Women’s Stories Now

When author Stieg Larsson introduced readers in 2005 to Lisbeth Salander in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, I was mesmerized by this gritty, fearless, whip-smart character. I believed then as now that women experienced vicarious pleasure when Lisbeth took revenge on those who tortured and raped her, when she outsmarted everyone who tried to limit and control her. Whether they had been sexually harassed or assaulted themselves, women identified with her; Lisbeth became a cult hero and the Millennium Series became a global phenomenon.

The women speaking out against sexual predators may not be Lisbeth, but they are surely courageous in revealing their stories, their vulnerabilities, and trauma. Many of these men are powerful and wealthy. They have been successful in their fields, while these women have carried their shame and pain for many years, maybe decades. Their lives have been unequivocally altered. They have suffered in innumerable ways: emotionally, financially, etc. And yet, they are stepping into the public spotlight to tell their stories.

Because the few have become the many, more women are coming forward. And I suspect more will come because in this cultural moment, they are being heard. Believed. Instead of being dismissed, ignored, demonized. Both men and women are recognizing how some workplaces have been toxic for women and the pervasiveness of these attitudes that devalue women. The conversations include both men’s and women’s voices because these horrendous behaviors affect all of us.

Thanks to New York Times reporters Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohy who broke the story about Harvey Weinstein on October 5, 2017. Remember their names! These women’s investigative reporting began a cultural revolution. So many voices could no longer be silent and broke through the dam created by power and privilege.

#MeToo is just one example.

Now Marti Noxon has created Dietland, a new TV series on AMC that taps into women’s stories, our complex lives, and the things/events that impact us. It’s based on Sarai Walker‘s novel and had been in development for two years, before sexual harassment and assault became part of our national dialogue. In an article for The Atlantic about Noxon, Sophie Gilbert describes the book:

…[A] guerrilla group of women kidnaps and murders men who’ve been accused of crimes against women, ranging from institutionalized misogyny to violent sexual assault. But that’s just the subplot. The rest of the novel deals with toxic beauty standards, the weight-loss industry, a magazine called Daisy Chain, rape culture, feminist infighting, and the coming of age of a lonely, 300-pound writer named Plum.

So, I was gobsmacked to see frequent commercials during the breaks for an online discount designer fashion site. Hello?? Yes, this show probably gets a huge female audience, but is anyone at the ad agency following the show’s themes?

Noxon is a writer, producer, and director of TV and film. She has worked on shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Grey’s Anatomy, and Mad Men. In Dietland, women are channeling their rage to fight back at men and institutions that diminish and harm women. That’s not easy. The guerrilla group is called the Jennifers, and they have announced a list of men they are targeting called “The Penis 100.” 

Not sure who is on this list in this work of fiction, but unfortunately, we women can come up with plenty of names for such a list. Forget the border wall, we need a Wall of Shame for these names. 

If you have enjoyed The Handmaid’s Tale TV series, but have felt despair about how the government has oppressed and controlled the women and children of Gilead, Dietland may feel like an antidote. But don’t be fooled. Patriarchy and misogyny are still rampant in this series. The feel-good message offers women intelligent enough to fight back and send messages that they are not buying into the marketplace standards and values of what women should be and look like. These issues are systemic and not simple to fix, but meanwhile the show offers women revenge fantasies. 

Yes, we all should feel despair that safety and equality for women is far from a reality, but we shouldn’t feel hopeless. Nor powerless. The stories are coming. We need to pay attention, listen, support, and honor the storytellers whoever they are, wherever they are. The more that women tell their stories, the more power we garner to dismantle the status quo of toxic masculinity that prey on women and children. All the cultural warriors, both fictional and living, are inspiring us to fight back, speak up, and cry out for justice.

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Staying Woke: Part 2

How do you stay informed in this world of 24/7 news? We have a plethora of choices. Not all are responsible sources. Not all ascribe to serious journalism standards.

My friends’ morning routine includes going online to these websites: CNN, the New York Times, the Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, and BBC. They turn to the CNN channel for a few minutes for the latest updates. In the evening, they watch MSNBC’S The Rachel Maddow Show.

As former journalists, Deborah and Larry have identified the news sources they trust. But there are others.

I am definitely not a news geek, but I want to stay informed. It’s imperative especially in these dangerous times to stay woke. You could say it’s the duty of all good citizens to be aware and alert to what’s happening in our country and to hold our government officials accountable. Morning is my writing time, and following the news at the level of my friends would take too big a chunk out of my morning. First, I’m a slow reader and sometimes it’s not just my slowness; my Internet slows down. Secondly, I don’t have a television in my apartment. Even though I have access to one in our building’s community room, it’s not always convenient.

Nevertheless at some point in the day, I can go online to CNN, then to the Washington Post or the New York Times. I’ve been a fan of the Times, but hadn’t read the Post much. Right in our nation’s capital, the Post is geographically closer to the political scene and late-breaking scandals. Being imbedded in D.C., they provide an immediacy to their news. Of course the Times has a D.C. bureau to keep on top of the news there.

I agree with Deborah about the importance of following some foreign news sources. What do other countries think about our President and American events? I like The Guardian and watch CBC and BBC from time to time, but not daily. That’s the best that I can do.

Other television news I watch occasionally include PBS News Hour.  60 Minutes is a television news magazine on CBS and also very informative. On the radio, I listen to NPR. And I subscribe to The Atlantic for its well-written articles on topics important to me.

More than ever it’s important to support good journalism and subscribe to news magazines, newspapers, and other news sources you trust.

Larry is biased toward newspapers, but he makes a good point. He says, “Papers are one of the best sources of coherent, calmly displayed information about what is happening….The strength of newspapers is in detail, and learning that detail makes us all smarter and better citizens.”

According to Walter Cronkite, “Journalism is what we need to make democracy work.”

I would add that we process information differently when reading compared to watching something. Reading has always been a thoughtful process for me. Sometimes I need to re-read. Sometimes I need to stop and think about what I just read. Sometimes I need to follow up an article by reading another source to confirm or dispute the original story. Reading develops critical thinking, a quality that is frankly crucial in today’s world.

Besides I’m old school. I like holding a physical newspaper or magazine or book. It provides a more sensory experience than reading a screen. I like flipping the pages, sometimes back and forth, and maybe underlining something. Since I can’t afford to subscribe to everything, the library is a great resource for newspapers and magazines. Reading online is a different experience for me and I admit to getting screen fatigue even though or especially since so much is available at my fingertips.

However, reading online news cannot be avoided. Another online news source I read is Matt from WTF Just Happened Today?, which is exactly how I frequently feel since last November. This site compiles the day’s headlines from various national news sources that cover the latest chaos in the White House.

Generations growing up with the Internet will likely disagree, but quality of news or information makes a difference, not quantity. Having infinite choices 24/7 is not necessarily a good thing.

And this bears repeating: Facebook is not a news source.

Staying Woke: Print, Broadcast, Online?

PART 1

Back in the dark ages before WWW and the Internet, my family got the news by reading our local newspapers or listening to the radio. Every family subscribed to a newspaper. Weekly news magazines, like Time and Newsweek, were also popular. We felt we had several good choices for staying informed, but we Boomers were especially ecstatic when black and white televisions arrived in our homes. The news program became an important part of our day.

Cronkite

Watching the 6 o’clock news on CBS with Walter Cronkite became a daily ritual to get the latest in national and world news. He was a serious journalist trusted by the public. He understood that people needed to be informed to be good citizens. Living in Honolulu, we were eager for news of both East and West. Late night news broadcasts were also available at 10 or 11 on the three network channels. Then all programming signed off every night around midnight with an image of the American flag and a soundtrack of the “Star-spangled Banner.”

As anchorman of the CBS Evening News, I signed off my nightly broadcasts for nearly two decades with a simple statement: ‘And that’s the way it is.’ To me, that encapsulates the newsman’s highest ideal: to report the facts as he sees them, without regard for the consequences or controversy that may ensue.
-Walter Cronkite

 

Today in the 21st Century, with a smart phone and access to the Internet, everyone can tap into as much news as desired anytime of the day or night. Newspapers from all over the globe are available online and news programs can be streamed into a device in your hand. Several television channels are devoted exclusively to news. Online or not, local, national, and international news are available 24/7.

That’s a lot of news. In fact, the news cycle never ends. It’s an endless loop. News geeks, rejoice! This is your time.

But even news junkies need filters and discernment. There’s a lot of noise and filler and infotainment in the mix. Something read online can be fabricated and intentionally distorted; bluster and opinion fill some radio shows. Accuracy and facts, as well as civil discourse, are sadly lacking in some so-called news shows.

I wonder and worry how young people today stay informed, if they are developing a routine for gathering the news and identifying responsible news sources, e.g., Facebook is not a news source.

Two of my friends, a married couple, are former journalists and avowed news junkies. I asked them to describe their daily routine for getting the news. With two computers, they each go online first to various news websites. Deborah goes to CNN first to get an overview of the headlines, then will read more in-depth articles on the websites of the New York Times and Washington Post. According to Deborah, the Times is highly respected for its investigative journalism. And of course, the Washington Post broke the story about the Watergate scandal.

The next websites they read are the Wall Street Journal for its financial news and the BBC for its European perspective on American news. Then they turn on the TV to CNN and/or MSNBC; they watch the bottom of the screen closely for breaking news.

All this takes about an hour, then they go on with their day.

Rachel-MaddowAt 6 p.m., they watch the Rachel Maddow Show on MSNBC. Deborah says, “Rachel focuses on just a few stories that she thinks deserve audience attention.” I’ve been watching her show more regularly over the last few weeks and she is very intelligent. She doesn’t dumb anything down for her viewers. She does her homework by reading various news stories in different publications and is able to connect the dots by reporting the context of each story so the viewer understands or at least can get a sense of why this is important. Her guests include other respected journalists who can further explain or contextualize a news item. I’ve become a fan and I’m not the only one. Maddow’s viewership has increased rapidly since 2014.

In the current issue (Oct. 2017) of Vanity Fair, Editor Graydon Carter says:

In my opinion, she is the quickest mind on television, building cases against the administration so dizzying in their complexity and ultimate clarity that you wish she sent out Cliff’s Note in advance.

Getting the news used to be much more simple. I tried to follow my friends’ daily routine, but sadly failed. (To be continued.)