the digital giraffe - Y Not

All About Women

Our Woman of the Month Award for March goes to Nancy Spector, who spent 30 years at the Guggenheim Museum in New York, left to become Chief Curator at the Brooklyn Museum, and returned to the Guggenheim in a powerful and newly-created post as Chief Curator and Artistic Director. Did you read that President Donald Trump asked the Guggenheim for the loan of a Van Gogh painting for the private quarters in the White House? Did you know that Spector offered him instead a contemporary piece called "America" by Marizio Cattelan, an 18-karat-gold working toilet? I call that pretty gutsy.

Note: Woman of the Month now has its own page in the archives section.

In spite of protestations to the contrary, Hollywood featured female leads last year on only 24% of the 100 highest-grossing films. In fact, that figure was 5% lower than the prior year, and even the 3 most successful films were led by women (Star Wars, Beauty and the Beast, and The Last Jedi). Independent films were considerably more generous to women. The representation of Latina, Asian, and black women rose slightly. When it comes to roles for actors over 40, men filled 46% of major roles vs. 29% for women. (I'm not sure what that statistic means: who filled the other 31% - animals? aliens?). But the overall situation is clear.

The first female sports writer for the New York Times was Maribel Vinson, who began writing for them in 1934 when she was 22 years old. She was also a 3-time Olympic participant, winning a bronze medal when Sonja Henie got the gold. Her editor at the Times, Bernard William St. Denis Thomson, regretted his decision to hire her because it inhibited his habit of swearing. If she could not out-swear them, she is said to have been able to out-drink them. A tough coach for others, Vinson died in a plane crash in 1961.

It is not only the film world that is coming under scrutiny for gender malfeasance. The art world is well-known for its mistreatment of women and their exclusion from major collections, shows, and auctions, not to mention historical references. Curators like Anthony d'Offray in the U.K., collectors like Steve Wynn, and artists like Chuck Close are being accused of everything from rape to harrassment. Groups like We Are Not Surprised are calling for major changes in art institutions and indeed in the public's attitude as well. Diversity and multiplicity are here to stay, and those in power need to recognized the new reality. (Viewers will want to read our Quill article this month, called "Broccoli Glue and You").

It has taken 325 years, but the College of William and Mary has just appointed its first female president. Katherine A. Rowe, currently dean of faculty and provost at Smith College, has been selected as the 28th President of the public institution. William and Mary was established under a royal charter in 1693, second in age only to Harvard University. One of its alumni was Thomas Jefferson. For her part, Rowe is known for her strong advocacy of the liberal arts. Among other accomplishments, she founded a company called "Luminary Digital Media". (Editor's note: I will know things have changed when the university is renamed Mary and William.)

A company in Spain has come under intense criticism for apparently rejecting a woman for employment because she is not a man. According to the PR agency Impulsa Comunicacion, Carla Forcada could not fill the position because it "needed a man who could handle the pace of working with big companies". Coca Cola reacted by refusing to work with the agency any longer. The agency itself has shut down its website after calling the episode a "misunderstanding".

The U. N. is reporting that women around the world are hungrier and poorer than their male counterparts. Unsurprisingly, they are also more discriminated against. According to the report, "there are 122 women ages 25 to 34 who live in extreme poverty for every 100 men in that age group. The percentage of women living in poor households hovers at about 12.8 percent. For men, it is 12.3 percent, which means about 5 million more women are struggling." With limited access to jobs, inability to inherit land, and restricted access to credit, women are less likely to get out of poverty. Maternity demands add to womens' burdens, assuming they have avoided maternal death which continues to be a huge problem. On the bright side, more women are getting an education and staying in school longer, although it is felt that 15 million women worldwide will never know how to write and read.

Canada's first, and now former, female Prime Minister has made some forthright remarks about being a woman in today's environment. For example, she says, women should be able to go bare-armed without comment. Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett, the Guardian's columnist who points this out, goes on to ask some pertinent questions about why women allow themselves to be so concerned about their appearance. Why, she asks, do women have to wear tight-fitting dresses and high heels on the red carpet? Why do women so often get pitted against each other, or worry about whether men will approve of their hair and clothes? Much food for thought here.

Rose McGowan's memoir, called "Brave", has created an uproar, resulting in the exposure of Miramax's Harvey Weinstein and the beginning of the "Me Too" movement. McGowan shaves her head, as a protest against the long hair fantasy promulgated in Hollywood, what she calls the "ultimate fantasy fuck-toy". Raised in a religius cult called the "Children of God", McGowan spares no details in describing the difficult life she has led and the male chauvinism that prevails not only in Hollywood but in many other areas of society as well.

The issue of whether Iranian women should wear a veil is examined in this article in the New York Times. A report written 3 years ago has just now been released, stating that almost half of the women in Iran do not want to be forced to wear it and as many men agree. The publication of the report now seems to indicate that at some level the Iranian government wants to allow social reforms, against the demands of hard-liners. Recently women have been protesting in public about compulsory clothing. One of the women in fact runs a website called "My Stealthy Freedom". A similar restriction is imposed upon men, who are not allowed to wear shorts in public.

BlackRock Inc., one of the largest asset managers in the world, is asking other companies to justify having few or no women on their corporate boards. BlacRock points out that boards with diversity make wiser decisions. The firm is asking companies with fewer than 2 female boardmenbers to illustrate their committment to more female directors in the future, and it turns out that over 1/3 of Russell 1000 companies have less than 2 women on their boards. To emphasize their point, BlackRock says it supported 8 out of 9 shareholder proposals in favor of board diversity in the 2nd quarter of 2017. In prior years, BlackRock has supported only 2 diversity amendments, so this represents a significant shift in purpose for the corporation.

The Washington Post writes that, according to the Indian government, more than 63 million women are "missing", due to disease, neglect, abortion of female babies, and poor nutrition. The annual economic survey reinforces the observations of social workers and scientists that in both India and China decades of male preference have given rise to a swelling of excess males and the pressure on these men to find wives. In India, if a family produces a girl, they will keep having children until a boy is born. The result is 21 million unwanted girls. The disparity in gender preferences gets worse at the higher income levels, where only a son can inherit property or run the family business.

There is a significant report from northern Syria about a profound upheaval in women's rights in the fields of politics, governance, and security. The changes are described as "tectonic", an "earthquake", socialist utopianism, marxism - you get the picture. The radical shift comes as a direct response to the horrors of war, and to the experience of women hearing Islamic men discussing beheading women. The new group, called the all-women People's Protection Units, or YPJ, aims to show that women are able to protect themselves without depending on men. The ideas are not only theoretic: you will find female traffic cops, women guarding checkpoints, serving as defense ministers, heading offices of security permits. One veteran female fighter says, "this is a revolution of women". The charter of the social contract for self-rule states, "women have the inviolable right to participate in political, social, econonmic, and cultural life." Local women say that the changes will take time, a 5,000-year-old culture cannot change overnight. Underlying these upheavals is the idea that only a "strong association of women can form the self-defence system necessary to confront the existing male-dominated institutions". The courage of these women is extraordinary.

After a recent senate vote, the Canadian national anthem will become gender neutral once again. The words "in all thy sons command" will become "in all of us command". The movement to change the language was promoted by former Prime Minister Kim Campbell, mentioned above, and author Margaret Atwood. The alteration awaits only approval by the governor general. It actually took over 30 years to be accomplished.

c. Corinne Whitaker 2018

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