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If you’ve been reading Real World Research for a while, you may remember the “fat old bitch” incident. (If not, read about it here, and here.) The current fracas over Rush Limbaugh’s unbelievably inappropriate sexist rant against Sandra Fluke brings this back to my mind I’m going to use this opportunity to recommend a new documentary I’ve seen twice now and could easily sit through again. It’s called Miss Representation, and it’s all about how the media’s representation of women shapes our attitudes and contributes to women's lack of power in this country. Lack of power? The “feminazis”? Don't be silly. We're modern, liberated, in-charge women. I wish. Consider this: Women are 51 percent of the population but only 17 percent of Congress. America ranks 90th in the world in women in legislature. Even China is more progressive than we are in that respect. Women hold a whopping three percent of power positions in the media—and that includes TV, radio, publishing, online media—all of it. So this means that pretty much everything we (and, more importantly, our children) see in the media is filtered through the sensibilities of men—and that is not to our benefit.
Have you been watching "Downton Abbey" like the rest of us? Think about the Dowager Countess of Grantham, marvelous Maggie Smith. When she doesn’t like something, she gets a face like a cat that’s smelled something bad. And you get the message. If you read authors like Edith Wharton and Jane Austin, you know there’s not a lot of bellowing and stomping around. Hearts are broken, fortunes lost, people became ill, or bereaved, despondent or angry, and through everything, they all use their inside voices. Compare that to, say, the last week on this blog, in which the volume on everything was turned up to 11 (although the comments remained civil and I thank you all for that). Daughter had to rant in public to make her point, Dad had to shoot a computer to make his point, I had to “hate” Dad to make my point. And I'm not generally a hater. But I got swept into what seems a trend of our time: anger that becomes superheated, superfast. It’s not necessarily just that America is getting less civil. For some reason these days, it seems we need the volume on all our emotions cranked way up. Even negative emotions. Maybe especially negative emotions. We need to watch screen violence that is increasingly extreme, we need to fight our battles publicly and with insults and vehemence, and we need to grieve extravagantly, where everyone can see us.
I am not a spontaneous person. When a surprise invitation or opportunity appears, there’s a 50/50 chance I’ll pass it up. Maybe even 60/40. Maybe even more, but I don’t want to admit that to myself. Spontaneity is a good thing. I know this because in romance movies, guys always dump their tightly-wound girlfriends for kooky, devil-may-care, spontaneous girls. And I can see for myself that spontaneous people lead colorful lives full of surprise. My life is pretty interesting, but it’s more a trip on a lazy river than a thrilling tumble down whitewater rapids. Is that OK?
The Wall Street Journal recently ran a great story about celebrities trying to win the New Yorker magazine’s cartoon-caption contest. And the operative word is “trying.” Zach Galifianakis got so frustrated, he finally gave up. Roger Ebert tried 107 times. Maureen Dowd wrote at least one caption I think was funnier than the winning caption. Remember that as you read the rest of this post. I entered the contest once and never again. The more I tried, the less likely I was to come up with not just a funny caption, but anything at all. My mind would go blank. According to University of New Mexico anthropologist Gil Greengross, that means I’m not a funny person. Greengross and psychologist Geoffrey Miller conducted research designed to explore humor ability as it relates to mating success, and they used the cartoon-caption contest as a way to judge participants’ humor ability.