Film Review: “Won’t You Be My Neighbor”

If there is one film everyone should go out and see right now, a feel-good yet socially meaningful film, it is the new documentary about Fred Rogers, a.k.a. “Mr. Rogers,” the beloved television host and children’s advocate. Morgan Neville’s film does not waste time going into much detail about the characters in the show or production; rather, it explores the interior life and personality of Fred Rogers, examining his character through his own life as well as the comments of others. The film really revolves around “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood” as the representation and platform for Fred Rogers and his message.

What is so unique is that Rogers’s strength was in his quiet conviction. That often-mocked voice belied a Zen calm and integrity that was so powerful in its lack of aggression. Rogers was truly extraordinary for his time: a man who was willing to discuss emotions and feelings, to be genuine and authentic, and who truly treated children with complete dignity and respect and love. He was probably one of the best children’s advocates America has ever known. By listening to them, by validating them and including all of them, he fostered a sense of self-esteem that many critics have misunderstood. By telling children that each of them was “special,” he was not promoting narcissism or entitlement (which is what so much of today’s culture does). What he was trying to do was to make children feel a core of self-esteem and self-worth that was not contingent upon external appearances or achievement, to teach everyone that they are lovable even when they felt flawed. His ideas are worth revisiting as adults.

There are and were children who disliked Mr. Rogers, even when I was small. I can only attribute this to a dislike of that which is genuine, sensitive, and vulnerable. Fred Rogers was kind, by all accounts. He operated from deeply Christian principles, as well as a strong sense of having felt invalidated as a child by family and peers. The documentary so beautifully captures all of the emotions around the man, and his many talents. My one chief criticism of the film is that it could have featured much more about the music on his program. The songs were a major vehicle for conveying his messages of self-love, empathy, etc. and the lovely melodies and jazz arrangements (not to mention that heartwarming celesta that functions as deeply as any olfactory memory) remain in our minds’ ears and hearts even as adults. Perhaps the most extraordinary moment of the documentary is seeing him win over Congress with his sincerity, reading the lyrics to a song. It would also have been nice to hear commentary from other cast members, but perhaps they declined to participate or may be deceased.

In any case, this film is a must see for anyone who grew up with Mr. Rogers and has fond memories of “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood.” Or perhaps simply a must-see for anyone in these miserable, hardened, extremist, cynical times.

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The 2018 Hay on Wye Lit Fest Part II

Here are some notes on the speakers I heard (due to illness, unfortunately I was not able to attend all the events for which I had registered). I took actual written notes on the two fiction authors; hence, my discussion of them is much longer.

Ian McEwan: One of my favorite modern writers, he addressed the question of how he would write a political novel. He said, were he to write a Brexit novel, he would inhabit the mind of a character – likely a pro-Brexit character, and take a sympathetic position to him/her. He said that inhabiting the mind of a character was imperative, else the novel would sound like a big polemic on the part of the author. This was extremely interesting to me, and has made me think about how to do such a thing in the future. One excellent example is 1984: if we think about it, we come to understand the oppression of society by Oceania only through Winston Smith’s experience of it. McEwan emphasized that we mustn’t treat novels as sociology: they are about particular people.

When asked about screenwriting the recently released “On Chesil Beach” he noted that the screenplay gave him a chance to add scenes that were not in the novel. McEwan also had high praise for the young actress Saoirse Ronan, saying that he sees her now in his characters she has portrayed when he rereads his novels. One very interesting point he made was about the form of the novella, and that novellas are perfect for adaptation. In McEwan’s opinion, Joyce’s The Dead is the most perfect novella ever written, and that it should have not been placed in Dubliners with the other stories. He praised John Houston’s film for being a perfect adaptation of the novella.

About five years back, The Guardian featured an article about McEwan losing his faith in fiction. When asked about this, about what he does when he feels jaded about literary fiction, McEwan said he goes back to an Updike novella with a line that reads something like “cognac…a knight’s move of consciousness” and this detail always inspires him. (I believe the original quote comes from Nabokov.) He also draws on Shakespeare, from whom he finds some phrase or nugget (“fondle the details”) that inspires him. McEwan said to always turn up at your desk, no matter what you feel. It is important for writers to feel a “determined stupor.”

Margaret Atwood: What a thrill to see the grande dame of letters talking on her seminal work, The Handmaid’s Tale! As always (from what I have seen in interviews), Ms. Atwood was elegantly eloquent and calm, good-humored, and tremendously intelligent and complex in her thinking. The lecture was begun by women who entered dressed as handmaidens in the red cloaks and white habits! She noted that The Handmaid’s Tale was written in conversation with 1984 (as that was the year she was writing her novel), and also with The Diary of Anne Frank and other survivor literature. She also mentioned that the novel was written around the time of the totalitarian regime in Iran, before the Shah was overthrown, the bombing of Afghanistan, as well as the beginning of the AIDS era. Everything has a historical referent in the novel, and she noted that the idea that we never know who’s on our side had cultural relevance. A film was made a few years later, and was launched at the fall of the Berlin Wall. East Berliners read the film politically, whereas West Berliners read it artistically. Not being allowed to read is a historical motif, she said, as there were 19th century discussions on how much education women should have, and also remember the fact that it was illegal to teach slaves how to read. The distortion of Biblical texts is a big part of the totalitarian control of reading. Various regimes and groups all misquote the Bible, Marx, Freud, etc. The novel also has origins in the ethos of the Puritans, who espoused a very rigid worldview and behaved oppressively toward others who did not fit their rules.

Atwood did not spend much time on discussing the techniques in writing the novel, but frankly, I was more interested in the discussion of the politics in the novel relevant to our current times. She did mention that the voice and tone are very strong in the novel, as the voice is so intrinsic to the idea of the plot. Writing and removing passages is what creates voice, according to Atwood. Her use of color-coding dates back to Medieval/Renaissance aesthetics, as the Virgin Mary is depicted in blue (which was an expensive color, given the dyes), and Mary Magdalene is red. She discussed the use of naming of the characters, such as Offred, and how she put Of- with various men’s names. Atwood joked that “Ofkeith” did not sound right! The novel’s heroine’s name also suggests “offered.”

The other major topic of discussion was about the new television series of “The Handmaid’s Tale.” I have not seen this, but have heard that it is done quite well. The interviewer asked Ms. Atwood her opinions and feelings about the way in which the television series diverges from the novel. Atwood first mentioned the film made from her novel in 1990, and how she had very little control over that, its release, and the various distribution issues. With this new television series, Atwood has had some input, but she was surprisingly relaxed about the fact that it is out of her control. She simply said that if you have an interpretation of a book that fits, and you can justify it, then it is valid. The end of the “The Handmaid’s Tale” series is not definite, hence why the series is continuing for a second season. Dickens wrote in serial form to keep readers reading, and used cliffhangers! So she understands why the TV series is structured differently than her novel.

Atwood also mentioned that the novel 1984 ends on a positive note: the ending section is written in the past tense to show that Newspeak is over. Thus Gilead ends at the end of The Handmaid’s Tale.

Atwood comes across as extremely well versed in international politics and socio-cultural phenomenon. This talk was extremely inspiring to me, as I have always been interested in the intersection of politics and literature (Salman Rushdie has discussed and of course written much about this). She is not only an important literary figure, in my opinion, but also a cultural figure who always has her finger on the zeitgeist or pulse of current issues.

Simon Schama: It is hard to know what to write on the brilliant history professor (and fellow Columbian!) Simon Schama. He seemed to take the ball and run with it when delivering the Founders Lecture, expounding on many different topics, all under the general theme of how art is what connects us as human beings, and promotes empathy. He cited the example of a well-known woman art historian (whose name escapes me) who encouraged Jewish children at the time of the Holocaust to make art. She then saved many of their paintings and drawings after the children were put to death, and the children’s legacy is something that leaves us hope that art is truly a force for good. Professor Schama also discussed various time periods and cultures throughout history and their creation of art. Schama is a famously animated lecture (an enjoyable contrast with classic British reserve) but also comes across as warm and generous, as when a young woman in the audience who mentioned that she will be attending Columbia University in the fall, she was met with great encouragement by the professor. Schama’s knowledge is simply encyclopedic, and we are very lucky to have such a man of letters.

Martin Griffiths: This Welsh astronomer who has worked for NASA but now spends time with his research and projects in Wales was truly a delight to listen to, not the least for his Welsh accent! Griffiths talked about the overlap between astronomy and Welsh mythology, about the constellations and myths. As someone in the audience pointed out later in the Q & A, it is rare that an astronomer will discuss mythology, combine science and the arts. I found it especially fascinating to learn about Welsh mythology, as it is not something that we have so much exposure to in the US. I also realized how in our modern world we have such a dearth of mythological thinking as part of our daily lives. Growing up as a Hindu, I really enjoyed (and still enjoy) mythology, as it link humans to something much larger, to universal themes and to Gods with extraordinary forces.

Griffiths is currently involved in anti-light pollution work, with Dark Sky Wales, and is a very active lecturer.

 

 

The 2018 Hay on Wye Lit Fest Part I

I have been on hiatus, as I was overseas! I had the great fortune to attend the Hay on Wye Lit Fest in Hay on Wye Wales, UK. Sadly, this event is not publicized in the US; I happened to come across it when looking for literature events online six months ago. The scale of the event is massive: 10 days of nonstop speakers in the arts, humanities, politics, music, etc. that draws some of the biggest names in the world. Margaret Atwood (more in a minute) for example, and Bill Clinton many years back. The scope and scale of the event is simply stunning, and I can’t think of a single event to the United States that compares.

http://www.hayfestival.com/wales/news.aspx?skinid=1&localesetting=en-GB

The Festival: Dubbed “The Woodstock of the mind” by Clinton, it is indeed a massive, Woodstock-like festival set up in a small village of “tents” in a dairy meadow with walkways between them (in reality, it is really a small village that happens to be covered by very sturdy, structured, tenting material with several auditoriums). The festival, I was told, draws tens of thousands of people, and there is an actual office there that deals with tickets, logistics, etc. as well as a security check. The festival office and staff at the event are extremely professional and organized; they make things run smoothly (which is not an easy task, given the scale of the event. Kudos to everyone involved.) There is a massive food hall that features everything from British cuisine to Spanish to organic vegan to Indian and more. It is a truly socially progressive environment, as they compost and promote a sense of positive energy (one of the stages for events is called the “good energy stage!”)

One of the perks for students like me is that you get five free tickets to events (the festival wisely does not charge a flat rate admission fee, but rather just for the events you attend.) Accommodations book up even a year in advance, so those interested would do well planning far ahead, as many people come from both the region as well as elsewhere in the UK. Many people are repeat visitors, and it is easy to see why.

The Town: The festival is set just outside the town of Hay on Wye, a charming, beautiful little Welsh village that has over 20 bookstores (for real), a book town like you cannot believe — imagine one bookstore dedicated entirely to poetry! Richard Booth’s bookstore is the landmark and I was told the largest secondhand bookstore in the world. Unfortunately, I did not have much time to spend in this beautiful village, but it is definitely worth coming back to. The surrounding areas are gorgeous and hilly, and a bus ride to my inn after dark was simply magical. Foyles of Glasbury (in Glasbury, a neighboring village) is simply my favorite place at which I have ever stayed. A charming inn with just 12 rooms, the beauty, coziness, and also the staff made it a wonderful experience, especially as I was ill for half a day.

It is tricky to stay outside the village of Hay without a car, as though there is a shuttle to the festival, it is not very frequent. I would recommend travelers to hire a car if possible, for it will also allow them to explore the surrounding areas.

Overlapping with the Hay Lit Fest, simultaneously over one weekend, is another festival called How the Light Gets In that focuses on philosophy and music, and attracts such luminaries as Noam Chomsky. Unfortunately, I did not find out about this until right before I left for my trip, so I did not included as part of my plans. I hope that they too will publicize this event in the US.

Constructive Criticism: One of the logistical drawbacks is getting there. Though only 160 miles from London, it can take over 3 1/2 hours to get there by car, and over 5 1/2 hours to get there by two trains and a bus ride. This is very exhausting, and it is unfortunate that the festival does not run some sort of coach service from London and other big cities. Trying to coordinate accommodations and transportation is quite difficult. There is a local tourism office that is certainly quite helpful, but what is missing is some sort of online forum or chat page on which those of us who are coming from overseas could get in touch with other visitors and try to organize travel plans. It is, frankly, not so well set up for international visitors. The festival organizers would do well to try to make it easier.

My other main criticism is the complete lack of diversity among the festivalgoers. I was there from a Sunday-Tuesday (with Monday being a bank holiday), and while it is possible that people in their 20s-40s were not able to take off the time to go there, to my eye, the typical festivalgoer was older (possibly mid-50s and up), very white, and I am guessing very educated middle to upper-middle-class. There were hardly any minorities in the audiences or events I attended: I hardly saw anyone in their 30s and 40s or younger, with the exception of a couple of college students here or there. There were a few families, as the festival does have quite a number of events for children. The lack of ethnic diversity was really quite surprising to me, and I think the festival organizers really need to work on their outreach. The speaker lineup is wonderfully diverse, however. Given that the speakers are really the cutting edge and forefront of arts and culture, I expected the audience to be. I cannot guess with certainty how many writers there were in the audience, but my impression is that the audience were more literature and culture lovers rather than makers. That said, I did meet some incredible festivalgoers, such as an international AIDS expert surgeon-turned-priest Dr. Anne Bayley, and a London-based Indian woman who is a fiber artist and weaver, Rachna Garodia.

Class Distinctions in America, Part II

This post is a continuation of the previous post on class distinctions in America.

-Access to culture. It is a sad truth of the fine arts in America that generally speaking, only the well to do can afford high culture. True, museums offer free nights on occasion that are funded by large corporate sponsors, orchestras offer open rehearsals at a reduced rate and free concerts for children, and there are a number of outdoor festivals in various communities supported by taxpayer dollars. These are indeed positive. However, the cost of attending classical music and fine arts performances is often very high. Unfortunately, the cost of tickets alone does not cover all the expenses an organization needs to keep itself alive, maintain the performance space, pay the artists, et cetera. Wealthy individuals are able to contribute to cultural organizations, attend performances, and therefore they have a say in the programming and choices made. We do not have adequate government funding for the arts in the same way there is in many countries in Europe. Nor do we have a tradition in our culture that values the fine arts to the degree that other cultures do. Pop-culture and mass media are dominant in American society, and they are easily consumed due to lower costs.

-Air travel. This particular distinction has changed quite significantly over the decades, becoming more accessible to everyone. Lower-cost airlines have boomed, such as Southwest, and if we look at the cost of airline travel over the decades, we might find that proportionally it is cheaper and more affordable than it was before. But for an entire family to fly cross country (or even somewhere that would ordinarily require a day or two drive), it is very expensive. Therefore, only the well to do or the people who save carefully can travel by plane, or unfortunately, the people who go into debt. Our family culture and social structure is affected by geography in America, and traveling great distances is not always possible due to high costs. During peak travel times, such as summers and holidays, even those who can afford to travel have to deal with increased prices. Sometimes the cost of an airplane ticket can be almost double in peak seasons. Train travel over long distances is not always possible due to the time it takes, and sometimes trains do not reach particular areas of the country. Therefore, air travel is still somewhat of a “luxury.”

-Technology. While smartphones seem to abound lately, and many people make sacrifices to own them, they are still expensive devices. Consider the cost of the sleek new iPhone X: it could pay for a month’s or more rent, or a mortgage payment. One could argue that nobody even really needs a smart phone. Lest we digress into issues of consumerism and spending habits, we have to remember that basic Internet connectivity has become a vital part of American life. Therefore, one needs to have a computer or tablet device in order to access it at home, and then also the Internet. These two things are not cheap, and for many people, not even affordable. Public libraries have been good at trying to fill the void by providing access to the people; therefore many lower income individuals have been able to get connected. But as so much information is disseminated via the Internet, such as test results from a doctor’s office, we need to revisit the question of providing better Internet access for everybody. Consider this study from the Pew Research Center, and we can see how across the world, there is still a gap based on economic prowess.
http://www.pewglobal.org/2016/02/22/internet-access-growing-worldwide-but-remains-higher-in-advanced-economies/
America is indeed quite connected compared to most other countries in the world, but this does not mean everybody in our country is connected or is able to do so without financial hardship. Schoolchildren benefit from computers and are often required to use them for homework, but again, the cost and the access to these devices varies greatly across SES.

-Savings and investments. This relates to the point above about consumer spending. But in America, in order to have a secure financial cushion as well as a strong retirement fund, it is necessary to save and invest. Simply put, those who do not make enough money to cover their expenses cannot afford to save. The working poor have long known this. Conversely, those who are able to save reap the benefits. By the basic principle of compounding interest, people who invest see their money grow exponentially over time. For doing nothing other than shelling out the capital, you can see your mutual fund or investments grow over years or decades. So the system is inherently unequal and creates stratification. I am in no way advocating not investing or saving; it would be absolutely foolish not to. We live in a capitalist society, and so we must abide by its unwritten rules in order to have a financially sound life. However, it is worth pointing this out, as it is indeed a factor in why the rich get richer and why the SES gap is widening in our society.

-Home ownership/property ownership. This is something that is very much a part of the American mentality and American Dream. The general goal is to own one’s own home. However, as our society becomes more stratified, and real estate becomes prohibitively expensive in various parts of the country due to speculation, greed, market value increases, and foreign investors, many people cannot afford to own a home. Or, they cannot afford to own a home near their place of work and experience long commutes. Property/real estate developers these days seem to be getting greedier, gentrifying neighborhoods, flipping properties, building more and more “luxury homes,” and colluding with local politicians to get special privileges to build. Meanwhile, many longtime or local residents get pushed out of their homes, or find their rents going up prohibitively. People who have the means purchase their own homes and houses, and often base this decision on the quality of the schools. Those who can afford it even purchase second or vacation homes in order to have a place to go to on a regular basis. Many people believe that the market is unstable, so investing in homes is something concrete and tangible that one can use or rent out. There is much wisdom in this, as a house can be passed on to future generations. However, our government and society need to ensure that the poorest members of our society are adequately, affordably, and safely housed. Homeless people have somehow become an apathetic part of our collective consciousness: we become inured to the “shaggy” people begging on the corners or sleeping on the sidewalks. We have to remind ourselves that the word really means someone without a home, and that we have failed as a society if we have let human beings come to this sad condition. Everyone deserves a home in America, the wealthiest country in the world.

Class Distinctions in America, Part I

America has the image of being generally middle-class, or favoring a middle-class ethos. The “common man” (or woman) is the general target for marketing, policies, aspirations, etc. We also have much more class mobility than in other cultures: the wealthy daughter of a doctor may work in a grocery store in summers in high school or the son of a CEO may deliver pizzas in college. But there is an elephant in the room that we seldom talk about in America, and that is class. Things are not so evident on the surface about class, the way they might be elsewhere. In England for example, speech immediately distinguishes a person’s education level and class background, although it is increasingly becoming “cool” to adopt various speech patterns and mannerisms that are not RP (received pronunciation, or, “The Queen’s English”). The aforementioned example of wealthy children working menial jobs would be unheard of in Asia or Latin America.

With class not so evident as it is in other countries, what distinguishes between social classes in America? What are the signifiers? Here are some thoughts, and this post will be continued in a second part.

Food. This is one of the saddest things about wealthiest country in the world. There is still hunger in America, and for those who are poor, the cheapest options are often the least healthy. Contrast this with the wealthier, food conscious individuals in America who shop at Whole Foods, farmers’ markets, and artisan shops for food. We have “food deserts” where people have little access to food, let alone healthy food, and children who rely on schools to provide them meals. SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), or “food stamps” is just little over four dollars a day per person, which is really not enough. When fast food options offer meals that are just a couple of dollars, those who have very little income would understandably opt for those. The advice to grow one’s own food is not always possible to those who live in cold or inhospitable climates. This is one of America’s greatest shames.

Healthcare. This is too complex a topic to go into in this article, but we can say that the Affordable Care Act has not yet achieved its goal of helping all Americans have affordable coverage. We need a universal healthcare plan, single payer if possible, and yet our politicians do not by and large support this plan. The poor often get relegated to community clinics with limited healthcare, and their access to specialists is even more limited. Some may opt not to even consult physicians when ill, due to fears of excessive bills. People who can afford it not only have good healthcare plans (covered by their employer), but they can have the luxury of choosing the best doctors, and even paying out-of-pocket for procedures and tests. Needless to say, wealthy and urban areas have large concentrations of highly trained and specialized doctors and medical professionals.

Spending habits. This is a highly taboo subject, and one that can potentially sound extremely classist. But there is some truth to the reason that the rich get richer, and why many people who do not have much money are in that situation due to their consumerism. I am in no way advocating trickle-down, Reaganist economics, and I personally think that class stratification is a very serious problem in America we need to address through various means such as taxation, social welfare and benefits, etc. I would like to add the caveat, though, that the working poor and people in lower-paying jobs who are indeed financially savvy and wise with their personal finances are simply not able to save and do not have disposable income. America has failed these people, and it is also another one of America’s shames.

But in terms of purely individual spending habits, I have seen that many prosperous people are extremely careful with their disposable income, saving for particular goals such as housing, their children’s education, retirement, and investing in quality rather than quantity. There is the temptation in American society to spend like mad on the latest trendy car/gadget/clothing/item, with the understanding that it keeps the economy moving. While there may be truth to this, it is often to the detriment of people’s personal finances. I grew up in a community where people were of largely (lower-) middle and lower-class SES, and when I attended Stanford University, I was quite surprised and fascinated to see that despite many of my peers being quite wealthy, they were not very materialistic in comparison to the people I grew up with. And my Stanford peers were from all around the United States and the world, thus illustrating a geographic cross-section of largely upper- and upper-middle class individuals. Certainly not everyone at Stanford was well to do, and I felt I was one of the rare, true middle-class students there. But I have noticed in living in places of different socioeconomic status that the spending habits of the well to do are certainly cautious.

This post will be continued.

Poet Laureate of Jamaica on This Blog!

Dear readers,

If you remember, a couple years ago, UM professor and poet Lorna Goodison was so generous as to contribute a poem to this blog. She is now the Poet Laureate of Jamaica, and the first female to hold that position.

http://jis.gov.jm/lorna-goodison-jamaicas-first-female-poet-laureate/

I am so proud that she honored thewomenofletters.com with one of her poems, and in case you missed it the first time, here it is:

https://thewomenofletters.com/2015/06/11/poem-we-to-the-world-by-lorna-goodison/

Thank you, Professor Goodison, and here’s to the future women poets of the Caribbean — and the world!

Virgin/Whore Revisited

In the humanities in the Western world, there exists a dichotomy between two archetypes of women that stems from Catholicism and Christianity in general – the dichotomy between the virgin and the whore. At its most literal level, this refers to perceiving women as pure and untainted by sex (or at least sex outside of marriage), or as a woman who engages in her bodily acts with multiple men for money or for pleasure outside of marriage. One may come across a variant of this, virgin/Madonna/whore, where the middle persona represents a mother, but a sexless mother whose conception was a divine miracle, and not something carnal of the flesh. Feminists and others have long decried this dichotomy as sexist, patriarchal, and denying of a woman’s right to pleasure.

Others might argue that women’s sexual freedom – or anybody’s for that matter – is a recent phenomenon, born out of Enlightenment philosophies of individualism and developments in technology that led to birth control. In American culture, we still hold certain expectations and even double standards for women. Traditional cultures still largely espouse this view, even ones that are not Christian, as we have seen with the tragic death of Pakistani social media star and television personality Qandeel Baloch, who was murdered by her brother in an “honor killing” to avenge the shameful behavior she exhibited in public and the dishonor she brought upon her family. No woman should be punished or harmed for expressing her sexuality or sensuality, nor should she ever be blamed for rape.

But is there any truth to this dichotomy? Are there “good” and “bad” women? Among women in America, do we not sort of classify or look down at certain types of women, though we might be reluctant to admit it?

In modern, secular America, generally speaking, we do not dichotomize women based on sexuality. Classifying a woman according to whether or not she is a virgin is passé. So by this belief, the entire argument is rendered useless. But – perhaps there is another way to look at sexuality and women that comes from a woman’s point of view and not from a man’s or patriarchal one.

As a friend put it, before the sexual revolution, women felt they had to say no to sex, and after the revolution, they felt they had to say yes. Anyone who is very aware of millennial and modern hookup culture knows that women are put in a very difficult position. But there are many women who make bad choices, and perhaps that is the root of the problem. Our sexual culture allows a woman to enjoy a sexual life like a man, but without being treated with the respect previously accorded to a woman. Given that men have not yet, as a whole, worked on redefining the roles vis-à-vis how women’s have changed over the last few decades, we still have a lot of problems with how women are perceived and treated. Much of the uproar over the “French open letter” (where dozens of women, including Catherine Deneuve, objected to the #MeToo movement) illustrates both the problems women have in dealing with men, as well as the differences among women. The French letter seemed to disregard The French letter seemed to disregard the fact that the #MeToo women enjoy their sensuality and attention from men, just not when coupled with an abuse of power as it was in the situations Harvey Weinstein and Charlie Rose and countless unnamed men in the world today.

I would like to suggest what defines the modern “dichotomy” in women is self-esteem. A sense of self-worth and acting from a place of strength and dignity, rather than from outside motives. Notice that I did not define this as acting independently from men. As I have frequently written, I believe a large part of the failure of the feminist movement born in the 60s and 70s was its failure to view women in relation to men, and thereby improve the dynamics between genders.

Any woman with a sense of self-worth is proud of her choices in expressing – or not expressing – her sexuality and sensuality in public. A woman with a sense of self-worth is proud to look like a woman, proud to be who she is, be very feminine if she chooses, or not. Her sexual pleasure comes from a place of personal desire, not societal expectations. She will not be treated badly by a man, and if she is, she will refuse to put up with it. (The #MeToo movement has been a wonderful regenesis of women who are proud of their womanhood and sensuality, but very willing to set boundaries). A woman with self-esteem will not allow herself to fall victim to peer pressure and alcohol, and will not allow herself to get in situations that can potentially result in harm. This type of woman will do everything she can to not allow herself to become a victim, but she will rush to the defense of any woman who is victimized.

If we set this as a new standard, we can see that there will be a wide variety of types of women, not just the virgins/Madonnas on one end of the scale. This includes the Qandeel Baloches but also the women who wear their hijabs proudly and fashionably as they push their strollers. This includes the brilliantly accomplished Hillary Clintons as well as the brilliantly accomplished Amal Clooneys, who are proud to be style icons. This includes women from all walks of life, be it doctors and other professionals, as well as minivan-driving moms in small-town Saline, Michigan. This includes women around the world, of all ages, shapes, sizes, classes, professions, and orientations.

So who, among us, do we (guiltily and wrongly) look down upon? Women who don’t operate from a sense of dignity. We see them on Friday and Saturday nights – the (sorority) girls who are tarted up in disgustingly revealing clothing to get drunk at bars or (frat) parties, not knowing who they are waking up with. Women who have given the sexual revolution a bad name by going wild and acting badly. The “Barbie doll” types of all ethnicities in Southern California or wealthy suburbs everywhere, who must conform to a look — blonde highlighted, over glossed, over perfumed, overdone – who even go so far as to make radical alterations on their bodies to fit in. The women who stick themselves in bad relationships, who use men just to get pregnant, or even those who hate men. The “easy women” who are happy being a trophy wife to a man who is unable or unwilling to grow up, and would rather trade his first wife in for a new model. Women from traditional cultures who refuse to speak up for their needs in their marriage, perpetuating the cycle of bad behavior from men who feel they are entitled to do whatever they want and not be a good husband. Women who are Puritans, who cannot enjoy their femininity, who act like men. (Many people saw the undoing of Hillary Clinton as the result of this, however wrong and sexist as it may have been.) Women who are strong, but still buy into the hookup culture, who still feel they have to say yes. Fashion victims. Vogue editor Anna Wintour has really done very badly toward her own sex, as have the others who support the destructive aspects of the fashion and beauty industry. Women who do not speak up when sexist things are said.

Is it wrong for women to judge other women? Yes, perhaps it really is. But I suppose it is an inevitable part of our behavior as women, because we are so closely bonded by nature and wired to be collective. Maybe it is inherent in any group for people to look critically at its members. But we cannot make social progress unless we first look at the weakest links, so to speak. And most importantly, we must first look within, look at ourselves, and see where we need to improve in progress before we criticize others. That is the ultimate sign of a woman with inner strength and dignity.