TV Review: “Girls”

April 18, 2012 § Leave a comment


Lena Dunham’s new series Girls has been hotly anticipated, to put it mildly. It’s produced by Judd Apatow. It is directed, written by, and starring Lena Dunham. It has been Tweeted. A lot. Girls will supposedly be the new show that will be scarily relevant for young women who still hadn’t gone through puberty when Sex and the City premiered.  I wanted to like Girls, because the current entertainment landscape is deviod of television and shows that include women in above-the-line positions, or barely pass the Bechdel Test.

However, my lovely roomate Rachel could have written a much funnier, relevant, and heartbreaking show about young women in their twenties sturggling to make it in a world where a college degree no longer guarantees a decent job.

Hannah (played by Dunham) is distraught when her parents announce that they will no longer be “bankrolling her groovy lifestyle”. Subsequently, Hannah is fired from her internship when she informs her boss that she can no longer work for free. Both of these situations are not uncommon for young twentysomething women. Unpaid internships in the world of theatre, media, and publishing seem to be the new way that many employers get around pesky fair-pay laws and devalue the earning power of women. So while I share Hannah’s frustrations about being mistreated as an intern, her opiomtastic plea for more money from her parents was bizarre and unrealistic. When I asked my parents to send me money for rent after I lost my low-paying, soul-crushing food service job, I broke down and cried. Money is a very sensitive subject, and whenever my friends confess that they have no way to pay for rent, food, bills, and loans without outside help from relatives, they do so with shame.

While Hannah is spoiled and shameless, she is the only character so far that has at least some dimension and vulnerabity. Jessa is the stereotypical bohemian Brit, and Shoshanna, in her one major scene in the pilot rambles on about nothing but Sex and the City. And while I have met women who talked about nothing but SATC they were slightly more interesting to be around than Shoshanna.

Being a young woman with a degree and far too much student loan debt is hard. And occaisonally, frightening. But most of the people I know wound up moving back in with their parents after graduation due to the lackluster job market, or worked multiple jobs in order to stay afloat with bills. They didn’t get the privilege of a financial crisis after 2 free years of rent. The girl-Women of Girls seem to be living in an alternate universe where moving back home is worse than death and Brooklyn is an exclusively white borough, with soft, photo-ready lighting.  If Girls is the new Sex and the City, the show is following in its predecessor’s footsteps of featuireing a New York City exclusively populated by white people, save for that one black catcaller, since apparently all black men ever do is yell at white women.

The one thing Dunham did get right in the pilot was Hannah’s (deeply dysfunctional) relationship with Adam. Some writers have criticized the sex xcene between Hannah and Adam as being unglamorous and degrading. And that is the point. While I don’t have parents willing to pay for two years worth of my rent and bills while I try to “find myself” in New York, I know far too many men who believed that condom use was optional, and thought that a women willing to have sex was also willing to have anal sex. And I can understand why Hannah went out of her way to contact this slimy, somewhat abusive, habitual non-texter. Even smart, college-educated young women have a hard time turning off the voice that says everyewhere, in books, tv, movies, and magazines that bad (or even not especially consensual) sex is better than being alone, especially after your boss has fired you from your unpaid internship because you don’t know PhotoShop.

Girls should not be a unique show because it is written and directed by a woman. There should be so many shows directed, written, and produced by women that viewers should not have to feel like they should settle for a mediocre one in order to support female writers and directors. If the girls of Girls don’t grow up soon and move beyond their Gen Y versions of SATC charictatures, I won’t have a reason to keep tuning in.  Especially because HBO gives the show a late evening time slot, and I’ve got work the next morning.






Life Choices: A 20th Century Book in a 21st Century World

November 19, 2011 § 1 Comment


Are you a white, cisgender, educated, New Agey, feminist woman? If so, then Linda Weber’s book Life Choices: The Teachings of Abortion (published by Sentient Publications) is an excellent book for you. If you are not, then Linda Weber has very little to offer. Weber, a prominent feminist and counselor wrote Life Choices using her experience as an abortion counselor at a women’s clinic in Boulder, Colorado. While Weber’s intentions were good, the execution is far from it.

Like many “second wave” feminist leaders who rose to prominence in the 1970s (I’m looking at you, Gloria Steinem), Weber follows a cissexist, binarist point of view throughout the book when she repeatedly writes about women’s unique/magical/etc ability to bear children. Could someone please inform Ms. Weber that not all women can get pregnant? And that some men can? And that sex and gender is not nearly as cut-and-dried as she makes it out to be?  Weber missed a great opportunity to write about special issues and concerns of nonbinary individuals seeking advice about abortion — an issue that is not mentioned enough in our current reproductive rights dialogue.

Weber does make some good points: a crisis pregnancy and/or abortion can be an opportunity for personal growth and development, and this perspective is refreshing. In writing about the history of the pro-choice movement, she makes a very important point about the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision: Roe  had more to do with establishing physicians’ rights than it did with protecting the health, well-being, and bodily autonomy of people seeking safe abortions.  Unfortunately, these passages get lost among her New Age navel-gazing. I have no issues with those who enjoy meditation and/or worshiping The Divine Feminine, but if your spiritual habits are not of the “woo-woo” variety, you’re not going to enjoy this book. Weber’s message alienates both Christians (surprise: some Christians are feminist!) and skeptics alike. Some of her advice is simply not practical: while I can’t deny the possibility of abortion  via soul-to-soul communication between a fetus and its carrier, I do not think that this a realistic or practical method to recommend to anyone.

Legislators in Colorado, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, Virginia, and Michigan have introduced anti-choice legislation, from increased restrictions to abortion access and funding to even more disturbing proposed “personhood amendments” that would also outlaw most forms of birth control.

Rick Snyder, Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, et al want to restrict our bodily autonomy, and bring us back into a world where, like a teenaged Weber, we would have pretend to be married so we could receive an abortion via IUD implantation, and risk an infection. They are not interested in going on a vision quest. They don’t care if we meditate. They are not going to listen politely to us. The personal stories in Lie Choices are touching, but out of place in an increasingly hostile political and social environment.

Now is not the time to get in touch with our inner goddess. Now is the time to hurl bricks.

This review is part of a blog tour hosted by Linda Weber’s publisher, Sentient Publications, who provided me with a review copy. The next blog on the tour is at The Abortion Gang on November 20 and the previous blog on the tour was at The Abortion Monologues. Linda Weber will be doing an actual physical tour of the west coast in February. Please consult her website for more details closer to that date.

Review: Undecided

August 23, 2011 § Leave a comment

Undecided: How to Ditch the Endless Quest for Perfect and Find the Career — and Life — That’s Right for You by Barbara Kelley & Shannon Kelley


Mom-and-daughter pair Barbara and Shannon Kelley have a gem here — an important read for basically any shrewd woman of my generation. It’s a relentlessly chatty book but it dives right to the core of women’s “analysis paralysis,” wisely eschewing self-help rhetoric in favor of a more rigorous cultural investigation of the professional challenges that plague today’s young women. The Kelleys thoroughly map the complex web of expectations, both social and internal, that push women to agonize over each and every life decision, and to grieve excessively for the loss of the option given up.

Perhaps it’s not surprising that I feel right at home in discussions of the laundry list of institutional forces that manipulate women’s professional choices. But what shook me up about this book was its insightful analysis of the ways in which we paralyze and punish ourselves. By ascribing so much meaning to our decisions large and small, meaningful and inconsequential, we lock ourselves into a cycle of yearning and remorse. And in our haste to take advantage of our newly afforded privileges in academia and in the professional world, it’s all too easy to sacrifice authentic decision-making in favor of other people’s estimations of what we are — or aren’t — capable of. (Me becoming an engineer just to disprove sexist stereotypes doesn’t mean shit in the big picture if I’m not truly invested. It’s just another way of conforming, of basing my decisions on patriarchal frameworks.)

It’s steadily depressing fare, but the Kelleys rescue the reader by concluding with advice to pursue “work worth doing” — work at the intersection of pleasure and meaning — and a spirited vision of what a feminized professional landscape might look like: one in which women and men are given social permission to implement leadership styles that emphasize collaboration, relationships, emotional connection. It’s a meaningful read.

Review: Hey, Shorty!

May 25, 2011 § 1 Comment

Hey, Shorty! A Guide to Combating Sexual Harassment and Violence In Schools and On The Streets by Joanne N. Smith, Mandy Van Deven, and Meghan Huppuch of Girls for Gender Equity


As a guide, Hey, Shorty! gets its proportions just right. The book fluidly combines instruction and imagination, realistic activist advice and idealistic social justice zeal. Smith, Van Deven, and Huppuch, of the remarkable organization Girls for Gender Equity, are admirably and skillfully tackling the issue of gender-based violence against youth, particularly in public schools. This is a rampant problem, one is that far too often dismissed, and one that sits at the nexus of so many social justice concerns — self-efficacy, empowerment, education, health, poverty…

I loved the rhetoric of refusal that the book offers; here is a generation of women who are refusing retrograde gender norms and refusing to buy in to a system predicated on complacency, silence, and shame. And beyond all this refusal there’s an overwhelming sense of affirmation: so many girls have found a sense of belonging and purpose through projects like this one.

GGE will celebrate its tenth anniversary this September. The work of their staff and supporters is certainly impressive, but what most inspired me while reading this book were the voices of the young women who work with GGE through initiatives like Sisters in Strength. I’ll end with their thoughts:

“School is not just a place to gain knowledge but also a place where students can easily be affected by sexual harassment. What a disgrace. How can we progress in our schoolwork if we are impacted and distracted by sexual harassment?” — Cyndi, youth organizer

“I had just given birth to my daughter, who is now three years old, and Sisters in Strength gave me the courage to let everyone know that I stand for something, that I’m not just some statistic. I learned that I am a smart and beautiful young woman who doesn’t have to let having a child end my life. Life goes on and I am going on too. I am a fighter who will succeed and become a great member of society. I have a lot more confidence than I had before this experience.” — Jazmine, youth organizer

Women’s Glib is part of the Hey, Shorty! Virtual Book Tour. Check out this link to see other Tour stops and spaces that are supporting this project and find out how you are able to support it too!

Review: Click

June 7, 2010 § Leave a comment

Click: When We Knew We Were Feminists edited by Courtney E. Martin & J. Courtney Sullivan


Click is an anthology edited by two Courtneys: one of my all-time feminist crushes, Courtney E. Martin, and J. Courtney Sullivan, who describes the premise as follows:

It goes way back to this Jane O’Reilly essay in the first issue of Ms. Magazine called “The Housewife’s Moment of Truth.” That essay is where the whole idea of a click moment took form. O’Reilly talks about women in their day-to-day lives going along and then suddenly, click, they realize that sexism surrounds them all the time. I was working on “Commencement,” and one of the characters educates another about feminism, and I was trying to think — why do we call ourselves feminists, if we do? I sent a mass email to a bunch of young feminists. Someone hit “reply all” and wrote what their feminist click was. And then everyone else started replying to all. It was amazing because the responses were so varied. Courtney Martin then said, “This would make a good book.”

I enjoyed this book. Nearly all of the narratives in this anthology are fresh and interesting, but as a collection, there’s something awry. What’s confusing is that hardly any of these talented writers actually had a “click” moment. The majority don’t describe a lone incident that immediately had them up in arms against patriarchy; instead, their essays analyze the series of events, the internal process of coming to feminism, usually rejecting it at first but eventually, over time, discovering a strong personal connection to it.

To be honest, I find the idea of the click to be regressive. It just doesn’t do justice to the many intersecting, interwoven, and complex feminisms that exist in the real world. After all, feminism is not a light that turns on or off. People experience feminism not as a binary — something you are or aren’t — but as a broad spectrum with millions of possible channels for exploration and self-discovery. The click theory propagates the iffy idea that once you’re a feminist, that’s it. In reality — in my experience, at least — one’s feminism is challenged and strengthened and revised over a lifetime.

So I have some issues with the framing of this anthology, but the substance of the book is excellent. The delightfully diverse array of personal essays are representative of the many routes that people traverse to find feminism. What’s more, Click encourages the reader to delve into the layers of our own feminist awakening, to consider: Where am I, and what (or who) got me here?

With each essay, the contributors open their arms and invite the reader into their circle, their club of supportive, hilarious, and insightful feminist warriors. I, for one, can’t wait to find my place at this amazing table.

Review: Enlightened Sexism

April 5, 2010 § 1 Comment

Enlightened Sexism: The Seductive Message That Feminism’s Work Is Done by Susan J. Douglas


In her latest work, the razor-sharp Susan Douglas argues that the deluge of powerful fictional women in our media — think of all those surgeons, lawyers, businesswomen, and politicians on TV — has slowly and steadily convinced us that real women enjoy the same relatively easy professional success.

Women watch these shows because they are inspirational; but when the TV goes dark, it’s not patriarchy that’s blamed for keeping real women subservient — it’s women ourselves. These shows convince us that true equality is not only possible, but actual — and if we’re not faring well in our relationships or jobs, it’s our own fault for not measuring up.

What I like best about the work is that it does not shy away from complexity and ambiguity; indeed, its thesis lies in the precarious balance between oppression and liberation, autonomy and blind consumerism. Furthermore, Douglas is hilarious, and her call for older feminists — “Vintage females,” in her words — like herself to work together with their millenial counterparts is a refreshing antidote to generational squabble. I would have appreciated more attention and analysis paid to representations of American women beyond the white / black racial dichotomy, but overall, this is a very successful book.

Review: Girldrive

October 24, 2009 § Leave a comment

girldriveGirldrive: Criss-Crossing America, Redefining Feminism by Nona Willis Aronowitz & Emma Bee Bernstein, with a foreword by Jennifer Baumgardner


Girldrive is a chronicle of Aronowitz and Bernstein’s whirlwind trip around the country, interviewing mostly young women about their lives and feminisms. The magazine-like volume is a hodgepodge of compressed interviews, dynamic photographs, and diary entries ranging from Aronowitz’s reflections on her late mother’s feminist parenting to descriptions of acid-induced relaxation.

Calling on the classic motif of the open road, Girldrive‘s creators succeed in framing their adventure around a feminism that’s truly American. The book’s subjects are diverse in almost every way — race, class, level of education, sexuality, connection to the feminist label. The one thing they share is a nearly tangible sense of passion: if not for “the feminist movement,” then for making women’s lives better.

The book revels in the complexities of contemporary intersectional feminism. As the title suggests, Nona and Emma seek not to define feminism for the ambivalent, but to broaden our conceptions of activism and celebrate the awesome stuff young women in this country are doing every damn day.

Also check out the Girldrive blog.

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