Sunday, April 30, 2006

I Love Lisa Simpson.

Just when you thought the Simpsons' had nothing left, this Sunday's episode was pitch perfect. After an amazing Lion King-esque montage of Itchy and Scratchy going Broadway, which really has to be seen to be appreciated, we get an off-hand Principal Skinner remark a la ex-Harvard prez Lawrence Summers about girls being bad in math. The result: a new principal (Frances McDormand) who divides the school into pink and blue halves for boys and girls. (Skinner is demoted to assistant groundskeeper.) Boys get rigorous math, while girls get to talk about their feelings about math. Of course, Lisa wants to solve math problems, which she's told is too boy-like and aggressive. So with Marge's help, Lisa poses as Jake Boyman, and ultimately wins the prize for best student in math, when all is revealed. ("We've been Yentiled" says one of her classmates.) Before getting into a chair fight with the boys, she proclaims, "I like being a girl and I like being good at math!"

You go, girl.

Speaking of Frances McDormand, she absolutely kills in Friends with Money. Totally worth seeing because of her. It's great to see a decidedly unsappy chick flick. OK, I said it. But it is. It's all about relationships and no-one gets killed or exploded, which, as far as my husband is concerned, makes it so.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Dame's Eye View

The activists are restless -- there are rumbles of protests, against the war, about Darfur, in honor of mothers who have lost their children to the fiasco in Iraq, the list goes on. I love this new activist tool called VolunteerForChange. You can see all the different protests and get involved, or just show up.

In New York there will be an anti-war protest on Saturday. On Sunday, there's a protest about Darfur in D.C.

On Mother's Day, there's a vigil in front of the White House to bring home the tragic point that these mothers are without their children because of a senseless war.

Instead of becoming innured to the violence in the world, I am heartened to see that people of conscience are speaking out.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Ad Techie

Today I sat in on an
Ad Tech conference panel on pod and vid cast. I love that there are an estimated 25-30,000 podcasts out there and this just means yet another vehicle for ads. What pioneers! Funny, it's sort of like blogs are now mainstream, since, as I witnessed at my job, with a click of a few key strokes, the book I'm helping to promote, How Would A Patriot Act, hit #1 on Amazon sales rankings before it's even been published. It's the blogs, people! Or, I guess, blog people.

It's like they said at the ad tech conference: The people know they are in charge of their media, and not the other way around. It's kind of like the Oprah effect, in cyberspace.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Blondes Over Broadway

Be still my beating heart. Legally Blonde, the musical, is coming to Broadway. My favorite blonde who vows to use her blonde power for good, dresses head to toe in pink, graduates from the top of her Harvard law class and still gets the guy, can add singing to the notches on her belt. And I'll be there, front and center. Because it opens in San Francisco. If I weren't at work, I'd be doing a little dance on my desk.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Au Revoir, Mademoiselle

French women, at least 2,300 of them so far, are petitioning the French government to officially dump Mademoiselle, according to a news story up on Ms. Magazine. The moniker, for unmarried women, was used to distinguish the young, unmarried thing from the married Madame. It's an archiac, quaint distinction, between married and unmarried, which American women got rid of back in 1972 with the founding of Ms. magazine. Although some, like the New York Times, were a tad slow to pick up on the term.

Liberte. Egalite. Sororite.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Moms, Take a Memo: Get Back to Work!

On the other end of the Caitlin Flanagan spectrum is Bonnie Fuller's "The Joys of Much Too Much," which I read about in Sunday's San Francisco Chronicle. Fuller is the former editor of Cosmo and Glamour who now directs a tabloid empire. Not only is there no guilt about working full-time, despite having four (four!) kids in her family, but Fuller argues that women should follow their passion, and for most, that means career.

Now, keep in mind that both Flanagan and Fuller are fueling a media frenzy that was born in the media and will probably stay there, since as I've quoted in this space before, 72% of women are in the workforce and 78% of mothers are working. (I guess I'm wondering who the audience is for these types of books, then, besides editors who want to feed the mommy war myth as far as it will go?)

Still, it's nice to see a counter-balance, even if it comes in the form of an insane-crazy working woman who sounds like she has more in common with the anti-hero of The Devil Wears Prada than Norma Rae. (Fuller apparently reviewed page-proofs while in labor and was denounced as a hard-driving, perfectionist boss. Well, DUH.)

I guess we're just left to figure out the middle ground for ourselves.

Friday, April 21, 2006

To Hell With All What?

Caitlin Flanagan's book of essays "To Hell With All That: Loving and Loathing Our Inner Housewife," a neo-traditional treatise about the ideal woman (who happens to be her) really doesn't deserve all this attention. It's just hard to resist commenting because she's so off. And the best part is, when she gets called on it, she feigns surprise and hurt, and uses that to buff her public persona and whip up yet more publicity for herself.

She blames women who work for not staying home and taking care of the kids and husband. She seeks to create a world that by her own admission, never really existed (happy homemaker for her workerbee husband and perfect kids) and of which she is really not a part -- being a gainfully employed writer for the New Yorker and contributing editor for the Atlantic Monthly, and now, an author clearly on a book tour. I imagine someone back at home, certainly not one of those nannies she's always grousing about, must be cleaning for her, caring for her children and cooking them meals in her conspicuous absence. At some point someone might want to let her know that's the feminist movement at work -- allowing her the lifestyle she enjoys -- but it's not gonna be me.

As she appeared on the Colbert Report, I heard no figures to back up her pronouncements about how women who aren't like her are ruining America. They're messy! They're tired! They're bad cooks! They order take-out! Would someone please think of the children!

She claims to speak for those weary husbands everywhere, not getting any love in households badly run by moms who don't stay home enough. But as my husband made clear as he watched her on the Colbert Report with mouth agape, and then, foaming, she doesn't speak for him. So, for proving that my husband is exactly the guy I think he is, without me having to do much of anything that she preachily works and writes about, I want to thank you, Caitlin Flanagan. Except that, I probably don't have the time.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

A Tale of Two Grandmothers.

Grandma Herta, my dad's mother, was queen of the domestic arts long before Martha Stewart turned those skills into a Fortune 500 money-maker. In the 1930s, She emigrated from Germany to Pittsburgh, PA, hated it, went back to Germany long enough to be called a "dirty Jew" and this time came back to America for good.

Black and white photos of her family in Germany hung on the walls of the dining room of her one-story, ranch-style house, as did a portrait of her in formal dress from when she was young and attended balls with my grandfather. It was absolutely the most glamorous thing I'd ever known. That knock-out black silk evening dress is now mine, and fits as though it were made for me. Maybe someday I’ll even wear it out of the house.

Herta could turn ladyfingers, chocolate frosting and a can of slivered almonds into a "hedgehog" cake that delighted my sister and me and became a mythic dessert in our family.

She created table centerpieces out of boughs of silk flowers and silver candleholders and plastic berries that lasted until she tired of them.

She served breakfast at the table, with linen and china next to a side table with two toasters that popped out slice after slice of the thinnest white bread with jar upon jar of her homemade preserves: marmalade, strawberry, and my father swears, kumquat.

She created terrariums out of ferns and moss and rocks from her garden and added plastic animals for effect in glass fish bowls. She sewed her own clothes, and focused many of her later efforts on elaborate doll outfits for my sister and me -- a novelty for we of the feminist upbringing and doll-free house.

My grandmother Helen, my mother's mother, worked all her life, was an orphan who grew up in New York City and lived in a high rise with an endless supply of obsequious doormen, who never went to college, had only a sister as family, learned fluent French, loved foreign cinema, hated cooking and always had a white box tied with red string from the bakery filled with slices of seven-layer cake, brownies and black and whites for when we visited.

When my mom, divorced, would take us to stay with Helen while she slipped out to see a movie, I'd sneak out of bed and eat in her postage stamp kitchen at the plastic-covered table. I'd munch on toast with Smuckers jam while she told me stories of my mother as a little girl. She didn't like us jumping on the bed, but my sis and I did anyway. She did let us play with the peacock feathers in a vase in the living room, and my sister and I broke every single one. She didn't care. She cared for us, wildly, although was never shy when she wanted us to leave. "Miss you already!" she'd say, closing the door firmly behind.

I loved them both. Both are now gone, but very much a part of me.
Real family values.

When it comes to some things, like parental leave, health care, balancing work and family life, turns out mom really does know best.

Check out this supercool site MomsRising
and organizing project my friend Catherine Geanuracos is working on with Joan Blades from

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Dear Diary

Being a teenager is hard enough. Being a teenager with AIDS in South Africa must be the hardest life imaginable. I can't wait to hear about this life on the radio, when Joe Richman's latest documentary - Thembi’s AIDS Diary - is broadcast on NPR’s All Things Considered this coming Wednesday, April 19th.

Joe Richman's radio projects give voice to those who never get a chance to be heard. And we get a chance to listen in to a life that is a world apart, but closer than we think.

For the last year Thembi carried around a tape recorder and kept an audio diary of what it's like as a 19-year-old South African with AIDS.

You can check out info about the project and Thembi's tour at Radio Diaries.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Uncommon Women

I finally watched Wendy Wasserstein's first play, Uncommon Women. PBS televised it and you can rent it on Netflix .

Even though some of it is so dated I cringed (college songs of marrying a Yalie, for example), the play, which is set in 1977 and opens on an informal reunion of friends from Mt. Holyoke with scenes from their college days that cover discussion of orgasms and menstrual blood, lays the way for Sex and the City three decades later. "We were natural resources to each other before we were tapped," says one friend to another.

It's innocent and groundbreaking all at once, and also a little bit heartbreaking as one of the characters promises, "At 45, we'll be incredible!" At 45, Wendy Wasserstein was incredible. At 55, she was dead. But her sympathetic, funny, feminist characters live on.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Democracy Inaction

Glad to see American democracy at work post-Saddam in Iraq.

According to a new survey on women , a majority said they were treated better under the dictatorship than the current mess posing as a democratic solution.
Then and Now

Just look at the time. Somehow, after working madly at jobs, trying to weather two recessions, finding a boyfriend, going to graduate school, getting married, surviving family crises, witnessing friends' pregnancies and guy problems and everything in-between, I am facing my 15-year college reunion.

But forget all of that. What's important is how much college style has changed. A mere 15 years ago, I strutted my stuff underneath layers of used men's Levis, extra large sweatshirts and clunky doc martins.

Now I see coeds tottering around in the highest of heels, the smallest of minis, what might pass for a slip of a shirt, and sometimes even, the back of a thong peeping out. On purpose, a la Britney.

Or course, some may see this as an improvement. After all, showing more skin could be seen as cute. But to me, it’s the Hollywood teen culture forcing its way onto campus grounds.

I know this is going to sound weird coming from me. And this is not coming from my inner prude. But bottom line, college for me is where you get four years to read, argue, discuss, even bullshit. Not just about the best outfit to wear, but what you think about the world. Unless you are actually attending FIT, fashion should not be top of mind. Yes, I know that Abercrombie and Fitch is here to stay, but I don't have to like it.

Look, I'm not saying you shouldn't shower or look good. And I'm certainly not suggesting that you don't have fun. But back in the day, I could live on my measly hourly wage working on campus. I didn't own a TV, a DVD, a laptop or a wardrobe. I also wasn't in credit card debt and wasn't subsumed by the incredibly distracting world of consumer goods. That was for the decade after college.

It was fun to be creative with little money and not much fashion sense. Now, of course, there are so many ways to get cheap goods: Forever 21, H & M, Urban Outfitters, the list goes on. But to me, it just looks like a faster road to adulthood, without being able to enjoy the ride.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Moms gone mild.

I don't know what is up with these anecdotal articles, but this one is laughable.

The reporter interviewed a whole 40 women to talk about a new "trend" of super-rich moms opting out of the workforce. With not a shred of statistical evidence, not one survey, one demographic nugget, the San Francisco magazine piece reports on this as it if were the biggest bombshell to hit the Bay.

It's not only non-news, it's a non-event. Once again, the opt-out revolution seems to only exist in the press.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006


Saturday found me back at the placed that launched many thousands of words — UC Berkeley Journalism School (also known as j-school). The occasion was an alumni weekend seminar on radio magic.

With the room packed with radio reporters from around the country and the panels stacked with NPR heavyweights like Mandalit del Barco, Sandra Tsing Loh and
Robert Siegel, (we are not worthy!) I felt both inspired and intimidated.

The Kitchen Sisters paid tribute to Kathy McAnally who recently died. She taught me and many others long-form radio at the journalism school. She headed up Hot Soup and many other projects at KQED, and it felt right to be thinking of her that afternoon. Then we were transported into the Sisters' magical world of radio sounds and archived memories.

I met up with my journalism “boot camp” professor/mentor/drill sergeant Bill Drummond and had Alex Chadwick giving me props for surviving Drummond’s J-200 class. Even in professional circles his class is legendary: having us show up an hour earlier than scheduled, dressing in business attire, going out every day to cover whatever he dreams up. Could be asking college students about STDs or going to a Raiders game and asking about race issues. While we were miserable, tired, stressed and terrified, we certainly came out of that semester trained.

Friday, April 07, 2006

I like the way you talk.

After I graduated from college, I promised myself I would never apply for jobs that men wouldn't take, like receptionist, secretary or assistant. It was the only way I could think to start myself out of the gate at least equal to men in the work world. But before I could move from NYC to San Francisco, I had to make some quick cash, temping. That's where I got a crash course in a work environment stuck in the serious backwater of time. Financial service offices in the early 90s still required (required!) women to wear skirts. The men I worked for wouldn't use a computer, and still wrote long-hand on legal pads, or dictated into tape recorders. Straight out of college, where I thought I could do anything, this was an eye-opener. One of my friends from school was hired at Lazard Freres because they liked the way she answered the phone. ("All that college education, and they like the way I talk," as she put it.)

Not everything has changed. A story in Women's eNews says that despite the fact that women's numbers are growing, if not outnumbering men in college and graduate programs, the culture shock of the workplace still exists. Sex harassment on the job still exists. And pay inequity still exists. I at least hope that these days, in the offices I left long ago, women still don't have to wear skirts to the office.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

That’s Journal-tainment!

Look, I'm no fan of Katie Couric. I don't watch "The Today Show." And I think the whole who's anchoring nightly primetime news is a bit of a yawn these days -- given the 24 hour news cycle, all the cable news shows, blogs, etc. But putting someone who might mix things up a bit may attract a younger audience than the geriatrics evening newscasts tends to get at that time of day. Concept!

But some things just irk me. I happened to be catching CNN's morning show and the reporter announcing Couric’s departure from Today and into the anchor seat of CBS said something like -- well, some people are wondering if she has the chops. The anchor (woman) responded -- oh, she's got the chops. So there! I mean, of all the problems with television news and it's Couric who's going to bring down the quality? Right.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Opting Out Not an Option

How many women do you know who have opted out of the work force to raise their kids? I look around and what I'm reading doesn't reflect my experience, or that of my friends. But hey, I figured, maybe it's just me.

These "opt-out" stories are crying out that women are overworked, prefer to care for children, and if they do focus on career, should throw in the towel because success turns men off. Right? Wrong.

All these stories, says media critic Caryl Rivers, were based on scant evidence, or a minority of survey respondents. But these fake trends sell papers, and so newspapers promote them.

How did I feel after hearing Rivers talk, at Women, Action and the Media conference? First, a huge sense of relief. Followed by an enormous surge of rage.

Check out Rivers’ book for a complete list of inaccuracies, an up-to-date Backlash, called Same Difference . Men are not from Mars, women aren’t from Venus. In fact, we may even be from the same planet.

As my hero Betty Freidan pointed out years ago, the 50s weren’t as good as they looked. 50s housewives suffered such high rates of depression that marriage was called by some a “health hazard.”

72% of women are in the workforce. 78% of mothers are working. In short: There is no opt-out revolution. But I do find the fascination with it revolting.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

In her shoes.

Maria Hinojosa, anchor of Latino USA on NPR and reporter for NOW on PBS, kicked off the Women, Action and the Media conference in Cambridge, MA, last night.

Hinojosa is one of the few Latina journalists out there. And she’s good. Really good.

On good journalism:

"Where there’s an injustice you report on it. You give voice to the voiceless. People see this as political."

The essence of journalism: "Who's getting screwed, and why."

She just got back from South Dakota to report on the recent anti-abortion ban and said to watch for the NOW report on April 14. She also warned that now that there’s so much flak over the strict exception to the law that lawmakers are back tracking and saying that there are exceptions when really there aren’t.

My fave part of her appearance – her really great, sequin-encrusted shoes. She told us that she just took her daughter on her first shopping trip and told her, “Remember this: never pay full price.”