Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Did You Hear About the Rear Admiral?

It happened months ago, and yet, I wouldn't be surprised if I wasn't the only one who hadn't yet heard.  With the distressed economy at home and the political unrest abroad, it would have been an easy announcement to miss.  But it shouldn't have been.

This past June, Rear Admiral Sandra L. Stosz became the very first woman to be appointed Superintendent of the U.S. Coast Guard Academy.  For that matter, she's the first woman to ever be appointed Superintendent of any military academy.

The fact that the U.S. Coast Guard was the first to take this particular plunge isn't surprising.  It was as far back as 1975 that the Coast Guard Academy opened its doors to women (even before the Department of Defense was ordered to do so by Congress), and shortly thereafter, in 1977, that the Coast Guard opened all of its jobs to women.  Even today, the U.S. Coast Guard is the only branch that does not reserve certain jobs for men alone. That could be one reason why this year's Academy class is comprised of about one third women - a higher percentage than at any other military academy.

In contrast, women weren't allowed to serve in combat positions within the Navy and Air Force until 1993, and even now, the Army and Marine Corps refuse women the opportunity to serve in infantry, artillery, and armor units.  In case the lines here are hard to draw, it's significantly more difficult to rise through the ranks of an organization that does not permit you the opportunity to gain experience in critical roles.

Of course, women have been carrying out Coast Guard duties since even before there was a formal Coast Guard.  As early as 1830, women were responsible for minding the primitive lighthouses, a job which required little formal education, but enormous patience and stamina.  The Women's Reserve of the Coast Guard was formally created by Franklin Roosevelt during World War II (although of course, as frequently happens when women are made visible in great quantities, some assumed recruitment for the Women's Reserve was really a front for a government-sponsored prostitution ring).  But since then, women have moved up the ranks of the U.S. Coast Guard with equal consideration, and many feel that this branch is the most institutionally supportive of professional female development and advancement.

This isn't the first gender barrier that Rear Admiral Sandra L. Stosz has broken.  She was also the first female graduate of the U.S. Coast Guard to even achieve the rank of Admiral.  Now, by accepting her new leadership position at the Academy, she'll serve as an example to not only women in the service, but to other servicemembers, decision makers, and institutions as well.  It'll be inspiring to see what she accomplishes in her new role.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

#140 Reasons Domestic Violence is Not A Joke Battles #Reasons to Beat Your Girlfriend

It was a Sunday like any other.  I had gotten brunch with a girlfriend, done my grocery shopping, and was throwing some laundry in when my phone pinged.  A colleague had sent me a quick email.

"Did you see that one of the hashtags today is #reasonstobeatyourgirlfriend?"

When you've been fighting a fight for a certain length of time, you get a feeling.  It's the "there's-no-way-this-is-made-up" feeling.  It's the feeling that tells you that if you are honest with yourself, you know exactly what you are going to find once you start to dig.

And find I did.

Everything from " if you find out she's a guy" to "she dont make you a sammich on command"

Now, I'm happy to say that there were plenty, PLENTY of tweets that denounced the hashtag, the people using it to support violence against women, and Twitter for allowing it trend in the first place.

And so my Sunday Twitter war began, as I and others fought against the thousands of tweets that were actually causing this to trend worldwide.  Not because I thought that in 140 characters, I could convince anyone legitimately using that hashtag that violence against women is wrong.  But because I simply couldn't stay quiet.  A huge part of fighting these battles is simply fighting back - speaking out - letting people know that we will NOT sit idly by and allow them to make those statements that threaten the safety and health and well being of half of our population.

You're making it trend! Stop talking about it!

As people analyzed why exactly this offensive hashtag had been trending for so long, there was speculation that it was because those of us who were against it were using it to denounce it, which was only making it trend more.  I was accused of just promoting the tag to promote my brand, using this campaign to increase my Klout score, being ignorant and stupid about the way Twitter works, and a host of other things.

And to those people, I would say this.  We did it.  We beat them in their own forum.  If you look up the hashtag now, you'll see that the tweets denouncing it are far more numerous than those supporting it.  And I want people to see that.  I want people to see that this hashtag was trending with violent and offensive language, and that our community took it over, reclaimed this tag, and repurposed it to say with one voice "There is NEVER a #reasontobeatyourgirlfriend."

So yes, we used the hashtag and we made it trend longer.  But we turned it into a campaign to spread awareness about domestic violence, about violence against women.  We turned it into a crusade.  We weren't calling for it to stop trending at that point - we were calling out Twitter for allowing it to trend in the first place (for those who were following, Twitter believes that #FuckYouWashington should not have been allowed to trend last week despite over 28,000 tweets, because it was offensive.  Inciting violence against women, however, is ok.  @DickC, CEO of Twitter, acknowledged the problem and had this to tweet in response to questions about Twitter's "trending tweets" policy:

In response to the popularity of this tag, Courtney at Feministing started this campaign, called #140reasonsdvisnotajoke.  As you may have guessed already, the 140 reasons are the names of 140 victims of domestic violence.  And over the course of these 48 hours, Fem2pt0 is going to be tweeting out absolutely every one of them.

Will you help us spread the word by retweeting ONE of our posts listing the names of these victims? You can find our twitter stream here:!/fem2pt0
These names are just a fraction, a tiny fraction of the victims out there.  So please follow us as we tweet from #140reasonsdvisnotajoke.  Share your outrage, and show the world that these jokes represent real people, real victims, and real casualties.

1.3 million women will be victims of domestic violence this year. The law of odds say that most of their abusers are probably online.  Were they using the #reasonstobeatyourgirlfriend hashtag on Sunday?  Perhaps.

Want to learn more?  Sadi has an awesomely funny post on Tiger Beatdown as she tries to set you up on dates with the classy men using this tag. On a more serious note, if you or someone you know needs help related to domestic violence, please check out these resources:

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Ay├║dame, Por Favor? I’m Lost and I’m a Girl

I spoke neither French nor Arabic, and the nice man in the booth was trying to explain something to me in a mix of the languages.  But it only took a minute or so of passionate pantomime for me to understand:  They only sold one-way tickets.  I would have to buy another one on my way back,

As I settled into my seat on the train from Casablanca, no less than 4 people – two men and two women – approached me to ask if I was ok. Did the man in the booth not give me the right change?  Did I know where I was going?  Did I need help?  Did I have enough money?

As I spent the week traveling with my friend Kim, I found it strange to be in a country where women were considered generally incapable.  Everywhere we went, people wanted to help us – everything from lifting our suitcases to steering us through the town.  And these weren’t people who were expecting anything in return – they didn’t ask for money or pressure us into visiting their stores.  It’s true that they were mostly men, but even so, young American women learn early on to tell the difference between men who pay undue attention to us (creepy) and men who want to watch over us and help us in a grandfatherly sort of way.  We were encountering the latter – everywhere.

And so this past week, when I went to Mexico with five girlfriends, I remembered the Morocco trip from a few years back, and I wondered how I would find it.  Traveling as a woman through such a patriarchal culture.

I found out the day I decided to go horseback riding in an adventure park just outside Cancun.  Getting there would necessitate a ferry, a cab, and a bus, but my Spanish is decent, and I wasn’t in any hurry.

Getting there and back was an all-day disaster, replete with missteps, wrong buses, and mislabeled signs.  And yet, every step of the way I encountered it - this overwhelming desire of the people to help a young girl find her way.  One of the owners of the park offered to drive me to the nearest bus stop so I wouldn’t have to walk in the heat.  He let off on the side of the road, told me none of the buses came with any regularity, but just to wait here and surely someone would pick me up.  (See the photo?  Yeah, that road).

And so I waited at this bus stop, and when people stopped to offer me a ride, they literally drove out of their way to deliver me – hand to hand – to someone else who would help me get the rest of the way.  One person waited with me at one intersection for 40 minutes until another bus came along, when he sternly told the driver to make sure I got to my destination, as though I were an Unaccompanied Minor.

When you travel as a woman in a foreign country, particularly one in which you don’t speak the language fluently, you need to be very, very careful.  We’re taught this.  We’re taught that it’s the unfair reality that women are more vulnerable than men, and that we are at greater risk.  This is not untrue.

However, what is not spoken about as often is the privilege that women also enjoy.  If people think of you as vulnerable, you are also seen as incapable – helpless, hopeless, perpetually in need of a hand.   And I’ve started to realize that I experience this everywhere I go.

Men are always coming to my “rescue” - helping me with an especially heavy suitcase, pointing me in the right direction when I’m lost, telling me the time or giving me even unsolicited information.  Particularly if I am smiling and cutely stammering through an overly simplified vocabulary with a terrible Spanish accent . . . well, I can pretty much get all the help I want.

When I finally got back to my hotel, I stopped to wonder.

If I’d been a man instead of a woman, would people have been as willing to help me get home?  Is it socially permissible for men to shyly and cutely ask for that kind of help, or that kind of protection even, when traveling?  If I were to be attacked on the street, would people rush to my aid faster because they heard a woman – not a man – scream?

If women are seen as more vulnerable, are we also receiving more help and protection than men are?

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

How to Pressure a Woman Into Sleeping With You

Jane is out with Tom on their -th date and they go back to his apartment where they start to hook up.  He asks if he should get a condom.  She says no, she doesn't want to sleep with him tonight.  (She says 'tonight' whether she means it or not because she doesn't want him to dump her immediately, thinking he'll never get any).  He gives her a smile, caresses her cheek, and says "ok, that's fine."

This is about the time when Tom starts to stroke his own ego.  He thinks to himself, "I am such a good guy.  I can't believe those jerks who would push themselves on her.  More women should recognize what a good guy I am.  In fact, why can't more men be more like me?  Look at me being all respectful and all.  I'm even sticking around, to show her how ok with this I am.  God, I'm a good person."  

Jane, in the meantime, is breathing a very quiet sigh of relief.  "That wasn't so bad," she thinks.  "Look, he's even sticking around - he didn't get up and leave the second I said no.  He didn't make me feel guilty, he didn't ask me why not.  He asked permission first, and was perfectly gracious when I said no.  What a good guy."

And they're both feeling pretty good about what a good guy Tom is.

Friday, June 17, 2011

So This Is Me, Then

Sweat is my cleanser and heat is my intensity. Tears are my release and smiling is my ecstasy. Dance is my expression and song is my desires. Sunrise is my potential and sunset is my reflection. Fish are my absurdity and meat my guilt. My home is my foundation and my country house is my tradition. Hiking is my peace and my introvert and skydiving is my novelty and my excitement. Reading is my learning and debating is my growth. Hugging is my energy and talking is my expanse. Space is my insecurity and waves are my challenge.

So this is what inspires me. Starry starry nights and gingerbread houses, purple crayons and flowers in bloom. Childhood giggles and brilliant sunlight, down comforters and matching socks. Music (too much to say here!) and ballet, African drumming, Indian dancing and 19th century philosophy. Smiling and laughter which transcends languages, fantasy tales and magic wands. Sign language and the loyalty of animals, the path of the sun. The chirping of crickets, coqui frogs, waterfalls, mountains. Dazzling lights and reaquainted friends, clean curtains and Easter bonnets. Lending a hand, songs by campfire, and the connecting of souls.

And faith is my guide
love is my life
and I.

And I. I am my passion.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Attributes of a Gracious Woman

Respect: A gracious woman respects other women. She doesn’t claim to only associate with men because women are whiny; she doesn’t speak badly of women behind their backs. She doesn’t call women the names that men have used to degrade and to objectify us for thousands of years. She doesn’t demean other women in order to fit in with the prevailing culture - to pretend that she is more secure than she is. She respects the integrity of other women’s personhoods, and she treats those women as she would will that she herself be treated.

Honor: A gracious woman holds herself to a higher standard than she holds the world around her, and she endeavors to live up to that measure. She is agile and resourceful, but never deceitful or manipulative. She develops her own definition of right and wrong and strives to adhere to it. She constantly reevaluates that distinction as she goes about her days, learning as much about herself as she does about the world and her place in it.

Integrity: A gracious woman’s integrity combines confidence with humility. The strength not only to admit to mistakes, but also to embrace the discomfort or punishment that must sometimes accompany such errors. She is honest about her shortcomings and faces them with an open mind and a brave heart.  Always, she says what she means and means what she says.

Compassion: A gracious woman feels deeply - for pain, strife, struggle, loss, desperation, and fear. She makes a conscious decision to take the emotion into herself. She doesn’t just sympathize - she empathizes. She strives to understand the emotion, and she allows herself the loss of control that accompanies such compassion. To truly be someone else in suffering – even if just for a moment - and to make that pain her own. She understands that pain, and when judging others, she uses only her heart.

Self-Reflection: A gracious woman knows that at the end of the day, her thoughts, her actions, and her life are all her own. She looks back on the choices she has made – from the big to the small – and she weighs the merits of those choices within her own context. Day by day, she asks herself, what does this choice mean for me? How will this choice make me feel? Will I be closer or further away from the “me” that I want to be? To judge herself, she uses her head, and she grows from that self-reflection.

Value: A gracious woman is worthy. Worthy of trust, faith, praise, admiration, respect, and love. She knows that both her life and her company have value, and she expects others to know it, too. She recognizes when she is being treated worse than she deserves, and she does not allow people to come into her life with negative purpose. She knows exactly how much she is worth, and she demands that others respect her accordingly.

Courage: A gracious woman is strong of heart. Her courage is not for display; it is for neither the praise nor the admiration of others. It is for times of fear or of uncertainty, for times when action is called for instead of words. Her courage is not easy – it is a decision to combat a negative environment with positive energy. To affect change with that power. Her courage risks the security of her entity for the freedom of an idea.

Passion: A gracious woman has a fire in her soul. Whether shy or engaging, quiet or outgoing, she has a personal stake in the life that she leads, and she strives to make the most of it. She puts everything she has into everything she does, and she feels the desire for accomplishment deep within her. She sets her own goals and weighs her successes and failures by her own measures. She gets back up because she must. Because she feels the drive to achieve. Her passion is her fuel, and her dreams know no bounds.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

In Which I Defend a Cave-Dwelling Prostitute for Easter

Tomorrow, I will join millions of Christians around the world in celebrating the resurrection of Christ and the saving of humanity.  But as I stood in services for Holy Thursday this week, I thought instead of the women in Christ's life who have been ignored, misrepresented, and used in the politics that infused the rise and spread of Christianity.

When I think of the saying "a lie makes its way halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its shoes on," I think of Mary Magdalene.  It all started with a man who wanted to make Mary Magdalene out to be more than she really was - a humble servant of Jesus' and arguably the "apostle to the apostles".   That man was Pope Gregory the Great, who, in 591, did something that I think of as truly miraculous - he merged several different women into one.

Pope Gregory gives a sermon in which he carelessly combines Mary Magdalene with the woman of the seven demons (a sinner who washes Jesus' feet with her hair), and then that of Mary of Bethany, who anoints Jesus with nard.  It's not long afterwards that Mary Magdalene takes on even more personalities - that of Mary of Egypt (a prostitute from the fourth century who converted to Christianity and lived the rest of her days in a cave) and in some traditions even the woman who committed adultery and was sentenced to be stoned, when Jesus famously says "let he who is without sin cast the first stone." (While we're on the topic of made-up stories, this incident is widely accepted among biblical scholars as never having happened - the story was added centuries later to one of the Gospels that ended up making it into the New Testament as we now know it).

It's disheartening, really, to see the life of a woman like Mary Magdalene so egregiously misrepresented for the Church's political purposes.  And don't be fooled - the reshaping of Mary's image was intentional.  As the Christian Church rose in the first 15 centuries to a prominent place of leadership and power, women were summarily pushed away, cast as manipulative, scheming, witches out to destroy the Church.  So instead of celebrating Mary's role as one of the first leaders of the Church and an apostle who spread the word of Jesus, she was instead cast as a symbol - the embodiment of the love of Christ that is so great, it can redeem a prostitute.

 This idea of Mary as the repentant whore who became a lover of Christ functions within the Church as a nod to the patriarchal hierarchy, one that celebrates obedience to male authority and sexual control over the feminine.  As a repentant sinner, Mary''s femininity is restored to its proper place - a femininity that does not exert itself sexually and is submissive to domination by the male power structure.  Indeed, one of the most recognized depictions of Mary Magdalene portrays her groveling at the feet of Christ.   Most other popular depictions show Mary in a sexual pose, half or completely naked, in a state of barely controlled eroticism.  It is only her desperate faith and supplication to Jesus that keeps her sexuality in check.