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Miss USA Is a Little Different This Year and Other Notes From the Week

Catch up on all the news you might have missed

We’re pleased to bring you “While You Were Out”—the Verily editors’ quick takes on the happenings of this week.

Violence Against Women Continues At the Hands Of ISIS . . . But Maybe Not Exactly As It's Being Reported

Late this week news surfaced that a group of 19 young women in Mosul were burned to death at the hands of ISIS. According to a report published by ARA News, the women were being punished for refusing to have sex with ISIS militants and was witnessed by hundreds of onlookers. The atrocious news has since garnered public outrage, but as Middle East reporter Kyle Orton told us, the story has yet to be substantiated. “ARA does good work but it is a pro-Kurdish outlet, and the Kurdish parties...have pushed several stories, as part of its political warfare against the Islamic State, which have proven factually inaccurate on examination.”

According to Orton, who reported for Verily on violence against women at the hands of ISIS in the past, “it would be most unusual for ISIS to have done this and not produced a video about it with an elaborate explanation of its Islamic legitimacy—these brutal acts are part of its recruitment strategy, as is its offer of sex.” While there is great violence against women happening at the hands of ISIS militants, it doesn’t help that cause to use questionable journalism. We’ll certainly be keeping our eye on this story to see what develops. —Mary Rose Somarriba

Miss USA Pageant Ushers In A Welcome Surprise

The Miss USA pageant came and went with the same usual fanfare of beautiful faces and bikinis. But this year something was a little different: a contestant from Washington D.C., Deshauna Barber, also an officer in the United States Army Reserve, won the crown on Sunday night. Although the Miss USA pageant has hadly been feminist in the past, Barber’s background brings a fresh perspective to the title she’s won. “Serving in the military has taught me that being confidently beautiful is about being able to earn respect from people regardless of what you look like.” I never thought I’d say it, but I may be tuning in to the Miss Universe contest later this year, because Miss USA is truly someone we can be proud of. —Grace Cooper

Will T. Swift Ever Catch a Break?

After the confirmation that Taylor Swift and her DJ boyfriend Calvin Harris broke up, a disheartening hashtag started showing up on social media. #IDumpedTaylorSwiftBecause quickly became a reason for all of cyberspace to unleash their unresolved issues and unfounded vitriol onto Taylor Swift. Swift was criticized about everything from her supposedly undeserved fame to the fact that this breakup is very likely to inspire another wildly popular album for her. However, fans and non-fans alike took the opportunity to stand behind Swift saying that the hashtag was disgusting and, more to the point, completely sexist.

Swift has taken a lot of heat, especially when it comes to her love life. In a recent interview with Vogue, Swift said the advice she would give her younger self was this: “Hey, you’re going to date just like a normal 20-something should be allowed to, but you’re going to be a national lightening rod for slut-shaming.” Personal affections (or lack thereof) for Swift aside, it’s hard to deny the validity of her statement. Swift may have an unusually #blessed life making it easier to love-hate her, but we should give her the benefit of seeing her for accomplishments not her dating history. —GC

The Stanford Rape Case and the National Conversation That Followed

This week headlines and newsfeeds were filled with coverage of what’s become known as the Stanford rape case. A man named Brock Turner was found guilty of sexually assaulting a woman who was passed out drunk, yet was handed a lenient sentence by the judge who feared state prison might be too “severe” for the young man. What followed was an important national conversation, in great part sparked by the assault survivor’s statement that went viral this week. Responding at the end to points Turner raised in his final statement, she reads, “you said, I want to show people that one night of drinking can ruin a life. A life, one life, yours, you forgot about mine. Let me rephrase for you, I want to show people that one night of drinking can ruin two lives. You and me. You are the cause, I am the effect. You have dragged me through this hell with you, dipped me back into that night again and again. You knocked down both our towers, I collapsed at the same time you did. If you think I was spared, came out unscathed, that today I ride off into sunset, while you suffer the greatest blow, you are mistaken. Nobody wins. We have all been devastated, we have all been trying to find some meaning in all of this suffering. Your damage was concrete; stripped of titles, degrees, enrollment. My damage was internal, unseen, I carry it with me. You took away my worth, my privacy, my energy, my time, my safety, my intimacy, my confidence, my own voice, until today.”

I spent most of the week thinking about this story, the judge’s unjust sentencing, and the young woman’s brave statement. And there was one thing I couldn’t get out of my mind. When reading her statement about the ludicrous way her story was twisted in court—for instance, that despite the “abrasions, lacerations, and dirt in my genitalia,” Turner informed the court “that yes I wanted it, yes I permitted it, and that [he is] the true victim.” I couldn’t help but keep thinking, in what kind of sick mind could a woman who has clearly been battered be construed as enjoying it? How could this be viewed as OK? The answer sadly came very clearly to me: this kind of behavior is sold as sexy in the world of porn.

That porn sexualizes imagery of rape to look desirable is fact. That porn shows a large amount of aggression and violence against women is indisputable. That repeated climaxing to these images rewires the brain is scientifically substantiated. That men and women who’ve been exposed to porn become desensitized and less likely to identify rape as rape has been revealed in research. I don’t think citing any of these facts takes away from the indisputable fact that the rapist is, alone, fully guilty for his action. I vehemently disagree with the judge that alcohol or any other factor lessens his moral culpability for his actions. But I also think we, as a culture, should be honest in calling out the dangerous messaging being sold in mass-consumed media and not understate its influence.

When we notice racist trends in Hollywood films, is this somehow removing culpability from people who commit racist crimes? Of course not. But I strongly believe it’s worth calling out dangerous messaging if we want to stop adding fuel to the fire of social ills like these. —MRS

Michelle Obama Announces "United State of Women" Summit

Michelle Obama has organized the first ever United State of Women Summit to take place June 14 in Washington D.C. The event released a promotional video this week touting attendees such as Tina Fey, Oprah Winfrey, and Meryl Streep. Female leaders will come together to discuss the past, present, and future of all things women. Covering everything from education opportunity to economic empowerment and the summit boasts the slogan, “Today, we’ll change tomorrow.” It'll be interesting to see what comes of this powerful meeting of the minds. —GC

Elizabeth Banks Will Not Be Directing Pitch Perfect 3—To Focus on Motherhood 

Despite mixed feelings about Pitch Perfect 2, Elizabeth Banks’ decision to leave Pitch Perfect 3 is an important one. Banks made her directorial debut with the sequel to the famed acapela movie, as well as producing and acting in it. She says she cannot continue to direct because of her duties as a mother. News that production was being moved from the summer to the fall, prompted Banks to step out as director, although she will be returning as actor and producer in the film.

It’s unfortunate to see that Banks is having to sacrifice a career milestone because she desires (rightfully so) to be there for her children. On the other hand, it’s awesome to see a woman publicly saying that family comes first for her, and that she’s ok with that. 

It’s refreshing and admirable that Banks knows her limits both as a professional and a mom. In a society that dictates that the modern women have this perfect balance of family and career, Banks’ decision is a good reminder that one thing may be more important than the other, and it’s up to each woman to decide that for herself. —GC

Why Not To See Me Before You (Spoiler Alert)

The much-anticipated romantic film Me Before You finally hit the box office last weekend. The book-turned-movie sparked controversy within the disabled community and, frankly, everyone. Verily relationships editor, Monica Gabriel Marshall, says this is a love story that misses the mark big time. Will Traynor, a recently disabled man, is living a miserable life until he meets his caretaker Lou Clark. However, even after the viewers watch the story unfold and Traynor fall madly in love with Clark, he never intends to continue living his life with her. By not giving up his plans to euthanize himself, the Me Before You character shows what a relationship without self sacrifice truly looks like.

As Marshall says, “Truly, one of the most difficult and humbling aspects of love, is accepting that you are insufficient yet lovable”—something that Clark and Traynor’s relationship fails to capture. Traynor doesn’t give himself the time to realize that “living life is a joy when you do it out of love for the other.” —GC

The Princess And The Hot Dog

What girl hasn’t been asked whom her favorite princess is? Elsa? Anna? Old-school Cinderella, perhaps? Well, one young girl didn’t even dignify that question with a response for her dance class’ “princess day.” Instead of donning a dress and tiara like the other girls, she came dressed as a hot dog. The picture of the happy hot dog girl beaming alongside her sparkly counterparts is absolutely priceless. According to the girl’s father, Brandon Turner, the hot dog idea was completely his daughter’s. It seems that father has a budding nonconformist on his hands. You go, hot dog girl. 

The Real Feminist Ryan Gosling

The Ryan Gosling feminist meme dream got real last week when he did an interview with ES Magazine saying that “women are better than men.” While that phrase is not necessarily our idea of feminism, the way he unpacked this statement really showed his sensitivity to women’s issues. During his interview, Gosling talked about how he grew up with mostly women and now lives in an all female household. This exposure showed him first-hand how women are objectified and sexualized in daily life. He even said that women make all men, including himself, better. Thanks, Ryan! —GC

Feel-Good Video of the Week

Emma Bennett, a 10-year-old with a prosthetic leg, was all over the news this week when her mom posted a video that went viral of Emma receiving an American Girl Doll. But this wasn’t just any American Girl Doll; this doll had a prosthetic leg, just like Emma. A Step Ahead Prosthetics will add a prosthetic to any doll for a child with limb loss so they have the chance to look exactly like their new-found friend. Emma’s amazing tear-filled reaction is a true testament to the power of portraying females realistically and authentically in every cultural outlet, including dolls. We’re so happy for Emma and her new friend as well as the message they’re sharing with every YouTube view. —GC

X-Men Billboard Sparks Controversy Over Violence Toward Women

The new X-Men: Apocalypse billboards scattered across the United States have sparked some controversy because they depict the image of a large male character from the film, Apocalypse, choking a female character, Mystique. The billboard is being disputed, not only because it is a disturbing image, but for normalizing imagery of violence against women. Actress Rose McGowan took a stand against the ad on Twitter where she met opposition that claimed she couldn’t criticize the movie because she wasn’t familiar with the story. —GC