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While You Were Out: The VMAs, Amal Clooney Faces More Sexism, Ashley Madison Made Fake Female Users, and More


“While You Were Out” is a Friday feature of short notes and commentary from the week. Whether it’s something you’d discuss at the watercooler or at happy hour, you’ll find it on our grid, together with our opinion as to if it’s praiseworthy or cringeworthy. We’re pleased to bring you the Verily editors’ quick takes on the happenings of this week.

Serena Off to Good Start at U.S. Open

The U.S. Open started this Monday at Flushing Meadows, and for the women’s draw, it could be a historic year. Serena Williams stands to make history by adding to her twenty-one total Grand Slam titles. If she wins this year’s Open, she will be the first woman since Steffi Graf in 1988 to win all four Grand Slams in one year. That means Serena was 7 years old the last time a woman accomplished this feat—and big hair was the trend (see: Andre Agassi). Maybe they’ll rename it the Serena Slam if she pulls it off.

Her chances seem better than usual, as Maria Sharapova dropped out of the tournament with a leg injury, and No. 7 seed Ana Ivanovic, No. 21 Jelena Janković, and No. 30 Svetlana Kuznetsova—all contenders for the title who might’ve threatened Williams—lost early on Monday. With two wins down, it seems like these odds will serve her well. —Mary Grace Mangano

Marissa Mayer Pregnant with Twins

Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo, revealed that she’s pregnant with identical twin girls, which resulted in a national conversation once again. Mayer made headlines three years ago when she took over the role of CEO and gave birth to her son, returning to the office not long after and having a private nursery installed. In a blog post this week, Mayer said, “I plan to approach the pregnancy and delivery as I did with my son three years ago . . . working throughout.” Congratulations to Mayer and her growing family! And here’s to continuing the expansion of family-friendly options for working women, millionaires or not. —Mary Rose Somarriba

A Big Blue Beauty

BBC reporter Steve Backshall interrupted a live interview with a marine wildlife expert for BBC’s Big Blue Live after spotting a blue whale in California’s Monterey Bay, where they were filming. “I’m so sorry. I’ve just heard—this is incredible—I’ve heard word that we have on our helicopter a blue whale,” he said as the television cut to an aerial camera showing the enormous creature swimming near the surface of the bay. Backshall then quickly launched into an enthusiastic history and description of the animal, explaining that the blue whale is “the largest animal ever known to have lived on our planet, larger than any of the dinosaurs—a creature that we hunted so 99 percent of its numbers had disappeared.”

Whale hunting during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries rendered the animal nearly extinct. In the 1960s, however, blue whales were given international protection, and the species has been making a slow recovery ever since. Monterey Bay’s rich resources make it a magnet for marine creatures to gather to feed. “When I started filming wildlife just sixteen years ago, if someone said, ‘Go film a blue whale,’ I would have said they were crazy,” Backshall states. “This is one of the most extraordinary things I’ve ever seen.” Having seen the moving video, I have to agree. —Baleigh Scott

Nicki Minaj and Miley Cyrus Exchange Words at VMAs

The MTV Video Music Awards came and went this week. This year’s award show was hosted by Miley Cyrus, who in addition to wearing an array of eye-popping outfits gave an accompanying trippy performance. No big surprises there. But what might be most noteworthy about Miley’s night as host was when Nicki Minaj accepted the award for Best Hip-Hop Video, ending it with fiery words for Cyrus, who had dissed her in the New York Times days earlier. Instead of saying “and now, back to Miley,” Minaj said, “And now, back to . . . that b**** who had a lot to say about me the other day in the press.” While I can’t endorse Minaj’s word choice, I can’t stop watching the confrontation on repeat. It’s somehow appealing in the same way as Rihanna’s faux fight with Stephen Hill of BET at their awards show this year. There’s something cool about seeing a woman stand up for herself and say, “Hey, don’t mess with me. I’ve reached my limit of your shenanigans.” In many ways Cyrus had it coming because she dissed Minaj to the New York Times while appealing to the virtue of “politeness” . . . kind of hypocritical. For those not as caught in the weeds of celebrity gossip, Cyrus was commenting on Minaj’s previous Twitter feud with Taylor Swift, which as of their shared VMA performance on Sunday, has been reconciled.

Minaj’s initial tweet, the one that set all this off when the VMA nominations came out, sparked Baleigh Scott to comment at Verily that in addition to Minaj’s concerns about black women being under-recognized for their musical talent by the VMAs, there’s also something inherently sexist about how past female VMA winners have had to undress to get attention of the award-givers, unlike their male counterparts. Kind of how Cyrus herself did years ago on the same stage alongside Robin Thicke. It’s fair to say that Cyrus would never have been on the radar to even host the VMAs if she hadn’t danced in the nude bikini on that day in 2013. To which I say: Baleigh, unfortunately, your point continues to be proven. —MRS

Taylor Swift Unveils New Music Video and Stirs Up Lots of Controversy

On Monday, Taylor Swift (who earlier on Sunday showed up to the VMAs with her entire girl squad from the “Bad Blood” music video, which won Video of the Year), debuted her newest mini movie for “Wildest Dreams.” The video shows a 1950s-styled brunette Swift on set of an Out of Africa–esque film, caught up in a love that’s just pretend. The video has faced backlash from critics who say it’s insensitive and evokes colonialist Africa and the imagining of the continent as a romanticized white-culture fantasy.

Even before the uproar, Swift had chosen to donate all the proceeds from this video to the African Parks Foundation to preserve the endangered animals of the continent and support the economies of local African people. —MGM

Two Female Fave Films Released on DVD

This week two favorite films from this year, Pitch Perfect 2 and Mad Max: Fury Road were released on DVD. The second serving of Pitch Perfect, featuring Anna Kendrick and Rebel Wilson competing in an even bigger a cappella challenge than the first, was much hyped as the perfect girls’ night movie when it came out. But Mad Max: Fury Road, featuring Charlize Theron saving women from sex slavery with strength that rivaled her male antagonists, received much more glorifying reviews as the year’s go-to girl-power film, although not as hyped and coming somewhat delayed after its release. Now you can rent them both, and see for yourself. —MRS

Star Wars Facebook Page Has Brilliant Response to Sexist Comment

If you are a resident of planet Earth, you’ve likely heard about the newest installment of the Star Wars franchise hitting theaters in December. In anticipation, Star Wars announced a fan art contest via social media with prizes for the winners—for many of the die-hard fans, being featured would be enough. So, when the Facebook page posted a rendering of Gwendoline Christie’s character Captain Phasma in full body armor by a superfan, they expected a flood of commentary. What they perhaps did not expect was a comment regarding the lack of female distinctions on Captain Phasma’s battle gear. “Not to be sexist, but it’s really hard to tell that’s female armor,” the comment read. The Star Wars Facebook admin didn’t waste any time before responding, “It’s armor. On a female. It doesn’t have to be feminine.” The comment was eventually deleted but not before the Internet got ahold of it, including one Twitter user who perfectly sums up how we feel about the absence of overly accentuated female features in a principal character’s wardrobe: “Not to be sexist, but I expected the armor to be more sexist.” —HAW

A Younger, Skinnier Miss Piggy?

Just a month after Kermit and Miss Piggy announced the end of their iconic four-decade relationship, it looks like Kermit is involved with a new pig named Denise. From the photos it looks like she’s a younger, skinnier version of the kick-ass lady pig we all know and love. I know we’re just talking about puppets here, but I can’t help disliking the message this sends: Success and assertiveness makes women less attractive, and older versions need to be traded up for younger, skinnier versions. This happens enough in real life; it’s kind of depressing for it to happen with the Muppets, too. —Sophie Caldecott

Les Misérables Actor Dies Tragically

The theater world lost one of its brightest young stars this week when Kyle Jean-Baptiste, the 21-year old tenor who made history earlier this summer as the first African-American to play Jean Valjean in the musical Les Misérables on Broadway, died after slipping and falling off a fire escape in Brooklyn. Producer Sir Cameron Mackintosh gave a statement that said, “His spirit was infinite and his voice from God—we are all so sad not to have spent more time with him, for he truly was a rare talent and a special person. Our loss is heaven’s gain, and our prayers are with his family and friends.” Memorials were held in New York at the Bethesda Fountain in Central Park and the Imperial Theatre where Les Mis is currently running, as well as in Ohio at the Playhouse Square theater. The young actor’s remarkable talent can be witnessed in many YouTube clips of his work, especially his performance of “Bring Him Home” in his history-making role. —Monica Weigel

Associated Press Under Fire for Calling Amal Clooney ‘Actor’s Wife’

The Associated Press took a step back in time in a recent Twitter post, referring to “Amal Clooney, actor’s wife” when discussing her role as one of the lawyers defending Egyptian–Canadian journalist Mohamed Fahmy. Fahmy is currently sentenced to three years in jail for publishing material “harmful to Egypt.” Given that the post had nothing to do with the entertainment industry or her famous husband, Amal Clooney, née Alamuddin (as they used to say), deserves more respect and recognition of her own (sizable) professional merits rather than being labeled merely as someone’s wife. As one Twitter response stated, “Her surname identifies her as an actor’s wife, AP. Try ‘human rights lawyer.’ @EverydaySexism.” Amal responded to the uproar in an interview with the BBC, saying, “There’s not much I can do to control it except keep going. . . . When people criticize journalism that focuses on the wrong issues, that’s heartening, and that shows that people expect more from their press.” Maybe from now on the AP should refer to her as “Amal Clooney, classier than we will ever be.” —MW

The Immigrant Crisis Continues to Escalate in Europe

We’ve been seeing horror story after horror story on the news for weeks of refugees struggling to stay afloat off the shores of Europe and throwing themselves and their families onto train tracks in the temporary madness of utter desperation. It’s heartbreaking, and the European governments don’t seem to know what to do about it. A recent UN report estimated the number of migrants fleeing Syria to be more than a million, about half of them children. A series of photographs (be warned, the images are incredibly distressing) released in the past few days of a Syrian toddler’s dead body washed up on a beach in Turkey speaks more loudly than words ever could about the crisis we now find ourselves in.

I say “we” because wherever there is human suffering on this scale, it surely demands a response from all of us, no matter how far removed we are from it. And respond is, in fact, what many people are doing, including more than 12,000 Icelanders who answered a prominent Icelandic author’s call to action on Facebook Sunday evening. Bryndís Björgvinsdóttir asked fellow Icelanders to speak out and let their government know that they wanted them to do more to help the refugees, and they did just that, writing things like, “We have clothes, a bed, toys, and everything a child needs. I would of course pay for the airplane ticket.” Campaigns and marches all over Europe are beginning to show signs of having an impact on governments, with leaders everywhere reassessing how many people they can shelter in their countries during this emergency. —SC

Many of Ashley Madison’s Female Users Weren’t Human

This week the Ashley Madison debacle continued to unfold, as a journalist at Gizmodo found that a significant number of the female respondents to men on the extramarital-dating site seem to be, in fact, bots created by none other than the Ashley Madison site. We knew men were much more prevalent on the site than women, which is not too surprising, but this is almost laughable. Ashley Madison may be trying to keep its grasp on customers, but it’s becoming hard to deny that it’s just another make-believe interaction for sexually wandering men who’d like to think that equal numbers of women seek that too. —MRS

ISIS Continues Devastating Attacks on Lives and Artifacts

Islamic State group fighters have continued attacks on the history and tradition of the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra this week, destroying the 2,000-year-old Temple of Bel. The temple’s demolition is thought to be a part of the group’s campaign to eradicate “un-Islamic” artifacts as well as people associated with efforts to preserve and protect those artifacts. On August 23, the Sunni Muslim extremist group destroyed Palmyra’s Temple of Baalshamin, which, like the Temple of Bel, was 2,000 years old and very well-preserved. On August 18, the Islamic State group killed one of Syria’s most prominent scholars and archaeologists, Khaled Asaad, by beheading him in a Palmyra museum courtyard and hanging his body from an ancient column whose restoration he oversaw. These atrocities, and the plethora of others that the group has inflicted, really make you wonder how anyone could sympathize with the terrorist group, let alone join it. —BS