5 Feminist TV Shows to Watch Right Now

We talked feminist TV shows just three months ago, but the networks are throwing new shows at us so fast these days, that we’ve got some new mentions (as well as old favorites) currently making our Top 5:

1. Body of Proof: In ABC’s new straight-up procedural, Dana Delany plays a neurosurgeon-turned-medical-examiner who helps solve murders. But, look at that, this time a woman gets to be the freakishly brilliant, quirkily abrasive one at the center of a broadcast network show solving the crimes! (Thanks, TNT and other cable channels, for pioneering that mind-blowing idea with the likes of The Closer.) Extra points for employing the always-brilliant Delany and giving her character a very real mommy complex: She’s estranged from her preteen daughter after years of dedicating herself to neurosurgery, and awkwardly trying to rebuild that relationship.

2. Game of Thrones: HBO’s is by far the best of the upcoming epic swords-and-sandals series you’ve undoubtedly seen advertised everywhere (along with Starz’ Camelot and Showtime’s The Borgias). I’m not normally into this kind of thing — it’s based on George R. R. Martin’s elaborate fantasy book series filled with about 3 trillion characters, mythical lands, mythical creatures, people with names like Eddard, and a big old war for the crown. (I didn’t even like Lord of the Rings. Sorry.) But the beauty of Game is in the layers — the multi-dimensional characters (no one’s 100-percent good or evil, though some come close on the evil side), the soapy machinations, the tons of sex. It’s also, surprisingly, in the female characters. Martin’s world is, alas, as sexist as medieval England (it matches the costumes), but these ladies are fighting it at every turn, from the conniving Queen Cersei (Lena Headey) to the bent-on-revenge Lady Catelynn Stark (Michelle Fairley).

3. Degrassi: This immortal teen favorite (just renewed for season 11 on TeenNick) has always tackled complex issues, from school shootings to teen pregnancy, like no American show dares. The current run is no different: For proof, see [SPOILER ALERT] the two-parter in which Fiona (Annie Clark) gets sober, testifies against her abusive ex-boyfriend, and discovers she’s a lesbian while making out with transgender classmate Adam (Jordon Todosey). Top that, 90210.

4. Grey’s Anatomy: Yes, we’re still grooving on our favorite post-feminist utopia as Meredith (Ellen Pompeo) struggles with fertility issues, the coolest lesbian couple ever (Sara Ramirez and Jessica Capshaw) prepare for baby (provided they survive that accident), and Miranda (the incomparable Chandra Wilson) parses out power issues with her nurse boyfriend.

5. 30 Rock: This one pretty much always gets an honorary spot. Also, we’re as excited for Tina Fey’s book, Bossypants (out next week!), as we once were for a new New Kids on the Block album.

SF Talking Points: Funny Women Taking Things Into Their Own Hands, A Gay, Feminist Republican Is Running For President

mindytinaNew Women’s Comedy Site Launches: A woman’s version of male-slanted humor sites like Funny or Die and CollegeHumor has arrived! In the midst of the debate over why women represent such a small population of the comedy world comes Comediva, hoping to cater to the different sense of humor that women have compared to men. Erika Cervantes, founder of Comediva, writes in her opening post:

“What makes up a girl’s sense of humor is complex and varies from lady to lady, so it deserves to be explored further in a future column.  However, at the risk of making sweeping generalizations, I did learn a few reasons why girls are just different from boys when it comes to funny:

–    Boys use humor to one-up each other.  Girls use humor to bond with each other.
–    Despite our abuse of the phrase LOL, it’s harder to make girls laugh out loud than boys.
–    Girls enjoy irony, wordplay, and subtlety, and favor storytelling over joke-telling.”

Oh, it’s not that, “women, bless their tender hearts, would prefer that life be fair, and even sweet, rather than the sordid mess it actually is”, as Christopher Hitchens claimed in his then old-fashioned, now antiquated (but still widely referenced) argument that women aren’t funny? Or because, “For some reason, women do not find their own physical decay and absurdity to be so riotously amusing, which is why we admire Lucille Ball and Helen Fielding, who do see the funny side of it,” even though Lucille Ball, though extremely funny on camera, didn’t actually write her own stuff? Not sure who Hitchens was referring to in that first statement, or why he was excluding the many contemporary female comedians who “find their own physical decay and absurdity” amusing (see: here and here) but it’s not as though that’s the only place where humor exists. Look at Parks and Recreation! Whereas other similar comedies like The Office and 30 Rock strongly satirize work environments, Parks and Rec (with Amy Poehler as its star and one of its producers, 2/9 female writers, and a very feminist environment on the actual show) has become extremely successful with its happy, not dark, brand of comedy.

Anyway — there is now a home on the internet where female comedians and comedy writers won’t be cast aside because their humor wasn’t “male centric” enough, and we’re excited. Check out this spoof of Rebecca Black’s “Friday” (you may or may not like it — things always get a bit iffy when you bring up religion — but you can’t say it wasn’t daring!) and this post-modern analysis of the original “Friday” by the star of the parody video.

Geraldine Ferraro’s Career –  Why It Was Both Inspiring And Disheartening: A Salon essay examines why Geraldine Ferraro, first woman to run for Vice President on a major party’s national ticket, never reaped the benefits of that milestone. After a successful stay in the House of Representatives and her historical stint running alongside Walter Mondale, her political career gradually dwindled until she was just another FOX News Democrat. While she emboldened countless other women to enter politics, the reputation she earned early on after running for Vice President (for her husband’s secretiveness about his finances, and for her supposed ethnic stereotyping, after joking,”You people who are married to Italian men, you know what it’s like”) resulted in her inability to secure office thereafter.

Can It Be True? The Gay, Feminist Republican Who’s Running For President: Fred Karger calls himself a Republican, but he’s not the kind we’re used to. Karger is a founding member of the Republican Majority for Choice (so we ought to be careful when we generalize against all Republicans attacking our right to choose) and was a supporter of Hillary Clinton in the last election. “The hypocrisy of the Republican party is pretty prevalent these days. They preach small government but they want to tell women what to do with their bodies. I’m a fiscal conservative, I come from a finance background. I definitely want to work to strengthen our economy, I believe in the private sector. I’m a libertarian of sorts,” he says in an interview with Feministing. While it’s unlikely that he’ll go very far, he’s bound to shake up some of the debates — and hopefully ease the severe right-winged, inappropriate religiousness of his party.

School Secretary Outed For Side Job In Porn Films: In the Quebec area, a woman was revealed to be a sex worker when a teenage boy who recognized her asked her for her autograph and then apparently exposed her to entire school. Amanda Marcotte at The XX Factor argues,

“All joking aside, it’s not only irritating that sex workers are being conflated with child molesters in the 21st century, but that the school reacting this way sends the message to young men that it’s A-OK to be a consumer of sex work, but the providers of it are tainted women who should be punished. I don’t care where you fall on the pro- or anti-sex-work divide, but the double standard for workers and customers galls me to no end.  You might want to argue that a sex worker isn’t a good ‘role model,’ but far worse in the role model department is sending the message that sex workers are for using and then throwing away.”

And why is it that parents/administrators aren’t more concerned about the porn aficionado kid(s)? If they think it’s so abhorrent, then that’s what they ought to be regulating.

Berlusconi Skipping Court Not A Surprise. (Plus: Some Pictures Of His Bunga Bunga Sex Parties): Premier Silvio Berlusconi of Italy has been giving precedence to his official duties, his lawyer said, and will be attending his court dates “when possible”. So far, he has only been missing one of the 3 trials that are concerned with his business dealings — so we have yet to see how seriously he’ll take his underage prostitution trial with the 17-year old Moroccan belly dancer, which begins next month. And, as promised: http://jezebel.com/#!5784858/pictures-from-berlusconis-unimpressive-bunga+bunga-parties

Injustices Toward Women Prevail In Egypt: In this NYTimes video, op-ed contributor Nick Kristof reports on how women have been assaulted, tortured, and arrested for their pro-democracy efforts. The sad truth is that, while it is necessary and good that women like the ones he interviews are as strong-willed and passionate about the fight for democracy as they are, Mubarakism is still persisting in the Egyptian Army, and Egyptian women are bearing the brunt of it.


Why Saving NPR Is a Feminist Issue

npr-crosshairsThe House GOP is continuing its move to completely strip National Public Radio of its federal funding. Republican congressman Doug Lamborn has introduced a bill that gives public stations the right to take government funds, as long as they don’t buy programs from NPR. Tricky move, Doug. Give cash-strapped nonprofit media a much-needed lifeline, but censor the way they use it.

As anyone knows, public media can’t survive without this type of support. It may be listeners like you who make a difference, but you don’t exactly have the roughly $150 million these days to make up for it, do you?

If the bill passes it’s bad news for NPR as we know it, which means potentially losing programming such as “Latino USA,” “Fresh Air,” “Talk of the Nation” and “This American Life,” which spend considerable time showcasing the stories of minorities, women and the gay community. It’s programming you won’t hear on other networks and it needs to be preserved. In the age of extremist media—when the Glenn Becks of the world get all the attention (and sound bites)—we need it more than ever.

The backlash against NPR came after a media sting in which former NPR fundraiser Ron Schiller criticizes members of the Tea Party. He called them unintelligent, extreme and racist—all stones that have already been cast at the group and, I mean, come on, have been proven to be true just afew times. I know, one shouldn’t judge an entire group based on a few radical members, especially if one represents a media network. But isn’t that the norm these days—for better or worse? On the left, John Stewart has his usual marks on “The Daily Show,” as does Bill Maher and Rachel Maddow. Listen to Rush Limbaugh or Glenn Beck and you’ll hear the same liberal punching bags criticized time and time again for being socialists—or worse. Beck draws parallels between the PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES and Hitler all the time, but where is the Bill to regulate privately owned media like Fox News? Apparently, only when precious Tea Partiers are criticized does Congress get involved.

The Right’s undying defense against this facet of its constituency is so hypocritical its hysterical—how can you say you support this group of mostly working-class Americans and still staunchly defend tax breaks for the super-rich? But I digress…

Preserving the independent voices of our media is so crucial to keeping social justice discourse in the public consciousness and—more importantly—protecting free speech.

The House is reviewing the bill today in an “emergency” session and taking it to the floor for a vote on Thursday. Take action by contacting your representative and telling them what you think.


Ladyblog Debate: Can Feminists Be Sexy, Professionals Pretty?

After getting some friendly feminist Twitter flack for our name when we relaunched as The Sexy Feminist, we teamed up with Pretty Young Professional (another site whose name has been questioned) and The Daily Femme (who’d done someof the questioning) to debate whether feminists can be sexy and young professionals can be pretty without compromising our principles. This is exactly what feminism should be — women teaming up to intelligently discuss the issues that face them. We’re hoping to do more of these collaborations in the future; for now, here’s what we said on the great name debate — tell us what you think!

screen-shot-2011-03-03-at-10-11-33-amThe Daily Femme first wrote:

As a young woman entering the first stages of adulthood, I was constantly asking for advice from family members, college professors, and older friends to quell my many anxieties around landing the dream job and moving out on my own. Navigating the first few years out of college and entering the professional work force has not been an easy task, thus I was truly excited to learn of a start-up Web site devoted to giving young women career and lifestyle guidance- it seemed like just the thing I needed. However the moment I read the name of this site, Pretty Young Professional, I was immediately turned off and tempted never to visit. With the encouragement of a friend I took some time, against my will, to explore the site and I realized how much it really does have to offer women in my position. However with each visit I continue to wonder why the site’s creators thought using the adjective pretty to name an empowerment site for women was a smart move.

With the mission of providing guidance, support and encouragement to young professional women,Pretty Young Professional strives to be the ultimate online resource for their target audience. On the site itself the authors and creators constantly remark on the fact that young female women are confident, talented and serious professionals, once again making me question why the word pretty is in the title. In response to this question the site’s founders said they deliberately chose this word to spark conversation and to reclaim its meaning, but I just don’t think it works.  The fact that women are often judged in the workforce based on their appearance as opposed to their intellectual capabilities or education or experience is not new and the creators of the site openly acknowledge this, but still insist on using pretty. Even if one wanted to highlight the beauty or attractiveness of this population (clearly not my preference), there are so many other options for stronger words that would convey the type of message the site is sending to readers.

The term pretty doesn’t convey confidence or intelligence, instead it reminds me of a word a skeezy executive boss might say about his secretary in a condescending manner. To argue that women should reclaim this word seems to be a bit naive and pointless when there are so many other positive and more effective words used to describe powerful professional women. So while I thank the creators of Pretty Young Professionals for their innovative content, including networking tips and profiles on many professional women, I wish they would reconsider changing the name of the site to something that exudes the same type of confidence and professionalism that is conveyed in their articles.

screen-shot-2011-03-03-at-10-11-19-amHere’s what Pretty Young Professional said: As Gen Y women, we enter a world filled with opportunities that were not available to generations of women before us, and obstacles that are unexpectedly subtle at times. Although women make up more than half of all college graduates and PhD candidates, they only account for 3% of Fortune 500 CEOs.  Women have fewer role models to demonstrate an achievable path to personal and professional fulfillment.

What’s more, many young women face issues not encountered by their male colleagues: how to dress neither too sexily nor too square; how to navigate the line between assertive and aggressive; even how to develop mentorship relationships with senior leaders who are usually much older, married men.

In addition to new opportunities for career advancement, today’s young women also face insurmountable pressures to look perfect, to act perfectly, to do it all.  It doesn’t help that throughout our youth we were fed media that portrayed an image of the ideal woman who definitely wasn’t the breadwinner.

Faced with this conundrum, young women today are often stuck between the excellence we seek and the societal stereotypes that tell us to play nice and put others’ needs first.  As young ambitious women, we believe that we face many of the same struggles regardless of our industries or our location.

The debate ignited by our name gets to the root of the one of biggest issues we face as young women: the stereotypes applied to us because of our femininity or lack thereof.

We deliberately chose Pretty Young Professional (PYP), a play on Michael Jackson’s 1983 hit song P.Y.T., to refute the notion that femininity and professionalism are incompatible, that professional success means androgynous or masculine behavior. Our conviction is that being young and female does not compromise our confidence, talent, and drive to be taken seriously as professionals.  When we first launched our beta site, some people called our name sexist, demeaning and isolating, while others wrote in urging us to keep it, saying they felt it was empowering and insightful.  After the first week, we wrote a long article on the debate titled “The Problem with Pretty.”

Yes, our name is meant to be provocative and intriguing.  That doesn’t mean we were prepared for questions like “What about the ugly girls?”  At PYP we strongly believe that all women are pretty.  We recognize that being young, ambitious and female is not easy.   PYP’s founding team proudly consider ourselves feminists – we created a company with the sole purpose of supporting and empowering young women to be their best selves.  We also fully recognize that feminism comes in many different packages and do not think that any of its various packages must meet pre-formed feminine or anti-feminine benchmarks.

As a society we have permitted a negative stigma to be attached to the label “feminist” among many groups, a stigma that has become a tremendous impediment to achieving the goals of feminism.  If you identify yourself as a feminist and you happen to possess conventional feminine characteristics, are you immediately cast as “not really” feminist because of your outward appearance?  How many potential feminist allies have been dissuaded from the cause because of reverse discrimination that screams “you must be a bra-burning, androgynous, crazed individual to really be a feminist”? Note: if you want to burn your bra, go for it, but don’t make it a prerequisite to joining the cause for gender equality.  At PYP, we support all women: burned bra, pink bra, or no bra (not that it matters).

Fans on Twitter subsequently brought up our name, as well, as one that made them a little uneasy even though they loved our content.

screen-shot-2011-03-03-at-10-13-03-amHere’s what we said: The Sexy Feminist name came easy to us.

As we were pondering a recent revamp of our six-years-running pet project, SirensMag.com, one goal stood out above all the others. Yes, we wanted to move to a super-easy blog format, and we wanted a graphic overhaul that did not involve the color aqua. But most importantly, we wanted our philosophy to ring out clearly, even on the noisy noisy Internet, and the best way to do that was with a clear name.

Quite frankly, we hadn’t known what that philosophy was when we started Sirens back in 2005. All we knew then was that we wanted to write about things that mattered to us and didn’t seem to matter to most women’s magazines. We wanted to talk about canceling weddings, enjoying sex, and, most of all, exploring the complex feelings we had about fashion, makeup, and men. Not the way that women’s media covers them, as if they are the oxygen we breathe, but the way we experienced them in life — as complicated decisions that affected everything from our finances to our feminism.

And that was it: Now we knew. This was about feminism, about our right to make everyday choices the way we wanted to, but also about our responsibility to make such choices in ways that benefit all womankind. As we explored the societal implications — and there are societal implications — of everything from bikini waxing to miniskirt-wearing, one thing became clear: Feminism is sexy. As in, there are few topics that come up in relation to feminism that aren’t hotbutton-sexy or just plain sexy-sexy. What if we called ourselves SexyFeminist? That’s us, we thought, in one catchy (and available, praise be!) URL.

As we spent more time in the feminist blogosphere — and, by implication, the anti-feminist blogosphere — something else came rushing back to us, a memory pushed away since our women’s studies classes in college, an ugly reminder of a seemingly perpetual truth: A great many people, men and women alike, seem to find feminism quite unsexy. This can be a huge problem, particularly when it comes to bringing new young women into the fold.

When women say, “I’m not a feminist, but …” they’re saying something very specific. They’re saying, “I don’t want to be perceived as unpleasant, unsexy, but, gosh do I want equal rights for women.”

What all of those folks are missing out on is that not only is feminist debate damn sexy, so is feminism. Empowerment and confidence are sexy. Liberation in the bedroom is sexy. Standing up for all women is sexy. If the word “sexy” in our name, like the word “pretty” in Pretty Young Professional, attracts a new kind of woman to the cause, or reclaims the meaning of sexy, that naughty little word will have done a world of good. I hope anyone interested in women’s issues gives both of us a chance, regardless of how “pretty” or “sexy” we are, just as I’d hope the words “professional” and “feminist” wouldn’t scare away those not already dedicated wholeheartedly to female advancement.

When we speak of Sexy Feminism, we’re including all feminism. We wish the world saw our name as redundant. Until it does, we’ll be keeping it. We honestly had hoped, in choosing it, to provoke just this sort of debate. We hope it continues until everyone thinks feminism is as hot as we think it is.

Working Women in History: Chicago’s Irish Pubs

jack-kennedy-interiorA year ago my friend Mike Danahey and I embarked on research for a book about Irish pubs in Chicago. When our focus turned to history (as opposed to our initial, rather shameless attempt to get somebody to pay us for hanging out in bars all day drinking) it also turned to the role of women running and working in the taverns that, more often than not, bore their husbands’ names.

Women, if they could enter a saloon at all as customers, entered through the back door and stayed in a separate seating area. But women were often the keepers of the tavern, like the one at left.

From the book:

Doris Neeson’s grandmother, Bridget Frances Guinea, came to America from Limerick and opened a saloon at 4113 S. Ashland St. with her then-husband, George Bowers, at the turn of the 20thCentury. It was his name on the sign outside, but she did the majority of the work behind the bar. “She was a strong lady, she had to be,” Neeson said. “She was raising children and running the place herself.”

When George Bowers died and Bridget Bowers remarried, her new husband, Jack Kennedy, put his name up over the saloon doors in 1906.

The saloon catered to the Irish working class in the area, serving women in a separate area in the back and providing a buffet lunch, Neeson recalled. “It was mostly stockyard workers,” she said. “In those days you would stop at the tavern to pick up some beer and take it home.”

Modern society likes to think of working women as an invention of the mid-20th Century, when we all read The Feminist Mystique and went out into the workforce en masse. But some women always worked, either out of necessity — poor and lower-middle-class families have almost always been two-income families — or because the tavern door bore their family name.