It was 1983, and women were starting to get loud. In the academy, writers and theorists were debating prostitution, pornography, and BDSM. The Equal Rights Amendment was making its last rounds through Congress, passing in the House but not getting enough votes to be added to the Constitution. Alice Walker had just published The Color Purple. Across the Atlantic, Margaret Thatcher was continuing her reign as the first female prime minister of Britain.
And in New York City, a Queens native named Cyndi Lauper was about to make a declaration: “Girls Just Want to Have Fun.”
In the 30 years since Lauper released her career-defining hit, “Girls” has been described as a “rebellious sing-along,” a “feminist anthem,” even a symbol of the “pogo-punk unisex spirit of the irreverent and permissive early 1980s.” Bloggers have written odes to it, dance-recital choreographers have it flocked to it, a movie has been made in its honor. The accompanying album, She’s So Unusual, is being re-released in April, and the liner notes remind listeners that “beneath [the] sparkly veneer was a strong feminist message.”
Read more. [Image courtesy of Cyndi Lauper]
House of Cards, which recently released its second season on Netflix, is a series “intent on congratulating the viewer for being suspicious of politicians,” says TV critic Todd VanDerWerff, ”but it’s not particularly interested in examining root causes for political corruption.” Is that so? My reaction to the show is different. As Ian Crouch argued in The New Yorker, its dark vision of Washington “expresses an implicit contempt for the American public,” since we are the ones “who tolerate and thus perpetuate” its “real-life theatre of venality and aggression.” The polity’s attitudes toward power is one root cause of D.C. corruption.
How many House of Cards viewers root for Frank Underwood’s rise, or at least condone his moral code of “ruthless pragmatism”? The show is certainly tempting us to do so, just as Breaking Bad’s writers tempted us to root for Walter White. Pondering that show, Ross Douthat wrote that it challenges audiences to actually justify their moral norms: “Why is it so wrong to kill strangers — often dangerous strangers! — so that your own family can survive and prosper? Why is it wrong to exploit people you don’t see or care about for the sake of those inside your circle? Why is Walter White’s empire-building — carried out with boldness, brilliance and guile — not an achievement to be admired?”
Read more. [Image: Reuters]
This month marks the 50th anniversary of the Surgeon General’s Report on Smoking and Health, the public announcement that definitively implicated cigarettes in lung cancer and heart disease.
Yet it would still be another four years before Phillip Morris launched Virginia Slims, the first brand marketed specifically to women and the last tobacco campaign to air on television: a one-minute genealogy of women smokers “from Flapper to Female Lib,” in the campaign’s signature style. The trappings of late-60’s and 70’s female counter-culture were Virginia Slims’ primary rhetorical currency.
Read more. [Image: Annie Christabel/Flickr]
Her risqué pinup photos made her famous in the 1950s, but as a new documentary reminds us, Page’s liberated sexuality and unflinching body positivity are what still resonate today.
Two years ago today, Femen—the Ukrainian-born protest movement that has since become one of the world’s most provocative activist groups through its topless demonstrations and campaign for a militant feminism —orchestrated one of its most daring early protests, sneaking into Belarus in an attempt to embarrass the Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, Europe’s final dictator.
In an excerpt from his new Atlantic ebook, Topless Jihadis, an exclusive account of life inside Femen, the magazine’s longtime Russia correspondent Jeffrey Tayler shares the dramatic story of that formative first mission and the ensuing escape.
Read more. [Image: Jacky Naegelen]
“Just go ahead and do your thing no matter what,” says Marian Cannon Schlesinger to today’s young women. At 101 years of age, she is still painting, writing, watching Rachel Maddow, and reading two newspapers a day.
As we approach the fiftieth anniversary of JFK’s assassination, many of the people who can recall the era in detail have passed on. Marian Cannon Schlesinger was married to Arthur Schlesinger Jr., historian, speechwriter and special advisor to President John F. Kennedy, living in D.C. and raising four children during his Washington years. Well-traveled, having studied in China prior to their marriage, she returned to Cambridge, Massachusetts after their divorce. She has written and illustrated five children’s books and, in 2012, published the second volume of her memoirs: I Remember: A Life of Politics, Painting and People.
I sat down with her recently to hear about her time in Washington, memories of being raised an “academic child” at Harvard, advice for independent women, and recipes for leading a “full life.”
Read more. [Image: Susan Lapides]
Last week, Swedish movie theaters created a media foofaraw when they announced that they would begin providing a rating based on the Bechdel test for the films they screen. The test, created by comic artist Alison Bechdel in 1985, asks whether a film has at least two female characters and at least one scene in which they talk to one another about something other than a man—if it satisfies these criteria, Swedish theaters give it an A. The goal, according to Ellen Tejle, the director of an art-house cinema in Stockholm that is implementing the rating, is to draw attention to how few films pass the test and encourage filmmakers to make more movies with three-dimensional women characters in them.
When the news broke, writers immediately began questioning whether the test is an effective way to judge whether a film is feminist. The answer to that is no—but it’s important to note that that’s not actually something the test was intended to do. The illustrated character in Bechdel’s comic strip Dykes to Watch Out For who first espouses the idea says she uses it to determine not whether the movies are feminist but simply which movies to spend her money on. For those of us with a limited movie budget and a desire to see representation by and of women improve, choosing which films to support can be a political act; I like to spend my dollars on films directed by and/or written by women—and, not surprisingly, those films also usually pass the Bechdel test.
Read more. [Image: AP/Ami Bramme]
Meet Elizabeth Taylor: feisty feminist and ardent social reformer. There she is—a strikingly beautiful and fresh-faced 23-year-old—just off the Mexican-tiled lobby of the historic Hotel Paisano in the tiny west Texas town of Marfa. In a paean to the Academy Award-winning classic Giant, filmed here nearly 60 years ago, the film plays round the clock on a tiny screen, surrounded by photos and memorabilia of the cast and crew that stayed here.
In addition to Taylor, they included a high-powered team of actors—Rock Hudson, James Dean, Dennis Hopper, and Mercedes McCambridge—who were on location in June 1955 for the Warner Brothers epic Giant. Adapted from a sprawling Edna Ferber novel, the film is far from the standard shoot-‘em-up westerns of the time. Today it is little remembered as a groundbreaking film that shot down stereotypes of both women and minorities, showcasing Taylor’s early acting talents as a strong-willed young rancher.
Read more. [Image: Warner Bros.]
"My gender is a work of non-fiction," author, activist, and biologist Julia Serano declares in one of the essays in her new book Excluded: Making Feminist and Queer Movements More Inclusive, out on October 1. That’s in contrast to Judith Butler’s view, popular in feminist and queer theory, that gender is a social construct.
Serano attacks this concept from three perspectives. As a transsexual woman, she says that being a woman isn’t just something she puts on or pretends to be — it’s who she is. As a self-declared femme, she says that feminine gender expression — wearing make-up, or a dress, or crying — is not artificial, but rather natural to her. And as a biologist, she’s saying that gender isn’t performance, or isn’t only performance; it’s not (just) something you play at, but something you are.
Serano’s first book, 2007’s Whipping Girl, talked about the way that feminine gender expression — wearing dresses, or crying, or just being a trans woman, or for that matter being a cissexual woman — is often stigmatized as artificial or fake. That stigmatization, she argues, occurs not just in the mainstream, but among some feminists, who see being feminine, or being trans, as reinforcing the patriarchy, or shoring up the gender binary. Attacking people for their gender expression in this way, Serano argues in Excluded, is just another kind of sexism. I talked to her about that, and about gender as non-fiction, earlier this week.
Read more. [Image: Lucas Jackson/Reuters]
Mainstream superhero comics are aimed at guys. That’s why Starfire, a character best known for her stint as an empowering icon for girls on Saturday morning cartoons, gets turned into a voracious, literally brain-damaged, libido-driven pin-up girl when she’s translated to comics. It’s why Wonder Woman, best known as an empowering icon for girls, gets turned into an excuse for buckets of bloodshed and gun play in her most recent comics incarnation. Data is hard to come by, but best guesses seem to estimate that the readership of superhero comics is between 90 and 95 percent male.
Last week, ThinkProgress's Alyssa Rosenberg confronted a bunch of mainstream comics creators about the lopsided nature of their industry. The result was predictable, if depressing. Speaking from the stage of the Television Critics Association Press Tour in support of the superhero comics documentary Superheroes: The Never-Ending Battle, some of the most celebrated and influential creators in comics dutifully ran through a list of the shoddiest and silliest excuses for their genre’s consistent misogyny and myopia. Executive producer Michael Cantor, Spawn creator Todd McFarlane, The Punisher creator Gerry Conway, and Wolverine creator Len Wein replayed the greatest hits from irate comments sections the web over. “As much as we stereotype the women, we do it with the guys” (McFarlane). “There’s nothing stopping the people that want to do [comics about girls] from doing it,” (McFarlane). “It’s like saying, ‘Why are there no medieval stories about female knights?’ Because there was only one, you know, Joan of Arc. It’s not it’s an inherent limitation of that particular genre, superheroes” (Conway). Et cetera, et cetera.
Read more. [Image: Sam Howzit/flickr]