Gender Archives

April 8, 2013

Spring Breakers

Spring Breakers poster

(Warning: spoilers)

I saw Spring Breakers weeks ago and have been struggling to come up with something to say about this movie and what it all means: the partying, the beach, the kids, the boobs, the drugs, the guns, the booze, the murder. I can't quite get my head around it, but here's what I've got.

The four girls at the center of the movie are so desperate to go to the beach for spring break that they rob a chicken restaurant using squirt guns and intimidation techniques we've all seen a thousand times in every heist movie ever (yelling, swearing, threatening to bust everyone's skulls, etc.) They are completely successful, and go to St. Petersburg to party.

The interesting thing is that everything the girls do is something they (and we) have learned through endless examples in TV and movies. They dance on the beach to techno, douse themselves in beer, scream "Woooo Spring Break!", shake themselves all over the place, loll around in their bathing suits stroking each other's hair, and occasionally make out with each other. They wear neon string bikinis because any other kind of bathing suit would never be considered for even one second. They sing "...Baby One More Time" by Britney Spears and talk about how Florida is the greatest paradise they have ever known. Any person who has experienced MTV or a movie about off-the-hook teen parties in the last 20 years knows exactly how to be a girl going wild on spring break, because we've all seen it hundreds of times.

And we all know exactly how to commit armed robbery and be a badass gangster because we've seen it hundreds of times, too. The girls move from robbery with squirt guns to partying on the beach to doing drugs in a cheap motel room to getting into serious crime with real guns and real gangsters, but it all feels like a logical progression along a continuum of familiar, predictable pop cultural references. They're always performing.

There's a flattening of "bad girl" behavior at work here: taking your top off at a beach party is more or less on the same level as stealing in order to have a good time, and neither is really all that different from hitting up a local drug dealer and taking his cash. We've seen it on TV and in movies. By the time the girls hook up with James Franco, put on their My Little Pony face masks, and start doing some real damage with assault rifles, it bizarrely feels like just more of the same. As Manohla Dargis writes, it's "more of a horror film than a comedy."

So is Spring Breakers a criticism of our hyper-sexualized, hyper-violent pop culture? I think it is. It's also really dark and really hilarious. The culture that teaches teenage girls to think people will like them more if they take their tops off and tongue-kiss each other for the boys is the same culture that thinks organized crime and murder are cool. We live in a world where teenage debauchery and gangs are a little naughty, but so exciting! And when the girls start killing bad guys, does that make them good? Maybe?

This is a controversial viewpoint, but that's how it goes with Harmony Korine. I like the cultural criticism in the movie, but even better is the dream-like impressionistic way a lot of scenes unfold. There are many sequences with recurring loops of dialogue and non-linear, abstract camera shots of sky, ocean, body shots, and making out in a hot tub that all sort of blend into each other in a nightmarish haze. It's indistinct and gorgeous, which is more than I would typically say about a scene shot in a Florida motel pool.

January 11, 2013

The Oscars and tokenism

Kathryn Bigelow after winning two Oscars

When Kathryn Bigelow won her Best Director Oscar for The Hurt Locker, I felt pretty sure that she won because she did the best directing job of the year, and not because the Academy decided to check "women" off the diversity to-do list and congratulate itself on being so broad-minded and progressive.

Fast forward to yesterday's Oscars nominations. Zero Dark Thirty is, in my opinion, even better than The Hurt Locker, and certainly represents a more ambitious and dazzling feat of directing in terms of actors and story and all the technical stuff. So I was disappointed that she didn't get a nomination (though ZDT got a Best Picture nomination,) but more than that, I was sad to realize that her nomination and win back in 2010 was probably more about the Academy deciding it was time to let a girl win than I had hoped. She deserves the Oscars she has, even if they turned out to be tokens.

On the other hand, it was nice to see some surprise inclusions: Benh Zeitlin for Beasts of the Southern Wild and Michael Haneke for Amour were both wildly unlikely long shots. I guess this proves that the Academy loves heartwarming fantasies about adorable children, and also old people. Amour was one of my favorite movies of the year, but the directorial style pretty much defines "minimal": hire two of the world's greatest living actors, turn the camera on, and then don't do anything else. It's a great movie, but it's super small. For an Academy that typically equates "best" with "most", this is a really weird category of Best Director nominees.

I'm not going to discuss all the nominations Silver Linings Playbook got because I'm too bewildered and upset, but my main consolation is knowing that it has basically no chance of actually winning any of the big awards. The one exception might be Robert DeNiro, which I can live with. Let's just remember that David O. Russell last made a really good movie in 1999 with Three Kings and try to get on with our lives.

September 13, 2011

Lana Wachowski

Wachowskis and Arianna Huffington

Some articles floating around today about Hugh Grant joining the cast of the movie adaptation of Cloud Atlas highlight an interesting bit of Hollywood gender confusion: what to call Larry Wachowski, erstwhile Wachowski Brother, now that he's become Lana Wachowski. On IMDb and everything.

That's Lana up there on the right with the adorably cartoonish fake pink dreads, next to her brother and, for some reason, Arianna Huffington. A lot of articles, including one by the trans-insensitive AP, refer to the directors of Cloud Atlas as "The Wachowski Brothers", the name they've used in credits of their other movies like The Matrix. Hollywood Reporter is one of the few publications I've seen today that just calls them Andy and Lana Wachowski.

Back in January of this year, the Wikipedia entry for "Wachowski Brothers" was redirected to "The Wachowskis" after what looks like several years of passionate, politically-charged debate over what to call them and how to refer to Larry/Lana. I'm glad we settled on that rather than the clunky Wachowski Siblings.

If Cloud Atlas is twice as good as Speed Racer, I'll gladly call them anything they want. German director Tom Tykwer is co-directing with the Wachowskis. If Cloud Atlas is half as good as Run Lola Run, I might start remembering his name, too.

I love the book, and I'm glad to see the adaptation is looking pretty great, and a little unconventional. The rest of the cast includes Susan Sarandon, Ben Wishaw, Jim Sturgess, Jim Broadbent, Hugo Weaving, and other people like Academy Award Winners Tom Hanks and Halle Berry who I guess will be OK. According to Ben Wishaw, the actors playing the main character in each of the 6 storylines that make up the book will also appear in smaller unexpected roles in the other storylines. For example, Wishaw plays three characters: a 1930's era pianist, an American woman in the '70's, and an extra in a nursing home in the 2000's.

About the movie's casting, Wishaw says, "Everybody's swapping race and gender, so it's very ambitious and quite fun. I'll really love playing a woman!"

Any guesses on whose idea that was?

January 31, 2011

Women and Wikipedia

Women pay gap

Wikipedia has determined that only 13% of its contributors are women. The site's usefulness depends on all kinds of people sharing knowledge about subjects they're interested in. Everybody benefits when the knowledge of a vast number of individual people is centralized in one place, and Wikipedia has done a fantastic job at collecting individual knowledge -- of guys in their mid-20's.

The Times article about the low contribution rates of women includes surprised speculation from people in media and computer studies about why this might be. I don't want to be cynical, but do these people live in the same world I live in?

Let's look at some major areas of public life:

Sensing a trend?

Of course there's a big difference between becoming a Senator or a CEO of a big company and contributing to a Wikipedia article. ANYONE can write something on Wikipedia. You still don't have to register with the site to add some verifiable facts to an existing article, and there's a help page for new contributors.

Since women's knowledge is so radically underrepresented in Wikipedia, we're all losing out. I don't know about you, but I probably look something up on Wikipedia every day. I don't want to only find what dudes are interested in up there.

Two examples in the Times article: "Is a category with five Mexican feminist writers impressive, or embarrassing when compared with the 45 articles on characters in The Simpsons?" "The entry on Sex and the City includes only a brief summary of every episode, sometimes two or three sentences; the one on The Sopranos includes lengthy, detailed articles on each episode."

Sure, it's just pop culture, but this is part of what happens when women are in so few visible leadership positions. As Catherine Orenstein, founder of The OpEd Project says in the Times piece, "When you are a minority voice, you begin to doubt your own competencies." Fewer women in media, business, and government seems to also mean fewer women and girls sharing a bit of knowledge in an online article about TV shows, authors, historical figures, cities, bands, or artists they like and know something about.

Contributing to Wikipedia doesn't require leadership or ambition, but it does require women and girls to think, "I have something to say", and with few exceptions, that's not happening. Boys and men obviously think they have plenty to say, and they're already saying it awfully loudly and in painstaking detail. Ladies: please speak up, I can't hear you.

In thinking about the small numbers of women in leadership positions in business, I realized that at every single job I've had since college, the person at the top has been a woman. This now seems incredibly statistically improbable, and I feel really lucky.

[Note: a reader points out that Wikipedia is intended to be a repository of known facts, not personal analysis or research, as described in the No Original Research entry. My point remains that contributors reflect their own personal interests by adding facts to an entry, making the whole of Wikipedia a sum total of the interests of its contributors, so if those contributors are 87% dudes, well, you get a lot of stuff about Matchbox cars and Civil War Reenactments.]

August 19, 2010

The male Brazilian: a country with no boundaries

40 Year Old Virgin waxing scene

Male waxing is nothing new. Over the last decade or so (or last century for gay guys) more and more men have gotten some various part of their chest, back, shoulders, or legs waxed, gaining a personal understanding of suffering for beauty, and perhaps a new way to bond with women.

The new frontier: Brazilians for men. Christopher Hitchens did it a few years ago, and today Salon has a first-person account, "Why I got the male Brazilian wax" by a brave fellow who sounds like he was bullied into it by his girlfriend's waxing technician, a brusque Russian named Irena.

Hetero male waxing of the nether regions isn't exactly new territory (Newsweek reported that "it's the straight guys who seem to be doing the more extreme waxing" back in 2004) but now that it's become as common as flossing, I started to think about it. Like, what a male Brazilian actually means. I understand it for the ladies. It means everything is gone.

For what about for men? For most women, hair in tender areas tends to stop at some point. If you're going to remove all of it, there is a somewhat clearly-defined area with boundaries that "all of it" lies within. But a lot of men out there have hair that just goes on and on like an endless follicular ocean. There's no hair horizon. If you're going in deep around the entire crotchal area, that's fine, but where do you stop? Clearly, balls are involved. I don't want to get too graphic, here, but I can imagine situations where once you start waxing down there, you wouldn't necessarily encounter a natural stopping point until you reached the soles of the feet.

I really wish at least one of these articles was a lot more explicit about the parameters of the male Brazilian. I want to know.

Anyway, there are some wonderful moments in today's Salon article, like the response the writer got when he asked his bros about getting Brozilians--"they were, in a word, appalled. They became almost angry at my suggestion that it had ever been a trend."

Also: a story about tazing an inappropriate customer, and the no-nonsense Ukrainian spa aesthetician who says: "We hire only older women for the waxing, like your grandmother. We don't hire the model drop-dead gorgeous girl. Otherwise men become uncomfortable and afraid." Makes sense. You're pretty vulnerable down there with your legs up in the air, though a Ukrainian grandmother brandishing a pot of hot wax sounds terrifying enough.

[tx Jess!]

August 9, 2010

3rd grade = puberty

3rd grade class, 1984

[photo: Mrs. Ford's 3rd grade class, 1984]

A new study was just released in Pediatrics magazine that measures when American girls are hitting puberty to see if it's happening at an a younger age than it used to. It's definitely happening earlier, but what I found alarming is that for the purpose of this study, "earlier" means "at an age when I was still wearing jammies with feet."

The study included girls ages 6 to 8 in New York, San Francisco, and Cincinnati, and checked them to see if they had breasts yet. We're talking 1st to 3rd grade, here. The target demographic for My Little Pony and Strawberry Shortcake.

And Giant Gazongas Barbie, apparently. Because it turns out lots of these 7 and 8 year olds have breasts--like 18% of white girls, 31% of Latina girls, and 43% of black girls!

For a late bloomer like me, this is completely insane. I associate that first bra purchase more closely with learning to drive than with learning to add. It's entirely possible that, if I were a teenager today, I would be babysitting a 7 year-old whose boobs were bigger than mine. I can't even imagine how girls who are still figuring out how to avoid wetting the bed are dealing with suddenly having pubic hair.

The causes aren't completely clear, but everyone suspects it's mostly due to obesity and chemicals in food and the environment like xenoestrogens and bovine growth hormone that mess with your endocrine system and do crazy things like make 7 year-old girls develop breasts. It was mostly the overweight girls in the study who were reaching puberty at such early ages, and the scientists say they're going to measure all the girls' hormone levels and see what chemicals they'd been exposed to.

Even though this new research suggests lucrative new product lines for busty elementary schoolers, I'd rather not see displays of Dora the Explorer training bras at Target.

April 29, 2010

Tanning is a bigger deal than I thought

Kardashian with tanlines

When the healthcare reform bill finally passed, one of the odd things to get thrown in at the last minute was a 10% tax on tanning salon sessions. In an earlier version of the bill, it was only a 5% tax on tanning, with another 5% tax on cosmetic surgery. But in the end, they kept facelifts tax-free and doubled the tanning tax for an estimated 30 million people per year.

This decision made more sense today after I read about a recent, crazy study that Sloan-Kettering did on tanning, which suggests that something like 20% of college students surveyed are actually addicted to tanning. Over half of the kids surveyed have done indoor tanning. Even if you look only at the ones who have tanned, 40% of them are out-of-control tanners.

Somehow I'd never noticed this, but tanning is hugely popular. So clearly, this 10% tax was a wise legislative move. If you tax the hell out of cigarettes and alcohol, and we all keep paying higher and higher prices for them, why not tax something else people are powerless to resist?

Salon owners in the $6 billion industry aren't happy about the tax, of course. Sessions only cost about $7 on average, and I can't see a hardcore tanning addict fussing over 70 cents.

Rick Kueber, founder of Indiana salon Sun Tan City, explains why he thinks the tax is unfair because of its disproportionate effect on one segment of the population: white ladies. "Let's call this what it is. It's a tax on working, white women," he says. He points out that wealthy people enjoy their plastic surgery tax-free, and I think is also strangely implying that those lucky Americans with naturally non-pasty skin are getting a free ride through some sort of melanin tax shelter.

I don't understand tanning at all, but apparently there are other studies out there that suggest the UV rays give tanners an endorphin boost, so maybe the appeal is more psychological than aesthetic. I used to work with a woman who displayed a weird tanning obsession, calling furtively to book sessions whenever she was having a bad day, and she really loved tanning even though her 26 year-old skin had all the suppleness of a Slim Jim.

April 20, 2010

Mars and Venus make a movie

Women are from Pluto, Men are from Uranus

The latest insanely popular relationship self-help book to be made into a movie will be early 90's juggernaut "Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus", a book I was almost as happy to see fade from public consciousness as the marginally more odious "The Rules". I'm sure you remember this book. There was a time that every single person on the planet was reading it, or one of its thousands of spin-offs ("M&V On a Date", "M&V In the Bedroom", "M&V Starting Over", "M&V Grit Their Teeth Through Endless Years of Tedium and Despair"). And by "every single person" I mean women who can't stand their insufferable husbands/boyfriends.

Time for Mars & Venus: The Movie! Which sounds exactly like last year's He's Just Not That Into You: The Movie, except with even more rigid and stereotypical gender roles.

The book was a giant step backwards in terms of breaking down useless and stifling assumptions about what men are like (i.e. rational) and what women are like (i.e. emotional), and reinforced the notion that you can make generalizations about men and women so outrageously broad that you can claim things like this:

"In Chapter 3 we'll discover the different ways men and women cope with stress. Martians tend to pull away and silently think about what's bothering them, while Venusians feel an instinctive need to talk about what's bothering them ... In Chapter 5 you'll learn how men and women commonly misunderstand each other because they speak different languages ... You will learn how men and women speak and even stop speaking for entirely different reasons."

As to what kind of pseudo-chick-flick nightmare this movie is going to be, you can pretty much imagine. On the upside, I can't wait to read Manohla Dargis's eviscerating review, which will probably spit as much venom as her HJNTIY review.

As far as casting goes, the movie could go a few different ways. The standard Hollywood movie star route would probably go with Jennifer Aniston and Bradley Cooper (who were both in HJNTIY). The really horrifically unfortunate cast would be Katherine Heigl and Ben Affleck. The luckier cast that might create an OK movie could be someone like Emily Mortimer or Rosemarie DeWitt, and Adam Goldberg or Paul Rudd. But would actors like them want anything to do with a movie like this?

In an ideal, admittedly psychotic, world, I would love to see the Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus movie starring David Cross and Jane Adams as the hostile, bickering couple from Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind who appear throughout the movie, staying together while loathing each other. Here's a short video clip of one of my favorite scenes ("I am making a birdhouse!")

February 8, 2010

Watch the game, hate your life

FloTV Super Bowl ad

I noticed a theme in some of last night's Super Bowl ads: in addition to the usual inscrutably unfunny Doritos ads and unoriginal but instantly recognizable Go Daddy ads (those people really understand brand consistency) there was an undercurrent of male misery. It's standard for ads to make the viewer feel uncomfortable or insecure, then offer the product as a solution to your self-esteem problem, but a couple of these ads suggested that the problem in your life is not really your athlete's foot--it's your girlfriend.

The Dodge ad was an especially bitter girl-hating ad, which is odd, considering that it's basically one long whiny bitch fest (with a few pissy little jokes thrown in.) It features lots of guys looking directly into the camera, with a voiceover listing all the indignities they suffer as part of living with a woman, such as being forced to separate the recycling. Life for a man, according to this ad, is an endless series of irritations piled on by that bitch you married (or who's pressuring you for a ring, probably) and the only recourse is to drive a Dodge, the one thing in this world she can't take away from you.

Geez, guys, if it's really that horrific to pick up your underwear, you could find a lady with less stringent household tidiness expectations. Or support Chrysler by suffering in silence and driving a shitbox car.

Then there's the poor doofus who let his girlfriend drag him along underwear shopping (above) instead of letting him watch basketball. Another hapless fellow whose simple yearning for happiness has been denied by his selfish cow girlfriend who needs a new bra. Poor, poor widdle man!

The long-suffering man ad that I did like was the one for Dove Men, which is admittedly an absurdly tough product to try to sell during the Super Bowl. Anyway, the Dove Men approach is to depict one man's life, from fetus to adulthood, and the many challenges he has faced and overcome along the way. Living with a lady in this ad can also be a trial, but these difficulties are shown as small victories to be proud of rather than opportunities to complain about how much women suck. And it's funny. A decent ad.

Actually, the Dove Men ad is probably targeted exclusively to women. How many guys out there are going to purchase Dove Men bodywash at the supermarket? They could at least rebrand this line to something like Falcon or, to continue the political metaphor, Hawk. This ad probably presents a less toxically bitter attitude toward women because they're the buyers. (Though I see that Dove got last night's MVP Drew Brees to appear on the website, lathering up a very masculine and non-drying foam in the shower.)

My favorites were the Kia ad about toys going out on the town (particularly the shot of the robot and a human in a Vegas club, both doing the robot) and the Audi ad using Cheap Trick's "Dream Police" as a soundtrack for scenes of an army of draconian eco-fascists handcuffing people for using styrofoam cups. I love it.

You can watch all the ads on Hulu, though you have to watch a few seconds of a Coke ad before you watch each of the other ads, which seems unjustifiably cheap.

October 21, 2009

New Catholic membership campaign

Pope Benedict

You like being an Anglican, but you're not so thrilled about gender equality and gay people messing up your church.

Now's the time to let Catholicism wrap you up in the warm embrace of sexism and homophobia! No forward-thinking here -- just centuries of bigotry and denial.

Here with the Catholics, conservative Anglicans can still enjoy priests whose sexuality, gay or straight, has been kept hidden until it turns into something sick and illegal. And women who want to participate in the church can do so through only the following roles:

-choir leader
-secret lover of priests who gets to raise their child in secret with tightfisted financial support.

We're waiting for you!

September 21, 2009

Hey, Jennifer's Body is actually good!

Jennifer's Body

Maybe this is some kind of delayed backlash to the Diablo Cody backlash, but I'm going to say it: Jennifer's Body is a better movie than Juno. It's also an unapologetic teen horror movie, so I probably like it in part because I love teen horror movies, and I'm ambivalent about twee little indie movies about meaningful teen issues with a hideously grating soundtrack.

There's a robust tradition of horror movies with gutsy heroines kicking ass (The Final Girl, etc) but this is the first one I've seen that is of, by, for, and about girls. With every boy she devours, Jennifer is really trying to provoke her best friend Needy's attention, jealousy, love, and loyalty--she's the twisted friend who shows her devotion to you by randomly making out with you, then hitting on your boyfriend.

You could read the movie as: a metaphor for combustible female teenage sexuality and sexual power; a revenge fantasy about killing men who exploit teenage girls and turn them into literal and figurative monsters; a story about how best friends navigate their friendships when they start getting into boys; a thoughtful analysis of our cultural obsession with Megan Fox; and a big middle finger to our cultural obsession with Megan Fox.

And while all these layers are going on, it's still a really fun horror movie about an occult ritual gone wrong, and the resulting demon-babe with an insatiable appetite for boy guts. With a decent soundtrack!

While I was watching the movie and thinking about how it's all about the Megan Fox media saturation we live in, I was reminded of Steven Soderbergh casting Sasha Grey to play an expensive prostitute in The Girlfriend Experience, which was about buying and selling the fantasies that we create about people. By casting Sasha Grey, he made an interesting statement about audiences wanting to believe in the characters we watch in movies, even though we know they're really actors playing roles. It was a great idea, but the downside was that Sasha Grey played her character with such flat affectlessness than it was impossible to care very much about her or anything she did. You could argue that Soderbergh isn't interested in audiences caring about his characters and just wants to make experimental movies about the roles people play in society or something like that, but a lead actor that failed to bring any life at all to her character made for an empty-feeling movie. That I still liked. I can't help myself, Soderbergh!

Megan Fox can act rings around Sasha Grey. Megan Fox knows how to play a man-eating sexpot, because she does it in every one of her movies, magazine interviews, TV appearances, and in the thousands of red carpet and publicity shots we've all seen of her. Casting Megan Fox as a sexy demon in a Diablo Cody horror movie is stunt-casting in the same way that casting Sasha Grey to play an expensive hooker is stunt-casting, but this time it worked. Our friend Emily once said that Megan Fox is the most unmediated celebrity in the world--she's famous for appearing sexy, dangerous, and unhinged in interviews. She's unpredictable, and maybe a little nuts. Her recent Rolling Stone interview about cutting herself and her own insecurity sounds like it was created specifically for Jennifer's Body marketing.

In the press, there's Megan Fox, the a gorgeous sexual dynamo who exists to fuel boys' fantasies about her so people will go see her movies. In the movie, there's Megan Fox, the gorgeous sexual devil who exists to fuel boys' fantasies about her so she can feed on their flesh. It's beautiful.

Vulture claims that critics are anti-Jennifer's Body, but I disagree. A.O. Scott wrote a glowing review, and especially likes the movie's treacherous world of female friendship, and Dana Stevens from Slate says whatever you expect of this movie based on what you think about Diablo Cody, you're wrong.

Also, she won't get enough attention for this movie, but I loved Amanda Seyfried as Needy, the best friend heroine. Jennifer's the hot one that all the boys want, but Needy has the world's sweetest boyfriend, a supportive mom (Amy Sedaris!), and a healthy dose of self-respect. I loved the image of Needy tearing across a field in her gigantic poofy hot pink princess prom dress and fluffy blonde hairdo to save her boyfriend and kill the demon. I was glad that director Karyn Kusama (who also did Girlfight) could make a formidable heroine who doesn't need boxing gloves to be tough.

July 23, 2009

Wheaties Fuel™: what a man eats

Wheaties Fuel

Wheaties may be the breakfast of champions, but sales are down this year, so General Mills is rebranding. Soon they'll be launching a new product extension that is even tougher and more manly than regular Wheaties -- Wheaties Fuel™.

The Times has a great article on the company's plan to make a cereal that has always been focused on fitness to specifically target men. Men who want their breakfast to make them feel like athletes. Here's the process:

  • First they got a panel of male pro athletes to test different prototypes of Wheaties Fuel™, which the website calls "performance nutrition", and rate them.
  • Next, they reduced girly ingredients like folic acid, which is a nutrient that everyone needs, but it's associated with being pregnant.
  • Then, they added a more masculine ingredient: sugar! Wheaties Fuel™ will have 50% more calories than the original, and is made of 25% sugar, compared to 15% for the original. Two of the three prototypes that the athlete panel is testing also have sugary additions, like "clusters that have a cinnamon-roll-like flavor."

The company is advertising with Men's Health, and readers of the magazine will get to pick the final formula. A nice bit of product-placement there, though the Men's Health publisher says that a new Wheaties product is news-worthy enough that they would have covered it anyway.

But what I find especially interesting is that marketing a breakfast cereal to men is apparently a new concept in the cereal market. Wheaties has always promoted a masculine image--although, wait, has it?

Remember those goofy Wheaties ads from the 80's in which professional athletes sang a verse of a song that went like, "Before I swing for the bleacher seat-ies, I get the eaties for my Wheaties"? Not an especially tough image! Now that I look back on those ads, they were definitely targeted at women, who traditionally did the cereal-buying in their households and wanted to buy something appropriate for their menfolk's breakfast.

A rep from the ad firm that's doing the new Wheaties branding says that times are changing: "A lot of data out there shows that men are taking over a lot more of the shopping occasions. And as that happens, men are not just following a list but are much more focused on making decisions themselves."

Hm. Rebranding a gender-neutral product to encourage a recently empowered gender to buy a special version of that product for themselves. Sound familiar? It's the same approach marketers have used for decades, but targeting women. Need a razor? Buy a pink one with flowers on it! Need a phone? Buy a pink one with sparkles on it! Deodorant? Buy one that says it's pH-balanced for a woman! An energy bar? Buy one with dancing ladies on it!

The only other product I can think of that was historically aimed at women but is repackaged for male shoppers is hair dye--"just for men".

That quote about men making their own decisions in the store reminds me of a great scene from The Hurt Locker, in which the man's-man bomb defuser main character, home from Iraq, is out shopping with his wife. She asks him to go get some cereal. When faced with an entire aisle of hundreds of cereals, he's overwhelmed, so scans the rows, then grabs a box at random and stomps off.

Now there's a Wheaties Fuel™ man.

July 15, 2009

Pomo Sotomayor

Sotomayor hearings

I sure wish I could listen to my college Postmodern Lit professor talk about these Sotomayor hearings.

Please excuse this diversion into shoddy undergrad English-major analysis, but has anyone else noticed the weird refusal to acknowledge that a justice's gender or ethnicity could play a role on the Supreme Court, unless that justice is not male or not white? The kerfuffle over Sotomayor's "wise Latina" comment has gone further than subtly racist partisan pouncing on whatever makes her nomination questionable, and has moved into a strange realm where we all pretend that subjectivity doesn't exist.

When you're a judge, your job is to interpret the law with impartiality and not let your personal viewpoints color your judgment. The law is the law and we as individuals are supposed to fade into an undifferentiated mass of equality and non-discriminatory humanoids before it.

But come on. Even if we all agree that the law should strive for perfect objectivity based on a higher, absolute justice, we all know that's not ever going to be possible. Don't members of Congress know any basic postmodern critical theory?

I'm only half kidding, here. The pomo critics taught us that all the basic tenets that our society is built on--science, religion, the nuclear family, political parties, gender roles, law--are all human constructions that we made up. They don't possess any kind of innate righteousness. The only reason we have the law is that we made it up, if by "we" you mean "white men".

(The postmodernists also say that just like there's no real objective truth, there's also no subjective truth either because the idea of "selfhood" is just another construction, but then you're getting into sophomore-level cultural studies, and I didn't take that class. Here's a pretty good summary of all this stuff.)

I don't expect that we would find much Derrida on Jeff Session's nightstand, but it would be so great if someone in these hearings spoke up and pointed out that if Sotomayor has personal beliefs based on her life experiences that could have some kind of influence on her work as an interpreter of the law, then John Roberts and Clarence Thomas and Scalia and Ginsberg all do too. As justices their job is to strive to see beyond their personal beliefs, though they are still there. Sotomayor spoke about her life experiences as being positive contributions to her legal career, but every judge's experiences somehow influence the way they do their work. How could they not?

We only seem to notice or be suspicious of this when a person other than a white man talks about it, because we have a legal system that was created by white men, and has therefore historically directed more benefits to them than to anyone else. During his congressional hearing, Justice Roberts didn't have to talk about how a wise white guy might add value to a court of law because our courts are already pretty much of, by, and for white guys. Those biases are already there.

At least Sotomayor has admitted this, though now she seems to be backpedaling, playing the objectivity game with Congress. Still, I love that she said this: "Life experiences have to influence you. We’re not robots who listen to evidence and don't have feelings. We have to recognize those feelings, and put them aside. That’s what my speech was saying."

Today, John Cornyn went back to the wise Latina thing again, "asking whether she would regret if her audience of students understood her to be saying that the quality of a judge depended on race, gender or ethnicity." "I would regret that," she said.

I would love to hear John Roberts laboriously explain over and over again how he has explored his own feelings and biases as a white man, then put them aside for the fair application of the law.

June 29, 2009

Extreme cellulite cures

Babies and cellulite

Last week, the Times had an article explaining the physical differences between men and women in how they get cellulite, and why even fit and slender women can end up with oatmeal-like thighs, while men can have expansive acres of fat rolling out in all directions and still have smooth, non-dimpled skin. It's due to differences in connective tissue that holds fat in place under your skin, and the explanation is pretty simple and interesting.

And, of course, there's nothing you can do about it. If you have cellulite, it's probably not going anywhere, despite many creams and treatments that basically just irritate your skin a little bit so that your lumpy butt is temporarily masked by uniform swelling. Ow.

But that didn't stop readers from writing in with their tales of diet and exercise curing them of their cellulite. Or, in one woman's case, breastfeeding for a long, long, long time:

Breast feeding for a very long time permanently cured me of cellulite. When the body is forced to supply the calories that a growing child demands, it uses up all of the fat stores and --- at least in my experience --- the fat cells never come back and they'll also never nag you for food again. OK, so it took 5 straight years of breast-feeding (2 kids), but it was good for them and it was excellent for me. No cellulite, no hunger pains, and most important ... VERY HEALTHY KIDS.

It's an unexpected benefit of kids: they suck all the fat out of your body like hungry little ticks! In five years, your legs will be taut and your children will be fat and happy, nourished by your cellulite.

This advice sort of makes biological sense, but I bet most ladies out there are going to be fine with buying their useless cream at the Rite Aid and spending their lives doing some occasional squats and other non-lactation activities.

[tx esskay!]

April 23, 2009

Dieting for dudes

Skinny Bastards

The ladies who brought us Skinny Bitch are coming out with a version for the fellas, which is titled Skinny Bastard.

The original book for women was marketed as a dieting book, but turned out to be a well-reasoned argument for becoming vegan. Some angry would-be skinny bitches did not want to hear about animal cruelty in their dieting books, but it still sold 1.1 million copies.

The publishing company admits that they expect mostly women to buy Skinny Bastard on behalf of their menfolk. An article in the Times quotes the new, guy-oriented introduction: "Chances are, you haven't done so badly, despite the few extra lbs you're carting around ... But don't kid yourself, pal: A hot-bodied man is a head-turner."

But come on, what kind of man is going to buy a book called Skinny Bastard? The subtitle is pretty good: "A Kick-In-The-Ass For Real Men Who Want to Stop Being Fat and Start Getting Buff", but the title is terrible. There are loads of women out there who would love it if people called them "skinny bitch" behind their backs. And there's definitely a segment of men who would be into the "bitch" part, but how many men aspire to be called "skinny"?

So let's think of some better titles that might interest that special population of men who buy dieting books. A few thoughts:

Fit Jerk
Stud Asshole
Tight-Ab Prick
Sculpted Moron
Pumped Dick
Ripped Fuckface
Beefy Jackass

Wouldn't you rather buy those titles? Browse the Men's Health site for a few minutes, I swear this is totally what guys want.

January 29, 2009

Lilly Ledbetter- The Little Lady Who Stood Up


Lilly Ledbetter of Alabama has had quite a year. She spoke at the DNC last summer, lost her husband (who voted for a Democrat for the first time in his life in November) in December, rode the inauguration train in January, danced with Obama at an Inaugural Ball and attended a White House signing ceremony today.

Ledbetter recorded a tough attack ad for Obama, quoting McCain opposing the Fair Pay Act, saying that women "just need education and training."

Now Ledbetter's name will be associated with this breakthrough for equal pay. When the bill passed the senate, she said "I'm so excited I can hardly stand it." This in spite of the fact that she still won't get the back pay a jury tried to award her. As Gail Collins points out, the current situation was ridiculous: "Let us pause briefly to contemplate the chances of figuring out your co-workers’ salaries within the first six months on the job."
From all of us, thanks Lilly.

October 30, 2008

Times tries for piece on ugly people, ends up with piece on "ugly" people

Charlize Theron in Monster

Ugly people--ew!

The Times has an article in today's Style section that makes a half-hearted attempt to document a trend in average-looking or ugly people getting more attention in movies and TV. Here's the thesis statement:

Ugliness has recently emerged as a serious subject of study and academic interest unto itself, in some small part because of the success of television’s Ugly Betty, which ABC promoted with a "Be Ugly" campaign stressing self-esteem for girls and young women. Sociologists, writers, lawyers and economists have begun to examine ugliness, suggesting that the subject has been marginalized in history and that discrimination against the unattractive, while difficult to document or prevent, is a quiet but widespread injustice.

So maybe social scientists momentarily care that ugly people don't get the attention, admiration, or money that beautiful people get, but, as it turns out, no one else does. Cosmetic surgery is a $13 billion industry, beauty and makeover shows are all over the TV, and the gajillions of magazines, ads, and movies out there confirm that we're only interested in looking at beautiful people.

The article even notes that America Ferrera, who plays Ugly Betty, is actually really gorgeous.

Which brings us to an aspect of this ugliness non-phenomenon that's more interesting: the article only addresses beauty vs. ugliness in women. The only reference to a male creature in the whole article is Shrek who, as an ogre, is by definition ugly.

The highest paid actors are good-looking guys like Johnny Depp, Will Smith, and Leonardo DiCaprio, but we've also got Will Ferrell, Adam Sandler, and James Gandolfini to play the regular shlubby dudes whose characters are supposed to be average-looking.

On the other hand, when a female character is supposed to be regular-looking or kind of ugly, we tend to get beautiful women disfigured by ugly makeup and clothes: Nicole Kidman in a fake nose, Renee Zellweger plus 30 pounds, or Charlize up there in ugly-person makeup and fake crooked teeth. Or America Ferrera in her Ugly Betty red glasses and braces.

So here's the legitimate trend: prosthetic makeup is likely to be a solid career field forever.

October 27, 2008

Mad Men gets feminist

Betty at the hairdresser on Mad Men

The last two episodes of Mad Men were great. The second to last one was some of the best TV I've ever seen-- there are some scenes I never want to watch again, but it was still good television. Even though the season finale last night wasn't quite as ambitious or as creatively structured, it was still pretty amazing.

The show's creator Matthew Weiner, has been clear about his feminist aspirations for the show, but in these last two episodes he shows us what he means: the show seems to have become a kind of morality play where the female characters who stand up for themselves are rewarded, and the ones who don't get raped on the floor of their boss's office.

Let's look at the main characters:

Peggy. The show is as much about her as it is about Don Draper, and it's been structured around her experience from the very first episode. She's now the new superstar of the ad agency, and when she asks for her own office, she gets it (and graciously accepts Roger Sterling's comment about how aggressive women are "cute".) In the finale, she tells Pete Campbell the painful truth about giving away his baby, and in doing so appears to get some kind of spiritual absolution, while Pete is left bewildered and destroyed.

Joan. The scene in the second to last episode where Peggy and Joan talk about Peggy's new office and Joan's upcoming marriage was just awesome. For a moment, the all-powerful Joan looks small and weak as she realizes that she has to rely on the accomplishments of her doctor fiance/rapist to give her status, while Peggy has her own accomplishments to be proud of. For once, Joan is respectful of Peggy and not snotty and dismissive.

But the overall feel of the scene was sad. It was as heartbreaking as watching Joan get passed over for the script reading job without putting up a fight. The show seems to have established an especially unforgiving moral structure for women, just like in teen slasher movies, except in Mad Men it's not the slutty girl who gets punished. It's women like Joan who miss opportunities to stand up for themselves.

Betty. Last night's episode belonged to her. It's been frustrating watching her spiral into the depressive funk she's been in for the last few weeks, but finally last night, her refusal to let her philandering husband come home paid off. Don initially goes off to California to screw around, but instead he ends up spiritually cleansed, and remembers how to be respectful to women through his old friend Anna. He comes home to apologize for being such a dick and does some groveling. Betty lets him back in.

Betty's end of the deal with Don isn't exactly a feminist utopia, but she does get to have a night of freedom, be assured by everybody that she can get an abortion if she needs one, fuck a hot stranger in a men's room, and still get her repentant and now fabulously rich husband back. A lot better than moping around and crying on the shoulder of the 8 year-old boy next door.

The Men. Meanwhile, life is not so great for the menfolk. The last few episodes show them grasping desperately, sometimes pathetically, at their slowly dwindling power over the women in their lives. Don is the only one who seems able to readjust himself and come out, maybe, a sort of decent person. The owners of the agency, meanwhile, had to literally sell themselves out in order to accommodate women's demands--Mona, Jane, and Cooper's hilariously bitchy sister.

Next season: Peggy gets a personal assistant/boy toy, and the secretary pool starts a series of consciousness-raising brown-bag lunches about overly restrictive undergarments.

September 19, 2008

A new kind of Obama heckler

Hecklers at Obama rally

Obama may currently have the support of an impressive 84% of African-American voters, but what about those that he hasn't won over? Who are they?

A bunch of them showed up at today's rally in Miami to protest. CNN has a video of Obama's speech getting interrupted by lots of guys with homemade white signs saying things like "Blacks AGAINST Obama" and "Jesse Jackson Hates Obama For Federal Child Support Act" who started shouting stuff about the KKK.

The URL at the bottom of their signs points to the not quite developed site of Michael Warn, who wants you to "learn the truth about the current issues of the world politically and religiously."

It seems that Mr. Warn's main problem is not actually with Obama, but with women. Specifically, the 33% of black women who he claims are Lilith, "the devil", who are trying to lead black men into evil.

[Lilith is an ancient Jewish and Sumerian female demon mythological figure, who has come to be thought of as Adam's first wife in Jewish and Christian thinking, and later for the Victorians was a sort of femme fatale temptress, as evidenced by the sexy nude Pre-Raphaelite painting of her in the Wikipedia entry.]

Anyway, there are lots of wacky claims in Michael Warn's book, "Satan Revealed, Her Name Is Lilith, She is 33% Of the Black Women Of America", a title which pretty much explains the whole premise of the book right there. The book's cover also identifies Oprah as what he means by 33% of black women.

Some excerpts that he has up on his site:

WOMEN TOOK OVER IN AMERICA when America gave women the right to vote. How? Because they out number men 40 to 1, women have the voting power in numbers, the majority. There are two hundred and sixty million people in America. Black LILITH has a thirty million person block vote ... She takes her numbers and vote her men in who will do her will, and make the laws in her favor. One woman can say you said something sexually negative to her eight years ago and destroy you.

Dizzying logic, there.

I'm not sure how today's protest in Miami ties in with evil demon women, but it sounds like this guy's main problem with Obama is that he is pro-choice, pro-gay rights, and that he and Evan Bayh co-sponsored a bill to enforce child support laws.

So I guess Michael Warn wants to fight that 30 million Black Lilith voting block by requiring pregnant women to have children they don't want, but not requiring fathers to help support them. Actually, maybe this guy does make sense: that sounds like a great way to keep women from taking over America. Especially with there being 40 times more of them and all.

August 12, 2008

Little Chinese girls in Olympic lip-sync cuteness scandal

Chinese girls lip syncing Olympic opening ceremony

It turns out that the little pig-tailed Chinese girl who sang "Ode to the Motherland" at the Beijing Olympics Opening Ceremony on Friday was actually lip-syncing [news report with video]. The real singer, Yang Peiyi (on the left), has a better voice, but was deemed "not as cute" as the lip-syncing girl by the Communist Party, which thinks nothing of driving talented but insufficiently cute little girls into bitterness and self-doubt by the age of 7.

"The child on camera should be flawless in image, internal feeling and expression," explained the music director.

Well, Yang Peiyi, join the club. I'm sure this girl with killer pipes and crooked teeth would get a lot of sympathy from American singers who have been through the same thing. Legendary vocalist Martha Wash actually sued C+C Music Factory in 1990 after a skinnier woman, Zelma Davis, lip synced to Martha belting out "Everybody dance now!" in the video for "Gonna Make You Sweat" and during live (or "live") performances. [UPDATE: Zelma says she didn't lip sync live. See below] [you have definitely already seen this video, but here it is]

And here's another one: LeShaun, the rapper who did the sexy female vocals for LL Cool J's "Doin' It" in 1996 [video]. She got upset that she was not asked to appear in that video--a few skinny girls were cast instead, which LL claimed was due to LeShaun's pregnancy at the time, "rather than any other of her physical features", according to her Wikipedia entry. Here's a 1993 video of LeShaun talking about her own videos being censored because of a double standard applied to women perpetrating violence in rap videos.

But both Martha and LeShaun got over it, and both went on to record more songs with the groups that cut them out of videos.

Little Yang Peiyi has a pretty mature attitude about her own experience with getting screwed out of a live performance that was rightfully hers because of her looks. "I’m OK with it," she said in an interview on the state TV network. "My voice was used in the performance. I think that’s enough."

"I love my country and am eternally loyal to the Communist Party," she continued, eyes wide with terror. "Please don't hurt my family."

UPDATE: Zelma Davis herself wrote in with a clarification about her vocals in "Gonna Make You Sweat". She writes:

"For the record, I have never lip-synched to Martha Wash's vocals during live performances.

I've performed "Gonna Make You Sweat (Everbody Dance Now)" on Saturday Night Live, Oprah, Live with Regis & Kathie Lee, hundreds of concerts around the world, and I have never lip-synched to Martha's vocals."

Thanks for setting the record straight, Zelma!

June 4, 2008

"Assassination" political art show shut down

Assassination art show getting papered over

The Democratic primary may be over, but it looks like we're still, on some level, freaking out about having a woman or a black man as our next president.

A Boston-based artist named Yazmany Arboleda was installing an art exhibit in a gallery today called "The Assassination of Hillary Clinton / The Assassination of Barack Obama". But don't worry, says the artist--he means the character assassination of the two candidates, as perpetrated by the media.

Well, the NYPD didn't care what kind of assassination he meant, and by 9:30 this morning had papered over the title on the gallery doorway. The artist, who just hit the free publicity jackpot, says he still plans to open the show on Thursday, but it sounds like it will run for only two days.

The NY Times post on the exhibit links to two websites that show its pieces, which mostly consist of doctored campaign photos, book jackets, and print ads about each of the candidates. The exhibit looks "edgy" to the point of being stomach-turning.

In case you're interested in learning more racist and sexist jokes and references about these two people, there's a whole bunch of them at the Obama exhibit site and the Clinton exhibit site. The artist says his exhibit is a "metaphorical"critique of the media, presumably the media's sexism and racism in how it covered the candidates during primary season. Critical analysis of sexism and racism is one thing, but when your art consists exclusively of cruel, belittling material, you could end up just looking like a jerk.

But it's not the content of the show that concerned the cops, or the Times, just the title. The cops took the artist in for questioning, then released him. The Times points out that the subject of assassination has come up in many cultural works, but--you know what's coming next--"in the post-9/11 context, recent comments touching on assassination during this political season — including references by former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton — have hit a nerve, and have been followed by apologies."

Both candidates are protected by the Secret Service, and Obama has had Secret Service coverage for over a year, which is apparently the earliest that any candidate has been given protection.

June 3, 2008

Political theories

Hillary and Sex and the City

Slate offers a few political theories today, largely about the intersection of politics and pop culture:

  • First one: part of the reason Sex and the City did so well this weekend is because its main fan base, white ladies, could no longer deny that their favorite political candidate has lost the nomination. According to this theory, both Hillary Clinton's campaign and the movie (which had the highest grossing opening weekend ever for a romantic-comedy) represent a "weirdly conflicted feminism": the SATC ladies are successful and independent, but their lives revolve around status, money, and the men in their lives, while Hillary arguably got as far as she did because she's married to her own Mr. Big. So much for the feminist revolution.
  • Next is another theory about Hillary: since she keeps winning primaries, especially in big states, why doesn't she have more superdelegates supporting her? Theory: the superdelegates have learned from history that a party that fights with itself through the convention will lose in November. If she were running in the free-wheeling '70's or '80's when the news was only on for a half an hour a day, she might still have a chance. As it is, the political big shots who serve as superdelegates are trying (and failing) to minimize negative press and keep their party from looking like a chaotic bunch of squabblers.
  • And finally, an insinuated conspiracy theory: 90 year-old West Virginia Senator Robert Byrd was mysteriously hospitalized hours after criticizing Dick Cheney's "contempt and astounding ignorance toward his own countrymen" when Cheney made a cheap incest joke about West Virginia.

April 30, 2008

Disney and underage girls

It's been interesting watching the Disney reaction to the flap over Vanity Fair's tamely sexualized photograph of Disney star Miley Cyrus. Even though Miley willingly removed her shirt while posing for magazine pictures, she says she's "embarrassed" to have those pictures out there in the world for everybody on the planet to see. Who knows, maybe she reconsidered and really is embarrassed. Or maybe the producers of her show are trying (in vain) to maintain her squeaky-clean image.

Whatever change of heart Miley may or may not have had, Disney's response to the photos is totally clear: they blame Vanity Fair for exploiting their young star. Spokesperson Patti McTeague said, "A situation was created to deliberately manipulate a 15-year-old in order to sell magazines."

It's like Disney is just begging for someone to track down an instance of the company using sexualized images of young girls to promote their own products.

Slate contributor Daniel Brook is happy to oblige.

Brook dug out a photograph he took a few months ago in Beijing of a billboard ad for, of all things, a Disney bra-and-panties set intended for 12 year-olds. I have discreetly covered the potentially shocking areas of the ad with an emblem of unblemished virginal intactness (though the scaffolding in front of the billboard adds a disturbing, girl-in-cage kind of aspect) but you can click on the pic for the original version.

Disney bra and panties


Asked about how this ad manipulates a pre-teen girl in order to sell Mickey-themed underwear, another Disney spokesperson has been trying to rationalize. Yes, they approved the image, which was created by a Chinese licensee of their brand. And in Disney's defense, the spokesperson says that in China these kinds of images are "not unusual at all" (like they are over here...?)

March 3, 2008

Female President idea returns to world of hour-long dramas and sci-fi movies

Condi Rice and Nancy Pelosi

There's a pretty good chance that Hillary Clinton is going to stay stuck as America's First Serious Female Presidential Contender, never quite making it to First Female President. I think she's made it easier for whoever decides to run in future elections, even if she ultimately loses. There are other great women in politics who don't have all the baggage that comes with Hillary, and today the Times looks at who might be the first woman president, for real this time.

They like Kathleen Sebelius, governor of Kansas and recent feature of O Magazine, and also Janet Napolitano, governor of Arizona. Both of these are good choices--they're popular second term Democratic governors in red states, and have strong fiscal backgrounds, and both have endorsed Obama.

I guess it's a good bet that speculation about Condi won't go away, though if she ever ran, she would be facing a country still pissed off from when we suddenly realized sometime in 2005 that we all totally hate our president. She'll always have to answer for Iraq.

What's surprising is that the Times didn't mention Nancy Pelosi, who is the highest-ranking woman in US history. I think Pelosi is smart, aggressive, and knows what she's doing, even though the Democratic Congress has been so disappointing. She's fought for a lot of good policies like raising minimum wage, and lots of other ones that got defeated, and she voted against the Iraq war. She'd be a pretty good candidate if she can get Congress to stand up to Bush more often. She also raised 5 kids while working her way up in California politics.

For now, maybe all we're going to get is another 4 years with Presidents Leslie McCloud, Mackenzie Allen, and Laura Roslin.

Watch Tina Fey's great "Bitch Is the New Black" political speech on SNL's Weekend Update from a week ago.

December 20, 2007

Argentina's awesome president

Cristina Fernandez de Kirschner

This is a picture of Argentina's president, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, at a graduation event at a military school outside Buenos Aires.

Look at her. That fan, the pose, the exposed thigh.

Now think about Hillary Clinton, and to what lengths she would go to make sure that no picture of her sitting like this while holding a fan at a state function ever surfaced.

Like Clinton, Kirchner is the wife of a former popular president, to whom she owes pretty much all of her political success. Nestor Kirchner stepped down from the presidency earlier this year so that she could run. She won easily, all the while wearing gobs of mascara and flashy suits and loud jewelry.

As the Times of London wrote in comparing the two women, "While every fashion move that Clinton makes is relentlessly analyzed for its potential impact on voters in Iowa – from her latest hair-style to whether or not she laughs too loudly - Kirchner has gaily shrugged off accusations that she is 'frivolous'."

In keeping with her usual aesthetic, which my friend Trash Rock describes as "retired cheerleader", Kirchner wears suits like this:

Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner

and adopts poses like this in TV interviews:

Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner

And nobody cares! Can you IMAGINE Hillary Clinton with this body language, looking all languorous and kittenish on the air? Americans would flip out. Sure, Kirchner got elected mainly because voters assume that her policies will be nearly identical to her husband's, but many Clinton supporters probably feel the same way.

The problem is, American campaign strategists seem sure that if Hillary looks good on purpose, she opens herself up to criticism and stereotyping. Obama looked great on the cover of GQ, and I would have been glad to see Hillary in that non-dowdy Vogue photo shoot she backed out of last month. You can bet she would have gotten shit for it, even without holding a fan. Poor Hillary, stuck with her pantsuits.

November 27, 2007

Young Kenyan men enjoy same gifts-for-sex benefits young women have had for centuries

Charlotte Rampling in Heading South

Reuters had an article yesterday on the trend of older white English women going on vacation in Kenya, and while there, taking out hot young men, buying them clothes and expensive dinners, and having sex with them.

The white beaches of the Indian Ocean coast stretched before the friends as they both walked arm-in-arm with young African men, Allie resting her white haired-head on the shoulder of her companion, a six-foot-four 23-year-old from the Maasai tribe.

He wore new sunglasses he said were a gift from her.

"We both get something we want -- where's the negative?" Allie asked in a bar later.

Apparently the negative is that a lot of hotel managers and members of the Kenya tourism board are lumping these women in with other sex tourists who come to Kenya to pay 12 year-old girls or boys for sex.

Which is nuts. Old, wealthy sugar daddies everywhere have long enjoyed taking much younger women out, showering them with gifts, and having sex with them. Some might go so far as to marry them (Billy Joel, Donald Trump, Fred Thompson, Ben Kingsley, Les Moonves, I could go on all day) but plenty more just enjoy the arm candy for a while then drop them (George Soros).

At last, young men from poor countries with little opportunity for living in economic security get to enjoy the same temporary access to nice clothes and fancy dinners that young American women have been hustling to get their hands on forever! Why should sex-for-goods be exclusively a rich man/poor woman transaction? I'm so glad to see these enterprising young African men are finally able to exploit their youthful hotness with all the savvy of a midwestern high school dropout draping herself over aging producers at Hollywood parties.

22 year-old Joseph, a Kenyan man who says he has slept with over 100 white women, says:

"When I go into the clubs, those are the only women I look for now," he told Reuters. "I get to live like the rich mzungus (white people) who come here from rich countries, staying in the best hotels and just having my fun."

He could be half the girls in their early 20's who hang out at expensive Tribeca bars hoping to snag free drinks from an investment manager.

The movie Heading South came out in 2006 and featured Charlotte Rampling (in the photo above) traveling to Haiti to have sex with young men in the 1970's. A long article about the movie goes into all these complicated arguments about sex, economics, political power, gender roles, exploitation, and on and on.

Seems like the only new or interesting thing happening here is that the older, richer person in the dynamic is female and they have to go to other countries to find young men willing to do what many young women in rich countries have done basically forever. Yawn.

October 25, 2007

Eat at Applebee's or Wanda Sykes will yell at you

Applebee's apple ad

The Times reports today that the casual dining industry is suffering this year, possibly because of shrinking discretionary budgets and better, healthier options available at cheaper places like McDonald's. Or maybe Americans have finally realized that paying $16.49 for a microwaved plate of soggy chicken cutlet topped with salsa from a jar and a blend of "American and Mexican cheeses" (aka Friday's "Sizzling Chicken & Cheese" entree) is a rip-off.

Time for a new ad campaign! Restaurants like Applebee's, Chili's, IHOP, and Outback Steakhouse have all hired new agencies, and a new Applebee's campaign launches this Sunday.

The new Applebee's ads feature Wanda Sykes as a sassy-talking apple that bitches at people eating alone at their desks to get their asses over to Applebee's with their friends. Sounds like a great formula for people who love getting told what to do by bossy black women! The Times had a great article last year about the probably offensive caricature of feisty, overweight black women being overused in ads, so maybe Applebee's wanted to recast the feisty black woman as an apple as a new, fresh expression of a tired old stereotype.

And, even better--Lori Senecal, the general manager of the ad agency, says, "We’re going to be the advocate for people 'togetherizing.'" The Times points out that this is "a made-up word".

October 11, 2007

The governor and the strippers

Live Nude Girls Unite

Today we have news that dancers at Scores have filed a suit against the club for skimming from their tips, as well as other violations.

A few things you should know about this case:

1. The outcome of the case likely depends on whether the dancers achieve class action certification. If the class is certified, the company is likely to settle.

2. A key issue will be whether the girls have been misclassified as independent contractors. Governor Eliot has recently noticed that this misclassification is a major problem.

"Businesses can use misclassification to avoid complying with laws governing unemployment insurance, workers’ compensation, social security, tax withholding, temporary disability insurance, minimum wage and overtime. "

I'm sure a reputable business like Scores would never do anything like that, though.
The Post reports that at least one dancer is buying the independent contractor argument:

Tamara Friedman, 29, a busty blond with an Eastern European accent, took the company line. "I don't think it's unfair," she said firmly. "We're independent contractors. If a girl doesn't like it, she can go somewhere else."

To counteract this defeatest attitude, I hope the women in the lawsuit have taken the time to watch Live Nude Girls Unite.

September 11, 2007

Which news makes the news?

Margaret Warner in Pakistan

You may have heard that CBS News anchor/albatross Katie Couric recently went to Iraq. Some things people have been talking about related to her mission:

  • It was a publicity stunt for ratings.
  • It was not a publicity stunt for ratings.
  • Katie carefully considered her decision to go to Iraq, since she has 2 young children.
  • Brian Williams of NBC Nightly News has already been to Iraq three times, and Bob Woodruff of ABC World News went to Iraq last year, where he was badly injured.
  • Nobody did soul-searching interviews with them before they left about their young children.
  • CBS News producers are "proud" of the show and Katie's journalistic chops despite all the viewers they've lost since she came on.

It's a good thing CBS didn't send Katie Couric to Iraq and Syria for ratings, since all that media coverage didn't get anyone to actually watch her show. Last week while she was there, the Evening News tied its own all-time low record.

In other news news, I bet you haven't been seeing any news coverage about Margaret Warner of PBS's News Hour, who was in Pakistan, home to al-Qaida and recent suicide bombings, at just about the exact same time that Katie Couric was in Iraq. Her pieces were awesome, and she did interviews with politicians (former Prime Ministers Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif), people on the street, local journalists, and business people. She seemed to really like being there, calling Islamabad "a political junkie's paradise," and it was a great series.

Incredibly, Margaret Warner's News Hour bio doesn't say if she has any small children who she, as a mother, might have taken into consideration when planning her trip.

July 25, 2007

Whiny teenage girls are driving even themselves nuts

teenage girls talking

A couple of surprising pieces of news today about the risks of friendship.

First, researchers found that when teenage girls sit around and moan nonstop about how hard their lives are and how they're so depressed, it turns out that they really are making themselves depressed. A little sharing of your problems is OK, but when girls "co-ruminate" excessively (about how much they totally hate their moms and no boys will ever like them and omg their hair is so flat and hideous) it often leads to "persistent feelings of sadness, hopelessness or worry." Yeah, shocker.

So this means long-suffering, sullen, complaining, self-obsessed girls really do need to shut the hell up--for their own and everybody else's mental health. Hopefully this study will lead to a public health campaign that also forces them to stop writing poetry.

Interestingly, this phenomenon doesn't appear to happen to boys, who get positive emotional results from sharing their problems with friends. The scientists say they believe the same trends may apply to adults.

And in the popular story that is sure to undermine relationships all over the nation, if you have a close friend of the same sex who gains weight, your chances of becoming obese go up by 71%! By comparison, the same study found that stopping smoking seemed to have no influence on risk of obesity. I know! Incredible.

So I guess the lesson is, yeah, your friends might make you fat, but as long as you don't bitch about it too much, you should be fine.

May 17, 2007

NYT Styles section: if you're a woman, your life sucks

Miserable women in the NYT

Here are some articles featured in today's woman-hating Styles section in the New York Times:

"Mr. Right, It Turns Out, Does Not Take Classes"
This piece examines single women in New York who want to find a man, but are unable to, because no matter how many interests they develop or classes they take or in any other way try to "get out there", there aren't any men to meet. "Where are they?" asked Wendy Hill, who has taken architecture classes at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and has joined singles groups and getaways. "Where do they go?"

"After Baby, Boss Comes Calling"
In this article, professional, upper-middle class women who have quit their jobs when they have children struggle to find meaningful work when they decide to start working again. This is by Lisa Belkin, who wrote "The Opt-Out Revolution" a few years ago as part of the Times' trend in covering the plight of wealthy women who can actually decide whether they feel like having a job or not. Anyway, aside from the glaring class issues that articles like this persist in ignoring, the piece points out that more employers are making modest allowances for their workers to have flexible schedules or work part-time, which is good for working mothers and everybody else, too.

The problem I have with this article is the Note to Readers: "Life’s Work, a column about workplace trends and office culture, which has run most recently in Sunday Business, today moves to Thursday Styles." Yes, workplace issues, as they relate to women, are better suited to the goddamn Styles section.

"Secret Ingredient: Their Husbands"
Here we find an article about women who actually are successful entrepreneurs (written about, again, in the Styles section) but the only reason they seem to be getting any ink about their businesses is that their husbands are celebrities. We learn about Mrs. Dustin Hoffman, Mrs. Ron Wood, Mrs. Patrick Dempsey, and Mrs. Prince, and their lines of beauty products and decorative candles that, with the help of inexhaustible personal capital investment and built-in publicity, have been remarkably successful. "The husband’s participation in the promotion is not expected, but if it happens, it’s very nice," says a SVP at Bergdorf Goodman, which stocks many of these wives' products. "There’s no denying the public’s appetite for association with celebrity."

So let's see what today's Styles section tells women about the reality of their lives:

1) if you're single in NYC, you'll sign up for Olympic-distance Triathlon training classes out of your desperation to get a man, but forget it, because you'll never get one;

2) if you're lucky enough to get married and you stop working to have kids, it will be really hard for you to find good work again, and while you're trying to get a job, people will take the challenges you face about as seriously as they take everything else that gets written up in the Styles section;

3) if you do actually establish a successful business for yourself, it's probably because you're married to someone who is rich and famous, and some significant portion of your success will be attributable to his name recognition.

Yeah! You've come a long way, baby!

March 6, 2007

Ladies: set your vagina phasers on stunning!

Dr. Warner and his smiling wife/office assistant

[tx to T-Rock for the title]

Vaginal rejuvenation has already been available to women seeking a "youthful aesthetic look" for a number of years, but today's Washington Post dives headfirst into the industry because the city just got its first practitioner: Dr. Christopher Warner.

Dr. Warner (with his wife/office assistant, above, who says that she wants to get the surgery) says that the goal of his practice is to "empower women" by shooting a beautifying laser at their vaginas, which I'll just admit right now is a medical/aesthetic/health/sexual need that I don't think I am totally understanding. What I do understand is some naysayers, such as Dr. Thomas G. Stovall, a past president of the Society of Gynecologic Surgeons, who says "There is absolutely zero scientific literature that supports . . . the notion that firing a laser of any kind will tighten [vaginal] muscles," and calls the surgery "a ripoff."

But enough about that. The really fascinating character here is Dr. David Matlock, regular on E!'s "Dr. 90210", and world-class vagina rejuvenator and feminist crusader. Matlock has consulted with Dr. Warner and other fledgling rejuvenators across the country. In a related article devoted to Dr. Matlock, the Post details his devotion to women and their ugly, old, malfunctioning vaginas, his branding acumen, and his many legal troubles:

"In 1998 the Medical Board of California sought to revoke his license, charging him with insurance fraud, dishonesty, creation of false medical records and gross negligence in connection with his treatment of two patients." Matlock says that the resulting disciplinary action was racially motivated: "It was completely unfair, and I honestly think race had something to do with it," said Matlock, who is black.

He's also been sued for malpractice 10 times in the last 10 years. In response to the lack of studies proving any kind of effectiveness of vaginal rejuvenation surgery, he says, "Life isn't all about studies." What a maverick!

From Matlock's E! bio: "It's 100 percent about the woman. I'm here for the woman. One hundred percent for the woman. I want what she wants. I listen. All of these procedures have been developed as a result of listening to women."

Listening to women, huh? Hm. I wonder what that conversation was like.

Women: "Dr. Matlock! Could you please shoot some lasers at my crotch to make me feel young and attractive, or at least like I haven't given birth to 4 children?"

Dr. Matlock: "Sure, women! I'm here for you. Now please just sign this consent form detailing more than 40 potential complications, including incontinence and intractable pain. Let's get you empowered!"

October 17, 2006

Mail order brides stalled by anti-commercial-romance legislation

Russian mail order brides

The NY Times today has a pretty standard piece on men who buy wives for themselves through internet "don't call it mail-order" dating/marriage sites. As if not being able to get anyone in your own country to marry you weren't bad enough, these guys are suffering through some added inconveniences at the hands of their own government.

Congress created the International Marriage Broker Regulation Act, or Imbra, in March. The legislation "is intended to give foreign women and the American government more information about the men who seek so-called mail-order brides." In other words, Congress recognized an alarmingly fast rise in reports of abuse from women who came to the US to marry guys they met online. So they made a law that gives these women more information about the criminal record and marital history of their future husbands before they pack their bags and become legally bound to a man who has gone out of his way to find a wife who has no way of knowing any objective information about him. Men must now also provide this information to the government when applying for a fiancée visa. Sounds like a great idea, right?

Not so, according to the buyers. The customer is always right, and that should extend to spousal transactions, say purchasers of foreign brides. “We should have the right to correspond with, date and marry the person of our choosing,” said David Root, who has been involved with many women from the former Soviet Union in the past decade but has not married any of them. “The government shouldn’t interfere in this.”

He may have a point--Americans can indeed marry whomever they please. And it's not like they're forcing these women to leave their homes for a lifetime of marriage to a man who is often, let's face it, a total stranger. The man that the NY Times story follows, Adam Weaver, sounds like a nice enough person who was seeking an "old-fashioned girl", and now just wants to marry his Colombian fiancée (she's 17 years younger than he is, does that mean she qualifies as a "girl"?) without a lot of delays.

But some men who get into foreign marriage services clearly are delusional: there's a hilarious example in Sam Smith, who owns a company called I Love Latins, based in Houston [site not really safe for work]. In explaining the appeal of his service, he says, “It all started with women’s lib. Guys are sick and tired of the North American me, me, me attitude.”

"Me, me, me", huh? And what kind of attitude is it that compels a wealthy American man to search for another human being on a shopping site using criteria like age, weight, height, religion, and command of English, and then pay thousands of dollars for this probably low-income person from a poor country with few or zero opportunities for a stable life to leave their home and enter into a legally-binding contract with them that allows that person to live legally in the US only if they remain married? That's altruism! Right, Sam Smith?

April 3, 2006

The Axe Effect (on 11 year-olds)

Axe Effect

Some of the most pervasive and eye-catching ad campaigns in recent years have been those for Unilever's Axe body spray and related male grooming products. The fridge full of cans of whipped cream, the women humping their apartment building's water drainage pipe, the woman with the image of a coat hanger imprinted on her back (I have to admit, I still don't 100% get that one.) They're all sort of clever, and they all have an unmistakable message: this shit will get you so laid.

Convincing American men to use body spray (a product I had always associated with "when a man you've never met suddenly gives you flowers, that's Impulse!") may have been an uphill battle, but somehow Axe has managed to associate itself in our minds, as a Slate reporter wrote a while back, with getting "crazy, spontaneous monkeysex."

That same Slate writer predicted that, although Axe was the top-selling men's body spray on the market in 2004, it wouldn't be for long. The problem is, he wrote, "when you promise spontaneous monkeysex, you run into a couple of problems. 1) You won't deliver on that promise. This leaves the customer disappointed and sours him on the brand. 2) Your image gets linked with the guy who is desperate to get laid and who needs some sort of magic potion to help him. Which is not a great image."

But apparently the middle schoolers of suburban Washington, DC don't have a problem with 1) or 2), probably because at age 11, they don't have much hope of getting any monkeysex anyway. The Washington Post has a piece today on the overwhelming popularity of Axe among pre-pubescent boys, who have whole-heartedly bought into the Axe marketing strategy.

"I was watching the commercial, and there was this guy and he was mobbed by a bunch of girls, and I thought, 'Wow, that's tight! ' " said Asean Townsend, 12. "So I went to CVS and bought it."

The article includes many other wonderful testimonials from middle-school boys about their allegiance to Axe, and some concerns from gym teachers that boys may be using it as a convenient replacement for showering. Some boys have already been using Axe for so long (the $5 retail price encourages brand loyalty) that they've moved onto other more grown-up fragrances offered by Axe:

"Eighth-grader Klima Arrola started wearing Axe when he was 11 after seeing a TV commercial in a which a good-looking guy was mobbed by a bunch of even better-looking women. He found the ad appealing, he said. Now 14, he prefers Axe's Orion fragrance, described as an 'aromatic citrus/fruity fragrance with a transparent watery top note composed of minty accents, orange flower, geranium, citrus and musk.' But to Klima, who doesn't have a girlfriend, 'It just smells good.'"

And what about the girls? Do they find their musky, Axey classmates appealing?

"Someone by my locker uses it, but he uses so much that you can taste it in your mouth," said Allison Testamark, 14, scrunching up her nose in disgust.

Remember, boys: girls do appreciate personal grooming, but in achieving the Axe Effect, less is more.

March 8, 2006

The Wonder Girls Society exposed. Literally. +

Well, let's hope this isn't too mean...

Recently, a non-profit group calling itself The Wonder Girls Society began publicizing itself on the internet and through some upcoming events here in NYC. After a cursory look at their website, we happened upon an "images" directory and learned a little bit more about them than we intended to. But more on that later in the post. For now, let's see how the WSG describes itself.

From its My Space profile:

The Wonder Girls Society is an exclusive, members-only network for goal-driven, ambitious young women who want to accomplish all their goals in life. We are a non-profit organization that believe all life goals are equally important, whether it is involves your personal or professional life, career or leisure, work or play, as long as it is positive, memorable and brings a sense of contentment. The Wonder Girls Society provide services, programs, tools other available resources, to assist, stimulate, challenge and inspire our members in accomplishing all of their goals.

Sounds pretty good so far, right? Maybe you're not wild about the "exclusive" part, but other than that it kind of sounds like a Bust magazine readers circle. Let's see what their official website says:

We are a group of young, beautiful, confident and multi-talented girls with many ambitions in life! Not your ordinary 'girl-next-door' type, we strive to become more than that!

But don't blame us for being so driven, we refuse to live a "normal" life. We want to be the girls that can say "been there, done that" to every lawful -- and some unlawful (without having to break our morals and values) -- experiences you can possibly think of because we believe that challenging ourselves physically, mentally, psychologically and socially is not only good for the health, it's also good for the soul! [source]

Ok, the "beautiful" thing is a little off-putting and ambiguous, and the "morals and values" part seems a little faux-prissy. But let's see what else they say...

OUR PROGRAMS & SERVICES. [...] Women empowerment - Women in general have come a long way, however, gender discrimination and sexism still exist. We are about advocating woman’s rights and creating or supporting policies for women. We promote empowerment by providing inspirational tools and classes that strengthen and educate women to stand up for their rights. [source]

Terrific! But what's the connection between empowerment and the "beauty" you mentioned before?

By definition, a Wonder Girl is a young woman abundant in beauty, style, poise, confidence, ambition, and intelligence; she is an almost-perfect, almost-flawless female that carries all positive qualities; she is the girl with almost-superpower qualities. She is a Wonder Girl.

Hmm. I'm not sure if I measure up. How do I know if I'm right for the Wonder Girls? [Female readers may want to fasten their seatbelts of rage for this next part. -Ed.]

…you are a girly-girl, maintaining your natural beauty and femininity through various “girly” activities such as manicures and pedicures, waxing, haircuts and the works! You love to go shopping and trying on new clothes--you luxuriate in designer shoes as they are your weakness! Your favorite color is within the spectrum of red and purple, have at least a pair of pink pajamas, and will only drink alcoholic beverages that look pretty and served in a martini glass. [source]


So let me get this straight. I have to be abundant in beauty and be "almost-flawless" just to get in? And I have to get waxed? How exactly is this empowering me again? You don't need to be Gloria Steinem to know that pretty much everytime the word "empowerment" is used in the same context as "beauty," you're not going to get empowered. You're going to get exploited.

And, of course, that's when we happened across this images directory on their website that somebody forgot to properly lock down. In it -- surprise! -- we discovered that these wonder girls who are all about "empowering" and "inspiring" women and smashing gender inequalities and sexism and so on are apparently making money by modeling with most of their clothes off for men's magazines.

So here you go: Introducing the members of the Wonder Girls Society who, don't forget, are here to empower all you ladies, without breaking their morals or values in the process...[Update (3/20): We received an anonymous email from someone identifying herself as a WGS member vaguely threatening legal action over these pictures. After a bit of back and forth, we received a courteous email from the WGS claiming copyright and asking us to remove the images hosted on our server. Since the main point of this post can be made even without the pictures, this seems fair enough, so we've complied with their request.]

There are a lot more pictures in the images directory on their site. Many of them are named like "michellejohnson.jpg" or whatever. Due to the amateur quality of those photos, we are assuming that those pictures were submitted by "applicants" and were being reviewed by the other members (or perhaps the only member) of the society. There was something kind of sad about seeing all those pictures and thinking about women sending them in, hoping to get "accepted" into this "exclusive" group of women. These same women could have just as easily gone down to the local community center or settlement house and volunteered. Why go through the rigamarole of getting "accepted"? We'll leave it to you to draw your own conclusions on that one.

Wonder Girls, we appreciate some of what you're trying to do, but empowering women isn't the same thing as using your appearance to get what you want. All the emphasis on beauty on your website makes it sound like you believe otherwise. Also, why have an "exclusive" acceptance process at all? Why do you have to be a "girly-girl" to help other women? Why do you have to be a girly-girl to find fulfillment in life?

February 7, 2006

Who's taking their clothes off this month?

It's been awhile since we brought you a comprehensive roundup of the women who have taken their clothes off in public as a career-advancing strategy. So here's who is going to appear naked on the cover of the upcoming Hollywood issue of Vanity Fair:

  • Scarlett Johansson (surprise!)

  • Keira Knightley (so much for that "Academy Award Nominee" lustre)

And who isn't:

  • Rachel McAdams

Also appearing on the cover of Vanity Fair is designer Tom Ford, who is fully clothed (surprise!) About Rachel McAdams, he says, "She did want to do it, and then when she was on the set I think she felt uncomfortable." Maybe she did feel uncomfortable... about what sometimes happens to young actresses' careers when they start taking their clothes off in public venues that aren't related to acting.

It's a choice every pretty young actress has to face: whether to go the Brittany Murphy/WB series star route and pose naked for some magazine, or take Natalie Portman's more reserved approach: "Young actors often don't think of the consequences of doing nudity or sex scenes. They want the role so badly that they agree to be exploited." Which is I guess why she asked for her brief nude scene in Closer to be cut.

Rachel McAdams has made some good career moves so far and has gotten a lot of "It" girl talk, but oddly doesn't have any announced new movies. Maybe she wants to hold off on the random nudity until she gets some new work.

Well, at least Scarlett finally got her wish to appear naked on camera, after that prudish Michael Bay insisted that she keep her bra on in The Island.

September 20, 2005

NY Times looks at stay at home moms... again!

Today's Times has an article about young women at elite Ivy League schools who are planning to leave their careers and stay home once they have kids. You know, exactly like that other article they published almost exactly two years ago ("The Opt-Out Revolution"). The main difference is that, while the 2003 piece interviewed about five Princeton graduates to support its generalizations about American women, today's piece includes interviews with four students from Yale, as well as one from Penn and two from Harvard.

Questions neither article goes into: why aren't young men at these elite schools being interviewed by the NY Times about if they'll stay home once they have kids? Why are these young women all assuming that it is their choice and their right to have a man support them and their children for their entire lives? Why are privileged young women unable to think outside conventional gender roles in envisioning their futures? What do women at East Tennessee State University or Lehman College think about work and family? When discussing family values and personal goals, why don't issues like saving to buy your first home and building financial stability come up?

And I love this guy at Harvard who in his American Family class, during a discussion about women giving up careers to stay at home and raise their kids while their husbands support them, said "I think that's sexy." It sure is, dude! You know what else is sexy? When women don't vote. And are illiterate! That's fucking hot!

It is such a riot when the Times runs series like that one about class from earlier this year, to show how in touch they are with all the different sectors of Americans and all the struggles that working people face in their lives, and then they keep coming back to articles like this one about the young wealthy elite who can just flippantly decide whether they feel like having a job from one year to the next, and talk about having a job or not like it's some kind of moral issue of being a good parent.

Here's an idea: rather than blowing $250,000 on Ivy League college and graduate school when you know you're going to stop working once you have kids, how about donating that money to some low-income woman or man who wants to go to school and actually use their degrees to have a career in law or business or academia, while the most challenging thing you'll have to write is your kids' Montessori school applications?

June 9, 2005

Tween girls: saturated. Next market: tween boys

Riot for tweens

Inspired by the gajillion dollars generated through sales of products related to the Olsen twins, their former lawyer and business manager Robert Thorne (who is often referred to in conjunction with the word "Svengali") has moved on to the next untapped source of disposable cash: tween boys. Thorne has recently partnered with new tween boy brand Riot Media to "develop, manage and implement licensing, marketing and sales initiatives aimed at 8- to 13-year-old boys."

Being a savvy marketer, Thorne understands what kind of marketing outreach strategies will get pre-teen boys to commit their allowances to purchasing lots of tacky garbage: a website with poop jokes. Riot's website mixes humor with the "scary and gross" elements that marketing research indicates will turn tween boys into loyal customers. The website features games such as "Monkey Pee, Monkey Do", with its tagline, "Think Tacos Give You Gas?" And interactive programs like MuSick, in which players can "sample a fart, backbeat a burp, get a rhythmic retch."

Some original tween-boy-friendly programming content (about chimps, Riot's theme animal) is also in progress: "Plans already are under way to develop a video game and television programing for the brand that features a back story about an evil circus and a heroic chimp named Riot."

And check out all the products these lucky tweens will soon get to enjoy! "Riot will launch Riot magazine and the Riot comic book in late summer, along with Riot trading cards, posters and stickers. Wireless ringtones and wallpaper are rolling out this month, followed by cell-phone games in the fall. An apparel line will be available this month, and additional branded products including a collectible card game, books, toys, electronic games, backpacks and back-to-school items are slated for release next year."

If they were really clever, Riot would also establish partnerships with the kinds of organizations that will be interested in winning these boys' loyalties once they reach their teen years, such as Maxim magazine and U.S. Army Recruiting.

May 31, 2005

Man as Machine

One of my least favorite columnists in the New York Times, John Tierney, has been writing lately about why men still more or less run the world when women today have unprecedented access to education, networking, and positions of power. His op-ed from last week concluded that women have the capability and opportunity to reach top positions in their fields of work, but many of them choose not to, deciding instead to have some semblance of a normal life outside of work. Men, on the other hand, are likely to see their jobs as a winner-takes-all tournament, so they are more likely to sacrifice everything to get to the top. And he says they like competition more than women do.

Today's op-ed looks at Scrabble tournaments rather than the corporate world. Tierney notices that, while women outnumber men in Scrabble clubs, the winners and top 50 players are almost exclusively men. Are women just not as good at anagrams as men are?

No, he suggests, men are just more willing to commit themselves totally to being the best Scrabble players in the world. They want to be Scrabble machines. "You need more than intelligence and a good vocabulary to become champion. You have to spend hours a day learning words like 'khat,' doing computerized drills and memorizing long lists of letter combinations, called alphagrams, that can form high-scoring seven-letter words." Women seem to be less willing to do this extra time-consuming work to edge up another ranking or two in the Scrabble champion hierarchy.

Tierney's suggestion for why men will sacrifice everything to reach the top is the same old tired evolutionary explanation we've heard a million times: successful men do better with the ladies. Men at the top will be more likely to attract both long-term partners and women for quick flings, so they pass on their genes more, so many of us are descended from these Scrabble champs who supposedly get laid a lot. Men stand to gain or lose more in an evolutionary sense by whether or not they win the Scrabble tournament, while women will probably still find someone regardless.

Nothing new here. Related to Tierney's ideas, I have some theories of my own about the male drive for expertise (for example, why men are more likely than women to have extensive record collections of '70's German art rock, all on vinyl, or have enclyclopedic knowledge of Swedish new wave films,) which I will admit I developed mostly while reading White Noise in a college English class. But what I find really interesting is the similarly single-minded, machine-like attitude that men seem to take to arenas of life that are in no way competitive in nature, and that are relatively new areas of participation for men, such as spa treatments.

Another Times article today says that more and more men are going to spas, especially as part of business trips, and they aren't going to relax. No way. One businessman goes to a fancy spa in Miami on his way home from business trips, and describes his treatments like this: "I go in there for a lube job and oil change. I don't go to relax; I go to get rehabilitated."

Spas that cater to men have made a few changes to make men feel more comfortable in territory that is traditionally as female as it gets, by installing TVs in the locker rooms so the naked men could have something to look at besides other naked men, but it seems that as long as the treatments sound like automotive services, men love them. A 50 year-old vice president of a mortgage company in Illinois had the "golf performance treatment" at a hotel while there recently with about 20 colleagues, mostly male, and their spouses. "I'd say everyone of them got some type of spa treatment," he said, and some, including himself, had multiple visits. "I don't mean to sound like a chick," he said. "It just feels so good."

Maybe the male striving for perfection in professional competition, intellectual capacity, and reduced pore size all come down to the quest for reproductive advantage, I don't know. But it would be nice if the corporate world was structured so that talented and ambitious women were encouraged to achieve their full potential without the pointless winner-takes-all mentality that encourages us to spend our weekends memorizing alphagrams. Then maybe we could achieve the mythical work/life balance, and rich businessmen would feel more comforable getting a facial without talking about it like it's a car tune-up.

May 12, 2005

Unintended Consequences of Body Modification

An article in the Styles section of today's Times highlights an ironic trend in women's fashion that shows just how warped our culture's concept of a regular female body has become. Now women who buy designer clothing, which we all know is usually cut to fit more slender women, are having to get their clothes altered so that they can accomodate their gigantic fake boobs. Yes, wealthy women who can lead the lifestyle that allows them to maintain a size 2 or 4 are having to buy dresses in size 10 (gasp!) because of their breast enlargements.

I think we can safely assume that the average dress size for women who shop at Neiman Marcus in Beverly Hills is likely well under a size 12, but it seems more and more women in this neighborhood now need to buy larger sizes, at least for some regions of their bodies. And it's not because they've gained weight: "With many plastic surgeons saying that Los Angeles is the country's implant capital, the Beverly Hills branch of Neiman Marcus sells more dresses in Size 12 than any other, while Sizes 8 and 10 are the most popular for designer evening wear at other Neiman branches, said a buyer for the chain, who linked the phenomenon to customers who had surgically increased their busts." From 1997 (when enlargement surgery rates were relatively low after silicone implants went off the market) to today, enlargement surgery rates have gone up by 257%.

When you consider that there are likely a number of women who have this fashion problem who went through some other form of body modification, like liposuction or stomach stapling, in order to get the rest of their bodies down to a size 2, who are then surgically changing their bodies again to reach another non-proportional and unnatural dimension, well, the layers of crazy really start to pile up.

Thin women are also starting to realize the limitations of some women's clothing for the bustier among us. A clothing merchandiser in New York who had breast enlargement surgery says, "I gave up my wardrobe to show off my breasts. Your options are so much better, but it's funny: I used to wear button-down shirts, and now they don't fit. I might have to go up a size on the top if it's too tight around the chest, but then it does not fit in the shoulders or the arms."

Maybe that's because clothes are still, quaintly, being designed to fit actual human bodies that adhere to some concept of proportionality. Women have long complained that designers make their clothes to fit only women on the smaller end of the spectrum, but at least those clothes fit bodies that naturally exist. Now more and more women want clothes to fit fake bodies that pretty much never occur without surgery. As one designer says of his industry's rigid adherence to the laws of nature, "You can't design a collection around a customer with a large chest, because it throws the proportion off. It's not realistic. When someone is a size D cup and a 2 waist, it's really a challenge."

Ladies of Southern California: maybe it would be a lot simpler, and cheaper, to just leave your tits alone and be able to shop off the rack without paying the cost of your clothes all over again for alterations. Unless you're a stripper, in which case you probably buy most of your clothes as separate tops and bottoms, anyway.

April 11, 2005

Who's Older?™: Gutsy Women Media Pioneers Edition

Today's installment of Who's Older?™ asks you to consider two celebrities who have broken boundaries for women in popular media, one by being a great and incredibly successful singer and performer of the American stage and screen, and then going on to direct and star in some of the most agonizingly wretched movies ever made; and the other by infiltrating and exposing abusive and sexist institutions, inspiring generations of feminists, and continuing to this day to look amazing in leather pants.

Barbra Streisand and Gloria Steinem are both fascinating and often perplexing figures in the media, and much could be written about each of them and their evolving careers. But today, we only care about their relative ages.