Feminism: the pink elephant in America’s living room

In 12 step programs, people talk about the pink elephant in the living room.That phrase, you probably know, refers to the experience of seeing something totally fucking obvious, right there in front of you, in your living room, but no one else acknowledges it.

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What you experience isn’t real. What you see isn’t happening. At best, later in life, those people who were in the living room might say: OK, maybe that happened, but really, it’s too trivial to make a fuss over, more like a pink mosquito.

Today, meaning right now– April 8 at 11:01AM– feminism is feeling like that to me: pointing out the billboards all over town, the motion picture sexism taking place on giant screens across America, and people telling me it’s not real, it’s not happening, it doesn’t matter.

If my now 45 year old self could say something, not even to my child self, but to the 30 year old me, it would be this: you’re not crazy. What you see is real. What you see is happening, and it matters.

In honor of that message, I’m re-posting something I wrote for the San Francisco Chronicle  when I was 31, right after I saw my first “reality” (get it?) TV show. I was scared to write the op-ed, not only because I worked at a talk radio station where many people didn’t agree with me (or maybe just hadn’t thought deeply about the issue “too trivial”) but because, as I put down those words, I realized how I felt about marriage was changing radically. Marriage was never in my life plan. Fourteen years later, I have a husband and three kids. Of course, I can’t credit the gay marriage movement with all of that, but I can’t deny it planted a seed. I see the words right there. (Did you hear that, radical right, isn’t that what you want for the ladies? Maybe rethink your strategy?)

Recognizing the sanctity – and a travesty – of marriage

MARGOT MAGOWAN
Published 4:00 am, Tuesday, February 22, 2000

I DIDN’T think TV could shock me anymore. But then, during sweeps week last week, I watched Fox’s new hit, “Who Wants to Marry a Multimillionaire?” and realized modern television had sunk to a new low.

The show began with the introduction of 50 women, all competing for the grand prize of marriage to a multimillionaire, their union to be sealed with a $34,000 engagement ring.

The women stepped into the klieg lights wearing everything from bathing suits to wedding gowns, exposing their bodies to be rated and judged. Meanwhile, Mr. Multimillionaire was safely shrouded in a darkened booth. The whole scene brought to mind the voyeuristic ambiance of a peep show.

During one of the show’s worst sequences, each finalist had 30 seconds to convince Mr. Multimillionaire that she was the one he should choose. While guitar porn rock played in the background, the women said things like, “I know just how to please a man.”

At the end of the show, Mr. Multimillionaire finally appeared in a tux and chose his bride, the blondest and thinnest of them all.

I was stunned by this degradation and mockery of the marriage ceremony. How can there be any presumption of honesty or integrity in marriage vows when the groom takes them – as Mr. Multimillionaire did – just moments after meeting his wife to be, promising to love her until death?

Are those elements that I thought were key to marriage – vows and love and commitment – without real meaning?

A wedding ceremony should be a sacred celebration, inspired by devotion so powerful that those in love want to make a lifelong commitment to each other publicly.

Yet on the Fox Network, marriage became a modern-day flesh auction with women transformed into a commodity to be purchased by a wealthy man.

I’m not completely naive. I know that marriage was initially created as a financial contract. I know that in Biblical times the purpose of marriage was to control the means of reproduction – that is, women.

I know that when women had no social, political or financial power, when they were not allowed to own property and were only valued for how many children they could bear, marriage existed just to ritualize the transfer of ownership of women from fathers to husbands.

I know that remnants of these ancient roles of womanhood are still prevalent in marriage ceremonies, but I had thought they no longer had significance.

Though brides still traditionally wear white, the color has lost its relevance as a symbol of virginal innocence, once so prized in a woman. Few recall now, when the priest asks if anyone has just cause why the marriage should not take place, that the question was originally meant to determine if anyone had evidence that the bride was, in fact, not a virgin.

Fast forward a few thousand years to the debut of Fox’s top-rated show. After watching these women on TV, whose worth was measured by how well they conformed to limited ideals of beauty, while male worth was measured by wallet size, I was feeling pretty cynical about gender roles and matrimony.

Then something happened to restore my faith. The debate on Proposition 22, the ballot initiative on gay marriage, caught my attention.

As supporters of the initiative condemned gay marriage for defiling a holy institution, I thought of the irony. An elegantly packaged prostitution ring on prime time television is perfectly legal, yet two people in love who want to make a public and legal, lifetime commitment to each other, with sincere vows, are forbidden legal recognition of their marriage because they are of the same sex.

While “Who Wants to Marry a Multimillionaire?” illustrates the worst of marriage, defeating Prop. 22 would bring out the best of it. Allowing gay people to marry shatters all of the antiquated sex stereotypes that still threaten to be resurrected in popular culture.

If marriage is to survive and thrive in this millennium, it needs to evolve. The marriage contract is a living document. We need to keep the best of it – the love, the romance, the vows – and leave behind those elements that reduce human beings to property.

If Californians really are concerned with family values, they should be fighting for the right of people who truly love each other to legalize their commitment.

One month after I published this, in March of 2000, Proposition 22 passed in California. In May of 2008, it was struck down by the California Supreme Court as contrary to the state constitution. Today, 17 states have legalized same sex marriage.

Boxing Day question: Are dads cleaning up and putting away Christmas loot?

My house looks like a tornado blew through. I feel completely overwhelmed when I look at what’s happened.

I just saw this on my Facebook feed from Gallant Girls.

Good morning, Gallant Girls and Guys! Now that the holiday festivities are over (until New Years), hopefully we are ALL working together to clean up and put away the aftermath of the holiday. Right?!

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My husband is cleaning up this morning so I can take a few hours to write. I have to get my next chapter to my editor by tomorrow. Without his help, that would be impossible.

Sheryl Sandberg has said that who you marry is a career decision, and I couldn’t agree more. If I didn’t have a partner who supported my work and my dreams, there is no way, with three kids, I would be able to act towards making them come true.

Erica Jong has said lots of people have talent but what is rare is the courage to follow it. I read a post on Salon that I can’t take the time to find right now (because I’m supposed to be writing my chapter) about sexism, literature, and “chicklit,” where the author writes something like: How many women are going to close the office door and tell their family they need to write?

Now, consider how many men are going to close that office door? How many men have wives who will organize and put away everything without expecting their husbands to do equal work or will be so grateful for any “help?”

There is another reason I get to write today. My three kids are in camp. I can afford to send them there. How many women also have the income to put towards childcare so they can write? And this principle, of course, goes back to Virginia Woolf’s “A Room of One’s Own,” her essay about Shakespeare’s mythical sister. Without the space and the income, women can’t write. If women can’t write, they can’t create narratives with female protagonists. If stories with female protagonists don’t exist, women and men both learn that females belong on the sidelines and in supporting roles.

Once my three hours of writing are up, it’ll be my turn to clean, food shop, and pick the kids up at camp. Because I will have gotten my work done, I’ll be excited to go on with this part of my day and be a better mom.

If dads did half of the childraising and the housekeeping, moms would be that much closer to changing the world.

 

 


Recognizing the sanctity– and a travesty– of marriage

I wrote this piece for the San Francisco Chronicle in 2000. Living in San Francisco and witnessing the fight for marriage equality inspired me, a heterosexual woman, to think of marriage in a new way. While I always thought the institution was irrelevant and kind of stupid, I came to see it as exciting and alive. I still do. Thank you to the gay movement for vivifying marriage for all of us.

Recognizing the sanctity – and a travesty – of marriage

MARGOT MAGOWAN
Published 4:00 am, Tuesday, February 22, 2000

I DIDN’T think TV could shock me anymore. But then, during sweeps week last week, I watched Fox’s new hit, “Who Wants to Marry a Multimillionaire?” and realized modern television had sunk to a new low.

The show began with the introduction of 50 women, all competing for the grand prize of marriage to a multimillionaire, their union to be sealed with a $34,000 engagement ring.

The women stepped into the klieg lights wearing everything from bathing suits to wedding gowns, exposing their bodies to be rated and judged. Meanwhile, Mr. Multimillionaire was safely shrouded in a darkened booth. The whole scene brought to mind the voyeuristic ambiance of a peep show.

During one of the show’s worst sequences, each finalist had 30 seconds to convince Mr. Multimillionaire that she was the one he should choose. While guitar porn rock played in the background, the women said things like, “I know just how to please a man.”

At the end of the show, Mr. Multimillionaire finally appeared in a tux and chose his bride, the blondest and thinnest of them all.

I was stunned by this degradation and mockery of the marriage ceremony. How can there be any presumption of honesty or integrity in marriage vows when the groom takes them – as Mr. Multimillionaire did – just moments after meeting his wife to be, promising to love her until death?

Are those elements that I thought were key to marriage – vows and love and commitment – without real meaning?

A wedding ceremony should be a sacred celebration, inspired by devotion so powerful that those in love want to make a lifelong commitment to each other publicly.

Yet on the Fox Network, marriage became a modern-day flesh auction with women transformed into a commodity to be purchased by a wealthy man.

I’m not completely naive. I know that marriage was initially created as a financial contract. I know that in Biblical times the purpose of marriage was to control the means of reproduction – that is, women.

I know that when women had no social, political or financial power, when they were not allowed to own property and were only valued for how many children they could bear, marriage existed just to ritualize the transfer of ownership of women from fathers to husbands.

I know that remnants of these ancient roles of womanhood are still prevalent in marriage ceremonies, but I had thought they no longer had significance.

Though brides still traditionally wear white, the color has lost its relevance as a symbol of virginal innocence, once so prized in a woman. Few recall now, when the priest asks if anyone has just cause why the marriage should not take place, that the question was originally meant to determine if anyone had evidence that the bride was, in fact, not a virgin.

Fast forward a few thousand years to the debut of Fox’s top-rated show. After watching these women on TV, whose worth was measured by how well they conformed to limited ideals of beauty, while male worth was measured by wallet size, I was feeling pretty cynical about gender roles and matrimony.

Then something happened to restore my faith. The debate on Proposition 22, the ballot initiative on gay marriage, caught my attention.

As supporters of the initiative condemned gay marriage for defiling a holy institution, I thought of the irony. An elegantly packaged prostitution ring on prime time television is perfectly legal, yet two people in love who want to make a public and legal, lifetime commitment to each other, with sincere vows, are forbidden legal recognition of their marriage because they are of the same sex.

While “Who Wants to Marry a Multimillionaire?” illustrates the worst of marriage, defeating Prop. 22 would bring out the best of it. Allowing gay people to marry shatters all of the antiquated sex stereotypes that still threaten to be resurrected in popular culture.

If marriage is to survive and thrive in this millennium, it needs to evolve. The marriage contract is a living document. We need to keep the best of it – the love, the romance, the vows – and leave behind those elements that reduce human beings to property.

If Californians really are concerned with family values, they should be fighting for the right of people who truly love each other to legalize their commitment.

 

The conundrum of Batgirl

My three year old dressed up as Batgirl for Halloween last night. She loves Batgirl. Everytime she puts on the costume, which is often, she acts out complicated stories, usually involving several stuffed animals, about how she is saving the world. Before last night, my daughter had no idea that Batgirl is far less famous or celebrated than Batman.

Here is what happened on Halloween:

Adult after adult, kind adults who wanted to be nice, who gave my daughter candy, called her Batman. At first, my daughter said nothing back to them but asked me: “Why do people keep calling me Batman?” I told her: “That is so silly. What are they thinking? You’re not Batman, you’re Batgirl.” As the man-moniker continued, my daughter quietly corrected them: “I’m Batgirl.” By the end of the night, she was shouting; “I’M BATGIRL!”

Sometimes, we’d run into a Batman, at one point an adult distributing candy. After his wife or girlfriend saw my daughter, called her Batman, and was corrected, she said to her partner: “Look! It’s your sidekick!” My daughter turned to me, confused. “Tell him he’s your sidekick,” I said.

The people who called my daughter Batman were men and women, adults and children, parents and teenagers. She was wearing a dress, by the way.

I know Batgirl doesn’t have five major motion pictures about her, all featuring famous movie stars. There aren’t Batgirl toys or Batgirl clothing or Batgirl comic books everywhere you look. (Today, I will do a Google search and try to find some). One person did say to my daughter: “Are you…Batwoman?” Then she laughed. I wondered why that term sounded so strange. Is there a Batwoman? Is “Batwoman” sexualized somehow? Or would “woman” imply too powerful a superhero, is that why we use “girl?” Or is it the opposite: “girl” and “man” are cool, but “woman” represents a loss of power that even little kids pick up on? Would you ever refer to a kid in the comparable costume as “Batboy?” That sounds diminutive to me.  And what does that say about the sexism of our cultural mythology, that “Batgirl” is empowering but “Batboy” is insulting?

It all kind of makes me understand the monotony of Halloween: If you’re a girl and dress as princess, everything is simple and everyone knows just what to say: “I love the dress. You’re so beautiful!”

(My oldest daughter wanted to dress as a Native American because she’s doing a school paper on the Miwok tribe. Instead of being a “Dream Catcher Cutie” as the package advertised, she asked if I would buy a bow to go with her costume; my middle daughter is a fairy.)

Eating like crazy, rich, white people

blue milk posted this intro:

Oh my god, Ta-Nehisi Coates knows how to write an Opinion piece. Here he is in The New York Times talking about the relationship between intuitive eating and historical affluence and how this all relates to culture and politics. It is an exceptionally clever way of framing the discussion.

Here’s the excerpt:

I left the first of these dinners in bemused dudgeon. “Crazy rich white people,”  I would scoff. “Who goes to a nice dinner and leaves hungry?” In fact, they were not hungry at all. I discovered this a few dinners later, when I found myself embroiled in this ritual of half-dining. It was as though some invisible force was slowing my fork, forcing me into pauses, until I found myself nibbling and sampling my way through the meal. And when I rose both caffeinated and buzzed, I was, to my shock, completely satiated.

Like many Americans, I was from a world where “finish your plate” was gospel. The older people there held hunger in their recent memory. For generations they had worked with their arms, backs and hands. With scarcity a constant, and manual labor the norm, “finish your plate” fit the screws of their lives. I did not worry for food. I sat at my desk staring at a computer screen for much of the day. But still I ate like a stevedore. In the old world, this culture of eating kept my forebears alive. In this new one it was slowly killing me…

..Using the wrong tool for the job is a problem that extends beyond the dining room. The set of practices required for a young man to secure his safety on the streets of his troubled neighborhood are not the same as those required to place him on an honor roll, and these are not the same as the set of practices required to write the great American novel. The way to guide him through this transition is not to insult his native language. It is to teach him a new one.

Thank you Ta-Nehisi Coates for writing this! And to the feminist motherhood blog blue milk for picking it up.

Every time I blog about the way I eat or how I feed my family– intuitive eating, letting my kids eat whatever and whenever they want, and that they never get in trouble for “wasting” food– I get comments about how wasteful and unhealthy I am, along with what a terrible mother I am.

Intuitive eating is about so much more than eating. It’s about learning how to listen to your body and listen to yourself. It’s about self respect and independence and health and not giving a shit what other people think or say about you.

If you don’t know how to listen to your  body, learn. Buy the books When Women Stop Hating Their Bodies or Preventing Childhood Eating Problems. Raise your kids to be intuitive eaters. That is, honestly, the best way to stop “wasting food.” And it sure makes meal times more pleasant.

A quiet room and a loud room

One of the hardest (and most unexpected) challenges for me in transitioning from single life to momhood was organization.

I have never been an organized person at home. I didn’t really get the point. It always seemed like there were better things to do.  I was of the opinion: Why make your bed if it’s just going to get messed up again?

But one husband and three kids later, I get the point: If we are not organized, the whole family ceases to function. We can either have peaceful mornings or stress and yelling with everyone leaving the house in a horrible mood. So much of it just comes down to organization. Who knew?

Since realizing this tool, I’ve become so curious how other parents, not natural Martha Stewarts, pull it off. So, please, write in your tips.

With 3 kids in a 3 bedroom house, this is how we do it:

First life-changing decision: a quiet room and a loud room.

I had so much trouble keeping the kids’ schoolbooks and homework organized. This led to lost homework, missed homework, frustrated teachers, and the previously mentioned yelling and stress.

So we came up with a quiet room and a loud room. One room for work, study, art: a place where you can go and count on for quiet:

Every kid keeps her own books above her desk.

There’s also the grown-up desk. (Pretend you don’t see my husband’s drums.)

I realize the irony that the “sleeping” room is called the “loud” room. Unfortunately, the label is accurate. 2 kids sleep in bunk beds:

Another parent may have made the beds before taking the photo, but at least the kids made those themselves.

The littlest kid was sleeping in a toddler bed that fit the room perfectly. Then, she grew. Our solution was to build this loft bed. (Don’t worry, she’s in the lower bunk, not up there.)

Making use of every bit of space, and because we all love to read, we made the landing on the stairs into a reading nook. I love this because it feels like an extra room.

It even doubles as “the music room” (This is where my husband’s drums should be.)

In case you can’t tell, I am wildly procrastinating writing my book. The good news is, that this summer, in spite of traveling, sickness, blogging obsessions, and various other unforeseen drama: Part One is done! YAY I am so excited about it.

Now on to Part Two…

Gender-fluid piece in NYT insulting to girls and women

The New York Times piece on gender-fluid kids reinforces so many stereotypes, I’ve got to go through them.

Let’s start with sentence #1:

The night before Susan and Rob allowed their son to go to preschool in a dress, they sent an e-mail to parents of his classmates. Alex, they wrote, “has been gender-fluid for as long as we can remember, and at the moment he is equally passionate about and identified with soccer players and princesses, superheroes and ballerinas (not to mention lava and unicorns, dinosaurs and glitter rainbows).”

Here, the writer, Ruth Padawer, sets up a series of stereotyped binary/ boy-girl opposites: soccer players and princesses, superheroes and ballerinas, lava and unicorns, dinosaurs and glitter rainbows. I waited for her to explore any reasons why our culture promotes this symbology. Unfortunately, I waited for the whole article.

Why are princesses considered to be the epitome of femininity? Could it, perhaps, have little do with with genes and everything to do with the fact that perpetuating the image of a passive, “pretty” female  is popular in a patriarchal culture? Just maybe?

A few more sentences down:

Some days at home he wears dresses, paints his fingernails and plays with dolls; other days, he roughhouses, rams his toys together or pretends to be Spider-Man.

Most kids on Planet Earth would paint their fingernails if they weren’t told and shown by grown-ups that it’s a “girl thing.” Nail polish has nothing to do with penises or vulvas or genes, or even anything as deep and profound as “”gender fluidity.” To kids, nail polish is art play, brushes and paint. That’s it. Oh, right, art is for girls. Unless you’re a famous artist whose paintings sell for the most possible amount of money. Then art is for boys.

On an email that Alex’s parents sent to his school:

Of course, had Alex been a girl who sometimes dressed or played in boyish ways, no e-mail to parents would have been necessary; no one would raise an eyebrow at a girl who likes throwing a football or wearing a Spider-Man T-shirt.

What? Does this writer have young daughters? Has Padawer heard about the boy’s baseball team from Our Lady of Sorrows that recently forfeited rather than play a girl? Or what about Katie, the girl who was bullied just because she brought her Star Wars lunch box, a “boy thing,” to school?  Does Padawer know Katie’s experience isn’t unusual? How rare it is to find a girl today who isn’t concerned that a Spider-Man shirt (or any superhero shirt or outfit) is boyish and that she’ll be teased if she wears it? My whole blog, Reel Girl, is about that “raised eyebrow.” Has Padawer seen summer’s blockbuster movie “The Avengers” with just one female to five male superheroes? The typical female/ male ratio? Or how “The Avengers” movie poster features the female’s ass? Think that might have something to do with why females care more than males about how their asses are going to look?  You can see the poster here along with the pantless Wonder Woman. Does Padawer get or care that our kids are surrounded by these kinds of images in movies and toys and diapers and posters every day? How can Padawer practically leave sexism out of a New York Times piece 8 pages long on gender?

First sentence of paragraph 3: (Yes, we’re only there.)

There have always been people who defy gender norms.

No way! You’re kidding me. Like women who wanted to vote? Women who didn’t faint in the street?

Moving on to page 2:

Gender-nonconforming behavior of girls, however, is rarely studied, in part because departures from traditional femininity are so pervasive and accepted.

Um, wrong again. Been to a clothing store for little kids recently? Ever tried to buy a onesie for a girl with a female pilot on it? Or a female doing anything adventurous? Check out Pigtail Pals, one of the few companies that dares to stray from “pervasive and accepted” femininity. One of the few. And we’re talking toddlers here.

The studies that do exist indicate that tomboys are somewhat more likely than gender-typical girls to become bisexual, lesbian or male-identified, but most become heterosexual women.

Is the writer really writing a piece on gender fluid kids and using the word “tomboy” without irony?

Next page:

Still, it was hard not to wonder what Alex meant when he said he felt like a “boy” or a “girl.” When he acted in stereotypically “girl” ways, was it because he liked “girl” things, so figured he must be a girl? Or did he feel in those moments “like a girl” (whatever that feels like) and then consolidate that identity by choosing toys, clothes and movements culturally ascribed to girls?

Hard not to wonder. Exactly! Finally, the writer wonders. But, not for long. Here’s the next sentence:

Whatever the reasoning, was his obsession with particular clothes really any different than that of legions of young girls who insist on dresses even when they’re impractical?

Once again, I’ve got to ask: Does Padawer have a young daughter? Legions of young girls “insist on dresses” because like all kids, they want attention. Sadly, girls get a tremendous amount of attention from grown-ups for how they look. Today, my three year old daughter wanted to wear a princess dress to preschool, because she knew that if she did, the parents and teachers would say, “Wow, you’re so pretty! I love your dress.” And if it’s not a girl’s dress everyone focuses on, it could be her hair, or perhaps her shoes which are probably glittery or shiny or have giant flowers on them because that’s what they sell at Target and Stride Rite. Unfortunately, focusing on appearance is how most adults today make small talk with three year old girls.

The next two graphs are the best in the article so I will paste them in full, though notice the use of “tomboy” again with no irony.

Whatever biology’s influence, expressions of masculinity and femininity are culturally and historically specific. In the 19th century, both boys and girls often wore dresses and long hair until they were 7. Colors weren’t gendered consistently. At times pink was considered a strong, and therefore masculine, color, while blue was considered delicate. Children’s clothes for both sexes included lace, ruffles, flowers and kittens. That started to change in the early 20th century, writes Jo Paoletti, a professor of American studies at the University of Maryland and author of “Pink and Blue: Telling the Boys From the Girls in America.” By then, some psychologists were arguing that boys who identified too closely with their mothers would become homosexuals. At the same time, suffragists were pushing for women’s advancement. In response to these threatening social shifts, clothes changed to differentiate boys from their mothers and from girls in general. By the 1940s, dainty trimming had been purged from boys’ clothing. So had much of the color spectrum.

Women, meanwhile, took to wearing pants, working outside the home and playing a wider array of sports. Domains once exclusively masculine became more neutral territory, especially for prepubescent girls, and the idea of a girl behaving “like a boy” lost its stigma. A 1998 study in the academic journal Sex Roles suggests just how ordinary it has become for girls to exist in the middle space: it found that 46 percent of senior citizens, 69 percent of baby boomers and 77 percent of Gen-X women reported having been tomboys.

The piece is riddled with more gender assumptions that aren’t questioned.

When Jose was a toddler, his father, Anthony, accepted his son’s gender fluidity, even agreeing to play “beauty shop.”

But why is beauty shop feminine? We all know beauty toys and products are marketed to girls, but why? Here’s that Avengers ass poster again. In a male dominated world, women are valued primarily for their appearance. They are taught to focus on how they look and that if they do so they can get power and prestige. Appearance is the area where girls are trained to channel their ambition and competition. Oh, sorry, girls aren’t competitive or ambitious. That’s a boy thing.

On gender fluid child, P.J., the author writes:

Most of the time, he chooses pants that are pink or purple.

Wait a minute, didn’t she write a few pages back about Jo Poletti’s book Pink and Blue? Remember, pink used to be a “boy” color; it’s only recently that it’s perceived as a “girl” color?

Here might be the most fucked up quote:

When a boy wants to act like a girl, it subconsciously shakes our foundation, because why would someone want to be the lesser gender?

When Miss Representation posted that on its Facebook page  above the link to the the article, angry commenters immediately began to respond:

i am NOT the lesser gender!
why can’t people see how insulting that is? i mean, who would *openly* call a race or ability or sexual orientation “lesser” and not largely be considered a bigot?

It was that comment that inspired me to write this post, because the whole piece is insulting to girls and women. I hope it’s insulting to boys and men as well.

Read my email to the New York Times editor here.

Read my response to comments on this post here.

Go, Katie, go!

Because I’ve been out of the country for a month, I was forced to forgo my tabloid addiction. Upon returning to the USA, I was absolutely thrilled to see on the covers of both US Weekly and People that Katie Holmes has left Tom Cruise.

Holmes secured a divorce settlement from the great and powerful Cruise with full custody just 11 days after filing.

Wow. That’s a 180 from the experience of Cruise’s second wife, Nicole Kidman, who basically lost her kids after her split from Cruise to her husband and his passion for Scientology. Tabloids report that Holmes was well aware of Kidman’s situation and did everything in her power to prevent that fate from becoming her own.

Look, I know it’s the tabloids. I know I have no clue what is going on in the real lives of these people. But, if you read Reel Girl, you know I’m obsessed with gender representation in the fantasy world and how the fantasy world creates the real world and the real one creates the fantasy one, back and forth, on and on. The tabloids are one place where reality and fantasy blur and intersect, creating and perpetuating our cultural mythology. There is no denying how powerful and influential these narratives become, especially when it comes to gender roles.

Pre-Tom, I was a Katie Holmes fan. I loved “Dawson’s Creek.” I also loved a movie Holmes was in called “Go.”

I was freaked out, along with much of celebrity obsessed America, reading about Cruise’s courtship of Holmes, how he supposedly created a list if appropriate wives– all about 15 years younger than he, less famous, and with an “innocent” persona, like Kerri Russel. After Cruise chose Holmes, she started hanging out with Cruise’s BFF couple, Posh and Becks, and underwent a metamorphosis, cutting her hair into a chic bop and becoming a fashion icon.

Holmes’s career stalled. Supposedly, she dropped out of films because Cruise didn’t approve of the sexy roles. All I can remember that she’s been in since her marriage is a stupid comedy co-starring Queen Latifah.

One of the details that disturbed me the most post-engagement was the way  Cruise always referred to his wife as “Kate.” He was quoted as saying something like “Kate is a grown up name.” I was relieved to see that Katie Holmes never complied, changing her name/ identity to Kate Cruise. That choice gave me a shred of hope for her.

My reliable sources of US and People tell me that Holmes was carefully plotting her escape for some time. Before filing for divorce, she fired her security team, changed her cell, and got herself an apartment in New York City.

Tabloids report that a major reason for the split was that Holmes did not want daughter Suri brought up in the church of Scientology. Besides not being a fan of Scientology schools, Holmes did not approve of how the church advocated treating kids like adults: no bedtime, giving them whatever they want. Maybe I’m being naive, but this picture in US Weekly of Suri not getting a puppy she was obviously dying for, seems to show Holmes is, in fact, taking control.

Reading the stories, I feel the same relief when I read about Ellen leaving Tiger or Sandra Bullock leaving Jesse James. The women got away. They got away! To me, these stories are heroic, and I’m grateful for the narrative, instead of the more dominant myth of standing by your man. These women are not victims.

After Kidman split from Cruise, her career soared. She became known as one of our best actresses, winning an Oscar for her portrayal of Virgina Woolf (America’s admiration for her skill aided by the fact that Kidman dared to sport an unattractive prosthetic nose.)

I am rooting for the same acclaim to come to Holmes now. I can’t wait to see what she will do.

Obama is back, people!

He’s back, people!

First, President Obama made the amazing and inspiring move last week to finally support gay marriage. Have you see the latest New Yorker cover?

Is this beautiful or what? How could anyone not feel happy looking at this image?

The whole idea that gay marriage is “anti-family” or threatens “traditional” marriage is such an inane, warped, self-defeating argument.

“Traditional” marriage was, of course, created as a financial contract to control the means of reproduction, that is, women. When women had no social, political, or financial power, when they were not allowed to own property and only valued for how many children they could bear, marriage existed to legalize and ritualize the transfer of ownership of women from father to husband.

Remnants of those ancient roles of womanhood are actually still prevalent in marriage ceremonies. Brides initially wore white to symbolize their sexual purity. The question about “Does anyone know why the marriage should not take place?” was also asked in order to determine if the bride was a virgin.

If I hadn’t lived in San Francisco and witnessed gays fight for the right to marry, I doubt I would be married today. I thought marriage was an antiquated and sexist institution, and I wanted no part of it. But then I moved here, worked in talk radio, and watched gays struggle to gain the right. I’d never even thought of marriage “a right.” Almost the opposite. Marriage was something I was expected– and not much interested– in doing. But here, it became redefined for me as something romantic, vital, and exciting; something worth fighting for and possibly even doing myself.

I actually wrote about all this for The Chronicle back in 2000, the year before I met my husband. Prop 22 was on the ballot in California, an initiative to restrict marriage to only opposite-sex couples. At the same time, Fox was broadcasting “Who Wants to Marry a Multimillionaire?” What crazy hypocrisy. Here was a show where women’s worth was measured by how well they conformed to limited ideals of beauty while male worth was measured by wallet size. That kind of union was not only legal but worth celebrating?

Prop 22 passed that year. “Who Wants to Marry a Multimillionaire” became one of the highest rated shows and ushered in an era of “reality TV” that is still dominating the networks. Oh, and the millionaire, Rick Rockwell, turned out to have a restraining order for domestic violence against him. But he was heterosexual, so it’s all good, right?

The fight for gay marriage has been the best thing that has happened to the institution in years, maybe ever. It’s so clear that if marriage is going to survive and thrive in this culture, to appeal to the next generation, it must continue to evolve, as it always has. Allowing gays to marry does just that; it shatters the antiquated sex stereotypes, the part of marriage that reduced human beings to property, while retaining what is best about marriage: the love, public commitment, romance, and vows. Legalizing gay marriage is good for families and good for America. That’s why when Obama came out in support of it, I sent him money as did many Americans. Now the president is getting criticized because that decision may have been “political?” Of course his decisions are political. He’s the president.

Then yesterday, President Obama spoke at Barnard, not Columbia, his alma mater, but the women’s college. His choice to speak at Barnard communicates that he values women. Was that a calculated, political decision as well? I hope so. The president ought to be sending a clear message to women that he cares about getting our votes.

Obama’s whole speech was great, but I especially love the part where he told the Barnard women why the imaginary world matters:

“Until a girl can imagine herself, can picture herself as a computer programmer, or a combatant commander, she won’t become one.”

People often act like the imaginary world is not important or separate from the “real” wold. But the narratives that we surround ourselves shape our psyches, inspire our actions, and create our community. If you ever doubt the power of a story to drive human behavior, look at the most popular historical novel of all time, the Bible, and how that narrative has led to the creation of politics, art, architecture, cities,  jobs, wars, governments, marriages, and on and on and on.

If you haven’t read Obama’s whole speech, here it is.