Reuters: Real women belong on a pedestal in New York’s Central Park

I have a piece at Reuters today, about the fact that, in Central Park, there are no statues celebrating women’s contributions to history – and the effort to fix that:

There are 50 statues in New York’s Central Park, one of the world’s most visited spots. Not one of them is of a woman who exists outside of fiction.

There are marble monuments to dozens of men, most of them real, but not a single statue commemorating the life or contributions of a real-life woman. Even the fictional female characters – Alice in Wonderland, Juliet Capulet and Mother Goose – were created by men.

Among the marble and bronze population of Central Park, you’ll find Shakespeare and Beethoven, Simón Bolívar and Alexander Hamilton. You’ll even find Balto, the hero sled dog who delivered diphtheria medicine to the town of Nome, Alaska, in 1925.

To be clear: you can find a statue of a real-life dog, but no statues of real-life women.

This is not simply a Central Park problem, nor is it a New York City problem. Across the United States, women are staggeringly underrepresented in our tangible and visible efforts to mark significant moments and people in American history. Nationwide, fewer than 8 percent  of the public outdoor statues commemorating individuals are of women. Of the 100 outstanding citizens memorialized in Statuary Hall in the Capitol Building in Washington, only nine are women.

Central Park, however, stands out above the rest. It sits at the center of the city that considers itself the center of the world and that attracts 40 million tourists every year. The absence of women is glaring and, frankly, embarrassing.

You can read the whole thing here.

The Hairpin: Amour et Turbulences

This week’s installment of The Hairpin Rom Com Club is about the French rom com Amour et Turbulences:

Amour et Turbulences is what film scholars such as Stanley Cavell call a “comedy of remarriage”: the central conflict is not whether the couple will get together, but whether they’ll get back together after falling apart. Sometimes, in a comedy of remarriage, one of the parties is already married to someone else (or basically married) and the plot is whether they’ll stay with their spouse or fall for someone else. And if you want to know more about comedies of remarriage: Stanley Cavell coined the term and literally wrote the book on them.

All rom-coms contain some element of reconciliation or temptation – the template is “boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back,” – but comedies of remarriage are a little more explicit about it, calling attention to the competition between old and new love. Lots of classic rom-coms are comedies of remarriage: His Girl Friday, Sleepless in Seattle, Bringing Up Baby, Adam’s Rib, and It Happened One Night, which I wrote about a few weeks ago. In His Girl Friday, for example, Cary Grant’s Walter makes the competition between himself and his ex-wife’s new fiancé, Bruce (played by serial nice boring guy Ralph Bellamy), very explicit, continually goading her about the boring suburban life that awaits her if she chooses Bruce instead of getting back with Walter. That comedies of remarriage became popular in the 1940s was no coincidence: divorce rates were rising, and with them, widespread cultural concern about the durability and relevance of the institution of marriage.

Against that backdrop, comedies of remarriage make the most sense; there was a spate of romantic comedies about divorced or separated couples reuniting and living happily ever after the second time around. Don’t worry,these movies seemed to say, this divorce thing isn’t going to totally change our culture and our understanding of gender. Whoops.

You can read the whole thing here.

Reuters: Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert liberal lions? The guest chair tells a different story

Last week at Reuters, I wrote about how the diversity – or lack thereof – among guests on The Daily Show and The Colbert Report is in conflict with Jon Stewart’s and Stephen Colbert’s reputations as liberal icons:

Appearing on Stewart or Colbert bestows credibility and respect on many of the people with whom the hosts choose to converse.

And yet when it comes to gender and race, their guest rosters more closely resemble a GOP national convention than they do the liberal vision of a diverse and equitable America. Of Stewart’s most recent 45 guests, 17 of them, or 38 percent, were women. This is closer to gender equity than many comedy and news shows manage, and it’s certainly a better showing than Colbert. But when you factor in race, Stewart’s numbers start to look very grim indeed. A resounding majority – 68 percent – of his guests were white, and of the very few African-American guests who appeared on his show, all were entertainers – the band Wu Tang Clan and the comedian Kevin Hart. Women of color fared similarly poorly on The Daily Show: Out of 45 guests, just three were women of color.

In Colbert Nation, the numbers were worse still: Of 45 guests, 73 percent were men, and 89 percent were white. And of the 12 women (12!) who appeared among Colbert’s last 45 guests, three of them shared a time slot. Of those 12 women, there was just one woman of color — District of Columbia Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton.

You can read the whole thing here.


The Hairpin: My Best Friend’s Wedding

This week at The Hairpin, I wrote about My Best Friend’s Wedding, as part of the ongoing Hairpin Rom Com Club series:

I have so many questions about this movie. First of all: Jules and Michael made a pledge that if they were still unmarried at 28, they would marry each other? That is the average age of first marriage for American men right now. I’m a woman, so I’m not great at maths, but I’m pretty sure “average” means that lots of people – lots! – get married well after 28. Because maybe this is just my unwed 26-year-old denial talking, but 28 is not that old. Did they make that pledge to each other while living in a Jane Austen novel, in which 28 was considered irredeemably over the hill? I have jokingly made pledges like that, but the deal is that we settle for each other when we’re forty-five, not TWENTY-EIGHT. Secondly: Jules and Michael have been best friends since they were in college (which was a decade ago because they are now 28 and therefore basically ready to check in to a nursing home), but he doesn’t tell her that he’s getting married until about 72 hours beforehand? There’s no handbook for how to be a best friend, but if there were, I’m pretty sure there’d be a chapter called Give Your Best Friend More Than Three Days’ Notice If You Decide To Get Hitched On The Other Side Of The Country. Sure is lucky that Jules has a rom com job, and not a real job, so she can just hop on a plane at a moment’s notice for some dress fittings and hilarious highjinks (a rom com job is one in which you do almost no work but still make a salary that allows you to live an upper middle class lifestyle and go to all sorts of fancy work events where men have the opportunity to stage grand gestures in order to win your love. See also: magazine journalist, party planner. Rom com jobs are not equal opportunity employers, as only women characters seem to have them).

You can read the whole thing here.

Reuters: Why the contestants on Dating Naked are (kind of) just like us

I have a piece at Reuters today, on reality shows about looking for love, hatewatching, and horseback riding in the nude:

If naked horseback riding strikes you as a bad idea, then Dating Naked is not the reality show for you.

The show, which debuted last month, is filmed on a Caribbean island, and it’s much like any other reality dating show, except that contestants show up for their dates — which involve island-y activities like spearfishing, zip lining, paddle boarding, and yes, horseback riding — totally naked, and stay that way for the duration of the date. Suffice it to say, the folks responsible for pixelating the footage for this show have their hands full.

Dating Naked is one of several reality shows in which nudity is part of the central premise. Recently, we’ve also seen the debut of Buying Naked (TLC), about a real estate agent who caters to a nudist clientele; Naked and Afraid (Discovery Channel), in which strangers are left naked in a deserted location and must fend for themselves in the wilderness, is currently in its third season. If you hold to the journalism adage that three makes a trend, then naked reality shows are officially a hot new trend (or, in the case of the Naked and Afraid contestants who spent three weeks in the Yungas cloud forest of Argentina, a cold one).

What is striking about these shows, however, is how quickly nudity becomes the least remarkable element. In Naked and Afraid, building a shelter and obtaining food quickly become top priorities for many contestants, and being naked while doing so is an uncomfortable inconvenience, but not a central concern. Similarly, the contestants in Dating Naked say that by the time they’re stripping down for their third naked date, they’re getting comfortable with the idea of meeting a purported complete stranger in the buff. Since the discomfort, awkwardness, and innuendo that, uh, arise, from the nudity are central to the appeal of the show, their dissipation reveals Dating Naked for what it is: Yet another formulaic reality dating show, just as heavily edited and booze-soaked as any other member of the genre. Once the contestants get comfortable, the show loses much of its appeal.

You can read the whole thing here.

Reuters: John Oliver, the insider-outsider perspective, and jokes that punch up

I’m at Reuters again this week, writing about John Oliver’s new show Last Week Tonight, about how to make humour out of dark and dull topics, and about why a man with a thick Birmingham accent is so good at American political satire:

Oliver’s addition to the news-comedy landscape demonstrates the value of a half-American’s perspective on American politics and culture. He was born and grew up in Britain, moved to the United States as an adult, and has a strong Birmingham accent. He has been living here for almost a decade, is now married to an American, and has become a citizen. He is at once an outsider and an insider, a powerful position from which to critique and mock the United States.

At times, Oliver is explicit about his outsider status, particularly when he is addressing those subjects that are especially hard to joke about. In a May segment about the death penalty, Oliver noted that, as a Briton, “I come to this as a bit of an outsider. Britain does not have the capital punishment, so in a way, I really don’t know what I’m talking about.”

“But,” he continued, “in another way, I really do know what I’m talking about.” He then proceeded to give a brief overview of the lurid and grotesque history of British execution methods — “we boiled people, and in the grand tradition of British cuisine, if anything, we over-boiled them” — and joked about how British people respond when asked if they want to reinstate the death penalty, which was abolished there in 1965. It was, quite literally, gallows humor. It also demonstrated Oliver’s ability to joke about grim topics and situations that no one wants to talk about, in a way that does not detract from their gravity or strip the people involved of their humanity.

You can read the whole thing here.

Reuters: What When Harry Met Sally… got right – and wrong

At Reuters last week, I wrote about why When Harry Met Sally… is as relevant in 2014 as it was when it was released 25 years ago:

When Harry Met Sally… concludes that friendship between men and women is possible but ultimately unsustainable. Sooner or later, the friendship will involve sex and, in Harry and Sally’s case, love. Like so many other Hollywood romantic comedies, the movie posits that friendship between men and women is a holding pattern en route to the most desirable kind of relationship they can have. Harry and Sally’s friendship is based on respect and honesty, and it’s mutually beneficial; these are two people who care about and for each other. And yet, that’s not enough for them — or for the audience.

The notion of friendship as a consolation prize is the basis for the “friendzone,” a term that did not exist in 1989 but that would have made complete sense to a man like Harry. The friendzone is, in 2014 thinking, the place to which women cruelly relegate men in whom they have no sexual or romantic interest, with whom they want to be “just” friends. It is a hellish place, cultural wisdom tells us, a purgatory devoid of sex where men are forced to enjoy women’s affection, support and admiration without any coitus whatsoever. To be friendzoned is to be stuck at the halfway house with no hope of reaching your desired destinations: Sexburg and Boyfriendville.

You can read the whole thing here.