Monday, July 14, 2014

Lady Gaga: Feminist Flip-flopper

I wrote this article as a trial piece for the San Antonio Current before the music editor left (three days after my first story, Hydra Melody on Third Eye Blind, Austin's Downside and Making Smarter Music, hit the cover). Needless to say, my musings about Gaga in all her discordant glory were never published.

An informal word-association exercise among a group of friends yielded the following descriptives about Lady Gaga: Fierce, artist, amazeballs (I’ll forgive that one), memorable, kinky and anti-conservative.

Lady Gaga, who arrives July 14 at the AT&T Center for the ARTPOP Ball Tour and her second San Antonio appearance, has waffled on her reign over the one descriptor pop music has failed to claim: Feminist.

I will forever equate Lady Gaga with the “Bad Romance” era a newly single, platinum-blonde me indulged in senior year of college. I want your love and I want your revenge/You and me could write a bad romance. In the music video, directed by Francis Lawrence, a kidnapped Lady Gaga retaliates against a man who purchases her by setting fire to the bed he sits on in expectation of her scantily clad body.

Here is the underlying message of her music: A woman, as a commodity, escapes her captor. Breaking barriers, stripping labels and claiming rights are strong messages in line with the principles of feminism. However, Lady Gaga has not consistently owned up to the f-word throughout her career.

In a 2009 interview with the Los Angeles Times, Lady Gaga did admit she’s “a little bit feminist.”

But just a little bit.

In an earlier interview, she defends her artform after a reporter wonders if the sexual references in her music may be distracting to listeners. Lady Gaga scoffs at his question, saying, “If I was a guy and I was sitting here with a cigarette in my hand, grabbing my crotch and talking about how I make music 'cause I love fast cars and fucking girls, you'd call me a rockstar. But when I do it in my music and in my videos, because I'm a female, because I make pop music, you're judgmental and you say that it is distracting.”

Zing! Plus one for Mama Monster and womankind.

“Are you a feminist?” the now-bleeding reporter asks.

“I’m not a feminist,” Lady Gaga says. “I hail men. I love men. I celebrate American male culture—beer and bars and muscle cars.”

Therein lies the issue. If someone as seemingly strong as Lady Gaga doesn’t feel comfortable committing to the term, anyone who looks up to her is less likely to claim it.

There is also a possibility that, along with her sexual heroism, Lady Gaga’s third studio album, ARTPOP, might be a joke.

“Do What U Want,” a surprising collaboration with R. Kelly, was released in October in advance of the album and made it to number 13 on the Billboard Hot 100. She sings, “You can’t stop my voice ‘cuz you don’t own my life/But do what you want with my body.” R. Kelly, notable for numerous allegations of sexual assault on underage girls, replies, “Do what I want/Do what I want with your body.” While irony may have been her intention, working with R. Kelly will only prolong the man’s time in the spotlight. I think I can speak for all humans everywhere when I say no one wants R. Kelly in the spotlight.

“Swine” leaves nothing to the imagination. You’re just a pig inside a human body/Squealer/You’re so disgusting. Though this could be seen as a refreshing escape from the typical love song, it’s mostly a synth-y, spiteful ode to a man she’ll probably sleep with anyway.

There’s also a track called “Sexxx Dreams.” I’ll leave that right here.

When compared to The Fame Monster and Born This Way, nothing about ARTPOP reads as original or edgy. Lady Gaga seems to have lost sight of who she is as an artist. The best lyric in “Applause” somewhat sums it up: “Pop culture was in art now art in pop culture in me.”

An argument could be made that in trying to be the “different one,” the popstar who shines a light on the manipulator that is the music industry, she has only further tangled the strings attached to her own marionette. A limp, lifeless figure that is neither considered independent nor intractable. Certainly not a being with the strength to be labeled a feminist.

Let’s hope Lady Gaga’s upcoming performance in the Alamo City will prove to be a more empowering experience than her music.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

The City of San Antonio's Public Safety Committee Hearing, or How I Learned to Stop Preventing Innovation and Love Lyft

Photo courtesy of @MrGaryCooper
I spoke in support of ridesharing in San Antonio in front of the Public Safety Committee at today's public hearing. Here is what I said:
Thank you, Public Safety Committee, for listening to our concerns today.
My name is Thea Setterbo and I’m not from here. I’m the young professional the city and organizations like the 80/20 Foundation, SA2020 and LOOP San Antonio are working so hard to attract and retain. After graduating from Texas State University, I saw moving here as a pit stop on my way to Austin. Three years later, I know San Antonio is my forever home.

The reason I stay here is because we are a city on the rise. In Austin and New York and Los Angeles, you can walk onto the street and be in the middle of something cool that was there before you moved in. In San Antonio, you have the ability to throw a rock a watch the ripples grow, transforming our landscape with like-minded, forward-thinking people.

We need the innovation of companies like Lyft and Uber to keep the young professional demographic interested in San Antonio’s propensity for change.
Michael, Lakysha, Jacob and Kevin provided safe and pleasant rides to and from several destinations the weekend of March 21, when Lyft officially took off in San Antonio.

Each driver was more than willing to answer my questions about the application process, liability insurance and background checks required for employment with the company. To be completely honest, as a young, single female traveling alone, I have never felt safe in a taxi in any city. Driving up 281 on my way to work every morning can prove to anyone that city regulations don’t prevent vehicles-for-hire from speeding or driving dangerously.
With an influx of people due to flood downtown this month for the world-renown Fiesta celebration, having convenient, alternative transportation options is incredibly important to the livelihood and safety of our residents.

April is historically the most dangerous month on the road in our area. The launch of both Lyft and Uber marked a new triumph for the city in its fight against drunk and impaired driving, a costly act that saw more than 25,000 alcohol-related car accidents in Texas last year.
I hope the City of San Antonio, San Antonio Police Department and Department of Transportation can reexamine the existing city ordinance that prohibits safe, reliable, donation-based transportation companies from operating. A great compromise in advance of Fiesta would be to allow both Lyft and Uber to operate on a probationary status while they provide free rides to “pioneer users” and the city reviews the ordinance.
Google Ventures recently invested more than $250 million into Uber, the ridesharing service that launched in San Antonio last weekend. The San Antonio City Council just approved a contract with Google last month to be considered as a market for Google Fiber, the high-speed, fiber-optic network that will inevitably bring San Antonio to the top of major tech lists. How can we expect Google Fiber to select us if we are going to shut out one of their most lauded investments?
If ridesharing can function safely and effectively alongside taxi companies in cities like Washington D.C., Seattle, Chicago and L.A., it can do so in San Antonio. We already join those cities on top lists for amazing technology, food and job growth. As a young professional with a vested interest in this city’s success, it is my hope that our leadership will pave the way for San Antonio to be recognized as a top city for startups, entrepreneurship and innovation. Allowing companies like Lyft and Uber to fully operate can be the first stepping stone in that direction. 
Thank you.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

South-by-Southward (but never backward)

About to embark on a four-day adventure in Austin for SXSW. I haven't spent more than 24 hours in the state capital since last year's South By, so I'm very much looking forward to running into old friends, making new ones, eating GREAT and also questionable food, staying up way past a decent hour and, above all, listening to some incredible music. The prospect of blistered feet and inconvenient hangovers aren't frightening me. Neither does the threat of rain, beer gut, tinnitus or running into ex-lovers. It's all a part of the experience. And at the end of it all, I have my city to come home to.

Austin, I'm coming for ya. San Antonio, I love you.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

A new year and my first article for the San Antonio Current

My first story for the San Antonio Current: Hydra Melody
Phew....2013 went out like a lamb and 2014 in like a lion. This is by far the best new year I have ever experienced. My feelings toward San Antonio have dramatically changed since joining the Downtown Kickball League in September. The team I joined (shoutout Kichelob Ultra) was full of some of the most intelligent, forward-thinking, city-minded people I have ever met. Several urban events and porch parties later, I am very grateful to call these people my friends. They are the crème de la crème of this city and the group that will inevitably propel it forward.

Through a combination of finding pals with whom I finally feel comfortable, listening to (and absorbing and greatly appreciating) advice from several mentors who I greatly admire and being given an opportunity to pursue my passions for writing and photography through several freelance opportunities, 2014 is beginning to look like my year.

I met the San Antonio Current's music editor, Enrique Lopetegui, at a show at the Mix right before Christmas. Kimberly Johnson of SATXMusic introduced us, then showed Enrique a "Best of" list I wrote for them in 2011. Enrique contacted me shortly thereafter and asked me to freelance for the music section. I am very grateful for this opportunity, as I haven't had much of an outlet for journalistic writing since taking on my current public relations role. It's an incredible feeling to have someone take a chance on you and believe in you, and Enrique has been very encouraging throughout this experience.

Today, my first article came out. It's this week's cover story on Hydra Melody, a local alt-rock band making waves nationally. They toured with Third Eye Blind last fall and have a cult-like following both here at home and across the states. Very sweet, very cool guys who genuinely enjoy manipulating their sound to make it ever-better. 

You can read the story here or pick up a copy of the San Antonio Current at your neighborhood coffee shop/bar/Planet K/Half Price Books.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Listening to: Wild Child, "Crazy Bird"

Live music, when played well, makes my heart race. There is nothing quite like a band giving everything they have to entertain, impress and seduce a room full of strangers with their craft.

One of my favorite live acts is Wild Child, an indie-folk band from Austin. I've had the pleasure of knowing Alexander Beggins, one half of the lead vocals, since our time studying at Texas State University. Wild Child has definitely evolved stylistically and audibly since first forming a few years ago. I'm really impressed by the dedication the band has to their music and the amount of fun they always appear to have on stage. Though San Antonio isn't a stop on their current tour, I hope Alexander, Kelsey and the crew will make it over here soon. Last time they played at 502 Bar was insane and I'd love to hear them back on that stage again in the near future.

Their second album, The Runaround, is due out in early October, but the first single is out now and I can't. Stop. Listening. Do yourself a favor and check out "Crazy Bird" now:

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Reclaiming greatness: Can female leaders put America back on top?

This post originally appeared on the Girl Scouts of Southwest Texas Blog on July 16, 2012.

Earlier this month, Todd Leopold reflected in an article for CNN that the United States is lagging behind other countries in more areas than simply mathematics and the sciences.

Healthcare, education and business are among the topics covered. Leopold opens with a scene from Aaron Sorkin's latest series, "The Newsroom," when a typically-unbiased news anchor stringently responds to the question, "Can you say why America is the greatest country in the world?"
"It's not the greatest country in the world.We're seventh in literacy, 27th in math, 22nd in science, 49th in life expectancy, 178th in infant mortality, third in median household income, No. 4 in labor force, and No. 4 in exports." He goes on to say that “we lead the world in only three categories: number of incarcerated citizens per capita, number of adults who believe angels are real, and defense spending, where we spend more than the next 26 countries combined, 25 of whom are allies ... so when you ask what makes us the greatest country in the world I don't know what ... you're talking about.”
Though Sorkin's facts are a bit miscalculated, according to the CIA World Factbook, the message still resounds: We are no longer Number One.

It's no secret that our country has shifted from a leader in innovation and industry to one of exported jobs and recession. One can't help but wonder what caused this change in the first place, and how we might reclaim our previous title.

After her appointment as Chief Executive Officer for Girl Scouts of the USA last year, Anna Maria Chávez said, "The country has never needed Girl Scouts more than it does today."

As the premier organization for female leadership, Girl Scouts seeks a level playing field for women in the workplace with its ToGetHerThere campaign. The campaign, which began in January 2012, aims for "the equal representation of women in leadership positions in all sectors and levels of society, within one generation." While girls’ programs receive only 6% of philanthropic dollars, studies show that investing in girls produces the greatest return in social progress, public health and economic development.

Are women the answer to the nation's fiscal and structural problems?
"As thinking and communicating have come to eclipse physical strength and stamina as the keys to economic success, those societies that take advantage of the talents of all their adults, not just half of them, have pulled away from the rest,"The Atlantic's Hanna Rosin stated in The End of Men. "In 2006, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development devised the Gender, Institutions and Development Database, which measures the economic and political power of women in 162 countries. With few exceptions, the greater the power of women, the greater the country’s economic success."
And yet, the U.S. remains behind other countries when it comes to the number of women in high-ranking positions.

Only 17% of U.S. senators, governors and representatives are women. "Compare that to Norway, Iceland, Finland, Sweden, and even non-Scandinavian nations like Cuba, Nicaragua, South Africa, and Rwanda (Rwanda incorporates a constitutional quota system), all of which can boast that at least 40% of their government seats are held by women," according to Anjali Mullany in The Thread: Women and Leadership. Interestingly, even Afghanistan beats the U.S. in this capacity by 11 percent.

The business world provides an even bleaker report card: Just 3% of CEOs of Fortune 500 companies are women, and women occupy only 15% of corporate boards.

"Prominent female CEOs, past and present, are so rare that they count as minor celebrities, and most of us can tick off their names just from occasionally reading the business pages," Rosin said.

Carri Guittard, founding Principal at Global Engagement Partners, said, "These statistics are all the more shocking given the reams of research on the positive, dramatic impact women have if they are in leadership positions."

Guittard noted higher returns on investment and capital and higher overall revenues in companies where women serve on corporate boards, regardless of industry. This is especially significant, as findings show that placing women in key decision-making roles increases economic growth and GDP, according to the2011 Global Gender Gap Report.

The report notes the reduction in the male-female employment gap would have massive economic implications for developed economies, boosting U.S. GDP by as much as 9 percent.

Could women have put a quicker end to the 2008 recession had they occupied more high-ranking positions in the financial institutions many Americans hold responsible? Could they have prevented it altogether?

Geoff Smart, chairman and CEO of ghSMART & Company, Inc., defines a great leader as someone who "helps a group of people identify what they want and how to get it, and then influences that group, free of coercion, to take coordinated action to achieve the desired outcomes. A great leader achieves results at a level far beyond what others achieve." By any definition, it holds true that a leader does not do work on his or her own, but rather as part of a group. Without members to lead, a leader simply does not exist.

The Female Factor: Anita Woolley, Thomas Malone; 2011
The Girl Scout Research Institute finds that in general,girls prefer a collaborative leadership style, rather than the traditional, top-down, “command-and-control” style. According to the Harvard Business Review, women rate higher in 15 out of 16 traits thatdescribe the ideal leader. Professors Anita Woolley and Thomas Malone found that if a group includes more women,its collective intelligence rises.

With all the obvious and many not-so-obvious qualifications as leaders, the hope for the rise of women to the top of the ladder does exist. Society seems to be leaning toward a more female-oriented environment, too. With time, women might just become the new bragging right of progressive companies.

"In business circles, the lack of women at the top is described as a 'brain drain' and a crisis of 'talent retention,'" notes Rosin. "While female CEOs may be rare in America’s largest companies, they are highly prized: last year, they outearned their male counterparts by 43%, on average, and received bigger raises."

If the public believes that women have what it takes to be leaders in today’s world, why does only one girl in five believe she has what it takes to lead?

Generation STEM:
Girl Scout Research Institute; 2012

While gender roles are slowly, yet significantly, shifting in the office, girls are still suffering from negative self-esteem in the classroom, creating leadership barriers well before entering the workforce.This barrier must be demolished before any glass ceiling can be permanently shattered. If a girl does not feel she is qualified to lead, she will never aspire to achieve this goal.

Perhaps a stronger grade-school focus on subjects traditionally male-dominated could give girls that boost in confidence. When today’s girls graduate from college, the U.S. will need 3 million more scientists and engineers.

Science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) are considered by nearly half of all girls as atypical career paths for women. This disinterest in STEM careers starts as early as fifth grade, when girls begin leaving science and math to the boys. This could be due to the fact that women currently account for less than 20% of bachelor's degrees in engineering, computer science and physics. While female role models in these industries do exist, girls are more likely to be exposed to women in humanities, medical and public service careers as seen on T.V. (see: New Girl, Grey's Anatomy).

Or, the root of disinterest in STEM careers could be simpler-- girls don't think they stand a chance. According to the Girl Scout Research Institute's report,Generation STEM, "Fifty-seven percent of girls say that if they went into a STEM career, they’d have to work harder than a man just to be taken seriously."

Unfortunately, this thought isn't isolated to STEM careers. Drawing from the bleak numbers of women holding leadership positions in any field, our girls aren't unfounded for feeling this way.

Today, girls represent humanity’s largest untapped talent pool. Too many urgent challenges go unmet because too few girls become leaders.

To put America back on top, girls need to know they have a place up there, too.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Lusting after: Jeffrey Campbell Vector Gladiator Booties

I am going crazy over these beautiful, leather gladiator booties from Jeffrey Campbell.

I can only imagine how perfectly they would go with a pair of distressed, white skinny jeans and a slouchy, soft tank like this one from Free People.

(Side note: I normally eschew any and all clothing with a cross print in order to avoid stray lightning strikes, but this one is so subtle/non-religious that I'm letting it slide).