Dear She Writers,
I've been thinking a lot about what it means to write the most daring book of your life.
Betty Friedan, a teacher of mine, a journalist, and leader of the women's movement, led the way with her feminist manifesto The Feminine Mystique. I've no doubt she is part of the reason I felt empowered to tackle sensitive issues about female sexuality in my new novel, The Salt God's Daughter. And I am not alone. Recently I witnessed an incredible show of courage, brilliance and wisdom, which made the idea of going out there on a limb much less threatening. Enter Miss Representation, a documentary film about the objectification of women in the media.
This groundbreaking work by Jennifer Siebel Newsom premiered at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival, and aired on OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network. My 11-year old daughter and I were absolutely riveted by it. My kid is from Africa—her perspective is imbued with multicultural insights and dashed with blind spots that keep me on my toes and make for enriching conversations about women, both nationally and globally. We talk about the fact that when she was 8 years old — having just arrived in this country after a life of poverty and near starvation — a boy at school made fun of her muscular thighs, telling her she was fat.
One can't ignore the fact that while the current generation has been born with the silver spoon of feminism already in its hands, as the film suggests, this is a profoundly confusing time for girls and women."Self objectification has become a national problem...and those who self-objectify are less likely to ... have a voice." If the media is the message and the messenger then the role of women writers has never been more important than it is today. For example, Rachel Maddow, of The Rachel Maddow Show on MSNBC, says that almost all the hate mail she receives is about what she looks like, her gender, and her sexuality. Katie Couric brings up that fact that whenever she and Diane Sawyer were pitted against each other on news programs the media made it seem as though they were gearing up for a mud wrestling competition—of course the implication is that there's no way women can work in concert or take part in healthy competition.
Miss Representation mentions several other things that bear repeating:
Echoed throughout this documentary is the dire need for women to be writing their own stories. "You can't be what you can't see," says Marianne Wright Edelman. Suffice it to say that I want both my daughters to see me writing the most daring book of my life. My hope is that they'll know, without a doubt, that their truths, their ideas, and their innate creative instincts are the most valuable things they own.
You can find out more about the film here, complete with lesson plans for schools: http://www.missrepresentation.org.
Ilie Ruby is the author of The Salt God's Daughter (forthcoming from Counterpoint/Soft Skull 9-4-12) and The Language of Trees (HarperCollins 2010). She has written for the New York Times and CNN and teaches writing in Boston. You can connect with Ilie on Facebook and Twitter, or on her website: www.ilieruby.com.