tl;dr: Why is Peace So Difficult? Part 2

Disclaimer: Still kinda biased here. 

Jerusalem and the settlements are two of the most contentious issues in the Israel-Palestine conflict and the path toward peace, but the Right to Return is perhaps the most emotional. In 1948, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were forced to leave their homes under controversial circumstances.* The United Nations has since defined Palestinian refugees as those who fled** Palestine in 1948, and has recognized their (and their descendants’) right to return to the homes they left behind. Unlike the settlements, the right to return has a more symbolic significance in peace agreements–most Palestinian refugees living outside of Israel and Palestine today say that they would accept financial compensation and a place to live inside the West Bank or Gaza. Over time, it has become more and more obvious that it would be nigh impossible for these families to return to the exact locations they or, in most cases, their grandparents originally lived. But accountability and recognition are key pieces in any conversation about reparations between Israelis and Palestinians–the persistence of the Israeli government in denying the Palestinians’ right of return has played a heavy emotional toll on peace agreements.

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There are a number of films that touch upon the Right to Return, but two of the best that I’ve seen are A World Not Ours and Salt of This Sea.

A World Not Ours is a documentary film that depicts life in one of the most populous refugee camps in Lebanon. The film aired on PBS during POV’s most recent season, and I helped POV put together the films discussion guide, which you can check out here. What’s cool about A World Not Ours is the filmmaker’s position–he’s Palestinian, but he grew up in Europe, making him more relatable to the average non-Palestinian viewer. I came away from the film with a real understanding (or as authentic an understanding as one can have from watching a documentary) of what it means to be a Palestinian refugee–with no state to call home, no right to a passport, no right to leave what was supposed to be a temporary home, no job prospects. Its themes spread further than Palestine and Lebanon, as well–there are strong themes of identity, family, and depression in the film as well as its more political overtones. A World Not Ours is a film that puts the viewer in the shoes of its subjects in a special way I haven’t seen before in a documentary feature.

Unfortunately, A World Not Ours is not available on Netflix or any free streaming sites (it may show up on POV’s website to stream for free again, but for now it’s unavailable). If you want to screen it for a public viewing though, contact POV. They lend out this film and dozens more like it for free!

Next up is a dramatic film. Salt of this Sea is about an American-born Palestinian woman who attempts to return to the homeland of her grandfather. Soraya is an interesting, truly unique female character–I don’t think I’ve seen anyone like her depicted on film. She doesn’t go through the journey typical of films like this one–the story of a naive woman who grows to be angry and political over time. No, she starts the film off angry and just gets angrier as the film goes on. Soraya is unapologetically proud of her Palestinian identity and refuses to deny it, even when it would be incredibly convenient for her to do so.

Themes of the Right to Return are very present in this film–Soraya struggles to regain money and property once held by her grandfather, and she has lengthy conversations with her Palestinian friends about what it means to be Palestinian. For her, being Palestinian has everything to do with the land. She has spent her whole life aching to return to a place she has never been.*** Her friends in Ramallah (the capital city of the West Bank), on the other hand, have spent their entire lives living under military occupation, and would give anything to leave. It’s a beautiful film, and it encourages great dialogue–it’s also a thriller that features a bank robbery and a clever getaway scheme. It’s super easy to watch, too: it’s available on Netflix.

Did you actually watch the films, or have you already seen them? Let me know what you think in the comments!


 

*Yes, yes this is a Wikipedia link. What did you think this was, a PoliSci paper?

**Using the word “fled,” as opposed to “left,” is a good example of my bias, and a demonstration of the minefield that is discussing this topic.

***This is an incredibly common sentiment, something that I encountered regularly when I studied abroad in Jordan (where a vast majority of the population is Palestinian). I have friends there who refer to Palestine as “home,” even though they have never been there. It’s heartbreaking. The sense of loss I witnessed in Jordan plays heavily on my own biases.

 

tl;dr: Why is Peace So Difficult? Part I

Disclaimer: My bias might flare up in the next couple of posts. Just FYI.  

One of the most controversial issues in the Israel-Palestine conflict is that of Israeli settlements. You’ve probably already heard of them and even know what they are: Israeli communities built in the West Bank and in East Jerusalem (there used to be settlements in Gaza as well, but Israel withdrew from the area in 2005). These settlements are illegal under international law–they disobey the Geneva Convention’s ruling that states cannot move their own civilians into occupied territory–and are one of the biggest blockades to the peace process. I’ll let Al Jazeera go ahead and explain why:

One great film on Israeli settlements and what it’s like to live under Israeli military law is 5 Broken Cameras.

The film was nominated for an Oscar (Best Documentary Feature) in 2013, and aired on POV in its 26th season. It’s cleverly structured around each of the filmmaker’s broken cameras, most of which are broken in clashes with the IDF (Israeli Defense Forces), and tells the story of his family, living on the edge of the newly created separation barrier in the village of Bil’in. 5 Broken Cameras is available to watch on Netflix.

If you think you don’t have time to watch one of the best films to feature the Israel-Palestine conflict, check out the following infographics. Vizualizing Palestine is an excellent resource, with some of the best crafted graphics I’ve seen on Palestine.

This one is a great infographic companion to 5 Broken Cameras, and details facts and figures discussed in the film:

5 Broken Cameras: Growing up with the Bil'in Resistance(Source)

Oh, and that wall we talked about? Yeah, also illegal:

Where Law Stands on the Wall(Source)

Other sources to check out include B’Tselem and Jewish Voice for Peace, both of which are Jewish nonprofits acting in solidarity with Palestinians. Stay tuned for info and film recommendations on the Palestinian’s right to return later today.

tl;dr: Sometimes Israel-Palestine Is Scary, But Sometimes There Are Circuses

Disclaimer: My personal opinions on the Israel-Palestine conflict would be described by most as “pro-Palestinian.” I don’t like the language that is used here–it implies that I am “anti” something, but it’s the most commonly used descriptor for my stance on the issue. My opinions are strongly held, but in sharing these educational videos and articles with you, I want to be as objective as possible. I think its important to remain non-partisan in an educational setting. As such, the videos I’ve provided here were the most balanced that I have found to be worth sharing, but know that my choices may have been influenced by my personal feelings.

I’ve dedicated most of my academic and professional life to studying the Israel-Palestine conflict. But I still don’t understand half of what is going on. It may be one of the most hotly contested, complex situations in living memory, and it’s virtually impossible to talk about without making someone angry. I’m sure someone out there will read what I’ve written here and find something to rage quit over.

I think it’s still important to try to encourage dialogue about the issue. It’s a complex subject–not exactly dinner table talk–but it’s an important discussion to have. It is also relevant to your everyday life (if you’re an American). Israel is one of the top recipients in the world of US foreign aid. The projected military aid to Israel in 2015 is over $3 billion.

So, before you decide this issue is too complicated for your understanding, or too heated for your comfort, think about where that money is coming from. No matter where you fall on the issue, you should know what you’re spending your tax dollars on.

The following are educational videos by some amazing people who have managed to boil this conflict down into short, easy to digest segments. Check them out–they do a better job explaining this mess than I ever could.

Let’s start with an easy one. John Green! Yay, totally not scary. It is even in cartoon-form:

Of all of these creators, John Green and Crash Course do the best job of remaining nonpartisan. This is good from an educational standpoint–I’ve learned through my work with high schools that educators’ primary concern when teaching this subject is usually “balance.” John manages to not omit any facts that may be construed as contentious, while also emphasizing that no one party is at fault for the conflict. I particularly appreciate his explaining that very little of the present day conflict has to do with theological differences. It’s a common misconception, and I’m glad he took the time to debunk it. I would also recommend checking out For Critical Thinkers for more information on the roots of the conflict, and a more technical analysis of the present-day situation.

Next up is Test Tube. I can’t recommend this channel highly enough. I would have put it in my first post if I hadn’t just discovered it a couple of days ago. Test Tube provides content on a variety of topics, and their examinations of newsworthy issues are short and sweet.

The above explains the significance of Jerusalem in the conflict, as well as its role in peace talks. Jerusalem is one of the five key factors to focus on when studying Israel/Palestine peace agreements: settlements, water, the right to return, borders, and Jerusalem. The fight over this city began long before Israel was brought into being as a state, but it is crucial to understanding the present-day conflict, and prospects for peace.

Note, the following videos were made over the summer and some of the facts are outdated, but still give a general idea of the situation at hand.

If you’re interested in catching up with more recent news, I would highly recommend watching the following Vox video. Vox has also come up with a great primer article on the conflict, “9 questions about the Israel-Palestine conflict you were too embarrassed to ask.” So you might want to check that out, too.

Operation Protective Edge, the most recent Israeli military operation in Gaza, officially ended in August, but Gaza is still in a major state of crisis. The operation left over 2,200 people dead, the vast majority of them Gazans, and many remain homeless, injured, and ill. Billions of dollars were pledged by the international community to help aid Gazans, but almost none of this has materialized.

The situation in Gaza is closely tied to the fate of the West Bank, but it is often cast in a darker light, in part due to Hamas–which the US has classified as a terrorist organization. Because of its status as a terrorist organization, Hamas is given little credibility and is often ignored on the grounds of “we don’t negotiate with terrorists.” Fair enough, but it’s important to understand that Hamas is a complex political player, and is a huge factor in understanding the present day situation in Gaza. Test Tube does a great job explaining who Hamas is and what their role is today:

Sometimes reading up on Israel and Palestine can be disheartening, and a lot of the time I feel like not much has changed over the course of hundreds of years:

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But then sometimes there are circuses in Palestine, and there’s a spark of hope. It’s worth reading through all of the depressing, confusing, heartbreaking material, just for that.

I hope these videos served as a good intro to this week’s topic–let me know what you think in the comments! Stay tuned for more posts on settlements and the right to return, coming up later this week.

tl;dr: TV Shows That Eat the Bechdel Test For Breakfast (And Some That Come Back For Lunch)

Warning: Spoilers and NSFW videos ahead

In my last post, we talked about the Bechdel Test and the dangers of certain tropes in the representation of women in media. So many films and TV shows fail the Bechdel Test and are marred by terrible media tropes–but I’ve got some recommendations here for some that don’t.

I think television is doing more interesting things with women than movies, by far. With the exception of The Hunger Games: Mockingjay (which has a difficult time passing the reverse Bechdel Test), I haven’t been starstruck by any major films recently. Just look at the Academy Awards this year. Enough said. But TV is a different story. Here is a list of TV shows that eat the Bechdel Test for breakfast:

1. Orange is the New Black

Who’s surprised I brought this one up? No one? Yeah. It’s probably one of the most watched shows of the past two years, and for good reason. While its ideas about what living in a women’s prison is actually like is questionable*, its realistic depiction of women makes its popularity well-deserved. The women on the show are complex: they’re funny, loveable, despicable. Most importantly, they are that ever-trendy word: relatable. It’s a show that talks about sex in a meaningful, interesting way that is so very familiar, yet so rare in popular media.

Warning: Kinda sorta NSFW

The above is a scene where the show demonstrates just how little people are taught about their own bodies in our culture. Several women are debating the functions of the vagina, and one character in particular is very confused about where urine comes from. Fortunately, the wonderful Laverne Cox as Sophia Burset steps in to tell them what’s what. I love a show that’s not afraid to discuss the nitty gritty details of sex, gender, sexuality, and more.

The show gets bonus points for awesome LGBTQ representation, and great diversity in its cast (in particular in Season 2 where Piper Chapman is less of a central character).

Orange is the New Black is available to watch on Netflix. But you probably already knew that.

2. Avatar: The Last Airbender and Avatar: The Legend of Korra

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The Last Airbender has some extremely well-crafted female characters, as does The Legend of Korra (especially moving forward into Seasons 3 and 4). Women fight alongside the boys, rail against male characters for being sexist and discriminatory, and they are generally given agency and power over their own stories. They serve as teachers, warriors, friends, girlfriends, mothers, grandmothers, healers, counselors, generals, creators–the list goes on. The creators of Korra have said that Nickelodeon’s initial reaction to the idea of a female lead was hesitation. They were worried that boys might not watch the show. But in test screenings, young male viewers said that they “didn’t care that Korra was a girl. They just said she was awesome.” I love it that a show geared for kids has created so many great role models for young girls, and proves that young boys are interested in watching a show with a female protagonist–as long as she is an interesting protagonist.

Both shows also do a great job of representing people of color and people with disabilities, not to mention at least one (warning: even the URL is a spoiler!) canonically queer couple (and strong hints at others). Two out of three of the initial main characters on TLA are people of color, and many minor characters have a diverse range of ethnic identities. Korra herself is dark-skinned, coming from a tribe that appears to have some Inuit inspirations. Avatar also features one main character with a significant physical disability (Toph is blind). Not only is she blind, but Avatar plays this off as a strength, and Toph is arguably one of the most physically strong characters on the show. Toph is not an anomaly on the show, either. TLA also features a main character with a pretty serious facial disfigurement,** and there is one minor recurring character in a wheelchair. This is not a show that shies away from minority representation, and I love it.

Some episodes of Korra are available on Nick.com, and all episodes of TLA and Korra are available through Amazon Prime.**

3. Firefly

An oldie, but a goodie. Zoey, River, and Inara are great characters, but it’s Kaylee that I want to talk about here. Kaylee Frye is one of my favorite feminist characters in all of television. She has a strong personality, great relationships with other women (ie, not catty or unnecessarily competitive), she loves sex, and her profession defies gender norms. One of my favorite things about Kaylee though, is that she isn’t a victim of Trinity Syndrome. She’s not a badass like Zoey or River. She’s terrified of guns, and while she’s great with machinery, she’s not portrayed as the smartest member of the crew. Kaylee proves that a female character doesn’t have to be Wonder Woman in order to be something other than a sexy lamp character.

4. Outlander

It’s important to note that I have not read the book that the show is based on, though I did attempt it. I just couldn’t get into the writing. I think the show has great writers and the actors were extremely well cast…it’s just Diana Gabaldon’s writing that I can’t seem to get into. Maybe I’ll try again when I’ve finished Season 1.

Anyway. Outlander actually struggles with the Bechdel test. There is only one main female character so far, and while some episodes pass the test swimmingly, most don’t make it past rule #1. However, Claire is a very interesting character with a unique perspective, and Outlander is reshaping sex in television in a way that I hoped Masters of Sex would (but ultimately, hasn’t really, in my opinion). Not much more the say here. Including Outlander in this list was basically just an excuse to get you to read that article that I linked to up there. So, yeah. Go read that.

Outlander‘s first season hasn’t finished yet, but its first half is available to stream on Amazon Prime.

5. Castle

Oh, network television. Not usually something I would recommend for great lady characters. With a very few exceptions, one of which is Castle. Something that I love about the show is that while I suspect it could survive without its titular character (much though it saddens me to think of losing Nathan Fillion), it could not survive without Kate Beckett. Virtually all of the best episodes of Castle are Beckett focused episodes, and she arguably experiences more interesting character growth than Castle over the course of the show. It has a rocky first few seasons, but ultimately fleshes out some very interesting women, including Castle’s mother and daughter, and Beckett’s female colleagues.

Sadly, ABC is being weird with Castle–it’s not available for streaming on any popular sites, as far as I can tell.

6. Shonda Shows

All Shonda Rhimes TV is good TV. It can get extremely soapy, but Rhimes knows how to write women (and the men’s stories are just as melodramatic as the women’s, if not more so). All of her shows have excellent diversity in casting, in particular Scandal and How to Get Away With Murder, both of which have African American female leads. Few other shows feature such ambitious, Actually Strong Female Characters. I may recommend Murder and Grey’s Anatomy over Scandal, though–even though Kerry Washington is amazing (and in 2013 was the first African American woman to be nominated for an Emmy in the Lead Actress category since 1995).

My beef with Scandal is that much of the main plot focuses on a relationship that is, in my opinion, among the most unhealthy on television. I stopped watching the show because I wasn’t sure how the viewers were supposed to read the relationship–were we supposed to ship it? Was it supposed to show how damaging obsessive relationships can be? Jury’s still out. However, many other female characters on the show are great (in particular POTUS’ wife Millie). Just…watch at your own risk.

Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal are available to watch on Netflix (up until their current seasons). How To Get Away With Murder is ongoing, but episodes are available on Hulu Plus.

Bonus Shows: Girls, Orphan Black, Masters of Sex, Agent Carter****

Disagree with my choices? Have any of your own shows to recommend? I love discovering new TV, so let me know in the comments!


 

*Although it’s pretty different from the show, I would definitely recommend reading the memoir of the real-life Piper Kerman (who is also a producer on the show). Especially if you’re interested in reading a more accurate account of what living in a minimum security women’s prison is like.

**Admittedly, the power of animation is that the stakes are lower when creating a character with a massive facial scar.

***If you have an account, all episodes of TLA are free, but seasons 3-4 of Korra are currently $1.99 per episode.

****I haven’t actually seen the show, but I’ve seen clips and it looks damn good. I intend to watch soon.

 

tl;dr: Warning, Your TV Has Come Down With A Bad Case of Trinity Syndrome

About 18 minutes into the following Nerd HQ* panel, a woman in the audience asks “I want to know how all of you feel about the trope of the ‘Strong Female Character’ and what parts of it that you try to celebrate with your work, and what parts you try to subvert?”

This “Badass Women” panel features Yvonne Strahovski (Chuck), Retta (Parks and Recreation), Missy Peregrym (Stick It), Jennifer Morrison (Once Upon a Time), Ming-Na Wen (Marvel: Agents of Shield and Mulan), and Sophie Turner (Game of Thrones). These ladies are great choices for such a panel, and I love it that they include Retta, whose character on Parks and Rec does not kick ass in the same way that Chuck‘s Sarah or Agents of Shield‘s Melinda May might. But I think that they miss the point of the audience member’s question (or at least, my interpretation of it). They address some important questions–Retta discusses the misconception that audiences don’t like strong, assertive women–but I felt unsatisfied when they moved on to the next question. It made me wonder how audiences may not realize just how problematic the “Strong Female Character” trope, and other supposedly “progressive” tropes regarding women in media, can be.

There are so many tropes and tests that exist in the world of critiquing portrayals of women in media. There’s obviously the Bechdel Test, which most  readers are probably familiar with. It’s a pretty simple test, inspired by a comic of Alison Bechdel’s.** The comic made a joke that it was impossible for a character to see movies anymore, because none passed her “test”:

1. The film must feature at least two named female characters.

2. Those two female characters must talk to each other at some point.

3. They must talk about something other than a man.

Some have argued that the test is too simplistic, but that’s kind of the point. You would think it would be easier for films to pass this test considering its simplicity. Many big budget films do not pass, but there is hope. Here’s a nifty infographic on The Bechdel Test’s usefulness in showing what audiences are actually interested in seeing (ie; representations of realistic female relationships, in addition to explosions):

Source.

Beyond this well-known test, there’s the Sexy Lamp Test***, The Smurfette Principle, and Trinity Syndrome. The Smurfette Principle is defined by TV Tropes and Feminist Frequency as “The tendency for works of fiction to have exactly one female amongst an ensemble of male characters, in spite of the fact that roughly half of the human race is female.” The principle applies to an unfortunate number of kids movies, but is also a problem in more adult films:

The Bechdel Test and the Smurfette Principle are important things to keep in mind when watching movies, but it’s Trinity Syndrome that I think is the most relevant to the Nerd HQ panel. Trinity Syndrome is particularly sneaky, and it addresses my issues with the “Strong Female Character” trope head-on. As far as I can tell, Trinity Syndrome was coined in the article “We’re Losing All Our Strong Female Characters to Trinity Syndrome.” Stop reading my blog and go read this article now.

Seriously. Go ahead. I’ll wait.

Okay. You read it? No? *sigh* I’ll explain. In the article, Tasha Robinson discusses How to Train Your Dragon 2 at length, and how Hiccup’s mother Valka is a victim of Trinity Syndrome. Now, I love How to Train Your Dragon (I’m a sucker for kids’ movies that aren’t afraid to deal with dark themes), and overall I thought the sequel was great. But Robinson makes an excellent point in her article: Where did Valka’s plot go? She was built up as this really interesting character, and a powerful woman with a deep understanding of dragons. She’s vastly different from a typical mother figure–it’s stunning to watch her bond with Hiccup in a way traditionally reserved for fathers in kids’ movies. And then…nothing. Valka comes down with a bad case of Trinity Syndrome. Hiccup’s plot and character growth moves forward, and Valka is left behind. She has little do to in the final battle scene, other than to get rescued by the men folk. Robinson also talks a lot about Wyldstyle from The LEGO Movie (who also fits into the Smurfette Principle), Tauriel in The Hobbit, and many more allegedly “Strong” female characters.

So what does this have to do with The Matrix‘s Trinity? Well… Name one character trait of Trinity’s that is not “BAMF,” “Good at martial arts,” “Good with guns,” or “In love with Neo.” Go ahead, I dare you. All of her personality traits boil down to looking sexy while kicking ass and pushing Neo’s plot forward. Yet, the audience is supposed to see her as a “Strong Female Character,” someone who positively represents women in film. Hollywood promotes films featuring “strong” female characters on the cover, smugly thinking to themselves “Now those crazy feminists have nothing to complain about. See? We’re writing powerful women.”

But to me, a “powerful” woman is someone who has more depth to her than revenge and leather. In another great article on this trope, Sophia McDougal points out that male characters are held to higher standards, using Sherlock Holmes as a primary example. Sure, Holmes, especially in his Robert Downey Jr. phase, is a physically strong character. But he’s much more than that. If you were asked to assign character traits to Mr. Holmes, you’d probably come up with “genius,” “rude,” or “awkward” if you’re using the Benedict Cumberbatch model, before you’d hit “strong.” McDougal writes about trying to fit male characters into a “Strong Male Character” box like we do with women, and says “The ones that fit in the most neatly–are usually the most boring.” The same applies to women. A “Strong Female Character” can be a bad ass, but she has to be more than that. Otherwise, she is just another “Superfluous, Flimsy Character disguised as a Strong Female Character,” to use Robinson’s words.

I do strongly recommend watching the “Badass Women” Nerd HQ panel–it’s really good, and the actresses involved were great choices.**** But I can’t resist putting together a dream panel on the same topic–ideally one that spends more time on the “Strong Female Character” question:

Stana Katic (Castle), Jewel Staite (Firefly), Samira Wiley (Orange is the New Black), Laverne Cox (Orange is the New Black), Kristen Stewart (Seriously, read her interviews and watch her films that aren’t Twilight, in particular Speak and Camp X-Ray), and I’m keeping Ming-Na Wen. She may or may not have made me cry here. Bonus panelist: Sandra Oh (Grey’s Anatomy).

Any ideas on your own dream panel of super interesting, badass ladies? Disagree with mine? Let me know in the comments!


*Nerd HQ is a series of panel events held at San Diego Comic Con every year by Zach Levi’s nerdiness-spreading organization The Nerd Machine. All proceeds from ticket sales at Nerd HQ events are sent to Operation Smile.

**I say inspired by because she has little to do with the test today. I would highly recommend her memoirs, Fun Home and Are You My Mother? 

***Kind of self-explanatory–can your female characters be replaced with a sexy lamp and still serve the story? Yes? Maybe you should go back to the drawing board.

****Though, Sarah from Chuck comes dangerously close to being an example of Trinity Syndrome.

tl;dr: Working Out To the Sounds of Gender Misrepresentation

“You can’t be what you can’t see.” -Marie Wilson, President of the White House Project

Above is my favorite quote from the film Miss Representation, a film about gender representation and diversity in the media. This is something that I’m very passionate about, and I have recommendations coming out of my ears here. I’m planning to do a number of weekly themes on representation in media (likely including representations of people of color, LGBTQ representation, representations of mental illness, and more), so watch out for those!

Disclaimer: I am approaching this post from a cis-gendered* female bias. The experiences of trans women, lesbians, or those who fall somewhere else on the LGBTQ spectrum, are unquestionably intertwined with the issue of female representation in media, but I think these representations deserve their own week’s worth of posts. This week’s posts will primarily, but not exclusively, focus on the representation of cis-gender women in media. 

Let’s start with some statistics. The current state of women in media, as reported by the Women’s Media Center:

  • Over a five-year period ending in 2012, the 500 top-grossing movies had 565 directors, 33 of whom were black and two of that 33 were black women.
  • In the top 100 films of 2012–when women had fewer speaking roles than in any year since 2007–females snagged 28.4 percent of roles with speaking parts.
  • In 2013, 13 percent of films featured equal numbers of major male and female characters–or more female characters than male characters.
  • Men outnumbered women 5-to-1 in key, behind the camera roles in 2012. Of the 1,228 directors, writers, and producers, 16.7 percent were female. Women accounted for 4.1 percent of directors, 12.2 percent of writers and 20 percent of producers.

For more jarring statistics, check out the full Status of Women in US Media 2014 report.

Enter The Representation Project.

The Representation Project looks at the statistics above and demands better. The organization was founded by the director of the film Miss Representation, Jennifer Siebel Newsom, and seeks to inspire men and women to overcome limiting gender stereotypes through media. It does great work with women and girls all over the country, inspiring them to overcome the restrictions the media can place on us.

I should really use their 2014 video as a part of my (nonexistent) workout routine. Not much gets me fired up like media that fails women:

Part of what I love about The Representation Project is that it recognizes that feminism is about gender equality for both women and men. The media as it currently exists fails men in much the same way as it does women. Their film, The Mask You Live In, about damaging stereotypes of what it means to be “masculine,” premiered at Sundance this year.**

If YouTube videos with empowering soundtracks don’t cut it for you, check out Miss Representation. The film (released in 2011) addresses the problems cited above, and even has some ideas on how to fix them. Featuring interviews with Katie Couric, Jane Fonda, Margaret Cho, Geena Davis, and Condoleeza Rice, it has a wide spectrum of perspectives. It’s a great way to learn more about the representation of women in media, and what we can do to change it.

Miss Representation is available to stream on Netflix.

There’s a bit in the film that I especially want to talk about. It’s a segment where female directors talk about women and girls at the box office. The perception in Hollywood is that films featuring a female protagonist won’t make as much money as films with a male lead. Unfortunately, the films they use as counter-examples–Mamma Mia, Twilight, and Sex and the City***–are not good movies. It’s not the film’s fault, though–I think this speaks to the slim pickings women have when we’re buying tickets. Yes, these movies made millions, but that’s because Hollywood is not offering the female gaze anything else to look at. We can’t all make the trek out to Sundance (it’s held in Utah, of all places). Many US cities do not have indie venues where we might catch a glimpse of a complex female character. But most have theaters with big budget movies, and Hollywood doesn’t like to give money to female-driven films.

I think we’ve made some progress since 2011 when Miss Representation came out–The Hunger Games comes to mind–but then again, Fifty Shades of Grey made $81.7 million in its opening weekend. And guess who the primary audience for that film was? Slim pickin’s, I tell ya.

So, besides the pursuit of better films than Fifty Shades of Grey, why else might gender equality in media be important? Well, check this out:

The most daunting statistic for me is about leadership. 44% of 8 year old girls want to be leaders, yet only 18% of American leadership (including the government, business enterprises, the media, and other sectors) is made up of women. Age 8 is the peak for girls’ leadership ambitions. 

I’m going to leave you with that number and hope it encourages you to watch the film.

Check back later this week for my recommendations for TV shows with super awesome female characters, and my thoughts on Trinity Syndrome.

*A term used for a person whose self-identity conforms with the gender assigned to them at birth.

**Unfortunately there are limited screenings of the film, so even I haven’t seen it yet. If you happen to be in one of the handful of cities screening the film, definitely check it out and let me know what you think.

***To be fair, I haven’t seen Sex and the City (yes, that does mean I’ve seen Twilight–you caught me), but I heard it was bad.

tl;dr: Big Bird Wants YOU to Watch PBS Videos

Over the course of the next few weeks (or months, if I don’t get lazy), I’m going to be blogging about media that educates and entertains. My goal is to introduce weekly themes and write a couple of posts each week with film and video recommendations that relate to that theme. I’ll have posts dedicated to women’s reproductive rights, mass incarceration in the US, Israel and Palestine, and more.

To kickstart this project, I’d like to introduce some more broad recommendations. The following is a list of TV series and YouTube channels that cover a variety of topics:

1. PBS Digital Studios. 

PBS Digital Studios is PBS for the internet. They have over 30 channels discussing art, science, technology, history, and more. Odds are, if you consider yourself a Nerdfighter, you’ll be a fan of PBS Digital Studios. In fact, a lot of Vlogbrothers* content is produced by PBS.

Why You Should Watch It: 

Big Bird Wants YOU to watch PBS videos. Don’t disappoint Big Bird.

Seriously, though. PBS Digital Studios does an awesome job of being a nostalgic PBS series (Reading Rainbow remix anyone?) while also embracing new media (they even have a Tumblr). Some of their best work includes:

My Favorite: The Idea Channel

2. Crash Course 

Speaking of PBS Digital Studios, Crash Course recently received funding to continue their educational series on YouTube. Started by the Vlogbrothers, Crash Course is a series of YouTube shows dedicated to providing short education courses for free on the internet. They currently have 11 different educational series: World History, Biology, Ecology, English, US History, Chemistry, Psychology, Big History, Anatomy and Physiology, Astronomy, and US Government and Politics.

Why You Should Watch It: 

Don’t you want to watch Wheezy Waiter explain how the US government works to your children? No? Just me? Okay. I’m going to let John and Hank give you some more reasons:

My Favorite: Catcher in the Rye, Parts 1 & 2

3. POV

POV is an Emmy award winning documentary series that airs on PBS. Their goal is to feature innovative documentaries with fresh perspectives, or “points of view,” each season.

Why You Should Watch It: 

I worked there! Support my shameless plug! But also, it’s a fantastic idea and it pulls it off well. The documentaries they choose for each season are all over the map in terms of content, so you’re pretty much guaranteed a good two hours of doc that is not only informative and well made, but there will be a diversity in opinions and perspectives every week.

My Favorite***: Cutie and the Boxer

Where Can I Watch It? 

Most POV films (including Cutie) are available on Netflix, and are from time to time free to stream on POV’s website. Season 28 will premiere sometime this summer, so keep an eye out for it on your local PBS station!

4. Independent Lens

Can you tell I have a PBS bias yet? Independent Lens is very similar to POV, but has an even greater variety of films. It’s currently in its 13th season and airs approximately 25 episodes per season (as compared to POV’s typical 12 or so).

Why You Should Watch It:

Ditto what I said for POV. Also, watch this trailer:

My Favorite: How to Survive a Plague

Where Can I Watch It? 

Many Independent Lens films are available on Netflix (including How to Survive a Plague), and are also available through PBS’ streaming service. They are currently airing on PBS on Monday nights at 10pm EST.

5. TED 

The only non-PBS product on this list, TED showcases “ideas worth spreading” through a series of short presentations on a wide variety of scientific, cultural, and political topics. From talks on prosthetic limbs to a presentation on sexuality in Islam, if you can think it, TED probably has it.

Why You Should Watch It: 

Anyone reading this has probably put “Watch more TED Talks” on their New Year’s Resolution list at some point, so I’ll keep this brief. TED has a knack for picking great speakers talking about interesting topics from fresh perspectives. They’re masters of performance, which has garnered the organization criticism as well as praise. Check it out to find out for yourself.

My Favorite: The Power of Introverts

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Where Can I Watch It? 

TED talks are available on YouTube as well as through TED’s website. There are also multiple TED playlists available on Netflix.

Let me know if you have any recommendations to add to this list!

That’s all for now. Check out the blog next Monday for a series of posts on gender representation in media.

*Watch Vlogbrothers now if you haven’t already (they probably could have had their own entry in this post, but I can’t pick a favorite).

**Hosted by John Green’s wife, Sarah Green, otherwise known as The Yeti.

***Probably not actually my favorite POV film, but it is in the top 5 and I doubt I’ll have an opportunity to feature it in the future of this blog.