MONEY retirement planning

What Women Can Do to Increase their Retirement Confidence

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Knowing how much to save and how to invest can help women feel more secure. Here's a cheat sheet.

Half of women report feeling worried about having enough money to last through retirement, according to a new survey from Fidelity Investments of 1,542 women with retirement plans.

Those anxieties aren’t necessarily misplaced either.

Women have longer projected lifespans than men and even if married, are likely to spend at least a portion of their older years alone due to widowhood.

“So they need larger pots of money to ensure they won’t outlive their savings,” says Kathy Murphy, president of personal investing at Fidelity.

Earlier research by the company found that while women save more on average for retirement (socking away an average 8.3% of their salary in 401(k)s vs. 7.9% for men) they typically earn two-thirds of what men do and thus have smaller retirement account balances ($63,700 versus $95,800 for men).

Also, while women are more disciplined long term investors who are less likely than men to time the market, women are also more reluctant to take risk with their portfolios, says Murphy.

“And if you invest too conservatively for your age and your time horizon, that money isn’t working hard enough for you,” she adds.

How Women Can Increase their Confidence

Financial education can help women reduce the confidence gap, and get to the finish line better prepared, says Murphy.

According to the Fidelity survey, some 92% of women say they want to learn more about financial planning. And there’s a lot you can do for free to educate yourself, notes Murphy. As an example, she notes that many employers now offer investing webinars and workshops for 401(k) participants.

You might also start by reading Money’s Ultimate Guide to Retirement for the least you need to know about retirement planning, in digestible chunks of plain English. In particular, you might check out the piece on figuring out the right mix of stocks and bonds, to help you determine if you’re being too risk averse.

Also, simply calculating how much you need to save for the retirement you want—using tools like T. Rowe Price’s Retirement Income Planner—can help you make plans and feel more secure.

The 10-minute exercise can have a powerful payoff: The Employee Benefit Research Institute regularly finds in its annual Retirement Confidence Index that people who even do a quick estimate have a much better handle on how much they need to save and are more confident about their money situation. Also, according to research by Georgetown University econ professor Annamaria Lusardi, who is also academic director of the university’s Global Financial Literacy Excellence Center, people who plan for retirement end up with three times the amount of wealth as non-planners.

Says Murphy, “We need to let women in on the secret that investing isn’t that hard.”

More from Money.com’s Ultimate Guide to Retirement:

TIME relationships

The Valentine’s Day That Should Have Stopped Me From Getting Married

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xoJane.com is where women go to be their unabashed selves, and where their unabashed selves are applauded

All I wanted to do was to give him a special gift for Valentine's Day

xojane

I think it’s safe to say the color most closely associated with Valentine’s Day is red. Red hearts, red roses, red wine. Or in the case of my 2003 Valentine’s Day, red flags.

I was never super-into Valentine’s Day — at least not after elementary school; I would actually take a lot of care choosing my mass-marketed, perforated Valentines at CVS and deciding whichGarfield & Friends” character made the most sense to give to which classmate. Once I got to middle school, I quickly realized it served as an opportunity to feel rejected if I didn’t have a boyfriend or disappointed if I did and he didn’t put as much thought into a gift as I did. (I’m sorry, but a personalized dude-bracelet from Things Remembered is a way more thoughtful gift than a made-in-China teddy bear from Drug Fair.)

Come high school, Valentine’s Day just became uncomfortable. My freshman year, a sophomore boy who had a girlfriend snuck an extremely intense, handwritten poem into my backpack — my first taste of how terrible people can be to their significant others on a day that’s supposed to celebrate them. After that, I don’t even think I acknowledged Valentine’s Day until my sophomore year of college, when I bought the guy I’d been dating for two weeks a frame for his favorite picture of him and his best friend, and he bought me a white negligee; that sufficiently creeped out sexually inexperienced 19-year-old me.

Because every day is Valentine’s Day when you’re in love, I got engaged on a random October day in 2002, at age 23, to a guy I’d been dating for only about half a year. We just knew, you guys, we just knew. Terry (most definitely not his actual name) and I had met through The Onion‘s online personals (do those even exist anymore?) before Internet dating was even remotely normal, and in addition to all the lovey-dovey stuff we were pretty sure we were genuinely feeling, we were intent on proving that rushing into marriage in one’s mid-20s after meeting through a satirical-news website was a totally reasonable thing to do and also probably the wave of the future.

MORE 17 Memorable Kisses Throughout History

The following Valentine’s Day would be our first together. Neither of us cared about it, but in the grips of excited fiancéehood, I thought, hey, why not do a little something special? My idea: Print out and frame the deactivated Onion dating profiles that brought us together.

A few months earlier, I had made the mistake of forgetting to deactivate my profile and was very publicly reminded to when, early in the summer, I became a “featured single” in Time Out New York, which mined The Onion and Nerve for its personals. Terry’s profile was also still active at the time; it was our first time doing online dating and we honestly just forgot that we’d have to proactively disable our listings. After my embarrassing appearance in TONY, he and I both turned off our profiles. We actually took turns doing so at the same computer, and he even unsolicitedly told me his password as a symbol of his trustworthiness.

On the afternoon of February 14, while Terry was at work at a wine shop in our neighborhood, I signed back into The Onion personals for the first time since I’d deactivated my account back in the summer. I figured if I couldn’t find his inactive profile by directly typing in its old URL, it would be okay to sign into his account using the password he’d told me — just this once — so I could access the old profile and print it out. Even the idea of innocently doing that for the sake of the gift made me uncomfortable, though, so I was relieved when, after typing in the URL of his old profile while still signed into my account, it was viewable.

The relief immediately turned to nauseated distress when I realized the profile was still active. I had seen him deactivate it months ago; either he hadn’t done it correctly, or he’d reactivated it at some point since we’d gotten engaged.

It soon became clear that it was the latter, because the content of his profile was completely, horribly, devastatingly different.

“I’m engaged to an idiot who doesn’t know the difference between merlot and cabernet,” it read. “I’m miserable. If you’re an oenophile and aren’t put off by my current situation, let’s talk.”

It took every muscle in my body to keep vomit down; I literally clenched my feet to help stop myself from throwing up. My face was tingling painfully, like when a limb falls asleep. I was too upset to cry — yet.

Feeling like my body was being held together by safety pins, I called Terry. I knew he wasn’t allowed to have his cell phone on the store floor, so I wasn’t surprised when it went to voicemail.

“Terry, you need to come home as soon as possible,” I said, knowing the anger I was trying to keep contained was clear in my voice. “If they let anyone go home early tonight, please make sure it’s you.”

As I waited for him to come home, I started digesting what I’d seen. My fiancé hated me, apparently due to my wine ignorance, and he was actively looking to either cheat on me or leave me for someone else. He hadn’t let on to me that he was unhappy, that my lack of interest in wine or anything else about me was enough to do something so cruel.

An hour later, and shortly after I’d finally started crying, Terry walked through the door.

“What’s wrong?” he said, seeming genuinely concerned.

I handed him a printout of his profile — a much different printout than I had intended to frame for Valentine’s Day.

“What is this?” he said, playing dumb.

“Oh, come on,” I said, my volume already bordering on a yell.

“Uh… wow,” he started. “One of the guys must have done this as a joke,” meaning one of the guys in his sketch-comedy group. He knew I was insecure about whether or not they liked me, so they were an easy scapegoat.

He looked up at me, and one of his eyes crossed. That was his tell. That was what I’d come to identify as the sign he was lying.

“Oh, for goodness’ sake, Terry, don’t lie to me,” I shouted, my face red and wet.

He was quiet for a while. I could tell he just wanted to run, or at least go into a different room, but we lived in a studio apartment. If he felt stuck with me before, I imagine it was infinitely intensified in those moments.

“I’m sorry,” he finally said, sighing. “I’ve been freaking out lately.”

“Why not tell me?” I think I was screeching at this point because our dog, Max, had hidden in the bathroom. “Why do this? Why call me an idiot and look for someone to cheat on me with, and on a public website? The one we met on!”

“I don’t know, I don’t know,” he said. He looked like he might start crying, too.

“Do you want to marry me?” It was a question, but my inflection went down at the end of the sentence.

Without hesitation, he said, “Yes.”

“I don’t believe you,” I replied.

And I shouldn’t have. He wasn’t ready to marry me or anyone else. He wasn’t ready to admit that there were many things about me — many non-wine-related things — that he didn’t like. But after several days of his timid attentiveness, I forgave him.

And after several months of trying to forget a flag so red it was practically on fire, I married him.

I think we actually did love each other, at least a little bit; but more than anything, I think we wanted to not be wrong. We wanted to believe two twentysomethings who couldn’t even make ends meet had made the right decisions, no matter how hasty and immature and delusional those decisions were.

About two years after we got married, we separated — and far more amicably than we’d spent the second year of our marriage. Our goodwill toward each other had run out, and we had matured enough to admit we weren’t right for each other and never had been.

Although I know, looking back, that I should have swallowed my pride and called off the wedding after that Valentine’s Day, there’s no point wasting time regretting how things panned out.

I’m actually really pleased with the balance I’ve developed between being guarded and trusting, and it’s something I’m always fine-tuning. My tendency to give people the benefit of the doubt might prevent me from fully honing my red-flag-detecting abilities, but I’m pretty sure I’ll never marry another guy who calls me an idiot — to my face, on a dating website, or otherwise.

Marci Robin wrote this article for xoJane.

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 society

Why I’m Glad I Was Bullied

xoJane.com is where women go to be their unabashed selves, and where their unabashed selves are applauded

Because there is something beautiful about being able to get through tough times

xojane

I spent the week before I entered middle school sobbing like a Disney princess. I sobbed in the bathtub, I sobbed on the couch, and I sobbed with my head in a pillow. Elementary school felt like a safe and tangible part of my childhood and now, all of a sudden, it was ripped out of my tiny, monkey bar–callused hands.

“Why aren’t you excited?” concerned family members and close friends asked me, as my bottom lip quivered amongst a sea of tears.

“Because I don’t want to grow up!” I wailed, not knowing how else to describe the pain I was feeling.

I was right to be afraid of what was to come, but not for the reasons I thought. From the moment I entered middle school as a fifth grader until the moment I graduated as an eighth grader, I was bullied, nonstop, every day. Bullied for four years straight.

On my very first day of middle school, I remember getting off the bus, walking toward the school, opening the front door (which was heavier than expected), waving to my uncle, and nervously shuffling toward my home base room. Yes, that’s right, my uncle was the principal of my middle school.

In my moments of dramatic sobbing, I never once whined about having my uncle as my principal. I whined about missing my elementary school teachers. I whined about being in a school that was 15 minutes (instead of five) away from my home, my safe place. But I never whined about that specific familial connection. I didn’t think it was a big deal, especially since I wasn’t one of those kids who was thirsty for attention. Instead, I was quiet, contemplative, and a decided introvert. Definitely not the ideal combination for the negative attention I was about to receive.

After excitedly waving to my uncle on that first day, that’s where the fun ended. Immediately, I became a verbal punching bag for my hormonal, misunderstood peers. Once they finished bullying me about my relationship with my uncle, my weight (or lack thereof), my acne, my home life, my shyness, and even the way I dressed were picked apart. I was quiet, which made me an easy target. Unbeknownst to them, I was also suffering with anxiety and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Even better.

The most distinctive part of my bullying experience was the fact that I’d lost my name and, as a result, my identity. I became “the principal’s niece,” instead of Anna. Teachers made fun of me, taking out their feelings about my uncle on me. My friends asked for favors that I didn’t have the power to give them, causing innate disappointment. Everyone thought that my good grades were an act of favoritism. My efforts were no longer my own, swirling down the middle school drain, along with my name.

When you’re being bullied, there is no one else that can understand what you are going through. There is no one that can understand your specific situation. That would explain the responses I received when I tried to make my loved ones understand why I started ignoring my uncle:

“Anna, you need to stop being so sensitive.”

“Get a backbone, Anna.”

“Grow up, Anna.”

When I look back on that time in my life, all I see is my small, petite body attempting to walk through a sea of darkness. I see myself, begging to stay home. I see myself having panic attacks at six o’clock in the morning because I couldn’t fathom what my peers and teachers would say to me during the school day. I see myself trying to put into words what I was suffering with, trying to figure out why my anxiety and OCD were getting worse.

I used to talk about this experience all the time, bringing it up in therapy appointments and to anyone that wanted to know why I hated that part of my life. After a while, I stopped, not because it no longer mattered to me, but because I acquired a characteristic I never thought I’d acquire: Strength.

Bullying is a problem. It is a disgusting, evil problem that can cultivate mental illness, suicide, and self-destruction. But as someone that has been affected physically, emotionally, mentally, and financially (therapy is expensive) — in every way possible — I can absolutely say: I am glad that I was bullied.

My experience with bullying has given me a powerful sense of empathy, allowing me to connect with others in ways I never thought possible. Bullying has taught me my worth, making me the strong, empowered, outspoken woman that I am today.

If I could go back in time and tell my dejected, bullied self something, I would say this:

“Anna, you are sensitive and you are quiet, but there is nothing wrong with that. That does not make you weak. Right now, you are surrounded by darkness, but you are still full of light. I know that you are scared, confused, and anxious. I know that you are suffering. But you get through it. Life is hard, but it gets better. Life is hard, but you never stop rising and shining. And that is what matters.”

In life, we all go through our own Dark Ages. We all suffer and doubt ourselves at times. We are all victims of bullying (no matter what anyone tells you). At the time, such an experience may not seem beautiful or universal. In fact, during and for a long time afterward, it will seem really terrible and it will cut you off from the rest of the world.

But there is something beautiful about being able to get through tough times. There is something extraordinary about knowing that you are not alone in the way that you feel. And, yes, there is something universally powerful about being able to not only survive, but to thrive.

It has been six years since I left middle school and, in those six years, I have been bullied every now and then. People have said terrible things to me, but I’ve stood up for myself. I stood up for myself because I know my own worth. I know that people only hurt others because they, themselves, are hurting. I know that now. And in knowing that, I know that bullying has made me better. It has made me both a lover and a fighter. It has made me the woman I am today.

Anna Gragert wrote this article for xoJane.

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 Friendship

5 Ways to Celebrate ‘Galentines Day’ Like Lelise Knope

No boys allowed

While Parks & Recreation’s Leslie Knope was certainly not the first to make a girl’s celebration out of Valentine’s Day, she did it best.

“Ladies celebrating ladies,” she says of her annual pre-Valentines day brunch. “It’s like Lillith Fair, minus the angst. Plus, frittatas.” And that mentality is totally consistent with Knope’s code: “hos before bros, uteruses before dude-erusus, ovaries before brovaries.”

So here are 5 great ways to celebrate Galentines day in the spirit of civic-minded, lady-loving Leslie Knope.

1) Make pancakes with your girlfriends to the soundtrack of Hillary Clinton’s 2008 “Glass ceiling” concession speech, then discuss women in politics over brunch.

2) Play women’s-only charades, including only books or movies written by or about women. Consider team names like “Geraldine Ferraro” or “Ruth Bader Ginsberg.”

3) Enlist your friends in a high-stakes poker game, and then donate the winnings to the International Rescue Committee, to fund a year of a girl’s education (only $58 bucks.)

MORE 8 Fun, Not-Cheesy Ways to Celebrate Valentines Day

4) Binge watch Broad City (another Amy Poehler project) and take a shot every time Abbi or Ilana choose radical acceptance over judgement or competition. Take two shots when Bevers does anything revolting.

5) Dance party. Beyonce, Nicki Minaj and Taylor Swift only. No exceptions.

And no chocolate diamonds, under any circumstances.

Read next: It’s Better to Be Single on Valentine’s Day

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: February 12

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. Proprietary tech under the hood means farmers can’t service their own equipment. Time for open source tractors.

By Kyle Wiens in Wired

2. These grassroots efforts to improve life are glimmers of hope for Guatemala.

By Shannon K. O’Neill at the Council on Foreign Relations

3. Secular Americans aren’t morally adrift. For many, altruism is their moral compass.

By Nick Street in Al Jazeera America

4. It takes a package of policies to substantially reduce poverty.

By Linda Giannarelli, Kye Lippold, Sarah Minton and Laura Wheaton in MetroTrends

5. “Ultimately, the most effective way to create shareholder value is to serve the interests of all stakeholders.”

By Marc Benioff in the Huffington Post

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

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 Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: February 5

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. Could Blockchain — the secure, encrypted network that powers Bitcoin transactions — be used to build a safer alternate Internet?

By Scott Rosenberg in Backchannel, on Medium

2. One NGO is crowdfunding the fight against human trafficking.

By Leif Coorlim at the CNN Freedom Project

3. High-achieving, low-income students get into selective colleges when they actually apply. Virtual college counselors can make sure they do.

By Bloomberg Philanthropies

4. “Vocal fry” and other patterns in the speech of younger women might signal a change for generations to come.

By Chi Luu in JSTOR Daily

5. Scientists are hoping genetically-modified coral can save the Great Barrier Reef.

By Laura Clark in Smithsonian Magazine

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

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 Middle East

ISIS Manifesto Depicts Its Grim Vision of the Role of Women

The newly translated document offers a glimpse into the true expectations for women under ISIS

Women should be married from the age of nine and only educated to the age of 15 according to a manifesto from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria posted to a jihadist forum.

The document was first posted by the media wing of the Khanssaa Brigade, an ISIS women’s group and was translated into English by the British think tank the Quilliam Foundation. It lambasts the “Western program for women” and lays out the expectations for the “sedentary” role of women under ISIS, which controls swathes of Syria and Iraq.

Haraqs Rafiq, the managing director of Quilliam, said in a statement that the manifesto provides a starkly different perspective on female life under ISIS than that projected by some of the hundreds of Western women who have traveled to the region.

“It allows us to look past the propaganda banded about on social media by Western supporters of ISIS, enabling us to get into the mind-set of the hundreds, perhaps thousands, of women who willingly join its ranks,” he said.

The manifesto, which Quilliam says was likely intended to attract women from the conservative Gulf region, discusses a female education focused on religion and says the “purpose of her existence is the Divine duty of motherhood.”

 

TIME society

How My Dad’s Brain Cancer Finally Convinced Me to Quit Facebook

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Elizabeth Renstrom for TIME

xoJane.com is where women go to be their unabashed selves, and where their unabashed selves are applauded

My therapist says that Facebook comes up in sessions with her clients on a daily basis, and I can see why

xojane

Facebook has an average of 864 million active daily users, but as of a month ago, that number was reduced by at least one person—me. And every time I tell someone that I hit the “Delete My Account” button, it’s like I’m making some shocking confession.

“Why?” most ask incredulously.

While there is no one answer, the tipping point was my dad’s recent diagnosis with stage four glioblastoma—brain cancer.

I got my dad’s news in the middle of October when he had quite suddenly begun experiencing symptoms. His wife took him to the ER where doctors later discovered a large mass in his brain.

My dad and his wife have been together for 19 years. He moved in with her and her two young daughters—much younger than me—after my parents divorced when I was 15. I often daydreamed about what my dad’s life must have been like with his new family. But I didn’t have to wonder once I finally visited their home many years later and saw all of the family photos around their house: posed pictures of the four of them all in black T-shirts and khakis, pics of them in formal wear on a cruise ship, candids from holidays past.

He had obviously built a strong relationship with his stepdaughters, particularly the youngest. And it would be her face I was left staring at on Facebook after my dad’s diagnosis. She changed her profile photo to a picture of her and my dad, which felt like a punch in the stomach even though I knew logically that it wasn’t about me. I clicked on her profile at least once a day to see if she had changed it.

In order to further pick at the scab, I took to Googling her name with my dad’s name. I found out they had done a 5k together a couple of years ago and that when she played soccer in high school, my father and her mother were listed as her parents.

I told all of this to my therapist, who did not respond the way I had hoped.

Instead she said, “I think you should block her on your Facebook feed.”

I cried when she said that because something in me craved the tortuous feelings that came from clicking on this girl’s profile. But I was prepared to do it. However, when I started thinking about it—really thinking about it—I realized that her profile picture and updates weren’t the only things I was discontent about being on Facebook.

My therapist says that Facebook comes up in sessions with her clients on a daily basis, and I can see why. It offers us innumerable opportunities to compare our own lives with the lives that our Facebook friends choose to present to us. And I say “choose to present” because it hardly ever offers the whole picture. Someone announces her new job but fails to mention she was fired from the last one. Other people overstate their financial status, relationships, how perfect their kids are, or just how amazingly fun and interesting their lives are in general.

So after some reflection, I’ve come up with a few reasons as to why I ultimately quit:

Being on Facebook gave me a false sense of community. I’d been kicking around the idea of getting off of Facebook for awhile but would excuse the fact that I was still on it with exclamations like, “This is the only way I still keep up with some people!” But if someone isn’t even worth an email, text, phone call, or postcard, are they really worth me “keeping up with” on Facebook? And can that even be considered keeping up with them?

For me, Facebook made me feel like I had this village of support around me, but it was essentially a form of voyeurism. What I needed to do was return some emails, send some texts, reach out to people—and not just “like” their status update about having pancakes for brunch or comment on a picture of their kid’s latest dance recital.

I needed something real. I needed someone to see me with puffy eyes and unwashed hair and baby-food-stained sweatpants while I drank boxed wine and watched Gilmore Girls reruns. I needed someone to hit the metaphorical thumbs-up sign on that picture, and I needed to do the same for other people.

It made me feel sad/annoyed/jealous. Seeing the photos my dad’s stepdaughter was posting of the two of them together—memorializing him like he was already gone—was killing me. Then there were the complaining vaguebookers, not-so-humble braggers, and myriad other photos, links, and updates that were bumming me out.

Plus, I didn’t like feeling bad about myself for not having a new job or new dog or freshly blown-out hair or a perfectly Pinterest-ed party to photograph and post on Facebook. Or, perhaps most importantly, a picture of me and my dad looking and feeling healthy.

It was a time suck that distracted me from the present moment. I would find myself mindlessly scrolling through a high school acquaintance’s 200-photo album of Disney World photos and then looking up to realize I’d let a whole hour pass doing something I didn’t consciously even want to be doing. What else could I have been doing with that time that would be way more enjoyable for me?

So what does life after Facebook look like?

I have friends telling me they wish they could do the same thing. Newsflash: They can if they really want to. But I know how they feel. For the longest time, I’ve felt like I needed permission to do something as simple as quitting Facebook. So I finally gave myself the go-ahead.

I’ve had more interactions with people via email, text, phone, and in person. I think some of the people that have reached out to me think I’ve suddenly unfriended them on Facebook, but regardless of the reason, it’s been nice to actually have one-on-one chats with folks about what’s going on in their lives and in mine.

I have more time. Last night after my three-year-old and her eight-month-old sister were tucked into bed and the dishes were done and the comfy pants were on, I slow danced in the kitchen with my husband and cried into his shoulder (I’m still a bucket full of emotions). I’ve also finished two and a half books, sent out thank-you notes for Christmas presents, and figured out how to properly shape my own eyebrows. And I’ve learned I need to find a hobby.

I still don’t know if I made the right decision, though. So I ask you: Have you pulled the plug on your Facebook account? If so, what was the tipping point for you? If not, have you thought about it? What’s stopped you from quitting?

FYI, if you’re looking to take the plunge: Save yourself the time and trouble of looking for the link on your Facebook profile page and just google “Delete Facebook account.” You want the first link that pops up. You’ll have the opportunity to download a copy of your info—all the photos and such you’ve uploaded to Facebook—and then you can either deactivate or permanently delete your Facebook account. I opted for the latter.

Jen Harper wrote this article for xoJane.

Read next: These Texting and Social Media Habits Could Sabotage Your Love Life

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

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 Family

How Workplaces Can Combat Pregnancy Discrimination

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Having a baby shouldn't put Americans' jobs at risk

As a mother of a young child today, I know much has changed for mothers in the workforce since my mother and her mother had children. But there’s one thread that ties our narratives together – a subject that’s too often fleeting in the broader discussion of working moms: the discrimination women experience during pregnancy, and after they return to work.

Every year, thousands of women file charges against employers for acts of pregnancy discrimination. In fact, charges of pregnancy discrimination filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) actually increased by 71 percent between 1992 and 2011.

What does pregnancy discrimination look like, exactly? It occurs when an employer treats a job applicant or an employee unfavorably due to her pregnancy, childbirth, or a related medical condition. It could involve refusing to hire or promote a qualified individual because she is pregnant, firing a woman because she missed a few days of work to give birth, or forcing a pregnant employee to take unpaid leave. Sure, this behavior hurts pregnant women and their families, but it also hurts employers: In addition to breaking the law, these companies may be failing to retain some of their most highly qualified employees – losing out on their skills and productivity.

The bottom line is that women comprise a significant proportion of the nation’s talent pool, and when their contributions are constrained by patronizing and outmoded notions of what motherhood should look like (even well-intentioned ones), our workforce, our economy and our families suffer. At present, women serve as the sole or primary breadwinners in 40 percent of American households. In other words, women’s sustained participation in the labor force is critical to the economic security and stability of millions of individual families.

And yet, here we are in 2015, and some employers still view child-bearing and employment as mutually exclusive activities. Just last year, the EEOC announced a $30,000 settlement to a pregnancy discrimination lawsuit a woman brought against her former employer, Triple T Foods in Arkansas, which fired her the day she announced she was pregnant. This is only one example of the $3.5 million the EEOC recouped in damages for victims of pregnancy discrimination between 2011 and 2014.

We have a long way to go. But we’ve made progress in some ways. For example, just a generation ago, many women left the workplace when they became visibly pregnant. In the 1960s, almost half of women who worked during their first pregnancy left the workforce by the time they were about 6 months pregnant. Today, only about 12 percent do.

And we’re certainly better off than we were. In 1908, the U.S. Supreme Court, in Muller v. Oregon, upheld a state statute restricting the number of hours per day a female employee could work and thereby set a precedent for paternalistic laws intended to “protect” women from the hazards and indignities of the workplace. While the Court acknowledged that the statute treated workers differently on the basis of sex, it also found that that a woman’s “physical structure” and “maternal functions” justified such unequal treatment.

Although the precedent established in Muller had unraveled by the late twentieth century and its discriminatory assumptions are no longer formally codified in law, they still permeate the cultural expectations surrounding women—especially pregnant women—in the workplace. These expectations can affect women even before they enter the workplace. Pregnant women face discrimination at job interviews and face much greater discrimination than other workers with short-term disabilities who may need minimal accommodations. For example, in a survey funded by the W.K Kellogg Foundation, 69 percent of respondents who reported being denied a pregnancy-related accommodation felt that their employers had honored similar requests from coworkers with other limitations or disabilities.

Knowing that this culture exists can and often does discourage women from requesting accommodations from or disclosing her pregnancy to her supervisor. In the same survey, more than half of respondents reported needing scheduling accommodations for prenatal visits and the like, but more than a quarter reported failing to request such an accommodation. That’s a shame, because the truth is that employers should be able to accommodate these requests with minimal expense and inconvenience.

How do we ensure that women who work during pregnancy are treated equitably, and begin to break down this discriminatory culture? That requires a combination of more progressive employer policies coupled with a set of robust legal and regulatory protections. At the federal level, women are protected by laws like Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA), the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), but there is more we can do.

In June, at the White House Summit on Working Families, President Obama called for federal legislation that supports pregnant workers. Some states like Delaware and Illinois have taken the lead and passed their own versions of the proposed federal Pregnant Workers Fairness Act.

The EEOC has stepped up, too, releasing new enforcement guidance last year to clarify the applications of the PDA and the ADA, as they apply to pregnant workers. This guidance “requires that employers treat women affected by pregnancy or related medical conditions the same way they treat non-pregnant applicants or employees who are similar in their ability or inability to work.” This means that employers have to make reasonable accommodations for pregnant workers if they also make such accommodations for other employees who have a temporary disability. The EEOC’s notice also includes women who undergo fertility treatments, are nursing mothers, or are discriminated against based on stereotypes and assumptions about motherhood.

Outside of government, workplaces across the nation are already teeming with examples of managers and employees alike who are dismantling outdated assumptions about the needs and abilities of pregnant workers, as well as the responsibilities of the employers who hire them. Combining statutory and regulatory protections with voluntary actions by employers can amplify this groundswell of progress. From the classroom to the board room to the factory floor, we see daily evidence of the powerful alignment of workplace policy, statutory protections and individual determination in ensuring that women can, in fact, do and be just about anything.

Building a workplace culture that aligns with the demographic realities of today’s labor force allows employers not only to stay on the right side of the law, but, as a growing body of evidence suggests, shows that employers can still do well with their bottom line by treating all of their workers fairly. After all, support for pregnant workers doesn’t simply benefit this generation of workers; it’s an investment in generations to come.

Latifa Lyles is the Director of the Women’s Bureau at the Department of Labor. 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.

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I Was the Maid of Honor for a Girl I Bullied Mercilessly

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xoJane.com is where women go to be their unabashed selves, and where their unabashed selves are applauded

I made her preteen life a living hell; years later I’d be walking with her family down the aisle

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“Fatty, fatty, bom, bom!” I screamed, and the other 12-year-old girls around me laughed hysterically.

We pointed, laughed some more, shouted out similar chants, as we ran around our school’s racing track. There were five of us, and our energy was focused on one girl, running alone, tears welling up and nobody to help her. She was our victim; she was no match for the collective energy of a group of self-appointed “cool girls.”

We let the girl overtake us on the track while we ripped her apart in private conversation.

“Her boobs look so weird, she can’t even run with them.”

“She got her period so young, there must be something wrong with her.”

As the girl continued running, boys from our grade walked by on their way to soccer practice. Perfect timing for us, as we watched them shame her body too, echoing our sentiment, validating that we had a right to our behavior. The girl, named Felicity, nickname Flick, continued running.

A lot of people assume that when kids are mean, they don’t really know what they’re doing; that they’re harmless, really. I knew exactly what I was doing, and I knew how it would affect Flick, because I’d been a victim of it for years.

From when I was seven to 13, I had no friends. None, absolutely none. And I wasn’t just left alone to quietly get on with life; kids made fun of me constantly. I had headgear (followed by all other kinds of lisp-inducing braces), horrendous granny-floral glasses and, best of all, warts. A ton of warts on my hands and arms.

Not only was I visually destined to be an elementary school outcast, but pretty soon my personality changed to fit the profile, too. I wouldn’t understand for many years later that people, particularly kids, absorb the identities they are given by others.

I subconsciously developed nervous tics, including counting everything I did in eights, right down to the pieces of toilet paper I used. I obsessively repeated whatever people said to me under my breath, over and over again until someone else spoke to me and I’d change the sentence.

One afternoon, aged 10 in the girl’s locker room (a place designed for bad things to happen) I became so frustrated with the other girls sharing inside jokes I wasn’t a part of, and so paranoid they were talking about me, I slammed the hairbrush I was holding onto the floor. It terrified the girls, only making them more inclined to shout “freak.”

It terrified me, because I felt like one.

So it was pretty great for me when Flick showed up in school. Finally, I wasn’t the biggest weirdo in town. I was pretty relieved everyone seemed to be bored of picking on me, and had moved on to something else.

In my school, tormenting others was the top social currency. I soon realized that not only did I need Flick to distract people from my own inadequacies, but if I joined in with everyone else, maybe I’d finally be accepted.

So there I was, chasing her around the running track, making her sob, breaking her down mentally, like there was no tomorrow. Like I didn’t know what that felt like.

The irony was, of course, I didn’t really like the cool kids. I had nothing in common with them, and they with me. The person I liked the most, if I was honest with myself, was this girl I made cry every day.

When we first met, at the school’s “Welcome Day” for new students, Flick seemed so comfortable in her own skin, so at peace with herself that she gave off a magnetic energy. She wore one of those Lizzie McGuire-esque rainbow tie dye tops, and pink jelly sandals (which I was obsessed with, and my parents never let me get). I’d never met anyone my age like that, and I so desperately hoped that she would overlook my shortcomings, and just like me.

I only stopped bullying Flick when a teacher forced me. The teacher was cool, young, and most of the preteen girls saw her as an older cousin. It made it all the more humiliating when we were made to apologize to Flick and reprimanded for our shameful behavior. Later, we discussed how we couldn’t believe Flick lied and said we were bullying her. She obviously wanted attention.

Too scared of punishment to go near Flick, the girls soon turned their cruelty onto me. I was so, very livid—hadn’t I proved myself to be just like them by now? What had all that effort been for?

Everything came to a head the summer before eighth grade when I was invited to a sleepover party with just a few of the girls. I picked out my clothes and PJs meticulously. Maybe I’d fool them into thinking I’d gotten cool over the summer.

That night, the girls were unrelenting. It became very clear that I was simply there because they weren’t allowed to watch TV past 9 p.m.

They took chocolate cake and wiped it over my face, and I let them. We played one game, I can’t remember the rules for it, but I ended up naked and they laughed at how I had no breasts. I was confused—hadn’t we laughed at Flick for having breasts? I took my things into a corner and slept backward in my sleeping bag so the hood would cover my face and they wouldn’t be able to draw things on me while I slept. They put my hand in a bowl of hot water so I wet myself.

When my mother drove me home the next day, I cried hysterically and wouldn’t tell her what happened. When school started the next week, it was very clear to the class that I’d been demoted.

It didn’t take long for Flick to offer to be my friend. She’d gotten herself some of her own by that point — other girls who’d been bullied, they were sort of forming a club — and they took me in. There were no questions, no conditions; I wasn’t reverted to the bottom of a food chain because with them there wasn’t one.

It turned out that not only did Flick and I have a lot in common, we were pretty normal teenage girls; boy-obsessed, emotional, big on daydreaming. We shared secrets, we made each other scrapbooks.

Once we took the train from our suburb into London by ourselves, without permission, and way too young. As soon as we we frolicked out of the station, I remembered my mom would be picking me up in half an hour from her house, so we frolicked right back onto the train. I thought we were the coolest girls in the world.

Years later and eating dinner at Flick’s house, her kid sister burst out, “Didn’t you used to bully Flick?”

As I sat, frozen in shame, Flick replied, “Yeah… how embarrassing for her!” She winked at me, a familiar expression. That night, I gave her a long-overdue apology.

“When it happened to me, I wanted to die sometimes,” I said.

“Yeah,” she replied. “I know what you mean.”

Fast-forward to today, and my best friend is essentially winning at life. She graduated from the University of Cambridge (yes, that Cambridge) after a year of volunteering in Uganda. She survived a motorcycle crashing into her in Kampala and now calls it a “funny story.” She was elected into a full-time job as the President of Cambridge’s Student’s Union. She got her nose pierced. She still loves rainbow-colored anything. She now works with a teenage girl with Asperger’s Syndrome as her classroom aid.

And last summer, I walked down the aisle as her maid of honor, and watched her marry a loving man who is her equal in kindness and strength.

I had boyfriends in school but I call Flick my “first love” because she was the first person in my life who chose to love me. I wasn’t her family; I was a girl who had made her life hell for a long time. Our lasting friendship continues to teach me the power women gain when we forgive and lift each other up.

In one of the scrapbooks Flick and my other first friends made me, I wrote a note in the back page to myself:

“These are the best friends ever, you are too lucky to have them.

Never take them for granted

Always treat them with respect

Love them for what they are — themselves.”

Charlotte Lait wrote this article for xoJane.

Read next: Bullying Is Good For Your Health

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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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