TIME society

The Most Destructive Gender Binary

gender equality
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Gary Barker, Ph.D., is founder and International Director of Promundo, an international organization with offices in the United States, Brazil and Portugal and representatives in Rwanda and Burundi, that works to engage men and boys in gender equality and ending violence against women.

We need to show the world just how much each gender depends on the other, and how men, too, benefit from full equality

It was the latest setback for women’s empowerment. But you probably haven’t heard about it.

Part of the gender equality goal set to replace one of the U.N.’s soon-to-expire Millennium Development Goals didn’t make it through. The target left on the cutting room floor? Engaging men and boys around gender equality issues.

Why, exactly, is this is a setback for women’s equality? Because the fates of the two genders are intertwined; for women to thrive, men and boys must be part of the gender equality agenda. Why, then, in 2014, are we still addressing gender issues as a binary, girls vs. boys, women vs. men? And how can we get beyond it?

We asked that big question at a conference last week in Delhi — organized by the global MenEngage alliance ( full disclosure: I’m co-chair and co-founder of the alliance). Our answer – to get beyond the binary, and to achieve the promise of empowering women — we need to show the world just how much each gender depends on the other, and how men, too, benefit from full equality.

Let’s start with violence. If you want to combat violence against women, you’ve got to understand, and address, violence against boys. Let me explain. Global data confirms that about one-third of the world’s women have experienced violence from a male partner. We have little evidence — with the possible exception of the U.S. and Norway — that any country has been able to reduce its overall rates of men’s violence against women. There are challenges with measuring violence, to be sure, but it’s far too early to claim that we have made real progress in reducing the daily threat to women and girls.

Why haven’t we moved the needle? Partly because we’ve been coming up with solutions for only half of the affected population. We know that men who witness violence growing up are nearly three times more likely to go on to use violence against female partners. Data also show that men who witness violence growing up are more likely to be depressed, contemplate suicide, and more likely to binge drink. In other words, men’s lives, too, are harmed by the violence of men. Ending violence against women must also mean ending violence against boys and men.

Unpaid care work is another area where we can see the same intertwined narrative playing out. Women do the majority of the unpaid care work in the world. And yet, studies show that when men take on those responsibilities, they’re happier, less likely to be depressed (and have better sex lives). According to one study in the U.S., we even live longer as men when we’re involved fathers. A study in Sweden finds that involved fathers are less likely to miss work, and are healthier. Not to mention all the data showing that children benefit when fathers are involved in caring for them.

Or consider this: a recent World Health Organization report confirmed that there are 800,000 deaths from suicides each year, about two-thirds of those are men. We know something about which men commit suicide: men who are socially isolated, who feel they can’t reach out for help, whose sense of identity was lost when they lost their livelihoods. Men who, in part at least, are stuck in outdated notions of manhood.

What’s more, entire economies benefit when women can devote more time to the paid workforce. If women’s participation in the workforce were equal to men’s, the U.S. GDP would be nine percent larger and India’s GDP would be 1.2 trillion U.S. dollars bigger. Yet right now, that disparity is arguably the single largest driver of women’s lower wages compared to men. Globally, 77 percent of men participate in the paid workforce, compared to just 50 percent of women—a proportion that has remained virtually unchanged for 25 years.

Even when women are in the workplace, they earn on average 18 percent less than men for the same work. Few countries outside of Scandinavia have created policy incentives to encourage men to do a near-equal share of unpaid care work. We know what it has taken in Scandinavia to push us closer toward equality in terms of care work: paid paternity leave. In other words, encouraging men to do a greater share of the care work.

Guess what? A little encouragement goes a long way. Today, with paid leave and “use-it-or-lose-it” leave for fathers only, the majority of men in Norway, Iceland, Sweden and Quebec (which has policies similar to the Nordic countries) are taking leave of six weeks or more. Iceland is the global leader: fathers there take an average of 103 days of paid paternity leave.

We’re stuck in a similar gender box when it comes to empowering women to control how many children they have. In 2005, women represented 75 percent of global contraceptive users and men 25 percent. In 2014, women represent 73 percent. Hardly numbers to celebrate and proclaim equality; indeed, that change does not even pass the confidence interval. Why does it matter? Well, last time I checked, reproduction involves both women and men. Anything less than 50-50 in terms of contraceptive use cannot be called equality. By not engaging men as equal partners in contraceptive use, we hold women back. This doesn’t mean giving men control over women’s bodies; it means engaging men to assume their share of reproduction as respectful, aware and supportive partners.

In terms of HIV/AIDS, the story is similar. We have made amazing strides in rolling out HIV testing and treatment. Treatment as prevention is working in many countries. One of the key remaining obstacles in reducing HIV rates and AIDS-related mortality rates even more is the fact that in much of the world, men are far less likely than women to seek HIV testing and treatment. The result is increased risk for women and higher AIDS-related mortality among men.

The arguments could go on. From economic empowerment for women to violence prevention, the evidence consistently affirms that engaging men as partners in gender equality is more effective than only tapping women. And the data is clear that men who support gender equality, are more supportive, democratic partners and get involved in their share of the care work are happier men.

Twenty years after one of the largest events to promote women’s equality in Beijing — where Hillary Clinton made her famous proclamation that “women’s rights are human rights” — the conclusion is this: we won’t achieve full equality for women until we move beyond binary us-versus-them, women-versus-men thinking. We must commit to ending patriarchy in the lives of women and in the lives of men. As men, we must acknowledge that we have an equal stake in gender equality. In fact, let’s acknowledge this: our lives get better when we embrace it.

Gary Barker, Ph.D., is founder and International Director of Promundo, an international organization with offices in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Washington, DC, and Kigali, Rwanda, that works to engage men and boys in gender equality and ending violence against women. This piece was originally published in New America’s digital magazine, The Weekly Wonk. Sign up to get it delivered to your inbox each Thursday here, and follow @New America on Twitter.

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

MONEY Shopping

12% of Black Friday Shoppers Will Be Drunk (and More Crazy Facts About the Holiday Frenzy)

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Shoppers wait to enter the Aeropostale store in Tyson's Corner, Virginia during 'Midnight Madness' at the Tyson's Corner Center in Tyson's Corner, Virginia.. Tyson's Corner Center is the largest shopping center in the Washington, DC area. Karen Bleier—AFP/Getty Images

How many people will go shopping this weekend? What day actually has the best deals? How much will the average shopper spend? How many of them are tipsy while they're browsing for gifts?

Read on for answers to the above, as well as other nuggets about what’s in store for consumers during the annual Thanksgiving-Black Friday weekend shopping extravaganza.

Less Than 5% The average discount on Black Friday for 6,000 items tracked last year by the deal-hunting site ShopAdvisor; researchers found that the average discount during the holiday period was highest on December 18 (17.5%).

5 Number of hours that RadioShack will shut down on Thanksgiving (noon to 5 p.m.); it had originally planned to stay open from 8 a.m. to midnight, but decided to close during the middle of the day after receiving complaints from employees.

10 Number of employees at a Virginia Best Buy whose sole job is to restock items as soon as there are gaps on store shelves on Black Friday.

12% Proportion of Thanksgiving Day shoppers who admit to hitting the stores on the holiday while under the influence of alcohol, according to a survey conducted on the behalf of the coupon site RetailMeNot.

16% vs. 50% Respectively, the percentages of shoppers ages 55+ and 18 to 24 and who think it’s “a great idea” for stores to be open on Thanksgiving.

22 Number of days before Black Friday that two women in California began camping out at a Best Buy in order to be first in line for deals. They hope to buy a cheap TV.

25% Amount of extra trash thrown away by Americans during the Thanksgiving-New Year’s period, compared to any other time of the year.

28% vs. 32% Percentages of women and men, respectively, who plan on spending $250 to $500 on Black Friday (yes, more guys than girls).

At Least 3 Dozen Number of national retailers, including Costco, Bloomingdale’s, Dillard’s, and Nordstrom, that have decided to stay closed on Thanksgiving.

38% Percentage of shoppers who plan on purchasing holiday gifts with credit cards, up from 28.5% last year and the highest level recorded since the National Retail Federation has asked the question in surveys.

39% Proportion of Americans who feel pressured to spend more than they can afford during the holiday season.

42 Number of consecutive hours that Kmart stores will be open, starting at 6 a.m. on Thanksgiving and lasting through midnight on Black Friday.

70% Percentage of consumers who say that stores should be closed on Thanksgiving this year, up from 60% in 2012.

70% Percentage of consumers who say that Black Friday is meaningless because “there will be more sales throughout the holidays.”

71% Percentage of consumers who say they may not like the gift they receive over the holidays.

96% Percentage of consumers who say that discounts are important to their shopping decisions during the holidays, up from 94% last year—and three in ten say that they’ll hold out for discounts of 50% or more before making a purchase.

$407 Average amount spent by consumers over Thanksgiving weekend in 2013, down 4% compared to the year before.

$450 Minimum you must spend at one of two malls in southern California in order to receive a free Uber ride home, starting on Black Friday and stretching through Christmas Eve.

140 Million Estimated number of consumers who will shop in stores or online this weekend, according to the National Retail Federation, roughly the same as the expectations leading into the 2013 Thanksgiving-Black Friday period.

 

TIME Culture

Meet the Woman Who Invented Your Thanksgiving Meal

Thanksgiving plate
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This vision of the overflowing feast represented mid-19th century ideals of the woman’s role in creating a perfect home

Thanksgiving betrays a need — which we see throughout American history — to create a shared national identity. And, in this case, we have addressed that hunger by creating shared food traditions. Because very little is known about what actually happened at the “first Thanksgiving,” we’ve been free to commemorate it based on what we’ve needed it to look like over time.

Most of what is known about the foods of the “first Thanksgiving” is based on what foods were common at that time in the region, and a letter written by Edward Winslow to a friend in England describing the feast in 1621. Winslow wrote that Governor Bradford of the Plymouth Colony sent men out to hunt wildfowl (most likely goose or duck) while Wampanoag Indians brought deer to the feast. While turkeys were plentiful in New England in the 1620s, historians agree that it is unlikely that they were the centerpiece of the “first Thanksgiving.” Turkeys were hard to catch and the meat was tough. Fish, however, would have been plentiful and almost certainly part of any harvest celebration.

Cranberries were native to New England and would have been in the native diet in the 1620s, so they could have been part of the Thanksgiving meal, too. We also know that pumpkins, a type of squash, were eaten in 1620s New England, though there was no flour and hence no pies.

With very little historical basis on which to create a shared national holiday, America needed someone to tell them how the holiday should be celebrated. And Sarah Josepha Buell Hale was just the woman for the job. Hale was the editor of Godey’s Ladies Book, a very popular women’s magazine of the mid-19th century.

She first wrote about the Thanksgiving meal in her novel Northwood: A Tale of New England, published in 1827. She described a “lordly” roast turkey at the head of the table, “sending forth the rich odor of its savory stuffing.” Her meal included “a sirloin of beef, flanked on either side by a leg of pork and a joint of mutton,” and “pies of every description known in Yankee land.”

This vision of the overflowing feast represented mid-19th century ideals of the woman’s role in creating a perfect home and her writings created the “classic” American Thanksgiving ideal. As the United States was divided by the Civil War, Hale wrote a letter to President Lincoln urging him to make the day a national event, one that would bring Americans together. On October 3, 1863, Lincoln did just that.

As America entered the 20th century, Americans tweaked their Thanksgiving food traditions to reflect the modern vision of America. Progress, innovation, and technology all became part of the Thanksgiving table. Cranberries too delicate to transport long distances from New England started getting packaged and canned in 1912, under the name Ocean Spray Preserving Company. Now cranberries could enjoy a longer shelf life and become fixtures on the Thanksgiving table far away from cranberry bogs. The vast majority of pumpkins grown in America today are turned into canned pumpkin puree, which takes away the need to bake and mash a real pumpkin for pie. So nowadays our Thanksgiving feast is as much a tribute to the mid-20th-century modernist ideal as it is to a 19th-century idealized view of our 17th-century origin story.

My Thanksgiving meal this year is going to be a mash-up. I can’t give up the canned cranberry sauce, even though locavores might shudder at the idea. But I’ve also ordered a “heritage” turkey — a bird that has more in common with a wild turkey than a Butterball — and added fish to the menu as a way to give those around my dinner table a taste of what the Pilgrims might have tasted back then. And I’m also going to add some mutton, as a nod to Hale’s Northwood feast. Thanksgiving not only reflects who Americans are, but also how creative we can be in putting new twists on old experiences.

Susan Evans is program director of the American Food History Project at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. She originally wrote this piece for What It Means to Be American, a national conversation hosted by the Smithsonian and Zócalo Public Square.

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 gender

The Brutal Triple Murder Behind the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women

Busts of the Mirabal sisters at the muse
Busts of the Mirabal sisters at the museum in the village of Salcedo, north of Santo Domingo. The Mirabal sisters were assasinated in 1960 during the dictatorial regime of Rafael Trujillo. (RICARDO HERNANDEZ--AFP/Getty Images) RICARDO HERNANDEZ—AFP/Getty Images

Nov. 25 kicks off 16 days of activism to advance equality for women

The Empire State Building was lit up orange Monday night, but the color wasn’t a reference to a Thanksgiving pumpkin pie. It was to mark Nov. 25 as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, which hits its 15th anniversary this year.

The International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women isn’t just a single day — it’s the beginning of 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence, which culminates on Human Rights Day on Dec. 10. The days are meant to “symbolically link violence against women with human rights, and to emphasize that such violence is the worst form of violation of women’s human rights,” explains Lakshmi Puri, Assistant Secretary-General of the U.N. and Deputy Executive Director of U.N. Women. “Violence against women is one of the most tolerated violations of human rights. It’s unacceptable.”

And Nov. 25 wasn’t randomly chosen. Though the day now addresses the issue of violence against women everywhere, its story starts with one particular — and particularly brutal — act.

The International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women was started in 1999 to commemorate the Mirabal sisters, political activists in the Dominican Republic who were assassinated on this date in 1960 for opposing dictator Rafael Trujillo. The three sisters started an anti-Trujillo group called the Movement of the Fourteenth of June, named after a massacre reportedly ordered by the dictator. They called themselves, “Las Mariposas,” or “the butterflies,” and openly protested Trujillo and his regime. To retaliate, his henchmen beat the sisters to death in a cane field and faked a car accident to explain their deaths.

Puri says the day was chosen to commemorate the Mirabal sisters’ courage in taking political action despite the brutality they faced. “Violence against women in politics is also a very particular form of violence, to intimidate them so they don’t engage in politics,” she says.

The 16 Days of Activism are meant to raise global awareness of the violence endured by women and girls around the world, Puri explains. The 16 days will include marches, marathons and other public activism to promote gender equality and improve the lot of women everywhere. According to U.N. estimates, 35% of women in the world have experienced physical or sexual violence, 700 million women alive today were married as children and more than 133 million girls and women have experienced female genital mutilation. The U.N. estimates that in 2012 over half of murdered women were killed by partners or family members, and that 120 million girls worldwide have been forced to have sex at some point in their lives. “Together, we must end this global disgrace,” UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon said at a ceremony before the lighting of the Empire State Building.

“It’s a very difficult issue to tackle without a mindset change,” Puri says, adding that the 16 Days of Activism are intended to challenged the entrenched gender inequality in most societies. Activists in Mexico City will run a marathon to end the violence, a film series about women’s lives will be screened in Uganda and public spaces in India will turn orange to support the cause. But do any of these actions really help women who are trapped in forced marriages or subjected to brutal violence? “It creates a culture of zero tolerance,” she says. “It creates awareness, it shows the determination of people, and it becomes the new normal.”

The day has been celebrated every year since 1999, but it takes on extra significance this year. It’s not just the 15th anniversary of the first The International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, but it’s also an occasion to look forward to 2015, which will mark 20 years since the groundbreaking Beijing Platform for Action. That’s where Hillary Clinton made her famous speech saying, “human rights are women’s rights and women’s rights are human rights.”

The U.N. is also taking greater steps to include men in their mission to elevate global women, with their He for She program launched this year. Puri says they’re trying to challenge the idea “that it’s a right of a man to be violent and that it’s the fate of the woman to be subjected to violence.”

“These things,” she says, “have to change.”

TIME Turkey

Turkish President Says Men and Women Are Not Equal

It's not the first time he's publicly said something offensive

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has caused a controversy by saying women and men are not equal—at a women’s justice summit.

“You cannot put women and men on an equal footing,” Erdogan said. “It is against nature. They were created differently. Their nature is different. Their constitution is different.”

He went on to say that feminists do not understand how the Muslim faith honors mothers: “Our religion regards motherhood very highly. Feminists don’t understand that, they reject motherhood.”

This is not the first time Erdogan has gotten attention for saying something offensive about women. In the past, he has said that women should have least three kids, and he has tried to outlaw abortion, the Associated Press reports.

He also recently caused a stir by arguing that Muslims were the first to discover the Americas.

[AP]

Read next: Vote Now: Who Should Be TIME’s Person of the Year?

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.”

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