Art creates reality: Imagining gender equality in the fantasy world

Some good quotes here. Let me know what you think

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

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

 

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

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

 

New York Times, October:

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

Jezebel reacting to New York Times piece:

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

 

Whoopi Goldberg:

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

 

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

One more quote for you from neuroscientist, Lise Eliot:

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

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

Star Wars, where are the women?

Love this post from Laura Hudson on Wired.

females

 

If you’ve never really noticed the absence of women in Star Wars (or movies at large), consider yourself living proof of how the limiting narratives of culture and media can warp our expectations, to the point where the presence of one woman in a cast of dozens of memorable male characters can seem like perfect equality.

Women accounted for a mere 33 percent of the roles in the top 100 Hollywood films in 2011, according to a study commissioned by the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film. When it came to the leading characters, women were even more dramatically under-represented, comprising only 11 percent of identifiable protagonists.

It gets even worse when you look at all-ages entertainment. Women — who, by the way, make up half the human population — comprised only 28 percent of speaking roles in top-grossing family films last year. And when women did appear, they were far less likely to hold roles of power or influence: making up only 3 percent of executive portrayals, for example, compared to 25 percent in real life….

Criticisms about representations of gender (or race and other diversity) are often countered in fandom by sociological or scientific analyses attempting to explain why the inequality happens according to the internal logic of the fictional world. As though there is any real reason that anything happens in a story except that someone chose to write it that way.

What are kids learning about gender when they watch “Star Wars” again and again and again? All those fantastic creatures the creators of “Star Wars” came up with, but their creativity screeched to a stop when it came to imagining females.

Please read the whole, great post here:

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.

But half of law school, med school, art school are girls! Aren’t boys the ones who need more support?

Um, no.

I get some version of the comment pasted below all the time. Oliver is responding to my post about how “Adventures of Tintin” featured almost no female characters, typical of most animated movies made for kids.

From Oliver:

You keep focusing on how sexist American and Hollywood still are as you focus solely on women, because, you course, you ARE a woman! You say Hollywood keeps making kids movies that say that boys are more important to girls, but the reality is that is how YOU are reading it and how you want to see it. The reality is, studies have shown time and again that the way public schools in America function is actually detrimental to boys and young men and the way they think, function and learn. Boys, many many times more often than girls, are left behind in school and there are increasingly more and more girls going to college and less boys. A large majority of college-attendees are now girls. Girls have plenty of support today telling them they’re important, they can accomplish whatever they want, they can do everything a boy can do. The reality is that in our modern time there became as much equality between boys/girls and men/women as realistically possible. Pretty soon women became more equal than men. Girls more equal than boys. The focus shifted. Women found their voice. So don’t sit here telling us there is too much in America telling us boys are more important than girls. EVERYTHING points to the contrary. Girls have plenty of media that caters SOLELY to them. If anything, young boys need to be reminded of their importance and be shown better role models and given more emotional support while they grow up. You have everything backwards, you dumb, irrational, zealous feminist.

PS Nobody I watched this movie with, boys, girls, men or women noticed this lack of women. Do you know why you noticed it? Because you focus on it in your life. You look for these things and try to find meaning that’s not there. You’re the same as all the people who post on the IMDB forums accusing movies of being racist because there are no black people. You have a chip on your shoulder that you need to break off. You’ve been owned.

My response:

Hi Oliver,

I wish these facts were just my opinion. Women don’t make it past 16% in power positions in most professions all across the board. Women are half the students in med school, law school, art school etc but it doesn’t translate to equal status or pay beyond education.

That no one you saw Tintin with noticed the lack of girls only shows how used to invisible females we are. Do you think if the movie had all female characters you might have noticed?

Here are some stats, More at the Geena Davis institute on Gender and Media:

Women are 51% of the U.S. population

Over half of college graduates but less than a quarter of full professors and a fifth of college presidents are female

Women are 50% of new entrants to the profession, but less than a fifth of law firm partners, federal judges, law school deans, and Fortune 500 general counsels

Only 16% of protagonists in film are female.

The female characters in G rated movies are just as likely to wear revealing clothing as in R rated movies.

Women make up 8% of all writers of major motion pictures.

Women are 17% of all executive producers

95% of top grossing Hollywood films directed by men

Women are 2% of all cinematographers

Women are 7% of film directors

In 84 years, 4 women have been nominated for best director, only one has won

2012 Academy Award nominations, 98% movies directed by men, 84% written by men, 70% starring men

77 percent of Oscar voters are male.

Women and girls are the subject of less than 20% of news stories.

Women make up 14% of all guest appearances on the influential Sunday television talk shows; among repeat guests, only 7% are women.

Only 15% of the authors on the The New York Times best seller list for nonfiction are women.

Only about 20% of op-eds in America’s newspapers are by women.

Women hold only 15.2% of seats on the boards of Fortune 500 companies.

In the financial services industry, 57% of the workers are women but 2% tof the CEO’s are female

Women are one third of M.B.A. classes and 2% of Fortune 500 CEOs

16 % of board directors and corporate officers

Only 7.5% of the major earners at those Fortune 500 companies are female.

Only 3% of advertising’s creative directors are women.

Women are 50% of divinity students but 3 percent of the pastors of large congregations in protestant churches that have been ordaining women for decades

Women are just 19% of partners in law firms.

Women represent 17% of the United States Congress.

There are currently only six female governors (12%)

23.6% of state legislators are women

9% of Mayors are women in largest 100 cities in U.S.

U.S. ranks 71st in the world in female legislative representation, behind Bangladesh, Sudan and United Arab Emirates

Throughout our history only four women have held the office of Supreme Court Justice.

There has never been a female President of the United States.
MM

Pay attention to this correlation: Only 16% of protagonists in films are female (Geena Davis Institute on Gender and Media/ Miss Representation.)

Here’s a quote from Barnard president Deborah Spar in a post from Leslie Bennets on The Daily Beast where many of the stats listed above are from:

“Women remain hugely underrepresented at positions of power in every single sector across this country,” said Barnard College president Debora Spar at a White House conference on urban economic development last month. “We have fallen into what I call the 16 percent ghetto, which is that if you look at any sector, be it aerospace engineering, Hollywood films, higher education, or Fortune 500 leading positions, women max out at roughly 16 percent.”

Do you think that the narratives we surround ourselves with and the parts that we assign males and females to play matter? What does the gender imbalance in the imaginary world from animated movies to LEGO minifigs tell us about ourselves and our expectations for our children?

Women and the leadership gap: Post-feminism is dead

Leslie Bennetts, author of The Feminine Mistake, wrote on the lack of women in leadership positions on The Daily Beast. The post begins with this question:

It’s been almost a half-century since the modern women’s movement began. So why aren’t more women in positions of power?

Bennetts begins with the contraceptions hearings in congress where Rep. Carolyn Maloney made news by asking: Where are the women?

Bennetts writes:

Throughout American society, the dramatic underrepresentation of women at the top remains the norm, despite widespread misconceptions to the contrary….The truth is that men continue to run most major institutions and make most of the important political, executive, policy and other decisions in the United States. And as demonstrated by the current battle over contraceptive coverage in health insurance, the dearth of women decision-makers often results in policies that fail to serve women’s needs, let alone the larger goal of equality….

“Women remain hugely underrepresented at positions of power in every single sector across this country,” said Barnard College president Debora Spar at a White House conference on urban economic development last month.

“We have fallen into what I call the 16 percent ghetto, which is that if you look at any sector, be it aerospace engineering, Hollywood films, higher education, or Fortune 500 leading positions, women max out at roughly 16 percent,” Spar said. “That is a crime, and it is a waste of incredible talent”… Kathryn Kolbert, director of the Athena Center for Leadership Studies at Barnard. “We made great progress on the rights front in the 1970’s, and life has changed significantly, but progress for women has plateaued in rights, in leadership, and in the ability to contribute equally in social and cultural affairs.”

Here are more stats from the post:

Women are 51% of the U.S. population

17% of U.S. senators are  women

16.8% of House of Representatives are women

3 Justices out of 9 on the Supreme Court are women

6 Governors out of 50 are women (12%)

23.6% of state legislators are women

9% of Mayors are women in largest 100 cities in U.S.

U.S. ranks 71st in the world in female legislative representation, behind Bangladesh, Sudan and United Arab Emirates

Over half of college graduates but less than a quarter of full professors and a fifth of college presidents are female

Women are one third of M.B.A. classes and 2% of Fortune 500 CEOs

6 % of top earners

16 %t of board directors and corporate officers

Women are 50% of new entrants to the profession, but less than a fifth of law firm partners, federal judges, law school deans, and Fortune 500 general counsels

In the financial services industry, 57 percent of the workers are women but 1.5 percent of the CEO’s are female

Women are 50% of divinity students but 3 percent of the pastors of large congregations in protestant churches that have been ordaining women for decades

95% of top grossing Hollywood films directed by men

In 84 years, 4 women have been nominated for best director, only one has won

2012 Academy Award nominations, 98% movies directed by men, 84%  written by men, 70% starring men

77 percent of Oscar voters are male.

Forgiveness, storytelling, and how to change the world

A few years ago, I took a class on forgiveness at Stanford. I was intrigued by the incredibly practical way the professor, Fred Luskin, described his course: Forgiveness is a skill that can be learned, like any other skill such as riding a bike or writing a five paragraph essay.

Professor Luskin taught our class that we were there because we’d formed a grievance that had interfered with our life. In order to form that grievance, we had all done the same three things:

(1) Took an offense too personally (In reality, the action had nothing to do with you.)

(2) Blamed the offender for how you feel. (In the present moment, right now, nothing is hurting you)

(3) Created a grievance story. (This is what gets you stuck, the narrative that you repeat and repeat in your head.)

So how do you forgive? Also, three steps:

(1) Take a hurt less personally. (Really get it has nothing to do with you.)

(2) Take responsibility for how you feel. (Again, nothing is hurting you right now.)

(3) Become a hero instead of a victim in the story you tell.

I love this last step: retell your story. Create a new narrative.

A while ago, I read somewhere that the biggest obstacle to immigrants becoming successful in America is the victim mentality.  Immigrants who were able to let go of that belief achieved much more than those who held on to it. Becoming the hero in your story has everything to do with why I created Reel Girl. As I wrote in the “About” section of this blog, most of the time I don’t think there’s a sexist conspiracy going on. I just think that for thousands of years, women have been living in stories written by men. That’s just warped.

Women and girls have got to be the ones to tell our own stories. No one else can make us heroes. It’s the kind of thing you have to do for yourself. It isn’t easy when we’re so mired in these other narratives. Here’s one comment I got on Reel Girl:

I’m so glad I found your blog! I have known there was something wrong with the media’s portrayal of women for as long as I remember. When I was little I always played Batman or Superman or just boys in general because the only thing I saw girls doing on TV was being rescued, then getting married off, then…
And because of this I think I may have actually thought I was a boy at one point.

As a beginner writer I would love to write an imaginary world without sexism! I’m trying to do it now.
The appalling lack of female characters in movies and such is so aggressively brainwashed into us that I didn’t even notice it until I read it in your blog. It is so bad, that it wasn’t until I read your blog that I realised my first wannabe-feminist-and-spiritual-soapbox novel has a male main character and a mostly male cast :(

Your blog has inspired me even more to write more and better females! For some reason my characters just ‘look’ and ‘feel’ male when they come into my head. Even the genderless ones. And now I am trying to figure out why.
Do you think it might have something to do with how I have seen women portrayed in the media?

Yes, absolutely, from the Bible to Tintin, women’s roles are continually limited and marginalized. So, women please write! If we can change our stories, we can change the world. Of course, it helps dramatically for women to get higher up in the power structure so that our stories can get out to influence more people.

Let’s change these stats:

(sources: Miss Representation, Women and Hollywood, Women’s Media Center, VIDA, Center for American Women and Politics, Catalyst)

Only 16% of protagonists in film are female.

Between 1937 and 2005 there were only 13 female protagonists in animated movies.

The female characters in G rated movies are just as likely to wear revealing clothing as in R rated movies.

Women make up 8% of all writers of major motion pictures.

Women are 17% of all executive producers

Women are 7% of film directors

Women are 2% of all cinematographers

Women and girls are the subject of less than 20% of news stories.

Women make up 14% of all guest appearances on the influential Sunday television talk shows; among repeat guests, only 7% are women.

The New York Review of Books in 2010 had 462 male bylines to 79 female, about a 6-to-1 ratio.

The New Republic in 2010 had 32 female bylines to 160 men.

The Atlantic in 2010 published 154 male bylines and 55 female.

The New Yorker in 2010 reviewed 36 books by men and 9 by women.

Harper’s in 2010 reviewed more than twice as many books by men as by women.

The New York Times Book Review had 1.5 men to 1 woman (438 compared to 295) and an authors-reviewed ratio of 1.9 to 1 (524 compared to 283).

Only 15% of the authors on the The New York Times best seller list for nonfiction are women.

Only about 20% of op-eds in America’s newspapers are by women

Only 3% of advertising’s creative directors are women

Women hold only 15.2% of seats on the boards of Fortune 500 companies.

Women are just 19% of partners in law firms.

Women represent 17% of the United States Congress.

There are currently only six female governors.

Throughout our history only four women have held the office of Supreme Court Justice.

The United States has never had a female President.

Stats from Miss Representation

Jennifer Siebel Newsom’s Miss Representation– a documentary about how mainstream media contributes to the under-representation of women in positions of power and influence in America– aired on OWN last week. TV viewers learned the following stats, listed below. Makes you think twice about taking your kid to a movie.

Only 16% of protagonists in film are female. Only 7% of film directors and 10% of writers are female.

Between 1937 and 2005 there were only 13 female protagonists in animated movies. The female characters in G rated movies are just as likely to wear revealing clothing as in R rated movies.

Women and girls are the subject of less than 20% of news stories. “When a group is not featured in the media… it is called symbolic annhilation.” Martha Lauzen, Center for the Study of Women in TV and Film

“All of Hollywood is run on one assumption: That women will watch stories about men, but men won’t watch stories about women. It is a horrible indictment of our society of we assume that one half of our population is just not interested in the other half.”
– Geena Davis

Here’s a a link to Reel Girl’s gallery of girls gone missing from 2011 kids’ films.

More stats and facts here.

Sexism 101

In the New York Times, reporter Lisa Belkin writes about sexism at Duke University:

AT Duke University last fall, members of the Sigma Nu fraternity e-mailed 300 of their female classmates about an off-campus Halloween party. “Hey Ladies,” the invitation leered, complete with a misspelling,  “Whether your dressing up as a slutty nurse, a slutty doctor, a slutty schoolgirl or just a total slut, we invite you…”

Yes, there was outrage: in the form of fliers plastered around the Duke campus reprinting the offending e-mail and asking, “Is this why you came to Duke?” And there was official indignation: The recently formed Greek Women’s Initiative will be tackling the subject of gender relations.

But a less-noted fact remains: hundreds of Duke women went to that Halloween party and many dressed as they had been asked.

As parents around the country send their children to campuses for the start of another academic year, what are we to make of the fact that lessons of equality, respect and self-worth have been heard when it comes to the classroom, but lost somewhere on the way to the clubs? Why has the pendulum swung back to a feeling that sexualization of women is fun and funny rather than insulting and uncomfortable? Why are so many women O.K. with that? Odds are that the women dancing at that Duke party had mothers who attended more than one Take Back the Night march in their college days. What has changed?

I would argue nothing has changed. It doesn’t matter how many Take Back the Night Marches there were or how many women’s studies courses got added to the curriclum. At “the top”– whether at America’s “best” schools,  largest companies, or highest levels of government– it’s one massive frat party.

There’s been so much hand-wringing in the media lately about how boys are lagging in education. More females are now graduating from law and medical school and scoring higher on tests than males. Pundits worry the pendulum is swinging in the other direction and boys are suffering. But what happens when these high achieving girls graduate? How many of them go on from their Ivy League educations to become partners in their law firms, heads of surgery, and earn equitable salaries to their male counterparts? Across the board in America, whether its law, medicine, business, politics, or the arts, males dominate by staggering statistics.

Here are some facts on American women, who make up 52% of our citizens and 46.5% of our labor force:

Women hold only 15.2% of seats on the boards of Fortune 500 companies.

Women are just 19% of partners in law firms.

Women represent 17% of the United States Congress.

Throughout our history only four women have held the office of Supreme Court Justice.

There are currently only six female governors.

Women make up 14% of all guest appearances on the influential Sunday television talk shows; among repeat guests, only 7% are women.

Only 15% of the authors on the The New York Times best seller list for nonfiction are women.

Only about 20% of op-eds in America’s newspapers are by women.

Women make up 8% of all writers of major motion pictures.

Women are 17% of all executive producers

Women are 2% of all cinematographers

Clearly, men are the ones making the rules. If women want an invite to this party, they need to know how to please the guys in charge. Thank goodness they’re learning those skills at Duke.

See my later post on this story.

Did Reality TV save Taylor Armstrong?

After Russell Armstrong, estranged husband of “Real Housewives of Beverly Hills” star Taylor Armstrong, committed suicide this week, the internet was ablaze, pointing the finger at Reality TV, wanting to know: Did it kill Russell Armstrong?

Today on Salon.com TV critic Matt Zoller Seitz writes:

It’s time to get real about reality TV. As your parents may have warned you, it’s all fun and games until someone gets hurt. People are getting hurt.

Armstrong, the estranged husband of “The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills” star Taylor Armstrong, commited suicide on Monday. Friends have said the show changed him, that the pressure of having his marital strains examined on national TV and the financial stress of keeping up with much wealthier cast members all contributed to his emotional collapse.

Seitz calls Reality TV a blood sport and likens it to a modern day gladiator’s arena. His analogy is brilliant, and I’m no fan of the trainwreck that is reality TV. But I also find it disturbing that so much media commentary focuses on the aberration of Armstrong’s behavior becoming so public. What about his behavior? Is the tragedy here that Russell’s violent past, his “marital strains,” became known? Or is it that Russell couldn’t or wouldn’t get the help he needed to treat his sickness?

Violence against women is epidemic but far too invisible. Most survivors are so mired in shame, they don’t talk about the abuse to their friends, family, or the media. Until more survivors choose to speak up, as I wrote about for Salon in 2002, the public, including our legislators, will remain apathetic about taking any real steps to stop the violence. And of course, as long as survivors stay hidden, so do the perpetrators.

Here are some scary statistics about how common and how secret violence against women is (from the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence):

One in four women (25%) has experienced domestic violence in her lifetime.

85% of domestic violence victims are women.

Women ages 20-24 are at the greatest risk of nonfatal intimate partner violence.

Nearly three out of four (74%) of Americans personally know someone who is or has been a victim of domestic violence.

On average, more than three women are murdered by their intimate partners in this country every day.

Domestic violence is one of the most chronically under reported crimes.

Only approximately one-quarter of all physical assaults, one-fifth of all rapes, and one-half of all stalkings perpetuated against females by intimate partners are reported to the police.

Taylor Armstrong bucked the statistics. She said she was abused, she said so publicly, and she left her husband. Two weeks after she left Radar online reported Russell had two restraining orders against him and had pleaded guilt to battery in 1997.

Historically, the time when women are most vulnerable to more violence is when they leave their abusive partners. Did being on Reality TV– the exposure, money, fame, and power, that came with it– help to make Taylor one of the rare women to speak out? Because she was not invisible but exposed, was she, on some level, more protected against further violence than the millions of other women? As the stats above cite, three women are murdered by their intimate partners in this country every day.

Obviously, I have no idea what was going on in Russell Armstrong’s head or in Taylor’s. Obviously this is all sad on many levels, but Reality TV’s role in bringing public awareness to the ‘private’ issue of domestic violence is not the tragedy in this story.

Peggy Orenstein counts girls

Peggy Orenstein blogged about the typical response she gets when she points out kids’ movies are mostly all about boys. People argue there’s gender equality, pointing out token ‘strong girls:’ what about Jesse in Toy Story? Dory in Finding Nemo? That girl chef in Ratatouille?

Here’s the problem: The girl is not the star of the movie! The movie is not her story, her experience. Hermione is a great character, smart and strong, but the series belongs to Harry. It’s all about Harry’s quest. It’s Harry’s adventure.

The reason this is so important is because its literal programming, training girls that no matter how brilliant they may be, they will be limited to supporting roles.

Orenstein does a great count of boy versus girl characters in Pixar films. Read her blog here.