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Girl Power

Movies and TV

Makers

Gloria Steinem and Dorothy Pitman Hughes founded Ms. Magazine in 1971 and are just a few of the women who've made America what it is today

Gloria Steinem and Dorothy Pitman Hughes founded Ms. Magazine in 1971 and are just a few of the women who’ve made America what it is today

Have you seen this fascinating documentary yet? It’s a three-part series titled “Makers: Women Who Make America” and, even though I first discovered it this past winter, I’ve found myself thinking about the amazing women it introduced me to a lot lately. When I first watched the documentary I was amazed (and admittedly a little embarrassed) by some of the things I never knew about the women’s movement in the United States, and the series left me feeling truly inspired to make the world better — to continue the work of the women who have given me the chances I have now, and to improve the chances for women and other minorities of future generations. PBS’s editing keeps the pace of the documentary energetic, entertaining, and often humorous, and Meryl Streep’s narration lends the piece the kind of comforting, smooth patter that allows you to forget you’re actually learning a ton while watching.

I highly recommend the documentary to anyone who wants to feel inspired or uplifted by vivid, personal stories, and maybe even learn something new about history along the way. You can watch all three parts of the series for free on the Makers website. Do let me know what you think once you’ve watched it…Are there any other books or movies about the women’s movement that have been meaningful to you? I’d love to hear from you. Leave a comment.

Image from Pop Revolver via Pinterest.

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Movies and TV

New Girls On The Block

Zooey Deschanel and the cast of "New Girl" (2011), courtesy of Fox

Roughly half of all pilots for this fall’s new TV lineup have aired by now, and although I have neither a DVR nor any other fancy cable device, I’ve been doing my darndest to catch these episodes the old-fashioned way – when they air. I became all that much more adamant about braving this archaic means of TV viewing when I realized these new shows have quite the girl-power factor. That’s right, what seems like an unusual number of shows are being spearheaded by female leads this fall, and an aspiring-TV-writer of a gal like me has simply got to show her support, right? Here’s my rundown of some of the new girls on the block:

  • “New Girl” (Fox) – This sitcom starring Zooey Daschanel has real potential. It’s about a quirky teacher who spontaneously bursts out into song, watches “Dirty Dancing” on a loop, and has just moved in with three male roommates in the wake of an unfortunate yet hilarious breakup. The pilot features some sloppy scene transitions, but I think it does an exceptional job of introducing its cast of vivid characters along with its style of humor over the course of just 23 minutes. Given how vital distinct and varied characters are to the success of a comedy show, this is one to watch now and in the future.
  • “Revenge” (ABC) – This pilot jumps around in time, introducing us to the story of a twenty-something girl who sets out to reap revenge on the Long Island elites that had her father wrongly convicted and jailed in her childhood. The first glimpse of this show is good, but not exceptional; in other words, I think the writers could have done a better job of building suspense and leaving the audience hanging with questions, but I’m willing to give the series a chance to blossom. I am hopeful that the show will capitalize on Madeline Stowe, who plays the evil queen of the Hamptons, and I would love to see the show create some compelling and dramatic relationships for her the way “Damages” has for Glenn Close.
  • “The Secret Circle” (CW) – If you’ve ever been a fan of “Charmed” or “The Vampire Diaries,” you’ll want to give this show a shot. It is about a teenage girl who moves in with her grandmother after her mom dies in a mysterious accident. This unusual death turns out the be just the beginning, because she soon learns she and several of her new classmates are witches. I’m still unconvinced about whether this will amount to more than your average teen show, but my love of supernatural TV and Thomas Dekker (one of its stars) will inspire me to watch a couple more episodes.
  • “Ringer” (CW) – I really want to like this show, which stars Sarah Michelle Gellar (of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”) as a down-and-out girl who assumes the identity of her identical twin in an attempt to escape her own troubled life. The show does a lot wrong, including a barrage of redundant shots and some of the worst green-screen scenes in the history of green screens and fake yachts, but it does have some good cliffhangers. Since I’m a huge fan of serialized TV (hello, my darling “Pretty Little Liars”), I’m hoping this show will embrace its status as a nighttime soap opera and boast some juicier cliffhangers and ridiculous plot lines than its first two episodes offered up.

Psst: One show I’ve been curious to see yet somehow missed is “2 Broke Girls” (CBS). You can apparently view the pilot online via the CBS website, but I’m visiting family in Canada right now, so I’ll have to wait until next week when I’m in an ‘approved region’ to watch the show. Have any of you seen the pilot yet? What did you think? Are there any other new shows out there that have surprised you? Any shows you’re still eagerly awaiting? Leave a comment.

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Movies and TV

Ballsy Bridesmaids

Kristen Wiig stars with a bold bunch of ladies in "Bridesmaids" (2011), courtesy of Universal Pictures

If you go see one movie in the theaters this weekend, make it “Bridesmaids.” Judging by the title, you’d expect it to reek of chiffon, cake tastings and clusters of pink things male viewers could care less about, but it doesn’t. In fact, I’ve never felt so confident recommending any other seemingly chick-themed film to men, and here’s why…It’s damn funny and it’s real. This is to say, the movie concocts uproariously hilarious situations out of issues we all have to deal with in our lives; such as, losing jobs, keeping up with friends’ spending habits, dodging eviction notices and searching for love. There are a couple bridal showers and a wedding thrown into the mix, but even these scenes focus on deep issues of friendship and loyalty to the point that you forget their settings. Oh, and did I mention that the film features a hearty dose of screwball comedy and a marathon of toilet humor? (It’s from the producer of “Superbad,” “Knocked Up” and “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” after all, so how could it not showcase these kinds of laughs?)

Not only is this film entertaining, but I also think it’s daring. This is because, in case you haven’t noticed, we live in a time when Hollywood simply isn’t making films with female protagonists anymore. (Sure, there’s the “Sex and the City” franchise and several romantic comedies every summer, but I’m talking about flicks with actual women protagonists – not just perfume and hair-dye spokespeople who pass themselves off as movie stars.) For this reason, I believe Kristen Wiig has managed to write and star in a film that could shape the future for women in Movie Town. In addition, I think “Bridesmaids” is able to transcend the gender divide associated with female-driven comedies because of the genuine way it tackles issues of self-worth, friendship and the need to solve your own problems sans Prince/Princess Charming. So, brace yourself for an opening sex scene and some of the grossest toilet humor on record, but by all means go see this film. We owe it to our society (of both males and females) to depict women in movies who do more than lust after shoes and emotionally unavailable men, so you’ll be doing our world a good deed while letting this flick entertain you this weekend. Enjoy!

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Sweet Nothings

Maternal Instincts

My mother swinging me around, giving me a unique view of the world at an early age

Although I’m not a big fan of Mother’s Day and all its Hallmark-Crown glory, I couldn’t help thinking of my own mom whenever I saw the maternal-themed balloons, bouquets and jewelry billboards this weekend. She is not the kind of lady who covets jewels, new clothes or flowers, though, and this means all the gaudy decorations of the world only further remind me of what she’s taught me. Since giving birth, my mother has been a master of making something from nothing – she sewed almost all of my clothing herself, made popsicles, bread and every imaginable other food item from scratch, and even crafted homemade Care Bears and Cabbage Patch dolls for me and my sisters. She was able to camouflage any tight times by turning cash-saving projects into adventures, and yet one thing she never camouflaged was herself and her flaws. My mom taught me that being a woman isn’t just about being pretty and applying lipstick, and she showed me this by example – I don’t think I ever saw her wear makeup, wrinkle creams or something that remotely resembled control-top pantyhose. Instead, she painted her face to play make believe, let us dress her in our own zany designs, and sacrificed beauty rest to drive me to late-night theater rehearsals.

In short, I am the creative, resourceful person I am today because she is my mother. If I had the craft supplies on hand, I would make flowers out of origami paper and send them to her and every other mom out there who daringly teaches their daughters to be more than what they see in makeup ads and on the covers of magazines. Thank you, Momma, for teaching me to dream and create.

Just look at this stylin' lady, who I know for a fact wasn't even wearing makeup in this photo - not a bad role model to have as a young girl, eh?

My mom with a painted-on clown's nose and a cake she expertly decorated like a clown's face

Psst: Speaking of women who dare to be different, my friend L. M. Harter just launched a fundraising campaign for her new short film. The film, “Birth Mother,” is her directorial debut and is a girl-powered, action-packed horror movie unlike any other. L. is also directing my very own short film a few weekends from now, so by showing support for her film you’ll directly be supporting me. I encourage you to visit her fundraising site to check out her fun movie trailer and contribute to the campaign in any way possible.

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Art and Architecture, Sweet Nothings

Oh Baby

Gisele Bundchen and son Benjamin Rein, photographed by Patrick Demarchelier for Vogue April 2011

Images of women and infants have permeated human culture since the beginning time – from cave drawings, to the Madonna and Child, to photos of the Material Girl and her very own brood. These images have whispered subliminal messages to me my whole life, but none quite so clear as the recent photos of Gisele Bundchen and her newborn son in Vogue Magazine. These photos basically scream at me (and any other girl who views them for that matter), “Motherhood is sexy, and you are not a real, sensual or whole woman unless your womb bears forth babies.” Perhaps I’m being a tad dramatic and this isn’t exactly the message Vogue was trying to convey, but why would they have renowned fashion photographer, Patrick Demarchelier, capture Gisele bra-less and caressing her own pregnant belly (and post-baby-skinny riding a horse on the beach with a bare midriff) if they weren’t trying to sexify motherhood? Not only does Vogue’s sexification of Gisele and Child stir up an array of emotions and primal urges in me, but it makes my practical side ask this simple question: are airbrushed glimpses of motherhood really what our society needs right now?

This is to say, I shudder imagining what a 16-year-old girl in the Bible Belt thinks when she sees this imagery. After all, I’m someone with far more years and education behind her than this hypothetical girl, and I have a hard enough time as it is resisting the urge to go get myself saddled up with a baby like it’s this season’s hottest handbag. And, to be honest, if I didn’t have as much sex ed and career planning under my belt as I do, I probably would have caved to these urges long ago. It takes a gal with a rare brand of self confidence not to cave, what with news stories about the Octomom, magazine spreads of Brangelina’s idyllic baby bunch, and footage of Playboy Bunnies popping out kiddos left and right. When inundated with these mama reels, I have to remind myself of two things: firstly, I tell myself that motherhood is not about babies-come-handbags, but, rather, it is about a selfless commitment to raising a human being. Secondly, I remind myself that motherhood is often not as conventionally beautiful as magazines depict it to be: sure, it is a beautiful bond and living miracle, but motherhood is also stretch marks, sleepless nights, working two jobs, eating fish sticks and string cheese five nights in a row, and skipping “Grey’s Anatomy” in favor of cartoons your child wails about if they aren’t permanently on the TV screen. That’s right, although I harbor no ill will toward Gisele as a person, I must say that her image above is neither what it looks like to be a mother nor what it looks like to be a woman; it’s merely what it looks like to be a supermodel holding a baby.

As if this idealized imagery of motherhood doesn’t put enough pressure on me and 16-year-old girls everywhere, we must also contend with the fact that our society places women into three categories: women who are mothers, women who desperately want to be mothers, and women who are heartless bitches. These categories make it hard for sensitive, heart-possessing ladies such as myself to even think about discussing our choices not to have children in public. But, here goes; I’ll say it…I am someone who loves children and dearly wants to raise them, but there are other things I want more in my life right now. This means I’ve prioritized and had many deeply personal discussions with my spouse, through which we’ve decided we aren’t having kids any time soon. Much of society would label me a bitch and a baby hater for this kind of prioritization, and these misnomers are exactly why I feel compelled to write this post today; I realize that my voice – of a woman who loves babies, children and mothers, yet loves her career more – is a voice that should be heard. There needs to be a voice somewhere in this world that discusses the honest priorities that go into family planning, without bashing parenthood or glamorizing it, and – if only for the sake of one 16-year-old girl laying eyes on this – today mine is that voice.

I realize this is headier than what I usually write about and it may be a topic some of my readers are not interested in at all. So, to those uninterested folk, I promise that posts like this will be sporadic and unobtrusive in the future. This is simply something I had to get out, and I thank you for understanding. Please don’t hesitate to forward this article to any women or parents you think might enjoy it, and, as always, do let me know your own thoughts on the subject of motherhood and media…Would you like to hear more of what this little gal’s voice has to say about career/family priorities? Are there any specific topics along these lines you wish to discuss in more depth? I look forward to hearing from you and send you sincerest thanks for being such a meaningful part of my day.

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Movies and TV

Girl Power and Popcorn

Rosie O'Donnell and Meg Ryan indulging in popcorn and old movies in "Sleepless in Seattle" (1993), courtesy of TriStar Pictures; mind you, this flick doesn't make my list of girl-power classics

Do you ever need help psyching yourself up to conquer the world or just make it through the workday? I know I sure do, and this is one of those weeks when I’d really love to feel as though my life is set to an upbeat soundtrack not to mention feel my to-do lists are capable of being tackled in montage form. Although I have nary a spare second (between plotting a cross-country move, planning a marriage and searching for jobs), my psyche is demanding that I carve out a few hours to indulge in empowering, Motown-pulsing movies tonight. Making the time almost seems like the easy part, however, because very few films of this ilk are actually geared toward my demographic (a.k.a., that pesky 49.76% of the population that is female). While there are thousands of go-get-’em-tiger movies for men (such as, every single “Rocky,” sports movie or war flick), it’s hard to find films about women that get the “you can do it” attitude just right. The few movies lead by females often focus too heavily on the romantic stories or don’t pay love interests any attention at all. I used to think the latter was what it took to make a good girl-power movie, but I’ve since changed my mind; negotiating the waters of sexual politics is key to any female’s coming of age, and learning to love yourself with or without a man is a crucial part of becoming a woman. With this in mind, here are my top movie picks for when you want a little girl power in your life.

  • “Blue Crush” (2002) – If you think this surfing flick is just an excuse to watch girls in bikinis, you’re wrong. It follows a young woman struggling to single-handedly raise her younger sister, win one of the world’s biggest surf competitions and hold down a day job. She has to deal with tricky issues of self-doubt and the love/work balance, and we get the added bonus of unique insights into the sport of surfing while she’s at it.
  • “Legally Blonde” (2001) – Reese Witherspoon made the character of Elle Woods iconic for her ditzy air and fashion knowledge, but when you really watch this film you see it isn’t about hair dye and the color pink at all…It’s about a girl who follows a man to Harvard Law and finds she’s got a whole lot more passion for justice than she does for him.
  • “A League of Their Own” (1992) – I had to put this one on my list because it’s not only directed by a woman, but it features a star-packed cast of the same gender. Centering on a women’s baseball league in the 1940s, this flick is worth re-watching whenever you want to see some examples of just how strong women can be both physically and mentally.
  • “Bend It Like Beckham” (2002) – Here’s another female-driven sports movie, which unlike “A League of Their Own” is set in near-present day and focuses on a young woman’s struggle to balance her desire to become a professional soccer player with her Indian parent’s traditional expectations. This story of female friendship and athleticism transcends time, ethnicities and cultures, making it a must see.
  • “The Devil Wears Prada” (2006) – Despite the fact that it is set in the fashion world, this flick is just brimming with powerful women: I mean, need I say more than Meryl Streep, Emily Blunt and Anne Hathaway? To top this all off, it is impeccably edited and has a great soundtrack, which I think accounts for the fact that I’ve watched it 25 times and counting.
  • “Mamma Mia!” (2008) – This movie is all kinds of wrong and fabulous at the same time. First off, it’s a musical, so there’s that…But, when it comes down to it this flick is about a girl taking her life into her own hands on the eve of her wedding. I don’t think I need to tell you much more, however, because how can you not feel empowered while listening to Abba songs?
  • “Akeelah and the Bee” (2006) – As you watch this inner-city girl train for the National Spelling Bee, you’ll fall in love with her and get the feeling that anything is possible. Cap this off with great performances from Laurence Fishburne and newcomer Keke Palmer, and you just might get the sensation that your vocabulary is i-m-p-r-o-v-i-n-g.
  • “Center Stage” (2000) – Centered on an underdog overcoming the odds and carving out a place for herself in the world of professional dance, this flick is my sleeper favorite for whenever I need an empowering boost. Although the main character may seem too wide-eyed and lovesick for some, I think she embodies the female quest for professional fulfillment, romance and independence perfectly. For more about this flick, see this rundown of my favorite dance movies.

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