TIME feminism

Here’s What 20 Famous Women Think About Feminism

From Emma Watson to Beyonce to Chrissy Teigen, here's where 20 celebrities stand on the feminist spectrum

Emma Watson gave a speech at the U.N. Women’s HeForShe event recentlyabout how important it is for men to be involved in gender equality. “The more I have talked about feminism the more I have 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’s that this has to stop.”

Check out the gallery to see what 19 other celebrities think about the state of modern feminism.

TIME feminism

Watch Emma Watson Explain Why She’s a Feminist

"I want men to take up this mantle," said the Harry Potter star

British actress Emma Watson called on men and boys around the globe to join the movement for gender equality during a moving speech given in her role as U.N. Women global goodwill ambassador.

“I want men to take up this mantle. So their daughters, sisters and mothers can be free from prejudice, but also so that their sons have permission to be vulnerable and human too — reclaim those parts of themselves they abandoned and in doing so be a more true and complete version of themselves,” she said at the U.N. headquarters in New York City on Saturday.

The 24-year-old actress, who gained worldwide fame for her role as Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter movie franchise, was speaking as part of the HeForShe global solidarity movement to promote women’s rights and equality between the sexes.

See full video of her speech below.

TIME Sexual Assault

The CDC’s Rape Numbers Are Misleading

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The entrance to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta on Oct. 8, 2013. David Goldman—AP

Cathy Young is a contributing editor at Reason magazine.

Men reported being “made to penetrate” at virtually the same rates as women reported rape

CDC: Nearly 1 in 5 Women Raped.” “One in Five U.S. Women Has Been Raped: CDC Survey.” These alarming headlines were typical of the coverage of last week’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report on sexual and intimate violence in the United States. The CDC study—the second in two years—seems to support a radical feminist narrative that has been gaining mainstream attention recently: that modern America is a “rape culture” saturated with misogynistic violence. But a closer look at the data, obtained from telephone surveys done in 2011, yields a far more complex picture and raises some surprising question about gender, victimization, and bias.

Both critics and supporters of the CDC’s methodology note the striking disparity between CDC figures and the Justice Department’s crime statistics based on the National Crime Victimization Survey (which includes crimes unreported to the police). While the CDC estimates that nearly 2 million adult American women were raped in 2011 and nearly 6.7 million suffered some other form of sexual violence, the NCVS estimate for that year was 238,000 rapes and sexual assaults.

New Republic reporter Claire Groden points out that while the NCVS focuses on criminal acts, the CDC’s National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey asks about instances of forced sex which respondents may or may not regard as crimes. Yet it is worth noting that in the early 1990s, the NCVS was redesigned to elicit more reports of sexual and domestic violence that may not fit the conventional mold of criminal attacks. In addition to being asked directly about rape, attempted rape or sexual assault, respondents now get a follow-up question about “forced or unwanted sexual acts” committed by a stranger, a casual acquaintance, or someone they know well.

The CDC study goes much further in asking about specific unwanted acts. But there are other important differences. For one, CDC survey respondents are not asked whether anyone has used physical force or threats to make them engage in a sexual activity, but “how many” people have done this (in their lifetime and in the past year). This wording removes the extra hurdle of admitting that such a violation has happened, and thus encourages more reporting. But could it also create “false positives” by nudging people toward the assumption that the default answer is affirmative—especially when preceded by a battery of other questions and statements about sexually coercive behavior?

A much bigger problem is the wording of the question measuring “incapacitated rape” (which accounted for nearly two-thirds of the CDC’s estimate of rapes that occurred in the past year). Respondents were asked about sexual acts that happened when they were “drunk, high, drugged, or passed out and unable to consent.” This seems to imply that “unable to consent” is only one of the variables and to include situations in which a person is intoxicated—perhaps enough to have impaired judgment—but not incapacitated as the legal definition of rape requires.

A CDC spokesperson told The New Republic that “being unable to consent is key to the CDC’s definition of rape.” Presumably, this is conveyed by the introduction to the question about alcohol- and drug-enabled rape: “Sometimes sex happens when a person is unable to consent to it or stop it from happening because they were drunk, high, drugged, or passed out from alcohol, drugs, or medications.” However, in a telephone survey, some people may focus only on the question itself and let the introduction slide by.

Moreover, the introductory message ends with an advisory that may create more confusion: “Please remember that even if someone uses alcohol or drugs, what happens to them is not their fault.” Obviously, the intended point is that even if you got drunk, you’re not to blame for being raped. But this vaguely phrased reminder could also be taken to mean that it’s not your fault if you do something stupid while drunk or on drugs. At no point are respondents given any instructions that could result in fewer reports of alleged victimization: for instance, that they should not include instances in which they had voluntary sex while drunk but not incapacitated.

For many feminists, questioning claims of rampant sexual violence in our society amounts to misogynist “rape denial.” However, if the CDC figures are to be taken at face value, then we must also conclude that, far from being a product of patriarchal violence against women, “rape culture” is a two-way street, with plenty of female perpetrators and male victims.

How could that be? After all, very few men in the CDC study were classified as victims of rape: 1.7 percent in their lifetime, and too few for a reliable estimate in the past year. But these numbers refer only to men who have been forced into anal sex or made to perform oral sex on another male. Nearly 7 percent of men, however, reported that at some point in their lives, they were “made to penetrate” another person—usually in reference to vaginal intercourse, receiving oral sex, or performing oral sex on a woman. This was not classified as rape, but as “other sexual violence.”

And now the real surprise: when asked about experiences in the last 12 months, men reported being “made to penetrate”—either by physical force or due to intoxication—at virtually the same rates as women reported rape (both 1.1 percent in 2010, and 1.7 and 1.6 respectively in 2011).

In other words, if being made to penetrate someone was counted as rape—and why shouldn’t it be?—then the headlines could have focused on a truly sensational CDC finding: that women rape men as often as men rape women.

The CDC also reports that men account for over a third of those experiencing another form of sexual violence—“sexual coercion.” That was defined as being pressured into sexual activity by psychological means: lies or false promises, threats to end a relationship or spread negative gossip, or “making repeated requests” for sex and expressing unhappiness at being turned down.

Should we, then, regard sexual violence as a reciprocal problem? Getting away from the simplistic and adversarial “war against women” model is undoubtedly a positive step, as is admitting that women are human beings with the capacity for aggression and wrongdoing—including sexual assault. On the other hand, most of us would agree that to equate a victim of violent rape and a man who engages in a drunken sexual act he wouldn’t have chosen when sober is to trivialize a terrible crime. It is safe to assume that the vast majority of the CDC’s male respondents who were “made to penetrate” someone would not call themselves rape victims—and with good reason.

But if that’s the case, it is just as misleading to equate a woman’s experience of alcohol-addled sex with the experience of a rape victim who is either physically overpowered or attacked when genuinely incapacitated. For purely biological reasons, there is little doubt that adult victims of such crimes are mostly female—though male children and adolescents are at fairly high risk: as criminologists Richard Felson and Patrick Cundiff report in a fascinating recent analysis, a 15-year-old male is considerably more likely to be sexually assaulted than a woman over 40. The CDC reports that 12.3 percent of female victims were 10 or younger at the time of their first completed rape victimization; for male victims, that number is 27.8 percent.

We must either start treating sexual assault as a gender-neutral issue or stop using the CDC’s inflated statistics. Few would deny that sex crimes in America are a real, serious, and tragic problem. But studies of sexual violence should use accurate and clear definitions of rape and sexual assault, rather than lump these criminal acts together with a wide range of unsavory but non-criminal scenarios of men—and women—behaving badly.

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 European Union

Feminism Comes to the Forefront of Swedish Politics

A look inside one of the world's first feminist parties to be elected to power

Sweden is already known for its progressive policies, but on Sept. 14, this Scandinavian country could be among the first in the world to elect a feminist party to its Parliament.

Feministiskt Initiativ a left-leaning and antiracist political party that was founded in 2005 — has gained popularity in recent months: polls show the party close to or passing the 4% bar needed to obtain seats in Stockholm’s Parliament. If the left-leaning parties with the Swedish Social Democratic Party in the lead secure enough votes and the feminists get 4%, they will likely help form the next government.

With its slogan “Out with the racists, in with the feminists,” the party has broadened traditional feminist values to also fight discrimination on the basis of race, sexual identity and physical disabilities. The party has grown from about 1,500 members in January to more than 17,000 members in July, said Gudrun Schyman, party leader and one of the founders of Feministiskt Initiativ.

“We haven’t reached the goals when it comes to gender equality,” Schyman said. “There has been a myth that we are so advanced, that we have come so far in Sweden that we don’t have to talk about it, we don’t have to do anything.”

While Sweden ranks No. 4 in the 2013 Global Gender Gap Index, which measures equality in the areas of economics, politics, education and health, 95% of Swedish top leaders in listed companies are men. Recent studies also show that Swedish women have 85% of men’s wages and 66% of their pensions.

Sweden is also known for its groundbreaking laws on maternity and paternity leave. But the feminist say that more reforms are needed to make parental leave equal and they propose it should be individualized to fit all kinds of families, including transgender and same-sex ones. While parents are entitled to 480 days of paid leave and the days can be split between parents, a 2012 study shows that dads took only 24% of the total leave.

Schyman, 66, says that the feminist party’s success is due to a carefully crafted door-to-door campaign: during the pas 12 months, Schyman visited every Swedish home where the host pledged to gather a crowd of at least 25 people. During the two-hour-long meetings, Schyman would talk about the growing racism in Swedish society, the need for better pensions and equal pay. The party also plans to set up an Equality Ministry as a permanent government organ. These talking points resonated strongly with a group of Swedish society — where 16% of the population is foreign-born, a higher percentage than in the U.S. — that feels alienated by more established parties.

Feminist Initiativ also gained attention by riding a wave of antiracist feelings that have emerged after increasingly anti-immigration parties, like Sverigedemokraterna, began to gain seats in the national parliament in the 2010 election.

Feministiskt Initiativ has also had success in European politics. In May, the feminists got 5.3% of the Swedes’ votes and a Roma woman, Soraya Post, was welcomed as the first member of a feminist party to sit in the European Parliament.

Schyman believes her party can spur a movement throughout Scandinavia and Europe: she hopes that by 2019, the year of the next European Parliament elections, there will be enough feminist voters in other European countries to form a European feminist-party group. Poland, Germany, France and Italy are among countries that already have organized feminist parties in their individual states.

Yasmine Ergas, director of the gender and public-policy specialization at the School of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University in New York City, says it makes sense that a feminist party has so much support in Sweden.

“The most important thing is to have the ability to mobilize consent,” Ergas said. “There must be a degree of consent in the society about the idea that women rights needs further approach and I think Sweden has that.”

But Feministiskt Initiativ has been criticized for being a populist party or for attracting voters with easy slogans that aren’t backed by financially sounded policy plans. Ebba Busch Thor and Mikael Oscarsson, members of the conservative party Kristdemokraterna, wrote in an opinion piece in the Swedish newspaper Upsala Nya Tidning that the feminist party has “totalitarian features” and that the party “proposes expenses of hundreds of millions Swedish krona without any kind of financial strategy.”

Among the propositions in the feminist party’s economic plan is a reduction of the workday from eight to six hours. Such reform would cost the Swedish government up to $1.6 billion during a 10-year-long transition period, according to data published by the feminist party. In addition, the feminists propose free public transport, extensive efforts to stop domestic violence and an equality fund of $2 billion to speed up the equal-pay process. These reforms will largely be funded by increased taxes but also by measures such as reduction of funding to the Swedish military.

“When the welfare system is not working, it affects women very much,” Schyman said, ”and we think it’s quite normal that you take responsibility for this all of you no matter if you are rich or not and if you have a lot of money you can pay some more tax.”

Recent polls seem to side with Feminist Initiativ, pointing to a likely change in government from the current right-wing coalition Alliansen toward a government led by the Social Democrats and the Green Party. To get a majority in the parliament, the next administration is likely to cooperate with the feminists, and last week Schyman went public with her intent to back the Social Democrat leader Stefan Lofven as Prime Minister if they pass the 4% bar in the elections on Sunday.

This summer, during the political rally in Almedalen park in the city of Visby, the feminists rallied the crowds at St. Karin’s ruin, a desolated church from the 14th century. Their “antiracist celebration” was held the same day as Jimmie Akesson, party leader of anti-immigrant party Sverigedemokraterna spoke in front of the crowds a couple of hundreds of meters away.

Hundreds of supporters — donning pink balloons and clothing, the color of the party — came to rally in favor of Feministiskt Initiativ. The renowned Swedish rapper Behrang Miri also performed to a crowd of hundreds.

“We have the possibility to show that it is possible to get these ideas going in the Parliament and in people’s minds,” said Bengt Ortegren, 68, member and volunteer at Feministiskt Initiativ. “I think that is the most important really that there will be new processes going in people’s minds. “

For him, violence against women was one of the main reasons to join the party. “In all the world there is a lot of violence and oppression against women and that is a big issue,” he said. “Perhaps the biggest.”

TIME Internet

Behold the Power of #Hashtag Feminism

Janay Rice Ray Rice NFL
Janay Rice listens as her husband, Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice, speaks during a news conference at the team's practice facility in Owings Mills, Md on May 23, 2014. Patrick Semansky—AP

Women are using social media to have a voice in a way that organizations like the NFL do not afford them.

At the time, the ad campaign — modeled on efforts to curb drunk driving — was considered shocking. It was 1994, the year that OJ Simpson would be arrested for murder, his history of domestic abuse exposed. Yet even so, domestic violence was not a crime that anybody seemed willing to talk about back then. It was, as then Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala put it, “our dirty little secret” — something that happened, and stayed, behind closed doors.

But Esta Soler, the president of a group called Futures Without Violence, was determined to get people talking. Under the banner, “There’s No Excuse for Domestic Violence,” she distributed a series of advertisements to 22,000 media outlets — including ones published in TIME and People. In one, the blurred image of a woman is pictured cowering under a man. “If we remain silent,” Soler told the Washington Post at the time, “our silence will breed even more fear.”

Twenty years later, domestic abuse is again making headlines (and again with a star football player). But this time women are talking about it en masse.

When TMZ released a damning video of Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice beating his girlfriend (now wife) unconscious on Monday, the response was swift: commenters called the NFL response an “epic breach of trust.” Rice was cut from the team. Cable news commenters began to question, in light of the revelation, why Rice’s wife would have stayed with him in the first place.

Beverly Gooden, a Cleveland HR manager, had had enough. Under the hashtag #WhyIStayed, she tweeted a staccato response:

“I stayed because my pastor told me that God hates divorce,” she wrote of her own abusive relationship.

I stayed because I was halfway across the country, isolated from my friends and family.”

“I stayed because I thought love was enough to conquer all.”

It was the antidote to the simplistic view of many of the “experts” who’d weighed in, and it went viral in an instant. “You can feel voiceless,” Gooden told PolicyMic, as the hashtag collected thousands of women’s (and men’s) stories. “I want people to know that they have a voice.”

She was talking about domestic violence, and yet it could have been a metaphor for the way that women like her are using social media daily to make their voices heard. From #StandWithWendy to #HobbyLobby to #YesAllWomen, they are bypassing the gatekeepers, simply by sheer mass — forcing attention on the issues they deem important. “This conversation would have been impossible even 10 years ago,” says Soler, reflecting on more than 30 years as an advocate. “Social media has created space for people of all kinds to express themselves, and to see their voices amplified.”

The women’s social media revolution began some time ago — but reached its tipping point this year. In May, #YesAllWomen practically broke the Internet — a response to the misogynist killings at UCSB that turned into a three day global movement. Since then, the stream of hashtag causes has been hard to keep up with: #SurvivorPrivilege, the response to a George Will column that asserted being a rape survivor on a college campus was now a “coveted status” (he was dumped by the St. Louis Dispatch as a result). There’s #EverydaySexism, about daily harassment, #YouOKSis, to challenge street harassment, #AskHerMore, which calls out the questions we wish reporters would ask women on the red carpet. The list goes on. It’s no huge surprise that, according to data from Twitter, conversation about “feminism” has increased by 300 percent on the platform over the past three years. Women’s issues are everywhere, relentlessly spread by the women they impact. For the mainstream media, tracking the feminist hashtag of the moment has become a virtual sport.

In the 1970s, feminists often said “the personal is political.” It meant that the more women could connect with issues in their own life, the more attention they’d pay to the politics around them. But if consciousness-raising groups were the personal for thousands of women then, then the intimate personal stories curated in hashtags like #WhyIStayed are the modern-day equivalent. “What I think is most unique now is that we’re able to attach our own stories to elevate the issues beyond just a video of a man punching a woman,” says Tara Conley, an ethnographer who studies online media and the creator of a blog called Hashtag Feminism. “Social media can play an important role in opening up spaces for women — particularly those who’ve been marginalized.”

Social organizing has always existed in the women’s space — from word of mouth to letter-writing to telephone chains and flyers, methods of organizing has adopted to the times. And yet in a pre-Internet era, unless a woman accidentally stumbled into a protest, or a consciousness-raising group, she likely wasn’t hearing much about it. Which is why #WhyIStayed, and movements like it, are even more significant. They manage to take issues frequently confined to small circles — feminist circles — and bring them to the masses. “What is interesting to me is how these issues are going mainstream,” says Matthew Slutsky, who runs partnerships at Change.org. “It’s not feminists, or even activists, talking about rape, or domestic violence, or abortion rights, anymore. It’s just people.”

Those people happen to be women — mostly. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Women’s power on the internet continues to rise: they now dominate every major social media platform but one (LinkedIn), they log in more often than their male counterparts, and they are more engaged when they do. When it comes to activism, they are ruling there, too: women are 2.5 times more likely to sign petitions than their male counterparts, and more likely to have successful organizing campaigns, according to data from Change.org. “Women don’t just dominate social media, they drive traffic,” says Elizabeth Plank, the executive social editor at PolicyMic. “That’s a massive game changer.”

It means that they don’t just have a voice, they are forcing institutions to listen.

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

TIME feminism

There’s No Comparing Male and Female Harassment Online

Hacker
Getty Images

Recent arguments have suggested that men get harassed more than women on the Internet, but this ignores the violent reality

News about cyber-misogyny has steadily increased during the past year, since the publication of Amanda Hess’ “Why Women Aren’t Welcome on the Internet,” but many people challenge the notion that women’s online harassment is a matter of specific and particular concern. For example, a piece in the Daily Beast last week argued that men are harassed more often than women online. It’s a common refrain.

The starting point for the article, written by Cathy Young, is a recent survey by British think tank Demos that found that male celebrities are recipients of more abuse overall on Twitter than their female counterparts. This was a relatively narrow and unrepresentative study. There are many others documented in Danielle Citron’s new book, Hate Crimes in CyberSpace, that illustrate pronounced abusive sexism online.

In addition to the difficulty of comparing data sets of varying size and depth, however, comparing male versus female online “harassment” is problematic for many reasons.

First, as Young points out, women’s harassment is more likely to be gender-based and that has specific, discriminatory harms rooted in our history. The study pointed out that the harassment targeted at men is not because they are men, as is clearly more frequently the case with women. It’s defining because a lot of harassment is an effort to put women, because they are women, back in their “place.”

Second, online comparisons like this decontextualize the problem of harassment, as though a connection to what happens offline is trivial or inconsequential.

Third, the binary frame camouflages the degree to which harassment of people, often men, is frequently aimed at people who defy rigid gender and sexuality rules. LGBT youth experience online bullying at three times the rate of their straight peers.

For girls and women, harassment is not just about “un-pleasantries.” It’s often about men asserting dominance, silencing, and frequently, scaring and punishing them.

According to Erica Olsen, Deputy Director of Safety Net, a program created by the National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV), “In a 2012 survey, 89 percent of local domestic violence programs reported that victims were experiencing intimidation and threats by abusers via technology, including through cell phones, texts, and email.”

Online harassment is a key weapon in intensified stalking, for example. Intimate partners create impersonator content online, sometimes with brutal results. This type of harassment also includes rape and death threats, such as those at the heart of an upcoming Supreme Court case.

Rape and death threats made by strangers are also common, however. They coexist online with violent sexist, racist commentary on Twitter, YouTube and Facebook and the sharing of gifs, images, jokes and memes depicting gross violence against women as “humor.” The “humor” can sometimes spill over into aggressive cyber mob attacks, which, as Citron explains in her book, disproportionately target women and people of color. These mobs include hundreds, sometimes thousands of people, systematically harassing their targets. #Slanegirl, a trending global public shaming of a teenage girl filmed performing fellatio is one example. Attacks on public figures like Anita Sarkeesian or Caroline Criado-Perez can take on surreal qualities whose effects can’t be underestimated—either on the individual attacked or on the environment.

Women are also the majority of people experiencing revenge porn, the distribution of non-consensual photography, often involving nudity and sex. Last month’s theft and distribution of the private photographs of more than 100 celebrities, almost all female, was a case in point.

Rape videos also harass women. In country after country, including ours, boys and men are recording and sharing their raping of girls and women. Some cases, such as the most recent, #Jadapose, explode into social media consciousness, but there are far more cases that most people never hear about. Videos like this are of a philosophical cloth with the common sexual surveillance of women in public spaces, from public bathrooms and changing rooms to rental apartments and subway platforms. These images are then used to populate online spaces created for sharing them, cyber-cesspools whose sole purpose is to deprive people of dignity by humiliating, and harassing them.

And then there’s the matter of human trafficking online. Social media is used by traffickers to sell people whose photographs they share, without their consent, often including photographs of their abuse of women as an example to others. Seventy-six percent of trafficked persons are girls and women and the Internet is now a major sales platform.

In theory, these things can happen to anyone—but they don’t. They happen overwhelming to women and the abusers are overwhelmingly men. Stalking, off and online, is a crime in which men are the majority of perpetrators and women the targets. Justice Department records reveal that 70 percent of those stalked online are women. More than 80 percent of cyber-stalking defendants are male. Similarly, a study of 1,606 revenge porn cases showed that 90 percent of those whose photos were shared were women, targeted by men. In gaming, an industry known for endemic sexism, studies cited by Citron show that 70 percent of women in multiplayer games play as male characters in order to avoid abuse.

As far as “harmless threats” are concerned, the reality of rape and domestic violence qualitatively changes the meaning and effect of threats when leveled against women by men. Women have a 1 in 5 chance of actually being raped and a 1 in 4 chance of being physically assaulted by an intimate. For men, the chances of being raped are 1 in 71, and 1 in 7 for being physically abused, also an asymmetrical comparison.

The harassment men experience also lacks broader, resonant symbolism. Women are more frequently targeted with gendered slurs and pornographic photo manipulation because the objectification and dehumanization of women is central to normalizing violence against us. Philosophers Martha Nussbaum and Ray Langdon describe in detail how this works: women are thought of and portrayed as things for the use of others. Interchangeable; violable; silent and lacking in agency.

Women take online harassment more seriously not because we are hysterics, but because we reasonably have to. There is no gender equivalence in terms of the denigrating, hostile and sometimes exceedingly dangerous environmental effect that misogyny has, online or off. It has a long history and cannot be isolated from actual violence that we adapt to avoiding every day. The fact that that violence has always suppressed women’s free speech is only now becoming too obvious to ignore.

TIME Video Games

Sexism, Lies and Video Games: The Culture War Nobody Is Winning

Sergio Pecanha color illustration of Sony Playstation vs Nintendo Wii, set up as paddles in a game of Pong.
Dallas Morning News/MCT Graphics/Getty Images

Video games and the way we write and talk about them are growing up. Their old-school fans are kicking and screaming.

The 21st century’s defining medium—video games—is experiencing sharp growing pains. Over the last few weeks, identity tensions have divided fans online in strange, ugly episodes rooted in how writers discuss games and who is allowed to participate. At the root of all this is a fascinating question: Are games technology product, or cultural experience?

In the 1980s, video games were classy distractions: the condition of being installed at an arcade cabinet, chasing a high score, seemed to fit the era’s naive ideas of capitalism-as-culture. In the 1990s, games took on the decade’s rebellious, “edgy” tone, grasping toward the definitions of maturity set by MTV, action flicks and whatever else it took to sell high-end hardware to young men.

By the turn of the millennium, the medium had become America’s favorite scapegoat for moral panic — Luddites worried about games’ increasing realism and the fact that ‘shoot’ seemed to the favored verb of the most popular titles. To hear Fox News tell it, “gamers” were all anti-social escapists living in Mom’s basement, sticky with Mountain Dew, murder fantasies and hyper-realistic sex simulators stripped right off the shelves from in front of children.

Sadly, the broader public image of video games has been slow to improve, thanks largely to the iron fist marketers have maintained over their narrative. The games that have historically enjoyed the biggest budgets and the highest returns are Call of Duty, Grand Theft Auto, Halo and their ilk. Aimed largely at that young male demographic, your average person on the street probably still imagines that the act of play in the digital world still mostly involves staring down the barrel of a gun.

While as a pastime those projects are slightly juvenile, so are summer superhero blockbusters featuring talking raccoons, and few would begrudge fans those, nor hand-wring about their supposed “effect”. Games’ poor public image has long been a source of discouragement to everyone who creates and plays within a rapidly maturing, surprisingly diverse medium.

The advent of the smartphone means that your average consumer now has access to a platform to play games on. Many of these, like Capy’s Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery, Vlambeer’s Ridiculous Fishing or Adam Atomic’s Canabalt, combine simple, friendly mechanics with lovely modern art and stylish music. Tablets and e-readers present enormous opportunities for rich, touchable experiences: Inkle’s 80Days is a lush pop-art interactive experience based on Jules Verne’s world travelers, and Devine Lu Linvega’s dark comic toy Ledoliel lets players enjoy oddly intimate interactions with alien diplomats.

It used to be that to make video games you needed some kind of computer degree and a career track at the sort of game production mega-corporation that would go on to fame for their brutal working practices and high turnover. But even game creation tools are becoming more accessible, welcoming an entirely new community of creators, voices and formats to the fan community.

Amid rising costs and economic constraints, traditional blockbusters and shiny new home consoles face more profitability challenges than they once did — but new digital business models help game companies endure, with the happy side effect that they can build longer-term relationships with fans.

There’s something for everyone in the modern gaming landscape, and the way games journalists parse all this for their readers is beginning to change, too. You’d think this would make people happy, but recently this culture shift would appear to have broken out into full-on culture war online.

Prominent feminist critique — present in every other relevant medium, but new to games — has elicited massive backlash and threats to women working in the field. A female developer who created a text game about depression has been in the midst of weeks of online attacks over a salacious blog post published by a jilted ex who alleges she slept with a game journalist in exchange for a favorable review.

Despite the fact the journalist in question did not ‘review’ the game and wasn’t found to have allocated it any particular special treatment, the misogynistic “scandal” — and fans’ fear of women “censoring” their medium by seeking more positive and diverse portrayals — has launched an ‘ethical inquiry’ by fans campaigning to unearth evidence of corruption and collusion among people who they feel are too close to the games and developers they write about.

Their inquiry, passed around Twitter under the deeply sincere hashtag “#GamerGate”, alleges that writing op-eds about colleagues and peers is unethical, that a list of people who attended an academic conference together is proof of a conspiracy, and that any critic who pursues creators and projects that interest them is cynically promoting their friends. Some of them admit they’re afraid that “social justice warriors” will ruin video games.

Others still seem alarmed to see the games writing community so defensive about the inquest — unaware that writers on games have endured the frustration of labor within a product-driven system for years, and that subjectivity is their solution, something L. Rhodes aimed to explain to petitioners who don’t seem to realize that the “standards” they expect are somewhat at odds with the actual environment they wish for.

To the outside world it must look silly. Surely these campaigners understand that no meaningful reporting on anything takes place without the trust—and often friendship—of people on the inside. Stranger still is that beyond the fact this all looks suspiciously like an excuse to hound women’s voices out of the growing game industry, fans are calling for a wholly “objective”, product-oriented approach to a medium that’s clearly shifted into the domain of meaningful, subjective experiences and as such requires the addition of cultural critique, not solely “reporting” as the tech industry understands it.

Previous modes of writing on games generally involved “scoring” them, applying a supposedly neutral quality rating. Often these scores were handed down by magazines who’d received ad revenue from the very companies whose products they claimed to be neutrally evaluating, and those companies could (and did) threaten to pull advertising, or access to press events and review materials, if they didn’t like the score they got.

Happily, modern games have far fewer barriers. Independent writers frequently publish personal pieces about the indie games that have inspired them—there’s very little money to be made in either writing about or creating these things, which is liberating for people who’ve always wanted to approach games as objects of human, rather than corporate interest. Dialogue about games is more frequently considered by mainstream publications, and all this accessibility and diversity allows curators of game culture far more latitude to shape conversation about an exciting medium that’s finally blowing off the must and dust of a prior age.

It’s odd to see how firmly internet fans resist this, how infuriated they are that they may no longer be a defined “demographic” who must be catered to explicitly, that they are participants in a variegated culture instead of strictly delineated recipients of a “product or service.” Their response is to feel their very identity is under threat (and to levy Martin Luther King quotes, even).

The bizarre conspiracy theories circulating online (I occasionally consult on game designs and disclose those relationships, but there is an image circulating which inaccurately claims that I run a ‘PR firm’ where people pay me to cover things) feel something like a video game in and of itself. The GamerGate crusaders leap to employ legal terminology like fancy weapons they are clearly confused about how to wield. To them, this revolution of new voices, new platforms and new players appears to feel like the same sort of persecution games once experienced at the hands of Fox News and anti-violent game crusaders — it’s unfortunate their behavior has been so often in-step with those negative stereotypes of late.

One has to wonder if this is down to game fans being systems thinkers, who see the world as an ecosystem of curiosities to discover and solve. Everyone wants to feel they’re part of something bigger, after all, that they might be a hero of an underground society that no one else knows about. And Twitter exposes us all to the vocabulary of extremes, an intense world where even minorities can feel very loud (a good thing for #Ferguson, not so for video games).

As video games unshackle from old constraints, traditional fans double down on keeping the treehouse sacrosanct. The tension between “games as product” and “games as culture” is visible within these online controversies as everyone invested in the industry watches to see which will “win”. Someone should tell the internet conspiracy theorists they can relax — we’ll absolutely, definitely have both.

Leigh Alexander writes about the art, business and culture of games. She is editor at large of industry site Gamasutra, a columnist at Vice UK, and has contributed to major specialist press outlets like Kotaku, Edge and Polygon. Her work has appeared at Boing Boing, Slate, The Atlantic, The New Statesman, the Guardian and the Columbia Journalism Review, and she is the author of two ebooks, Breathing Machine and Clipping Through, about technology and identity.

TIME feminism

Former Harvard Sex Blogger: My Ex-Boyfriend Leaking Nude Pictures of Me Changed Who I Am—Forever

Person using a laptop in the dark
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The nonconsensual posting of my photos was a terrorizing invasion of privacy that altered my reality and irrevocably changed the way I live, think and write

In 2008, there were no words for what happened to me. Today we call what happened to Jennifer Lawrence and other celebrities—the public nonconsensual distribution of sexually explicit photos—revenge porn or cyber bullying or online harassment. I wasn’t naive. I’d been slut-shamed before. But I never considered that people would think my willingness to talk about sexuality precluded me from the expectation of privacy.

I was in my third year at Harvard, when an ex-boyfriend posted a gallery of nude photos he had taken of me eight months earlier. IvyGate, “an Ivy League blog covering news, gossip, sex, and sports,” picked up the story first, which would later become one of the site’s most popular posts. At the time, I was already in the press for writing what some described as a “sex blog” and it made me well known enough within a certain community—overachieving teenage girls, other Ivy Leaguers and sexually adventurous young women—that media outlets picked up the “story” of my nude photos. Now celebrities such as Kate Upton, Kirsten Dunst, Mary Elizabeth Winstead and others whose photos were allegedly hacked and leaked to the Internet, are being subjected to the same thing.

The public response was harder to stomach than the publication of the photos themselves. I was 20 and not actually in any position of power to protect myself. Unlike actual celebrities, I didn’t have public defenders or managers or lawyers with an interest in defending my reputation. The Harvard administration was not going to stop my peers from passing around my photos, and my classmates couldn’t be expected to be respectful. Because of the violation’s anonymous nature, I felt intensely socially ostracized, isolated and suspicious. There were entire forum threads discussing my body and appearance, and I could never know who had seen or disseminated the photos, so I lived with a constant feeling of being under surveillance. There was not even yet a vocabulary to describe the situation. I knew absolutely no one else that this had happened to.

I stopped living on campus. I stopped blogging about sex and started a Tumblr dedicated to discussing broader feminist/gender issues. Within six months, I picked up a particularly determined online stalker, who, I believe, wouldn’t have fixated on me had my nude photos not been published. The stalker (I never found out who it was, whether it was man or woman or possibly even multiple people) set up countless mirror blogs to harass my readers, posted my new boyfriend’s name, commented on articles I wrote with links to the photos and sent emails to Harvard faculty and administrators about my personal life. Both the stalker and the ex-boyfriend were fueled by the public reaction they received and motivated by the same urge to humiliate a strong, opinionated and otherwise unattainable woman. Eventually, because I didn’t turn in a final paper and therefore didn’t pass a required class, Harvard required that I go on a year-long academic leave.

When I returned, I wrote a senior thesis about sex education and the abstinence movement. I organized a conference reframing the notion of virginity, which received minor press coverage. I started to speak and write about sexual health and empowerment, gaining visibility in the feminist community. Perhaps because of my persistence, my stalker redoubled his efforts to sabotage my career and relationships by posting the names and personal details of my friends, family members, colleagues and readers on smear blogs and forums. He didn’t just want me to suffer; he wanted to discredit the work and reputation of anyone associated with me. By 2012, I had significantly scaled back my involvement in feminism, despite being offered increasingly lucrative opportunities, because the harassment had escalated to such an extent that I simply couldn’t be effective as an activist anymore.

I found myself unable to write, sleep, eat or socialize outside my home. I was not simply having an emotional breakdown but a physical one. I moved to Berlin in 2013, essentially because I lived in constant terror and couldn’t keep up the pretense of being healthy in front of friends, family, colleagues or the readers who had been following my work since I was 20. It felt inauthentic to be espousing sexual and gender liberation when I felt trapped in my own home.

I have experienced the full spectrum of online misogyny: the vengeful violation by someone I once trusted and the invasion of privacy by an obsessed but unknown stalker. In both cases, the perpetrators solicited the approval and attention of strangers and could not have succeeded if their efforts weren’t legitimized by mainstream media and public opinion. It is only now, with a public discussion about cyber harassment and online misogyny, that everyone else is learning what I realized six years ago: that we live in a sick society and the sick people are not young women like me. I was just collateral damage, and so is any woman whose freedom to exist is threatened because she happened to trust or get targeted by someone who couldn’t stand to let her live her life.

I am not the person I used to be before this ordeal. It left me mentally unstable, physically debilitated and socially isolated. I still get extremely anxious in particular social situations. Despite the outward facade of a busy and active social life, I am actually distrustful of others and fearful of intimacy. I interpret benign gestures and comments as hostile, make excuses to not go out and wonder too often what my neighbors think of me. I haven’t been able to keep up with email, and my social media presence has dwindled down to the sporadic Facebook photo of my dogs.

When I turn on my old cell phone the few months a year I am in the U.S., I get phone calls from publicists and producers, and I wonder fleetingly at the life I am missing. But to be honest, I don’t want to be on TV explaining why young men today can be driven by romantic rejection to kill, why women are afraid to use the Internet, why I no longer feel safe in America. What happened to me was not an occupational hazard of feminism. It’s an occupational hazard of being a woman. Men’s bodies are not used as weapons against them, and shame is a language that women have learned from birth. We are told that sex is something that can hurt us, that we have to constantly be on the defensive lest we attract negative attention. If we are criticized or attacked, we are asked what we did to deserve it.

What does it mean that we live in a world where this kind of thing not only happens to people, but also that there is no shortage of spectators happy to gawk and cheer on the perpetrators? Neither the law nor public opinion has been on our side. Women like me, who try to fight back, only turn themselves into bigger targets. We are blamed for not silencing ourselves and not learning our lesson the first time around.

This was a terrorizing invasion of privacy that altered my reality and irrevocably changed the way I live, think and write. It’s hard not to be resentful, but I have found a certain peace in censoring myself, leaving the country and reassessing my relationships. I have noticed also that times are changing. People are beginning to recognize the ugliness around us and the hatred that we carry inside ourselves.

I don’t feel the problem is me anymore, and despite how much this experience has made me and those I love suffer, I now have a far better sense of who I am than when I first started on this path. I can only hope the same for all those who watched me walk it.

Lena Chen is the activist and writer who authored Sex and the Ivy as an undergraduate at Harvard.

TIME Culture

Here’s What Drunk History Taught Me About Feminism

This hilarious show is about more than just drinking

Everyone knows Paul Revere rode 20 miles in the middle of the night to warn the patriots that the British were coming. But did you know a 16-year-old girl named Sybil Ludington did the same thing in April 1777, except she also traveled 40 miles, gathered a militia of 400 people together and fended off a potential robber with a stick all while riding in the rain? You’d think I learned about Ludington’s epic ride from watching the History Channel, but I picked up that factoid from a unlikely source: Comedy Central’s Drunk History.

Watching the web-series-turned-cable-show has — unexpectedly — taught me more about feminism in the United States than any college or high school American history course. For the uninitiated, here’s the premise: comedian friends of creator Derek Waters knock back a few drinks and then tell the story — usually not the most faithful retelling — of a historical figure or event, pausing to burp, swear or pass out as needed. As they narrate, famous funny people ranging from Kristen Wiig to Will Ferrell act out the story to hilarious ends.

I had a feeling I’d enjoy the show, just based on the people involved — the show regularly features funny and accomplished women like Jenny Slate, Aubrey Plaza and Casey Wilson. But I didn’t expect Drunk History to teach me anything new. And I certainly didn’t expect it to be so female focused. And yet almost every week, the show has introduced me to an American heroine I never even knew existed. There’s Mary Dryer, who was hanged by the Puritans for preaching religious tolerance; Mary Ellen Pleasant, who disguised her identity as a former slave by pretending to be white and opening several successful businesses to fund abolitionist causes; and Claudette Colvin, who was actually the first African-American woman to refuse to give up her seat at the front of the bus in 1955. (Because Colvin was young and pregnant, the NAACP asked Rosa Parks to repeat the act and become the face of the movement.)

I shouldn’t have been so shocked, because Comedy Central has been making a concerted effort to create a gender balance in its lineup with hit shows like Inside Amy Schumer and Broad City. But the show went above and beyond on Tuesday, when it wrapped its second season by highlighting the stories of three First Ladies — Dolly Madison, Francis Cleveland and Edith Wilson — a group of women whose actions are usually overshadowed by those of their husbands. High school teachers should add these videos to their Women’s History Month curricula: they’re way more entertaining than that the same lectures about Amelia Earhart.

TIME feminism

5 Feminist Myths That Will Not Die

If we're genuinely committed to improving the circumstances of women, we need to get the facts straight

Much of what we hear about the plight of American women is false. Some faux facts have been repeated so often they are almost beyond the reach of critical analysis. Though they are baseless, these canards have become the foundation of Congressional debates, the inspiration for new legislation and the focus of college programs. Here are five of the most popular myths that should be rejected by all who are genuinely committed to improving the circumstances of women:

MYTH 1: Women are half the world’s population, working two-thirds of the world’s working hours, receiving 10% of the world’s income, owning less than 1% of the world’s property.

FACTS: This injustice confection is routinely quoted by advocacy groups, the World Bank, Oxfam and the United Nations. It is sheer fabrication. More than 15 years ago, Sussex University experts on gender and development Sally Baden and Anne Marie Goetz, repudiated the claim: “The figure was made up by someone working at the UN because it seemed to her to represent the scale of gender-based inequality at the time.” But there is no evidence that it was ever accurate, and it certainly is not today.

Precise figures do not exist, but no serious economist believes women earn only 10% of the world’s income or own only 1% of property. As one critic noted in an excellent debunking in The Atlantic, “U.S. women alone earn 5.4 percent of world income today.” Moreover, in African countries, where women have made far less progress than their Western and Asian counterparts, Yale economist Cheryl Doss found female land ownership ranged from 11% in Senegal to 54% in Rwanda and Burundi. Doss warns that “using unsubstantiated statistics for advocacy is counterproductive.” Bad data not only undermine credibility, they obstruct progress by making it impossible to measure change.

MYTH 2: Between 100,000 and 300,000 girls are pressed into sexual slavery each year in the United States.

FACTS: This sensational claim is a favorite of politicians, celebrities and journalists. Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore turned it into a cause célèbre. Both conservatives and liberal reformers deploy it. Former President Jimmy Carter recently said that the sexual enslavement of girls in the U.S. today is worse than American slavery in the 19th century.

The source for the figure is a 2001 report on child sexual exploitation by University of Pennsylvania sociologists Richard Estes and Neil Alan Weiner. But their 100,000–300,000 estimate referred to children at risk for exploitation—not actual victims. When three reporters from the Village Voice questioned Estes on the number of children who are abducted and pressed into sexual slavery each year, he replied, “We’re talking about a few hundred people.” And this number is likely to include a lot of boys: According to a 2008 census of underage prostitutes in New York City, nearly half turned out to be male. A few hundred children is still a few hundred too many, but they will not be helped by thousand-fold inflation of their numbers.

MYTH 3: In the United States, 22%–35% of women who visit hospital emergency rooms do so because of domestic violence.

FACTS: This claim has appeared in countless fact sheets, books and articles—for example, in the leading textbook on family violence, Domestic Violence Law, and in the Penguin Atlas of Women in the World. The Penguin Atlas uses the emergency room figure to justify placing the U.S. on par with Uganda and Haiti for intimate violence.

What is the provenance? The Atlas provides no primary source, but the editor of Domestic Violence Law cites a 1997 Justice Department study, as well as a 2009 post on the Centers for Disease Control website. But the Justice Department and the CDC are not referring to the 40 million women who annually visit emergency rooms, but to women, numbering about 550,000 annually, who come to emergency rooms “for violence-related injuries.” Of these, approximately 37% were attacked by intimates. So, it’s not the case that 22%-35% of women who visit emergency rooms are there for domestic violence. The correct figure is less than half of 1%.

MYTH 4: One in five in college women will be sexually assaulted.

FACTS: This incendiary figure is everywhere in the media today. Journalists, senators and even President Obama cite it routinely. Can it be true that the American college campus is one of the most dangerous places on earth for women?

The one-in-five figure is based on the Campus Sexual Assault Study, commissioned by the National Institute of Justice and conducted from 2005 to 2007. Two prominent criminologists, Northeastern University’s James Alan Fox and Mount Holyoke College’s Richard Moran, have noted its weaknesses:

“The estimated 19% sexual assault rate among college women is based on a survey at two large four-year universities, which might not accurately reflect our nation’s colleges overall. In addition, the survey had a large non-response rate, with the clear possibility that those who had been victimized were more apt to have completed the questionnaire, resulting in an inflated prevalence figure.”

Fox and Moran also point out that the study used an overly broad definition of sexual assault. Respondents were counted as sexual assault victims if they had been subject to “attempted forced kissing” or engaged in intimate encounters while intoxicated.

Defenders of the one-in-five figure will reply that the finding has been replicated by other studies. But these studies suffer from some or all of the same flaws. Campus sexual assault is a serious problem and will not be solved by statistical hijinks.

MYTH 5: Women earn 77 cents for every dollar a man earns—for doing the same work.

FACTS: No matter how many times this wage gap claim is decisively refuted by economists, it always comes back. The bottom line: the 23-cent gender pay gap is simply the difference between the average earnings of all men and women working full-time. It does not account for differences in occupations, positions, education, job tenure or hours worked per week. When such relevant factors are considered, the wage gap narrows to the point of vanishing.

Wage gap activists say women with identical backgrounds and jobs as men still earn less. But they always fail to take into account critical variables. Activist groups like the National Organization for Women have a fallback position: that women’s education and career choices are not truly free—they are driven by powerful sexist stereotypes. In this view, women’s tendency to retreat from the workplace to raise children or to enter fields like early childhood education and psychology, rather than better paying professions like petroleum engineering, is evidence of continued social coercion. Here is the problem: American women are among the best informed and most self-determining human beings in the world. To say that they are manipulated into their life choices by forces beyond their control is divorced from reality and demeaning, to boot.

Why do these reckless claims have so much appeal and staying power? For one thing, there is a lot of statistical illiteracy among journalists, feminist academics and political leaders. There is also an admirable human tendency to be protective of women—stories of female exploitation are readily believed, and vocal skeptics risk appearing indifferent to women’s suffering. Finally, armies of advocates depend on “killer stats” to galvanize their cause. But killer stats obliterate distinctions between more and less serious problems and send scarce resources in the wrong directions. They also promote bigotry. The idea that American men are annually enslaving more than 100,000 girls, sending millions of women to emergency rooms, sustaining a rape culture and cheating women out of their rightful salary creates rancor in true believers and disdain in those who would otherwise be sympathetic allies.

My advice to women’s advocates: Take back the truth.

Christina Hoff Sommers, a former philosophy professor, is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. She is the author of several books, including Who Stole Feminism and The War Against Boys, and is the host of a weekly video blog, The Factual Feminist. Follow her @CHSommers.

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