Archive | March, 2013

Women’s History Month 2013: bell hooks

29 Mar

bell_hooks_wikimedia_commons_cmongirl_pdToday we honor and celebrate one of my personal heroes, bell hooks.  Our bell hooks was born Gloria Jean Watkins in 1952 in Hopkinsville, Kentucky.  hooks changed her name to honor both her grandmother (whose name she took) and her mother. She earned her B.A. in English from Stanford University, and her doctorate from University of California, Santa Cruz.  hooks’ career has centered around the intersections of oppression, with a focus on race, gender, power, and privilege–a woman after my own heart!

Every diversity training or mediation my company, EqualityWorks,NW, does starts off with this bell hooks’ quote:

For me, forgiveness and compassion are always linked: how do we hold people accountable for wrongdoing and yet at the same time remain in touch with their humanity enough to believe in their capacity to be transformed?

I think all of us that are doing any type of social work have to believe we are all capable of a transformative experience; that we can experience each other and ourselves in new ways that benefit the greater good. I do admit that on my worst misanthropic days, I have difficulty believing this, but I do strive to have hooks’ strength of character.

It is not a small wonder that hooks was strongly influenced and inspired by another hero of mine, Paulo Freire.  hooks talked about how Preire allowed her the, “right as a subject in resistance to define reality.”  We see this philosophy of hooks in her book, Ain’t I a Woman?: Black Women and Feminism.  We also see this philosophy in how hooks addresses the power and influence of pop culture:

Whether we’re talking about race or gender or class, popular culture is where the pedagogy is, it’s where the learning is. So I think that partially people like me who started off doing feminist theory or more traditional literary criticism or what have you begin to write about popular culture, largely because of the impact it was having as the primary pedagogical medium for masses of people globally who want to, in some way, understand the politics of difference.

 My ulterior motive in celebrating bell hooks is that I want more people to read her work and be impacted by her wisdom.  Of course, I also hope I eventually get to meet her in person.  We are all exceedingly fortunate to have bell hooks!

Bigot of the Week Award: March 29, Paul Clement and Charles Cooper

29 Mar
Bigots of the Week

Bigots of the Week

As the country focused its attention on the Supreme Court and its two hearings on marriage equality this week, two men stood before the Court and easily walked away with Bigot of the Week Award. Attorneys Paul Clement and Charles Cooper go down in legal history for trying to argue that justice is served through discrimination, bigotry, and denying basic rights to a whole group of citizens–what a legacy to leave.

On a constitutional level, the cases are simple and clear. The Proposition 8 case, argued by Cooper, is an attempt to defend California’s notorious measure banning marriage equality for LGBT citizens. The DOMA case, argued by Clement on behalf of the Republicans in the U.S. House, tries to defend blocking over 1100 rights and privileges to already married citizens just because they are same-sex couples. Both cases are based on bigotry and nothing more. How tragic that these two straight white men could stand up and defend this blatant discrimination without shame.  Of course, I always wonder about people how are so focused on gay folk and consume so much energy on LGBT issues–what a very large closet to accommodate these people.

We won’t know for a couple of months exactly how the justices will rule on these cases. What we do know is that the arguments used by Clement and Cooper were old, tired, and transparently vile. Even the justices who seemed reluctant to move toward full national equality were skeptical of the shallow canards put forth by these hypocritical bigots. They used procreation, history, and (believe it or not) a level playing field as arguments to prop up their sad hate. What they could not do, when pressed, is say why any of their arguments served a state interest or showed why discrimination was merited.

One way or another, with or without the Court, the tide is turning. Public opinion is solidly on the side of equality, shifting over 20 points in just a decade. Over 80% of people under 30 support equality. These tired old white guys can trot out their hate all they like. All they’ll win in the long run is this week’s BWA, which they richly deserve.

Finally, I’m also exceedingly tired of hearing the phrase, “Gay Marriage!”  Might I please encourage folks to use Marriage Equality.  I don’t have a “Gay Marriage,” just as I don’t leave my job and get in my Gay car and go to my Gay house and then fix my Gay dinner.  I just have a marriage–you know, when two people love each other and decide to grow old with each other.

Dishonorable mention comes thanks to my friend Jennifer Carey. Rep. Don Young (R – AK) was waxing nostalgic about agriculture when he uttered the following gem:

My father used to own a ranch. We used to hire 50 to 60 wetbacks to pick tomatoes, you know. It takes two people to pick the same tomatoes now. It’s all done by machine.

All I can say to this horrible bigot is that he’s lucky Clement and Cooper were around to steal his award…

Women’s History Month 2013: Melissa Harris-Perry

27 Mar

harris-perryToday we honor and celebrate another wonderful voice for equality. Many thanks to my friend and regular TSM commenter Christine for recommending Melissa Harris-Perry. Melissa is multi-racial, having  a black father and white mother.  She is originally from here in the Northwest, Seattle. The family moved to Virgina when she was young, with both parents involved in education.

Harris-Perry is an author, scholar, and professor as well as host of a successful, thought-provoking program on MSNBC. She received her B.A. in English from Wake Forest University and her PhD in political science from Duke. Due to her interest in the influence of the black church on political movements, she also received an honoris causa doctorate from Meadville Lombard Theological School and was a Master of Divinity student at Union Theological Seminary.

While at Wake Forest, she encountered her mentor, the wonderful Maya Angelou.

As her student I watched as she influenced public discourse, taught students, and shared ideas in a way that seemed to truly matter for people’s lives.

Harris-Perry taught political science at the University of Chicago, then moved to Princeton where she was an associate professor of politics and African-American studies. She is currently a professor of political science at Tulane, where she is founding director of the Anna Julia Cooper Project on Gender, Race, and Politics in the South.

She is the author of Barbershops, Bibles, and BET: Everyday Talk and Black Political Thought on the methods African Americans use to develop political ideas through ordinary conversations in places like barbershops, churches, and popular culture–sounds like good social work to me. Her book won the 2005 W.E.B. DuBois Book Award from the National Conference of Black Political Scientists and the 2005 Best Book Award from the Race and Ethnic Politics Section of the American Political Science Association.

After years as serving as a commentator, she was offered her own MSNBC weekend show a year ago. She looks at the program as a way to expand her education career, focusing on issues of politics and equality.

All I’ve ever wanted to be is a teacher. Phil Griffin and MSNBC are giving me the chance to have a much bigger classroom.

She is also an outspoken advocate for gay rights and marriage equality. Her work in this area won her an Ally for Equality award from the Human Rights campaign last month.

As a biracial woman with a passion for education and a fascination with religion, Harris-Perry has a firm understanding of the intersections of oppression. She has made it her mission to share that understanding with others with a firm commitment to social justice. Thank you Melissa Harris-Perry for being such a strong advocate and ally!

Women’s History Month 2013: Nancy Pelosi

25 Mar

Nancy-PelosiToday we honor and celebrate a powerful and effective leader who provides a great example for women everywhere. Nancy Pelosi was born in Baltimore in 1940 and has politics in her blood. She received a B.A. in political science from Trinity College, where she met her husband. They moved to New York and then to San Francisco, where she quickly established herself in local Democratic politics.

She entered national politics in 1987 when she was elected to the House of Representatives, a hand-picked successor to the outgoing Representative, Sala Burton. Although her district number has changed, she has held the seat for a quarter century, making her one of the most senior members of Congress. She quickly rose through the ranks, assuming various leadership positions, culminating in her term as the 60th Speaker of the House in 2003.

Known for her adroit collaborative skills and her indomitable spirit, she is considered one of the most effective Speakers in history. As Vice President Biden has observed

If you ever want a partner to get anything important done, call Nancy Pelosi.

That effectiveness was very threatening to the petulant old white boys club in the GOP, who have demonized her for decades. Pelosi is quite gracious about the personal impact, but very concerned about the larger message.

It didn’t bother me, I figured they thought I was effective and therefore they had to take me down. What does concern me about it is that women that we want to be involved in politics, women who have options to do other things and we say, ‘Come over here and do this!’ And they’re saying, ‘No, I don’t want to subject myself to that. Why would I do that? I have a great life, I have plenty of opportunities.’ So what I’ve said is that if you lower the role of money in politics and you increase the level of civility, you will have more women running for office, elected to office, and that would be a very wholesome thing for our country.

What a perfect observation! Sadly, we see both men and women vilifying our Nancy.  I am often caught off guard at women committing lateral oppressions and internalizing misogyny, but when they act on this internalized misogyny, they become hypocrites of the first degree.

Nancy Pelosi is the highest-ranking politician in U.S. history. Of the 200 nations in the world, 50 have had elected women leaders and 22 do today. Why are we so far behind? Even with a record number of women in the Senate, there are still only 20, perpetuating a male-dominated discourse and allowing the GOP War on Women to proceed as diatribe, even when it fails as policy.

Minority Leader Pelosi takes heart from the great diversity in the current Democratic caucus in the House, however. Laughing at the recent GOP rebranding efforts and outreach to women, she offers some simple advice.

I think respect would be a good place to start. We are fortunate in our House Democratic caucus — women, minorities, LGBT community members make up a majority of the caucus. We don’t need anybody to teach us how to speak to women, Hispanics, blacks, because that’s who we are. And not only do they have a seat at the table, they have a seat at the head of the table, because over half of our chairmen-to-be, our senior Democrats — people who would be chair if we were the majority — are women and minorities.

That’s a great place to start. Let’s hope her great example does inspire the next generation of women to enter politics and help keep positive change moving.  Let us hope that Pelosi keeps working to ensure that all voices are invited to the table of power and thus working to lift marginalization and oppression.

Women’s History Month 2013: Cyndi Lauper

22 Mar

CyndiToday we honor and celebrate a woman dedicated to civil rights for all and social justice, not to mention a personal hero of mine, Cyndi Lauper.  Lauper founded  the Give A Damn Campaign, which strives for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender equality.  What a lovely voice of solidarity for the LGBTQ community.  Her activism is greatly appreciated and she uses her celebrity for the greater good.

Lauper has been an outspoken advocate for multiple social justice issues since the start of her career. Her first solo album, She’s So Unusual, is a declaration of independence from the title to the cover photo to the crisp production and quirky vocals. She lends her voice to rockers, ballads, and anthems and makes them all unmistakably her own. She bounces from the feminism of Girls Just Want to Have Fun to the sex-positive message of She Bop to the wistful class analysis of Money Changes Everything, then retains the original pronouns in her cover of Prince’s When You Were Mine, making her lost love a bisexual or a gay man finding his truth. (She’s always had a great ear for songs to cover, including a lovely reading of Marvin Gaye’s social protest song What’s Going On.)  She consistently demonstrates her solidarity with the disenfranchised and marginalized–what a great role model for us all!

Launching from that strong platform, she’s been a powerful voice in music and civil rights ever since, confounding expectations and speaking her mind. She laments the way women are treated in the music industry, as demonstrated in this anecdote about the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

I always have been saying [the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame] should include women. I was in Cleveland and I took my cousin’s son to see it, because he wanted to see it, and they asked if I wanted a VIP tour and I said “Not really, because you don’t really include women in your curation here.” There’s hardly any women, and I feel funny walking this kid around, explaining who the women were who were around at the time.

Lauper’s True Colors tour — taking its title from her #1 ballad to being true to yourself —  is a wonderful spectacle of support for the LGBTQ community and for strong voices in the music community representing marginalized populations. She truly exemplifies the values she speaks. Activist neo-divas like P!nk and Lady Gaga owe a great debt to her bold example.

Even more remarkably, she manages to hold on to the spirit of her first big hit, remembering that even during the fight for justice, one must find ways to have a happy heart. She certainly doesn’t “just want” to have fun, but she wants us all to celebrate as we fight together for what’s right. She’s so unusual indeed, but the world could use more like her.

Bigot of the Week Award: March 22, CNN and Poppy Harlow

22 Mar
Bigot of the Week

Bigot of the Week

Thank you to my friend Jennifer Carey for inspiring me to write this week’s Bigot story.  What a sad tale to tell — how tragic that we see patriarchy put above all else, as Poppy (a woman) bemoans the verdict of the rapists in Steubenville, OH and gives no mention of the rape victim and how the rest of her life has been impacted.

Yes, I have some empathy for the two men who raped the young girl, but I was mortified to see CNN and Poppy Harlow talking ad nauseam about “these poor young men,” and how impressive they were.  She goes on to sing their praises because they offered an apology.  Is it just me, or is this whole thing totally screwed up?  Sadly, I found CNN and Poppy to be quite loathsome.  What about the young woman who was raped? What about her life? Let us not forget that these young men — whom you fawn over — drugged the young woman, repeatedly raped her, and then dumped her body in a yard where they then proceeded to urinate on her. How dare you sing the praises of these two rapists while not giving any acknowledgement of the physical and mental anguish the victim will suffer for the rest of her life. Have you no shame?

Just like Penn State, we see hints of authority figures complicit in a cover-up to protect athletic programs while ignoring the victims. Just like too many examples, we see members of the community heaping scorn on the victim for coming forward. Is it any wonder that so many rapes and sexual assaults go unreported?

If you can stomach it, here is the video of Poppy Harlow on CNN. How sad that we see women in our culture so quick to care take of the male rapists while ignoring the victim — we are truly in the world of Todd Akin.

Hero of the Week Award: March 22, Mike DeWine, Attorney General of Ohio

22 Mar
Hero of the Week

Hero of the Week

The delivery of verdicts and sentencing in the Steubenville, OH teen rape case this week has created a wide range of responses. Sadly, many have chosen to focus on the rapists and their potential futures rather than on the crimes and the victim. Fortunately, officials with the power to make a real difference in this case are taking it seriously indeed, perhaps no-one more so than Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine.

The first-term Republican has been extremely vocal about the circumstances of the crime and the way it has been handled from beginning to end. His office is pursuing charges against the owners of the house where the initial assault took place; he is also investigating possible charges against the football coach and school officials who may have known about the crime but remained silent to protect the school’s football season. (How disgusting is THAT? Talk about institutionalized misogyny.) Under Ohio law, school employees are mandatory reporters and could face stiff penalties for inaction.

Working with local law enforcement, DeWine and his staff are also cracking down on the people who have harassed the victim of the crime. The case is a sad example of blaming the victim, and many teens and parents threatened her for coming forward. Steubenville police have arrested two girls for their actions against the victim after the case went to court. DeWine stands behind the actions and makes his position clear.

These arrests, I hope, will end the harassment of the victim. We are simply not going to tolerate this. Enough is enough.

Too often cases lack strong follow-up. Thank you, AG DeWine for helping this case be a model exception.

Honorable mention this week comes thanks to my friend Matthew Johnson. He pointed me to a powerful post by punk music legend Henry Rollins regarding the Steubenville case. Always articulate and outspoken, Rollins’ whole post is worth reading. His observations about gender, power, and the messages we send our children are powerful. His recommendations are a perfect expression of social justice.

I think to a great degree, we humans still divide ourselves into two species, even though we are monotypic. There are males and females. We see them as different and not equal. Things get better when women get more equality. […] It is obvious that the two offenders saw the victim as some one that could be treated as a thing. This is not about sex, it is about power and control. […]

So, how do you fix that? I’m just shooting rubber bands at the night sky but here are a few ideas: Put women’s studies in high school the curriculum from war heroes to politicians, writers, speakers, activists, revolutionaries and let young people understand that women have been kicking ass in high threat conditions for ages and they are worthy of respect. Total sex ed in school. Learn how it all works. Learn what the definition of statutory rape is and that it is rape, that date rape is rape, that rape is rape.

Thank you, Mr. Rollins. Well said!

Women’s History Month 2013: Justice Sonia Sotomayor

20 Mar

JusticeSotomayorToday we honor and celebrate a woman dedicated to justice who is working hard to restore integrity to our nation’s highest court — quite the ambitious task while Scalia is on the bench. Sonia Sotomayor was born in the Bronx in 1954 to parents who had recently moved to New York from Puerto Rico. Her mother and grandmother stressed the importance of education, and she worked hard in school, initially hoping to be a detective (inspired by Nancy Drew). A Type 1 Diabetes diagnosis at age seven led her family and doctors to recommend a less strenuous career choice, so she decided she wanted to be a judge–I wonder if her parents detected the irony here?

She attended Princeton, where she was a distinct minority both as a woman and a Latina. She received her undergraduate degree in History, winning numerous scholastic prizes in her final year and graduating summa cum laude. She immediately started law school at Yale, where she was once again in the distinct minority. Attending on a scholarship, she was stunned when a major law firm suggested during a recruitment dinner that she was at Yale solely because she was Latina. She terminated the interview and filed a formal complaint, resulting in a favorable ruling from a campus tribunal and a formal apology from the firm.  Brava, Justice Sotomayor!

After receiving her J.D. and passing the New York Bar, she began work as an assistant district attorney, focusing on crimes against persons and police brutality. She developed a reputation for going wherever she needed to go to get evidence, regardless of the neighborhood. After a few years she went into private practice and was appointed to a number of Boards and task forces by New York governors and New York City mayors. She expanded her reputation as a strong advocate for the marginalized–a voice for social justice!

In 1991 she realized her childhood dream and became a judge for the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, the first Hispanic federal judge in the state. Six years later she was appointed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second District. She faced a brutal confirmation hearing, with Senate Republicans stalling for months and grilling her on her decisions favoring gay rights and due process. Once seated, she expanded her reputation as a strong, fair judge interested in protecting the rights of the most vulnerable; imagine that, a judge working for civil rights for all?

Sonia Sotomayor became a Supreme Court Justice in 2009. She settled in quickly and works hard to ensure that the loud, conservative voices on the Court don’t dominate when cases come forward. She made news recently for harshly criticizing  a Texas prosecutor whose argument relied on racist stereotyping. During hearings on a case regarding the Voting Rights Act, she refused to allow an Alabama attorney to hide his county’s racist history.

Why would we vote in favor of a county whose record is the epitome of what caused the passage of this law to start with?

When Justices Scalia and Alito tried to bail the attorney out with far-fetched hypotheticals, she weighed in again.

The problem with those hypotheticals is obvious […] it’s a real record as to what Alabama has done to earn its place on the list. Discrimination is discrimination, and what Congress said is it continues.

Thank you, Justice Sotomayor, for standing up for those who most need it. May your time on the Court be long and productive!

Women’s History Month 2013: Rachel Maddow

18 Mar

RachelMaddowToday we honor and celebrate Dr. Rachel Maddow, a woman who is trying to bring real discussion back into television journalism. Maddow was born in California in 1973. While a freshman at Stanford University, she was outed in a campus paper interview before she was able to tell her parents. I always love papers that out people just for the sake of outing them–my what code of ethics does that follow?  Fortunately, they were supportive, and she has been out and proud ever since. After receiving her degree in public policy from Stanford, she was awarded a Rhodes scholarship, becoming the first openly LGBT Rhodes scholar. She received her Doctor of Philosophy from Oxford University with her thesis entitled HIV/AIDS and Health Care Reform in British and American Prisons.

These early events clearly hinted at her outspoken nature and her dedication to open discourse. She won a contest to become a radio announcer shortly after returning to the U.S., launching her broadcast career. She worked in radio for local Massachusetts stations and then joined Air America. Unabashedly liberal, she has observed the rightward drift of this country’s politics with the quip

I’m undoubtedly a liberal, which means that I’m in almost total agreement with the Eisenhower-era Republican party platform.

While still on Air America, she began regular guest spots on MSNBC’s nightly programs. Soon she was offered her own show, a TV version of her radio program, The Rachel Maddow Show. This made her the first openly LGBT host of a major prime-time news show in the U.S. She also routinely has her network’s most highly rated show–in what still remains a “white hetero male dominated” industry.

Her program is a wonderful mixture of straight news, opinion, and interviews–all offered through a social justice lens. In fact, I’m not sure there are other national programs that stand in such solidarity with those that are marginalized and oppressed by those in power and charged with the task of representing all Americans.  I love that Maddow holds these hypocrites’ feet to the fire. She has no tolerance for liars or people who put talking points above reality. Her no-holds-barred approach to discussing critical events is very refreshing. The media need more people who stand up and say “that’s not right!” Hooray for Rachel Maddow for showing that caring about the truth can still matter to the viewing public.

Women’s History Month 2013: Valerie Harper

15 Mar

Valerie_HarperToday I would like to honor another remarkable woman who has been a big part of my life for the past 40 years. As regular TSM readers know, I have always loved the Mary Tyler Moore Show. Part of me wanted to be Mary, but I’ve always had a lot of Rhoda in me. I actually put this in my essay when I applied to the school of social work. Her bold, outspoken nature and very human insecurities made her a wonderful character, and no-one could have brought her to life other than the incomparable Valerie Harper.

She was born in Suffern, NJ in 1939; her family moved frequently for her father’s work (including a couple of years here in Ashland, Oregon). When they left NJ, she moved to New York to pursue her dream of dancing. She obtained her degree and began chorus work, rising to lead roles and eventually moving into television after a bit part in the film version of a Broadway show she had appeared in. The casting agent for MTM saw her and knew that she had found her Rhoda. Nine years later, Harper had four Emmy awards, one Golden Globe, and seven nominations for her groundbreaking role.

More significantly, she had shown another kind of independent woman. Unlike Mary’s clear career path, Rhoda was always more of a free spirit. She had her own life and lived it proudly. She also went through one of the first prime time divorces, showing the difficulties of relationships in an honest way while retaining her quirky charm and joy. Harper also notes proudly that she was one of the first actors to use the word “gay” on prime time network television, on one of my favorite episodes of MTM, My Brother’s Keeper–a must see episode!

While acting on stage and television, she was also a strong advocate for the Equal Rights Amendment and women’s rights. She was as outspoken as her famous television persona and helped put a familiar face on these important issues. She also co-founded L.I.F.E. with Dennis Weaver, an LA organization that provided meals for the underserved and marginalized. In recognition for her work, the Women’s Film Institute awarded her their Humanitarian award in 1987.

Sadly, Valerie Harper is back in the news for tragic reasons. A lung cancer survivor, she recently discovered that the cancer has returned in a rare and nearly untreatable form of brain cancer. Rather than retreat, she is using her personal struggle to encourage others. In print and television interviews, she stresses how lucky she has been and encourages everyone to live their lives to the fullest while they can.

Don’t go to the funeral until the day of the funeral!

She also notes how lucky she is to have great health care through her union. Never shy, she reminds everyone that universal health care should be a right and expectation and that unions work hard to create a level playing field for all workers. Yes, it is obvious I love our  Valerie Harper.  I am confident that she will prevail.  I  thank you for your great work and thank you for allowing me to celebrate you during Women’s History Month!

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