In this week’s Wednesday 5: the gendered Civil Rights March on Washington, the rising number of “mentally disturbed, lonely, workaholic heroines” on television, the case for gender-flipping roles in Hollywood, the Forbes 100 Best Websites for Women, and a happy, happy birthday to Coco Chanel.



Strong Women as Pillars Behind the Civil Rights Movement

LandscapeA group of young women at the Civil Rights March on Washington, D.C. August 28, 1963 [wikimedia]

On August 28, our nation’s capital will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the groundbreaking March on Washington. Steph Solis, of USA Today, reminds us of the gendered divide that marked this historic civil rights moment in our nation’s history.

A lesser-known fact of the March on Washington is that there were two lines of civil rights leaders marching on separate streets on Aug. 28, 1963: one for male civil rights leaders and one for their female counterparts. . . Civil rights leaders like Rosa Parks and Dorothy Height walked down Independence Avenue, while the men proceeded down Pennsylvania with the press.

The gendered march reflects the fact that although the March was a sign of unity, “women were all but written out of the history surrounding that day,” and were largely relegated to background roles.

Now, 50 years later, the A. Philip Randolph Institute is working diligently to educate the public about the role of women in the civil rights movement, both behind the scenes and at the forefront.

“It is a commemoration to honor the legacy of women who are in the struggle,”  said Clayola Brown, the institute’s president, who attended the march as a teenager. “But also to turn a new page on their commitment to the continuation of fighting for freedom, for jobs, for dignity.”



Mad Women: The Rise of the “Mental” Screen Heroine

Have you noticed the number of “mentally disturbed, lonely, workaholic heroines” on television lately? In his piece for The Daily Beast on “Mad Women: The Rise of The Mental Screen Heroine,” Thane Rosenbaum posits:

The public’s taste for fictional heroines nowadays also hews towards the flawed and the broken. The women who police our streets and protect us from terrorists are shown to be Mad Women of an altogether different sort—having nothing to do with Madison Avenue, and everything to do with mental illness. . . . The takeaway from today’s fictional heroines is that it’s no longer a matter of having it all, but whether career advancement is worth losing all of your marbles.

So, why are we so drawn to these mad women characters? Rosenbaum believes it’s because on some levels, many women see themselves in them, or see themselves tethering dangerously close to becoming like them. “[T]hese TV characters very much deserve our special sympathy. After all, the longing for balance in our own lives is, in these women, offset by extreme episodes of mental unbalance. . . . These women don’t compartmentalize their day jobs from their personal lives—they forgo personal lives altogether.”

Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes) in Homeland



Gender Flipping in Hollywood

9424767218_af9014c605Jodie Foster in Elysium. Image from Flickr via.

If you’ve seen the summer blockbuster Elysium, you may already know that Jodie Foster’s role was originally written for a man. In fact, the actress is known to seek out roles originally meant for men. Holly Derr writes in Ms. magazine’s blog that this gender flipping of roles might be a good move for Hollywood to adapt more consistently:

More actresses might want to do the same [as Foster], because the Movie Insider database of films in development and pre-production contains films in which there really is no reason that the main character can’t be a woman.

Imagine a woman replacing Ben Stiller in the next installation of Night at the Museum? The lead role, says Derr, has nothing gender specific about it. “The role could be played hilariously by Amy Poehler, Kristen Wiig or Sarah Silverman, to name a few.” And there are many more gender-neutral roles out there; it just requires a shift in perspective. “In the absence of roles written for women in which they desire other things, too–like power, money or justice–gender-flipping provides audiences with female characters designed to represent the universal human experience.”



The FORBES 100 Best Websites for Women is out—featuring “informative and compelling content, smart design, engaged communities and a voice that speaks to and for the female reader.” You read our mind, Forbes; many of our favorites made the list:

MAKERS: A repository of 200 (and counting) insightful, uplifting, and illuminating interviews with a who’s who of trailblazing women.

Women 2.0: With daily content on women in technology, Women 2.0 has made its mission to increase the number of female founders of tech startups with inspiration, information and education.

Women’s eNews: An award-winning nonprofit news service covering issues concerning women and providing women’s perspectives on public policy around the globe. It puts a particular emphasis on the women’s-focused news stories that often get very little play in mainstream media.

Check out the full list here and let us know your favorites.



Happy 130th Birthday, Coco Chanel!

One hundred and thirty years after her birth, we’re still talking about Coco Chanel. She embodies the concepts of icon and timeless legend. Chanel, born on August 19, 1883, was the only fashion designer to appear on Time magazine’s list of the 100 most influential people of the 20th century—and is lauded for freeing women from the “corset”




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  • ellen sue spicer-jacobson August 21, 2013 at 3:46 pm

    Nice bio of Chanel. How about one for Dorothy Parker, whose 120th birthday is in a few days?