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Posts Tagged ‘Rebecca Traister’

All of the hullaballoo about Summers Eve’s latest ad campaign (you know, the one that hails the “V”? Ironic, when you consider that the product for which the ad in question shills is one that disturbs a healthy V’s natural, self-regulating biology, one that’s counter-indicated by medicine, and one that carries the implicit message that your body, as it is, is bad. Hail the V? My A__. Oh, and those ads are racist, too), has left me obsessing over a bigger issue, one that has nothing to do with douche.

The aforementioned bigger issue is this: how these glossy messages of “empowerment” hijack and cheapen the conversation about what it is to be a woman, diverting our collective attention from important conversations and messages that could be truly empowering. So often, it seems that we’re terrified of the nuance, the deeper, more complicated questions, and so we attach ourselves to a quick, slick slogan. Girl Power, served up by a woman who calls herself Baby Spice? Or, as Rebecca Traister so eloquently explained in a piece in Sunday’s NYT Mag, a raucous call for an end to victim-blaming… while marching a “SlutWalk” in our underwear?

Don’t get me wrong: We’re all for Girl Power, and an end to the hideous pattern of victim-blaming that continues to rage against survivors of sexual assault. And we’re pretty fond of our Vs. But what about the rest of us? What about the feminine aspect, that je ne sais quoi that makes women women?

I can hear those knees jerking already!

When you say men and women are different, surely that must mean that one or the other is deficient: that’s a message used to denigrate women! The brain science is inconclusive! Gender is different than sex!

To discuss the feminine as something real, something distinct, yes, different even, well it’s still perceived as dangerous. Threatening. Historically, it makes a certain amount of sense, of course. Plotted against a timeline of the modern workplace, women are still relatively new to the game. It made sense that, upon our initial entree, our strategy was to blend in, to play like the boys, even to look like them (one word: shoulderpads). We downplayed our differences, fearing that if men smelled fear, insecurity, or Chanel #5, we’d be at an immediate disadvantage. Or maybe kicked out of the club for good. But isn’t it possible that every time we choose not to own our own womanness — and all the differences inherent to that womanness, like empathy, inclusiveness, compassion, collaboration, holistic thinking — we do ourselves and our gender (hell, humankind) as a whole a disservice? After all, isn’t there something more essential, more divine to being a woman than simple possession of a V?

They’re valuable qualities (and frankly, whether they’re born of nature or nurture… does it really matter?). And men possess them, too. But  in our culture, it’s those more traditional masculine qualities — linear thinking, assertiveness, individualism — that are prized. So, while men leave their feminine untended, women are all too often taught to shy away from their own. All of which leaves humanity as a whole operating in a rather lopsided fashion. But what if we could allow room for both to thrive?

It’s complicated to get at, though. We like proof in these parts, and the science remains controversial. Suggesting that women and men are different is too vague. Invites too many fears. (It’s proven, after all, that women perform worse on math tests when they’re told they’re being given the tests as a measure of how women are at math, compared to men.) And maybe that’s why these sorts of silly V-power messages fly. Real conversations are too risky. We’re too afraid that by honestly exploring a more complex idea, we might inadvertently give up some ground. But if we could begin to see this conversation as necessary and beneficial — for everyone, not just women, but men, too, who could use a little encouragement in terms of awakening to and cultivating their own feminine sides — maybe we would all benefit.

So, hail to the feminine — and the masculine, too.

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And watch us cry. But first: the laughing. Have you seen ‘Bridesmaids’ yet? (And were you aware that doing so is your feminist duty?) I did, and would heartily recommend it. It’s hilarious, well-written, and good. But people weren’t expecting much from it; Deadline Hollywood’s Nikki Finke said she’d give up writing about movies if it cracked the $20 million mark on its opening weekend. Which it did. But that it did was clearly a surprise. Here are some words from Rebecca Traister on the movement to mobilize female moviegoers:

Yes we can… buy tickets to a Kristen Wiig movie in an effort to persuade Hollywood that multidimensional women exist, spend money and deserve to be represented on film.

What’s motivating this campaign is simple: Hollywood studios do not make comedies for or about women anymore. Yes, they used to….

Those days are long gone, and we now inhabit an entertainment universe in which everything male-centered is standard, and everything female-centered is female (yes, this dynamic extends into publishing, politics and professionalism, but for now, let’s keep it to Hollywood). What that means in practical terms is that women will plonk down dollars to see a male-dominated action movie, a girl-gobbling horror flick, or a dude-centric comedy just as easily as they’ll pay for the kind of female-fueled movie that is literally made for them. Men, meanwhile, have apparently been so conditioned to find anything female emasculating (notwithstanding the expectation that their girlfriends find anything male, including ‘Thor,’ scintillating) that they cannot be moved to sit through any movie with a fully developed woman at its center. As Tad Friend recently put it in his New Yorker profile of the actress Anna Faris–in a sentence mentioned frequently by ‘Bridesmaids’ activists–‘Studio executives believe that male moviegoers would rather prep for a colonoscopy than experience a woman’s point of view, particularly if that woman drinks or swears or has a great job or an orgasm.’

Traister’s piece is a fabulous read, but I’m going to leave the Bridesmaids behind for a minute, and move on to mother-of-the-bride territory. In the form of Hillary Clinton. In Anne Doyle’s Forbes piece entitled “Women Are Not ‘Guys’ and Men Are Not the ‘Norm’,” Doyle lays out a couple of examples of the same issue Traister views through the cinematic lens–the idea that, in our culture, everything male-centered is standard, and everything female-centered is female.

And, in this case, wrong, and in need of spinning. And what is this case, you ask? A shot of Obama’s Situation Room featuring the members of his inner circle watching the Bin Laden raid go down–crazy shit, all might agree–in which Hillary Clinton is shown expressing emotion (although, if you ask me, pretty subdued emotion), her hand over her mouth.

The bad news is the ridiculous angst the photo triggered over the gender differences it captured. The men were stone-faced, revealing little. It was only the expression and body language of the most powerful woman in our nation that most clearly communicated the tension, high stakes, and yes, even fears that every leader in the room was experiencing. No surprise there. We socialize men and women to express emotions very differently.

But here’s the astonishing part. After the now-iconic image was released, Clinton, whose hand was raised to her mouth in the photo, felt she needed to explain the gesture by telling media she was ‘trying not to cough’ at the instant the photo was taken. Are we still that uncomfortable with powerful women behaving like women rather than ‘men in skirts’ that even she needs to spin her actions that deviate from the male norm? And since when is the behavior of only fifty percent of the human race ‘the norm’?

It reminds me of the story Charlotta Kratz wrote about here:

Women may be equal to men professionally, but we could never talk publicly about personal female experiences the way men talk about personal, private, male experiences (like the relationship between a man and his son) in public.

The experience of being a man is of common interest. The experience of being a woman is not.

It’s an issue we dissect pretty thoroughly in the book. And it’s all yet another reason why so many women are so damn undecided: yes, we’ve been told we can do anything… but the world continues to show us that we should probably stifle certain parts of ourselves to get to the point where we can do it. That we’re the fringe, lucky to be allowed to play in the men’s world. And that’s a shame for everyone–not least because those parts of us that we stifle might actually be sources of great, beneficial value–were individuals and the culture at large encouraged to indulge them. (And, I’m sorry, let’s not forget that this grand world we’ve created has studio heads believing that one half of the population thinks seeing a movie about women will somehow cost them their balls. This is a good thing?) But maybe things are changing. Bridesmaids was brilliant and pulled in $26.2M it’s first weekend. (I hasten to add: only $8.5M less than ‘Thor.’ Ahem, Barf.)


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Last week I came across a fascinating piece at Salon.com… which, arguably, is made are all the more fascinating for its utter familiarity. The piece, by Rebecca Traister, is called “The new single womanhood: Young, urban and not necessarily looking for a man, a crop of memoirists are sketching out a brave new female world,” and, while it’s ostensibly a sort of genre-as-a-whole reading review, it feels like more of a mirror. Check it out:

Embedded in Crosley’s quirky yarns about travel, work and friendship is a fresh accounting of the mixture of exhilaration and ennui that marks many modern young women’s lives. In this, Crosley is a valuable contributor to what is becoming a new subset of the memoir genre; hers is the latest in a string of entries from professional young women anxious to reflect on the adventure of coming into their own on their own. Unlike the tales of trauma and addiction that studded the first wave of publishing’s autobiographical boom, Crosley and her compatriots are staking out stylistically understated but historically explosive territory by describing experiences that may not be especially unusual, but are unprecedented, because the kind of woman to whom they are happening is herself unprecedented. This crop of books is laying out what it feels like to be a young, professional, economically and sexually independent woman, unencumbered by children or excessive domestic responsibility, who earns, plays and worries her own way through her 20s and 30s, a stage of life that until very recently would have been unimaginable or scandalously radical, but which we now–miraculously–find somewhat ho-hum.

…The decade since [Meghan] Daum’s freshman entry has seen scads of books built along the same calm lines: telling what it’s like to be among the first generations of American women not expected to marry or reproduce in their early 20s, for whom advanced education and employment have not been politically freighted departures, but rather part of a charted path, and for whom romantic solitude is regarded as neither pitiable or revolutionary.

The literary records of this newly carved out period of female life approach it from different angles and vary in quality. But they serve as magnifying glasses for women eager to examine not only their navels but also the opportunities and anxieties presented to them as they embark on a road that sharply diverges from the one traveled by most of their mothers, and certainly by their grandmothers.

Sound familiar? The extended adolescence, the untraveled roads, the elusiveness of happiness, the lives lived featuring each and every one of us as the mistress of our own universe… and then, of course–wait for it dear reader–the choices.

As Helena Andrews has said about her memoir, and the women whose stories resonate with her own: “We got the undergrad degree, we’ve got the master’s degree, most of us, the great job, the closet we’ve always coveted, and we think that happiness should come immediately after that. And that’s not always the case… We know what we can do, which is anything. But we need to figure out what we want to do.”

That, too, is new. And that, too, is unremarkable, even in its newness, because that’s where history has landed us, and the one thing we all have in common is the time in which we’re living. And while we obviously don’t want to go backward, there are growing pains to be expected in the going forward. The freedom to do whatever we want without answering to anyone is both exhilarating and a little bit scary. We are in charge, we can do anything we want… and our work is to figure out exactly what that is.

It’s a tough job, but everybody’s gotta do it.


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