TIME Culture

Jessica Chastain Says These Were the Only 2 Roles for Women When She Got Her Start

InStyle

"The slut or the wife"

Jessica Chastain has tackled complex roles ranging from a CIA operative in Zero Dark Thirty to an astrophysicist in Interstellar. But in InStyle’s January cover story, the actress remembers her early days of acting when, “there were two kinds of roles for women.”

“You are either the girlfriend, incredibly beautiful but not much going on, or the victim, like the weird neighbor,” she said. “It’s like the two ideas of women that are talked about: the slut or the wife. And that’s not so interesting.”

Read more at Instyle

TIME Opinion

Girl Gone Wild: The Rise of the Lone She-Wolf

Wild
Fox Searchlight

A woman on a solitary journey used to be seen as pitiful, vulnerable or scary. Not any more.

The first few seconds of Wild sound like sex. You hear a woman panting and moaning as the camera pans across the forest, and it seems like the movie is starting off with an outdoor quickie. But it’s not the sound of two hikers hooking up: it’s the sound of Cheryl Strayed, played by Reese Witherspoon, climbing a mountain all by herself.

It lasts only a moment, but that first shot contains everything you need to know about why Wild is so important. It’s a story of a woman who hikes the Pacific Crest Trail for 94 days in the wake of her mother’s death, but more than that, it’s a story of a woman who is no longer anything to anybody. We’re so used to seeing women entangled with other people (with parents, with men, with children, in neurotic friendships with other women), that it’s surprising, almost shocking, to see a woman who is gloriously, intentionally, radically alone.

When it comes to women onscreen, the lone frontier is the last frontier. It’s no big deal to see women play presidents, villains, baseball players, psychopaths, superheroes, math geniuses, or emotionally stunted losers. We’ve even had a female Bob Dylan. But a woman, alone, in the wilderness, for an entire movie? Not until now.

Which is unfair, considering all the books and movies dedicated to the often-tedious excursions of solitary men, from Henry David Thoreau to Jack Kerouac to Christopher McCandless. Audiences have sat through hours of solo-dude time in critically acclaimed movies like Castaway, Into the Wild, Life of Pi, 127 Hours, and All is Lost. America loves a Lone Ranger so much, even Superman worked alone.

In fact, the only thing more central to the American canon than a solitary guy hanging out in the woods is a guy on a quest (think Huckleberry Finn or Moby Dick). The road narrative may be the most fundamental American legend, grown from our history of pilgrimage and Western expansion. But adventure stories are almost always no-girls-allowed, partly because the male adventurer is usually fleeing from a smothering domesticity represented by women. In our collective imaginations, women don’t set out on a journey unless they’re fleeing from something, usually violence. As Vanessa Veselka writes in her excellent essay on female road narratives in The American Reader: “A man on the road is caught in the act of a becoming. A woman on the road has something seriously wrong with her. She has not ‘struck out on her own.’ She has been shunned.”

MORE: The Top 10 Best Movies of 2014

The ‘loner in nature’ and the ‘man on the road’ are our American origin stories, our Genesis and Exodus. They’re fables of an American national character which, as A.O. Scott pointed out in his The New York Times essay on the death of adulthood in American culture, has always tended towards the boyish. Wild is the first big movie– or bestselling book, for that matter–to re-tell that central American story with a female protagonist.

But Wild is just the most visible example of what’s been a slow movement towards loner ladies onscreen. Sandra Bullock’s solo spin through space last year in Gravity was the first step (although her aloneness was accidental, and it was more a survival story than road narrative). Mia Wasikowska’s long walk across Australia in Tracks this year was another. But Wild, based on Strayed’s bestselling memoir and propelled by Witherspoon’s star power, is the movie that has the best shot at moving us past the now-tired “power woman” towards a new kind of feminist role model: the lone female.

Because for women, aloneness is the next frontier. Despite our chirpy boosting of “independent women” and “strong female leads,” it’s easy to forget that women can never be independent if we’re not allowed to be alone.

For men, solitude is noble: it implies moral toughness, intellectual rigor, a deep connection with the environment. For women, solitude is dangerous: a lone woman is considered vulnerable to attacks, pitiful for her lack of male companionship, or threatening to another woman’s relationship. We see women in all kinds of states of loneliness–single, socially isolated, abandoned–but almost never in a state of deliberate, total aloneness.

Not to mention the fact that women’s stories are almost always told in the context of their relationships with other people. Even if you set aside romance narratives, the “girl group” has become the mechanism for telling the stories of “independent” women– that is, women’s stories that don’t necessarily revolve around men. Think Sex & The City, Steel Magnolias, A League of Their Own, Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, Girls: if a woman’s not half of a couple, she must be part of a gaggle.

When Cheryl Strayed describes her experience of “radical aloneness,” she’s talking about being completely cut off from human contact–no cell phone, no credit card, no GPS. But her aloneness is also radical in that it rejects the female identity that is always viewed through the lens of a relationship with someone else. To be alone, radically alone, is to root yourself in your own life, not the role you play in other people’s lives. Or, as Strayed’s mother Bobbi wistfully puts it, “I always did what someone else wanted me to do. I’ve always been someone’s daughter or mother or wife. I’ve never just been me.”

MORE: The Top 10 Best Movie Performances of 2014

And that’s the difference between aloneness and independence. The “independent woman” is nothing new– if anything, it’s become a tired catchphrase of a certain kind of rah-rah feminism. “Independence” implies a relationship with another thing, a thing from which you’re severing your ties. It’s inherently conspicuous, even performative. Female independence has become such a trope that it’s become another role for women to play: independent career woman, independent post-breakup vixen, independent spitfire who doesn’t care what anyone thinks. And usually, that “independence” is just a temporary phase before she meets a guy at the end of the movie who conveniently “likes a woman who speaks her mind.”

Aloneness is more fundamental, and more difficult. It involves cultivating a sense of self that has little to do with the motherhood, daughterhood, wifehood or friendship that society calls “womanhood.” When interviewed by the Hobo Times about being a “female hobo,” Strayed says: “Women can’t walk out of their lives. They have families. They have kids to take care of.” Aloneness then, isn’t just a choice to focus on one’s self– it’s also a rejection of all the other social functions women are expected to perform.

In 1995, when Strayed hiked for 94 days, that would have been hard. In 2014, it’s even harder. Thanks to the internet, our world is more social now than ever before, and it’s even harder to escape other people. But aloneness is at the root of real independence, it’s where self-reliance begins and ends. So these days, if you want to be independent, maybe you can start by trying to be alone.

Read next: Reese Witherspoon Isn’t Nice or Wholesome in Wild, and That’s What Makes It Great

TIME

Women Are Now Dyeing Their Armpit Hair

Keeping it natural and neon all at once

Women have only been shaving their armpits for about a century. Before the advent of the sleeveless dress — and an ad in Harper’s Bazaar for depilatory powder that removed “objectionable hair — American women rarely bared their underarms in public, anyway. One hundred years later, if a celebrity is caught on camera with a little fuzz where it’s not expected, it becomes a news story and the subject of disgust, an unseemly act of laziness or a charged political statement.

It’s nothing new for women to decide not to shave, for either personal or political reasons. But a new trend celebrates the hair under there with a little more glamour by livening it up with some color. Credit for the trend goes to Roxie Hunt, a hairstylist at Seattle salon Vain. Hunt celebrates armpit hair as “direct-action feminism.” “By having hairy pits,” she writes, “I am exercising my right to make my own choices about my own body.”

Her pit proclamation made, Hunt set about dying her co-worker’s armpit hair a vibrant shade of aquamarine and detailed the process in a blog post. The hashtags #dyedpits and #ladypithair, though they appeared before Hunt’s manifesto, have seen an uptick in recent months, with the colorful results on full display.

Hunt was so pleased with the results of her first underarm dye job that she hopes to do it again. “Maybe some day we can try a different shade,” she writes.

 

#ASTROTURF⛳️

A photo posted by Whitney Stephens (@thehoneyedcat) on

Blue haired/pitted freak. Roxie is the coolest! To find out how to DIY, check out howtohairgirl.com!

A photo posted by Rain Sissel (@glittrkittn) on

TIME feminism

The Complicated History Behind the Fight for Pregnant Women’s Equality

Lillian Garland [& Family]
Lillian Garland (front), who won a Supreme Court case which supports pregnancy leave, with her daughter in 1986 Alan Levenson—The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images

Two Supreme Court cases have helped define the struggle

On Wednesday, the Supreme Court will hear the case of Peggy Young, a former UPS driver who had to go on unpaid leave — rather than paid leave or adjusted duty — when she got pregnant and a doctor told her to stop lifting heavy packages. Though UPS has since adjusted its leave policy for pregnant workers, the company maintains and a lower court agreed that the Pregnancy Discrimination Act doesn’t make it illegal to give pregnant employees different leave policies than non-pregnant ones. If the act did make such treatment illegal, they say, it would constitute special treatment. Young’s side, on the other hand, argues that making accommodations for pregnant workers is to treat them the same as other workers, not specially.

Unsurprisingly, several women’s rights organizations, like the Women’s Law Project and Legal Momentum, which is associated with the National Organization for Women (NOW), have filed an amicus brief in support of Young.

But, despite all the women’s-rights oomph behind Young’s case, the history of feminism and pregnancy discrimination isn’t so clear cut.

As Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has pointed out, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act was passed in 1978 to specify that discriminating against pregnant people is a kind of sex discrimination (after the Supreme Court case had earlier decided the opposite). It was less than three decades ago — in 1986 — that NOW, as well as the Women’s Rights Project of the American Civil Liberties Union, came out on the side of the employer in a case that sounds very similar to Young v. United Parcel Service. They aren’t exactly parallel, but many of the deep questions raised by the earlier case remain pertinent today. How much should childbearing be connected to a woman’s identity? Does respecting women require making allowances for that undeniable difference? Or would doing so hold women back by linking their legal identities to their function as mothers? How much inequality can be tolerated in the service of big-picture equality?

At issue was a challenge to a 1978 California law that required businesses to offer unpaid maternity leave. Lillian Garland had been a receptionist at a California bank when she took advantage of the state law and went on unpaid leave to have a baby in 1982; when she was ready to return to work, the position had been filled. Without her income, she was soon evicted and lost custody of her daughter, leading her to bring a suit against her former employer.

As TIME reported during the dispute, NOW and the ACLU ended up taking the bank’s side, preferring that employee benefits not be sex or gender-specific. “The question is, Should a woman with a pregnancy disability get her job back when other employees with disabilities get fired? You undermine your argument unless you say everyone is equally entitled to this benefit,” explained the ACLU’s Joan Bertin. In other words, anything that keeps an employee from working should be treated the same, whether or not it’s pregnancy, and no law should apply only to women. Meanwhile, feminist icon Betty Friedan and her allies saw things differently: in her view, the law treated everyone equally because it made clear that anyone, male or female, should be able to make decisions about having a family without the risk of losing his or her job.

“The time has come to acknowledge that women are different from men,’’ Friedan said. ‘’There has to be a concept of equality that takes into account that women are the ones who have the babies.’’

The next year, in 1987, the Supreme Court sided with Friedan, finding that the California law neither discriminated against men nor forced employers to treat women specially, as it did not bar companies from extending unpaid leave benefits to men as well.

TIME Crime

The Problem With Prosecuting Women for False Rape Allegations

The UK is aggressively prosecuting women who make false rape allegations, but victim advocates argue it's unjust

Between headlines about the UVA frats, the Canadian broadcaster Jian Ghomeshi and Bill Cosby, it seems like sexual assault allegations dominate the news. But in Britain there has been a recent spate of headline-grabbing cases where the people ultimately charged aren’t the alleged rapists, but the women who filed the claims in the first place.

Take the case of Eleanor de Freitas, a 23-year-old Londoner with bipolar disorder. De Freitas reported an alleged assault to the police, who were unable to build a sufficient case against her alleged rapist. The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) then pursued de Freitas for perverting the course of justice — a crime which carries a maximum sentence of life in prison. Shortly before her trial was to begin in April, de Freitas killed herself. The UK’s Director of Public Prosecutions is currently investigating the case.

But de Freitas is not alone. Over the past five years, the CPS has prosecuted 109 women for making false rape allegations to authorities, according to the group Women Against Rape (WAR). The majority of those who were prosecuted — a full 98 — were charged with perverting the course of justice like de Freitas. But WAR, a London non-profit, held a public meeting at the House of Commons on Tuesday night, protesting what they believe is the unfair and aggressive prosecution of women.

For their part, the CPS noted in an email to TIME that such prosecutions are “serious but rare” and are “any decision to charge is extremely carefully considered and not taken lightly.”

Yet WAR disagrees. “I have not found any country that aggressively pursues women for falsely reporting a rape the way the UK does,” Lisa Avalos, an assistant professor of law at the University of Arkansas who has been working with WAR, tells TIME. Meanwhile, Lisa Longstaff, a spokeswoman for WAR, says, police are not putting in the necessary work into catching and convicting rapists. “They’re not dealing with rapists properly.”

Avalos agrees: “We do a bad job prosecuting rape across the Western world. A big part of what fuels that bad job is that police do not believe victims. Time after time after time we have victims saying they went to the police and the police didn’t believe them.”

A lot of what WAR says resonates with the statistics. Earlier this month an official inquiry into police practices in England and Wales found that police had failed to record more than 25 percent of the rapes and sexual offenses reported to them by the public as actual crimes. In some regions the figures were even worse, with police not recording one out of every three reports of rape or sexual assault.

Similarly, an explosive report released earlier this year found that police in Rotherham, England, disregarded numerous reports, over a course of years, of rape, sexual assault and forced prostitution made by young girls who were being abused by a group of men. Longstaff also points out that many of the girls in the Rotherham case who came forward to the police wound up being charged with offenses such as underage drinking, while their rapists went free.

According to a report published by the Home Office in January, looking at a three-year average, as many as 517,000 sexual assaults take place in the UK per year and 95,000 rapes are committed. Yet there are only 5,620 sexual assault convictions a year and only 1,070 rape convictions. And while it’s long been a problem that the vast majority of rapes and sexual assaults go unreported to the police — which does factor in to the dismal percentage of convictions — Avalos says that “those [false claim] prosecutions have a chilling effect on other women coming forward.”

No one is arguing that women who make malicious false allegations of rape should be free from consequences. But Avalos says these instances should be looked at on a “case-by-case” basis and that pursuing harsh criminal cases isn’t the answer. (She notes that anyone who finds themselves falsely charged with rape can always pursue civil action against their accusers.) Part of the larger problem with prosecuting women for making false allegations is, according to Longstaff, that past examples prove “we can’t trust the authorities to make a rational decision about which is a false and which is not a false allegation. We’ve gone down the road so many times of seeing women who report rape or domestic violence or even child abuse and then [unjustly] end up on the wrong end of the prosecution.”

She points to the stateside case of Sara Reedy, who received a $1.5 million settlement from a Pennsylvania police department after she was raped at gunpoint at the age of 19 and then charged with inventing the story. Authorities were so convinced she was lying, she was even briefly jailed. It wasn’t until her attacker was arrested for another assault and then confessed to raping Reedy, that charges were fully dropped.

When asked about their decision to prosecute women over suspected false rape allegations, the CPS’s statement also noted that:

Such cases can only be brought where the prosecution can prove that the original rape allegation was false – if there is any question as to whether the original allegation might in fact have been true then a case of perverting the course of justice should not be brought. The relatively few cases that are brought are based on strong evidence and should not dissuade any potential victim from coming forward to report an assault.

But according to Longstaff, that’s exactly what the prosecutions — which might be rare, but can be highly publicized — do. She says many of the women WAR works with feel that “once you report, the police can easily turn on you and pin some other, often minor, crime on you [rather] than deal with the serious rape that you’ve reported.”

Correction: The original version of the story incorrectly described the response to de Freitas’s allegations. The Crown Prosecution Service began a case against de Freitas for perverting the course of justice prior to her death in April.

TIME celebrities

Terry Crews Is ‘Not Going to Be Silent’ About Feminism

2014 NCLR ALMA Awards - Arrivals
Actor Terry Crews attends the 2014 NCLR ALMA Awards at Pasadena Civic Auditorium in Pasadena, Calif., on Oct. 10, 2014 Jason LaVeris—FilmMagic

The actor and author says the way men treat women like trophies is as bad as the Taliban

Terry Crews currently stars on Brooklyn Nine-Nine, but earlier this year the former NFL player also published a book, Manhood, about what it means to be a man in 2014. If you haven’t picked up a copy, Crews handily outlines a few bullet points in a new interview: support feminism, don’t treat women like they’re trophies and stop subscribing to “man code.”

“The big thing about feminism is that it scares men,” says Crews, who compares supporting feminism to supporting the civil rights movement. “I want to be clear: feminism is not saying women are better than men. That’s not what’s going. Some people totally see it as that.”

At another point during the interview, he compares the way men sometimes treat women as objects to religious extremists.

“What happens is [athletes] win and they go, ‘You know that girl? She’s my trophy. I deserve that girl. In fact, she don’t even want to be with me, but I don’t care. I’m going to take it,'” Crews says. “What kind of mindset is that? Never, never, never, never, never should that ever be accepted. That’s not ‘code.’ That’s Taliban. That’s ISIS.”

[Jezebel]

TIME India

Watch 2 Women Beat Their Alleged Harassers on a Bus in India

The men have been arrested and charged with assault

Two students in the northern state of Haryana wailed on three men on a bus who they say sexually harassed them.

The women, two sisters named Aarti and Pooja, were on their way home in the Rohtak district when 19-year old Pooja says the men “threatened and abused” them, according to the BBC. When the men wouldn’t stop touching them, and after no other passengers came to their aid, Pooja and her sister started beating them with their belts.

The men have since been arrested and charged with assault.

[BBC]

TIME politics

The Woman Who Broke the U.K.’s Parliamentary Gender Barrier Wasn’t Even Trying

Lady Astor
Lady Nancy Astor in Plymouth, England, in November of 1923 Gill / Getty Images

Dec. 1, 1919: American-born socialite Lady Astor is sworn in as the first female member of the British House of Commons

Lady Astor was an unlikely candidate to break the gender barrier in the U.K. Parliament. For one thing, she wasn’t British; for another, she wasn’t a suffragist. She took her seat in the House of Commons on this day, Dec. 1, in 1919, after running for her husband’s vacant spot when he was given the title of Viscount and elevated to the House of Lords. (She was the second woman to have been elected to the House of Commons, but the first to accept the position.)

She barely wanted the job, according to her election pamphlet. At times she seemed to go out of her way to alienate voters, as when she ended a campaign speech in front of a working-class crowd by saying, according to the New York Times, “And now, my dears, I’m going back to one of my beautiful palaces to sit down in my tiara and do nothing, and when I roll out in my car I will splash you all with mud and look the other way.”

But Nancy Astor had a flair for upending expectations. The Virginia native, whose father was a tobacco auctioneer, ascended to the upper crust of the British aristocracy but never lost her frank, outspoken manner or her earthy sense of humor. The latter was even more jarring when combined with her conservative politics: she was a strict teetotaler and a staunch anti-socialist.

History does not cast her as a particularly influential MP. Although she was re-elected seven times before retiring in 1945, the Times notes, “she accomplished nothing more noteworthy than the forcing through of a bill barring teenagers from entering pubs.”

Still, her witticisms made waves. Her sharp tongue could get her in trouble, but its overall effect was, if not endearing, then at least entertaining. Per the Times, “…she was capable in the House of Commons of doing anything from whistling to calling a fellow member a donkey.”

If she hadn’t pursued politics, Astor could have had a promising career as an insult comic. Her best lines became known as Astorisms, and they tended to take harsh aim at her rivals as well as her friends. According to her 1964 obituary in TIME, her favorite targets included “fellow politicians, her fellow rich (“The only thing I like about them is their money”), Communists, Socialists, Nazis, Yankees, liquor manufacturers, newspapers (her husband’s family owned two), antifeminists, the cult of the Common Man.”

Sometimes her attacks were personal — and borderline cruel. After voting to oust Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, an old friend and former political ally, she famously said, “Duds must be got rid of, even if they are one’s dearest friends.”

Her vote against Chamberlain helped pave the way for Winston Churchill to take office, but she had few kind words for him either. Churchill was, at least, her equal in trading barbs. In one exchange, she is said to have told him, “If I were married to you, I’d put poison in your coffee.” He replied, “If I were married to you, I’d drink it.”

Read the full obituary for Lady Astor, here in the TIME Vault: The Ginger Woman

TIME Pakistan

Bollywood Actress Veena Malik Sentenced to 26 Years in Jail For Blasphemy

Veena Malik during promotional event
Veena Malik promotes her movie Zindagi 50 50 at the India Today multiplex in Noida, India. Ramesh Sharma—India Today Group/Getty Images

The actress appeared in a scene that referenced Muhammad's daughter

A Pakistani anti-terrorism court has sentenced film and television star Veena Malik to 26 years in jail after she appeared in a scene that the Guardian describes as “loosely based on the marriage of the Prophet Muhammad’s daughter.”

The sentence stemmed from a blasphemy charge, which was also levied at Malik’s husband, businessman Asad Bashir Khan and Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman, owner of the Jang-Geo media group which aired the TV show, for their parts in the scene which aired in May. Khan and Shakil-ur-Rahman were also sentenced to 26 years. None of the accused were present in court.

The offending scene was a reenactment of Malik and Khan’s own wedding, acted as musicians played a devotional song about the wedding of a daughter of the Prophet Muhammad. After the episode aired, the senior vice president of a chapter of the Muslim religious organisation Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat made an official complaint, saying the show had defiled the family of the Prophet Muhammad, by using the religious music.

The sentence was handed down by judge Raja Shahbaz, who said, “The malicious acts of the proclaimed offenders ignited the sentiments of all the Muslims of the country and hurt the feelings, which cannot be taken lightly and there is need to strictly curb such tendency.”

[Guardian]

TIME India

Indian Girls Who Were Believed Murdered Took Their Own Lives

An official investigation into the gang-rape and murder of two girls in India in May rules that the victims actually committed suicide

Following worldwide outrage over the alleged gang-rape and murder of two girls, aged 14 and 15, in India earlier this year, the country’s Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has now ruled that the girls took their own lives and were not gang-raped and murdered.

When the two girls were found hanging from a tree in a field near their home in the Badaun district in the state of Uttar Pradesh last May, it was widely reported that they had been gang-raped and killed. According to the BBC, an exam initially confirmed several sexual assaults and death due to hanging and three men were arrested in connection with the girls’ deaths.

The men were released on bail in September and, according to the CBI’s investigation, subsequent forensic tests have since concluded the girls were not sexually assaulted. “Based on around 40 scientific reports the CBI has concluded that the two minor girls in the Badaun case had not been raped and murdered as had been alleged,” CBI spokeswoman Kanchan Prasad told the BBC on Thursday. “Investigation has concluded that it is a case of suicide.”

Women’s activists and the families of the girls have voiced their suspicions over the CBI’s findings.

“CBI has tried to fudge the case and save the accused from the very beginning,” Sohan Lal, father of one of the girls, told the BBC. “I am very angry with their decision. The team did not show any promptness while investigating the case.”

MORE: Photos of The Indian Village Shocked By Brutal Rape and Murder Case

[BBC]

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