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Archive for the ‘Television’ Category

I saw this Youtube video a few weeks ago, and was shocked that I’d never seen it before (because it’s funny and great):

The video is called “The Bechdel Test for Women in Movies” and was created by FeministFrequency. It describes a test for all movies with three simple qualifications:

  1. Is there more than one woman in the movie who has a name?
  2. Do the women talk to each other?
  3. Do they talk to each other about something other than a man?

It then goes on to show a long list of movies that do not pass the test—and I was amazed at just how many there were, and how none of these movies are known to be particularly misogynistic. Milk? The Princess Bride? WALL·E?

It’s a funny video—the star is sassy and sarcastic—but it’s also a very depressing video. When I think about movies I’ve seen recently like Inception or The Social Network, it becomes clear just how male-centric these movies really are—the women, even independent and dynamic female characters, end up serving as props in a male-dominated plot-line. The women are not the center focus, but rather (sometimes interesting, sometimes not) sidenotes.

I think that this lack of female-centered content stems from the fact that most big-name Hollywood directors today are men. Every director nominated for a Golden Globethis year is male, fewer than 10 percent of all movies are directed by women, rarely are woman consistently hired by big movie production houses, and a woman has never won an Oscar for best director (Ed: until last year, when Katheryn Bigelow won for The Hurt Locker); these facts do not justify the fact that so many movies are solely focused on either male/male or male/female interactions, but they do help to explain it.

The thing is, though, that women went to the movies more than men in 2009. Women clearly are a market for films, and yet are not exactly treated as one—but still seem to be returning to the movies over and over again. Why is this? In an interview, Manohla Dargis, a NYT film critic, said:

There’s a reason that women go to movies like Mamma Mia. It’s a terrible movie . . . but women are starved for representation of themselves. I go back to Spike Lee and She’s Gotta Have It. I remember going to see it at the Quad in New York, surrounded by a black audience. People are starved for representations of themselves.

What she says makes a lot of sense to me—and further explains why the movie industry is caught in a self-perpetuating cycle. Men make movies about men because that’s what they know, and succeed at doing well with the few movies they make about women because women see those movies en masse. Even if movies about women aren’t quality films, the succeed because women are willing to see them. Isn’t that depressing?

So, what can we do about this? Vote with your pocket, I suppose: see movies that have women in them, but not simply because they have women—demand quality movies about women, movies that portray women as complex characters in the same way that movies portray men. And hope that the industry recognizes women as the large and powerful movie-going audience that we are.

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I’ve been meaning to watch if for a while, and this weekend I finally made time to watch MTV’s “No Easy Decision” special. Famous for the shows “Teen Mom” and “16 and Pregnant,” on December 28th MTV aired “No Easy Decision” (at 11:30 PM) to portray one of the alternatives to teen pregnancy: abortion. I’ve never watched “Teen Mom” or “16 and Pregnant,” but from what I’ve seen of MTV, I was initially expecting the show to be bad and melodramatic. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find it to be incredibly moving, informative, and pragmatic–and I would encourage everyone to watch it.

“No Easy Decision” is about 30 minutes long. The first five minutes introduce us to Markai Durham, a teenager previously featured on “16 and Pregnant” after giving birth to her daughter Zakaria. Pregnant again after missing her shot of Depo-Provera, she and her boyfriend James weigh their options–having another baby and struggling to raise, feed, and take care of two children, or having an abortion, something that they both are hesitant to do. (When someone suggests adoption, Markai immediately responds that she’d be too in love with the child by the time it was born to give it up–something that many people overlook when they push adoption on women with unwanted pregnancies.) After consulting with a women’s clinic (we watch the phone conversation, listening to the friendly and informative woman on the other end of the phone and watching Markai cry) and a close friend, and numerous tearful conversations with James, the two decide that having an abortion is the decision that would make most sense for them, Zakaria, and their unborn child.

Abortion is not portrayed as an easy thing to do. After the procedure, Markai struggles with her decision, wondering what it would be like to have another child. She and Mark go out to dinner, and she talks about how the counselor and argue after Mark refers to the unborn child (which Markai refers to as a bunch of cells) as a “thing”–she feels sensitive and defensive about her decision. Markai tells the camera that choosing abortion was the “toughest decision ever,” and that she wouldn’t choose it as a first option for anyone, but that “it’s not the right time” because she’d have to sacrifice so much of her life, Mark’s life, and her daughter’s life in order to raise another child. In a follow-up interview, Markai says that she feels sadness, but not regret.

The show concludes with an interview with three women–Markai, Natalia, and Katie–about how they feel after having abortions. I thought it was amazing to hear the three women’s stories because they were all so different–it showed how abortion doesn’t simply apply to one type of woman. Katie got pregnant the summer before her senior year in college (she had bad reactions to her birth control, and didn’t know that throwing up her pill meant she was not protected), two weeks before her 18-year old sister gave birth to her son. She chose to get an abortion after seeing how much her sister had to deal with during her pregnancy, and realizing that she did not want to go through the same. Natalia had an abortion at 17 after discovering she was pregnant. I found her story particularly moving because she had to go to court, alone, in order to get an abortion–she did not want to tell her parents, and because she lived in one of the 35 states that require parental consent, she had to plead in front of a judge in order to waive the requirement, something that she (similar to many girls) found to be necessary but emotionally trying. Her only assistance in paying for the abortion came from her ex-boyfriend; in order to pay the $750 dollars that her abortion was to cost, she sold back her high school prom ticket. That struck a chord with me, as a girl about to go to prom, because it was so raw and real–a girl my age had to go through that whole ordeal alone. All three of the girl’s stories were different, but they seemed to agree on the idea that their decisions were “parenting decisions”–that they made their decisions not just thinking about what kind of life they wanted for themselves, but also what kind of life they want for their children.

As Lynn Harris of Salon writes, one of the best things about the show is that in addition to everything else, it includes medically accurate information about abortion procedures and the challenge of finding the right birth control method. It also makes it clear that abortion is not a rare, dangerous procedure: Dr. Drew, the host, explains that about 750,000 girls in the U.S. get pregnant every year, and that nearly a third of those teen pregnancies end in abortion. He says that abortion is “among the safest, most common medical procedures in the US” and cites an oft-ignored figure, the fact that 1/3 of all women in America will have an abortion at one point their lives.

At a time when few television shows are willing to openly discuss or portray abortion, MTV’s “No Easy Decision” is an incredibly important and engaging addition. The show made me cry, not just because the girls’ stories were moving, but because stories like theirs are so rarely told. Abortion can be and is the right choice for many women, and needs to be treated as such–bringing an unwanted child into this world is not good for the parents, the child, or society.

PS: If you want to show support for the three women who shared their stories (something many, many women are afraid to do), go to 16 and Loved, created by Exhale, and share your thoughts.

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This post is cross-posted at JWA

I’ll admit it–the first (and usually only) thing I think of when someone mentions the Miss America competition is the movie Miss Congeniality and a group of starving, not particularly bright, but beautiful women. But after reading this article about Loren Galler Rabinowitz in The Forward I’ve begun to rethink that reaction. Rabinowitz is a former competitive ice skater, Harvard graduate, classically trained pianist, poet (she wrote a book of poems for her senior thesis under the tutelage of Jorie Graham), and Miss Massachusetts 2010. She’s also Jewish. At first I was surprised that someone so smart and talented would want to enter a beauty pageant, but after reading about the positive effect being Miss Massachusetts has had on her life, I realized that maybe I should rethink my stance on beauty pageants.

She decided to enter the pageant world after graduating from Harvard in the hopes of earning a scholarship for medical school. She won $8,000 after winning the title of Miss Massachusetts, and is currently competing for the $50,000 that Miss America receives–certainly nothing to scoff at. After winning Miss Massachusetts, she spent the year coaching young ice skaters, tutoring children in math and writing, and using her position as Miss Massachusetts to raise awareness of issues at charity events. She’s been promoting the Children’s Miracle Network, which raises money for children’s medical treatment across the globe, as well as trying to work against childhood hunger. Wearing her tiara has the power to make people listen to what she has to say, and I respect her for using that power to say a lot of important things.

Impressed by Rabinowitz, I was curious about what one actually does to become Miss Massachusetts. According to the Miss Massachusetts website, contestants are judged based on an interview (to judge her “poise, charm, self-confidence and her ability to communicate,” as well as the “substance” of her answers), a swimsuit competition (for “beauty of face, figure, physical fitness, and the confidence”) and and an evening gown competition (for “overall appearance, self-confidence, sense of style and the beauty she brings to the gown of her choice”). I found this list to be pretty disappointing–after getting so excited about Rabinowitz and her achievements, I was surprised to see something like “beauty of face” on the list of judging points. Rabinowitz is beautiful, as are her former competitors, but there is clearly so much more to her than simply her beauty, and I find it sad that two out of the three judgment categories are physical judgments. It verges on demeaning, if you ask me.

That being said, I don’t think that how she became Miss Massachusetts should take away from the fact that she has been using her position for good, and that even before she became Miss Massachusetts, she was a successful and accomplished woman. However, I’m still not thrilled about the idea of a competition rooted in judgment of women’s bodies–there’s a long history of underweight and excessively thin pageant winners in this country, and even though contestants are supposedly judged on “fitness,” walking around in a bathing suit seems to me to really be a measure of how thin someone is. Not the healthiest selection process.

So, I wish Rabinowitz all the best in the Miss America competition, and hope that she succeeds in all of her endeavors, including medical school. But I also hope that people will think critically about the Miss America Pageant. It has the potential to empower women like Rabinowitz by giving them a podium from which to speak about and raise awareness of issues that matter. If the goal of the Miss Massachusetts’ competition is truly “To open doors and provide career and educational opportunities” to women, and to help them to “grow personally,” I believe that its selection process should reflect those values more than it currently does. A good leader should have poise and grace, but there are better ways to assess those assets than judging how well someone walks around in a bikini.

PS: Did I mention she’s 5’2.5″? Just a fun fact for all of us short people out there.

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I just wanted to share this video, Advice for Young Girls from a Cartoon Princess: The Little Mermaid. It’s incredibly funny and sarcastic, and touches on all the absurd things that Disney princesses are essentially preaching at small children. Now, I personally find Disney movies to be fun and enjoyable–who doesn’t enjoy it when people break out in song? However, I do think it’s interesting/important to think about the messages that Disney movies are actually sending. Even thought about Aladdin’s orientalist undertones? Or the fact that it’s completely forgivable for the male characters to be ugly (the Beast), but never the female ones? Yeah.

Some gems:

“Don’t ever talk to a man until he kisses you on the lips first. Then, as a woman, you’re allowed.”

“If you have a father that loves you, run away from him!”

“Never be comfortable in the body that you’re given. If you don’t like how you look–snip, snip, nothing wrong with that! I’m an ordinary human instead of being a beautiful princess mermaid, and I love that.

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This week I was introduced (a little late) to Diesel’s “Be Stupid” ad campaign.  It’s really best seen, rather than described, so I would highly recommend watching this video and getting an idea of what the ads are all about.

Now, at first, the video seems to be encouraging people to follow their dreams, which is always nice, I suppose. But the video quickly devolves into a criticism of society’s “smart” people, who apparently don’t take risks, or have any good ideas (except, of course, for Diesel, the company that thought of the “Stupid” concept), and seem to just represent people interested in following a traditional career path rather than, you know, sticking their heads into mailboxes.

If you look at the actual ads in the campaign, you will soon discover that apparently “stupid” means, in fact, being oversexualized and usually naked. I’m not exactly sure where they got their definition of stupid from, but according to Merriam-Webster it means “given to unintelligent decisions or acts.” Now, while running around naked, or flashing a security camera certainly is an “unintelligent decision,” the ad campaign has taken stupid decisions and glorified them by making it appear that being stupid is equivalent to having friends who will be willing to have sex all the time and run around naked with you.

For this, two of the ads have been banned in Britain. One ad featured a woman flashing a security camera, while the other had a picture of a woman in a bikini taking a picture of her genitalia. The British Advertising Standards Authority said that the ads could encourage “anti-social or irresponsible” behavior and that the bikini one could cause “serious offense to many adults”, and banned the ads from public posters. Now, I’m not sure I’d go so far as to say that I believe the ads should be banned, but they certainly have caused quite the controversy.

One thing I find interesting is Diesel’s response to the complaints about the ads. According to the above article, the company responded to complaints about the bikini ad by saying that it “portrayed a very strong and unexpected image of femininity, aligning it with typically masculine themes.” Perhaps they’re referring to is the lion awkwardly lurking behind the girl taking a picture of herself as a “masculine theme,” but other than that, I can’t think of what is particularly masculine about the ad. The fact that she’s taking an inappropriate picture in the middle of daylight? That doesn’t seem masculine to me, just stupid–which, I guess, fits with the name. Just as Diesel has taken liberty with the meaning of “stupid” in an attempt to make it a symbol of counterculture and creativity, it also seems to have created its own gender paradigm in an attempt to prove that they are subverting it.

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One of my favorite things is finding a really interesting article and realizing that I’ve already written a blog post about it. An even better thing is finding that the article links to a different article that I have also blogged about!

What am I talking about, you ask? Well, I stumbled upon this, a post in The Sisterhood about men’s decline in interest in Judaism compared to women. The post features an interview with Sylvia Barack Fishman, a Brandeis professor and author of the study that chronicled the growing gender imbalance. It’s an interesting article, and I especially admired her reluctance to blame feminism for men’s declining interest and to instead emphasize that just because men’s roles must change as women move into the forefront of Judaism, they do not have to be erased—that now that Judaism as a whole is no longer a “boys’ club,” there need to be niches for men, just as women have in places such as synagogue sisterhoods, etc.

It also sounded quite familiar—perhaps because of this, one of my earliest blog posts, titled “The Shifting Gender Paradigm.” In it I wrote about an interview with Rabbi Marcelo Bronstein, in which he said very similar things to Barack Fishman. I guess it just goes to show that a lot of people have been noticing this gender shift, and that people are starting to want things to change.

But wait, I mentioned that there was another article! The Sisterhood article was a response to this article in The Atlantic called “The End of Men,” written about what the author sees as women’s continual climb towards a dominant role in society and men’s increasing decline. She talks about the gender imbalance at colleges today (way more women than men), and how more and more women are getting jobs in finance, law, medicine, etc. And she ends the article with this:

Of all the days in the year, one might think, Super Bowl Sunday should be the one most dedicated to the cinematic celebration of macho. The men in Super Bowl ads should be throwing balls and racing motorcycles and doing whatever it is men imagine they could do all day if only women were not around to restrain them.

Instead, four men stare into the camera, unsmiling, not moving except for tiny blinks and sways. They look like they’ve been tranquilized, like they can barely hold themselves up against the breeze. Their lips do not move, but a voice-over explains their predicament—how they’ve been beaten silent by the demands of tedious employers and enviro-fascists and women. Especially women. “I will put the seat down, I will separate the recycling, I will carry your lip balm.” This last one—lip balm—is expressed with the mildest spit of emotion, the only hint of the suppressed rage against the dominatrix. Then the commercial abruptly cuts to the fantasy, a Dodge Charger vrooming toward the camera punctuated by bold all caps: MAN’S LAST STAND. But the motto is unconvincing. After that display of muteness and passivity, you can only imagine a woman—one with shiny lips—steering the beast.

I read that, and I was immediately taken aback at how much it resembled my blog post about the Superbowl and the Mancession. I wrote about how the recession that we’re in has shaped up to be somewhat of a “mancession,” as it has put more men out of work than women—and men have been, supposedly, taking it hard emotionally. Because of that, I speculated that men are feeling a growing sense of being emasculated, and that the Superbowl ads (many of which had an air of trying to prove masculinity) reflected that.

Sometimes there really seems to be nothing new under the sun. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing—while it’s always refreshing to read about an idea for the first time, it’s also kind of invigorating to read about an idea for the second or third time and to read other people’s takes on the same concept. And more than that, it serves, for me at least, as a kind of validation; the fact that other people (people who know much more about these issues than I do) write and think about similar ideas shows that even if the ideas are completely wrong, there is something legitimate enough about them to garner so many people’s attention. So I just thought I’d link to these articles so that other people can read them and see what other people have to say, and maybe revisit the ideas that I touched upon a while back.

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This is cross-posted at JWA’s Jewesses with Attitude!

The show that is characterizing the American high school experience is no longer Beverly Hills 90210. It is not One Tree Hill, The OC, Dawson’s Creek, or any other television series that is comprised of a homogeneous group of blonde, white, and religiously hush-hush teenagers whose differences are minimized for the sake of a cohesive social hierarchy.

No – what is representing my generation’s high school experience is Glee, the show that gives the misfits a voice and a small Ohio suburb a plethora of cultures. And yes, even Judaism is included in this model society that tries to assimilate even those who do not fit neatly into the niches provided.

There are two Jews in William McKinley High School’s glee club: Puck and Rachel, who Leah Berkenwald discussed in this earlier blog post. We know Rachel is Jewish from the first episode. She has two dads, had a Bat Mitzvah, perpetually compares herself to Barbara Streisand, and looks like the total Ashkenazi-American stereotype (pale, brunette, preppy). As for Puck, we do not know of his Jewishness until he and his family are sitting down to a TV Rosh Hashana dinner, watching Schindler’s List. During this Holocaust horror, Puck has a revelation – he must fall in love with (or, in a high school lexicon, hook up with) a Jewish girl. And this is Ohio so he only has one feasible option: Rachel.

Read the rest of the post at Jewesses with Attitude!

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