In this week’s Wednesday 5: Ann Curry, news anchor and photographer; at 60 years old, photographer Carrie Mae Weems wins a coveted MacArthur Award; Saudi Arabia criminalizes domestic violence against women; the problem with strong female characters in Hollywood; and Julie Andrews turns 78!

 

1.

Ann Curry the Photographer? Yes!

220px-Ann_Curry_2012_ShankboneDid you know Ann Curry is a photographer–and a pretty darn good one at that? We came across her exhibition, “Reporting Our World,” at Photoville in  New York City, which uses five key photographs to shine a light on domestic and global issues documented by the NBC News anchor herself. In fact, she serves as the curator for nbcnews.com/anncurry, which features original Web reporting and photojournalism. When you peruse the site you’ll notice that many of the photos are taken by Curry herself. In 2010, she said about being behind the camera instead of in front of it: “I feel so lucky that I found something that has given me peace, even in the worst of circumstances. And it makes me know that all of us can find peace, even in the chaos of our own lives. If [only] we can find that one thing that we care so much about . . .  And, for me, it’s taking pictures.”

 

 

2.

Carrie Mae Weems, 60, Wins a MacArthur “Genius” Award

Photographer and Video Artist Carrie Mae Weems, 2013 MacArthur Fellow

Speaking of women in photography, 60-year-old photographer Carrie Mae Weems was recently awarded a prestigous “Genius Award,” also known as a MacArthur Fellowship. Of her body of work, Weems says:

“My work has led me to investigate family relationships, gender roles, the histories of racism, sexism, class, and various political systems. Despite the variety of my explorations, throughout it all it has been my contention that my responsibility as an artist is to work, to sing for my supper, to make art, beautiful and powerful, that adds and reveals; to beautify the mess of a messy world, to heal the sick and feed the helpless; to shout bravely from the roof-tops and storm barricaded doors and voice the specifics of our historic moment.”

When asked what she was going to do with the $625,000 prize, she told The New York Times that she wants to tell the stories of women at 60. It’s a project that has us excited to see.

“Actually there’s a project I’ve been thinking about for the past year. It’s about women who are turning 60, but it’s also about those people who came of age in the 60s. I’ve spent years shooting lots of video and stills, and I want to do a feature-length film about a woman turning 60 who came of age in the 60s and use that as a metaphor to examine what it means to come of age in one of the most exciting and tumultuous periods of the 20th century.”

 

3.

Notes on Saudi Arabia: The Good, the Sad, and the Wacky

The push for women’s rights in Saudi Arabia got a heartening boost early last month: The kingdom’s cabinet approved the country’s very first law criminalizing domestic violence (both at home and in the workplace). Still, Stephanie Ott of CNN  reports, there’s room for cynicism about whether the law will actually be enforced. “Critics allege that Saudi Arabia is known for suppressing women’s rights, and it remains to be seen how this law will be put into practice, according to experts.” The sad fact is that “male guardianship in Saudi Arabia is a major obstacle to the new law. [Human Rights Watch researcher Adam Coogle asks], ‘How can a woman escape an abusive husband if she’s not allowed to drive and can’t even travel without the permission of her male guardian?’ ”

Saudi women’s fierce (and risky) push to be granted the right to drive in that country provoked this response, last week, from Sheik Saleh Al-Loheidan: “Medical studies show that it would automatically affect a woman’s ovaries and that it pushes the pelvis upward . . . . We find that for women who continuously drive cars, their children are born with varying degrees of clinical problems.” As Mohammed Jamjoom of CNN reports, the sheik’s words have been mercilessly mocked on social media. But then, wacky assessments of women’s competence are not restricted to Middle Eastern kingdoms; 30-odd years ago, a prominent American politician famously opined that women were not fit to pilot planes—for we were certain to be disastrously overcome by our raging hormones.

 

4.

The Problem with Strong Female Characters in Hollywood

When we hear brilliant women say brilliant things, we must share! Enter Natalie Portman, who as a younger actress continues to take on some challenging roles, graces the upcoming November cover of the UK’s ELLE magazine. When asked about feminism in Hollywood, she calls out the cookie-cutter formulas for films that are deemed “feminist.” Portman says:

“The fallacy in Hollywood is that if you’re making a “feminist” story, the woman kicks ass and wins. That’s not feminist, that’s macho. A movie about a weak, vulnerable woman can be feminist if it shows a real person that we can empathise with.”

 In her article, “I Hate Strong Female Characters,” Sophia McDougall writes:

“Part of the patronising promise of the Strong Female Character (SFC) is that she’s anomalous. “Don’t worry!” that puff piece or interview is saying when it boasts the hero’s love interest is an SFC. “Of course, normal women are weak and boring and can’t do anything worthwhile. But this one is different. She is strong!”

Yes, we are thankful to have the strong female characters (as opposed to the damsels in distress). But what we need is a Hollywood that doesn’t demonize vulnerability, that is open to showing women within the breadth and range of their experiences, that is open to showing women who both kick ass and also at times struggle through life’s challenges. That’s just being a real woman.

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5.

Happy Birthday, Julie Andrews

Yesterday, October 1, Julie Andrews, the Oscar- and Tony Award-winning actress and singer famous for her roles in The Sound of Music and Mary Poppins, turned 78! In tribute to how Andrews’s roles changed movie history, the folks at Policymic put together a list of her portrayals of  some of the most iconic women on film. Happy Birthday, Julie!

Julie Andrews video bio, courtesy of Bio.com

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