It is important to give people images like themselves that they can look up to, and identify with. It’s why dolls have been created in all skin, hair color, and eye shade combinations (hello American Girl!). It’s why there is constant pressure in the media for magazines and ads to use “real” looking women. It’s why people fight for diversity of lead roles in movies. And now, the new frontier is those stock photos that you see popping up all over corporate PowerPoints, and that are often mined to accompany blog posts much like this one. You may have noticed that all of the “working women” photos are weirdly homogeneous (just google working women and click over to the images tab). All of the ladies are wearing navy or black suits, have perfectly done hair and makeup, and most often are sitting by a computer. While it’s great to see women associated with technology, these images just don’t realistically reflect most working ladies of today. I mean, Hillary can sure pull off a pants suit, but when is the last time you saw the average Jane dressed like that for the office? And are you sure she even works in an office?
Now LeanIn.org and Getty images are out to change all that. The two powerhouses have teamed up to push out images of working women in a variety of environments that actively break out of the stereotypes of traditionally female work. They will showcase female soldiers, bakers, hunters, and surgeons. You can view the collection, and purchase images here. The goal is to tell women and girls that they can be the things they can’t typically find images of, and additionally the LeanIn.org has created two new grants that will focus on creating visual campaigns and photographs covering news about women. Huzzah for opening minds and doors to women’s work.
I am no stranger to TED talks. They are my preferred thing to listen to while out running errands as I walk from place to place. I always learn something new, and come away a little bit more inspired. I learned about Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie by way of Beyonce. I listened to both of her talks, and was impressed with the simple importance and clarity of her messages. Check them out for yourself!
The Danger of a Single Story
We Should All Be Feminists
The Atlantic interviewed Marian Cannon Schlesinger, a 101 year old wife, author, and illustrator to hear her recollections of JFK’s assassination, mine her memories, and learn her overall wisdom. There are so many interesting points, I just had to take a moment to summarize my favorites. Among the messages she delivered, one of the main gems was for young women of today, telling them to, “Just go ahead and do your thing no matter what.” This advice is so needed this time of year when people run themselves ragged trying to make it to every holiday dinner, every cookie swap, and every party. It is a gift to be able to celebrate the holidays with friends and family, try to remember it as such, and just do your thing – read: go to the events you really want to go to, and nothing more.
Another thing to take note of, “It doesn’t really matter if your house is that dirty.” When things are busy, the dust will still be there in the corners waiting when things settle down. Try not to freak out about it. “There have always been strong women.” Feminism wasn’t invented by modern ladies – all of those females on the Oregon trail were pretty powerful too. Her tricks on living to 100 are having a cup of coffee in the morning, and a drink every night. And when you’re having trouble figuring out how to live a full life, “Just keep going.” Such simple words, such true advice.
With all of the focus on women in the workplace that the Lean In movement generated, a natural area for investigation is the lady boss. With all the encouragement for women to strive for the corner office, there is bound to be exploration into what it’s like to work for, and have a woman in charge. Luckily, there is Gallup poll data evaluating how people in 2013 feel about working for a woman instead of a man when compared to how they felt in 1953. As you’d imagine, there have been some noticeable changes.
The Atlantic analyzed the data, and found a few interesting trends. First, more than half of all people (in all of the demographic groupings) preferred a lady boss, as opposed to earlier times when 2/3 of people preferred working under men. Surprisingly, one of the two groups with the lowest percentage of people wanting female leadership was women. The other group, somewhat unsurprisingly, was Republicans. Finally, there are two groups who want a woman in charge more than the others: Democrats, and people who have previously had a female boss. That, to me, says once you try it, you’ll probably like it– all the more ammunition to give women more access to leadership positions.
So, you like Kickstarter, but you’re looking for a way to invest in something you believe in – like women…now you can easily find projects by female entrepreneurs all in one lovely place. It’s called Plum Alley. It launched as an e-commerce site, and you can still shop its curated list of products ranging from accessories to homewares. But now they’ve added a new component to the site, allowing for crowd-funding. It follows the business model of Kickstarter and indiegogo, but hones in on the all lady entrepreneurial projects. Research shows that only 16% of businesses looking for financial backing are backed by females, and of that 16%, only 24% received the funding they needed. Plum Alley not only provides access to these funds via crowd sourcing, but also provides experts in various industries to tap for advice to succeed. Here’s to hoping it pays off, and if you don’t want to sponsor a project, you can at least get a jump start on your Christmas shopping!
I have lived in several neighborhoods around New York, where walking down the street was a daily challenge to ignore that catcalls tossed my way. While the attention can be flattering (rarely), it can be straight up offensive or even scary, and it’s mostly a nuisance. Can’t a girl just go to the subway in peace? And, really, how are you supposed to respond to several men just randomly tossing words your way? Talking back would just invite more uninvited conversation, or in the worst case, could lead to aggression. No one really wants to stop, and launch into a 10 minute explanation of why it is insulting and demeaning to holler at ladies walking down the street. While I got used to just pretending I didn’t hear it and always keeping my headphones in, (though I actively wondered if any women were like, YES you called me pretty, I WILL stop and talk to you), after moving to an area where people no longer yell to me on the street, I realized how relaxing it was, and that the simple behavior was really a form of harassment that kept me tense an on edge. There was no good response.
Now artist Tatyana Fazlalizadeh has taken her work to the streets to call attention to street harassment, and put a voice to all the words that women were thinking, but were too intimidated/in a rush/annoyed to say. Her portraits feature strong, defiant women looking you in the eye, and remind you that women walking down the street don’t owe other pedestrians and lurkers a thing. She wants to point out that women aren’t responsible for smiling, or providing an emotional response just because guys feel like noticing them. They are modeled after real women, and their encounters to capture multi-background and cross-neighborhood experiences.
She hopes to expand her work to capture even more diverse experiences of how women of different races, sexualities, and classes experience harassment, and how women interact with others in public spaces. For now? I am just happy that what myself and my friends have so often thought is now being put into plain view. And, if you happen to see one pop up in your neighborhood, just point to it for your street harassers to read as you walk by. The pictures will do the responding for you. Check out more photos from her collection here.
There has been a lot of press lately about the new feminism. Journalists revealed that many women (and celebs) of this generation feel distanced from the old feminist movement, which was labeled as, or associated with bra-burning man haters. Women of today don’t identify with this outdated trope, and often shun feminism on principle as a result. New feminists want to bring the ladies back into the fold by creating new labels and associations with feminism, effectively re-branding the movement to draw in more support. Enter SexyFeminist. It started as a blog, and has morphed into a new book, Sexy Feminism: A Girl’s Guide to Love, Success and Style, by Jennifer Keishin Armstrong and Health Wood Rudolph that draws on the precepts of previous feminist leaders. It seeks to appeal to women who think being feminist isn’t sexy, cool, attractive, or fun. Their audience is women who already align with feminist values, but may not realize they are feminist. They hope to change the way women think of feminism, and transform how younger ladies identify with the movement.
I recently read Lean In by Cheryl Sandberg, and in one chapter she mentions how her generation chose to distance themselves from feminists, even if their beliefs were aligned. Feminist was seen as something of an epithet associated with bra burning and unshaven legs. While Sandberg has long since realized the error of this stereotype, and happily identifies as a feminist, many other women still avoid being associated with the dirty word. Now, the new site Onward and F-word has emerged to advocate for feminism from men and women, to expand the audience who embraces feminism. They have blog posts, rising women’s rights activists, and additional resources. Check it out!
Disney princesses are known for a few things. They’re really nice. They have beautiful dresses, and they have a prince counterpart who usually stages some sort of gallant rescue when the main protagonist finds herself a damsel in distress, needing to be saved. Snow White is reprieved from death by poison. Ariel attains her life goal of being human through a prince’s kiss. Cinderella is swept up from poverty and abuse to the life of her dreams by a charming fellow. These pretty princesses, while they make wonderful movies, have become an enterprise of their own which little girls look up to as role models, and can even go visit in person at Disney World. (Interestingly enough, the princes staging the rescue are not typically seen as gallant behavioral models for little boys, and don’t even exist in person at the theme park to visit). Yet, when we really think about it, is this the set of ideals we want our daughters to try to live up to? Look pretty enough, be nice enough, and a handsome man will come give you all of your heart’s desires?
Disney has tried to break the mold a few times with Mulan (only semi-successfully, since she’s not normally included in their princesses line) and more recently Brave’s heroine, Merida. Merida doesn’t care about her hair, is into archery, shuns pretty dresses, and rides off into the sunset on her own horse sans Prince Charming. It was a major step forward in the creation of a strong female role model (perhaps made possible by the overwhelming popularity of The Hunger Games which debuted a few months before?) in cartoon form. But then, Disney had to go and ruin all of that forward progress by sexing up Merida before creating her princess doll. In other words, they let the movie happen, then revamped her image to more closely fit their idea of what a princess- or if we’re taking this role model thing a little farther, a woman–should be. They smoothed her hair into long, glowing locks, narrowed her waist, nixed the bow and arrow, and put her in a more revealing gown. And while I do love the Disney princesses and their accompanying movies, I find it a little offensive that they give such a narrow view into the possible roles for girls to grow into. As a dress-wearing, pink tulle-loving girl, I don’t think there is anything wrong with promoting girly things. A lot of women are into looking their best, and wearing pretty things. But why not allow for other options if fashion and beauty aren’t your cup of tea? And can we stop making the princesses’ entire identities revolve around locking down their prince? The young women of the world who love being athletic, or don’t have time to worry about fixing their hair because they’re too busy out saving the world themselves, not waiting for a prince to do it, should have a character they can identify with.
Disney retracted the new image in the United States after a huge backlash, but has not released a statement on the matter. Merida’s creator spoke with The Daily Beast about what the Disney-ification of Merida meant to her. It seems like this time around, it’s one step forward, two steps back.
In college I took a class called Sociology of the Arts. After a semester’s worth of learning how sociological trends influence art, it led me to write a final paper on knitting and it’s renewed popularity among young women (and sometimes-though less frequently– young men). It was a novelty back in 2007 that hip ladies in their 20’s and 30’s were starting to knit again when it was still largely considered something grandmas did when they were expecting new additions to the family. This was way before the advent of the crafty hipster, and maybe the beginnings of the movement towards its creation. After reading the (somewhat surprisingly) substantial body of literature available on the subject, I came up with three main established theories about why knitting and crafts of that kind were becoming more popular. Number 1, in a post-911 world of danger and instability, people turn back to traditional activities as comfort from the threats of modernity. You could sub in unstable economy, or the current event of your choice, and this argument is still applicable. The second linked body of theory supposed that in the face of this instability, there is a return to the traditional roles of the past (including gender roles) in which women care for the home and family. Third, it was a taking charge of a traditionally female thing, and making it subversive and edgy instead of tame and ladylike. This was in response to the sudden abundance of skull crochet patterns and kits for making your own knitted bikini tops rather than the typical baby clothes and pastel shawls of yore.
Then finally another group of researchers supposed that modern post-feminism allowed young ladies the freedom to engage in activities traditionally associated with female roles without fear of being labeled anti-women. Simply put, after the feminist movement, women didn’t have to prove they were equal to men by entering into traditionally male spheres like the upper echelons of the workplace. They could instead follow their interests and do what makes them happy (even if it was a traditionally feminine activity). While some will always say any activity that reinforces traditional gender expectations is bad, I just don’t see the same scrutiny applied to men who enter traditionally gendered occupations or hobbies because they like them (hello professional athletes?).
This article on The Daily Beast got me thinking about these sociological trends all over again in the context of small businesses popping up pedaling handmade goods. While some will always say it’s due to women’s preference to be in the home, and love of homemaking activities to me, it looks more like enterprising people who choose to take a difficult road to do what they love when the alternative isn’t making them happy. If this happens to coincide with a craft that gives them more time for their families, and may be a gendered activity, so what?
What do you think about the crafty hipster trend?
p.s. if you happen to be a crafty hipster, the cross stitch pattern pictured is available for purchase here!