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Stop buying gender stereotypes

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Valentine’s Day, the $20 billion investment Americans make in romance each Feb. 14, is beginning to acquire a sharper edge.

That’s because it is now also being called V-Day, a movement spawned by Eve Ensler, whose episodic play, “The Vagina Monologues” invited women (and men) to re-examine the feminine experience and discover ways to gain empowerment and end violence against women.

V-Day, in turn, has birthed 1 Billion Rising, a global campaign calling attention to the 1 billion women who will be victims of rape or violence during their lifetimes, a statistic of staggering dimension.

Last year, on Valentine’s Day (aka V-Day), an estimated billion women and men participated in activities in 207 countries calling attention to violence against women. The movement wasn’t very visible in Sonoma last Friday, but the issue itself got fresh attention when Jennifer Siebel Newsom appeared at the Sebastiani Theatre Feb. 3 (see the page 1 story) to talk about her film, “Miss Representation,” and her work with The Representation Project, to “rewrite the story” on both women and men.

Siebel Newsom appeared as the inaugural voice in a new speaker series launched by the Mentoring Alliance, and she drove home a number of points that reverberated around the re-envisioned version of Valentine’s day.

If you’re a man, of course, you can only approach this issue with a certain humility. There remains in almost every culture – very much including ours – a pervasive sense of patrimony to which, it seems safe to say, most men are consciously or unconsciously, passively or proactively, subject.

One result is male domination of media and the subsequent objectification of women in advertising and programming. Although women now make up slightly more than half of local TV news anchors, they fill only 28 percent of local news director positions, and just 16 percent of general managers at local TV stations. More than 75 percent of the hosts on cable news programs are men, as are 67 percent of their guests.

And on daily newspapers, roughly two-thirds of reporters and editors are male. (Full disclosure: The Index-Tribune has a six-person editorial staff, of which two are women.)

Spin these statistics into a very different context and you discover the stunning fact that, in 2009, about 93 percent of inmates in U.S. prisons were male.

Siebel Newsom’s first film, “Miss Representation,” drew attention to the way women are represented (and misrepresented) in media, leading girls to see themselves as objects. She is now in production on a second film exploring the other side of the equation. Titled, “The Mask You Live In,” the new film explores the ways in which boys are led to believe that strength and power require domination.

Siebel Newsom has addressed these challenging cultural currents with a nonprofit organization called The Representation Project with a mission to use film and other media to end gender stereotypes.

One part of that effort is the “Not Buying It” campaign, which invites citizens to upload offensive media images to Twitter and send them directly to offending companies with the message, “I’m not buying it.”

We salute that strategy and encourage its use. The “Not Buying It” app can be downloaded at therepresenationproject.org.

  • The Village Idiot

    ~ One part of that effort is the “Not Buying It” campaign, which invites citizens to upload offensive media images to Twitter and send them directly to offending companies with the message, “I’m not buying it.” ~

    In the spirit of uploading offensive media images and sending them directly to offending companies: A truly sensitive and aware newspaper would engage in more than mere full disclosure. It would acknowledge, and be ashamed, that in a community chock full of highly-educated, capable and accomplished 21st century women, it has only two – two – women on its editorial board.

    This isn’t quaint historical 19th century Sonoma anymore, where women kept house, raised kids and slopped the pigs while The Boys did important stuff, like get drunk and kill Indians. In a country where most college students and graduates are now women and women comprise more than 50% of the population, the contribution and opinions of women should dominate the board; the age of tokenism is long overdue for burial.

    If the country has learned nothing else in two+ centuries it is that denying itself the contribution and perspective of women dooms it to more male-caused strife, bluster and suffering. Despite its technical achievements, the nation has the largest prison population in the world, a mediocre education system and still no healthcare system worthy of the name. But we have a military larger than the next 13 countries in the world combined, neighborhoods where more people die from gun violence than in Iraq, and militarized police forces just as likely to kill an annoying homeless person or an innocent kid as the bad guys. Would any of this be allowed to persist if women had more influence in our communities? Few think so.

    Perhaps its time for a female editor. If women were in control at the Incest Tribune, there would be less keystrokes wasted on coverage of adolescent speedway racing and more focus on the sad state of our schools; more reporting on the problem of homelessness for people in our Valley than amenities lavished on wealthy tourists at the Sonoma Mission Inn and Spa; more in-depth looks at the struggles of low-wage wine-industry workers and our Latino population rather than the fantasy lifestyles of the 1% who live life between the pages of Sonoma Magazine; fewer paens to the Romance and Joys of Wine and more concern with alcohol-fueled domestic violence; less shameless self-congratulatory Chamber of Commerce boosterism and more time spent looking in the mirror. Like women do.

    • Chris Scott

      Sophamoric.

  • Dee Test

    There are “gender stereotypes”. But there is also “gender denial”…..which is an underlying agenda for some radical elements within the LGBT community and other “progressive” factions. For those of us who have raised children and have witnessed, first hand, the reality of gender differentiation…..there can be no honest “gender denial”. We can not force our girls to be more masculine, and we can not force our boys to be more feminine, etc. There are some preordained gender-associated characteristics that are biologically controlled…..and all the denial in the world will not change them.

    • The Village Idiot

      Interesting. I’ve raised children. Other than the reproductive processes, perhaps you could supply a list of the “gender-associated characteristics” you think are biologically controlled and which can be learned, taught or allowed if someone wants to learn or teach or allow them?

      Driving a car? Raising kids? Ruling a country? Running (or ruining) a company? The fascination with guns? There are doubtless many straight and LGBT parents and “progressive factions” eager to know, so they can tell their children what they can and cannot do when they grow up. After all, we want them to be raised “right,” don’t we?

      • Dee Test

        Re: list of gender associated characteristics.
        The number one item on the list: the brain. The fundamental differences of male and female brains is very well characterized and very well studied. I would suggest that those significant brain differences are primarily related to all those other gender associated characteristics that parents observe. (ie- how children play, how children speak, how children relate to each other, etc.) Its about nature, not nurture.

  • Phineas Worthington

    I find it interesting how when a man kills his own child we rightly condemn him, but when a woman kills all four of her children by drowning them in the Bay we feel sorry for her because she is mentally ill.

    I also find it interesting that FBI domestic violence stats show that men and women are equal perpetrators of violence in relationships, though women are still viewed with sympathy even when they hurt others.

    I myself was physically attacked by a female family member years ago. It was witnessed by another family member who said nothing in my defense. My family’s response was to demand I apologize to the woman who attacked me. When I did not, I was ostracized permanently.

    We need more balance in how we judge men and women. Women are not automatic victims of men in all cases as the vagina monologues would have us believe.

  • Jeanne Falla

    This piece seems to depict all men as ‘oppressors’ of women. To view inequality strictly thru the lens of gender and not also class and race does a grave disservice to the 99% of men, particularly minority and working-class white males, who have seen their wages stagnate and decline over the last 40 years. If you insist on viewing inequality solely along gender lines, please also note that men are less likely to graduate from college than women, make less money than women in some professions and are more likely to end up in jail or homeless. In the name of fair gender reporting, please acknowledge the issues which impact men in the schools, workplace, family court system and the home are just as important as the issues which impact women. As a woman I refuse to let a movement that has enabled me to own property in my name be used a club in the wrong hands to pit my rights against those of men. This is unconscionable.