‘In a World,’ Gives Voice to Women

UnknownThe feminist movement has always been about giving women an equal voice in the public sphere. The first wave was about getting the vote, inheritance rights and the right to be considered a separate being from one’s father and husband. In the subsequent waves, it’s been about claiming reproductive autonomy and being heard in industry, science, politics and the arts.

But in spite of more than a century’s work, many spheres remain resistant to valuing women’s voices, and Hollywood, even with its reputation as a liberal haven, is one of them. “In a World,” written, directed and starring Lake Bell, takes on the male-dominated world of actors who do voice-overs for movie trailers.

Named after deceased movie trailer legend Don LaFontaine’s catchphrase, “In a World” is about a young woman named Carol Solomon (Bell). Carol is a gifted but not very successful vocal coach with a habit of recording any unusual accent she comes across, with or without the speaker’s permission. A typical gig involves teaching Eva Longoria to speak with a Cockney accent. Carol also aspires to do voiceovers.

She lives with her dad, Sammy Soto (Fred Melamed), a famous voice actor and heir-apparent to LaFontaine. Sammy, who is about to get a lifetime achievement award for his work, doesn’t encourage his daughter’s vocal ambitions, telling her the industry has no interest in women. His protegé is a younger voice actor named Gustav (Ken Marino, better known in these parts as Vinnie Van Lowe on “Veronica Mars”), and he promises to support Gustav in his quest for the latest big trailer get: “The Amazon Diaries” quadrilogy, starring Cameron Diaz.

Sammy is also getting serious with his much-younger girlfriend Jamie (Alexandra Holden), and wants her to move in, which means Carol is out. Carol winds up couch surfing at her older sister Dani’s (Michaela Watkins), though Dani, a concierge for a fancy downtown hotel,  is having a rocky time with her husband Moe (Rob Cordry).

In spite of the tumult, Carol manages to get a trailer gig when Gustav gets laryngitis, and is thrilled when producers start talking about her being the new voice of “The Amazon Games.” But her success may very well cost her her relationship with her father.

“In a World,” for all its heavier messages (there is a scene where Carol tells a young woman her “sexy baby” voice and her habit of uptalking is adversely affecting her law career, saying “We’re women. We should sound like women.”) is one of those lovely slice-of-life films that just makes you happy at the end.

Bell, who moviegoers may know as the icy second wife in 2009′s “It’s Complicated,” plays Carol with a lot of goofy charm. She’s a bit self-centered and immature, yes, but she’s also that ugly duckling friend you know at some point is going to hatch into a force of nature.

Carol’s relationships with her unhappy sister (an uptight yet nuanced Watkins) and her dad feel very real. She despairs of them. They despair of her. Their love is dysfunctional, but they’re there for each other, and in the end come through.

Melamed is great as Sammy, the veteran chauvinist who fears becoming obsolete. In one scene, he talks about his own father, who always made sure to let his son know he would never surpass him. Now that Sammy is the dad, it at first doesn’t occur to him adopting his father’s outlook with his daughters is the wrong thing to do.

The smaller characters are equally nuanced. Bell could easily have made Sammy’s girlfriend a shrewish gold digger caricature. But Jamie is a very nice person, and even though she sounds like a little girl (and Holden has the requisite wide eyes and blond hair), she is far wiser and more mature than the Soto family.

Even Gustav, who Marino plays with his signature smarm, has a nice side.

Most of all, “In a World,” along with all the other amazing woman-fronted films that have come out this year, including “Frances Ha,” “The Heat,” “The To Do List” and September release, “Wadjda,” show that women’s voices are becoming louder and more common. It’s enough to make any woman proud.


The To Do List: A teenage girl having sex without punishment

images-1I once read an interview with author Judy Blume, where she said that one of the reasons she wrote “Forever” was for her daughter, who said she wanted to read a book about a teenage girl losing her virginity without getting pregnant or getting an STI or worst of all, dying.

“Forever” was published in 1975, and remains on the banned book list because way too many people still think any story about a teenage girl losing her virginity needs to include her getting punished for it.

Sadly, stories like it still aren’t that common almost 40 years later.

But stories about boys losing their virginity without some gruesome consequence? There are plenty of those, and lots of them have been put on film. From “Risky Business” to “Porky’s” to “American Pie” to “The Girl Next Door,” boys have, and continue to, get it on with gusto and live happily ever after.

That’s why “The To Do List,” written and directed by Maggie Carey and starring Aubrey Plaza, is such a nice change.

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Interview With A Fan Girl

I recently wrote about how fan culture can be hostile and exclusionary to women.  While this unfortunate aspect of fan culture needs to be addressed and eliminated, I hoped to also address some of the positive ways in which women experience fandom.  Recently, the following video has been featured on sites like The Mary Sue and Jezebel, and presents a funny, sweet, and light-heartedly satirical look at “fan girls”:

It was immediately clear that for all of the jokes at fans’ expense in the video, the creator loves the fictional characters represented in the video and understands fan mentality.  (I definitely could relate to the plight of the Firefly Girls.)  I contacted Leigh Lahav, the video’s creator, to talk with her about her experiences as a “fan girl,” and what fandom meant to her, and her responses were quite intriguing.  (Note: This interview was conducted via email, rather than as a natural conversation.  The questions and responses are edited into a more traditional Q&A format, but answers may not lead directly into the next question.)

Sexy Feminist: The thing that really made me want to talk to you is that I noticed in the Fan Girl video that most, if not all, of the franchises depicted either had male title characters or were ensembles led by men. Is this a result of most media being about men, and thus there is more male-centered franchises to choose from, or is part of being a fan girl about showing appreciation for good-looking men?  (I thought it was the former, but a close friend of mine and self-professed fan girl thinks it’s the latter.)

Leigh Lahav: It’s no coincidence.  I deliberately chose these franchises.  I’m aware that there are women fans in EVERY fandom, but there’s something about these shows/movies in particular that have an interestingly large female fan base, and they do present a majority of leading men.
In an unavoidable way it IS a result of a “patriarch” media.  Female audiences got used to this and as a result are able to relate very strongly to both female and male characters.  It’s very male oriented even nowadays and that needs to be changed – we need more interesting female characters!  And I think that’s in progress.  A slow, frustrating one, but a progress nonetheless.  Having that basic fact, I’ll continue to elaborate on WHY I think the man-centered-fandoms I chose happen to have such an impact on ladies.

Yes, I can’t deny, it does have to do with the, quite bluntly put – usual “man candy” factor, but there’s more to it than that, in my opinion.  Most of these shows share alternative looks on masculinity, and present male characters and relationships that uniquely challenge social boundaries of gender and sex.  If it’s unusually passive, temperamental, and sensitive men, strong emotional male bonds and friendships that are mostly attributed to female relationships, and interesting gender role takes.  Take “Hannibal” for example.  Will Graham is the embodiment of the “damsel in distress” trope.  He is sensitive, passive, has qualities we perceive in society’s gender role perception as feminine.  Hannibal is very feline-like, seductive, sort of a male version of a Femme Fatale.  And not to mention their undeclared shared parenthood on Abigail.  You can also see a similar “married couple type” relationship with Sherlock and Watson.  These elements of “new masculinity” are very exciting and appealing.  It’s kind of how we wish to see our society – versatile and diverse in gender roles.  In a way, a world we as women can feel safer at, in terms of sex and gender.

I used this role-play also in how the characters looked – most of them wear gender-bendered cosplay – a feminine take on a male costume. A character we’d like to be, but in our own terms.
But at the end of day – these fandom are just GOOD. And attract women and men all the same.

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The Fandom Menace


Nerd Girl

How do you experience being a “fan”?  Images of cheering for your favorite sports team or getting way too invested in the fates of fictional characters are probably filling your head right now.  And you would think that, as someone who loves something so much that you will swear at the television screen when your team does poorly or camp out for days on end outside a cinema to get tickets to see a film, you would do everything possible to encourage others to enjoy the object of your affection.  However, this isn’t always the case.  I’ve written before about the negative effects of gendering culture.  But I did not address how people can react when someone not of the “correct” gender expresses her fandom.  From bewilderment to attempts at exclusion, many women are finding that the greatest barriers to fully enjoying their passions are other so-called fans.

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An Ode to Odes to ‘Kisses Down Low’

We love Kelly Rowland’s new album, particularly her instructive “Kisses Down Low,” part of a great musical tradition of detailed step-by-steps about how to go down on a lady. In honor of Ms. Rowland’s breakout album and her celebration of female sexuality, we offer this list of Great Songs About Cunnilingus (which is to say: any songs about cunnilingus):


Bikini Kill, “Sugar”


Khia, “My Neck, My Back”


Madonna, “Where Life Begins”


Missy Elliott, “Work It”


Mariah Carey, “Bliss”


Lil’ Kim, “How Many Licks”


Christina Aguilera, “Woohoo”


Janet Jackson, “Anytime Anyplace”


Liz Phair, “Glory”


Foxy Brown, “Candy”


The Gossip, “Swing Low”


Sheena Easton, “Sugar Walls”


Lady Gaga, “Teeth”


“Raspberry Swirl,” Tori Amos

Love Life Advice from Beyonce

Yes, yes, we all know about “to the left, to the left” and “all the single ladies.” But if you listen to Beyonce’s oeuvre in its entirety as I have, thanks to a borderline obsession and a lot of workouts, you will find she has a very clear, complete philosophy on relationships that goes beyond great kiss-offs. A few of our favorite tips, as only Beyonce can give them:

From “Ego,” lines to use on the man you’ve got your eye on:

Some women were made
But me, myself?
I like to think that I was created
For a special purpose
You know?
What’s more special than YOU?

Well, you got the key to my heart
But you ain’t gonna need it
I’d rather you open up my body
And show me secrets you didn’t know was inside
No need for me to lie.

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Why Do Ladies Love Woody Allen?


220px-Woody_Allen_(2006)I’m not talking about romantic love, though he seems to do almost bafflingly well in that department, too. Here, I’m interested in something else: Funny female writers and filmmakers have tended, more often than random chance would dictate, to be strongly, obviously influenced by Allen, moreso than any other male auteur I can think of. Why would this be?

I’m talking, first and foremost, about Nora Ephron, one of Allen’s most direct, unapologetic cultural descendants. When Harry Met Sally is essentially trying, hoping to be a Woody Allen movie. It succeeded at this goal, of course, and transcended it, but it would have been happy — and rightfully so — being a very good Woody Allen imitation. From the dialogue to the uptown New York social circles it moves in to Meg Ryan’s wardrobe (what’s up, Annie Hall?), it’s a beyond-competent love letter to Allen. But I see traces of Allen in Tina Fey’s wordplay, Mindy Kaling’s zippy dialogue and surreal hijinks, Lena Dunham’s unflinching take on messy relationships and neuroses, and Elizabeth Meriwether’s quirky heroines and awkward sex scenes. (Last night, I re-watched the New Girl episode in which Jess and Nick try to have sex but fail because they shatter Schmidt’s fish tank. Brilliant.)

It’s strange to realize how much influence Allen has had on women-centric entertainment, given his own problematic relationship to women being played out over and over in a lot of his work. When he’s not reveling in the glories of much, much younger women, he’s fetishizing the whole lot of us, worshipping us to the point of unknowability. He basically invented the now well-known archetype of the manic pixie dream girl.

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Remembering Helen Thomas

HelenThomasTrailblazing journalist, unabashed rabble-rouser, and a die-hard patriot, iconic reporter Helen Thomas holds a special place in our hearts.

Her career ended in controversy, but every other moment was extraordinary. She opened doors for women in journalism, and broke down the gender barrier of many institutions, including the National Press Club. She sat in the front row in the White House briefing room and often set the tone, always pushing for transparency, even well into her 80s. She covered 10 presidents–from Kennedy to Obama–and never stopped asking questions. She died July 20 at the age of 92. Here are some of the best tributes to this truly revolutionary woman:

Politico has a video montage of some of Thomas’ most badass confrontations in the White House briefing room. And even more on YouTube.

CNN’s Candy Crowley said of Thomas, ”She did not live perfectly, but she lived passionately and she made a difference. She was not about being the first woman to do this or that. She was about making sure she was not the last woman to do this or that.”

CBS’s Bob Schieffer recalls his colleague’s remarkable career.

Journalists take to Twitter to remember Thomas and share some unforgettable moments.

Former President Bill Clinton said of Thomas, “Her work was extraordinary because of her intelligence, her lively spirit and great sense of humor, and most importantly her commitment to the role of a strong press in a healthy democracy.”

“What made Helen the ‘Dean of the White House Press Corps’ was not just the length of her tenure, but her fierce belief that our democracy works best when we ask tough questions and hold our leaders to account.” - President Barack Obama

The Incredible Women of ‘The Legend of Korra’

Korra SF Pic

Last year, Nickelodeon aired the first season of The Legend of Korra, a sequel series to Avatar: The Last Airbender.  Taking place in a world where some people can control, or “bend,” the four classic elements (earth, fire, air, and water), the story follows Avatar Korra, the newest reincarnation of the spirit of the planet, as she learns how to fully control her abilities and stop a violent rebellion.  Over 12 episodes, the series addressed numerous themes and ideas, including the struggle to discover one’s identity, classism, racism, extremism, the need for balance, and how to embrace new innovations while respecting tradition.  Any one of these ideas could support an entire article, but I want to focus on something else: the incredible women who populate the show.  Avatar Korra, Police Chief Lin Beifong, and Asami Sato are all very well-written and well-developed characters, embodying different kinds of strength.  And while the three of them are very different, they have one thing in common: they all kick ass.

The presence of such great female characters on Korra should be no surprise to people who watched the original Avatar series.  A lot of digital ink has been spilled praising that show for its great women.  To add a personal example, the character of Princess Azula is one of my favorite characters (male or female) in all of fiction.  Korra does its predecessor proud by making its principal (and even its secondary) female characters strong and nuanced.  Korra, Lin, and Asami are all imbued with agency, desires, faults, quirks, and skill, and their motivations are always clear and understandable.

Unfortunately, Avatar and Korra’s use of female characters is an exception to the norm (which is why I am writing about them).  You may recall from my first piece published on this site that Nickelodeon nearly elected not to take Korra to series because executives feared that boys would not tune in to watch a show that starred a girl.  But when they focus tested the show, the boys didn’t care that Korra was a girl.  They just said she was awesome.  So let’s look at what makes these women so great.

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‘Inside Amy Schumer’: How Women’s Mags Come Up With Those Sex Tips

If you’re wondering why we started our own site, this Inside Amy Schumer sketch pretty much covers it:


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