TIME politics

Are You There, Angela Merkel? It’s Me, Hillary!

Hillary Clinton Addresses National Council for Behavioral Health Conference
NATIONAL HARBOR, MD - MAY 06: Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton delivers remarks during the National Council for Behavioral Health's Annual Conference at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center on May 6, 2014 in National Harbor, Maryland. Patrick Smith—Getty Images

Hillary Clinton's new book is not as boring as you think. It's actually kind of funny.

Who knew Hillary could be so hill-arious?

Her new book Hard Choices isn’t as dour as the title suggests or as long and boring as it looks. It’s actually really funny. It probably would sell better if it were called something like Richard Holbrooke Wore Yellow Pajamas or Are You There, Angela Merkel? It’s Me, Hillary, but neither of those titles sound quite as presidential.

Hillary comes off as smart, tough, and kind of… cool. Maybe even cooler than 1980s-Obama-with-cigarette, if you factor in her Normcore advantage. It’s probably part of a highly calculated personal branding move in anticipation of some kind of big national announcement (touring with Katy Perry?) but it’s appealing nonetheless.

She told Diane Sawyer in an interview Sunday night that she’s finished being the scripted, guarded cautious Hillary we saw in the 2008 campaign, when Obama sneered that she was “likable enough.” But she also says she’s sick of the whole “likability” question altogether. “I’m done with that, I’m just done,” she said. “I think I have changed, I’m not worried so much about what other people are thinking…I’m going to say what I know, what I believe, and let the chips fall. For me, it’s time. I don’t know if I could have done it earlier, because I was trying to find my way.”

So in Hard Choices, she shows much more personality than we’ve seen from her before. For example, when she talks about being compared to William H. Seward, who was Secretary of State under Lincoln and part of his “team of rivals,” she says “I hope no one ever describes me as a ‘wise macaw,’ which is how Seward appeared to the historian Henry Adams.”

Or when she says her first meeting with Obama after her 2008 defeat was “like two teenagers on an awkward first date,” but later describes the moment she and the President became official BFFs:

Before one of our meetings in Prague, on that same April trip, [Obama] pulled me aside and said, “Hillary, I need to talk to you.” He put his arm around me and walked me over toward a window. I wondered what sensitive policy matter he wanted to discuss. Instead he whispered in my ear, “You’ve got something in your teeth.”

The book is funny in a way that only the unexpectedly personal observations of an unfunny person can be. For example, this is how she explains her “Texts from Hillary” meme to her fellow olds:

“Her photo, to everyone’s surprise, became an internet sensation many months later and the basis for a ‘meme’ known as ‘Texts from Hillary.’ The idea was simple: an internet user would pair the photo of me holding my phone with a picture of another famous person holding a phone and add funny captions to narrate the texts we supposedly sent back and forth. The first one posted showed President Obama lounging on a couch, with the caption ‘Hey, Hil, Watchu doing?’ the imagined response from me: ‘running the world.’ Eventually I decided to get in on the fun myself. I submitted my own version full of internet slang: ‘ROFL @ ur tumblr! g2g–scrunchie time. ttyl?'”

Somewhere a lightbulb just went off over Dianne Feinstein’s head.

Hillary chuckles at the German newspaper that featured her and Angela Merkel as interchangeable faceless pantsuits, and wonders aloud whether Putin was messing with her when he told her a sad story about his childhood. She admitted she’s “no Condi Rice on the piano” but still tried to play along with Bono after Nelson Mandela’s funeral. She calls former French President Nicolas Sarkozy her “Prince Charming” for helping her when her shoe fell off. She reveals they sometimes watched romantic comedies on the State jet, and that Richard Holbrooke wore yellow PJs on long flights. She even talks about America’s foreign policy using a quote from A League of Their Own: “it’s supposed to be hard… the hard is what makes it great.”

“In politics a sense of humor is essential,” she writes. “There are countless reasons why you have to laugh at yourself.” And it may be that this enormous behemoth of a book is just the kind of controlled environment where Hillary can let her freak flag fly. She’s too calculated to get funny in off-the-cuff interview, and she’s too serious to crack jokes in speeches or debates. Obviously every joke and story in the book is carefully crafted to be as unobjectionable as possible (I’d love to read the uncensored version), and the fact that nobody comes off badly is probably even more proof that she’s trying not to annoy anyone before she *maybe* runs for President.

Hard Choices isn’t likely to convert any Hillary-haters or get her a job writing for Parks & Rec, but it’s still kind of funny, which is funnier than I thought it would be.

 

 

 

 

 

TIME Sports

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: We Need to Stamp Out Misogyny in Sports

#YesAllWomen Live Rally in Seattle supports victims of violence
More than 100 community members came in support of the #YesAllWomen Live Rally in Seattle, May 30, 2014. Alex Garland—Demotix/Corbis

Sports plays a role in perpetuating sexism and misogyny—and it can play a role in ending it.

The most moving reading I’ve done in the past six months has come from the anguished tweets on #YesAllWomen that followed the Elliot Rodger shootings in Santa Barbara, Calif. Even more depressing than his horrific actions is the feeling that the national debates about cultural misogyny, mental-health care and gun control that followed have already lost momentum — shoved back into their dusty corner, awaiting the next bloody tragedy. Public outrage has a short half-life. Fist-shaking and finger-pointing quickly degenerates into helpless shrugging.

But we can’t let go of this question: Why in America do our mentally disturbed take out their anger so violently? In a Sept. 19, 2013, op-ed article in the New York Times, Stanford University psychological anthropology professor T.M. Luhrmann explained how when schizophrenics in the Indian city of Chennai (formerly Madras) hear voices, they are told to do domestic chores like cook, clean or bathe. But schizophrenics in San Mateo, Calif., hear voices that tell them to take very violent actions like cutting off a head and drinking the blood. In India they clean; in America they kill. America also has the highest gun-ownership rate in the world. And our number of multiple killings is nearly as high as that for the rest of the world combined.

Even more disturbing is why so much violence in America is directed at women. The answer to this question, at least in part, is that it’s a result of a lifetime of cultural influences. And while there are surely plenty of cultural influences to blame, one of the sources of this negative influence is amateur and professional sports.

Surprised to hear me say that? I’ve spent much of my life in sports and promoting sports as a positive influence on our youth and our culture. The benefits are obvious: building healthy bodies, practicing sportsmanship (should we call that sportspersonship?), learning teamwork, creating a supportive community and much more.

In fact, the image of girls and women in sports is much more culturally positive than that of mainstream society. In the sports world, women are praised for their athletic ability — not their physical appearance. We cheer the sweaty woman running down the field for her effort. Mainstream America tells her heels are required because she’s too short, makeup is required because her face isn’t attractive enough, cleavage is required to give men a reason to pay attention, hair coloring is required because aging is forbidden and blondes are sexier, Photoshopping is required because no woman (not even a model) can match the fantasy woman our culture promotes on the covers of almost every women’s magazine. (It’s not a coincidence that Rodger gave his object of hatred a hair color — “blonde slut.”) But in sports, women stand tall and proud in athletic shoes and uniforms because we’re more interested in what they do than how they look.

But — there’s a big but. Despite all the good in sports, there are many aspects of it that encourage our culture to look at women as less valuable than men.

The easiest way to determine women’s value to their culture is to look at how much we pay them in relation to men. Some studies suggest that in general women make less doing the same jobs as men (the Census Bureau concludes that women earn 77¢ for every dollar men earn). This national trend extends to professional sports. According to Forbes, the maximum salary for a player in the WNBA is $107,000, compared with the $30.5 million Kobe Bryant will make. Inbee Park, who won the 2013 U.S. Open in golf, received $585,000 for her victory. Justin Rose, the men’s winner, received $1.4 million. This disparity is seen less in tennis because Wimbledon, the French Open and the U.S. Open all pay male and female winners equally (which is why 7 of the 10 top-paid female athletes in the world are tennis players).

This discrepancy extends to coaching as well. For Division I college sports, men get paid significantly more. Male basketball head coaches averaged $71,511, while female coaches averaged $39,177. Even in gymnastics, which is predominantly female, male coaches are paid more. This doesn’t even address the fact that there are more opportunities for males than females to play sports, both as amateurs and as professionals.

Many will argue that the pay difference is the result of free-market supply and demand. More people want to see men play professional basketball than want to see women play, so the players are paid accordingly. You can’t argue with economics. There is truth to this. You can’t force people to attend a sporting event if they don’t want to.

However, this is something of a self-fulfilling prophecy. We can change things. First, we need to address why they don’t want to watch. This goes back to cultural biases. If we don’t value girls in sports in middle school and high school, then we don’t grow up to value them as professional athletes. And by value, I mean make athletic opportunities available, pay coaches equally and promote female sports with the same vigor with which we do male sports.

At the same time, the disrespectful and disparaging language used in sports furthers the gender gap. Male coaches often address their male athletes as ladies whenever they want to humiliate them. “Come on, ladies,” they’ll say, “lift your skirts.” Or, “You’re playing like a girl!” This is treated as a joke or good-humored tradition, but its long-term social effect is not funny. Even in movies and TV shows, we see tough women turning to men and saying, “Quit acting like a girl.” Cue audience chuckle at the reversal. But all that does is prove we’ve brainwashed women to be derogatory toward themselves.

We also need to address the culture of violence surrounding our athletes. When we see them resolving problems through violence, it can send a message to others to emulate them. Baltimore Ravens tackle Jah Reid was arrested for allegedly head butting, kicking and punching a man in a strip club (what attending strip clubs says about our culture of devaluing women is another matter). Colorado Avalanche goalie Semyon Varlamov was arrested on charges of kidnapping and assault of his girlfriend. Houston Rockets forward Terrence Jones was arrested for stomping on the leg of a homeless man. Former New England Patriot Aaron Hernandez was charged with murdering a friend. This year alone football players Chris Rainey, Robert Sands and Daryl Washington were arrested for domestic battery or assault. We can’t as a culture glorify violence and then be surprised when our members resort to it as our “heroes” do.

Which brings us back to #YesAllWomen. Despite more than a million responses, it probably won’t change anything. It should be a national wake-up call that such a forum even needs to exist. And we should celebrate the opportunity for women to express their frustration. But we need to remember that while misogyny may be perpetuated mostly by men, it is enabled by both men and women in society who embrace gender inequality — or simply let it go unnoticed.

It’s reminiscent of the 1947 film Gentlemen’s Agreement, in which Gregory Peck plays a journalist who pretends to be Jewish in order to write about anti-Semitism. His Waspish fiancée realizes that there’s a “gentlemen’s agreement” to ignore distasteful anti-Semitic comments (and by implication racist, homophobic and misogynist comments) as if they never happened. She also realizes that ignoring them is part of the problem because the silence encourages them and thereby taints our whole society.

We can change things. Small things. One at a time. We start by not remaining silent in the presence of misogyny, not tolerating violence as a form of communication, and demanding gender equality in education, sports and jobs. Right now, tennis is showing us the way. All athletes need to help finish the job.

Abdul-Jabbar is a six-time NBA champion and league Most Valuable Player. Follow him on Twitter (@KAJ33) and Facebook (facebook.com/KAJ). Abdul-Jabbar also writes a weekly column for the L.A. Register.

TIME viral

Watch High School Boys Explain Why They’re Feminists

Yes, men can be feminists

There have been a lot of question marks surrounding the definition of “feminist” recently. Do feminists have to hate men? Can men even be feminists? (Pharrell, who came under fire for “kind of rapey” undertones in Blurred Lines, doesn’t “think it’s possible.”)

Well seven high school boys are here to set the record straight. In a video posted to Little Red School House, women’s studies teacher Ileana Jiménez’s blog, male students not only declare “I am a feminist,” but they explain why.

“It does embody more than equal rights for women and benefitting only women,” one student said. “It can help us all.”

(h/t: Cosmo)

TIME Family

Paternity Leave and Why Men Need Feminism Too

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Kei Uesugi—Getty Images

A dad who wants to stay at home, or take more time off, is not just considered less of a man, but less committed as an employee. That needs to change.

Happy Fathers’ Day, American dads: our society still does a crappy job of encouraging you to be fathers! A new study from the Boston College Center for Work and Family has found that new dads take paternity leave only to the extent that they’re paid to–i.e., not a lot. As the Washington Post reports, the majority of men who get two weeks’ paid leave take two weeks, those with three weeks take three, and so on. And per the Families and Work Institute, those lucky guys are few; only 14% of employers offer any pay for “spouse or partner” leave, compared with 58% for maternity leave (mostly through temporary disability insurance and very rarely at full salary).

I can believe those studies because I lived them. When my first son was born, I took six weeks off–the one week of paid parental leave my company offered at the time, plus some accumulated vacation. I wanted to take more, but it would have been unpaid, my wife was getting ready to take leave from her own job at the time (as a librarian, so you do the math) and they’re not giving diapers away.

Spending those few weeks at home with a cranky, leaky, smelly baby was exhausting and overwhelming–and to this day I wish I’d had more of it. And I was one of the lucky ones, by U.S. standards; unlike most fathers, I at least had some paid leave, fairly generous vacation, and, once I went back to work, a reasonably flexible job that allowed working from home. (It’s worth noting that the United States is the only industrialized nation that doesn’t mandate paid maternity leave, and that a number of countries also require paid paternity leave.)

As the Post article says, dads’ choices about leave (and moms’) are largely pocketbook decisions–a lot of those fathers are principal breadwinners and don’t have the luxury to decide otherwise. But all that’s intertwined with social expectations. Women get mommy-tracked and end up earning less. Dads are considered providers first and nurturers second. A dad who wants to stay at home, or at least take more time off, is not just considered less of a man but less committed as an employee–a slacker, a scammer, a liability, a beta.

It’s true no matter how successful you are–say, New York Mets second baseman Daniel Murphy, who missed all of two games from a 162-game season for the birth of his baby and got blasted by male sportscasters. (Some suggested he “hire a nurse” or tell his wife “C-section before the season starts.” Love you too, honey!)

It’s fitting that these studies should come along at the same time that pundits are debatingCan men be feminists?” because few issues so clearly answer that question: Yes, duh, no matter what Pharrell Williams says.

We have a habit of talking about feminism as if it’s something women do to men or men do for women–that feminism uplifts women at men’s expense. (See the Shailene Woodley “I’m not a feminist because I love men” argument.) If men identify as feminists at all, goes the corollary, they’re “allies” who are being altruistic (or trying to get laid). The cultural politics of this attitude aside, it just doesn’t square with the real world of running a household and paying the bills. Paternity leave is a practical lesson in why men should be feminists, not just because it’s right and fair but because feminism–in its simplest sense of treating people equally and not constraining them with artificial gender roles–benefits men too.

OK, to borrow the famous phrase: “Not all men.” Sexism hurts and limits women much more than it does men, and women experience forms of misogyny that men will never experience (see the #YesAllWomen hashtag campaign). As a man, you can profit handsomely from sexism–but you profit most if you want to be a certain kind of man as the culture defines it: one who derives his self-worth from work and money, who conforms to traditional masculine roles, who sees himself as the backup parent who “babysits” his kids occasionally but delegates most of that work to the little woman. Don’t like that setup? Man up, candyass! Get back to work!

Not everyone is in a heterosexual relationship and has kids, of course. But when you’re raising kids with an opposite-sex partner, the whole op-ed page, Internet-comments-section caricature of feminism as a zero-sum game looks especially silly and disconnected from nuts-and-bolts, bill-paying, time-managing life. When you’re in a family, you’re not an isolated representative of your demographic group. You’re part of a team, and something that holds back your partner holds you back too. If women are paid unfairly, sure, that’s worse for women. But for a husband, that’s also a wife who’s bringing less money into the household. It’s less security if he loses his own job. A husband who can take paternity leave means a wife who doesn’t have to shortchange her career, which means more stable finances. Women who lean in give men the option to lean out, and vice-versa.

When women have more choices, in other words, so do men–including the choice to actually be present as parents to their own babies. A saner set of policies for parental leave and a more open-minded attitude toward parents’ roles would be the best Fathers’ Day gift we could give America’s dads. And for that matter, its moms and kids.

TIME career

A Letter to America’s CEOs: Gender Parity Is an Economic Imperative

Dear CEOs and business leaders,

As the size and global span of corporations have grown over the years, so too has their commitment to social change. Heightened competition coupled with a more sophisticated and demanding consumer has led to increased innovation, enhanced corporate social responsibility efforts, and in turn, greater value for both business and the communities they serve.

From poverty to education – our global corporate community has made significant inroads to drive social awareness and inspire a call to action for greater progress and prosperity. But for all the good we have accomplished together, it seems that some of the biggest challenges still left to tackle can be found within the walls of our own institutions.

When it comes to gender equality and cultivating a stronger foundation for female leadership, have we gone far enough? If we are to be candid, I am afraid I’m not so sure.

A simple Google search reveals a lot about the current thinking about women. If you type ‘women should’ into the search bar, Google’s autocomplete suggestions offer insight into what people think women shouldn’t do rather than what they should: ‘women should not vote,’ ‘women should not work,’ and ‘women should be seen and not heard.’

Because humans take their subliminal cues about how to behave from whom they perceive to be the majority, this is a powerful way to reinforce negative social norms – in the home, in our communities and in our places of work.

The benefit and value of female leadership in the workplace is clear. In fact, a 2010 global survey of executives found that 72% agree there is a direct connection between gender diversity and business success. Yet only 28% say it is a top 10 priority for senior leadership.

These numbers suggest that it may not be as much about shattering the glass ceiling but rather an onus for all of us to prime the pump along the way. The best outcomes are had when change comes from within – and in the case of gender empowerment, it needs to start at the top.

Our company takes no moral high ground to lecture others. We too have much work to do when it comes to improving gender equality and reducing barriers to success throughout our own institution. But as a global organization with employees across 85 offices worldwide, it’s an issue we cannot afford to ignore.

What we have found at Ogilvy Public Relations is that by engaging both men and women on this issue, we can achieve greater gender equality across all levels of leadership.

Men have a critical role to play in advancing diversity and inclusion efforts, particularly in the realm of gender equality and bias. Yet too often, men stay firmly affixed to the sidelines – not necessarily because they don’t care, but because they don’t see it as their place or responsibility.

Last year, Ogilvy launched a Women’s Leadership Professional Network, sponsored directly by our executive team as an opportunity to facilitate mentorship, sponsorship and training programs for gender bias and empowerment within the organization.

Today the WLPN group has more than 200 participants in our New York office alone – and many of them are men. Together these men and women are helping create a new narrative to effectuate change and make meaningful improvements to our corporate culture.

To be sure, crafting a great narrative is no substitute for genuine action. But if we can couple that real work to change gender bias with stories that prove a new majority of males has arisen – we can redirect social norms.

Warren Buffett famously said that one of the reasons for his great success was that he was only competing with half the population. Today fortunately that couldn’t be farther from the case – and we are all better for it. The competitive landscape is filled with bright women and men ready to tackle our future challenges. But if we are to maximize this potential, we must reframe the gender gap – not as a women’s issue – but as a moral and economic imperative that must be solved together.

 

Christopher Graves is the Global CEO of Ogilvy Public Relations and serves on the board of its parent company, the Ogilvy & Mather Group. Mr. Graves is a member of the UN Women’s Private Sector Leadership Advisory Council (PSLAC), a CEO-level taskforce designed to advance global work in the areas of economic empowerment, violence against women, and closing the women’s funding gap.

TIME Education

Shonda Rhimes: Anyone Who Says They Can ‘Do It All’ Is Lying

Another golden nugget: "Hashtags aren't helping"

Shonda Rhimes gave the commencement speech at Dartmouth Sunday, and it was just as excellent as you’d expect it to be.

The creator of Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal told the graduating class she was seriously worried she would “poop her pants,” because as a TV writer, she’s more comfortable writing words for other people to say. But she kept it together and delivered an amazing speech about the fallacy of “doing it all.”

Shonda, how do you do it all?

The answer is this: I don’t.

Whenever you see me somewhere succeeding in one area of my life, that almost certainly means I am failing in another area of my life.

If I am killing it on a Scandal script for work, I am probably missing bath and story time at home. If I am at home sewing my kids’ Halloween costumes, I’m probably blowing off a rewrite I was supposed to turn in. If I am accepting a prestigious award, I am missing my baby’s first swim lesson. If I am at my daughter’s debut in her school musical, I am missing Sandra Oh’s last scene ever being filmed at Grey’s Anatomy. If I am succeeding at one, I am inevitably failing at the other. That is the tradeoff. That is the Faustian bargain one makes with the devil that comes with being a powerful working woman who is also a powerful mother. You never feel a hundred percent OK; you never get your sea legs; you are always a little nauseous. Something is always lost.

Something is always missing.

And yet. I want my daughters to see me and know me as a woman who works. I want that example set for them. I like how proud they are when they come to my offices and know that they come to Shondaland. There is a land and it is named after their mother. In their world, mothers run companies. In their world, mothers own Thursday nights. In their world, mothers work. And I am a better mother for it. The woman I am because I get to run Shondaland, because I get write all day, because I get to spend my days making things up, that woman is a better person—and a better mother. Because that woman is happy. That woman is fulfilled. That woman is whole. I wouldn’t want them to know the me who didn’t get to do this all day long. I wouldn’t want them to know the me who wasn’t doing.

Rhimes also encouraged students to do something to help the world, and explained why she thinks hashtag activism isn’t really activism.

Oh. And while we are discussing this, let me say a thing. A hashtag is not helping. #yesallwomen #takebackthenight #notallmen #bringbackourgirls #StopPretendingHashtagsAreTheSameAsDoingSomething

Hashtags are very pretty on Twitter. I love them. I will hashtag myself into next week. But a hashtag is not a movement. A hashtag does not make you Dr. King. A hashtag does not change anything. It’s a hashtag. It’s you, sitting on your butt, typing on your computer and then going back to binge-watching your favorite show. I do it all the time. For me, it’s Game of Thrones.

Volunteer some hours. Focus on something outside yourself. Devote a slice of your energies towards making the world suck less every week. Some people suggest doing this will increase your sense of well-being. Some say it’s good karma. I say that it will allow you to remember that, whether you are a legacy or the first in your family to go to college, the air you are breathing right now is rare air. Appreciate it. Don’t be an asshole.

Start at 1:41 to see the speech in full. It’s worth it:

You can also read a transcript here.

TIME movies

The Obvious Question About Obvious Child: How Do You Make a Rom-Com With an Abortion?

Obvious Child
Chris Teague

How a funny movie on a controversial subject made it from page to screen

Last month, following a Maryland Film Festival screening of the new movie Obvious Child (in theaters June 6), an audience member asked what many in the room were probably wondering: Considering the fact that the entire plot of this romantic comedy revolves around an abortion, was it hard to get the movie made? Who would fund such a controversy-magnet? Who would distribute it?

But writer-director Gillian Robespierre — who, due to the success of Child, her first feature film, was scheduled to have her last day at a desk job the following Tuesday — shrugged off the assumption that such a feat would be particularly difficult. In fact, as she told the audience that day, the abortion plot line was less of an obstacle than the abundance of fart jokes were.

The line drew laughs, but Obvious Child didn’t exactly have a quick path to the big screen.

It started in 2007, when movies like Knocked Up and Juno, as well as the Gloucester pregnancy pact, had put unplanned pregnancy in the public consciousness. Robespierre found movies like Knocked Up funny, but didn’t think they depicted a realistic version of what unplanned pregnancy would be like for a real young woman. She and her friends decided to make a short film in which the unplanned pregnancy would lead to a result that they thought real-life women they knew would choose. The movie wouldn’t be glib about abortion, but would treat it as a safe and legal procedure that happens in the world and can be taken seriously without seeming like a tragedy. “I didn’t want to see a movie where she was riddled with guilt. I don’t think we make light of that emotionality,” Robespierre told TIME just before that Baltimore screening. “It’s a heavy moment in a person’s life and it’s not like she’s super excited about this, but she knows from the beginning that she’s not in the right place, emotionally or intellectually. All of those reasons make it an easy choice for her.”

That 2009 short, which starred a then-unknown Jenny Slate, was positively received in the feminist blogosphere, which encouraged Robespierre to move forward with a feature-length version, which would also star the now-better-known Slate, who is profiled in this week’s issue of TIME. Elisabeth Holm, who produced the film, had no hesitations about the controversial content. “It’s just a very empathetic portrait of a complex human experience,” she tells TIME. “So to me it was kind of a no-brainer.”

Not everyone was sure it would work. “I think for the first couple of years of talking about this project to people there was this reaction of: ‘Interesting. We’ll see if you can pull that off,'” she recalls. But when Holm and the other executive producer on the film, David Kaplan, began a concerted effort to seek financing, they found it easier than they had expected given the hot-button topic. They quickly cobbled together money from three companies and from grants. For those who passed on the too-controversial proposition? “I guess if the topic scared people off, they weren’t the people we were meant to work with.”

Those who weren’t squeamish knew what they were getting into. Expanding from a short to a feature meant more time to address the subject of abortion head-on, and making the effort to take steps like working with Planned Parenthood to ensure accuracy; the healthcare organization vetted the script for a scene that involves a consultation with a nurse, to be sure the dialogue was realistic. Robespierre was even allowed to film at a clinic, an experience that ended up being Robespierre’s favorite part of making the movie, the part where it felt like “everyone clicked together.”

“We always say that it’s not an agenda-driven movie,” says Robespierre, “but it is.”

The finished product premiered at Sundance this year with the help of a successful Kickstarter campaign and was quickly snapped up by hip distributor A24 (the company behind films like Spring Breakers, The Bling Ring and Under the Skin) for a reported “low seven figures.” A24, no stranger to controversial films, may have seen an opportunity where others may have seen potential for scandal. Holm says: “They felt that [abortion] was for sure going to be a part of the conversation, and that was in part why they were excited to pick up the movie.”

Robespierre and Slate both say that reaction at festivals has been overwhelmingly positive — as has critical reaction — but exposing the movie to the world beyond feminist bloggers and film-festival attendees has, naturally, come with some negative feedback. Its creators and stars are prepared for that, but remain undaunted.

It helps that Obvious Child isn’t really a movie about abortion. It’s really about a life that gets messy, and the struggle to find confidence. To that end, the movie may just sound more controversial than it actually is. The film works hard to strike a balance between gravity and humor; Holm recalls that she and her colleagues decided in the ending room to keep a particularly uncomfortable joke toward the end of the movie in the film. “It is putting that toe over the line, and that’s an okay thing to do especially in moments of tension — we all just find relief in humor and laughing about these things. The film hopefully has enough heart and sincerity and humility that it earns those moments. But it was never our intention to just make something provocative for the sake of being provocative,” she says. “A24 felt that the film was really funny and sweet and relatable. Abortion was just one unique element.”

It was that realism and honesty — realistic characters, realistic friendships and, yes, a realistic look at the possible options a pregnant woman faces — that propelled the film from funding to filming to distribution. As Gaby Hoffmann, who plays the heroine’s best friend (and who recently made public her own real-life pregnancy), puts it, “Most of the women I know [have had an abortion] and it’s sort of despicable the way it’s been skirted around again and again and again and again, in culture, in media, where we have no problem showing gratuitous violence and sex — not that those two things are equal, because they’re not, but certainly plenty of sex scenes — and not the consequences of such. I didn’t give it a second thought at all. I think it’s so weird that it’s standing out as being a film that actually addresses abortion in a straightforward way. I can’t believe that that’s the case. It is, but it’s baffling to me.”

And standing out never hurts. So, back in Baltimore, Robespierre suggested a possible reason why it was easy to find financing: “It seemed,” she told the crowd, “like people were waiting for this story.”

TIME Sexual Assault

Miss USA Contestant Addresses Sexual Assault as a ‘Child of Rape’

Valerie Gatto
Miss Pennsylvania USA Valerie Gatto attends the 2014 Miss USA preliminary competition in Baton Rouge, La., on June 4, 2014. Stacy Revere—Getty Images

Miss Pennsylvania, Valerie Gatto, says she's drawing on her personal history to support sexual assault education.

Sexual assault awareness has gained a new and unexpected voice in Valerie Gatto, a Miss USA contestant who describes herself as a “product of rape.”

The 24-year-old marketing consultant told NBC’s TODAY.com the story of her mother, who became pregnant at age 19 after she was raped at knifepoint.

“Being a child of a rape, not knowing who my father is, not knowing if he’s ever been found, most people would think it’s such a negative situation,” Gatto told TODAY. “I believe God put me here for a reason: to inspire people, to encourage them, to give them hope that everything is possible and you can’t let your circumstances define your life.”

Gatto first learned of the assault when she was in the third grade and began to ask about her father. Her mother responded, “Something bad happened to me. A very bad man hurt me but God gave me you.”

Gatto’s message focuses on ways potential victims can reduce their risk of an attack: “I hope to show others how to be proactive, what to do, to be present, to be aware of your surroundings, little things like that,” Gatto told TODAY. The comments put her in the middle of the national debate about how best to prevent sexual assault. Campuses across the country are putting in place buddy systems and other safety measures, but many advocates for sexual assault survivors avoid emphasizing how women can avoid sexual assault because they believe that approach places too much responsibility for an attack on the victim and doesn’t take into account the fact that most know their attacker.

“I’m not sharing this story for publicity. I’m not doing this for any selfish reasons,” says Gatto, who will compete in the Miss USA competition on Sunday. “I truly am doing this to change the world and make a difference.”

(You can read more of TIME’s coverage of the sexual assault debate here.)

TIME russia

Putin on Clinton: ‘It’s Better Not to Argue With Women’

"Maybe weakness is not the worst quality for a woman," Putin said

Russian President Vladimir Putin offered some decidedly 19th century reasons for avoiding a debate with Hillary Clinton.

“It’s better not to argue with women,” he said in an interview with Radio Europe 1 transcribed and posted to the Russian President’s official website on Wednesday.

Putin was asked how he might respond to Clinton’s recent comments comparing Russia’s intervention in Ukraine to Adolf Hitler’s invasion of Europe. Clinton has since walked back the statement.

“When people push boundaries too far, it’s not because they are strong but because they are weak,” Putin said, “but maybe weakness is not the worst quality for a woman.”

To which the interviewer responded: “Women must be respected, of course, and I’m sure you respect them.”

Putin had no direct response.

TIME Religion

Elizabeth Wurtzel: The Pope Is Right—Kids Are the Point of Life

Pope Francis Child
Pope Francis blesses a child upon his arrival to lead a mass at Amman International Stadium in Amman, Jordan, May 24, 2014. Amel Pain—EPA

Whether you're Catholic—or religious at all—doesn't matter. As a human being, it's your scientific duty and destiny to procreate.

As a Jew, I am not much concerned with the Pope. It seems to me that he has a difficult job as the head of a corrupt organization run by men who do not have sex and claim to know God personally. But Pope Francis has charm galore. It is quite something. He wants everybody, including people he does not like, to like him, and he has kind words for gay people and murderers—not that they are comparable.

So it is surprising when the Pope comes out with statements suggesting that Catholics ought to, for Christ’s sake, be Catholic: reprimands are so unlike the Francis we have come to know. They’re somehow too Pope-ish. Just the other day Pope Francis said that people who think having a cat or two and a dog is as good as having kids are missing out. All the benefits of child-free life—the vacations and villas, the barefoot dancing, the sex on the kitchen floor—all that will come to naught. “Have you seen it?” Pope Francis asked. “Then, in the end this marriage comes to old age in solitude, with the bitterness of loneliness.”

As it happens, I’m with Francis.

When I see married people who don’t have kids, I wonder what’s wrong. Really. Because something is. Of course it is. I mean, if you aren’t going to have children, why bother with the rest? Why bother with the $30,000 bash and the white crinoline dress? And you can say that about everything. What do you think we are doing here, biding our time on this planet with our misspent years, justifying our days with our ridiculous schemes of leisure? Is anyone’s life so meaningful? Really? Really, really, really? Is yours?

The existential nightmare of the everyday is way more than even those of us with enormous egos who love what we do can possibly cope with. We are on this earth to keep on keeping on. We are here to reproduce. We are here to leave something behind that is more meaningful than a tech startup or a masterpiece of literature. Everybody knows this. The biggest idiot in the world who thinks he knows better—even he deep down knows this.

And I say this not as religious person but as someone who believes in science. I took human behavioral biology with the amazing Irv Devore my freshman year of college, and early on he taught us that human beings serve our genes—we are here only as temporary vessels to pass along their permanence. This made immediate sense to me because it explains everything: the desire to reproduce is so extreme, so innate, that even people who cannot (and some who really should not) have children at all cannot be stopped from doing so. Look at the abracadabra we do to create fertility when it fails. It seems crazy only if you don’t accept that it is a biological imperative in the absolute. Or as University of Washington psychologist and zoologist David P. Barash writes in the journal BioScience, “Living things are survival vehicles for their potentially immortal genes. Biologically speaking, this is what they are, and it is all they are.” He adds, “For most biologists, the promulgation of genes is neither good nor bad. It just is.”

I am 46 and I don’t have children, which is a bit of a problem, because I believe everything I am saying. I also was not married, but I recently got engaged, so I will be soon—and I hope to have a child. If I don’t, I will figure that out. I am very good at figuring things out. And science is even better at it. (Maybe the Pope should reconsider the Catholic Church’s stance on IVF, though.)

And I am not saying I want to have a kid because of something I learned in a college course when I was 18 years old. I am saying that we are all stuck with our humanity, and it is lovely. I don’t feel some awesome urge to have children and I don’t look at babies longingly at all, but I know if I missed out on that part of life, I would be missing a huge part of what makes us alive. It is just silly to argue otherwise, and I have lived it—happily—so I don’t need to hear it.

This is one of the many instances when science and religion dovetail in a conclusion about human behavior for different reasons. Surely the two reinforce each other so often because the urge to be spiritual and to love is also part of our cells and our chemistry. And when both agree, I don’t argue.

Elizabeth Wurtzel is the author of Prozac Nation, Bitch and More, Now, Again. She is a lawyer who works for David Boies in New York City. She lives with her dog, her cat and her fiancé.

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