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Monthly Archives: June 2012

Feminist Intensive–Day One Overview

Last week I attended Soapbox’s Feminist Intensive for staff and faculty.  This event is normally run for 5 days for students in January and June called Feminist Boot Camp.  Soapbox is a feminist speakers bureau I have used since they began.  It was founded by writers & activists Amy Richards and Jennifer Baumgardner.  They are the authors of Manifesta:  Young Women, Feminism and the Future, which is an excellent book I have used in many of my classes. 
Each day we met with activists and of feminist organizations in NYC.  On the first day we met with Equality Now ‘s Global Director, Yasmeen Hassan.  This 20 year old organization focuses on four areas:  Discrimination in Law, Sexual Violence, Female Genital Mutilation and Trafficking.  Their mission is to achieve legal and systemic change that addresses violence and discrimination against women and girls around the world.  They have offices in NYC, Nairobi, and London with plans to expand.  The work specifically with organizations in the countries where a woman is in need of help, to provide legal and other support. 
You can join the organization and get on their Take Action list.  Equality Now
We ended up next for lunch at the home of Joanne Sandler. She is a consultant on women’s issues worldwide.  She was the Executive Director for UNIFEM and had a role in creating a space for women at the United Nations.  She talked with us about the difficulty in getting the UN to understand the importance of women.  What sticks with me about her conversation with “we got what we asked for.”  She meant that women have gotten to part of patriarchal institutions but we need to now take it a step further.  She also spoke of having younger women step in to lead feminist organizations and that it is time for her generation to allow for that space.
We spent our next meeting with Women’s World Banking’s VP of Development Jane Sloane.  Women’ s World Banking “is a non-profit, microfinance institution, consisting of 39 financial organizations in 27 countries, providing low-income women access to financial services and information. WWB helps microfinance institutions move away from a strictly credit-led approach toward providing a broader array of financial products and service, including savings and insurance to help the poor build comprehensive financial safety nets.”  We learned a great deal about micro-finance and financial investing with a “gender lens.”  What this means is looking not only at what companies do, but how they treat their employees, for example, investing in a company that has equal pay for its female workers.

We ended our first long day at a restaurant in Brooklyn with Robin Morgan and Irshad Manji.  
“Irshad Manji is a New York Times bestselling author, professor of leadership and advocate of liberal reform within Islam. Irshad directs New York University’s Moral Courage Project, which teaches people worldwide to challenge political correctness, intellectual conformity and self-censorship. As a faithful Muslim, she emphasizes Islam’s own tradition of “ijtihad,” or independent thinking. The Jakarta Post in Indonesia, the world’s biggest Muslim-majority country, identifies Irshad as one of three women making a positive difference in Islam today. Her latest book, Allah, Liberty and Love, is sparking fierce debate internationally.”  She spoke of how a woman was arrested for selling her new book before she had even sold it.  

“Robin Morgan is an award-winning poet, novelist, political theorist, feminist activist,and best-selling author, who has published more than 20 books, including the now-classic anthologies Sisterhood Is Powerful, Sisterhood Is Global, and Sisterhood Is Forever: The Women’s Anthology for A New MillenniumA founder of contemporary US feminism, she has been a leader in the international women’s movement for 25 years. She has traveled–as organizer, lecturer, journalist–across Europe, to Australia, Brazil, the Caribbean, Central America, China, Indonesia, Israel, Japan, Nepal, New Zealand, Pacific Island nations, the Philippines, and South Africa; she has twice spent months in the Palestinian refugee camps in Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt, Syria, West Bank, and Gaza, reporting on the conditions of women. In 1990, as Ms. Editor-in-Chief, she re-launched the magazine as an international, award-winning, ad-free bimonthly. Recently, she co-founded The Women’s Media Center,” where we start day II.  More to come . . . .

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    Two in One Week

    I normally try to blog on Wednesdays to be consistent and to hold myself to a schedule.  Yet this week we’ll call “Bonus Extra Blog Week” because I am starting to feel very annoyed with the world as it is.

    I want to start first with the term “girls.”  I recently posted the following link to my facebook The Sexualization of Girls.  And while the whole video is great, I have been thinking a lot about her comment that when we were in college, we wanted to be called “women” and now young adult women want to be called “girls.”  Then I had a work discussion with some male students who could not understand why I felt that showing three videos of drunk women on reality shows was inappropriate for orientation.  I was trying to explain it wasn’t “balanced.”  They didn’t get it.

    I’m normally an optimistic person.  Anyone who knows me  would attest to that, however, all the political fervor against women in terms of reproductive rights, birth control, and equal pay seems to connect too succinctly with not only the way women are represented in television (particularly the horrible reality shows so many of our women and men watch) but also the lack of awareness many young people seem to have of these issues.  For example, why it is important to be called a woman when you are over 18.  No one seems to think it’s weird that we don’t call men boys.  Girls and guys.  Or just guys.  One administrator recently spoke to the new students and called everyone guys.  That’s a whole other issue to save for another date. 

    I believe college is a place to learn about things outside yourself.  It’s a place to have your old belief system challenged.  I wrongly expect that student leaders who are representing our university should be MORE aware than the average student.  And yes, I’m annoyed that in 2012 I now have to spend time trying to “prove” why a certain representation seems to be sexist or racist. And defending the importance of calling women, women. 

    Even the recent HBO, supposedly feminist TV series, Girls has a young female creator who would rather be called girl than woman.  The power of language seems to escape many young people today and I am not so positive I have the will or the energy to fix it.  Maybe if the sun ever comes out I  feel less grim. 

    Against Obama

    This week the Senate blocked the Paycheck Fairness Act.  What we know is that EVERY Senate Republican voted against it.  Gee whiz, that’s bi-partisanism at its best!  From The Huffington Post,

    The Senate failed to secure the 60 votes needed to advance the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would have required employers to demonstrate that any salary differences between men and women doing the same work are not gender-related. The bill also would have prohibited employers from retaliating against employees who share salary information with their co-workers, and would have required the Labor Department to increase its outreach to employers to help eliminate pay disparities.
    The final vote was 52-47, with all Republicans opposing the bill. That included female Sens. Kelly Ayotte (N.H.), Susan Collins (Maine), Kay Bailey Hutchison (Texas), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) and Olympia Snowe (Maine).

    President Obama said it was “incredibly disappointing” that Republicans would block a bill that would provide equal pay for women.  What he should have said is that it’s “incredibly disappointing” that all the Republicans have on their agenda is not to give up anything that would appear in some way to support the President.  In the last six months of Obama’s first term in office, it is apparent that Congress has become so politicized that they cannot even represent their constituencies.  Are you seriously suggesting to me that ALL the women from Maine who Collins and Snowe represent would have wanted this vote blocked?  I grew up in Maine and I can assure you there are many, many, many women who would appreciate a little government regulation in the equal pay department.  

    For me this is just another example of a politics run amok.  How are we to vote with our conscience if it is clear that our Senators are voting for or against bills just to “give it to the President.”  This type of behavior gets me thinking about revolution and resistance and opposition.  Maybe its time we Occupy the Senate.  If your Senator was one of those who voted against women, please share your concern with them.  Hold their feet to the fire.  And let them know you won’t be checking a box next to their name in November if they keep dismissing the needs of their constituents.   

    The war against women is really a war against Obama.  But for me, throwing women out the window in order to defeat Obama is a pretty shitty strategy.   

    Losing Women

    My life was touched by two women who left this physical world this week.  The first was my step-grandmother, Genny Jones. Grandmother, as many of us called her, took me in as one of her many grandchildren as soon as my step-father married my mother.  She was half Chippewa and spent much of her youth in the traditional BIA Reservation Schools.  She went to work as soon as she could.  After marrying Grandfather, she continued to work, even after having three children.  She de-boned chickens for Campbell’s Soup for much of her life.  After retiring, she took care of the church next to her house, mowing the lawn and keeping up with her garden.  She was a good cook.  She was funny.  She had the most common sense of anyone I had ever met.  She was a woman of few words.  But my step-father, Clinton, was one of the nicest men you will ever meet, so I know she was a great mother.  While many might consider her a traditional working class housewife and mother, I do believe she was ahead of her time, living to the ripe old age of 90. 

    The other woman was my friend and yoga teacher, Stephanie Matson.  I met her by working with her husband.  I started taking her classes and we got to be friends.  Her style of teaching inspired me to commit to my practice in a non-judgmental way.  When she was diagnosed with leukemia a year and a half ago, I tried to help recommend some folks to fill in for her.  One of those people I recommended suggested that I could teach for her.  I talked it over with the Fitness Center Director and we both felt we’d feel more comfortable if I was certified.  I did lots of homework and committed to an expensive and long 7 month 200 hour certification.  She was with me in spirit and on Facebook through the whole process, checking in, encouraging me and being a support. 

    When she was through with the bone marrow transplant, I felt confident she would recover and I would again be her student.  Her remission was far too brief and the process of trying to put her back into remission, so she could attempt a non-donor transplant, was too much for her already compromised system to take. 

    Her death is not so easy to write about.  She was my age.  She had two little boys.  Grandmother had a full long life.  But one thing both of these women taught me is that being true to who you are is the best way to live your life with integrity.  Staying present is the best way to be.  We can’t fear what has not yet come.  We should not dwell in what has passed.  Today I am reminded by them to live fiercely.  Namaste Stephanie and God Bless Grandmother.

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