We might not see each other very often during the year but my friend Barbara and I always make it a point to go in to the Boston Book Festival together. Our kids are in the same grade in high school and Barbara and I share a love of books so the train ride in and back is a chance for us to reconnect, complain about the kids, and talk books. This year, Hurricane Sandy was a blot on the horizon but the day of the festival was a crisp fall day in Boston.
The majestic Trinity Church in Boston seemed like an incongruous setting for comedians discussing satire but the beautiful setting hosted a panel who had to watch their language to much laughter from the audience. Two of the three panelists had associations with The Daily Show: Lizz Winstead, the co-creator of the show, had the audience in stitches with riffs about her Minnesota childhood, growing up one of five kids in a Catholic family. Promoting her book, Lizz Free or Die, she recounted rebelling against established norms about what girlhood should look like. "I just didn't get convention," Lizz said. When she got a doll which she was supposed to "feed" with a bottle, she was appalled that she then had to change its diaper. One day, for fun, she tried feeding the baby from the same side that leaked. Net effect? The baby threw up and Mom was horrified. Mom, Lizz said, was "Minnesota nice." "I love your hair," her mom would say to her, "it makes you look less muscular."
At a big-name event in Minnesota, Lizz was part of a panel whose other guests were Desmond Tutu, Hillary Clinton and Jonathan Alter. Mom called Lizz and complained, "Lizz, you're the only guest I have never heard of!" Lizz recounted the singular event that turned her on to news satire. She was on a date with a sports maniac and after dinner, the two went to a bar and watched the first Iraq war unfold on television. Her date noticed the coverage and said, "This is so awesome." He was fascinated and impressed. Lizz, not so much! She thought to herself, "Are they reporting on a war or selling me the war?" That event, she says, made her look at news in a new light, and formed some of the basis for the award-winning show.
In the same session, Daily Show writer Kevin Bleyer explained his fascination with the American constitution and read from his book, Me the People. Since this was Boston and right before the elections, jokes about governor Mitt Romney were fair game.
Earlier in the day, Barbara and I were blown away by a panel titled, "What's Next For Women?" Created to celebrate the approaching 50th anniversary of The Feminine Mystique, panelists included attorney and academic Anita Hill; former governor of Vermont Madeleine Kunin; and journalist Hanna Rosin, an editor at The Atlantic, whose new book, The End of Men and the Rise of Women, has been stirring up controversy. This was shortly after the second Presidential debate so the panelists couldn't help but mention candidate Romney's "binders full of women" remark. "It's the most popular Halloween costume in D.C." Rosin said to laughs.
Kunin, who was promoting her new book, The New Feminist Agenda, lamented the fact that there were so few women in politics. Anita Hill discussed the thesis of her new book, Reimagining Equality, arguing for housing equality for all women.
There was a lot of discussion about government policies and worries aired about the future of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court measure that kept abortion choice legal. All panelists lamented the fact that others were defining women's roles and sexuality. When Rush Limbaugh called Sandra Fluke a slut, he was painting her as an outsider first, Rosin said. Rosin added that women and men have different approaches even when applying for jobs. When Google wanted to expand the number of women in their workforce, they studied how to frame their job openings. "A woman will look at eight qualifications for the job and she might know how to do everything BUT number 4, but she will hesitate to apply," Rosin pointed out. "On the other hand, a man might not know all the things on the same list but his attitude will be 'Hey, I know #5!'" Rosin said, to knowing laughter from the audience.
Probably the most memorable quote of the day came from Kunin who reminded the audience, comprised largely of women, to participate in the democratic process and run for office. "We're largely invisible at the table where decisions are made about our lives," she said. "Remember, if you're not at the table, you're on the menu!"