Monday, October 31, 2011

Miss Representation

Fair warning: I'm about to rant. I hope you'll bear with me; I promise to return to lighter fare soon. 
First, watch this:
Newest Miss Representation Trailer (2011 Sundance Film Festival Official Selection) from Miss Representation on Vimeo.

Over the weekend, I watched Miss Representation, a documentary written, directed, and produced by Jennifer Siebel Newsom and aired on OWN (yes, that would be the Oprah Winfrey Network).  It is a powerful film, and I highly recommend setting your DVRs to record it when it airs again on November 12th at 11am. Miss Representation examines the way that women are portrayed in media today and the ways in which these media messages play out in and impact politics and our lives. To say that I was shocked by the statistics and media clips presented in the documentary would be an understatement. I found myself pausing the movie every few minutes to write down an appalling statistic or an insightful observation by one of the people Newsom interviewed. And now (lucky you), I want to talk about it. My apologies, but the nature of blogs means I get to do all the talking, at least at first. Feel free to add your thoughts in the comments.

To understand why media is so important and why we should even stop to consider the messages it presents, it's important to realize just how omnipresent it is, which leads me to shocking statistic number one. Each week the average American teen watches television for 31 hours, listens to music for 17 hours, is online for ten hours, reads magazines for four hours, and watches movies for three hours. That adds up to ten hours and 45 minutes each day; that's more time than they spend in school or interacting with their parents. So if people are spending that much time absorbing media during a period when they are also forming possibly life-long impressions of who they are and how the world works, I'd say that those media messages are pretty damn impactful.

The film began by addressing advertising and its impact on the self-esteem and body image of girls and women.
  • As a result of deregulation, advertising is everywhere. U.S. advertisers spent 235.6 billion dollars in 2009. That is more than the GDP of 80% of the countries in the world. 
  • Thanks to photo retouching software, that advertising is often misleading if not outright deceptive.
{Dove Evolution Campaign}

{The U.K.'s Advertising Standards Authority pulled these ads because they do not accurately represent the product's capabilities.}
  • “This is the first time in human history that marketers have dictated our cultural norms and values.” - Caroline Heldman, associate professor, Occidental College
  • 53% of 12 year old girls feel unhappy with their bodies, 78% of 17 year old girls feel unhappy with their bodies and 65% of women and girls have an eating disorder.
  • The average American woman now spends more money pursuing the unattainable ideal presented by advertising than she does on her education.
  • Americans spent $10,677,415,674 on cosmetic procedures in 2010.
The film continues with a discussion of women in entertainment, both on screen and behind the scenes.
  • In feature films, only 16% of protagonists are female, and when the protagonist is a woman, she is usually concerned with getting or keeping her man. Only 7% of film directors and 10% of women.
  • Between 1937 and 2005, there were only 13 female protagonists in animated films, and all of them, save one, aspired to find romance.
  • In G-rated movies, the female characters are just as likely to be wearing sexually revealing clothing as in R-rated movies.

  • More than 70% of women on TV are in their 20s and 30s.
  • Women on "reality" TV are, almost always shown to be catty, shallow, gold-digging, and/or promiscuous.
  • Study after study shows that exposure to television and film violence leads to an increase in aggressive behavior in real life. This is relevant here because television violence against women is on the rise, and one in four women will be a victim of domestic violence.
The parts of the film that I found the most surprising and the most disturbing were the segments that pointed out how the objectification and sexualization of women in advertising and entertainment has seeped into the news media.  The film showed clip after clip of newscasters and pundits talking about and evaluating the appearance of various female political figures. There was reference to Hilary Clinton as her "thighness," Sarah Palin was asked if she has breast implants and routinely called "cute" or "hot" by people who were supposed to be reporting the news and helping us evaluate her as a potential vice president. One talking head criticized Elena Kagan's appointment to the Supreme Court, not because of her record, but because of her looks saying, "Kagan he's gonna put on the Supreme Court? Isn't there such a thing about the aesthetics of the appointee? Let's put it to you this way, she's not the type of face you'd want to see on a five dollar bill." There were also a few disgusting quotes by Pat Robertson, but I think everyone pretty much agrees that he's an imbecile, so I'll leave them out.
  • Only 20% of news stories are about women
  • Female politicians are twice as likely to be described in emotional terms. They are said to have "complained" whereas their male counterparts "stated."
  • In John Boehner's first four weeks as Speaker of the House, he was on the cover of five national magazines. In Nancy Pelosi's four years as Speaker, she appeared on exactly zero national magazine covers.
Let's not forget who is reporting all of this news. More often than not, the female anchors are beautiful young women with sex kitten hair and outfits that would not be considered appropriate business attire in most offices while their male co-hosts are older, decidedly average looking men in suits. [There are exceptions of course - Brian Williams is Clooney-esque and Diane Sawyer doesn't flash her cleavage or her booty on air.]

Finally, there's the ugly reality that while great advances have been made over the last hundred years (women now outnumber men in college), women have yet to attain true equality.
  • America’s women continue to earn just 77 cents for every dollar men earn.
  • Women account for 3% of Fortune 500 CEOs.
  • Women make up 51% of the population and only 17% of Congress.
  • "No wonder we are in such trouble in this country. We've been choosing our national leadership from 6% of the country. " - Gloria Steinem referring to the fact that the majority of American politicians are married white men over 35 with a college education and a professional degree.
If there were more women lawmakers, perhaps Sen. Patty Murray would have succeeded in passing a measure that would have prevented insurance companies from denying health insurance to women who have been victims of domestic violence. Unbelievably, she couldn't garner enough votes in 2006, so the measure failed and that practice continues in eight states and the District of Columbia.
  • Cuba, China, Afghanistan, and Iraq have more women in government than the United States.
  • “Little boys and little girls, when they’re seven years old, an equal number want to be President of the United States when they grow up, about thirty percent. But then you ask the same question when they’re fifteen and you see this massive gap emerging. We have this gendered socialization where politics is considered to be for men, leadership is considered to be a masculine pursuit and women are discouraged from pursuing ambitious positions.” - Caroline Heldman
Each of these facts and observations when taken individually may seem nitpicky, even whiny, but taken together, it's a serious problem. The fact is that the dominant message out there is that women's power and value come from their looks and their sex appeal. This message is a destructive one, and it has, frankly, made me hopping mad.

Once you stop to think about it, you see examples of this everywhere. Since it's Halloween, take costume shopping as an example. Go to the costume aisle at Target or a party store and look at the options for girls versus boys. Everyone knows that the options for adult women are basically Sexy Fill-in-the-Blank, Sexy Nurse, Sexy Cop, Sexy Pirate/Wench/Ghost/Whatever. Sadly, the little girl options are a slightly tamer version of the same thing. It's not like the guys have a wide array of choice either; their options are limited in a differnt way. Most of their costumes come with a weapon. Seriously, what the hell is wrong with us?

I am certainly guilty of watching the kind of trash TV that portrays women in a negative light, and I definitely fall prey to advertising that makes me feel all want-y and insecure. I'm not sure what the answer is but I am more conscious of the problem now, and that is a start. In any event, I apologize for the ranting, and I will be back to more light-hearted posts tomorrow sometime this week. For now, I'm off to observe the shenanigans that are West Hollywood's annual Halloween Costume Carnaval. I have a feeling that, in my hood, it will be the men who are objectified tonight, and can I just say? Daaayum. Those boys like to work on their bodies. I'll report back with photographic evidence of the craziness. If this year is anything like years previous, I'm in for quite a spectacle.

{source: Thee DOMASAN}
{source: ilmungo}

{source: PinkMafiaRadio}

Monday, October 24, 2011

Fall Colors - So Cal Style

I took a little walk around the neighborhood the other day and realized that even though we don't have much in the way of deciduous trees, Southern California is certainly not wanting for color this time of year.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Apparently my neighborhood is not as gentrified as I thought it was...

So, there I am - in my Prius, listening to NPR, on my way home from the art store where I purchased watercolors and paper for a little project I have in mind. I am also wearing yoga pants. Basically, I am the picture of yuppiedom. [Yes, I am aware that the p in yuppie stands for professional and that I am currently unemployed, but that is not strictly relevant to the story at hand.]

As I am about to turn down my quiet tree-lined street, the police car coming from the opposite direction lights up and turns in front of me. Before I really register what's happening, the officer has parked diagonally across my street, hopped out of his car, and pulled a gun on a guy sitting on the steps of an apartment two doors down from mine. Things then proceeded just like they do on Law and Order. The cop started yelling and cursing at the alleged hoodlum. The (alleged) hoodlum put his hands up and dropped to his knees. The cop continued, "Lie down! Put your fucking face down!" Etcetera.

I didn't know whether to try to squeeze past the patrol car or stay where I was. I mean, it was just the three of us on the street; what if Officer Saves-the-Day needed back-up? By this time there was a helicopter circling over head, so I opted for slowly rolling through the intersection, pausing briefly to take a picture (you're welcome), and continuing to my garage.

By the time I made it up to my mailbox from the garage, there were four more cars and a half dozen cops outside, and the suspicious individual was in handcuffs.

Cut to commercial. Cue Law and Order theme music.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Doggy Dopamine?

I am running out of clever ways to describe the dramatic impact that even a few minutes with Lucy can have on my mood. She really is the best mood stabilizer.

Tom had to go to Colorado for work at the beginning of the week, so I headed south to my parents' house. The job search has been looking a bit grim lately, and I had let it get to me so a weekend away was exactly what I needed. Lucky for me, my parents are masters of encouragement and advice, live in paradise, and have a magical, cuddly, therapy-delivering black lab for a pet.

The beach has always been my go-to, my favorite place, and it's always where I head when I'm in need of comfort or clarity or calm.

But the beach with a dog? Even better.
{Doesn't she look pensive?}
{I'm pretty sure that Lucy loves the beach at least as much as I do.}

Normally, Lucy lives up to her Labrador Retriever heritage, but for some reason, she wasn't really feeling it this time. I ended up chasing the ball more than she did, but it made for some funny moments.
{Where'd she go?}
{What was I supposed to be doing again?}
{That looks familiar...}
{¿QuĂ© es esto?}
Unfortunately, my mom had to work two of the days that I was visiting, so it was just me, Dad, and Lucy during the day. In other words, I was the third wheel. These two are seriously in love.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Sunshine, blue skies, please go away...

Every since moving to Los Angeles, I have been struck by how aggressively sunny it is here. All. Of. The. Time.
{Those little suns are starting to look positively hostile to me.}
I realize how ridiculous it is to complain about the near perfect weather, but bear with me for a minute. San Diego and Los Angeles have identical climates, but in San Diego, I always lived within a few miles of the ocean, and that, apparently, changes everything. The marine layer rarely extends far enough inland to have an impact in my new hood, and most mornings I wake up to a cloudless sky. I know, such a burden. It's just...sometimes, I wish it would rain. This is never more true than in October when I'm longing for autumn.

The vast majority of the time, I adore the mild, predictable weather of Southern California, but every October (ok, a few weeks in December too) I long for New England's dramatic and erratic weather. I miss the unmistakable chill in the air that signals the shift from backyard cookouts and lakeside fun to chili cook-offs and touch football. I miss the way that the fiery hillsides could take my breath away with their beauty, no matter how many times I had watched their yearly journey from the near fluorescent greens of early spring to the deep russet of late October.  I miss actually needing wool sweaters and boots. I miss living some place that looks like all of the beautiful spreads in the fall issues of my favorite magazines.

{fall inspiration}
Now that you have a sense of my (unbalanced?) state of mind, you will understand why waking to pouring rain and (potentially imagined) claps of thunder the other day thrilled me to my very core. I went about my errands cheerfully, giggling like an idiot when I stepped in a giant puddle and attempting to share conspiratorial smiles with the other soggy patrons of Pavillions.  The fall-like weather resulted in a few off-list purchases at the grocery store in the form of decorative baby pumpkins (so cute!) and a can of pumpkin puree in anticipation of afternoon baking (so yummy!). Once I got home, the pumpkin spice candle was lit, the fall playlist (what? you don't make seasonal playlists?) was fired up on the stereo, and made myself a cup of tea.

After the tea, the fall decorating began. I even attempted painting my favorite fall quote. Sadly, this was the best of roughly 15 attempts. I will probably give it another go at some point; that branch is out of control.
{Delicious autumn! My very soul is wedded to it, and if I were a bird I would fly about the earth seeking the successive autumns.}

Just as I was settling the last pumpkin on the mantle and contemplating crafting some sort of autumnal leaf garland, the rain stopped, and the sun started working its way out again. I briefly considered pouting, but then I remembered that I can't begrudge the New Englanders their glorious autumn. Soon they will be buried in snow while I will still be burying my toes in the sand. So for now, I will just sweat a little in my tall boots and cableknits.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

obscene (adj): offensive to morality or decency, depraved

I don't agree with much of his politics, but Governor Mike Huckabee was right on the money when he tweeted (it pains me to use that verb), "Hollywood breakups get more media than 30K kids dying in Somalia? Talk about obscene." Included in his tweet was a link to a video made by encouraging people to sign a petition that asks Congress to fully fund Feed the Future, a U.S. global hunger and food security initiative.


I love this video because it points out the ugly truth about what it takes to capture America's attention. We (I include myself in this) are drawn to the lurid, the sensational, the obscene. One need only glance at the headlines to confirm this. As I write, the top headlines on are: "MJ's drugs cover court table during trial," "28 arrested as Wall St. protests grow," "Amanda Knox 'overwhelmed' in return home," "California teen to be retried in gay student murder."

I know that famine and drought in the Horn of Africa can't lead the news and dominate the headlines every day, and I know that there are plenty of people working hard to report on the immense suffering that is rampant in East Africa. But still. There is no reference to the crisis in Africa on CNN's homepage. There is a two minute video that promises to tell us how to "Relive Weinergate for Halloween." I click over to CNN's world news page, but apparently, the story doesn't warrant a mention there either. From that page, however, you can click on a story ironically titled, "'Foxy Knoxy': Sex, violence and media hysteria."

Over the summer, 30,000 children under that age of five died as the result of the famine in Somalia. UNICEF estimates that a child dies every six minutes in Somalia. On September 5th, the UN warned that upwards of 750,000 people could die in the coming months in Somalia. I don't know about you, but I find those figures to be "offensive to morality or decency." I only know these statistics because a celebrity-packed video titled the "The F Word" caught my attention and prompted me to do a little research, and that's shameful. Obscene, even. We are better than this, and we should demand better, not just of our elected officials, but of our media as well.

Click here to sign the petition.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Thank you, Mr. Jobs.

{If you haven't found it yet, keep looking.}
There will be much reflection in the coming days on how much Steve Jobs and Apple have changed the way we interact with information and each other. His contributions to modern technology are remarkable, and Apple products really are ubiquitous in the first world. I count six Apple products currently in my living room, and that's not counting the iPod in the kitchen or the Mac mini in the guest room.

{And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition.}
Nevertheless, tonight I am most grateful, not for the many wonders of my iPhone (wondrous as they may be), but for Jobs' words of wisdom, specifically, the advice he imparted in the commencement address that he gave at Stanford in 2005. I had not seen it before tonight, but it was exactly what I needed to hear at this moment in my life.


Jobs' thoughts on death are particularly poignant now, and my thoughts and prayers are with his friends and family. It seems like he was quite a guy.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Picnic and Hike in Griffith Park

A couple of weekends ago, Tom and I tackled item number six  on my list of things to do in Los Angeles. I packed the fixings for chicken caesar wraps, and we headed to Griffith Park. On the recommendation of a guy we met at a birthday party the night before, we decided to hike the Mt. Hollywood trail.

We parked at Griffith Observatory and easily found the trail. It was a short hike, only about a mile and a half to the to peak.  As you near the summit,  you are about level with the Hollywood sign on neighboring Mt. Lee, and once you reach the top, you are rewarded with 360 degree views of Los Angeles and the San Fernando Valley.

I neglected to take a picture of the Valley side. I did, however, get a picture of this guy...
{I felt like I was watching the "astounding mating dance of the birds of paradise."}

After finishing the hike, we headed for the shade and picnic tables by the Greek Theater and laid out our feast.

Then we ate it.

Up next - fun with Ice Age fossils at the La Brea Tar Pits!