“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]
Startups are sprouting up across the region, and in spite of social mores, women are holding their own.
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It’s hard not to be tickled by the new “gender flipping" meme making the rounds of late, which gently pokes fun at the media’s penchant for absurd hyper-feminine and hyper-masculine imagery and stereotypes. Basically, the meme "flips" the gender of ads/book covers/movies posters/etc., turning female images into male ones and vice-versa, thus rendering them absurd.
Advertising flips are the easiest, since women’s semi-nude bodies have long been used to sell everything from toothpaste to monster trucks. In ad gender flips, we get a lot of faux ads of semi-nude men in goofy and improbable positions: buff models crawling pants-less on countertops, celebrity males in topless come-hither poses, and serious cases of duck face, “pin-up boys" wagging their butts at the camera.
Read more. [Image: Xotus/Tumblr]
I came of age without a literary soulmate. Growing up, I read every book recommended to me. Nick Carraway’s lucid account of the 1920’s seduced me. Huck Finn’s journey up the river showed me the close link between maturity and youth, and Ray Bradbury taught me to be wary of big government as well as the burning temperature of paper. While the male characters of literature built countries, waged wars, and traveled while smoking plenty of illicit substances, the women were utterly boring.
The assigned, award-winning, cannon-qualified books about women were about women I didn’t want to be. Jane Eyre was too blinded by her love for Mr. Rochester, as were all of the Bennet sisters in Pride and Prejudice. Hester Prynne of The Scarlet Letter was too maternal, and no one wants to grow up to be Anna Karenina. These women wanted to get married and have kids. They wanted to whine for 300 pages about a man who didn’t want to be with them. They wanted, it seemed, to be supporting actresses in their own stories. Their stories were equally about the men who shaped them as what they themselves wanted.
These female characters had love stories of heartbreak, but no stories of solitary self-discovery.
Read more. [Image: BBC]
Seventy-two years ago today, Virginia Woolf drowned herself.
Woolf was one of the most significant, influential writers of the twentieth century. The Atlantic had the privilege of publishing her work, as you can see below.
- "Equality of Opportunity and Pay" (May/June 1938): As war brewed in Europe, Woolf responded to a letter urging “daughters of educated men” to join in opposition to the conflict. Her surprising retort called for fair wages for women—not just to advance equality, but to hasten the fighting’s end.
[Images: Wikimedia Commons]