ReelGirl star of the week: Kim Clijsters

Just after tennis player Kim Clijsters beat her opponent in the Australian open, she scored a major victory for the women of the world.

Clijisters and 

After the game, when Clijsters went on camera with courtside interviewer Todd Woodbridge, she confronted him about a nasty text message he sent about her.

“You thought I was pregnant?” she said in front of 38,000 people, many more watching on TV. “I’m not.” Clijsters turned to the audience. “Let me say what was written in the message– she looks really grumpy and her boobs are bigger.”

Wow! Outside of bad reality TV, I’ve never seen a woman on camera directly confront a man for calling her fat! Not only that, when Clijsters was speaking she seemed happy, victorious, and beautiful. Instead of being humiliated by a guy making fun of her body, Clijsters turned the shame where it belonged, on the one who made the comment instead of the recipient and that is a huge win for women.

Whether you happen to be Hillary Clinton or a high school student, having someone make fun of your appearance, or even just the threat of it, has been an effective way to keep females quiet and in their place. The ‘ugly feminist’ and ‘dumb beauty queen’ are caricatures, flip sides of the same coin, both images relentlessly telling women: you can’t be strong and pretty, so make your choice. And, by the way girls, here’s a hint on which way you should go– women get power in our culture by being attractive to men, so if you risk trying to get powerful some other way, you may lose your power!

Another cool thing about this story– it was another female player who got the text from Woodbridge and exposed it to Clijsters. No catfight here. Most likely, not the reaction Woodbridge was expecting. What would happen if women refused to call each other fat? So often, we are are the ones acting out on our training to keep each other down by judging and rating each others appearances. Our competitive drives get funneled into socially acceptable and non-threatening to men stakes like beauty, boys, and popularity.

By calling out a ‘mean guy’ for his nasty gossip, Clijsters shook up stereotypes about women and men, also teaching us all a lesson: don’t trashtalk! Another cool thing about her– when she was actually pregnant, she ‘retired’ from tennis only to successfully return to competition a year later, showing the world that moms can be tennis stars.

Sometimes a victory speech isn’t just a victory speech. Here’s to hoping more women get the mike and change the world.

Missing Bernie Ward

Mostly, I miss Bernie Ward on Sunday mornings, when I hear “Godtalk” on KGO Radio. The first time I ever met Bernie was when he was hosting that show. I’d come to San Francisco from New York, just for the weekend. My sister was having an engagement party that I traveled to California for. But I ended up never going back home to New York. I went to Austin for a while, as a PA on a film, and after that wrapped, I got a job working for Willie Nelson on an hour length music video. (As far as I know, that particular piece of art never made it to TV or even video.) Then I came back to San Francisco. I went to KGO to see if I could get a producer job. I’d worked in New York for Alan Colmes who had, at the time,  a radio talk show out of a network called Daynet that used ABC’s studios. KGO was also out of ABC then so it all felt familiar to me.

KGO told me I could be a fill in, an on-call producer, which would probably entail late nights– Ray Taliaferro’s shift. And the weekends, odd hours. That was fine with me. I was twenty-six years old. I had no problem staying up all night.

So there I was at 6am, light just coming up, and Bernie walked into his studio. He sat down and played a recording of Amazing Grace on bagpipes. It was beautiful. I remember thinking: this is so weird. How did I get here at 6am, listening to Amazing Grace, listening to this guy talk about Jesus?

My mother is jewish, my father is episcopalian. I didn’t grow up with any religion. I was fascinated listening to Bernie go on about God, argue with the church, speak about the real messages of Jesus’ teachings, this jewish carpenter, Bernie called him.

Not long after I met Bernie, a producer spot opened for his night time show. It was the most fun job I’ve ever had, and Bernie, in spite of his reputation  as angry, cranky, or mean, was great to work with. He was kind, attentive, brilliant and hilarious. We had many disagreements, right from the start on the issues he discussed on air. I began working for him around the time of the whole Monica Lewinsky scandal. Bernie basically believed Hillary Clinton’s whole right wing conspiracy theory. Not that I didn’t believe that, I did. But for me, there was more to the story. I’d voted for Clinton as a young woman in my twenties, and I hated that this new kind of president, who I believed would do great things for women, had messed around with an intern. Instead of advancing powerful women, Clinton’s presidency was perpetuating antiquated sexual stereotypes that go back to biblical times i.e. a young woman’s sexuality destroys a powerful man.  I was so tired of that same old imagery and pissed off Clinton was reincarnating it again. “Imagine if Madeline Albright was considered sexy because of her brilliance, position of power and stature? Imagine that her young male interns had crushes on her? Do you see the sexism now?”

“I never thought about it that way,” Bernie said, and he put me on air for the first time. It felt great to have my ideas amplified through that microphone, wafting out over the Bay Area. Bernie essentially disagreed with me, but he was able to see my point of view and then elaborate on it. That’s a talent few people have. He encouraged me to write down my thoughts. I started publishing pieces in newspapers and magazines. Then I started getting invited on TV programs– CNN, FOX News, Good Morning America. Bernie taught me how to debate, that it was OK to interrupt, that I only needed to have three points I wanted to make and to just keep re-making those points.

Producing Bernie’s show– a liberal, no-less– I realized how many more men called up than women, eager to go on air. Also, when I invited women experts to come on the show as guests, they often refused, claiming they weren’t qualified, recommending a “better” colleague, often a male. My experience at KGO inspired me to start a non-profit that provided  professional training for women including media skills.

After seven years of producing the show, I left. That’s a pretty long time to be a producer in talk radio world. I had a baby, and initially my idea was that I would take care of the baby during the day and my husband would watch her at night. But I had no clue what being a mom was really like. I was exhausted all the time. I never saw my husband. Plus, I had my writing and the non-proft to work on by that time, and I didn’t really need KGO anymore. So I quit.

A couple years later, I got a call from Bernie. He told me that federal agents had come into his home and seized his computers; he would be charged with possession and distribution of child pornography.  He was sentenced to almost seven years in prison.

Since Bernie has been in prison, I think of him often, but I haven’t written him or visited him. I can’t reconcile in my head the Bernie I knew and the Bernie that was accused of so many things. I think seven years is a harsh sentence for someone who did not create any pornography. That said, I can’t see how Bernie could look at those kinds of images and not feel anything for those little kids.

I’ve never had something like that happen in my life, watch a good friend, a mentor, someone I idolized, have his whole life fall apart. I hope I can write him. I’d like to be able to visit him. But for now, I just miss the Bernie I knew.