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Posts Tagged ‘Mary Elizabeth Williams’

So, the Mommy Wars. They’re back. Again. Or still.

A superquick recap: As you’ve undoubtedly heard by now, last week Democratic strategist Hilary Rosen said on CNN that Republican Presidential hopeful Mitt Romney’s wife Ann, a stay at home mom, had “never worked a day in her life.” Naturally the Romney campaign latched on to that one with the sort of ferocity that would make a pitbull (lipstick-wearing or not) proud, and the media has been all over it since.

While “Can’t we all just get along?” is my immediate, reflexive thought in the face of such firestorms, I realize that it’s just not that simple–and that, as Salon’s Mary Elizabeth Williams recently wrote, The Mommy Wars are real. In her smart and honest piece, Williams writes of her experience having a foot in both worlds–she’s a mom and a freelance writer who works from home. Here’s a taste:

We as women spend our whole lives being judged, and never more so than for our roles as mothers. We suffer for it, and frankly, we dish it out in spades. We park ourselves in separate camps, casting suspicious glances across the schoolyard. And it sucks because the judgment is there and its real and it stems so often from our own deepest fears and insecurities. We pay lip service to each other’s “choices”–and talk smack behind each other’s backs.

Yep, we’ve got each other’s backs theoretically, but when it comes down to it, Williams is pretty much right about what we’re doing behind them. But what is it really about? Why are we so defensive? So eager to judge each other for doing things differently? I’d argue its because, sometimes, we worry that we’re doing it wrong — and that the easiest, most comfortable defense in the face of that kind of worry is often a good offense.

And it’s not just stay at home moms versus working moms. It’s working moms versus their non-mom, on-the-job counterparts. It’s moms versus women who don’t have kids. It’s singletons versus coupleds. It’s pro-Botox and anti. It’s Tiger Mom versus Bringing Up Bebe. It’s gluten-free/organic/vegan versus chicken fingers and tater tots.

The other night I Tivo’d a show on OWN: it featured Gloria Steinem in conversation with Oprah, and then the two of them speaking at a small gathering of Barnard college students. At one point, Oprah asked Steinem about being attacked by other women, and then cut to a clip of Steinem on Larry King’s show. King thanked Steinem for being with him, she smiled hugely, and King went to a call. A woman’s voice came through, and she said, “I’m so glad I get to talk to you, Ms. Steinem” …and then went in for the kill. “Why are you trying to destroy families?” she asked in a voice so hostile it made me shiver. “Are you even married? Do you even have kids?” she demanded accusingly.

So, here’s the question: why are we so quick to perceive someone else’s doing things differently–or simply fighting to get access to those different things to do–as an attack on what we’re doing, a statement on our choices? As though there can be no other explanation for why we’ve taken the roads we’ve taken than that the road we didn’t take is wrong.

If we go out for ice cream, and you get chocolate, and I get vanilla (okay, I never get vanilla–I will always get pralines’n’cream), can’t the reason we’ve ordered differently just be attributed to the fact that we have different taste, like different things? Must I interpret your taste for chocolate as some sort of implicit judgment of mine for caramel? An attack on pralines? Surely, that would be chock-fulla-nuts.

What would I get out of criticizing you for your choice?

Perhaps if I was a little unsure that I’d ordered correctly, or perhaps if your choice was looking kinda good, enumerating all the ways chocolate is bad and pralines are good might help to stave off the self-doubt.

When it comes down to the Mommy Wars and all of the other crazy Us-vs.-Themmery we women put each other through, isn’t this kind of what we’re up to? After all, what, exactly, does my choice have to do with yours? Or yours, mine?

Well, there’s something: your choice has to do with mine in the sense that you’re showing me what the road not traveled looks like. If there’s only one way to do something, you’re spared the worry that you’re doing it wrong. There is no right or wrong, better or worse, there is only the way. But, the more options there are, well, the more options there are. And none of them is gonna be perfect, because nothing is. And when we come upon the bumps in our road, we wonder about the other road–and we worry that it’s better. And then, in our lesser moments, we seethe. We judge and we criticize in an attempt to stave off our doubts. If we can make the case that we are right–or, perhaps more to the point, that the other is wrong–we can seize on that little boost of self-assuredness to carry us through for a while.

So I guess what I’ve come up with is this: the moments when we feel like we need to make the case that that other road is wrong are probably the moments when we need to look at ourselves. Honestly. Perhaps we’re frustrated, or overwhelmed, or insecure or unhappy, or–and my money’s on this one–just having one of those days.

And women still have a lot of those days: that we have these choices we’re so quick to do battle over is new. We face structural inequities, lesser pay, the bulk of the burden of the second shift — and all of that second guessing. While we do indeed have access to a ton of paths that were blocked to us just a generation ago, we haven’t yet had the chance to make them smooth and pretty. They’re unpaved and overgrown and difficult to find. Of course we will have moments of self-doubt and envy and insecurity and frustration. But sniping at and about each other does no good for no one.

Last night before I went to bed, I was flipping the channels (it was a big weekend; I allowed myself some serious couch potato time once I got home–don’t judge!) and stopped for a quick second on CNN, because the ticker below that said “Mommy Wars” grabbed my attention. Four commentators went back and forth and around and around about the Mommy Wars: they were all men.

We are all doing the very best we can, in a world that it’s up to us to change, to make room for us. Every last one of us, no matter what path we choose to take. We’re all travelers–and we should do what good travelers do. Greet each other with a smile and an open mind. Share our stories. And, then before heading our separate ways, we should wish each other happy trails.

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The other day, I heard from Hilary, a former student who forwarded a pdf of the Letters page in the January issue of Washingtonian Magazine.  The top letter, which called out the editors for choosing to feature a naked woman on the cover, was hers:

Your magazine is cutting edge, informative, and entertaining without being superficial.  However, when the December issue arrived, I was disgusted.  Washington is full of beautiful, powerful, educated, intelligent women of all shapes, sizes, and ages, and this cover does nothing but degrade us to a naked – and I’m sure Photoshopped – figure with some lines about cosmetic procedures floating around her head…

Hilary said she was heartened by the fact that the magazine not only published her letter, but acknowledged the extensive blowback the cover had gotten from other readers.  She also wrote that she was inspired by the documentary, Miss Representation, and since seeing it has been quick to “attack any and all forms of the continued objectification of women, especially powerful women, in our society.”

You go, Hilary.

The cover story in question focused on the dreaded F-word, as in: Don’t like what you see in the mirror?  Fix it!  You can guess the fix: pages of features on everything from going redhead or trying new workout routines to a guide to 12 plastic surgery procedures, complete with prices.  (You can expect to pay anywhere from $2000 to $8000 to lift your eyelids.) All of which got me to thinking.

A while back we wrote about those two fall TV shows, “The Playboy Club” and “Pan Am”, where we castigated the male producers for pitching women in bunny costumes and girdles as examples of  “empowered women.”  (Apparently, the viewing public agreed. We’re happy to report that the first show met its timely demise while the second is on well-deserved hiatus.)  But as I clicked through that issue of Washingtonian Magazine, an ugly little thought crept in: It’s not just men who are responsible for our objectification.  You have to wonder if we’re sometimes complicit ourselves: The December cover of   Washingtonian was shot by a women.  All those features to “help you feel your best in the New Year” were written by women, for women.

Are we sometimes responsible for our own misrepresentation?

I found more food for thought over there on salon, where Mary Elizabeth Williams, writing about the new Chelsea Handler TV show, wondered why we consider shows about girls behaving badly to be ground-breaking:

But what really sets [the Chelsea-Whitney NBC Happy Hour] it apart is the whiff of voyeuristic creepiness about building a prime-time block around willowy females who dress up sexy and get their drink on. Is this really the same network that figured out how to give us the complicated, hilarious – and very different – characters of Reagan Brinkley, Leslie Knope and Liz Lemon?

Worse, though, Happy Hour reinforces the stereotype of ladies as inherently less funny than dudes. Chelsea’s humor, after all, hinges upon her being like a guy — someone who sleeps around and gets “lady wood” — but has conveniently appealing blond hair and boobs.

Over on twitter, a trending topic is #thingsaslutmightsay.  Many of the tweets are from men. But not all. Yuck. Jezebel reports on a bathroom sign in a D.C. coffee shop that shows a creepy stickfigure gent peering over the stall at the stickfigure gal.  This is funny? Who knows who came up with that bright idea — but what I wonder is why the sign is still up? Oh, it’s Saxby’s Coffee at K Street and Vermont Ave.  Don’t go there.

And over at The Guardian, Dominic Rushe wonders why, in 2012, the Detroit car show is still using “female eye candy” to sell cars — when roughly half its customers are women?  [Note: the Consumer Electronics Show in Vegas is likewise using "booth babes" to accessorize its products.]

Rushe asks a good question.  But I’ve got another.  What’s our own role in all this nonsense? Whether or not we’re directly responsible for any of the sexism that continues to objectify our gender, we do have one responsibility — and that’s to call when we see it.  Just like Hilary.

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And that’s why many people are apparently appalled.  Not necessarily because CBS foreign correspondent Lara Logan was surrounded by an angry mob in Cairo, and beaten and raped.  It was because she was taking unnecessary chances.  (Read: risk-taker)  She was doing it to advance her career (Read: ambitious).  She was daring to go where she did not belong.  (Read: brazen)

While none of the naysayers have been so brutal as to come out and say she got what she deserved, the fallout from the news of her hideous assault has been almost as ugly as the assault itself.  Here’s the background via the New York Times:

Lara Logan, the CBS News correspondent, was attacked and sexually assaulted by a mob in Cairo on Feb. 11, the day that the Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was forced from power, the network said Tuesday.

After the mob surrounded her, Ms. Logan “suffered a brutal and sustained sexual assault and beating before being saved by a group of women and an estimated 20 Egyptian soldiers,” the network said in a statement. Ms. Logan is recovering at a hospital in the United States.

The evening of the attack, Ms. Logan, 39, the network’s chief foreign affairs correspondent, was covering the celebrations in Tahrir Square in central Cairo with a camera crew and an unknown number of security staff members. The CBS team was enveloped by “a dangerous element” within the crowd, CBS said, that numbered more than 200 people. That mob separated Ms. Logan from her team and then attacked her.

Heinous, right?  And yet.  Comments on talk radio and the interwebs Wednesday were cascading into blame the victim mode.  NPR, for that matter, had to take a number of comments off its site completely, and issue a plea for civility.   Meanwhile, according to Time.com,  reporter Nir Rosen, a fellow at NYU, resigned from his position at the university after he sent an ugly tweet suggesting that Logan was some kind of brazen careerist, trying to outdo CNN’s Anderson Cooper (who had been beaten in Cairo a few days before) and capped it with this:

“at a moment when she is going to become a martyr and glorified we should at least remember her role as a major war monger”—a reference to his criticisms of Logan over her coverage of Iraq and Afghanistan.

Over at Salon, Mary Elizabeth Williams (we love her) took on Rosen and others, too.  (According to Williams, Rosen also tweeted this:  “It’s always wrong, that’s obvious, but I’m rolling my eyes at all the attention [Logan will] get.”  Yeah, ugh.)  She also added this, referring to yet another hater:

And the ever-heinous [right-wing blogger and Fox News regular] Debbie Schlussel was quick to jump on her regular line of racism, noting how the assault happened in a “country of savages,” because that never ever happens anywhere else, and it’s never committed by light-skinned people! She then twisted the knife by going after Logan herself, saying, “So sad, too bad, Lara. No one told her to go there. She knew the risks. And she should have known what Islam is all about. Now she knows… How fitting that Lara Logan was ‘liberated’ by Muslims in Liberation Square while she was gushing over the other part of the ‘liberation.'”

Need we go on?  Yes, lets.  Grazing on some talk radio on my morning run, I heard similarly ugly — and thinly veiled — comments that suggested Logan had put herself in danger because she was trying to play like the boys.  Among them?   “What was she doing there anyway?”  “Didn’t she know the risks?”  And the worst, from a woman who suggested that the difference between a woman who might be assaulted while simply walking though a park (Read: innocent) and Ms Logan was that Logan was doing it for work.
As in, shamelessly ambitious.  Girls, you know, aren’t supposed to do that.

But here’s the thing.  If she is shamelessly ambitious, who cares?  Are we not over that?  If she took an unnecessary risk — and nowhere does it suggest that she did — isn’t that what foreign correspondents are paid to do?  Right?  But that’s not the point.  Or at least not mine.  At the midpoint of the protests in Tahrir Square, when things started going ugly, reporters were roundly encouraged to get the hell out of Dodge.  Many stayed.  Including Anderson Cooper.  He was beaten up.

We called him a hero.

P.S.  Within minutes of posting this, we got an ugly comment suggesting that Logan got what she deserved.  We have declined to approve it.

photo credit:  CBS

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I write today of two strong women.  One recently deceased, one very much alive.   On the surface, they’ve got nothing whatsoever in common — I’m sure they’ve never been mentioned in the same article, much less the same sentence — except for the lesson they have to teach us.

It has to do with being real.  Despite being judged.

I once met the late Elizabeth Edwards at a fundraiser for George Mark House, a children’s hospice founded by a good friend.  Edwards, the keynote speaker, had left the stage and was heading off to her next engagement, when I jumped up to shake her hand.  Her husband had just begun his campaign for president, she had just announced that her breast cancer had returned, and I babbled on about how I hoped to see her in the White House.  (At that point, the primary campaign was pretty much a dead heat, with John Edwards espousing the most progressive positions.  Funny, that.)  Anyhow, we chatted for more time than I thought we would and here’s what happened:  I reached out for a handshake, she instead gave me a huge hug.  A real one.  Unrehearsed and warm.

Sold.

And so, like many of us, I was shocked and disappointed when her husband crashed and burned and, at least at first, she supported him.  Huh? Like Hillary, we castigated her for living in denial, for standing by her philandering man.  As if, when a powerful man has a fling with a silly woman half his age, it is the wife who looks like a fool.   She ultimately left him —  but not after getting raked over the coals despite the fact that it was her husband’s mistakes she was just trying to deal with.  And yet.  Most of us turned away.

I’ll get to Cher in a minute, here, but first:  One who didn’t turn away from Elizabeth Edwards was Salon’s Joan Walsh, a huge admirer of Edwards’ ever since she conducted a long interview with her back in 2007.  This week, Walsh wrote an elegant obituary, which she ended thus:

At the end of our 2007 interview, I asked [Edwards] whether she was bothered by critics who said she shouldn’t have continued to campaign after her cancer recurred; she should have stayed home with her young children. Her answer can stand as her last word, again:

“After all I’ve been through, I realize: You don’t know exactly what life lessons you taught your kids until much later. You don’t. And maybe the most important life lesson for them is for me to say, When bad things happen, you don’t let them take you down. If I hadn’t continued to campaign, I’d be sending the opposite message: When bad things happen, go hide. Do I know with absolute certainty we’re doing the right thing? I don’t. Having been through what I’ve been through, I hope people trust I wouldn’t risk my relationship with my children. I think this is the right choice.”

And this is what brings me to Cher, the cover girl for this month’s Vanity Fair.  Like Edwards, she’s been judged — for everything from her big hair to her tiny outfits, to her plastic surgeries and tabloid relationships to whether or not she’s been properly supportive of her daughter’s sex change.  And like Edwards, she willingly admits that life is complicated and that she sometimes gets it wrong.  That she has gotten it wrong.  From VF writer Krista Smith:

At 64, she has been up and down too many times to count. “I feel like a bumper car. If I hit a wall, I’m backing up and going in another direction,” [Cher] says, adding, “And I’ve hit plenty of fucking walls in my career. But I’m not stopping. I think maybe that’s my best quality: I just don’t stop.”

Now do you see it?  What the political wife and the Vegas diva have in common?  What they can teach us, and why, deep down, we love them both?  Let’s check how salon’s Mary Elizabeth Williams calls it:

Underneath all the many layers of wigs and sparkles, what makes Cher so enduringly special is her realness, her willingness to say to the world that she gets confused and she gets it wrong sometimes, but she keeps trying anyway, because that’s the right thing to do. And that’s what makes the spangly, big-haired queen of Vegas a role model for us all.

And this is what we learn, from both Elizabeth Edwards and Cher:  Life is messy.  Whether or not we actually clean it up doesn’t much matter.  What makes us real is that we’re willing to try.

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Hey boys, whether or not you “wear the pants”, you really need to keep ‘em on.

In case you missed it the first time around, below is the post we wrote back in December when Dockers first unveiled its misogynistic “Wear the Pants” campaign. We titled it “Turning the Other Cheek.” Whew. Little did we know what we were in for…

Welcome to the opening salvos of the great pants war. To wit, while we were MIA, Dockers apparently took it upon itself to reconstruct society’s trek toward gender equality with its new ad campaign for men’s slim-fit, “soft” khakis. Such the bad plan. Dubbed “Wear the Pants”, the campaign comes with its own Man-ifesto (I don’t make this stuff up. That’s what they call it. And watch for the high-rent ads on Super-Bowl Sunday.) You can see the ad on your left. They also have a Facebook page, where folks can post their ruminations on the true definition of a man. Anyhow, the copy reads as follows:

Once upon a time, men wore the pants, and wore them well. Women rarely had to open doors and little old ladies never crossed the street alone. Men took charge because that’s what they did. But somewhere along the way, the world decided it no longer needed men. Disco by disco, latte by foamy non-fat latte, men were stripped of their khakis and left stranded on the road between boyhood and androgyny. But today, there are questions our genderless society has no answers for. The world sits idly by as cities crumble, children misbehave and those little old ladies remain on one side of the street. For the first time since bad guys, we need heroes. We need grown-ups. We need men to put down the plastic fork, step away from the salad bar and untie the world from the tracks of complacency. It’s time to get your hands dirty. It’s time to answer the call of manhood. It’s time to wear the pants.

Clearly, some copywriters were jonesing for a Mad Men fix and thought they could dabble in a little mid-century irony to sell some pants. Not exactly, writes the SF Chronicle’s stylewriter, Aaron Britt:

Arch? Stirring? Silly? And more importantly, did you balk when you registered that this throw-down has come not from some edgy line of denim or gauche leather emporium, but from none other than the world’s most peaked, pathetic pants: chinos. And it’s not just any chinos calling you a sissy. It’s Dockers.

But really, I’m a little bit flummoxed. Offended, even. Deconstruct the Man-ifesto and you find that the whole campaign is just not funny. In fact, it smells more than a little bit sexist in its sub-rosa rant against the women’s movement and the way in which some of those not-really-witty one-liners play into the worst fears of paranoid neanderthals: Does gender parity mean gender-less? If women succeed in stepping up, does that turn guys into girly-men (Arnold Schwarzenegger’s phrase, not mine)? With no men to wear the pants, do small children run wild and old ladies get run over?

Left unsaid, of course, is who is wearing the pants. Those emasculating women? And what, for the love of god, have they have done to the workplace?

Now, for years, ads directed toward women have preyed upon their need to be more, well, feminine: Wear this! Wax that! Paint those! And so you can argue that it’s no more than turnabout to sell pants by preying on men’s need to be more traditionally masculine. But see, here’s the difference: Does masculinity have to equate to keeping women in the kitchen? It’s clear where the women are in the scary Dockers scenario: Wearing their menfolks’ khakis, of course, which is why everything else has gone to hell. As Jami Bernard wrote on Walletpop:

Just because the Docker ads are tongue in cheek does not mean they’re not sexist. It’s one thing to encourage men to man up, another to tell them to “wear the pants” — an expression that taps directly into the old question: “Who wears the pants in this family?” There are only two possible answers: the man of the house, or the woman who has been stealing his thunder. “Wear the pants” is a call to arms, even when used jokingly, that says the only way to be a man is to put women in their place…

The real joke, of course, is that the pants in question, writes Broadsheet’s Mary Elizabeth Williams, is “the brand that made everybody’s asses look fat in the ’90s..” Whether or not we girls (or, for that matter, our guys) are wearing the pants — I doubt they’re gonna be Dockers.

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