Versión en español.

Boys Will Be Girls

I’m not sure when I figured out that girls and boys weren’t treated equally, but one of my earliest memories is of being a three-year-old living in New York City and watching my mom dress up to go out one evening. As she carefully applied her makeup, I asked if I could come along with her and Dad. She replied in Spanish that the place they were going to wasn’t for children. We don’t have a gender-neutral way to say children in Spanish, however. You can say “niñas” if the group is all female or “niños” if group is mixed or all male. Even though I understood the concept, I smiled and told her that if it wasn’t a good place for niños, I, being a niña, could still go. Although I did not get to join my parents that evening, I woke up to some trinket they’d brought back for me the next morning. As I turned it in my hand, my brain examined the strange language choice. Why were boys the norm? As a three-year-old, I had no historical context to draw from, no sense of the ways in which language both reflects and transmits our culture. All I had was an inkling that something was off and that girls were on the losing side of that imbalance.

In a 2020 study, the United Nations Development Program analyzed data on gender views in 75 countries and found that 91% of men and 86% of women hold at least one bias against women, such as thinking that women are less suited to being political leaders or executives. Most appalling, perhaps, is the fact that almost a third of women and men think it’s appropriate for husbands to be physically violent against their wives. While some strides have been made lately in fostering equality for women, the backlash to that progress has resulted in many countries increasing some of their biases against women. As always, we take a couple steps forward and a couple steps back. But we still go forward, if only an inch or two at a time.

I have spent much of my adult life studying the causes of sexism and trying to figure out what we can do about it individually and as members of families, professions, and countries. I’ve learned that terms like niños didn’t come out of nowhere. They’re the result of millennia of beliefs and customs based on the erroneous notion that women are inferior, weaker, and less valuable to society than men. This vision of women pervades our language, our laws, our education, and much of what constitutes our sense of self. Fighting sexism is such a steep battle because it’s ingrained in us from birth. It’s daunting, but as I see it, I don’t need to win the gender equality battle in my lifetime. I just need to make as many contributions as I can to addressing the problem and to invite as many others as possible to do the same. This is something we all need to do together for generations to come. As so many of us stay home in the midst of this pandemic, there are countless opportunities to continue the fight for gender equality and to keep moving forward a few inches at a time.

Fighting for the ERA

Ratify the ERA Protestors with signs saying equal means equal and ratify ERA now!
Earlier this month I collaborated with feminist filmmakers and activists Ariel Dougherty, Jennifer Hall Lee, Kamala Lopez, Ivana Massetti, Barbara Ann O’Leary, and Barbara Winslow in writing and collecting signatures for an open letter asking Hollywood and the media to provide coverage to the fact that the battle for the Equal Rights Amendment is poised to go to the Supreme Court soon, and we need all the public support we can get to make sure it passes.

The letter was signed by over 500 industry members and activists, including actor and activist Rose McGowan, Nevada State Senator Patricia Spearman, film directors Lizzie Borden and Eva Husson, activist Lizzy Jagger and her father, rocker Mick Jagger, feminist artist Natalie White, fashion designer Tommy Hilfiger and daughter Ally Hilfiger, Outlander star Caitriona Balfe, Fear the Walking Dead actor Mishel Prada, filmmaker and producer Vanessa Hope, and Ted Hope, head of Amazon Studios.

The letter is complemented by a social media campaign around #ISupportTheERANow. You can use the hashtag to tell the world how the passing of the ERA will improve your life and the lives of those you love. This is your chance to make a significant difference in the fight for women’s rights and you can do it from home as we continue to weather our self-isolation.

Unearthed Photo of the Month

Nate and Alex when they first met
One Wednesday in April of 1999, while I was in college, my beloved friend Gina invited me to eat dinner with her at the house of the man she was seeing. She said she thought I would like his roommate, Nate. I was still processing my recent breakup and spent the whole car ride there complaining about my ex-boyfriend. When we entered the house I saw this tall, blue-eyed man staring a little shyly at me, and I knew immediately that I’d just met my person. It was a strange realization, gentle as a whisper yet fierce with its sense of finality. We talked for hours that Wednesday night. On Thursday we went dancing. On Friday he came to a party at my house. On Saturday I went to a party at his house. This photo, which Gina took on Sunday morning in the midst of a blooming spring, captures the first of now thousands of mornings waking up side by side. I always say that we met on Wednesday and by Saturday we were living together. It all happened so quickly and effortlessly that it wouldn’t make for a particularly good romantic comedy, but getting together is just the beginning, of course, no matter what Hollywood tells us about love. This April our relationship turns 21. It can drink Champagne legally and enjoy the pleasures and responsibilities of full adulthood, like raising two boys at home in the midst of a pandemic. When sexism feels like an insurmountable quagmire, I look back at our two decades together and how much Nate has supported me through countless crises, career hurdles, and broken hearts, just as I’ve done the same for him. Love is messy and elastic. It can begin in arbitrary ways and last a lifetime, which is exactly as long as we have to make the world better and more equal. I couldn’t be more thankful to have Nate as my companion in this and the many other quests we’ve undertaken together.

My Documentary Feature Vanishing Borders Is on Vimeo

still from vanishing borders film
If you need something hopeful during your quarantine viewing, check out my documentary, Vanishing Borders, which is now available to rent or buy on Vimeo. The film tells the inspiring story of four immigrant women living and working in New York City and finding ways to adapt to their American lives while navigating family, work, and activism.

Connect With Us on Social Media

Questions? Comments? Ideas?
Reply to this email.
Versión en español.
Community letter archive