News for Sexy Feminists: Saudi Sexism, Sleep Issues, TV’s Feminism for Men

Women in Saudi Arabia are once again being forced to hide the fact that they are, in fact, women. The state already requires women to cover their heads–and often faces–whenever they are in public. Now, Saudi Arabia’s Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice (founded in 1940 to enforce Islamic law, which essentially means brutalizing women with sticks for infractions such as an exposed ankle or eye contact with a man) is requiring women with “tempting eyes” to cover them in public. First of all, what the hell does that mean? Doesn’t everyone have tempting eyes? Second, are you serious? Dear UN Human Rights Council: Ahem!

The Samuel L. Jackson narrated “Go the Fuck to Sleep” became a viral hit with frazzled, frustrated parents. But perhaps they should be reading it to themselves. A new Norwegian study reveals that poor sleep among women is a top contributor to chronic illness and pain, namely, fibromyalgia. Among study participants, even those with occasional trouble getting to sleep had double the risk of developing the musculoskelatal condition that affects the joints, muscles, tendons and other soft tissues–so you’re basically miserable all the time.

TIME’s James Poniewozik writes about the best new feminist characters on TV–and they’re dudes, citing Will Arnett’s character in “Up All Night,” one of our faves as well. But more importantly, Poniewozik writes, “Having more new sitcoms created by women is the best way to get more interesting and varied male characters on TV.” Fascinating point and we couldn’t agree more. If you look at the most dynamic casts on TV today — “Nurse Jackie,” “30 Rock,” “New Girl,” “The Office,” “The Good Wife” and (yes, still) “Grey’s Anatomy,” you’ll se one thing in common: Women are running these shows, or at least writing a heck of a lot of the episodes, in the case of “The Office.” Now that’s must-see TV.

Speaking about “The Office,” executive producer Mindy Kaling does a pretty awesome job of describing what it’s like to be a Sexy Feminist in this new interview with A.V. Club. Is there any wonder we’ve named her one of the leading ladies we’d love to see as the next Julia Roberts?

 


Girl Kisses (and More) In TV and Film: A 20-Year Retrospective

It’s been twenty years since two women first kissed on a prime time television series. (To find out which show, read on.)

So to celebrate, here’s a brief chronology of girls-who-like-girls characters in TV and film. While many such story lines are produced to merely titillate audiences (see Virginia Heffernan’s 2005 New York Times article on television series using lesbian subplots during sweeps week), I can’t deny that these shows also opened up a larger dialogue in our culture. Here are some of the most positive examples of girl love from the past two decades:

1991: L.A. Law delivers the first on-screen girl-on-girl kiss in the episode, “He’s a Crowd.” Here’s how it goes down: Abby and C.J. (played by Michele Greene and Amanda Donohue, respectively) share a meal together after Abby is turned down for a partnership at the firm. Afterward, they kiss outside in a parking lot. C.J. identifies herself as “flexible” (possibly the first character to ever use that term on television) while Abby considers herself completely heterosexual. Although this subplot doesn’t go very far (and was mostly used as a ratings ploy), I have no doubt that without it the list that follows probably wouldn’t exist.

1996: While the ten-year run of Friends did not primarily feature a lesbian relationship, the episode known as “The One With the Lesbian Wedding” is quite a milestone. Long before the legalization of gay marriage and civil unions, Carol and Susan walked down the aisle and declared their love in a relatively traditional ceremony. On a particularly sweet note, Ross, Carol’s ex, offers to give her away in lieu of her father who disapproved of the marriage.

1997: Ellen DeGeneres as Ellen Morgan comes out on Ellen in the now-infamous “Puppy Episode.” While the show’s ratings suffered and DeGeneres’s own personal revelation that she is gay set off a major backlash, it wasn’t long before she was back on top—hosting the Emmys in 2001, performing a new stand-up comedy routine on HBO, and of course, launching her daytime talk show, The Ellen DeGeneres Show. Oh and need I mention marrying one of the most gorgeous women alive, Portia De Rossi? She’s also a Cover Girl—which is both a milestone and an awesome slap in the face to her critics.

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5 Feminist Shows to Watch This Fall

This fall’s crop of new network TV shows certainly has the ladies in mind — from sitcoms to crime dramas to 1960s-set dramas (thanks for that, Mad Men!), every network seems to have turned into Television for Women. But just because a series has female main characters doesn’t make it feminist; yes, that means you, Playboy Club and Charlie’s Angels. Here, our seasonal picks for the most female-friendly shows on the dial:

1. Pan Am (ABC): What Playboy Club botches, this drama about stewardesses in 1963 gets right. The show gives us a look at one of the few ways women then could use their feminine wiles to buy themselves some real freedom — by taking to the newly friendly skies. But it also doesn’t deny the sexism inherent in the process — Pan Am girls had to be beautiful, could be grounded for not wearing their girdles, endured weigh-ins, and had to quit at 32 or when they got married. Also a plus: It’s good, soapy fun, with affairs, broken engagements, and even undercover-spy flight attendants!

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5 Feminist TV Shows to Watch Right Now

We talked feminist TV shows just three months ago, but the networks are throwing new shows at us so fast these days, that we’ve got some new mentions (as well as old favorites) currently making our Top 5:

1. Body of Proof: In ABC’s new straight-up procedural, Dana Delany plays a neurosurgeon-turned-medical-examiner who helps solve murders. But, look at that, this time a woman gets to be the freakishly brilliant, quirkily abrasive one at the center of a broadcast network show solving the crimes! (Thanks, TNT and other cable channels, for pioneering that mind-blowing idea with the likes of The Closer.) Extra points for employing the always-brilliant Delany and giving her character a very real mommy complex: She’s estranged from her preteen daughter after years of dedicating herself to neurosurgery, and awkwardly trying to rebuild that relationship.

2. Game of Thrones: HBO’s is by far the best of the upcoming epic swords-and-sandals series you’ve undoubtedly seen advertised everywhere (along with Starz’ Camelot and Showtime’s The Borgias). I’m not normally into this kind of thing — it’s based on George R. R. Martin’s elaborate fantasy book series filled with about 3 trillion characters, mythical lands, mythical creatures, people with names like Eddard, and a big old war for the crown. (I didn’t even like Lord of the Rings. Sorry.) But the beauty of Game is in the layers — the multi-dimensional characters (no one’s 100-percent good or evil, though some come close on the evil side), the soapy machinations, the tons of sex. It’s also, surprisingly, in the female characters. Martin’s world is, alas, as sexist as medieval England (it matches the costumes), but these ladies are fighting it at every turn, from the conniving Queen Cersei (Lena Headey) to the bent-on-revenge Lady Catelynn Stark (Michelle Fairley).

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5 Feminist TV Shows for the New Season

The shows you should be watching this winter — both to support positive female depictions, and because they’re damn good:

1. Grey’s Anatomy and Off the Map: This is a two-for-one deal, recommended on the strength of creator Shonda Rhimes’ vision, which builds strong femininity into its DNA. This woman cannot create a female character without depth and dimension, and without the ability to stand up to the men around her. Real, multi-layered relationships — of the very, very grownup kind you don’t often see on TV — only add to the power of her shows. Oh, and she’s a female showrunner with three shows currently on the air and more to come. This deserves support in and of itself.

2. Teen Mom: If you want a stark reminder of the massive inequalities built into the process of human reproduction, watch even a few minutes of MTV’s riveting documentary series. Depressing at times, but all too true. And the girls’ transformations into (hopefully, eventually) responsible moms is a heartening sight to behold.

3. 30 Rock: Tina Fey. Hilarious singledom. Lady in charge of TV show. Most hilariously written show, period, and it’s written by a woman. Sorry, this won’t be off our list until its canceled. Which is to say, hopefully, never.

4. The Good Wife: You are missing out on everything good about television if you’re not watching this. Juliana Marguilies has finally found the role worthy of her in the title character, and her subdued-but-strong Alicia Florick is so compelling you forget that the premise of the show revolved around her trying to recover from the sex scandal that brought down her politician husband. Bonus points for the ambi-sexual investigator Kalinda, played by the kick-ass Archie Panjabi.

5. Skins: The Parents Television Council is already denouncing this edgy, sexy teen soap before it’s even premiered on MTV. But the series — adapted from the totally addictive and inventive U.K. show of the same name — has a feminist bent beneath all of its overt subversiveness: The girls here are totally in charge of themselves, their lives, and, most of all, their sexuality, from popular sex bomb Michelle to unapologetic lesbian Tea. Not to mention the show’s just unbelievably compelling, especially once you get past the pilot. It’s Degrassi meets the early-awesome years of Gossip Girl, if you can believe it — in the best possible way.

Follow Jennifer on Twitter: @jenmarmstrong


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