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.

Tiger Forgets to Apologize to Women

Update: If sex really is an addiction, Tiger should have apologized to all the women he used as drugs.

At this morning’s press conference, Tiger said he was sorry to his family, his wife, his kids, his fans, his sponsors, but he left out the more than a dozen women he had sex with. Tiger further objectified these women when he only referred to them in his speech as the “temptations” of power and fame.

Tiger, do you get that women are human? Or does that insight come later in your recovery– around day 56 or so?

When porn star Jocelyn James calls a press conference, flanked by Gloria Allred, it’s challenging to have sympathy for anybody in this story. But Tiger had sex with Jocelyn for three years– along with many other women. What enabled him to do that if she’s so sub-human? At the press conference, Tiger apologized to his wife, as he should, of course; he supposedly loves her. But the skill many men acquire to divide women into wives or whores really creeps me out. If there really is such a thing as sex addiction, this dichotomy must fuel it. I imagine any 12 step recovery program would require that Tiger make amends to those he used as part of his “addiction.”

I’m not saying Rachel Uchitel and the porn stars and models and single moms who slept with Tiger are all victims; they could very well be sex addicts themselves who used Tiger just to get off, get fame, or money. But, as far as I know, they aren’t the ones in intensive recovery programs making public apologies. Tiger is. Maybe he’s not there yet in his program, or maybe his other amends will be as private as he famously is. But it would be nice if Tiger– or Kobe Bryant or Bill Clinton or whomever the latest sex scandal powerguy is– added to his standard mea culpa that he’s sorry for treating women like tissue paper. Because these so called private matters become so public, and I’m sick of seeing women split up into homemaker or homewrecker all over the media. I’d like an apology for subjecting women to that all over again.

Here’s what I wrote yesterday:

Are the rumors true? God, I wish she’d just take 300 million or whatever it is and get out of there.

See what I mean about “wife school?” Stand by your man, cheer him on, no matter what.

Gross. Women are biologically capable of putting up with anything! “Family” is so important to us, nothing else really matters. What a horrible example to all of us married people. A talk show host I used to work with would disagree, he’d say it’s a good move, it shows family values, you stick around no matter what.  And then I would say: but reverse their genders– the story becomes unimaginable.

Young woman golf star falls in love with her friend’s hot “manny.” They marry and have two kids; she keeps winning tournaments and doing endorsements. After a few years of appearing as the perfect family, wife and husband get in a huge, violent fight. He goes after her with one of her golf clubs. Soon after, the public starts to learn she’s been sleeping around, about 15 men come out and claim they were with her, including porn stars and hosts. (Does “hostess” in this context even have a male equivalent meaning?) He takes off his wedding ring and retreats with the kids to his home country. Everyone says he is not the kind of guy to take this behavior, he will get the money he can and divorce her; he’ll never take her back. Photographs show up of her in sex rehab in the South. Then they are

pictured at the rehab together. An announcement is coming tomorrow…

You can see the sexism, too, in how the public reacted to the alleged violent fight; because it was a woman who supposedly attacked a man, even sending him to the hospital, there were jokes about the reports of abuse on Letterman and SNL.  Lots of people were saying, empathically, that whatever happened, it was a private matter; police should just stay out of it and the media should back off and leave the couple alone. But domestic violence isn’t a private matter; it needs to be investigated, not ignored. Victims typically recant their stories. It’s not anyone’s right to let himself get beat up or murdered by his mate. It’s against the law.

So I guess today, Tiger will ask for forgivenss for his sexual indiscretion,  just like Bill Clinton, Ted Haggard, Jim Baker and Kobe Bryant before him. (I think I’ll start a list.) I actually believe in forgiveness, I think it’s a skill you can learn just like any other skill. I learned that at a class I took at Stanford taught by Fred Luskin; the class was amazing. Also, anyone who has ever been through a 12 step program knows forgiveness is a crucial step towards recovery, for totally selfish reasons, you must forgive to get well. Forgiveness, by the way, doesn’t mean Elin has to stay with Tiger, or that anyone has to stay with anyone. It means you get to move on with your life and devote your considerable energy to something else instead of nurturing the grudges you were clinging on to for years.

My issue with Tiger and Elin is really that I am so sick of this same, old story, just watching it again again, the version I get of it, as a person in the world, the repetitive scenario: the cheating, powerful guy and his loyal wife. It bores me. I’m so tired of it. I want a new narrative. And I don’t mean the occasional exception (I’m trying to think of a powerful woman that’s cheated and her husband and he’s taken her back after public humiliation to insert here.) I want new archetypes, repeated upon centuries and ingrained into our subconscious, then translated back into our stories, movies, lives, and tabloids. I’m craving something original.