Friday, December 30, 2005

One of our Own

I love all the “Best and Worst of” lists that come out this time of year. Sometimes they veer towards the absurd. Often times they veer towards the redundant. But you’ve got to admit it’s useful to find someone who has literally seen every movie to come out in the past 52 weeks and is willing to winnow it down to just 10.

Of course the low point collections are far more entertaining than the high. Humanity boiled down to its most appalling. Take this Media Matters for America list of the “Most Outrageous Statements of 2005.” Obviously, the Media Matters people had a treasure trove to draw from, but I was pleased to note that the only woman who made the list was the infamously offensive Ann Coulter (though she did make it twice). I know this is in part because there aren’t as many female pundits. But I also like to think it’s because women aren’t quite a quick to say stupid things.

Now I could make some crack here about Raging Ann really being a man or just barely qualifying for womanhood or whatever. But I think the far more provocative point (and if there’s one thing that lady understands it’s provocative) is that Ann Coulter is pure woman, from her goldilocks tresses right down to the stiletto heels. Just because there’s not an inch of her that’s soft and sweet, just because she wants to bomb North Korea out of existence, doesn’t make her any less female than Mother Teresa. There are those women, those feminists, who would say her hard-line conservative rhetoric and propensity for posing with handguns make Ann “other.” Just like there are those who find Condoleezza Rice or Margaret Thatcher beyond the feminine pale. But once we’ve crossed that line, it’s awfully difficult to come back again. What makes a woman a woman? True, I find Ann Coulter offensive, but she’s got just as much claim on her femininity as I do. There was a time not so long ago when being ambitious or having a career or even voicing an opinion made a woman so offensive, so unwomanly, she was ostracized from society.

The array of options open up to women these days has taken us down some dark roads, revealing that female does not necessarily equal compassionate and maternal, but none so dark as the road that says real women are required to act and react a certain way. The idea that if women ruled the world there would be no wars or violence seems outrageous enough to make the Media Matters list. What would we do with the Ann Coulters and Margaret Thatchers? Hang them in the town square? If we’re going to say a whole world of choices should be open to women — and it most certainly should — then we have to be willing to allow for the choices those women make.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Three Cheers For Dirty Politics

This one doesn’t require much interpretation from me. The item is cribbed from Wonkette, who deserves her own entry one of these days since the woman climbed to blogger infamy due almost entirely to her slutty, sassy and oh so self-centered self.

The details of the story go as follows: Detroit city councilwoman elect, Monica Conyers, wife of Democratic Representative John Conyers, apparently punched another woman, Rebecca Mews, in the face in the middle of a birthday party at some bar in Detroit.

Accounts of the actual incident vary. Shockingly, some alcohol consumption and shouting of obscene invective seem to have been involved. But one thing’s damn clear. Ms. Mews walked away from things with one hell of a shiner (Wonkette runs the photo to prove it).

Conyers’ representatives labeled her behavior as “vigorously defending herself” but we know better. Barroom brawling is a close and much more exciting cousin to bitchcraft. No “good girl” knows how to throw a punch like that.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Contingency Plans

This may not, on the surface, seem directly related to the subject of bitchcraft but stay with me because I do have a larger point. And because I’m sitting in New York in the midst of a transit strike which means I’ll be walking 100 blocks to work in 30 degree weather and don’t really know how I’ll get home again.

Mayor Bloomberg has come up with what he calls a contingency plan for commuters. For the most part, it entails carpooling, walking and riding your bike. This isn’t such a bad plan. Though many city residents don’t own cars, it’s a cold day but sunny, and most of us could benefit from some brisk fresh air. But really it only works for the 9 to 5 crowd.

For example, when I get off work at nine p.m. tonight it will be dark and it will be cold and there are a few “sketchy after nightfall” blocks between there and here. I can’t walk home. And there’s a whole night economy - waitstaff, maintenance workers, musicians, actors, anyone employed at a restaurant, club, or movie theater - that will emerge into the city at nine or midnight or four a.m. needing a way home. Most of them depend on mass transit because they fall into that financial category for which hopping a cab (presuming you can find one) to the outer reaches where most of them live isn’t an option. Add to this the fact that plenty of these after dark workers are paid by the hour and can’t afford to just not show up, nor can they work from home. The city’s contingency plan has left a good portion of those people who rely on mass transit literally out in the cold.

So here’s where I get to the women part. I see this as just one example of a larger problem: a society that never looks beyond a 9 to 5 working world, despite that fact that much of its population lives, breathes and struggles like hell there. For those who don’t hold typical day jobs, it’s near impossible to get loans, apartments, insurance, and the list goes on. And women – because we’re poorer, shoulder heavier family responsibilities, and are more likely to work odd hours – often wind up the prime residents of this fringe world. Without some help from the higher ups, without a few contingency plans that take us into account, we’re going to wind up shattering to a gazillion pieces.

And men, god bless them, are not know for their skills with cleaning up a mess.

Monday, December 19, 2005

The Bitchcraft Soundtrack (Part Two)

Had it with holiday odes to virgins and angels? Try slipping in some of these bad girl tunes instead:

A Woman’s Worth – Alicia Keys
Just Like a Woman – Bob Dylan
Lady Marmalade – Patti LaBelle
The Lady is a Tramp – Ella Fitzgerald
Women Hate Women – Chris Rock
Natural Woman – Aretha Franklin
Too Many Good Looking Women – The Country Knights Band
I am Woman, Hear Me Roar – Helen Reddy
Two-Faced Woman – Nappy Brown
W.O.M.A.N. – Etta James
Thug Girl - SPM
Sisters Are Doin’ It For Themselves – Aretha Franklin
The Girl Is on to You – Bette Midler
Lady – Lenny Kravitz
How Strong Is a Woman – Etta James
I’m Just a Girl - ABBA
Lady Sings the Blues – Billie Holiday

Let the good times roll…

Thursday, December 15, 2005

What's Behind Shrub #1?

When it comes to women who excel at Bitchcraft, Anna Wintour has earned her spot right at the head of the pack. How many people have had an assistant write not just a thinly veiled novel, but a raging bestseller about her boss’s over-the-top evil deeds? (Lauren Weisberger’s “The Devil Wears Prada”). When it comes to dealing with minions, and for the Editor-in-Chief of Vogue almost everyone qualifies as a minion, Anna does demanding and difficult like Lance does the Tour de France.

For example: Check out this story in Gawker about Miz Wintour’s “lunch” date at Balthazar in New York’s Soho earlier this week. (Lunch in quotes because I don’t think this woman exists on anything but Red Bull and ground glass). Anna insisted on a private room. Balthazar insisted there were no private rooms to be had. Anna insisted again. So, the always eager to bow and scrape to celebs restaurant did the next best thing. They built a hedge around her table. Yes, you read that right. They built a hedge right there in the restaurant for Anna and company to hide and hold court behind. Keep in mind that Balthazar is in the concrete heart of New York City. Gardening only happens here under the most extreme circumstances.

Now, one could ask why Anna couldn’t just order in and enjoy plenty of privacy in her own office, even her own floor, at Conde Nast. But of course the point wasn’t not to be seen, but to be seen not being seen. The point was to be demanding and difficult. The point was to be a bitch.

Sure Anna is a special case. But she’s a damn powerful woman and there are few enough of those that we can’t simply write any of them off as an exception to the overarching sisterhood rule. When people assure you that women who rise to the top would never abuse power the way men do, all you have to do is point a big fat finger at scrawny Ms. Wintour and say:

“Look at her.”

Presuming, of course, there are no hedges in the room at the time.

Monday, December 12, 2005

The Money Girls

A few weeks ago, the L.A. gossip blog Defamer (the tinseltown sister of the NY gossip blog Gawker) ran a tidbit about the ten highest paid actresses in the biz. You can consult the defaming experts for the fully skinny on what these girls make, but here are the names in question, ranked in order of most valuable to least (as their pay ranges from 20 million to 9, the word least here is extremely relative):

Julia Roberts
Nicole Kidman
Reese Witherspoon
Drew Barrymore
Rene Zellweger
Angelina Jolie
Cameron Diaz
Jodie Foster
Charlize Theron
Jennifer Aniston

I just think this list tells us so much about what we as a culture value in our women. All young, white and skinny. Predominately blond or blond-ish. Predominately expert at the sweet, goofy, lost, vulnerable, bumbling sort of a role. Predominately incapable of managing their personal lives. We’ve got mostly good girls (Julia, Reese, Cameron, Jennifer, Rene). A couple bad girls (Angelina and possibly, in a stretch, Nicole). But a definite lack of complicated girls who stretch our imaginations, not even one of those sharp, sexy femme fatales of yore. A few of these have tackled rough, complicated, not entirely likable roles in the past – think Jodie Foster in "The Accused," Charlize Theron in "Monster," Nicole Kidman in "To Die For" — but it's stuff like "Charlie’s Angels" and "Legally Blond" that’s made them America’s gold-plated sweethearts. In fact, if not for the fact that Jodie Foster (god bless her) is still clinging to the bottom end of that list, this could easily double as the cast for the next Victoria’s Secret prime time fashion show.

Let’s face it. We don’t like our women strong and complicated. Even though they are. I guess my point here is to encourage women to fight it. Don’t sugarcoat and sanitize yourself. Be strong and complicated. Hell, be a femme fatale if you can pull it off. I wish I could. Do whatever you want, but don’t fall for the message (engineered mostly be men wishing like hell they could bag her) that Cameron Diaz is the new feminine ideal. Hollywood may not be able to better than that, but we can.

Friday, December 09, 2005

I Can't Believe She Wrote That

One more note on Maureen, then I’ll give you a break on the Dowd front. I promise.

A couple readers have mentioned to me that they “can’t believe” what Maureen Dowd did to her friend Judith Miller (i.e. writing a column blasting Miller’s professional ethics), and isn’t that just what I’m writing about and how sad to see women backstabbing each other at such a high and highly visible professional level.

The answer is: What are you talking about? No, it’s not what I’m writing about, at least not in the way you think. I applaud Maureen Dowd 100%. Let’s consider our priorities here. Personally, I can’t believe what Judith Miller did to the reading public, not to mention the journalism profession, by feeding us straight from the source White House claptrap on the Iraq War. I can’t believe other women think Maureen was supposed to stand by and say nothing because she should appear unconditionally supportive to her fellow female reporters. I do believe that she made a choice that was totally within her rights, in fact part of her journalistic responsibility, to call Judith Miller to task for sinking so low. How could she in good conscious do anything else?

Though Dowd begins her column with the words “I’ve always liked Judy Miller,” simple admiration does not a friendship make. From what I’ve read elsewhere, these two women were never friends and assuming such buddy-hood just because they work together starts us down a dangerous road. Dowd and Miller were two women in the same office. Period. They existed with a respectful tension that got shot to pieces when the truth about Miller’s questionable ethics went public. There’s no reason on god’s green earth that Maureen Dowd should have been nice to or easy on Judith Miller. It wouldn’t have served Dowd or Miller or women in general for the members of the Gray Lady sisterhood to cover for each other no matter what.

My guess is that if Judith was Jim, and Maureen was Marty, no one would be questioning a single fork-tongued word. Maureen Dowd did her job as a journalist by calling Miller out, and she did it well.

End of story.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

The Educated Choice

There’s an article by Linda Hirshman in this month’s American Prospect that’s been making the rounds among young mothers I know. It’s a dense article, one that I could easily crack open and examine piece by piece, but after subjecting you to a mini-lecture on the Maureen Dowd-ing of single female America the other day, I’m going to keep it relatively short and sweet. But I encourage other to read the entire, entirely thought-provoking, piece and let me know your reaction.

In very brief, Hirshman tackles the idea of whether women truly have a choice about whether to pursue careers or stay home to raise a family. Her premise is that though women now have opportunities in the workplace, we’re still held back by the fact that we’re expected to be entirely responsible for managing the domestic sphere. Her article focuses on the privileged, college (really Ivy League) educated few, and I take exception to her assertion that those women set the trends and therefore merit more attention. But she is shining a light on a problem that affects many of us ordinary folk: the impossibility of juggling it all.

I agree with Hirshman that domestic responsibilities need to be more evenly split, for the good of both genders. But perhaps this cutback on women’s in-house duties isn’t the only thing that has to change. I was struck by how easily Hirshman equated being professionally successful and making piles of money with mattering in this world. Granted those who accrue wealth and power can often be far more influential, for better or worse, than those who don’t. Bill Gates giving away 58% of his net worth is going to have a hell of a lot more impact than me giving away 58% of mine. But Cindy Sheehan isn’t rich and she single-handedly rocked the public perception of the Iraq War. Martin Luther King wasn’t raking in the bucks. Neither was Rosa Parks.

I don’t see paving the way for women to have high-powered careers as the answer. It’s not like men get all the glory because they get to go to the office all day. By now, women should know better than that. Work can be grueling, thankless, torture on the ego – both for hedge fund managers and stay at home parents. When given the choice to leave the corporate killing fields, to “opt out,” plenty of us, male and female, would step up and say “yes, please.”

One of Hirshman’s primary suggestions is to make college education for women more vocational and less, well, educational. She talks about stream-lining women onto business oriented tracks so they have an easier time getting jobs that will earn them actual nest eggs instead of flitting around in fields like art and history. But is the point of education to make money? Isn’t there a larger issue at stake here? Like making us better human beings? Like giving us the knowledge necessary to make choices about our futures and future values? Do we really want to tweak our education system to further enforce the message that money = worth?

It seems that the problem here lies in the fact that there’s so little middle ground, that it’s either sacrifice everything or opt out entirely. What if workplaces treated career and family as something everyone should be balancing in their lives? If hours were shorter, and the cost of living less mind-bogglingly expensive (forgive me but in live in New York city where there’s a $20 toll just to get out your front door)? Idealistic, I know, but I majored in theater, so what do you expect?

Here’s a quote from a speech Toni Morrison made at a Barnard College graduation in 1979:

“If education is to have value as well as price; if it is to have meaning as well as substance, then it must be about something other than careers and power. The pursuit of a liberal education and the pursuit of the arts and sciences cannot be simply about husbanding beauty, isolating goods and making sure enrichment is the privilege of a few. The function of a twentieth-century education must be to produce humane human beings. To refuse to continue to produce generation after generation of people trained to make expedient decisions rather than humane ones. You are the women who will take your place in the world where you can decide who shall flourish and who shall wither; you will make distinctions between the deserving poor and the undeserving poor; where you can yourself determine which life is expendable and which is indispensable. Since you will have the power to do it, you may also be persuaded that you have the right to do it. As educated women the distinction between the two is first-order business.”

Now that’s what I call a noble end.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

The Perils of Maureen

I’ve noticed a new phenomenon among single, college-educated women in their mid-thirties to mid-forties. I call it the “Maureen Dowd Effect.” It’s similar in content to that mid-eighties “women over 40 have a better chance of getting killed by a terrorist than getting married” hysteria and it goes something like this: “Oh my god, did you see/hear that piece on Maureen Dowd in/on (insert The New York Times, New York Magazine, NPR etc.). If someone like Maureen Dowd can’t find a man then I’m definitely doomed,” usually accompanied by melodramatic hand gestures.

Now that terrorist study was proved flawed, notably by Susan Faludi in her book Backlash, and I’m assuming that Maureen Dowd, who’s not even a study but an individual, will prove flawed as well. But I think this fear she awakens, that as smart and ambitious single women we’ve done something wrong which ensures we’ll never find love, is very much worth addressing. And though I don’t agree with Maureen that smart men are looking for dumb women, I don’t entirely disagree with her either.

The thing is, relationships – particularly the long-term sort – require work. And in the past, most of that work was taken on by women. We didn’t have careers and other weighty outside concerns the way men did. Nobody was expected to do it all. Instead, there was this tidy professional/domestic labor split. Men tended to the outside world, women to the in. Obviously that’s now changed. These days women – and I think the real heavy surge starts with women in the 35-45 range who grew up in the seventies – are pursuing careers just like the guys do, with all the investment of time and energy that entails. But in the throes of the women’s movement, we forgot that, with everyone working so damn hard on their careers, no one would be working on the relationships. Except, of course, those women who aren’t chasing success as hard as their male counterparts. These women can feel threatening because they’re rolling in what so many career women either can’t find or are so precariously juggling, marriage and family. It’s unfair and condescending of us to call those other women dumb – in fact choosing not to get on some professional rat-track could be considered the most brilliant choice around – but these women and their choices can, understandably, feel threatening.

The results are twofold. First, now that women are taking a greater part in the professional world men will have to take a greater hand in the domestic world. That doesn’t just mean more vacuuming (though that would be good too). That means successful two career relationships require both parties tending to the home fires. And those hyper-powered men Maureen Dowd is chasing frankly don’t have time for that. Their jobs are their lives. Much as they may enjoy her clever company, the demands of being a CEO or Editor-in-Chief often require a support structure rather than a sparring partner, and that support is what a non-career woman has time to provide.

I don’t think the solution here lies in batting our eyes and pretending to be sorority sisters turned first grade teachers. It’s admitting that you – the female you or the male you - have to take time off the “I’m going to be so powerful and successful” track to foster a relationship if you really want to have one. And sure women get the short end of the stick here because it’s a lot harder to find a man who will fall in to that supporting role than it is to find a woman. But I think that if Maureen had gone ahead and questioned people who have orchestrated a literal or figurative marriage of equals – and there are plenty of them out there - she would find such relationships hinge on compromise. We come back to that new old chestnut. You can’t have or do it all.

In closing, I’d like to say that we also need to step back for a moment. Yes, it’s frustrating and discouraging to hear the biological clock ticking away and see no prospects on the horizon. Yes, we want to feel like someone else has an answer, even a depressing one. But let’s get real here. You are not Maureen Dowd. The fact that the only female columnist at the New York Times can’t seem to land a man isn’t all that relevant to anyone’s life but her own.

Friday, December 02, 2005

The Bitchcraft Soundtrack (Part One)

I guess not surprisingly, there are a lot of songs out there about complex, unattainable or just plain fed-up women. Plenty of them are penned and sung by confused men, but there’s also no shortage of women celebrating their own oh, so unpredictable selves.

So, without further boring ado, I bring you the “Bitchcraft Soundtrack,” Part One. This list was arranged (with the invaluable aid of friend Kate) for maximum contrast, but any aspiring DJs out there should feel free to mix and match.

Thank Heaven for Little Girls – Rosemary Clooney
American Woman – Lenny Kravitz
Women Be Wise – Bonnie Raitt
Uptown Girl – Billy Joel
Lady Be Good – Ella Fitzgerald
California Girls – Beach Boys
Material Girl – Madonna
No Woman No Cry – Bob Marley
9 to 5 – Dolly Parton
Femme Fatale – Velvet Underground
Bad Girls – Donna Summer
Girls! Girls! Girls! – Elvis
Hoochie Woman – Tori Amos
I Got a Woman – Ray Charles
Hollaback Girl – Gwen Stefani
Three Times a Lady – The Commodores
Girls Just Wanna Have Fun – Cindy Lauper
Hard Headed Woman – Cat Stevens
Nasty Girl – Destiny’s Child
I Enjoy Being a Girl – Rogers & Hammerstein
Evil Gal Blues – Aretha Franklin

Thursday, December 01, 2005

All Hail (and Obey) Queen Naomi

I promise this isn’t going to become a celebrity blog. I promise I really don’t find them that interesting. But insanely famous people do tend to do things in such extremes, they can make perfect illustrations for the more complicated dynamics that unfold among the rest of us.

Case in point. Just weeks after playing all kissy and make-up-y (my spell check informs that though kissy is not a word, make-up-y is. Go figure…) with her former runway nemesis – Tyra Banks – on, naturally, the Tyra Banks Show (see 11/23/05 post “Attention All Catfighting Supermodels”), Naomi Campbell is back on track. We can all breath another huge sigh of relief, girls. Super-cat Naomi hasn’t quite shed her stripes.

This information comes from the Daily News Lowdown gossip column by way of Gawker. Worthy sources? Sure, why not (as worthy as the New York Times anyway)…Apparently, Miss Naomi ran into one Nicole Ritchie at the no longer quite-hot New York nightclub Bungalow 8 the other night, where she proceeded to read Nicole the riot act for hanging out with Naomi’s alleged nemesis, Nicky Hilton. According to the story, Naomi more screeched her profanity-laced riot act over Nicole’s head (not hard to believe since I’d guess Naomi is about a foot taller), loud enough for the surrounding crowd to appreciate, I’m not sure what the Nicky Hilton nemesis thing is about, but as Tyra showed us Naomi has no shortage of enemies for no shortage of reasons. Of course, publicists for both parties kind of denied the whole thing, but that’s what publicists do (when not trying to get you on Leno or the Today Show.)

I’m not going to say I told you so, but…People, Naomi just ain’t nice. She’s got a rocking body, a serious strut and some even more serious attitude. But she’s a capital D Diva and she likes to have control of everything and everyone around her. Another starlet “writing” junky novels with a bunch of bling on the cover? No way. That girl’s got to be put in her place. I say give it up Naomi. Stop even pretending to care whether other women like you. It doesn’t suit you. Leave that shit for Oprah and Gloria Steinem and just give us a good old-fashioned stilettos and claws bitchfest every once in a while.