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Posts Tagged ‘Hillary Clinton’

I frequently hear from former students – usually bright, idealistic twentysomethings — long after they’ve exchanged their college dreams for, you know, reality.

Often, these women are more than a little shell-shocked when they come face to face with the disconnect between their high expectations and life out there in the real world of work.  Their notes, emails and phone calls speak of a certain dissatisfact  Raised to believe they could have it all, they’re suddenly undecided.  Disillusioned. Wondering about that greener grass.  One former student, channeling Betty Friedan, called it “the other problem that has no name.”  All this angst, in fact, was one of the triggers for our book.

The latest email came from a focused young woman – we’ll call her Susie — who moved several states away after she scored the job of her dreams at a big tech company right out of the gate.  Great, right?  But what she wrote was anything but.

She first relayed a story of a friend, an Ivy League grad who was now working in New York – who was so miserable at her job she was thinking of calling it quits.  Why?  Constant sexist remarks.  A sense that she was invisible to the powers that be.  The final straw?  One of the partners in her firm sent out an office-wide email, addressed “Dear Gentlemen”, even though there were several women on the chain – and left her off it completely, though a male employee with her same job was included.

Small stuff, maybe.  But when you’ve been led to believe that gender discrimination is a thing of the past, that feminist battles have been fought and won, that you, sister, have achieved equality, reality provides a nasty wake-up call.

Anyway, back to Susie, who had her own tale of invisibility to tell.   Not long ago, she flew off to run a booth at a trade show for her company.  She reveled in the responsibility – and also in the opportunity to finally have a face-to-face meeting with her brand new boss, who was headquartered in a different state.  But while Susie was busy running the show, a Playboy model who’d been hired by her company for the gig, was working the crowd.

You can guess how this story ends, right?  Susie ended up with about 20 minutes of facetime with her boss, who was far more interested in chatting up the model and taking her to dinner.

“It just leaves so much dissatisfaction in my heart because I feel like there is no way to win this game,” Susie wrote.  “As women, what makes us valuable in the office? There are enough really talented women on my team that I know climbing the ranks is a possibility…”  And yet, she wondered:  how do these women feel when they’re smart, work hard, and then they see, as she did at the tradeshow, that looks carry more currency than talent. “I just wonder,” she wrote, “that even if we reach the pinnacle of success, whatever that might be, will we ever feel like we truly have it?”

Sigh.  One of the most insidious things about this kind of sexism, I told Susie, is that the folks who perpetuate this nonsense rarely realize what they are doing or saying. White male privilege?  More than likely. But it also speaks to the fact that, while we may have come a long way, we still have a long way to go. Which is why I get so grumpy when young women refuse to call themselves feminists – or when their older sisters, the ones who are edging up toward the top of the food chain, are loathe to acknowledge the way things were – and in many cases, still are.

Of course, what rankles the most is the idea that dealing with gender discrimination, with sexism of all kinds, is seen as women’s work.  Shouldn’t it be everyone’s work?

Hillary Clinton — one of the most powerful women in the world and someone who has put up with more than her share of bad behavior solely because of her gender – might well agree.  Check what she told the Gail Collins in an interview in Sunday’s New York Times:

For a long time, Clinton said, when she talked about giving women opportunity, “I could see some eyes glazing over.” But now, she continued, people are beginning to see that empowering women leads to economic development. That you don’t espouse women’s rights because it’s a virtuous thing to do but because it leads to economic growth.

Economics? Brilliant!  Which leads us back to Susie.  Who, we might ask her boss, made more money for her company that week at that trade show?

And exactly who is it that wins when smart and talented young women are too discouraged to stick around?

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I woke up this morning to a message from a former student who’d sent me a link to Anne-Marie Slaughter’s cover story in the new Atlantic.  If you haven’t seen it yet, it’s a brilliant piece that lays out the reasons why women still can’t have it all — and what we as a society ought to do about it.  Within a few hours, links to the story were bouncing around the internet (not to mention my Facebook page) including an excellent recap by HuffPost columnist Lisa Belkin.

Slaughter, who gave up a prestigious State Department post in DC — her dream job, in fact – when she realized her family needed her more, starts the piece by recalling a conversation with a friend where she confessed that, when her time in Washington was up, she was going to “write an op-ed titled ‘Women Can’t Have It All.’”  Her friend was horrified:

“You can’t write that,” she said. “You, of all people.” What she meant was that such a statement, coming from a high-profile career woman—a role model—would be a terrible signal to younger generations of women. By the end of the evening, she had talked me out of it, but for the remainder of my stint in Washington, I was increasingly aware that the feminist beliefs on which I had built my entire career were shifting under my feet. I had always assumed that if I could get a foreign-policy job in the State Department or the White House while my party was in power, I would stay the course as long as I had the opportunity to do work I loved. But in January 2011, when my two-year public-service leave from Princeton University was up, I hurried home as fast as I could.

Something struck me when I read the piece and started parsing it out for myself.  And that’s whether there’s another question we ought to be asking here.  It’s not simply whether we can have it all (like Slaughter, I agree: we can’t, at least given current workplace inequities and societal structures) — but what the pervasiveness of that myth has done to a whole generation of women whose expectations are out of sync with what awaits them out there in the real world.

Back when Undecided was just a twinkle in our eye (fueled, no doubt, by a frosty beer or two after a grueling hike on a hot summer day), the question that kept coming up in that initial bout of brainstorming was whether we as women had been sold a bill of goods.  And what we found in the two years of research and interviews that followed was that this idea of having it all, the mantra so many of us assumed was our birthright, had led to a world of grief.  Because when you’re led to believe that you can have it all — or worse, that you should have it all — you feel like you’ve done it wrong when things don’t measure up.  You are to blame.  Somehow, you’ve failed.  When the truth is that reality — workplace structures, public policy, the culture itself — has not kept pace with our own expectations.

One of the things that gets lost in the “you go, girl” rhetoric is what economists call opportunity cost.  As Stanford economist Myra Strober, who founded  Stanford’s  Center for Research on Women back in 1972, told us, “If you’re doing A, you can’t be doing B.  If you’re playing basketball, you can’t be reading Jane Austen.” In other words, unless and until we can clone ourselves, we’re stuck trying to balance a bunch of trade-offs.  Don’t get me wrong: This is not another salvo in the Mommy Wars or a knock on feminism. Or even a suggestion that life choices are an either/or proposition.  The point is not that we have to choose between family or career — but that we’re going to have to make peace with the fact that if we want to both raise a kid and run a company, it’s not only going to be hard but there are going to be challenges that are greater than we have been led to believe.

Despite our best intentions, very little in either realm is going to be perfect. We may have to compromise. And when we’re raised to be empowered, to believe that we can have it all, that’s one tough pill to swallow.

It’s a hard lesson, made harder by the fact that there aren’t a lot of role models out there who can show us how to navigate the trade-offs.  We were discussing this issue last year on a talk show, in fact, when the host brought up Michelle Obama and Oprah as powerful women who seemed to have it all.  And what we said was that in the traditional definition of having it all — fabulous career, fabulous marriage, parenthood — neither qualified:  Oprah has no family and Michelle, for obvious reasons, has given up her career. Likewise Hillary Clinton or, for that matter, Sheryl Sandberg.  Incredible role models, to be sure. But, in a way, scary ones, too.  Because for the for the vast majority of us, despite our own aspirations, if they are held up as the ideal, we are bound to feel that we have fallen short.

One of my senior journalism students this year wrote her capstone on the lack of women atop the corporate ladder and what younger women should do to get there.  In reporting the story, she interviewed women in leadership positions across the country, essentially digging for tips that would help her generation make it to the C-suite.  What she found, good and bad, was a lot of the stuff we write about here.  But the thing that struck me was her solid conviction that, when all was said and done, having it all was indeed a possibility.

Which is, I guess, is the right way to think from inside a college classroom: More power to her for her optimism — and her sincere conviction that her generation will be the one to make things work. But still, the question nags.  It’s not whether or not we can have it all — but why we saddle ourselves with the expectation that we should.

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This being graduation season, the other day I asked the over-achieving rockstars in my senior journalism capstone class what they’d most like to hear from a commencement speaker.

Thankfully, I heard no references to roads not taken nor endings-versus-beginnings.  (Though I would have enjoyed a quick reference to that four-word piece of advice from the iconic film about post-grad angst, The Graduate:  “In a Word: Plastics”)

But anyway.

The best answer came from a young woman who said she’d like to hear from someone who has failed – and was still okay.

Now, I suspect this is a young woman who, herself, has never failed.  And yet: she may have tapped into one of the biggest fears of young women who have been raised with great expectations, high aspirations and the message that they could do it all and have it all: What happens if they can’t?

If you’ve been following this space, you probably know that one of our key messages is the need to embrace failure, to put yourself out there, to take some risks – even when said risks might end in a big fat fail.  In most cases, if you can see that failure for what it is – just one step in a life-long process of trial and error – you may well learn something that can propel you forward.  Or, as psychologist Ramani Durvasula told us back when we were reporting our book: “You’ll always get over a failure.  But regret?  It’s not recoverable.”

In other words, to borrow a quote from another movie classic, you’ll always wonder if you “coulda been a contender.”

And so, as a nod to my student, and to graduates anywhere, here’s a short list of successful women who failed famously – and still, one way or the other, ended up on top:

Emily Dickinson:  Regarded as one of America’s greatest poets, she wrote over 1700 poems.  Only a handful were published in her lifetime.

Lucille Ball: The winner of four Emmys and a Lifetime Achievement Award was told by one of her first drama teachers that she should try another profession.

Marilyn Monroe: When she was just starting out, modeling agents told her she should go be a secretary.  Why?  She wasn’t attractive enough.

Kathryn Stockett:  Her manuscript for “The Help” was rejected by 60 literary agents over a period of three and a half years, before being picked up by an agent named Susan Ramer, who sold the book to a publisher three weeks later.

Oprah Winfrey:  At 22, she scored a gig co-anchoring the evening news in Baltimore, and eight months later, was fired.  Because she still had a contract with the station, they shuffled her off to a talk show, which ultimately launched her career.

Hilary Clinton:  The Yale Law School graduate failed the D.C. bar exam – but passed the Arkansas bar and moved there to be with Bill.  The rest, as they say, is the history of one of the most influential women in the United States, if not the world.

The list goes on, or could, but the point is this: while we all fail at one time or another (be sure to ask me about some of my own personal doozies) the only real failure is letting the fear of it hold us back.  Or, as former New York Times editor Anna Quindlen once said: “The thing that is really hard, and really amazing, is giving up on being perfect and beginning the work of becoming yourself.”

By the way, our commencement speaker this year is Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple Computer, who has experienced a few failures of his own.

Let’s hope he doesn’t fail to mention them.

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Did you catch Bill Keller’s piece in the New York Times yesterday? Called “Just the ticket,” it’s a pretty compelling case for replacing Joe Biden with Hillary Clinton for second-to-the-top job when this year’s presidential election rolls around. Now, we love Biden’s faux pas and f-bombs as much as anyone, but–hello!–how could we not jump on this bandwagon? So, without further ado, here’s our top 5 reasons why we’d love to see a Clinton-Obama—I mean, Obama-Clinton—ticket.

5. She’s ambitious. And she owns it. She wasn’t content to wrap up her time as first lady and demurely step aside. In a ballsy move, she ran for NY Senator. In a ballsier one, she ran for president–and nearly nabbed the nom. When so many of us feel our ambition is something shameful, something we should apologize for or even deny, Hillary puts it front and center. She’s taken her lumps for it, but ultimately, she’s proven that a woman can be both ambitious and liked. Which brings me to number 4.

4. We like her. I mean, we really like her. According to Gallup (by way of Keller):

Hillary is the most admired woman in America for the 10th year in a row, laps ahead of, in order, Oprah Winfrey, Michelle Obama, Sarah Palin and Condeleezza Rice; her approval rating of 64 percent is the highest of any political figure in the country.

An ambitious woman is something to be admired?! I mean, the whole George Washington/cherry tree thing is cute and everything, but how’s that–ambition and likability are not mutually exclusive–for a lesson in the history books?

3. She’s strong enough to cry. Almost four years ago exactly, during a campaign stop in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, Clinton became emotional when answering a question from an audience member about how she’s able to deal with the madness of a presidential campaign–and it was in her answer, when speaking of how much she cares about the country, that she got choked up. Again, she took flak for it, but there’s another, monstrously important message in this for the rest of us: tears are not a sign of weakness. They’re often, as Elizabeth Lesser has told us, a sign that our heart is truly engaged. I personally know that to be the case for me, and I love to imagine what the world–not to mention the freaking workplace!–would be like if everyone understood that. Being emotionally invested is a strength; Clinton understands that. And yet…

2. She’s not afraid to laugh at herself. At one of the most humbling moments in her career–when she bowed out of the race and gave her support to Obama–the type of moment when some, um, lesser people might be reduced to temper tantrum (You’re not gonna have Richard Nixon to kick around no more! anyone?), she was strong enough to crack a joke–and not just any joke–one that poked fun at herself: thanking her supporters, whom she referred to collectively as the sisterhood of the traveling pantsuits.

1. She is the total package. She has the skills and the experience, the–as Keller puts it–E.Q. as well as the I.Q. She’s already made enough of a mark that when someone describes something as Clintonian, it’s as likely they’re referring to her as it is her husband, who is, you know, a former president. She handled herself impossibly well during one of the most impossible (and public!) humiliations imaginable–and, rather than opt for obscurity, held her head high and soldiered on, right into one of the most visible positions in the world. And what a tenure: as Secretary of State, she’s smoothly handled her share of dramatic world events. As Keller writes:

She would bring to this year’s campaign a missing warmth and some of the voltage that has dissipated as Obama moved from campaigning to governing. What excites is not just the prospect of having a woman a heartbeat–and four years–away from the presidency, although she certainly embodies the aspirations of many women. It’s the possibility that the first woman at the top would have qualifications so manifest that her first-ness was a secondary consideration.

And what a first that would be.

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More than you might think.

Especially for us women, who are often sabotaged by words in ways most of us don’t even recognize.  Language, says Santa Clara University professor Laura Ellingson, an expert on gendered communication, can shape our thoughts and perceptions, uphold double standards, and reinforce stereotypes.

Half the time, we don’t even notice.

All this came to mind this weekend when I came across a piece in the New York Times by business writer Phyllis Korkki, who explored the reasons why women’s progress into the top tiers of the workforce had stalled. Many of those reasons related to entrenched — and often unconscious — sexism. No real surprises there. But one paragraph in particular caught my eye:

[Ilene H. Lang, president and chief executive of Catalyst] maintains that unintentional bias is built into performance review systems. Words like “aggressive” may be used to describe ideal candidates — a label that a man can wear much more comfortably than a woman.

More comfortably?  There’s an understatement for you. Which prompted me to start making a list of other ways in which words can keep us in our place.

One of the first contenders in my  double-standard category — after aggressive, of course –is “ambitious”.  An ambitious man is the type of guy most parents want their daughters to marry.  But an ambitious woman? Think Miranda Priestly in “The Devil Wears Prada”.  The media tell us ambitious women are calm, cold and conniving.  They not only lose their friends, but their bedmates, too.  Which may be why, as longtime Vanity Fair contributing editor Leslie Bennetts once wrote in a piece titled “The Scarlet A” in Elle magazine, owning our ambition may be the last taboo:

Over the past three decades, I’ve interviewed some of the world’s most celebrated women: queens and princesses, senators and rock stars, moguls and movie legends, first ladies and fashion titans. Some were barracudas whose appetite for power would make Machiavelli look like a pushover, but only one ever owned up to being ambitious.

Ouch. Another double-standard for the A-list is “assertive.”  For men, that’s an admirable trait. When they step up and ask, they often receive.  For women? We often don’t bother to ask. And when we do, we run the risk of being tagged pushy.  You know, not feminine. Or, a little more charitably, “feisty”  Which itself is more than just a little demeaning.

Santa Clara University communication professor Charlotta Kratz, whose area is the portrayal of minorities in the media,  points out that performance evaluations are often based on the measurement of what are generally considered to be male traits.  Organization — think linear thinking — is one.  Another is the fact that while women process — we talk things through –  men act.  “Process is female, action is male, and the female talk gets looked down upon as unnecessary,” she says.

True, that.  And then there are words used to characterize our moods. When a male colleague goes wiggy on us, we’re likely to say “he’s lost it.”  As in, momentary aberration.  When a woman does the same, however, she’s often dismissed as “emotional” (read: bad).  Or “menstrual” (read: worse).  Or even menopausal (read: worse yet).  In any case, not to be taken seriously.

Let’s not forget the tear factor. When Speaker of the House John Boehner wept on “60 Minutes” a while back, he was “sensitive.”  When Secretary of State Hilary Clinton cried back in 2008 when she was on the campaign trail, she was portrayed as “emotional” — there’s that word again — as in not presidential.

Other double standards have to do with parenthood. As we point out in Undecided, studies show that a female employee who wears her mom-hood on her sleeve is likely to be perceived as a flight risk.  Other studies, however, show that when a man plays the dad card, his stock often rises.  He becomes a “family man”.  To wit: what a guy! What’s funny is that when that same mom stays home with the kids while dad takes a business trip, she’s, well, home with the kids.  Turn the tables, and dad is babysitting.

Language slaps our personal lives into submission as well:  A woman without a mate is either unmarried — as in, poor thing — or a spinster. Ugh.  A man in the same boat, however, is single. Or better yet, a bachelor. We all know what that means. He’s a catch.  Throw sex into the equation and we’ve got another humdinger of a double standard.  When it comes to bedroom action, as Jessica Valenti wrote in the first essay of her book of the same name: “He’s a stud, She’s a slut.”  Enough said.

The list goes on.  When a man takes charge, especially in the boardroom, he is forceful.  A good thing.  When a woman does the same, especially at home, she’s often called controlling.  Likewise, when a man pushes his staff to the limit, he’s a good leader.  His female counterpart? Excuse the term: A ball-breaker.  Even clothing carries its own weight.  As Ellingson points out, when a male prof wears an old pair of jeans to class, he’s cool.  When a woman does the same: sloppy.

Back to that piece in the New York Times, Korkki hits on another double standard that comes to kick us in the bank account: the ability — or lack of same — to self-promote.  It’s a plus for men, who are expected to “showboat a little.” But women? Not so much. We’re expected to be modest, to praise others instead of ourselves.  Or else we’ll take a dive on the likability scale. Which might, in fact, jeopardise our position. But you know what’s coming next: if there’s a promotion to be had, you can guess who’s most likely to get it.

Ahem.  Word.

 

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Another day, another scandal involving a politician’s crotch. So much to say! And what I’d like to talk about first is this: the phrase “good wife,” and why it must be retired forever. Like yesterday.

In the disgraced politician script, the “good wife” is the one who stands by her man. The one who doesn’t comment and doesn’t leave. Her husband, a public figure, impregnated the “household staffer”, tried to solicit sex in a public restroom, or tweeted his weiner to strangers, and was discovered. In the throes of public (not to mention private) humiliation, the good wife must be not angry, not sad… not anything, really. Invisible is good. Stoic. Properly dressed. And then? Well, we generally rake her over the coals anyway. Shouldn’t she have left? What’s the matter with her? When did she know? What did she know? Did they have some sort of kinky arrangement? Was she just in it for the money, the Governor’s mansion, the vicarious power? 

None of the above is good.

(And hey, just for fun, let’s imagine the situation were reversed. Let’s say Hillary Clinton was caught tweeting crotch shots to random young blackjack dealers and porn stars, or getting oral from an intern… Do you think anyone would be waxing philosophical over whether Bill was or was not behaving as a “good husband”?)

And the guy? I guess it’s clear these husbands are not, as husbands go, good. And yet, generally, the caught men are not really subject to the same sort of judgment. We laugh (comedy writers must surely thank the heavens for the gift of Weiner’s name), we roll our eyes and say, “another one?” or “boys will be boys.” Or, as Maureen Dowd wrote:

We’ve moved from the pre-feminist mantra about the sexual peccadilloes of married men–Boys will be boys–to post-feminist resignation: Men are dogs.

Humiliation (and press conference) behind us, we happily move on to dissect the debate. The conversation goes meta: why is who saying what about who, who’s allowed to or supposed to take what side, and doesn’t saying this in this instance when you said that in that instance make you a hypocrite?

And we greedily digest the salacious details. They’re pretty entertaining, after all. (Seriously, Weiner… your chest? Ladies: informal poll! Would receiving such a tweet be… exciting for you?) But really: it’s none of our business. And is it really news? We can feign outrage all we want, but the truth, it seems to me, is this: sex sells.

Alas, sexism does not. As Susanna Schrobsdorff wrote for Time magazine,

Sure, we get a lot of mileage out of publicly humiliating (and occasionally indicting) famous men who’ve committed sexual transgressions, both legal and illegal. But in the U.S., the gender war is often more show than substance. It’s a spectator sport in which we designate national villains, good wives and so-called sluts…

Condemning Weiner and Strauss-Kahn (and former Senator John Edwards) sure does make us feel as if women get a better deal in the U.S. than in France. The problem is that the numbers show that all the fuss over philandering men doesn’t do most American women any good at all. Certainly not when it comes to wage equality. As it turns out, the gender gap in median pay for full-time work is slightly worse in the U.S. than it is in France, according to a 2010 report from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

And it’s pretty certain that all the salacious details emerging from Weiner’s Twitter account won’t help the millions of American women who don’t have even one paid sick day to take care of a child or themselves. For many of the women who clean hotels and serve food, taking a day off means losing a big chunk of a week’s pay. That’s something that French women would surely not tolerate. (In the U.S., only 41% of low-wage service-industry jobs, which are dominated by women, allow paid sick days.) And how about maternity leave? America is one of only two industrialized nations, along with Australia, that do not guarantee paid maternity leave, and only 11% of U.S. civilian workers get paid family leave.

Will hotel maids be any more secure in the long run thanks to the attention brought to their occupational risks by the Strauss-Kahn case? In a month or two, when the spotlight moves elsewhere, it’s unlikely that they will feel less fearful that they’ll either lose their jobs or their reputations or be deported if they complain about a customer. After all, even women at elite institutions can’t be too optimistic that their allegations of harassment will be taken seriously. This spring, Yale University was embroiled in a federal investigation on charges that it ignored complaints by women about a number of egregious incidents, including one in which frat guys stood outside a freshman dorm shouting, “No means yes, yes means anal,” and another in which men rated women on the basis of how many drinks they’d have to consume before having sex with them.

So, yes, Americans will lambast anyone from the President to Weiner if we suspect they’ve violated our code of sexual conduct. But we won’t pay a whole lot of attention to more tedious but important issues like that ongoing legal action against Walmart by female employees who are suing the retailer for back pay in the largest private gender-bias case in U.S. history.

Still reading? Good reader. I wonder. If this were the sort of country where the women of Yale and Walmart were given as much play as Weiner’s weiner, where corporate pay–and maternity–policy demonstrated that women were valued, well, I wonder if powerful men–and the women they sext–would behave any differently. And I wonder this, too: What’s it going to take, to make substance as sexy as scandal?

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Clearly on the extreme is the most recent string of pols abusing their, ahem, position.  First up, former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who fathered a child over ten years ago with one of his housekeepers.  As in someone who for 20 years worked inside his home, where he lived with his wife and kids.  Ugh.

And then there’s IMF Chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn, reputed to be the heir apparent of Nicolas Sarkozy.  Strauss-Kahn is currently being held without bail in Riker’s Island for chasing a maid around his suite in a Manhattan hotel while wearing no pants.  Or anything else, for that matter.  And oh yes.  He sexually assaulted her.  And by the way, have you seen a picture of this guy?

What I keep wondering is what makes these men with power — simply the latest in a long string of pols who couldn’t keep their pants on — think they can get away with this stuff.  (Can you imagine Hillary Clinton, for example, chasing around a bellhop?)  Oh, wait.  Did I just answer my own question?

What I think is that it has to do with entitlement.  And it goes a lot deeper — and it’s much more pervasive — than the shenanigans of a bunch of horny old men.  Shannon, in fact, went there Tuesday in her post about Bridesmaids, where she wrote that in our culture, “everything male-centered is standard, and everything female-centered is female.”  In other words, we girls are still seen as outside the norm:

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.

Yep.  We’ve got all the doors open — we can be doctors or lawyers or comedy writers or anything else — but those doors still open up into the old boy’s network, where the structures were designed by and for men and where, at the worst extreme, guys with power think they can get away with running around without their pants.  Okay, that’s a metaphor, but you get the picture, right?  (Or maybe you would rather not.)  Cue the power differential, and guess where that leaves us.

Maureen Dowd went there, in a column about the coming season of network TV shows that feature Playboy bunnies, a Charlie’s Angels remake, and a show about sixties-era stewardesses “harking back to the good old days when women didn’t sit in first class, they simply served the men who did..”  Okay, barf.  Dowd points out that there are still some strong women featured on the small screen, but, she writes:

… Hollywood is a world ruled by men, and this season, amid economic anxieties, those men want to indulge in some retro fantasies about hot, subservient babes.

“It’s the Hendricks syndrome,” said one top male TV producer here. “All the big, corporate men saw Christina Hendricks play the bombshell secretary on ‘Mad Men’ and fell in love. It’s a hot fudge sundae for men: a time when women were not allowed to get uppity or make demands. If the woman got pregnant, she had to drive to a back-alley abortionist in New Jersey. If you got tired of women, they had to go away. Women today don’t go away.”

A top female entertainment executive says “it’s not a coincidence that these retro shows are appearing at the same time men are confused about who to be. A lot of women are making more money and getting more college degrees. The traditional roles of dominant and submissive roles are reversed in many cases. Everything was clearer in the ’60s.”

But have things changed so much?  College degrees and fat paychecks notwithstanding, we’re clearly not in charge.  If we were, would primetime really be centered around pointy bras, cinched waists and puffy cottontails?

Our last word comes from uber-feminist Roseanne Barr who, in a scathing New York Magazine essay spills it all on how she got screwed by Hollywood in the first year of her award-winning sitcom — and reminds us how much things have not changed.  She writes of how she had her ideas and jokes stolen out from under her by her producer, Marcy Carsey, and writer Matt Williams, who was credited with creating the series, even though it was based on her fierce Domestic Goddess, a character she’d created doing stand-up for eight years in “dive clubs and biker bars.”  And what she learned that first year was this:

It was pretty clear that no one really cared about the show except me, and that Matt and Marcy and ABC had nothing but contempt for me—someone who didn’t show deference, didn’t keep her mouth shut, didn’t do what she was told. Marcy acted as if I were anti-feminist by resisting her attempt to steal my whole life out from under me. I made the mistake of thinking Marcy was a powerful woman in her own right. I’ve come to learn that there are none in TV. There aren’t powerful men, for that matter, either—unless they work for an ad company or a market-study group. Those are the people who decide what gets on the air and what doesn’t.

Which leads us back to where we started.  Entitlement and where it leaves us.  In this case, writes Barr, it’s at the feet of Charlie Sheen.

Nothing real or truthful makes its way to TV unless you are smart and know how to sneak it in, and I would tell you how I did it, but then I would have to kill you. Based on Two and a Half Men’s success, it seems viewers now prefer their comedy dumb and sexist. Charlie Sheen was the world’s most famous john, and a sitcom was written around him. That just says it all. Doing tons of drugs, smacking prostitutes around, holding a knife up to the head of your wife—sure, that sounds like a dream come true for so many guys out there, but that doesn’t make it right! People do what they can get away with (or figure they can), and Sheen is, in fact, a product of what we call politely the “culture.”

And there you go.  We wonder where naked old men get the idea that it’s okay to chase a chambermaid around a hotel room, or why studio heads, as Shannon wrote, who believe “that one half of the population thinks seeing a movie about women will somehow cost them their balls” always get their way.

The answer is simple.  Because they can.

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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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It’s International Women’s Day, and if you haven’t heard of it, you’re not alone.

By way of celebration, I’m compelled to take stock. The good, the bad, the ugly.

Ugly’s first: According to a new report issued by the White House entitled “Women in America: Indicators of Social and Economic Well-Being,” women of all levels of education earn, on average, 75 percent what their male counterparts do. The study–incidentally… or not so incidentally, the first of its kind since 1963–also found that women are more likely to be living in poverty than men.

Uglier still may be HR 1, the House of Representatives’ proposed budget resolution that would drastically cut domestic and international family planning programs, eliminate funding for comprehensive sex education, and completely defund Planned Parenthood. (Tell your senator to vote that sucker down here.) In a word: shameful.

And the ugliest of them all (sorry, but it can no longer be ignored): Charlie Sheen, national spectacle. The man is a wife beater who has terrorized women for years. Yes, the trainwreck that is he has had its entertaining moments, but it’s time to look away. Fo serio.

Of course, compared to places where women have no right to education, little access to health care, a lack of economic opportunity, or where they are forced into early marriage or to endure sexual violence, we’re looking pretty good. But these issues are our issues. Violence begets violence, and when you don’t value half of the population, violence is pretty much inevitable.

Which brings me to the good: the staggeringly important work that Hillary Clinton‘s doing–doing not because it’s glamorous, but because it’s important–detailed in a fabulous piece on The Daily Beast. In “Hillary Clinton’s War for Women’s Rights,” writer Gayle Tzemach Lemmon digs deep–and reminds us that, perhaps like many of us, Clinton works hard: she’s already out-traveled every one of her predecessors, having banked 465,000 miles and 79 countries so far, and the cause she champions–empowering women–is slowly gaining steam.

Children now study the young readers’ edition of Three Cups of Tea as part of their classroom curriculum, while an increasing number of college-age students are committing time to NGOs involved with women’s issues. And though Washington is proving slower to embrace Clinton’s cause, her own popularity is soaring: she is the second-most-admired woman in America (after Oprah Winfrey), according to a Newsweek poll of women in late February. Meanwhile, the State Department’s 2012 fiscal-year request includes $1.2 billion in programs specifically targeting women, $832 million of which will go toward global health initiatives. Tellingly, comparisons with past years can’t be made, since the department only started tracking women-focused dollars in 2010.

Those are the sorts of things I feel I should be writing about. (Or at least pointing you towards something like this, Newsweek & The Daily Beast’s list of 100 Women Who Changed the World.) But, you know, today I’m inclined to just Thank Goddess for my ladies, who make my life better every way and every day. For listening. And talking. For rescuing me when my heart was broken, when my car was broken down, when I couldn’t keep food down. (It was ugly. On a Mexican vacay. You know who you are–and I am forever in your debt.) For making me laugh, and letting me cry. And it occurs to me that if the women in my life make my life that much better, what might all of us do for the world?


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Forget the B-word; if you want to hit a woman where it hurts, one word’s sure to do it, according to longtime Vanity Fair contributing editor Leslie Bennetts in a piece titled “The Scarlet A” in this month’s Elle magazine, and that word is Ambitious.

Here’s Bennetts’ lede:

Over the past three decades, I’ve interviewed some of the world’s most celebrated women: queens and princesses, senators and rock stars, moguls and movie legends, first ladies and fashion titans. Some were barracudas whose appetite for power would make Machiavelli look like a pushover, but only one ever owned up to being ambitious.

Hillary Clinton? Oprah? Condoleezza Rice? Um, no.

Soon after Catherine Zeta-Jones married Michael Douglas, I met her at their baronial apartment overlooking Central Park West. Waving a hand bedecked with a diamond as big as a grape, Zeta-Jones gestured toward the mantel, where her husband’s Academy Awards were displayed, and confided that she wasn’t satisfied with his reflected glory. ‘I want my Oscar up there too,’ she said, her dark eyes glittering with determination.

Why so taboo? It seems a logical assumption that a film actress should want an Oscar… but, Bennetts writes, “in all my years interviewing movie stars, nobody had ever admitted to coveting one.”

And even after women have scored mega-success, they minimize what it took to get it. Bennetts’ piece outlines the ways some of the most successful, prominent, and groundbreaking contemporary women have refused to own their ambition. Hillary Clinton described herself as “stunned” when President Obama asked her to be his secretary of state, to the point that “‘I kept suggesting other people: ‘Well, how about this person! How about that person!’” Oprah (as Bennetts reminds us: “the richest self-made woman in America and the country’s first black billionaire”) said she doesn’t think of herself as a businessperson. From Drew Gilpin Faust–the first woman president of Harvard–to Michigan state governor Jennifer Granholm to former secretary of state Condoleeza Rice, women seem more likely to attribute their success to luck or to describe it as something that “just happened” than to own it. Can it really be that women still haven’t learned to take a compliment? Or is it that to be seen as ambitious is no compliment at all, but (much like being dubbed ‘opinionated‘) risky, dangerous, unladylike?

Um, probably. According to Celia Lake, a pollster and political strategist Bennetts quotes in her piece:

When men are being tough, voters define it as strength, but when women show toughness, the voters think they’re bitches… The research shows parallel stereotypes of women in executive management.

And, while we might be inclined to say but things are changing! Girls today are surely more confident than that! Bennetts offers up evidence to the contrary, quoting a recent Harvard grad, who recalled her experience in high school, and why she opted out of running for class president.

I was afraid people wouldn’t like me. And the truth is, they probably wouldn’t have. There’s this attitude that if you’re a girl, there’s a limit on how much success you’re allowed. When I was nominated for a major award, the friends of another candidate went around telling people that they shouldn’t vote for me because I already had ‘too much.’

I’d venture to say aspiring class presidents of the male variety do not face such “he has too much” anti-campaigns.

But why do we buy into it? One reason, according to longtime women’s rights advocate and former president of Planned Parenthood Gloria Feldt, is socialization.

[Feldt's] interest in power was sparked by research she did on women in politics. ‘Millions of dollars are being spent to help recruit, train, and support women to get elected, and yet they’ve scarcely moved the dial at all,’ Feldt says. ‘The problem was not that the doors were not open. The problem was that women were not walking through those doors–and that just blew me away.’

One reason women hang back is what Feldt calls a lack of ‘intentionality.’ It seems that from their earliest days, boys know they’re supposed to have a specific interest; they can decide to be and do whatever they want,’ she says. ‘Girls are now told they can be and do anything, but they’re much less likely to be taught that they should have a life plan that’s intentional. Girls are socialized to be reactive; boys are socialized to be the askers, girls the askees.’”

We’ve written about that before, and we think there’s something to it: boys are brought up knowing their job is to slay the dragons, to go, to see, to conquer. While the girls… well, we were the pretty princesses waiting to be rescued. And if that’s indeed the case, and if it’s further the case that we fear being seen as ambitious, for (perhaps) the more grown-up version of I’m afraid people won’t like me–well, is it any wonder so many of us are so undecided? We’re given the message that we can do anything, but we’re not socialized to be the doers. And even if we decide what we want and that we will do what it takes to get it, there’s no guidebook that shows us how. Even the women who’ve gone before, rather than saying, well, I did this, and I did that, and these things were really important, are more likely to sweep away the footprints they left, with a self-deprecating “it was really just a fluke.”

Perhaps the proper first step would be to wear our Scarlet As with pride. I’ll go first: I’m Shannon, and I’m Ambitious!

Feels kinda good.


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