Fashion

Well Played, Keri Russell in The Row and Belstaff

Photo-call for the film

T Magazine: In Conversation | Emma Stone and Colin Firth on Working With Woody Allen

The co-stars of “Magic in the Moonlight” share memories from the set in Cote d’Azur and insights about the legendary writer-director’s creative process.

Fug or Fab: Maggie Gyllenhaal

The Cinema Society With Tod's And Elle Host A Special Screening Of Sundance TV's

We Respond To ‘Women Against Feminism,’ Because This Is What Feminists Look Like

The Facebook group ”Women Against Feminism” had a moment Monday. The group, which says it is “against modern feminism and its toxic culture,” (and presumably for Robin Thicke?) posted photos of women holding pieces of paper explaining why they don’t need feminism. Of course, the fact that feminist movements and beliefs are the reason that said women can a) write, b) form an activist group, and c) express themselves freely seems lost on them.

The group has over 10,000 likes, and was trending on Twitter all afternoon. Of course, we could spend a bunch of time explaining why mentalities like ”I don’t need feminism because my sex life is not a political agenda” are deeply, deeply misguided — and we did.

T Magazine: Viewfinder | Endless Summer in the Rockaways

The photographer Samantha Casolari’s exclusive series in Rockaway Summer magazine conjures long hazy afternoons on the beach.

Recent Fugs and Fabs: Jessie J

Jessie J

Finally, a Ninja to Inspire My Little Girls

As a parent, you can find millions of little joys in the everyday things, as you watch your kids discover the profound beauty and untold mysteries of the world around them. But, once in a while, you can also get crushed, when you see them recognize a harsh reality of life and the world they're inheriting from us.

One of those little parental-soul-sucking moments happened to me recently, and it started with a simple drawing.

Our 6-year-old daughter loves to draw. She tells us she likes drawing more than going outside. She even knows what she wants to be when she grows up -- an author/illustrator. She's the best at drawing in the family. I remember a drawing of herself she made at age 3. It was the kind of thing a cartoonist would conjure up. Of course, I am a bit biased.

She also happens to love the Ninja Turtles. It's a family affliction I've written about before. In recent months, our two older daughters have grown out of their Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle obsession. But not our third. She still loves them, talks about them, plays with their dolls and asks to watch the show -- which has been reincarnated on Nickelodeon, after a 20-year hiatus, for another generation of kids.

One night a few weeks ago, our little drawing fiend took her art kit to the kid table in the corner and began a new masterpiece. When she was done, she didn't want to show me.

"It's just pretend," she said. "It will never happen," she added.

"What is it?"

Reluctantly, she showed me.

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"I drew a girl Ninja Turtle," she said, with resignation in her voice. "But I know Ninja Turtles are all boys."

I smiled at the drawing as my heart sank.

I'm no dummy. I know there are many ways this world is unfair and cruel, to little girls and to everybody else. But, for some reason, her belief that all Ninja Turtles have to be boys hit me in the gut.

She's my third daughter. I've watched her older sisters grow up and I've worried before about what it's like for a little kid to suddenly realize the world is not entirely theirs for the taking, despite us telling them that, if they work hard enough and dream big enough, it is.

It reminded me of the time a few years ago when I was watching the Tour de France with my eldest, and she asked a simple question: "Why can't girls win this race?"

Something I never thought about, growing up as a boy surrounded by brothers, is something that's painfully clear now that I'm a dad of daughters: there are countless examples of things little girls simply aren't allowed to dream to do. It's especially true in sports.

Throwing the winning touchdown at the Super Bowl? Hitting the winning run in the World Series? Only little boys can have these dreams, even if it's not terribly realistic for most of us. And it's a profound moment for a parent when you watch that unfair reality dawn on your daughter.

Sure, there's a girls' version of baseball, but it's not the World Series. There's a women's NCAA tournament, but I've never watched it. Occasionally there's a female race car driver or a female jockey in the Kentucky Derby. And my daughters always root for them. But when I sit with my kids and watch sports, which I do a lot, with the exception of the women's World Cup, it's almost always men playing other men. They see that.

And there are many examples outside of sports, too.

We're Catholic. Every Sunday (OK, most Sundays... how about some Sundays) we attend church and watch a man lead the mass and perform the rituals of our faith. The question has been asked, why can't women be priests? I don't have a good answer, other than they just can't. One less calling for my girls to pursue, I guess.

Priests, pro football players, baseball stars, Tour de France winners and now Ninja Turtles -- the heroes my daughters cannot aspire to become add up quickly if you look around.

As parents, all we can do is be more cognizant of these messages and teach our children about the need for the serenity, the courage and the wisdom, as the saying goes. Lord knows, there's room -- and need -- for change, on these issues and others.

After the female Ninja Turtle drawing incident, I did a little research to see if the concept of a girl turtle had been broached. I discovered that in the long lifespan and many reinventions of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle franchise, there actually was a female turtle character introduced. Her name was Venus de Milo. Venus has yet to make an appearance in the latest Nickelodeon version of the series, which is all my daughter cares about. Still, there is hope.

And then, last week, another female ninja of sorts burst onto the scene. She's not a cartoon, or a turtle. But she's certainly a ninja. Her name is Kacy Catanzaro. And you can be sure my daughters gathered around the computer to cheer her on.

The world has many flaws, even more than I realized before I became a dad of daughters. But there are also a million things that are great, and awesome, and inspiring about it. This is one:



By the way, the inaugural women's Tour de France kicks off July 27th. It's called La Course, and you can be sure we will be watching.


To read more from Cort Ruddy, visit RuddyBits.com

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How Important Is Chemistry in a Friendship?

Ahhh the age-old question: How important is chemistry in a friendship? I love this question, but something tells me you're not going to love my answer.

Is Chemistry Necessary?

What you secretly hope I'm going to tell you is that it's super important and that you'll know in the first hour, or five minutes, of meeting someone whether you two could develop an awesome friendship.

You want me to say that because then it lets you of the hook for not yet having the all the good friendships you crave; you can just shrug and say, "Well I just haven't met them yet, apparently." You want me to say that because your ego wants to believe it's a fabulous judge of character and that like a good casting agent, it knows exactly who you're most likely to bond with down the road. You want me to say that because you grew up believing that a good friendship is more about finding the right people than anything else.

But give me a few moments of your time, and I'll tell you why you're going to be far happier telling you that initial chemistry doesn't matter nearly as much as you think it does.

What is Chemistry, Really?

Chemistry perhaps can best be defined as that moment when we realize that "click" with someone else. And to "click" usually means we feel a meaningful connection of some kind with another person. And often we think that the more quickly we feel it -- the more genuine it must be.

Anyone who has dated remembers that there are some people you felt an instant attraction to who ended up going nowhere; and we all know people we've come to love who we wouldn't have been able to guess initially.

Similarly in friendship, we all have evidence of at least one woman we adored, but then never saw again, proving that chemistry isn't enough to create a friendship; and at least one friendship, usually someone we met at school or work, where the frequency of interaction was automatic, that we ended up bonding with even though we wouldn't have been able to initially guess we would have. In other words, think of some of your closest friends and try to image just meeting them at a coffee shop as strangers the first time, not knowing anything about them -- would you be so blown away by every single one of them, convinced you needed to see them again soon? Not likely. Especially if your life looks too different from theirs. We love them now because we had the time to get to know them.

So we know that meaningful friendships get started without initial chemistry; and we know that having initial chemistry doesn't automatically translate into developing a friendship.

But How Will I Know Who I'll Bond With?

We also know from social science that we aren't that great of predicting who we're going to bond with or not. We think we need someone else who votes for same political party, is a member of the same religious system, dresses similarly to us or is in a similar life stage as we are; but hard data bears out that it doesn't matter at all what parts of our lives are similar to each other, only that we end up finding those similarities.

The Brafman Brothers who co-wrote the book Click share research that reveals people bond more deeply over quantity of perceived similarities than over quality. In other words, the number of similarities matters more than the content of those similarities.They wrote, "Sharing a strong dislike of fast food, for example, was just as powerful of a predictor of attraction as favoring the same political party."

What we consider as the "big" thing we think we need to have in common isn't as effective at bonding us as having two or three "small" things in common. They said,

You'd think that people who share the same religious convictions and political views, for example, would be more likely to hit it off than those who share only similar tastes in films and music... but it didn't matter at all which topics underlay the similarity--it was the degree of similarity that was important.

Crazy, huh? Of course now some of you might be thinking, "But everyone I'm close to is so similar to me... they're the ones I felt chemistry with." And indeed, if you look around at all your friends and they are similar to you then you'd be tempted to think that's how it works. But if all your friends are the same political party, race, religion, and life stage as you are then it could just mean you've limited who you've been willing to try to bond with because you believed you needed those similarities?

Some of the other research they share reveals that more often than not we end up becoming closest friends simply with those we see most often. At one military base they tracked all the cadets to see whether they ended up bonding with others based what region of the country that came from (did Southerners gravitate to other Southerners?), what ethnic group they identified with (did Asians tend to friend other Asians?), or what life stage they were at (Did married cadets hang out more with other marrieds?). Their findings? They ended up becoming closest to others based on their last names. Because they were seated in alphabetical order-- the cadets bonded most with those they sat next to all the time. We can think we know who we're drawn to, but in reality it usually comes down to liking those we become most familiar with an who we have the greatest chances of seeing most frequently.

So... we don't have to have this initial chemistry. And, we often don't even know what qualities will bond us as much as we like to think we do.

What Do We Need to Know About Chemistry

In short-- I'll say this: It is important that you eventually like each other and feel connected to each other. So yes, chemistry is important in that sense. But we don't have to feel it instantly, nor do we have to be limited by our false beliefs of what we need to have in common with each other.

We are actually able to bond with far more people than we think we can! And that's good news! It means you don't have to sit and wait for the "perfect person" to show up (who more often than not you think will look like your twin!) and you don't have to feel giddy with an instant girl crush to prove there is potential!

Instead, you get to be friendly with everyone and trust that as you keep getting to know people and finding the surprising things you have in common with each other-- that eventually some of those friendly relationships will develop into meaningful friendships! And in my humble opinion, that is far greater news! It means we're not victims just left to waiting and hoping that this exact .0001% of the population needs to find us; rather, we are women who can choose to develop meaningful relationships from nearly any of the women we meet!

Shasta Nelson, CEO of GirlFriendCircles.com, regularly sees women on her friendship matching site bond with women they wouldn't have been able to predict! If you're open to making new friends, we welcome you!

Janet Mock Named Contributing Editor At Marie Claire

What a week for some of our favorite transgender icons!

New York Times bestselling author Janet Mock received a big honor this week when Marie Claire named the writer as a contributing editor to their publication. The transgender inspiration will reportedly contribute to both print and online articles for Marie Claire, as well as serving as the brand ambassador.

Marie Claire Editor-in-Chief Anne Fulenwider spoke highly of Mock and her work:
“Janet is an incredibly smart and articulate writer. Her ideas about identity, youth culture, and society’s changing norms about beauty illuminate the ever-evolving definition of the modern woman. I look forward to adding her unique point of view to our pages.”

Mock first shared her story about growing up as a transgender woman through a seminal article in Marie Claire in 2011. A number of Mock's fans and supporters took to Twitter to congratulate the writer on this most recent achievement and applaud the publication's decision.

Congratulations my dear sister @janetmock on your new job at @marieclaire #awesome #girlslikeus #DoingIt! #Werk!

— Laverne Cox (@Lavernecox) July 21, 2014


Congrats! @janetmock named contributing editor of @marieclaire magazine http://t.co/isESAy25OC #LGBT

— GLAAD (@glaad) July 21, 2014


Congratulations to the incomparable @janetmock, our newest addition on the @MarieClaire masthead! http://t.co/2Y9U4VwtLK

— Audrey Gelman (@audreygelman) July 21, 2014


Congrats from us too, Janet!

Communities of Equality

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness."

The history of this nation has been an enduring (and halting) quest for equality, as we have slowly expanded the vision of which "men" are truly created equal. In the last year we have marked the anniversaries of a number of historic and tragic steps in this process -- the Emancipation Proclamation, the March on Washington, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the assassinations of King and the Kennedys. We have observed the passage of time and noted that the work is still far from complete. We have made progress, yet discrimination continues.

Women were first recognized to have access to these rights when they were granted the vote in 1920. Today, they still earn less than men in the same occupations. They still lack guaranteed access to the full spectrum of health care, and that access is denied by political leaders who deem women's reproductive health less significant than that of men. Viagra is a covered drug under most insurance plans, yet we don't see the same move to limit its availability based on religious principles. No one is asking for a conscience clause so corporations don't have to pay for it.

Women have served with great integrity as leaders in government, academia, business, the nonprofit world, and their communities, yet we still see inordinate attention paid to their hairstyles and modes of dress -- attention of a kind that is almost never directed toward men. Violence against women is hidden, ignored, and rampant, whether we speak of rape on college campuses or the subtle violence that ignores and discounts the contributions of women in public discourse. We watch as esteemed professions and occupations once dominated by men begin to be integrated and see average wages and social recognition plummet -- as if they were now contaminated.

Yet women continue to challenge their communities to attend to the needs of those who have no voice in the public square -- children, the elderly, immigrants and refugees, the abused and forgotten. Mothers stand vigil for those incarcerated for unjust reasons, they agitate for adequate schools, and they bury too many who serve in our seemingly interminable wars.

Women have been leaders in a few religious communities for eons, but rarely public ones until recently. The Episcopal Church is marking the 40th anniversary of the ordination of women as priests this July, in an act that challenged the institutional church to recognize and remember that God created human beings in God's own image, as both male and female. The patriarchal Church resisted mightily, yet the tradition itself -- scriptural, theological, and the evident gifts for leadership and our avowed hunger for justice -- eventually sustained that bold act.

We continue to seek equality and justice for all, work that has been ably and prophetically led by women, both lay and ordained. Our work is far from finished, and we seek the partnership of all who are willing to be moved by the suffering in this world. Human beings were created for abundant life, freedom, and joy -- in communities of equality.

Fugs or Fabs: Allure’s Summer Covers

Allure-June-July-August (1)

The Body Image Lesson My Daughter Doesn’t Know She Taught Me

We were sprawled out in the backyard. Sean was spraying the big girls down with a hose and Finley was devouring a sandwich in a lawn chair. The cat and dog were at our sides, both seemingly delighted that we were spending the day in a way that they could be with us. As the grass began to get soppy, Sean passed the hose to Briar and Avery and gave them a three- minute warning.

"Three minutes and the hose is done!"

"OK!" the girls screeched. Briar was in a purple and black suit, Ave a black rashguard with paint splatter accents and matching bottoms. They darted this way and that, their bodies shiny. Briar's legs are long and slender, the stretch from knee to hip impossibly long. Avery is all muscle and power, her torso echoes mine in its endlessness. I watched as they would stop to swing their hair like a weapon, shooting sprays of water before slapping audibly against their skin.

"That's it. Water's off!" Sean called. "Popsicles?"

They bolted for the door, stopping briefly to flick blades of grass from the bottoms of their feet, which are nearly identical in size and shape.

Sean looked my way, cocked his head and said, "You happy?"

A lump threatened deep in my throat and I felt the sting of tears that could come if invited.

"Perfect."

He smiled and walked inside. I sat quietly as the girls happily ate popsicles.

"Mom, is it OK that I already had a frozen yogurt today?" Briar asked.

I nodded. "Here's the thing about summer, when you are running and playing and just moving your body and breathing fresh air all day, you need fuel. It's oK if you have a few popsicles as long as you eat some other stuff too. Better hurry, it's going to melt."

She beamed.

As they finished their treats and popped the sticks and wrappers in the bin, they gathered around me, not wanting the time together to end. Finley asked to crawl on my lap "frontwards."

She began absentmindedly touching my stomach. It would seem contradictory that I am comfortable wearing a bikini, but that having my tummy touched makes me nervous. It does. I work very hard in these moments not to flinch or say, "No, no, don't touch me there." Is it the right thing? Should I let her know my tummy is a me-zone? Or is it just my stomach and I am way overthinking this? I have no clue.

On this perfect Sunday I did not flinch, I did not let the feelings of discomfort overwhelm me, I just took in the moment of touch, so reminiscent of those early nursing years. And then...




My nervousness crescendoed as she squeezed my skin together. Her fascination had nothing to do with anything related to body image or fat, it was entirely about creating something from nothing that entertained her. It felt almost as if I were a witness to it, rather than a participant and I saw it for what it was; love.

We have time to develop skills related to good touch and bad touch. We can concentrate on honoring how people want to be treated and touched. I understand these are responsibilities I have as a parent, but yesterday it felt like the lesson was for me. Sometimes my body is just my body, not a contest, not a measurement of worth. Letting go of the panic of whether my skin moves in a certain way when I move leaves a far greater capacity for having fun than I knew I was capable of having.

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It was something that I needed to learn. I'll never know if it taught the girls anything, but it did change me and I am so grateful.

The Condé Nast Entourage Heads to 1 World Trade Center

As Condé Nast prepares to anchor 1 World Trade Center, the businesses that cater to its staff have been angling for space within walking distance (in stiletto heels, of course).

On the Runway Blog: Nadège Vanhee-Cybulski Named Artistic Director of Hermès: First Thoughts

The choice of the Row’s current design director seems to indicate the brand’s intention to stay at the highest end of the fashion market.

Robin Thicke’s Acting Is Everything You’d Expect It To Be

We've seen Robin Thicke wear a lot of different hats: bike-riding, long-haired crooner, controversial hit-maker, forlorn Paula Patton ex, Twitter star. Now he's a movie star, too.

We'll let you judge the quality of Thicke's performance in "Making the Rules" based on Vulture's compilation of the movie's highlights. But consider this: Originally titled "Abby in the Summer," the romance was made in summer 2012 but shelved until May of this year, when it was very quietly released on DVD. It's a 73-minute movie with zero reviews listed on Rotten Tomatoes. Thicke had never starred in a feature film before this, and he hasn't since. Oh, and somehow Jaime Pressly agreed to co-star as the Abby in the original title, which we won't hold against her even though we suddenly have a lot of questions for the Emmy-winning "My Name is Earl" actress.

Pressley plays a struggling sous chef in Los Angeles who, despite her engagement, begins a romance with an ex who tends to speak softly at all times (Thicke). Watch the highlight reel below to decide whether this is more or less humiliating than "Paula." (Oops! Sorry! We said we'd avoid clouding your judgment. Oh well, it's Robin Thicke. There's only one way to feel about this.)

For more,

What’s Your Book Shelfie Style?

Kids today, right? If we’re not taking selfies, we’re taking relfies, or ussies. Most importantly of all, however, we’re taking shelfies -- particularly, if you’re anything like us, book shelfies.

The book shelfie is, at its most basic, a photo of your bookshelf (often along with yourself). Maybe it’s artfully arranged so the spines create a mosaic of Harry Styles’ face. Maybe your cat is pawing at the books, adorably. Maybe you just got a full set of the Penguin clothbound classics (lucky you!) and you’re showing them off. There are myriad variations within the fairly strict constraints of the book shelfie.

But what if you’re about to take a shelfie and you realize that your shelf is a complete mess? Fear not. Shelfies are a great excuse to go through your bookshelf, wax nostalgic over your old favorites, and find a dynamite organizational principle for your collection. To start you off, here are 6 straightforward, beginner-level ways to organize your bookshelf for the camera:


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We’re diving right in with a really finicky one: chronological order! You can start with the earliest or most recently published book; just find the original publication date of each and place them in order.
Pro: It’s like a little history of literature on your shelf!
Con: Do you actually care what order your books were published in, on a day-to-day basis? Probably not.




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This is High Fidelity-level stuff, so brace yourself. What we’re doing here is taking every book on the shelf and ranking it by how important it is to you. Favorite books and those given to you by that ex you’re still pining for near the top, old textbooks and books you couldn’t be bothered finishing go near the bottom. (In this instance, TBR books are also at the bottom, because there’s simply no way of knowing yet.)
Pro: You can easily find the books you want to reread most, right there at the top.
Con: This is unlikely to look that appealing in a photo -- and some of us finding ranking our books to be agonizing.




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If you’ve ever worked at a bookstore, or spent a lot of time combing through bookstore shelves, this will come naturally. Sort alphabetically by the author’s last name, then sort each author’s books alphabetically by the first letter in the title (disregarding “A” and “The”). Simple, clear, practical.
Pro: You will always be able to find the book you want, even if you’ve forgotten where it ranks in your “favorites” pile.
Con: Again, not the most aesthetically appealing from afar.




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Now we’re getting visual. Start with the shortest or tallest book in your stacks, then move gradually taller or shorter (respectively).
Pro: Creates a more clean line on your bookshelf.
Con: Unless your books are wildly different sizes, this won’t look particularly dramatic -- and you definitely will never know how to find anything.




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Who says the books have to be in a row? Why not throw in a stack of hardcovers you want to highlight on each shelf, or even alternate stacks with rows for a checkered look? The possibilities are… well, not infinite, but worth exploring nonetheless.
Pro: A bit different from the average bookshelf.
Con: Stacks aren’t the norm for a reason -- it’s harder to take your favorite book off the shelf when it’s at the bottom of a pile.




2014-07-24-qXUJu01406208054.jpg
A perennial favorite for aesthetes and shelfie-ers, the rainbow collection is always worth a try. To make it a traditional gradient, use the classic ROYGBIV arrangement (you can move into whites, grays, blacks, and browns after violet or start with them before red), though funky color-blocking could make for a more unusual and bold look.
Pro: So pretty!
Con: Is there a con to this one?



Obviously, there are a million fun ways you can organize your bookshelves -- we’re barely even scraping the surface here. The important thing is to empty your bookshelves, dust them off, and spend some quality time with your books. Try a few different arrangements. And once you’ve taken a trip down memory lane with your book collection, find your own Dewey Decimal substitute (not that there's anything wrong with using the Dewey Decimal System!) to give your shelves a personal touch.

And for the book shelfie? We really recommend including a cat. Just a suggestion.

Why The Shift In Hillary Clinton’s Gender Politics Matters For Young Women

Hillary Clinton is one of the most high-profile women in U.S. politics today, and that comes with a heavy cost. She’s criticized for not wearing the right outfits, for not caring enough about her appearance, for crying during the 2008 presidential campaign, and for not having made the right choices during her time at State, among everything else you can think of.

While close scrutiny and criticism is par for the course for any public figure, especially in politics, Hillary has been in for a double dose because she’s not just a politician: She’s a woman, and the wife of Bill Clinton, no less, which allows critics to weave in lewd comments about Monica Lewinsky and other juvenile remarks into discussions that are, ostensibly, about Mrs. Clinton.

I’m Arab-American. My Boyfriend Is Israeli. A Selfie Of Us Kissing Has Become A Viral Symbol Of Peace.

We posted the picture without a second thought.

My boyfriend is Jewish, raised in an orthodox family, and I’m half Lebanese. Last week we were on vacation and, at the suggestion of a journalist friend, added a photo of us together in support of what was then a little-known initiative called Jews and Arabs Refuse to be Enemies. I wrote those words on a piece of paper, kissed my boyfriend, snapped a picture, and posted it on the group's Facebook page. I also tweeted it to my modest following and added this caption: “He calls me neshama, I call him habibi. Love doesn’t speak the language of occupation.”

Living the Wage to Raise the Wage

When I was growing up in Columbus, Ohio, I was lucky. My parents had good-paying jobs and while they had to balance their own budget at the kitchen table they never faced trade-offs between providing us with a meal or a coat to wear in cold Ohio winters.

Even though most many of us are lucky not to have our own minimum wage stories to tell today, we can - and should - all be talking about what it means to try and live on a minimum wage in our country. And more importantly, we can - and should - all be a part of finding a better solution.

When I was working in my first and second jobs I lived in a group house with 3 roommates and I was living on peanut butter and crackers and boxed mac 'n' cheese because that was all I could afford. It was tough at the time, but even then I had the security of health care provided by my employer, paid sick days and paid vacation time, and credit cards and parents who could support me when the ends weren't meeting.

But the reality is that most women and families living on the minimum wage don't have that security. And they may not have a path to a better paying job. That's why we all need to be talking about the reality of the minimum wage. The minimum wage provides little for those families to live on to begin with and their budgets can easily be upended by a health problem, a broken down car, or an emergency.

This week marks the fifth anniversary of the last time minimum wage earners got a raise. It also marks the beginning of the Live the Wage Challenge. The challenge invites people across the country to live on just $77 for the week, to experience, even for just a short time, how little the minimum wage provides and to start a real conversation around the minimum wage. The goal of the Live the Wage Challenge is for everyone, across the economic spectrum, to share their stories and make their voices heard about raising the minimum wage. That's how we'll raise the wage.

As the Executive Director of American Women, I spend my days researching the lives of women and families cross our country. And this week I'll be joining activists and members of Congress and living on $77 to bring attention to the challenges facing too many families across the country.

At American Women I also research the policies that would give those families a fair shot to get ahead, not just get by - one of those policies is a higher minimum wage.

Right now, the minimum wage in my home state of Ohio is $7.95 an hour. Nationally, it's just $7.25 for hourly workers and $2.13 for tipped workers. And two-thirds of minimum wage earners are women. Keeping the minimum wage low holds these women and their families back.

When you make $7.25 an hour you're faced with impossible choices like expensive childcare or missing work and losing out on the money your family needs.

When you make $7.25 an hour you have to tell your kids why they can't join the soccer team or participate in after school activities because there's no room in the family budget.

When you make $7.25 an hour your hard work brings in just over $15,000 per year to support your family. And that's just not enough.

Raising the minimum wage doesn't just help the workers earning it, but their families and their communities. It could also go a long way toward closing the gender pay gap. And, it wouldn't hurt states either. The Associated Press reported that "the 13 U.S. states that raised their minimum wages at the beginning of this year are adding jobs at a faster pace than those that did not."

We all benefit from having a community - and a country - of better paid workers. But even if raising the minimum wage only helped minimum wage earners, that is more than reason enough.

It's probably not surprising, then, that there is widespread support for raising the minimum wage to $10.10. American Women polling found that 62% of Americans support raising the minimum wage to $10.10.

And while those of us taking the challenge get to go back to our normal budgets next week, there are still actions we can - and should - take. The minimum wage is no longer a livable one. And the way to change it is to vote this November.

Why Can’t We Stop Talking About ‘Bikini Bodies’?

Every summer, tabloids and women’s magazines bombard us with news of “bikini bodies,” a predictable ritual with an equally predictable response: Jezebel recently dismissed the term as “infuriating bullshit,” while a Huffington Post quiz promised women that having a “bikini body” requires just a bikini and a body.

Yet, despite these efforts, the fact remains that bikini body conjures a specific image: a thin, fit female body, perhaps belonging to Gisele or Beyoncé, and almost certainly not belonging to you. The women whose figures we idolize have changed over time, but the idea that only certain bodies are worthy of the title bikini has been used in articles and advertising language for over 50 years.

My Snake Phobia, My Boyfriend, And Me

"The way I felt yesterday is how you would feel if someone held a gun to your head." That was the only way I could explain the paralyzing, suffocating fear that washed over me on The Day There Was A Snake In My Office.

I've been living with a severe snake phobia for as long as I can remember. I'm told it was a learned behavior -- when I was 4, I saw my mom panic because of a snake in our yard. Her phobia was passed down from her mother. It's genetic, I say. Until very recently, the mere sight of a snake on TV would send chills down my spine, walking on grass wasn't an option and even saying the word "snake" made my throat close up. My phobia made living in New York City all the more appealing -- reptiles don't exactly hang out on my cemented front lawn.

And then on The Day, a coworker hesitantly broke the news. There was a reptile segment being filmed on HuffPost Live, the company's streaming network that shoots one floor below my desk. Within seconds, I found a room to lock myself in -- breathless, tears streaming down my face -- while a friend tried to talk me down from my hysteria. I kept myself from vomiting somehow, and eventually got confirmation that my scaled enemy had left the building.

It's understandably difficult for phobia-free people to grasp the difference between a fear and a phobia. I am fearful of many things -- loved ones dying, horror films, people who wear Crocs -- but I can cope, go to the movies, ignore poor shoe choices... My snake phobia, however, severely disrupted much of my life. It took over my thoughts at illogical times, and there was no way I could shake it. After The Day, I was afraid to go to work, always wondering if I'd meet a slithering guest while walking to my next meeting.

****

I was skeptical that sitting on a shrink's couch could cure me, but I decided it was time to try therapy.

A few weeks later, I was sitting on a couch on the Upper West Side, arms crossed, and my new psychologist was explaining how the process works. She analogized my behavior to a person who is depressed because of loneliness. I was avoiding saying the word "snake" or looking at photos of them in the same way that a depressed person might avoid human interaction. My actions were training my brain to be afraid the way the depressed person caused herself to become lonelier.

Over the next two months, I looked at pictures of snakes, one at a time. I learned that an image on a computer screen couldn't kill me -- or even hurt me at all -- from the comfort of that couch. But, in order to maintain the progress I made during therapy, my therapist said I had to expose myself to snake images in between sessions. There is no way I am going to force myself onto NationalGeographic.com on my own, I thought.

****

"Will you do my homework with me?" I asked my very-new boyfriend that night. We'd only been dating for two months, which made asking that question all the more difficult.

I had asked him for help before -- the "will you take my air conditioner out of my window?" variety of help -- but inviting him down this path opened a whole different emotional can of worms (ew, I'm afraid of worms, too).

It's not that I didn't think he'd be understanding. The first time I told him about my phobia, he encouraged me to get help, and asked why I'd want to continue my life with this fear. I knew he'd be supportive, but I was scared of appearing weak, and therefore, in my mind, defective.

He didn't belittle me or crack the "are you afraid of penis?" joke I have heard no fewer than 5 billion times before. He said "yes."

Before homework session no. 1, he didn't know what he was in for. I unfolded a printed photo, and there they were, the tears. As I stared at the photo (I wasn't allowed to look away), rapid dialogue ran side by side in my head. "I wish I wasn't doing this. This is so painful. You stupid, ugly creature, you're ruining my life," and "Does he think I'm crazy now?" I was possibly more afraid of that second thought than the snake. Maybe this was progress.

Irrational phobia aside, I have spent my life replacing emotions with logic. I solve problems. I don't cry about them. Before I met this guy, I assured everyone, myself included, I'd never be a girl who "needed" someone. Destiny's Child wrote "Independent Women" for me, I was sure of it.

But here I was, letting someone -- a boyfriend someone -- comfort me while I cried.

Weeks, therapy appointments, homework sessions went by and it all started to get... easier. I could say the word "snake" without tensing my muscles, I could look at a photo without gagging. My boyfriend and I went to the Bronx Zoo, and I walked out alive.

And on one recent Saturday, as he stood next to me, 20 feet away from the snake tanks at a local Petco, the real accomplishment dawned on me. Not only was I literally facing my phobia, I was leaning on a guy for support. For the first time in my life, I knew that was OK. Having someone beside me didn't deplete my personal strength or knock down my independence. It just made me a person who needed another person. I think Beyonce, Kelly and Michelle would approve.

T Magazine: Sunday Night Dinner | A Trusty Old French Spot for Frites on the Upper West Side

Cafe Luxembourg has been a neighborhood hotspot and pre- and post-Broadway dining destination for 31 years — and hasn’t slowed down yet.

‘Fifty Shades Of Grey’ Trailer Was Too Hot For Television Audiences

The wait is over. The "Fifty Shades of Grey" trailer debuted on the "Today" show on Thursday, and it teases just about everything fans of the book will want to see -- plus a special, exclusive version of Beyonce's "Crazy In Love." (That explains her Instagram teaser.)

Based on E L James' best-selling erotic novel, "Fifty Shades of Grey" stars Jamie Dornan and Dakota Johnson as Christian Grey and Anastasia Steele. It's set to hit theaters Feb. 13, 2015.

On "Today," Savannah Guthrie admitted that NBC only showed a portion of the trailer -- some of it, including the bondage scenes were too raunchy for daytime television -- but the entire tease is available online. Watch below.

UN: Islamic State Militants Order Female Genital Mutilation In Iraq

GENEVA, July 24 (Reuters) - Militant group Islamic State has ordered all girls and women in and around Iraq's northern city of Mosul to undergo female genital mutilation, the United Nations said on Thursday.
The "fatwa" issued by the Sunni Muslim fighters would potentially affect 4 million women and girls, U.N. resident and humanitarian coordinator in Iraq Jacqueline Badcock told reporters in Geneva by videolink from Arbil.
"This is something very new for Iraq, particularly in this area, and is of grave concern and does need to be addressed," she said.
"This is not the will of Iraqi people, or the women of Iraq in these vulnerable areas covered by the terrorists," she added.
No one was immediately available for comment from Islamic State which has led an offensive through northern and western Iraq.
(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

Does This Weight Chart Make Me Look Fat?

My doctor gave me one of those heart-to-heart talks: You need to lose some weight and exercise more, he said. The "or else" was implied. I know that being overweight increases your risk of heart disease, diabetes, strokes, and a million other bad things. But I just had to ask: Am I really overweight?

Actually, I'm more than overweight; I'm obese. Yeah, how do you like them apples? At 64 years old and standing 5'4, my scale now registers at 170 pounds. So according to those "what you should weigh" charts, I am 30 to 60 pounds overweight. In fact, at the point I stepped on the scale in my doctor's office, I had just tipped over into the "obese" category.

For the record, I look and feel fine. I've seen identical versions of this chart my whole adult life and I still don't get it. Was it designed with Barbie dolls in mind?

I just cannot reconcile the image I see in the mirror with what the weight charts have to say about it. Let me also say: Nobody insults my body or has made me feel bad about how I look. There is one simple reason why no one calls me "fat": I don't look overweight. I don't shop or wear plus sizes. But I do care about my health and I will drop some poundage and exercise more because my doctor told me to and I'm what's known as a compliant patient; in fact, I already have lost some weight and rediscovered my treadmill in the garage.

I just don't get why I had to. If you looked at me you wouldn't see an obese woman. I'm obese only because the charts that my doctor reads tell him I am. Yes, he factored in my family history and knows which diseases I am genetically prone to. But obese? Obese is just missing the mark. I've seen obese and it is not me.

So here's what I learned: There is no perfect science to knowing what we should weigh. We know that people who carry excessive weight are more prone to certain diseases but determining what is "excessive" when you are talking pounds has a lot of wiggle room. For those of medium build and medium muscle mass, the weight charts come close to being accurate. But for those with very large frames or significant muscle mass, they don't.

I also learned that the guy who dreamed up the Body Mass Index chart did so about 200 years ago. For real. The BMI was devised between 1830 and 1850 by a Belgian named Lambert Adolphe Jacques Quetelet. He was a mathematician, not a physician, and his assignment was to determine how many people were obese in order to help the government allocate its resources.

I also learned that a growing chorus of voices think the BMI is flawed in some ways, principally among them that it doesn't take into account our relative proportions of bone, muscle and fat. "Bone is denser than muscle and twice as dense as fat, so a person with strong bones, good muscle tone, and low fat will have a high BMI," notes NPR, in its own take-down of the weight charts. Hence, athletes and people who work out a lot wind up being classified as overweight or even obese.

For a more boots-on-the-ground opinion, I turned to my buds at MyFitnessPal.com, no strangers to the topic of weight charts. One user there noted that at 5-feet tall, the charts tell her she should weigh somewhere between 98 pounds to 128 pounds. Not eager to be a "98-pound weakling," she says she's OK at 135 pounds. "That's where I look and feel healthy," she says. I hear ya.

Elle Penner, MyFitnessPal's registered dietitian, says that while it's a validated screening tool, BMI is not a diagnostic tool and doesn't take into account age, gender, or muscle mass. "A couple of scenarios where BMI might not be an accurate assessment of fatness include muscular folks who may have a high BMI but a low percentage of body fat, or inactive older adults who may have a seemingly normal BMI due to muscle lost with aging," she said.

The CDC website -- the place my doctor has bookmarked -- also notes that "Some people with a BMI in the overweight range" -- which is me -- "may not have excess body fatness, [although] most people with a BMI in the obese range (equal to or greater than 30) will have increased levels of body fatness." I missed "obese" by a fraction.

Bottom line from the CDC: Any questions or concerns about weight "appropriateness" should be discussed with a healthcare provider. Yeah, that'd be the same doctors who use these charts as their guides.

Why do I feel like this is a Catch-22?

Earlier on Huff/Post50:

Dirty Bathrooms, No Privacy: The Horrifying Struggles Of Breastfeeding Moms Who Need To Pump At Work

Complaints filed with the Labor Department show that breastfeeding mothers can face serious hardships when they need to pump at work, including lost wages, lack of privacy and dirty bathrooms. (Photo: David Leahy via Getty Images)



In February 2012, a fast-food worker returned to her job at a McDonald's restaurant in Grand Island, Nebraska, after three months of maternity leave. As a nursing mother, she was determined to continue breastfeeding. As a working mother, that meant she would have to pump her breast milk at work, store it and then take it home to her baby.

Her right to do so was protected under federal law, as a provision of the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare. Under the 2010 law, employers must give eligible employees "reasonable" break times to express milk for a nursing baby, for up to a year after the baby's birth. They must also provide a clean, private location that isn't a bathroom. The law considers bathrooms an unsanitary place to handle what is, after all, food for an infant.

The managers supervising the McDonald's employee ignored those rules repeatedly, a Labor Department investigator later found.

Even though she obtained a doctor's note stating she needed to express milk for her child -- at her manager's insistence -- the woman wasn't given access to a private room. The employee break room had no door or curtain to keep people from walking in on her, so she was forced into the restaurant's public bathroom.

The worker filed a complaint with the Labor Department, saying her rights as a nursing mother were being violated. Within days, a manager forbade her from pumping milk anywhere in the restaurant, according to the Labor Department investigator's findings.

The woman was forced to clock out and walk 15 minutes each way to a public library whenever she needed to pump milk. This was worse than inconvenient -- it was financially damaging. The investigator determined that the worker had lost $81.24 due to those trips to the library.

Her manager dropped her hours from 20 to 7.25 for at least one week, a schedule change the investigator deemed an "apparent retaliatory action" in response to the worker's complaints.

As a result of the investigation, McDonald's agreed to pay back wages to the worker and restore her hours. The company also agreed to set up a portable tent in the break room to provide her with a space for pumping milk out of co-workers' view. The investigator determined that the violations were not intentional, but were instead "due to naivety of the front line manager."

The McDonald's file was one of 105 cases reviewed by The Huffington Post as part of a Freedom of Information Act request for investigations into nursing-mother complaints. The cases spanned from March 2010, when the Obamacare provision went into effect, until late 2013, and only closed investigations were released. The names of the women who filed the complaints were redacted, but the names of the companies and their officers were not.

The nursing-mothers provision covers only those hourly workers who fall under the Fair Labor Standards Act, the same set of employees who are eligible for minimum wage and overtime protections. Many salaried workers are currently exempt from the law. The complaints filed by workers therefore tilted heavily toward the low-wage end of the economy, particularly the retail sector.

The case files show that moms who work outside the home face a predicament. They are told by health professionals and society at large that breastfeeding is the right thing for themselves and their babies, with the American Academy of Pediatrics recommending breastfeeding exclusively for the first six months of the baby's life. Yet women still aren't always granted the on-the-job flexibility they need to make it work. But they have to try, because the Family and Medical Leave Act covers only 12 weeks of unpaid leave.

Among the more visible companies whose workers' complaints were ultimately substantiated were Starbucks, Walmart, Dollar General, Dillard's, Sunglass Hut, Meijer, Outback, Anthropologie, Lowe's and the Salvation Army. McDonald's had two such claims filed against it -- one by the worker at the corporate-owned store in Nebraska, another by an employee at a franchise in California. The company didn't respond to requests for comment.

In the vast majority of cases, Labor Department investigators found merit in the nursing mothers' complaints. In many instances, bosses weren't aware of all their obligations under the law and they quickly agreed to comply. In others, their actions were more egregious.

One California call center went so far as to fire a temp worker who was covered by the law after she complained about not having ample break time to express milk, an investigator found. The company was forced to pay the worker back wages.





For a law that covers millions of workers, 105 cases investigated and closed over the course of three years by no means proves there are rampant violations. The relatively small number of complaints might indicate an effective rollout of the regulation. But there's good reason to believe that the hurdles these women faced are, in fact, more common than the numbers suggest.

Awareness of the law is extremely low, and many women don't know they have federal rights as nursing mothers, according to the findings of a recent HuffPost/YouGov poll. Only 25 percent of respondents correctly said that employers with at least 50 employees are required under the law to provide workers with a space for pumping breast milk. A larger share -- 37 percent -- incorrectly said that no such law exists. And the largest share of all -- 38 percent -- admitted they didn't know enough to say one way or the other. Women were only slightly more likely than men to be familiar with the requirement.

There's another reason to believe the difficulties may be more common than they seem: The women who pursue federal complaints against their bosses must be willing to sacrifice anonymity, since everyone at work knows who the new mother is. Some women who filed complaints actually abandoned them after realizing their bosses would have to be interviewed by investigators.

The Labor Department's cases share some clear patterns:

Many women ended up pumping milk in the bathroom, which, even if clean and spacious, is still a bathroom. Consider the travails of an employee of Sodexo, the food and services company, who was "instructed to use an employee bathroom," according to an investigator's report. This arrangement apparently necessitated sitting on the bathroom floor. The woman tried switching to a public restroom in the building, which was "frequented by others" while she expressed milk. The woman eventually switched back to using the employee restroom "due to a sewage problem" with the public one. In an email, a Sodexo spokesman said the company has had a nursing-mothers policy in place since 2004 and updated it in 2010. "[N]ursing mothers will have access to a suitable private space and be provided with reasonable break times ... to both express and store breast milk," he wrote.

In cases where women weren't given a private space, colleagues and even customers walked in on them while they had their breasts exposed. This was most common for those relegated to common-area break or storage rooms. For instance, a worker at a nursing home in Washington state was instructed to use a supply room, where she sat on top of a garbage can to pump milk. Even though the door had a lock, colleagues with spare keys often walked in on her while searching for supplies. She was later moved to another storage area where the same thing happened repeatedly, the investigator determined.

Some women said they weren't allowed enough time to pump, even though under the law, employers don't have to pay them for the time if breaks aren't normally paid. At a HealthSouth rehab center in Memphis, Tennessee, for example, an employee alleged that managers wouldn't provide a co-worker to cover for her when she was pumping. As a result, she was "constantly interrupted by intercom pages that a certain patient's room needed her attention or she was needed at the desk," according to the report. Because she couldn't get the time she needed, she said, her body stopped producing milk. HealthSouth didn't respond to a request for comment.

Having a strong corporate policy on nursing mothers doesn't mean it's always followed. Meijer, the Midwestern grocer and retailer, had two substantiated complaints filed against it -- one in which a worker said she wasn't given enough break time, another in which a worker said she didn't always have access to a private office. A Meijer spokesman said that the company has a corporate policy accommodating nursing mothers that predates Obamacare and that all its facilities have areas designated for pumping.

Even when breaks were provided, some women weren't always allowed to pump when their bodies demanded it, which also undermines milk production. The worker at the McDonald's franchise in California said she was told by her supervisor that she could take a break to pump "only if the restaurant was not busy," in the words of the investigator.

Merely raising the issue with a supervisor can create tension. In a small number of cases, workers had their hours cut or were written up after demanding break time or a private room. One woman at a call center in West Virginia was given the break time she needed for pumping but was "penalized with write-ups which would eventually have resulted in termination," the investigator found. The company's human resources manager said she hadn't known about the new requirements.

Despite the public's growing awareness and acceptance of the needs of nursing mothers -- and despite what she considers a strong federal law on the books -- Dr. Joan Younger Meek, a professor of clinical sciences at the Florida State University College of Medicine, said she wasn't surprised to hear about the challenges women faced on the job.

"What we've said for many years in the breastfeeding community is that it seems every mother has to fight this battle for herself," said Meek, a member and past chair of the U.S. Breastfeeding Committee. "We're just trying to create an atmosphere that will allow mothers to be successful at breastfeeding and have a culture that's accepting of it. It's actually better for all of us if they breastfeed and breastfeed longer. It makes for healthier communities in the long run."





Most health experts agree that breastfeeding is the best option for a baby if a mother can do it. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, the composition of breast milk protects babies from disease better than formula does, leading to fewer respiratory infections and less risk of asthma and obesity in children. Breast milk is also easier for babies to digest.

Those benefits served as the prime motivation behind the Obamacare provision. During the health care reform debates of 2009, the measure was championed on the House side by Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) and on the Senate side by Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.). Over the years, Maloney had heard from mothers who were punished and even fired for pumping milk on the job.

Merkley told HuffPost that he empathized because his wife, Mary Sorteberg, a registered nurse, had wanted to continue breastfeeding once she went back to work after maternity leave.

"It was stressful just thinking about going to the manager and saying, 'Hey, can I have the space and flexibility to do this?'" Merkley recalled. "And the manager is kind of like, 'Well, I wonder what room we can use ...'"

Democrats framed the measure as a family values issue. To make it more palatable to business, they included an "undue hardship" exemption that gives small employers -- those with fewer than 50 employees -- a pass if they can demonstrate it's logistically too difficult to provide the time and space the nursing mothers need.

The Affordable Care Act then as now drew extraordinary Republican opposition on Capitol Hill. Yet the amendment quickly drew GOP support, passing unanimously through the Senate committee.

Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), a doctor, summed up the GOP position during a committee hearing in 2009: "I'm hardly ever wanting the government to interfere, but this is one of the places where I think since we already interfere in the workplace anywhere else, we ought to at least make it a wonderful place for women."

The Institute for Women's Policy Research has projected that an additional 165,000 women each year will breastfeed for at least six months because of the provision. Those gains will come in particular among women who work low-wage jobs and who are minorities.

But there are still millions of women, particularly in white-collar jobs, who aren't covered under the Fair Labor Standards Act and thus miss out on the nursing-mothers provision. Maloney and Merkley have introduced a bill that would expand the provision to cover all workers, be they hourly or salary. Merkley said he hopes they can attach the measure as an amendment to another bill headed for the president's desk.

"From the reporting we're getting back from businesses, this actually works out to be a pretty good deal," Merkley said. "Their employees feel really well treated because they're given this flexibility. It's a really big return in how employees feel about their company."





To express milk at work, a new mom first needs a decent pump, the cost of which health insurers must now cover under the Affordable Care Act. According to Meek, the best option for the workplace is an electric pump that allows a woman to express milk from both breasts simultaneously. This leads to more milk in a shorter period of time.

The woman will also want either a lock on the door or a sign to hang outside it; some hand sanitizer; a cooler and bottles to store her milk; and, if her pump is electric, an outlet to plug in.

Aside from that, she only needs the understanding of her boss. Of course, not every business can be expected to have its own lactation room, so the law offers employers a good deal of flexibility. As in the McDonald's case, where the store provided the worker with a tent in the break room, the final arrangement may often be ad hoc. Above all, employers are expected to be reasonably accommodating.

As the Labor Department's investigations show, that isn't always what happens.

At a call center in California operated by TeleDirect, a temp worker employed by the firm AppleOne went to three different supervisors trying to arrange break time for pumping. An investigator found that the woman wasn't given breaks or a private room and ended up using the bathroom during lunch.

The nursing mother was soon fired for carrying her cell phone with her against call center policy. The Labor Department concluded that the rule had been selectively enforced against the woman. AppleOne was ordered to pay her $1,372.50 in back wages over the firing. The company didn't respond to a request for comment.

At a Dollar General store in Columbus, Georgia, a worker had no place to pump privately, so she used a break area that was visited by co-workers and shoppers. "Whenever customers went by the break area ... they either stuck their head [in] to see what she was doing, asked where the rest room is located, or they asked her to help them to locate merchandise," the investigator wrote. Some colleagues apparently felt so bad for her that they would sit nearby "to block customers or other co-workers" from seeing her.

After giving the worker 15-minute breaks for two months, the store manager suddenly "refused" to grant her the time, according to the investigation. The manager also cut her weekly hours from the high 20s down to 12, forcing her to find a new job. Due to the investigation, the company agreed to pay the woman $814.43 in back wages and "start a project to provide a place shielded from view and free from intrusion" for nursing mothers.

"We do have a policy in place to make sure our employees who are nursing have time and a private place to express breast milk," a Dollar General spokesman said in an email.

A Labor Department spokesperson said the department works "very closely with the employer to achieve compliance as part of the investigation."

Noting that the Obamacare provision is still fairly new, the spokesperson added, "It's very difficult to draw conclusions just three years into a new law. There is a learning curve with the regulated community."

Hopefully, Meek said, employers will learn -- so that breastfeeding mothers don't have to file complaints at all.

"The vast majority of mothers in our society are going back to work, and the barriers start well before they go back," she said. "For some, there are almost insurmountable obstacles, and they'll end up stopping [breastfeeding] or introducing formula sooner than they want to. This law was a good start. But obviously we need all employers following it."

With additional reporting by Emily Swanson.

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Study: Financial Education Key For Domestic Violence Survivors

WASHINGTON -- Marina A. has no bruises or scars from the abuse she suffered at the hands of her husband. That is, unless you look at her bank account.

“My husband was in total control of the money,” she told The Huffington Post at a conference on financial abuse Wednesday. “At times, he let me have a debit card but he would tell me where and when I could use it. Other times, he would borrow it and 'lose' it, leaving me with nothing. I couldn’t drive. I had no money to call a cab. I was stuck.”

Marina, an immigrant from Russia who asked that her last name not be used in this article, married an American and moved to rural Pennsylvania. She wasn’t a U.S. citizen, couldn’t work and soon became completely isolated.

Her husband would leave her at home all day with their young children and an almost bare pantry. She said he stalled on beginning the process for her citizenship, which required a $1,600 fee that she didn’t have. She had no health insurance, and her husband would not add her to his. She is now in significant debt from hospital bills for the birth of their two children.

marina

Marina at a financial abuse conference in D.C.



Two years ago, with no financial resources, she fled the untenable situation. She was homeless until she found a local domestic violence shelter. There, she took part in a program on financial education, which she said helped her recover from years of financial abuse, taught her how to become financially independent, and provided her with access to essential resources.

“I know so much now,” she said. “Maybe one day I’ll buy a house.”

While financial abuse doesn’t dominate headlines like, say, a man burning down his girlfriend’s house or a homicide attempt, experts said the tactic used by batterers to control and isolate their partners is one of the top reasons why many victims are unable to escape abusive relationships.

“Financial abuse, whether you’re talking about ruining her credit, getting her fired or hiding the money, is just as effective in controlling an abused victim as a lock and key,” said Kim Gandy, president of the National Network to End Domestic Violence. “If your credit has been ruined, you can’t get an apartment. If you’ve been fired twice because your abuser harasses you at work, you can’t get a job. Women are literally being forced, because of financial dependency, back into abusive relationships.”

Domestic violence advocates have long emphasized the importance of financial independence as a key step to leaving abusive relationships. Now, promising new research proves just how effective financial education can be in helping survivors become economically secure.

On Wednesday, the Rutgers University School of Social Work released the results of a 14-month study that evaluated the most commonly used financial education program for domestic violence survivors in the U.S., called the Moving Ahead through Financial Management Curriculum.

Developed by the National Network To End Domestic Violence and the Allstate Foundation, the decade-old program teaches survivors how to handle the financial challenges of ending an abusive relationship, and offers resources for navigating credit scores, loans, mortgages and child support.

The randomized, controlled study looked at 457 domestic violence survivors from seven states and Puerto Rico, and compared women who had completed the financial curriculum with those who received standard domestic violence services.

The study found women who received the financial curriculum significantly improved financial literacy, attitudes, intentions and behaviors, and reported less financial strain than the women who did not receive the training. On every single financial variable, the women who received the training did significantly better over time than the women who did not.

Additionally, women who completed the training reported a nearly 10 percent higher quality of life than those who did not receive it, and reported feeling more safe, independent and free.

Judy Postmus, an associate professor at Rutgers who conducted the study, said the results prove the financial empowerment program makes a big difference in the lives of survivors.

“This curriculum gives women more confidence in their abilities to manage finances and more skills,” Postmus said. “You can infer that this curriculum could have an impact in helping these women leave abusive relationships, or help stop them from returning.”

She stressed that many abusers deliberately destroy their partner's credit, and that takes time and effort to fix.

"If you know your partner's name, Social Security [number] and your partner's mother's maiden name, you can pretty much do whatever you want. Open up credit cards, open up businesses, run up debt in your partner's name," Postmus said. "The sad part is, legally, if you’re married, there's nothing you can do about it. You're just as responsible for that debt."

The results of the study were presented at a conference on financial abuse, where more than 150 domestic violence specialists gathered to receive training on the financial curriculum and swap stories on what's working in their states. Over the past decade, 1,700 advocates across the country have been trained to offer this specific financial curriculum to survivors in their local communities.

Kim Pentico, the senior economic justice specialist at National Network To End Domestic Violence who trains advocates, said perceptions on financial programs for survivors are beginning to change.

In the past, Pentico said, offering financial education was seen as “icing on the cake,” a nice service when there was extra time and funding. But now, it's being recognized as a core service.

“Advocates are catching on that many survivors are seeking shelter because they can’t afford to be anywhere else,” Pentico said. “They don’t have the financial services to fly to a parent’s house or rent a hotel room. In a sense, many women are being battered because they can’t afford to not be battered.”

Pentico said that for many domestic violence survivors with low income, the biggest challenge to financial empowerment is feeling like they have nothing to work with.

"They think, 'How can I manage nothing?'" Pentico said. "But the curriculum gives them a peek inside the financial word and shows them how financial services and banks see them, and how to make the most of it."

One especially telling observation, shared by a domestic violence advocate from Kentucky, underscored the importance of financial education in today's credit-dependent economy.

"Abusers have always been financially controlling, but recently abusers are forcing their victims to apply to payday lenders with absolutely no intention of ever paying back the loan, forcing their victims to obtain student loans and then working to sabotage her education, and forcing their victims to put all credit card debt and loans in her name while putting all assets in his," the advocate wrote in a comment read aloud at a panel discussion.

"In the past, domestic violence victims would leave with nothing but their children and the clothes on their back," the note concluded. 'Now they leave with crushing debt."

Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) for the National Domestic Violence Hotline.

Mariam Yahya Ibrahim, Woman Sentenced To Death For Apostasy, Arrives In Italy

ROME, July 24 (Reuters) - A Sudanese woman who was spared a death sentence for converting from Islam to Christianity and then barred from leaving Sudan arrived at an airport in Rome on Thursday morning on an Italian government plane.
Italian television showed Mariam Yahya Ibrahim, 27, leaving the aircraft at Rome's Ciampino airport accompanied by her family and Italy's vice minister for foreign affairs, Lapo Pistelli.
(Reporting by Alessandro D'Angelo, writing by Isla Binnie)

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