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What I Experienced From Online Dating as a Black Woman

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The majority of the messages I received, mostly from white men, fetishized my appearance and sexualized me based solely on my race

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I try to remind myself that no one ever said online dating would be a wholly pleasant experience. There is an inherent awkwardness that comes with entering the world of swipes and algorithms, and it’s simply unavoidable.

I grew up and into an era during which the Internet has basically informed much of my identity and sparked many of my most important relationships — I’ve met some of my closest friends via sites like LiveJournal and Tumblr. And today, there’s no twentysomething I know who hasn’t met a bae or a jump off via some app or online service. So there’s no real sense of the taboo when it comes to dating online.

I created my first online profile in 2013 on OkCupid, a tiny baby step into unfamiliar territory with no real set goal in mind. All I knew was that as someone painfully shy around men, dating in the real world, in New York City, felt downright impossible. If anything, this was a way for me to gauge my own interest, and to date in a way that felt a bit more intentional, a bit more on my own terms.

And because I had girlfriends who told me about their escapades on the site, the good and the bad, the inevitable creeps and trolls, I felt relatively prepared for an imperfect if interesting experience.

What I wasn’t prepared for was the horror story that is online dating as a black woman.

Recently, OkCupid released data on race and attraction amongst its users, which revealed messed up but unsurprising realities about how people navigated the site.

Compiled by the site’s cofounder Christian Rudder, the data showed that black people and Asian men were least likely to get a date on the site. Black women specifically, the research showed, were at the very bottom of the barrel, receiving the fewest messages and likes from all races of men, and the least amount of responses to outgoing messages. Latina and Asian women, overwhelmingly, got the most likes and responses.

Rudder’s take on the data was pretty vague. “Beauty is a cultural idea as much as a physical one, and the standard is of course set by the dominant culture,” he said. “I believe that’s what you see in the data here.”

The narrative about black women and dating, about our lack of desirability and dateability, has been one I’ve actively tried to unlearn, despite a constant, nagging feeling that the reason I couldn’t get a date was because of the so-called stigma. But in my first major foray into the world of online dating, what struck me wasn’t so much this idea of not being wanted, but the kind of men who apparently wanted me.

A few creeps and trolls I could handle just fine. But from day one, I got tons of messages, many of them one or two word lines like, “Hey sexy,” and a larger majority of them reading, “Hey chocolate.” These weren’t worth the energy it took to respond.

The chocolate thing, though, kept coming up. Gradually, I began to notice a theme — the majority of the messages I received, mostly from white men, fetishized my appearance and sexualized me based solely on my race.

There have been so many ridiculous and offensive messages, too many to count or read. Many I’m not even comfortable sharing in this essay.

“Do you taste like chocolate?”

“Is it true what they say about black girls?”

“I’d love to slap dat big juicy booty.”

Once a guy was good enough to message me just to tell me that I look like “something you find in the zoo.” Another man, after luring me into a false sense of security by opening with a pleasant enough conversation about one of my favorite TV shows abruptly changed the subject to pose the question: “Do you act black?”

I asked him what exactly he meant by that.

He replied, “I like black women minus the attitude. Why is that wrong to ask? Haha.”

Haha, indeed.

In the three years I’ve been on OkCupid, I’ve only met up with a handful of people, mostly because it’s been impossible to meet anyone who doesn’t open or end conversations with offensive, racist, sexually aggressive language. A brief sojourn into Tinder world marked the worst of it — someone called me the n-word when I said I didn’t want to meet with him. I automatically deleted the app and haven’t been there since.

I know that I don’t represent every black girl’s time spent in the online dating world. I have black girlfriends who’ve had relatively decent, pleasant interactions, which is wonderful. But I also know my experiences aren’t unique. I do still wonder who else out there has put up with this kind of unwanted attention. The OkCupid data suggested Latinas and Asian women get the most attention on the site, but I can only imagine what kind of attention they’re getting — creepy fetishizing, no doubt.

It hasn’t all been bad, of course. In the past year I’ve met a few guys online who have been fun to hang out with, and a couple whom I’ve actually really liked. But I’m taking an indefinite break from the online dating world. Partly because I want to experience different forms of dating, but mostly because the energy of weeding through hundreds of gross and racist messages from strangers is, to me, the very opposite of self-care.

Last year, some important conversations were sparked surrounding the kind of street harassment women face on a daily basis. There needs to be, I think, a similar conversation about online harassment. Because it’s not just the dating sites where women are subjected to this kind of behavior.

On my Tumblr blog I’ve gotten creepy messages, and had my personal photos posted on ebony fetish blogs. Some might say that the solution to avoiding this kind behavior is to delete my blog or my profile, to block the guys I don’t like and focus on the ones I do.

I say that I shouldn’t have to do that to begin with.

Zeba Blay is a writer in New York. This article originally appeared on xoJane.com.

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 life hacks

How Not to Be ‘Manterrupted’ in Meetings

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Kevin Mazur—WireImage/Getty Images Kanye West takes the microphone from Taylor Swift and speaks onstage during the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards on Sept. 13, 2009

A guide for women, men and bosses

Manterrupting: Unnecessary interruption of a woman by a man.

Bropropriating: Taking a woman’s idea and taking credit for it.

We all remember that moment back in 2009, when Kanye West lunged onto the stage at the MTV Video Music Awards, grabbed the microphone from Taylor Swift, and launched into a monologue. “I’m gonna let you finish,” he said as he interrupted Swift as she was accepting the award for best female video. “But Beyoncé had one of the best videos of all time!”

It was perhaps the most public example of the “manterruption” – that is, a man interrupting a woman while she’s trying to speak (in this case, on stage, by herself, as an award honoree) and taking over the floor. At the VMAs it might have counted as entertainment, but ask any woman in the working world and we all recognize the phenomenon. We speak up in a meeting, only to hear a man’s voice chime in louder. We pitch an idea, perhaps too uncertainly – only to have a dude repeat it with authority. We may possess the skill, but he has the right vocal cords – which means we shut up, losing our confidence (or worse, the credit for the work).

We might have thought we were just being paranoid. But thanks to Sheryl Sandberg and Wharton business school professor Adam Grant (a man!) we can feel just a little less crazy when we mentally replay those meetings gone wrong. In a new op-ed in the New York Times, they point out the perils of “speaking while female,” along with a bevy of new research to prove that no, this is not all in our heads. (Disclaimer: I edit special projects for Sandberg’s women’s nonprofit, LeanIn.Org. Though I did not edit her Times op-ed.)

Sandberg and Grant cite research showing that powerful male Senators speak significantly more than their junior colleagues, while female Senators do not. That male executives who speak more often than their peers are deemed more competent (by 10%), while female executives who speak up are considered less (14% less). The data follows a long line of research showing that when it comes to the workplace, women speak less, are interrupted more, and have their ideas more harshly scrutinized.

“We’ve both seen it happen again and again,” Sandberg and Grant write. “When a woman speaks in a professional setting, she walks a tightrope. Either she’s barely heard or she’s judged as too aggressive. When a man says virtually the same thing, heads nod in appreciation for his fine idea.”

My friends have come up with terminology for it: Manterrupting. Manstanding. (Or talk-blocking, if you want the gender-neutral version.)

And the result? Women hold back. That, or we relinquish credit altogether. Our ideas get co-opted (bro-opted), re-appropriated (bro-propriated?) — or they simply fizzle out. We shut down, become less creative, less engaged. We revert into ourselves, wondering if it’s actually our fault. Enter spiral of self-doubt.

But there are things we can do to stop that cycle: women, men, and even bosses.

Know That We’re All a Little Bit Sexist — and Correct for It

The reality is that we all exhibit what scholars call “unconscious bias” — ingrained prejudices we may not even know we have. (Don’t think you’re among the culprits? Take this Implicit Association Test to be proved wrong.) When it comes to women, that bias is the result of decades of history; we’ve been taught that men lead and women nurture. So when women exhibit male traits – you know, decision-making, authority, leadership – we often dislike them, while men who exhibit those same traits are frequently deemed strong, masculine, and competent. It’s not only men who exhibit this bias, it’s women too: as one recent study found, it’s not just men who interrupt women more at work — it’s women too. But acknowledging that bias is an important step toward correcting for it.

Establish a No-Kanye Rule (Or Any Interruption, for That Matter)

When Glen Mazarra, a showrunner at The Shield, an FX TV drama from the early 2000s, noticed that his female writers weren’t speaking up in the writer’s room – or that when they did, they were interrupted and their ideas overtaken — he instituted a no-interruption policy while writers (male or female) were pitching. “It worked, and he later observed that it made the entire team more effective,” Sandberg and Grant wrote.

Practice Bystander Intervention

Seriously, stop an interrupter in his (or her) tracks. Nudge him, elbow him, or simply speak up to say, “Wait, let her finish,” or “Hey, I want to hear what Jess is saying.” The words are your choice — but don’t stay silent.

Create a Buddy System With a Friend

Or, better yet, if you’re a woman, create a buddy system with a friend who is a dude. Ask him to nod and look interested when you speak (when he’s interested, of course). Let him to back you up publicly in meetings. Seriously, try it. It’s not fair, no. But dammit, it works.

Support Your (Female) Colleagues

If you hear an idea from a woman that you think is good, back her up. You’ll have more of an effect than you think and you’ll establish yourself as a team player too.

Give Credit Where It’s Due

Yes, everyone wants credit for a good idea. But research shows that giving credit where it’s due will actually make you look better (as well as the person with the idea).

Women: Practice Assertive Body Language

Sit at the table, point to someone, stand up, walk to the front of the room, place your hand on the table — whatever it takes. Not only do these high-power poses make you appear more authoritative, but they actually increase your testosterone levels – and thus, your confidence. In some cases, it may actually help to literally “lean in”: in one study, researchers found that men physically lean in more often than women in professional meetings, making them less likely to be interrupted. Women more often leaned away — and were more likely to be interrupted.

… And Own Your Voice

Don’t undermine your authority with “I’m not sure if this is right, but—.” Speak authoritatively. Avoid the baby voice (leadership and authority are associated with the deep masculine voice, not with a softer, higher pitched tone). And please, whatever you do, don’t apologize before you speak.

Support Companies With Women in Power

We know that companies with more women on their corporate boards have higher outcomes and better returns. Teams with more diverse members perform better too. But having more women in power may actually encourage women to bring their ideas forward. In one study cited by Sandberg and Grant, researchers looked at the employees of a credit union where women made up 74% of supervisors and 84% of front-line employees. Shocker: women here were more likely to speak up, and be heard.

If all else fails, you can always learn how to talk really, really loud.

Jessica Bennett is a contributing columnist at Time.com covering the intersection of gender, sexuality, business and pop culture. She writes regularly for the New York Times and is a contributing editor on special projects for Sheryl Sandberg’s women’s nonprofit, Lean In. You can follow her @jess7bennett.

Read next: A Better Feminism for 2015

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TIME women

10 Most Sexist Responses to Reducing Women’s Public Toilet Lines

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Soraya Chemaly is a media critic and activist.

The response isn’t about toilets, but about women demanding more than they are “given”

Last week, many people took time out of their busy schedules to tell me I was a moron, should shut up, and should learn to urinate like a man. These suggestions, ranging from irritable to misogynistic and violent, came in response to an article I wrote for TIME about the history and politics of women waiting in line for public toilets. In an effort to better understand opposing points of view, I’ve categorized the objections into 10 themes:

  1. Women should learn to stand, commonly understood to be a superior method of elimination. Many people even pointed me to helpful products. The argument goes that women should stand to overcome their “inferior biology,” whereas men sitting “like women” is emasculating—even though 30% of men surveyed prefer sitting. After millions of sit-to-pee gadgets were sold in Germany and people in Sweden started teaching boys to “be a sweetie and take a seatie,” there was a backlash among men in Britain and the United States lamenting the end of men. If you think women standing is “empowering” but men sitting is emasculating, tell the U.S. Navy, which eliminated urinals on aircraft carriers in 2012.
  2. Women may have to wait in lines, but men’s rooms are disgusting. However true, this objection is irrelevant to women disproportionately waiting in long lines. And there are efforts to clean up men’s bathrooms. In Taiwan, Japan, and Sweden, there are public health initiatives for men to sit because standing is less sanitary and less healthy, and urinals take longer to clean and come at greater public cost.
  3. Women should stop preening in front of the mirror. I could find no studies that measure this stereotype. However, several consumer surveys found that men spend more time grooming in general. In any case, women aren’t standing in lines for mirrors, but for stalls.
  4. Women should stop going to the toilet together. In many countries, including ours, girls are frequently socialized to go to bathrooms with others because they have to be ever vigilant about avoiding rape. In point of fact, young boys, sexually assaulted just as frequently, should be taught precautions too. Instead, rape myths maintain that boys can’t be raped, so we put them at higher risk and mock girls for “staying safe.”
  5. Your female opinion must be dismissed. Many people didn’t read the article, concluding that I was saying, for example, that “peeing standing up is sexist.” They saw the word “sexism,” and responded with a profusion of unimaginative gendered slurs, like “dumb b**ch.”
  6. Stop lying. Among the rebuttals I received were: “No woman breastfeeds in public restrooms,” and “How can you say women stand in lines more than men?” Yet there is an entire campaign to raise awareness about women breastfeeding in public restrooms. As for men waiting in lines: yes, this happens, most often in places where there are comparably few women (e.g., Silicon Valley or the military).
  7. This isn’t “the battle that feminism should be focused on.” The issue here is a centrally important one: we need to understand and stop perpetuating discriminatory norms developed when women had almost no legal rights and were largely barred from contributing to defining culture. This basic problem is as true in the law, medicine, and media as it is in the design of public spaces.
  8. Stop “being a victim” because “no one is making women wait in line.” Unfortunately, women can’t actually walk away from the bodily-fluid-filled reality of our lives, including leaking breast milk, seeping blood, or bladders possibly being crushed by pregnancy. Pointing out this reality no more makes a woman a victim than if a man describes a problem with the low height of stroller handles.
  9. This is the result of biology, so deal with it. As one person on Twitter put it, “biology doesn’t design toilets.” It matters that people who do not have these concerns make up the vast majority of legislators, the foreign service, our military, and humanitarian aid decision makers. Women’s input and meeting women’s basic physical and safety needs are important, and incorporating them would mean more effective solutions to everything from urban design that includes better sanitary facilities to disaster relief to environmental policies.
  10. This is a “first world problem” because “women in the middle east (sic) are getting acid thrown in their faces after they’ve been raped” and “men go to war.” These issues are global ones, as India’s “Right to Pee” campaign, and China’s “Occupy Men’s Toilets” protest illustrate. Setting aside the implied dismissal of egregious gender-based violence in the United States, which is firmly in the middle of the global pack, women do suffer gravely elsewhere, including, notably, from having no safe access to sanitary facilities. Even in our recent past, this problem has inhibited girls’ ability to attend school and women’s ability to work. It contributes to illness and exacerbates poverty. In disasters, our inability to plan for women’s bodily needs results in higher mortality rates for girls and women. As for war, militarism is directly linked to gender inequality and sex segregation.

All of this in response to the simple question of why women are still not having their basic needs equitably met. During the past three decades, laws focused on “Potty Parity,” an infantilizing term redolent with Victorian shame, have been passed in the United States, and yet the problem persists. Increasingly, as the result of effective LGTBQ activism, communities are developing organic and often hybrid solutions, including gender-neutral bathrooms, that more equitably address everyone’s needs. If Viennese urban planners have done it for their city, surely we can do it for our public toilets?

Outraged people, employing ad hominem attacks, suggested I’d posited a “conspiracy,” and were particularly put out by the word “sexism,” something they associate with an individual’s explicitly intended discriminatory behavior. So why such virulent responses to an article about reducing women’s wait times and recounting history? The response isn’t about toilets but about when women—and other historically marginalized people—demand more than they are “given” and stop quietly accepting historically permissible marginalization in the public sphere.

Read next: The Everyday Sexism of Women Waiting in Public Toilet Lines

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 salary negotiation

The Single Best Thing Women Can Do to Bust through the Glass Ceiling

female and male coworkers holding up signs, female's reads -50% and male's reads 150%
Sarina Finkelstein (photo illustration)—Getty Images (2)

Talk to a guy before you name your number in salary negotiations.

This is the fifth in a series of six posts on salary negotiation published in partnership with PayScale.com.

The latest Census data shows that women earn 78 cents for every dollar earned by our male counterparts. You’d think we’d be livid.

But in fact, while many of us are angry about this inequity in a general sense, several studies have shown that women are not all that upset about being underpaid on an individual basis. The research shows that women report the same levels of satisfaction with pay as their better-paid male colleagues, even when controlled for occupation and position in the food chain.

Academics call this (frankly depressing) phenomenon “the paradox of the contented female worker.”

Those in the ivory tower have been attempting to explain this since social psychologist Faye Crosby coined the term some 40 years ago. But one recent study of Texas attorneys published in the Employee Responsibilities and Rights Journal offers a plausible—and interesting—explanation.

Survey participants tended to base satisfaction with their salaries on the salaries of those people who were similar and proximate, says the study’s author H. Kristl Davison, an assistant professor of management at the University of Mississippi. “So essentially what happens,” she says, “is that women choose other women who are also lower paid as references and then end up with a lower sense of entitlement to more money.”

In other words, we are undervaluing our work because other women are undervaluing their work. And so the vicious underpayment cycle continues…

So how do you break that cycle, at least where your own lovely pocketbook is concerned?

The clearest implication of the study is this: When setting your expectation for pay for a job, don’t base your desired number on anecdotal evidence from your female peers.

Instead, start by gathering data from sites like Payscale to find out the average pay for the field, position, and location, regardless of gender. But—since women’s lower pay will be figured into these averages—also ask higher-level men in your field for their input.

“Asking male mentors can be very advantageous,” says Davison, “because it offers the perspective on what males are paid and because males talk about pay more than women do.”

You could say something like, “Bob, I’m going for this job as associate marketing director at a Fortune 500 company and they’re asking me for my salary requirements. I’m not sure what to say for that size of a company and wondered if you had any thoughts?”

(While mentioning a figure can help anchor the conversation in actual negotiations, avoid doing so here, since what you want is the other person’s uninfluenced opinion.)

And then when the interviewer asks for your salary expectation, you can say, “It’s my understanding from my research that jobs of this level pay in the neighborhood of $96,500,” or “I consulted my former boss Bob Smith, who’s now a V.P. at your competitor Quadroodle, and he told me the going rate is $96,500.”

(Note: Using a specific the number can make you sound more authoritative—so avoid rounding off too much.)

In a world where women all too often punished for being too assertive in salary negotiations, framing your argument around benchmark numbers and using a high-level ally to bolster your case can help you walk away with more money and your likeability in tact.

And that is the ultimate glass-ceiling breakthrough.


More from this series on Money.com:
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TIME Media

Amal Alamuddin Clooney and the Rise of the Trophy Husband

When George drags his human rights lawyer wife to the Golden Globes, we realize how petty these awards truly are

It started when she arrived on the red carpet, the star of the Golden Globes show, the woman who came across as the big winner at last night’s ceremony. The funny thing is, she wasn’t nominated for anything. She has never even been in a movie or TV show or even a high school musical. But the Guardian got it exactly right when it said, “Human rights lawyer Amal Clooney and her husband have arrived.”

It’s not an overstatement to say everyone fell in love Sunday night with Amal Alamuddin Clooney, the woman who finally nabbed confirmed bachelor George Clooney.

I can’t say it better than Amy Poehler and Tina Fey (can anyone say anything better than these two?), who joked, “Amal is a human rights lawyer who worked on the Enron case, was an adviser to Kofi Annan regarding Syria and was selected for a three-person U.N. commission investigating rules of war violations in the Gaza Strip. So tonight her husband is getting a lifetime-achievement award.”

MORE Watch George Clooney Pay Tribute to Wife Amal in Golden Globes Speech

On the red carpet, when asked what she was wearing, Amal didn’t discuss the designer who made her dress (it was Dior), perpetuating the marketing scam in which celebrities, the richest people around, are paid hundreds of thousands of dollars by billionaire designers to get attention for their gowns. No, she pointed out that there was a “Je Suis Charlie” button on her purse to show solidarity with the men and women of Charlie Hebdo who were killed by terrorists for exercising their right to free speech. She couldn’t care less about the garment industry; there are real-world issues that she wants to give attention to.

She wasn’t the only celebrity to show solidarity with our brothers and sisters in Paris, but she was one of the few wearing gloves on the red carpet, a choice many of the professional fashion advisers thought was tacky. But Amal does not care. Those gloves said, “O.K., fine, I will play along and get dressed up in formal wear for this event, but I think these gloves are cute and I’m wearing them, and I don’t care how many episodes of Fashion Police I’m on because I don’t even own a television set, so there.”

When George finally had his big moment, he tried to make it not about himself but about his wife and the Charlie Hebdo attacks. “Amal, whatever alchemy brought us together, I couldn’t be prouder to be your husband,” he said, before reminding people about what was going on in France. Clooney’s speech tried to take away the importance of his movie roles (remember Leatherheads, anyone?), and instead focused on what is important—and that is Amal. Even George defines himself not as a movie star but as a man who is married to an amazing woman. He could have settled for Stacy Keibler or Renée Zellweger, but instead he married an Oxford graduate who could probably beat Hillary Clinton for President, if only she were American.

MORE Review: From Cosby to Charlie, This Golden Globes Had Something to Say

Husbands were getting ignored all over the place Sunday night. Channing Tatum, currently one of the biggest box-office draws in Tinseltown, was on “train patrol” for his wife, the much-lesser-known Jenna Dewan Tatum, fanning out her long dress for the wide shots on the red carpet. When Naomi Watts and Liev Schreiber walked down the red carpet, he was generally ignored next to his wife, even though they were both nominated. That’s what being on television will do to you, Liev. Reese Witherspoon’s power-agent husband was with her at her table inside the event, but Cheryl Strayed, the woman she played in Wild, was the one who walked beside her when they stood next to Ryan Seacrest.

Maybe Reese’s man just didn’t want any part of the spectacle. When the camera would cut to her at any time during the evening, it was like she was considering all the things she would rather be doing with her time, like fighting for civil rights and making the world a better place. For her part, Amal looked like she was barely tolerating being there, like a wife dragged to her husband’s boring work dinner. And that’s all this was with her in attendance: someone else’s professional convention.

In fact, having Amal at the ceremony certainly threw the whole thing into perspective and threatened to undermine the legitimacy of the proceedings. We’re being duped into thinking that very rich people who are given every advantage in life, getting more accolades and awards, is somehow news. That it is something that should be covered rapturously by every news outlet in the world, with even more slide shows and reviews than the protests in Paris or Ferguson or wherever they’re happening these days.

MORE Golden Globes 2015: See All the Winners

When George drags Amal to the Golden Globes, we realize how petty these awards truly are, just more of Hollywood breaking its arm patting itself on the back and duping us into buying more movie tickets, watching more shows, consuming more commercials, feeding the consumerist beast that Amal Clooney is trying to fight back into a cage every damn day. We always thought that she was the woman who finally snared George Clooney, but it’s the other way around. And we’re all better off for it.

Moylan is a writer and pop-culture junkie who lives in New York City. His work has appeared in Gawker, Vice, New York magazine and a few other safe-for-work publications.

Read next: Great Storytelling Was the Real Winner at the Golden Globes

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TIME women

Women and the Myth of the American West

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Zocalo Public Square is a not-for-profit Ideas Exchange that blends live events and humanities journalism.

The frontier offered opportunities for land ownership and artistic inspiration—but life there wasn’t without struggle

In the American imagination, the rugged, vast landscapes of the West are dotted with solitary men on horseback—cowboys, outlaws, sheriffs. But the frontier was also home to women whose stories don’t match the standard Hollywood Western script. What brought women to places like California and Wyoming, and what lives could they lead there? Did Western women experience the same freedoms and adventures as their male counterparts?

In advance of the “What It Means to Be American” launch event “The Women of the West,” we asked historians: What opportunities did the American West offer women that they may not have had back East?

A land of contradictions as well as opportunity — Virginia Scharff

Let’s begin with one of those invisible, obvious facts of history: Women had been living in what became “the West” centuries before anyone arrived from “back East.” We have plenty of evidence of the ways they claimed homes and made communities, from the remnants of the Cahokia Mounds to the majestic ruins of Pueblo Bonito at Chaco Canyon, where archaeologist Patricia Crown has found evidence of chocolate and macaws from the 12th century. With the advent of European contact, Spanish and Mexican and indigenous women lived in—and came from—all directions.

So we’re really talking about those recent immigrants who came from the eastern U.S. and from across the globe, particularly in the 19th century. In the years after the Civil War, those women found plenty of opportunities in the West that were not available in the East: everything from the right to vote to equal pay for women teachers to more liberal divorce laws. Wyoming Territory passed a series of such laws in 1869, partly in an effort to attract more white settlement, which, of course, was also intended to unsettle indigenous people. The West was the first home of women’s suffrage in the U.S., with nearly every western state or territory enfranchising women long before women won the right to vote in eastern states.

Is the West still a land of opportunity for women? I’d say it’s more a land of contradictions. We’ve got women in public offices and CEO suites throughout the region. But here in the West, women continue to lag behind men in too many areas to declare the “Woman Problem” solved.

Virginia Scharff is distinguished professor of history at the University of New Mexico.

The chance to be a landowner — Vicki L. Ruiz

Under colonial Spain and newly independent Mexico, married women living in the borderlands of what is now the American Southwest had certain legal advantages not afforded their European-American peers. Under English common law, women, when they married, became feme covert (effectively dead in the eyes of the legal system) and thus unable to own property separately from their husbands. Conversely, Spanish-Mexican women retained control of their land after marriage and held one-half interest in the community property they shared with their spouses.

As I tell my students, imagine you are a woman on the Illinois prairie, the only child of a prosperous farmer. Your parents die, and you inherit the family homestead. You marry, raise crops, and rear several children. But if your husband has a mind to sell the farm and travel west, you cannot stop the sale, and up on the buckboard you go. However, if you grew up near Albuquerque, your husband could not sell the property you had brought to the marriage, thus giving you significant leverage in household decisions. So you might not end up on that buckboard after all.

There were numerous landed women of note in the West. For example, María Rita Valdez operated Rancho Rodeo de las Aguas, now better known as a center of affluence and glamour: Beverly Hills. (Rodeo Drive takes its name from Rancho Rodeo.) After the U.S.-Mexican War, the del Valle family of Southern California held on to Rancho Camulos, and when Ygnacio, the patriarch, died, his widow Isabel and daughter Josefa successfully took over the ranch’s operations. Other successful entrepreneurs and property holders, who defended their interests in court when necessary, included San Francisco’s Juana Briones, Santa Fe’s Gertrudis Barceló, San Antonio-born María del Carmen Calvillo, and Phoenix’s Trinidad Escalante Swilling. In a frontier environment, they utilized the legal system to their advantage as women unafraid to exert their own authority.

Vicki L. Ruiz is distinguished professor of history and Chicano/Latino studies at the University of California, Irvine. A fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and president-elect of the American Historical Association, she is the author of From Out of the Shadows: Mexican Women in Twentieth-Century America.

Writerly inspiration — Cathryn Halverson

The West gave women special opportunities as authors. Aspiring writers saw literary “material” in the stuff of their daily lives in frontier, rural, and urban western spaces. They shaped that material into letters, journals, sketches, essays, and stories for eastern magazines and presses—and received popular acclaim.

For readers outside the West, the settings these women described were exotic: California gold camps and desert outposts, northwestern logging and mining communities, Rocky Mountain and Great Plains homesteads. Elinore Pruitt Stewart, writing from Wyoming in 1913, placed a series of letters about her homesteading experience in the prestigious Atlantic Monthly. She reported on the letters of thanks she received from appreciative readers, like the elderly woman who told her “the Letters satisfied her every wish. She said she had only to shut her eyes to see it all, to smell the pines and the sage.” Through its association with romantic national mythologies of sublime landscape and heroic endeavor, an ordinary woman’s life on a ranch in Wyoming seemed to mean more—and to reveal more—than one on a farm in Wisconsin or Connecticut.

Yet women writers were just as likely to revise as support these mythologies, which centered on male endeavor, and they frequently portrayed western sites as not wild and liberating, but provincial and claustrophobic. The Story of Mary MacLane, for example, one of the most notorious books of 1902, depicted the 19-year-old author’s desperation to escape her middle-class home in the copper boomtown of Butte: “Can I be possessed of a peculiar rare genius,” she demands, “and yet drag my life out in obscurity in this uncouth, warped, Montana town!” Nevertheless, the city MacLane denounced was key to her literary success: Readers would have been far less intrigued by the thoughts and experience of a girl hailing from a more familiar place.

Cathryn Halverson is an associate professor of American studies at the University of Copenhagen, Denmark. She is the author most recently of Playing House in the American West: Western Women’s Life Narratives.

It depends on which women, and where — Laura Woodworth-Ney

The answer depends on which women, and the geography of their circumstances. During the post-Civil War period in the American West (1865-1910), middle-class and upper-class white women often did enjoy more flexibility and more freedom—to travel, to own land in their name, to exercise control over their children.

Minority women—particularly Chinese and Native American—did not experience greater freedoms. For these groups, the idea of an American “West” was meaningless. For Chinese women who immigrated during the late-19th century to work in the laundries, saloons, and grimy inns of mining camps scattered throughout California and the Rocky Mountain interior, the West was not west at all but rather east, and it was often not a voyage of choice. Impoverished families in China were encouraged to sell their daughters, who were shipped to San Francisco, held in “pens,” and taken to mining camps. Even though slavery had been outlawed after the Civil War, the isolation of these camps—in places like Warrens, Idaho—meant that slavery existed in fact if not in law.

For the West’s native women of the late-19th and early-20th centuries, the American West represented a battleground of culture, conquest, and hunger. Non-Indian settlement destroyed the food sources and lifeways for the tribes of the western United States, while U.S. government policy forced them onto federally managed reservations. With their peoples ravaged by disease and forced assimilation, many tribal women faced crippling poverty and cultural genocide as the 20th century dawned. The survival and success of tribes in 21st-century America is due to the ability of these native women to hold their families together during the era of the “American West.”

Laura Woodworth-Ney is provost and vice president for academic affairs at Idaho State University. Formerly the chair of the department of history, she has published more than 30 articles and books on topics in history, humanities, and higher education. She is currently at work on a history of women and irrigation settlement in the American West.

Mobility—but not necessarily upward — Judy Tzu-Chun Wu

When we talk about “the American West” and the women who made it their home, what do we really mean? Often, the term conjures images of those who migrated east to west, specifically from the East Coast of the United States. However, the region understood as the “West” was home to indigenous and Mexican women who lived here before Anglo-American and African-American settlers. Some of these women who already resided in the West experienced forced physical, cultural, economic, and political dislocation to make space for “pioneers.” Women also migrated from the “East,” meaning Asia and other parts of the Eastern hemisphere. They also came “North” and “South” within the western hemisphere.

Asking about distinct opportunities for women in the West also assumes that these opportunities didn’t exist elsewhere. This is a long-standing belief in U.S. society that the West epitomizes the American dream and the basis of American identity. This region of presumably “free land” provided opportunities for economic mobility and self-reinvention.

But not all women could participate in these opportunities. State policies throughout much of the Western states denied Asians the right to own land as well as interracially marry. Furthermore, some women were forced to migrate to work in the sex industry, one of the few jobs allocated for women in the male-dominated western “frontier.”

Certainly, many people, including women, relocated to the West based on the belief that opportunity awaited them. For example, Margaret Chung, the subject of a biography I wrote, became the first American-born Chinese female physician. Her mother had been sold into servitude and prostitution, and her father struggled to make ends meet through most of their family’s lives. However, Margaret found religious and educational allies to obtain a medical education. During World War II, she served as an adopted “mother” to over 1,000 “sons”—Anglo-American soldiers, entertainers, and politicians.

On the surface, this appears to be a success story. However, Chung’s economic and social rise also depended upon her manipulation of her identity, including strategically performing a projected role of foreign womanhood. At times, despite her status as a professional woman, Chung played the role of an Oriental mammy. Her story, like others of women in the West, was not a simple one of upward mobility.

Judy Tzu-Chun Wu is a professor of Asian American studies and history at the University of California, Irvine. She is the author of Dr. Mom Chung of the Fair-Haired Bastards: The Life of a Wartime Celebrity and Radicals on the Road: Internationalism, Orientalism, and Feminism during the Vietnam Era. She is working with Gwendolyn Mink on a political biography of Patsy Takemoto Mink, the first woman of color to be elected congressional representative.

The opportunity to learn from one another — Jane Simonsen

The American West presented opportunities for some 19th-century Anglo-American women to cultivate a stronger sense of authority by positioning their domestic work as part of nation-building. Middle-class white women reformers interested in promoting Native American assimilation, for example, worked to define the well-kept single-family home—and the woman at its center—as a key marker of civilization. Their widely recognized power as moral guardians of the home justified their action and work outside of the narrow domestic realm, and these reformers carved out a niche for themselves among the politicians, scientists, and field workers who sought to “civilize” the western tribes in the latter half of the 19th century.

Yet working among Native Americans in western locations, from the Nez Perce in northern Idaho to the Cahuilla of Southern California, gave these women the opportunity to measure themselves against their indigenous counterparts—and at least some found their own civilization lacking. Close contact with indigenous women sometimes held up a harsh mirror to “civilized” society, which devalued the very work these women sought to promote. For their part, indigenous women took advantage of new resources on their reservations when they could, and were cannily selective in what they chose to adopt of the lessons and models of conduct offered by Anglo reformers.

The reservation system, land allotment, and reform movements disrupted many social ties and work patterns. Still, resourceful indigenous women sought opportunities to earn seasonal income, own property, and provide health care to their families. By maintaining some familiar forms of work, such as farming, foraging, and needlework, women helped to mitigate new economic realities on the reservation. Remaining at the margins of the new economy, indigenous women used new trade opportunities to maintain some of the very systems that reformers had hoped to destroy.

Jane Simonsen is associate professor of history and women’s and gender studies at Augustana College in Rock Island, Illinois. She is the author of Making Home Work: Domesticity and Native American Assimilation in the American West, 1860-1919.

Room to invent new identities — Maria Raquel Casas

On December 23, 1868, a Native American woman died in Los Angeles, and Anglo-Americans paid no attention to her passage. Within the new racial and social order established by Americans after the Mexican American war, Victoria Bartolomea Comicrabit was an Indian, but what 19th-century Americans failed to recognize was that this woman had survived two colonization efforts and lived a uniquely Californian life.

Born in 1808, Victoria was a member of the San Gabriel people and fully hispanicized by the Spanish friars to the point that she and her “Indian” husband, Pablo Maria, were given mission lands once they married and became fully Catholic. As a property owner and hispanicized woman, Victoria interacted and was socially accepted by the other local elite Californio families. When her husband died, she inherited all the lands granted to the couple. If she had remained a widow, Victoria would have continued to work her lands, take care of her four children, and be a respected member of her community. She was an “Indian,” but in the Spanish colonial system race was more fluid. Victoria, however, did not remain a widow, and in September 1836 she married the Scottish trader Hugo Reid, who eventually squandered Victoria’s lands. After his death, Victoria was left destitute, treated as “just another Indian.”

As Victoria Reid’s story shows, women’s lives in the American West have to be understood through complicated categories of race, class, religion, marriage, and legal standing that did not remain static during the 19th century. If we see women’s contributions to settling the West as nothing more than dependent mates to men, we fail to see the complex woman that Victoria represents.

Maria Raquel Casas is an associate professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas and author of Married to a Daughter of the Land: Spanish-Mexican Women and Interethnic Marriage in California, 1820-1880.

This article was written for Zocalo 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 Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: January 8

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

1. The same features that make cities hubs for innovation may spur inequality. Smart policies can strike a balance.

By Richard Florida in CityLab

2. Solar power can provide hot meals for the masses.

By José Andrés in National Geographic’s The Plate

3. A simple way to make a huge difference in the lives of foster kids: college scholarships for youth ‘aging out’ of the system.

By Jennifer Guerra at National Public Radio

4. When we include women in post-conflict peacekeeping, they do a better job of managing resources to prevent future war.

By Priya Kamdar in New Security Beat

5. It’s time to build a more secure internet.

By Walter Isaacson in Time

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 women

Russell Crowe Doesn’t Seem to Have a Clue About Hollywood’s Sexism

TURKEY-AUSTRALIA-FILM-CROWE
OZAN KOSE—AFP/Getty Images Russell Crowe is seen during a press conference at Turkish the premiere of "The Water Diviner", on December 5, 2014 in Istanbul.

Brian Moylan is a writer and pop culture junkie.

The actor thinks women in Hollywood should 'act their age'

Russell Crowe, a man who once threw a phone at a hotel employee, has some thoughts about actresses in Hollywood, namely that they need to “act their age.” He has no idea how wrong and sexist his remarks are.

When shilling for his latest film (and directorial debut), The Water Diviner, the 50-year-old actor told Australian Women’s Weekly, “The best thing about the industry I’m in – movies – is that there are roles for people in all different stages of life… To be honest, I think you’ll find that the woman who is saying that (the roles have dried up) is the woman who at 40, 45, 48, still wants to play the ingénue, and can’t understand why she’s not being cast as the 21 year old.” Remember, he said this to a women’s magazine. I have a feeling Russell Crowe is one of those guys who does something really jerky to his wife and when she gets angry he doesn’t know why and when she won’t tell him, he throws his hands up in the air and says, “Ugh, women,” and then sits down to have a beer and watch a rugby match like he never did anything wrong even one second of his life.

Anyway, he uses Meryl Streep to prove his point. “Meryl Streep will give you 10,000 examples and arguments as to why that’s bullshit, so will Helen Mirren, or whoever it happens to be,” he said. “If you are willing to live in your own skin, you can work as an actor. If you are trying to pretend that you’re still the young buck when you’re my age, it just doesn’t work.”

Strangely enough, Meryl Streep agrees with Russell Crowe. She told The Telegraph, “I agree with him. It’s good to live in the place where you are,” pointing out thatCrowe even said that he couldn’t play his Gladiator character now at age 50. She tells the reporter that when she turned 40 she was offered three different roles of witches and turned them all down. Now, at 65, she is playing one in Into the Woods. Why the change of heart? “Because I felt it was age appropriate. I felt it was time, and it was not time at 40.”

Because I love Meryl Streep, I would like to believe that she didn’t quite understand what Crowe said, or it was given to her in an odd context. I would like to believe that if you ask Meryl Streep about roles for women in Hollywood, she would say that there are not nearly enough, especially for women her age. The fact that Streep, generally considered the greatest actor of this entire generation, is the one exception to this rule shows just how bad it is for women of that age. Of course Meryl Streep can play whatever part she wants, and of course she’s still getting offered roles at 65. She’s Meryl Goddamned Streep! What about all the other actresses out there who do not have three Oscars?

Now let’s try to be sympathetic to Mr. Crowe for a minute. I understand what he’s saying about women not being comfortable in their own skin. There are several actresses (Meg Ryan, for instance) who have done such damage to their faces with plastic surgery that it is hard for them to get work. I agree that this is a problem, and I bet Meryl thinks this is a problem too. And I have a feeling that is what she is responding to.

However, it is a problem because there aren’t enough roles for women over 40, so of course actresses need to continue to look younger longer than someone like, let’s say, Russell Crowe, who can get wrinkles and gray hair and look “distinguished.” These actresses inject and lift and burnish their faces so that they can extend their working lives as long as possible. If there were more roles for mature women, maybe they won’t have to go through such horrible facial mutilations to try to maximize their earning potential.

Earning is part of the problem. A study of the top 265 film actors by the Journal of Management Inquiry showed that actresses’ salaries plummet after the age of 34. However, men make their most money at the age of 51. Let’s ask Crowe how he feels about how much he makes in 20 years, when he’ll finally be on par with the actresses who are his age now.

A look at the winners of Best Actor and Best Actress Oscars also shows that men peak older than women. The average age for Best Actress winners is 36 and the average age for Best Supporting Actress winners is 40. The comparable male winners ring in at 44 and 50, a full decade older than women in similar categories.

And it’s not just the age of available roles, it’s the availability of roles in general for women. Only 15% of the top movies in 2013 featured women in leading roles. A study of movies made the same year shows that only 31% of speaking roles were for women.

Let’s get this straight: there are fewer roles for women and when those roles are available, they only get paid for them until their mid-30s. No wonder women always want to play the ingénue. I would only write for teen magazines if they were the only ones paying me too! Then Crowe goes and blames this all on the women, as if they are somehow creating the problem for themselves. Maybe if they could go to all the female studio heads and complain about it. Oh wait, most Hollywood executives are men. Never mind.

The problem is not that Crowe said what he said about actresses. At least he was being honest and we finally can see the sexism of the institution laid bare. No, the problem is that Crowe doesn’t even realize what he said was wrong. He thinks that everything is fine and dandy for women in films and the problem is that they want younger roles or are getting too much plastic surgery. It doesn’t occur to him that the problem might be, hmm, that the Hollywood system is inherently broken and only values women when they are young and beautiful and can pair 50-year-old male stars with 20-year-old romantic interests without anyone batting an eyelash.

Brian Moylan is a writer and pop culture junkie who lives in New York. His work has appeared in Gawker, VICE, New Yorkmagazine, and a few other safe-for-work publications.

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 technology

Intel’s $300 Million Tech Diversity Plan

CEO Brian Krzanich announced an initiative to bring more women and minorities into the tech industry.

TIME Tech

Intel Pledges $300 Million to Increase Workforce Diversity

Inside The 2015 Consumer Electronics Show
Bloomberg—Bloomberg via Getty Images Brian Krzanich, chief executive officer of Intel Corp., during the 2015 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S., on Tuesday, Jan. 6, 2015. (Patrick T. Fallon--Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Only 24% of 2013 employees were female

Intel CEO Brian Krzanich pledged $300 million to increase the company’s workforce diversity during his keynote address at the Computer Electronics Show (CES) Tuesday.

“It’s time to step up and do more,” Krzanich said, acknowledging that the task of achieving “full representation” of women and minorities by 2020 will be “difficult to achieve.” Seventy-six percent of Intel’s employee were male in 2013. And the company’s diversity filings from the same year showed Intel’s workforce was only 24% female, 8% Hispanic and 4% black, according to the Wall Street Journal.

“It’s not good enough to say we value diversity and then underrepresent women and minorities, Krzanich said, “Intel wants to lead by example.”

Krzanich did not set any specific quotas, but noted that the money would be used to fund programs that could help get more diverse candidates into jobs at Intel, while attracting talented and diverse job candidates.

Silicon Valley has long been considered a boy’s club, with major tech companies like Twitter and Google revealing demographics that skew toward white, male workers.

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