Friday, June 13, 2014

The Abortion Movie

Have you guys seen the abortion movie yet? I know we’re not calling it that-- but that’s what it is. The abortion movie—because it is the first movie to treat women who choose to have abortions with the compassion and respect they deserve.

As much as I enjoyed Waitress, Juno, Knocked Up, and every other movie revolving around an unplanned pregnancy, they all managed to stigmatize this safe and legal procedure. Until now, the message Hollywood was sending women who dared to go through those clinic doors was “you made the wrong choice.” 

Given these past offenses, Obvious Child needed to happen. Jenny Slate, the star of this trailblazing movie, described her new film as a modern narrative that “feels good in its own skin.” 

I couldn’t have said it any better myself—but let me still try.

This film contributes to the rise of the regular chick. It’s the way you felt the first time you watched Girlsbefore it got so problematic— observing each character's shortcomings and thinking, “Hey, that’s just like me.”

Obvious Child writer and director Gillian Robespierre said she wanted to put somebody on the screen who was an actual person. Her leading lady is both funny and vulnerable--- a rare combo in a chick flick. But more importantly, she's extremely likable.

“It’s really cool to see an actually funny, actually romantic comedy-- and to see something that feels authentic and real, without shame or regret, but not without a complexity of emotion,” said Liz Holm, the film’s producer, who also happens to be the director of Kickstarter's film program.

Holm got involved because Obvious Child felt like a movie Hollywood wasn’t going to make, supporting “not only the right to choose, but the right to have a complex experience,” she said.

Yes, this movie about abortion is a love story. But the real driving force behind Obvious Child is friendship. Slate and her co-star Gaby Hoffmann play Donna and Nellie, two roommates whose BFF status is so solid, you’ll be asking your own bestie, “Why can’t you be more like her?”

There is no competition, no jealousy—just appreciation and acceptance, not to mention the constant support required to survive adulthood. (Sigh.) Beyond strong relationships with lady friends, there are also dynamic relationships with parents, and complicated relationships with men. Nothing is simple. Nothing is constant. But that’s life, kiddos. 

These inconsistencies and imperfections, the things Hollywood usually glosses over, are what make this movie totally perfect. Embracing every opportunity to do things differently, there are five specific moments that set this film apart from all others.

Donna’s One Night Stand

This encounter includes copious amounts of alcohol, all of the  awkwardness, and a really adorable depiction of immediate “I just met you, this is crazy” attraction. There is no nudity, no thrusting, just nervous feelings. And some dancing. Maybe a little outdoor urination. And one pee-fart.   

Donna’s Visit to Planned Parenthood

Don’t quote me, but I really do believe this is the first time we see an actress actually enter a clinic. Usually, overwhelmed by protesters, they turn on their heels, signaling the start of their journey into motherhood. Not here. Donna knows exactly what she wants, and has an accurate consultation with a healthcare provider whose only agenda is letting women like Donna know all of their options before they finalize their decision.

Nellie’s Impassioned Cunt Speech

Damn, Gaby Hoffmann. I knew I liked you. This actress always plays fearless women who march to the beat of their own drum. First the science-obsessed realist Sam, in Now and Then. Also the sex-obsessed revolutionary Odette, in All I Wanna Do. And more recently, the crazy, crazy, oh-so-crazy “Caroline” in Girls. She is the queen of memorable monologues, and her portrayal of Nellie does not disappoint. Furthermore, Nellie’s wise words concerning women’s autonomy over their bodies should inspire all of us to get up and cheer for reproductive rights. 

Donna’s Friend’s Abortion

Yup. Nellie, Donna’s roommate and best friend, had an abortion. In high school. And she is an endless source of truth, encouragement, wit and support.

Donna’s Mom’s Abortion

Yup. Mom, who Donna does not always get along with, transitions from adversary to ally in this big reveal. Fearing the worst, Donna confides in her mother, who reciprocates wholeheartedly. Turns out, while she was in college (in the 60’s) she terminated a pregnancy. It was no coat-hanger procedure, but it happened on a kitchen table, out-of-state, which was often the case in the days before Roe V. Wade.

The movie excels at unlocking the mysteries surrounding women’s sexualities and women’s health. As statistics go, one in three women will have an abortion, but in this film, it’s three out of three.

“Our idea was to show three different stories women had, in three different ways, and they didn’t define their lives,” said Robespierre. And yet, her movie is not just about abortion:
What we wanted to do was stick to the romantic comedy genre. So it was never gonna be about will she or won’t she have the abortion. She made that choice swiftly, early on in the film, when she discovered she was pregnant. But we wanted to keep to the tropes of the romantic comedy, so it was will she or won’t she end up with the guy.
Holm also emphasized abortion is only part of the whole. “The movie is an honest story about a woman’s experience and her life,” she said. And yet, the media has successfully labeled it the abortion movie-- because it really is the first one.

For Slate, that means her first leading role looks a lot like activism.

According to her, it’s a movie about a woman "just trying to deal with the many moving pieces in her life.” But this isn’t just any woman. This is Donna, a stand-up comedian played by Slate, so it’s funny. Like, really funny. And edgy. Like, really edgy. As Holm put it, “This is not exactly a PSA.”

Some might find a humorous tone inappropriate for the topic. Robespierre defended the character she created, explaining “she’s just a funny person, and she’s going to comment on anything that happens in her life with a little slice of humor."

Slate, who is directly responsible for any audience enjoyment, believes funny things can be said without making the whole subject a joke, and laughter doesn’t necessarily mean disrespect. It can also mean relief.

“It’s okay to play boundaries if you play with them respectfully—and have your own identity and a clear place that you’re coming from,” Slate said.

Besides being hilarious, Obvious Child is also authentic. The clinic scenes were shot in an actual Planned Parenthood, giving some viewers their first ever glimpse inside. Intimately following Donna’s experience, this film has the potential to start some much-needed dialogue.

Of course anti-abortion backlash is expected, but the director is optimistic. “We’re really excited for whatever conversations it ignites in the coming weeks. Positive or negative, at least people are talking about it,” said Robespierre.

Slate understands the nuance, as well as the potential of a film dealing with abortion in this way. “It’s important to show flexibility in issues that tend to make us feel closed out, because that’s how they become more normal,” said Slate.

And really, there is no issue more in need of a little flexibility. 

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Confident Enough to Call It Sexism

If you think the wage gap is caused by discrimination, you're probably skeptical of Katty Kay and Claire Shipman's confidence gap.

For those well-versed in sociology, there are plenty of reasons to question their theory concerning gender and confidence. But sadly, the pair was still able to fill D.C.'s Sixth&I Historic Synagogue with women ready to confront the biological forces supposedly blocking their road to success.

After devouring Kay and Shipman’s cover story for the Atlantic, and ignoring warnings the “confidence gap” was merely an attempt to sell yet another self-help manual, predictable proteges showed up hungry for more.

The journalists were met with eager nods from millennials who had migrated to the nation's capital for gainful employment. But as these recent graduates started navigating the real world, they discovered something college didn't prepare them for-- inequality.

Reaping the benefits of legislation like Title IX, many of these budding professionals were encountering actual adversity for the first time. 

However, in a seemingly post-feminist world where no one's opportunities are restricted on the basis of sex, getting passed over for a promotion feels like an isolated incident. And by subscribing to the confidence gap, each incident will remain isolated-- even though attendants found themselves surrounded by women having similar experiences.

So rather than start this century's largest consciousness-raising group, these women turned inward, missing their chance understand that the personal is still political.     

Kay, lead anchor of BBC World News America, and Shipman, senior national correspondent for Good Morning America, brought anecdotes from their research and copies of their new book The Confidence Code:  The Science and Art of Self-Assurance — What Women Should Know.

Many critics had already accused Kay and Shipman of offering fake solutions to women's real problems, while ignoring the complexities of sex, race, and class. But beyond the absence of intersetionality, an additional faux pas ran throughout their one-dimensional exploration of gender discrepancy in the workplace.

Instead of identifying sexism where it obviously exists, Kay and Shipman’s confidence gap fiercely defended the status quo.

Besides the “cultural and institutional barriers” they half-heartedly acknowledged, Kay and Shipman found “explanations for a continued failure to break the glass ceiling are missing something more basic: women’s acute lack of confidence.” 

Exhibiting an unmistakable preference for nature over nurture, they framed behavior aligning with gender stereotypes as simply inherent. And after a month of unflattering reviews, they remained unfazed.

“I don’t think we avoided sexism intentionally,” said Shipman at Sixth&I. “[We] meant to really dig into whatever confidence is and where comes from.”

But their conclusion put the cart before the horse. Instead of women’s lower social status fostering lower levels of confidence, Kay and Shipman believe women’s naturally lower confidence determines their lower social status—at least at work.

The fault apparently lies with women and their timid disposition, because “Compared with men, women don’t consider themselves as ready for promotions, they predict they’ll do worse on tests, and they generally underestimate their abilities.”

Previous attempts to understand women’s challenges in the office were over-thinking it. Women come up short because success “correlates just as closely with confidence as it does with competence. No wonder that women, despite all our progress, are still woefully underrepresented at the highest levels.”

Try applying that logic to the statistics describing women’s reality. There are only 23 women CEOs running Fortune 500 companies— because of insecurity?

Kay and Shipman are not the only ones invested in the confidence gap. They spoke with several male executives who explained “a lack of confidence was fundamentally holding back women at their companies.” More importantly, these men “had shied away from saying anything, because they were terrified of sounding sexist.” For these men, women talking too little was a big problem:
One male senior partner at a law firm told us the story of a young female associate who was excellent in every respect, except that she didn’t speak up in client meetings. His takeaway was that she wasn’t confident enough to handle the client’s account. But he didn’t know how to raise the issue without causing offense.
However, if this problem truly stems from lacking confidence, consider the alternative. In an experiment conducted at the Yale School of Management, men and women rated a fictitious female CEO who talked frequently:
The result: both sexes viewed this woman as significantly less competent and less suited to leadership than a male CEO who talked for the same amount of time. When the female CEO was described as talking less than others, her perceived competency shot up.
So if women who spoke too much were viewed as incapable, but women who spoke too little were also seen as incapable, what is the proper amount a woman should be speaking to convince others she is qualified?

The only constant is that the woman, in both examples, is a woman. Their "errors" are merely rationalizations for societal feelings towards women in charge. And justifying that prejudice with excuses about women’s confidence, or competence, is sexist.

Most troubling is that confidence isn’t even really the answer. Kay and Shipman admit women can be confident—and still get screwed.
Yes, women suffer consequences for their lack of confidence—but when they do behave assertively, they may suffer a whole other set of consequences, ones that men don’t typically experience.
There are consequences no matter what. So is this sexism yet?
If a woman walks into her boss’s office with unsolicited opinions, speaks up first at meetings, or gives business advice above her pay grade, she risks being disliked or even—let’s be blunt—being labeled a bitch.
Despite a clear understanding of the inconsistent ways people interpret women’s confidence, Kay and Shipman still prescribe having more of it. But given the contradictory research they used, the only thing Kay and Shipman managed to prove is that the rules are always different for women.

Shipman agrees there is “no question” that sexism is an issue. “It’s there. And we really felt we were addressing that. But at the same time, we didn’t want that to be the subject of the book.”

But how can you address sexism without ever using the word sexism?

Even though the language was absent, Shipman believes they effectively tackled sexist attitudes in their book, the Confidence Code. “We weren’t pussyfooting around when we called one chapter dumb ugly bitches,” she said, referencing a nickname for female students at the US Naval Academy. 
The cruel nickname stuck with Kay as well, who confessed she found it “more shocking than the current brand of sexism.” 

But no matter what Kay and Shipman title their chapters, the confidence gap is a symptom of inequality—not an explanation. And that’s where the conversation should begin. They owe it to the women following their “code” here in Washington, and everywhere else, to let them know what they are really up against. Given how well their book has been received, shouldn't they be confident enough to call it sexism by now? 

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Hard Out Here for Lily Allen

Behind every successful woman, there is an even more successful man. Just ask Lily Allen.

BBC Radio 2 recently afforded the controversial pop star an opportunity to ask the questions, rather than answer them. Yet even during her “trading places” moment with British Vogue editor Alexandra Shulman, Allen gave the most memorable quotes.  

When Shulman observed most of Allen’s fiercest competitors in the music industry were women, Allen responded, ''You'll also notice, of those big, successful, female artists, there's always a man behind the woman-piece."

She continued to discredit every songstress imaginable by listing their puppet masters; "Whether it's Beyoncé it's Jay Z, if it's Adele it's Paul Hepworth, with me it was Mark Ronson, same with Amy Winehouse."

So there you have it. No matter how accomplished the lady, there is always a gentleman nearby, pulling her strings and facilitating her fame. These cringe-worthy statements came directly after Allen’s ShortList takeover, where she professed her distaste for feminism, and women in general.

While collaborating with the UK’s lifestyle magazine for men, Allen was asked to address double standards affecting women in music. Hinting at some of her more recent lyrics, ShortList suggested Allen was often critical other female artists. Taken aback, Allen explained:
It just dribbled out! It’s not supposed to be provocative and it’s not attacking anyone, although it does namecheck a few people. [like Katy Perry] It’s about how girls are pitted against each other, unlike men. I know you had it in the Nineties with Blur versus Oasis, but it’s not the same thing. It’s like ‘Who looks the best?’, ‘You’re getting too old to do this, you shouldn’t be doing that’. There seems to be a moral undertone when women are concerned that doesn’t happen with men, and that’s what that song is about. Stop this now [laughs]. 
Excellent observations, but Allen continued-- perhaps overcompensating for her previous statements when she set her sights on feminism and its futility:
Feminism. I hate that word because it shouldn’t even be a thing anymore. We’re all equal, everyone is equal so why is there even a conversation about feminism? What’s the man version of feminism? There isn’t even a word for it. There’s no reason for it. Menanism. Male-ism. It doesn’t exist.
Unfortunately, Allen is unaware there certainly are men’s rights activists. It’s just no one takes them seriously. When you’re a member of the dominant group, you cannot be oppressed.

ShortList positioned Allen as some sort of gender authority because she usually has such honest, insightful things to say about women. Even they seemed confused by the contradictory stance she took during her interview: 
The theme of Lily’s ShortList is ‘How To Be A Man, By Women’, which is done in the spirit of improving gender relations. However, she is quick to say, “I’m not an archetypal woman. All my best friends are boys.
Known as a red flag, “all her friends are dudes” is less about preference, and more about self-hatred. Sisterhood is powerful, and if you can’t relate to other women about your shared experiences, that's just sad for you. Also, who will you borrow tampons from? 

Women who don’t trust women aren’t to be trusted. But Allen takes her insults even further, revealing that she is an adult operating like an insecure adolescent:
It’s much the same. But I don’t think men are the enemy, I think women are the enemy. I know that when I’m sitting in a restaurant and a really beautiful woman walks in, who’s skinny, I instinctively think, “Oh she’s really skinny and beautiful and I’m really fat and ugly.” Every man I speak to always says they find that kind of woman gross, and they prefer a bit more meat on their ladies. So it’s more of a competitive thing. It’s weird. It’s just really unhealthy and we’re our own worst enemy. We should stop being so horrible to each other.
Once again, she pledges her allegiance to the mens. But more importantly, why is she mad at that stranger? Is it because you've internalized the idea that all women get out of bed every day to fight for male attention like the hunger games

The worst part is when she admits that only reassurance from her gentlemen companions can restore her inner peace. Their approval is everything. So Allen does not want to be a feminist, and yet her negative body image is a problem for which feminism is the remedy.

We live in a patriarchal society where men’s perspectives are valued over women’s, and their preferences are prioritized as social norms. Those standards affect how we feel about ourselves and, as Allen described, how we interact with others.

Allen’s recent controversies stem from the release of her new album Sheezus. And “Hard Out Here,” was the empowering single announcing her triumphant return. Or at least it was, until she unveiled the accompanying video.

With better words than visuals, it was all sorts of problematic. Even though Allen claimed it was oh-so-unintentional, there was something unsettling about a fully-covered white woman surrounded by scantily clad women of color-- twerking, of course.

And while they twerked, she barely moved, making her "feminist anthem" more like a disappointing example of mindless appropriation. Yes, it IS hard out here for a bitch. But it’s even harder for the back-up dancers you just exploited and objectified. Not very subversive. In fact, mostly just more of the same. 

Allen is not the first seemingly feminist pop star to take an inexplicable stand against feminism. And she certainly won’t be the last.  Her supposed adversary Katy Perry had a similar guffaw, completely unprovoked, when she accepted the Billboard “Woman of the Year Award” in 2012. While distancing herself from the f-word, she assured the audience she did believe in the strength of women.

Even Gwen Stefani, with her timeless battle cry “Just a Girl,” rejected the label in a devastating interview with Bust back in 2007. Sure, this is all kinds of frustrating, but do we really need our pop stars to be well-versed in feminist theory? Should we care if celebrities are feminists?

Yes, and no.

Personally, I’m tired of expending the effort to determine whether or not celebrities are feminists. Seriously, it’s exhausting.

Remember how upset we were when Beyoncé showed up on that Ms. Magazine cover? Who did this “Mrs. Carter” think she was? But then her secret album dropped. And she became a spokesperson for Sheryl Sandberg’s “Ban Bossy” campaignNow, she’s our favorite feminist icon, not to mention the patron saint of lady business. Who knew?

Let’s be clear. I don't really care if Lily Allen, Katy Perry, or Beyoncé call themselves feminists. Their identities do not affect my own feminist beliefs. At all. But their declarations do have the ability to influence young girls. And this is where the explicit aversion of public figures to feminism begins to matter. From princesses, to pop stars, to CEOs, role models are important. And girls need them, because you can’t be what you can’t see

Beyond recruitment, and the satisfaction of mainstream validation, there are other benefits to Top 40 representation. Feminism is rooted in academia, perpetuated by individuals fortunate enough to take a gender studies course. But it desperately needs to be more accessible, beyond the ivory tower. Women in pop culture openly identifying as feminists could advance the conversation, making the ideology more inclusive. 

But let’s say the Katy Perrys and Gwen Stefanis of the world continue to throw feminism under the bus. Can art be feminist, without the artist identifying as a feminist? If the piece provokes a “click” moment, unleashing the consumer’s feminist consciousness, must the creator also own the label to certify the authenticity of the recipient's relationship to the work in question?

Writing, painting, music—it’s all subjective. Sure, lyrics might seem to touch on women’s issues, like wanting “to eat spaghetti bolognaise and not feel bad about it for days and days and days.” But even that is open to interpretation.

Pop stars are pop stars because they can sing and dance. Not quote Judith Butler. And it’s terribly limiting to only consume products aligning with your political ideologies. However, I’m growing very tired of celebrities denouncing feminism without really understanding complicated power structures or the world around them.

Every time Allen sings about body image, women's sexuality, and the challenges of being female in the music industry, those are all feminist acts. That being said, there are a few things she should consider before her next interview. So Lily, this last part is just for you.

You see men helping women get ahead? Great. Nobody ever got anywhere completely on their own. When men get help from men, that’s called mentoring. Their connections are seen as assets. Why should the assistance women receive from men discount their accomplishments?

And you hate feminism? Guess what—some days, so do I. But men don’t need their own version because male privilege is real and the odds are already in their favor. Don’t ever say male-ism ever again. Otherwise, they will know you are simple and they will drown you in the river.   

And yes. Women compete with other women. But there is a man in a very larger corner office somewhere, counting the money he earned peddling needful things for the beauty-industrial-complex, and that is a very important concept for you to understand.

And women aren’t born hating other women. That is a learned behavior. If I were you, I would begin seeking lady-friends immediately. When you find the right ones, they will provide you with the most rewarding relationships of your life. Trust me. 

Your subjective experiences are valid. The personal is, in fact, political. And it is most definitely hard out here for a bitch. Because you’re not really supposed to be “out.” Typically, women are confined to the private sphere. Feminism means knowing your actions are meaningful and just walking out the front door is a rebellion.

Never forget that. And never stop singing your truth—no matter what you call yourself.