TIME gender

Google+ Offers Infinite Gender Options

The Google logo is seen at the company's offices on August 21, 2014 in Berlin, Germany.
Adam Berry—Getty Images

Users can now choose any word to describe themselves from "gender fluid" to "trans"

Google+ has joined Facebook in offering an expanded array of gender options for users’ profiles. The two social media sites used to only offer three options—”male,” “female” and “other”—but now both are expanding their drop down menu to accommodate an increasing array of identities.

The new Google+ format will allow users to choose among “Male,” “Female,” “Decline to state” and “Custom.” If “Custom” is selected, a text field and pronoun field will appear where users can fill in whatever words they want. (Many trans people and others in the LGBTQ community prefer pronouns like “their” to the traditional binary “him” or “her.”) Google+ users will continue to be able to limit who can see their gender on their profile.

Screenshot of new gender options on Google Rachael Bennet—Google

The new option is similar to Facebook’s new gender policy that it introduced earlier this year. Facebook users can now choose from over 70 different gender definitions that include terms like “female to male trans man,” “gender neutral,” “gender fluid” or “non-binary,” to name just a few.

“For many people, gender identity is more complex than just ‘male’ or ‘female,'” Google software engineer Rachael Bennett writes in the announcement. “Starting today, I’m proud to announce that Google+ will support an infinite number of ways to express gender identity.”

The change is a welcome one for those who have protested social networks’ identification policy. But several sites are still navigating the politics of gender. In October (after it had already introduced its new gender identification drop down menu), Facebook had to apologize for attempting to require that drag queens, transgender people and others in the LGBTQ community use their real names on their profiles. Facebook’s policy was meant to weed out fake users but inadvertently suspended hundreds of legitimate accounts that belonged to people who did not feel comfortable identifying with their legal name.

MORE: Facebook Apologizes to Drag Queens Over Suspended Profiles

TIME movies

Peter Pan Live‘s Allison Williams Joins a Long Tradition: Women Playing Pan

Peter Pan
Pauline Chase in a theatre production of 'Peter Pan' in 1855 Hulton Archive / Getty Images

The boy who won't grow up has rarely been played by a real boy

It’s pretty much the single most important plot point in Peter Pan: the main character will, in the words of one of the signature songs from the musical based on his story, “stay a boy forever.”

Except that he hasn’t. When Allison Williams—the actress best known, appropriately, for her role on Girls—takes to the skies Thursday night for the live televised version of the play, she’ll be joining a long line of grown women who have played the ever-youthful boy.

In fact, it’s been an even century since Nina Boucicault played the starring role in the original 1904 London production, which came to New York the following year with Maude Adams in the lead. As Slate has reported, there were several reasons to cast women in the role, from the logistics of dealing with child-labor laws to the thought that an adult man wouldn’t seem boyish enough and a real boy wouldn’t be capable. Furthermore, casting an adult as Peter meant the child actors around her could be relatively older too. And the actresses cast as Peter were fully on board with the decision: TIME reported in 1950 that, in her day, Adams would leave the theater in costume, so as not to let young fans know she was a grown-up and a woman.

Other grown women followed her in the stage role, like Marilyn Miller, Eva Le Gallienne and Jean Arthur.

When the musical version of the play arrived in 1954, the tradition—complete with music suited for a female singer—continued. Mary Martin quickly came to be a favorite, and is still associated with the role to this day. “She looks as boyish as can be expected of any grownup of the opposite sex,” TIME noted a review of the Broadway production.

There has, however, been a truly noteworthy deviation from the norm: Disney’s 1953 animated version, not constrained by the demands of live human actors, was able to do what no play could. In that movie Peter is voiced by child actor Bobby Driscoll.

TIME feminism

The Complicated History Behind the Fight for Pregnant Women’s Equality

Lillian Garland [& Family]
Lillian Garland (front), who won a Supreme Court case which supports pregnancy leave, with her daughter in 1986 Alan Levenson—The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images

Two Supreme Court cases have helped define the struggle

On Wednesday, the Supreme Court will hear the case of Peggy Young, a former UPS driver who had to go on unpaid leave — rather than paid leave or adjusted duty — when she got pregnant and a doctor told her to stop lifting heavy packages. Though UPS has since adjusted its leave policy for pregnant workers, the company maintains and a lower court agreed that the Pregnancy Discrimination Act doesn’t make it illegal to give pregnant employees different leave policies than non-pregnant ones. If the act did make such treatment illegal, they say, it would constitute special treatment. Young’s side, on the other hand, argues that making accommodations for pregnant workers is to treat them the same as other workers, not specially.

Unsurprisingly, several women’s rights organizations, like the Women’s Law Project and Legal Momentum, which is associated with the National Organization for Women (NOW), have filed an amicus brief in support of Young.

But, despite all the women’s-rights oomph behind Young’s case, the history of feminism and pregnancy discrimination isn’t so clear cut.

As Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has pointed out, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act was passed in 1978 to specify that discriminating against pregnant people is a kind of sex discrimination (after the Supreme Court case had earlier decided the opposite). It was less than three decades ago — in 1986 — that NOW, as well as the Women’s Rights Project of the American Civil Liberties Union, came out on the side of the employer in a case that sounds very similar to Young v. United Parcel Service. They aren’t exactly parallel, but many of the deep questions raised by the earlier case remain pertinent today. How much should childbearing be connected to a woman’s identity? Does respecting women require making allowances for that undeniable difference? Or would doing so hold women back by linking their legal identities to their function as mothers? How much inequality can be tolerated in the service of big-picture equality?

At issue was a challenge to a 1978 California law that required businesses to offer unpaid maternity leave. Lillian Garland had been a receptionist at a California bank when she took advantage of the state law and went on unpaid leave to have a baby in 1982; when she was ready to return to work, the position had been filled. Without her income, she was soon evicted and lost custody of her daughter, leading her to bring a suit against her former employer.

As TIME reported during the dispute, NOW and the ACLU ended up taking the bank’s side, preferring that employee benefits not be sex or gender-specific. “The question is, Should a woman with a pregnancy disability get her job back when other employees with disabilities get fired? You undermine your argument unless you say everyone is equally entitled to this benefit,” explained the ACLU’s Joan Bertin. In other words, anything that keeps an employee from working should be treated the same, whether or not it’s pregnancy, and no law should apply only to women. Meanwhile, feminist icon Betty Friedan and her allies saw things differently: in her view, the law treated everyone equally because it made clear that anyone, male or female, should be able to make decisions about having a family without the risk of losing his or her job.

“The time has come to acknowledge that women are different from men,’’ Friedan said. ‘’There has to be a concept of equality that takes into account that women are the ones who have the babies.’’

The next year, in 1987, the Supreme Court sided with Friedan, finding that the California law neither discriminated against men nor forced employers to treat women specially, as it did not bar companies from extending unpaid leave benefits to men as well.

TIME relationships

What Every Generation Gets Wrong About Sex

British Mods
Young Mods kissing in the street in London, 1964 John Pratt—Getty Images

Think the past was oppressive and the present is debauched? Think again

It was January 1964, and America was on the brink of cultural upheaval. In less than a month, the Beatles would land at JFK for the first time, providing an outlet for the hormonal enthusiasms of teenage girls everywhere. The previous spring, Betty Friedan had published The Feminine Mystique, giving voice to the languor of middle-class housewives and kick-starting second-wave feminism in the process. In much of the country, the Pill was still only available to married women, but it had nonetheless become a symbol of a new, freewheeling sexuality.

And in the offices of TIME, at least one writer was none too happy about it. The United States was undergoing an ethical revolution, the magazine argued in an un-bylined 5000-word cover essay, which had left young people morally at sea.

The article depicted a nation awash in sex: in its pop music and on the Broadway stage, in the literature of writers like Norman Mailer and Henry Miller, and in the look-but-don’t-touch boudoir of the Playboy Club, which had opened four years earlier. “Greeks who have grown up with the memory of Aphrodite can only gape at the American goddess, silken and seminude, in a million advertisements,” the magazine declared.

But of greatest concern was the “revolution of [social] mores” the article described, which meant that sexual morality, once fixed and overbearing, was now “private and relative” – a matter of individual interpretation. Sex was no longer a source of consternation but a cause for celebration; its presence not what made a person morally suspect, but rather its absence.

The essay may have been published half a century ago, but the concerns it raises continue to loom large in American culture today. TIME’s 1964 fears about the long-term psychological effects of sex in popular culture (“no one can really calculate the effect this exposure is having on individual lives and minds”) mirror today’s concerns about the impacts of internet pornography and Miley Cyrus videos. Its descriptions of “champagne parties for teenagers” and “padded brassieres for twelve-year-olds” could have been lifted from any number of contemporary articles on the sexualization of children.

We can see the early traces of the late-2000s panic about “hook-up culture” in its observations about the rise of premarital sex on college campuses. Even the legal furors it details feel surprisingly contemporary. The 1964 story references the arrest of a Cleveland mother for giving information about birth control to “her delinquent daughter.” In September 2014, a Pennsylvania mother was sentenced to a minimum of 9 months in prison for illegally purchasing her 16-year-old daughter prescription medication to terminate an unwanted pregnancy.

But what feels most modern about the essay is its conviction that while the rebellions of the past were necessary and courageous, today’s social changes have gone a bridge too far. The 1964 editorial was titled “The Second Sexual Revolution” — a nod to the social upheavals that had transpired 40 years previously, in the devastating wake of the First World War, “when flaming youth buried the Victorian era and anointed itself as the Jazz Age.” Back then, TIME argued, young people had something truly oppressive to rise up against. The rebels of the 1960s, on the other hand, had only the “tattered remnants” of a moral code to defy. “In the 1920s, to praise sexual freedom was still outrageous,” the magazine opined, “today sex is simply no longer shocking.”

Today, the sexual revolutionaries of the 1960s are typically portrayed as brave and daring, and their predecessors in the 1920s forgotten. But the overarching story of an oppressive past and a debauched, out-of-control present has remained consistent. As Australian newspaper The Age warned in 2009: “[m]any teenagers and young adults have turned the free-sex mantra of the 1970s into a lifestyle, and older generations simply don’t have a clue.”

The truth is that the past is neither as neutered, nor the present as sensationalistic, as the stories we tell ourselves about each of them suggest. Contrary to the famous Philip Larkin poem, premarital sex did not begin in 1963. The “revolution” that we now associate with the late 1960s and early 1970s was more an incremental evolution: set in motion as much by the publication of Marie Stopes’s Married Love in 1918, or the discovery that penicillin could be used to treat syphilis in 1943, as it was by the FDA’s approval of the Pill in 1960. The 1950s weren’t as buttoned up as we like to think, and nor was the decade that followed them a “free love” free-for-all.

Similarly, the sex lives of today’s teenagers and twentysomethings are not all that different from those of their Gen Xer and Boomer parents. A study published in The Journal of Sex Research this year found that although young people today are more likely to have sex with a casual date, stranger or friend than their counterparts 30 years ago were, they do not have any more sexual partners — or for that matter, more sex — than their parents did.

This is not to say that the world is still exactly as it was in 1964. If moralists then were troubled by the emergence of what they called “permissiveness with affection” — that is, the belief that love excused premarital sex – such concerns now seem amusingly old-fashioned. Love is no longer a prerequisite for sexual intimacy; and nor, for that matter, is intimacy a prerequisite for sex. For people born after 1980, the most important sexual ethic is not about how or with whom you have sex, but open-mindedness. As one young man amongst the hundreds I interviewed for my forthcoming book on contemporary sexual politics, a 32-year-old call-center worker from London, put it, “Nothing should be seen as alien, or looked down upon as wrong.”

But America hasn’t transformed into the “sex-affirming culture” TIME predicted it would half a century ago, either. Today, just as in 1964, sex is all over our TV screens, in our literature and infused in the rhythms of popular music. A rich sex life is both a necessity and a fashion accessory, promoted as the key to good health, psychological vitality and robust intimate relationships. But sex also continues to be seen as a sinful and corrupting force: a view that is visible in the ongoing ideological battles over abortion and birth control, the discourses of abstinence education, and the treatment of survivors of rape and sexual assault.

If the sexual revolutionaries of the 1960s made a mistake, it was in assuming that these two ideas – that sex is the origin of all sin, and that it is the source of human transcendence – were inherently opposed, and that one could be overcome by pursuing the other. The “second sexual revolution” was more than just a change in sexual behavior. It was a shift in ideology: a rejection of a cultural order in which all kinds of sex were had (un-wed pregnancies were on the rise decades before the advent of the Pill), but the only type of sex it was acceptable to have was married, missionary and between a man and a woman. If this was oppression, it followed that doing the reverse — that is to say, having lots of sex, in lots of different ways, with whomever you liked — would be freedom.

But today’s twentysomethings aren’t just distinguished by their ethic of openmindedness. They also have a different take on what constitutes sexual freedom; one that reflects the new social rules and regulations that their parents and grandparents unintentionally helped to shape.

Millennials are mad about slut-shaming, homophobia and rape culture, yes. But they are also critical of the notion that being sexually liberated means having a certain type — and amount — of sex. “There is still this view that having sex is an achievement in some way,” observes Courtney, a 22-year-old digital media strategist living in Washington DC. “But I don’t want to just be sex-positive. I want to be ‘good sex’-positive.” And for Courtney, that means resisting the temptation to have sex she doesn’t want, even it having it would make her seem (and feel) more progressive.

Back in 1964, TIME observed a similar contradiction in the battle for sexual freedom, noting that although the new ethic had alleviated some of pressure to abstain from sex, the “competitive compulsion to prove oneself an acceptable sexual machine” had created a new kind of sexual guilt: the guilt of not being sexual enough.

For all our claims of openmindedness, both forms of anxiety are still alive and well today – and that’s not just a function of either excess or repression. It’s a consequence of a contradiction we are yet to find a way to resolve, and which lies at the heart of sexual regulation in our culture: the sense that sex can be the best thing or the worst thing, but it is always important, always significant, and always central to who we are.

It’s a contradiction we could still stand to challenge today, and doing so might just be key to our ultimate liberation.

Rachel Hills is a New York-based journalist who writes on gender, culture, and the politics of everyday life. Her first book, The Sex Myth: The Gap Between Our Fantasies and Reality, will be published by Simon & Schuster in 2015.

Read next: How I Learned About Sex

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: December 1

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. Though manufacturing jobs — particularly in the auto industry — are making a comeback, the wages are low and not even keeping up with inflation.

By Catherine Ruckelshaus and Sarah Leberstein at the National Employment Law Project

2. Simple, human-centered adaptive technology can change lives for people with disabilities.

By Krithika Krishnamurthy in Economic Times

3. As the military finally integrates men and women, gender-segregated recruit training in the Marines must end.

By Lieutenant Colonel Kevin G. Collins in Marine Corps Gazette

4. A neutral review board — not the police department itself — should review officer-involved shootings.

By Michael Bell in Politico

5. After two peaceful elections, Tunisia demonstrates that fixing politics is easier than remaking a nation, and the problems that sparked the Arab Spring persist.

By Sam Kimball and Nicholas Linn in Quartz

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME politics

The Woman Who Broke the U.K.’s Parliamentary Gender Barrier Wasn’t Even Trying

Lady Astor
Lady Nancy Astor in Plymouth, England, in November of 1923 Gill / Getty Images

Dec. 1, 1919: American-born socialite Lady Astor is sworn in as the first female member of the British House of Commons

Lady Astor was an unlikely candidate to break the gender barrier in the U.K. Parliament. For one thing, she wasn’t British; for another, she wasn’t a suffragist. She took her seat in the House of Commons on this day, Dec. 1, in 1919, after running for her husband’s vacant spot when he was given the title of Viscount and elevated to the House of Lords. (She was the second woman to have been elected to the House of Commons, but the first to accept the position.)

She barely wanted the job, according to her election pamphlet. At times she seemed to go out of her way to alienate voters, as when she ended a campaign speech in front of a working-class crowd by saying, according to the New York Times, “And now, my dears, I’m going back to one of my beautiful palaces to sit down in my tiara and do nothing, and when I roll out in my car I will splash you all with mud and look the other way.”

But Nancy Astor had a flair for upending expectations. The Virginia native, whose father was a tobacco auctioneer, ascended to the upper crust of the British aristocracy but never lost her frank, outspoken manner or her earthy sense of humor. The latter was even more jarring when combined with her conservative politics: she was a strict teetotaler and a staunch anti-socialist.

History does not cast her as a particularly influential MP. Although she was re-elected seven times before retiring in 1945, the Times notes, “she accomplished nothing more noteworthy than the forcing through of a bill barring teenagers from entering pubs.”

Still, her witticisms made waves. Her sharp tongue could get her in trouble, but its overall effect was, if not endearing, then at least entertaining. Per the Times, “…she was capable in the House of Commons of doing anything from whistling to calling a fellow member a donkey.”

If she hadn’t pursued politics, Astor could have had a promising career as an insult comic. Her best lines became known as Astorisms, and they tended to take harsh aim at her rivals as well as her friends. According to her 1964 obituary in TIME, her favorite targets included “fellow politicians, her fellow rich (“The only thing I like about them is their money”), Communists, Socialists, Nazis, Yankees, liquor manufacturers, newspapers (her husband’s family owned two), antifeminists, the cult of the Common Man.”

Sometimes her attacks were personal — and borderline cruel. After voting to oust Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, an old friend and former political ally, she famously said, “Duds must be got rid of, even if they are one’s dearest friends.”

Her vote against Chamberlain helped pave the way for Winston Churchill to take office, but she had few kind words for him either. Churchill was, at least, her equal in trading barbs. In one exchange, she is said to have told him, “If I were married to you, I’d put poison in your coffee.” He replied, “If I were married to you, I’d drink it.”

Read the full obituary for Lady Astor, here in the TIME Vault: The Ginger Woman

TIME society

The Most Destructive Gender Binary

gender equality
Getty Images

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.

We need to show the world just how much each gender depends on the other, and how men, too, benefit from full equality

It was the latest setback for women’s empowerment. But you probably haven’t heard about it.

Part of the gender equality goal set to replace one of the U.N.’s soon-to-expire Millennium Development Goals didn’t make it through. The target left on the cutting room floor? Engaging men and boys around gender equality issues.

Why, exactly, is this is a setback for women’s equality? Because the fates of the two genders are intertwined; for women to thrive, men and boys must be part of the gender equality agenda. Why, then, in 2014, are we still addressing gender issues as a binary, girls vs. boys, women vs. men? And how can we get beyond it?

We asked that big question at a conference last week in Delhi — organized by the global MenEngage alliance ( full disclosure: I’m co-chair and co-founder of the alliance). Our answer – to get beyond the binary, and to achieve the promise of empowering women — we need to show the world just how much each gender depends on the other, and how men, too, benefit from full equality.

Let’s start with violence. If you want to combat violence against women, you’ve got to understand, and address, violence against boys. Let me explain. Global data confirms that about one-third of the world’s women have experienced violence from a male partner. We have little evidence — with the possible exception of the U.S. and Norway — that any country has been able to reduce its overall rates of men’s violence against women. There are challenges with measuring violence, to be sure, but it’s far too early to claim that we have made real progress in reducing the daily threat to women and girls.

Why haven’t we moved the needle? Partly because we’ve been coming up with solutions for only half of the affected population. We know that men who witness violence growing up are nearly three times more likely to go on to use violence against female partners. Data also show that men who witness violence growing up are more likely to be depressed, contemplate suicide, and more likely to binge drink. In other words, men’s lives, too, are harmed by the violence of men. Ending violence against women must also mean ending violence against boys and men.

Unpaid care work is another area where we can see the same intertwined narrative playing out. Women do the majority of the unpaid care work in the world. And yet, studies show that when men take on those responsibilities, they’re happier, less likely to be depressed (and have better sex lives). According to one study in the U.S., we even live longer as men when we’re involved fathers. A study in Sweden finds that involved fathers are less likely to miss work, and are healthier. Not to mention all the data showing that children benefit when fathers are involved in caring for them.

Or consider this: a recent World Health Organization report confirmed that there are 800,000 deaths from suicides each year, about two-thirds of those are men. We know something about which men commit suicide: men who are socially isolated, who feel they can’t reach out for help, whose sense of identity was lost when they lost their livelihoods. Men who, in part at least, are stuck in outdated notions of manhood.

What’s more, entire economies benefit when women can devote more time to the paid workforce. If women’s participation in the workforce were equal to men’s, the U.S. GDP would be nine percent larger and India’s GDP would be 1.2 trillion U.S. dollars bigger. Yet right now, that disparity is arguably the single largest driver of women’s lower wages compared to men. Globally, 77 percent of men participate in the paid workforce, compared to just 50 percent of women—a proportion that has remained virtually unchanged for 25 years.

Even when women are in the workplace, they earn on average 18 percent less than men for the same work. Few countries outside of Scandinavia have created policy incentives to encourage men to do a near-equal share of unpaid care work. We know what it has taken in Scandinavia to push us closer toward equality in terms of care work: paid paternity leave. In other words, encouraging men to do a greater share of the care work.

Guess what? A little encouragement goes a long way. Today, with paid leave and “use-it-or-lose-it” leave for fathers only, the majority of men in Norway, Iceland, Sweden and Quebec (which has policies similar to the Nordic countries) are taking leave of six weeks or more. Iceland is the global leader: fathers there take an average of 103 days of paid paternity leave.

We’re stuck in a similar gender box when it comes to empowering women to control how many children they have. In 2005, women represented 75 percent of global contraceptive users and men 25 percent. In 2014, women represent 73 percent. Hardly numbers to celebrate and proclaim equality; indeed, that change does not even pass the confidence interval. Why does it matter? Well, last time I checked, reproduction involves both women and men. Anything less than 50-50 in terms of contraceptive use cannot be called equality. By not engaging men as equal partners in contraceptive use, we hold women back. This doesn’t mean giving men control over women’s bodies; it means engaging men to assume their share of reproduction as respectful, aware and supportive partners.

In terms of HIV/AIDS, the story is similar. We have made amazing strides in rolling out HIV testing and treatment. Treatment as prevention is working in many countries. One of the key remaining obstacles in reducing HIV rates and AIDS-related mortality rates even more is the fact that in much of the world, men are far less likely than women to seek HIV testing and treatment. The result is increased risk for women and higher AIDS-related mortality among men.

The arguments could go on. From economic empowerment for women to violence prevention, the evidence consistently affirms that engaging men as partners in gender equality is more effective than only tapping women. And the data is clear that men who support gender equality, are more supportive, democratic partners and get involved in their share of the care work are happier men.

Twenty years after one of the largest events to promote women’s equality in Beijing — where Hillary Clinton made her famous proclamation that “women’s rights are human rights” — the conclusion is this: we won’t achieve full equality for women until we move beyond binary us-versus-them, women-versus-men thinking. We must commit to ending patriarchy in the lives of women and in the lives of men. As men, we must acknowledge that we have an equal stake in gender equality. In fact, let’s acknowledge this: our lives get better when we embrace it.

Gary Barker, Ph.D., is founder and International Director of Promundo, an international organization with offices in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Washington, DC, and Kigali, Rwanda, that works to engage men and boys in gender equality and ending violence against women. This piece was originally published in New America’s digital magazine, The Weekly Wonk. Sign up to get it delivered to your inbox each Thursday here, and follow @New America on Twitter.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME gender

The Brutal Triple Murder Behind the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women

Busts of the Mirabal sisters at the muse
Busts of the Mirabal sisters at the museum in the village of Salcedo, north of Santo Domingo. The Mirabal sisters were assasinated in 1960 during the dictatorial regime of Rafael Trujillo. (RICARDO HERNANDEZ--AFP/Getty Images) RICARDO HERNANDEZ—AFP/Getty Images

Nov. 25 kicks off 16 days of activism to advance equality for women

The Empire State Building was lit up orange Monday night, but the color wasn’t a reference to a Thanksgiving pumpkin pie. It was to mark Nov. 25 as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, which hits its 15th anniversary this year.

The International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women isn’t just a single day — it’s the beginning of 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence, which culminates on Human Rights Day on Dec. 10. The days are meant to “symbolically link violence against women with human rights, and to emphasize that such violence is the worst form of violation of women’s human rights,” explains Lakshmi Puri, Assistant Secretary-General of the U.N. and Deputy Executive Director of U.N. Women. “Violence against women is one of the most tolerated violations of human rights. It’s unacceptable.”

And Nov. 25 wasn’t randomly chosen. Though the day now addresses the issue of violence against women everywhere, its story starts with one particular — and particularly brutal — act.

The International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women was started in 1999 to commemorate the Mirabal sisters, political activists in the Dominican Republic who were assassinated on this date in 1960 for opposing dictator Rafael Trujillo. The three sisters started an anti-Trujillo group called the Movement of the Fourteenth of June, named after a massacre reportedly ordered by the dictator. They called themselves, “Las Mariposas,” or “the butterflies,” and openly protested Trujillo and his regime. To retaliate, his henchmen beat the sisters to death in a cane field and faked a car accident to explain their deaths.

Puri says the day was chosen to commemorate the Mirabal sisters’ courage in taking political action despite the brutality they faced. “Violence against women in politics is also a very particular form of violence, to intimidate them so they don’t engage in politics,” she says.

The 16 Days of Activism are meant to raise global awareness of the violence endured by women and girls around the world, Puri explains. The 16 days will include marches, marathons and other public activism to promote gender equality and improve the lot of women everywhere. According to U.N. estimates, 35% of women in the world have experienced physical or sexual violence, 700 million women alive today were married as children and more than 133 million girls and women have experienced female genital mutilation. The U.N. estimates that in 2012 over half of murdered women were killed by partners or family members, and that 120 million girls worldwide have been forced to have sex at some point in their lives. “Together, we must end this global disgrace,” UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon said at a ceremony before the lighting of the Empire State Building.

“It’s a very difficult issue to tackle without a mindset change,” Puri says, adding that the 16 Days of Activism are intended to challenged the entrenched gender inequality in most societies. Activists in Mexico City will run a marathon to end the violence, a film series about women’s lives will be screened in Uganda and public spaces in India will turn orange to support the cause. But do any of these actions really help women who are trapped in forced marriages or subjected to brutal violence? “It creates a culture of zero tolerance,” she says. “It creates awareness, it shows the determination of people, and it becomes the new normal.”

The day has been celebrated every year since 1999, but it takes on extra significance this year. It’s not just the 15th anniversary of the first The International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, but it’s also an occasion to look forward to 2015, which will mark 20 years since the groundbreaking Beijing Platform for Action. That’s where Hillary Clinton made her famous speech saying, “human rights are women’s rights and women’s rights are human rights.”

The U.N. is also taking greater steps to include men in their mission to elevate global women, with their He for She program launched this year. Puri says they’re trying to challenge the idea “that it’s a right of a man to be violent and that it’s the fate of the woman to be subjected to violence.”

“These things,” she says, “have to change.”

TIME gender

What We Can Learn From the Women Who Passed as Men to Serve in the U.S. Army

People like 'Lyons' Wakeman have a lesson for today

Now that the Pentagon has lifted the 1994 ban barring women from serving in special-operations and combat units, critics are waging a battle of their own, insisting that women lack the physical and psychological stamina that combat requires. While military officials insist they won’t soften their intense standards in order to allow more women entry, opponents argue that women will never be able to join otherwise, and that the Pentagon’s push for diversity will only result in a weakened United States military that places us at risk. Right now, the Marine Corps is in the middle of an experiment to test whether women can adequately perform the tough work required to defend the nation.

But American history is already full of women who can answer that question: during the Civil War, there were as many as 400 women who disguised themselves as men and fought for both the Union and the Confederacy. They pulled off their charades so well that few people today even know their stories.

“War actually shapes history, and history has always been about men,” says C.J. Longanecker, a historian and former ranger for the National Park Service. “But women were always there; they just didn’t get the press coverage.”

For one female soldier buried in Chalmette National Cemetery in Louisiana, it took more than 100 years to get the press coverage she deserved. Her story ends just east of New Orleans, where 15,000 headstones stretch out in seemingly infinite rows, interrupted only by the occasional oak tree.

Her story begins, though, in 1843 in Afton, N.Y., when a farmer’s wife gave birth to the first of her nine children—Sarah Rosetta, or just Rosetta. Like the lives of so many other women who enlisted as men, Rosetta’s life would revolve around hard labor and her family’s many debts. By the time Rosetta turned 19, she still had no marriage offers—a suffocating verdict for a woman who lacked both education and social status in the 19th century.

So Rosetta cut her hair, found a pair of men’s trousers and became 21-year-old Lyons Wakeman, leaving behind her family’s farm and fighting for independence in the only way that seemed possible.

She enlisted with the 153rd New York Infantry regiment, which encamped at both Alexandria, Va., and Washington D.C. before campaigning in Louisiana. In her book An Uncommon Soldier, Historian Lauren Cook Burgess has assembled Rosetta’s private letters to her family from the battlefield. As Burgess’ book shows us, Rosetta not only survived in a soldier’s life, she excelled at it:

“I don’t know how long before I shall have to go in the field of battle,” Rosetta writes. “For my part I don’t care. I don’t feel afraid to go…I am as independent as a hog on the ice.”

The eager young woman took to chewing tobacco and adopted all the “vices” that a typical soldier embraced. The five-ft.-tall Rosetta even won a brawl once with a much larger and much rowdier soldier than she, landing a few punches on him and no doubt earning some cheers from her comrades.

Rosetta eventually fought in another kind of battle, one more savage than she could have imagined. The Battle of Pleasant Hill took place in northwest Louisiana on Apr. 9, 1864. It was part of the Union Army’s push to capture the area from the Confederates. “There was a heavy cannonading [sic] all day and a sharp firing of infantry,” Rosetta writes. ”I had to face the enemy bullets with my regiment. I was under fire about four hours and laid on the field of battle all night.” Rosetta’s regiment launched a full frontal attack on the Confederates, with their commanding officers later praising the 153rd for their fierce bravery.

Meanwhile, the soldier seemed forever haunted by her oppressed past life as a farmer’s daughter. In letters to New York, Rosetta can’t help repeat that she will never return home, as if she had to convince not only her family, but also herself.

“If I ever get clear from the Army I will come home and make you a visit, but I shall not stay long,” Rosetta writes. “I shall never live in that neighborhood again.”

Had Rosetta lived, she may well have spent the rest of her days as a man, as multiple women actually did when the fighting was over. Rosetta, however, did not live. She fell prey to the menace that killed more than 413,000 soldiers in the Civil War—disease. After the Battle of Pleasant Hill, Rosetta and her comrades were forced to participate in a hellish two-day, 70-mile march through the untamed Louisiana wilderness, with many men collapsing from exhaustion and pain before reaching the end. Rosetta survived, but developed chronic dysentery.

By the time Rosetta’s ambulance reached the Marine U.S.A General Hospital near New Orleans 15 days later, she had deteriorated into the acute stages of her disease.

Rosetta languished for a month and then died. Lyons Wakeman’s cover, however, did not. In a stunning combination of luck and poor 19th-century healthcare, it seems the Army never discovered Lyons’ true identity. The military ironically lists Lyons Wakeman as an “honest” and “faithful” soldier, who died from chronic diarrhea while serving.

Back in New York, the U.S. census that took place shortly after the war makes no mention of a Rosetta Wakeman, only listing the now-dead Lyons. Rosetta’s family never mentioned their eldest daughter again, instead hesitantly referring to a long-gone sibling “who went by the name of Lyons,” according to Burgess’ research. It wasn’t until the 1970s, when Rosetta’s descendants examined a stack of faded letters kept in an attic, that the astounding legacy of Rosetta—aka Lyons—was made public.

Could the Army hospital have possibly never noticed Rosetta’s true gender? Experts say it’s more plausible than you’d think. “Even enlisting, they didn’t do a physical examination without any clothes on, and people didn’t look at other people’s naked bodies in those days,” says Longanecker.

Conspiracy theories, however, abound. Longanecker believes the nurses at Marine U.S.A. General sympathized with Rosetta’s desperate masquerade. “Because she had been in the Army for some time, and because she was a well-respected soldier, they didn’t say anything because it would have prevented her parents from receiving any compensation for her death,” Longanecker says. “It was a kind of hush-hush thing.”

While Rosetta’s death may still be clouded with unanswered questions, her military service and contribution to the war couldn’t be clearer. Today, as we raise the question of women’s readiness for combat, we only have to remember Rosetta Wakeman—and the countless other women who’ve secretly served alongside men—for our answer.

TIME Dating

OkCupid Rolling Out New Gender and Sexual Orientation Options

OkCupid manipulierte Nutzer
Maja Hitij—dpa/AP

The new feature isn't yet available to all users

Dating site OkCupid is granting select users additional options for listing gender identity and sexual orientation in their profiles.

“You’re part of a select group with access to this feature,” reads a message some users have reported seeing, according to pop culture site NewNowNext. “Keep in mind as we continue to work on this feature: For now, editing your gender and orientation is only supported on the desktop site.”

Users were previously only able to identify their genders as male or female and their sexual orientations as gay, straight or bisexual. Included in the new sexual orientation options are asexual, queer, questioning, pansexual, and sapiosexual (where intelligence is the most important factor in attraction). For gender, new options include cis men and women, transgender men and women, genderqueer, genderfluid, gender nonconforming, intersex and others.

It is unknown when these options will be available for all users.

[NewNowNext]

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