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Posts Tagged ‘Salon’

screen-shot-2012-12-15-at-7-07-49-pmDo not let the outrage die.

In the wake of the horrific mass murders in Newtown, Conn., we’ve read plenty of newspaper articles, listened to numerous TV commentators, read hundreds of Facebook posts, all with the same message:  we need to talk about gun control.

And yet. My biggest fear is that, once the grief and shock die down, so too will the resolve to take, in our President’s words, “meaningful action.”  As Huffington Post polling editor Mark Blumenthal wrote on Friday, interest in gun control spiked after the 1999 massacre at Columbine, but faded within a year:

“The post-Columbine bump faded about a year later, and support for stricter gun laws remained roughly constant over the next eight years. Following the 2008 election, however, it dropped off considerably. By April 2010, Pew Research found more Americans placed greater importance on protecting the rights of gun owners (49 percent) than on restricting gun ownership (45 percent).”

I beg you: Do not let the outrage die.

We know why politicians are often loathe to put gun control front and center, hiding behind the Second Amendment (which, for the record, was designed to allow citizens to arm themselves against tyranny, not each other): the NRA and the powerful gun lobby, as well as the overwhelming number of Americans who own guns.  (As Alex Pareene reports in Salon, America “is home to 310 million nonmilitary firearms. That’s nearly one gun for every resident of the country, or just about three for each ‘household’.”)

According to Sunday’s New York Times, after Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was shot in 2011, the Justice Department made a list of measures to keep guns away from criminals and those with mental illness – a list that was predominantly shelved as campaign season approached.  And, as the New York Times’ Nate Silver reports, over the years the very rhetoric surrounding firearms has changed:

For opponents of stricter gun laws, the debate has increasingly become one about Constitutional protections. Certainly, many opponents of gun control measures also argue that efforts to restrict gun ownership could backfire in various ways or will otherwise fail to reduce violence. But broadly speaking, they would prefer that the debate be about what they see as Constitutional rights, rather than the utilitarian consequences of gun control measures.

Their strategy may have been working. The polling evidence suggests that the public has gone from tending to back stricter gun control policies to a more ambiguous position in recent years. There may be some voters who think that the Constitution provides broad latitude to own and carry guns – even if the consequences can sometimes be tragic.

Discouraging news.  But what I wonder is why we can’t follow the lead of another group of outraged women, Mother Against Drunk Drivers, and, if nothing else, make owning a gun as socially unacceptable as driving drunk. Both can kill.

Could Women Against Guns be as powerful as Mothers Against Drunk Driving?

Obviously, there are other issues at play when it comes to Newtown, where 20 children who still believed in Santa Claus were killed by multiple gunshot wounds from a semiautomatic weapon — some of them shot as many as 11 times — in slightly less time than it takes to read this post.

Yes, we need to talk about mental health, to recognize and treat mental illness, no matter the cost.  We need to remove the stigma around mental illness so that families are given the acceptance and understanding that would allow them to get their ill children adequate treatment and support.  We need to talk about the prevalence of violence in video games, movies and TV shows, and its effects. We need to tackle the problems of schoolyard bullies and young people’s alienation once and for all.

But above and beyond the why is the how.  What turns things deadly is America’s easy access to firearms, which makes acting on violent impulses quick, efficient and final.  Had Adam Lanza been armed with a knife or a baseball bat, or even a single Saturday night special, how many children could he have killed in the 15 minutes before he was stopped?

I myself have never seen a real gun, except on the belt of a police officer.  But I have been privy to the devastation they can leave:

• A neighbor’s twenty-something son, suffering from a severe depression, went up to his bedroom and shot himself in the head one evening while his mother was downstairs doing the dishes.

• A beautiful, ebullient, brilliant — and bipolar — young attorney, after a week of horrendous migraines, shot and killed herself one afternoon while her husband was at work.

• The young son of family friends was showing a playmate his father’s hunting rifle when it went off.  And killed him.  Though this happened before I was born, I heard the story over and over, a tale of heartbreak from which the family barely recovered.

In all these cases the firearms were perfectly legal.  As were the guns used by Adam Lanza. They were owned and registered to his mother, who apparently kept them in the house.

According to Sunday’s Washington Post, Calif. Sen. Diane Feinstein told “Meet the Press” that she would introduce legislation to ban assault weapons at the start of the next Congress. (She sponsored a ban on semiautomatic weapons in 1994, after a mass shooting in San Francisco’s financial district.  It expired in 2004). It’s a good first step.  But frankly, it’s not enough for me.  I won’t be happy until we consider owning a gun as socially suspect as getting behind the wheel after a couple of cocktails.  Especially if there are kids in the house, or anyone with mental illness.

I know what comes next: When guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns. Who cares?  There will still be fewer guns on the street.  And, by all  definitions, neither Adam Lanza nor his mother were  outlaws.

We have no problem turning drunk drivers or even smokers into pariahs.  We would never let our kids hop into a car with an alcoholic at the wheel.  But what about playing at the home of a playmate whose dad keeps a gun beside his bed – a gun designed to protect but, as statistics show, is likely to put the household at greater risk.  According to Mark Rosenberg, president and CEO of The Task Force for Global Health, speaking on NPR this past August:

.. a study that was done to look at whether having a firearm in your home actually does protect you, or whether it puts you at greater risk, showed that families and homes in which there was a gun, not only were they not protected against homicide, but the risk of gun homicide to people in those households was 2.7 times greater than the households without a gun. And the risk of suicide in those households was 4.8 times greater in the households with firearms.

So what can we do?  Here’s a start:

• Put pressure on our elected officials to take “meaningful action”.

• Refuse to vote for any politicians, local or otherwise, who take money from the NRA, and let them know why you will not support them.

• If your community has a gun buy-back program, support it.

• Sign one of the many online petitions floating around the internet.

I’ve even heard, via Facebook, of the potential for a “One Million Child March on DC for Gun Control.” In the meantime, the most important thing we all can do is keep the conversation going:  Mothers were the driving force to get drunks off the road.  Can we women do the same when it comes to guns?

Those beautiful first-graders of Sandy Hook were America’s children.  We are all their mothers.

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Not gonna lie, I will be glued to the tube like most of you for the next two weeks: swimming and soccer and sprinting, oh my!  Really, I can’t wait.

And like you, I am reveling in the fact that this has been dubbed the “year of the woman”.  As NPR reported, via the Associated Press:

For the first time, there are more women on the U.S. team than men, 269 to 261, and Russia’s team, which is nearly as big, is also majority-female. Saudi Arabia has sent its first two women to the competition, and the games feature what in all likelihood is the most pregnant athlete to compete in an Olympics: Malaysian shooter Nur Suryani Mohamed Taibi, who is due to give birth to a girl any day now.

Even Britain’s poster athlete for the Games is a woman — heptathlete Jessica Ennis, who in addition to appearing on countless London billboards also beams up at arriving visitors from a field along the Heathrow airport flight path. A 173-by-264-foot likeness of the telegenic star is painted on the grass there.

Good stuff, right? But while we’re busy patting ourselves on the back, especially here in the U.S. where the women Olympians outnumber the men, I’ve collected a few instances of sexism skulking around the “you go, girl” edges.  (Please don’t accuse me of whinging, which is colorful Britspeak for whining) And so, in the interests of feminists everywhere, I thought I’d bring up a few of the most telling examples to show that, well, our work is not quite done.

1. Back of the Bus, little ladies:  The Independent reports that both Japan and Australia are in the hot seat for flying its male athletes business-class while the women were stuck back in coach:

Japan’s world champion women’s football team took exception to flying economy while their male counterparts sat in business class on a flight to Europe for the Olympics. The Japan Football Association said the men flew in business because they are professionals.

As for Australia, it was all about basketball.  The males were up in front, even though the women’s team was the better one.  Again, from the Independent:

Former Australian women’s basketball captain Robyn Maher said the Australian women’s team had repeatedly asked Basketball Australia to justify the inequity.

“Over the years it’s been a multitude of (reasons given) — the men get better funding, so they’ve been able to do it; the men are bigger so they need more space,” she told the Sydney Morning Herald. “It’s been a bit of a sore spot, especially since the women are much more successful.”

Ya think?

2.  Pin-up Babes?  Yep, that’s how the Scotland’s Daily Record described the the U.S. women’s soccer team as they arrived in Glasgow this week.  Without a mention that the U.S. women’s soccer team is one of the world’s best, the story frames our girls in terms of sex. Insulting, much?  It starts like this:

ALL of a sudden, the Olympics have got sexy. Really sexy.

The pin-up babes of the US Olympic football team arrived for their first training session in Glasgow yesterday.

And although the rain was pouring down, you would hardly have noticed as stars such as glamour-girl keeper Hope Solo, 32, and strike stunner Alex Morgan, 23, hit the pitch.

The story segues into a condom count – according to the Record, 150,000 – and includes a quote from Solo about sex.  But not word one about, you know, soccer.

3.  Bar codes on … the bum?  You heard that right.  Salon, via Bitch Media, reports that some enterprising advertiser bought space on the backs of two UK beach Volleyball players’ bikinis during the qualifying rounds this spring – allowing creepsters with sharp eyes and quick phones to scan the QR codes and be taken to the advertiser’s website.  Ew.  The Olympics committee nixed the codes for the actual games, but according to Salon, the images were already all over the internet.  If that doesn’t creep you out, how about the Brit nickname for beach volleyball: “Baywatch with balls.”

Even Yahoo! sports has gotten into the act, with reporter Martin Rogers writing in wink, wink mode that Prince Harry, the “self-style Playboy Prince” is “most excited” about attending the beach volleyball event.

4.  And then there’s Go Daddy.  Which we wish would just, well, go. USA Today reports that Go Daddy, the bad boy of Super Bowl ads, is back again with a few commercials that will air during the Olympics that supposedly tone down the “naughtiness.”  You be the judge.  One features a sexy chic stripping off her trenchcoat to descend into a bubblebath.  Another shows a woman with a come-hither look in her eye stroking an otter resting just beneath her rather large chest.  The theme of the ads, which juxtapose pretty girls with geeks, is “beauty on the  outside, but brains on the inside.”  Whatever.  What’s interesting is that I read somewhere that, unlike the Super Bowl, the majority of the Olympics audience is made up of women and families.

5.  Finally, there’s the press corps:  The The London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games estimates that some 21,000 journalists will be covering the London games and what I’d like to know is how many of them will be women, this being the year of the woman.  The numbers are almost impossible to come by, at least today, but here’s an estimate from my pal Mark Purdy, currently in London covering the Olympics (his twelfth) for the San Jose Mercury News:

Educated guess: Among USA journalism contingent, probably 75-25 men vs. women. Among international contingent, probably 95-5 men vs. women. Although that’s only print journalists; we work in a separate building and in separate parts of the venues from the broadcasters. There seem to be more women in that field, though I couldn’t give you a real guess.

Those lop-sided numbers?  Not really surprising, considering that according to a 2012 Women’s Media Center report, 11.4% of sports editors, 10% of sports columnists, and 7% of sports reporters were women.  But still, it makes you wonder.  Is that gender inequity one reason why, research has shown, that the gap between Olympic coverage of men’s versus women’s sports has widened? But more importantly: does that impact the way the stories are framed?

Don’t know, can’t answer.  But it might be fun to pay attention.  As for right now, I’m just anxious for the games to begin.  When it comes to the medal count, my money’s on the girls.

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Clicking through my Facebook friends, one could be forgiven for assuming I do a lot of socializing at preschools. One would be wrong, of course: the truth is that countless of my pals have replaced their profile pics with snaps of their wee ones; their status updates with diaper-status updates. Continuing along, one might also assume that, somewhere in my travels, I infiltrated a tribe of Carrie Bradshaw clones: beautiful, successful folks living the life, traveling to important places to do important things, wearing fabulous clothes while hanging out with fabulous people.

On the surface (and what is Facebook if not surface?), everyone’s having a dandy time living the lives they chose. Which is dandy. But how real is it?

We’ll come back to that. First, though, let’s take a look at an interesting piece on Salon.com entitled “How Facebook can affirm a woman’s singlehood.” In it, Tracy Clark-Flory makes the point that, for many women, spying on their married-and-mommied friends via the ‘book makes them feel validated to have put career first. Here’s a bit:

My friend Katherine is successful, dynamic, and fiercely intelligent–but, unmarried and childless at 32, she feels pressure from some to hurry up and achieve something that really matters: settling down and having kids. There is nothing new about a woman wondering if she’s sacrificed her love life for her career–but what is new is how Facebook is allowing these women to compare how their life choices have panned out with those of their peers, and sometimes it’s actually validating.

Katherine recently told me, ‘I go on there and I see these beautiful, intelligent women that I grew up with and they’re all married to these accountant types who wear polos and golf on the weekends. Yes, they have kids, a home and a husband — but it just looks so painfully, unbearably boring.’ Granted the whole truth is that she also sometimes feels jealousy — for instance, when a friend who is married with a baby posts about ‘drinking a glass of wine and eating oysters with her husband at their cute house with the bathroom they just remodeled themselves.’

…Despite all the choices available to women today, many still fret that in putting their career first and worrying about marriage and kids later they will ultimately miss out on the latter. There is a biological reality behind those concerns, but there are also plenty of cultural myths and trumped-up anxiety — the lonely cat lady who dies without anyone noticing and ends up being eaten by her hungry companion, for example — that serve as cautionary tales. The warning, of course, is that we will be punished for being too ambitious and going against our basic nature. Given the high stakes, it’s no surprise that this often leads to comparison and competition — and Facebook serves as a virtual looking glass through which to explore the path not taken.

So interesting isn’t it, how even here, life is presented as either-or for women. One path or the other. Career or love. Driven or domesticated. And if that’s the case, no wonder we have such a hard time making the choices that will take us down one road or another: they mean too much. And they’re too narrow. What if we want some of one, but more of the other? Where’s the profile for that?

And speaking of profiles, perhaps all of this angst–and uncertainty–over whether or not we’re making the right choices is why we’re so compelled to present ourselves so charmingly. We all have doubts. Do you think Katherine’s oyster-eating DIY couple posted the fact that they nearly killed each other while drywalling their new commode? Or the flipside:

‘Here I am, sitting in traffic, getting home to my tiny one-bedroom apartment, and eating macaroni and cheese after an 11-hour work day,’ [Katherine] says. ‘But I don’t post things about traffic, or sitting in my pajamas watching ‘Top Chef’ on Facebook! I write status updates about attending premiere parties and meticulously select profile pictures. I have to believe it’s all relative.’

Of course it is. Women today have every choice–and every one of us is, at some point or another, terrified we’ve made the wrong ones. Is it any wonder, then, that we treat our public personas like we might a disssertation: something we must present and defend? Here is my choice, and look how great it is! I have achieved the American Dream–witness husband and spawn! Or: I’m single and successful and fancy-free–witness the world travels and amazing fun! When in reality, of course, both are bullshit. Because life is life and it’s fabulous at times and at other times there are diapers to change or douchebags to date, and either way there’s bills to pay… But just because we’ve come up against yet another dirty diaper–or douchebag–does not mean we chose wrong.


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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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