Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Think: Straight Talk for Women to Stay Smart in a Dumbed-Down World

Think: Straight Talk for Women to Stay Smart in a Dumbed-Down World, by Lisa Bloom

I first heard of Lisa Bloom when I read a fantastic article she wrote for the Huffington Post: "How to Talk to Little Girls." I knew I needed to read her book.

Bloom is the feisty, bright daughter of a feisty, bright mother, pioneering and well-known lawyer Gloria Allred. Allred trained her daughter well--to be an advocate for equality and to stand up for herself and the downtrodden.

The book is divided into two parts. The first part, "The Problem," delves into the question of why we are all so dumbed down nowadays, especially women. She talks about the U.S. chest beating that we are "number one," when in fact we are so many areas. One of those areas is the status of women and the numbers of women who represent us in the political arena. Although conditions are better here for women than in many other countries, we are far from number one. The World Economic Forum's 2009 Global Gender Gap Reports puts us at #31 because of our women's "stagnation in the political empowerment index." And 80 nations surpass the U.S. in the percentage of women holding elective office. You read that right: instead of being Number One, we lag behind 80 nations!

Why are we not up in arms about this? We're too busy spending a fortune on cosmetics and plastic surgery, reading about celebrity gossip, and watching reality TV shows. Wasting our lives away. (When I say "we," I'm referring to Americans in general and women in particular.)

As Bloom discusses, we devalue education, proudly read books that proclaim "Cooking for Dummies," and are more likely to know who Katy Perry is than who is the prime minister of Canada.

For example, take U.S. Weekly or Yahoo's web site, OMG! Bloom reports that U.S. Weekly had 800,000 subscribers in 2003, and now has nearly 2 million. Yet they estimate about 10 readers per subscriber, as many offices, nail salons, and gyms carry the magazine.

According to Bloom's statistics, in 2007 American women averaged $12,000 per year on cosmetics and salon purchases (and 42 percent of the worldwide total). I find that number to be truly staggering! We should be socking that money away for our retirement, or traveling around the world. Now that is really showing how dumb we are.

Bloom is a passionate vegetarian, and she makes an excellent case for us all to go meatless. I knew that raising livestock contributed to climate change, but she quotes a 2006 report by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization that concluded that worldwide livestock farming is the #1 cause of climate change...more than all the cars, trains, planes, and boats in the world. The more meat we eat, the more we are degrading our planet.

As a legal analyst and reporter, Bloom talks about how much time she has been forced to cover missing stories of "pretty white girls," and if a missing child is not white or pretty, or even male, the media will not cover the story. This was not true in Oregon when Kyron Horman went missing over a year ago...but many made the excellent case that his story got way more attention than those of missing children of color. Not that we shouldn't care about Kyron Horman, but shouldn't we also care about all the children who go missing? Why don't we care as equally passionately about all the children sold into prostitution around the world? The U.S. media only wants to cover the "pretty white girls," and the American population are drawn to those stories, in a horrific Catch-22.

In another absurd example of our bizarre focus on the celebrity culture, Bloom discusses all the amazing humanitarian and philanthropic work Angelina Jolie has done throughout her career. But what makes the news? Her relationship with Brad Pitt and her supposed fights with Jennifer Aniston. Or Jolie's former nanny who says she's a neglectful mother. Or what she wore yesterday or where she vacationed. That's all people seem to care about...not the fact that she started working on behalf of refugees in 2000...has visited countries ravaged by poverty such as Sierra Leone, Tanzania, Cambodia, Pakistan, Namibia, and Kenya. She's even visited asylum seekers here in the U.S.

I'm sure that Jolie realizes that she can attract more attention to her cause by giving the public what it wants. Just a few days ago she got the media all excited by saying that what she was most excited about that evening (after the Golden Globes) was to go home to bed with Brad. Celebrities are narcissistic. Yes. But in the case of Angelina Jolie, there's more to her than meets the eye. But does the American public care? No, it doesn't seem to.

Jumping in to Part 2, Bloom gives us her recommendations for reclaiming our brains...such as carving out time in our lives to think, make simple food for your family and don't kill yourself by slaving over meals for hours, and hire someone else to do your housework (even if you have to cut corners elsewhere) so you can reserve time for yourself. She's very adamant on the housecleaner front, and of course I ask myself, what about the option to just not live in a perfectly clean house all the time?

She seems to have a very relaxed, funny parenting style...for example, interpreting "I'm bored!" as "How may I be of assistance?"
"Oh great!" I said, eagerly. "Here's a list of things for you to do. Start with cleaning your room. Next, wash the windows. There's some crud baked on to this pan that really needs a good scrubbing to get it off. Did you rewrite that homework assignment to bring up your grade? How's that thank you to Grandma coming along? Honey? Where'd you go?"
I've already begun applying this technique. Yesterday when my 15-year-old complained about loading the dishwasher, I began to give him a list of all the things I planned to get done that evening, and I told him he could help me with those if he wanted to. Worked like a charm.

She's adamant about not allowing kids into your bed. Well, it's a good thing I'm confident in my own parenting philosophy to know what to ignore and what to take in. I still have a five-year-old who crawls into bed with me around 6:15 a.m., and he usually comes downstairs and sleeps on our floor until then (but not in our bed). It won't last forever, and I do love my morning cuddles. I suppose Bloom wouldn't have approved of my nursing through the night when my babies were little, but I don't care. I was a working mom, and it helped me bond with my kids.

Bloom exhorts women to READ constantly, and the good stuff. Clearly, I agree with that advice, although it also shocks me to read that 80 percent of Americans did not read a book last year. She has tons of reading recommendations, many of which (but not all) I've already read. She's a big fan of Half the Sky by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl DuWunn, as am I, and has a reading list in the appendix.

She tells us to use our newfound time and knowledge to take care of our lives. Look things up if you're curious. Exercise. Have more sex! Hang out with girlfriends--they are great for your health (as is the sex!). Volunteer in your community and take a stand.

Finally, Bloom talks about how lucky we are to live in the good ol' US of A, with the freedoms we have and the privilege. We need to take advantage of these things and BACK AWAY from the cotton candy nutritionless junk food media. I certainly have been more careful not to click on the tabloid-style internet news since reading this book. What a waste of time it all is. Think!

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