The Wednesday 5: Fashion Week Wrapup, Oscar Movies’ Sexism, and What Elizabeth Bishop Said

February 22, 2012 by  
Filed under Movies, Poetry

 This week, bloggers wrapped up Fashion Week coverage, welcomed a new strong woman to cable news, and reflected on how just seven words can change your life if they come from a famous poet.

  • Remember that special teacher who gave you courage to go on in later years? Most of us do, but Katha Pollitt has a memory that may beat all of ours, and she shares it at Poetry magazine: what it was like to study with the iconic Elizabeth Bishop. “She was a wonderful teacher, the perfect blend of formal and free, just like her poems,” Pollitt writes. “She seemed to enjoy teaching, and was clearly amused by her students, a typical Harvard combination of the bow-tied and the tie-dyed—young fogies and hippies—but I don’t think it was a calling, part of her identity. . . . Toward the end of the semester, in office hours, she said to me, ‘You should take your poetry very seriously.'” Pollitt did, publishing poems (some collected in this book) while building an impressive career as a journalist. We’re guessing that those seven words from Bishop have kept her warm in many cold times.
  • Is New York Fashion Week over already? That’s what we hear from fashion bloggers, some of whom shared funny stories of the week past and present with Cheryl Wischhover’s It’s a slide-show, so click over and enjoy the pictures and the stories, like this one from a model, about her first Fashion Week: “It was very busy. I lost I think, 20 pounds of hair!”  But we checked in with WVFC’s own fashionistas—including DivaDebbi, who gifted us with our latest Fashion Friday.  She and our Stacey Bewkes went to Fashion Week together, and Debbi’s post on the Diane von Furstenberg show makes us feel like an insider. “We were able to enjoy the hospitality of the IMG VIP suite, aptly decorated like a cozy chalet.” For her perch, here’s who she spotted in the  front row: Anderson Cooper, Oscar de la Renta, Barbara Walters, Ann Duong, Anna Wintour, and Carine Roitfeld; Brad Goreski and Rachel Zoe; Tatiana von Furstenberg, Hamish Bowles, and Diane Sawyer. Click over for more, with images and sharp commentary on the collection.
  • “Romance novels are feminist documents.” That sentence, from Maria Bustillos at The Awl, was pointed out to us by Feministing, and we’re not sorry we followed the link, which centers on the original Harlequin series. “They’re written almost exclusively by women, for women, and are concerned with women: their relations in family, love and marriage, their place in society and the world, and their dreams for the future. Romances of the Golden Age are rife with the sociopolitical limitations of their period, [but] they can be strangely sublime.”  We wanted to send Bustillos WVFC’s “What’s Wrong with a Little Romance?” by the inimitable Tamar Bihari, which approaches the question from the point of view of a novelist, not a scholar. What do you think?
  • “What might it look like if . . .  a cable news discussion about religion and birth control was led by a feminist political scientist, with an honorary doctorate from Meadville Lombard Theological School?” asks Jennifer Pozner at Women in Media and News. “We may soon find out.” Not hard to guess who she means: Melissa Harris-Perry has been on our radar awhile (see Diane Vacca’s coverage here of a November forum).  In the post, Pozner hails the debut  of Harris-Perry’s MSNBC talk show, which featured as its very first guest attorney Edward Cox (son-in-law of the late President Richard Nixon). “This couldn’t be more welcome—or more unusual,” continues Pozner, adding that “men outnumbered women by a nearly 2-to-1 margin last week in all debates about contraception on MSNBC, CNN, Fox and Fox Business. [Many]  seemed shocked to learn that female experts were sought out as commentators only 38 percent of the time on a story about women’s health.” With Christiane Amanpour out of the mix (sob!) we’re hoping Harris-Perry’s admittedly wonky show can find enough Saturday and Sunday morning viewers to stay on the air.
  • We’re looking forward to liveblogging this Sunday’s Oscars, and if previous years’ experience holds, there’ll be plenty to see and say.  And we’ll likely have a more diverse crew than the pool of Oscar voters, which turns out yet again (by the numbers) to be almost exclusively composed of older white men. We’re also grateful to pop-culture philosopher Anita Sarkeesian for putting together the video below, at her site, applying the Bechdel Test to the current Best Picture nominees.  (The criteria, as a reminder: Two women have to talk to each other, and NOT about men. Unsurprisingly,  all but one movie fails.) Noting the single qualifying scene in Hugo,  Sarkeesian shakes her head: “If while at the theater you drop your box of junior mints, and by the time you pick em up you’ve missed the one scene in the whole film where women actually talk to each other, there’s something clearly wrong.” Watch it before joining us on Sunday, whether or not you’ve seen those movies.


WVFC Holiday Gift List, Anniversary Edition

December 5, 2010 by  
Filed under Books

Last year, we were thrilled to inaugurate our annual celebration of WVFC writers, which compiled all the books and authors we’d covered into an easy-to-use holiday shopping list— one for poetry and one for prose. This year, we’re doing the same. Some of the authors, like Gail Sheehy and Dominique Browning, we’ve gotten to know well in interviews and commentaries; others’ books have inspired reviews here for multiple reasons. Some are light ovelsn, some sober histories, some feminist manifestos. And this time, in honor of WVFC’s 5th anniversary, we’re also throwing in a few blasts from the past — new books by authors we featured from 2006-2008. The total would have made for lists far too long to post here, but we hope you explore our Books archives to find more writers we’ve reviewed, interviewed, and whose awards we’ve celebrated over the past five years.

Pat Benatar, Between a Heart and a Rock Place

Lloyd Boston, The Style Checklist
Dominique Browning’s Slow Love is actually dedicated to WVFC’s Dr. Pat Allen. The year we launched, Dr. Allen also tipped us off to Amy Bloom’s talent, long before Bloom’s new novel Where the God of Love Hangs Out.

Gail Caldwell, Let’s Take the Long Way Home

Judy Collins, Over the Rainbow

Roz Chast‘s newest book is the children’s collection Too Busy Marco.

Edwidge Danticat opened our 2010 with news from Haiti; her new book is Create Dangerously: The Immigrant Artist at Work.
Fannie Flagg, I Still Dream About You

John Fowles. The Tree

Jaimy Gordon, Lord of Misrule
Nicole Hollander, The Sylvia Chronicles

Virginia Ironside, You’re Old, I’m Old . . . Get Used to It!: Twenty Reasons Why Growing Old Is Great In 2007, we applauded Ironside’s No! I Don’t Want to Join a Book Club: Diary of a Sixtieth Year. In the new book–Ironside’s first published in the U.S.–the author “is determined to convince people that getting old is not so bad–even for a Baby Boomer who interviewed the Rolling Stones and Jimi Hendrix early in her career.

Judith Jones, The Pleasure of Cooking for One

Maira Kalman, And the Pursuit of Happiness
Mary Karr, Lit.
We reviewed Laura Lippman’s Life Sentences; her new book, I’d Know You Anywhere, also works the terrain Lippman has been exploring in her Memory Project.

Tara Parker-Pope, For Better: The Science of a Good Marriage
Jennifer Pozner, Reality Bites Back: The Cruel Truth About Guilty Pleasure TV

Judy Richardson and Dorothy Zellner, Hands on the Freedom Plow: Personal Accounts by Women in SNCC
Judy Shepard, The Meaning of Matthew: My Son’s Murder in Laramie, and a World Transformed

Cathleen Schine, The Three Weissmans of Westport

Gail Sheehy, Passages in Caregiving

Rebecca Skloot, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
Rebecca Traister, Big Girls Don’t Cry: The Election That Changed Everything for American Women

Mary Walton, A Woman’s Crusade: Alice Paul and the Battle for the Ballot
Lis Wiehl and April Henry, Hand of Fate: A Triple Threat Novel. In 2007, we cheered attorney Wiehl’s manifesto The 51% Minority: How Women Still Are Not Equal and What You Can Do About It, Since then, Wiehl has teamed up with coauthor Henry for the best-selling Triple Threat series of legal thrillers. Publishers Weekly wrote of this latest installment in the series, out just in time for holiday sales: “Readers will identify with these very real women.”

Let us know what books you think we should add to our lists. And check back on Friday for the Poetry Edition, to scoop up all our Voices in Verse.

The Wednesday Five: Art Exhibitions, 40 Years of Our Bodies, and a Reality-TV Tease

November 10, 2010 by  
Filed under World

This week’s blog assortment is particularly diverse: WVFC fashionista Stacey Bewkes on fine art and cool apps, the upcoming 40th anniversary of Our Bodies Ourselves, and a promo for a TV show that’s anything but ‘Our Bodies Ourselves.’

  • We’ve loved Stacey Bewkes‘ Quintessence blog since we first saw it. And while WVFC depends on Bewkes for her terrific over-40 fashion sense (whether in white or camel), we’re thrilled when this former Simon and Schuster art director takes the time to give us a few glimpses of the art world.  In  Art and the Exhibitionist, Bewkes reflects on three disparate shows: Edward Hopper at the  Whitney, Italy Observed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and “The blockbuster museum show of the season, [which] is undoubtedly at the MoMA. Abstract Expressionist New York is so large that it is divided into three sections on three floors in an attempt to cover all possible art forms.”  Bewkes also reserves special love for the iPhone art-guide app “The Exhibitionist,” a free download that no New York art aficionado should be without.
  • At The Hairpin, the new women’s site from WVFC favorite The Awl,  Liz Colville thrills to a new friendship taxonomy necessitated by the Facebook era: “Susan Orlean’s four-item list of the different types of modern friendship, over at her New Yorker blog, is pretty spot-on,” Colville writes. “She does list two familiar types of friends on the list — ‘friend’ and ‘acquaintance’ — but in the era of social media, things have gotten hairy even for them.”
  • Bridget Crawford weighs in at Feminist Law Professors on the latest crisis involving Indian writer Arundhati Roy, who wrote about it in yesterday’s New York Times.  Last week, Crawford reports, “A crowd of up to 100 people assembled outside [her]  home, shouted anti-Roy slogans and attempted to break in,” after Roy published an op-ed defending her activism on behalf of Muslims in the state of Kashmir. Crawford reproduces portions of Roy’s Indian editorial, which goes well beyond the cry “Pity the nation that has to silence its writers for speaking their minds.”
  • Rachel at Our Bodies, Our Blog reports from the Consumers United for Evidence-based Healthcare Advocacy Summit, where women told their stories in preparation for next year’s 40th anniversary of the publication of Our Bodies,Ourselves. “I loved hearing…about how a small group of friends used the book to perform self-exams, how it motivated women to advocate for themselves or become active in women’s health and rights,” she writes. She then invites us all to join in: “If you have an OBOS story – however brief, or however “small” it may seem to you – please share it with us. We love to hear it, and plan to use the stories in conjunction with our 40th anniversary celebration and book release next year.”
  • And at AOL’s The Frisky, Jessica Wakeman discovers the promo for Bridalplasty, the new reality show mentioned in last week’s Q&A With author Jennifer Pozner. The trailer, Wakeman notes, “doesn’t actually show us any of the brides-to-be. Or cosmetic surgery before-and-afters. Or crippling self-esteem issues that would lead one to radically change her boobs, lips and nose before walking down the aisle.” Still, she’s braver than we are: she plans on watching the show. How about you?

“Reality Bites Back:” 10 Questions for Jennifer Pozner (VIDEO)

November 4, 2010 by  
Filed under Books, Media, Television

Some of us first met Jennifer Pozner in the 1990s, when she was monitoring media sexism for Fairness in Accuracy and Reporting. Now, WVFC talks to Pozner, founder of Women in Media and News,  about  her new Seal Press book Reality Bites Back: The Troubling Truth About Guilty Pleasure TV.

Tell us about the new book and how you came to write it.

When I started Women in Media and News in 2001, I knew that it couldn’t just be about more women in media. We needed to analyze representations of women in media, and call out the worst offenders. And by then, this then-new form called “reality TV” was already worth watching. Mike Darnell, the Fox exec who first put together Who Wants to Marry A Millionaire, had already boasted that “we knew the National Organization for Women would hate this.”

But I really got a sense of what was going on when The Bachelor premiered. I saw  all these women lining up, competing to be the prettiest, skinniest white girl, chosen by a guy they just met. I saw that the classic templates of backlash against feminism — dividing women against each other, getting women to devalue themselves — were being played out for fun and profit. He alsoThe show’s  executive producer, Mike Fleiss,   laughed that “it’s always fun to watch girls crying.”

So I started tracking exactly what was going on with these shows.  By now, I know I’ve transcribed hundreds of hours of these shows — including three seasons of Flavor of Love, 14 of America’s Next Top Model.

Did you ever think the industry would grow the way it has?  Is it worse now?

Whenever I heard people say that these shows wouldn’t last, that they would be a passing fad, I thought: They don’t get the economics of this. Anything that is so cheap to produce and comes with the prospect of millions of dollars worth of product placement advertising per episode — they weren’t going to give that up. They don’t even need to get high ratings — they just need enough people to see the shows that would also be exposed to the embedded advertising

Those first five years were when the templates were created: the dating show, the career challenge, the fashion shows, the makeup shows, the shelter and leisure shows. Since then there’s just been a massive expansion, to include all sorts of niche markets. For example, VH-1 in 2006 gave us Flavor of Love [starring rap star Flavor-Flav], and now we have dozens of shows featuring people of color of both sexes. That gave the producers tons more stereotypes to play with, from classic “exoticization” of women of color to multiple preconceptions about men, Asians, and bisexuals (for instance, Tia Tequila).

Now, what we’re seeing is a fusing of some of the most successful — and sexist — shows. For example, E! network is about to debut a show called Bridalplasty, where women compete for the plastic surgery of their choice before the wedding. That’s four shows put together: Extreme Makeover, The Swan, Say Yes to the Dress and Platinum Weddings.

But haven’t we gotten more savvy about recognizing what’s “real” and what isn’t?

If you ask most people if they think reality TV is real, they’ll say no. But people don’t realize the kind of stagecraft that goes into those shows.  They don’t know about frankenbite editing — a widespread practice, where they splice together pieces of what someone said. Maybe a woman said, in answer to a question, “I really don’t want to get married before I graduate college, but he is good looking” and what we hear is “I really want to be married. He’s so good looking.” The main conceit of the whole thing is  that these are real people, but producers can and regularly do take something black and make it white. If you’re hearing something in voice-over, that’s your first clue that it could be manufactured, or taken completely out of context.

Your book makes the case that these shows, shaped around messages that demean women, have real-life effects on women’s actual power.

I don’t think it’s a one-to-one impact — you know, watch The Bachelor, your salary goes down. But I do think that these are divide-and-conquer tactics. If we’re exposed, even half-jokingly, to weeks and months of women as catty gold-digers, domineering moms, desperate pathetic losers — how can it not affect our willingness to trust other women? It can affect our social and  sexual lives if we lose our ability to rely on other women for support, for organizing a union, for help if we’re being abused or defrauded.

Any hope for shows that focus on actual skills, like Project Runway or So You Think You Can Dance?

I like Runway too, but did you ever notice that one of the highest compliments they can give is “It looks expensive?” These shows are built around hyperconsumption. The only way to be happy is to shop, and — as What Not to Wear emphasizes — consumption of the advertisers’ products. It’s no accident that Bravo’s explicit pitch to companies is about the Bravo viewer as “affluencers,” people with money who get their peers to spend it. And it escalates in times of anxiety. In 2007, just as the housing bubble popped, the Rachel Zoe Project was all about how we shouldn’t be saving for a rainy day, and NYC Prep followed a bunch of rich kids described as being in “the top 1% of the elite.”

Let’s talk about the audiences for these shows. Are Women’s Voices for Change readers — typically, women over 40 — a big part of the audience?

In general, most of what you see on reality TV is a result of media companies targeting their programming younger and younger — and mostly white. Except for the beauty shows, though there women of color often find that ethnic features are considered a liability, with black women’s lips being reduced and Asian women’s eyes being changed on cosmetic surgery shows, black and Latina women and girls having their natural hair straightened or shaved off on modeling shows, and so on.

And when you get to so-called “older” women, they use all the old stereotypes. There’s that show Who Wants to Marry My Dad? where this forty-something man was considered a real “catch” but the women competing to date him were much younger. Yet when a cable reality show finally debuted with an “older woman” who was all of 40 — horrors! — what was the show named? “The Cougar.” And it was billed sort of as a joke. Just as that scripted show Cougar Town pretends Courtney Cox is anything but a stone fox.

Could you talk a little about the way “reality TV” is permeating our culture? What do you see happening?

Most of what I have comes as responses to the work I do, and it’s very anecdotal. We will not really know what it is until we have serious studies, like the ones that have been done about fictional shows or Barbie dolls. But I can tell you that the way women perceive these shows has shifted as these shows became more pervasive.  When started doing multimedia lectures with students in 2002, the women were very critical: “What would motivate a producer to do this? Do they think we’re stupid?” When I make the same presentation now, eight years later, I’m talking to the generation grew up with these shows. And now the kind of question I get is: ” If I dieted, you think I could get on Top Model?” These are college students. But these shows have now, for a decade, told us how to give up our intellect and just make sure we’re pretty.

In the book, you  look at the way the “reality TV” industry works to make  violence against women–both real and implied–seem like the normal order of things.

I got a lot of questions about Ryan Jenkins, a semifinalist in Megan Wants to Marry a Millionaire, when the supermodel he married turned up dead — so much so, that the only way she could be identified was by her breast implants. Reporters asked, “Is reality TV creating murderers?” But Jenkins had a history of domestic violence when he was cast — and we know that wasn’t unusual! We’ve seen men with restraining orders, even a history of jail time, packaged as “Prince Charming” by reality producers simply for their money and their handsome appearances. That doesn’t even count the verbal/emotional abuse of women on most of these dating shows. These shows insist it’s more important to find a man than have dignity or be treated with any sort of respect.

You also write about the product placement. How does that link to sexism?

It’s important for people to realize that this programming isn’t created for audiences. It’s for  advertisers, who influence casting, characters, and the kinds of challenges you see in shows like Survivor or The Apprentice.  That’s why even though Tyra Banks says she wants to empower women of color, all her nonwhite models are straightening their hair, treating it, adding extensions…. Or the shampoo-branded hair salons on Runway.

Advertisers don’t have to squeeze their regressive ideology or their shilling/persuasion into commercials in between your favorite shows anymore. Instead, they can collaborate with producers to turn entire reality series into commercial for their products, rolling out all their messages over a season.  And so many of their messages are gendered — whether it’s ‘You need to get a bigger house and clean it’ to the assumptions on the plastic-surgery shows.

What can we, as self-aware women with a stake in this society, do to counteract these trends?

I’m so glad you asked.  To educate our peers, the Reality Bites Back website has a Fun With Media section including Reality TV Bingo, drinking games, Mad Libs and my own satirical video webisode series, “Reality Rehab with Dr. Jenn.

To me what’s most important for us as women is to become media-literate ourselves, and to get involved in changing the media landscape in some way. There are more than a dozen examples of ways you can make structural change or create indy media alternatives in the book, and that’s just for starters. You don’t have to do everything, but we should all do something. A resource guide on the Reality Bites Back website that will point you to organizations that can help you get involved. Choose a strategy that energizes you, and work to transform the media. We need to join together to beat Goliath. And we can.

News Brief: “Top 40” Models Now Rule; Popular Knee Surgery Disappoints; Women 50-60 Set to Change Teaching

Not so sure we like that “sleeping giant” part:
That’s what US Weekly editor called the over-40 demographic this week,
as he explained the predominance of over-40 models in major magazines
(if not, alas, on the Fashion Week waif parades): These are the women
at the hub of our culture.”

The women who invented the supermodel
phenomenon are back in the spotlight after leaving to have children and
pursue other interests. They have eclipsed their teenage rivals to
helm this season’s most coveted collections. Linda Evangelista, 43 [above] is
the face of Prada; Claudia Schiffer, left is fronting Chanel’s main
collection …. And they are not the only ones.

aren’t as afraid to grow older,” Lee said. “It’s about retaining their
femininity and owning it in a way that’s not desperate, like, ‘I’m a
42-year-old woman who wants to look like 18. I can still go get my hair
blown out and buy some nice makeup and go to yoga and Pilates classes.
Before it was either give up and put on some high-waisted mom jeans and
drive a minivan or try to stay forever young wearing dresses with a hem
too high and a bust too low and become the mom everybody whispers
about. Now there’s a middle path.”

But it’s so popular: British researchers this week confirmed doubts about the benefits of arthroscopic knee surgery, of interest to many of us facing unexpected stress from aging joints:

Running from 1999 to 2007, the study treated 178 London-area men and women with an average age of 60. All study participants received physical therapy as well as medications such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen, but 86 of the patients also received surgery consisting of lavage and arthroscopic debridement at LHSC. At several time intervals post-treatment, the researchers found both patient groups experienced comparable improvements in joint pain, stiffness, and function, but surgery provided no additional benefit.

Orthopedic surgeon and study co-author Dr. Bob Litchfield emphasizes this study addresses only arthritis-related knee problems. “Although this study did not show a significant therapeutic benefit of arthroscopic debridement in this patient population, knee arthroscopy is still beneficial in many other conditions affecting the knee, such as meniscal repair and resection, and ligament reconstruction.” Litchfield is the Medical Director of the Fowler Kennedy Sport Medicine Clinic. He’s also a professor In the Department of Surgery at Western’s Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry and a scientist with the Lawson Health Research Institute. “As surgeons, we need to know when things are working and when they’re not. If this particular technique is not working for this subgroup of patients, we better come up with something else that does.”

A 2002 study demonstrating similar results to this study was broadly dismissed by the medical community, and arthroscopic surgery of the knee remains a common treatment for joint pain and stiffness. But in this latest study the researchers conclude “based on the available evidence, we believe that the resources currently allocated towards arthroscopic surgery for osteoarthritis would be better directed elsewhere.”

Pay a living wage, and I’m there: If you’ve ever considered teaching as  a second career but  balked at slim salaries offered by most school systems, you’re not alone- and things could be about to change. A new study shows that given a $50K starting salary and thorough training, many more people would be interested in taking on the challenge — most of them women 50-60:

Career changers may be one of the nation’s best hopes to fill an anticipated 1.5 million teaching vacancies over the next decade, according to a new national survey released today by the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation and funded by MetLife Foundation.

The survey, Teaching as a Second Career, finds that 42 percent of college-educated Americans aged 24 to 60 would consider becoming a teacher….Findings [also] indicate that more people would consider teaching as a second
career if starting salaries were raised to $50,000 and if career
changers could receive quality training and support.

Nearly half of all the potential teachers among the respondents—most of whom are women and between 50 and 60—say they are considering teaching in the next five years. Fully three-fourths of this group had considered teaching in the past, suggesting that this group is the “low-hanging fruit? most ripe for recruitment into the field.