Women Getting Moral Equivalent of Lumps of Coal

Ho! Ho! Ho! Ladies. Commercialism, our culture and the courts have denied you the gifts that empower. Instead, you get a few drops of testosterone, a frumpy housedress, pregnant chads that deny your vote and a hatpin for protection-you'll need it.

Commentator Caryl Rivers

(WOMENSENEWS)-Once upon a time, parents used to scare kids into being good around Christmas time by saying that if they didn't behave, Santa would leave lumps of coal in their stockings instead of presents. Unfortunately, this year women in America are going to get the moral equivalents of those gritty black lumps in their stocking-tarted up, perhaps, with a little holiday glitter.

For example, consider these items:

A flowered housedress, circa 1940, gift-wrapped. The New York Times reports that women over 60 are being deliberately shunned by fashion designers who used to cater to women of a certain age. Celine, Boettega and Yves St. Laurent have written off older Americans.

Macy's, once a good place to find classic suits, now bypasses such styles for midriff-baring outfits for teeny-boppers, and even comfy Easy Spirit is pitching its shoes at a younger market. Nobody wants to be associated with women who aren't young. Despite the fact that women over 65 spent $14.7 billion on apparel in 1999, they don't exist, in the eyes of the fashion and apparel industry.

A rack, early Inquisition model, in lovely teak, bearing Santa stickers. This will enable women to stretch their actual bodies the way fashion editors now use technology to stretch photos of Supermodels who, one would think, are skinny enough to begin with. For a cover photo, one women's magazine took several inches off the waist and hips of that noted chubbette, Demi Moore.

The average model in 1950 was a size 12-now she's a size four. Fifty years ago, the hip measurement of the average mannequin was 37 inches-the same as the average woman. Now it's 31 inches. Actress-model Elizabeth Hurley, talking about Marilyn Monroe, told “Allure” magazine, “I would kill myself if I was that fat.”

One 20-year-old student at Boston University, who models while going to school, showed up at a photo shoot to see the photographers also snapping a prepubescent, rail-thin 13-year-old, after dolling her up with adult clothes and makeup. The 20-year-old model was told, “Why don't you lose 30 pounds and look like her.” “Her” being a child with no breasts or hips. In Hollywood casting sessions today, a size six is considered on the edge of plumpness. The ideal is size zero. The Invisible Shrinking Woman has become a long-running staple of the media.

A few drops of testosterone in a jeweled container, for women of all ages. Pundit Andrew Sullivan, in a cover article in The New York Times Magazine, proclaims that women simply don't have enough of the Big T to really make it in business. Women, he says, may be more risk-averse than men and have “an inability to seize business opportunities” because they just don't have enough of that Big Guy chemical. It's not discrimination or the glass ceiling that keeps women out of high-powered jobs, but the wrong hormones. “Perhaps it is safest to say that unequal numbers of men and women in these spheres is not prima facie evidence of sexism,” writes Sullivan.

Never mind that scientists found this idea laughable, pointing out that when you study males in a social group, testosterone fails to predict who will be aggressive. It may be that aggressive behavior creates testosterone, not the other way around. And a study of 2,000 managers found that the women in the study, far from being risk averse, were more hard-charging than the men.

For women in Alabama, a brand new electric toothbrush, bedecked with a spangled bow. A federal court recently failed to overturn an Alabama law banning the sale of vibrators. The state argued, “Commerce in the pursuit of orgasms by artificial means for their own sake is detrimental to the health and morality of the state.” “Stars Fell on Alabama” clearly isn't a metaphor for sex, at least not in the eyes of the state legislature. So the electric toothbrush is a very useful appliance, as this writer learned after selling an article to Cosmo. Eagerly turning the pages to find my deathless prose, I realized with a sinking heart that no one would ever read it. It was placed on the page immediately following a two-page spread headlined, “How to Masturbate With Your Electric Toothbrush.”

A handful of pregnant chads, trimmed with red and gold sequins. While the U.S. Senate will have a record-breaking 13 female members in the Senate, the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers points out that the 2000 election will actually send fewer women into state legislatures than in the past. For the first time since 1971, there will be a decline in the number of women in state houses-the pipeline to higher national office.

Only three women are governors, and in Massachusetts, Lt. Gov. Jane Swift could move up to the top job if Paul Cellucci joins a Bush cabinet. But Swift was roundly criticized for using her staff for occasional baby-sitting chores, and now she's announced she is pregnant with twins. Already there have been calls for her to step down.

For women in Massachusetts, the outfit worn by Darth Vader in “Star Wars,” complete with James Earl Jones' recorded voice to drown out all ambient noise. A state law setting up a buffer zone for women entering family planning clinics offering abortion services was overturned by a U.S. district court judge. The law had kept protestors 18 feet away from clinics and at least six feet away from women entering the clinic. The judge ruled that the buffer zone violated freedom of speech. But protesters in the state have a history not only of harassing women trying to enter clinics, but also of causing grave bodily harm. A man walked into one Brookline, Mass., clinic and fatally shot two women, injuring five others. The state says it will appeal.

A newly sharpened hatpin, trimmed with red and green icicles. Two professors say that men are genetically programmed to rape, because it's the way they insured their survival back in the Stone Age. So don't blame the guys, it's in their genes, just keep that hatpin handy. That's the dogma according to Randy Thornhill of the University of New Mexico and Craig Palmer of the University of Colorado, authors of “A Natural History of Rape.”

Of course, these gentlemen weren't physically around in the Stone Age. As Harvard scientist Stephen Jay Gould says, “How can we possibly know in detail what small bands of hunter-gatherers did in Africa two million years ago?” New research on primates is discovering that the most aggressive male is, in fact, not the one who mates most successfully.

Among baboons for example, males who hang around females and help care for the babies may have the best chance of mating with the mothers. And among humans, only a small number of men do rape-many more successful reproductive strategies are at hand for modern males, as there were for our hominid ancestors. But the argument that “it's in the genes” will probably keep being heard-it's sexy and simple.

So happy holidays, women of America, and a hearty ho-ho-ho. Enjoy your presents, of dubious value though they may be. Maybe 2001 will come up with a better crop.

Caryl Rivers is a professor of journalism at Boston University.