Monday, November 14, 2011

A Call to Arms

A couple of months ago I attended a screening of Miss Representation, a pretty important film that is now catching some deserved rotation on the Oprah network. In it, a bleak picture of the current portrayal of women in the media is painted. One would imagine that it would have been easy to make this film one long peepshow of the offending gratuitous images, but instead it is a finely crafted affair, focused on many women in positions of power eloquently discussing the complexities of the issue. It is a somber analysis, smartly presented, and well worth your time.

The film tackles not only the responsibilities of the men who have the power over these images (there is a dearth of female leadership in the upper echelons of pretty much any field), but also brings forth the responsibilities required of women. Even if we haven't yet scored the top jobs, the time has come to give up watching from the sidelines while other people manage our image. We are certainly not powerless. We can write. We can vote. We can use our considerable purchasing power to change the landscape. But the film makes one thing frighteningly clear: we MUST do these things to reverse the terrible backslide in the long way we've tried to come since the 70's. And if we won't do it for ourselves, we need to do it for the upcoming generations of girls.

And so, with this movie ringing in my consciousness, when I caught the headlines about Ashton Kutcher's latest fling, instead of keeping my thoughts to myself (as a polite and seemly woman is taught to do), I wrote the following. It's my offering to the conversation started by Miss Representation. Hope you enjoy:

While there have been many times in my life that I thought being a man would have made things so much easier, I have always appreciated that one of the greatest things about being a woman is being part of the team, the sisterhood. Women have girlfriends, that priceless tribe of confidantes that supports us through the best of times, and the worst of times. Women, for the most part, take care of each other, regardless of what the latest reality bitch-and-bite show would have you believe. We understand that to make it out in the world we need to stick together, have each other’s backs, and support each other like only women can. And so, as I note the most recent lapse in judgment of a certain young lady in Ashton Kutcher’s presence, I want to call women to arms to take care of our womenfolk.

First of all, to Ms. Sarah Leal and to any other women who eyes a married man: Stop it. Stop it right now. You are letting down the team. Move on. If we are serious about elevating our stature as women, we need to take care of our married sisters by not pursuing their men. It is easy to think that a man’s choice to cheat on his wife is none of our business, but if we are serious about taking care of each other, this is business of a most critical order. Don’t fall for that trite “she done me wrong” sob story. Please. You are smarter than that. Don’t help him hurt one of our sisters by cheating with him. Wasn’t it the late, great and wise Ann Landers who pointed out that a man who marries his mistress is merely creating a vacancy in the position? Don’t contribute to the stereotype of philandering lothario as a great catch. True sexy is a man who stands up for his woman, not one who lets her down. Such weak-willed opportunists are catch-and-release material only. If you must give a married guy some attention, let it be in the form of a referral to a great therapist. And then walk away. We can inspire men to better standards by raising our own.

Second, to Ms. Leal: I’m sorry. I’m sorry that I’ve stood by in silence while media standards for the portrayal of women has sunk low, so low that we have taught you that the way to make it big in this life is by banging a celebrity and selling your story to a tabloid. I should have fought for a media depiction of us that is so much deeper than an image parade of starlet d├ęcolletage. I should have stood up for you, for me, for all of us years ago when I first noticed the downhill slide. I should have argued for better portrayal of women who are doing the kind of stuff that would inspire you do something big with your life, the kind of big that would have you featured on TED.com instead of in the gossip rags. Truly, I’m sorry.

Ladies, you have my word that I’m working on it right now. I am voting with my feet, turning off the sexist shows, and writing to call attention to the abuses of our image. But I need your help. Can you do a solid for the team?


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