Category Archives: pop culture

On Learning About Feminism

Antioch College, in Yellow  Springs, OH, was the first college in the country to admit both non-whites and women with equal status to white men (Wikipedia)

Antioch College, in Yellow Springs, OH, was the first college in the country to admit both non-whites and women with equal status to white men (Wikipedia)

In January of 1985 I embarked on my second semester of my freshman year in college. As I scheduled my classes for the upcoming spring, I determined that this semester would be different from the last semester: I resolved to earn an ‘A’ in at least one class this go-around.

Since I tested out of English Comp 101, the university allowed me to enroll directly into Comp 102, which suited me just fine because I fancied myself a budding writer looking for the tools I needed to pursue my personal goal of writing the next Great American Novel, and to do so I needed to get the boring preliminary classes out of the way as quickly as possible.  Time was of the essence here, you know.

Imagine my surprise and displeasure when my PhD candidate-grad assistant-professor informed me after grading my first essay that I would not, under any circumstances, make an ‘A’ in her class.

I withdrew from her office, holding my butchered-with-red-ink, ‘C’ graded, pathetic composition at arm’s length from my body as I trudged back to my dorm, ready to cry and change my major to the much less subjective field of Computer Science (the major my dad recommended I study in the first place. Hooray for STEM-minded dads!).

Through some miraculous feat of determination (and the lack of anything better to do during the hour-and-a-half allotted to my schedule for Comp 102), I managed to continue attending her class and scraped out a ‘B+’ for my final semester grade. And, in the process, this remarkable professor taught me two things that stayed with me for the rest of my life: avoid using ‘to be’ verbs as much as possible in my writing, and – despite my personal upbringing where my family placed my brother and me on equal footing with regard to education and career choices – women continue to struggle to achieve the respect they need for their professional and personal success.

My professor focused her PhD thesis on pop culture and its effects on women in social situations. She theorized that there was a direct correlation between the prolific distribution of porn and the increase in date-rape crimes on college campuses. I participated in a focus group she hosted (for extra credit, of course – how else do you think I managed to obtain the highest grade possible in her class?) that discussed the use of pornographic images in music videos, magazine ads, and movies and how these images turned women into one-dimensional sex objects instead of living, breathing human beings capable of making their own decisions – especially in regard to what happens to their bodies. In short, due to the portrayal of men as dominant over women, pop culture reiterated the idea that boys reserved the right to treat girls as possessions instead of equal human beings capable of making their own decisions about their sexuality, career pursuits, family planning, and so on.

My participation in this focus group awakened me to the idea that not everyone looked at women as intellectually equal to men. Two years later, as I sat in my business classes populated by a disproportionate amount of male to female students, I further recognized the prevalence of sexist attitudes in Corporate America when a male professor pointed out that, at the time, only a minority of Fortune 500 companies boasted female executives (God bless him for even discussing the topic in class.) My burgeoning feminist beliefs reached full maturation when, as an assistant manager with Wal-Mart in 1989, I learned that my district manager took it upon himself (as in, without my permission) to inform the Home Office that no, I would not be interested in entering their newly designed buyer trainee program, despite the fact that they had called to personally invite me to join the program. After a brief deliberation, I decided that I would, indeed, like to relocate to the Home Office in Bentonville, AR. Unfortunately, my district manager’s assertion that I stay put caused the director of the program to withdraw his earlier invitation – a fact I didn’t learn about until two months later. Which is when I began the search for a new job.

Among some groups (most specifically, of course, intimidated men), the term “feminism” carries negative connotations. “Men haters”, “bra burners”, “radicals”, “feminazis” are just a few of the many derogatory terms used to describe those of us who believe that gender should have no bearing on a person’s ability to earn a living or pursue his or her educational interests. At times, even I have shuddered at the label, “feminism”.  And then I read the actual definition of the term:

Feminism: “The doctrine which declares that social, political, and economic rights for women be the same as those for men.” – Webster’s Dictionary

This definition does not state that feminism advocates for women to become men (or stop being feminine), nor does it declare that women are superior to men. It simply states that women – as human beings – deserve the opportunity to enjoy the same rights as men. Period. And that is a doctrine that both men and women can subscribe to with a very clear conscience. Equal educational and economic opportunities for myself and my daughters. For my friends and their daughters. For women both at home and abroad. Because, how can we expect to overcome poverty, hunger, and war if only half of the population is educated and/or employed?

How about you? When did you first identify with feminism? Did you ever experience discrimination and, if so, how did you handle the situation? Were you ever encouraged to not pursue an interest or job opportunity due to your gender? If so, tell me about it in the comments section below – I love to hear your stories!

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On Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou recites her poem, "On the Pulse of Morning", at the 1993 presidential inauguration

Maya Angelou recites her poem, “On the Pulse of Morning”, at the 1993 presidential inauguration

I stood in the kitchen with my back leaned up against the counter by the stove, and scrolled through my phone apps while I waited for the painters to arrive (I can write and sell stuff, Hubs can practice law, but neither of us is handy with a hammer. Or a paintbrush. Oh, well.) As I scanned my Facebook page and read about my friends’ various activities during the past twenty-four hours, I spied one particular post that made my breath catch in my throat for a brief second.

Maya Angelou Dies – American Poet Laureate Dead at 86

It’s not like I wasn’t expecting it. I knew she was ill – after all, I’d read it on Facebook a few days ago (and, let’s face it: these days Facebook is more reliable than Fox or MSNBC, and sometimes even CNN). I also surmised that the illness must have been serious since she cancelled her plans to attend the civil rights game hosted by Major League Baseball, where she was to be honored with the Beacon of Life Award. But, Maya Angelou? Dead? The reality hit me like a swift punch to the stomach. No more words of inspiration from this woman who overcame the insurmountable obstacles of poverty, racism, sexism, and an unplanned pregnancy only to emerge as one of the most notable American literary figures of the twentieth century. No more listening to that sultry, melodious voice as she relays stories of her life in Arkansas or New York or St. Louis or Europe. No more lessons learned from a woman who gained copious amounts of wisdom from a life lived with gusto and passion.

No more Maya.

I remember the first time I was introduced to Dr. Angelou. It wasn’t, as one might suspect, when I was in college, not even during the two years I studied as an English Lit major. Instead, I learned about the likes of Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, and Sylvia Plath during those years. My first encounter with the great poet and orator was when I watched Bill Clinton’s inauguration ceremony in 1993. I was pregnant with my first child – just pregnant enough to no longer possess a flat stomach – enjoying a day off from work, nursing the constant nausea that accompanied my first trimester of pregnancy, and listening to the details of the inauguration emanating from the television as I worked around the house. I remember I heard an introduction of some poet and an explanation regarding the historic significance of her presence that day because the last president to have a poet at an inauguration was President Kennedy, some thirty years earlier. And then she spoke. That voice, that beautiful, rich, sensuous, articulate, commanding voice that immediately beckoned me away from the stack of laundry I was folding and over to the couch situated in front of the TV just to catch a glimpse of the women who claimed that voice as her own. I was intrigued. Shortly after, I visited the local library and checked out I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. And then I knew. I knew why the president invited her to his inauguration. I knew why her voice was so resonant. I understood her careful articulation of the words she spoke. And I understood what her presence on that stage meant. And I fell in love all over again.

Amid all the press, comments, and expressions of sorrow yesterday, I read a quote that described my feelings about Maya Angelou so precisely I wrote it down to put on my desk for daily remembrance:

To know her life story is to simultaneously wonder what on earth you have been doing with your own life and feel glad that you didn’t have to go through half the things she has.” Gary Younge, writer for The Guardian, 2009

Her first autobiography is so expertly written that it transports the reader back in time and places her right smack in the middle of a completely foreign culture: the Black Deep South.  Together with Maya I witnessed the same horrors, love, confusion, and intimidation that she did. And I learned about a way of life that, up until that moment, I had very little understanding and appreciation for. Because to live in the south is one thing, but to live in the south as a Black girl in the middle of the twentieth century is another thing, altogether.

Her experiences as a child and young adult were enough to wear most of us out and cause us to just be happy to make it from one day to the next. But, to overcome all those obstacles and then stand on stage at a presidential inauguration, read a piece of poetry she wrote and then turn around and have the President of the United States embrace her with sincere exuberance and appreciation? Well, I don’t know how she did it.

Over the past few years I have followed her Facebook page and marveled at the wisdom and honesty of her posts, much as I did that first day I heard her speak. Her comments of encouragement and hope still move me every time I read one of her quotes. And, now, as I contemplate what her life and work mean to me, I wonder if I can ever measure up to that person she admonished all of us to become whenever she spoke. Will any of us be what she hoped we would be?

The best we can do to honor her memory is to try to do just that: Be the best we can be, in spite of our circumstances and background, and remember that, while life is hard, it is worth living to its fullest.

Please feel free to take a minute and share your thoughts on Maya Angelou’s passing in the comments section below.

On Golf Digest and Paulina Gretzky

spring iphone 2012 076My boys love the game of golf. They love the lingo: “Hey, Mom, have you seen my balls?” “Dad, I need a stiffer shaft.” (Get your minds out of the gutter – that is legitimate golfing terminology. The boys use these terms when discussing their equipment. Their golf equipment. Geesh.) They love the Golf Channel and Holly Sonders. They love the 19th hole. And, of course, they love playing round after round with the other fine gentlemen who frequent our local golf course.

Like the good mom I am, I, too, have grown to appreciate the finer points of golf – such as enjoying a glass of wine along with appetizers while seated on the golf course veranda watching the boys practice nearby and offering up a silent prayer of gratitude over the fact that I never have to discuss their wardrobe choices whenever they head out to the course in their club-approved attire of golf slacks and polos.

I even attended a practice round at the 2012 Ryder Cup in Chicago.

My knowledge of all things golf increases daily. For instance, I have learned that one son’s favorite golfer is Tiger while the other son has had his tweets re-tweeted by golf pro Dustin Johnson.

Which leads me to today’s topic.

What the heck was Golf Digest thinking when they put Paulina Gretzky – Dustin Johnson’s fiancé – on this month’s cover?

Yes, she’s gorgeous and her dad is hockey legend Wayne Gretzky. Also, I’m sure she’s a great girl. But, people, she’s not a golfer. At least former college golf standout Holly Sonders actually works in the industry (the popular Golf Channel personality appeared on the cover of Golf Digest in May 2013). To make things worse, Golf Digest decided to use pictures of Gretzky in capri leggings and a sports bra for its May issue. Because every golf course accepts sports bras and capris as appropriate golfing attire.

No, actually, the bra top is there because sex sells, and Golf Digest – the country’s leading golf publication – has stooped to selling sex instead of information about the game of golf.

So, why all the controversy?

Because there are plenty of women golfers who actually play golf for a living and are much more deserving of gracing the cover of a magazine whose main objective is to disseminate information about the sport than some guy’s pretty girlfriend with cleavage in a halter top.

Over 450 women belong to the LPGA – the longest continuing women’s professional sports organization in the United States – and, to date, LPGA players have only appeared solo on the cover of Golf Digest eleven times since 1969. The most recent cover featuring an LPGA player was with Lorena Ochoa back in August 2008.

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See, here we are on Broadway.

I realize that the magazine wants to sell issues. I also know that magazines – Golf Digest included – often use models and celebrities to attract readers. But to feature a scantily clad woman whose only connection to the sport is the fact that she is engaged to a professional golfer is like putting me on the cover of Broadway magazine just because I saw Wicked last March. (Although, I WOULD make a great Elsa in Disney’s upcoming Broadway production of Frozen. I can really belt out those high notes in “Let it Go”. Watch out, Idina Menzel.)

Yes, featuring Paulina Gretzky on the cover of Golf Digest will bring recognition to the magazine. And I’m sure my boys will spend plenty of time examining Gretzky’s cleavage grip when their issue arrives in the mail. But that’s not what results in gaining subscribers for the long run. Because, the truth is, if men just want a magazine that shows women in bikinis there are plenty of others to choose from. Putting Gretzky on the cover and attempting to justify the decision as anything other than a gratuitous sales ploy is insulting to our intelligence. For the most part, Golf Digest subscribers actually want to read about golf. The boys who pick up the Gretzky issue at the newsstand will be “one and done” – not dedicated golf enthusiasts eager to learn how to fix their slice or break 80 on their next round out on the links.

And as for women golfers? Well, I doubt the magazine will enjoy an increase in female subscribers for quite some time after this blatant display of sexism. Which is really too bad because one of the great things about golf is that it is a game that both men and women, young and old, can play and compete in together.

So, I’ve had my rant. Now it’s your turn. What do you think? Have you heard about the Paulina Gretzky cover? Do you find Golf Digest’s decision to put her on its cover offensive? What do you think about the magazine industry’s penchant for employing underhanded techniques in an effort to sell more issues at the newsstand? Is there a problem – and, if so, is there a solution? Keep the discussion going in the comments section below!