Category Archives: feminism

Portraits of the Ladies

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Rereading “Portrait of a Lady” because I want to read “Mrs. Osmond,” its sequel of sorts, written some 150 years later by John Banville. How I quickly fell under the spell of James and his formal, precise language. There’s nothing loose or modern or elliptical about his prose in “Lady.” It’s as if James was tasked with telling the story as accurately and as plainly as possible and he does so in the unaccented voice of a vicar.

Here’s a lovely turn of phrase from the preface, about James’ experience of writing “Lady” when he found himself “ … in the fruitless fidget of composition, as if to see whether, out in the blue channel, the ship of some right suggestion, of some better phrase, of the next happy twist of my canvas, mightn’t come into sight.”

He goes on to lament the city he chose for his “composition,” Venice, as too rich with romantic and historical sites that are also too steeped in their own specific significance. Switching to the third person, he feels wrong in “yearning toward them in his difficulty, as if he were asking an army of glorious veterans to help him arrest a peddler who has given him the wrong change.”

And that’s just the preface! My reading and viewing this season has been backward-looking, to a more civil place and time: “The Crown,” “Alias Grace,” “Emma Brown” “(picking up, again a century or so later, on a half-finished Charlotte Bronte novel), “Bleak House” (produced by the BBC, streaming on Netflix) and “Death Comes to Pemberly” (P.D. James’ continuance of the story of Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy). Come to think of it, all of these are about strong but economically disadvantaged women. Except for “The Crown’s” Queen Elizabeth who has so many other crosses to bear (including that horrible husband of hers).

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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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Women + Wine

From Quartz, an article that promises to reveal “the real reason women drink too much wine.” The writer, who is now sober, points to the literal wash of alcohol all over the media, her office, the birthday card rack and even billboards: “Driving home from work, I pass billboard ads for Fluffed Marshmallow Smirnoff and Iced Cake Smirnoff and not just Cinnamon, but Cinnamon Churros Smirnoff.” The birthday card thing is something I’ve noticed too — with their jokey invitations to “rose all day” and also:

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But, no, the real reason she’s an alcoholic is that she is an alcoholic, as it turns out, and it’s really damn hard to be a women in this world.

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Men behaving badly

 

 

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Jennifer Weiner

In an opinion piece called “The Men Who Never Grow Up,” Jennifer Weiner observes that “Americans have a soft spot for our troublemakers and scamps,” excusing the bad behavior on the part of one particular “honest kid” with a dismissive “that’s politics”—even when that kid is 39 years old and his scampishness appears to have included colluding with the Russians to interfere with the presidential election.

“Women and nonwhite men don’t have it quite as easy,” Weiner writes, trenchantly: “If boys will be boys, then girls must be grown-ups, whose job it is to protect men from their worst impulses.” Or serve as post-indiscretion apologists: “like boys in the locker room,” appeased Melania Trump about her husband bragging about his pussy-grabbing prowess. Also implicated in that incident was Billy Bush, who excused his own poor judgment with “I was younger, less mature, and acted foolishly in playing along.” He was 33 at the time.

When Anderson Cooper pressed Melania, she stayed on point: “It’s kinda like two teenage boys — actually they should behave better, right?” she said.

Cooper: “He was 59.”

Compare all that with condemnation heaped upon female celebrities behaving badly. Lindsay Lohan, while not one of my very favorite people (except for her star turn in “The Parent Trap” 10 years ago, when she was adorbs), is a pariah. Confusing, yes, so here’s the bottom line: men who behave badly are forgiven, women are not and, salt to the wound, must clean up the messes made by males.

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Feminism + Bras 2017

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Emma Watson, Vanity Fair, March 2017

Starring as Belle in Beauty & the Beast, Emma Watson appears on the cover of Vanity Fair in a nude top-and-cape number, to much criticism. Gloria Steinem was asked whether a real feminist would ever wear such a thing. “Feminists can wear anything they fucking want,” she said to TMZ.

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The Ladies Room: 8 Things I’ve Learned From Working With Millennial Women

I am a VP and editorial director at a large media company. Now 56 years old, I follow with interest debates about whether women at my level do enough to help millennial women climb the corporate ladder — a heated and sometimes fractious discourse that covers why they do or don’t, if they should or shouldn’t and so much more. Famously, there’s Madeleine Albright’s “special place in hell” arguing from the “should” camp (although she’d later characterize the statement as “undiplomatic”). There’s Harvard Business School professor Rosabeth Moss Kanter’s supposition that women feel obligated to not show a gender bias leading the “why they don’t” discussion.

And then there’s the less discussed but pervasive—and patronizing—attitude of a certain kind of senior leader toward her younger female colleagues. The sentiments shared with me, because I am old and it is assumed I will feel the same way: They are entitled, brash, not deferential enough toward leadership, look at their phones when I’m talking in meetings and let’s not even get into what they wear to work. As a theme, the objections are mostly about ignoring social queues and not adhering to “normative” workplace behavior.

It should (but doesn’t) go without saying: what’s “normative” changes constantly. I try to remember this when I find myself rolling my eyes at generational differences in the workplace. It’s also worth knowing they’re rolling their eyes back. I’m thinking of the time I referenced “the ladies room” only to overhear one female employee grousing to another: “why the f***k is a grown-ass woman talking about a ‘ladies room?’” The truth is, adapting to a changing world is how any of us survive— in the workplace and on the planet. And I don’t intend to stop adapting now, even if the change agents are women 35 years younger than I am. A partial list of what I’ve learned: 

  1. Casual references to calories, dieting and “I feel so fat” are not OK

When I was the rising generation, a certain kind of striving-to-be-inclusive female boss would attempt to cozy up with “just us gals” chat like this. Fifty-something leaders, myself included, need to celebrate body positivism as a great leap forward.

  1. Pronouns matter

I got into a ridiculously heated discussion over using they/them when referring to an individual, so as to honor their not choosing to use he/she/him/her. My wrongheaded objection was based grammatical — an individual can’t use plural pronouns, I said. I was so, so wrong. The argument ends here: yes, they can, whatever Chicago Manual of Style might think.

  1. (Office) Clothing, optional

Women miss the point when they judge each other on clothing choices: bared midriffs, ripped jeans, lacy bralettes worn over tops. Too long, we’ve had men characterize us by how we dress. Let’s not do that too each other, OK?

  1. Don’t use prissy punctuation on Slack

I’m an editor. I like a well-placed semi-colon and the proper use of a one-m dash. But Slack (or a text) is not the place for them.

  1. Stop all that ‘splaining

Sometimes, when you’re the boss of people in the room or simply when you happen to be the one talking, you talk over people about something you know less about than they do. This is a kind of abuse of power, at worst, and borderline offensive, at best. And by “you” I mean “me.”

  1. Girl, not interrupted

I’ve been stunned—in a good way—at my younger female colleagues easy deflection of manterrupters. It’s not harder than this, as it turns out: “Give me another sec, I haven’t finished my point, Andrew.”

  1. I am not her mother

There’s slightly icky workplace type called the Office Mom, who helps the young’uns personally and professionally (whether they want her help or not). It’s all too easy to see your daughter or son in like-aged colleagues, but they’re not actually your children, let us remind ourselves to remind ourselves.

  1. It never was a dress

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Put another way, it’s best to steer clear of anachronisms like “the ladies room.”

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“Nevertheless, she persisted.”

Hell hath no fury like a woman silenced. Like Trump’s Nasty Woman putdown, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s rebuke (and silencing) of Elizabeth Warren last night only fanned the flames of female fury. Here‘s how it went down: Warren began to read a letter from Coretta Scott King’s feelings about a prior Jeff Sessions’ appointment. McConnell objected to both the reading of the letter and to Warren’s history of outspokenness, even after she is asked to stop talking. Then came the line.

“Nevertheless, she persisted.”

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Instantly, this has become a rallying cry for women in government, in the workplace and in relationships to “persist” in the face of would-be male silencers. Writes Heidi Stevens for The Chicago Tribune:

“Just keep talking. Keep your pauses short. Maintain your momentum. No matter if he waves his hands, raises his voice or squirms in his chair, you do you.”

Or push back. “Bob, I wasn’t done finishing that point. Give me one more sec.”

Persist.

Sometimes the floor remains yours; sometimes you get rebuked and silenced by your colleagues.

But you say what needs to be said. And here and there, you inspire a rallying cry.

“Nevertheless, she persisted.”

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