The Handmaid’s Tale – A Cautionary Tale

I recently started watching Hulu’s adaptation of the best-selling novel by Margaret Atwood, “The Handmaid’s Tale” (1985). Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale has received numerous awards including this year’s Emmy’s. I have been riveted by this television series. I also plan to read the book.

The Handmaid’s Tale takes place in the near future in the dystopia of Gilead located in New England. A fundamentalist Christian totalitarian government has overthrown the United States. Women are stripped of all their rights. Gilead faces environmental disasters and plunging birthrates. In this society the Commanders’ wives are sterile. Therefore healthy fertile women, Handmaids, are forced into sexual servitude to help propagate the population. The novel tells the story of, Offred, one of the Handmaids and her survival in this frightening society. Her goal, to survive and find the daughter that was taken away from her.

This disquieting story resonated with me because I feel that if we don’t remain vigilant versions of a Gilead could become a reality. Some of you may feel that it is unlikely a situation like this could ever happen in the United States. However, as a minority, a woman and a Latina, I am keenly aware of all the effort that has gone into attaining equal rights for the various segments of our society. And although we have made inroads, much remains to be done to support diversity in this country. Also working against progress are the harmful radicalized views of some of our fellow citizens. Venezuela has its own version of Gilead. Venezuela went from being a rich democracy to a dictatorship in 18 years.

I will share with you that I am a spiritual person and not a religious person. I support your right to have your own spiritual beliefs. However I am a fervent believer in separation of Church and State. The chilling truth is that our government does not have a true separation of church and state. It is very difficult for some our government representatives to separate morality from religion. The Judicial branch of our government is a perfect example of how conservative and liberal views may influence interpretation of the law. At the state level, states like Utah have legislation that is heavily influenced by the Mormon religion. Gilead, although a fictional place, does not seem so unlikely when we see the behavior or decisions made by some our leaders.

I highly recommend watching The Handmaid’s Tale. Regardless of your belief system and values, be they conservative or liberal, religious or secular, no one wants to lose their inherent rights. The Handmaid’s Tale is a cautionary tale. We have the civic responsibility to participate in our democracy. I feel it is sometimes very easy to rely on others to run things. We must be diligent in understanding what is happening in our government at local, state, and federal levels. And lastly, we must remain vigilant in furthering equal rights in our society. The Handmaid’s Tale calls for advocacy and activism.

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Happy International Women’s Day: Become Aware and Help Raise Awareness

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It is a day in which we celebrate women’s achievements and also raise awareness for continued equality for women worldwide.

The official theme for 2015 is “Make It Happen”

The United Nation’s theme for International Women’s day is “Empowering Women, Empowering Humanity: Picture It!”

I feel that as a woman “we” have achieved a lot especially in the western world yet I always say there is room for improvement, especially when we look at women and girls around the world. Join me today in this special celebration. Become aware and help raise awareness. There is still so much more to be accomplished. I have included various links below to sites you may find useful.

In celebration of this year’s International Women’s Day, First Lady Michelle Obama announced the new “Let Girls Learn” initiative that will be a collaborative effort between the Peace Corps and worldwide Girl Scouts organization.

http://blog.girlscouts.org/2015/03/girl-scouts-celebrate-of-international.html

http://www.usaid.gov/letgirlslearn

From the Girl Scouts Organization site:

http://blog.girlscouts.org/2015/03/girl-scouts-celebrate-of-international.html

For more information visit the International Women’s Day website:

http://www.internationalwomensday.com/

Also visit the United Nation’s sites:

http://www.un.org/en/events/womensday/

http://www.unwomen.org/en/news/in-focus/international-womens-day

For Unesco Events: http://www.unesco.org/new/en/unesco/events/prizes-and-celebrations/celebrations/international-days/international-womens-day-2015/

I leave you with this quote from Malala Yousafzai:

I speak not for myself but for those without voice…those who have fought for their rights…their right to live in peace, their right to be treated with dignity, their right to equality of opportunity, their right to be educated.

Seneca Falls, New York: The Birthplace of the Women’s Rights Movement

I just returned from a wonderful trip to the Finger Lake region in upstate New York. We enjoyed beautiful lake scenery, award-winning Rieslings, delicious freshly made cheeses and ice cream. But what came as a most revelatory finding was learning that the town of Seneca Falls, New York was the birthplace of the Women’s Rights Movement. I call myself a feminist, always rooting for women and their rights, always looking for equality for women. And yet I must admit, I knew so little about the history of the Women’s Movement. Sure, I knew about Susan B. Anthony: something about the Suffrage Movement and she’s on a dollar coin. And I knew about Gloria Steinem and the 1960’s and 70’s Women’s Movement. But I must admit I was unaware of so much more history that helped inspire Susan B. Anthony, and shape the role and the rights that I enjoy today as a woman in Western society.

Seneca Falls, New York Birth Place of the Women's Right Movement

Seneca Falls, New York
Birth Place of the Women’s Right Movement

So here’s a recap of what I learned in Seneca Fall.

1840:  One Passion Feeds Another

A World Anti-Slavery Convention was held in London and was attended by delegates from numerous countries. The meeting was supposed to be exclusively for “men”.  Among the abolitionist delegates were seven women who despite the rules, decided to attend, creating quite the commotion and after much debate they were allowed to stay but in a separate room all together from the main convention. It was at this fateful meeting that Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton would meet and commiserate over the status of women in society and the lack of women’s rights. They discussed the possibility of holding a meeting to address women’s rights and issues.

1848: The stars align.

July 9th- Elizabeth Cady Stanton lived in Seneca Falls, New York. Lucretia Mott came to visit her sister Martha C. Wright who lived in Waterloo, a town near Seneca Falls. Stanton, Mott, Wright, together Mary Ann McClintock and Jane Hunt met for a social visit. I like to imagine that it was over tea and cake that these women decided it was time to hold a public forum, a convention, in which they would discuss the social, civil, and religious issues facing women and the rights of women. Although they realized that the convention would probably be a small event, Mott said to Stanton, “It will be a start”. And what a start it was.

July 19th – 20th

The convention was held at the Quaker Wesleyan Chapel in Seneca Falls. Approximately 300 women and men attended the event. Stanton and Mott wrote the Declaration of Sentiments, the document that was presented, debated, modified, approved, and signed by the attendees of the convention. The document drew inspiration from the preamble of the Declaration of Independence and presented grievances and resolutions regarding women’s rights. Among the male attendees was Frederick Douglass who was a strong advocate of abolition and women’s rights. He was instrumental in encouraging the attendees to add the resolution around the issue of suffrage. In the end, 68 women and 32 men signed this Declaration of Sentiments presenting 12 resolutions calling for equal treatment of women and men under the law and voting rights for women.

Wesleyan Chapel - Venue of the First Women's Convention

1848 Wesleyan Chapel – Venue of the First Women’s Convention

1851: Further Introductions and Friendships

Amelia Bloomer edited the first newspaper for women, The Lily. The Lily was published from 1849 -1853. It was Bloomer who introduced Susan B. Anthony to Elizabeth Cady Stanton. It is believed that this introduction together with attending the 1852 Syracuse Convention and listening to Lucy Stone’s speech were the events that inspired Anthony to join the women’s rights movement. And we know what she went on to do.

1851 - Traveling in time to witness introduction of Susan B. Anthony to Elizabeth Cady Stanton by Amelia Bloomer

1851 – Traveling in time to witness Amelia Bloomer introducing Susan B. Anthony to Elizabeth Cady Stanton

Trivia about Lucy Stone

Lucy Stone was the first woman in her state of Massachusetts to earn a college degree. When she married her husband, Henry Blackwell, in 1855 she opted to keep her own last name, something unheard of at the time. She and her husband recognized that the marriage laws treated women unfairly when compared to men. They wrote a statement to deliver at their wedding which said that the laws “refuse to recognize the wife as an independent, rational being, while they confer on the husband an injurious and unnatural superiority, investing him with legal powers which no honorable man would exercise, and which no man should possess”. Women of the time who chose not to change their names when marrying referred to themselves as “Lucy Stoners”.

Although most of the history I learned about in Seneca Falls takes place beginning in 1840, I would add that prior to 1840 there had been many feminist and activist women who had already been discussing women’s rights in the US and abroad. The key events of 1848 would serve only as a catalyst. It would take until 1920 for the 19th amendment of the U. S. Constitution to be passed granting voting rights to women. The renewed women’s rights movement of the 1960’s and 1970’s would bring to light the continued inequality and discrimination towards women. We have accomplished a lot in 166 years, but I know there is still much more to do. We must continue to stay diligent and proactive so that future generations of women can enjoy equal rights around the world.

A Note About Bloomers

Note in the picture above of the statue that Amelia Bloomer is wearing the “bloomer costume”, the Turkish pantaloons and knee-length skirt. Although it was Elizabeth Smith Miller who introduced this outfit, it was named after Amelia Bloomer because she wrote about dress reform and this particular outfit extensively in her women’s paper, The Lily. Although a popular choice of outfit for the modern women of the times, it was eventually abandoned after a lot of negative press. I suppose we can call it the predecessor to current day women’s pantsuits.

For further reading:

For the Full Declaration of Sentiments

http://www.nps.gov/wori/historyculture/declaration-of-sentiments.htm

Women’s Rights Movement

http://www.nps.gov/wori/historyculture/womens-rights-movement.htm

 

 

 

 

Malala and the Papal Conclave

What They Share in Common.

Malala Yousafzai

Malala Yousafzai

The Papal Conclave

The Papal Conclave

You are probably wondering what this article will be about. Last night, right before I went to bed, I caught up on the news and was perusing the CNN website on my iPad. I read two articles that were about two very different subjects but somehow these articles created a collision of thoughts in my head too loud to ignore and I decided to write about them today.

First, I read an update on Malala Yousafzai’s health status. Malala is the 15-year old Pakistani girl who was shot in the head by the Taliban while riding her school bus. Malala was shot for being an advocate of girl’s rights and an education activist. She started blogging in 2009, at age 11, about her life under Taliban rule. Malala rose to prominence after the New York Times did a documentary about her. (See link below). She just became the youngest nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize in history. After Malala was shot, she was initially treated in Pakistan but was later flown to London for additional surgeries and follow-up. Malala’s father, who has been her number one supporter, has relocated with her to London. He is very proud of his daughter and commented in a recent interview, that Malala “is the daughter of the whole world” and has become a symbol of girl’s rights. Malala continues to recover from this terrible incident and we hope to see and hear more from her in the future. I certainly hope this incident serves as a catalyst for change for girls like Malala.

Malala with Other Girls in School

Malala with Other Girls in School

Then I clicked on the article about the Vatican getting ready for its Conclave, the secret meeting of cardinals in which a new Pope is elected. I then saw a picture of all the Cardinals gathering for this special event. It was the “old boys club” gathering for the Conclave.

Cardinals Arriving for the Conclave

Cardinals Arriving for the Conclave

And then it hit me like a huge rock on my head. The absence of women in the photo screeched loudly inside my brain, a symbol of the obscure and outdated role of nuns in the Catholic Church. Suddenly, Malala’s symbolism of girl’s rights transferred to women’s rights, and suddenly to nun’s rights.

DSC_0675 - Version 2

Although I was raised Catholic I decided many years ago to keep my relationship with God, my spirituality, between God and me and not between the Church and me. I feel manmade religions have been the cause of many wars, problems, and controversy throughout history. I also feel that these “man”-made religions have somehow mangled the role of women in such a way that it seems absurd and antiquated for the times we live in.  I am not talking just about Catholicism but other religions as well. And so Malala fights for the simple right to get an education, and the Taliban punishes her based on their interpretation of their religion. How different is it then to look at the role of nuns in the Catholic Church. These nuns cannot be priests and they most certainly cannot voice their modern day opinions for they run the risk of being accused of heresy by the Vatican Inquisition.

St Peter's BasilicaVatican, Rome

St Peter’s Basilica
Vatican, Rome

There is an organization called the LCWR, The Leadership Conference of Women Religious. It is a group of 1500 superiors (mother superiors) representing about 80% of the 57,000 nuns in the US Catholic Church.  In 2008, the Vatican feeling threatened by some of the LCWR points of views and their advocacy positions began a review of the LCWR practices. In April of 2012 the Vatican accused the LCWR of “doctrinal confusion” and said the group was “ infected with strains of radical feminism”. The Vatican requested that the group come under the control of three US bishops. The LCWR runs the risk of being excommunicated if they don’t comply. The sisters simply claim that they are following the changes made by the Vatican II council.  The Vatican II was a major reform made to the Catholic Church between 1962-1965. Imagine, a reform that is already 48 years old. In essence, these American nuns, through their exemplary leadership skills, have evolved over the years to become more relevant to the communities they serve. And now, because they have raised questions, challenged the status quo, and tried to improve their systems, they are looked down upon by the old boy’s Vatican network, accused of defiance, and considered the “nuns gone rogue”.  There has been an enormous outpour of support for the LCWR even from US Catholic Bishops. So therefore, what we need is for more of these modern-thinking bishops to become modern-thinking cardinals, who will form a more modern-thinking Conclave, who will elect a more modern-thinking Pope. And perhaps then, the Catholic Church will reform again to become more relevant to its followers. It is yet to be determined how the LCWR will respond to the Vatican’s reprimand. The LCWR hopes to continue a dialogue with the Vatican, perhaps a dialogue that will serve as a catalyst for change in the role women play in the Catholic Church.

Sister Pat FarrellPast President of LCWR

Sister Pat Farrell
Past President of LCWR

I view Malala and LCWR’s plights to be similar, both leading and advocating for basic rights and for change. I would not be the woman I am today had it not been for those women of years gone by, thankfully infected with “strains of radical feminism”. I am not just talking about the radical feminists of the 1960’s, but going further back to the late 1800’s to those amazing feminists that formed The International Council of Women in 1888 and the International Woman Suffrage Alliance of 1904 to discuss women’s rights and initiate a historical women’s rights movement. (Read more below) Some of us are privileged to live in societies that guarantee women their rights to education, freedom of speech, freedom of choice, and most of the time equal opportunities. I only hope the environment continues to improve for my daughter. But I don’t have to remind you that there is still so much more to achieve.

Women's Suffrage Movement

Women’s Suffrage Movement

Maybe tonight I’ll read another two articles that will collide in my head. I have yet to discuss the topic of separation of Church and State (or lack thereof) and maybe the future reincarnation of Chavez.

Sweet Dreams and Good Night.

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About Malala: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Malala_Yousafzai

New York Times Documentary about Malala:

http://youtu.be/SbSO2akmKtM

Malala’s Nobel Peace Price Nomination:

http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-202_162-57572488/bradley-manning-malala-among-nobel-peace-prize-nominees/

Articles about the LCWR

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/07/vatican-crackdown-second-vatican-council_n_1749337.html

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/lorraine-devon-wilke/nuns-gone-rogue_b_1771575.html

http://www.associationofcatholicpriests.ie/2013/01/press-release-on-behalf-of-tony-flannery/

http://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2012/06/12/sanctions-against-nuns-spark-backlash/O7gM6ZO76y2Wjg5iFGrqpM/story.html

http://www.cathnewsusa.com/2012/12/a-new-inquisition-the-vatican-targets-us-nuns/

http://usnews.nbcnews.com/_news/2012/08/07/13162177-after-blistering-vatican-report-nuns-gather-to-weigh-response?lite

Women’s Suffrage: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Women’s_suffrage

Human Rights Watch: http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-202_162-57572488/bradley-manning-malala-among-nobel-peace-prize-nominees/

Women’s Rights: http: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Women’s_rights

What the 4th of July Means to Me

In the parade with my Brownie troop in 2006
That’s my daughter waving to the camera.
Westport, CT

With the 4th of July approaching us, I sit and ponder on the meaning of this celebration. Everyone is decorating with red, white, and blue and preparing for picnics and barbeques. Beautiful desserts will be made that resemble the American flag. Parades will be held. Firework displays will fill the skies. For many, it’s just a summer celebration. For me it’s a time to reflect on what it is we are truly celebrating.

My son in the parade with his baseball team.

The Patriots

Now that we are living in England I have learned some facts of how the British people view the 4th of July. In essence, they don’t think much of our holiday. It’s really not taught in their schools. Some of them refer to our Revolutionary war as the Civil War. It was viewed back then as an act of treason. Others think of it as just another mishap or incident with a colony. The year 1776 is really not even mentioned. Testimony to this was the ride my children and I took at London’s Madame Tussauds Wax museum. The ride explains British History throughout the centuries. The ride passes through historical exhibits going from the 1200’s through the 1600’s, and then it mysteriously skips the 1700’s, resuming once again in the 1800’s Industrial revolution. My children found this quite interesting.

To me, the Declaration of Independence was not just about 13 colonies feeling mistreated by the crown, and choosing to become an independent and sovereign nation. To think that these 13 colonies would take on a world power like England was at the time in of itself an amazing feat. What strikes me the most was the determination of our founding fathers to establish a nation in which we are entitled to “unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness”, unalienable meaning impossible to take away or give up. You have to realize that not all nations offer this. Furthermore, that our Constitution has survived 236 years is an incredible accomplishment. Of course we have made amendments to it but it stands to reason that it was and continues to be an amazing document. The United States is the country with the longest running constitution. Many countries and regimes have rewritten or abolished their constitutions.

The Liberty Bell
Philadelphia, PA

We as Americans are quite privileged to live in a country where we are allowed to speak our mind, where we can criticize our government without fear of being incarcerated, where we can protest something we don’t approve of.  We live in a democracy where we have the luxury of electing our government officials. We live in a country, in a culture that permits us to have choice. How wonderful, to feel this empowerment. Sure, there have been recessions, scandals, and presidencies we may not totally approve of but even with its ups and downs, The United States of America is still the country of opportunity. It is a country where if you are born the child of a maid, you can aspire to be something other than a maid. My liberal friends would beg to differ and argue that not everyone enjoys equal opportunities in the United States. This is a topic that we could develop into a doctorate dissertation. Perhaps I am too naïve and optimistic to feel that if you work hard enough in the United States you can make something of yourself. I compare the social structure in the US to that of Colombia. In Colombia, it is still pretty much like the caste system in India. If you are born into a certain social class,  it is very difficult to break out of that social class.

One of the aspects I appreciate the most about international travel and reading about people from other countries and cultures, is that it teaches me to better understand and be more accepting of others. Perhaps the biggest lesson in life for me has been that by observing the conditions of others around the world that has allowed me to better appreciate the countries that I have lived in. When I come across countries that are unsafe, unjust, oppressive, economically unstable, or not open-minded to different ethnic groups or religions, it reaffirms my conviction that everyone should be entitled to the rights of life, liberty, and happiness, and also to the right of “choice”.

So I’d like to share with you a little bit about two worldwide figures that inspire me this 4th of July, this day of celebration of our freedoms that we take for granted everyday. I am deeply inspired by two heroic international women. The first woman you may be very familiar with, she has been in our headlines since 1990. The second woman has made her contributions since the late 90’s and has become more mainstream in the media since 2005.

  •  Aung San Suu Kyi led the democratic movement in her country of Burma (Myanmar) that opposed the Burmese military government in charge at the time. In 1990, her party the National League for Democracy (NLD) won 59% of the votes in the elections. However, the military nullified the elections and refused to hand over power. Suu Kyi was put under house arrest for 15 years out of the last 21 because she was supposedly considered a threat to the peace and stability of the country. Instead, she went on to become a worldwide symbol of democracy and of the fight against oppression. Suu Kyi was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 for her non-violent struggle for democracy and human rights. She was not able to receive the prize in person because of her house arrest.  She not only sacrificed herself for the cause, but her family as well. She lived apart from her English husband and two sons since the house arrest. The Burmese government wanted her to leave Burma hoping to then deny her re-entry into the country. Instead she chose to not abandon the Burmese people and stayed her course. Even when her husband was dying of cancer in 1999 he was still denied an entry visa into Burma. Suu Kyi was never able to see her husband again. Her husband had always been very supportive of the Burmese democratic movement. After enormous worldwide pressure, the Burmese government finally released Suu Kyi in 2010. She ran for office in 2012, and finally in April of this year she won a seat in parliament. Just a few days ago, on June 16th of this year, Suu Kyi finally delivered her Nobel Prize acceptance speech in Oslo, Norway, in what was considered to be one of the most amazing moments in the history of Nobel Prizes. She was also finally reunited with her two sons whom she had not seen in 24 years. During her 2-week tour in Europe she met with political leaders of Switzerland, Norway, Ireland, England, and France where she was cheered for her pro-democracy efforts and was treated like a head of state. She continues to champion Burma’s transition from military rule to a democracy. You can read more about her in the many books that are available. In 2010, Aung San Suu Kyi published Letters from Burma.  Her story has inspired many authors to write about her, the most recent being, The Lady and The Peacock, by Peter Popham.A
  • Fawzia Koofi is an inspiring Afghanistani woman who has been not only a women’s rights activist but also became a parliament member in 2005. She now aspires to run for president of Afghanistan in 2014. Fawzia has received many death threats and attempts from the Taliban but she continues to fight for what she believes in. Fawzia has written a wonderful memoir called The Favored Daughter. In the book she shares letters she has written to her two daughters, Shaharzad and Shuhra. In these letters she is inspiring but also realistic and pragmatic. She navigates us through her last 30 years in Afghanistan. When Fawzia was born, because she was born a daughter and not a son, so she was put outside in the sun to let nature take its course. But even then she showed her determination, and although she was severely burnt by the sun, she had survived her first 24 hours in such harsh conditions. The fellow women in the family pitied her and returned her to her mother. Her mother made a vow to ensure she would give her daughter the best life the she could. Fawzia’s grandfather and father had been parliament members representing one of the most remote regions of Afghanistan. Life in the 60’s and early 70’s under the monarchy and parliament appeared peaceful and fairly modern in the bigger cities. However, in 1973, there was a coup d’état that led to the dismantling of the parliament and suspension of the constitution. Her father was imprisoned and later killed for speaking against the new establishment. What followed were the years of Russian communism and the Soviet war in the 80’s, while the mujahideen grew stronger in power leading to their eventual takeover by 1995. Although, Fawzia had completed high school and started medical school during the war years, she was not able to complete her studies because the Taliban prevented women from getting an education. Unable to continue her education she focused her work on women’s rights. After the fall of the Taliban, Fawzia completed her degrees in business and in law. In 2005, the first elected parliament in 33 years was put in place. Fawzia Koofi made history by becoming the first woman Second Deputy Speaker of the Parliament. Her contributions in the area of human rights have been numerous. She continues to champion women and children’s causes. Fawzia continues to strive to make Afghanistan a better place for her daughters and others. She hopes to become the next President of Afghanistan. For further reading, read A Favored Daughter by Fawzi Koofi and visit http://www.fawziakoofi.org/mission.html and http://www.fawziakoofi.org/

These are the two women who are inspiring me on this 4th of July. Their experiences help me appreciate where I live in and the societies that I am part of. As I think of my children, I am grateful because I am raising them in environments, both here in the US and abroad in which they have rights, unalienable rights, of life, liberty, happiness, and choice.

Sitting and Thinking of My Children
Arthur’s Seat, Edinburgh, Scotland

Happy Fourth of July!!!!

Happy Fourth of July!

Enjoying the Summer.
2005