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My friend Terry was looking at various end-of-decade lists and began asking friends (or, at least, Facebook friends) about the most influential women of the decade. Nominees included Oprah, Nancy Pelosi, Sarah Palin, Tina Fey, Lady Gaga, Ayn Rand, and J.K. Rowling.

One person nominated the cast of “The Hills,” which came as a surprise to me; I tend to avoid TV, and I haven’t ever seen an episode of that show. So I have not, as far as I am aware, been influenced by it at all. But perhaps things are different in the world at large. Does whatever Heidi Pratt has count as influence? Is it influence if we all wish she would go away? Terry speculated that a qualification for someone’s being influential was that, somewhere, someone else wanted to kill them; by that standard, Heidi Pratt is influential indeed.

Anyway, the whole thing made me think about how women are positioned as a cultural force now, at the end of the decade. Many, many public women are closer than I would like to what Betty Friedan called a fluffy, infantilized version of femininity; the whole celebrity cult of baby bumps and getting your sexiness back four weeks after the kid is born is…problematic. The idea that one can be pregnant and a mom and a sex symbol is great; the idea that postpartum sexiness depends on having a pre-baby body is less so; the idea that a woman’s performance career will be more successful if she trots out the kids for the tabloids is galling.

But there’s one definite bright spot, and it’s in publishing. I am no fan of Twilight, and there are a slew of feminist objections to be raised to a series with such a blank, passive heroine, but Stephenie Meyer has absolutely dominated the publishing industry for the past couple of years. Before her, J.K. Rowling sold millions and millions. Sady Doyle, in The American Prospect, points out:

As Twilight demonstrates, not everything girls like is good art — or, for that matter, good feminism. Still, the Twilight backlash should matter to feminists, even if the series makes them shudder. If we admit that girls are powerful consumers, then we admit that they have the ability to shape the culture. Once we do that, we might actually start listening to them.

Dollars have always been the way to get Americans to pay attention. Now would be a good time for women writers to say something interesting.

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Mediabistro reported this afternoon that Mariette DiChristina had become editor-in-chief of Scientific American. She is the first female editor-in-chief in the history of the publication.

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The U.S. Senate has amended its health care legislation to require insurance companies to cover women’s preventive care, including annual screenings and free mammograms.

That’s good.

For women who can afford health insurance.

The other 17 million of us will just have to keep waiting.

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It used to be a given that women would get this reference, but I don’t think it is any more, so I’ll explain. A lot of second-wave feminism used the slogan “Eve was framed” as a way to recontextualize familiar stories and challenge assumptions and — what is it critical theorists do? — problematize narratives and do all the other things that second-wave feminist commentary did.

To me, that whole debate is largely irrelevant, when many if not most women deal with far more pressing issues of inequality. Millions of women face daily deficits of food, income, health care, and nutrition — and run a higher risk of certain kinds of violence and death — for no other reason than their gender, and spelling it “womyn” isn’t going to make a damn bit of difference. For feminism to accomplish anything at all, we have to operate much lower on the Maslow pyramid.

That’s what the slogan means.

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Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn have just released Half the Sky, a book about women’s rights in the developing world. Goodreads has posted a nice interview with them. Sample quote:

Families in the developing world don’t care about human rights. They care about how much money is this woman costing them, how much is she bringing into the household. And if she has a job and is bringing in income, that elevates her status immediately.

Yes, yes, yes. This is the essence of practical feminism. I can’t wait to read their suggestions for action.

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The Planned Parenthood Action Fund has created a petition for letting representatives know that women’s health care is not optional. I think the situation calls for significantly more action than just signing a petition, but it’s a start.

The Action Fund, by the way, is the PAC associated with Planned Parenthood’s political efforts. They tend to focus on issues of abortion rights, so it’s easy to make the mistake of thinking that’s all the organization does.

In fact, Planned Parenthood, sans Action Fund, is the nation’s largest provider of women’s health care. Just think about that for a second. Several business types, such as Peter Drucker, believe that the nonprofit sector is the American capitalist version of socialism. What does that imply? So many women are unable to afford health care through other channels that “socialized” medicine is already the norm. The critical difference is that, in this American version of socialism, their care still depends on the voluntary — and often inadequate — generosity of others.

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Other voices

There’s a fantastic piece by Judith Warner in this morning’s New York Times on the House health care bill in the context of greater cultural currents. The whole thing is worth reading, but here’s a sample:

[T]rue self-determination [for women], on the most intimate level, has remained problematic, particularly in the past decade or two, as memories of the prefeminist ’60s have dimmed. At the same time, some of the more insidious elements of the long-brewing antifeminist backlash have become an accepted part of our cultural landscape.

We’ve seen this for years in the way we talk about motherhood: celebrating selflessness, demanding an almost inhuman degree of child-centeredness, positioning the interests of mothers in opposition to those of their children, as our political and personal debates so often do. Nowhere has this come to be more true than in the abortion debate, in which anti-choice activists have pitted the lives of unborn children against the selfishness of their mothers.

I expected the digest site Arts & Letters Daily — which compiles articles of note from publications including the Economist, Slate, the New Yorker, the Wall Street Journal, the Nation, and several UK papers — to be buzzing with feminist commentary and rebuttal this week, but . . . nothing. I hope this means the women who are maddest are busy making phone calls and meeting with their representatives. A restriction in civil liberties for half the population ought not to go unnoticed.

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