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Before and After #MeToo

            I’ve been thinking about the #MeToo movement a lot, especially in the shadow of the resurgent Black Lives Matter movement, which has led to both protests and intensive discussions over the past months. The parallels in how discrimination functions are so clear, no matter which group is being put down. The literature on microaggressions and systemic racism gives language to what women face too, especially women who have been sexually abused by men and then have to function in a world that is inherently prejudiced against women’s voices. It is incomplete to talk about sexism in the workplace without acknowledging the deeper wounds many women carry with them into adulthood, because they were born female.

Ellie says, “Me too.”

Violence against women and children is part and parcel with a culture that keeps women from advancement in the workplace, and allows the workplace to be hostile to women in a sexual way, as well as in the form of gender discrimination. We talk as if women experience sexism for the first time as adults, in the work place, as if sexism hasn’t been impacting us throughout our development, creating their expectations and self-perceptions and opportunities. Even though we are more aware of the prejudices women face today, we are barely scratching the surface.

            I grew up in the eighties, when women were supposed to be able to accomplish anything men could, while still being held to many of the older expectations of womanhood. My lived experience as a child wasn’t just about my abusive home life, or my religious Jewish education, but was also deeply impacted by the fact that I watched A Lot of television, where it was clear that women could be anything, yes, as long as they were beautiful or skinny or sexy (or all three!) and willing to work at the pleasure of a man.

There was a show called Three’s Company in syndication when I came home from school each day. It was a sex farce (no, really, that’s what they called it), and the local New York station aired it at Five o’clock on weekdays. It was a sitcom about a man who had to pretend to be gay in order to live with two women, because, you know, they might both be having sex with him all the time if he were straight. The innuendo and misunderstandings centered on the man supposedly being gay and also on one of the women’s “blonde moments.” The women were ALWAYS being groped and demeaned, and while I remember that the man was an aspiring chef, I have no memory of what the girls did for a living.

I didn’t feel like I could turn off the television, because when the TV was off I felt the fear and loneliness of my real life too vividly. I kept it on while I did my homework, or played with my dog, or even read through piles of library books. TV was my constant companion, but it was also my teacher. TV was my way of finding out about the world and learning how I was supposed to think and act in order to fit in.

“Who needs to fit in?!”

Out of desperation, I often watched a show called The Honeymooners at eleven o’clock at night, while I waited for Johnny Carson’s monologue to start. I cringed at all of the screaming from Jackie Gleason who played Ralph Kramden, a New York City bus driver living with his long suffering wife in a gritty Brooklyn apartment building. He was always getting into trouble and blaming other people for his problems, especially his wife. He would scream at her, “One of these days, POW!!! Right in the kisser!” He didn’t actually hit her, and he would eventually apologize, saying, “Baby you’re the greatest,” and give her a kiss and a hug. The excuse for his behavior seemed to be that they were working class and struggling to get by. A comment I read online said that there had been arguments about whether or not the show depicted domestic violence, since the threats were always “comical,” and he never followed up. But even back then, for me, the show was very clearly about man’s right to threaten and blame and demean women and call it funny. I’d been trained for The Honeymooners by watching my father’s behavior, which was very similar. He always praised himself for not actually hitting us. I’d actually watched The Flintstones first (basically an animated version of the Honeymooners, set in the Stone Age, appropriately enough), and found that disturbing too.

My other option at eleven o’clock, when The Honeymooners got to be too much, was MASH, a dark comedy about the Korean War, made during the Vietnam and cold war era. It was lauded for its nuance and political commentary, and when I watched it in syndication in the eighties it was only a few years out of date, but for me, MASH was just another show obsessed with women as sex objects and men as the drivers of all action, thought, humor, and pathos.

            I took some, brief, solace in shows like The Facts of life, which, especially early on, showcased a wide range of girls with different body types and personalities and interests. But it was a rarity. Most shows starred men, or boys, and presented women as sex objects, or money hungry, or both.

            Star Wars, one of my mainstays, was also filled with sexism. Princess Leia, who should have been powerful and in charge, always had to be dressed in skimpy clothes. The whole first act of Return of the Jedi was Princess Leia in a push up bra, locked in chains as Jabba the Hut’s sex slave. It didn’t escape me that, of the twins, only the male had the powers of the force.

            And then there was the music, especially the videos on MTV, where Heavy Metal and Hard Rock and Rap videos all featured scantily clad women draped suggestively over cars, for some reason. Madonna was a huge star back then too, in large part because she was willing to exploit her own sexuality instead of leaving it to the men. Neither of those options were going to work for me.

            Things started to change on TV when I was a teenager, I think. Oprah Winfrey revamped her talk show and started to discuss issues like sexual abuse more openly. And China Beach showed that the skinny, sexy, tipsy nurses on shows like MASH had a lot more going on behind the scenes, even if the men refused to see it.

            But change was slow, and inconsistent, and often, like Madonna, moved from the exploitation of women by men to the exploitation of women by women, to show that women could be powerful too. Even now, we still accept an extraordinary amount of misogyny as normal in our movies and on TV, in our books and certainly in our politicians. And we still seem to accept the trope that men can’t be expected to control their desires, but girls as young as ten (no, younger) are held responsible for choosing to wear outfits that men consider provocative, and are assumed to know exactly what impact they are having on men. But girls and women are also judged for being too plain or prudish in the way they dress. A sixteen year old girl who dresses in baggy clothes, or skips makeup, is clearly just not trying to be successful, and she should be ignored, or hated (just take a look at the backlash against Billie Eilish), whereas a sixteen year old boy can wear whatever he had on for soccer practice and become a superstar.

            The backlash against Billie Eilish, by the way, for dressing in baggy clothes, is constant and virulent, as if she’s a thing rather than a person, because she won’t let us judge her breast size. The fact that girls generally hide under so many layers when they have been sexually assaulted barely gets discussed in favor of how freakin’ weird that girl is; so moody.

“I’m moody too. You wanna make something of it?”

Even this past year, post #MeToo, with half a dozen pre-eminently qualified, charming, accomplished, intelligent, and hard working women running in the presidential race, we still ended up with two old white men, in the DEMOCRATIC primary. (And yes, a woman of color has been chosen as Joe Biden’s running mate, but that’s one man’s choice, not the choice of our whole society.)

            And now, during the pandemic, we’re experiencing what media figures are calling a Shecession, because it’s most often women who have had to quit their jobs, or reduce their hours, to take care of the kids. And since women are more likely to work in hospitality and education, where so many of the jobs have been lost due to Covid 19, more women are losing their jobs than men and a decade of employment gains made by women has been eroded. On top of that, the jobs were low paying to begin with, so those women didn’t have the benefit of savings to make it through the recession safely until their jobs can return, if they ever return.

            I’m tired of being told that we solved sexism with #MeToo, just like we solved racism back in 1965, and we should just get over it. The assumption behind both statements is that if women or people of color are still achieving less, or earning less, it must be because they are as inferior as we thought they were, and not because there is still something wrong with the system.

            I’m not sure #MeToo changed much, actually, other than a few men with egregiously long resumes of abusive behavior being fired from their high profile jobs. As a society, we’re not even reading long lists of books exploring systemic prejudice against women, or discussing what it means to try to pull yourself up by bootstraps that don’t exist, because they’ve been ripped off by force.        

            One of the more startling realities of the Black Lives Matter movement is that even though most of the originators of the movement were women, the movement overall barely addresses women’s issues. Women were also at the heart of the Civil Rights movement in the 1960’s, and then too the issues specific to black women were barely discussed.

            I don’t have a solution to this. And watching the backlash against Black Lives Matter protests, including the killing of protesters in the streets, is demoralizing. I’m tired of the ways manipulation of reality has continued, and worsened, in our current environment. I’m tired of all of the ways being female makes me less likely to be believed or even heard, than the average white man. Maybe having Kamala Harris on the big stage will have an impact on our society’s willingness to listen to and respect women. I hope so. Get your ballots in early if you can.

“I’m ready!”

If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Young Adult novel, Yeshiva Girl, on Amazon. And if you feel called to write a review of the book, on Amazon, or anywhere else, I’d be honored.

            Yeshiva Girl is about a Jewish teenager on Long Island, named Isabel, though her father calls her Jezebel. Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes it’s true. As a result of his problems, her father sends her to a co-ed Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, and Izzy and her mother can’t figure out how to prevent it. At Yeshiva, though, Izzy finds that religious people are much more complicated than she had expected. Some, like her father, may use religion as a place to hide, but others search for and find comfort, and community, and even enlightenment. The question is, what will Izzy find?

About rachelmankowitz

I am a fiction writer, a writing coach, and an obsessive chronicler of my dogs' lives.

112 responses »

  1. All I can say is amen, sister.

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  2. Wonderfully written and insightful. I walked out of an animated movie (Who Framed Roger Rabbit) with my daughters, ages 8 and 4, in tow because of the way Jessica Rabbit was portrayed.

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  3. Very thoughtful piece, Rachel. As long as we continue to see a label rather than the real person, this mess will continue. We need to sit down and talk with affected people, rather than at them. It is horrifying to see all the force being applied to stop the protests, but no dialogue, no understanding, just force. Might does not make right and men will only understand what women are going through if they listen to them, whites will only understand what other races are going through if they listen to them. Why should I, as a white male think I know how non white and non males are feeling? I do not. Our local football team with a racially insensitive name and mascot just went through a lengthy research process to determine if the name was in fact insensitive. They arrived back at the thinking that it was not insensitive to some of the racial groups. I argued that it was deemed insensitive by one group and not by 10, did that make it right to ignore the one group? We are so determined to be right and to assert those rights and maintain those rights, that we can never see our wrongs. Stay hopeful. Change is coming and it can’t come soon enough. Allan

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  4. I hear this so loud and clear!!! An interesting parallel is that black men got the right to vote before women, and a black man became a president before a woman. Not complaining, but it does seem like history repeats itself. Super frustrating!!! I blame Barbie and her inhumanly possible measurements.

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    • Poor Barbie! Once I cut her hair and drew tattoos all over her strange plastic skin I just tossed her away and played with my Ginny doll. Ginny had roller skates. There was really no contest.

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  5. As long as money and dirty tricks continue to be used to elect people, the results will stay the same. I think we have all seen that the amount of money does not ensure the quality of the candidate. Shorter elections, less hoopla, more emphasis on the issues, instead of character assassination and a leader who can not act in isolation would all help. Fingers crossed.

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  6. Thank you for your insightful words. I have been wondering about what happened to #MeToo in the face of all the recent turmoil in society and you so beautifully said that and more.

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  7. Well expressed. I doubt there is a woman who hasn’t experienced some form of harassment. Probably true for people of color as well. I always felt like it was going to take generations to make the change (I graduated MIT in 1984 and worked in a male dominated field.) People act like you are given advantages when you actually worked your hindquarters off. I don’t say that men don’t work hard but people are a whole lot quicker to jump on any mistake, even minor, if you aren’t one.

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  8. Well my whole life I’ve never fit in. My bluntness offends, I think outside the box, I forgive others way more than I should and blame myself more than I should. There hasn’t been a therapist yet who can untangle me. So I have become pretty dependent on God. So far that works. Ralph kramden always scared me too. I never thought he was funny.

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  9. I find it frustrating that we, as a society are still avoiding talking about the psychological background and makeup of the scores of powerful men whose egregious behaviors went on, and were tolerated for so long. I spent much of my career treating court mandated abusive men. As clinicians, we know that discussing why these men felt it was okay to abuse females as they did is critically important, and yet as a society we continue to avoid discussing what is most important. Why did the men behave as they did? What factors contributed to this and what can we as a society do to change the causal factors associated with toxic masculinity? Instead, we give lip service to the females who were abused, avoiding the complex examination of the perpetrators, enabling them and this topic, to slither out of sight once again, and remain unexamined, under the rocks, hiding, waiting.

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  10. Max wants to know if you have talked to Ellie and Cricket about white dog privilege.

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    • I have! We’ve discussed that previous dogs in our family had black hair instead of white, and were bigger, and because of those qualities some humans were afraid of them. Ellie was horrified and wanted to go back in time to give hugs and kisses. Cricket said she enjoys her privileges and everyone else can go to hell, but I know she would have barked at anyone who dared to discriminate against one of her sisters, or even against a brother if absolutely necessary.

      Reply
  11. I agree with you Rachael. One show that I could never watch was the Bob Hope specials that he got praised for being so patriotic for entertaining the troops. The biggest source of his entertainment centered around sex, downgrading women.

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    • I think I saw some clips of those shows. Yucky. A lot of “classic” humor involves demeaning women, or ignoring that they even exist, and yet I’m told that I have no sense of humor if I don’t enjoy the jokes. But I can’t force myself to laugh at something that doesn’t seem funny, so, too bad.

      Reply
  12. Working in healthcare, the most common way “Me Too” is referenced is in this tone of voice that implies “be careful! Anyone could accuse you of sexual assault, now!” which makes me so angry, because 1) we should always be making sure our patients are comfortable and consenting to treatment in the first place, and 2) because if Me Too empowers just one person to stand up for themself after an assault that is a good thing.
    I sometimes feel like a failure for not speaking up about my own assault when the Me Too hashtag was going around. I remember thinking that it would probably change my family’s opinion of me and that people would probably assume I had been “asking for it” somehow and now was just “looking for attention”, so I didn’t say anything.
    Personally, the most important thing I learned from the movement, though, was how ingrained certain rape myths are, even in my mind when I have worked to remove them: one of my friends who is a very strong woman – both in personality and body – said Me Too and I remember that I was surprised she had “let” it happen to her. I reminded myself that I didn’t let it happen to me either, and that it can happen to anyone. So I strongly feel that Me Too is still important to remind people of and that even those of us who try to stand up for ourselves and advocate for women will always have learning (or un-learning) to do.
    Thanks for your post!

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    • My big fear around #metoo was that it would be a fad, and would quickly disappear like a fad. And in some ways that IS what happened, at least on twitter. The answer is always long term educational efforts. Rape culture was taught for so long, in so many ways, and is intertwined with so many of our institutions and beliefs as a society. We need to create safe spaces to tell our stories, and when we feel strong enough we need to start sharing our stories in less safe places. Small steps.

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  13. An amazing, truthful, honest depiction of our sad world. Well done.

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  14. Yep. Very well said. Sexism and racism are so ingrained in our society it’s hard to even know where to begin

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  15. An excellent and insightful post. Amazing how little has changed over all these years.

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  16. A remarkable post. I agree with every single word and thank you, thank you for writing it. I grew up a couple of decades earlier than you in a Jewish household and although I had a happy childhood, it’s taken me my whole life to see through the cultural female second rateness that I absorbed as normal.

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    • Thank you so much! In a way, the fact that my father was clearly abusive and still supported by our cultural institutions was what allowed me to see the misogyny so clearly early on. A lot of my peers took their second tier status as a given, and felt like it was okay, because they were safe and loved. They were happy and saw happy lives around them and didn’t see a reason to rebel, until they wanted to go into a profession or try a hobby that was off limits.

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  17. You have had the world’s most famous and vocal misogyniist as president for four years. Is it any wonder that so little has changed?
    Best wishes, Pete.

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    • The celebration of the lizard brain over the past four years has been extreme, and endless, but it’s the large numbers of people who prefer it this way that has surprised me so much. I understand chafing at “political core ” when it limits productive conversations or forces people to lie about their opinions, but choosing to deepen racism and misogyny, and actively dismantle our progress towards equality? That I don’t understand at all.

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  18. Gosh! I am so glad I grew up without television. First time I ever lived in a house with a television was when I was twenty. I never knew I was avoiding such a rattling stream of self congratulatory masculine commentary.

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  19. Pingback: Before and After #MeToo — rachelmankowitz – Ramblings and Ruminations

  20. Social change is glacial and frequently slips backwards. This fact is so frustrating for everyone striving for social equality.

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  21. Rachel, great post. You hit upon a couple of key themes. Domestic violence and workplace sexual misconduct or gender put down. On the latter, what is not reported enough, is what happens away from the entertainment and news industries. It is what happens ever day in small towns with few work options. Male retail store managers have fiefdoms, as one of the major employers, and too many have used that power to get their way. This is one of the biggest risk to retailers, employment risk due to sexual harassment, misconduct, etc. The impacted women have few choices if the retailer is the largest employer in town. Black women in particular have two reasons to be discriminated against. But, it happens in big cities, too.

    On the domestic violence, I have shared before that about 1/3 of the homeless working families an organization (I was involved with) are domestic violence victims. They lost their home, because half the paycheck went away as she moved her kids to safety. DV is about control. The signals are there early, but are missed. This impacts women of all colors, but one sad fact of life for homeless people, is they do not have the same breadth of support group. So, if they leave, options are temporary or limited.

    When I hear people say All Lives Matter, that is true. But, there are more than a few Americans who do not feel Black Lives Matter as much. And, that is the fire this racist president is stoking. Keith

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  22. This is such a thought provoking post. Thank you for your well thought out arguments and perspectives.

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  23. I found your post very interesting and enlightening! I believe your perspective is correct in the way in which women have not been treated with respect and importance in society. Also like you said with two old men running for president, that is not likely to change any time soon!
    Dwight

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  24. I’m italian. I used to dress like a boy until I was 22. I had been abused at 4 years old. So I didn’t accept my female body. I wanted to be a boy because I was afraid of being raped again. This fear caused a lot of shame in me. I always covered my breasts. I crushed it. I didn’t want to have a female body because I knew that men only love it as an object to own. Many years have passed and I am very different. I have long hair, I wear makeup and I always dress like a woman. But men have not changed at all.

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    • I’m so sorry. I wish I could say that it’s safe to step outside, just as you are, but that would be a lie. We tell our stories because we need to be heard, because we need support, and because we need change, and when the change refuses to come it is devestating. But we still tell our stories, and we hope for better.

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  25. Excellent post. Very well thought out.

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  26. Hope you don’t mind me sharing this on my Facebook.

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  27. Pingback: The Silent Minority | sparksfromacombustiblemind

  28. Bravo. Right on. Excellent post.

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  29. Fantastic post Rachel! I totally agree with what you said. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

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  30. Well said. All of this.

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  31. I was well into adulthood before Oregon passed a law saying rape could occur in a marriage. Before that it was perfectly fine. I remember some people being astonished at the law. How can the state interfere like that? Things change at a glacial pace, but they do change. My grandmother didn’t get to vote until she was 30.

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  32. Thanks for posting this, Rachel. It’s good to be reminded about all of this and keep the flame alive. I also appreciate the attention to detail and fine research you’ve carried out. I remember all those shows and in hindsight, have recognized the issues as well.
    I’ve been out of the work place due to my health issues on top of the needs of the family and we can sort of manage on one income. This has taken me out of the competitive arena of the workplace and all the argy bargy that goes on there and I haven’t missed it. In my previous job, I worked in a family business and much of the company were women and very well respected. I am not only well educated but have continued that education through my writing and research and that establishes my credibility. I also love baking and usually go to a bit of effort for our Bible study group. My kids are fussy and don’t like a lot of things I make and often when I make something there’s too much for us to get through and I get sick of it. So while years ago baking was seen as a female thing, I think Masterchef has elevated it a lot. I have a close male friend who is divorced. Our place isn’t suitable for entertaining but his place is virtually open house and he has people over a lot. He recently had a homeless guy staying for a few days and was a bit out of his depth so I offered to come round and cook dinner. That worked out really well and I think we’ll be doing i again. I was respected and appreciated for cooking and as I said, i think Masterchef has elevated cooking beyond the domestic sphere. I also find that good food makes a lot of people happy. This goes against what all those diet people say about avoiding emotional eating, but it’s true. Just put a birthday cake in front of anyone and watch them light up.
    Well, clearly I’ve digressed. I’m nibbling on my breakfast out at my desk and am craving social interaction after all these months of isolation and social distancing. It’s now Spring here and I’d love to embrace normality again.
    How are things going over there? How are you surviving the election build up? Hope you’re going okay.
    Best wishes,
    Rowena

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  33. I always enjoy reading your posts, Rachel, and this one was no exception. Well said!

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  34. Rachel, this is a profound post you’ve written. I thoroughly enjoyed the read!

    Our cultural norms grieve me on a daily basis. Women who try to ‘buck the norm’ and dare to demand better treatment, are often seen as fussy, bitchy, controlling, or problematic. Why can’t we just be tired of being lessened to nothing more than an object? (Sigh) We have so much to offer. Our physical appearance, including skin color, has nada to do with any of it!

    Your insights are thought provoking and much needed in a turbulent world. My story is similar to yours in many ways. I certainly share your frustration! Thank you for writing this great piece! ♥️

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  35. The “isms” live on and on from generation to generation, but we must continue to let our lone voices crying in the wilderness give encouragement to other lone voices crying in that wilderness. True sisterhood.
    As for the old white men running for President, I have said the same sentence over and over. I am sick and tired of only old white men sitting behind the executive desk in the Oval Office. Sick and tired.
    If we elect Biden, and that’s a huge if, my hope is that Senator Harris will be a wonderfully popular VP and ready to run for President again in 2024 when Biden is gone.
    Never say never.

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  36. An excellent post, Rachel.

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  37. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

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  38. Super, super post. We, as a society still have a lot to learn and a long way to go.

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  39. Reblogged this on alkaplan and commented:
    Rachel Mankowitz has a lot to say. This post is on point.

    Reply
  40. Beautifully said. You’re a brilliant writer.

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  41. Spot on!

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  42. I remember that Janet was a florist, because it looked fun, and that Crissy jiggled, and YES, every show was innuendo and miscommunication. Cringey now. My mom didn’t want me to watch I Dream of Jeannie because she called him “Master” but I didn’t care as a kid. I remember Madonna wearing belts that said “Boy Toy” on them, basically declaring she was a plaything for men. You can’t every well #metoo when you wear something like that.

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    • It’s amazing what we considered normal. Except, it felt off to me even then. I loved that Jeannie was magical, but I didn’t understand why she had to cook and clean and wear the skimpy outfit when she had magical powers. Especially when her Darren(s) was so bland and silly.

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  43. I was a latchkey kid, and telly was often my only companion. I remember all these programs. They’re like old friends now – a bit stuck in their ways, but i still care about them. My favourite was MTM. I also loved All in the Family and Maude. They were groundbreaking in their time.

    Bunch of stuff to chew on in this one. Thank you.

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    • I’ve only seen clips of MTM and Maude, but All in the Family always knew how wrong Archie Bunker was on everything. It still wasn’t my favorite show, but it did a good job of commenting on societal problems rather than reinforcing them.

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  44. “You wanna go to the moon, Alice?!” I watched The Honeymooners regularly in the Fifties. I’m surprised to now learn it was only on for about a year. A classic, but thankfully a by-gone era.

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  45. “prudish” -Yup, and I was told by more than one female manager to stop dressing “frumpy” and to wear nice shoes (when I pulled cable!! as a Unix Sys Admin: I never saw clients!), and then harrassed by fellow female teachers, when I changed careers, for refusing to wear makeup. I guess we often are, as Irene Lara and Amelia Folch say on El Ministerio del Tiempo, our own worst enemies.

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    • It is very often women who socialize other women into the system. That’s part of the insidious nature of the problem: that we think of the rules of society as immutable and correct instead of part of the discrimination.

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  46. Such an interesting and insightful post, Rachel. I love Ellie’s comments! So adorable.<3

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  47. Very nicely written, Rachel. I remember those old TV shows too. The fact that they seem so dated and sexist (and in the case of Three’s Company, homophobic) gives me some hope for the future. At least I am a little more enlightened (I hope!).

    Reply

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