10 Quotes from Female Authors to Celebrate International Women’s Day

When I look back on the authors that changed my life, I can honestly say that most of them have been women.

Mary Shelley. Jane Austen. Virginia Woolf. Emily Dickinson. Zora Neale Hurston. Anne Frank. Margaret Atwood. The list goes on.

There are so many women whose words I have held close to my heart. From thoughts about compassion and empathy to encouragements of strength and action against injustice, the following quotes are just a few gems that I continue to return to for inspiration and hope.IMG_1366 - Version 2

1. “Wear your heart on your skin in this life.” Sylvia Plath

2. “You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.’ You must do the thing you think you cannot do.” Eleanor Roosevelt

3. “Try to be a rainbow in someone’s cloud.” Maya Angelou

4. “Why shall I wait for someone else? Why shall I be looking to the government, to the army, that they would help us … for them to help me. Why don’t I raise my voice? Why don’t we speak up for our rights?” Malala Yousafzai

shadow5. “I am a person who believes in asking questions, in not conforming for the sake of conforming. I am deeply dissatisfied – about so many things, about injustice, about the way the world works – and in some ways, my dissatisfaction drives my storytelling.” Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

6. “If there’s a book you really want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” Toni Morrison

7. “Let me listen to me and not to them.” Gertrude Stein

8. “Where we come from in America no longer signifies. It’s where we go, and what we do when we get there, that tells us who we are.” Joyce Carol Oates

9. “What keeps you going isn’t some fine destination but just the road you’re on, and the fact that you know how to drive.” Barbara Kingsolver

10. “We do not need magic to transform our world. We carry all of the power we need inside ourselves already.” J.K. Rowling

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Have another quote from a female author that you find meaningful? Share the love in the comments!

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A few ways to advocate for gender equality

As I discussed in my previous post, gender discrimination is still alive and well pretty much every where you look in today’s world. It rears its ugly head in politics, in magazines, on television, in the office, on the street, even at your local bar. But what can we do about it? This is by no means a comprehensive list, but I hope you come away with a few concrete ways to take action on this issue.

Stand up for women in your everyday life: We all have moments when gender bias comes out amongst friends, at work, or when we are going about our daily errands. Consciously acknowledge and push back against these instances.

  1. Support women in your workplace. If you are a woman in a higher position at your company, reach out to them with kindness and offer encouragement or mentorship. We need to fight to change the idea that the other women in the office are competition–instead, let them be colleagues. Just the other day, I overheard three women gossiping about a co-worker. Two of the women were really digging in, insulting her actions and even accusing her of lying to get the job. This all stopped when the third woman spoke up and provided positive examples of how hard the woman in question in worked. Be the third woman.
  2. Find your voice at work. Even though studies show that women’s ideas get shut down more than men’s in the workplace, fight to get your points across. The study also shows examples of companies who started a “no-interruption” policy during meetings. The result? More satisfied employees and better collaboration between all staff members. If you are a man, support female co-workers by listening to and collaborating with them just as much as you would a male coworker.
  3. According to Missrepresentation, women hold 86% of purchasing power in America. How you spend your money matters. Boycott products (including movies) that objectify women and share your choices on social media with the hashtag #notbuyingit.

  4. Don’t put up with stereotypes or negative talk towards women. If you are a man, step up when you hear other men talk or treat women badly. If you are a woman–same thing. We need to stop judging and treating each other so harshly regardless of gender. You have the power to walk away from negative conversations.
  5. Be a model for the children or young adults in your life. As someone who works in schools, too many times I have heard kids make gendered statements. For example: “Girls can’t be pilots, they are the people who give out the drinks” (YES, this is something I actually overheard between a group of 6 year olds, so I stepped in). Step in where you can and model healthy interactions in your own relationships so that children can learn through observation.
  6. Consider donating to or getting involved in organizations who work towards gender equality. Here are a few to check out: Women in FilmSisters of Hope, Black Girls Rock!, Women Sports Foundation, Girls Who Code, Girls for a Change. Share in the comments more organizations you love!

Support more female representation in the media: This is hugely important because of the power media has over perception.

  1. Support female-driven movies by seeing them in theaters on opening weekend. The big studios still don’t believe that big numbers will turn out to see stories about women on screen. Prove them wrong by giving these movies your support. Opening weekend is important because studios base on lot of their decisions on how well a movie is received when it first come out. Showing up for a movie early in its release shows that it was highly anticipated. Big studio movies that star women this year? InsurgentJupiter RisingTomorrowland, and Mockingjay: Part Two.

    Stockholm, Pennsylvania. Directed by Nikole Beckwith. Photo by Aaron Epstein - © 2014 by Aaron Epstein

    Stockholm, Pennsylvania. Directed by Nikole Beckwith. Photo by Aaron Epstein – © 2014 by Aaron Epstein

  2. It is also important to support female directors and writers, which means being a smarter film consumer. Look into movie credits before the movie and seek out those with women behind the camera. Unfortunately only 4.4% of big studio movies are directed by women, so this feat might take a trip to an independent theater. Check out the this year’s Sundance favorites and get out there!
  3. Have you noticed that in news articles, female politicians are twice as likely than their male counterparts to be described in emotional terms? This has to stop. Call out biased journalism when you see it by commenting on the article or writing to the news source it came from. Most news websites have a ‘Contact Us’ section. Use it.
  4. Only 20% of news stories focus on women. Share your appreciation for positive media that empowers women via social media by using hashtag #MediaILike or #MediaWeLike. Hashtags hold power.They are tracked and analyzed by industries and the media. Use them wisely.
  5. Share your story. We need more quality narratives about women, by women.

In case you need some proof that one voice can change the world, here is Emma Watson’s latest speech supporting UN Women’s HeForShe campaign.

What do Kim Kardashian, the Oscars, and the State of the Union have in common?

This week, gender bias has been on my mind.

I guess it started when I (FINALLY) picked up Margaret At38447wood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, a book that begins in our present culture and devolves into a dystopian society where women are once again treated as objects. They can serve one of two purposes: A) provide men sexual pleasure or B) become vessels of childbirth. I was riveted, fascinated, horrified, and yet it also made me reflect on our own culture, which still pretty much portrays women in these roles. Despite whatever Alanis Morissette sang about female identity, on TV and in movies a woman is typically still either the wife or the femme fatale.

So, this book really got me thinking. And then other recent events seemed to echo the issue of gender discrimination: the Oscar nominations, the State of the Union address, and HeForShe’s launch of a new initiative called ACTION 10X10X10 all, in their own way, highlighted the challenges women face both in America and abroad.

On Monday, I found myself glued to the TV screen for the State of the Union address. To be completely honest, I felt heartbroken when half of our nation’s representatives refused to applaud or stand for President Obama’s following statement: “Congress still needs to pass a law that makes sure a woman is paid the same as a man for doing the same work. Really. It’s 2015. It’s time.”

Watching not only Speaker John Boehner, but most (if not all) of our Republican representatives* refuse to acknowledge this statement infuriated me. It spoke volumes to how women are still perceived and what roles many people believe they should follow.

To me, it said “we don’t think you deserve it.” It said that men are better than women. It said that boys rule, girls drool. The end.

Dramatic? Yes, but so was their gesture.

Naturally, this gave me an itch to parade. So I spent the rest of the week exploring the social injustices that women still experience, on a grand scale, in America today.

I found a few:

  1. There is a huge disparity in how women’s opinions are valued in the workplace.
  2. Women make up 51% of the US population… but make up only 20% of Congress.
  3. Women earn less than their male counterparts in almost every occupation.
  4. Women make up 3% of leadership positions in the mainstream media.
  5. Women make up only 30% of speaking roles in movies and on television (see also here and here).
  6. Despite the fact that 60% of US working women are mothers, we have no national policy towards paid maternity leave, and that of the 185 countries and territories analyzed by the International Labor Organization, only one other country didn’t offer benefits to women having children (Papua New Guinea, in case you were wondering).

Let’s just say I found more discrimination than could be easily put into a list. What I began to wonder was, why do we, as a society, put up with this? Just like in The Handmaid’s Tale, it seems that our culture has taken this mantra of “this is the way it is.” But it doesn’t have to be.

Yep, her.

Yep, her.

I began to think about the systems of power over our culture. I began to think about Kim Kardashian.

Stay with me.

We live in a world bombarded with media. Young girls have to make sense of the 500 air-brushed-to-perfection advertisements they come across every day. To them, the cat-fights of reality tv and the superficial woes of Kim Kardashian provide a model for behavior. The Girl Scout Research Institute conducted a study that showed that 75% of teen girls believe reality tv to be unscripted, real-world experiences. To me, reality tv is something to laugh at and occasionally indulge in to turn my brain off. The idea that young girls take it seriously is frightening, especially considering the other ways that women are represented on tv and in film.

Our culture gets most of its assumptions from the media; Movies, television, the news, and even commercials, provide a model for the world—but it just so happens to be an inaccurate one when it comes to female representation.

According to the study “Gender Bias Without Borders,” only 30.9% of speaking roles in movies and television are women—despite the fact that, you know, women make up half of our world’s population. The study also revealed that female characters were twice as likely as male characters to wear sexually revealing clothing, five times as likely to receive on-screen comments about their appearance, and were less likely to portray a person with job. Real women are literally missing from the scenes. The stirring documentary, Missrepresentation, (available on Netflix!) reveals that only 16% of film protagonists are female. Translation? Stories about women are not worth telling.

And let’s go ahead and think about the protagonists we are given. I can think of two types of characters: the woman looking for love and the sexy but bad-ass female warrior. Make no mistake–both of these characterizations continue to show that the purpose of woman is to find and please a man. Don’t get me wrong. As a girl who grew up very much a tomboy, I tend to like badass female characters, but to me, most of them seem just as one-dimensional as the damsel in distress. Just an excuse to have a girl in some tight leather–a dominatrix of sorts. I mean, for every Brienne on Game of Thrones it seems like we have ten of Halle Berry’s Catwoman.

More of well-rounded characters like her please!

More of well-rounded characters like her please!

This message even continues into cartoon movies, where it is especially harmful to young girls. As Geena Davis reminds us, “Between 1937 and 2005 there were only 13 female protagonists in animated movies. All of them, except one, had the aspiration of finding romance.”

Is that one in thirteen Mulan (my favorite Disney girl)? I don’t know, but thankfully, in the past ten years since this comment, animated roles have shown progress for girls. Brave’s Merida rejected the men who came to court her and competed for her own independence, while Frozen’s Elsa struggled to understand her identity (though admittedly, her sister, Anna, was boy-craaaazy). Both movies, by the way, had female directors. Hmm…female directors create well-rounded female characters, who knew? And it’s true that we are seeing more women featured in big box office movies roles that attempt to defy female stereotypes—most recently Katniss of The Hunger Games, who is both vulnerable and strong.

But overall, movies continue to leave out women. Every movie I watch, I measure up to the Bechdel Test, which is just about as basic as it could possibly be in recognizing that women are humans. All a movie has to do to pass is have two women talk to each other about something other than men.

Pretty easy right?5540832_orig

Wrong (according to Hollywood). I’d like to say that more movies have passed this year, but out of this year’s Best Picture Oscar noms, only TWO pass the Bechdel Test (SelmaBoyhood). TWO. But is this surprising when every nominated film this year is male-centric? Let that sink in.

In my opinion, Gone Girl and Wild more than deserve a nod, but with a 76% male Academy, I guess this is what happens.

“Hollywood is based on the assumption that women will watch stories about men, but men won’t watch stories about women.”

—Geena Davis.

So what about the women behind the camera?

Well, let’s just say that recognized female film directors remain as rare as Melville’s white whale. Which brings me back to the Oscars. Am I surprised that no female directors or writers received Oscar nominations this year? Sadly, no.

Most people know that the Academy is mostly men but what is lesser known is that the individual categories can only be voted on by Academy members that are also peers in that category. Looking at it this way, the likelihood of a female nomination diminishes even further: the screenwriting branch is 81% male while the directors branch is 91%. With those blindingly unbalanced figures, it would be more newsworthy if they had recognized Ava DuVerny (Director, Selma) or Gillian Flynn (Writer, Gone Girl). After all, only four women have ever been nominated in the category of Best Director, and only one, Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker), has ever taken home the statue. 

The snubs reflect the reality of Hollywood, where women continue to struggle to achieve parity on a daily basis. And it’s not that women aren’t interested in directing. According to the New York Times, they are “well represented” in film schools percentages across the country. So what happens?

Sexism and money, plain and simple.

Though female directors fare pretty well in independent movies, as the amount of money needed for a film rises, it becomes more likely that it will be put into the hands of a man. According to Martha M. Lauzen’s research in “The Celluloid Ceiling,” a data-analysis of 2012’s top 250 domestic grossing films, women directors represented only 9%.

“Their [the six major studios] refusal to hire more female directors is immoral, maybe illegal, and has helped create and sustain a representational ghetto for women.”

—Manohla Dargis, “Lights, Camera, Taking Action,” New York Times

Again, in Missrepresentation, director Catherine Hardwicke described the many times she has been turned down for the job because she was told the content needed a man’s vision. So she turned to female-driven narratives instead, ultimately directing Twilight, which proved that audiences would come in droves to see a movie with a female protagonist. But when the movie became a blockbuster and smashed box office records—SURPRISE—the sequel films were immediately put in the hands of male directors.

Hardwicke bitterly reflects that even though Hollywood deems women unequipped to direct male-driven movies, males often direct films about women. When I looked into this statement, I found she was right. All of the following movies were directed by men: Sex and the City, Eat Pray Love, The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, Bridesmaids, Easy A, The Hunger Games, Divergent . . . the list goes on.

And for the record, let’s put the “women-can’t-direct-male-movies” idea to rest. I MEAN—Stop-Loss, Big, Zero Dark Thirty, Point Break, American Pyscho—ANYONE? But, I digress.

The point is: if more women were at the helm in movies and television, as directors and writers, our media would get closer to projecting reality and could create a healthier view of gender for young women and men to follow. It would show a world closer to our own. Perhaps it would even lead some voices to wonder why women are so underrepresented in politics.

The good news?

thelma-and-louise

Geena Davis: our hero.

Women are fighting back in Hollywood. Fed up with the way Hollywood showcases gender roles to young children, Geena Davis created the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, which provides research-based efforts that educate the world on gender bias occurring in the media and fight for the need to reduce gender stereotyping. Gamechanger Films also works to put out more female-driven stories by providing the funding that nearly every female director struggles to find from studios. Women in Film works to promote equal opportunities for women in media through education, scholarships, and grants. And of course, the HeForShe movement, championed by Emma Watson, is gaining ground with their campaign for both genders to embrace feminism.

And we can help too. Knowing the issue is the first step. But you can act to help accurate female representation in the media become a reality. Check back soon under the “Action” tab to find out how.

*Please Note: This was my observation during the speech and that I do not wish this blog to to be a place of Democrats vs. Republicans, but rather an exploration into the aspects of identity, diversity, and injustice in our culture, open to anyone, regardless of their political party affiliation.