Thursday, March 28, 2013

Dear Netflix

Really Netflix? The Countess, a movie about Elizabeth Bathory, the most prolific female serial killer in recorded history, a woman who allegedly killed over 650 people, mostly women; this is the movie you're recommending as a "romantic foreign movie?" You've got a pretty twisted notion of romance.

I suppose I shouldn't be surprised though. You do classic the Twilight movies as having a "strong female lead"...

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Equal: Women Reshape American Law by Fred Strebeigh

Now, don't let the subtitle deter you. I had this on my to-read list forever, and kept looking at it and thinking "boring," and moving on to something else. Well, sisters and brothers, I was wrong. Equal is a fascinating look at the women, both lawyers and judges, who fought for women's rights starting in the 1970s, and some of their landmark cases.
The book is broken into five sections: Scrutiny, Pregnancy, Lawyering, Harassment and Violence. The first section is on the preliminary fight to get discrimination by sex outlawed. And I knew that Ruth Bader Ginsberg was awesome, and that she had brought many important discrimination cases to court, but I didn't realize just how awesome she was. Hers was the first successful case where the Supreme Court declared that discrimination due to sex was illegal. And, contrary to the incorrect belief that feminists are only out to make life better for women, she also fought to end practices that discriminated against men because of their sex (such as men not being able to collect the same caretaker Social Security benefits as women, not being considered a dependent for military benefits/housing, or not being able to get the same widow/widower tax deductions as women).
There are other awesome stories, such as Catherine McKinnon's role in getting sexual harassment cases passed. Or the women staffers working for Joe Biden and the women judges who helped push the VAWA act through Congress. Or the women who fought deeply entrenched discrimination within law firms. Or how when the Supreme Court decided it was in fact legal to discriminate against pregnant women, women then galvanized into action and got the Pregnancy Discrimination Act passed. And so on.
Basically, read it. It's interesting, well-written, and doesn't get too bogged down with legalese for those of us that don't know much about the inner-workings of the law. And it's also interesting for how appalling the arguments used for discrimination against women were, and also just how recent they were. (Of course, they're still happening with how extremely conservative the right has become...)

4 stars out of 5

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Call the Midwife

Another series that you should get on watching already. This is a BBC series, based on a series of memoirs by Jennifer Worth, about her experiences working as a midwife in the 1950s in London's very poor East End. The main character comes from a fairly well-off family, and has never been exposed to such poverty or conditions before. What I love about her though, is that while she may occasionally express her horror or dismay or ignorance/naivety about the lives of her patients; when it's pointed out to her that her privilege is showing, or that she needs to open her mind, she does just that. She's not perfect, but she tries to learn from her mistakes.
Jenny Lee, as she's called in the series, works for a nursing convent, along with 3 other midwives: Chummy (who is kind of socially awkward and clumsy, comes from a wealthy and prominent family), Trixie (rather a partier), and Cynthia (quiet and probably the most mature). With all their differences, and being fairly young and fairly new to practice; they are all competent and caring midwives. They board at the convent, and so in addition to the series focusing on the midwives and mothers, you also have the nuns. Although there are more nuns in the convent that we see sporadically, only 4 are involved in the clinic. It's a rare female-centered and female-oriented cast and plot. There are a few recurring male characters who are just as three-dimensional as the women, but the focus is always on the midwives. In Great Britain, it was one of the most widely watched shows in recent history. Take that studios that talk about how "women's films" are risky or don't bring in viewers (and then every time there is a huge hit starring a woman, their minds are blown, but it's just a fluke anyway, so they'll just go right back to catering to men ages 18-34).
Because of the poverty, and because of the unavailability/stigma of birth control at the time, the cases are often sobering. The first episode has a woman who began having children when she was 14, and was pregnant with her 25th child. And rant hat on, she is from Spain, her husband doesn't know Spanish, and she doesn't know English; it sounds like as sound as soon as she had one child, she was pregnant with another, so they've been married roughly 25-30 years or so. In all that time, her husband never bothered to learn Spanish or teach her English? Despite the fact that she can't communicate with anyone outside of her children? Ugh. Another case has a woman giving birth on the same day that her daughter gets married, or other moms who are giving birth in their 40s and having complications/feeling too old to be having children. However, all is not gloomy. There is a lot of humor, and the relationships between the women are comfortable and teasing. Season 1 just came out on DVD, and I think Season 2 is playing now on PBS.

4 stars out of 5

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Creative people changing the world

(Billboard in Lima generates water through reverse osmosis)

(Teenage girls in Nigeria create an electricity generator that uses urine)

(Teenage girl creates software program that accurately and noninvasively diagnoses breast cancer)