Masters and his wife and Virginia. I think we still have a lot more story to tell there but one of the things that fascinated all the women — Caitlin Fitzgerald, who plays [Masters' wife] Libby, included — was the fact that Virginia and Libby really did cultivate this loving friendship with one another while all of this was going on. The care given to that — not making the Libby character super two-dimensional and the Virginia character this man-eater — I think that has a female touch written all over it. Also, especially in the second season, there’s a lot revolving around Virginia and Dr. DePaul, played by Julianne Nicholson. Again, the meticulous care given to that relationship is something that only a woman would understand. There is a deep emotional love connection in female friendships and I don’t even know if guys are aware that’s going on.

But that’s not to say that Caplan doesn’t think their depiction of on-screen sex isn’t woman-friendly: “I think they’ve managed to do that,” she says of the show’s racier scenes, “where it doesn’t feel like it’s being made for 14-year-old boys.”

TIME Culture

Why Masters of Sex Is the Most Feminist Show on Television

Michael Sheen as Dr. William Masters and Lizzy Caplan as Virginia Johnson in Masters of Sex
Michael Sheen as Dr. William Masters and Lizzy Caplan as Virginia Johnson in Masters of Sex Frank W Ockenfels—Showtime

How do you make a show about sex interesting in an era when we’re bombarded by it? Easy. Put three women behind the lens.

Michelle Ashford, Amy Lippman and Sarah Timberman are seated around a conference table ticking off a list of Hollywood sex scenes.

“Basic Instinct.”

“Out of Sight.”

“Remains of the Day.”

“Ohhh, Remains of the Day,” Lippman coos. “That’s a beautiful sex scene.”

It’s all research, of course. As the brains behind the Showtime series, Masters of Sex – which traces the lives of pioneering sex researchers William Masters and Virginia Johnson – the women needed to understand: What makes a sex scene sexy?

(Read this week’s story on the women behind Masters of Sex)

So they each sat down one night, with a series of sex scenes collected on a DVD. One by one, they dissected each carnal moment. “We literally had 50 movies,” says Ashford, the show’s creator and showrunner. “We wanted to find out what actually makes something, honest to God, sexy.”

What they found, naturally, was that it had little to do with the physical act – and everything to do with narrative. And so as the trio – creator and executive producers, respectively – prepared to film the pilot of Masters of Sex, Ashford made a rule: sex on this show couldn’t just be about sex. “We decided that sex had to be completely connected to story,” she tells TIME, in a profile in this week’s magazine. “So it was either funny or humiliating or curious or revelatory or… something.”

Ashford, Lippman and Timberman spoke to TIME about Masters and Johnson, sex on television, and how you keep a show about sex interesting in an era where we’re bombarded by it.

So you guys watched 50 sex scenes. What was the sexiest?

Ashford: We all agreed that Don’t Look Now, the Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie movie, from 1973, was memorably sexy. Michael Sheen (who plays Masters) loved it. We loved it. And our director, John Madden, said, ‘Every love scene I’ve ever directed was influenced by that movie.’ So when we went and watched the film again, we tried to figure out what were we all responding to. We just assumed it must not be trying to be sexy. But that’s actually not true — the sex is very sexy. But what they did was they shot that sex scene and then they intercut it with all these shots of that couple after sex, getting ready to go out for the evening. And so the aftermath of being together is on their faces, what this intimacy has meant to them. And so all of a sudden you get a whole story, because you’re seeing the sex but you’re also seeing the effect of the sex.

Is it rare to get that level of story and sex these days?

Ashford: I think in a lot of shows it’s still as if, OK, we’re going to have a lot of exposition, so we’re going to have two people humping in the background to make it more interesting.

Part of what makes Masters of Sex great is its willingness to treat sex like science.

Ashford: We show a lot of sex, but the discussion of sex is incredibly frank. We use the words vagina and clitoris, like, endlessly, and you really don’t find that on other television shows.

Lippman: I mean, I’m not a prude about this stuff, but [before this show] I don’t think I’d spoken the word dildo publicly … well, ever.

Ashford: And now you say it six times a day.

Lippman: An hour! It’s like, is the masturbation with the dildo, with out the dildo…

You talk about more serious topics too – there’s an episode on vaginismus, a rare sexual disorder, and even male impotence. Those are like the least sexy topics possible in a show about sex.

Ashford: We want this show to feel relatable … We want people out there watching, who don’t have perfect sex lives, who suffer from sexual dysfunction and insecurities and many nights of the worst dates ever, we all want those people to watch and say, ‘Well, that’s me.’

So there’s almost an underlying social mission.

Timberman: The show has really given us license to talk about a lot of these taboos.

How do you make sure you get the science right?

Ashford: One of Masters and Johnson’s claims-to-fame is that they disproved Freud’s theory that vaginal orgasms were superior to clitoral orgasms — which made half in the women in the world think they were “frigid.” But when we actually went to write that part of the script, we realized we didn’t understand the mechanics. So at one point, we had all these diagrams out to try and understand the difference between. It was hilarious, all of us writers gathered around this drawing, going, “Really, that’s how it works?”

It’s still pretty rare to find women running the show in Hollywood. How do you think your gender influences the way this story is told?

Timberman: It’s something that’s come up a lot in talking about the show that we almost forget – that this is a show that’s run by a lot of women. That’s not by design. But, sure, it’s not the male gaze.

Lippman: And female pleasure is well represented. As women writing a show about sex, the expectation might be that we are most interested in telling stories about love and romance, and while that’s a component of the series, it isn’t necessarily our focus.

Timberman: Right. And, you know, in season one, we make a big deal of that line by Masters, where he says that women are ‘greater sexual athletes’ than men, because they have multiple orgasms.

I was watching the preview of the second season, and within the first five minutes we hear Virginia Johnson talk about asking for a raise, the farce of diet pills, dildos, and female competition. You watch something like that and it’s hard to imagine this not being a show produced by women.

Lippman: I think the thing that gives us license is not necessarily being female, but having Virginia Johnson as a character. She was a remarkable woman, very flawed, very complicated, but absolutely a groundbreaker. And her attitude toward sex was truly unusual – even for today. She was able to separate love and sex.

Right. And she’s a working mom.

Lippman: You know, we all have children. We’re working. We’re struggling with things like, ‘When do I get home because my kid’s in an All Star game?’ and ‘I need to take a week off to take my kid back East to go look at colleges.’ So I think there is a lack of judgment on our part about Virginia as a working mother and an appreciation for how hard it must have been, in the late 50s, to balance one’s professional ambitions with having a family.

When I spoke with Lizzy Caplan [who plays Virginia Johnson], she made the point that your portrayal of female friendships is really quite nuanced. Can you speak to that a bit?

Ashford: I think sometimes female friendships tend to be portrayed as either ‘We’re best friends and tell each other everything’ or ‘I did like you but now we want the same man, so I hate you.’ But the truth of female friendships is they are often as complicated as romantic relationships, sibling relationships, mother/daughter relationships — there’s competition between women, and envy, women can be both very judgmental and incredibly selfless in the love and support they offer one another. There are a million emotions under the sun that play out in female friendships, and I think we’re just committed to making the women (and their friendships) that we portray on our show as very specific.

Jessica Bennett is a contributing columnist at TIME.com covering the intersection of gender, sexuality, business and pop culture. A former Newsweek senior writer and executive editor of Tumblr, she is also a contributing editor for Sheryl Sandberg’s women’s foundation, Lean In. You can follow her @jess7bennett.

TIME sexuality

Dear White Gays: Stop Stealing Black Female Culture

You are not a black woman, and you do not get to claim either blackness or womanhood. There is a clear line between appreciation and appropriation

I need some of you to cut it the hell out. Maybe, for some of you, it’s a presumed mutual appreciation for Beyoncé and weaves that has you thinking that I’m going to be amused by you approaching me in your best “Shanequa from around the way” voice. I don’t know. What I do know is that I don’t care how well you can quote Madea, who told you that your booty was getting bigger than hers, how cute you think it is to call yourself a strong black woman, who taught you to twerk, how funny you think it is to call yourself Quita or Keisha or for which black male you’ve been bottoming — you are not a black woman, and you do not get to claim either blackness or womanhood. It is not yours. It is not for you.

Let me explain.

Black people can’t have anything. Any of these things include, but aren’t limited to: a general sense of physical safety, comfort with law enforcement, adequate funding and appreciation for black spaces like schools and neighborhoods, appropriate venues for our voices to be heard about criticism of issues without our race going on trial because of it, and solid voting rights (cc: Chris McDaniel).

And then, when you thought this pillaging couldn’t get any worse, extracurricular black activities get snatched up, too: our music, our dances, our slang, our clothing, our hairstyles. All of these things are rounded up, whitewashed and repackaged for your consumption. But here’s the shade — the non-black people who get to enjoy all of the fun things about blackness will never have to experience the ugliness of the black experience, systemic racism and the dangers of simply living while black. Though I suppose there’s some thrill in this “rolling with the homies” philosophy some adopt, white people are not racially oppressed in the United States of America.

White people are not racially oppressed in the United States of America.

White people are not racially oppressed in the United States of America.

Nothing about whiteness will get a white person in trouble the way blackness can get a black person shot down in his tracks. These are just facts. It’s not entirely the fault of white people. It’s not as if you can help being born white in America, any more than I can help being born black in America.

The truth is that America is a country that operates on systems of racism in which we all participate, whether consciously or unconsciously, to our benefit or to our detriment, and that system allows white people to succeed. This system also creates barriers so that minorities, such as black people, have a much harder time being able to do things like vote and get houses and not have to deal with racists and stuff. You know. Casual.

But while you’re gasping at the heat and the steam of the strong truth tea I just spilled,what’s even worse about all of this, if you thought things could get even crappier, is the fact that all of this is exponentially worse for black women. A culture of racism is bad enough, but pairing it with patriarchal structures that intend to undermine women’s advancement is like double-fisting bleach and acid rain.

At the end of the day, if you are a white male, gay or not, you retain so much privilege. What is extremely unfairly denied you because of your sexuality could float back to you, if no one knew that you preferred the romantic and sexual company of men over women. (You know what I’m talking about. Those “anonymous” torsos on Grindr, Jack’d and Adam4Adam, show very familiar heterosexual faces to the public.) The difference is that the black women with whom you think you align so well, whose language you use and stereotypical mannerisms you adopt, cannot hide their blackness and womanhood to protect themselves the way that you can hide your homosexuality. We have no place to hide, or means to do it even if we desired them.

In all of the ways that your gender and race give you so much, in those exact same ways, our gender and race work against our prosperity. To claim that you’re a minority woman just for the sake of laughs, and to say that the things allowed her or the things enjoyed by her are done better by you isn’t cute or funny. First of all, it’s aggravating as hell. Second, it’s damaging and perpetuating of yet another set of aggressions against us.

All of this being said, you should not have to stop liking the things you like. This is not an attempt to try to suck the fun out of your life. Appreciating a culture and appropriating one are very, very different things, with a much thicker line than some people think, if you use all of the three seconds it takes to be considerate before you open your mouth. If you love some of the same things that some black women love, by all means, you and your black girlfriends go ahead and rock the hell out. Regardless of what our privileges and lack of privileges are, regardless of the laws and rhetoric that have attempted to divide us, we are equal, even though we aren’t the same, and that is okay. Claiming our identity for what’s sweet without ever having to taste its sour is not. Breathing fire behind ugly stereotypes that reduce black females to loud caricatures for you to emulate isn’t, either.

So, you aren’t a strong black woman, or a ghetto girl, or any of that other foolery that some of you with trash Vine accounts try to be. It’s okay. You don’t have to be. No one asked you to be. You weren’t ever meant to be. What you can be, however, is part of the solution.

Check your privilege. Try to strengthen the people around you.

Sierra Mannie is a rising senior majoring in Classics and English at the University of Mississippi. She is a regular contributor to the Opinion section of the school’s student newspaper, The Daily Mississippian, where this article originally appeared.

TIME Education

Colleges Are Breaking the Law on Sex Crimes, Report Says

Demonstrators protest sexual assault on college campuses at the #YesAllWomen rally in solidarity with those affected by violence in Seattle on May 30, 2014.
Demonstrators protest sexual assault on college campuses at the #YesAllWomen rally in solidarity with those affected by violence in Seattle on May 30, 2014. Alex Garland—Demotix/Corbis

New survey amid push for congressional action

Many American colleges and universities are bucking federal law in their handling of campus sexual assaults, according to a survey released Wednesday by a top lawmaker on the issue.

Senator Claire McCaskill, a Missouri Democrat, said the results reveal a broad failure by many schools but also offer possible solutions as she and a bipartisan group of lawmakers draft legislation to address the problem. They’re likely to produce a bill around the time students head back to campus this fall.

The survey results come as pressure grows on higher-education institutions to improve their handling of sexual assault from the White House, Department of Education and student advocates. Schools are legally required to address sex crimes and sex harassment under Title IX, a law that prohibits schools that receive public funding from discriminating on the basis of sex. In May, the Department of Education began publicly listing the schools under investigation for violations of Title IX, and the number recently reached 64. The scrutiny has colleges scrambling to improve their policies and procedures.

Colleges and universities are not following even the most basic rules already required of them, according to the survey. Results from the 236 schools that responded to the survey revealed that even though colleges are legally required to have a Title IX coordinator (a staff member responsible for managing the school’s compliance with the laws on sexual harassment and sex crimes), 10% of schools did not. And 41% of schools surveyed had not conducted a single sexual-assault investigation in the past five years.

“That means that they are saying there have been zero incidents of sexual assault on their campuses,” McCaskill said in a call with reporters. “That is hard to believe.”

Schools are required by law to investigate when they know or reasonably should have known about a sex crime on their campus. But more than 21% of “the nation’s largest private institutions” surveyed conducted fewer investigations than they reported to the Department of Education, with some schools reporting as many as seven times the number of incidents of sexual violence than they investigated, which “on its face is violating the black-letter law in this country,” McCaskill said.

Other results revealed a lack of professionalism inherent in the process of handling sex crimes at many of the institutions. Even though most schools, 73%, had no protocol for how to work with the local police, many schools nonetheless had not adequately trained personnel on how to deal with these serious crimes internally. Twenty-one percent of the schools provided no training on sexual-assault response for members of faculty and staff, and 31% provided no training to students. A third of schools failed to provide basic training to the people adjudicating claims, 43% of the nation’s “largest public schools” let students help adjudicate cases, and 22% of institutions gave athletic departments oversight of cases involving athletes — a stat McCaskill called “borderline outrageous.”

The lack of police involvement combined with the institutions’ broad-based failure to handle these crimes adequately, means there is little deterrent for perpetrators on campus.

“We will ultimately have a system that is more of a deterrent than we have now,” McCaskill said. “The folks preying on college students — they have little to no fear of serious consequences.”

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