Over the past several months, I have found myself increasingly depressed and enraged by what seems to be endless stories about sexual and physical violence directed toward girls. There is something that tends to haunt our culture’s thinking about girls: suspicion.
Back in March, I wrote about my frustration with reading Disney's princess books to my daughter. Instead of reading her the actual words of the Snow White tale, I've taken to freestyling an alternative storyline where Snow White is an empowered dance instructor who also loves fresh fruit. A lot of people responded that they were also annoyed by the all the helpless princess storylines, but others noted that the princesses have evolved. “Disney princesses have come a long way in the 70 years since Snow White," wrote one reader.
In some ways, this is true. In other ways, the princesses are worse now than they were in 1940.
This morning in the doctor’s office waiting room, I leafed through a copy of Ladies' Home Journal and landed on an article called,“The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Cleavage.” The article pairs tips for covering up your cleavage with a sidebar of celebrity’s “buzzworthy boobs.”
This is a real article. And it would be perfect fodder for the new women’s magazine parody website Reductress. Just launched last week, Reductress takes aim at media stuffed with “buzzworthy boob” profiles the way The Onion spoofs 24-hour newspapers.
Among all the comedy online, Reductress stands out as genuinely fresh and funny. Just look at these headlines:
But recently, rhetoric has taken the issue even further. Current public education campaigns imply that we have a civic duty to tell women when they should get pregnant and reinforce the idea that pregnant women’s bodies are public property.
Today we finally have something to applaud in Steubenville: A guilty verdict. Many people were holding their breath in the high-profile rape case, expecting that despite clear evidence of the two defendants’ guilt, our legal system would fail the victim. We thought we’d once again be talking about how a star athlete escaped prosecution.
It’s sad, but finding these rapists guilty is exceptional. According to depressing statistics, only nine percent of rapes in America result in prosecution. Though incarceration is clearly not the sole solution to rape, the fact that these two small-town stars will spend at least a year in a juvenile detention facility sends an important message that people regardless of social status can be held accountable for committing sexual violence.
“Who says women don’t write serious nonfiction?” ask the editors at Creative Nonfiction, the largest literary magazine dedicated to publishing exclusively high quality nonfiction prose. The meaty essay section in their winter issue, titled “Female Form,” happens to feature (surprise!) solely women writers. In a fortuitous coincidence, the release of “Female Form” dovetails with the most recent national count of the gender of media-makers, the VIDA count.
The VIDA count is a staggering annual statistical breakdown showing the rates of publication between women and men in several respected literary outlets. This year, the count reveals that men continue to have 70 percent of bylines in mainstream media. VIDA, a burgeoning organization of women in literary arts, conducted the first count in 2011, hoping to initiate a long overdue conversation about gender discrimination in the publishing world.
“We did not go into this thinking we knew the answer to something and this was going to illustrate it, because this is a complicated issue,” VIDA co-founder, Erin Belieu, told Mother Jones last April. “But you can't deny the starkness of such an incredibly wide discrepancy.”
We were thrilled to learn so much from other like-minded women with passion for media and be a part of the panel discussing Best Practices in Social Media with Twitter Editorial Director Karen Wickre, VegNews Associate Publisher Colleen Holland, Google Wildfire Social Media Manager Maya Grinberg, and Maker Media Senior Editor Goli Mohammadi.
Here are three big things I learned at the exceptional conference.
1. If you want to meet a stranger, stare them directly in the eyes while asking personal questions. The day started with an exercise led by a group called Social Fluency. Everyone had to find a stranger, stand one foot away from each other, and stare into each other’s eyes for five straight minutes while asking questions like, “What are you passionate about?” I was not excited at all when they announced the exercise, but it worked! Dozens of women who began as mildly enthusiastic networkers ended the day buzzing. Clearly, Social Fluency is on to something, no matter how awkward those first few minutes were.
In my role artistic director of the Third Coast International Audio Festival, I've noticed something that bothers me. It’s nothing new, it’s fairly obvious, and it deserves your attention. It’s the lack of female hosts in the ever-widening world of podcasts.
According to the widely-used podcast-delivery phone app Stitcher, as of mid-February, 2013, out of the top 100 podcasts in their system, 71 are hosted by men (many by two or three men), 11 are hosted by women (of which three are just 60 second long podcasts), 9 are co-hosted by a man and woman, and 9 are either NPR or BBC news aggregation podcasts with alternating hosts and reporters, or it’s unclear who hosts. The statistics for iTunes results are similar.
As a radio addict, I generally keep up (or try to) with what’s out there in the audio cosmos. I’ve long been aware that male-hosted podcasts out-number women-hosted podcasts. But the actual numbers floored me. They should alarm you, too. The statistics point to a disappointing truth: that podcasting, hailed back in 2004 as a “revolutionary” new tool for freedom of expression and endless creative opportunity, quickly copped the same gender stereotypes and realities that traditional broadcasting environments have demonstrated throughout history.