Wrapping Up the Week 2.23.13

This was a great week on Communicating Across Boundaries. We went from wrinkled ladies to third culture kid arrogance to beautiful pottery to recognizing that many times our worst fears are never realized! And the wonderful thing about this? – you were able to hear voices other than my own. Thank you Cecily, Stef, and Robynn as well as all of you for your part in making the discussions rich and meaningful.

Today I sit with my niece Melanie, drinking a latte, and grateful for family. I don’t write as much as I should about my extraordinary family – but let’s just say that there are a lot of moving parts — personalities, passions, and people. Today one of those moving parts is across from me sharing a slice of life.

On to the week wrap-up….

On Global Health: I try to keep a pulse on what is going on in global health through a variety of sources. Some of those include Save the Children, Partners in Health, and World Vision. While the western world battles with diabetes, obesity, and a combination of the two, the developing world is still in a place of battling tropical diseases that cause malnutrition, anemia, serious developmental delays and more. These are present in communities that are largely neglected and unknown. They are Neglected Diseases of Neglected People. The article linked cites the case for responding to these and argues that the return on investment is well worth making this a public health priority. Take a look at the article and see what you think.

On Women: I will quote directly from an article that I think is a provocative, ‘must-read’ written by a woman who is African-American and in her words sees “where race and feminism collide in ways I can’t reconcile…”

First, the promotion and marketing of abortions in The United States of America was born out of an effort to control the population of African-Americans.  Today, the largest majority of locations offering abortions are housed in African-American or Latino neighborhoods.  One of every three abortions in the U.S. are African-American children.  When numbers and statistics like these collide, I put it on the same level with Female Gendercide in China.

I understand that it’s convenient to go on promoting abortions as a ‘women’s rights issue’ without regard to the fact that abortion has cut into the African-American population by over 30 million lives, yet it’s appalling and reprehensible to ignore the facts.” [From A Deeper Story – Why I Respectfully Decline Feminism]. I urge you to read both the piece and the links within this quote in  Why I Respectfully Decline Feminism.

On Friendship and Dialogue: Remember last year when the United States was divided not by Red and Blue, but by Support Chick-fil-A or Boycott Chick-fil-A? This year the anniversary of that day went by with barely a nod. Why? Why did something that caused such controversy not even come up? Largely because Dan Cathy, an older, white, avowed conservative Evangelical quietly began reaching out to the man who organized the boycott – a gay man who is married to his partner. It is an amazing story of reaching across ideological divide, not giving up your beliefs, but being willing to listen, to learn, and to forge an unlikely friendship. This is a story that should have been on the front page of every newspaper. As you read it, I believe you’ll be challenged to offer grace and friendship despite polar opposite beliefs. Read Dan and Me: My Coming Out as a Friend of Dan Cathy and Chick-fil-A – you won’t be disappointed.

On Film: Finally – this weekend the Big Event of Hollywood is on. It’s the Oscars.We are a big film family so will be watching and texting family members with either shouts of triumph or groans of despair. Will you be watching this event?

On my Beside Stand: I’m finishing the book First They Killed My Father with tears in Behind the beautiful Foreversmy eyes. So hard to read. Yet another reminder of the grace of human resilience. Another book has come on my stand and I’m already immersed. Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity by Katherine Boo. I first learned of this book through this blog post and wish I was going on vacation so I could curl up and read this 24 hours straight. More on this book after I’ve read and digested all that it offers.

What’s on your coffee table, bedside stand, or heart? Would love to hear through the comments. 

My Favorite Feminist

patronsaintsmidwivessynchroblogI published this post last year, but in honor of Sarah Bessey’s Synchroblog on Patron Saints & Spiritual Midwives I want to repost My Favorite Feminist who is also my favorite Spiritual Midwife.


Pauline Brown with baby girl Marilyn en route to Pakistan, 1960

A 50 year-old picture from an album shows a woman complete with white gloves and pearl earnings holding a baby in her arms. She is standing on the deck of a ship with a slight smile on her face. Her name is Pauline Brown and she is my favorite feminist.

Raised in a small town where few went on for higher education, she knew early in life that she wanted to go to college. Her father, a Polish/Lithuanian immigrant who had arrived at Ellis island as a child, dismissed the idea of education for girls. The emphatic words “What do girls need with college” from the dad she deeply loved, instead of discouraging, gave her more purpose. At her college graduation he was the proudest man in the room.

The ship shown in the picture documented one of several journeys she took with her family to her adopted home in Pakistan. Picture a young woman from Massachusetts, who had independently driven throughout Catholic New England as a traveling Bible teacher just a couple of years before, adjusting to a newly formed Muslim state, the country of Pakistan. Veiled women became dear friends and curry and chapatis a staple. Redirecting her independence to fit cultural norms but never losing a bit of spirit were all part of  the life of my favorite feminist, as she settled into life  in the Sindh region of Pakistan.

Pauline (Polly to friends) was not content to know how to read herself, she taught other women to read through adult literacy methods at her kitchen table, often in the midst of skinning a chicken, boiling milk, going over bills with the cook, and yelling at the chawkidar (guard).

She was, and is, a model of a strong woman. She is smart, strong, and articulate. She gave birth to 5 children reading to them before they had finished breast-feeding. She helped produce two PhD’s, two masters degrees, and another feminist who never, despite being raised in a primarily male-dominated society, doubted that women were amazing and could do anything. She wrote one book and co-authored a second, an introductory course on learning to speak Sindhi, a first of its kind.

The great thing is that Pauline never drank the Koolaid that would brainwash her into a mold of what women should or should not be.

As the matriarch in a clan of many, she believes in fulfilling her God-given role as a strong woman, living out the words of Deborah, my hero from the book of Judges, “March on my soul, Be strong” (Judges 5:21)

Pauline advocates for women, and I have occasionally been a spectator to passionate arguments with her beloved husband Ralph about women: their role in the holy scriptures and the church, their ability to do jobs as well or better than men, and their right and need to be heard in all spheres of society.

My favorite feminist may never have a book written about her but she has a lasting influence on two generations of women that include daughter, daughter-in-laws, nieces, nieces-in-law, and a boat-load of feisty smart granddaughters. She will probably live long enough to influence a third generation. I will call it third wave feminism. So – here’s to you Mom! You are indeed my favorite.

Related articles:

Casting a Stone

Jeff Jacoby of the Boston Globe cast a stone of judgement in a sweeping indictment of all Egypt through an op-ed titled: “No rights for women; No freedom in a nation”.  With broad strokes he criticizes a country and a movement ending with this final prediction and judgement:

“The Egyptian uprising has inspired flights of excited rhetoric about freedom, reform, and a new beginning for Egypt. But the sickening assault on Logan is a reminder that much of Egypt’s cruelty and corruption had nothing to do with Mubarak or his regime. No nation or culture that subjects half its population to the degradation suffered by women in Egypt and so much of the Arab world can ever hope to rise to greatness.”

Contrast this with the voice of Nawaal el Saadawi, a leading Egyptian feminist who has been both a political prisoner and exiled from Egypt for years under Mubarak’s rule. Nawaal el Saadawi is not so pessimistic as the columnist and one can argue quite substantively that her knowledge of Egypt, Feminism, Women’s Roles, and the current events in Egypt surpass that of Jacoby’s.

“Women and girls are, beside the boys, are in the streets,” El Saadawi says. “We are calling for justice, freedom and equality, and real democracy, and a new constitution where there is no discrimination between men and women, no discrimination between Muslim and Christians, to change the system and to have real democracy.”

That Logan suffered a horrific indefensible act is undeniable; that it would be used as a tool and reason Egypt will never achieve democracy is also wrong. For those who want a more thoughtful response can I urge you to read this roundtable discussion by several young women in Cairo after seeing the movie 678.  I appreciate the honesty voiced at the beginning of the discussion by Kelsy “Sexual harassment happens everywhere, and that’s one thing I took from the movie, that we can’t blame ‘culture.’ This is not Egyptian ‘culture.’ Yes, it happens a lot in Egyptian society, but it’s not something that’s ingrained in the ethnic identity…this is a global thing and it happens everywhere and could happen to anyone.”

I too have lived in Egypt and have had my share of uncomfortable harassment. It isn’t right, and I don’t make light of it. I too have been in tears while walking in my Cairene neighborhood over the sense of vulnerability and shame that come from public harassment and touch.  The answer to the problem does not lie in ceasing to “walk in one’s neighborhood or to work” as Mary Roger’s suggests. In fact, the Egyptian film industry tackled this subject with a film released in January titled 678. Unfortunately Jacoby is either unaware of this film or chooses to ignore it.

With the stone that is cast is the unspoken message that America is free from exploitation and corruption, thus it is “more worthy” of democracy. This is a troubling assumption.  Whenever I turn on my television or pick up a magazine, there are examples of exploitation of women and it seems important to recognize that demeaning of women is far more insidious than inappropriate touch. Consider the perception of  many Muslim women about the way women in the west are treated from my post yesterday Challenging Assumptions. – “The perceived promiscuity, pornography, public indecency and lack of modesty were equal, in the eyes of those interviewed, to a degraded status for women.” If the columnist wants  to talk degradation of women, let’s be fair and not exempt America from this problem and the conversation that should surround the problem.

I’ll end with two statements, one paraphrased from Canonball : “It was reported this week that CBS correspondent Lara Logan “suffered a brutal and sustained sexual assault and beating” while in Egypt. Undeniably troubling news, but we must keep two things in mind. First, let’s hope (perhaps naively) that American media can resist sensationalism and avoid blowing this one incident into reports of how Tahrir Square was a place of unequivocal danger for women…As we’ve discussed here before, sexual harassment/assault in Egypt is a complex issue, so let’s hope that the high-profile nature of this incident doesn’t lead to a lot of unfounded generalizations.”

The last is a thoughtful paragraph from an article in Slate by Sarah Topol, that distinctly challenges the op-ed piece cited:  “Perhaps more important than if Tahrir changed men’s minds on harassment, it has obviously changed women’s concept of themselves. The protests empowered a generation of women who saw they could be taken seriously on a political stage that had previously been dominated by men. All of the women I speak to say they will fight harder for their political and gender rights. None of them are staying out of politics anymore.”

Readers – what do you think?  Would love to hear your opinion.