Category Archives: FEMINISM

The Evil Queen Myth

queenWhen my daughter got into fairy tales and princess things, she would dress up and play pretend every chance she got.  She would construct elaborate stories and wear as much of her costume jewelry as possible.  If her dad or I were around, we would usually be added to the cast of characters.  Daddy was the King or the handsome Prince, and I was the Evil Queen.

At first, I was totally taken aback by this label.  EVIL QUEEN?!?!?  Was this an early rebellion?  Was I coming down too hard on our preschooler such that she had already identified me as the “mean” parent?  I don’t WANT to be evil.  Something had to be done!

But as I paid closer attention to what my daughter was actually watching, the innocuous Disney dramas took on a slightly sinister role.  Fairy Tales were teaching my daughter that while girls were good, women were evil.  Of all the unholy sermons… this was the most offensive.

Undoubtedly, stepmothers have always had a bad rap from Cinderella.  Snow White literally has an evil queen character who is not only competitive and vain, but also a witch.  Hansel & Gretel were left in the woods to die by their (step)mother and are nearly eaten by an old… you guessed it, witch.

The kicker for me, though, was Tangled.  My daughter didn’t understand that the woman with Rapunzel wasn’t her mother but an evil old woman who STOLE her from her mother.  I had to explain that several times that Rapunzel called her “mother” because she was tricked and didn’t know any better.  I explained that her REAL mother would never stop crying until Rapunzel was returned home.

But, I think, the damage was already done.

Despite my joy at the movie’s red-headed heroine, I was initially put off by Brave because the Queen was, again, the enemy.  She was the disciplinarian, the strict parent, the “problem.”  The movie saved itself (spoiler alert) as the Queen and Merida reconciled to understand each other better and grow to become friends as well as mother and daughter.

Why are grown women always portrayed as the bad guys in children’s movies?

Is this some kind of sick joke?

Who is writing this crap?*

*Note to self:  Write a decent fairy tale that doesn’t make women out to be the bad guys.

This “Evil Queen” thing shows up outside of fairy tales too.  There is a commercial airing now for Multi-Grain Cheerios with a mother-daughter exchange that I HATE.

I found plenty of posts about this on some entertaining threads and thoughtful blogs but the thing that disturbs me about this commercial is the look the mom gives the daughter acknowledging that she is, in fact, wearing her daughter’s jeans.  It is smug.  It is confrontational.  It is a challenge saying “HA!  What are YOU going to do about the fact that I am as skinny as you?”

It is so repulsive to me.

I love Cheerios.  (I especially love the new fruity Cheerios.)  But this portrayal of the mom as mean-girl is such an enormous offense that it could not possibly have had a mom on the creative team.  [Or perhaps it did and she is keeping her mouth shut because she has had to take one too many personal days to care for her kids and is worried about her job… another post for another time.]

It gives me pause to think about how much we manufacture the drama between women and how much of it is inevitable.  Why did we stop being community sisters – helping each other with household chores, errands, child-rearing, feasts, etc. – and start being bitchy mortal enemies?

Who has the time for all this drama?

I have two daughters.  And while they are not yet growing into little women, I look forward to when they do so that I can help them feel proud of their changes and confident in whatever shape nature gives them and to honor the wonder that is the female body.

Despite my fierce desire to protect my little princesses, I have noticed a bit of “Evil Queen” mentality creeping into my own mind recently.  As I barrel into 40, I’ve taken to calling out my age in much the same way as I used to call out my weight – as an apology.

There can be no good that comes of it and it likely makes people as uncomfortable as it did when I belabored my weight-related self-loathing.  So why do it?

Old age is a privilege.  Hell, MIDDLE age is a privilege.  I may not be the perfect, powerful, rich and thin me I had dreamed for myself at 40 but it’s all relative.  I’m not too shabby.  I made a terrible princess but I might yet make a fabulous queen if I let myself get into the role a bit.

I’ve got two princesses watching how to grow with grace and honor and humor.  So snap out of it, Schmidt!  There is no dress rehearsal for mommies.

I wouldn’t trade my life now for any other time.  I really DO believe that the best is yet to come.

And as the great philosopher Will the Krill says, “Fearing the best is a complete waste of time.”

So, tell me.

Where do you see the Evil Queen myth creeping in and what are we going to do about it?

Thank a Feminist

rosie[Foreword:  I wrote this the day before Newtown and believing that a) nothing else matters when little kids are being murdered and b) I had missed my window  on feminism, I had shelved it along with a growing file of unpublished notes.  But after a tangential Facebook conversation yesterday and this TOTALLY AWESOME article that makes me love the adorable and talented Zooey Deschanel even more, I felt like I could legitimately publish anyway.  *Raises right fist*]

Have you ever seen those signs that read “If you can read this, thank a teacher.”?

Well, as the product of two teachers and a book devourer/word nerd, I love that saying.

But if you can read whatever you want – from Cosmo to The Atlantic, or, say…go to school, go to graduate school, get your doctorate, make and keep your own money, marry whom you choose, NOT marry at all, have a baby regardless of whether you’re married, NOT have a baby…ever if you don’t want to, take birth control for any reason you like, wear a bikini, serve in the military, dance in public, smoke, drink, curse, work in an industry OTHER than nursing or teaching, not be pinched or slurred at in the office, move into the Corner Office, start a business, own a business, run a business, live with your boyfriend, live with your girlfriend, vote, speak in public, run a marathon, compete in triathlon, play any sport at all, get dirty, get sweaty, be naughty, shop at Victoria’s Secret, use tampons, contradict any person you disagree with regardless of their gender, earn what you’re worth, out earn your colleague because you’re awesome, and oh, A BAZILLION other things?

Well, you should THANK A FEMINIST.

Recently, there have been a couple of bizarre comments by women (celebrities and media execs) who are quoted as saying, “I’m not a feminist but…”

The subject makes my eye twitch a little.

If you think you should live under your dad’s rule until you get married and then live under your husband’s rule, yes, you are (probably) not a feminist.

If you think you should vote or invest or dress or speak in whatever way a man decides, then yes, you are (probably) not a feminist.

If you don’t ever plan to use your pretty little head for anything at all, because well, women should be seen and not heard, then I give up.  You are (probably) NOT a feminist.

But if you think for one hot second that you’re not a feminist because “you love men” then you need a vocabulary lesson.  Hatred of men isn’t ‘feminism,’ it’s ‘misandry.’

Worse, if you think we are “post-feminist” (just like we’re post-racial, right?  *insert rolling of eyes here*)… you may need to pull your head out of whatever reality show bullshit you’re watching and pay attention to what’s happening in real life.

I’m not going to reargue what so many more qualified and more eloquent people have done before me.

Instead, what comes to MY mind every time I hear someone speak out-loud that she is “not a feminist” is a ranty parody of this:

Hon, we live in a world that has patriarchy, and that patriarchy has been cock-blocking women from full participation in society for centuries.  Who’s going to fight that patriarchy?  You?  You, Katy Perry?  We have a greater responsibility than you could possibly fathom.  You weep for Rihanna, and you curse the Feminists.  You have that luxury.  You have the luxury of not knowing what we know.  That burning bras, while tragic (especially if you really need the support) probably saved lives.  And our existence, while aggressive and incomprehensible to you, saves lives.  You don’t want the truth because deep down in places you don’t talk about at interviews, you WANT me to be a feminist, you NEED me to be a feminist.  We use words like rape-culture, discrimination, and sexism.  We use these words as the antithesis of lives spent pursuing progress.  You use them as a punchline.  I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a woman who rises and sleeps under the very blanket of equality that feminism strives for and then questions the moniker under which it was provided.  I would rather you just said “thank you” and went on your way.  Otherwise, I suggest you pick up a book and read some history about your gender’s struggle in this country and abroad.  Either way, I don’t give a DAMN whether or not you think you are a feminist.

Hit Me Baby, One More Time

I’m starting this post, not knowing exactly what I want to say.

Usually when that happens I end up writing forever and never ‘landing the plane,’ so to speak.  Somehow, if I don’t map out my train of thought, and organize in my head the bullets I need to cover, I can meander down an interminable road of language without ever stumbling over a point.

But then, maybe this topic doesn’t need a point.

No, I’m not writing about Britney Spears.  I’m actually writing about babies.  And more specifically OTHER people’s babies.  It seems like a whole crop of 2nd babies have hit my industry in a hurry.  Most of those having them had their first less than 2 years ago. 

While I was “ooooohing” and “aaawwwwwwwing” over their announcements, something struck me.

Every one of my friends who has announced their second child have been men. 

Having a baby won’t even be a hiccup in their progress up the corporate ladder or toward the sweet life where money grows on trees and retirement is an eventuality.

The story for most women (emphasize MOST) isn’t as sunny.

How many women do you know who’ve left their company immediately after their leave ends?  I’m not talking about the lucky few who can afford to stay home with their children.  That luxury just isn’t a reality for most people.

No, I’m talking about the volume of women leaving one job for another and the timing of their departure aligning too closely to their maternity leave end to be coincidence..  Happy employees don’t leave jobs.  There is nothing more distasteful than a corporation mistreating or even antagonizing a pregnant employee.  (I could write a book about this topic alone but that’s for another time.)

And then, yesterday, I realized how I would finish this post.  My twitter stream blew up with commentary on the newly released Forbes Top 100 Powerful Women list.

The controversy?  Included on each woman’s profile are her marital status and number of children.

Perhaps it is a testament to the kind of thought-leaders I follow (progressive) and the women I find inspiring (feminists), but without exception the comments were negative, ranging from Rachel Simmon’s (twitter.com/@RachelJSimmons) *Heavy SIGH* to outright outrage. 

Mary Elizabeth Williams wrote in her Salon.com article, “if you’re female, you’ll still be ranked, assessed and quantified by your ability to mate and reproduce.”  Amy Jussel (a.k.a. twitter.com/@ShapingYouth) replied to me with ” seems off-topic=best & sexist=worst. How many kids does Steve Jobs have? How would they list Jack Welch?”

On this topic, I break the line of solidarity.

It reminds me of the Oscar Wilde quote I have hanging in my hallway, “The Irish have an abiding sense of tragedy, which sustains them through temporary periods of joy.”

Some people just need something to fight against.

Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely see the disparity between the report on People and the report on Women.  But instead of insulting me, it inspires me.  I have no more respect for a powerful woman with 5 kids than for a powerful woman with no kids.  I do, however, feel totally empowered to know that my ambition to raise genius, charismatic, world leader children AND be a rain-maker for my family’s finances is not an anomoly.  Oh and I won’t be alone in doing so.

Have you read Kahlil Gibran?  Yeah, yeah – I’m a wannabe hippie sometimes.  I discovered The Prophet when I first read this quote: 

“And when one of you falls down,
He falls for those behind him — a caution against the stumbling stone.
Aye, and he falls for those ahead of him — who though faster and surer of foot,
Removed not the stumbling stone…”

I think the brouhaha over the inclusion of marital status and children is missing the forest for the trees. 

Why don’t they include marital status and number of children for men?  Maybe because it is assumed that any successful man has a family behind him.  Maybe because men who don’t marry are viewed as high-risk to companies and untrustworthy as politicians.  How do you think gay men feel about the dues to the inner circle of the boy’s club?  Is it fair?  No.

But at the risk of stating the obvious – life isn’t fair.

In a country where 50% of marriages end in divorce, machismo bullsh#t runs counter to successful women outearning their mates, and motherhood starts sometimes decades later than it did 50 years ago, I think having a marriage and a family is significant ESPECIALLY if you’re also curing, saving, leading, or entertaining the WORLD. 

The list’s anecdotes are not about the haves and the have-nots; they are simply what is.  Listing “single” or “0” by marital status and children, doesn’t detract from their accomplishments.  These powerful women aren’t listed in order of how many marriages or children they have.  (Isn’t the suggestion that they could be ranked by their ability to mate and reproduce counter to the feminist cause?)

Rather, I see the diversity on the list in nationality, age, industry, skin color, marital and parenthood status as a win for us regular-folk women.  Can’t we all find something to relate to? Be inspired by?

What do you think?  Did I miss the point or did they?

Get over the F Word

Lately I’ve seen a rash of articles about feminism that have me feeling itchy.

Even more maddening, I haven’t been able to name my response.  I just know that it is visceral.

I think it started with this op-ed about the conservative women candidates who celebrated victories in the June primaries.  But as I got deeper into the Great Schism of feminist ideology, bloggers like Taylor Marsh coming down on one side and Kathleen Parker from The Post on the other, I felt my ire rise both at the coverage of Sarah Palin and at my inarticulateness in the face of that coverage.

Sarah Palin makes me cringe.  She speaks almost exclusively in cliches and colloquialisms.  She has the gall to mock things like “hope” and “change” in a country where 50% of the population has felt dissatisfied or outraged for (at least) the last decade.  I think she is akin to one of those wind-socks at a car dealership, blowing furiously for attention, bending this way and that way but lacking actual substance. 

But if we’re to believe her latest campaign commercial, not everyone feels that way.  She was Governor of Alaska and a candidate for Vice-President of the United States so she must have something going for her besides her aw-shucks, Annie Oakley-style rootin’ and tootin’.  Right?  I mean, right? 

With all due respect to Ms. Steinem who categorically denounces Palin as unfeminist by reason of her anti-choice stance, I think she missed the point.  

This isn’t about linguistic copyright infringement.  Saying Palin can’t join our club doesn’t carry any weight because she has her own clubhouse and doesn’t care about our “rules.”  This is about leadership and mobilization and public relations.  She is getting extraordinary media coverage and promoting the idea that she leads a movement of like-minded women.  And we’re complaining that she misused our secret handshake.

There is a beautiful line delivered in the West Wing series by the character Ainsley Hayes where she says, “I don’t think whatever sexuality I have diminishes my power. I think it enhances it.” “And what kind of feminism do you call that?” Celia asks. “My kind.”

There is no doubt that women in politics can be mean girls who deliver catty comments.   There are plenty of arguments for how Feminist Blogs are guilty of the same strong-arm, mind-melting that Women’s Magazines use like in this one from Slate.com.  Feminism shouldn’t pit women against other women.  (It shouldn’t pit women against men, either.)

But Palin is undoubtedly speaking to and for a segment not aligned with Ms. Steinem’s views.  She’s charismatic, and passionate,  and of-the people.  She’s the female version of George Bush with the same bumbling statements and embarassing, you-should-know-better public gaffes.  

I’m of the opinion that the Head of State should be a Statesman (or woman).  A dignified, learned leader and orator who inspires confidence and exemplifies moderation and exercises diplomacy.  I think we have that now.  But about half the country thinks we’re going to hell in a handbasket. 

So wouldn’t that tell us that we have slightly more important things to debate than whether or not Palin is allowed to use the word ‘feminist’ to describe herself?  I mean, you can’t exactly put the toothpaste back in the tube. 

So let’s get over the F-word. 

Reproductive rights are critically important for women to participate fully in society, full stop.  But what of that society?  Is it even worth participating in? 

Or maybe we need another F-word… like F-ocus.  Shine the Feminist spotlight on women’s issues like the war, no, the other war, the economic crisis, unemployment, the obesity epidemic, the oil spill in the Gulf, the energy crisis, the breakdown of our education system, our dwindling competitive advantage in a free-market economy, our crumbling infrastructures, our international relations, our civil unrest, or the growing divide between rich and poor in this country.

F, yes those are women’s issues. 

We are F-amily.  I got all my sisters with me.