Showing posts with label sexism. Show all posts
Showing posts with label sexism. Show all posts

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

The Rape and Murder of Turkish University Student Ozgecan Aslan

Ozgecan Aslan
Last week, a bright, beautiful 20-year-old Turkish university student named Ozgecan Aslan was the last person on her shared taxi known as a dolmuş. It's a common form of transportation in Turkey. A dolmuş, much like an airport shuttle van, carries up to 10 people at a time. Everyone in Turkey uses them. It would never have occurred to me to think of one as unsafe. Last week riding in a dolmuş cost Ozgecan Aslan her life. She was raped, stabbed, dismembered, and burned by a dolmuş driver, his friend, and the dolmuş driver's own father.
Turkish Women refused
to let men near her casket
At the funeral, the imam signalled for men to pick up the casket and Turkish women were having none of it. They refused to step away and carried her casket out themselves, a shockingly unusual act in patriarchal Turkish culture. It was an incredibly healthy response of contempt that signalled to the entire nation, this problem of violence against women MUST be addressed. Ozgecan Aslan, and her fate, was on the lips of every Turkish woman with fury and sorrow all week long. 

Turkey, a country famous for its denial of so many of its historic problems, is not in denial on this one. Turkey knows it has a problem with domestic violence and violence against women. The President himself called it "Turkey's bleeding wound." Last year, 281 women were killed in Turkey (that are known of - with honor killings and such you can't be sure of accurate reporting).

A Turkish actress started a hashtag called #Sendeanlat (tell your story), asking women to take to Twitter to tell their stories of how they had been harassed in daily life. Last I looked it had close to 1,000,000 tweets in two or three days. Even though the men of Turkey, know there is a problem,  I'm not sure they care enough to fix it
Murder of females is political
Graffiti about Ozgecan Aslan's murder filled the streets. It wouldn't have occurred to me to think of Ozgecan Aslan's murder as political until I saw the graffiti above that declared it so. Then I couldn't get it out of my mind once seeing it. There were so many ways it could be. Like the victims of so much state violence this year, Ozgecan was both Kurdish (an ethnic minority) and Alevi (a religious minority). Was her death going to be used by authorities to further restrict the freedom of women in the country, the way terrorism is used to justify the end of civil liberties for citizens in the West? Immediately, there were calls for women to be segregated into 'pink buses.' Others pointed to the misogynist statements by politicians that devalued women. The pattern of peeling women away from public life is underway in Turkey.

Our rebellion is for murdered women!

What fascinates me is the similarity of toxic cultures for women -- no matter where they are located. For example, I have always thought of the American state South Carolina as a state badly in need of the fresh breezes of change -- a state still nursing grievances from the Civil War. 

Just the other day, one of South Carolina's lawmakers referred to women as a "lesser cut of meat." It's easy to condemn the lawmaker, but it must be assumed that this attitude represents the population and it sells. These kind of statements diminishing women are common in both Turkey and South Carolina. Diminishing statements about women sell to the masses in Turkey too.

Recently, the Post and Courier newspaper in South Carolina examined how the good 'ole boy culture of patriarchal policy makers contribute to South Carolina leading the nation in dead women murdered by men. Despite another woman dying every 12 days at double the national rate, (and at three times the rate of South Carolina men who served in Iraq and Afghanistan combined), policy makers actively ignored a dozen initiatives to do something about the problem.

Who matters more?
The woman or the dog?
You'd be surprised --
or maybe not.
According to the Post and Courier, the only policy initiative related to domestic violence that got acted on in South Carolina was a proposal to make sure pets were taken care of when domestic violence happens. Indeed, South Carolina must value animals higher than women as 46 shelters for animals exist (one in every county) in the state, while only 18 shelters exist for women state-wide. According to the reporters who wrote the award-winning Post and Courier series "Til Death Do Us Part," a man in South Carolina can get five years for abusing his dog, but will only have to serve 30 days in jail for the first time he abuses his wife or girlfriend. 

One of the sad aspects to the Ozgecan Aslan murder in Turkey, is that the mother/wife (same woman) of the alleged murders said she had been a battered woman for years. If she had received help, and this battery had been taken seriously in Turkey, would 20-year-old Ozgecan Aslan be alive today? According to the investigative journalism of the four reporters in South Carolina, incarceration saves lives as men are separated from women. That may be, but in South Carolina and in Turkey, there appears to be no interest in helping women in that situation as men choose to view them with morality judgements as "those women."

According to experts quoted in the "Till Death do us Part" series on domestic violence, South Carolina has the most traditionalist culture in the entire nation of the United States, preserving a status quo that benefits the needs and values of the elite. Wow, does that sound like Turkey. And here's what sounds EXACTLY like Turkey, "honor culture:"
"Surprisingly little research has examined the role South Carolina’s culture plays in domestic abuse and homicides, considering the state’s rate of men killing women is more than twice the national average.One often-cited study about violent tendencies in Southern men came from Richard E. Nisbett, distinguished professor of psychology at the University of Michigan.
His research revealed a Southern “culture of honor,” one in which for generations a man’s reputation has been central to his economic survival — and in which insults to that justify a violent response.
“We have very good evidence that southerners and northerners react differently to insults,”Nisbett says. “In the South, if someone insults you, you should respond. If the grievance is enough, you react with violence or the threat of violence.”
In a clinical study, Nisbett subjected northern and southern men to a test. Someone bumped into them and called them a profane term. The reaction: stress hormones and testosterone levels elevated far more in southern men.
“He gets ready to fight,” says Nisbett, coauthor of “Culture of Honor: The Psychology of Violence in The South.”
How does it apply to domestic violence? Men who perceive their women have insulted them — by not keeping up the house, by talking back or flirting with someone else — launch into attack mode to preserve their power."      
 
 ~South Carolina Post and Courier, 2014 
Here are examples of that same hypersensitivity to insult in Turkey here, and here, and here.

The response of disgust that Turkish women felt and voiced about the murder of Ozgecan Aslan was the healthiest human response to this whole sad story. The challenge for Turkish women and those who love them, will be to turn their social media energy and disgust into real lasting change. Sociologist Zeynep Tufekci describes this inability to make lasting change from social media power in her TED Talk here.


Turkish women took to the streets
throughout Turkey to protest
Turkey's pattern of
violence against women
If the first step, is to drag the whole country out of denial that there is a problem, the women of Turkey, have passed that test with flying colors and not let their nation descend any further (hello, Egypt). Respect, Turkish ladies! You have my total respect!   

May the women of South Carolina find the same strength. According to the journalists in South Carolina who wrote the award-winning series, "Till Death Do Us Part," 30 women's lives and families will depend upon it in the coming year.

What I would want the women of Turkey and South Carolina to know is, you are not in this alone. One billion women across the planet are rising up each year to ask the world to change this paradigm where violence against women is acceptable. Eve Ensler began this movement three years ago and each year it gets bigger and bigger. Luckily, the President of Turkey criticized women for participating so now everyone in Turkey has probably learned what the "One Billion Rising" is all about.  Next year, may the criticisms of women dancing for change sing out across the land! Strike! Rise! Dance! One billion rising! Break the chain!
You may be interested in these other posts about domestic violence and violence against women in Turkey:

#1billionrising in Istanbul






My First Turkish Movie -‘Kurtuluş Son Durak’


You can follow 'Empty Nest Expat' on Facebook, or just sign up for RSS Feed at the right. Care about domestic violence and violence against women? Why not share this blog post to broaden the conversation.

Thanks for reading. Don't forget to Strike! Rise! Dance!

Heaps and heaps of gratitude to the amazing journalists in South Carolina whose journalism will save lives, move their state forward, and result in a more equitable environment for the citizens of South Carolina. 

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Exploring Üsküdar's Historic Fish Market

Üsküdar's Historic Fish Market;
Fishmongers shout to the customers
what is on offer.
It adds to the fun.
There were so many kinds of fish,
yet I wanted to use the kind
I was most familiar with.
Where were the salmon fillets?
I saw just one lonely salmon fillet
on display.
When I said what I wanted,
the fishmonger urged me
to go behind the counter.
I did as told, not understanding.
The other fishmonger opened up
the deep freeze and went in.
Will this do?
I almost screamed
it was so fun
to see that giant fish.
A memory of watching
Martha Stewart videos
with my oldest child
came rushing back to me.
It was before Martha
became really big.
We marveled that Martha
would buy and handle
a gigantic salmon
in her kitchen.
She bought the entire fish??
We admired Martha
risking all that money
preparing one gigantic salmon. 
What if it didn't turn out right
when she cooked it?
Martha was thinking big,
obviously.
The fishmonger thought
I was German.
In my imperfect Turkish,
I tried to say,
"I'm not German, I'm American."
But like all language learners everywhere,
it wasn't exactly right.
Apparently, I said:
"The German doesn't exist!"
Custom-cut fillets.
I felt so lucky,
and so full of anticipation
to enjoy my own cooking.
I wanted to take advantage
of Turkey's incredible
nut crop
and make
pistachio-encrusted salmon.
Later, after I had my wrapped salmon fillets from the fish market, I went to the nut shop to buy fresh pistachio meats. I was asking questions in slow Turkish about the various kinds of pistachios.

A Turkish man barged into the shop, shouted out his order, oblivious to the fact that I was ordering. The shopkeeper switched to the new, louder patron. "Men get waited on before women in Turkey, even if the woman was first?" I asked, after the man left.

"Maalesef (unfortunately)," the shopkeeper replied. I said 'no thank you' to placing my order with him and took my small request (1/4 kilo) to the shopkeeper's competitor across the street.

"Roasted pistachio nuts please," I ordered in Turkish. The man reached inside a heated drawer and scooped up the warm nuts into a paper bag for me. It was so satisfying to take my business there. I swear the pistachios tasted better for the lack of sexism!
My meal turned out so well!
Martha would be proud, I think.
My finished dinner
of pistachio-encrusted salmon
and Mediterranean bakla,
pine-nuts & herbs
(Bakla is Turkey's version
of green beans).

Shopping the Üsküdar fish market
was a fun experience.
And delicious too!



Interested in other posts about homemade food in Istanbul?
Take a look at these:







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Friday, February 15, 2013

#1billionrising in Istanbul

"Everyday Five Women Are Killed
through Domestic Violence"
Yesterday was so delightful. The enormity of Eve Ensler's imagination blew me away. It was just glorious to participate in the largest global happening on the planet to date. Turkish media was 100% there for the event. Many newspapers featured it on their front page the day it was to happen and the day after. My local neighborhood municipality actually sponsored a rising themselves and offered people free dance classes. I wasn't able to go because it was during the day but the joy of those who did attend is self-evident! The anthem was perfect as it created and communicated the joyousness of the feminist tsunami circling the world.
New friend and fellow protester
Betül. She was a delight!

I thought there was a rising at 6 p.m. in Taksim Square, but when I got there, the square was empty. I looked around and guessed who would be the most likely to be attending a rising that night. I guessed exactly right on my first try. The young German lady said, "yes, my roommate has organized the one in Kadikoy on the Asian side at 7 p.m." I guess it's been all those years of guessing who speaks English to ask questions that helped me pick the right female to ask! We gathered a Canadian friend of hers and took the ferry over to Asia.

There were all kinds of people there, at least 500 if not more. One young woman had hand-lettered signs on both sides with magic marker and gladly shared them with people she didn't know. I marveled at the time investment, but hey, I had done the same in my own way, with non-stop promotion of #1billionrising in the weeks prior to everybody I could think of.

I realized when I got there, that this was an event that was tailor-made for Turkey. Most Turks dance with abandon and they have wonderful, wonderful folk dances that are easy to learn and enable people of all ages to participate. We started doing the halay in a big circle and gorgeous young women would make that ululating sound as loud as they could with incredible joy. It was FABULOUS.
 Someone translated this to me that night as:
"Hallelujah, the women are united!"
The administrator in me started thinking "well, if I had done this promotion, I would have done this different and that different, starting with designing a dance as easy to learn as the Turkish halay so it could go viral and all ages would dance it up." The official #1billionrising choreography was intimidating to nondancers as a time investment. It looked like it would take multiple rehearsals to learn. That makes it hard for folks to identify with so that they join in up until the last minute. I would also would have waited for a year to do this when Valentine's Day fell on a Saturday so the maximum number of people could join. Had it happened on a weekend, I would have just gone to risings all day, one after the other.

I also wish the President of the United States had given #1billionrising a shoutout in the State of the Union speech the night before. I mean, it's not every single day that 1 billion people decide to organize themselves into mass action. A single "I hear ya!" would have sufficed.

The State Department, which prides itself on social media saavy, seemed like complete nonparticipants on Twitter. I would have thought Hillary Clinton's State Department would have had risings organized at all embassies and consulates. Women's rights were supposed to be hallmark of Hillary's time as Secretary of State. The United Nations, the UK Prime Minister, and the Australian PM were all over #1billionrising on V-Day. America missed a wonderful opportunity to brag about all the work it has done on behalf of women over the last four years. This could have been the capstone event!

It was amazing how hard it was to know about all of the aspects of this. I didn't realize you could order a T-shirt. I didn't know that my municipality was organizing their own rising. I didn't know that there was a #1billionrisingIstanbul Facebook page (the ladies of Izmir, Turkey had over 4,000 likes on theirs). I didn't understand how there would be #1billionrising when @eveensler only had around 22,000 Twitter followers and @vday only had 23,000 followers. There is a Twitter account called @obr that seems to be owned by a very non-active Norwegian, not One Billion Rising. Had information on all the groups organizing been more centralized, it could have been even exponentially larger.

But then I just remembered to myself the wonderful quote by Teddy Roosevelt. "It is not the critic who counts, but the man in the arena." My suggestions are mere quibbles.

Eve Ensler created something of immense power and beauty. My hat is off to her. I can't wait to sift through all of the incredibly diverse videos and take them in. I loved hearing this NPR Talk-of -he-Nation interview with her from the Congo where she expressed her optimism for the future. Most importantly, she talked about when she started with the Vagina Monologues, it was with a theatre of 100 seats. She had no idea the power of her voice. None of us do - all we have to do is take the first step. In my opinion, Eve Ensler deserves the American Medal of Freedom for her service to America and all humanity.

This is one of the most powerful #1billionrisings videos I've seen so far: #1billionrising in jail.

You may be interested in my earlier posts about #1billionrising:


 



Sunday, February 3, 2013

#1billionrising rising in Turkey

Today brings the sad news that the Turkish police have found the body of American tourist Sarai Sierra, 33, from New York City. May she rest in peace. Thank you to all of the Turkish and American public servants who worked so hard to find her. I read the police formed a special team to view hours and hours of security camera footage to try and trace her steps. I can't imagine anything more boring that watching all that. I'm grateful they did.

Sarai Sierra's death brings reflection at the vast epidemic of violence against women globally. Global activist Eve Ensler is asking all of us, women - and especially the men who love them, to strike, rise, and dance, rising up to demand an end to the routine daily violence against women.

#1billionrising is the audaciously-named event Eve Ensler has created to demand an end to violence against women worldwide. Can you imagine trying to organize 1 billion people? Have you ever heard of anyone trying to do that before? What an amazing idea. She chose that number because that is the estimated number of women who have been violated by violence worldwide.

As of this writing, there are over 40 events planned for Turkey. The first one starts today at 2 p.m. Participants will be doing this extremely fun Turkish folk dance called the Halay (actually, pretty much all Turkish dance is fun). Here is the list of events for Turkey. Here is where you can find an event in the country you're living in. And here is the anthem, although the many ways people will be dancing is of course, varied and global. #1billionrising!


Saturday, January 12, 2013

My Scoop: "Turkey 2000-2010: A Decade of Transition - Discussion Among Experts"

Sena Eken, PhD
describing macroeconomic changes to
Turkey's economy
Today at the Professional American Women in Istanbul (PAWI) luncheon, the North American ladies were the very first people in Turkey to get a personal presentation from Turkish economist Dr. Sena Eken describing the recent decade in Turkish history that is widely viewed as transformative.

Dr. Eken partnered with Susan Schadler to create three one-day workshops in Istanbul, Brussels, and Washington D.C. which brought together 15 experts at each workshop from the fields of macroeconomics, international finance and business, plus social and education policy to describe, debate, and finally document exactly what Turkey has gone through during that decade. Their main focus was to look at issues that had economic impact on the Turkish economy and ask "what old problems were addressed? Which weren't?"

Dr. Sena Eken
Sena Eken, a graduate of Uskadar American Academy, Robert College, University of Essex in the UK, with a final PhD from the University of Pittsburgh, is currently an independent consultant. Her professional experience includes senior positions at the International Monetary Fund and as an advisor to the Governor of the Central Bank of Turkey. Susan Schadler, her partner on this project, was unable to be at the presentation. She is the former Deputy Director of the IMF's European Department. The study was done under the auspices of the Foreign Economic Relations Board with outside corporate funding.

I've tried to transcribe her language as closely as I can so the following should all be considered direct quotes:

Macroeconomic Overview:

The macroeconomic policy overview highlighted the stability brought about by significant financial reform. The significant achievement of the era was the taming of inflation from 100% to single digits which stabilized the exchange rate. Government debt was halved. Experts felt that the growth actually was not as high as it could have been. Turkey grew at a 4.2% rate from 2000-2010, up from 4.0% the previous decade; still, other developing countries were achieving 6% growth at the same time.

What led to the perception of high growth was a 7% growth rate from the years of 2002-2007. The lira was stronger, so people could buy more imported goods. Also, the growth was more inclusive and spread among more people.

Turks have not suffered a lost decade, post-2008 crisis, because there was all kinds of policy flexibility due to the significant reforms that had taken place before. New vulnerabilities exist: the current account rate is high, the savings rate is declining (with most savings decline happening in poorer households). This is a problem because countries where the savings rate is high continue to achieve growth because small and medium firms are more likely to get access to financing to expand.

One of the things that also has helped Turkey bounce back post-crisis is that it doesn't have many of the opaque financing instruments that brought so much trouble to other countries.

Labor overview:

Only 40% of the people eligible for work in Turkey (defined as those over 15) are currently working.

While other countries around the world were increasing in income inequality, Turkey's income inequality was lessening. Surprisingly, this didn't change Turkey's place in the overall income inequality standings.

While literacy rates have improved, education during this decade focused on nation building. It did not focus on increasing critical thinking skills.

Experts felt the social goals of the government were not as well known and defined as the fiscal and monetary policy goals during this era.

More inclusion increased in three areas: less poverty, more education, and more social and religious expression.

Key fault lines in education that remain are quality, the continued focus on memorization and nation building rather than critical thinking (a long-standing problem), politicization of education, and equity.

The current government continued the economic reforms that were occuring before they took power, but what they have proved is that open expressions of Islam can operate in a liberal market economy. Capitalism is changing the face of Islam in Turkey though, with more emphasis on frugality and hard work.

Fault lines in the labor market continue to be 1) lack of inclusion of women, 2) lack of inclusion of ethnic minorities, and 3) lack of focus on creativity.

Globalization overview:

There was a major diversification of export markets during this time.

The EU process speeded reforms, although it stopped in 2006. Right now, things are at a standstill. It can be restarted.

Two last facts:

70% of taxes come from indirect taxes such as value-added sales taxes, which proportionately hit the poor and middle class harder.

17% of the population is considered poor. (Eken, 12/01/2013)

My conclusion after listening to Dr. Eken:

It was fun and exciting to get to hear Dr. Eken's presentation first on Turkey's decade of transformation. There is a written report available that goes with her presentation. She is beginning a week of presentations to groups around Turkey with technicality varying depending on the audience. I would urge anyone interested in a greater understanding of Turkey's economy to find one and attend. She said what she most enjoyed about the process was hearing new perspectives beyond the narrow economic perspective.

I listened to her macroeconomic overview with a bit of awe for Turkey's macroeconomic achievements. Everything she described seemed like a system that worked for the people, not just the elites: inclusive growth, lowered inflation, rigorous reform, and halving the debt! WOW. My Turkish friends have boundless pride in this rigorous financial sector reform that occured at the start of the decade, as well they should. I do not see the political will to do it in my home country.

What I most admired in Dr. Eken's presentation was that she articulated problems in Turkey that are particularly obvious to Americans: the education system focusing on nation-building rather than critical thinking, and the lack of inclusion of ethnic minorities into the economy. Once problems are defined, they are easier to solve.

When you look at the low rate of labor participation, the fact that people haven't yet unleashed their full potential economic power through education focused on drawing out their creativity, and that ethnic minorities have much more economic ability to contribute than they currently are, Turkey seems like it has an incredible upside.

Dr. Eken is precisely the kind of woman from an Islamic country that does not show up on American television screens: elegant, learned, worldly and an expert. Next time an American news organization needs someone as an expert on the Turkish economy, it would be nice to see this sophisticated woman explaining to people, as she did to us, Turkey's accomplishments and opportunities for improvement.

Printed text shared at the meeting that was also the basis for this talk:

Sena Eken and Susan Schadler Turkey 2000-2010: A Decade of Transition Discussion Among Experts Turkey: DEIK Publications, 2012.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

My First Turkish Movie -‘Kurtuluş Son Durak’

One night I was invited to a gal's night out with about six Turkish married women. My friends were organizing themselves to see a new Turkish movie with an all-female cast called ‘Kurtuluş Son Durak.’

I hadn't even yet seen the inside of our local movie theatre and was pleasantly surprised by the deluxe leather or leather-like Lazy-Boy style chairs. It was a beautiful theatre and very, very comfortable. I bought a giant popcorn to complete the experience and sat down not knowing what to expect. I didn't even know what the movie would be about.

This movie, a comedy with a theme of domestic violence, was adorable! The story starts when a glamorous woman, recently dumped by her boyfriend, moves into an Istanbul building. All of the other ladies in the building are, of course, curious about her but she resists their friendship.

The women all have their own struggles. One woman has devoted her life to her bedridden father; another has resigned herself to daily beatings from her husband so long as he doesn't touch the kids; another is facing the reality that her Mafioso boyfriend won't marry her, a young teenager hates seeing her mother beaten. Eventually, the ladies unite through their struggles, and become empowered to solve their problems. Most importantly, they have adopted a motto to "oppose all forms of violence."

The movie showcases
six skilled Turkish actresses
What I loved about the movie is that it showed absolutely beautiful parts of Turkish female culture. A Turkish woman will never let anyone starve. If food could cure cancer, there would be no cancer in Turkey! Even if a Turkish woman doesn't do the cooking herself, she has immense pride in her country's cuisine and is always quick to offer it. Turkish hospitality is awe-inspiring. They eventually wear down their new neighbor with their amazing food!

Typical Turkish Dinner with Rakı
(Turkish anise-flavored liquor),
good fellowship,
and good music
Secondly, Turkish women, actually Turkish people in general, are quick to share joy through music and dance. Have I met a bad Turkish dancer yet? I have not! Since childhood, folks in Turkey have been learning about music and folk dancing, belly dancing, and traditional dancing from their elders.

This movie was written by a man named Barış Pirhasan and directed by his son Yusuf Pirhasan. I need to give special appreciation to them as a viewer for creating this hilarious, uplifting script. Domestic violence seems like it wouldn't be a good subject for a movie, because it could seem so hopeless and dreary. There is a real accelerating problem with domestic violence in Turkey with domestic murders of women up 1400% in the last seven years. This movie seems like such a healthy way to create conversation about the problem and eliminate denial about the topic. Isn't that what is great about artists? They are always challenging us to do better, notice this, address that! Kudos, gentlemen.

This movie was a fun playful revenge fantasy similar in spirit to Dolly Parton's, Lily Tomlin's, and Jane Fonda's "9 to 5," the American movie about the glass ceiling women encounter at work. I didn't need much help during the movie to understand it since it was about the universal theme of relationships and friendship. The creators should be invited to appear at film festivals everywhere! Click on my title to visit the film's website.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Europe Takes Note as Norway Smashes Through the Glass Ceiling

I guess I'm just not ready to let go of my admiration for Scandinavian thought leadership.

In 2010, my travels really taught me how America lags the world in female representation in government and industry.  America is currently ranked 85th in the world for elected female leadership. Yes, America, that wasn't a typo.  It was an 8 and then a 5 to make us 85th out of 195 countries in the world. Mediocre.

Deutsche-Welle, the German media company, has published a story that reminds me while American women are talking a good game, other women are actually making gender diversity happen.

Norwegian women have "smashed through the glass ceiling." How? By getting their government to tie corporate board gender diversity to a company's ability to be competitive for a government contract or listed on the Oslo Stock Exchange.  Well played, ladies.  I admire your obvious business acumen in executing global leadership in gender equity. Kudos also belong to the chivalrous conservative male politician in Norway who introduced the legislation. 

American women, there is hope.  Less than a decade ago, Norwegian women were represented in only 7% of their corporate board seats.  We could turn this around by following their lead.  If not, we're slated to fall even further behind as the rest of Europe adopts measures similar to the Norwegians.  The American Dream, if you're female, might be more-likely found in Europe.

Click on my title to read the article.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Name It. Change It: Sexism and Equality Don't Mix

This summer, I was without internet access so I got out of the blogging habit.  I'll eventually get around to sharing my adventures since coming back to Europe but for now, bear with me as I get all of my thoughts out about current events.

Frequently, on an expat blog like mine, the expat writing describes and explains the locals to the audience back home.  Today I want to do the opposite.  Czech Ladies, this post is especially for you.  I want to explain American thinking to you because our cultural gap is GIGANTIC on what I'm about to describe.  You can chose to tell me later that we Americans have it all wrong in the comments section.  

Back home in America, there's a hotly contested midterm election.  My friends back in the States are suffering through an average eight robo-calls a day (automatically-dialed, tape-recorded phone messages that tend to arrive during dinner time), 30-50 political ads on TV every day  (each one describing the other guy as a loser and the candidate in the commercial as a saint), and more election anger, zaniness, over-the-top media hyperbole than you would expect any democracy to be able to survive (the jury is still out on ours - we'll see).
 Into this crazy, over-the-top American election cycle (with more secret money than ever - almost $4 billion), a new advocacy organization started to try and hold media types accountable for how they choose to talk about female candidates. The name of the group is called "Name It. Change It."  Here's how they describe their mission:
Widespread sexism in the media is one of the top problems facing women. A highly toxic media environment persists for women candidates, often negatively affecting their campaigns. The ever-changing media landscape creates an unmonitored echo chamber, often allowing damaging comments to exist without accountability.
We must erase the pervasiveness of sexism against all women candidates — irrespective of political party or level of office — across all media platforms in order to position women to achieve equality in public office. We will not stand by as pundits, radio hosts, bloggers, and journalists damage women's political futures with misogynistic remarks. When you attack one woman, you attack all women.
I read that and said, sign me up! I'm a 1970's feminist. Feminist activism was the ferment of my youth.  Indeed, the feminist heroine of my twenties, author Gloria Steinem, was one of the founders of this new group (Czech ladies, the definition of that word in America is not "woman who henpecks her husband" as it is in the Czech Republic - I don't even have a husband.  It is woman who believes in Equal Rights for Equal Work, etc.).  I knew there was a need.

Yet, even I - someone who pays a lot of attention to this stuff - had no idea how much need! Every day "Name It. Change It." shares a different sexist media outrage.  When someone takes the time to organize and send media examples day after day after day, the toxicity of America's misogyny toward women is baffling and mindblowing.

Imagine if you were a Harvard-educated physician running for Governor, and your local newspaper declared that what you were a prime candidate for  - was a makeover! Or imagine this: as a candidate for President of the United States and the first woman to ever achieve 18 million votes for the office, you wake up to find a famous news and opinion aggregator is wanting readers to evaluate the hair clip you wore to the U.N - " is it a do or don't?" It happened to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Yes, I know, she'll survive.  But once you have put the time and work in to reach a certain level, you'd expect to be treated with some gravitas. One of America's shakier Senate candidates, a political novice named Christine O'Donnell of Rhode Island, is the subject of an anonymous severe misogyny attack.  "Name It. Change It." describes sexism in the media according to this pyramid of egregiousness. 

So this week I was reading their latest missive and it's not about American elections, it's about Czech elections! Apparently, the ladies you've elected have chosen to model in a calendar that emphasizes their body parts over their policy positions. Hence, our unbridgeable cultural gulf!  American women decry the treatment of a candidate who gets discussed in the media like this but if your female politicians are voluntarily choosing to pose for a pin-up calendar, are they not asking to be accepted based on how they look, not how they believe and vote?

I remember being in the room once with a bunch of Czechs politicians.  By the end of the night, it came out that the most respected man in the room was the one with bright red cheeks and the biggest belly in the room.  Not a single ounce of him was judged on his looks.  But every man at my table spoke of him with admiration. Reversibility is a key measure of media equality - that Czech politician would never need to, be expected to, or want to pose for something like a pin-up calendar to inspire voters.

Ask yourself, Czech ladies, if your female politician's calendar impedes achieving the gravitas needed to gain that level of respect. It's not useful for you to say that the standards are different for women.  They'll never be different if you don't ask for them to be different. Name It. Change It.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on this issue. Americans, if you want to support the work of this exciting new group, you can follow them on Facebook and Twitter.  What leaders you would be - there are less than 1,500 people following their work to date - they are simply that new.  Once, you sign up to follow Name It. Change It., can you ask your friends to follow them too?  Election season will soon be over.  If you're a journalist, I would suggest following them as well.  Heightened sensitivity to how media plays into old archetypes brings progress in coverage.  Name It.  Change It. Sexism and equality don't mix!

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Cheering on the Athletes at the Prague Half Marathon

Today my friend Anna ran her first half-marathon! What a fun and exciting challenge to set. Gulnara and I offered to serve as her "Sherpas," the people who carry the water and raisins necessary for refueling along the way.

Over 6,000 people from 79 different countries had signed up to run. It set off at the Rudulfonium and went through some of the most beautiful streets in Prague. It was probably cobblestone most of the way.

This was Gulnara's first time at a race too!

A nice Czech couple who helped us find our way.

Three fun-loving ladies from Spain
ready to run!


Adorable Anna
preps for her first half marathon

Three pals before racetime

Milan from the Czech Republic

Marc, an auditor from Luxembourg
We enjoyed getting to know people before the race
and cheering them on.

Mohito from Japan
works here in Prague
as a construction engineer.

Czech native Karel
was excited to run.

Agnes and Stephanie
are U.S. Department of Defense civil service staff
working in Germany
They were off to see the Mucha Museum while
their friend ran the race.
Thank you for your service to our country, ladies!
We appreciate it.

This woman and I had fun
chatting about her height
we never spoke the same measurement system
though so let's just say
she was a good half a head taller than me.

We American ladies had to give our native friends
a hard time about the European
way of doing things.
Notice how the male numbers don't have an "M" for male.
Men are the default.
They put an "F" for female who are the exceptions.

The parade of flags

Another Prague native ready to run

Jorg from Germany

As the race gets close to starting
you can feel the runners get jazzed
as their adrenaline gets ready to be sprung.

And they're off!

Align Center
The Prague Half Marathon
is officially opened by Vaclav Klaus,
the President of the Czech Republic.
The first piece of music played
as the runners take-off is
Smetana's "My country."

I shook the President's hand
but got a bigger kick
out of listening to two teenage Czech girls
literally squeal when they got to meet him.

President Klaus
of the Czech Republic
(he's better-looking in person than in the paper).

My compliments to him and his English teachers.
His accent when speaking in English
was practically native.

This man, who is Czech Secret Service
totally impressed me with
how graciously he did his job
with a constant smile
for those in the crowd
even as he protected the President.

The lead pack
halfway through the race.

A fun exuberant Czech runner.

It was nice to experience his enthusiasm
because Czechs in the crowd don't
cheer on their countrymen.
They just watch.
Anna said the only cheers she heard
along the way were in English.

Anna coming in strong and with a smile
near the end of the race.
Her goal was to run a 2:30.
She ran a 2:32.
Bravo!

I saw these braids go by during the race
and knew it could be only one woman:
Black Girl from Prague!
I was right.

Marco from Bavaria
blew us kisses as he raced.

Everyone should get a medal sometime
in their life, don't you think?

Anna happy, tired, and sore.

Can you get a better backdrop for a race well run
than Prague Castle?
 
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