Thursday, April 19, 2018

Fighting hunger or the poor? Political battle over SNAP resumes -- April 19, 2018 column


 By MARSHA MERCER

Long before President Donald Trump bestowed a lavish tax break on the rich and proposed “harvest baskets” for the poor, another president said:

“That hunger and malnutrition should persist in a land such as ours is embarrassing and intolerable.”

Name that president. Was it Democrat FDR, JFK or LBJ?

Guess again. Republican Richard Nixon sent Congress the optimistic message in May 1969 that “the most bounteous of nations” should expand food stamps as part of an array of approaches to beat hunger. The program grew dramatically in the 1970s.

Back then, fighting hunger – not the poor -- was a bipartisan cause.

Then, presidential candidate Ronald Reagan reaped political hay by demonizing “welfare queens.” In office, he slashed the social safety net, including food stamps.

When Republican Newt Gingrich ran for president, briefly, in 2012, he called President Barack Obama “the best food stamp president in American history.” It wasn’t a compliment.

More than 46 million people received food stamps that year. As the economy improved, food stamp rolls dropped. About 40 million participated in January 2018, the lowest level since 2010. 

But, to borrow a Reagan phrase, here we go again.

It’s an election year, and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP, as food stamps are officially called, is a political flash point.

Democrats on the House Agriculture Committee were in open revolt Wednesday over a bill by Chairman Mike Conaway, Republican of Texas, that cuts spending and imposes new work requirements for almost all SNAP participants.  

Conaway contended his bill provides participants “the hope of a job and a skill and a better future for themselves and their families.”   

But Democrats, while supporting current work requirements, condemned the new rules, which were formulated without their input.

“Let me be clear: This bill, as currently written, kicks people off the SNAP program,” said Rep. Collin Peterson of Minnesota, the committee’s top Democrat, who called it an “ideological attack” on SNAP. It would create “giant, untested bureaucracies at the state level” lacking the money needed for meaningful job training, he said.

About 2 million people — particularly in low-income working families with children — would receive less or lose benefits altogether, the liberal-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities said in an analysis. A few would receive higher benefits, due to changes in how earnings are counted, but the net effect would still be a significant cut overall.

At $70 billion a year, food stamps are about three-quarters of spending in the Farm Bill, which also pays for crop subsidies, farm credit and land conservation. The bill cuts food stamp spending by $17.1 billion over 10 years, the Congressional Budget Office estimates.

The committee approved the bill on a party line vote, but its future is murky. Even if the full House approves it, the Senate Agriculture Committee plans to write a bipartisan bill. In the past, an alliance of rural and urban lawmakers with different priorities has pushed the Farm Bill through Congress.

It’s worth remembering that 43 percent of SNAP participants live in a household where someone works. Rules already require participants to meet work requirements unless exempt because of age, disability or another reason. Able-bodied adults without dependents – ABAWDs in government jargon -- 18 to 49 can receive benefits for three months but after that must work or be in training. 

The House bill requires all work-capable adults aged 18 to 59 who are not disabled or caring for a child under 6 to demonstrate every month they are working or in job-training 20 hours a week.

Critics see punitive and racial overtones in the bill.

“The images of `able-bodied’ men not working are of African American men,” Rep. David Scott, Democrat of Georgia, said at the hearing.

“I guarantee you, if all the people who were on food stamps were white, there wouldn’t be this,” he told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

The House bill is an embarrassment, as was the Trump administration’s plan to begin distributing non-perishable items in “harvest boxes” to replace some food stamp benefits. That plan was widely panned as unworkable and seems to have been scrapped.   

The House bill should meet a similar end. In this “most bounteous of nations,” the Senate should start over with a bill Democrats and Republicans can support.

©2018 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.
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Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Ryan's choice good for him -- and Democrats -- April 12, 2018 column


By MARSHA MERCER
Normally, when a big-name public official announces he – it’s usually he -- is quitting his job to spend more time with his family, it’s a dodge.
Heads nod, knowing he’s in trouble and has no cushy job waiting on the outside. Few feel his pain.
For members of Congress, the family excuse often means the politician faces a tough re-election or must relinquish his committee chairman gavel because of House term limit rules. Or both.
Some go out complaining about the capital’s toxic atmosphere, the dysfunctional Congress and the never-ending quest for campaign cash.
A few members this year are also leaving Congress under the cloud of sexual harassment accusations.
In contrast, House Speaker Paul Ryan’s surprise announcement Wednesday he won’t seek another term in Congress was Dad of the Year material. He spoke about going home to Janesville, Wisconsin, to his wife Janna and children Liza, Sam and Charlie.
“This is my 20th year in Congress. My kids weren’t even born when I was first elected. Our oldest was 13 when I became speaker. Now all three of our kids are teenagers. And one thing I’ve learned about teenagers is their idea of an ideal weekend is not necessarily to spend all of the time with their parents,” Ryan told reporters.
And here’s the kicker: “What I realize is, if I’m here for one more term, my kids will only have ever known me as a weekend dad. I just can’t let that happen.”
You don’t have to be in Congress to know what Ryan is talking about. Many moms and dads in demanding careers have similar nagging guilt.
Perhaps more than most 48-year-olds, Ryan feels his own mortality. Both his father and grandfather died of heart attacks before they were 60. At just 16 and a high school sophomore, Ryan found his father, an attorney, dead in his bed at 55.
Ryan has always seemed apart from most ambitious politicians. After being GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s running mate in 2012, he was widely expected to run for president in 2016, but didn’t. He was drafted as Speaker, an increasingly thankless job, in 2015, after John Boehner resigned from Congress.
As Speaker, Ryan travels the country extensively, fundraising and campaigning for GOP candidates. He often sees his kids only on Sunday, he told Fox News.
But if Ryan’s choice is good for him, it’s also good for Democrats.
By retiring, he signals the House may be lost and Democrat Nancy Pelosi will return as Speaker next year. Naturally, Ryan insists the GOP is in great shape and he’ll still campaign for Republicans. But a lame duck can’t talk convincingly about the future.
The customary route would have been to run and then retire after the election. The former altar boy considered doing that.
“But just as my conscience is what got me to take this job in the first place, my conscience could not handle going out that way,” he said.
As it is, Ryan is the most prominent in an army of incumbent Republicans beating a retreat from Washington. More than 40 House Republicans are either retiring or running for another office.
In Virginia, Republican Rep. Bob Goodlatte announced his retirement two days after a Democratic tide in last November’s state election swept many Republican incumbents from the legislature. Goodlatte is prohibited under House rules from staying on as chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. 
Ryan wasn’t even the only Republican to announce his retirement Wednesday.
Rep. Dennis Ross, Republican of Florida, was announcing his when he looked at Fox News and saw Ryan was leaving, he told his local paper.
The filing deadline hasn’t passed in 19 states, so more retirements are possible.
As if the November election weren’t campaign enough, a battle now kicks off for Speaker, with Reps. Kevin McCarthy of California and Steve Scalise of Louisiana leading contenders.
Democrats, who need a net gain of two dozen seats for control of the House, were delighted by the unexpected turn of events.
“With his retirement announcement Speaker Paul Ryan becomes the first casualty of the 2018 midterm election,” Rep. Gerry Connolly, Democrat of Virginia, tweeted.
The Republicans’ nightmare in April seems like a dream come true for Democrats, but they shouldn’t celebrate just yet. 
It’s a long, long way to November – and victory has previously eluded their grasp.  
©2018 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.
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Thursday, April 5, 2018

Coffee's not as scary as . . . -- April 5, 2018 column


By MARSHA MERCER
President Donald Trump provokes a trade war with China and shakes the stock market and our retirement accounts like snowglobes.
He asks governors to send the National Guard to a purported “crisis” on the Mexican border while he rolls back the environmental rules that protect our air and water.
Scary times, indeed.
Sit back, relax, watch cute kitten videos on Facebook and savor a hot mug of coffee. Uh-oh.
Facebook isn’t a safe place, if it ever was. With the personal data of 87 million of us shared, we’re ripe for the picking on the dark web, if we weren’t already.
And that comforting cup of joe soon will come with a cancer warning label in California. What starts on the Left Coast often wafts east.
Wait a minute. Deep breaths. Should we be scared of our coffee, too?
Decades of medical research say no. A review in the British Medical Journal last November examined more than 200 studies and found that coffee consumption was more often associated with benefit than harm.
Drinking three cups of coffee a day was associated with the greatest benefit in terms of cardiovascular disease, coronary heart disease and stroke, compared with not drinking coffee, researchers found.
Two studies reported in the Annals of Internal Medicine last year followed people of various ethnicities around the world for years and found “people who reported drinking more coffee tended to live longer than those who reported drinking less.”
The World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer removed coffee from its list of substances “possibly carcinogenic to humans” in 2016, after it reviewed 1,000 studies and found “inadequate evidence” of a link to cancer.
So why the warning label? A chemical called acrylamide, produced during coffee roasting, may cause cancer. Emphasis on “may.”
A California judge wrote a preliminary ruling March 30 requiring Starbucks and dozens of other coffee purveyors in the state to warn customers about acrylamide. The chemical occurs naturally when some foods are cooked at high heat. It’s in french fries, potato chips, crackers, bread, cereal, prune juice and canned black olives.
Acrylamide is on California’s list of about 800 natural and man-made substances that are linked to cancer, birth defects or reproductive harm. Under the state’s Prop. 65, which aims to alert consumers to health hazards so they can make smart decisions, businesses must notify customers if their products contain the chemicals. It’s why you see warnings on flashlights, Christmas tree lights and pesticides, among other items.
Lab studies have found acrylamide in high doses in drinking water increases the risk of cancer in rats and mice. But the doses have been “as much as 1,000 to 10,000 times higher than the levels people might be exposed to in foods,” says the American Cancer Society, adding, “Based on the studies done so far, it is not clear if acrylamide affects cancer risk in people.”
A public interest law firm sued the coffee shops in a California court in 2010, saying they have a duty to warn consumers. A similar lawsuit led potato chip makers to reduce the amount of acrylamide in their products to avoid warning labels.  
But the National Coffee Association says acrylamide is in coffee at “miniscule” levels, occurs naturally and is not an additive. It’s weighing its legal actions.
“Coffee has been shown, over and over again, to be a healthy beverage,” said William “Bill” Murray, president and CEO of the coffee association. “This lawsuit has made a mockery of Prop. 65, has confused consumers and does nothing to improve public health.”
But the lawsuit and the warning labels do serve a purpose. They help us gain perspective. We don’t have to give up coffee.
As with most things, health officials advise moderation and they suggest watching what you put in your coffee. Sugar has replaced fat as a nutritional pariah.
The WHO’s cancer panel did advise caution on a related topic. 
“Drinking very hot beverages probably causes cancer of the esophagus in humans,” it said.
There you go. It wouldn’t hurt to let your coffee cool.
Sometimes we can control what scares us.   
©2018 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.
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Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Kicking at 2nd Amendment not the solution -- March 29, 2018 column


By MARSHA MERCER

Retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens rattled the National Rifle Association’s cage -- with predictable results.

Stevens, impressed by March for Our Lives demonstrations last Saturday, called for repeal of the Second Amendment, which he said is antiquated.

The amendment, as you know, states “a well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.”

It was adopted out of “concern that a national standing army might pose a threat to the security of the separate states,” Stevens wrote Tuesday in an op-ed in The New York Times. “Today that concern is a relic of the 18th century.”

Told ya so, the NRA crowed.   

“I have long said the ultimate goal of the left is the complete repeal of the Second Amendment,” said NRATV host Grant Stinchfield. “This is proof, my friends.”

No, actually, it’s not.

Stevens was expressing his own provocative opinion. He doesn’t speak for “the left” any more than the NRA speaks for all gun owners, many of whom support common-sense gun safety measures.

The inspiring young protesters would be wise to thank Stevens, 97, for his support and get to work lobbying their legislators, registering to vote, backing candidates who support stricter gun laws and voting.

Repeal isn’t “simple,” as he said, or even doable. It’s a distraction, and a self-defeating one.

President Donald Trump’s response to Stevens – complete with the laying on of the caps lock key and exclamation points -- shows he thinks this is just the issue to fire up his base.    

“THE SECOND AMENDMENT WILL NEVER BE REPEALED! As much as Democrats would like to see this happen and despite the words yesterday of former Supreme Court Justice Stevens, NO WAY. We need more Republicans in 2018 and must ALWAYS hold the Supreme Court!” Trump tweeted at 4:52 a.m. Wednesday.

Yes, 4:52 a.m.

Only about one in five voters strongly or somewhat favors repeal, according to an Economist-YouGov poll in February, which found tepid support for repeal among Democrats, about 39 percent. Only 8 percent of Republicans supported repeal.

Stevens, appointed to the court by Republican President Gerald Ford, became a liberal bulwark. He retired in 2010, two years after writing a dissent in District of Columbia v. Heller, which determined there is an individual right to bear arms. Stevens still believes the court’s decision in that case was wrong.

“In 1939 the Supreme Court unanimously held that Congress could prohibit the possession of a sawed-off shotgun because that weapon had no reasonable relation to the preservation or efficiency of a `well regulated militia,’” he wrote in The Times.

The idea that gun rights were limited held until the 1980s, when the NRA and other groups mobilized, he said.

Amending the Constitution is intentionally difficult. The likely path requires a two-thirds vote of both the House and the Senate and ratification by three-fourths of the states.

Alternatively, two-thirds of the states could call for a constitutional convention where amendments would be proposed. That would open the door to heaven knows what – and is so daunting it’s never been tried. The amendments would then need to be ratified by three-fourths of the states.

If trying to repeal the Second Amendment is not the solution to ending gun violence, grassroots activism could be. 

With Trump having backed off his support for gun safety measures and Congress apparently paralyzed, gun safety advocates are smart to focus on the states. But they’ll need to persevere to make even modest progress.

After protests in Tallahassee following the Parkland shootings Feb. 14, Florida Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican, signed tighter gun laws, including raising to 21 the minimum age to buy rifles and shotguns, requiring a three-day waiting period to buy long guns and arming some staff. 

The NRA immediately filed suit to block some of the provisions.

Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo, a Democrat, signed a “red flag” executive order policy Feb. 26, allowing police to take guns from people who pose a danger to themselves or others.   

“If the federal government won’t act, states need to do more to prevent the gun violence that has become far too common,” Raimondo said.

 ©2018 Marsha Mercer.
All rights reserved.
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Thursday, March 22, 2018

Congress must stop Trump from firing Mueller -- March 22, 2018 column


By MARSHA MERCER

Why does he act so guilty? What does he have to hide? What does Vladimir Putin have on him?

Those are questions being raised by Republicans as well as Democrats as President Donald Trump seems poised to end special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian tampering in the 2016 election. 

“When you are innocent . . . act like it,” Rep. Trey Gowdy, Republican of South Carolina, urged the president Sunday on “Fox News Sunday.”

“If you’ve done nothing wrong, you should want the investigation to be as fulsome and thorough as possible,” said Gowdy, a member of the House Intelligence Committee.  

Sen. Lindsey Graham warned firing Mueller would “probably” be an impeachable offense. Graham should know. He was one of the House managers of the impeachment case against President Bill Clinton in 1998. 

If Trump were to fire Mueller, “I can’t see it being anything other than a corrupt purpose,” Graham, a South Carolina Republican, said Tuesday on the Hugh Hewitt radio show.

Sen. John McCain, Republican of Arizona, tweeted: “Special Counsel Mueller has served our country with honesty and integrity. It is critical he be allowed to complete a thorough investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election – unimpeded.”

Fine words. Now it’s time for Congress to pass stalled legislation to protect the work of special counsels, including Mueller.

Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee voted Thursday to release, after classified material is redacted, their report that there was no collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians, a finding they announced March 13. Democrats on the committee strongly oppose release, saying Republicans ended the investigation prematurely.

Until now, many GOP members of Congress have said legislation to protect special counsels was unnecessary because Trump would never fire Mueller.

But Trump is reshaping his legal team, hiring Joseph diGenova, a former U.S. attorney who claims the FBI and Justice Department framed Trump. And last weekend Trump launched tweets attacking Mueller personally.

“The Mueller probe should never have been started in that there was no collusion and there was no crime,” he tweeted. The Mueller probe is “a total WITCH HUNT with massive conflicts of interest!”

John Dowd, Trump’s personal attorney, said Saturday it was time to shut down the Mueller probe, although he later claimed he was only speaking for himself. He resigned Thursday, reportedly because Trump was ignoring his advice.

White House lawyer Ty Cobb said in a statement Sunday: “The White House yet again confirms that the president is not considering or discussing the firing” of Mueller.

But Trump’s calling out Mueller by name was a barrage too far. The timing was also suspect, coming just after Mueller reportedly subpoenaed financial records of the Trump Organization.

“Unfortunately, the statements and actions from the president and his lawyer over the weekend have led me to believe that the special counsel is now at real, immediate risk of being removed, and I believe the Senate needs to pass legislation to ensure that does not happen,” Sen. Chris Coons, a Delaware Democrat and cosponsor of a bipartisan bill with Sen. Thom Tillis, a North Carolina Republican, said Monday.

The Special Counsel Integrity Act would create a judicial review process to prevent the removal of special counsels without good cause.

Another bill, the Special Counsel Independence Protection Act, would permit the firing of a special counsel only if a federal court found “misconduct, dereliction of duty, incapacity, conflict of interest, or other good cause for removal.”

Introduced by Graham in the Senate, it has three Democratic cosponsors, Cory Booker of New Jersey, Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut.

Companion bills for both bills have been introduced in the House. One bill by Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, Democrat of Texas, has 130 cosponsors, all Democrats, including Reps. A. Donald McEachin and Don Beyer of Virginia.

The bills had hearings in the respective Judiciary committees but are stalled.

Trump seems eager to shut Mueller down or at least to discredit his findings. Republicans as well as Democrats say Mueller should be allowed to complete his investigation.

Members of Congress must do their work so Mueller can do his.

© 2018 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.
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Thursday, March 15, 2018

Women artists still neglected -- March 15, 2018 column


By MARSHA MERCER

Can you name five women artists? Off the top of your head. No Googling.

Take your time. I’ll wait.

If you found the question tougher than you expected, as I did, we’re not alone. When the National Museum of Women in the Arts hit the streets of Washington and asked people to name five, a common response was, “Um.” Most people couldn’t.

The museum launched the challenge March 1 for Women’s History Month. Now in its third year, the #5WomenArtists social media campaign aims to make people aware of gender inequality in the art world.

It’s embarrassing to realize how few women artists’ names leap to mind – after Georgia O’Keeffe, of course – but it’s not entirely our fault. Women are often the subject of art in museums but rarely the creators.     

As the provocative poster by Guerrilla Girls, a group of anonymous feminist art activists, reads: “Do women have to be naked to get into U.S. museums?”

In 1989, women artists were less than 5 percent of the artists but more than 85 percent 
of the nudes in the modern art sections of New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Surely, you say, things are better now. Nope. In 2011, women artists were less than 4 percent of the artists and 76 percent of the nudes in the modern art sections at the Met, the group reported.

If you look at a work of art in the National Gallery of Art, there’s only a 4 percent chance it was created by a woman, say researchers at the data analysis firm Priceonomics, who pored over the gallery’s online collection of nearly 100,000 works.

Male dominance on museum walls reflects when the art works were created, Priceonomics says, explaining that more than 70 percent of the art at the National Gallery was created before 1950 and only 4 percent since 1990, when gender parity was first achieved among debut artists.

The women’s museum sprang from another simple, but rarely asked, question: Where are all the women artists?

Wilhelmina Cole Holladay, now 95, and her late husband, Wallace, started  collecting art by women in the 1960s, opened their Georgetown home for art tours and then founded the private, nonprofit museum a few blocks from the White House.

Its collection of more than 5,000 pieces from the 16th century to the present includes work by Louise Bourgeois, Mary Cassatt, Judy Chicago, Frida Kahlo and Amy Sherald, whose portrait of Michelle Obama was recently unveiled at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery.

When the women’s museum opened in 1987, some women artists weren’t keen on being pigeon-holed by gender, and some critics panned it.

“A virtuous bore,” sniped critic Robert Hughes in Time magazine. He dismissed the museum as “a grimly sentimental waste of money, an idea whose time is gone” and predicted it would soon be irrelevant.

Except that it wasn’t.

Women artists are still exceptional, a nice way of saying neglected. But that’s changing. Millions saw the Google doodle on March 8, International Women’s Day, featuring 12 female artists.

Last year, the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, Italy, one of the world’s oldest and most famous museums, had its first exhibition of work by Plautilla Nelli, a 16th century nun considered the first woman Florentine painter. The Uffizi promises more exhibitions of art by lost women artists.

Rediscovering and restoring women’s art in Florence is the inspiring mission of American Jane Fortune – sometimes called Indiana Jane – and the Advancing Women Artists Foundation she founded.

Closer to home, the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts had an exhibition of “Women Artists and Abstract Expressionism” from May 2016 to January 2017. You can find an audio tour on the museum’s website that features 16 of the nearly 300 women artists in its collection.

The #MeToo movement has raised consciousness, as we used to say, about the need for women’s perspective in all aspects of society, including the art world. But what action can we take?

Ask museums and galleries to exhibit more women artists. Praise exhibitions that strive for gender equity, criticize those that fall short. Share your enthusiasm with the staff and on social media, the women’s museum suggests.

And, of course, buy artwork by women.

Next year we’ll see if we can name five women artists without an “Um.” 

©2018 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Women in Hollywood lead charge for visibility -- March 8, 2018 column


By MARSHA MERCER

With two words, Frances McDormand proposed a brilliant strategy to bring more women and minorities to the silver screen.

“I have two words to leave with you tonight, ladies and gentlemen: inclusion rider,” McDormand said Sunday as she accepted the Oscar for best actress in “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.”

And so America learned a clunky legalese phrase that could change movies forever. Google and the Merriam-Webster dictionary site lit up with searches for inclusion and rider.

By putting an inclusion rider in their contracts, A-list actors, directors or producers could ensure women, racial minorities, disabled people and members of the LGBT community are hired for speaking roles and on set. McDormand said she’d heard of the concept only a week earlier.

“You can ask for and/or demand at least 50 percent diversity in not only the casting, but also the crew,” she told reporters backstage after the Oscars ceremony. “The fact that I learned that after 35 years in the film business – we aren’t going back.” 

The pace of change surrounding the #MeToo movement is quickening. As recently as January, actors and others wearing all black at the Golden Globes to protest sexual harassment seemed a bold statement. A symbolic show of solidarity is nice, but . . .  

Now, encouraging signs suggest symbolism may lead to solutions to promote women in the movie business.

Brie Larson, who won best actress for her role in the 2015 film, “Room,” tweeted: “I’m committed to the Inclusion Rider. Who’s with me?”

There is pushback, of course. 

“We’re not so big on doing everything through agreements,” said Netflix CEO Reed Hastings.

The “epidemic of invisibility” of women in films has raged for more than half a century, says Stacy L. Smith, who came up with the inclusion rider concept in 2014.

Smith, director of the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative at the University of Southern California, has studied gender inequality in more than 900 popular films. She found women still are only about 31 percent of the speaking characters.

A typical feature film has 40 to 45 speaking characters, but only eight to 10 are actually relevant to the story, she said in a 2016 TED talk, adding there’s no reason the remaining characters can’t reflect the world being depicted.

Smith also urges studio executives to adopt the NFL’s Rooney Rule in considering directors. The Rooney Rule -- named for the late Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney -- requires teams to interview at least one minority candidate for each coach and general manager job. It’s become a model for other industries, and while it has its share of critics, it does get members of minorities into the rooms where decisions are made.

Women are woefully behind in other areas of movie-making. In 2017, women were just 18 percent of all the directors, writers, producers, executive producers and cinematographers working on the top 250 domestic grossing films, reports Martha M. Lauzen of Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University. That figure was virtually unchanged since 1998.

The more women directors, writers and producers, the more the movies will depict life from a woman’s perspective. That’s important because stories on screen not only entertain us but also help form our view of the world -- often for the worst when it comes to gratuitous violence and mayhem, but that’s a topic for another day.

Sometimes change takes place one on one. Actress Jessica Chastain, nominated for two Academy Awards, is a vocal critic of the pay gap between men and women in Hollywood. She learned from Oscar-winner Octavia Spencer about the chasm in pay between white and black actresses.

Spencer credits Chastain with helping her get a pay raise five times Spencer’s usual salary for the holiday comedy they’re currently making together.

Each of us also has a role to play in promoting the inclusion of unrepresented groups in the movies. We can look for and buy tickets to movies with women stars, directors, writers and diverse casts. We can tell our friends and post on social media.

Who’s with me?

©2018 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.
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