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: https://www.startnext.com/deine-korrespondentin

"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. http://www.pauline-tillmann.de/life/curriculum-vitae-cv/?lang=en

"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, https://hostwriter.org

"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?

 

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Barbie 'Computer Engineer' Book Infuriates Parents

So much for empowerment.  Mattel icon Barbie, long known for her independence and career versatility, turns out to be hopeless at computer engineering -- a lucrative career field that still has far too many women in it.  Based on the content of I Can Be A Computer Engineer, Barbie's not going to be one of them.

That's because, in Taylor Lorenz's review of the book, "She is portrayed as an inept programmer who inadvertently plagues her friend’s computer with a virus and can’t fix a bug without help from a man."

Lorenz says parental criticism has harmed sales, but my check of Amazon says the paperback edition of the book, paired with I Can Be An Actress, is temporarily out of stock.  So someone's buying it -- lots of someones, unfortunately.  Or perhaps Amazon has quietly stuck it in a dark corner, where it belongs.

As dispiriting as the insipid content is the fact that the book was written by a woman, Susan Marenco, who has co-authored two other Barbie achiever books, Pastry Chef and Lifeguard.

If girls don't like the book, they can console themselves with a Barbie Computer Programmer doll, who -- of course -- has a pink laptop.

UPDATE NOV. 20:  Mattel has apologized for the content of this book: http://techcrunch.com/2014/11/19/mattel-pulls-sexist-barbie-book-i-can-be-a-computer-engineer-off-amazon/

and you can suggest improvements to it here: https://computer-engineer-barbie.herokuapp.com/

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Pushback Against Video Game Critics Grows More Toxic

The final frontier for women pushing into all areas of media influence seems to be video gaming.  But in an extreme version of "no girls allowed in the tree house," threats of physical violence, even death, are being leveled against the female rock stars of video game development and cultural critics advocating for improved depiction of women in these games.

The latest victim is Anita Sarkeesian, whose YouTube video, "Tropes vs. Women," documents the history of women as wallpaper and other forms of hypersexualized decoration in video gaming, in which "women exist as passive objects of dominant male desire.... incidental eye candy... to titillate presumably straight male players."  Sarkeesian decodes the visual and technical components of the games to reveal the formula of sexualization that is repeated in game after game. Plots reinforcing that women's primary role is to satisfy the sexual desires of heterosexual males, "set up a transactional relationship in which women are reduced to a basic sexual function."

"It's the essence of what sexual objectification means," Sarkeesian says.

Sarkeesian is making headlines because on Oct. 14, she cancelled a speech at Utah State University after the university received an email warning that a shooting massacre would occur at the event. Utah permits residents to carry concealed weapons and the university said it could not require event attendees to leave their weapons at home.

The hostility toward critics of games has spiraled as the industry has tried to expand its appeal to the growing number of female gamers, engendering anger among die-hard male gamers angry that their "space" is being invaded.  Much of this anger has been directed at female game developers such as Zoe Quinn and Brianna Wu, reported the New York Times. The Entertainment Software Association, the trade association representing games publishers, has protested the vitriol directed at these developers and women who critique game content, but the misogynistic complaints continue.  Now, they've escalated to threats of a massacre.
 

Monday, October 13, 2014

Legacy Media Big Losers in European Media Analysis

The European Publishers Council (EPC), representing Europe’s leading media organizations, has announced publication of the EPC Global Media Trends Book. And it's not good news for legacy media who've struggled to create a digital presence.

The report provides a detailed survey of the digital media landscape with more than 500 data sets and an in-depth analysis of global digital media revenue and usage trends.

Traditional media models are showing declining relevance, according to the key findings in this year's report.  Here's a sampling:
  • Internet advertising spend is poised to exceed expenditures on TV advertising in many parts of the world before the end of the decade;
  • Investment in technology overtakes product development as priority for efficiency;
  • Lack of talent in emerging areas (technology, internet) is the most cited barrier to growth in media companies 2013 to 2014
  • Native advertising and content marketing are the top priority for marketers;
  • The use of mobile to access the Internet around the world has doubled in one year;
  • E-commerce on mobile and tablets has grown dramatically;
  • Global newspaper industry ad-spend share is expected to drop from 16.9 percent in 2013 to 13.7 percent by 2018;
  • Digital news subscriptions are growing in the double digits since 2013;
  • The 19-35 age group (millennials) consume little live TV compared to their older counterparts;
  • Worldwide, millennials consider the internet, including social media, the most credible news source.
The executive summary of the Global Media Trends Book can be downloaded for free here.