The Glass Ceiling in Television Not Even Dented by Reality

anigif_enhanced-buzz-21683-1381975239-16 (1)Welcome to the Two Oh One Four. Fourteen years into the new millennium and we are still having the same conversations about politics, women and the media. Our depiction of female politicians in the media, especially as more women enter the real political sphere, lags behind the reality.  Real women entering elected positions is creating a real model of the politician “lady version,” yet fictional media representations of the political landscape not only disregards our increasing presence, the TV version of female politicians stands in stark contrast to the reality. Even in politically based TV shows with strong female characters, for example Scandal, the women in elected positions are portrayed as emotional, cheating, ambitious at all costs (until they lose because of lady parts) characters.

Let’s compare the two female candidates attempting presidential bids on Scandal to two actual female politicians, Senator Wendy Davis (D- TX) and Senator Michelle Bachmann (R- MN), who hold political office and are making considerable waves in national news this year.

Scandal:

Candidate 1: Josephine Marcus (D- Montana) (played by Lisa Kudrow)

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Likely character pitch: Naive, yet ‘intelligent’ female candidate who unexpectedly makes waves for off the cuff comments becomes a serious presidential candidate. A childhood secret threatens to derail her run and Olivia saves the day. Marcus is politically unpolished and repeatedly fails to grasp the realities of running for president in the current media environment.  She constantly exclaims ‘why does the public need to know about [insert personal issue]?’ as if the thought that her private life might become interesting to the public or her opponents never crossed her mind when she decided she would run for president. Eventually the character must sacrifice herself because she loves her daughter more than she desires to be president. O,h and somewhere in there she gives an amazing feminist speech, which I’m assuming is suppose to appease us, yet she completely fails to live up to her speech.

Conclusion: AWWW… this would be cute if it didn’t involve possibly being president of the FUCKING UNITED STATES. Any one, but especially a woman, who manages to put together a reasonable bid for a presidential nomination cannot be this naive, I’ve worked on a lot of elections, and candidates can be dumb but they can not be naive; naivety is the first thing to be weeded out.

Candidate 2: VP Sally Langston (R – Texas) (played by Kate Burton)

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Likely Character Pitch: Highly moral woman who helps bring the right over but is willing to bend her defining morals to become president, by switching to a pro-choice stance. VP Langston is consumed by her ambition, and demonstrates repeatedly her willingness to sacrifice everything with cold collected calculation.  However when her husband does the nasty with another man, which she implies she understood prior to their marriage, Sally flips and stabs him to death, effectively ending her run against the president.

Conclusion: Bitches be crazy.

Reality:

Candidate 1: Wendy Davis (D- Texas)

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Character pitch: Known for her ability to filibuster unlike this country has seen since the 18th century, she knowingly positioned herself as the face of the new blue Texas.  After getting gerrymandered out of her district she decided to stage one last great state stand defending women’s right to their bodies in pink sneakers.  Almost immediately following this highly viewed senate session (over 100,000 people watched the live feed, over 150,000 tweeted, and many, such as myself, found themselves unable to access the State Senate Live Feed because of bandwidth problems), Senator Davis announced her bid for governor of Texas, and there is considerable buzz about a presidential run in the future.  In contrast to the fictional Marcus, Davis fully understands the implications of stepping onto the national stage, and further more is carefully crafting a public image useful for promoting her political goals.

Conclusion: These pink sneakers were meant for running (for president).

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Candidate 2: Michele Bachmann (R – Minnesota)

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Character Pitch: The darling of the Tea Party, Bachmann is as close as a religious libertarian can get to a true ideology. She believes what she believes, or at least knows that deviating is bad base politics.  Bachman clearly challenged the Republican establishment by incorporating the Tea Party wing better than the old white males who tried to cater their rhetoric to the new, very scary, branch.  I do not like Bachmann, but there is no way that the woman who stood in front of the country and called out the old Republicans would ever compromise her ‘values’ in a party that uses flip flopping to out their own incumbents in state primaries.  Moreover, there is no way a gun toting, Minnesotan, hunter would ever be stupid enough to stab her husband on a publicly owned rug when the presidency was within reach.

Conclusion: Bitches be crazy, but not stupid.

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The dumbing down of female candidates, on both sides, in media representations is dangerous.  What 90s kid doesn’t remember Topanga telling the class she was going to be the first female president of the United States? I believed that, and I was surprisingly disappointed when as an adult she became a ‘little wife’ to Corey (who I thought would be a great first husband).  For kids of the 90s, female television characters under the age of 15 talked about breaking the glass ceiling, yet that conversation disappeared after they started dating.  This model eerily mirrors the current statistics on women in the work place. Whether society models media or media models society is an issue too long for this post, but if we want to foster strong women in the future maybe we need to start looking at the women we are showing to young girls and women around us. In reality women in politics have made record strides this year, yet in media they are still stuck in the 1850s. Maybe its time somebody grew up.

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What would you do?

No fear.

Last night, I went to a talk downtown for the Portland Data Visualization group. The event was held at one of the many tech startups in town, and on one of the walls was this motivational slogan:

“What would you do if you weren’t afraid?”

And it got me thinking. I’m a fear-motivated person; only recently did I realize this about myself. And because I talk to Anna every day, I know this about her, too. This text message conversation ensued:

Me: What would we do if we weren’t afraid?
Anna: Love harder. Jump higher. Lie less. Create more.
Me: Build. Stretch. Grow. Learn. Guess. Fail. Flourish. Conquer.
Anna: Maybe we should try this.
Me: A social experiment. A living experiment.

So we presented to each other some options for conquering our fears. I don’t wish to speak for Anna, so I won’t reveal her plan, but I am going to get rid of 50% of the things that I own. I am going to start working on a new coding project, even though it feels impossible. I’m going to ask my boss when we are going to do a progress review. I’m going to talk to my roommates about some of my concerns about our co-habitation situation.

I’m going to start living my life in a way that is best for me, regardless of how afraid I am to do so. And I would like to present this challenge to you, dear STTF readers, as well.

What are you afraid of? Is it snakes? Go to the zoo and hold one. Is it asking for a raise? Set up a meeting with your boss. Is it telling a romantic interest how you feel? Write him a letter. Think of all the things you could do if you weren’t afraid.

Then go do them.

We want to motivate you. Leave a comment here listing something, anything, you’re going to do in the next month to conquer your fears. Come back and give us updates, I’ll do the same, and we’ll start conquering our fears together. We are strong, incredible young people. We have the whole world ahead of us, but only if we take it. So let’s take it.

A Welcome, a Sorry, a Thank You, & a Hope

We’re back. Because this isn’t okay.

Hello there, dear readers. Sorry I disappeared there for a while. This post was originally called “What’s the Difference Between an Excuse and an Explanation?” but 300 words later, I realized it doesn’t matter. I’m back now, I think. I missed you. What we had going on was cool. I hope it can be cool again.

Part of the reason I wanted to start this blog is because I love magazines, and I don’t feel like magazines do a great job of fostering good, vibrant conversations with women as active participants. Obviously there are women’s magazines, and I read and love those, but it’s pretty hard to deny that magazines whose editorial bent is distinctly gendered don’t approach women as thoughtful, interested people anywhere beyond the nail polish aisle. Magazines that do deal with topics other than how you should pay attention to politics to meet men, like The Atlantic or Outside or Wired, aren’t explicitly for men, but feel like they are because they aren’t adorned with the cultural alerts coded into society to be “for women,” like pastel colors and flowers.

It’s almost like we never grew out of the kid-book dilemma: Girls will read a book with a knight on the cover, but boys won’t read a book with a girl, bows, or puppies on the cover. There isn’t anything inherently about horses or ballet that have anything to do with being a woman, nor is there any homogenous experience of being a woman to which to assign that cultural indicator anyway. If the current cultural idea of femininity is breaking down, that’s a good thing.

One of the things I was doing while I was not posting here was moving in with my parents after graduating college, and to say this is an adjustment would be to say that the Titanic sinking was kind of a bummer. My mom tells me every day that there just aren’t any “real men” out there anymore. Any American could guess what she means: A muscular male who drives a truck, owns a gun, and can fix or build anything, including a barbecue on which to sear his ribeyes and roast the the championship hopes of his rival sports teams. She’s not alone: The Atlantic, a magazine one would hope would be above these spats, has claimed on its cover that love and dating as we know it is breaking down, once with the bold headline “The End of Men.” (Both articles were from and for straight, white women of some economic privilege and did not examine those tensions.) Dating is hard, that’s true. But that’s not because expression of gender is less distinctly polar than it once was.

I hope we can keep writing, and that you keep reading, because the work of evolving this culture can’t be left to publishers of magazines. We do this work in the wild hope that you’ll read it and enjoy it, or at least think about it. What made me come back to this place through the shame of inconsistency and the edging realization that I never won’t be busy is this: The conversations we have here are important.

I want to live in a world where not one girl makes decisions for her life based on who will call her a slut or a prude. A world where “real man” has no definition. Where not one person worries that how she looks or loves  isn’t “normal.” Where having sex for the first time isn’t a loss. Where these hopes aren’t bold.

Join me, won’t you?

What Goes Through My Mind When I See A Guy Across A Bar

Isn't this FUN?

God, what am I doing here? Is it really Friday? What it is about Fridays that makes the crowd so much less cool than Thursdays? Where did all these old people come from? Why do guys I like always talk to old ladies? Why are these drinks so expensive? Do bartenders think that when I say “whiskey sour” I’m only doing it for the cherry? What if I am only doing it for the cherry?

Does it denote some kind of perma-girlishness that even when I choose an adult beverage, it has ingredients in common with Shirley Temples? God, whatever happened to Shirley Temples? Weren’t those things delicious? Wasn’t there supposedly a version of those that had alcohol in it, what kind of alcohol was that? Can I order one of those? Remember that one time my cousins and I thought they served us high-octane Shirley Temples when we were like ten, and then we acted drunk, and then it turned out it was just a whole lot of grenadine?

Hey, is that guy cute? Why is he wearing that weird shirt? Why do guys think a plaid shirt is the appropriate attire for every event from a first date to a summer funeral? How come guys have it so easy, and women have to spend millions of dollars and millions of minutes on hair, makeup, clothes, shoes, accessories, and scent? Why do they even have menswear sections? Why do they keep printing a million more tacky geometric patterns on ties, is it just so guys can feel like they have some entitlement to complaining about clothes, too?

Wait, is that guy cute? His half-smile and that casual way he leans on the bar is hot, right? Or does he know I’m looking at him, thinking he looks like a taller Diego Luna, but with muscles? God, did I just use the word hot? Isn’t that word the worst? How can it simultaneously degrade and build up a girl? It kind of implies the person is dumb, right? What’s a better word? Would that guy, the one who just ran his hand from his neck to his scalp through that windy barley field of hair, rather I called him handsome, or is that too old-fashioned?

Is he handsome? What if the way I perceive beauty is based on something totally horrible, like what advertisers in magazines tell me I should find attractive? I mean, who really wants to date a guy who spends enough time at the gym and only eats kale so he has a six pack? Wouldn’t he be really boring to talk to? So why do women all hold guys to that insane standard? Isn’t that just like the insane standard women are held to, that they have to have a waist the width of the ball in whatever sport their boyfriend prefers to pretend to play on his Xbox? What have you done to us, Posh Spice?!

Why doesn’t he want to talk to me? I’ve been staring at him through my eyelashes for half an hour, why hasn’t he come over here? Should I go over there? Should I buy him a drink? Should I ask him to buy me a drink? Why is it so much better if a guy buys a girl a drink than the other way around? Why are women in an active role always more pathetic than men doing exactly the same thing? Why do I have to wait around for him to ask me out?

Should I ask him out? What if I don’t want to ask him out, what if I want him to ask me out? What does that say about me as a woman? Am I so shaped by culture that I can’t be an active participant in my own history? Why hasn’t he come over here and talked to me? Am I not pretty enough? Can he tell from there that I’m not a fun girl, that I’m kind of a mess right now, that I’d really like an actual boyfriend who is nice to me for more than one day in a row? Is that what’s keeping him over there? Does he look at me and think, “Why would I talk to the broad with the crazy eyes when I can lean in close to this hot chick who was resourceful enough to take the bandage dress trend literally”?

God, isn’t this place the worst? Can we please get out of here?

(Lowbrow allusion to this.)

Why Nicki Minaj Kind of Freaks Me Out

Look at the picture to the left, and who do you see? Well, you say, that’s Nicki Minaj.

At first blush she’s your typical pop star. Airbrushed, exposed, luscious, sexy —  all the things that society tells women that they should be. If you look at some of her other pictures that come up on Google, she has a fantastic body in addition to her beautiful face.

So what’s your deal, Gina? Why you make a post about how this obviously gorgeous woman gives you the heebie jeebies? Well, simply put: It’s because I’m attracted to her.

My first exposure to Minaj was through her appearance on Ellen Degeneres’ show. Freaking adorable. I loved the way Minaj interacted with the talented youngsters, how she dropped everything to come on the show and meet them, and how she encouraged them to pursue music but to stay in school. So, I figured, you know, this lady seemed like a class act. Keepin’ kids on the right track, doin’ some music…and I can respect someone who changes her hair color with every outfit.  I had to admit that Superbass was hella catchy. What the hell, I thought, I’ll give her a shot.

Holy shit. Delving into the world of Nicki Minaj is like seeing all the horrible youth fetishism of our culture smushed into one horrifying example.

Take her video Superbass. The entire 3:39 minute debacle is a mix of absurd sexuality and absurd childishness. The barbie car, the expressions on her face,  the hot pink — everywhere. She juxtaposes things that we associate with being a kid with things that we consider to be sexual (the slow pouring of liquid on her breasts, the lap dancing, etc.). She is hybridizes being a kid and being sexual. This extends beyond Superbass. Her doe-eyed, incredibly expressive childlike face is a part of her core “image.” And so is her sexual nature.

This melding of childhood and sexuality becomes even more apparent in her recent appearance with Big Sean in his video Dance (A$$):

She looks like a kid. She looks like a kid that’s backed up on Big Sean. Nicki Minaj’s entire sexual appeal comes from the fact that she’s got a child’s face on a woman’s body.

It freaks me out.

It violates my delicate kids-aren’t-sex-objects sensibilities.

Now, if Nicki Minaj wants to sexualize herself, that’s fine. I will enjoy looking at her beautiful skin and wonderful ass as long as she wants to shake it. She’s hot, and she has every right to flaunt it. But the fact that she chooses to sexualize herself by looking and acting as much like a child as possible disturbs me. There is a line between accepting youth fetishism as an inescapable part of beauty in our culture (which it is) and actively perpetuating it. Minaj does the latter.

Most upsetting is the fact that all of this works. Who reading this wouldn’t agree that Nicki Minaj is sexy? We are attracted to her, and she looks likes a kid. She knows this and uses it — and that just disturbs me.