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Posts Tagged ‘Jezebel.com’

…For they shall be ripped apart.

And no one, it seems, is immune. Not even Tina Fey.

The very first piece of commentary I read about Tina Fey’s new book, Bossypants, which Barbara wrote about last week, was in Newsweek. And, written by Jezebel founder Anna Holmes, it was fairly critical. Check it:

Edging up to difficult truths and skipping away may make for sophisticated sitcoms, but it doesn’t make for satisfying memoir writing. The most successful autobiographies demand a certain amount of psychic heavy lifting, risk taking, and interrogation of one’s ideas; Fey will have none of it, which contributes to the nagging feeling that, despite her prodigious talents, she can be a little too clever by half.

And–you know what?–Holmes may be wrong; and she may, in fact, be right. But the specific talking points of her argument weren’t what interested me about her article. What Holmes’ piece got me thinking, more than anything, was this: Man, women sure are scrutinized. Call a woman a role model, and before the proverbial ink is dry, the backlash has begun. And she’ll get it the worst from other women.

Why are we so quick to pick each other apart?

It’s like the perpetual Us V. Them standoff on steroids. Or Botox. Versus A Powerful All-Natural Macrobiotic  Regime. And I think, as with the Us versus Themming, the urge to pick apart the women out there blazing the trails has much to do with choices, and the abundance of choices we now have, and how new this abundance is. We’ve been told we can do anything, we can have it all… And, hell, when you’re given every option and told how lucky you are to have them, it’s natural that we’re left a little bit unsure about the choices we make — and when we see another woman who’s doing things a little bit differently, well, picking her apart is certainly easier than acknowledging that we’re a little insecure about what it is we’re doing. And when it’s not the woman you see almost daily in line for your respective caffeine fixes but the woman you sort of idolize, you sort of adore… well, maybe we don’t want her to be a real person. Whether she’s had a fall from grace, or a wardrobe malfunction (or a wardrobe that prizes functionality over style), or is simply a little messy, a little conflicted, not as entirely forthcoming with every last bit of her soul as we’d like, we’re pretty quick to pounce on her for it, aren’t we? Could it be that we want too much from them? That we’re kinda desperate for guidance? Or, as Elizabeth Gilbert put it:

We don’t have centuries of educated, autonomous female role models to imitate here (there were no women quite like us until very recently), so nobody has given us a map. As a result, we race forth blindly into this new maze of limitless options. And the risks are steep. We make mistakes.

We do. And we women are pretty darn tough on each other for those mistakes — so who on earth would want to put her whole self out there to be judged? As Holmes herself wrote:

Fey is in the unique and enviable position to say something important and definitive: about being a woman, about boys’ clubs, about contemporary feminism and female representations in pop culture. (I can go on.) If a woman with Fey’s measure of success and cultural influence won’t give us the straight dope, who will? Part of me suspects that this is unfair to expect of her, that because of her prominence (and the relative paucity of other females at her level) Fey has become the go-to girl to represent and illuminate the hopes, fears, and dreams of generations of women. I imagine that she’s aware of this, and finds it both flattering and annoying. I imagine she wishes she could do better. Maybe next time.

Not sure I love the ending. But what I’d like to imagine is this: maybe we can all do better. Maybe, by acknowledging that we’re all flying a little bit blind here, that we’re all struggling with the decisions that combine to determine How We’re Living Our Lives, we  might get on board with the idea that we all could use some support. Maybe then we’d feel a little freer to hang ourselves out there, a little safer in letting our freak flags fly. And maybe, the more of us who do, the more of us who will. And maybe, once that happens, we’ll be more inclined to be ourselves, and to support every other woman out there doing the tough work of being herself.

As Fey’s TV alter-ego might say, I want to go to there.

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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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Amid all this talk about whether women need to be more like men to make it in a man’s world, along comes Katie Couric in a sexy fashion shoot for the March issue of Harper’s Bazaar, due out Feb. 16.

Guts ball — or career poison? Does it diminish her credibility or, in an unexpected way, add to it? In an odd pop-culture kind of way, is she giving women permission to be themselves?

Clearly, Couric has made it in a so-called man’s world. And in this photo-spread, it’s pretty clear she’s not trying to be like one. There she is in a short and sexy one-shoulder cocktail dress. With smoky kohl-rimmed eyes. And look, are those Christian Louboutains? There she is again, wearing a don’t-mess-with-me mini-skirted black suit by Giorgio Armani. She stares right at the camera. Not flirty. Not flinty.

But on top of her game.

It’s a combination of sex and power, writes Robin Givhan in the Washington Post, who finds the pictures:

… an audacious celebration of a powerful woman as a boldly sexy one, too.

There’s nothing reserved or hesitant in the sex appeal on display in the four-page story about Couric. The images are a full-throated, even exaggerated, rebuke of the notion that a woman must dress in a prescribed manner — Suze Orman suits, full-coverage blouses, sensible heels — to protect her IQ, her résumé and her place in a male-dominated work culture.

Post- or pre-feminist? You tell me. Obviously, there is/will be backlash. Like this from Jezebel.com:

This argument feels like one of those moments where counterintuitive logic comes full circle to just plain retrogressiveness. I support Katie Couric’s right to pose as sexily as she wants to. Fashion shoots are fun and she looks great at whatever age. It’s part of her job, like it or not, to be someone people want to look at or watch. But do we have to pretend that the display of the traditional beauty of someone on television, as seen in a fashion magazine, is somehow fresh and progressive? Show me Candy Crowley in Balenciaga (or, um, in sweatpants?) and maybe I’ll be impressed.

And yet, stilettos notwithstanding, the fashion shoot, and reaction to it, makes you wonder all sorts of things. Do women have to downplay their sexuality to be taken seriously? If they don’t, are they playing to some regressive male fantasy? Are women still judged on their looks as much as on their abilites?

Or is this sexy shoot of the first successful female network news anchor none of the above? Is it really about seizing our identity as women without apologies, like Justice Sotomayor’s fire engined red nail enamel, a subtle sign that, as Gloria Steinem suggested in Shannon’s post from yesterday, it’s time to make the world fit women, rather than the other way around.

Now clearly, Gloria would have major issue with the stilettos. And probably with the fashion shoot itself. But with the underlying message?

It’s worth a reminder that Couric started her network job wearing age and gender-appropriate twin sets and blazers and, until the Palin interview that cemented her career, was considered something of a lightweight. You have to wonder if maybe what her fashion spread shows is that she has arrived and she knows it. From the Washington Post:

Now, in 2010, Couric has pronounced herself sexy in the Bazaar photographs. After breaking ground in network news, after having folks debate whether she should have worn a white blazer on her debut show — as if anything but black or navy proclaimed her less serious — there are these images. Unapologetically, forcefully, I-dare-you, sexy. In each one, Couric looks strong and capable. Capable of what, of course, is the underlying question.

Certainly, some will see the pictures as further proof of why she is all wrong for the job. They will probably be the same people for whom Couric has accumulated a personal work wardrobe of blacks, grays and pinstripes — a more sophisticated, yet still reserved, alternative to the news-anchor cliche of Crayola-colored blazers.

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Is there something to be said about fingernails painted fire engine red? Stay with me here, because I think there is.

Some months back, we wrote about the condescending confirmation hearings of now-Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor. In something of a rant, we wondered whether white, male candidates would ever have been subjected to such patronizing questions, comments, and — let’s be honest — racially tinged non-jokes. From that post:

Channeling Ricky Ricardo, Oklahoma’s Tom Coburn joked to Sotomayor: “You’ll have lots of ’splainin’ to do.”

South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham suggested to Sotomayor that she had “a temperament problem” and advised that “maybe these hearings are a time for self-reflection.”

And Coburn not only lectured Sotomayor on the “proper role” of judges, but read her the oath of office.

The big-picture point we made back then was that, like Sotomayor, we women are navigating a whole different world when it comes to the workplace — yet one more reason why dealing with choice is so angsty for us. Amidst all this scrutiny in unfamiliar turf, we wrote, we’re suddenly at a loss as to how to fit in:

Let’s face it. We missed the socialization. From ancient times, men have been raised to know their job is to slay the dragons, and that they will be alone in doing it. American mythology, too, teaches men that their role is to go, seek and conquer. For generations, men’s roles have been predetermined, and unquestioned: They provide. And workplace — and social — structures have evolved to support the model.

For women, though, relatively new to this world of work, roles are still in flux. We never learned to slay the dragon — we were the pretty princesses waiting back there in the castle — and often, we’re a little confused by the messy nature of reality as opposed to the comfortable fit of school. And so we’re flummoxed. Overwhelmed. We’re feeling our way…

Like many women who are making their way onto what should be an equal playing field but clearly is not, our newest Supreme Court Justice had to defend herself for being who she is.

But now, given recent media play, I wonder if she’s scored the winning goal. With a symbol as simple as red nail polish, is she showing us that we can still play with the boys without relinquishing ourselves?

Clearly, it’s all more complicated than a few quick coats of Fire and Ice. But still. Our newest justice’s nail enamel stood out on the cover of Latina Magazine and as telling detail at the top of a recent twelve page New Yorker profile. Now, before I move on, we can all harrumph and kvetch and moan that men’s appearance would never be scrutinized this way and women’s shouldn’t either. But there’s another way to consider all this, and I kinda like it: that a symbol of what’s conventionally considered feminine — and ethnic as well (more about that below) — is a mark of power.

What is says, pretty loud and clear, is that I’ve made it to the top without hiding who I am. You can, too.

In a piece on Jezebel.com, blogger Latoya pulls eight points from the New Yorker profile that set our new justice apart. Here’s how she tops that list:

Much has been made of Sotomayor’s nail polish and hoop earrings. Writer Lauren Collins continues this trend within the first few paragraphs noting:

By the end of the hour allotted to the case, Justice Sotomayor-wearing a snaky silver cuff bracelet and with her fingernails painted sports-car red-had spoken five times.

This is normally positioned alongside other quirky characteristics of Sotomayor, like her card-sharking ways. No, seriously.

The financial-disclosure form that she filed with the Senate revealed that, in 2008, in a Florida casino, she had won $8,283 playing cards.

During the nomination process, Sotomayor’s background was carefully scrutinized, and she was instructed to camouflage or obscure some of her normal habits. In some ways, her embrace of her own cosmetic preferences and hobbies over what is considered to be safe or acceptable is a signal she is not ashamed of who she is or where she has come from. Assimilation requires a very high price and her refusal to do so is an amazing stand for individual truth. There is nothing inferior about wearing colored nail polish, or wearing an off-the-rack suit to work, or rocking hoop earrings. Just as many of us are asked to remove our ethnic and regional markers in exchange for success (straightening hair, tightening diction, and avoiding items that call attention to the wearer) Sotomayor’s subtle – but persistent- refusal to fall in line implies much more than a love of candy apple red polish.

Forbes woman.com adds to the thread, by addressing Sotomayor’s Latina cover directly, and the subsequent focus on her fingernails:

Florian Bachleda, the creative director of [Latina] recently wrote a post about the photo shoot with Sotomayor on the Society of Publication Designers Web site, “A Wise Latina and the Color Red: Latina ‘s Justice Sotomayor Cover.” “On the day of the shoot, Justice Sotomayor entered the room with a big smile on her face, and the first thing she did was extend her hand and introduce herself to everyone in the room. Everyone … it was incredibly refreshing to see.” But what’s up with her nails? Bachleda writes that during Sotomayor’s confirmation hearings, the justice was fully prepped on everything from potentially explosive questions down to her dress and nail color. She was, apparently, advised to keep the lacquer neutral. But, he continues, “on the day of the White House reception celebrating her appointment, Sotomayor asked the president to look at her freshly manicured nails, holding up her hands to show off her favorite color: a fire-engine red. The president chuckled, saying that she had been warned against that color.”

Why red and, really, should we even be looking at her nails? To answer the first question, Latina Editor Mimi Valdés says, “In many Latino families, red is a very important and symbolic color. … For many, the color is very much a point of pride.”

It’s also a signal, a nod that gives us permission not only to succeed, but to be ourselves when we do. As Bachelda writes on his post:

I love this photo. To me, it looks like she’s taking a pledge. It looks like she understands how historic this is. What this means not just for her, but for millions of other people. And, I like to think, it looks like she’s now able to proudly show off… that beautiful color red.

Absolutely. Bring on the Fire and Ice.

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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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