TIME Opinion

You’ve Come a Long Way Daddy

Girl playing outside in the summer
Brian Braiker

A new book asks whether fathers matter. And this dad wonders why we're still asking that question.

Do fathers matter? On the face of it the question is a preposterous one. You might as well be asking “Are friends important?” or “Who needs trees, anyway?”

But Do Fathers Matter? happens to be the title of a new book by author and award-winning science journalist Paul Raeburn. And while the title seems to indulge in a bit of trolling, it turns out the book does a nice job of filling in a few gaps no one completely realized were gaping.

Science has historically focused only on the mother’s role in child-rearing. Raising children, after all, is women’s work, right? It’s a cliche that has taken root in modern society but biologically, this is simply not the case.

Raeburn points us to the titi monkey as an example: “Titi monkey fathers provide food for their offspring and follow mothers around all day, so that whenever the babies are not nursing the fathers can carry them on their backs,” Raeburn writes. “The father carries his infant 90 percent of the time.”

The baby monkeys, in return, are very attached to their fathers. Human fathers, while maybe not quite as dedicated, remain the most committed mammalian fathers of any species on Earth, Raeburn goes on to tell us (tantalizingly leaving open the prospect of some kind of reptilian Superdad.)

Look no further than the latest ad by Cheerios, which comes with its own hashtag: #HowToDad. In it a father of four gives his only mildly-grating manifesto for manly parenting — which lives in the Venn diagram sweet spot between being “awesome” and “responsible.” We’ve come a long way from Mr. Mom.

But science hasn’t been keeping up. The result is a body of knowledge that fails to take into account half of the child-rearing populace. I personally can’t fault science for spending an inordinate amount of time looking at ladies, but it’s not very scientific at the end of the day: A 2005 survey of 514 studies on adolescent and child psychology, for example, revealed that almost half of the research ignored fathers. Only 11 percent made fathers the exclusive focus, Raeburn tells us.

To be fair, there’s been some progress: Before 1970 less than a fifth of scientific studies about parental bonding took dad’s role into account. And minor though it is, Raeburn mines the progress well. One takeaway is that we dads have an impact on our babies before they’re even born.

A bit of context. Here is what progressive fatherhood looked like in 1986: “We were well prepared for natural childbirth, which means that no drugs can be given to the female during delivery. The father, however, can have all he wants,” joked Bill Cosby in his book “Fatherhood.” If only that were true.

“Research is showing that a father’s environment, his behavior and even his appearance can have a substantial effect on fetal health,” Raeburn writes. “And on the health of his grandchildren.”

Good lord. Even my appearance? Let me now use this public forum to apologize now to my grandkids for last year’s mustache and afro combination that I rocked for a solid six months.

Fortunately for my kids I also do the dishes on the regular. A recent study published in the journal Psychological Science, found that fathers who perform household chores are more likely to bring up daughters who aspire to careers in business, legal and other professions. I am dying for a corollary study to conclude that mothers who shout at the TV during football games and spend a lot of time in the tool shed raise boys that are more likely to go into ballet instruction.

But the research, conducted at the University of British Columbia in Canada, does dovetail with other findings that suggest girls who grow up in the presence of warm, supportive fathers tend to begin puberty later and are less inclined to engage in high-risk sexual behavior than daughters of absentee dads.

This “absentee” word hits home for me. I have been separated from the mother of my kids for nearly five years, a significant chunk of their lives. As a single father with joint custody I see my girls every day, including days when they don’t stay at mine, and am incredibly grateful for it. But I worry all the time about the impact of the breakup on my kids. So I am hyper vigilant.

I take heart in much of Raeburn’s book, not just because I like to cook and find doing dishes therapeutic. He points to one study that found that, while both parents play with children the same amount of time, Dad is — for lack of a better word — the fun parent. Father’s play is “more physical and idiosyncratic,” and babies tend to like it.

“Physical and idiosyncratic” is a diplomatic way, at best, to describe the dance parties I instigate at the breakfast table. Babies (and 6-year-olds) may like it, but the day is coming when my daughters become teenagers and “idiosyncratic” becomes “idiotic.” Oh how I will delight in embarrassing them, though.

It turns out Dad’s play is important when it comes to learning too, providing a critical boost to language development. Premature infants from disadvantaged families had higher IQs if fathers played with them and helped care for them, Raeburn writes. Studies have found that fathers are more likely to stretch their young children’s vocabularies. I can certainly boast that I’ve introduced a few four letter words into my girls’ verbal arsenal.

I’ve interviewed my daughters in this space before, so I thought it might be interesting to see what they had to say about the very question posed in Raeburn’s title: Do fathers matter?

Unfortunately, today got away from us. We woke up early and cuddled while we watched “Little Shop of Horrors” together — not entirely age-appropriate, but hey!, I’m idiosyncratic. Then it was time for breakfast (Waffles! Bacon! Plums! No screens!), then showers. I took them to get a birthday present before a friend’s party. After that it was playground time and swings and a water balloon fight and more swings followed by tears over a lost earring and much consoling and hugs and, finally, dinner.

I guess in the middle of all that I forgot to ask them if their father mattered.

TIME Opinion

The Bachelorette Finale Is Terrifying If You Know Nothing About the Show

One man's journey into the unknown

+ READ ARTICLE

I’ve never seen an episode of The Bachelorette. The editors at TIME have been sending me into extremely unfamiliar territory of late and I’ve been instructed to watch and write about the season finale of the show. So I arranged to go to the home of a friend who is hosting a season finale party for the roughly dozen women in her fantasy Bachelorette league (which is a thing, so there you have it—we’re already breaking ground in this investigation).

Once more unto the breach.

Before we begin, this is what I know about The Bachelorette: a group of bachelors compete through feats of strength, wit and charm for the affections of a bachelorette, who confers her approval by giving the winner a rose. There’s a companion show called The Bachelor. In the season finale of this show, I think, two men enter the competition and one leaves the victor—I’ve seen Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome so I have some background in that regard.

What follows is an abridged play-by-play.

“In tonight’s Bachelorette you won’t believe what will happen…both men say they’re in love with her…. “ The woman on screen is in tears, presumably indicating that she’s sad to have to choose one guy over the other. Surely this can’t be because she’s contractually obligated to marry one of them. We’re drinking Rosé (which I don’t like but when in Rome) and the ladies have declared with impressive conviction that we hate Nick and we want Josh to win. Josh is a jock and they both suck but Josh sucks less because Nick is manipulative. We like her dress.

There’s an exceptional raspberry/jalapeño-jelly drizzled cheese plate, among other awesome snacks. Impressed. Now everyone is being served individual salads! On little plates with metal forks! This is living.

I’ve just learned that the Bachelorette, whose name is Andi, age 26ish, gave up a law career “in order to find love.” This plot point for a reality television show is unsettling to me, for obvious reasons. My co-watchers seem to share my feelings and nonetheless enjoy the spectacle. Also I just remembered this is two hours long.

Scandal! I misunderstood an earlier conversation and there is division about who we want to win—a roughly even split between Josh and Nick.

Nick is clearly running the awkward sweetheart game.

What kind of career is “former pro baseball player”? That is not a job.

Josh: “I have no thoughts.” You said it, brother.

I’m watching a game show in which actual humans are purporting to live out an early-stage romance on camera, with a soundtrack, as though at the end of the show they ride off into the sunset and live happily ever after. This show is unspeakably bizarre and I’m clearly feeling invested in its outcome. Deeply unsettling.

Josh just gave her a baseball card with her name rendered as “Andi Murray.” MURRAY IS HIS LAST NAME. She likes it, which is almost as weird.

Andi is the real star here. This is masterful—and terrifying, in a way, to the extent that this “acting” ability, if you can call it that, exists in other humans.

She keeps saying the same things to and about both of these dudes. Also everything is the most hardest last thing that will ever happen to anyone for the rest of everyone’s life.

I switched to beer under duress.

This feels like watching a sporting event filled entirely by halftime interviews.

Exceptional banana pudding just came out at the party.

Andi just came to break up with Nick. We know this because of everything about the situation but also because of the haunting heavy drama music that accompanied her walking in the room.

Is this real? I feel like these people just “broke up” to whatever weird extent that event can happen in this context and they need to hug and carry on with their lives but they’re stuck in the room because some hellfire producer is pointing a gun at them. Now Nick is mad at Andi. He has flipped the script and is accusing her of leading him on, basically, and of crossing him somehow by not liking him back, and possibly, if any of this is real, he is a sociopath. ANDI. RUN.

Victory dance by the fantasy league pool winner who is $100 richer.

There’s an important post-game show called “After the Final Rose.” Nick is sad and pathetic and leaning dangerously into real-life creep territory with all this talk of how Andi led him on.

Fellow watcher Christa: “Is this taking advantage of someone that’s a little on the verge?”

Fellow watcher Emi: “I think that’s what this whole show is about.”

Well played.

Nick keeps saying things like, “She kept giving me so many reasons to be confident.” The normalization of stalkerness is legitimately troubling.

I just learned these people just met each other several weeks ago. None of this is real. I’m getting another beer. We’re done here.

Read more on The Bachelorette:

Who Will Be the Next Bachelor: Nick V., Farmer Chris or Grumpy Cat?

Bachelorette Finale: Andi Makes Her Choice

TIME Opinion

A Tea Party Tempest in Tennessee

U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander announces the kickoff of his "Standing Up for Tennessee" bus tour at Sullivan's Restaurant in his hometown of Maryville, Tenn., as his wife Honey and State Rep. Art Swann look on on July 25, 2014.
U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander announces the kickoff of his "Standing Up for Tennessee" bus tour at Sullivan's Restaurant in his hometown of Maryville, Tenn., as his wife Honey and State Rep. Art Swann look on on July 25, 2014. Tom Sherlin—The Daily News/AP

Why Lamar Alexander should prevail against a hard-right challenger

I’ve always thought that Lamar Alexander’s Little Plaid Book, a collection of political wisdom gleaned from more than half a lifetime in the arena, is an underappreciated classic. (My favorite rule is #73, “Walk in Parades,” followed by #74: “If it is the Mule Day parade, walk at the front.”) Subtitled “Rules, Reminders, and Lessons About Running for Office and Making a Difference, Whether It’s for President of the United States or President of Your Senior Class,” the book is the kind of thing that might have resulted if Machiavelli and Dale Carnegie had teamed up to write a primer on Southern politics.

Like other incumbents, Alexander, a former governor who is now seeking his third term in the U.S. Senate, is facing a Tea Party primary challenge, and voters will choose between Alexander and state representative Joe Carr on Aug. 7. While the race is not especially close in the polls, Alexander knows the risks.

The defeat of Eric Cantor in Virginia and the political near-death experience of Thad Cochran in Mississippi have invested Tea Party campaigns like Carr’s with tragic electoral possibilities for incumbents who do not take such incursions seriously. An Alexander victory would signal that the GOP, at least at the senatorial level, has more in common with the passionate pragmatism of Ronald Reagan than with the provocative postings of Sarah Palin.

Alexander is one of the last of a kind—a politician with a passion for governing, and to govern, as we know, is to choose, and choice tends to require compromise, for, like life, politics is not perfectible.

This last point is essential, and it goes to the heart of the Tea Party primary campaigns of 2014. From immigration to Obamacare, Tea Party conservatives are out for total ideological victory—though what might come on the day after is less clear. As Newt Gingrich said in endorsing Alexander, projecting a GOP takeover of the Senate, “As a committee chairman next year, he will play a vital role in ending the Obama era in health and in education. We need Lamar’s experience and shrewdness to fix Washington.”

It’s an old truth: you can’t beat something with nothing, and it takes serious legislators to effect serious change.

I grew up in Tennessee when Alexander was governor and have watched him closely through the years. He is what people ought to want in a senator: an experienced, sensible man with a record of achievement. He first sought public office more than four decades ago. He lost that first gubernatorial race in 1974, but won four years later. He has been a two-term governor, a university president, a secretary of Education, a presidential candidate, and a United States senator. He was one of the early Southern governors who courted automakers to come to right-to-work states in the Old Confederacy—and, as he points out, by end of the 1980s, Tennessee had gone from the third poorest state in the Union to the state with the fastest growing family incomes.

With no state income tax, Alexander used the public sector to create conditions for private-sector growth, including building critical roads while leaving the state with no road debt. He was also an innovator in education. Alexander did all this from 1979 to 1987 with a legislature that was in Democratic hands.

Carr has buzzy endorsements, chiefly from Palin and from Laura Ingraham, who played such a critical role in defeating Cantor for renomination in Virginia. “It’s time for bold colors. Abandon the pastels,” Ingraham told Andy Sher of the Chattanooga Times Free Press. “We need fighters. Lamar’s had his time. He’s had a good run.” Alexander, she added, is “kind of like an old sweater. He was really comfortable and sharp looking at one point, but now it just takes up room in your drawer.”

In endorsing Carr, Palin thanked Alexander for his service but said it was time for a change: “With the new challenges in D.C., the time has come for new leaders who are willing to stand up to the political establishments and the Obama administration and say, ‘no mas!’”

It’s worth remembering, though, that a senator like Alexander has much more in common with the real Reagan—a master compromiser—than any reflexive ideologue has. Reagan would have walked in front of the mules, right along with Alexander, who’s earned at least six more years of such parades.

Correction: The original version of this story incorrectly described Carr. He is a current member of the Tennessee House of Representatives.

TIME Opinion

I Don’t Love Lucy: The Bad Science in the Sci-Fi Thriller

Maybe if the screenwriters had used 20% of their brains...

You use a whole lot more than 10% of your brain—but a common fallacy that says otherwise is nonetheless the central premise of a new movie

Now there are three Lucys I have to keep straight: The 3.2 million year old Australopithecus unearthed in Ethiopia in 1974; the eponymous star of the inexplicably celebrated 1950s sitcom I Love Lucy; and, most recently, the lead character—played by Scarlett Johansson—of the new sci-fi thriller straightforwardly titled Lucy. Going by intellectual heft alone, I’ll pick the millions-year-old bones.

The premise of the movie, such as it is, is that Lucy, a drug mule living in Taiwan, is exposed to a bit of high-tech pharma that suddenly increases her brain power, giving her the ability to outwit entire police departments, travel through time and space, dematerialize at will and yada-yada-yada, cut to gunfights, special effects and a portentous message about, well, something or other.

The movie poster’s teaser line? “The average person uses 10% of their brain capacity. Imagine what she could do with 100%.”

Let’s forgive the poster its pronoun problem (the average person—as in just one of us—uses 10% of their brain capacity), because the science problem is so much more egregious. The 10% brainpower thing is part of a rich canon of widely believed and entirely untrue science dicta that include “Man is the only animal that kills its own kind” (tell that to the lion cubs that were just murdered by an alpha male trying to take over a pride) and “A goldfish can remember something for only seven seconds” (a premise that was tested…how? With a pop quiz?).

No one is entirely sure where the 10% brainpower canard got started, but it goes back at least a century and is one of the most popular entries in the equally popular book 50 Great Myths of Popular Psychology. There is some speculation that the belief began with an idle quote by American philosopher William James who, in 1908, wrote, “We are making use of only a small part of our possible mental and physical resources,” an observation vague enough to mean almost anything—or nothing—at all.

Some people attribute it to an explanation Albert Einstein offered when asked to account for his own towering intellect—except that Einstein never said such a thing and even if he had it would not make it true. Still others cite the more scientifically defensible idea that there is a measure of plasticity in the brain, so that if the region that controls, say, the right arm, is damaged by, say, a stroke, it is sometimes possible for other parts of the brain to pick up the slack—a sort of neural rewiring that restores lost motion and function.

But none of that remotely justifies the 10% silliness. The fact is, the brain is overworked as it is, 3 lbs. (1,400 gm) of tissue stuffed into a skull that can barely hold it all. There’s a reason the human brain is as wrinkled as it is and that’s because the more it grew as we developed, the more it bumped up against the limits of the cranium; the only way to increase the surface area of the neocortex sufficiently to handle the advanced data crunching we do was to add convolutions. Open up the cerebral cortex and smooth it out and it would measure 2.5 sq. ft. (2,500 sq cm). Wrinkles are a clumsy solution to a problem that never would have presented itself in the first place if 90% of our disk space were going to waste.

What’s more, our bodies simply couldn’t afford to maintain so much idle neuronal tissue since the brain is an exceedingly expensive organ to own and operate—at least in terms of energy needs. At birth, babies actually have up to 50% more neural connections among the billions of brain cells than adults do, but in the first few years of life (and, to a lesser extent, on through sexual maturity) a process of pruning takes place, with many of those synaptic links being broken and the ones that remain growing stronger. That makes the brain less diffuse and more efficient—which is exactly the way any good central processing unit should operate. It also allows it to use up fewer calories, which is critical.

“We were a nutritionally marginal species early on,” the late William Greenough, a psychologist and brain development expert at the University of Illinois, told me for my 2007 book Simplexity. “A synapse is a very costly thing to support.”

Added Ray Jackendoff, co-director of the center for Cognitive Studies at Tufts University, “The thing that’s really astonishing might not be that we lose so many connections, but that the brain’s plasticity and growth are able to continue for as long as they do.”

OK, so the Lucy screenwriters aren’t psychologists or directors of cognitive studies institutes. But they do have the same 100 billion neurons everybody else’s brains have. Here’s hoping they take a few billion of them out for an invigorating run before they write their next sci-fi script.

TIME Opinion

The NFL Needs to Take Domestic Violence Seriously

Ray Rice Press Conference
Running back Ray Rice of the Baltimore Ravens pauses while addressing a news conference with his wife Janay at the Ravens training center on May 23, 2014 in Owings Mills, Maryland. Rob Carr—Getty Images

Ray Rice's slap-on-the-wrist suspension shows the league doesn't respect women

On Thursday, the NFL issued a two-game suspension to Baltimore Ravens’ running back Ray Rice, who this spring was indicted for allegedly hitting his now-wife so hard that he knocked her unconscious. Rice was caught by a security camera dragging his unconscious then-fiancee out of an elevator in an Atlantic City Casino after the supposed incident. The video went viral, thanks to TMZ. It is truly disturbing: at one point the elevator keeps closing on the motionless fiancee’s feet. Considering his actions, Rice’s light punishment is a joke.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has suspended players for longer because of DUIs, smoking pot and illegal tattoos. Fourteen other NFL players have been suspended in 2014, all for drug use—performance-enhancing or otherwise. Cleveland Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon is currently appealing a one-year suspension for marijuana use. Indianapolis Colts outside linebacker Robert Mathis will sit out four games for taking illegal fertility drugs in hopes of getting his wife pregnant, according to Mathis. Again, Rice will sit for just two games.

As fans, we can’t speculate on details of the altercation: Ray and Janay Rice have tied the knot since the incident, and he has publicly apologized for using violence. But what we do know is this: there’s a tape of Ray Rice dragging an unconscious woman out of an elevator; he was charged with third-degree aggravated assault; a grand jury indicted him; a trial never took place, and he has agreed to enter counseling.

We also know that the NFL has a long history of players accused of committing domestic violence. According statistics from U-T San Diego, 21 of 32 NFL teams employed a player with a domestic or sexual violence charge on their record last year. Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy, Cardinals linebacker Daryl Washington and Minnesota Vikings cornerback A.J. Jefferson have all recently been arrested for assault in domestic disputes.

Excusing these players’ actions sends the message that the country’s number one sports league doesn’t care about women (unless they’re attending games or buying merchandise). And it perpetuates the idea that these actions are okay when already 25% of women will be the victim of domestic abuse at some point in their lifetime, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

And such a light sentence opens the door to victim blaming. After the video leaked, Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome speculated that perhaps a “different story” would come out, implying that maybe Janay Rice did something to deserve being hit. (To clarify, no victim of domestic violence, male or female, ever deserves to be hit.) Janay Rice fueled the fire herself in a news conference in May by saying, “I do deeply regret the role I played in the incident that night.” Some may rationalize the light punishment by pointing to Janay’s forgiving Rice and Rice’s one-on-one meeting with Goodell. That’s not the message the NFL should be sending.

The NFL’s actions have disturbed fans and players alike. Former player Scott Fujita tweeted:

Goodell promised in 2012 that the NFL would take a stand on domestic violence arrests. And two years later, Goodell is doling out two game suspensions. Get serious, NFL.

TIME Opinion

The Beta Marriage: How Millennials Approach ‘I Do’

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Archive Holdings Inc.—Getty Images

We are a generation reared on technology and choice. Why wouldn’t we want to test a lifelong relationship first? How millennials are redefining "forever"

You could say I beta-tested my relationship.​

It began with a platform migration ​(a cross-country move) and a bandwidth challenge (cohabitation in a 450-sq.-ft. apartment). There was a false start (botched marriage proposal). Then, an emergency deglitching (couples therapy). We tried to take the product public before we were ready (I wrote about our relationship in Newsweek). And then, finally, we abandoned launch. There were simply too many bugs.

It’s a joke, kind of — except that when it comes to millennials and marriage, the beta test may be par for the course. And really, why wouldn’t it be? For a generation reared on technology, overwhelmed by choice, feedback and constant FOMO, isn’t testing a marriage, like we test a username, simply … well, logical?

The findings of a new survey certainly reveal so. In conjunction with a new television drama, Satisfaction, which premiered on USA Network last week, trend researchers asked 1,000 people about their attitudes toward marriage. They found all sorts of things: among them, that people cheat on the Internet (uh huh), that young people don’t think their relationships are like their parents’ (of course), and that everyone seems to have taken to the term uncoupling (yuck).

marriage

They also uncovered a surprising gem. Buried in the data was the revelation that almost half of millennials (43%, and higher among the youngest subset) said they would support a marriage model that involved a two-year trial — at which point the union could be either formalized or dissolved, no divorce or paperwork required. Thirty-three percent said they’d be open to trying what researchers dubbed the “real estate” approach — marriage licenses granted on a five-, seven-, 10- or 30-year ARM, after which the terms must be renegotiated. And 21% said they’d give the “presidential” method a try, whereby marriage vows last for four years but after eight you can elect to choose a new partner.

In total, nearly half of all of those surveyed, ages 18 to 49 — and 53% of millennials — thought marriage vows should be renewed, and nearly 40% said they believed the “till death do us part” vow should be abolished. In other words: Beta marriages! Unions you can test and deglitch, work out kinks or simply abandon course without consequence. “This is a generation that is used to this idea that everything is in beta, that life is a work in progress, so the idea of a beta marriage makes sense,” the study’s author, Melissa Lavigne-Delville, tells me. “It’s not that they’re entirely noncommittal, it’s just that they’re nimble and open to change.”

It’s not a new concept, entirely. In the 1970s, the anthropologist Margaret Mead predicted the growing popularity of “serial monogamy,” involving a string of monogamous marriages. Helen Fisher, the biological anthropologist, has advocated for much of the same: she believes humans aren’t meant to be together forever, but in short-term, monogamous relationships of three or four years. Stephanie Coontz, the author of Marriage: A History, has advised a marriage contract “reup” every five years — or before every major transition in life — “with a new set of vows that reflect what the couple has learned.”

More recently, Mexico City lawmakers proposed (unsuccessfully) a “renewable” marriage concept, whereby couples could simply renew or dissolve their unions after a period of two years. It’s not so unlike the setup described by a young writer in a Modern Love column in the New York Times last month, about how she overcomes “marriage anxiety” by renewing her vows with her husband every year like clockwork. “I think people are indeed trying to avoid failure,” says Andrew Cherlin, the author of The Marriage-Go-Round.

And, why wouldn’t they? The U.S. has the highest divorce rate in the Western world. The data show clearly that the longer we wait to get married the more successful our marriages will be. And it’s not like we can’t move in together in the meantime: the rate of unmarried cohabitation has risen 1,000% over the past four decades. Not all of our marriages will work, no — but when they do, they’ll work better than at any other time in history, say scholars. And when they don’t, why not simply avoid the hassle of a drawn-out divorce?

“Millennials aren’t scared of commitment — we’re just trying to do commitment more wisely,” says Cristen Conger, a 29-year-old unmarried but cohabitating podcast host in Atlanta. “We rigorously craft our social media and online dating profiles to maximize our chances of getting a first date, and ‘beta testing’ is just an extension of us trying to strategize for future romantic success.”

In an era where, according to the survey, 56% of women and men think a marriage can be successful even if it doesn’t last forever, that might just make sense. Scholars have observed for some time that attitudes toward divorce have become more favorable over the past decade. Millennials in particular are more likely to view divorce as a good solution to matrimonial strife, according to the sociologist Philip Cohen — and more likely to believe it should be easier to obtain.

And, of course, it’s easy to understand why. We’re cynical. We are a generation raised on a wedding industry that could fund a small nation, but marriages that end before the ink has dried. (As one 29-year-old survey respondent put it: “We don’t trust that institution.”) We are also less religious than any other generation, meaning we don’t enter (or stay) committed simply for God. We feel less bound to tradition as a whole (no bouquet tosses here).

And while we have among the highest standards when it comes to a partner — we want somebody who can be a best friend, a business partner, a soul mate — we are a generation that is overwhelmed by options, in everything from college and first jobs to who we should choose for a partner. “This is a generation who has not had to make as many long-term commitments as previous generations, so the idea of not having an out feels a little stringent,” says Lavigne-Delville. “Divorce has happened for a long time. Maybe we should rethink the rules.”

Indeed, at the end of the day, whatever you want to say about the hookup generation, or millennials’ inability to commit, the vast majority (69%, according to Pew) of millennials still want to get married. We simply need a little extra time to work out the kinks.

“Getting married is so much more weighted today, I get the impulse to want to test it,” says Hannah Seligson, the 31-year-old married author of A Little Bit Married, about 20-somethings and long-term unmarried relationships. At the same time, she adds, “I wonder if this is a false control study in a way. Yes, marriage terrifying, it’s probably the biggest leap of faith you’ll ever make. But you’ll never be able to peer into a crystal ball — or map it out on a spreadsheet.”

Bennett is a contributing columnist at TIME.com covering the intersection of gender, sexuality, business and pop culture. A former Newsweek senior writer and executive editor of Tumblr, she is also a contributing editor for Sheryl Sandberg’s women’s foundation, Lean In. You can follow her @jess7bennett.

TIME Opinion

#WomenAgainstFeminism Is Happening Now

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

With reporting contributed by Hannah Goldberg

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

TIME Opinion

Have the Feds Made School Food Worse with Government-Approved Junk?

Vending machine
Getty Images

"Healthy" snacks in schools are seriously lacking in nutrition

Last week I attended the School Nutrition Association’s annual meeting in Boston, a gathering of the nation’s school food service workers. While most of the controversy lately has focused on the federally-required improvements to nutrition standards for school lunches, getting lost in the shuffle are new standards coming online this fall for school snacks and beverages.

These foods are known collectively as “competitive foods” because they compete with the school meal program; think kids eating their lunches out of vending machines. With schools desperate for extra cash, the likes of Coca-Cola and Frito-Lay take full advantage by hawking their unhealthy products to schoolchildren.

This problem caused Congress and the White House to include in its 2010 Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act requirements that U.S. Department of Agriculture set nutrition guidelines for foods sold outside the school meal program. (Thanks to a lawsuit filed by the soda lobby some thirty years ago, a court found that USDA had no authority over soda and junk food, and it’s taken this long to correct that decision.)

To help guide USDA, the Institute of Medicine made science-based recommendations to the agency for the best nutritional approach. But as often happens in Washington, what starts out as a public health policy comes out the other end as industry-friendly, watered down rules.

Instead of insisting that schools do right by kids – and the taxpayer-funded school meal program – by removing vending machines altogether, the feds just required a few tweaks to the ingredients. Big Food put its sophisticated R&D departments to work and out came “USDA-compliant” junk food. Several vendors proudly told me that their “healthier” products weren’t even available in stores, as if this were a good thing.

But is it really better now that “reduced fat” Cheetos have replaced regular in schools? Can parents rest easier knowing their kids are buying “whole grain” Pop-Tarts still containing 15 grams of sugar? Can USDA really claim that the “low sugar” line of Gatorade products (called G2) is significantly superior nutritionally, given that they contain artificial sweeteners and dyes?

As I warned in my comments to USDA last year, too narrow a focus on nutrition indicators such as whole grain and levels of sugar and fat would not address the bigger problem with competitive foods: branding. Corporations hawking junk foods and beverages in schools have no problem tweaking a few ingredients as long as they remain in front of the eyeballs of impressionable youngsters. Schools are not only big business, they are essential to ensure brand loyalty for life.

While real food such as fresh produce, along with truly healthy snacks such as dried apples, were also on display in the expo hall, several vendors I spoke to complained about the challenge of being able to compete with the likes of Kellogg’s and PepsiCo on price, given the economies of scale.

Now with the federal government seal of approval on dressed up junk foods, what messages are we sending to children in their place of learning? That Cheetos and Pop-Tarts are great snacks as long as they contain a sprinkling of “whole grains”? That blue-colored Gatorade is an acceptable beverage as long as it contains fake sugars? Some have defended these changes as incremental. OK, but given how hard it was to get the current rules passed (not to mention the ongoing fight over school meals), it’s likely to be a very long time before we see real improvements.

Meanwhile, school kids are now being exposed to deceptive marketing messages on health-washed junk foods, brought to them by mega-corporations who aim to get them hooked on a lifetime of bad eating habits, all courtesy of the federal government.

Michele Simon is a public health lawyer and president of Eat Drink Politics, a corporate watchdog consulting firm.

TIME Foreign Policy

Obama Contends with Congressional Backseat Drivers on Ukraine

Congress again threatens to push Obama foreign policy with legislation

A Malaysia Airlines jet is shot down over the Ukraine and Congress is, of course, full of back-seat foreign policy advice for President Obama. The problem is when they start passing some of this advice to be signed into law.

Some say Obama has already been too aggressive. “[T]he crisis in Ukraine started late last year, when the EU and U.S. overthrew the elected Ukrainian president, Viktor Yanukovych,” said former Rep. Ron Paul, a Texas Republican. “Without U.S.-sponsored ‘regime change,’ it is unlikely that hundreds would have been killed in the unrest that followed. Nor would the Malaysian Airlines crash have happened.”

On the other side of the hawk spectrum, Republican Senators such as Marco Rubio and Mark Kirk felt compelled by the tragedy to call on Obama to pass energy, banking and defense sectoral sanctions against Russia, which has been supporting Ukrainian separatists but denies having anything to do with the downing of the plane. Thus far the Obama Administration’s punishment for Russia’s seizure of the Crimea and rabble rousing in eastern Ukraine has been targeted individual sanctions and visa restrictions.

“I don’t know how anybody can say our response has been anything but timid and cautious,” said Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee, the top Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee. “Hopefully on the positive side, this will galvanize the international community to take the kind of steps that should have been taken months ago to push back on [Russian President Vladimir] Putin and cause him to pay the kind of price that he should pay for this outrageous act.”

Kirk also called on Attorney General Eric Holder to launch a wrongful death suit. “I want to hear that the Department of Justice will bring one hell of a wrongful death suit against Russian assets located in the United States to make sure that there is significant cost paid by Russia for this action of shooting down with an international airliner with a weapons system that is directly related to Russian armed forces,” he told CNN.

Senator John McCain of Arizona, the 2008 GOP presidential nominee, went so far as to call on Obama to arm the Ukrainian government. “Now is the time to provide Ukraine with the weapons and other military assistance they have requested and require to defeat the separatist groups and secure their country—assistance that, had we provided it earlier, might have enabled Ukrainian forces to succeed in this effort by now and thereby prevented last week’s tragedy,” McCain said on Monday.

So far, all Obama has threatened is to levy unspecified costs against Russia, along with urging the Europeans to step up on sanctions.

Congress, and particularly the party in opposition, has often expressed strong views on the President’s foreign policy. Despite the fact that, constitutionally, foreign policy is the purview of the Oval Office, Congress drove the War of 1812 and was a key factor in the Mexican-American War. They also dragged Franklin Roosevelt’s heels in getting into World War II and had an enormous impact on Vietnam policy, not to mention Democratic efforts to defund President George W. Bush’s actions in Iraq.

But Obama not only has to contend with opposition complaints about his foreign policy, but with some friendly fire as well. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat, has been the driving force to get Obama to beef up sanctions against Iran, support Israel more strongly and hold a tougher line on Cuba. Menendez has helped push through sanctions that the Administration has explicitly said it didn’t want, something he could do again against Russia if the Administration doesn’t act.

Obama has not had an easy time with Congress on much of anything, but particularly on foreign policy. The other end of Pennsylvania Avenue is quick to condemn, and yet when they are asked to act, for example with Syria or Libya, they suddenly remember the separation of powers. Congress in both instances failed to pass any kind of resolution approving action in either country. That’s because polls show that from Libya to Syria to the Ukraine, the American people have zero desire to engage in more wars. Which means that despite the sturm und drang coming out of the hawkish wing of the GOP, Obama is probably more likely to listen to Paul’s libertarian Dovish wing.

TIME Opinion

Kim Kardashian’s Genius New Game Is Basically Dante’s Inferno

iTunes

Kim is a Virgil for our time

“In order to win at life, you need some Kim K skills,” Kanye West told GQ in a recent interview. But how do you get that life-winning ability to pose, network and maneuver your way to fame? By playing her gaming app, Kim Kardashian: Hollywood, of course. Forbes estimates Kardashian herself could make $85 million from the game, and it’s been a blockbuster ever since its release almost a month ago.

The app is an immersion into the glamorous Kardashian world, complete with photo shoots, club openings and feuds with wannabe celebrities. It’s the fame game, and it’s addictive; you simply can’t stop checking your makeup, posing and attending promotional events. More than 100,000 users have given Kim Kardashian: Hollywood a perfect rating in Apple’s App Store, driving up shares of Glu Mobile, the company behind the game, 24% since it was released June 25. In-app purchases — things like clothes, energy, cash and star-power can be acquired with real-world money while playing the game— could generate an annual revenue of $200 million.

I’m no Hollywood fashionista, but from the first time I played, I had a nagging sense of déjà vu. Slowly, it dawned on me: I’ve heard this story before, in 11th grade English class. Kim Kardashian: Hollywood reminds me of that super-long 14th-century poem about the nine circles of hell, each filled with sinners punished in a manner fitting their crimes, poetic justice if you will. Kim Kardashian’s game is Dante’s Inferno.

It’s basically the same idea, except you (Dante) can dress up in customizable hair and outfits that get increasingly elaborate as you get richer/closer to the center of hell. Kim is like Virgil, but she traded in her black robe for a sparkly silver dress, because shrouds are so 14th century. The circles of hell are levels of fame, natch.

But what’s so hellish about an addictive game that allows users to play at being beautiful reality show stars? Um, everything. In the Kim Kardashian universe, your character can’t sleep, eat or see any friends who aren’t “contacts” to help you get more famous. You have no family (Kim has family, but you don’t) and nobody to love. Your only human contact is with other hell-walkers game characters with whom you can either choose to “network” or “flirt.” You’re not allowed to do anything but go to club openings, photo-shoots or red carpet premieres. You can’t read.

The only good thing about this world is that a flight from LA to Miami costs $15.

It’s no coincidence that you enter this inferno by committing one of the seven deadly sins: Greed. When the game starts, you’re a lowly boutique clerk, and you’ve just closed up the aptly-named “So-Chic” store, when you’re approached by the one and only Kim Kardashian. “Hi! Is this your store? Are you open? I could really use your help,” her character says. Your options are: “still open,” “just closing,” and, in a terrifying premonition of your name-dropping future, “Kim Kardashian.”

If you have any respect for order in the universe, you pick “just closing,” because you did just close the store, and no celebrity will make you break the rules. But if you do that, Kim Kardashian says, “Oh no! I’m having a fashion emergency. The back of my top is ripped, and I’m on my way to a shoot with Garrett St. Clair, THE Garrett St. Clair.” Because you’re supposed to know who that is.

“I don’t want him to see me like THIS,” she whines. “But I don’t know of any boutiques around here.” She’s in downtown L.A., mind you.

Here, the game gives you no option. The only possible choice is “I can help!” If you try to leave and return to normalcy, Kim Kardashian says “I love fashion and I love to shop!” The game forbids you from exiting, and you can feel the devil’s icy claws clutch your ankles.

At this point, you are already doomed, your soul has already become too blackened for absolution. For when Kim Kardashian asks how much the outfit is, the game’s only option is to tell her: “no charge.” When she says “No, really? I can’t!,” the game’s only option is “(insist.)” Later, when your boss asks you to work on a night when Kim has invited you to a party, your only options are “use your charm” and “mention Kim.” Blowing off the party and going to work is not a possibility. You’re in Kim’s world now.

There’s no way to get through the game without committing one of the seven deadly sins at almost every possible junction. You go out of your way to humiliate your enemy, Willow Pape (Wrath.) You’re always trying to be as famous as Kim (Envy) and you’ve got an eye on your next big publicity stunt (Pride.) After the first level, you never go back to work at “So Chic,” (Sloth) and dollar bills appear every time you check your makeup (Greed.) We all know what your manager means when he tells you to “keep your head down – or up…or wherever the photographers want it!” (Lust.) The only sin you don’t commit on the long journey from D-list tag-along to A-list star is Gluttony, because this is Los Angeles, after all.

It’s been nearly a month since the game came out, and I’m still in Kim Kardashian’s Hollywood, checking my eyeliner, changing my outfit, flirting and networking and promoting brands and slowly spinning deeper and deeper into darker circles of hell. Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.

 

 

 

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