The actress who rethought gender in the workplace

MTM

Originally published in Politico Magazine

To understand the complex dynamics of gender and equality in the workplace, you could read academic treatises, review statistics, absorb a million think pieces in a million magazines.

Or you could watch the 49th episode of The Mary Tyler Moore Show.

In The Good-Time News, which first aired in September 1972, Mary Richards—the only female associate producer in a Minneapolis TV newsroom—discovers that her male predecessor made $50 more per week than she is paid. Incensed, Mary storms into the office of her boss, Lou Grant, but suddenly loses her nerve. She fumbles through her complaint, finally spits it out, and finds Grant genuinely flummoxed by her anger. Why was this guy paid better than she? “Because he was a man,” Grant says, matter-of-factly.

Some women’s rights advocates have complained that Mary Richards, the working woman Moore played for seven influential seasons on CBS, was too passive and congenial to be a true feminist icon. But it was those contours of her personality—the authentic sense that she was grasping for the best way to assert herself in a man’s world—that made these scenes so meaningful. It’s easy to craft righteous speeches in your head or, these days, to pour out earnest, abstract diatribes on Twitter. It’s harder to navigate real-world relationships, to assert yourself in the thicket of power, hierarchy and respect. So it is in The Good-Time News: Grant’s sexism isn’t hostile so much as perfunctory. (“He had a family to support. You don’t,” is his further explanation of the pay disparity.) Richards truly likes him—and loves her job. Later in the episode, she is not afraid to contradict Grant in front of his boss. And in the end, out of respect, he gives her the raise.

Read the rest here.

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Dogless and disheartened

dogperson.jpg

Originally published in the Boston Globe Magazine

Several years ago my husband and I did something singularly unwise: Promised our kids, via some combination of Santa Claus and the ancient Hanukkah miracle, that we would acquire a dog in the coming calendar year.

It seemed a simple task: Rescue dogs were all the rage, so we’d find a sad, furry friend in need of a home. But we had conditions, which became complications. We needed a dog who was hypoallergenic (for my benefit), didn’t require too much exercise (modest-sized yard), and was small (little house, a son who was skittish about big dogs). What followed was many months of hope and disappointment.

We started off strong, when my husband spotted Maurice, a 3-year-old Yorkie, on a breed-specific rescue website attached to the interspecies meat market that is Petfinder.com. Maurice was living in Massachusetts with a foster family. I want to say he wore an ascot around his neck in his glamour shot, but I might be remembering wrong.

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Why Matt Lauer’s firing feels different

Matt Lauer.jpg

Originally published in Politico Magazine

Even if you weren’t a faithful viewer of NBC’s “Today”—even if you were inclined to feel a little cynical about the whole morning TV enterprise—the news of Matt Lauer’s termination hit like an earthquake. It’s not just that another prominent media name wound up on the list of men behaving badly. It was this guy, who had come to symbolize morning TV for the past 20 years. This guy, reminding us that the friendly, dad-like figure onscreen at dawn was problematic, possibly sinister, impossibly flawed.

Lauer was fired on Tuesday over an allegation of sexual misconduct at NBC. Afterward, Variety published an account of several more accusations against Lauer, including that he gifted a sex toy to a colleague, and dropped his pants in front of another. It was a shock. Rumors had swirled around Lauer for years. His personal life was not spotless. But he’d endured as one of TV’s best-known, best-paid anchors, in part because his public persona was so intertwined with the gauzy mood of “Today.” NBC’s on-again, off-again ratings giant remains the apotheosis of the morning show, setting the tone for the genre across the TV dial long before Lauer occupied a seat on the couch. It was hard to imagine that the morning show’s host might be any less pleasant than his cheerful surroundings.

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Why won’t TV show people who aren’t rich?

The Middle

Originally published in Politico Magazine

This year marks the final season of what might be the most underappreciated sitcom on TV, ABC’s “The Middle.” It’s a single-camera show about an Indiana family—the title refers to its characters’ Middle-American, middle-class existence—and unlike the edgy comedies and tear-jerker dramas that dominate awards time, its humor is unapologetically middlebrow. But “The Middle” is charming, appealing and funny, in no small part because it has another distinction: It’s one of a precious few shows on TV today that focuses, consistently and honestly, on economic anxiety.

If there were ever a time to double down on stories of the American middle-class struggle, this is it. We’re in the midst of a new Gilded Age, with soaring inequality and stagnant wages—the phenomena that helped make Donald Trump president. We’re also enjoying a golden age of TV, with more networks and platforms creating more scripted shows than ever. Plenty of smart, acclaimed series have tackled complex social themes with sophistication and sensitivity—think “The Wire” for the urban drug war; “Mad Men” for gender; “Atlanta,” “Black-ish” and “Insecure” for race; “Master of None” for the Muslim-American experience. Even “Game of Thrones” teaches real-world lessons about politics and power. At its best, television holds up a mirror to society and helps us better understand who we are. So the dearth of shows that focus on financial insecurity feels especially glaring.

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The political power of outsider women

 

JackieKatz

Originally published in the Boston Globe Magazine

A YEAR AGO, Jackie Katz wouldn’t have called herself a political person. She voted. She followed the news. But the Wellesley High School history teacher, 34, says she “was one of those people who was disillusioned about politics. Because this system feels broken and corrupt.”

Then came November 8, 2016 — and Katz, flush with frustration at the results, found herself on an unlikely new trajectory. In January, she attended the Women’s March in Washington, D.C., then answered the call to action to meet in “huddles” with like-minded people, keeping the movement alive. And over the course of those meetings and venting sessions, she came to realize that the skills she had honed as a teacher, from speaking in public to encouraging civil debate, could make her a viable politician.

Now Katz is running as a Democrat for the Norfolk, Bristol, and Middlesex state Senate seat held by Republican Richard Ross, making the rounds of picnics and meetings when not working full time — all while pregnant with her first child. Politics still feels broken, she says, but “what this election triggered in me was ‘Well, you have to do something to change it.’ ”

The 2016 presidential race will go down in history for many things, and one of them is unfulfilled promise for women in politics. But in no small part because of Donald Trump’s surprising victory, 2017 and 2018 are shaping up as years to watch. A survey this year by American University, Loyola Marymount University, and Politico found that a quarter of Democratic women who are now considering running for office were directly motivated by Trump.

How many of those women will actually appear on a ballot, the report notes, is unclear. But frustration with Trump winds through the personal stories of many newcomer candidates in Massachusetts, seeking offices in bodies that range from the Boston City Council to the Legislature (which is 26 percent female, while women make up 51.5 percent of the state population) to Congress.

 

Oh, the places you’ll go when you’re blinded by politics

Melania books

Originally published in WBUR’s Cognoscenti

By now, you’ve likely heard about the Cambridge school librarian and her open letter to Melania Trump. The First Lady had committed the act of sending the school 10 free Dr. Seuss books, in honor of National Read a Book Day. The librarian published a blog post rejecting the gift — it should go to needier schools, she wrote — and trashing Dr. Seuss for good measure, on the grounds of being “a tired and worn ambassador for children’s literature” who is also “a bit of a cliché,” and … wait for it … “steeped in racist propaganda.”

It’s such luscious Cantabridgian self-parody that picking it apart feels almost too easy. As most preschoolers are taught, the proper response, when presented with a gift you don’t want, is “thank you,” with no further commentary. And dismissing Dr. Seuss’s entire body of work as racist? “The Sneetches,” published in 1961, is the foundational text for teaching the perils of prejudice. (If you don’t believe me, ask Barack Obama.)

The Cambridge schools have already taken care of scolding the librarian. Now, we’re left to consider the sadder part of this story: why it’s so easy, these days, for smart people to lose all sense of perspective. Because this librarian is hardly alone. In an age of outrage, tribal warfare, and proudly-proclaimed resistance, we’ve lost something big: The ability to call them as we see them.

Read the rest here.