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.

‘How to Disappear Completely’ most insightful eating disorder memoir ever published

There are many disturbing passages in Kelsey Osgood’s memoir about her struggle with anorexia, How to Disappear Completely, but one of the most chilling is the description of her active pursuit of the disease:

I would get so thin that I would be the physical embodiment of sadness, and there would not be a flicker of doubt in the universe that I was exactly that: thin and sad. I would be consumed and ravaged by thiness, by the pursuit of it…I didn’t need something to have; I needed something to be…It never occurred to me to lose weight in any healthy way, to strive for a body that ‘looked good.’ I wanted to be repulsively thin, and I knew how people got that way, by being anorexic.

With this passage, Osgood debunks the myth that anorexia is dieting gone too far. In reality, anorexia is its own entity, an identity, a discipline, a religion.

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Osgood grew up in suburban Connecticut, and she longed to be unique and special. In her local library, she devoured books by women or about women’s lives including Girl, Interrupted, I Never Promised You A Rose Garden, Prozac Nation, Sybill, and Wasted. Osgood writes:

It wasn’t a particularly well-stocked establishment, but there were still many books about young people, mostly girls, who felt crazy or who were crazy. I didn’t think I was crazy, but kind of wished I were. Crazy people were privy to a universal truth, I thought, destined for artistic greatness, their words indelibly scalded into the collective unconscious.

 

Combining those two goals, for artistic greatness and identity, anorexia seems like the perfect solution:

Becoming a professional patient, a ‘hopeless case’ seemed akin to  selling one’s possessions and dropping out to live on a commune or defecting to Canyon Ranch for a long term detox. And besides, one of the most ‘hopeless cases’ I read about actually ended up confounding the doctors’ prognoses, recovering, and then writing books, so what were a few years lost to psychosis if you ended up a famous author on the other end? If I were actually crazy, I would be allowed to exit, at least for a while, the real world, a place I found at once deeply overwhelming and utterly lacking. I wouldn’t have to do the things I always considered pointless, like take math tests or sit up straight or tell white lies. I wouldn’t have to be what I thought I was: short, stumpy, decidedly unglamorous, not outstanding in any particular way. Normal. Or maybe nothing at all.

With these descriptions of anorexia, Osgood has written a hugely important and unique book. I’ve read so many eating disorder memoirs myself, and as Osgood points out, again and again, those stories romanticize the sickness.

The lowest weight one reached remain a point of pride, not shame…Nine times out of ten, writing about anorexia beguiles the at-risk population for all the wrong reasons and the person writing about his or her own struggle fuels the fire by producing a long, hubristic poem, a elegy, an ode to  a presence gone and dismissed. An homage. The writers know they’re up on the invisible podium to speak out about their journey to the brink of death (oh, yeah, and back) and they know too, that the ones listening closest are the young ones eager to enlist in the starving armies.

Eating disorder memoirs just like the internet’s “proana” and “wannarexic” communities, act as a how-to, showing girls how to be best anorexic they can be. Recovery communities are  full of people who trade tips on how to be a better anorexic, comparing weights, a competitive training ground. Osgood’s book is different because she never acts as if sickness is cool or desirable or inspiring or beautiful. Here’s a typical description of a patient:

She would lift the phone off the receiver and dial with the ends of her long, yellow fingernails…her skin was covered with stretch marks, jaundiced and flaky. The room stank of dead cells…

 

Osgood attempts to do what no other eating disorder memoir I’ve ever read has done: she de-glamorizes anorexia and exposes it as the ugly, stuck, boring, waste-pool that it is. How to Disappear completely also illuminates the paradox of the narrative females too many females in our culture are stuck in: only as victims can they be heroes, only when practically invisible can they exist.

So intrigued by this original and insightful book, I went to Osgood with some questions. Here’s our interview.

I started my blog Reel Girl because I have three daughters, and I was appalled by the lack of strong female protagonists and female heroes in kid culture. What do you think about the lack of female heroes, how the thin, “pretty” girls are the ones who get to star in the limited roles offered, to exist at all, really? Part of what “inspired” you wanted to become anorexic was the stories you read when you were a girl, the eating disorder memoirs and crazy girl memoirs. If young women’s stories involved other narratives besides the thin/ crazy/ pretty victim, do you think that would make a difference as far as girls’ attraction to anorexia?

 

Yes, I definitely think it would make a difference. Or at least, I think it would be a good start! I read an article recently that pointed out that even in books for very young girls––under ten, that is––the heroines are more often than not “scrappy” or “very small.” I think that might have started from a good place, but one that assumed a more male logic––big is better, so the underdog, who should win in the fable, should be small––on a female population. Eventually, it kind of curdled into what we have now, which is that no heroines are anything other than slim. As for me, what attracted me to the narratives of mental instability as a teenager was this idea that in order to be creative, one had to be melancholic or tortured. In some ways, I think I thought if you were psychically tortured, you wouldn’t have to work; that was a creative output on its own, and if you wanted to write a book post-facto then it would just pour out of you as if divinely inspired (insanity as a state of religious transcendence was also something I very much believed it.) Now, having been tortured and subsequently written a book, I can safely confirm that this is NOT what happens! It’s just as difficult a slog as ever.

 

While you go out of your way to describe not to glamorize anorexia, to show the ugliness of the disease, you’re still writing a book about it. You went to visit all of your former hospitals and you write about Googling people you were hospitalized with. Is it possible to write a book about how boring anorexia is and not be fascinated by the disease? Are you still fascinated and compelled by it?

 

I think no, it isn’t possible to do it without being, on some level, fascinated by it. I was hoping to reverse the narrative and to ask some questions about the disease that had never been asked before. But ultimately, yes, I am still interested in it, though I think “fascinated” might be a little strong. A writer often works on a book for years before it gets published, so by the time they’re invited on radio shows and panels, they’re often a little bored of the topic by virtue of having wallowed in it for so long! That was my experience, anyway. I am interested now not so much in anorexia as a disease but in the ways we define mental illness as a culture––because I believe it’s very much still culturally defined, particularly with regard to behavioral problems like anorexia and addictions, though the establishment would love us to believe they have more of an idea than they do that it’s biologically locatable.

 

When I had an eating disorder (I was bulimic, not anorexic) I was often told– in the recovery community, no less– that I would never get better. The best I could do was “manage” my disease. Today, I am 100% cured. My eating disorder is gone. Did you have the experience of people telling you the same thing? Do you consider yourself cured? Was writing the book part of putting the sickness to rest? The recovery community is so sick, so how do people get better? Is it possible?

 

Yes, this absolutely happened to me! I don’t know if I remember anyone saying that I would never recover point blank, though I’m sure it happened over my ten years in treatment. The eating disorders recovery community has completely absorbed the 12-step belief that once you are sick, you are always sick. I cannot fathom why anyone would find this empowering––comforting, maybe, because you don’t have to use your agency or blame yourself or give up your safety blanket completely, but empowering? No, no, no. It drives me insane (pun so not intended) these days to see personal essays about anorexia or bulimia in which the writer states that, “Eating disorders are like alcoholism––they never fully go away.” And there are many of them. I become literally enraged. I used to blame the writer, but then I realized, he or she was probably told this by some group therapist at a treatment center and thought, “Well, she must know what she’s talking about, because she’s a counselor and I’m one of the ‘crazy’ ones.’” But the truth is that how we define sick and well and normal and aberrant and psychiatrically compromised and stable is still mostly cultural, which is not to say that it’s “made up,” but rather that we have a choice as to how we want to shape our narratives, and what we want to tell struggling young people that they are capable of. Do we want them emerging into the world believing they can only have part of life? That, to me, is crazy.

 

I consider myself fully recovered, definitely, and I am not afraid to say that when asked. There is perhaps one cell in my whole body that pines for the days of starvation, but that cell is considered a total weirdo by all her cell friends. In all seriousness, though, there was a time when I would have considered being “recovered” unfathomable or, more importantly, shameful––that is, I believed it meant the crumbling of the will, not the assertion of it. Now, I see all the passivity and misguidedness and wastefulness endemic to anorexia and it baffles me that I ever considered devoting my life to it.

 

Perhaps writing the book helped me to bring my personal struggle to a close, although I would have to point out that one needs to be at least mostly well to write a book (it’s almost a test of endurance, psychologically and physically!) Does that mean I think everyone needs to write about his or her journey to recover? Absolutely not. My book is paradoxical in that the narrative I created was about resisting narratives––a friend once compared it to David Foster Wallace’s attempt, in The Pale King, to write about boredom without being boring (and yes I took that as an enormous compliment)––which some might see as impossible. I mean, even if the narrative is oppositional, it’s still, at its core, a narrative. So I still was seduced by the prospect of telling my own story, but in the end, recognized and continue to recognize that the story will never be fully knowable. If that makes sense, which I’m sure it doesn’t.

 

One thing that I said about getting better in the book I think is really key, and that is moving away from the eating disorder as a topic on which one dwells. I mean this as much in regard to recovery––and the psychoanalytic instinct to wonder where the “origin” of one’s problems are––as I do with regard to the dwelling necessary to being actively ill. What I mean by this is: at some point, get out of therapy, and try to conceive of yourself as something other than a patient. (This is easier as you get older––when the same people you were once doing bong rips with are now becoming clinical psychologists, you start to realize that the adult-child dynamic you once thought present in therapy was not quite as clear as you once thought!) If your therapist is good, he or she will be leading you in that direction already.   I said the opening statement in the book with regard to my little friend who is now a grown-up; I immediately noticed, when we met up years after being hospitalized together, how curious of a spirit she was, and how much I could tell she wanted to experience. She learned, as I did, that if you are actively anorexic, you simply cannot have a wide variety of experiences. I found that for me personally, becoming a spokesperson for “awareness” felt in many ways similarly constricting in that I was still forcing myself to identify as an anorexic (recovering, recovered, whatever.) It’s still succumbing to the desire to label ourselves, which I’d like to push back against, personally. So that didn’t really work for me. But it works for some people, I guess?

 

You write that anorexia is unique in that people seek it out, they want to be sick, whereas alcoholics, for example, wish they could drink like normal people. But sickness, especially mental illness in the artistic community seems comparably romanticized. One of my favorite books about this phenomenon is “Against Depression” by Peter Kramer. He wrote this book, because while touring for his best-seller “Listening to Prozac,” people often asked him: What if Van gogh took Prozac? What about Kierkegaard?” Kramer believes that artists created not because of mental illness but in spite of it. He writes that while qualities of the disease of depression– alienation, hyper-sensitivity– are romanticized, other common and frequent symptoms such as disorganization, poor memory, irritability, difficulty changing intention into action, paranoia, anxiety, lack of resilience, vulnerability to harm, paralysis, hostility, impatience etc are often downplayed or ignored. Kramer believes that alienation– the ability to step back and look at the culture or political bodies while separate from them– can be a useful skill. But getting stuck in alienation is a sickness. Depression is a ‘stuck switch,’ an impairment in the stress/ response system. When I blogged about his book, I wrote “Basically he’s saying artists don’t need a little bit of depression to create art any more than women need a little bit of anorexia to be fit.” Long intro, but here are my questions: Did you write your book, in part, to show the other symptoms of anorexia, the ones not glamorized?

I did, particularly the existential torment I found so hard to live with. Now, I often speak at schools, and I’ve had to rethink yet again what is effectively dissuasive. I remembered as a teenager not caring a whit about things like bone density and heart damage and lanugo––almost like a rock and roll, I’m-so-dark-death-doesn’t-scare-me kind of thing––so I never lead with medical consequences. Instead, I tend to start with social stuff; I tell them about how, right after I graduated college, I became painfully aware of the fact that my friends were growing and maturing and I was not. I couldn’t go to a restaurant, let alone have a romantic relationship! So I started to really conceive of what my life would look like: attenuated, though my death would be long and slow; painfully boring and isolated; and basically not very meaningful. By that I mean, I wouldn’t be able to do anything significant in the world, because I would likely be too tired. Childless, also, that was very depressing. When I say this to kids, I can tell they hear me; they want to be in lock-step with their friends, and I’m basically telling them that will never happen if they choose this path. (Granted, it probably won’t happen for a whole other host of reasons, but that’s for them to find out!)

 

Given this comparison, do you still think anorexia is unique in being a disease that people seek out?

 

Yes I do. That is, I think it is unique in that the population attracted to it is perhaps the most conscious of its aspirations. But I do think that generally, while it’s unlikely someone may endeavor to become depressed or to nurture the behaviors of a depressive, there is a certain pride in being diagnosed––with basically anything—these days, which is very bizarre. Not so long ago, people fought tirelessly against being put in a box. Now, I feel like people are THRILLED to be in the box. So often people report to me with palpable glee that their therapist told them they probably have x, or y, or z. Recently a friend of mine bragged that her therapist told her she was a little psychotic. (She isn’t.) And I was like, “Why is she so happy about this?”

 

There is so little tolerance for non-pathological “bad feelings” that I think people either create the pathologies or fall into the psychiatric establishment’s hands and allow their behavior to be labeled pathologized. Being diagnosed (again, with basically anything) kills two birds with one stone, too: it allows you to feel special/different, but also to fit in, because psychiatric problems are the contemporary norm. This all sounds very conspiracy theory-esque, and I don’t mean to suggest that there is not such a thing as organic mental illness, or that all psychiatrists are out to medicate us into a Brave New World-style stupor, but I do think we compulsively ferret out the wrong in people even when it’s not there, or when exposing it and obsessing over it is potentially more harmful than helpful.

 

What do you think about the cynical/ skeptical world view: If I’m miserable, I’m smart and unique but happy people are stupid? The idea that joy is superficial rather than a profound choice? How do your views on this relate to anorexia and eating disorders?

 

I think this is a very real belief many people have, and I myself had it for years, and that any expectation of feeling ONE way all the time is reductive and stupid and possibly harmful. Something counterintuitive happened to me on my journey to wherever it is that I am now: I realized that for me to be “happy” meant to be intellectually engaged, and I happen to be more interested in things that many people might consider dark or depressing. So in some way, I still think a lot about objectively “sad” topics, but the end result is with me feeling more fulfilled than I would be if I were to convince myself that it had to be sunshine and rainbows all the time.

 

Are you writing another book? What are you working on now?

 

I tell myself every day I need to start on book two! And I want to, I really do, but I keep procrastinating by writing essays and shorter pieces. I was going to write another memoir, about the time I spent as a writer’s assistant to a true crime author who was dying of Lou Gehrig’s Disease, but I’m sort of second-guessing it. Requests taken!

 

 

 

Sulzburger jr writes: Silly you, the Times isn’t sexist!

Arthur Sulzburger’s new letter defending the firing of Jill Abramson is condescending and offensive.I’m going to go through it here, and then paste the whole text at the end of this blog. What is so amazing to me is that you’d think  Sulzburger would, at the very least, address the gender inequity at the Times and then claim that Abramson’s firing has nothing to do with it. Instead, he acts as if the New York Times is a utopia where sexism doesn’t exist. It’s a strange ploy when the sexism at the Times has been well documented, most recently as having the worst gender inequality on record as far as male/ female bylines of all the top circulating newspapers in the USA.

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So it begins:

Perhaps the saddest outcome of my decision to replace Jill Abramson as executive editor of The New York Times is that it has been cast by many as an example of the unequal treatment of women in the workplace. Rather than accepting that this was a situation involving a specific individual who, as we all do, has strengths and weaknesses, a shallow and factually incorrect storyline has emerged.

 

We just can’t accept reality, that is the problem, the sad thing about the story.

He goes on:

Fueling this have been persistent but incorrect reports that Jill’s compensation package was not comparable with her predecessor’s.  This is untrue.   Jill’s pay package was comparable with Bill Keller’s; in fact, by her last full year as executive editor, it was more than 10% higher than his.

Sulzburger’s use of “comparable” is comparable (ha ha) to his spokesperson Eileen Murphy’s earlier use of the phrase that Abramson’s package wasn’t “meaningfully less” than Keller’s was. Let me ask you this: Who has ever negotiated a salary or negotiated anything, for that matter, and believes that numbers were not “comparable” or had no “meaningful” difference? That’s what negotiations are, haggling over differences of amounts which one negotiator claims is insignificant and the other claims it’s actually a big deal. And if that number difference is so insignificant and not a big deal, except to a finicky little crybaby, why would a different number have been offered at all? If it really doesn’t matter, the same amount should be offered, right?

Next, Sulzburger writes:

But it doesn’t help to advance the goal of pay equality to cite the case of a female executive whose compensation was not in fact unequal.

 

Silly us, we’re “not helping” but really missing the point. We’re focusing on just one manager who just happens to be a woman. It’s us that are being sexist, asking for special treatment for girls, when the pay was barely unequal in the first place. Not only this tone more of the condescending denial drivel, but Sulzburger doesn’t address that Abramson asked for more money, then she was fired.

Next, he writes:

Jill is an outstanding journalist and editor, but with great regret, I concluded that her management of the newsroom was simply not working out.

During her tenure, I heard repeatedly from her newsroom colleagues, women and men, about a series of issues, including arbitrary decision-making, a failure to consult and bring colleagues with her, inadequate communication and the public mistreatment of colleagues.

So here Sulzburger writes that “women and men” complained about Abramson, as if the face that women complained as well implies complaining about Abramson’s management style has nothing to do with sexism. This, when it’s well documented that both “women and men” have negative responses to assertive female leader. Again, what is so disturbing about Sulzburger’s letter is he doesn’t acknowledge– or even see to get– systemic sexism exist and the New York Times is not immune.

Moving on:

Since my announcement on Wednesday I have had many opportunities to talk to and hear reactions from my colleagues in the newsroom.   While surprised by the timing, they understood the decision and the reasons I had to make it.

 

Is he acknowledging that it’s fucked up to fire Abramson right after she asked for a raise?

The conclusion makes me want to throw up:

We are very proud of our record of gender equality at The New York Times.  Many of our key leaders – both in the newsroom and on the business side – are women.  So too are many of our rising stars.  They do not look for special treatment, but expect to be treated with the same respect as their male colleagues.  For that reason they want to be judged fairly and objectively on their performance.  That is what happened in the case of Jill.

Equality is at the core of our beliefs at The Times.  It will always be.

To see Reel Girl’s posts on sexism at the New York Times click here.

Sulzburger’s full letter is pasted below.

 

Since my announcement on Wednesday I have had many opportunities to talk to and hear reactions from my colleagues in the newsroom.   While surprised by the timing, they understood the decision and the reasons I had to make it.

Perhaps the saddest outcome of my decision to replace Jill Abramson as executive editor of The New York Times is that it has been cast by many as an example of the unequal treatment of women in the workplace.  Rather than accepting that this was a situation involving a specific individual who, as we all do, has strengths and weaknesses, a shallow and factually incorrect storyline has emerged.

Fueling this have been persistent but incorrect reports that Jill’s compensation package was not comparable with her predecessor’s.  This is untrue.   Jill’s pay package was comparable with Bill Keller’s; in fact, by her last full year as executive editor, it was more than 10% higher than his.

Equal pay for women is an important issue in our country – one that The New York Times often covers.  But it doesn’t help to advance the goal of pay equality to cite the case of a female executive whose compensation was not in fact unequal.

I decided that Jill could no longer remain as executive editor for reasons having nothing to do with pay or gender.  As publisher, my paramount duty is to ensure the continued quality and success of The New York Times.  Jill is an outstanding journalist and editor, but with great regret, I concluded that her management of the newsroom was simply not working out.

During her tenure, I heard repeatedly from her newsroom colleagues, women and men, about a series of issues, including arbitrary decision-making, a failure to consult and bring colleagues with her, inadequate communication and the public mistreatment of colleagues.  I discussed these issues with Jill herself several times and warned her that, unless they were addressed, she risked losing the trust of both masthead and newsroom.  She acknowledged that there were issues and agreed to try to overcome them.  We all wanted her to succeed.  It became clear, however, that the gap was too big to bridge and ultimately I concluded that she had lost the support of her masthead colleagues and could not win it back.

Since my announcement on Wednesday I have had many opportunities to talk to and hear reactions from my colleagues in the newsroom.   While surprised by the timing, they understood the decision and the reasons I had to make it.

We are very proud of our record of gender equality at The New York Times.  Many of our key leaders – both in the newsroom and on the business side – are women.  So too are many of our rising stars.  They do not look for special treatment, but expect to be treated with the same respect as their male colleagues.  For that reason they want to be judged fairly and objectively on their performance.  That is what happened in the case of Jill.

Equality is at the core of our beliefs at The Times.  It will always be.

We are very proud of our record of gender equality at The New York Times

“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?

Abramson asked for more money. Then, she was fired.

Denying New Yorker writer Ken Auletta’s account of a gender pay gap at the New York Times, spokeswoman Eileen Murphy issued this statement:

Jill’s total compensation as executive editor was not meaningfully less than Bill Keller’s, so that is just incorrect. Her pension benefit, like all Times employees, is based on her years of service and compensation. The pension benefit was frozen in 2009.

“Meaningfully less”? WTF does that mean? But the actual money is only part of the issue here. Since I graduated from college, I’ve been told: When offered a salary, women accept that number while men take it as a negotiation point. Women must learn to ask for more, I was told. Yet, the response to Abramson indicates, once again, that when a man asks, it’s normal. When a woman does, she’s a pushy bitch who may end up losing her job.

How many women do you think are asking for a raise today after watching the fate of Jill Abramson? Oh, right, that’s the point.

In honor of Jill Abramson: Reel Girl’s posts on sexism at New York Times

Yesterday, the New York Times’ announcement it was replacing Managing Editor Jill Abramson with Dean Baquet, after her brief three year tenure with no transition time and no good-bye, in what Rebecca Traister calls “a singularly humiliating firing” was one more act of sexism by the so-called liberal institution.

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The Women’s Media Center had just released a study The Status of Women in the U.S. Media 2014 showing that of the most widely circulated U.S. newspapers, the Times has the biggest byline gender gap: 69% of writers are men. An earlier study by WMC shows that at the Times men are cited as expert sources for news stories 3.4 times more than women are cited.

Why was Abramson fired? Ken Auletta writes in the New Yorker:

Several weeks ago, I’m told, Abramson discovered that her pay and her pension benefits as both executive editor and, before that, as managing editor were considerably less than the pay and pension benefits of Bill Keller, the male editor whom she replaced in both jobs. “She confronted the top brass,” one close associate said, and this may have fed into the management’s narrative that she was “pushy,” a characterization that, for many, has an inescapably gendered aspect.

Business Week reports on the story:

Irrespective of the specific circumstances in this case, such words as “abrasive,” “pushy,” and “brusque” tend to irk professional women, who have come to recognize them from countless studies demonstrating that female leaders are almost always seen more negatively than male ones—a phenomenon also known as the competent-but-disliked dilemma.

The more critical issue, though, is that the gap in pay between women and men is quite real and stubbornly persists at 77¢ on the dollar in spite of the many advances women have made. Even after factoring in differences in occupation, education, and years of experience, according to Harvard’s Claudia Goldin, a significant gulf in female vs. male pay still exists. Still, no one seems able to do much about it.

In April, Republican senators voted down the latest bill meant to address this disparity: The Paycheck Fairness Act would have made it illegal for employers to retaliate against employees who discussed their compensation and would have allowed for more government monitoring of what workers are paid.

 

Sexism at the New York Times has infuriated me for so long. In 2012, I wrote to The New York Times after reading the Magazine’s cover article by chief film critic A.O. Scott titled “Year of the Heroine Worship. The piece claimed that 2012 was “a pretty good year for female heroism” in the movies citing “Brave” among a handful of others. It came out a couple days after I posted Reel Girl’s Gallery of Girl’s Gone Missing From Children’s Movies in 2012. Here’s is my letter the NYT published in a later issue of its Magazine:

 What about movies for children? I have three young daughters. Aside from the pink ghetto, kids’ media — whether PBS or Disney — put male characters front and center. Female characters are sidelined or not there at all — just look at the posters for children’s movies (with the exception of ‘‘Brave’’). There is no reason for the imaginary world to be sexist.
Margot Magowan, San Francisco, posted on nytimes.com

It’s upsetting and damaging that the New York Times is so sexist because it’s a force in determining which stories are “important.”

Here’s a quote I use often from Half the Sky by reporters Nicolas Krsitof (who works at the Times now) and Sheryl Wudunn (who used to work at the Times.)

When a prominent dissident was arrested in China, we would write a front-page article; when 100,000 girls were kidnapped and trafficked into brothels, we didn’t even consider it news

In honor of Jill Abramson, here’s a list of Reel Girl’s blogs on sexism at the New York Times:

New biography of Herge, NYT review mentions racism but not misogyny

Gray Lady leads with sensationalist sexism

Gender-fluid piece in NYT insulting to girls and women

“Brave” doesn’t make 2012 “year of heroine worship” in movies for children

Best breasts get best roles in Hollywood

Why the gender bias in the media?

Trafficked women face criminal records

New York Times hasn’t approved my comment

Dear New York Times, her name is Jyoti

New York Times refusal to print name of Indian rape victim’s name is America’s rape culture

Crimes against women buried in reporting of world news

Kristof writes column and my new comment gets posted underneath!

My letter in today’s New York Times Magazine

Dylan Farrow’s op-ed on Woody Allen’s sex abuse was sent to many papers, all who rejected it. I am assuming the Times was one of those papers. It was columnist Nicolas Kristof who posted Farrow’s letter on his blog. Yet, the Times did publish Woody Allen’s rebuttal as op-ed.

Woody Allen’s op-ed shows disregard for child abuse

Thank you Daisy Coleman for telling us shame belongs to rapist, not survivor

What’s the difference between Gloria Feldt’s ‘No Excuses,’ and Sandberg’s ‘Lean In?’

Gloria Steinem gives thumbs up to Sheryl Sandberg’s ‘Lean In’

Reel Girl’s Letter to the Editor

Taylor Armstrong beaten so badly she needed surgery

Time is now for gender equality

 

‘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.”

Bellhooks

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.

SholaLynch-bySandiSissel

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.”

 

free-angela-and-all-political-prisoners

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!

 

Send a girl to Camp Reel Stories!

As of this posting, Camp Reel Stories, a summer camp in the Bay Area that teaches girls to create media, has raised $17,350 of their $20,000 goal. They have 59 hours to raise the rest of the funds. Please help. I donated money and I hope you, too, take this opportunity to help a girl tell her story.

From the IndieGoGo campaign:

WHAT IS CAMP REEL STORIES?

Camp Reel Stories believes that when women are better represented behind the scenes in the media, they will be better reflected on the screen. Camp Reel Stories is a non-profit summer program designed to empower 13-18 year old women with the skills to create their own media, to view current media critically and thoughtfully, and to aspire to leadership in their field. 

Here’s a repost of my interview with Camp Reel Stories founder, Esther Pearl.

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

Posted on February 14, 2014

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.

Donate here.