TIME Opinion

Lena Dunham’s Story of Rape Is a Must-Read

Lena Dunham, author of 'Not That Kind of Girl'
Lena Dunham, author of 'Not That Kind of Girl' Autumn de Wilde

In Not That Kind of Girl Dunham tells us why denial is simpler, at least in the beginning

The most remarkable part of Lena Dunham’s new memoir Not That Kind of Girl: A Young Woman Tells You What She’s “Learned” begins with a seemingly unremarkable story. Dunham writes a darkly humorous essay about a time she realized in the middle of sex that a condom she thought her partner had put on was hanging from a nearby plant.

“I think…? the condom’s…? In the tree?” I muttered feverishly.

“Oh,” he said, like he was as shocked as I was. He reached for it as if he was going to put it back on, but I was already up, stumbling towards my couch, which was the closest thing to a garment I could find. I told him he should probably go, chucking his hoodie and boots out the door with him. Th next morning, I sat in a shallow bath for half an hour like someone in one of those coming-of-age movies.”

It’s an experience similar to a scene you might see on her HBO show Girls: a little disturbing and a little funny with a lot of nudity.

But then Dunham does something interesting: after finishing out the chapter, entitled “Girls & Jerks,” she forces the reader to double back. “I am an unreliable narrator,” she writes. And with those words, we dive back into the story of Barry, the guy who flung the condom into the tree. “[I]n another essay in this book I describe a sexual encounter with a mustachioed campus Republican as the upsetting but educational choice of a girl who was new to sex when, in fact, it didn’t feel like a choice at all.”

Lena Dunham says she was raped, though she didn’t immediately know that it was rape.

Like many college girls, a mix of alcohol, drugs, unspoken expectations and shame may have kept her from using the “r” word to refer to the act until years later. She says that she rewrote history in her head, coming up with many versions (including the one above). The real tale — or what she remembers of it — is much more painful. It begins at a party where Dunham is alone, drunk and high on Xanax and cocaine. It’s in that state that she runs into Barry, who she describes as “creepy,” and who sets off an alarm of “uh-oh” in her head as soon as she sees him.

Barry leads me to the parking lot. I tell him to look away. I pull down my tights to pee, and he jams a few of his fingers inside me, like he’s trying to plug me up. I’m not sure whether I can’t stop it or I don’t want to.

Leaving the parking lot, I see my friend Fred. He spies Barry leading me by the arm toward my apartment (apparently I’ve told him where I live), and he calls out my name. I ignore him. When that doesn’t work, he grabs me. Barry disappears for a minute, so its just Fred and me.

“Don’t do this,” he says.

“You don’t want to walk me home, so just leave me alone,” I slur, expressing some deep hurt I didn’t even know I had. “Just leave me alone.”

He shakes his head. What can he do?

After the two return to her apartment, Dunham does everything she can to convince herself that what’s happening is a choice. “I don’t know how we got here, but I refuse to believe it’s an accident,” she writes. She goes on to describe the event in graphic detail. Once he has forced himself on her, she talks dirty to him, again, to convince herself that she’s making a choice. But she knows she hasn’t given her consent. When she sees the condom in the tree — she definitely did not consent to not using a condom — she struggles away and throws him out.

Dunham — drunk and high — was in no condition to consent according to the new rules being implemented at many campuses across the country. And in Dunham’s second story, the flung away condom and his aggressiveness make it clear that Barry did not care about what Dunham wanted.

It’s her roommate that first tells her the encounter was a rape, but Dunham doesn’t believe her: “Audrey’s pale little face goes blank. She clutches my hand and, in a voice reserved for moms in Lifetime movies, whispers, ‘You were raped.’ I burst out laughing.”

Though for decades we’ve thought of the rapist as a man who lurks in alleyways, the data shows he’s more likely an acquaintance, friend or even a boyfriend. Approximately two-thirds of rape victims know their attacker, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. That makes it all too easy for skeptics to accuse women of making false claims of rape: “Despite hysterical propaganda about our ‘rape culture,’ the majority of campus incidents being carelessly described as sexual assault are not felonious rape (involving force or drugs) but oafish hookup melodramas, arising from mixed signals and imprudence on both sides,” writes Camille Paglia for Time.

Such statements suggest that anyone can be a rapist if they’ve had enough to drink. But one study showed that nine out of 10 men who described committing acts of sexual assault on college campuses to researchers, said they had done so more once. And on average, a perpetrator will assault six people. “Part of the problem is a pure lack of understanding of the true nature of campus sexual assault. These are not dates gone bad, or a good guy who had too much to drink. This is a crime largely perpetrated by repeat offenders,” Senator Kirsten Gillibrand wrote for Time.

And given how difficult it is to report a rape — it can involve an invasive rape kit exam, an investigation and trial that can last for years and interrupt your academic and social life and accusations that you are a liar — there seems to be little motivation to fake such an event. Filing a complaint with the university or police forces the victim to deal with the fact that someone had control over them, over their bodies. Denial is simpler, at least in the beginning.

Perhaps that explains Dunham’s laugh. It certainly explains why, according to the Rape and Incest National Network (RAINN), 60% of rapes go unreported.

It’s not till she pitches the first, tamer version of the story for a plot line in the writer’s room of Girls that Dunham comes to the realization that she was raped. Here’s how she describes the reaction to her pitch:

Murray shakes his head. “I just don’t see rape being funny in any situation.”

“Yeah,” Bruce agrees. “It’s a tough one.”

“But that’s the thing,” I say. “No one knows if it’s a rape. It’s, like, a confusing situation that…” I trailed off.

“But I’m sorry that happened to you,” Jenni says. “I hate that.”

Dunham has since become a fierce advocate of campus reform when it comes to matters of sexual assault. Dunham’s sister wrote “IX” on the top of her graduation cap during the #YesAllWomen Twitter campaign this year in honor of Title IX, the federal statute that mandates schools protect victims of sexual assault (among other things).

But sharing her own story is perhaps her bravest work of activism yet. We are still in a culture where women are told that they are to blame for anything that happens if they drink and bring a man home. “I feel like there are fifty ways it’s my fault…But I also know that at no moment did I consent to being handled that way,” Dunham writes in the book. Dunham has come under fire for being too self-indulgent, revealing too much. But in this case, her candor may become a lifeline for women who’ve been through something similar and are feeling confused and alone.

Read Roxane Gay’s review of Not That Kind of Girl, which hits bookstores on September 30th, here.

TIME Opinion

Fraternities Are Their Own Worst Enemies, Not Drunk Girls

Beer Pong Oxford—Getty Images

A Forbes contributor warns frat guys that one intoxicated female guest could bring down the whole organization

Bill Frezza, the president of the alumni house corporation for MIT fraternity Chi Phi Beta, wrote a post on Forbes’ contributor network on Tuesday entitled “Drunk Female Guests Are the Gravest Threat to Fraternities.” In the article, which has since been taken down but can be viewed through Google cache here (note the incredibly offensive stock image of a drunk girl in the post), he argues that female students who binge drink before going to fraternity house parties are more responsible for frat closures and suspensions than the actions of the frat members themselves. He implies that these intoxicated girls are the cause of sexual assault allegations, not the drunk boys who allegedly attack them. And he ignores altogether the prevalent problem of death and injury by hazing at frats.

The post contains disturbing lines like, “Although we were once reprimanded for turning away a drunk female student who ultimately required an ambulance when she passed out on our sidewalk, it would have gone a lot worse for us had she collapsed inside.” (No matter that it would have “gone better” for the girl had she not been left in the street.)

“His shockingly embarrassing argument sums up the most disturbing angles of that socially corporate fraternity worldview,” says Andrew Lohse, author of Confessions of an Ivy League Frat Boy. “The problem he’s identifying is not, ‘Look at these terrible things that could happen to someone like being raped or dying of alcohol poisoning.’ The problem that he’s identifying is that the fraternity is at risk. And in my experience that’s the ideology that keeps this whole system running: If they cared about the health and safety of the individual, these organizations would probably not exist.”

Indeed, the post is inherently misogynistic and upsetting, for reasons outlined by others, but it’s bombastic claim is also incorrect: women are not the biggest threat to fraternities; fraternities are the biggest threat to themselves.

Frezza contends that fraternity boys are always on the best behavior because, after all, fraternities have rules. “[The fraternity's] risk management manual exceeds 22 pages,” he writes. “We take the rules very seriously, so much so that brothers who flout these policies can, and will, be asked to move out. But we have very little control over women who walk in the door carrying enough pre-gaming booze in their bellies to render them unconscious before the night is through.” He cites an incident where an intoxicated girl “danced out” a frat house window, thereby ruining the party.

But evidence points to the contrary: fraternity brothers drink excessively too–rule books be damned.

Lohse, who was in Sigma Alpha Epsilon at Dartmouth—upon which the rival Omega House in the movie Animal House was based—says that they also had handbooks at their frat. “It became a joke in the fraternity. Obviously nobody really cared about it, and that’s part of being in a fraternity: not caring about things like that.” He recalls one instance when a young woman became so intoxicated on his fraternity’s mix of “jungle juice,” a highly alcoholic punch that was illegal on campus, that she passed out. Three members of the fraternity dragged her to the library nearby and left her there so that they wouldn’t get in trouble for getting her drunk.

Such atrocious incidents are mild compared to what some frats are accused of in court. Fraternities are regularly involved in litigation surrounding hazing deaths, usually as a result of binge drinking by pledges. Take some examples from just the past few years: a student rushing Sigma Phi Epsilon at Clemson allegedly fell off a bridge during a pledge activity; 22 students in Pi Kappa Alpha at Northern Illinois University have been charged in the death of a student who was forced to drink 40 ounces of vodka in less than 90 minutes; and another student at the University of Delaware died of alcohol poisoning after being told he had to consume a full bottle of booze at a party.

Lohse’s former fraternity Sigma Alpha Epsilon suspended pledging nationally this spring after a string of hazing deaths. From 2007 to 2011, 80 of S.A.E.’s 223 chapters had action taken against them by their respective colleges and universities for such incidents, according to the fraternity’s own website.

Binge drinking within fraternities, in fact, is so great that insurance companies factor it into their calculations for the organizations. “The National Association of Insurance Commissioners ranked fraternities as the sixth worst insurance risk in this country, just behind hazardous waste disposal companies and asbestos contractors. One insurance broker for fraternities boasts of handling more than 6,000 claims and $60,000,000 in payouts,” Douglas Feinberg, who represents victims of violence, wrote for TIME.

In the Forbes article, Frezza dismisses accusations of sexual assault against his and other fraternities as false claims of sexual assault and skeptically calls women who experience rape “victims” using quotes. But a 2007 study found that fraternity brothers are three times more likely to commit sexual assault than men on campus who did not pledge.

“There’s a clear correlation between fraternity culture and sexual assault on college campuses,” says Lohse, who argues frat culture warps members’ view of consent: “It becomes internalized during initiation into the fraternity. When you talk about hazing, nobody is really consenting to it. The power dynamic of being coerced to do all these humiliating and sexualized or homoerotic things [during hazing] mirrors this power dynamic that many people would argue occurs when women walk into a fraternity.”

Again, the threat of sexual assault at fraternities can be literally quantified: “Of the many thousands of insurance claims that are made against fraternities each year, those for sexual assault are the second most common, so predictable, in fact, that the related expenses are built into annual budgets,” Caitlin Flanagan, a contributing editor at The Atlantic where she recently completed a deep investigation of fraternity culture, recently wrote for TIME.

If Chi Phi Beta at MIT is shut down, it won’t be because of the intoxicated female guests ushered quickly inside. It will be because of the traditions ingrained in fraternity culture where binge-drinking and blurred lines are all too common.

TIME Opinion

Why JFK Conspiracy Theories Won’t Go Away

Lee Harvey Oswald
The November 23, 1963, mugshot of Lee Harvey Oswald Hulton Archive / Getty Images

We’ve known the truth for 50 years, but many continue to deny the facts

Half a century ago today, the Warren Commission released its comprehensive 888-page report, concluding that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone in assassinating President John F. Kennedy. Since then, exhaustive investigations, such as those by Gerald Posner (Case Closed, 2002) and especially Vincent Bugliosi (Reclaiming History, 2007) have backed up that original finding: Oswald acted alone.

Nevertheless, according to a 2009 CBS News poll, between 60 and 80 percent of Americans believe that President Kennedy was the victim of a conspiracy; that is, that there was more than one shooter in Dealy Plaza that November day in 1963.

Consider just a few of the many facts that are not in the conspiracy believers’ favor: Oswald’s Carcano bolt-action rifle — with his fingerprints on it — was found on the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository building, where he was employed, in a sniper’s nest he built out of boxes that also had his fingerprints on them. Three bullet casings there match what 81% of eyewitnesses in Dealey Plaza reported hearing — three shots. (And tests with this rifle found that three shots are possible in the amount of time he had.) It was the same rifle Oswald purchased by mail order in March 1963. Co-workers saw him on the sixth floor of the Book Depository building shortly before JFK’s motorcade arrived, and saw him exit soon after the assassination. Oswald went home, picked up his pistol and left again, shortly after which he was stopped by Dallas Patrolman J.D. Tippet, whom Oswald shot dead with four bullets, all witnessed by numerous observers. He then fled the scene and ducked into a nearby theater without paying. The police were summoned and Oswald was confronted. He pulled out his revolver and attempted to shoot the first officer but the gun failed and he was arrested, saying, “Well, it is all over now.”

So why, 50 years later, do the conspiracies persist? There are several psychological factors at work:

Cognitive dissonance. Big effects need big causes — we want balance between the size of the cause and the size of the effect. Example: The Holocaust is one of the worst crimes ever committed in history and its cause was the Nazi government, one of the most criminal regimes in history. There’s a balance. JFK was the most powerful political person on the planet, yet he was killed by a lone nut, a nobody living on the margins of a free society. There’s no balance. To reduce this dissonance and balance the scales, people have concocted countless co-conspirators (some 300 total) to stack on the “cause” side of the scale, including the KGB, Communists, radical right-wingers, the CIA, the FBI, the mafia, Castro, pro-Cuban nationalists, the Military Industrial Complex and even Vice-President Johnson (in a coup d’état). We saw a similar effect unfold when Princess Diana died. The cause of her death? Drunk driving, speeding, no seatbelt — but Princesses are not suppose to die of common causes. So, to dissipate the dissonance, conspiratorial cabals, everyone from the Royal family to the MI5 British intelligence agency, were conjectured to have been the real cause.

Anxiety. Psychological research also shows that when people are placed in environments or conditions in which they feel anxiety and a loss of control, they are more likely to see illusory patterns in random noise and to look to conspiracies as explanations for ordinary events. Sociological research has also found that natural disasters such as hurricanes and earthquakes lead people to think that there are conspiratorial forces at work. The assassination of JFK was exceptionally disrupting and anxiety-producing, so it fits the bill.

Randomness. Another psychological factor at work is that the mind abhors randomness. We humans are terrible at understanding chance and probabilities. We find hidden patterns everywhere, even in purposefully random sequences and noise. And yet much of what goes on in life, in politics and in history at large is the product of chance and randomness. By this I do not mean to imply that JFK was killed by a random event, but that Oswald acting alone feels like a random factor when compared to a vast conspiratorial cabal plotting to overthrow the United States government.

Some conspiracy theories are real — Lincoln’s assassination, Watergate — so we should not dismiss them all out of hand without first examining the evidence. But once an unmistakable pattern unfolds before our eyes — as it has, for 50 years straight, in the case of JFK’s lone killer — it’s time to let the President RIP, for this conspiracy theory is DOA. QED.

Michael Shermer is the Publisher of Skeptic magazine (www.skeptic.com), a monthly columnist for Scientific American, and an adjunct professor at Claremont Graduate University and Chapman University. He is the author of Why People Believe Weird Things and The Believing Brain. His next book is The Moral Arc: How Science and Reason Lead Humanity Toward Truth, Justice, and Freedom.

TIME feminism

Emma Watson Asked Men to Support Women And Here’s How They Responded

HeForShe Campaign Launch
Emma Watson attends the launch of the HeForShe Campaign at the United Nations on September 20, 2014 in New York City. Steve Sands—WireImage/Getty Images

By threatening to circulate nude pictures and spreading rumors of her death, of course

Updated: September 23, 5:00 p.m. ET

On Saturday, Emma Watson delivered a rousing speech at the UN Women’s HeforShe launch event, calling on men to join the global fight for women’s equality.

“The more I have talked about feminism, the more I’ve realized that fighting for women’s rights has too often become synonymous with man-hating,” she said. “If there is one thing I know for certain, it is that this has to stop.”

But while more than 68,000 men worldwide have so far signed on to the HeforShe campaign, some users on the notorious 4chan message board have allegedly threatened to expose nude pictures of Watson. Is it a coincidence that this comes right after her speech? Probably not.

A countdown website entitled “Emma You are Next” surfaced after Watson’s speech, labeled with a 4chan logo and featuring an ominous ticking timer. Some suspect that the countdown signals the upcoming release of nude photos of Watson, since 4chan has been blamed for the leaks of other nude photos of celebrities like Jennifer Lawrence and Rihanna. But some 4chan users have allegedly denied that any user has the nudes in the first place. It’s also possible that the countdown clock is a hoax, Business Insider points out, since 4chan users are known for cruel pranks.

While it’s not clear that the website is a direct retaliation for Watson’s comments at the UN, outlets like Cosmopolitan and Slate are reporting that 4chan commenters acknowledged setting up the website because of her “stupid feminist speeches,” and called her a “feminist bitch.” (The original 4chan comments could not immediately be located.)

Other internet pranksters are starting a rumor that Emma Watson is dead, by circulating the hashtag #RIPEmmaWatson:

In her speech, Watson said, “no country in the world can yet say they have achieved gender equality.” The shadowy anonymous internet users may have just proved her right.

More: Here’s What 18 Famous Women Think About Feminism


TIME Opinion

Garrison Keillor’s Convincing Argument for Autumnal Laziness

'It's a lovely life, doing nothing,' the Prairie Home Companion host wrote

It’s here: autumn.

Tuesday is the official first day of the season, which means that summer is officially over, and not just in a no-wearing-white kind of way. But, as Garrison Keillor argued in the pages of TIME back in 2001, that doesn’t mean that a summery lifestyle has to be over too.

At the time, the A Prairie Home Companion host and sometime-TIME columnist had recently undergone open-heart surgery and had spent over a month doing, as he put it, nothing. And, he found, nothing was something that was pretty great to do:

Back when I was a kid, I spent a summer picking potatoes at a neighbor’s farm. Slouched up and down the rows, stooped over, dragging a burlap bag full of spuds, dust in my nostrils, body all aching and racked with pain, and it seems to me that I have been picking potatoes in one form or another ever since. The boss man, Mr. Marse, kept telling me that potato picking is a great challenge and a boon to civilization and the manly thing to do and that if I quit working, my life would lose purpose and meaning and I would be unable to bear the shame.

You were wrong about that, Mr. Marse.

Rather, he argued, being lazy helps you get in touch with the real you — and the end of summer shouldn’t mean the end of that.

You can read the full essay here, free of charge, in TIME’s archives: In Praise of Laziness


‘My HIV Child Is Playing with Your Child, and You Don’t Know It’

One mom's essay about hiding her children's HIV status went viral after it was posted on the Scary Mommy blog.

In 1965, Kurt Vonnegut reminded us earthlings that there is only one rule for living on this planet: You’ve got to be kind. In God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater, Vonnegut wrote: “Hello, babies. Welcome to Earth. It’s hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It’s round and wet and crowded. At the outside, babies, you’ve got about a hundred years here. There’s only one rule that I know of, babies—God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.”

It’s a rule that bears repeating, especially when stories like Jenn Mosher’s are making the rounds, reminding us all what an un-kind world we live in. Mosher wrote a brutally honest, powerful and thought-provoking essay at Scary Mommy about feeling that she must hide her children’s HIV positive status. The story went viral with 37,700 shares on Facebook and 637,725 likes. “My HIV child is playing with your child, and you don’t know it,” she bluntly wrote before going on to explain that her children have no sign of the disease in their blood, take medication every night and live the happy go-lucky lives of happy go-lucky children. But Mosher is worried that if her children’s HIV status is known, her community, friends, even school will shun her and her children.

When Mosher writes about fears of her children being stigmatized, it’s not the children on the playground she is worried about. Kids don’t know or care about such things, but their parents do. It’s the mothers and fathers who simply don’t understand that HIV isn’t a viral boogeyman lurking on toilet seats or playground swings. (In fact, it never was.) Now, as Mosher writes, HIV is a manageable illness that is not contagious through normal contact:

“Modern medications render the virus powerless. Every four months my child has her blood checked, and every time the results are the same: the sensitive lab tests detect no virus in her bloodstream. She is healthy, happy, and hilarious. I bandage her scraped knees; mop up bloody noses; share food, water, and kisses; and deal with boogies—all with no risk and no worries about contracting HIV.”

Parents who haven’t kept up on advances in HIV (and who has time, what with modern parenting being the all-hands-on-deck enterprise that it is?) may not know or understand that modern medicine has rendered HIV inert and Mosher’s essay addresses that. “Please, fellow mommies, know that HIV is nothing to be afraid of,” she writes and encourages parents with questions to seek answers from their own pediatricians. “Please look online, google it, and talk with your pediatrician. Learn and research so that you know the truth, too. You don’t have to take my word for it,” she wrote.

Still, Mosher has her own fears, but hers are not so much for her children’s physical health, but their mental and social well-being. “Fear that my children will be disinvited from birthday parties,” Mosher explained to Buzzfeed, “uninvited from gymnastics teams, kicked out of private school, and excluded and despised because of misinformation and baseless fear — as some others we know have been.”

Why would a school or a gymnastics team kick out a child with no sign of disease but a specter of a once-scary virus? Why would a parent disinvite a child to a birthday party over something they were born with? The combination of a lack of education and unfounded fear are a deadly cocktail, which can wreak far more damage on a child than an inert virus. But there’s something even more basic at play, too— the fact that many parents have forgotten one of the basic tenets of life on earth: kindness.

One silver lining of Mosher’s story is this: While internet comments are normally the antithesis of kindness, Mosher told Buzzfeed that she found thoughtful moms offering support, advice and even friendship. “They encouraged me, invited us on play dates, and made me realize that our tribe is definitely out there,” she told Buzzfeed. “They made my husband and I want to be braver.”

Essays like Mosher’s are important, because they teach from a place of kindness. They strive to inform, not yell or name call. They make people want to listen and become informed. Her essay reminds us all how far we have come since the days when Ryan White was shunned from his school, forced to eat with disposable utensils, use separate bathrooms, and skip gym class. But the essay also reveals how far we as a society still have to go to learn to live together on this round and wet and crowded planet.

I try to teach my son to be kind and his school reinforces those lessons of inclusiveness. If one of his schoolmates is HIV positive, I hope he learns about the differences that make up this melting pot of a country. I hope he learns acceptance of those differences, whether skin color, weight, ability or boogeymen lurking in their bloodstream. And I hope most of all that he learns to be kind to everyone, no matter how different, while he learns how we are all very much the same.

TIME Opinion

Schools Are Still Slut-Shaming Girls While Enforcing Dress Code

RK Studio—Getty Images/Blend Images

Don't teach girls to cover themselves from the male gaze. Teach boys to look at something else.

Another school year, another slut-shaming controversy. This time the culprit is Tottenville High School in Staten Island, New York, which handed out 200 detention slips for dress code violations in the first few days of the semester, about 90% of which went to female students. Why did the girls get pulled from class and kept after school? Apparently their clothing was “disruptive to teaching and learning.” This means that girls wearing leggings, tank tops, low-cut blouses or too-short shorts or skirts are deemed “too distracting” for the boys to handle.

As I’ve written before, dress codes often encourage teachers to slut shame. Rules for girls are blatantly sexual in nature—”cover your skin”—but are not for boys. In fact, the rules are so uneven, that Jessica Valenti recently pointed out in the Guardian they could be violations of Title IX, the law that forbids gender discrimination in schools.

Instead of teaching boys to keep their eyes on their books and not on their co-eds’ bodies, schools think it better to tell girls that they are dressing “inappropriately” or that their clothing is too “distracting.” In doing so, they make girls feel guilty for boys’ actions. The argument is not a far cry from telling sexual assault victims that they were “asking for it” by dressing a certain way. And it conditions boys to victim-blame women later in life.

That’s why students in both Illinois and Texas protested dress code rules last year, picketing in leggings and wielding signs that read “Are my pants lowering your test scores?” They argued that the rules blatantly discriminated against girls. Another group of students at a school in New Jersey began a social media campaign using the hashtag #IAmMoreThanADistraction.

TIME Opinion

Women Don’t Have to Boycott the NFL

Adrian Peterson of the Minnesota Vikings
Adrian Peterson of the Minnesota Vikings Hannah Foslien—Getty Images

An argument for feminists who watch football

I am a feminist who writes about feminist issues. I spent all of last week writing about NFL players Ray Rice, Ray McDonald and Adrian Peterson, all of whom have recently been or are currently being investigated over allegations of domestic violence or child abuse. When accusations surfaced that the NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and many others in the league might have systematically tried to cover up a video of Ray Rice punching his wife, I was disgusted and outraged.

And yet on Sunday, I kicked back and tuned in to football without any qualms. Am I a hypocrite?

A lot of smart journalists, columnists and sports casters say that I am. They would tell me that the NFL doesn’t care if I’m a conflicted fan, as long as it is getting my money. That only actions will bring about change because words of outrage result in lackluster press releases. That the NFL is a corrupt institution which I simply cannot support if I care about women. Keith Olbermann probably said it best when he accused all NFL fans of being “accessories after the fact.”

The truth is, America’s obsession with football was problematic long before TMZ released the Ray Rice video. From the toll it inflicts on players’ bodies and brains to the undeniable link between the violence on the field and off, there’s an excellent argument that we should all boycott football, regardless of who’s running the NFL. As Americans, we use metaphors of hope, heroism and heartbreak to justify what is essentially a bloodlust for a brutal sport. (The parallels between football and war are undeniable: former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, the heir apparent to the NFL commissioner spot if Goodell does step down, has reportedly compared managing the league to military strategy.)

And the NFL, perhaps more than any other sports league, thinks in terms of dollars and cents to the detriment of their players, their fans and society as a whole. It is the NFL’s avarice that has allowed team owners to applaud Goodell as he has fumbled his way through scandal after scandal because, after all, he has increased their revenue. As football-fan-turned-boycotter Steve Almond puts it in his recent book Against Football: One Fan’s Reluctant Manifesto, “At what point do we admit that the NFL’s true economic function is to channel our desire for athletic heroism into an engine of nihilistic greed?”

And yet I will still watch this evil league, and I must admit I struggled to justify that decision.

There’s the “but this isn’t happening on my team” argument. Why should the many players in the league be punished for the mistakes of the few? Whether they agree with Adrian Peterson’s parenting techniques or not, they must still take the field every week, and we as fans should be able to support them.

That argument, of course, falls apart if you’re a fan of the Baltimore Ravens (Ray Rice), Minnesota Vikings (Adrian Peterson) or San Francisco 49ers (Ray McDonald)…or really a fan of any team. The police made 84 arrests of players for domestic violence charges between 2000 and 2013, and no player received more than a one-game suspension as punishment from the league.

There’s the “let the legal system handle it” argument. As a society we create laws to govern our behavior. If the legal system works as it should, then the employees of the NFL who break laws will be investigated and brought to justice. The NFL, on the other hand, is a massive corporation (albeit a non-profit one for confounding reasons) whose interests should be economic at their core. Why would we as fans have any moral responsibility to push them to act otherwise?

But the debate here isn’t whether the prosecutor screwed up the Ray Rice case. (He did.) The debate is whether we as fans ought to hold the NFL to the most basic ethical standards. As far as I know, Roger Goodell hasn’t broken any laws, and the NFL can punish its players as it pleases. That doesn’t mean we have to blindly hand over our dollars when Goodell does something with which we disagree. Ambivalence is a cop-out. If we can refuse to buy Chris Brown tickets because he abused Rihanna or refuse to shop at Hobby Lobby because we believe women should have access to their preferred form of birth control, then we should be able to boycott the NFL. Indeed, if the NFL does only think in terms of economics, that’s all the more reason we should withhold our dollars to pressure them to change.

Then there’s the “my vote doesn’t count” argument. Realistically, there are never going to be enough people boycotting the NFL to make even a dent in their revenue. So why bother?

If everyone thought this way about voting in elections nobody would vote. That said, this argument does have some merit: die-hard football fans aren’t going to budge, and I’m betting ardent feminists don’t make up too much of the NFL’s viewership. But let’s be honest, despite what I said earlier about hitting the NFL where it hurts the most—their wallets—nothing will ever stop the cash flow. If you feel strongly about women’s rights and have a platform from which to express your views (say, a Twitter account) then you can make a difference at least in your circle of friends and contacts by forcing them to think about the debate. “I’m just one person” is not an excuse morally, even if it is one practically.

So how am I reconciling my beliefs and practices?

Boycotting the NFL is simply not the best way to change its behavior. In a great video about why she is not boycotting the NFL, Fox Sports’ Katie Nolan says that boycotting would “just remove critical thinkers from the conversation.” Nolan advocates for change within the system. In her case, that means more women getting more robust roles in sports media. For those without media credentials, that means lobbying hard until Roger Goodell is forced to step down.

But where does that leave the average fan? It turns out in 2014, we’re much more powerful than ever before thanks to social media. Ten years ago, the Ray Rice story might have come and gone in days. But the Ray Rice video spread like wildfire thanks to Facebook, and Twitter campaigns like #FireGoodell have kept the scandal at the forefront as the season has begun. It was only under pressure from fans that the NFL suspended Rice indefinitely. Similar fan outrage forced the Vikings to reverse course this morning and announce that Peterson would be suspended from all team activities while the investigation of child abuse continues. It was after Twitter users pointed out that the whole abuse-victim-Rihanna-singing-before-the-Ravens-game ploy was not such a great idea that CBS pulled her song in favor of coverage of the Ray Rice scandal. And hopefully more change is still to come: Active social media users are contacting NFL sponsors (Cover Girl, Bud Light and Gatorade to name a few) to demand they pressure the NFL into reform.

Women make up 45 percent of the NFL’s fan base. So if even just a small fraction of those women and some men tell the NFL that tolerating domestic violence is unacceptable through social media, writing to their congressmen or contacting sponsors, the NFL will hear them. Tune out if you want to. But the real solution is to scream at the top of your lungs.

TIME Opinion

How I Got Out of the Vietnam Draft — And Why That Still Matters

amnesty: Sept. 9, 1974
The Sept. 9, 1974, issue of TIME reports on the amnesty proposal, which was issued on Sept. 16, 1974. TIME

The Vietnam draft dodgers were offered amnesty 40 years ago today, but their story isn't over

My ’60s high-school experience was close to the stereotype — smoking pot, trying LSD, seeing the world in a new way, and questioning authority: If the government lied about drugs, why not about other things?

It turned out that the Gulf of Tonkin Incident, the justification for the Vietnam War, was one of those lies — as have been the justifications for most of our wars, I believe — but I didn’t find that out until later. Still, even before I knew that war was based on a lie, I could see that our nation was divided and confused about it. No one could give me a good, clear, convincing explanation of what was going on. Wasn’t that uncertainty a sufficient reason to refrain from killing millions of people? That’s how I felt at the time, though I couldn’t have articulated it so well back then.

I didn’t figure that out all by myself. I had the good fortune to fall in with some other teenagers who were also figuring it out. We spent many hot summer afternoons in someone’s cool basement, playing peace music and reading counterculture comic books. We listened to the sound track of Hair over and over. Clear Light’s cover of “Mr. Blue” was a stunning indictment of authoritarianism, though I didn’t learn the word “authoritarianism” until years later.

We felt that the war and the draft were bad, but I didn’t fully understand what my friends were going through; my own experience was too different. I was good at math, so I knew I’d be going to college, and I’d automatically get a draft deferment. Also, I felt less nationalism than most people. For me it would be just an inconvenience, not a great hardship, to flee to Canada, at that time a safe haven for draft dodgers. I knew that I would never wear a uniform.

Then, in November 1969, after I’d been in college for a year, the rules changed. A lottery began phasing out student deferments. My roommates and I started thinking and talking more about the draft. It occurred to me that the people on the draft board were human beings who deserved a friendly hello as much as anyone did, so I wrote them a letter.

The letter was very brief. I don’t remember the exact words, but they were something like this: “Dear Draft Board, I feel sorry for President Nixon. He must have had a terrible childhood. Why else would he be bombing all those Cambodians?”

It wasn’t just ink on paper. I thought anyone on a draft board must have a terribly drab life and deserved some cheering up – so, when my breakfast cereal box was empty, I cut out the front panel, which included a colorful cartoon character. I flipped it over to the blank cardboard that had faced the inside of the box. In crayon, with the great innocence that can come from LSD, I wrote the letter that I sent to my draft board.

It wasn’t a conscious attempt to get out of the draft. That payoff hadn’t even occurred to me. But my draft board promptly decided I was crazy, and classified me 4F, unfit for military service. They even phoned my parents to offer condolences. I got off lucky; a more authoritarian board would have drafted my sorry ass right then and there.

Perhaps I was crazy, but not as crazy as war. At any rate, I was safe, and home free, and no longer affected by the draft. I hardly noticed the draft-related events of the next few years: In 1973 the draft ended, in 1974 President Ford offered conditional amnesty to the draft dodgers — 40 years ago today — and in 1975 the war ended. But by then the draft had already done great damage to the U.S. military and its image. I’ve heard many stories of soldiers who didn’t like what they were forced to do.

During my college years, at first I joined in a few antiwar marches. But I found political arguments frustrating, so after a while I put them aside; I left the world in the hands of people who claimed to know what they were doing. I grew into a middle-class life, with spouse, house, two kids, and a tenured mathematics professorship at a prestigious university. I didn’t think about political ideas again for decades. Then, in 2006, a number of changes in my life gave me time to think, and I woke up. I realized the world was a mess, and taking care of it is the responsibility of all of us; it seems to me that the people in whose hands I’d left it did not know what they were doing. Since then I’ve been marching for many causes, and reading and writing about politics. Among other things, I’ve formed much stronger opinions about war and the draft.

It turned out that the Vietnam War never really ended — it changed its name and location, but as far as I can see, the questionable justifications have not changed. Politicians tell us that the people “over there” are different from us, but really those people are our cousins. I think we need politicians who will try harder to make diplomacy work.

And the draft never really ended either — now it’s a poverty draft. I hear stories all the time about people joining the military because they can’t find a decent job. Forty years after the draft dodgers were offered pardon, their message still matters: being able to choose what you’ll fight for is a freedom worth fighting for.

Eric Schechter is Professor Emeritus of Mathematics at Vanderbilt University. Since his retirement in 2013, he has devoted his time to political causes.

Read 1974 coverage of President Ford’s decision to grant amnesty to draft evaders here, in TIME’s archives: Choices on Amnesty

TIME Opinion

Why We Shouldn’t Be Surprised That Fans Are Still Supporting Ray Rice

Racquel Bailey wears a Ray Rice jersey as she tailgates before the Baltimore Ravens' NFL football game against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Thursday, Sept. 11, 2014, in Baltimore.
Racquel Bailey wears a Ray Rice jersey as she tailgates before the Baltimore Ravens' NFL football game against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sept. 11, 2014, in Baltimore. Patrick Semansky—AP

Our society tends to give professional athletes such a god-like status, it's not always easy for fans to let go

According to the old adage, seeing is believing.

But for some Ray Rice fans, it seems that not even witnessing a video of their hero violently punching a woman in the face and knocking her unconscious, is enough to make them believe that the running back deserved to be suspended from the NFL.

At Thursday’s Baltimore Ravens game, several fans, both men and women, turned up sporting Rice jerseys, emblazoned with the number 27. The game marked the Ravens’ first since Rice was kicked off the team and suspended indefinitely by the NFL after a surveillance video leaked showing the 206-pound athlete punching his then-fiancee—and now-wife—Janay inside a hotel elevator back in February. The punch shown is vicious and the video was disturbing enough to result in public outcry, which prompted the running back’s ouster.

And though Rice has been repeatedly denounced by fans and in the media this week, it seems not everyone feels the same way. Though a stall was set up at M&T Bank Stadium where Ravens’ fans could trade in their Rice jerseys for another player’s, there were several people—including women—who wanted to publicly show their support for Rice.

“There’s two sides to every story,” 23-year-old Racquel Bailey told the Associated Press about her decision to wear the jersey. “I saw the video. That’s their personal business, and it shouldn’t have affected his career. I don’t agree with domestic violence, but she’s still with him, so obviously it wasn’t that big of a deal. Everyone should just drop it.”

Another woman wearing a Rice jersey told Fox Sports 1, “I’m making a statement. I don’t believe in domestic violence, but I will say: any woman who can hit a man, a man shouldn’t have to sit there and take the abuse.”

Still more fans at the game chose to broadcast their support of Rice on social media:

While profoundly depressing, the attitudes of these fans shouldn’t actually be all that surprising. Let’s consider the kind of God-like status our society gives to professional athletes, through which they receive fawning coverage, sky-high salaries and fan adoration—so long as they’re playing well. Though such treatment of the players might offer some sort of insight into why some commit crimes, it also gives us an idea as to why so many are so easily forgiven by fans. It’s not always easy to reconcile the crimes or misdeeds of those we’ve placed on a pedestal for so long, even if we are very explicitly confronted with their actions.

What’s more, sports in general—and football in particular—have an integral and emotional center in our culture. For many people, football is a more than a game, it’s a way of life and their role as a fan is an important part of their identity. In an article on fan response to badly-behaved athletes, Psychology Today notes:

“One explanation can be found by dissecting the athlete-fan relationship; as fans follow their favorite sports, teams, and athletes, their allegiance is created through the daily or weekly rituals engaged in that strengthen their fan relationship and positive view of the athlete. The bonds between the fan and athlete slowly become strong, cementing the fan’s dependency on sport as well as perpetuating the fan’s role within the greater sport culture. Thus, when athletes engage in bad behaviors, fans are forced to ‘deal’ which such situations emotionally as well as cognitively, due to their loyalty to the athlete or team. Moreover, the fan’s response may be a coping mechanism designed to buffer feelings of anxiety or confusion that may arise because of the fan’s conflicting thoughts surrounding the positive and negative images of the athlete.”

To some people, this isn’t just about domestic violence; it’s about their own loyalty to the team. Viewed in this way, it seems likely that, for some fans, it wouldn’t really matter what the sin was—it would always be explained away or divorced from the player’s career. After all, Rice certainly isn’t the first player to commit a violent crime and still enjoy support from fans.

But there’s an upside. While there are fans still willing to sport Rice’s jersey and trolls on the Internet willing to shift the blame onto Janay Rice, there are far more people openly and voraciously condemning Rice’s actions. Though it’s taken a while for some, this week the Ravens, the NFL, the media and many football fans have expressed horror and anger at Rice’s violence, and he is now being held accountable for his actions. It might not be 100% unanimous, but in the court of public opinion, what Ray Rice did is unacceptable as a citizen, as a public figure and, most encouragingly of all, as a professional athlete.

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