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Silver Threads: Why Not a Lady Rex?

Bettye Anding

Bettye Anding

The idea for this column came to me last week when I was reading a story in one of our newspapers about how women have recently taken a major role in Mardi Gras in New Orleans.

“Recently?” I thought, counting up the years — at least 35 of them — since I signed on to ride in the big Iris parades down St. Charles Avenue to Canal Street.  And Iris wasn’t the only thriving women’s Mardi Gras group in our town, or evidence of female participation. My son walked 20 years ago with the Society of St. Anne, led that year by local actress Becky Allen.
Granted, a female community leader has never been chosen to reign over the big day, ride on a float preceded down the street by six or eight Rex “duchesses” in plumed helmets, and nod her head graciously as the elites bow and curtesy in front of her throne at the Rex ball.
I once thought that time had come — or was more likely in a mischievous mood — and suggested as much to the Rex captain of about 20 years ago. He and some of his lieutenants were paying their annual visit to our publisher’s suite to reveal to social columnists and feature writers the identities of that year’s Rex royalty. Also what their wives and daughters would be wearing while seated on the krewe’s balcony at the Boston Club.
The captain was neither comfortable with the possibility of a lady Rex — even though I pointed out that England does very well with a queen — nor interested or amused by my suggestion.
Since that story points out my feminist biases, you won’t be surprised that I couldn’t help noticing that the recent report on the rise of those of my gender in Carnival celebrations was accompanied by a fetching photo: of a woman displaying a bountiful bosom and remarkable cleavage while riding on a parade float.
That’s all very well in environments like Mardi Gras revelry, I guess, but it reminded me of the displays of sexuality by female actors on current television shows. Cleavage featured on dramas about FBI agents, hospital administrators, etc. Working in places where you’re pretty sure women don’t dress that way in real life.
I once read that young male TV producers and directors are responsible for this, hoping the numbers of male viewers will rise, so a suspicion that the photog guys were behind this recent Carnival exposure sprang to my mind. But the “pin-up” in question was shot by another female.
I know — I’m taking Mardi Gras too seriously. But it’s still true that American women of today aren’t looking out for themselves. They reject feminism when many of them currently earn significantly smaller salaries than men do. The Institute for Women’s Policy Research reports that “women are almost half of the workforce. They are the equal, if not main, breadwinner in four out of ten families. They receive more college and graduate degrees than men. Yet … in 2014, female full-time workers made only 79 cents for every dollar earned by men, a gender wage gap of 21 percent.”
Also on the list of things women should be worried about are the increasing numbers of sex crimes on college campuses, and then there’s “Roosh V” out there with a popular series of “Bang” books advocating legalizing rape on private property.
I’m too old and creaky to lead a revitalization of the National Organization for Women here, but it’s still possible to protest some current events from my armchair. I’ve joined the more than 15,000 people — as of last night — who have signed a change.org petition demanding Amazon remove the “Bang” series from its book offerings. And another to the National Football League: “Convicted domestic abusers aren’t heroes. Don’t let them play in the NFL.”
And, for the record, I don’t really care whether or not there’s ever a lady Rex. Let the boys have their toys — as long as those toys aren’t women.

 

Bettye Anding is a former editor of the Living section of The Times Picayune, for which she wrote “Silver Threads” until her retirement. Email comments to her at [email protected]