Monthly Archives: October 2017

Just don’t 

There has always been fashion designed to slow women down, trip them up. Heavy bustles and hoop skirts. Binding of the feet in China, cloaking of the entire body among some followers of Islam. Whatever the stated intent — beautification, modesty — the result turns us into decor at best, captives at worst. I’ve been noticing a trend toward restrictive garments that say “don’t” in some way. A partial list:

Mules: don’t run

Kitten heels: don’t even walk

Pointy toe stillettos: don’t mind that these are, practically speaking, bunion-producing machines.

Off the shoulder tops: don’t raise your arms

Bustiers: don’t dance, better yet don’t move

Clutch purse: don’t do anything that requires two hands

Mini skirt: don’t sit

Pencil skirt: don’t eat

Body suit, jump suit: don’t even think about going to the bathroom

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I’m not a feminist but…

A thoughtful essay in the New York Times takes to task women — specifically Megyn Kelly, in Lindy West’s piece —  who identify as non-feminists. Why? To seem nice and non-threatening? To be perceived as approachable, as not having needs? Whatever the reason the “but…” at the end of the avowal negates it. Writes West: you are partipating in feminism simply by benefitting from the women’s movement of the past. You vote, you have a bank account, you can own property and divorce your husband. All of this was won by proto-feminists (by any other name); all of this protected by today’s feminists. “Sorry but you’re a feminist,” she concludes. “We are here for you when you are ready.”

Every Dog Has His Day

I wrote this as a caption to a Harvey Weinstein post, thinking he’d surely be the year’s most egregious abuser. But no, women are speaking out about their #metoo experiences, outing screenwriter James Toback, who has had 38 women accuse him of abuse, and the already disgraced Bill O’Reilly, who agreed in January to pay $32 million to legal analyst Lis Wiehl, bringing the total to $45 million paid to the five women the anchor is known to have abused, after which time Fox (forced to oust abuser Roger Ailes) signed O’Reilly’s $25 million a year contract.

There’s just so, so much packed into that last sentence, so I will simplify: Men with money and power abuse women and get away with it until the women band together* to speak out. Now with floodgates open and a defiance reminiscent of “…and yet she persisted,” do we expect to hear more and more and more stories about serial abusers? I think so. Just this past week, related reports include:

  • In the wake of Weinstein’s expulsion from the Academy, there’s a movement to do the same to Roman Polanski, who won a 2003 Best Director Oscar even after having pled guilty to having sex with a 16-year-old girl. Polanski’s words, per his accuser: “If you’re not a big enough girl to have sex with me, you’re big enough to do the screen test.” He also, famously, drugged and raped a 13-year-old actress at a French Vogue photo shoot.
  • Bill Cosby, still a member in good standing, even while he stands accused of sexual assault (drugging, rape) by more than 50 women, is also named in a petition to the Academy.
  • Ditto Woody Allen, who married his stepdaughter.
  • Roy Price, chief of Amazon Studios, was fired after an accusation.
  • Lockhart Steele of Vox Media, for whom my daughter worked, sharing a long communal table with him, was dismissed from this role of editorial director after an accuser called him out on unspecified “misconduct.”
  • Chris Savino of Nickelodeon was dismissed after several women leveled accusations.

 

*Another reason for protection: Men buy it with non-disclosure clauses in the settlements they pay. Women, it must be said, sell their silence.

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This is what sexual harassment sounds like

Harvey Weinstein

Every Dog Has His Day

“I won’t do a thing… I swear on my children.”

“One minute, I swear.”

“Don’t have a fight with me in the hallway. Come in, one minute.”

“Please, I’m sorry, come in, sit here please.”

“Don’t embarrass me, you’re embarrassing me.” 

“Don’t ruin your friendship with me. Please you’re making a big scene, come in, five minutes.”

Recorded without Harvey Weinstein’s knowledge thanks to the NYPD and the Italian model who returned with a recording device the day after he groped for the first time, the two-minute recording is chilling. The movie mogul is a kitchen-sink-style predator, throwing down threats, promises and accusations while the model, Ambra Battilana Gutierrez, pleaded with him to let her go. “I’m uncomfortable,” she said, “you touched my breast.”

“It’s what I do,” Weinstein replied.

A Refinery29 essay reminds us of the Margaret Atwood quote—decades old but like everything else she writes, all too true: “Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them.”

With the man outted as a serial pig and sexual predator, raping and assaulting a dozen women (at current count), people in high places are now speaking out about their experiences and also in support of the victims. Emphasis on “now” as this has been going on for decades. A 22-year-old Gwyenth Paltrow was summoned to his hotel suite and asked to perform a massage on the bathrobed Weinstein in 1994. Angelina Jolie and Roseanne Arquette have similar stories. A news anchor was cornered in a hotel corridor and forced to watch him “jerk off into a potted palm,” says George Clooney, one of the few men who have publicly condemned Weinstein’s behavior as “indefensible.”

“A lot of people are doing the ‘you had to know’ thing right now, and yes, if you’re asking if I knew that someone who was very powerful had a tendency to hit on young, beautiful women, sure. But I had no idea that it had gone to the level of having to pay off eight women for their silence, and that these women were threatened and victimized,” says Clooney. “I’ve been talking with a lot of people about this, and I don’t know many people who knew of that.”

This prevarication sums it up: It’s not that people looked the other way, it’s just that they didn’t look at it at all, Clooney says. That Weinstein was a “dog,” was well enough known that it made it into a 2013 Academy Award bit. When Seth MacFarlane announced a list of five female nominees he said, per the bombshell New York Times exposé, “congratulations, you five ladies no longer have to pretend to be attracted to Harvey Weinstein.”

There’s an ambivalence expressed in that laugh line—and the audience laughed, per the Times—that has people prevaricating all over the place. Donna Karan says she knows the “wonderful” Weinsteins (Harvey’s wife is leaving him) and denounces his accusers with the age-old question: “…are we asking for it?” And then she retracted it with an apology.

Lindsay Lohan was another of Weinstein’s supporters, offering up the narcissistic defense that he never touched her—in a whack video in which she seemed to be speaking in an English accent (shades of the Annie twin from Parent Trap?) shot in a bathroom. She took the Instagram post down, although it’s widely posted (‘cause that’s the way the Internet works, crazypants Lindsay).

Apologist Lindsay Lohan

And even my husband, upon listening to the tape I found chilling, minimized the incident: “She was wearing a wire. She was baiting him,” he said, along with, “what he said was not illegal.”

Yes, but it was wrong. And for too long that wrongness has ruled Hollywood. Will it ever end?

 

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The Pause

 

Pause is the title of a essay by the poet Mary Ruefle about menopause. It is long and, in many ways not my experience. I never felt suicidal, wanting to kill myself “with a steaming hot turned-on iron.” Ruefle (hmmm… sounds like rueful?) writes in the third person, telling you what you will feel, with no small amount of conviction, which is why I feel the urge to disagree with her. However, this part sounds right to me, especially the italicized bit:

You have the desire to leave your husband or lover or partner, whatever.

No matter how stable or loving the arrangement, you want out.

You may decide to take up an insane and hopeless cause. You may decide to walk to Canada, or that it is high time you begin to collect old blue china, three thousand pieces of which will leave you bankrupt. Suddenly the solution to all problems lies in selling your grandmother’s gold watch or drinking your body weight in cider vinegar. A kind of wild forest blood runs in your veins.

This, and other behaviors, will horrify you. You will seek medical help because you are intelligent, and none of the help will help.

You will feel as if your life is over and you will be absolutely right about that, it is over.

No matter how attractive or unattractive you are, you have been used to having others look you over when you stood at the bus stop or at the chemist’s to buy tampons. They have looked you over to assess how attractive or unattractive you are, so no matter what the case, you were looked at. Those days are over; now others look straight through you, you are completely invisible to them, you have become a ghost.

I do feel invisible, which, Frances McDormand tells me is the best thing that will ever happen to me:

‘You become sexually invisible to both men and women. You gain the power of not giving a shit,’ McDormand says in a profile about her in the NY Times Sunday Magazine.

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Frances McDormand, Difficult Woman

And I love Ruefle’s last lines, finally hopeful, and explaining why the pause exists in the first place:

You haven’t even begun. You must pause first, the way one must always pause before a great endeavor, if only to take a good breath.

Happy old age is coming on bare feet, bringing with it grace and gentle words, and ways which grim youth have never known. 

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Behold the Upholder

Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project, has a new book called The Four Tendencies: The Indispensable Personality Profiles That Reveal How to Make Your Life Better (and Other People’s Lives Better, Too).

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I really like the writer Penelope Green, so I read with more interest (than Rubin warrants?) a profile of the author and her slightly Jungian online personality quiz. I say slightly Jungian because it’s also slightly Cosmo-like, with your choice of answers tipping their hand toward your ultimate score or judgment. Green likened it to the Sorting Hat ritual, which makes me, as an Upholder, “a high-working Hermione type,” per Green. Briefly, Upholders like to comply with rules—both externally- and self-imposed. They value discipline above all, which is a good thing (in my view). But it’s my belief that good qualities have a flip side, and Upholders tend to feel discomfort breaking rules, sticking too rigidly to “promises,” even the most meaningless. Here’s an example: I’ll promise myself I’ll be home from gym, errands, whatever by 12 noon to start work. If I find myself at the Whole Foods at noon, I’ll feel pressure to get home, skipping what I need to do at the Chase, even though I’d be no more than 20 minutes “late,” with no one impacted. Except me, who still needs to go to the Chase at some point.

How does this help me, knowing I’m an Upholder? How does it make my life better, happier?  Rubin has built an enterprise around all this, so perhaps I have to dig (meaning “buy”) more—pod casts and an app, along with all her books.

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An Exodus of Editors

Within a few weeks time, Nancy Gibbs of Time (32 years at that magazine), Elle’s Robbie Myers (16 years), Graydon Carter of Vanity Fair, and Glamour’s Cindi Leive (17 years) announced they were leaving their posts. None of them seemed to have real plans, save Carter’s decision to live and drink wine in France for awhile.

They also share this: all of them are in the old-to-really-old age range, they all pulled down a $1MM or more (Carter at $2MM) and every single one of their magazines is tinier and less profitable than its ever been.

Keith Kelly (no spring chicken himself) piles on even more grim stats in his article, heralding the end of days for the “celebrity editor.”

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Meanwhile, back at Time Inc., we are undergoing a months-long McKinsey operations review and launching new revenue streams like PetHero, a program where for $20 a month, members can get, in addition to pet toys and products, discounts on health care for pets.

Which sounds to me like a final death knell for editors, those of us left.

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Of course you’ll recognize your parents in heaven

This from the heart-breaking poem called “Washing the Elephant.”

And here’s the heart-breaking part:

What if Father Quinn had said, “Of course you’ll recognize your parents in heaven,” instead of “being one with God will make your mother and father pointless.
Lily sent this to me after a weekend in Florida, visiting not one but two in-laws in not one but two Memory Care facilities in not one but two cities, not one but two hours away from each other.
In many ways, mother-in-law Mary is already gone. She who rests her forehead on the tabletop as we converse with her, falling asleep, startling awake, drifting off again to who knows where. Come to think of it, we didn’t even think about taking a photo of us together.
On the other side of the state, father-in-law Al is all too aware of his decline. He is failing, before our very eyes, but so slowly, that it comes as a hard surprise when whole functions disappear: walking, conversation, self-feeding. He wants to tell us a “cute story,” but its meaning evaporates after a set-up that involves a company, its sales force, a trip to another city.
Perhaps to compensate, we took many, many photos of him. As if to keep him with us? His last few words with me were so lovely: “You classed up this whole operation,” he said of me about my role in the di Costanzo family.

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So here’s to “the ones that have etched themselves in the laugh lines and frown lines on the face” And here’s to the rest of the poem:

Washing the Elephant

Isn’t it always the heart that wants to wash
the elephant, begging the body to do it
with soap and water, a ladder, hands,
in tree-shade big enough for the vast savannahs
of your sadness, the strangler fig of your guilt,
the cratered full moon’s light fueling
the windy spooling memory of elephant?
What if Father Quinn had said, “Of course you’ll recognize
your parents in heaven,” instead of
“Being one with God will make your mother and father
pointless.” That was back when I was young enough
to love them absolutely though still fear for their place
in heaven, imagining their souls like sponges full
of something resembling street water after rain.
Still my mother sent me every Saturday to confess,
to wring the sins out of my small baffled soul, and I made up lies
about lying, disobeying, chewing gum in church, to offer them
as carefully as I handed over the knotted handkercheif of coins
to the grocer when my mother sent me for a loaf of Wonder,
Land O’Lakes, and two Camels.
If guilt is the damage of childhood, then eros is the fall of adolescence.
Of the fall begins there, and never ends, desire after desire parading
through a lifetime like the Ringling Brothers elephants
made to walk through the Queens-Midtown Tuunnel
and down 34th Street to the Garden.
So much of our desire like their bulky, shadowy walking
after midnight, exiled from the wild and destined
for a circus with its tawdry gaudiness, its unspoken
pathos.
It takes more than half a century to figure out who they were,
the few real loves-of-your-life and how much of the rest—
the mad breaking-heart stickiness—falls away, slowly,
unnoticed, the way you lose your taste for things
like Popsicles unthinkingly.
And though dailiness may have no place
for the ones that have etched themselves in the laugh lines
and frown lines on the face that’s harder and harder
to claim as your own, often one love-of-your-life
will appear in a dream, arriving
with the weight and certitude of an elephant,
and it’s always the heart that wants to go out and wash
the huge mysteriousness of what they meant, those memories
that have only memories to feed them, and only you to keep them clean.
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