Why do men in America feel entitled to women? A gallery of reasons

On the Santa Barbara massacre, the Atlantic reports:

Suffice it to say that the killer was a misogynist, and that lots of women have reacted to his rampage by reflecting on how women are denied full personhood.

 

PolyMic reports:

Rather than seeing Elliot Rodger as a product of society, the media has depicted him as a bloodthirsty madman, a mere glitch in the system.

 

New Statesman reports:

The ideology behind these attacks – and there is ideology – is simple. Women owe men. Women, as a class, as a sex, owe men sex, love, attention, “adoration”

I’m reposting a blog I wrote after seeing Jimmy Fallon’s Vanity Fair cover. Look at these images. When will women in America be recognized as human beings equal to men?

Vanity Fair’s sexist Jimmy Fallon profile erases his wife, highlights Victoria Secret models

I’m a huge Jimmy Fallon fan. This is why I bought the new Vanity Fair where he’s on the cover even though it annoyed me that Fallon is shown in a suit while he’s flanked by two nameless women in bathing suits.

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There are more pics of Fallon and naked women inside the magazine. Reading the caption, I learned that the women are Victoria Secret models.

There is a third picture of Fallon and the women at what looks like New York’s Natural History museum. Once again, the women are in skimpy bikinis and we get a full view of ass. Fallon is once again pictured in a suit.

Showing important, powerful men fully clothed while women appear as naked accessories underscores the idea that men valued for what they do and think, while women are valued for how they appear. Vanity Fair repetitively resorts to this sexism. There’s a famous photo featuring naked Scarlett Johanssen, Keira Knightly, and Tom Ford. When Rachel McAdams refused to undress, she was asked to leave.

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Of course, Vanity Fair is hardly alone in promoting this sexist imagery. Here are five GQ covers that came out simultaneously: four men are shown in suits, one woman is shown naked.

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What about Rolling Stone?

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There’s Justin Timberlake’s “Tunnel Vision” video where he is clothed and the women are naked.

Many claimed Timberlake was copying Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” video where he is clothed and the women are naked, a pairing repeated in the infamous Miley Cyrus performance (where Miley was blamed for being a slut.)

“Alternative” musicians resort to the same cliche. Did you see Nick Cave’s latest album cover?

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The truth is, we’ve been dealing with the clothed man-naked woman pairing for a long time. Here’s a famous painting by Edouard Manet in the Musee D’Orsay in Paris that would make a perfect Vanity Fair cover.

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But here’s what really pissed me off about the Jimmy Fallon article. As I wrote, I’m a fan of the comedian, but part of the reason I bought the magazine is because I wanted to know more about his wife, Nancy Juvonen. She’s a film producer and a business partner of Drew Barrymore. Both Barrymore and Juvonen are interested in making movies where cool women get to have adventures. I wanted to hear the whole story about how Juvonen and Fallon met and fell in love, just the kind of thing you’d expect to find in a Vanity Fair profile right? They recently had a daughter, Winnie, so I assumed Fallon would be asked about being a new father. I’m an avid reader of Us Weekly and People and I often see pictures of their family. Fallon is always cuddling his baby, playing with her, smiling at her, and I was curious about his thoughts on raising a girl in the world. Another thing I wanted to hear about: Fallon is 39 while Juvonen is 46, a rare gap in Hollywood where a woman’s age is measured closer to dog years than man years. Do you see my point here? Fallon married a successful career woman who is 7 years older than him, and this, besides his talent, is part of the reason I admire the guy. But here’s the weird thing: Nancy Juvonen is missing from Fallon’s profile.

Juvonen isn’t mentioned at all until 5 pages into the piece. After writing that Fallon always watched “SNL” alone, the text reads:

His one concession to adulthood is that he now watches the program with his wife, the film producer Nancy Juvonen, and if she is awake his baby daughter, Winnie, born last July.

Can you imagine Vanity Fair doing a profile on a famous woman and not mentioning her big time producer husband or her new baby until page 5? The piece goes on for two more pages and there are just two more brief references to Juvonen. Here’s all the magazine has to say on how they met and why they married.

Though the Fever Pitch experience had a saving grace–it was through the film that he met Juvonen, one of its producers who he would marry in 2007– he considers his LA years kind of a lost period.

Here’s the final reference to Juvonen, about persuading Fallon to become the “Tonight Show” host.

It was Fallon’s wife who persuaded him to go with Michael’s instinct. “Nancy was like, ‘You’ve got to try it. You’ll be one of three human beings who have done it– Letterman, Conan, and you. You have to do it. If it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work,’” Fallon said.

That’s it. WTF? All Fallon’s wife gets in a profile is a few sentences in passing coupled with a cover and three photos where he’s shown with naked women? That’s not the Jimmy Fallon I love or wanted to read about.

“Belle” inspired by the painting

Always interested in the role of art in shaping reality and narratives, I wondered if the painting of Dido and her cousin, Elizabeth, inspired the movie. Apparently, it did.

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From SFGate:

The screenwriter has said that “Belle” was initially inspired by her seeing the painting of Dido and Elizabeth at Scone Palace in Scotland. The painting, worth seeking out online, gets more beautiful the more you look at it. In the ease of their postures and the warm and confident expressions of their faces, one can see that those young women knew something – their own worth and each other’s.

 

Screenwriter Misan Sagay

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Director of “Belle” Amma Asante

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From the New York Times:

While she was an undergraduate at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland in the 1990s, Misan Sagay visited the nearby Scone Palace, where a rare double portrait caught her eye. Painted in the Gainsborough style of aristocratic figures in an Arcadian landscape, the canvas showed two young women swathed in lustrous satin, gleaming pearls circling their swan necks. The vivacious one on the left is biracial; her unhurried companion is white.

Ms. Sagay, who is Anglo-Nigerian, studied the wall label. It read: “Portrait of Lady Elizabeth Murray, circa 1778.”

Naturally, Ms. Sagay was curious. What of the woman on the left, whose forearm Elizabeth clasps so fondly?

In 2009 Amma Asante, a British-born filmmaker of Ghanaian parentage, received a screenplay written by Ms. Sagay. Attached was a postcard reproduction of the painting. Even before reading the script, Ms. Asante recalled, “I was inspired by the image.” She said that in European paintings of the late 18th century, blacks were often depicted as lower-class figures to affirm the higher status of the white subject. “I knew how unique it was,” she said, “that the black woman was not looking with adoration at the white woman, and that the white woman was tenderly touching her companion.”

How many different stories and movies and television shows and apps do you think we’d have in 2014 if we weren’t surrounded by thousands of years of paintings by white men of naked women?

‘If I never see another naked, enslaved, raped black woman on screen, I’ll be happy’

Last week, four black feminists participated in a panel discussion hosted by the New School titled: “Are You Still a Slave? Liberating the Black Female Body.” The talk– an in depth discussion about the influence of imagery and narrative on our culture and its role in creating our actual reality– went on for almost two hours. Yet, out of all this, the media reduced trenchant analysis into a sound byte, pitting one black woman against another: “Feminist scholar bell hooks calls Beyonce a terrorist.”

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I encourage you to watch the whole talk. I know you probably won’t, because, as I wrote, it’s two hours long. I didn’t intend to sit through it all myself, but I was so excited and fascinated by what these women were saying, I couldn’t stop listening to them.

These 4 women are creating new narratives and images, beyond woman as victim, sex object, slave. The discussion about Beyonce, specifically her Time cover where she’s shown in her underwear (which totally bummed me out as well when I saw it– why, why, why, the issue is about the most influential people and she’s practically naked, do you know how few women make it to the cover of Time?) is a few minutes of a larger, important talk about women, power, and the nature of reality.

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Here’s how bell hooks began the discussion:

Part of why I’m so excited and proud to be here today is that I’m up here with black women who are all about redefining and creating a different kind of image, liberating the black female body

Not a fan of “12 Years a Slave,” hooks says:

If I never see another naked, enslaved, raped black woman on the screen as long as I live,  I’ll be happy.

 

YES! I could not agree more. I am so sick of watching women get raped. After the talk, someone in the audience challenged hooks, saying she felt conflicted about hooks’ reaction to “12 Years:’

we still need to have those conversations about rape and violence on stage…how can we have those conversations, the role of slavery and colonization on women’s bodies? Can we make space for both?

 

Here’s how hooks responded:

Because we have been so saturated, I mean, I think one of the big lies that’s going around is, “Oh, we never talked about slavery, oh, we don’t have images of slavery.” We had “Roots” and more “Roots,” and there’ve been all these different books and productions, so that I think of that as a kind of myth building thing when people say, “Oh, we don’t have images.” Notice I didn’t say I don’t want to see anything about slavery. I don’t want to see those same tropes over and over again.

 

hooks speaks about some narratives that involve slavery she’d like to see, for example, when John Wollman and the Quakers met and decided they could not support slavery and believe in the god they believed in, that in fact, they owed back wages to slaves.

that would be an interesting film for me… more interesting to me as an image, as an idea than the repetitive image of victimhood, and I think that they’re all kinds of images and stories out there that could bring us into a different level of understanding.

 

hooks was making exactly the same point about Beyonce. She was referring to the repetition of sexualized images of women and how the inundation is an assault on our brains, especially for kids:

I see a part of Beyonce that is, in fact, anti-feminist, that is assaulting, that is a terrorist, in especially terms of the impact on young girls. I actually feel like the major assault of feminism in our society is has come from visual media… The tirades against feminism occur so much in the image making business…What I’m concerned about constantly in my critical imagination is why is it we don’t have liberatory images that are away from, not an inversion of, what society has told us, but our own sense of: what am I looking like when I am free?

 

That, right there, is what my whole blog Reel Girl is about. What does gender equality look like? Do we have any idea? Where do we see it, even in the fantasy world? If we can’t imagine it, we can’t create it. There is no good reason for the fantasy world– especially the fantasy world created for children– to be sexist, to put males front and center again and again, while females are literally marginalized and sexualized, stuck on the sidelines if they get to exist at all. To repeat, hooks says:

The tirades against feminism occur so much in the image making business

hooks wants new images. She says:

I would never want my child to see “12 Years a Slave” because it’s the imprint of the black, female body as victimized.

 

Again, totally agree. Obviously, “12 Years” isn’t a movie for kids, but I see endless books and movies, supposedly feminist ones where girls are mocked for being girls, then they rise above it and prove everyone wrong. Fuck that. I hope in children’s media I never have to read about or watch another girl dressing up as a boy, fighting or cooking “as good as a boy can,” from Mulan to Tamora Pierce to Elena’s Serenade to endless Minority Feisty. The reason this trope is awful for girls– and boys– is because before your child can understand the narrative, she needs to understand sexism. Instead of having Colette in “Ratatouille” give a whole speech about male dominated kitchens, why not make a movie with a female top chef and her best friend is a female talking-cooking rat? Audiences will buy that a rodent can run a three star restaurant but not a female? Like hooks says, we are saturated with this same old, same old. If we weren’t, it would be a different story (ha.) The slavery narrative in all its forms has its place, but we need a break. It’s too dominant. There are many other stories to tell.

By the way, hooks walks her talk. She wrote Happy to be Nappy for kids in 2001, and in this discussion, she says she includes it in her most important, favorite works.

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Another speaker on the panel, Shola Lynch, is a filmmaker whose most recent production is a documentary about Angela Davis.

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In referring to her film as “a political crime drama with a love story at the center,” she reframes Davis’ narrative. Next, Lynch is making a movie about Harriet Tubman, who she calls an “action heroine.” Can you believe there hasn’t been a movie about Harriet Tubman? Lynch says that even though Tubman’s story is true, people don’t “believe” it. The same phenomenon happened with the Davis movie. About selling that film, Lynch says:

So then I have conversations where somebody’s like, “Oh, it’s a great film as a documentary, but the only reason I would support it is I have to know who the main male characters are because it’ll be flipped to be a narrative, women’s stories don’t sell”… Her story is true, but not possible. People don’t believe it. But it’s all true.”

 

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Talking about why she would rather make movies about heroes than victims, Lynch refers to “symbolic annihilation:”

Symbolic annihilation is two things: not seeing yourself, but it’s also seeing yourself only denigrated, victimized etc, and what that does to you. We can talk about all the things that denigrate us, but I’d rather shift the camera, shift my gaze, and look for the images and the people and the places that feed me. I really do think, you talk about children, the more we create our culture, our cultural images– the books you write, the films I make, the alternatives, that these are artifacts that live, and they speak to people whether we’re there or not, bodies of work, and that is critical. I want to give one example. My daughter, she’s 4. She’s never known me not working on the Angela Davis film which took 8 years. She was so excited when I could show her the trailer. ..The trailer is like 2 minutes long and she watched that trailer over and over and over again…She would point out all the characters, she loved going ‘That’s Angela’s mom.” So she created Angela’s family and a sense of community just by watching this thing over and over again. But that’s not what I wanted to share. So she’s a little girl, she wants to be a princess, I’m trying to convince her she wants to be a warrior princess, that’s blonde and poofy and glam. She woke up one morning and her hair was all out, just like, you know, big, out, out, out. Usually it’s like, “Oh mom, my hair is too puffy.” This morning, after watching the trailer over and over again, she said, “I have Angela Davis hair.”  So I thought I was making this political crime drama with a love story at the center etcetera, etcetera, etcetra, but I was also making another image for young people to see and to perhaps relate to. And I was blown away, because I can tell her she’s beautiful all day long. I’m her mom, doesn’t count. The more we create the alternative universe which then becomes the universe.

Another panelist, writer Marci Blackman, echoes Lynch’s point:

My characters are the people who I grew up seeing every day who I don’t see, not just in literature, I don’t see them on TV…They weren’t there in the worlds that I was inhabiting when I would sit and go to the library and read, so I decided I wanted to write them, and I wanted to write people like me who I wasn’t seeing in the books either. I wanted to create these characters and put them out there, and I think what you say about self-representation and putting it out there to count as a counteract against these other images.

 

(This happens to be the second blog I’ve written about this talk. The earlier blog was all about Marci Blackman, who spoke about how she was stopped and searched by TSA agents because they couldn’t tell if she was male or female. No media outlets that I know of covered that discrimination story either.)

hooks ends the talk with this statement:

The journey to freedom has also been so much about the journey of imagination, the capacity to imagine yourself differently, counter-hegemonically, and that’s why the imagination is so important because Shola imagined Angela Davis in a different way from the images we had of her. That imagination of oneself, I would like us to end on that note and people can speak about creativity, because it is striking to me and I didn’t think about this when we were putting the panel together that for each of us, creativity and the uses of imagination have been what led us into the freedom we have. It has been what enhances my life every day. To be able to think and create and leap and jump beyond where I feel like we have been told, theoretically, intellectually that we should go.

Imagination inspires reality inspires imagination in an endless loop. It’s magic. That’s the point bell hooks was making about Beyonce. If you still don’t get it, here’s one last quote from hooks and then watch the video for yourself.

We can gather strength from the diversity of people’s stories, the diversity of people’s imagination.

 

Update: I just saw “Belle.” It’s such a great film that has to do with everything I blogged about here. Please go see it! Read my review here: “Belle” most extraordinary movie of the year, take your kids!

 

Bay Area’s Camp Reel Stories teaches girls to make movies

Last year, Esther Pearl and Zoe Boxer founded Camp Reel Stories, a media camp in the Bay Area for girls ages 13 – 18. Excited by the concept and curious about how the camp helps girls turn big dreams into practical action, I interviewed Pearl. Her responses are below. I cannot wait until my kids are old enough to experience this magical place.

What inspired you to found Camp Reel Stories?

 

I have worked in film and media production for 15 years, and though I really loved my work I was often disappointed in the lack of female characters on the projects I worked on and how few female colleagues I had.  When I became a parent to a little girl I dug deeper into this inequity and what I found was astonishing.

 

From 2006 to 2009, not one female character was depicted in G-rated family films in the field of medical science, law, politics, or as a business leader. In these films, 80.5% of all working characters are male and 19.5% are female, which is a contrast to real world statistics, where women comprise 50% of the workforce[1]. Even more staggering is the fact that this ratio, as seen in family films, is the same as it was in 1946. These statistics are enormously detrimental to young women’s impressions of themselves and their perceived value in the world. While this is disheartening, this also means there is a vast untapped market for both talent and products that represent the diversity of our society.

 

I look at this as a great opportunity to create change in not only the lack of equity in the industry, but a creative opportunity to create new filmmakers and producers that are excited about creating characters and storylines that interest them.

My partner and I created Camp Reel Stories (CRS) as a fun way to connect young women with professional mentors, give them story telling and production skills to tell stories that reflect their unique point of view, while incorporating media literacy and leadership workshops. CRS believes that when women and girls are better reflected behind the scenes they will be better reflected on the screen. 

What do you teach the girls during the sessions? What do you think they get out of their time at the camp?

 

Our campers get a lot!  They learn filmmaking and production from leaders in the field, they take media literacy and leadership workshops. The girls work in small teams and have an adult producer that guides them the process and in just one week they write, shoot and edit a short film.  Last year we had six films completed and this year we will have even more! They also have the collaboration and creative skill building process mirrored for them as they see they professional mentors work together to create not only great short films, but a fun camp experience.

How many campers attend?

In 2013 we held our inaugural camp and we had 32 campers.  This year we will have 2 summer camps and can take up to 90 girls, and those spaces are filling fast.  You can apply at http://campreelstories.com/apply

What do the alumni go on to do?

Thus far we have 50% of of campers signed up again this year.  We have elected 2 student board members from our first cohort to the CRS board to help grow our organization.  Two of CRS films were accepted into a local film festival and were screened for a huge audience just this past Friday night and other festivals have asked me to submit their work.  100% of attendees surveyed from the CRS pilot camp said through CRS they learned how gender equity in the media affects the way women are perceived in the media, 85% now view the media more critically and 92% felt more comfortable in their leadership ability, felt their skills as filmmakers improved and plan to continue making films. 20% of our campers have made changes or created an educational plan for a career in the media.

 

Also many of our campers have used what they learned in camp to speak to their classes and schools about gender inequity in the media, sharing knowledge about the Bechdel test and to organize screenings of films with strong female characters.

What are some examples of media that you think promotes positive images or girls and women?

This is a tough one, because as an adult and a parent of young children I have a different lens than our campers about what a positive image is.  The media has made it harder and harder to decipher between a celebrity and a role model.  This is something I talk about a lot with my own kids and with our campers.  There is a difference between a Kardashian and an actress, it’s important to acknowledge that.

Personally I have seen a lot of films that have really interesting characters and relationships that wouldn’t always be appropriate for a younger audience and I like complicated characters.  Recently I saw and loved, Enough Said, Short Term 12, The Bling Ring, Philomena and Frances Ha.

With my daughter and son I find it so hard to find interesting characters in films that we all can enjoy.  We all really like the Miyazaki films and we are introducing films from awhile ago since the pickings are slim currently.  Some of those are Bend it like Beckham, Black Stallion, Mary Poppins. And everyone loved Brave and Despicable Me.

The campers also seem to be able to access to Netflix, Hulu and other online resources to search out media that they can relate to.  I was surprised that so many teenagers were familiar with some 80 and 90s classics, such as Breakfast Club, Harold and Maude, Amelie since they can’t find a lot of current media they can relate to.

What do you do during the rest of the year? Do you plan to expand? What are your goals for the camp?

The rest of the year is spent planning the future of Camp Reel Stories.  This year we will triple in size, we will offer 2 summer camps and an afterschool program in the fall. 40% of our campers are on financial aid so I am always fundraising to make sure that anyone that wants to attend can. The films from last year have been entered in several film festivals and now are being selected and screened.  I also try to collaborate with as many like minded organizations as possible.

We hope to offer camps in other locations the just the Bay Area in 2015 and we are researching those opportunities now.

What is a typical day at camp like?

Each day is a little different, but we incorporate icebreaking and leadership activities into every morning.  The girls are on an accelerated schedule, so they have to get to know one another AND learn filmmaking quickly so that they can get to creating their films.  Everyday they learn about some part of the creative process and immediately get hands on experience in that area.  On Monday morning 30-40 girls who don’t know one another walk into a room, but the end of the day the have formed a small team and have an idea of what they want to make. That process is impressive and we are amazed at how quickly the girls can set aside their differences to get on to the creative process.

Tuesday they learn storyboarding, audio and video and work with their team to finalize their story.  They also take a media literacy workshop so that they can see the direct correlation to the lack of representation both behind and in front of the camera. Wednesday they shoot, Thursday they learn to edit, and they edit a rough cut of their project and then at the end of the day show it to their fellow campers and get creative feedback.  Friday they fix, by either reshooting or reediting, anything that they want and on Saturday they screen it at a Camp Reel Stories film festival which 250 people attend.

It is amazing to see these young women come out of their shell in the course of the week and I can’t wait to see what this year brings.  We are restructuring a bit since we got requests for both more time to shoot and more media literacy.

It sounds like a lot of work, but we also have a lot of fun. In the end we are so proud of the work that the campers have done and the community created, not only with the campers, but with our volunteers, professional mentors and families.  It’s quite exciting to see everyone fired up to create media that is more interesting and reflects the diverse fabric of our lives.

 

Visit Camp Reel Stories here.

 

[1] http://www.seejane.org/research

All facts are supported by research conducted by Dr. Stacy Smith, Ph.D. at the USC Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism

Animator protests making female characters slim and sexy

On animator Dave Pressler’s blog, he writes about his biggest pet peeve: being asked by male and female execs to put a bow or long eyelashes on his female characters.

 

Any boy / man character can be a lump, a ball, or a bucket.  The second it’s a girl we must feminize and give sexuality to the character…That’s how we know she’s a female.  Even when we were making Robot and Monster an executive wanted me to make J.D. more slim and “Sexy”.

 

Along with male artists Marc Crilley and David Bolk, I’m thrilled Pressler is writing about this sexism, but here’s my issue with his blog:

 

This is Hank, he is outgoing and a real story teller.  Phil is Hanks other friend.  Phil is a glass half empty kind of guy, but always there when you need him.  Then there’s Julie, the cutest girl in town. She sees the good in everyone.   These would be my initial rough ideas for the characters.

 

While urging artists to “Make Interesting Choices when you are designing, Illustrating etc.   And don’t fall into this unimaginative trap” why is Julie described as the hot girl? And how much hope do we have of not defining her physically as “sexy” when she doesn’t get to be a described as something interesting or funny like a “storyteller” or “a glass half empty gal”?

 

Defending his female monster, Pressler writes. “She already is the sexiest monster in the show, exactly how she is.” While I appreciate this monster is beautiful as she is, without a bow or eyelashes, why must we be concerned with her beauty? Isn’t that the larger issue? I’m not familiar enough with Pressler’s work, but from this blog, it seems as if he is focused on changing the stereotypical look without changing the stereotypical narrative. Altering the look is no small feat, especially for our kids who are subjected to this kind of sexism constantly. In animation, female characters from Anna in Frozen to Kim Possible would be so much cooler if they weren’t shown super skinny  with giant eyes or bare midriffs. But the goal has to be much bigger than changing the character’s appearance. The narrative for a female characters has to involve them being funny or cynical, encompassing a whole range of characteristics not typically understood as feminine, and also playing at least half the characters or getting to exist in the majority as well, or getting to be the protagonist way more often, like half the time.

 

What about making two female best friends, one an “outgoing storyteller,” the other a “glass half empty gal,” and then a male who is the cutest guy in town and always sees the good in everyone? If the narrative changes, it could unlock physical stereotypes as well. Otherwise, kidworld will be stuck with toys and media that look like this.

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Animator protests making female characters slim and sexy

On animator Dave Pressler’s blog, he writes about his biggest pet peeve: being asked by male and female execs to put a bow or long eyelashes on his female characters.

Any boy / man character can be a lump, a ball, or a bucket.  The second it’s a girl we must feminize and give sexuality to the character…That’s how we know she’s a female.  Even when we were making Robot and Monster an executive wanted me to make J.D. more slim and “Sexy”.

Along with male artists Marc Crilley and David Bolk, I’m thrilled Pressler is writing about this sexism, but here’s my issue with his blog:

This is Hank, he is outgoing and a real story teller.  Phil is Hanks other friend.  Phil is a glass half empty kind of guy, but always there when you need him.  Then there’s Julie, the cutest girl in town. She sees the good in everyone.   These would be my initial rough ideas for the characters.

While urging artists to “Make Interesting Choices when you are designing, Illustrating etc.   And don’t fall into this unimaginative trap” why is Julie described as the hot girl? And how much hope do we have of not defining her physically as “sexy” when she doesn’t get to be a described as something interesting or funny like a “storyteller” or “a glass half empty gal”?

Defending his female monster, Pressler writes. “She already is the sexiest monster in the show, exactly how she is.” While I appreciate this monster is beautiful as she is, without a bow or eyelashes, why must we be concerned with her beauty? Isn’t that the larger issue? I’m not familiar enough with Pressler’s work, but from this blog, it seems as if he is focused on changing the stereotypical look without changing the stereotypical narrative. Altering the look is no small feat, especially for our kids who are subjected to this kind of sexism constantly. In animation, female characters from Anna in Frozen to Kim Possible would be so much cooler if they weren’t shown super skinny  with giant eyes or bare midriffs. But the goal has to be much bigger than changing the character’s appearance. The narrative for a female characters has to involve them being funny or cynical, encompassing a whole range of characteristics not typically understood as feminine, and also playing at least half the characters or getting to exist in the majority as well, or getting to be the protagonist way more often, like half the time.

What about making two female best friends, one an “outgoing storyteller,” the other a “glass half empty gal,” and then a male who is the cutest guy in town and always sees the good in everyone? If the narrative changes, it could unlock physical stereotypes as well.

 

‘The Cardboard Bernini,’ extraordinary film about art and life

“The Cardboard Bernini” is an extraordinary film about art and life that I’ve been trying to blog about for a year.

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It’s subject, the artist Jimmy Grashow, is so fascinating that I want to write down practically every thing he says. I have no idea how filmmaker, Olympia Stone, edited him down to 76 minutes. The documentary is going to be on my local Bay Area PBS station this Monday at 8PM, at an even shorter length of 56 minutes. I’ll be watching it again, and I hope you do too.

The film covers Grashow’s 3 year project to make a sculptured fountain out of cardboard– inspired by Bernini’s Trevi fountain in Rome– that he plans to put out into the elements and let the rain wash away. Why and how Grashow destroys his own work is the subject of the film.

Right away, you see Grashow is a different kind of artist because of the material he uses. He describes it this way:

When I was a little kid, my parents would bring me these presents, for Christmas or Holidays or something, and I couldn’t wait to get rid of the present and start building with the cardboard box.

 

Another reason Grashow favors cardboard seems to involve risk.

If you pay for great paper or canvas or paints, you can’t make a mistake. Every inch is valuable. Cardboard is worthless. It is so grateful to be rescued from trash.  It’s just like you. We aspire to be something more, to be holy, to be grand, to be eternal, but we’re tied to mortality. Cardboard and people, we’re almost from the same DNA.

 

I think what he’s saying is that cardboard allows him to take the leaps he needs to.

If you make 20 little flower paintings, or if I were to go out to a field and paint tractors and do 20 tractor paintings, or I could make fish… There’s something unbelievably thrilling about standing out on a ledge and doing something heroic that nobody wants.

After Grashow went to art school and excelled in all kind of mediums, and achieved commercial success, he always returned to his childhood love of cardboard.

I understood that I couldn’t be a Sixteenth Century Florentine. I could never have the color sense of a guy who looked at olive trees and those beautiful terracotta roofs all day long. The Arno didn’t flow through Brooklyn. My aesthetic was totally predicated on what I saw around me. On the funny papers that I grew up with…All my sensibility was formed from 1950 Brooklyn.

Grashow’s fountain is an elaborate sculpture that includes the great Poseidon and his trident, horses, dolphins, and fish. He describes it this way.

The idea of this fountain is to build it. I try to make something eternal, something extraordinary, but in the end, the plan is to put it out someplace and let the rain and elements wash it away, like Afghan Buddhas, like everything has its time. All artists talk about process, they talk about the beginning, but no one talks about the full term process, to the end, to the destruction, to the dissolution of the piece. Everything dissolves in eternity. I’d like to speak to that.

 

So basically, what he’s doing is pushing this cardboard/ DNA idea to the next/ furthest level by watching its destruction, making that into art. And Stone’s film clearly shows, it is art. After watching Grashow build his masterpiece, an intricate level of detail involving everything from tiny fish scales to eyebrow hair, he puts it in an outdoor courtyard at a museum. Near the end of the film is a sped up sequence of the sculpture washing away. It’s absolutely gorgeous and sad and like nothing I’ve ever seen.

I’ve watched the film multiple times, and part of me always hopes that Grashow will decide not to sacrifice the fountain. Then, when he does, I get mad about it. Grashow’s wife, Guzzy, is frustrated with him too. “It’s upsetting,” she says. “It’s hard for me to embrace, working on this so much.” To which Grashow responds, “That’s the tragedy of life. That is exactly what life is. It’s so sad.”

(This scene in the film, by the way, totally reminds me of Louis C.K. Grashow has that same morbid death obsession humor.)

I get that it’s about mortality, and we’re all cardboard, but isn’t choosing to destroy your work, or allowing it to be destroyed, more like suicide than accepting death? Is it more about cowardly control than truly letting go?

But here’s the thing I’ve realized. Grashow does this project for himself, not for me, or you, or anyone watching. He’s standing on that ledge, doing something heroic, so he can go on to the next thing. When you see the film, you understand that part of Grashow’s desire to make this project is because his dealer, inexplicably, tied some of Grashow’s sculptures up to a tree in his back yard where they decayed in bad weather. Grashow only discovered the ruined art after his dealer died, when he went to his house to pay respects. When Grashow saw the fate of his pieces, he was heartbroken. For him, it was a confirmation of every bad feeling he’s ever head about himself and the value other ascribed to his work. But though his desire to re-enact the painful event may have been part of why he did this project, the piece became much more– everything he’s wanted to risk saying about life and death and art.

For that reason, after Grashow made this art, he felt like it might be his last work. He wasn’t sure if he had anything left to say. Afterwards, he felt lost. But then, something happened.

I was at services, thinking about what I’m going to do and the emptiness of life. So, I’m sitting in this auditorium, alone, with my head down, asking myself the questions, what am I going to do, who am I, what does it all mean anyway, all the amount of work that you do if you come up empty in the end anyway. And I look down on the floor in this gigantic auditorium. I had chosen a seat, and right at my foot was a pencil. A little pencil.

I can’t wait to see the next extraordinary thing Jimmy Grashow does.

 

“The Cardboard Bernini” will air December 9 at 8PM on KQED

Oder the film from Floating Stone Productions

 Read about “the Cardboard Bernini” in the New York Times

 

 

 

‘Gender neutral’ not exactly what I’m going for…

Friday, on the local San Francisco public radio station, KQED, I heard a show about children and gender neutral toys. It was a great program, featuring the brilliant Peggy Orenstein, among others, and I was psyched to hear the topic of kids and toys debated as we go into the Christmas season. But, I’ve got to say, I’m not entirely on board with the term “gender neutral” that the host kept using to define a goal. And that is a term that the media seems to cling to when the topic of sexism in kidworld is discussed. When I was on Fox News, the host kept trying to put the same words in my mouth, and I didn’t like it.

Let me be clear here. I absolutely believe toys in stores should be divided by type– building, outdoor, figures/ dolls etc– not by gender. I don’t believe objects should be color coded to imply they should be played with by boys or girls. I am hard pressed to think of something more absurd and simultaneously socially accepted than this. I desperately want to see girls and boys pictured playing together on boxes. When the term “gender neutral” is used, I think this is the goal referred to, a goal I share with all of my heart.

I guess the issue from me is that powerful female characters are already drastically missing from the fantasy world created by grown-ups for children. When we talk about “gender neutral,” I fear that girls will continue to go missing from this debate– about children, toys, play, and sexism– even more. “Gender neutral” needs to be a goal of sorts, but we also have to keep in mind that all kids need to see more girls and women doing more things. Do we call that “gender neutral”?

Another problem for me with the term is that “gender neutral” doesn’t inspire me. “Gender neutral” makes me think of a bunch of grown-ups or academics or psychiatrists sitting around wearing super thick glasses and holding notebooks.

Here is what I want to see in kidworld: More females having adventures. More females doing cool shit. Got it? Do you call that gender neutral or do you call that being alive?

I want options. Variety. Diversity. Multiple narratives. I want all kids to see many more images of powerful and complex females, to see girls taking risks, saving the world, being brave, smart, and going on adventures in the fantasy world and in the real one. You could argue that we need to see more images of boys being kind and geeky and paternal, but from my vantage point, as a reader, movie goer, and watcher of TV shows, that’s pretty covered. I honestly believe the best way to help boys get out of gender stereotypes right now is to show them females being strong, being the star of the movie, or the central figure in a game that everyone wants to play.

But, as it stands, this is not the case at all. Strong female characters have gone missing. Part of this lack is because there are so few female characters in kids’ movies. Those narratives get licensed into LEGO and diapers and clothing. But even when female characters show up, they get “make-overs” or companies like Stride Rite will remove Wonder Woman, Black Widow, and Leia from their Justice League, Avengers, and Star Wars products and marketing. It’s really shocking how strong female characters keep disappearing from toys, clothing, and all kinds of children’s products.

Here’s my four year old daughter (holding a lunchbox from the Seventies.)

supergirl-e1377394963456

My daughter isn’t a “tomboy” or a “girlie-girl.” She likes pants; she likes dresses; she like yellow, she likes pink, she likes black. She likes to race and play soccer and read and make art. She loves superheroes and her mermaid Barbie. But the older she gets, the more I see her choices getting influenced and limited by stores and marketing and media and peers. My goal is to have her world grow, not shrink. I’m not sure that “gender neutral” is what she needs.

 

Female pilot speaks out against sexism

I got this comment on Reel Girl today:

I just wanted to say thank you so much for making this post on female pilots and the lack of recognition towards important female war heroes. As a female pilot in training, hearing about great female pilots is always encouraging especially when aviation is so dominated by males. It’s disgusting with what happened to the WASPs, it just goes to show the existing sexism towards females in our North American society. I’m so sick of it, but I’m really glad I found your blog.

 

Thanks again for making this post, shortly after I found it I used the WASPs’ story and made a poem about them for an English Language Arts assignment.

 

Oh and regarding the movie “Planes” I tried watching it despite having little hope for the story and characters being any bit original. Let’s just say that I gagged when the one female plane glomped the sidekick male plane, and covered him in kisses after he “whooed” her with music the previous night. It made me sick on so many levels, I’m so glad I only watched it online…

 

Here is the poem she wrote, I love it.

We are the WASP

The women who flew,
60 million miles or more.
Two years of service,
the men demand our lore.

Status denied,
but we didn’t quit.
The men may take glory,
but we still flew in our story.

Our achievements forgotten,
only known by few.
In history books erased,
schools without a trace.

Lest we forget,
The first women of wings.
We are the WASP,
the women who flew.

See how real life inspires art inspires real life?

I assume this commenter is a young woman. Imagine how kids feel when they see sexist scenes like the one in “Planes” again and again, like it’s normal and okay and cute. What kind of art do they make? What kind of imaginary games do they play? At my daughter’s preschool, a three year old girl told the teacher she couldn’t be a pilot, but a pilot’s wife. A three year old. Those limits on her imagination are our fault, grow-ups. Do we really want to train a new generation of children to accept gender stereotypes?

One more time, here’s the preview of Disney’s “Planes.”

Plane One: What’s taking this guy so long? Is he really as good as he says he is?

Plane Two: No, better.

Plane One: Whoa! Who was that?

Plane Three: (Descending fast on top of the other two) Well, hello ladies! Ready to lose?

Plane Three goes on to leave the “ladies” in the dust.

As the commenter points out, that’s just one example of the sexism rampant in “Planes.” Sexism that is mirrored in so many movies made for children in 2013.

And here’s a photo of the real life WASPs

wasp3

Women, please tell your stories, real and fictional, and tell them publicly. It will change the world.

Art creates reality: Imagining gender equality in the fantasy world

Some good quotes here. Let me know what you think

Bono on Jay-Z in November’s Vanity Fair:

In music, we love the idea of the screwed-up, shooting-up. fucked-up artist. The one bleeding in the garret having cut his own ear off. Jay-Z is a new kind of 21st-century artist where the canvas is not just the 12 notes, the wicked beats, and a rhyming dictionary in his head. It’s commerce, it’s politics, the fabric of the real as well as the imagined life.

 

Stephen Mitchell in Can Love Last, the Fate of Romance Over Time

It is the hallmark of the shift in basic psychoanalytic sensibility that the prototype of mental health for many contemporary psychoanalyitc authors is not the scientist but the artist. A continual objective take on reality is regarded as neither possible nor valuable in contrast to the ability to develop and move in and out of different perspectives of reality.

 

New York Times, October:

Public narratives about a career make a difference. The most common career aspiration named on Girls Who Code applications is forensic science. Like Allen, few if any of the girls have ever met anyone in that field, but they’ve all watched “CSI,” “Bones” or some other show in which a cool chick with great hair in a lab coat gets to use her scientific know-how to solve a crime. This so-called “CSI” effect has been credited for helping turn forensic science from a primarily male occupation into a primarily female one.

Jezebel reacting to New York Times piece:

The New York Times today would like to suggest that storytelling is powerful, that, in the whole art/life dynamic, it’s life that imitates art, not the other way around, at least not when it comes to kids imagining viable career paths for themselves.

 

Whoopi Goldberg:

Well, when I was nine years old Star Trek came on. I looked at it and I went screaming through the house, ‘Come here, mum, everybody, come quick, come quick, there’s a black lady on television and she ain’t no maid!’ I knew right then and there I could be anything I wanted to be.

 

In the fantasy world, anything is possible, so why do little kids see so few female heroes and female protagonists on TV and in the movies? While boy “buddy stories” are everywhere you look, why is it so hard to see two females working together to save the world? Why are females, half of the kid population, presented as a minority in fantasy world? Why are TV shows, movies, and books about boys “for everyone” while shows and movies about girls “just for girls?” When we pass on stories to our kids, what are we teaching them about gender, about who they are right now and who they will become?

One more quote for you from neuroscientist, Lise Eliot:

“Babies are born ready to absorb the sounds, grammar, and intonation of any language, but then the brain wires it up only to perceive and produce a specific language. After puberty, its possible to learn another language but far more difficult. I think of gender differences similarly. The ones that exist become amplified by the two different cultures that boys and girls are immersed in from birth. This contributes to the way their emotional and cognitive circuits get wired.”

Eliot believes: “Simply put, your brain is what you do with it.”So let’s all use our brains to imagine gender equality in the fantasy world, take actions to manifest that vision, and see what happens next. I bet it’ll be amazing.