Posts Tagged ‘sexism’

Sure, there’s been a lot of chat about everything that’s wrong with Mad Men and why women in general and feminists in particular should hate its unrepentant misogynystic guts.  And let’s face it:  this is a show that glorifies gin, Lucky Strikes and getting laid (by anyone but one’s spouse).

What’s not to hate, right?

Not so fast. As Stephanie Coontz wrote a year or so ago in the Washington Post: “Mad Men’s writers are not sexist. The time period was.”  And so as a woman and a feminist let me unapologetically admit that I can not wait for the season five premiere on Sunday.  Sure, it’s great TV, and the attention to period detail is freakishly fantastic.  (Pause here to drool over those dresses.)  And, as nighttime soaps go, there’s one hell of a story going on.  But the real reason I love Mad Men – as opposed to, say, its short-lived period clones (read: The Playboy Club and Pan Am) — is because it resonates:

Lesson 1:  The Way We Were. Want to know what second-wave feminism was all about?  Or why we needed a focused movement?  Look no further than the women of Sterling Cooper who, with the exception of Peggy (more later), type their days away in the steno pool or, if they’re lucky, move up to the outer office, answering someone else’s phone.  What’s great is that Mad Men doesn’t pretend that these “career girls” are empowered – as Pan Am and The Playboy Club tried to do.  Instead, we get it right away:  these gals are as hemmed in by the intractability of the system as they are by their rigid underwear.  Their only defense against what we now call sexual harassment was a giggle and a shrug. And for those who wonder what The Feminine Mystique was all about, may I introduce you to the chain-smoking Betty Draper?  She left her husband (as well she should have), ignores her kids, and ran off to Vegas to marry another guy who treats her like a house pet.

 Lesson 2. Where We Need to Go. So, yeah, we’ve come a long way in terms of career. Back when I graduated from college — not that long ago.  or maybe it was —  it was still legal for an employer to list an administrative job in the “female” classifieds and a managerial one in the “male.” Most women who graduated from college were told they had three career options:  secretary, teacher or nurse. And prospective employers were allowed to ask women what their husbands did for a living. Ugh. But for all the progress we’ve made, the workplace still hasn’t caught up. Take away the ashtrays and the booze and if you look closely,  you realize that the structure of today’s workplace isn’t all that different from Sterling Cooper’s, where every Don had a Betty at home to take care of business. It’s still designed by, and for, men. But the reality is that in today’s world, Betty puts in 52 hours a week, just like Don, and then comes home to do the laundry.   Even when men step up at home in ways their fathers never did, there’s still the math: take the current workplace expectations, add in the omnipresence of technology that keeps us uber-connected 24/7, and there aren’t enough hours in the day for any of us.  Unless, of course, one has a housewife.

Lesson 3: Ask, dammit.  In a word, Peggy.  She started as a secretary. Ended up a copywriter.  Which apparently was pretty unheard of in those days.  So how did she end up with a title, an office, and a snazzy new job?  She asked. Enough said. All too often, even decades after the days of Sterling Cooper, many of us are afraid to put ourselves out there, for fear we might be labeled as ambitious and thus, less likable.  Or that we might get turned down.  And so we cross our fingers and wait to get the nod from a higher up – and then are grateful if we do.  Sometimes it’s the fear of failure that keeps us from taking those risks — the possibility that the answer might be a big fat no or that even if it’s a yes, we might fall flat on our face. But as the wise woman told us when we were reporting our book:  You’ll always get over a failure. But regret?  It’s not recoverable.

Lesson 4. Beware the personal brand.  And then there’s Don.  Okay, he’s a guy and we write about women.  But, regardless of gender, he is the embodiment of what we call the iconic self, that image we create to project who we wish we were.  Don is an illusionist, a mystery man who invented himself out of whole cloth and, as David Weigand writes in the San Francisco Chronicle, is “on the run from himself.”  Weigand, who compares Draper to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Jay Gatsby (Fun fact: Fitzgerald got his start as an advertising copywriter), writes:

Fitzgerald, the Midwesterner who went East to reinvent himself, saw both sides of the American “dream.” On the one hand, ours has always been a culture of hope and aspiration. On the other, our abiding belief in change and the ability to reinvent ourselves can bring us perilously close to the edge of self-delusion.

In short, Don is a cautionary tale, a desperate example (cue the falling man in the opening credits) of how we can lose ourselves when we work too hard to become our brand. When it comes to Don, we wonder: is there a there there?  Who knows. But it definitely makes you ponder what Don might do with Facebook.  Scary thought.

Lesson 5. Embrace our differences as our strengths.  It’s a revolutionary thought, the idea that men and women bring different strengths and talents to the table. After all, we came up thinking that to be successful, we had to fit in — to be “a man in a skirt,” as one of our sources dubbed it.  But what if we could tap into our authentic, feminine selves and do what we do best:  Studies show, for example, that women negotiate in a win-win manner, we’re interactive leaders, we’re sensitive to subliminal cues; we’re multithinkers, multitaskers, and are more comfortable with ambiguity.  Not to say one gender is better than the other.  Just different.  Which brings up one of my favorite bon mots from Man Men, seasons past.  The context may have been different, but you gotta love the line: “Don’t be a man, be a woman. It’s a powerful business when done correctly.”

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Fast in the wake of the success of “Mad Men”, TV’s retro series on the advertising industry circa 1965, come two new period series for the fall season:  “The Playboy Club” on NBC and “Pan Am” on ABC.

What these two new series have in common is the insistence by their producers that when you eliminate the girdles, the cleavage and the bunny dips, the shows are really about women’s empowerment. That sound you hear is the two of us choking on our morning Starbucks. Let’s review: Women called Bunnies, wearing rabbit ears and cotton tails, and stewardesses subjected to regular weigh-ins and tight undergarments? Both the subjects of drooling men? This is Hollywood’s vision of empowered women?

Don’t get us wrong.  We like Mad Men as much as the next sixties geeks.  And we are the first to admit that the men of Sterling Cooper are hideously misogynistic. But the women — Peggy, who pushed her way to become the firm’s first woman copywriter, and Joan, often the brains of the outfit — make their way with their smarts rather than their sexuality.

Back to these new shows:  we see a difference between a period piece that portrays the way things were for women — versus the proclamation that what looks like heavy-duty sexism is really female empowerment.

What it really is is backlash.

“The Playboy Club” (Tagline: Where men hold the key but women run the show) revolves around a bunny who becomes involved with a high-powered attorney who gets her out of a jam. “Pan Am” (Tagline: They do it all and they do it at 30,000 feet) is about the glory days of air travel, when pilots were Men-with-a-capital-M and stewardesses were every businessman’s, um, fantasy.

Both shows have come up against intense criticism (Making for an unusual alliance between feminists and conservatives, an NBC affiliate in Utah has refused to air “The Playboy Club” and feminist icon Gloria Steinem has called for a boycott of the show.), which has led to ridiculous statements by the two shows’ producers.  Here’s one, via the Contra Costa Times, from “The Playboy Club” producer, Chad Hodge.

“The show is all about empowerment and who these women can be, and how they can use the club to be anyone they want,” Chad Hodge told critics.

Enough said.  And from the producers of “Pan Am”, via TV/Line:

Exec producer Nancy Holt Ganis — who herself was a Pan Am stewardess during the era depicted in the show — explains that this is what life was actually like for these women, who were admirably regarded as “hostesses at a dinner party… a movable feast.”

“Part of the irony of the profession [is] these are college-educated women who [often] spoke multiple languages,” says [creator/producer Jack] Orman, and yet they we still subjected to physical scrutiny to land the job. Says EP Thomas Schlamme, “For me, the show could be called The Best Years of Our Lives, because for those people, at that moment, that what this is. And that’s what the show’s about.”

Really? We’d prefer to give the last words to Gloria Steinem, who might heartily disagree.  Steinem, who went undercover as a Playboy Bunny during the 1960s for a magazine expose, is the subject of an upcoming HBO documentary entitled “Gloria: In Her Own Words” and at the Summer TV Press Tour, she was asked her thoughts about these two new shows.  Here’s what she said, according to the Washington Post:

“Are they aggrandizing the past in a nostalgic way, or are they really showing the problems of the past in order to show we have come forward? Somehow I think the shows are not doing that,” Steinem said, noting wryly that when times get tough, the “white male response” tends to swing to either sadomasochism — or nostalgia.

Recently, she told Reuters that the Playboy Club was “the tackiest place on earth”:

When I was working there and writing the expose, one of the things they had to change because of my expose was that they required all the Bunnies, who were just waitresses, to have an internal exam and a test for venereal disease,” she said.

Earlier, in an interview for the current issue of Interview Magazine, Maria Shriver asked Steinem whether she was glad she had done the playboy expose in the first place.  She said that at first she wasn’t, and in fact returned an advance she’d received for turning the magazine piece into a book.  But ultimately, she said:

.. feminism did make me realize that I was glad I did it–because I identified with all the women who ended up an underpaid waitress in too-high heels and  a costume that was too tight to breathe in. Most were just trying to make a living and had no other way of doing it. I’d made up a background as a secretary, and the woman who interviewed me asked, “Honey, if you can type, why would you want to work here?” In the sense that we’re all identified too much by our outsides instead of our insides and are mostly in underpaid service jobs, I realized we’re all Bunnies–so yes, I’m glad I did it.

She didn’t mention whether she felt empowered when she was doing the bunny dip.  We suspect her answer would have been no.

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So according to Bloomberg News, the newest brides on the block (I use that metaphor intentionally) are Eastern European.  Really.  As we read in the story that appeared all over the interwebs this week:

Fourteen years ago, Weiner, 73, founded Hand-In-Hand, a London-based matchmaking agency that charges male customers up to $2,000 for a “supervised courtship”—a process that matches them with younger Eastern European women. Hand-In-Hand has since grown into a multinational operation with 30 satellite offices from the U.S. to Abu Dhabi. “We’re still opening up franchises, and business is booming,” says Weiner in his thick New York accent. “Financial problems are the biggest cause of divorce. There are more financial problems now. There are more people available!”

In the age of globalization, the international matchmaking industry—still known in many circles as the mail-order bride trade—is thriving like never before. The Tahirih Justice Center, a nonprofit organization in Falls Church, Va., that protects immigrant women, estimates that the number of mail-order marriages in the U.S. more than doubled between 1999 and 2007, when up to 16,500 such unions were sealed.

The story goes on, and actually, you should read it simply for its trainwreck potential.  And don’t neglect the comments.  But here’s the most interesting tidbit:  one reason that’s given for the desirability of the Eastern European bride is feminism.  Or, more precisely, lack of same.  Back to Bloomberg:

“The mail-order bride industry is a softer version of human trafficking,” says Sonia Ossorio, executive director of the New York City chapter of the National Organization for Women. Ossorio also acknowledges that some relationships work out—but perhaps not in a way that would please Betty Friedan. “A lot of people who are attracted to it are just looking for a woman who’s docile and obedient,” she says.

Ugh, right?  Right?  It gets worse.

For some companies, such submissiveness is a selling point. Hand-In-Hand’s website trumpets the fact that its females are “unspoiled by feminism.” Company founder Weiner argues this form of chauvinism—like the mail-order bride business itself—is economically motivated. “You take a beautiful woman from the Czech Republic and you bring her into your home, she does all your cooking and cleaning and ironing,” he says. “At the end of the day, the service is free.” Hand-In-Hand estimates the potential savings of a homemaking wife at $150 per week.

Now.  I grow as weary of knee-jerk feminist rants as the next feminist, but really.  Don’t we have to call this garbage out?  As in:  Where on earth do these Neanderthals come from? These men who pay for a marriage that would have made their great-grandpas drool?  And why, for that matter, are Olga and Oksana so desperate for a slice of the American pie that they’d be willing to cook and clean for a stranger in exchange for a ring?  Is it because their lives at home are so un-opportunized that a ticket to anywhere-but-here is worth the trade?  Is it because, as one woman who had attended some of these mail-order mixers in her native Russia commented on the Bloomberg piece:

I left [the party] thinking that the men that want Russian women want lower status women and Russian women want American men for feminism! Russian women are not stupid and especially us young women want western feminism!

And so, what happens when, brandishing her Swiffer duster on fine spring day, the formerly blushing bride  suddenly catches that most American of maladies:  independence?

See?  All the makings for the next hit reality show.

But back to that first question:  I myself can’t help wondering where, in 2011,  you would find these guys who think that wives are made to look pretty and serve and who shouldn’t speak up — at least, not to their man.

And so of course I thought of The Bachelor, where marriage is idealized, where relationships come with roses and limos, and where women compete for the top prize — ahem, a husband — and where the winner almost always has a brazilian blow-out, a perky nose, and is impossibly thin.  (Yes, yes, I know.  There’s a Bachelorette, as well.  But that would take me off point, um, or would it?  Who’s the ideal bachelorette?  She may have a serious brain, but she’s usually got a serious rack, too, either real or enhanced.)

With that kind of cultural messaging, with a version of marriage and courtship that seemed to go out with Cinderella, is it no wonder there are still men out there who lust for the most uncomplicated of brides — a young, pretty girl who will cook and clean, and won’t talk back, at least in English.

Which brings us to the next new reality show.  I think it’s a great idea, don’t you?   And, of course, with great drinking game potential.  We start with our hapless schlub sitting at the computer, negotiating Paypal (DRINK)  We follow him to a mail-order mixer in Belarus, where he engages a number of young pretty girls in awkward conversation.   We could bet on which unsuspecting woman will win the rose  and if we’re right:  (DRINK)   Once he picks his intended, we could follow the courtship through the awkward emails — according to Bloomberg, many of these services charge eight to ten bucks to translate — and phone calls, where he and she are clearly lost in translation.   We’d include  the wedding, maybe some chicanery at the immigration office.

And then we might end with happily-ever-after, where our hapless husband comes home for dinner and finds that his wife has traded the vacuum cleaner for the front door.  And that is when we really (DRINK)

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Doncha just love campaign season? Phones aren’t hung up promptly; scandals ensue! As a Californian, I’m naturally thinking of Whore-Gate, or the instance of gubernatorial candidate Jerry Brown calling the police union for an endorsement, and neglecting to hang up before an aide helpfully suggested “What about saying she’s a whore?” (The background is this: His opponent, Meg Whitman–the “she” in question–promised the police union that she’d exempt them from the pension caps she was proposing for “all” public emploees, whereas Brown is calling for cuts across the board, including police and fire. The police union endorsement had nothing to do with her being “tough on crime”; it had to do with dollars. Natch.) Anyway, back to Whore-Gate. Once that comment was leaked, Whitman was quick to pounce, calling it an “insult to the women of California.” The issue was brought up during Tuesday night’s debate, during which moderator Tom Brokaw put the issue to Brown, suggesting that the W-word is on par with the N-word. Brown disagreed with the comparison, but apologized. He was booed. Whitman retorted by saying it’s a “deeply offensive term to women,” then saying that when her campaign chairman, former CA governor Pete Wilson used the W-word in reference to Congress, “that is a completely different thing.” She was booed, too.

Wowee, right?! The fallout was equally salacious. The day after the news of the Brown-camp W-bomb was dropped, NOW announced its endorsement of him, which prompted right-wingers everywhere to proclaim that the National Organization for Women is a partisan operation. (Because, you know, men get to vote on the issues, but women can only vote for the similarly-chromosomed. Any hint of voting with something other than our vaginas suggests partisanship.) Others wrung their hands over whether the W-word is, in fact, as sexist as the N-word is racist. Some saying of course it is; others, like Salon.com’s Joan Walsh saying,

Like it or not, in the political realm the word has little sting anymore, and almost no tie to gender. Brokaw’s comparing it to the “N-word” for women was a rare misstep for the otherwise smart moderator.

I tend to agree that the word “whore” in such a context, while ugly, is not particularly sexist, but I do happen to think that ugly language deserves a comment or two at this particular moment in time. Because the thing is, words do hurt. Bullying is reportedly rampant, as are suicides of its victims. People can say and do really ugly things to each other. Look at the cases of Phoebe Prince or Tyler Clementi. Look at the ways in which Hillary Clinton has been talked about, for gods sake.

But that’s not what we’re talking about here. We’re not talking about sexism; we’re talking about pottymouth. We’re talking about the ugliness of politics, of what happens when someone who’s demonstrated zero interest in politics for the bulk of her life comes into billions of dollars, runs out of toys to buy herself and decides to buy a public office instead, breaking records on campaign spending, and swapping endorsements for favors. (Oops, did I type that out loud?)

But seriously, to suggest that the W-word in question is on par with the N-word–or “deeply offensive to women” in one instance while “a completely different thing” in another–is, quite frankly, offensive in and of itself. Splitting hairs is an insult to voters’ intelligence–and it points to the disingenuousness of Whitman’s decision to play the woman card here, despite the fact that there is precious little in her platform or proposed policy that would benefit women. Even putting that aside, claiming offense in this instance cheapens what people go through when they are the victims of truly hateful language. Politics is ugly, but not as ugly as hate. And what we have here is a non-issue, played up for drama–and votes. There’s plenty of truly offensive instances of hateful language and sexist bullshit to get pissed off about, but this is not one of them. And if you ask me, the most offensive part of the whole thing is this: California is in one hell of a mess, and in desperate need of some quality leadership. And this is what we’re talking about instead.


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Last week was Banned Books Week, and in its honor, I’m bringing up the case of Laurie Halse Anderson’s young-adult book Speak, in which the female protagonist is raped–which a Missouri college professor apparently believes amounts to “soft pornography.”

In an Op-Ed piece that ran in Springfield, Missouri’s News-Leader entitled “Filthy books demeaning to Republic education,” Scroggins writes of Speak:

Schoolteachers are losers, adults are losers and the cheerleading squad scores more than the football team. They have sex on Saturday night and then are goddesses at church on Sunday morning. The cheer squad also gets their group-rate abortions at prom time. As the main character in the book is alone with a boy who is touching her female parts, she makes the statement that this is what high school is supposed to feel like. The boy then rapes her on the next page. Actually, the book and movie both contain two rape scenes.

Scroggins then drops a paragraph about the evils of Slaughterhouse Five, before moving on to Twenty Boy Summer, and returning to the territory of sex=bad, again with the not-so-subtle suggestion that it’s worse for girls:

This book glorifies drunken teen parties, where teen girls lose their clothes in games of strip beer pong. In this book, drunken teens also end up on the beach, where they use their condoms to have sex.

So, a fictional portrayal of teenagers using condoms is bad? But more importantly, as offensive as the suggestion that any book be banned for any reason is, this guy’s implication that, while sex itself is bad, the female characters–willing or not!–who have it are filthy is downright appalling. (And if you’re not appalled yet, consider this other item: Axe Body Wash is now running a delightful ad campaign, in which it promises its charmingly named “Snake Peel” will “Scrub Away the Skank.” Cuz, you know, random girls that hook up with you are skanks, but you’re just a good ol’ dude. And dudes will be dudes.)  I haven’t read either of the books in question, but to me, they sound like they probably offer a pretty damn realistic look at the sex lives of teenagers. And, you know, might give real-world teenagers some food for thought, when it comes to their own sexual decisions? But I guess information is threatening to folks like Scroggins. As Ms. Magazine points out of the books that earn the most ire,

Perhaps they touch on–lower your voice–sex. Or sexism. Or racism. Or on progressive politics. Perhaps they’re anti-war!

(Check their banned book reading list for fun, and brace yourself. Among the obscenities: The Handmaid’s Tale, Brokeback Mountain, Beloved, The Bluest Eye, The Awakening, Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl, The Joy Luck Club, and pretty much everything ever written by Judy Blume.)

Am I the only one who’s found herself humming Footloose? I don’t know, but it seems to me that those who are afraid of new information or ideas contrary to their own are probably relatively insecure in their beliefs or in themselves: otherwise, why would they be so fearful?

But back to Anderson. In response to Scroggins’ screed, Anderson made an important point on her blog:

The fact that he sees rape as sexually exciting (pornographic) is disturbing, if not horrifying. It gets worse, if that’s possible, when he goes on to completely mischaracterize the book.

Horrifying, to say the least.

A Twitter movement has since sprung to Anderson’s defense, marked with the hashtag #speakloudly. Comments to her blog post are impassioned, and frankly, remind me of how I felt upon reading one of the Top 100 Banned/Challenged Books of all time, Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. (Yes, apparently there have been many campaigns aimed at protecting teenage girls from information about menstruation–and the angst might feel upon one’s first experience with it. God forbid we learn about our bodies–or discover we’re not alone in our angst.) Check this one, from a reader named Lindsay:

I literally just finished reading SPEAK for the first time a few days ago, AND IT CHANGED MY LIFE.

this book is one-of-a-kind and does not deserve to be banned. i even checked it out from my school library.

Melinda is in a way, just like me (except I’ve never been raped and i dont normally hang out in a closet and im not very good at drawing trees or anything) but just the fact of all the inside thoughts she has on the world around her, THOSE ARE THE SAME THOUGHTS RUNNING THROUGH MY HEAD!

Finding that you relate to people whom, on the surface, aren’t like you at all–I’m sorry, but isn’t that sort of the magic of reading? And, of life? What some call obscene, I call beautiful. And as for Scroggins, I just feel kind of sorry for him.


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It’s depressingly familiar territory, dear reader: the ugly double-binds that have women screwed no matter what they do (or don’t do). And a new book, Damned if She Does, Damned if She Doesn’t: Rethinking the Rules of the Game That Keep Women from Succeeding in Business, written by the gender balanced husband-and-wife team of management consultants Lynn Cronin and Howard Fine, makes the case that, if you’re playing by big rules of big business, you’re probably hurting your career. On the surface, of course, these rules sound great, but here’s how they keep us down:

  1. Be a team player: Of this one, in an interview with Marie Claire, Cronin explains this paradox thus: “When working in teams, women just don’t receive recognition commensurate with their contributions. But when a driven, competent woman says, ‘They don’t know how good I am; I’ll show them!’ she’s perceived as not being a team player.” Fine’s a little more succinct: “Women pay a higher price than men for not being team players. They have to fall in line or they’re screwed.” So, “fall in line”–i.e., shut up and deal with the fact that the kudos (which is to say money and promotions) you should have coming are likely lost in the mail for all eternity, or be passed over on the grounds that you can’t play nice with others.
  2. Attract mentors and advocates, and bond with coworkers: Easier said than done. The corporate world was built by networks of good old boys, and it’s simply tougher for women to gain entree–and if you’re looking for a female power mentor, wellllll, good luck with that: out of the Fortune 500, a mere 15 of those companies’ CEOs are women. Additionally, women who try to bond with their male counterparts rarely succeed–and can alienate coworkers of either sex–while they’re at it. Not to mention the fact that it’s a little harder for a woman to score an invite to a beer-drinking, golf-playing boondoggle of the “networking” variety than it is for a man.
  3. Show commitment to the job: Women who are committed to their jobs tend to be perceived as losers with no social lives, while women with full personal lives are seen as not committed enough to their work. This one makes me want to pull my hair out: here’s a fun exercise–substitute the word “men” for “women” in the above sentence and attempt to re-read said sentence with a straight face, and then tell me there’s no such thing as sexism in the workplace. Can’t do it? Congratulations, you have a brain.
  4. Recognize your role in the system: Ah yes, the Big Kahuna. Accept your role, and watch as nothing changes. Or challenge it, breaking the golden rule and becoming the problem employee.

So what’s a woman to do? In the MC interview, Cronin and Fine advise what amounts to a careful walking of the line:

[Fine says] Say you think you haven’t gotten a fair raise. Don’t accuse your boss. Instead, ask him questions like ‘What could I do differently so I can get a better raise next time?’ This is helpful to you and forces your boss to justify himself.

[Ed note: Fine, must we always assume that our boss is a him? Sorry, couldn’t help but go there.]

[Cronin says] There’s also a little bit of sucking up and tolerating that you have to do until you’ve risen to a position of power and can really do something about it.

Prudent. Practical. And yet. A tad… underwhelming? Don’t get me wrong: it’s solid, realistic advice, just a little unsatisfying. Like when you’re out to breakfast and opt for the virtuous oatmeal, which you eat while wishing you’d ordered bacon and eggs. (Speaking of damned if you do, damned if you don’t, pick one: healthy but boring, or a delicious triglyceride bomb?) The cynic in me smells hints of an underlying message, practical though it may be, that women must always be the virtuous ones, bending to fit into a system that not only doesn’t work for them, it actually works against them. And works against them in–as Cronin and Fine themselves point out–the cruelest of ways: leaving us navigating a no-win situation that has us damned if we do, damned if we don’t. Bending may be realistic, but it seems to me, for every woman who’s preoccupied with turning herself into a carefully-arranged pretzel so as to avoid outright do-ing or don’t-ing, there’s an employer that’s losing out on a lot of potential. How much better could we be, how much more productive, more engaged, if we could free up the energy we siphon off to maintaining the perfect pretzel form, and redirect it towards something useful? I confess, I haven’t read the book yet, only the blurbs, and they promise substance–“concrete solutions,” “roadmaps” that will lead to “a post-gender workplace.” And I hope they deliver something satisfying. Because I’ve had it with the bending. Some rules were made to be broken. And if I’m damned if I do and damned if I don’t anyway, gimme the bacon.

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Are We There Yet? asks a recent Newsweek headline, with the kind of slug that leaves you with a distinctive sense of dread:

In 1976, 46 women filed a landmark gender-discrimination case. Their employer was NEWSWEEK. Forty years later, their contemporary counterparts question how much has actually changed.

It’s a great piece, as it shows how awfully far we have come (those women were flat-out told in their interviews that women could never get to the top–or even the middle–and spent their days at the veritable newsrag fetching coffee, sorting mail, and doing–and handing over–the reporting that a male writer would use in the stories that ultimately would bear his byline), as well as… well, how far we haven’t come. (For starters: in 1970 25 percent of Newsweek‘s editorial masthead was female; today that number is only 39 percent. Ahem, it’s FORTY YEARS LATER, PEOPLE. Last year, men wrote all but six of Newsweek‘s 49 cover stories, which is apparently par for the course: taking major magazines as a whole, there’s one female byline for every SEVEN male.) For the young women–new to the work force–who wrote this piece, the real world offered up quite a shock:

Forty years after NEWSWEEK’s women rose up, there’s no denying our cohort of young women is unlike even the half-generation before us. We are post-Title IX women, taught that the fight for equality was history; that we could do, or be, anything. The three of us were valedictorians and state-champion athletes; we got scholarships and were the first to raise our hands in class. As young professionals, we cheered the third female Supreme Court justice, and, nearly, the first female president. We’ve watched as women became the majority of American workers, prompting a Maria Shriver-backed survey on gender, released late last year, to proclaim that ‘the battle of the sexes is over.’

Can you sense the but coming? Good reader. Here it be:

The problem is, for women like us, the victory dance feels premature. Youthful impatience? Maybe. But consider this: U.S. Department of Education data show that a year out of school, despite having earned higher college GPAs in every subject, young women will take home, on average across all professions, just 80 percent of what their male colleagues do… Motherhood has long been the explanation for the persistent pay gap, yet a decade out of college, full-time working women who haven’t had children still make 77 cents on the male dollar. As women increasingly become the breadwinners in this recession, bringing home 23 percent less bacon hurts families more deeply than ever before.

I know, that’s nothing new. You’ve certainly read about it here once or twice. But the point worth thinking about is what they get at here:

In countless small ways, each of us has felt frustrated over the years, as if something was amiss. But as products of a system in which we learned that the fight for equality had been won, we didn’t identify those feelings as gender-related. It seemed like a cop-out, a weakness, to suggest that the problem was anybody’s fault but our own.

Convenient, no? Tell everyone the problem’s been solved already, and maybe it’ll go away. Move along, nothing to see here… Nothing, of course, but those inequalities listed above. Or the ones below:

  • A Girl Scouts study found that young women avoid leadership roles for fear they’ll be labeled ‘bossy’;
  • women are four times less likely than men to negotiate a starting salary…
  • which is probably for the best, as a Harvard study found that women who demand more money are perceived as “less nice” (=less likely to be hired).

As infuriating as all of that may be — and, duh, it is — even more so is the fact that no one seems to be pissed off about it. And, I’d venture to say, there are even some among us who read those stats, who are familiar with the surveys and the survey results, and yet, somehow, can’t quite bring ourselves to believe it.

Susan Douglas would diagnose that as a classic case of “Enlightened Sexism,” and her new book on the subject makes a compelling case that, because of all the advances that we have made — and because of a lopsided accentuating of the positives (so sugar and spiced and everything niced are we!), the stereotypes, inequities, and biases that would have once been called sexist go unnoticed. Turn on the TV, she says: there are women doctors, women lawyers, women detectives and DAs and Hillary Clinton and Oprah to show you: See? We have come a long way, baby! But all that rose-colored imagery doesn’t exactly reflect reality. For instance, here’s something you might not have realized:

The four most common female professions today are: secretary, registered nurse, teacher, and cashier–low-paying, “pink collar” jobs that employ 43 percent of all women. Swap “domestic help” for nurse, and you’d be looking at the top female jobs from 1960, back when want ads were segregated by gender.

It’s all rather depressing, but, at the same time, not: those ladies at Newsweek? They’re putting it out there, putting themselves out there, calling it like they see it — like they live it. (And maybe even calling themselves Feminists, too.) And what they’re putting out there, what they’re calling, seeing, and living, is this: the job’s not done yet. Maybe they’ll be some of tomorrow’s leaders–any movement that wants to keep moving needs regular shots of fresh blood. And, shhhh: there’s more of us out there. And you know, even the leaders of the old-guard see cause for hope: in a piece just published yesterday, written by none other than The Female Eunuch author Germaine Greer, Greer begins, with characteristic sarcasm, by declaring feminism a failure (and The Female Eunuch not her best work). Eunuchs aside, she ends with a potent call to arms:

The media tend to think that the fantasies they peddle are realer than real. But in the real world, women have changed; bit by bit, they are growing stronger and braver, ready to begin the actual feminist revolution. The feminist revolution hasn’t failed, you see. It has only just begun.

And if that’s the case, there’s only one thing left to say: Bring it.

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Here’s another one for the Well, Duh file. Women need more sleep.

I bring this up not because I like to make Well, Duh-style proclamations. On the contrary; I tend to prefer proclamations of the Wowee! variety. I bring it up because this week, Arianna Huffington and Glamour magazine EIC Cindi Leive have issued a New Year’s Call to Arms on the Huffington Post: “Sleep Challenge 2010: Women, It’s Time to Sleep Our Way to the Top. Literally.”

Sounds great, right? Not so fast. As Feministing’s Jessica put it:

But here’s the thing – what Huffington and Leive are really talking about is sexism, not sleep.

Let’s back up, shall we? From the HuffPo piece:

“Women are significantly more sleep-deprived than men,” confirms Michael Breus, Ph.D., author of Beauty Sleep: Look Younger, Lose Weight, and Feel Great Through Better Sleep. “They have so many commitments, and sleep starts to get low on the totem pole. They may know that sleep should be a priority, but then, you know, they’ve just got to get that last thing done. And that’s when it starts to get bad.”

…Getting a good night’s sleep, of course, is easier said than done. You have to tune out a host of temptations, from Letterman to the PTA to your e-mail inbox — and most of all, to ignore the workaholic wisdom that says you’re lazy for not living up to the example set by Madonna, Martha Stewart and other notorious self-professed never-sleepers. Of course, the truth is the opposite: You’ll be much more likely to be a professional powerhouse if you’re not asleep at the wheel. (Even Bill Clinton, who used to famously get only five hours of sleep, later admitted, “Every important mistake I’ve made in my life, I’ve made because I was too tired.” Huh! ) The problem is that women often feel that they still don’t “belong” in the boys-club atmosphere that still dominates many workplaces. So they often attempt to compensate by working harder and longer than the next guy. Hard work helps women fit in and gain a measure of security. And because it works, they begin to do more and more and more of it until they can’t stop. But it’s a Pyrrhic victory: The workaholism leads to lack of sleep, which in turn leads to never being able to do your best. In fact, many women do this on purpose, fueled by the mistaken idea that getting enough sleep means you must be lazy or less than passionate about your work and your life.

Maybe. Or maybe, as Dr. Breus pointed out, it’s more to do with the fact that many of us are so overloaded with tasks and to-dos, first shifts and second shifts, there simply isn’t any time left over for sleep. (And it’s worth mentioning that the not getting enough sleep thing is a notoriously vicious cycle: The more we take on, the more stressed we are about all we have to get done–and how and when we’re going to get it done. And stress has a rather nasty way of messing with our zzzs. And, in the face of a packed day after a restless night, well, coffee becomes our BFF–until, like a fickle 5 year-old, the clock strikes X and we ditch that BFF for another one–named Malbec. Or whatever. And then we go to bed, worrying about whether or not sleep will come… Rinse, repeat.)

Sleep deprivation, of course, comes with all sorts of nasty side effects, as the HuffPo piece points out. Among them: illness, stress, traffic accidents, weight gain (let no fat card go unplayed). But wait, there’s more!

Rob yourself of sleep, ladies, and you’ll find you never function at your personal best. Work decisions, relationship challenges, any life situation that requires you to know your own mind–they all require the judgment, problem-solving and creativity that only a rested brain is capable of and are all handled best when you bring to them the creativity and judgment that are enhanced by sleep.

Well yeah. Who could argue with that? We all know we should get more sleep. We know how it feels to slog through a busy day in the fog of exhaustion–how impossible it is to think straight. But what rubs me wrong about the whole thing is this: I can’t shake the sense that this is yet another instance in which something that’s societal, systemic, is trivialized by framing it as a personal issue. Yes, we should all aim to get a little more sleep. But the fact is, the modern workplace–of which women are on track to become the majority, like, any second now–is still set up as though the workers who fill it were Don Draper clones, men with a full-time Betty at home, able to take care of all of the stuff that keeps a life running smoothly. But the ladies (and gentlemen) of today don’t have a Betty. She took off to Vegas, baby. So we do our best Don–and then we make the time to get Betty’s job done, too. We work our full day–and then we fold the clothes. And do the grocery shopping. And pick up the dry cleaning. And attempt to cook healthy items (or contend with the parking lot at our favorite take-out joint), to exercise, to socialize, to sleep. To quote Germaine Greer yet again:

When we talk about women having it all, what they really have all of is the work.

Or, as Lisa Belkin put it, over at the NYT Motherlode:

The reason women don’t sleep as well as men is not because of our misguided workaholic tendencies, or our short-sighted need to prove ourselves, but because the world, as it is constructed, gives women more to DO. Particularly during the hours when we should be sleeping. Some of this we can’t control — a baby who needs to nurse at 1 a.m. and again at 3 a.m., for instance, or the fact that at least one study found women wake more easily to a baby’s cry than men. We have those hormonal insomnia issues, too, and, with time, hot flashes and night sweats.

Other reasons are handed to us by society. The expectation is that mom will work a second shift, filling her evening with homework checking and lunch fixing and bedtime storytelling and clutter picking-upping and laundry sorting. Then, after that, so many of us get back to the pile of work we brought home from the office — an office we left early in order to be home for dinner. Yes, men do this more and more in many homes, but the social expectation is that this is still a mother’s job, and shaking it requires more than a simple declaration that we will get more sleep.

It’s enough to make me cry out for my blankie! So what are we to do, aside from putting ourselves down for a little bonus shut-eye every now and then? A good start might be recognizing the only marginally deeper truths in “personal challenges” likes this for the eye-openers that they are.

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I say we leave it up to the kids. More below.

Writing in The Nation last week, Katha Pollitt threw some love at Julie and Julia, the feel-good foodie movie about Julia Child and Julie Powell, the 20-something blogger who tried to channel Child by cooking her way through “Mastering the Art of French Cooking.” What Pollitt liked most about the movie was the fact that it was about adult women finding meaning through work:

What I loved most of all, though, was that Julie & Julia is that very rare thing, a movie centered on adult women, and that even rarer thing, a movie about women’s struggle to express their gifts through work. Not a boyfriend, a fabulous wedding, a baby, a gay best friend, a better marriage, escape from a serial killer, the perfect work-family balance, another baby. Real life is full of women for whom work is at the center, who crave creative challenge, who are miserable until they find a way to make a mark on the world. But in the movies, women with big ambitions tend to be Prada-wearing devils or uptight thirtysomethings who relax when they find a slacker boyfriend or inherit an adorable orphan. Among recent films, Seraphine, Martin Provost’s biopic about an early-twentieth-century French cleaning woman and self-taught painter, is practically unique in its curiosity about a woman’s creative drive. More usually, a woman’s cinematic function is to forward, thwart, complicate or decorate the story of a man. As Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s elusive girlfriend in (500) Days of Summer, Zooey Deschanel has all the external trappings of individuality–aloofness, a sly smile, vintage clothes and indie tastes–but she has no more inner life than Petrarch’s Laura. She’s there to break the hero’s heart and rekindle his ambitions. What will she become? Someone else’s wife.

I read this piece after a long Sunday afternoon of a breakneck email back-and-forth relating to Marcus Buckingham and the happiness gap, which Shannon wrote about so eloquently yesterday. Much of the backchat centered around sexism: Why on earth would we look to a male to define, understand and proffer solutions for our own particular brand of angst? The answer was the obvious. We’re still living in a man’s world. Or, if you prefer the loaded term, a patriarchy, where most of the social structures were set up by men — to benefit men. Men dominate for the simple reason that they can.

Which made me wonder: some 50 years after Betty Friedan ignited the second wave of the women’s movement by writing about the “problem that has no name”, why are we still pleasantly pleased to find a movie about grown-up women who have lives apart from their significant others? Why do we let men (and the editors who publish them) take our conversations away from us? Why were we shocked and amazed that Hillary made it so far into last year’s primary season — all the while secretly acknowledging to ourselves that she could never win the presidency? Why do we still earn 71 cents on the dollar — and then come home and do the laundry? Why, in fact, do I still use terms like “Why women” (just hit search) in my posts?

No wonder we are undecided.

I came of age during the bra-burning era — which, by the way, never happened — at a time when I was known as a “women’s libber.” That dates me, yeah? At my first job out of college, my co-workers (mostly women several years older than I) were almost all involved in consciousness-raising groups, and brought those conversations into the lunch room and break rooms. There was momentum: we were prepped for change, and by god, we were going to make it happen.

But see above. We didn’t. And having been along for most of the ride, I’m frustrated that the movement seems to have stalled.

Why are words like “patriarchy” still part of the lexicon? Why, after Pat Shroeder broke ground in 1973 by becoming the first woman from Colorado to be elected to the U.S. house of representatives – and the first woman to make a legitimate run for president — why are women so woefully underrepresented in the House and, primarily, the Senate? Why are we tempted to use the same loaded  rhetoric of 50 years back without realizing that, just maybe, we need to change strats?

Back in the day, feminism was fueled, to a certain extent, by anger. And it was appropriate: Wake up, women! Embrace your oppression! Fight the patriarchy! That, we got. But moving from anger to constructive action? Seems to me the movement might have gotten so stuck in the rhetoric that it not only closed the tent, but couldn’t pull the trigger.

(As an aside, these are questions for the next generation: What was the last thing you read about NOW? What do you know about EMILY’s list — and do you even know what EMILY stands for?)

One of my friends who was part of Sunday’s bang-a-thon is from Sweden, where this type of conversation is probably close to obsolete. In her country, where there is both gender parity and equality, she suggests, it may be due to their social-democratic-ness: “It’s normal to look at society as a structure and ask yourself who will benefit — and how it can be changed to benefit other groups.”

Why didn’t we think of that? Is it possible that the anger that was so successful as a wake-up call ended up immobilizing us as much as complacency might have? Rather than building a coalition, as President Obama, who achieved the impossible last November, was able to do, did we end up alienating those we needed as allies?

I have no answers. Which is why I’m hoping the twenty and thirty-somethings might pick up the mantle and go forward with some fresh ideas.  Third-wave feminism has been dubbed by some “do-me feminism” or “Sex and the City feminism.” I have to wonder: do we need a fourth wave?

I vote yes.

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