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In a Galaxy Far, Far Away: A Beauty Pageant for Men

Mon, 05/20/2019 - 05:23

It’s in the year 2195, in a galaxy far, far away, where you are cordially invited to the most watched reality TV show of the future: VICTOR’S ANGELS MR. WORLD BEAUTY PAGEANT, in the new film GALAXY 360, which is premiering in Cannes on May 20th and 21st.
It is a time when women rule the world and men dream of getting married, GALAXY 360 features Illumina (Anna Fishbeyn), a giant media personality who whips the male contestants into shape by using an insatiable sexual appetite and unorthodox coaching methods. With the help of the judges’ sexual longings, the men compete as they dream of winning The Golden Fallickorn Crown, a prize that will raise their social and economic status.
In a world where all the women are political leaders, the men are objectified, and being called a “Whore” is a compliment, the film features Illumina (Anna Fishbeyn), a giant media personality who whips the male contestants into shape by using an insatiable sexual appetite and unorthodox coaching methods. With the help of the judges’ sexual longings, the men compete as they dream of winning The Golden Fallickorn Crown, a prize that will raise their social and economic status.

Anna created Galaxy 360 to target the sexism, misogyny, and absurd objectification of woman in today’s society but in a fun, playful, and comedic way.

“I created Galaxy 360 because I love comedy and I love feminism and I think reversing gender is hilarious. Gender roles have been so proscribed, ancient, constricting, and acceptable that they have become the breeding ground for countless corrosive demoralizing stereotypes that also happen to be absurd and hilarious and easy to lampoon. It is precisely hilarity born out of society’s hypocrisy and engrained prejudices that gave me the impetus and passion to create this film,” Fishbeyn says. “Galaxy 360 is a dystopian reality, ruled by women, afflicted by social media and corporate control, obsessed with male beauty competitions – as a response to the intense, unadulterated objectification of women during the U.S and World Beauty Pageants, and of course, Victoria Secret’s Angels annual two-hour TV Special.”

GALAXY 360 stars Anna Fishbeyn, Squeaky Moore, Lauren LoGiudice, Athena Michaelides, Lawrence Sturdivant, and Brennan Lowery. Written and directed by Anna Fishbeyn. Produced by ANTERIYA FILMS, co-produced by XOFeminist Productions and Margarita Fishbeyn. Cinematography by Bela Attila Kovacs. Edited by Tony D’Alauro and Cameron Bossert. Animation/Special Effects by Ace Salisbury, and music by Matt King.

The Ovary Office: A New Series Launching June 7th

Mon, 05/20/2019 - 03:45

Electability, Likability or True Ability?

Elizabeth Warren has written 11 books, and Kirsten Gillibrand speaks fluent Mandarin. Still, we hear much more about how Beto O’Rourke likes to read, and how Pete Buttigieg speaks Norwegian.

These are just a couple of examples of how the national, mainstream media is more prominently covering male presidential candidates than female presidential candidates. In fact, one of the top female candidates, Kamala Harris, is being eyed more as an ideal Vice President, even though she is not campaigning for that position. This bias must stop, if we are to elect the best possible Democratic candidate, regardless of gender. And now Women’s eNews is doing something about it!

Lori Sokol, PhD., Executive Director and Editor-in-Chief of Women’s eNews, and Amy Ferris – writer, author, screenwriter, Editor, columnist and all around women’s champion – are teaming up to bring you a new monthly series, The Ovary Office, which will report on the true qualifications and accomplishments of each female presidential candidate, rather than her electability or likability, which too often takes precedence in traditional coverage of female politicians. Amy Ferris, with her usual fierceness, will interview each candidate about her expertise, policies and goals for the future of the United States with accuracy, honesty and transparency, which both Women’s eNews and Amy Ferris are known for.

We all know that presidential candidates rely heavily on major media coverage to get their messages across, and Women’s eNews, with a global readership of over 2.5 million, is dedicated to helping them get the coverage they deserve.

Watch for the series launching on Friday, June 7th!

Transphobia and the Anti-Gender Movement

Thu, 05/16/2019 - 09:45

Last year, the UK government held public consultations for reforming its Gender Recognition Act, intended to seek input from trans people to ensure an accessible, affirming result, which would bring progress for the rights of trans people. Instead, it sparked a hateful debate about the very existence of trans people with a heavy dose of misinformation and fear-mongering. Similarly, a handful of anti-trans activists hijacked the front of the London Pride March last summer, shouting hateful slogans like, “dykes not dicks” and “trans women aren’t real women”. Over the last year, transphobia has only continued or worsened.  Conservative groups such as the Heritage Foundation hosted prominent events featuring transphobic so-called feminists in Washington, DC and at the United Nations, and there was an overall increase of trans-exclusionary rhetoric online and in the media.

Since today, May 17, is International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, Biphobia and Interphobia (IDAHOTB), I have been thinking about this rising transphobic activism, especially coming from women purporting to speak on behalf of lesbians and feminists like me. They’re often called TERFs, meaning ‘trans exclusionary radical feminists,’ but I think a more accurate moniker is “trans exclusionary radical fundamentalists.” Because, in fact, these activists align not with feminism but with the very forces seeking to erase LGBTIQ people’s lives and stall gender equality – populist, right-wing and anti-gender movements.

Just like any movement, feminism has grown in waves, developing and changing, with some factions becoming more intersectional, concerned with racial justice, police brutality, and wealth inequality, while others more conservative. Differentiation will inevitably continue, but absolutely fundamental to the fight for gender equality has been the rejection of the definition of gender as the sum of our body parts. Feminism understands gender as a personal experience shaped by social, economic, and cultural forces. 

As such, there is nothing more feminist than standing for transgender rights. In turn, excluding trans women from the women’s rights movement is anti-feminist. Whether knowingly or not, anti-trans activists are aligning themselves with the anti-gender, right-wing movements which have grown in strength and numbers across the world, which advocate for restrictions on sexual and reproductive health, rights and education; to ban rights to abortion; and to create a new definition of gender based on biological determinism.  

The similarities between anti-trans activism and the anti-gender, fundamentalist movements are striking. Last year the New York Times reported that “Transgender Could Be Defined Out of Existence Under Trump Administration.’ The Trump Administration was planning to define gender as an immutable, biological condition determined by genitalia at birth. The arguments used by the Administration are exactly the same as the ones spouted by advocates of exclusion of trans women.  They all claim that if you are born with a penis you are a man, and if you are born with a vagina you are a woman. This argument completely overlooks intersex people and ignores what decades of feminism has sought to highlight – that gender is a social construct.

Anti-trans activists claim that trans women pose a threat to ‘real women’, and some have gone as far as to accuse trans women of systematically raping lesbians. Such unfounded, blanket accusations are no different from President Trump’s attacks on Mexicans as “drug dealers, criminals and rapists”. They are no different from Hungarian president Viktor Orban calling migrants “terrorists” and “poison,” or Russia’ President Putin implying that lesbian and gay people are out to get children. All are brutal, hateful, and misleading labels of minorities, designed to exacerbate fear, marginalization and hate.

Disturbingly, these fundamentalists use the language of human rights to spout hate. Anti-LGBTIQ groups label themselves as protectors of the rights of the family, women and children. Anti-abortion campaigners use arguments of the ‘right to life’ of the fetus. Religious groups quote rights to freedom of religion and belief in their efforts to exclude LGBTIQ people. Anti-trans activists do exactly the same by using pseudo-feminist language about individuality and choice to argue that trans women somehow infringe on the rights of ‘real’ (meaning cis-gender) women, and lesbians.

In fact, what the anti-gender movement, populists and fundamentalists, and anti-trans activists all do is pin one human right against another, pretending life is a zero sum game. They claim that it’s the right to religious belief or sexuality; family or gender identity; women’s rights or trans rights; rights of the child or rights of LGBTIQ people.   

This is completely flawed logic. Let’s not forget that we are never just one thing. We all have multiple, intersecting elements of our identities, and they are all protected. I am a woman, I value my family, I am a member of the LGBTIQ community, and these are in no way contradictory.

Since our inception in 1990, OutRight has been a proud LGBTIQ and feminist organization, fighting for gender equality for all women and LGBTIQ people. Seeing a group from within our own community aligning itself with the movements that advocate to ban abortion rights, to restrict women’s access to sexual and reproductive health services and education, to reinstate a binary society with would-be norms for women and men, and erase the very existence of LGBTIQ people shakes me to my core. Make no mistake, this is not feminism or lesbian activism. It is hate.

Jessica Stern is the Executive Director of OutRight Action International.

Legal Abortion is on the line in the US: What Will You Do?

Tue, 05/14/2019 - 16:40

When I opened one of the first abortion clinics in the country in 1971, two years before Roe v. Wade, women finally had access to safe, legal abortions. New York State had acted to decriminalize abortion in 1970, so we were already a step ahead. Doctors could now treat patients in a respectful environment, far away from the back-alley secrecy and lethal dangers.

I remember my first patient who travelled from New Jersey because abortion was still illegal in that state. She was white, in her mid-thirties, and married with two children. Abortion had then been viewed as a crime, a sin, a pathological response to pregnancy, an act of utter desperation.

I was 25 years old and nervous. In this, as in all my other tasks, no one had trained me. What could I say to her? What would she say to me? She was pregnant and did not want to be. Coming to my clinic required an enormous amount of courage, and now her future was in my hands. I was to guide her way; I was to be her bridge into the realms of power and responsibility that encompass the decision to abort.

I recall holding her hand tightly in mine to ease the discomfort of the dilators; that hand that came to symbolize the intimate personal connection of one woman helping another, the gravity of forming a natural alliance with that woman and the thousands who followed her.

Now, 48 years later, I can’t count how many hands I held, how many heads I caressed, how many times I whispered into how many ears, “It will be alright, just breathe slowly.” I saw so much vulnerability: legs spread wide apart; the physician crouched between white, black, thin, heavy, but always trembling, thighs; the tube sucking the fetal life from their bodies.

“It’ll be over soon, just take one more deep breath” — one last thrust and pull of the catheter — then the gurgle that signaled the end of the abortion. Gynecologists called it the “uterine cry.” Over and over again I witnessed women’s invariable relief after their abortion that they were not dead, that God did not strike them down by lightening, and that they could walk out of this place not pregnant any more. Grateful that their lives had been given back to them.

The act of abortion positions women at their most powerful, and that is why it is so strongly opposed by many in society. Historically viewed and conditioned to be passive, dependent creatures, and victims of biological circumstance, women assume the power over life and death with the choice of abortion—it is THEY who decide when and whether to bring new life into the world.

In 1989, I led the first pro-choice civil disobedience action at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City. Nine people were arrested as we hung our Proclamation of Women’s Transcendent and Generational Rights on the great doors of the cathedral which stated:

  1. Women are full moral agents with the right and the responsibility to choose when and whether they will be mothers.
  2. Abortion is a choice made by each woman for profound personal reasons that no man or State should judge.
  3. The right to reproductive choice is a woman’s legacy throughout history, and belongs to every woman regardless of age, class, race, religion or sexual preference.
  4. Abortion is a life-affirming act chosen within the context of women’s realities, women’s lives and women’s sexuality.
  5. Abortion is the most moral choice in a world that frequently denies healthcare, housing education and economic survival.

Now, in the year 2019, we are facing a full frontal assault on these principals and on the delivery of women’s reproductive care from “heartbeat bills” to legislation calling for as much as 99 years in prison for doctors who perform abortions (which was approved yesterday in Alabama with Senate passage of a total abortion ban, punishing providers with up to 99 years in prison, and criminal penalties for women who have them). Now, the power of the state and the fundamentalists who control much of its levers are directed to ensure that every attempt will be made to push women back to a place where they once again become the tools and vessels of the political fundamentalist forces.

I agree with Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, who said in his Nobel Lecture, “I am indeed thrown arbitrarily into history. I therefore choose to voluntarily shoulder the responsibilities of my advantages and the burden of my disadvantages.”

Now is the time, and this is the hour to ACT!

We are in a Profound Power Struggle…and are currently losing this battle. Step into your PERSONAL  power—take responsibility for your agency and your fundamental rights by doing the following:

*You can support your local abortion clinic by escorting patients past protestors or volunteering for other support functions

*Help agencies that are working to get women in slave states—to Free ones—like New York (see list of agencies below).

*Join activist campaigns at any level you are comfortable with.

*Give money to organizations that are doing this work.

*Come out of the closet and talk about your abortion with your friends, family, and even strangers.

*Get involved with the Presidential election and demand that all 22 of the Democratic nominees are questioned about their stand on legal abortion.

*Hold speak-outs at colleges or other appropriate venues for women who are willing to tell their abortion stories.

Choices Women’s Medical Center works closely with the following funding agencies to provide financial assistance for patients seeking abortion services at our facility:

The New York Abortion Access Fund (NYAAF) supports people who are unable to pay fully for an abortion and live in or travel to New York State by providing financial assistance and connections to other resources. Contact: 212-252-4757 (leave a recording) or email: info@nyaaf.org (they work with a variety of intake coordinators).

Women’s Reproductive Rights Access Project (WRRAP) is a non-partisan, non-profit organization helping women gain access to safe, legal abortion services and emergency contraceptives. We work with pre-qualified, reputable reproductive health clinics across the U.S. on behalf of disadvantaged women in need. Contact: 323-223-7727 leave a recording, or email info@wrrap.org (they work with a variety of intake coordinators)

National Network of Abortion Funds (NNAF) works with members to remove financial and logistical barriers to abortion access by centering people who have abortions and organizing at the intersections of racial, economic, and reproductive justice.  www.fundabortionnow.org

Midwest Access Coalition (MAC) envisions a world in which all people have access to safe, free, legal abortions wherever they live. As a practical abortion fund, MAC helps people traveling to, from, and within the Midwest (Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, and Wisconsin) access to a safe, legal abortion with support in the following areas: travel coordination and costs, lodging, food, medicine, and emotional support. 

Contact: Phone: 847-750-6224 Email: support@midwestaccesscoalition.org

The Brigid Alliance is an organization that provides logistical and financial support for travel and housing for patients seeking abortion:

  • Transportation assistance – bus, plane, and train tickets or funds to cover gas, tolls, and parking.
  • Housing assistance – hotel accommodations or referrals to local practical support.
  • Additional expenses – reimbursement for taxis or referrals to local practical support.
  • Referrals to local practical support organizations for: clinic escort services, emotional support, overnight housing, and other support.

Contact:  877.BRIGIDA or 877.274.4432Email: contact@brigidalliance.org

Merle Hoffman is the Founder/President/CEO of Choices Women’s Medical Center. www.choicesmedical.com

How Women Entrepreneurs and Freelancers Can Get Paid The Same As Men

Tue, 05/14/2019 - 15:59

The gender wage gap for women in the workplace has been widely reported: Women earn on average 80% of what a man earns doing the same job.

What’s rarely discussed, however, is the pay gap that exists for women entrepreneurs and freelancers.  According to Women in the Workforce Report Self-Employed women earn on average $56,184 per year, while self-employed men earn on average $77,540 annually.

It’s not just pay disparity that are causing women entrepreneurs and freelancers insecurity. Late and non-payment also take a toll on financial and emotional well-being.

The Late Payment Gap

According to the Freelancers Union, freelancers across the United States make on average $45,000 a year, and lose 14% of their income to late or non-payment.  Meanwhile, FreshBooks – Women in the Workforce Report, found that women freelancers get paid late 31% of the time.

“If you think about it (remove red text) but think about it in terms of in the context of the liabilities that you have, perhaps a mortgage, or car payments, even daycare for your children, it’s very painful,” says Lamine Zarrad, Social Entrepreneur, CEO, Co-Founder, Joust Bank.

“Systemic biases exist across the board, and as a woman, if you engage clients there’s a higher chance of delinquent payments or non-payment,” he adds.

Technology – Leveling the (remove word) Playing Economic Playing Field

Zarrad created a new banking app called Joust, aimed at eliminating the stress of wondering if you will get paid, and when.  The app’s Pay Armor feature will pay your invoice immediately or within 30 days, for a fee of between 1% and 6%.

There are also other apps that have features that allow you access invoiced funds. Experts say Joust’s low fees, coupled with Zarrad’s social mission to create pay equity in the solopreneur and freelancing worlds, make it a standout in the field.

“That’s going to be a huge game changer when women who are already managing so much, can actually have some assurance that they’re going to be paid on time for their work,” says Caitlin Pierce, executive director of the Freelancers Union.

“We certainly are not delusional enough to believe we can solve the pay gap problem with an app, but we see it as an equalizer,” says Zarrad.

Creating Financial Security

Other steps self-employed women can take to realize the economic value of what they have to offer:

  • Know your industry, so you know what to charge a client.
  • If you lower prices to build a client base, create a plan of when to increase prices to market rate
  • Hire help as needed if tasks like accounting or managing your social media require days away from making money.  
  • Learn new skills or get certifications to increase your value.
  • Consider crowdfunding to raise capital – women have been 32% more successful than men at raising capital. 

The New Realities of the Workforce

In 10 years, the majority of the U.S. workforce will be freelancing. For women, this takes on significant importance as more and more turn to self-employment and entrepreneurship.

While legislation and socioeconomics have a long way to go to catch-up to labor trends, it’s up to us to empower ourselves with the skills and resources we need in order to thrive.

Stacey Tisdale is an award-winning financial journalist, and CEO of Mind Money Media Inc., a content provider that focuses on how socioeconomic issues like gender and race impact our financial experience.

My Mother, The Brisket, and The Rabbi: A Love Story

Mon, 05/13/2019 - 05:33

I am a pathological liar. I stand by my superior ability to fabricate the truth, to create a false narrative, to lie on command. And I would do it all again if I had to.

When my mother was approaching the final stage of her life, she was often inconsolable. Dementia has a way of robbing those it latches onto with assorted unspeakable atrocities. The confusion, the fear, the sheer frustration amid the utter sadness, often overtakes not only the afflicted, but those who are ultimately left behind. Until an adult child enters the frightening and chaotic world of caring for a parent diagnosed with this insidious disease, one never truly knows the lengths they may go to in an effort to minimize a loved one’s suffering.      

Watching someone slowly deteriorate, day by day, moment by moment, is like dismantling a puzzle; piece by piece, the picture, no longer recognizable, begins to fade, its meaning has eroded, until it is no more.     

Piece by piece, my mother was leaving us.       

Though we didn’t know it at time, when my sister Barbara and I moved our mother from West Palm Beach to New York City into nursing care near us, she would live for just nine months. Those months proved to be transitional for her, but also, transformative for us.     

Confused, sad, angry, Esther Sheryl Prizant, “Sherry” was nothing like the sweet, funny, kind-hearted woman who was considered a second mother by many of our childhood friends. Because of my mother’s unremitting compassionate nature, our home, “the fun house” became a respite for many a wayward teen in need of comfort, some who even left home. 

When I was in college, I began to notice a pattern: boyfriends would spend an inordinate amount of time with my mother, having coffee, playing cards, watching basketball, under the guise of waiting for my return from the nearby university. On one occasion, I arrived home to find a boyfriend having coffee with my mother in the kitchen, while another waited on the porch for his time with my mom. Though I would like to believe that I was the main attraction, I have come to accept that this kind of behavior goes with the terrain when one is blessed with a mom like mine. 

“To understand everything is to forgive everything.”  Buddha

Watching my father and mother interact was like being an unwitting character in “Who’s Afraid Virginia Wolf.” It was fairly brutal. Between my father’s drinking, as he tried to provide for his large brood after his clothing store was destroyed by fire, coupled with many people occupying our modest home, it was often unmanageable. Even so, my mother never succumbed to the bitterness that could have been the proverbial response to living in such a chaotic and unforgiving environment.  

My mother, a dark-haired, green-eyed beauty of Hungarian descent, raised six children amidst financial duress and emotional turmoil. Yet, she always wore this bright smile no matter what the circumstances. While I am left with vivid memories of my mother, it’s her interminable spirit in the face of life’s unexpected challenges I often call upon when in need of guidance and support.   

It was from my mother that I learned my most important lessons about compassion and grace. When an unkempt, poor neighborhood child wanted to play with me and my twin sister, Joan, I recoiled. But my mother wouldn’t have it. “We are no better or no worse than anyone,” she chided, while encouraging me to play with the child. She also insisted that I give the young girl a hug. And I did.  

“The only thing better than singing is more singing.” Ella Fitzgerald

When my mother’s stress levels would rise during the Dementia daze, she would display a range of varied emotions; the anger, the sadness, coupled with the relentless confusion, was typically not quelled by the many psych drugs doctors prescribed in an attempt to reduce her anxiety.

After finding my mother overmedicated, passed out in her bed in the nursing home, or planted in front of the nurse’s station in a wheelchair, yelling, confused, fearful, while sporting fresh bruises and bedsores, we were forced to make a change.  

And we become very creative in finding ways to help calm my mother, if not for her sake, for the sake of my neighbors who may not have approved of the loud disturbances emitting from my Big Apple crib, when we moved my mother into my Gramercy Park apartment, after her short stint at the Manhattan nursing home.   

First and foremost, we sang, all my mother’s favorites. “Bei mir bist do schön, please let me explain, Bei mir bist do schön means you’re grand.” We may not have been the Andrew Sisters, but we had our moments, creating some nice harmonies, and soothing memories.  

We also quickly learned the importance of focusing on activities that my mother would succeed in, such as spelling, geography.  

Me:   “What’s the capital of Alaska?”

Mom “I don’t know, Juno?”(ba dum bum tss)  

It was around this time my sister introduced a new way to reach our mother as she further descended into some other world, a seemingly dark, unfamiliar place. So, we persuaded her to stay in our world a bit longer by embellishing the truth.

“The truth is a beautiful and terrible thing and should therefore be treated with great caution.” Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

Among my mother’s hopes and dreams, she wanted me to settle with a nice, Jewish man. Though I wasn’t able to fulfill her wish, my sister Barbara’s creative attempts to soothe my mother resulted in Sherry’s dream being fulfilled, even if only briefly, and only in fantasy.

Upon my return from grocery shopping one afternoon, I was met by an unfamiliar calm when I entered my apartment. It was uncharacteristically quiet, and surprising to see my mother engaged in conversation with my sister.  

Barbara: “Do you think I should make brisket or stuffed cabbage?”

Mom:” Definitely the brisket! That’s the winner!”  

Barbara: (speaking to me) “I’m having lunch with the Rabbi on Sunday, and Mom thinks I should make brisket!”

Me: (chiming in while putting away the groceries) “I don’t think you should have brisket. You know, animals have feelings like we do and just want to live. Why not make vegetarian stuffed cabbage?” 

Barbara: (whispering to me)”What’s the matter with you? There’s no Rabbi, there’s no brisket, Beevis! Just play along–Sheesh!”

Me: (Oh! I finally get it! Winking at my sister)

“Yes! I agree! Let’s have the brisket! The bloodier the better! Vegetarian stuffed cabbage is sooo boring…”

Barbara: (rolling her eyes) …And Jill is going to be visiting with the Cantor.

Mom: Oh, that’s wonderful!”

Me: (whispering excitedly to Barbara) “I don’t mean to complain, but wondering why you get the Rabbi and I get the Cantor? I mean, isn’t the Rabbi higher in rank than the Cantor? I don’t necessarily mind having the Cantor per se, but still…”

Barbara: (cutting me off, whisper fight ensues)“OMG! Where did you get your degree? Trump University? OK you can have the Rabbi!”

Me:“I didn’t say I wanted the Rabbi, and I take umbrage to your suggestion that…”

Barbara: (ignoring me) “Yes, Jill and the Cantor have a lot in common since they both studied singing.”

Mom: “Oh! That’s lovely!”

Barbara: “Ok. Let’s plan the menu for Sunday.”

Mom: “You’re having brisket, salad, roasted potatoes…”

So, this is how we spent many hours during my mother’s Big Apple residency: singing, spelling bees, practicing state capitals, and menu planning for our pretend Jewish husbands-to-be.

“People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Maya Angelou

My mother entered hospice care twice. The first time, we made a decision to hydrate and provide intravenous nutritional support after she stopped eating and drinking. It seemed cruel not to.

But when my mother became alert, she was livid, angry that I “brought her back.” With an unparalleled lucidity and razor-sharp clarity, she recounted her near-death experience in vivid detail. 

“I was waiting in line with the others to get on the train, we were dressed properly, preparing to leave, but you wouldn’t permit it because you were not ready to let me go.”

I promised her then that I would allow her to do what she needed to do, and that I wouldn’t stop her from getting on the train when it was time, next time.

It wasn’t until months after my mother’s death that I had an epiphany.     

Grief is an odd, unrelenting, strange trip, full of twists and surprises, with an uncanny ability to surface at the most unexpected times. I suppose grief never really dies, rather we just adjust while learning to cohabitate with our new circumstances.      

In hindsight, it’s not surprising that I got involved with my college boyfriend, now married, who reemerged after 25 years, surprisingly (or not) right around the time of my mother’s death. “If the world had more people like your mother,” he told me during our first meeting, “it would be such a wonderful place.”  

Rekindling a past love offered a comforting familiarity and bittersweet reminder of a simpler time. Being absorbed in a past love-turned-current also provided a convenient opportunity to avoid the grief process.   

But grief will not be ignored.   

While in the check-out line at Whole Foods, nearly a year after my mother’s passing, I came to realize the magnitude of grief, after the cashier looked at me strangely, asking if I was ok. I assured her I was. 

But I wasn’t ok. As I left the store, I was overcome with an overwhelming anxiety and unexplained urgency, as tears began streaming down my face. Instead of running from these uncomfortable feelings, I walked, through the green market, through the park.

And I walked some more, blending into a sea of unfamiliar faces crowding the bustling city streets, while feeling a sense of uneasiness, intertwined with moments of despair, when I was finally was able to put into words what I had feared most: That no one would ever love me the way that she did.   

It would be some time before I would find relief from the cascading sea of sadness that enveloped me that day. But gradually, this sorrow was slowly replaced with an acceptance, and that all-knowing feeling of what lies beneath the fear: the gut-wrenching truth. In a surprisingly strange way, it felt like a weight had been lifted. 

For I am one of the lucky ones.     

I am aware that not everyone gets to experience the gift of true unconditional love while a visitor on this earthly place. As difficult as that time was, there was a sense of calm too, in the knowledge that we can survive what we fear most: We can survive our greatest fear.  

Of the most unique and wondrous things about being a thinking, feeling, sentient being, is that every moment is an opportunity for renewal; a chance for change. In every moment we are given a choice: to act in fear or love.

I have learned my lessons well from my kind teacher, my mother. And each day, I choose to honor her by acting out of love, as she surely did.  

So, I’m not going to dine on brisket or marry the Cantor. Though my mother did not approve of lying, I would do it again if I had to. I’m sure she would make an exception this time.

Jill Rachel Jacobs is a New York based writer whose publishing credits include The New York Times, Reuters, The NY Post, The Independent, The Washington Post, The Boston Globe, The Los Angeles Times, The San Francisco Chronicle, Newsday, The Chicago Sun Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Huffington Post, Thrive Global, Organic Style, The Chicago Tribune, NPR’s Marketplace and Morning Edition.

Handmaids and Jezebels: New York Must Not Legalize Harm

Thu, 05/09/2019 - 12:49

Nobel Prize-winner Toni Morrison once spoke of an enslaved pregnant woman whose master decided to punish her. The slaveowner dug a hole in the ground large enough to place her swollen belly. That way, he could whip her back, her face down swallowing dirt, without jeopardizing his future financial assets.

In that dark historic vein, New York State legislators are now proposing two bills to preserve this legacy of human chattel, defining women as vessels for economic profit.

The first bill is on the fast Albany track, sponsored by Assemblywoman Amy Paulin and Senator Brad Hoylman, to legalize commercial reproductive surrogacy. Under this bill, unfittingly called the “Child-Parent Security Act,” anyone can contract the renting of women’s wombs. Governor Andrew Cuomo is lauding the bill; yet over one hundred New York-based women leaders signed a letter expressing their vehement opposition to the bill. Link to letter: http://catwinternational.org/Content/Images/Article/754/attachment.pdf

The other ill-advised bill proposed by Senators Jessica Ramos and Julia Salazar, and Assemblyman Dick Gottfried, also with the support of Senator Hoylman, would fully decriminalize the sex trade, including pimping, brothel owning and sex buying. Together, these elected officials, under the guise of progressive politics, are saluting an acutely regressive status of women, jeopardizing their rights to health, safety, bodily integrity and hindering any collective efforts to reach equality.

New York has vowed to reduce maternal mortality, improve women’s health, combat sexual harassment in the workplace, and take other measures for women’s equal treatment in life. Yet both bills are antithetical to those promises.

First, the commercial reproductive surrogacy bill provides no protection from abuse. Requiring only a 90-day New York residency with no background checks, anyone, including human traffickers, could haul women here from anywhere around the world for embryo implantation.  Under this bill, similar to the enslaved pregnant woman and contrary to established New York law, neither the fetus, nor the baby, belongs to the birth mother. 

Like the romantic fallacies portrayed in Hollywood’s “Pretty Woman” or “The Girlfriend Experience,” commercial surrogacy websites feature Hallmark-type images with names like Growing Generations. Remove those rose-colored glasses, however, and dark realities quickly reveal themselves.

In commercial reproductive surrogacy, for example, two women are often contracted: the egg donor and the surrogate mother carrying the fetus. Heavy dosages of hormones are injected into the egg donor, typically a tuition-strapped college student, to produce ova, at a proportion that can generate four years’ worth of eggs in one month. These women can suffer extreme pain and contract illnesses, such as ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome, which can lead to strokes or heart attacks. Other long-term health risks for egg donors, including reproductive cancers and even death, have yet to be researched. A three-time commercial surrogate mother, Brooke Brown, died died to a placental rupture, as did the twins she was bearing.

Regarding the Salazar-Ramos bill, which would protect pimps from accountability, brothels would be turned into businesses and, like any other business, would give New York’s “If You Can See It You Can Be It” girls’ empowerment program an entirely different meaning. New York doesn’t even know how many women have died in the sex trade.

Both commercial surrogacy and prostitution are industry-driven – one by gestational surrogacy companies, and the other by a multibillion-dollar sex trade and its lobby. Both thrive on the vulnerabilities of disenfranchised people, especially women of color. Both turn their profits on growing demand for women’s bodies as commodities, and both kick open a wide door for sex and reproductive trafficking.

Women’s control over their bodies, reproductive systems and sexuality must be rights-driven. In a society where marginalized populations live with limited opportunities, the State must not bless the deceptive argument of “personal choice,” dictated by the power and control of reproductive surrogacy consumers, sex buyers and profiteers in exploitative enterprises.  

The European Parliament and many countries condemn and prohibit commercial reproductive surrogacy because it undermines the human dignity of women. After fatalities and other devastating outcomes stemming from commercial surrogacy tourism, India, Thailand, Nepal and Cambodia have all banned it. Parallel to these efforts that recognize harm, an increasing number of governments worldwide are enacting legislation that recognizes prostitution as systemic violence against women, perpetrated by sex buyers and organized criminal networks. These laws, known as the Equality Model, solely decriminalize the prostituted and offer them services.

New York must recognize that commercial reproductive surrogacy and the sex trade are stitched with that same noxious thread. A quilt where women’s bodies, especially Black and Brown bodies, are sown into history for the profit of others, disdaining the idea that women are human. Don’t we deserve better, New York?P

Taina Bien-Aime is the Executive Director of Coalition Against Trafficking in Women (CATW), the first and oldest international non-governmental organization dedicated to ending trafficking in women and girls and related forms of commercial sexual exploitation as practices of gender-based violence. CATW has national coalitions in over fifteen countries including thePhilippines, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Thailand, Venezuela, Puerto Rico, Chile, the United States,Canada, Norway, France and Greece.

From the Executive Director: In Tribute to Lenora Lapidus

Sun, 05/05/2019 - 11:08

It is with much sadness that we report that Lenora Lapidus, Director of the ACLU Women’s Rights Project, lost her battle with breast cancer on Sunday, May 5th. Lenora had a huge impact on the ACLU and beyond. I first met Lenora when I became Women’s eNews Executive Director in 2016, and quickly came to know her as a generous, tenacious, optimistic and joyous woman who was passionate about protecting the rights of women and girls, while mentoring young female lawyers to do the same. While I will miss her warm smile and glowing presence, I also know that her work will continue to improve the lives of women and girls for many generations to come. – – Lori Sokol, Exec. Dir.

Below please find the email that was sent from Anthony Romero, Executive Director of the ACLU, to all ACLU staff yesterday morning:

Dear Friends,

I write with the very sad news that our longtime colleague, Lenora Lapidus, died this morning at her home, after a long struggle with cancer. The news will be a shock to many, because Lenora fought this battle privately, with incredible courage and dignity, while at the same time fighting valiantly and boldly in the public sphere for women’s rights. We will miss her sense of humor, her warmth and caring, and most of all, her firm commitment to making the world a more just place for all women. 

Lenora was a pillar of the ACLU. She began here as an intern in 1988, served as legal director of the ACLU of New Jersey, and led the Women’s Rights Project since 2001. As I have said before, Lenora renovated the house that Ruth built. She increased the Women’s Rights Project to nine staff, and reshaped its agenda to focus on eliminating gender-based violence, and furthering equality in employment and education. She spearheaded a Gender Justice Task Force of the WRP and ACLU affiliate lawyers throughout the country. Under her leadership, the WRP focused on the most marginalized members of society, including championing the rights of domestic workers trafficked by diplomats, farmworkers, nail salon workers, and women caught up in the criminal justice system. She was a globally recognized leader in women’s rights, and a powerful voice within the ACLU family for gender equity in the workplace. 

Lenora was a visionary lawyer. She litigated Lenahan v. USA, winning a decision from the Inter-American Court of Human Rights holding that the United States violated international human rights law for failing to respond adequately to gender-based violence. She represented military women in a lawsuit that led to the military’s repeal of its policy excluding women from combat positions, Hegar v. Panetta. She published many articles on women’s rights, and was the principal author of The Rights of Women, published by NYU Press in 2009. 

Lenora was recognized for her leadership on many occasions, including receiving a Wasserstein Fellowship from Harvard Law School for outstanding public interest contributions, and the Trailblazers Award from Women and Hollywood. In 2017, Women’s eNews honored her one of ’21 Leaders for the 21st Century.’

But it was her work as part of the team that brought a landmark challenge to human gene patents, resulting in a unanimous 2013 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, Association for Molecular Pathology v. Myriad Genetics, for which I will most remember her. This case was initially controversial among the ACLU staff — with some staff worrying that our legal arguments would undercut the intellectual property regime that protected science and the arts. Other staff wondered how could we not challenge a practice that inhibited women’s and others’ ability to get the care and treatment they deserved for breast and ovarian cancer. Lenora demanded that I break the logjam. Her lived experiences as a cancer survivor and her unflinching demand for gender justice made clear that there was only one decision to make. We took the case and the Supreme Court ultimately rejected the notion that the BRCA1 and BRCA2 human genes could be patented. Because of Lenora’s courage and her unwillingness to accept no, and thanks to the work of her ACLU colleagues who helped bring the case with her, the health and lives of millions of women and men battling cancer would be improved. The Myriad case would come to embody the two battles that Lenora so valiantly fought: the battle against cancer and the fight against gender injustice. 

We recognize Lenora as our friend, colleague, and tireless advocate for justice. We will miss her terribly. Our thoughts and prayers are with her husband, Matt, their daughter, Izzy, and the rest of her family.

The ERA – Rising from the Dead

Thu, 05/02/2019 - 10:37

The House Judiciary Committee held the first Congressional hearing on the amendment in more than three decades on April 30. Supporters of the ERA argued that its resurrection was desperately needed. Opponents wanted it to stay buried. The conservative National Review opined, The Equal Rights Amendment Is Deader than Marley’s Ghost.

But this epitaph is premature. Two states—Nevada and Illinois—have recently ratified the amendment, bringing the total to 37, just one short of the 38 needed for ratification. The key passage at the heart of the ERA is:  “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.” The ERA, if ratified, would provide a strong legal defense against a rollback of the significant advances in women’s rights that have been achieved since the mid–20th century.

MARCH 22: A woman hold up a sign as members of Congress and representatives of women’s groups hold a rally to mark the 40th anniversary of congressional passage of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) outside the U.S. Capitol March 22, 2012 in Washington, DC. Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) and Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) introduced a new version of the Equal Rights Amendment last year and called for it to be passed again. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Without the ERA, women regularly have to fight long, expensive, and difficult legal battles in an effort to prove that their rights are equal to those of the other sex.

But is the ERA necessary?

In a 2010 interview with California Lawyer magazine, the late justice Antonin Scalia said, “Women’s equality is not explicitly protected in the constitution or in the 14th Amendment.”  In his words, “Certainly the Constitution does not require discrimination on the basis of sex. The only issue is whether it prohibits it. It doesn’t.” Some critics argue that we don’t need the ERA because women have done ‘just fine’ without it. This argument completely ignores a troubling reality. Every time women make great gains, a sustained period of backlash sets in and a retreat follows on women’s rights.  

After women were granted the right to vote in 1920, the drive for more gains slowed down. It would take another 45 years for women to win the right to simply use contraception to plan their families. The women’s movement of the 1970s was followed by an extended period of “Post feminism,” and young women avoided the term as if it were a swear word. In 1998, a Time magazine cover asked, Is Feminism Dead? and suggested the answer was ‘yes’.

In 1991, women were enraged over the sexist treatment of law professor Anita Hill when she testified against Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas in his Senate confirmation hearing. Hill, who said that Thomas sexually harassed her, was grilled about prurient issues. Senators insisted that she name the pornographic movie Thomas allegedly recommended to her, “Long Dong Silver.”

Women responded by running for political office in greater numbers in the next year than in the past, and winning. Never before had four women been sent to the Senate in a single congressional election. The year 1992 was even dubbed “The Year of the Woman,” but mass political activism around sexual harassment mostly faded, until the #MeToo movement surfaced in 2017.

The ERA could successfully diminish the power of backlash that builds after every major step forward, because when rights are embedded in the Constitution, they are hard to deny. Recall that in the 1970s, Phyllis Schlafly, the ardent, strident and out-spoken enemy of the ERA, issued dire predictions about the aftermath of its passage. “She warned of a dystopian post-E.R.A. future of women forced to enlist in the military, gay marriage, unisex toilets everywhere and homemakers driven into the workplace by husbands free to abandon them,” noted the New York Times. Scare stories abounded, and the amendment fell short of the number of states needed for ratification.   

Although the amendment failed, the New York Times reported that, “Much of what she [Schlafly] recoiled from has come to pass: abortions are intact, albeit under siege in some jurisdictions. Same-sex marriage as a right has the Supreme Court’s blessing. Unisex bathrooms are a broadly accepted fact of life, notwithstanding struggles over transgender rights. And women today not only fill the ranks of the military but are also eligible for combat duty.”

But many of these changes resulted from legislation and, as Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg reminds us, “legislation can be repealed, it can be altered.” Or it can simply ignored. In April, the U.S. Justice Department decided not to defend a federal law banning female genital mutilation. This is a barbaric procedure, unfortunately common in many areas of the world. The section of a women’s genitalia that is key to sexual pleasure is simply cut out of her body. Women’s rights activists have called for the reversal of the decision. (Women’s eNews alerted readers to this story on April 26.)

What difference would the ERA make if it were to be made law today? According to the New York Times, it would “guarantee equal legal rights for all American citizens regardless of sex. It would also require states to intervene in cases of gender violence, such as domestic violence and sexual harassment; it would guard against pregnancy and motherhood discrimination; and it would federally guarantee equal pay.” During the 1970s and ’80s, Ruth Bader Ginsburg helped to persuade the Supreme Court to extend the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment to prohibit unequal treatment on the basis of sex — similar to what the ERA would have done. But supporters said that clause didn’t go far enough, particularly when it comes to violence against women, sexual harassment and equal pay.”

Looking at the history of the gender pay gap shows us why the ERA is needed. This stubborn  gap persists despite the fact that the Equal Pay Act was signed in 1963 by President John F. Kennedy. He praised it as a “significant step forward,” but acknowledged that “much remains to be done to achieve full equality of economic opportunity” for women. His words were eerily prescient.

Since then, some gains were made. In 1963, “women who worked full-time, year-round made 59 cents on average for every dollar earned by men.” In the past six decades, women’s earnings have increased, but according to the National Women’s Law Center, the wage gap remains stubborn, with very little change over the past 12 years.

The Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) finds that “if change continues at the same slow pace as it has done for the past fifty years, it will take 41 years—or until 2059—for women to finally reach pay parity.” For women of color, the rate of change is even slower. The gender wage gap persists in spite of passage of The Equal Pay Act. Gender discrimination, unequal opportunities for advancement, and lack of federal paid parental leave and childcare assistance all contribute to the unequal status quo.

And the fight goes on. Since the 1970s, five states – Idaho, Kentucky, Nebraska, Tennessee, and South Dakota – have attempted to withdraw their approval of the Equal Rights Amendment. There is heated debate over whether states actually have the right to rescind a ratification. Ultimately, the Supreme Court may have to answer this question. And this debate is likely to intensify as we approach the magic number: 38.

Why is it important now?

In 2017, Nevada ratified the amendment, led by democratic State Senator Pat Spearman,  “It was then that other states said, ‘Wait a minute, you mean we can still do that?” noted the New York Times. In 2018, Illinois did as well. Then, in February of 2019, Virginia came close to being the 38th and final state needed to ratify the amendment — until the State House killed its progress. “The drumbeat for the ERA is louder than ever before. Women are marching, protesting, running for office – and getting elected – in record numbers. The #MeToo and Time’s Up movements have shined a light on the discrimination that persists in this country. And it is up to us to harness the energy of these movements to break through the final barrier to finally ratify the ERA,” says Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY). “Our rights cannot be subject to the political whims of legislators, judges, or occupants of the White House who do not see women as equal citizens. We will not quit until women are in the Constitution, where we belong. Women are not waiting any longer. We demand full equality now. We demand that it be spelled out in the Constitution. And you know how you spell it? E-R-A.”

Virginia’s Victoria Cobb, president of the Family Foundation of Virginia, has led the new movement to defeat the ERA. The Washington Post reports, “Virginia was poised to become the 38th state to ratify it, filling in that three-quarters majority of states required for it to become official. In Richmond, the GOP-led Senate passed the ERA bill [in February 2019]. And celebrities, lawmakers and activists were touting its revival on Capitol Hill in Washington. “But then a tiny subcommittee in Richmond — the House Privileges and Elections subcommittee — voted along party lines to block the amendment from reaching the House floor after heavy lobbying from Cobb.” The Post goes on to note that, “(Cobb) has powerful place in the world of business is her family’s oyster company, where she has worked mostof her adult life. Good thing there’s no sexual harassment or gender discrimination there, right?” Cobb bases most of her objections on abortion, “convincing folks that somehow, if women were to finally be included in the Constitution, it would mean all kinds of public money would be funding abortion.” However, the ERA has nothing to do with abortion.

 “Today, we are witnessing a massive cultural shift for women around the globe. As the highest-ranking female elected official in New York – the birthplace of the women’s rights movement – we must lead by example and pass the Equal Rights Amendment now,” says NYS Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul. “From the workplace to our health care system, women are being held back by outdated institutional social and economic barriers. Because of our current climate, enacting an ERA on both the state and federal level is more important now than ever. Let’s take action and support women around our nation to achieve full constitutional equality. Our generation must take the torch passed on to us by our foremothers and enact a new ERA for the next generation.”

As the battle rages on, Justice Ginsburg, aka The Notorious RBG, has also made one of the best arguments for ratification: “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.”

Beyonce’s Homecoming: A Lesson In Black Excellence and Vulnerability

Sun, 04/28/2019 - 07:32

Beyoncé is as close to perfection as one can ever hope to become. She is the face of #iwokeuplikethis. But her new video, Homecoming, released on Netflix reveals a different side of this fierce, feminist icon. Between clips of her 2018 Coachella headline performance, the audience is given a glimpse beyond the effortlessly perfect front we are used to seeing. In this two-hour documentary, Beyoncé reveals another superpower: Vulnerability and authenticity.

We see a woman struggling to get back in shape after a difficult and dangerous pregnancy. A woman who is tired, sweaty, and frustrated as she learns her dance routine and directs a crew of 100+ individuals.

Her voice narrates the video of her first rehearsal post-birthing twins: “There were days I thought I’d never be the same. I’d never be the same physically, my strength and endurance would never be the same.”

She reveals the internal struggles she faced, as well: “A lot of the choreography is about feeling so it’s not as technical. It’s your own personality that brings it to life and that’s hard when you don’t feel like yourself… it took me a while to feel confident enough.” Her vulnerability is refreshing and restorative to women, especially Black women who so often feel the need to project a strong, stoic front to the world.

Black women live at the intersection of racism and sexism. These systems of oppressions work constantly to demean, depress and disenfranchise those it intends to harm. Yet magically, and miraculously, Black women continue to rise like the mythological phoenix, but that doesn’t negate the harm of the fire that burns them. The ashes do not simply disappear once they are in flight. Black women are human, and like all humans, they need space to mess up, grow, fail, succeed, fail again, and genuinely come into their own power.

But Black women are consistently given the least number of resources and receive the most judgement about their decisions.

Many religious institutions admonish them for their bodies and sexuality. White conservatives label them as moochers and welfare queens. Most media paints them into caricatures: Angry, aggressive adversaries and asexual maternal figures with no lives of their own; or overly-sexual beings that only exist for the beck and call of men.

With no nuance provided and minimal honest investigation of their true lives, we are left with few authentic representations of Black woman and the effort it takes to be excellent, which makes watching this documentary even sweeter. In a call-and-response portion of Beyoncé’s performance, she incorporates audio of one of Malcolm X’s speeches amidst her lyrics:

Malcolm X: “The most disrespected person in America is the black woman.”

Beyoncé: “I am the dragon breathing fire.”

Malcolm X: “The most unprotected person in America is the black woman.”

Beyoncé: “Beautiful man, I’m the lion.”

Malcolm X: “The most neglected person in America is the black woman.”

By using her own language to counter Malcolm X’s sobering truths, she both acknowledges the oppressive forces they are up against while providing an empowering denouncement of those who deny their power, beauty, and humanity.  However, such responses also contribute to a societal expectation that Black women are able to do anything, but there is no gladness in being the mule of the world. This expectation is hurtful and deadly.  While there is pride in overcoming such immense strugglea and oppression, many fail to recognize the price being paid. “What people don’t see is the sacrifice,” Beyoncé notes.

The Black community has started to connect the dots where Black women are expected always appear strong, thus creating additional stressors that can lead to development of serious mental and physical health issues. Due to stress-related accelerated biological aging, Black women between the ages 49-55 are 7.5 biological years “older” than white women on average, with perceived stress and poverty accounting for 27 percent of this difference. Further, the pain women of color experience in medical situations is often perceived as lower than the pain of white women due to erroneous racial biases that women of color have higher pain tolerance. Having their pain taken less seriously has proven to be lethal in many cases.

Beyoncé, herself, experienced serious complications during her pregnancy, including high blood pressure, toxemia, pre-eclampsia, and an emergency C-section. “I was in survival mode and did not grasp it all until months later,” she notes. Still, she pushed herself to get back to work as soon as possible, driven to use her platform to help “lift up” her people and “put on stage a proud moment for us”.

As the first female African American woman to headline Coachella, she had a vision for a performance that evoked images from HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges and Universities): “I wanted a Black orchestra. I wanted the steppers. I needed the vocalists… the amount of swag is just limitless.” Her Homecoming video also includes audio from numerous famous African American scholars dispersed throughout. “I wanted every person who has ever been dismissed because of the way they look feeling like they were on that stage killing it,” she notes.

This centering of “The Other” is a highly strategic move that not only gives the mostly white Coachella audience a Black history lesson they would never forget, but also provides a grand display of authenticity in an industry sometimes filled with thoughtless stage productions. It was a move that only Beyoncé could have pulled off. Her earth-shattering theme came right from her very own Black southern background.

Beyoncé worked hard to provide this experience. Possibly too hard. She admits during her film, “I pushed myself further than I knew I could and I will never push myself that far again.” The power of this comment was not lost on us. Beyoncé is acknowledging how even she, a woman with an extensive staff helping her to maintain a front of effortless perfection and providing many of the resources needed to reach her goals, is prone to breakdowns. It is eye-opening when a person you idolize as ‘having-it-all’ suddenly reveals that she does not. It illustrates the hollowness of this flawless front we are desperately trying to build for ourselves. We see reality more clearly.

In this moment of the film, Beyoncé is recognizing that we need more than superwomen to help move us forward into bigger and better opportunities. We need authentic, sincere women who are willing to be honest about the struggles they faced to get where they are so the other women following them realize they are allowed to struggle, too, and that struggling doesn’t make us any less worthy.

Homecoming ends with audio of Dr. Maya Angelou. The brilliant writer is asked what advice she would give the next generation and the first thing she says is: “Tell the truth. To yourself first, and to the children.”

We as an audience are left to consider that, when you practice radical self-honesty, the pain of the truth gives way to the wonderment of growth. And when that level of vulnerability is displayed, honored, and respected in front of our children, we can raise generations of young people who understand that growth and improvement is always better than inflexible ideals of perfection.

Only when we show up as who we are, flaws and all, no matter how accomplished we become, do we give permission to others to recognize the greatness in themselves.

About the Authors:

Afftene Taylor is a full time web developer and aspiring actress and writer. She currently lends her creative talents to the Atlanta Radio Theatre Company’s daily audio podcast drama, Mercury: A Broadcast of Hope. You can follow her on Instagram at @madebyafftene.

Caralena Peterson is a high school teacher, writer and visual artist. She is at work on the forthcoming book The Effortless Perfection Myth. You can follow her on Instagram at @caralenapeterson or @badasscreative_

Women’s Rights Advocates Condemn DOJ Decision to Not Defend Female Genital Mutilation Law

Thu, 04/25/2019 - 14:40

On Thursday, April 25th, Congresswoman Carolyn B. Maloney (NY-12) (pictured center) joined elected officials and Equal Rights Amendment advocates to condemn a recent US Department of Justice decision to not  defend a federal law banning FGM/C, to call for Speaker Pelosi to step in to defend the law, and call for the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). Congresswoman Maloney is the sponsor of H.J. Res. 35, a bill to restart the ratification process of the ERA.

While the Trump Administration has decided not to defend the 1996 law banning FGM/C, the House or the Senate could do so. Accordingly, Congresswoman Maloney wrote a letter today (partial text below) to Speaker Nancy Pelosi to urge her to defend the law in the U.S. Court of Appeals.

In light of a federal district court in Michigan’s November, 2018 ruling that Congress does not have the constitutional authority to criminalize FGM/C, the advocates today highlighted the need to ratify the ERA. Without this constitutional bedrock protecting women’s rights, courts can roll back the laws Congress passes.

“Female genital mutilation and cutting is a grotesque and extremely painful procedure that removes a portion of a woman’s sexual organs in order to exert control over her bodily integrity and sexual autonomy. The Trump Administration’s decision not to protect women and girls from this horrific practice illustrates not only its unwillingness to fight for women’s rights, but also exposes large loopholes in our Constitution that allow for women’s rights to be chipped away far too easily. Activists have been fighting the same battles for decades, and without the Equal Rights Amendment any progress we achieve can be rolled back. It’s time for the ERA to finally be ratified so that the rights of women can be protected, no matter who is in the White House, who sits on the bench, or who is in the majority in Congress or state capitols,” said Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney (NY-12).

“As a survivor of female genital mutilation, I am deeply disappointed by the decision of the Department of Justice,” added Aissata M.B. Camara, Co-Founder, There Is No Limit Foundation. “This outcome undermines decades of progress made by activists like me to end this harmful practice. It sends a negative message about the value of our bodies and experiences. The time to act is now—protecting women and girls rights must be a priority.  I applaud everyone breaking their silence because FGM affects all of us and it’s a violation of human rights. Ending this practice requires collective action rooted in community education and strong policies. I know we can achieve a world without FGM so women and girls can live to their full potential”

According to Kate Kelly, Program Officer of Women’s and Girl’s Rights at Equality Now, “Simply put, FGM is a human rights violation. It’s a form of gender-based violence and child abuse. The procedure can be fatal, and is always harmful. The decision by the DOJ to not appeal the decision in the Nagarwala case tacitly says that the federal government can’t pass laws to stop human rights violations. This is not true. Congress does have the authority to enact an FGM law. In fact, it is under international obligation to do so. Currently, 19 states do not have laws against FGM. In this very case girls were taken across state lines to be cut. This alarming lack of federal enforcement and gap in state laws is putting American women and girls at risk today.”


  • In 1996, Congress criminalized the practice of female genital mutilation (18 USC §116), which is recognized internationally as a violation of the human rights of women and girls.
  • The World Health Organization states that the procedure has no health benefits for girls and women and can cause severe bleeding and problems urinating, and later cysts, infections, as well as complications in childbirth and increased risk of newborn deaths.
  • In the first federal case (U.S. v. Nagarwala) brought under the FGM/C law, a Michigan federal district court judge overturned the law on the grounds that Congress lacked the authority to legislate in this area.  The judge rejected the idea that either the Commerce Clause or international treaties were sufficient to provide Congress jurisdiction. Last Friday, the U.S. Department of Justice announced that it would not defend the law.
  • 5 of the 9 victims in the case had been transported across state lines to undergo FGM/C.
  • More than 500,000 women and girls in the United States have undergone or are at risk of undergoing female genital mutilation according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
  • More than 100,000 women and girls who live in the 19 states that lack laws banning FGM/C are at risk without the federal FGM law.
  • Just 15 states ban transporting a person across state lines for the purpose of undergoing FGM/C
  • Chairman Jerry Nadler announced this week that the House Judiciary Committee will hold the first Congressional hearing on the Equal Rights Amendment in more than three decades on April 30, moving us closer to ratification.

Can Women Save The World?

Wed, 04/24/2019 - 11:45

Can women save the world? By looking at the life Edna Adan Ismail, Somaliland’s former Foreign Minister and former First Lady, the answer would be a resounding, “YES.” Labeled the ‘Muslim Mother Teresa,’ Edna has taken everything she learned through these prominent positions to save the lives of untold numbers of women and children.

Edna Adan Ismail

As the current director and founder of the Edna Adan Maternity Hospital in Hargeisa, her mission is to help improve the health of the local inhabitants and, even more urgently, to decrease Somaliland’s extreme levels of maternal and infant mortality, which are among the highest in the world. This non-profit making charity and midwifery teaching hospital, which Edna built from scratch, is also training student nurses and other health professionals. “I am just doing what needs to be done,” Edna says, reflecting on her decision in 1998 to sell her home and car, as well as donate her U.N. pension, to fund the hospital.

Edna Adan Maternity Hospital

Officially opened on March 9, 2002, the Edna Adan Maternity Hospital was built on land donated to her by the regional government at a site formerly used as a garbage dump. The region lacked trained midwives/nurses to staff the hospital – as most had either fled the country or been killed during the Somali Civil War, which destroyed Somaliland’s entire health infrastructure. Edna recruited more than 30 candidates and began training them while the hospital was still under construction. Now completed, it houses two operating rooms, a laboratory, a library, a computer center and a university dedicated to training nurses and midwives as well as other health professionals. As of 2018, the university hospital has grown to 200 staff members and 1500 students. “Due to our training, our country now has the largest number of midwives per capita, and we have been able to reduce infant mortality significantly,” Edna says proudly. The hospital’s historical survival rate is 75% higher than the national average.

This facility is also the address where Edna calls home, having moved into the only room that had a door and a shower/toilet during construction. “I was born into this,” she says, recalling that, as a child, “the problems of the world came to my father’s door.” Edna witnessed her father, a prominent physician, display compassion, generosity and devotion to his patients throughout her childhood. “His patients came before his own needs,” she recalls. “I brought this level of dedication to my diplomatic career, and now to this hospital.”

The first woman Minister of Social Affairs (August 2002 – June 2003), Edna then became Foreign Minister, and found she was able to more powerfully present the case for supporting Somaliland not only as a diplomat, but as a woman. “Being a woman, I am allowed to be forceful and angry and show sorrow for my people. I am allowed to express pain and sorrow and anger. I can be motherly and I can be tenacious. I can also shed a tear or two,” Edna adds. “I can also share emotions I feel by witnessing the pain and Injustice my country has suffered.” Further, as the Foreign Minister of Somaliland, Edna purposely hosts delegations at the hospital. “I do this so that I can prove to everyone that if this site is good enough for my patients, it is also good enough for me to live in, and it is also good enough for those who wish to associate with me.” As the only woman in the delegation, she has also had to remind other dignitaries that she is the head of the delegation. “If I bang on a table or shed a tear, don’t try to appease me, I tell them. When I express anger, don’t tell me to cool down,’ she continues. “Don’t try to impose a different emotion to what I am expressing at that moment. I will know when I want to cool down, and I will tell you what I need. If I wish to show my emotions, it is because I have chosen to do so.”

Yet one of the most memorable stories she tells is of an experience that occurs time and time again, and often just before a woman is about to die. “Since a woman in our society does not have the authority to sign for her own surgery when requiring a Caesarean section, she must have a male (father, husband, brother or son) do it for her. Sometimes, when we tell the husband that we must have his consent immediately (because of a time-sensitive emergency) or his wife will die, he will refuse, or will want to wait to decide. But we cannot afford to wait. So I summon a policeman, and on the back of the form I write, ‘I want my wife to die, ‘ when she is in danger of dying without the  surgical intervention that she needs. I then ask him if he wants to sign that instead. The husband approves the surgery for a C-section every single time. If not,” Edna adds, “I would have taken the risk and signed it myself, which could cause me to go to prison if his wife did not survive the surgery. Fortunately, no one has ever called my bluff.”

Yet it doesn’t stop there. “My battle against female genital mutilation (FGM) has been the biggest battle of my life,” Edna says. A victim of FGM herself, she was the first woman to speak out against it. “These young girls have survived measles, whooping cough, chronic diarrhea and other life-threatening diseases, and when they reach the age of seven or eight, when they are learning to jump and learn and talk…they are subjected to FGM.” “It is not only cutting. It is total mutilation!” she adds. Edna believes that fathers have to be educated about the dangers of FGM as well, so she is working on publishing an animated book about it since so many in her country cannot read.

Based upon so many of Edna’s accomplishments, one would think there wouldn’t be anything she could fail at. But there is. “I want to get my country internationally recognized. That is my unfinished book,” she says. “The world is losing the presence of a democratic country in Somaliland.  We have managed to demobilize our militia with our own resources, we have a functioning, democratically elected government and we generate all taxes from our own country. While the international community is spending billions of dollars to try to bring peace in Somalia, they are ignoring the peace we have already achieved in Somaliland. We gain from peace and stability,” she adds, “They gain from lawlessness.” 

About the author: Lori Sokol, PhD, is Executive Director and Editor-in-Chief of Women’s eNews. Her book, #SheIsMe: How Women Can Save The World, will be published in the Spring, 2020.


#MeToo in the Garment Industry

Sun, 04/21/2019 - 13:06

Chances are that the clothes you are wearing as you read this were made by a woman. Chances are that she lives in Asia and migrated from a rural area to a big city to work in a garment factory, a job she considers better than anything she could find in her hometown. Chances are also that at this “good” job she is not making a living wage, is experiencing some form of harassment or violence, and fears being fired. 

Approximately 75 percent of the world’s garment workers are women, making the fashion industry a powerful employer with a powerful economic force. Valued at 2.4 trillion, the fashion industry would be the globe’s seventh largest economy if ranked alongside countries’ GDPs. Despite the industry’s profitability, its workers are among the least protected or compensated. A garment worker in Delhi compared their low and inconsistent pay rates “like we are vegetables; our prices vary.”  Pervasive gender discrimination on top of garment workers’ temporary work status leaves women workers vulnerable economically and physically.

Female garment workers sort through fabric in a factory located outside of of Dhaka, Bangladesh on October 2, 2018. According to Human Rights Watch, sexual harassment in garment factories in Cambodia, Bangladesh, Burma, and Pakistan were rife with abuse, legal protections did not exist or were weakly enforced, and efforts to audit factories or monitor for harassment were ineffective.

Six years ago the world awoke to one of the acute dangers in the fashion industry when Rana Plaza – an eight-story building housing clothing factories – collapsed in Bangladesh, killing over 1,000 people and injuring 2,500 others. It was the deadliest garment factory accident in history.

Since the factory housed a number of US and European brands, the magnitude of the tragedy led to a groundswell of activism. Following global protests and outcry, global brands signed two agreements mandating more robust fire and structural safety standards in factories.

Gender-based violence at work

Still, structural building hazards are far from the most pervasive dangers women face in the garment industry. One of the most insidious threats to women garment workers is gender-based violence. This takes many forms, from outright sexual violence and harassment to physical abuse, inappropriate touching, and verbal abuse. Despite the #MeToo movement, however, we yet to hear their stories, but women’s-rights organizations and activists are working to change that.

Organizations of women garment workers are looking to spark change

At Global Fund for Women, we support some of the organizations working with women garment workers through an initiative funded by C&A Foundation and NoVo Foundation, to eradicate gender-based violence and empower women garment workers in Bangladesh, Cambodia, India and Vietnam. These women-led organizations are creating safe spaces for the women workers to come together to share their experiences, document abuse, and strengthen their leadership to advocate for their rights. Through increasing mobilization and organizing, women are being encouraged to join and lead trade unions; police and labor officials are being sensitized on the issue; and through negotiations with factory managers, mechanisms for safe reporting and response and being created inside the factories.

These organizations, and others are helping to build an understanding and awareness of what sexual abuse and harassment is for both the women workers and factory management. They are gathering documentation of the cases and data on how widespread gender-based workplace violence is for evidence-based advocacy.

Social norms and the pervasiveness of gender-based violence can prohibit it from being recognized as such. Further, the shame and stigma associated with harassment, particularly sexual harassment, and fear of reprisals at work prevent women from making formal complaints despite its high prevalence.Still, we know that in India 60 percent of female factory workers reported experiencing some type of harassment. In Bangladesh, 75 percent of women garment workers experienced verbal abuse, and 20 percent experienced physical abuse, according to Fair Wear Foundation.  

Maheen Sultan of Naripokkho, a women-led organization that began working with female garment workers after the Rana Plaza disaster, explained, “This is such an important area to establish women’s rights, with more women coming into the formal sector and with all the different kinds of rights violations taking place.”  She also emphasized that living free from violence is a predicate for establishing other rights. “Gender-based violence is not isolated to factories, or localized to workplaces; it’s woven throughout the lives of women. They experience it when they travel to work on public transit, in schools, and often at home,” Maheen says.

Change in progress

Change is slow, but there are encouraging signs. From grassroots to policy, the number of women leaders and members of the trade unions are growing; India law has mandated Internal Complaint Committees at the workplace; Cambodia is negotiating an industry-wide collective bargaining agreement; factories in Bangladesh are partnering with women’s rights organizations to allow worker trainings on sexual harassment; and a new and pending International Labor Organization (ILO) convention on ending violence and harassment in the world of work – the first international standard of its kind – is expected to be voted on in June. An international universal definition on harassment and violence in the world of work planned at the ILO convention in June) would set the stage for its ratification and the development of national policies and laws.

Change is possible and will require political will, as shown in the wake of the Rana Plaza collapse. It will also demand a human rights commitment from consumers, factories, brands, and governments. Above all, it will require the courage and voices of women garment workers and activists.

Sonia Wazed, of the Society for Labour and Development in India, explained, “Developing women leaders to claim their rights and that of their fellow members is a long drawn journey where women need to start questioning their perceptions of patriarchy, how it impacts them as workers, and why they need to challenge the existing norms that repress and violate their rights.”

About the author: Sangeeta Chowdhry is the Senior Program Director for Economic Justice at Global Fund for Women. She has worked on women’s empowerment and rights over the past decade with a focus on economic and environmental justice issues.

The Right Way to be an LGBTQ+ Ally

Wed, 04/17/2019 - 13:32

A few days before summer vacation, I got her text.

“I have to tell you something but I don’t want you to hate me,” it read. My seventh-grade heart started racing. Had I accidentally said something mean about her? Was she about to tell me we couldn’t be friends anymore? What had I done wrong?

We made plans to talk the next day in person. Sitting in the middle of the crowded gymnasium of Pyle Middle School, she leaned in and whispered, “I’m bisexual. I like guys and girls.”

At a loss for words, I just leaned in to give her a hug. I didn’t know whether to congratulate her or thank her. I just knew that she had taken a huge leap of faith, and I wanted to be there for her in any way I could. We had only known each other for one year, but she had become one of my closest friends. Her secret was safe with me, but I felt the need to protect her at all costs. I didn’t yet know against what, but I was about to find out.

As we walked through the school’s halls immediately after, I became hyper-aware of the comments my peers were making around us. “That outfit is so gay,” I heard a boy remark to his friend. “Oh my god stop being such a f*g,” another boy yelled. I felt as though these remarks were aimed directly at my friend, though I knew that none of them knew she was bisexual.

The following fall she approached me with a proposal. “How would you feel about starting a Gay-Straight Alliance here at Pyle?” she asked. I knew that an eighth-grader had attempted to start one a year earlier, but it never took off. “I’m in,” I immediately responded. “What do we have to do?”

We met with our guidance counselor the following week to discuss our idea. She was completely on board but seemed apprehensive about getting parental and administrative support. She organized a meeting for us with the head of the Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) at our local high school, a strong-willed senior who was ready to help us. We discussed the goals of the club; to create a safe space for queer, questioning, and student allies in our community, as well as providing education about sexuality, which was a taboo topic in our middle school classrooms. We talked about the importance of confidentiality and anonymity in a space like this one. The guidance counselor reminded us that starting this club will be an uphill battle, and we might face pushback, but we knew it would be worth it.

Every day we became more and more aware of the necessity of this club. As word spread about what we were trying to do, a number of students told us they were in support of a GSA and would participate if we succeeded in creating it. A few students even approached us in confidence and came out, while sharing that their orientations did not feel celebrated or valued at Pyle, and that they needed a place to talk about it. A handful of students made snide remarks about the existence of a GSA–why was it necessary, and why did we care–but these comments only further emphasized the need to create this club.  

A few weeks later, we were finally able to meet with the principal. He informed us that he was personally in support of a GSA, but that he was worried about pushback from parents and conservative teachers. He also told us that the meetings would have to be secretive, and information about the existence and logistics of the meetings would have to spread solely by word of mouth. We weren’t allowed to hang flyers or mention meetings in the school’s daily announcements.

This took us by surprise. We knew we’d face pushback, but not to this extent. Yes, gay marriage had only become legal six months earlier at the federal level, but it had been legal in Maryland for over two years! And legality aside, Pyle was a place that prided itself on diversity. Every morning, during the school’s public announcements, a student read our school values, the last two which were: “sustaining a nurturing and respectful environment” and “honoring diversity.” It seemed ironic that these announcements would boast respect and diversity yet could not discuss a club dedicated to preserving these values.

“We can’t have parents getting wind of this,” he told us. He had a point. As middle schoolers we didn’t have much mobility, and widespread parental knowledge about the GSA could potentially put students in harm’s way if they lived in a homophobic household. Yet, at the same time, his demands felt too restrictive. They felt like homophobia veiled as support. His assumption that students would choose to conceal their involvement with a gay-straight alliance demonstrated our school’s lacking support systems for LGBTQ+ students as well as stigma around LGBTQ+ rights and personhood.

We pushed ahead with the GSA, compliant with the principal’s restrictive regulations since we felt that a restricted GSA was better than no GSA. For the first meeting, 25 students showed up. A number of them came out at that meeting, or have since come out as LGBTQ+. Many straight allies showed up as well. The enthusiasm from both groups validated our original goal: We had created a space where students could openly discuss and celebrate diverse sexual orientations.

We continued to hold GSA meetings every Thursday until the end of the school year. We mixed lesson plans with open discussions, careful to honor confidentiality and allow students enough anonymity to remain comfortable. By the end of the year, a group of sixth and seventh graders were attending the meetings as well, to whom we later entrusted the club’s future. The Pyle Middle School GSA exists to this day, and remains a safe space for LGBTQ+ students and allies.

A number of adults have since approached me to remark how brave it was to start this club. Still, I don’t believe I was the brave one in this experience, since I didn’t have anything to lose. The bravery belongs to my LGBTQ+ peers who attended the meetings and opened up about their lived experiences, helping to foster a more supportive network for questioning and closeted students. Bravery also belongs to my good friend and co-founder of the GSA for serving as a role model to our peers and future students. I simply saw a problem that needed to be addressed, and used my ‘straight privilege’ to help elevate the voices of those who didn’t have any. That’s not bravery; it’s responsibility.

About the Author: Emily Axelrod 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.

From Victim to Victor: Surviving Sexual Assault in Uganda

Sun, 04/14/2019 - 12:53

I am a survivor of a sexual assault that happened in my village in Rwanda when I was just an 11-year-old child.

I thought I had put all that pain behind me until 2015, when I traveled to Uganda to visit my husband’s home—the site of his organization, Nyaka AIDS Orphans Project. There, I learned that a 35-year-old man had raped a nine-year-old girl that weekend. The adults around her knew what had happened, but they did nothing. Instead, they sent her to school the following day, as if nothing had even happened. I soon learned, too, that a five-year-old girl in the same village was raped by her grandfather, leaving her HIV positive. Then I heard about a 14-year-old in a neighboring village who had been repeatedly raped by her father, starting when she was just four years old. The child had attempted suicide twice, and made futile attempts to seek help and safety, but she couldn’t get away.

This is the sad truth about my part of the world: Young girls are frequently sexually assaulted in sub-Saharan Africa, and justice is rarely served. I knew I needed to do something to help.

This turned out to be more difficult than I had thought. While working with young survivors, I learned how hard it is to gain justice in Uganda. Survivors are responsible for completing their own police reports, which often includes walking an average of seven miles to report the crime, and paying $12.00 in legal fees—half a month’s salary for most families—before the perpetrator can even be arrested. The rape victim then has to walk another long distance to a hospital where she has to gather her own evidence to take back to the police. It’s a maddeningly cruel system that seldom leads to justice for survivors. Even worse, a survivor’s case can easily be thrown out, and often is. Survivors must come to court, which often means walking and giving up a full day of work for family members, and court dates are often changed at the last minute. Once in court, the survivor is responsible for presenting the correct paperwork and bringing enough copies for the court. If anything is missing, the case is thrown out.

The process is frustrating, grueling, and embarrassing for survivors. One young survivor had become suicidal after facing threats from her perpetrator’s family and taunts from local boys. Without support of any kind, she came to believe all the evil lies claimed about her. I therefore created the EDJA Foundation, to help survivors heal by helping them at every step, beginning immediately after an assault and staying by their side long after the criminal trial. Working with the community, we added a Rape Crisis Center within the hospital to support survivors immediately after being attacked. Since then, every survivor is given a rape exam, medical attention, and life-saving medicine that can prevent HIV contraction.

As we know, however, a sexual attack causes more than just physical pain. To address the level of psychological healing every survivor needs, we also established a Sexual Assault Program to provide free counseling. We began with individual counseling, and have since added support groups to accommodate the increasing number of survivors coming to us for help.

Additionally, our Legal Advocate assists the police by first locating many perpetrators, and then providing the police with a ride to arrest them. He also provides transportation for survivors to court, files the police reports, and handles other issues with the court. He is a guide for families through this painful process, while offering them legal counsel so they know their rights.

Finally, I knew we needed to do more than just react to sexual assault; we had to change the culture — fighting for a world without violence. Now EDJA educates the entire community through a monthly radio show and group sessions about girls’ rights, sexual assault, and how to get help for survivors. We also teach the community’s boys about standards of behavior that respect the rights of girls, which we hope will begin to put an end to the enduring rape culture.

Best of all, we witness positive changes every day. Over 50 rape survivors—some as young as four years old—are receiving life-saving support from EDJA. And, appropriately enough during April’s Sexual Assault Awareness Month, that grandfather who raped his own granddaughter and infected her with AIDS received 32 years in prison. Today, over 30 perpetrators have received prison sentences.

Change like this is important for many reasons, including keeping the community safe. But most importantly, it’s a message to girls and women that they matter, they are valued, and they can fight for their dignity and for justice.

As a survivor myself, I can tell you that there is no greater gift to rape survivors than being believed and validated. That’s the message that EDJA intends to deliver to survivors worldwide, beginning with those in East Africa where women have accepted their fate of abuse for too long. Today, EDJA is saying in a loud and clear voice: Those days are over. ENOUGH IS ENOUGH!

About the author: Tabitha Mpamira-Kaguri is the Founder/Executive Director of the EDJA Foundation.To learn more about the EDJA Foundation to end sexual violence in Uganda, please visit their website, www.edjafoundation.org. To view the trailer of their film, Victors, click here.

What ‘Career Barbie’ Really Needs

Thu, 04/11/2019 - 10:04

Barbie first hit the toy market 60 years ago in March, 1959. Her creator, Ruth Handler, believed that by playing with this new toy, “little girls…could be anything they wanted to be.” This message continues to be a clear winner.

In 2018, the Barbie brand “generated gross sales that amounted to about 1.09 billion U.S. dollars, up from about 955 million U.S. dollars the year before.” Mattel hit the jackpot with Barbie, both here and across the globe . The website Statista reported, “The commercial success of Barbie has allowed Mattel to become the ninth most valuable toy brand worldwide as of 2018.”

It is not surprising that to commemorate her diamond anniversary, Mattel introduced a glamorous Barbie who, according to the company’s product website, “wears a cascading ball gown twinkling with silvery sparkles. Paying homage to the original Barbie® doll and her iconic fashion heritage, Barbie® 60th Anniversary doll wears a dramatic ponytail with an elegant twist, side-eye glance, hoop earrings and wrist tag.”

The original Barbie was unrealistically thin, blonde and built with impossible to obtain proportions. Critics noted that she was stereotypically, the “dumb blond.”

That conclusion was reinforced when, in 1992, Mattel introduced Teen Talk Barbie. A doll with a voice box programed with such phrases as “Math class is tough.”, “Will we ever have enough clothes?”, “Let’s plan our dream wedding!”, ”Wanna have a pizza party?”, “Want to go shopping?”, “Okay, meet me at the mall”, and “Let’s have a campfire”.

With very few exceptions these phrases added to the picture of Barbie as a air-headed girl who could only think about enjoying today. She personified the stereotype of the day; a female who had no dreams of a future career, only thoughts about fun and marriage.

Since then, perhaps in response to changing demographics, Mattel has done a 180, and has embraced Ruth Handler’s message of choice, who once said, “Barbie always represented the fact that a woman has choices.” Mattel’s recent focus has been on Barbie’s choice of career. One report on the popular website TwentyTwoWords claims that Barbie has had “over 200 careers… she’s been everything from robotics engineer to journalist; a few more of her careers include a U.S. Air Force Thunderbird Squadron Leader, a paleontologist, a fashion editor, a sign language teacher, and a presidential candidate!”

Barbie was around when the percentage of women entering the labor force shot up dramatically., and Mattel’s decision reflected this change. “In 1970, about 43 percent of women ages 16 and older were in the labor force. By 2000, 61 percent of adult women were in the labor force ,” reports the Population Reference Bureau.

In another move to recognize women’s outstanding contributions, Mattel honored a number of female heroes (Sheros) with their own Barbie dolls, including filmmaker Ava DuVernay , tennis champ Naomi Osaka, fashion executive Eva Chen and Olympic fencer  Ibtihaj Muhammad.  The list of continues to grow by recently introducing big wave surfer Maya Gabeira; Kristina Vogel, a disabled Olympic Gold Medal cyclist from Germany who has gone into politics; Tessa Virtue, a Canadian Olympic gold medalist in ice dancing; Yara Shahidi , co-star of the popular sitcom Blackish; Vogue cover model Adwoa Aboah; Dipa Karmaka, an Indian visual artist; Chinese photographer Chen Man and Ita Buttrose, an Australian journalist and editor. And, in 2016, “Mattel went a step further and released a range of dolls with different body types, more hairstyles and seven skin tones, to better represent the world we live in.”

Mattel has also incorporated other changes to reflect the diverse world of today. As of 2016, Barbie is no longer universally slim, blonde, and pale skin. She is now brown, black, and Asian. She also mirrors society by featuring some dolls in wheelchairs and even wearing a prosthetic leg.

So Mattel is clearly getting some things right, but there is one glaring omission. Barbie may have Ken, but she certainly doesn’t have children. In that way, she is just as one-dimensional as the original Barbie. Apparently, she can choose to have a career, but she cannot choose to have a career and children. Yet the choice of being a working mother is the overwhelming choice of her target audience. In an important way, Mattel is sending the age-old message: Women cannot have it all.

But young women are ignoring that advice. A 2014 large-scale Gallup poll concludes, “There doesn’t appear to be any evidence that millennials — both married and single/never married — are putting off having children. Even among the small percentage (2%) of married 18-year-old millennials, less than half (44%) have no children, and the percentage decreases with age to just 17% at age 34. And while few single 18-year-old millennials have children (4%), that percentage rises to almost half by age 34. Essentially, almost half of the oldest millennials who have never married nonetheless have children. In 2000, the comparable number for Gen Xers aged 30 to 34 was just 30%.”

Regardless of whether they delay marriage or decide not to marry, millennials are definitely choosing to become parents. In fact, working mothers are now the norm, according to a 2017 report from the Department of Labor. Indeed, “Seventy percent of mothers with children under 18 participate in the labor force, with over 75 percent employed full-tim Mothers are the primary or sole earners for 40 percent of households with children under 18 today, compared with 11 percent in 1960.”

Women are clearly are opting to have it all, while Barbie is still stuck in the days when that option was not available. She may look different, she may not be tied to the house, but she is clearly out of touch with the life most of her target audience envisions for itself.

Maybe Mattel needs to add working mom Barbie to its cast of characters. She could be wearing a suit for the office, scrubs for the operating room, a police uniform or work clothes for the building site.

She would also come with a detachable snugli with a baby in it.

Dr. Rosalind C. Barnett is a senior scientist who has directed studies for the National Science Foundation, NIMH and the Sloan Foundation and Caryl Rivers is a professor of Journalism at Boston University They are the authors of The New Soft War on Women (Tarcher/Penguin) 

Brothels of Bangkok

Thu, 04/04/2019 - 14:04

(An excerpt from Beautiful Justice: Reclaiming My Worth After Human Trafficking and Sexual Abuse)

I was invited to speak at a conference in Bangkok sponsored by the United Nations to address members of Parliament from more than forty Southeast Asian countries. While I was there, I knew I wanted to visit the local red-light district and connect with young women recovering from sexual exploitation.

I was honored to speak to world leaders, passionate women and men, devoted to ending human trafficking and gender violence. I shared how to empower survivors to become leaders, as well as strategies for integrating survivor expertise into policy making.

Legislators from India, Tibet, Japan, and many other countries from the surrounding regions resonated with my message: those who are most impacted by a human rights issue should shape the policies that will directly affect their communities.

As we discussed this essential approach to political change, I knew that a few miles from the luxury hotel where I stayed, teen girls were openly being sold out of brothels. Many of them, born into generational poverty, migrated from rural areas and experienced violence and exploitation after seeking better jobs in the city.

When I walked down one of the main streets of the red-light district with my friend Constance, I witnessed bar after bar filled with white Western men, holding their drinks and checking out the merchandise. Every time I saw a new neon sign advertising girls or heard another wave of men laughing with their crew, I was filled with disgust.

Each one reminded me of my trafficker and the men he sold me to, callous men ruled by their cravings, disconnected from the truth of the suffering they left in their wake. They refused to see what their desires, divorced from the reality of other human lives, ultimately cost.

Although technically it is not legal for the bars in Bangkok to directly sell the girls, they facilitate the transaction and benefit financially. In most of the visible commercial establishments, a buyer picks a girl and then pays the bar an “exit fee” to take her somewhere to perform sexual acts.

To the uneducated eye, it might appear to be consensual. But the histories of abuse, coercion, and poverty tell a different story. There is an illusion of a constant party with copious drinks, loud music, and young smiling girls. Some have numbers pinned to their clingy dresses so they can be quickly identified by a buyer. This ploy conceals the reality of rape, complex trauma, and economic vulnerability. It also hides the fact that many of them are underage.

A few blocks from the bars, a safe house for survivors of sex trafficking shelters girls in their teens and early twenties. Over a beautiful homemade dinner of Thai stews and rice dishes, I spoke to the girls about their experience in recovery.

“What do you love most about being here?” I asked the girls at the dinner table. One of the staff members translated for me. When it was her turn to speak, the shy, slender girl sitting next to me smiled and said, “What I like most about being here is learning about the love of God.”She beamed as she shared this, her face illuminated from within.

“That is beautiful.Thank you for sharing that with me,” I replied, in awe of her response. After walking past all the buyers, all the sellers, all the girls still trapped in poverty and exploitation, her answer pierced through my disgust and gave me hope. God was in the red-light district. I saw her in the faces of these radiant girls.

“My favorite part of being here,” another young woman said, “is our Christmas parties. Every year during Christmas, we host a party and invite all the girls from the bars to come, so we can give them presents and show them love.”

One of the staff members explained, “We pay the bar owners a fee for any of the girls who want to come. It’s the only time of year when they can receive. People are always taking from them.”

The girls were excited to show me the rest of the house. When we went upstairs, the gentle one, who talked about the love of God, walked with me.

“What are you passionate about?” I asked.

“I make art,” she said excitedly. “Want to see?”

“Absolutely!” I said.

She led me over to her collection of drawings and held one up for me to see, smiling with pride. “That is gorgeous. You are a talented artist.”

“Thank you,” she said with quiet confidence. She spoke like a person who had started to grasp her own worth.

I left my dinner with the survivors of Bangkok filled with hope. After all they endured, they are living with the joy of loving and being loved. They are learning the truth of their spiritual identity and purpose.

Love found them in one of the most loveless places on earth. In the past, they were told they were nothing more than sexual commodities to be consumed by men with greater power and privilege. Now, they were preparing for college and spoke with excitement about their dreams for the future.

As I watched the sunrise over Bangkok the next day, I could see that the light within these young survivors was far fiercer than the violence that was forced on their bodies.

Brooke Axtell is the Founder of She is Rising, a healing community for survivors of gender violence and sex trafficking. Her work as a writer, performing artist and human rights activist led her to speak at the 2015 Grammys, The United Nations and The U.S. Institute for Peace. She is the author of Beautiful Justice: Reclaiming My Worth After Sex Trafficking and Sexual Abuse.

I’ve Witnessed Women and Girls Being Raped in Uganda

Mon, 04/01/2019 - 12:44

Rape, Rape, Rape – Rape has become a problem in Uganda. Almost 40% of women and girls have been raped in my village. Rape is a rampant issue. We find that the perpetrators are often the husbands or the boyfriends of the victims.

In my village, there is a known story of a man named Ngobi and his wife. One night, Ngobi wanted to have sex with his wife but she refused because she was not feeling well. Ngobi just forced her into sex (raped her). His wife tried to scream but no one helped her because no one could hear her. She cried and cried as her husband raped her. In the end, the wife died and the man ran away to another district. That is one of the ways women are being mistreated and abused by their husbands in Uganda.

I have also witnessed this happening with my own eyes to girls in my village. One day, there was a girl named Hope, who was going to Ruamutumba town. On her way, she came across an old man named Mukisa. Mukisa started calling her but Hope refused to reply. The old man started to chase Hope and raped her. The man was HIV positive, which means that Hope is now also HIV positive.

Because of this, I want to study hard in order to help those who have been mistreated. If my parents are able to continue supporting me in my studies, I will fight hard so that women can also be respected in Uganda.

So, I ask the government to continue to fight for women’s rights and for its leaders to believe women and to raise our issues in Parliament. The government should aim to teach equality and to tell men and boys not to rape women like that. I also request my fellow young girls to start moving in groups in order to save their lives.

Nakagolo Elizapraise (16 years old) is a participant in the Teen Voices @ Women’s eNews program at Standard Secondary School, Busembatia–Uganda.