Category Archives: Women Matter

Women Matter: Modern Family and Parenthood Tackle (Non)Working Moms

Recently, two very different shows about families – Modern Family and Parenthood – addressed the difficult choices many mothers make when it comes to work and family.

In Modern Family, Claire (Julie Bowen) makes a catch-up date with her old friend, co-worker and business rival Valerie (Minnie Driver).  Claire left her fast track to executive-dom behind after she met Phil and became a homemaker, keeping together a loving yet typically insane household of three kids.  Valerie is single, maintains lovers on different continents and gets news that she’s been promoted and will be moving to Paris while at lunch with Claire.

At first, Claire thinks Valerie must envy her stability but then realizes that she actually pities her.   In her effort to one-up Valerie’s promotion, she invites her over to see her awesome family-life in action.  Instead, Valerie witnesses a house in disarray – kids barely dressed holding liquor bottles, a husband stuck in a porta-potty and bragging about having “taken care of business,” and a rat on the loose.  Valerie high tails it out of suburbia, and Claire gets over her initial embarrassment and anger in a sweet, “Gotta love ‘em” dinner time moment.

Parenthood addresses possibly opting back in.  Kristina’s (Monica Potter) former boss is about to announce her candidacy for Lieutenant Governor and wants her to come to Sacramento to help with her speeches, just like “old times.”  The stay-at-home mom’s initial reaction is to say no – life lately has been intense with her son’s Asperger’s diagnosis and her teenage daughter buying sexy Victoria’s Secret bras.  Her husband Adam (Peter Krause) encourages her and the clearly excited Kristina says yes to a three day stint.

Once there, she feels out of place amongst the 20 something campaign staffers sitting in front of laptops, calling each other “dude” and talking about tweets.  But, her moment of triumph occurs at about 25 minutes into the 43 minute episode during a pitch for an important endorsement.  She uses – gasp – a personal connection, a sense of history and a carefully placed “dude” to lock it in.

With that success comes the offer of a full time job and one of the better pieces of writing the show has seen.  Kristina explains to Adam:  “Honestly, while I was there, I felt so alive…It was like I was being seen for the first time in so long.”  And, Adam, perfect husband that he is, soaks it all in and starts making plans about how they can adjust to become a dual working parent household.  But the plans are too much, and the pull toward family even more, and Kristina decides against taking the job.

I’m not a wife or a mother, but I’m surrounded by women everyday making similar choices and being torn in similar ways.  And I can’t say that I haven’t thought about what being a mom would mean for my personal identity and level of fulfillment, and what working full time would mean for my time (or lack of time) with my child.

I was recently at a More magazine lunch about happiness in a post women’s lib world and when one older high-powered executive asked the younger feminists what they are fighting for, temperatures rose.  Of course, there is still a lot to fight for.  Women make significantly less than men, are severely underrepresented in positions of power and our reproductive rights are constantly at jeopardy – not to mention the horrible abuses that women are subjected to worldwide, from being forced to become child brides to being the victims of the sex trade (see Nicholas Kristof’s “Half the Sky”).

But one issue that the different generations agreed should be a major one to rally around is making life easier for working moms.  There’s a new book by Brooklyn-based mom Sharon Lerner called “The War on Moms: On Life in a Family-Unfriendly Nation,” in which she argues that the U.S. federal government needs to have better systems in place to support moms, including mandated paid maternity leave (it’s alarming to hear that only 42% of moms take off 12 weeks off after giving birth), a public daycare system and solid flex work options.

I’m going to keep tabs on the White House Council on Women and Girls as they tackle these and other policies that’ll help create that “21st century workplace to meet the changing needs of the 21st century workforce.”  They recently hosted a Forum on Workplace Flexibility that seemed to kick things off.

In the meantime, let’s thanks mom this Mother’s Day for her hard work, whether it’s in or out of the home.

Posted by: Mariela

The Weight of Sotomayor

Born in the Bronx to recently transplanted Puerto Rican parents, Sonia Sotomayor grew up in a housing project and, as the most recent addition to the bench of the Supreme Court, encompasses the true American dream.  So, who better to throw the first pitch of the 2009 Yankees season (in the new Yankees stadium in the Bronx, no less)? Could this have been a premonition that the Yankees would win the World Series this year?

But, the most pressing point about Hon. Sonia Sotomayor is how she will rule in upcoming Supreme Court cases.  With any judicial appointee the question becomes how will this person affect the “balance of the court,” i.e. will he/she tend to have liberal or conservative leanings?  Will he/she be an activist judge who assumes the role of shaping legal policy or will he/she apply the law evenhandedly regardless of politics?

To answer this question we have to look at Sotomayor’s own politics and experiences as well as the Justice whom Sotomayor replaced, in this case Justice Souter.  Certainly Sotomayor’s race and socioeconomic background have played a pivotal role in forming how she applies the law and what kinds of cases she is sympathetic to.  However, she also worked as a prosecutor in New York for five years and, while not overzealous, she nonetheless may have a more staunch view on criminal cases.  As for Justice Souter, he typically sided with the pack of more liberal leaning Justices on the Court, but he did not sit on the far- reaching liberal end of the spectrum (Justice Ginsburg, for example, has berated the Court when they have made particularly conservative opinions).  For example, in his last opinion, Ricci v. DeStefano, Souter joined a dissent that agreed with minority firefighters that they were being discriminated against by their employer.  So, my guess is that Sotomayor will rule more liberally on social issues, more conservatively on criminal ones and, in replacing Souter, the overall balance of the court will not likely shift much, but may become stauncher on criminal procedure cases.  But it will also be interesting to see how, as the first Latina/o appointee, Sotomayor’s personal and professional nuances will influence the overall dynamic of the bench.

Currently, the Supreme Court is hearing oral arguments for a criminal case out of Florida where the issue is whether a juvenile can be sentenced to life in prison for a non-homicide crime.  The defendant is African American and was thirteen at the time of the crime — defense is arguing that there was racism at the trial and that the defendant is innocent.  I am anxious to see how Sotomayor and the rest of the court come out on this case and the many others on the 2009/2010 docket, including cases addressing the death penalty, animal cruelty and gun control.

Posted by: Jenni

Will the Real Women of the Year Please Stand Up?

It could have been Sonia Sotomayor, who went from a Bronx housing project all the way to become the first Hispanic Supreme Court Justice and only the third woman Justice ever.  She kept her cool under ridiculous charges of racism during her confirmation hearings and singlehandedly changed the landscape of the highest judicial body of the country.

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It could have been Salma Hayek, who breast fed a starving baby when she visited Sierra Leone.  This sucking heard round the world — spread virally by an incredibly human and touching video — changed people’s opinions about breast milk, which boosts immune systems (particularly important in third world countries).

It could have been Xerox’s Ursula Burns, who in July became the first black woman to head a Fortune 500 company.  And, guess what?  She started there as an intern!

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Instead, one of the 12 Glamour Women of the Year  and one of the five corresponding December covers is none other than Rihanna.  Rihanna…who was severely beaten by her boyfriend Chris Brown this year.  Rihanna…who for nine months remained silent on the issue.  Rihanna…who only now is speaking out and (coincidentally?) also has an album dropping this month.

Don’t get me wrong.  I think she should speak out and she probably needed some time to physically and emotionally heal before she did.  However, Glamour’s signature program claims to celebrate “inspiring women who are changing the world.”  So, why didn’t they wait until she opened shelters for victims of domestic abuse, booked high school speaking engagements to raise awareness for the epidemic of violence or embarked on a tour in which all proceeds support victims?  Why didn’t they wait until she actually used this horrible tragedy as an opportunity to affect change?

It’s a mystery to me, except the obvious reason that they wanted to strike while the publicity fire was hot — no matter how off-brand the choice.

Here’s Glamour’s full list of 2009 honorees.

What I’d love to know is who you would have chosen in Rihanna’s place.

Posted by: Mariela

The Biography Bulge: Women of Interest in TV and Film

After having just seen Joan Allen as Georgia O’Keefe in Lifetime Channel’s Red Carpet Event of the same name, it occurred to me that we, as media participants, are in the midst of several films that highlight the success of women.

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The Lifetime version I actually sought out–having seen it advertised about town and television–and was a bit disappointed by the significant amount of time spent on the O’Keefe/Alfred Stieglitz relationship in the TV drama. I know of his presence and impact on her work and life–it was overwhelming–but I was really looking to delve further into the mind of this magnificent painter and the story of her artistry.

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Another biopic that I am intrigued by is director Anne Fontaine’s Coco Avant Chanel, a film about the life of Gabriel ‘Coco’ Chanel before she becomes the world renowned courtier. In the preview, Coco Chanel, played by Audrey Tatou of Amelie fame, ascends to the height of French culture from her orphan beginnings. She seems a fascinating woman.

After my recent viewing of Georgia O’Keefe, and the relationship-heavy Chanel preview (the film premieres in New York this weekend), I wonder again how much the drama of life is dependent upon the drama of its relationships–and how much this film would focus not on Chanel’s work, but on the men in her life. Sometimes love is hard to disentangle from success.

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In October, director Mira Nair will release Amelia, her biopic about one of the most heroic women of the modern age: the aviatrix Amelia Earhart.

Knowing that any good drama takes a story loaded with conflict and struggle, this film will most likely hinge on the action-oriented work of this woman’s passion: flying. I look forward to Nair’s cinematic landscapes and color schemes and wonder if Hilary Swank might not find her third Oscar in this performance.

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What other soon to be released female driven films do you know about?

Posted by: Autumn.

Women Matter to The New York Times Magazine Folks

With the confirmation of Judge Sonia Sotomayor, we have been seeing some major attention to another powerful and intelligent woman. Forget that she and Al Franken share a love of Perry Mason, Sotomayor is only our third female Supreme Court Justice to date and she has just weathered a pretty tough time in our media.

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The second female Justice, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, was recently featured in one media source that has consistently over the last few weeks been paying a lot of attention to strong and intelligent women: The New York Times Magazine. In celebration of the approach of her 10th year as a Supreme Court Justice, the NYT Magazine interviewed Ginsburg in their July 12th edition about Sotomayor, affirmative action, and being a woman in a man’s workplace.

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Here is one of my favorites of her responses:

“I always thought that there was nothing an antifeminist would want more than to have women only in women’s organizations, in their own little corner empathizing with each other and not touching a man’s world. If you’re going to change things, you have to be with the people who hold the levers.”

Two weeks later, the NYT Magazine featured another influential woman, this time on their cover.

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Valerie Jarrett, ‘Obama’s BFF’ as the article’s title calls her, is featured as a mysterious yet powerful pal to the President and a force to be reckoned with in Washingtonian politics. More a story about what people think of her than what she thinks, Jarrett’s ear is a sure-fire way into Obama’s inner circle. When asked if he runs all his decisions past Jarrett, President Obama replied: “Yes. Absolutely.”

A week later the NYT Magazine continued its trend with an article about Julia Childs, an essay about our daughters needing female superheroes and another pages-long spread on a woman–actress Anne Heche–who is making yet another power play, but this time in Hollywood, not Washington D.C.

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The article candidly looks at the complicated public life that the actress has lead–from stories of sexual abuse, to hetero- and homosexual relationships, to dealing with split personalities. Heche appears honest and willing to learn to live better from each curve ball thrown her way. In her words: “The message of my life has stayed the same. I think I was a wonderful spokeswoman for the right to be loved.”

This Sunday in the NYT Magazine?  Well, my calendar has a note about the magazine publishing something about women in developing nations. Kudos to you, NYT Magazine!

Posted by: Autumn.

It’s Showtime, Ladies!

As TNT is to the women-over-35 lead dramas on basic cable (Holly Hunter on Saving Grace, Kyra Sedgwick on The Closer and now Jada Pinkett-Smith on Time Heals), so it seems Showtime is to the women-over-40-lead dramas on premium cable.

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I’m glad to see that the Times Square subway station is smothered with women-over-40 doing their thing by headlining series usually given to men: Mary Louise Parker in Weeds and the new Edie Falco vehicle Nurse Jackie. But something gave me pause. Besides 15 minutes of an episode of Saving Grace I saw maybe 6 months ago, I had never watched any of those shows on TNT. And besides the first season of  Weeds (which I enjoyed via Netflix), I haven’t seen anymore of it in years. What are the ratings looking like for these shows?  

Then I watched the Nurse Jackie trailer and became further perplexed: it seems like Showtime will give women their own shows but only if it involves selling or using drugs. Turns out Nurse Jackie has a bit of a Percocet problem. We all know that good dramas are inherently conflict-ridden but I wouldn’t mind seeing some other themes tackled on Showtime. What type of women-over-40 shows would you like to see?

Posted by: Autumn.

Day 3 of the CARE National Conference: Dinner with the Guatemalan Ambassador

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The car picked me up at my hotel earlier than expected so I arrived at Guatemalan Ambassador Francisco Villagrán de León’s private residence 45 minutes before the 7PM arrival time. So, my driver offered to take me on a tour of the gorgeous North West area of D.C. to kills some time. Two blocks away is Number One Observatory Circle, where Vice President Biden and his family live. 

 

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Another six blocks is the National Cathedral, which I explored on foot.  I also had the opportunity to get in a political discussion with my driver Miguel, who was from Haiti and had held his father in his hands as he died as a result of an insurgence years ago.  

 

Seven rolled around and a few of us walked up to the door, which opened automatically, and we were led up a spiral staircase to a gorgeous living room and sitting area.  This was a 20-person gathering and we were encouraged to speak freely and get to know everyone in the room.  I met:  

 

*Stephanie, who calls Guatemala her second home and has a line of handbags called Colecion Luna made from reclaimed Mayan women’s clothing

*Nancy, who lives in Atlanta and runs the Mango Tree Foundation, which helps poor women worldwide with hands-on projects promoting empowerment.  For her first project, Nancy collected, shipped and handed out 44 bicycles to a community of farmers and factory workers in Uganda.

*Rita Claverie de Sciollo, the Deputy Ambassador

*Jose, in charge of tourism for the Embassy

*Peter, a field worker for CARE in Ecuador

*Eugenia, the Embassy’s social secretary and an aspiring fashion designer

 

At about 8:30, the doors opened to the dining room, which was dressed with three round, formal tables and our assigned seating place tags.  My fears of the dinner being stuffy and feeling out of place were quickly forgotten.  We discussed:

*Getting Anthony Bourdain to dedicate a show to Guatemala

*How Peruvian cuisine is leading the pack in Latin American innovation

*Acclimating Deputy Ambassador Rita to Facebook

*CARE’s current work in Cuba 

*How on Stephanie’s first trip to Guatemala she shared a flight with the national soccer team and was hoping that would be the case always.  Sadly, it wasn’t.

*The need for more CARE volunteer trips and the obstacles to making that happen

 

And, of course, the food.  The salad course was followed by a traditional Guatemalan dish call Pepian, similar to a mole sauce (which I’m not a huge fan of).  However, this didn’t taste like chocolate but instead pureed black beans with toasted sesame seeds sprinkled in.  The sauce was served over chicken, which was served over a thick, arepa-style tortilla.  Dessert was Quesadilla, but not even close to the Mexican dish that we’re used to.  It looked like corn bread, but tasted like a manchego-infused cake dusted with powder and topped with fruit.  They’ve promised me the recipe.

 

The main event was the previously-mentioned aged rum, which consistently wins all sorts of contests. 

 

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Now, ever since I got sick from Rum and Coke in high school I’ve stayed away from it except for the beach-side Pina Colada.  This, however, was a masterpiece, served as an after dinner cordial designed for sipping and truly enjoying the layers of flavor and spice.  I’m a convert — so much so that they slipped me another round.

 

The night ended at about 10 with hugs, laughter, photos and the exchange of contact information.  Anyone up for a premium rum tasting event in NYC?

 

Posted by: Mariela