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Posts Tagged ‘The New Yorker’

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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Welcome to 2011.  Whether you happen to be a member of roughly one-half the population or  just a human being, you’re sure to find something below to make you think.

Or possibly scream.

First up, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, who apparently believes that the 14th Amendment — that’s the one that talks about equal protection under the law — does not apply to women.  That’s what he told UC Hastings College of the Law professor Calvin Massey in an interview published in the latest issue of California Lawyer.  Here you go:

In 1868, when the 39th Congress was debating and ultimately proposing the 14th Amendment, I don’t think anybody would have thought that equal protection applied to sex discrimination, or certainly not to sexual orientation. So does that mean that we’ve gone off in error by applying the 14th Amendment to both?
Yes, yes. Sorry, to tell you that. … But, you know, if indeed the current society has come to different views, that’s fine. You do not need the Constitution to reflect the wishes of the current society. Certainly the Constitution does not require discrimination on the basis of sex. The only issue is whether it prohibits it. It doesn’t. Nobody ever thought that that’s what it meant. Nobody ever voted for that. If the current society wants to outlaw discrimination by sex, hey we have things called legislatures, and they enact things called laws. You don’t need a constitution to keep things up-to-date. All you need is a legislature and a ballot box. You don’t like the death penalty anymore, that’s fine. You want a right to abortion? There’s nothing in the Constitution about that. But that doesn’t mean you cannot prohibit it. Persuade your fellow citizens it’s a good idea and pass a law. That’s what democracy is all about. It’s not about nine superannuated judges who have been there too long, imposing these demands on society.

No comment.

Actually, the above is what we might expect from one of the right-most justices on the nation’s highest court.  But look what we find over there at the considerably more enlightened New Yorker, courtesy of a caustic note from Anne Hayes, who fired off this letter to the editors of the elite periodical:

I am writing to express my alarm that this is now the second issue of the NYer in a row where only two (tiny) pieces out of your 76 page magazine are written by women.  The January 3rd, 2011 issue features only a Shouts & Murmurs (Patricia Marx) and a poem (Kimberly Johnson).  Every other major piece—the fiction, the profile, and all the main nonfiction pieces—is written by a man.  Every single critic is a male writer.

We were already alarmed when we flipped through the Dec 20th & 27th double-issue to find that only one piece (Nancy Franklin) and one poem (Alicia Ostriker) were written by women.

She ended her letter by saying that she was enclosing the current issue of the magazine with her letter — and expected a refund.  Love it.

And then there’s Rep. John Boehner of Ohio, who tearfully took the gavel Wednesday as the new Speaker of the House.  Maybe you like him, maybe you don’t, but what his aides have said — and what the “Pledge to America” spells out as job one — is the repeal of the health care overhaul, which, incidentally, has been estimated to save $140 billion over the next ten years.  (Um, remember who pays the price when health insurance isn’t a guarantee? More below.)  The new Republican platform spells out its agenda thus:  Cut the federal budget — without raising taxes or cutting military defense spending.  You can probably guess where the cuts will come.   This from the guy who cries at the plight of families.

Prepare to weep, because we also find out from ABC News that Michelle Bachmann (R-Minn), founder and chairwoman of the House Tea Party Caucus, is considering a run for the White House.  Yep.  We’ve yet to have a woman president — or even a woman make it past the primaries — and this is what we get?  Another name to add to the list of women who call themselves women, politicians who, like Boehner, like everything about family values — unless of course you define those values in terms of the support, like the new health care plan, that enables them to survive.  As we wrote back in November, when California distinguished itself by having two such women on the ballot, a skirt does not a woman make, nor does a skirt make a woman a friend of families:

Because who suffered most under our our health care system of old?  Women.  And when women suffer, it’s often the kids who pay the price.  So much for those family values.  But let’s recall a few things we may have forgotten about the old way of health care.  Pregnancy:  pre-existing condition.  Women:  statistically more  likely to work  part-time jobs (so they can care for their kids) that do not provide benefits.   Sure, all is well and good for ladies who can depend on well-employed husbands for heath care benefits.  But what if he loses his job?  Hard to afford COBRA on a part time salary.  Or no salary.  Or even one salary, for that matter.

And what if she’s a single mother?  Sorry, kids.  No doc for you…

And finally, there’s that scandal over the raunchy navy videos.  You know the ones:  mocking women and gays as a boys-will-be-boys bonding exercise.  Let’s go over to salon, where Tracy Clark-Flory (hey, where did Broadsheet go?) reports on her interview with anthropologist Lionel Tiger, author of “Men in Groups,” who says that this all this  stuff is a way to build, you know, brotherhood.  Especially when you’re stuck at sea:

There is an “intrinsic tension from living together in a relatively crowded environment for long periods of time,” and on a warship at sea, no less. That tension demands a release, and humor is a necessary outlet — but laughs aren’t the only motivator. Sexual stereotypes “reinforce the in-group feeling,” he says. Women, who were banned from serving on submarines until just last year, are “an easy out-group to pick on,” he says, and so are gays, who may soon be allowed to serve openly in the military. In both cases, it serves to prop up the heterosexual male norm, allowing for a touchy-feely-but-totally-not-gay “brotherhood.”

This Tiger person says that it’s important to know why this kind of stuff happens.  Clark-Flory takes it a step further, pointing out that the real issue is why this kind of stuff is allowed to happen.

Oh wait, there’s one more thing more that kind of takes us back to Shannon’s last two posts, on likability and ambition.  Ms Magazine’s January cover will feature Nancy Pelosi, who the magazine calls the “Most Effective Speaker Ever”, who passed more significant new public policy — from health care reform to the stimulus bill to the repeal of DADT —  than any Speaker in the last 50 years.  The magazine notes that even Norman Ornstein, resident scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, says that Pelosi “ranks with the most consequential speakers, certainly in the last 75 years.” But Ms. also notes this:

If Pelosi’s efficacy is news to some, it’s because the media has often snubbed her. Neither Time nor Newsweek featured Pelosi on their covers in all the time she was Speaker (in contrast, Ms. put her on the cover immediately upon her inauguration). Both Time and Newsweek, however, have run covers featuring John Boehner—before he became Speaker.

That sound you hear is steam hissing from my ears.  Back to the future?  You be the judge.

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Marriage. It’s what brings us together, today…

It is, after all, the Mother of all decisions–I mean, when we’re in the market for a car, a house, a job, or a sandwich, must we pronounce our love and fidelity to the Passat or the Pastrami til death do us part? Of course not. (And thank god for that, or I swear to you, I would be wheel-less, homeless, unemployed and starving.) And a couple of new books shine a little light on an interesting point: when it comes to that infamous “Piece of Paper,” could it be the decision-making part of the Til Death Do Us Part that does us in?

First, consider the new book “A Little Bit Married,” just released this week, written by journalist/blogger Hannah Seligson. Of the project, Seligson writes at the Daily Beast:

‘A Little Bit Marrieds’ are the ones that write a prenup on a piece of loose-leaf paper as they move in, detailing who paid for the Ikea bureau, who brought the flat-screen TV, whose parents gave them the bed. They don’t share the cost of anything ‘just in case.’ They each have separate shelf units for their books and DVDs. Are they roommates or are they building a life together? Are they husband and wife, girlfriend and boyfriend, or roommates? They may have seen friends go through the whole lifecycle–dating, marriage, and kids–but they still don’t own a couch together. Each thinks the other person is marriage material, but how can they commit when there are un-traveled continents and four more career paths to explore? Everything is great–but what if there is something better out there?

What if, indeed? It’s the classic conundrum–no one wants to make the wrong decision. And the easiest way to ensure we don’t is to avoid commitment altogether, to keep the doors open, to see for yourself whether that grass is greener. Or, at the very least–and more to the point–to reserve the right to take off to see for yourself about that grass at any time.

Interestingly, the issue of choice comes up in “Committed,” Elizabeth Eat Pray Gilbert’s latest, as well, albeit in a different context. Check what The New Yorker‘s Ariel Levy has to say:

For all the variability in the meaning of marriage, one fairly consistent element over time and place was that it had nothing to do with love. “For most of history it was inconceivable that people would choose their mates on the basis of something as fragile and irrational as love and then focus all their sexual, intimate, and altruistic desires on the resulting marriage,” [Stephanie] Coontz [author of “Marriage, a History”] writes. In fact, loving one’s spouse too much was considered a threat to social and religious order, and was discouraged in societies as disparate as ancient Greece, medieval Islam, and contemporary Cameroon. The modern Western ideal of marriage as both romantic and companionate is an anomaly and a gamble. As soon as people in any culture start selecting spouses based on emotion, the rates of broken marriages shoot up. “By unnerving definition,” Gilbert writes, “anything that the heart has chosen for its own, mysterious reasons it can always unchoose.”

Ultimately, Gilbert is clear about what she, like most people, wants: everything. We want intimacy and autonomy, security and stimulation, reassurance and novelty, coziness and thrills. But we can’t have it.

So. The lure of what’s still out there makes it difficult for us to commit. As does the weight of the personal responsibility inherent in making a choice, especially one based on something as fickle as feelings–and then, by virtue of looking at it as a choice, the likelihood that at some point someone will decide they chose wrong. It all reminds me of something one of the women we’ve interviewed for the book said once–albeit while agonizing over another big question, that of What To Do With Her Life: Sometimes I wish I was born in some other country where everything from career to spouse would be chosen for me.

It would be easier that way, wouldn’t it? Maybe even happier. But, alas, here we are. For better or worse.

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Today’s WTF moment comes courtesy of the cover of this week’s New Yorker. The illustration is a little nudge that reminds us how difficult it is to savor the moment, given our umbilical ties to everything tech.

Appropriately titled “The Top of the World”, the illustration shows two pretty people, clearly a well-heeled couple all decked out in chi-chi skigear, at the crest of what looks to be an alpine ski slope. But instead of admiring the view, reveling in their good fortune for what looks like one killer vakay, or just getting into the Zen of it all — pick one — what are they doing?

You guessed it. He’s taking a photo, undoubtedly to post on his facebook page. She’s on her cell phone, presumably sharing the moment, rather than living it. The only thing missing is an iPhone or crackberry so they can text some BFFs before their downhill run.

Well, ugh. It would be kind of funny, but ain’t it the truth. And it makes me wonder: Is this uber-connection to our cyber-lives and cyber friends and god-knows-what-all-else keeping us from being fully present in our own here and now? From appreciating what we have — rather than jonesing for what we don’t? Does the fact that we have one foot in our own life and the other in about a hundred others make us continually wonder what we’re missing?

All those distractions! All those choices! No wonder we’re always angsting over that greener grass — because the other side of the fence is always up in our face.

And it may only get worse (or I guess, better, depending on your point of view), according to a story in Saturday’s New York Times. In a piece aptly titled “The Children of Cyberspace: Old Fogies by their 20s”, reporter Brad Stone ponders not only whether his two-year old daughter’s worldview will be shaped by the technologies she grows up with, but if her generation — and each succeeding one — will be totally different from those that preceded it:

Researchers are exploring this notion too. They theorize that the ever-accelerating pace of technological change may be minting a series of mini-generation gaps, with each group of children uniquely influenced by the tech tools available in their formative stages of development.

“People two, three or four years apart are having completely different experiences with technology,” said Lee Rainie, director of the Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project. “College students scratch their heads at what their high school siblings are doing, and they scratch their heads at their younger siblings. It has sped up generational differences.”

One difference that’s already apparent in older kids is the way they communicate, Stone writes:

Larry Rosen, a professor of psychology at California State University, Dominguez Hills, and the author of the coming “Rewired: Understanding the iGeneration and the Way They Learn,” has also drawn this distinction between what he calls the Net Generation, born in the 1980s, and the iGeneration, born in the ’90s and this decade.

Now in their 20s, those in the Net Generation, according to Dr. Rosen, spend two hours a day talking on the phone and still use e-mail frequently. The iGeneration — conceivably their younger siblings — spends considerably more time texting than talking on the phone, pays less attention to television than the older group and tends to communicate more over instant-messenger networks.

Dr. Rosen said that the newest generations, unlike their older peers, will expect an instant response from everyone they communicate with, and won’t have the patience for anything less.

Or for taking the time to savor the view, or each other, from the top of the world. Which brings us back to the New Yorker cover. You gotta wonder: if you skied down a black diamond without texting any cyberpals about it — did it ever really happen?

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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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