Queen of the Filtered Instagram Image, Beyoncé Critiques Our Airbrushed Beauty Culture
Beyoncé dropped a new full-length album on iTunes last night, and it came with the combination of pop feminist commentary and fierce video performance we’ve learned to expect from Bey. “Mama said you're a pretty girl. What's in your head, it doesn't matter. Brush your hair, fix your teeth. What you wear is all that matters,” she sings on the opening track “Pretty Hurts,” an ode to the damaging effects of body policing. “Blonder hair, flat chest. TV says bigger is better. South beach, sugar free. Vogue says thinner is better.” In the pageant-themed accompanied video, judges measure Beyoncé’s tummy with tape and slap at her thighs in preparation for the stage; in a post-pageant scene, she sits on a hotel floor in tiara, sash, underwear and socks, putting the “hurt” side of “pretty” on display. "Shine the light on whatever's worse, tryna fix something," she sings. "But you can't fix what you can't see. It's the soul that needs the surgery."
That’s a very positive message to send to young women. And it can afford to be so positive because it’s based on an incredibly outdated vision of how we reinforce unattainable physical norms for girls. Who is this strawmama Beyoncé speaks of? I can’t imagine that a significant portion of American girls are growing up today with mothers who emphasize nothing but their daughters’ looks. And beauty pageants are increasingly irrelevant to our construction of femininity. In 1965, 22 million households watched the Miss America pageant; this year, the pageant counted only 7.4 million viewers. Beyoncé may not look like your stereotypical long-limbed blonde beauty queen, but then again, neither does the modern Miss America.
Twitter Needs More Security Options
Thursday, Twitter announced it was reducing the power of the block button ever so slightly, making it more like a "mute" than a block. Within hours, the company had restored the block function back to its original state, after users, including many women, objected to the change. It was yet another demonstration of why it's critical to get more women into decision-making roles in the social media industry: Women are sadly more likely to have firsthand experience with dealing with a social media stalker and are more likely to understand how dogged these guys can be.
Under the current system, if you block someone, they can see that they're blocked because they can't follow you or retweet your tweets. The problem that Twitter was, by their own measure, trying to fix is that by blocking someone, you are inadvertently acknowledging them. They know they got your attention long enough to be blocked, and a troll can eat out on that realization for a week. What the new system would have done was made it so that you couldn't see them but they could see you, so they would spend their days and nights sending you harassing tweets, having no idea that you weren't hearing any of it. It's quite a pleasing image—especially if you're a public figure, and 99.9 of the harassment you get online is from strangers anyway—so it's easy to see why Twitter thought it would fix the problem.
We Need More Kirsten Gillibrands in Congress
In this week’s New Yorker, Evan Osnos has an excellent profile of New York’s junior Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, reported while she was deeply engaged in crafting and pushing legislation to combat the military’s sexual assault problem. Despite the fact that her reforms were ultimately dropped from the defense bill (she hasn’t given up the fight), the piece shows exactly why we need more women like her in politics. It’s not just because she’s the mother of small children, though it’s exhilarating to read about a mom who picked her kid up at day care and brought him to Congress so she could still participate in a scheduled vote, as Gillibrand did. It’s also because she mentors other women, and disagrees with her female colleagues.
Studies have shown that women sorely lack mentors in both the corporate and political worlds. Gillibrand herself never had a problem approaching mentors and making them her own—Osnos talks about how she impressed Hillary Clinton, who ultimately mentored her, while working on Clinton’s Senate campaign in 2000—but she goes out of her way to mentor other women looking to run for office.
She launched a group called Off the Sidelines, a “call for action for women to make their voices heard on issues they care about.” But Gillibrand also does much more personal mentoring. When her former Davis Polk coworker Terri Sewell expressed a desire to run for Congress, Gillibrand gave her advice about the best pollsters, and even role-played phone calls with potential donors so Sewell would feel more comfortable asking for money. Sewell went on to become Alabama’s first black congresswomen in 2010.
Michigan Largely Bans Insurance Coverage for Abortion, With No Rape Exception
Wednesday, the Michigan legislature overrode Republican Gov. Rick Snyder's earlier veto and passed a law banning any private insurance plan in the state from covering abortion. The new law doesn't ban insurance companies from selling abortion coverage completely, but you have to buy a separate "rider" for the coverage, one that it's almost certain insurance companies won't bother offering anyway. (Other states have similar bans, but mostly aimed at individuals buying insurance on their own via health exchanges. Michigan is only the ninth state to ban the coverage for employer-based insurance.)
Pro-choice advocates have dubbed the bill the "rape insurance" bill, since it makes no exceptions for pregnancies resulting from rape. Which is why, after denouncing the bill as "one of the most misogynistic proposals" ever to go before the legislature, Sen. Gretchen Whitmer got up and spoke about her own experience of being a rape victim. "Over 20 years ago, I was a victim of rape," Whitmer started, holding back tears. "And thank God it didn't result in a pregnancy. Because I can't imagine going through what I went through and then having to consider what to do about an unwanted pregnancy from an attacker."
GM CEO Mary Barra and the Rocky Road of the Female "Car Guy"
This week, General Motors tapped longtime GM employee and executive Mary Barra to be its next CEO. In January, she’ll become the first woman to head up a major international car company. “There's nobody with more years of honest 'car-guy' credentials than she has,” University of Michigan business professor Erik Gordon told the Associated Press. "She started off as a little-girl car guy. She became a big-girl car guy and now she's a woman car guy."
The long road from “little-girl car guy” to “woman car guy” has not been a totally smooth ride, as evidenced by the fact that a business professor cannot adequately explain what the hell just happened without sounding utterly ridiculous. As the Atlantic’s Jordan Weissman puts it, “car guy” is a Detroit “honorific bestowed upon those who live and breath design and engineering,” and it’s not just a clever name—the auto industry workers who earn the title are typically dudes. But Barra is certainly a car, uh, person. Her father was a Pontiac die maker. She joined GM at 18, studied electrical engineering at General Motors Institute, rode a GM scholarship to a Stanford MBA, and took on a wide range of roles within the company along the way, from managing an assembly plant to running GM internal communications to heading up global product development and HR.
The Wage Gap Is Closing, So Why Do Millennial Women Still Feel Unequal?
A new Pew Research Center report brings glad tidings about gender in the workplace, although some of the cheer is fleeting. After surveying 2,002 adults (including 810 millennials) and combing through 2012 census data, researchers found that women are more educated, more active in the labor force, and more likely to hold high-paying positions, than ever. Young women saw the most gains: Women ages 18 to 32 are a few slim percentage points away from wage parity. Those advances have yet to register psychologically, though. Women still perceive an uphill climb ahead of them, in part due to the unequal “responsibilities of parenthood and family.” All three generations of women surveyed—millennial, Gen X and Boomer—“view this as a man’s world.”
But first, the good news. Once upon a time, in 1980, women made 64 percent of what men did. Today’s working ladies earn 84 percent of the male paycheck. Female millennials in particular are tantalizingly close to crushing the wage gap, pulling down 93 percent of their male counterparts’ salaries.
California Arrests the Owner of a Revenge Porn Site. Other States Should Follow Its Lead.
California is getting serious with efforts to end the scourge known as "revenge porn," in which men who want to hurt women (usually as "revenge" for dumping them) post naked photos of the women online and then encourage their community of fellow misogynists to harass them. Governor Jerry Brown signed a law explicitly banning the practice earlier this year, but now Attorney General Kamala Harris has upped the ante by announcing the arrest of Kevin Christopher Bollaert of San Diego for running a revenge porn site where men would publish women's naked photos, names, and social media information, so as to make it easier for the site's audience to harass the victims. Bollaert is being charged with 31 counts of conspiracy, identity theft and extortion.
The extortion charges stem from Bollaert's alleged blackmail scheme attached to the website. After posting the naked pictures and personal information of the women, Bollaert would email them and demand that they give him money in order to take the listing down.
In Defense of Using Feminism to Sell Things
Pantene has unfurled a new, feminist-themed ad campaign in the Philippines, and it smells really nice. A video rolled out on Monday features men and women facing a workplace double standard. The guy in the crisp suit is called a boss, but the woman in the black dress is bossy. When he gives a speech, he’s persuasive, but she's pushy. Dad works late because he’s dedicated, mom because she’s selfish. Neat versus vain. At the end of the spot, the comely female show-off twirls as words appear onscreen: “Don’t let labels hold you back. Be strong and shine.”
Three cheers for smart, feminist commentary! Sheryl Sandberg tweeted, “This is one of the most powerful videos I have ever seen illustrating how when women and men do the same things, they are seen in completely different ways. Really worth watching. Lean In prize of the day for sure!” The Huffington Post UK gushed that the spot “reveals a powerful message about the undeniable nature of gender inequality in society.” The new ad push even has a hashtag—#WhipIt—that means whatever you want it to mean. (Are we whipping labels? Sexism? Our hair? All of the above?) The whole thing is so great, guys. Let’s go buy some Pantene Pro-V shampoo!
Fox News Implores Women to Become Financially Dependent on Men
Gloria Steinem (well, actually Irina Dunn) uttered the phrase "A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle" over 40 years ago, but the wound is still fresh to the folks at Fox News. Phyllis Schlafly's niece Suzanne Venker published a piece on Fox's website arguing that the only way for women to be happy is to forsake full time work, which she portrays as fundamentally incompatible with having a husband. The folks at Fox were so impressed with this argument that they interrupted Venker's heavy schedule of husbandcare to bring her on air.
"There's more to life outside of work," Venker implored, as if this was a profound insight instead of banal and universal observation. She added, "And I think that's something that we don't hear enough about, because women especially are geared towards career career career work work work and they spend years preparing for this one part of their lives." As opposed to men who, wait, no.
Society Tells Men That Friendship Is Girly. Men Respond by Not Having Friends.
American men are starving for friends, writes sociologist Lisa Wade in Salon. Or, more precisely, adult, white heterosexual men have fewer friends than any other group. The friendships they do form are often superficial, involving less support and “lower levels of self-disclosure and trust.” The sad part is that surveys show that men desire closeness and intimacy from their male friends, just as women do. So why don't they have it? Around the age of 15 or 16, Wade suggests, friend-like traits such as emotional openness, vulnerability, supportiveness and caring become risky for boys to show; these qualities get suppressed in favor of self-sufficiency, stoicism and competitive fire.
Wade sifts through the work of researcher Niobe Way, who interviewed high school boys over four years about their evolving same-sex bonds. One kid, Justin, said this about his best guy friend:
We love each other… that’s it… you have this thing that is deep, so deep, it’s within you, you can’t explain it. It’s just a thing that you know that person is that person… I guess in life, sometimes two people can really, really understand each other and really have a trust, respect and love for each other.
Three years later, Justin came down to earth:
[My friend and I] we mostly joke around. It’s not like really anything serious or whatever… I don’t talk to nobody about serious stuff… I don’t talk to nobody. I don’t share my feelings really. Not that kind of person or whatever… It’s just something that I don’t do.