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.

12 thoughts on “Forgiveness, storytelling, and how to change the world

  1. Regarding forgiveness and our stories. Sometimes it takes years and even decades to sort things out. To know that we are not crazy. We needn’t do it alone.
    We need support, understanding, and a measure of guidance. Much can be done via the area of the arts, poetry, short stories, community theater, painting, sculpture, music, even just sitting peacefully for a spell, alone or with others feeling kinship.

  2. The victim mentality argument you cite in relation to immigrants success is really a form of victims blaming. I have heard a similar argument about poverty in general, women in the work place, blacks in the workplace, etc.

      • Agreed that hopelessness is stagnation. Forgiveness without accountability I find unacceptable. I was just pointing the flaw in that immigrant argument. Immigrants are the sort of people who give up what they know and risk everything for a better future – stagnation and victimhood is not what they are about

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

    Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs – 1937
    Cinderella – 1950
    Alice in Wonderland – 1951
    Lady and the Tramp – 1955
    Sleeping Beauty – 1959
    The Aristocats – 1970
    The Rescuers – 1977
    The Little Mermaid – 1989
    Beauty and the Beast – 1991
    Pocahontas – 1995
    Mulan – 1998
    Lilo & Stitch – 2002
    Home on the Range – 2004

    Thats 13 from disney, but we have don bluth, dreamworks and many others as well, why does only disney count? :/

    • Hi Aninha,

      That stat is from Miss Representation. Female protagonist means the star of the movie, not a female character included in an ensemble cast. Out of the movies you list, in my mind, only these have a female protag: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Alice in Wonderland, Sleeping Beauty, The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Pocahontas and Mulan.


      • I don’t really understand. You may argue that the leads in the other movies I mentioned don’t really drive the story, but that is a different issue, they are still the stars of the movies.

        The Secret of NIMH – 1982
        Thumbelina – 1994
        Anastasia – 1997
        Hansel and Gretel: An Opera Fantasy – 1954
        Return to Oz – 1964
        The New Alice in Wonderland – 1966
        Alice of Wonderland in Paris – 1966

        I really would like to see the measures Miss representation uses, as in: which types of animated films count? Do tv movies count? Do sequels count?

        On a different issue though, what do you think about the point brought here?

        • Aninha,
          Out of the movies you list I’d include Thumbleina and Anastasia, if they were major releases. I’m not really interested in debating this #13 (or whatever it was) that Miss Rep came up with. Its like fighting over crumbs. I’ll check out the link.


      • I’ll admit I was fighting over crumbs, I just think that they should make sure their measures are well defined, so we can trust their numbers.

  4. That comment really spoke to me, because I’ve been writing in an imaginary, non-patriarchal world for several years, and it’s harder than I’d ever imagined to create a world that has never been bound by patriarchal standards, in which women and men have always had equal standing with one another. How does gender manifest when little boys are never told not to cry, and little girls are never told to be demure and submissive?

    I think you’ve also hit the nail on the head for why I write female protagonists, better than I’ve ever been able to describe it. It’s not just that I think women are underrepresented, but it really is a problem of the active vs. passive dichotomy of men vs. women. With male protagonists, women are passive members of the man’s story, whereas female protags are active people who drive their own stories.

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