Archive | March, 2011

If women ruled the world….?

27 Mar

In 2007, the actress Sally Field won an Emmy for her role as mother in the television drama “Brothers and Sisters.” While accepting the award, Field declared: “…let’s face it, if mothers ruled the world, there would be no fucking wars in the first place.”

It’s an interesting provocation, but does such a proclamation have any bearing in the reality of politics, international relations, and gender roles?

Let’s take a look:

Over the course of the past several weeks, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton energetically and relentlessly worked to convince the Obama administration to enter militarily into the current Libyan crisis. Arguably, she was the most vociferous voice behind the change of course: from strong words and threats of embargo, to taking the lead in the United Nations and NATO use of a “no-fly zone” over Libyan territory, and ongoing air attacks.

Such bellicosity is no real surprise when it comes to Hillary Clinton; during her run for Democratic nominee for President in 2008 she spoke frequently of her belief in the use of force against rogue states such as Iran. Clinton’s aura of “hardness” was so emphatic, that her crying while in a New Hampshire primary town meeting was widely viewed as suspect.

The United Kingdom’s first female prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, was nicknamed the “Iron Lady” during her reign. This prenom was due to her tough anti-Soviet stance, but could also be interpreted via her war to maintain the English colony in the South American Falklands Islands, her rampant austerity measures which led to extremely high unemployment and general disgruntlement, and her tight friendship with Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.

Benazir Bhutto was Pakistan’s Prime Minister two consecutive times; both times she was eventually ousted due to unceasing corruption charges, controversies, and rumors. While campaigning in Pakistan in 2007, she was assassinated.

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is the current President of Liberia. She was elected in 2005; her win seen as a symbolic gesture of hope for the country’s emergence after its second civil war. Sirleaf has largely avoided scandal and is generally well-liked, but the country remains mired in poverty and overall structural failure.

Angela Merkel is the current German Chancellor. Known for her mild-mannered approach, vehement support of a successful European Union, intimate friendship with Nicolas Sarkozy, and ambivalence concerning any German involvement international military affairs, she remains a universally well-liked and hard-working head-of-state.

Let’s return to the initial question: Would a world dominated by heads-of-state who are also mothers lead to a more peaceful world?

If conclusions are to be reached via the careers of the women listed above, the answer would be absolutely not. In fact, the politician who is arguably the most well-regarded has never had children in the first place.

What are the assumptions behind the assertion that a mother is more peaceful? Is it because the fact that a woman has given birth and mothered children leads to the notion that she will in turn be more hopeful regarding the future, and therefore work to ensure a peaceful present? Does this assumption imply that a woman who has not borne children will be somehow less capable of envisioning and striving towards a peaceful world?

Admittedly, my examples cannot be considered in a vacuum. The government of Angela Merkel and its decisions are undoubtedly hamstrung through Germany’s history and its unforgettable actions. Ellen Sirleaf Johnson was largely elected because she was seen as a figure of peace in a war-torn country.

That said, what’s Hillary Rodham Clinton’s excuse for her raging warmongering attitude? Is it the only way for a woman to get ahead in politics in the United States?

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Happy *#!? International Women’s Day

8 Mar

Today is the 100th annual International Women’s Day…and doesn’t it feel awesome? not only to be a woman, but to know that there is one day out of the 365 days a year that is set aside to call attention to female progress, news, statistics, empowerment, misogyny, violence, politics, arts, and anything else related to over half of the world’s population?

Excuse my ingratitude, but what’s the point of reserving a single day to celebrate a group so large and so overwhelmingly diverse, that its inclusion is impossible, and therefore irrelevant?

So, let’s take today to direct our attention to the ongoing protests and violence in the Ivory Coast, where thousands of women peacefully protesting and waving tree branches were indiscriminately shot at by the military last week.

The 42% disgrace

8 Mar

This weekend’s New York Times contained two very interesting articles speaking to the current enormous changes rippling across the Middle East. The first, “Women Seek to Maintain a Role in the Building of a New Egypt” described both the influx in women taking to the streets in the January 25th Revolution, and the incredible obstacles confronting the majority of women in the country.

For instance: “…a recent report by the World Economic Forum ranked Egypt 125th out of 134 countries when judging the equality between men and women, in good part because so many women do not work, 42 percent of women cannot read or write and almost no women are political leaders.” The massive 42% illiteracy weighs in enormously as a factor in the political, artistic, progressive and occupational desires and goals that may serve as inspirational signposts. For example, if there are leaflets circulating concerning upcoming protests or community meetings, women under this 42% will not know of said events unless informed by someone else–i.e. their husbands. 2 out of 5 women cannot read or write.

This statistic overwhelms me, and does relate to the other article responsible for the instigation of this blog posting: Nicholas D. Kristof’s Sunday Op-Ed essay “Is Islam the Problem?” The impetus for Kristof’s piece is a reactive response to the recent enormous protests and movements topplingĀ  (or attempting to topple) the governments of Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Bahrain, Yemen, and the Ivory Coast. “What took so long?”
Kristof considers various replies concerning Islam’s fundamental unsuitability to capitalism, the negative aftereffects of Western colonialism, and ancient Islamic legal codes. For Kristof, what must be stressed is not only that Islam is not the problem, but that it is also (counter to the Muslim Brotherhood’s declaration) not the solution.

The recently formed new Parliament in Egypt contains one woman; the committee formed by the military council post-Mubarak to draft constitutional amendments contained zero women; one of the amendments declares that any future presidents of Egypt cannot have a non-Egyptian wife. (Unless this amendment is including same-sex female marriages, it is apparent that its foundation rests on the notion that the president can only be male.)

So, let me surmise that one of the main structural problems that will continue to impair any economic, political, and cultural development in Egypt is the tragic 42%.

The Oscar goes to….(anyone but the female director)!

3 Mar

In the year 2010, for the 82nd Oscars, the director Kathryn Bigelow won two Oscars–for the awards “Best Director” and “Best Film” for “The Hurt Locker.” These two awards were extremely significant, and not just because they were awarded to a film that demonstrated mastery in style, storytelling, historical relevance, and a highly crafted method of action film-making that Bigelow had been perfecting since the 1980’s.

Bigelow was the first woman to ever be rewarded with an Oscar for directing. In fact, she was only the fourth woman to ever be nominated! The Italian director Lina Wertmuller was nominated in 1975 for “Seven Beauties;” in 1993 the New Zealand director Jane Campion was nominated for “The Piano;” and in 2003 the American Sophia Coppola was nominated for “Lost in Translation.” (Coppola won an Oscar for “Best Screenplay.”)

Because of this massive historical, filmic, artistic, and cultural oversight, Bigelow was saddled with an enormous amount of projection regarding feminism, Hollywood limitations, and the expectations and opportunities surrounding both the former and the latter. Bigelow handled these fiercely blowing winds gracefully, attempting to retain the focus around her filmography, rather than her sex.

But in the following Oscars’ year, what’s changed? For the 83rd annual Oscars, no female directors were nominated for “Best Director,” despite the fact that two of the films in the (now 10 film) category of “Best Picture” were directed by women: Debra Granik’s “Winter’s Bone” and Lisa Cholodenko’s “The Kids are Alright.” Granted, the “Best Director” category still possesses only five nominees, but it remains disputable as to whether these five (Darren Aronofsky, David Fincher, Tom Hooper, the Coen brothers, and David O. Russell) are more worthy nominees.

I did not love “The Kids are Alright,” nor did I believe that it demonstrated a mastery in film-making; but I could apply these same doubts to any of the above-listed five male directors. With its cinematography, acting, ease of storytelling, editing, and overall emotional resonance, Granik’s “Winter’s Bone” definitively demonstrated the qualities demanded for a “Best Director” nomination.

So, where was she? And, what are the Coens doing there?

I realize my questions are based on subjective tastes and passions….but the Oscars are by no means the result of objective judgement and decree.

Let’s veer to the “Best Foreign Film” category, one that is renowned for its indecipherable willynillyness. This year, the Danish director Susanne Bier won for “In a Better World.” Bier has been crafting well-regarded melodramas for quite some time, and her award here is a wonderful recognition of her growing oeuvre. So, here’s a female director; now hopefully her films will be distributed in actual American theatres.