‘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.


Why Some Newsrooms Are Hotbeds of Sexism

witw-logoDiscussion of sexism in media has been heating up again — this time, it’s about the folks who bring us the news, not just how women are portrayed in said news. First we had that magazine cover that hailed a “new golden age” for print media, and featured only white male editors. Now we have a public pissing match between The New Republic and Politico over who’s slightly less sexist. The Daily Beast’s Women in the World investigates.

Why Is Marissa Mayer’s Work-Life Balance an Issue … When Male CEOs’ Isn’t?

witw-logoWe’ve been wondering this since Marissa Mayer made headlines by taking charge at Yahoo while still pregnant. On the one hand, she’s done a lot for other women by virtue of her ascendence. On the other hand, one reason it’s important to have more women in charge is so that they can make woman-friendly changes from inside the corporate suite. Jessica Grose tackles the issue in a post on Women in the World.

Barbara Walters: The Real-Life Mary Richards?

abc_barbara_walters_thg_130128_wgI grew up idolizing both Barbara Walters and Mary Richards. I moved to a big city, became a journalist, and lived the better part of last decade as a single, independent, successful (if I do say so) career woman. I don’t think this is a coincidence. I think it’s the power of great role models.

Of course, one of them is real, and one is the fictional lead of The Mary Tyler Moore Show. But having written a whole book about that show, I often find myself wondering what Mary would be up to right now if she were real. The fun of the game is that my own imagination can choose whatever it wants, and what it chooses mirrors what I really want to be like in 10, 20, 30, or 40 years. As Barbara Walters announced her retirement this week, I knew: This was Mary’s retirement. This is exactly what she would be doing right now after a long, groundbreaking career. She’d be signing off her successful talk show, leaving it in the care of her hand-picked co-hosts.

What’s astounding about Walters’ career is that, between her and Mary, she’s the real one — and yet she also did everything Mary did, but years earlier. She came up through the secretarial pool behind the network news scenes, just like Mary, and eventually broke through the male-dominated newsroom, just like Mary did. She then became a writer and segment producer (like Mary) doing “women’s interest” segments on the Today show. Soon she was on the air, which I believe was only a matter of time for Ms. Richards. She scaled great heights from there, becoming the show’s first female co-host, then nightly news’ first female co-anchor on ABC.

I encountered Walters in the ’80s through her riveting interview specials with celebrities and heads of state alike. I fell in love with her ability to coax a story from anyone. I studied her tactics. You don’t ask people, “Why are you crazy?” you ask them, “What is your response to critics who say you’re a little eccentric?” Sometimes, you soften the blow they know is coming: “A lot of people are wondering about your divorce, of course, so I have to ask: What happened?” Other times you rip the band-aid off: “Did you sleep with the president, or not?” I use many of her tricks to this day (though I have never asked anyone what kind of tree he or she would like to be). She made me want to tell people’s stories, and doing emotional interviews became one of my specialties at Entertainment Weekly, which made me proud. I learned to make people comfortable, while still maintaining my journalistic integrity, by watching Walters.

I also learned that “female” doesn’t, and shouldn’t, mean “not serious.” Because she was a woman, but a pioneering one, she managed to mix traditionally “female” topics — celebrity, fashion, feelings — and “male” ones — politics, war. This eventually led to one of the most innovative shows on television — yeah, really — The View. For 16 years now, her daytime talk show has mixed co-hosts of various races, backgrounds, political affiliations, and ages to discuss everything from reality TV to presidential elections. It’s become a must-visit show for both starlets and political candidates. And the show has one unifying message: Women’s voices matter.

We’ll miss you, Barbara. Thanks for making the world safe for Mary Richards, me, and all the women like us.

Why the Masculine-Feminine Divide Is Bad for Everybody

In this guest post, Bill Shireman — President and CEO of Future 500, which brings together major corporate and civil society — makes the (very sane) argument that the “gender binary,” as we call it in thinky feminist circles, is bad for everyone. Here, he explains why we should all, men and women alike, “lean in” to both our “masculine” and “feminine” tendencies.

When it comes to workplace gender politics, it’s no secret that the current climate still leaves much to be desired. Men still dominate the corporate world, occupying almost every high-powered position. Some argue that this is because male privilege is naturally ruthless and oppressive, and powerful men are invested in preventing their female rivals from gaining power.

I don’t believe this to be the case. As individuals, many men are not violent, dangerous, or oppressive. Within both men and women exist dual traits of masculinity and femininity that need to be channeled by both to ensure a balance of power in the business world. In order for business to thrive, however, corporations must recognize the value of the feminine traits that exist in both men and women and reward those traits, rather than solely rewarding the masculine traits that exist in both men and women. These traits are often valued in life, and lead to success, so why not in business?

Here are just a few of the reasons why I believe that gender neutrality equals success in the workplace and in life:

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Does Feminism Overlook Motherhood for Abortion Rights?

While mainstream media often try to pit feminism against motherhood (our stance: that’s bullshit), there’s no doubt that conflict exists for working mothers. Guest blogger Guinevere A. Murphy, Ph.D. reveals how returning to her high-level career in science after giving birth to a child made her question, then value, feminism.

The beeping machines and the loud voices in the crowded delivery room fell silent in the instant I saw the tiny, crying baby. My baby. A long minute later, they placed the wet, pink, perfect little human in my arms. A warmth and light effused my being, and without even a slight hint of cliché, I thought wonderingly, “This is the best moment of my life,” with an absolute certainty and fervor beyond anything I’d ever experienced.

Everything changed in that moment. I had to separate my life into pre-Evie and post-Evie epochs, like B.C. and A.D. The overwhelming love I felt for my baby gave me a clarity and sense of purpose I hadn’t realized was missing before.

I came to realize after Evie’s birth that my devotion to my career in science had become in large part an act, one that I put on, among other factors, because of my whole-hearted belief in what is popularly attributed to a feminist ideal of the high-achieving career woman, but I’ve since come to realize originates more from an out-of-control, greed-dominated corporate culture. Marissa Mayer famously went back to work after just a “few weeks,” and worked from home while still healing from delivery. Her decision to do this largely contributes to the idea of motherhood as merely a minor bump in the road of one’s career trajectory.

I went back to the office at six weeks. It’s not hyperbole to say that my every instinct cried out against walking out the door most mornings, and nights I mourned if I was home even five minutes late, for the precious hour we had together before bedtime. My experience illustrates why feminism is still needed in the U.S., one of four countries in the world without mandated paid maternity leave. This angle wasn’t lost on me at the time, but above all, I felt a furious, overwhelming sense of betrayal, by the feminist movement.  [Read more...]

Links for Sexy Feminists: Elder Feminist Obituaries, Workplace Discrimination, the VAWA, and More

Two Groundbreaking Women Died:  Jean S. Harris, whose trial for murdering her longtime beau drew her comparisons to Anna Karenina and Emma Bovary, became an advocate for female prisoners while at Bedford Hills.  Beate Gordon made sure female rights were drafted into the modern Japanese constitution when she was a 22-year-old assistant to General MacArthur.  Both were born in 1923.

Abortion by Internet:  Increasing numbers of women are using the internet to purchase a medication for its off-label use of inducing miscarriage.

Off the Cliff, But …: The U.S. House blocked the Violence Against Women Act.

Women Working:  An all-male Iowa court ruled in favor of a man who fired a “stellar” longtime employee because he found her “irresistible.”  The two had been friendly, but she viewed him as a father figure.

Indian Girls Get Period Help: Girls in India frequently drop out of school due to the social stigma of menstruation, but a humanitarian public health campaign aims to change that.

Speaking Out: One blogger offers her experience with Women’s Studies 101 and the difficult necessity of awareness.

What Working Moms Can Learn From Marissa Mayer

There has been a lot of talk about Marissa Mayer’s ascension to the top spot at Yahoo!—and her being pregnant while doing it. Most women, feminist or not, cheered the news as yet another fracture in the corporate glass ceiling—and one that puts a powerful face on a working mother to boot!

But her face looks a lot different than that of most career moms. Mayer talked about her maternity leave as if it were a mild inconvenience: it would be brief and she would work throughout it. But the only way she will be able to do that is with the kind of help and resources many working moms don’t have. While I understand Mayer’s commitment to her new job, I do worry that such declarations (issued as if to assume anything less would be unconscionable) hurt working moms everywhere and further prevent the U.S. from adopting a realistic family leave policy.

[Read more...]

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