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Republicans and Latino Voters

[ 90 ] May 26, 2015 |

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Bored journalists desperate to create horse-race stories for the 2016 elections can pretend that Republicans could woo Latinos in sizable numbers. We see stories like this pretty much every cycle (the 2012 Latino vote was a total wild card! OK!!!) And maybe they could except that the primaries are going to be a clown show of nativism and hate, with Republicans who say they support a path to citizenship attacked from the racist right that is the party’s base. Maybe if Rubio or Jeb win the primary, that can be swept under the rug, but the number of extremist quotes coming out of the Republican primaries on immigration are going to be astounding and will provide a lot of fodder for Democrats on both the national and state level.

Of course, if Republicans get their way, treating Latinos as non-persons in politics will be a lot easier, mitigating this problem a bit.

What You Can Do About Nail Salon Exploitation

[ 62 ] May 24, 2015 |

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Let’s say you care about the exploitation of nail salon workers. Rather than just decide to change your habits and not get your nails done or do them yourself, which does nothing to alleviate the workers’ plight, what can you do. Let me direct you to two similar statements. First, our own valued commenter Karen24:

1. Don’t use acrylic nails. Most of the health problems have been traced to the really nasty chemicals in fake nails, especially the particulates. So, just don’t.

2. Don’t go to the super cheap salons. Here in Texas, $15 is about the minimum for a manicure and $25 for a pedicure. Anything below those numbers should be suspicious.

3. Look around the place first. Does it look clean? Is there an overwhelming chemical smell? Most states — except apparently New York — require salons to be ventilated. Complain to the state board if the place is stifling. Cleanliness is a matter of customer safety, but also indicates that the salon owner is invested in keeping the place open and cares enough to follow cleaning rules. A clean salon is also an indication that the owner is hiring experienced and licensed operators. Having a license is no guarantee that the worker isn’t being exploited, but it does mean she has completed the state requirements and can get a job someplace else pretty easily. (One of the problems with the New York system is its use of apprentices, who have to work at one salon until they complete enough hours to qualify for an individual license, meaning the operator can’t leave without losing all her accumulated hours.)

4. Notice the names of the operators and notice whether the same ones are at the salon over a period of time. High turnover usually indicates that the salon owner is doing something wrong.

5. Be aware of your state’s regulatory bodies and file complaints if anything looks off. I’m not aware of any state that doesn’t have a labor board or agency regulating cosmetology, and all of ‘em should have a website that instructs consumers how to file complaints. (New York’s is terrible; but it does exist.) Note that in most states the labor board and regulatory authority are different agencies. File a complaint if anything looks like a problem. There is of course no guarantee that your complaint will lead to anything, but it is absolutely certain that nothing will happen if you don’t complain. Texas at least accepts anonymous complaints and will investigate them.

6. Tip generously, in cash.

Personal grooming is a delight, and the democratization of little luxuries like mani/ pedis is a genuine achievement. We can, with little effort, make sure that the people who provide these luxuries get to enjoy them as well.

Second, Liza Featherstone:

Support workers’ groups. For example, Woodside-based Adhikaar organizes in Nepali-speaking communities and has been educating workers and consumers on health and safety problems faced by nail aestheticians. The group presses for policy changes on its own and as part of the NY Healthy Nail Salons Coalition. Adhikaar’s website explains how to donate or volunteer — its fundraising gala is on June 4, so there is plenty to do.

Pressure politicians. Contact your City Council representative and ask her (or him) to support a bill introduced earlier this month by Public Advocate Letitia James to improve the health and safety working conditions of nail salon employees.

Contact Cuomo’s office, too, and praise him for responding so quickly, but pressure him to do more than create a task force. Adhikaar and the New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health are calling on the governor to increase the number of health and safety inspectors dedicated to this industry.

Demand nontoxic salon products. If your neighborhood salon won’t switch to nontoxic polish and remover, take your business to any number of organic, toxin-free salons around the city.

Tip big! Adhikaar advises at least 20%, but remember that tip theft is also common. Tip in cash and directly into the hands of the person who helped you, so the boss won’t steal it.

And, don’t forget that this isn’t the only exploitive industry in our fair city.

Of course, Featherstone’s advice is largely New York based, but the principles are universal. Engaging in any of these actions will play a small role in improving the lives of workers, certainly much more so than withdrawal. Each of us can only do a little bit, with a few exceptions who can do more, but collectively we all matter if we are aiming for the same or similar goals. This is what consumer support of workers’ movements is about.

The Worst Kind of Liberalism

[ 151 ] May 23, 2015 |

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The worst kind of liberalism is responding to a story of oppression by deciding to do your own nails instead of going to a nail salon so you as a consumer can feel guilt-free. Never mind that such an action actually takes money out of a worker’s pocket. It’s not about changing the system or placing pressure on the state to intervene. Nope, this can be solved by me taking care of myself. Now that’s activism!

Culinary Modernism

[ 138 ] May 23, 2015 |

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Image from The Florentine Codex, the 16th century study of Aztec customs by Bernadino de Sahagún

Although I cringe at the term “Culinary Luddites,” you really need this Rachel Laudan article, originally published in the wonderful Gastronomica, on the need to embrace culinary modernism and reject a romanticized food past that is completely ahistorical, colonialist, and classist. Laudan shows how people around the world from the beginning of their ability to do so have sought to create processed foods that are tasty and digest well. The idea that there is this wonderful past of pure food simply is wrong. In the U.S. case, read Harvey Leverstein’s Revolution at the Table: The Transformation of the American Diet, for a history of American food. You’ll discover that basically American food was terrible, then became slightly less terrible, and over time has improved. That means that the food we might well make fun of today from fifty years ago was actually significantly better than what came before. The idea that our grandparents or great-grandparents or some faraway ancestors had this great food tradition of delicious healthy food is pure mythology. They were baking possums though. Creating a food regime that assumes hard culinary labor also means that we will be assuming that the poor, probably women, will be happy spending their entire lives cooking for families. For most women, that’s not how they want to spend their lives. An excerpt:

Meanwhile, most men were born to a life of labor in the fields, most women to a life of grinding, chopping, and cooking. “Servitude,” said my mother as she prepared home­cooked breakfast, dinner, and tea for eight to ten people three hundred and sixty five days a year.

She was right. Churning butter and skinning and cleaning hares, without the option of picking up the phone for a pizza if something goes wrong, is unremitting, unforgiving toil. Perhaps, though, my mother did not realize how much worse her lot might have been.

She could at least buy our bread from the bakery. In Mexico, at the same time, women without servants could expect to spend five hours a day — one third of their waking hours — kneeling at the grindstone preparing the dough for the family’s tortillas. Not until the 1950s did the invention of the tortilla machine release them from the drudgery.

If we urge the Mexican to stay at her metate, the farmer to stay at his olive press, the housewife to stay at her stove instead of going to McDonald’s, all so that we may eat handmade tortillas, traditionally pressed olive oil, and home-cooked meals, we are assuming the mantle of the aristocrats of old. We are reducing the options of others as we attempt to impose our elite culinary preferences on the rest of the population.

If we fail to understand how scant and monotonous most traditional diets were, we can misunderstand the “ethnic foods” we encounter in cookbooks, restaurants, or on our travels. We let our eyes glide over the occasional references to servants, to travel and education abroad in so-called ethnic cookbooks, references that otherwise would clue us in to the fact that the recipes are those of monied Italians, Indians, or Chinese with maids to do the donkey work of preparing elaborate dishes.

We may mistake the meals of today’s European, Asian, or Mexican middle class (many of them benefiting from industrialization and contemporary tourism) for peasant food or for the daily fare of our ancestors. We can represent the peoples of the Mediterranean, Southeast Asia, India, or Mexico as pawns at the mercy of multinational corporations bent on selling trashy modem products — failing to appreciate that, like us, they enjoy a choice of goods in the market, foreign restaurants to eat at, and new recipes to try.

We always want to believe in a simpler, purer past. That past does not exist. That’s certainly true for food. This doesn’t mean that the modern food regime of heavily processed, high-sodium foods is great. We can do better. But better doesn’t mean relegating women to the kitchen 12 hours a day (“cough” Michael Pollan), bemoaning the world’s poor from having choices, or fetishizing kale (or açai 5 years ago or rice cakes or whatever it is tomorrow). I’m not a historian of food per se, but I write about a food a lot and read about it a good deal. At this point it’s very hard for me to take any sort of food movement as anything other than the fad of the moment. After two centuries of American food faddism, I simply do not believe that gluten-free diets will still exist as a major food movement in twenty years. Too many “real medical conditions” have come and gone over the history of medicine. That probably makes me sound like a jerk, but I don’t see how we read food history and come to a radically different conclusion. I’m not saying people don’t feel discomfort. I am saying a huge percentage of the world’s rich people have not become allergic overnight to the same foods people have eaten for thousands of years. Whether it’s yogurt enemas, graham crackers, Atkins diet, veganism, locally sourced, or gluten free, this stuff comes and goes with the seasons.

Also, just because I like it, here’s another great old Gastronomica essay, “Why Michael Pollan Makes Me Want to Eat Cheetos.”

Boycott Driscoll’s Berries

[ 42 ] May 23, 2015 |

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The global berry industry is probably not one you think about much but you should. The terrible conditions of food production around the world is something that I cover quite a bit both here at in Out of Sight. The food production system is as hidden from you as apparel or plastics or oil, but with the difference that because food affects our bodies so profoundly, there is more interest by consumers to act when they find out about exploitation. One thing consumers can do is to boycott Driscoll’s berries.

While Driscoll’s is a family-owned company, it’s no mom-and-pop operation. According to its website, over 40,000 people are involved in its berry production worldwide. The company has a code of conduct for its suppliers, called the “Promise for Workforce Welfare,” which includes obeying minimum legal requirements and avoiding egregious labor violations like human trafficking and conditions “posing immediate risk to life or limb.” Driscoll’s says it is committed to hiring suppliers that “show a sincere commitment” to such principles.

But Bonifacio Martinez questions whether those requirements are enough. Martinez picked strawberries and blackberries destined for Driscoll’s boxes for 10 years. Now he’s a leader in the farmworker movement that erupted last month in the fields of San Quintin, in the Mexican state of Baja California. Thousands of farm laborers picking multiple crops stopped work for nearly two weeks, demanding higher wages and legally required benefits, among other protections.

“The principal demand is for [growers] to actually respect the workers’ rights,” says Martinez. He wants them to honor labor laws that are, at the moment, he says, just “dead words.” Those include health benefits and freedom from sexual harassment.

Many of the San Quintin protesters are indigenous people from some of Mexico’s poorest states, like Oaxaca and Guerrero. Indigenous people make up more than half of Mexico’s agricultural workers.

The striking pickers initially wanted wages increased to 300 pesos a day, then lowered the demand to 200 pesos, about $13. Most of them earned $7 to $8 a day before the strike.

Protests turned acrimonious when demonstrators threw rocks at government vehicles and police responded with tear gas and rubber bullets, reported the Los Angeles Times. Workers also blocked 56 miles of the Trans-Peninsular Highway. By April, the strike had effectively ended after growers signed agreements raising wages 15 percent—far less than the pickers demanded.

The leaders of the movement rejected the meager increase, saying the unions that signed those agreements, which are affiliated with the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI), which held power for nearly three-quarters of the 20th century and has strong connections to many unions throughout the country, do not represent workers. The workers continue protesting even as many have returned to the fields.

A note here: PRI-associated unions are not real unions that have actual worker voices. They are fully part of the party structure and serve the party, not workers. A major issue within the Mexican labor movement is trying to undermine these “unions,” which often are part and parcel of the same grotesque corruption that flows throughout the whole PRI. So to some extent this is a matter of convincing workers that they can get more by defying the agreements, which is possible.

There’s a U.S. side to this as well.

Driscoll’s responded swiftly to the BerryMex fracas. But it was not as quick to act to resolve a dispute that escalated while the San Quintin protests raged: a bitter labor fight in Burlington, Washington.

Familias Unidas por la Justicia (FUJ), which says it represents over 400 berry pickers, has been locked in a labor struggle with Driscoll’s supplier Sakuma Brothers Farms since 2013. FUJ has long held a boycott against Sakuma berries and its largest customers, Driscoll’s and Häagen-Dazs. On March 24, it doubled down on the boycott when the fair trade advocacy organization Fair World Project sent a letter to Driscoll’s, signed by nearly 10,000 consumers, asking it to suspend buying from Sakuma Brothers until the dispute is resolved. The signatories pledged not to buy Driscoll’s berries until then.

FUJ’s list of complaints is long: poor wages, squalid labor camps, firing and retaliating against workers for organizing and hiring guestworkers from Mexico to replace FUJ’s members. The H-2A guestworker program Sakuma Brothers participated in is meant to be used only when there aren’t enough workers domestically. FUJ says it had plenty of willing workers, but that Sakuma Brothers used guestworkers to avoid hiring back FUJ’s members.

“The only thing we want is a fair contract for both of us,” says FUJ president Ramon Torres.

Sakuma Brothers denies that FUJ represents the berry pickers, calling them “outside agitators” who “have attempted to fabricate the impression that this is a worker movement.” Danny Weeden began his tenure as the company’s CEO just this year and says FUJ’s campaign is hard to understand.

Outside agitators. Can we just assume that anyone who uses that term has just declared themselves a bad human being? And hard to understand? Workers are poor, live in terrible camps, and don’t like being fired for organizing. This does not seem hard to understand.

Notably, these workers in both Washington and Baja California are largely indigenous people from southern Mexico. We usually think of Mexicans as a homogenous group of people, but that’s really untrue. Indigenous people are routinely exploited within Mexico including at the workplace, where they are paid less and toil at the hardest and most dangerous jobs. That gets repeated in the United States, as large number of poorly paid field workers are not only not native English speakers but also not native Spanish speakers. There are cases of indigenous Mexican children in U.S. schools being labeled as developmentally disabled because they don’t respond to their Spanish speaking teachers. But they don’t speak Spanish so why would they? They speak Zapotec or Mixtec or languages with even smaller number of speakers.

This also passes my boycott test, which is that it is called by workers and their representatives (in both Mexico and the U.S.) as opposed to consumers personally boycotting to feel good about themselves by, say, buying second-hand clothing and then saying they have done something about sweatshops (a position rejected by the Bangladeshi workers movement among others). Driscoll needs to take responsibility for its suppliers. Like we need to hold Walmart and Gap responsible for its suppliers in the apparel industry (as well as food for the former), we need to hold Driscoll responsible as well. Ultimately that has to happen by a number of ways, including reforms to U.S. labor law making unionization easier, greater inspections of farms in the U.S., and international labor standards that would not allow berries produced under the awful labor conditions so common for fruit and vegetables for the American market. Oaxacan indigenous peoples in Baja California and Washington, Bangladeshi workers in sweatshops, slave labor on shrimp boats in southeast Asia–all of these workers are part of a system of global exploitation for western companies, all of which happens far away from the eyes of consumers. And that’s how the companies want to keep it.

Less Than Compelling Arguments For McDonald’s Labor Practices

[ 69 ] May 23, 2015 |

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How could the nation have survived such a horrible outcome?

It’s a good thing for pop music, honky-tonk feminism, and Canadian tax collectors that McDonald’s pays lousy wages. If the food stores paid their frontline workers enough to survive on, Shania Twain would still be working there, a shareholder claimed at the company’s annual meeting this week.

The unidentified man, who said he’d been a McDonald’s investor since 1990 according to BuzzFeed News, used a Q&A session to rattle off a list of successful celebrities like Twain, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, and Hollywood star Sharon Stone who had worked in a McDonald’s earlier in their lives. “I’m sure if they were making $15 an hour, they’d still be working at McDonald’s,” he said, as thousands of current McDonald’s workers protested outside.

No Shania Twain? Where would horrible country radio have been in the late 90s without her? Nashville would have had to find some other cookie cutter to sing vapid songs that make a mockery of a once great tradition of music (and one that is still great on the margins).

God, we should force McDonald’s to raise its wages to $15 just to prevent future Shania Twains from reaching country music stardom.

Ireland

[ 82 ] May 23, 2015 |

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Good job America. The Irish have now passed you in civil rights.

Ireland appeared poised on Saturday to become the world’s first nation to approve same-sex marriage by a popular vote, with early vote counts showing strong and broad support for a measure that would have been unthinkable just a few years ago in what traditionally had been a Roman Catholic stronghold.

Not long after counting began at Dublin Castle, a government complex that was once the epicenter of British rule, the leader of the opposition, David Quinn, the director of the Iona Institute, conceded the outcome in a tweet: “Congratulations to the Yes side. Well done.”

Both proponents and opponents said the only remaining question was the size of the victory for approval. Ronan Mullen, an Irish senator and one of only a few politicians to oppose the measure, predicted the win would be “substantial.” The official results will be announced Saturday afternoon.

The referendum changes Ireland’s Constitution so that marriages between two people would be legal “without distinction as to their sex.”

Unionization and Income Inequality

[ 18 ] May 22, 2015 |

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The Maoists at the International Monetary Fund are out with more evidence that lower unionization rates lead to greater income inequality.

We examine the causes of the rise in inequality and focus on the relationship between labor market institutions and the distribution of incomes, by analyzing the experience of advanced economies since the early 1980s. The widely held view is that changes in unionization or the minimum wage affect low- and middle-wage workers but are unlikely to have a direct impact on top income earners.

While our findings are consistent with prior views about the effects of the minimum wage, we find strong evidence that lower unionization is associated with an increase in top income shares in advanced economies during the period 1980–2010 (for example, see Chart 2), thus challenging preconceptions about the channels through which union density affects income distribution. This is the most novel aspect of our analysis, which sets the stage for further research on the link between the erosion of unions and the rise of inequality at the top.

You can read the whole report. There’s really no reason for anyone to deny the connection. Greater income inequality is the open goal of the Republican Party and that’s why they attack unions. Higher unionization rates are necessary to reduce income inequality, which is why there is a war to eliminate the last of them in the United States.

How Much Sex is Acceptable for Google?

[ 81 ] May 22, 2015 |

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Above: Google approved Gilded Age courting chair.

 

So evidently images from Gilded Age medical journals of what are today known as vibrators are too risque for Google, so horrible that LGM is threatened by a company that has pledged to never be evil. You can see the offending image here. You can understand how it would be considered too scary for grandma. Note that no one in 1904 thought of the Chattanooga Vibrator as a sexual toy. It provided medical relief for neurasthenic women, replacing doctors who hated doing this service manually. Of course, orgasms gave these women relief, but again, this is not seen as sexual at the time. But it’s too sexy and scary today.

So I have some questions. First, is this too risque for Google?

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What you see above is a robotic butt that helps train medical students to conduct prostate exams. In other words, there is hardly any difference between this and the Chattanooga Vibrator, especially because the above image makes me want to stick my finger up someone’s ass. See, this is why we can’t have anything having to do with the medicine or the human body available on the internet. Won’t somebody think about the children?

And what about history? Isn’t the past full of things like the Chattanooga Vibrator that we need protection from? Such as medieval cats eating a dick?

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Now that I know this image exists, I want to commit bestiality with a cat. Or at least trade it a fish for that penis it has in its mouth, I’m not really sure here.

And doesn’t it seem to you that these early 20th century intracervical and intrauterine pessaries make you realize that people sometimes have sex and that this knowledge must be suppressed by our overlords at Google in order that little Bobby doesn’t get weird dreams at night?

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In fact, as this World War II poster suggests, it’s probably best to keep anything having to do with women or women’s bodies off the internet. She might infect you, be it your cock or your brain.

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For that matter, we need to repress the knowledge that men in the 18th century may have visited brothels. Our Founding Fathers conformed precisely to the moral standards of modern conservatism and if they didn’t we have to say they did.

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In conclusion, I’d like to thank Google for serving as the moral deciders of the internet. I can’t imagine what harm seeing a medical image of a woman receiving a medical procedure caused 21st century people. If I was in control of this website, I’d ban me from the entire internet for my smut and filth. I have sullied LGM and I have sullied America. And I hope to do it again tomorrow.

My Theory of Organizing and Social Change

[ 16 ] May 22, 2015 |

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In the comments to my Poor People’s Campaign post yesterday, JL asked:

Is there anything that you think could have moved the movement forward? I don’t mean in terms of labor’s participation, I mean in terms of what the involved people (who would be more in number with labor’s participation) could have done. Tactics. Effecting social change through a protest in DC, however well-done, seems like it would be really difficult to me, unless it was large enough to shut down the city. DC is used to protests. Though since it was a campaign I assume it wouldn’t have just been that one ongoing protest in one city if it had sustained, and protests in DC as part of a larger mass movement are a different case.

In terms of the Poor People’s Campaign, probably not. Like King’s 1966 housing campaign in Chicago, the times had changed. White liberals were turning away from supporting both economic and racial justice and the votes just weren’t there in Congress anymore. With Johnson fully focused on Vietnam, I don’t think there’s anything real that could have changed history. I mean, if a real progressive is the head of the AFL-CIO instead of George Meany and that person really committed the labor movement, maybe. But that’s getting into really crazy counterfactuals.

But this issue brings up a larger point about why movements succeed and why they don’t. And the answer, after 15 years of being a professional historian is that I have no idea. That’s perhaps a slight overstatement, after all, social movements follow larger societal shifts. But you just never know what is going to spark something. Why did Rosa Parks refusing to change seats on a bus spark the Montgomery movement in 1955 when many other African-Americans had done the same thing around the South in previous years? Why did the Stonewall Riot in 1969 do so much to create the gay rights movement after all these years of police and societal brutality against gays? Why did the Cuyahoga River catching on fire in 1969 help define the environmental movement when the 1952 fire did nothing? Why did Occupy flare up at that place and time and why did it change the way so many Americans think about economic inequality in the 21st century?

These are all difficult questions to answer. Some have no obvious answer. All you can do with social movements is try. You never know what might transform the world. Probably your movement won’t. But it might. And when it does, the earth truly shifts. All one can do is point out the injustice of the world and try to make it better. Maybe it catches a moment in society when enough everyday Americans find your movement resonates with them and calls for change grow. It’s happened before. It’ll happen again. But I’ll never know why it happens at particular times or why movement x makes a larger difference when movement y did not.

This may be unsatisfying and is probably not an answer a political scientist would give (also anyone who measures social movements using equations cannot be trusted), but I think “I don’t know because it’s really complicated” it’s the most honest answer any historian can give.

Undoing a Historical Event

[ 265 ] May 22, 2015 |

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An interesting hypothetical at Aeon: Which historical event would you undo?

My first thought was that John C. Calhoun was not born. But upon further reflection, it’s fairly obvious from a U.S. history perspective: the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. The difference between whatever Lincoln would have done from 1865-68 compared to Andrew Johnson would have been so massive as to have probably significantly changed U.S. history. At the very least, you don’t have to wait 2 years for meaningful Reconstruction to be imposed on the South. One wonders whether a reasonably aggressive crackdown on white resistance immediately after the war would have dampened it later. Maybe, maybe not. But I think that’s my choice.

Today in Hollywood Sexism

[ 140 ] May 21, 2015 |

It looks like Maggie Gyllenhaal has had her Last Fuckable Day at the ripe old age of 37:*

Maggie Gyllenhaal, an Oscar nominee getting Emmy buzz for her work on the Sundance miniseries “The Honourable Woman,” reveals that she was recently turned down for a role in a movie because she was too old to play the love interest for a 55-year-old man.

No kidding.

“There are things that are really disappointing about being an actress in Hollywood that surprise me all the time,” she said during an interview for an upcoming issue of TheWrap Magazine. “I’m 37 and I was told recently I was too old to play the lover of a man who was 55. It was astonishing to me. It made me feel bad, and then it made me feel angry, and then it made me laugh.”

Leaving aside the fact that Maggie Gyllenhaal being 37 makes me 103, it’s amazing how deeply institutional Hollywood sexism runs. How on earth is 37 too old for a 55 year old man? The only solution for this is to pair up Clint Eastwood and Emma Stone as a couple. Now that makes sense.

*Let’s hope this post isn’t too forthright about sex for Google.

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