Wednesday, June 3, 2015

For Caitlyn Jenner, Biggest Challenge Will Be Being Herself

Bruce Jenner’s new life as Caitlyn Jenner is under way, fulfilling what she has said is her fondest wish:  to live the rest of her life as a woman.

Jenner’s decision rocked her world and the people she shares it with, especially her children, some of whom have declined to participate in a forthcoming reality show that will feature Caitlyn’s journey to this point and beyond.  Their parent’s transition was not a complete surprise, as gradual changes in Jenner’s physical appearance had been under way for some time. Her previous spouses were aware of her feelings and had discussed them with their children, according to news reports.

But the Vanity Fair cover featuring Jenner in a bustier had to be a shocker.  Family and friends will eventually get used to this new image, as will the public.  The question is whether the person inside Caitlyn Jenner will be able to accept the white-hot scrutiny she’ll face about how female and feminine she is.  Every wardrobe malfunction, accessory choice, hair style, and social interaction will be studied for her female bona fides.  Her appearance will be judged – endlessly – as is that of most women in the public eye. But the bar will be set higher for her.  She will have more to “prove.”

Already the advice is pouring forth on how Jenner can appear even more feminine.  Within hours of the Vanity Fair images’ release, this press release appeared in my inbox: “Dr. Suzanne Levine, Celebrity Podiatrist on Park Ave in NYC, speaks out on Caitlyn Jenner’s transformation surgery.  In the Vanity Fair cover shot she is shown wearing fabulous stiletto heels.  Dr. Levine asserts the feet have not been feminized and must have been airbrushed.  Is it possible the entire photo was photo shopped?  Her feet look too dainty in the heels – hint, hint – it’s all about the feet. Dr. Levine states in many male to female transitions, the feet feminizing procedure is one of the most overlooked factors in creating a feminine appearance, and can be the true defining change to create the most feminine appearance possible.  Dr. Levine is available for interviews via phone or skype.”

Of course the photo was photoshopped.  To the max.  And now we’re talking about feminizing feet.

You can’t miss the irony in all this. What Caitlyn Jenner has described as a long-delayed journey to personal authenticity will be compromised by a struggle that will be new to her, if not to her Kardashian family:  the harsh judgment meted out to celebrity women and the requirement that they conform to unrealistic expectations. Their looks are critiqued by the entertainment industry and savaged by celebrity web sites and magazines that trade in gossip and innuendo. Pile on the bandwagon comments from “experts” urging this and that physical adjustment to make Jenner "more of a woman." Add snarky comments from fans who become weirdly invested in the personal lives of their idols.  Throw in a new reality show and you have a full-blown spectacle held together by botox and as many beauty tools as Jenner can afford.  Jenner’s “authenticity” will be under tremendous pressure from those who will judge how well she measures up to what they think she should be like.

That doesn’t allow much latitude for her to enjoy being a girl.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Paying to Play: Girl Gamers Charged to Play As Girls; Boys Play For Free As Boys

This Washington Post article by a 12-year-old girl about gender discrimination in game apps took my breath away.  Madeline Messer discovered the gender bias, and its material cost, when playing iPhone games with a friend.  She noticed her gal pal was playing a game as a boy character, not as a girl.  Madeline asked why.  Playing as a girl wasn't an option, her friend said.

Madeline began doing research on this and discovered that not only were many game apps limited in this way, but for many, if playing as a girl was an option, you were charged for that option.  A lot.

"Of the apps that did have gender-identifiable characters, 98 percent offered boy characters. What shocked me was that only 46 percent offered girl characters," Madeline writes. "Even worse, of these 50 apps, 90 percent offered boy characters for free, while only 15 percent offered girl characters for free."

Her research and article are here.  Apart from being outraged by the financial cost of paying to play as a female character, what about the psychological and social costs to young women looking to compete in our world?  It's tough to win on a playing field that's perpetually tilted against you. 

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Crowdfunding Project To Fund Reporting About Women

Crowdfunding has birthed all kinds of worthy projects.  Here's one that will be of interest to readers here, from Sabine Muscat, freelance journalist based in Washington:

"I wanted to share the news about a crowd funding project that I am involved in. It is based in Germany - and while only some of you read German, I still think that you might be interested to hear about our project.

"The name of the project is "Deine Korrespondentin" (Your correspondent - using the female form of the word in German) - and we are seven women who are trying to set up a website for long-form reporting. We are based in Africa, Asia, Afghanistan, Russia, Germany, and (in my case) in the U.S. - and we want to write about women - from a female perspective. If we can raise the first 5,000 Euros we need in the first stage, the first story is going to be about East Africa's first female fighter pilot. The aim is to eventually have paid subscribers.

"Here is the link to the campaign:

"Our goal is to report the stories that are only accessible for female reporters (accessibility in terms of life experience, but sometimes in the literal sense, e.g. in countries like Afghanistan where only a female reporter has access to women). The other goal is to be able to tell the stories that are sometimes turned down by male dominated news desks.

"My personal example is that a colleague and I had to fight an entire year to be able to write a story for a business magazine about the global fertility market (with examples from Europe and the U.S.). My editors turned it down several times (Why should we write about all the things people do to get children? Because it is a huge market!) until Facebook offered  their female employees to freeze their eggs - that's when my editors realized that fertility is a topic for a business publication.

"The founder of the project is Pauline Tillmann, a young (compared to me at least!) freelance journalist based in St. Petersburg, Russia. She is her own multimedia business who experiments with audio, blogging and video.

"I met her when she stayed with me in DC last summer when she was in the U.S. for a project to report about new trends in journalism. She came to stay with me through another crowd funded project,

"Hostwriter is an initiative through which international journalists can help each other with their research or provide a sofa to crash on for colleagues traveling on a limited budget (as most of us do these days).

"Just thought you might find all of this interesting. And for those of you who do read German - please check out our campaign!"
And check out it out even if you don't read German.  Also, don't miss Sabine's blog (in English)  here.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

When Will Women Land the Big TV Gigs?

Lester Holt is keeping the anchor seat warm at NBC Nightly News while Brian Williams is off the air, possibly permanently.  If Williams doesn’t return, it’s a safe bet Holt will keep the job, one that has eluded most seasoned women journalists, with the exception of Katie Couric and Diane Sawyer.

But we have yet to see a woman ensconced in late night TV for the long haul.  Joan Rivers had her own late show on Fox during 1986-87 but later departed for daytime TV.  With Jon Stewart’s pending departure from his wildly popular program, the conversation about which women could fill his shoes has revived again. Nell Scovell, a former staffer for David Letterman, laments that the recent reshuffling of late night hosts means that the opportunities for women are dim: “Most late-night hosts stay put for decades. It’s the closest thing to a Civil Service job in TV,” she says. Her New York Times article is here.

Scovell points out that the traditional sex segregation of TV daypart identity — women own daytime, men own prime time — makes no sense in a time-shifting world where people are watching programs at all hours on their mobile devices.  The ascendance of female entertainers with the brains to do sharp political satire hasn’t been lost on us (paging Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, to name just two). So why does it seem that network executives have this persistent blind spot?