Tuesday, March 29, 2011

It's not too late for a video crash course through women's history

Sit down, strap in, press play and get ready for a whirlwind tour through women's history.

The four-DVD set "A History of Women's Achievement in America" is an ambitious project that covers 400 years in four hours. 

And it works.

This collection would be perfect for a daily or weekly dose of women's history  for the K-12 set or for an introduction to women's studies class.  It's brief, rhythmic format is what today's youth has come to accept and can easily digest, but it will leave more hard-core history buffs wanting more.

For the curious, it's a receiving line of introduction to fascinating individuals from poetry to politics, from science to sports, and everywhere in between.

Hosted by actress Donna Mills, the series includes lesson plans, a photo gallery, a time line and copies of historical documents such as the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision, the text of the 19th Amendment and Sojourner Truth's "Ain't I a Woman?" speech.

The series begins in 1621 and ends in 2001, already leaving a 10-year gap to the present day.  I'd love to see it continue.

Monday, March 28, 2011

For Women's History Month: "Cleopatra: A life" Stacy Schiff gives the legendary queen historical context

"We know that she wore plenty of pearls, the diamonds of her day."  
-- Stacy Schiff, author of "Cleopatra: A life."

It is bold move for an author to take on an historical figure of Cleopatra's proportion. It's an even taller order to separate the myth from reality of a character that has become an icon of popular culture.

But, in writing "Cleopatra: A life," Stacy Schiff says her goal was slightly more realistic.

"I have not attempted to fill in the blanks, though on occasion I have corralled the possibilities ... mostly I have restored context."

What makes Cleopatra's story different from most women's stories, says Schiff, is that "the men who shaped it -- for their own reasons -- enlarged rather than erased her role."

Still,  some things never change when it comes to female stereotypes as they are applied to historical figures.

"It is notable that when she is not condemned for being too bold and masculine, Cleopatra is taken to task for being unduly frail and feminine," says Schiff.
Further, of Cleopatra's alliance with Caesar, Schiff says, "Cleopatra was every bit Caesar's equal as a cool-headed, clear-eyed pragmatist though what passed on his part as strategy would be remembered on hers as manipulation."

News Flashes

Local scholarships available

The Troy Women's Association will be awarding scholarships to graduating high school seniors pursuing higher education and adult women who are returning to or who are currently enrolled in higher education.  Obtain an application at troywomensassociation.org.  Completed applications are due by April 15.

OU and NOW present Title IX and reproductive justice update

Please join Oakland County NOW and the Women and Gender Studies program at Oakland University for a FREE Women's History Month eventTitle IX and Reproductive Justice: An Update

Location: Lake Michigan Room in the Oakland Center on OU’s Campus
Date: Thursday, March 31st
Time: 7:00-9:00 pm

Featured speakers:

Renee Chelian:  Executive Director of Northland Family Planning Centers and recently spoke in front of U.S. Congress and the UN in Geneva

Jennifer Martin:  Special Lecturer at Oakland University in the Women and Gender Studies Program

OU hosts same-sex marriage discussion April 4

"Haters, Sinners, and the Rest of Us," a speaking engagement by Dr. John Corvino about the diverging opinions on same-sex marriage and other LGBT issues.

April 4th, 2011 - 7:00 - 9:00pm
Banquet Room B, Oakland Center, Oakland University

A reception before and Q&A session after the engagement will include hors d'oeuvres and time to talk with Dr. Corvino personally.

Take Back the Night Tuesday, April 5

Rally, march and speak out against rape and other forms of sexual violence on Tuesday, April 5 from 6-10 p.m. in the Oakland Center Courtyard on the campus of Oakland University.  The event will feature live music and food.  Visit the Women and Gender Studies Program at Oakland University on Facebook for updates.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Michigan NOW's Women's HERtory Quiz

See how well you know you're HERstory.  Questions courtesy of Michigan NOW and the National Women's History Project.  Answers at the bottom -- don't peek :)
  1. Who became the first female Secretary of State of the United States, appointed by President Clinton in 1997?
  2. Who took over the management of Columbia Sportswear company in the late 1930s when it was nearly bankrupt and turned it into the largest American ski apparel company worth $4 billion in 1972?
  3. Who was the first women in modern history to lead a major Native American tribe, the Cherokee Nation?
  4. Who was the first American woman poet whose poetry was published in London in 1650?
  5. Who was considered the first American woman to be ordained by full denominational authority and who also campaigned vigorously for women's suffrage?

1.  Madeleine Albreight 
2.  Gert Boyle
3. Wilma Mankiller
4.  Ann Bradstreet
5.  Olympia Brown

Sunday, March 20, 2011

One of my personal SHEroes: Vandana Shiva

Dr. Vandana Shiva
I first became acquainted with Vandana Shiva when I read her 2004 article "Mad Cows and Sacred Cows" for a feminist theory class.

Trained as a physicist, Shiva could be considered the embodiment of the earth goddess within the ecofeminist movement who is fighting for an earth-based economy that transcends international borders and flies in the face of the corporations and governments that believe all of the world is a marketplace and everything is for sale. 

Instead, she advocates  an “earth democracy” meaning no nonsustainable rule by corporations. In a rights-based society, says Shiva, the environment should have rights too.  No creature should dominate another.  We should not use resources beyond our needs, because others have a right to them, also. 

She explains how trade agreements have made countries too poor to feed themselves by bringing in cheap goods so that local farmers cannot sell their crops competitively. This creates a spiral of hunger and poverty, especially for those who produce the food.

Agriculture is born from war, Shiva says.   

Those who made chemicals that killed during war now make chemicals that kill, but are essential for the production of food.  She is speaking of all the chemicals that were used to further faster development of food while eradicating pests during what is known as the Green Revolution

Shiva has taken steps to put agriculture back into the hands of indigenous women in developing nations by establishing a seed bank that is designed to perpetuate native species of plants that were designed by nature to thrive in local environments and provide for the people.   

She is one person who has used her background and education to interrupt the exploitation of the environment and – by extension – the exploitation of women.

Vandana Shiva talks about the drawbacks of bioengineering:

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Poetry Podcast for Women's History Month ... Sappho: The original feminist poet

"In Sappho we hear for the first time in the western world the direct words of an individual woman." -- Willis Barnstone, author of "Sweetbitter Love:  Poems of Sappho"

Bust of Sappho, Musei Capitolini, Rome
The above quote sums up what feminist literature, poetry and research should do.  That is, bring in women's experiences and give them a voice.

That would make Sappho the original feminist poet.

Listen to selections from Sappho here:        

Podcast Powered By Podbean


There have been many translations of Sappho's remaining works. One that I like is "Sweetbitter Love: Poems of Sappho, a new translation by Willis Barnstone (2006.)

"Being a woman she wrote from her dubious privileged position as a minor outsider in a busy society," says Barnstone.

There are only a handful of  "facts" we know about Sappho.  As Barnstone says, "Biographical traditon of Sappho begins after her death and is a mixture of possible fact, contradiction, malice and myth."  The same can be said of other prominent female figures who are subject HIStory.

Poets.org gives us the standard verbiage: 

"She was born around 615 B.C. to an aristocratic family on the Greek island of Lesbos. Evidence suggests that she had several brothers, married a wealthy man named Cercylas, and had a daughter named Cleis. She spent most of her adult life in the city of Mytilene on Lesbos where she ran an academy for unmarried young women. Sappho's school devoted itself to the cult of Aphrodite and Eros, and Sappho earned great prominence as a dedicated teacher and poet...."

The date of her death is unclear.  Various sources list dates ranging from 572 B.C. to 592 B.C.

We know even less about what she looked like.  Again, no statues, coins or vases bearing images were rendered until long after her death.

While she was most likely a prolific writer, only two complete poems and a collection of "fragments" exist for us today.  This is due to what Barnstone calls "a thousand years of bigotry." 

Although her work was popular, the Catholic Church deemed her work and obscene and ordered the entire collection burned in 380 C.E.  Destruction of prominent libraries and a decline of learning in the early Middle Ages along with what Barnstone calls, "the consequent anger of oxidizing time upon neglected manuscripts" contributed to further loss.

In her book "Sheroes: Bold, Brash (and absolutely unablashed) Superwomen," Varla Ventura calls the loss an "erasing (of) what could only be some of the finest poetry in all of HERstory."

When Sappho's name is mentioned, the first connection most people make is to the island of her birth, Lesbos, which they then associate with lesbianism.  Then comes the homophobia along with the snickers and whispers and judgments that come from fear of difference.

So, was Sappho a lesbian?  Because some of her most passionate work was directed to women, that's the assumption a homophobic society makes.

Who cares!  Does it really make any difference? Did she identify as such?  So what if she was?

Sexuality is not as neat, well-defined or categorized as western society would like it to be.

In the essay "Reorienting Desire," J.A. Massad, while discussing male same-sex relationships in the Arab world, proposes a theoretical sexual continuum whereby it is acceptable to embrace different kinds of sexuality depending ones point of development needs at a particular stage of life.  There are many kinds of intimate relations – such as friendship – shared between both sexes – so who says everyone has to be gay or straight?

Interestingly, Jone Johnson Lewis, writing for About.com, makes this point:  

"Sappho's interest in women was what today would be called homosexual or lesbian. (The word "lesbian" comes from the island of Lesbos and the communities of women there.) This may be an accurate description of Sappho's feelings towards women, but it may also be accurate that it was more acceptable in the past -- pre-Freud -- for women to express strong passions towards one another, whether the attractions were sexual or not."

Friday, March 18, 2011

News Flashes

Clinton won't serve or run again

From the Detroit Free Press 

In an interview with CNN, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said that, although she intends to complete her current term, she does not want to serve in a cabinet post again and will not seek an elected office.

"There isn't anything that I can imagine doing after this that would be as demanding, as challenging or rewarding," she said.

U-M Center for the Education of Women offers workshops for March & April

The University of Michigan's Center for the Education of Women offers programs on a variety of topics.  Some are free, while others charge a nominal fee.  Visit www.cew.umich.edu to register.

The CEW is located at 330 E. Liberty St Ann Arbor, MI 48104-2274  Tel. 734.764.6005  Fax: 734.998.6203 Email address: contactcew@umich.edu
Thou Shalt Not Steal: What You Can Do to Stop Wage Theft - Free 
Kim Bobo, Director of Interfaith Worker Justice and the CEW Twink Frey Visiting Social Activist, will discuss her book on the growing problem of wage theft.     
Monday, March 21,  5:30 - 7:00 pm, Ecumenical Center, 921 Church Street

Introduction to Leadership and Strategies for Success - Free
Gloria Thomas PhD, CEW Director, will introduce basic leadership concepts to help graduate students and research fellows become more effective, value-centered and visionary leaders.    
Wednesday, March 23, 12:00 - 1:30 pm, Rackham Assembly Hall 

Natasha Trethewey, Poet, Frances & Sidney Lewis Visiting Leader - Free
A Pulitzer Prize winning poet,Trethewey will read from her work and answer questions.
Wednesday, March 30, 5:30 - 7:30 pm, Michigan League, Hussey Room

Assertiveness Training - $25.00
Gloria Thomas PhD, CEW Director, and Doreen Murasky, CEW Senior Counselor and
Program Specialist, will address concerns about being assertive and lead role playing scenarios.  
Tuesday, April 5,  5:30 - 7:30 pm, CEW, 330 East Liberty   

 An Eye Towards Retirement - $10.00
Doreen Murasky, CEW Scholarship Manager, will explore making retirement a time of
opportunity and enjoyment.   
Tuesday, April 12, 4:30 - 6:30 pm, CEW, 330 East Liberty
Focus on Liberia: Pray the Devil Back to Hell - Free  
This film is a powerful look at a group of women who demanded peace for Liberia. Following its showing, Abigail Disney, one of the film's producers, will discuss the film and answer questions.
A reception will follow.
Tuesday, April 19, 5:30 - 7:30 pm, Michigan League, Vandenberg Rm.

Focus on Liberia: Leadership and the Women's Movement in Liberia - Free
Using Liberia as a case study, Vivian Lowery Derryck of the The Bridges Institute will discuss the new era in political leadership where women are rising to the highest political offices.
Wednesday, April 20,  5:00 - 7:00 pm, Michigan League, Hussey Room. 

Gender discrimination suit in South Haven, Mich.

 From the Detroit Free Press

Three female police officers are suing the city of South Haven, Mich. for past gender discrimination.

The women claim that the city's former police chief created "a hostile work environment" for them because they were women.

The women are seeking damages for "emotional distress, physical damages, mental anguish, damage to professional reputation, embarrassment, humiliation, outrage, rear of retribution and fear of safety".  They are also seeking "attorney fees, cost and interest an award for other legal or equitable relief."

Thursday, March 17, 2011

For Women's History Month -- Teresa Graves: TV's other police woman chose faith over fame

She was one of the first African American women to star in an hour-long TV detective/drama series. And, in the end, she chose faith instead of fame.
The woman was Teresa Graves. The show was "Get Christy Love."

"Christy Love" began as a made-for-television movie and became a TV series on ABC for the 1974-75 season of 23 episodes.According to ShadowandAct.com, the concept was based on the novel "The Ledger" by Dorothy Uhnak and the character was originally white.

Aaron Spelling produced the series, which the website calls,  "a coup  (because) ... there weren't exactly many instances at the time in which a black woman played the title role in an American network television program."

Marty McKee, writing for IMDB describes the storyline this way:

"Christie Love was a very beautiful and quite charming black woman who also happened to be a skilled undercover operative with the Los Angeles Police Department. Her smarts and skills often came in handy when posing as a prostitute, jewel thief, etc. in an effort to bring down the bad guys."

The series mirrors the style of the "Blaxploitation" films that were popular in that era.  These were films that were aimed primarily at an urban audience and featured blacks in leading roles.  Of the genre -- which included comedies, cops and robbers, and even horror --  Blackflix.com says, "Black heroes were needed in the '70s because the media was busy portraying blacks as revolutionaries and militants."
Teresa Graves

Then, Graves made what she described as "a choice between two loves."  She embraced the faith of Jehovah's Witnesses.  Guided by her new belief system, and her conscience, she believed there were certain things she could no longer do as an actress.

Executive producer David Wolper told TV Guide that  "Graves came to his office and gave him a list of what she would no longer do as Love, including knock off bad guys or sexually entice men. 'She was a' superhip policewoman. But you can't shoot anyone, kill anyone. Can't have relationships with anybody, any violence. You can't do a police show based on that.' Producers tried to accommodate her, but the series was dropped after one season."

Graves left show business and never looked back.

Producer and talent agent Bernie Brillstein told TV Guide, "I wished her good luck ... "I was heartbroken because I hated to see her throw away what I thought she had. But she obviously found something bigger and better."

Graves died in a fire at her Los Angeles home, where she cared for her mother,  in 2002.  A faulty space heater was to blame.  She was 54.

Some 600 people attended her memorial service.

Brillstein added, "She was happy, and that's all you can ask for in life. How many of us can say the same thing?"

I think it's a great oversight that Graves and "Christy Love" were not mentioned in PBS' series "Pioneers of Television" alongside Angie Dickinson's "Police Woman."

I can't help but wonder why, since the shows ran concurrently.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Behold the power of gender

Art courtesy of babyclipart.net
 From the kitchen, to world politics,  to the battlefield, gender determines the value of work, the distribution of resources, the divisions of power and violence. 

"Sugar and spice and everything nice -- that's what little girls are made of.  Frogs and snails and puppy dog tails -- that's what little boys are made of."

This seemingly innocent nursery rhyme is one of the ways in which language perpetuates the masculine/feminine dichotomy that begins at infancy.

From then on, our life is shaped by gender expectations and we learn how to adopt "gender-appropriate" behaviors.

We learn what real men do and what real women do.  That is, real men avoid feminized work - be it household chores, child care, clerical duties or other forms of service work.  Yet, it's perfectly fine for women to work to serve others.  That's the way things are.
Art courtesy of babyclipart.net

Growing up, little girls are fed a steady diet of the Disney princess fantasy where the prince will come and "rescue" them from a life of drudgery so they can live happily ever after.

Actually, this premise has been acted out on the international scene where imperial governments have justified militarized colonization based on the perception of oppressed women who need to be "rescued."  George W. Bush did it in Afghanistan.

On the international stage, there's danger in these type of dichotomies.  By extension, femininity and masculinity are transferred to concepts, desires, tastes, style and culture that then become less legitimized and unimportant.

It's not enough to simply give little girls frogs and snails to play with.  We must examine the construction and perpetuation of gender -- even as it's conveyed in something as innocent as a nursery rhyme.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Just for fun: "In Living Color" and the gender exchange

Kelly Coffield Park (top left) with the cast of "In Living Color."
Back in the early '90s, there was a show called "In Living Color."  

On it, the Wayans family challenged all kinds of stereotypes.  Nothing was off limits.  Not race, not sex, not religion, not even disabilities.

Among the cast members pushing the boundaries of the show's audience was a very talented comedian and actress, Kelly Coffield Park.  Among her characters were two "gender exchanged" comedians:  Andrea Dice Clay, based on Andrew Dice Clay, and Samantha Kinison, based on Sam Kinison.

While the real Clay and Kinison pushed boundaries on their own, Coffield Park's characters raised an interesting question:  Because of traditional sex and gender roles, would it be acceptable for a woman to perform raunchy material strictly for shock value?

Even in today's entertainment arena, where a desensitized audience has become more difficult  to "shock," its still not considered completely acceptable for a woman to perform controversial material in a way that's less than "ladylike." 

For your viewing pleasure, here is "In Living Color's" experiment in "gender exchange."  Enjoy and don't be afraid to lol.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Betty DeRamus restores history's missing pages

Her business card simply says," Betty DeRamus, Writer."  Yet, with her words, she has given voices to those who would have otherwise remained silent.

The Detroit News columnist and former Free Press editorial writer recently spoke to the Detroit chapter of Women in Communications about her two books of personal stories from the underground railroad:  "Forbidden Fruit: Love stories from the underground railroad" and "Freedom by Any Means:  True stories of cunning and courage on the underground railroad."

DeRamus' interest in the underground railroad began in 1999 and culminated first in "Forbidden Fruit" in 2005, followed by "Freedom by Any Means" in 2009, which was just released in paperback. 

DeRamus left her newspaper in order to research and write her first book when she was denied a leave of absence not knowing if it would be possible to return later.

Still, DeRamus said she was drawn to these personal stories and it became her mission  to restore these "missing pages in American history. But perhaps more importantly, she wanted to help these people regain their humanity.

About one-fifth of the stories contained in "Forbidden Fruit" are set in Michigan.

DeRamus described slavery as a "multifaceted institution" that varied in its accommodations from place to place.

"It's not one story, (but) a million stories," she said.  "They were human, questioning, loving, moving and traveling."

Read an excerpt from "Forbidden Fruit" on Betty DeRamus' website.

Both books are available from Amazon.com, just click the links above. 

"I advocate feminism ..." is a proud Amazon Partner.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Announcing "Other Voices"

"I Advocate Feminism ... a mini-blogzine" is expanding and taking a step towards becoming a full-fledged online magazine.

Rosie the Riveter
I am pleased to announce a new addition called "Other Voices."

"Other Voices" is a page dedicated to opinions, articles and essays from other perspectives.  I welcome liberal, conservative, serious, humorous, feminist and nonfeminst alike.

I welcome women and men, teachers and students, mothers and daughters.

Subject matter is wide open and there is no word limit.  However, all submissions are subject to acceptance and space. 

Submit your work to me at cherwyro@wowway.com.  Include a head shot, a brief biography, and contact information.

Please join me and make your voices heard.

It's coming ; ) The Oakland University 27th Annual Women and Gender Studies Film Festival

"We are liberating a subject long suppressed in our culture. And it’s about time." -- Filmmakers Wendy Slick and Emiko Omori, "Passion and Power: The technology of orgasm"

The theme of Oakland University's 27th Annual Film Festival is "From hysteria to disorder: Manufacturing the disorders of female sexual desire."

The festival takes place Saturday, March 12 from noon - 5 p.m. and features two films: "Orgasm Inc.: The strange science of female pleasure" and "Passion and Power:  The strange science of female pleasure." 

"Orgasm Inc." by Liz Canner is all about female sexual desire and the drug companies' race to produce a drug to cure what could be a manufactured disorder -- Female Sexual Disfunction (FSD.)

In "Passion and Power" by Wendy Slick and Emiko Omori explore the history of the vibrator and its connection to sex and power that goes back 2,500 years.

Following the films will be a discussion led by professors Sylvie Lombardo and Patricia Wren. 

It should be informative and enlightening.  Reservations are requested by Friday, March 4.  Visit the Women and Gender Studies Program at Oakland University on Facebook for details.

Watch the trailers here:

Ecofeminism in action: More green products that work

Ecofeminism is a daily practice that includes recognizing the connections between oppression of women and oppression of nature.  It calls for an understanding of these connections so that feminist theory and practice can include an ecological perspective, while at the same time, solutions to ecological problems include a feminist perspective.*

That's the macro-view.  In the micro-view, we can examine the little things we do everyday that affect the environment.  One on-going activity that still falls within the private sphere is cleaning. But, even though it's part of the undervalued domestic work some of us despise, it affords us the opportunity to make an ecological difference with the products we buy and use.

One of my goals is to replace toxic cleaners with eco-friendly ones.  So far, I've replaced my dishwasher detergent and my toilet bowl cleaner.  The key is finding products that really work and that are available and affordable.  Here are a few more products I've found that work great in place of their toxic counterparts. 

Method Best In Glass treak-free Glass Cleaner:  Far and away the best glass cleaner.  No ammonia, no streaking.  $2.99 at Target.
Method Daily Shower:  My bathroom is the worst for mildew, and this product really helps minimize it..  I had been using Tilex, which is so toxic that I had to open all the windows and turn on the fans to keep the fumes down.   Simply spray the shower down after you're finished.  I concentrate on the problem areas.  A little daily effort goes a long way.  For best results, start with a clean shower.  $2.99 at Target.

Method le Scrub natural mild abrasive cleaner.  This will replace chlorine-filled cleansers.  Use it in the kitchen and the bathroom.  The formula is kind to your skin and can even be used without gloves.  Plus, the container holds a sponge. $3.99 at Target

Hebatergent by Vaska.  A great, plant-based laundry detergent alternative.  A little goes a very long way (a shot glassful cleans a large load) and it works well in cold water.   $13.99 for 96 ounces at Target.

Personally, I don't mind paying a little more for products that work well and are kind to the environment.  Yet, these products are not always accessible or affordable for all of us.   But, do what you can.  Even replacing one toxic product can make a difference.

*Tong, Rosemarie.  Feminist Thought, Third Edition.  Westview Press, 2009.  p. 242.