Are “Sexy” Magazine Covers Empowering for Women? This Evidence Says No.

The cover of this month’s Women’s Health magazine features actress Cobie Smulders (Robin from How I Met Your Mother) posing topless, with only her arms covering her bare chest. If you find that surprising for a magazine called Women’s Health, consider the May cover of Golf Digest: It boasts a similar topless-with-strategic-cover-up photo of athlete Lexi Thompson.

To be honest, I can’t say these covers surprise me. Nude photos of successful women make frequent appearances in the media. Women’s Health, along with CosmopolitanSports IllustratedMaxim, and a slew of other popular magazines regularly feature sexually explicit content and imagery.

Although nude images on magazine covers have lost their power to shock, they’re still a relatively recent phenomenon. The degree to which women are sexualized in magazines, in song lyrics, on television, in video games, on the Internet, in advertising, and in music videos today is unparalleled. As Dawn Hawkins, vice president of the National Center on Sexual Exploitation, describes it, “Yesterday’s pornography is today’s mainstream media.” Somehow, we have gotten to a point where a topless photo of a well-respected woman on the cover of a women’s health magazine barely raises eyebrows. Whether or not this is a positive development is a subject of much debate…READ MORE

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I wrote this article for Verily Magazine, where it was originally published.

Art Credit: Christian Tonnis


An Open Letter To The World: I’m Not Sorry For Apologizing

Dear World,

By now, I’m sure you are familiar with Pantene’s “Not Sorry” #Shinestrong ad. If you are not, the ad exhibits women unnecessarily apologizing in various circumstances (before asking a legitimate question in a meeting, before asking someone if he has a minute to talk, after someone nudges her in a waiting room, etc…) and then, in an attempt to draw attention to women’s overly-apologetic habits, confidently refusing to apologize in those very same circumstances. “Don’t be sorry,” the screen reads, and the video concludes with a woman saying “sorry, not sorry” as she pulls an entire comforter over to her side of the bed.

When I first saw the ad, I didn’t think much of it. But because, nearly a year later, I still see it shared on social media platforms, and because you seem determined to critique feminine behavior whenever it is discovered to diverge from male behavior, I felt the need to drop you a note.

It’s true, world, women tend to apologize more than men do.  But just because women apologize more often than men does not mean that women apologize too often. And even if some of us do, the tendency to apologize too often does not necessarily result from weakness, oppression, or a false sense of female inferiority.

Yes, I say “sorry” more often than my male coworkers and friends. Yes, I say it unnecessarily at times. Yes, I should learn to be more assertive. But I am not going to apologize for my apologetic habits, because they are not the product of something negative like discrimination or insecurity, but the consequence of one of my greatest gifts.

I say “sorry” a lot because I have a heightened sensitivity to my surroundings. I apologize a lot because I have an elevated awareness of how my actions affect those around me. My habit of saying sorry a little too often has developed over years of discerning pain and discomfort to which others are numb. I tend to be overly-apologetic because I have a great consciousness of life’s quieter sufferings, a consciousness that allows me to detect injury where others see none, tend to wounds others cannot perceive, soothe pain others don’t recognize. What you are quick to assume is the by-product of oppression is actually a result of an incredible feminine strength. I apologize often because I see more than you, and I like that about myself.

I am sorry that only sinister explanations are offered when it is discovered that women behave differently than men.

I am sorry that the merits of feminine social behavior are so rarely considered or recognized.

I am sorry that our consideration for others is lamented rather than applauded.

I am sorry that women are instructed to dull their sensitivity rather than encouraged to harness its remarkable power.

I am sorry that male behavior is the yardstick by which female behavior is measured.

I am sorry that any departures women take from standard male behavior are automatically viewed as marks of oppression or insecurity rather than manifestations of positive feminine qualities.

Most of all, I’m sorry that so many of the marvelous, inexplicable, beautiful, complicated idiosyncrasies of feminine behavior are bemoaned by those who claim to speak on our behalf.

I am sorry for all these things and so many more, but I’m not sorry for apologizing too often, because it is evidence of one of my very best qualities.


A Woman Who Is “Always Apologizing”

Why Calling Women “Too Sensitive” Makes Absolutely No Sense

Of all the criticism that women endure, the critique I hear most often is that women are “too sensitive.”

Ironically, this phrase, “too sensitive,” makes no sense.


^Vivian Leigh knows what I’m talking about.^

Now I am not trying to prove or disprove the claim that women are more sensitive than men. I am arguing that, if we are more sensitive, it’s a good thing.

Indulge me, if you will, in a brief exploration of “sensitivity”.

1. Sensitivity makes you more in touch with reality, not less.

Consider the word in any other context. Consider that we are talking about a scale, or a Doppler radar, or a thermometer. Now the purpose of a thermometer is to sense fluctuations in the temperature around it. Let’s say one thermometer can sense one degree fluctuations in the temperature. That’s a pretty good thermometer. But wait; there is another more sensitive thermometer that can register fluctuations down to a tenth of a degree. The second thermometer’s sensitivity does not render it incapable of use, but, in fact, a better thermometer.

Let us apply this reasoning to humanity.

Just as a more sensitive thermometer picks up on more fluctuations in the temperature than a less sensitive one, so a “more sensitive” person picks up on more of the subtleties of his environment than his less sensitive peers. Thus, a very sensitive person is highly aware of his surroundings. To be more aware of one’s surroundings makes one more in touch with reality. This means that more sensitive people are more in touch with reality, not less.

So when people spout off about women being “too sensitive,” they are really saying that women are too aware of reality. What they are really saying is that a certain modicum of oblivion and ignorance makes for a more reasonable person. Such cannot possibly be the case. The more sensitive you are, the more information you have with which to reason. Sensitive people may draw unreasonable conclusions, but their sensitivity is not to blame, their inability to reason is.

2. Emotions make sense.

Typically, discussions about sensitivity go hand in hand with discussions about emotion, as they should. Just as certain sensations accompany a nose’s interaction with a particular smell, or a mouth with a particular taste, so certain sensations accompany one’s interactions with particular experiences.

Emotions are the sensations of the soul, and they accompany our interactions with the world, people, reality. The more sensitive, the more aware, the more in touch you are with reality, the more emotions (sensations) you will have.


Now we’ve all met people who appear to be crying for no reason, people who are experiencing an emotion that we don’t understand. It is from this particular situation that, I suspect, the “too sensitive” diagnosis arose. There are two possibilities, and in neither of them does the “too sensitive” diagnosis make sense:

 Possibility #1: The sensitive person is picking up on something you can’t sense.

Usually when people confront an emotion in someone else that they cannot understand, they jump to the conclusion that the emotional person is delusional (which may be the case). It is possible, however, that the emotional person is simply more sensitive than you, and therefore picking up on more than you, sensing subtleties in the situation that your limited awareness cannot register.

 Consider a chef with a highly sensitive palette. You may accompany him to the same restaurant, eat the same food, drink the same wine, and yet, have an entirely different experience than him. You may have wholeheartedly enjoyed every bite, while he leaves unsatisfied, and disappointed.

Now you might conclude that he is delusional, or has impossible standards. It is likely, however, that because of the sensitivity of his palette, he picked up on a subtle but telling staleness in a particular ingredient, or a disharmony in a combination of flavors that you can’t even taste. In this case, the chef’s palette is not “too sensitive,” just more sensitive than yours. And it is precisely the sensitivity of his palette that, along with making him a better chef, makes truly great food enjoyable for him to a degree that less sensitive eaters cannot experience.

 So before you conclude that because you can’t sense it, it doesn’t exist, consider your own limitations.

Possibility #2: The emotional person is not actually very sensitive.

Continuing with chef metaphor, no one objects to a chef picking up on too many flavors in a particular dish, but one should certainly object to a chef picking up on flavors that aren’t actually present in the dish. Likewise, no one should object to a person picking up on too much of reality. But one should certainly object to a person sensing something that isn’t actually real. “Sensing” things that do not exist does not make you “too sensitive,” it makes you delusional.

Sensitivity, then, is not the cause of the person’s senseless reaction, but the solution. This person is by definition insensitive, unaware of his true surroundings. He should seek to become more sensitive, more aware of reality, not less.

 So, if you are going to criticize women, don’t criticize them for being “too sensitive,” as there is no such thing. Either you are simply less aware than them, or they are not only insensitive, but delusional. Either way, being “too sensitive” is not the problem. And if you are criticized for being “too sensitive,” take it as a compliment, because your heightened awareness only makes you more in touch with reality. You’re just a little more aware than the average bear. Use it to your advantage.