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.

TIME feminism

I Really, Truly, Fully Hate ‘Women Against Feminism’—But…

Bob Aylott—Getty Images

While the world should certainly have respect for feminism, I’d like to see feminism have a little more respect for chaos and ambiguity.

The worst part about writing everything you’re about to read has been the ever-present thought, Please God, do not let Women Against Feminism think that I am even remotely on their side. I will never, ever, be “against feminism” — whatever that means. But I’d like to have a chat about it, a moment to engage in a little womansplaining.

My issues with an ascendant strain of feminism — wherein attacks and likes and tweets and retweets are substitutes for thought, and actually reading what someone wrote — did not begin with The Fault in Our Stars, but it’s a good place to start. Back in June, Slate published a piece about adults reading books meant for kids, making the case that we should read more sophisticated, age-appropriate material. Three days later, Medium published a response entitled “Why Criticizing Young Adult Fiction is Sexist.” If irritation were fatal, I’d have perished where I sat.

But my patience with regard to other purportedly feminist issues had been tried in smaller ways.

Like last year, when Sheryl Sandberg declared that the word bossy needed to be reclaimed. #BanBossy, the moms on my Facebook feed chorused, bragging about how they were going to teach their daughters that being bossy was actually great. Now, there is a reasonable conversation to be had about how women’s assertiveness is not valued, but #BanBossy was not my idea of a conversation. It was a cheap commodification of something more complicated.

#BanBossy was just one of the feminist flavors on Facebook that I tasted and immediately wanted to spit out. There is also the persistent complaint about airbrushing in magazines, as if fashion magazines have ever promised to be a woman’s friend, as if someone were forcing us to buy them. I’m not a fan of airbrushing any more than I am a fan of violent pornography, but I refuse to be surprised or upset that it’s at the heart of the beauty industry, and I don’t look to Anna Wintour for my sense of self-worth. When Jezebel offered $10,000 for the unretouched photos of Lena Dunham’s photos in Vogue, I cried to the heavens, “Wake me up when it’s over.” My celestial alarm clock remains unrung.

The University of California, Santa Barbara, shooting was a rallying point for many feminists, but even as I watched Elliot Rodger on YouTube saying horribly misogynist things, I couldn’t get behind the idea that he’d done what he did because of an endemic hatred of women. My mind, skidding over the insanity, found traction on the issues of guns and deteriorating mental illness. But according to my social-media feeds, I had gone to the wrong place. “If you don’t think this is about misogyny there is something wrong with you,” proclaimed one status. After a Wall Street Journal opinion piece drew a psychological connection between the shooting and the entertainment industry, blame shifted haphazardly from the shooter to Judd Apatow and Seth Rogen.

The theme continued last month when Benjamin Wallace profiled Terry Richardson for New York magazine. (I know Wallace but have not seen him in more than 10 years). Whatever I think of Richardson, Wallace had written clearly and thoroughly about a complicated subject. His reporting had also uncovered new allegations. The headline —“Is Terry Richardson an Artist or a Predator?” — seemed a reasonable way to suggest culpability without getting sued.

So I was surprised by the attacks on him. Guardian writer and feminist journalist Jessica Valenti tweeted, “Maybe Terry Richardson will lay off coercing girls now that he got such a huge BJ from NYMAG.” Jezebel reported that Wallace withheld portions of an interview with a source so he could “placate the powerful.” Really? Or was it possible that reporting and writing about a convoluted situation involving lots of people didn’t lead to simple conclusions? Of course a discussion about that wouldn’t be as exciting or as tidy as accusations of a hidden agenda.

In some ways, the tendency to see sexism everywhere is proof that feminism is healthy and vigilant, and that is not necessarily a bad thing, because misogyny is insidious and rampant. Fifteen hundred women are murdered each year by their male partners, 1 in 5 female students in the U.S. has been sexually assaulted during her college tenure, and women who write about such issues are stalked and threatened. Never mind the discrepancies in the workplace or household. We need feminism. Still, the pain that we experience as women — even physical — does not give us the right to tell people there’s one way to think or feel, or to assume that we have some godlike understanding of everyone’s motivations. Believe me, I have walked out of at least one Judd Apatow movie because I didn’t enjoy his female characters, but I do not believe the man belongs anywhere near a conversation about mass murder.

A few months ago, I read Nassim Nicholas Talib’s The Black Swan. One passage in particular sticks with me: “Categorizing is necessary for humans, but it becomes pathological when the category is seen as definitive, preventing people from considering the fuzziness of boundaries, let alone revising their categories…” I think about what’s going on in Nigeria right now. Hundreds of girls have been kidnapped; less reported is that fact that their male counterparts have been murdered. #bringbackourgirls is effectively telling the majority of Americans the story of Nigeria — not because it is an accurate or complete story but because feminism helps us categorize and make sense out of what is actually chaos.

I have always called myself a feminist and have no plans to quit. But while I think that the world should certainly have respect for feminism, I’d like to see feminism have a little more respect for chaos and ambiguity. Right now we are in a loop of “This is good.” “This is bad.” “This person is sexist.” The Internet and its outrage machine are to blame for some of this lashing out. So is the human desire to lay blame, shouting “It is you who did this! You who thinks adults shouldn’t read teen books! You who make movies where not-so-hot guys get hot girls! You who wrote an article about a bad person and didn’t say he was as bad as I think he is!”

I think back to the Facebook comment about the Santa Barbara shooting: “If you don’t think this is about misogyny there is something wrong with you.” I suppose the thing that is wrong with me is that while I can’t escape the urge to categorize, I am aware of its potential to become pathological.

Miller writes for NewYorker.com and The Hairpin, among other outlets, and has published two novels, Inside the Mind of Gideon Rayburn and The Other Girl.

TIME feminism

Stop Fem-Splaining: What ‘Women Against Feminism’ Gets Right

Young woman using laptop on bed
Getty Images

The charge that feminism stereotypes men as predators while reducing women to helpless victims certainly doesn’t apply to all feminists — but it’s a reasonably fair description of a large, influential, highly visible segment of modern feminism

The latest skirmish on the gender battlefield is “Women Against Feminism”: women and girls taking to social media to declare that they don’t need or want feminism, usually via photos of themselves with handwritten placards. The feminist reaction has ranged from mockery to dismay to somewhat patronizing (or should that be “matronizing”?) lectures on why these dissidents are wrong. But, while the anti-feminist rebellion has its eye-rolling moments, it raises valid questions about the state of Western feminism in the 21st century — questions that must be addressed if we are to continue making progress toward real gender equality.

Female anti-feminism is nothing new. In the 19th century, plenty of women were hostile to the women’s movement and to women who pursued nontraditional paths. In the 1970s, Marabel Morgan’s regressive manifesto The Total Woman was a top best seller, and Phyllis Schlafly led opposition to the Equal Rights Amendment. But such anti-feminism was invariably about defending women’s traditional roles. Some of today’s “women against feminism” fit that mold: they feel that feminism demeans stay-at-home mothers, or that being a “true woman” means loving to cook and clean for your man. Many others, however, say they repudiate feminism even though — indeed, because — they support equality and female empowerment:

“I don’t need feminism because I believe in equality, not entitlements and supremacy.”

“I don’t need feminism because it reinforces the men as agents/women as victims dichotomy.”

“I do not need modern feminism because it has become confused with misandry which is as bad as misogyny, and whatever I want to do or be in life, I will become through my own hard work.”

Or, more than once: “I don’t need feminism because egalitarianism is better!”

Again and again, the dissenters say that feminism belittles and demonizes men, treating them as presumptive rapists while encouraging women to see themselves as victims. “I am not a victim” and “I can take responsibility for my actions” are recurring themes. Many also challenge the notion that American women in the 21st century are “oppressed,” defiantly asserting that “the patriarchy doesn’t exist” and “there is no rape culture.”

One common response from feminists is to say that Women Against Feminism “don’t understand what feminism is” and to invoke its dictionary definition: “the theory of the political, economic and social equality of the sexes.” The new anti-feminists have a rejoinder for that, too: they’re judging modern feminism by its actions, not by the book. And here, they have a point.

Consider the #YesAllWomen Twitter hashtag, dubbed by one blogger “the Arab Spring of 21st century feminism.” Created in response to Elliot Rodger’s deadly shooting spree in Isla Vista, Calif. — and to reminders that “not all men” are violent misogynists — the tag was a relentless catalog of female victimization by male terrorism and abuse. Some of its most popular tweets seemed to literally dehumanize men, comparing them to sharks or M&M candies of which 10% are poisoned.

Consider assertions that men as a group must be taught “not to rape,” or that to accord the presumption of innocence to a man accused of sexual violence against a woman or girl is to be complicit in “rape culture.” Consider that last year, when an Ohio University student made a rape complaint after getting caught on video engaging in a drunken public sex act, she was championed by campus activists and at least one prominent feminist blogger — but a grand jury declined to hand down charges after reviewing the video of the incident and evidence that both students were inebriated.

Consider that a prominent British feminist writer, Laurie Penny, decries the notion that feminists should avoid such generalizations as “men oppress women”; in her view, all men are steeped in a woman-hating culture and “even the sweetest, gentlest man” benefits from women’s oppression. Consider, too, that an extended quote from Penny’s column was reposted by a mainstream reproductive-rights group and shared by nearly 84,000 Tumblr users in six months.

Sure, some Women Against Feminism claims are caricatures based on fringe views — for instance, that feminism mandates hairy armpits, or that feminists regard all heterosexual intercourse as rape. On the other hand, the charge that feminism stereotypes men as predators while reducing women to helpless victims certainly doesn’t apply to all feminists — but it’s a reasonably fair description of a large, influential, highly visible segment of modern feminism.

Are Women Against Feminism ignorant and naive to insist they are not oppressed? Perhaps some are too giddy with youthful optimism. But they make a strong argument that a “patriarchy” that lets women vote, work, attend college, get divorced, run for political office and own businesses on the same terms as men isn’t quite living up to its label. They also raise valid questions about politicizing personal violence along gender lines; research shows that surprisingly high numbers of men may have been raped, sometimes by women.

For the most part, Women Against Feminism are quite willing to acknowledge and credit feminism’s past battles for women’s rights in the West, as well as the severe oppression women still suffer in many parts of the world. But they also say that modern Western feminism has become a divisive and sometimes hateful force, a movement that dramatically exaggerates female woes while ignoring men’s problems, stifles dissenting views, and dwells obsessively on men’s misbehavior and women’s personal wrongs. These are trends about which feminists have voiced alarm in the past — including the movement’s founding mother Betty Friedan, who tried in the 1970s to steer feminism from the path of what she called “sex/class warfare.” Friedan would have been aghast had she known that, 50 years after she began her battle, feminist energies were being spent on bashing men who commit the heinous crime of taking too much space on the subway.

Is there still a place in modern-day America for a gender-equality movement? I think so. Work-family balance remains a real and complicated challenge. And there are gender-based cultural biases and pressures that still exist — though, in 21st century Western countries, they almost certainly affect men as much as women. A true equality movement would be concerned with the needs and interests of both sexes. It would, for instance, advocate for all victims of domestic and sexual violence regardless of gender — and for fairness to those accused of these offenses. It would support both women and men as workers and as parents.

Should such a movement take back feminism — or, as the new egalitarians suggest, give up on the label altogether because of its inherent connotations of advocating for women only? I’m not sure what the answer is. But Women Against Feminism are asking the right questions. And they deserve to be heard, not harangued. As one of the group’s graphics says, “I have my own mind. Please stop fem-splaining it to me.”

Cathy Young is a contributing editor at Reason magazine.

TIME Opinion

#WomenAgainstFeminism Is Happening Now

Let's bite the hand that feeds us, shall we?

Updated: July 30, 4:00 p.m.

When Newton said that every action would have an equal and opposite reaction, he couldn’t have foretold that his Third Law of Physics would apply to internet feminism. But even though the backlash is hardly “equal and opposite,” once again, just like in the 1970s, some women seem to be misunderstanding the basic principles of feminism in order to rail against women’s rights with the hashtag #womenagainstfeminism.

This week, perhaps because of the anti-feminism bubbling up on the internet (although they didn’t explicitly say so), NPR re-promoted its 2011 interview with prominent antifeminist activist Phyllis Schlafly who campaigned to stop the 1973 passage of the Equal Rights Amendment–the legislation that would have provided men and women total legal equality. She basically sums up the conservative mindset about feminism:

A lot of people don’t understand what feminism is. They think it is about advance and success for women, but it’s not that at all. It is about power for the female left. And they have this, I think, ridiculous idea that American women are oppressed by the patriarchy and we need laws and government to solve our problems for us… And they’re always crying around about things like the differences between men and women are just a social construct. So they’re really in a fight with human nature. I would not want to be called a feminist.

It’s no surprise that the 89 year-old Schlafly feels this way. But it is somewhat surprising that a small, yet vocal group of young women has started to echo her rallying cry, first on a Tumblr, then on Facebook (with over 11,000 likes) and now with the adorable #womenagainstfeminism hashtag. Most of the posts include some reiteration of the central misunderstanding about feminism, that a core belief of feminism involves hating men.

While this hashtag is unlikely to undo all the progress made by women like Gloria Steinem and Beyonce, it is troubling, as Jessica Valenti over at The Guardian has explained:

Women stopping the progress of other women – especially those who don’t have the power and prestige to work for DC think-tanks or pen anti-feminist books – stings much more than when men do it. That may be a double standard, or naive – I don’t believe in an all-encompassing sisterhood, after all – though it does remind me of how powerful feminists really are: we’ve taken on not just the men in our way, but the women as well.

But there will always be some women who don’t understand feminism, just like there will always be some people who deny global warming. There’s no use getting all worked up over a few stragglers who haven’t gotten on the bandwagon.

So let’s just try to nip this in the bud. Sorry, Phyllis Schlafly, but feminism is here to stay:

With reporting contributed by Hannah Goldberg

Update: The original version of this post incorrectly included a tweet from @Auragasmic as an example of a statement against feminism because it was tagged #womenagainstfeminism. In fact, the tweet was intended to be a satire of #womenagainstfeminism.

TIME celebrities

Beyoncé Just Posted the Ultimate Feminist Photo

She woke up like this

Well, obviously Beyoncé can do it. The 17-time Grammy winner posted a photo to Instagram Tuesday that mirrors the famous Rosie the Riveter poster, a cultural icon that recognizes the contributions made by women during World War II. Beyonce, a self-described “modern-day feminist,” incorporated ideas often symbolized by Rosie in her most recent album. The photo racked up more than 300,000 likes within half an hour.

Beyoncé is currently on the road with husband Jay Z for their joint “On the Run” tour.

TIME World

Plus-Size Parking Spaces in China Spark Accusations of Sexism

CHINA-SOCIAL-GENDER-TRANSPORT-OFFBEAT
Mall manager Yang Hongjun in front of cars parked in pink spaces in front of the Dashijiedaduhui, or World Metropolis centre, in the seaport city of Dalian, July 7, 2014. The parking spaces are distinctive: marked out in pink, around 30 centimetres wider than normal, and signposted "Respectfully reserved for women". Johannes Eisele—AFP/Getty Images

Mall managers said women had trouble with navigating standard width spots

Extra-wide parking spaces outside a mall in China designed for women have sparked a debate on social media in the country over allegations of sexism.

The mall, located in the northern Chinese port city of Dalian, has 10 spaces with an extra 30 centimeters marked in pink outside the main entrance that were provided after women had trouble parking in the standard basement slots, managers said.

“We just wanted to make things easier for women, who make up most of our customers,” said manager Yang Hongjun, a woman herself.

China’s official line is that of gender equality—Mao Tse-tung said that “women hold up half the sky”—but in reality, sexism persists in the country. Beijing police said in a microblog last year that women drivers “lack a sense of direction” and often “hesitate and are indecisive about which road they should take,” Agence France-Presse reports.

Driving for both men and women is a perilous endeavor in China, where in 2012, 60,000 people died on the roads.

[AFP]

TIME Culture

Leighton Meester Wrote a Feminist Essay That Will Make You Rethink a Classic Novel

American Theatre Wing's 68th Annual Tony Awards - Arrivals
Leighton Meester attends American Theatre Wing's 68th Annual Tony Awards at Radio City Music Hall on June 8, 2014 in New York City. Walter McBride—Getty Images

"If this woman is purely a victim, why is she so hated?"

Just admit it: You haven’t read Of Mice of Men since the ninth grade and only remember the plot in the broadest strokes. If you’re going to see the Broadway version John Steinbeck’s classic American novel about two migrant workers dreaming of their own farm during the Great Depression, it’s probably because the play has an all-star cast that includes James Franco, Chris O’Dowd and Leighton Meester.

Your high school teacher probably didn’t center class discussion on a feminist critique of the work—why does Curley’s wife have no name? Why is she shunned? Why do we cry when Lenny dies but not when she does? But Leighton Meester, a self-avowed feminist who has firsthand experience of playing the only woman in the play, is here to ask you those questions.

“If this woman is purely a victim, why is she so hated? And if she is truly harmless, why is she so threatening? Without question, it was a commentary on the social climate at the time, which still surprisingly applies today,” she writes in an essay for the Huffington Post.

The Gossip Girl actress says she’s struggled with the character: And while the novel gives a reason for why the only black character in the book is given a reason for being shunned—race—Steinbeck offers no similar explanation for why the character is so hated by the other characters. The audience, too, seems to feel animosity toward the woman who becomes a victim of assault. The most disturbing part of her essay highlights the audience’s indifference or even hatred of her character even as she dies:

“The final, eerie moment of her life is often accompanied by the uproar of laughter. She is violently shaken, rendered lifeless. It doesn’t seem to get less painful for me, less terrifying, less tragic with time, yet our unusually young audience seems unfazed, if not amused by the savage act. Perhaps it’s the only response that comforts them in an awkward or tense moment. Curley’s wife’s dead body lies still on the floor as Candy spits at her, ‘You goddamned tramp, you done it didn’t you? Everybody said you’d mess things up, you just wasn’t no good.’ And again, the audience cracks up.”

If it is indeed true that 77 years after the book’s initial release audiences still believe that Curley’s wife is “asking for it” (“it” being death by violent shaking), then perhaps Meester is right that we ought to examine our preconceptions about this nameless woman who is killed because her hair is soft, not because of any action. Meester points out a letter Steinbeck sent to Claire Luce, the first actress to bring the role to life onstage, suggests he had a more nuanced view of the character than our modern audience does.

“She was told over and over that she must remain a virgin because that was the only way she could get a husband … She only had that one thing to sell and she knew it,” he wrote. “She is a nice, kind girl and not a floozy. No man has ever considered her as anything except a girl to try to make … As to her actual sex life — she has had none except with Curley and there has probably been no consummation there since Curley would not consider her gratification and would probably be suspicious if she had any.”

Did Steinbeck leave hints of such a tragic past in his few sketches of the character in the book? Looks like it’s time to crack open Of Mice and Men again.

TIME feminism

‘I Would Never Intend to Be Difficult,’ Says State of Affairs Star Katherine Heigl

Ahead of the premiere of NBC's upcoming State of Affairs, star Katherine Heigl addressed rumors that she and her executive producer mother are challenging to work with

During a Television Critics Association panel about Katherine Heigl’s forthcoming NBC show State of Affairs, NPR’s Eric Deggans asked the former Grey’s Anatomy star to confirm or deny rumors that she and her mother Nancy Heigl — who is an executive producer on the show — are “difficult” to work with on the set.

According to Variety, the younger Heigl replied, “I would never intend to be difficult. I don’t think my mother sees herself as being difficult. I think it’s important to everybody to conduct themselves professionally and respectfully and kindly, so if I’ve ever disappointed somebody, it was never intentional.”

State of Affairs features Heigl as CIA analyst Charleston Tucker, providing daily briefs to the first female President, played by Alfre Woodard. The show is scheduled to premiere in November. Heigl described the part of Tucker as an “extraordinary” role that allowed her to break out of romantic comedies and to flex “different muscles of my ability,” the Wrap said.

The Wrap reports that when Heigl was asked what her mother actually did on the show, the actress replied, “She makes us cookies.”

Entertainment-news reports have speculated that Heigl and her mother have demanding personalities, while others have suggested that Heigl is being penalized for simply being an assertive and frank woman.

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