Everyone Deserves Clean Grout and Starched Linen

Pie Counter (1963), Wayne Thiebaud For my junior high school Home Economics teacher, Mrs. Lesca Black, who taught me how to press every seam once you’d sewed it, and for Dr. Sandra DeJong, who said she thought I might be a feminist, after all.

It all began, I suppose, with the hardbound set of Time-Life Foods of the World cookbooks my mother ordered by subscription, lined up on a kitchen shelf between utilitarian metal bookends.

There was one hardbound volume for each European region, and multiple volumes for the regional cuisines of America, each covered in darkly-lit photographs reminiscent of still-life paintings. The volume for France had a picture of a cheese soufflé; the book for Austria (Austria?) had a gingerbread house frosted with royal icing and studded with candies—a Middle American fantasy of an Alpine Christmas.

“Let’s make that!” I always said to the nearby humoring adults, who were willing to let me make a mess in the kitchen but were not otherwise interested in “projects.” [Read more...]

These Boots Are Made For…Beauty

bootsGuest Post by Tania Runyan

I’m washing dishes while my third-grade daughter and her friend blast a One Direction song:  “Oooh oh, you don’t know you’re beautiful,” whines the mop-haired adolescent singer.

“Uh, yeah I do!” I shout, and shake my butt at the sink. The girls scream and scramble from the room.

The song attempts to come off affirmingly: the girl lacks confidence and stares at the ground, but she’s actually gorgeous, so much so that—get this—she doesn’t even need make up!

Who are these boys, who appear on pink pencil cases at the mall, to decide whether a girl deserves to be beautiful? I’d like to discount the whole notion as superficial and sexist. [Read more...]

Women Who Make America

Imagine that you’re in grade school in the 1950s. At Thanksgiving, Uncle Richard turns to you and asks, “So, what do you want to be when you grow up?”

Ah, but this is a trick scenario. Uncle Richard will turn to you only if you’re a boy. And you’ll answer “a mailman” or “a doctor” or “a policeman.”

If you’re a girl, Uncle Richard won’t turn to you with this question. As far as his question goes, you’re invisible. Because he already knows, along with all of American society, what you’ll grow up to be. If you’re a white middle-class girl, you’ll become a wife and mother. If you’re a black girl living in poverty (as most black families were), you’ll become a housemaid…as well as wife and mother in your own home.

It’s this reality of women’s lives in the 1950s that the magnificent documentary, Makers: Women Who Make America, begins with. The three-hour film aired on PBS in February, but you can stream it in one-hour segments here.
[Read more...]

The Three Deadliest Words in the World: It’s a Girl

The woman in this picture has just related to a film crew how she killed her newborn daughter by strangulation. She killed eight of her newborn daughters, in fact, and can lead you to the tree-shaded plot of ground where she has buried all of them. The earth is rich there, rounded and fertile. The mound where the infants lie rises over them in a gentle slope, like the swell of mother-flesh.

This woman is not unusual in her Indian village. She and her neighbors explain through a strange kind of laughter the myriad ways that they have dispatched their female children. One of the most common is to dampen a piece of cloth—large enough to swaddle the child in—then lay the wet fabric over the baby’s face, so that she can’t breathe. Other options are to expose the child to the elements or to place her in a box near the river and walk away.

Not only are these practices common in India, they’re common throughout many countries and across many cultures. It’s estimated that as many as 200 million girls are missing from the world’s population due to the practice of gendercide, the culturally-based killing of a child (overwhelmingly female) on the basis of its sex.

Now, detailed news of this widespread custom comes by way of a chilling new documentary: It’s a Girl, produced and directed by filmmaker Evan Grae Davis. [Read more...]


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