TIME feminism

Dear Aaron Sorkin, If You Don’t Think There Are Enough Good Roles for Actresses, Write One Yourself

Aaron Sorkin
Nina Prommer—EPA Screenwriter Aaron Sorkin arrives for the premiere of 'The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1' at the Nokia Theatre L.A. Live in Los Angeles on Nov. 17, 2014.

Eliana Dockterman is a living, culture and breaking news reporter for TIME in New York City.

Sorkin's writing celebrates the male mind while making women the objects of lust or scorn

Hollywood cheered on Cate Blanchett last year when she critiqued the gender gap in Hollywood and took to task those studio executives “who are still foolishly clinging to the idea that female films with women at the center are a niche experience.” But, apparently, Aaron Sorkin was not among those celebrating Blanchett’s feminist speech.

The latest piece of information unearthed in the Sony hack is an email sent by award-winning screenwriter Aaron Sorkin to New York Times writer Maureen Dowd. On March 4, Dowd wrote a column called “Frozen in a Niche?” which built upon Blanchett’s argument that successful female films—like Bridesmaids, Frozen, Gravity or The Hunger Games—are still seen as flukes in the industry. She cited compelling stats: Even though women comprise 52% of moviegoers, only 15% of protagonists and 30% of speaking characters in the top 100 grossing domestic films in 2013 were female.

Blanchett and Dowd are far from the first to notice this trend: Mega-stars like Meryl Streep and Jodie Foster have complained about the problem, as has Sony co-chairman Amy Pascal whom Dowd quotes saying the “whole system is geared for [female filmmakers] to fail.”

But Sorkin disagrees with all these ladies. He wrote to Dowd on March 6:

That was a great and very interesting column today. I’d only take issue with one thing and that’s the idea that something like Bridesmaids is seen as a fluke and that’s why we don’t see more movies like Bridesmaids. There’s an implication that studio heads have a stack of Bridesmaids-quality scripts on their desk that they’re not making and it’s just not true. The scripts aren’t there.

Fair enough. A major part of the gender gap we see onscreen can be attributed to what’s going on behind the screen: Women made up only 6% of directors, 10% of writers, 15% of executive producers, 17% of editors and 3% of cinematographers in the top 250 films in 2013, according to the Center for the study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University. With fewer women writing, directing and producing, we see fewer women’s stories on film.

But there are two very simple ways to solve that problem: Executives can seek out, hire and support more women behind the camera, and male writers who already have major influence in Hollywood (say, for instance, Aaron Sorkin) could write credible, interesting, robust roles for women. And yet Sorkin doesn’t.

It’s no secret that Aaron Sorkin often comes under fire for his thin, idiotic or harpy-esque female characters. Let’s take a quick tour of some of his worst hits.

On Sports Night, acting like a woman was a constant insult that Casey would fling at Dan. In one episode, when Dan asks Casey if he remembers that it is the anniversary of their first show together, Casey responds, “I remember not thinking at the time that you were a woman.” Meanwhile, the main female character, producer Dana, serves almost exclusively as a love interest: She runs in circles as her show crumbles around her (through no fault of her charming male stars). The few times she succeeds, it’s treated as a miracle.

In A Few Good Men, Demi Moore plays a character who might as well be male (save for the sexist jabs that Jack Nicholson shoots at her). Famed critic Roger Ebert even wrote in his review that he thought the character had originally been conceived as a man “and got changed into a woman for Broadway and Hollywood box office reasons, without ever quite being rewritten into a woman.” Sorkin also doesn’t have to worry about this “woman problem” in Moneyball, which takes place in an almost entirely male world.

In The Social Network—for which Sorkin won an Oscar—women are either lunatics (see: Eduardo Saverin’s girlfriend who sets his bed on fire) or flat symbols. Mark Zuckerberg’s ex-girlfriend is emblematic of everything Zuckerberg cannot have but isn’t fully developed as a character herself.

And then there’s The Newsroom. Most of the show’s main plots revolved around the smarter men man-splaining things to supposedly successful but totally hapless women. (Seriously, MacKenzie reported in war zones but can’t use email?) MacKenzie is obsessed with Will. Maggie is a pathetic waif. Sloan, despite being smart, is strangely socially incompetent. None of Sorkin’s male characters have such flaws. Even in the show’s penultimate episode, a male character man-splains to a female rape victim why he’s “obligated” to believe her “sketchy” alleged rapist instead of her. (One of Sorkin’s writers claimed she was kicked out of the writers’ room for protesting this storyline, which Sorkin essentially confirmed while lambasting her for exposing writers’ room conversations.)

HBOFrom left: Emily Mortimer as MacKenzie McHale and Jeff Daniels as Will McAvoy in The Newsroom

In short, Sorkin celebrates the male mind while making women the objects of lust or scorn. The few women who do make it into Sorkin’s scripts are usually in need of rescue by the men in their lives. The one exception might be C.J. Craig from The West Wing, a character for which Allison Janney won four Emmys. C.J. got her own story lines and was allowed to succeed and fail as often as her male compatriots. Unlike the women on The Newsroom, she was there to accomplish her own goals, not simply prop up her male boss and be lectured by him when she screwed up. Why Sorkin hasn’t written a C.J. since is still a mystery.

This trend of misogyny since his C.J. days is doubly frustrating considering the rest of Sorkin’s email. “That’s why year in and year out, the guy who wins the Oscar for Best Actor has a much higher bar to clear than the woman who wins Best Actress,” he writes. Sorkin goes on to compare performances of various nominees. He asserts that Blanchett’s performance in Blue Jasmine was “nothing close to the degree of difficulty” of all five Best Actor nominees, and that Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Linings Playbook), Natalie Portman (Black Swan) and Julia Roberts (Erin Brockovich) did not measure up to Daniel Day-Lewis, (Lincoln), Colin Firth (The King’s Speech) and Phillip Seymour Hoffman (Capote) in the respective years that they won.

“Helen Mirren and Meryl Streep can play with the boys but there just aren’t that many tour-de-force roles out there for women,” he concludes.

It’s nearly impossible to compare the “difficulty” of performances in an objective way: As The Daily Beast points out, was Colin Firth’s performance in The King’s Speech really harder than that of Natalie Portman in Black Swan? Does Blanchett not measure up to some of the other actors nominated last year like Bruce Dern (Nebraska), Christian Bale (American Hustle) or Leonardo DiCaprio (Wolf of Wall Street)? The answer depends on who you ask.

And if the sexism problem is born from flimsy roles, then why does Sorkin say that only certain actresses, Mirren and Streep, can “play with the boys”? There’s something inherently sexist about Sorkin degrading the talent of other nominees by suggesting only those two women can compete with their male counterparts.

As much as Sorkin’s films can be frustrating, it’s hard to fault the screenwriter for sticking to what he knows. Films like A Few Good Men, Moneyball and The Social Network are lauded because they are interesting, complex depictions of male-dominated worlds. And in between his misogynist comments, Sorkin has indicated that he wants to support female performers and filmmakers. In 2011, Sorkin dedicated his Oscar speech for Best Screenplay (The Social Network) to actresses. “I want to thank all the female nominees tonight for helping demonstrate to my young daughter that elite is not a bad word; it’s an aspirational one,” he concluded. “Honey, look around. Smart girls have more fun, and you’re one of them.”

But this email demonstrates that Sorkin clearly recognizes there’s a sexism problem in Hollywood. And ultimately it’s hard to forgive him for not at least trying to fix it when he is one of very few writers with the power to do so.

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 Parenting

Jennifer Aniston: People Call Me ‘Selfish’ For Not Being a Mom

"Life Of Crime" Premiere - Arrivals - 2013 Toronto International Film Festival
J. Countess—WireImage Actress Jennifer Aniston attends the premiere for "Life Of Crime" at Roy Thomson Hall on September 14, 2013 in Toronto, Canada. ( J. Countess--WireImage)

And correctly defines "feminism"

Even after years of the prying questions and condescending sympathy, it still bothers Jennifer Aniston when people ask her why she’s not a mom.

“I don’t like [the pressure] that people put on me, on women—that you’ve failed yourself as a female because you haven’t procreated,” she told Allure for their January issue. “I don’t think it’s fair. You may not have a child come out of your vagina, but that doesn’t mean you aren’t mothering—dogs, friends, friends’ children.”

The actress, who has gotten critical praise for her role in the upcoming film Cake, explained that she finds the incessant commentary about her maternal status hurtful. “This continually is said about me: that I was so career-driven and focused on myself; that I don’t want to be a mother, and how selfish that is…Even saying it gets me a little tight in my throat.”

Aniston also seemed well-prepared to answer the now-omnipresent questions about feminism–and why it’s such a complicated issue. “Because people overcomplicate it,” she said. “It’s simply believing in equality between men and women. Pretty basic.”

[Allure]

TIME feminism

Game of Thrones’ Maisie Williams Isn’t Buying Emma Watson’s ‘First-World Feminism’

"There are bigger things going on in other countries"

Maisie Williams, who plays Arya Stark on HBO’s Game of Thrones, is taking Emma Watson’s feminist proclamations with a grain of salt.

Responding to Emma Watson’s now-famous He for She speech at the UN in September, Maisie Williams told The Guardian she thought the speech was an example of “first world feminism,” explaining that “there are bigger things going on in other countries.”

“A lot of what Emma Watson spoke about, I just think, ‘that doesn’t bother me,'” Williams said. “I know things aren’t perfect for women in the UK and in America, but there are women in the rest of the world who have it far worse.”

MORE: Watch Emma Watson Explain Why She’s a Feminist

Williams also discussed cyber-bullying in the Guardian profile, admitting she’d been taunted online after she first got cast. “People just get kicks out of making other people sad,” she says, “No one ever said anything to my face, ever. It was awful.” She’s starring in a British TV drama called Cyber Bully, in part because of her own experiences with online harassment.

[The Guardian]

 

TIME Music

Watch Beyoncé’s Short Film Celebrating the Anniversary of Her Self-Titled Album

“You can’t put your finger on who I am. I can’t put my finger on who I am.”

Beyoncé’s self-titled visual album — which just this week helped her become the most Grammy-nominated woman in history — turns one tomorrow. In honor of this anniversary, the singer released a cinematic, eleven-minute film called “Yours and Mine.” The short film features Beyoncé’s reflections on fame, family and feminism, narrated over dramatic black and white footage, mostly of Beyoncé herself but occasionally utilizing more abstract visuals.

Reflecting on her megastar status, she says, “I sometimes wish I could just be anonymous and walk down a street just like everyone else.” Of her marriage to Jay-Z, she says that all her successes would be empty without someone to share them with. And on the topic of feminism — a word she’s arguably helping to bring into the mainstream — she admits that the loaded nature of the term used to scare her. Not anymore. “Honestly, it’s very simple,” she says. “It’s just a person that believes in equality for men and women.”

Some might call the video self-indulgent, but Beyoncé’s musings are down-to-earth, if not earth-shattering. The video seems, more than anything, like an opportunity for a woman who is so often seen refracted through the manufactured prism of fame to share a piece of her inner life. “When you’re famous, no one looks at you as a human anymore,” she says. “You become the property of the public.” For these eleven minutes, self-conscious as they are, her humanity shines through.

TIME

Watch Shonda Rhimes’ Amazing Speech on the ‘Glass Ceiling’

"When it was my turn to run," Rhimes said Wednesday, "It didn’t even look like a ceiling anymore."

Shonda Rhimes is a game-changer; there’s really no disputing the fact that she has made an immense impact the portrayals of women in Hollywood. But yesterday, as the executive producer behind some of primetime television’s most popular shows accepted the Sherry Lansing Leadership Award at The Hollywood Reporter’s annual Women in Entertainment breakfast, she said denied breaking any “glass ceilings.”

In her moving speech, Rhimes jokingly evoked Beyonce to explain why she couldn’t be getting an award simply because she is both a woman and African American.

I come from a very large, very competitive family. Extremely competitive. And by competitive, I mean, my mother says we’re not allowed to play Scrabble anymore when we get together because of the injuries and the tears. One of the rules in my family is you don’t ever get a trophy for participation, you don’t get a trophy for just being you. So getting an award today BECAUSE I’m a woman and an African-American feels…I was born with an awesome vagina and really gorgeous brown skin. I didn’t do anything to make either of those things happen.

To get all Beyonce about it, people: “I woke up like this.”

Rhimes said that the honor, which has also been bestowed upon powerhouses including Oprah Winfrey, Barbara Walters, Helen Mirren and Meryl Streep, was also being given to her because of the “glass ceiling that exists in the face of being a woman and being black in this very male, very white town.”

But in her mind, she hasn’t broken any glass ceilings at all. “When it was my turn to run,” Rhimes said Wednesday, “It didn’t even look like a ceiling anymore.”

How many women had to hit that glass before the first crack appeared? How many cuts did they get, how many bruises? How hard did they have to hit the ceiling? How many women had to hit that glass to ripple it, to send out a thousand hairline fractures? How many women had to hit that glass before the pressure of their effort caused it to evolve from a thick pane of glass into just a thin sheet of splintered ice?

She added, “Making it through the glass ceiling to the other side was simply a matter of running on a path created by every other woman’s footprints. I just hit at exactly the right time in exactly the right spot.”

Rhimes’ speech appears in full on Medium under the title “On Ceilings Made of Glass.” Watch her deliver the speech at Wednesday’s event below.

TIME feminism

I’m So Glad Movember Is Over

Groucho marx glasses
Getty Images

If facial hair is so amazing as to dedicate a whole month to celebrating it, I want in on some of that action

xojane

This story originally appeared on xoJane.com.

Dudes, did you participate in Movember? What did you grow? Had you ever grown facial hair before? Did you shave it off after? C’mon, I’m on the edge of my seat, I want all the details. Except, I don’t. I’m actually kind of sick of hearing all about men’s facial hair.

Look, I love everything about the cultural swing toward more facial hair on men. It looks sexy, it’s usually less time-consuming and less expensive to maintain than a shaved face, it flies right in the face of some modern mainstream beauty ideals, and it’s a little easier on the environment. Plus, hey, I have a bias toward more variety in physical appearance. I like your beards – from the George Michael to the ZZ Top. I like your goatees. I like your moustaches – from plush Burt Reynolds push-brooms to high-maintenance hipster handlebars. Sometimes, I even like your ironic mutton chops. (But not your soul patch; soul patches are the rum raisin of facial hair.)

But start a soothing stroke along your scruffy cheek or chin (if you haven’t shaved it yet), because here’s where I ruin it for you. I don’t mean to metaphorically kick you in your probably-also-Movember-worthy nutsack, but I need you to think about some stuff that probably got lost somewhere between when you were torn between choosing a technologically marvelous beard trimmer or a très retro boar bristle brush ‘n mug combo.

Movember is full of problematic and complex socio-cultural ideas that get little attention in any discussion about it, lost like so many freshly-clipped hairs swirling down the drain of the bathroom sink.

Here are three big reasons I’m officially over Movember:

1) It’s very nostalgia-invoking (which is not as harmless as it sounds)

Ah, the good old days. Lumberjacks, sailors, Ernest Hemingway. You know, when “men were men.” The problem with nostalgia is that it dangerously erases what was bad and harmful about the past. It ctrl-alt-deletes right over everything that was wrong “back in the day.”

For example, when “men were men,” (i.e. when we as a society adhered more rigidly to gender-essentialist norms) it was more acceptable for husbands to beat wives, it was more acceptable for a male boss to expect sexual favors from a female secretary, it was more acceptable to pay a man more for doing the same job as a woman. It was also more acceptable for grade school boys to physically bully each other. Meanwhile, it was less acceptable for men to pursue careers in nursing or teaching.

In glorifying the “good old days,” you are essentially saying the world was better when marginalized people had it worse. As a sometimes-marginalized-person, it feels lousy to hear someone talk lovingly about an era when I would have had to choose between lying/hiding the fact that I’m queer, or face real legal, life-or-death consequences. It’s totally OK to feel love for parts of the past, but you have to accept the complexity and reality of the past. When “men were men” and sailed great distances to make a living, some of those sailors were also part of the triangle trade.

The history and evolution of male facial hair is fascinating and absolutely worth reading, writing and talking about. At the same time, it doesn’t stand apart from history. As Billy Joel has taught us, “the good old days weren’t always good.” Remember all of this when you are moustache-waxing poetic about the golden age of facial hair to someone who might not have had it so great in the 1890s.

2) It re-enforces gender-based appearance norms (that I find annoying and inconvenient)

Beards are natural. Real. Authentic and timeless. If you dig deep back into your high school biology memory bank, you’ll recall that one of the anatomical features that distinguishes us mammals from all other classes is that we grow hair all over our bodies (also some middle ear bones, mammary glands, and a neocortex, but who’s counting?).

In this regard, some of us are class-ier than others, right? I mean, I’m definitely some kind of super-mammal (and I haven’t even been struck by lightning, touched anything radioactive, or had any other super-power-forming experience.)

So, body hair – including facial hair – is part of our mammalian birthright. Except when it isn’t. Please take a moment for a simple addition problem: count how many times you saw hair on the face (no, eyebrows and eyelashes do not count), legs, armpits – essentially anywhere not on the head – on a woman in the month of November. Second addition exercise: same addition problem but count up the men you encountered in November with hair in those locations. Moving on to subtraction: subtract the second number from the first. If you live in the United States and you don’t have a negative number, I will buy you your own yacht, complete with a tastelessly misogynistic moniker plastered on the back.

If body hair is so natural, so essential to being a mammal, why do some of us feel significantly more comfortable existing in more natural states than others? The reality is that in the U.S., there is enormous pressure on women to remove or reduce visible, non-cranial-covering body hair. Removing body hair takes time, energy, and money – all things that most women could stand to have more of, not less.

Sure, some guys take flak for having a back that’s “too hairy,” or pluck out from under a unibrow, or wax something (or somethings). I get it, you are not immune to the pressures of our appearance-based culture. At the same time, some of these more modern manscaping grooming habits come under scrutiny as emasculating. They peg manscapers as being “too much like women” (which is supposed to be an insult, right?).

The mere fact that we have added words like “manscaping” and “metrosexual” to our lexicon means that they are marked as different, unexpected from the norm. Another way to say this is to ask what you call a woman who removes or reduces any body hair. Well, what do you call her? Stumped. We don’t have a special word for a woman who removes or reduces body hair because it’s “just what women do,” right?

Essentially, you get to have it both ways. If you want to remove some body hair, you can be seen as “taking care of yourself.” If you want to eschew a blade forever, you can cast aspersions on the shavers with complete impunity – or even with some admiration for your gender-essentialist curmudgeonliness (think of Ron Swanson on Parks and Rec). The fact that some assholes in high school made it really unappealing to take off your shirt at the beach does not erase that hairy is the default expectation for men.

It’s worth taking a moment to consider why hairless is the default expected appearance for women. Even in the midst of perpetual peril.

3) It silences and erases the reality of women with facial hair (or, when will I get MY month of facial hair celebration?)

I hate to break the well-plucked wall of secrecy on this but, guys, women have facial hair. It’s not just Agatha Fratelli from The Goonies. It’s called hirsutism and it means “excessive hair growth.” Basically, how your hair follicles respond to testosterone (not necessarily the level of testosterone in your body) determines your overall outward hairiness. It’s people like me. And, it can be treated! Wait, what?

When we talk about hirsutism, we are talking about a benign, cosmetic abnormality. Historically, we have a bias toward “correcting” benign, cosmetic abnormalities for the sake of feeling more comfortable or safer out in the world; it is easier to change our own appearance than to expect acceptance from the rest of the world. Take a minute to let that one sink in.

There are numerous drugs available to “treat” hirsuitism; you can ingest or apply any number of drugs to “correct” something that is a totally harmless genetic attribute. If this doesn’t seem weird to you, consider a world where it was normal to chop off a few centimeters of toe to “correct” Morton’s Toe, another harmless genetic abnormality (abnormal because it only occurs in about 10% of the population).

In a minority of cases, these drugs aren’t used to counter hirsutism; they’re used as part of a treatment plan for transgender women. I am not going to dismiss or downplay the importance of passing in a transphobic society, but suffice to say, in an ideal world, a transgender woman with facial hair would face the same level of discrimination as a non-transgender woman: none.

But this goes back to everything I brought up earlier: body hair, including facial hair is not generally accepted as normal for women. We are reminded of this regularly. From Harnaam Kaur (the 20-something Sikh woman who was “caught” at the airport by a surreptitious photographer) to the RA who encouraged residents to engage in a no-shave November (and in doing so was labeled as a “weird feminist”). While some of these stories push the narrative toward the story that body hair is normal, I still don’t feel comfortable going out into the world like this.

As if being a hairy, lady-identified individual didn’t cause me enough stress, I also have alopecia areata. This means I have random bald patches that spring up. Depending on the body location – too much hair is not-OK and hairlessness is also not-OK. And even though there are drugs, creams, lotions, shampoos, and surgical procedures to “correct” naturally-occurring baldness in men (implying that baldness is not OK), consider difference in response to a bald man vs. a hairy-legged woman. Consider that there is a counter-narrative of virility and sex appeal for bald men to lean on to remind them that they are accepted by society as-is.

In short, there is too much to ‘splain, so let me sum up: it is utterly frustrating and rage-inducing to watch mainstream media spend a month celebrating widely-accepted-and-considered-normal facial hair on men while saying, at best, nothing about women’s facial hair and, at worst, “Eww, gross.” If facial hair is so amazing as to dedicate a whole month to celebrating it, I want in on some of that action.

OK, are your eyebrows furrowed in some righteous sense of injustice? Wanna know what can you do?

Great. I’m so glad you are open to thinking about how you can cultivate your facial follicular garden and help everyone else who is not similarly encouraged. Those aren’t mutually exclusive activities! I am excited to have you on board as an ally.

First, don’t judge women by the choices we make about our body hair. If body hair on women isn’t your thing, that’s OK (but also, maybe do some reflecting on how you came to have that preference; it’s an active, not a neutral preference).

In the non-vanilla sex world, there’s a saying: “not my kink.” It’s a short-hand way to say, “I don’t particularly care to do that but I am also simultaneously capable of not judging the fact that you like to do that.” That’s easy, that one’s all in your head. If you see a really attractive-to-you woman take a long stretch, revealing her hairy armpits, can you work through the process of seeing it as a choice she made rather than, “Eww gross?”

Leveling up, can you call out other people for judging women with body hair? When you hear “Eww gross,” can you challenge Judgy McJudgerson to see body hair as a choice as if all choices are valid regardless of whether or not they’re personally appealing to you?

When I was younger, if I saw totally-freaky-to-me-weirdo my reaction was, “Eww, what a weirdo.” Now, my response is, “Thanks pal. Every visible, unapologetic weirdo makes the world safer for weirdos.” As a visible, unapologetic weirdo myself, I am invested in a safer world for weirdos and therefore thankful for other visible, unapologetic weirdos going about their daily business in the midst of non-weirdos.

The point is, I think even Judgy wants to be able to go to class in yoga pants and Uggs sometimes without experiencing ego-eroding derision.

Last, let’s say you prefer body hair on women. Let’s say it’s a total turn-on for you. Own it. Don’t be afraid to express that preference if you’re asked or if it comes up in conversation. Respond to that “eww gross” with “Actually, I think leg hair on women is pretty sexy.” Don’t be that guy in high school with a “secret girlfriend.”

My gram used to say “That goes to show ya, there’s a club for everyone.” It’s OK to be in the club of people who prefer some amount of body hair on women. I assure you plenty of other people are walking around with membership cards tucked into their wallets.

Anyway, I’m dying to get this conversation started. More than anything I want to be talking about gender and body hair instead of carrying on like nothing’s going on under the surface. Do your gender identity and level of body hair collide? Do you feel like they match? Should body hair be a gender marker? If you are female-identified, what’s your body hair level like? Are you comfortable with it? If your sexual preference includes female-identified partners, do you have a body hair preference on partners? How are we going to include people of all genders in Movember next year? LET’S TALK ABOUT IT!

* Yes, I realize that my generalizations about society and culture are specifically rooted in the United States, current day. Yes, I am aware that there are other parts of the world and other times in human history with different stories to tell about women and body hair.

Amy Mendosa wrote this story for 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 Malala Yousafzai

Meet the Guests of Malala Joining Her as She Receives the Nobel Peace Prize

Joint Nobel Peace prize winner Malala Yousafzai, stands with five young women she invited to attend the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony, from left, Nigeria's Amina Yusuf, Pakistan's Kainat Soomro, school friend Shazia Ramzan, Syria's Mezon Almellehan and school friend Kainat Riaz, as they pose for a group photograph before speaking to the media at Malala's hotel in Oslo, Norway, Dec. 9, 2014.
Matt Dunham—AP Joint Nobel Peace prize winner Malala Yousafzai, stands with five young women she invited to attend the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony, from left, Nigeria's Amina Yusuf, Pakistan's Kainat Soomro, school friend Shazia Ramzan, Syria's Mezon Almellehan and school friend Kainat Riaz, as they pose for a group photograph before speaking to the media at Malala's hotel in Oslo, Norway, Dec. 9, 2014.

The girls' education activist invited five extraordinary young friends to attend Wednesday's ceremony in Oslo

A group of friends and fellow activists invited to attend the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony on Wednesday have described how they have been inspired by the example of Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani teenager whose determination to receive an education provoked the Taliban to try and kill her.

Amina Yusuf, 17, a mentor for young girls at the Center for Girls’ Education in northern Nigeria, says she was impressed with Malala, whom she met in July when the young activist visited Nigeria. “She’s so calm,” Yusuf tells TIME by telephone from Oslo, Norway. “She has the spirit of an adult. When you see you her you think she is much older than her [actual] age.”

Yusuf is one of five young women invited by Malala to join her in Oslo on Wednesday.

MORE: Malala says she hopes to become Pakistan’s Prime Minister

Malala, 17, was awarded the prize jointly with 60-year-old children’s rights activist Kailash Satyarthi “for their struggle against the suppression of children and young people and for the right of all children to education,” the Norwegian Nobel Committee announced in October. Malala, who is the youngest Nobel Laureate in history, invited three champions of girls’ rights and two classmates from Pakistan who were on the bus with her when she was shot in the head by the Taliban in 2012.

The two girls, Shazia Ramzan and Kainat Riaz, were also shot during the attack on Malala in 2012, with Ramzan being hit in the shoulder and hand and Riaz in the arm. Riaz, who is now 17, describes the day as “the most horrible day of my life.” Speaking by phone from Oslo on Tuesday, Riaz tells TIME, “When I saw Malala covered in blood in the bus, then I forgot everything. It was the hardest time of my life.”

After Riaz and Ramzan, now 16, recovered from their injuries they won scholarships to attend Atlantic College in South Wales, an international residential school. But they’ve stayed in touch with Malala, who now attends school in Birmingham, England. “I am very happy to be here [in Oslo],” says Ramzan. “It’s an honor for Malala. Now she has more support in helping other people, in helping other children and every young student go to school.”

The other young activists that Malala has invited to join her in Oslo have also experienced extreme hardships at a young age and are working to make a difference for other girls. Mezon Almellehan is a 16-year-old Syrian refugee who lives with her family in a camp in Azraq, Jordan where she champions girls’ education within the camps. She met Malala earlier this year when Malala toured the large Syrian refugee camp, Za’atari, where Almellehan was living at the time.

And finally there’s Kainat Soomro, a 21-year-old sexual assault victims’ advocate from Pakistan. Soomro, who doesn’t speak English but spoke with TIME via a translator, said on Tuesday that she had met Malala in person for the first time that day. For Soomro, who was abducted and sexually assaulted by a group of men over a period of three days when she was 13, the meeting has been inspiring. Though she’s no stranger to activism — she has spent the last eight years fighting for justice in her own case in Pakistan — she says she has “learned so many things” from Malala and her fight for girls’ education. “Malala gave me courage,” she says. “[After speaking with her] I feel so much stronger than I did before.”

The young women tell TIME they are excited to be in Oslo — “It’s so cool,” notes Ramzan — but they all seem more thrilled to witness Malala receive one of the most prestigious awards in the world. “I am proud, she’s my friend,” says Riaz, who believes that Malala’s Peace Prize will help promote the rights of girls to have an education. “This is our mission. In the whole world — especially in Pakistan — everyone [should] get an education.”

Read next: Malala Yousafzai Unveils Bloodstained Uniform From Taliban Shooting

TIME viral

Watch Adorable Little Girls Cuss Out a ‘Sexist’ Santa

The Potty-Mouth Princesses are back

Remember those “potty-mouth princesses” who drop F-bombs in the name of feminism? Well, they’re back and have a bone to pick with Santa. Yes, that Santa.

The left-leaning advocacy group FCKH8 has raised eyebrows with its shock tactic advertising (swearing little girls wearing princess gear) to raise awareness on issues — like violence against women, gender inequality, and now the gender wage gap. Grade school girls holding up fractions of soccer balls and skate boards say, “How sh**** would it be if Santa were sexist as society?” … followed by a series of expletives.

There are few things more disarming than little girls in party dresses cussing out Santa Claus. Except maybe the fact that women make 78% of their male counterparts’ salaries should be.

 

TIME Culture

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

InStyle

"The slut or the wife"

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

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

Read more at Instyle

TIME Opinion

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

Wild
Fox Searchlight

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

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

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

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

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

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

MORE: The Top 10 Best Movies of 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

MORE: The Top 10 Best Movie Performances of 2014

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

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

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

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

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