Hey, Mr. History, where are the women?

12 10 2017

I’ve been thinking a lot about documentary film historian Ken Burns lately because of his new work The Vietnam War. When I looked at a list of his past works I wondered: where are the women?

Burns has a reputation of being the chronicler of America’s stories, but those stories are only telling half the story, the male half.

My request of histories future is this – may we women have a seat at the table.
We dominate the stories of about the basic elements we’ve always been reduced to: appearance (through fashion and beauty) and reproduction (the never ending abortion battle). But we are seldom equal players when it comes it to the bread and butter of American stories Burns is known for, subjects like war and politics.

There are some exceptions to this, such as Not for Ourselves Alone: The Story of Elizabeth Cady Stanton & Susan B. Anthony and Eleanor Roosevelt’s appearance in The Roosevelts: An Intimate History. But they are exceptions.

Burns is not the only one doing this, but he is the titian of the historical documentary genre and thus got me thinking about the bigger picture.

It seems easier for narrators to group us all together (A League of Their Own, Title IX) or to single out those with the largest impact (Dorthea Lang, Henrietta Lacks) rather than to see the stories of women given equal billing alongside those of men.

And even when we are part of a bigger story, like the space program, we have to be lumped together (Hidden Figures) in order for our story to be heard, the same way a small brown body count won’t trigger the type of news stories that a small white body count will. The pile has to be get higher for outsiders to notice.

There is strength in diversification. More people living the stories. More people producing the stories. More people sharing the stories. This is our battle cry. Keep going. Speak up. And don’t leave half the population out of tomorrow’s history books.

If I had Ken Burn’s resources, I’d first start to look at the interesting stories in history (sorry, Serena and Hillary) or at least the elderly (looking at you, RBG!). Maybe develop a script about the steel industry in America featuring a start turn by Rebecca Lukens, America’s first female CEO of an industrial company. There are also interesting stories to be told about Mary Pickford, the token women at the table when United Artists was founded. And move over Jim Henson and Mr. Rogers, we’d like to shine a light on Sheri Lewis, too. Last but not least if the audience still wants a political focus, there’s always the leaders America has absorbed and forgotten, like Liliʻuokalani, Queen of Hawaii.

Notable women lived and breathed, even if the current history on them is quiet. We need to shout to fill the void.





In praise of January

12 01 2014

January is one of my favorite months and I’m glad it’s here. The air feels more fresh than frigid since we’re used to the freezing temperatures by now, and the days are steadily getting longer, filled with more wonderful sunlight. Everything is new and there’s a dreamy possibility of what the New Year will bring.

Plus, it always offers a lot of time snuggled in blankets reading new books collected over the holidays or indulging in hot baths or various spa treatments. I love it.

People who hate on January tend to focus on the dark, cold and increase of seasonal depression. But if there’s a month I dread, then it’s probably August, the death of summer and fun. I start to notice the shorter days and fading flowers. August is a total buzzkill.

Meanwhile, everything may be frozen solid in January, but we’re so much closer to Spring, my favorite season, then we are in August.

Embrace January! After the seasonal rush of forced socializing and too many commitments, January gives you the freedom to do whatever you want. Live it up, people.

January hides the blooms of Spring like a secret

January hides the blooms of Spring like a secret





The Ungraceful Gender Defender

25 11 2013

Of all the proud feminists out there, I’m not the one to call when the ladies need defending. I’m the ungraceful gender defender. Any eloquence of language that might come through now and again completely leaves the room when somebody, male or female, starts saying dumb shit. (See, I can’t even think of a better, more intellectual term to use than “dumb shit” and we haven’t even left the first paragraph yet.)

my grandma's cooler than you

my grandma’s cooler than you

The speaker doesn’t need to be putting ladies down to be offensive. The person could be trying to give a misguided compliment.

A man once said to me that women are more artistically inclined than men. At first I gave my standard response: What!?! Are you fucking kidding me?

Because this was someone that I’d previously had a bit more respect for, I spent the next several minutes trying to get him to admit that he was joking. He wasn’t. He was convinced this was a deep truth of the universe.

In hindsight I wish I’d challenged his statement with questions such as, “Then why are there so many male artists displayed in museums?” “Why aren’t their more women inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame?” “Why aren’t there more women on the best sellers list or directing movies or holding high-earning positions in the many artistic careers out there? Surely if we have that natural, God-given inclination to be artists, our culture’s artwork would reflect that.”

Just for all those dumbass readers thinking to themselves, yeah, there are a lot of successful men in the arts, that must mean men are more artistically inclined than women — Nope, it doesn’t mean that. It means you hear about the artists who make money and since men usually hold the power and the purse strings in a society, we usually end up hearing about their art.

And, oh yeah, something like artistic ability isn’t linked to gender, it’s up to the individual.

More recently someone told me I was just like a guy because I like music, beer and dive bars. This isn’t the first time that a guy has called me out like this, basically saying that I’m cool because I’m more like a guy than a girl. And I feel genuinely sorry for guys who think that way because they must know a bunch of lame girls.

I know a bunch of cool girls. Because girls are awesome. And that’s all I have to say about that because, again I’m the ungraceful gender defender. So fuck you.

Sometimes other people pull out their megaphones to reiterate these things, with better language. Think of the recent (possibly copyright infringing) video by GoldieBlox. When I see commercials like that I think those are the chicks I’d be friends with, not the princess patrol, not the trophy wives in training. And there’s nothing shocking about seeing girls as engineers, because I see them in real life, too.

The GoldieBlox video hit YouTube around the same time as Lily Allen’s video for “Hard Out Here.” Lily’s from my generation, and she’s got a way with words.

The chorus puts it bluntly. “Sometimes it’s hard to find the words to say. I’ll go ahead and say them anyway. Forget your balls and grow a pair of tits. It’s hard out here for a bitch.”

Well said, lady.





Child of the U.S.A.

12 10 2013
Why the f#*k does The Boss make me weepy?!

Why the f#*k does The Boss make me weepy?!

Sometimes a moment just hits you. Out of nowhere, something happens, your mood changes and you can’t deny it. You are humbled by the moment, and left shaken.

And sometimes these moments crystallize your identity and make you realize things about yourself that you didn’t fully understand or previously see evidence of.

During a semester abroad, I was walking down the street in London on my way to the theatre. I loved living in London and could not have been happier about the situation and my life at that point.

It was autumn and the sun set early, so even though it wasn’t very late, the street were dark and I was navigating a new part of town. As I was walking past shops and grocers I heard Springsteen’s “Born in the U.S.A.,” come playing out of bar and I started to cry, as I kept walking along.

“I was born in the U.S.A!” I wailed internally, while my mouth wobbled downward and I tried to hold back the tears welling up in my eyes.

These emotions caught me completely off guard. I didn’t like Bruce Springsteen. I didn’t care about this song. I knew I loved America, but so what? That’s nothing to cry about. What was it that provoked this reaction? I have no idea. Maybe I was in denial about my homesickness, or maybe hearing those words “Born in the U.S.A.,” so clearly when I was in a different country just highlighted my American-ness in a very powerful way. I don’t know.

I can wave the flag and sing the national anthem at football games, but it’s these unexpected moments that hit you in the gut that really make you think about your country and what it means to be one of its citizens.

In contrast, there are other times when you see the negative side of America and you wish you weren’t a part of it. I know America does a lot of bad things, but I usually don’t think too long about the specifics of it. Sometimes the injustices of America flicker through my mind, like when I was living in Cleveland and I knew no matter how fast I drove through East Cleveland or how many traffic laws I broke, the cops would never pull a white girl over in that neighborhood.

It’s wrong. It’s bad. It’s a fact. We move on.

But sometimes those things get to you.

In Johannesburg, South Africa in 2011, I was waiting for a plane to fly back to New York City. One of the girls I’d been traveling with was there, too, waiting for her flight home to London. We ate dinner and when it got closer to our flights we walked downstairs to our gates. Every other gate in the airport looked as it always did, looked the same way it did about a week ago when I few into the same airport. But it was a few days before the 10th anniversary of 9/11 and the security around the flight to New York was visible.

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You call this gentrification?

30 09 2013

The chain stores crowding Manhattan make the city folks shutter. New York’s supposed to be unlike any other city in America. Yet lower Broadway is pretty much an open air mall oozing Sephora, Victoria’s Secret and H&M onto the pigeons and hot dog carts. Midtown, too.

But don’t worry, because if you look close enough inside those chain stores, you’ll see New York. You’ll smell it, too. Aside from the charming deli’s, vibrant street life and whatever else people like about this place, one undeniable characteristic of this city is inappropriate urination. Leaked by humans, animals, whomever, New York always smells like piss.

Which is why when I was in Kmart, and a woman peed in the dressing room I thought, “Fucking New York.” It’s not like I was blaming the city, but I don’t really come across that stuff in other towns.

Anyway, I like to go to Kmart sometimes because it reminds me of growing up in the suburbs. It’s comforting. So I’m waiting in line for the dressing room and listening to the conversation between a few young girls working there and an older cleaning man who they called in. Eventually the story emerges that a woman went into the dressing room, peed on the floor then ran out of the store before anyone could catch her. Oh, and she left her underwear behind in the puddle of pee, because, why not?

At this point I’m still waiting in line because the girls aren’t letting anyone in until the janitor is done. I guess I start making a face because one of the girls says to me, “You look surprised.”

First of all, it is totally acceptable to look surprised when you are standing in line at the Kmart listening to stories about customers peeing in the dressing room. I’m sorry that I’m not a jaded, minimum wage employee so used to scrubbing down the dressing room that this is just another day, another golden afternoon.

Secondly, if this type of incident is so common, maybe they should train employees on the proper way to handle it. These are some of the things the current employees were doing that I would suggest future employees not do: laugh so loudly when telling this story that you draw attention to yourself, pointing out other areas in the store where people have defecated, and (especially) saying it’s not that bad considering how often they find guys shitting in the men’s dressing room.

Up until this point, the main action was out of site. I could see the janitor go in and out of the offending dressing room, but I couldn’t see the mess he was cleaning up. Then he comes out gently holding a clear plastic bag containing the left behind underwear. (Another training tip: when something looks gross, don’t cover it in a see-through material.) There’s a quick banter between one of the girls and the janitor.

“You’re gonna drop it.”

“No, I’m not.”

“It’s gonna fall.”

“I’ve got it right here.”

Then right on cue, the soggy underwear falls out of the bag and in front of the line of waiting customers.

The people in line groan, the girls giggle and say “Eww” and the janitor says, “I thought I had it.” But we all still stay there. In a different universe maybe the janitor would have been working alone, efficiently blocking off the chaining rooms, emptying the stalls of customers and alerting the young staff when the clean up was done.

But this is New York. If we can handle the gentrification, we can handle this, too.





Good things come to those who scalp

7 04 2013
View from my box suite @ MSG for the Pink concert

View from my box suite @ MSG for the Pink concert

I consider myself a low risk individual. The company I work for runs a lot of programs for entrepreneurs. The bigger the risk the bigger the return. Think big. Act bold. Risk a lot, gain a lot. All foreign concepts to me.

If I was forced to follow that advice, it would be as strange as if I was told I was about to become the captain of a whaling ship. What, now? You want me to exchange my MetroCard for a large wooden ship, which isn’t even as long as the G train, and do what to the largest mammal on earth? I mean, I like the way I look in a woolen pea coat, but no thank you.

However, when I talk to some of my friends about buying tickets from scalpers on the street, I get the impression that they find the whole thing too risky to do themselves.

Which I think is stupid. I’m not talking about selling scalped tickets. I’m talking about buying tickets on the street outside the venue for a show you really want to go to but couldn’t get tickets for in advance. True, the person I’m buying them from isn’t Monsieur Ticketmaster, but I usually end up paying face value for them. And the situation feels as convenient as when I buy them online where the company has the audacity to change me a convenience fee for that transaction. (Who invented the convenience fee? I think I speak for everyone when I say I want to punch that person in the face.)

But if you do consider it risky behavior, then think about this reward: sometimes I get tickets for free. Really, really good tickets, like a box suite at Madison Square Garden.

A few weeks ago I decided at the last minute to go to the Pink concert at Madison Square Garden. The only tickets still for sale online were over $100, all the cheap seats were sold out. So I decided to try my luck with the scalpers.

The first guy I went up to had tickets for $150 each. If I’d wanted to pay that much, I would have done it the legit way. So I walked around a bit, going up to normal looking people (as in, non-burley scalper-looking guys) who were standing alone, possibly waiting for their plus one to show up, possibly wanting to sell their extra ticket to me rather than eating the cost of the ticket for their no-show friend.

After hearing “no,” a few times I eventually made my way over to someone who didn’t look like a Pink fan at all. I doubted she was here for the show at all, but you don’t know unless you ask. And to be totally stereotypical, she looked like someone’s frumpy, middle-aged Latino housekeeper-slash-nanny.

I started my speech.

“Do you have an extra ticket?”

“Yes.”

Really?! I’m thinking. But I keep my game face on. “How much?”

“Free. It’s a box suite”

I just raise my eyebrows and tuck in my chin, offering my look of I-may-be-a-tunnel-and-bridge-girl-but-I’m-not-that-stupid.

She hands me the ticket and it doesn’t look like any ticket I’ve seen before. It’s my first show at Madison Square Garden, so it’s true I don’t know what their tickets look like for sure, but I’ve seen most of the other fans carrying typical looking computer print outs and I’m surprised to see this small purple ticket in my hand.

“It’s real,” she says. Then she winks at me, tells me to enjoy myself and that she’ll see me up there.

I take the ticket and walk away figuring that if it’s a fake, at least I didn’t pay for it and I can always go back to the $150 guy and buy a ticket to see the show. For that price, they’re probably good seats. Maybe even floor access.

Then I have another thought – this is how people get abducted into sex slavery. I’m totally going to be a part of the white slave trade just because I wanted to see some pop music on a Friday night. Damn my good looks!

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Casting my vote in the 2012 American presidential election

21 10 2012

As I’ve said before, I love voting. But that doesn’t mean I love our grater political institutions. The act of voting is separate from deciding who to vote for, and this year’s election cycle has been especially off-putting.

So, I’m planning on casting a write-in vote, probably for Hillary Rodham.

Why am I going the write-in route rather than voting for the same person I did the last go round?

Mainly because I live in a liberal town where my vote doesn’t really count, so I can play around with the ballot box like this. (Can you imagine if we told soldiers they were giving their lives so we could “play around with the ballot box” instead of telling them they were preserving the freedoms of democracy? That’s a discussion for another day…)

But there are a few things Obama has been up to which don’t make me especially happy.

1) Detaining Americans without charging them isn’t cool. Even if this law was subsequently struck down by a judge. (See this badly bootlegged Daily Show clip for information about the law. And this article about the judge’s ruling.)

2) I’m also not that pleased about the increased drone strikes under Obama. (Here’s a handy map o’death.)

3) Is it just me, or does he always seem to be caving to Republicans on tax cuts? (It’s not just me.)

That’s not to say the administration hasn’t been without high points. Good job passing healthcare reform. Not the best law ever, but a very good start at scaling back the profits and bureaucracy surrounding our basic rights. Also, the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act has a nice ring to it; let’s hope its aim is true.

A big part of me isn’t voting for Obama because I’m just fed up with the phoniness of the election campaign. You give me fake candidates, I’ll give you a fake vote. Maybe I’ll put London mayor Boris Johnson down as my pick. I think he handled himself pretty well when he got stuck on that zip wire this summer.

There’s too much money and spin and sound bites and flag lapel pins for me to take it seriously. Which is a problem because it is serious. One of the liars on the ballot is going to the White House. God bless the United States of America. We need it.