April Media Companion

How to Be a Woman | by Caitlin Moran

No one ever taught me how to be a woman, not directly at least. I was never close with my mom, and after her and my dad divorced I spent the majority of my time with him, until she wasn’t a part of my life at all. I have more aunts, cousins, godmothers, and family friends than I can adequately thank, but I did have to figure most of the girl stuff out on my own. I started my period when I was living with my dad, so I didn’t want to tell him. This memory felt fresh when I read Caitlin Moran’s story about her entire family pointing and giggling when she got pubic hair. (See chapter entitled: I’m Hairy!) I had heard a lot about Moran, and had her books on my wish list, but hadn’t gotten around to them. When Emma Watson announced How to Be a Woman as the Our Shared Shelf pick for this month, I figured that there was no better time than now. I can’t recommend this book enough. Every woman and adolescent girl needs to read this book. I wish that I had something like it when I was starting high school. It would have saved me A LOT of pain and suffering. It would have probably kept me from tweezing weird hairs and getting horrible nicks from dull razors. It would have been a companion for the days when I felt like boys were throwing [metaphorical] rocks at me. (They threw actual rocks at her.) I still would have fallen in love with the wrong boys, and had sex with the wrong ones too, but I would have had Caitlin’s wisdom to help me through it. You know a book is truly your kindred spirit when it manages to put into words a thought you could never quite articulate. She shared with the world something I thought only I understood:

“But the problem with battling yourself is that even if you win, you lose. At some point – scarred and exhausted – you either accept that you must become a woman – that you are a woman – or you die. This is the brutal, root truth of adolescence – that it is often a long, painful campaign of attrition. Those self-harming girls, with the latticework of razor cuts on their arms and thighs, are just reminding themselves that their body is a battlefield. If you don’t have the stomach for razors, a tattoo will do, or even just the lightening snap of the earring gun in Claire’s Accessories. There. There you are. You have just dropped a marker pin on your body, to reclaim yourself, to remind you where you are: inside yourself. Somewhere. Somewhere in there.”

This book offers a lot of advice, but not in a mandatory way. The biggest piece of advice is to do your own thing, but to be strong and powerful while doing so. She lets you in on some of the secrets that have gotten her through life. For instance, if you aren’t sure if something is appropriate for you as a woman to be doing or saying, just ask yourself the simple question: “Are the men doing it?” Almost always, the answer will be yes. Another question she asks herself during her adolescence, and the reader throughout the book, “Are you a feminist?” If you are, she doesn’t want you to say yes. She wants you to stand on a chair and scream out “I am a feminist.” Not sure if you’re a feminist? “Do you have a vagina? Do you want to be in charge of it? If you said ‘yes’ to both, then congratulations! You’re a feminist.”

She compares the process of figuring out who you are, to the process of figuring out anything else in life. You build yourself up, then you tear it down and rip up the mistakes. You do this over and over again. And when you run out of story? You invent.

Bossypants | by Tina Fey

We all know Tina. We all love Mean Girls, her Sarah Palin impression on SNL, 30 Rock, Baby Mama (for die-hards). She has this contagious, approachable, relatable presence that has changed my perspective on the term "girl crush". Yes... Tiny Fey is 110% my #1 girl crush. For me, it's the same kind of appeal that Paul Rudd had in the "best movie eveeeeeerrr" CLUELESS. Finally.... A confident nerd who's also sexy. Whatta concept. Tina Fey is the OG confident lady nerd and we should all thank her. I would consider myself a late bloomer. I still struggle with bad posture due to years of being the tall girl in a group of 5'6" friends. I am always late to the cool glasses trend and 90% of the time my lenses are dirty. I dance like a weirdo, but own my moves fully so it's kind of decent. I've made impressions that have made ex-boyfriends embarrassed to be around me. At the end of the day, I have #noregrets and still get an average amount of attention from the opposite sex. I can't complain. Role models like Tina have instilled this nerdy confidence in me. I want to be funny, weird, dorky, intelligent. That is sexy to the good people on this earth. That's how I want to be remembered.

I wanted to read BOSSYPANTS because it was long over due, I'm always up for some Tina humor, and I deeply respect her boss-lady approach to life. As I read her book, I realized that I am going to be ok. I know that sounds vague, so let me explain. Tina worked relentlessly toward who she is today. She came from a simple, middle-class family. She had a crappy job at the YMCA when she was 23. She wasn't your conventionally beautiful, blonde babe. She has dark hair, hips for days, somewhat gawky. She wears eyeglasses because she needs them to see, not like Marty in GREASE to make herself "look smarter". She earned her writing positions (hard world for female comedy writers) and poked fun at herself along the way. She didn't get all Napoleon-like on her male co-workers, even though she was totally the boss and could have laid down the law. She continues to handle her professional world with grace and on her terms. Her influence is what keeps me going. Now I see that the successful, powerful, 20-somethings in the media are truly lucky. At 25, I am not too old and it's fine that I don't have a kickass career yet. I will pay my dues, I will stay grounded, I will remain authentically Lindsay through the process.

The Fair But Frail: Prostitution in San Francisco, 1849-1900 | by Jacqueline Barnhart

“Despite being the world’s oldest profession, prostitution has a peculiar historical ambiguity. Everyone knows what prostitution is, no one denies its existence, but societies from the time of the Sumerians (c. 2000 B.C., the first recorded reference to prostitution) to the present have never been able to decide if prostitution is good or evil, natural or deviant, a crime, a sin, or a necessary service.”

As often as we can, Lindsay and I hit up used bookstores to look for interesting lady books. On one such trip, I came across The Fair but Frail: Prostitution in San Francisco 1849-1900. I could write a thesis paper using all the information in this book, but I just wanted to relay some interesting facts. I’ve always thought that prostitution was fascinating. I think it isn’t too much of a generalization to say that at this point in time, prostitution is mostly frowned upon. There were times in the past that it was frowned upon as well, it wasn’t always accepted in the old days. A lot happened in the fifty year period that Jacqueline Barnhart discusses. During the 1850s, 1860s and 1870s in San Francisco, prostitutes were “first admired, then tolerated, and finally ostracized (in public) by the general population.” By the late 1860s, a modified version of Victorian culture began exerting some of its influence in San Francisco. Many prostitutes were forced to retreat into obscurity. However, condemnation tended to be reserved for the “harlot and whore (coarse terms of abuse, meaning women who engaged in illicit sex).”

The honest women of England were spoken of as “chaste, delicate, and virtuous,” unlike the “strumpets” who filled the London brothels. During the same period in France, professional prostitution was rarely condemned. But in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, both countries looked for ways to get rid of prostitutes, so they started sending them to the colonies. This seemed to be as much to the advantage of the woman as to the countries looking to get rid of them. When professionals started arriving in the spring of 1849, “they were as much a part of the gold rush as the miners.” The market clearly favored the prostitute, and women knew that profits could be made in San Francisco, where the miners went to spend their money. “The ability of professional women to take advantage of these unique opportunities determined both their financial success and their social freedom. They were working women, often self-employed, and in great demand in a society temporarily free of condemnation of them.” Businesses were organized primarily into brothels with a managerial class: “madams, bawds, and procurers.” There was a hierarchy within the profession, “from the common street-walker to the courtesan, and there was competition among the better class brothel keepers to attract customers.” These were some of the first boss ladies, and they sold the only thing they had power over; themselves.

There was one thing in the book that stood out to me. It rings true for not just prostitutes today, but women in many other professions as well. “Prostitutes are adaptable; they have to be, since their legal, moral, and social, position is determined society’s view of women in general and women’s sexuality.” And to that, all I have to say is “Dear Government, stop making me pay for tamons.”

Lemonade | by Beyonce

I have been a member of the BeyHive as long as I can remember. Even during the Destiny's Child, Proud Family theme song back up vocals days, I knew she was QUEEN. My love for Beyoncé was more of a surface, "WOAH that's confidence" kind of appreciation. I love to dance to her music and often do an hour long cardio session to her spotify playlist. She pumps me up and makes me feel like a badass simultaneously. She is a beautiful performer and has an insane amount of talent, but still a product of great producers and choreographers. I wasn't sure what her latest visual album LEMONADE was going to be about. I thought it might have a "bow down bitches" vibe like most of her previous work. Brilliant, but completely aware of her power, beauty, and influence in popular culture. LEMONADE shines light on the human being which is Beyoncé Knowles Carter. First, this album is a visual testament to black women. The level of popularity and buzz surrounding the release of LEMONADE is vitally important and ground-breaking for the black woman's voice in popular culture. Although Bey is not the first to write music as a testimony to black women, her level of power and popularity as an artist gives her the ability to reach mass audiences with her work. In my opinion, LEMONADE was a major shift for Queen Bey... From entertainer to a true artist. She decided to dig within her life and becomes completely vulnerable with her listeners. At moments, the album can make you almost feel uncomfortable with the amount of anger, despair, and confusion throughout the album. This, for me, is what makes it so genuine and perfect. Infidelity is a major theme of LEMONADE. It is assumed that her husband, Jay Z, presumably was unfaithful to Beyoncé at a moment. This album goes into several stages of dealing with infidelity: intuition, denial, anger, apathy, loss, accountability, redemption. As common as cheating is (I too have been cheated on and lied to), I don't believe there is an entire visual album dedicated to one's experience with the pain that comes from cheating, or the forgiveness to one's partner. I completely respect using this album as a platform (but really, as payback) rather than keeping her life hush-hush and leaving her marriage. The love she has for her family goes deeper than "sidechicks". It takes so much strength to get past a rough patch and forgive someone who broke a vow. It would be so typical to divorce and express bitterness, but Beyoncé is a great example of the strength of a woman. Thank you Beyoncé for putting your vulnerability and the love for your daughter first. That is what a QUEEN should do.

Being Mary Jane | created by Mara Brock Akil

I’ve heard nothing but good things about Being Mary Jane. I haven’t gotten the chance to jump into the series yet, but I thought it would be the perfect show to watch this month. I only watched the pilot (which aired as a sort of stand-alone movie), but now I’ve just got three seasons to binge. The hour started with text being typed onto a black title card, “42% of black women have never been married.” Then, “This is one woman’s story.” And finally, “Not meant to represent all black women.” I’ll just preface this piece by saying that I love Mary Jane Paul (played by Gabrielle Union, who doesn't age and is so flawless that I can't even). I think that any woman who wants to be successful, wants the life that Mary Jane has. There are of course plenty of things about her life that I don’t want, her life isn’t perfect. She wishes it were, and she thinks that she’s worked hard enough to deserve it all, which she has. We meet her as she’s getting dressed in the morning, and I loved her from the second that she decided not to zip her dress up all the way since she was wearing a blazer anyways. Her entire house (which is gorgeous) is stamped with post-it notes that have inspirational quotes on them, from Dante to Kathie Lee Gifford. She’s the anchor of her own show, Talk Back with Mary Jane Paul. Her superiors (all white men) don’t see the value of the stories that she wants to cover (about black women). Her friend Kara uprooted her life (and lost her husband in the process) to work towards a professional future with MJ. I like their friendship. It’s snippy at times, judgements are thrown out and past grievances are aired, but ultimately they support each other. They know what they are working for and they want their voices (minority voices, Kara is Hispanic) to be heard.

Her family is as dysfunctional as everyone else’s. Her older brother Patrick is living with their sick mother (he’s got his girlfriend living there too). Her younger brother Paul is out spinning signs on the corner. MJ gets along better with him. They share secrets, she brings him something to eat, he calls her Pauletta (her given name). He tells her, “One day you’re gonna believe you’re the baddest chick in the game like you purport to be and your life’s only gonna get better.” I took that to be the thematic set up for the series. MJ is figuring her shit out, and we’re going to watch her get to where she believes she deserves to be. There was so much more that happened in this pilot, I haven’t even touched on her love life. She has guys in her phone labeled Never Answer (we know this because she gets a call from Never Answer #2, then we eventually meet #1). She does something she tells herself is stupid, but she believes is the right thing and confronts the wife of the man she’s been sleeping with. Mary Jane is a complex character, and you know that she knows exactly who she is. I think she just wishes the world would catch up with her. She doesn’t think that a woman’s life has to revolve around being a wife and a mother, but she wants those things for herself as well. She doesn’t think she has anything to show for being a good girl all her life. Whereas all the other women in her family aren’t working and keep having kids that she ends up supporting. This show passes the Bechdel test with flying colors and it was thrilling to watch. This cast is rounded out by women and if their characters aren’t in the best place, MJ wants to help them get there. She wants the women in her life to succeed. I won’t spoil the ending, but I was pumping my fist (while yelling OH SHIT). Go see why everyone wants to be like Mary Jane Paul.