Fortune favours the brave

Fortune published two lists, of the 25 best-paid men and women.

The highest paid man on the list earns $350.7 million a year. Number 25 earns $41.9 million.
The highest paid woman on the list earns $38.6 million.

As Shaker M.Marie points out in this thread over at Shakesville, not even the combined earnings of the 25 women on this list equals the earnings of the highest paid man.

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The exception that proves the rule

The expression is often used to mean that the exception to the rule means that the rule is true. Now, that is not the original meaning (but hey, language lives and flows). The original meaning is more along the lines of “by stating only the exception of the rule, I am implying the rule”. Wikipedia gives this example: a sign “parking prohibited on Sundays” implies that on the other days of the week, parking is allowed.

Which is why I think I cringe when I read articles talking about “women directors” or “female whatever”. It implies that the common, “normal”, the standard is male and maleness. Which it *is* in some professions. I am convinced however that life shaped language and vice versa. When you keep talking about women as if they are the exception (and not the majority of humans), you make it that tiny bit harder to find acceptance for them. When I read articles about male directors/singers/artists/whatever, I would be very surprised to find questions like “and as a man, how did you …”, because mostly those articles deal with the achievements, the character, the likes and dislikes and what have you of the interviewed. Often their sex isn’t mentioned. Because it is “the norm”, “the standard”.

Please, journalists, next time you write up an interview with a female interviewee, think about how it would sound to you if you wrote “the man director” or “the male singer”, before you phrase similar things about women. We are not an exception.

Posted in Feminism, Language, Media | 2 Comments

Follow up

So, after having written the last entry, I read some more in the Shapely Prose harrassement thread, and came to this blog entry by Ophelia, who pretty much said whatever I tried to say, only better and more succinct. She summarises the whole thing with “We haven’t been telling you because it’s so common we’re almost used to it, but most women live with a certain level of fear as a given. A GIVEN. Think about that for a minute.”

She also quotes Margaret Atwood with something I want to repeat to most men most days:

“Why are you afraid of women?” I asked a group of men.
“We’re afraid they’ll laugh at us,” replied the men.
“Why are you afraid of men?” I asked a group of women
“We’re afraid they’ll kill us,” replied the women.

I feel like I should end on a positive note. I am not sure that is the right thing to do. I think sometimes it is necessary to feel uneasy in order to get up the energy to do something. But anyway: thanks to all those friends in my life that show that they are *aware* that some situations are more scary to women than to men. Who offer to walk me to the train, when I was too embarrassed to ask. Who ask if the point for meeting is all right, because I would have to come there by myself. Who lean over and start a new conversation because they have the impression that that drunken guy is trying to chat me up.

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Rubber ball of fear

Last month I was walking to my favourite bar, which lies on the Reeperbahn, the red-light-district of Hamburg. It has sex-shops and striptease bars, but mainly “just” bars, and, from ten to two in the morning, mostly drunk 16 year olds. I was crossing the street, and walking up the street was a man, who I ignored. He looked faintly like a friend of mine, but I didn’t wear my glasses and my friend had told me he wouldn’t be coming to the bar that evening. But the main reason why I ignored him is that, as a woman walking in that part of town, you try to ignore men. You make no eye contact, you only vaguely look in their direction. To assess the threat, while not giving any opportunity for comments. Let me repeat that: to assess the threat.

When we both entered the bar a minute later, amidst much hugging and laughing, I was giving a mild ribbing about not recognising him, and I both joined in with the “must be getting old” jokes, but also with explaining why I was deliberately not looking at him straight. Now, that friend being rational and reasonable, I know that he understood that reason. But I have a faint doubt, that he *grokked* it, which is why this whole thing is still nagging me, one month later. I strongly believe that most men cannot comprehend the amount of latent fear that permeates a woman’s life. I know they know the caution with which one walks down a dark alley at night. I doubt they understand, that for a lot of women, the default state of being is one of constantly assessing threats, constantly judging strangers, whether they are likely too grope, harress or rape you.

If you are a bloke, please imagine (I really hope you only have to imagine, not remember) standing in a full bus and feeling somebody’s erect penis being pushed against your arse. There are two things that make me angry about that situation. The first one obviously being the asshat doing the rubbing. The second one being that if you randomly asked ten women if they had ever had that happen to them, their response would likely be something like “you mean the last time?” or “you mean this month?”. You are constantly living with that. You choose your seat in a train or bus not only based on where there are empty seats, but which seats has the least threatening neighbours. You choose your bar not only by how much you like it, but how safely you can get there and back. Sometimes you chose your footwear not only by how much you like it, but how fast you could *run*.

Now. I am not saying that all women live in a constant state of terror. I know I don’t. When I walk down a dark alley at night, I am more afraid of being  mugged and/or murdered than of being raped, because most rapes happen at home, by partners, friends or “friends”, and not out there by the bogeyman. But that is the rational part of me. What I truly believe most women have, is this rubber ball of underlying *awareness* bouncing around in their stomach. It never rests, it never does not roll around in some back part of your conscience. As a woman, you are always on your toes when dealing with strangers or casual friends.

We teach women and girls, that it is *their* responsibility to avoid rape or harrassment. If they get raped or harrassed, it must be, obviously, because they haven’t been vigilant enough. You are being raised differently when you are a girl. You are bombarded endlessly with “be careful”s. Be careful where you are going, who you hang out with, what you are wearing, what you are saying, what you are drinking. Because *if you do not, terrible things are going to happen to you*. How many boys grow up with “hey, you know what, girls are human too, so make an effort not to grope, harrass or rape them, ‘mkay?”. As commenter pecan wrote in a thread about rape and rape prevention “I think one of the reasons that this topic makes women so angry when it’s suggested that they dress or behave in a certain way to avoid being raped is because many already do.”

Last month there was a long thread on Shapely Prose about harrassment. Please read it, at least parts of it. Mabye not to remember each individual example. But to become slackjawed at how “normal”, how ever present these harrassments are in the average woman’s life.

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History is written by the victors

The victors, in the case of what is perceived as world history, being white men. And when children are taught in school that all important discoveries or inventions have been made by men, it seems natural that some of them come to conclusions like this:

“First of all, look through history. Men pretty much did all the stuff from day 1. We hunted the food, then we grew the food, then we shot the food, and so on. Women were essential only in reproducing. Men are naturally stronger, can take more wear and tear, and usually smarter too.
By the way im not sexist or anything. ”

And I tend to think that that guy actually *believes* that he is not sexist. After all, he only repeats what he learned in school. I for one cannot remember about being explicitely taught about brilliant women that could not persue their carreers or dreams because of the intrinsic sexism of the society they lived in.

What really gets to me though is when adult people that should be capable of critical thinking, utter sentimens that mirror those of naive 14 year olds. Like the art critic Brian Sewell in this truly fantastic (i.e. unreal) statment: “There has never been a first-rank woman artist. Only men are capable of aesthetic greatness. Women make up 50 per cent or more of classes at art school. Yet they fade away in their late 20s or 30s. Maybe it’s something to do with bearing children.”
Yeah. It is perhaps the uteruses of these women that reach up through their throat and throttle the artistic centre of their brains, to reference Douglas Adams. It can’t have anything to do with society and its sexism.

The examples in history where works of art by female artists were published under the names of their husbands, brothers or mentors because of “unacceptability” illustrate not that the times they grew up in were sexist, but that those works must have been inferior, because women created them. Which is why those works then were acclaimed after being published under a male name (as was the case for example with the Bronte Sisters). Right. Got that.

When Delia Derbyshire, with a degree in mathematics and music from Cambridge applied at Decca in 1959, she was told, that the company did not employ women. Obviously, her degrees notwithstanding, her work must have been inferior.

The mathematician Emmy Noether applied for a position at the unversity of Erlangen in 1915 she was denied the position for which she was qualified. As one professor protested: “What will our soldiers think when they return to the university and find that they are required to learn at the feet of a woman?”. So a person that, as the Wikipedia puts it “[is] often described as the most important woman in the history of mathematics”, and today is the first time that I heard of her.

What of Artemisia Gentileschi? Ada Lovelace? I didn’t know them from school. I know about them because I happen to be a cineast and I have seen movies about those women.

What of Fanny Hensel (neé Mendelssohn-Bartholdy) who, like her brother Felix showed exceptional musical talent from childhood on. Her father however wrote to her “Music will perhaps become his [i.e. Felix’s] profession, while for you it can and must be only an ornament”, explicitely because of her sex, not because of a lack of talent. She was given the highest praise, that she “plays like a man.” Some of her early works were published under her brother’s name. Some work only had their first public performance in the 1980s, 140 years after Hensel’s death.

These were women whose art oder science was *not* inferior to those of their contemporary men. They weren’t hired or published or lauded specifically because of their sex. Although that fact makes me angry, it is nothing compared to the anger that I feel when I hear that *today* children still do not learn that historically, many talented women weren’t *allowed* to excel in their field of work, and who some of those women were.

“My Mother’s experience in high school. In 1955, her fancy college-prep school refused to let girls take math beyond geometry because “girls would distract the boys” (I lost the link, it was in a thread at Shapely Prose about sexism in school). How many children of today will not reach their full potential because their talent might not lie in an area that is traditionally linked to their sex?

It would be much easier for girls to refuse when they are being told to give up a hobby or an ambition because “girls are just not good at that“, if they had more examples of women succeeding, or if at least there were a larger awareness that many times in history some women didn’t succeed not because they were inferior, but because some men back then and still today suppress their works.

Posted in Feminism, History, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

These little things

or why “but it’s only one X (insert medium here), what are you getting all worked up over” is not a valid argument when women get annoyed at the widespread sexism they encounter every bloody single day.

Yes, at any given point in time, it *is* only one little thing, that, in itself, is probably not worth mentioning. Like this little gem from the IMDb forum about a “chick flick”, presumably after watching the trailer, since the movie itself hasn’t opened yet: “These women need to shut their mouth and start pushing vaccum cleaners and stirring pots in the kitchen. Get going toots! Sitting around gossiping doesn’t get dinner made!”

Wow. Having to watch a 150 seconds trailer with women talking makes this person really mad I suppose.  It is just one stupid comment, right? Just one tiny little fly, just ignore it.

Well. Not quite.

It it not just one little comment.
It is one more comment.
And one more remark
And one more catcall.
And one more billboard.
And one more newspaper ad.
And one more radio host.
And one more remark.
And one more car sticker.
And one more CD cover.
And one more tv spot.
And one more movie trailer.
And one more remark.
And one more news spot.
And one more photograph.
And one more tv episode.
And one more remark.
And one more song.
And one more sales clerk.
And one more employer.
And one more politician.
And one more remark.
And one more friend.
And one more father.
And one more mother.
And one more partner.
And one more remark.
And one more teacher.
And one more professor.
And one more movie.
And one more painting.
And one more remark.
And one more book.
And one more article.
And one more statistic.
And one more joke.
And one more.
And one more.
And one more.

Every. Single. Day.

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Mostly I like remakes. Generally, I am not adverse to the idea. There are remakes that add another layer of complexity to a work, or are a different interpretation of a theme. And then there are remakes that make me bloody furious, something in me wants to say it is because they are heartless, but I am not sure that is the right word. With some remakes in movies or TV, you have the impression that the people behind the new version simply did not *get* what the old version was *about*. I appreciate that as a creative person it is hard to keep your vision or version of things intact. I remember Alan Dean Foster talking at a Con about one of his scripts about a man and his dog where the studio insisted that he make the dog a man so they could shoot it as a buddy movie. Instead of just getting a script that already *is* a buddy movie with two guys, they tried to warp this thing into something it just wasn’t.

So when I read that there was to be an American version of “Life on Mars”, I was a bit worried. The British version is only two years old, and perfectly fine, why do a remake? And through “crazy, random happenstances”, I saw the American pilot the other day. And it is sad. Sad sad sad.

The charm of the original is that a.) Sam has no idea what is happening to him. B.) many of the tools he is accustomed to are not available to him. C.) the 70s truly were like another world, where people smoked and drank on the job and where women were “allowed” only the lowest of jobs in their profession. Add to that truly wonderful actors with great charisma, great cinematography and solid writing, and you have a serial that, as those young people on the interweb say nowadays, is made of win.

Along comes an American network. They say “oh, great, a recipe for chocolate cake, let’s bake that for the folks at home. Oh, wait, that much sugar isn’t good for the teeth, let’s use Splenda. Hm, and chocolate… recent polling suggests that Joe Average has a preferences for vanilla, so let’s take that instead. Now, let’s see, if we substitute the cup of milk with a cup of water, and the baking powder with ordinary flour, we could lower our expenses and bake *two* cakes instead!”. And so they did. And this is why the American version of Life on Mars is such a watered down, half-assed shadow of the original.

The 70s are different because …. people dress funny. Oh, you have the odd cigarette burning in an ashtray, Gene Hunts starts to light a cig in one scene, but you never actually *see* somebody smoke. Because our audience doesn’t have the mental capacity to put a show into a historical context. Because it is safer to cater to the lowest common denominator. Because you lose ads and money if  too many morons complain that you are perverting TEH YOUTHS if you dare to show a semi-realistic approach to … well, real life.

Then there’s Annie. In the original show, it is made perfectly clear that she is a clever, capable woman that is held back by the sexism of the system, and that sometimes doesn’t dare speak up because she will get misogynistic slap downs from her colleagues. Sam and Annie profile the killer in the first episode *together*, her ideas are important for getting the kidnapper in the end. In the American version, Sam uses her as a sort of window-dummy to illustrate his point. She voices no idea of her own, she is merely an object so he can demonstrate his theory. Where in the British version the audience is confronted with sexism so ridiculous that they will probably question their own sexism while watching, so far it seems the American writers treat Annie just as sexist as her 70s colleagues.

What really boggles my mind is: why? Why change that scene? Why take away the one scene that defines the only recurring female character as a clever human being? It doesn’t add that much to the main character, it only robs the audience of yet another female character that would have been intelligent and capable.

Don’t even get me started on what they did with Gene Hunt. He is a declawed lion, not the strong (and sometimes dangerous) presence of the original. In the British series, both Sam and Gene were the focus of the series. Here it seems all other characters but Sam’s were watered down to strengthen Sam.

Now, the thing is that I don’t even love Life on Mars as I do other series. This is not a rant about what those bad bad guys in Leftpondia have done to my favourite series. I just don’t see the sense in taking something good and then watering it down until nothing of its essence is left. I have seen parts of three versions of “The Office”, the British, the American, and the German. In each the basic story is the same, as are the characters, but there are little details or story lines that are truly original to the respective countries in which the series was made. Each version is funny in its own right, and in its own way. The makers somehow understood what the whole point of the original idea was.

Somebody once told me a story of some pacific island where the American army had an airstrip, with tower and loudspeakers and radar and all that. The aeroplanes brought food and resources to the island. After the army left, the islanders made loudspeakers out of bamboo, they stood on the airstrip waving flags and so on. Because when the Americans did that, they aeroplane would come and bring food. They couldn’t understand why it didn’t work when they appeared to do the same things. And *that* is how some remakes feel like. The outer appearance is partly there, but the essence, the raison d’etre is missing.

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