Tag Archives: Second Wave Feminism

Wonder Women! Pop Culture and Feminist Role Models

24 Apr

Lynda-Carter-WWAsk someone to name a superhero, and the first answers you’ll get are almost always men. As with much of popular culture, the roles available for women in comics are often sadly subordinate. A wonderful new documentary explores this issue and the relationship between feminism and popular culture.

Wonder Women! The Untold Story of American Superheroines was directed by Kristy Guevara-Flanagan and produced by Kelcey Edwards and is featured on the PBS series Independent Lens. The hour-long documentary poses an important central question

What are the consequences for women when they are strong and when they are the central actors of their own lives?

The film is centered on one of the oldest and most well-known comic heroines, Wonder Woman. Created by psychologist William Moulton Marston as an antidote to what he saw as the overly violent and masculine world of 1930s comics, the Amazon princess has been a figure of admiration and scorn alike since her introduction in 1941.

Princess Diana has been rebooted and rewritten dozens of times (unlike her male colleagues) but still maintains a loyal following. Her treatment over 70 years has clearly reflected the ups and downs of feminism in this country. As women were driven from the workplace after WWII, so was Wonder Woman reduced to guest star in her own books. The notorious Fredric Wertham, whose book Seduction of the Innocent shut down huge sections of the comic industry, made it clear that a strong woman must be a lesbian and was therefore not a fit model for children. As Second Wave Feminism got rolling, Wonder Woman lost her powers — it’s hard not to see a backlash correlation there. Despite everything the character has been through, however, she remains a strong symbol for millions of people, serving as a nice symbol of the undying spirit of feminism in the face of obstacles.

The documentary features insights from a wide variety of people. Gloria Steinem discusses the importance of strong women role models in all media, and other icons from the Bionic Woman to Buffy the Vampire Slayer to Xena are given their due. Riot Grrrl pioneer Kathleen Hanna takes a keen look at the backlash against feminism and the trivialization of strong women as merely sex symbols as the 20th Century came to a close. Comic historians and media analysts look at the roles of women over the decades, providing some sad and disturbing insights. With 97% of all decision-making positions in media held by men, it’s no surprise that women’s roles are narrow and hard to come by.

The film also remembers the groundbreaking 70s Wonder Woman series, featuring conversations with star Lynda Carter. She is outspoken about the power of the series for girls and women, however light the plots and dialogue may have been. We hear from Portlander Andy Mangels, the writer who created Wonder Woman Day, an annual comic store fundraiser for domestic violence shelters and programs. Given Diana’s mission to spread a message of peace and love in a violent world, that’s a perfect tribute.

Wonder Women! is a significant and fun look at 70 years of popular culture and how it succeeds — and fails — both to reflect our world and to inspire us. It serves as an excellent introduction to some important themes and provides a good jumping-off point for anyone interested in further study. The film is being rebroadcast on Independent Lens based on local PBS affiliate schedules; it can also be watched online at the series website.

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Happy Birthday, Eleanor Smeal

30 Jul

Eleanor Smeal, known for her pioneering work during the Second Wave Feminist Movement, continues to carve out her legacy for civil rights in the Third Wave Feminist Movement. She is the president and founder of the Feminist Majority Foundation.  Smeal also served as president of the National Organization for Women (NOW) twice.  Thus far her legacy is most impressive and Americans owe her a great debt of gratitude.

Everyone should know who Eleanor Smeal is!  It was Smeal who was responsible for the passage of such landmark cases as the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (a woman cannot be fired for being pregnant), Equal Credit Act, Civil Rights Restoration Act, Violence Against Women Act, Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act (and yet we still see women being attacked as they try to enter health clinics that merely provide abortions), and the Civil Rights Act of 1991, an extension of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

What I love about Smeal is her authenticity.  She practices “the personal is political,” and all of us reap the benefits from her dedication to civil rights. Happy Birthday, Eleanor.

Happy Birthday to another hero of mine: Pat Schroeder, Colorado Congressional Representative (1973-97), who promoted the Family and Medical Leave Act.  Sadly, Schroeder was taken to task for showing emotion and shedding tears–the hypocrisy and irony is not lost on TSM readers who have had to endure the gratuitous praise John (Mock Turtle) Boehner receives every time he cries in public.

Celebrating LGBTQ History Month: June 6, Holly Near

6 Jun

Today we celebrate the 63rd birthday of a feminist pioneer and powerful social justice activist. Holly Near is best known for her activism music, but she is also an actor and teacher. She was born in Ukiah, CA in 1949 and began singing in high school (including a stint with the Freedom Singers). She began her acting career with a part on the Mod Squad and appeared in a number of guest roles in seminal 70s TV shows like Room 222 and The Partridge Family.

In 1970, Near was a cast member of the Broadway musical Hair. Following the Kent State shootings in May of that year, the entire cast staged a silent vigil in protest. The song, “It Could Have Been Me” (which was released on A Live Album, 1974), was her heartfelt response to the shootings. In 1971, she joined the FTA (Free The Army) Tour, an anti-Vietnam War road show of music, comedy, and plays, organized by antiwar activist Fred Gardner and actors Jane Fonda and Donald Sutherland. During her long career in folk and protest music, Holly Near has worked with a wide array of musicians, including Pete Seeger, Arlo Guthrie, Mercedes Sosa, Bernice Johnson Reagon, Bonnie Raitt, Jackson Browne, Joan Baez, Phil Ochs, Harry Belafonte, and many others.

In 1972, Near was one of the first women to create an independent record company, paving the way for women like Aimee Mann decades later. Near’s vision was to promote and produce music by politically conscious artists from around the world—a mission that Redwood Records fulfilled for nearly 20 years. Often cited as one of the founders of the “women’s music” movement, Near not only led the way for outspoken women into the music world, but also worked for peace and multicultural consciousness.

Holly Near has been recognized many times for her work for social change, including honors from the ACLU, the National Lawyers Guild, the National Organization for Women, NARAS, Ms. Magazine (Woman of the Year), and the Legends of Women’s Music Award. As a result of her travels in the Pacific with the FTA show, Near became a feminist, linking international feminism and anti-war activism. In 1976, Near came out as a lesbian and began a three-year relationship with musician Meg Christian. Near was the first out lesbian to be interviewed in People Magazine. Understanding the intersections of oppression, she added LGBT issues to her international peace work as she continued to present social change music around the world and at home.

As her life has progressed, her passion for social change has remained strong. She upset some of the lesbian community when she began a relationship with a man in 1994. Clearly comfortable with her own sexuality and understanding the fluidity of sexual orientation, Near has brushed aside the criticism. She says the label that truly matters to her is “feminist” and that her sexual orientation is “monogamous.” Truly an energetic and ambitious woman, her accomplishments are too many to list. Given her power and determination, it is clear that this list will only grow.

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