TIME Opinion

Why You Feel Weirdly Depressed on Labor Day

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A brief summer erica bartel photography—Getty Images/Flickr Select

Because you're mourning your lost youth. On the bright side, folders are on sale!

Come, children, time to don your traditional back-to-school scowl, for it’s Labor Day weekend! Time to wear fake mustaches while dressing up like early labor leaders Matthew MacGuire and Peter J. McGuire, both credited with suggesting the holiday in 1882. Time to sing hymns in honor of the workers who perished in the Pullman Strike in 1894. And don’t forget to leave a quarter under your pillow for the Union Dues Fairy to collect!

Just kidding, we all know what Labor Day is really about: mourning all the fun stuff you didn’t get a chance to this summer. Most holidays offer up equal doses of delight and disappointment (Valentine’s Day, New Year’s Eve, Christmas) but on Labor Day, that balance is especially stark: whatever summer fun you’ve had by now is pretty much all you’re gonna get.

And that’s terrifying, because, let’s face it: the “last” barbecue of the summer is probably also only your second. You might be drinking a freshly made mojito, but it’s the first one you’ve had in years. Your bikini body definitely didn’t happen, and that vodka-soaked watermelon probably never will. You never even downloaded Anna Karenina, let alone finish reading it.

Summer, like everything else that glitters, is never as golden as we think. On Memorial Day we envisioned three months of bliss, punctuated by the satisfying “clucks” of opening beer cans. We never really let go of the school-age idea that “summer” is a break from real life, which it’s why it’s depressing to look back and see that life has been going on like usual this whole time. Even when we’re older and have jobs and responsibilities, it’s hard to shake the idea that we should have this time off.

So the idea of “summer” as a season-long vacation is so deeply ingrained that we can’t believe it’s not real — instead, we convince ourselves it’s just happening somewhere else to someone else. Cue the Labor Day ennui: we have somehow “missed out” on the summer that everyone else was having! Where was I this whole time? Just at work like a total chump? During the summer? Quick, hand me that moldy beach towel so I can wipe my tears. It’s a collective entitlement to summer relaxation that morphs into a shared melancholy when we think we’ve been robbed. Cue the vacant stares over Labor Day hot dogs, the heavy drinking of pale ale, the furious application of sunscreen from a still-full tube.

Because midway through the Labor Day tailspin, it occurs to us that it’s not just summer we’ve missed, but youth. Having a summer break is the privilege of being young, and missing one means you’re officially a grown-up.

Then again, it could help to remember that summer vacations of the days of yore were probably not all they’re cracked up to be. You probably had to get a crappy job or go to a day camp. You couldn’t drive yourself to the beach yet, or have sex, or drink, or make any decisions of your own. If you were in college you could do those things, but you also had other stuff to worry about, like where to get weed or how to get a job or whether your high school friends still liked you. In other words, even back when you had a summer vacation, you probably thought someone else had a better one.

So, cheer up! No need to mourn for summertime lost. And look on the bright side: you can still get affordable office supplies at the Staples Back to School center, for all the work you’ll be doing in the coming year.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

TIME europe

Only Gender Quotas Can Stop the E.U. from Being a Boys Club

Newly elected President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker is congratulated on July 15, 2014, in the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France.
Newly elected President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker is congratulated on July 15, 2014, in the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France. Frederick Florin—AFP/Getty Images

The European Commission's president has asked that EU member states nominate female candidates. Here's why gender quotas are necessary

Gender anxiety is enveloping the top levels of the European Union. By the end of this month, each of the bloc’s 28 countries is expected to put forward their candidate to sit on the European Commission, the powerful body that drives policy-making and enforces E.U. law.

Jean-Claude Juncker, the Commission’s new president, has instructed member states to send female candidates, saying he wants more women in the top jobs. A social media campaign – #10orMore – is also under way to boost female representation at the E.U. to a record high.

Unfortunately, governments are not playing ball: so far only five countries have nominated women. Nineteen other nations have nominated a man, with four countries still to announce their candidates.

The goal of getting more women into top decision-making posts is simply common sense given that they represent more than half of the E.U.’s 507 million citizens. Right now this is not reflected by their visibility in politics, business or the media, meaning their interests are often sidelined.

The drive to change the status quo at the top echelons of the E.U. has attracted skepticism. On the Facebook page of Neelie Kroes – one of the nine women in the outgoing Commission and a co-founder of the #10orMore campaign – critics question why gender would qualify a person for one of the 28 commissioner posts.

Such knee-jerk accusations of tokenism greet most attempts to introduce gender quotas in politics or the boardroom. But while so many barriers stand between women and senior positions – and these range from sexism in the workplace, high childcare costs and the unequal distribution of maternity and paternity leave – quotas are one of the few measures that actually have an impact.

In 1997 the British Labour party introduced all-women short lists for parliamentary candidates in some constituencies. Later that year, a record number of women were elected, and Labour still has the highest proportion of female MPs in Britain.

Britain’s Conservative party, which formed a coalition government with the Liberal Democrats in 2010, does not support all-women short lists, and a U.N. survey of women in ministerial positions earlier this year shows Britain languishing at around the halfway point, below Morocco and Cote d’Ivoire, with women making up just 15% of the cabinet.

There are other poor performers in Europe, with Greece, Cyprus and Hungary faring even worse, reflecting the problems Juncker is having in rallying enough women for his Commission.

At the other end of the spectrum, however, are Sweden and Finland, which are in the top three of the U.N. survey with over 50% female representation in their cabinets. France and Norway are close to reaching gender parity.

What the top performers have in common are long-term and often legislated programs to improve gender equality across society. In Sweden, political parties have since the early 1990s imposed voluntary quotas for election candidates. Norway was the first to introduce quotas for women on company boards, while France has legally-binding quotas for both politics and the boardroom. “Quotas are nobody’s first choice but where they are introduced they do improve representation, they do improve visibility of women,” says Clare McNeil, a senior fellow at the London-based Institute for Public Policy Research, adding that they work best when coupled with penalties for non-compliance.

Given the pool of female talent in the E.U., having just a handful of women in the Commission would be a pitiful performance. It is crucial now that efforts to increase female representation go beyond headline-grabbing promises. Juncker and the European Parliament, which approves the Commission, must make good on threats to reject the line-up if it is too male-dominated.

Hopefully quotas will not need to be in place forever. But right now Europe is so far from being a level playing field that radical measures are needed to kick-start lasting change in society.

Charlotte McDonald-Gibson is a writer and journalist based in Brussels.

TIME Opinion

Why Kirsten Gillibrand Should Keep Her Harassers’ Names Secret

She knows who they are, and they know she knows. America is half female, and a third obese. Checkmate.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) revealed in a new book excerpt Wednesday that some male colleagues had called her “porky,” “chubby” and “fat.” Naturally, a shocked and offended public is demanding her harassers be brought to justice. Get the pitchforks! And the regular forks! Specifically, some male journalists are asking that Gillibrand name names, because they are so deeply concerned with curbing sexual harassment in American government:

Even I tweeted yesterday that we should try to guess the culprits, before I realized that that information is infinitely more valuable if it’s kept a secret.

Kay Steiger at Talking Points Memo wrote Thursday that demanding the names suggests we don’t believe Gillibrand, or we’re telling her not to speak out unless she goes whole hog with total transparency. Besides, she rightly points out, men who harass women rarely face major consequences.

But there’s another reason Gillibrand shouldn’t reveal the name of the colleague who told her not to lose weight because “I like my girls chubby.” It’s a total power move. She knows who they are. They know she knows. Checkmate.

Which means somewhere on Capitol Hill, the hapless male Senator who called Gillibrand “porky” is probably cowering in his office, running that interaction in his head over and over again. “How can I spin this?” he’s thinking, “Could I make this about Michelle Obama’s fat-kids-thing? Could I say I was making a point about pork-barrel spending? Where is Olivia Pope when you need her?” Sweat is pouring off his brow, he’s wiping his forehead with his red-and-blue tie, he’s trying desperately to remember whether he pinched her arm or her butt that one time in the House gym. If Gillibrand exposes him, he’ll have a tough time winning over pretty big portion of the electorate: women (more than 50% of the U.S. population) and fat people (more than a third of all Americans.)

Suddenly, a text appears on his phone. “Hey Porker” and then, as a quick follow-up, “;)” He’s in Gillibrand’s house now.

Now, if Gillibrand’s bill to revamp sexual assault reporting in the military comes to the floor again, she can count on a vote from Mr. “Porky.” Need some muscle on a bill to protect contraceptive rights? The guy who called her “Honey Badger” will lend a hand. Maybe the genius who called her the “hottest member of the Senate” could vote with her on climate change.

Even Nancy Pelosi says that Gillibrand’s decision whether to name her harasser is her decision, “but the fact is they know who they are.” Burn.

Revealing her harassers would satisfy our curiosity and expose some senators for the jerks they are, but it’s much better in the long run for Gillibrand to keep their names secret. Exposure could cause some political turmoil for her colleagues, but Steiger is right that it’s more likely to blow over without costing anyone their seat. The more powerful choice is to describe the harassment without naming names, generate public outrage about the treatment of women in government and then use it to persuade the guilty parties to vote the way she wants them to.

Besides, like most scandals, an element of secrecy adds to the power of the charge, and makes Gillibrand seem more dignified. If she appeared on the cover of People next to a block quote that said, “Senator So-and-So Called Me Fat!” she could risk being seen as whiney or petty, and the story could quickly devolve into tabloid fodder. This way, she holds all the cards and maintains control of her image.

It’s what Olivia Pope would do.

TIME politics

A Battle of Two Veterans

In an edgy political year, a former Marine tests a longtime Democratic pol for a seat near Boston

I first wrote about former marine captain Seth Moulton three years ago–and he got ticked off at me. The story was about the leadership potential of the post-9/11 generation of veterans. I described Seth, who is 35, as “the” Harvard valedictorian in June 2001. “That’s not right,” he corrected me. “I was a commencement speaker. There were others. You make it sound like I’m bragging.” I wasn’t surprised that he got up in my face, though. When I’d first interviewed him, he said of his generation of veterans, “We hate the divisive politics of the baby-boom generation. They’re running the country into the ground.” Oof, I replied.

Moulton’s commencement speech was notable because he used the occasion to announce that he was joining the Marines. He said it was his civic responsibility to serve his country. If he didn’t, someone else would have had to take his place in Iraq, a war he thought was “crazy.” He served four tours there, the first two as leader of a combat platoon involved in heavy fighting. But Moulton’s real distinction was his ability to put together teams of Iraqis to build things. General David Petraeus heard about this and asked Moulton to assemble a team–architects, engineers, construction workers–to build a fort on the Iran border. He would be competing against an American private contractor, who had won a similar contract on the border. Moulton’s Iraqi team finished the job in one-third the time as the private contractor and at one-fifth the cost.

Three years later, moulton is running for Congress in Massachusetts’ Sixth District, which covers the suburbs north of Boston. He is running as a Democrat against John Tierney, 63, a nine-term Democratic incumbent. The winner of the Sept. 9 primary will face Richard Tisei, a formidable moderate Republican who is gay and who nearly beat Tierney in 2012. I know the district well, having begun my career covering politics in Peabody, Mass., centuries ago. Indeed, I covered Tierney’s uncle: city councillor James “Silver Fox” Tierney, of whom the city purchasing manager once said, “If we’d had the wisdom to send the Silver Fox to the [state legislature], he might have put half the city on the payroll.”

That is what politics is like in Boston, or used to be. John Tierney isn’t as colorful as his uncle. He has been reliable but not particularly inspiring. He has been a lockstep liberal vote. When you ask him about the paralysis in Washington, he will cite several recent cases of bipartisan triumph–the Veterans Affairs reform bill–but ultimately blames it all on the Republicans, with some good reason. He is a strong favorite to win the primary, well organized, well funded and well endorsed, by Senator Elizabeth Warren among others.

But he has two very serious problems. The first is the tinge of corruption, which stems from his wife’s rather sketchy family–two brothers, one on the lam in Antigua, who were indicted for their involvement in illegal gambling activities. Tierney’s wife Patrice pleaded guilty to helping her brother file false tax returns as part of the case. The brothers said the Congressman knew everything. A close friend of Tierney’s described the brothers as “dirtbags” who were getting back at Tierney because he refused to help them. The scandal was the big issue when the Republican Tisei nearly beat Tierney in 2012. It remains semitoxic.

In August, retired general Stanley McChrystal endorsed Moulton–the general’s first venture into partisan politics–and said the race was about “character.” I asked Tierney what he felt about that, and he said, “Well, [Moulton] worked for the guy.” Which was not true: McChrystal noted how painful it was for an Army officer to endorse a Marine.

Tierney’s other problem is that this may just be the year when the public starts to toss out incumbents on general principle. I saw several people approach Moulton during a day of campaigning and tell him that it was time for Tierney to go. Moulton has, sadly, become more prudent about what comes out of his mouth–and he has refused to distinguish himself from Tierney on most issues. He’s running on freshness and dynamism. He’s shown some of that in his campaign, joining his staff and volunteers in public-service projects throughout the district. And with more decisions looming on Iraq, he says, “the veterans on the committees that make those decisions shouldn’t only be Republicans.”

At a lovely Democratic Party reception in Gloucester harbor, the local establishment came together to support Tierney. He gave a relatively rousing stump speech, but his friends seemed worried. Jean Villa, a local activist who ran his first campaign, said, “I’ve been talking issues with him forever. He knows his stuff.” But, she added, “I always have a sense of how a race is breaking. This time, I’m just not sure.”

TIME Opinion

How to Reclaim the F-Word? Just Call Beyoncé

Beyonce performs onstage at the 2014 MTV Video Music Awards at The Forum on August 24, 2014 in Inglewood, Calif.
Beyonce performs onstage at the 2014 MTV Video Music Awards at The Forum on August 24, 2014 in Inglewood, Calif. Jason LaVeris—FilmMagic/Getty Images

Beyonce’s brand of empowerment isn’t perfect, but her VMA performance on Sunday accomplished what activists could not: She took feminism to the masses.

Militant. Radical. Man-hating. If you study word patterns in media over the past two decades, you’ll find that these are among the most common terms used to talk about the word “feminist.” Yes, I did this — with the help of a linguist and a tool called the Corpus of Contemporary American English, which is the world’s largest database of language.

I did a similar search on Twitter, with the help of Twitter’s data team, looking at language trends over the past 48 hours. There, the word patterns were more simple. Search “feminist,” and you’ll likely come up with just one word association: Beyoncé.

That’s a product of Sunday’s MTV Video Music Awards, of course, in which the 33-year-old closed out the show with an epic declaration of the F-Word, a giant “FEMINIST” sign blazing from behind her silhouette.

As far as feminist endorsements are concerned, this was the holy grail: A word with a complicated history reclaimed by the most powerful celebrity in the world. And then she projected it — along with its definition, by the Nigerian feminist author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie — into the homes of 12 million unassuming Americans. Beyoncé would become the subject of two-thirds of all tweets about feminism in the 24 hours after her appearance, according to a data analysis by Twitter, making Sunday the sixth-highest day for volume of conversation about feminism since Twitter began tracking this year (the top three were days during #YesAllWomen).

“What Bey just did for feminism, on national television, look, for better or worse, that reach is WAY more than anything we’ve seen,” the writer Roxane Gay, author of the new book, Bad Feminist, declared (on Twitter, naturally).

“HELL YES!” messaged Jennifer Pozner, a writer and media critic.

“It would have been unthinkable during my era,” said Barbara Berg, a historian and the author of Sexism in America.

Feminism may be enjoying a particular celebrity moment, but let’s just remember that this wasn’t always the case. Feminism’s definition may be simple — it is the social, political and economic equality of the sexes, as Adichie put it — and yet its interpretation is anything but. “There was only about two seconds in the history of the world in which women really welcomed [feminism],” Gail Collins, The New York Times columnist and author of America’s Women once told me in 2010, for an article I was writing about young women and feminism. “There’s something about the word that just drives people nuts.”

Over the past 40 years in particular, as Berg explains it, the word has seen it all: exultation, neutrality, uncertainty, animosity. “Feminazi” has become a perennial (and favorite) insult of the religious right (and of Rush Limbaugh). In 1992, in a public letter decrying a proposal for an equal rights amendment (the horror!) television evangelist Pat Robertson hilariously proclaimed that feminism would cause women to “leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism, and become lesbians.”

Even the leaders of the movement have debated whether the word should be abandoned (or rebranded). From feminist has evolved the words womanist, humanist, and a host of other options — including, at one point, the suggestion from Queen Bey herself for something a little bit more catchy, “like ‘bootylicious.'” (Thank God that didn’t stick.)

It wasn’t that the people behind these efforts (well, most of them anyway) didn’t believe in the tenets of feminism — to the contrary, they did. But there was just something about identifying with that word. For some, it was pure naiveté: We were raised post-Title IX, and there were moments here and there where we thought maybe we didn’t need it. (We could be whatever we wanted, right? That was the gift of the feminists who came before us.) But for others, it was a notion of what the word had come to represent: angry, extreme, unlikeable. As recently as last year, a poll by the Huffington Post/YouGov found that while 82 percent of Americans stated that they indeed believe women and men should be equals, only 20 percent of them were willing to identify as feminists.

Enter… Beyoncé. The new enlightened Beyoncé, that is. Universally loved, virtually unquestioned, and flawless, the 33-year-old entertainer seems to debunk every feminist stereotype you’ve ever heard. Beyoncé can’t be a man-hater – she’s got a man (right?). Her relationship – whatever you believe about the divorce rumors – has been elevated as a kind of model for egalitarian bliss: dual earners, adventurous sex life, supportive husband and an adorable child held up on stage by daddy while mommy worked. Beyoncé’s got the confidence of a superstar but the feminine touch of a mother. And, as a woman of color, she’s speaking to the masses – a powerful voice amid a movement that has a complicated history when it comes to inclusion.

No, you don’t have to like the way Beyoncé writhes around in that leotard – or the slickness with which her image is controlled – but whether you like it or not, she’s accomplished what feminists have long struggled to do: She’s reached the masses. She has, literally, brought feminism into the living rooms of 12.4 million Americans. “Sure, it’s just the VMAs,” says Pozner. “She’s not marching in Ferguson or staffing a battered woman’s shelter, but through her performance millions of mainstream music fans are being challenged to think about feminism as something powerful, important, and yes, attractive. And let’s head off at the pass any of the usual hand-wringing about her sexuality — Madonna never put the word FEMINIST in glowing lights during a national awards show performance. This is, as we say… a major moment.”

It’s what’s behind the word that matters, of course. Empty branding won’t change policy (and, yes, we need policy change). But there is power in language, too.

“Looking back on those early days of feminism, you can see that the word worked as a rallying cry,” says Deborah Tannen, aa linguist at Georgetown University and the author of You Just Don’t Understand, about men and women in conversation. “It gave women who embraced [it] a sense of identity and community — a feeling that they were part of something, and a connection to others who were a part of it too. Beyoncé’s taking back this word and identifying with it is huge.”

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 a contributing editor for Sheryl Sandberg’s women’s foundation, Lean In. You can follow her @jess7bennett.

TIME Opinion

9 Feminist Takeaways From the VMAs

2014 MTV Video Music Awards - Roaming Show
Singer Beyonce performs onstage during the 2014 MTV Video Music Awards at The Forum on August 24, 2014 in Inglewood, California. Kevin Winter—Getty Images

Men provided mostly forgettable moments

Feminism Doesn’t Mean ‘Man-Hater’

In fact, what it actually means is: the belief that all genders should be equal to each other politically, economically and socially. Thank you, Beyoncé.

Female Breadwinners Are Amazing

A Tumblr blogger put it best: “If Jay Z can support Beyonce’s stance on feminism and not feel threatened by it and cheer on her work with their daughter in his arms then ya’ll motherf*****s ain’t got no excuses.” Amen.

Gender Parity: It’s Possible!

The ladies took home 10 of 16 of the awards, or a whopping 63%.

You Can Use Fashion to Declare Your Independence

Katy Perry and RiFF RAFF dressed as early 00s power couple Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake on the red carpet. Even though it was a couple’s costume, Perry basically used the jean-clad rapper as a prop to state her independence while playing with rumors about her dating life.

Women Can Support Each Other

It was notable to hear Lorde introduce Taylor Swift as her “friend;” for Demi Lovato to tweet that she loves Nicki Minaj; to see female artists collaborating rather than tearing each other down.

Ladies Are Multifaceted, Get Over It

Yep, they can call themselves feminists and do it in a bodysuit.

Embrace the Female Badass

The best presenters of the night were Laverne Cox, Taylor Schilling and Uzo Aduba from Orange Is the New Black, who compared the competitive world of the VMAs to the all women’s prison on their show.

Women Can Rock Out, Too

While announcing the award for Best Rock Video, presenter Trey Songz said — in an eye-roll moment— that “even a lady [was] in the mix.” Well that lady was Lorde, and she was the first woman to ever win in that category. Besides, it’s not like Trey Songz was nominated for anything.

Being a Mom is Empowering

Beyoncé’s tribute to her adorable daughter brought the diva — and likely the entire audience — to tears. Count motherhood among Beyoncé’s many achievements. Women, having it all: check!

TIME Opinion

This Year’s VMAs Were All About Empowered Women

2014 MTV Video Music Awards - Show
Honoree Beyonce performs onstage during the 2014 MTV Video Music Awards at The Forum on August 24, 2014 in Inglewood, California. Michael Buckner—Getty Images

Beyoncé, Nicki, T-Swift and Iggy get feminist on MTV

From Nicki Minaj’s defiant twerking to Taylor Swift’s sly role-reversal to Beyoncé singing with the word “FEMINIST” emblazoned behind her, empowered women stole the spotlight at this year’s MTV Video Music Awards. Not only were their performances the best (sorry, Usher), but their message was clear:

We’re taking over. And we’re not sorry.

Here’s the breakdown:

Nicki Minaj

When Nicki Minaj’s “Anaconda” video dropped last week, bloggers couldn’t help but notice that not a single man appeared in the video—except for Drake at the very end. (And let’s be fair: His mere presence is justified by her pleasure in teasing him.) Minaj has always done what she wants whenever she wants without any consideration for anyone, let alone the opposite gender. The same is true in this video—all that glorious twerking in the jungle isn’t for the sake of a man but for Minaj herself. And even when Minaj does proceed to give Drake a lap dance at the end of the video, it’s all on her terms. When he finally tries to reach out to touch her bottom, she slaps his hand and struts away, leaving him miserable with his head in his hands.

Her VMAs performance was similar: all her backup dancers were female. And while she didn’t get the chance to utter some of the more choice lines from “Anaconda,” her dancing alone gives us the sense that Minaj could not care less what any man thinks.

View the full performance here.

Taylor Swift

Taylor Swift, who recently declared herself a feminist, eschewed tradition in her “Shake It Off” performance. In an interesting role reversal, all of Swift’s backup dancers were men while women sang backup and played instruments. It’s not a completely original move: many divas have been carried onstage by an entourage of men before. But when Swift was given the option to jump off a platform into the arms of the guys below her, she decided to walk down the stairs herself instead. The move was a nod to her clumsiness, but T-Swift was also sending the message that she doesn’t need to depend on a man to catch her either.

View the full performance here.

Iggy Azalea & Rita Ora

For those who haven’t seen the music video for “Black Widow,” it’s a re-imagining of Kill Bill, one of the most iconic female empowerment flicks ever made. (And reminiscent of when Lady Gaga and Beyoncé teamed up for the “Telephone” music video, referencing Kill Bill as well as Thelma & Louise). The song has similar themes of women-on-man vengeance, and the music video—along with the VMAs performance—celebrates girl power in a way rarely seen in pop culture. Heck, maybe Iggy Azalea should play Spider-Woman on the big screen.

View the full performance here.

 

Beyoncé

I’ve written before about how Beyoncé’s latest album, “Beyoncé,” is basically a lesson in modern feminism. That continued to be true Sunday night during her finale performance when she sang the anthems that women across the world have had on repeat since the surprise album drop in December. These are songs that remind women not to obsess about looks and perfection (“Flawless”), sexual pleasure ought to be a two-way street (“Blow”) and pleasing your man isn’t an anti-feminist endeavor (“Partition”).

But the peak came during “Flawless,” which began with the recording of Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s call to feminism (which is also featured in the album). Her words flashed in bold letters behind the singer: “We teach girls that they cannot be sexual beings in the way that boys are. We teach girls to shrink themselves, to make themselves smaller. We say to girls, you can have ambition but not too much. Aim to be successful, but not too successful otherwise you will threaten the man.”

The word “feminist” then flashed on the screen and lingered long enough for Beyonce’s silhouette to pull into the frame—and for her to be photographed with the words behind her a few thousand times.

Think about that: feminist sat written in huge letters on a screen behind the most popular pop star in the world on an awards show whose main demographic is tweens and teens. The 2013 VMAs may have been the year of performances that gave us pause for all of the wrong reasons, but this year’s VMAs were something completely different.

TIME Opinion

Scooby Doo and the Unfortunate Case of Fat Shaming

The latest Scooby Doo film "curses" Daphne by turning her from a size 2 to an 8

+ READ ARTICLE

Tuesday marked the release of Frankencreepy, Warner Bros.’s latest straight-to-video Scooby Doo feature. But it turns out the real villain in the kid’s flick isn’t the monster. It’s Warner Bros. Here’s why.

The movie begins innocently enough. Velma inherits her uncle’s haunted castle, unleashing a curse on the Mystery Gang that makes them lose what they “hold most dear.” Scooby, for example, loses his snacks. And what fate, pray tell, befalls stylish and slender Daphne? She transforms from a size 2 to… a size 8.

That’s right, it is a “curse” to be a size that’s considerably smaller than the national average, which the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) calculates at 5’4″ and 166 pounds. Cue the tears, screams and shattered cartoon mirrors! Because according to this supposedly feel-good-flick, weight gain is the ultimate horror.

This screengrab from the film shows how “cursed” Daphne is portrayed in the film. Which is still below the average size of an American woman:

Scooby Doo: Frankencreepy

Here’s a self-reported actual size 8, exhibited by the beautiful Mariska Hargitay:

Haley & Jason Binn Host A Memorial Day Party
Mariska Hargitay attends Haley & Jason Binn’s Memorial Day party Johnny Nunez—Getty Images

And here’s Christina Hendricks, another redheaded icon who displays her reported size-14 curves with pride:

Cast member Christina Hendricks poses at the premiere for the seventh season of the television series "Mad Men" in Los Angeles, California April 2, 2014.
Cast member Christina Hendricks poses at the premiere for the seventh season of the television series “Mad Men” in Los Angeles, California April 2, 2014. Mario Anzuoni—Reuters

But back to Daphne:

Scooby Doo: Frankencreepy

We don’t need to call the Mystery Gang to figure out where kids pick up unrealistic body expectations and weight stigma.

“It’s sad to think that my daughter can’t even watch a cartoon about a dog solving mysteries without negative body stereotypes being thrown in her face,” blogger Tom Burns wrote. And for a mere $3.99 on Amazon Prime, you too can subject your elementary-school-age daughter to an early dose of fat shaming

In a statement to the Huffington Post, however, Warner Bros. said that while Daphne does lose “her good looks (mainly her figure and her hair)”— implying that an actual realistic figure isn’t, in fact, an attractive one — the message is one of empowerment since Daphne realizes she was being superficial and Fred still thinks she’s hot.

While Daphne is at first upset by the sudden change, there is a touching moment where Fred points out that he didn’t even notice a change and that she always looks great to him.

At the end, when Velma explains how they figured out the mystery, she points out that the curse actually DIDN’T take away what means the most to each of them: their friendship.

The loss of Daphne’s regular appearance is proven to be a superficial thing, and not what actually matters the most to her.

There’s a good message for your 10-year-old. Not having an almost unattainably perfect figure doesn’t matter “the most.” It just matters a lot.

Jeepers.

(Warner Bros is owned by Time Warner, which spun off TIME parent company Time Inc earlier this year.)

TIME Opinion

Matthew Weiner Is Wrong. The Gender Wage Gap Is Real, Even In Hollywood

Matthew Weiner
Matthew Weiner Mike Pont—FilmMagic/Getty Images

In some ways, we're still living in a Mad Men world

In a recent interview, Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner delved into a sensitive subject about the way women are treated on the job. No, he wasn’t talking about the women who work at Sterling Cooper circa 1969. He was talking about his fellow showrunners circa 2014, who don’t earn the same amount of money that he does.

“I don’t think that’s a gender issue,” Weiner said in a recent interview with HuffPost Live. “Jenji’s entitled to every dollar but you have to fight for it, male or female. No one gives you anything.”

The Jenji he was referring to is Jenji Kohan, the showrunner of Orange is the New Black, who recently spoke out about the gender wage gap in television to The Hollywood Reporter. From the THR‘s story:

“I don’t think I’m getting paid as much as the men in my position, still,” [Kohan] says, “and it’s extremely frustrating.”

Gender inequality has been a thorn in Kohan’s side since she was a young girl and her novelist mother told her that men were “funnier” and “better at this.” That Kohan’s own studio, Lionsgate, is paying Weiner a reported $30 million for Mad Men‘s final three seasons adds another layer of complexity. “It’s hard when one of your best friends is Matt,” she says, then carefully adds: “I don’t begrudge him for one second; it’s more of just, ‘Why am I not making that?'” (Lionsgate declined comment.)

It’s apparent from her comments that Kohan isn’t pulling in the same amount of money as Weiner, but is the Mad Men producer correct in his belief that gender had nothing to do with it? Considering that across the board full-time working women earn 77 percent of what their male counterparts make, is it really possible that this trend isn’t the case in showbiz? Sadly, no. While there aren’t hard, public figures for many of the people who work in the film and television industries, there is enough information out there that gives a strong indication that a discrepancy does, in fact, exist.

Weiner suggests in the HuffPo interview that if only Kohan was fighting for a higher salary — like he has throughout his career — than she’d be getting a bigger pay-check. But that logic falls flat when you consider the fact that Kohan likely has fought throughout her career, in ways that Weiner might not be able to imagine, to just get her foot in the door at all.

Kohan is repeatedly ranked among the best showrunners working right now, but she’s also one of a handful of women working in the field. Take a look at THR‘s list of the top 50 TV writer/producers of 2013: it features a total of 14 women on it, and many of them work as part of a team with a man. (Weiner and Kohan were both named.) If you’re part of a vast minority working in a hugely competitive industry, it’s likely that you already had to work pretty damn hard to be there. To suggest otherwise smacks of unacknowledged male privilege. What’s more, women who work in other male-dominated fields don’t make as much as the men they work with; to assume it’s different in the television and film industry seems absurd.

Just look to other areas of show business for a clearer idea. Women behind the camera in the film industry are also a tiny minority. According to San Diego State University’s Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film’s annual Celluloid Ceiling survey, women accounted for only 16 percent of all directors, executive producers, producers, writers, cinematographers and editors working on the 250 top-grossing films last year. That 16 percent is part of a pretty consistent trend in Hollywood. (The Celluloid Ceiling survey has been conducted every year since 1997.)

While many of the women in that tiny minority have worked on some pretty impressive films, it still hasn’t landed them in the realm of top-salaries. A Vanity Fair breakdown of Hollywood’s top-earners in 2011 looked at the incomes of actors, directors, producers and writers to see who landed in the top 50. Only six women in total made the list, and they were all actresses. The group didn’t include a single woman director or producer or writer.

Yet even where women do seem to be pulling in top, competitive salaries — namely, in front of the camera — they still aren’t earning as much as their male co-stars. Take this year’s Forbes list for the top 10 highest-earning actors and actresses. Collectively, the top 10 highest paid men made a whopping $419 million last year. Meanwhile, the top 10 highest paid women earned $226 million — just 54 percent of what Hollywood’s actors were pulling in. For as much buzz as Jennifer Lawrence gets — with an Oscar win, a devoted fan-base and a beloved franchise under her belt — she still made $12 million less in 2013 than her American Hustle co-star, Bradley Cooper. True, these women aren’t facing any financial hardships despite the gap, but what about the women in the lesser-paid areas of the industry?

When you have a minority of women working in the industry’s top positions — and they are saying and sometimes proving that they’re earning less — than, yes, it is a gender issue. Of course, as Weiner himself points out in his interview, showrunners’ salaries aren’t typically made public. Which is too bad. If the hard numbers were out there for everyone to see, perhaps the gender wage gap — and Jenji Kohan — wouldn’t be so easy to dismiss.

TIME Opinion

Should We Forgive Marvel for That Awful Spider-Woman Cover ?

Spider-Woman #1 Variant Cover by Milo Manara Marvel Comics

Why an overly sexualized female super-heroine is bad for business

Oh, Marvel, we had such high hopes.

In recent months Marvel has announced that a woman will wield Thor’s hammer for the foreseeable future and revealed at the “Women of Marvel” panel at San Diego Comic-Con that there would be a new Spider-Woman comic series come November. Female fans rejoiced that major characters in the Marvel universe would finally look like them. It was a smart business move for the comic book company: 47% of comic fans are female, and women make up 62% of the Facebook fans of female comic characters (including Black Widow, Elektra and She-Hulk), according to Comics Beat.

But after building up so much good will with the ladies, they had to go and screw it up.

This week, Marvel released to Comic Book Resources the alternate cover (presumably for promotional purposes) for Spider-Woman No. 1. In the picture, the superheroine is in a…ahem…compromising position. As The Mary Sue notes, the (physically impossible?) pose—bottom up—is familiar to anyone who has read erotic comic books. More importantly, there’s no way that is an efficient method of climbing that rooftop. And what kind of material clings to a posterior like that? When asked to comment, Marvel declined.

I get it: superheroes wear Spandex and a lot of excitable teenage boys read these comic books. But this cover takes the sex-factor to a new extreme, totally alienating those 47% of comic book fans I mentioned earlier. A male hero would never be placed in the same physical position. The man who drew the cover is known for his erotic style, which begs the question: why hire him to draw a major character to whom female fans are supposed to be able to relate?

And courting those female fans means big bucks. Studios are increasingly relying on comic books as source material for summer blockbusters, and studies have shown that movies with empowered female characters do better at the box office. That, and the success of films like The Hunger Games, Divergent and Lucy, suggest that a female superhero film will do well. As Marvel develops more female characters, it’s not just about comic books: movie ticket sales are also on the line.

Sony just inked a deal with Marvel Comics to put out a female-led superhero movie based on a character from the Spider-Man universe (like, I don’t know, Spider-Woman?). This may have been an alternate cover, but it’s launched 1,000 think pieces, the conclusion of which has been: “This is what happens when men draw female characters.” If this is how Spider-Woman is envisioned for the comics, female fans shouldn’t get their hopes up for the movie version.

Kevin Feige, the head of Marvel Studios, recently said that he thought there ought to be a female superhero film. And yet he hasn’t green-lit one, despite the fact that fans are practically begging for a Black Widow movie starring Scarlett Johansson—a spinoff from the Avengers franchise. Perhaps he’s waiting to see how Sony and Marvel’s yet-to-be-named super-heroine will do first, which is why drawings like this one matter.

So do better, Marvel.

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