TIME Opinion

How Caitlin Stasey’s NSFW Website Is Moving Feminism Forward

Actress Caitlin Stasey attends the 25th Annual GLAAD Media Awards at The Beverly Hilton Hotel in Los Angeles on April 12, 2014.
Jason Merritt—Getty Images Actress Caitlin Stasey attends the 25th Annual GLAAD Media Awards at The Beverly Hilton Hotel in Los Angeles on April 12, 2014.

"Our feminism is nothing less than freedom," the 24-year-old CW actress says

Australian actress and CW star Caitlin Stasey recently launched a website, Herself.com (NSFW), featuring interviews with ordinary women (aka non-celebs) about topics like masturbation, pornography, reproductive rights, sexual identity and the female body. The site is the latest addition to the ongoing conversation about women and the media, which in recent years has stretched from the #freethenipple campaign (which advocates women’s right to go topless in public) to Dove’s “Real Beauty” advertisements to Beyonce’s 2014 VMA performance.

Herself is a much-needed feminist tribute to both the minds and bodies of women, and there’s an abundance of nudity featured on the site — hardly a surprise given Stasey’s outspoken stance on female sexuality. In fact, naked women are the first things visitors of Herself.com see. Sure, the site’s thought-provoking interviews may get glossed over by viewers focusing on the subject’s naked bodies, but their overt nakedness is giving a different attitude about the female body the push forward it needs in mainstream media.

“A woman rarely gets the opportunity to just live in herself, as herself, a fully autonomous, self-determining human being. I wanted to give women the chance to reclaim that for themselves,” Stasey said in a recent interview. “The fact that it is a matter of controversy that a woman should choose to be nude without it being an act of sex just shows how backward and oppressive our society is. It shouldn’t matter. It shouldn’t warrant questioning.”

By overtly displaying the female form, Herself has the potential to expose its subjects to objectification, and the site’s garnered a mild amount of criticism on social media. But major publications such as Glamour and People are eager to praise Stasey’s uncensored tribute to women of all kinds.

Stasey encourages readers to “witness the female form in all its honesty without the burden of the male gaze.” The initial buzz surrounding Herself lead to the site trending on Facebook with the description “actress launches website for women featuring personal interviews and nude photos,” basically guaranteeing men will visit. Yet even allowing for the fact that she’s exposing herself to the male gaze, Stasey remains unfazed.

“I sincerely hope men come to the site and learn to see how women present themselves, how women look when they are not merely objects, but the living, breathing subjects of their own stories,” she says. “This is a site made by a woman for women about women,” Stasey adds.

Going full-frontal in the name of feminism isn’t without its controversies, but the women in Herself are showcasing their own bodies on their own terms. Not only that, but they’re reaching a new generation of teen readers thanks to the 24-year-old actress’ star role on the CW’s Reign. Ultimately Herself gives women the opportunity to decide whether they want their bodies showcased online — and no one should judge them for that.

“If [feminism] is anything less than a woman getting to live her life proudly and freely, then I probably wouldn’t march for it,” says Stasey. “If you think feminism is telling other women how to live, then we’ll never agree, and I’m fine with that. Our feminism is nothing less than freedom.”

Herself is about as safe as it gets for like-minded feminists wanting to share their beliefs, fears and hopes, as well as for Stasey’s teen fans who are just becoming aware of their bodies, sexuality and sexual identity. And for someone visiting the site for the nude pics? They’ll definitely learn something while they’re at it.

TIME feminism

This Is What Happens When You Show Off Your ‘Meninist’ T-Shirt

#MENINIST

Some Twitter users got creative with Photoshop

The hashtags #Meninist and #Meninism have been around Twitter for more than a year, and the people who use them generally fall in two camps: people who use the term to call out ways they believe they’ve been victimized by feminism, and people who make fun of the first group for not understanding what feminism means in the first place.

The terms may have started out as a joke, but when the first group starting making T-shirts celebrating their controversial cause, the latter group got clever with their responses, as BuzzFeed points out. Not that many T-shirts have been sold — according to TeeSpring, two designs have moved only 10 and almost 500 shirts, respectively — but the guys who proudly showed them off online didn’t go unnoticed. In fact, they’re on their way to become totally meme-ified. Below, take a look who got creative with Photoshop:

TIME feminism

I’ve Never Found the V-Day Conversation to Be Dependent on Genitalia

Kellena Shumate Julie Goldstein, second from the left in the second row, is seen amongst the 2011 V-Day LA cast

Julie Rei Goldstein is an actress, voice over artist and an ardent trans feminist.

The Vagina Monologues and V-Day have provided me with an avenue to promote trans visibility

My introduction to The Vagina Monologues and V-Day was over a decade ago. My girlfriend at the time worked at the Women’s Resource Center for San Jose State University and was in charge of organizing our school’s V-Day event. Being a theater major, she thought my participation would be a perfect fit. I did not know what to expect or how I would be received given that I am a transgender woman. What I found was the most diverse and accepting group of women I had ever had a chance to work with. I enjoyed my time so much that even to this day I jump at the opportunity to participate in local productions. Most recently I had the pleasure of participating in the 2011 Los Angeles V-Day event at the Barnsdall Gallery Theater.

Even though, at its core, V-Day encourages women to speak openly about vaginas, I have never found the conversation it encourages to be dependent on genitalia. What we have always sought to facilitate is highlighting the oppression women across the board have experienced through violence — trans misogyny included. The negative connotations our society has placed on the word vagina are a clear symbol of that oppression. As much as we would like to think that we have overcome those views, we are consistently reminded that we have not. For example, just two years ago, Rep. Lisa Brown was banned from the floor of the Michigan House of Representatives simply for saying vagina.

V-Day events are not just about speaking out, they are also about raising money for organizations working to prevent violence against women and to support those who have faced it. Many recipients of the funds raised have been transgender organizations. This should not come as a surprise to anyone given the alarming rates of violence trans women face, which disproportionately target trans women of color. The year I was fortunate enough to co-direct our school’s production, our team made the decision to donate what we had raised to a local housing organization for battered women. Furthermore we specified the organization we chose had to be trans inclusive.

The responsibility of trans inclusivity is not on V-Day as an organization or the material Eve Ensler has written. They have already provided all the tools you need to make it inclusive. It is on each individual production to use those tools to ensure all voices and experiences are heard. Even the monologue that highlights transgender women, They Beat the Girl Out of My Boy, includes varied perspectives from within the trans community across both gender expression and sexual orientation.

Just as I have been able to learn extensively from the diverse women I have worked with, I have also had the chance to teach others about my own persona. The experience has inspired them to highlight stories of trans women in their own work. V-Day has provided me with an avenue to provide trans visibility not just to them, but also to the audiences for which we have performed. When only 8% of people say they know someone who is transgender, lack of visibility can often be the most common barrier to acceptance.

Celebrating women through The Vagina Monologues doesn’t mean the experience is exclusive to having a vagina. I point to my own personal favorite monologue as one that does not even include the word vagina. Yet it still retains what I have always felt Eve Ensler sought to create: a vehicle for finding strength and beauty in what society considers to be your weakness.

Julie Rei Goldstein is an actress, voice over artist and an ardent trans feminist.

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

Eve Ensler: I Never Defined a Woman as a Person With a Vagina

Brigitte Lacombe Eve Ensler

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

Why I'm surprised students at Mount Holyoke College think The Vagina Monologues is not inclusive to transgender students

Twenty years ago, when I wrote The Vagina Monologues, it was very difficult to say the word vagina anywhere. The public utterance of the word alone was explosive as so much of the truth about what happened to vaginas was repressed, denied, kept secret, and coated in shame and self-hatred.

Sadly, I would argue, The Vagina Monologues is still relevant here in the U.S. and around the world. Over 51% of the population has vaginas, clitorises, vulvas, and many to this day do not feel comfortable, familiar, free, or endowed with agency over them. One out of three women will experience physical or sexual violence in her lifetime.

Ten years ago, I was thrilled when a group of transgender women decided to do an all-trans production of my play. In preparation for the show, we gathered for days of dialogue and sharing of stories that, at the request of the group, I turned into a theatrical monologue called They Beat the Girl Out of My Boy. Since that first performance in 2004, the monologue has been available for inclusion in the play through V-Day, the global activist movement that grew out of The Vagina Monologues. Offering the monologue to our activists around the world was a deliberate decision on my part to encourage communities to address the needs and realities of the transgender community. Trans women and trans men have been welcome to perform in The Vagina Monologues throughout its history.

So I was surprised to find that students at Mount Holyoke College have decided to retire The Vagina Monologues because they believe it is not inclusive to transgender students. Their statement reads, “At its core, the show offers an extremely narrow perspective on what it means to be a woman … Gender is a wide and varied experience, one that cannot simply be reduced to biological or anatomical distinctions.”

The Vagina Monologues never intended to be a play about what it means to be a woman. It is and always has been a play about what it means to have a vagina. In the play, I never defined a woman as a person with a vagina.

Inclusion doesn’t come from refusing to acknowledge our distinctive experiences, and trying to erase them, in an attempt to pretend they do not exist. Inclusion comes from listening to our differences, and honoring the right of everyone to talk about their reality, free from oppression and bigotry and silencing. That’s real inclusion — to listen to different stories, with curiosity, and love, and respect, in all their particular and distinctive human individuality.

We need to create a loving space for people with vaginas, and women without them, to address our oppressions, desires, and secrets and to simultaneously honor the fact that gender is not based on anatomy or genitalia.

This journey with The Vagina Monologues has been a huge privilege and honor. The play is my offering. Only that. I celebrate and support more and more voices and plays defying, wrestling with, and illuminating the dimensions and definitions of sexuality and gender.

I stand in solidarity with students at Mount Holyoke in their fight against transphobia. I believe this is a beautiful opportunity for us to hear each other’s stories in this ever-evolving journey toward liberation.

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 women

What I Experienced From Online Dating as a Black Woman

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Getty Images

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

The majority of the messages I received, mostly from white men, fetishized my appearance and sexualized me based solely on my race

xojane

I try to remind myself that no one ever said online dating would be a wholly pleasant experience. There is an inherent awkwardness that comes with entering the world of swipes and algorithms, and it’s simply unavoidable.

I grew up and into an era during which the Internet has basically informed much of my identity and sparked many of my most important relationships — I’ve met some of my closest friends via sites like LiveJournal and Tumblr. And today, there’s no twentysomething I know who hasn’t met a bae or a jump off via some app or online service. So there’s no real sense of the taboo when it comes to dating online.

I created my first online profile in 2013 on OkCupid, a tiny baby step into unfamiliar territory with no real set goal in mind. All I knew was that as someone painfully shy around men, dating in the real world, in New York City, felt downright impossible. If anything, this was a way for me to gauge my own interest, and to date in a way that felt a bit more intentional, a bit more on my own terms.

And because I had girlfriends who told me about their escapades on the site, the good and the bad, the inevitable creeps and trolls, I felt relatively prepared for an imperfect if interesting experience.

What I wasn’t prepared for was the horror story that is online dating as a black woman.

Recently, OkCupid released data on race and attraction amongst its users, which revealed messed up but unsurprising realities about how people navigated the site.

Compiled by the site’s cofounder Christian Rudder, the data showed that black people and Asian men were least likely to get a date on the site. Black women specifically, the research showed, were at the very bottom of the barrel, receiving the fewest messages and likes from all races of men, and the least amount of responses to outgoing messages. Latina and Asian women, overwhelmingly, got the most likes and responses.

Rudder’s take on the data was pretty vague. “Beauty is a cultural idea as much as a physical one, and the standard is of course set by the dominant culture,” he said. “I believe that’s what you see in the data here.”

The narrative about black women and dating, about our lack of desirability and dateability, has been one I’ve actively tried to unlearn, despite a constant, nagging feeling that the reason I couldn’t get a date was because of the so-called stigma. But in my first major foray into the world of online dating, what struck me wasn’t so much this idea of not being wanted, but the kind of men who apparently wanted me.

A few creeps and trolls I could handle just fine. But from day one, I got tons of messages, many of them one or two word lines like, “Hey sexy,” and a larger majority of them reading, “Hey chocolate.” These weren’t worth the energy it took to respond.

The chocolate thing, though, kept coming up. Gradually, I began to notice a theme — the majority of the messages I received, mostly from white men, fetishized my appearance and sexualized me based solely on my race.

There have been so many ridiculous and offensive messages, too many to count or read. Many I’m not even comfortable sharing in this essay.

“Do you taste like chocolate?”

“Is it true what they say about black girls?”

“I’d love to slap dat big juicy booty.”

Once a guy was good enough to message me just to tell me that I look like “something you find in the zoo.” Another man, after luring me into a false sense of security by opening with a pleasant enough conversation about one of my favorite TV shows abruptly changed the subject to pose the question: “Do you act black?”

I asked him what exactly he meant by that.

He replied, “I like black women minus the attitude. Why is that wrong to ask? Haha.”

Haha, indeed.

In the three years I’ve been on OkCupid, I’ve only met up with a handful of people, mostly because it’s been impossible to meet anyone who doesn’t open or end conversations with offensive, racist, sexually aggressive language. A brief sojourn into Tinder world marked the worst of it — someone called me the n-word when I said I didn’t want to meet with him. I automatically deleted the app and haven’t been there since.

I know that I don’t represent every black girl’s time spent in the online dating world. I have black girlfriends who’ve had relatively decent, pleasant interactions, which is wonderful. But I also know my experiences aren’t unique. I do still wonder who else out there has put up with this kind of unwanted attention. The OkCupid data suggested Latinas and Asian women get the most attention on the site, but I can only imagine what kind of attention they’re getting — creepy fetishizing, no doubt.

It hasn’t all been bad, of course. In the past year I’ve met a few guys online who have been fun to hang out with, and a couple whom I’ve actually really liked. But I’m taking an indefinite break from the online dating world. Partly because I want to experience different forms of dating, but mostly because the energy of weeding through hundreds of gross and racist messages from strangers is, to me, the very opposite of self-care.

Last year, some important conversations were sparked surrounding the kind of street harassment women face on a daily basis. There needs to be, I think, a similar conversation about online harassment. Because it’s not just the dating sites where women are subjected to this kind of behavior.

On my Tumblr blog I’ve gotten creepy messages, and had my personal photos posted on ebony fetish blogs. Some might say that the solution to avoiding this kind behavior is to delete my blog or my profile, to block the guys I don’t like and focus on the ones I do.

I say that I shouldn’t have to do that to begin with.

Zeba Blay is a writer in New York. This article originally appeared on xoJane.com.

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 life hacks

How Not to Be ‘Manterrupted’ in Meetings

2009 MTV Video Music Awards - Show
Kevin Mazur—WireImage/Getty Images Kanye West takes the microphone from Taylor Swift and speaks onstage during the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards on Sept. 13, 2009

A guide for women, men and bosses

Manterrupting: Unnecessary interruption of a woman by a man.

Bropropriating: Taking a woman’s idea and taking credit for it.

We all remember that moment back in 2009, when Kanye West lunged onto the stage at the MTV Video Music Awards, grabbed the microphone from Taylor Swift, and launched into a monologue. “I’m gonna let you finish,” he said as he interrupted Swift as she was accepting the award for best female video. “But Beyoncé had one of the best videos of all time!”

It was perhaps the most public example of the “manterruption” – that is, a man interrupting a woman while she’s trying to speak (in this case, on stage, by herself, as an award honoree) and taking over the floor. At the VMAs it might have counted as entertainment, but ask any woman in the working world and we all recognize the phenomenon. We speak up in a meeting, only to hear a man’s voice chime in louder. We pitch an idea, perhaps too uncertainly – only to have a dude repeat it with authority. We may possess the skill, but he has the right vocal cords – which means we shut up, losing our confidence (or worse, the credit for the work).

We might have thought we were just being paranoid. But thanks to Sheryl Sandberg and Wharton business school professor Adam Grant (a man!) we can feel just a little less crazy when we mentally replay those meetings gone wrong. In a new op-ed in the New York Times, they point out the perils of “speaking while female,” along with a bevy of new research to prove that no, this is not all in our heads. (Disclaimer: I edit special projects for Sandberg’s women’s nonprofit, LeanIn.Org. Though I did not edit her Times op-ed.)

Sandberg and Grant cite research showing that powerful male Senators speak significantly more than their junior colleagues, while female Senators do not. That male executives who speak more often than their peers are deemed more competent (by 10%), while female executives who speak up are considered less (14% less). The data follows a long line of research showing that when it comes to the workplace, women speak less, are interrupted more, and have their ideas more harshly scrutinized.

“We’ve both seen it happen again and again,” Sandberg and Grant write. “When a woman speaks in a professional setting, she walks a tightrope. Either she’s barely heard or she’s judged as too aggressive. When a man says virtually the same thing, heads nod in appreciation for his fine idea.”

My friends have come up with terminology for it: Manterrupting. Manstanding. (Or talk-blocking, if you want the gender-neutral version.)

And the result? Women hold back. That, or we relinquish credit altogether. Our ideas get co-opted (bro-opted), re-appropriated (bro-propriated?) — or they simply fizzle out. We shut down, become less creative, less engaged. We revert into ourselves, wondering if it’s actually our fault. Enter spiral of self-doubt.

But there are things we can do to stop that cycle: women, men, and even bosses.

Know That We’re All a Little Bit Sexist — and Correct for It

The reality is that we all exhibit what scholars call “unconscious bias” — ingrained prejudices we may not even know we have. (Don’t think you’re among the culprits? Take this Implicit Association Test to be proved wrong.) When it comes to women, that bias is the result of decades of history; we’ve been taught that men lead and women nurture. So when women exhibit male traits – you know, decision-making, authority, leadership – we often dislike them, while men who exhibit those same traits are frequently deemed strong, masculine, and competent. It’s not only men who exhibit this bias, it’s women too: as one recent study found, it’s not just men who interrupt women more at work — it’s women too. But acknowledging that bias is an important step toward correcting for it.

Establish a No-Kanye Rule (Or Any Interruption, for That Matter)

When Glen Mazarra, a showrunner at The Shield, an FX TV drama from the early 2000s, noticed that his female writers weren’t speaking up in the writer’s room – or that when they did, they were interrupted and their ideas overtaken — he instituted a no-interruption policy while writers (male or female) were pitching. “It worked, and he later observed that it made the entire team more effective,” Sandberg and Grant wrote.

Practice Bystander Intervention

Seriously, stop an interrupter in his (or her) tracks. Nudge him, elbow him, or simply speak up to say, “Wait, let her finish,” or “Hey, I want to hear what Jess is saying.” The words are your choice — but don’t stay silent.

Create a Buddy System With a Friend

Or, better yet, if you’re a woman, create a buddy system with a friend who is a dude. Ask him to nod and look interested when you speak (when he’s interested, of course). Let him to back you up publicly in meetings. Seriously, try it. It’s not fair, no. But dammit, it works.

Support Your (Female) Colleagues

If you hear an idea from a woman that you think is good, back her up. You’ll have more of an effect than you think and you’ll establish yourself as a team player too.

Give Credit Where It’s Due

Yes, everyone wants credit for a good idea. But research shows that giving credit where it’s due will actually make you look better (as well as the person with the idea).

Women: Practice Assertive Body Language

Sit at the table, point to someone, stand up, walk to the front of the room, place your hand on the table — whatever it takes. Not only do these high-power poses make you appear more authoritative, but they actually increase your testosterone levels – and thus, your confidence. In some cases, it may actually help to literally “lean in”: in one study, researchers found that men physically lean in more often than women in professional meetings, making them less likely to be interrupted. Women more often leaned away — and were more likely to be interrupted.

… And Own Your Voice

Don’t undermine your authority with “I’m not sure if this is right, but—.” Speak authoritatively. Avoid the baby voice (leadership and authority are associated with the deep masculine voice, not with a softer, higher pitched tone). And please, whatever you do, don’t apologize before you speak.

Support Companies With Women in Power

We know that companies with more women on their corporate boards have higher outcomes and better returns. Teams with more diverse members perform better too. But having more women in power may actually encourage women to bring their ideas forward. In one study cited by Sandberg and Grant, researchers looked at the employees of a credit union where women made up 74% of supervisors and 84% of front-line employees. Shocker: women here were more likely to speak up, and be heard.

If all else fails, you can always learn how to talk really, really loud.

Jessica Bennett is a contributing columnist at Time.com covering the intersection of gender, sexuality, business and pop culture. She writes regularly for the New York Times and is a contributing editor on special projects for Sheryl Sandberg’s women’s nonprofit, Lean In. You can follow her @jess7bennett.

Read next: A Better Feminism for 2015

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TIME leadership

Only 20% of Republican Women Call It Important to See a Female President in Their Lifetime

180408958
Hero Images—Getty Images/Hero Images Businesswoman looking out office window

But most people think women are effective business and political leaders, says a new Pew study

Correction appended, Jan. 14

The glass ceiling may not have shattered, but it is a lot less invisible than it used to be. Women make up only 20% of the Senate, 10% of governors, and 5.2% of Fortune 500 Business leaders. But at least Americans are beginning to understand why: sexist doubts about women’s competence are being slowly replaced by acknowledgement of the tough hand dealt to women leaders.

Not everybody feels that situation should change: A new Pew study says only 20% of women who identify as Republican consider it “personally important” to see a female president in their lifetime.

Mostly, however, Americans attribute the gender gap in leadership roles to structural inequalities, and sexist perceptions of female performance are actually relatively uncommon, says the study: 43% said that double standards keep women from achieving top business positions, and 38% said that kept them from political office. Meanwhile, fewer than 10% of people think women aren’t achieving these positions because they’re not tough enough or they make bad managers.

When it comes to gender equality in the business world, there’s a wide perception that women perform just as well as men, if not better. Most people said they saw no difference between how men and women perform in top business positions, but those that did see a difference tended to give women the edge: 31% said they thought women were more ethical and 30% said women would give fairer pay (although 34% said they thought men would be more likely to take risks.) Respondents said they thought women would do a better job running a hospital, a retail chain, or a large bank, while men would have better skills for running a professional sports team, an energy company, or a tech company.

But “soft skills” aside, 52% of women say the reason there aren’t more women running companies is because female CEOs are held to to higher standards than men. And it’s unclear whether these standards will ever disappear completely: 53% of respondents said men will dominate corporate leadership forever, while 44% said the gender gap at the top will eventually close.

Politics is a little different. A full 73% of Americans expect to see a female president in their lifetime, and while most respondents still thought men and women would do equally well in top political positions, 34% say women are better at working out compromises and are more ethical than men. Yet the double standard persists—47% of women believe that women don’t achieve high political office because they’re held to higher standards than men.

Unsurprisingly, the political opinions break down among party lines as well. Democrats are consistently more likely to attribute positive leadership skills to women: 40% of Democrats said women politicians are more honest than men while only 31% of Republicans agreed.

In both business and politics, women seem to be much more aware of the challenges facing female leaders than men are. Almost three quarters of women think it’s easier for men to become CEOs, compared to 61% of men, and 73% of women think it’s easier for men to be elected to political office, compared to 58% of men. Women were also much more likely to recognize gender discrimination by almost a 2o point margin (65% of women, compared to 48% of men,) but of that group, only 15% of women said there was “a lot” of discrimination. Both men and women said they saw more discrimination against gay people, African-Americans, and Hispanics: 28% said there is “a lot” of discrimination against gays and lesbians.

When asked whether more women in leadership roles would approve the quality of life for all women, 38% of women said that more female politicians would help them “a lot.” Only half as many men agreed.

Correction: The original version of this story incorrectly described one of the findings of the Pew study. It found that 20% of Republican women “personally hope” to see the United States elect a female president during their lifetime.

TIME movies

Geena Davis Launches Film Festival to Boost Female Filmmakers, With Help From Natalie Portman and Shailene Woodley

National Women's History Museum's 3rd Annual Women Making History Event
Gregg DeGuire—WireImage Actress Geena Davis arrives at the National Women's History Museum's 3rd Annual Women Making History event at Skirball Cultural Center on Aug. 23, 2014 in Los Angeles.

Award winners will get guaranteed theatrical release

Geena Davis is starting the Bentonville Film Festival, a festival designed to promote women and minority filmmakers that will be the only competition in the world to guarantee theatrical distribution for the winners.

The BFF is being co-hosted by WalMart, AMC, Coca-Cola, and ARC Entertainment, and the advisory board contains big names like Natalie Portman, Julianne Moore, Angela Bassett, Samuel L. Jackson, and Shailene Woodley. The festival will screen about 75 films in competition, and the films that win the Audience, Jury Selection and Best Family Film Awards will get a distribution agreement with a guaranteed theatrical release in at least 25 AMC theaters.

“I have been an advocate for women for most of my adult life,” Geena Davis said in a statement. “The Bentonville Film Festival is a critical component of how we can directly impact the quantity and quality of females and minorities on screen and behind-the scenes.”

Submissions will be accepted starting Jan 15, and the selected films will be announced in March.

TIME Television

Like Your TV With Strong Female Characters? Thank Murphy Brown

Murphy Brown cover
Cover Credit: FIROOZ ZAHEDI The Sept. 21, 1992, cover of TIME

Gender issues on TV get lots of media attention, but we've forgotten to give credit where credit's due

This week brings the debut of ABC’s Marvel’s Agent Carter, an action series starring Hayley Atwell as a woman who’s underestimated by her male colleagues despite her incredible acumen as a spy. It’s a period piece, set in the 1940s, but one hardly needs to look back that far to find women on TV whose strength in the workplace and self-confidence defined them and befuddled critics.

Murphy Brown, the hardworking, single title character of a CBS sitcom starring Candice Bergen and the subject of a 1992 TIME cover, had been on-air for three seasons when, in 1991, she discovered she was pregnant and decided to keep the baby. It was a predicament not just for the character but for a TV show that, though unafraid of political controversy, was now going far beyond traditional parameters. TIME compared Bergen’s character to Lucille Ball’s on I Love Lucy after Murphy decided to keep the baby: “And to think, Lucy couldn’t even say pregnant on TV.” Even despite the electoral gains by women in the Senate that got 1992 dubbed “the Year of the Woman,” Brown may have been the most-talked-about female political figure of the year.

Murphy Brown’s televised pregnancy and her decision to raise her child as a single mother were a flashpoint in the 1992 election — and changed the role of women on TV. Today, from Scandal to The Good Wife, TV’s packed with strong and complex female characters; thanks, Murphy! Though Murphy Brown is rarely watched or invoked today, the high point of its relevance made a lasting impact on the way we talk about television, and about motherhood.

The show had made waves in the years before Murphy Brown’s pregnancy with, as TIME critic Richard Zoglin put it in May 1992, “the smarts and the moxie to take pokes at everything from gossip-mongering tabloids to the Anita Hill hearings.” Bergen’s character, a recovering alcoholic working for a Washington-based TV news magazine show, was unafraid to be unlikable; the show, and its dependence on sharp, pop-culture-centric comebacks, struck Zoglin as “cleverly written, but in a smug, soulless, metallic way.”

Viewers disagreed. Murphy Brown went into its big fourth-season pregnancy plot line in the Nielsen ratings top ten and with a shelf full of Emmys, including one for best comedy and two for Bergen’s performance. But while viewers and critics were accustomed to the show’s sharply political tone and its acidity, the pregnancy plot touched upon a third rail of sorts. The show foregrounded the question of working motherhood, with a fictional baby shower for Murphy attended by real-world TV news stars from Katie Couric to Joan Lunden. It was a pointed argument that work-life balance was possible (though Zoglin hastened to point out, in his May 1992 take, that more serious journalists like Diane Sawyer, the ones “who Murphy is really modeled after,” skipped the shower).

The fourth season ended with the birth of baby boy Avery — but the controversy was only beginning.

In a May 1992 speech about the breakdown of the American family in San Francisco, Vice President Dan Quayle decried Murphy Brown’s decision to raise her child alone: “It doesn’t help matters when prime-time TV has Murphy Brown — a character who supposedly epitomizes today’s intelligent, highly paid professional woman — mocking the importance of fathers by bearing a child alone and calling it just another ‘life-style choice.’”

Quayle came in for more criticism from Hollywood — and from TIME. Zoglin characterized the treatment of the incumbent veep, up for re-election, at the 1992 Emmy Awards as “a Rodney King beating by the Hollywood elite,” noting that Bergen thanked Quayle sarcastically in her third best actress speech. The show’s creator, Diane English, told TIME that Murphy Brown was “a liberal Democrat because in fact that’s what I am” and lead actress Bergen described Quayle as “Bush’s buffoon” in the TIME cover package.

But this sort of rhetoric was nothing new: Earlier that year, President George H.W. Bush had urged American families to be “a lot more like the Waltons and a lot less like the Simpsons.” But even The Simpsons were, at the end of each episode, a traditional nuclear family; they even went to church. Murphy Brown was making a reproductive and family decision that stood in opposition to far more than mere matters of taste: As Zoglin pointed out in a June 1992 piece responding to Quayle’s complaint, “prime-time TV these days is boosting family values more aggressively than it has in decades,” citing everything from Home Improvement to Roseanne. It turned out that Murphy Brown was worth highlighting in a Vice-Presidential speech not because it represented the state of television and the culture in general but because, in the particulars of Murphy’s choice, it was so far outside the mores of its day.

But — in a twist that did not go unremarked-upon at the time — once one got past the specifics of how baby Avery came into the world, Murphy Brown was not so outside the mainstream at all. It was a show that followed the vogue at the time in portraying the family bond, however one found it, as an ideal. “It took a Top 10 network series that will undoubtedly be around for years to grab the Vice President’s attention,” wrote Zoglin. “Now he needs to do some channel switching.”

There’s no question that Murphy Brown was attention-grabbing — but, decades later, the show is markedly absent from much of the discussion about great television of the ’80s and ’90s. Perhaps it was the ties to Quayle, and to Bush I-era Republicanism, that spelled a slow death for Murphy Brown, a show whose central mother-son relationship, after all, was as life-affirming as anything on Home Improvement. The show was hardly in immediate danger of cancellation. And yet Quayle’s speech, which TIME columnist Michael Kinsley called in 1994 “the best-remembered speech of the Bush presidency” may well have consigned Murphy Brown to be remembered within the context of the Bush presidency. The show lost some heat off its fastball once the President and Vice President left office in the middle of the fifth season. Every subsequent season fell lower and lower in the ratings — not shocking for a long-running TV series, but proof positive, perhaps, that Murphy Brown’s formula of explicit political discourse, something the series indulged more and more post-baby, was a turn-off for some.

It’s hard for pathbreakers. By the time it left the air, Murphy Brown was a footnote. But two months after its cancellation, Calista Flockhart appeared on the cover of TIME in service of her character Ally McBeal, a single woman whose pursuit of a career hardly stood in the way of her desire to be a mother. Indeed, Ally’s biological clock was the very text of Ally McBeal. And two years after that, the women of Sex and the City would be on TIME’s cover, asking “Who Needs a Husband?” (Soon enough, cover subject Cynthia Nixon’s character Miranda would carry a baby to term without the intention of getting married.) Today, the (anti?-)heroines of Scandal and How to Get Away With Murder define themselves through their acuity at work, with the biological clock left entirely aside; Claire Underwood of House of Cards is the most fascinating character, male or female, on television, and one whose decision not to have a child is presented matter-of-factly and with little agonization.

Neither Ally McBeal nor Sex and the City – nor Desperate Housewives, whose star, Teri Hatcher, played a single mother and appeared on TIME’s cover in 2005– would end up becoming political talking points the way Murphy had. Carrie Bradshaw is the one who still makes news, but someone had to blaze a trail. Later series just learned that specific political references burn quickly – and benefited from Bergen’s character going through a political maelstrom so none of them had to.

TIME feminism

Kaley Cuoco Says Feminism Comments Taken Out of Context

"I'm completely blessed and grateful that strong women have paved the way for my success," she says

Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting took to Instagram Thursday to defend herself against criticism of a Redbook interview in which she said she’s not a feminist.

“If any of you are In the ‘biz’ you are well aware of how words can be taken out of context,” she wrote. “I’m completely blessed and grateful that strong women have paved the way for my success along with many others. I apologize if anyone was offended.”

The Big Bang Theory actress is one of the highest-paid women on television, raking in $1 million per episode.

“I’m so in control of my work,” Cuoco-Sweeting said in the Redbook interview, “that I like coming home and serving [my husband].”

[Us Weekly]

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