While You Were Out: "Twerking is Not Feminism,” and Other Things We Learned this Week

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Mary Rose Somarriba
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“While You Were Out,” is a Friday feature of short notes and commentary from the week. Whether it’s something you’d discuss at the water cooler or at happy hour, you’ll find it on our grid, together with our opinion as to whether it’s praiseworthy or cringeworthy. We’re pleased to bring you the Verily editors’ quick takes on the happenings of this week!

Fortune Magazine Sheds Light on Egg Freezing

As we mentioned last week, we aren’t thrilled to hear Facebook and Apple are offering egg-freezing in their benefits packages. This week, Fortune magazine features a pretty damning article by a woman who experienced the failures of egg-freezing first hand. Pamela Mahoney Tsingdino tells what everyone else is ignoring: The success rate for frozen eggs to result in a live birth is 2 to 12 percent.

Monica Lewinsky Speaks For (Pretty Much) the First Time

I’ve wondered in the past, where were the feminists when it came to Monica Lewinsky? Patient zero of Internet-scandal overkill, Lewinsky spoke bravely and honestly about the harms of cyberbullying at Forbes 30 Under 30 Summit this week. Before you judge, watch the video of her remarks, and tell me she isn’t correct to remind us of Oscar Wilde’s quote, “Behind sorrow, there is always a soul.”

Annie Lennox on What Feminism Isn’t

Annie Lennox, who’s been doing interviews for her new album Nostalgia, was asked last month what she thinks about Beyoncé and feminism, to which she replied she considered it “feminism lite,” as in “I don't think they necessarily represent wholeheartedly the depths of feminism.” Yeah, we tend to agree. After headlines pitted Lennox against Beyoncé, this week NPR gave Lennox an opportunity to clarify: "Listen. Twerking is not feminism. That’s what I'm referring to. … It's not liberating, it's not empowering. It's a sexual thing that you're doing on a stage."

If 7-year-olds are in the audience, as Lennox suggests, hyper-sexualized performances are in fact quite the opposite of empowering. As she put it in her first interview, “it looks great and it looks radical, but … I think what they do with it is cheap … sex always sells… there's nothing wrong with sex selling, but it depends on your audience. If they're 7-year-old kids, I have issues with it.” Not quite the stuff that raises girls to value their full worth.

Predictably, many outlets have responded with such headlines as “Lennox slams Beyoncé again!”—but to be fair, she’s not just talking about Beyoncé. She’s talking about a trend. One that Beyoncé partakes in, yes, but it’s bigger than Queen Bey. Hyper-sexualized performances have been influencing the way men view women—and girls view themselves—long before Yoncé partook in them.

Downton Returns!

Spoilers ahead (obviously). When we left the great estate last winter, Lady Mary was faced with two suitors: Gillingham and Charles Blake. And in the new trailer, we see Mary open her door to Gillingham—what could it mean? Meanwhile, Edith gave up her baby to Mr. Drew and his wife but decided she would visit the girl as often as she could. Although she told Drew the baby is actually her friend’s, I think we all know the truth will eventually come out. As season four ended, Mr. Bates was almost caught for the murder of Gillingham’s valet (remember how the valet assaulted poor Anna?). Thankfully, the evidence was destroyed and hopefully we no longer have to worry about Bates getting caught. And then we have Branson, who’s been flirting with Sarah but seems to believe more than ever that he belongs at Downton. You can bet we’ll be glued to the TV come January 4 to see how this all plays out.

—Maggie Niemiec

St. Vincent Opens This Weekend

Bill Murray just may win the Oscar he’s been waiting for. The film, which also features the stellar Melissa McCarthy, begins with an About Schmidt vibe as we meet Vincent, an old man with many flaws. He drives drunk. He sleeps with prostitutes. He gambles away money that he owes to bad people. But he also requests songs on the jukebox like Jefferson Airplane’s “Somebody to Love.” In the early scenes we see Vincent dancing by himself to the iconic lyrics, “Don’t you want somebody to love / Don’t you need somebody to love . . . / You Better Find Somebody to Love.” Despite himself, he does.

The film—whose website features a funny widget allowing visitors to “go saint yourself”—tells a dry-humored and unsuspectingly touching story of how to see the best in people, even when it’s hard.

This Year’s Good Film You Never Heard Of Is Now on DVD

Remember this year’s comedy drama starring Scarlett Johansson, Sofia Vergara, and Robert Downey Jr.? No, you probably don’t. Well, it’s Chef—starring Jon Favreau (Swingers) as a lead chef in a prominent restaurant, and a story about the challenges of balancing a passion for work with the realities of family. In addition to making you laugh, it will make you hungry and may improve your cooking. Oh, and it’s now at Redbox.

Return of the Matchmaker

Hitch is back! Will Smith, star of the 2005 film, is slated to executive produce a new TV version of the Date Doctor’s adventures. It’s currently in the script-writing stages, but suffice to say, we’re committed!

Get Fired Up for the Mockingjay Soundtrack

The tracklist for the highly anticipated album has been released, and we couldn’t be more excited. Lorde curated it, after all, and—featuring such musicians as Chvrches and Charli XCX, and collaborating on tunes with Haim and The Chemical Brothers—you can tell she had fun with it.

Another Feminism Panel Bites the Dust

It’s CMJ Music Marathon week in New York! Yay! As a music writer, I love the opportunities CMJ brings to check out a ton of new bands, network, and sit in on interesting panels. So I was excited when I saw they scheduled the talk “Ripping off the Bandaid: Why Feminism Matters in Music.” Upon attending, however, I was completely unsatisfied. Not only did it feel like a “we hate men” sleepover with way too many giggles, it seemed like everyone on the panel was playing victim. The panelists droned on, coyly naming the publications they had worked for over the years where they felt mistreated. Nothing positive came out of the talk.

Worst, when someone asked the question “so how do we stand out among others while trying to get a job?” the panelists answered the generic “don’t be afraid to be a b----,” “don’t get upset if someone asks if you’re on your period,” even something like “make your hair pretty” were among the answers. But no one—not one—person said to become an expert in your area and let it reflect it in your work.

Yes, we can talk about how we’re mistreated but more than just complaining about it, I would have liked to hear how we can do something about it. Or how about we talk about unique things women bring to the table. Anything—anything better than this.

Last week Kara Eschbach covered the Women in Tech panel that flopped. While overcoming workplace discrimination is an important and relevant thing, adding “feminism panels” as token items on a conference agendas is tiring. Let’s start having panels that actually say something.

—Allison Baughman

Step Aside, Barbie 

Numbers show that the Barbie doll is losing her appeal among consumers, but Mattel is trying to keep her on life support. Chief executive Bryan Stockton says “we’ve invested in the doll, the dolls look better than last year,” despite the increasing criticism of the doll’s unrealistic body proportions. But Mattel would be better to face reality—that there are simply better, more creative dolls to be made, and not just the more realistic Lammily doll. Girls have more options than ever to choose whatever toys engage their minds and imaginations—whether that be Barbie, Goldiblox, or even (gasp!) playing outside. At least with the success of Mattel’s Monster High dolls, one no longer has to deface a Barbie doll to get a colorful, unique-looking doll these days.

Is that You, Renee?

Jaws dropped and tweets flew as Renee Zellweger debuted a drastically new look this week. The star of Bridget Jones' Diary and Cold Mountain looked nearly unrecognizable at Elle's 21st annual Women in Hollywood celebration. Though many speculate she's had intensive plastic surgery, Zellweger attributed her changed appearance to a healthier, happier lifestyle. Hollywood chatter aside, would it be fair for Zellweger or any iconic figure to attribute her new look to lifestyle changes if she really did have plastic surgery? I hold out hope that one can age happily and beautifully—and actually age—without going under the knife.

—Jane Sloan

Blurred Gender Lines in Hollywood

At an event this week, Jennifer Garner shared an anecdote reflecting the sexism in Hollywood. When she and her husband Ben Affleck attend a press junket, she says, she constantly gets asked how she balances work and family—while her husband gets asked about his co-star Emily Ratajkowski’s boobs. Yeah, not cool. "As for work-life balance," Garner notes, "he said no one asked him about it. As a matter of fact, no one had ever asked him about it. And we do share the same family. Isn't it time to kinda change that conversation?" It’s definitely time. Ben and Jen have been married for almost 10 years and raise their three children together. Like many other working parents in America do. Work-family balance is collaborative effort. If we expect husbands to contribute to diaper duty just as much as their wives, then maybe we should start actually talking to them about it.

—Maggie Niemiec

Vanity Fair Meat Market

Actress Evan Rachel Wood spoke out via Twitter this week over her Young Hollywood cover for Vanity Fair, saying she felt "like meat" during the 2003 shoot, but she has since has found her voice. The then-15-year-old felt bullied by the magazine and pressured into wearing what they wanted.

Bravo to Wood for speaking up and letting young girls know that what they see on a magazine isn’t always glamorous or even real. Wood clarified that she was very privileged to be on the cover of Vanity Fair, but hopes that girls stay true to themselves.

—Maggie Niemiec

Oscar Pistorius Gets 5 years for Killing Girlfriend

Oscar Pistorius, the blade-running Olympian convicted for killing his girlfriend, model Reeva Steekamp, received a sentence of only five years, on account of his allegedly mistaking her for an intruder. We may never know exactly what happened in their shared home that day, but it’s chilling to hear Steekamp’s cousin recount that six weeks prior Pistorius’ girlfriend told her, “We need to talk; I desperately need to talk to you.”

Who can blame Pistorius, though, for his attempts to construct a believable story? He’s just desperately trying to protect himself. Tragic that Steekamp wasn’t so lucky.

Oscar De la Renta Dies

The king of fashion passed away this week at 82 years old. “To be dressed by Oscar was the ultimate in fashion,” said fellow designer Donna Karen. And dress them he did: Jackie O, Michelle Obama, Sarah Jessica Parker, Penelope Cruz, Lupita Nyong’o, to name a few. De la Renta shaped American couture and brought new life to evening gowns. Personally, if I could be dressed by one designer for the rest of my life, it would be De la Renta. He understood a woman’s figure and femininity like no one else. (Remember that romantic gown Amy Adams wore to the 2013 Academy Awards? Sheer perfection.)

As Valerie Steele, director of the Museum of the Fashion Institute of Technology put it so eloquently:

“He never shied away from saying what he did was make pretty dresses. The goal of the pretty dresses was to make women look pretty. He would dress a woman, her daughter and her granddaughter and they would all feel happy." Rest in peace, Oscar.

—Maggie Niemiec