by Meredith O’Brien
The past week as I read various magazines, I noticed something: Women’s lives were being dissected, placed into historical context, their “real” bodies – not just pencils with heads – were prominently showcased and women’s “midlife” was called “the new seventh grade” and an opportunity in which to reinvent themselves. This, I felt, was a welcome change from the way women’s lives are usually portrayed in magazines, as being told how to create the “perfect” (fill in the blank, meal, homemade Halloween costume, etc.), how to utilize sex tips from experts with their guys and what outrageously expensive clothing (which only comes in size sub-zero) is considered the “next big thing.”
It was hard to miss the collaboration between NBC, MSNBC  and Time Magazine  where the news organizations examined the socio-economic status of American women on the home front and in the workplace. While former NBC correspondent Maria Shriver has been all over NBC and MSNBC programs talking about her report which started all of this contemplation -- with The Shriver Report: A Woman’s Nation Changes Everything , -- Time Magazine dedicated an issue to what it called, “The State of the American Woman : A new poll shows why they are more powerful – but less happy.”
Time’s main story, “What Women Want Now ,” written by columnist Nancy Gibbs, started thusly:
“If you were a woman reading this magazine 40 years ago, the odds were good that your husband provided the money to buy it. That you voted the same way he did. That if you got breast cancer, he might be asked to sign the form authorizing a mastectomy. That your son was heading to college, but not your daughter. That your boss, if you had a job, could explain that he was paying you less because, after all, you were probably working just for pocket money . . . It’s funny how things change slowly, until the day we realize they’ve changed completely.”
The magazine also ran loads of charts and graphs comparing the status of women from the early 1970s to now . While some demonstrated definitive, positive progress in the workplace and home – with sexual harassment and discrimination laws, the presidential and vice presidential campaigns of Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin campaigns -- others don’t show much:
-- Number of female Supreme Court justices, Cabinet members, governors, FBI agents and Ivy League college presidents in 1971: 0. In 2009: Two Supreme Court justices, seven Cabinet members, six governors, 2,396 FBI agents and four Ivy League college presidents. (Those stats don’t even include Madeline Albright, Condoleezza Rice and Hillary Clinton as the face of American diplomacy abroad as Secretaries of State.)
-- The percentage of women with kids under 18 years old was 47 percent in 1975, 71 percent in 2008.
-- As far as attitudes in the home are concerned, 55 percent of women and 28 percent of men agreed that in homes where “both partners have jobs, women take on more responsibilities for the home and family than their male partners.”
-- Sixty-nine percent of women say they are “primarily responsible” for childcare.
-- Sixty-five percent of all respondents say that not having an at-home parent for young children is “negative for society.”
-- Fifty-one percent of women and 57 percent of men agreed with this statement, “It is better for a family if the father works outside the home and the mother takes care of the children.”
-- Eighty-five percent of women and 79 percent of men say it’s become more acceptable for dads to be at-home parents.
-- Seventy-eight percent of women say they don’t see themselves “represented in entertainment and news media.”
Speaking of the way women are represented in the media, I was thumbing through two other magazines over the past week and stumbled upon some positive developments when it comes to the representation of women.
First, there was Glamour Magazine’s decision to engage in a “dialogue on body image” by featuring “plus-sized models,” who wear sizes 12-14 (among the most popular sizes), in its November issue, following the massively positive reaction to the publication of a near-naked photo of a model with a belly in their September issue. (Though there was a vocal minority who called the model fat.) In describing the response to the photo, editor Cindi Leive cited an e-mail from a reader, saying,“‘When I showed my six-year-old girl, she said, ‘she looks like you, Mommy . . . beautiful.’ When I read that [e-mail], I choked up. Why are we so hard on ourselves, when the people who love us are so much more forgiving?” Glamour Magazine promised to show “a wide range of body types . . . in our pages, including fashion and beauty stories.” Maybe real women might see themselves actually depicted in the media? Or at least in the pages of Glamour Magazine.
Then there was the October issue of More Magazine, focused on women’s “reinvention” – in which it profiled MSNBC’s Morning Joe co-host Mika Brzezinski, a mother of two who was fired from CBS News when she was 39 who is now flourishing professionally -- and held a “reinvention convention” in New York City with Brzezinski and Laura Bush. On the cover was Sela Ward, 53 – Emmy award winning actress from Sisters, Once and Again and House – who told the magazine that when she looks at getting older, she thinks, “We’ve got this whole second life ahead of us to pursue our passions.”
Despite some of the dour numbers in Time Magazine and the Shriver Report about how far women have yet to go, articles and photos like the ones in Glamour and More make me feel a bit more optimistic.