I’m A…

Identity (film)
Image via Wikipedia

I’m not wild about labels. On cans, sure.

But people?

Here’s an interesting Slate essay about the difference between Latino/a and Hispanic.

I met a woman recently who said she was a “moderate Republican.” It’s fair to describe my sweetie as a “devout Buddhist.” I know a woman, an artist, who could fairly say she’s a “passionate flea marketer.”

In an era of identity politics, when identifying as member of one group can alienate members of another, how “loud and proud” are we?

My first book, “Blown Away: American Women and Guns” is about the intersection of women and firearms in the U.S. I was fascinated — and depressed — to find that most people assumed I must be a gun-owner, user or even fanatic.

Not!

I’ve never owned one, nor plan to. I did shoot a bunch of different handguns as research, but am quite able, as a career journalist, to write about all sorts of issues without attaching myself to them emotionally or investing in that identity or personal allegiance.

That’s what being a traditional news journalist means — finding and reporting stories, not signing up for every cause or group.

Other than our work titles or job descriptions, or our family relationships (Mom, husband, sister, nephew), how do we choose to define ourselves to the wider world?

Words can have such different meanings to many people; one person’s definition of “conservative” (fiscally but not socially) might signal the red flag of a very different belief system to someone else.

I’m liberal in some ways, politically and otherwise, but quite conservative in others, like finances and the way I often dress.

I’m comfortable saying publicly I’m a(n):

feminist

traveler

athlete

aesthete

foodie

volunteer

ex-patriate

creator

Francophile

artist

I recently took the vows of a bodhisattva. Gulp. Big job!

I doubt I’ll be using that one in social conversation any time soon, but it’s a role I’ve felt strongly about for a while.

How about you?

What are some of your identities?

Women, Speak Up! I Can’t Hear You

Mug shot of Paris Hilton.
No, sweetie, Not you ! Image via Wikipedia

Why do most women — certainly educated Western women with unimpeded access to telephones, the Internet and media outlets — still remain so invisible and inaudible?

I don’t mean the images or inanities of women like Paris Hilton or the Kardashians.

Quick! Name ten well-known and highly-respected women whose opinions carry national or international weight: Hillary Clinton and Angela Merkel and…the list quickly dwindles when it comes to females currently known in the media as an expert on much of anything.

Until or unless women claim the same intellectual space, jostling elbow to sharpened elbow with all the men who feel utterly confident speaking their minds, we will remain unheard, our deepest concerns unheeded.

I loved, loved, reading an op-ed this week in Canada’s national daily newspaper of record, The Globe and Mail, arguing for the retention of Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan by Alaina Podmorow, a 14-year-old Canadian girl who founded a charity for Afghan woman and girls.

She did so after hearing, and being inspired, by Sally Armstrong, a fellow Canadian — albeit a few decades older — a journalist whose passion for women and world affairs lit the fuse of activism in a little girl. That’s my kind of girl power!

And how often do you read, in a national newspaper with the stature of The New York Times or the Globe, an op-ed or letter to the editor written by a woman? Let alone a young girl?

How about….never?

Here’s a great, angry piece published this week in Canada, in a national chain of newspapers, by Katherine Govier, a Canadian author and former journalist:

We were treated to the news last week, via the New York Times, that Wikipedia, increasingly the go-to reference for historical and contemporary general knowledge, has a dark secret. It is chiefly written by 25-year-old males.

Help us and save us.

It’s true. A study has shown that only 13 per cent of the hundreds of thousands of contributors to the “collaborative” online encyclopedia are female. Of the 87 per cent who remain, and are male, the average age is mid-twenties. Sue Gardner, executive director of the Wikimedia Foundation (a woman, oddly enough), says this came about because of Wikipedia’s nature. It is skewed toward aggressive hackertypes who are obsessed with facts and reflect the male-dominated computer culture. They are, furthermore, imbued with a sense that it is really important for everyone to know about Niko Bellic, a character who is a former soldier in the video game Grand Theft Auto IV. He gets an article five times as long as does Pat Barker, a (female) British novelist in her late 60s. That is, he did until Gardner herself added background to Pat Barker’s entry.

So this is how it works. Women have to step up and become Wikipedia contributors.

This isn’t a new problem. Sigh.

Women, still, are so often socialized from earliest childhood to be “nice”. How many of us, still, are raised with the appalling and powerful imprecation: “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything.”

I like Alice Roosevelt Longworth’s version: “If you can’t say anything nice, come sit by me!”

Women are so often told to be quiet, be nice, calm down, sit back. We need to be shouting!

Whether in print, television, radio, in blogs, letters to the editor, anywhere that makes clear we have strong opinions and they deserve serious attention. And yet, and yet, depending what sort of culture and community you live in, there are often strong imperatives, religious or political or economic or familial, that stay our hands and still our tongues.

Enough already.

Here’s a quick tip on getting your voice heard, fast, in a letter to the editor, from a terrific blog on women’s voices and how to make them heard loud and clear through traditional media.

Have you spoken out — whether at a town or city council meeting? Letters to the editor? An op-ed?

Do you think we’re being heard?

College Students Super-Stressed, Women Especially

Indra K. Nooyi, Chairman and Chief Executive O...
Indra Nooyi, CEO, Pepsico. Image via Wikipedia

I found this recent report interesting, if unsurprising — that today’s freshmen are more stressed than ever.

What I really found intriguing, though, was how important to women’s mental health it is for their professors to take them seriously.

From The New York Times:

Linda Sax, a professor of education at U.C.L.A. and former director of the freshman study who uses the data in research about college gender gaps, said the gap between men and women on emotional well-being was one of the largest in the survey.

“One aspect of it is how women and men spent their leisure time,” she said. “Men tend to find more time for leisure and activities that relieve stress, like exercise and sports, while women tend to take on more responsibilities, like volunteer work and helping out with their family, that don’t relieve stress.”

In addition, Professor Sax has explored the role of the faculty in college students’ emotional health, and found that interactions with faculty members were particularly salient for women. Negative interactions had a greater impact on their mental health.

“Women’s sense of emotional well-being was more closely tied to how they felt the faculty treated them,” she said. “It wasn’t so much the level of contact as whether they felt they were being taken seriously by the professor. If not, it was more detrimental to women than to men.”

She added: “And while men who challenged their professor’s ideas in class had a decline in stress, for women it was associated with a decline in well-being.”

For many young women, college is their first experience of being taken seriously by an adult teacher, and one whose personal and subjective ranking of them can affect their future career — certainly for anyone hoping to enter medicine, law or other professions.

Yet those professors aren’t subject to parental interference or suasion, sometimes thousands of miles distant from any intervening influence.

It’s then up to young women to stand up for their own ideas and opinions, fighting for them verbally and in writing. Alone.

If you’ve been raised, as many young women still are, to defer to authority and especially male authority, challenging it can feel terrifying or even impossible. But any woman with serious intellectual or political ambitions must acquire this essential skill.

One reason women still shy away from STEM work (science, technology, engineering and math) is the paucity of female professors whose own behavior, and intellectual confidence, serve as powerful models. I’ve had young w0men write to me personally in despair after having male classmates, or professors, scoff or sneer at them in these male-dominated classrooms. The easiest choice is to flee, a choice that only deprives us all of terrific talent and diversity down the road.

Look at a Hillary Clinton or Nancy Pelosi or Indra Nooyi or Carol Tome or Angela Merkel. Every woman who hopes to attain and exercise power and authority must become comfortable expressing her ideas publicly — which often includes hearing them torn to pieces — and figuring out the next step after that.

Bright, confident women scare the hell out of many people.

But staying silent and docile is not an option.

Ladies, speak up!

Women Too Busy To Die?

New York, New York. Newsroom of the New York T...
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If you read The New York Times obituary page — which I do daily as it’s my hometown paper — you’ll soon notice (maybe) an odd detail.

Women never die!

Here’s a post from nytpick.com, which delights in poking at the Gray Lady:

And for the year 2010 to date, the NYT has chronicled the deaths of 606 men, and only 92 women.

Bear in mind that the population of women in the U.S. exceeds that of men, and is nearly neck and neck worldwide.

This disparity in coverage has gone on for years, virtually unnoticed in a society that decades ago granted full equality to women, and has seen huge strides in the prominence of women in virtually all fields of endeavor.

And not only does it show no signs of getting better — it’s actually getting worse.

In a September 2006 “Talk To The Newsroom” interview, NYT obituaries editor Bill McDonald (pictured above) was asked about the lack of what a concerned reader referred to as “gender parity” in the section. His stunning response somehow slipped by unnoticed.

“Ask me in another generation,” McDonald replied. “Really. The people whose obits are appearing in our pages now largely shaped the world of the 1940’s, 50’s and 60’s, and the movers and shakers in those eras were predominantly white men.”

If you’re  a Lithuanian lute-maker (no offense meant, specifically, to either category) — and male — hang in there. Your time for posthumous glory will come. Men doing the most unlikely and obscure things end up in the Times obit pages every day.

I know for a fact that women do die, women who have achieved extraordinary success and influence in business, the arts, science, medicine, public service, education. But you’ll never hear about them in the Times. (Or The Wall Street Journal or USA Today or The Washington Post or the Los Angeles Times. You know the “papers of record.”)

I think it’s a toxic combination of two issues: male editors who don’t see women’s achievements as worth this level of honor  — and women, and their families, colleagues and employers who don’t make a (big enough) fuss about them and their value to the larger world, either when they’re alive or after they have died.

Women who vaunt themselves and seek public attention are often derided for their egos and glory-seeking, while men who do so are considered…normal.

Every single obits column that ignores women ignores half the nation’s population.

And newspapers wonder why they’re dying?

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Can Feminists Be People Whose Views You Hate?

This handout image received on September 8, 20...
Image by AFP/Getty Images via @daylife

Love this thoughtful and insightful rant (they can be all those at once) about the death of third-wave feminism — by Mark Morford at sfgate.com, commenting on an Atlantic magazine think-piece by a woman:

It is something to behold. Right now I’m vainly attempting to cross-reference Hanna Rosin’s fascinating mixed-bag article from the Atlantic that ran under the delightfully obnoxious headline “The End of Men: How Women are Taking Control of Everything,” and mixing it with all the feverish stories about California’s landmark political races, Carly and Meg and Pelosi, too, influenced by everyone’s favorite winkin’ ditzball from hell, Sarah Palin.

And I’m tossing in a dash of pop culture, all the MIAs and Lady Gagas and Miley Cyruses, the Kathryn Bigelows and the ditzbombs of “Sex and the City,” trying to parse and understand and see some sort of through-line.

I am not having much success. Most women — and many of us men — are cheering madly at all the newfound roles, powers, titles, successes and attentions, from Hillary’s stunning presidential run to Bigelow’s Oscar to (even) Meg Whitman’s pile of billions that could very well buy her the election.

But…many are…entirely furious that many of third-wave feminism’s cornerstone values — abortion rights, humanitarianism, anti-racism, don’t kill stuff — are being violently, stupidly co-opted, inverted, perverted, repackaged…

In short, most progressive women are right now discovering a brutally painful truth, one that men have known for millennia: With power, glory and long overdue cultural advancement, comes a whole delightful s–bag of downsides, drawbacks, jackals and bitches to poison the party. Fun!

See, long was it believed, via some utopian/naive vision held by “enlightened” men and women alike, that if and when the feminist movement — all three waves of it, really, from Virginia Woolf to Betty Freidan, bell hooks to riot grrls — finally started to get everything it desired, there would surely be some wonderful sea change in the culture, a new paradigm to replace all the ugly, outdated structures of power and ego erected by old white men, something far more fluid and interesting, liberal and heartfelt and, well, nonmasculine.

Well, as if!

One of the delightful issues with power — wanting it, buying it, voting for it, getting it, keeping it, getting it back after you’ve blown it — is…you have to flex some serious muscle to get, own and keep it. Whether that power is physical, emotional, financial, political, intellectual (and they’re usually fairly entangled) sexual, or spiritual, some of it, if not all of it, is going to freak out and piss off a bunch of other women who think naked raw power — and showing how much you really want it — is a male thing.

That women are de facto gentler and kinder and all dance to the moonbeams’ glow. Snort.

While some women have been exercising whatever limited powers were granted to them (sexual, emotional) from the dawn of time — resentful others have silently seethed in the corner for having less-to-none of it.

If there’s anything more annoying than not having the power you so crave, it’s watching women whose behavior and values you loathe have tons of it and mis-using it. The economics of scarcity make it ugly.

But…claiming (your) power takes guts, putting your value out in front of others to judge. They may very well find you wanting.

That’s the price of admission to the boxing ring of power. Someone’s going to punch you in the face and you need a skilled and loyal cut man to keep you in the game.

Which is why I loved Hilary Swank in the 2004 Clint Eastwood film “Million Dollar Baby”. It’s nominally about a female boxer and her trainer but it’s just as much about finding a man (could be a woman) who knows what it takes to hit your peak and will push you to achieve it.

I hate Sarah Palin, Lady Gaga and many of the women who keep attracting media attention for polticial views I loathe, rampant stupidity and/or and tacky, skanky behavior.

But that’s the price of feminism, isn’t it? Everyone gets to play.

The 'Mighty Minority',Teen Feminists, Hungry For Role Models; Who's Yours?

Black & white portrait photograph of Hillary R...
Is she one? Image via Wikipedia

Here’s a cri de coeur from one of my favorite websites, Fbomb.org, written by teen feminists:

Teenage feminists are a mighty minority. You may find us in the malls, mingling amongst girls who carry bags plastered with the image of a naked torso and the word “Abercrombie.” We’re even at football games, willingly crushed between excited pubescent bodies. Maybe we’re the girls in the hoodies rolling our eyes as the cheerleaders jump around, but we are there. The fact is: we’re not always the hairy-legged girls with makeup-less faces scowling through the daily grind of the high school experience, clutching a battered copy of The Second Sex. Sometimes we are. But we’re not always that easy to spot.

Why? That image is a stereotype most feminists, let alone teenagers, don’t fit. We can be the girl at the game, the girl shaking her ass at homecoming, or even the “girl next door.” So, why can’t you recognize us? Most teenage feminists don’t even know that they are teenage feminists. How could you?

How are we supposed to identify as feminists when most of us don’t even know what a feminist looks like? Role models are important. They help us figure out who we are as we sit in a cafeteria full of people who are defined by a single word. Prep. Jock. My favorite: Slut. Role models help us figure out what we want to be rather than what everybody else has labeled us.

But who are our role models? Most teenage girls don’t know who Gloria Steinem is, or they believe that Hillary Clinton is a whiny bitch (like this winner), because that’s how the media portrays her. It’s sad but true. If these women are even on our radar at all, they’ve probably already been made unpopular by the media. And nobody wants to be unpopular at sixteen. We fear the hatred of others like our parents fear taxes.

Newsweek Sexist? Forty Years Ago, Women Staffers Sued For Equal Treatment. Today, Things Aren't Much Better, There And Elsewhere

Newsweek Cover: Stephen Jay Gould
Image by Ryan Somma via Flickr

Here’s a story that may come as news to any young, ambitious female journalist — or anyone who’s convinced women are equal to men and the F-word is feminism. Old, tired, done.

Not so much, write three current Newsweek staffers, all young women, who discovered a landmark lawsuit, brought by Newsweek’s female staffers in 1970, when women there were called “dollies”.

From this week’s Newsweek cover story:

But by 1969, as the women’s movement gathered force around them, the dollies got restless. They began meeting in secret, whispering in the ladies’ room or huddling around a colleague’s desk. To talk freely they’d head to the Women’s Exchange, a 19th-century relic where they could chat discreetly on their lunch break. At first there were just three, then nine, then ultimately 46—women who would become the first group of media professionals to sue for employment discrimination based on gender under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. Their employer was NEWSWEEK magazine.

In 1970, 46 women sued Newsweek for gender discrimination. Today, three young writers examine how much has changed.

Until six months ago, when sex- and gender-discrimination scandals hit ESPN, David Letterman’s Late Show, and the New York Post, the three of us—all young NEWSWEEK writers—knew virtually nothing of these women’s struggle. Over time, it seemed, their story had faded from the collective conversation. Eventually we got our hands on a worn copy of In Our Time, a memoir written by a former NEWSWEEK researcher, Susan Brownmiller, which had a chapter on the uprising.

In countless small ways, each of us has felt frustrated over the years, as if something was amiss. But as products of a system in which we learned that the fight for equality had been won, we didn’t identify those feelings as gender-related. It seemed like a cop-out, a weakness, to suggest that the problem was anybody’s fault but our own. It sounds naive—we know—especially since our own boss Ann McDaniel climbed the ranks to become NEWSWEEK’s managing director, overseeing all aspects of the company…

Yet the more we talked to our friends and colleagues, the more we heard the same stories of disillusionment, regardless of profession. No one would dare say today that “women don’t write here,” as the NEWSWEEK women were told 40 years ago. But men wrote all but six of NEWSWEEK’s 49 cover stories last year—and two of those used the headline “The Thinking Man.” In 1970, 25 percent of NEWSWEEK’s editorial masthead was female; today that number is 39 percent. Better? Yes. But it’s hardly equality. (Overall, 49 percent of the entire company, the business and editorial sides, is female.) “Contemporary young women enter the workplace full of enthusiasm, only to see their hopes dashed,” says historian Barbara J. Berg. “Because for the first time they’re slammed up against gender bias.” [NB: added boldface here mine]

My first New York City job — oh, I had high hopes! — was for Newsweek’s international edition, the skinny, onion-skin-paper version I’d bought in Africa and Europe myself. I was offered a job tryout of a month. I was warned they already had someone in mind, male, with a fresh Ivy graduate degree (I have no graduate degree). I was also competing with a friend, a lower-level employee there.

I opened the desk drawer to find Tums and aspirin. I got an attaboy note on one of my four stories, one per week, but was still shown the door, as foretold, after a month in their hallowed halls. I did get to go out for dinner with fellow staffers to a nearby Japanese restaurant, everyone confidently using only chopsticks. Luckily, I could too. The conversation was competitively smart.

As fellow True/Slant writer Lisa Takeuchi Cullen — a 12-year staff veteran of Time — has described here, working in the Ivy-educated, mostly white, mostly male ranks of Time or Newsweek is like stepping into a testosterone-soaked locker room full of shoving jocks.

I interviewed three more times over the years at Newsweek, never hired. I admit, I shrivel in job interviews — even with a book, five fellowships, two major newspaper jobs and fluency in two languages. “Do you write for The Atlantic? Harper’s?” I was asked the last time. Of every smart, ambitious, talented writer, about .0002 percent will ever crack one of those two markets, probably two of the most difficult in American journalism to penetrate.

Naively thinking this was intellectually possible without engaging my sexuality — sort of like trying to drive in neutral, as it turned out — I tried, briefly, to get to know a very senior editor there after I left my try-out, hoping he might take an interest in my work and help me try for another chance there.

To my dismay, and shock, he leaned in close at one of our lunches and said, “I can’t smell your perfume.”

Excuse me? He was older, married. I was engaged and living with my fiance. None of which matters. My perfume?

This was also discussed today between current Newsweek staffer Jessica Bennett and former staffer Lynn Povich, one of the editors who sued the magazine, on The Brian Lehrer Show, a WNYC talk and call-in show:

Bennett, at 28 a “senior writer” after four years there, said:  “We were mesmerized by the descriptions of what went on back then. We just couldn’t get enough!” Thanks to buyouts over the years, the women who’d managed to get in and hang on at Newsweek had left. “A lot of institutional knowledge was gone,” said Bennett.

Said Povich, “It’s hard to be a feminist in a ‘post-feminist’ world.”

I’d write off my own lunchtime weirdness with that editor as something dinosaur-ish, impossible today, but for the Newsweek staffers’ current stories:

If a man takes an interest in our work, we can’t help but think about the male superior who advised “using our sexuality” to get ahead, or the manager who winkingly asked one of us, apropos of nothing, to “bake me cookies.” One young colleague recalls being teased about the older male boss who lingered near her desk. “What am I supposed to do with that? Assume that’s the explanation for any accomplishments? Assume my work isn’t valuable?” she asks. “It gets in your head, which is the most insidious part.”

A recent study  of the top 15 political and news magazines found that their male by-lines (the credit line for a story’s writer) outnumbered those of women seven to one.

Plus ca change, mes cheres…

New Kit Helps Women Fake Virginity On Their Wedding Night

A Bride, her beau, a bouquet and a bevy of bokeh
Image by eyesplash Mikul via Flickr

Want to pretend you’re a virgin on your wedding night? Here’s the solution. Thanks to this kit, manufactured in Japan and distributed by a Chinese firm, for $30 you can now pretend your husband really is the first. You insert the solution, which looks and feels like the blood typically resulting from a torn hymen, and he’ll never know the difference.

For women in some cultures, being a virgin on your wedding night is a matter of life or death, as any dishonor  — such as having been sexually active before marriage — reflects poorly on her family. No feminist can stomach the notion that her body belongs to anyone but her, so this level of deception strikes me as nauseating. But I don’t live, and didn’t marry, in a culture that might have killed me if I weren’t “pure” on my wedding night.

There aren’t many stories that leave me at a loss for words, but this one comes close.