Friday, October 28, 2011

After a century, IBM has a woman at its helm

Women also making gains at Michigan corporations, but it's still a slow climb to the top

International Business Machines (IBM) has named Virginia "Ginni" Rometty as its CEO.  She is the first woman to hold the post in the company's 100-year history.

When Rometty, 54, steps into her new post on January 1, IBM will become only the 17th Fortune 500 company led by a woman.

Bobby Cameron, an analyst with Forrester Research, told the San Francisco Chronicle   "I think she's smart. She asks questions; she doesn't just come in with an agenda, and she's interested in the leading edge, not just what's driving volume — all those things are important for a CEO to have."

Rometty joined IBM as an engineer in 1991.  She replaces Sam Palmisano, 60, who will serve as the company's chairman.

Meanwhile, the Detroit Free Press has reported that women hold "about a third of the board seats" at three large Michigan-based corporation according to Inforum, "a professional women's alliance," claiming 1,800 members throughout Michigan.
In its Women's Leadership Index report, Inforum acknowledged automaker General Motors, staffing firm Kelly Services and office furniture manufacturer Steelcase for their commitment to gender diversity.
To gather data for the Index, Inforum partnered with  Eastern Michigan University's College of Business.

Inforum has published The Women's Leadership Index every two years since 2003.
In a press release, Steelcase CEO James Hackett said, "We see women in leadership as a real strength at Steelcase.  I've seen a number of women rise through the ranks and bring major contributions to the company that has significantly impacted our business in a positive way."
Inforum's CEO Terry Barclay says that while these companies provide "glimmers of hope" for women aspiring to corporate positions, but says "the pace of change appears to be slow, some might say glacial."

For Michigan's top 100 public companies, the survey found that out of 662 executives, only 83 -- or 13.3 percent are women. 
And, only 88 of the companies' 849 board seats -- or 10.4 percent -- are held by women.  That number is up less than one percent since 2003.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

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Wednesday, October 26, 2011

"Our Bodies, Ourselves" @ 40

1971 cover
2011 cover
It was first published in 1971 when it sold 250,000 copies.  Forty years, 20 translations and 4 million copies later, "Our Bodies, Ourselves," the classic feminist text on women's health is still going strong in it's 9th edition. It was written by women for women in frank language that brought in women's perspectives.

If you missed this great tribute piece on NBC Nightly News, watch it below.  And don't forget to visit the "Our Bodies, Ourselves" websiste.

Just for fun: My first foray into fiction, "Not My High School Reunion"

The date on this story is Oct. 27, 2003.  That makes it almost eight years to the day when I shared it fellow wannabe writers at "Taking Leaps," a workshop at the Troy, Mich. Public Library with my friend, mentor and fellow Oakland University alumna, Iris Lee Underwood.

Iris said the best thing about fiction writing is that you can break all the rules.  Yes, you can.  That's what makes the genre so much fun and different from the factual writing I do as a journalist. 

The inspiration for this story was the receipt of an invitation to a high school reunion that was, well ... not MY high school reunion.  I received another invitation this week from the same people who apparently never took me off their mailing list.

Reading through old writing is a great tool for self assessment.  I was such a different person when I wrote this story all those years ago.  I can see  and feel how much I've grown as a person and as a writer -- I hope.

It's been a long time since I've done a "Just for fun" post, so I decided to share this story in that spirit.

Enjoy "Not my high school reunion"

When I first got the invitation, I almost threw it away.  After all, it was a mistake.  My name was on the envelope, but it wasn’t for me.  They had me confused with someone else. 

It’s strange to think that there’s another Sherry Whyte out there.  She spells her name the same way I do, yet she’s a completely different person with another life shaped by different experiences.

            Besides, I didn’t graduate from Katy, TX High School twenty years ago.  In fact, I’ve never been to Texas in my lifetime.

            Still, I didn’t throw the invitation away.  The more I looked at the invitation to the Wildcats of Katy High 20Year Reunion, the more I wondered, “What if?”

            These people would probably be more fun than the people I went to High School with anyway.  I stopped wondering, “What if,” and began to think, “Why not?”

            I wasn’t popular in high school and really didn’t care to see any of my old classmates again; but, for some odd reason, the idea of attending this reunion intrigued me. 

For that one night, my past would not follow me.  I could go to a part of the country I’ve never been to before and be totally free – whoever I wished to be, anything I wanted to be - for one night.

            I could wear a daring dress, create wonderful adventures for myself and conjure up a fabulous career.  I would still be me, only different, with a few improvements and corrections.  It would be kind of like costume ball-Cinderella with a psychotic twist.

I scheduled some time off, booked a flight to Texas, reserved a hotel room from the block set aside for the Wildcat Reunion, and sent back my reply card.  With that I accepted the invitation to be part of their past, their party.

            I gathered a wardrobe appropriate for the hot, humid weather of Texas in July.  A daring halter dress and really cool sandals was the outfit I selected for the big night.

I decided I would be an entrepreneur with my own web design business.  Not too far a stretch, I thought, since I used a computer on my secretarial job and surfed the Internet hanging ten.

            Speaking of the Internet, I logged onto to check out my fellow Wildcats and make sure the other Sherry Whyte hadn’t signed in.  Fortunately for me, she hadn’t.  Maybe she felt the same way about her former classmates as I did about mine.

            As I scrolled down through the names, I saw the jocks, nerds, and cheerleaders of long ago.  I wondered how many of them had embellished their lives?

            At last the reunion was here.  I landed at the airport and stepped into the heat and humidity of Texas.  Katy was a small community, which in the days of the old west, would have been called a “one horse town.”  I took a shuttle to my hotel.  The same hotel where the reunion would take place that night.

            It was funny how I was so perfectly at ease with what I was doing, even though it was a total deception.  I rationalized it by telling myself I wasn’t hurting anyone else.  I was not a criminal.  The only risk was a confrontation with truth, and even then, I didn’t know these people and would never see them again anyway.

            Finally, it was time.  I made my way to the ballroom, all 5’3” of me, in my halter dress and sandals, with my hair in an up-do.  As I approached, I could hear music.  Outside the ballroom was a registration table where I checked off my name, picked up a badge, and went inside.  So far, so good.

            I got a drink and started to mill around.  Occasionally I would make eye contact and smile.  A tall, blonde man standing off to the side smiled back at me and waved.  Our eyes locked together.  For a moment, I felt exposed.   I turned and made conversation with a small group.

            “It was nice of you to come all that way,” said a woman named Angela, “what happened to your accent?”

            “I spent a lot of time in the Midwest,” I said, keeping it light.

            I turned back around only to bump into tall, blonde man. 

            “Oh, Sherry Whyte, I remember you.”

            “You do?”

            “You must’a shrunk, “ he chuckled with a light Texas drawl, “I’m Clint, Clint Tyler, I worked on the yearbook.”

            Uh, oh, I thought to myself.  This guy probably remembers everybody!  I also worked on my high school yearbook and I still can’t forget names and faces even after twenty years.

            "Great to see you, Clint.  Oh, I think I need another drink.”

            “Please, allow me,” he said.  I tried to hold it together as we walked towards the bar.

            We sat and talked through the music and dancing.  Actually, it turned out that he had a lot in common with the real me.  Plus, he was available!  Here was my Prince Charming, but he would have to know the truth, just like in the fairy tale.

            As the festivities wound down, I decided it was time to turn my glass coach back into a pumpkin.  I decided to tell him the truth.

            “Look, I have to be honest with you, I’m not Sherry Whyte.  At least I’m not your Sherry Whyte, I mean my name is Sherry Whyte, but I didn’t go to Katy High and…”

            “I know,” he said.  “Sherry Whyte was our exchange student who was sent back to England after first semester for too much partying.  Inappropriate behavior, they called it.  Besides, she was almost six feet tall.”

            “Why did you let me go on?” I asked.

            “I think you’re attractive and I have a thing about blondes in red dresses,” he laughed.  We both laughed.

            Clint and I have exchanged phone calls and e-mails since that warm night in Texas.  This Christmas he’s coming to Michigan, somewhere he’s never been before.  Maybe that invitation was meant for me after all.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

"Miss Representation" makes Michigan debut

Writer/director/producer Newsom will speak at spring film festival

Jennifer Siebel Newsom's documentary "Miss Representation" had its premiere and rebroadcast on the OWN last week and local screenings are coming to Michigan -- maybe at a venue near you.

Thursday, Nov. 3, Main Art Theater,  Royal Oak, Mich., 7 p.m. 
Hosted by Women Lawyers Association of Michigan
to benefit the Women's Center of Southeast Michigan.
Tickets $18, $8 for students.
Contact:  Kristen Pursley at or 248-292-2920.

Tuesday, Nov. 8, Rackham Amphitheater
on the University of Michigan campus, Ann Arbor, Mich., 7 p.m.
Presented by Body-Peace Corps,a "University Health Service sponsored student organization whose members are passionate about promoting positive body image and preventing eating disorders."
Admission: FREE
RSVP and details on the group's Facebook page:

But, the really big event will be Saturday, March 24, 2012, when "Miss Representation" will be the main feature at Oakland University's Women and Gender Studies Film Festival.  And there's more.  Jennifer Siebel Newsom, the film's writer, director and producer, will be the featured speaker .

Dr. Patricia Wren, one of the film festival's organizers, says, "Stay tuned ... we're already looking for a larger venue."

OWN spins the film this way:  "'Miss Representation' brings together some of America's most influential women in politics, news and entertainment, including Condoleezza Rice, Nancy Pelosi, Katie Couric, Rachel Maddow, Margaret Cho, Rosario Dawson and Gloria Steinem to give audiences an inside look at the media's message and depiction of women. The film explores women's under-representation in positions of power by challenging their limited and often disparaging portrayals in the media. Miss Representation takes the stand that the media is portraying women's primary values as their youth, beauty and sexuality - rather than their capacity as leaders." calls "Miss Representation" "'An Inconvenient Truth' of sexism in the media." Watch the trailer here:

Miss Representation - Trailer

Women's perspectives make the Freep's front page

 You'll want to pick up a copy of today's Detroit Free Press or follow this link to read Rochelle Riley's article at

Monday, October 24, 2011

George Carlin understood -- there's no "correct" weight

"I use the word "fat."  I use that word because that's what people are: they're fat.  They're not bulky; they're not large, chunky, hefty or plump.  And they're not big-boned.  Dinosaurs were big-boned.  These people are not overweight: this term somehow implies there is some correct weight.  There is no correct weight.  Heavy is also a misleading term.  An aircraft carrier is heavy; it's not fat.  Only people are fat, and that's what fat people are!  They're fat! " 
-- George Carlin

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Language promotes positive -- or negative -- body image

Local activist says loving your body is all about the words you use

Amanda Levitt embraces the word "fat" when she talks about her body.

"I find it to be powerful, but not everyone might see it that way," Levitt said.

Levitt recently spoke at a Love Your Body Day event sponsored by Oakland and Macomb County, Mich. chapters of  the National Organization for Women in conjunction with the NOW Foundation's Love Your Body Day campaign.  The foundation began the campaign in 1998 in an effort to counteract negative and unrealistic body images of women used in the media.

Levitt, 26, shares that mission, and takes it personally.  "... what the media is actually doing is patriarchy," Levitt said. "It's the objectification of women through gendered ideals of what women are supposed to look like."

 In 2010, Levitt  founded Love Your Body Detroit -- a "grassroots, nonprofit activism organization dedicated to bringing awareness of weight bias and fat stigma to our community"

She calls herself a "fat activist" and says that words such as "obese" and "overweight, " in her mind, imply disease and can counteract a positive body image.

" ... most people think (the word fat) is negative, they think it's bad,  a person needs to change, they need to be thin," Levitt said.  "I use the word "fat" as a descriptive term free of any negative connotations." 

And, although some people might prefer those "O" words, they don't understand their meaning as "medicalized" terms that can imply disease or defect where none exist.

"There are numerous fat people who are healthy," she said.

"Overweight?  Over what weight?" Levitt said to the audience. "What are we saying is normal?"

She urges others to examine the language they use, not only when we talk about ourselves, but about other people as well.

It's all connected, Levitt says.   Women's bodies -- and fat bodies -- are often seen as "public property that can be commented on."

Yet, "When you stop allowing yourself to speak negatively about yourself, when you stop speaking negatively about other people, it changes the way you think about yourself and other people because it stops that interaction where you think your body, or someone else's body, is is property to be commented on.

Hear more from Amanda Levitt:

Related Links:

NOW Foundation's Love Your Body Day Campaign 

Amanda Levitt's blog, "Communications of a Fat Waitress"

Love Your Body Detroit Website
(The group is also on Facebook)

"Love Your Body Day Encourages Acceptance" from the Daily Athenaeum of West Virginia University

Body image double standard?  From Bitch Media: "Isn't He Lovely: Male Body Image Standards Are "Virtually Non-Existent." Q&A with Yashar Ali

Sunday, October 16, 2011

No more crazy cat ladies

"The Simpson's" Eleanor Abernathy, aka crazy cat lady
On National Feral Cat Day, let's eliminate this negative female stereotype and recognize undervalued caregivers.

That lady you see feeding cats in a neighborhood near you might not be a sister to the stereotypical images depicted here.

She might be a tireless volunteer working  toward a solution to social and humane phenomenon that has existed for years -- one that most people either don't know about, or simply choose to ignore.

That issue is feral cats and the solution is a system of humane population control known as TNR -- trap, neuter, return.
Crazy cat lady action figure set by Accoutrements

The grassroots force behind the TNR initiative is Alley Cat Allies.  Headquartered in Bethesda, Md., the nonprofit organization offers guidance and networking to anyone who wants to help local feral cats by providing a human alternative to starvation or trap-and-kill.

Yet, the humane solution is not always the easiest solution.  An effective TNR program requires work -- undervalued, care-focused work, often done by women.

To get an idea of what a feral cat caregiver does on a daily basis, here's an excerpt from "The Cat Angel," by Julie Flanders of Best Friends Animal Society:

"Gerry doesn’t take the responsibility of caring for her cats lightly, so she makes sure she is up by 7 a.m. every morning to start her runs. She loads up her car with 16 pound bags of dry cat food, cases of wet cat food, and gallons of fresh water, and sets out on her way. Among the friends she visits are Scooter, Scout, and Arthur. Arthur lives alone, and waits each day for Gerry to arrive at his home behind an empty business.

"If the weather is particularly nasty, Gerry can be found shoveling snow so the cats can have a clear path to their food, and she will often visit sites twice a day in the winter to make sure the cats' water hasn't all turned to ice. All of this is in addition to the part-time job she has worked since retiring."

Edith Huber is another woman working on behalf of feral cats.

Huber founded Pawsabilities, Inc. seven years ago.  She says the South Lyon, Mich.-based organization sterilized over 260 cats this year and has TNR projects scheduled through October.

Huber and her volunteers continue to advocate for feral cats not only by providing assistance with sterilization services and feeding, but also meeting with local city and county government and animal control officials, and even researching legal issues as they pertain to feral cat issues.

Though it's not always easy, Huber remains upbeat.

"Every day, I am amazed as doors continue to open in favor of our mission in helping the community cats and  the human community," she says.

Both of these women have lives that include jobs, family and friends and prove there's nothing "crazy" about caring for our fellow earthlings.

To feral cats and their caregivers everywhere -- Happy National Feral Cat Day!

Related links:

Here in metro Detroit, the city of Southfield, Mich. established launched a city-wide trap, neuter, return program this past summer.  Learn more about it here.  Kudos to the city for its progressive and humane attitude toward feral cats.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Events Calendar (metro Detroit and surrounding areas)

Wednesday, Oct. 19
Love Your Body Day: The Media and Body Image

Presented by the National Organization for Women, Oakland/Macomb Chapter in conjunction with the NOW Foundation's Love Your Body Day Campaign

Birmingham Unitarian Church
38651 Woodward Avenue
Bloomfield Hills, Mich.

Admission:  FREE

6 p.m. Social Hour
7 p.m. Speaker:  Amanda Levitt of Love Your Body Detroit
7:30 pm. Screening of Film "Still Killing Us Softly"


Thursday, October 27
"The Changing Face of Women in Fiction"

Presented by the Center for the Education Of Women - University of Michigan, Ann Arbor

Kahn Auditorium
Biomedical Science Research Building
109 Zina Pitcher Place
Ann Arbor, Mich.

Admission:  FREE, with registration by Monday, Oct. 24.

5:30 p.m. - 7:30 p.m.

Speaker:  Mystery writer Sara Paretsky, PhD

Wednesday, Nov. 15 
Pay Equity is STILL an Issue
Presented by the Women's Resource Center - University of Michigan Dearborn and Pi Lambda Theta, Detroit Area Chapter

University of Michigan Dearborn Kochoff Center
4901 Evergreen Road
Dearborn, Mich.

Admission:  FREE

Noon - 1 p.m.

Speaker:  Mary Pollock, legislative advocate and Michigan NOW legislative vice president

Friday, October 7, 2011

Feminist Quote Bag

"I think she will fascinate modern women in the same way that many historical women strike a chord: despite so many changes in the world, women are still trying to find happiness, manage their children, seek advantage, and avoid the persecution of misogynists.  As women of any time, we have a lot in common.  Despite the amazing advances in the rights of women (and I am so grateful for these myself,) the struggle for women's freedom, independence and the right to exercise power goes on."  
-- Author Philippa Gregory discussing her main character Elizabeth Woodville in the historical novel "The White Queen."

"Think like a queen. A queen is not afraid to fail. Failure is another steppingstone to greatness." -- Oprah Winfrey

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The women of "Prohibition"

Filmmaker Burns puts the HERstory into latest documentary

If you missed the premiere of "Prohibition," all three parts will be shown here in Detroit on WTVS, Channel 56 on Sunday,Oct. 9 beginning at 1 p.m.  Or you can just by the DVD here.

There's no need to ask, "Where are the women?" in Ken Burns' latest historical documentary film series "Prohibition."  The series, which debuted on PBS this month,  does a brilliant job of spotlighting prominent women on all sides of an issue that led to America's ban on alcohol that lasted from 1920 until 1933.

Carry Nation -- the woman whose name is most prominently associated with prohibition and temperance -- is there, but so are other smart and intriguing women with feminist ties that went beyond temperance. 

I found an article on the Schafer Library of Drug Policy's website titled "A History of Alcohol Prohibition" that makes this interesting point:

"A series of "isms" was aroused in this era : feminism, unionism, socialism, and progressivism. Prohibition absorbed elements of them all, and vice versa. 

The feminist movement originated early in the 1800's. Until the 1870's, however, feminine involvement in the temperance effort was largely peripheral. The Women's Crusade of 1873 and the organization of the Women's Christian Temperance Union in 1874 marked the formal entrance of women into the temperance movement."

Enter Frances E. Willard, who led the WCTU from 1879 until her death 19 years later.

The same article calls Willard, " ... a lady equally committed to the principle of equality of the sexes. Temperance was to bridge the gap, she believed:  Drink and tobacco are the great separatists [sic] between men and women. Once they used these things together, but woman's evolution has carried her beyond them; man will climb to the same level . . . but meanwhile ... the fact that he permits himself fleshly indulgence that he would deprecate in her, makes their planes different, giving her an instinct of revulsion."

Willard went on to expand the the conscience of the WCTU along "broader lines of social reform," as evidenced by an early statement of principle which read:

"We believe in a living wage; in an 8-hour day; in courts of conciliation and arbitration, in justice as opposed to greed in gain; in "Peace on Earth and Good Will to Men."

Under Willard's leadership, The WCTU also endorsed  "a better Indian (native American) policy" and "wiser civil service reform."

Willard is just one of the women Burns introduces. Others include Mabel Walker Willebrandt, and my favorite, the colorful writer Lois Long.

The women's stories could be a production of their own.  I hope Burns won't mind that I've put them together here.

Mable Walker Willebrandt

Watch the full episode. See more Ken Burns.

Frances Willard and Mary Hanchette Hunt 
Watch the full episode. See more Ken Burns.

Pauline Sabin 
Watch the full episode. See more Ken Burns.

Carry Nation 
Watch the full episode. See more Ken Burns.

Lois Long 
Watch the full episode. See more Ken Burns.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Seneca takes feminism back to school

Seneca members and supporters.
With Video!

Meet some of the young women of Seneca, a feminist club from Athens High School in Troy, Mich.

(Seated in front, left to right:  Dari Butkiewicz, Rosie Burton.  Standing, left to right:  Anjelica Dudek,; Athens' librarian, Mrs. Vought; Merna Naji; Justine Valka and Oakland University special lecturer, Sue Rumph.)

They recently held a book drive to bring feminist titles into the school's library after a search of the catalog revealed a serious void.

The void was quickly filled thanks to the generosity of local women activists, enthusiasts and scholars. 

The initial drive yielded over 20 titles of nonfiction, poetry, history and activism.

Sue Rumph, a special lecturer in Oakland University's women and gender studies program, was eager to pass along volumes of knowledge she's collected during her years of study.  The challenge, she said, was selecting titles" appropriate to the high school level" that would be both interesting and accessible.  Among her donations were "Backlash" by Susan Faludi and "The Beauty Myth" by Naomi Wolf.

Other titles were donated by members of the National Organization for Women, Oakland County Chapter.   

(I was happy to present the club with a new copy of "When Everything Changed:  The Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 to the Present" by Gail Collins.)

The club's president, Anjelica Dudek, says all the books have been bar coded and stamped by the school's librarian and will be in the catalog in about two weeks.

She adds, " ...every one of those books are the first to be IN THE ENTIRE TROY SCHOOL DISTRICT! This is shocking to hear that these books haven't been in the district ever. However, this is incredibly exciting that our donations will make even MORE of a tremendous impact not only to Athens, but to the entire school district as well."

The club's greater goal is to see a women and gender studies class added to the high school's curriculum and is studying the formal petition process.

Seneca is a newer addition to the school's club roster.  It takes its name from Seneca Falls -- the historic women's rights convention held in New York in 1848.  Although the reference might not be evident at first, Dudek says it gets attention.  The club now has about 15 members.

Seneca meets every other Thursday afternoon at Athens High School.  The next meeting is scheduled for Oct. 13, see the club's Facebook page for details and updates.

Listen to the young women of Seneca talk about their book drive and hear professor Rumph's "must read list:"