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Tag Archives: Feminism

First They Came For The Poor Women

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Wisconsin is imprisoning pregnant women who admit to using drugs. This is being done under the guise of “protecting the fetus.” Before we discuss how stressful and unwholesome prison life is for a fetus(!) let us be crystal clear; we’re only talking about women who admit to using drugs of which the court does not approve. We are not talking about psychotropic medication or even prescription pain medication. What is really at issue is that illegal drugs are being used. It is not clear that there is any medical data that even posits let alone confirms that illegal drugs are more damaging to a fetus than prescription drugs. But what is clear is that vulnerable and/or poor women are an easy target.

There is no ignoring, no matter how hard the media tries, that women’s reproductive rights are dissolving in front of our eyes. Bit by bit access to health care and choice is slipping away, particularly for the poorest women in this country. It might not be an organized and coordinated effort but there’s definitely a sophisticated marketing machine at work. Who is going to argue with “protecting the fetus?” It’s right up there with “it’s for the children” or the flag, motherhood and apple pie. Treacly sentiment aside, no one is interested in protecting the fetus. If they were there would be free and excellent healthcare for all reproductive aged women. Nobody would be poor and/or hungry in this country either. Every woman would have a safe wholesome environment in which to gestate and raise her children. There would be no slums, or crime-ridden housing developments. Violence against women and children would be treated like the hate crime it is. In short, it wouldn’t be such a lousy world to be a woman or a child.

We live in a society that screams on the top of its lungs about the unborn, but doesn’t seem to give a rat’s ass once they arrive. Everyday children go hungry, are neglected and abused and have access to weapons, alcohol and drugs. Every year another batch of children fall through the public education cracks and don’t graduate high school, or worse, graduate illiterate. Fifty years ago we waged a war on poverty in this country and we lost. We now are in the midst of a long drawn out war against women. It is not a coincidence that this attack is occurring as women make groundbreaking progress in almost every traditionally male bastion. Women must shake off the Barbie mantel that’s been thrust upon them in recent years. We need to shift our focus from physical perfection, put down all things pink and pick up this fight. We must recognize media pandering (e.g., television channels, websites, and merchandising directed to women, as if we were a separate species) for what it is, offensive and distracting. Creating women centric genres could be positive if the ones being created weren’t so damn insipid. The “chicklit” section in your chain bookstore are not shelves filled with; Betty Friedan, Gloria Steinem, Simone de Beauvoir, Shirley Chisholm and Our Bodies Ourselves. Nope. It’s shelves of light romantic “beach” reading. The television channels and (the majority) of websites designed for women are not for anything remotely serious (or even good.) There has been a steady pervasive patronizing campaign underway as women’s rights have been chipped away. Color me a conspiracy theorist, but I don’t believe it’s a coincidence.

We needn’t lose our sense of humor or even stop enjoying a good An Affair To Remember viewing. But we do need to resist buying into the 1950s model of womanhood we’re being sold. We have become a serious threat to those in traditional power positions. A woman came this close to being the democratic nominee for President! If that doesn’t scare the pants off the status quo I don’t know what does. We cannot tolerate the chipping away of our progress. We may not feel that a pregnant Wisconsin woman in handcuffs has much to do with us or is a feminist issue, but we’d be very very wrong. They are coming after her because they can. First it’s the poor and disenfranchised, that’s the way it always works. Those women who do have a voice must use it. We must recognize that the Spanx, push-up bras, Botox, and body sculpting are the corsets, garters and pointy bras of the 1950s. Those instruments of torture, popularized after women took men’s jobs during World War II, are a symbol of something insidious afoot. This is not a call for bra burning (heaven forbid!) but merely an urging to recognize what we’re being sold and how it’s being used to distract us from a much more serious issue.

 
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Posted by on October 24, 2013 in Cultural Critique, Media/Marketing

 

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What It Is Ain’t Exactly Clear*

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Fifty years ago, on November 22nd, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. It was a nationally televised horror that marked the start of turbulent times. The years that followed were tumultuous to say the least. Three and a half years later both Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy were gunned down. During this time the Vietnam War escalated, the civil rights movement gained momentum and carnage, and all of it was televised. In families rooms across our nation the evening news showed people burning in an obscure Asian country and American cities burning. It was a chaotic and troubling time in which the status quo (those over 30, non-minority and male) lost their footing. The world they helped to build and were promised by their parents was slipping away.

Throughout the devastation, or maybe even because of it, good things began to grow. Tiny saplings such as ecology, feminism, and reproductive rights began to appear amongst the ruins. The civil rights act did get signed, after a shamefully long wait and unforgivable amount of violence. There were strides in the women’s rights movement, though not a passage of the E.R.A. (Equal Rights Amendment.) The E.P.A. (Environmental Protection Act) went into effect in 1970 (as did Earth Day.) There was enough momentum to assume that the tide had turned somewhat. This progress happened in a very visible and even audible way. Fashion followed what was happening on the streets. Shirts and home decor featuring “protest posters” were for sale. Slogan T-shirts began to appear. All of this to the background of some rockin’ protest themed music. Even the softer rock songs were dotted with anti-war or anti-establishment themes. Their sound told you there was something going down.

It seems (from the distance of 50 years) that it all stopped as suddenly as it started. It’s tempting to look to Watergate as what doused the fire. Leaders being assassinated in their prime causes hurt and fear, leaders abusing power and lying causes disgust and apathy. The equation was probably a bit more complex than that. Those who were directly impacted by the events of the early 1960s (and of an age to take it to the streets) had gotten older and perhaps had moved on. Some, no doubt saw their fights as having been won and moved on. Others kept up the fight but within the system and off the streets and out of the spotlight. Whatever the exact formula the result was that the counter culture dissipated and the protests petered out. Nothing of that fevered pitch can last. But isn’t it odd that it’s never returned?

Surely there has been enough horror and inequity to stir rebellion. A 10-year war in Iraq? How about protesting that unlike Viet Nam it’s never been televised? The erosion of reproductive freedoms, the rise of poverty and unemployment and racial unrest (which is what the immigration debate really is) seems suitable for protest. We’ve never had more tools for organizing and yet we seem so disorganized. There are energetic and impactful demonstrations that happen all the time. But they are fragmented and you’d be hard-pressed to identify leadership by name. You’d have to really strain to come up with a popular song with political themes. There have been great political strides made, most notably in gay rights, in recent years. But that victory was over 40 years in the making. Trends come and go, life ebbs and flows, but do people really change? There has been so much violence, corporate corruption and political deceit in the last decade to spark something, no? Or was the outpouring of political engagement and protest of the 1960s a moment in time? Was it tantamount to the Industrial Revolution or the Roaring Twenties? It’s something to think as we approach a dark anniversary.

*For What It’s Worth (1966) – Stephen Stills

 
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Posted by on October 20, 2013 in Cultural Critique

 

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The Lady Business Monologue

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There is nothing quite like old movies, advertising or television shows when it comes to social anthropology. Nobody would confuse plot points, costuming or set design with real life. But dialogue is very representative of the way in which people spoke at the time of filming. We can look at films from the 1940s and 1950s and sense racial views of the times. We can watch television of the 1960s and 1970s and see the overt anti-gay sensibilities. Today most film and television depicts bigotry only to make a point. There is one area of bigotry that never seems to have really changed however, and that’s misogyny.

Whether it’s in the casting or the storytelling, women are still objectified and marginalized. Male actors of every age, size, attractiveness and skin condition are regularly cast in prominent roles. Women of one size, one look, one age group and one hairstyle populate film & television roles. If you are an actress who is not a willowy, bouncy haired, 20-35 year old with a symmetrical face you’re lucky to get character roles. Yes, there are exceptions. But for the most part paunchy women over 70 are not getting the guy. The roles themselves often marginalize women. Accomplished doctors, detectives or spies still need to be fashionable and coiffed. When women are depicted as more than a collection of strategically placed highlights they are made to be a masculine cartoon. Even in the most “realistic” television dramas we never see women discussing or experiencing anything about being a woman. Has there ever been a cop show that explains how a female cop on a stakeout deals with her period? Sex, or servicing men is discussed and depicted continuously. Characters are always getting pregnant (and of course having the baby or losing the pregnancy naturally) so someone must be menstruating!

It’s not all that surprising that in the 21st century we still don’t discuss menstruation except as an insult. That’s right, in 2013 it is still perfectly acceptable to refer to someone as “having their period” when the accuser dislikes the behavior of the accused. It is still acceptable to refer to men as “ladies” or “girls” as an insult. In all manner of workplace you can hear these accusations. Imagine just for a moment that instead of hurling a female term as an insult, it was an ethnic or racial term. We wouldn’t and shouldn’t tolerate it. But insulting someone by calling them a woman; that’s cool. And why not; women tolerate it and even perpetuate it. Women will use the word “girl” to deride (ex., you are such a girl.) Women screenwriters, directors and casting agents perpetuate the one-dimensionality of female characters in film and television. And almost all women everywhere persist in using the incorrect terminology for their own genitalia.

Even those now famous monologues about that part of the body, use the wrong terminology. The vagina is one very specific part of the genitalia. The vagina is the internal, or birth canal, part of the female genitalia. Vulva is everything else (and from a sexual response perspective; what matters most.) Using inaccurate terminology is always troubling. Often, if not always, there is an underlying message in such choices. It is quite possible that the term “vagina” first became popular in the medical field (that same medical field that labeled women as hysterics and viewed sexually responsive women as flawed and/or dangerous.) The (male) medical field singled out the part of the female genitalia that most affected them. The vulva has no role in male satisfaction or in birthing. This is a reasonable explanation/theory. But why have women perpetuated this inaccuracy? We teach our children the word vagina, while we teach them all of the proper terms for male genitalia. We don’t refer to testicles as penises. We don’t refer to foreskin as penises. We use the correct terminology for all parts of male genitalia.

Does all this sound cranky, distasteful and maybe even a bit irrational? Are you thinking; “well someone’s got her period!” As a matter of fact, I don’t. But if I did, I wouldn’t whisper it or discreetly palm a tampon on my way to the bathroom. I don’t routinely discuss anyone’s genitalia in public, and wish I didn’t feel compelled to now. But it is one (important) piece of a troubling puzzle. We should teach our children body pride not body shame. We should correct them when they accuse someone of “throwing like a girl” or “crying like a girl.” We should stop ourselves and correct others when insulting someone with female allusions. It’s not a matter of political correctness; it is a matter of correctness. There is something wrong with considering “acting like a man” to be a compliment and “acting like a woman” to be an insult.

 
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Posted by on September 7, 2013 in Cultural Critique, Media/Marketing

 

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I’m Getting My Act Together And Taking It On The Road – Review

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Somebody wants some supper fixed
And somebody wants some love
And there’s just no time to write a song to say what I’m thinking of
But tomorrow I hit the road
Gonna let loose of this heavy load and FLY!

Few shows capture a time period as perfectly as Gretchen Cryer and Nancy Ford’s I’m Getting My Act Together And Taking It On The Road. It was a feminist anthem, performed at Joe Papp’s Public Theater in the late 1970s and is being (briefly) revived as part of the Encores! Off-Center series at NY City Center.

The tale (based upon Ms. Cryer’s experiences) is of singer Heather Jones and her attempt at finding her own voice. Today is Heather’s birthday, she’s 39, which her manager Joe urges her to keep to herself. He would prefer she not mention being a single mother or express anger or upset the men in the audience. He wants her to be successful and then she can sneak in the real. Set in a theatre, during the rehearsal for this evening’s opening night, adds to the overwhelming believability of this show. Unlike many “showbiz” shows, we are watching real people have a real experience. The songs are seamlessly woven into the narrative creating almost an operatic quality.

It can be challenging to sing and say words so steeped in a movement or time period. Singing rock together with ballads is not for everyone, particularly with the original recording artist sitting in the front row. But Renee Elise Goldsberry (Good People, Rent, Lion King) transcends even the highest expectations. Her voice has a quality not often found today; it is devoid of belting and breathiness and filled with richness and feeling. Her sound is reminiscent of female folk singers of the 1970s, a delightful auditory nod to the time period. There is nothing anachronistic about her performance however. She is fresh, real and present. She sings of growing up in the 1950s and being told to smile. “If you smile in just the right way you’ll make a pretty wife and someone will take care of you for all your pretty life.” When Ms. Goldsberry sings these words we don’t think of sepia toned photos of a little girl in front of the family car. Her interpretation makes us think of Facebook photos showing girls in identical suggestive poses.

Fredrick Weller (Glengarry Glen Ross, Take Me Out) is perfectly cast as the layered manager Joe. His delivery (of some of the funner lines) is timed to the millisecond. He is infuriating and endearing and a wonderful counterbalance to the “artist” energy on the stage. Theirs is a friendship that you suspect and hope will go the distance, despite (or maybe because of) their differing viewpoints. The friendship itself is serenaded in the showstopper Dear Friend. Joe wants Heather’s act to play the Troubadour, and he feels that her reading her divorce decree out loud is not the ticket to success. But Heather’s been down this road before. She has recorded a hit song that now makes her physically ill in its sweetness. She works on a soap opera where she’s undoubtedly polished and pushed into a mold. She has some experience with being put in a package and sold. The (fabulous) band and her female back-up singers are only too glad to help her deliver the real. Christina Sajous (Spiderman, Baby It’s You) and Jennifer Sanchez (West Side Story, Ghost) create a perfect sound and harmony with Ms. Goldsberry. Jason Rabinowitz (acoustic guitar) breaks the audience and Ms. Goldsberry’s heart with a solo performance of In A Simple Way I Love You.

It is always a bit risky to revive a period piece that was not a runaway hit. But under the deft direction of Kathleen Marshall and with a cast to beat the band, this production may actually surpass the original (which this reviewer saw and committed to memory as a very impressionable woman in training.)

 
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Posted by on July 25, 2013 in Theatre

 

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In Other Misogynistic News…

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The highest court in El Salvador has decided that a 22-year old woman must continue with her life threatening pregnancy and give birth to a baby who if born alive will die immediately. The young woman has lupus and obstetric complications. She also has a small child at home. The court’s justification is the same spouted by anyone looking to control a woman’s body; they are protecting the fetus. The fetus in question is encephalitic and cannot possibly live as a baby for more than moments. There is an actual child who might very well lose his mother to this pregnancy. That this woman is being forced to endure this pregnancy is barbaric. A court ordered pregnancy is holding her hostage. She will witness her declining health and her growing stomach, helpless to alter the tragic outcome.

That this is occurring in El Salvador is less relevant today than it might have once been. Twenty or so years ago we may have been horrified but resigned. After all, El Salvador is a very religious country. But guess what? So is America now. Not since the Puritans landed on Plymouth Rock have we had such a powerful religious influence on politics and policy. In 2013 it’s rather difficult to point the finger at any other country’s religious fervor. Almost without exception all organized religions agree on a few points; there is an invisible entity that guides, there is a polarity of good and evil, and women have a place. It is not a coincidence that as the nation (finally) benefits from the feminist fights of the 1970s we are seeing reproductive freedoms erode. Those longhaired, bell bottom wearing woman marched through the streets with signs reading; A Woman’s Place Is In The House And In The Senate. And guess what? They are in the House and in the Senate. Their numbers don’t come close to representing 51% of the population, but it is an improvement. Equity in sports has a long way to go, but just remember what Billie Jean King had to endure. It is no longer legal to hire according to gender. That women still make less than 3/4 of what men earn, is an issue, but still it is progress.

So if it’s no longer legal to keep women out of office, the workplace or sports, what is a misogynist to do!? Well we know for a fact that sexism in medicine is both easy to engage in and rarely questioned. We know that medications are routinely researched and developed according to a male test subject. We know that great efforts have been made to ensure that men can always have sex (while on life-support if need be) but there is still no hormonal male birth control. Most medical machines and devices are designed for male patients (except for that gem, the mammography machine which if any man had ever to place any of his sensitive bits into would be redesigned in an instant.) When we combine the sexism of traditional medicine with the sentimentality of “it’s for the children” it’s far easier to attempt to marginalize 51% of the population. It’s not for the children; it’s never been for the children. If people cared a whit about the children we would have stellar healthcare and nutrition for all and the best K-12 system on the planet. We came close to that reality once, but I think we’ll all agree that there’s been some serious backsliding. It’s not for the children that we force a teenage girl (who is in fact a child) to endure a pregnancy and birth, or to look at a sonogram of her fetus. (How is it that using technological advances to traumatize girls and women is contemplated let alone allowed?!)

The truth is that any group outside of the power structure will suffer as they progress. We’ve seen it happen to every minority group. Homeostasis is a very strong force. There will always be those who feel that people they view as ‘less than’ are infringing on their rights by having rights of their own. But it’s hard to fathom how torturing a 22-year old woman and leaving her small child motherless makes anyone feel better about themselves.

 
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Posted by on May 30, 2013 in Cultural Critique

 

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