Pulling out the feminist yardstick

Women: Just how well does female-focused entertainment measure up?

March 31, 2000|By Tamara Ikenberg | Tamara Ikenberg,SUN STAFF

Chick flicks, chick literature, whiny chick music ...

You can tell from the labels that society doesn't take female-focused entertainment all that seriously. But the real question is, how seriously are women portrayed in movies, books, songs and pop culture?

To determine whether these female characters and vehicles are feminist, merely female-oriented or simply foul, we asked five feminist speakers from the Feminist Expo 2000, starting today at the Baltimore Convention Center, to sound off.

They are: filmmaker, author and lecturer Jean Kilbourne; comedian Rene Hicks; Feminist Majority Foundation Board Chair Peg Yorkin; and Nicole Yorkin and Dawn Prestwich, co-executive producers of "Judging Amy."

They started by listing what currently stands out for them, and then we threw out a few of our own ideas for them to critique. Here are the results:

Television network

Lifetime: Women-oriented network featuring "Designing Women" marathons, disease-of-the-week movies and some relevant programming.

"Lifetime doesn't do as much as I'd like with serious issues. It's called a woman's channel. It's not called a feminist channel." -- Peg Yorkin

Cable series

"Sex and the City": HBO comedy about four smart and sexually active women in New York.

"They're like the Starship Enterprise. Their show goes where no women's show has gone before." -- Rene Hicks

"It feels like a show that's really there to entertain people with sex. It doesn't seem like a show about women. It's there to titillate." -- Dawn Prestwich

Talk show

"The View": A diverse group of women dishes under the watchful eye of Barbara Walters.

"I used to like it. Now it's gotten to be like a big old catfight." -- Rene Hicks

"My favorite part of the show is the opening. It's the women sitting around talking that I find compelling." -- Dawn Prestwich

Network program

"Ally McBeal": Show about a neurotic, emaciated Boston lawyer and her colleagues.

1 "Women can be lawyers, but we're still kind of adorable and not really threatening beneath it all." -- Peg Yorkin "Ally is idiotic. The character she's turned into is a mess. I think she should be hospitalized." -- Dawn Prestwich

Recommendations: Rene Hicks is wild about Lifetime's "Any Day Now," about a black woman and a white woman who grew up together in Alabama during the civil rights movement and continue to be friends. "It not only deals with race better than any show I've seen in the last 20 years, it also deals with women's issues," she says.

For teen girl power, the women find the highest quality shows on Nickelodeon. "Caitlin's Way," about a streetwise orphan, and "The Amanda Show," featuring a pre-teen girl in a comic role, are top picks.

Movies

"Erin Brockovich": Julia Roberts, showing major cleavage, crusades for the downtrodden.

" `Erin Brockovich,' in a strange way, still has a good message. I enjoyed the picture a lot. It was very satisfying." -- Peg Yorkin

"Feminist in its own way. This woman dressed a little bit like a bimbo, but was actually quite intelligent and a hard worker." -- Nicole Yorkin

Recommendation: "Tumbleweeds," a mother and daughter road trip film, is a current favorite of Rene Hicks. "It showed the strength of a mother-daughter relationship," she says.

Music

Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera and their belly-button baring ilk.

"They all kind of look alike and have this hyper-sexualized presentation. They all sort of blend and blur." -- Jean Kilbourne

Lilith Fair: All-female music festival

"Lilith Fair was just great. I love Sarah McLachlan, the fact that she made that happen. You didn't hear about a bunch of mess going on." -- Rene Hicks

Recommendations: Nicole Yorkin thinks Alanis Morrissette is worth a listen. "I like her lyrics. I like the way she looks. I like her spirit," she says. She and Dawn Prestwich also highly recommend the soulful Erykah Badu song, "Tyrone" because "it's hysterically funny."

Books

"Bridget Jones's Diary" by Helen Fielding: A detailed account of eternal "singleton" Bridget's humiliating, yet amusing day-to-day existence.

I wouldn't touch it with a ten-foot pole. It's so ridiculous. It's about how to get a guy to propose." -- Peg Yorkin

"That may be certain women, but it's not all women." -- Rene Hicks Recommendations: If Oprah likes it, chances are, Hicks does. One of her Oprah Book Club picks is "She's Come Undone" by Wally Lamb. "It was triumphant," she says. Hicks also suggests "Blues Legacies and Black Feminism" by Angela Davis.

Prestwich and Yorkin are fans of "Mothers Who Think: Tales of Real Life Parenthood," a compilation of the "Mothers Who Think" column on www.Salon.com, edited by Camille Peri, and "Anywhere But Here," by Mona Simpson. Yorkin was also very impressed by "Passing For Normal" by Amy Wilensky. It's an account of the author's battle with Tourette Syndrome and obsessive compulsive disorder.

Magazines

Mirabella.

"We love Mirabella. It's a great, smart, cool magazine." -- Dawn Prestwich

Vogue.

"It's just really depressing. It gives me an anxiety attack. I realized just how unglamorous my life really is." -- Nicole Yorkin

Recommendations: Jean Kilbourne likes New Moon and Teen Voices, magazines written by and for teens and pre-teens.

Internet

iVillage.com: Women's Internet site with tips on yoga, how to do your taxes and quick recipes.

"The content is not interesting to me." -- Peg Yorkin

"I'm going to give them kudos for at least breaking through. Some of it is stereotypical. It can't help but be." -- Rene Hicks

If you go:

Feminist Expo 2000 runs today through Sunday at the Baltimore Convention Center. Admission to all three days is $245, or $120 for students. Single day admission also is available. To encourage attendance, organizers will reduce or waive registration fees based on need.

For more information: 703-522-2214 or www.feminist.org.

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