TIME faith

Elizabeth Wurtzel: The Pope Is Right—Kids Are the Point of Life

Pope Francis Child
Pope Francis blesses a child upon his arrival to lead a mass at Amman International Stadium in Amman, Jordan, May 24, 2014. Amel Pain—EPA

Whether you're Catholic—or religious at all—doesn't matter. As a human being, it's your scientific duty and destiny to procreate.

As a Jew, I am not much concerned with the Pope. It seems to me that he has a difficult job as the head of a corrupt organization run by men who do not have sex and claim to know God personally. But Pope Francis has charm galore. It is quite something. He wants everybody, including people he does not like, to like him, and he has kind words for gay people and murderers—not that they are comparable.

So it is surprising when the Pope comes out with statements suggesting that Catholics ought to, for Christ’s sake, be Catholic: reprimands are so unlike the Francis we have come to know. They’re somehow too Pope-ish. Just the other day Pope Francis said that people who think having a cat or two and a dog is as good as having kids are missing out. All the benefits of child-free life—the vacations and villas, the barefoot dancing, the sex on the kitchen floor—all that will come to naught. “Have you seen it?” Pope Francis asked. “Then, in the end this marriage comes to old age in solitude, with the bitterness of loneliness.”

As it happens, I’m with Francis.

When I see married people who don’t have kids, I wonder what’s wrong. Really. Because something is. Of course it is. I mean, if you aren’t going to have children, why bother with the rest? Why bother with the $30,000 bash and the white crinoline dress? And you can say that about everything. What do you think we are doing here, biding our time on this planet with our misspent years, justifying our days with our ridiculous schemes of leisure? Is anyone’s life so meaningful? Really? Really, really, really? Is yours?

The existential nightmare of the everyday is way more than even those of us with enormous egos who love what we do can possibly cope with. We are on this earth to keep on keeping on. We are here to reproduce. We are here to leave something behind that is more meaningful than a tech startup or a masterpiece of literature. Everybody knows this. The biggest idiot in the world who thinks he knows better—even he deep down knows this.

And I say this not as religious person but as someone who believes in science. I took human behavioral biology with the amazing Irv Devore my freshman year of college, and early on he taught us that human beings serve our genes—we are here only as temporary vessels to pass along their permanence. This made immediate sense to me because it explains everything: the desire to reproduce is so extreme, so innate, that even people who cannot (and some who really should not) have children at all cannot be stopped from doing so. Look at the abracadabra we do to create fertility when it fails. It seems crazy only if you don’t accept that it is a biological imperative in the absolute. Or as University of Washington psychologist and zoologist David P. Barash writes in the journal BioScience, “Living things are survival vehicles for their potentially immortal genes. Biologically speaking, this is what they are, and it is all they are.” He adds, “For most biologists, the promulgation of genes is neither good nor bad. It just is.”

I am 46 and I don’t have children, which is a bit of a problem, because I believe everything I am saying. I also was not married, but I recently got engaged, so I will be soon—and I hope to have a child. If I don’t, I will figure that out. I am very good at figuring things out. And science is even better at it. (Maybe the Pope should reconsider the Catholic Church’s stance on IVF, though.)

And I am not saying I want to have a kid because of something I learned in a college course when I was 18 years old. I am saying that we are all stuck with our humanity, and it is lovely. I don’t feel some awesome urge to have children and I don’t look at babies longingly at all, but I know if I missed out on that part of life, I would be missing a huge part of what makes us alive. It is just silly to argue otherwise, and I have lived it—happily—so I don’t need to hear it.

This is one of the many instances when science and religion dovetail in a conclusion about human behavior for different reasons. Surely the two reinforce each other so often because the urge to be spiritual and to love is also part of our cells and our chemistry. And when both agree, I don’t argue.

Elizabeth Wurtzel is the author of Prozac Nation, Bitch and More, Now, Again. She is a lawyer who works for David Boies in New York City. She lives with her dog, her cat and her fiancé.

TIME feminism

Iranian State Television Faked My Rape

A Trip Through The Heart Of Central Iran 25 Years After Khomeini's Death
Women, dressed in traditional Islamic hijab, walk past the former home of the late Ayatollah Khomeini on June 3, 2014 in Qom, Iran. John Moore—Getty Images

After starting a Facebook page where women could post pictures of themselves without their hijab, the state launched a violent smear campaign against me.

Last weekend, I was raped by three men in London. Under the influence of mind-altering drugs, I had removed items of clothing, and the men raped me in front of my son.

That is what the Iran state TV reported in a short news segment about me.

Iranian television, which is controlled by the hardliners, uses George Orwell’s 1984 as an operating manual. Fact and fiction are blended to create a parallel universe at odds with reality as you and I know it.

For the record, I was never assaulted or raped or took any mind-altering drugs.

Why the smear campaign against me? I started a Facebook page, called My Stealthy Freedom, where I asked women about their desires to be without the veil. I was bombarded with selfies of women without their scarves.

The page, which has racked up nearly 500,000 “likes” in five weeks, has sparked a debate on the country’s 35-year-old law that forces women to wear head-covering and other forms of hijab.

Faced with a tsunami of social media protest from women who object to the forced Islamic hijab rules, the authorities in Iran decided to smear the messenger.

As an Iranian journalist, I’m used to hate mail and accusations of being on the payroll of Israel’s Mossad or the Queen of England whenever I’m critical of my homeland’s shortcomings. But I never expected to be the center of a news story.

All freedoms in Iran are under cover—or, as we say, “yavashaki,” or in a stealthy manner. Social media such as Facebook and Twitter are banned, but government officials like Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif are prolific users, and President Hassan Rouhani also has a social media presence.

The response from Iranian women to the My Stealthy Freedom campaign has been phenomenal. Iranian women voted with their selfies. And on the Internet, these pictures are just a click away. One shows a smiling woman who has thrown her black scarf into the air as she stands on an Iranian street. “What I want is freedom of choice, not a meter of cloth! I’ll remove this piece of cloth! Look! I am still a human!” she wrote.

In another picture, a young woman with sunglasses is seen sitting on a bench overlooking what appears to be Tehran. “Freedom means having the right to choose.”

My own favorite is the picture of a woman in hijab holding a sign that reads, “I support and wear hijab but I am against compulsory hijab.”

This is scary for the Islamic Republic. After all, for 35 years, the hardliners have portrayed Iran as a 100% Islamic nation where there is always a crowd ready to chant “Death to America” and “Death to Israel,” and where women are covered up in black chadors, a loose cloth that covers them from head to toe. Deciding what you can wear is a form of freedom of speech. And that is a luxury not available in Iran. But the stealthy women wanted to show a different face of Iran that is often ignored by the state-controlled media and the visiting Western media.

At first, several news organizations, such as Fars News Agency, associated with the Revolutionary Guards, dismissed the campaign. Then, two Friday prayer leaders condemned the insidious attempts via the Internet to persuade women to disregard the hijab.

One commentator at Tasnim News Agency suggested that men had a right to rape women without hijab because they were asking for it, and men could not be responsible for giving in to their urges.

Just last week, former presidential candidate Haddad Adel, who is also an adviser to the Supreme Leader, said the government was losing control of the hijab issue.

It was then that the hysterical anxiety of the hardliners came out, first with the fake rape story, followed by a popular TV presenter comparing me to a “whore.”

“Masih Alinejad is a whore, and not a heretic as some people claim her to be,” wrote Vahid Yaminpour, an influential conservative Iranian commentator and TV personality, on his Facebook page. “We shouldn’t elevate her to the level of a heretic. She’s just trying to compensate her psychological (and probably financial) needs by recruiting young women and sharing her notoriety with younger women who are still not prostitutes.”

My attackers have no idea as to the horrors of rape and how it’s not a joking matter for women. I’m shocked the TV program didn’t even spare my son.

The authorities’ reaction to My Stealthy Freedom has to be seen in a bigger context: whenever Iranians are given the choice, they opt to move forward and not back to the so-called golden age of Islam in the 7th Century. For too long the hardliners have kept our hair under the proverbial lock and key and fed our minds with fake and biased news about the outside world.

Iranians want to have the right to choose what they wear, what music they listen to and not be lashed for having a relationship with a member of the opposite sex. When Iran qualified for the World Cup last June, there was a massive spontaneous street party across the country, where men and women mingled freely, with the police standing by helplessly.

But then last month, six young Iranians who posted a video of themselves dancing to the Pharrell Williams’ hit song “Happy” were arrested.

I’ve thought long and hard about how to respond. As a matter of principle, I’m going to sue for damages and file a formal complaint against the state television.

But my real revenge is to use what the hardliners are most petrified of: a video of myself singing in a London subway station, without a veil.

Masih Alinejad is an Iranian journalist living in London. She has her own segment on Voice of America’s OnTen program.

TIME Media

There Are Now More Female Fortune 500 CEOs Than Ever

Mary Barra
Mary Barra, CEO of General Motors watches the introduction of new Chevrolet cars at the New York International Auto Show, in New York City, April 15, 2014. Mark Lennihan—AP

But women only make up 4.8% of the list

There are now 24 female CEOs on the Fortune 500 list, the most in the history of the annual ranking.

The most prominent addition to the list is Mary Barra, who became the first female executive of a major automotive company when she was appointed CEO of General Motors earlier this year. Marissa Meyer, chief executive of Yahoo, did not make the cut — the tech company is not part of the Fortune 500 for the first time in nine years.

Unfortunately, even though there are more women than ever heading up large companies, they still only make up 4.8% of the list. Here’s all the women who made the cut:

1. Mary Barra – General Motors

2. Margaret Whitman – Hewlett-Packard

3. Virginia Rometty – International Business Machines

4. Patricia Woertz – Archer Daniels Midland

5. Indra Nooyi – Pepsi Co

6. Marillyn Hewson – Lockheed Martin

7. Ellen Kullman – DuPont

8. Irene Rosenfeld – Mondelez International

9. Phebe Novakovic – General Dynamics

10. Carol Meyrowitz – TJX

11 Lynn Good – Duke Energy

12. Ursula Burns – Xerox

13. Deanna Mulligan – Guardian Line Ins. Co. of America

14. Kimberly Bowers – CST Brands

15. Debra Reed – Sempra Energy

16. Barbara Rentler – Ross Stores

17. Sherylin McCoy – Avon Products

18. Denise Morrison – Campbell Soup

19. Susan Cameron – Reynolds American

20. Heather Bresch – Mylan

21. Ilene Gordon – Ingredion

22. Jacqueline Himan – CH2M Hill

23. Kathleen Mazzarella – Graybar Electric

24. Gracia Martore – Gannett




TIME Culture

How Hollywood Can Get More Women to See Movies

The Queen of Mean gets to tell her side in Disney's Maleficent Walt Disney Pictures

Want your summer movie to have a big opening weekend? Adding a female protagonist will help

Traditionally summer blockbusters are created for, marketed to and star men. And most major movies this summer fit that mold, including Godzilla, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 and X-Men: Days of Future Past.

But Maleficent, a film starring a woman — and an evil woman at that — cast a spell on audiences with a $70 million opening weekend, hitting the high end of its prerelease expectations. Why is the Disney film doing so well? The answer is women: 60% of the movie’s over-25 audience was female. Which means the other 51% of the population does matter when it comes to creating a box-office hit.

Earlier this year, an analysis by Vocativ found that movies with strong female roles make more money. This means movies that pass the Bechdel test — a simple evaluation that questions whether two women spoke to each other in the movie about something other than a man — score higher numbers at the domestic box office. And yet, 2013 was a dismal year for women in film: of the top 100 grossing films in 2013, women made up only 15% of the protagonists, 29% of the major characters and only 30% of all speaking characters, according to the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University.

That trend seems to slowly be changing. The Heat, Frozen and The Hunger Games were some of the industry’s biggest hits last year. This summer things look even better: Angelina Jolie, Emily Blunt, Shailene Woodley, Jennifer Lawrence, Cameron Diaz and Rose Byrne are all featured on the silver screen — along with a brood of male superheroes and a giant green lizard (who we’ll call genderless). Studios are finally catching on.

Unsurprisingly, movies with the most robust roles for women drew the highest percentage of females: The Other Woman’s audience was 75% female; Maleficent’s 60%; and Neighbors’ 53%. The first film stars three actresses (though their dialogue may be problematic), the second centers on superstar Angelina Jolie, and the third film actually lets Rose Byrne deliver almost as many jokes as co-stars Zac Efron and Seth Rogen.


(A word on the sneaky feminism of Neighbors: as he promotes the movie, screenwriter and star Seth Rogen has spoken about consciously subverting Hollywood’s gender stereotypes. “That actually became the most exciting idea of the movie to us,” Rogen told Studio360. “That we could portray a couple where the wife is just as fun-loving and irresponsible as the guy, and they get along really well. In a comedy that’s almost nonexistent.” Neighbors features a fantastic scene in which married couple Rogen and Byrne debate who gets to be the irresponsible one in the relationship. He says she has to be because she’s the woman and the woman is always the wet towel. She says that’s not fair and refuses to act as his babysitter. Keep writing dialogue like this, Rogen!)

Meanwhile, movies with less interesting parts for women didn’t pull as many ladies into theaters. X-Men: Days of Future Past counts Jennifer Lawrence, Halle Berry and Ellen Page among its stars, but Berry is given little to do except look worried and Page — whose character goes back in time in the comic books — spends the whole movie massaging Wolverine’s head while he takes her place as all-important time traveler. Lawrence gets plenty of screen time, but her character is a clear bid for young men’s tickets sales — the Oscar winner is covered in blue body paint for most of the film. So only 44% of X-Men‘s audience was female.

Godzilla and The Amazing Spider-Man 2, both of which offer pretty female flimsy roles, clock in at 42% female and 39% female, respectively. These movies still did well at the box office, but would more women have seen X-Men if Kitty Pride (Page) was the character going back in time? My guess is yes.

The theory will continue to be tested this week when two more movies with strong female protagonists — The Fault in Our Stars, starring Woodley, and Edge of Tomorrow, co-starring Blunt along with Tom Cruise — open in theaters.

The takeaway? Getting a lot of women to see your movie is not essential to its success. Superhero and monster movies will continue to draw big crowds: Spider-Man, X-Men and Godzilla all had at least $90 million opening weekends. But courting more women certainly doesn’t hurt. After all, females make up 51% of the population.

TIME beauty

Scout Willis: Topless Instagram Photos Are a Feminist Issue

Nylon + BCBGeneration May Young Hollywood Party - Arrivals
Scout Willis attends the Nylon Magazine May young Hollywood issue party at Tropicana Bar at The Hollywood Rooselvelt Hotel on May 8, 2014 in Hollywood, California. Tibrina Hobson—Getty Images

The famous daughter explains why she walked the streets of New York semi-nude last week to protest Instagram's discrimination against women's nipples

More than a few people noticed when Scout Willis walked around New York topless last week. But the 22-year-old daughter of Demi Moore and Bruce Willis says she wasn’t just trying to get attention — her public display was in protest of Instagram’s Terms of Use, which forbids users from posting nude or partially nude images. Willis took to XOJane on Monday to defend her shirtlessness, saying that women should be allowed to show their nipples on social media as a matter of female empowerment and gender equality.

The drama began two weeks ago when Willis said her Instagram account was deactivated because she posted a photo of herself in a sheer shirt and another photo of a sweatshirt featuring a picture of two friends topless. (You can’t see her faces in the photo.) She made a new account, but Instagram quickly took issue with one of her photos. She tweeted Instagram‘s fairly long response to her in which the company noted that while they “love that people use Instagram to express themselves artistically,” they must remain conscious of their global audience’s sensitivities when it comes to nudity.

So last Tuesday she took to the streets of New York — where female toplessness is legal — as a demonstration, tweeting photos of herself as she went: “Legal in NYC but not on @instagram” and “What @instagram won’t let you see #FreeTheNipple” she tweeted. Willis has continued since to post photos in which her nipples are visible to her Twitter account.

Willis is far from the first woman to be booted from social media for showing areola: the Facebook-owned site has previously asked mothers to take down pictures of them nursing their children and breast cancer survivors to take down their post-surgery photos, according to People. And earlier this year, Rihanna deleted her notoriously racy Instagram after the app mistakenly flagged the account.

Instagram’s policy, Willis argues, discriminates against women and reinforces sexist societal norms. She wrote in XOJane:

In the 1930s, men’s nipples were just as provocative, shameful and taboo as women’s are now, and men were protesting in much the same way. In 1930, four men went topless to Coney Island and were arrested. In 1935, a flash mob of topless men descended upon Atlantic City, 42 of whom were arrested. Men fought and they were heard, changing not only laws but social consciousness. And by 1936, men’s bare chests were accepted as the norm.

So why is it that 80 years later women can’t seem to achieve the same for their chests? Why can’t a mother proudly breastfeed her child in public without feeling sexualized? why is a 17-year-old girl being asked to leave her own prom because a group of fathers find her too provocative?…I am not trying to argue for mandatory toplessness, or even bralessness. What I am arguing for is a woman’s right to choose how she represents her body —and to make that choice based on personal desire and not a fear of how people will react to her or how society will judge her. No woman should be made to feel ashamed of her body.

Willis equates the nipple issue with body shaming and slut shaming in another part of the essay.


TIME feminism

#NotAllMen Don’t Get It

We shouldn’t have to teach women how not to get raped, we should teach men how not to rape.

Look men, we have a problem. Obviously we have a problem because some other men out there are doing horrible things to women. But we aren’t those men, so it’s not our problem. Our problem is that we think it’s not our problem.

After the shooting at UCSB, a group of men took it upon themselves to “mansplain” on Twitter that #NotAllMen wake up and kill six people. Which is kind of obvious because if all men did that, we would very quickly run out of people. But instead of reacting with the appropriate shock and horror at Elliot Rodger’s anti-woman anger, this group of #NotAllMen felt the need to defend themselves.

Some men—this group wanted to make clear—treat women well, and women should always caveat their cultural critiques with an acknowledgement of this better group of men. In other words, “It’s not me that’s the problem, it’s other men!”

In response to this misdirected “manly” outrage, some people began posting under the counter #YesAllWomen hashtag—more than a million tweets in just a few days. The vast majority of these tweets aren’t about putting down the so-called good men, or making blanket critiques of all American men.

Rather, these tweets critique a society where anti-women rage is all too common, and where not all men comprehend the depth of the problem. The #YesAllWomen campaign indicts all of us for our failure to take seriously the responsibility to create a world where all men are #NotAllMen. And in that task we have failed.

We shouldn’t have to teach women how not to get raped, we should teach men how not to rape.

Part of what’s so offensive about the #NotAllMen hashtag is that these guys are patting themselves on the back for not committing sexual assault. Clearly, #NotAllMen don’t get the problem.

We have a culture where men will steal car keys from other men to keep them from driving drunk, but who—as in the Steubenville case—will walk in on an unconscious girl being sexually violated, and then just keep on walking. Bros shouldn’t let bros drive drunk. Bros also shouldn’t let bros rape. It’s not cock-blocking, it’s assault-blocking.

Until the culture that permits sexual assault to occur in such massive numbers changes, it’s simply not enough to just be #NotAllMen. You don’t have to be part of the problem to not be part of the solution.

If you want to know why women carry their keys in their hands like a weapon, or why they lie to you in a bar about their non-existent boyfriend, it’s because—as Phil Plait points out in his post on Slate—a woman can’t know which group you fall into. If she treats you like you’re a nice guy and you turn out not to be, she gets objectified, harassed, and possibly raped.

It shouldn’t be a woman’s responsibility to figure out which group of men you fall into. It’s not a woman’s responsibility to take Krav Maga, or always wear sweatpants, or put up with your lame pick-up lines and childish response to her lack of interest. It’s men’s responsibility to make sure there’s only one group of men—the kind that doesn’t sexually assault women. This isn’t a women’s issue, it’s a men’s issue.

This affects us, even if we’re the so-called good guys. It’s not enough just to treat women well. We have to work to make sure all men treat women well. It’s also not enough to just not rape them. We need to be aware of and work to change a culture that results in hundreds of thousands of women who are raped every year. When “…good men do nothing,” and all that.

Unless you want to make the argument, and I really don’t think you do, that men are just going to rape no matter what—boys will be boys!—then we have a problem in our society that we can and must do something about. As men who aren’t part of the problem, it’s our problem to solve.

No, #NotAllMen treat women badly, but #YesAllMen have a responsibility to create a culture where #YesAllWomen feel as safe walking down the street as we do.

Jeff Bridges works at the intersection of progressive faith and politics as head of public affairs for Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York. He holds a Master of Divinity from Harvard University and spent ten years in Democratic politics as a communications director, commentator, head of a Super PAC, and legislative aide in the US Senate. He tweets at @jeffbridges.

TIME feminism

We Can Finally Talk About Sexism in Tech–So Let’s Be Honest

TechCrunch Disrupt SF 2013 - Day 1
Evan Spiegel of Snapchat attends TechCruch Disrupt SF 2013 at San Francisco Design Center on September 9, 2013 in San Francisco, California. Steve Jennings—2013 Getty Images

A Snapchat CEO's emails reveal how Silicon Valley’s fascination with self-obsessed youth has led us down a treacherous path that is unsafe for women and people of color

A few months ago, a series of incidents occurred that sparked a conversation among a few of my friends and resulted in this manifesto from us about women in technology. The timing of our publication could not be more unfortunate: Rap Genius co-founder Mahbod Moghadam published thoughtless comments on Elliot Rodger’s misogynist manifesto, then Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel’s demeaning emails from five years ago were revealed. What does this mean for women? Should we all decamp to greener pastures?

I don’t think so. If anything, it finally seems to me as if there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. For the longest time, discrimination—racial or otherwise—was something we didn’t acknowledge at all. Everyone pretended there was nothing to see or change. I entered the tech industry assuming that was the case. I went along with jokes about the capabilities of a woman because that was how it had always been. I assumed I was not smart enough to be a good programmer because I thought good programmers were always men.

Today we can call bullsh-t on such opinions when they’re expressed. Spiegel’s emails reveal what many have always thought of Silicon Valley culture: a frat party that aspires to bring about utopia. Prominent venture capitalists have gone on the record to endorse similar behavior. The emails also reflect a larger issue of how companies are run by a nondiverse set of people. Why do we have so few executives who are women, and even fewer who are African American?

Fortunately, we have powerful publications and women shining a bright light onto this murky world. The magazine Model View Culture has been doing a stellar job of highlighting discrimination of all forms that exist in technology. Shanley Kane, Ashe Dryden, Nitasha Tiku, Kara Swisher and Alexia Tsotsis have been consistently highlighting people who perpetuate discriminatory culture. We also have large companies admitting that they need to do better. Google has been admirable in revealing the demographics of their workplace. The data show there is a lot of work to be done. African Americans form about 2% of Google’s workforce, women about 30%. But acknowledging the lack of diversity is the first step in addressing the overwhelming biases that exist in the industry.

The problem of getting more people of color and women to apply for tech positions is being tackled by several organizations. Black Girls Code, Girls Who Code, Girl Develop It, Trans*h4ck and Hack the Hood are enabling people from all walks of life to learn programming and apply for positions in technology. We need to empower these organizations to continue to broaden their reach.

Being transparent about the demographics also means we can now have honest and open conversations about team culture in technology. When teams are populated by mostly men who more or less have had similar upbringings, how can women or people of color expect to fit in? Why are 54% of women leaving technology after 10 years of working in it? We need to have an honest conversation about how managers can impact and alter the demographics of a company through how they hire people into their teams.

Ultimately, Spiegel’s emails reveal more about the tech culture that embraces such behavior. These emails are not revelations from a silly incident 20 years ago but rather happened a mere five years ago, when Snapchat was being created. It reveals how Silicon Valley’s fascination with self-obsessed youth has led us down a treacherous path that is unsafe for women and people of color. There’s an urgent need to provide safe spaces for women and people of color online. On the whole, I’m witnessing consistent conversation about discrimination and diversity. My hope is that these conversations lead to significant changes in team culture, demographics and how VCs choose to fund startups.

Divya Manian has worked for more than 10 years in the tech industry, has contributed to several open source projects and frequently speaks about open web standards and web development.

TIME feminism

India’s Rapes Too Often Excused as ‘Boys Will Be Boys’

JNUSU Protest Against Badaun Dalit Girls Rape And Murder Case
Jawaharlal Nehru University Students Union activists shouting slogans in front of Uttar Pradesh Bhawan against the gruesome gang-rape and hanging of two Dalit girls in Badaun, demanding immediate arrest of all the culprits on May 30, 2014 in New Delhi, India. Hindustan Times—Hindustan Times via Getty Images

Let’s stop saying that half the human race is inherently aggressive, predatory and incapable of transformation.

Yet again global outrage and attention are focused on India. In the most recent rape-murder in Uttar Pradesh, a story of “boys will be boys” unfolded in a chilling and familiar pattern. Two teenage girls belonging to the Dalit caste went out to the fields because there are not enough toilet facilities for women in India. They never returned.

The shocked reaction to their rape and murder was ignited in part by the devastating image of these two young girls left hanging from a tree. This image–with the local villagers holding vigil beneath them–hit me in the solar plexus despite my three decades of working to end violence against women. It’s all so hauntingly familiar–and yet the rage at the inhumanity of men and the pain at the loss of yet more female lives remain visceral. But the rage and pain are not, and should not be, focused only on the most spectacular rape-murders or misogynist massacres. (For one thing, according to India’s National Crime Records Bureau, three to five rapes of women and girls, mostly Dalit, occur daily in Uttar Pradesh alone.) We need to pay attention to–and do something about–what happens in between, and what lies beneath.

And what is that? In the context of past rapes, Mulayam Singh Yadav, head of Uttar Pradesh’s governing party, the Samajwadi Party, has said, “Boys will be boys. They make mistakes.” His statement, made in opposition to the new law calling for the death penalty for gang rapes, highlights the underlying social norms that contribute to most forms of violence against women and girls, in India and around the world.

Boys are typically rapists and murderers? Rapes and murders are “mistakes”? “Boys will be boys” is an egregious excuse and a profound insult to women and girls, and to men and boys.

It also enables the violence to continue. With global attention focused sharply on India since the “Nirbhaya” gang rape of 2012, we’ve begun to view Indian men as predators and rapists. It’s an unacceptable stereotype, but to what degree do we perpetuate it ourselves, and in the process excuse or incubate violence? Far too often, the “boys will be boys” view indulges and dismisses behavior—including daily micro-violence such as catcalling—that is totally out of bounds. Layer that with all the additional gender, class and caste privilege, and what do we have? The world’s largest–and most socially tolerated–human rights pandemic: violence and discrimination against women and girls. Not just in India. Everywhere.

What do we do? First, this is an opportunity for the Indian government to step up. India has a new prime minister with an absolute majority in the government. He and his new cabinet have the opportunity to show their commitment to women’s security and rights. Union Cabinet Minister for Women and Child Development Maneka Gandhi on Friday said that a “rape crisis cell” would be created for speedy action on such incidents.

This is a step in the right direction. But that’s about improved response after the violence has already maimed, hurt or killed. Let’s talk about prevention and how we stop the abuse. We need to ask: “Boys will be boys”–at what cost? Boys are not robotic rapists, any more than girls are ornaments and objects for their aggressions. Let’s stop saying that half the human race is inherently aggressive, predatory and incapable of transformation. As long as we presume those to be normal, immutable, uncontrollable male traits, we won’t recognize more in–or demand more from–boys and men. Indeed, this bleakly low standard harms everyone. So next time you find yourself thinking or saying “boys will be boys,” catch yourself. Our lives depend on it.

Mallika Dutt is president and CEO of Breakthrough, a global human rights organization based in India and the U.S. that works to make violence and discrimination against women and girls unacceptable.

TIME movies

The Same Woman Wrote Maleficent and Beauty and the Beast—Here’s How They’re Linked

Angelina Jolie as Maleficent, left, in a scene with her daughter Vivienne Jolie-Pitt, portraying Young Aurora, in a scene from "Maleficent." Frank Connor / Disney / AP Photo

The woman behind Beauty and the Beast and Maleficent sees them as part of the same history

Linda Woolverton knows her Disney princesses. After all, the veteran screenwriter worked on Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King, Mulan, the 2010 Alice in Wonderland and the Sleeping Beauty reimagination Maleficent, which arrives in theaters today.

So she speaks from experience when she says that Maleficent, which stars Angelina Jolie as the titular villain, couldn’t have existed until this point in time — because the world wasn’t necessarily ready for such a strong, complicated female protagonist.

When Woolverton worked on Beauty, she says, it was shortly after the arrival of The Little Mermaid; the Disney princess was well aligned with Ariel’s interests, like combing her hair and giving up her voice for a boy she barely knows. It wasn’t that there was explicit pressure to make Beauty‘s Belle behave like that, but that, Woolverton recalls, those attitudes just went without saying. “It was very difficult to change the point of view of the Disney princess,” she tells TIME. “It was just that the point of view of a Disney heroine is this; it isn’t somebody who does this. That was hard.”

So Belle’s book-smarts and bravery weren’t an accident. “After the women’s movement had been around, I really didn’t feel that we would accept yet another heroine who was insipid,” she says. “That was really how I conjured Belle up. She could still be the Disney princess but there she was thinking and saving her father, not having people save her, and changing the world from within. I was highly conscious of what we were trying to do.”

Woolverton says that she sees all of her characters — Belle, The Lion King‘s Nala, Mulan, Alice — as part of a gradual progression, one that extends into the world beyond her own work, the world of movies like Frozen and The Hunger Games, which have driven recent public conversation about what young girls should be able to expect from their cinematic role models. “Katniss Everdeen couldn’t have come on the scene 20 years ago when Belle came on the scene,” Woolverton says. “It’s an incremental process.”

The goal is to have heroines who are complex and action-driven, who can operate within the framework of classic tales without betraying modern consciousness that women have just as rich an experience of the world as men do. And part of that complexity is that sometimes the character can do bad things or act out of anger, and have to face the consequences of those choices. That’s where Maleficent comes in, as the result of a process that its writer started decades ago.

Maleficent is, for me, another step forward,” Woolverton says. “I feel like it’s succeeding and I feel proud of that.”

TIME feminism

Pharrell Says It’s ‘Not Possible’ For Him to Be a Feminist

Singer Pharrell Williams poses during the opening of the exhibition "GIRL" at the Galerie Perrotin in Paris
Singer Pharrell Williams poses during the opening of the exhibition "GIRL", with Pharrell Williams as its curator, at the Galerie Perrotin in Paris, May 26, 2014. Christian Hartmann—Reuters

The Grammy-winner defends "Blurred Lines"

Grammy winning singer-songwriter Pharrell Williams—who has skyrocketed to superstardom in the past year with the songs “Blurred Lines,” “Get Lucky” and “Happy”—addressed the debate over last year’s controversial “Blurred Lines,” which many feminists have called “kind of rapey.”

The subject came up when Pharrell began speaking about his views on feminism during the interview with the United Kingdom’s Channel 4 News. Pharrell has spoken before about his love for women and his belief in equality between the genders. His most recent album is called GIRL after all. And yet Pharrell apparently does not consider himself a feminsit:

I’ve been asked, am I a feminist? I don’t think it’s possible for me to be that…I’m a man. It makes sense up until a certain point. But what I do is—I do support feminists. I do think there’s injustices. There are inequalities that need to be addressed.

Don’t worry, male feminists—and yes we know you do exist (hello, Joseph Gordon-Levitt)—Pharrell wants to vote for Hillary Clinton in 2016:

I’d love to see a woman run the country. Historically this world has been run by a man, and what would a world be like if 75 percent of our world leaders and prime ministers were female? What would that world be like? We do not know because we haven’t given it a shot. We’re too busy telling them what they can or can’t do with their bodies.

…Like when men tell women, “I know you want it”?

That line from “Blurred Lines,” Pharrell’s smash hit collaboration with Robin Thicke and T.I., is one of several lyrics in the song that have caused many to criticize it as “rapey“, a problem compounded by the accompanying music video which features naked women prancing around fully-clothed male singers.

Pharrell is far from the first celebrity to avoid the term “feminist,” despite supporting women’s equality. Shailene Woodley and Kelly Clarkson have all told TIME they are definitively not feminists. They’re joined by Carrie Underwood and Katy Perry among the celebs who will not use the term. But none of those people have ever written a lyric that reads “I know you want it.”

When Channel 4’s interviewer, Krishnan Guru-Murthy, cross-examined Pharrell on some of the more misogynistic lines in the song, the artist said:

I don’t know where [a man] forcing himself and a woman’s right to say no was ever addressed in that song… Is it sexually suggestive when a car salesman says to a person who’s trying to buy a car, ‘I know you want it?’

Guru-Murthy argued that the song—which talks about how a man wants to have sex with a woman despite the fact that she’s with another man—is not the same context as purchasing a car, to which Pharrell said:

Okay cool. But does that make it off-limits for me to use in a song, especially when the overarching context is that there are good women who also have bad thoughts? If a good woman can have sexual thoughts, is it wrong for a man to have a correct guess that a woman might want something?

Next, Guru-Murthy pressed him on the music video, in which three topless women dance around the fully-clothed male singers. The interviewer suggested that this created a power dynamic in which the women were only there as objects to please the singers:

They were? Did I touch them sexually?…So in a high fashion magazine, when women have their boobs out, is there something sexual there, too?… If you ask the director, who’s a female, she was inspired by editorials by high fashion magazines where women had their boobs out.

Finally, Guru-Murthy asks him about another line in the song, which according to Pharrell was written by T.I.: “I’ll give you something big enough to tear your ass in two.” Does that line make Pharrell uncomfortable?

I’m not disowning the line… Why should I be uncomfortable? I love women. I love them inside and out. That song was meant for a woman to hear and say, ‘You know, I’m a good woman. And sometimes I do have bad thoughts’… Never once did I say in there anything sexual to a woman.

Watch the full interview with Pharrell here:


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