Posts Tagged ‘feminism’

Slide1I’m fairly certain I understand what it takes to make great entertainment: a well-written narrative, good casting, and compelling characters, but the current trend of the Anti-Heroine in the Spy Dame genre is really starting to tick me off and sends a bad message about women in the biz.

It started with Carrie Mathison, the CIA analyst from the popular TV series Homeland. Carrie is a talented analyst aided by her bipolar disorder, when in full-force, enhances her ability to see patterns where others fail. However, her erratic behavior and general prickliness makes her really unlikable as a person.

Then we are followed up by another CIA analyst, Maya Lambert from the Oscar nominated movie Zero Dark Thirty. No apparent mental health issues, but again, the near combative, and constant bullying behavior was overwhelming throughout the movie, and at times, very much unwarranted and out of place.

Now we have the new TV show The Bridge with Sonia Cross, a detective in the El Paso, Texas police department tracking down a serial killer who also has Asperger’s Syndrome, which limits her ability at times to accomplish her job without ruffling more than a few feathers, and apparently also makes her a pretty bad driver.

Maybe these writers think that making these women exceptionally quirky somehow makes them more exciting, lovable, or endearing. Mostly it just makes them aggressively annoying. I love the “procedural drama” because I like to understand how the proverbial machine of investigation and analysis work, but putting the disfunctional character archetype first and foremost really undermines and even derails that genre as a whole.

Now this is not to say that there are not women out there doing the job with these circumstances. But this twist of character doesn’t even have a base level by which to jump off from. A base level where are just women doing The Job. So here’s my bigger problem: It’s not enough that a woman can be a real and normal human being with all the real and normal issues that accompany that, but that she also has to be decidedly single with a mental illness-disorder-awkwardness-whathaveyou, and in many cases, just plain damn unlikable sends the message that dames can’t get the job done unless they delve just enough into a big bag of crazy, or conversely, any woman successful at her job must somehow be a loon on some level. And frankly, at the end of the play, I think it’s a cop-out to cover the fact that writers can’t develop a strong female character without a plot device.

Plenty of amazing fictional Spy Dames didn’t need this malarky: Kate Burroughs, the illustrious M, hell, even Sidney Bristow – Queen of SpyFi – got along just fine with her overly-developed sense of patriotism that almost always resulted in her being a pretty darn positive person…impending Zombie Apocalypse and mad scientists aside.

So I find myself waiting, patiently, for the Happy-Go-Lucky-type SpyDame to appear on the screen, big or small. They’re out there. And if writers had even some sense of a clue, they would write about her.

tumblr_lwjey98RlV1qz9qooo1_1280_thumbHuzzah! The ban barring women from combat positions has been lifted! This is a good thing, especially considering that women have served on the front lines in unofficial combat and intelligence positions for over a decade now, but in the immortal words a one Eddie Izzard: “Ein minuten bitte…”

The story is that in the same week that Secretary of Defense, Leon Panetta, ended his tenure by lifting the ban preventing women from serving on the front lines if they are qualified to do so, an employee of the Defense Intelligence Agency celebrated this progress in equality by presenting a briefing about “How to Dress for Success”. Now this is a perfectly acceptable presentation if it suggests sensible shoes, clothes that travel easily, and how to adjust a flak jacket to accommodate female anatomy, but – sigh – such was not the case. Invaluable bon mots such as suggesting makeup, high heels, and color! seem to be the message of the day, which is all fine and good if that day were in the 1960s, but apparently the DIA is a little slow on the upswing.

In a time where women are finally being realized as the proverbial smart-bombs that they are, it seems it is still not enough to be competent and smart if you are not first and foremost a sex bomb. The worst part of this whole debacle is that this nonsense is coming from a woman, which further goes to show that women are equally capable of not only firing a weapon, but firing said weapon into their own feet, thus proving, that at the end of the day, women are their own worst enemies.

To its credit, the DIA officially announced their “regret” over the briefing, clarifying that it was “unapproved” with the Director Lt. Gen Michael Flynn going as far as calling it ” highly offensive”.

So at least there is that…

Teach a Man to Fish

Posted: October 15, 2009 in Uncategorized
Tags: , ,

I used to work in a male dominated industry with a testosterone driven company. I spent my first two months flailing, doing everything to fit in with the guys that didn’t involve sexual harassment or body-noise jokes, when I was extended an invaluable piece of advice:

“You’re not a man. Stop trying to act like one and you’ll do fine.”

This advice was from “M”, a grizzled, crotchety, misogynistic, middle-manager who had seen dozens of my kind come and go, and by “go” I mean flee. His advice, I realize now, was meant to drive me off, but it had just the opposite effect.

You see, because my job was mostly held by other males who more or less bulldozed their way through the ranks, the only way I knew how to behave was like the men who had come before me. And because I was not a man, I could only fail at behaving like one.

So I took M’s advice and I changed my approach. I acted as I thought I ought, not as how I thought the last guy before me had. This meant is was okay to be feminine, okay to dress like a woman, thank you, and okay to be appropriately emotional. I wore colored suits and carried a handbag as well as a briefcase (because dammit it makeup just doesn’t fly around inside those things). By not acting like a cut-throat male, I was able to fly below radar and focus solely on my work, not my competition.

And because I was considered differently and considered non-threatening, I found, as a woman, I could say things the men could not. I could push boundaries because in some cases, my male colleagues focused only on each other. Since I was constantly underestimated, I always over delivered. And shockingly, I never had to compromise myself in the process. My male bosses appreciated my nearly flawless work, work ethic, and the lack of office drama I brought to the table. After my first year, I was promoted well above that of my male peers. I had misjudged the male management structure in my company, but I was paid in kind by them not misjudging me.

So it doesn’t surprise to read that women have proven amazingly successful in the counterinsurgency program in Afghanistan. And it’s not just that we misjudged women here, it’s that we have misjudged men (of the Afghan variety) and an entire culture as well. So just why is it that the American military can not get their act together, yet again, on a no-brainer such as allowing the ladies to continue their good work?

Let me put this in turns certain men can understand: we all agree that Boise State is a stellar college football team deserving of a chance to play with the big boys, so what exactly is stopping them? Tradition? Because it’s always been this way? This is a valid excuse?

Afghanistan has been a piece-meal war for far too long. If the gals are getting the job done, then don’t fix what isn’t broken.

countessmarkieviczandchildrenConstance Gore-Booth (1868-1927) daughter of the famous Arctic explorer Sir Henry Gore-Booth, made a name for herself by jigging her way out of her father’s shadow and becoming the Matriarch of Irish female insurrectionists.

Constance was born in London to a famous father who owned a large estate in County Sligo Ireland. Sir Henry was an odd-duck for his time as he was compassionate to the plight of the Irish during the worst of the Potato Famine. Sir Henry’s ideology deeply affected Constance and her sister Eva. Eva later became a leader in the labor and suffrage movements in England, while Constance eventually took up the cause of Irish freedom.

What led Constance to forward her regard for the Irish poor to the need for Irish freedom might have something to do with the company she kept. Constance fancied herself an artist and had many artistic friends, most notably, William Butler Yeats, who later wrote a poem dedicated to the Gore-Booth sisters.

What many may not realize is the nationalistic ideas and movements were long fostered in the Irish arts community. The arts were a means of keeping the culture alive and be it poetry, song, or plays, it was one of the few venues the Irish had to voice their outrage over the conditions in which they were subjected to.

po13_t01Constance joined this community with dreams of becoming a painter. She studied in Dublin for a time before moving on to France. All the while becoming involved in political movements regarding labor, suffrage, and equal rights. I was during her time in France in 1901 that Constance met and married Count Kazimierz Dunin-Markiewicz, a Polish Aristocrat who conveniently was also a painter and playwright. This was obviously a shot-gun marriage as Constance gave birth to a daughter shortly thereafter.

The Markieviczs moved to Dublin in 1903 becoming one of the mainstays in artistic circles. Through these circles, Constance became involved with the Gaelic League, an organization devoted to preserving Irish culture and language and served as incubator to the future leaders of Ireland, such as Douglas Hyde, future first president of a free Ireland.

By 1908, Constance had all but left a life of art behind and led a life devoted to Irish politics and attaining Irish freedom. And proving that you can take the girl out of the royal carriage but you can not take the royalty out of the girl, Constance turned up for her meeting of women’s revolutionary movement in a ballgown and tiara. True story.

The fun stuff really begins when Constance set her tiara towards taking down Winston Churchill in a parliamentary election. She showed up to Parliament in a carriage drawn by four white horses just to make a spectacle of it. She lost of course, but the effect was powerful. The suffragists were able to split the Churchill vote and thus give the election to another opposition candidate.

Mugshot of Countess Markievicz

Mugshot of Countess Markievicz

The deeper Constance embroiled herself into the cause, the more radical she became. In 1909, she founded Fianna Eireann, a paramilitary training corps for Irish teenage boys.  Constance also was arrested for speaking in favor of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, and for protesting the visit of King George V in 1911. When workers suffered a lock-out for protesting against police brutality, Constance paid for food to feed families out of her own pocket and started local soup kitchens. In fact, Constance eventually sacrificed nearly all of her own wealth in support of the cause.

The long strain of Republicanism on Constance’s marriage took its toll by 1913 when her husband moved to the Ukraine never to return to Ireland. By 1916, Constance was fully immersed in planning and execution of the Easter Rising. Constance put down her tiara, picked a gun and served as second in command at the St. Stephen’s barricade, one of many encampments through the six-day long siege of the city.

Constance dug trenches, set up barricades, actually shot a British solider, and refused surrender until she received a copy of surrender orders from the the top command.

Of the 70 women arrested during the uprising and serving as “guests” at the Kilmainham Gaol, Constance was the only to be placed in solitary confinement. She further sassed her captors at her court-martial and when her sentence of death was commuted on account of her gender, she replied to the court: “I wish your lot had the decency to shoot me.”

Politics being what they are and the swell of support that arose from Irish Catholics to the government response of the Eater Rising, Constance was released in 1917. Shortly after, Constance renounce her Anglican faith and converted to Catholicism.

In 1918, Constance was jailed again for anti-conscription shananigans. While in jail, however, Constance was voted into the British House of Commons under the Sinn Fein party. The first women ever elected. As a part of general protest, she refused to take her seat.The first Dail Eireann convened in 1918 declaring Ireland a free republic and generally kicking off the Irish War for Independence.

1968-countess-markievicz1

Constance served in government, most notably as labor secretary, until 1922 when Eamon de Valera, Constance and other followers resigned in protest over the passage of the Anglo-Irish Treaty which formally separated North and South Ireland.

A major turn-about occurs in 1923, when Constance, re-elected to government yet again, refused to take her seat and participated in other activities considered detrimental to the new Irish state. She was jailed, again, and led 92 other women in a hunger strike.

Constance kept her foot in the door of Irish politics until her death in 1927 at the age of 59. Years of working in Dublin poorhouses more than likely exposed her to tuberculosis listed as the official cause of death. Her estranged husband returned from abroad and was at her side when she died.

Eamon de Valera provided her eulogy. Sean O’Casey, the famous Irish playwright, provides the most memorable quote about Constance:

“One thing she had in abundance—-physical courage; with that she was clothed as with a garment”.

…well, not everything, but it feels pretty close. Honestly, I’m at odds with this post and its subject matter.

weblogo3I am referring to the Stiletto Spy School where for a mere $395, a gal can spend her weekend learning some basic self-defense, how to play poker, and “advance seduction skills”, and honestly, I’d rather not know what that entails.

Like it’s bastard step-sister, aka The “Sexpionage” Conference, this sort of nonsense bothers me to no end. You can’t fully blame the boys for a woman’s lack of respect in the intelligence trade when a fellow dame rats us out with this kind of malarkey.

But here’s the thing: the concept isn’t half bad. If this outfit wanted to spend a weekend solely instructing women on the basics of HUMINT, or signals intelligence, or cryptology, or some basic tradecraft like dead drops and brush passes, I would be all for it. That not only sounds like fun to me, but something that also happens to be very real to the trade. I liken the endeavor to my feelings towards Riverdance. I really don’t accept the notion that in order for the public to enjoy the simple and lovely dance form of Irish Step Dancing, one must sex it up, tart it out, and generally bastardize its very existence. Yes, I really dislike Riverdance. Go see the real thing sometime, it will surprise you.

It is in this vein of thought that the powers-that-be at the Stiletto Spy School felt the need to make the spycraft experience “more appealing” by slapping a pink-flavored sex-stink on it with educational lessons in, and I’m not joking here, pole-dancing, making a martini, and let’s not forget that “advance seduction skills” class (and, yup, I still don’t want to know what that is about).

So, where does that leave us? Shall I embark on the rant of the devaluation of women here or does it seem inherently implied?

I received a heads up from a reader (thanks, 2blake2) regarding a Spy Conference being held in Raleigh, NC next March and I admit, I eagerly clicked the link to take a look.

So let me now just say how utterly disappointed I am.

Yes, I realize, the organizers are using sex to sell their product, but there’s a few people speaking at the conference whose work I respect and frankly, the respect levels plummet when they involve themselves in an enterprise selling female participation in the spy-trade under the banner of Sexpionage.

As I have written previously, that term, as it applies to women, and is used to sum up the female experience in intelligence, is insulting.

I am not at all trying to express that this is a topic not worth exploring, but the problem is most people view this as the only topic when it comes to women in intelligence and it effectively ends any further discussion. Women using sex as tradecraft is an extremely small sliver of a much larger pie. Yeah, let’s forget all the broads who contributed as inventors, managers, operatives, radio operators, cryptanalysts, analysts, etc. Forget that these dames jumped out of airplanes, brandished weapons, performed acts of sabotage, found it necessary to take a life or two, or sacrificed their own lives in the process.

Just because a precious few gals of the whole  used their female lucky charms as a means to an end, they are the only ones seemingly worthy of comment time and time again (wishing there was an emoticon for sarcasm presently) while the rest of the bunch is routinely ignored.

I could rant on and on about the overt misogyny of a conference speech of this nature, but what’s the point? The organizer seems like an aware fellow who usually puts on an interesting event but he really ought to get a clue (or a hundred) about the ladies.

I came across this article today regarding a female student’s lawsuit against the famed Miss Porter’s School in Connecticut.

Miss Porter’s is a 165 year old institution noted for such venerable students like Jackie O and Gloria Vanderbilt.

Painting of the Oprichnik for use in an opera

Painting of the Oprichnik for use in an opera

The suit is based on the harassment of said student by a group of girls who referred to themselves as the “Oprichniki“. If you are unfamiliar with the term, it was the name given to the Russian secret police squad under the command of Ivan the Terrible in 16th century Russia.

Aside from feelings of revulsion and outright disgust, I find this whole story fascinating on a number of different levels. Obviously, I fail to understand women undermining other women. If one of us gets ahead, we all get ahead and I believe that sisterhood will further our united cause, so female bullying rather gets this Agent’s Irish up sort to speak.

Okay, rah-rah feelings aside, what really interests me about this story is that the history of the Oprichniki is not solely attributable to a guy. It is believed by a great number of scholars that it was the second wife of Ivan the Terrible, Maria Temrjukovna, that founded the idea of this brutal organization most noted for the abduction, imprisonment and subsequent torture of the Czar’s internal enemies.

Secret police have been used throughout history as a way of those in power retaining their power. They gather intel on real and potential enemies and then neutralize these enemies through such methods as impalement, throwing “offenders” in vats of boiling oil,  and being drawn and quartered, to name a few choice methods.

Makes you rethink the whole idea of Hell’s fury in relation to women feeling put-out.

Also makes me wonder about a group of high school girls referring to themselves in such a manner and what this means to society as a whole.

Okay, so here we go with the second departure from writing about the dames, but it is certainly for a good cause and it is related to themes of this blog….

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The National Women’s History Museum in Washington DC is in need of a permanent home. Apparently those in government do not recognize the need for studying the history of women and do not appear to be so hot for the cause.

This museum is a very necessary entity in our nation’s capital for one simple reason: when it comes to history, we ignore the broads and the amazing stuff they do. For whatever reason, the stories of women do not get written down, rarely get studied, and truth be told, the only things I learned in grade school about women’s history is that Betsy Ross sewed a flag, Elizabeth I was the queen of England, and George Washington’s wife was named Martha.

It’s fairly ridiculous to tell a girl she can be anything she wants (except president of the United States apparently) when history does not reflect or recognize the accomplishments of the dames. Our nation’s history is incomplete and you can not call yourself an educated skirt or suit when you only receive half the story.

The National Women’s History Museum has been in flux for 12 years since its inception in 1996. They have chance at a permanent home where the National Museum of Health used to be but legislation is required to make this happen.

And for purposes of this blog, they do have cyber exhibit on American female spies.

So c’mon, do us all a big favor, go to the website, contact your representatives, and help a sister out.

Mention the name Josephine Baker (1906-1975) and most people have no problem conjuring the image of a sex-bomb, bob-bon, veiled in bananas while working her Mojo on the audiences of France during the Vaudeville Era. However, as you might have guessed, since she is being mentioned in this blog, the broad was also a spy.

Born in Missouri, the granddaughter of slaves, Baker escaped to New York for a life in showbiz. “La Baker” made a raging name for herself during the Harlem Renaissance, but the bird flew the coup for the much more tolerant nation of France where she did not suffer the same prejudices she experienced in America and became a highly celebrated cabaret performer.

Having become a French citizen in 1937, “The Black Pearl” was feeling rather protective of her adoptive land when Germany invaded during WWII. Baker’s fame was such that even the notorious Nazi Party allowed her performing freedoms during the occupation. Good thing too, because Baker exploited the situation by smuggling intelligence out of the country from the French Resistance coded in her sheet music, all while performing for the troops in North Africa and the Middle East.

I think we should all take a moment and appreciate the danger of this situation because given how other spy-dames, white spy-dames, were executed for the cause, I doubt that Baker’s celebrity would have saved her from some truly horrific retribution from the Gestapo should she have been discovered. Actually, one can imagine the retribution would have been that much worse for the color of her skin. But Baker felt she owed it to the country she had adopted, the country that had given her the freedoms she never would have back America, land of the free, home of the brave.

It’s a great a terrible shame that when most reminisce on the life of the “Creole Goddess”, they remember only the scandalous or outrageous things like Baker’s one dozen adopted children or her pet cheetahs. But Baker wasn’t just a Pop-Tart of the time or another forgettable celebutant, she was a trailblazer for civil rights and possessed great bravery deemed worthy enough for the Croix de Guerre, Legion de H’onneur, and the Rosette de Resistance. A broad who put it all out on the line, not only during war, but her entire life.

Think about that next time you buy a banana.