TIME feminism

Pitting Emma Watson and Beyoncé Against Each Other Is Anti-Feminist

HeForShe Campaign Launch
Emma Watson and Ban Ki-moon attend the launch of the HeForShe Campaign at the United Nations on September 20, 2014 in New York City. Steve Sands—WireImage/Getty Images

You know what's antifeminist? When we bend over backwards to deny a woman who identifies herself as a feminist the right to that self-identification

xojane

This story originally appeared on xoJane.com.

On Saturday, Emma Watson gave a speech about feminism and gender equality. She said things that many of us have said a thousand times, online and offline, about the right to choose, healthcare, equal pay, and men’s duty in fighting for gender equality. The Internet went crazy with applause, praising her as a feminist hero. Although nothing Watson said was groundbreaking or especially unique, it’s great to see a young woman of her celebrity use her position of influence to make an intelligent statement about feminism. I love Emma Watson. She’s bright and positive and it’s great.

What isn’t great is the attitude I saw on social media following her speech, in which a comparison began to be drawn. “That’s feminism,” I’ve seen it tweeted over and over since Saturday. “Not a neon sign and spandex.” The digs at Beyoncé got louder and bolder. One of the tweets that started it all (by a Twitter user who has now made her account private, @sandyzzzen) read: “Well done Emma Watson. THAT is feminism (watch and learn Beyoncé).” And it wasn’t just random Internet users. Vanity Fair wrote an article praising Watson and comparing her feminist impact to Beyoncé’s, stating, “[Watson’s] widespread influence on young minds (still forming their opinions on gender roles and advocacy) is even stronger than other high-profile defenders of the F-word like Beyoncé.”

Needless to say, this piece prompted a lot of discussion on Twitter, and I tweeted this:

Now, obviously I was feeling a little sassy. The Internet’s overwhelmingly positive reactions to Watson’s feminism were exciting, but also troubling when I remembered the way Beyoncé’s feminism was dissected, critiqued, and doubted last year when she dropped her self-titled album that included a recording of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie speaking about feminism.

Hopefully you all remember the numerous times Beyoncé’s feminism has come under attack in the past? No? I’ll refresh your memory. When Beyoncé dropped Beyoncé last year, accompanied by a corresponding collection of music videos, the think pieces flew fast and thick. “Is Beyoncé a feminist?” “OK, but is Beyoncé actually a feminist?” The speculation was endless, despite the fact that Beyoncé was self-identifying, answering the question before it was even asked. But somehow many mainstream publications still thought that their opinion on Beyoncé’s feminism overrode her own identification.

When Emma Watson gave her speech on Saturday, I didn’t see a single tweet (other than from Men’s Rights Activists) criticizing her. No one dissected the roles she’s taken in Hollywood, the times she posed in sexy clothes, no one has questioned her relationship status.

Yet when I tweeted the above tweet, those kinds of dissections were exactly what filled my mentions—dissections voiced by white feminists. No angle was left uncovered. The responses ranged from “Maybe because Emma actually dresses like a lady!” to “Maybe because Emma has a college degree!” “Maybe because Emma didn’t dedicate an album to her husband and take his last name!” “Maybe because Emma doesn’t gyrate on stage!” “Maybe because Emma included men in her argument!” Don’t believe me? Look on Twitter. These tweets aren’t hard to find.

Guys…as a white feminist whose feminism is by no means perfect and has committed her share of missteps in the past, let me say this as gently as I can: This…has…to…stop.

Maybe because Emma dresses like a lady? What does a lady dress like, exactly? And who decided what a lady looks like? What bearing should one’s clothing have on one’s identification as a feminist? This is exactly the kind of misogynist policing we’ve fought tooth and claw against for decades, and to level this line of “reasoning” at Beyoncé is not only antifeminist, it is despicable.

Maybe because Emma has a college degree? You can’t be serious. Since when does education level have anything to do with whether or not a woman (or man) can identify as feminist? My mother didn’t finish college and she created a feminist in me by the time I was five. Does she not count? Beyoncé is incredibly successful and self-sufficient, and you would target her college education as an area of critique?

Emma didn’t dedicate an album to her husband or take his last name? Oh? So taking your husband’s last name means you’re not a feminist now, huh? Beyoncé is a wife and a mother, so now she’s not a feminist? OK. I’ll remember that. Don’t ever get married or I’ll picket your wedding.

Maybe because Emma doesn’t gyrate on stage? Hmm. I seem to recall a lot of white feminists defending Miley Cyrus for doing exactly that, proclaiming her a feminist and shielding her from slut-shaming. Last I checked, part of feminism is owning our sexuality and expressing it however we choose.

Maybe because Emma included men in her speech? Oh god. So including men in conversations about feminism is now a box that must be checked to consider oneself a feminist? That’s just silly.

There were other bits of drivel that dropped—and continue to drop—in my mentions on Twitter, but these are the attacks on Beyoncé’s feminism that I saw repeated most often. If you use any of the aforementioned lines of attack…you are being antifeminist.

When you criticize Beyoncé’s feminism based on the clothes she wears, her level of education, the dances she does; when you say she cannot be a feminist or is less of a feminist than a woman who wears clothes differently, has been educated differently, dances differently, you are erasing her nuance and you are erasing the part of her feminism that is interlocked with her humanity. Because in case you didn’t know, fellow white feminists, the white experience of womanhood is different than the black experience of womanhood. The expectations, perceptions, context, and history of black women are not the same as the expectations, perceptions, context, and history of you as a white woman. Intersectional feminism means that women of color experience womanhood at a place where race and gender intersect. It means that the way they experience life as a woman is influenced by their race, and vise versa.

With that in mind, think about why, then, a woman of color—particularly a black woman—might find Beyoncé’s brand of feminism more relatable than Emma Watson’s. @thetrudz, arguably one of the most prolific writers and scholars on race, gender, and misogynoir of our time, wrote a beautiful piece about why Beyoncé’s album Beyoncé resonated with her as a black woman, as it spoke to issues of sexuality, the pain of Eurocentric standards of beauty, and dance. What’s more, think about the core concepts of Watson’s speech: it focused on a binary system of oppression, oppression of woman by man. Women of color are oppressed on more than one level, so a speech that doesn’t address issues of violence and harm against women of color specifically does not speak to the whole experience of a woman of color. (Are you currently thinking something along the lines of “But why can’t we all just be women and not divide ourselves along racial lines?” If you are, let me direct you here.)

None of this is a competition. This not a Feminist Death Match between Emma Watson and Beyoncé, nor should it be. In fact, that was one of the other more common responses I saw to my tweet: “But why can’t we appreciate both Beyoncé and Emma Watson? I love them both!”

Congratulations! You can! And many of us do. I even saw a tweet that said “Beyoncé for president, and Emma Watson for VP.” Who’s the “better feminist” should never be a competition: We all have different interpretations and applications of feminism. As feminists, we celebrate others’ right to identify as whatever kind of feminist they choose. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie spoke beautifully to this (specifically as it relates to Beyoncé) in an interview at the Schomburg Center in Harlem, in which she said “Whoever says they’re feminist is bloody feminist.” Period.

According to Roxane Gay, we’re probably all “bad feminists,” and I agree. We are humans, and therefore we are creatures of context and nuance. We stumble, we contradict, we backslide, we mess up. None of that makes us antifeminist. But you know what is antifeminist? When we attack one woman’s feminism by means of credentialism and respectability politics, when we bend over backward to deny a woman who identifies herself as a feminist the right to that self-identification, in the process contradicting our own beliefs about the freedom women (all women, we claim) are entitled to when it comes to our bodies, our relationships, our clothes, our pursuits.

You don’t have to like Beyoncé’s feminism, but there are millions—literally—of women around the world who like it, love it, celebrate it, live it, and we damn sure don’t get to say that they’re wrong.

Olivia A. Cole is a poet, author, and activist.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME feminism

Sorry, Emma Watson, but HeForShe Is Rotten for Men

"Noah" - UK Premiere - Red Carpet Arrivals
"I decided I was a feminist and this seemed uncomplicated to me," said Emma Watson at a UN Women speech in September. "Men-- I would like to take this opportunity to extend your formal invitation. Gender Equality is your issue, too." Anthony Harvey—Getty Images

Cathy Young is a contributing editor at Reason magazine.

Until feminism recognizes discrimination against men, the movement for gender equality will be incomplete.

“Gender equality is your issue too.” That was the message to men from Emma Watson, Harry Potter star and now United Nations Women Goodwill Ambassador, in her widely hailed U.N. speech earlier this week announcing a new feminist campaign with a “formal invitation” to male allies to join. Noting that men suffer from sexism in their own ways, Watson asked, “How can we affect change in the world when only half of it is invited or feel welcome to participate in the conversation?” Truer words were never spoken. Too bad they are belied by the campaign itself, which is called “HeForShe” and asks men to pledge to “take action against all forms of violence and discrimination faced by women and girls” but says nothing about problems affecting men and boys.

Watson clearly believes that feminism — which, she stressed, is about equality and not bashing men — will also solve men’s problems. But, unfortunately, feminism in its present form has too often ignored sexist biases against males, and sometimes has actively contributed to them. Until that changes, the movement for gender equality will be incomplete.

Take one of the men’s issues Watson mentioned in her speech: seeing her divorced father’s role as a parent “valued less by society” than her mother’s. It is true that in the 1970s and 1980s, feminist challenges to discriminatory, sex-specific laws helped end formal preferences for mothers in child custody matters. But as fathers began to fight against more covert anti-male biases in the court system, most feminists sided with mothers.

There are plenty of other examples. The women’s movement has fought, rightly, for more societal attention to domestic abuse and sexual violence. But male victims of these crimes still tend to get short shrift, from the media and activists alike. Despite several recent high-profile recent sexual assault cases in which the victims were teenage girls, disturbing cases in which boys were victimized — by other boys or by girls — have received far less publicity and sparked little outrage. Experiments have shown that while people are quick to intervene when a man in a staged public quarrel becomes physically abusive to his girlfriend, reactions to a similar situation with the genders reversed mostly range from indifference to amusement or even sympathy for the woman. To a large extent, as feminists sometimes point out, these attitudes stem from traditional gender norms which treat victimhood, especially at a woman’s hands, as unmanly. But today’s mainstream feminism, which regards sexual assault and domestic violence as byproducts of male power over women, tends to reinforce rather than challenge such double standards.

Just in the past few days, many feminist commentators have taken great umbrage at suggestions that soccer star Hope Solo, currently facing charges for assaulting her sister and teenage nephew, deserves similar censure to football player Ray Rice, who was caught on video striking his fiancée. Their argument boils down to the assertion that violence by men toward their female partners should be singled out because it’s a bigger problem than female violence toward family members. Meanwhile, in Watson’s native England, activists from women’s organizations recently blamed the shortage of services for abused women on efforts to accommodate abused men (despite the fact that, as Guardian columnist and blogger Ally Fogg demonstrated, even the lowest estimates of the prevalence of domestic violence against men suggest that male victims are far less likely than women to get help).

Watson deserves credit for wanting to end the idea that “fighting for women’s rights [is] synonymous with man-hating.” But she cannot do that if she treats such notions only as unfair stereotypes. How about addressing this message to feminists who complain about being “asked to modify our language so we don’t hurt men’s feelings” when talking about misogyny — for instance, not to generalize about all men as oppressors? Or to those who argue that “Kill all men” mugs and “I bathe in male tears” T-shirts are a great way to celebrate women’s empowerment and separate the “cool dudes” who get the joke from the “dumb bros”? Or to those who accuse a feminist woman of “victim-blaming” for defending her son against a sexual assault accusation — even one of which he is eventually cleared?

Men must, indeed, “feel welcome to participate in the conversation” about gender issues. But very few will do so if that “conversation” amounts to being told to “shut up and listen” while women talk about the horrible things men do to women, and being labeled a misogynist for daring to point out that bad things happen to men too and that women are not always innocent victims in gender conflicts. A real conversation must let men talk not only about feminist-approved topics such as gender stereotypes that keep them from expressing their feelings, but about more controversial concerns: wrongful accusations of rape; sexual harassment policies that selectively penalize men for innocuous banter; lack of options to avoid unwanted parenthood once conception has occurred. Such a conversation would also acknowledge that pressures on men to be successful come not only from “the patriarchy” but, often, from women as well. And it would include an honest discussion of parenthood, including many women’s reluctance to give up or share the primary caregiver role.

It goes without saying that these are “First World problems.” In far too many countries around the world, women still lack basic rights and patriarchy remains very real (though it is worth noting that even in those places, men and boys often have to deal with gender-specific hardships, from forced recruitment into war to mass violence that singles out males). But in the industrial democracies of North America and Europe, the revolution in women’s rights over the past century has been a stunning success — and, while there is still work to be done, it must include the other side of that revolution. Not “he for she,” but “She and he for us.”

Cathy Young is a contributing editor at Reason magazine.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME feminism

Watch Joseph Gordon-Levitt Explain Why He’s a Feminist in a Truly Thoughtful Way

Anyone who thinks men can't be feminists should watch this video

We’ve known Joseph Gordon-Levitt is a feminist for a while now, but we didn’t know he was so thoughtful about it. Not until this week anyway when he posted a new video where he not only explains why he’s a feminist, but also gets into some of the debates raised in the “Women Against Feminists” Tumblr blog. This doesn’t feel like one of those “love me, I’m a feminist!” PR stunts– it actually seems like he’s really contemplated the issue and he makes some excellent points for anyone who thinks we “don’t need” feminism anymore.

This video is a must-watch for anyone who thinks men can’t be feminists. And it’s timely, since the UN just announced a campaign called He for She, designed to get men involved in women’s rights.

TIME feminism

Sorry, Privileged White Ladies, but Emma Watson Isn’t a ‘Game Changer’ for Feminism

UN Women's "HeForShe" VIP After Party
Actress Emma Watson attends the UN Women's "HeForShe" VIP After Party at The Peninsula Hotel on September 20, 2014 in New York City. Jim Spellman—WireImage/Getty Images

How will the men who support He For She actually stand in solidarity with women?

xojane

This article originally appeared on xoJane.com.

When I woke up yesterday, my Facebook feed was buzzing with the news of Emma Watson’s “groundbreaking speech.” On September 20, Watson used an emotionally stirring speech at the United Nations to launch He For She, a new campaign that urges men to “speak out about the inequalities faced by women and girls.” People who never mention the words “feminism” or “women’s rights” were suddenly interested.

More specifically, the campaign centers around a website where men and boys can acknowledge that gender equality is a human rights issue and pledge to fight the inequality that women and girls face. On the “Take Action” page, the site encourages users to tweet and Instagram with the hashtag #HeForShe. Beyond that, there is little discussion of what the men who sign this pledge can actually do to improve the lives of women.

“I am so excited about #HeForShe,” one random girl from my sorority wrote, “because it finally shows that feminism isn’t about hating men. I love men!” “Emma Watson gives feminism new life,” read one CNN headline. Another blog noted that she completely changed the definition of feminism while dressed in Dior. Media outlets that had only previously used the word “feminist” to describe hairy-legged stereotypes were now salivating over a newer, hipper, prettier feminism based entirely on an 11-minute speech at the United Nations.

Most egregiously, Vanity Fair called Watson’s speech a “game changer” for feminism: “Watson is potentially in an even better position than many of her peers,” writes Joanna Robinson. “Her role as Hermione Granger, the universally adored heroine of the Harry Potter series, gives her an automatic in with male and female millenials. This is a rare case where an actor being conflated with their role might be a good thing. In this way, her widespread influence on young minds (still forming their opinions on gender roles and advocacy) is even stronger than other high-profile defenders of the F-word like Beyoncé.”

Despite the slight toward Beyonce’s feminist work, I thought for a moment that Robinson and others who were anointing Emma Watson as feminism’s brightest young mind might have actually been right. There is something uniquely brave about a young woman identifying as a feminist, especially when so many others, like Watson’s contemporaries Shailene Woodley and Taylor Swift, shy away from the label.

But at the same time, when I hear this speech being discussed as a defining moment in feminism, I worry about the message that the He For She campaign sends to people who still aren’t sure that feminism is looking out for their best interests. More specifically, will He For She leave behind many of the people who most need feminsm’s help?

To begin with, the name “He For She” is problematic, no matter how you slice it. Some may call these criticisms divisive and nitpicky, but there is nothing feminist about a campaign that reinforces a gender binary that is harmful to people whose gender identities don’t fit into such tidy boxes. When we reinforce the idea that only people who neatly fit the gender binary are worthy of being protected and supported, we erase and exclude the people who are at most risk of patriarchal violence and oppression.

Which is something that Emma Watson knows only a little bit about. It was encouraging that Watson acknowledged some of the privilege that led her to that United Nations stage, but she failed to mention the things that are most important. She noted that her parents and teachers didn’t expect less of her than male students, but failed to mention how the automatic advantages that being white, wealthy, able-bodied, and cisgender have colored her life experience. The state of affairs for women that Watson presents in this speech is a best case scenario. There was no discussion in this speech as to how He For She can improve the lives of women and nonbinary people who will experience intersectional oppressions, like racism, transphobia, and fatphobia.

This is not to suggest that what Emma Watson did wasn’t brave. Women face consequences when they speak up on feminism, as evidenced by the internet trolls who threatened to release nude photos of Watson shortly after her speech (luckily this turned out to be a hoax). Anyone who uses their platform to spread feminist ideas deserves respect, but we should probably be a little more careful in who we choose as our thought leaders. Especially when there are hundreds of women who are directly impacting the lives of women through their work and writing.

In reality, Emma Watson is the kind of woman that mainstream feminism — the feminism that gets a place on the United Nations’ stage — has worked the hardest for. When Watson speaks of equal pay, she’s talking about the white women who make 78% of their white male counterparts, not the 46% gap that Latina women face in the workplace. When we discuss sex work, we don’t talk about the transgender women who rely on the industry to survive. Put simply, the discussion that He For She and Emma Watson are having fails to invite the people whose voices need to be heard most to the table.

Of course, the most crucial component of the speech is Watson’s call to action for men that support equality. “Unintentional feminists,” she calls them. These, of course, are men who have been “turned off” by their own assumptions about what feminists are. Men are an important component of breaking down barriers for women, but after years of begging from feminists of all ideological backgrounds, they shouldn’t need a verbal engraved invitation from an actress to get involved. More importantly, there is little discussion of how the men who support He For She will actually stand in solidarity with women.

Many men who consider themselves vocal advocates for feminism have also had a real problem with talking over the women they’re supposed to be supporting. The space of male allies in feminism is a tenuous one, and one that is only successful when male allies use their platforms and privilege to amplify the voices of women, trans men, and nonbinary people. Instead of “He For She,” perhaps the campaign should have been branded “Stand With Women,” to imply that men would be standing beside women instead of standing up for them. Women don’t need to be rescued, whether it’s by men, Emma Watson, or the United Nations. Positioning men as the saviors of oppressed women isn’t productive, and devalues the work that feminists have been doing for decades.

Paying lip service to feminist ideas without actually doing any work to undo oppression isn’t feminist, and it certainly isn’t new. Every few months, it seems as if the media identifies an actress as the new young feminist darling, and Emma Watson is only the latest in the procession. Emma Watson may be making feminism more palatable for people who aren’t comfortable with in-your-face confrontations from less camera-friendly feminists, but she isn’t doing anything new or groundbreaking.

And it’s unfortunate that Emma Watson is selling the same boring, one-dimensional feminism that’s existed since the first hypothetical bra was burned instead of really changing it. She doesn’t deserve to have her privacy and body threatened by terrible internet trolls, but she also probably hasn’t earned her place as a defining feminist of her generation. If Emma Watson really wanted to be a “game changer,” she should have handed the microphone to Laverne Cox or Janet Mock to add some desperately needed diversity to the U.S.’s contingent of U.N. Goodwill Ambassadors.

Amy McCarthy is a freelance writer living in Dallas, Texas.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME South Africa

South Africa Shuts Down First Pro-Gay Mosque

The religious cite is apparently in violation of a city law about parking spaces

Local officials in Cape Town, South Africa, have shuttered the country’s first mosque that welcomes gay people and allows women to lead prayers, citing a municipal code violation.

Cape Town city councilor Ganief Hendricks tells the BBC that the Open Mosque, which only opened on Friday, was in violation of a city law that requires one parking space per 10 worshippers at a place of worship. Hendricks said the mosque also failed to secure a permit to convert use of the building from a warehouse to a place of worship, which can take up to six months.

Members of the mosque, which drew harsh criticism from some segments of the local Muslim community, contend the city’s crackdown is an effort to close the mosque for good.

“We have freedom of religion and expression in this country,” said mosque founder Taj Hargey. “No one has the right to tell anyone what to believe in. This is a gender-equal mosque, autonomous and independent and will remain so.”

Hendricks maintains that the issue is not one of religious persecution but of a city zoning law.

“This is an emotive issue – some councillors who are Muslim would want to defend the issue more vigorously than those that aren’t but the bottom line is we have to make sure that the rules are followed,” he said.

[BBC]

TIME feminism

How to Raise Boys Not to Be Total Jerks

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Rubberball/Nicole Hill—Brand X/Getty Images

Ever since the Ketchup Joke incident, I have been challenging my boys (and their sister) with honest conversations about gender and stereotypes

xojane

This story originally appeared on xoJane.com.

At some level, I’ve known since before my oldest son was born that this moment would come. But when it did, it took me utterly and completely off guard. I was driving a car chock-full of boys home from a soccer tournament when my nine-year-old son piped up from the back.

“Hey Mom! I’ve got a funny joke. I’ll ask you a question and you say, ‘Ketchup and rubber buns’.”

“I’ve heard this one,” chuckled my 12-year-old son.

Snickers all around from the soccer players.

Apparently, I was the only one who didn’t know what was coming next.

My son: “What did you have for breakfast?”

Me: “Oatmeal and ketchup and rubber buns.”

My son: “No! Mom! Just say ketchup and rubber buns. Try again. What did you have for breakfast?”

Me: “Ketchup and rubber buns.”

“What did you have for lunch?” “What did you have for dinner?” Etc. etc. And then we got to the punchline:

My son: “What do you do when you see a hot chick? You CATCH UP and RUB HER BUNS!”

Peals of laughter from the boys.

To my very great credit, I did not run the car off the road. I kept driving—silent, hands gripping the wheel, looking straight ahead. It was a perfect autumn day. The sky was a brilliant blue, the late afternoon sun catching the full color of the orange and yellow leaves on the trees along the highway. It was a beautiful, perfect day outside, but inside I was angry. I was mortified. I was disappointed. And I was desperately struggling to think of what I should say to these boys.

Finally, as calmly as I could, I said, “I don’t think that joke is funny. You know, if you actually ran after a woman and touched her in an offensive way like that, it would be called ‘assault and battery’. It is a crime. You could be arrested.”

“You could be arrested for THAT?” said one of my son’s teammates.

“Yes. Plus, the woman could also sue you.”

Silence descends.

“Also, I’ve actually had that happen to me. How do you think it feels to have a stranger grab your butt?”

“WHAT? That actually happened to YOU?” they yelled in unison.

“Sure. More than once. Usually at parties.”

“This is kind of making me feel sick,” said my 12-year-old son.

More silence.

Finally, my nine-year-old said, “I remember you saying once that you didn’t like running past construction sites because the construction workers whistled and yelled things at you.”

I didn’t remember telling them that, but it’s true. When I was a teenager, I used to go way off my normal running route just to avoid running past a construction site. When you are a 14-year-old girl and grown men are yelling things about your body and what sexual things they want to do to it, it doesn’t feel like they are just some idiots being rude. It feels downright threatening.

Good, I thought. Sometimes they actually listen to me.

“So what are you going to say the next time you hear someone tell a joke like that?” I asked.

“Stop, Mom! We get it, OK?”

Teachable moment: ended. I decided just to leave it there for the time being. I knew that these kids didn’t really mean any harm. They were just repeating what was—to them—only a silly play on words. But I couldn’t blow it off as “just a joke.” If you have ever experienced sexual assault, a “joke” like this is just not funny. The reality is that almost every woman I know has experienced inappropriate touching, sexual harassment, or sexual abuse. Female friends of all ages, ethnicities and occupations have shared their stories, from a student told by her professor that she could get a higher grade in exchange for a “favor” to women in the medical profession who had patients touch them inappropriately in the examination room. Even my own young daughter has already experienced it.

Not long after this Ketchup Joke incident, my sons’ little sister was touched inappropriately several times by a boy in her second grade class. The sad truth is that these are experiences that are all too common for girls and women throughout the world.

The Ketchup Joke was a call to action for me. My sons are intelligent boys, good kids who love and respect their mom and their sister, their grandmothers, their female friends and teachers. But they, like other young Americans, are deeply impacted by the culture that they live in. Every day, children are exposed to an estimated 16,000 images through media that often portrays unhealthy and unrealistic stereotypes of both young men and women. Females are almost four times as likely as males to be shown in sexy attire. Kids are also powerfully influenced by their peers. While they’ve never heard their dad tell a joke like that at home, there’s no way to control what they hear from other kids. How can all this not impact the way that my sons view girls and women?

I know I can’t change the society that we live in. I cannot raise my sons—or my daughter—in a world where sexism and misogyny do not exist. Eliminating bias completely is not even really possible; whether we are conscious of it or not, we are all biased. It is part of our human nature. But I realized that day in the car that kids don’t learn through osmosis how to evaluate and analyze gender stereotypes. It’s great to have parents who model respect for women, but it’s not enough.

I realized that, in order to raise these boys to recognize the problem of sexism in our society, my husband and I would have to try our best to make them aware of the bias and sexism in the world around them. If we could help them start seeing it, then we could help them find other ways to address it.

Ever since the Ketchup Joke incident, I have been challenging my boys (and their sister) with honest conversations about gender and stereotypes. Every example I see in a TV show, commercial, music video, or advertisement becomes a teachable moment. We talk about gender-based violence in the news, whether it is the girls kidnapped in Nigeria or domestic violence by NFL players. I have tried to share with them my own firsthand experiences with being female in a sexist society, something which hasn’t always been comfortable for me.

My sons aren’t always excited to have these conversations, so I don’t push it. But I don’t give up, either. Raising boys not to be total jerks is a long-term process. But they seem to be independently commenting on stereotypes that they see in the media more. They’ve even called me out for saying something sexist on occasion—and they were correct. So I am hopeful.

Hopeful that their generation will move us closer to a world where men and women are treated with more respect and equality. And hopeful that each of my boys will one day be men who, instead of chuckling when they hear a sexist joke, will speak up and say, “I don’t think that joke is funny.”

Jennifer Prestholdt is a human rights lawyer, wife and mother of three.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Reproductive Health

See the Bizarre History of Contraception in This Fascinating PSA

A new PSA shows the lengths that women have gone to in order to prevent unwanted pregnancy

Get ready to cringe.

A new PSA from EngenderHealth’s WTFP?! (Where’s The Family Planning) Campaign takes viewers on a tour through history and the myriad ways women have tried to prevent unwanted pregnancy.

Many of the methods, outlined in the video above, are unsavory at best and dangerous at worst. In ancient Egypt, women used “crocodile dung mixed with honey” for spermicide. In ancient Greece, women drank lead-riddled “blacksmith water,” which is toxic. And in the U.S. during the 1960s, women would put fizzing cola in their vagina after sex as a bizarre — and misguided — way to prevent pregnancy. (The birth control pill was introduced in the U.S. in 1960, but as TIME noted in its 50th anniversary story about the pill, “women usually had to be married to get it.”)

But the point of the video isn’t just to give us a look back on the weird ways women have tried to control their bodies. According to EngenderHealth, a New York City-based non-profit that focuses on women’s reproductive health, today more than 220 million women around the world want to use contraceptives, but can’t access them. Factors such as income, cultural and religious restrictions, lack of information and poor healthcare can all prevent women from safely and effectively preventing pregnancy.

Even in the U.S., access to birth control is not universal and measures to make it free have often been met with severe backlash. Remember Sandra Fluke?

This matters. A 2013 report by the Guttmacher Institute found that women who can control when they have children, not to mention how many they have, are more likely to fulfill their education and career goals, and earn higher wages. What’s more, access to contraception has also been linked to lower rates of maternal and infant deaths.

So if EngenderHealth’s unsettling video and campaign helps increase awareness and access to contraceptives, it’s worth cringing through.

TIME feminism

Emma Watson Asked Men to Support Women And Here’s How They Responded

HeForShe Campaign Launch
Emma Watson attends the launch of the HeForShe Campaign at the United Nations on September 20, 2014 in New York City. Steve Sands—WireImage/Getty Images

By threatening to circulate nude pictures and spreading rumors of her death, of course

Updated: September 23, 5:00 p.m. ET

On Saturday, Emma Watson delivered a rousing speech at the UN Women’s HeforShe launch event, calling on men to join the global fight for women’s equality.

“The more I have talked about feminism, the more I’ve realized that fighting for women’s rights has too often become synonymous with man-hating,” she said. “If there is one thing I know for certain, it is that this has to stop.”

But while more than 68,000 men worldwide have so far signed on to the HeforShe campaign, some users on the notorious 4chan message board have allegedly threatened to expose nude pictures of Watson. Is it a coincidence that this comes right after her speech? Probably not.

A countdown website entitled “Emma You are Next” surfaced after Watson’s speech, labeled with a 4chan logo and featuring an ominous ticking timer. Some suspect that the countdown signals the upcoming release of nude photos of Watson, since 4chan has been blamed for the leaks of other nude photos of celebrities like Jennifer Lawrence and Rihanna. But some 4chan users have allegedly denied that any user has the nudes in the first place. It’s also possible that the countdown clock is a hoax, Business Insider points out, since 4chan users are known for cruel pranks.

While it’s not clear that the website is a direct retaliation for Watson’s comments at the UN, outlets like Cosmopolitan and Slate are reporting that 4chan commenters acknowledged setting up the website because of her “stupid feminist speeches,” and called her a “feminist bitch.” (The original 4chan comments could not immediately be located.)

Other internet pranksters are starting a rumor that Emma Watson is dead, by circulating the hashtag #RIPEmmaWatson:

In her speech, Watson said, “no country in the world can yet say they have achieved gender equality.” The shadowy anonymous internet users may have just proved her right.

More: Here’s What 18 Famous Women Think About Feminism

 

TIME Books

Review: In Her First Novel, Caitlin Moran Explains How To Build a Girl

The best-selling author of How To Be a Woman returns with a novel about growing up in '90s Britain

Most of America first encountered Caitlin Moran in 2011 when she explained How To Be a Woman with her best-selling memoir/polemic. The deeply personal book served as a call to arms for modern feminism, skipping academic jargon in favor of discussing pubic hair and sex work, with plenty of jokes in between; Woman became an international best-seller and put Moran on the map as one of the new feminist icons.

In her first novel How To Build a Girl, Moran takes her trademark humor and applies it to a new subject: adolescence. Moran’s protagonist is Johanna Morrigan, a 14-year-old girl circa 1990, living in a provincial English town called Wolverhampton, which “looks like something bad happened to it.” A bright, overweight optimist, obsessed with sex and yearning “to be beautiful,” Johanna dreams of becoming a writer while living with her large, eccentric family in public housing. Terrified that her father’s disability benefits will soon end, Johanna decides to save her family from poverty by becoming a music journalist in London.

Anyone already familiar with Moran will immediately recognize the broad outlines of the story: she also lived in public housing with her large family in Wolverhampton in the ‘90s, before becoming a teenage music journalist for the British publication Melody Maker and then going on to work for the Times. Moran insists, however, that it’s a work of fiction, autobiographically inspired as it may be.

The smartest thing about the universe of Moran’s Girl is that growing up isn’t a passive activity, a thing that happens to you. Instead, it’s something you deliberately set out to achieve for yourself, building up piece by piece and constructing who you are with books, pop music and wild experiences. For Johanna, it also involves sex, drugs and lots of rock ‘n’ roll. She tries on different identities, such as “Dolly Wilde” — her rock critic nom de plume — and suffers various humiliations and disappointments along the way.

There’s a lot going on and, unsurprisingly — given that it was written by Moran — How To Build a Girl is very funny. It’s also quite rude. A considerable portion of the book focuses on the various household items that Johanna can use to masturbate with. (Book banning types in the U.S. are bound to have a field day with this one.)

But there are also some observations that aren’t believable coming from a 14-year-old — or even, as Johanna ages throughout the book, a 16 or 17-year-old. Her insights are either too mature or much too naïve. Though Johanna can be reflective on class, music and sexual frustration, most of her feelings regarding her family, her colleagues or even some of her experiences are left largely unexplored. While charming and funny, she is often disappointingly glib, breezing over events in her own mind in a way that feels unrealistic.

Johanna often approaches new experiences as a complete innocent, before her future self interrupts in order to editorialize what she’s experiencing. In one notable scene, after Johanna has a rash of unsatisfying sexual encounters and finds herself in bed with a man whose pleasure is the only thing she focuses on, she notes: “In later years I find this is called ‘physical disconnect,’ and is all part and parcel of women having their sexuality mediated through men’s gaze.” Sure, it’s an accurate description of what’s going on, but it’s not one that teenage Johanna would ever articulate. It’s passages like that which make Girl feel less like a novel and more like a collection of deleted scenes from Moran’s first book.

With How To Be a Woman – a hugely lovable book, even when it was problematically narrow – Moran had swaths of women snapping it up, laughing and saying, “Yes, this is what it is like to be a woman.” While How To Build a Girl will almost certainly make readers laugh, it’s hard to imagine anyone recognizing the adolescence it depicts. That said, many readers will recognize plenty of Moran in it. For her fans, that’s probably all that’s needed.

TIME politics

The Female Presidential Candidate You’ve Probably Never Heard Of

Victoria Claflin Woodhull
Victoria Claflin Woodhull (1838 - 1927), the first woman to run for US president from a nationally recognized ticket Hulton Archive / Getty Images

Sept. 23, 1838: Victoria Claflin Woodhull, a future presidential candidate, is born

These days, Hillary Clinton is making headlines as the potential female President of the United States — and she hasn’t even declared that she’s running. But, though a Clinton run would still be history-making, it was more than a century ago that the U.S. saw its first major-party female presidential candidate: Victoria Claflin Woodhull.

Woodhull — who was born this day, Sept. 23, in 1838 in Homer, Ohio — challenged Ulysses S. Grant in the 1872 presidential election as the Equal Rights Party candidate. Her bid was unsuccessful, and she’s mostly faded from history except as a frequent sidebar to articles about other women running for the highest office. (For example: TIME wrote about her in 1964 when Senator Margaret Chase Smith ran, and again in 1984 when Geraldine Ferraro ran for VP.)

Still, she campaigned with flair, publicly proclaiming her beliefs in, as TIME put it in 1964, “spiritualism, vegetarianism, short skirts, legalized prostitution, and free love.”

A suffragist whom other suffragists tended to keep at arm’s length, Woodhull was often described in terms her women’s movement peers might have eschewed: “beautiful,” “bosomy” and “not entirely scrupulous.”

She and her younger sister Tennessee got their start as healthcare practitioners of dubious merit, peddling elixirs, psychic healing and metaphysical remedies. One big sale was enough to launch the pair, however. TIME recounted how in 1984:

Inspired, she said, by a vision of Demosthenes, Woodhull and her sister went to New York and arranged to introduce themselves to the newly widowed Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt, 84. With her ‘magnetic treatment’ Tennessee soothed the railroad tycoon so successfully that he backed the young sisters in opening a lucrative stock brokerage.

Woodhull used her earnings to start a newspaper, Woodhull & Claflin’s Weekly, which supported her political ambitions as well as her pet causes. It’s unclear whether her activism ultimately helped or hurt the women’s movement, but it certainly garnered attention. She was nothing if not dramatic:

As an orator, Woodhull bowed to no man. ‘We mean treason; we mean secession…’ she declared. ‘We are plotting revolution; we will [overthrow] this bogus Republic and plant a government of righteousness in its stead.’ When someone dared to ask whether she practiced her preachings of free love, she defiantly answered, ‘Yes! I have an inalienable, constitutional and natural right to love whom I may.’

When her fellow suffragists questioned Woodhull’s place in the movement, however, Stanton defended her. “If Victoria Woodhull must be crucified,” she said, “let men drive the spikes.”

As a presidential candidate, Woodhull was not quite crucified, but met an ignominious end on election night, which she spent in jail on an obscenity charge.

“She got very few votes,” TIME commented drily.

Read the full profiles of Woodhull here, in TIME’s archives: Madam Candidate (1964) and Braving Scorn and Threats (1984)

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