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Funny Women: Marlo Thomas

Photo taken at the 41st Emmy Awards 9/17/89

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I’ve only done three funny women posts. This will be the fourth one. The first three were on Susan Harris, Dawn French, and cartoon character Daria Morgendorfer. I’m going to come full circle because one of Susan Harris’s characters on Soap mentions Marlo Thomas. Jessica Tate, played by Katherine Helmond, muses that Phil Donahue and Marlo Thomas must be in a perpetual state of morning bliss when they each wake up in the morning to discover that they are married to the other one!

Marlo Thomas was born in 1937 to comedian Danny Thomas and his wife Rose Marie (not to be confused with the comedic actress Rose Marie from The Dick Van Dyke Show). She was named Margaret Julia Thomas, but that was shortened by her parents to Margo. Later, because she mispronounced her own name, the nickname became Marlo.

Marlo’s father was a Lebanese American and a big success in show business. Marlo’s mother was of Italian descent, and the family was Catholic. Marlo was the oldest of their three children.

Marlo went on to graduate from the University of Southern California with a teaching degree. She got into acting by taking a lot of guest starring roles, and eventually became the first woman to be the lead actress in a situation comedy about a single career woman. That Girl premiered in 1966, predating The Mary Tyler Moore Show and paving the way for shows like Murphy Brown, The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd, Designing Women, Ally McBeal, and, yes, coming back around to Susan Harris again, Golden Girls. The show was successful and ran for five seasons.

After That Girl, Thomas went on acting, mostly in television movies, and became active in feminist causes. Together with Gloria Steinem and others, she helped found the Ms. Foundation, a charitable fund for the advancement of women’s rights issues in the United States. She’s probably most remembered by people of my generation for helping to put together the book and movie and record Free to Be You and MeFree to Be You and Me explored and questioned popular gender stereotypes and Younger people will remember her as Rachel Green’s mom on Friends.

Later, Thomas produced Free to Be a Family, which presented alternatives to traditional nuclear families as being just as much a family as a mom, a dad, and 2.5 kids. Marlo is funny, she’s a feminist, and she’s been married for the first and only time, since 1980 to the previously mentioned Phil Donahue. Before the advent of the phenomenon called Oprah, he was the King of the Daytime Talk Show. They were married the year she turned 43.

Today, Thomas devotes her time and attention to her father’s children’s hospital, St. Jude, and has raised a great deal of money for a charitable hospital that never turns down even the most challenging cases of terminally and gravely ill children, based on their families’ ability to pay. That’s a legacy that she can be proud of.

February 12, 2011 at 8:03 pm Leave a comment

Women and Food

Two women cooking

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A few months ago I wrote a blog post about how I learned to cook when I was a girl while my dad got to sit on his ass and continue to brag about how he could only make steak and popcorn. This blog post was actually kindly featured by a woman named Addie Broyles, a professional journalist for the Austin American-Statesman. She’s a food and film critic, but she usually writes about food. She has her own blog, which she calls feministkitchen.

At the time I remember that I thought it was odd that someone would combine the topics of food and feminism and have enough to maintain a blog. She may have thought the same thing about Christianity and feminism with regard to my own blog.

I started thinking about Addie and her blog and how my most recent blog posts would fit in quite nicely with what she’s doing. With my last post about the blatantly sexist research article that tries to implicate working mothers for the childhood obesity problem, I thought about just why it is that women do the bulk of cooking in American households?

Most couples nowadays marry later in life. They’ve been out on their own for a while before they settle down. Presumably, the men would have to eat. Do they just make sandwiches and eat out all the time? I don’t think so. Most of the men I’ve known could cook on some level.

I always kind of thought that was sexy. One guy I had a crush on in my late 20s actually made baked beans from scratch, and the idea kind of got me excited. When I say from scratch, I mean he soaked the dry beans in water overnight and then cooked them and then stuck them in a dish with bacon and seasonings, Martha Stewart style. God, he was hot! He was a little blond accountant geek with wire rimmed glasses, but those baked beans made him Adonis.

So, we’ve established the fact that men can cook. Why don’t they? They do when they live alone. They do if they get paid to cook. Most highly paid chefs are still men. The most famous chefs are men. That’s not exclusively their domain; women are also professional chefs, but the majority of upper echelon professional chefs are men. Clearly, not only can men cook, but if we pay them to do so then, if you can judge their abilities to cook based solely on their career success and pay rate, they can cook better than we can.

To my mind, there are several possible reasons why women usually do the cooking:

  1. Society expects women to do the cooking, and therefore women feel that they have failed as women if they are not doing the bulk of the cooking. Maybe it’s women who actually insist on doing the cooking because they don’t want to feel like they’ve failed as wives and mothers.
  2. Men want women to cook because they simply prefer not to have to do so. As such, the woman does the cooking or it doesn’t get done. Women cook by default.
  3. Men want to do the cooking, but they defer to the women in their lives because the women prefer to do the cooking, which may have something to do with reason #1.
  4. Men don’t cook, unless it involves a grill or a smoke pit, because slaving over a stove isn’t “manly.” They don’t want to be seen as a wuss. So, men insist that their wives do the cooking because if they did the cooking it would make them less of a man.
  5. Men would cook, but they aren’t sufficiently motivated to do so. Obviously a big fat paycheck motivates them. But you don’t want to have to pay your husband to cook, so what else do big-time professional chefs get out of their careers besides money? They get praise and recognition.

I suspect the real reasons why women usually do the cooking are as varied as the couples themselves and their own attitudes towards food and gender but that the bulk of the reasons could have something to do with some combination of the reasons listed above or it could just have to do with the fact that men, on average, work longer hours in the workplace than women do. It averages about 42 minutes more per day, which is just about enough time to cook a meal and put the food on the table.

Do I think most men really want to work 42 minutes more than women do? No. I think some men find their jobs satisfying and fulfilling and do this out of choice, but I also think that there are probably even more men who toil in crappy jobs in order to support themselves and their families.

Why do they do this? Someone has to pick up the kids, and it makes sense that the person who picks up the kids is the person who makes the lesser amount of money. This means the woman usually picks up the kids and puts food on the table so the man can get an additional 42 minutes of pay at a higher rate.

This is why gender equality is in everyone’s best interests. If women averaged the same work for the same pay, then it would make sense for mom and dad to take turns cooking and cleaning and picking up the kids. Men would have less stress at work, since they’re not working as much, and they’d have better relationships with their wives and children because they’d have more time to spend with them.  The key to male and female satisfaction is in a more balanced relationship. This means that changes have to take place in both our private and public lives.

February 5, 2011 at 10:54 pm 4 comments

Working Moms Cause Childhood Obesity; Yeah, Right! And I’m the Pope!

Crop of Children with various body composition...

Image via Wikipedia

I found an article on the internet today that’s just plain silly and blatantly sexist. Not surprisingly, it’s featured on Fox News. The article mentions a study conducted by a female graduate student that attempts to correlate the amount of hours a mother works per week with her child’s increased chances of being obese, as compared to moms who stay at home.

This article is so biased it incensed me. You know, in American society most of the time a man and a woman have a child together, and then they, together, have to feed and care for the child. That is a joint responsibility that all too frequently ends up on Mom’s checklist. Dad’s checklist hasn’t changed: go to work and bring home the bacon, mow the lawn, take the trash out, and fix stuff when it’s broken. Mom’s checklist has changed: care for kids and husband and make sure they have food and medical care and a clean, warm, comfortable home, and bring home the bacon.

Don’t get me wrong. I think it’s great that women work. If you’re a stay at home parent of either gender, I applaud you as well. If you can afford to do so, then children are always better cared for when a loving parent stays home with them. But not everyone has that luxury. The single dad doesn’t. The single mom doesn’t. The couples who work for low wages don’t.

Why didn’t the study attempt to correlate the amount of time that parents spend working with childhood obesity? Why didn’t the study take into account stay at home dads? Why didn’t the study also look at gay and lesbian couples who raise children? Why are we once again targeting mothers as being solely responsible for their child’s well-being and not calling fathers to task as well?

I’ll tell you why. This is the feminist backlash at work once again. Keep those women barefoot and pregnant! Don’t give them career options, fool! Marry them young and hot and make sure that they don’t ever crawl out from under your thumb. If they can make as much money as men can, then they will figure out that they don’t need men. The sad thing about the feminist backlash is just how many women help some men to perpetuate this inequality, ones like the stupid bitch woman who conducted this study.

Many women don’t need men nowadays, but that’s not a bad thing. We still want them. We still love them. And wouldn’t it be a better feeling for both sexes to know that we’re in relationships with people that we respect and love instead of people that we want to merely use for their wallets or their housekeeping services? Wouldn’t you like to know that your woman has choices, and she chose you just because you’re you?

There may be a connection between women working and children being obese, but it doesn’t mean that there’s a cause and effect relationship. The cause of children, or anyone, being fat is taking in more calories than you burn. If you want to lose weight, then eat less and move more. It’s that simple. It has nothing to do with whether or not your mom works or how many hours she does work.

The article surmises that women who work don’t have time to prepare healthy meals, and so the childrens’ diets suffer as a result. Why is this automatically the mom’s fault? Where is dad in this equation? Did he skip out? Is he working, too? How come he can’t help out and make a healthy meal? Did he lose the use of his hands?

I sometimes wonder on this blog why I seem to be in the tiny minority of people in the world who can recognize this injustice for exactly what it is. I told the woman who sits next to me at work how I felt, and she understood. She’s expecting a baby in two more months, and she and her husband can’t afford for either of them to quit working. These aren’t frivolous people. They own one car that they share, and they live in a one bedroom apartment in a reasonably priced neighborhood. She gets it.

February 5, 2011 at 12:11 am 18 comments

The Neighborhood Potluck

An assortment of food dishes at a church potluck.

Image via Wikipedia

1 And he looked up, and saw the rich men that were casting their gifts into the treasury.

2 And he saw a certain poor widow casting in thither two mites.

3 And he said, Of a truth I say unto you, This poor widow cast in more than they all:

4 for all these did of their superfluity cast in unto the gifts; but she of her want did cast in all the living that she had.

-Luke 21:1-4

I like to think of myself as being civically minded, which means that sometimes I participate in neighborhood association meetings. This month’s was a potluck. We meet in one of the conference rooms of the community center. Sometimes (like this time) we eat, we discuss something to do with the neighborhood, maybe we vote. This time around we were discussing city planning. This is a process the city has been working on with my neighborhood for about a year and a half now.

Anyway, this time around was a potluck, like I said. I brought some bread. There was chicken and salad and beans and side dishes and desserts. There is almost always someone that I haven’t seen before at these meetings.

I was helping by doing the food setup. This isn’t hard. Basically, I took everyone’s dish as they came in and set it in an appropriate place on the table. One guy, a guy I recognized as being a homeless man who drifts in and out of the neighborhood and has done so for years, brought a sack with a jar of peanut butter and a can of chicken noodle soup. There was a second homeless gentleman; he didn’t bring anything.

The man I recognized, the one who brought the food, kept interrupting the meeting to ask when we were going to eat. He followed up with the pronouncement that he could not wait for the City Zoning meeting to begin, but then asked when were we going to eat.

Well, as soon as we got to eat, he took his plate and left and didn’t even eat with everyone else. The other guy did eat with us. I won’t say he stuck around for the whole meeting; I didn’t expect him to since I pay rent here and didn’t want to sit through the city planning. I didn’t notice when he snuck out. But the first man pretended to actually live in our neighborhood in the sense that he pays rent or owns a home, while the other guy was just honest. I don’t think he told anyone he was homeless; he probably thought we were able to figure that one out for ourselves. And he stayed and broke bread with us.

After the meeting when I was helping to clean up, I spoke with Mrs. Landlord. I wanted to make sure that she had the sack of food that the first homeless man had brought with him so that she could donate the food to a food pantry. There’s one near her work.

She said, “Oh, that’s going to make me cry…”

“What?” I said.

“It’s like the story of the widow and the coins.”


I know the parable, but the significance was lost on me. I don’t know. I’m pretty sure that a homeless man who brings canned food to a potluck probably didn’t pay for it with his own money. He may have fished it out of a trashcan. The bag was more than a little sticky.

I personally think I like the second homeless man better. I like the guy who didn’t pretend to be something he wasn’t, the one who stuck around and ate with us and talked. Like the widow in the parable, he was sharing all he had to share: himself.

December 13, 2010 at 1:12 pm 1 comment

Gratitude: I’m Glad I’m Single

Xanax (photograph)

Image via Wikipedia

I am not distracted from my God by the pressure to serve my man. There’s no question about who’s number one in my life.

Being with the wrong person is a hell of a lot lonelier than being with no one at all. I know that I wouldn’t be happy with any of the men who’ve shown interest in me in the past. I have no regrets about that.

My money is my money.

My stuff is my stuff.

My space is my space.

My time is my time.

I don’t have to ask permission.

I don’t have to compromise, and I mean that in more than just the sense of cooperation.

I share myself with people I enjoy, free from obligation.

I can watch every stupid romantic comedy that’s ever released, in the theater, on debut weekend…if I want.

Flirting. Nuff said.

I eat what I want when I want it.

I can decorate in all flowers, all pastels, all pink and purple and cover my entire bed with stuffed animals…if I want.

I never have to pretend that I give a rat’s ass about football, ever, again.

I can save money on Xanax by not having to worry about whether or not some man likes me.

I am responsible for myself alone. I do not have a man or children who are relying on my financial contributions to the household.

If I want to bury my nose in a book all evening, then I can. And no one will bitch about it.

Drama free.

Shit free.

No need for birth control or Brazilian wax.


My Self.

November 22, 2010 at 3:51 pm 5 comments

The Great Canned Pumpkin Shortage

An issue of Martha Stewart Living magazine

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Usually, by this time of year, since this is America, and we are a commercial society, you can see not only Halloween but Thanksgiving and even Christmas decorations and preparations in all the stores. You can’t even go grocery shopping without being hit over the head with witches and pilgrims and elves. Back to school is the theme a week after the kids get out for summer.

One weird exception this year: canned pumpkin. Usually, the stores are full of canned pumpkin by this time. Not only is there tons of canned pumpkin, it’s usually featured in special displays, stacked in neat pyramids on the ends of rows, next to neat pyramids of condensed milk and prepared pie shells and pumpkin pie spice.

The other day the Mr. Brewsters and I were in the Super Wal-Mart, walking down the aisle where the canned pumpkin would normally be, and there were exactly two cans of organic pumpkin. Count them. Two. Organic?! You mean we have to be healthy, and we don’t have a choice in the matter?

This is, needless to say, unacceptable. I then heard that there is a nationwide shortage of canned pumpkin due to a crop that was destroyed by too much rain in Illinois last year. Why does all the canned pumpkin come from Illinois? What are we going to do for Halloween and Thanksgiving and Christmas? No pumpkin pie? No pumpkin bread? No pumpkin cake? No pumpkin bars or pumpkin cookies or pumpkin cheesecake or pumpkin fudge? I’m forgetting something.

Now, technically, we could use fresh pumpkin. Theoretically, this is possible. But have you ever tried to use fresh pumpkin for baking? In one of my Martha Stewart epileptic fits, in my younger days, when I cared about such nonsense, I decided to carve a pumpkin, pull out the pumpkin and use it for baking, remove the pumpkin seeds and roast them. My roommate had a three-year-old girl, and it seemed like a worthwhile pursuit. Yeah, not so much.

Actually, this labor of love took hours, made a mess out of me, a little girl, and our entire kitchen, and didn’t really produce the rapturous response I was expecting from my young friend. After the face carving stuff was over, it was all over for her. Her mother and I ate the pumpkin seeds. I saved the fresh pumpkin and stored it in the freezer to bake with it later. Oh, yeah. I remember now what I’m forgetting: pumpkin muffins. The pumpkin muffins were good, but I didn’t notice enough of a superior taste difference to warrant the work involved in gathering that stringy, pulpy mess compared to the work involved in, oh, say, turning a can opener.

So, somehow, something must be done to alleviate the canned pumpkin shortage. I propose that we trade with other English speaking nations, form a cultural alliance, if you will. I don’t think that pumpkin is as big a deal in England and Australia as it is here. We could make a deal. England, send us all your canned pumpkin that we know you’re not using, and we will, in turn, send you all our figgy pudding. Trust me. We are not eating the figgy pudding. Australia, we will send you all our vegemite in exchange for all your canned pumpkin. I think there are some English speaking nations in Africa. Most of India speaks English because the English used to occupy India. We will send you curry powder for canned pumpkin.

See? I solved the canned pumpkin crisis all by myself. If you hear something about canned pumpkin coming back into the stores, you will know who is responsible.

September 18, 2010 at 11:07 pm 1 comment

Cooking School: A Feminist Is Born

The Helping Hand in a Hamburger Helper commercial

Image via Wikipedia

When I was in middle school my mom was in nursing school and for part of that time she had a practicum which required her to drive to another town. The other town was far enough away that she was going to stay in a dorm during most of the week and come back on the weekends. On the weekends she had a job at a nursing home as a nurse’s aide so no one could accuse my mom of not working hard.

This is how I learned to cook, if you can call it that. Up to that time, when I was probably thirteen years old, my mom would never let me in the kitchen. She didn’t want me underfoot and claimed that I made a mess and it made meal preparation take twice as long to let me help. That, and she was always afraid that I would hurt myself on a stove burner or with a knife.

My grandmother was not like that and loved taking me under her wing and letting me help her bake when I was growing up. But then that is how grandmothers are. How I miss my grandma!

So, when it became a necessity in my mother’s estimation for me to have a crash course in cooking, I learned how to cook only the stuff that was the cheapest stuff to prepare, stuff we could afford. I learned to make macaroni and cheese, with powdered milk, no less. I learned to make hamburgers and hot dogs (Yes, I had to “learn” how to boil water) and spaghetti and Hamburger Helper. I think that was my entire culinary repertoire. I taught myself how to make omelettes by that time, but I don’t think we would have had them for dinner.

One day, and I don’t remember if it was at first, when my mom was teaching me this stuff or if it was later (I suspect later, probably as I was doing dishes, because at first I would thrill to finally have kitchen privileges), it occurred to me how unfair it was that my dad, who was the other adult in the home, was not assigned kitchen duties. Why did I have to cook and clean because I was born with an extra X chromosome? Didn’t it make more sense for my dad to take on that responsibility?

My dad practically bragged about his helplessness in the kitchen. He knew how to cook exactly two things: steak and popcorn. We couldn’t afford steak, so my mom was probably concerned that we were likely to die from The Popcorn Diet. We probably would have, too. My dad’s idea of cooking even now is making Cream of Wheat in the microwave. And forget cleaning or doing dishes. I have never seen him do either of those two things. Mow the lawn, yes. Take out the trash, yes. Fix the toilet, yes. On the rare occasion, do the laundry. But forget cooking, cleaning or doing the dishes. That was woman’s work.

Now I’m not sure where that attitude came from, because my dad was actually something of a feminist and was the one who convinced my mom to go to school to become an EMT and then a nurse, because that was her dream. He encouraged her to pursue a career. He always told me I could be anything I wanted to be, well, as long as it was something he approved of. Namely, the list of occupations covered virtually anything but an actress, stripper or prostitute; somehow, they all got lumped in together. Sadly, when I was in high school I wanted to be an actress.

The thing is that my dad’s attitude was pretty much the attitude of most men at the time. I could say that it was because he was older than the dads of most of my contemporaries, but that wouldn’t be true. If you pull the covers and articles of popular women’s magazines of the time, I think you’ll find that a ton of them are about being a Supermom and having it all, work and life balance, something that’s still a topic that concerns women.

Anyway, I was already a kid that was overly preoccupied with issues of fairness and equality. Injustice bothered me so personally as a child, and I was partially raised in the time of Alan Alda and granola. When the backlash of the eighties occurred and feminism was somehow something that was now passé or the overreaction of women judged as strident harpies, bitter spinsters or butch dykes, I wondered what happened.

Why did we stop at the vote and the right to work? Why was it okay for us to have to work outside the home and then come home to a second job as a housewife, vacuuming in pearls? Why is it that the Equal Rights Amendment was proposed in 1972, and it is now the year 2010, and it still hasn’t passed? Why have we still not had a woman president? And why was I seemingly in the marginal minority that this bothered me?

No one else finds it strange that we have to give up our names to our husbands? Well, we don’t have to, of course, but you try finding a man who agrees with you that that’s unfair.

Every guy I knew would roll his eyes and say, “Well, when you’re married you become a family, you take on one name.”

And I would say, “I know. I got no problem with that. Why not my name?”

This usually got the response of rolled eyes. Sometimes, instead, they would look at me like, “What planet did you get beamed from? Can they send you back?”

I remember thinking when I was thirteen and cooking for my father and my brother, that if this was what marriage was all about that maybe I didn’t want to be married so badly. It seemed like a pretty raw deal for the woman. I thought, “What do I get out of this? Indentured servitude? No, thanks.”

This was, coincidentally, at the same time when I was in constant conflict with my mother, and so I would say the f word at every chance I got because I knew it irritated her. Her response, inevitably, was, “That’s so unladylike.”

And that infuriated me to no end. Unladylike? So, if my brother says it, that’s okay? What if I don’t want to be a lady? No, sirree. I am no lady. I’m a woman instead.

August 30, 2010 at 5:53 pm 1 comment

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