A Feminist Guide to the 2010 Oscars

Sarah Seltzer

The Academy Awards are often joked about as "our" [read: women's] Superbowl. I talked with Melissa Silverstein, editor of Women and Hollywood and guru for feminist film-buffs, about what feminists should be on the lookout for this Sunday.

The Academy Awards are often joked about as “our” [read: women’s] Superbowl — and they even come with their own Monday-morning quarterbacking, with pundits deconstructing who wore what, who upset whom, and whose speech was the most gracious or ridiculous. So what’s a feminist to make of this tradition? It’s an over-hyped, bloated, and yet still ridiculously fun awards night, and this year the ceremony cast light back on a year which, conventional wisdom says, witnessed huge strides for women in male-dominated Hollywood.

I talked with Melissa Silverstein, editor of Women and Hollywood and guru for feminist film-buffs, about what feminists should be on the lookout for this Sunday.

So why is everyone saying that it’s been such an amazing year for women in film?

I don’t necessarily think it was a great year for women in film. People are trying to tell us it’s been a great year. The perception is based on the fact that that Kathryn Bigelow was nominated for an Oscar [for directing “The Hurt Locker”] and [woman-helmed British film] “An Education” was nominated for Best Picture, and “Precious” is obviously about a girl. Plus “It’s Complicated,” and “Julia and Julia” both made $100 million dollars. Several high-profile women released films this year: Nora Ephron, Nancy Meyers, Mira Nair, Jane Campion. But only 7 percent of the top 250 films were directed by women. Also, two films that starred women were in the top 10: “Twilight: New Moon” and “The Blind Side.” That’s great, but then you look at the content of those films.

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That’s why I think it’s too soon to tell. We can all judge for ourselves based on whether more women get jobs starting next week. Plus, there are only four or five women who ever release studio movies and they all released films last year, so what does that mean for this upcoming year?

Everyone’s waiting for Best Director, but what are some of the major moments for women going to be during the earlier part of the broadcast — what are the awards to look out for?

There are several women nominated for documentary feature. One thing I’ve noticed, a trend in writing and directing in the documentary category, is these pairs: a man and women. That happens a lot, especially in TV writing. One way for women to get funding and to get noticed is to partner with a guy. Only one documentary is directed by a woman herself. Three others done in partnerships. Hopefully we’ll see a woman up there. But “The Cove” is the frontrunner and that’s two guys. The Documentary short category also has female nominees, also in partnership.

As for other categories, there are two women nominated for best editing, one is in “The Hurt Locker.” One of the foreign language nominees “The Milk of Sorrow” is about women in Peru and sexual violence and that’s a woman-made film, so I’ll be watching that.

All the costume design nominees are women, which is fascinating. You realize that when you have critical mass, like in that category, gender doesn’t matter.

Only one of the writing credits is a female, out of 10. That’s just tragic.

And then come the big awards.

At the end of the show when we’re all exhausted. We’ll be waiting to see if Kathryn wins, of course, and if “The Hurt Locker” wins best picture she’ll be going up twice, because she is producer. My head will just explode!

How much has gender affected the buzz over Bigelow?

Gender is a hindrance for all women directors, but the fact  hat the momentum is, in her case, based on her work on this film, general love and support for her and her body of work over the years, the fact that she’s been an indie director, she has persevered over time, and also that she’s a woman, has set anyone a-flutter. So I think it’s actually really helping here.

It will great for people to see a woman at the highest level. Maybe girls can dream bigger. But this will just be the beginning. This is not the end. If people use a potential win to say “now women are equal because a woman has won,” then we’ll say one woman has won in 82 years. Women still struggle.

I know there’s a lot of chatter about Jane Campion being snubbed for Best Director. Are there any other women or women-oriented films we won’t be seeing up there on Sunday?

The Jane Campion snub is part of a larger issue. People talk about the beautiful cinematography for that film and her directing when they say it’s a snub. What happened with Jane Campion is that Kathryn Bigelow sucked the air out for her. Campion’s film, “Bright Star,” was seen as woman-oriented and tainted with that brush of “feminine.” That does not rate the same way as “masculine” in Hollywood.

I saw a movie earlier this year called “American Violet” that had extraordinary performances. But if you don’t have the money, you can’t be seen.

Do you think the morning-after fashion police stuff is sexist? And the red carpet?

Oh yes. There’s 17 pages in the magazines devoted to women’s dresses and two pages about tuxes and then all those awful stories about how they stop eating two weeks before the Oscars. We’re complicit. We want them to look good. But it’s  interesting this year with several nominees who don’t fit into the box of skinny white woman. There’s Mon’ique who gets a lot of guff for being who she is and wearing what she wants to wear [and not shaving her legs]. Gabourey Sidibe is fantastic, self-assured, a great role model. It’s not easy for them. It will be interesting seeing the commentators struggle with gender and size and class and race. I’m picturing Ryan Seacrest, already chortling in my head about what stupid thing he’s going to say, and hoping someone slams him for it.

What’s coming down the pipes for women next year?

I don’t see a lot of potential for another Best Director contender, but we didn’t see Kathryn Bigelow coming. There’s a possibility of people being open in a new way. Often men are seen as visionaries and auteurs while women are not. The fact that Kathryn Bigelow is in the top five now, but a year ago she was not even close shows what a difference making a strong film that resonates can make. That’s one thing about Hollywood: one day you’re nothing, next day you’re the star. So we can’t stop being vigilant. We have to keep going, keep demanding opportunities for women. We buy half the tickets, after all.

News Politics

Missouri ‘Witch Hunt Hearings’ Modeled on Anti-Choice Congressional Crusade

Christine Grimaldi

Missouri state Rep. Stacey Newman (D) said the Missouri General Assembly's "witch hunt hearings" were "closely modeled" on those in the U.S. Congress. Specifically, she drew parallels between Republicans' special investigative bodies—the U.S. House of Representatives’ Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives and the Missouri Senate’s Committee on the Sanctity of Life.

Congressional Republicans are responsible for perpetuating widely discredited and often inflammatory allegations about fetal tissue and abortion care practices for a year and counting. Their actions may have charted the course for at least one Republican-controlled state legislature to advance an anti-choice agenda based on a fabricated market in aborted “baby body parts.”

“They say that a lot in Missouri,” state Rep. Stacey Newman (D) told Rewire in an interview at the Democratic National Convention last month.

Newman is a longtime abortion rights advocate who proposed legislation that would subject firearms purchases to the same types of restrictions, including mandatory waiting periods, as abortion care.

Newman said the Missouri General Assembly’s “witch hunt hearings” were “closely modeled” on those in the U.S. Congress. Specifically, she drew parallels between Republicans’ special investigative bodies—the U.S. House of Representatives’ Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives and the Missouri Senate’s Committee on the Sanctity of Life. Both formed last year in response to videos from the anti-choice front group the Center for Medical Progress (CMP) accusing Planned Parenthood of profiting from fetal tissue donations. Both released reports last month condemning the reproductive health-care provider even though Missouri’s attorney general, among officials in 13 states to date, and three congressional investigations all previously found no evidence of wrongdoing.

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Missouri state Sen. Kurt Schaefer (R), the chair of the committee, and his colleagues alleged that the report potentially contradicted the attorney general’s findings. Schaefer’s district includes the University of Missouri, which ended a 26-year relationship with Planned Parenthood as anti-choice state lawmakers ramped up their inquiries in the legislature. Schaefer’s refusal to confront evidence to the contrary aligned with how Newman described his leadership of the committee.

“It was based on what was going on in Congress, but then Kurt Schaefer took it a step further,” Newman said.

As Schaefer waged an ultimately unsuccessful campaign in the Missouri Republican attorney general primary, the once moderate Republican “felt he needed to jump on the extreme [anti-choice] bandwagon,” she said.

Schaefer in April sought to punish the head of Planned Parenthood’s St. Louis affiliate with fines and jail time for protecting patient documents he had subpoenaed. The state senate suspended contempt proceedings against Mary Kogut, the CEO of Planned Parenthood of St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri, reaching an agreement before the end of the month, according to news reports.

Newman speculated that Schaefer’s threats thwarted an omnibus abortion bill (HB 1953, SB 644) from proceeding before the end of the 2016 legislative session in May, despite Republican majorities in the Missouri house and senate.

“I think it was part of the compromise that they came up with Planned Parenthood, when they realized their backs [were] against the wall, because she was not, obviously, going to illegally turn over medical records.” Newman said of her Republican colleagues.

Republicans on the select panel in Washington have frequently made similar complaints, and threats, in their pursuit of subpoenas.

Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), the chair of the select panel, in May pledged “to pursue all means necessary” to obtain documents from the tissue procurement company targeted in the CMP videos. In June, she told a conservative crowd at the faith-based Road to Majority conference that she planned to start contempt of Congress proceedings after little cooperation from “middle men” and their suppliers—“big abortion.” By July, Blackburn seemingly walked back that pledge in front of reporters at a press conference where she unveiled the select panel’s interim report.

The investigations share another common denominator: a lack of transparency about how much money they have cost taxpayers.

“The excuse that’s come back from leadership, both [in the] House and the Senate, is that not everybody has turned in their expense reports,” Newman said. Republicans have used “every stalling tactic” to rebuff inquiries from her and reporters in the state, she said.

Congressional Republicans with varying degrees of oversight over the select panel—Blackburn, House Speaker Paul Ryan (WI), and House Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Fred Upton (MI)—all declined to answer Rewire’s funding questions. Rewire confirmed with a high-ranking GOP aide that Republicans budgeted $1.2 million for the investigation through the end of the year.

Blackburn is expected to resume the panel’s activities after Congress returns from recess in early September. Schaeffer and his fellow Republicans on the committee indicated in their report that an investigation could continue in the 2017 legislative session, which begins in January.

Commentary Contraception

Hillary Clinton Played a Critical Role in Making Emergency Contraception More Accessible

Susan Wood

Today, women are able to access emergency contraception, a safe, second-chance option for preventing unintended pregnancy in a timely manner without a prescription. Clinton helped make this happen, and I can tell the story from having watched it unfold.

In the midst of election-year talk and debates about political controversies, we often forget examples of candidates’ past leadership. But we must not overlook the ways in which Hillary Clinton demonstrated her commitment to women’s health before she became the Democratic presidential nominee. In early 2008, I wrote the following article for Rewirewhich has been lightly edited—from my perspective as a former official at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) about the critical role that Clinton, then a senator, had played in making the emergency contraception method Plan B available over the counter. She demanded that reproductive health benefits and the best available science drive decisions at the FDA, not politics. She challenged the Bush administration and pushed the Democratic-controlled Senate to protect the FDA’s decision making from political interference in order to help women get access to EC.

Since that time, Plan B and other emergency contraception pills have become fully over the counter with no age or ID requirements. Despite all the controversy, women at risk of unintended pregnancy finally can get timely access to another method of contraception if they need it—such as in cases of condom failure or sexual assault. By 2010, according to National Center for Health Statistics data, 11 percent of all sexually experienced women ages 15 to 44 had ever used EC, compared with only 4 percent in 2002. Indeed, nearly one-quarter of all women ages 20 to 24 had used emergency contraception by 2010.

As I stated in 2008, “All those who benefited from this decision should know it may not have happened were it not for Hillary Clinton.”

Now, there are new emergency contraceptive pills (Ella) available by prescription, women have access to insurance coverage of contraception without cost-sharing, and there is progress in making some regular contraceptive pills available over the counter, without prescription. Yet extreme calls for defunding Planned Parenthood, the costs and lack of coverage of over-the-counter EC, and refusals by some pharmacies to stock emergency contraception clearly demonstrate that politicization of science and limits to our access to contraception remain a serious problem.

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Today, women are able to access emergency contraception, a safe, second chance option for preventing unintended pregnancy in a timely manner without a prescription. Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) helped make this happen, and I can tell the story from having watched it unfold.

Although stories about reproductive health and politicization of science have made headlines recently, stories of how these problems are solved are less often told. On August 31, 2005 I resigned my position as assistant commissioner for women’s health at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) because the agency was not allowed to make its decisions based on the science or in the best interests of the public’s health. While my resignation was widely covered by the media, it would have been a hollow gesture were there not leaders in Congress who stepped in and demanded more accountability from the FDA.

I have been working to improve health care for women and families in the United States for nearly 20 years. In 2000, I became the director of women’s health for the FDA. I was rather quietly doing my job when the debate began in 2003 over whether or not emergency contraception should be provided over the counter (OTC). As a scientist, I knew the facts showed that this medication, which can be used after a rape or other emergency situations, prevents an unwanted pregnancy. It does not cause an abortion, but can help prevent the need for one. But it only works if used within 72 hours, and sooner is even better. Since it is completely safe, and many women find it impossible to get a doctor’s appointment within two to three days, making emergency contraception available to women without a prescription was simply the right thing to do. As an FDA employee, I knew it should have been a routine approval within the agency.

Plan B emergency contraception is just like birth control pills—it is not the “abortion pill,” RU-486, and most people in the United States don’t think access to safe and effective contraception is controversial. Sadly, in Congress and in the White House, there are many people who do oppose birth control. And although this may surprise you, this false “controversy” not only has affected emergency contraception, but also caused the recent dramatic increase in the cost of birth control pills on college campuses, and limited family planning services across the country.  The reality is that having more options for contraception helps each of us make our own decisions in planning our families and preventing unwanted pregnancies. This is something we can all agree on.

Meanwhile, inside the walls of the FDA in 2003 and 2004, the Bush administration continued to throw roadblocks at efforts to approve emergency contraception over the counter. When this struggle became public, I was struck by the leadership that Hillary Clinton displayed. She used the tools of a U.S. senator and fought ardently to preserve the FDA’s independent scientific decision-making authority. Many other senators and congressmen agreed, but she was the one who took the lead, saying she simply wanted the FDA to be able to make decisions based on its public health mission and on the medical evidence.

When it became clear that FDA scientists would continue to be overruled for non-scientific reasons, I resigned in protest in late 2005. I was interviewed by news media for months and traveled around the country hoping that many would stand up and demand that FDA do its job properly. But, although it can help, all the media in the world can’t make Congress or a president do the right thing.

Sen. Clinton made the difference. The FDA suddenly announced it would approve emergency contraception for use without a prescription for women ages 18 and older—one day before FDA officials were to face a determined Sen. Clinton and her colleague Sen. Murray (D-WA) at a Senate hearing in 2006. No one was more surprised than I was. All those who benefited from this decision should know it may not have happened were it not for Hillary Clinton.

Sometimes these success stories get lost in the “horse-race stories” about political campaigns and the exposes of taxpayer-funded bridges to nowhere, and who said what to whom. This story of emergency contraception at the FDA is just one story of many. Sen. Clinton saw a problem that affected people’s lives. She then stood up to the challenge and worked to solve it.

The challenges we face in health care, our economy, global climate change, and issues of war and peace, need to be tackled with experience, skills and the commitment to using the best available science and evidence to make the best possible policy.  This will benefit us all.


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