Tuesday, August 2, 2011

A Letter on The Lives of Women and Girls (Flagged: Urgent)

Dear readers,

I'm writing this to you in letter format, inspired by a letter written in a film.

In the charming Audrey Hepburn classic Sabrina, a young chauffeur's daughter, obsessed with puppy love over the wealthy, handsome David played by William Holden, is sent to Paris to cooking school for a year. At the end of that year, she is much changed. She writes to her father,

"It is late at night and someone across the way is playing La Vie en Rose. It is the French way of saying I'm looking through the world through rose colored glasses and it says everything I feel...I've learned how to live. How to be in the world and of the world. And not just stand aside and watch. And I will never ever again run away from life or love either."

Of the world and in the world. How many women are watching their lives go by as they watch others live it? Will anyone look back at their life and think, I'm so glad I spent so much time watching Teresa Giudace on the Real Housewives of New Jersey!

Consuming unhealthy food is bad for our bodies, but consuming all of this "entertainment" is bad for our soul and minds. If you clutter your mind with gossip and toxic energy, gossip and toxic energy is what comes out of people.

I've talked before about "Endangered American Species: Language and Conversation," but so often conversation among women involves talking about mindless television and judging and belittling others.

When the actress Drew Barrymore was still married to Tom Green, Howard Stern insulted Green at a fundraiser saying how scary it must be for her to sleep with him. I loved how Drew replied,

"I just don't even go to the mean kids' area in that playground."

I wish people, especially women, wouldn't go there either. In the film Jane Austin Book Club, Emily Blunt's character has a mini-meltdown when she sees an old high school rival flirting with her husband at her mother's funeral. Her husband reassures her it was nothing and that high school is over, and she cried out, high school is never over! Sometimes, I think she's half right. Maybe because I was bullied as a teenager I'm more sensitive to this even as an adult, but I wish people didn't making gossip a sport.

I also wish women would get as passionate about more important things than what happened on the most recent Mob Wives (who cares times ten thousand). Our mothers, grandmothers and those before them fought through all these social justice movements - for this? To spend valuable leisure time sitting on our couches watching Kim Kardashian (net worth $35 million). It's not a drug, but this garbage (no other word for it) is numbing people to reality.

In the film the 11th Hour, psychologist James Hillman says, "We numb our senses from morning till night. Whether it's with noise, or loud music or light at night so nobody sees the beauty and if we've lost the feeling of the beauty of the world then we are looking for substitutes."

I want to explore the beauty of the world. Enjoy the seasonal produce at a local farm. Watch the geese swim and the dogs bask in the joy of the moment at the park. Or if I spend time watching television, I'd rather be in the company of Ginger Rogers or Audrey Hepburn, not some Botox-filled housewife.

Like Tori Amos talked about becoming a mother drew out wanting to mother her own true mother - the Earth - I don't understand why so many women don't think or seem to care about issues like clean water, air, soil and food or connect their actions to these things. These are not issues Democrats should care about - they are human rights issues. More important on many a woman's radar: is she swimsuit ready for the beach? I loved how my writer friend Jennifer put it,

"We'll all be standing on a bare Earth in our bikinis."

We complain about why gas isn't cheaper, instead of wondering what the pollution the SUVs so many in suburbia drive is doing to their kids air. We brag about our cheap finds at H&M, but don't ask, who made this? Why is it so cheap? We say we value education, but brag about possessions, not knowledge. We'll spend so much putting on makeup, doing our hair, getting a nice outfit on and then for lunch, "Let me microwave a factory farmed chicken with pesticide laden veggies which will be exposed to all the plastics while it's heating up, which I'll eat while working at my desk."

Many put vanity first. In this article (the subject matter of an eight year old getting Botox was a hoax) financial reporter Kathy Kristof bemoans,

"In 25 years of financial reporting, I can't count the number of women who have told me that they couldn't afford to save, but they could afford weekly manicures, expensive make-up, shoes, clothing and purses because that was an investment in their future.

That kind of thinking has resulted in a stark reality: 80% of the people living in poverty when they're old are women. That's not just because we continue to earn less, on average, than men. It's because women spend a fortune trying to be beautiful...Millions of women will spend hundreds of dollars every week getting eyebrows waxed, hair tinted, nails wrapped — and seek the perfect handbag for a party — but say they don't have the wherewithal to invest $100 a month in a mutual fund.

Girls, if you want to be beautiful, I'll give you a tip. What makes you pretty is confidence. You get confidence from being kind, responsible and successful — not from having the perfect handbag and nails. I assure you that properly arched eyebrows and fewer wrinkles will not help you look gorgeous when you’re old and destitute."

I can't say enough how extremely disappointed I am in the culture for girls (and boys right now). Everywhere - everywhere, young children are glossy eyed staring at their hand held devices. Isn't it sweet how the makers manufacture these all sparkly and shiny like toys. Did you know Toys r Us is going to start selling Kindles, eager to add yet another gadget in your child's life?

At a movie recently in Westwood, New Jersey, almost every young girl in the 12-14 age range had a fancy bag with a Blackberry. Mothers - what does a 13 year old need a Coach bag for? Some girls as appeared to be as young as eight had hand bags and phones. Am I the only person who feels like they are in Invasion of the Body Snatchers? This is Bergen County, New Jersey. Please chime in and tell me if you are witnessing this too, and teachers, I'd love to hear from you too.

Instead of being outraged marketers are getting to our girls younger and younger to groom the next generation of consumers, some parents seem to be writing a blank check to them. Here you go Verizon, Blackberry, UGG, Coach, here's my kid's soul!

Instead of a device, why don't we put in girls' hands a paintbrush, a piece of athletic equipment, a gardening tool, a microscope, or book (a real book)? Why don't we teach girls pleasure in a logo bag is fleeting, but knowledge lasts a lifetime.

Katy Perry has a new hit song Last Friday Night. Her great Friday night includes all these things:
getting so drunk after doing multiple shots
posting their photos online, oh well we're screwed!
having a menage a trois
the law being after her (since she can't remember why, could it be offing a few innocent motorists on the road?)
maxing out her credit cards (was it buying her perfume?)

A creepy TGIF-chant follows, and can't wait to do that all again next Friday night!

This is the summer anthem for our youth post-The Great Recession? I don't think alcohol abuse and credit card debt is something to be singing about in a sugary-sweet sounding song. What ended up online, sexually explicit images? Happening every day. Jennifer told me her daughters witnessed some very young girls singing this on the street. Katy Perry, how do you feel about that? Too busy counting your money? Much like a song about not wanting to go to rehab by another female pop singer sounded bad at the time and even worse in retrospect, should young girls be singing joyfully about self-destructive behavior?

Jennifer she says corporations put music on the radio they want the public to mimic. Who wrote this song, the credit card companies, Mark Zuckerberg and some liquor companies?

Young girls want to be 13 going on 30, and women want to go backwards (see my "Younger - Better? More Valued? Says Who?") post. Why can't we embrace where we are in life?

Singer Natalie Merchant, while promoting her work of sonic poetry Leave Your Sleep, talked about wanting to mature gracefully. She has a daughter, and I was so thrilled to hear her - or anyone - talk about aging gracefully and the concept of maturity.

She is one of my longtime favorite singers for her love of history and beauty of the word, caring for the environment and many social causes. She has no perfume to sell, only her art. I loved how she celebrated the diversity of women when she did the video for Wonder from her Tigerlily album. We need better role models, ones that lift us up, not bring us down. She's been one of mine.



  1. What makes this trend truly troubling is that it has gone global.

  2. Ahem...
    I agree with everything you say but leave the teenagers alone..
    Weren't you a teenager?
    it's the only time for stupid silliness before we have to face so many harsh realities..
    Hey that song is oldddd - so is TEENAGE DREAM
    I LOVE Katy Perry even if I buy local, eat tofu, no meat, don't drive, save water, never watched NJ Housewifes and all the other good stuff...

  3. Sometimes, it's hard to digest that we're in the worst economy since the Depression, and hear my pastor talk about record demand at food pantries and our local pantry scaling back hours because most people don't donate in the summer, to seeing 12 year olds all over with $200-plus bags and pricey phones. A consignment shop owner told me some girls won't buy copies and only want the "real thing."

    As Sunduri said, this trend has gone global.

    I was a teenager, and am so grateful "sexting" wasn't in my dialogue, "social networking" meant hanging out with my friends in person, and that my tormentors in high school didn't have these sites as an added tool. Even as a teenager I couldn't understand mass thought and dressing the same way everyone else did.

    My issue isn't with her music overall but this particular song and its timing. An ode to acquiring credit card debt? Not for me. How many people take too many shots and get behind the wheel? I used to know a woman whose husband was killed by such a person and left a young boy without a father. Teenage right of passage?

    You might know why it's important to cut back on meat, conserve water, tune out Housewives shows, but many people don't – which is the point. People are distracted. My boyfriend says everyone has these 'baubles and trinkets' to distract them while so many live a life of debt and have no idea what's going on in the news.

    But all opinions are welcome here and I thank you for your comment.

  4. Reality tv used to be my guilty pleasure. I'd watch it while cleaning or cooking, never thinking much of it. After awhile I realized the shows were saturating me with advertisements as I started to crave name brands, makeup, and trips to the salon.

    Luckily, my cravings were short. I stopped watching as soon as I noticed the correlation, snapped myself back into reality and remembered how plentiful my life is now. I know I'm one of the lucky ones, I can only wish that more of us would start to live within our means instead of perpetually emulating the lives we think we want.

  5. Did you ever read that Reality Bites Back book I told you about? Not that you need help with media literacy, but I thought it was a great read (and a great book to recommend to others, obviously!)

    Reality TV is not my thing, mostly because it's NOT reality. It reflects the worst of society because we want something to point to and say, "Look. I'm better than that."

    I remember being a little silly as a teenager, as most teenagers are. But I still didn't see the point in following the crowd and wasting obscene amounts of money on fitting in. Did I spend too much money on pointless things? Of course. But I also read lots of books, listened to quality music, thought about issues affecting the world, etc. The anti-intellectualism in America right now, among adults and children, terrifies me. And it should.

  6. What timing! I just watched my first Katy Perry--and a few other very popular songs--video last night. Essentially, they were all commercials. Overt, absurd product placement. Every single one of them talked about getting drunk, most to the point of puking. Some songs were named after products. It was absolutely absurd.

    Granted, I was a drunk teenager at one point in time too. I was also in an Amnesty International "club." Our teeny bob idols wore clothing, didn't push products in their songs and videos and didn't encourage me to act in a manner that would make me an easy target for rape at parties. The landscape has changed. Kids will be kids, no doubt, but you're right--these kids are being groomed for a very particular way of life that has nothing to do with anything outside of apathy and consumerism.

    I also agree with you that parents are signing over a blank check. I don't know if it's a combination of ignorance and fear or simple laziness. It's easier to let glowing rectangles raise your kids when you're too tired from working. Or something.

    The videos I watched last night worried and saddened me. They also helped me to realize why my siblings' children are not as mature, aware or as politically active as I was at their age. I wasn't a special, super smart teenager. I was just like all my friends, as are the kids of today.

  7. Thank you all for the comments!

    I feel like Erica said, "my life is so plentiful now." Cancelling cable was one of the best decisions I made this year. I don't want to 'veg out' - I want entertainment that will inspire me, provoke me, and lift me up. I don't want to feel good about putting others down (wouldn't that be like bullying on the sidelines?)

    Cate, I haven't read it yet! I'm in the middle of The Paris Wife, and when I read the line about people spiraling into self-destructive behavior, "It grew harder and harder to shock anyone" - I thought of today's anything goes culture. Anti-intellectualism – I'm terrified of it too.

    I was a supporter of Amnesty International too! I can recall writing protest letters on a typewriter in my teens. I learned to care about animals, the environment and people as a teenager - my formative years. Key word, "formative."

    In The New York Times, there was an article about the thriving luxury goods market,

    "Nordstrom has a waiting list for a Chanel sequined tweed coat with a $9,010 price. Neiman Marcus has sold out in almost every size of Christian Louboutin "Bianca" platform pumps, at $775 a pair."

    A few paragraphs later,

    "Wal-Mart is selling smaller packages because some shoppers do not have enough cash on hand to afford multipacks of toilet paper."


    I don't crave $775 pairs of shoes or envy people who buy them. I crave knowledge and financial security.

    If I calculated all of the money I wasted over the years on vanity things like hair tinting/pricey cuts, manicures/pedicures, Anthropolgie clothes, never mind cable, I cringe. Women, let's promote economic empowerment to girls and to each other! Financial advisor Suze Orman was right when she said a few years ago the consumers have been carrying the economy on their backs and their backs are broken.