When she was in preschool she was interested in how babies are made, and we had this book, Where Willy Went, about a little sperm in a race to try to get to the egg. So she already knew about the sperm meeting the egg, but she didn’t know how [the sperm] got there in the first place. She asked me [about it], and I said, “You really want to know?” And she said, “Yeah.” And I just blurted it all out. It took about seven minutes. I told her the whole thing. She was like wide-eyed and I said, “Was that what you were expecting?” She said no. I said, “Has anyone talked about this at school?” And she said no. So I said, “Well, was it a surprise?” She said no. And then she said, “I mean yes.” I said, “Well, that’s it.” And then I had to tell all of the other parents [at her school], “Hey, by the way, if you hear [your kids say] anything about the penis getting bigger and blah blah blah, uh, this is where it came from.
Molly Ringwald, on explaining sex to her daughter, in an interview with Maude Apatow for Rookie Mag.
Maude is 15 and a writer for Hello Giggles. Molly is, well, now 45 and still everyone’s teenage crush. The interview is delightfully straightforward and refreshing and covers everything from being a teenager, to writing, acting, dealing with technology warping your brain, and being a mom. Stuff like this is why I adore Rookie Mag, a radically real, endlessly creative online site for teenage girls (created by a teenage girl).—Jihii
Related: Last week, Her Girl Friday invited Rookie’s Editorial Director, Anahaeed Alani to share the Rookie story and some wisdom at a panel on lady-powered start-ups. Here’s a video recap of the event, and here’s an interview with Anaheed by ReportHers.
In a recent article in India Today, Vinayak Chakravorty argues that a new trend in Bollywood is the featuring of female actresses as journalists—a departure from the old days, when the typical journalist-on-screen set-up was a dramatic, male-dominated hero-vs-villain tale. Today, he points out through a series of examples, the on-screen journalist is most often a woman. Directors interviewed for the piece argue that it’s because the movies are inspired by the real women on journalistic frontlines. They reflect reality. What goes unsaid, however, is that until now, most of these portrayals of women have been fairly fluffy. Chakravorty writes:
What goes unsaid is the idea adds to the glam quotient. While the hero is busy saving the world, he needs an emotional prop. Plus, an account of drama seen through the female eye can be more analytical.
If the war correspondent in Madras Cafe managed to be in sync with the brutal reality the film exposed, she was still playing second fiddle to the hero, as is the case with most such depictions.
The article does point out that this stereotype is slowly beginning to change, or at least, directors are willing to be cognizant of it, and be careful to craft intelligent portrayals of the female journalist, attempting to give them strong roles above and beyond the typical female love interest for an on-screen hero.
In a post on Brown Girl, the South Asian American magazine for young women, Antara Mason appreciates this transformation:
This more realistic view of girls in the workforce is fantastic. In a post-Delhi Rape Case India, this change could not come sooner. We need to see more strong women on screen, not to mention more respect for journalism on screen. Apart from that, the more women are seen being taken professionally and seriously on screen, the more respect they will earn in the real world because of the effect media has on society.
FJP: Here’s a thought. I haven’t seen enough Bollywood journalista films to know how this evolving portrayal of women journalists actually plays out, but simply presenting women in strong and independent leading roles seems like a solution that is driven by the same impulse that created the glam-doll phenomenon in the first place. In my mind, female-journalist-as-heroine is in danger of being just as one-dimensional as female-journalist-as-love-interest, especially if the parameters of heroism are of typical Bollywood-style: dramatic, and based on a very simple definition of power: victory.
If, however, the strength of female journalists is portrayed in a nuanced manner, one that takes into account the realities of being a female journalist in India’s rapidly evolving professional universe, movies can have an incredibly powerful impact. Here’s an example: some weeks ago, the Times published this piece on the evolution of journalism in India and the precarious situations women journalists find themselves in on account of being women in male-centric society. It’s a fear of harassment that is valid, that media organizations need to acknowledge, and women ought to speak about without shame, argues, Ashima Narain, photo editor of National Geographic Traveler. It sounds like Bollywood has a chance to cast light on such realities: the fear, and the courage to speak about it and overcome it, which in turn could re-cast heroism as something more powerful and more nuanced than good-guy (or girl) beating bad-guy.—Jihii
I wonder if I need to tell them about how I once woke up in my hotel room and found the bellboy standing over my bed. I wonder if I need to recount that while crouching on the ground during a festival, I didn’t realise I had been surrounded by a group of drunken boys and had to crawl through their legs before the leering, lewd gesticulating and touching turned into something uglier. I wonder if I need to talk about the things I never talk about, like fear, because I have been lucky enough to come out safely.
I think it is time not to be ashamed to talk about fear. Fear is what ensures I look back as I walk, it’s what makes me look for exits when I enter potentially difficult spaces, it is what keeps me alert and often, alive. I call it other things like discomfort or commonsense, because it’s weak to be afraid — it might expose me for what I am, a woman.
Ashima Narain, Fear in the Frame, Indian Express.
Narain is a photo editor at National Geographic Traveller India and her piece is an honest, heartfelt call to action to create measures of protection and support for photographers and journalists, particularly women.
For context, see this recent NY Times piece—Why Female Journalists in India Still Can’t Have It All—in which her story is highlighted along with accounts from other female journalists in India, many of whom do not report harassment they experience on the job because if they do, they risk losing the opportunity and freedom to report. It’s a disheartening catch-22 and definitely something to be aware of.
As press, we are expected to take calculated risks. That is the job, but what do our employers do to protect us? When we join, do they give us any safety guidelines while travelling around the city or the country on an assignment? Do interns receive consistent mentorship on safety in the field? Do the people controlling the purse strings know what it means to be on the ground, or what it means to be gender sensitive?
These questions are in no way about this particular, heinous incident, but ones that I feel need to be addressed based on experiences that I, and many of my peers, have had. They are questions that have been highlighted by this tragedy, and are for media organisations across the board. But we don’t have to stop at the media. Why don’t we make it an institutional obligation for all employers to ensure that, every few months, all their staff has to attend safety seminars?
I couldn’t sleep the night I heard about this incident. For 13 years I have psychologically converted my camera into my protective shield — one that I felt would keep me from harm as it showed that I have the means to retaliate. My shield has been shattered. I do feel scared. I think we all should. But this fear should not paralyse us, nor stop us from doing our work — but channel it so we can do our work better.
Over the past few days, several journalists and photographers have been talking about creating a voluntary mentoring programme for interns, or young people who work in the media and want guidance. Until then, if there are photographers who feel they need to talk, you can look me up. I am easy to find.
The Internet hasn’t given me a thick skin, because I already had one. I think women are better suited to dealing with commenters than men because we have the experience of having been eighth grade girls. No troll in the comments will ever have as intimate an understanding of all your insecurities as your teenage best friends, so the trolls have no idea what scabs to pick. Men seem more wounded by mean comments, and they expect you to be, too, saying stuff like, “I can’t believe the comments on your post! They’re so personal!” And then you look and it’s like someone calling you “a feminazi with bad hair.” And you think, Are you kidding? I have great hair.