TIME Money

Banks Are Right To Be Afraid of the FinTech Boom

FinTech offers users an array of financial services that were once almost exclusively the business of banks

Americans across the economic spectrum struggle to manage their money. We spend too much, save too little, and wait too long to invest. While we could all be more responsible, access to services that facilitate sound financial decision-making is often concentrated at the top of the economic ladder. Each rung down, those resources get a little harder to come by, with those at the very bottom are often locked out of the financial mainstream. Poor and minority families historically have gotten caught between the rock of discriminatory practices like redlining and high-risk lending and the hard place of debt traps. Without access to banks, they find themselves subjected to the to the exorbitant fees and charges by providers of alternative financial services, such as check cashers and payday lenders.

Policymakers should take steps to ensure that all Americans have access to secure, functional, and affordable financial services, as these commodities are crucial to financial wellbeing. But in absence of policy action, the market has moved to fill the need. Financial technology companies (known collectively as FinTech) are broadening access to a range of services that they claim can help us manage our spending, save more money, and make investments in our long-term financial security.

FinTech offers users an array of financial services—from transactions to underwriting—that were once almost exclusively the business of banks. Personal finance apps like Acorns, Digit, and Mint help users track their spending and stay on budget without the assistance of a financial advisor. Personal lending innovators like Lending Club and Prosper enable users to bypass traditional intermediaries with a peer-to-peer lending platform. Companies like Betterment and Wealthfront that facilitate investments, financial planning, and portfolio management have emerged as popular alternatives to traditional wealth managers.

Investors have responded favorably to FinTech companies. Just six months into 2015, FinTech startups have raised nearly $12.4 billion from venture investments and are on track to double their backing over the previous year. While FinTech is booming, it’s unlikely to replace banks altogether, and many FinTech companies actually rely on existing bank accounts. But it is sapping away the banking sector’s profitability, which has raised concerns among traditional banks about their capacity to maintain low-margin services and in a rapidly changing marketplace.

Generally, banks follow a loss leader pricing strategy: They provide certain products (checking accounts) at a cost below their market value to stimulate the sales of more profitable products (loans) and to attract new customers. Now FinTech companies are extracting the most profitable portions of the banking model, leaving banks stuck with high overhead and less profitable products. To recoup their resulting market losses and mitigate the threat of FinTech insurgents, traditional banks and other legacy players in the financial sector are discussing a range of strategies, including charging more for low-margin services, closing bank branches to cut costs, and acquiring FinTech companies. Unfortunately, the impact of some of these strategies has the potential to disrupt the financial lives of low-income households.

The worst-case scenario for low-income families is FinTech’s drain on their profitability prompts banks to abandon their loss leader strategies. For people at the margins of the financial mainstream, the loss leader strategy is a financial lifeline that enables them to maintain checking and savings accounts. If banks compensate for lost revenue by raising fees and charges on current accounts, account ownership is likely to decline. Currently, over a quarter of American households are un- or underbanked. According to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, one in three unbanked households reported high or unpredictable account fees as a reason for not owning an account and approximately 13 percent reported this to be the main reason. Raising the cost of owning a bank account could drive even more people away from the banking system entirely.

While life with banks can be rough, life without banks can be brutal. Without access to a transaction account, households often turn to alternative financial products that charge exorbitant fees. The average underbanked household spends a staggering $2,412 each year on interest and fees alone. For many households, access comes down to proximity to a brick-and-mortar branch. But as banks look to slash costs, branches are closing in droves (nearly 2,599 in 2014). Low-income and minority neighborhoods are often the first areas targeted. Since late 2008, an astounding 93 percent of the bank branch closings have been in ZIP Codes with below-national median household income levels. And the rise of digital banking may contribute further to this trend as regulators consider a new proposal that would give banks more latitude to decide where they have physical branches.

If the threat to their business grows, banks could opt to use their superior resources to buy up FinTech companies. With the five biggest banks controlling nearly $15 trillion in assets, FinTech’s $12.4 billion in venture investments this year look like peanuts. Acquisition was the approach Capital One took earlier this year when it bought Level Money, an app that helps users track their spending. If proven profitable, it’s likely that other banks will start buying up the competition. While usurping the threat of FinTech by co-opting it may relieve immediate pressure on the banks, it won’t necessarily stop them from trying to cut costs in other ways that disproportionately impact those at the bottom rung on the income ladder. With the last 50 years of history at our backs (or even just the last 10), do we really want banks annexing every potential rival?

Competition is good, as is innovation, especially if they create inroads for new and currently underserved consumers to access and use traditional financial services. And for all their insurgent disruption, some FinTech startups have vision that traditional banks have lacked. They see underserved consumers as an emerging market, especially in developing countries where technological advances like mobile banking have been a key driver of financial inclusion.

The rise of FinTech gives policymakers a good opportunity to take stock of where we have been and where we should be going when it comes to providing the means for low and medium-income Americans to save for the future. As these market forces unfold, policymakers should be designing and supporting ideas that promote more financial inclusion, whether that means more community credit unions, subsidies and tax credits for financial services, or a government-run option like postal banking. Regardless of the provider, legislators need to make access to secure, functional, and affordable financial services for all Americans a bigger priority—and FinTech’s impact on the banking industry is bringing that need into sharper relief by the day.

Patricia Hart is a program associate with the Asset Building Program at New America. 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 society

World’s Oldest Man Dies in Japan at Age 112

The next title holder appears to also hail from Japan

Sakari Momoi, the world’s oldest living man, died at 112 from kidney failure at a Tokyo nursing home, Saitama city official Aya Kato said Tuesday, the Associated Press reports.

A former high school principal who loved Chinese poetry, he has said in the past that sleep was his secret to long life.

The title of world’s oldest living man would now go to another 112-year-old Japanese man, Yasutaro Koide, according to the most recent chart tracking super-centenarians compiled by the Gerontology Research Group.

On the opposite side of the globe, the world’s oldest living woman, Susannah Mushatt Jones, turned 116 on Monday in Brooklyn, New York. She eats four strips of bacon a day and has told TIME her faith in God is the secret to long life.

 

 

TIME Race

Why the Rhetoric of the Past Is Still Present

The Confederate Flag flies on the South Carolina State House grounds in Columbia, S.C. on June 24, 2015.
Jim wAtson—AFP/Getty Images The Confederate Flag flies on the South Carolina State House grounds in Columbia, S.C. on June 24, 2015.

An age-old stereotype has returned

This month, members of the Ku Klux Klan plan to rally in South Carolina in support of the Confederate flag. Claiming that the flag should not be taken down because “it is part of white people’s culture,” James Spears, the head of the Loyal White Knights chapter of the KKK set to host the rally, expressed support for Dylann Roof as well.

Spears told the South Carolina television station WHNS that he thinks Roof “picked the wrong target. A better target for him would have been these gang-bangers, running around rapping, raping and stealing.”

While Americans are now split on whether the flag is a racist symbol that should be removed from public spaces, the KKK’s defense of its values comes as no surprise. What is equally frightening but more surprising, however, is the return of an age-old stereotype that people of color, particular men of color, disproportionately and uncontrollably rape white women. Like the Confederate flag, this stereotype reproduces a violence that is not only racist but also deeply sexist.

On June 17, before Roof murdered nine African American members of the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C., including six women, he allegedly told a witness that “you rape our women and you’re taking over our country. And you have to go.”

A mere day before, when Donald Trump declared his bid for presidency, he invoked a similar refrain of scare tactics against Latinos: “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re sending people that have lots of problems and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.”

Despite losing a series of endorsements and business partnerships due to his comments, Trump has doubled, if not quadrupled, down on this rhetoric. Just last night on CNN, he told Don Lemon, “Well if you look at the statistics of people coming, you look at the statistics on rape, on crime, on everything coming in illegally into this country it’s mind-boggling!” Trump went to ask, “Well, somebody’s doing the raping, Don! I mean somebody’s doing it! Who’s doing the raping? Who’s doing the raping?”

The success of Trump’s diatribes, which has quickly earned him the No. 2 spot among GOP presidential candidates according to recent polls, is not only happening because his outbursts play well with the far right today. It also pulls on our nation’s history, in which these racial and sexual stereotypes of men and women have served a dual purpose: as a rhetorical shorthand to determine who and who does not deserve to be counted as an American citizen and as a longstanding justification for domestic terror against people of color.

In her book, Redefining Rape: Sexual Violence in the Era of Suffrage and Segregation, Stanford historian Estelle Freedman reveals that cultural and legal understanding of rape have always been tied to “the very meaning of citizenship in American history.”

According to Freedman, the rhetoric that African American men were disproportionately rapists became solidified in the late 19th century, while a similar typecasting occurred for immigrant men, Asian men, southern European and particularly Mediterranean men, whose cultures were depicted as threatening to both white women and young white boys alike. Perpetuated by court cases, news media, and racist popular culture, many African American men and immigrant men were unfairly criminalized in these trials and effectively shut out of the rights and benefits of full citizenship.

By contrast, many of the white men who wrote rape laws, determined who would be arrested and charged with these crimes, and served as judges and jurors on sexual assault cases, not only perpetuated these stereotypes but used them to protect their own status as full citizens. Consequently, rape laws, as Freedman writes, actually “contributed to the immunities enjoyed by white men who seduced, harassed, or assaulted women of any race,” and by doing so, reinforced their own “sexual privileges.”

The result of this double bind was another double harm: to those men who were disproportionately accused of rape because of their racial or cultural “otherness” and to the women, but particularly women of color, who remained vulnerable to sexual violence with little recourse for legal protection or public complaint.

Anti-lynching activist and suffragist Ida B. Wells most forcefully sought to expose and redress this double bind almost a century ago in the pamphlet “The Red Record” when she exposed how the myth of the black male rapist served to justify the widespread lynching of economically and politically mobile African American men and to safeguard white men who sexually assaulted African American women impunity from prosecution or public persecution.

Those who will gather this month to protest the removal of the Confederate flag will likely not be thinking of this history when they do, but its legacy seems alive and well. This double vulnerability was especially true as Roof invoked the stereotype of the black rapist as he murdered his victims, but Trump’s easy application of it in a press conference to other vulnerable groups – undocumented workers from the Caribbean and Central and South America and by extension, Latino Americans themselves – shows that neither the myth nor the violence that it once served to justify is a relic of the past.

Today, as more survivors come forward and politicians, activists, and students organize to reform sexual violence on college campuses and in U.S. military culture, the image of those accused of rape is slowly changing.

It would be easy to pair this progress with the rapid fallout in response to Trump’s dangerous remarks and Roof’s violent actions and conclude that these individuals are mere hangovers from a bygone era of racial and sexual terror.

But, that would be a misread of where we are as a society. Just this weekend, feminist comedian Amy Schumer took to Twitter to stave off criticism from piece in The Guardian that took her to task for a set of racially insensitive jokes. This was on the heels of another piece in the Daily Dot by Anne Thériault that took Schumer for task for a bit where she says, “‘I used to date Hispanic guys, but now I prefer consensual!’” Thériault wrote, “No matter how you parse this joke, it’s racist and awful. It’s not a smart critique of rape culture. It’s a white woman blithely saying that all Latino men are rapists.”

In response to these critiques, Schumer tweeted, “I ask you to resist the urge to pick me apart. Trust me. I am not a racist. I am a devout feminist and lover of all people. My fight is for all people to be treated equally.”

Given Schumer’s comedic repertoire and its progressive politics, we can assume that she believes that her off color remarks were taken out of context and were simply meant to be funny and not exclusionary or incendiary. Maybe.

But like just like the tired Confederate flag in which Roof draped himself, this rhetoric—in any context—continues to marginalize and harm people of color, particularly the women with whom Schumer claims solidarity. That these tired stereotypes came out of the mouth of racist killer shows how little we have progressed, that a wannabe conservative president and feminist comedian continue to stand by their own similar comments, shows how far we have to go.

Salamishah Tillet is an associate professor of English at the University of Pennsylvania. She is the author of “Sites of Slavery: Citizenship and Racial Democracy in the Post–Civil Rights Imagination” and is currently working on a book about Nina Simone. She is also the co-founder of A Long Walk Home, a Chicago-based national nonprofit organization that uses art to empower, educate, and mobilize young people to end violence against all girls and 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 society

Bree Newsome’s Confederate Flag Pole Climb Was an Artistic Statement

Here's why Bree Newsome's pole climb was an act of public art

On June 28, in the early hours of the morning, 30-year-old helmeted activist Bree Newsome scaled the flagpole at the South Carolina State House and cut down the controversial Confederate flag, which was first raised there in 1961, almost 100 years after the Civil War.


Bree Newsome takes down the Confederate flag at the South Carolina State House.

It’s easy to dismiss Newsome’s actions as a social media stunt. Many have ridiculed it as pointless (or worse, harmful) theatrics that might derail legal action to take down the flag permanently. For example, The Baltimore Sun quoted two South Carolina lawmakers – Democratic State Senator Marlon Kimpson and Republican State Senator Shane Massey – who called the action counterproductive:

Yes, Newsome was arrested and the flag went right back up.

But Newsome’s climb can be viewed as a significant piece of socially engaged performance art that brought attention to the flag issue. And in the long run, it will work to get it removed, while encouraging people to think about what the flag means, particularly to African Americans.

Two types of socially engaged art

Let’s take a closer look at why this is the case.

Socially engaged art can be divided into two categories: symbolic practice and actual practice. (Newsome’s climb is the latter.)

The ideas of symbolic and actual practice are key concepts in artist and performer Pablo Helguera’s book Education for Socially Engaged Art. Helguera, who’s also the curator of public programming for New York City’s Museum of Modern Art, sees symbolic practice as socially motivated representations of ideas or issues in an artwork.

An example of symbolic practice would be artist Sonya Clark’s timely pieces “Unraveled” and “Unraveling,” which went on display at New York’s Mixed Greens gallery just days before the Charleston murders occurred.

In the work, Clark presents two Confederate flags. With volunteers, Clark completely unraveled one during performances in the space, with the threads bundled into separate piles of red, white and blue. The other is partially unraveled.


Sonya Clark: Unraveling the Confederate flag.

As the website Mother Jones pointed out, Clark uses the flag unraveling “to evoke the slow, patient work of unraveling racism.” Her work encourages contemplation and calls attention to what the Confederate flag represents.

Actual practice projects, on the other hand, involve direct action that can have an impact outside of gallery walls. For example, Rick Lowe’s Project Row Houses preserved and revitalized an historic Houston neighborhood. Meanwhile, Tania Bruguera’s Immigrant Movement International provides public workshops, events, actions and partnerships with immigrant and social service organizations in Queens, New York.

These projects are large in scale, and are grounded in art and aesthetics. They provide actual social and community services in addition to gallery, performance and gathering spaces.

Public expression promotes change

In his book, Helguera highlights the importance of both types of practice. He also looks at Jürgen Habermas’s Theory of Communicative Action, which proposes that social change can happen after individuals engage in public conversations that are rationally argumentative in nature. In other words, people need to “duke it out” publicly in civil disagreement.

Helguera notes that communicative action “can have a lasting effect on the spheres of politics and culture as a true emancipatory force.” It’s more than just talk.

Activist artists like Favianna Rodriguez, whose work is grounded in empowering people around issues of inequality and racism, point out that artists and other cultural workers are essential to creating significant and lasting social change. They do this by changing hearts and minds through culture, and by eventually shifting power in communities. Rodriguez sees legislative and policy change as a two-step process, and insists that “before you change politics, you have to change culture.”

In the case of the Charleston shooting, connecting the Confederate flag’s symbolism with the killer of nine black people at Bible study in their church provides an opportunity for this kind of national conversation.

So here’s why Newsome’s climb was a work of performance art: even though it happened in real life and in real time, it acted as a metaphor for the dismantling of institutionalized racism. Her Superwoman-styled action added a collective exclamation point to the demands to remove the Confederate flag, while tapping into the deeply rooted American mythology of individual heroism.

Individuals can galvanize large groups of people, leading to permanent change – that part of the myth is true. Newsome’s actions spoke to people who are tired of waiting for racial justice, and reenergized them for the rest of the battle.

Though her act of cutting down the divisive flag from the South Carolina State Capitol failed to permanently remove it, it drew waves of continued media attention to the issue. She performed an action movie gesture as a vicarious and thrilling experience for anyone who wanted this symbol of the Confederacy – synonymous with racism for so many people – removed, even for a brief time.

The ConversationColette Gaiter is Associate Professor, Art and Social Change at University of Delaware.

This article was originally published on The Conversation

The Conversation

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 society

Utah Teen Bullied for Her Big Ears Gets Free Surgery

The teen said she was called names like "Dumbo"

A Utah surgeon gave free corrective surgery to a teen who was bullied for having big ears.

Isabelle Stark told PEOPLE kids in her high school would walk up to her and tug her protruding ears and call her “Dumbo.” But thanks to a surgeon who was no stranger to ear-related taunts while growing up, the 18-year-old was able to undergo a corrective procedure free of charge.

“I know what it’s like to be bullied about something you can’t control,” Steven Mobley, a Salt Lake City surgeon who runs a foundation that offers free ear-pinning surgery to low-income kids, told PEOPLE. “I’m really happy for Isabelle—now maybe she can move on to the next chapter of her life.”

Read more at PEOPLE.

Read Next: Nip. Tuck. Or Else

TIME celebrities

Pippa Middleton Runs Marathon at 5,000 Ft. — One Week After 54-Mile Bike Ride

Pippa Middleton Finishes London To Brighton Bike Ride For British Heart Foundation
Anthony Harvey—Getty Images Pippa Middleton Finishes the London To Brighton Bike Ride For British Heart Foundation on June 21, 2015 in Brighton, England

The 31-year-old was raising money for the Tusk Trust

Pippa Middleton is one fierce athlete.

Just one week after competing in a 54-mile charity bike ridealongside her brother James, the super-fit sister of Princess Katehas completed the Safaricom Marathon in Kenya, Africa, PEOPLE confirms exclusively.

The race is a particularly grueling one because of the thinner high-altitude air at more than 5,000 ft. There are two versions – the half and full marathon – and naturally, she opted to do all 26.2 miles, which runs through the Lewa Conservancy.

(The spot has a romantic tie to Kate: Prince William proposed nearby during a 2010 safari.)

Pippa and her friends were raising money for the conservation charity Tusk Trust, of which William is a patron.

“Pippa ran exceptionally well in a very tough marathon, wearing the Tusk cap,” a spokeswoman at Tusk tells PEOPLE. “We are absolutely delighted to have her support.”

It was a record-breaking year for the marathon, as 1,400 runners from about 20 different countries challenged themselves to do the run in temperatures that reached the 80s.

Pippa is not the only royal sibling in Africa, as Prince Harry is also on the continent for his dream job working alongside a veterinarian in Namibia.

Although Harry will miss the christening of his niece, Princess Charlotte, this Sunday, Pippa is expected to attend – and perhaps even score a coveted spot as a godparent.

This article originally appeared on People.com

TIME society

Justice Scalia Is Right—California Isn’t the Real West

california-state-flag
Getty Images

Zocalo Public Square is a not-for-profit Ideas Exchange that blends live events and humanities journalism.

But with immigration flatlining and the climate drying up, it may soon be

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia was on the wrong side of most Californians, and history, in his cranky dissent to last week’s landmark ruling legalizing same-sex marriage across the nation.

But, much as we might hate to admit it, Scalia was right when, in the same dissent, he argued that California isn’t part of the American West. And in so doing, he raised—almost certainly unwittingly—an important question about California’s future.

Scalia made his point via a swipe at his colleagues for being unrepresentative of the United States as a whole (and thus being foolish to impose their views on marriage equality on the entire country). After noting that all nine justices attended Harvard or Yale law schools and that only one grew up in the Midwest, he wrote: “Not a single Southwesterner or even, to tell the truth, a genuine Westerner.” But what about Justice Anthony Kennedy, who is from Sacramento? Scalia’s answer came parenthetically in the next line: “California does not count.”

The words “California does not count” prompted an array of California pundits and leaders to fly off the handle, and challenge the justice. How dare he disrespect California? Of course we count! “Antonin Scalia Doesn’t Heart California—or Get Us, Either,” said an LA Times headline.

Kamala Harris, California’s Attorney General and leading candidate for U.S. Senate, coolly countered Scalia—an old-school “originalist” who thinks the U.S. Constitution should be read as it was in 1789—with a line from old-school rapper Ice T: “Don’t hate the playa, hate the game.” You should know that Ice T’s line was inspired by one from Gandhi’s 1927 autobiography (“Hate the sin not the sinner”) and St. Augustine’s 424 A.D. letter (“with love for mankind and hatred of sins”), so Harris out-originalist-ed the originalist Supreme Court justice by more than 1,300 years. Snap.

Despite all the California retorts, Scalia’s fundamental point went unchallenged, perhaps because it is so clearly correct: California doesn’t fit in the American West. Or anywhere else, for that matter.

Indeed, the best book ever written about California—Carey McWilliams’ California: The Great Exception, published in 1949 and never out of print—is about precisely this reality. California is singular, among Western U.S. states, in how it was settled so early and grew so quickly. Our Western neighbors have always been slower, more plodding, less populous places. And so California became a ragtag giant among much smaller states in the West, defined by our sudden and explosive changes in culture, economy, and demographics.

“One cannot, as yet, properly place California in the American scheme of things,” wrote McWilliams, adding: “To understand this tiger all rules must be laid to one side. All the copybook maxims must be forgotten. California is no ordinary state; it is an anomaly, a freak, the great exception among the American states.”

Sixty-six years after those words were published, California is still an exception in many ways—we’re the only state to break ground on high-speed rail, we’re responsible for half of the country’s venture capital, and no one is as crazy about direct democracy as we are. Some, like the economist Bill Watkins at California Lutheran University, predict that coastal California will become even more exceptional, an ever-more-glittery playground for the global super rich, with the rest of California being populated by the working-class people who serve them.

But there is another possibility—that our state (or at least everything except the other-worldly Bay Area)—continues to change in ways that make us more closely resemble other Western states.

The crucial shift in this direction has been that California is no longer a state of arrival, a destination for the world. Immigration is flat. Over the last generation, more people have been leaving California for other states than have been moving here from the rest of the country. The high cost of living has been the prime force for driving out mostly lower-income folks.

Those outflows have given us more in common with neighboring states like Nevada, Arizona, Utah, Oregon—in two ways.

First, those states, having received so many Californians seeking more affordable housing, have effectively been colonized by us, and are beginning to vote and eat more like California. All four now have In-N-Out Burger outlets, as does Texas, another big destination for exiting Californians. And as we made huge hikes in tuition and limited enrollment in our public universities, more California high school graduates are heading to public universities in neighboring states. (I’ve seen see this phenomenon firsthand since I teach at Arizona State University).

Second, those of us left behind in California are also more Western—because we are more likely to have grown up here. In previous generations, California was populated by people from Asia, Latin America, and the American Midwest and South. But in today’s California, the majority is homegrown—born and raised in California—and the newer arrivals are more likely to be from Las Vegas than Little Rock.

This more-homegrown California is also becoming much older—and less dynamic. We remain more ethnically and racially diverse than other Western states, but there are signs that our diversity lead is narrowing. While out-migration from California slowed somewhat during the recession, it’s likely to pick up as our economy comes back and California becomes even more expensive.

It’s not just demography making us more Western; drought has a role too. We’re becoming a drier place, with dustier landscaping that resembles Arizona and Nevada. Last year, we finally regulated groundwater, as other Western states have been doing for years.

Of course, these trends could all change. But if they persist, and California continues to Westernize, it will pose questions for our state and our country. The fact that California was so exceptional often accelerated change nationwide. As the historian H.W. Brands has noted, the American dream was of slow, tedious Poor Richard’s Almanac-style growth until California became a state—and gave us a new, faster dream of rapidly accumulated wealth. Will it be good for us, and for America (Happy Birthday, by the way), if we become just another Western state?

For now, you are right, Justice Scalia. California doesn’t really count as Western. But time has a way of changing the meaning of many things, including marriage and our messy state.

Joe Mathews is California & innovation editor for Zócalo Public Square, for which he writes the Connecting California column.

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 sexuality

What It’s Like to Be a Lesbian in Love With a Man

xoJane.com is where women go to be their unabashed selves, and where their unabashed selves are applauded

For now, I am just trying to be true to myself

xojane

When I commit to something, I go all in. I didn’t just become a vegetarian, I became a vegan. I didn’t just cut back on alcohol when it became too much, I got sober for keeps. When I became a runner, I signed up for a half marathon, the most difficult one in the world. When I started dating a woman, I became a lesbian.

The year I came out, much to the dismay of my girlfriend who loved my long girly blond hair, I went full lesbian with a faux hawk and shaved steps. I loooooved it.

Of course, I didn’t just “become a lesbian.” I knew that I was bisexual since probably the age of six or seven when I started kissing my girlfriends on sleepovers. We would play house, and one of us would have to pretend to be the husband and the other the wife. This was the only acceptable premise of course for them, but I was kissing girls, so I didn’t care what story they were telling themselves. Sure, yes, this time you can be the girl, sweetheart.

When I had casual relationships with girls in college, I never seriously considered ever coming out because I never seriously considered it to be an option. Girl stuff was for fun, but not very serious. Since I liked boys too, I assumed that eventually there would be a serious boy-girl scenario in my future. I never imagined it any other way.

When I met my girlfriend at 24, and it became serious, I confronted my sexuality in a real way for the first time. I had never felt guilt, shame, or fear about my sexuality at any point in my life until I needed to confront it in a social and public way.

I had never once considered what it would be like to walk down the street holding a girl’s hand, or coming out to grand-parents or raising a child in a same-sex relationship. This is the lovely state most heteros get to inhabit for their entire existences, god bless them. I know it was bliss when I was there. (I can only imagine that this is something even remotely close to the blissful ignorance I enjoy as a white, first-world, employed, able-bodied cis gendered person.)

There were many sleepless nights as I came face to face with the reality of the heternormativity of my world and with the homophobia I had only ever scarcely considered a reality of my family and community. I had benefited my whole life from cis and straight privilege and never considered a time when I wouldn’t either benefit from both, or what it was like for people who didn’t.

The process maybe took about two years; I never in that time even considered the option of coming out as bisexual, though. I was in a committed relationship with a woman, we thought we were deeply in love and I thought it was forever. We talked about forever, and babies, and growing old together.

To me, in that place, there was no point in not going all in. What was the point in telling people I was also attracted to men if I had only the intention of living in a lesbian relationship for the rest of my life? I didn’t feel that it was fair to benefit from even the privileged status bisexuals maintain (objects of male desire, and perceived as existing for and within the hetero dynamic) and/or from presumed straightness. I went all in.

I got a “lesbian haircut.” I joined activist and political organizations that were fighting homophobia and transphobia. I marched in pride parades and dyke marches and became a spokesperson in public schools where I told my coming out story to kids. I started a gay blog, and I talked about LGBT issues on national television.

I did it all as a lesbian, because once I confronted the reality of heternormativity and my cis/gender privilege and straight privilege (as someone who walks around in the world often perceived as cisgendered and straight and benefits from it greatly), I felt like lesbianism was a social and political issue that mattered.

I believed that for the rest of my life, I would have to come out over and over again at new jobs, to new friends, to teachers, to my kid’s friends’ parents, to new neighbours and to authorities.

Living in a lesbian relationship meant that I would be treated like a lesbian for the rest of my life and it mattered that I not live in fear of prejudice and that I use my other class, race and gender privilege to join this battle.

Ironically or tragically, my relationship suffered from the pain of both real and internalized homophobia. For eight years, I almost never enjoyed even simple public affection like hand holding, a light touch or gesture from someone I loved when the moment might have called for it. We never had a romantic slow dance at a wedding or a romantic kiss on a beach at sunset. Things that give me butterflies, that make me blush, that make me feel blissfully desired and loved. It was a behind-closed-doors relationship and it suffered because of it.

When my relationship did end (I am sure you saw that coming!), I once again found myself in a strangely precarious situation: I wasn’t personally confused about my sexuality, but I have been feeling deep social uneasiness.

If I date a man, do I need to come out again? What will the gay community think? Will I lose all of my gay friends? Will I lose my identity? Do I want to lose that identity? What does it mean for “the cause”? How do I explain it to people? It was all about the social and not at all about the personal.

When I recently met a wildly lovely man who has made my heart burst out of my chest with passion and vulnerability and kindness and sincerity and intelligence, I resisted. How did this fit with my identity? Reverse coming out felt anxiety-inducing.

I didn’t prepare myself for was the guilt. The first time we walked hand in hand around my neighborhood, my heart was racing. When we kissed on a busy public street, I felt the heat rise up into my face. When we cuddled in the park, I felt eyes burning into me from all directions.

People were looking, but I was terribly aware that I was not a freakshow. I wasn’t been ogled. I didn’t need to be afraid of someone yelling at me, of someone being offended or someone offending me, or of violence and threats or being objectified by men. Little old ladies smiled at us as we walked by. Straight couples did little knowing straight couple exchanges.

I felt for the first time in a very long time that I could be present and be in the moment and be light-hearted and enjoy the newness of the romance, of the exchange of a smile, or the feeling of my hand in his. For the first time in a long time, the palms of my hands weren’t sweaty from anxiety and fear while holding hands in public. It was a relief.

In that relief, in that ease however, I felt overshadowed by guilt.

I am not sure how to shake it off yet. I don’t know how to not feel like I am abandoning my people and my cause, how to continue to fight the fight that is still being fought around the world and in my community for the right to walk down the street and not feel fear of retaliation, of disgust and of hatred.

For now, I am just trying to follow my heart and to listen deeply to my mind and body. And be true to myself.

Erika Jahn wrote this article for xoJane

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 society

Complaining About Manspreading Is Just as Bad as Fat Shaming

xoJane.com is where women go to be their unabashed selves, and where their unabashed selves are applauded

It’s not your business to regulate anyone else’s body

xojane

Alright, we’ve got our two buzzwords to play with; consider “fat shaming” with the following scenario: There is a larger bodied person boarding public transport, say a bus. This person is wider than the pre-molded seats. This person sits down and takes up the two-person row.

In one current Internet narrative, this person is doing nothing wrong, but merely taking up the space their body requires. You’re a jerk if you then get on the bus and find annoyance that the fat person is taking up more than one seat and you have to stand. To shame this person with mean words or glares or a passive-aggressive Facebook post would be to remove their bodily autonomy. Let’s please agree on this, okay?

To insist a fat person stand so two thin people might sit is wrong and rude. To suggest that the fat person’s body is at fault is appalling, and some might even claim it is discrimination.

And yet, if it was the same bus, with a passenger that is not obese but male-presenting, suddenly it’s fine to shame him online, to take his photo without permission, and even to come into nonconsensual, unprovoked physically contact with him.

This is part of a larger subculture that is more akin to a sickness than activism. It’s somehow okay to treat men as second class citizens and police their public actions while women should be allowed to do basically anything they want, including violating strangers by forcing them into contact with your behind. If we read a piece about a man on public transportation intentionally sitting on women’s purses/bags, or bigger people’s bodies, the collective internet would be in outrage.

There are actually a lot of good reasons a man might sit with his legs wide. One of these reasons is propagation of the human species. Namely, sitting down, especially in uniform pants/boilersuits or business casual slacks (a.k.a. the categories of workwear most men don), tend to bifurcate and cut into the man as he sits down. The inseam cuts into him as the fabric bunches and tightens over the quads, and cramming the legs towards each other amplifies the whole mess.

As well, men are more likely to take physically demanding jobs, participate in martial arts and high impact sports or activities, which all take an interesting toll on the body. For starters, let’s assume you don’t know how human joints work so I can pretend I’m smart.

Males have very narrow pelvises because they don’t need to pass a baby ever. These pelvises are also V-shaped, wider at the iliac crests and narrowing at the ischial tuberosities. The pelvic arrangement for the majority of men are narrow hips with very limited mobility and very little ability to externally rotate. Men tend to be taller, which means longer femurs and long femur necks, which also limit mobility of the hips.

Female femurs have a tapered shape on the other hand, wider at the hip joint and angling in at the knees. The sexual dimorphism of the pelvis is inarguable. Some things are simply going to be possible for the female pelvis and acetabula that are impossible or inaccessible to the male pelvis.

The lifestyle factors listed above coupled with the arrangement of the male pelvis and femurs have a common conclusion. I’ve known more men than I’d care to list who have “hip problems” or “tightnesss” that are actually severe injuries. They’d rather figure out accommodations on their own, like sitting with the legs wide, than do physio, yoga, or even see an ortho for surgical solutions. I’ve seen men blow out their knees trying to force hip mobility; restricted hips mean back problems and knee problems.

Coupled with the legs spread, notice that most creepshots of men sitting on public transpo are also slouching. This often is done with intent of relieving pain. Slouching rounds the lumbar spine into kyphosis rather than slight lordosis, its natural state. Manipulating the lower back is really common in men with hip issues, and spreading the knees wider is common in men with low back issues. Low back injuries, by the way, are more likely to be received on the job for men and are more likely to be chronic.

Unsurprisingly, all of this means sitting and standing, especially for long periods of time, is a painful process. Spreading the legs alleviates some of this distress. Still not buying it? Find a postnatal woman with sliding SI joints and ask her how sitting with her legs clamped for a long period of time together feels. Or a woman who needs labrum repair surgery.

It comes together to make sustained sitting with the thighs even close to parallel prohibitively uncomfortable for many men. In fact, depending on the pelvic construction and orthopedic history, it will be beyond painful but anatomically impossible for a large percentage of men to bring the knees together and to keep the knees held there without causing lasting damage and distressing pain.

This is not mansplaining, or any other derogatory portmanteau. This is the reality many men live with. Disclaimer: Yes, there are women with similar hip disorders, injuries, and construction, just as there are men with open hips and above average mobility. This doesn’t alter anything previously said, because the whole issue comes back to the policing of others’ bodily autonomy. If it’s inappropriate to sit on a fat person, a woman’s purse (or legs, for the women who put their feet up), why is it okay to strip anyone else’s autonomy and dictate their posture?

Now, not every man has a pelvic injury. No more so than every fat person has a socially acceptable ‘reason’ for fatness. Does this matter? No. It’s not your business to regulate anyone else’s body. Full. Stop. If a fat person taking up two or three seats on public transportation doesn’t bother you, you have no grounds for regulating how men sit.

If you’ve read this far and still think your comfort takes precedence over anyone else’s, for every manspreader you allegedly encounter, you must demand a fat person who is taking up more space than you think they deserve stand and give you their seat.

Julie Winters wrote this article for xoJane

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 Family

Why I Think It’s Selfish to Have an Adult-Only Wedding

The truth is, I just can't afford so many kids-free weddings

Wedding season + kids + babysitter = a tulle-filled circle of hell.

This summer, my husband and I have approximately 10,000 weddings to attend. O.K., that’s an exaggeration, but it definitely feels that way. In and of itself, our plenitude of weddings are a good thing. Drinks! Dinner! Butter cream frosting!

The only problem with all these weddings this summer is that the vast majority of them don’t include an invitation extended to our offspring.

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And while I totally get that most couples don’t want to fork over the cash to pay for some snotty-nosed children to eat a few rolls and bust a move in the chicken dance, adult-only weddings have become my nemesis.

On one hand, I love the idea of an adult-only wedding. The chance to eat a kids-free meal and drink it up with my husband — which actually means like two drinks because I’m the world’s biggest lightweight (thanks kids for those perpetual pregnancies) — is pretty much my idea of heaven right now.

But the truth is, I just can’t afford so many kids-free weddings.

And frankly, after the third one, they kind of lose their appeal a little. Green beans and rubbery chicken, a few painfully drunken toasts, did they cut the cake yet, and are you ready to go yet?

I know every couple thinks their wedding will be different and the event of the century, and I appreciate that — I really do. I’m happy for you all, and I’m sure you put a lot of thought into that cupcake table and the vintage-inspired centerpieces, and the photo booth props, really. But a wedding is a wedding is a wedding.

For couples that have kids, an adult-only wedding is a painful decision-making process that includes weighing the cost of a babysitter with the most special night of your lives, which is just another weekend in ours.

For us, to attend the ceremony and a reception, I’ll easily shell out over 100 bucks on a babysitter, plus the wedding gift. It’s a horrendously expensive date night and I’m sorry (and no offense to you and the love of your life), but that’s really asking a lot of your guests with young children.

I know you think that you might be doing us a favor by giving us a “night out,” but that’s not really the case when $100+ could buy me a whole lot of date night elsewhere.

Part of me doesn’t buy all the justifications couples use for not inviting kids to their wedding. The uber-fancy wedding, granted, I can accept. I wouldn’t want my kids breaking any crystal, either.

But if you’re like the rest of us, hosting a pretty standard wedding and reception and aren’t inviting kids because of the cost, it’s a tough pill for me to swallow. I’d rather bring my kids after dinner, or pop them on my lap to share my buttered roll, so we could all attend your special day without it costing me an arm and a leg to be there.

And is it just me or do kids sometimes make the party?

Who else has such a carefree lack of inhibitions (sober) on the dance floor? Who else can you do the robot with and not feel like an idiot? Everybody dances more when there are kids around and parents don’t have to hurry home to pay the sitter.

Don’t get me wrong, I will be a good little wedding guest this summer and shell out the cash to a sitter when I can, and send a polite card when I can’t, but part of me wishes that if you care enough to want me (or my money) at your wedding, you could make it a little easier on me to be there with my family.

Because I want to be there, I really do, but preferably not while going bankrupt in the process.

This article originally appeared on YourTango

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