Wednesday 5: Impressive Females, Old and Young

In this week’s Wednesday 5: American Apparel features a 62-year-old model; a Super Bowl commercial that our girls can actually watch; a tribute to Lois Banner; Barbara Smith Conrad’s exultant, exalting “Amazing Grace;” and gaining ground towards equality. 



Undressing Jacky O

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American Apparel! It recently dared to go where few garment companies have gone before—to the far side of 60! It chose gray-haired, 62-year-old Jacky O’Shaughnessy to model a modest set of lacy lingerie, on the theory that “Sexy Has No Expiration Date.” A risky venture for a company whose models are young and very cheeky. There were some appalled comments on the company’s Facebook page. One viewer quippped: “What amuses me the most about this is that if a younger model were wearing the same thing, everyone would shame American Apparel for over-sexualization of women. However, since it’s an older woman, everyone is praising this photo. Hypocrisy much?” But most of the responses were cheers. We were pleased at all the huzzahs. Especially this exchange, from two guys: Danyael: “Dude this lady looks super old?” Pete: That’s the point: Even the oldest souls can be radiant.”



Little Engineers

We loved the subversive video the toy company GoldieBlox released a few months ago—the one that took aim at the notion that girls don’t want to be engineers. (Maybe they don’t yet, but a few more ads like this and they’ll be lining up to apply.) Three little girls collude on a giddy, house-wrecking but oh-so-dramatic engineering project. For the Super Bowl the firm unveiled another clever spot, in which dozens of little dames race for a meadow where they send their dolls into orbit (persuading a tiny beauty-contest girlie to throw off her crown and join them). Wish we’d seen this sort of thing on TV when we were little tykes. We predict the chipping-away of entrenched stereotypes, one ad at a time.



“Just a Little Blond Woman”

Banner-1-by-Mark-Anderson-use-this-one-685x1024“Women’s studies is filled with women like me. We knew we had to be super performers, so we would always tell each other ‘you can do it.’ We said it often enough times and we somehow ended up doing it.”

That’s Lois Banner, a pioneer in the Women’s Studies movement, telling Anita Little, of Ms. Magazine’s blog, how little respect there was for her field back in the day (the 1960s).

Banner co-founded the Berkshire Conference on the History of Women “to help legitimize women’s studies and advocate feminist scholarship.” She has been called “a founding mother of the field of women’s history”; she just retired after 30 years as a history and gender studies teacher at the University of Southern California. She well remembers the backlash of the 1980s, “when there seemed to be less interest in and more hostility toward feminist teaching,” she told Little.

 “I never thought I could do this, lecture on feminism to hundreds of students and write all these books [ten of them, including her acclaimed American Beauty (1983); In Full Flower: Aging Women, Power and Sexuality (1992), and the prize-winning Intertwined Lives: Margaret Mead, Ruth Benedict, and Their Circle (2003)]. I was just this little blond woman from a lower-class suburban family in [Southern California]. I ended up having a son and a daughter whom I had to raise alone, but I still had all these dreams. They somehow came true.”



Black History Month: Inspiration

For this week’s dose of inspiration we bring you Barbara Smith Conrad’s exultant, exalting “Amazing Grace.” Conrad was in the first class of African American students at the University of Texas; in 1957, her casting as Dido opposite a white student singing Aeneas caused such a shock that she was dismissed from the production. She remained at the university despite the controversy. Conrad went on to sing at the Metropolitan Opera, the New York City Opera, the Vienna Staatsoper, and many other opera houses and concert halls. This clip is a trailer from the 2011 Independent Lens documentary on Conrad’s life, When I Rise.



Gaining Ground Towards Equality

Gaining any ground in the fight against the subjugation of women is exceedingly slow. After all, misogyny has been constricting women’s lives worldwide for thousands of years. But Equality Now, a nonprofit advocacy group that has been (courteously) fighting this ugly tradition for more than 20 years, has just announced a small victory:  “Great news! . . . the Moroccan parliament [on January 22] amended Article 475 of the Penal Code—the law that was used to exempt rapists from punishment if they married their victim. It is our hope that such legal reform will help protect girls from suffering the similar fates of 16-year-old Amina Filali, who committed suicide after being forced to marry her rapist, and 15-year-old Safae who twice [attempted] suicide after being pushed into marrying her rapist to save her ‘honor.’

This welcome change in the law occurred after “nearly two years of sustained public pressure on the government”; some of that pressure came from Equality Now members who sent advocacy emails and letters. See the Equality Now site to learn more about EN’s “Equality Action Network, which enlists volunteers in 160 countries to write letters that put pressure on high officials of nations where child marriage, FGM, and other abuses are going on. Sometimes those letters yield results.  

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