TIME women

I Was Catcalled While Pregnant

Walking with cars
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I naively thought a prominent pregnant belly would provide me with a protective bubble from street harassment

xojane

This story originally appeared on xoJane.com.

I’ve been a victim of street harassment since I was a tween. It’s just par for the course. I usually dealt with it in a passive way: ignore it and get away as quickly and quietly as possible. Don’t make eye contact. Don’t acknowledge them. Just keep walking. Focused ignorance.

I was catcalled one day shortly after I found out I was pregnant. I blissfully imagined what my belly would look like in a few months time and how the harassment would stop. I was (and am) pregnant, and naively thought a prominent pregnant belly would provide me with a protective bubble, although admittedly temporary. Never did I imagine that not only would I experience catcalling while pregnant, but harassers would be even more aggressive.

I was walking to work the first time it happened. A man was walking toward me and I could feel his eyes examining every inch of me. He evidently decided my breasts were the best place to keep his gaze, and as I hurried to pass him, discontented, disgusted, a little afraid, mostly angry, he muttered comments about my body. Wonderful.

I wanted to scream at him to keep his eyes and comments to himself, and learn a little respect. Instead, I defaulted to my usual focused ignorance.

The incident left me shocked, disgusted and confused. My pregnancy was clearly showing, and I had assumed pregnancy would provide some relief from the sexually objectifying gaze of street harassers. Imagine, walking down the street without being catcalled — what a world!

Generally in American society, pregnant women are seen as beautiful, but in a non-sexual way. Because they are preparing for motherhood, pregnant women are to remain asexual, keeping a holy mind and body, focused solely on motherhood. But some men have found a way to separate pregnant women from their bodies. The pregnant body itself is no different than any other female body in that it is subject to inspection and commentary, including sexually, especially in public spaces.

One only has to look at the covers of entertainment magazines to realize that a woman’s body is never her own, including a pregnant one. Tabloids are always making comments about pregnant celebrities — who’s fat/sexy/rockin’ the bump — and are relentless in pointing out women who they claim have “let themselves go” during pregnancy.

But sometimes magazines overtly sexualize a pregnant woman, not in a powerful way, showing that the pregnant woman can be sexual, but in an objectifying way, creating a sexy image for the viewer’s gaze.

Interestingly, the first magazine cover to present a naked pregnant body was done so as a feminist statement. The now well-known 1991 Vanity Fair cover displayed a proud and pregnant Demi Moore, whose eyes gazed off camera, with little makeup or jewelry. A simple image that tackled complex issues surrounding the pregnant body, it was groundbreaking.

Fast forward in time and the pregnant cover and spread conveys a whole new message — sex. Heavy eye makeup, flashy jewels, seductive pose, and bedroom eyes are par for the course. The images scream “sexual object,” reminding our society that these bodies are here for our enjoyment.

When you’re pregnant, your body is not your own; complete strangers feel entitled to say something to you. Some of these comments are nice (e.g., asking when you’re due or saying congratulations), while other times the commenters should have probably kept their mouth shut (e.g., remarking how huge your belly is, asking if you’re having twins, etc.).

Usually I’m by myself when these comments are made, but once a dear friend happened to be with me. We were going to an art museum and the ticket collector made a comment about my belly. It was nothing offensive, and clearly intended as genial, but my friend joked “Gee, it must be great having everyone comment on your body at all times.”

I shrugged it off — I’d become used to the fact that people felt the right to discuss my body like it’s public property. But really, I was just glad that the comment wasn’t sexual in nature. Yup, my standards have been lowered. I never imagined that I would be sexually harassed while pregnant, but that’s the reality. A disgusting and frustrating reality.

As my baby bump continues to grow, each lingering gaze and crude comment continues to be a source of distress. I’m not certain what these men are thinking, but for some reason, they act like their advances are compliments.

For me and the women I know, these comments have never been perceived as compliments and they never will be — especially now. Each whistle, each lip-smack, each wink, each “Mmm, hey baby” feels like a threat aimed not just at me, but to my unborn child as well. No, I don’t need your praise on how good you think my body looks, or need to know what you would do to any part of my body. Bugger off!

Although I’ve always dealt with catcalling in a passive manner, this new violation brings out the angry mama bear in me. Still, I dare not say anything for fear of the repercussions. Sure, I might be able to get them to shut up, but then again, I could also trigger one of the harassers to do something extreme, something that we’ve seen in the news far too often this year (e.g., the woman shot and killed because she refused to give a man her number, or the woman whose throat was cut for, again, refusing her catcaller. Sadly, I could go on…).

This underlying fear is paralyzing. As a woman, there are too many risks in calling out your aggressor, especially when there is another life at stake. Not to mention I’m moving slower than normal these days, making it even more difficult to escape from the situation in a timely manner.

So what’s a girl to do?! I wish I had the answer. I’ve debated printing off “What would your mother think?!” cards, but again, I can’t waddle away fast enough to not fear retaliation.

But I have decided on one thing, I will not start wearing baggy clothes to cover up my body. I’m proud that I’m growing a human inside me; it’s freakin’ hard work, so you better believe I’m walking with pride! In the meantime, I’m working on my resting-bitch-face and walking without eye contact, belly-poppin’ pregnant-waddle and all.

Terra Olsen is a writer and game content manager for an indie mobile gaming company.

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

TIME Race

I Am a ‘Conscious’ Black Woman Who Fell for a White Man

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Here I was: Ms. HBCU, Afro-turned-locs-sporting, ankh-wearing, and lover of all things Black — falling for a white man

xojane

This story originally appeared on xoJane.com.

In the words of my hero Maya Angelou, “I can’t believe my good fortune, and I am just so grateful, to be a Black woman. A Black American woman. I would be so jealous if I were anything else.”

I learned that “Black” was intended to mean “inferior” at the age of five and by the time I was ready for college I had only begun to learn why I should rejoice in my Blackness. I grew up in this spirit. I survived being “the smart Black girl” at majority white schools in this spirit, and rejected an opportunity for full scholarship at a predominately white institution to attend the best university on the globe (naturally a historically black one) — because of this spirit.

Being a Black person at an HBCU is nothing short of divine. A community of academics who understand you, instructors who are exceptionally hard on you because they know what you’re up against in this world, and an ever-present aura that dispels every negative thing that you were taught about your color from the moment you knew what it was.

I chopped off my chemically processed hair, took every class I could led by the master of Africana Studies, Dr. Gregory Carr, and wore an ankh on my body every chance I got.

Needless to say, I only dated Black men.

Though I find Black men physically attractive, what I really, really find attractive is the unspoken understanding that exists between me and a Black man of my choosing. I love not explaining why I tie my hair up at night, or that my skin would burn in beach sun without sunblock. I love arguing about whether “Love Jones” or “Love and Basketball” was the greatest Black love story of the ’90s. I could never date outside of Black men, I thought. It would never work.

But I was W-R-O-N-G! I could and I did.

We’ll call him Mazzi for discretion’s sake. He stood about 6 feet and 5 inches. He was handsome, funny, and a bit cynical. We worked in the same space, after I had graduated from college, for about a year. I hardly noticed him at the onset but eventually we began talking and sharing inside jokes and such. And one day he asked me on a date.

There was naturally some apprehension: 1) because we worked together AND 2) because he was unquestionably a white man.

I expressed my desire to keep it quiet at work and Mazzi agreed, so we went.

I laughed a lot that evening. Like from pick-up to drop-off. As our dates went on for some months, I began to notice the disapproving eyes of people around us when we were out together.

“Do you see how people look at us?!” I asked one day.

“Yeah,” he said nonchalantly. “It happens all the time. People don’t have shit going on in their own lives so that fact that I’m here with this ‘self-aware’ Black woman is earth shattering to them.”

I couldn’t help but laugh. He smiled cautiously.

Time passed and we grew closer. I had just gotten into running and he was a thrower for his college’s track team so he would offer me advice on what I can do to get faster and stronger (he also gave awesome back rubs). He was a writer who never put his thoughts down and I encouraged him to do so. He had become my sounding board when I would get overwhelmed and met disappointments in my medical school application process, and I was his “therapist” who eventually got to the root of his cynicism. We were comfortable with one another. At some point in all this, I changed jobs to work in my field and we no longer had the “work thing” to consider.

Here I was: Ms. HBCU, Afro-turned locs sporting, ankh wearing, and lover of all things Black — falling for a white man.

He brought up the subject of a relationship and I retreated. I’d talk about my reluctance to get in relationships (which was true) and he didn’t push the issue. But of course eventually I entered a relationship with him because it only made sense.

My two closest friends were shocked but very supportive and liked him a lot. I liked him too. He was the ideal, except he wasn’t Black.

My family slowly began to pick up on the fact that this was more than a collection of dates and did not necessarily approve. This didn’t impact me so much though. I was good at being rebellious.

His family was really sweet to me and always invited and included me when going to dinners or family parties.

Though I never felt “inferior” throughout the course of our relationship, race was an issue.

I remember the first time it was brought to my attention. He was driving and talking to me on the phone with some friends in the car. His friends had been drinking one of them yelled into the phone.

“Tell Ashley I miss her! Wait! Do Black people miss people?”

Now you and I both know how idiotic of a statement that was, but my issue was not with his asshole of a friend, it was with his lack of response to the comment. He later told me he addressed it. I didn’t believe him.

When I would experience “exotic otherness” at work, I would talk to him about it and he would suggest that I was overreacting when I knew I wasn’t. He would never know the feeling I was describing and I really couldn’t expect him to understand.

Then once in an argument, he said that my beloved alma mater was “institutionally racist.” This was a HUGE mistake on his part. I don’t remember my exact response but I am certain it was angry.

These were tough issues we had to work through. And it was hard. In considering a future with him, I worried about these issues. And he got to a point where he would refuse to talk if he sensed that race would come up. I understood, it was tense between us.

But when it was good, which usually was the case, it was perfect. Then, during a period that I thought was a good one, he went through my phone while I was sleeping. He read messages between my friends and me about how I missed the comfort and familiarity of Black men… OUCH!

Race was an issue.

To know me is to know that a violation of my privacy is grounds for dismissal. I felt guilty, so I didn’t break up with him right way. But from that point forward, I stopped feeling like myself. I was no longer mentally present in the relationship and I strongly resented the phone incident. The race thing was too hard and I had stopped “trying” because I knew he didn’t trust me anyway. I ended it a few months later.

This was in August. And I would be fooling myself if I said I don’t sometimes think I made a mistake. In my relationship, I felt special, and I was loved — even though he wasn’t Black.

Someone made a comment to me recently: “I’m glad you came back to this side.” I replied, “I never changed,” because though Mazzi may not have been the guy for me, and though he was undoubtedly a white man, he never wanted anything from me, but me — locs and all.

Ashley Thomas is an aspiring writer from Baltimore, Maryland.

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

TIME health

New Global Study Calls Violence Against Women ‘Epidemic’

A Pokot woman holds a razor blade after performing a circumcision on four girls in a village about 80 kilometres from the town of Marigat in Baringo County, Kenya, Oct. 16, 2014.
A Pokot woman holds a razor blade after performing a circumcision on four girls in a village about 80 kilometres from the town of Marigat in Baringo County, Kenya, Oct. 16, 2014. Siegfried Modola—Reuters

Governments need to step up their game to protect women, says extensive new research

When it comes to stopping violence against women, actions speak louder than words. So even though there’s increased worldwide awareness about violence against women, the problem won’t be solved unless countries make significant policy and financial changes to support victims, according to a five-part series of studies in The Lancet, one of the world’s premier medical journals.

The series, entitled “Violence Against Women and Girls,” calls the violence a “global public health and clinical problem of epidemic proportions,” and the statistics are bleak. 100-140 million women have undergone female genital mutilation worldwide, and 3 million African girls per year are at risk. 7% of women will be sexually assaulted by someone besides their partner in their lifetimes. Almost 70 million girls worldwide have been married before they turned 18. According to WHO estimates, 30% of women worldwide have experienced partner violence. The researchers said that these problems could only be solved with political action and increased funding, since the violence has continued “despite increased global attention,” implying awareness is not enough.

“No magic wand will eliminate violence against women and girls,” series co-lead Charlotte Watts, founding Director of the Gender Violence and Health Centre at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, said in a statement. “But evidence tells us that changes in attitudes and behavior are possible, and can be achieved within less than a generation.”

One of the major problems highlighted in the Lancet series is that much of the current research on violence against women has been conducted in high-income countries, and it’s mostly been focused on response instead of prevention. The study found that the key driver of violence in most middle-and-low income countries is gender inequality, and that it would be near impossible to prevent abuse without addressing the underlying political, economic, and educational marginalization of women.

The study also found that health workers are often uniquely positioned to help victims, since they’re often the first to know about the abuse.

“Health-care providers are often the first point of contact for women and girls experiencing violence,” says another series co-lead, Dr. Claudia Garcia-Moreno, a physician at the WHO, in a statement. “The health community is missing important opportunities to integrate violence programming meaningfully into public health initiatives on HIV/AIDS, adolescent health, maternal health, and mental health.”

The series makes five concrete recommendations to curb the violence against women. The authors urge nations to allocate resources to prioritize protecting victims, change structures and policies that discriminate against women, promote support for survivors, strengthen health and education sectors to prevent and respond to violence, and invest in more research into ways to address the problem. In other words: money, education, and political action are key to protecting the world’s most vulnerable women. Hashtag activism, celebrity songs, and stern PSAs are helpful, but this problem is too complicated to be solved by awareness alone.

“We now have some promising findings to show what works to prevent violence,” said Dr. Cathy Zimmerman from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine. “We urgently need to turn this evidence into genuine action so that women and girls can live violence-free lives.”

The study comes just in time for the UN’s International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, on Nov. 25.

TIME Opinion

Bill Cosby, Camille Cosby and the Oppressive Power of Silence

What the couple's response to allegations of sexual assault reveal about the scandal

Camille Cosby smiles, uncomfortably shifting in her chair. Staring off camera, switching positions, silent. In the latest contribution to the Bill Cosby saga, we see husband and wife side by side as he addresses the very act of questioning about his numerous rape allegations in an AP interview (above). Mrs. Cosby continues to smile and looks away from the reporter several times, both she and her husband presuming that the cameras have stopped rolling. I will not read into her silence. I will not pull meaning about this woman and her thoughts and decisions other than to say that in the watching, the silence is palpable, wince-inducing and profoundly painful.

That exchange highlights the most meaningful currency in this 30+ year long drama that is just now seeing its climax unfold on the public stage: silence. At every turn, it is the silence that serves as a proxy for power in the story of Bill Cosby, his alleged sexual deviance and the current downward spiral of public opinion. Silence here, as in most cases, represents the power wielded and power taken by those who are seen as, well, powerful.

In Cosby’s story we find accusations of women being silenced for decades by threats, lawyers, fear and a generally defensive public, who until now were uninterested in being awakened from sweet dreams of their TV father.

The NPR audio interview released last week showcases Cosby’s clearly pre-determined response to the softest, almost nervous questions about the rape allegations: deafening silence.

This should not be viewed as the mature response of a well respected, integrity filled man (and in the case of his wife, a beloved, regal woman) attempting to maintain dignity and stay above the fray. It should be seen as what it is: A power move by a someone so arrogant that he thinks he shouldn’t even be asked about the fact that 15 women are accusing him of a horrific crime.

The silence of those publicly associated with Mr. Cosby is also noticeable, as comedians who revere him and actors and actresses whose careers were made by him avoid addressing the not-new bombshell like the plague.

And even in the most recent AP video, as Mrs. Cosby sits idly by, the central tension between Mr. Cosby and the reporter revolves around him pressuring the journalist into, what? Silence. He calmly yet persistently requests the editing out of his own “no comment” response to the reporter’s request for a statement. Be clear: In the actual interview, Mr. Cosby refused to discuss it, saying “I don’t talk about that.” It is that exchange that he wants scrubbed from the record. He even wants his silence silenced.

History teaches us that silence is often the most effective tool of power. It forces others into submission. It attempts to control a narrative. It hides things. And it is often a strategic attempt on the part of the powerful to shame other voices – the victims, the oppressed, the challengers, the inquisitors – into a similar silence.

But right now as Missouri police use military tactics and tear gas to force silence upon outraged but peaceful Ferguson protestors and rich executives threaten female reporters who won’t stop talking with personal attacks pulled from private investigators (see the latest Uber controversy), silence is not ok.

And that is why, despite our national love of Dr. Heathcliff Huxtable, silence is not an option. Not for me. Not for his countless fans. Not for a media finally ready to deal with the dirt and thankfully, not for the women who are sharing their painful, private stories. It is time to counter his silence with other forms of power. The power of our common sense to see behind a made-for-TV character. The power of these women to, at the very least, have their voices heard. And the power for all of us to seek truth and justice, however unsettling it may be.

Read next:

TIME Birth Control

Going Off the Pill Could Affect Who You’re Attracted to, Study Finds

New research shows that going off the pill could affect how attracted you are to your mate

Your birth control pill could affect your relationship, and not just because it halts baby-making. A new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science followed 118 couples who met while the woman was on hormonal birth control and found that going off the pill could impact how attracted she was to her partner.

Whether a woman’s attraction to her mate shifted post-Pill seemed to be determined by how objectively good-looking he was by evolutionary standards, which means his attractiveness is an indicator of genetic fitness. Some women with partners who were not conventionally attractive reported being less attracted to him after stopping oral contraceptives, whereas a decrease was not seen in women whose partners were conventionally handsome.

“Women who choose a partner when they’re on hormonal contraceptives and then stop taking them will prioritize their husband’s attractiveness more than they would if they were still on it,” says Michelle Russell, the Florida State graduate student who is the lead author on the study. “The effect that it would have on her marital satisfaction would carry more weight.” That means that if your husband is not conventionally attractive and you go off the Pill, his attractiveness might bother you more than before. Conversely, if you’re bored of your foxy husband, going off the Pill might make you more excited about him. Maybe.

Russell says the change may be attributed fluctuating estrogen levels, but says there could be many hormonal reasons for this effect. She also doesn’t suggest that this finding should dissuade women from using oral contraceptives. “This is just one finding,” she says.

Other studies have looked at how the Pill affects female attraction. A 2008 paper published in The Proceedings of the Royal Society B found that while women are usually attracted to the scent of men who are genetically different from them, women on the Pill are attracted to the scent of men who are more genetically similar. This may be because the Pill fools your body into thinking it’s pregnant, and pregnancy can affect attraction. In discussing the 2008 study, Scientific American hypothesized that while non-pregnant women would be more attracted to genetically dissimilar men (to avoid the possibility of incest and maximize immunity of their offspring,) women on the Pill may be more drawn to genetically similar men because pregnant women seek out family members.

Another study of 365 couples published this year in Psychological Science found that women who went on or off the Pill during a relationship were less sexually satisfied than women who were consistently on the Pill or who had never been on it.

While the exact mechanisms for how oral contraceptives affect female attraction aren’t totally clear, there is mounting evidence that hormonal birth control can affect more than just fertility. But scientists are not necessarily advocating that the risks outweigh the benefits. “Any drug that you take, people want to be informed consumers,” Russell says. “This is just one factor women might want to consider when deciding whether or not to use them.”

TIME Media

Don Lemon Didn’t Just Victim-Blame–He Perpetuated Multiple Rape Myths

Don Lemon in weekend anchor spot at CNN.
Don Lemon in weekend anchor spot at CNN. Robin Nelson—Zuma Press/Corbis

Soraya Chemaly is a media critic and activist.

An interview with one of Bill Cosby's accusers displayed an unethical lack of knowledge about sexual assault

On Tuesday, CNN’s Don Lemon interviewed Joan Tarshis, one of more than a dozen women who have come forward over several years to accuse Bill Cosby of sexual assault. These allegations resurfaced after a comedian pointedly commented on them during a routine. This, in turn, prompted Barbara Bowman to ask publicly in an op-ed in The Washington Post, “Bill Cosby raped me. Why did it take 30 years for people to believe my story?” Former supermodel Janice Dickinson is now the 15th woman to come forward with allegations.

The allegations are hardly new, and the interview could have been an occasion for a serious and nuanced conversation about rape, about how survivors respond to and survive assault and about well-documented techniques used by serial abusers. Instead, what proceeded was appalling. Lemon, in a few brief lines, blamed the victim for not stopping her assault, while also managing to subtly convey a whole series of rape myths.

Lemon’s most repugnant suggestion was this: “You know, there are ways not to perform oral sex.” He went on to clarify that he meant the “using of the teeth” as a “weapon” to stop the alleged assault. Put crassly, “Why didn’t you bite his dick if you didn’t want to perform oral sex?” Lemon continued, “If you didn’t want to do it… In other words, “you really wanted it.”

Lemon’s belief that a woman being raped should simply bite her rapist’s penis isn’t just ridiculous, dangerous victim blaming, but is based on what is possibly the oldest and most enduring rape myth: that “real” rape must be “forced” and corroborated by evidence of struggle. This was the FBI’s definition of rape until 2012.

First, sexual assault victims frequently respond physiologically with shock. Survivors often describe being paralyzed and unable to process or respond to what is happening to them. It’s a well-documented immobility response common in cases of rape.

Second, rape victims often have to quickly assess risk, as in, “This man is raping me. If I fight, will he beat me up or kill me?” Angering an aggressor by resisting or inflicting pain on him is not a survival strategy that women and children can pursue in equal measure to men. Lemon seems blithely unconcerned with immobility, or the risk of death, being a real effect of assault.

“Forcible rape” is rooted in the idea that some women aren’t “rapeable” and that men are entitled to sex. Historically, in this country, legally unrapeable people included, until relatively recently, black women (who were property), wives (also property), single women (who “give it away”), women who didn’t put up a fight, women who didn’t say “no,” and men. The idea of “forcible rape” is shaped by a history of racism and sexism, and Lemon’s approach to Tarshis’ accusation is common, and legally consequential, despite decades of challenges to its assumptions.

Lemon’s line of questioning was a lost opportunity to inform his audience about how predatory rapists work. Rape doesn’t happen by accident because women get drunk. It happens when predators target them. Incapacitation has been a consistent element in all of the cases leveled against Cosby. Tarshis herself admits that she was stoned during the encounter. Barbara Bowman, Tamara Green, Beth Ferrier and others have all told strikingly similar stories of being drugged and raped. And though it shouldn’t need stating, incapacitated people are not capable of consent.

Lemon also managed to undermine Tarshis’ accusations by pointing out that she “lied.” He explained, “You lied to him and said ‘I have an infection, and if you rape me, or if you do — if you have intercourse with me, then you will probably get it and give it to your wife.’” “She lied” is a persistent, and comforting, rape myth. It’s also the laziest, because it’s so clearly and consistently debunked. False rape accusations, though, are rare and no more common than false accusations for other crimes. Tarshis herself has subsequently gone to great and graphic pains to explain her failed attempted to dissuade Cosby.

The final myth Lemon implied in his interview is one that is rarely stated but that underlies most of the others: a rapist without a knife or a gun isn’t a “real” threat. The only reference to a weapon was to the possibility of a woman using her teeth. No mention was made of the reality that rape is the weaponization of the assailant’s body. Regardless of the fact that most men do not fit the profile of the rapist, we live in a world where girls and women are taught that to avoid rape means, to some degree, to fear men. That fact is the scaffolding of patriarchal oppression.

Ultimately, rape is a crime of status and entitlement. Cosby, who has declined to address the allegations, is a revered celebrity father figure. Longtime fans are flummoxed by the idea that this person, adored and emulated, could be a rapist. Most rapes, however, are perpetrated not by strangers, but by acquaintances, family members and friends. RAINN and the Department of Justice report that 73% of sexual assaults are perpetrated by a non-stranger: 38% of rapists are friends or acquaintances, 28% are an intimate partners and 7% are a relatives. They don’t use weapons to rape; they use authority and power.

Lemon’s words may have seemed few and simple, but the sum of their meaning and history is neither. I admire Lemon’s ability to pack so much rape mythology into just a few minutes of airtime. And, he got paid for it, to boot. But in seriousness, he, and his employer, displayed an irresponsible and journalistically unethical lack of knowledge about sexual assault. Lemon apologized on Wednesday if his comments “struck anyone as insensitive,” but no apology can undo the damage done.

Soraya Chemaly is a media critic and activist whose work focuses on the role of gender in politics, religion and popular culture. Her work appears in Salon, CNN, Ms. Magazine, The Guardian, The Huffington Post, RHRealityCheck, Role Reboot and The Feminist Wire.

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

TIME leadership

Melinda Gates on How Women Limit Their Opportunities

Melinda Gates, co-chair of the Gates Foundation, former Microsoft executive and spouse of the Uber-nerd has turned her attention to the issue of women and girls. Her purview is mostly the world’s poorest, but she had some things to say about how even educated and affluent women hold themselves back.

“They doubt themselves,” Melinda told TIME during this week’s 10 Questions interview. “Women don’t tend to see themselves as ready for the next role, as they ought to.” Gates, who recently raised $2.3 billion (that’s with a B) at the London Family Planning Summit, said that at first she didn’t want to head up the drive to make contraceptive choices available to women in developing countries. “I wasn’t sure I was the right person,” she said. “I kept looking for somebody else to lead the effort.”

But she noted that good managers can provide a simple workaround for this problem, simply by making sure to give the women a little nudge to throw their hats in the ring. “I think it’s up to the managers—men or women— to reach down and pull those women up and say, “No, you are ready for that promotion,” or, “You’re at least as qualified as the men.”

In the interview Gates also spoke about what she’s doing to make sure her kids handle their great wealth (including how they allocate their pocket money) and how she refocused her life after turning 50. Subscribers can read the interview here.

TIME society

Mattel Apologizes for Making Barbie Look Incompetent in Barbie: I Can Be a Computer Engineer

Barbie

The sexist picture book has been slammed online

One of Barbie’s future careers should be in damage control.

Mattel and Random House found themselves at the center of an online firestorm this week when the Internet lampooned a book called Barbie: I Can be a Computer Engineer. A more accurate title would be Barbie: I Can be a Computer Engineer… If the Boys Do All the Work For Me.

Although Amazon lists the book as being published in July 2013, VP of Barbie’s Global Brand Marketing Lori Pantel told TIME that it came was published in 2010 and that “since that time we have reworked our Barbie books.”

On Monday, comedian Pamela Ribbon found the book at a friends house and ripped it to shreds on her blog, inspiring major backlash.

So what did the Twitterverse get in a tizzy about? Although the book’s title would indicate that its fights stereotypes against the tech industry’s gender gap, readers only need only get it to the second page to find out that Barbie is completely incompetent. While she’s capable of conceptualizing a game about a cute robot puppy (gender cliche, but we were ready to go with it — who doesn’t like robot puppies?), Barbie needs boys to actually do the computer programing for her. When Skipper asks if she can see the program, “Barbie says, laughing, ‘I’ll need Steven’s and Brian’s help to turn it into a real game!’” Silly Skipper and your high expectations!

The rest of the book involves Barbie crashing her computer (duh), passing a virus to Skipper (a pillow fight ensues… I mean, really), ignoring her female computer teacher’s advice on how to fix the virus (because if we’ve learned one thing, it’s that ladies should not be trusted with such things), and finally letting brogrammers come to her rescue. While Steve and Brian seem like nice enough guys, they don’t even teach Barbie what to do on her hot pink laptop.

“The portrayal of Barbie in this specific story doesn’t reflect the Brand’s vision for what Barbie stands for,” says Pantel. “We believe girls should be empowered to understand that anything is possible and believe they live in a world without limits. We apologize that this book didn’t reflect that belief. All Barbie titles moving forward will be written to inspire girls imaginations and portray an empowered Barbie character.”

In case they were in need of inspiration, people have been tweeting funny rewrites of the text so that it actually empowers women.

Barbie has been derided for a lot of things — her anatomically impossible figure, for example — but her career goals seemed on track if not admirable. She has been to space and business school But success involves more than just dressing the part. If you pair a doll with a hot pink laptop, she better know how to use it.

Maybe we should all just stick to GoldieBlox, a toy that teaches and encourages girls to do engineering themselves.

Read next: Watch Little Kids React to a Realistic-Looking Barbie Alternative

TIME Business

Dismantling Tech’s Sexist Culture Isn’t Easy, But Deleting Uber Sure Is

Uber Technologies Inc. Senior Vice President Of Business Emil Michael Interview
Emil Michael, senior vice president of business for Uber Technologies Inc., speaks during a Bloomberg Television interview in San Francisco, California, U.S., on Tuesday, July 29, 2014. Bloomberg—Bloomberg via Getty Images

Nilofer Merchant is an author and speaker based in Silicon Valley, California.

As history has shown, if we wait for those in power in Silicon Valley to do something, we might wait forever

News Monday of car-service company Uber wanting to launch a smear campaign (to the tune of $1 million) against a female journalist should worry you for obvious reasons. In response, actor and Uber investor Ashton Kutcher tweeted “what is so wrong about digging up dirt against a shady journalist?”

Oh, boy. Or, should I say, boys.

We should all be concerned with what’s going on with Uber—not just for what it says about tech, but for what it means for business and culture as a whole. One truism I’ve learned in the last 20 years of being up-close in the tech industry is that as Silicon Valley Companies Do, so Does the Rest of the Industry. From key ideas to key leaders, what happens here in Silicon Valley spreads fast.

Some people have called this latest news just another “clueless” move by inexperienced and young company executives. But that defies evidence of a pattern at play in tech, business and society overall: that women are threatened and oppressed for having an opinion. And perhaps more to the point, that men and their inaction allow this attitude to propagate. “Boys will be boys.”

Both Uber CEO Travis Kalanick and the executive involved in the latest scandal, Emil Michael, have been publicly shamed into saying “I’m sorry.” But an apology is not the only thing this situation merits. Michael, as of now, still works for Uber. And the company’s recruitment of top political talent implies that it’s more interested in spinning the news, not changing its ways.

This is not an isolated incident in tech. It’s part of a pattern. Take, for example, Gamergate, a controversy that began earlier this fall of online harassment of women in video gaming culture. Social media attacks, particularly those from website forums 4chan and Reddit, were widely condemned for their sexism and misogyny. Just last month, media critic and feminist Anita Sarkeesian became the subject of terrorist threats against her planned lecture at Utah State University, which made international headlines.

And let’s not forget that Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said a few weeks ago that it was “good karma” for women to wait for a pay raise, rather than ask, and then suggested some elusive “industry” fix this problem.

Point being, the dynamics in tech are not new, or even unknown. The ‘bro’ culture has just been left unchecked.

Let’s remember, the people “in charge” today could have already made much needed changes. But Uber’s investors and board have chosen to remain silent on the safety of women issue, despite the company’s well-known and widely reported frat-bro culture, as summarized by Elizabeth Plank in Mic:

It’s hard to count all of the ways Uber has degraded, diminished and generally harmed women since its founding in 2009. Whether it’s the CEO openly referring to the company as “Boober,” the company’s chauvinistic ad campaigns, the alleged slut-shaming of female passengers who accused drivers of assault, or the reports that drivers “choked” and even attempted to abduct female passengers, the company has built a reputation for an increasingly problematic and misogynistic management style and culture. And that’s saying something in Silicon Valley.

And, so that begs the question, is this changeable?

Sarah Lacy, the journalist targeted for the smear campaign, wrote, “unless forces more powerful than me in the Valley see this latest horror as a wakeup call and decide this is enough, nothing will change.”

She’s right in one way. But I’m not convinced they need to be more powerful than her. People who share in a common purpose need to join forces with her. Because if we wait for “those in power” in Silicon Valley today to do something, we might wait forever.

Rather than waiting for “those in power” to act, we should start with each of us acting. So, today, you should delete your Uber account and put a dent in their estimated annualized billion-dollar revenue stream. In the social era, connected individuals can now do what once only large centralized organizations could. Yes, you can be as or more powerful as any top tier venture capitalist by banding together with others in this protest.

Mind you, I’m not limiting this action to women. This is not just a gender issue, but one of human values. It’s about the kind of world you want to live in. Uber counts on your desire for convenience to subsidize its untouchable ‘bro’ culture. That’s a big cost for convenience.

It’s going to take using the power available to each of us to act as one. And if Uber does change its ways because of our collective action, we can always return to them.

Nilofer Merchant’s high-tech business experience spans shipping 100 products, resulting in $18B in revenues. An author of two books on collaborative work, her next one is on how to make your ideas powerful enough to dent the world (Viking, 2016).

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

TIME women

I’m a Mommy Blogger and Proud of It

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Tetra Images—Getty Images/Tetra images RF

Lauren Apfel is the debate editor for Brain, Child Magazine.

Writing about motherhood is a backlash against the myth that parenting is something to be done and not discussed or valued

Call a woman a “mommy blogger” and you might as well be slinging mud. The expression, as it is most commonly used, is patronizing at best, derogatory at worst. What’s more is that it manages to offend on dual levels: a seeming contempt for both motherhood and the way mothers write about themselves. And yet, suffice it to say: I am a mommy blogger and proud of it.

Before I became a mommy blogger, I wrote a monograph titled The Advent of Pluralism: Diversity and Conflict in the Age of Sophocles. The book was about the meta-ethical theory of pluralism as it manifested itself in pre-Platonic Greek thought. Now I have a website, where I write about parenting and children—the tragedy of sibling rivalry as much as the comedy of a six year old’s staged wedding. Is this a change in subject matter tantamount to a fall from grace? I imagine many among the literati would consider it so.

The idea that motherhood is a topic worthy of serious reflection is only in its infancy. “Women have mothered since life began,” writes Katherine J. Barrett, the editor of Understorey Magazine, an online publication dedicated to “unspoken” stories about mothering. But “the history of books about motherhood spans roughly 40 years.” Whatever the root cause of this fundamental imbalance—and I suspect it’s closely linked to the general undervaluing of what was once referred to as “women’s work”—times they are a changin’. Today the web is crawling with women trying to make sense of their topsy-turvy lives as parents by encapsulating that process of analysis in some kind of narrative form.

Blogging serves as an emotional and intellectual outlet for mothers, but it is becoming more than that too. Now mommy blogging is a new line of “women’s work.” As is true for many of my fellow bloggers, my original career path careened off its track once I had children. And because my previous existence as an academic—like the lawyers and publicists and educators I know who occupy the mommy blogosphere with me—had natural touching points with the written word, it wasn’t terribly surprising that I turned to the keyboard for something to do, for a way back to myself, when the babies came one after the other and I decided to stay home with them. Nor was it surprising that the creatures who filled my days would also be the ones who filled my pages.

Nobody, of course, objects to writing about motherhood or children in principle. Mommy blogging gets a bad rap in particular because of its origins in a certain sort of confessional writing that can be traced back to the “weblogs” of the early noughties. Lisa Belkin, herself the creator of the New York Times’ Motherlode blog, describes one of these prototypes, dooce.com, as “a daily reality show on a smaller screen.” That is to say: gritty, highly personal and animated by a sense of “the wartier, the better.”

This “bad mother,” “oversharenting” rendition of the mommy blog is one of the most popular, the locus classicus of the genre. It is a trope made famous by Ayelet Waldman in her 2009 book and the fodder for hugely popular websites like Scary Mommy. Here we have women chronicling their mundane parenting “fails,” but also, in a more sublime vein, probing the ambiguity they feel about becoming mothers in the first place. It’s easy to dismiss this type of writing as navel-gazing fluff, the epitome of the first-world problem. But the psychological effect of being able to articulate such feelings in a public space, in an age when parenting is an increasingly isolated and pressured endeavor, is not to be underestimated.

And yet, just because these essays have healing power doesn’t make them especially literary (though some, like Waldman’s, invariably are). That’s fair enough. What skeptics have to realize, however, is that the self-deprecating, bad-mommy blog is only one fish caught by a rather large net. For as it has evolved over the last decade, mommy blogging has moved beyond the merely confessional to blossom into a multi-faceted branch of the online publication industry. “Mommy lit,” as Barrett urges, has indeed grown up. One need only look at the highbrow creative nonfiction at sites such as Brain, Child Magazine or the important advocacy work being done on topics such as special needs and postpartum depression.

Furthermore, parenting writing is no longer its own contained niche. It is stretching its tentacles into other fields, with sophisticated results. Revered humor sites such as McSweeney’s Internet Tendency publish parenting pieces. Prestigious literary magazines such as the Rumpus and cultural magazines such as Aeon do as well. There is rigorous evidence-based analysis of salient childcare questions at Slate’s Double X. Major broadsheets such as The New York Times and The Washington Post have their own parenting blogs. And they even publish parenting-themed articles in their regular opinion and style sections.

Do these articles still count as “mommy blogging”? I submit that they do. Because what they all have in common is the belief by the women who penned them that their lives as mothers—their struggles as much as their successes—are worthy of documentation and publication, that they are, in fact, worthy of the craft of writing itself. This is the true legacy of the mommy blog and it is one we should embrace because of the label’s groundbreaking beginnings, not in spite of it.

For what we are doing as mommy bloggers, with our diverse voices and approaches, is a collective exercise in cultural counterpoint. It is a backlash against the myth that parenting is something to be done and not discussed or valued and it is a backlash against the debilitating contemporary notion that there is only one right way to do it. And for those of us who write about motherhood when we could be writing instead about, say, the ancient Greeks, it is a way to use history or philosophy or whatever other tools we have at our disposal to better understand the essence of our shared humanity and, in turn, to better understand ourselves.

Lauren Apfel is a writer and mother of four (including twins). She blogs at omnimom.net and is the debate editor for Brain, Child Magazine. Connect with her on Twitter and Facebook.

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

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