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Posts Tagged ‘Broadsheet’

Something struck me  as I clicked on the salon.com daily newsletter in my inbox Wednesday and it totally pissed me off.

Now before I go on, let me assure you that I love salon.com, that I’ve been reading it ever since Dave Talbot started it before the idea of digital journalism had even hit the radar, and that I myself have written for it as well.  But here’s what got me going:  Salon’s daily newsletter lists the each day’s headlines, along with bylines, and what I noticed Wednesday was this:  Of the 30 stories linked, only 8 were written by women.  Not that bad, you say?  Well, that’s debatable.  But of those:

One was a personal essay by Laura Wagner on going back to Haiti to report on what we don’t know about what it’s like there now.  Okay, good.

Another was an editorial by Joan Walsh, salon’s editor-in chief.

One was by a freelance food writer, whose piece was about a layered Japanese cake made with coffee jelly.

And the other five were all corralled into the women’s neighborhood known as Broadsheet.  Don’t get me wrong.  I love Broadsheet as much as the next girl.  Read it every day in fact, and almost always agree with the feminist line.  But, if you were to be honest you’d have to admit, every column is thorougly predicatable:  we’re pissed about (fill in the blank) and we’re gonna riff about it.  Done.

I couldn’t help but wonder: on a cutting edge news site, run by a woman in fact, can’t you figure out something for smart women writers to do —  other than rant or rhapsodize over tea cakes?

So anyway, then I went over to jezebel.com.  More cranky pants.  They were talking shit about Elizabeth Gilbert.  Now, let me say again, as I’ve said before, that I am probably the only woman left in America who hasn’t finished Eat Pray Love.   But c’mon: “How Elizabeth Gilbert ruined Bali”?  Really?  They also talked a little trash about Julia Roberts.   Of course.

So then, what the hell, I checked out the New York Times Homepage.  Nine bylines and only one woman, whose byline was shared.  To be fair, Maureen Dowd’s column (no byline) was up in the corner.  And there’s no question, were I to have given the gray lady multiple clicks beyond the home page, I am sure I would have found a number of women.  Or on the blogs.  Like Lisa Belkin, who I read often and kinda like, who writes about parenting.

But. Way back when, there was a TV show, “Lou Grant”,  that had been a favorite — either in real time or on rerun channels — of just about everyone I knew in J. School.  And there was this one episode where the girl reporter followed a hot story that allowed her to get outside the walls of the traditional woman’s beat, the only place most women journalists were allowed.  You know, lightweight features, ladies lunches, that sort of stuff.  The girl ghetto.

Anyway, having run into all this stuff, on Wednesday,  I couldn’t help wondering.  Are we back there again?  The girl ghetto? Where’s the writing of substance?  The Reporting with the captial “R”?  Are smart women only capable of essays or riffs or recipes?  You gotta wonder if we’ve been sucked into a ghetto of our own making, where we do simply what’s expected of us:  We write about food,  we write about kids — or we put on the cranky pants and riff predictably about women’s issues..  It that’s all we want to be known for, great.  But seems to me, if we want to be taken seriously — as journalists, or even as women — we ought to break out of this self-imposed exile.

Right here, I should probably add a little backstory.  I’m still pissed off about the list of the “greatest magazine stories ever“, compiled by men, that only had ONE woman on the list’s first iteration: Susan Orlean, for “The Orchid Thief”, who initially earned one star out of a possible four.  What about Orlean’s award-winning “The American Man at Age 10″?  Or what, no Joan Didion?  No mention of one of the most critically acclaimed magazine pieces ever, her “Some Dreamers of the Golden Dream”?

I’m happy to report that the list has been updated and, ahem, the above have been included.   But nonetheless.  I’ve been, you know, cranky ever since.

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I came across this story in the Philadelphia Enquirer the other day about the new angst of quarterlifers. (I’ve buried the lead once again. But stay with me here.) The story revisited the book, Quarterlife Crisis, written back in 2001, and then went on to enumerate the ways in which the Crisis, thanks to the recession, is worse than ever:

Experts say the quarterlife crisis might be harder to navigate now than when the book came out. Entry-level employees, for example, are fighting for fewer jobs and lower pay, [Abby] Wilner, [coauthor of Quarterlife Crisis: The Unique Challenges of Life in Your Twenties] said in an e-mail interview recently.

“It’s absolutely a tough time,” she wrote.

Even those with jobs are in rough waters, said Dustin Williams, a career counselor at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. A glut of older employees aren’t budging because they can’t afford to retire, so younger ones can’t move up. Plus, less-experienced employees are more likely to get laid off. Job security is a real luxury these days.

“Four or five years ago, “Williams said, “people would say, ‘Well, I’m not happy, so I’ll just change jobs and see how I do.’ “

Now, more than ever, it’s easy to get stuck in crisis mode. And recent college graduates are lucky if they land a job at all.

The story goes on to paint pix of doom and gloom, of how difficult it is these days to be twentysomething and trying to make your way in the world, noting a recent Harvard poll that found that 60 percent of young adults worried about whether they would ever end up better off than their parents.

Flipping to the upside, the story continues:

Yeah, becoming an adult and figuring out your future can be painful, especially these days. But it’s only natural, said Deborah Smith, a sociology professor at University of Missouri-Kansas City. Many people experience angst in their 20s because they’re reflecting on their lives for the first time in a long time, she said.

“In my mind, it’s not a crisis,” Smith said. “It’s a decision point, a pressure point, a life-stage change.”

Which brings me to my point, albeit a bit circuitously. But first, let me first say I know (from second-hand experience) about the presumed death of the dream for so many twentysomethings these days: no matter what their goals, it’s hard out there to reach them. At least at first. Money is tight, jobs are scarce and switching out the dream in exchange for settling — or moving back to your high school bedroom — is a real possibility. But yet.

It isn’t necessarily a crisis. At least right now. Unless, of course, you convince yourself it is. Which leads me to my point.

You have to wonder if quarterlife angst goes viral when you’re attached to a hundred different lives-in-crisis at any given time, when you’re inadvertently seeking out those who either share or validate your own personal misery. Call it over-sharing times, well, a number that may coincide with twitter and Facebook friends. A friend once described her Facebook page in terms of a cocktail party: You’ve got this conversation going on over here, but over there are dozens, maybe hundreds, of others you can eavesdrop on as you scroll down the page. I wonder if the better metaphor might be slumber party.

While all those connections might give a good sense of the zeitgeist, it’s not too much of a stretch to suspect that a certain amount of quarterlife angst can be contagious, especially among younger women, given research out of the University of Missouri back in 2007.

The study found that when adolescent girls did too much venting with their girlfriends over their problems, they ended up feeling worse. Yep, more miserable. Their friendships got stronger, the researchers, found, but the girls got caught up in a vicious cycle in which their anxiety led to more venting, which in turn – you guessed it – led to more angst. Getting off on the drama of it all? Who knows. But the more they talked, the worse they felt.

Not good, wrote Carol Lloyd on Salon’s Broadsheet some time later. She connected the study to her own childhood, growing up in 1970’s-era Northern California where, because her family …

used to process every five-minute spat with several hours of grueling self-analysis, early on I developed an acute case of communication fatigue. Feelings, I decided in my own little Idaho of tough love, could be crutches, disguises and distractions from the things we want to do, the people we want to become.

Clearly, feelings are not to be denied. (In fact, haven’t we said many times that gut instinct can be a good compass?) And yet. Despite the fact that we’re not teenagers, nor is life like a slumber party, you still have to wonder: Does angst beget angst? Is crisis mode contagious?

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Partially fueled by good champagne, we had some silly chitchat with good friends on New Year’s Eve regarding stupid celebrity “news” stories. My husband won the “top this” prize with a rumor that made the rounds a while back about Morgan Freeman planning to marry his step granddaughter.

Huh?

Apart from the very obvious yuck factor, there’s this: Freeman is 72. His intended is 27.

Now, at the risk of starting out the new year in a pair of the cranky pants, I can’t help but notice that nowhere (yes, I googled) is Freeman referred to as, ahem, an “older” actor. But women actors? Once they become old enough to be, say, Freeman’s daughter, “older” becomes their middle name.

Case in point, a recent post on Broadsheet riffing on a CNN.com piece by Breeanna Hare about the new screen stereotype of the woman-of-a-certain-age: the boozy grandma. First, from Hare’s post:

“These women, they’re not knitting — they’re more interested in mixing their drinks than watching kids,” said Entertainment Weekly’s pop culture writer Tim Stack. “They’re more inclined to offer a witticism or a barb than to give you sweet advice. These ladies aren’t cooking — I don’t think they even eat. They drink their lunch. And their dinners. And their breakfasts. … Maybe they eat the olives.”

They’re the exact opposite of the stereotypical grandmother, said TVGuide.com’s senior editor Mickey O’Connor.

Or, apparently, the over-50 woman. While Broadsheet rightly bemoans the fact that good parts for veteran women actors are slim and none, I couldn’t miss a certain patronizing subtext in the way writer Kate Harding brings up Meryl Streep and Susan Sarandon, both playing real women on the big screen this season, and her need to frame them in terms of their age. Ugh. From her post:

For all the talk of Meryl Streep rocking Hollywood’s socks off this year (and believe me, I’m as thrilled about that as any other female moviegoer who’s not invested in Edward vs. Jacob), let us not forget that she’s Meryl Freakin’ Streep. Is her recent wave of success really going to help other women her age to open movies and land the cover of Vanity Fair? TVGuide.com senior editor Mickey O’Connor provides the reality check: “Maybe it’s become, play a drunk grandmother and you get to work past the age of 60. Even if you’re Susan Sarandon …

I suppose the boozy grandma is better than the dotty — or nonexistent — older woman character, in that she at least has a discernible personality, opinions and enough brains to produce just the right clever, cutting remark on the spot. But does she have to be a functional alcoholic for the audience to accept those things? Does a woman over 60 — or 50, even — have to be snobby and self-absorbed to be interesting?

Et tu, Broadsheet? Do we ever categorize men in terms of their last birthday? It may be celebs we’re talking about here, but make no mistake: the trickle down hurts us all.

One of the things we talk about in journalism classes is the damage done by unwitting stereotyping – see above — often, a reporter’s form of shorthand. One of the most insidious forms that affects marginalized groups is overcompensation: “gee whiz” features on 75-year-old marathoners, for example, or inspirational series on the academic success of the so-called “model minorities”. All of which leads me back to the way that Meryl Streep’s over-50 sexual being in “It’s Complicated” or Susan Sarandon’s smoking, drinking granny in “The Lovely Bones” have been framed in the media: as novelties, the anti-stereotypes who, apparently, are the exceptions who prove the rule. The unkindest subtext of all: that they – apparently, unlike most women their age – not only have lives of their own but are attractive to boot.

Shouldn’t they be in the kitchen, wearing frumpy clothes and sensible shoes, humming 1950s show tunes?

Clearly, Streep, currently gracing the cover of this month’s Vanity Fair, is not. The VF profile of her does one great job of thumbing its nose at the stereotypical way the media treat women of a certain age. Consider this:

Any inhibitions notwithstanding, a vibrant sexuality has remained a crucial aspect of Streep’s appeal, despite her advancing years and the limitations that others might try to impose in response. When Clint Eastwood cast her to star opposite him in The Bridges of Madison County, which won Streep an Oscar nomination for best actress, in 1996, his reason was simple: “She’s the greatest actress in the world,” he said with a shrug.

That said, Streep reports, “There was a big fight over how I was too old to play the part, even though Clint was nearly 20 years older than me. The part was for a 45-year-old woman, and Clint said, ‘This is a 45-year-old woman.’”

When casting female roles, directors and producers have often applied a comically exaggerated double standard about age. With Streep now playing the ex-wife and current love interest of Alec Baldwin, who is actually nine years younger than she is, many observers have started wondering whether such old-fashioned biases are really changing in ways that will affect other actresses, or only in relation to Streep, who has always been sui generis. In any case, a good part of her aforementioned glee may have to do with her ongoing amazement that, after all these years, she’s still getting away with doing what she loves. “I’ve been given great, weird, interesting parts well past my ‘Sell by’ date,” she says. “I remember saying to Don when I was 38, ‘Well, it’s over.’ And then we kicked the can down the road a little further.”

Refreshing, no? But back to the case in point, we – that’s the collective “we” – rarely box in men in terms of their age. Did anyone but me bat an eye when Michael Douglas was paired with Demi Moore in Disclosure? When Sean Connery’s love interest in Entrapment was Douglas’s wife, Catherine Zeta-Jones? Oldies yes, but you could pull just about ANY movie made today to prove the same point: The leading man needs only a recognizable name. His costar, on the other hand, needs not only a name — but must be young and stunningly beautiful, too. Men in their 50s and 60s not only get to be leading men who still get the girl, but in the real world, they also run companies and countries. They’ve got status that is earned by (wait for it…) AGE. Their female counterparts, on the other hand, generally are considered redundant at best, silly at worst.

All of which makes me wonder if ageism holds us back every bit as much as sexism does, whether the tyranny of the ticking clock that Shannon wrote about here and here may be one reason why we agonize so much over our choices. Sure we’re raised to know that we can be or do anything. But that nasty little voice keeps on whispering: we better get it done before we turn 40.

Maybe we ought to just take it from Meryl. The best way to ring in 2010 is to silence that voice — not to mention the clock — once and for all. As Streep points out in the VF profile, Julia Child did not become, well, Julia Child until she was 50.

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Given the –well, the shitstorm that’s erupted over the attempt to saddle health care reform with the cynical, sabotaging, decidedly anti-choice Stupak-Pitts amendment, it’s fitting to revisit an issue that simply will not go away. Us versus Them.

But first. There’s some awesome, mandatory reading currently waiting for you over at the New Yorker‘s website, in the form of a piece entitled “Lift and Separate: Why is feminism still so divisive?” written by Ariel Levy. In it, you’ll get a crash course in feminism’s second wave, beginning with the bra burning that never happened at a 1968 protest against the Miss America pageant that did, and continuing clean through last year’s presidential race, Gail Collins‘ recent book “When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 to the Present,” and Republican political analyst Leslie Sanchez’s new book, “You’ve Come a Long Way, Maybe: Sarah, Michelle, Hillary and the Shaping of the New American Woman.”

The Cliff’s Notes version: Levy is no fan of Sanchez, and her piece frames a compelling argument. She writes:

There are political consequences to remembering things that never happened and forgetting things that did. If what you mainly know about modern feminism is that its proponents immolated their underwear, you might well arrive at the conclusion that feminists are ‘obnoxious,’ as Leslie Sanchez does in her new book… ‘I don’t agree with the feminist agenda,’ Sanchez writes. ‘To me, the word feminist epitomizes the zealots of an earlier and more disruptive time.’ Here’s what Sanchez would prefer: ‘No bra burning. No belting out Helen Reddy. Just calm concern for how women are faring in the world.’

Call me crazy, but it seems to me that the time Sanchez dubs ‘disruptive’ was the time when some serious things got done. Calm, after all, is a close relative of passive.

Levy continues, accusing Sanchez of measuring progress “solely by the percentage of people with government jobs who wear bras.” And what, you might ask, is the problem with measuring our equality by the numbers? Well, in becoming what she calls “identity politics, a version of the old spoils system”–i.e., picking a group to identify with, and joining together to claim your rightful piece of the pie–we have become too focused on getting women into positions of power, but not focused enough on what they should do when they get there. In other words, Sarah Palin.

Consider Sanchez’ dismissal of Gloria Steinem’s criticism of the former Alaska governor, in which she complains that when Steinem wrote in the L.A. Times that “Palin shares nothing but a chromosome with Clinton,” to Sanchez’ mind, she was really saying: “You can run, Sarah Palin, but you won’t get my support because you don’t believe in all the same things I believe in.”

And that’s a problem? So, only men get to vote according to their ideals, and women have to vote according to chromosome? Come on.

Yes, it’s important that we’ve gained representation. But consider, as Levy reminds us:

In 1971, a bipartisan group of senators, led by Walter Mondale, came up with legislation that would have established both early-education programs and after-school care across the country. Tuition would be on a sliding scale based on a family’s income bracket, and the program would be available to everyone but participation was required of no one. Both houses of Congress passed the bill.

Nobody remembers this, because, later that year, President Nixon vetoed the Comprehensive Child Development Act, declaring that it ‘would commit the vast moral authority of the National Government to the side of ‘communal approaches to child rearing’ and undermine ‘the family-centered approach.’ He meant ‘the traditional-family-centered approach,’ which requires women to foresake every ambition apart from motherhood.

And so, here we are. The demise of that bill wasn’t due to in-bickering, but it’s nearly 40 years later. The women are there, but is the woman-friendly work getting done?

As Levy says:

So close. And now so far. The amazing journey of American women is easier to take pride in if you banish thoughts about the roads not taken. When you consider all those women struggling to earn a paycheck while rearing their children, and start to imagine what might have been, it’s enough to make you want to burn something.

Insofar as it relates to the current abortion amendment on the Health Care Reform bill, well, I hate to see lawmakers hedging their bets, pussy-footing around, and doing their best to take a critical right away from women who need it now–or might some day. And I loathe those who are telling those who care passionately about the issue to “Simmer down, honey; that’s not the way politics works.” (Check Kate Harding’s post at Broadsheet for a take that’ll make you scream.) Let me be clear: Fuck the Stupak Amendment. Reproductive rights are critical. But health care reform is critical for women in particular, for a ton of reasons: we’re overcharged, underinsured, more likely to be reliant on our spouse for insurance, more likely to go bankrupt due to medical reasons–and we can be denied coverage on the basis of “preexisting conditions” that include pregnancy, C-sections, and domestic violence. So, while I’d like to reiterate–Fuck the Stupak Amendment–at the same time, considering Levy’s words above, I have to wonder: what would women’s lives look like today if that Comprehensive Child Development Act was part of our world? We were so close, it would have seemed absurd in 1971 to say: Guess what? Come 2009, that’ll be so far from reality, it will seem ridiculous. In 40 years, do we want to be stuck with the same dismal health care system we’ve got now, wondering how reform slipped away?

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As in option. Or, sometimes, the lack of same.

Surely you have been tuned in to the continuing controversy as to whether the “opt-out revolution”, reported by Lisa Belkin in the New York Times Magazine back in 2003, ever really existed. In her story, Belkin reported on a group of fast-track women who’d “opted out” of their high-flying careers once they had children. Ever since, a debate has raged as to whether or not the story reflected an actual trend, backed up by numbers, or was based on anecdotal information from a select group of women and what journalists call “weasel words” — like “many” and “most”.

Just last week, the Washington Post reported on new census figures that seemed, at first glance, to debunk the so-called “mommy myth”:

A first census snapshot of married women who stay home to raise their children shows that the popular obsession with high-achieving professional mothers sidelining careers for family life is largely beside the point.

Instead, census statistics released Thursday show that stay-at-home mothers tend to be younger and less educated, with lower family incomes. They are more likely than other mothers to be Hispanic or foreign-born.

Census researchers said the new report is the first of its kind and was spurred by interest in the so-called “opt-out revolution” among well-educated women said to be leaving the workforce to care for children at home.

In other words, the reports seemed to show that the vast majority of stay-at-home moms were not those who opted out – but more likely those who were never comfortably in. So case closed, right? But hold the phone: In a post right after the numbers came out, several writers drilled down the numbers and found the snapshot to be a little more complex. WaPo blogger Brian Reid was one:

If you dig into the data, it does indeed show that, on average, stay-at-home moms are more likely to be young, foreign-born and less-educated than moms as a whole. But that’s hardly a stake in the heart of the idea that you’re seeing a lot of women with college degrees stepping out of the workforce. In fact, though college-educated moms are slightly less likely to be at-home moms, a whopping 1.8 million of the 5.6 million at-home moms have a college diploma. That’s hardly a “small population.”

Of course, the Census is interested in providing a snapshot of the current situation, not making a value judgment. I’ve taken the position that opting out of the workforce is not intrinsically bad: it’s only bad when parents are forced into it by a lack of other options. It’s clear that we’re still not living in a golden age of work flexibility: for too many moms and dads, there are only two choices:the 40+ hour week or the at-home option. I’d love to know where the numbers would go if there were ways to structure home and career with more precision.

Which goes straight to the point made by Mother Jones writer Elizabeth Gettlemann, who wonders if what these numbers really show is that whether mothers stay home with their kids or go to work in an office, the decision to opt in or opt out is one often made for them, largely by circumstances.

The report’s take-home message, that stay-at-home moms are actually younger and of lower income and education (and less white) than the opt-out theory would suggest, does less to say that other mothers aren’t making hard work/life choices and says more about the nearly 1 in 4 moms who do stay at home, that they simply don’t have options to begin with (jobs to go back to, for example), the choices that older, more established workers and women have when deciding how to support their family and career.

And keep in mind that the Census definition of stay-at-home mom is rigid and doesn’t account for all sorts of work/life sacrifice decisions women make…

In other words, maybe the numbers are not about opting in or opting out — or the resulting backlash. But, more likely, about which of us have access to the options one way or the other. And what the numbers show is not many of us do. The majority of those stay-at-home moms, as Broadsheet’s Judy Berman suggests, may never have had a choice in the first place:

If we really look at the census data, stay-at-home mothering begins to seem less like a post-feminist choice than a decision often made out of pure necessity. Not to say it’s a universally undesirable one. (The census found that 165,000 dads are doing it, too.) But the most statistically significant group of full-time moms turn out to be the women who have never reaped the benefits of white, middle-class feminism.

When all is said and done, what I wonder is why we got so caught up in these numbers in the first place. Really, who cares. As women, do we need the validation? Is this yet another tedious round of the Mommy Wars that, by now, should have been put down for a nap? Are we still caught up in judging each others’ choices? And why is it always either/or? What about freelancers or part-timers?

I have to wonder if this numbers business — and the debate itself — is nothing but a smokescreen that keeps us busy smugly sniping at each other when what we really should be doing is fighting together for flexible workplace policies, as New York Times Economix blogger David Leonhardt suggests:

So here’s a modest proposal: maybe we should stop arguing so much about whether women are staying home in greater numbers and focus instead on the policy questions. How can companies be persuaded, or pushed, to make part-time work a more serious options for both mothers and fathers? How can part-time work — or, for that matter, years spent outside the labor force — become less of a career killer? What can be done to encourage more fathers to take paternity leave? How can we create better, more comprehensive pre-school programs, so that middle-class and poor parents of 3- and 4-year-olds can feel more comfortable working full time?

Exactly. Maybe we should call it the opt-in revolution.

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Apparently, pot bellies are the new cool. If you happen to be a young male hipster.

Stay with me here: This is all about the way the media treat women as opposed to men, and why it appears that women can’t win.

According to The New York Times Style section, the Ralph Kramden look is In. And the growing presence of women in the workplace is as much to blame as Pabst Blue Ribbon. I don’t make this stuff up. From the story:

Too pronounced to be blamed on the slouchy cut of a T-shirt, too modest in size to be termed a proper beer gut, developed too young to come under the heading of a paunch, the Ralph Kramden is everywhere to be seen lately, or at least it is in the vicinity of the Brooklyn Flea in Fort Greene, the McCarren Park Greenmarket and pretty much any place one is apt to encounter fans of Grizzly Bear.

What the trucker cap and wallet chain were to hipsters of a moment ago, the Kramden is to what my colleague Mike Albo refers to as the “coolios” of now. Leading with a belly is a male privilege of long standing, of course, a symbol of prosperity in most cultures and of freedom from anxieties about body image that have plagued women since Eve.

Until recently, men were under no particular obligation to exhibit bulging deltoids and shredded abdominals; that all changed, said David Zinczenko, the editor of Men’s Health, when women moved into the work force in numbers. “The only ripples Ralph Kramden” and successors like Mike Brady of “The Brady Bunch” had to demonstrate were in their billfolds, said Mr. Zinczenko, himself a dogged crusader in the battle of the muffin top. “But that traditional male role has changed.”

Does this mean Macy’s double-truck ads of edgy young men will feature beer bellies, unbuttoned shirts, straining T-shirts with ironic sayings and girl-cut jeans that nonetheless sag below the gut? The new measure of cool? Oh, the irony.

Because for women, the reverse is still painfully true. We may have begun to bring home the bacon — but clearly, we’re not supposed to look like we eat any of it. At least as far as media images are concerned.

We all know that photo retouching has long been a staple of women’s mags, and other kinds of advertising. Need a reminder? You’ll find a before and after retouching of Faith Hill on a Redbook cover, courtesy of Jezebel, here. And don’t forget the way Katie Couric was retouched in the CBS News promos right before she took over as anchor. Like magic, she lost a quick 20.

But nothing brings the point home faster than the latest cover of Self Magazine, where the photo of normal-woman-sized Kelly Clarkson has been retouched to make her look sleek and svelte in — what else — white jeans. You want irony? How about the teaser running across the bottom of the cover — and Clarkson’s thighs: “Total Body Confidence.”

You want more irony? Salon.com’s Broadsheet not only posts a video of the real life Clarkson, as opposed to the glamour shot, but also quotes editor Lucy Danziger’s rationale for the retouch:

As she explains, a fashion photograph of a hair-styled, made-up, retouched celebrity is “not, as in a news photograph, journalism.” Fair enough. But while insisting that “the truest beauty is the kind that comes from within” and that “Kelly says she doesn’t care what people think of her weight,” Danziger explains that the cover photo is meant to “inspire women to want to be their best.”

…After boasting of altering Clarkson’s appearance to make her look her “personal best,” Danziger says “in the sense that Kelly is the picture of confidence, and she truly is, then I think this photo is the truest we have ever put out there on the newsstand.”

… Adding fuel to the dustup, Self’s editorial assistant Ashley Mateo blogs furthermore that “No one wants to see a giant picture of some star’s cellulite on the cover of a monthly mag — that’s what we have tabloids for!”

Wait. There’s more. We all know how supermodels Cindy Crawford, Amber Valetta et al. appear on the page. Usually. Here’s how they look sans make-up and retouching courtesy Harper’s Bazaar, courtesy New York Magazine. Still beautiful. Yet, fashion mags still taunt us with their retouched images of impossibility.

And there’s this: Politics Daily heralded Hillary for sticking up for herself in the Congo. Then wondered, in WTF Fashion, what the Daily Beast’s Tina Brown was thinking in an interview later with Joe Scarborough:

Sadly, despite feminism’s long strides in the political evolution of our species, the way some women respond to other women still has a ways to go. I wasn’t surprised when I heard from a colleague Thursday morning that celebrity editor Tina Brown, while seemingly being supportive of Mrs. Clinton, had just called her contemporary superwoman “fat.” In the actual quote on Morning Joe, the Daily Beast editor-in-chief, who is a slim 56 years old, said she believed after a seven-nation, 11-day tour of the formerly dark continent, the sexagenarian secretary must be “feeling fat.” Brown posited to Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski that perhaps Clinton, having stayed in Mogadishu a day too long, needed to “get back to the gym.”

Finally, there’s this, from the Daily Mail online: When it comes to women’s tennis, center court at Wimbledon goes to the pretty girls, rather than the top seeds. And according to Jessica Faye Carter on True/Slant, the emphasis on looks, rather than ability, is starting to infiltrate women’s golf as well.

Funny, when you juxtapose this all with those pot-bellied hipsters. But not really.

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2mad_men_10_restrict_width_792The newest “Are You A ….” game to pop up here in cyberspace involves Peggy and Joan, the two female stars of Mad Men, the spot-on series set in an advertising agency in the early 60’s. It starts its third season on Sunday. Full disclosure: I can’t wait.

For those new to the series, Peggy is the mousy twenty-something who starts as a secretary and works up to being a copywriter, the only woman with that title in the entire agency. Maybe even in the whole testosterone-charged industry. She’s a little bit frumpy and somewhat sexless — though she did get knocked up the first season. Joan is the sexy red-headed office manager who runs the ship while the guys are out drinking martinis. She wears tight dresses in bold colors (who says redheads can’t wear red?), hair in a sky-high beehive, and is clearly smarter than most of the men around her. But no one notices.

This new game, MadMen Yourself, invites you to get your Peggy or Joan on via virtual paper-dolls. You can play with fashions, hairdos, accessories — you name it — all to find your persona in a mid-century fantasy.

This is only the latest in a long line of games inviting women to define themselves in terms of TV characters, from SATC to Golden Girls: Carrie, Charlotte, Samantha or Miranda? Dorothy, Sophia, Blanche or Rose? The thing with those games, though, is that you always knew who you wanted to be before you started — and tried to game the answers accordingly.

Which makes me wonder: as it is in sit-com games, also in life? Do we first choose a character, then make decisions based on type? Do we allow ourselves inconsistency? Self-discovery? Forks in the road? And is that what gets us into trouble?

But back to Peggy and Joan. The girls from Salon’s Broadsheet recently had great fun playing with MadMen Yourself, writes Tracy Clark-Flory, who pondered why her crew of “brassy feminists” is so eager for some retro role-playing:

Well, I happen to think there’s plenty of room within feminism for personal contradiction — or, as I prefer to call it, evolutionary growing pains. That said, you don’t have to be a psychologist to recognize that a large part of the satisfaction derived from this kind of silly exercise comes from simple self-identification. It’s the “oh, I’m that type” recognition that people get from personality tests — whether it’s Myers-Briggs or the “Sex and the City” character quiz. In the “Mad Men” world, choices are pretty limited: Peggy or Joan? Jackie O. or Marilyn? Or, put in timeless terms: Wife or whore…

I so agree with what she says about room for personal contradiction when it comes to feminism. (And, in fact, didn’t a certain intolerance for that contradiction once push some feminists out of the tent?) But it’s the either/or that gets us into trouble. Especially when it comes to decisions — why we make them, why we can’t, and why we keep looking over our shoulders.

Meanwhile, back to that full disclosure I mentioned up top. For a few minutes (or, alternately, what seemed like an eternity) after college — long after the Mad Men era — I worked at an advertising agency, where I was caught in my own slice of Peggy-Joan land. The only woman in the small shop, I hired on as a copy-writer. Great, the bosses said. But you still have to sit at the front desk and answer the phones.

Oh yes. And look cute.

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Really, women’s work is never done.

At a time when we’re told that work-life balance is the great mirage; at a time when women are still punching the clock on the “second shift”; at a time when kickass young women are still stuck trying to decide how and where they fit into the world of work …

At a time when there is so much unfinished business for feminists to attend to? We get this?

This, according to NPR, Reuters and others, being Hollywood’s new vision of “Do me” feminism: A 30 minute HBO comedy, starring Diane Keaton as “a feminist icon who decides to reignite the movement by starting a sexually explicit magazine for women.”

Don’t get me wrong. I get it. Good for the goose, good for the gander. (Although it does kind of smack of the way Hollywood frames First Amendment fights in terms of Larry Flynt. Oops. Did I bring that up again?) We all love Diane Keaton. The show should be gloriously funny, especially on HBO. And I’m sure I’ll watch it.

But please don’t call it feminism. Or use it to imply we’ve come a long way, baby.

Jezebel.com was among the many who reported on the upcoming show as the greatest thing for women since the Equal Rights Amendment (Oh wait. Still haven’t passed it.) But, like NPR, Reuters and Salon.com’s Broadsheet, Jezebel used a money quote that revives a couple of 1970’s stereotypes that, in the long run, may have stalled the momentum — even though the generalizations only applied to a handful of women:

Perhaps HBO is trying to do penance for or regain female viewers lost after Sex And The City went off the air? In any case, Marti Noxon [the show's producer] says she’s wanted to do a show that touches on feminism for a while; she was 12 when her mom came out as a radical feminist lesbian and had to juggle her mom’s beliefs with her own interests: “I wanted to be a gal, I was very interested in men, and I wanted to shave my legs,” Noxon says. The concept of the Diane Keaton project — an older lady working at a porn mag — sounds awesome. As long as they don’t call it Hot Flash.

Stereotype number one, in case you didn’t notice: Back in the day, only lesbians had street cred as feminists. Stereotype number two: you can’t fight for women’s rights if you happen to wear a skirt — or like boys, for that matter. Didn’t we get over that, long ago? Feministing.com, in fact, just referenced a new study that exploded the myth that feminists are man-haters. The study found that “contrary to popular belief, feminists reported lower levels of hostility toward men than did nonfeminists.”

Salon.com’s Broadsheet was a bit more circumspect in its report, pondering whether “the series will amount to f*ck-me feminism or lightweight “lifestyle” activism. But maybe, just maybe, the show will bravely explore those competing influences of feminism and mainstream sexual culture.”

But still. Aren’t we leaving something out?

A few years back, I did a story on a houseful of edgy, independent young women about to graduate from college who refused to call themselves feminists. I asked them why:

It’s a spectrum issue, they said first. They’d be more likely to call themselves feminists if they could explain where on the scale they fell. What they don’t want is to stick to the label, all or nothing. “I don’t want to be – I’m a feminist, but… ” said Tessa. “I think a lot of people perceive feminists as being so hard-core – men-haters, almost masculine.”

They said they’ve never experienced gender discrimination. They’ve never been in a class where they were dismissed because of gender, never been told they couldn’t do something – or had to do something – because of their sex. Never – yet – faced discrimination on the job. Battles fought, battles won, they said. Old news.

“I’ve grown up and had every opportunity,” said Kate, who conceded that without the benefit of privilege this might have been a different conversation.

“Therefore, it’s hard to identify with the word feminist because, for me, it’s the norm. Now it seems radical to say feminist. It’s hard to get passionate about a cause when you haven’t faced the consequences of what you’re fighting for.”

Later, we talked about patriarchy and the need to change institutions. One woman wondered if such change wouldn’t require some sort of movement. But, another one said, “you have to be oppressed to have a movement. And we’re slowly working forward.”

Really? With all the work still left to do? Instead we’ve got Hollywood portraying feminism’s last frontier as owning our own porn. And we’re supposed to cheer.

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