Staying Smart in a Dumbed-Down World: A Talk With Lisa Bloom
Twenty five percent of young American women would rather win America’s Next Top Model than the Nobel Peace Prize, and 23% of us would rather lose our ability to read than our figure.
Are you shocked? So was Lisa Bloom, a national television legal analyst and trial attorney, who realized that women today are living in a paradox. While girls and women are achieving increasing success in education and the professional arena, the media bombards us with soft celebrity stories instead of hard-hitting news about major current events. She’s worried that if this continues, we’ll become a dumbed-down nation obsessed with nothing but tabloids and reality TV.
So she decided to write us a wake-up call—Think: Straight Talk for Women to Stay Smart in a Dumbed-Down World. The book, a New York Times best seller and finalist for the Goodreads Choice Award for the Best Nonfiction Book of 2011, details the causes of our glitz-, glam- and gossip-obsessed culture, delves into the scary consequences of ignorance, and offers a step-by-step action plan for change. And Bloom gave us the opportunity to chat about it with her first-hand. Here’s what we found out from our fascinating conversation with her about reversing this trend and reclaiming our brains.
What inspired you to write Think: Straight Talk for Women to Stay Smart in a Dumbed-Down World?
I’ve been talking about the law on American television for about a dozen years now. In the beginning, I was called upon to talk about Supreme Court cases, voting rights, international issues, and the occasional celebrity story thrown in for a little color. But as the years went by, I noticed that increasingly I was only called upon to talk about celebrity stories.
In particular, I tried to get a story about an international war crimes tribunal happening right now in Cambodia covered. Week after week, month after month, I kept pitching this story, and nobody was interested. Finally, one day, one of my networks told me that I could do any three stories I wanted. Well, I wanted to do the Cambodia story. But I couldn’t even get it on as one of my picks. Ultimately, all three were celebrity stories.
That was really the turning point in my mind that we have a problem in our culture. Twenty times as many American women read tabloids as read real newspapers. Girls increasingly want to be celebrities, watch reality shows, and pore over tabloids like they’re going to be tested on them. It seemed to me we had a particular problem with women and girls, so that’s what moved me to write the book.
Obviously, we should be making a choice whether to read tabloids or not, but do you think the media has some responsibility in that as well?
Absolutely. I think the media has a responsibility to put on important programming, worthy programming. And I think that all of us as consumers have a responsibility, too, because our media operates in a capitalist culture.
So, it’s up to all of us to decide if we’re going to focus on some of the serious issues in the world and only occasionally dip into the celebrity nonsense. I’m not opposed to looking at it once in a while—what I’m opposed to is the obsession we have.
Why do you think women are so drawn to that tabloid media?
During my research, the number one thing I discovered about women is that we all feel overextended and exhausted. Every woman I know is working, going to school, raising children—doing everything all at the same time. We feel overwhelmed. So at the end of the day, the last thing we can think of is picking up a serious newspaper or book.
So women will pick up tabloids and say, “You know, it’s just relaxing. It’s funny. I don’t take it seriously—it’s my “me” time!” And I’m all in favor of women relaxing, but I’m not in favor of this dumbing down our brains.
The key, I believe, is for women to create more time in our lives. At the end of the day, most of us discover that we didn’t have a minute to ourselves—to read, to think, to dream about what we’re trying to do with our lives. I’m trying to push back against all the forces that are squeezing women’s time. Not only do we need a room of our own, as Virginia Woolf says, but we need time to ourselves.
Of course, most women would hear that and say, “I’m too busy!” How would you respond to that common excuse?
Well, I know how hard it is. But I also think it’s possible to take 15 minutes in the morning to read a national newspaper or scan the headlines of your local paper.
Americans spend something like an average of five hours a day watching television. We spend more time online than other countries in the world, and most of what we’re doing online is not reading serious news. And we’re also wasting a lot of time on social media.
So most of us, if we make a commitment to thinking and to engaging our brains, we can find the time. If we turn off the television and read a book, we’re going to find a lot of time right there.
You mention that we likely spend more time blow drying our hair than we do checking news headlines. In particular, you say something pretty depressing:
What if [our desires and efforts to be beautiful rather than smart] are rational responses to a culture that values a specific, high-maintenance feminine beauty ideal over female brains? Because we now require more—much more—tweezing and hot waxing and high-lighting and contouring and Botoxing and body sculpting of our female bodies than we did a generation ago. And most of us do it most of the time because if we don’t, we don’t get the cultural goodies: the boyfriend, the job, the social status.”
I’m sorry to depress you! What I’m trying to do is wake us up to what’s going on.Younger women may not remember what life was like 30 years ago, when most of the women I knew wore little or no makeup. My mother used to just get out of the shower, shake her head, put on lipstick, and she was good to go. That’s life for very few of us now.
And a generation ago, most women didn’t do their nails. The women who had manicured nails were considered “ladies who lunched,” they were the wealthy women who didn’t have anything to do. Now? Most professional women are expected to have manicured nails. And that takes time—you just sit there, and you can’t use your hands for an hour. There are much higher expectations now as to what we are supposed do to our bodies to be socially presentable.
What would you most like women to come away with after reading Think?
I want women to know that there’s an alternative. That, when I rail against tabloids, celebrity media, and the beauty industry, most women are with me and say, “Yeah, it’s ridiculous. It’s out of control.” But the reason why I wrote the second half of the book, which is the step-by-step guide to reclaiming your brain, is because I wanted to offer solutions. I want women to know that there’s a way out, and I lead you through that in the second half of the book.
Read. Start a book club. Talk about this stuff with your friends. Some women even wrote to tell me they started a book club where, instead of going to a restaurant, they do a potluck once a month to talk about the books—and with the money they save from not going to the restaurant, they donate to an organization to help girls.
There’s really no end to what we can do, once we decide to focus. And that’s my message.
Muses, what do you think about the statistics Bloom shares with us? How do you make time for yourselves? Join the conversation here and connect with Lisa and her Thinkers on Twitter (@LisaBloom).
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