Monday, September 24, 2007

Katha Pollitt on Women and Power

There were two thought-provoking quotes in Katha Pollitt's interview with Deborah Solomon in Sunday's New York Times:

Deborah Solomon: "Really? I think you’re underestimating the value of living in the Age of Britney Spears."
Katha Pollitt: "Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan, poor Britney Spears — I feel sorry for all of them, because they are being made into these icons of female ruin. Everyone watches them collapsing in public ways that are tremendously humiliating."

DS: "Are you a Hillary supporter?"
Katha Pollitt: "In this country we have a real problem with women and power. If people don’t stop saying incredibly sexist things about Hillary Clinton, I may just have to vote for her."

Me (Laura): So, someone else who thinks people who have a problem with Hillary Clinton really have a problem with women wielding power. Which raises the question, why are college-educated women less fond of Hillary than less well-educated women, as a recent poll showed? It must be because women are each other's harshest critics, and there's that natural survival instinct shaping our behavior, that if another woman has power that means there's less for us to hold onto, an instinct that has left women in the work force without the "old boys' network" that men profit from.

Me, again: What Pollitt said about Britney and Lohan being "icons of female ruin" is also fascinating. I'm captivated by how there are certain female archetypes that keep coming up again and again in the media. I wrote about the Marie Antoinette archetype in the Chicago Tribune a few weeks ago (think Martha Stewart, Leona Helmsley, Barbara Amiel.) There's also this sexed-up, debauched archetype of the ruined woman, also a woman of wealth - Paris Hilton; Britney Spears; Lindsay Lohan - which keeps re-appearing. What does this say about our culture and our views of women? It's a reaction to women in power, the same kind of aversion to women in power that's operating in the case of Hillary Clinton, but a completely different archetype, a sexualized one.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Hillary Clinton as a Cuckold?

Judith Warner had an interesting post last week in her blog comparing public reaction to Hillary Clinton as a "cuckold", or "cuckquean", to the French reaction to their new President, Nicholas Sarkozy, a modern-day "cuckold," and his unfaithful first lady, Cécilia.

As she writes:

"In case you missed it, Sarkozy last year greatly entertained France by running a campaign in which his wife was almost entirely absent. Cécilia, a former model whom Nicholas first eyed, in his previous incarnation as mayor of the city of Neuilly, while administering the vows that consecrated her last marriage, left him in 2005, eventually showing up – and being photographed – with her lover in New York City."

"The Sarkozys ultimately reunited. But life together remained rocky. Cécilia made major headlines once again last May when she pulled a no-show on the night of her husband’s final run-off race against his Socialist rival, Ségolène Royal.
She was rumored not to have voted at all."

"Yet by summer, in the press at least, all was forgotten. When I was there, every major magazine featured glowing profiles of the new first lady. They praised her charm, her fashion sense, her break-the-mold modernity."

She writes that for Sarkozy, "perhaps one of his boldest, cleverest and most successful [gestures] has been the fact that, by keeping his head high, standing by his woman and steadfastly, defiantly, professing his love and desire. . .he has transcended the old role of cuckold. He has instead been something more like a political wife."

In contrast, Warner writes that Clinton, "[a formidable woman of real power and prestige. . .emerged from the Monica affair much more cuckold than cuckquean. Her husband’s perfidy did, in a sense, disturb the natural order of things; in the post-feminist age, women like Hillary are not supposed to be subject to such indignities. Hillary has never been, as she herself once put it, 'some little woman standing by my man.' Perhaps that’s what made the spectacle of her public humiliation so unique and so unsettling and, ultimately, so unforgivable for the many women who came away from it all despising her."

First of all, Warner is wrong that Hillary Clinton came out of her husband's public admission of his affair even more despised. On the contrary, many women seemed to become more sympathetic to her. Indeed, she did win the election for NY senator on the wave of new sympathy coming out of the Lewinsky affair.

Warner asks an interesting question: "Could such public forgiving and forgetting of a wanton political wife [Sarkozy] ever have happened here? And could Americans, like the French, ever elect a cuckold?"

Warner asks an interesting question, as Hillary Clinton is asking us to elect a cuckquean (the female version of the word cuckold) to the presidency.

But Warner should have asked an even more interesting one. Why is Sarkozy a more sympathetic cuckold than Hillary?

Society is more accepting of a powerful man who isn't afraid to show his soft, metrosexual, feminine side, than of a powerful woman who isn't prone to showing her feminine side, who appears "too masculine." That's why people still despise Hillary even though she's been "cuckolded." It's not that she comes out of this looking like a "cuckold," as Warner writes, and that no one likes a cuckold. It's just that she wasn't humiliated enough by her husband's infidelity. She gained power by it--she became a Senator, she got her public voice back, and her own career. Those who despise her would have liked her to have been humiliated, brought low, even further. It's Hillary's power, power that she retained, even strengthened, as a cuckold, not her humiliation, that make people dislike her.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

On Obama's Wife's "Stinky" and "Snores" comment

As reported in today's New York Times:

"In an interview with Glamour magazine, Michelle Obama reveals that her husband, Barack, is so “snore-y and stinky” when he wakes up in the morning that their daughters won’t crawl into bed with him. The interview, in the magazine’s October issue, was conducted by Tonya Lewis Lee, who is married to Spike Lee, the filmmaker."

"Referring to their daughters, Mrs. Obama says: 'We have this ritual in the morning. They come in my bed, and Dad isn’t there — because he’s too snore-y and stinky, they don’t want to ever get into bed with him. But we cuddle up and we talk about everything from what is a period to the big topic of when we get a dog: what kind?'

There has been a lot of criticism from the vox populi, or the peanut gallery, in response to her comments, for being too humanizing, too crude, or basically, just too much information.

One man writes in the online comments to the New York Times piece, "Believe it or not the best thing she can do at this time is pretend she’s the little housewife who likes to decorate instead of trying prop herself up and minimize her husband." So he acknowledges the falseness of the stereotype of the First Lady, the archetype Laura Bush has modeled herself on, but suggests that this is an easier image for people to accept than the one Michelle Obama is trying to project. Another man writes, "The wives of Biden, Richardson, Dodd, Kucinich, Gravel, McCain, Romney, Huckabee, Tancredo, Hunter, Paul, and even Giuliani ALL have shown better political sense than Mrs. Obama, in supporting from the sidelines and not eclipsing the candidate. I’d say the wives of Sen. Clinton and Sen. Edwards are both making the same mistake (although Bill is trying his best not to outshine, he’s the most popular wife of them all)."

So there's a feeling out there that she is not pretending enough, not giving in to the accepted archetype of the traditional First Lady, or potential First Lady, which is to be quiet and stay in the background while she lets her husband be glorified. She's trying to create a new mold, a new image for the First Lady that's more real, more candid, but that's not what people are ready to accept.

Gender Roles Topsy Turvy in This Week's "Damages"

This week, the women seem to be sketched as black and white archetypes. Glenn Close's Patricia Hewes seems completely venal; she does talk to her associate Ellen Parsons about how she needs to find a mate that will not be threatened by her, but one senses that her advice has ulterior motives, that, for some reason, she wants Ellen's fiance out of the picture. (Foreshadowing is at work here: we know the ending, that her fiance is killed, and so Hewes' words of advice about what to look for in a man are not seen by us as supportive "girl talk," which is how Ellen views it, but as Machiavellian, well-thought out words that will influence Ellen to act according to Hewes' mapped-out plans.)

Meanwhile, Ted Danson's character continues to be portrayed in a more nuanced way, designed to elicit viewers' sympathies. (See my post from last week). He has just as dark a side as Hewes; he tells an underling to do whatever it takes to deal with the witness Gregory, including, it seems, kill him. But in this episode, as in others, we see him interacting lovingly with his son. We seem that he cares about what his son thinks of him, about the "legacy," he's leaving him, which is why he is setting out to write his own biography (after punching the assigned ghostwriter in the face.) The only time we saw Patricia Hewes with her son was after she met with the school principal, and they walked down the hall together (with her husband), and when she meets him at a restaurant, then, in the antithesis of a loving mother-son relationship, has him seized by hulking men to take him, without his knowledge or consent, to a behavioral boot camp.

So the writers of the show have chosen to make the powerful female lead character one who is not at all maternal, who compartmentalizes her life so as to block any maternal feelings from influencing her career (which doesn't mimic at all the real-life constant juggling act of working women) but to make the powerful male lead one who is totally driven by his paternal urges.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Thoughts on today's "Modern Love" column

I read the New York Times Modern Love essay this morning (of course, now it's almost 10 pm, my first chance to write anything all day). My first reaction after reading the piece was to think the author has some issues. The whole piece is about the author's realizing that she never says "I love you" to her one-year-old, while all around her other mothers are saying "I love you", to her ears, at unremarkable times, such as when a mom swoops up a child after she goes down the slide. The author wonders when she should say "I love you" to her son; she doesn't want to only say it after he's done a feat, like say some letters (she subtlely shows off that her young son knows his letters already) because then he might think his mother only loves him if he does some great act.

When I was at the pool today, I caught myself saying "I love you" to my son, as I kissed him on the head, and I realized how often I say these words, without thinking about it, just as a way of expressing my love for my children; I don't think about it consciously like this author does. It just comes naturally to me. The author mentions that her parents never said "I love you" to her. She does remember saying it to her father right before he went in for heart surgery. I think how our parents raise us, how they love us, has a great effect on how we express our love for our children. (I wonder how far any of us stray from the mold our parents cast.)

Maybe it comes in part from realizing that we don't choose when to say goodbye to those we love. I didn't get to say goodbye to my father, who died suddenly two and a half years ago. But I know that he knew that I loved him, and that I got the chance to say those words to him every time we spoke.

On a more uplifting note, already my two-year-old daughter knows how to say "I love you" at the right times. She doesn't say it as often as my son does, who, at the same age, was more expressive with hugs and kisses. But she does say it to me, and it's the best feeling to hear her say it. And I hear her say it when she plays pretend with her babies and little animals. And tonight, after the grueling nightly ordeal of putting my kids to bed, specifically tonight's episode of the bedtime 'routine': after my son dumped the stuffed animals out of the Container Store soft-cubey container in my daughter's room and then tried to hide himself inside of it so that I could not retrieve him and put him to bed, and having to pull him out and down the hall and insist he must stay in his room (which included holding the door closed for a minute while he was inside, with him banging on it, to show that I meant business, then deciding he was making too much noise which might wake up his sister, so going inside, and having him do a "yoga breath" to calm down befor we read books) it was soothing for both of us to have our nightly routine of saying "I love you" to each other before kissing him goodnight. So the kid still loves me, I thought, even if all weekend he called me "stupid" when he didn't like something I did.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Different Reaction to Male and Female Power in the FX Show "Damages"?

I love the new FX show "Damages," starring Glenn Close as high-powered Manhattan attorney Patricia Hewes, who it seems it will resort to anything to win a case against billionaire CEO Arthur Frobisher, played by Ted Danson. Both characters wield tremendous power in their work lives, though it's questionable how much they have in their personal lives (there are suggestions of children and marriages run awry) and both are willing to hurt and even (order others to)kill others (so far, Hewes maims a dog, and Frobisher orders a hit on a woman who is going to testify against him) to sustain that power.

"Damages" is really all about power, magnified through the lens of gender. There's one episode in which Hewes says (disclaimer-this quote is from memory): "The most dangerous thing you can do to a man is take away his power," alluding to Frobisher.

In a recent Newsday article, one of the show's creators, Daniel Zelman, said they made the character of Hewes a lawyer because "We were looking for a world in which women could exercise as much power as men. There is the glass ceiling, but at the same time there are very, very powerful women who have risen in the ranks of the legal profession." In that same article another co-creator, Kessler says of meeting with Glenn Close before they shot the shows, "she had a lot of thoughts and ideas and wanted us to really push the boundaries in terms of a woman with that kind of power."

So how do people react to seeing a woman with so much power act so Machiavellian? It's interesting that today's New York Times has a piece on Ted Danson, "A Veteran of Comedy Rediscovers His Dark Side," which mentions how surprising it is that viewers responded to Frobisher's unethical conduct (cheating on his wife, snorting cocaine and then putting out a contract on the life of this woman who glimpsed him getting into his broker's car--need I mention that these three acts took place in the space of one minute--the cheating, snorting and ordering the hit) by feeling sympathy for him. Says one creator of the show, Glenn Kessler, "I don't know how many actors could have those huge plot points in their story and have the audience walk away liking them more." This is a testament to Ted Danson's acting skills, but even more so, it's a testament to our reaction to men wielding power and going to lengths to protect it: we have a natural sympathy for powerful men, a willingness to forgive them their wrongs and weaknesses.

I wonder what the public reaction is to Glenn Close's character, Patricia Hewes. How did people feel about her when they learn she was the one responsible for killing or injuring the young woman's dog in one show? Are viewers less sympathetic to her unscrupulous conduct than they are to Frobisher's? I'm guessing they are.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Leona Helmsley--The Marie Antoinette Syndrome Revisited

Leona Helmsley died on Monday at the age of 87. Every article covering her death mentions in the first paragraph that she was renowned as the "Queen of Mean" because of her reputation for cruel treatment of employees, and her statement, "only little people pay taxes." This statement is a "tumbrel" remark, which I wrote about a few weeks ago in reference to Lady Black, or Barbara Amiel, and how certain remarks that powerful, wealthy women make incite class warfare--Leona's famous dictum was one such remark, and it summarized her image in the public's mind even at her death.

Leona married Harry Helmsley in 1972, and he appointed her president of Helmsley Hotels in 1980. In the 80s, she cultivated the image of herself as a "queen" by appearing in a highly successful series of hotel ads saying such things as the Palace was the only place where "the queen stands guard."

As Gail Collins wrote Tuesday in an op-ed in the New York Times, the hatred for this woman was totally out-of-proportion to her bad acts. Why was she so hated? Because she was a woman who dared to be greedy, as Collins put it, to want more than her share. Gail Collins calls this the "Leona Helmsley rule": "If you are a woman, you do not want to be caught demanding way, way more than your share. We cannot get away with greed."

Again, just as in the case of Barbara Amiel Black, it's the case of a woman demonized for conveying an unrepentant desire for wealth and material possessions. She was too proud, and too greedy, and this behavior is not tolerated in women.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Another Chinese Import For Parents to Worry About-Children's Clothes

This is getting absolutely ridiculous. I just saw this article from Australia finding extremely dangerous levels of formaldehyde and other chemicals in children's clothes imported from China (which can cause cancer).

Just a few days ago, I purchased a stylish winter coat for my young daughter; she loved it, demanding that I take off the store labels and that she put on her "fancy" coat and hat. I looked at the coat label and it said, "Wash Before Wear" and "Made in China". The "Wash Before Wear" I had not seen before on children's clothing, and I actually for once acted on my parental neurosis and returned it to the store, asking if the salesperson had any idea why this label was on the coat. (And, first, I looked at on the Internet for a possible explanation and found one mention of formaldehyde being put on clothes that are imported from Asia so that they maintain their look upon arrival.) The salesperson said the instruction was unusual, that she has seen it in jeans, so that you don't get the blue color on your body, but that she never looks at labels, and that I should call the company. Needless to say, I returned the coat, but for another nice-looking one made in a different Asian country, without an instruction to "wash before wear." But so much of our children's clothes is made in third-world countries where who knows what kind of chemicals are used.

Now I just checked the new jeans that I bought for my son's first day of school tomorrow. They're from the Gap, and the label says "Made in Cambodia" and also recommends "Wash Once Before Wearing." At the Gap store, I disregarded the import of the wash before wear instruction because that salesperson's words wear in my head (wash so the blue color doesnt get on your body) but is there formaldehyde in these jeans that are going to go on my little son's body? Does anyone know (feel free to comment).

Add this to the new announcements from the Baby Bargains editors that we shouldn't buy Avent bottles because of the kind of plastic they use, with the number 7 on the bottom of the bottle; there is a chemical, BPA, in it, thay may cause cancer. Parents on the Baby Bargains bulletin boards are scouring their cabinets, looking underneath their plastic containers, even one woman wondering if she should stop eating hummus. It's hard, if not impossible, to know where the right line is between being a conscious parent trying to protect one's child, and knowing and worrying too much. But it's also disconcerting and troubling that our government is doing so little to monitor imports that children are using and being exposed to, and that the plastics industry was directly in charge of studies that said a few years ago that this kind of plastic is safe to use.

It all comes down to money, to the bottom-line. It's profits for big industries that is the cause of dangerous chemicals being put on our children's toys and clothes and food imported from China. And it's the influence of the plastic industry trying to protect its bottom line that lead to consumers not knowing the truth about the dangerous chemicals in plastic. So the only way to effect change is for consumers to somehow effect the industries' bottom line.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Young Mother Unfairly Judged Criminally Negligent

The New York Times had an article yesterday, "A Baby Girl's Bath Becomes a Young Couple's Nightmare," about the terribly unfair imprisonment of a young woman of 18 who has been jailed since July 3, the day her 11-month-old daughter was found on her back in the bath.

The mother, Jovanna Shiriver, was looking after her daughter and the 2-year-old sister of her boyfriend; it was the first time she was taking care of more than one child. She left the two children in a little bit of water in the bath while she tended to a pot of rice on the stove that was burning. She says she was gone for about five minutes, nervous for those five minutes.

When the mother went back to the bath, her child was lying in the water. She went to a neighbor (she does not have her own phone) and they tried CPR, and then called the police. In the month since this happened, the baby has been on a ventilator.

This seems like a case where a mother made a tragic mistake. And yet prosecutors are looking at this as a case of "criminal negligence."

Read this quote from the article:

“There are all sorts of shades of gray, and that’s why you can’t have hard and fast rules,” said Ama Dwimoh, chief of the Crimes Against Children Bureau of the Brooklyn district attorney’s office.

“People have to understand that there is a duty owed to children by the very nature of who they are,” Ms. Dwimoh said. “When you look at it from that perspective, you can see what is deemed criminal negligence as opposed to bad parenting.”

So, bad parenting is not prosecuted, but criminal negligence is. But who gets to decide what constitutes "bad parenting?"

I wonder if what tipped this case towards the "criminal negligence" side of the slippery slope was that this mother is a poor, young woman, the very circumstances that probably led her to make this mistake. On the day this accident took place, Ms. Shiriver said in an interview that she felt "overwhelmed." “I was doing everything,” she said. “I was cooking and doing housework.”

Another woman might have had an extra pair of hands, some hired help, a baby-sitter, someone to watch the bath while the other woman attended to the stove. The article mentions that Ms. Shiriver lived in the apartment with her boyfriend, his mother and stepfather, his 14-year-old sister and the 2-year-old; the 2-year-old's mother was in the hospital that day.

Law is not a science; it's applied by humans and so it's messy, and not consistent. This seems a case where it is been applied unfairly. The poor often get the hard end of the stick. This mother is being judged as criminally negligent because the law is being unsympathetic to her; it's easy for the prosecutors to be unsympathetic because the mother is poor and disenfranchised. The very circumstances that led to this awful mistake are what doom her in the hard, unyielding, blind eyes of the law.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Is Guiliani's daughter's Face Book page fair game?

Slate has a short piece today on how Guiliani's 17-year-old daughter has a Face Book page which mentioned (until she took it off after being contacted by Slate) that she belonged to a group that supports Obama. Only alums of Trinity high school and Harvard have access to the detailed profile page, and the writer goes to Harvard. Is a 17-year-old's Face Book page fair game? She's not yet an adult, but she may qualify as a public figure. Even 17-year-olds should be aware that what they post on the Internet is available for all to see, though she might have naively trusted in the private network of alumni of two prestigious schools to be quiet and keep her privacy. And she did try to change her name a little bit, as the Slate author states: "In what may be an effort to avoid public connection to her famous father, the future Harvard freshman and recent graduate of Trinity School in Manhattan uses a slight variation of her name on the Facebook site." So was Slate right to run the piece? How much can we conclude about Giuliani the man from the fact that his daughter was momentarily proud of her belonging to the Facebook group "Barack Obama (One Million Strong for Barack)?"

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Sex as Strategy for Presidential Candidates

An interesting article in today's L.A. Times on the sexuality in images of the wives of the presidential candidates.

From the article: "What's going on reflects what's happening in the larger culture, a culture increasingly focused on young, attractive women and blatant sexuality, on display for all to appreciate," said Elizabeth Sherman, a political sociologist and Democrat who is married to former Republican Rep. Mickey Edwards of Oklahoma. "The candidate's wife is a strategic asset. How are you going to deploy that asset?"

So, the candidate's wife is basically an object to be purposefully deployed in the media for public consumption. And how the candidate presents his wife (of course, Hillary is an exception here) and his relationship, is going to say a lot about the candidate. Some experts, as the article mentions, say that images of a youthful, sexy wife suggest the candidate's vitality.

Yet Camille Paglia says regarding the image in the March issue of Harper's Bazaar of Judith Giuliani sitting in Rudy's lap, with one hand on his cheek, the other on his shoulder, kissing him: "I think it's a very ostentatious, egregious and rather offensive appeal to women voters, and I think it's condescending and actually off the mark. I feel the great majority of women voters don't like to see a woman with her hands and lips all over her man."

But she's assuming they were trying to appeal to women, maybe they were trying to appeal to men? (Of course, a Giuliani spokesperson responds in the article that the kiss was spontaneous, but really, how could any of these images we see be candid.)

On the flip side, there's Hillary Clinton, who is trying to dress-down her sexuality in dowdy pants suits, and when she slips up, into something a little more feminine, gets articles written about her cleavage. But maybe she's right to tone down her femininity. Read this exchange in today's (Sunday's) New York Times between the novelist Mary Gordon and interviewer Deborah Solomon:

DS :"Are you a Hillary Clinton supporter?"

MG: "I think no woman is electable in America, and particularly not Hillary, because she is married to this guy whom everyone is libidinally attached to. I think there is unconscious sexual jealousy of her among women. "

DS: "But her marriage has been so difficult. Wouldn’t that negate feelings of jealousy?"

MG: "No, because she got him in the first place."

This theory, that women don't like Hillary, because they are attracted to Bill, would explain the recent New York Times poll results which revealed that the majority of college-educated women don't like Hillary, but lesser-educated women do: Bill Clinton must be the more educated women's type. (But if this is the case, then are lower-class women less attracted to Bill than middle and upper class women?)

Friday, August 3, 2007

Judith Giuliani's Coverage in Vanity Fair

What do you know, it's the "Marie Antoinette syndrome" again, and it's only been about a week!

The September issue of Vanity Fair paints a scathing portrait of Rudy Giuliani's wife, Judith.

What are three names we call a powerful, threatening woman we don't like? Queen, witch or bitch. Vanity Fair suggests Judith Giuliani is two out of these three. Here's supposedly another woman married to a powerful, wealthy man who wants to be a "queen." From the article: "There is a reason why she wore that tiara at her wedding: she really does see herself as a princess," a former Giuliani aide told the magazine. "Not as a queen. Queen is her goal. Queen is who she wants to be." The article is filled with quotes from unnamed sources.

As I wrote in my article on the "Marie Antoinette syndrome" in the Chicago Tribune last Sunday, "The press has endlessly, and gleefully, repeated the line from Amiel's interview in Vogue magazine in 2002 in which she gave a writer a tour of her vast closets and said, "I have an extravagance that knows no bounds." Vanity Fair focuses on Judith's extravagant tastes, which have already been written about.

As Tina Brown wrote in a column in 2004, "Judith Giuliani tempted fate last year with her appearance reclining on a loveseat in a scarlet Carolina Herrera ball gown and talking about her monogrammed silver napkin rings in a cover story for Manhattan's glossy giveaway Avenue magazine."

Why do these women tempt fate? It seems to me these women should be more aware of the Marie Antoinette syndrome and not play into it. Stop posing for these magazines and talking about your expensive purchases! Stop provoking the "lower" classes to revolt! Be like Laura Bush and be more "old money" about your newly-found wealth and newly-bought luxury purchases. And then maybe people (i.e. other women) won't hate you so much! The problem is these women don't seem to care if others hate them--they just want their man to love them. What Judith Giuliani and Barbara Amiel have in common is that they started out with not much money, and through marriage and work, increased their class status. They aren't used to money and upper-class society and so they don't know how to not "rock the boat" once they come into wealth. Maybe they are just too excited about their newly-acquired baubles, too proud. But therein is the danger: society doesn't like women who are too proud. (Having too much pride was one of the traits that led you to be called a witch back in the witch trials of New England, and times haven't changed too much.)

If Judith Giuliani truly cared about helping her husband win the nomination for President, and was smart about it (part of the problem is her inexperience) she would heed history, and act more demure, and not so regal.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Where is the Praise for Hillary Clinton Being a Good Mother?

The British paper, The Observer, had an article Sunday on the current rash of bad girl behavior in Hollywood, calling this "a huge gender shift." "There is simply no male star in America who can compete with the hard-partying and jail-hopping activities of the young women who now dominate US tabloid press and cable television," says the Observer. "It is all women, all the time." The writer mentions Lindsay Lohan, Paris Hilton, Nicole Ritchie and Britney Spears. It mentions a few recent male stars behaving badly--Mel Gibson, David Hasselhoff--but concludes these are boys, but older, middle-aged men.

But is this really a significant shift?

Then what do we make of today's New York Times article about the stellar Chelsea Clinton who is always poised, always in control, always setting a good example: a complete opposite to this generational example set by Lohan, Hilton et al. No where in the article, which is a front page news story after all, is there any praise for Hillary Clinton for being an excellent mother. Here is a young woman who has turned out remarkably well given the unusual and public upbringing she has had: having to be aware of her father's affair with Monica Lewinsky, having her image used as proof that she was holding her parents' marriage together.

A recent New York Times article "Sometimes a Mother Can Do No Right," focused on how it's Lindsay Lohan's mother, a single mother of four, who is targeted as the cause of Lindsay's bad behavior, same in the case of Britney Spears. (Though in Paris Hilton's case, she is rich, and hers is a case of being spoiled by both parents, not brought up badly by a middle-class or poor parent.)

In the article, Susan J. Douglas, author of "The Mommy Myth: The Idealization of Motherhood and How It Has Undermined Women," said, "We have a long history in this culture of mother blame." "Media images of the 'bad mother' serve to police all mothers, said Professor Douglas. “We still have a virgin-whore binary in American pop culture, and this governs motherhood as well,” Professor Douglas said.

“It’s supposed to be a mother’s job to train her daughter into how to domesticate her various desires,” [Douglas] said. “If we see a young woman who hasn’t done that, the mother has failed her tutorial.”

So if a mother who is a public figure has done a great job, as it seems in the case of Hillary Clinton, then shouldn't she be praised, the flip side of that virgin-whore dichotomy? Chelsea definitely seems to have "domesticated" her "desires." So where's the praise for Hillary Clinton being a great mother?

We're not going to see any praise, or a detailed comparison or examination of the candidates' children, because the media does not judge a male politician by his children in the same way that it judges a woman. The media does not care to examine how the child turns out in order to infer whether the male politician was a good father or not, because as a society we have lower standards for how responsible a father is for a child's day-to-day care. So it's merely enough that the man has 2.5 children and a loyal wife at his side, their mere existence is proof that he is a good enough father, it doesn't matter whether that child has turned into a productive, independent, functioning adult.

Chelsea is smart; at a young age she knew that, as the New York Times article mentions, she should always have her makeup on, always be ready to make a public appearance, because if she ever acts badly, the media will be all over her, ready to indict Hillary for being a "bad mother." In other words, Chelsea is well-aware of the virgin-whore dichotomy by which mothers are judged, and daughters, too. And she is a good daughter.

My article in Sunday's Chicago Tribune

Here is my article, "THE MARIE ANTOINETTE SYNDROME, Blame it on the beauty, and sex," which appeared yesterday in Sunday's Chicago Tribune, in the Perspectives section, in which I argue that Barbara Amiel Black (Conrad Black's wife) is but the latest in a line of highly visible women, who are the wives of husbands accused of abusing their power, who are turned into scapegoats by the media (and the courts). Think Hillary Clinton as First Lady, Imelda Marcos, Leona Helmsley, whom I mention in the piece.

(Actually, I just thought of another woman, one who was actually exonerated though many believe she was entirely innocent: Ethel Rosenberg, but the media's criticism of her was different than that of these other women. I don't think she was criticized for overspending and extravagance; she was not well-off, but like these other women, she was called an "unnatural" woman, a "bad mother".)

Friday, July 27, 2007

Analyzing Clinton's Cleavage Isn't Exactly Fashion Advice

Last Sunday I blogged about an article in the Washington Post which analyzed the supposed fashion faux pas of Hillary Clinton showing her cleavage in a v-neck top on CSPAN-2. I also mentioned that another writer has referred to the wives of Republican candidates showing their cleavage. Today's Newsday has an op-ed, which earlier ran in the Washington Post, that critiques the Post article on Hillary's cleavage; the CNN web site also has a piece on how the Hillary Clinton campaign is using this same piece to drum up support.

The writer of the Newsday piece, Ruth Marcus, writes: "Might I suggest that sometimes a V-neck top is only a V-neck top? As a person of cleavage, I'd guess that Clinton's low-cut shirt simply reflected a few centimeters of sartorial miscalculation, not a deliberate fashion statement." But she thinks there is an "upside" to the attention Hillary gets for being a woman, namely, the extra attention. Clinton's self-created video at the YouTube debate ended with these words: ""Sometimes the best man for the job is a woman." Marcus calls this, namely Clinton's gender, a "selling point;" she writes, "even if she has to put up with more than her share of fashion advice along the way."

But is talking about cleavage really akin to "fashion advice" or something different?

The CNN piece ends with a similar positive tone, suggesting that the physical appearance of the male candidates is also analyzed by the media so focusing on Hillary's cleavage is nothing unique, and not so detrimental to her. The article ends: "But Clinton isn’t the only presidential candidate whose appearance has undergone scrutiny. Edwards’s pricey haircuts, Obama’s frequently ‘open collar’, Arizona Sen. John McCain’s V-neck sweaters, and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney’s expensive make-up jobs have all been the subject of past media attention."

But really, there is a difference between writing about Clinton's cleavage, and writing about the fashion choices of the other candidates; one is focused on the physical body, and sexuality, the other on clothing. Hillary's detractors often negatively mention parts of Hillary's body, her thighs, or legs, for example; to my knowledge, no one has ever critiqued the bodies of the male candidates.

This isn't actually new. Does anyone remember the February 1993 cover of Spy magazine, from the time of the Bill Clinton inaugural, which featured a photoshopped image of a smiling Hillary's face on a "dominatrix's" body, a woman wearing a shiny black bra, a studded wrist collar and fishnet stockings, with a full view of her major cleavage? I doubt we'd ever see the equivalent images of any of the male candidates, photoshopped or not.

Come to think of it, even the Obama Girl videos, two to date, feature more of the naked bodies of the "Girl" than of the candidate she supposedly lusts after (there is that one shot of Obama's naked chest as he frolics in the surf). And, of course, that Hott4Hill video makes Hillary the lesbian target of the singer's affections.

To bring up Marie Antoinette again (see my post last week, and my article coming out in this Sunday's Chicago Tribune), the French Queen's critics did the same thing to her in their pamphlets: sexualize her body and at the same time, accuse her of being a lesbian. Anything to tamp down on her power.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Quick 'Gender' Take on YouTube Debate

Hillary Clinton was directly (directly, in that the questions were aimed only at her) asked three questions tonight that forced her defend her identity, things that are unchangeable about herself, namely 1) her gender and 2) that she is a Clinton, which is also about gender, in that the YouTube questioner was indicting her for being the wife to Bill Clinton, assuming that she would bring to the table the same elements as her husband, just because they are married. She answered all three questions calmly and with dignity and forthrightness. But perhaps being put on the defensive prevented her from loosening up.

One gender question Hillary had to answer was whether Muslim countries would take her seriously as a woman, the inherent implication the YouTube speaker was making was that she would not be taken seriously, so how dare she run for President. He had a snide, gotcha tone to his question. Hillary answered the question with aplomb, talking about her experience as First Lady and Senator meeting with the leaders of 82 countries, and saying, "I believe there is no doubt in anyone's mind that I can be taken seriously."

The other question that centered on her being a woman asked her to react to Elizabeth Edwards comment last week that her husband would be a better supporter of women's issues than Hillary. She answered, "I've spent my entire life advocating for women. . . ." (How strange that Elizabeth Edwards decided to bring in the element of a catfight into this race; why did she have to go after Hillary Clinton as not being a good supporter of women--it's a ridiculous, unnecessary attack. She didn't say Edwards would be a better supporter of women's right than the other candidates, she focused on Hillary because she is a frontrunner, and because she is a fellow woman so she could attack her.) Yet Hillary Clinton handled these questions well, never getting angry and riled up, unlike some of the male candidates to her right and left. But I think because her very identity was questioned, she was forced to maintain a composed and serious demeanor, a woman "to be taken seriously" as a presidential candidate.

But this was not a woman who seemed to be having fun; she didn't allow herself to let loose and show that side of herself, the side that Susan Faludi wrote about back in 1992 in the New York Times when she argued that what upsets Hillary Clinton's critics in the media "isn't so much that she is independent--but that she enjoys it."

As Faludi wrote [in her 1992 article "The Power Laugh" (this is when Hillary was First Lady)]: "She is doing something her predecessor didn't dare. She's abandoned the earnest, dutiful demeanor. She doesn't bear the grim visage of the stereotypical female policy wonk; she's no Jeanne Kirkpatrick. . . And therein lies her sin: Hillary Clinton is visibly, tangibly having fun. Eleanor Roosevelt loved the public life, but she rarely revealed her exuberance. Before the media, Ms. Clinton throws back her head and laughs, kicks up her heels and breaks into a dance. Wipe that smile off your face, the media instructed Hillary Clinton. . ."

It's difficult to loosen up when these questions from the "common folk" claiming their five minutes of fame show that yes, there are going to be attacks on you for being a woman, that some will not take you as seriously as if you were a man, and, as last week's New York Times poll attested, that some women, ironically, more likely those who are college educated, are going to be jealous of you.

But I'd like to see Hillary Clinton get back that smile and reveal her enjoyment in running for President. She should have cracked a few jokes, like Gov. Richardson and Sen. Biden did towards the end. Then again, there was Kuchinch who wouldn't stop smiling and talking about text messaging for peace, and came across as a grinning Chesire Cat. There must be some happy medium.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Women Columnists Also Write About GOP Cleavage

It's not only Hillary's cleavage that's getting written about. Margery Eagen, a columnist at the Boston Herald, is mentioned in Frank Rich's NYTimes column today for her piece on the "ample and aging" cleavage being displayed by the Republican front-runners' wives. Interesting that these two columns on cleavage are written by women (see my previous post on an article on Hillary Clinton's cleavage); women are each other's harshest critics.

Eagan's column:

"Does the heaving bosom play well among Bible Belt Republicans? Among New Hampshire primary voters?

How else to explain, as debate week begins, the bursting out all over by GOP front-runners’ wives? What’s with this ample - and aging - display of decolletage?
Mrs. John McCain, 52, just gave Fox News’ Greta Van Susteren an at-home tour wearing this tight, bubble-gum-pink wraparound shirt cut to her sternum. Three inches of cleavage. Poor Greta, the consummate professional in blue blazer and yellow button-down, didn’t know where to look.

Meanwhile nearly half the pictures you see of Judy Nathan, aka Mrs. Giuliani, also 52, are very bosomy. Is this supposed to convince those wondering about Rudy - you know, after he bunked with the gay guys post divorce #2 - that he’s not just A Big Hetero but A Big Hetero Who Loves Big Hetero Breasts?

Flashed around the country Thursday was yet another full cleavage shot of Fred Thompson’s child wife looking almost as well-endowed as Alex Rodriguez’s stripper/pole-dancer girlfriend. “That was quite a dress,” said one GOP analyst, breathless.

Perhaps Fred’s wife “Jeri” - yes, with an “i” - helps Fred with AARP, Viagra-ed up men: “You still got it goin’, Fred, you dirty dog.”

Doubt it helps him with women. Let’s face it, we’re all thinking the same thing: Fred’s 64. He’s really drooping. She’s 40, and not. Next to her, he looks 110.

“You wouldn’t see any Bush boobs,” says my GOP guy.

Nor any Reagan, Carter, Nixon, Johnson or Kennedy boobs either. Why should you? Why should any would-be first lady, America’s mother, thrust herself upon a trusting nation?

The only wife of a GOP heavy-hitter who hasn’t practically bared her chest is Ann Romney, the best looking of them all, by the way, though I did once see her in a black leather jacket at a holiday party. Va-va-va-voom.

Happily, we’ve not seen any Democratic skin. Somebody told me Bess Truman once flashed the British ambassador in a darkened corner of the West Wing. I find that extremely hard to believe."

WPost Condemns Hillary for Showing Cleavage "Ambivalently"

A writer for the Washington Post condemns Hillary Clinton in Friday's paper for showing a little cleavage on CSPAN2 while talking on the Senate floor.

Apparently, a little bit of cleavage was visible because she was wearing a V-shaped top underneath her jacket. The writer condemns Hillary Clinton for showing her cleavage too ambivalently, too tentatively, as if the viewer was seeing something Clinton did not intend. The writer compares Hillary's cleavage display to that of a British politician, Jacqui Smith, the new British home secretary, who, by contrast, "presented [her cleavage] so forthrighly": "If Clinton's was a teasing display, then Smith's was a full-fledged come-on. Smith's fitted jacket and her dramatic necklace combined to draw the eye directly to her bosom. There they were . . . all part of a bold, confident style package."

Wow, the assumptions this writer makes! The conclusions she draws from the fact that a little bit of cleavage was visible while Hillary Clinton spoke about educational reform! Read her last two paragraphs:

"With Clinton, there was the sense that you were catching a surreptitious glimpse at something private. You were intruding -- being a voyeur. Showing cleavage is a request to be engaged in a particular way. It doesn't necessarily mean that a woman is asking to be objectified, but it does suggest a certain confidence and physical ease. It means that a woman is content being perceived as a sexual person in addition to being seen as someone who is intelligent, authoritative, witty and whatever else might define her personality. It also means that she feels that all those other characteristics are so apparent and undeniable, that they will not be overshadowed."

"To display cleavage in a setting that does not involve cocktails and hors d'oeuvres is a provocation. It requires that a woman be utterly at ease in her skin, coolly confident about her appearance, unflinching about her sense of style. Any hint of ambivalence makes everyone uncomfortable. And in matters of style, Clinton is as noncommittal as ever."

So, apparently, it would have been better if Hillary Clinton had shown more cleavage, then she would not have appeared "ambivalent." Oh, the uphill battle a female politician must climb; how careful must be her sartorial choices that she is judged so even for her appearance on CSPAN2.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Marie Antoinette and Conrad Black Trial

Why is there no male equivalent to the "Marie Antoinette" archetype?

This week Christopher Hitchens writes in Slate about the outcome of the Conrad Black trial. Of course, he spends more ink on Barbara Amiel, Black's wife, than on Black himself. Here's an excerpt:

"Lady Black, the former glamour-puss Barbara Amiel, turns out to be one of these women who are insatiable. Insatiable in the Imelda Marcos way, I mean. Never mind the mammoth tab for her birthday dinner in New York, where it's at least arguable that business was discussed. Never mind the extra wings that had to be built onto her homes just to accommodate the ball gowns and shoes. What about the time she was on a Concorde that stubbornly remained on the tarmac at London airport? Irked at the delay, she telephoned the chairman of British Airways, Lord King, to demand action and—failing to get crisp service from him—announced that she would never fly the airline again. This, in turn, meant the acquisition by Hollinger Securities of a private jet for her. And this, in turn, meant the installation of an extra lavatory on the aforesaid private jet, at a cost of half a million dollars, so that Lady Black wouldn't have to be inconvenienced by the crew members coming down the fuselage to use the existing one.

It's that last touch that promotes her into the ranks once described by the novelist Joyce Cary: the people who utter what he called "tumbrel remarks." A tumbrel remark, as you may have guessed, is the sort of observation made by the uncontrollably rich that is likely to unleash class warfare. Marie Antoinette's advice on cake is the original. Barbara Bush, on the upgraded accommodations for Katrina refugees in the Houston Astrodome, is a good recent example. Lady Diana Cooper, when approached by a ragged man who said he hadn't eaten for three days, upbraided him roundly and said: "But my dear man, you must try. If necessary, you must force yourself." You get the picture? "You are good enough to fly me, but not good enough to use my loo" is well up in this class. On another celebrated occasion, wishing to consult one of two women who worked for her husband and had similar names, she had one of them summoned to her home and, on discovering that she'd made a mistake, trilled peevishly: "No, you're the wrong one. I want the other one." I want, I want …"

Note that all of Hitchen's examples of people making "tumbrel" remarks are women: Marie Antoinette, Barbara Bush; Lady Diana. Why is that when powerful women have huge desires and demands, women in positions of power and wealth that are able to satisfy those gigantic desires, they are then hated and reviled. And they are often blamed for the downfall of a man that loves them. Is it some aversion to female desire?? Some instinct to keep a limit on it? There is no male equivalent: the wealthy, powerful man who has outrageous material desires is not as offensive to the average psyche: Donald Trump, or any other powerful CEO. Witness this week's New York Times article on Sanford Weill and other very wealthy male CEO's "The Richest of the Rich: Proud of a New Gilded Age," which paints its portraits in rather glowing terms.

Conrad Black himself mentions Marie Antoinette in the reaction to him and his wife:

From the International Herald Tribune, July 16, 2007: "[I]n an interview in 2004, after his ouster from the company, Black said of his wife: "The attempt to portray her as a Marie Antoinette and me as a supine love-struck spouse, like most comment on the subject, is a complete fiction."

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Sexism Inherent in Firing of Reporter Amy Jacobson

The talk of the town in Chicago is the firing of reporter Amy Jacobson after competitor WBBM-TV aired a video of her appearing in a bikini at the house of the husband of a missing woman in Plainfield, Illinois. The husband, Craig Stebic, is a figure of suspicion in the case of his missing wife, Lisa.

According to Jacobson in an interview with WGN-AM's Spike O'Dell, Craig Stebic's sister, Jill, called her on her day off, and said she had something to talk to her about. Jacobson said that she had been on her way to the swimming pool with her two children, so they were already clad in bathing suits, and she does not have a sitter on her day off. She said she is competitive and hard-working and wanted to take this opportunity to get a scoop. She also said that she rarely gets time to spend with her children, a two and a three year old, so she wanted to take this opportunity to "be a mom" and do her job at the same time. She also knew that other children would be there.

At Stebic's house, Jacobson said, the Channel 2 WBBM-TV people were refused entry earlier, but she was allowed in. She said she is "very good friends" with Lisa Stebic's family and this was a chance to become friendly with the other side of the family. Someone, presumably from WBBM-TV, filmed her without her knowledge.

Largely, the outcry has been against Jacobson for a fault in judgment. Read this article Chicago SunTimes editorial titled "Partying with source rightly sinks TV reporter."

That is an extreme exaggeration to say that Jacobson was "partying". This is unfair. What is behind this hyped up aversion to Jacobson's behavior, and the station's immediate firing of her? Sexism.

First of all, if she hadn't been wearing a bikini, there would have been no outcry, and no firing. As Jacobson said in her interview with O'Dell, the fact she was wearing a bathing suit "put this over the top." If she had been wearing more formal attire, the video would not have attracted such attention, and she would not have lost her job. Instead, the video focuses on her bikini-clad body. In admitting to a lapse in judgment, she is referring to the fact that if she could do this over again, she would have changed her clothes. Yet, the other adults in the video also seem to be wearing bathing suits, and the children are playing outside in the pool. So to fit in, and have her source feel comfortable, she had to have her clothes look the part, too. This isn't unusual. The public doesn't realize to what extent reporters have to cozy up to sources all the time in order to get them to talk, and they don't lose their jobs.

Second, the position Jacobson found herself in, called to duty on her day off, without a sitter for her two children, is a situation that women are more likely to find themselves in than men. The Chicago Sun Times states bluntly in its editorial, ". . . she should have changed into something a little more appropriate and dropped the kids off at home." But what an assumption that is---Jacobson didn't have a sitter. Therefore, it's a situation that men (and men are her superiors at the station) are going to find it difficult to relate to or sympathize with. (The Chicago Sun Times has a separate piece entitled, "Did she step over the line?, Media experts from around the nation weigh in. . .," and only quotes three men, not one woman expert.) Here she was on her day off, and a source called, and she admits she is competitive and hard-driving and wanted to get the story. She said that the previous week she had worked 72 hours and she hadn't spent any time with her children. She wanted to seize the chance to "still be a mom and work a source." What should she have done? Turned down this potential opportunity to get a scoop because it was her day off and she didn't have a sitter? Can't one be sympathetic to her situation? What is indictable about her behavior--that she was wearing a bathing suit? That she brought her children with her? Do these actions merit her being fired? Has she indeed broken explicit rules for reporters? Or is what's bothering people the fact that here is a woman who is too aggressively blending the borders between her maternal role and her professional role, somewhat like blending the archetypes of "virgin" (or "mother") and "whore" that society has traditionally insisted on keeping separate.

At the end of her interview with Spike O'Dell, Jacobson thanks all the families that over the years, while suffering from tragedies, have let her into their homes. She likely took this chance to explicitly thank the families for allowing her into their homes because she wants people to know that this is a common thing for reporters to do, enter people's homes to find out information, to get to know them, blurring the lines between reporter and friend, in order to find out information.

What made this particular act of a reporter entering a source's home attract people's attention, and lead to Jacobson's losing her job, is that on a superficial level it has a sordid side: the video shows Jacobson wearing a bikini and Craig Stebic is shirtless wearing a bathing suit. But ask yourself this question, if Jacobson were a man in this same situation, would the reaction have been different? Jacobson thinks so (as she said in the O'Dell interview) and I agree.

If Jacobson were a man, the video would not have been so potentially lurid, and would not have attracted such attention. On CBS 2's website, CBS 2's Vice President and News Director Carol Fowler explains the reasoning behind initially delaying airing the video: "Once we got this video, it was clear it was provacative [sp], but there were so many questions. For sure we could have thrown it on the air, but it wouldn't have been the right thing to do because there was no context. What was it? Was it newsworthy? We had many, many discussions about that."

She uses the word "provocative." What's provocative? Jacobson's body. The male body is not as sexualized as the female. The video shows Stebic wearing a towel around her lower body, but wearing a bikini top. In fact, she is constantly opening a screen door to talk to her children, to admonish them or tell them something: she's in her maternal role, and trying to be in her professional role, she's trying to juggle these competiting identities as so many women do, both nonsexual roles, and yet the male gaze is looking at her and seeing something sexual, and assuming something lurid is going on, and that is why she was so quickly fired.

Double Standard in D.C. Madam Prosecution?

D.C. Madam Debra Jean Palfrey asks Time Magazine why she is the only one being prosecuted, and not the men who used prostitution services, such as Sen. Vitter. She has a point: if this is a prosecutable crime, then not only the women should be indicted. What is the law saying if prosecutors are only going after Palfrey? Palfrey is not taking this "lying down", (I couldn't resist). She isn't staying quiet and out of the public eye. This week she released on her web site the phone records from her agency that should identify the men who frequented her escort service.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

"Is America ready for a President with a trophy wife?" That's the sexist question a New York Times writer asks about expected Republican presidential candidate Fred Thompson in an article today.

Indeed, the writer gives the nod to the fact that "[t]he question may seem sexist, even crass, but (here goes the writer's justification for asking a truly sexist question, drumroll. . .) serious people — as well as Mr. Thompson’s supporters — have been wrestling with the public reaction to Jeri Kehn Thompson, whose youthfulness, permanent tan and bleached blond hair present a contrast to the 64-year-old man who hopes to win the hearts of the conservative core of the Republican party."

Serious people? What does that really mean? Which serious people have been "wrestling" with this 'serious' question other than the esteemed academics that deal with this issue in the article after being asked about it by the reporter.

Up until now, the reporter points out, she has remained out of the limelight, but it's likely that once Thompson announces his candidacy, that she will have to become more public. Remember how the public and the press didn't like how Dr. Judith Steinberg Dean didn't appear by Dean's side enough because she was focused on her medical career?

I wrote an article about the public reaction to Mrs. Dean in January 2004 for the RedEye edition of the Chicago Tribune. I interviewed Amy Caiazza, study director of the Institute for Women's Policy Research, who told me, in regards to Mrs. Dean, "We want to know her, to know about him. . . If she is a mystery, then the public will think, 'We don't know about his life,' and will ask,'What does this say about him? Does she not like him? Do they not have a close marriage? People will wonder, 'Why don't we know about his wife?'"

So expect to hear more from Jeri Kehn Thompson--she doesn't really have a choice but to become more vocal. This field of the spouses of presidential candidates is shaping up to be a fascinating pitting together of different types of strong, intelligent women, a study in contrasts looking at how these wives choose to portray themselves in the public eye, and comparing them to the formidable persona of Hillary Clinton, that could tell us a lot about the status of the modern woman in the 21st century.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Why no Presidential Pardon for Martha Stewart or others

It is really ridiculous, the president being able to commute a sentence, isn't it? It shows not only the random unfairness and disparity of federal sentencing, and of whom actually gets sent to prison, but also how there is no such thing as 'blind justice'. What is the point of a jury reaching a decision if a president can then reverse it? Law is messy, and subjective to begin with, but this is ridiculous. Read "Fuzzy Justice Clearly Stinks," by Chicago Tribune's Clarence Page on this issue today, he mentions Martha Stewart and the rapper Lil' Kim. It seems one's politics can predict whether one thinks Bush's action here is acceptable or not (i.e. see David Brooks's column this week in the NYT for the opposite view). But really, isn't it silly that a president can do this, politics aside? What's the point of it? I wonder how the president's ability to commute a sentence of make pardons came about? Anyone know? It would be interesting to see just who has been pardoned or had their sentence reversed by a president.

But really, Martha Stewart didn't do too badly, did she, after serving her four months. And it is those poor souls who are not famous, whose cases are not being written about, that get sent to federal prison for terribly long sentences for relatively minor offenses. And there's no chance they will receive a presidential pardon or sentence commutation.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

No Country of Origin Labels on Produce, Meat, Nuts

With the flurry of recalls of products from China (pet food, seafood, toy trains) there are now articles about how politics has impeded the enacting of country of origin labeling laws that were passed in Congress. The New York Times had this article this week.

In January, I wrote this article for the Chicago Tribune about food imported from China and other countries that bear the USDA organic label. From my research, I determined that it's not a good idea to shell out extra money to buy organic produce that was grown in China. Yet no-one else has mentioned that Whole Foods and Trader Joes, among other stores, still carry frozen produce that was produced in China. The label is actually there, a voluntary label on the part of the seller; in small print it says "Product of China." Who knows, now, though, what other products have some ingredients from China, while still bearing the USDA organic label. For example, an article from a national magazine recently interviewed the CEO of Stonyfield yogurt who admitted getting berries from China for their organic yogurt. It's highly unlikely that the berries are actually grown organically in China, without pesticides; it's even said, anedcotally, that in China human waste is used as fertilizer--a big no-no, to say the least.

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Telling piece on Mrs. McCain

Yesterday's New York Times profiles Mrs. McCain, taking the same tack that it does on Mrs. Edwards, here's a woman who is strong and intelligent and has opinions, but who has limits, who doesn't overstep her bounds like you-know-who did. Here's an example from the article:

"Even while outspoken on Iraq and South Carolina, Mrs. McCain limits her formal role in the campaign largely to retail politics, and has usually resisted taking policy positions, criticizing other candidates publicly or making comments about the current occupant of the White House.

“I’ve never been involved in day-to-day issues,” said Mrs. McCain, who is active in several charities. “It’s just not me. I don’t feel it’s my job, and I just don’t like it.” Her closest thing to a political contribution to her husband’s campaign Web site is a recipe for guacamole."

A recipe for guacamole--how supremely unthreatening to the egos of men and overstretched women everywhere. (Remember Hillary saying something about how she's not the type of woman to bake cupcakes?)

Another Positive Piece on Mrs. Edwards

Today the New York Times has another positive portrayal of Elizabeth Edwards, in less than two weeks, portraying her as strong, but not threatening or emasulating.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Elizabeth Edwards vs Coulter: 'Mother' Imagery at Play

Did you see the video of Elizabeth Edwards calling into the Chris Matthews show on Tuesday to politely ask the smarmy Ann Coulter to stop her personal attacks on her husband and the other Democratic candidates? It's a pivotal confrontation which brings to a crux different notions of womanhood--of what it means to be a strong woman today, and brings into play references of motherhood that are at issue in this political climate. (See this article with its picture of Pelosi surrounded by children at her swearing-in.)

Coulter first started to deny that she ever made personal attacks on Edwards. Then Mrs. Edwards mentioned her saying three years ago that Edwards had a bumper sticker on the back of his car, "Ask me about my dead son." An audience member yelled, "Why isn't Edwards himself making this phone call," and Ann repeated his thought. The key moment: Elizabeth said, "I'm making this call as a mother. I'm the mother of the boy who died. Those young children behind you are the age of my children."

I think her reference to being a mother is symbolic, and purposeful. It plays to the difference between these two women, the single, vixen-like Ann Coulter, who continually, in this clip, ran her fingers through her flat blonde hair, as if she couldn't stop touching it, and wore big black sunglasses, and the maternal Elizabeth, who is now suffering from breast cancer, who is mother to three children, and whose son died.

Women, mothers, in particular, are a key block of voters that both sides are trying to court, to win to their side (as if we all think alike). Surely Elizabeth made the call because she is trying to "highlight the maternal" side of her husband, to highlight the human side of John Edwards as opposed to the unfeeling, nonmaternal, cold Republicans as represented here by Coulter.

A side note, one can't help but wonder what the annoying girl-tween right behind Coulter, who is so fawning, so eager to laugh with ridicule at Elizabeth Edwards along with Coulter, is thinking.

Monday, June 25, 2007

New Trojan Ad in which men are literally pigs

What do you think of the new Trojan commercial, set in a bar, in which a pig tries to pick up women, and then only turns into an attractive 20-something man after retrieving a condom from the condom machine? CBS and Fox have decided not to air the ad, apparently finding the suggestion that condoms are used to prevent pregnancy, not just disease, offensive, though several other networks did. Revealing the hypocrisy of cable TV, Fox's statement said, ". . .contraceptive advertising must stress health-related uses rather than the prevention of pregnancy."

Some find the ad offensive because it literally makes men out to be pigs, but I think the ad is humorous, and that its humor is aimed at women--wink, wink, we know men are pigs, but a non-piggy thing for a man to do is to use a condom.

According to the New York Times, the Trojan company is trying to broaden its appeal to women buyers:

"Trojan and its competitors are adding the accessories across their entire product lines. The perennial challenge for condoms is the perception that they are unpleasant to use, so having an erotic add-on could increase sales as well as lower the incidence of disease and unintended pregnancies." Too bad Fox and CBS couldn't see the humor, and why is it OK for them to air Viagra and Cialias ads? Is male pleasure something its OK to advertise for on their networks? Is that the message here?

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Dowd spins Hillary video negatively....

Of course Maureen Dowd comes up today with a negative spin on Hillary's Soprano's parody.

Though I think Hillary seems very relaxed in the video, and to be enjoying herself, Dowd writes:

". . .as a rather wooden Hillary is about to announce her song choice to a loose and funny Bill, the screen suddenly goes dark." (And, well, how relaxed to we want our politicians to be on camera?)

The implication behind Dowd's words? Sure, Bill is charismatic and appealing but Hillary is no Bill. Dowd is undercutting Hillary's attempt to ride on Bill's charm.

And Dowd finds Hillary's ambition and power-seeking to be a negative thing, which isn't surprising because women are each other's harshest critics. Dowd writes, "And like Tony, Hillary is so power-hungry that she can justify any thuggish means to get the prize."

Biased question hypothetically asked of Hillary by NYTimes

A short piece in today's New York Times on Hillary's Soprano spoof video ends with these words:

"But it raises the question: Does she have to depend on her supporting actor, Mr. Clinton, to be successful?"

True, this video has a cameo role for her husband, Bill, and he recently appeared in another Internet video explaining to people what they might not know about the woman he has known well for 35 years, how she has always worked for children's rights, traveled around the world bearing diplomacy as first lady, etc. etc., just as Hillary had explained to voters what they might not know about Bill when he ran for President (including that he grew up in a house with an outhouse). So, sure, Hillary is using Bill and his personal magnetism to speak out to voters. But the other candidates are also relying on the appeal of their spouses, in their cases, their wives, to speak out publicly to drum up support: particularly Obama and Edwards. Why isn't this question so pointedly asked of them?

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Clinton Moving Away from 'Highlighting the Maternal'?

Perhaps Hillary's spoof of the Soprano's finale represents a conscious attempt to move away from what the New York Times called in a January 29 article, her "highlighting of the maternal."

Remember the image of Nancy Pelosi in January at her swearing-in at the speaker's gavel, surrounded by the smiling children and grandchildren? This sparked a conversation about whether her conscious decision to create a maternal image at her swearing-in was a positive or negative one for women. Many women found this maternal tableau empowering, the idea that Pelosi could be both a maternal figure and a powerful, political leader at the same time.

The New York Times in that same article makes the parallel to Hillary's Internet video in which she announces that she will run for President while sitting on a chintz sofa and says that she wants to have "a dialogue about your ideas and mine. Because the conversation in Washington has been just a little one-sided lately, don’t you think?” Apparently, having a conversation, an actual two-way dialogue is a "feminine" thing, as opposed to the one-way speech of Bush.

From the Times piece: "Several analysts said this softer approach also allowed Ms. Pelosi and Mrs. Clinton to offer a clear contrast with the leadership style of President Bush , which Democrats have asserted was a “my way or the highway” approach to governing."

Is the tongue-in-cheek aligning of Hillary with Tony Soprano a suggestion that Hillary can be both maternal and tough? (The satirical video does mention Chelsea, busy parallel-parking outside a la Meadow). Or is it a conscious move away from a maternal image?

Hillary's YouTube Video Spoofs Soprano Finale

Just released today, Hillary's campaign spoofs the Soprano's finale in a funny, creative video which announces the song pick for her campaign.

What no-one has yet mentioned is that Hillary takes Tony's role here. She's one seated at the table first, who selects the song and orders the food (here, the carrot sticks instead of the unhealthy onion rings). This gender-switching is interesting, and telling--Hillary is not afraid to take the powerful male position, as we know. And here her desire to strong, to be a leader, is not threatening, but funny. Indeed, maybe the fact that she is taking over the male role is part of the humor here.

The parody of the Sopranos is smooth and well-done; Hillary and Bill both seem very relaxed and to be enjoying themselves, maybe too much. They are both so relaxed as they deliver these lines, indeed they seem to be as professional as the best of Hollywood actors--no stiff delivery here. But that's what we the American people want in a president--someone telegenic. Neil Postman's warning that everything will become entertainment in the television age has been actualized, only now the medium has become YouTube videos rather than TV.

It's amazing that the candidates (and their fans, ie the Obama Girl video) are publishing their latest "messages" to the public on this new digital stage of YouTube. But really these messages are not a political discussion, just manufactured images. We've come a long way from the fireside chat, maybe too far. Who knows what is real anymore, and what is simulacrum. Though this is definitely well-crafted, witty simulacrum.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Michelle Obama in a January Newsweek Article

I just found this January 29, 2007 Newsweek piece profiling Michelle Obama, another smart, powerful candidate's wife who has been portrayed positively. Though this article ends with these words: "In the past, Michelle has occasionally played tough enforcer with Barack in interviews but, as Nancy Reagan and Hillary Clinton can attest, voters prefer First Ladies who use a soft touch." So these women are media-savvy and obviously are constructing the image they want to project; they are playing the role of "spouse" or "help-mate" as women who are very invested and interested in their husband's political career (unlike Howard Dean's wife, whose disinterest in his political future seemed to doom the likelihood of his becoming the Democratic candidate) but who are not going to do a "Hillary" and try to get their own vision of national health care enacted if their husband becomes President.

It's interesting that Elizabeth Edwards retired from being an attorney in 1996 to administer the Wade Edwards Foundation, and now acts as a close political adviser to her husband--perhaps this is less threatening to women than Hillary Clinton, who was a working mother throughout Chelsea's childhood years, and whose ambition seems to disturb other women (and men). Judith Warner makes this point about Hillary in her blog in the New York Times this week.

How Edwards' Wife is Depicted Positively in Press

Today's New York Times has a glowing portrait of Edward's wife Elizabeth by Adam Nagourney.

The article includes these words:

"Mrs. Edwards has always been a dominant figure in Mr. Edwards’ political life; the news that she has been diagnosed with an advanced stage of cancer has also made her a riveting figure in her own right, and her swing through Iowa produced moments that broke the mold of traditional behavior for political spouses."

Is it the fact that she has been diagnosed with incurable cancer, which the couple announced publicly a few months back, that makes Elizabeth's forthrightness,outspokenness and willingness to speak her opinion, so palatable to the press and the public? Usually if a candidate's wife speaks out too much, she is derided (remember Theresa Heinz?). Does the awareness that she has cancer make people have sympathy for her instead of being threatened by this smart, strong lady? Perhaps it is this fact, combined with her maternal look along the lines of Barbara Bush, not a threatening, vixen appearance.

How is the press portraying her as compared to the outspoken Mrs. Obama?

Friday, June 15, 2007

Overtly Sexual 'Amateur" Obama Ad

Have you seen the new "Obama girl" video featuring a very attractive, buxom young woman singing how she has a "crush on Obama"? And that he can "Barack her tonight"? The New York Times has a piece on it today, and here is a link to the video. The popular video raises a few interesting questions:

First, which audience are the makers of the video trying to attract? African-American males? I doubt it--since they are not as likely as other groups to vote. The makers of the video must be after a female audience, after all, we women are trained to watch images of the female body as if were the object, in that we identify with this beautiful woman who is enraptured with Obama, even though this video makes a sex object out of her, focusing on her cleavage and breasts straining through her varying Obama t-shirts. The idea is, if this woman loves Obama, then so should we--he is an object of lust and attraction for her, so he should be for us, the female viewer of this video.

And we, women, are the voters that candidates are indeed fighting over, especially with the first female candidate running for President. Here's Dick Morris on the subject of women voters (from, Nov. 29, 2006):

"Indeed, so powerful is the female vote that it is credited with swinging two of our last three presidential elections. In 1996, it was the soccer moms who turned away from the abstract “family values” of the Republicans to embrace the more pragmatic and specific child- and education-focused programs of the Clinton administration. In 2004, these same moms, now designated “security moms,” turned away from the bite-sized measures of the Democrats and voted for the tough anti-terrorist policies of George Bush.

Nineteen million single women voted in 2000 and 27 million came out in 2004. If a woman runs for president, it stands to reason that such turnout will rise still further. If single women vote in proportion to their share of the national population, they could account for 32 million votes in 2008. Since women who are either divorced, widowed, or never married voted Democratic by a two-to-one margin in 2004 and 2006, it is likely that this influx of single women will be crucial to Hillary’s candidacy. . . "

That's why Obama supporters made this video.

(Though I wonder if Morris is inflating the influence of women voters, or at least how likely women voters are to support Hillary Clinton, in light of his anti-Hillary stance. Indeed, I remember a study showing how if people think a piece of writing was written by a man they are more likely to think it is worthy then if they think it was written by a woman; I tested this theory in college, giving myself a male pseudonym (in a contest where one of the rules was that we needed to select a pseudonym) and won a prize. In other words, women aren't so supportive of other women.)

Second, is the Obama video making a reference to the infamous Republican commercial inciting instinctual racist fears against Harold Ford, Jr.? In the Republican National Committee commercial against Harold Ford, Jr. in his Senate campaign, in which a ditzy blonde, not terribly sexual looking, not as attractive and sensual as the Obama Girl, says she met Ford at the Playboy party and at the end, says, "Harold, call me." The ad ends with "Harold Ford Jr., He's Just Not Right." The ad was suggestively racist, choosing a white blonde woman to say she met the African-American Ford, Jr at the party, the Republican National Committee was trying to arouse miscegnation fears. The Obama girl says, "Hey B., it's me, I was just watching you on CSpan, call me..." But it's not quite clear what race she is, she is some beautiful mixture, just like Obama--and she really seems to be enjoying herself, she's not a male object, not a ditz, a Gennifer Flowers, she's the perfect "Obama Girl" that even a soccer mom could identify with.

Third, why is there no 'amateur' video floating around on the Internet that's pro-Hillary? An Obama lover made the high-quality futuristic video satirizing the Apple 1984 computer ad portraying Hillary as some demonic dictator and her listeners as drones (it ends with the apple symbol converted into an "O"). Is there an amateur pro-Hillary video out there? If not, why not??

Thursday, June 14, 2007

China at Fault--Lead found in Thomas Train Toys

My sister-in-law just forwarded me a link about a recall of some of the Thomas Train toys. My son, now 4 1/2, was obsessed with Thomas the Train, and we have several of the recalled toys, which have been recalled because of the presence of lead paint. My daughter, 2 1/2, at many times had some pieces in her mouth. At the back of my mind, I always wondered whether the paint was OK, and would try to stop her. (Now my son, and as a result, my daughter, are obsessed with dinosaurs, so maybe this is a good time to pack away all the Thomas toys, because who knows if the lead is really limited to these few trains.) It really is outrageous that we are importing toys from China where the standards of safety cannot be relied upon. Recently, pet food imported from China has been recalled after thousands of pets have died, and then toothpaste made in China has been recalled, oh, just because it's akin to poison if ingested. I wrote an article a few months ago for the Chicago Tribune about the questionable standards of so-called "organic" food imported from China. Let's just say that after my research, I stopped buying food that's labeled "Product of China." But right now there's no law requiring country of origin labeling on all food. I wish I could only buy toys made in the U.S. It's too bad that every darn dinosaur my kids are playing with says "Made in China" on the bottom. I'm sure there's lead in many of them--I have to be vigilant about their not putting in their mouths. But shouldn't the responsibility be on the government to not allow these imports? Or to test them? Or, is this a great opportunity for a private solution, and for a company to create toys made in the U.S., assuring us of no lead and no phthalates?

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Unflattering Photos in Hillary Book Jackets

Has anyone noticed the similarity between the two photos of Hillary on the competing book jackets of the new autobiographies? Both feature a stern Hillary in profile, in Bernstein's, A Woman in Charge, she's looking off to the right, a slight bemused smile on her lips, wrinkles showing on her neck, in the more outrightly negative book by Gerth and Natta Jr., Her Way, the Hopes and Ambitions of Hillary Rodham Clinton, the book jacket photo of Hillary is an extreme close-up, every pore and wrinkle showing, she isn't smiling, she looks pale, especially against the black background. You can see that she is wearing lipstick and eye shadow, it's so close-up, but the photo is purposefully unflattering, unfeminine.

Contrast these book jackets to the one of Hillary's own autobiography, Living History, where the camera is a few steps back, she is facing the viewer directly, smiling an open-mouth smile, the light dancing across her face, the background a soft gray. She looks beautiful and welcoming, someone you could easily sit down to lunch with, not foreboding and stiff as in the other two book jackets.

It would be interesting to compare the book jackets of Hillary's biographies to that of other presidential candidates, but, oh my, there are no other biographies of the male candidates, let alone two competing ones. It's the fact that she is a woman, a powerful one, nonetheless, that makes her a prime target for male writers to attempt to write her story, even though she has already told it in her own autobiography.

Couric's Bad Ratings a Sexist Reaction?

CBS exec Moonves attributes Couric's bad ratings to viewers not being ready to accept serious news from a woman.

If you think he's just being defensive, or creating up some crazy explanation for his show's bad ratings, consider this: Dan Rather's choice of words on Monday to explain why Couric's show isn't popular:

The former CBS anchor said in a radio interview:

"I want to make clear that I have nothing against Katie Couric at all. She’s a very nice person and I have a lot of friends at CBS News. However, it was clear at the time and I think it has become even clearer that the mistake was to try to bring the ‘Today’ ethos to the evening news and to dumb it down, tart it up, in hopes of attracting a younger audience.

It's quite shocking that Dan Rather's mind somehow, conscious or subconscious (let's give him some benefit of doubt), chose the word "tart," which means prostitute, to refer to a news show headed by a woman.

His choice of words shows how hard it is for people to view a woman with gravitas. Sure, Couric is feminine and bright and perky, but that's what made her so popular on the Today show. Is there a woman out there that viewers would accept serious news from? A woman that an esteemd former anchor wouldn't suggestively call a prostitute? Christiane Amanpour???