Four August culture recommendations from our editors.
I REMEMBER THE FIRST TIME someone told me I couldn’t do something because I was a girl. I was in preschool, preparing for an epic game of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles with a group of boys. I was playing April O’Neil, the Turtles’ journalist ally. As we started our game of pretend, my teacher came over to ask what we were doing.
“Playing Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,” I responded.
“Oh, you shouldn’t be playing that.”
“But I’m April,” I explained. “I’m a girl.”
“No, girls don’t play games like that,” she told me, and directed me toward the finger paints.
Whatever my teacher’s intentions, the damage was done. From that day on, superheroes and all things related were a “boy thing.” That meant the X-Men, Batman, Superman, and, yes, Donatello and his human-reptile hybrid team were all off-limits. I eventually grew to love comics as a teenager and an adult, but I was aware that they rarely featured anyone other than white men (or, occasionally, heavily objectified women) as the heroes.
Thank goodness for Kamala Khan.
Kamala is the teenage protagonist of Marvel Comics’ rebooted Ms. Marvel series. She’s a clever, funny 16-year-old living in Jersey City, N.J., who, in addition to having superpowers, writes superhero fan fiction, plays video games, and struggles with parent-enforced curfews. She also happens to be the second-generation daughter of Pakistani immigrants and a practicing Muslim.
Feminism and athleticism were one in the same to me. Four square matches, pick-up basketball games, and soccer scrimmages were all opportunities to prove that women were as valuable and gifted as men. Brandi Chastain with her shirt off and body flexed in uninhibited celebration was my Betty Friedan and my Bell Hooks.
But then puberty arrived, and brought with it hormones, testosterone, and different images of female athletes as the boys in my classes got their hands on the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition (I’m a much bigger fan of the feminine strength displayed in ESPN’s “The Body Issue”). The Women's United Soccer Association — the world’s first paid professional women’s soccer league — closed down, and suddenly it seemed to me that the U.S. only cared about women’s sports when women traded in their sports bras for bikinis.
So when I read that this U.S. Women’s World Cup brought in 285 percent more viewers in its group stage play than ever before, and when I heard two twenty-year-old men at a jam-packed bar in D.C. rattle off statistics about Morgan Brian’s college scoring stats and Tobin Heath’s signature moves, I got excited.
Schumer’s strong, emphatic, and well-intended words once again have reduced the feminist cause to the act of sex and a woman’s appearance. She rails against sexual restrictions on women, male sexual dominance, and that weight and beauty define a woman’s worth, all worthwhile topics. But in this extremely powerful and culturally influential speech, I wonder: where is any mention of actual equality?
Following complaints, the Vatican’s cultural office has removed an image of a naked female torso bound in ropes that was used to advertise a women’s conference.
The Pontifical Council for Culture had chosen a photograph of the 1936 “Venus Restored” sculpture, by the late American artist Man Ray, as befitting for its Feb. 4-7 conference titled “Women’s Cultures: Equality and Difference.”
But the choice of a sculpture bound in ropes to discuss women’s emancipation was deemed inappropriate in some quarters. The Pontifical Council’s president, Italian Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, initially defended the choice. Ravasi was seen as a contender going into the conclave that elected Pope Francis two years ago.
“Cardinal Ravasi has chosen not to remove the image as it speaks clearly for one of the central points of the document: many women, alas, are still struggling for freedom (bound with rope), their voices and intellect often unheard (headless), their actions unappreciated (limbless),” according to a statement that appeared alongside the controversial image.
Whether women can, or should, “have it all” — both work and family — has been one of the most contentious cultural debates of the modern age and one any secular or religious figure engages at his or her peril.
But Pope Francis is nothing if not intrepid, and on Feb. 7 he plunged in by arguing that the Catholic Church should help “guarantee the freedom of choice” for women to take up leading posts in the church and in public life while also maintaining their “irreplaceable role” as mothers at home.
In his remarks to the Vatican’s Council for Culture, which has been holding meetings on the role of women in modern life, Francis sought to carve out a “new paradigm” in the gender wars.
He said Western societies have left behind the old model of the “subordination” of women to men, though he said the “negative effects” of that tradition continue.
At the same time, he said, the world has moved beyond a model of “pure and simple parity, applied mechanically, of absolute equivalence” between men and women.
A downtown Los Angeles interfaith center that once served as a synagogue was the site of a historic worship service last week, as dozens of women gathered for Friday Muslim prayers in what is being dubbed the first women’s-only mosque in the United States.
M. Hasna Maznavi, founder and president of the Women’s Mosque of America, and co-president Sana Muttalib, said they are following the example of women pioneers at the forefront of Islamic education and spiritual practice.
“Women lack access to things men have, professional or religious,” said Muttalib, a lawyer. “I think this is our contribution to help resolve that issue.”
Maznavi, a filmmaker, said women-only spaces have been part of Islamic history for generations and still exist in China, Yemen and Syria. In the United States, nearly all mosques separate the sexes. Women pray in the rear of the prayer hall or in a separate room from male congregants.
About 100 women attended the jumah or Friday prayer on Jan. 30 in a rented space at the Pico Union Project, just a few minutes from the Staples Center.
Edina Lekovic, director of policy and programming at the Muslim Public Affairs Council, gave the sermon.
1. Hero mom calls into C-SPAN to berate her arguing pundit sons
Whether or not your family expects heated political debate over the holidays, you''ll appreciate the way this mom quiets her sons.
2. 14 Women of Color Who Rocked 2014
From the creators of #BlackLivesMatter to the founder of an organization focused on women with incarcerated loved ones, meet the women of color at the forefront of the fight for justice.
3. The Myth of Crying Rape
From Jim Wallis and Sandi Villarreal: "The reality is, these survivors are often re-victimized by a system that interrogates rather than advocates and then fails to deliver justice in a vast majority of cases ... Failure to recognize the sins of power and domination that influence the acts of violence against half of God’s creatures is simply bad theology."
4. Citing Health Risks, Cuomo Bans Fracking in New York State
A win for environmentalists that could set an important precedent.
The Buffalo Bills cheerleaders are advised by management on which type of feminine product they should use for their menstrual cycle. They are told that they cannot wear clips or tie backs in their hair. They have been asked to perform backflips on demand at an annual golf tournament where men placed bets on which Buffalo “Jill” would ride in his golf cart.
For all these imposed regulations and for hundreds of hours of work, members of the NFL Buffalo “Jills” Cheerleading Squad did not receive a penny of wages.
In April, five former Jills cheerleaders filed a lawsuit in the New York Supreme Court against the NFL franchise for "exploiting the women by failing to pay them in accordance with New York State minimum wage laws."
The worst part of this is: I don’t care.
When I was growing up I never wanted to be a cheerleader. I barely had a Barbie doll. I raced my brother’s Big Wheel on foot. I never had the desire to stand on the sidelines and cheer for other people, namely men, that were considered more athletic than myself.
So when I heard the news of the Jills’ unfair treatment, my personal sympathy level was somewhat low. They wanted to be cheerleaders, right? They signed up to wear short skirts and tight tops and dance in front of millions of people — they didn’t have to do that.
One commentator on the Jills’ lawsuit said, “Nobody forced them to be cheerleaders. They weren't enslaved. Stop with the pity party.”
And there lies the rub. What’s really at the root of these issues?
1. Interstellar Isn't About Religion (and Also It Is Totally About Religion)
"While the film has a marked admiration for science—it is science, in the end, that helps humanity to rescue itself—it has just as much respect for wonder and awe and what you might call, in the broadest and perhaps even the narrowest sense, faith."
2. Drones Now Patrol Half of U.S.-Mexico Border
In an era of increased security but finite resources, the U.S. government has dispatched Predator Bs to sweep remote areas and detect people (or cows, it seems) entering the country.
3. Why John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight Is Better Than The Daily Show and Colbert
Where Stewart and Colbert simply reaffirm shared values, "Oliver’s brand of journalism (which is, of course, couched as cheerful Sunday-night entertainment) often has an actual, demonstrable impact on public consciousness.”
4. The Most Heartbreaking Place in America Is Called ‘Friendship Park’
ThinkProgress’ Jack Jenkins and Esther Boyd traveled to the U.S.-Mexico border to chronicle the struggles of immigrant life. In this first piece, they tell the story of immigrants whose only glimpse of family is through an 18-foot steel fence between the hours of 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.
1. A Fitting Nobel for Malala Yousafzai and Kailash Satyarthi
“The Nobel committee has given an award to a seventeen-year-old, the youngest Peace Prize laureate ever. In one way, that is an act of faith about what and who Malala Yousafzai will become—not only about who she has been.”
2. Lecrae: 'Christians Have Prostituted Art to Give Answers'
"Christians have really used and almost in some senses prostituted art in order to give answers instead of telling great stories and raising great questions," says the wildly successful rapper.
3. WATCH: Columbus Day Under Attack
The Seattle City Council voted to replace Columbus Day with ''Indigenous Peoples Day." Leave it to Stephen Colbert to defend this "traditional holiday."
4. Islam and the Mother Lode of Bad Ideas: The Bill Maher, Sam Harris, and Ben Affleck Debate
Sam Harris says, "Islam is the mother lode of bad ideas." But isn''t saying this, in fact, scapegoating Islam and Muslims?
1. Visualization: Casualities in the Israel-Palestine Conflict
Washington Post is keeping a regularly updated tally of the deaths in the current conflict. The stunning visualization paints a grim picture.
2. I Need Feminism Because…
A Tumblr using the hashtag #WomenAgainstFeminism made the Internet rounds last week. Sojourners' writer Catherine Woodiwiss offers her take: "In a perfect world, women can choose to be whomever they want. But there is not yet a country on earth in which that is actually true. That is why we need feminism."
3. Religious Conservatives Embrace Pollution Fight
From The New York Times:"This week’s hearings on the new E.P.A. rule gave [conservatives] an opportunity to make their argument that climate change hurts the world’s poor through natural disasters, droughts and rising sea levels, and that it is part of their faith to protect the planet."
4. Wife Beating Gets a Standing Ovation in Baltimore
"… the sheer gall it takes to celebrate fans’ adoration of a man who beat his fiancee and mostly got away with it indicates the larger problem: The NFL is too big to fail."
5. The New Face of Hunger
One-sixth of Americans don't have enough food to eat. This powerful photo essay chronicles the stories in three parts of the country. Click through the gallery for the moving images.
6. New Baby Doll Is Anatomically Correct, And Moms Are Freaking Out
"An outraged mom recently shared a photo of an anatomically correct baby doll on Facebook. I don't get it. When did it become taboo to talk about body parts with our kids?"
7. WATCH: What Would Happen if People in Poverty Received Tabloid Treatment?
A new campaign from a Canada-based service organization puts real people struggling with poverty in the place of the Kim Kardashians of the gossip-mag world. Check out the video and magazine mock-ups.
8. What's the Story of Your First Days in America?
From visiting McDonald's to questioning Southern hospitality, the fascinating series First Days documents immigrants' transition into the U.S.
9. Are You Too Proud of Your 'Natural' Lifestyle?
"While I certainly sympathize with concerns over chemicals and additives in our food, with the degradation of the environment, with the overprescribing of antibiotics and the soaring cesarean section rates, I’m keenly aware that many of the advances now freely scorned by those proudly adhering to ‘natural’ lifestyles are the very thing that make a flourishing, healthy life possible for so many people."
10. A Few Times Vandalism Did the World Some Good
While we're totally not advocating vandalism … the " … or Love the Neighbor as Thyself" response was pretty great. See all of these heroes-of-the-questionably-legal sort at the link.
In a perfect world, women can choose to be whomever they want. But there is not yet a country on earth in which that is actually true. That is why we need feminism.
That there’s disagreement over how we talk about women’s empowerment in the U.S. isn’t surprising — feminism is a collection of unique people with unique visions of a good life, trying to figure out how to preserve past and present good, correct past and present wrongs, and forge a new way ahead together.
But it is tragically, perennially clear why speaking up against male-controlled narratives in church or school or novels or movies or business or government, against generations of excused behavior for men and oppression for women, against ongoing systemic injustice is still so crucially necessary.
From reading what these “anti-modern-feminists” have written, I don’t believe any of them would take umbrage with that. It’s a pity, then, they are rejecting the term feminism — their challenges would be great additions to the dialogue. More education and conversation about what feminism is, and how we do it, and where it can go, is clearly needed. Without it, I’m not at all sure how much farther forward we’ll be able to go.
I have two daughters.
They are little spark plugs of utter joy and complete chaos. They make me laugh. They make me cry. They remind me to view the world through childlike wonder. They remind me that I am not what I do, but who I am. They teach me what selfless love actually looks like … every day … day after day … early morning after early morning … nasty crap diaper after nasty crap diaper. They make me realize how much I have to learn about parenting and our place in the world.
Most every night from the moment they were born, I have quietly held them in my arms or rested my hand on their backs while they sleep and prayed for them.
I pray for their continued breath. I pray for their development as little, unique human beings. I pray the Spirit of God to fill them and empower them. I pray the Lord’s Prayer over them. I pray for them to be protected from evil. I pray for them to love those who aren’t often loved. I pray for them to live confidently into who they have been created to be, free from the pressure of imposed reputation and expectation.
I pray for their past, present and future.
In learning to love these little girls, I began to ask more and more questions about the place of women in the world, in the church, and in everyday life.
If the new Disney Studios movie Maleficent is, as some are saying, a feminist attempt to redeem images of weak and powerless women in fairy tales, then it is a cautionary tale. Feminism has always been its own worst enemy when it strives to create women in the image of men rather than encourage women to abandon rivalry with men and seek their flourishing elsewhere. This is a story about the redemptive power of a mother’s love. I wonder how many feminists will embrace that message?