Twenty Women

113th_Congress_freshman_class__large_Today is a big deal. A really big deal. Today there are more women in the United States Senate than there have every been before. A whole twenty of them – which isn’t even close to the fifty it ought to be, but okay. It’s a step in the right direction for the nation that fell from #17 to #22 in the 2012 Global Gender Gap Report. I can’t do them justice on my own, so I thought I’d share the wisdom of the blogosphere as well as alternately infuriating and informative stories from the national news media. Enjoy! (And don’t forget to write your favorite female senator a letter of congratulations for her success.)

How I will teach my daughters about Proverbs 31

yarn_675x4001Proverbs 31 is one of those texts that gets whipped out at college bible studies and women’s conferences as an instructive text for women looking to become wives. Verses 10 through 31 describe a woman (a wife, more specifically) of incredible talent and skill – she sews, she cooks, she brings home exotic foods, she invests in real estate. She does it all, effortlessly apparently, and Christian teachers (both male and female) have long taken the text as a template for the ideal Christian wife.

The problem is that if the text is in fact meant to be instructive, all of us church gals are supposed to be Superwoman. Proverbs 31, as it is most commonly taught, creates an impossible standard. And consequently, many of us walk around with a complex for a fair portion of our lives, feeling like failures because we haven’t stayed up late enough, gotten up early enough, accomplished enough with our limited time and energy. Reading Proverbs 31 as instructive to all women is, in short, a deeply destructive practice.

But that isn’t the only way to read it.

In her poignant and humorous book, A Year of Biblical Womanhood, Rachel Held Evans digs into the linguistic context of the passage as well as the use of the passage in Jewish rituals. In one of the most eye-opening passages of the book (at least from my perspective), Evans explains that this portion of the Bible is, of all things, a warrior poem. (See January: Valor, p. 75 – 76.) While most English translations read, “she provides food for her family,” the Hebrew is literally “prey” (v. 15). Ditto for “her husband…lacks nothing of value” (Hebrew: “booty”) and “she girds herself with strength” (Hebrew, “girds her loins”).

So first and foremost, this isn’t a retiring, domestic-type woman. She’s a hero, a la Beowulf or Roland. (Or Xena, I suppose. If you must.)

More importantly though, this warrior woman isn’t meant to set a standard to achieve – according to Jewish tradition, she reflects the talents and abilities inherent in all women. Evans’s friend Ahava, an Orthodox Jew, explains:

“Here’s the thing: Christians seem to think because all the Bible is inspired that it all should be taken as literally as possible also. Jews don’t do this.  I get called an Aishet Chayil (virtuous woman, Prov. 31 woman) all the time.  Make your own Challah instead of buying? Aishet Chayil!  Do work to earn extra money for the family? Aishet Chayil!  Make Balloon animals for the kids on a holiday?  Very Aishet Chayil!! You see, even though [Orthodox] Jews take the TORAH very literally (all 613 commandments!) the rest is seen differently, as a way to understand Our Creator, not as literal commands.  Every week at the Shabbat table, my husband sings Aishet Chayil (right after blessing the kids) and it’s special, because I know that no matter what I do or don’t do, he sees everything past the minimum needed to survive as me blessing the family with my energy and creativity.  All women CAN do that, and many do already.”

My dear sisters of all faiths and ages, this is who we are already. Not who we ought to be. This woman is already my grandmother, Norma, who used to sew awesome clothes for the teenaged version of my mother. And my housemates Maya and Dana, who are awesome hostesses. She is my sister-in-law Becky who makes amazing wall art for her kids’ rooms. She is my mother, Sharon, who is opening her home to thirty people this Saturday in celebration of M.L. and my upcoming marriage. She is my soon-to-be mother-in-law, Carol, who carries on the Polish traditions of her parents and visits elderly relatives. She is Stephanie, another sister-in-law, who selflessly lets others bask in the joy of holding her newborn daughter. She is Kate in Houston, who has homeless friends, church friends, and friends around the world. She is Katherine in Buffalo, who skillfully nurses old people, young people, nice people, impatient people, and hurting people. She is every woman pastor and professor I have studied under and every church lady who brings casseroles to potlucks or sings in the choir.

So this is how I will teach my daughters, should they ever exist, about Proverbs 31. Through the books and blogs and lives of the women of valor around them and through all the good things such women work in the world. Maybe I’ll just teach them to shout Aishet Chayil! at every woman in their lives.

50 States, 50 Women: Part 3 of 3

Note from your usual author: As promised, we’re graced with a guest post from the fiancé – a seriously wonderful man who not only encourages my feminism, but happily accepts the title “feminist” himself. (And even includes people like Betty Friedan, Gloria Steinem, and Delores Huerta in his lectures. What a guy…) Please forgive us that the project is re-introduced here. It was originally written for another blog: http://northumbriancountdown.wordpress.com

50 States, 50 Women 

(By The Illustrious M.L.)

I mentioned in a recent post that one of the projects I had in the pipeline was in cooperation with my fiancée, Heather.  Our idea was inspired by the National Statuary Hall in Washington D.C., where each state gets to pick two representative citizens to be immortalized in marble near the capital rotunda.  Heather and I began to think, “what if each state had to pick one woman?”  Who would it be?  We would each take 25 states at random and select who we believed to be the exemplary woman “from” that state.  (“From” can mean a multitude of things– one could be born there, retire there, work there, or perform some kind of activism there.)   We had only one rule and one guideline: no first ladies, and avoid those who were famous largely by being the wife, daughter or mistress of a famous man.

There was just one snag– when we put the names on slips of paper and drew them out of a hat, Heather got all of the “good states”: New York, Illinois, California, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania– states with a great many famous women to choose from.  I got most of the duds where in some cases I really had to scrape: Arkansas (remember, no First Ladies), the Dakotas, West Virginia, Delaware, etc.  Heather offered to redraw the states, but I refused.  It was more fun to complain. I shall link to Heather’s selections and write-ups when she’s done. (In all fairness, I only finished mine first because I don’t have a Master’s thesis to write!)

So, here are the choices that I have made:

Arizona: Linda Rondstadt (b. 1946): Already a member of my “Free France Rock and Roll Hall of Fame” (those wrongfully excluded from the illegitimate Hall of Fame in Cleveland), Rondstandt makes another appearance here. Few women excelled in quite so many facets of popular music: as an expressive singer, thoughtful songwriter, and a creative arranger who successfully navigated between the rock, folk, and country/western idioms.

Arkansas: Katharine Susan Anthony (1877-1965): Oddly, the only Susan Anthony on our list (someone else beat her more famous relative for New York’s spot), she was an early 20th-century advocate for the rights of women in the workplace. Additionally, she was a prolific biographer, writing pieces on Elizabeth I, Catherine the Great, and Louisa May Alcott.

Connecticut: Claire Booth Luce (1903-1987): This breaks the “no wife of famous people” guideline, but for good reason; her husband was Henry Luce, the eminent publisher of TimeLife, and Sports Illustrated. Claire Luce was no less significant. Her resume is astounding: editor, playwright, screenwriter, Republican congresswoman, atomic energy advocate, and ambassador to Italy.

Delaware: Annie Jump Cannon (1863-1941): A prominent astronomer, whose system of star classification remained the field’s standard for decades. She is credited with the discovery of over 300 stars, a record matched only by Ed McMahon.

Hawaii: Queen Liliukalani (1838-1917): In her youth, she was a reformist monarch who advocated a limited monarchy and a constitutional empowering native Hawaiians. In later life, she valiantly fought an illegal attempt of sundry U.S. entrepreneurs to annex the Hawaiian islands. Alas, this was in vain, and the state became a lucrative fiefdom for the Dole fruit company for the next several decades.

Idaho: Sacajawea (1788?-1812?): Actively, she sought out berries, edible plants and provided crucial translation skills for the Lewis and Clark expedition. Passively, her mere presence discouraged attacks against the party by first nation tribes, reassured that a war party never traveled with a woman. Virtually nothing we know about her comes from her own hand or her own words, and yet there’s a fascinating tapestry of a life here.

Indiana: Madame C.J. Walker (1867-1919): Not too many entrepreneurs on my list, but Walker certainly deserves a place here. Her eponymous company sold shampoos and hair ointments out of an Indianapolis factory. Walker is widely considered the first African-American woman to be a millionaire, and the first American woman to be a millionaire as a result of her own business acumen, rather than through inherited or bequeathed wealth. Later in life, she supported the NAACP and began to train other African-American women to run their own businesses.

Kansas: Mary Elizabeth Lease (1850-1939): Among the loudest and most long-winded of the Populist agitators that dotted the American prairie in the 1880s. At a time when crippling railroad rates and quasi-colonial policies toward the Western states made life difficult, she exhorted farmers to “raise less corn and more Hell.”

Louisiana: Mahalia Jackson (1911-1972): Perhaps the most famous gospel singer in U.S. history. While many African-American women veered unerringly for blues or pop or eventually R&B, she lent her magnificent voice to gospel recordings, the veritable soundtrack of hope.

Maine: Martha Ballard (1735-1812): Come on, you thought I would pick Margaret Chase Smith, didn’t you? Surprise! I chose Martha Ballard, a long-forgotten midwife working during the Early Republic era. Her diary, a meticulous, thorough litany of her career assisting the birth process, has proven to be an invaluable resource to future historians.

Mississippi: Fannie Lou Hamer (1917-1977): Working in a civil rights movement that could be shockingly sexist at times, Fannie Lou Hamer was in charge of SNCC, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, which did the dirty work, going house to house registering voters in rural Mississippi. This Freedom Summer of 1964 was a watershed in the civil rights movement, obscured by more conspicuous, publicity-grabbing maneuvers by MLK and the SCLC. A shame really; if King was the face of the movement, Hamer was its inviolable heartbeat.

Missouri: Maya Angelou (b. 1928): An amazing life of unlikely turns: abject poverty, abusive family members, 5 years as a mute, time as a prostitute and pimp, Calypso nightclub performer, anti-Apartheid activist, and finally, perhaps the most loved and respected poet of her generation.

Montana: Jeannette Rankin (1880-1973): She only served a few terms as a Montana congresswoman, but Rankin was there during two crucial points in our country’s history– our decision to enter World War I, and our decision to enter World War II. Rankin is the only congressperson to have voted against declaring both wars. A lifelong pacifist, she explained her vote thusly: “As a woman, I can’t go to war, and refuse to send anyone else.”

New Hampshire: Mary Baker Eddy (1821-1910): The founder of the Christian Science movement, an intriguing blend of modernist and spiritualist ideas in the 1870s. Eddy is indirectly responsible for this crazy-as-hell cable access show, the Junior Christian Science Bible Lesson Show.

North Carolina: Crystal Lee Sutton (1940-2009): A union activist in a notorious right-to-work state, Sutton successfully organized workers in a textile factory despite fervent opposition, and eventually dismissal from her employers. Courts subsequently ruled their action illegal and unconstitutional. The Sally Field film Norma Rae is based upon her life.

North Dakota: Elizabeth Bodine (1898-1986): Obscure but a common, salt-of-the-earth woman who did humanitarian work among the American Indian tribes in her state, and sent all 18 of her children to college. She was the winner of the 1979 Mother of the Year Award.

Ohio: Gloria Steinem (b. 1934): What it means to be a feminist has been diluted, twisted, and misrepresented in the last 40 years. Steinem’s name gives some people fits, but it shouldn’t. Steinem, more than anyone else, even her contemporary Friedan, made modern womanhood into a viable and respectable culture. That was essentially the contribution of her Ms. Magazine, forging a feminism that is assertive and forthright and eager to correct structural inequities, but not at all the shrill, abrasive, and shrewish phenomenon of its detractors’ imaginations. Gloria Steinem is okay with you holding the door open for her. Honest.

Rhode Island: Anne Smith Franklin (1696-1763): A sister-in-law of Ben, she was the first prominent woman publisher in the Colonies. As a widow, she took up her husband’s line of work, serving as an editor, a writer of almanacs, and a printer of paper currency.

South Carolina: Sarah Grimke (1792-1873): Would it surprise you to know that one of the greatest American abolitionists came from a family of aristocratic planters in South Carolina? After being reproached for teaching slaves to read, she moved up north, married into a Quaker family. With her sister Angelica, she became prominent as a voice for ending slavery and increasing the role of women as moral voices in the public sphere.

South Dakota: Laura Ingalls Wilder (1867-1957): Nobody captured the challenges and the blessings of life in the far Midwest quite like Wilder. Her book series and in time, the semi-apocryphal television series based on her life have become common currency in youth fiction. I’d drive past the eponymous “little house on the prairie” in South Dakota during frequent trips between Mitchell and Sioux Falls.

Texas: Molly Ivins (1944-2007): Throughout the 80s and 90s, Ivins was an acerbic, sharp-tongued political pundit, routinely breaking out into Texas colloquialisms and phraseology to shed light on corruption and hypocrisy, both nationally and the special object of her wrath, the Texas State Legislature.

Utah: Marie Osmond (b. 1959): I’m sorry, okay? Utah was really difficult. Argh. Um..from what I can glean from a cursory look at her Wikipedia page, she…let’s see here…hosted a t.v. show, started a line of dolls, and is involved in some charity work or other.

Washington: Mother Joseph Pariseau (1823-1902): A lot of people on here are activists, but not everyone on here is someone I can describe unequivocally as compassionate or loving or gentle. Mother Jones of the Sacred Heart has these qualities in divine abundance. In a sparsely populated Pacific Northwest, she built a network of orphanages, hospitals, schools and charities from the ground up.

West Virginia: Mother Jones (1837-1930): During the turn of the century, the last thing you wanted if you were a mine owner is for Mother Jones to come to your town. With a stump speaking style that alternated between sweet humor and prophetic anger, Jones organized workers and communities in coal-mining towns throughout Appalachia. She was instrumental in the foundation of the Industrial Workers of the World and crusading for laws limiting a child labor at a time when a patronizing press called such radical ideas “socialistic.” WV gets credit for her on account of the Paintsville protest, where Jones was arrested and refused to recognize the legitimacy of her court, held under the auspices of martial law.

Wyoming: Esther Hobart Morris (1814-1902): Originally from central NY, Morris moved to the Wyoming territory and became an early advocate for women’s right to vote in a rough-and-tumble environment where the domestic ideal that prevailed back East simply wouldn’t fly. She was also, by all accounts, the first female Justice of the Peace.

50 States, 50 Women: Part 2 of 3

The second set of my twenty-five are included here. All links are for full biographies of the women listed here. I’d invite you to explore their tales more deeply.

NebraskaSusan La Flesche Picotte (1865-1915)
Picotte was the first woman of the American First Nations to receive a medical degree in the United States (1889). Dr. Picotte’s work was inspired by death of a native woman after a local white doctor refused to treat her. Picotte therefore spent her career providing medical care for members of the Omaha Reservation as well as the native men and women in Bancroft, Nebraska.

NevadaSarah Winnemucca (orig. Tocmectone) (1844-1891)
Winnemucca was a First Nations’ educator, author, and vibrant lecturer. She served as a translator between U.S. government agents and her tribe, traveling throughout Nevada, Oregon, and Idaho with her people, the Northern Paiute. The outbreak of violent conflict between her tribe and the U.S. government served as the impetus for a lecture tour in California and the Washington Territory. Winnemucca worked tirelessly to raise support for the plight of her tribe members and First Nations peoples more generally throughout the western United States.

New JerseyDorothea Lange (1895-1965)
Lange was a photographer, deeply concerned with men and women who found themselves displaced and discriminated against. She is most famous for her heart-rending picture of the migrant mother and her children in California during the Great Depression. Additionally, Lange produced important documentation of the Japanese-Americans relocated to internment camps by then-President Roosevelt after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Her photographs are a testament to her compassion and to the dignity and courage of her subjects.

New Mexico: Delores Huerta (1930- )
Huerta a labor activist and grassroots organizer. She began as an organizer in California, working to remove the citizenship requirements then in effect for pension and public assistance programs. In 1961, she met Cesar Chavez and, in conversation with him, formulated a plan for organizing U.S. farm workers. By 1965, Chavez and Huerta coordinated a strike by migrant grape pickers that would last for five years, ending only after Huerta and other labor leaders negotiated for increased wages and the addition of benefits for agricultural workers. Over the last forty-plus years, Huerta has worked persistently to maintain the rights she and Chavez fought for in their youth, constantly renegotiating contracts, organizing underpaid workers, and finding new injustices to resist.

New YorkElizabeth Cady Stanton (1815-1902)
This was hands down the most difficult state to choose only one woman from. Margaret Sanger (whose record is ultimately too mixed to make the final cut), Harriet Tubman, Lucretia Mott, Susan B. Anthony…heck, the entirety of the 1848 Women’s Rights’ Convention (!) were contenders. So I went back to the source. Cady Stanton was a suffragist, abolitionist, speaker, and author. Perhaps most famously, Stanton co-penned the Declaration of the Rights of Women of the United States, which Anthony presented at the centennial celebration in the Capital in 1876 (uninvited, of course). Her legacy lives on at the National Women’s Rights Museum in Seneca Falls, NY.

OklahomaBelle Starr (1848-1889)
I’m including Starr because this list needs at least one notorious, rough and tumble woman. (Those I suppose every woman on the list was or is notorious in her own way…) Starr was a horse thief, gambler, and sharp shooter in Oklahoma. She eluded arrest multiple times, was arrested on nearly as many occasions, and ultimately died a violent death – shot in the death by an enemy or lover. (No one is quite sure.) Someone to admire? Perhaps not. But a colorful character worthy of a legacy.

OregonLaura Stockton Starcher and the women of the “Petticoat Revolution”
On December 5, 1916 in Umatilla, Oregon, Starcher was elected mayor and four other women gained seats in the city council. Only four years after Oregon women won the vote, the ladies staged a coup, which was quickly dubbed “The Petticoat Revolution” by the New York Herald. Stockton even beat out her own husband in the mayoral race, 26-8. (He didn’t know she was running!) I wouldn’t advocate that sort of intramarital rivalry, but I do love that the women took their new-found political liberties so seriously.

PennsylvaniaLouisa May Alcott (1832-1888)
Though Alcott grew up in Massachusetts, her birthplace is Germantown, PA. Alcott’s Little Women (and the sequels, Little Men and Jo’s Boys) have become standard reading for adolescent girls (or they were when I was such a one…) Her characters – the tomboyish Jo, feminine Meg, compassionate Beth, and sophisticated Amy – speak to the diversity of womanhood and her stories remains a lovely tale of familial love and friendship.

Tennessee: Wilma Rudolph (1940-1994)
Rudolph’s is a story of the resiliance of the human body. She was born prematurely and all-but crippled for the first seven years of her life, but went on to play basketball in high school, ultimately earning the attention of the track and field coach at Tennessee State. Rudolph competed in her first Olympics in 1956 (at 16) and four years later, became the first American woman to win three gold medals in track during the games in Rome.

VermontCaroline Ardelia Yale (1848-1933)
Yale spent her life as an educator for the deaf and principal of the Clarke School for the Deaf. She revolutionized education for the hearing-impaired through her development, with a fellow teacher, of an immensely detailed phonetic system used to communicate, orally, with her students. Yale’s “Northampton Vowel and Consonant Charts” remained a tool of educators of the deaf for many years.

Virginia: Clara Barton (1821-1912)

Known as the “Angel of the Battlefield,” Clara Barton first earned her stripes as a dedicated civil war nurse. Barton independently collected and distributed medical supplies during a time when there was little strategy in post-battle treatment of wounds and injuries. She also requested permission to travel with those soldiers evacuated from the battlefield and continued her nursing behind (and sometimes quite near) the line. Following the Civil War, she founded the American Red Cross. Based on the original Swiss Red Cross, Barton’s organization continued to organize treatment and care in disaster situations across the United States. Today, the Red Cross continues to serve as a disaster relief organization, supplying everything from bandages to blood during and after natural and human disasters. (P.S.–The Red Cross is looking for apheresis and whole blood donor. No, really. They’ve been calling me all summer to donate. Give it a thought… I’ll even go with you if you live in NJ.)

Wisconsin: Georgia O’Keeffe (1887-1986)
O’Keeffe is an American modernist artist, most famous perhaps for her magnified paintings of flowers and quasi-surreal cattle skulls. And since you’ve read quite enough, allow me to let this last woman’s art speak for itself:

50 States, 50 Women: Part 1 of 3

On a pilgrimage to Seneca Falls. (See “New York” in the post for Part 2.)

What if the National Statuary Hall in Washington, D.C. required every state to submit a statue of one female representative of their region? Noting the paucity of women in the current collection, M.L. and I set ourselves the challenge of choosing recommendations for the Hall’s collection.

Our guidelines are pretty loose. We each researched 25 states and selected a woman who was born or lived a portion of her life in the state. She could be famous for anything – artistic endeavors, political achievements, a colorful story – so long as she was not significant only by virtue of her connection with her husband. (So first ladies are pretty much out…) The end product is three blogposts, two by yours truly (because it makes for a very, very long post if I include all 25 women in one shot), and one by M.L. (who doesn’t mind long blog posts at all), which will be uploaded as a guest post. (Stay tuned!)

I will note that my selections tend towards women who are significant for their achievements in the arts, health care, or social activism. I don’t have too many female scientists, business persons, or athletes here, but would be very, very happy to hear of women to those fields that I have overlooked. So, without further ado:

AlabamaRosa Parks (1913-2005)
Rosa Parks was an African-American civil rights activist, most famous for her refusal to give up her seat to a white passenger on a bus in Montgomery, AL in December 1955. Her action sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott, an important symbolic action in the history of American civil rights. Rosa and her husband, Raymond, steadily campaigned for equality in Alabama, Virgina, and Michigan throughout their lifetimes.

Alaska: Elizabeth Wanamaker Peratrovich (1911-1958)
Elizabeth Peratrovich was a Tlingit Native Alaskan who fought for the end of discrimination against Native-born persons. Disgusted by the oppressive civil and employment discrimination in Alaska, Peratrovich lobbied for the passage of the Anti-Discrimination Act in 1945. Speaking before the Territorial Senate, Peratrovich began, “I would not have expected that I, who am barely out of savagery, would have to remind gentlemen with five thousand years of recorded civilization behind them of our Bill of Rights.” The senate passed the Act on February 16, with a vote of 11 to 5.

California: Sally Ride (1951-2012)
Sally Ride was an astronaut, science writer, and barrier breaker. Ride ventured into space twiceaboard the Challenger, first in 1983 and again in 1984. The following year, Ride had the unenviable task of serving on the Presidential Commission investigating the tragedy of the Challenger explosion. Later in life, she was a professor at University of California, San Diego and CEO of Sally Ride Science.

Colorado: Madeleine Albright (1937-2001)
Though born in the Czech Republic, Albright spent her adolescence in Denver. Albright’s political career included positions as a staff member for Ed Muskie’s campaign, work for the National Security Council, and diplomatic endeavors as the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations. Her crowning achievement, though, was her appointment as Secretary of State by Bill Clinton in 1996. Albright became the first woman to serve in this post, forging the way for subsequently famous female secretaries, Condolezza Rice and Hilary Clinton.

Florida: Zora Neale Hurston (1925-1960)
Born in Alabama, but raised in Eatonville, FL, this Harlem Renaissance author is most famous for her novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God. However, Hurston was also a top-knotch folklorist and traveled throughout Southern America and the Carribean collecting and recording the stories of the cultures she encountered there.

Georgia: Coretta Scott King (1927-2006)
I’m breaking the guidelines a little here by including a woman whose initial significance to American civil rights was deeply connected to her husband, Martin Luther King, Jr. Her work following her husband’s death, however, is equally admirable. She traveled on goodwill missions to Europe, Latin America, Asia, and Africa, advocating for human rights the world over. Scott King also successfully lobbied for the institution of a national holiday in her husband’s honor. MLK, Jr. Day has since become synonymous with voluntarism and the the continued efforts of ordinary citizens to “be the change.”

Illinois: Jane Addams (1860-1935)
An ardent feminist and crusader for the dignity of the materially poor, Jane Addams was the founder of Hull House in Chicago, Illinois. The organization provided a space in which troubled and impoverished people could seek out assistance and fellowship. (The building ultimately included a public kitchen, art gallery, gym, swimming pool, music school, library, boarding area for girls, art studio, book bindry, employment bureau and labor museum.) Addams was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1931 for her efforts.

Iowa: Amelia Jenks Bloomer (1818-1894)
Though best known for her activities in western New York State, Bloomer moved to Iowa later in life and transplanted her feminist spirit and savvy journalism to her new home. A temperance reformer, newspaper editor, and suffragist, Bloomer is perhaps best known for her invention of a more “healthful costume” for 19th-century ladies. The “bloomers” that bear her name consisted of a short skirt and pantaloons that allowed women freer movement than the corseted, bustled dresses of her era.

Kentucky: bell hooks (1952- )
bell hooks is a feminist, activist, and author. Ever attentive to systems of power, hooks turns a lens on racism, sexism, and discrimination based on sexual orientation in her many works. hooks is a controversial figure, for sure, but has persistently injected the American feminist movement with the much-needed perspective of a woman of color, a woman of the south, and a woman of the postmodern era.

Maryland: Billie Holiday (1915-1959)
Holiday was a jazz singer with a golden voice. “Lady Day” consistently recorded hits like “My Man” and “Autumn in New York with Columbia records, often working with the jazz greats like Count Basie or Charlie Parker. Holiday, though, has become a justice legend for her courage in recording her emotive version of “Strange Fruit.” Initially barred from recording the song with Columbia due to the song’s subject matter (the original poem reflects upon the lynching of a black man), Holiday sought out Commodore records and turned out this haunting ballad.

Massachusetts: Anne Hutchinson (1591-1643)
Anne Hutchinson was a Puritan mother, midwife, and theologian. Well-educated and encouraged to pursue theology by her father, Hutchinson adopted and further developed the “gospel of grace” (in opposition to a focus on works) preached by John Cotton in England and the New World. Hutchinson’s theology – and her practice of teaching women, and eventually men, in the privacy of her home – proved to be at odds with Gov. John Winthrop’s vision for the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Hutchinson was consequently tried for her beliefs and banished from the colony.

MichiganHarriet Quimby (1874-1912)
Quimby was the first licensed woman pilot in the U.S. and the first woman to fly solo across the English channel in 1912. Though she perished in an unsanction aviation race in Boston, Quimby’s example paved the way for future women aviators, including Amelia Earhart.

Minnesota: Sister Elizabeth Kenny (1880-1952)
Kenny was an Australian nurse who later worked in Minnesota, in part to escape the criticism of the British Medical Association and her colleagues down under. Kenny’s work was controversal. She suggested that infant paralysis might be cured not through traditional prescriptions for rest, but through the exercise of children’s limbs. Her theories, and ultimately success, served as the foundation for modern rehabilitative medicine.

Practicing Feminism.

It’s taken me awhile to come out and say, in life and on this page: I am a feminist.

Largely because I, like many of my peers, grew up believing that feminism meant one and only one thing: bra-burning. Aside from being an expensive and potentially dangerous habit, as one of my dearest friends pointed out years ago, this seemed like an action of rather limited efficacy. It wasn’t until I caught myself persistently beginning sentences with, “I’m not a feminist, but…” that I began to grasp how many issues of injustice feminism might address and therefore how utterly essential feminism remains in the U.S. and the world as a whole.

And yet, the movement, and the men and women who espouse feminist values, are greeted with increasing hostility in the twenty-first century. I made the mistake of reading the comments posted to various Slate articles related to women’s concerns this morning. The authors who contributed to today’s “Double X” category received complaints that they were only playing the victim; they were told they needed to stop whining, as commenters scolded them for for believing there is still gender inequality. The authors were upbraided for thinking feminism was anything but an academic solution for antiquated problems.

True, some of the original issues are, or are becoming, antiquated, at least in the United States. Women have been able to vote for nearly a century, for example, and that in itself is a massive victory. There are a number of women in positions of influence and affluence at major corporations, including the internet giants Google, Yahoo, and Facebook. Women’s sports are not only accepted, but encouraged and even well-funded at many institutions of higher education.

But there is work to be done, at home and abroad. The number of women in poverty – yes, even in the U.S. – far exceeds the number of men. Women’s health issues – maternal mortality rates, the availability of preventive exams, access to contraception – remain a central concern. Women’s freedom to choose what to wear, or not to wear, might be added to the list with sincerity.

I should be clear: I do not think American feminists need to fix everything. Nor are we capable of doing so. We can offer celebration and support, though, and insightful education for people in our own spheres.

But this has all been a bit of a rant, largely inspired by some thoughtless and unrepresentative commenters on the ever-fickle web. What I would like to communicate, in closing, is at least a framework for how I hope to practice what I preach. I hope to:

  • integrate women’s voices and stories into the histories I teach and write in authentic and nuanced ways
  • actively engage in and financially support those already doing work that broadens possibilities for women of all ages, socioeconomic statuses, and ethnic heritages
  • listen, understand, and attempt to empathize with women’s choices that are different from my own…long before I ask them whether or not they have a political agenda
  • welcome, encourage, and celebrate men who treat women as equals and work to annihilate gender injustice
  • hold on to the anger I feel against injustice, refuse to equivocate or analyze away wrongdoings perpetuated against women (however small these may seem), and direct my passion towards betterment
  • be open to celebrating women’s accomplishments, as individuals and a group, however small or substantial

Okay, so I’m an optimist and a big-picture thinker who likes to give myself lofty, improbable goals. The specifics are still a little fuzzy, so I’m open to suggestions on how to live out my principles as an academic, a friend, an educator, and (soon enough) as a wife and (someday) as a mother.

How did I miss this?

Perhaps this is old news to everyone else, but somehow I missed it.

Last October, the United States pulled $60 million from UNESCO funding after the organization voted in favor of Palestine’s membership in the United Nation’s humanitarian body. The decision to withhold financial support from the organization was based on a U.S. law, passed in 1990, which prohibits the United States from providing funding to an organization that includes Palestine before the Israelis and Palestinians have brokered a peace deal between their nations.

Sixty million dollars represents a significant portion of UNESCO’s budget. The organization sponsors, among other endeavors, literacy programs, clean water initiatives, the preservation of heritage sites, and early warning tsunami alert technology. A number of programs could experience, and by now likely have experienced, the repercussions of the U.S. decision.

To be sure, UNESCO’s operations can have mixed results, as Steven Erlanger argued in his January article on UNESCO’s World Heritage work. And recognition by UNESCO may or may not be helpful to Palestine. It does not move them any closer to a peace settlement with Israel, nor does it come close to promising statehood for Palestine.

Still, it’s hard not to be disconcerted by the existence of such a draconian law in the United States. What, really, could we possibly hope to gain by isolating ourselves from a major international body? Sure, the law let’s this country make a symbolic statement–one that I am not keen on, but that I’m sure others may defend. But is there anything tangible procured by the U.S. stance? In the end, is it worth it?

The story came to my attention via last Thursday’s episode of The Daily Show. John Oliver’s report can be seen here and here. As far as I can tell, the media in general has abandoned the UNESCO story since early November. Perhaps this satirical piece will reopen conversation and prompt reconsideration of the U.S. decision.