Monday, February 08, 2016

TV: Women and Power

What is it that makes some women struggle with power?

We wondered that last week.


First, we wondered it when we read Nellie Andreeva's DEADLINE piece  about a potential NBC series of CRUEL INTENTIONS:

NBC’s Cruel Intentions reboot, which was just greenlighted to pilot, picks up 15 years after the cult 1999 movie, which starred Ryan Phillippe, Reese Witherspoon and Sarah Michelle Gellar. It follows the beautiful and cunning Kathryn Merteuil — the character played in the film by Gellar — as she vies for control of Valmont International as well as the soul of Bash Casey, the son of her step-brother, the late Sebastian Valmont (Phillippe), and Annette Hargrove (Witherspoon).
With Gellar’s character featured in the followup series, it is probably not surprising that the Buffy The Vampire Slayer star would be on the producers’ wish list. And now I’ve learned that Gellar has been approached about reprising her role in the pilot. It is unclear yet whether it would happen or not; she is reading the script.

CRUEL INTENTIONS was a film Geller made while starring in the TV series BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER.  In both performances, she played strong characters and was rightly applauded for both.

Once BUFFY ended, SMG was playing all kinds of roles, none of them strong women.

It wasn't that she was giving bad performance -- she was very good in RINGER -- it's just that she seemed to run from the roles she was best suited for and the roles audiences wanted to see her in.

Was it scary playing a strong woman?

For a number of singers, it clearly has been.

Owning her power brought Alanis Morissette to fame with "You Ought To Know."

It was this same power that she ended up running from and ignoring on the follow up album.

On that album's "Thank You," she sang, "The moment I let go of it, was the moment I got more than I could handle."

Maybe so.

But it also cost her 4/5 of her audience.

Tina Turner lost 4/5 of her audience as well when she disowned her strength.

Strength evident in "Better Be Good To Me," "What's Love Got To Do With It," "Steel Claw," "Show Some Respect," etc resulted in her having the best comeback, as many noted, since Lazarus.  But she followed up PRIVATE DANCER with an album whining about her longing for "a typical male, a typical male" and much worse.  In the process, she lost the bulk of her audience.

Then there's the history of guilt so many women feel with regards to their power, with regards to their success.

In her best selling memoir BOYS IN THE TREES, singer-songwriter Carly Simon shares:

One afternoon, shortly after the New Year, someone from Elektra called with the news that NO SECRETS and its lead single, "You're So Vain," had both humped the charts from number 39 to number 1.  For me, a performer in her mid-twenties still saw herself as the stammering younger sister, the one eternally lagging behind, it was a wholly new experience.  By sheer coincidence, James's album ONE MAN DOG and its lead single, "Don't Let Me Be Lonely Tonight," had been released at approximately the same time as mine.  Even though James's new album was doing extremely well, it wasn't the monster of a hit that "You're So Vain" was turning out to be.  You would think I might have permitted myself a few hours, if not days, of satisfaction or pride, but I couldn't.  I had a crush on the song "Don't Let Me Be Lonely Tonight," similar to the crush I had on James, and the only thing I remember thinking was that I wished it were him, and not me.
It was the first time James and I had ever directly competed, and it confused me, not just because I'd always assumed James would be more commercially successful than I, but because my desire to make him happy was woven so intricately into the submissive side I'd cultivated in my childhood by bringing Uncle Peter milk shakes adorned with four-leaf clovers on top whenever he finished a tennis match.  What is it about men that allows them to be at ease as the successful ones, without feeling any guilt if their wives come up short?  Like many women of my generation, I wasn't remotely at peace with the idea of winning any competition with my man.

It's a strange relationship we have with power.

It's what leads a woman seen as the voice of rock for most of the eighties to turn her career over to her husband and watch it flounder from that moment on.  You never catch a wife changing her husband's successful sound let alone bragging about it the way Neil Giraldo did with Pat Benatar.

For every CherMadonna or Janet Jackson owning their power with aplomb there are so many more of us struggling.

And that brings up the other moment from last week, the shameful and embarrassing moment.

Oh, Gloria Steinem, please go away.


Just go away.

The woman went on hideous Bill Maher's hideous talk show.


Because she was still confused from her heavily applauded moment on Stephen Colbert's Comedy Central show years ago -- the one where she made an embarrassing spectacle of herself.

She did much more damage this go round.

How so?

Gloria attacked transgendered people early on.

She never really apologized for it until recently when the online world (including us) began making a big deal out of her bigotry.

Let's be really clear that before the online world, Gloria got away with anything and was never held accountable.

She and her cadre defended her and attacked critics instead of responding to criticism.

When she finally began addressing her historic bigotry, she tried to say she was misunderstood (she wasn't) before acknowledging (finally) that she was wrong.

She played it as a thing of the past.

So imagine the horror to see Bill Maher make sneers at Caitlin Jenner for who she was and, instead of addressing the bigotry, there was Gloria joining in with a swipe at Martine Rothblatt (born Martin Rothblatt).

In her revisionist 2013 essay for THE ADVOCATE, Gloria at least had the good sense to type, "I believe that transgender people, including those who have transitioned, are living out real, authentic lives.  Those lives should be celebrated, not questioned."

Yet there she was joining Bill Maher's mocking of Caitlin Jenner by mocking Martine Rothblatt.

Then there was her ridiculous homophobia and sexism.

Young women, she insisted, were supporting Bernie Sanders instead of  Hillary Clinton because they were trying to hook up with men ("When you're young, you're thinking, 'Where are the boys? The boys are with Bernie'.").

Excuse us?

Young women don't include lesbians (or the always overlooked bisexuals)?

Her hetero-normative assumptions and privilege were on full display.

And how insulting to straight women to insist that they are going to make their decision on who to support for president based on hormonal urges.

That insult?

It really goes to the failure that is Gloria Steinem.

Feminism, second wave, was moving forward with strength and purpose when Little Gloria shows up and refuses to stand up, time after time.  You can see Germaine Greer's "McGovern, the big tease" (HARPER'S, October 1972) and Vernoice Geng's "Requiem for the women's movement" (HARPER'S, November 1976) for starters.

Or you can just note that the strong and vocal Redstockings were silenced and attacked for standing up to Gloria (and noting her CIA connections), that 'feminist' Gloria used personal connections to silence the feminist group.

But mainly what you need to note is Gloria never shuts the f**k up.

At the age of 35, she publicly positioned herself as a feminist.

And good for her.

But within three years, she was battling with Betty Friedan to be the leader of the feminist movement -- and, yes, getting others to fight your battles is battling with Betty Friedan.

Betty was sidelined, too old to be the leader anymore, and Gloria filled the vacuum.

At 51, Betty was judged too old and 38-year-old Gloria assumed leadership.

And in the decades since, she has insisted she wanted to see young leaders rise up.

But she's done nothing to help that ever happen.

She's presented herself as the leader of feminism.

She's certainly the leader of the victim faction.

But at 81, she refuses to let go.

She refuses to step aside.

She and her cohorts forced Betty out when Betty was 30 years younger than Gloria is today.

And why won't Gloria step down?

Because she doesn't respect young women.

That's what came across loud and clear in her embarrassing conversation with Bill Maher.

Gloria came to power via character assassination.

She stood by while her cohorts attacked Betty Friedan.

She could have stopped it but she didn't.

And, in fact, she honestly encouraged it.

Prior to her crowning herself a leader, second wave feminism made huge strides on reproductive rights.

Once Gloria's a leader, it's victim, victim, victim.

There's no more standing up and demanding, there's settling for crumbs and watching Democratic members of Congress (and the Supreme Court) chip away at our rights.

Her long tenure of leadership is notable for one thing: The erosion of women's rights.

Gloria never really led any challenge to the system.

She whined.

She begged people to vote for the Democratic Party.

That's really all she's ever done.

She's weak and she's weakened feminism.

Worst of all, she's refused to step aside.

We loved Molly Yard and we love Patricia Ireland but if either woman had attempted to turn their tenure as President of NOW into a lifetime appointment, we would have objected.

The same way we object to Gloria Steinem's refusal to step aside and let other women come to the foreground.

Gloria's victim approach goes to the fact that she refuses to own her power.

She doesn't believe women have real power.

Which is why, in her book REVOLUTION FROM WITHIN, the best she can offer is a dream of a secret and safe room where women can meet to whisper to one another what needs to be done.

She also doesn't trust power.

Which is why she hijacks the media and refuses to share the spotlight or, better yet, surrender it.

At 81-years-old, she's really not fit to be the face of feminism.

And if anyone ever doubted that, they just needed to catch her brief moment with Bill Maher last week where Gloria managed to spout and sport bigotry towards LGBTs and all young women.

Women have had a strange relationship with power.  It's something we all need to work on.  Part of owning our power is demanding accountability from leaders and not looking away when they openly express bigotry.

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