TIME selfies

Our Bodies, Our Selfies: The Feminist Photo Revolution

The Taxonomy of a Feminist Selfie
Illustration by Anna Sudit for TIME

How young women are turning a symbol of narcissism into a new kind of empowerment

As far as selfies go, the photo of 17-year-old Grammy winner Lorde was a coup. “In bed in paris with my acne cream on,” the singer wrote on Instagram, captioning herself in a black T-shirt and messy bun, white splotches visible on her face.

Twenty-four hours and 95,000 Likes later, fans couldn’t stop gushing. “Lorde’s No-Makeup, Acne-Cream Selfie Only Further Proves Her Awesomeness,” the Huffington Post declared. “RESPECT” and “Love u,” commenters screamed. “Finally a celeb who doesn’t have seemingly flawless skin.”

The scene was utterly ordinary — the way most teen girls go to bed each night — which was precisely what made it so out of the ordinary. How often do you see a celebrity looking like a regular awkward teen? (Answer: almost never.)

Over the past year, the selfie has pushed its way into our collective consciousness like a pop song you can’t get out of your head. It was Oxford Dictionary’s word of the year. It has spawned think pieces about think pieces. It will earn you nine points in Scrabble.

Yet when it comes to selfies and girls, much of the conversation has been judgey: selfies are narcissistic, humble-braggy, slutty, too sexy, a “cry for help,” or yet another way for girls’ to judge each other (or seek validation for their looks).

But the Lorde acne-cream selfie is just a tiny example of the ways young women like her — and even, yes, some socially conscious celebs — are using the self-portrait to turn that narcissism notion on its head. In small pockets all over the Internet, women are celebrating their flaws. They’re making silly faces (ugly selfies!) and experimenting with identities. They’re owning their imperfections (whether it be full hair or wrinkles or — dare we say it — fat) and contradicting old stereotypes (for instance, that “#FeministsAreUgly,” as a new Twitter campaign has it). In a culture that places immeasurable value on a woman’s beauty, women are using selfies to show what women really look like — no makeup, acne cream and all.

I’ve spent a good portion of the last year looking at the ways that imagery can impact our perception of women, and how we can overturn sexist tropes through mass media. But the selfie is doing the same thing through mass culture. Here are nine ways the selfie is empowering women.

Selfies Push Back Against Traditional Beauty Norms
Self-portraits have been an outlet for feminist expression, and subversion, for a long time. But when it comes to modern-day beauty representations, what we see daily is often a familiar spectrum of vanilla: white, gaunt, emotionless and airbrushed beyond recognition. Selfies are pushing back against that beauty ideal, through thousands of images of “real” women that they’ve created and shared themselves. “Selfies open up deep issues about who controls the image of women,” says Peggy Phelan, an art and English professor at Stanford University and the author of a recent essay about feminist selfies. “Selfies make possible a vast array of gazes that simply were not seen before.”

Selfies Take Advantage of a Platform That Girls Rule
It should be no surprise that, according to a recent survey by Dove, 63% of women believe social media — not print, film or music — is having the most pivotal impact on today’s definition of beauty. That’s because it’s a world where girls rule. Teens and young women use social media often and in more ways than men on almost every site, from Facebook to Instagram to Tumblr.

Selfies Allow Women to Own Their Flaws
Whether it’s Nicki Minaj sans makeup; the model Cara Delevingne modeling the grotesque; or Tavi Gevinson, the teen creator of Rookie magazine, noting the giant pimple on the “Upper West Side of my face,” there is something powerful in seeing normally flawless celebrities with actual flaws. On Twitter and Tumblr, the #FeministSelfie hashtag reveals an epic stream of women in all shapes and sizes, engaged in all sorts of activities, while #365FeministSelfie project — started by an administrator at the University of Illinois at Chicago — encourages women to take a snapshot of themselves each day for a year, no matter how they look. “We spend so much time trying to hide our flaws because the culture has set it up that you have to be ashamed if you’re not perfect,” Cynthia Wade, a filmmaker and creator of the short film Selfie told me recently, for an article about ugly selfies in the New York Times. “I think girls are tired of it.”

Selfies Give Girls Control
For centuries, we’ve watched as changing standards of beauty have shaped us: it was men, not women, controlling the photos. But selfies put the power in girls’ hands. “It allows you to have complete control over one moment in time,” 15-year-old Harper Glantz, one of the subjects of the film Selfie, told me a few months back. “In school, me and other girls sort of feel smothered just by social pressures that are hard to even detect sometimes. I think what a selfie does is that it really allows you to express yourself in a way that you feel comfortable with.”

Selfies Showcase Faces Not Normally on Display
“A huge swath of women and girls don’t see themselves portrayed in mainstream media,” explains Jennifer Pozner, a media critic and the founder of Women in Media and News, which aims to amplify female voices. And yet, through the sheer number of selfies uploaded daily — selfies that showcase women in all forms — women are upending notions about whose faces are beautiful, or mainstream, enough to be seen. “They’re breaking through the media gatekeepers,” says Pozner. “And they’re saying, ‘I’m great the way I am.’”

Selfies Are a Form of Social Currency
James Franco’s recent ridiculousness aside, the actor made a good point when he wrote, in an op-ed in the New York Times, that “attention is power.” “In a visual culture,” he said, “the selfie quickly and easily shows, not tells, how you’re feeling, where you are, what you’re doing. In our age of social media, the selfie is the new way to look someone right in the eye and say, ‘Hello, this is me.’”

Selfies Challenge the Notion That You Need a Reason to Be Seen
Narcissus may have drowned because he was too enchanted with his own reflection, but selfies challenge the idea that girls can’t revel in their own reflection — or feel good about a photo of themselves. “Selfies are one way for a female to make space for herself in the world: to say ‘I’m here, this is what I actually look like, my story counts, too,'” says Pamela Grossman, the director of visual trends at Getty Images, and my co-curator on a feminist photo-curation project. “They allow girls to shine on their own terms.”

Selfies Aren’t Just About What You Look Like, They’re About What You’re Doing
Whether it’s solving a math equation or crossing a marathon finish line.

Selfies Force Us to See Ourselves
To celebrate what we look like — flaws and all.

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 a contributing editor for Sheryl Sandberg’s women’s foundation, Lean In, where she curates the Lean In Collection with Getty Images. You can follow her @jess7bennett.

TIME Television

Outlander Recap: Feminism and Time Travel in a Bodice-Ripping Romance? Sure!

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Ed Miller—© 2014 Sony Pictures Television

Outlander's debut episode delivers on multiple counts

If you have a predilection for epic romances and the super-specific sub-genre that is historical time-travel fiction, then you’re likely to find Outlander to be a sensory feast. Superficially, Starz’s new show is a torrid romance primed for an eager fandom desperate to re-direct their Game of Thrones enthusiasm. But Outlander is more than a sweepingly cinematic bodice ripper: it manages to shroud what fans (myself included) guilt-love about the genre in the much broader themes of history, feminism and free-will.

Though the show begins just after World War II, it largely takes place during 18th century Scotland’s Jacobite uprisings. And while Outlander doesn’t necessarily seek to give viewers a history lesson, the fact that combat nurse Claire Randall’s husband, Frank, is a historian certainly helps. Frank’s incessant musings about his Redcoat ancestors might get yawn-inducing, but they serve as a necessary device to contextualize Claire’s time travel. As she re-lives Frank’s history lessons, Claire’s melancholic voiceover firmly roots the viewer in both worlds, building a bridge between the past and present.

It’s clear from the onset that Claire will spend the majority of Outlander diligently playing the part of an English Rose who eye-sexes thistly Scots, but time travel also becomes a means for Claire to unleash her inner feminist all over a bunch of kilted bros. The creators of Outlander want us to see Claire as a freethinker, and while she is on the surface, she’s also powerless against the romance genre’s inherent constraints against true feminism. Yes, she’s smarter than her male captors and she doesn’t want to be “saved,” but she also acquiesces to the genre’s stipulation that she must be — no matter how resilient a modern-day woman she is. With that in mind, let’s dive sporran-first into Outlander‘s premiere.

Meet Claire Randall: Feminist, Sex Goddess, Hausfrau

Outlander introduces us to Claire and Frank as they celebrate their post-war reunion with a romantic trip to the Scottish Highlands, which — thanks to this show — will now be the go-to setting for fan-fic writers the world over. Claire spends much of the episode trying to mend her war-torn marriage to Frank, but while she seems content enough with her life, there’s clearly something lacking in their relationship.

Claire remained faithful throughout her time apart from Frank during the war, but his willingness to forgive any possible dalliances should be kept in mind throughout Outlander‘s freshman season. Does Claire’s eye wander because she’s asserting the right to explore her sexuality Scot-style, or because her husband gives her permission to do so? Either way, Claire and Frank spend almost all their time having sex in derelict castle cellars and creaky hotel rooms, but Claire — like Heathcliff and Cathy before her — clearly needs to unbridle her passions all over some moors, ASAP. That’s a problem that can only be solved by time travel!

Scottish Highlands Morph Into Supernatural Hot Bed

Since something is wanting in her married life, Claire spends much of her second honeymoon frolicking in the ferns of Scotland and having dusty flashbacks to her past. But then Samhain (aka Halloween) strikes, a holiday that denizens of The Highlands celebrate by pouring blood on their door frames and being macabre. Of course, Samhain also happens to be the day that Scotland’s ghost population emerges from the indistinct twilight, and Frank runs into a particularly perverted phantom on his way home, whom he catches peeping at Claire through the window. This is the first of many supernatural elements in Outlander‘s premiere, and it doesn’t feel forced, despite the first half of the episode being rooted in the business of everyday life. What’s unclear is whether there’s something innate in Claire that’s attracting the paranormal (her palm reading certainly implies as much), or whether she’s simply found herself hanging with the wrong gamboling Druids at the wrong time. (It happens to the best of us.)

In Which Claire Experiences The 1940s Version of Throwback Thursday

After some X-rated intimacy that capitalizes on Starz’s clothing-optional policy, Claire and Frank get up early and visit Craigh na Dun, an ancient stone circle that becomes a literal touchstone for Claire’s thematic journey. Along with Claire and Frank (who somehow manage not to have sex in the ferns), we witness what has to be the best slow-motion Druid dancing scene in the history of television, complete with accompanying chanting and Celtic music. It was basically like watching a vintage Kate Bush music video, with a little Mists of Avalon thrown in for good measure. How can we blame Claire for paying Craigh na Dun another visit? Only this time, she makes the mistake of touching a rock, and promptly gets transported to the 18th century.

Claire Fully Embraces Stockholm Syndrome

Apparently the 18th century Jacobite rebellions were a much more visually vibrant time than the 20th, because Claire leaves the muted tones of 1940s Scotland and wakes up in an Instagram filter. She immediately starts panic-frolicking through the grass until happening upon Frank’s doppleganger ancestor, Redcoat captain Black Jack Randall, who wastes no time trying to rape her. Luckily, Claire’s rescued by a band of kilt-wearing Scotsmen, and sets to relocating the shoulder of the hunkiest clansman, Jamie Fraser, who drops this classic pick-up line: “I’ll get me plaid loose to cover ye.” (Heard that one before.) After proving her worth, Claire puts Frank’s history lessons to use by alerting her captors of a Redcoat ambush, ultimately saving their lives.

Claire’s role as a savior certainly bolsters her unspoken identity as a feminist, but she’s not exactly free of the patriarchy, no matter what year it is. And considering that the 20th century should give her greater opportunity to be a liberated woman, it’s all the more noteworthy that her true feminist leanings surface in a world where she’s threatened with rape and casually called a whore. Claire will likely spend the remainder of Outlander navigating her new role as a clanswoman — and while she does make a failed attempt to flee her captors, by premiere’s end, our plucky heroine is almost as entrenched in her new life as we are. And I’m already cueing up my DVR for next week’s episode and hand-sewing myself a celebratory Druid costume.

TIME Education

The Crisis of Minority Boys

Young men and boys of color are trailing minority girls and white boys in education, and their job prospects are getting worse.

If we’re to believe this Axe body spray ad, young men are incapable of controlling themselves around attractive women. Before that we had the Huggies ad campaign, ‘The Dad Test,’ which featured the all-too familiar “bumbling dad” character. That one said: We don’t even know how to change a diaper. The predecessor to that gem was a Docker’s ad that lamented the fall of old-fashioned manhood, enjoining us to heed the “Call of Manhood” and “wear the pants.” In other words, according to these ads, we need to go back to simpler times when men were men and women were women. Yet today, at a time when young men, and boys of color are falling behind, we urgently need to rethink our outdated definition of masculinity, and create new definitions of success.

This month, President Obama announced the expansion of his new My Brother’s Keeper program – a public-private effort to give minority boys access to more educational and employment opportunities. It’s an overdue national-level response to an urgent problem: young men and boys of color are trailing minority girls and white boys in high school graduation rates and reading scores, and are more likely to be suspended than white students. And their job market prospects are limited and, by nearly all measures, getting worse.

On top of that, the discussion about what low-income boys need to succeed in school, work and family life is outdated. As those ads all too clearly testify, the airwaves are full of simplistic and often unfounded assumptions about men and about gender differences. We seldom talk intelligently about just how it is that we socialize boys and men in the U.S. – and how that can affect them – and the people around them, for the rest of their lives. Though many of the challenges that minority boys and young men face in this country are structural – the result of lack of access to quality education, stable caregiving environments, and exclusion from the workplace – they are also about how we raise boys of all ethnic groups.

For years, we’ve been debating about the “problem with boys,” and why girls are speeding ahead of them. Too often, conversations are focused on the idea that boys are inherently different from girls and need to be taught to be more masculine, or that there is a “masculine” way of learning. That boys need books with stories involving explosions and guns, superheroes, rugged individualism and survival skills while girls need the social skills to juggle work and family.

Then there are those (including apparently those who wrote the Dockers ads) who argue that feminism has disempowered boys – that girls, female teachers, feminine curricula, feminists, mothers, and female politicians are to blame for the faltering men. We are trying to turn our boys into girls, according to claims from a newly emerging “male studies” movement and a recent conference in Detroit.

Campaigns and movements like these are causing big problems. Data from the United States and the rest of the world suggest that the problems of suicide, poor educational achievement, delinquency, crime, violence (both against other men and against women), and poor physical health lie in part at least with boys and men trying to live up to exaggerated, straight-jacket definition of what it means to be a man. Indeed, rather than trying to encourage boys and men to be stereotypically male – physically tough at all costs, emotionally stoic, and autonomous – we need to help them understand and appreciate that close relationships, empathy and the ability to get along with others are key to their survival. We need to raise them to be boys and men who seek help when they need it, who provide help when needed, who connect to each other, and who can feel masculine without using violence or dominating others.

This can be even more challenging for low-income boys of color. We know that low-income young men in many parts of the world sometimes find a sense of identity and respect in gangs and similar groups when they don’t find it in school or the workplace. With multiple variations around the world, we see that being tough, aggressive, belonging to a gang or violent group, having lots of sexual partners and no commitment to their children is a way to project a version of “real manhood” when other ways – work and education – are cut off. This doesn’t excuse the behavior of angry young men. It explains it.

Take a young man I interviewed in favela, or slum, in Rio de Janeiro. “Work isn’t everything but it’s almost everything,” he told me. “If you have work, everybody leaves you alone and you’re cool. No, work, man, and you’ll do anything.”

We know what the “anything” is and the harm it brings. Globally young men ages 15-24 are the group most likely to carry out lethal violence and to be victims of it. Nearly 30 percent of men of color will have some encounter with the justice sector, and many of those will spend time in jail or prison. And we know that education and meaningful work must be the centerpiece of efforts in the U.S. and elsewhere to end the harm.

But let’s not forget about the boyhood behind the boys. Let’s think about the brotherhood in My Brothers Keeper. The media bombard boys of all backgrounds with versions of aggressive, sex, money and power-at-all-costs images on the internet, in music, in our homes, and on our playing fields.

As we think about minority boys, we must also engage the media, parents and schools in teaching new versions of manhood – versions not based in violence and success-at-any-cost but based in respect, non-violence, connection and caring. This can include programs like “Gender Matters” in Austin, Texas, in which boys and girls question harmful ways we’re taught to be women and men as part of a summer youth employment training program. Or “Coaching Boys into Men”, in which coaches teach boys that manhood is not about disrespecting women or bullying their teammates. As we empower girls and women to succeed in education and the workplace, let’s think about the kinds of men we want our boys to become.

Gary Barker, Ph.D., is founder and International Director of Promundo, an international organization with offices in the United States, Brazil and Portugal and representatives in Rwanda and Burundi, that works to engage men and boys in gender equality and ending violence against women.

TIME Opinion

Stop Telling Women Their Most Valuable Asset Is Their Youth

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MmeEmil—Getty Images/Vetta

Why, in an era when we are succeeding in so many ways, do we buy into sexist tropes about aging?

Last week, I wrote a column about​ millennials and​ beta-marriages: ​young people, like me, who want to beta-test their relationships before they commit to “forever” — by way of temporary marriage contracts. It led to an interesting response,​ in particular,​ from a five-times married, ​71-year-old ​television host who posts semi-nude selfies on the internet.

Appearing on FOX to discuss the piece, Geraldo Rivera noted, to stunned female hosts, that what a woman brings to a marriage “more than anything else” is “her youth.”

Her youth?

Yes, “her youth,​” ​Geraldo continued. Because a woman’s youth, he explained, “is a fragile and diminishing resource.”

Geraldo’s logic went like this: If a woman were to invest two precious years into ​a beta-marriage, and then, God forbid, have her man reject her (his words, not mine), she’ll have wasted her most valuable asset. The thing that is, obviously, going to determine not just whether a woman will have a family, but whether she’ll have a husband, and live happily ever after, at all.

I spent all week trying to ignore that comment. Honestly, who gives a ​sh-t about Geraldo Rivera? And yet I couldn’t get it out of my head. Like the ticking of that clock, I kept hearing it, reading about it, stumbling on it everywhere I turned: Your youth. Your youth. Your youth.

Women have been hearing this argument since the dawn of time. And since the dawn of time, part of it has been true (youth means fertility). But Geraldo’s sin was not simply that what he said was impolitic. It’s that he put bluntly one of the most insidious and persistent smears: that women come with an expiration date.

​It’s a concept that is still pounded into us at every turn, from media to pop culture–and not just by septuagenarian TV personalities. It is there, almost tauntingly, in a recent article in Esquire, which seemed to bask in its own generosity by proclaiming that a woman could still be hot at 42–as if that were a reason to reconsider their value. It’s there in the endless media blitz by Susan Patton, the “Princeton Mom,” who’s managed to create a “mini empire,“as Salon recently put it, from “one crazy op-ed” about how women need to hurry up and find a man.

I’m 32 (though I’m always tempted to shave a year or two from that number). I’m surrounded by other unmarried women in their 30s ​who are ambitious, career-driven, attractive.Intellectually, we know that the longer we wait to ​settle down, the more likely our relationships will be successful. (We’ve read the studies.) And we know that when we do decide to tie the knot, we’re going to bring a whole lot ​of benefits to ​the relationships – things like ​advanced ​education and ​money-earning​ potential​ — ​that would have been inconceivable even a generation ago.

​We also know we’re going to do all of this while slathering our faces with anti-aging cream. Pricking our smile-lines with Botox. Lying about our ages.​ ​And cleaning up after everyone in the house (even ​breadwinning wives still do the majority of chores).​ And on some strange level, we’ve accepted it.

The thing is, reality no longer conforms to those old tropes. Women now get the majority of college degrees. We have careers. We are living longer than ever. We can freeze our eggs to buy us biological time.

And yet our conception of what makes a woman desirable and valuable in society hasn’t caught up. From every angle, we continue to hear that we need to “rush.” That we should make it easier and more comfortable for the men around us. That our youth — not necessarily even our fertility — is our most valuable asset.

And as if that wasn’t already our worst fear, we have people like Geraldo hammering that home.

On Tuesday, while this story went viral, my 33-year-old friend was having her eggs frozen, then tearfully coming over to my house, bloated and emotional, worried she hadn’t bought herself enough time.

On Wednesday, I had a half-hour conversation with another friend, about how many years she was allowed to shave off of an online dating profile​ — because, she feared, nobody would want to date a woman over 30.

On Thursday, I cried to my therapist, about the clock that was ticking in my head. “​But is it really even your clock?” she asked. “Or is it just the pressure you feel from everybody else?”

The youthfulness we’re chasing is not about biology, and it’s not solvable by science. It’s a cultural message. And we need to stop listening to it.

So thanks for the reminder, Geraldo — but I’d rather not listen. Here’s hoping that the fifth time’s the charm.

If not, there’s always the beta-marriage.

 

TIME feminism

Rich Moms of the First World, Stop Fighting About Breastfeeding

Olivia Wilde breastfeeds her son, Otis, in a new issue of Glamour
Olivia Wilde breastfeeds her son, Otis, in a new issue of Glamour Patrick Demarchelier—Glamour

We who crow about our choices speak from great privilege—and our arguments grow quickly tiresome

In 1969, my mother’s obstetrician advised her not to breastfeed, claiming it was “for the natives.” My older brothers and I were fed with formula. Her mother, in 1942, was not even presented with the option to nurse, pejorative or otherwise. Fashion is fashion, and people tend to follow it. When my baby was born, in 2009, we struggled. No fewer than four lactation consultants offered conflicting advice. My supply was low because his latch was problematic. His latch was problematic because my supply was low. My supply was low because I was depressed. I was depressed because my supply was low. Friends donated breastmilk, we supplemented with formula, I tethered myself to a breast pump. Eventually, we worked it out, and nursed for a good long while. How long is another minefield altogether.

Our emotionally charged, exhausting postpartum marathon seemed over-the-top to some. “No one will judge you if you give up,” I was told. “Formula is fine.”

But I did not want to give up. Not to prove a point, but because I felt certain that nursing was worth the struggle. The imperative to persist was fierce; my refusal to cede power and authority over my body and its capacities surprised even me. I wanted to nurse my child. I wanted to buck a rather sorry legacy of appalling misinformation. I wanted to reclaim what had been taken from and surrendered by so many women before me.

I did not favor hiding out under blankets or in another room when I nursed – to do so felt like a way of acquiescing to a specifically female brand of shame, and I was not ashamed. Nasty looks and comments and lame jokes were regularly tossed my way. So this is how much we fear and loathe and yearn to control women’s bodies. So this is why America alone among 118 countries voted against the World Health Organization’s 1981 campaign to regulate the marketing of infant formula.

In a history of baby feeding published in The New Yorker in 2009, Jill Lepore shared a profoundly simple insight: “When the rich eat white bread and buy formula, the poor eat brown bread and breast-feed; then they trade places.”

World Breastfeeding Week aims to “focus and facilitate actions to protect, promote and support breastfeeding.” A righteous and crucial goal. On the brochure, two women in colorful ethnic garb are pictured nursing their newborns. “The natives” referenced by my mother’s obnoxious OB have suffered gravely thanks to the unconscionable and relentless efforts of formula marketing since the mid-twentieth century. What cruel irony.

After Birth, coming in 2015 Courtesy HMH

We’re not talking about Pacific Heights or Park Slope, where women of great means and low infant mortality rates love to snipe about one another’s choices for sport. We who crow about our choices speak from great privilege, and our arguments grow quickly tiresome. Information, professional guidance, and support networking for expectant/nursing moms is proliferate in the here and now; women who choose not to avail themselves of said information must be acknowledged to be making a different kind of choice altogether.

Every mother I know indulges in some degree of shame about breastfeeding. Shame, it seems, is the primary directive. Didn’t nurse at all? You must be ignorant and/or selfish. Didn’t nurse long? What a pity. Nurse in public? You’re making others uncomfortable. Adore nursing? Keep quiet lest you become an irritating prostelytizer. Nursed too long? That’s disgusting. The pendulum swings this way and that, but a constant is that women of means get to “choose” whether or not they nurse, then get grief from absolutely every angle.

The actress Olivia Wilde recently posed for photos in an evening gown nursing her 3-month-old. “Breastfeeding is the most natural thing in the world,” she said. Wilde is educated and fortunate and has excellent choices. If a woman of her station were to choose not to breastfeed, there is clean water and room in the budget for formula. Globally, the problem has little to do with women like me nursing or not nursing or nursing in public or nursing through toddlerhood and beyond or nursing glamorously in the pages of a magazine. The problem is that everyone wants to be an authority on how women’s bodies are used, and it doesn’t take much more than a cursory glance at history to see what ridiculously repetitious, needless harm has come from that.

“Nothing in nature is more natural than anything else,” wrote the philosopher Adam Phillips. There have always been women who couldn’t or wouldn’t nurse their babies; wet nurses were once highly valued professionals. Nursing may be right as rain, but so too can be, say, adoption. Not to mention the all-too human impulse to profit off attempts to subvert or “improve” upon nature. Nestlé put the wet nurses out of business, and now we have organic formula and non-toxic bottles and adorable accessories galore. Lucky us. Our babies don’t often wind up with dysentery.

 

Elisa Albert is the author of The Book of Dahlia and a collection of short stories, has written for NPR, Tin House, Commentary, Salon, and the Rumpus. She grew up in Los Angeles and now lives in upstate New York with her family. Her latest novel, After Birth, is forthcoming in February 2015.

TIME feminism

Advocates Seize on White House Africa Summit to Call for End to Child Marriage

US - Africa Leaders Summit Continues In Washington DC
Swaziland King Mswati III, South Sudan President Salva Kiir Mayardit, Djbouti President Ismail Omar Guelleh, Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, South Africa President Jacob Zuma, left to right, and other African leaders listen to U.S. President Barack Obama deliver closing remarks during the U.S.-Africa Business Forum at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel August 5, 2014 in Washington, DC. Chip Somodevilla—Getty Images

Activist groups called on African government officials to ban child marriage amid President Barack Obama’s first U.S.-Africa summit Tuesday.

“Child marriage is a complex human rights issue. It violates myriad women’s rights,” said Amanda Klasing, a women’s rights researcher for Human Rights Watch, during a discussion at United Nations Foundation on Tuesday hosted by the International Center for Research on Women.

The summit was one of many sideline events in Washington coinciding with the U.S.-Africa Summit, a three-day gathering that brings together President Barack Obama with nearly 50 heads of state from across the African continent.

Advocates for the rights of women and girls said issues facing women and girls must be addressed at the summit—particularly the marrying off of young girls. According to a recent UNICEF report, marriage at a young age can lead to women who are less educated, more susceptible to challenges during birth (due to lack of education) and less likely to receive medical care during pregnancy.

The greater issue, advocates said, is that marriage prevents young women from making decisions about their own bodies and lives.

An estimated 700 million women across the globe were once child brides, according to a recent UNICEF report, and about 14 million girls are married off before they reach the age of 18 every year. The International Center for Research on Women found Africa is home to 15 of the 20 countries where child marriage is extremely prevalent.

Without empowering women, says Behailu T. Weldeyohannes, a professor of law at Jimma University in Ethiopia, there is little chance the continent’s burgeoning economy will flourish.

“Africa right now is considered as a poor continent, but potentially it is not poor,” said Weldeyohannes. “If we address gender-based violence and if we provide education, if we provide health, if we provide other services to women—that by itself can increase the [Gross Domestic Product].”

Economic data backs this up. A 2011 World Bank study on the economic benefits of investing in girls found that if young Nigerian women and men had equal rates of economic activity—meaning active participation in the job market by both genders—annual GDP growth in the country would increase by 3.5%.

There are certainly precedents in intervention programs aimed at empowering young women that leaders could look to, should the activists’ words take root. A pilot study conducted by the Population Council and United Nations Population Fund in collaboration with stakeholders in Ethiopia was able to prevent girls age 10 to 14 from marrying young by working with communities, providing school supplies, and setting up mentor groups with girls.

But community-based work alone can’t solve the problem — Governments must put in place laws that promote equality and protect girls as they develop. Dorothy Aken’Ova, the executive director of the International Center for Reproductive Health and Sexual Rights in Nigeria, says Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, who is reportedly attending the Summit, has yet to prove he’s willing to take a real stance on protecting women, even after the kidnapping of over 200 girls from a school by the Islamist militant group Boko Haram drew the world’s attention and ire.

“I am concerned that [Jonathan] is not connecting with the groups that matter adequately on this situation,” Aken’Ova says. “If he could only pause for once and get some feminist analysis into the situation then he will not be far away from a lasting solution. But the question is, is he ready to engage with the feminist movement in the country?”

TIME Opinion

‘Husband Hunting’ Shoes? Nine West’s Bizarre New Ad Campaign

Nine West

Also shoes for dropping your kids off at school. But those are the only two "shoe occasions."

If you’re just sitting at your desk like a normal person, you better not be wearing shoes, because this is not a shoe occasion. According to Nine West’s website, “shoe occasions” are “Starter Husband Hunting” and “First Day of Kindergarten.” At other times you might have to resort to wrapping your feet in paper towels fastened with rubber bands you stole off broccoli at the grocery store. No shoes for you!

Maybe this promotional campaign was meant ironically, but under the “collections” section of the retailer’s website you will find specific “shoe occasions,” and there are only two. Finding a “starter” husband (the hot, rich kind, not the beer-belly kind, obviously) and the first day of kindergarten (for the mom, not the kid) In other words, Nine West shoes appear to be created only women looking for a man or taking care of kids. Because that’s what women mostly do, right Nine West?

Each “shoe occasion” also comes with mini-pep talk and related imagery. For “Starter Husband Hunting,” the well-shoed model is posing in front of a bullseye with some arrows (Cupid’s bow?) and the accompanying text says:

Go get ‘em, tiger. Whether you’re looking for Mr. Right or Mr. Right Now… we got a shoe for that.

For “First Day of Kindergarten,” the fashionable mom is surrounded by used tissues, and the text says:

The bus arrives and so do the waterworks. Then it hits you: Mommy now has the weeks off. Wipe those happy-sad tears… we got a shoe for that.

Note that Mommy “has the weeks off,” so probably that starter husband she found is the one buying her all these Nine West shoes.

The best part of the Nine West “shoe occasions” is how the name of each shoe matches up to its stated purpose. For example, the “Starter Husband Hunting” collection includes lots of red leather and leopard print, with names like “Meowww Peep Toe Platform Booties” or “Love Fury Platform Heels” or “Jealouseye Pointy Toe Pumps.” Not sure how the “Lobster Smoking Slippers” got in there, unless Nine West thinks women are hunting for starter husbands on the Titanic.

The shoes Nine West recommends for dropping off your kid at Kindergarten have even better names, and are just as impractical. You can wear your “Tiptoe Black Peeptoe Booties” to a playdate with your 5 year old, never mind they’re almost 5 inches tall. There’s also the “Foodie Monk Strap Loafers,” because moms are celibate and love eating, and the “Disheveled Platform Booties,” also over 4 inches tall, because moms are always glamorously disheveled, amiright ladies? The “Lobster Smoking Slippers” make another inexplicable appearance. No clogs.

Nine West did not respond to requests for an explanation of the new campaign.

Nine West

 

TIME Books

Roxane Gay’s Bad Feminist Is a “Manual on How to Be a Human”

Roxane Gay
Roxane Gay Jay Grabiec

The acclaimed author’s essay collection shows “what it’s like to move through the world as a woman”

Roxane Gay is the gift that keeps on giving. The author released her riveting first novel, An Untamed State, back in May, and she already has a new book out: an entertaining and thought-provoking essay collection called Bad Feminist. In it, she covers of range topics from pop culture to politics, from Fifty Shades of Grey and Sweet Valley High to Wendy Davis’ filibuster and the deaths of Trayvon Martin and Oscar Grant.

Bad Feminist, she explains, is about reconciling contradictions — how to ask tough questions about the world and feminism while still “admitting to our humanity and enjoying sometimes inappropriate things.” Gay talked to TIME about Beyoncé, how to define feminism and writing about trauma on the Internet.

TIME: You wrote these essays between 2010 and 2013, but some of them feel especially of the moment — I was reading your essay about privilege while the Internet was having a passionate debate about the topic. Can you see the future?

Roxane Gay: I try to pay attention to what’s going on in our culture, and a lot of the issues I write about are ongoing issues, so it’s always interesting to see those issues come back to the public’s attention over and over. Privilege is something we’re increasingly talking about culturally because people are starting to say, “How do we acknowledge our privilege and acknowledge the ways in which we’re not privileged? How do we keep from stepping on each others toes?” It’s one of the many reasons why we’re having this conversation again.

I thought the essay did a great job of discussing the importance of acknowledging privilege while also critiquing the ways “check your privilege” gets thrown around. What do you think people misunderstand about that phrase?

I think that when people hear that phrase, they start to feel defensive. They feel like they have to apologize for some things they have no control over. You can’t control the fact that you are born a white man or born into wealth. When people say “check your privilege,” they’re saying, “Acknowledge how these factors helped you move through life.” They’re not saying apologize for it. But I think oftentimes, because we’re human, we hear these things and feel we have to apologize, and I think that’s where a lot of it is coming from.

One definition of feminism that you mention in the book is “women who don’t want to be treated like sh-t.” Is there one perfect definition out there?

No, I don’t think there’s one definition of feminism. I think there are multiple definitions of feminism. But at its core, I think it’s that women deserve certain inalienable rights in the same ways that men do. We have to look at reproductive freedom and making sure that the female body is no longer legislated. We have to look at the wage gap and think about race and class and sexuality and ability because we inhabit multiple identities. I think one of the most important things we can do as feminists is acknowledge that even though we have womanhood in common we have to start to think about the ways in which we’re different, how those differences affect us and what kinds of needs we have based on our differences.

Is there value in knowing whether young women in Hollywood identify as feminists?

Yes and no. The value in that is it’s important for more women to claim feminism so people can understand that feminism really isn’t a bad thing or something we need to avoid or be afraid of. But you know, I think that it’s a choice. It’s not something you want to force everyone to believe in. I mean, I would love for everyone to be a feminist, but I have to respect people’s choices. If you don’t want to be a feminist and don’t want to claim feminism, that’s entirely your right. But I think the more visible women that stand up and say, “I’m a feminist,” the better off feminism is going to be, and the better off women overall are going to be.

What did you think of the recent “Women Against Feminism” reaction happening on social media?

I thought it was absurd and sad, but everyone is entitled to their opinion. I disagree entirely and think feminism is what made it possible for them to make those kind of provocative statements. And in many of the young women making statements, I saw women who were saying very feminist things. Mostly I just thought, “How sad that they’re this ignorant.” It’s really ignorance that’s at play here, more than anything else.

Where do you even start with trying to combat that ignorance?

They start by understanding that feminism is just an idea. It’s a philosophy. It’s about the equality of women in all realms. It’s not about man-hating. It’s not about being humorless. We have to let go of these misconceptions that have plagued feminism for 40, 50 years. It’s ridiculous that we’re still having this conversation. “But I love men!” Who cares! It’s not about men at all.

I’ve been thinking a lot about Beyoncé in the past year and how she gets policed for being a bad feminist or doing feminism “wrong.” Do you think she’s a particular target?

Yes, I do. I think that anytime a woman is visible, she becomes a target. I think that Beyoncé is in a particular bind because she’s a big public figure and a role model and also, especially with her most recent work, very sexual and owning her sexuality. Whenever a woman owns her sexuality, it starts to make people uncomfortable. So what we’re seeing is a lot of discomfort, and people are confused because we don’t use a lot of nuance when we talk about our cultural figures when we’re either for them or against them. People are having a difficult time holding multiple opinions about Beyoncé at the same time. I think we’re seeing a lot of that pushback. Whenever a woman does something, we have to comment on it.

Your essay, “What We Hunger For,” is a standout. I didn’t expect a piece that starts off talking about The Hunger Games to transition into talking about personal trauma so seamlessly.

The feedback to that essay is some of the strongest feedback I’ve received on all of the essays. It’s been really wonderful because people found something they can relate to, especially this idea that I come to at the end, that reading and writing is sometimes more than reading and writing — there’s salvation in there and solace. I’ve been really overwhelmed and gratified by the response to the essay. And I think it speaks to my style. Light and dark are two opposites of the same situation. I think that you can start in one place and end in another, and one of the things I love about writing essays is doing that. It’s not something I plan, I just write my way to the unexpected place. When I get there, I realize this is where I go all along.

Is the Internet usually your first draft?

Not always. I find that because I start on Tumblr with no mission, the writing is often more interesting and stronger because I’m not sitting there with a deadline. I’m just writing for myself, so that’s where I do my most open and honest writing. The Internet works well because it’s so responsive and so immediate. I have some thoughts and I put them out there. When I do it on my personal blog, there’s nothing at stake. It’s just my blog, and as far as I’m concerned, no one’s reading it. So that really helps reduce some of the anxiety. I don’t feel a lot of anxiety about my writing, but definitely messing around on Twitter or writing on my Tumblr is just where I’m starting to work through things and figure out what I’m thinking or feeling.

Do you have those moments where you’re confronted with the fact that people are reading your work?

Yeah, definitely. Whenever someone points out something or talks to me about something they liked or that I’ve done, there’s this uncomfortable moment of oh wow. My delusion is really profound. People are reading these things, but I actively work on the delusion.

I’d imagine you’re having more and more of those moments.

I have. It’s been awkward! But yes, absolutely, it’s becoming harder and harder to maintain the delusion. But I’m working hard!

What was the ultimate goal for this book?

When I started to look at this body of work I had created over the past several years, there was a common thread. How do we question the world we live in and question the popular culture that we consume while also admitting to our humanity and enjoying sometimes inappropriate things? And having inconsistent ideas? This is a manual on how to be a human.

In one of your essays, you write, “I’m raising my voice to show all the ways we have room to want more, to do better.” You have essays that explicitly talk about feminism, but you also have essays about college-town life and your competitive Scrabble league — those seem just as important to include when it comes to this mission of speaking up.

I think that if you can’t find anyone to follow, you have to find a way to lead. I wouldn’t call myself a leader, but I’ll stand up and say I’m a feminist. I’m a bad feminist, but I’ll stand up and own my feminism. In each of these essays, I’m very much trying to show how feminism influences my life for better or worse. It just shows what it’s like to move through the world as a woman. It’s not even about feminism per se, it’s about humanity and empathy.

TIME politics

Ruth Bader Ginsburg: Male Justices Have ‘Blind Spot’ About Women

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg at the taping of "The Kalb Report" at the National Press Club in Washington, DC. on April 17, 2014.
Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg at the taping of "The Kalb Report" at the National Press Club in Washington, DC. on April 17, 2014. Alex Wong—Getty Images

Notorious R.B.G strikes again

In the wake of the Supreme Court Hobby Lobby ruling, which allows religious employers to deny birth control coverage to female employees, Ruth Bader Ginsburg said the male justices in the majority have a “blind spot” about women’s issues.

“Do you believe that the five male justices truly understood the ramifications of their decision?” Katie Couric asked Ginsburg in a Yahoo interview.

“I would have to say no,” Ginsburg replied.

“But justices continue to think and change. They have wives. They have daughters,” she continued. “By the way, I think daughters can change the perception of their fathers. I am ever hopeful that if the court has a blind spot today, its eyes will be open tomorrow.”

But will Ginsburg still be on the court tomorrow? Some liberals are urging Ginsburg, 81, to retire so President Obama can fill her seat with another Democrat.

“All I can say is that I am still here and likely to remain for a while,” she said.

So it looks like Notorious R.B.G is here to stay, and now she finally knows about her nickname. Couric asked her about the Tumblr a female fan created that compares Ginsburg to the rapper Notorious B.I.G.

“She has created a wonderful thing with Notorious R.B.G.,” Ginsburg said. “I will admit I had to be told by my law clerks, what’s this Notorious. And they — they explained that to me.”

TIME feminism

Turkish Women Can’t Stop Laughing at Minister’s Advice to Stop Laughing

TURKEY-POLITICS
Turkey's Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc speaks during an interview in Ankara on July 24, 2014, ahead of the presidential election Adem Alta—AFP/Getty Images

A speech on public morals has morphed into a comedy of errors

Turkey’s Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc did not intend his Monday speech on “moral corruption” to get big laughs, but when he advised women to suppress their laughter in public, it landed on the public like a well-crafted punch line.

Women in Turkey have since tweeted pictures of their reactions, ranging from grins …

… to guffaws.

Over the past three days, hundreds of thousands of people have tweeted under the hashtag #kahkaha, the Turkish word for laughter. Sadly, the Deputy Prime Minister wasn’t joking.

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