“When I was 17 years old, I was forced to relinquish my newborn baby and told to “just go home and pretend it never happened.” Not likely. Twenty-four years later, I found my daughter and our reunion was broadcast on the Oprah Winfrey Show. This is my coming-of-age memoir of what happened those 24 years since losing her, and the power of soul music that brought me through.” – Selimah Nemoy
Los Angeles, 1967
For What It’s Worth
I’d paid my dues, big time, the ultimate price for committing the unpardonable sin. After five months of humiliating incar- ceration, with the stroke of a ballpoint pen I agreed to the life sentence that had been handed down: I was walking out of there alone.
Early morning fog met me on the landing outside, and the whiff of budding flowers on a weedy Scotch Broom in the alley caught me by surprise. I wondered if it was heralding my free- dom or mourning my loss. My father, shoulders sagging with resignation and relief, went first, carrying my suitcase to the car, where my mother, eyes forward but looking at nothing, was waiting inside with the doors locked.
I took one look back at the hideous institution from which I was being released. Behind its windows, like dark condemning eyes, were generations of secrets and shame—where the wanton and wayward were imprisoned by wicked old witches who had been born with their ugly gray hair in a bun and never been loved by a man in their whole life.
Across the street behind a chain link fence, a dirty Chihuahua yapped and barked as, for the last time, I descended the wide concrete steps of the Florence Crittenton Home for Unwed Mothers, a relic of last-century history to which teenage girls like me were banished for the crime of falling in love.
Halfway down the steps I heard someone call my name. The Director had forgotten to give me her farewell speech: those tired, fake words of wisdom that unimaginative old people hand to young ones as if they were tools or money or the Bible. Standing on the step above me, she put one lizard-like paw on my shoulder.
“Now dear, you’re only seventeen years old. Your whole life is ahead of you. We’ve taken care of everything.”
I held my breath, along with the urge to slap her and watch those withered old legs go tumbling down the stairs.
And then, just like everyone else who had ever inflicted damage on me, she poured on the perma-seal.
As names have proliferated, so has the commentary: each woman has been analyzed, scrutinized, and endlessly discussed in this not-so-modern Cinderella story. Who will be given the glass slipper, the rose garden? For now, only Prince Joe the Charming knows. In 2020, only four short years after Hilary Clinton’s electoral college defeat, it is sad that women can still only strive second-best, especially given the tremendous rise in women holding public office since the last election.
Today, 127 women serve in Congress, more than ever before but still less than a quarter of all representatives. The tendency to parade and belittle women is, if not as old as time, at least as old as the ancient Greeks. The story of the Trojan War begins with the Judgement of Paris, a not very impressive shepherd saddled with the task of allocating a golden apple to one of three goddesses. Hera promised him power, Athena wisdom, and Aphrodite the possession of Helen, the most beautiful woman in the world. Paris chose sex, and the rest, as it were, is history: men get to choose between women more powerful than they, in hopes that their choices will empower them right back.
How can we break this narrative? Hillary Clinton tried to be more prepared, more approachable, and more experienced, but failed among her fellow white female voters. What can women do to break out of their pre-assigned role, step off the pedestal, and muck in the same arena where political progress is actually made? As a woman voter, here is what I hope for. Whomever Biden ends up picking—and we each have our favorites—I want the ticket to become a genuine partnership, and the chosen VP an ambitious prospect for next time, when she is the presumptive nominee and the party will have had four years to prepare for the inevitable wave of misogyny.
Even more, though, I want this presidency – through the VP selection, cabinet appointments, leadership position and legislative priorities — to be an exercise in public education, making the prospect of the first female president an inevitable and long overdue consequence of all that women have achieved. To do this, the Biden campaign, and the White House, must work to make women’s issues central to the experience of each and every citizen, whatever their gender.
Reproductive rights, maternity leave, pre- and post-natal care, childcare, workplace discrimination, the pay gap, sexual harassment, rape culture, educational attainment – these are all issues that affect every one of us, even if they impact the bodies of only half the population. Framing them as ‘women’s issues’ not only distorts reality, but ignores the vast contribution of women to the fabric of society as mothers, nurses, teachers, social workers, CEOS, lawyers, soldiers, or doctors.
Women’s eNews is thrilled to announce its selection of The Loreen Arbus Accessibility is Fundamental*Fellows for 2020! This inaugural fellowship has been created to train women with disabilities as professional journalists so that they may write, research and report on the most crucial issues impacting the disabilities community.
Meet the 2020 Fellows
Cheyenne Leonard: “Where society and others may see my disability as a tragedy, I have always seen my disability as an opportunity. My disability has afforded me the opportunity to travel the United States to compete in the Jr. Paralympics in track for 12 years, to change laws in my school district to allow for disabled students to be on their high school track teams, and to be a model and actress bringing diversity and disability representation to the media where it is severely lacking. I have had a lot of opportunities in my life, but being a Latina woman in a wheelchair, I have always had to fight for my rights, my voice, and my place in every room I’ve been in. I have two bachelor’s degrees from UNLV in Psychology and Criminal Justice, but my passion has always been disability and media representation. I never saw disability representation in the media growing up and the few times that I did, it was mostly white and male. Because of that, I want to be and/or create the representation I never had.”
Katrina Janco: “I can’t recall many times in my life where I wasn’t the only autistic female in the room, let alone the only openly disabled person. In this position, I always feel an extreme burden in properly representing my community. One way I have been able to relieve that is by writing about my experiences in this position. Seeing people respond to my writing is the most amazing feeling. It’s why I want to be a journalist. This wasn’t always true. For years, I was in denial about this desire. A major turning point was writing my first feature for 34th Street, the student-run magazine at Penn. I wrote about how, while Penn may lead in autism research, it failed to support autistic students such as myself. It was extremely difficult, especially with having to meet impossible expectations. It won awards and critical acclaim from students, alumni, and most importantly, other autistic people who finally felt seen. I then truly realized my voice’s value and continued to write.”
Natalie Doggett: “I am a rising senior at New York University’s Gallatin School of Individualized Study. At Gallatin, I created my own concentration entitled Globalization of Local Media and Community, which concerns the political and cultural functions of journalism and media within grassroots activist organizing. I have honed my academic interests in my work as an aspiring journalist and educator, writing about pop culture and politics for a variety of publications, including: Washington Square News, Embodied Magazine, and SONKU Magazine. In the fall of 2018, I created an interview-series podcast hosted on WNYU 89.1, called Bad Radical Radio. Bad Radical Radio is a free educational resource that features scholars, student activists, and local grassroots organizers discussing social issues affecting people of color, by people of color. As a young Black woman, I am invested in seeking and amplifying news stories that investigate the intersection of race, disability, and gender orientation.”
The Loreen Arbus Accessibility is Fundamental Fellowship with Women’s eNews provides vital employment opportunities for women with disabilities to report on the issues that significantly impact the disabilities community.
Loreen Arbus is the President of The Loreen Arbus Foundation, The Goldenson-Arbus Foundation and Loreen Arbus Productions, Inc. Through these organizations and in her personal endeavors, Ms. Arbus is a tireless advocate for women and girls; a champion for one of the world’s largest minorities, people with disabilities; and is passionate about encouraging equal opportunities in television, film, communications, and the arts.
As the nation celebrated the 30th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA30) on July 26, 2020, the 50-member ADA Lead On “Core Production Team” (in front of and behind the camera/keyboard) and 22 ADA Generation bloggers, influencers and signal boosters were focused and determined to set the record straight, and flip the script on educating, entertaining and empowering people with (and without) disabilities with the creation and production of ADA30 Lead On: Celebration of Disability Arts, Culture, Education & Pride. This two hour, 15 minute entertaining, educational and empowering journey chronicled the five titles of the Americans with Disabilities Act, landmark civil rights legislation!
All too often ignored by Hollywood and media employers, ADA30 Lead On Production Team created and presented an all-star ensemble cast of deaf and disabled performers, artists, filmmakers, storytellers, disability leaders, policymakers and key influencers who boldly own this narrative and created this show – meeting weekly for months – all from their own homes, across the country during this pandemic (instead of our original plan at the Kennedy Center) – with Disability Power & Pride.
Because of past erasure from history, it is very important that during this celebration, voices of deaf and disabled talent, ADA Generation bloggers, social media influencers and signal boosters of color from multiply marginalized communities were amplified to make sure that BIPOC voices, contributions, ideas and aspirations are part of this celebration, and of future events.
The event was such a success that ADA30 Lead garnered the following results on its Facebook page, thus far: 54,372 people reached (up from 28,671) – organic, not paid 20,326 views 17,806 unique views 10,353 engagements 2,523 total reactions 1,735 comments 620 shares
ADA30 wants to especially thank Lead Sponsor AT&T for its awesome blog – “The ADA is a beacon for progress that can only happen when determined activists, people like you and me campaign and lobby for change,” said Chief Compliance Officer David Huntley of AT&T, Inc. “At AT&T, we’re committed to the ADA mission and ensuring that we are providing equal employment opportunities to people with disabilities makes us a better company.” – ADA30 also wants to thank AT&T, its Lead Sponsor, Google our Gold Sponsor, plus sponsors: The Ability Center, AT&T, Bus Door Films, Deraney PR, Easterseals Disability Film Challenge, EIN SOF Communications, Exceptional Minds, Foundation for Global Sports Development, Google, Kessler Foundation, Lights! Camera! Access!, michaels.adams., Mid-Atlantic ADA Center, Mitsubishi Electric America Foundation, Mulberry Tree Group, Point 360, PolicyWorks, TransCen, Wells Fargo, and Woman of Her Word.
When Los Angeles based photographer and former Hollywood stuntwoman Hannah Kozak was nine years old, her mother left Hannah and her family after falling in love with another man. He turned out to be violent. From the age of nine to fourteen, Hannah witnessed him abuse her mother on the weekends she spent with them. In 1974, he beat Hannah’s mother so badly she sustained permanent brain damage. After caring for her for six years, Hannah’s father moved her mother into an assisted living facility at the age of forty-one, where she lived for thirty-five years. She has spent the last five years at a different, much improved facility. She is partially paralyzed on one side and cannot walk on her own, cloth or feed herself.
Hannah had early, fond memories of her mother as a beautiful, passionate, vivacious, fiery Guatemalan Sophia Loren-type brunette who loved to dance the Flamenco. But because her mother left her, she carried tremendous feelings of abandonment and rage towards her mother and ignored her for decades in an attempt to distance herself from her own pain.
Preferring to stare fear in the face than be paralyzed by it, and to further escape from reality, Hannah spent twenty-five years in the film industry as a Hollywood stuntwoman (her dream job since childhood), performing high falls, stair falls, train falls, car hits, bike hits, fights, driving and fire burns. In October of 2004, she broke both of her feet jumping out of a helicopter onto the tallest building in Los Angeles. While recovering from the stunt accident, she experienced a spiritual epiphany. “I realized when I couldn’t walk and was crying in my bedroom, I needed to forgive myself for judging my mother for leaving.” – Hannah Kozak
Hannah began photographing her mother in 2009, twenty-nine years after she was forced to spend the rest of her life in a nursing home, as a way to process her feelings towards a mother that she had never truly known. “I hoped by photographing her I could bring closure to an open wound I had my entire life. In the process, I grew to love my mother and discover the power of forgiveness,” Hannah says. “He Threw the Last Punch Too Hardis the story of our reconciliation.”
My mother, July 20, 2012 at the first facility.
“I have been deeply invested in photographing my mother for ten years. Her complexity continues to beckon me: I will not avert my eyes from the truth of her condition no matter how difficult it is to see. Someone must be witness to her life. In addition, I want my photographs to make people pause and question the nature of the human condition and assess their own will to live.”
“My mother is my muse. I feel our connection without fear as I create photos meant to take me out of my comfort zone. These photos tell my mother’s story of isolation, loneliness, abuse, connection, compassion, forgiveness, family, humanity, grace, joy and above all, love.”
“My mother is a symbol of perseverance. Even though she suffered permanent disability from domestic violence; she never lost her kindness, belief in love and hope. As my mother’s body deteriorated; her right hand turning in more, her soul flourished. What happened to my mother also fractured my persona yet we both grew from the trauma and she refused to be covered with a veil of pity. She is comfortable in silence and is fully present in the moment. I never planned to show these photos when I made them, but I’ve learned that by sharing myself and my process of healing, that in turn helps others on their path to healing.”
Nursing homes during the pandemic:
The facility where Hannah’s mother lives has been in lockdown for five months. No family members are allowed inside the building to visit their loved ones. Back in March, when the lockdown was initiated, Hannah’s mother became confused and agitated when her daughter stopped coming to see her. To mitigate the situation, Hannah wrangled a compromise with the facility. Since April 22, she has been pre-approved to visit her mother twice a week for 25 minutes behind a gate outside in the blazing sun with the traffic whizzing by. In an NPR story titled “Banned From Nursing Homes, Families See Shocking Decline In Their Loved Ones” (June 9, 2020) NPR correspondent Ina Jaffe writes that “Advocates for residents say it’s time to rethink the outright ban.”
About the Photographer: Hannah Kozak was born to a Polish father and a Guatemalan mother in Los Angeles, California. When she was ten years old, her father, a survivor of eight Nazi forced labor camps, gave her a Kodak Brownie camera. With a camera in hand, she began to explore her fascination with photography. In her twenties, her hustle and fearlessness led her to a twenty-five-year career as a Hollywood stuntwoman where she also would make photos with her camera on sets. Although she continued to photograph over the decades it wasn’t until her forties that she turned full tilt towards personal projects in photography, as a passion, and her desired profession. Photography became a way for her to explore and reveal her internal world. Kozak holds degrees in Liberal Studies with a Spanish concentration (B.A.) and Psychology (M.A.).
“Photography has served as a means for coping with emotional pain and has subconsciously been an effort to transform and heal. My self-portraits are a search for self-knowledge that provide me with a coherent sense of self and are the mirror I never had from my mother. Our relationship was derailed so early in my life. My early mothering experiences were associated with unavailability, loss and rejection. Photography has reworked this relationship and it’s the only arena where I can express my conflicts in the separation of our relationship and use my heart to rework who we can be to each other.” – Hannah Kozak
“I would say that each of us has only one thing to gain from the feminist movement: Our whole humanity, because gender has wrongly told us that some things are masculine, and some things are feminine . . . which is bullshit.”
This is no small feat. The 93 corporations include some of the largest and most influential in the world: Apple, Google, Twitter, Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, and Estee Lauder, and athletic leagues like the NFL and the National Women’s Soccer League. The brief was filed on June 29th.
Referred to as the amici curiae, this diverse group of 93 corporations employ millions of women and men throughout the world. Not only are these firms united in their longstanding support for gender equality, they are also standing with the majority of Americans (80%) in support of the ERA.
Simply put, these firms recognize that eliminating systemic barriers that impede women’s economic and social advancement will result in a more just, vibrant, and productive country. Further, ratifying the ERA sends a powerful message about the nation’s commitment to sex equality—a message amici believe would be transformational for the American economy.
“What is historic here is that corporate America is saying that they are proudly supportive of gender equality, in the court case that will decide whether the ERA becomes the 28th Amendment to the US Constitution,” Vullo added. “Corporate America is saying the ERA should be – because gender equality is important for the US economy.”
The Equal Rights Amendment has a long history, over 50 years, in fact. First proposed in 1972, its original ratification timeframe was 1979, whereby a minimum of thirty-eight states had to ratify in order for the proposal to be added to the US Constitution. Although the deadline was then extended to 1982, still only 35 states ratified it by then. In recent years, Illinois and Nevada added their support and early this year, in January, Virginia became the 38th state. One month later, the House voted to remove the 1982 deadline, and the bill remains pending before the Republican-controlled Senate. However, the Attorneys General of the States of Virginia, Illinois and Nevada have filed suit against the U.S. Archivist, asserting that the amendment itself contains no deadline and there is no constitutionally imposed time limit for ratification. On this point, corporate America also agrees, by stating that the Archivist’s “inaction obstructed the realization of the People’s will.”
“I think we are in a very interesting and important time right now,” Vullo continues. “People are very focused on equality and social responsibility. Further, the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted women and people of color disproportionately in terms of loss of employment, healthcare, childcare and eldercare, and for those who remain employed, a significant percentage of women are essential workers.”
The impact of COVID-19 is specifically referred to in the business brief: ‘The novel coronavirus (“COVID-19”) pandemic, which has exposed and exacerbated systemic gender inequities in our society, demonstrates now, more than ever, the need for the ERA in the US Constitution.”
What’s next? It’s now up to the courts to decide whether the ERA becomes the 28th Amendment to the Constitution. With so many major corporations serving as signatories to a supporting amicus brief, the hope is that this voice will play a significant role in the conversation. Further, as stated in the brief: ‘Canada, Mexico, and the European Union are not outliers—we are. An overwhelming majority of the world’s constitutions—including virtually all developed nations—contain provisions guaranteeing equal rights or prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sex or gender.’
“It’s time to get this done in the US!” Vullo adds.
On July 11, 1995, the horrors of the only European genocide since World War II reached their nadir with the massacre of an estimated 8,000 men and boys at the Bosnian town of Srebrenica. While UN “protectors” watched passively, Serb forces separated these unarmed husbands, fathers, sons and brothers from their female family members, boarded them on buses and drove them off to mass murder and mass graves. What had previously been unthinkable, especially on European soil, shocked the world in its cold brutality.
Left behind were thousands of women, overwhelmingly the wives of the farmers who worked the land in this agrarian area, for whom the man of the house was its center: The breadwinner who ran the farm and protected the family, whose role formed the core of an economic and social unit.
What is remarkable in the wake of this world-shaking mass murder is how the women, the vast majority of whom were uneducated, stepped forward, demonstrating the kind of resilience that knits together not just families but communities and nations, if only we would tap it. These women, whose story is largely untold, rose to this extraordinary occasion in three notable ways.
First, they demonstrated courage and resilience in returning to the land that the enemy was attempting to take from them. They filled the shoes of their dead husbands and took charge of the farms, mobilizing remaining family members and relying on neighbors to survive and carry on. In some cases, these women became remarkably successful, forming cooperatives to sell produce well beyond their communities. Berries grow in abundance close to the Drina River that flows nearby. Blackberries and raspberries are exported internationally and known for their excellence. The women took advantage of grants facilitated by the deeply flawed Dayton Accords that stopped the war and sent their children to school. They strengthened their families by insisting that their children broaden their horizons. Their daughters and sons are now proud doctors and professors all over the world, contributing to society in new ways because the mothers and wives whose husbands were slaughtered in Srebrenica persevered through unspeakable grief and trauma and rebuilt.
The women went further, into roles even less likely for wives and mothers who had spent most of their lives gathering and preparing food and tending their families. They demanded justice. Unprepared for the work of advocacy, they nevertheless organized and learned on the job, calling for accountability from the International Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia. Their voices were heard as Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic, regional leader Radovan Karadzic, and military commander Ratko Mladic were arrested and put on trial for war crimes, including – historic for international jurisprudence – the charges of genocide. Milosevic died in custody before his trial concluded. Mladic and Karadzic are behind bars. The women who testified against these three men demonstrated great courage and composure. Not only were they managing their grief, but by speaking out in an international spotlight they risked being ostracized back home, where the Serbs, who had waged war on their people (Bosniak, traditionally Muslim) were still in control.
The women also organized to memorialize their murdered men. They advocated for the exhumation, identification and burial of their loved ones into a sacred place in the killing fields. Today the Srebrenica Memorial Center encompasses a large grave site, listing the names of those killed, and includes an outdoor mosque and a memorial room where photographs graphically portray the atrocities and the tireless exhumation efforts. The Center, dedicated in 2003 by US President Bill Clinton, operates against the backdrop of continued denial that the genocide ever happened. Nonetheless, it has attracted more than one million visitors to date. Many come as delegations, including students from all over the world. As with other such sites, the message of the memorial is clear: Never again.
A few months after the Srebrenica massacre, women from all over the world converged in Beijing for a conference that would become a milestone in the story of women’s rights. There, influenced in part by the experience of the women of Srebrenica and more broadly throughout Bosnia, for the first time the issue of women and war, beyond victimhood, crystalized as an idea that would eventually become policy. Women wanted a seat at the table, bringing their resilience and advocacy to preventing war, or stopping or recovering from it. Five years later the UN would pass a resolution calling for women’s full involvement in building peace. In time the field known as Women, Peace and Security would be well established in foreign policy.
The women of Srebrenica played a significant role in reshaping how we think of war and peace. Their legacy is a lasting tribute not only to their own remarkable rebuilding but to the men and boys whose lives are remembered on this anniversary.
Miki Jacevic, who was a student leader from Sarajevo at the time of the Srebrenica genocide, is Vice-Chair of Inclusive Security, founded in 1999 to integrate women’s leadership into peace processes worldwide.
“Giving is the best investment I’ve ever made.” – Suzanne Lerner
Women’s eNews Executive Director Lori Sokol speaks with her guest Suzanne Lerner, co-founder and president of lifestyle and clothing brand Michael Stars. Suzanne is a business leader, activist, and philanthropist who shares her experience and life lessons, builds networks that connect valued resources, and inspires people to seek their purpose, realize their visions, and give back to our world.
In the three minutes before she clicked onto our phone call, Carol Jenkins heard the breaking news: “The Supreme Court decision is out.”
It was an incredible week for social justice. That day, June 15, the Supreme Court ruled that LGBTQ and transgender workers were protected from workplace discrimination. Simultaneously, hundreds of thousands of people around the country marched through the streets, protesting against racism and police brutality in the wake of George Floyd’s murder. The energy was ineffable. But something was missing.
“Everything was happening,” said Jenkins, co-president and CEO of the ERA Coalition and Fund for Women’s Equality. “We were sending out congratulatory messages. Black and brown people count now! The Supreme Court said LGBTQ people counted now! And then we [at the coalition] looked at each other and said, ‘When exactly will women count?’ We — and Black women especially — are still at the bottom of consideration.”
Unequal pay and lower paying jobs, unpaid labor at home, workplace discrimination, no equal protection in court — women’s disparity has been a long-raging issue. And as the Coronavirus pandemic sweeps the United States, it further exposes the holes within its systems, some of which have left women — especially women of color, especially mothers — with additional struggles to navigate.
These issues have kept the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) in the conversation. First proposed in 1923, the amendment aims to include women in the United States Constitution; currently, there is nothing written in the historic document that calls for equality based on sex, preventing women and men from legally sharing equal rights. In January 2020, Virginia became the 38th state to ratify the ERA, and the following month the House of Representatives voted to remove the time limit on its decision to ratify the amendment. The Senate’s decision is still pending.
While no single law can secure anyone from the impact of a pandemic, having the ERA in place is a crucial longterm step.
“A huge, important part of the Equal Rights Amendment is that it’s able to lift women’s status in our society,” said Bettina Hager, D.C. director of the ERA Coalition and Fund for Women’s Equality. “If we did have a more equal society, I think there would be different laws around domestic violence, and there would hopefully be laws around healthcare and childcare that would help women.”
Before the pandemic, families were already trying to navigate the childcare system to find high-quality yet affordable care, while juggling school with work demands. Now for some, it’s become a nearly impossible situation. Jessica Mason, senior policy analyst for the National Partnership for Women and Families, recently said the effect on many of her coworkers has exceeded the stress of the virus itself: “Many are looking after their children and acting as home-school teachers while working full time, and others are caring for older relatives and family members who need extra support during this time.”
Mason added, “It has really driven home all the work that we’ve been dedicated to for so long around the impossibility of managing work and family and caregiving without really supportive policies.”
It’s been especially difficult for women, considering that they comprise a large portion of essential workers throughout the pandemic, including 78% of health care workers, according to The New York Times. They also represent the majority of employees who were among the first to be cut, such as retail and housekeeping.
For too many women, these conflicts are nothing new. Once having children, women historically have been pushed out of the workforce, and for those who remain, many are only able to hold a part-time job. That has taken a toll on women’s income over time, Mason continued, resulting in less savings. And those part-time jobs are often lower quality and less likely to include benefits like paid family leave, paid sick leave or health insurance. Over the last several decades, the United States has made “glacial but measurable steps toward gender equality in some parts of the economy,” she explained, “With men taking more of an interest in equally dividing the caregiving work.” Women still shoulder the bulk of it, however, and with the economy edging toward “reopening” while school and childcare remain in flux, the country is at risk of losing at least a generation of progress for equality.
“One of the data signals that has been most disturbing to me was this spring, Mason continued. “For the first time in almost 40 years, we saw the percentage of adult women who are in the labor force drop below 50%. Geez, we already know that this has pushed people out of the workforce, but the only question is: Is that going to be long term or is it going to be temporary?”
Her uncertainty is universal. In New York City, where one of the Department of Labor’s approaches for reopening schools is to have students in the classroom on alternate days, author Deb Perlman concludes: “In the COVID economy, you’re only allowed a kid OR a job.”
The National Partnership for Women and Families has been deep in the fight for national paid family leave and paid sick days for many years, beginning with its role in enacting the Family and Medical Leave Act in1993. The original purpose of paid family leave was to allow people to take time off from work due to a medical condition, to care for ill or injured family members, or to give birth. Now childcare has become a necessary factor to consider as well.
“Previously we had not put childcare in that bucket because we, like so many people, had never anticipated a world where someone would need potentially weeks and weeks and weeks of time over the course of a year away from their jobs to do childcare,” Mason said. “We’re all adjusting on the fly as we deal with the situation.”
For assistance today, Mason recommends looking into the The Families First Coronavirus Response Act, emergency legislation enacted in March that offers workers two weeks of paid sick days. But it has significant, problematic gaps that disproportionately affect women, and women of color in particular, since it allows employers to exclude healthcare workers and first responders.
“It’s egregious,” she said. “Think of women nurses or women home health aides who are providing that essential care. Those are the last people you want to have going to work sick. So many of them are also parents.”
Mason speculates that while the COVID-19 crisis further exposes society’s gender and racial disparities, it also draws new awareness to those who haven’t paid mind to these gaps; the way women and people of color are pushed into lower paying jobs with fewer protections and fewer rights; the importance of transforming unpaid care work into paid caregiving; and how essential teachers, healthcare workers and grocery store workers are supported in the workplace.
The mission to ratify the ERA too, has been around for almost 100 years, yet is now returning to the forefront of the political conversation.
“It resonates with this new level of conversation that has just burst across intersectional conversation about the Black Lives Matter movement and the importance of racial equity in our economy, in our political system and in our justice system,” Mason said. “It does seem to me that there is an incredible appetite among a large, large part of the public to finally create that society and political system and economy that really reflects the best of our values.”
If true, women’s equality could be next on the docket. As Jenkins said, simply yet staunchly, “The Equal Rights Amendment would be a major force in recognizing our rights.”
About the writer:Alyssa Fisher, who recently earned her undergraduate degree in Journalism at the University of Florida, is a 2020 fellow in the Sy Syms Journalistic Excellence Program* at Women’s eNews, funded by the Sy Syms Foundation. The Sy Syms Journalistic Excellence Program at Women’s eNews fellowship supports editorial and development opportunities for editorial interns in the pursuit of journalistic excellence.
Sy Syms Journalistic Excellence Program
The Sy Syms Journalistic Excellence program at Women’s eNews was launched in 2014 with support from the Sy Syms Foundation. The fellowship provides support and development opportunities for editorial interns in the pursuit of journalistic excellence.
“For a democracy to flourish all voices must be heard.” says Marcy Syms, a founding Trustee and President of the Sy Syms Foundation. “Through its investigative reporting Women’s eNews gets at the essence of good journalism. The Sy Syms Foundation is proud of this collaboration to support today’s newest women journalists.”
As part of its mission to create social change for women and girls through investigative reporting, Women’s eNews helps foster, train, and support the career development of new journalists with a focus on social justice and women’s rights.
It was October, 2019 when I last visited my father who, at 93 years old, has been living in a nursing home for the past four years. But it was not the ensuing coronavirus pandemic that prevented me from returning. I already knew I wouldn’t see him again– and would never want to– whether I got the apology I sought or not. As he vacillated between clinging to the present and denying the past, I remained vigilant, demanding he apologize for creating a childhood home steeped in strict patriarchal rule, where emotional abuse and physical violence were directed toward his only daughter. I ultimately got that apology, although under some duress, which allowed me to walk away in peace, leaving much of the rage behind in that nursing home room.
Still, as is the case with most people who discriminate, they often don’t project their hatred towards just one group. No, their targets tend to be limitless.
Over the past few weeks, many reminders of his monstrous racial prejudice have come crashing back as I have stood, kneeled, and laid my still body down on the cold concrete with other peaceful protestors in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement, which has taken hold of our country in response to the death of George Floyd, the unarmed, black man killed by a white police officer during an arrest in Minneapolis, Minnesota on May 25. At a vigil I attended last week in New York City, one of its organizers asked us to think about how we felt during the eight minute, forty-six-second silence we held in tribute to the same length of time Floyd was forced to lay under the pressure of a white officer’s knee until he breathed his last breath. My thoughts traveled immediately back to the rampant racism I experienced in my father’s home.
His angry, racist rants, a ritual he performed almost daily by blaming black people for his own failings, whether they be educational, professional or financial, reflected his attempt to compensate for his deep seeded insecurities and mounting fragility. Yet under the heading of, Be Careful Who You Hate: It Could Be Someone You Love, I couldn’t think of a better gift to give my father, on this Father’s Day, than to introduce him to the biracial relative he never knew.
Due to the genius of genealogy, I recently learned of, and spoke with, a first cousin I had never known about, only three months ago. Born to my uncle, my father’s youngest brother — a brother whom my father particularly adored — my uncle must have known that he would have been shunned by my father if it were ever discovered that the mother of his child was black.
So my uncle kept it a secret until the day he died, which is now a decade ago. During our call, my cousin told me that he never got to know his father…not really, except for a few brief visits when he was a young child, and years later when he made a surprise visit to his father’s place of employment. Although his father was civil and cordial, he would not respond in kind, and that would be the last time they would ever see each other.
I am now writing a letter to my father, which he will receive on this Father’s Day, introducing him to the nephew he never knew, and will probably never meet. I will tell my father about the distinct similarities his brother and nephew shared, beneath the skin, which no amount of racism could erase. How they are both the tallest in their families, how they both never smoked cigarettes or drank an ounce of alcohol, and how they both share a partiality for one dessert in particular…cheesecake. But what is most powerful was their mutual love for the game of basketball.
My father and his four brothers all shared a passion for basketball and, specifically, refereeing. While one even turned pro, it was his youngest brother who enjoyed refereeing high school basketball games in his Brooklyn neighborhood some sixty years ago. Unbeknownst to him, his son also developed a particular fondness for the game, spending years volunteering as a referee in yet another Brooklyn neighborhood, and is still doing so today.
Speaking of basketball, I plan to end my letter with a quote from one of the most successful and legendary players of all, Michael Jordan, who last week committed $100 million to organizations fighting racism against black people:
“I realize that I’m black, but I like to be viewed as a person, and this is everybody’s wish,” Jordan said.
And that is the wish I am hoping for you too, Dad, beginning with this letter, and on this Father’s Day.
In our June 10 episode , NYS Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochuldiscusses the State’s successful response to the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s specific impact on women, and how the ongoing demonstrations in response to the death of George Floydare embracing social and racial justice in ways that have never been seen before.
NYS Lt. Governor Kathy Hochul is President of the NYS Senate and Chairs the Regional Economic Development Councils and NYS Women’s Suffrage 100th Anniversary Commemoration Commission. She also Co-Chairs the NYS Heroin and Opioid Abuse Task Force and Community College Councils.
Women’s eNews is pleased to announce the launch of a new fellowship program that will bring increased attention to the benefits of hiring people with disabilities.
The program,The Loreen Arbus* Accessibility is Fundamental Fellowship, will provide vital employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities to be trained as professional journalists.
Women’s eNews will train two interns with disabilities who self-identify as female to research, interview, write, edit and publish articles about the most crucial issues impacting people with disabilities (particularly women and girls).
Current topics of consideration include: Ableism, employment challenges, sexual harassment, and particular issues amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
The two interns will be selected for this 12-month initiative, starting August 1, 2020 and will be trained on a virtual accessible platform like Zoom. Applicants should provide a demonstrated commitment to the field of journalism through their scholastic and/or professional experience. Review of all applications will be completed by a select panel of judges representing the intersection of journalism and disability communities.
Applications should be submitted online with a deadline of Tuesday, June 30, 2020 at 8 pm ET, including a personal statement (maximum of 400 words), a resume, and three letters of reference (personal, academic, and/or professional).
To qualify, applicants must be under the age of 30 as of the application deadline and can be current undergraduate or graduate students, or have graduated within the past three years (no earlier than 2017).
To request an application, please email email@example.com.
*Loreen Arbus is currently the President of The Loreen Arbus Foundation, The Goldenson-Arbus Foundation and Loreen Arbus Productions, Inc. Through these organizations and in her personal endeavors, Ms. Arbus is a tireless advocate for women and girls; a champion for one of the world’s largest minorities – people with disabilities; and is passionate about encouraging equal opportunities in television, film, communications, and the arts.
“Women have always saved the world by fighting against evil, and by saving families and communities. If we didn’t, the world would have become extinct a long, long time ago.” – Taina Bien-Aimé, in She is Me: How Women Will Save The World
Taina Bien-Aimé is the Executive Director of the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women (CATW), one of the oldest international organizations dedicated to ending trafficking in women and girls and commercial sexual exploitation as practices of gender-based violence and discrimination. Prior to this position, Taina was the Executive Director of Women’s City Club of New York, an advocacy organization that helps shape policy in New York. She is also a founding Board member of and later served as the Executive Director of Equality Now (2000-2011), an international human rights organization that works to promote the human rights of women and girls.
Every Friday, Women’s eNews is presenting a ‘Book of the Week,’ providing you with a sampling of some of the latest books from some of the finest female writers who will stir your curiosity, feed your intellect, and take you anywhere and everywhere, without leaving the comfort of your own home. We hope you will join us in supporting these highly talented authors!!
This week’s Book of the Week is: No Rules: A Memoir
Chapter 2 1960s
South Windsor, Connecticut
“ I wasn’t always like this.” My mother gulped down tears, her eyes red from crying. She looked at me, then away, the white Mallen streak of her hair falling forward onto her face. She felt around and pushed it back into her hair grip as she looked down at me. At seven, I had seen her cry too many times already, and it always caused me pain. “I was carefree and happy,” she continued through tears. “I ran everywhere. I used to laugh all the time.”
She took my father’s shirt from the clothesline, folded it, and placed it in the wicker basket next to me. I knew I should be helping her, but I hated going into the basement with her and sorting laundry. It was boring, and there seemed to be no end to it. She almost never asked me or Anne for help, so I didn’t think of helping her until I heard her crying.
“Mother always told me, when you have daughters of your own, they will help you. I had to do everything.” Her crying stopped and she was starting to sound angry. This was a familiar story that she told often. “I had to take care of my baby brother all by myself when I was twelve and Mother had a nervous breakdown. I had to stay home from school, cook for Father, change and wash the diapers, clean the house. No one even thanked me.”
It was as though she wasn’t talking to me anymore, but instead to an invisible person. I took the towel she handed me and folded it as she continued, “Mother said, don’t worry, when you grow up your daughter will help you.” She turned and looked at me in anger. “But you two don’t help me at all. I had to do everything then, and I have to do everything now. When will it be my turn?”
“I would help you if you asked.” I avoided her eyes, feeling ashamed.
Her voice grew louder. “I shouldn’t have to ask. You can see I need help. Someday, when you get married and have children, you will have to do this, so you need to know how.”
I got a bad feeling inside when she said this, thinking how awful that future sounded. Would I cry all the time too?
It wasn’t so bad when Anne and I did jobs together. Then we could talk. But Mummy got mad when we talked. She would com- plain that we were so busy talking, we weren’t getting the work done.
Mummy handed me a blouse of mine from the clothesline and threw the clothespins into the bag she had made from fabric scraps to hold them. I started to fold the blouse in half.
“Not like that. You’ll put a crease down the middle and it will be harder to iron.” She grabbed it from my hands. “Never mind, I will do it myself. You just make more work for me. Take this other basket with the ones I folded already upstairs and put it in the living room. And don’t let those clothes tip over.”
I grabbed the two handles on each end of the wicker laundry basket and headed upstairs, glad to have an excuse to leave.
The only time my mother seemed happy was when she played the piano. Chopin was her favorite composer. Playing his music, she transported herself back to England—where, I was certain, she longed to be, studying piano as she had before the war.
I was still seven when the piano became part of our lives. My parents spent weeks dragging us from one store to the next, searching for one they could afford. My mother insisted she could find more ways to save money to have one, but I couldn’t imagine how. Already she made all our clothes, saved green stamps to buy furnishings, and grocery shopped with a paper and pencil in hand, adding the prices of her purchases to ensure there was enough money in her purse before she got to the register. She even made my father’s boxer shorts and our winter coats, and knit our hats and mittens. When the ice cream truck drove down our street and the other kids ran out to greet him, I knew better than to ask for any. There was no money for such frivolities.
My father reminded us often that we were not poor, however.
“We have a roof over our head and food on the table. There are a lot of people in the world who don’t,” he told us while we were all eating dinner together one night. “In London during the war, I would see families living in the subway and I would give them the care packages my mother sent. They needed those things a lot more than I did. We are very lucky, having what we do.”
I knew my father had grown up in a poor neighborhood of immigrants in Lawrence, Massachusetts, where his parents had worked all their lives in the woolen mills, speaking only Lithu- anian. My father had worked there too before Pearl Harbor was bombed and he was drafted.
He was proud of owning his own house, a dream his VA loan and his job assembling jet engines at Pratt and Whitney Aircrafthad made possible. He hated unions, as he blamed them for causing the mills to close and move out of Lawrence. So when the union at Pratt and Whitney went on strike, he’d risked being injured by crossing the picket lines to work. As a result, he’d earned enough money during the strike for a down payment on the house. Then he’d quit smoking two packs of Camel cigarettes a day so he could afford the mortgage.
The day the piano arrived, I sat beside my mother as she dug out her sheet music from a cracked, worn, brown leather bag that she kept in her steamer trunk with other mysterious treasures from her former life. I was always intrigued by what lay hidden under the trunk’s heavy lid with its clunky, metal buckles.
“Why is this picture of a boat on here?” I asked her, pointing to the partially missing sticker of the bow of a large ship plastered to the side of the trunk. Although I knew the answer from other times I had asked, I loved to hear her repeat the story of her journey to America.
“That’s the ship I came over on from England, the Holland America Line. It was a Dutch ship, see the windmill behind it?They pasted it on the trunk so they would load it on the correct ship. I had to ride out three miles in a tender with my trunk. That made me seasick for the whole six days of sailing.”
“How come you had to ride so far to get on the ship?”
“It was just after the war, and the British weren’t letting Dutch ships land yet. It was difficult getting any ship at all. Theonly reason I got on that ship was because I was getting married to your father, and he was an American soldier. Otherwise, I would have had to wait longer.”
I knew about The War. My parents talked about it often, and even at seven I was keenly aware of the importance it held in my parents’ lives. It had killed Mummy’s oldest brother, the uncle I would never know, the person she’d loved most in her youth. And it had brought my parents together on a train full of troops as they were both returning to their bases, my mother in the British Signal Corps, my father in the American Army Aircorps. They were two people from different worlds who had nothing in common and would never have met otherwise.
After the piano arrived, music filled our house: soft, gentle music; sentimental, romantic music; music that spoke of starry nights and green pastures; music that evoked English gardens and Irish eyes; music that caused my mother to sing instead of cry, and occasionally to sing and cry.
I enjoyed sitting nearby and listening to her play. Once, when she was taking a break after singing one of them, she told me, “When I was in the army, the only piano available was in the local pub. I would play songs and all the soldiers would gather around and sing. We had a lovely time, all of us. We could forget about the war for a while. It was great fun.”
Another time, she was playing a difficult Chopin piece and was getting frustrated, replaying the same section over and over, until she finally stopped, looking defeated. “All I ever wanted to be was a concert pianist, but my piano teacher told me I wasn’t strong enough,” she said. She turned her hands to look at them as she spoke. “He said a woman’s hands aren’t big enough, which is why there are no women concert pianists.” She looked at her hands a moment longer before rising from the piano stool. “Besides, I wanted to get married and have a family, and I couldn’t do that if I was a concert pianist, after all,” she said, looking into my eyes.
Women’s eNews was launched in the year 2000 to uphold the values of journalism by seeking the truth and reporting it, acting independently and minimizing harm with accountability and transparency.
This is as true today, twenty years later, as it ever was.
It is for this reason that we believe it is both urgent and crucial to provide you with what much of the mainstream media is not regarding the protests and civil unrest currently taking place in major cities across the US, as a result of the death of George Floyd, an African-American man who died on May 25 while being forcibly restrained by a white Minneapolis police officer.
There is a significant amount of solidarity on display between police officers (mostly white) and protestors (mostly black). Yet, these scenes are rarely being shown to the public, so we are doing so.
The images* below display hope…hope that all types of discrimination, whether based upon race, gender, religion, sexual orientation or disability, will finally come to an end:
Please join Women’s eNews in solidarity with all those who are stepping up, and speaking out, against discrimination of any kind. For there is only one race — the human race — and we are all in this together. Thank you!
Covid-19 has changed everyone’s lives—especially those who find themselves living in an abusive situation. On average, nearly 20 people per minute are physically abused by an intimate partner in the United States, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. That statistic could be on the increase since this pandemic has elevated the fear of the unknown and generated extraordinary stress and anxiety within families, households, and relationships. Furthermore, I fear fewer victims are seeking help since safer-at-home orders require people to hunker down together at home, sharing space with abusers.
Most individuals are consumed with worrying thoughts that I call the what ifs:
What if I get sick or even die?
What if I can’t pay my bills or take care of my family?
What if our lives don’t return to normal?
What if things don’t get better?
These worrying thoughts can raise stress levels and increase anxiety for anyone but can especially be a trigger for those prone to abusive behaviors. Some individuals who feel they are losing control of their own lives may become more controlling of those closest to them. Stressful situations like the pandemic can cause a rise in unhealthy copying skills such as alcohol and drug abuse. Abusive individuals my find themselves more frustrated, angry, or even rageful. These types of behaviors, fears, and emotions create a ticking time bomb that can devastate a family.
With a rise in domestic abuse and violence, families are more vulnerable than ever. The safety of victims and their children should be a chief concern for our society and prompt us to become more aware and offer support to those in need.
If you, your children, or someone you know is in in a dangerous life-threating situation, take the initiative and call 911. For those not in a life-threatening situation yet dealing with controlling, manipulative, degrading, or intolerable behaviors, it may be time to start planning for a new beginning—one absent of abuse.
As a survivor and through my work with abuse victims over the last decade, I know all too well how hard it is to leave and start over, especially when children are involved. I personally felt trapped in my abusive relationship with my first husband. He controlled and manipulated my life. Not only was I fearful of losing his love, but I was financially dependent on him. He convinced me that no one would ever love me like he did; he told me I was stupid and incapable of do anything right. I lived in a cycle of emotional abuse for nearly ten years.
Abusive people can destroy a victim’s self-worth, manipulate their thoughts and beliefs. Abusers have a way of convincing a victim that they are to blame for the abuser’s poor behaviors. The victim can be manipulated into believing they are the uncaring and controlling person in the relationship. This is why I feel it is important to understand what emotional or psychological abuse looks, sounds, and feels like. Go to Helpguide.org to learn more about abuse.
Once a victim understands the abuse and decides to take action, they can transition from victim to survivor. The following steps offer effective ways to break free of an abusive situation:
Stop the Cycle of Abuse
Get Help – First, it is vital to make a plan. Research options or find an organization for guidance and support. Rainn.org or National Domestic Violence Hotline Thehotline.org are organizations that can help survivors. Go to Mannettemorgan.com for more information and to find links to these organizations and other resources. Abuse survivors may need a support group, therapist, lawyer, resources, or a safe place to stay.
Get Out – This just might be the hardest thing any survivor will ever do, but it can be done. I believe few relationships that involve abuse can be resolved. The only way to turn an unhealthy relationship into a healthy one requires behavioral modification by the abuser and the victim which involves awareness, reflection, work, learning, and growth as individuals and a unified pair. If both parties in the relationship aren’t willing to do the work, it might be time to move on.
Stop the Cycle of Abuse – Once a survivor decides to face their challenges, it is time to become educated. A survivor must make a choice to invest in their own personal healing. They may need a therapist, guidance, or a self-help book like my book Finding Your Voice: A Path to Recovery for Survivors of Abuse. The best gift a survivor can give to themselves is to heal the pain of their past trauma. As a survivor heals, they can discover their self-worth and regain their self-empowerment. When a survivor gains these two self-beliefs, they will obtain what is needed to break the cycle of abuse in their own lives and have an opportunity for happiness, joy, and healthier relationships.
As a society we can make a difference. In order to stop the cycle of abuse in our society, we must become aware, educated, vocal, and supportive. We must empower victims to become survivors. I believe each individual survivor’s strength and empowerment is the answer to breaking the cycle of abuse.
About the author: Mannette Morgan is an inspirational speaker, author, and abuse survivor who is on a mission to stop the cycle of abuse in our society. After 30 years of intense self-work, she overcame her past trauma of emotional, sexual, and physical abuse along with powering through the limitations of her learning disability, dyslexia. A life coach certified through the Academy of Solution Focus Training and the American University of NLP, she has emerged as a leading voice among abuse survivors and today inspires others to rise above adversity and strive for a better life. Her incredible story of survival and recovery is documented in the book Finding Your Voice.https://mannettemorgan.com
Mona Sinha is an advocate for gender equality in business and society. She is the Board Chair of Women Moving Millions, a community of women who fund big and bold ($1 million+) to create a gender equal world. She is a member of the ERA Coalition which seeks to include a constitutional amendment of equality on the basis of sex. She serves on numerous educational and non-profit Boards. She is a trustee emerita of Smith College, where she was Vice Chair of the Board and led the Women for the World campaign that raised $486 million to support women’s education.
Every couple of months, a new caper appears. It’s the lobbyist Jack Burkman and his alt-right sidekick Jacob Wohl trying to smear another high profile person to post a few points for themselves. It always fails; they’ve become a blight on the conspiracy theorist brigade, something I never thought possible. Journalists are actually torn about how to handle this — deciding whether to cover these press conferences to debunk them or ignoring them so that they don’t give more oxygen to the lies.
There’s a reason to talk about these press conferences: they’re a case study in gaslighting, how to recognize it and how to protect oneself from it.
Gaslighting is a form of manipulation that makes victims question their own reality, perception, and judgment. Gaslighting makes a target think that she’s the problem when she’s not. It’s dishonest but it’s different from a regular lie. It’s an erosion of reality and a normalization of things that are not true.
People have become more aware of gaslighting since Donald Trump became president because of his countless misrepresentations and insistence on alternate facts. Before Trump even ran for office I counseled countless clients who were victims of gaslighting behavior, so much so that I had written a book about it: The Gaslight Effect.
That’s how I can see it’s an essential tool for Burkman and Wohl. The only way they’re even able to create these staged accusations is that they convince someone to make the false claim, however specious it is. To try to take down former Special Counsel Robert Mueller, they hoodwinked a woman named Carolyne Cass. In an attempt to humiliate then presidential candidate Senator Elizabeth Warren, they snagged a former Marine who misrepresented his military career. For former presidential candidate and Sound Bend, Indiana mayor Pete Buttigieg, they found another inexperienced young man who was so controlled by the two men in a short period of time that he felt he couldn’t leave their meeting place — Burkman’s home.
From their stories in the press, past victims describe not only being lied to, but also the experience of losing their agency as they go along with plans, not exactly sure of their footing or roles in them.
But the most recent example of Burkman and Wohl’s work — a woman who fabricated about Dr. Anthony Fauci named Diana Andrade — is the most instructive because we have a transcript of the conversation between the two men and their most recent dupe (I use that word in defense of her) because she recorded a call between the three of them.
The call demonstrates many of the techniques that my clients have experienced being gaslighted.
“What’s the problem? What’s your problem?” Burkman continues. “Tell me what the problem is? What’s your problem?”
Rather than addressing her concern, Wohl and Burkman take a turn in the conversation to make it about what’s wrong with Diana even though she knows they are the troubled ones in the trio.
Her problem, of course, is that she doesn’t want to be involved. But she was, which the duo readily remind her. You “readily volunteered” they tell her. To her clearly justifiable legal and ethical concerns they diminish her with: “Grow up, for Christ’s sake.”
Ongoing gaslighting results in confusion, an uncomfortable feeling that you just can’t put your finger on, ongoing rumination, alienation from others who would not agree with the gaslighter — and, eventually depression and personality changes, so much so that friends often don’t recognize the person, and bad dreams may populate their nights.
We’re kidding ourselves if we don’t think that stopping these two is a women’s issue. Sure, the false allegations against Mayor Buttiiegieg involved two men but 75% of this pair’s antics victimized women. They were either falsely accusing a woman or using a woman to make the false allegations.
The decision of whether to cover these fraudulent fiascos is a fraught one, for sure; it’s that unimaginable that reporting the truth would come so close to constituting fake news.
But the more we expose their methods the more people can be aware and not get involved with them; they need a willing accomplice for each ruse. The way to make an otherwise rational person who wouldn’t partake in these games is to undermine their reality to create a new one where these actions are justifiable.
There is a risk that heightening Burkman and Wohl’s profile will negate any effects of exposing the gaslighting they engage in; people are attracted to fame and may just go along with these stunts without having their realities challenged.
But journalists can’t correct people’s morality. They can provide them with facts. And the story of Jack Burkman and Jacob Wohl contains real representations of how effective and insidious gaslighting can be — and recognizing the techniques can help unwitting victims avoid it.
As the world continues to adjust to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, Women’s eNews’ is enhancing its commitment to amplifying the voices of women by announcing workshop and training opportunities that will help you learn how to strengthen your own voice, via virtual/online settings, as Women’s eNews has been doing for the past 20 years:
Cape CodStory Summit Will Celebrate Women’s Voices
“I want all women to use their voices – to be loud and audacious; to be heard, to be recognized, their words seen and read”– Amy Ferris
“I want all women to use their voices — to be loud and audacious; to be heard, to be recognized — their words seen, read, talked about, words that come alive in the world so others can grab hold of those words,” says Amy Ferris in announcing her Fellowship. “I am a huge fan of women telling their stories. Women writers, changing the proverbial game, through our words, our writing, our voices. Our stories matter. Our stories save lives, and change hearts and yes, Goddess yes, shake and rattle and move the universe.”
The Amy Ferris Fellowship will financially enable qualified women writers to be able to attend Cape Cod Story Summits this summer and fall.
To enter, please go to the application form via the link below, fill it out, include a writing sample of 1500 words, and enter. Please note that your personal story is measured at equal weight with your writing sample. Please be thoughtful and expressive in the writing of your personal story. It matters! Within ten days, you will be notified by email or by phone as to whether or not, you have been accepted as a fellow.
The first winner will be announced on June 15, 2020.
Rules As long as you are 18 years of age or older, you may apply. You may not apply if: you have already applied for a scholarship in 2019 or 2020, or you are a graduate of the 2020 Winter Story Summit. If you are a Summiteer who requires additional financial assistance, please reach out to John Gatsos and we will see what might be done.
Amy Ferris is an author, editor, playwright, and screenwriter. Her memoir, Marrying George Clooney, was adapted into an off-Broadway play in 2012 and ran at CAP21 Theater in NYC. She wrote two feature films, Funny Valentines (Julie Dash, Director) and Mr. Wonderful (Anthony Minghella, Director). Amy has contributed to numerous anthologies, edited one anthology, and co-edited another. She serves on the Board of Directors at Peters Valley School of Craft, on the Advisory Board of The Women’s Media Center, and on Faculty at Kauai Writers Conference. In 2015, she co-founded The Milford Readers & Writers Festival along with Sean Strub, Robert Levine and Suzanne Braun Levine. In 2018 , Amy was honored by Women’s eNews as one of its 21 Leaders for the 21st Century for her activism, her passion and her commitment to women’s voices.
“Why can’t a woman be more like a man?” Professor Henry Higgins asks in a not-so-veiled sardonic recitative. The subject—his charge, Eliza Doolittle—is the protagonist of the classic musical ‘My Fair Lady.’
Ushering in a fresh waft of today’s Zeitgeist is an article in a recent issue of Harvard Business Review by Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic and Cindy Gallop. The piece is a paean to political leadership, coinciding with how women have taken charge of a dangerous and disruptive pandemic.
The two authors describe the kind of leadership we have seen in victorious heads of state and other political leaders, disproportionately female, battling the disease.
Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen defended her country against the virus in neighboring China with a strategy of early action. Before their first case was confirmed, the Taiwanese government mobilized its Central Epidemic Command Center. Well beyond tactical border closures and aggressive testing, President Tsai ramped up an arsenal of face masks and mandated more than 100 other measures. The result: her government has held the number of deaths to .03 per 100,000; in the U.S. the rate is more than 750% that.
As another example, despite a common culture, the Scandinavian experience is especially striking as the four nations led by women—Iceland, Finland, Denmark and Norway—stand in stark contrast to male-governed Sweden. Although Sweden might be faring better than the U.S., its reliance on citizens to “behave like adults” has led to more than three times as many deaths as the other four countries combined. The most powerful woman in Europe, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, has spoken plain truth to her people, protecting them with aggressive measures. As the virus attacked Europe, a graph illustrating mortality rates showed Germany almost flat-lined along the bottom. The hardest-hit EU nations, male-led Italy and Spain, rose up on that same chart like mountainsides.
Gender differences related to times like these have intrigued some of Harvard’s most prominent scholars. Former assistant secretary of defense Joseph Nye (Soft Power), and world-renowned psychologist Steven Pinker (Our Better Angels) are among them, boldly asserting that the world is safer and more humane where women are in charge. Neither is a gender apologist, and they are joined by other rigorous academics, top military officers, and heads of major corporations in naming one of the world’s worst kept secrets: women tend to be aware of their limitations and less likely overconfident. (Think of the men vying for Supreme Misogynist currently running the US, UK, Italy, and Russia). Less overconfidence means more self-awareness, an openness to learning, and room for inclusion of the most talented despite diverse outlooks and outputs.
The Harvard Business Review authors maintain that women emphasize emotional intelligence along with intellectual prowess. They tend to forge bonds with their constituents as they make difficult decisions. New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern guided her country through a protracted lockdown while using her bully pulpit to help children understand that this could be a tough year for the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy. The island nation has since “won the battle” against the coronavirus, with no widespread undetected community transmission.
And here at home, one after another woman has put her political career on the line. San Francisco’s London Breed was among the first US mayors to order her city to shelter in place. Kansas Governor Laura Kelly faced major blow-back as she banned Easter services to maintain social distancing. Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan has invited not only the wrath of Donald Trump but also angry protestors he has encouraged as they congregate around the state capitol chanting, “Lock her up. Lock her up.” She told CNN she lost sleep after the president attacked her. Why? Because, she has said, she feared his response could affect the well-being of the people of her state. Nevertheless, she persists.
In a compelling conversation with CNN’s Fareed Zakaria, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright noted how in this crucible traditional female traits take on new importance. She cited women’s roles as caregivers informing their leadership throughout this crisis.
There’s no silver lining to indescribable suffering that may disrupt the world order. But in 20 years of working in conflict zones, I’ve seen how chaos can crack open a culture. Who knows the lasting effects when, as a group, women are outperforming a legion of men who are their peers or outrank them.
Ironically, even as they demonstrate greater capacity to deal with COVID-19, what many women possess above all is humility—a quality that informs all others. In contrast to the blustering hubris too often obvious in male leadership, humility makes possible the courage, the vision, the nimbleness, the relatability, and other time-honored female traits that enable good governance, especially in crises. So, in the face of a life-and-death pandemic demanding the best, why can’t a man be more like a woman?
Former US ambassador to Austria Swanee Hunt founded the Women and Public Policy Program at the Harvard Kennedy School, where is she the Eleanor Roosevelt Lecturer. Her non-profit Inclusive Security has for 20 years advanced women’s leadership in the face of conflict.
What unites opposing opinions on abortion as threads of the same conversation is, ideally at least, a foundation of facts. However, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Texas authorities have introduced false claims as they go back and forth—and back again—on whether or not abortion is allowed during the global crisis.
In an Executive Order on March 22, 2020, Texas Governor Greg Abbott (R) called for surgeries that are “not immediately medically necessary” to be postponed until after the coronavirus outbreak. The following day, the state’s Attorney General Ken Paxton (R) clarified in a news release that this interim ban included “routine dermatological, ophthalmological, and dental procedures… or any type of abortion.”
Unlike the sweeping span of surgeries with which they are listed, abortions are time-sensitive and cannot wait until the pandemic has passed, specifically for people in states that already have restrictive timelines on the procedure.
Other states including Alabama, Arkansas, Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Mississippi, Ohio, Oklahoma, and Tennessee have added further panic to the pandemic for people who need access to abortion.
For many seeking the procedure in these states, traveling out of state is not an option within reach. Even if people have the means, traveling during the pandemic greatly increases their exposure to COVID-19 while pregnant and particularly susceptible.
State officials are passing these bans under the guise of preserving personal protective equipment for healthcare workers to fight the coronavirus. However, in 2017, medication abortions accounted for 39 percent of all abortions in the US, according to the Guttmacher Institute. Relying on pills alone, this type of abortion does not require any protective equipment and is viable for pregnancies up to 10 weeks.
This is not the first time that state lawmakers have used false claims to limit reproductive rights.
In April and November 2019, the Ohio General Assembly introduced two bills that included a fictitious procedure for ectopic pregnancies. Reading through the headlines, I might have skimmed past these Ohio bills had I not had an ectopic pregnancy two years ago.
An ectopic pregnancy occurs when a fertilized egg implants outside the uterus where it develops in healthy pregnancies. The majority of these types of pregnancies implant in a fallopian tube which, unlike the uterus, cannot accommodate the growing embryo. An ectopic pregnancy is inviable and, if left untreated, can cause the fallopian tube to burst, leading to internal bleeding and possible death.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 1 to 2 percent of all pregnancies in the US are ectopic, yet these pregnancies are responsible for 3 to 4 percent of pregnancy-related deaths.
The two Ohio bills that addressed this type of inviable pregnancy primarily intended to limit access to abortion. Last April, to limit insurance coverage of abortion, Ohio State Representative John Becker (R) sponsored the first of the two, House Bill 182. Women, too, have been active in the fight to restrict access. Ohio State Representatives Candice Keller (R) and Ron Hood (R) co-sponsored the more recent bill, House Bill 413, which introduces “abortion murder.” This bill holds both the physician and the patient liable for murder in the case of an attempted or successful abortion, no matter how far along the pregnancy is or the circumstances, unless “it is highly probable that the pregnant woman will die… before her unborn child is viable.”
According to these bills, when a pregnancy is found to be ectopic, doctors are required to transplant the embryo into the uterus. This description, however, does not illustrate a real procedure; the bills’ authors fabricated an operation.
The Cincinnati Enquirer filed a public records request to gain access to Representative Becker’s emails. Instead of consulting a doctor about the proposed medical procedure, Becker sought line-item edits from Barry Sheets, a lobbyist for the Right to Life Action Coalition of Ohio.
To seek a professional opinion, I interviewed Dr. Erica Oberman, an obstetrician-gynecologist (OB-GYN) at the University of California, Los Angeles Medical Center. After learning about this supposed surgery, she stated that, “this procedure absolutely does not exist and there is no room for counseling patients regarding [a] fictional procedure when they have ectopic pregnancies.” It seems that the bills’ sponsors were so eager to ban abortion that they invented a fake procedure. Introducing the incorrect notion that ectopic pregnancies can be saved could postpone urgently needed action and create false hope or guilt for the person who is unable to keep the inviable pregnancy.
State Representative Becker told the Cincinnati Enquirer in December 2019 that he had never researched whether re-implanting an ectopic pregnancy was possible. “I never questioned it or gave it a lot of thought,” he said.
The co-author of Becker’s bill, Barry Sheets, founded the Institute for Principled Policy, an Ohio-based organization with the mission of addressing policy issues “from an historically Biblical perspective.” He stated that he found two studies that merely mentioned re-implantation in scientific journals from 1917 and 1980. From this, the policy consultant with a bachelor’s degree in political science deemed that the procedure was medically sound and proposed that it be written into law.
When I had my ectopic pregnancy, I can’t say I would have signed up for a surgery that had only been reportedly performed twice—once 40 years ago, once over 100 years ago—when I could choose a medically sound alternative. Maybe I’m just overly cautious.
The Catholic Telegraph reported that the 1917 case was found to be poorly documented with insufficient evidence. The 1980 case was found to have falsified its research.
In November 2019, State Representative Keller remarked of her bill that, “the time for regulating evil and compromise is over.”
From Keller’s perspective, allowing people to have the option to seek abortion would promote evil. In order to eliminate evil, she endeavors to deny people the right to make decisions about their own bodies. Her attempted law extends to forcing people to carry to term who would rather choose otherwise, including after surviving sexual abuse or assault.
Whether proselytizing to conquer evil or acting with sheer carelessness, the representatives’ resulting callousness would have potentially endangered the life of anyone in Ohio who becomes pregnant, as well as their doctor.
Neither of the Ohio bills passed into law. Each bill was referred to a committee but did not receive further hearings. But the struggle isn’t over. In the last year alone, Ohio legislators have introduced ten bills that would limit access to abortion.
Even by a millennial’s standards, Representatives Keller and Becker are both very active on Facebook; when I last checked, Keller had posted 11 times in the past 24 hours on her public profile. I reached out to both representatives for comment through multiple channels but did not hear back.
These legislative efforts go far beyond endangering women’s right to choose—these two proposed bills would hinder the only action that could save the life of someone with the same kind of pregnancy that I had.
I understand how these types of laws can affect a person in the midst of a heart wrenching moment. Two Thanksgivings ago, while visiting my family in California, an agony in my abdomen woke me up in the middle of the night. After rushing to the emergency room and receiving my test results, the statistic of the more than 99 percent effectiveness of my birth control, an intrauterine device (IUD), became meaningless. I was pregnant.
Because the pregnancy was ectopic, after a few frantic texts to my boyfriend, I was rushed into emergency surgery.
Being in California and having health insurance, I had access to the procedure I needed. If I did not have insurance, or had I lived in Ohio and had either of the bills been enacted into law, that night at the hospital could have been very different. If House Bill 413, the “abortion murder” bill, had passed, my doctor would have either faced criminal charges or been required by law to attempt a procedure which does not exist. If House Bill 182, limiting insurance for abortions and procedures for ectopic pregnancy, had passed, I wouldn’t have received coverage for the surgery that saved my life.
I had never envisioned what it would be like to become pregnant; IUDs are marketed as among the most successful methods of birth control and I trusted their effectiveness as advertised. But since having my procedure, I have been surprised by how many friends and family members have shared stories of pregnancies or other serious health complications while using IUDs.
My experience with pregnancy loss made an abstract discussion instantly tangible and changed how I think of reproductive rights. I was lucky that I did not have to hesitate before going to the hospital; I knew that California did not have restrictions that would limit my access to healthcare as a woman and that my insurance would cover the care I needed. That is not the case for far too many people.
Among high-income countries, the US has the highest maternal mortality rate, according to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). UNICEF also reported that, while worldwide maternal death rates dropped by more than one-third from 2000 to 2015, outcomes for American mothers got worse.
These nationwide snapshots do not even speak to the discrimination within healthcare in the US. Geographic location, socioeconomic class, and limited access to health insurance are just some of the factors that create inequality in the healthcare system.
Racial discrimination can also keep women of color from getting the critical care that they need. Within the US, the CDC studied maternal mortality from 2011 to 2015 and additionally analyzed data from 2013 to 2017 which committees in 13 states provided. The CDC found that black women were 3.3 times more likely than white women to die related to pregnancy; Native American women were 2.5 times more likely to face pregnancy-related deaths than white women. This discrimination is unacceptable, and times of crisis only exacerbate this injustice.
During the COVID-19 pandemic in particular, women’s healthcare providers, advocacy groups, and activists have been tirelessly defending access to abortion.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Iowa, on behalf of abortion providers, filed a lawsuit on March 30 arguing that the Republican Governor Kim Reynolds’ action to limit access to abortion violated the state’s Constitution. Before the court hearing, the ACLU and the state of Iowa reached an agreement that will allow doctors to determine when an abortion is necessary on a case-by-case basis.
According to the ACLU, more than 42 percent of all Iowa hospital beds are in Catholic hospitals. I interviewed a certified nurse midwife who works in one of these hospitals. She chose to remain nameless.
In reflecting on the ongoing restricted access in several US states, she said that, “it’s generally a very hostile time for women’s health. The data show that with these types of restrictions, people will access care less and have more trouble doing so. Also, people are more reticent to seek care in general.” Those seeking the procedure are not the only ones harmed by abortion bans.
Although many categories of surgeries have been deemed elective during the pandemic, the nurse midwife noted that, “no state has singled out any other procedure that is to be considered elective. State lawmakers would never tell an eye doctor what is or is not considered essential. Abortion is the one procedure that is legislated to this extent even when many professional organizations affirm that this is an essential service of women’s healthcare.”
In Texas, Planned Parenthood, Whole Woman’s Health, and other women’s healthcare providers filed a lawsuit on March 25 against the state in response to the Governor’s Executive Order. Before this case could be heard in court, US District Judge Lee Yeakel in Austin ruled on the Executive Order’s constitutionality to decide if it was to remain in place.
I spoke with Dr. Bernard Rosenfeld, MD, PhD, an OB-GYN in Houston, two hours before Judge Yeakel announced his ruling. Dr. Rosenfeld is on staff at Texas Women’s Hospital and St. Luke’s Medical Center. He also runs Houston Women’s Clinic, one of only 22 abortion clinics in the entire state.
While the Texas Attorney General initially specified that the state’s Executive Order banned “any type of abortion,” abortions require minimal to no protective equipment. Dr. Rosenfeld explained that the Order’s motivations were “completely political with no medical basis whatsoever. We have masks which we’ve always had, and plain rubber gloves. There is no equipment that we have that that the hospital wants.”
Although the OB-GYN expressed that he was optimistic that Judge Yeakel would rule against the Executive Order and restore the ability of Texan clinics to provide abortions, Dr. Rosenfeld sounded somber on the phone. “It’s going to go on and on,” he explained, because “even if the Courts have an injunction, they will file an injunction against the injunction.” Even if Judge Yeakel were to stop the Executive Order, a Court of Appeals could reverse that decision.
With the ban in place, Dr. Rosenfeld said that his clinic had to turn away numerous patients who “were literally crying. We couldn’t see them because of this new law.” Even when the ban was lifted, the clinic was not able to reschedule with its patients because the restriction was reenacted the following day.
The Executive Order was in place from March 22 until March 30 when Judge Yeakel temporarily blocked the ban. In his statement, the Judge wrote that suspending abortion services violates the terms of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court ruling that supported the right to abortion as a constitutional right. The Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment protects the right to privacy against state action, including the right to terminate an unwanted pregnancy. The 9th Amendment reserves the rights to the people, including the authority to make a decision regarding pregnancy.
Although the case was decided in federal court, Roe v. Wade was initially heard in Texas. Jane Roe, the pseudonym of Norma McCorvey, first filed the lawsuit against then District Attorney of Dallas Henry Wade.
In his ruling, Judge Yeakel wrote that, “patients will suffer serious and irreparable harm in the absence of a temporary restraining order” reversing the abortion ban. In other words, under the Executive Order, patients who are denied their constitutional right established by Roe v. Wade will experience harm or trauma. Judge Yeakel also wrote that the substantial injury to clinics and patients seeking abortion would outweigh any damage to the state. Additionally, halting the Order “will not disserve the public interest,” Yeakel wrote.
However, the day after the Judge released his decision, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals allowed Texas to resume its abortion restrictions.
Just over a week later, on April 9, Judge Yeakel issued another temporary restraining order on the Court of Appeals’ decision. Under the new policy, if patients wanted an abortion but risked being too late if they waited until the ban was lifted, they were allowed to get the procedure. And, once again, patients had access to medication abortion—fleetingly.
Two days later, on April 11, the Fifth Circuit judges blocked Judge Yeakel’s order, overturning the medication exemption. But, on April 13, the Fifth Circuit went back on their decision and ruled that medication abortions were allowed. Treatment using pills alone would no longer qualify as a “procedure” and would therefore not deplete the supply of medical and personal protective equipment.
The Executive Order remained in place through April 22, after which restrictions were lifted. Dr. Rosenfeld called the Order “a disaster.”
Using the pandemic as a political guise to ban abortion could cause a number of other disasters. People seeking abortions in states with restrictions could be forced to travel and risk exposure while pregnant and more vulnerable to COVID-19.
Additionally, these bans mean that women living with sexually abusive family members or partners would not have access to terminating pregnancies.
Furthermore, limiting access to abortion often does not actually stop women from getting abortions. In a March 2018 reported entitled, “Induced Abortion,” the Guttmacher Institute found that countries with bans actually have higher rates of abortion than those without restrictions.
The report states that, “The abortion rate is 37 per 1,000 women in countries that prohibit abortion altogether or allow it only to save a woman’s life, and 34 per 1,000 in countries that allow abortion without restriction.” This increased rate in regions that have limited access is due in large part to unsafe, or illegal, abortions.
The World Health Organization (WHO) classifies an unsafe abortion as “a procedure for terminating an unintended pregnancy carried out either by persons lacking the necessary skills or in an environment that does not conform to minimal medical standards, or both.”
Before Roe v. Wade, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) estimates that each year, 1.2 million women in the US had unsafe abortions.
Dr. Rosenfeld explains that today, “illegal abortion is one of the leading causes of maternal mortality.” Not only do abortion bans disproportionately impact women who already do not have access to comprehensive reproductive healthcare, but the bans also motivate unsafe abortions. In 2006, WHO published a paper entitled, “Unsafe abortion: the preventable pandemic.”
In practice, abortion bans threaten the health of women who seek abortions. In already challenging situations, women must face additional, sometimes insurmountable, obstacles.
During the coronavirus outbreak, while people are already economically strapped and may be stuck at home caring for family members or practicing social distancing, access to comprehensive healthcare is more important than ever.
Whether by choice or necessity, the process of ending a pregnancy can be excruciating; it is not a decision that people take lightly. Regardless, it can be a lifesaving decision. This authority does not force a certain option; having a choice simply gives each person the independence to choose for themselves based on their own beliefs, circumstances, and constitutional rights.
Understanding the meaning of law and policy, whether executive orders or Constitutional Amendments, requires subjective interpretation. However, what must unify the spectrum of perspectives as threads of the same conversation is an underlying foundation of objective science and facts.
While we have reaffirmed the essential role of healthcare workers during the pandemic, we are seeing governors and attorneys general in states such as Texas fail to allow medical professionals to be the experts in their own field. We also saw this same political pursuit from the Ohio lawmakers who falsified medical science and then attempted to write it into law.
This desperation, though, is not new and is part of a persistent pattern. How we act now will inform reproductive rights long after the pandemic. It is critical to confront this willful ignorance and ensure that the discussion on abortion rights is based in truth, guided by the wisdom of medical professionals and those who have lived experience.
I think now of the multitude of individuals who must face further obstacles during this pandemic to fight for the care that they need and overcome the experience of being denied their rights.
My own pregnancy loss shook my sense of grounding and acquainted me with a deep sense of solitude, one that begged relentlessly for rebuilding. Perhaps the silence of sheltering in place will create clarity through the understanding that striving for justice together ensures we are not alone.
As the COVID-19 pandemic spread across the world, legally mandated restrictions promoting public health followed suit. To this day, we continue to be advised to maintain physical distancing, to work from home where possible, or, in some places, not leave our homes at all. These restrictions have inevitably made me think about the concept of safety. On the one hand, staying inside one’s home naturally increases safety in relation to the spread of this life-threatening virus. On the other hand, what about the danger from domestic violence that many people face inside the home?
Domestic violence is an ongoing global crisis. The World Health Organization estimates that about one-third of all women globally experience physical or sexual violence from an intimate partner during their lifetime. This is a shocking statistic, worsened when you appreciate that the prevalence of violence is even higher in women’s lives when you account for domestic and family violence perpetrated by other family members. Perhaps unsurprisingly, soon after the first COVID-19 related lockdowns and curfews were implemented, reports about steep increases in domestic violence followed. For example, during February 2020, at the height of the crisis in China, the number of domestic violence reports tripled compared to February 2019. In Kosovo, the Ministry of Justice recorded a one hundred percent increase in domestic violence in one city after the pandemic broke out and a 17% increase in cases overall, compared with the same time period in 2019.
So with the onset of COVID-19 lockdowns, we feared what the impact would be on LGBTIQ people stuck at home or LGBTIQ people having to return to family homes after job loss. We know that LGBTIQ people are disproportionately represented in the informal sector; that we already experience barriers to accessing healthcare; and that there is a history of blaming LGBTIQ people for crises ranging from the Haiti earthquake to Hurricane Katrina or the Ebola outbreak. And so, we immediately set out to understand how LGBTIQ people globally were affected by this pandemic.
On May 7th, we released our research findings in a new report, “Vulnerability Amplified: The Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on LGBTIQ People”. Our findings confirmed our suspicions and opened our eyes to just how much more vulnerable an already vulnerable section of society becomes during a pandemic. Indeed, domestic and family violence rang loud and clear in the results. The degree to which physical safety is compromised for LGBTIQ people during COVID-19 is evident in nearly every interview we conducted. Interviewees reported either feeling at increased risk themselves or knowing others at increased risk of violence and abuse within their homes due to forced cohabitation with unsupportive, hostile family members or abusive partners.
We heard about a 24-year old trans woman in the Caribbean, whose mother insisted that she wear men’s clothing and cut her hair while in her mother’s house, “or she will put her out during curfew”, which would mean facing arrest and even greater danger in imprisonment. Raksha in Singapore told us that her organization has received numerous “emergency requests for housing by lesbians who are scared to live at home because of emotional and physical violence from their parents”. Tatiana in Russia also told us that requests for the LGBT shelter in Moscow have grown exponentially in this time.
What amplifies the vulnerability even further is the fact that the places where LGBTIQ people are most safe are now off-limits, such as LGBTIQ community centers, bars, bookstores, and community events. These spaces have been closed because of COVID-19, and now our research shows that they are struggling to survive under the economic strain resulting from the crisis. Virtual spaces exist, in fact, in ever more creative ways. But for many, even those are impossible to access under the constant presence of unsupportive family members. For example, Catherine Sealys, who supports LGBTIQ people with social services in St. Lucia, told us that, “Some of the persons whom we support through remote therapy have to hide in the closet during counseling, so they are not overheard”. COVID-19 containment measures have taken away the ability of even momentary escape, quite literally pushing LGBTIQ people back into the closet.
It doesn’t stop there. Access to health and support services after experiencing domestic violence is tricky even without COVID-19. In 68 countries same-sex relations are still criminalized. So-called “conversion therapy” is a reality across the globe, and healthcare providers, including psychologists, are among the top perpetrators of these harmful practices. So seeking help after experiencing domestic violence can lead to secondary victimization or subjection to “conversion therapy”.
OutRight’s global programming on gender-based violence develops resources and conducts trainings for both service providers and first responders to be LGBTIQ-inclusive. In the Philippines, for example, we have trained thousands of frontline service providers across Quezon City on how to support LGBTIQ victims of family violence. Across the Caribbean, we are training service providers and mental health professionals, ensuring there is some LGBTIQ-inclusive service provision available. But resources like these are by no means widespread and, in the current state of crisis, access to health and supportive services are even more restricted, as even the service providers who have been trained on inclusivity are either closed, overwhelmed, or prioritizing COVID-19 responses.
COVID-19 will affect every one of us. Those of us in vulnerable groups, such as LGBTIQ people, become even more vulnerable, because while we try to stay safe from the virus, we are exposed to other dangers, especially at home. In response to urgent needs facing LGBTIQ people at this time – made evident in “Vulnerability Amplified” – OutRight launched an emergency fund to support LGBTIQ organizations as they resource their communities amid this global health crisis. We will also use our findings to advocate for governments to ensure inclusivity of LGBTIQ people in their crisis response. At the moment, that inclusion is sorely lacking, and without immediate interventions, LGBTIQ will suffer disproportionate harm from COVID-19.
In this episode of Women’s eNews Live, Executive Director Lori Sokol speaks with Claudia Dreifus, an American journalist, educator and lecturer, producer of the weekly feature “Conversation with…” in the Science Section of The New York Times, and is known for her interviews with leading figures in world politics and science, particularly emerging women leaders.
Dreifus talks about the need for science education, and how, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, “Much of the Press, like everyone else, is grasping at straws.”
“We are experiencing a golden age in science journalism showing how illiterate people are in science. Otherwise, people would be taking this pandemic more seriously.” – Claudia Dreifus
“A healthy society should not have just one voice.” — Dr. Li Wenliang, persecuted by the Chinese government after warning about the 2020 coronavirus. Dr. Li died on February 7, 2020at the age of 33.
Sunday was World Press Freedom Day, and it fell as Covid-19 killed more than 240,000 people, sickened at least 3.4 million and disrupted lives around the globe.
As we mourn our losses, let’s also mark and remember Dr. Li’s words. We need uncensored doctors and scientists who are free to speak, and we need journalists who keep us informed with truth and transparency.
The US must also fight against the type of reporting stifled in China, particularly now as many American officials are trying to bar health experts from informing the public or prevent the media from reporting public health issues.
For women and girls, fair and honest reporting is even more crucial. During this pandemic, violence against women has thus far increased by more than 25% in many countries around the world, some states in the US are trying to temporarily bar women’s right to abortion, and women are experiencing heavier job losses while undertaking increased childcare needs during school closures.
To continue to provide free and fearless reporting on these issues, and others, we are asking you, our readers, to help support Women’s eNews, the only non-profit global news organization providing exclusive coverage on the most crucial issues impacting women and girls around the world.
In honor of our 20th Anniversary this year, will you donate a minimum of $20 (either annually or monthly) to support our work? (A monthly donation will provide you with a copy of the book, ‘She Is Me: How Women Will Save The World’, written by Women’s eNews Executive Director Lori Sokol, PhD., due out in August, 2020.)
Because a healthy society should not, and must not, have just one voice.
The chilling notion of a “death panel” – a ghoulish cabal empowered to approve or deny life-saving medical treatment – was contrived to scare people away from the Affordable Care Act. At the time, the scenario was unimaginable. In recent weeks, though, the Covid-19 pandemic has made lots of things imaginable, including situations where doctors have to pick and choose which ICU patients got the limited, potentially life-saving, supplies, respirators in particular. Overworked doctors and health workers have become in effect “death panels.” Confronted with multiple desperate patients, they are forced to consider whose chances of survival are statistically higher. It seems horrible but reasonable that if there is only one available respirator, it should go to a previously healthy young person. What happens, though, if the choice is among several young people and one of them can’t walk? Does that disqualify that patient? Is “quality of life” a morally acceptable consideration in this situation? And if so, what does the phrase mean?
When I began a series of interviews with women who had cerebral palsy (for a book to be published by the Cerebral Palsy Foundation), I took for granted that everyone would agree their quality of life was diminished by their physical condition. So I set out to focus on the rest of their lives, who they were aside from their disability. I quickly understood that the two are inseparable – their disabilities are their lives. But their lives are more than their disabilities. And their quality of life is diminished less by being “people with disabilities” (their preferred term, rather than “disabled person,” which implies that everything about them is deficient) than by being unwelcome or downright invisible in the world around them.
I heard stories of every-day indignities that were imposed by “them,” their able-bodied fellow citizens. That they were news to me confirmed that I hadn’t been paying attention, either. One woman who gets around New York City in a wheelchair, navigating curbs and traffic lights, told me that frequently she gets to the subway at the end of her day and encounters an “out of service” sign at the elevator. I heard about a teacher who wouldn’t bend the rules to accommodate a bright student who couldn’t hold a pencil and wanted to dictate her answers on a test. Or worse, the teacher who didn’t believe it when that student got an A-plus. Or the gynecologist who couldn’t figure out a way to do a pelvic exam on a spastic patient and sent her away. Or his nurses who claimed it wasn’t their job to transfer her from her chair to the examining table. Several reported having been physically and emotionally abused because of their vulnerability. Others described being excluded from events because their crutches slowed them down or their wheelchair didn’t fit in the car that was going there. As a result, loneliness is a common experience. (“Social distancing” only makes things worse.)
Those were the – often unnecessary – facts of life, but despite the obstacles and slights, what they wanted to tell me about was the full half of the glass, the quality of their “disabled” lives. Each woman talked about having fun, going to parties, going to college (they could name the very few institutions that were wheelchair accessible and had dorms designed to meet their needs), traveling, enjoying their work, being active in sports and politics, pursuing their dreams. Two of them had been the valedictorian of their class.
Motherhood, as hard as it was physically, was a special joy to several. Once, that is, they were able to talk a team of doctors into caring for them. They found ingenious solutions to the most ordinary tasks. Since she could not hold her baby and rock her to sleep, one young mother put the infant in her lap and rode her wheelchair around the kitchen. Several were married to men who also had CP and while the obstacles were doubled, so was the joy and ingenuity with which they shared tasks in ways that took advantage of each one’s own capability. Among them were women whose doctors hadn’t even told them they could have children…let alone have sex.
With all of the poking and prodding that come with a chronic disease, one bodily function was particularly shrouded in mystery. The pervasive assumption is that a woman in a wheelchair can’t have sex, let alone be the object of sexual interest. I was truly shocked by the stories of medical professionals who were as ill-informed as the public and twice as dismissive.
A couple of the women I spoke to had speech impediments. For them, working the system is even harder. It means finding alternative ways – they do exist – to communicate with the world. That takes training, technology, and social skills. But, again, the practicalities are not the worst part. As one woman put it, “The biggest issue with having a speech impediment is when people are impatient with me. If someone gives me an ounce of patience, I give ten ounces. I only get frustrated when a listener doesn’t even try to understand me. Because I am convinced I can make myself understood.”
A young woman named Alice Wong had a similar message: Listen to me. In an interview with Vox.com (4/4) she rejected the assumption that “a ‘good’ ‘healthy’ life is one without disability, pain and suffering. I live with all three and I feel more vital than ever at this point in time, because of my experiences and relationships.” Like all of us, her “quality of Life” is what she knows it is; it can’t – and shouldn’t – be measured by any other criterion.
Suzanne Braun Levine is a writer, editor and nationally recognized authority on women, families, and changing gender roles. She was the first editor of Ms. magazine and the first woman to edit the Columbia Journalism Review. In her recent work Levine has celebrated a new stage of life – Second Adulthood – and she reports on the ongoing changes in women’s lives in her books, in media interviews (including Oprah! Charlie Rose and NPR) and lectures, and in frequent blogs for AARP, Encore.org, Huff/Post50, and Next/Avenue.
From the Lake House: A Mother’s Odyssey of Loss and Love is Kristen’s debut memoir that originated as a series of essays about grief.
Lowering myself to my bedroom’s cool tile floor, I leaned against the cornflower blue wall, pulled my knees into my chest, and looked around. A dust bunny, carried by a breeze streaming in through the open window, floated past my ankles and landed in front of two canvas bags. The movers had hauled away furniture and boxes and lamps and plants, and all that was le in my house was my elderly cat cowering in the bathroom. And these bags.
A jewelry box in one bag housed dangly beaded earrings, silver necklaces, a few pendants, and one string of pearls, a gift from an ex-boyfriend. I’d worn the pearls at cocktail parties and swanky restaurants when I’d lived in Boston, but they’d never left the velvet-lined drawer after moving to Chapel Hill. Though unnecessary and frankly silly, I had safeguarded my modest assortment of trinkets and ornaments from a ride in the moving truck.
A small birch picture frame poked out of the second bag. Behind the glass was a set of tiny footprints, and inching myself closer, I tried looking at them with new eyes, hoping to uncover something different about the pattern on the heels and big toe mounds, or the way the toes were nearly perfectly spaced apart. But I couldn’t. I’d stared at them too often, their image permanently etched in my mind. The frame used to sit on the windowsill beside a pink bowl where I kept two Polaroids, our hospital bracelets, the ultrasound photo, and several seashells I’d fervently gathered for her on a Florida beach after the good-bye. The bowl lay carefully wrapped in the bag, along with a floral hatbox stuffed with condolence cards, one small diaper, and my plum-colored journal filled with letters to her and reflections on how to keep living.
No way would movers’ hands touch the homage to my daughter. I was carrying it myself.
“I should get out of here,” I said aloud. “The movers will wonder where I am.”
Facing the bank of windows, my eyes followed the gently rolling lawn, past the weeping willow and the dogwoods, past the patches of azaleas and hydrangeas, down to the water. I’d been renting this simple basement apartment of a beautiful home that sat on the shoreline of a small lake. It was here where I’d discovered that the outdoors held magic, that birdsongs could uplift, and that amber and golden leaves swirling in circles on a windswept fall morning could astonish with their sun-dappled dance. It was here where I no longer dreaded the swoop of emptiness descending like a fast-moving fog—my breath suddenly shallow, chest tight, body wanting to curl up like a potato bug. I learned to yield to sorrow and retreat to my easy chair, or the patio next to the rose bushes, or the dock where ripples of water weaved through my toes. Part of me longed to extend my lease on the apartment because it was here where I’d stopped spinning. Finally, enfolded in the peaceful solitude of the lake house, I had looked inside myself, cultivated roots, and begun to heal.
“Are you ready, Max?”
My voice echoed through the empty rooms. My gray tuxedo cat eyed me from behind the toilet where he’d spent the day. He was still adjusting to life without his beloved brother whom I’d recently buried out back near the gardenias. “It’s okay, little boy.” I rubbed the white patch beneath his chin. “You’ll like the new house.” As I turned to leave, I caught my reflection in the mirror. “And you’ll like it too.” My cheeks were flushed, and shadows under my eyes showed fatigue from a late night of packing. I was forty-three years old and moving into the first place I’d ever bought, a freshly renovated townhouse with a brand-new kitchen and bathrooms and a secluded stone patio lined with crape myrtles. A home all my own.
I scooped Max into my arms and tucked his head into the crook of my neck. He refused to purr, refused to look at me. “I’m sorry for another move,” I whispered into his downy ear, “but this will be it for a while. Promise.”
Should he believe me after the cascade of changes and losses? Impulsively relocating to Chapel Hill had not unfolded as I’d expected. Then again, what had I expected? With little forethought, had I really hoped to flee Boston and my broken heart and slide like warm butter into a new and improved romance, an upgraded life in the South? Had I been naïve, desperate, unlucky? Perhaps all three?
I stood at the dock one last time before placing Max and the canvas bags in my aged Jetta. The air was warm for mid-March, and sunlight skipped along the lake’s surface. A lone woman in a kayak glided by, stroke slow and steady, her red hat a burst of color against the still, pewter water. I watched until she disappeared. A mere two years earlier on a chilly January afternoon, I had moved by myself into this apartment after my life as I’d known it had all but disappeared. Like a busted-up jigsaw puzzle, pieces of it had been scattered about, a few gone missing, and somehow I had to make myself whole again.
My courtship with Jason had begun five years earlier and not until after we’d moved in together. He’d flown up to Boston, helped me load a truck with everything I owned, two cats included, and we’d driven it all to North Carolina. Three days later, set up in our newly rented Chapel Hill cottage, we celebrated the Fourth of July. I loved the irony of this. Freedom! Jason and I sat side by side in lawn chairs on our front deck, fingers clasped and a beer balancing in each of our laps. No more endless winters, I thought. No more herding fifth graders, no more desperate speculation about what had gone wrong with Brian.
“Here’s to new beginnings,” I said, raising my bottle to clink Jason’s.
He leaned in to kiss me, and then we sat back and listened to the booms from distant reworks. Closing my eyes, I breathed in the sweet scent of magnolias wafting up to us from the huge tree beyond the deck. Fist-sized white magnolia blooms are uncommon in New England, as are kudzu-covered pine trees, and coral and periwinkle crape myrtle blossoms. My new landscape seemed like talismans of my new life.
I’m a planner—careful, systematic. So when I’d told my friends and family that I was leaving my teaching job, my apartment, the city I’d lived in for more than a dozen years for North Carolina, they’d stared at me. What? And when I told them that Jason and I were going to live together, their mouths fell open. He and I had known each other for a whopping six months and, save for a handful of weekend visits, our long-distance history had consisted of phone calls and email. Surely I might want to take things more slowly? But I didn’t. At thirty-eight, slow and steady wasn’t working.
When I’d met Jason, I was reeling. My ex-boyfriend Brian, a Boston attorney I had been involved with for three years, that blue-eyed, blond-haired, Irish-Catholic, sports-loving family man, the one I was so certain I’d marry and have a kid or two with, had royally dumped me—and on 9/11. I was out of my mind with misery for months, slumped in my apartment amid a constant flow of tears and wine, until at Christmas I crash-landed at my brother’s farmhouse near Chapel Hill, beyond grateful to get out of my bleak head and bitter cold Boston. Who did I happen to meet during my holiday getaway? Jason. An easygoing, boot-wearing, homegrown North Carolinian, staggering from his recent divorce. We were a match made in Rebound Heaven. We grabbed ahold of each other like Velcro and didn’t let go.
We called our house a nest. It sat on the crest of a shady hill, and we lived on top of each other in the small rooms. That suited us just fine as we settled into the hot summer filled with love and lust and the belief that together we were going to build a great new life. We entwined our legs when lazing on the sofa and locked hands when running errands. Sometimes Jason and I moved the furniture to the side of our living room, turned the stereo up, and danced, his hazel eyes smiling and long, lean limbs swaying against mine. He’d occasionally lift me off the floor and twirl my lithe, petite frame, our laughter as loud as the music, and when he set me back down, he’d brush wisps of my fine hair off my cheeks.
With a history of general contract work and also all-around handy and creative, Jason had left his decorative concrete business post-divorce to design and construct green, sustainable buildings. That summer he was hard at work on his first house and believed more would follow, the start of a prosperous new business. Before Jason left for the day, off to the countryside with his work crew, I’d start coffee and breakfast. After the last bite of our bagels, we’d kiss good-bye at the kitchen door.
“See you tonight, sweetie,” he’d say, “and call me if you get lonely.”
“Okay.” I’d smile back at him, leaning into his chest. “What do you want for dinner? Actually, never mind. I’ll surprise you.”
And we’d kiss one more time, as if our morning ritual was the most normal thing in the world, as if we’d been doing it our whole lives, and I’d wave to Jason as he drove off.
Without another year of teaching looming ahead, nothing lay in front of me professionally but a vague notion about finding a new path in education. Not having a clear direction was a strange place for me. Back when I was twenty-three, my decision to teach had hit me with such Road to Damascus clarity that I couldn’t believe I’d wasted my first year out of college without seeing my obvious path. I’d gotten myself into a top graduate program, waitressed my way through a master’s degree, and landed a plum teaching position in one of Massachusetts’s best public schools. For a long time I’d thrived, so attached to my students I couldn’t bear to be out sick. Parents clamored to get their kids into my class, and I had plenty of teacher friends to join for happy hours on Fridays, ski trips in the winter, and beach trips in the summer. I had a good life.
I floated through my first Chapel Hill summer with boisterous fifth graders, Boston, and Brian behind me. Having no plans of any kind and with some money saved, I felt no pressure to rush a job search. I loved my virtual anonymity in Chapel Hill and savored the rare gift of unstructured time. Sometimes I took long walks through my new neighborhood, shopped for household supplies, or chipped away at more unpacking. I sent emails to my friends back in Boston and wrote in my journal. My poor journal had been the repository of my anger and anguish the previous year, multitudes of entries about Brian. How could he have left? I asked its pages again and again. He doesn’t even explain. Just disappears. Entries about 9/11. All those souls pulverized to ash, I wrote. The terror they must have felt. How many nights had I sat numbly in front of the television, watching the image of the crumbling Twin Towers? My childhood home was less than fifty miles away, across the Sound on Long Island. I had grown up seeing those towers materialize on the horizon as the train I’d take to Manhattan approached the city. Everything is chaos, I had scrawled across my journal’s pages. Brian won’t return my calls. Lower Manhattan’s a graveyard. I don’t want to teach anymore.
Fast forward to my North Carolina nest. I’m here!!! I wrote with extra exclamation marks. This little house is so sweet. And so is Jason.
And he was. I’d make the bed in the morning to discover a love note tucked under my pillow. He’d spontaneously grab me around my waist, hold my face in his hands, and tell me that he loved me. He’d offer back rubs, bring home chocolate, and crack me up with his hilarious impressions of North Carolina politicians.
That summer we found lakes and ponds for swimming on the weekends, ate dinner on the front lawn of the local co-op, and visited my brother out on his farm. We rode our bicycles through nearby wooded trails, dumbfounded one evening after discovering we were lost. Light dwindling, we sheepishly asked directions from a friendly hiker and then laughed at ourselves all the way home.
One August afternoon, we drove half a day for an impromptu trip to the Outer Banks, found a spit of nearly deserted beach, and pitched a tent. After swimming and languishing until the sun dropped out of view, we sat on beach chairs next to our tent, buried our feet in the sand, ate tuna sandwiches, and drank tepid beer. Jason pulled me onto his lap and we kissed; all I could hear was the sound of the surf and our own breathing.
“Isn’t this great?” Jason asked. “I know it’s only been a couple of months, but we’re really doing this, aren’t we?”
“Yeah, we are.” We high-fived each other. “Who would have thought that a northern city girl and a southern country boy would fall in love and do so well together?”
And we did. Every time we stumbled into a cultural chasm, we simply climbed out and kept going. I didn’t give a second thought to the fact that the novels and authors I read were completely unknown to him. I ignored the fact that he set the radio to country music while I kept switching it back to NPR. That hunting rifle he kept in the shed didn’t represent a clash of lifestyles, did it? Nor did the multiple deer racks his parents proudly displayed in their home? We shared stories of our adolescence, and I found the contrast charming. He’d worn camouflage gear with his dad, waiting up in a tree for an unsuspecting deer to amble by, or cheered at NASCAR races, or dealt weed in the shadows of his high school. I’d played my violin, attended Broadway plays, and kept company with my high school’s nerdy theater crowd. And while I took the higher education route after high school, earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees from preppy New England schools, Jason had gone directly to work, first for his father at a manufacturing plant, and then bouncing from job to job.
On paper we might have been an unlikely couple, but I didn’t care. Sure, I’d spent more time deliberating over the color of a new sofa than I had in choosing to uproot myself and partner with Jason. But his steady stream of affection felt soothing, like good southern molasses, and it brought me back to life. And all the newness of Chapel Hill—the geography, the house, the accents, and the flora—was exactly the balm I needed to release the despair and tumult of my ending with Brian.
Kristen Rademacher lives in Chapel Hill, NC, and works as an Academic Coach at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. With a master’s degree in education and a certification as a life coach, her career in education spans thirty years. When not writing, Kristen loves a long mountain hike, an afternoon lost in a juicy book or podcast, and the company of beloved family and friends.
The 4th Annual Campus ERA Day, an event to raise awareness about the need for women’s equality to be guaranteed by the US Constitution, will take place over ZOOM today, April 27th at 6:00 – 7:30 pm EST.
To join the ERA Coalition for Campus ERA Day for a terrific discussion of the Equal Rights Amendment, please RSVP here or join the night of the event by Zoom or Facebook Live to tune in. It will swing into action with some of the major participants in this year’s big successes: Virginia becoming the 38th and final state needed for ratification–and the House of Representatives dissolving the time limit in the introduction of the ERA. There’s so much more to be done to get our 28th Amendment–and these panelists can tell us how to get there.
*The event is conducted in partnership with the Grove Fellows based at Roosevelt House Institute of Public Policy at Hunter College. ERA Coalition Co-President Jessica Neuwirth, who is also Director of the Human Rights Project at Hunter started ERA Campus Day four years ago–and its DC and Advocacy Director Bettina Hager and Carol Jenkins, Co-President and CEO of the ERA Coalition are pleased to be Grove Leaders this year, helping the Fellows put on the event. We are now taking students through the Zoom process–students from states like Hawaii, Missouri, Mississippi, South Carolina Texas and Iowa who are joining us Monday. We are excited that this year we have many high school students joining the conversation, including panelist Rosie Couture–a high school sophomore–who leads Coalition Lead Organization Generation Ratify, representing some 800 ERA focused students across the country.
Beginning today, and every Friday thereafter, Women’s eNews will select a ‘Book of the Week,’ providing you with a sampling of some of the latest books from some of the finest female writers who will stir your curiosity, feed your intellect, and take you anywhere and everywhere, without leaving the comfort of your own home. We hope you will join us in supporting these highly talented authors!!
This week’s Book of the Week is Private Investigations
by Victoria Zackheim
When it was suggested that I consider a collection of essays written by mystery writers revealing the mysteries of their lives, I couldn’t help but think of my own. Were the life-changing mysteries that had shaped my life shared by the twenty gifted writers in this collection? I quickly discovered that all of us view mystery in very different and personal ways. The mysteries we discover in the course of everyday living are real, imagined, dreamed, even hoped for, feared, and anticipated. A mystery can present itself as an enigma, a solution, a challenge, a surprise. A thing of despair—or something magical. Falling in love—or out of love. Gaining stature and reputation or losing respect. Being innocent—and then not. Marriage and divorce, illness and death, the rise and fall of friendships. The expected and the serendipitous. Situations that hurt us and thrill us. In these stories, you are invited into the private lives of gifted writers, most of them New York Times and international best sellers. You may be a fan, or you may be reading their work for the first time. Their stories, all true, cover the breadth of life experiences, from introspective to mystical, from laugh-out-loud funny to noir. Mysteries, when presented from our very personal perspectives—and all of these certainly are—come in all forms. So what are the secrets, riddles, and wonders of our lives? Do we focus on our joy or grief, highs or lows, something meticulously defined or so amorphous as to seem impossible to fathom? Whatever form these mysteries take, all of us have had our lives shaped by them. They affect who we are and how we live, love, think . . . behave. We can celebrate those riddles, wonders, and secrets, or we can fear them. Perhaps it’s because everything we touch, everything that touches us, has the potential to be a mystery. I felt this when I held my children for the first time. And when I accompanied my daughter to a medical examination and heard the twin heartbeats of my first grandchildren, causing my knees to buckle so that I had to grip the bed rail to stop myself from falling. And when I look into the faces of my son’s children and imagine their futures, their dreams. There are so many mysteries around us. I remember with unusual clarity that moment in 1977 when I saw my father only minutes after his death. He was ten years younger than I am today. Gone too soon, yet his body seemed so peaceful, finally pain-free. I muttered, “This is not my father,” which caused a bit of alarm for my mother and the nurse. I tried to explain that I was looking at the shell that had housed his beautiful spirit but that his curiosity about the world around him and his quick sense of humor felt very much alive. This was my first close experience with death, and it left me confused, mystified. If a mystery is an enigma that we must unravel, then I was confronting a mystery. That same sense returned while I was sitting at my mother’s bedside. When she took her last breath, I knew that she was finally at peace. Nearly ninety, she had become increasingly angry that her last years were so difficult. An artist who could no longer paint, a political activist whose voice had been stilled, she felt locked within the walls of her home. Again, I struggled with the Why? of it. My complicated, brilliant mother. Who she was will always remain a mystery in my life. Mysteries are found in the stories of our lives, some of them challenging believability. Hallie Ephron visits a spiritualist in the hope of understanding her friend’s claims to have spoken with her murdered brother, while Sulari Gentill discovers an uncle whose existence was kept a secret . . . until she stumbles upon a family photograph. We are confronted with mysteries when health is in question. I don’t exercise nearly enough, and one of my mysteries is how and why I remain upright and relatively healthy! Rachel Howzell Hall was living her life balancing writing, family, and career until a new word joined her lexicon: cancer. Caroline Leavitt lost her voice, found no answers from medical specialists, and set out to solve this mystery on her own.
Many authors pull from their very personal experiences when mapping out the plots of their novels. Connie May Fowler recalls her abuse at the hands of her mother, the social pressures she felt as a childless woman, and a recent illness that was frightening yet reminded her of the kindness of strangers. William Kent Krueger shares how his childhood was defined by the mysteries of his mother’s mental illness—the same woman who became the protagonist of one of his novels. Life teaches us such varied lessons, some of which are cloaked in mystery, such as our quest for truth and how we respond to love and loss. As different as the stories in this collection are, you will discover similarities of the human spirit. For example, similar themes draw us into the varied and always difficult elements of war: survival, challenge, hardship, discovery. How are we affected by war? Do we honor those who fought to defend our rights? Our liberties? Martin Limón reveals the challenges of a young American soldier dropped into the foreign and sometimes mysterious culture of Korea. There are mysteries that we discover as we write or as we adjust to a new place in the world. Ausma Zehanat Khan, an international human rights attorney, explores the mystery of her own origins, while Cara Black’s Paris is so much a part of her being that Inspector Maigret seems to be evident everywhere she goes. As you read these stories—I resist calling them essays, although that is what they are, because that label suggests something impersonal, perhaps even cold, whereas these narratives are rich with warmth and intimacy, sharing and trust—you will hear each author’s voice, share each story, and in many ways feel as if that author is seated beside you and speaking directly to you. What are your personal mysteries? What have you seen, survived, and experienced that has made you who you are today? When you read these stories, you might find yourself nodding, smiling, perhaps discovering tears in your eyes, certainly identifying with so much that the twenty authors share with you. It is my hope that you find elements of yourself and your life in some of these stories and that what you find, what you discover, leads you to a greater understanding of who you are and how important you are—an essential thread in this mysterious tapestry we call life.
“A fascinating and unsettling set of essays about what makes writers curious, what makes them investigate.” —JANE SMILEY, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of A Thousand Acres
‘Quid Pro Quo.’ ‘Give and Take.’ ‘Tit for Tat.’ ‘You scratch my back, and I’ll scratch yours.’ Or perhaps, even more apropos these days, ‘One Hand Washes the Other.’
These are just a few of the more popular expressions being used to gently describe an otherwise dangerous and illegal act, and one which can actually be summed up in just one word: Extortion
Extortion is defined as obtaining something from a person by force, intimidation, or undue or illegal power, and it is a felony in all states of the US.
There are many individuals who have been arrested, and even convicted, for committing this crime, with some of the more well-known cases stemming from the television and entertainment industry.
One case involved Keifer Bonvillain, a former employee of Oprah Winfrey’s production company, who tried to extort $1.5 million from her in 2005 by threatening to reveal secrets about her life. He was arrested and charged with extortion.
And in 2013, Thomas George Paculis of Newfrield, NY, tried to make a deal with celebrity chef Paula Deen’s attorney to sign a non-disclosure agreement after threatening to go public with damaging information about her. He was sentenced to two years in federal prison.
But perhaps the most infamous example of extortion involved a television celebrity who was actually the perpetrator, rather than the victim, but has still not been arrested or served any jail time.
Enter Donald Trump, former reality television star of The Apprentice, who is now President of the United States, and who was accused in 2019 of holding up military aid to Ukraine unless that government looked into Democratic collusion with that country. The aid was only released after a whistleblower exposed the truth about Trump’s threat. When the US House of Representatives followed-up with a formal investigation, Trump was impeached. Still, Trump denied the allegations, until he admitted it in a November interview on “Fox & Friends.”
Still, the US Senate acquitted Donald Trump for this federal crime by dismissing all charges.
Yet, as Maya Angelou once said, “When somebody shows you who they are the first time, believe them,”
This is especially true for Donald Trump.
During the congressional impeachment hearings in December 2019, Stanford Law professor Pamela Karlan tried to explain the depth of Donald Trump’s Ukraine extortion by making the following analogy: “Members of Congress should imagine living in a state prone to devastating hurricanes and flooding. What would they think,” she asked, “if their governor requested a meeting with the president to talk about disaster assistance, and he replied, “I would like you to do us a favor”?
Well, Donald Trump is essentially doing just that by capitalizing on a different but even more devastating killer…the Coronavirus. In another example of extortion, Trump said at a recent news conference that he had instructed Vice President Mike Pence, whom he has placed in charge of the coronavirus response, not to call the governors of some democratic states where the pandemic is raging. “Mike, don’t call the governor of Washington. You’re wasting your time with him. Don’t call the woman in Michigan,’” he said, adding, “If they don’t treat you right, I don’t call.”
Further, Trump has decided to limit the amount of federal assistance provided to New York State, accusing Governor Andrew Cuomo of inflating that state’s death toll. This is being done while New York prosecutors have subpoenaed eight years of Trump’s tax returns, which he has still refused to provide. Hmmm…
So how about, instead of resorting to illegal threats as a leader, he tries a thoroughly different approach, and a legal one at that.
Honesty is to extortion what good is to evil, what Abel is to Cain, and what Dr. Jekyll is to Mr. Hyde. But one need not look back to the Book of Genesis or read a gothic novella to acknowledge its innate difference, or its proven effectiveness. One just needs to look at a few of the current leaders of other countries, and female leaders in particular. For just under 8,000 miles from the US stands a leader who does not blame others, complain about the media, or shuck responsibility. She speaks the truth, and by doing so she is saving the lives of its citizens and well as minimizing the pandemic’s impact on its economy.
New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern recently announced that the country’s battle against coronavirus is winning, following the lowest number of new cases in three weeks. Despite a population close to five million, there have been only 1,431 cases and just 12 deaths thus far. How is she doing it?
From the very beginning Ardern spoke in simple straight-forward language, asking her country’s citizens to not only stay home, but to also be kind. She made it clear that “we are all in this together,” and gave the country 48 hours to prepare for a strict lockdown citing that although “We currently have 102 cases, so did Italy once.” She also praised residents for mounting a ‘wall of defense’ and suggested the four-week lockdown could be softened in just over a few weeks’ time if social distancing rules were maintained. She made it clear that by everyone working together its citizens could collectively end the crisis. Rather than commanding them, she empowered them.
Not surprisingly, New Zealand isn’t the only woman-led country to successfully minimize COVID-19’s impact. Angela Merkel, the Chancellor of Germany, declared very early that it was a serious bug that could infect up to 70% of the population. Testing began right from the beginning. There was no denial, no blaming, no paranoia. As a result, Germany’s coronavirus cases and deaths are far below that of other European countries, and the country may soon be able to loosen its restrictions.
In Taiwan, when President Tsai Ing-wen witnessed the first signs of the illness in January, she introduced 124 measures to block the spread, thereby avoiding lockdowns. As of April 15, 2020, the country reported a total of 265 active coronavirus cases and just six deaths, despite its proximity to mainland China. Taiwan is now assisting other countries increasingly affected by the virus by sending 10 million face masks to the US and Europe.
Further, Finland’s Prime Minister Sanna Marin has an 85% approval rating among her country’s citizens for her ability to protect them from the pandemic. She has done so not by projecting blame, but by taking responsibility, and calling in verified experts, particularly social media influencers, who have been able to ensure fact-based information reached its citizens instantaneously and comprehensively. Influencers with tens of thousands of followers are viewed by Finland as critical to getting honest information circulated and, as a result, the country has recorded only 59 deaths from COVID-19. Further, these influencers provide assistance voluntarily, viewing this as its duty as citizens.
In yet two other Nordic countries, Iceland Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir has been offering free coronavirus testing to all its citizens, and has developed a comprehensive tracking system that has enabled the country to avoid lock down and keep schools open, while Norway’s Prime Minister Erna Solberg is also calling on experts in the social media space to assist in flattening the coronavirus curve in her country. She is encouraging everyone to use the app Smittestopp, which is designed to track the spread of the virus. It can also be used to alert users when they have been close to someone infected. And, in a uniquely compassionate and empowering move, she spoke directly to her country’s children via television, explaining to them that it was OK to feel scared.
Clearly, traits like honesty, empathy and kindness, which are otherwise viewed in patriarchal societies as feminine, soft and weak, are actually proving stronger and more effective in saving lives, while limiting the economic toll. Just as former US President Barack Obama said at an event on leadership in December 2019, “If women ran every country in the world, there would be a general improvement in living standards and outcomes. They are indisputably better than men…I’m absolutely confident that if, for two years, every nation on earth was run by women, you would see a significant improvement across the board on just about everything; living standards and outcomes.”
Yet unfortunately, due to the Coronavirus’ extensive and rapid spread, we cannot afford to wait that long. With so many countries remaining on lockdown, when will male leaders finally learn from women, and exhibit true strength?
Just hours before the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus outbreak a global pandemic, I faced a classroom of 21 nursing students, each spaced six feet apart. They had come to take an important exam, and before we started, I asked them to pause and reflect on this moment in history.
“You are going through something unprecedented,” I said. “The world is about to see just how much nurses are needed.”
In 2015, after 35 years as a clinical nurse, I became an instructor to help address our country’s critical nursing shortage. Over my career, I’d felt the labor crisis palpably and seen it worsen to a breaking point. Today, 76.4 million Baby Boomers are aging into retirement and cases of chronic disease are skyrocketing. It’s no wonder colleagues are spread too thin, burning out and quitting. But it’s a serious problem. As one of the fastest growing occupations, our field needs an estimated 1.1 million new registered nurses to cover new jobs; it also needs to replace more than half a million nurses who are expected to retire by 2022, according to the American Nurses Association and the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Unfortunately, there aren’t enough nursing students to keep pace with this escalating demand.
Today, the coronavirus pandemic is pushing our health care system to the brink, but it has also fanned the flames of xenophobia. This reaction misses the crucial fact that talented immigrant health care professionals are vital to our medical establishment. Currently, about 16 percent of registered nurses are foreign born, according to New American Economy. From my experience in the field and as a teacher, I’ve been impressed by their nursing skills, compassion for patients and dedication to our mission of caring for the sick. While some research shows that about one in five nurses leaves within their first year, and one in three leave within two years, I find that immigrant nurses remain steadfast in the field. That’s why it’s so critical that we help them thrive.
The COVID-19 pandemic has made clear that nurses on the front lines need fortitude. I tell my students often that this work requires sacrifice, and that only the deeply committed should proceed. Perhaps because immigrant nursing students have already overcome so much – leaving home, learning a new language, navigating barriers of culture, policy and more – they’ve developed the resilience required to excel at this demanding work. I’ve taught several immigrant nursing students who were physicians in their home countries but decided to transition to the U.S. nursing industry. These physicians from Russia, Syria and beyond gladly jumped through numerous bureaucratic and financial hoops and worked at whatever level was available – be it a surgical tech or a research assistant – just so they could continue to serve patients as they pursued their nursing degree.
There are also immediate practical reasons why an immigrant nursing force is vital: They can reach these communities with language skills and cultural knowledge that other healthcare professionals may not have. This is especially important when it comes to undocumented communities. We need everyone at risk of infection to come forward, get tested and receive proper treatment, no matter their immigration status. Immigrant nurses have a major role to play in helping to counter this fear and bring vulnerable people out of the shadows. They can show all of us in the field how to best serve these and other vulnerable communities during this pandemic. And when this crisis ends, the United States must create new immigration policies to attract more of these devoted workers because the shortage will continue, and it will worsen.
I hope the coronavirus pandemic helps Americans understand the special role that nurses play in our darkest days, administering life-saving treatments and offering comfort in countless ways. This March, my mother died after months in hospice following a heart attack. Due of the coronavirus, we canceled her funeral service. Only her immediate family buried her. My 91-year-old father, who lives in assisted living and is immunocompromised, was not allowed to stand with us at her burial. He watched from the car as his wife was buried. During this time of grief, he lives in self-quarantine, unable to be with his family when he needs us most.
His only human contact? Nurses. They tend to him. They comfort him. They listen to his stories about his wife. They remind him that they are there for him.
If COVID-19 teaches us anything, it should be that this fight is not between nations—this fight is humanity versus the virus. And no one has a deeper appreciation of the basic human experience than nurses. We are there when your baby is born, and we are there when you’ve breathed your last breath. We are the ones guiding you through all the pain and joy that life offers. But to do this, America must recognize the crucial role that foreign-born nurses play and the unique talents they bring. We must welcome skilled and healing hands wherever we find them.
Dawn Davison is a retired registered nurse who previously worked at Advocate Good Samaritan Hospital. She currently teaches as an adjunct clinical nursing instructor at Olivet Nazarene University. She lives in Wheaton, IL.
Melissa Mark-Viverito was first elected to NYC City Council 8th District in 2006 and served for 11 years before being unanimously elected as Speaker from January 2014 to 2017. During her tenure in the Council, Melissa has been a leader in the fight for comprehensive immigration reform, an outspoken advocate for criminal justice reform, and a champion in the housing crisis. Melissa supported policy that was deemed impossible by others including the creation of the first community land trust initiative, the creation of an Independent Commission to close Rikers Island, the production of the first legal fund for unaccompanied minors, and a legal defense fund that ensured all immigrants have access to legal representation during deportation proceedings. She also pushed Albany to provide state funding for NYCHA for the first time in a decade, created the Young Women’s Initiative and founded a citywide contraception fund. Prior to serving as Speaker, Melissa was the founding co-chair of the New York City Council Progressive Caucus and chaired the City Council Committee on Parks and Recreation.
She is now running to represent the Bronx in the United States Congress.
The Ovary Office is a new Women’s eNews series profiling the women who are running for public office, to counterbalance the patriarchal slant that currently exists in much of the mainstream media. Veteran broadcast journalist Gloria Joseph conducted this interview.
The Ovary Office is the brainchild of Amy Ferris, a highly accomplished author, screenwriter, television writer, and editor. She was also honored by Women’s eNews as one of its 21 Leaders for the 21st Century for 2018. Amy is also known for championing, encouraging, and inspiring women to awaken to their greatness, as only she can, through passion, truth, hope, and humor—along with a heaping side of activism.
As Elizabeth Warren bowed out of the race for the democratic nomination for the president in 2020, a collective moan was heard among females young and old. The field looked so promising — Elizabeth Warren, Amy Klobuchar, Kirsten Gillibrand, Kamala Harris, Stacey Abrams — all highly regarded candidates set to break the glass ceiling. But, on March 5, the last of these candidates, Senator Warren, left the field. It is now up to one white male.
Before giving in to despair, we should remember that history has several critical lessons to teach us. First, there are many paths to the presidency and women have made progress along several of those that have in the past led to the presidency.
Thirteen VPs went on to the White House. Gerald Ford and George H.W. Bush being the most recent two. We have not done anywhere as well on the female side. Only two women have been nominated: Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska by the Republican Party in 2008 and Representative Geraldine A. Ferraro by Democrats in 1984.
Although we have not yet elected a woman vice president, the consensus is that the next VP will be a female. According to the Action Network, “The one thing that seems to be for sure in this volatile race is if a Democrat wins in November, we would almost certainly have a female vice president. Oddsmakers have flooded the betting markets with several women among the top wagering selections.”
Among the names most often mentioned are Senators Harris, Klobuchar and Warren, as well as Stacey Abrams, who ran for governor of Alabama in 2018, and Gretchen Whitmer, governor of Michigan.
As Lisa Lerer and Reid J. Epstein wrote in the New York Times: “Though not quite as barrier-breaking as a female president, electing a woman as vice president would be historic…putting a woman on the ticket could also move the country closer to electing a first female president. If elected, the female vice president could later find herself in a stronger position to win the presidency than any woman in American history.”
Secretary of State
Another well-worn path to White House is through the office of Secretary of State. Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and James Monroe used this cabinet position as a stepping stone to the presidency.
In 1997, President Clinton appointed Madeleine Albright as the 64th Secretary of State and the first woman to hold that post. Making her, in her own words, “the highest-ranking woman in American history.”
Since Albright’s groundbreaking tenure, two other prominent women have filled this esteemed position: Condoleezza Rice and Hilary Clinton. Clinton’s attempt to catapult from this post to the presidency failed in 2016. Still, she was the first woman to become a presidential candidate from a major political party, and she won three million more votes than her republican rival, Trump, who, by virtue of the Electoral College map, became President in 2016.
While 16 of the nation’s 45 presidents served in the Senate at some point in their public careers, only three—Warren G. Harding, John F. Kennedy, and Barack Obama—won their presidential races as incumbent senators. Many others got to the Oval Office, having served previously in the Senate. Truman and Nixon are recent examples.
The Senate has also been a launch pad for past female presidential hopefuls. In 1964, Senator Margaret Chase Smith ran for president as a Republican. She was the first woman to win election to both the US House and the U.S. Senate. When challenged about her historic run, she said, “I have few illusions and no money, but I’m staying for the finish,” she noted. “When people keep telling you, you can’t do a thing, you kind of like to try.”
In his last press conference of his presidency in November, 1963, JFK responded to the derision evoked by Smith’s candidacy, saying “‘I would think if I were a Republican candidate, I would not look forward to campaigning against Margaret Chase Smith in New Hampshire, or as a possible candidate for President.’” The gathered reporters laughed heartily. But Kennedy was serious. “I think she is very formidable, if that is the appropriate word to use about a very fine lady,” Kennedy continued. “She is a very formidable political figure.’
In the 2020 race, four women senators declared their candidacy for the Democratic nomination: Kirsten Gillibrand, Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar, and Elisabeth Warren. Clearly this pipeline is filling up. Now that a record number of women are in the Senate, this route may yet produce a female president.
Six male business leaders parlayed their business records into successful runs for the presidency. Our current president, Donald Trump, won fame as a well-known real-estate mogul. Six other 20th-century presidents were business executives — both successful and unsuccessful — before moving into the Oval Office.
Warren Harding spent 39 years in the newspaper business before being elected in 1920. Herbert Hoover (elected 1928), made his fortune “from owning Burmese silver mines and publishing a leading textbook on mining engineering.” Harry S. Truman, became president in 1945, having first been a mining and oil investor, and then selling men’s clothing in Kansas City.
Jimmy Carter was a successful peanut farmer before being elected in 1976. George H.W. Bush(elected 1988) made his fortune in the oil business. George W. Bush (elected in 2000) followed his father into the oil business. Then he, along with a group of investors, bought the Texas Rangers baseball team.
Being in business did not necessarily mean being successful in business. “Surprisingly, four presidents who had successful business careers — Hoover, both Bushes and Carter — had the four worst records in terms of gross domestic product performance,” Robert S. McElvaine, history professor at Millsaps College in Jackson, Miss., argued in the WashingtonPost. “The only president since Hoover with business experience under whom the economy did well was the one who was unsuccessful in business: Harry Truman, whose haberdashery shop went bankrupt after two years.”
Carly Fiorina, a former Hewlett-Packard CEO, became the first declared female candidate to seek the Republican Party’s nomination in May, 2015. However, current data suggest that this path to the presidency may be available to many more women, even though the road may be rocky.
As of June 1, 2020, ’33 of the companies on Fortune magazine’s ranking of highest-grossing firms will be led by female CEOs for the first time ever,’ notes the website Catalyst. ”Even though this sounds impressive, women still represent just 6.6% of all Fortune 500 CEOs.
However, the 2020 increase “marks a considerable jump from last year’s total of 24, or 4.8%,” notes CNBC. These top firms include: General Motors, Oracle Corporation, Lockheed Martin, Duke Energy, and IBM. (Ginni Rometty will retire from IBM this spring). This uptick in the number of women holding top positions in major US companies does indeed suggest that there are scores of potential presidential candidates who might use their business credentials to make a run for the White House. One problem, though, is that women CEOs are more likely to be hired as companies are failing, a practice known as “The Glass Cliff.”
The women in this position often struggle to boost the bottom line, but can’t, because their companies are a mess. That happened to Carly Fiorina, and it hobbled her presidential run. Even if the “Glass Cliff” CEO ratchets up her company’s profits, she may not get much credit. “What happens if the woman CEO saves the company?” Forbes asks. “The board will likely continue what is now its traditional management style. Better install a male CEO.”
And female leaders are more likely than male leaders to get blamed when things go south in their companies; female chief executives get more tough press than male leaders do, reports the Wall Street Journal. Nearly 80% of digital and print media stories about companies in crisis cited the CEO as a source of blame when the company’s leader was a woman, according to an analysis by the Rockefeller Foundation and the research firm Global Strategy.
While the pipelines are starting to fill, women have yet to break through. As Mary Beard, author and Cambridge University professor, put it in her book, Women & Power, A Manifesto: “Women in power are seen as breaking down barriers, or alternatively as taking something to which they are not quite entitled.” Women with power are scary. Take a look at the internet and you will easily find images of Hillary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi and Michelle Obama as frightening witches.
Is the glass half empty or half full? Maybe a quarter or an eighth full. Progress is coming, but slowly. We may hear “Ms. President” one of these days, but only if women— and their male allies— keep pushing hard.
Last February, the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) plastered ads throughout New York City’s vast subway system that, unbeknownst to riders, promote prostitution.
Bright, eye-catching pink and red posters urged New Yorkers to flock to a free pop-up exhibit “celebrating the global sex worker movement.” Activities and talks from March 10-16 would have burbled at the pop-up, had alerts about the deadly COVID-19 pandemic not shut it down a few days after opening.
At first glance, the advertised event just seemed an innocuous celebration of a marginalized group that suffers in silence and isolation. In most countries, including every US state, people in prostitution are harassed and arrested by the police, shunned by society, incarcerated far too often. Women bought and sold in the few legal brothels in rural Nevada are immune to arrest but suffer stigmatization and exploitation.
But that’s not the full story behind the pop-up and the movement it promotes. Which is why 14 New York City-based groups, mostly direct service providers, survivor-led groups, and women’s rights organizations, challenged the MTA for accepting advertising that violates its own internal rules prohibiting the promotion of illegal goods and activities, political messages or “sexually oriented business.”
So, what is the story?
The phrase “sex work “is a euphemism for prostitution. Coined in the late seventies by the sex trade and its supporters to legitimize sexual exploitation as employment, the term is a creative stroke that has changed the way we talk about prostitution.
The media, academia, Hollywood, and the self-anointed progressive movement view prostitution exclusively through the lens of personal choice, autonomy and self-identity, not as a phenomenon rooted in histories of misogyny, racism, and colonization.
The sex trade functions like any commercial market, operating on the principles of supply and demand, driven by an incentive for profit.
The “supply” here comprises the most vulnerable populations on the planet, primarily children and women who have endured childhood sexual violence, inequalities, displacement, foster care, and suffered from an appalling absence of socio-economic choices.
New York is no exception. Disenfranchised women and girls, as well as trans youth, mostly people of color and overwhelmingly victims of sex trafficking, are fodder for the local sex trade.
Their profiteers thrive online and off: pimps and traffickers; owners and managers of brothels, illicit massage parlors, strip clubs, escort services, sugar dating websites; and pornographers. These perpetrators generally enjoy impunity for the crimes they perpetuate to procure victims and keep them in check, using a variety of tactics, from vicious coercion to ritualistic violence to debt bondage.
The invisible pillar of the sex trade, however, are the men who purchase sexual acts with quasi-blanket exemption from accountability. Since the novel coronavirus outbreak, a plethora of news articles are reporting about the decimation of brothelsand other commercial sex establishments and red-light districts. Almost none are talking about the men who create the demand for prostitution that hold the pillars of prostitution on their shoulders and foster sex trafficking. Do the math: without this demand, the sex trade crumbles.
The MTA defended the pop-up ad campaign as constitutionally protected free speech, promoting a cultural exhibit, not prostitution.
Had the MTA conducted any research before accepting these ads, it would have discovered these were false assumptions. They would have recognized that the poster’s red umbrella is the universal logo of the movement to decriminalize the sex trade worldwide.
The MTA might have found out that former leaders of the Global Network of Sex Work Projects (whose logo includes said red umbrella) were convicted of sex trafficking and are now serving prison sentences in Mexico and Argentina.
Had the MTA logged onto the @sexworkerspopup Instagram account, prominently noted on the colorful posters, it would have quickly seen linked pages with child pornography, which I cannot cite here.
While the MTA claimed the ads didn’t promote political activities, five minutes of research would have yielded announcementsof talks at the pop-ups by elected officials and political candidates promoting the decriminalization of brothels, sex buying and sex tourism.
Not to mention, the expensive ad campaign was sponsored by George Soros’ billion-dollar Open Society Foundations, which also endows the global movement to decriminalize, legalize, and deregulate the sex trade.
With this information, the MTA would have understood that celebrating the “sex worker movement” is not about helping those surviving the hell that is prostitution, nor about helping them exit, but about promoting the sex trade itself. Otherwise, this movement, which includes convicted pimps and sexual predators, would never ask governments to greenlight the commercial sex market.
And let’s not forget pornography, which sex trade survivors routinely describe as prostitution on screen.
The sex trade is shifting further online. Pornhub, the largest digital warehouse of pornographic videos, is taking advantage of the COVID-19 crisis by offering free premium access to its platform, which includes documented rapes and the sex trafficking of children.
Individuals can always “choose” to engage in dangerous activities that put their lives at risk and a tiny percentage of those in prostitution claim they entered the sex trade freely, as adults, without any third-party extorting every dollar. The “sex work” movement argues getting paid for sexual acts is simply labor and must be fully decriminalized.
But the growing movement of survivors, fighting the normalization of the sex trade, is a powerful one. The truths these women (as well as a few men and trans women) share about their lived experiences in prostitution and pornography offer us meaningful solutions to combat the horrors sex buyers, exploiters, and prostitution imposes.
“Prostitution is the only ‘job’ where what you earn declines the longer you remain in it,” said Mickey Meji, advocacy manager at Embrace Dignity and the founder of Kwanele, a survivor-led network in South Africa when I asked her whether claims that prostitution is work like any other is rooted in reality.
“In all other professions, experience offers you increased regard and higher earnings. Prostitution is the only ‘occupation’ where experience strips one’s dignity,” Meji added.
Will the worst health crisis in modern history end the sex trade or recreate it?
Will COVID-19 lead states to finally recognize that people prostituted in the multi-billion-dollar sex trade are not only harmed, but also in urgent need of housing, medical assistance, and other services?
Effective responses to these needs rests on laws and policies, such as those enacted in Sweden and France among other countries, which recognize prostitution as a dangerous system of exploitation steeped in acute discrimination and gender-based violence.
New York and other U.S. states must pass laws that hold sex buyers and pimps accountable, fund necessary, comprehensive services for people in prostitution, and uphold principles of equality for all—rather than letting the MTA promote Pimpland.
“It seems to me that this pandemic of global consciousness is the right time to explain that body invasion by strangers is the most dangerous ‘job’ on earth — and why prostituted women and children have such a low survival rate physically — without even starting on social and emotional survival,” said author and feminist activist Gloria Steinem on steps needed to change the dominant narrative normalizing the sex trade. “Shouldn’t we seize the moment and get a global commitment recognizing that?”
Taina Bien-Aimé is the Executive Director of the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women (CATW), one of the oldest international organizations dedicated to ending trafficking in women and girls and commercial sexual exploitation as practices of gender-based violence and discrimination.
Just two and a half years ago, the night of the 2016 Presidential election, I stood under the largest glass ceiling in the world in New York’s Jacob Javits Center, anxiously awaiting the arrival of our country’s first female president.
Standing no more than fifty feet from the podium, I watched the big screen hovering above as Donald Trump was instead named the next president of the United States in what was a surprise to most of the nation.
Instantaneously, I whispered these six words to myself: “Innocent people are going to die.”
At the time, I was expressing concern for marginalized communities: women, people of color, the LGBTQ community, people with disabilities—any group to whom Donald Trump had shown contempt or complete disregard during his campaign.
Just then, an elderly woman standing immediately to my right said just loud enough for me to hear, “I’m Jewish, I’ll guess I’ll now have to get a gun.”
How ironic, then, that under that very same roof, innocent people are going to die within the next weeks and months.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Sunday that the Javits Center will become one of four temporary field hospitals constructed to treat New Yorkers experiencing extreme symptoms traced to the coronavirus.
This reminds me of another massive tragedy that hit New York City, almost two decades ago when another president chose to ignore viable warnings of the large potential loss of lives in the U.S.
“Bin Laden Determined to Strike the U.S.” is now infamously known as the ominous headline in the CIA’s Presidential Daily Brief which was given to then President George W. Bush on August 6, 2001. Yet, Bush chose to ignore it.
Just over one month later, on September 11, close to 3,000 innocent people lost their lives during a series of terrorist attacks in the US, and mostly in New York City.
I compare these two tragedies, and these two presidents, because there are a number of similarities between the two: Both men won the presidency but lost the popular vote; neither was thought by many to possess the intelligence, experience or heart to lead the country; and both exude many of the traits attributed to narcissists, a diagnosis that boils down to extreme selfishness at the expense of others, exacerbated by the inability to consider others’ feelings at all.
So, as one would expect of a narcissist, George W. Bush stood on the smoking pile of ash at Ground Zero claiming that “If you’re not with us, you’re with the terrorists,” and used this tragedy to target an innocent country, Iraq, in an attempt to bring the country together by claiming they had “weapons of mass destruction”—which were never found.
He did this, many surmise, to avenge his father. Geroge W. Bush, himself, even alluded to the fact that Saddam “had tried to kill his father” in the aftermath of the Gulf War. For him, this war—started based upon a lie—was very personal, and didn’t take into account how many innocent lives would be lost in the process.
A fellow narcissist, Donald Trump will also seek to use the coronavirus to sew up his own re-election later this year, regardless of the number of innocent lives lost.
In fact, his tweet earlier this week has already set it in motion: “WE CANNOT LET THE CURE BE WORSE THAN THE PROBLEM ITSELF, AT THE END OF THE 15 DAY PERIOD”—which began a week ago, March 16—”WE WILL MAKE A DECISION AS TO WHICH WAY WE WANT TO GO!”
Donald Trump already knows which way he wants the country to go. He is losing patience with the virus, which is severely impacting the economy and threatening his chances of reelection.
He wants to get workers back into the workforce, to help bring back the economy, and doesn’t care if this only succeeds in spreading the virus and increasing the loss of innocent lives.
We only need to have a crash course in history to recall that many of the most iconic acts to alter dangerous governmental actions were accomplished through peaceful resistance.
Who can forget how a 62-year-old Mohandas Gandhi led a band of 78 volunteers on a 241-mile walk over 24 days to the south of India in 1930, where he picked up a handful of salt—a mineral that was controlled by the British government at the time, in a gesture that started India’s movement toward independence?
Or who can forget Rosa Parks’s decision to refuse to give up her seat to a white man on December 1, 1955, in Montgomery, Alabama? Her arrest led to the Montgomery Bus Boycott, which resulted in the U.S. Supreme Court making segregated seating unconstitutional just one year later.
Or who can forget when 200,000 people gathered at the Lincoln Memorial on August 28, 1963 demanding equal rights for African Americans, and where Dr. Martin Luther King delivered his unforgettable “I Have a Dream’ speech advancing equal rights?
While it’s true that the Lincoln Memorial, and all memorials, are now closed in Washington, DC; that busses are continuing to run but with very few, if any, passengers; and that all of the beaches in the U.S. are now closed to pedestrians—there are other ways that the public can resist, and it can be done by remaining behind closed doors.
Just remember another iconic peaceful protest, where one of the most revered messengers of peace, John Lennon, along with his wife Yoko Ono, held a ‘bed-in’ to display their strict opposition to the Vietnam War in 1969. It was then that Lennon recorded the historic song, “Give Peace A Chance,’ which became the unofficial anthem to ending that war.
With our government recently threatening to phase out self-isolating guidelines to open businesses while COVID-19 cases continue to increase, let’s be like John and Yoko, and Martin, and Rosa, and Mohandas.
For peaceful resistance is the only defiant act that has ever worked, without losing any innocent lives in the process.
Women’s eNews would like you thank all of our Honorees, Chairs, and Readers for your patience as we worked on rescheduling our Annual Gala!
We hope to see you there, and in the interim, please stay healthy. We will need you more than ever as we celebrate this year’s ’21 Leaders for the 21st Century’ just one week before the 2020 Presidential Election!
Shaine Garcia was planning for a vaginal delivery of her second child, a son, she wanted to name Grayson. She attended childbirth classes with her partner, Colton. They toured the hospital, planned the one-hour long drive from the Native reservation in Pueblo de Acoma, New Mexico where they live to the hospital in Albuquerque where she planned to deliver. Despite her first C-section with her daughter three years ago, she was confident this time could be the birth experience she wanted.
But as the Corona virus pandemic widened and hospitals began to increase restrictions on visitors, Garcia and her partner grew anxious about having no support at the hospital, so under severe pressure she decided to have an elective C-section just days before her due date.
“The knowledge that my support team would be so severely impacted completely coerced me into a decision I did not want to make,” Garcia said. “It would have been a drastically different decision and experience without these limitations on labor and delivery,” she added.
Like Garcia, so many women and birthing persons are seeing their birth and breastfeeding plans upended by the current spate of drastic policy changes at birthing hospitals across the U.S.
Doulas, who are recognized as essential health care personnel for birthing persons by several prominent medical organizations, are suddenly being deemed “visitors” by hospital administration and banned from attending births or entering hospitals. Immediately after birth, breastfeeding mothers are being separated from their babies, often without a medical reason.
And in the most drastic move, two hospital systems in New York City, New York Presbyterian and Mount Sinai Health System, announced this week that no one could be in the hospital with a laboring person—not even a spouse or partner. That decision affects 21 hospitals in the greater New York City area; no mention of what that means for surrogate or adopting parents.
Women across the country are panic shopping doulas and midwives for home births and desperately calling birthing centers, overwhelming people and systems that are built on relationship-building during the pregnancy period, not last minute additions. Others are planning to travel across state lines where there may be more birthing center options or available home birth midwives. Mothers, many who didn’t have support to breastfeed or were told it didn’t matter, are now desperately searching for resources on how to re-lactate. All of it is frightening.
Covid-19 is indeed a global public health crises, but it is rapidly turning into a maternal and infant health catastrophe.
Let’s be clear, the failure of a timely and effective response from the federal government has dangerous and deadly trickle down impacts. And while it is certainly understandable that we are in unprecedented and uncertain times and the need for an abundance of caution is clear when dealing with a novel virus, the reality and repercussions of hundreds of thousands of women going into birth alone within an already overstretched medical system, that has often failed to honor the bodily autonomy of women, is beyond troubling. Obstetric violence is on the rise and a recent study by the Birthplace Lab found that, overall, one in six women, regardless of race experience mistreatment by healthcare providers during birth, have experienced it.
To make matters worse, Black and Native women stand to lose the most by this unprecedented and perhaps unnecessary suppression of birthing rights. “Among mothers with low socioeconomic status, 18.7 per cent of white women reported mistreatment compared to 27.2 per cent of women of color. Indigenous women were the most likely to report experiencing at least one form of mistreatment by health-care providers during birth, followed by Black and Hispanic women,” says the Giving Voice to Mothers study.
The presence of doulas has been proven to improve birth outcomes for black women—who have the greatest risk for perinatal complications and, according to the CDC, are two to three times more likely to die during or after childbirth. In New York City, where doulas are being summarily dismissed, the Black maternal mortality rate is twelve times that of white women. Twelve!
Black breastfeeding rates are also threatened. Peer-based programs that have helped increase breastfeeding rates among black women—from WIC peer counselors to local breastfeeding “clubs” like those created by the Black Mothers Breastfeeding Association in Detroit—must be shut down due to necessary physical distancing. Birth and breastfeeding research illustrates that Black and Latina women do better with social support, including actively engaging male partners and extended family members, including grandparents. History tells us that when breastfeeding in the black community is disrupted systemically, there are lasting impacts.
“We know that the peer model, especially those rooted in community and culture, work best for black women,” says Kiddada Green, the founding executive director of BMBFA, whose club model can be licensed for use and is currently being replicated in three states. “Like others, we have quickly transitioned to a virtual model, but the impact of an abrupt suspension of in-person support to sustained breastfeeding rates among black women remains to be seen,” adds Green, a co-founder of Black Breastfeeding Week, who says the club has run without interruption in Detroit for 12 years.
Physicians who are not properly trained in lactation management are now making broad stroke decisions, unnecessarily separating mothers and infants with no symptoms, while ignoring the World Health Organization’s recent guidelines for breastfeeding with Covid-19 (keep breastfeeding with protection) and disrupting the mother-baby dyad at its most vulnerable and critical time. Earlier this week the WHO announced any interruption of breastfeeding may actually increase the infant’s risk of becoming ill.
It needs to be clearly and repeatedly said that healthcare systems and professionals impeding breastfeeding while people are panic buying infant formula which is increasingly in scarce supply, is dangerous and short-sighted.
“Breastfeeding is the safest most reliable way of feeding infants in an emergency,” says Dr. Melissa Bartick, Assistant Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School, who has conducted groundbreaking research on breastfeeding’s impact on infant health.
“We need to do everything possible to promote and prolong breastfeeding because it will protect infants and because there are shortages of formula in many places. We are nearly at the point of looking to help moms re-lactate who have stopped breastfeeding, especially where formula supplies are very scarce. So anything we can do to keep breastfeeding going is important,” Bartick notes.
Additionally, no one is talking about the mental well-being and birth trauma of mothers and infants and what we will need to have in place to recover from this. The sudden jolt and surge of anxiety will certainly impact pre-term birth rates, C-section rates will soar and postpartum depression is likely to rise.
Black mothers and other women of color, who are in the paid workforce at higher rates than white women, often rely on parents and grandparents as caregivers—creating a perfect disastrous storm now as older people are more vulnerable to the virus and need to be isolated, just as financial pressure intensifies as the economy tanks and job losses increase. There is an emotional and physical toll here.
In my work building IRTH, the first digital platform to identify and address experiences of bias and racism in maternal and infant healthcare, I see and hear from Black women and birthing people of color who write heart-wrenching experiences of being dismissed, that their pain levels are ignored and are receiving general substandard care in hospital systems with normal capacity. I can only imagine how the stresses of the pandemic are exacerbating issues of unconscious bias, stereotypes, control and perceived compliance. Incidences of racism and bias in care will only get worse.
While this pandemic will end, the trauma will linger—it embeds in our DNA and impacts future generations, including that generations’ birth outcomes.
Meanwhile, as this pandemic lays bare the many gaping flaws in our healthcare system, we are forced to reckon with the root cause of this present crisis: the medicalization of birth along with the subsequent criminalization of midwives. The fact that women were forced into hospitals to deliver, when birth is not a medical event, is now reaping grave consequences for us all. To be clear, most births do not need to occur in a hospital setting. In fact, in almost every other industrialized nation in the world, women do not give birth with doctors and are not in an official hospital setting at all, unless there are complications or a medical necessity. The question we should be asking now is, why are we?
At a time when the healthcare system is overly stretched, and the world is already at heightened anxiety, mothers need the people they were relying on to support them through their births. Remember, it was the hospitals who told us and sold us on the idea that home births weren’t “safe” and now that we have become dependent on them—they still make the rules—no matter the impact.
“What we have right now are a set of bad options, including no legal basis for having someone with you at childbirth and a hospital system that has historically prioritized protecting itself (and avoiding liability) over the needs of women and birthing people,” explains Indra Lusero, a reproductive justice attorney at National Advocates for Pregnant Women (NAPW).
“During this time, we recommend individuals look for local childbirth educators, doulas, lactation support providers, midwives and doctors offering digital support, information and resources that can reassure, connect, inform and support people,” adds Lusero, who is also founder of the Birth Rights Bar Association.
We must do better. We need immediate accommodations such as video conferencing with doulas and other “virtual” support and tele-health options (Many doulas and lactation consultants are now offering virtual services).
We must decriminalize midwives immediately, especially home birth midwives, in all states and increase access to community childbirth centers. That should also include using all certifications of midwives to create temporary “birthing centers” in locations outside of the hospital for those who don’t have complications (Dutch midwives have set up birthing rooms in hotels to free up hospitals for only those who need obstetric care). There is so much that can be done.
Make no mistake, there will be a price to pay. At some point, our lives will return to some variant of normal, albeit different. But the trajectory of birth and breastfeeding outcomes could be dramatically altered and possibly irreparably damaged if we don’t act now.
For those of us who care about maternal and infant health, intentional restorative work lies ahead—which includes more perinatal mental health awareness and earnest attention to those working outside the systems and structures that have consistently failed all women, and black women in particular. Organizations like the Black Mamas Matter Alliance, the National Association of Professional and Peer Lactation Supporters of Color (NAPPLSC), and the National Association to Advance Black Birth (NAABB), along with events such as Black Breastfeeding Week will need our support like never before, including Latina and Native coalitions, groups and events. The work of legalizing midwives in all states and making birthing centers an option for every woman requires our intense policy and advocacy efforts. Any national, state or local emergency preparedness planning, anywhere, must always include pregnant and birthing people. This should be basic. It must be.
It will be up to us to ensure that Covid-19 is not calamitous to mothers and babies and that the damage already done is never repeated.
Kimberly Seals Allers in an award-winning journalist, nationally recognized maternal and infant health advocate and an international public speaker. The former editorial director of the Black Maternal Health Project at Women’s eNews, Kimberly is also founder of The Irth App, a digital rating and review platform that addresses bias in healthcare interaction, and the author of five books, including The Big Letdown—How Medicine Big Business and Feminism Undermine Breastfeeding.Follow her at @iamKSealsAllers on Instagram and Twitter. Learn more at KimberlySealsAllers.com
Reproductive coercion occurs when an abusive intimate partner intends to maintain control in a relationship by using manipulation, guilt, intimidation, threats, acts of violence, or sabotaging contraception attempts in order to pressure a partner to become or remain pregnant. Other non-violent forms of control such as economic control, social isolation, constantly discussing or negotiating having children, ovulation tracking, insisting on use of invitro fertilization (IVF), and any other behavior that can compromise the reproductive autonomy of an individual is considered abuse.
So how do you know if you or someone you love is a victim of IPV and reproductive coercion? Look for signs of reproductive coercion such as missing or adulterated oral birth control, partner removal of IUD and vaginal contraceptives, tampering with or refusing to use condoms, and any other behavior that compromises the reproductive autonomy of the individual. Victims also often experience stress-induced physical health effects such as direct injuries, increased incidence of sexually transmitted infections and HIV, long-term pain syndromes, and chronic conditions such as gastrointestinal disorders, diabetes, and asthma. Emotional and psychological effects to watch out for include post-traumatic stress, depression, anxiety, difficulty sleeping, and attempted suicide.
The COVID-19 isolation and “shelter in place” orders may be a door to identifying family, friends, neighbors, and acquaintances that are abusers. Many abusive individuals have personality traits such as being charismatic, successful, charming, and “well-liked” while inwardly having low self-esteem and feelings of inadequacy or powerlessness. Signs that an individual may have abusive tendencies can include inconsistent moods, hypersensitive or overreactive behaviors, being overly critical or narcissistic, and being controlling, jealous, or manipulative. Other tools for recognizing abusive behavior include the Reproductive Coercion Self-Quiz, the National Center on Domestic and Sexual Violence Power and Control Wheel, and the Cycle of Domestic Violence.
Reproductive coercion is sexual violence and its survivors deserve a voice especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. To support these unheard survivors, take this time to be more observant and have conversations with loved ones that you may not have had before. Organizations and institutions need more research to thoroughly understand the full impact while physicians, pharmacists, school nurses, healthcare providers and the general public need further awareness. It’s our responsibility to give survivors hope in this difficult time; so speak out to have reproductive consent respected, reproductive autonomy protected, and share that #loveisrespect.
Dr. K. Ashley Garling Pharm.D. is a Clinical Assistant Professor at the University of Texas at Austin College of Pharmacy and a UT Austin Public Voices Fellow of The OpEd Project.
Sherry Amatenstein, LCSW is a NYC-based psychotherapist. In this episode of her podcast, Sherapy – Real Therapy with Sherry Amatenstein, she discusses coping with COVID19 and the STAY at HOME orders, while finding your true self. (This episode includes Sloan Smiloff, Amy Ferris, and Karen Hale):
Sherry Amatenstein is the author of The Q&A Dating Book, Love Lessons From Bad Breakups and The CompleteMarriage Counselor (www.marriedfaq.com). She edited the anthology, How Does That Make You Feel: True Confessions From Both Sides of the Therapy Couch. Before becoming a therapist she spent two years volunteering at a suicide hotline. She was also an interviewer for Steven Spielberg’s USC Shoah, a foundation dedicated to taking audio-visual testimony from Holocaust survivors.
Over the past few days, all of us have been faced with the stark reality of what it means to survive in the midst of a pandemic. While stress levels are understandably through the roof, among the highest are those of expectant parents. As a former labor and delivery nurse, a certified nurse midwife, and a professor at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, I have heard some recurring themes in the questions surrounding pregnancy and delivery during the Covid-19 crisis and can offer some advice.
First and foremost — don’t panic. Mothers have been having babies since the dawn of time, through wars and famines and natural catastrophes. You have the creative power within you to have formed your perfect little person; you have the power within you to usher her or him safely into the world – even in the middle of a pandemic.
What we know today about the coronavirus and pregnancy:
Of the case reports coming out from around the world of women who tested positive for the virus, and were ill at the time they gave birth, the babies born to those women have been born healthy, without any signs of infection. The babies have also largely tested negative for the virus. There has been at least one newborn who tested positive, after being born to a woman who was positive at the time of the birth.
Pregnant women are assumed to be at a higher risk because pregnancy puts women into an immunocompromised state. That means that the immune system, which is what fights off illness, is purposely suppressed during pregnancy. That said, from what we are hearing, the virus does not seem to be affecting pregnant women as severely as may have been suspected that it would.
What to expect if giving birth during this time:
Your provider may stretch your prenatal visits out a little further than you had planned. That’s okay; the traditional schedule of every four weeks up to 28 weeks, every two weeks up to 36 weeks, and weekly after that is really outdated. Research has shown that prenatal visits can actually be scheduled further apart, with no adverse effect on mothers and babies — and with the benefit of enhanced patient satisfaction
Many hospitals have implemented a restriction on visitors for all hospital patients in the midst of this health crisis. This is important for the safety of all hospitalized patients, many of whom are at significant risk if exposed to the virus. Though women having babies are healthy upon arrival, it is important to keep vulnerable newborns away from potential visitors who could be infected. One area exceptions have been made is in the labor and delivery units, where visitors may be limited to one support person only. Note that non-hospital employed doulas may well be considered visitors. To be mentally prepared, you may want to check with the facility where you plan on giving birth as to their visitor policy at this point. If you were planning on having a doula at your birth, one good strategy is to have your doula review some of the basic comfort techniques that she/he uses with your partner, so that she/he can have some “tools” in their bag to assist you.
If you were planning on an “elective” induction of labor on a given date (meaning a labor induction that is not done for any medical reason), know that depending on the hospital’s census on the labor unit – particularly if they have a heavier patient census of laboring women infected with the virus – elective inductions may need to be put off for some time, or rescheduled to a different day.
While many of the babies born to mothers ill with the virus have had no untoward effects, at this point it really isn’t known whether these babies have a higher risk of severe complications. There is still concern that babies may be infected via their mothers after birth. For that reason, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is recommending temporary separation of mothers (who have the confirmed illness) and babies until the mother’s transmission-based precautions are completed. Of course, the CDC notes that this should be done after a discussion of risks and benefits with the baby’s mother.
If you had been planning on attending an in-person childbirth education class that will likely be cancelled (if not already), don’t despair; there are great online options. Rather than risk seeming to endorse any particular one, I recommend just Googling it; you will find a plethora! And don’t forget there are plenty of great books to get you into the mindset.
Be flexible… you have planned and looked forward to the big day for months; no doubt about that. That said, birth is a test for the rest of parenthood. Our mind’s eye pictures ourselves in a flowing white gown serenely rocking a cherubic faced angel to sleep while reality ends up with us stumbling around the room at 4am to find a diaper, exhausted after the fifth feeding of the night, wearing the same nightshirt we put on after a shower three (or was it four?) days ago, now nicely primed with the smell of baby poop and spit-up. Parenthood is full of unexpected twists and turns; this is the first of many.
Have confidence in your chosen provider to look out for your best interests. I know of home birth practices suddenly being inundated with transfer of care requests from women who are now afraid to give birth in hospitals because of the virus. Although I support home birth for many low risk women, not all who may want to change their care to a home birth practice will be appropriate candidates. Do your homework, make sure it’s right for you, and find a homebirth provider with whom you feel you can mesh.
One option I would steer anyone away from is making a plan to give birth at home without the attendance of a qualified midwife or physician (often called “freebirthing”). Labor and birth follow a normal course the vast majority of the time, but every woman needs — and deserves — a qualified birth professional to watch over and guide her through the journey, and to know what to do if problems do arise.
If you give birth in a hospital, think about asking for an early discharge home at 24 hours (if 48 hours is the standard where you are). The appropriate candidate for early discharge will have had an uncomplicated labor and birth, be nursing well, and have support at home. Having said that, many women are great candidates to be discharged at 24 hours.
If you are the partner of someone who is expecting, know that she has enough on her hands just gestating. Be as supportive as you can; if you have to have a meltdown do it – maybe just not in front of her. Reassure her by participating in the labor and birth planning whenever possible; go to any provider appointments that you are able to; read what she is reading about the birthing process, and join in activities like the online childbirth classes. In short, walk as closely as possible next to her as she travels this path. This is scary for everyone, but less so with someone holding your hand through it.
Give handwashing its due diligence; it’s a simple message that can’t be said enough. At least 20 seconds (preferably 30) is needed to rid your hands of what may have found a home on them.
Keep yourself (and baby, once the little one arrives) out of the limelight. In some cultures, there is a tradition for new mammas and babies to be isolated from visitors for a period of time. That’s not a bad idea in general, and especially in the midst of a pandemic. Thank goodness for instant photos, phones that instantly transmit pictures and videos, and Facetime. Loved ones can track baby’s every move via technology; they can wait to hold baby. Your job as a new parent is to protect your baby… and no better time to start than at birth!
Breastfeed, breastfeed…and oh yes, breastfeed! The antibodies (virus and bacteria fighting proteins in your blood) are plentiful in breastmilk. Via breastfeeding you pass those super germ fighting properties along to your baby, enhancing their resilience to illness in a huge way.
One more time… don’t panic, parents; you got this!
Michelle Collins, PhD, is a professor of nursing at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, and a certified nurse-midwife with over 30 years of experience in the field of maternal-child health. She is also a Public Voices Fellow with the OpEd Project.
When Gwyneth Paltrow’s Netflix show Goop Lab debuted a few months ago, it garnered plenty of media hate for its pseudoscience and self-promotion. But there’s one important bright spot in the show we should all pay attention to: 90-year-old sex educator Betty Dobson offering advice on sensuality. She’s living proof that sex doesn’t end at menopause—and that’s just one of the powerful lessons our culture needs to learn about post-reproductive years. Our national silence on menopause has lead to misdiagnoses, mistreatment and needless suffering for millions of women.
On average, women live for about 78 years—of that, only about 15 years fall in the peak reproductive period (25-40). Most women will spend far longer in the post-reproductive years. And many know almost nothing about what to expect when those years end. We are ignorant because of chronic misinformation and silence. Our mothers did not typically have the tools to help guide us themselves. When I have surveyed women over the years in my practice less than 5% report That their mother or another significant female figure shared information about the menopausal years.
This shouldn’t be surprising: For most of the 19th and 20th century, women’s body’s and health needs were regarded as less important than men’s. As researchers at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital reported in 2014, “The science that informs medicine—including the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of disease—routinely fails to consider the crucial impact of sex and gender”
As a gynecologist and author of a book on menopause, I’ve been astounded at the mistreatment of women that results from our culture’s silence on menopause. Just a few examples: Recently, a new 67-year-old patient came to me for severe vaginal dryness and pain with intercourse. She had been seen by at least two other medical providers. One told her she should simply expect her sex life to suffer as she ages. That’s ridiculous. Many therapies are available for dryness and pain, either over the counter or by prescription. Another doctor offered her anti-depressants and sleeping pills. She needed a doctor who understood menopause. I prescribed a combination of vaginal hormone therapy and CO2 laser tissue rejuvenation. Three months later, she could resume sexual relations with her husband and they now report intercourse twice weekly. It has changed their marriage.
I see this all the time. Women frequently hear that painful intercourse after menopause is all in their head, not an actual medical condition that can be treated
This is true of other symptoms related to menopause as well. A fifty year old women with newly diagnosed anxiety and heart palpitations is likely to get a psychiatric and cardiology workup, despite the fact that she is experiencing some of the most typical symptoms of estrogen imbalance.
Even me—a 53-year-old gynecologist! I was so steeped in traditional (male) approaches and mindsets in medicine, that when I started feeling irritable, depressed,, had difficulty sleeping and experienced night sweats, I complete overlooked the fact that I was entering perimenopause, the one-to -eight year period preceding menopause. Once I realized what was happening I treated my symptoms through integrative approach. I changed my diet, focused on self-care, and eventually started hormone replacement therapy.
But more importantly, I realized that I was not going crazy. Within weeks I was feeling better but it was a long journey to begin to understand how my body was actually changing. I realize that if a gynecologist could be this confused about this period in her life, what must the average woman experience?
Some of this comes from the same shame and silence that has historically surrounded the female body—but it’s even worse for menopause than other conditions. Every woman knows where to turn if she is contemplating motherhood—sisters, girlfriends, best friends, obstetricians, and thousands and thousands of books. . Yet, of the hundreds of women I’ve talked to about menopause, less than 10% have told me that there were women (or sometimes men) in their lives who described menopause, what it was, or what to expect. With a lack of intergenerational conversations, we will always lack understanding of the unique experiences of women entering this transition.
While the Goop Lab may not survive its savage reviews, I fervently hope that the show’s willingness to explore taboo subjects—including menopause—continues. But fortunately, we don’t have to depend on Netflix and Paltrow to continue that movement.
Women can change the narrative right now, by starting the conversation with their mothers, sisters, daughters, and yes, even their doctors. Transparent, evidence-based, unbiased healthcare should be the standard of care delivered by our health care professionals not only during a women’s reproductive years but also in the decades that follow.
Women’s eNews has been closely monitoring the spread of COVID-19 in the US and particularly in New York City, where we host our annual ’21 Leaders for the 21st Century’ Awards Gala on the first Monday in May.
Due to the increasingly widespread community transmission of COVID-19 in New York City, coupled with the Center for Disease Control’s (CDC) recommendation yesterday that no events of more than 50 people take place over the next eight weeks, Women’s eNews has decided to reschedule its annual gala.
We believe it is critically urgent to adhere to guidelines for protecting vulnerable populations, as well as social distancing to help reduce the chance of transmission.
The Awards Gala will be rescheduled for the Fall, 2020. The new date will be announced later this month.
Women’s eNews has provided a consistent, bold and courageous voice for women and girls throughout the world since its inception, in the year 2000. As we celebrate our 20th Anniversary this year, and today, on International Women’s Day, we are introducing a new logo which not only embodies our voice, but emboldens it. While keeping with our founding colors, red and black, we have added the image of a retro vintage microphone which was designed approximately 100 years ago, around the same year that the 19th Amendment was ratified, enabling women’s constitutional right to vote.
Since then, and much more recently, women have been boosting their voices on the congressional floor as elected officials defending and advancing women’s rights, and via the “#MeToo and #TimesUp movements, by calling out perpetrators of sexual assault.
But we need more, much much more — and time is of the essence.
While ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment has overcome some major hurdles in the last few months with Virginia becoming the crucial 38th state to ratify it and U.S. House removing the deadline for ratification, an increasing number of legal challenges are being made in attempts to block it. Women’s reproductive choice and health is increasingly on the line as Republican-led states, emboldened by the Supreme Court’s new conservative majority and the Trump administration’s anti-abortion policies, passed 59 abortion restrictions last year. The Violence Against Women Act, aimed at preventing sexual violence and assault, was stalled in the US Senate, and Title IX, the 1972 law prohibiting “discrimination based on sex in education programs or activities that receive Federal financial assistance,” is being reintroduced with proposed regulations that define harassment far more narrowly. It will also require schools to hold live hearings, while permitting cross examination by attorneys, which will only increase the victim’s trauma.
These are just a few of the reasons why the voices of women, and similarly-minded men, who support equal rights need to be broadcast everywhere from the home to the workplace, and in private and public gatherings, to ensure our safety is no longer endangered, and that gender equality becomes the law of the land!
And now, I’d like to introduce you to just a sampling of women who are devoting their work, and their lives, to supporting and advancing the rights of women, as our honorary ’21 Leaders for the 21st Century’ 2020. I hope you’ll join us in celebrating them in the evening of Monday, May 4th, in NYC. We need them, and you, more than ever!
In celebration of Black History Month, below is a Q&A with Shellye Archambeau, one of Silicon Valley’s first black CEO’s and black female executive at IBM. Archambeau has over 25 years of experience handling business and consumer relations, turned her failed businesses into overnight successes, and is a sought after speaker, coach and board member to Verizon and Nordstrom. Here, she shares her words of wisdom to other black businesspeople looking to climb to the top to achieve personal, professional and financial success.
Q&A WITH SHELLYE ARCHAMBEAU
How did you break barriers and ceilings as a black woman in a white male dominated industry?
I’m very goal oriented and disciplined. I decided I wanted to run a business before I even started my career. Ignorance helped, in that I wasn’t constrained by the reality of the challenge when I set my goal. Once I set it, I was determined to achieve it. I focused on excelling at each role I had, and looking for constant opportunities to demonstrate my leadership capabilities. I practiced servant leadership, focusing on supporting my teams and people around me to be successful.
I took risky jobs, cultivated allies, mentors and ultimately sponsors. I let people know what I wanted each step of the way. I made many, many trade-offs, moving my family numerous times, commuting long distance, and ultimately taking on the sole financial support for my family. Ultimately, I turned being an outsider into an advantage. I built a strong reputation and because I was different, people remembered me.
What was your biggest challenge you faced in your career growth?
I was a senior sales exec for IBM and was ready for a management role. I was a top performer and my boss knew my aspirations. But IBM was going through financial challenges and roles were being consolidated and eliminated. Whenever I asked about. Promotion I was told I had the talent, track record and performance, but there just weren’t jobs available. I was frustrated because I was doing what I was supposed to do and yet I was stuck.
After a year of this, I knew I was going to be off track with my personal career plan if I didn’t get the promotion soon. So I decided to look for the job I wanted outside of IBM. I interviewed and received a good offer. However, when I resigned my boss was shocked. Senior management rallied and found a promotion for me within the company. I stayed. The big lesson was goals aren’t good enough by themselves. They need to be time defined to truly drive your behavior.
What are your top tips on building your network and developing financial literacy?
Building a strong network isn’t collecting the most business cards. It’s creating relationships. My approach to building relationships is through giving. There are many ways to give. You can help people, inspire people, or educate people through advice. Now, you need to have people to give to. There are many ways to meet and interact with others. Get involved in areas of interest to you. Local alumni groups, professional organizations, book clubs, church committees, etc., you can also start your own.
When I moved to Silicon Valley, I didn’t have a network. I also didn’t have a lot of free time to pursue many different paths to creating my network. I was a CEO facing a major turnaround effort. So I created my own club by combing what I like to do. I enjoy entertaining, cooking, and wine. So I started a gourmet dinner club. As I encountered interesting people, I’d ask them if they liked to cook. If they did I’d describe the club I was creating and ask if they were interested. We had our first dinner with 12 people 9 months after we moved into our home. That club is now 16 years old with 50 members. It was the core of my initial network.
We don’t talk enough about money and I’m not referring to discussions about salary. I mean how to approach your finances. Research, commissioned by GuideVine — a service matching people with financial advisers — revealed over half of those polled (55 percent) feel lost when it comes to a long-term and stable financial plan. We have to personally educate ourselves with at least the basics: creating a budget, understanding the time value of money and compounding. Why? This understanding will help you make better choices.
I’ve always strived to create financial flexibility so that I’d have money for the important things in life. I worked all through college to pay for the portion of my expenses my parents didn’t cover and to build savings for a wedding that I would want one day. My parents helped with college, but let us know that wedding costs were on us. I ended up marrying soon after college graduation and was able to pay for the entire event.
Should we forever be defined by the worst mistake we’ve ever made?
In the new Podcast: Post-Coffee, Pre-Wine, author Amy Ferris and publishing veteran Teresa Stack talk about redemption and second chances, and finding peace – their peace. They share their own stories and share their truth, and by digging deep within themselves, you may find yourself doing the same…
You can listen by clicking onto any of the links below:
Yesterday, Congresswoman Carolyn B. Maloney (NY-12) joined NYC elected officials and women’s rights advocates at the historic Roosevelt House at Hunter College to rally support for critical legislation expected to pass the House of Representatives this week.
During this week, the House of Representatives is expected to pass H.R. 1980, the Smithsonian Women’s History Museum Act and H.J.Res. 79 to remove the deadline to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment. Ahead of this monumental week, the coalition of women’s rights advocates came together to celebrate these historic milestones in the fight for women’s equality
“I have worked my entire career to make sure women are represented in the halls of Congress and in seats of power. This next week in Congress will be historic for women and a culmination of decades of advocacy. The passage of H.R. 1980 and H.J. Res. 79 is vital to celebrating women’s achievements in history, inspiring the next generation to make history themselves, and finally ensuring that women’s equality is enshrined in our Constitution. I am thrilled to take these next huge steps in the fight for women’s equality,” said Congresswoman Carolyn B. Maloney (NY-12).
“As the birthplace of the women’s rights movement, we have a moral responsibility to continue the fight for full equality,” said Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul. “In New York, we have taken action to protect the rights of women and all New Yorkers across our great state. We have accomplished a lot, but we still have more work to do. With strong advocates and partners like Rep. Carolyn Maloney, we must work together to secure equality for all and ratify the Equal Rights Amendment.?”?
“The time is right, now more than ever to pass the Equal Rights Amendment. I commend America’s Congresswoman, Carolyn Maloney, for her work and her leadership to pass the ERA for women and girls. At the New York State level, we are going to pass the Equal Rights Amendment to be added to the State Constitution. We can no longer stand by and watch our rights continue to be rolled back, so this is the year that we’ll make the ERA happen at state and federal level,” said Assembly Member Rebecca Seawright.
“Congresswoman Maloney is a longtime champion of the Equal Rights Amendment and it is exciting to see the ERA move forward. One hundred years after women’s suffrage, it is clear from pay inequity, gender-based violence, and so many other indicators that women and girls remain unequal in this country. The ERA will help end second-class citizenship. It is long overdue,” said Jessica Neuwirth, Co-President of the ERA Coalition,
“We are excited to join Congresswoman Maloney today as we announce that the fourth annual Campus ERA Day will take place on Monday, April 27 at 7pm. The ERA Coalition will work once again with the Grove Fellows at Hunter College to organize the annual event. Campus ERA Day will take on added significance this year now that the Equal Rights Amendment has satisfied all the requirements under Article V for inclusion in the U.S. Constitution,” said Carol Jenkins, Co-President and CEO of the ERA Coalition/Fund for Women’s Equality.
Equal Rights Amendment (ERA)
Rep. Maloney is the lead sponsor of the Equal Rights Amendment and has reintroduced it in every session of Congress since 1997 (in the 105th Congress).
Congress passed the ERA in 1972, and was sent to the states for ratification. Unfortunately, by the time the deadline passed in 1982, the ERA was just three states shy of the thirty-eight necessary to amend the Constitution.
With Virginia’s vote to ratify the ERA in January, three quarters of states have now ratified the ERA, making the amendment eligible to be added to the U.S. Constitution
H.J. Res 79 would remove the deadline for the ratification of the ERA to clarify any legal ambiguities that may exist with regard to the deadline and reaffirm Congressional support for the ERA.
H.R. 1980: Smithsonian Women’s History Museum Act
In November 2016, a bipartisan Congressional Commission — created by a bill sponsored by Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney — issued a report recommending the creation of a new Smithsonian Museum dedicated to women’s history.
In March 2019, Rep. Maloney introduced the Smithsonian Women’s History Museum Act, to establish such a museum on the National Mall. The bill has broad bipartisan support with293 cosponsors in the house.
There is no comprehensive museum anywhere in the U.S. dedicated to the full story of women’s history.
As Marriage Story grasps for an Oscar, this weekend we are reminded that the story of a heterosexual couple going through a painful, cruel divorce is the unfortunate story of many in our country. And yet, it doesn’t have to be. We are active participants in the culture that benefits from and monetizes our own suffering.
As the child of heterosexual divorce and as a queer stepmother now, I was warned not to watch this movie. In an interview with Stephen Colbert, Adam Driver describes the movie as a love story told in the lens of divorce. Charlie and Nicole intend to have a friendly divorce, Driver says, but other people’s opinions, agendas and lawyers wind up propelling the legal battle in the end.
What I would add to Driver’s analysis is that the agenda and those opinions are rooted in heteronormativity, which is what allows the legal process to go from fact-finding and fair treatment to cruel performance art.
Heteronormativity is the notion that heterosexual coupling (and marriage) is the norm, and our culture should essentially be built to support it. Heteronormativity is the breeder (no pun intended) of the Hallmark Channel, daddy-daughter dances, “mancaves” and separating McDonald’s toys into “girls” and “boys” toys. Heteronormativity plays a role in domestic abuse and homophobia and the proliferator of painful and scarring divorces like Charlie and Nicole’s in Marriage Story.
During Nicole’s first visit with Nora, her lawyer says, “Once we have babies, we become the mom and they get sick of us.” Yeah, Nicole responds. During Charlie’s visit to the initial lawyer he speaks with, he is asked a series of questions intended to get at Nicole’s potential vices – to which Charlie responds with my favorite line of the movie, “She was addicted to Tums for a while.” The lawyer warns Charlie that he’s not going to win “if she’s the perfect mother.”
This is not a commentary on divorce lawyers. The lawyers are just using what’s already there – the heteronormative culture we have created and continue to willingly buy into. Despite the original wishes of Charlie and Nicole to keep it friendly, they got caught up too, as many heterosexual divorces do, and one of the very things that marriage is built on and cherished by our culture – parenthood – is also the thing that is turned against them during their legal battle.
Despite the fact that heteronormativity is a plague on our culture, it still privileges heterosexual couples on an everyday level, and therefore, the groundwork on which a same-sex marriage stands is already different from the ground on which a heterosexual marriage stands, and that makes the grounds of divorce different, too.
Heteronormativity is often dangerous for LGBTQ communities in general, and we’ve had to learn how to adapt, shift, hide and fight. It’s made us resilient, yes, but it’s also forced us to assemble and disassemble our relationships differently.
Due to the high rate of homelessness and familial rejection for LGBTQ youth, LGBTQ communities often bond together as each other’s families. These are not blood ties, these are heart ties, born from understanding the devastation and hopelessness that comes from the rejection from one’s family of origin. We continue to re-define the word “family,” unraveling the traditional definition that has betrayed us and instead, created a unit of people who sustain us as human beings to be loved, celebrated, protected and given another chance.
Additionally, same-sex couples are not bound to the same prescribed gender roles written by our culture and enjoyed by many heterosexual couples.
Of course, the frustrations of marriage do not discriminate completely along the lines of gender or sexual orientation, and someone has to do the dishes, bring in a paycheck or stay up all night with a sick child. And yes, there might be someone in the marriage in an unhealthy place and they wind up legally battling their partner during the divorce.
Moreover, there are people who have arranged their heterosexual marriages differently to be more egalitarian, and some early trends show that younger generations are putting off marriage to create more financial stability and effectively avoid the “first divorce.”
But in queer culture, the conversations about child custody are different, because LGBTQ people aren’t “supposed” to have kids in the first place. The financial discussions are different, because perhaps one or both partners don’t have family money to rely on due to estrangement, or underemployment because one partner is transgender. The property discussion is different, because perhaps there isn’t enough access to safe housing in the area for LGBTQ individuals. And because of those reasons, divorces look different for us.
For example: now as a queer stepmom, I knew when I married my wife, her ex-wife and their children were to become my family, too. I understood that the success and happiness of my wife’s ex- and their children was directly tied to me, individually and to the collective LGBTQ community. And to achieve that, it meant taking a different approach to raising the kids, finances and scheduling. Case in point: we switch the kids every day. And if that seems odd to you, that’s heteronormativity creeping up (i.e. the assumption that children need to stay with their mother for the majority of the time – but what happens when there are only mothers?)
But it should look different for heterosexual couples, too. You can see glimmers in Marriage Story pleading to get rid of the common constraints and allow the love of their relationship – regardless of its dissolution – to guide what’s best for all involved. There’s no need for the backstabbing betrayal or dragging your children through the mud just because the heteronormative fantasies that have been sold to you your whole life didn’t work out. We are all humans, despite who we love, and forcing us to conform to a set of constraints that create more suffering serves no one.
About the Author:Lauryn Bianco is Vice President of Operations and Philanthropy at Emerge Center Against Domestic Abuse in Tucson, Arizona, and a Public Voices Fellow with The OpEd Project.
I’ll admit, I was feeling more skeptical than usual when planning our presence at the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting in Davos this year. It would be WEF’s 50th anniversary and my fifth time there, and it was initially hard to see our core issues — gender equality, and the health and rights of girls and women — substantially reflected on the formal WEF agenda. In addition, space for civil society organizations, including those working on gender issues, seemed limited due to the many heads of states and corporations arriving for the anniversary.
But off we went with heavy boots; gender lenses in the hand; facts, figures, and tested arguments in the bag; and a calendar full of events and meetings that got even more packed as the week progressed.
Coming down the Davos mountain after five days of working the floors, speaking from the podiums, and having both fly-bys at receptions and events, as well as substantive sit-downs and late night huddles with current and future partners, politicians and CEOs, inspiring young leaders and other agents of change, I am tired but definitely more hopeful than when we came up. Yes, the world is still on fire, and yes, there is a long way to go before we are on a proper path to sustainability, but there is also room for hope, and some good predictors that 2020 will be a super year of action both in regards to conservation and climate change, as well as gender equality and #GenerationEquality.
Here are some of my key points and takeaways:
Girls, women, and gender equality — not least pay and income equity, the need to get more women into leadership, or how gender equality drives sustainable development — while not prominent on the formal agenda, rose to the top of nearly every discussion we had and heard, sometimes organically, sometimes with a little nudge. In fact, several major media summaries of the week include both climate change and gender equality as key issues discussed at WEF.
There definitely wasn’t much of a queue at the ladies’ room when only 24% of the 2,700 formal participants are women. While that of course is way too little and something serious has to be done, it still was more than previous years. WEF has pledged to double female participation by 2030, and Women Deliver and other groups like Women Political Leaders are ready to help to speed it up.
Outside of the formal program and participants, there were 1,000+ more panel debates and events — on climate change, inequality, innovation, the economy, technology, research, etc. Gender equality and global health were well represented there. There even was a full house and stage dedicated to different issues under the gender equality umbrella. The Equality Lounge hosted by the Female Quotient was a wonderful place to come, speak, and listen to talks, meet fellow gender justice advocates from across the globe, and to recharge.
It was great to see young people unapologetically take the stage, the street, and social media channels. Greta Thunberg addressed the climate change crowd in the street and the participants in the conference center. On stage with her was Women Deliver Class of 2018 Young Leader Natasha Wang Mwansa, who many of you know from the opening plenary at the WD2019 conference, where she brought the audience and world leaders to their feet as she gave her speech. On stage at Davos, Natasha very eloquently wove together the arguments for addressing both people and planet, and for linking climate change, health, education, nutrition, water, human rights and meaningful youth engagement in the action that must happen. “The older generation has a lot of experience, but we have ideas, we have energy, and we have solutions,” she rallied (hear hear!).
Through it all, we and many others relentlessly urged participants to use their power for good, and take bigger and bolder action for girls, women, health and equality. And we did see companies and investors step up, speak up, and commit to hardwiring gender equality in the future of work. Even more brought the gender lens down the Davos mountain to apply it to their businesses, governments, and organizations — today, tomorrow, and always.
According to America’s Voice, policy and legal experts gathered on a press call yesterday to discuss the ramifications following Trump’s new rule that could ban women from visiting the U.S. just because they are pregnant or could become pregnant. In another attack on women’s reproductive rights, Trump and his administration have attempted to wield more xenophobic and misogynistic power to cast off women, particularly women of color, visiting from non-visa-waiver countries.
Here are the opinions from leaders representing a number of major organizations regarding the new rule:
Ur Jaddou, Director of DHS Watch and former USCIS Chief Counsel, America’s Voice, said, “To be clear about the absurdity of this new and overly broad regulation, let me restate it. Under this new regulation, women, not men, just women, now have a higher burden to travel to the United States just because they look pregnant or may become pregnant. If the State Department was trying to contain the discrimination and absurd breadth of this new regulation through new policy guidance issued on Friday, they failed. The fact remains, even with the policy guidance, consular officers are still empowered with broad discretion to deny women visas to travel to the United States because of their bodies and their natural ability to have babies.”
Ann Marie Benitez, Senior Director of Government Relations, National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, said, “The Trump administration’s recently published pregnancy ban is just one more attack on the well-being of immigrants and women of color. Since the start of their term, this administration has been sending the message that those populations are not welcome here. A few examples of this: the rule expanding the definition of public charge has led to an increase in the number of families deregistering, and this leads to lasting impacts on their health and safety; another example is the detainment of pregnant women by ICE. These examples illustrate how this political climate is taking a toll on immigrants’ well-being. We believe immigrants are bestowed with inherent human rights – freedom of movement, health care, and the fundamental right to establish families with dignity and unity. Instead of these policies, we should have policies that respect the dignity and agency of immigrant women.”
Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner, Executive Director and CEO, MomsRising.org, said, “Pregnant women already face an unconscionable level of discrimination in our workplaces and our society. Trump’s new rule would codify pregnancy discrimination by turning our government into reproductive police who invade the privacy and assault the dignity of women seeking to enter the United States. As mothers, we cannot and will not stand by for this attack on pregnant women, women of color, and women seeking to enter the United States.”
Sung Yeon Choimorrow, Executive Director, National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum (NAPAWF), said, “This ugly development is ultimately an issue of racial profiling of Asians. The Trump administration will go to any lengths to demean immigrant women. Millions of Asian people come to the U.S. to visit their families and targeting them because of their race or country of origin is discriminatory and wrong. This administration has a track record of detaining pregnant people and has made it impossible for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault to seek asylum. There is no justification for the harm they have done to immigrant women or for their xenophobic agenda.”
Dorianne Mason, Director of Health Equity, National Women’s Law Center (NWLC), said, “This policy does nothing more than penalize pregnancy and women. It is an invasion of women’s privacy that creates potentially insurmountable barriers to life-saving care. As with many of this Administration’s policies, its burden will fall most heavily on immigrant women of color; signaling yet again that if you are too brown, too black, or too poor, you are not welcome here. Women and girls have the right to dignity, autonomy and lives without discrimination. Pregnancy or potential pregnancy should not be weaponized to keep people out of this country. We condemn this repugnant regulation of women’s bodies.”
Dr. Ghazaleh Moayedi, OB/GYN and Board Member with Physicians for Reproductive Health, said, “As someone who holds the identity of a physician, a woman of color and a first-generation American, I am angry and horrified by this recent travel ban. This travel ban is the very definition of discrimination. Having cared for thousands of pregnant people, I know first-hand that pregnancy is not a national security threat. Being of child-bearing age is not a national security threat. Babies are not a national security threat. To suggest that our communities seek to deliver our children in this country only to groom them to harm Americans is not only baseless, but also dehumanizing. Pregnancy is never a reason to bar someone from entering a country. Pregnancy is only the concern of the person who is pregnant, and if they choose, their family and health care providers. The long line of attacks on immigrants has created a culture of fear and often keeps people from trying to access health care when they need it. I call for everyone, especially health care providers, to speak out against this rule.
In 2016, most pundits thought that Donald Trump was finished when the infamous Access Hollywood tape was aired, in which ‘The Donald’ was bragged in gleeful delight that his stardom enabled him to grab women’s private parts with no dire consequences. His payoffs to a porn star and a playboy model to keep quiet about sexual encounters were documented by his (now imprisoned) lawyer, Michael Cohen. And the National Enquirer, purveyor of alien invasion stories, celebrity gossip and unusual crime headlines, (I Cut Out Her Heart and Stompedon It) joined the fray. The editor admitted to federal prosecutors that the Trump campaign asked him to “catch and kill” a story about the Playboy model; that is, to buy her story and bury it.
Trump’s behavior was already well known, but he won via the electoral college anyway, albeit by the very narrowest of margins. Many thought that he would move towards the center and become more ‘Mr. President’ than the guy from Celebrity Apprentice, but they were dead wrong. He immediately began using tweets like poison darts, and his targets were often women and people of color.
One of his major DCBF vocalizations occurred in August 2017, when hundreds of neo-Nazis invaded the campus of the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. They carried Tiki torches, chanting “Jews will not replace us,” and Trump referred to the marchers as “Very fine people.”
The next day, a 27-year-old
neo Nazi drove his car into a crowd of anti-fascist protestors, killing
32-year-old Heather Heyer.
Alt-right guru Richard Spencer told the Atlantic: “There is no question that Charlottesville wouldn’t have occurred without Trump. It really was because of his campaign and this new potential for a nationalist candidate who was resonating with the public in a very intense way… He changed the paradigm and made this kind of public presence of the alt-right possible.”
Atlantic writer Ben Rhodes agreed. “His whole brand is: I will say the things that the other guys won’t.
And while the “other guys” would not mouth slurs against Black women, Trump has no problems with that. The Guardian notes that “Trump had reportedly referred to Congresswoman Maxine Waters as ‘low IQ’ seven times in 2019, often at high-profile campaign rallies.” Additionally, Trump had called former White House aide Omarosa Manigault Newman, who is Black, a “crazed, crying lowlife” and a “dog.”
And CNN Opinion reported that Trump berated CNN correspondent Abby Phillip (“What a stupid question. But I watch you a lot. You ask a lot of stupid questions.”) He also said of April Ryan, a reporter and CNN contributor who has covered the White House for 21 years: “You talk about somebody that’s a loser. She doesn’t know what the hell she’s doing.” April Ryan has further been subjected to death threats in the wake of Trump’s verbal attacks. All of these women are Black.
More recently. Trump attacked Democratic Congresswomen of color including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota and Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts. He implied in a series of tweets that the Congresswomen weren’t born in America and sarcastically suggested that, “They go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came.” Ocasio-Cortez, Tlaib and Pressley are natural-born US citizens, and Omar was born in Somalia and immigrated to the US when she was young. Omar became a citizen in 2000 when she was 17.
For much of his term,
Trump has skated along with his DCBF intact, but things may be changing. The
suburbs–especially suburban women–are slipping away.
The Denver Post reports that in more than three dozen interviews by the Associated Press with women in critical suburbs, “nearly all expressed dismay — or worse — at Trump’s racially polarizing insults and what was often described as unpresidential treatment of people. Even some who gave Trump credit for the economy or backed his crackdown on immigration acknowledged they were troubled or uncomfortable lining up behind the president.
In an upscale mall in the Denver suburbs, for example, 55-year-old Republican Kathy Barnes told reporters, “I did not think it was going to be as bad as it is — definitely narcissism and sexism, but I did not think it was going to be as bad as it is. I am just ashamed to be an American right now.”
Americans overall are more likely to approve of Donald Trump’s job performance (40 percent) than they are to approve of him as a person (34 percent). Ominously, in a recent Gallup poll, “Trump’s personal ratings were sharply lower than his performance ratings among two groups that are key to his base: Republicans and regular churchgoers — with less than half of the latter group approving of Trump as a person. This could put pressure on Trump to keep these groups satisfied through presidential actions and policies rather than the personal expressions he is known to make.” In other words, Gallup says, shut up and act like a president.
The good news for all the people Trump insults is that his DCBF is hardwired to his stubby, tweety trigger finger, and he is hopefully on his way to shooting himself right of out of the White House.
When I told my college counselor that Northwestern University was my first choice, he snidely responded that my chances weren’t great, especially “since I wasn’t a Lacrosse star or a Native American.” The comment, while quite discouraging and offensive, actually brought me to consider my privileges and the ways they contribute to my education and eligibility at highly selective institutions.
Being white is possibly my most obvious privilege, but I was told that could also work against me in the context of college admissions. When I found myself feeling concerned that my chances could be worse due to my race, I had to remind myself of the historic barriers that prevented students of color from furthering their education, and why federal and institutional policies are so beneficial in attempting to close racial disparities.
The prevailing narrative in college admissions is that if you have the best test scores, GPA, a plethora of extracurricular activities, and a killer common app essay, you’re a shoo-in, right? As I applied to some quite selective colleges over the past months, I came to realize that these factors can’t guarantee acceptance; admissions committees look much deeper than the numbers. I’ve come to learn that race can play a significant role in admissions —but in a drastically different way from what my counselor implied.
Affirmative Action has been a hot-button in recent years, especially since several Asian-American families filed a lawsuit against Harvard University claiming that they had a quota for Asian students, and that their children were discriminated against because of their race. While a 2018 Gallup poll reported that the majority of Americans believe that Affirmative Action is a positive policy, only a quarter of people believe that race should be a factor in admissions at all. Another study found that two-thirds of Americans disagree with the Supreme Court’s ruling in Fisher v. The University of Texas (2016) that universities may consider race in admissions. Despite ambiguous public opinion, many universities have been diligent about diversifying their student bodies with Black, Latinx, and Native American students. Still, white students comprise as much as 50% of the student body in the Ivy League. Until I began applying to college, I never doubted the importance of these critical policies.
I worried for months about my chances of getting into my dream school: Was my acceptance riding on factors that I couldn’t control? The words of my counselor echoed in the back of my head. I feared that I would be turned down in favor of a student of color with an otherwise similar application. Several court rulings have set a precedent that race ought not to be a determining factor in acceptance, but I couldn’t quell my concerns. In time, I began to feel guilty. As someone who takes pride in her activism, should I not be promoting people of colors’ access to a prestigious education?
The education gap between white people and people of color feels far from me. My high school is at least 90% white and I never realized that my advanced classes were devoid of a single person of color until my friends from different schools pointed out the segregation in achievement that still exists in public schools. Some of the most diverse public schools tend to have the lowest funding, number of teachers, and resources available for students, thus creating continued barriers to education and enforcing the school-to-prison cycle. After that initial meeting with my counselor I finally started to realize how much my race contributes to my top-notch education. Being oblivious to that fact was a privilege in itself.
I’ve understood and appreciated the value of a diverse learning environment for a long time; especially coming from a homogenous school, I’ve longed for unique perspectives and backgrounds. College is the perfect environment to encounter new ideas and cultures; however, as I chose schools to apply to, diversity was never taken into consideration. It was a privilege for me not to have to look at the college’s racial demographics when applying. Wherever I went, I knew there would be no shortage of people like me. Unlike students of color, I knew with certainty that I would never be the only person of my race in class.
For the first time, I had to confront my whiteness. As a Jew, I tend to separate myself from the typical privileges enjoyed by white people, but now my Judaism made no difference. Whiteness wove its way into every part of my application. It played a role in what classes I was able to take, how I formed relationships with teachers, and what activities I participated in during high school. I realized that being white is an inherent part of my identity and that it has impacted my life in ways I’ve been oblivious to for far too long.
As I learned more about what affirmative action really means for students, and about the injustice that students of color have faced for centuries in the United States, my egocentric worries turned into a sobering recognition of my inherent privilege. Of the privileges that contribute to my education, my race is at the root of them all. Although I initially resented my counselor’s comment, I am now grateful that his words prompted me to ruminate and reflect upon my racial privilege and the work being done to reduce it.
About the Author: Ari Fogel is a member of The Jewish Women’s Archive’s Rising Voices Fellowship,a 10-month program for female-identified teens in high-school who have a passion for writing, a demonstrated concern for current and historic events, and a strong interest in Judaism, gender and social justice.
This book is a non-fiction historical account on the lives and resistance work of Dutch resistance heroines Hannie Schaft and the sisters Truus and Freddie Oversteegen (author Sophie Poldermans personally knew them for twenty years). It is based on first hand interviews with both the Oversteegen sisters and direct witnesses, historical facts and archival photographs.
This is so unique because the role of women in WWII has often been underrepresented or neglected.
In the Netherlands, ninety percent of the population tried to live their lives as normal as possible during the German occupation, five percent consisted of collaborators, and five percent joined the resistance, of which only a very small part were in the armed resistance, and of that group only a handful were women. These three young women were part of this very small group of women in the armed resistance. That is what makes this story so unique:
They were only teenagers of nineteen (Hannie), sixteen (Truus) and fourteen (Freddie) when WWII started. They met in the summer of 1943 in the resistance group the Council of Resistance.
Truus recounted, “A war like this is a very raw experience. While I was biking, I saw Germans picking up innocent people from the streets, putting them against a wall and shooting them. I was forced to watch, which aroused such an enormous anger in me, such a disgust, a feeling of ‘dirty bastards.’ You can have any political conviction or be totally against war, but at that moment you are just a human being confronted with something very cruel. Shooting innocent people is murder. If you experience something like this, you’ll find it justified that when people commit treason, such as exchanging a four-year-old Jewish child for 35 guilders (Dutch currency at that time), you act against it. (Page 51)
Below are excerpts from the book, Seducing and Killing Nazis. Hannie, Truus and Freddie: Dutch Resistance Heroines of WWII” based on an interview by Sophie Poldermans with Truus Oversteegen on February 28, 1998:The three young women made a great team: Hannie was the lawyer, the intellectual, Truus was a decisive, down-to-earth leader. Freddie was the intelligence, the one who would explore and map everything out in advance. (Page 45)
Truus recounted, “A war like this is a very raw experience. While I was biking, I saw Germans picking up innocent people from the streets, putting them against a wall and shooting them. I was forced to watch, which aroused such an enormous anger in me, such a disgust, a feeling of ‘dirty bastards.’ You can have any political conviction or be totally against war, but at that moment you are just a human being confronted with something very cruel. Shooting innocent people is murder. If you experience something like this, you’ll find it justified that when people commit treason, such as exchanging a four-year-old Jewish child for 35 guilders (Dutch currency at that time), you act against it. (Page 51)
About the Author:Sophie Poldermans is the author of “Seducing and Killing Nazis. Hannie, Truus and Freddie: Dutch Resistance Heroines of WWII” (2019). She is the founder of “Sophie’s Women of War,” is a Dutch women’s rights advocate, author, public speaker, lecturer and consultant on women and war. She personally knew Truus and Freddie Oversteegen for 20 years and worked closely with them for over a decade as a board member of the National Hannie Schaft Foundation. Please check out https://sophieswomenofwar.com or https://seducingandkillingnazis.com and follow on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter or Goodreads.
It’s been over two years since the
#MeToo movement erupted, exposing—amid shared stories of abuse from women of
all ages, nationalities, and social and economic backgrounds—endemic workplace
harassment and abuse. It also revealed the systemic failure to stop it.
For 2020 and beyond, we have a new
standard to which we can hold governments and employers around the world
accountable for sexual harassment and violence against workers. Fueled by the
outpouring of experiences that women articulated in the wake of #MeToo, a new treaty
has huge positive potential, not just for women in the workplace, but for all
The 2019 International Labour Organization (ILO) Convention on Violence and Harassment at Work—which 439 out of 476 governments, employers, and workers from around the world voted to adopt in June at the United Nations in Geneva—sets out key measures to tackle the scourge of harassment at work. These include the adoption of national laws prohibiting workplace violence and taking preventive measures, as well as requiring employers to have workplace policies on violence. The treaty also obligates governments to provide access to remedies through complaint mechanisms and victim services, and to provide measures to protect victims and whistleblowers from retaliation.
The ratification process is just
beginning, with at least 10 countries signaling willingness to ratify the new
treaty– Argentina, Belgium, France, Iceland, Ireland, Namibia, Philippines,
South Africa, Uganda, and Uruguay. With public support and pressure, more are
expected to follow suit. We can also expect countries to undertake national
reforms even where they do not ratify the treaty.
Workplace sexual harassment isn’t
inevitable. It flourishes when governments and employers fail to prevent it,
protect survivors, and punish abusers. A 2018 World Bank report found that 59 out of 189 economies—including
Guatemala, Iran, and Japan—had no specific
legal provisions prohibiting sexual harassment in employment. And the ILO has found that existing
laws often exclude those workers most exposed to violence, such as domestic
workers, farmworkers, and those in precarious employment.
I have interviewed hundreds of migrant domestic workers in the Middle East, many of whom described being beaten or sexually harassed and assaulted by their employers. They are more at risk of such violence because they are usually excluded from labor laws, and their visas are tied to their employers whom they cannot leave or change jobs without their permission.
So, what do we hope to change as a
Individual countries should ban
violence and harassment, including gender-based violence, at work in their laws
and policies. They can mount prevention campaigns, conduct inspections and investigations,
and provide ways for victims to make complaints and get remedies, including
compensation. They should also protect whistleblowers and victims from
Crucially, countries should also
ensure that employers have workplace policies addressing violence and
harassment, with risk assessments, prevention measures and training.
Having good examples of how to fight workplace violence can have ripple effects. Governments can work with employers and worker organizations to develop information campaigns that can reach the public widely, as well as specific campaigns to highlight how violence and harassment will not be tolerated, how it can be reported, and what will be done about it. Effective and accessible complaints procedures, successful investigations by employers or authorities, as well as sanctions against the abuser or their employer, and remedies for victims will encourage more women to come forward and help deter abuse.
For instance, while clothing brands or factories often bring in social auditors to examine factory working conditions, social audits primarily rely on in-factory interviews with workers who may fear retaliation, often leaving them ineffective for detecting workplace sexual harassment. In contrast, women workers who speak outside factory premises feel less anxious about retaliation. The Worker Rights Consortium, an international labor rights group, found evidence of sexual harassment in three factories in Lesotho after conducting off-site interviews with workers. All three factories had been using routine social audits by third parties.
management signed legally binding
agreements with the unions and three brands, promising to carry out a program designed by factory unions and two
prominent local women’s rights organizations. It includes creating an independent investigation body to
look into complaints of sexual harassment, and anti-retaliation protections, and
provides that factories’ policies against gender-based violence and harassment also
apply to its suppliers and third-party contractors.
Workplace violence is not limited
to paid workers. Protections against violence should also include people who
are often at greater risk: volunteers, interns, job applicants, and job
seekers. Dangling the possibility of a job in return for sex to someone looking
for a job is known as quid pro quo; many women have highlighted how often this
happens. Companies should investigate and sanction such behavior. In December,
activists in Japan called on the government,
companies, and universities to stamp out sexual harassment of job-hunting
Global trade unions, motivated by the adoption of this new treaty, are planning national campaigns to support ratification. These campaigns will highlight the abuses faced in numerous sectors that have been out of the spotlight. For example, the market traders are organizing in Uganda’s capital, Kampala, to stop harassment, and the International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers’ Associations (IUF) opened a global campaign in May 2018 to press the world’s largest hotel company, Marriott, to sign a global framework agreement to protect its workers from sexual harassment across all Marriott hotels globally.
Coming off protests at Marriott
hotels worldwide including an event at the International Labour Conference, Marriott
did not heed calls to negotiate such a global accord but instead announced in
September 2018 that it would continue to roll out alert devices, commonly known
as “panic buttons,” for their workers across North America in 2020.
In contrast, earlier this year the IUF successfully negotiated the first global agreement on sexual harassment in the hotel sector with the Spanish multi-national hotel chain Meliá. And in September it successfully negotiated an agreement with the French multi-national hotel chain AccorInvest on measures to combat sexual harassment at work, including disseminating detailed information relating to the zero-tolerance policy on sexual harassment.
States should also identify
sectors of work and work arrangements that leave workers more vulnerable to
violence and harassment. Domestic workers, garment workers—most of them women—and
those in precarious employment, like short-term contracts and the increasing
gig-economy, can easily become prey to abuse. An employer can put in place complaint
mechanisms but making a complaint should not mean the end of their job or
career. Tackling these structural issues so that all such workers are protected
will be important.
#MeToo helped expose the endemic
abuses that women face in the workplace. In 2020, we should see the start of
the structural reforms needed to end violence and harassment at work for women,
and all workers, on a global scale.
Held in a posh resort in Palm
Springs, California, TEDWomen 2019 attracted 900 people who came to network with
people in their field and to hear talks by innovators and risk-takers.
Since it was founded in 1984, TED has
become an idea machine. Originally, the conferences focused on the fields of technology, entertainment and design before branching out to
include topics that range from science to business to global issues. And those who didn’t hear the talks in person
looked for them online. TED talks have hit an impressive number: 1 billion
TEDWomen began 10 years ago when Pat
Mitchell approached TED’s chief curator with the seed of an idea that she and
the TED team developed into a conference focusing on the power of women and
girls to be creators and change makers. Mitchell herself is a star when it
comes to making inroads for women in the world of media. She was the first woman
to head the documentary unit when Ted Turner started CNN, the first female
President of the Public Broadcasting System and author of the book “Becoming a
The opening session featured well-known
personalities like Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, former President of Liberia and a
Nobel Peace Prize laureate for her efforts to bring women into the peacekeeping
process. Wearing a traditional long wrap skirt and a purple satin top and
turban, Johnson strode onto a stage lit with colorful circles of neon light and
told the packed audience about her 12-year tenure as the first democratically
elected female head of state in Africa. Sirleaf became the leader of Liberia in
2006, inheriting a country devastated by more than a decade of civil war. Among
the challenges she faced: rebuilding the country’s crumbling roads, putting economic
policies in place that would lift the population out of poverty and creating an adequate health care and education system.
Sirleaf said she’s proud of what she was able to do like
appointing women to important government positions. She also admitted she didn’t
accomplish as much as she’d hoped as the country battled an Ebola outbreak that
killed 5,000 people and an economy that contracted when prices for commodities
like iron ore and rubber collapsed.
Her remarks about the future drew
cheers. She has no plans to retire and she’s putting her energy into developing
a center dedicated to the empowerment of women.
Then another well-known performer took
the stage. Eve Ensler, creator of The Vagina Monologues, held the audience rapt
with a harrowing story about her childhood that’s the theme of her book “The
Apology.” Ensler talked about growing up in a well-to-do family in Westchester
where her father sexually abused her from the time she was 5 and then inflicted
physical punishment after she began to refuse his sexual advances. During his
lifetime, Ensler’s father never apologized for his actions so Ensler said she
decided to write an apology in his name as a way to be finally be free of what
he had done. Ensler said abused women want the profound power of an authentic apology.
The way she put it, “We
don’t want men to be destroyed, we don’t want them to only be punished. We want
them to see us, the victims that they have harmed, and we want them to repent
There was also irreverence, fun and
wonder. Comedian Gina Brillion drew laughs with her stories about the tyranny
of Spanx. And the audience sat mesmerized as disabled dancers Alice Sheppard
and Laurel Lawson performed a sequence of movements that included lifting and
embracing while one dancer was strapped to her wheel chair.
During breaks between sessions, people
wandered over to a patio area where you could order a latte with soy, almond or
oat milk and hang out in comfortable chairs that invited conversation.
That’s where I met attorney Abeer Abu
Judeh, Judeh, who came to the conference
from Denver, is the founder and CEO of a startup called Lexdock which allows clients
to manage their own legal affairs. Judeh said she decided to spend the $3,000
to attend the conference sometimes referred to as the ultimate schmooze fest,
for the opportunity to meet new people and to make connections to potential
funders. She said she’d also come for a little inspiration and she got it from
hearing Rayma Suprani, a political cartoonist from Venezuela. Judeh, a Muslim who grew up in a refugee camp in
Palestine, said she could relate to a feeling that Surprani expressed in her
talk. When the cartoonist first emigrated to the U.S. she felt like she was an
alien on another planet. “At times,” Judeh said, “I still feel like an alien.”
Not everyone who attended pays out of
pocket. For many conference goers, their company foots the bill. Kathryn Jacob is President and CEO of
SafeHaven, an agency that operates domestic violence centers in the
Dallas-Forth Worth area. Jacob says she and her team have been trying to think
out of the box, experimenting with different systems to better protect women
who are in danger of being attacked by abusive husbands or partners. She came
to the conference to meet new people and hear new ideas about what works in her
Still others, like Trillion Small came
to Palm Springs to learn more about the TED brand and how the non-profit puts
together its conferences. Trillion is a TEDx leader ho has signed on as a
volunteer to organize the events that some people think of as baby TEDS. These
are TED-like talks and performances that take place in local communities. Trillion
has put together a January event in Frisco, Texas. She and a staff of
volunteers have recruited the speakers, chosen the venue and are selling
tickets for $100 each.
A mystery guest was announced for the closing session. In the darkened theater, a familiar face appeared on a video screen onstage. It was Jane Fonda speaking from the Greenpeace offices in Washington, D.C. Fonda has taken up residence in the nation’s capital where she’s been arrested several times for acts of civil disobedience in protests meant to highlight the climate crisis. Wearing a black tee shirt with the slogan “Fire Drill Fridays,” Fonda urged grandmas to unite and said, “We do have to build an army. To stave off depression is to do something active.”
Fonda explained that as a healthy
81-year old person with a well-known name, she feels it’s her responsibility to
take a stand. And she said she knows she’s not alone. She left the audience
with this thought. “There are 25 million people in the U.S. who are scared and
want to do something about the climate crisis. I feel very hopeful.”
After a standing ovation, people trickled out of the theater and headed for a farewell lunch of tacos with mango salsa and little cups of flan. Before saying good-bye to new-found friends, they tapped contact information into their phones and posed for photos. Some said they’d had a good time in a pretty place, enjoying a break from the stresses of daily life. Others said they were leaving with renewed energy, ready to go home and tackle the tough issues that threaten the planet.
About the Author: Carole Zimmer is the host of the award-winning podcast “Now What?” Curated conversations with people you want to know on Apple Podcasts and wherever you listen to your podcasts. She’s a journalist with more than 30 years of experience working in radio, television and digital media including Bloomberg News, NPR and NBC. Her work has also appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post, New York Magazine and other publications. Zimmer has received numerous awards including an Edward M. Murrow award for her radio documentary, “Stalking a Silent Killer.” You can find more of her work at www.carolezimmer.com.
There were enough ‘f’ words spewed to fill a football field. “Fossil fuels have got to go,” was one of the rallying cries Jane Fonda, Sally Field and dozens of other peaceful protestors shouted in unison on a rainy day on the Southeast Lawn of the US Capital on Friday, December 13th. But perhaps the most memorable f-word was this four-letter one – FIRE –as in the name of this weekly demonstration to save the planet, FIRE DRILL FRIDAYS, and the word heard ‘round the world in Greta Thunberg’s September 2019 speech at the World Economic Forum, when she said, “Our house is on fire.”
And, truly, wasn’t Friday the 13th the perfect
day to protest together? A day rooted in witchcraft stemming from the Middle
Ages when the goddess of love and fertility, Frigga, was branded a witch and banished
to a mountaintop. It was believed that every Friday, she would meet with eleven
other witches and the devil himself (13 in total) and plot terrible things to
occur in the coming weeks. But would a goddess of love truly want to plot
horrible things against others? Talk about a ‘witchhunt!’
And it seemed equally illogical that dozens of protestors should even have to gather together this, and every Friday, to protect our planet, a planet that feeds and houses us all. But with the US Capital as a backdrop, that’s exactly what needed to be done, as an increasing number of policies and bills have been recently passed to further damage our planet, under the Trump Administration’s claim that climate change is a “hoax.” And it was equally as clear that not even the pouring rain could put out a fire of this magnitude because, as Jane Fonda put it, the climate crisis is not an isolated issue. “It involves every part of our economy and society.”
As Fonda, the founder and organizer of Fire Drill Fridays, stood on a stage just above a poster displaying a cross-cultural legion of women and men that read, GOOD JOBS FOR A GREEN FUTURE, she talked about how this day was just one of a number of demonstrations which began in September, 2019, where scientists, movement leaders, experts, activists, Indigenous leaders, community members and youth have come together to share their stories and demand that action be taken against climate change before it’s too late. Further, to ensure the topic and its connection to the climate crisis is thoroughly explained, she hosts a live-streamed “Teach-In” with a panel of experts each Thursday evening before the demonstration, for the public to attend virtually.
“Our climate is in crisis,” Fonda went on to say, while standing in a red long coat with a black and white houndstooth cap under an umbrella. “Scientists are shouting an urgent warning: We have little more than a decade to take bold, ambitious action to transition our economy off of fossil fuels and onto clean, renewable energy. We need a Green New Deal to mobilize our government and every sector of the economy to tackle the overlapping crises of climate change, inequality, and structural racism at the scale and speed our communities require. We need and deserve a world beyond fossil fuels while creating millions of family-sustaining, union jobs, and prioritizing justice and equity for working people and communities of color on the frontlines of climate disaster and fossil fuel exploitation, so the clean energy transformation leaves nobody behind.”
Then, renowned actress and activist Sally Field took to the podium. “I am a mother. I am a grandmother. The time is now,” the actress told protesters. “We cannot sit back in our comfort zones, on our couches, and wonder, ‘What can we do?’ We can get out. We can do something, in the rain. Whatever it takes,” she added. “This is a possibility that is actually happening, we need to get out of our comfort zones now!”
And with that protestors and journalists followed Fonda and Field as they descended the stage and walked to the front of the Capitol steps across a muddy field behind a banner that read, ‘WE DEMAND A GREEN NEW DEAL.’ As I turned to look toward the Capitol lined by a wall of twenty police officers determined to stop the protestors. I thought to myself, ‘Don’t they know we are marching for them as well?”
As everyone arrived at the steps and stood in resistance, a police officer yelled over a loud speaker that the demonstrators were “going to be arrested” if they did not disperse. And, each time, the protestors yelled even louder, “Hey Hey, Ho Ho, fossil fuels have got to go!” drowning out the warnings.
In all, twenty-six people were arrested for demonstrating, including Sally Field, charged with crowding and obstructing justice. But they’ll be back again…next Friday, and the Friday after, and the Friday after that because, as Fonda said, and all who stand in solidarity agree, “We must act now to save the planet from irreversible catastrophe.”
“I want you to feel the fear I feel every day,” Greta Thunberg was also quoted as saying at the World Economic Forum earlier this year, “and I want you to act.”
To learn more about Fire Drill Fridays, click on the links below:
My friend wanted to get arrested one morning in July on the curb of the sidewalk along a street east of downtown Houston called Emancipation Avenue. That’s where she intended to stand while, she anticipated, her hands would be shackled, her arms hoisted up, and her body thrust into the backseat of a police car. On the street named for liberation, she would sing Hebrew as they hauled her away; freedom ringing in her voice and radiating from her eyes.
She informed me of her plan the day before, while on her way back from another demonstration in Oklahoma. Her firebrand of a five-foot tall, curly-haired Jewish mother hiked with her up to the site of Fort Sill, a nineteenth and twentieth century internment camp where the US government forcibly converted Native tribes and imprisoned Japanese Americans during WWII. As the current presidential administration prepares to detain fourteen hundred Latin American migrant children at Fort Sill, hundreds of activists (from a plethora of communities) crowded beneath a highway outside the building, employing the collective weight of their bodies and the force of their voices to implore the government not to once more make use of this camp. Jews, remembering our own difficult migrations and our history with concentration camps, traveled far to attend.
The sight on Emancipation Avenue the following morning appeared much the same. Packed together, Jews lined the sidewalk of a barred detention center that holds migrant teenagers; one long-isolated people weeping for another.
A rabbi addressed our cohort dismayed Jews, brandishing a tattered Haggadah that escaped Nazi Germany with his grandfather. Holding up the Haggadah, he turned to the camp behind us and issued a purposeful statement: “Not in my name, and not in my time.” I lifted a poster with the words of Elie Wiesel as I screamed my assent.
When a reporter from the Houston Chronicle asked me why I chose to protest on Emancipation Avenue that day, I repeated the words of the Rabbi. I explained that, by bringing the story of my Jewish ancestors into the present to defend the rights of others, I was participating in the age-old Jewish tradition of creating our identity, our name, through action.
My friend—a Latina Jewish teenager who painted fiercely doleful blue stars on her legs —didn’t encounter the police that morning. But three weeks later, while back sitting on Emancipation Avenue, she watched her mother earn the awaited handcuffs and make the sacred pilgrimage to the police station.
Pilgrims are people who venture to a sacred place, and their journey is equal parts travel and destination. As Jews, our pilgrimages take us from one land, one mindset, one tradition, and one generation to the next because we recognize that, in order to survive, we must grow our peoplehood by challenging ourselves to leave behind the comfort of the now (where we are, what we know, how we act) and move anew. Time flows, and we take pilgrimages to keep moving alongside it, adapting and expanding our Jewish identity.
I’ve watched for years as Jewish pilgrims in our time journey to chart the course of our people; I’ve studied the formative journeys of past millennia. But I failed to comprehend that this movement crafted the history, the identity, the people I hold dear, until my friend’s mother was arrested under the proud gaze of her daughter. No matter how hard we may try to remain quiet and still, we cannot situate ourselves, unnoticed, in one space, one mindset, for long. When there are political, social, and religious developments in society and the world changes, we move.
And why do we move? Sometimes it’s in response
to persecution (or most of the time: even when we move or make a choice
unmotivated by antisemitism, we’re probably—if unwittingly—influenced by our
age-old affliction to some degree.) Sometimes it’s to intervene in immoral
politics, such as our aforementioned immigration protests. Sometimes it’s
internal change, in pursuit of new meaning for tradition. Sometimes, it’s to
create space. To care for others. To pursue justice. To foster inclusion. To
learn for ourselves. To teach our children.
I am a Jew because I embrace such movement: I
look to the Jewish pilgrims for guidance in each new life exploration. My
understanding of the Jewish people teaches me to resist passivity and
immobility. Be it a curse or a blessing, stagnation, in my eyes, is our
communal antithesis. Change serves as one of our few constants. Ideological
nomads who make our home in the history of our travels.
Every Jewish service or holiday acts as a
reminder to shift our mindset. We interpret our religious texts, doctrines, and
stories to spark new quests; these teachings are but maps to our next Temple.
TheShalosh Regalim, the three Jewish holidays with Biblical pilgrimages to the
Temple, never died.
And like all things Jewish, this pilgrimage
manifests in limitless ways.
Jews might quite literally pack up and move,
expanding our Diaspora. Or we might re-envision or revitalize a tradition
within our homes. We might align ourselves with a cause and join an
organization marching towards social justice. We might put pen to paper and
embolden our community through a speech, a poem, a memoir, or a
Or we might trek to Emancipation Avenue, one late morning in July, wielding tattered Haggadahs and signs with quotes: tributes to the Jewish pilgrims of our past. We might bear bold blue stars, strategically etched on our legs, our arms, our foreheads. And we might lie down in the middle of the street, singing, until the handcuffs arrive.
About the Author: Madeline Canfieldis a member of The Jewish Women’s Archive’s Rising Voices Fellowship,a 10-month program for female-identified teens in high-school who have a passion for writing, a demonstrated concern for current and historic events, and a strong interest in Judaism, gender and social justice.
This story is part of Teen Voices at Women’s eNews. In 2013 Women’s eNews retained the 25-year-old magazine Teen Voices to continue and further its mission to improve the world for female teens through media. Teen Voices at Women’s eNews provides online stories and commentary about issues directly affecting female teens around the world, serving as an outlet for young women to share their experiences and views. Learn More.
For the first time in our nation’s history we are witnessing on the largest, most public stage in the US a major contrast between the leadership styles of two of the most powerful leaders of our day: Speaker Nancy Pelosi and President Donald Trump. Whatever your political leanings, we can all agree that their leadership styles are radically different. Moreover, these differences challenge conventional ideas about gender and leadership.
Tradition suggests that women are more emotional and less rational than men. Men are thought to be more linear and less emotional than women. Yet what we see played out on our TV screens is the exact opposite. Pelosi is composed, in control, and on message. Trump, in contrast, is bombastic, bouncing from topic to topic, and reliant on name-calling and insults to make his points.
She manifests competence, effective
communication, and calm reassurance—certainly not qualities of the
stereotypic female leader. He, in contrast, is erratic, impulsive, and
overwrought, just the opposite of the stereotypic male leader.
One of the most iconic photos of recent days, taken in October, 2019 by a White House photographer, shows Pelosi standing in the Cabinet Room of the White House surrounded by Democratic and Republican leaders, and President Trump. The body language between the two of them speaks volumes. As Sheryl Gay Stolberg of the New York Times put it, the Speaker is “standing and wagging her finger at a scowling Trump… seated across the table. [The photo was] hailed by progressives as the latest iconic image of Washington’s most powerful woman telling an impetuous president exactly what is what.”
Stolberg writes: “There is now a new classic image of Pelosi, at a long conference table filled almost entirely with graying white men, lecturing the president during a contentious meeting on Syria as others look down uncomfortably, averting their gaze.” Many saw in the photo “a powerful woman schooling an impetuous man, or perhaps a mother scolding a toddler.”
So much for the stereotype of the frail women: Too emotional to be effective.
Fortunately, Pelosi never got the memo about the ancient “rules” women need to adhere to if they want men in power to focus on the substance of what they are saying. Sugar and spice and everything nice is the template women must keep in mind, even when they are adult employees engaged in serious pursuits. Too often, advice to women about how to get ahead still relies on this limerick they probably first heard in kindergarten. For example, training materials used in 2018 by Ernst and Young, [a mega-accounting firm with over 270,000 employees], to help promising women be more effective leaders, offers the following guidelines:
“Don’t be too aggressive or outspoken.
“Don’t directly confront men in meetings, because men perceive this as threatening… Meet before (or after) the meeting instead.”
“If you’re having a conversation with a man, cross your legs and sit at an angle to him. Don’t talk to a man face-to-face. Men see that as threatening.”
Handouts instruct women who attend the sessions to “be polished, have a good haircut, manicured nails, and well-cut attire that compliments your body type.” Other “rules” focus on the contrasting communication styles of women and men. “Women ‘speak briefly’ and ‘often ramble and miss the point’ …By contrast, a man will ‘speak at length’–because he really believes in his idea.”
One employee who attended the session told a reporter from Huffington Post that she chafed at the ideas she was hearing. “You have to offer your thoughts in a benign way,” the employee said. “You have to be the perfect Stepford wife.” She said it seemed that female employees were “being turned into someone who is “super-smiley, who never confronts anyone.
Nowhere in these materials is there any
mention of being forceful, direct, and persistent, qualities that arguably won
the Speaker a convincing “win” in her tete-a tete with Trump.
Aspiring women are also warned that
violating feminine norms leads to seriously negative consequences. Considerable
research paints a scary picture of the consequences women face if they
step outside the strict confines of their gender role.
NYU psychologist Madeline Heilman finds that women who are thought of as competent are also regarded as “bitchy” and are disliked, while males seen as competent are considered likable. Further, women are likely to be penalized, by both men and women, if they don’t adhere to feminine characteristics or if they “dare” to exhibit masculine traits. Such women, Heilman says, are seen as selfish, manipulative and untrustworthy—”your typical constellation of ‘bitchy’ characteristics.”
Although much research has debunked the
notion of rigid, inborn female and male traits, these stereotypes stubbornly
persist and have unfortunate effects. The Ernst and Young session featured a
handout describing feminine and masculine characteristics. Women were said to
be “Affectionate, childlike, eager to soothe hurts, gentle, shy, soft-spoken.
tender, warm, yielding, gullible.” Men on the other hand, were “Aggressive,
acts as a leader, ambitious, assertive competitive, defends one’s beliefs,
forceful, makes decisions easily, self-reliant, willing to take a stand,
dominant, has leadership abilities.”
The idea that women should never confront a man as an equal is echoed in many business “tips.” A column in Forbes, for example, advises women to never ask a question that directly criticizes a male co-worker. She should start off praising the man and then tactfully suggest that perhaps another path might be equally successful. The too-nice woman can’t simply say, “That idea sucks, and
here’s a better one,” the way men often do, because she’ll be labeled as a
“nasty woman.” The need to be indirect and pleasing hobbles her ability to be a
forceful and effective leader
Nancy Pelosi–and other Democratic women candidates for the presidential nomination such as Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren have no problem confronting men. In debates, Harris has asked tough questions of Joe Biden and The National Journal headlined “Warren Takes on Wall Street, Big Oil in Feisty Speech.”
Today’s young women
and men who saw Pelosi confronting Trump witnessed first hand how forceful,
competent and effective women leaders who ignore these stereotypes can be. If women must stay mute,
they hand over their power to others–something that Pelosi is not accustomed to doing, and
hopefully, more women will follow her lead.
As the evidence mounts, perhaps we will get to the point where good leadership will be recognized and applauded, regardless of whether the leader is female or male. Avid Trump-supporter, and former chief strategist to the President, Steve Bannon, who is certainly no fan of liberal Nancy Pelosi, had this to say of her leadership skills.
“I don’t care if you hate Nancy Pelosi…this is a master and
she is teaching a master class. Tough as boot leather.” Here is how Steve
Miller, one of the closest Trump advisers, describes the speaker: “She is one
of the best communications directors on the planet.”
Further, Nancy Pelosi doesn’t obsess over the question of whether she will be reelected. When she was asked in a DC press conference about why she should be elected again as speaker, she responded, “Well, I am a master legislator, I am a strategic, politically astute leader, and that is why I am able to attract the support that I do.”
WEN: Why did you choose Carrie Fisher to write about?
SW: I love writing about complex, iconic women who have changed or resonated with the culture, and she is high in both categories. I loved her revolutionary book of “faction” (as she calls fact plus fiction), POSTCARDS FROM THE EDGE, was always admiringly and fascinatedly aware of her role as a social magnet and adored friend and wit in Hollywood and ALL areas of the cultural world.
I also shared a Beverly Hills – entertainment industry childhood with her. Mine was non celebrity, but there were parallels and intersections: Her mother Debbie Reynolds, as an MGM teen starlet, snuck into my uncle’s glamorous Sunset Strip nightclub Ciro’s to learn to be worldly; my movie-magazine-editor mother wrote many stories about Debbie and Eddie and then Debbie and Eddie and Elizabeth Taylor. We lived around the corner from them and, briefly, when my mother delivered an article she’d written about Debbie, we once went over to their house.
And, most pointedly, my own family had a non-celebrity but not-un-public version of her family’s Debbie-Eddie-Liz scandal: a beautiful woman breaking up a marriage, with drama, publicity, and violence. My mother and I were the female cast-offs of a man we both loved, with bonding and veiled mutual humiliation, not unlike what I sensed, and learned, Carrie and Debbie felt.
But, mostly, Carrie was a badass feminist heroine hiding in plain sight: so peerlessly honest and witty about her life’s madness and challenges and sexism that she relieved other women who felt shamed by their own upswinging weight and age, and perhaps their crazy families. When she died on December 27, 2019, the world erupted in grief and admiration, and the Princess Leia posters held aloft by the hundreds at the subsequent Women’s Marches proved and fortified her significance – her adored stature. People LOVED her – not just her many dozens of highly accomplished and also regular-Joe best friends, but a mix of Americana from STAR WARS super-fans to the highest-barred feminists.
She simply had to be written about.
WEN: How easy/difficult was it for you to find people to speak with you about her?
SW: It was challenging. Many people were private or protective of their memories and I didn’t push them – I respected their reticence. But a good number of her close friends – including familiar names – and colleagues from different movies and projects and brushes with her in their lives were happy to open up. When you have to go after sources and they’re not handed to you on a silver platter you find many unexpected major sources who can identify key moments, episodes, interactions and character revelations that you might not otherwise find.
This adjoining excerpt, of Carrie’s time in drama school in London, is an example. I found about ten people who knew her there, during a transformative but little-known year of her life. Others didn’t look.
WEN: Was there anything surprising that you learned about her while researching and/or speaking to others about her?
SW: I knew she had major challenges – inherited propensity to drug addiction and bipolar disorder. She has certainly written and spoken about them. But I guess I didn’t realize the extent of her vulnerability, because she often wrote and spoke and performed about her life with such witty hauteur and aplomb. She was achingly vulnerable, despite her reputation as her time and place’s Dorothy Parker. Her friend from drama school and beyond, Selina Cadell, said, “She was as fragile as a butterfly.” Along with the opposite – an almost intimidating wit – this was true!
I also was aware that she de-stigmatized bipolar disorder and mental illness in general, but I wasn’t aware of how greatly and bravely she did so. She really was a force in wresting the shame from the conditions, especially for women.
WEN: How did writing this book compare to writing your previous books (i.e. Girls Like Us)?
SW: Like every child is different, every BOOK is different. With Girls Like Us, my focus was music heroines and way pavers who broke the ‘50s rule that you had to get married after college, who became romantic adventurers, who mirrored and narrated their generation by writing on that and many other female ‘60s generation landmark issues and moments. With my next book, The News Sorority, the focus was on women with more settled personal lives (both families of origin and eventual partners) but whose professional lives were full of challenges as they pushed past the sexism and other roadblocks involved in reaching the highest levels of news reporting and anchoring. With this new book, it is just one woman, and her challenges, in a way, were more complex and intense than those of the others. Empathy is always what I aim for when I write. Each book requires a different kind.
WEN: How do you feel about Carrie’s family denouncing the book?
SW: Honestly, it didn’t feel good. I am not a gotcha journalist or a Kitty Kelley. (I wish I were one fourtieth as tough as she!) I hope it doesn’t sound too self-serving to say that empathy is an important tool I like to think I use.
I respect and admire the courage and dignity of Carrie’s family. I will say that I did contact them, through their representative, several times, and tell them about my book contract and respectfully request their participation. But I am not going to argue with their interpretation or remarks.
As I said in the statement to the L.A. Times and other media, it was my deep admiration of Carrie that prompted me to want to do a biography of her in the first place. I will also add that every single review has mentioned how positive my book is toward her. Booklist said it was “profoundly sympathetic” and “a worthy tribute. To a strong, intelligent woman.” USA Today called it “admiring.” Kirkus said the reader had “300 pages to fall in love with Carrie Fisher” and that even if the reader didn’t follow her when she was alive, the reader would still “miss her” when they finished the book. Library Journal called it “thoughtful,” “absorbing,” and “poignant” – a “portrait of a brave, complex woman” (other reviews used very similar if not identical words). Newsweek called it a “heartfelt tribute and beautiful homage.” Publishers Weekly said I “celebrated her for her wit and strength.” They may certainly choose not to read it but these reviewers and many readers have found it positive.
Carrie wanted to be an actress, not a
singer or nightclub performer like her mother (and father). And among those in
the London Palladium audience, in late
July 1974, watching Carrie wow the audience with her singing, as part of her
mother Debbie Reynolds’s show, was George Hall, head of acting at London’s Central School
of Speech and Drama, long the “second” drama school in London after the
prestigious Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA) but catching up to RADA now,
and quickly. Lyall Watson, a Central teacher who
would go on to head up RADA, was there in the audience with George, and he
remembers George going backstage to, in Watson’s sensing, be “vetted” by
Debbie. Debbie wanted Carrie to apply to Central, and Debbie was checking Hall
out. The reason for the vetting? Carrie had already auditioned for RADA and had
been turned down. Central might have to prove itself to not be sloppy seconds.
Central was not the school one would
automatically pick for a cosseted movie star’s daughter. It was known for its
left-wing leanings, and it had a talented, competitive, but decidedly non-elite
student body: tuition was cheap; it was state subsidized. But now, under George
Hall’s direction, everything was changing. Its reputation was suddenly
overtaking that of the reigning RADA. As one former Central teacher, Alan Marston, recalls, “In 1974, Central was definitely
the best training for any young actor.”
Central was a product of the 1930s Bristol
Old Vic school, “which produced the young actors that shook up the postwar
theater. It was very left-wing working-class, not this glamour thing, not this
MGM-back-in-the-day thing,” says Christopher John, who would be a student there
with Carrie. Its cachet was its selectivity—it accepted only twenty-six
freshman students a year—and its effective emphasis on getting students jobs.
Rare for England at the time, “Central achieved about 95 percent employment of
students within a year of graduation,” John says. “At the time, in the U.K.,
you couldn’t join Actors’ Equity unless you were already employed with the
regional repertory theater companies.” But Central somehow gotits graduates into rep companies. Clare Rich says, “At the end of our three years
we wanted jobs, and Central made that happen. Most of us went straight from
school to rep. We weren’t rich, so working right away was huge.”
Central was situated in the old Embassy
Theatre in a section of London known as Swiss Cottage, not far from the Irish
Republican Army’s stomping grounds, and the 1970s was the time of the IRA
protests and bombings and cease-fires. Vanessa Redgrave, a Central alum, and
her brother Corin Redgrave would come to Central to give impromptu speeches as
members of the Workers Revolutionary Party.
Central’s audition process involved two
speeches—a Shakespeare monologue and a contemporary one—followed by a series of
improvisations. At the end of the improvisations, you learned whether you had
Carrie traveled to Central for her
audition, and she got a sense of the school. There was the infamous Canteen,
the hub of activity between classes, run by the matriarchal Marianne, a strongly accented Romanian scolder (when you
were in her café, you behaved yourself!) who served “fairly disgusting” coffee,
as one alum recalled it, and liver sausage rolls and cheese and tomato rolls,
wrapped in cellophane. And there was her more accommodating husband, Gerry, who
ran a proper but drearily menued restaurant upstairs. Marianne and Gerry’s was
where everybody congregated. The food
was crap, but there was little choice, except to walk down to the Cosmo, the
Eastern European café on Finchley Road.
Shampoo – the Warren
Beatty-starring and co-written movie in which Carrie had her first role as a
precocious Beverly Hills teenager –was
not released yet. That would come in February 1975 — but George Hall knew
about Carrie’s role in it. Still, her audition was handled, as all Central
auditions were, by the proprietary head of admissions, an elegant elderly woman
known simply as Miss Grey, whom the actress Deborah
MacLaren, then a Central student, recalls wielding great power but being
“tiny, birdlike, imperious, with a gray chignon; she looked like she’d just
stepped off a ballet stage. We had all these fantastic old eccentric ladies
fluttering around, and Miss Grey was a major one.” Miss Grey gave Carrie Fisher
the official good news: she was “appointed” one of twenty-six students entering
Stage ’77. (The classes were named for their graduation date, three years
response was not uncomplicated. Initially, she was gratified. Still, in the
late summer of 1974 there might have been fear of the unknown. Drama school in
London was a good choice; it meant Don’t
be a movie star’s daughter. Take acting seriously! But this would bring out
her insecurity, and she might well have sensed this.
she understood that an epic showdown with her mother was what their long
push-pull relationship was heading toward and that fighting over attending
Central was a handy igniter. Whatever the reason, shortly before she was set to
fly from L.A. to London for Central’s orientation week, Carrie told Debbie,
“I’m not going. I’ve decided to stay home. I want to stay in Los Angeles and
decide what I want to do.”
daughter had a whopper of a fight. Debbie in New York screamed at Carrie in
L.A. that she had “no training and no education.” Those five words would pain
Carrie for a long time; she was, she would later admit, “very insecure [that I]
dropped out of high school to be a chorus girl.” Still, Carrie dug in her
heels: I am not going!
retorted. “You’re going to do this or you’re going to have to support
eventually, angrily conceded.
“She was so
angry” when she boarded the plane. “I felt sick,” Debbie said. “I’d lost my
“Carrie sort of sidled into Central,” Deborah MacLaren, who was a year ahead of
her, says, remembering the early September 1974 first day of school. (Today
Deborah is a working actress with her own British production company.) “We knew
she was going to come—the ‘Hollywood starlet.’” There was reliable rumor that
she’d already shot a few scenes in a yet-to-be-released major movie. “So we
were all slightly excited and wondering what she was going to be like. I
remember looking at her staring at the notice board to see what the next set of
casting was in this rabbit warren of a building. She came past me and she was
all covered up. It was a warm day, but she was wearing this drab raincoat and
this knitted hat that looked like a tea cozy, terribly unflattering. My feeling
was she was hiding and wanted to be the least significant person there.”
just kind of mucked in,” says
then-Central teacher Lyall Watson of Carrie’s unprepossessing entrance. “There
wasn’t anything ‘I am Debbie Reynolds’ daughter!’ about her. She was very
quiet—mouse-like. Not in a bad way—some Americans come over to the English
drama schools and attack them, and she wasn’t like that. Carrie was
“I was the youngest student there,” Carrie
has explained, something that others noted, and “it was the first time I
actually lived on my own. I was finally away from my mother (whom I’d happily
live off but not with) . . . where no
one could be disappointed in me.” She also arrived, she said, “carrying more
freight” than the other students, because people knew she was a movie star’s
daughter. She said she consciously tried to minimize that.
But beyond the attempt at minimization,
there seemed to be genuine insecurity. “She was a lost girl—I felt that very strongly,” MacLaren continues. “She
wasn’t a smiler; she never seemed to
smile. She was a solemn little thing, not the sassy American we were expecting.
She looked as though she needed a bloody good hug, and I don’t know how good
Central was for pastoral care. Here we all were, middle-class students from
Labour families. I got the sense that she was at sea—surrounded by confident
young folk, singing, sitting on stairs, kissing the teachers, in the middle of
IRA territory—we were doing that. It was the ’70s! I
got the feeling she wanted to hide.” She became friends with a stunning girl
named Lucy Gutteridge who was intense and emotionally complicated. In the
casting-specific way of Central, Lucy was Stage ’77’s “‘beautiful girl’ and
Carrie was the “ordinary girl,’” Christopher John believes.
Whereas most of the students lived with
their parents or with roommates in ramshackle make-dos, Carrie had a lovely apartment
she’d sublet from a friend and was often driven to school by a chauffeur
(something she has said she was embarrassed by and hated. Carrie began giving
parties at her London apartment, inviting everyone at the school. This
approach—brandishing great, indiscriminate generosity—was unusual at Central
and caused curiosity and opportunism. Who else did this? the Central faculty rhetorically wondered. “I remember
the parties she used to throw in Chelsea,” says Barbara
Griffiths (known to one and all as Bardy), the voice teacher who taught a
very eager Carrie “standard English.” “Carrie was an extremely lively, very
likable person. She had a twinkle in her eye, and what stood out was her
youth,” Bardy says. Bardy was gobsmacked by “Carrie’s innocence in giving those parties. Nobody else had parties where
they invited everyone in school!” Deborah MacLaren saw the contrast strongly.
“She was a lost girl who also had these glamorous parties; the party thing was
part of her neediness. I thought, ‘What is she doing? Wafting around in that
silly hat and throwing these lavish parties!’ It was about wanting friendship.
I don’t know who her real friends were, aside from Lucy.”
Carrie’s indiscriminate generosity was
promptly taken advantage of. Right before Christmas, she gave a big party, and
one rowdy fellow picked up the grand piano in the apartment and pushed it out
the window! Fortunately, no one was standing on the street in the wee hours of
the morning when the massive piece of furniture hit the sidewalk with life-crushing
force. But a large monetary fine was inflicted on Carrie, as well as police
attention. The incident buzzed around the school the next day, with the
students “thinking it was a huge joke; ‘oh my God,
how naughty, how hilarious!’” says MacLaren. But the young instructors who
attended—Bardy, Lyall Watson—felt worry, shock, and sympathy for naive Carrie.
The day after this catastrophe was when acting student Selina Cadell met Carrie for the first time; “ran smack-dab into her” might be a better description of their encounter. Selina happened to walk into one of the school’s cloakrooms and was stunned to find “the American girl,” which was all she knew about this young student, “crumpled in a heap on its floor, crying her eyes out.” Selina was hit in the face with Carrie’s pain, and that dramatic first encounter would color her feelings about Carrie from that day forward. “People tended to exploit her because she was so wealthy,” Selina would later say, those people’s attitude being “‘Well, who cares if we spill champagne on the carpet or push the grand piano out of the window?’ I sympathized with her and I think she found that unusual. I didn’t know about her background when I was smoothing her ruffled feathers. She never played a grand game or pulled rank. She was just a lovely person with this amazing sense of humor. And she was immensely generous.” After they became good friends, in one of many gestures “Carrie paid for me to come stay with her in the U.S. when I had absolutely no money.” For years Selina was fighting off Carrie’s reflexive generosity. “We think of sharp, witty people as being very resilient, but she had a striking softness and vulnerability.”
About the Author: Sheila Weller is a best-selling author and award-winning magazine journalist specializing in women’s lives, social issues, cultural history, and feminist investigative. Her previous books, including the New York Times bestseller “Raging Heart,” have included well-regarded, news-breaking nonfiction accounts of high profile crimes against women and their social and legal implications. Her sixth book was the critically acclaimed “Girls Like Us: Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Carly Simon — And The Journey of a Generation,” which was on the New York Times Bestseller list for eight weeks, and has sold over 170,000 copies. She has won nine major magazine awards, including six Newswomen’s Club of New York Front Page Awards and two Exceptional Merit in Media Awards from The National Women’s Political Caucus, and she was one of three winners, for her body of work, for Magazine Feature Writing on a Variety of Subjects in the 2005 National Headliners Award.
The documentary Brink begins with Steve Bannon telling a story, really apropos to nothing in
real life, about his impressions of visiting Auschwitz-Birkenau. Bannon, a good
story teller and well versed at retail politics, is sitting at a table looking
into the camera and marveling at the inner workings of the Nazi machine.
“You think about these guys sitting in
meetings, over cups of coffee arguing ‘if it should be like this or it should
be like that,” says Bannon. “It was so planned down to every last detail.
People were doing this, separating themselves from the moral horror of what
they were doing.”
Alison Klayman, the film maker and director, who was in the room filming, responded with raised eyebrows. “When he said this, I was chilled inside as he was describing the banality of evil,” said Klayman in a noisy coffee shop where we met to discuss her movie. “It’s the glee in his interest, in how it all
worked out, it’s something incredibly unsettling to watch and I knew it had to
be the opening of the film.”
Nowhere in the scene does he say: “And it is
a good thing that people were murdered,’ or ‘that the Holocaust never
happened,’ statements that people might imagine him saying. But it’s a subtle distinction.
He’s gleeful and describes Auschwitz as the beta-site test and Birkenau, a
place where they built everything from scratch.
Getting Access to Steve Bannon
Brink, was released earlier this year by Magnolia
Pictures and is now available on Hulu. It prides itself as being created
primarily by women: the film-maker, producer, distributor and lawyer are all women.
Marie Therese Guirgis, the producer, had
worked at Well Spring Media, Brannon’s art house distribution company. When
Bannon joined the Trump campaign, Guirgis showered Bannon with rage texts re-igniting
a line of communication. His rising media presence and portrayal as Trump’s
mastermind stirred a need in her to understand the workings of Bannon’s
political machine. Her goal was to create a film in the cinéma vérité style but Bannon refused. Eventually in July, 2017, after
many requests, Bannon relented and signed a detailed legal release.
After watching the
film, I asked Klayman how the opening scene came about and she described its
organic occurrence one day while Bannon talked about Torchbearer, a movie he made.
“He was bragging
about the movie and how he went to Auschwitz,” said Klayman. “I did not
intervene to ask a guiding or follow-up question but he saw me with a startled
look. Bannon knows I am Jewish and that my grandparents were holocaust
survivors. I believe his calculation was ‘This would be interesting to her!’”
grandparents came from Szydlowiec, Poland, and the Holocaust was a defining
moment in their lives and although they spoke little about it, their stories
were passed on to her by her mother.
“We are here
because they didn’t destroy us,” said Klayman wondering aloud about society’s
ability to create people who can dehumanize and celebrate the destruction and
misfortune of their neighbors.
To make the documentary, Klayman followed Bannon around for thirteen months up until the mid-term elections. He is shown helping and firing up house Republicans in swing districts but after losing the House of Representatives, the movie shows Bannon in Europe where his team tries to cover up the loss by saying it’s not a bad sign for the Trump agenda as the Republicans control the senate. But Bannon comes out forcefully to correct them by stating, ‘No excuses, no spin, no agenda, we lost.’
Dinner with the Alt-Right
For Klayman, the title Brink is reflective of where we currently are as a society and
globally. “At this moment we are witnessing the growth
of the alt-right where truth is slipping away. It’s a time of extreme
polarization and we are at the brink of a new or a dark time.”
In one scene Bannon is seen at a dinner with high level European right-wing parties including representatives from Marine Le Pen’s party, Nigel Farage, former members of the Swedish democrats, congressman Paul Gosar from Arizona and others discussing ways they can work together to get enough seats in the EU parliament to become a blocking group – almost like the tea party – to achieve their goals.
“I spent thirteen months in rooms with these people and they don’t talk about how to increase people’s wages, how to get healthcare, how to increase safety in jobs,” said Klayman animatedly. “No, what they are talking about is birthrates, immigration, and Islam. They believe these are the problems in Europe and are good election issues and need to be talked about.”
Klayman believes it would have been more challenging
as a filmmaker had they discussed solutions to these problems. “The vision that unites them is a vision of
Europe and America being a white majority, Christian nation,” said Klayman
Brink Can Help Us Organize
As a counterpoint, Klayman weaves in excerpts
of victory speeches from diverse women of all ages who helped regain the house of
representatives earlier this year.
“You open a window of a stuffy room when you
hear these women’s voices,” said Klayman, describing the scene. “You beat a guy
like him by not chastising him to death but you organize and do better. Our
team has more talent, substance, ideas and have women who can mobilize their
Klayman believes Brannon’s star is tied to the President’s and Trump’s ascendance bears well for him. In the film he is seen traveling on private planes, getting invited to speak for large fees, raising money from other billionaires and then being interviewed by Anderson Cooper and Fareed Zakaria. Speaking to the media, she says, provides a direct line to Trump who is a media junkie.
“Bannon does not care about what’s best for
the country,” said Klayman. “He says he does, but I don’t think so. It’s about
Klayman believes Brink presents an opportunity to witness the day-to-day operations of people on the other side who are focused on winning. So far, the response to the film from Democrats around the world has been positive as they are excited to organize and win, and change the ballot box in 2020.
“If we want the world to change, we have to figure out a better strategy that beats them and that is possible,” said Klayman. “This film is my gaze of what I observed and my point of view about Bannon and I hope people will watch it and change things in their country.”
We know it’s only November 2019, but this can’t wait!
A record number of women are already planning to run for public office in 2020. But much of the mainstream media is ignoring them, so who better than Women’s eNews to do what is left undone.
Welcome to the first interview in our new series, The Ovary Office, where Lori Sokol, Women’s eNews Executive Director, interviews Valerie Plame, who is running for the US House of Representatives in New Mexico’s 3rd Congressional District.
With your support, Women’s eNews will continue to interview women throughout the US who are running for all levels of public office in 2020. Women’s eNews will bring their ideas, plans and vision for America to you and our subscribers, which include many of the mainstream media (e.g. The NY Times, The Washington Post, The LA Times, The Daily Beast, MSNBC, CNN, and others), but we can’t do it without your help.
To help us reach our fundraising goal of $80,000 to cover the costs of travel, video recording and editing of 19 additional interviews with women running for public office in 2020, please DONATE HERE. No donation is too small to help get women’s voices out to the voting public!
We know it’s still a month before ‘Giving Tuesday,’ but THIS CAN’T WAIT! Please watch this interview by clicking below, and support our crucial and urgent work!!
OnOctober 22nd at the Mandarin Oriental in New York City, the WMC AWARDS were presented to outstanding leaders and champions for women in media. This year’s WMC 2019 Women’s Media Awards honorees included: Julie K. Brown, Joy Buolamwini, Maria Grazia Chiuri, Lauren Embrey, Laura Flanders, Gayle King, Zerlina Maxwell, Samhita Mukhopadhyay, Maysoon Zayid, and the “You Are Not Alone” Querida Familia campaign organizers: America Ferrera, Diane Guerrero, Eva Longoria, Alex Martinez Kondracke, Mónica Ramírez, and Olga Segura.
WOMEN’S MEDIA CENTER Co-FoundersRobin Morgan and Gloria Steinem; foundingCo-Chairand current board Co-Chair, Pat Mitchell; and WMC President, Julie Burton, gave remarks at the gala.
The 2019WOMEN’S MEDIA AWARDS Honorees were:
Julie K. Brown, the Miami Herald journalist who reported the decades of sexual abuse and assault perpetrated by Jeffrey Epstein, received the WMC Investigative Journalism Award.
Joy Buolamwini, the computer scientist and digital activist who exposed race and gender bias in commercial artificial intelligence, received the WMC Carol Jenkins Award.
Maria Grazia Chiuri, a feminist force and history maker as a designer and as the first woman creative director of Dior women’s haute couture, ready-to-wear, and accessories collections, received the WMC Sisterhood is Powerful Award to celebrate her creation of such “wearable media” as the Dior Sisterhood is Powerful, Global, and Forever T-shirt Collection, and for advancing women’s visibility and power.
Lauren Embrey, artist, activist, and philanthropist, received the WMC Catalyst Award.
Laura Flanders, the broadcast journalist and host of The Laura Flanders Show, received the WMC Pat Mitchell Lifetime Achievement Award.
Gayle King, co-host of CBS This Morning and Editor-at-Large, Oprah Magazine, received the WMC Visible and Powerful Award.
The WMC Progressive Women’s Voices IMPACT Award was presented to:
Zerlina Maxwell, Senior Director of Progressive Programming at SiriusXM and MSNBC Political Analyst.
Samhita Mukhopadhyay, Executive Editor of Teen Vogue.
Maysoon Zayid, comedian, actor, and disability advocate.
The WMC Solidarity Award was presented to five of the organizers of the “You Are Not Alone” letter of the Querida Familia campaign:
Diane Guerrero, Orange is the New Black, author of In the Country We Love: My Family Divided, and an advocate for immigration reform.
Alex Martinez Kondracke, writer, co-producer of Showtime’s The L Word.
Eva Longoria, award-winning actor, producer, director, activist, entrepreneur, and founder of The Eva Longoria Foundation.
Mónica Ramírez, activist, author, civil rights attorney, speaker, and founder of Justice for Migrant Women.
Olga Segura, actor, producer, and activist.
The 2019 WOMEN’S MEDIA AWARDS Co-Chairswere: Loreen Arbus, Abigail Disney, Jane Fonda, Maya Harris, Mellody Hobson, Cindy Holland, Victoria Jackson, Pat Mitchell, Robin Morgan, Susan Pritzker, Sheryl Sandberg, Bonnie Schaefer, Gloria Steinem, and Mary & Steven Swig.
Proceeds from these awards support the work of the WOMEN’S MEDIA CENTER to make women visible and powerful in media.
In addition to the WMC leadership and honorees,VIPs attending included: Mary & Steven Swig, Cindy Holland, Christine Lahti, Kathy Najimy, Marisa Tomei, Janet Dewart Bell, Erica Gonzalez, Anita DeFrantz, Samantha Berry, Cherríe Moraga, Celia Herrera Rodriguez, Anish Melwani, Kate Mulgrew, Selenis Leyva, and Carol Jenkins.
AboutThe WOMEN’S MEDIA CENTER:
Founded in 2005 by Jane Fonda, Robin Morgan, and Gloria Steinem, the WOMEN’S MEDIA CENTER is an inclusive feminist organization that works to make women visible and powerful in media. We do so by promoting women as decision-makers and as subjects in media; training women to be effective in media; researching and exposing sexism and racism in media; and creating original and on-air journalism.
Some may call it ‘coincidental’. Others may call it ‘synchronicity’. Still others may call it ‘pure luck’.
What were the odds of my being summoned to attend jury duty in a Manhattan courtroom, which I’ve postponed three different times over the past three years, the same day Billie Jean King would as well? What were the odds that with dozens of other people waiting outside the twelve-foot high black doors to open at 9:00 am, I would walk past them to turn around the hall corner in search of an empty bench to sit, and find one where Billie Jean King was standing beside it? What were the odds of this happening while I am in the midst of writing my book, She Is Me: How Women Will Save The World, in which one of the thirty-five women included in the book is Billie Jean, herself?
it what you want….I could have not been more surprised!
But I should not have been at all surprised that after introduced myself, she immediately remembered me, having written two articles about her for The Huffington Post, one at the beginning of 2017 and one at the end.
times I interviewed her, I was amazed by her humility, modesty and warmth.
During our second interview, she even asked me more questions about myself than
I asked about her. Yesterday was no different.
do not think it would have mattered if she recognized me as someone she knew
previously as a journalist, or whether I was just a fan – she would have
treated me with the same level of interest and respect.
I know this because, yet again, she displayed that same level of respect for others I had previously witnessed – courteous to all of the staff in the courthouse, asking each one for their name to thank them personally for any assistance they provided, and responding very respectfully to a woman who walked by her while shouting, “Are you a look-alike, or the real one?” When she gently responded, “I’m the real one,” with a chuckle, the woman kept walking, disbelievingly. Assuming she wouldn’t want to be recognized due to shout-outs like these, I asked her why she didn’t wear sunglasses instead of clear glasses to hide her identity. “Why would I?” she responded, not caring to conceal who she truly is, whether believable or not.
As we stood together for over an hour on line, hoping to postpone our jury duty summons just one last time (she was flying to San Francisco on Friday, and I to Toronto) she spoke of many things; the need for the courthouse to accommodate people with disabilities with more available ramps and seating, her intention to serve as a juror when she has the time, and what she believes to be the biggest barrier to electing a woman president in the US.
“People think that when women lead, whether it be a country, a company or a corporate board, they are only going to do things to help other women, which couldn’t be further from the truth” she said. She compared it to people thanking her for what she did for women’s tennis. “I don’t want people thanking me just for what I did for women. I want people to thank me for what I did for everybody in the sport, regardless of gender.” She continued: “When you’re the president, you’re leading the entire country,” she continued. “People need to understand that this is what a female President will do.”
She also talked about the problem with women being taught to be perfect while men are being taught to be brave. “This has to change,” she said, “because it limits both women and men.” She also made a point of citing two things about successful businesswomen that few people know: “Ninety-four percent of women who hold C-suite level positions are former athletes, and the more women that are on the boards of global companies, the higher that company’s financial performance.” That’s why when companies report that they want more women on their boards only for equality’s sake, she doesn’t believe them. “They need to understand the true benefits of women serving on boards, and how it helps their bottom line. If not, these companies really won’t change anything,” she said.
As we inched further to the front of the line, she then reverted back to the issue of our next presidential election, and about voting in particular. “We have to make sure kids vote, so we need online voting since too many of these teenagers don’t want to take the time to go to a voting location,” she continued, “It’s all about the next generation, and paying attention to their needs, not ours.”
She then focused back on me, wanting to know more about my work, and asked whether I was ever the subject of an interview. “I had an article published about me in Forbes, just a few days ago,” I proudly told her. She immediately asked me to send it to her.
And with that, we finally became next in line. She insisted I go first, even though I initially refused. After I presented my paperwork, I was asked to wait on yet another line, but Billie Jean was told she could leave, since she is now over seventy-five years old, past the required age to serve as a juror. She thanked the woman behind the desk, whose name I learned was Juanita, since Billie Jean asked for her name too, so she could thank her personally. Before she left, she gave me a hug while telling me how much she enjoyed our discussion before saying, “You know, I do plan to volunteer once I have the time. I will never shirk my duty.”
The inside story of how serial predator Larry Nassar got away with abusing hundreds of gymnasts for decades — and how a team of brave women banded together to bring him down.
We think of Larry Nassar as the despicable sexual predator of Olympic gymnasts — but there is an astonishing, untold story. For decades, in a small-town gym in Michigan, he honed his manipulations on generations of aspiring gymnasts. Kids from the neighborhood. Girls with hopes of a college scholarship. Athletes and parents with a dream. In The Girls, these brave women for the first time describe Nassar’s increasingly bold predations through the years, recount their warning calls unheeded, and demonstrate their resiliency in the face of a nightmare.
The Girls is a profound exploration of trust, ambition, betrayal, and self-discovery. Award-winning journalist Abigail Pesta unveils this deeply reported narrative at a time when the nation is wrestling with the implications of the MeToo movement. How do the women who grew up with Nassar reconcile the monster in the news with the man they once trusted? In The Girls, we learn that their answers to that wrenching question are as rich, insightful, and varied as the human experience itself:
The First Survivor
In an excerpt from the new book The
Girls: An All-American Town, a Predatory Doctor, and the Untold Story of the
Gymnasts Who Brought Him Down by Abigail Pesta, the first known survivor of Larry Nassar’s abuse,
Sara Teristi, tells her story for the first time, providing profound new insight
into the early days of a coach who mentally and physically abused his young
athletes, she says, making them vulnerable to Nassar’s sexual abuse. The coach,
John Geddert, went on to work with Nassar for nearly thirty years, becoming an
Olympic coach, alongside Nassar as Olympic doctor.
Sara Teristi saw the making of a monster. She
watched a man transform from doctor to predator, starting decades ago when he
gained access to a gym full of little girls. She was one of those girls. She
may have been his very first target.
fateful march toward Larry Nassar—the most prolific sex criminal in American
sports history—began when she was in kindergarten, a typical kid growing up in
a tiny town along the banks of the Grand River in Michigan. As an only child,
she liked to entertain herself by looking for turtles, cattails, and puffball
mushrooms in a creek near her home. These were the days before cell phones and
i-things, and she and her friends often played outside until dusk, when their
parents would ring a cowbell to call them home for dinner. The kids played tag
in the yard or ghost in the graveyard in an actual graveyard, jumping out to
scare each other from behind the tombstones. If the streetlights came on and
Sara hadn’t heard the clank of the cowbell, she knew it was time to head home.
At night, she slept beneath a poster of rock star Pat Benatar.
town, Dimondale, was so small, it didn’t need any stoplights. Just a few miles
from the city of Lansing, the town made a name for itself back in the sixties
for its horseshoe-pitching prowess, producing champion pitchers. Some people
called it “the horseshoe capital of the world.” Today, people paddle down the
river in kayaks and canoes, shop at the farmers’ market.
child, Sara lived just outside town, in a neighborhood known as Copville
because of its proximity to the police post. Several cops lived in the area,
her father among them. When her dad would come home from work, looking for a
little peace and quiet, Sara would be bouncing around the house, bursting with
energy. An exuberant kid, she had a hard time sitting still, especially when
Dad came home in his state trooper uniform. And so, in September 1980, when she
was five years old, her mother enrolled her in a gymnastics class, hoping she
could burn off some energy there.
class was part of a youth gymnastics program at Michigan State University, in
nearby East Lansing. Sara’s mom would drive her there on Saturdays in her
powder-blue Datsun 210, and Sara, wearing her auburn hair in braids like Laura
Ingalls from Little House on the
Prairie, would bound into the gym in her leotard. She embraced the
sport. If anything, it made her more energetic, not less. She cartwheeled up
and down the halls of her family’s ranch house, rattling vases and photo
frames. She did handstands against the door of the coat closet, causing the dog
to bark like crazy in confusion. She used her bed as a trampoline, bouncing so
high, she scraped her nose on the ceiling. In class at the gym, she learned how
to master the balance beam and uneven bars, how to spin and flip and fly.
the next few years, she moved up to an advanced group and began practicing
alongside girls more than twice her age. Her coach was hard-driving, serious.
If Sara was afraid to learn a new skill, he would order her to go stand in a
corner. She understood. There was no room for fear if you wanted to be a good
gymnast. Plus, standing in the corner was embarrassing, so she would try again
until she got it right. In 1984, when she was ten years old, her coach
recommended that she try out for a spot at a gymnastics club in Lansing called
Great Lakes Gymnastics. “They can take you to the next level,” he said. At
private clubs such as this one, scattered across the country, girls can train
to compete in state, national, and sometimes international meets. They can get
on track for a college scholarship. Or maybe, for a lucky few, the Olympics.
Jordyn Wieber, who won Olympic gold with her team in 2012, grew up in a town
just down the road from Dimondale. There is always the dream.
wanted to go for it. Still, she was nervous about the prospect of joining the
new club. For a couple of nights before the tryouts, she lay awake in bed,
trying to will herself to sleep. When she arrived for the big day, she was
surprised at the scene: the gym was tucked away in a musty old warehouse, with
plastic buckets strewn about the floor, catching drips from the leaky ceiling.
The grim place was a far cry from the gleaming gym at Michigan State, stocked
with shiny new equipment. But there was an ambitious coach at this new gym,
John Geddert, who had competed as a gymnast at Central Michigan University and
then coached at a top gymnastics club, Marvateens Gymnastics, in Maryland,
before returning to Michigan, where he grew up. Sara wanted to learn from him.
He was gaining a reputation for training stellar athletes. Indeed, he would one
day become a head coach for the 2012 US Olympic Team. Over the years, he would
coach more than twenty US National Team members and help gymnasts secure more
than $7 million worth of college scholarships, according to his LinkedIn page.
But for many girls, it would come at a high price.
Sara met him, John Geddert was just getting going in his career. She recalls
stepping into the gym, walking past a lineup of photos on the walls—girls with
scholarships. She imagined herself getting her own scholarship one day. All she
had to do was survive this gym. At the tryouts, John’s wife, Kathryn, one of
several coaches on hand, guided her, asking her to perform a range of difficult
skills. Sara knew that the coaches would want to see whether she was scared to
do hard things. She showed no fear. She leaped and twirled her way through the
tryouts. Afterward, she waited. A few seemingly endless days later, she heard
the news: she had been accepted. It was the happiest day of her young life.
did she know, she was about to go down the rabbit hole into a surreal universe
in which she would lose sight of her boundaries, her body, herself.
tells me this story on a misty spring day in Raleigh, North Carolina, where she
lives now. We sit in a pebbled outdoor courtyard at an art museum, a quiet,
serene setting she chose because she does not want to tell this story in her
house. She doesn’t want this tale anywhere near her home, her children. She is
nervous about telling it. This is the first time she has confided in anyone,
aside from her husband, about the depths of her childhood experience. She hopes
that by sharing her life story for the first time in this book, she will help
people understand how predators hunt their prey. Her goal is to protect
children in the future. She is in her early forties now, a mother of two young
boys. She wears a metal knee brace from old gymnastics injuries. Physical pain
is a part of her everyday life, as it has been for decades. And then there are
the psychological scars.
don’t understand how many broken girls it takes to produce an elite athlete,”
she says, delivering the haunting words while sitting with the perfect posture
of an athlete. “A coach can easily go through three hundred girls or more.”
Great Lakes Gymnastics, Sara entered a new world—a boot camp. The training was
far more intense than at her previous gym, where she had practiced just one day
a week. Here, she attended three practices a week after school, each lasting
for three hours or more. Still, she welcomed the challenge. She wanted to prove
she could hack it, especially since the new gym was more expensive for her
parents, who both worked and were not wealthy. She wanted to help repay them with
a college scholarship. They were making a lot of sacrifices so she could pursue
her passion, and she knew it.
begins to get emotional as she tells me this, then quickly regroups and
continues. When the coaches yelled at her during practice, which they often
did, she says, she would strive to do better. She especially wanted to please
John Geddert. A muscular, domineering man with a strong, chiseled jaw, he
exuded confidence and power. Sara knew he could carry her far in the sport if
she impressed him. She became focused on making John proud. (The girls at the
gym all called him by his first name, and so I am doing so here as well.)
soon learned that he was hard to please. He intimidated the young gymnasts,
ruling by fear. “He would throw clipboards at the girls if they messed up,” she
tells me. “He would call them worthless.” Her first experience with his temper,
she recalls, came when she was trying to do a roundoff / back handspring / back
tuck. She took off poorly and ended up landing on her head, getting a rug burn
on her face. “He was supposed to spot me,” which could have prevented the fall,
she says. “But he was angry that I had started off wrong. He turned his back
and walked away.” She got up alone, her face throbbing. Instead of being mad at
her coach for failing to spot her, she was mad at herself. Lesson learned, she
thought: it was her fault. The coaches often yelled at the girls for not
concentrating or trying hard enough. Injuries meant you weren’t focusing. If
you got hurt, the blame was on you.
sought comment from John Geddert, via his attorneys, on the experiences Sara
and other gymnasts shared in this book but did not receive a response.
light rain begins to fall as Sara speaks. We move our chairs under the branches
of a leafy tree for cover, then continue our conversation as the rain drips
around us. Sara recalls how the girls learned to hide injuries from their
coaches. “If you said you were hurt, you would be called a liar,” she recalls.
She saw girls training with bloody sores on their hands, with broken fingers
and toes. She got used to seeing things like that. She got used to the
shouting, the insults from coaches.
also learned the consequences if she didn’t perform perfectly—extra laps and
leg lifts repeated time and again, until she thought she would collapse. Body
weight was another stress point. The coaches weighed the girls regularly, and
if they didn’t “make weight,” they would be sentenced to running laps around
the parking lot in their leotards. Sara remembers the humiliation of running
around the parking lot in public, on display as a young girl in her skintight
bodysuit, with cars driving by and honking, guys catcalling.
she was ridiculed inside the gym as well. For instance, when she did
handsprings, she had a hard time keeping her legs together due to a birth
defect that made her legs curve slightly outward. She remembers John mocking
her, making sexual jokes with another coach. “He said the boys would love me
because I couldn’t keep my legs together,” she says. “I was just ten years old,
but I knew what that meant.” She felt mortified as the two men snickered, her
face turning a deep red. She didn’t know what to say; she was a child.
tried to avoid John’s wrath. He could be volatile, and fearsome, she says,
recalling a day when she didn’t do well on the vault at practice. He took it
out on her, getting physical. “As I was sprinting at full speed down the vault
runway to try again, he shoved me midsprint,” she says. “I tripped and went
flying sideways, landing on the steel cables supporting the uneven bars.”
Bruised, she got up to try again, feeling ashamed, blaming herself.
didn’t tell her parents about the rough treatment at the gym because as far as
she knew, this was the norm if you wanted to become a top gymnast. She had no
frame of reference. She trusted the adults around her. All of it just made her
more driven to impress her coach.
back today, Sara describes the experience as “brainwashing.” She was a young
girl; John was an adult man. The power dynamic was imbalanced. If she did not
please him, he could choose to ignore her instead of helping her advance. He
had all the control. If she didn’t perform well, he made her feel like she was
nothing. She felt she could never do enough to earn his respect, so she became
obsessed with trying to get it. “I was a perfectionist,” she says. “And he was
a drill sergeant.” As her world grew ever more focused on gymnastics,
everything became about him and his opinion of her. “I would’ve done anything
to make John happy,” she says. “Eventually, I saw him more than I saw my own
parents. Any child wants to make the adults in their life happy.”
began training for five hours on Saturdays in addition to the three
after-school practices. The gym moved to a new space, but it wasn’t much better
than the old: a rented gymnasium in an empty high school that was stifling hot
in the summer, with no air conditioning. To try to stay cool, Sara would take
ice-cold showers when she got home, then stand naked in front of a fan to dry
off. “One day, after five or six hours of practice, the heat really got to me,”
she recalls. “I felt dizzy, so I asked one of the coaches if I could go to the
bathroom.” She walked into the restroom and lay down on the floor, hoping she
wouldn’t get yelled at for taking a break. She got busted immediately. “John
came in and said, ‘You’re faking it. Get up!’” she says. “He always walked in
on the girls in the bathroom. If he noticed you weren’t in the gym, he’d go
searching for you in the bathroom.”
had no privacy. In retrospect, she says, this is part of how she began to lose
a sense of boundaries.
keep up with the demands of training and school, she became extremely
regimented, doing homework late into the night. She sought perfection at
school, just as she did in sports, and always made the honor roll. “If I got
anything less than an A, I freaked out,” she says. As she tells her story, I’m
surprised to hear about her fierce drive at such a young age. So often you hear
that parents are the ones who push their children into elite sports. Not so for
Sara. She pushed herself. Her parents were proud of her, she says, but they just
wanted her to be happy; they didn’t force her into hours of hard-core training
each week. In fact, they worried that it was getting rather overwhelming. She
was sacrificing social activities and slumber parties to keep up with all the
training and schoolwork. But as far as her parents knew, Sara loved the sport,
and so they believed all was well. She never told them otherwise. She didn’t
mention how her coaches belittled her, made sexual remarks, or threw things at
the girls. She thought it was just the way top coaches behaved. This isolated
little universe was the only one she knew. She told herself, Suck it up.
Endure. This is what it takes to be the best.
she moved through middle school, she won state-level competitions and placed
among the top three athletes in five-state regionals. John began picking her to
go to all the important “away” meets. She enjoyed traveling around the country
for competitions. She shares with me a funny essay she wrote as a kid about an
incident at one of the meets—a glimpse of the good times amid the rigors of
“It was about one o’clock in
the morning on a foggy night. My gymnastics team had just finished competing in
the Georgia Classic Invitational earlier in the day, and we decided to treat
ourselves to a night out. The only hot spot open on a Sunday night at one in
the morning was the local Bowl-A-Rama. So all fifteen of us headed for the
dimly lit parking lot. Just as we began descending down the stairs, a piercing
laugh broke into our conversations. We rushed down the stairs to see what the
commotion was about. To our amazement, we found three guys dancing in the
parking lot, two were butt naked. We stood there just gasping at the alarming
sight. The two guys spotted us and ran inside. After the stun of what we saw
wore off, we proceeded to the minivans and the bowling alley. A few minutes
later the guys emerged from their rooms, fully dressed this time, and proceeded
to follow us. Because of our coach Kathie’s scenic route driving, we managed to
lose them in the old back roads. We finished off the night by bowling for two
hours, making fools of ourselves the whole time. When we got back to the motel,
there was no sign that the guys were even there, except for a pink shirt, which
laid still on the wet pavement.”
coach Sara mentioned in her essay was Kathie Klages, who went on to become the
head coach of the gymnastics team at Michigan State.
star was rising. She often trained with John’s select group of top gymnasts—the
girls who got the majority of his time and attention at the gym. At the same
time, the pressure was mounting. One time when she flubbed on the vault at a
competition, John was furious, she recalls. “He picked up the springboard and
threw it at me. I felt it hit my leg from behind. This was like a forty-or
fifty-pound plank. I stumbled and fell forward, with my leg bleeding,” she
says. “He said, ‘Oh, it must have slipped.’” She tried to brush it off. She
knew she was on the verge of joining his top posse for good. This was her
dream—and her nightmare. She feared him as much as she craved his approval.
then, at twelve years old, she crashed.
suffered an injury so extreme, she could not possibly hide it from the coaches.
It happened while she was doing a dismount from a balance beam—a cartwheel at
the end of the beam followed by a jump off backward. The beam was elevated on a
platform, with a pit of foam blocks below. As she jumped from the beam after
the cartwheel, she felt her body twisting in a way that it should not. “You
fall a lot in gymnastics, so you become aware of your body and how to position
it so you won’t get injured,” she says. But in that moment, she didn’t think
she needed to readjust herself. “I thought I would be fine because I’d be
landing in the foam pit.”
was the opposite of fine. She landed on her backside with such force that her
feet flew up over the front of her head and her chin smashed into her
sternum—actually breaking the bone. She didn’t know she had broken anything at
the time. She just knew that the shock and pain were so great, she could hardly
move. Still, she tried to pull herself up out of the pit to get back on the
balance beam. “I didn’t want to get in trouble,” she says. “I knew I would be
blamed.” John would be mad. She had to buck up.
she tried to hoist herself out of the pit, she hoped no one would notice that
she was moving in slow motion. “It was like trying to pull myself up out of a
swimming pool,” she says. It felt more like quicksand. John noticed and asked
what was taking her so long. “I said I was hurt; he said I was lying and to get
up and do it again,” she says. Adding to the horror, she says, “I could feel my
whole rib cage moving around in my chest. I could barely breathe. I couldn’t
take a regular breath, only super-short, shallow ones.” That’s because
breathing made her lungs expand, which made her rib cage move. Still, she tried
get back up on that beam. She collapsed instead.
wife, Kathryn, drove her to the hospital. Sara tried to stay still, to avoid
being jostled amid the searing pain. “Even the smallest movement was painful,”
she recalls. In the emergency room, she learned the terrible news: her sternum
had been broken in two places. John came to visit after practice that night;
she remembers only that he looked pale and that she felt gutted. She thought it
was all her fault. Three long days in the hospital followed. The doctors
wrapped her chest and said her bones would eventually grow back together, but
it would take time.
hurt. She couldn’t move her shoulders. Bending over felt like torture. One day
before she left the hospital, she tried to put her pants on and passed out from
the pain. Back at home, she lay in her bed for weeks, unable to sit up on her
own. When she finally returned to school, people looked at her as if they were
afraid she would break. “In the halls, the teachers were terrified that kids
would bump me,” she says. “I had to go to class early so I could have the halls
to myself.” Lunch was solo too: “I ate lunch in the principal’s office, not the
cafeteria.” All the while, she was thinking, When can I get back to the gym?
took six months. “When the doctor cleared me, I was so happy,” she says. “I
couldn’t wait to get back.”
parents thought she should quit. “You don’t have to keep going,” her mom said.
But Sara convinced her family to let her continue. She had invested years in
the sport; she didn’t want to give up now.
went running back to the gym and told John, ‘My doctor cleared me!’” she says,
her eyes misting at the thought of it. Then she cautioned him, “But the doctor
said I need to take it easy at first.”
did not compute with John. His reply, she says, shook her: “No you don’t.” He
went on to rant that “doctors don’t know what they’re talking about; they don’t
know anything about gymnastics,” she recalls. “Those were his exact words.”
during her first day back at the gym after breaking her sternum, she was
expected to start where she had left off. John didn’t go easy on her, sending
her to practice on the vault and bars. She fell on her back, on her hands;
everything felt out of whack. John noticed. When she landed on her hands and
knees after a vault, he came and sat on her back, pinning her down, she
recalls. “He was sitting on my back, riding me in a sexual way,” she says. “He
said, ‘Ooh, baby, you like it like that!’ He wanted to humiliate me because I
didn’t land on my feet.” All this, while she tried to come back from a major
body had changed during her time off—in many ways. For one, she had grown more
than an inch. In addition, her upper body strength had weakened due to the
injury. Most alarming, her sternum had grown back together crooked and
overlapping, causing constant pain in both her chest and back. “My body felt
broken. I felt like I had to learn everything all over again,” she says.
“Everything hurt so much.” Still, she would not think of walking away. “You’re
conditioned not to quit. That’s drilled into your head. You’re told to be
tough, be strong,” she says. “And I loved the rush of gymnastics,” she adds.
“I’m kind of an adrenaline junkie. You get addicted to it. Nailing those
tricks, it’s a rush.”
tried valiantly to get back to form, but it wasn’t happening quickly, and she
felt lost. She knew she was fading in John’s eyes. “I wasn’t on the same
trajectory that I once was,” she says. “He was disappointed in me. I could feel
it.” That hurt even more than the physical pain. She begins to get emotional as
she tells me this, then checks herself. In fact, when she sees an empathetic
look on my face, she asks that I please not express any sympathy as she
recounts her story, because it makes it harder for her; she doesn’t want to get
upset. I realize that it’s all part of the boot camp she grew up in—no crying.
I try to refrain from reacting to the wrenching things she is telling me.
continues her tale, telling me she became even more driven to get John’s
approval. She had climbed so high at the gym before the injury knocked her
down. She refused to let it all slip away. “It had been within reach,” she
says. “I wanted it back.”
meanwhile, was gaining in national prominence. He had a number of Level 10
gymnasts now—the highest level in the Junior Olympics, the competitive program
run by USA Gymnastics, the governing body for the sport. He wanted Olympians.
Sara recalls that he brought in a sports psychologist from Michigan State to
help the girls learn to focus at competitions, to block out sounds and
distractions around them, to win.
And then one day, Larry Nassar walked in the door.
My friends sitting next to me in the library
whispered: “Just do it.”
We were at a school open mic about gun control in the weeks following the Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooting. Lunch was nearing its end and I feared I would miss my opportunity. All of the other speakers had been older guys. They went on and on, spiritedly spitting statistics and saliva, mentioning Second Amendment rights and how it was all just “a mental health issue.” I was appalled by their statements, but who was I to take them on? I was a random freshman. They were upperclassmen, prominent leaders in the school.
The only person who I agreed with was one of my friends from theater class, a fittingly lanky boy. We were the two organizers of our school’s protest in solidarity with Parkland. As he spoke at the front of our library, people looked down on him from the second floor, his crooked limbs practically dancing to his impassioned words. I agreed with his points, which were smart, but people didn’t seem to take him seriously. I needed everyone to understand just how important gun control was. I needed my peers to realize how grave the situation was. No one else was arguing my beliefs. I had an itch that I couldn’t scratch by staying silent. I made up my mind.
I rose from my seat at a table facing the impromptu stage, and I stood in line. A junior boy spoke before me. He was the president of our school’s political activism club, which was, in reality, an alternative name for “Republican students.” He also used the argument of mental health. He exited the stage and I stepped up to the mic.
“If it truly is a mental health problem, a bullying problem,
then why is it straight white men shooting up schools? Why not the gay, female,
fat, or black kids who get bullied for the way they are?” I asked.
The bell rang. Students filed out of the library and I went to grab my backpack and head to my World Studies class, but the student who spoke right before me started yelling. He ran up to me, pointing his finger in my face, and started yelling about generalizations. Students all around us glanced back as they left the library. The principal walked up to him to try to calm him down. As I left the library to go to my next class, a friend came up to me. She told me that she would never be able to do what I did.
Out of a dozen speakers, the fact that I was the only girl to voice my opinion on gun control seemed surprising to me. Was I the only girl who knew anything about it? Was I the only girl who cared? Or was I the only one who didn’t care about scrutiny? I’ve been judged throughout my life for my actions and words, so it wasn’t new to me to be disliked for voicing my perspective.
I realized then that many girls can’t speak up for what they believe in because of the way we are viewed for doing so. Being the only girl to speak during that open mic made me understand just how scrutinized women are for having strong opinions. I was the only one who was yelled at, heckled, and criticized publicly for sharing my beliefs.
I realized that day that, as a female, people will view me differently for being outspoken. People will think that I’m “bossy,” “intimidating,” and “bitchy” when I say what’s on my mind because girls are supposed to stay quiet.
I’m not the only woman to be scrutinized for being outspoken. Too often, women are told they are “too loud.” This is especially the case for Jewish women. We are stereotyped and criticized for having loud voices and opinions. I have been told too many times that I need to be quieter, keep my thoughts to myself, and stay in line. I have also been told too many times that I’m “too Jewish” because I stand up for what I believe in. But I embrace my Jewishness, my loudness, and my refusal to be quiet.
Since that open mic, I have continued to be loud. I decided that day that no matter how loud someone yells at me or how loudly they are yelling over the sound of my voice, I will not be silenced. I have kept my head and my hopes high, fighting for what I believe is right, no matter the pushback. I will continue to fight for what I believe in: Gun control, an end to climate change, women’s rights, and every other issue I am passionate about. I won’t let the world silence my female Jewishness. Instead, I will welcome it, and use my identity to make my voice heard. Like Queen Esther, who declared her Judaism at the risk of her life, I will refuse to hide who I am, and I will refuse to stay quiet.
About the Author: Shoshanna Hemley is a member of The Jewish Women’s Archive’s Rising Voices Fellowship,a 10-month program for female-identified teens in high-school who have a passion for writing, a demonstrated concern for current and historic events, and a strong interest in Judaism, gender and social justice.
The 13th AnnualMoving Families Forward Gala: We Are Family, benefiting the vital programs and ongoing services for children and families at the Ackerman Institute for the Family, took place on Monday, October 21st, at the InterContinental New York Barclay in New York City.
This year’s gala was hosted for the first time
by Abby Phillip, CNN White House Correspondent, and featured a special
presentation by LaChanze, Tony, SAG,
and Emmy winning actress. Judy Gold, actor and comedian, served as auctioneer for
Moving Families Forward: We Are Family gala honored:
Christina Ackermann, Executive Vice President, General Counsel of Bausch Health, with the Ackerman Courageous Leadership Award,presented by Joseph C. Papa, Chairman of the Board & CEO, Bausch Health.
Ashley De La Rosa, currently starring on Broadway as Janelle Woods in Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, with the Ackerman Diversity & Inclusion Award, presented by Nicole Poteat, Vice President at Bank of America Private Bank, and Board and Gala Committee member.
Tamsen Fadal, 12-time Emmy-winning journalist for PIX11 News, executive producer and host of Broadway Profiles for The Broadway Channel, with the Ackerman Family Advocate Award, presented by LaChanze.
Maria Hinojosa, Founder & President of Futuro Media Group, Anchor and Executive Producer of Latino USA, with the Ackerman Humanitarian Award,presented by Gisselle Acevedo, President and CEO Ackerman Institute for the Family.
Kate Snow, anchor of NBC Nightly News Sunday, award-winning Senior National Correspondent for NBC News, and contributing reporter for Nightly News with Lester Holt, TODAY, and Dateline NBC, with the Ackerman Champion of Hope Award, presented by Ira Sallen, COO BMG and Board Vice-Chair, Ackerman Institute for the Family.
Ackerman’s Social Work and Diversity Program, the 27-year old initiative that diversifies the family therapy field, was honored with the Legacy Honor, presented by Kiran Arora, Vice President of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at Ackerman Institute for the Family.
About Ackerman Institute for the Family:
As leaders for
nearly 60 years in the training of therapists and the delivery of family
therapy, the Ackerman Institute for the Family is a defender of the fundamental
right to well-being, which includes access to mental health care for all
families. Through this dynamic
interaction of treatment, training, and research, Ackerman helps families,
serves mental health care professionals, and brings innovative perspectives to
a broad array of community service agencies and other health care facilities.
For more information about the important ongoing work, programs,
and services of Ackerman Institute for the Family go to: www.ackerman.org.
Across the infant death spectrum, black babies are disproportionately affected. Too many cities across the US, including my home city of Detroit, have disproportionately high black infant mortality rates. In 2016, the black infant mortality rate in the United States was 11.4 deaths per 1,000 live births compared to 4.6 deaths per 1,000 for white infants. That includes a disproportionate number of sleep-related infant deaths among black and brown babies from either Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) and Accidental Suffocation and Strangulation in Bed (ASSB.) Both of the tragedies fall under the Sudden Unexplained Infant Death (SUID) category.
Every year, about 3,500 infants die from
sleep-related deaths, according to the CDC. It is any family’s worse nightmare to lay their baby down to sleep
at night and the baby does not wake up. But the rates of SIDS and accidental
suffocation are two to three times greater among black and brown babies.
Nationwide, SUID rates
per 100,000 live births for American
Indian/Alaska Native (205.8) and non-Hispanic black infants (181.0) were more
than twice those of non-Hispanic white infants (85.0). Black infants die from SIDS
at nearly twice the rate of white
Racial disparities in infant mortality, whether from the complications of pre-term birth or low birthweight or the complexities of SIDS, should not exist. As the most advanced nation in the world, we owe it to our most precious and vulnerable citizens to work harder to find solutions that work. As many health organizations talk about “equity” it’s time to move past business as usual practices to achieve it.
To be clear, public health campaigns have had
considerable success in reducing the rates of SIDS overall. But some have
demonized co-sleeping in all forms without understanding the cultural nuances
of bed sharing or the impact of those messages on the breastfeeding
In the US, black mothers became the targets of sensationalized public health campaigns warning about the dangers of co-sleeping. For example, a highly criticized 2011 Milwaukee Department of Health campaign featured an infant lying alongside a butcher knife! Similar efforts sought to scare black mothers, but never educate or trust that black women could co-sleep safely. This not only impacted black women’s breastfeeding rates but ignored research that co-sleeping helps regulate infant breathing and thereby can be protective against Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).
It’s time to develop approaches that are
actually “culturally relevant” beyond the buzz talk and center communities by
listening to families and not just handing out pamphlets.
Community-centered approaches can include efforts like First Candle’s Straight Talk for Infant Safe Sleep program, which uses trained community ambassadors to work with providers to explore the role of implicit bias in how new and expecting parents are engaged around safe sleep practices. The program also includes a mobile unit, that decanters the hospital or doctors office, and goes directly into the community to talk about safe sleep and breastfeeding with moms, dads, grandparents and other caregivers, and provides them with links to community resources.
For those who have unfortunately lost a baby,
we must stop normalizing infant death in our communities. The Black Infant Remembrance Memorial, is a black-led movement to make sure no black baby is
forgotten and to provide resources and a community of peer-support online. The
interactive virtual community is a source of solace for families looking to
keep the memories of their young babies alive.
My organization, Black Mothers Breastfeeding Association (BMBFA) has been centering black moms for twelve years by servicing, advocating for and amplifying the voices of black mothers. In our work we listened to moms when we created the Black Mothers Breastfeeding Club, a national model that brings mothers of a similar socio-cultural background together for mother-to mother support and encouragement for pregnancy, parenting and breastfeeding. The success of that club model allowed us to think creatively about how we could use technology to maximize the group experience. Earlier this year we received a $100,000 grant from the Michigan Health Endowment Fund to develop an app that will enhance parenting and breastfeeding groups by simplifying and streamlining participant interaction, data collection and reporting activities. All of these innovations came from listening to mothers and families and their needs.
Earlier this year another innovative model unfolded in Detroit with the first Birth and Breastfeeding Hackathon. which took place during Black Breastfeeding Week (August 25-31). The hackathon model itself has been around for years, used by creatives and engineers to create a marathon-like environment to generate solutions. The idea of a multi-disciplinary approach that includes out-the-box thinkers and non-traditional thought partners is exactly what the black maternal and infant mortality crises needs.
We partnered with the Make the Breast Pump Not Suck Project team, which has a successful track record for developing hackathons focused on breastfeeding. Their previous events hacked the breast pump, an important technology for moms, and later, the policies that enable breastfeeding. But the Detroit hackathon brought a new evolution—centering community innovations. The concepts and solutions presented were from Detroit moms—they were the “experts” and the others skills were there to support them. The two days of events, activities and team designing, concluded with a judging panel and prizes for the winning ideas.
We saw creative solutions for lactation
support, plans for Birth Detroit, the city’s first free-standing birthing center and even ideas to
improve nutrition options for pregnant and lactating women. All of these came
from Detroit mothers. I’m confident every other city has similar solutions in
their communities, if only we would ask and create opportunities for those
ideas to be supported and developed.
To make sure this is a replicable concept,
the Black Breastfeeding Week leadership team created a powerful resource, “How to Run Your Own Hackathon or Innovation Event Toolkit,” a step-by-step toolkit, adapted from the Detroit hackathon. We
need other communities across the country to choose innovation over business as
This model of community first and acknowledging
black mothers as the experts on the issues that impact them the hardest, merits
national replication, not just in hackathons but in federal policies, in state
and city public health offices and by community-based organizations. Instead of
assuming that academic research holds all of the answers, we should first look
to the community for solutions and as equal partners.
This isn’t rocket science, but it does mean
disrupting power systems that have long favored scientific research over
experiential knowledge. And it means centering black women as we continue to
address racial disparities in birth, breastfeeding and infant death rates that
have persisted for decades. SIDS Awareness Month is an important time to think
about how systems have failed black babies and the time of culturally-tone deaf
public health messaging must end. When communities lead, we all win.
Kiddada Green is a Detroit native and the founding executive director of Black Mothers’ Breastfeeding Association (BMBFA). Ms. Green is a member of the inaugural class of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation’s Community Leadership Network Fellowship Program. As an expert in community-centered approaches, her recommendations were included in The U.S. Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Support Breastfeeding and the State of Michigan’s Breastfeeding Plan. She has been featured in various media, including Ebony Magazine.
potent symbols of women and domesticity.
As utilitarian garments, they are worn and connected to a variety of professional and occupational settings: chefs, butchers, blacksmiths, waiters and waitresses, bartenders, gardeners; even the helpful associates at Home Depot all wear aprons.
most persistent meanings associated with aprons are gender specific.
The word and the visual conjure up a life lived, a meal cooked, a life suppressed, a secret stashed away, a meal served, and a joyous holiday with all the trimmings.
Described as a shield, a bib, and a smock; what began as a masculine garment for practical purposes morphed into a statement of femininity; the housewife, the grandmother, the mother. The apron became a symbol of family, home cooked-meals, comfort food. While wealthy and upper class women would often accessorize their lace-trimmed aprons with a string of pearls and cluster earrings, lower and middle class women wore simple aprons – splattered with sauces and gravies; the day’s meal, and-their accessory: a ladle or a spatula, utensils.
lurked under that apron?
filled with tissues and recipes and phone numbers and packs of cigarettes and
long lost memories.
of us tugged at our mother’s apron strings hoping to be seen and heard and
loved, hoping to get her attention? How many women hid their deepest desires or
their most painful abuses underneath a stained and frayed apron? How many women
were domestics – the perfectly starched ironed apron their daily uniform? How
many women wore frilly aprons for their husbands and their lovers in the
privacy of their bedrooms?
young girls and young boys sat at the kitchen table watching as their aproned
mother stood over a stove basting a turkey, or stirring a pot of soup… or burning a roast?
late 1960’s and the 70’s something else began to stir: women burning their bras
– marching for equality and raising their consciousness – no longer accepting
the idea that a woman’s place was in the home; aprons were untied and tossed,
banished to drawers and hooks where they would hang on the back of a door.
If you ask a fifty- or sixty-year-old woman today what memory she has and holds of her mother wearing an apron she will often answer: Suppression, unfulfilled dreams, longing, entrapment and emotional bondage.
have changed and women are no longer tethered to the kitchen and memories can
be recycled into art.
Domestic Matters: The Uncommon
Apron, curated by
Gail M. Brown, a remarkable exhibit of contemporary objects and sculptural
forms, explores aprons in this context: as political and emotional symbols of
traditional women’s roles and domestic labor.
Brown originally conceived of this show more than twenty years ago after viewing a collection of commercially produced aprons in a regional museum in NY State. The experience of that show, which Brown described as “souvenir-shop-like…tediously repeating places and issues of domestic labor, the worker as the wearer and her identify and recognition,” prompted her to consider what artists could do with this functional object.
Brown invited forty-eight contemporary artists to create one of a kind works in craft media “which comment and challenge changing social roles and mores, topics about work, familial life and identity…”
The results, now on view at the exhibit at Peters Valley School of Craft in Layton, NJ, are diverse in form and substance, breathtaking in the depth and breadth of their social and political commentary and challenge. They celebrate a range of personal narratives, as well as the rich possibilities for creative expression offered by craft media.
functional objects, aprons are protective garments, meant to shield the wearer
from dirt or harm. In several works in this show, the makers have taken this
one step further.
Liz Alpert Fay’s #Me Too (shown above), a solid hooked rug in the shape of a shield, embeds narrative imagery that literally speaks to the #MeToo movement.
Hallam Pearse’s Leaded is a traditional apron form constructed from black lead,
stitched together with silk. This solid protective garment includes the
menacing suggestion of a hidden gun underneath.
Marian (mau) Schoettle’s clever Untitled apron is made from the type of ‘No Trespassing’ signs typically found posted on trees to deter hunters on private property. Isn’t a woman’s body her private property?
The sheer weight of the working mother’s daily tasks is made palpable in Kate Kretz’s Emotional Labor Apron. It literally recounts in a painstakingly and perfectly embroidered narrative the multitude of things that are done to make a household run; work that is not necessarily acknowledged and generally not shared.
Several artists recall the “June Cleaver Mom” storybook era of the 1950s using recycled materials from that period.
Harriete Estel Berman’s Reality Studded with Thorns Hides the Door from the Streetisconstructed from recycled tin cans and vintage steel dollhouses. The bright red front door is framed with old fashioned roses, beautiful and dangerous, “Not,” the artist writes, “unlike the idealized portrayal of women” and their traditional roles.
Donna Rhae Marder’s 50’s Apron was sewn following a 1950’s sewing pattern. Her ‘fabric’ is patched together from pieces of old 50’s Gourmet magazines, publications that set standards for the perfect housewife for cooking and entertaining.
works celebrate more personal and sometimes fond memories.
Jen Blazina’s glass and bronze aprons, irons, and spools of thread recall her grandmother busy in the kitchen, fulfilling the prototypical idea of ‘women’s work.’
Cynthia Consentino’s stoneware sculpture, Grandma’s Apron, pays homage to her grandmother, a Sicilian immigrant who clung to traditional roles and values, and ’embraced her place in the world.’
Lisa Hunter’s A Comfort of Tea Pots and A Proper Cup recall the comfort of domestic life, ‘supportive, consistent and repeatable,’ as reflected in the ritual of afternoon tea.
The impact of the exhibit in its entirety is far more provocative than brief descriptions that only a few works convey. Surrounded by the wealth of references and messages from the totality of the compelling two and three dimensional forms in this exhibition, we are challenged to reflect on our own life, memories, and dreams; in Brown’s words, “our shared, domestic experience.”
Visit Domestic Matters: The Uncommon Apron, on view at the Sally D. Francisco Gallery in Layton, New Jersey through November 3, 2019. The Exhibition Catalog and views of the gallery can be found here.
About the Authors:
Amy Ferrisis a highly accomplished author, screenwriter, television writer and editor. She was also honored by Women’s eNews as one of our ‘21 Leaders for the 21st Century‘ for 2018. Her memoir, Marrying George Clooney: Confessions From A Midlife Crisis, was adapted into an Off-Broadway play at CAP21 Theater Company.
Maleyne Syracuse is the author of “Grethe Sørensen: Construction of Textiles,” in Out of Pixels: Grethe Sørensen (2017)and “Richard Landis: A Productive Mind” in Shuttle, Spindle & Dyepot (Fall 2018).
Today, more than 166 millionwomen live in the United States, and roughly 96 percent of them believe that women– who make up slightly over fifty percent of the nationwide population– are equal to men by law. This is untrue. As far back as the year 1848, when the first Women’s Rights Convention was held, there has been a demand for equality. In 1923, the Equal Rights Amendment– a move that would ensure equality between women and men and prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex, was introduced.
The amendment was passed forty-six years ago by Congress in 1972. After its passage, Congress handed it over to the states to be ratified–a process that can only occur if three-quarters of the country, or thirty-eight statesapprove. To date, fifteen states have yet to ratify the amendment, preventing women and women from legally being considered equal in the US. But, that could change in just a couple of weeks sinceAmericans are now only one stateshy from benefitting from the ERA. On November 5, 2019, the state of Virginia will serve as the country’s deciding factor.
“If you consider yourself a feminist, you need to put your skin in the game,” said Kamala Lopez, founder of the movement Equal Means Equal, to educate Americans about the importance of equal rights under federal law for women and complete the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.founder of a movement called “Equal Means Equal” whose mission is to educate Americans about the importance of equal rights under federal law for women and complete the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment to the US Constitution.
“You must care about this, and you must care about this right now,” Lopez in an exclusive interview with Women’s eNews.
Lopez, originally from New York City, and her co-director, Natalie White, originally from West Virginia, temporarily moved to Virginia’s 76th district which consists of Suffolk, Norfolk and Chesapeake counties, to encourage every person eligible to vote to go to the polls.c“We’re hustling,” Lopez said
Within just one month of their stay, the pair has thus far reached thousands of local residents through daily community organization events. Each day, they hand out roughly five-hundred ice cream cones, gather dozens of people for happy hours and host dinners for voters on Sunday nights.
Members from local church communities and black sororities such as Delta Sigma Theta Inc. have sat with Lopez and White at the table to eat fried chicken, scalloped potatoes and pecan pie to discuss the potential and debunk the myths of the ERA. Their hope is that accurate information about the ERA and its national importance are circulated to as many micro-communities as possible before election day. “There were people who were hugging us and just started crying because we cared so much,” White said. “I was born and raised in Fairmount, WV so I know how things work in small towns like this where it feels like no one cares,” she added.
One woman in particular, who provided catering for the Sunday dinners, had shared that she was a victim of domestic violence, and watched as her two children had to remove knives from their father’s clenched hand. “She would be eavesdropping on our discussions,” Lopez recalled. “As [the caterer] learned more about the ERA and the empowerment it would give her and her family, she began feeling better.” For Lopez and White, hosting these discussions are vital because they believe misinformation is being circulated at this critical time.
For example, a debate between Democratic candidate Jess Foster of the 88th district and her opponent, Mark Cole, was held at the University of Mary Washington. Around one-hundred-fifty people were in attendance, but before the political battle commenced on stage Cole, who has served in the House of Delegates since 2002, had circulated a flyer titled “The Truth About the Equal Rights Amendment,” which suggested that the ERA was outdated and a new one should take its place–one that is geared towards the pro-life movement. “People are going to think that Cole is a proponent of the ERA,” Lopez said in response. “One of the things being circulated is that the ERA is an abortion bill,” White added. “We’re asking for equality, nothing more.”
When the ERA was passed in 1972, Congress had set a deadline of seven years–and later ten–for thirty-eight states to approve the bill. By 1982, the US had thirty-five states on board, but as time progressed the bill became inactive and was replaced by a false notion that an amendment was already in place to protect from gender-biased discrimination. Article II of the Fourteenth Amendment, for example, declares that “ no state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States.” However, the amendment was written at a time when women were considered second-class citizens with no legal right to vote. “Essentially, they are trying to rewrite the truth so that people won’t see its important and go out to vote,” White. Added Lopez, “But we are putting lives and jobs on hold just to fight for this.”
It’s a fight the pair decided to take on more than a decade ago. In the past few years, their efforts have gained traction. In 2016, White led a 250-mile march between New York City and Washington DC to raise awareness about the ERA. That same year, Equal Means Equal, released a documentary to inform the country about the impact the ERA would have. The film was awarded Best US Documentary Audience Award, Traverse City Film Festival (2016).
Since then, the momentum has been building. In 2017, Nevada ratified the ERA, followed by Illinois the following year in 2018.
Now, with only a few weeks left until boring day in Virginia, Lopez and White are continuing to spread awareness to ensure that every person who is eligible to vote will go to the polls. “We’re hoping that we can drive people to the polls, we’ve got two big vans and if people can’t get there, we will drive them there ourselves,” Lopez said.
“We’re as close to the finish line as never before,” she added. “We will not quit the game until we win the fight.”
Tatyana Turner is a student at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism. She is a 2019 fellow in the Sy Syms Journalistic Excellence Program* at Women’s eNews, funded by the Sy Syms Foundation. The Sy Syms Journalistic Excellence Program at Women’s eNews fellowship supports editorial and development opportunities for editorial interns in the pursuit of journalistic excellence.
Sy Syms Journalistic Excellence Program
The Sy Syms Journalistic Excellence program at Women’s eNews was launched in 2014 with support from the Sy Syms Foundation. The fellowship provides support and development opportunities for editorial interns in the pursuit of journalistic excellence.
“For a democracy to flourish all voices must be heard.” said Marcy Syms, a founding Trustee and President of the Sy Syms Foundation. “Through its investigative reporting Women’s eNews gets at the essence of good journalism. The Sy Syms Foundation is proud of this collaboration to support today’s newest women journalists.”
As part of it’s mission to create social change for women and girls through investigative reporting, Women’s eNews helps foster, train, and support the career development of new journalists with a focus on social justice and women’s rights.
As Herstory Writers Workshop inaugurates a new series for Women’s eNews, we are more conscious than ever of the challenges that we are facing at this moment of time when the Statue of Liberty is crying for us all.
Can our stories help hold up the torch of compassion and welcome, and bring back the light that the oppressors are trying to extinguish? Can they help the most vulnerable among us to hold on through the darkness, uncertainty and danger?
Can memoir become a tool for action? Can the stories of the disenfranchised, the vulnerable and isolated, be shaped in a way that will startle those in power into rethinking policy and practice? Can the power structure be righted if a literature that forces every reader to walk in the storyteller’s shoes is made part of the culture?
These are the questions that set an increasing number of women and girls (and more recently men and boys) upon a two-and-a-half-decade journey of grass roots story-shaping and gathering, as together we worked on developing a tool kit to dare even the most hard-hearted reading or listening stranger to care. Over those decades, thousands of stories have been born in Long Island’s jails, its shelters and school rooms, its union halls and workplaces, libraries and art centers. These stories have been used in prison reform, as part of a training program for officers, and in sensitizing teachers, school counselors and administrators to the realities of the lives of young people who crossed the border by themselves and the children of the incarcerated. They have been used by governmental officials and judges to ensure that the voices of those who lack representation or access are heard. They have been used in the healing of communities divided by violence and hatred.
We are happy to begin this series with stories from Brave Journeys/ Pasos valientes, a book by 15 high school students (ages 14-17) who crossed mountains and deserts and rivers to rejoin their parents – who came to this country to escape danger, with the dream of better life.
As each student put pen to paper, hesitantly at first, not sure what it would mean to bring back memories that were so difficult, magic began to happen. Although the stories were hard, in each new transcription it was the strength and the spirit that began to shine through. Each student who wrote a new page gave the others in the writing circle more courage as the weeks went by, until finally they were ready to read to their ELL teachers, who never had known them in such a deep caring way. In the months that followed they saw their stories turn into a book, to be shared with other students whose stories echoed their own and with students who had no idea of their heroism, beauty and strength. They watched the book that their stories had created make its way into one Long Island school district after another, and finally through First Book, to reach a national audience of educators working in communities where families were unable to buy books for their children.
It is with sadness, but also with urgency and pride, that we anonymously share the writing of these young people, alone, because it wouldn’t be safe to share these stories in a traceable way. We think of a time when the students will again be able to claim their own stories, with their names and photographs attached, as we thank each of these young heroes for the part that they are playing in helping the Statue of Liberty to hold up her torch.
We reach a stage where we can’t imagine what could happen once we discover the reality of the world. At that moment it doesn’t occur to you that you could know the story of life. First, we remain some time inside the body of another human being. It might not seem like much, but for that human being it might seem a long time they’ll have to wait.
Just like that, the day comes for you to leave that narrow and uncomfortable place. The day your parents cry of happiness and you cry out of joy for the same reason. Nine months inside is a short time, but it’s many years to live.
I was born on February 13, 1999. My father, who was killed, decided before his death that my name had to be ——————————————– in honor of my aunt, who was a nun. My grandmother wanted me to be registered as if I had been born on February 14, but the right thing to do was to be registered the day I was truly born.
Life in our countries is very hard. Because of the economy, many of us run to chase the American dream. Few make it; many die on their way, in the dessert.
But we come with negative thinking. We arrive with fear of being discriminated because we are Hispanic or because we don’t speak the same language they do. We arrive terrified to live in a totally different world, completely different from our countries. But even though it’s not easy, it’s not impossible either.
Many times I find myself analyzing how that life might be, living with different people, with thinking different from mine.
The law of life is to be born, grow up, reproduce and die. And although you don’t know how long you’ll live, life moves step by step, sometimes so fast, it’s impossible to appreciate all the time we lose.
But we should enjoy our childhood because many are born every day but die instantly and don’t ever have the opportunity to live, the way we do.
My childhood was a bit disastrous and sad because I didn’t have the chance to have my father by my side. I was eight years old when I found out that my father was killed. After that, I learned that life is difficult but that everything is possible and that you can move on, and ahead, if you really want to.
I was 16 years old when I asked my mom to bring me to her because I wanted to meet her.
“Let me see what I can do,” she told me, “because you need a lot of money for something like that.”
“Okay,” I said, “I’ll wait for your response.”
As time passed I began to realize that if I came here I would have to leave my grandmother behind. She is like my second mother, someone who gave me so much love.
Three months had passed since I first spoke with my mom about the trip, when the phone rang while I was sitting beside my grandmother in the living room. When I looked at the phone, I could see it was my mom who was calling. Feeling a little sad, I answered.
“Hija,” she said, “get ready because you leave on Monday.”
Very surprised, I answered, “Mom, I don’t want to go anymore.”
“Why?” she asked.
“Because grandma is really sick and I don’t know if I’m going to be able to see her again, or when I’ll be able to come back.”
I wasn’t sure I could do it, but if I had God and grandma’s help, I knew I could do it. My grandma told me that she was scared of me leaving because the journey is very dangerous. I was also very scared because I’d heard many rumors from people about women being raped on the way.
I decided to face my fate, leaving family and loved ones behind to have a new life with very different people. I left on December 18, 2015 at 1:00 a.m. That day I felt a big emptiness in my heart knowing I was leaving my grandmother. She accompanied me to the place where I would meet “the coyote,” how we commonly refer to people who do this type of job in our countries. After approximately four or five hours, the coyote decided it was time to begin the journey.
We had to take a bus to Mexico. When it was time to leave, my grandma was tightly squeezing my hand. As I was about to get on the bus, she whispered in my ear, “Don’t forget me, remember my words, my advice, and scolding. Call me when you feel lonely, remember that I will always be your grandmother, your mother, your confidante.”
All I saw were her tearful eyes, and I hugged her tightly while saying, “Of course I will never forget you, you will always be in my thoughts and I will do everything possible to help you, and pull you ahead, because there’s no way I can ever thank you for everything you’ve done for me.”
TALLER DE ESCRITORES DE HERSTORY / RECUPERANDO A NUESTROS HIJOS
A medida de que el Taller de Escritores de Herstory inaugura una nueva serie para Women’s eNews, somos más conscientes que nunca de los desafíos que enfrentamos en este momento en que la Estatua de la Libertad está llorando por todos nosotros.
¿Pueden nuestras historias ayudar a sostener la antorcha de la compasión y la bienvenida, y traer de vuelta la luz que los opresores están tratando de extinguir? ¿Pueden ayudar a los más vulnerables entre nosotros a resistir en la oscuridad, la incertidumbre y el peligro?
¿Pueden las memorias convertirse en una herramienta para la acción? ¿Pueden las historias de los marginados, los vulnerables y aislados, tener una forma que asuste a los que están en el poder a repensar la política y la práctica? ¿Se puede enderezar la estructura de poder si una literatura que obliga a cada lector a caminar en la piel del narrador se hace parte de la cultura?
Estas son las preguntas que plantean un número creciente de mujeres y niñas (y más recientemente hombres y niños) en un viaje de dos décadas y media de formación y recopilación de historias de base, ya que juntos, trabajamos en el desarrollo de un equipo de herramientas para que incluso al lector extraño, más severo o inquebrantable, le interesen estas historias. Durante esas décadas, miles de historias han nacido en las cárceles de Long Island, sus refugios y aulas escolares, sus salas sindicales y lugares de trabajo, bibliotecas y centros de arte. Estas historias se han utilizado en la reforma penitenciaria, como parte de un programa de capacitación para oficiales y en la sensibilización de maestros, consejeros escolares y administradores sobre las realidades de la vida de los jóvenes que cruzaron la frontera solos y los niños de los encarcelados. Han sido utilizados por funcionarios gubernamentales y jueces para garantizar que se escuchen las voces de quienes carecen de representación o acceso. Se han utilizado en la curación de comunidades divididas por la violencia y el odio.
Estamos felices de comenzar esta serie con historias de Brave Journeys / Pasos valientes, un libro con historias acerca de 15 estudiantes de secundaria (entre 14 y 17 años) que cruzaron montañas, desiertos y ríos para reunirse con sus padres, que vinieron a este país para escapar del peligro, con el sueño de una vida mejor.
A medida que cada estudiante ponía un bolígrafo en papel, vacilante al principio, sin saber qué significaría traer recuerdos que eran tan difíciles, la magia comenzó a suceder. Aunque las historias fueron difíciles, en cada nueva transcripción, fue la fuerza y ??el espíritu lo que comenzó a brillar. Cada estudiante que escribió una nueva página les dio a los demás, en el círculo de escritura, más valor a medida que pasaban las semanas, hasta que finalmente estuvieron listos para leer sus historias a sus maestros de ELL, quienes nunca los habían conocido de una manera tan profunda y cuidadosa. En los meses que siguieron, vieron que sus historias se convertían en un libro, que se compartiría con otros estudiantes cuyas historias hicieron eco de las suyas y con estudiantes que no tenían idea de su heroísmo, belleza y fuerza. Vieron el libro que sus historias habían creado llegar a diferentes distritos escolares de Long Island, uno tras otro, y finalmente a través de First Book, llegar a una audiencia nacional de educadores que trabajaban en comunidades donde las familias no podían comprar libros para sus hijos.
Es con tristeza, pero también con urgencia y orgullo, que compartimos anónimamente la escritura de estos jóvenes porque no sería seguro para ellos compartir estas historias de manera rastreable. Esperamos que algún día, estos estudiantes puedan reclamar nuevamente sus propias historias, con sus nombres y fotografías adjuntas, mientras agradecemos a cada uno de estos jóvenes héroes por el papel que están desempeñando para ayudar a la Estatua de la Libertad a sostener su antorcha.
Llegamos a una etapa en donde no nos imaginamos qué podría pasar al momento de descubrir cuál es la realidad del mundo. En ese momento no se te ocurre si podrías llegar a conocer la historia de la vida. Primero, permanecemos un tiempo dentro del cuerpo de otro ser humano. Puede parecer poco, pero para ese ser humano puede parecer muy largo el tiempo que tiene que esperar.
Así, llega el día en que tienes que salir de ese estrecho e incómodo lugar. El día en que tus padres lloran de felicidad y tú gritas por la misma razón. Nueve meses por dentro es poco, pero son muchos años por vivir.
Nací un 13 de febrero de 1999. Mi padre, quien fue asesinado, decidió antes de morir que mi nombre debía ser ——————————————– en honor a una tía que era monja. Mi abuela quería que me registraran como si yo hubiese nacido un 14 de febrero, pero lo correcto es que te registren el día que en verdad naciste.
La vida en nuestros países es muy difícil. A causa de la mala economía, muchos corremos a alcanzar el sueño americano. Pocos lo logran, muchos mueren en el camino, en el desierto.
Pero venimos con un pensamiento muy negativo. Llegamos con el miedo de ser discriminados por ser hispanos o por no hablar el mismo lenguaje que ellos. Llegamos aterrorizados de vivir en un mundo totalmente diferente a nuestros países. Pero, aunque no es fácil, tampoco es imposible.
Muchas veces analizo cómo será esa vida, viviendo con personas distintas, con pensamientos diferentes al mío.
La ley de la vida es que nazcas, crezcas, te reproduzcas y mueras. Y aunque no sabes cuánto tiempo vivirás, la vida transcurre paso a paso y a la vez tan rápido, que es imposible valorar todo el tiempo que perdemos.
Pero deberíamos disfrutar nuestra etapa de la infancia porque muchos nacen día con día, pero mueren al instante y no tienen nunca la oportunidad de vivir, como la tenemos nosotros.
Mi infancia fue un poco desastrosa y triste porque no tuve la oportunidad de tener a mi padre a mi lado. Tenía ocho años cuando me enteré que a mi padre lo habían asesinado. Después de eso aprendí que la vida es difícil pero que todo se puede lograr y que puedes salir adelante si tú te lo propones.
Tenía 16 años cuando le pedí a mi madre que me trajera con ella porque quería conocerla.
—Déjame ver qué puedo hacer —me dijo— porque se necesita mucho dinero para algo así.
—Está bien —le dije— espero su respuesta.
Al pasar el tiempo comencé a analizar que si me venía para acá dejaría a mi abuela sola. Ella es como mi primera madre, alguien que me dio mucho amor.
A los tres meses de haberle comentado a mi mamá acerca del viaje, sonó el teléfono mientras yo estaba sentada al lado de mi abuela en la sala de mi casa. Al ver el teléfono, vi que era mi madre quien llamaba. Sintiéndome un poco triste, le contesté.
—Hija —me dijo— prepárese porque sale el lunes.
Yo, muy sorprendida le contesté,
—Mamá, yo ya no me quiero ir.
—¿Por qué? —me preguntó.
—Porque mi abuela está muy enferma y no sé si la voy a volver a ver, ó cuándo pueda regresar.
Yo no estaba segura de poder hacerlo, pero si tenía la ayuda de Dios y de mi abuela, sabía que lo podía lograr. Mi abuela me decía que tenía miedo de que me viniera porque el camino es muy peligroso. Yo tenía mucho miedo también porque escuchaba muchos rumores de la gente acerca de que violaban a las mujeres en el camino.
Tomé la decisión de enfrentar mi destino, dejando a familiares y seres queridos para tener una nueva vida con personas muy diferentes. Salí un 18 de diciembre de 2015, a la 1:00 a.m. Ese día sentí un gran vacío en mi corazón al saber que dejaba a mi abuela. Ella me acompañó hasta el lugar donde me encontraría con “el coyote”, como comúnmente le decimos en nuestros países a quienes hacen este tipo de trabajo. Pasaron aproximadamente cuatro o cinco horas cuando el señor decidió comenzar con el viaje.
Nos teníamos que ir en autobús a México. Al momento de partir, mi abuela tenía mi mano fuertemente apretada. Cuando estaba a punto de subir al autobús me susurro al oído:
—No me olvides, recuerda mis palabras, mis consejos y regaños. Llámame cuando te sientas sola, recuerda que siempre seré tu abuela, tu madre, tu confidente.
Solo vi sus ojos con lágrimas y la abracé fuertemente diciéndole,
—Claro que nunca te olvidaré, siempre estarás en mis pensamientos y haré todo lo posible por ayudarte y por poder sacarte adelante porque no tengo cómo agradecerte todo lo que has hecho por mí.
Well-earned celebrations must not eclipse our view of
true victory for humanity and the planet.
Well, it’s finally happened, to the relief of a wide range
of people, from Nancy Pelosi’s most vitriolic critics to her most loyal
loyalists: the House is officially opening impeachment proceedings.
This matters. A lot. Terms have power, and a formal process
under a single umbrella is a much clearer signal to this regime than the
previous scattered and single-issue investigations could ever have been. And
our emotional release is needed and justified. In the streets, in jail holding
cells, in the public online spaces, and in back-office meetings, many have been
struggling tirelessly for the last two years to get this, or something like it,
off the ground. Even where I strongly disagree with some of my fellow
anti-Trumpist activists in terms of direction or focus, I salute the conscience
and dedication of all who’ve embraced this cause.
Nevertheless, we’re in a supremely perilous moment now and
we’d be fools not to recognize it.
Part of the danger comes, of course, from our adversaries.
Like any abusive personality, a fascist can be at their most vicious when they
feel their control finally, possibly, beginning to slip. When their victim at
last declares independence, the chances that they’re not going to make at least
one treacherous bid to reestablish dominance are zero. And often enough, they
succeed. So overconfidence on our part is unwarranted. We’ve already seen that
there’s no level of barbarity to which they won’t descend—even and especially
against the most vulnerable and nonthreatening of us—both in the US and across
They will take hostages. The timing of the Trump
regime’s assaults on prominent Democrats and their constituents — from the
political “investigation” of Biden, to the threat to sweep the
homeless of Pelosi’s and Schiff’s districts off the streets and disappear them
off to who knows where — is not coincidental.
They will summon their more overtly supremacist supporters
out from under their rocks to brownshirt for them. It’s not an accident that
Pizzagate conspiracy theorist and Christian fascist culture warrior Sebastian
Gorka is publicly traveling with Mike Pompeo right now.
But as bad as it would be not to prepare for betrayal from
the cruel, it’s almost as bad not to account for our own fallibility as well as
those of our allies. The Trump regime is carrying out crimes against humanity,
and we must unite all who can be united to stop it from consolidating power.
Our Actions Matter More than the Motivations for
I’m not interested in playing psychic here. We could argue
forever about whether Pelosi, Schiff et al had some secret master plan all
along that we were ingrates to ever ever doubt, or did this only with
the greatest reluctance because enough people made it clear nothing less would
be acceptable. It doesn’t matter all that much, frankly.
It only sort-of matters what their motivations are
now—whether they mean to move forward boldly now and sacrifice for the country
they swore to serve, or are just trying to run out the clock till the election.
It’s not that important because it doesn’t change our
calculus in getting the result the world needs us to get. Do you think
Mubarak’s generals were suddenly seized with enlightenment and remorse, when
they turned on their dictator after the Tahrir Square protests in Cairo got too
big to ignore or repress? Does anyone really care now what was in their
hearts? No. Because the circumstances that the people of Egypt created forced
them to do what was right either way. (The trouble came only when the people ceased
their unified demand for justice, and their disarray allowed religious
extremists to take over where military rule left off…there’s a crucial message
to us in that as well, by the way. Even victory in removing one set of tyrants
is not the final victory, though it’s a step you can hardly skip in the
Personally, as a mainstream-ish Democrat, I view most of our
party leaders as well-meaning but deeply imperfect human beings—just like most
of us. They’re sitting in different, much plusher stadium seats, where they can
perhaps see some things we don’t, but will completely miss other vital things
we ordinary folk do see…if we don’t point them out with crystal clarity.
Others among my Refuse Fascism colleagues see Democratic leadership as willing
servants of the great machine of capitalist imperialism.
We can argue about that in between actions (preferably over
coffee or drinks!) but it shouldn’t stop us from coming together to force our
leaders to do what is right regardless of motivation.
If they’re legislators of conscience, they won’t hate us for
standing up for justice—they’ll be grateful for our support and even our
pressure, because they’ll view representing constituents as their duty. That
means the thing to do is show them what their constituents want is what we all
know is best for humanity: that Trump and Pence Must Go Now.
If they’re amoral careerists determined to hold onto their
Capitol washroom keys, the thing to do is show them their only option for that
is to meet the public’s implacable demand that Trump and Pence Must Go
Now…and that the public really, really means the Now part. To
make that happen, we have to become harder to deny than powerful,
violent, corrupt, scheming Nazis. That’s a tall order, yes. But we’re a big
country. Collectively we have more than strength enough to do it.
If they’re sadistic monsters, well, then they’ll be like Mubarak’s generals: they’ll obey, they’ll conciliate, they’ll betray the people…until they finally see that Trump and Pence are a sinking ship that all sane rats must abandon. At that point, though there may be a few so tightly bound that they do indeed decide to go down with the ship, the rest will suddenly have that attack of enlightenment and remorse—and pretend to have secretly agreed with us all along that Trump and Pence must go now.
Any of those will work for me.
Which story ends up being the true one is pertinent to the
question of what kind of society we can rebuild after we’ve removed this
fascist regime from power…but that question is moot if we can’t remove the
regime. And whether our leaders are people of conscience or not, we can’t
succumb to the temptation to leave it all up to them. Even the most heroic
public servants know they can’t win without the unrelenting energy of the
people as fuel and mandate. The worst? Won’t be convinced to turn on a despot
until the people leave them no choice.
Whether you’re a liberal, a progressive, a socialist, a
communist, a technocrat, or an apolitical, one fact remains: nobody can get
their human needs met under a fascist system, except for fascists. There is no
peace, no safe space, no rule of law, no loving kindness, no humanity under
fascism. It is at its base a nihilistic, all-devouring creed that ultimately
consumes even itself—but not before it’s consumed everything and everyone else
it can. And it has more appeal than people of goodwill ever want to believe.
So our work from here is clear. We should celebrate our
victories along the way, yes. But now would be the worst possible time to fold
up the tents and become passive observers again. Everyone must decide for
themselves whom they will or will not trust, but I would urge everyone with a
hunger for justice to base their decisions on investigation of the danger this
regime poses and what can actually stop it. Remember that you can’t wait for
your hero, because in the end NOBODY can save a people who won’t save
And that it’s not just the American people who we will
either save with our fierce love or damn with our foolish apathy, but many, many
In your heart, you already know these things to be true. All
that’s left is to act on it.
About the author:Sarah Roark is graphic novelist and a member of the editorial board of RefuseFascism.org, which is launching weekly protests in October to demand, “Trump and Pence #OutNow!” Follow her on Twitter @afterdaylight.
It’s not uncommon these days to hear the terms “fatherless generation,” “toxic masculinity,” and “boys will be boys.” Many are trying to redefine manhood and discredit masculinity in a misguided attempt to resolve our problems. In his upcoming book, Unlocking the Power of Fatherhood, author Gary D. Rogers shares his own rich life experiences and the lessons he has learned along the way, which have all blended to forge a unique mission: to inspire authenticity in men, to equip them with workable life skills and perspectives, and to empower a healthy culture of fatherhood.
A blueprint for embracing the positive essence of fatherhood, it is a powerful guide for men to achieve a successful life by confronting the unfairness of society, recognizing the lessons of failure, and discovering the value in life’s difficulties:
CHAPTER 2 (pp. 68-75)
THE ROLE OF MY FATHER In the years since that stormy night, I have weathered difficult times, always drawing sustenance from the man who had been in the boat with me. His unwavering character lived on in my heart long after he was gone. Billy Ray remained my standard against which all my decisions were measured. With him, there was right and there was wrong. That which was true yesterday was true today. He always stood for the right, no matter what it cost him. This quality defined him as a man of character and garnered the respect of all who knew him. To me he was a tree, not an anchor. He was unmovable, an unchangeable standard. On those difficult nights in my home office as my business was crumbling and I was faced with difficult decisions, I could always find one of his principles to guide me. The consequences of decisions made were not always pleasant, but the decision was the right one to make. In the aftermath of those choices, I could always take solace in the person I had become. It is because of his guidance that I have come to like who I am as a man. And when my difficult decisions are based on his tested principles, things invariably turn out well. Billy Ray was joined in life by a remarkable woman who saw through his limp and what he called his “bum leg.” She saw a man who knew what it was to be a man—someone on whom she could depend. Someone worthy, in whom to invest her tremendous capacity to love. Together they created the culture of fatherhood in our home for my brother[…]”
“We learned the value of correction in an atmosphere of love. We were never shocked or had the rug pulled out from under us. Things were predictable, and the high standards never changed. It was a remarkable upbringing. I understand how incredibly blessed I am to have had such a home as this, even though my time with my father was too short. I wish everyone was blessed to have such a good model to follow, but I know it is not so. That understanding is the impetus for writing this book. I believe that regardless of our backgrounds, we all have the ability to choose the standard of truth as a guiding principle of our lives. For the first twenty-seven years of my life, I saw firsthand what it was to be a man. My father’s purpose was to teach me how to think and how to weigh decisions against standards and truth. As I grew older, I learned to make good decisions through the challenging conversations he initiated. By this process, he taught me to think like a man of character and ultimately choose what was right. He questioned me using concepts that were very natural for him. Concepts like:
If it were you, would you want to be treated that way? Is that the kind of person you want to be? Is that what you said you would do?
These were not rhetorical questions; he expected me to really think about and answer them. Then there was my personal favorite…or sometimes my least favorite: Can’t never could do anything. This is a concept that means that you will never overcome if you tell yourself that you are incapable of conquering life’s difficult challenges. It is a powerful statement meant to establish the inner strength one needs to achieve their purpose. The last one was far too difficult to ignore. Picture, if you will, a baby learning to walk. Stumbling into his parents’ arms with a grin on his face and two good legs beneath him. Now picture my dad, his right leg with the muscles taken by polio, learning to use it as a crutch. Picture that baby and all the times he fell and then got up again. A boy who would never quit until he learned to walk. This was the way he tackled each of life’s challenges. He would simply keep going no matter the hardship, and in the end, he would overcome. Now try to imagine ignoring him when he says, Can’t never could do anything. To him things were simple. Are you going to say, “I can’t walk, I have a bum leg.” Or, are you going to be the person who says, “I have one good leg; that’s all I need.”
Excerpt From: Gary D. Rogers. “Unlocking the Power of Fatherhood.” iBooks.
About the Author:
Gary Rogers was born and grew to adulthood in the Texas Gulf Coast town of Freeport Texas. He is currently working as a consultant to industries that use large quantities of water, assisting them to effectively utilize water resources and minimize the impact of operations on the environment. Rogers has a loving wife of 44 years, three children and one rather precocious grandson. Gary seeks to utilize his writing to share the valuable life lessons they taught. To connect with the author, please visit his website www.garydrogers.com.
She lived for twenty years with a heart transplant; she was a leg amputee; she was a three- time cancer survivor. But Jessica, who passed away on September 25, 2019 at the age of 37, will be remembered for much more than this.
Despite her adversity, which earned her the nickname “Wonder Woman,” she never let it hold her back. Jessica graduated from Princeton University and became an internationally-known motivational speaker. Some of the advice she provided to other people battling cancer was to look for the light, even when the world seemed darkest. “If you are struggling, think about something that might bring you joy — a phone call with a friend you haven’t spoken with for a while, a book you’ve wanted to read and never had time to. It can make a big difference in your mentality,” Jessica said. “Do the best you can — some days will be harder than others — but you will also have good days to look forward to.”
“We can never be grateful enough for what we have,” Loreen Arbus, Disability Rights Activist, Philanthropist, Producer, Writer and Author, said of Jessica, who she described as always having a radiant quality about her. “Every time I saw her, it drove that point home.”
Just prior to her peaceful passing, she gave this message to pass on to everyone else:
“Thank you for all your healing prayers and well wishes.
Thank you for your support.
And thank you for giving me the opportunity to know you and love you.
“Dream as if you’ll live forever, but live as if you only have today”
Jessica is survived by her parents Thomas and Ellen, her brother Matthew, sister-in-law Jennifer, and many loving friends and family members.
celebration of Jessica’s life will be held from 3-8pm on Wednesday, October 2nd
at Joseph G. Duffy Funeral Home in Brooklyn, NY. Limited metered street parking
is available, as well as a parking garage at Paramount Car Park LLC, 353 4th
Ave, Brooklyn, NY. Nearby subway stops include the F/G train 4 Ave- 9 St
station and the R train 9 St station.
A Funeral Mass will take place at 11am (EST) on Thursday, October 3rd at Holy Name of Jesus Church in Brooklyn, NY. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to Harboring Hearts at www.harboringhearts.org/donate and Leukemia & Lymphoma Society at www.lls.org.
In the next 60 seconds – about the same amount of time it will take to read this article – 250 babies will be born around the world. Fifteen will have birth defects. Up to six will die at birth, and a few newborns will fight to survive without their mothers, who will not live past childbirth. In the United States alone, approximately 700 women die every year as a result of either pregnancy or birth complications — a number that is going up, not down. We are currently in the same category as Afghanistan and Swaziland as countries with increasing maternal death rates.
Fortunately, a few simple resources could vastly improve the health outcomes of infants and mothers. They include clean water, adequate nutrition, basic medicine, and, in the words of UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore: “A skilled pair of hands to help mothers and newborns around the time of birth.” Research has shown that some of the most skilled and effective hands around birth are those of midwives, yet shockingly few families have that option.
Currently in the U.S., only about 10 percent of births include midwives. Moreover, access to midwifery varies from state to state. A recent landmark study found that Washington had the best integration rate of midwifery, based on how well midwives were accepted by health care providers, as well as whether midwives were able to practice their full scope of skills. North Carolina had the lowest.
And regardless of region, access to midwives in the U.S. is markedly less than other industrialized countries, such as the United Kingdom, Sweden, and the Netherlands. The disparity is frustrating because in countries where midwives attend the majority of births, positive maternal and neonatal outcomes far exceed ours. The excellent proven outcomes that result from midwifery care include lower cesarean section rates, lower premature birth rates, and fewer newborn deaths. Midwives’ patients also have higher breastfeeding rates (both initiating and continuing), and lower incidence of low birth weight babies.
Midwives achieve these outcomes by forming close, respectful partnerships with expecting families during pregnancy and birth. At its essence, the midwifery model of care is based on that relationship. It supports a woman’s dignity, empowerment to make choices, and her ultimate decisions about her birth. The connection between midwife and mother leads not only to better health results, but to a better experience around birth. Studies have demonstrated women’s satisfaction with midwives caring for them, as compared to other types of obstetrical providers. That feeling of satisfaction – or lack thereof – not only is important in the critical period of pregnancy and birth, but has implications throughout a woman’s and child’s life.
So why don’t many families in the U.S. have the option of using a midwife? It’s not a simple answer. Some health insurance systems do not include midwives in their care network. Some insurance companies do not want to extend malpractice insurance to midwives because obstetrics is a very highly litigated area of medicine. Some physicians don’t want to incorporate midwives into their practice for fear that patients will leave their care for midwives.
Further, people may be deterred from pursuing midwifery because it is a demanding career with salaries that are not always commensurate with the work. And, finally, inaccuracies like “you can’t have pain medication or an epidural if you have a midwife,” and “midwives only attend births that occur at home” lead expecting parents away from looking into midwifery as an option.
Yet midwifery has endured despite a myriad of myths over the centuries. As someone who has worked in maternal and child health for over 30 years, I have lived the excellent outcomes brought about by midwifery care. I became a nurse-midwife after years working as a labor and delivery nurse because I wanted to help women achieve the births they desired. Certainly specialty high-risk maternity care would be available to every woman whose pregnancy or labor requires it, but most expecting mothers are low-risk, and I saw that they welcomed the chance to give birth in environments that encouraged a sense of normalcy rather than emergency: labor rooms that resembled their own bedrooms, freedom of movement in labor, intermittent monitoring, the ability to eat between contractions. These practices are all based in evidence, and I believe they should be standard across all births – but they are far more common with midwives.
If you want to work with a midwife, yet don’t have any included in your insurance plan, approach your health system and insurer about including midwifery care as an option.
And if you have experienced the benefits of a midwife, reach out to your legislator. Many lawmakers simply don’t know about the maternal mortality crisis in the United States, or how midwives can make a tremendous difference. Ask for legislation that supports the education of midwives and the expansion of their services.
In an ideal world, all women would have access to the maternity care provider of their choice, with midwives and physicians working collegially together. But at a bare minimum, midwives attending a birth should be as common and expected in the United States as clean water and basic medicine. Women deserve no less.
Michelle Collins, Ph.D., CNM, RN-CEFM, FACNM, FAAN is a certified nurse-midwife with over 30 years of experience in the field of maternal-child health. She is a professor in the Dept. of Women, Children and Family Nursing at Rush University College of Nursing, as well as Associate Dean of Academic Affairs at the CON.
Vote Her In addresses the unrealized dream of millions of American women: electing our first woman president. It makes the case for the urgency of women attaining equal executive power at all levels, including the presidency, and offers a comprehensive strategy for every woman to be a part of this campaign—the most important of our lifetimes. And the book opens with this quote from Michelle Obama:
“In light of this last election, I’m concerned about us as women and how we think about ourselves and about each other… What is going on in our heads where we let that happen, you know? … When the most qualified person running was a woman and look what we did instead, I mean that says something about where we are…That’s what we have to explore… if we still have this crazy, crazy bar for each other that we don’t have for men… if we’re not comfortable with the notion that a woman could be our president compared to what,… we have to have that conversation with ourselves as women.” —Michelle Obama, United State of Women Summit; Los Angeles, California; May 5, 2018; FIRST LADY OF THE UNITED STATES, 2009–2017
Dear Trump: You Got 99 Problems and This BITCH Is 1
Historically, bitch has been used to demean a woman who is assertive about what she wants, unconcerned with—in fact, hostile to—the traditional notions of femininity that hobble women. She is a woman who, for instance, asserts the right of American women to the presidency and the importance of
overcoming centuries of precedent to elect one. She is a “nasty woman,” the
label Donald Trump used to describe Hillary Clinton during their third presi-
dential debate in 2016.
Several posters at the Women’s March displayed the expression “nasty
woman,” and some included vagina imagery, along with statements like KEEP
YOUR ROSARIES OFF MY OVARIES and NO UTERUS, NO OPINION. Using imagery of
women’s anatomy to make nasty-woman assertions of women’s rights, the
marchers also reclaimed the word bitch, using it not as a demeaning insult but
as motivational shorthand for an assertive, independent woman who takes
actions like electing a woman president.
Some of us marchers (of the “bitch” ilk as described above) had never used the word bitch to describe our feminist self-concept. Frankly, many of us were uncomfortable with it. The word felt pejorative, given its typical usage. In our campaign to be respected and convincing about our women’s rights agenda and campaigns, using shorthand that is generally used by men as a belittling description of women didn’t feel like a smart idea. However, a turning point for me was when I read a Vox article in which Hillary Clinton repeated some- thing Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg told her before the 2016 presidential campaign: “When a woman advocates for others, she tends to be well-liked. The moment she starts advocating for herself, people tend to turn against her.” What was that about being a bitch? As one Women’s March poster stated, quoting Madonna: I’M TOUGH, I’M AMBITIOUS, AND I KNOW EXACTLY WHAT I WANT. IF THAT MAKES ME A BITCH, SO BE IT. So be it for me, and so be it for us, too.
I’ve since come to advocate this marcher’s expression of women’s confi- dence and rebellion against the status quo. I have also watched and heard hip- hop’s self-styled feminist stars, such as Beyoncé and Nicki Minaj, use the word bitch to describe attitudes I now share with them. “When I am assertive, I’m a bitch,” Minaj said in the MTV documentary My Time Now. “When a man is assertive, he’s a boss. He bossed up. No negative connotation behind ‘bossed up.’ But lots of negative connotation behind being a ‘bitch.’”
Let’s just go ahead and claim the word bitch to describe our attitude about
electing our first woman president. I think we have to in order to clarify our
willingness to be “bitchy”—that is, forceful and demanding. Because let’s face
it: that’s what electing our first American woman president will require.
In my research for this book, I found a Pinterest site called “BITCH, I GOT THIS (Confidence).” Yes, let’s use the word bitch to tell the world we have the confidence to take care of our highest-priority business, electing a woman president. As one Women’s March poster read, BITCHES GET STUFF DONE. We have only to get to work to get this stu done. We have the numbers. According to CAWP:
• Women outnumber men among registered voters. • Women turn out to vote at rates that equal or exceed men’s rates. • A higher proportion of women than men vote among US citizens age 18 to 64. • For eight consecutive presidential elections, more women have voted than men.
Further, millennials are projected to surpass baby boomers as the country’s largest living adult generation in 2019. Combined with Generation X, they already make up a bigger voting bloc than baby boomers and the silent generation, and according to a survey by Vanity Fair, “millennial women are more politically engaged than they have been in years, with an unparalleled capacity to elect change.”
We have the voters and we also have the candidates. As I write this book, four women, all Democratic US senators— Kirsten Gillibrand, Kamala Har- ris, Elizabeth Warren, and Amy Klobuchar—are presumed to be considering a presidential run in 2020. All four have core legislative, personal, and political strengths, making each a viable candidate, but they won’t all survive the run-up—each will have to convince the rest of us, “Bitch, I got this.”
This number of potential women candidates is a first in American history, and getting one of them elected might not be just a fantasy, according to Politico Magazine contributing editor Bill Scher. For one thing, almost 60 percent of the 2016 Democratic presidential pri- mary electorate were women, many of whom are still ready for change. For another, Democrats who self-identify as “social liberals” make up the majority (53 percent) of Democrats, and according to Scher, these voters have “grown accustomed to breaking barriers and won’t readily accept a coldly pessimistic argument that running another woman against Trump would be a bad idea.” Echoing su ragist Carrie Chapman Catt’s 1916 battle cry, Scher added, “the woman’s hour must again strike.”
Notwithstanding these positive trends and the individual strengths of all four potential candidates, Scher concluded by saying that “she won’t become a superstar by anointment, as Obama was in 2004. She will have to make it happen by breaking out of the Senate procedural muck, delivering soaring speeches, crafting signature policy ideas, picking high-profile fights, outwit- ting conservatives and proving she knows how to triumph over the inevitable misogynistic attacks.” This is where the rest of us come in to help our prospective Madam President get it done.
Scher’s description of the voters most likely to support Gillibrand, Harris, Warren, or Klobuchar sounds a lot like women who say, “I’m tough, I’m ambitious, and I know what I want. If that makes me a bitch, so be it.” No problem. We got this.
In the past, one of the main ways ambitious American women politicians
tried to soften their assertive presence and justify their entry into the public
square was by using the rationale that women are purer than men. Women are
incorruptible, women are selfless, women aren’t interested in power, women
just want to make the world a better place. So, men, you have nothing to fear
from our desire for political power—our ambition isn’t really about that. It’s
about doing good, always selflessly and politely.
That rationale is now history. “This bitch is 1” (“this bitch” being our first woman president) is our new rallying cry. Get with the program, my old- school girlfriends.
*Images based on photography by Rebecca Sive of posters from the 2017 Chicago Women’s March.
Imagine a woman in a silent room all to herself. She is
trembling from excitement and her eyes are filled with tears. In her hand is a
pregnancy test that reads a positive result and, in that moment, she realizes
that she has roughly seven months to prepare for a new life to come into the
world. But what she doesn’t know is that she only has seven more months to live
the rest of hers.
This is the reality for women like Kira Dixon Johnson, 39,
of Los Angeles, California. She was scheduled to have a cesarean-section to
give birth to her second child at Cedars-Siani Medical Center, a top-ranking
healthcare facility. The procedure went smoothly, and the mother and father
were able to spend time with their two sons as a family immediately following. But
just hours after the birth, Johnson started to feel lethargic and winced in pain
as her uterus became more sensitive to the touch. When blood began to appear in
her catheter, Johnson’s husband sought help. A CT scan was ordered to check for
internal bleeding, but it never took place. He was told his wife was not a
priority. Johnson died the following day.
Charlene Flores, 27, of San Fresno, Ca. had been suffering from
a heart ailment. When Flores went into labor in October of 2018, a difficult decision
had to be made. She was bleeding internally and her physician decided that the
safest way for delivery was via cesarean section. Although this birthing
procedure is routine, it is still a high-risk surgery that can cause
complications such as hemorrhaging and infection at the incision site. Aware of
the potential risks, Flores still put her trust in the doctors. A healthy baby
girl was born minutes later, but the mother and daughter never met. Flores’s heart
gave out on the operating table.
Several months later in May 2019, Sara Sewald, 26, of
Colorado Springs, Co. was expecting twins. Throughout her pregnancy, Sewald
suffered from preeclampsia, a condition during the gestational period that
results in high blood pressure and fluid retention. It can cause hands and feet
to swell which can also affect circulation and cause blood clots. Doctors had
recommended a cesarean-section during a routine check-up ,and the following day
Sewald gave birth to a boy and a girl. The moment between the mother and her
newborn children would not last beyond the delivery room, however. Sewald died from
internal bleeding after the surgery.
Johnson, Flores and Sewald represent just two of approximately 700 women who die from childbirth each year in the United States. But an estimated 50 percent of those deaths could have been prevented, according to the Center for Disease Control. Unfortunately, however, quality care in the U.S. is not guaranteed, particularly for women.
Although the US spends the most money on healthcare compared to other nations ($3.5 trillion), it is the also the most dangerous country to give birth in the developed world. This is compounded by recent figures showing that 82 million Americans are either uninsured or do not have access to an adequate health care plan. This disparity makes women, especially those who are pregnant, increasingly vulnerable. If she has aged out, divorced, or became widowed, many of these women will no longer have access to insurance. Further, according to the National Partnership for Women and Families, black women are even more likely to be uninsured, face greater financial barriers to care when they need it and are less likely to access prenatal care.
Ratifying the Equal Rights Amendment would help to change that. According to the National Organization of Women (NOW), “Without the ERA, equality in pay, job opportunities, political structure, education, health care, including reproductive health care, and education will remain elusive. With an ERA, it would become significantly more difficult to roll back progress on women’s equality.”
Further, without the ERA laws prohibiting discrimination against women are subject to the whims of Congress, which is of particular concern in today’s current political climate where we have already witnessed laws protecting women being changed, gutted, or even eliminated with a majority vote and the simple signature of the President. As ERA activist Alice Paul once said: “We shall not be safe until the principle of equal rights is written into the framework of our government.”
Examples of how women’s healthcare has recently been turned back include:
*The state of Alabama has enforced an abortion ban as of May
2019. Doctors are not allowed to perform abortions unless the mother’s health
is at risk.
*Ohio, Kentucky, Missouri, Arkansas, Louisiana, Utah,
Mississippi and Georgia are in favor of a “heartbeat” bill. Once a fetal
heartbeat is detected, commonly occurring at the six-week mark when women
typically first find out that they are pregnant, undergoing an abortion would
be considered an illegal offense that could be punishable by prison time. This
is of even more concern for women in Georgia, since they are more likely to be
homeless than men in that state. Should these women may not be able to afford a
pregnancy test, they may have to wait until a missed menstrual cycle to
discover they could be pregnant. By the time help is sought, it may be too late,
and causing her to suffer in silence not only for nine months, but beyond.
Although there are options available, like the National Network of Abortion Funds, which can provide financial assistance for women who are homeless or making a low income, it often proves difficult to gain access to these medical offices since they are more likely to be located within a metropolitan area, making travel difficult and expensive. “A pregnant women might have to drive 50 miles, sometimes 100 miles just to get to an OBGYN,” said Dr. Krystal Redman, a public health doctor and executive director of, Spark Reproductive Justice Now, located in Atlanta, Ga. “That’s why in the state of Georgia, it is safer to have a legal abortion than it is for a woman to carry out a full-term pregnancy and have a c-section. “It’s dangerous when a doctor is not nearby,” she continued. Compounding this is systematic oppression “Studies show that the black mortality and morbidity rate in black women in higher and more prominent in the south because that’s where systematic oppression has been rooted,” she added.
Black women earn $21,698 less than the median wages for non-Hispanic white men, according to a 2018 study from the National Partnership for Women and Families. This gap makes it harder to obtain food, shelter and healthcare. The can cause the body to internalize greater stress by having a lack of resources. “Women of color go through weathering,” Dr. Redman said. Weathering is when a body prematurely deteriorates and becomes more susceptible to health issues. “If a woman has high blood pressure or hypertension, she is more likely to have risks during pregnancy. If she is not close to a doctor or is not receiving quality care, then she is at greater risk of maternal mortality.”
Comparatively, countries that have already ratified an ERA such as Denmark, Italy and Japan guarantee free and equal access to healthcare and have been reported to have the lowest maternal mortality rates in the world. Unfortunately, in the US, women’s healthcare has been increasingly challenged under the Trump administration. “We cannot decrease the maternal mortality rate or other issues that pertain to pregnancy until we have discussions that are about systematic injustice while having a healthcare plan for all as an equitable resource.”
Tatyana Turner is a student at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism. She is a 2019 fellow in the Sy Syms Journalistic Excellence Program* at Women’s eNews, funded by the Sy Syms Foundation. The Sy Syms Journalistic Excellence Program at Women’s eNews fellowship supports editorial and development opportunities for editorial interns in the pursuit of journalistic excellence.
Sy Syms Journalistic Excellence Program
The Sy Syms Journalistic Excellence program at Women’s eNews was launched in 2014 with support from the Sy Syms Foundation. The fellowship provides support and development opportunities for editorial interns in the pursuit of journalistic excellence.
“For a democracy to flourish all voices must be heard.” said Marcy Syms, a founding Trustee and President of the Sy Syms Foundation. “Through its investigative reporting Women’s eNews gets at the essence of good journalism. The Sy Syms Foundation is proud of this collaboration to support today’s newest women journalists.”
As part of it’s mission to create social change for women and girls through investigative reporting, Women’s eNews helps foster, train, and support the career development of new journalists with a focus on social justice and women’s rights.
has decimated the landscape and lives of people and families throughout the
Caribbean and Antilles and across the southeastern United States. Millions of lives have been disrupted, including a
staggering 70,000 newly homeless families in the Bahamas, and the death toll continues to
Natural disasters, despite their seemingly indiscriminate
destruction, in fact strike with specific prejudice. The poorest countries and most marginalized
populations are often geographically and systemically most at risk when facing natural
disasters like Dorian.
In my work with Habitat for Humanity New York City I have noticed
a parallel in the populations we serve in this dense urban city to my work in
disaster response with Habitat for Humanity International in areas around the
globe. When it comes to affordable home preservation and construction, more than 80%
of Habitat for Humanity homes are sold to families with single female heads of
household. That statistic is true in New York City and around the world.
We may not think of emergency response after a disaster as
specifically a women’s issue. However, when disaster strikes, higher
percentages of women
are affected. Studies show that women are less
likely to evacuate in advance of a disaster, often because they carry
the responsibility of caring for the young, the old, and people with
disabilities. In some cases, women are disadvantaged in the aftermath of disaster
by social and cultural traditions that can limit
their mobility and stifle their influence over critical decisions such as those
affecting family security.
Consequently, in the aftermath of disaster, we must remain sensitive to the
fact that we are responding in large measure to women in need.
find direction in the clarion call of Elizabeth Gilbert, author of “Eat, Pray
Love” and “City of Girls,” who recently shared: “Those of us who are warm and dry and safe
and well-fed must show up for those who are cold and wet and endangered and
hungry. That is a rule of life. Every ethical and religious and spiritual
tradition in the world agrees on that rule.” Her words are clear and true:
we must show up for those who need our support.
the face of so much need, as in the wake of Dorian, the decisions before us are
how best to express our support and who to support, and,
critically, when to do it.
are four general phases of disaster response: preparedness/mitigation,
relief, early recovery and reconstruction.
Preparedness is the identification of appropriate resources in advance of a disaster
and planning for how these resources will be deployed when disaster strikes. Mitigation
focuses on activities that could prevent—or reduce the chance of—an emergency from
happening, or more broadly, reduce the damaging effects of a disaster once it
occurs. Without a doubt, preparedness and mitigation play a critical role in
the ability of a family or a community to react and respond when disasters
strike. It is an affirmation of the old adage “an ounce of prevention is worth
a pound of cure.”
Women often play a central and grassroots role in community
and have greater insight into the needs of the most vulnerable groups in a
community. The Global Fund for Women recommends ensuring that women are part of the decision-making
process before, during, and after disasters.
relief, early recovery, and reconstruction phases
all follow the disaster and utilize a complex set of methodologies designed to
address basic human needs.
Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the American Red Cross, and The Salvation Army are examples of frontline agencies and organizations that ensure
the immediate safety of those in impacted areas and set the groundwork for
recovery. These first responders provide vital resources such as clean water
and medicine and set the stage for a long pathway to recovery.
important first step in disaster recovery is the establishment of shelter. The
term shelter in disasters is distinct from simply, housing. The act of “sheltering”
begins as soon as we wrap someone in need in a blanket or jacket for protection
and continues through temporary or even rudimentary housing structures, until
the displaced person or family can be reinstalled in a permanent, and ideally
disaster-resilient, home. The difference is ultimately in the quality,
standards, materials and overall permanence of the structure.
shelter strategies differ by geography, local government and regulatory
requirements, and by the amount of income and resources available to impacted
full process of recovery can last weeks and sometimes years, and the
organizations that provide these critical short and long-term support systems
depend on the financial generosity of unaffected individuals around the world.
support is critical and importantly, distinct from material goods donations. Disaster
assistance-focused organizations, such as Together Rising and Habitat for
Humanity International (and more can be found through Charity
which filters for highly rated organizations providing disaster assistance), already
have deep and effective material delivery systems in the impacted areas. It is
far more cost effective for them to directly source supplies and materials than
to have to factor in the additional cost and logistics of individually donated
material goods. That is why your financial support is so important, and why
every dollar you might spend on canned goods or toys for affected kids, with
the intention of donating, will actually go a lot further if instead you donate
money directly to the organization of your choice.
If it is in your heart to volunteer, get the advance training you need with a qualified first-responder organization in your community so that you can work in concert with their efforts. While you may not be able to physically volunteer immediately, when an impacted area is in need of volunteers, your training will place you in a good position to be the most helpful. Whatever you do, do not look away. The road to recovery is very long. The impacted communities will need our help for years to come—and with increasing numbers of natural disasters; you never know when you or your loved ones might be the ones in need
Karen Haycox has been CEO of Habitat for Humanity New York City since 2015. During her career at Habitat for Humanity International, Ms. Haycox’s leadership roles included senior positions in the Carter Work Project as well as international and domestic disaster relief focused on the Asian tsunami, Hurricanes Katrina & Rita, Haiti Earthquake, Midwestern tornado outbreaks and Superstorm Sandy.
“This tour is not for the cowardly!,” E. Jean Carroll warned the twenty women gathered at the square between New York City’s Bergdorf Goodman department store and the Plaza Hotel on the Sunday of Labor Day Weekend. Holding a white banner announcing the afternoon’s agenda: “Hideous Men in NYC Walking Tour,” the longtime Elle columnist and author of What Do We Need Men For? A Modest Proposal added, “For twenty-six years I’ve been answering questions from women complaining about men. If you think we’re being unfair to men, get the hell out!” Her words were underscored by the ‘toot-toot’ of a trombone at nearby Pulitzer Fountain.
Carroll is conducting these 90-minute, bi-monthly tours through October 6th, and it is free, as the invitation reads: For 10,000 years women have been paid less than men. They don’t have to pay for THIS!. Although, participants are encouraged to bring snacks.
While our fearless leader was clearly kidding with her mock-angry introduction, she’s serious as a tornado about wanting sexual predators to be held accountable for their actions. In her new book Carroll, who in 2004 published, Mr. Right, Right Now! Man Catching Made Easy, finally comes out about her rage toward the 20 occupants of what she calls “The Most Hideous Men of My Life List.” The most infamous member, No. 20, is Donald Trump who, she writes attacked her in a dressing room at Bergdorf’s in 1996. Trump denied it, responding, “She’s not my type.”
One year later, then CBS Chairman and CEO Les Moonves, No. 15 on Carroll’s list, allegedly groped her in an elevator after she interviewed him for Esquire.
During my pre-tour interview with Carroll, conducted while sitting on the steps of the fountain, I felt the 75-year-old’s eyes blazing behind her sunglasses as she explained why she kept quiet for decades about the multiple abuses she’d endured. “I’m a member of the silent generation. We were trained from babyhood to chin up and smile and get past it…” She sighed, “The silent generation changed many things but not the culture of sexual violence.”
As a grinning millennial carrying a plastic container of chocolate
covered pretzels bore down on us, Carroll added, “I have nothing to lose naming
names. I’m an old woman. If I were a mother in Mississippi or Ohio or Kansas
holding down two jobs, reporting my overseer at the factory could lead to a
terrible shift, being knocked down in pay, or even fired. “ She snorted, “What
am I going to lose – my reputation?”
That reputation went clearly through the roof for the acolytes on her tour. Ranging in age from the early 20s through the 60s, they were united in their gratitude at scoring a ticket to this sold-out event. The group included a forty-something from St. Louis, a mother and daughter from Kansas City and a Manhattanite in bright red shorts whose boyfriend sent her the link, thinking she’d enjoy the tour. Another participant explained why she’d signed on: “E. Jean is taking an abstract idea and lining it up in the social structures that perpetuate abuse.”
As we turned our attention to the revolving doors of Bergdorf’s,
Carroll boomed, “So many women in New York have been scrunched, thumped,
pummeled, banged and ‘rogered’ by men, it is difficult sometimes to keep them
all straight. So I will be referring to notes.”
Her typed and bound together notes included photo-copied pictures,
which she held above her head as each hideous man was discussed and dispatched.
Carroll mentioned that several non-cowardly men have partaken of this tour –
“police investigators, lawyers, an FBI agent, a detective who wore a beanie…”
Our first stop yielded meaty material: Trump (Carroll didn’t use the word rape and said of course she still shops at Bergdorf’s – “it’s the greatest store in the world”), plus a current lawsuit against The Plaza brought by a group of female employees who Carroll recited from her notes, “Say they have been grabbed, groped, or pushed into rooms.” “If you don’t feel nauseous yet, you will,” Caroll added, as she directed us to look eastward toward Jeffrey Epstein’s mansion located in the East 70s. After recapping his crimes, she asked how many felt the prison ‘suicide’ of the convicted sex offender was really murder. A majority of women raised their hands. “Who do you think ordered him killed?” Carroll asked, while showing various photos of Donald Trump, Bill Clinton and Queen Elizabeth. “Don’t forget Prince Andrew was implicated,” she warned.
We then walked onward to Tiffany & Co., where Carroll educated us about a lawsuit initiated in the 1990s by Paula Smith, after its Head of Estate Jewelry was fired for reporting a male colleague who complained she was too aggressive. Smith won the largest settlement to date from the New York State Division of Human Rights ($365,000).
As Carroll announced that the next stop on the tour would be Trump Tower, she quickly added, ‘I’ll meet you there,” and loped off, her trim figure sheathed in a black shirt and short green and black pleated skirt trailing down to sneakers tied with oversized black bows disappearing down Fifth Avenue.
Outside the 69-story skyscraper, home to the escalator where the improbable campaign began, Carroll highlighted Trump and the 24 accusations of sexual impropriety against him, including the one issued, then retracted by Ivana Trump, his first wife. “The 1990 court deposition said the night he raped her was the first time Donald’s penis was inside Ivana in more than 16 months,” she reported. Carroll also wanted us to know that The Plaza ran most efficiently when the Trump’s first ex-wife-to-be oversaw its renovation in the early nineties. While she did an excellent job, Trump nonetheless bankrupted the hotel in four years.
The subsequent turn in the conversation made it clear why it was essential to bring and share sustenance (I was partial to the shortbread and pistachio nuts). Carroll chewed a Gin Gin as she asked, “How much do women in New York make on the dollar compared to men?” Answer: White women, 87 cents; African American women, 57 cents, Latina women, 49 cents.
Her follow-up statement, “Let’s come up with a solution to the pay disparity,” led to thoughtful answers. The woman who’d signed up for the tour to witness the role of social structures behind sexual abuse suggested: “Radical pay transparency – us being open about what we earn.” A chorus of “Yeses” were followed by iPhone scribblings at the mention that blogger Alison Green created a popular anonymous google doc spread sheet for women to share their salaries. Another suggestion, which was enthusiastically received, was to network on best strategies to win raises.
In just a few hours since this tour began my pondering on why Carroll designed this on-the-surface lighthearted experience morphed from making money and/or selling books (she mentioned her latest book, What Do WeNeed Men For?, just once), to keeping the post-#MeToo fire not just alive but ablaze. Her true goal was not to provoke male bashing but to encourage ongoing activism geared to changing the political tilt-a-whirl that keeps knocking women down, and backward. During our discussion at the Pulitzer Fountain, Carroll offered, “I like men a lot…I just don’t want them running everything…they never listen!”
Sure, there was plenty of snark and fury as the tour participants walked and chewed our way to venues including St. Patrick’s Cathedral (in 2018, abuser of boys Cardinal Theodore McCarrick became the first Cardinal in 2000 years forced to step down from the College of Cardinals) and Rockefeller Center (a ‘Hideous Man’ motherlode with Harvey Weinstein, Matt Lauer and Bill Cosby taking their turn in the pantheon of fallen male idols. However, Carroll, who once wrote for Saturday Night Live, deemed former cohort Al Franken “the least pervy guy I’ve ever met. We need to be careful with accusations!”
The mood was somber when Carroll asked anyone who had never been assaulted to raise her hand. Only two sets of hands lifted. “Four in five rapists go free,” she responded. More often, though, shoots of energy raced through us as Carroll paid tribute to those who worked hard to bring down powerful abusive men – i.e.: NY Times reporters Jodi Cantor and Megan Twohey. The most effusive praise went to the New Yorker ’s Ronan Farrow.
The tour’s last stop was The Roundabout Theater, former site of the legendary, and former almost-impossible-to-gain-entry into nightclub Studio 54. Carroll informed us, “Kevin Spacey, now accused of sexually abusing young men, was a dweeb but he got in by entertaining the guards with celebrity impressions.”
The blocks this tour encompassed represent the City’s patriarchal power centers – home to churches and media stations where, as Carroll pointed out, “secrets are held and information is controlled.” After nearly two hours in, no one, not even Carroll, was in a hurry to part. Hugs and emails were exchanged. More ideas on how to change the system were discussed.
Before Carroll parted she smiled, patted the “Hideous Men in NYC Tour” banner now resting under her arm, and with a final wave disappeared as she walked down 7th Avenue.
“Globally, we are witnessing a dangerous backlash on women’s rights and the rights of marginalized groups. From Brazil to Poland, from the US to Turkey, right-wing men are threatening democratic achievements and human rights,” said Claudia Roth, longtime Green Party politician and Vice-President of the German Federal Government, or ‘Bundestag.’ Although Article Three of Germany’s Grundgesetz (Constitution) guarantees equal rights to women and men, Roth believes there is still much that has to be done to end sex discrimination in her country. While Angela Merkel has served as the Chancellor of Germany for almost fourteen years, the number of women serving in the Bundestag dropped from 37 percent to 31 percent in the 2017 elections. And although Germany is considered to be progressive in comparison to other countries, abortion is still illegal in there. Further, fewer than 30 percent of public leadership positions were held by women in 2018. According to Claudia Roth, “Patriarchy still works well in Germany.”
Women’s eNews intern, Charlotte Geissler, was granted an exclusive opportunity to pose the following questions to Claudia Roth last month, to gain insights into German politics and show how gender discrimination continues to exist:
Women’s eNews: Although gender equality is included in the German Constitution or ‘Grundgesetz’, women in Germany are still underrepresented in politics and work and gender discrimination still plagues the country. What actions must Germany’s government take to truly provide women with equal rights and opportunities?
Claudia Roth:Back in 1994 the German constitution was amended to push for more gender equality by including the following: “The State shall promote the actual implementation of equal rights for women and men and take steps to eliminate disadvantages that now exist.” It was a big promise. Unfortunately, today there are still many battles to fight to even come close to this status, in which all people of all genders are treated equally in Germany. Women are still underrepresented in leading positions in all areas of society, are paid less, and do most of the unpaid care work. Our tax system undermines women’s financial independence in marriage and single mothers hardly get any state support. Overall, women have less access to power and resources, and are subject to discrimination and violence. Abortion is still illegal in a self-proclaimed liberal Germany and there is not enough action to prevent gender-based violence and support for those affected by it. The picture looks even worse if a woman is affected by multiple types of discrimination. And the list goes on – so action has to be taken and mainstreamed on all levels of politics.
Claudia Roth: The General Act on Equal Treatmentis the anti-discrimination law in Germany, which the Green party lobbied hard for since the 90’s. It is binding for workplaces and all interactions between private persons. But today, it has to be improved in many ways. One example would be that lawsuits due to discrimination should also be executed by anti-discrimination associations in order to push for more change on the ground and to discharge individuals. Currently the barriers for private persons for legal justice are way too high. The Federal Equality Act aims to create more gender equality in civil service. That law is good, but its implementation is lacking. Without sufficient political will and enough resource allocation we won’t achieve progress at all. Still, the most powerful positions in civil service and in public authorities are filled mostly with men. Mostly old, white, heterosexual, multiple-privileged men. One could say: ‘Patriarchy still works well in Germany.‘
Women’s eNews:In 1999, ‘gender mainstreaming’ was adopted to reform the procedures and initiatives of Germany’s government through the ‘Modern State – Modern Administration’ Program. In your view, how effective has this program been?
Claudia Roth:The adoption of gender mainstreaming had been an assignment given to national governments by the European Union back in 1997. That was the same year that Germany – against tough resistance – made rape within marriages illegal. So you can see where we were standing 1997: There was still a long way to go. When the government switched to a coalition of social democrats and Greens in 1999, gender mainstreaming was made a guiding principle. The Green Party originated from the 1970’s/80’s women’s movement. Women’s rights and gender equality have always been and still are one of my parties’ main priorities. But as other governments followed, there has not been sufficient political will in order to fully implement gender mainstreaming. Real feminist politics would change the whole system – you need lots of guts to do that.
Women’s eNews:How should Germany further equalize rights for women beyond the country’s borders, and why is it important for Germany to promote equal rights internationally?
Claudia Roth:All over the world, women and other marginalized groups are structurally disadvantaged, are affected more by poverty, are subject to severe human rights violations and do not have equal access to representation, rights and resources. Sweden has been an international role model by declaring a feminist foreign policy back in 2014 under feminist Swedish foreign minister Margot Wallström. What we need for Germany, and basically for all states, would be a feminist foreign policy which addresses the structural roots of injustices due to gender or other lines of discrimination. We need the international goal to implement no less than full human rights for everyone on this planet. All areas of foreign policy must be radically redesigned, putting human security at its core. Thecurrent efforts of our foreign minister, while being a non-permanent member in the UN Security Council, have been quite disappointing for the feminist agenda. A resolution has been adopted, which actually falls way back to the standards of UNSC-Res 1325. Unfortunately, reactionary forces, such as UN-diplomats reporting to the President of the United States, have lobbied hard to eliminate demands in the resolution on sexual and reproductive health. Globally we are witnessing a dangerous backlash on women’s rights and the rights of marginalized groups: From Brazil to Poland, from the US to Turkey: Right-wing men are threatening democratic achievements and human rights. But on the other hand, there is no movement worldwide as successful as the women’s rights movement to repel those right-wing populist and sexist agitators. The US Women’s March in January 2017 gave hope and strength to women, LGBTIQA and marginalized communities all over the globe: We do not back down!
Women’s eNews:In your perspective, what correlation exists between feminism and environmentalism, and what effects would equal rights for women have on the climate movement?
Claudia Roth:Women, indigenous people and marginalized communities are affected most severely by the destruction of our environment and by the severe consequences of the climate crisis, which already threaten the livelihood of millions of people. It is women who, due to traditional gender-roles, do most of the care work within families and communities, and who take care of the basic needs even in worst conditions. It’s women who mostly work in agriculture and have to deal with droughts and flooding. But it’s their needs, which are cut first. We know for sure that women do not have equal rights, that hunger has a female face, and that the effects of poverty are indeed gendered; that women, who are facing poverty and who are displaced, are even more likely to be subject to violence and rape. Despite their marginalization women are active all over the world to fight for a liveable planet, for just land rights, the sustainable use of resources and on the forefront of climate negotiations. There will be no climate justice without gender justice.
Women’s eNews:How can the climate movement and the women’s rights movement cooperate to accomplish the goals of both movements on a national scale and internationally?
Claudia Roth:Both movements already have linkages, which have to be strengthened. The climate movement should integrate a gender perspective within its struggle and in all of its analyses and political demands. The voices of women and marginalized communities have to be brought to the forefront of climate negotiations. On the other side, feminists should integrate the calls for climate justice into their agenda. Only at first look one might think of them as different struggles, but in the end the aim is the same: A livable and just planet, on which all people – regardless of gender, class, race, whatever background – can live in dignity, freedom and peace.
Women’s eNews: The United States, although home to a strong women’s rights movement, does not have an Equal Rights Amendment in the country’s constitution. Do you believe women in the United States would benefit from such an amendment?
Claudia Roth:Of course they would! As soon as this amendment is written in the Constitution, women can refer to it and reclaim their right.
Women’s eNews: What actions must Germany take to protect all women, regardless of their race or status? In other words, how can the goals of intersectional feminism be accomplished in Germany?
Claudia Roth:I am now quoting our constitution, our “Grundgesetz” again: “Human dignity shall be inviolable” – this is in its very first paragraph. It doesn’t say the dignity of white, heterosexual, Christian, non-disabled men. It means the dignity of all, of each and every one of us. Written more than seventy years ago the fathers and mothers of our Constitution have centrally integrated the learning of the atrocities under the Nazi-dictatorship within this simple first sentence. The realization of human rights is thus the purpose of the state and that’s what intersectional feminism is basically all about. Intersectionality is a perspective to understand the multidimensional effects of unjust structures, an analytical gift given to us by Kimberlé Crenshaw. This just perspective has to be mainstreamed in all areas of policy, otherwise mainly white and privileged women will benefit from any efforts toward gender justice. Moreover, we need comprehensive anti-discrimination and social justice policies. Racism is still a serious and often neglected problem in Germany, and trans- and intersexual people are still heavily discriminated against, so many injustices have to be addressed at the very same time.
Women’s eNews:In the 2017 federal elections, the number of women in the Bundestag dropped from 37 percent to 31 percent. What is the cause of this drop and how can more women be brought into the Bundestag in the next elections?
Claudia Roth: The share of women in our parliament dropped because a right-wing party, with only ten percent of female parliamentarians, was elected into the Bundestag. But other forces also prohibit women from having fair representation in our core democratic institution. The conservatives only include twenty percent women and the liberals aren’t that much better. It’s only the Greens and the Leftist who have sent more women than men into parliament. The Green Party we has internal quotas in place: At all levels of politics, at least fifty percent of positions have to be filled by women, which was a huge achievement of the early feminists thirty years ago, and which accounts for the fair rate of women in the Green Party. Other parties are reluctant to install internal quotas, and that’s why we need binding quotes in our electoral law. Two states in Germany have recently passed Parité laws, to make sure more women will be elected.
Women’s eNews:As an experienced politician working in Parliament since 1989, what have been thegreatest challenges for you as a woman? Also, what have been your greatest successes as a woman in the Bundestag, and your greatest successes in empowering other women?
Claudia Roth:Women in politics always have to prove themselves way more than men, and have to be better prepared, argue more sophisticatedly, and work harder to be heard and seen. One has to also deal a lot with subtitle sexism, where too many men systematically give power to other men and make the work of women unseen. Plus, women in public are subject to hate and sexism, especially if you have a strong feminist opinion and dare not to represent what mainstream society might expect of women. I would say that the greatest successes have been political achievements, where women of different fractions worked together. Female solidarity and more feminist men in politics – that’s how we’ll build a more feminist and livable future.
Charlotte Geissler, a sophomore at Bard College, is bilingual in English/German and specializes in international relations. She isa 2019 fellow in the Sy Syms Journalistic Excellence Program, funded by the Sy Syms Foundation. The Sy Syms Journalistic Excellence Program at Women’s eNews fellowship supports editorial and development opportunities for editorial interns in the pursuit of journalistic excellence.
Sy Syms Journalistic Excellence Program
The Sy Syms Journalistic Excellence program at Women’s eNews was launched in 2014 with support from the Sy Syms Foundation. The fellowship provides support and development opportunities for editorial interns in the pursuit of journalistic excellence.
“For a democracy to flourish all voices must be heard.” said Marcy Syms, a founding Trustee and President of the Sy Syms Foundation. “Through its investigative reporting Women’s eNews gets at the essence of good journalism. The Sy Syms Foundation is proud of this collaboration to support today’s newest women journalists.”
As part of it’s mission to create social change for women and girls through investigative reporting, Women’s eNews helps foster, train, and support the career development of new journalists with a focus on social justice and women’s rights.
Summer is over, and young adults across the country are headed back to school—one more step toward graduation and making decisions about “what’s next.” Despite making up almost half of today’s US workforce, women face a challenge in choosing career paths that can help them overcome the ever-present gender pay gap. Surprisingly, there’s one male-dominated sector where women are flipping the script and finding both great job opportunities and better pay parity: Construction.
My experience is proof. My high school guidance counselor suggested I shift my focus away from college liberal arts majors and apply for engineering programs, noting my aptitude for math and science. I selected a five-year architectural engineer undergraduate program at Penn State, where I specialized in construction management—which comprises the planning, design, safety, quality control and execution of construction projects—and where I was one of the few women students in this major.
After graduation, I was hired by a national construction firm on a project management education track. In this program, I spent time both in the field and in an office working in all facets of the construction business, including scheduling, purchasing estimating, project management and business development. Today I am the president of Poole Anderson Construction, a regional construction company headquartered in Central Pennsylvania.
While I took the college path to joining the industry, there are many ways to start a career in construction no matter your level of education. For craft professionals, the construction industry offers an earn-while-you-learn model, which allows people to both get started and advance in construction careers without incurring hefty student loan debt. There are many education routes as well, including technical schools and apprenticeship programs, which provide the skills needed to succeed as a craft professional while also working hands-on in the field.
In addition to competitive salaries and opportunities for growth, construction employees report high job satisfaction, since they can pursue their passions and perform meaningful work building America’s communities from coast to coast. Commercial and industrial construction projects also employ some of the most exciting technologies emerging today, transforming the old stereotype that construction is a ‘dirty business’. From drones and 3D printing to robotics and augmented reality, construction innovators are finding new ways to plan and build everything from manufacturing plants to the world’s most inventive skyscrapers more quickly, cost-effectively and safely than ever before.
Women have made strides in construction and other typically male-dominated industries, but more can be done to expose young women to these types of career options. Guidance counselors, teachers, parents and industry professionals alike need to do a better job of recruiting young women to college majors that feed into construction and other STEM fields. At the same time, we must do a better job of promoting careers in the trades and put jobs obtained through skills-based education on a level playing field with jobs obtained by baccalaureate degrees, especially as outstanding student loan debt reached $1.5 trillion last year.
Whether you’re a woman starting college, joining the workforce for the first time or considering changing professions, a career in construction offers ample opportunities to achieve the American dream. To learn more about construction career opportunities, visit workforce.abc.org.
About the author: Stephanie Schmidt is president of Poole Anderson Construction in State College, Pennsylvania, and the Northwest Region Vice Chair of Associated Builders and Contractors.
With the summer season now coming to an informal end post-Labor Day weekend, it is important to reflect on one of the most inspiring and memorable events that took place just two months ago. On July 7, the 2019 Women’s World Cup was played with the United States national team winning the title for the fourth time. Yet it is important to reflect on what this team, as well as this year’s World Cup, stood for beyond mere numbers on a scoreboard.
As two very powerful men, Gianni Infantino, the President of FIFA, and Emmanuel Macron, the president of France, walked up to the stadium’s stage just before the game began, they were booed by a majority soccer fans. Choosing to stand in solidarity with the US women’s national team in their fight for equality as the stadium chanted “Equal Pay!” the fans were protesting FIFA’s refusal to provide equal pay for equal play by paying women players less than male players. The overall prize money for the men’s 2018 World Cup is $400 million, for example, whereas the prize money shared by all twenty-four teams for the 2019 Women’s World Cup is only $30 million, reflecting only 7.5% of the men’s prize money.
The US women’s soccer team has already undertaken legal battles for equal pay since the last time they won the World Cup in 2015. In 2016, players from the United States women’s national team filed a lawsuit against the US Soccer Federation for institutional gender discrimination. These players – Megan Rapinoe, Alex Morgan, Hope Solo, Carli Lloyd, and Becky Sauerbrunn – reported their mistreatment to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Unfortunately, gender discrimination is not protected by the US Constitution because sex discrimination is still not considered illegal. While Constitution specifies the equal right for women and men to vote, no other equal rights are protected. Without an Equal Rights Amendment, therefore, the rights guaranteed under the Constitution are not explicitly granted to everyone regardless of sex, and advocates for an Equal Rights Amendment believe it would ultimately hold the US Soccer Federation accountable for its discriminatory actions.
After much criticism from the players and their fans, the US Soccer Federation did agree to meet with the US Women’s national soccer team in August 2019 to mediate their conflict and avoid a federal trial, but the negotiations were unsuccessful and ended on Wednesday, August 14th. Instead of resolving disputes regarding equal pay, USSF President Carlos Cordeiro released open letters presenting facts that Cordeiro believes prove the USSF to be innocent of institutional sex discrimination. The USSF also hired lobbyists in Washington to undermine the claims made by the women’s national team during the trial. Concurrently, Molly Levinson, a spokeswoman for the twenty-eight players who filed the lawsuit, stated in response, “It is clear that USSF, including its board of directors and President Carlos Cordeiro, fully intend to continue to compensate women players less than men. They will not succeed.” Since no settlement was achieved, the case will continue in federal court.
Although advocates of the ERA believe the Amendment would provide the court with a clear federal judicial standard to follow in cases of sex discrimination, opponents of the Amendment, such as the Eagle Forum, a nonprofit organization founded by Phyllis Schlafley in 1972, assert that passage would actually not increase rights for women. Instead, they contend that the Equal Pay Act of 1963 (which prohibits wage discrimination on the basis of sex) and the Fourteenth Amendment are sufficient to close the gender pay gap. Citing Philip B. Kurland, an American Justice, who wrote in 1978 in Chicago Unbound that the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment would not change the treatment of women in nongovernmental organizations, Kurland asserted that efforts to pass the Amendment would limit the energy put into the more important legislative fights for equality. While advocates for the ERA believe it is a necessary component for gender equality in sports, opponents continue to display uncertainty about its impact to thwart true gender equality.
But it doesn’t stop there. Although the United States is currently leading the fight for equal pay and equal rights in soccer due to their public platform and victories in the World Cup, several other women’s international soccer teams have expressed their frustrations as well. Germany’s national women’s team addressed gender inequality through witty jokes in their World Cup ad with Commerzbank. In the ad the players declare, “We play for a nation that doesn’t even know our names!” In the video, Germany’s players not only address the gender pay gap, but also their fight to gain popularity and support in their own country.
Nigeria’s national women’s soccer team also protested their unequal treatment after being eliminated from the 2019 World Cup in a match against Germany. The team conducted a sit-in protest at their hotel rooms, declaring that they would not leave until their bonuses from games against Senegal and Gambia, which were played two years ago, are paid. The team had also not received daily paychecks from this year’s World Cup. Comparatively, Nigeria’s men’s national team not only earns higher daily stipends than the women’s team, but also receives about $5,000 in bonuses per game, whereas female players receive only about $1,500 in bonuses.
As women’s teams are striving to correct these injustices, it is important to consider the next best steps to end gender discrimination in all sports. The United States national team, specifically, will have no choice but to defend its lawsuit while lacking the constitutional grounds. And that’s why Carol Jenkins, co-President and CEO of the ERA Coalition, a group of organizations and members working to pass an Equal Rights Amendment, believes the next steps for gender equality in sports must include its passage:
“What the Equal Rights Amendment would bring to this excitement is the fundamental right to equality that goes beyond equalizing money to fundamental rights and protections, written into the Constitution, the playbook for life in America. Right now, wins must be taken on a case-by-case procedure: in sports, it was tennis first, now soccer. What the ERA would give is a base of equality in every realm: It would be understood, and enforceable by law.”
Although 94% of Americans support constitutional gender equality, 80% are still unaware that a law defining does not already exist. The attention that the US women’s national soccer team brought to unequal pay is now in the forefront. Simultaneously, its passage could provide the women’s soccer team, as well as all professional women’s teams, with the constitutional support to finally end gender inequality in all sports.
Charlotte Geissler, a sophomore at Bard College, is bilingual in English/German and specializes in international relations. She isa 2019 fellow in the Sy Syms Journalistic Excellence Program, funded by the Sy Syms Foundation. The Sy Syms Journalistic Excellence Program at Women’s eNews fellowship supports editorial and development opportunities for editorial interns in the pursuit of journalistic excellence.
Sy Syms Journalistic Excellence Program
The Sy Syms Journalistic Excellence program at Women’s eNews launched was launched in 2014 with support from the Sy Syms Foundation. The fellowship provides support and development opportunities for editorial interns in the pursuit of journalistic excellence.
“For a democracy to flourish all voices must be heard.” said Marcy Syms, a founding Trustee and President of the Sy Syms Foundation. “Through its investigative reporting Women’s eNews gets at the essence of good journalism. The Sy Syms Foundation is proud of this collaboration to support today’s newest women journalists.”
The Sy Syms Foundation has been supporting progress in education, science and the arts since 1885.
As part of it’s mission to create social change for women and girls through investigative reporting, Women’s eNews helps foster, train, and support the career development of new journalists with a focus on social justice and women’s rights.
We’ve all been rejoicing at the
U.S. Women’s Soccer Team’s amazing world cup performance. Their remarkable
success in winning the 2019 championship capped a spectacular run, with world titles in
1991, 1999 and 2015 and Olympic gold medals in 1996, 2004, 2008 and 2012.
As we watched the ticker-tape
victory parade in Manhattan in July, it was hard to believe that this story
(and others) are all part of a phenomenal sage that began in 1972, just
thirty-seven years ago, with the passage of Title IX. In particular, as the Atlantic
notes, a “36-word clause largely overlooked by the very lawmakers who passed
the bill, requires equal access for women in all facets of education, most
notably athletics. Just as much good can come about with the passage of a law,
so, too, can this good be undone with a vote to rescind that law.”
‘No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.’”
Athletics is one of the areas in
which Title IX recipients must comply. In effect, this means that
federally funded institutions, such as public schools, are legally required to
provide girls and boys with equitable sports opportunities.
What impact has Title IX had? Millions of sports-loving women who were young girls when the law did not exist remember that time well. Few schools had varsity teams for girls in any major sport. One of us, Caryl Rivers, was only able to learn tennis because a tennis enthusiast in her home town gave free lessons to local kids and drove them to tournaments. That was the only way that she was able to get a USTA ranking in the 16-and-under category for Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia. Bill Littlefield of public radio’s “Only A Game,” notes, “Before Title IX, one in 27 girls played sports. Today that number is two in five. While we still have far to go before every girl has equal access to sports, especially girls of color, it is clear that we are making headway.” At the college level, “There are now five times more women competing in college sports than there were in the pre-Title IX era.”
In addition to equal access, Title IX contains specific provisions that regulate athletic programs. They must provide equal athletic opportunities for members of both sexes, including scholarships, equipment, game and practice times; travel and per diem allowances; coaching salaries, locker facilities and practice spaces, as well as housing and dining facilities and services. These far-reaching regulations have opened the doors to countless females who would not otherwise have had a chance to develop their athletic talents. And, WOW, have they shown us what they can do!
In addition to soccer, there
are several other sports in which U.S. women are now shattering
international and Olympic records.
Basketball. “The United States Women’s National Basketball Team is …by far the most successful in international women’s basketball, winning eight out of ten Olympic tournaments it had entered. It also won eight of the last eleven World Cups (including the last three), and ten titles overall. The team is currently ranked first in the FIBA World Rankings,” notes Wikipedia.
“In 2016, it was named
the USA Basketball Team of the Year for a record sixth time (having
been previously honored in 1996, 2000, 2004, 2008, and 2012). It was also named
the USOCTeam of the Year in 1996.
“The team is one of the most
dominant in all Olympic sports, with an incredible 66–3 record in Olympic play
(no Olympic losses since 1992, and no losses at all since 2006), and a record
six consecutive titles, a feat that isn’t matched by any other women’s Olympic
team. Should they win their seventh championship in a row in 2020, they will
tie the US men’s basketball team (1936–1968, their winning streak) for the most
consecutive Olympic team victories in all Olympic sports, men or women.”
Water Polo: According to CNN, the U.S. Women’s National Water Polo Team is “absolutely crushing the competition…beating Spain by a score of 11-6…With that victory, they sealed their third world championship win in a row — a feat no other national water polo team, men’s or women’s, has ever achieved. “Think that’s dominance? There’s more: They’ve won 53 games in a row and will be looking to grab their third straight gold medal in next year’s Summer Olympics in Tokyo. In fact, they’re the only team to win a medal in every Olympic water polo event since women’s water polo became an Olympic sport in 2000.”
Gymnastics: The U.S. women’s national gymnastics team is the current World team champion and the Olympic team champion. Their dominance began after Title IX, was passed, and looks like it will continue. American Simone Biles won 20 medals (14 gold, 3 silver and three bronze) from 2013 to 2018. Eight Americans have won the individual World all-around title: Kim Zmeskal (1991), Shannon Miller (1993-1994), Chellsie Memmel (2005), Shawn Johnson (2007), Bridget Sloan (2009), Jordyn Wieber (2011), Simone Biles (2013-2015, 2018), and Morgan Hurd (2017). Biles is the only American gymnast to win both the Olympic and World all-around titles.
Down-hill Skiing: “Double Olympic champion Mikaela Shiffrin (Avon, Colo.) … headline[s] the list of both accomplished and emerging athletes into the 2019-20 season. Coming off a historic 2018-19 season that saw Shiffrin rack up an impressive 17 World Cup victories, four Crystal Globes (overall, slalom, giant slalom, super-G), and an astounding 83% podium percentage, 2019-20 is bound to be another edge-of-our-seats season,” notes Ski.com Shiffrin won gold in slalom and finished fifth in giant slalom in 2014 at Sochi, becoming the youngest slalom winner in Olympic history.
U.S. women are now Olympic-medal hopefuls in a variety of track and field specialities, including, 100 meters, 400 meters, 10,000 meters, 3,000 meter steeplechase, high jump, and long jump. Despite these amazing feats, issues remain. The fact that women soccer players get paid less than their male counterparts is not in dispute. “The Guardian’s analysis of each team’s collective bargaining agreements found that while US women’s soccer players have earned about $90,000 each in World Cup bonuses so far, they would have made $550,000 per person if they were paid like the men.” So it’s easy to understand why so many fans joined the team in shouting, “equal pay, equal pay” during the trophy presentation.
Gender disparities also exist in the composition of coaching staffs. “U.S. women runners are on fire right now. Why are most of them coached by men?,”asks the website Outsideonline. “The problem starts with a lack of access to open positions. Most of the hiring for these jobs is done by men, which can be another obstacle for women who want to enter the field, says Caryl Smith Gilbert, director of track and field at the University of Southern California, who in 2015 was the first woman to win the Pac-12 Men’s Coach of the Year title. “They fill [coaching roles] with who they’re comfortable with, and a lot of people don’t believe women are capable of the job,” she says. “It shouldn’t be a gender issue. Either you hire the best coach or you don’t. You have to be open-minded and you have to be forward thinking. We bring the same skills as men do. I also think we’re very attentive to detail. We talk through things to get to solutions. I don’t think there are that many things that separate us.”
In addition, some commentators suggest that after Title IX female and male coaches had to be paid equally. Prior to Title IX about 90 percent of coaches were female and were poorly paid. With the higher salaries more men found these positions attractive and competed for them. “Though Title IX has increased opportunities for female players, the number of female coaches has actually declined, even as the total number of jobs has expanded dramatically…The most significant unintended consequence of Title IX is the dearth of women in leadership positions,” says Mary Jo Kane, Director of the Tucker Center for Research on Girls and Women in Sports at the University of Minnesota. Since that time, women’s “share of the available positions dropped by half and has remained at about that level ever since, according to the 33-year longitudinal study, “Women in Intercollegiate Sports, 1977-2010,” conducted by the Acosta and Carpenter [sic]. In 2010, the proportion of women coaching women’s teams stood at the second lowest in history, 42.6 percent, with 21 fewer female coaches than two years prior. “Title IX has been a boon to male employment opportunities,” says Kane.
For Stanford women’s basketball coach Tara VanDerveer, recently inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame, this gap represents Title IX’s greatest failure. She calls the lack of opportunities for women coaches a “disturbing trend” that says to girls, “It’s okay for you to play, but you don’t have what it takes to coach.”
As Ruth Bader Ginsburg reminds us, when discussing the importance of the Equal Rights Amendment: Any piece of legislation “can be repealed, it can be altered.” Recent events show how true her words are. The Trump Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division and the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights jointly rescinded Title IX protections under the law for transgender students. And the Justice Department narrowed the definition of domestic violence, restricting it to actions that qualify as felony or misdemeanor crimes. Emotional, economic, or psychological abuse that were included in the Obama era definition are no longer mentioned. And, as the Center for American Progress points out, “Trump signed a bill to overturn Obama-era protections [of reproductive rights] allowing states to block funding for providers that also offer abortion with nonfederal funds, including Planned Parenthood.” The group provides reproductive and counseling services related to family planning and contraception to 2.5 million 4 million clients each year.
Justice Ginsburg views passage of the ERA as a way to insure that anti-discrimination laws like Title IX cannot be rolled back. “I would like my granddaughters, when they pick up the Constitution, to see that notion – that women and men are persons of equal stature – I’d like them to see that is a basic principle of our society.”
Much of the research and analysis of why breastfeeding rates of black women in the U.S. continue to significantly lag behind those of white women have focused on education levels, socioeconomic status, and more recently, the historical trauma and cultural barriers to breastfeeding in the African American community. In the U.S., black women have the lowest breastfeeding initiation rates (64 percent) and the shortest breastfeeding duration (roughly 6.5 weeks) of all ethnic groups.
But much of that research has
ignored a vital core issue that continues to suppress and undermine efforts to
improve black breastfeeding rates: the role of power dynamics and white
What better time than Black Breastfeeding Week, which runs from August 25th to 31st every year, to have an uncomfortable and overdue public conversation about the ways power and white privilege, including the governmental and philanthropic systems that fund breastfeeding interventions, continue to thwart the black woman-led and community-centered work that actually holds the greatest potential to dismantle the racial disparities that have existed for over 40 years.
To be clear, the important work
white women have done to catalyze and advance breastfeeding in the U.S and
around the world cannot be understated. Women and infants, including myself,
are thankful for the ways white-female led organizations and movements have
fought for legal protections for breastfeeding, exposed unethical marketing
practices of infant formula companies and served as a critical voice for
advocacy. They have gotten us very far.
But those gains have come with
continued and sustained losses for black women. And the first order of business
for changing the future is acknowledging that what you have done in the past
hasn’t worked. Now, the white leadership of the breastfeeding movement finds
itself facing its greatest existential challenge and perceived professional
threat—black and brown women collectively and repeatedly asking them to step
aside and make way for them to lead the next iteration of the movement.
Issues of power and privilege are particularly nuanced in lactation circles because breastfeeding advocacy and support is rooted in white liberal values and do-good-ism —after all nobody decides to support breastfeeding to make millions. The assumption is, if you are supporting women to breastfeed, you are a good person.
But good people have biases, too. And at times, white ‘savior-ism’ is at play. Therefore, the very concept that black women in breastfeeding advocacy are saying in effect, “we can save our own communities,” is an affront to the deep personal values and long standing power structure that has been in place for years.
But that is the very same system that’s preventing community-led interventions to fully flourish. Some white women are finding it difficult to not center themselves and insist on being involved, when black women want to create a safe space for black mothers and families. White women have historically dictated which codes or corporate violations we should organize and boycott, and find it difficult to understand when black women have a different perspective based on their experience working in the community. Others are suffering greatly from “What about me?-ism” when, in fact, it is not about you. It is about the communities that are still suffering under disparities and the need to center those most burdened by this problem and look to them for solutions.
In my most recent book, I talk about the unintended consequences of feminism on breastfeeding. Essentially, in the feminist movement’s important fight for women to be viewed as equal to men, what it neglected to fight for were the things that make us uniquely women—such as birth and breastfeeding. Similarly, the white-led breastfeeding movement has its own unintended consequences— black women being left out or left behind. The critical course correction that must come now needs to be led by black women.
Very few black women have reached the highest ranks of lactation consultant, according to the International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC). As far back as 2012, I wrote in Women’s eNews that trying to find a black IBCLC in many US states felt much like searching for Big Foot. Black IBCLCs are clearly more effective in their own communities, but the pathways are confusing and expensive. And in some locations, white women are charging black women exorbitant rates to get the contacts and mentoring hours needed for certification.
The suppression of black-led interventions is often aided and abetted by government funding systems and philanthropic efforts that mostly fund white mainstream institutions who often bring in black organizations as tokens. For example, the WIC breastfeeding support curriculum, a critical support system for low-income women and infants, has been created by white women. At one point, I joined a number of black women and other women of color to bid for the contract for the curriculum development, and I was told by several kind white female friends not to waste my time with the arduous process because the contract awardee was essentially fixed.
Things have now reached a tipping point. Recently, breastfeeding conferences have become controversial and confrontational, with black women speaking up about unacceptable systems of power, distracting displays of white fragility, the lack of culturally relevant speakers or academic “Columbusing” by white researchers who use black women and their community-based insights for academic gain.
Earlier this year, I refused to speak at a well-respected breastfeeding conference after a white female researcher, who I filed an academic misconduct claim with at Middlebury College for appropriating my field work, was allowed to be a key decision-maker on a panel with three black women on the topic of Black Feminist Thought. Why is a white woman needed in that discussion and why would she have decision-making ability over three black researchers?
The leadership role of white women in the breastfeeding movement goes back to La Leche League, the most well-known mother-led lactation support organization which has fought for legal rights for mothers for years. LLL was incredibly influential in shaping what breastfeeding support looked like for all. For decades, the ‘evidence’ for developing breastfeeding support interventions nationwide were modeled after it. Yet their membership was and remains mostly middle and upper class white women who do not work outside the home. That data set provided zero insight on the cultural barriers in black and Latino communities, the impact of employment, or the role of grandmothers, who have been proven to be critical to continued breastfeeding among women of color. Black women were therefore denied the culturally relevant resources because of the focus on white women. Today, the LLL USA leadership council includes only one woman of color, even though women of color make up 37% percent of the U.S. population.
Thankfully, things are improving. Black-led organizations like Reaching Our Sisters Everywhere (ROSE), Black Mothers Breastfeeding Association (BMBFA) and others are building powerful community-led programs and creating new national models for what breastfeeding support needs to look like in black communities. Efforts such as Black Breastfeeding Week, of which I am a co-founder, center organizations, ideas and innovative events, like last week’s Birth and Breastfeeding Hackathon in Detroit, are part of its annual celebration.
On social media, Facebook pages such as Black Women Do Breastfeed, Black Girls Breastfeeding Club, Black Moms Breastfeed and the Blactavist on Instagram on changing the visibility of black women breastfeeding. And more white women are speaking up and stepping up, unpacking their own white privilege, learning what being an ally means and helping other white women do the same.
We will not eliminate racial disparities or achieve equity in breastfeeding support with white women leading the way. History already tells us that. You have had your time to exclusively lead. Now it is time to also follow, engage as an ally, learn how to listen and be of support, instead of feeling threatened by a black-led movement. As my friend Mars Lord, a powerful birth advocate in London, says, “It’s not pie. A piece for me does not mean less for you.” This idea that black women are taking something from white women is an unspoken problem that must be brought to light.
If your need to center yourself or
your ideology supersedes your desire to make sure every black mother and infant
receives the best support possible, then we thank your for your service and ask
(nicely for the last time) that you get out of the way.
“The only tired I was, was tired of giving in” —Rosa Parks.
Kimberly Seals Allers in an award-winning journalist, nationally recognized maternal and infant health advocate and an international public speaker. The former editorial director of the Black Maternal Health Project at Women’s eNews, Kimberly is also founder of The Irth App, a digital rating and review platform that addresses bias in healthcare interaction, and the author of five books, including The Big Letdown—How Medicine Big Business and Feminism Undermine Breastfeeding. Follow her at @iamKSealsAllers on Instagram and Twitter. Learn more at KimberlySealsAllers.com
There is simply no better food for an infant than a mother’s breast milk. The body is truly amazing; it creates and produces breast milk to support a growing and developing baby, and it’s why breast milk has often been called nature’s perfect first food. When you think about it, breast milk is an evolutionary guarantee that our offspring will survive—and thrive—long term, which is why the health benefits of breastfeeding are extensive.
Breastfeeding exclusively for at least one full year, which is the critical time frame when the cells of the body and brain are becoming established, has been shown to have significant benefits on a child’s physical and mental health, advantages that carry well into adulthood. This is why one of the first questions that I ask a new patient is whether she or he was breastfed as an infant.
Numerous studies show that children who are breastfed exclusively are less prone—throughout their lives—to obesity, allergies, eczema, diabetes, asthma, respiratory illnesses, ear infections, and digestive problems, as well as being at less risk of developing autoimmune diseases like type 1 diabetes and multiple sclerosis. Breastfeeding for at least one year has also been linked to better mental health, including less depression and stress-related and behavioral issues—through age fourteen, though I would argue that this benefit extends into adulthood.
The question is, why does breastmilk have such a powerful effect on health? Yes, breast milk has a rich balance of healthy nutrients for a rapidly developing infant including lactose or milk sugars, protein, and fat. But breast milk’s effects on health has more to do with its impact on early formation of the gut, which has been found in recent years to benefit the body and brain long term.
The Gut: Where Health Begins
The gut is where our health begins, and it’s immediately after birth that the gut begins to form into anenterotype—a scientific name for an ecosystem—which is conserved for the rest of our lives. In fact, this early shaping of the gut, which includes the formation of critical health-promoting bacterial species, can only happen in infancy and early childhood. Research has shown, that after the age of three—despite any attempts to change this—we simply cannot recreate these same bacterial colonies, which include a core of more than nine bacterial types including Staphylococcus, Streptococcus, Lactobacillus, Bacteroides, and Bifidobacterium.
We can change the numbers of bacteria in the gut through the use of probiotics, but we cannot affect these initial colonies of bacteria. This can only be established in infancy—which is why breast milk is absolutely critical for the lifetime health of the gut.
• A healthy gut stimulates a strong immune system. The right balance of bacteria in the gut stimulates the healthy development of our immune system. The bacterial colonies found in breast milk, along with something called oligosaccharides, or HMOs, that act as prebiotics to feed gut bacteria and antimicrobials to inhibit the growth of harmful bacteria, are the primary stimulus for the development of our immunity.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, breast milk is also rich in antibodies like IgA, which help to prevent infections and other illnesses by blocking pathogens from attaching to the gut. This explains why breastfed infants are less likely to develop health problems like ear and respiratory infections as infants and later on as adolescents and adults.
• A healthy gut is key to balanced brain health. As the gut develops, so too does the brain. Breast milk is a rich source of essential fatty acids, which are critical for healthy neurological development, and hormones like leptin that seem to have a stress-reducing effect on an infant’s behavior, according to one study in The Journal of Pediatrics.
We also know that the gut communicates with every part of the body, including the nervous system and the brain through something called the gut-brain axis. This means that when the gut is balanced, it sends signals up to the brain allowing for optimal neural development and circuitry. This can result in a calmer overall mood, as well as better regulate her/his neurological behavior.
What to Do If You Can’t Breastfeed?
I understand that sometimes breastfeeding isn’t possible. While the benefits of breastfeeding can’t be completely transferred to formula feeding, it is possible to mitigate some of the effects of not breastfeeding by doing these things:
Do what and when you can. Any breast milk is better than none, so even low milk producers are doing their babies a ton of good by offering some breast milk along with formula. If you can’t physically breastfeed, the latest pumps are discrete and efficient, so it’s easier than ever to incorporate pumping breastmilk into a busy schedule. I recommend doing what you can for as long as your milk supply lasts; if possible, for at least a year.
Choose an organic formula with prebiotics, probiotics, and essential fatty acids. While formulas can’t match breast milk’s composition, the newest formulas do contain some essential components that can help feed a baby’s gut.
Bottom line: Breast milk is absolutely the best form of food for your baby, but your infant can still have a healthier gut even if you have to supplement or feed your baby formula.
Kristine Gedroic, MD, is author of A Nation of Unwell and Medical Director of the Gedroic Medical Institute in Morristown, NJ. She is Clinical Associate Professor in the Department of Medicine at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School.
The killing sprees in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio on August 3rd and 4th brought the number of mass shootings in the first 215 days of the year to 251. In the United States of Ammunition, that’s more than one per day. What’s going on? To paraphrase James Carville, “It’s the masculinity, people.”
It’s infuriating to me that because of who did the shooting (white men) that much of the media, politicians, and pundits rarely cite the most significant common denominator of virtually every mass murder in the US—the shooter’s gender! Patrick Crusius, the 21-year-old Texan charged with the El Paso murders, is an avowed white supremacist. The slain Dayton killer, Connor Betts, had previously compiled a “rape list” of females he wanted to sexually assault. Both are poster boys of toxic masculinity.
Let’s also acknowledge what’s not being examined—how we socialize boys and how little attention we give disaffected men. Think about the loner, the male outcast in high school. (Connor Betts’s ex-girlfriend told MSNBC that the Dayton killer had “no support system.”) Because we know how alienated nearly all perpetrators are, not making gender central to the national conversation reveals a blindness of the highest order. Ignoring this fact just escalates the danger.
Don’t get me wrong. Increase gun regulations—the tougher, the better. Step up pressure to shutter the NRA. Support the Giffords Law Center, Guns Down America, Everytown for Gun Safety, and the Brady Campaign. But we need a nationwide uprising. Demand Congress authorize the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) study how we socialize males, beginning in preschool. Imagine, if from the age of three, we followed males, not just to identify troubled boys, but also to better develop curricula to cultivate their emotional intelligence and enhance their sense of connection. A pilot program could be rolled out next spring through Head Start.
What role could the authentic media play? How about a Frontlines investigation on manhood and violence? Or, a John Oliver Last Week Tonight special. Newspapers in the cities where shootings have occurred could collaborate to produce a multipart nation-wide series on “Men, Masculinity, and Mass Shootings.” The networks and cable news could do specials, too. Since the #MeToo movement began the media’s been pretty successful connecting the dots between toxic masculinity and sexual assault. Why the blind spot around mass shooters?
For years, I’ve been part of a global movement of anti-sexist men working in seven hundred NGOs in seventy countries committed to transforming masculinity. From preventing violence against women and girls to advocating for women’s reproductive health and rights; from campaigns championing involved fatherhood to raising healthy boys, the magazine I edit, Voice Male, has been chronicling these efforts for years.
So ask yourself: Why does virtually no one think about gender when considering mass shootings or, for that matter, when contemplating how to best protect people of color, LGBTQIA folks, Muslims and Jews when they are attacked? Because we assume the perpetrators will be men, and usually white men. If women had been the shooters in El Paso or Dayton, that’s all we’d be talking about, right? (Ditto if the shooters were persons of color.)
It is the masculinity, people. Addressing mass shootings without making gender central to the debate is like expecting a three-legged stool to stand on two legs. Challenging weak or no-gun laws and pointing out secondary mental health challenges are not enough. We must keep the focus on masculinity.
If you agree, do more than lobby your elected representatives. Blast social media. Wake up your faith communities and your schools. Demand media coverage, too. To honor the memories of the murdered, and to comfort the wounded and their families, it’s the very least we can do.
Rob Okun is editor of Voice Malemagazine and a member of the board of North American MenEngage. He was named one the 21 Leaders for the 21st century by Women’s eNews in 2018. A new edition of his anthology, VOICE MALE: The Untold Story of the Profeminist Men’s Movement, was published in 2018. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
common ground requires a willingness to do so. Once identified, common ground
must be tempered with common sense.
That inherent violence and degradation is ingrained in the sex trade is not up for debate. The statistics are in, the research is sound, and testimonies to that effect of those surviving it or who have survived abound. The overwhelming majority of those bought and sold in the sex trade come from marginalized communities, due to race or gender non-conforming identities and are exploited due to that marginalized status.
look at this through the lens of an exited survivor leader, a citizen of this
great nation and the larger global community, and for the last fifteen years, I
have worked for one of the largest law enforcement agencies in Illinois. Daily,
striving to offer victims, including minors’ services, while holding sex buyers
and other exploiters accountable.
With fifteen years out of “the life,” free from the pain of separation from loved ones, which prostitution causes, I am terrified that a number of states and jurisdictions in the US are considering full decriminalization of the sex trade. This would mean laws that fully decriminalize sex buying, pimping, brothel owning and every other commercial sex establishment. These are indeed perilous times. Now more than ever must we find common ground and use common sense.
the most part there is already consensus, to decriminalize the prostituted
person or, as a small percentage self-identify, a “sex worker.” Prostitution,
however, is neither sex nor work, but a place where people are deeply abused,
or even die. It’s common sense to
provide exit services for them as well.
can one in good conscience let exploiters and sexual predators off the hook by
not holding accountable those who prey on and exploit the marginalized for the
profit of others?
Countless acts of violence have been recorded in the petri dish that is the system of legalized brothels in Nevada. Over the last forty-eight years, we have witnessed what may be the longest failed research experiment in the country, fostering crimes against humanity.
Adults and children alike, primarily women and girls, but also men and boys and LGBTQ, must not be sacrificed to prolong an already failed business model.
I have faith that common sense will prevail and jurisdictions such as New York and our nation’s capital, the District of Columbia, will not pimp their own citizens.
sense dictates that we must no longer sacrifice Black and Brown women and girls
for the profitable pleasures of the master. If we do not use common sense, we will
lose all sense of civility.
consent is tainted by unknowns remaining unknown and simply not caring about
the individual being purchased. My goodness, even when we buy goods at the
market, we expect the condition of what the transaction results in to be good.
How can an individual be in good condition, emotionally, psychologically and physically when repeatedly raped and often met with violence, abandoning by force and economic necessity, their most prized possession, themselves?
buyers, pimps and brothel owners hide their crimes behind legal tender, at the
door, the foot of the bed, or behind the dumpster in the alley.
I am a survivor of prostitution. I survived vaginal rape, sodomy, beatings and kidnapping at the hands of sex buyers. I am one of the hundreds of survivors who recently signed an [Open Letter] to Presidential candidates asking them to think twice before they endorsed prostitution as “work” or called for full decriminalization of pimping. I lived to share our pain, lived to fight another day, lived to represent the missing and murdered and those who can’t publicly come forth, fearing retribution from pimps they have fled or shame from societal judgment.
I believe that well-meaning people – including Presidential candidates – are being sold a bill of goods by a small, privileged group with their own interests who, for the most part, have resources and therefore a megaphone to illegitimately speak for the vast majority of people, adults and children, who have been (and are) bought and sold in this inherently violent and exploitative industry.
Common ground means we support law enforcement’s growing consensus to stop arresting and criminalizing those bought and sold in prostitution. Common ground must extend to offer comprehensive services and exit strategies should they wish. Common sense means you penalize those who harm. That is known as Equality Model. Equality for those left behind. It’s common sense.
Rev. Dr. Marian Hatcher is a Survivor Leader and Advocate in the Office of Public Policy at the Cook County Sheriff’s Office, Cook County, IL.She is a 2014 recipient of the Pathbreaker award and in 2016 she was honored by President Obama with a Presidential lifetime volunteer achievement award.
The interview with eleven-year-old Magdalena Gomez Gregorio, who tearfully begged for her father’s release last Wednesday after the largest single-state immigration raid in U.S. history, is just the latest of the reports continuing to unfold surrounding the ICE raids of seven agricultural processing plants across Mississippi. These atrocious ICE raids have had devastating consequences for immigrants and their families across the country.
The workers at these agricultural processing plants were working at their jobs one minute, and in the next minute, their entire lives were upended. Raids like these result in significant trauma for the workers and the family members who are directly impacted. They also ostensibly send a message to these companies and those in power that they can treat workers – especially the most vulnerable among us – in any way they choose.
Furthermore, these raids demonstrate that our Latinx and immigrant communities are under increasing attack. Our community is still reeling from the massacre in El Paso but, yet again, we are scapegoated, made the subject of hate speech and hate crimes, imprisoned in camps, deprived of necessities like food, and water, and denied dignified treatment.
In every way possible these workers and community members are being told: You are not wanted here, you are not safe here, your children have no security here.
The raids in Mississippi illustrate what we at Justice for Migrant Women know to be true; that targeting and mistreating immigrants, many of whom are Latinx, is not just happening at the borders. Last year, over one-hundred children in Ohio started their summer break reeling from immigration raids. This year, children in Alabama and Mississippi are starting their school year begging for their parents to be returned to them.
The next few days will prove critical to help families who have been ripped apart by United States governmental agencies. We have an opportunity, right now, to show who we really are and that starts with love. Action must be taken by each of us to support groups on the ground. To support these children. To speak out for our communities.
A donation page has been created to support the children and families impacted by the immigration raids in Mississippi. By donating, you’re supporting the critical work of the ACLU of Mississippi, El Pueblo Mississippi, MacArthur Justice Center, Mississippi Center for Justice, Mississippi Immigrants Rights Alliance, and the Southeast Immigrant Rights Network, as each of these groups organize humanitarian support for impacted families and rebuild the lives of the children whose lives are forever changed.
Mónica Ramírez, is an advocate, organizer, and attorney fighting to eliminate gender-based violence and secure gender equity, and is the founder of the nonprofit,Justice for Migrant Women.
About Justice for Migrant Women: Justice for Migrant Women uses education, public awareness and advocacy in order to ensure that all migrant women are guaranteed human and civil rights, including the freedom of mobility, the ability to live and work with dignity, and the right to be free of threats of violence against them and their families, whether they are migrating across borders, around regions or within states. Find more about their work on Instagram and Twitter at @mujerxsrising and @monicaramirezdc.
There was a lot of rhetoric being bantered about these last few days in El Paso, following the killing of twenty-two people of color by a white male shooter last Sunday. Which political leaders garnered the largest crowds when visiting this hurting city; who did the surviving victims really want to meet with, or actually avoid; and was the US President truly treated like a ‘rock star’ by those who were still recovering from their injuries. The jury is still out on all of these.
As a journalist, it sometimes seemed insurmountable, standing alongside the makeshift memorial overflowing with teddy bears, flowers, photos and the names of those who perished carved into simple white crosses honoring each of them. I was there to provide the truth for all to bear witness, and to even help fuel change, but I often felt helpless, beset by baseless and false rhetoric claimed by those with alternate public and political agendas. Could words ever be enough? I often wondered to myself. I felt language had become much too limited.
Yet I was saved…saved by the one true rock star who was undeniably present, perhaps not physically, but in every honest and heartfelt word expressed at that makeshift memorial. But this savior would not have cared, or even dared, to publicly claim that title or assume that role. For she already owned it, silently, allowing her life and her work to speak for itself.
Yes, Morrison was on my mind. Toni Morrison, the Nobel Prize- and Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist who died on Monday at the age of 88, was very much alive. “This is the time when artists go to work. Not when everything is alright. Not when it looks sunny. It’s when it’s hard.” Toni Morrison once said.
But one not be a professional writer, or artist of any kind, to use the power of words, or to understand its promise for others. Wordsmiths of every age, education, and ethnicity were there in El Paso expressing their sadness, hope and even rage, on signs adorning the makeshift memorial overflowing with personal tributes. So in tribute to their courage I am providing you, our readers, with an open window to some of their most powerfully written words, and messages to live by. And, since all writers stand on the shoulders of others, it is Toni Morrison’s corresponding messages of truth and hope that you will find included alongside them. For truly, as she said during her Nobel Prize address in 1993: “We die. That may be the meaning of life. But we do language. That may be the measure of our lives.”
As soon as I awoke yesterday morning in my El Paso hotel room, I
turned on the local news station to find out whether Donald Trump was still
planning to travel to El Paso to meet with the shooting victims and their
families, even though a number of legislative leaders here did not want him to
do so. It was confirmed that he was indeed planning to travel to El Paso’s
University Medical Center, with an approximate arrival time of 12:30pm.
In hopes of covering Trump’s arrival and his meeting with the shooting victims and their families, I arrived at 11:30am, parked off site, and then crossed the street to the Medical Center. The streets were completely closed off by police cars, and armed officers were starting to circle the building. But I walked right in, through the large entrance doors that automatically opened for me.
I was wearing a black cap, aviator sunglasses, and a black fanny pack around my waste, which carried my cell phone, passport, credit cards and some cash. In my large black satchel, which was draped over my shoulder, was an iPad, a bottle of water, and charging equipment.
No one at the hospital asked who I was, what I was doing there, or what was in my bag. Walking through the lobby, I found a table just beyond the registration desk where I sat down, plugged in…and waited.
Approximately thirty minutes later, the area just beyond the registration desk, and directly in front of where I was already sitting, was roped off. Security guards were positioned on each side, as a man wearing a hospital ID instructed them, “No one is allowed past these ropes without an official ID.” I was sitting just beyond the roped off entrance and, still, no one asked me to leave, or inquired about who I was or what was in my large black bag.
As it got closer to Trump’s arrival, which was now rescheduled for 2:30pm, additional guards appeared as security increased. After remaining seated for a couple of hours, I asked a staff member for the closest bathroom, but she told me that the only one was on the other side of the registration desk. I knew if I walked past that desk, I would never be allowed back in. So I wandered around the hospital’s first floor to see if I could find one on my own, which I did. I felt completely free to go anywhere, take any of the elevators to any floor, including the floors where patients are being cared for, and to the ICU, where the victims of the mass shooting were recovering. I even walked past a number of security guards on my way, including Department of Homeland Security officers, with their guns strapped to their waists to protect any threats to Donald Trump. Still, no one asked me about my identity.
I wondered how Trump would have felt, had he known that an unidentified woman, who traveled hundreds of miles from another state, carrying an non-inspected bag, was waiting for hours in the building he was planning to visit, and specifically for him to arrive. Would he have felt uncomfortable…threatened…even terrified? Would he have even cancelled his visit for security reasons?
This is what ordinary civilians in our country are feeling every single day, and no number of police officers or security guards with weapons will sufficiently protect us. For people of color, this fear is magnified, and rightly so, by the anti-immigration rhetoric being spewed at the highest levels of our country’s office. Truly, if an unidentified person can walk freely through a secured building, roped off with armed officers at every turn, what protections are there for those who are in buildings where there is no security at all, I wondered.
Trump ultimately arrived at the Medical Center at 4:30pm. But no one would have known, since every precaution was taken to ensure his arrival was done in secret. His safety was completely protected. Journalists were not even allowed into the rooms where Trump was supposed to be meeting with the victims and their families although, according to an article in today’s Washington Post, the actuality of these meetings are now questionable.
Yet anyone could have walked into one of the Medical Center’s elevators before or after his arrival, pressed the button to be taken directly to the ICU where the shooting victims were being cared for, opening them up to the possibility of being victimized, yet again. I guess it’s easy to keep weapons out on the streets, and in the hands of just about anybody who wants one, when one’s body is guarded twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. Clearly, for everyone else, it is only the complete removal of these weapons that will provide safety for those who do not live with this level of security.
Once it became clear that there would be no Trump sighting after all, I walked out of the Medical Center toward my car across the highway, but was stopped by a member of the Secret Service. “You can’t leave until the President leaves,” he told me. “We are trying to keep the protestors away from the hospital, and if they see a civilian like you walking in this sealed-off area, they will have cause to be here as well.” Learning there were protestors just a few hundred yards away, I then tried to leave the hospital grounds through another road in hopes of interviewing them, since their voices were not being heard. But I was stopped again, this time by officers holding rifles that rivaled their own physical size.
Exhausted, I then walked to one of the benches outside the Medical Center, and sat in 100-degree weather alongside another woman, an older woman of Mexican descent, who was complaining about having to sit in the exhausting heat, and couldn’t wait to get back home. I shared my bottle of cold water with her, as we both sat there, and we waited.
Approximately thirty minutes later, the police cars which were blocking all roads and entrances to the hospital, started to depart. This signaled that Trump had officially left, although there was no sign of him doing so. As I drove back to my hotel, I was particularly struck by the sight of a huge building located just one quarter-mile from the Medical Center, emblazoned with the words, ‘GUNS AMMO. EASY PARCEL SHIPPING,’ along with a contact phone number in equally large letters beside it. While the hypocrisy of this sign struck me, it couldn’t have served as a truer metaphor for what Trump said after his hospital visit that day, where no journalists were allowed: “The respect for the office of the presidency, I wish you could have been in there to see it. I wish you could have been in there.”
It was not my original reason to fly from New York City to El Paso, Texas, this past Monday. I planned to travel to the borders of Texas and Mexico to document the truth about the migrant conditions there. As a journalist, I needed to see it for myself, rather than rely on the reports of others. And as Executive Director of Women’s eNews, I felt our readers deserved to know the truth about the conditions there. Women’s eNews, as a non-profit organization, can report on it like few other news outlets can, since we are not beholden to any corporate funding or interests, thereby devoid of any outside influences.
But just two days before my arrival, El Paso became known for something that rivaled its popularity for its proximity to the Mexican border. It was the day that a gunman opened fire in a Wal Mart there, killing twenty-two people.
The hotel where I had already booked my stay was located just one-quarter mile from where the shooting took place. Intent on driving straight to the scene of the shooting upon my arrival, it was impossible to get to it since all of the nearby roads were blocked by police vehicles. A makeshift memorial was therefore set up at a location on higher ground providing the clearest view of the massive store below. Flowers, teddy bears, red balloon-shaped hearts, and white crosses bearing the names of those who were massacred, along with their photos, were laid across the concrete ground in a straight line, overflowing on all sides as the day wore on into night. Prayers were said. Countless tears were shed.
Yet I found it ironic that this memorial was actually located just outside the popular restaurant franchise known as Hooters. While I understood that its location provided the best view for visitors to pay their respects to the innocent victims who lost their lives in the sprawling Wal Mart store just below, I couldn’t help but think about how this entire scene served as a metaphor for where the real responsibility for mass shootings mostly lies, and our country’s resistance to acknowledge it as such.
For those who are not familiar with the Hooters restaurant chain, it operates close to five-hundred locations and franchises around the world, including forty-four locations throughout the US. Their wait staff is primarily comprised of young women whose required uniforms include tight-fitting and low-cut tops, with high-cut shorts. The name ‘hooters,’ in fact, is an American slang term for women’s breasts. And it is objectification of women, like these hostesses who are forced to wear revealing clothing, that has been shown to provide a direct link to male aggression toward them.
This is true of the Sutherland Springs church shooter in 2017, 26-year-old Devin Patrick Kelley, who was kicked out of the Air Force for “bad conduct” that included assaulting his wife and her child.
This is true of Connor Betts, the shooter behind the Dayton, Ohio, shooting on Sunday, August 4th, whose former classmate told CNN that Betts kept a “rape list” for girls. Another former classmate said Betts would talk about violence and use harsh language about women.
This is true of Omar Mateen, the man who carried out the Orlando shooting at the Pulse Nightclub, who reportedly beat his wife and called her the Afghan word for “slut.” Further, both shooters in San Bernardino and the Las Vegas killings at Mandalay Bay had stalked or abused women as well.
And while Patrick Crusius, who is responsible for the Sunday’s mass shooting in El Paso, did not mention any specific references about anger against women, he did post racist comments online suggesting “race mixing” is destroying the US. We also know that white supremacy and misogyny are closely related.
Yet none of this should come as a surprise since, according to Everytown for Gun Safety, the majority of mass shootings in the US are in some way related to domestic or family violence. Further, a recent report by Everytown indicates that in 54% of mass shootings, the killer also shot a current or former intimate partner or family member.
What was surprising, however, was that Hooters’ objectification of its female staff inside its restaurant was allowed to flow to the outside as well, where a small stand was set up to provide complimentary water, snacks and, even, hot dogs to first responders, the victims’ families and friends, and all others who came to show their respect for the innocent lives that were lost. And while this support is to be commended, it was in direct contrast to the environment displayed inside the restaurant, where there were signs hanging on the walls that read ‘Please Don’t Touch The Wildlife,’ t-shirts for sale with the American flag emblazoned on them, but with the word HOOTERS printed where the blue background and white stars would normally appear, and a selection of beer and shot glasses molded in the voluptuous silhouette of a typical Hooters server. The spouts to drink from were located exactly where the server’s head would normally be.
Yet this paradox of displaying support for the victims who were murdered while simultaneously reinforcing objectification of women was not the only example of hypocrisy on display. Similarly, Donald Trump’s speech just one day earlier, when he stepped up to the White House podium on the day of the El Paso shooting to say that “hate has no place in America,” rivaled this exhibition.
By increasingly stoking racial and misogynistic tensions, from telling female Congresswomen of color to “go back to their country of origin” and encouraging chants of ‘Send Her Back,” at his rallies; to declaring that there were “fine people on both sides” at a white supremacists’ rally in Charlottesville, Va.; to using the word “animals” to describe people crossing the border while calling Mexicans rapists, murderers and criminals numerous times, the rhetoric is becoming more dangerous, as he is appearing more responsible.
And yet today, he will be visiting both El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio to try to deliver a message of national unity, while ignoring calls not to attend by many leaders of these two cities who believe he has encouraged the shooters and has fanned the flames of division.
I will continue to report form El Paso on this and other related issues today, and over the next few days, as Women’s eNews continues to provide you with information you can count on, and believe in. Thank you for your support in enabling us to do so.
Genetics — it is a simple word that reminds us why we are who we are, yet it wasn’t until 1905 that the concept of inheritable traits began to be understood. Who were some of the original scientists studying genetics? If we think back to middle school biology, this names include Gregor Mendel, Watson and Crick? Maybe even Charles Darwin and Alfred Russell Wallace? But behind the scenes, there were others who were making just as revolutionary discoveries, but were robbed of recognition merely because of their gender.
This has been attributed to a phenomenon best-known as the Matilda Effect, defined as the refusal to acknowledge scientific discoveries made by female researchers.
Nettie Stevens, who was born in 1861, fell victim to this phenomenon. Responsible for groundbreaking discoveries, her contributions led to the discovery that an organism’s sex is determined by its chromosomes. Through her research on mealworms, she found that males produce sperm through X and Y chromosomes, while females produce reproductive cells using only X chromosomes. Thomas Hunt Morgan, another rising geneticist at that time, is often incorrectly associated with these discoveries because he credited himself for discovering the genetic basis for sex determination. He framed the research as his own while corresponding with Nettie Stevens and asking her for details regarding her discovery.
While there is a lack of acknowledgment about women who have made important scientific discoveries, there are also fewer women who are hired for scientific research positions. In fact, according to the UNESCO Report on Science, only 29% of all employed scientific researchers were women. Furthermore, only 3% of all Scientific Nobel Prizes have been awarded to women.
One example of a woman who was deserving of a Scientific Nobel Prize, but was never received one, was Rosalind Franklin. Working as a research associate at King’s College in England in 1951, she began her research on the structure of DNA using advanced X-Ray- diffraction techniques. She soon met Maurice Wilkins, a researcher who was leading a team of scientists working on a separate DNA project, who also assumed that she was an assistant rather than the leader of her own project. At the same time, James Watson and Francis Crick, both at Cambridge University, were researching the structure of DNA. When Watson and Crick started working with Wilkins to advance their research, Wilkins ended up showed them one of Rosalind Franklin’s research images of DNA, but without her knowledge. This image ultimately enabled the three men to deduce the structure of DNA, and they published their article about their discoveries in the same issue of the journal Nature as Rosalind Franklin’s had, who wrote a more detailed article revealing her discoveries. Rosalind Franklin’s research was a crucial turning point in the three men’s ultimate discoveries; research. however, her research proved to be irrelevant when it came to awarding credit. Only Watson, Crick, and Wilkins were awarded the 1962 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine.
According to the US National Science Foundation’s annual census (2017), male researchers with PhDs are expected to earn a median annual salary of $88,000 dollars, compared to $70,000 dollars that women at the same educational level. Further, women with PhDs that are more often hired for positions in academia, rather than as science researchers.
Fortunately, there are an increasing number of organizations and movements that are working toward the advancement of women in research fields internationally. The Association for Women in Science helps by raising awareness of the gender barriers preventing the advancement of women in STEM fields. It also pushes for policy changes at the national level, working towards fair pay and a supportive work climate. In 1990, the National Research Council established the Committee on Women in Science, Engineering, and Medicine in order to advocate girls and women in the STEM fields. Also, in 2005, the European Platform of Women Scientists was founded to join networks of women scientists to promote equal opportunities in research fields for all STEM disciplines. This platform works to finding position for women researchers in the European Union, as well as giving women a voice for policy change.
If we want equality for women and girls around the world, we need to develop young girls’ early interest in STEM subjects. We also need to support them throughout their journey so that they can earn recognition for their hard work, be hired for scientific research positions, and win well-deserved awards for their contribution to science.
Arshia Verma is a rising sophomore at the Math and Science Academy at Dulles High School in Sugar Land, TX (near Houston). She is 14 years old.
If you have been on the breastfeeding journey or supported a loved one through it, you may have heard these myths:
“Breastmilk alone is not enough.”
“Breastfeeding is old-fashioned.”
“Breastfeeding is for poor people who cannot afford formula or baby food.”
“Breastfeeding for a long period will make your breasts sag.”
I am no stranger to these myths. In fact, every year during World Breastfeeding Week celebrations (the first week of August), I find myself reflecting on my breastfeeding experience and the pressures parents on this journey are currently facing.
About five years ago, I gave birth to a beautiful baby girl, Zhane Lindiwe. I was particularly thankful that I had an easy pregnancy, which helped tp well-position me to commit to breastfeeding exclusively for at least six months. My mother is a nurse and I grew up in Kenya, where the social setup promotes breastfeeding and associated health benefits to both mother and baby.
But while I enjoyed a lot of support from
family and friends, I found the first few weeks challenging. I encountered
strangers and loved ones alike, caught up in breastfeeding myths and
misconceptions spread by the aggressive
marketing campaigns of powerful corporations. These myths are passed on as
‘culture’ from one generation to another. This is difficult to resist
especially when you factor in the sore and sometimes cracked/bleeding nipples,
the sleepless nights, engorged breasts and intermittent flow of breastmilk,
just to name a few of the challenges.
However, challenges that inform breastfeeding misconceptions work in favor of a $70 billion baby food industry, which impedes the confidence of mothers and undermines our breastfeeding choices to drive up sales of breastmilk substitutes. This industry is dependent on, and reinforces, long-standing and interlocking systems of oppression based on colonial histories including gender, class, race, caste and ethnicity.
Breastfeeding — A Radical Act
Associated with the “uncultured poor,” breastfeeding was frowned upon during 17th century Europe. But when breastfed children seemed to experience better health outcomes, slave owners began to force enslaved mothers to become ‘wet nurses’ to their children. Ruling class mothers could then avoid what they felt was the ‘messy’ part of motherhood and maintain the hope of perky breasts, while allowing their children the health benefits of breastfeeding.
Today, countries in the global North have made significant progress due to policies such as longer parental leave, which allow women to embrace breastfeeding. According to the NGO Save the Children’s Breastfeeding Policy Scorecard, Norway, which has one of the most generous parental leave policies in the world, reports ninety-nine percent of babies breastfed at birth, and seventy per cent still breastfeeding exclusively at three months.
Globally, feminists have long upheld the right to breastfeed in public within hypersexualized cultures where displayed breasts are seen as sexual objects. This has birthed campaigns like #FreeTheNipple, which challenge the sexualization of female bodies but fell short in it’s feminist imaginations by excluding queer, trans, gender non-conforming and racialized narratives.
Milking Profits at the Expense of Global South Mothers
Breastfeeding myths continue to play a significant role in profit-motivated corporate strategies to capture markets today. According to an investigation by The Guardian and Save the Children, “Companies continue to use aggressive, clandestine and often illegal methods to target mothers in the poorest parts of the world so as to encourage them to choose powdered milk over breastfeeding.” This has compromised infants’ health and even led to infant deaths.
Mothers in Global Southern countries remain particularly vulnerable. For example, Asia represents 53% of the global market share of infant formula. Witnessing their sales flatten in the Global North countries, corporations are taking advantage of weak legislation in the global South to increase their sales of substitutes. In 2018, global sales were forecast to rise by four percent, according to Euromonitor, with most of that growth occurring in ‘developing nations.’ Essentially, the colonial legacy has taken the form of neo-colonialism, with global North-based corporations profiting in the global South, at the expense of the people – particularly women and their infants.
Yet these same corporations are increasingly emboldened in their actions, and use more overt tactics as they consolidate economic power, which is quickly translating into political power. In traditional human rights safe-keeping spaces such as the United Nations, we are witnessing ‘corporate capture’ with agendas that prioritize corporate profits over people’s lives and the environment.
of Hope: From corporate power to corporate accountability?
In 2018, Ecuador tabled a resolution at the World Health Assembly (WHA) supporting breastfeeding. The US government was not in favor of this resolution and proceeded to threaten countries with trade sanctions and withdrawals of military support if they endorsed it. They went even further by threatening to cut funds to the World Health Organization (WHO). (It’s worth noting that the infant formula giant Abbott Laboratories contributed to Trump’s 2017 inauguration ceremony.) Despite these threats from Trump’s administration, however, the resolution ultimately passed.
So while we celebrate gains made around the world during this year’s World Breastfeeding Week, the ongoing battle over breastfeeding begs for a moment of reflection, especially due to the imminent threat of breast feeding choices of mothers in the Global South. Let us join with global feminist mobilization to help ensure that all parents are supported with a safe environment to make the best feeding choices for their infants, free from powerful corporate influence.
Felogene Anumo is a pan-African feminist activist who is passionate about using her creativity, politics and intellect to strengthen feminist movements to build collective power. She co-leads the Building Feminist Economies program at the Association for Women’s Rights in Development (AWID). During her free time, she loves to explore the world with and through the lens of her five-year-old daughter.
Women’s eNews Executive Director, Lori Sokol, PhD, grew up in the Brooklyn public housing projects.”We could not even afford rolls for hamburgers,” she tells the Wall Street Journal’s Veronica Dagher. But none of this would have mattered, she says, had she been provided with a family that supported her goals, rather than discouraged them. Listen to what Lori has to say about how her passion for human rights developed, the continuing struggle to make a difference amid constant battles of inequality, and what wealth truly means to her: Lori Sokol: Empowering Women Beyond Societal Limits
Abigail Disney is an heiress to her grandfather’s as co-founder of the Walt Disney Company. She’s also a philanthropist who has given away more than $70 million, and she is a Twitter queen. Her tweet storm recently went viral when she called Disney CEO Bob Iger’s $66 million salary “insane.” and expressed her fury about what she calls the poor working conditions and low salaries of the people who take your tickets at Disneyland. Listen to what Abby has to say about being rich and being poor on this episode of “Now What?” where she is interviewed by Carole Zimmer, and which was produced with help from Stephanie Hou, Steve Zimmer and Gabe Zimmer. Audio production in by Nick Ciavatta.
This is a deeply uncertain time for access to all forms of reproductive health care in the United States. At the same time that new bans on abortion are cropping up across the country, we’re also seeing efforts to limit access to contraception and family planning care. The Trump administration is beginning to enforce its ‘domestic gag rule,’ which forces clinics to choose between receiving federal family planning funds and offering comprehensive reproductive care, including even referral for abortion, to their patients. The administration is also in court trying to implement a religious exemption to the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive coverage requirement, which could deny workers insurance coverage of birth control based on their employers’ religious beliefs.
As a researcher and practicing OBGYN, I recognize that these ideologically motivated policies threaten the ability of millions of Americans to obtain affordable birth control that meets their individual needs. They also ignore the urgent need to expand access to contraception. Although rates of unintended pregnancy have gone down in recent years, studies still show that 45% of all pregnancies are reported to be unwanted or mistimed.
Fortunately, there are also efforts underway to advance policies that expand access to oral contraceptive pills (OCPs), one of the most commonly used methods of birth control in the United States. For example, seventeen states and the District of Columbia have passed laws mandating insurance coverage for a twelve-month supply of OCPs; new research shows that allowing patients to receive a one-year supply of pills with a single prescription reduced both health spending and rates of unintended pregnancy, compared to a three-month supply limit. In addition, twelve states and DC also allow pharmacists to prescribe OCPs and sometimes other hormonal methods as well.
There’s a large volume of evidence in support of making OCPs available OTC. OCPs are some of the best studied medicines on the market, and research overwhelmingly shows that they are safe enough to be available without a prescription, likely even safer than common OTC medications like Advil and Tylenol. Some people have health conditions that might make birth control pills less safe or effective, but studies show that they can use simple checklists on their own to figure out whether the pill is right for them. Other research shows that women who get the pill OTC use it longer than women who obtain pills by prescription. OTC access also enjoys the support of major medical organizations, including the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Academy of Family Physicians.
Not only is making birth control pills available OTC common sense, it’s also popular. Polls consistently find that most Americans support OTC access to OCPs. And there’s a demonstrated desire for them as well: a 2015 survey I co-led found that 39% of adult women ages 18-44 said they were likely to use an OTC pill if one existed, as did nearly one-third of young women aged 15-17.
Given the raging debate around contraceptive access in the United States today, making birth control pills available OTC may seem like a tall order. But many other countries have already taken this step. Other research I co-authored found that in more than 100 countries around the world, women can obtain OCPs directly in a pharmacy, sometimes with the assistance of a pharmacist.
At least two companies are doing the necessary research to submit to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for approval, but an OTC birth control pill is likely still years away. In the meantime, lawmakers can lay the groundwork for ensuring that contraception is as accessible as possible. Last month, Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) and Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) introduced the “Affordability is Access” Act in their respective chambers, legislation that would require insurance companies to cover any OTC birth control pill without copay and without requiring a prescription. And other Republican-led proposals to support making OCPs available without a prescription, while sometimes flawed, show that even in this heated political environment, there’s a widespread consensus that it’s both the smart thing and the right thing to do.
The challenges we confront around reproductive health access today require bold, forward-thinking solutions. To ensure that Americans nationwide can access and afford the contraception they want and need, it’s time to bring the pill over the counter.
In her poignant and gripping memoir, leading disability rights activist Nadina LaSpina shares her unforgettable story and reveals how the disability rights movement changed the course of history.
“Such a pretty girl” was a refrain that Nadina LaSpina heard frequently in her native Sicily. What was sometimes added and always implied was that it’s a shame that she’s disabled. Contracting polio as a baby, LaSpina was the frequent target of pity by those who dismissed her and her life as hopeless. Arriving in the US at thirteen, she spent most of her adolescence in hospitals in a fruitless and painful quest for a cure, which made her feel that her body no longer belonged to her. Against the political tumult of the 60s, LaSpina rebelled both personally and politically. She refused to accept both the limitations placed on her by others and the dominant narrative surrounding disability. As an activist, LaSpina has been arrested numerous times and she was an important figure in some key struggles, including those that led to the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Her story is at once a story of an activist, a disabled woman in an ableist world, an immigrant, and a feminist.
CHE PECCATO: WHAT A SHAME
When I was four or five I wanted to be ugly, and got very angry when people said I was pretty.
“I’m ugly, brutta, say that I’m ugly.”
But no one listened to me.
“Che bella bambina, what a pretty little girl,” they all said. And
inevitably, they added, “Che peccato! What a shame!”
There was such sorrow in their voices, such an anguished look on
their faces… I didn’t want my being pretty to make people sad. Better
to be ugly, I thought.
I especially didn’t want my being pretty to make my mother sad. As soon as she heard those words, even if she had been laughing a minute before, my mother’s eyes filled with tears and her face turned into a mask of agony. At those times, my mother looked just like the Addolorata.
The Addolorata, the “sorrowful woman,” was the name of a statue
in the church across the street from where we lived, in the little town
of Riposto, in Sicily. It was a statue of Mary holding the dead Christ,
a Sicilian version of Michelangelo’s Pietà. The mother dressed in
gold-embroidered purple silk, grief carved deeply into her painted
face, on her lap her dead son, red-stained slender limbs draped in
People seemed as mournful when they looked at my mother holding
me as they were when looking at the Addolorata holding her dead son.
Sometimes I thought my mother and the Addolorata were one and the
same. They even had the same name: Maria.
I have early memories of being on my mother’s lap as she sat outside
with the town women while my father was at work. We sat in the after-
noon sun in the winter months, and in the summer we sat in the shade.
My mother told the women the story of when I was born. The mid-
wife, mammana in Sicilian, was impressed that such a slight woman as
my mother could give birth to such a big baby as me. She left my mother
bleeding on the bed, with my grandmother tending to her for a few
minutes, and rushed with me in her arms to the bakery around the
corner to weigh me on the bread scale. Not even washed yet, crying
loudly because my lungs were so vigorous, wrapped only in a sheet, for
it was very warm on the afternoon of May 16, 1948. Over four kilos I
weighed, almost nine pounds.
And I was growing so healthy and strong, my mother told the
women, already talking, at sixteen months, and walking on my own,
and I was never sick, never a fever until… until that fateful night when
Crudele Poliomielite, Cruel Poliomyelitis, invaded our happy home
and stole me from my family.
I imagined Crudele Poliomielite as an ugly monster with a weird name,
who actually appeared out of the darkness to grab me and steal me away.
But how could I’ve been stolen when I was still there in my mother’s
arms? Could it be what got stolen was the healthy baby she’d given birth
to? And what was left was a changeling, me? It took a while before I
understood she was talking about my getting sick. Only then could I get
over the secret fear that I might not be my parents’ real daughter.
Nadina LaSpina is a prominent activist in the disability rights movement and has been arrested countless times for civil disobedience. You can find her in the streets with Disabled In Action, ADAPT, the Disability Caucus, and other groups. After teaching Italian for many years, LaSpina created and taught courses in Disability Studies at The New School. She lives in New York City. SUCH A PRETTY GIRL: A STORY OF STRUGGLE, EMPOWERMENT, AND DISABILITY PRIDE (New Village Press, July 2019)