Since When Are Sports Feminizing?

Long-touted as the epitome of masculinity with an undertone of “dumb jock,” big-name American sports such as baseball and football have traditionally been considered a boys’ club. (And yes, we know better than anyone that 44% of the NFL’s rabid fan base is female, but that’s a stat for another time.)

But the ultimate boy’s club, ESPN network, is “so masculine it’s almost feminine,” according to author Tom Shales, who was quoted in a New York Times piece documenting the shift. Readers who don’t tune into SportsCenter get the impression that the channel is a veritable hub of body-envy and sartorial innovation. The piece focuses on what message of masculinity is being expressed by the third highest-rated network on cable, but our interest was caught by a slightly different question: What message of femininity does this article transmit?

The author writes—as do others—that this fixation on appearance and the new prominence of topics that should perhaps be sidelined (Troy Polamalu’s heavily-insured locks, for example) are edging closer to center stage, and injecting an element of femininity into the network. Since when is caring how you look feminine? Isn’t it just… human? Much like the term “athletic” has ceased to imply “masculine,” there’s no reason why beyond-basic hygiene should still be considered a purely feminine realm. But comments like that of an enthusiastic ESPN female co-host, “When athletes come in to do interviews, it’s almost like a fashion show,” don’t exactly convey that women are capable of enjoying sports as more than pedestals for kitted-out footballers.

This is the mindset that is so often damaging to companies when turning their attention to female consumers. There’s an inherent belief that to catch female attention, all one must do is add the word “shoes!” and dye the product or service pink. Appealing to women isn’t about discussing hair or taking a (what you believe is) feminine approach. It’s about recognizing that female consumers are consumers before females. They enjoy and benefit from the same entertainment, products, and services as their male counterparts. We firmly believe that creating a woman-friendly company begins with being a company that’s friendly to women—note that ESPN is still a magnet for harassment lawsuits and sexual scandals. Despite the interpretive tie-tying and value of hair products, ESPN is not feminine. What “feminine” truly is… well, that’s up to you.

See you at the Super Bowl.

(Image from The Faster Times, via AP. Worth checking out.)

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Taking Care of Business

Tuesday’s New York Times featured an article about how hotel rooms are becoming sleepaway offices. Seems business travelers are less interested in the sports bar downstairs and more into big desks, accessible technology and back-supportive office chairs upstairs.  Gone are the days when a business trip meant a good night’s sleep and a mini bar treat. Now, it’s all work, work, work. (Unfortunately, this story dovetailed with the news that the CEO of Pfizer was leaving due to burnout…hmmm. )

On one hand, I was glad to see some of the in-room improvements. Niki Leondakis, President and COO of Kimpton Hotels, which has a track record of intuitively catering to women, said that they’ve upgraded electrical sockets to reachable power strips–welcome news to any woman who’s ever crawled on all fours to plug in a recharger. (And it’s a great solution for those times when you’ve been forced to unplug the lamp to power up your laptop and then can’t see the keyboard?)  Kudos to the Hilton Garden Inns who junked all those local travel brochures clogging the desk surface.  Type A travelers swept them all onto the floor anyway to get down to business. (No cave tubing trips when you’re on a deadline!)

But the innovation that made me kind of sad was the new Marriott Spring Hill Suites redesign that reset the desk into an “alcove” (AKA cubicle) within the room. They even installed a tiny sliding window panel where truant workers can allow a bit of sunlight to shine as long as it didn’t break their concentration. We are a nation of over-worked, over-whelmed, highly productive people who brag we don’t take our entire vacations (or spend them on our iPhones.) I worry that this economy only tightens the noose and squeezes the precious shut eye out of our nights.

It’s great that hotel rooms are becoming more work-friendly. But once the door is shut, I hope that some road warriors just pull up the covers on their heavenly beds and grab a well-deserved nap.

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Good News for Female Road Warriors at Intercontinental & Westin Hotels

This week I stayed in the new Intercontinental Hotel in Rosemont, Illinois and was delighted with some terrific amenities that had ‘woman’ written all over them, without uttering a single word. Not only was the room beautifully appointed in soothing gray’s and contemporary artwork, but the little things blew me away. The products from Elemis were a nice upgrade from the usual in packaging and formula (yes, shampoo and conditioner were separate). The shower cap package revealed not only a cap, but a tiny covered hair elastic for those of us who’d rather scrunch up a ponytail in the shower…or in the fitness room. And the shower itself was graced with a tiny wedge about a foot above the floor. While a guy might say, What for? Any woman would be happy to finally have a simple way to shave their legs without assuming the flamingo position in a slippery spot. Overall, Aplus!

A side note from Jen: The Westin Hotel in Costa Mesa, CA puts their money where their mouth is and offers a $5 food/beverage credit for forgoing maid service in  your room during your stay.  This is a nice build on the conservation option of using your towels two days in a row.

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What Eat, Pray, Love and Steven Slater Have in Common

This week, two great escape stories are on everyone’s lips. Steven Slater, the Jet Blue flight attendant allegedly got fed up with a rude customer and threw his career out the window (though he probably is already signed for a reality show) as he threw himself, beer in hand, profanity on lips, down the evacuation chute and into a lot of irate hearts. And today, in theatres nationwide, Julia Roberts AKA Liz Gilbert runs away from a series of identity-threatening relationships to find herself by eating pizza in Italy, chanting mantras in India and falling passionately in love in Bali. Two stories, a world apart, but emotionally linked for women.

While the jury is out on the details of the Jet Blue ejection, Slater has become something of a folk hero for those who feel imprisoned in dead end jobs and berated by the customers they serve. Women are so often the holders of these ‘pink collar’ jobs in retail and service. They are expected to hold their tongues to hold their jobs and the idea of taking the chute and giving customers the finger was just too tasty to resist. Postings on Slater’s fan page range from empathy to shared rage. How many women are thinking, “Let me out of here…but first let me give you a piece of my mind?” While at Just Ask a Woman, we tend to focus on the customer herself, who also feels abused, ignored and under-appreciated, it’s clear that the service workers who irritate her, are themselves often ticked-off women, too.

And as this weekend’s movie theatres feature “Eat, Pray, Love” and are filled with Liz wannabe’s or Liz-bians as I’ve heard them called, expect the swelling of press around women’s pent up hunger to run away and resolve their ‘what if’s?’ What if I had chosen another path? What if I ran away to a place where I could be blessedly alone and then met Mr. Wonderful, my soul-mate without baggage of his own? While critics will bash the idea of the privilege that affords a worldwide, yearlong time out, I believe that most women, fueled by Oprah’s endorsement and the friendly tone of the Gilbert book, will be ready to pack their bags and yoga mats for the chance, that maybe, just maybe, they can escape the boundaries of their lives and find nirvana.

Has the economy made us feel like prisoners? Are women on the verge of snapping out or swapping out their lives? While theatre tickets and cable ratings and even retail checkouts (have you seen the avalanche of EPL merch?) will tick up this weekend, it will be interesting to see if these two great escapes are signals of a bigger shift in women’s appetite for independence….or just an end of summer runaway from home. Stay tuned.

For more listen to this interview on NPR that aired on August 13.

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Memo to Airports & Airport Businesses

So in the last week I endured 12 hours in delays at different domestic airports. I can deal with the downtime and try not to be one of those people who whine about everything. But with all of this time to think, I’ve come up with business recommendations for the airports, airlines and the retail so that they can have happier travelers (read: who will spend more money). This memo is a work in progress and I’d appreciate any builds.

TO RESTAURANTS AND BARS

1. Invest in an electrical upgrade so that you can have accessible outlets for travelers like me who are desperate to give our iPhones some extra juice or to charge up our laptops. When I got seated recently at the Callifornia Pizza Kitchen in Las Vegas and there was an outlet next to my table I was elated. I happily ate my soup (yes, soup at CPK) and powered up. Happy customers order more drinks which means to higher tabs and more tips for your wait staff. Want to really show how much you “get” it? Put an outlet at each of the bar stools (and a purse hook)

2. Work with the airlines/airports to put departure boards INSIDE your establishments. When I travel alone, I don’t feel like I can leave my things unattended to walk out of the restaurant to check on my flight delays. So I prematurely close my tab (robbing you of revenue) so that I don’t foolishly miss my flight. It might be nice if your restaurants that are located before security if you also had arrivals boards. Better yet though would be an app where the whole board could appear on my phone but I digress.

TO RETAIL

1. I’m going to guess that the Brooks Brothers store in the Milwaukee airport is not a high volume establishment. Instead why don’t retailers with more practical items/services take over the airport. My favorite thing about the Pittsburgh airport is that it has a store assortment like a mall (Gap, Victoria’s Secret, a drugstore…) and I never complain about being delayed there. I’d love to see more service oriented spots like pharmacies and express salon/spas, One year I did all of my holiday shopping in the Pittsburgh airport while I waited for my flight.

TO AIRLINES

1. Offer a code for free airport wifi when you have a delay of more than 90 minutes.

2. When you delay a plane that is already boarded, comp everyone free Direct TV (for those airlines that charge and I mean you Continental!). I’d imagine that an entertained travel bitches and moans a whole lot less than a traveler who is bored. If you are really delayed could you comp adults for a premium beverage for when the flight finally gets off the ground?

Let’s build this manifesto. What would you like to see added?

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NYC for Less: Hit up Lifebooker!

Forget Facebook… the new site eating up my lunch hour is Lifebooker.  Acting like a personal concierge service, the site offers deals on the city’s hottest spa and beauty services (up to 50% off!) and allows you to browse and book appointments online. 

For those of you who aren’t die hard loyal to your hairdresser, you can do a search for all salons offering women’s haircuts and compare prices without having to do the awkward price check call in a fake voice to keep them from thinking you’re cheap (no?  Just me?)  Then you can schedule your appointment time  while it’s still in your head, as opposed to scratching fragments of reminders on post-its and finding them in the bottom of your bag 2 weeks later (again…just me?) I can’t tell you how much time I save by going on and booking everything I need for the month at one time. 

 It’s not all primping, either.  In recent daily emails they’ve advertised discounts on classes for everything from sushi-making to rock climbing–haven’t quuuuuite gotten around to that yet, but it sounds exciting.  All in all, it’s a great way to experience the “fun stuff” in the city without depleting your “rainy day” treat fund.  Now if only I could find a way to book my dates on there…

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Big Day for Us in the Friendly Skies

606[3]Just came back from CES in Vegas.  That place is a gadget girl’s dream and nightmare all at the same time but that is for another blog!  Exciting news is that there is a great blurb about us in the Continental Magazine on page 36 and Hudson Bookstores (these are the bigger ones – not the ones with the candy!) have our book in stock.  I signed copies while I was in the Vegas airport last night.  This is exciting (especially since we were right next to my favorite author David Sedaris!) .

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Flight for Thought

Traveling back from Chicago the other day a security guard approached me as I was headed into the line. He asked me to hold a nametag badge that had the time I entered the line (1:30 pm) and to hand it to security on the other end so they could track how long people were waiting in line. I decided to take one for the team and stood in the longest line possible; behind the baby in the stroller and the older man with the cane and the woman who did not understand that she had to take her bangles off to go through the sensors and didn’t remove her shoes. I would’ve told you I stood in line for 45 minutes, but it turned out to only be 23. I proudly handed my time card over to the security woman standing behind the sensors. I was convinced I was going to get a free drink ticket or at least a ‘thank you’, but instead she tossed it into some basket, not even glancing at it to note the time. It was all over and my efforts were not even acknowledged. I have to admit I was a little crushed.

I began to think about what we at Just Ask a Woman ask women to do and it’s a lot more than holding a time badge. We invite them to come in and share with us their opinions and intimate stories to help us better understand them. The best ‘thank you’ we can give these women is to Power Listen-we invite our clients to sit in the room with them face to face (no glass here). Through the small gesture of acknowledging your target and paying attention the women are shown the respect they deserve and by whole-heartedly listening our clients get smarter too.

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It’s 2009: Meet the Entitled Frugals

Observing the retail scene during this repressed holiday, I have to give the service industry points for trying their darndest to make people happy. But the customers have morphed into a new breed I’m calling Entitled Frugals.

This past Christmas I headed to Florida with my family and spent two nights at the Ritz Carlton in Naples, thanks to a great recession-fighting discount. And I wasn’t alone. Despite the financial slowdown, the place was packed…and the guests, well, kind of intense. I was wondering if the full house resulted from a “sandwich” situation, with the upscale exotic resort crowd trading ‘down’ to Florida (I love Florida, don’t shoot me!) and the mass chain hotel loyalists trading up to the Ritz because of the deals. And both kinds of customers were feeling ‘owed’ for having either conceded or spent up. The way I see it, luxury spending isn’t dead, it’s just going on sale and a bargain-basement style fight for attention has begun.

Case in point: the pool chair combat zone. Rather than feeling grateful for the discounts (or even just jolly for the holidays), guests seemed stricken with a fever of entitlement. Pre-dawn, guest slinked through the darkness to imprison dozens premium poolside chairs with towels pilfered out of storage. This was way beyond what I’ve ever seen. While the pool guys tried to enforce chair check-in’s every 30 minutes (wonder what that did to restaurant tabs, spa expenditures, hotel margins?), violators sent grandma to sit guard smug as a bug, refusing to budge.

So, how’s a service provider supposed to deal with the irate Entitled Frugals? The Ritz dialed up their well-bred politeness and endured. But as a chair-less customer, I found the way to get what you want when the mob around you is screaming for blood. Go soft. I spoke with a fabulous Guest Relations coordinator named Beverly Spagnuolo and gently asked if there was a way to get a chair since the guests were so piggy. By not acting ‘entitled’, (even though honestly, I felt we were), I got the dream response: six lounge chairs out near the Gulf in our own private area with drinks and beach concierge at the ready.

Will 2009 see us resenting our cutbacks and taking it out at the counter? Is this the beginning of, “I’m not OK, so you’re not gonna be OK” at retail? Or could it be an opening for the kinder retailers and the more savvy customers to find peace in tough times? Here’s to a Kinder New Year.

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Dear Airlines and Airports …

So as a seasoned human FedEx package I have a lot of time to think about what airlines and airports could be doing to make my life a little easier.  Here are a few:

  • For every half hour my flight is delayed, I should be awarded some frequent flier miles.  It would barely cost the airlines anything to give me this measly consolation prize since there are already 14 trillion unredeemed frequent flier miles in the airline industry.  I know that a few miles would go a long way in keeping me from being bitter.
  • The jig is up. We all know that you pad our itineraries so that it looks like you are on time more often but it is getting ridiculous. I was on a recent flight that came in over an hour “early” and the passengers nearly gave a standing ovation.  I don’t mean to be a curmudgeon but that is sort of like me saying I want to lose 20 pounds when I only want to lose 10.  Fake goals aren’t going to fool people for long.
  • Some overhead storage should be reserved for frequent fliers.  People are trying to avoid checked bag charges and are stuffing the overhead bins with ridiculously sized luggage.  This feels especially unfair to business travelers who need to make a fast getaway or to people who have to board last because they are in the front of the plane.
  • Every terminal in every airport should have McDonald’s.  I’m not a fast food fanatic but you can find good standby choices (even a few healthy ones) at reasonable prices instead of gambling on the local vendors’ versions of tuna.
  • Airlines should sit families with children together.  When you book your ticket they ask you if anyone in your party is under 18 so they have this information before they show you available seats.  Why not give the rest of the people on the plane half of a chance that there seat won’t get kicked or that they won’t have to hear Yo Gabba Gabba or Tickle Me Elmo? Even if the airlines only do this during school vacation times or on family popular flight routes it would make a world of difference.
  • Either staff up that joke you call a Family line at security or make it go away.  We all know that it is not there to help families but rather to keep them away from business travelers.  Put another person there (preferably one who knows how a stroller folds or can crack a smile occasionally) to help families get through the gauntlet. 
  • Stop nuts altogether.  I have a hard time believing that pretzels are more expensive than nuts so why not do away with all nut products during flights?  Recently I was on a kid packed flight where they served Honey Nut Cheerios.  While I was happy to be given anything, it nearly ruined our flight when I had to stop my 2 year old children from digging in.  (The APA recommends waiting until after 3 years old for tree nuts when there are nut allergies in the family.) Sure I had a huge stash of treats for the flight but trying to wrestle Cheerios from willful twins is no fun.

To be continued …

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March 29, 2020
by Mary Lou Quinlan

A look at an early production of WORK

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The God Box Goes Global!

“The God Box” has grown to include an app, audio book, philanthropic venture and solo show performed by Mary Lou across the US. Now The God Box Project goes global to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.
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