Archive | March, 2012

Women’s History Month 2012: The Famous Five

24 Mar

The Famous Five

Today we have a special treat for TSM readers.  James Queale a social justice activist and friend of mine is becoming a contributor to TSM.  James is an expat from Canada and lives happily with his partner Tom, also a social justice activist.  Thank you James for joining TSM and sharing your passion and talents.

In the fight for human rights, the objective is to be considered a person. This word holds an extreme amount of weight because it identifies that you or I have worth.
Today I am honoured to celebrate “The Famous Five” (also known as “The Valiant Five”). This group included Emily Murphy, Henrietta Muir Edwards, Nellie McClung, Louise McKinney and Irene Parlby. They are famous for launching the “Persons Case.” This case had the objective of getting women considered “qualified persons” eligible to sit in the Senate. In 1927 the Supreme Court of Canada ruled against women. They were able to appeal and went to  the Judicial Committee of the British Privy Council and the case was won on October.18th,1929.
This case set a huge precedent and reminds us today that we should never let anyone tell us that we have no worth.

Women’s History Month 2012: Mo Gaffney and Kathy Najimy

23 Mar

They say you can judge a person’s character by the company she keeps. If that’s true, it says wonderful things about today’s dual celebration. Mo Gaffney and Kathy Najimy are more than just famous friends, they are comedians, feminists, activists, and humanitarians and I must confess I absolutely love them!

Mo Gaffney was born in 1958 in San Diego. She started a career in comedy young and has appeared in numerous television shows. She is particularly well known for her appearances on Absolutely Fabulous (where she steals many an episode) and That 70s Show. She has also hosted a TV chat show, Women Aloud, on Comedy Central.

Kathy Najimy was also born in San Diego, in 1957. Her best-known television roles are on Veronica’s Closet and King of the Hill. She has appeared in many movies, lending them her quirky charm, with her breakout role coming in 1992’s Sister Act. She was chosen as woman of the year by Ms.magazine in 2005.

Both women are outspoken activists and advocates. They participate in activities supporting women’s rights, LGBT equality, reproductive choice, positive body image, fighting racism, and opposing pointless wars. Close friends, they have performed three shows together: Parallel Lives, The Dark Side, and Afterbirth. The first two both won Obie awards. A broadcast of The Dark Side won two Cable Ace awards.  If you want to see true activism that is brilliantly executed with extraordinary wit, I strongly encourage you to rent or buy the dvd, The Kathy and Mo Show Parallel Lives/ The Dark Side. I saw this years ago with my husband and just fell in love with both women.  Here is a lovely clip of the Kathy and Mo Show and how they do a marvelous job with humor addressing the intersections of oppression.  Mo and Kathy, it is an honor to celebrate you during Women’s History Month!

Hero of the Week: March 23, President Jimmy Carter

23 Mar

Hero of the Week

In an age where major party presidential candidates sign pledges of discrimination and turn a blind eye to death threats at their debates and vicious attacks on women from their pet pundits, it is heartening to remember that our country has elected some truly noble men to our highest office. Long-time readers of TSM will know of our admiration for President Carter; after leaving office he made the most of his fame and power and spent his time and energy making the world a better place. He recently published a new book, NIV Lessons from Life Bible: Personal Reflections with Jimmy Carter, in which he addresses faith and the proper role of religion in our civic lives.

A brilliant but humble man, he articulately expresses his own faith and the deep importance of maintaining a secular state. Of particular relevance are his comments regarding the use of religion as a club against women.

I separated from the Southern Baptists when they adopted the discriminatory attitude towards women, because I believe what Paul taught in Galatians that there is no distinction in God’s eyes between men and women, slaves and masters, Jews and non-Jews -– everybody is created equally in the eyes of God.

Are you listening Right Wing Republicans and Tea Party bitter tea bags? Pretty simple, isn’t it? In a later question, Carter addresses a topic that even President Obama waffles on, full  marriage equality.

Homosexuality was well known in the ancient world, well before Christ was born and Jesus never said a word about homosexuality. In all of his teachings about multiple things -– he never said that gay people should be condemned. I personally think it is very fine for gay people to be married in civil ceremonies. I draw the line, maybe arbitrarily, in requiring by law that churches must marry people. I’m a Baptist, and I believe that each congregation is autonomous and can govern its own affairs. So if a local Baptist church wants to accept gay members on an equal basis, which my church does by the way, then that is fine.

What an eloquent statement about the separation of church and state, the difference between personal values and legislation, and Carter’s own wonderful understanding of our innate humanity.

Honorable mention this week goes to regular TSM hero Elizabeth Warren. Not content to wait until she’s asked about an issue, Warren has made LGBT rights and marriage equality active parts of her campaign.

Marriage equality is morally right. I’d be glad to see it included in the Democratic platform. It helps raise awareness of the impact of DOMA and it helps build support to repeal it.

Bigot of the Week: March 23, Stumpy’s Stickers and their Customers

23 Mar

Bigot of the Week

I couldn’t believe my eyes. It is hard not to wince in pain when you see it. Surely, I thought, this is a tasteless digitally edited bumper sticker joke. The Facebook photo that went viral recently showed a silver car with a red, white, and blue sticker featuring the famous Obama emblem and the following text:

Don’t Re-Nig In 2012. Stop repeat offenders. Don’t re-elect Obama!

Sadly, it was real. Far worse, it wasn’t just one hatefully creative racist bigot making a sticker, it was commercially produced and available on the web. A company named Stumpy’s Stickers offered this and several other shockingly offensive anti-Obama stickers. Curiously, after all the attention to their vile products, the website quietly vanished. Vile things don’t like the light of day.

So, what do we have here? Someone racist enough to dream up this slogan and disgusting enough to make it into stickers and then sell them. On top of that, we have people who are willing to buy them and put them on their cars. Anyone still think we live in a post-racist America?  How sad that our country has so far to go regarding racism and civil rights for all.

Women’s History Month 2012: Frances M. Beal

22 Mar

Today we honor and celebrate a woman who explored the intersections of  oppression through the lens of feminism and the civil rights movement, Frances M. Beal. She was born in Binghamton, N.Y January 13, 1940 to a Jewish mother and an African-American father.The simultaneous family struggles against both racism and anti-Semitism informed her early social conscience. As a result, Beal spent her life as an activist, mostly by organizing, writing and speaking about the issue of rights for Black women and racial justice as a whole.

She started political activism in college with the NAACP in 1958, but soon ran into conservative restrictions. She took a break from American politics and went to France, where she attended the Sorbonne. Her worldview became heavily influenced by student opposition to the colonial status of Algeria. This was reinforced by many a cafe discussion about the decolonization process in Africa, which provided a world outlook of internationalism which came to define her politics at home.  Beal met Malcolm X in Paris and was introduced to the works of Simone de Bouvoire.

When she returned home, she worked with SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee) and became involved in SNCC’s International Affairs Commission. Other influences included meetings with women at the United Nations representing African liberation and anti-colonial struggles. When the Moynihan Report was published (1965) positing that the main problem afflicting the Black community was the Black matriarchy – a view that tried to push Black women into a second class role – Beal became a founding member of the SNCC Black Women’s Liberation Committee (1968), which evolved into the TWWA (Third World Women’s Alliance (1970-1978).

Given her overlapping interests and deeply personal understanding of the intersections of oppression, Beal wrote a highly influential pamphlet in 1969, Double Jeopardy: To Be Black and Female. This brilliant excerpt underscores the tensions between the various civil rights movements of the day.

Much has been written recently about the white women’s liberation movement in the United States and the question arises whether there are any parallels between this struggle and the movement on the part of black women for total emancipation. While there are certain comparisons that one can make, simply because we both live under the same exploitative system, there are certain differences, some of which are quite basic. The white women’s movement is far from being monolithic. Any white group that does not have an anti-imperialist and anti-racist ideology has absolutely nothing in common with the black women’ t struggle. Are white women asking to be equal to white men in their pernicious treatment of third world peoples? What assurances have black women that white women will be any less racist and exploitative if they had the power and were in a position to do so? These are serious questions that the white women’s liberation movement has failed to address itself to.

Beal is also a lifelong peace advocate, supporting the end of colonialism, African liberation, and opposing the war in Vietnam. She has also worked for the ACLU (1987-2005) and in 1998, was elected National Secretary of the Black Radical Congress. Frances Beal retired in 2005 and continues to promote peace and justice through her support of the Women of Color Resource Center (a group that has its roots in the TWWA), and her opposition to war in Iraq and the rest of the Middle East.

Women’s History Month 2012: Susan Faludi

21 Mar

Today we honor and celebrate a strong feminist voice of the 21st century and the author of Backlash.  I remember reading Backlash in the early 1990’s and thought Faludi really captured the wave of misogyny erupting from the Bush Sr. administration. As I look back, her book now seems prophetic in some very scary and dangerous ways. Faludi does a remarkable job of addressing how our culture still finds the need to punish women for wanting parity in the workplace, or governance over their own bodies.  We have only to look at the recent attack on Planned Parenthood and the vicious and specious attacks on Nancy Pelosi and Michelle Obama to see the full accuracy of Faludi’s words.

Faludi was born to a Jewish family in Queens, New York in 1959 and grew up in Yorktown Heights, New York. Her mother was a homemaker and journalist and is a long-time New York University student. Her father is a photographer who had emigrated from Hungary, a survivor of the Holocaust. She graduated from Harvard University in 1981, where she wrote for The Harvard Crimson, and became a journalist, writing for The New York Times, Miami Herald, Atlanta Journal Constitution, San Jose Mercury News, and The Wall Street Journal, among other publications. Throughout the eighties she wrote several articles on feminism and the apparent resistance to the movement. Seeing a pattern emerge, Faludi wrote Backlash, which was released in late 1991. She has written a number of other books about feminism and civil rights; she won a Pulitzer Prize for Explanatory Journalism in 1991 for a report on the leveraged buyout of Safeway Stores, Inc. that the Pulitzer Prize committee thought showed the “human costs of high finance.”

Demonstrating an understanding of the divergences in any movement, Faludi has also spoken candidly against the claim advanced by critics that there is a “rigid, monolithic feminist orthodoxy”, noting in response that she has disagreed with Gloria Steinem about pornography and Naomi Wolf about abortion. he has also characterized “academic feminism’s love affair with deconstructionism” as “toothless”, and warned that it “distract[s] from constructive engagement with the problems of the public world”.

Women’s History Month 2012: Irshad Manji

20 Mar

Today we honor and celebrate an author, journalist and advocate of a “reform and progressive” interpretation of Islam. Born in 1968 in Uganda to a Gujarati Indian father, and an Egyptian mother, she moved to Canada with her family when she was four as a result of Idi Amin’s expulsion of Asians. They settled near Vancouver in 1972, and she grew up attending both a secular and an Islamic religious school. Manji excelled in the secular environment but, by her own account, was expelled from her religious school for asking too many questions.

Manji worked as a legislative aide in the Canadian parliament, press secretary in the Ontario government, and speechwriter for the leader of the New Democratic Party. At age 24, she became the national affairs editorialist for the Ottawa Citizen and thus the youngest member of an editorial board for any Canadian daily. She was also a columnist for Ottawa’s new LGBT newspaper Capital Xtra!. Manji has since hosted or produced several public affairs programs on television, one of which won the Gemini, Canada’s top broadcasting prize. She also produced and hosted QT: QueerTelevision for the Toronto based Citytv in the late 1990s. Among the program’s coverage of local and national LGBT issues, she also produced stories on the lives of gay people in the Muslim world.

Considering herself a “Muslim refusenik”, Manji declares herself as someone who refuses to “join an army of robots in the name of God.” She is a well-known critic of traditional mainstream Islam and was described by The New York Times as “Osama bin Laden’s worst nightmare.” She has written a number of books on Islam, most famously The Trouble with Islam Today (initially published as Trouble with Islam).  She was troubled by how Islam is practised today and by the Arab influence on Islam that took away women’s individuality and introduced the concept of women’s honour. Manji has produced a PBS documentary, “Faith Without Fear”, chronicling her attempt to “reconcile her faith in Allah with her love of freedom.” Proving an activist can have a sense of humor, she has also participated in the web project Pictures of Muslims Wearing Things that arose in response to Juan Williams’ ludicrous Islamophobic comments.

Manji currently serves as the director of the Moral Courage Project at the Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service at New York University, which aims to teach young leaders to “challenge political correctness, intellectual conformity and self-censorship.”She is also founder and president of Project Ijtihad, a charitable organization promoting a “tradition of critical thinking, debate and dissent” in Islam, among a “network of reform-minded Muslims and non-Muslim allies.”

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