Saturday, April 16, 2011

Why Are There So Few Female Characters Overcoming Disabilities?

(Miramax Films)

I recently got around to watching The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, a beautiful film about former Elle editor Jean-Dominique Bauby's struggle with the aftermath of a massively debilitating stroke. Though not super common, stories about a protagonist overcoming the complications of a disability are getting some attention, what with the Oscar-winning The King's Speech. Even the most recent season of Breaking Bad depicts DEA agent Hank Schrader working through physical therapy after a near-deadly shooting. These stories are part of a niche sub-genre of characters coming to terms with a disability.

But what you don't see in these types of stories are female protagonists. An obvious candidate for a story like this would be a biopic of deaf-and-dumb heroine Hellen Keller, but no such major film adaptation has been done, save a documentary about her released in 1954.

In fact, women are rarely portrayed with disabilities of any kind in film or television in recent years. The last major actress with a disability I can recall is deaf actress Marlee Matlin, who won an Academy Award, a Golden Globe, and four Emmy nominations. Much has been written about the lack of interesting roles for women, including something Tad Friend touched on in a piece in a recent issue of the New Yorker on female comedians. But rare as interesting roles are for women, roles for women with disabilities are even rarer.

If a stuttering king is worthy of an Oscar, maybe Hollywood can consider writing such a role for a woman.

Addendum: So many people have pointed out that I have forgotten The Miracle Worker, a 1962 film starring Patty Duke. Though it still doesn't change the fact that far more movies get made about men overcoming disabilities far more often than ones about women do. Commenter Sayantani writes,
As someone who teaches illness and disability memoirs - I've been convinced that it's because disability (or illness) brings masculinity into crisis and these narratives are all struggling with that point of social/cultural crisis.

Since Western masculinity is constructed as autonomous, with bodily control, physically powerful, etc. Lots of great things have been written about the hypermasculine disability narrative (or the male disability narrative struggling with masculinity/virility).
My knowledge of film history is nowhere near comprehensive, but I think the original point I raised is still a valid one.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Friday Links: Emancipation Day Edition

Washington, D.C.'s African American Civil War Memorial. (Flickr/wallyg)
  • Folks in Washington, D.C., are celebrating Emancipation Day, or the day when we as a country decided it was probably a bad call to let humans own other humans. Somehow, this is not recognized as a federal holiday and we'll take a day of for Imperialism Columbus Day instead. [Washington City Paper]
  • Is our business students learning? [The Chronicle of Higher Education]
  • Mumford and Sons have a new song. [Paste]
  • Wow, Peggy Ornstein is right. This gendering our children thing is starting at a younger and younger age. Now they have parties for your gender when you're still in the womb. [The Awl]
  • Men should wear wedding rings, Hugo argues. [Good Men Project]
  • After Congress negotiated away the District of Columbia's right to spend its own taxpayer money on abortion, private donations flooded in to make up the lack of Medicare payments. They raised $25,000, but still fall short. [Amanda Hess]
  • Do you need something, anything cute to look at? [Cute Roulette]

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Misplaced Protest at Walgreen's?

Jill at Feministe links to a protest planned this weekend based on Stephen Colbert's really hilarious sketch on a Fox and Friends misunderstanding of what kids of things you can actually obtain at Walgreen's.

FOX & Friends thinks we don’t need Planned Parenthood because women can just get their breast exams and pap smears at Walgreens (which is not true). Let’s prove them wrong by demanding these health services at Walgreens across the country and seeing what happens.

Here’s what to do this Saturday at 12 PM:

1) Pick your favorite local Walgreens
2) Get a group of friends together or connect with people via this event page.
3) Go try to get your pap smear!
4) Don’t forget to bring your video cameras and share your footage on YouTube!

View the Colbert Report’s take on Planned Parenthood:


New York City: 1471 Broadway, between 42nd and 43rd street

DC: 1217 22nd Street NW, between M and N Streets.

Madison, WI: 15 E. Main Street (on the Square)
Jill calls it brilliant, but I'm not so sure. No offense to the organizers, because I think their heart was in the right place, but it seems to me that this protest at best will be ignored and ineffective and at its worst could turn people against the cause who previously had no stake in the debate. But then, I wasn't involved in the planning of the debate. Thoughts?

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Dating Tall Men


This post on Very Smart Brothas asks why women always seem to be biased against short men. Granted, this is completely anecdotal, but I hear women say things all the time like, "I just can't date a guy that's shorter than me." Warning: I am about to take a very controversial opinion on this: Women who discount men because they are short are, well, kind of bigots.

People get really offended when I say that, so if you're interested in my rationale. I recommend you continue reading. Otherwise, you can just skip to the comments section and tell me I'm a horrible human.

Despite the fact that I've never dated anyone shorter than me (I'm 5' 6") and my current boyfriend is closer to 7 feet than he is to 6, I've never really understood women's bias against short men. Not all women are guilty of this, but I've noticed a lot of women say this, and given the reaction I've had from men and women on Twitter, people feel strongly about this.

Height discrimination seems to be one of the last socially accepted irrational dating biases. If you're short, there's literally nothing you can do about that. When I say that I think women who refuse to date a man simply because of his height I usually get a litany of reasons defending this position—pretty much all of which are irrational.

I'm just not attracted to short men.
Fine. I don't really get why you'd eliminate an entire population simply based on height, but there is some evolutionary psychology to back up the idea that women tend to be attracted to greater height. But if we're totally being honest, there are tons of "evolutionary" romantic biases that modern people work around pretty effectively: People tend to be attracted to people that look most like them, women are "attracted" to wealthier men, or that women evolutionarily want to be more submissive to men. Why we adhere to the height "evolution" reason and tend to reject others as biased is beyond me.

Short men have a "Napoleon" complex.
I don't have any scientific data to back this up or anything, but I'm pretty sure Napoleonism isn't a universal trait among men under a certain height. What women mean when they say this is they once dated a short guy who was an asshole and so they've taken to assuming all short men are assholes.

It's "logistically difficult" to date a short men.
Women tend to bring this up a lot, hinting that height affects performance in bed. It's also usually followed up with "well, granted, there were other issues in the relationship." Do you think possibly these "other issues" were why you weren't having such a great time in the sack? Maybe? Possibly? I mentioned at the beginning of this post, there's an extreme height differential between me and my current significant other—yet somehow we manage to work around it. Why women can't work out a hight difference going the other way is, again, beyond me.

I really like to wear heels, and that makes me way taller than a short guy.
I'm sorry, what? No. Your fashion choices don't let you get to justify an irrational preference. Wear flats. Or better yet, wear heals and don't give a shit about how tall they make you.

The thing is, people are ready with all kind of irrational reasons why it might be justifiable to judge someone based on height alone, but it's really weird. Why do they do that?

Probably because the thing that makes them uncomfortable about all of this is that when they say they don't like short guys, what they're really saying is they are passing judgement on men about their masculinity based on a trait these men cannot help. And saying it in those terms makes people uncomfortable, so instead they will come up with strange defenses of this bias to make it seem like this is what's going on.

We perpetuate stereotypes about masculinity because dating is the one aspect in our lives where we're still allowed to be biased. People can't argue with you if you're not attracted to someone. But if they point out that this is rooted in ideas about masculinity and societal expectations, that becomes more uncomfortable for women. They're reminded how society demands they lose weight, look a certain way, act a certain way, or even be a certain skin tone.

Let's just call a spade a spade. If you look at a great guy who's attractive, smart, interesting, funny, and kind—and he's too short for you—you've given in to an irrational bias. That's fine, but just accept you're buying into reductive ideas about masculinity.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Graph of the Day: Female Faculty Pay Still Lags Behind Male Peers

A new story in the Chronicle of Higher Education analyzes some data put forth by the American Association of University Professors shows that female faculty are still making less than their male peers on average.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Saturday Links: The Misogyny-Free Pickup Artist and Comix Journalism

Sylvia Plath on her typewriter (Flavorwire)
  • Famous authors and the typewriters they wrote on. [Flavorwire]
  • How to pick up women, misogyny-free. [Good Men Project]
  • I guess you're not surprised to learn the budget battle wasn't about money; it was about taking money away from "welfare sluts," Amanda Marcotte writes. [The Guardian]
  • How Ayn Rand ruined one woman's life. [Salon]
  • A new project on merging graphic art and journalism. [Graphic Journos]
  • A graphic history of the Honduran coup. [Archcomix]

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

How 'Lights Out' Is All Too Real on Athlete Bankruptcy

(FX Networks)

Tonight FX will air its final episode of Lights Out, a show about former heavyweight champion Patrick Leary (Holt McCallany) who faces getting back in the ring at age 40 or financial ruin.

Though the storyline about how Leary and his family are on the brink of bankruptcy mainly exists to facilitate Leary's ultimate showdown with "Death Row" Reynolds (Billy Brown), the challenges of tax audits and looming bankruptcy that Leary faces in the series are all to real for most former athletes.

In 2009, Sports Illustrated ran a feature article about why so many athletes go for broke. In it, the author, Pablo Torre, notes that "the closest analogy to a pro athlete is not a white-collar executive. It's a lottery winner—who's often in his early twenties."

The odds seem stacked against former athletes, since Torre noted that 78 percent of former NFL players go bankrupt or are under financial stress after two year of retirement. In that same amount of time, 60 percent of former NBA athletes face the same challenges. Even MLB players, with their cap-less salaries, aren't immune from this reality and several former big leaguers have gone broke after their retirement.

Torre's article doesn't touch on former boxers, but given that boxing is a tightly controlled industry with a few major players betting on the boxing skills of mostly poor and minority athletes, it wouldn't be surprising if they fare the same or worse as the more mainstream athletes. The BBC profiled former boxer Evander Holyfield after he filed for bankruptcy on his 109-room home in the suburbs of Atlanta and noted Holyfied's situation is common among former boxers.

Going through the reasons Torre offers for why athletes go broke so quickly, the fictional Leary story seems to hit on every one.

The Lure of the Tangible
Leary and his brother decide to invest in commercial development project, but as the housing market crumbled, so did their investment. The Leary family also live in a self-built sprawling suburban home in New Jersey, send their daughters to a private Catholic school, hold onto a private boxing gym, and promise to make generous donation to their church's relief efforts in Haiti. They never mention stocks, mutual funds, or bonds.

True, Leary invests in his wife Theresa's medical school (Catherine McCormack), something that could put the family back on track to financial balance, but it seems much of what Leary invested his money in is what Torre called "the thrill of tangibility." Torre wrote, "Financial advisors have come to call it 'the problem of the $20,000 Rolex.' If a 22-year-old spends $22,000 on a watch or a big night out at a nightclub, that money is either depreciating or gone."

Misplaced Trust
This is a big plot point in Lights Out, especially early on in the series. Leary places ultimate trust in his brother, Johnny (Pablo Schreiber), who promptly whittles Leary's earnings away with poorly placed gambling bets and bad financial management. It's Johnny's tax evasion that lands the Learys in trouble with the IRS.

Torre writes that it is often poorly qualified friends or family members that are charged with managing an athlete's money, and they often mis-manage it. Even when it isn't family members who are charged with finances, it's often someone else of emotional importance in the player's life—in one case, it was an NBA player who gave that power to his former Amateur Athletic Union coach. Again, this problem is widespread. Torre wrote, "In fact, according to the NFL Players Association, at least 78 players lost a total of more than $42 million between 1999 and 2002 because they trusted money to financial advisers with questionable backgrounds."

Family Matters
The financial strain also creates a rift between Leary and his wife, and they even separate for a time on the show. Though Leary and his wife eventually make up, it's clear that such a separation would be financially—as well as emotionally— devastating.

According to Torre's reporting, a survey conducted in 2008 by a financial services firm found that more than 80 percent of 178 athletes they polled reported they were concerned about potential lawsuits or divorce dealings. "By common estimates among athletes and agents, the divorce rate for a pro athlete ranges from 60 percent to 80 percent," Torre wrote.

Great Expectations
Leary is the sole supporter for his large and demanding family. Not only is his erstwhile fortune expected to pay for his family's house and expenses while his wife gets through medical school, but he has three daughters who are all planning to attend college, a gym to keep his father—and former coach—busy in retirement, and a diner he owns but his sister runs. Leary's new coach, Ed Romeo (Eamonn Walker), stares at Leary in amazement as he explains how he's supporting his wife, children, father, brother, and sister. The family pushes Romeo out through some manipulation of Leary.

Again, this problem seems widespread, with new and old faces showing up to get a cut of the athlete's earnings. "As soon as an athlete goes pro, people in search of handouts tend to stretch the definitions of family and friends." The large promised donation to the church in Haiti wasn't just volunteered out of the blue by the Learys; the church sought them out as potentially wealth members of the congregation even as they faced a costly IRS audit.

Though Lights Out wasn't a perfect show, often mimicking the plotlines of the Oscar-nominated film The Fighter so closely I still sometimes confuse the two, but I'll be sad to see it go. In an era where Hollywood is trying to capitalize on putting the realities of the recession in various ways on television shows, it's nice to see a show take on a very real and complicated issue like disappearing athlete finances.

Monday, April 4, 2011

The Challenges of Raising Cinderella

It wasn't until I read Peggy Orenstein's Cinderella Ate My Daughter: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the New Girlie-Girl Culture that I truly became terrified of the idea of someday giving birth to (or adopting) a pair of X chromosomes. The main question Orenstein tries to answer is how do feminist (or at least, non-misogynist) mothers deal with the explosion of gendered children's culture? It turns out that the answer to that question is far from easy.

Orentsein describes her journey through confronting the new girlie-girl culture with her own daughter. Princess culture, it seems is rather new to childhood, and was mostly just dreamed up by a Disney executive who couldn't stand to see little girls twirling about in homemade princess costumes. Now, lots of marketers have caught onto this trend and it's becoming increasingly difficult to find gender-neutral toys. This point seems pretty obvious when you view this breakdown from Sociological Images of a Christmas toy catalog: While you occasionally see marketers place girls with gender-neutral or even "boy" toys, you never see boys playing with "girl" toys. Today Sociological Images ran competing word clouds of marketing language in commercials for boys' and girls' toys. It seems you no longer have children; you have boys and you have girls.

Determined not to have her daughter grow up with the mindset of girlie-girl culture, Orenstein did her best to protect her daughter from the tyranny of the princesses. She failed. As much as she didn't like it, it wasn't long before her daughter was demanding tiaras and tutus.

The problem Orenstein ran into is that rejecting girlie-girl culture sends a message that's almost as bad as embracing it: If things that girls like are bad, that diminishes the value of girls in our culture. Telling little girls that they shouldn't like the tutus and princess wands they might be attracted to through a combination of marketing, peer pressure, and even a bit of "nature" tells them that girlie equals bad and that they only have value if they like "boy" things.

It seems parents who want to raise their girls in a way that doesn't reject girl culture but still pushes girls to explore "boy" interests—anything from toy trucks to light sabers—leaves them in a difficult position. After all, just because a girl wears a tiara in childhood doesn't mean she can't go on to become a Ph.D.'s in astrophysics. But it's also true that increased emphasis on "pretty" girls can have adverse effects on body image, self-esteem, and ambition. The notion of trying to navigate these waters is terrifying.

Though Orentsein's work is fascinating, I'm left wondering how parents can raise their girls in such a culture—and, furthermore, how they can raise their boys. After all, if we suspect girlie-girl culture that there's a risk in girlie-girl culture for girls, imagine what it might do to boys who are taught to resist engaging with it.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

How to Use the D.C. Library (Almost) Like Netflix


I recently read this story about the Newport Beach library that's might get rid of its physical location and convert to a "Netflix-like" system in which patrons would pick up their books, DVDs, and other materials from lockers.

What you may not know is that the public library already works a lot like Netflix. Thanks to most municipal inter-library loan systems, you can request most books, television shows, and other forms of media (including comic books!) for free. Here's how you navigate this system in the District of Columbia—though I'd bet your local system works pretty much the same way:

Step one: Get a library card.
This is pretty essential to the whole process. You can go to this page to fill out a form for a provisional library card that they'll email to you, and they'll mail you a real one eventually. You can also just show up at your local branch and fill the form out there. All you need is a D.C., Maryland, or Virginia driver's license. If you don't have that, just show up in person to the MLK library downtown and pay $20 a year. (If you request a half-dozen things a year, it's probably worth it.)

Step two: Order books.
This seems confusing sometimes because what they call it at the library is "placing a hold" on an item. Say you want to read Live Wire by Harlan Coben, which is currently at the top of the New York Times fiction best sellers list. Go to the DC Library search page and search for "Live Wire." It'll bring up the item listing in the library catalog. In the top right corner of the item listing (next to some of the social media links) there's a link that says "place hold." It'll ask you to put in you library card number as your "user ID," which you should have had emailed to you—or handed to you if you went to the library in person—and your PIN number. For some reason, the library system just uses the last four digits of your library card number as your PIN. Then it will ask you where you want to pick it up. You can choose a library near your home or work—just be sure to check the hours, since most libraries are only open late a couple nights a week and most aren't open Sundays—and pick the one that works best for you. Click "send."

Step three: Wait.
Unfortunately the library system isn't quite as instantaneous as Netflix or Amazon Prime—sometimes you have to wait a few weeks for your hold to show up at the library where you requested it. If time is of the essence for what you're requesting, you'll probably have to pay for that. Sometimes, though, you'll be surprised at how quickly it's ready.

Step four: Pick up your items.
When your items are ready, you'll get an email telling you your hold is available. Just be sure to get there within a week—if you don't show up to get it before then, they'll route the item to the next person on the list. Go to the library and ask them where they keep their holds. Your item should be waiting there in alphabetical order under your last name. Check it out. Read it within three weeks or renew it if you're not done with it.

Easy, right?

Saturday, April 2, 2011

2011 Reading So Far

Sadly, not my bookshelf. (Flickr/Ben Oh)

I read a lot. I'm lucky I have enough free time to read so much, but I have to say, my recent addition to the library's inter-loan system has motivated me to finish books more quickly than when I purchased them. What can I say? I'm deadline-oriented. Keep in mind the post ahead is going to be a fully indulgent bunch of stats about me and my reading habits. If that's not your style, it's probably best to move on.

The end of March means I'm about a fourth of the way through the year, and I've read 22 books so far this year (You can look at my full selection of books for the year so far here). Last year I read 62 books, so if I keep up this pace, I'm on track to top the number of books I read last year. Granted, some of these "books" include comic books. Take that as you will. Of the 23 books I've read so far, 13 of them are by women. I've read 14 novels, 6 non-fiction books, and 3 comic books.

Best novel I've read so far this year: This was a tough call since I've ready so many great ones, but I think my favorite one so far was Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann. It's a beautifully written book.

Best non-fiction book I've read so far this year: This seems a bit unfair since I've read so little non-fiction, but I think my favorite thus far was the slim work A Strange Stirring by Stephanie Coontz. This is, in part, because I really enjoy reading about feminism; others who are less steeped in it might enjoy Michael Lewis' The Big Short more.

Best comic book/graphic novel: Again, a bit unfair since I've fallen down on my comics reading so far this year, but I'm going to go with Moving Pictures by Kathryn Immonen. It's a beautiful and haunting story about two people in the middle of World War II.

Worst book I read this year: Sadly I think Franklin & Eleanor: An Extraordinary Marriage was the most disappointing book I read this year. It's hard to tell the story of the marriage without also relating much of the history of FDR's presidency, and Rowley had to breathlessly rush thorough much of it to keep her book a manageable length. In the end, I think I'd rather have read a substantial FDR biography.

Books published in 2011 that I read in 2011: Just two, A Strange Stirring and T.C. Boyle's When the Killing's Done.

The oldest book I read this year: Easy. Jane Eyre.

The longest book I've read this year: Justice Brennan: Liberal Champion.

Shortest book I read this year: The Walking Dead, vol. 13 wins. Ironically the tome of the first 10 volumes was the longest book I read last year.

Reading goals for the rest of the year: Read more non-fiction; I'm especially into historical biographies. Any recommendations?

Friday, April 1, 2011

Friday Links: Bloody Marys and Graphic Journalism

(Flickr/Kenn Wilson)
  • Cool story on the chemistry of bloody marys, but where's the Old Bay? [NPR]
  • The lovely Tracy Clark-Flory takes on America's obsession with "porn for women." [Salon]
  • Reading Sinclair Lewis decades later. [Shani O. Hilton]
  • Rants against girl gamers are so tired, you could play BINGO. [Feminist Fatale]
  • The four main ways of thinking about motherhood. [Sociological Images]
  • What is graphic journalism? Erin Polgreen, the raddest of comic ladies, takes this question on. [The Hooded Utilitarian]
  • Sandra Lee, terrible as she is, is pretty feminist. [TAPPED]
  • An Indiana state legislator delivers an emotional speech defending victims of rape, drawing on her six years of experience as a sex crimes investigator. [Think Progress]
  • Tipping seems to reward flirting, not actual good service. [Smart Money]
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