thinking big: feminism, media, and pop culture

Posts Tagged ‘work’

Watching Parenthood in “The Descendants”

In Film, Oscars, parenthood on April 9, 2012 at 8:53 am

Phoebe B.

When I was a kid, which alas I only now am in spirit, I spent a decent amount of time looking at adults and presuming, sometimes rightly so, that they knew best. I believed that they understood things I was not quite capable of grasping yet; that their decisions inherently made sense and should be followed, even if I didn’t like them. I suspected that my own parents just knew what to do with some sort of parent-specific magic. It seemed to me that their rules, whatever they were, were preordained, and that bedtimes were of course always at nine, or ten, or eventually maybe even eleven.

As an adult, I have come to realize that my parents—like many other parents I imagine—are just people trying to do a good job taking care of their kids. This may sound silly, but it was quite the serious revelation for me. Even the best parents are not martyrs like Harry Potter’s parents. They’re probably more like the Weasleys, with their crazy house and messy kitchen and cluttered garage. The Weasleys do their best, but their best doesn’t always work out as well as planned. Or parents might be more like the less-magical but awesome Tami and Eric Taylor, or even MTV’s teen mothers, trying under difficult circumstances to do a good job despite being kids themselves.

Parenting is work. Fun work most of the time (according to my folks), but work nonetheless—which perhaps is why my mom quite smartly developed a system to pay herself for the work she did around the house and taking care of me when I was really little. And because I am at a point in my life where parenting is not quite on the table and but definitely up for discussion fairly often these days—not because I’m planning on being a parent anytime soon, but because many of my friends have started having children—I am all the more intrigued by representations of it.

That’s why The Descendants stood out to me. The Descendants begins with the near-fatal boating accident of Matt King’s (George Clooney) wife, Elizabeth. It becomes clear early on that Elizabeth will not survive. The film follows Matt and his daughters as they come to terms with her sudden death. Amidst his mourning, Matt learns from his eldest daughter, Alexandra, that Elizabeth was having an affair. The rest of the film follows Matt and his daughter’s search for his wife’s lover, including a Kaui vacation, to track him down. While this narrative does not laud Matt’s parenting skills, it suggests that there is no model or manual for good parenting and that everyone, including each of the family members, copes differently with grief, loss, and life.

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GLG Weekly Round-up

In gender, race, reproductive health, Uncategorized, Weekly Round-Up, Women's health on March 9, 2012 at 6:56 am

This week, we have a variety of good reads from around the web including, but not limited to, reactions to the stop Kony campaign, Tim Wise on race & white resentment, and an article on masculinity and The Hunger Games (go Peeta!). Have a great weekend!

Tim Wise on his new book and white resentment: http://www.truth-out.org/dear-white-america-letter-new-minority/1330718926

Arturo Garcia on the problems with Invisible Children’s Stop Kony campaign, at Racialicious: http://www.racialicious.com/2012/03/08/stopkony-activism-or-exploitation/#more-20984

Jessica Winter at Time Magazine and “Are women people?:” http://ideas.time.com/2012/03/07/subject-for-debate-are-women-people/

Two fun articles from Bitch Magazine … One on Cynthia Nixon and the politics of labels:
http://bitchmagazine.org/post/visibility-cynthia-nixon-and-the-politics-of-labels-bisexuality-feminism

And one on The Hunger Games and masculinity:
http://bitchmagazine.org/post/the-rebel-warrior-and-the-boy-with-the-bread-gale-peeta-and-masculinity-in-the-hunger-games

Lastly, a super-cool interview with Jennifer Egan about the days before she made it as a writer:
http://www.thedaysofyore.com/jennifer-egan/

Do What You Love: Bill Cunningham New York

In Uncategorized on February 28, 2012 at 6:48 am

My graduate school advisor had a lot of very good advice, true to her title. Most of it boiled down to a quote from philosopher and civil rights activist Howard Thurman that she’d hung on her office door:

Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.

That quote–and my advisor–kept running through my mind as I watched Bill Cunningham New York, a 2010 documentary on the 80-year-old New York Times on-the-street fashion photographer.

Style, and the people who have it, make Cunningham come alive. During a Paris awards ceremony at which he is slated to receive a prize, Cunningham wanders around snapping pictures. “I just think it’s so funny that you’re working at your own party,” a guest remarks. “My darling,” Cunningham says, “it’s not work, it’s pleasure.”

What fascinates the gentle, stubborn journalist is fashion alchemy: how the right combination of shoes and hats and scarves and coats can produce a look that’s at once unique and expressive of a larger cultural moment. As his fondness for Anna Piaggi of Italian Vogue makes clear, Cunningham is particularly delighted by people who aren’t afraid to stand out in a crowd. It’s telling that he calls Piaggi a “poet of clothes” and that he frequently describes the fashions he sees on the streets in terms of classical paintings and symphonies. In clothing, Cunningham sees beauty, art, democracy, history, travel, community, and self-expression. His gift is to show everyone else how to see those things too.

Watching the film, I kept taking mental notes on how Cunningham has located, and preserved, real joy in his work. Two of the key elements, I think, are his egalitarianism and humility. Not only does he protect those qualities in himself, he infuses them into his corners of realms famed for their elitism–New York society, the Times, and fashion.

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Under Her Wing: Fraught Female Mentorship in “Damages”

In gender, Uncategorized on January 21, 2012 at 7:15 am

Sarah Todd

Onscreen, female mentors are few and far between. As this article from Jezebel observed a few months ago, there are plenty of film and television examples of male mentors helping develop the talents of both men and women–Giles, Haymitch, Gandalf, Robin Williams as the over-involved psychologist in Good Will Hunting, Jack Donaghy, Ron Swanson, Coach Taylor, Mr. Schue, Obi-Wan Kanobi I guess (I’ve only seen Star Wars once and I fell asleep).

By contrast, I can’t think of any examples of a female character in charge of showing a younger male character the ropes. And while I can think of a few female characters who mentor other women, it’s probably no coincidence that the first two who spring to mind are at least a little evil. Read the rest of this entry »

Television, Class, and the American Consciousness: Downton Abbey

In Uncategorized on January 20, 2012 at 10:31 am

Sarah S.

I put off watching Downton Abbey because I knew I would get hooked as soon as I began. But I did put season one on my “instant” queue and knew the day would soon come. It has. Downton features a rather basic “upstairs, downstairs” premise and, aside from great acting and some unique characterizations, the plots of the first season break no new territory. Things get more interesting in the second season because they get more (soap) operatic with the advent of the Great War and its erosion of the stable worldview of the decades before.

Downton is a typical soap opera and a sweeping costume drama, and it’s decent in both modes. But the actors and the characters really keep the thing afloat. Amongst the standouts: Jim Carter as Mr. Carson, the butler, whose commitment to the reputation of Downton Abbey is silly and dignified in equal measure; Michelle Dockery as Lady Mary Crawley, the eldest daughter, who hides her tempestuous spirit in a cloak of cold disdain; Sophie McShera, the morally conflicted, much abused kitchen maid; and the ever-formidable Dame Maggie Smith essentially reviving her scene-stealing character from Gosford Park. As I recall hearing from one of the creators when the show first came out, these characters don’t know they’re living in history, just as we don’t. And the actors and writers do a marvelous job walking that tightrope. Read the rest of this entry »

A link worth reading: women’s clothing

In gender on January 18, 2012 at 4:45 pm

Chelsea H.

Been shopping lately?  Feeling cranky about what’s available out there?  Are you (like me) still trying to vault the awkward distance between the junior section and the “missus” or whatever the “young semi-professional adult who isn’t petite, doesn’t want to be frumpy or provocative, and can’t afford designer labels” section is called?

This article from cracked.com is a good read, I think, and addresses many of my cranky complaints.  I’m especially in agreement about #4: Arbitrary Clothing Sizes.  In pants alone, I wear a 10 in missus sizes from JC Penney’s, an 11 in juniors, a 6 at Ann Taylor, and at Old Navy, jeans advertised as the same size differ depending on the color.  What’s a girl to do?

Thoughts?  Similar issues?  Grievances to add?

How to be awesome like…Olivia Benson.

In gender on December 8, 2011 at 2:44 am

Melissa Sexton

So, I promised myself that I wasn’t going to write about anymore “bad-ass” chicks – I was going to try and branch out, embracing the lessons I taught myself in writing about Bella: women don’t have to be armed to be awesome.  I even made a good-faith effort and started writing about my favorite rom-com heroines, and how many of them dismantle stereotypes without a crossbow or combat boot in sight. But then I was watching Law and Order: Special Victims Unit, my favorite background show for busy work or mentally unplugging when I’ve become totally brain-dead. I’m a sucker for a good crime procedural. While I know the formula and can usually predict the outcome, I find something soothing in the repetition. But SVU remains my favorite of all the crime procedurals, and I know it’s because of the characters. There is a high energy connection between the chief, Captain Cragen (Dann Florek), his two primary detectives, Olivia Benson (Mariska Hargitay) and Elliot Stabler (Christopher Meloni), and the rest of the crew – including my favorites, the psychiatrist Dr. Huang (B.D. Wong) and the medical examiner Dr. Warner (Tamara Tunie). The show may be often unrealistic (if anywhere NEAR that many attacks occurred in holding cells and precinct offices, the police would stop being a viable association), but the relationships between the characters are incredibly realistic.  And Olivia Benson is a wonderful, complex, grown-up, messed-up, and admirable character that I love as I love few other primetime TV characters.

Beautiful eyes, but a gaze of steel.

So what is it that separates Olivia Benson from all the other sexy female cops out there?  I’ll tell you by suggesting how you can be as awesome as she is.

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How to Be Awesome Like… Tami Taylor

In Uncategorized on November 20, 2011 at 3:56 pm

Sarah Todd
Friday Night Lights was a rare and beautiful ensemble show, and it is difficult to pick favorites within it. Nonetheless, I have a favorite, and her name is Tami Frickin’ Taylor.

The reason Tami Taylor is my favorite is this: the woman does not give up. As a guidance counselor and high school principal, she doesn’t give up on the lost, angry, confused teens dealing with not only the ordinary trials and tribulations of adolescence but also with serious socioeconomic and familial issues over which they have no control. She doesn’t give up on her husband Coach Eric Taylor, who is incredibly kind and upstanding in his own right, and adores Tami as he should, but who can be a bit stubborn when he’s in the wrong. She doesn’t give up on her perceptive but sometimes bratty daughter Julie. And she doesn’t give up on fighting the local powers-that-be who prioritize football over academics, money over education, old-boys networks over actual merit, and white privilege over equal opportunity. Read the rest of this entry »

“Hart of Dixie”: Professional Women, the South, and Friendly Alligators

In gender on September 26, 2011 at 10:39 pm

Sarah Todd

Hart of Dixie has a few good things going for it. Rachel Bilson’s eye makeup looks amazing, and her wardrobe makes a strong case for formal shorts. Jason Street is in it! There’s a fun scene where Bilson’s character, Zoe, walks down a country road at night holding boxed wine in one hand and pouring herself drinks in a Dixie cup with the other: she’s a one-woman bar. Unfortunately, the pilot episode of Hart suggests that it is going to be a one-note show.

formal shorts.

The show’s premise is more or less Everwood crossed with Sweet Home Alabama–although sadly, it’s not nearly as funny or heartfelt as Everwood. Zoe, a career-minded, Chanel-loving future heart surgeon, is forced by circumstance to uproot herself from the Big Apple and work as a GP in Bluebell, Alabama.

Going by Zoe’s reactions to her new town, Bluebell might as well be Mars. Unfortunately, the same could be said of the show’s vision of Bluebell and the South as a whole. There are a few region-specific references to Katrina and the BP oil spill, but for the most part the Bluebell of the pilot is full of folksy, down-home, stuck-in-the-past charm. Southern belles waltz around the town square wearing Antebellum-era hoop dresses, the mayor has a pet alligator named Burt Reynolds, one character’s car horn plays “Dixieland,” and apparently nobody ever wears black or orders a latte. Even their HBO references (The Sopranos, Sex and the City) are outdated. These groan-worthy details aren’t just generic and highly improbable. They perpetuate stereotypes about a backwards-facing South that’s also the manic pixie dream girl of the U.S. imagination, delightfully quirky and at once in need of saving (in this case, by the big-city doctor who’s there to make a difference) and acting as an antidote for cynicism, jadedness, and other contemporary urban ills.

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How to Be Awesome Like… Leslie Knope

In Uncategorized on September 24, 2011 at 6:49 pm

Sarah Todd

This post is part of a new Girls Like Giants series, “How to Be Awesome Like…” in which we break down the steps necessary to become more like some of our favorite heroines. Whether it involves getting a sweet army jacket, brushing up on our archery skills, or mastering the art of French cooking, there are many ways to follow in the footsteps of these rockin’ role models. Got someone you’d like to celebrate? Email us at girlslikegiants@gmail.com. – ST

Previously: Phoebe Bronstein’s How to Be Awesome Like Jessica Fletcher.

Seasons two and three of Parks and Recreation are my ultimate TV comfort food. I like my comedies packed with silliness and warmth, and the show has both in spades. (Season one, by contrast–pre-show-makeover–is pretty depressing. If you’re new to the show and have similar tastes, maybe just skip ahead?)

Post-season one, however, Amy Poehler’s Leslie Knope is a huge part of what makes the show work. She’s zany and dorky and kind and loyal and incredibly hard-working, the kind of lady I can only aspire to be. In order to help myself get started in Knope-emulation, I put together the following list. (A future column may also feature another Parks and Rec character, April Ludgate, who is badass in an entirely different way.) And so:

How to Be Awesome Like Leslie Knope

•    Sleep never; have more energy than a bouncy ball after six espressos.
•    Hoard newspapers (lovably) so that your house looks like “a crazy person’s garage.”
•    Refer to bathrooms as “the whiz palace” when you’re feeling nervous.
•    Tell your best friend she is beautiful whenever you describe her, and especially when you are also about to say something she might not like.
•    Love waffles passionately.
•    Fight for what you believe in; never stand down.
•    When crashing boy’s clubs, be sure to announce—loudly and repeatedly—that that is what you are doing just so everyone’s clear. Read the rest of this entry »

I Spy a Mom: Motherhood and Femininity in “The Debt”

In gender on September 16, 2011 at 8:06 am

Sarah Todd

Secret agents are people too, as spy movies like to remind us. The gun-toting, building-leaping, parachute-plunging protagonists of espionage movies often have spouses, children, parents, friends, pets, and partners. They make scrambled eggs for breakfast (foreboding scrambled eggs), take their dogs for runs in the park, and drop their kids off at school. Even James Bond falls in love sometimes, for a while. These personal details remind audiences of our heroes’ humanity, and of what they have to lose.

There are three spies in The Debt—Mossad agents Rachel, David, and Stephan. But only Rachel, played by Jessica Chastain and Helen Mirren in her younger and older incarnations, serves as the film’s emotional anchor and moral compass. As a young agent, she’s incredibly courageous, but her expressive face reveals every moment of self-doubt, fear, fury, and sadness. As an older woman, she’s more reserved and composed, but no less central to the film’s exploration of the ethics of espionage. Her fellow agents are interesting and appealing—David a tragic, thoughtful figure, Stephan all swarthiness and ambition (Marton Csokas, what are you doing later?). But their primary functions are as angles in The Debt’s love triangle. The film’s story is told through Rachel’s eyes, and crucially her perspective is repeatedly characterized as a distinctly feminine one.

More specifically, the film distinguishes Rachel as a sexually desirable woman, mother, and daughter. Each of these roles relate both to her work as a spy and to her personal life. Read the rest of this entry »

Love and Work in “One Day”

In Uncategorized on September 1, 2011 at 11:38 am

Sarah Todd

(This post is an outgrowth of a conversation begun with the wonderful Jeni and Bethany—shout-out to you two!)

Do you love your work? Does love sometimes feel like work? Does work interfere with loving your life? The Anne Hathaway-Jim Sturgess film One Day prompts such questions, particularly if you attend a showing at a work-focused personal moment.

One Day is a love story, but because that story covers twenty years in the lives of Emma (Hathaway) and Dexter (Sturgess), the movie is also necessarily about their careers. The two meet on the day of their college graduation, and meet again most July 15ths thereafter. They’re best friends, with a current of mutual attraction that occasionally surges forth only to be clobbered back by fear or circumstance or plot demands. Emma is a sarcastic, self-deprecating writer whose mad bangs and owlish specs can’t hide her radiance. (Why oh why does dowdy in the movies equal Anne Hathaway with poofy hair? She’d be a knockout with Marge Simpson hair, no?) Dexter, by contrast, is a charismatic, wealthy, dashing ladies’ man. Things come easily to him, which is more of a problem than it first appears, because then what do you do when things start getting hard?

If you have seen any romantic movie ever, you can guess whether or not they eventually get together. Correct: they do not! They each marry elephants. No, that’s Water for Elephants. Maybe. I don’t actually know what Water for Elephants is about because I haven’t read it or seen the movie, because ever since I read this article about elephants I get really sad and worried whenever I think about them. Anyway, yes, love is in the stars here, but stars are really far away. The careers of Emma and Dexter, much like their romantic lives, follow a winding trajectory. Read the rest of this entry »

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