Monday, April 9, 2007

Our Education: Are We Forgetting What is Really Important?

As spring semester is coming to a close, it seems fitting that this week's post is devoted to discussing how I believe the University of Southern California (the famous mascot Tommy Trojan is pictured left) could improve the learning environment at the Annenberg School for Communication. In a time when higher education is calling for change, organizations such as the American Council on Education and the Association of American Colleges and Universities are working to respond to the increasing demands brought about by technological growth, globalization, communication, and insistence on accountability. In 2004 the University of Southern California addressed these issues and developed a plan to “become one of the most influential and productive research universities in the world.” The USC strategy is based on three core tasks: to conduct research and scholarship, to increase international visibility, and to focus educational programs on meeting the needs of qualified students around the globe.

In keeping with the spirit of progress and innovation, the Dean of the College of Letters, Arts & Sciences created the USC College Dean’s Prize. The prize encourages undergraduates to “think seriously about learning, be creative, and daring,” and calls on students to suggest ways that they might improve the educational experience at USC. While so many institutions and are developing grandiose schemes to propel their establishments toward excellence, the Dean’s Prize is unique because it creates a forum for the student body voice . In 1971 Ambassador Walter H. Annenberg (pictured here) founded the Annenberg School at USC. Upon its founding, Annenberg delivered these words in his mission statement; “Every human advancement or reversal can be understood through communication. The right to free communication carries with it the responsibility to respect the dignity of others, and this must be recognized as irreversible. Educating students to communicate this message effectively and to be of service to all people is the enduring mission of this school.” This statement has remained the foundation and guiding principle of the School for Communication.

Annenberg offers three undergraduate degrees: communication, journalism, and public relations, and is divided in to the School of Communication and the School of Journalism. With an undergraduate enrollment of almost 1900 students, I think it would be effective if Annenberg broke down the curriculum into even more specific majors, including advertising, marketing, or publishing. One of the most difficult problems I have encountered as a student at the Annenberg School, much to my embarrassment, is not being able to sufficiently provide an answer to the simple question, “What is a communication major?” This is an issue that I have faced countless times, and one that I know many of my fellow students have come across as well. It is not that we do not learn important and relevant information, rather that we learn too broad a spectrum of information. As a solution to this problem I propose that Annenberg also reduces the size of some of its introductory level classes, which are structured much like the general education courses, and replace them with smaller classes that would be more intimate. This, in combination with the addition of more specialized classes and majors, would foster a more productive learning environment where students could better achieve mastery of his or her specific field of interest.

At the Annenberg School, communication majors take classes ranging from technology, to diversity in the media, to legal issues. With such a wide range of options it is quite a challenge to get a handle on what specific aspect of communication one predominantly wants to study, unlike The Annenberg School For Communication at the University of Pennsylvania, which offers communication as its only major. I understand that the Dean’s Prize encourages students to think outside the box, but I believe that the Annenberg School is one of the most diverse communication programs with an impressive selection of resources, guest speakers, and study abroad opportunities. To make the program more effective, I feel that the school should organize and restructure its already strong foundation before expanding any further.

The USC role and mission statement declares, "The central mission of the University of Southern California is the development of human beings and society as a whole through the cultivation and enrichment of the human mind and spirit." To achieve these goals, as the university notes in their 2004 strategic plan, it must not only build upon the pre-existing foundation, but also “leverage USC’s strengths.” Located in the heart of Los Angeles and and with generous endowments from celebrities such as George Lucas, USC has already established itself as one of the leading schools to study media and communication. While it is important to grow, expand, and improve as an academic institution, I believe that USC and the Annenberg School must be careful not to overlook substance in favor of glamour and flash. At the end of the day, it is the students who must be stimulated and satisfied. To maintain this level academia I believe that USC’s Annenberg School should redirect some of their energy to creating an intimate, comfortable, and challenging learning environment where the students do not feel anonymous in large, echoing lecture halls.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Oprah Winfrey: Her Most Honorable Mention

James Freedman, president emeritus of the University of Iowa and Dartmouth College, believes that an honorary degree should “celebrate distinguished and sublime achievement,” and demonstrate to its students the “qualities of character and attainment it admires most.” Inspired by Freedman’s philosophy, this weeks post is devoted to explaining and understanding why I believe that Oprah Winfrey (pictured on the left), activist, talk show host, philanthropist, and media mogul, is deserving of an honorary degree in my field of communication studies as well as from a feminist perspective. If an honorary degree is to represent the ideals of the University of Southern California as an academic institute, then we must take into consideration the principles inscribed on USC’s Tommy Trojan: faithful, scholarly, skillful, courageous, and ambitious. As an African American, as a woman, and as someone who has very publicly struggled with her weight, Oprah Winfrey is an exceptional human being who has overcome great odds and used her fame and fortune to touch hearts and to truly change the world.

Oprah Winfrey is an ideal candidate for an honorary degree because she excels in all areas that I, as a scholar, student of communication, human being, and feminist, value and admire. As a student of communication I idolize Oprah as the multi-Emmy award-winning host of the most successful talk show in history. As a scholar I respect her as an influential book critic who catapults each one of her recommended authors to stardom and for her devotion to bettering education; and as a feminist and humanitarian I venerate her as the first female African American billionaire, as the most influential woman of my time, and as having accomplished all of this without a husband. Winfrey has donated countless millions to charities and foundations around the world, and most recently invested $40 million of her earnings toward her grandest contribution yet, the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls (Oprah is pictured with the students at the ribbon cutting ceremony). Awarding Oprah Winfrey with an honorary degree would resolve the problem proclaimed by Freedman himself; that the prestige of receiving honorary degrees has been “trivialized” by awarding celebrities and “prospective benefactors” rather than those outstanding citizens who are truly distinguished in their field. Oprah Winfrey makes for a model honoree because she possesses the celebrity and wealth which will attract the much desired media attention to the university as well as the credibility, respect of the public, and good virtue to use these gifts wisely and purposefully.

If I am going to nominate Oprah as honorary degree candidate, it is essential that I explain to you the many accomplishments that I believe make this tremendous woman so worthy. To begin with, she has mastered and monopolized all facets of media in which she has ventured. Her talk show, The Oprah Winfrey Show, began September 8 1986, the year that I was born, and after more than 20 years on the air it is now the longest running daytime talk show in history. Like many daytime talk shows, Oprah deals with issues such as heart disease, spirituality, obesity, anorexia, as well as home decorating and beauty makeovers. One might ask; so what makes her show so special? According to Time Magazine (Oprah's TIME cover is pictured below), "Few people would have bet on Oprah Winfrey's swift rise to host of the most popular talk show on TV. In a field dominated by white males, she is a black female of ample bulk. As interviewers go, she is no match for, say, Phil Donahue...What she lacks in journalistic toughness, she makes up for in plainspoken curiosity, robust humor and, above all empathy. Guests with sad stories to tell are apt to rouse a tear in Oprah's eye...They, in turn, often find themselves revealing things they would not imagine telling anyone, much less a national TV audience. It is the talk show as a group therapy session." This quotation, I believe, touches on Oprah’s greatest strength, that she is neither white, nor male, nor skinny, nor blonde. She is none of the personas that we are accustomed to seeing on our television set, thus she makes her guests and viewers feels comfortable and welcome. It is her unmatched ability to maintain a sense of humility in the face of such great success that make Oprah Winfrey a master of her trade and a woman worth commemorating with an honorary degree.

Although television is where she got her start, her company, Harpo Productions, publishes two magazines, O and O at Home, which in 2002 were hailed by Fortune Magazine as the most successful start-up magazines ever. Still, despite her vast number of accomplishments, Oprah’s magic lies not in her immense fame and fortune, but in impact she has personally made. In 1998 she began Oprah’s Angel Network, which has raised more than $51million for underprivileged families. To name just a few more of her most notable acts of charity, she donated $10 million to Hurricane Katrina relief and single handedly put ten black men through college with $7 million in scholarships. CNN has hailed Oprah Winfrey as the “World’s Most Powerful Woman” and Vanity Fair once wrote, “Oprah Winfrey arguably has more influence on the culture than any university president, politician, or religious leader, except perhaps the Pope.” To say this about a white male would be exceptional; but to hear this about an unmarried, at times overweight, black woman from a very humble background is just earth-shattering.

Although among much of the African American community Oprah is a hero and a legend, she has received criticism throughout her career for being “anti-black culture” and even accused of becoming “white-washed” in order to gain popularity in main-stream society. Others have said that because she is a woman her interviewing style is “too soft;” while others say that because she gives a lot of support to Africa, she is “un-American.” Inevitably, she will always have critics; as such a high caliber of fame cannot come without a price. But, that being said, who can say that Oprah Winfrey is not faithful, scholarly, skillful, courageous, and ambitious? I believe that both James Freedman and Tommy Trojan would be proud to award Oprah Winfrey with an Honorary Degree in human letters for being an outstanding citizen, a role model, and a truly revolutionary human being. Aside from being one of the richest people in the world and one of the leading African American philanthropists, Oprah Winfrey has re-invented the face of success and turned our society’s hierarchy upside-down.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

This I Believe: My Journey to Feminism

Ever since I was a young girl I remember having a unique picture of what it would be like to grow up and become an adult. While many of my friends dreamed of their future husbands and of having babies, I fantasized about a career and imagined wearing fancy designer suits and high heels at work. As this month is National Women’s History Month (Matilda Joslyn Gage, this year's honoree, is pictured here) it is fitting that I take a moment to reflect on how I came to be passionate about women's issues and the media. Motivated by the This I believe Site, "a national media project engaging people in writing, sharing, and discussing the core values and beliefs that guide their daily lives," I will devote this week's post to discussing the remarkable women and events that helped shape my core values.

It was not until I began my feminist studies at USC that I realized my concept of the ideal adult woman was based on my mother and my grandmother, both of whom during my childhood had high-power careers in the fashion industry. Since my mother was rarely home to cook us dinner at night or to do the laundry, I never inherited the belief that cooking and cleaning were a woman’s sole duties. While I have the utmost respect for mothers and housewives, I feel I was lucky enough to learn at an early age that women, just like men, could thrive in the business world. My mom and dad left for work together every morning and came home at the same time each night and as far as I knew that was just the way things were.

As I got older I started to notice that my mom was around less than the other moms. She never helped me with my homework or picked up the dry-cleaning for my dad. An aspect of my mother’s life which really stands out in my memory is the obsession with looks and appearances. Since she worked in the fashion business, she was always impeccably put together from head to toe. At the time we were living in the suburbs of New York, and I remember frequently visiting the New York City offices where my parents worked. It was a family business run by my grandparents, but my grandmother was clearly the matriarch. All of the female employees were attractive, wore black pants suits or skirt suits, stockings, and dressy shoes (the "power suit" style of dress is pictured here). This to me was the image of success. It is these enlightening experiences with professional and career driven-women that have helped to shape my understanding of the role of women in our society. I believe that it is possible to be both a great mother and a successful businesswoman. Barbara Marcus, president of Scholastic Books, on balancing a career and motherhood explains, "If you have work you love, that not only broadens you and makes you more interesting, it's also a positive for your home life." I feel blessed to have been in the presence of such powerful females, because it instilled in me the desire to help women achieve the respect, recognition, and opportunity that they deserve.

As a teenager I became aware of the expectations forced upon women in our culture, and was angered by the constant objectification of females in magazines and on television. As stereotypes about women are perpetuated through the media, women will be stripped of their self-esteem and sense of worth to a detrimental degree. Author of Odd Girl Out: Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls and staffer of the Empower Program, Rachel Simmons discusses princess culture in film. She says, "The princess is the last frontier of acceptable girliness. It points to how crazy our times have become that I, as a feminist, am promoting princess culture because, hey, at least you don't have a twelve year-old wearing a thong." The devastating effects of our societies repressive attitudes toward women are reflected by the overwhelmingly male dominated business world. Growing up as a girl in image- obsessed Los Angeles I have witnessed first hand just how misleading the media can be. Yet despite my frustration with the media, I am equally fascinated by its ability to impact people and communicate on such a grand scale. Through my blog and ultimately in a professional setting I aspire to break down some of the great many fallacies about women by exposing the media's hypocrisy.

The future holds endless possibility for me; and for that I thank women like my grandmother and those before her who dared to challenge the patriarchy. Like the famous writer and women's rights activist Gloria Steinem said (pictured here), “Power can be taken, but not given. The process of the taking is the empowerment in itself.” For the young girls who are not raised with an air of strength and self respect, it is important that those of us who are step up to the plate to show the world that their stereotypes are tired and outdated. I believe that anything less is inexcusable. What do you believe?

Monday, March 5, 2007

Tyra Banks: Top Model or Top Waddle?

Between New York fashion week, the Britney Spears meltdown, the deaths of two runway models in Latin America, and award show season, the month of February was chock full of celebrity gossip and controversy over the portrayal of women in the media. When the eighth season of former super model Tyra Banks’s America’s Next Top Model premiered last week, it became clear that this month would be equally as scandalous. The cast of America's Next Top Model (pictured on the right) was predictable; thirty gorgeous women with skeleton-like figures. But, there was a surprise twist; Miss Banks selected not just one, but two “plus size” girls to move into the Los Angeles mansion to duke it out for the coveted prize of becoming America’s Next Top Model! Viewers were probably supposed to be impressed by the show’s effort to convey a diverse spectrum of beauty, but considering Banks's recent crusade against the media for their scrutiny about her own weight gain, and her talk show which regularly encourages audience members to love their bodies at any size, Tyra Banks just ends up looking like an enormous hypocrite.

As a former Victoria's Secret model who has graced the covers of countless magazines, Tyra Banks is one of the most well known names in the fashion industry. In recent months The Tyra Banks Show host has taken heavy criticism for her recent weight gain. When tabloids published a picture of Tyra Banks in a bikini (pictured here), captioned “America’s Next Top Waddle,” she angrily spoke out. The January cover story of People Magazine, titled "Tyra Banks Fights Back: You Call This Fat?” featured the 5’10,” 160 pound former model in the same bikini she was ridiculed for. She was quoted as saying, “I get so much mail from young girls who say, ‘I look up to you, you’re not as skinny as everyone else, I think you’re beautiful'. So when they say that my body is ‘ugly’ and ‘disgusting,’ what does that make those girls feel like?" Tyra even joked in the interview that she is having too much fun eating pancakes at IHOP to worry about her cellulite. On her talk show, too, she is taking a stand against the media, even dressing up in a fat suit to show how overweight people are mistreated and harassed on a daily basis.

After almost two decades of weight watching and calorie counting, Tyra Banks has certainly earned the right to enjoy a carbohydrate or two every now and then. But, while she preaches about acceptance and inner beauty to her talk show audience, America’s Next Top Model seems to counteract any forward progress Banks might be making. How can women feel beautiful when they turn on the television and see their supposed role model manufacturing size zero Barbie Doll wannabes? In response to accusations of such hypocrisy, on The Tyra Banks Show she said, “Even though I try to have different body types on Top Model, let’s face it, a lot of the girls are skinny. So what I’ve done for season eight, which is right here, right now is I’m having two full-figured models. I have been trying so hard to have two and I finally got my way. So you’ll be seeing that this season. That’s my part.” While I congratulate her for having two “plus-size” contestants on the show, it hardly excuses the fact that she is making millions of dollars off of a television concept that degrades women. It is as if she is patting herself on the back for attempting to solve a problem that she has significantly helped to create.

As they say, actions speak louder than words, and it is only a matter of time before her talk show audience catches on to her very apparent and offensive inconsistencies. While she assures her audience that she is content in her new body and that they should be too, having a show about the glamorous life of modeling completely devalues and discredits anything she might preach to the “average woman" about loving oneself despite how the media says we should look and feel. I am not quite sure how the television host and former Victoria's Secret angel has balanced these multiple personalities for this long, but pretty soon she will realize that you can't have your cake and eat it too!

Monday, February 26, 2007

Dove Pro-Age Campaign: Wrinkles, Rolls, and Real Beauty

This week's post takes a look at how the new Dove “Pro-Age” campaign is changing the way women are represented on television and in fashion magazines. Dove’s bold new advertisements portray nude women in their fifties flaunting their bodies and smiling for the camera. The ads, which are not retouched or airbrushed, promote the message that beauty comes in all colors and sizes, and encourage women to celebrate their age, not hide it. As part of their “Campaign for Real Beauty” Dove has created a video which can be found on You Tube, that exposes how photographs are digitally manipulated to create the deceptive images that millions of young girls see everyday in magazines. Below are my comments on two other blogs that also discuss the Dove Campaign. The first is Brilliant at Breakfast, a liberal blog that focuses predominantly on politics, and is written by a woman in her fifties. The second is Back in Skinny Jeans, a blog that aims to help young women feel good about themselves despite our cultural obsession with thinness and beauty.

My comment on Brilliant at Breakfast:

I completely agree with your statement that “When you read a magazine like this [Us Weekly], you wonder how on earth it is that celebrities define what beauty is in this country, because these magazines contain photo after photo of people who look so mind-bogglingly unattractive you wonder why anyone holds them up as a standard.” I think the reason for this phenomenon is that we are letting the media dictate to us what we think is beautiful and desirable. We have become so programmed to associate attractiveness with thinness that we are no longer making these decisions for ourselves. Our society is trained to think that “jutting collarbones, stick-thin arms, and bony ankles” symbolize beauty. Then every so often someone like Jennifer Hudson or American Ferrera comes along and reminds us to rethink the canon of beauty. Like you said, it does seem that there are very few Caucasian women behind the movement to be more “real;” but hopefully the trend will catch on and inspire women everywhere to celebrate their individual beauty.

My comment on Back in Skinny Jeans:

I think it is fantastic that Dove is celebrating women in their fifties as still being sexy and beautiful. It is refreshing to see something other than a twenty-one year old, blonde haired, pin-thin model selling something to me. Although I understand why Dove wanted the “Pro-Age” models to bare it all, I think it is unfortunate that the nudity has prevented the advertisements from airing on television where such a larger audience could have been reached. Also, on another note, I noticed that the campaign uses fewer African American models than Caucasian models and that most of these women are still quite thin. I even noticed some protruding collarbones, which brought to mind some of the scary thin models that we are both so tired of seeing in magazines. The Dove campaign is wonderful and inspiring, but unfortunately even “real beauty” isolates those who still do not possess the ideal traits that our society deems attractive. This is no flaw on the part of Dove, nor is this an easy problem to resolve, because as long as beauty is an important part of our culture, there will always be those who are considered attractive and those who suffer because they are not.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

From Blonde to Bald: Are Celebrities Cracking Under Pressure?

With award show season underway, the media are focusing more than ever on the stars, what they are wearing, and most importantly, how much they weigh. In a sea of size two actresses strutting down the red carpet, it is the full-figured stars such as Dream Girl Jennifer Hudson (pictured to the right) and Ugly Betty’s America Ferrera who are stealing the show. While it is encouraging to see these women setting an example for young girls as they defy the typical mold of Hollywood beauty, I still find myself worrying that it might be too little too late. Despite the fact that both Hudson and Ferrera are Golden Globe winning actresses, every magazine headline about them exclaims: “Is Ugly the New Beautiful?” or “She’s a size twelve and designers still want to dress her!” In reality, neither actress is overweight, and by discussing them as such, the media are only enforcing misconception that beauty only comes in one color, shape, and size. I am pleased to see diverse women gracing the covers of magazines; and I hope that such positive representation becomes the norm rather than the exception. If the media truly aims to celebrate healthier role models, they should stop glamorizing emaciated celebrities and start portraying a more realistic model of fitness and beauty on television and in the magazines.

Time and time again a fresh-faced new star steps into the spotlight and within months of her newfound stardom she drops fifteen pounds by “working out and healthy dieting.” When 27-year old singer Norah Jones was asked to lose weight for her upcoming film "My Blueberry Nights" she said, "It was a horrible thing to hear but I understand the game. I was just amazed that it really was an issue, and it made me have a lot more sympathy for really skinny actresses." But some stars have not had as much luck withstanding the pressure to fit the Hollywood prototype. Young celebrities such as Ashlee Simpson and Carrie Underwood, who once embraced their healthy curves and vowed never to surrender to the pressure to be thin, soon swapped these admirable attitudes for new bodies, fake hair extensions, and expensive new noses. In 2006 a pre-nose job Ashlee Simpson preached to her fans, “Everyone is made differently, and that is what makes us beautiful and unique. I want girls to look in the mirror and feel confident.” Ironically enough, Simpson reemerged just a few months later sporting a new nose, long blonde extensions, and a much thinner figure (Simpson's transformation is shown to the left). One really has to question the impossible standards that the media are setting for our youth when Carmen Electra, one of our country’s most prevalent sex symbols, becomes the new spokesperson for Taco Bell fast food while simultaneously endorsing the new NV diet pill! It is ridiculous that Electra, who is known for her rock solid abs and svelte body, is even allowed to promote a diet pill. Mixed messages such as these convince women every day that to be successful, they must achieve these expectations of beauty by starving themselves and taking potentially dangerous pills.

With an entire nation tracking the every move of these young female starlets, it is no wonder that they are beginning to suffer the consequences. While media attention has always been part of the job description, I think our society’s celebrity obsession may be crossing over from what is appropriate and entertaining to a harmful and dangerous zone. A perfect example of this phenomenon is the recent Britney Spears scandal, when she spontaneously decided to shave her head (her new look is pictured below). Gossip columnists and news channels alike became completely obsessed with the story and stalked poor Britney like predators hunting their prey. I, like Britney Spears, just shaved my head. One of my many motivations for doing so was because I was tired of perpetuating our society’s unfounded and unrealistic conventions of beauty. I firmly believe that women give so much power to their hair because we think it is what makes us feminine and beautiful. Shaving it all off was my way of saying that we don’t need long, blonde hair to be sexy. After so many years of being judged by her appearance, maybe Britney and I shared a similar sentiment. Of course, the media had their own take on Britney’s situation, speculating that she is having a nervous breakdown. Entire websites were devoted to bashing her new look and some even accusing her of being gay. Although I do not know Britney personally, I know that if I had to read about my fashion disasters, horrible parenting skills, cheating husband, and the cellulite on my thighs every single day, I would not be in the best state of mind either. Britney Spears, the same teen queen who produced hit after hit, who dated heart-throb Justin Timberlake, and who was the first major teen icon of my generation, has become one of our media's favorite punching bags. Despite her questionable actions as of late, I cannot help but sympathize for the former starlet. It seems that we, the public who helped build the Britney Spears brand, have completely turned our backs on her and are now relishing her failures for their entertainment value.

In American Ferrera's Golden Globe acceptance speech the "Ugly Betty" star said, “Thank you to the foreign press for recognizing this show and this character who is truly bringing a new face to television… and such a beautiful, beautiful message about beauty that lies deeper than what we can see. It’s such an honor to play a role that I hear from young girls on a daily basis how it makes them feel worthy and lovable and that they have more to offer the world than they thought. It’s such an honor to play this role.” Messages such at these can help change the way our society views women, and more importantly help change women’s attitudes toward themselves. With all the negative publicity that so many young stars both receive and generate for women, it is refreshing and inspiring that shows such as "Ugly Betty" are striving to put the focus back on women in a positive light.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Made in the USA: Are we Trading Our Women for Cheap Labor?

This week’s post focuses on the troubling conditions in the Northern Mariana Islands, a U.S
territory located in the Pacific Ocean, which is currently exempt from U.S immigration and labor laws. Due to the lack of authority on the island, Mariana has become a hub for the sexual trafficking and the exploitation of women and laborers; a typical sweatshop is pictured here. The Mariana Islands are making headlines as 23-year old Kayleen Entena testifies at last week’s hearing to determine whether the islands should be brought under U.S. jurisdiction. Entena shares her tragic story; how she was lured by the promise of a paying job, but upon her arrival on the island was immediately forced into sexual slavery. Below are my comments on two other blogs that discuss the Mariana Island situation. The first takes a close look at Entena’s testimony and at the severity of the sex slavery epidemic, and the second celebrates a recent decision to apply U.S minimum wage laws to laborers in Mariana Island.

My Reaction: "Plea to Congress to End Sexual Bondage in U.S. Islands"

What does it say about our country when states like South Dakota are trying to pass an abortion ban that makes no exceptions for rape, while women in U.S territory are being raped and sexually abused on a daily basis? It seems to me that sex trafficking has been a major issue for years, but it has not received the attention it deserves because of its taboo nature. If the white American male in power does not care to put his time and money toward protecting the lives of these impoverished and desperate young women, then we might as well just give these rapists and kidnappers the green light to continue. The Mariana Island economy relies heavily on the garment factories which produce clothes with labels that brag “Made in the USA.” If the United States benefits from these factories, and if these factories produce clothing for the U.S, then they should certainly abide by the same strict set of labor and immigration laws as the rest of the country has to.

My Reaction: "Ending the Mariana Mambo"

It's difficult to imagine that there is actually a place in the United States where conditions as horrible as these really exist. It is about time that these garment factories, which produce goods for the United States, and from which the United States benefits, start abiding by the laws. It is absolutely appalling that the Mariana Islands, which are considered a U.S territory, are allowed to produce garments that sport a “Made in the USA” label if their workers and citizens do not have to live by U.S law. Although extending minimum-wage restrictions to the Mariana Islands is a start, what about the sex trafficking epidemic? Hundreds of women are being bought and sold into the sex trade for little or no money, while others are being kidnapped or duped into thinking that they are going to have a better life. Hopefully, after last week’s hearings, the Mariana Islands will be brought into U.S jurisdiction in matters of both labor and immigration.

Sunday, February 4, 2007

No More Wire Hangers: South Dakota Fights Back

In 1973 the case of Roe Versus Wade resulted in the legalization of abortion in America, for whichever reason a woman chooses, up until the point where the fetus becomes viable. Since its legalization in 1973, the topic of abortion has been the focus of much controversy, dividing Americans as either “Pro-Life” or “Pro-Choice;" a "Pro-Choice" rally is pictured to the right. Although the Roe V. Wade verdict has always been met with fanatical opposition, in recent years there has been a major push to bring back the extreme abortion ban, especially now with the elections just around the corner. Last year, the state legislature in South Dakota proposed a bill to outlaw abortion in the state, with no exceptions for rape, incest, or a woman’s health; and only allowing abortion to save the pregnant woman’s life. The 2006 ban was barely defeated, with just a 54 to 46 percent margin; and now, after a few minor revisions, South Dakota law- makers have reintroduced their proposal for this both dangerous and unconstitutional statewide ban.

The South Dakota abortion ban has outraged reproductive rights and civil liberties groups across the state. Led by Planned Parenthood, which runs the only abortion clinic in South Dakota, the Campaign for Healthy Families is doing everything in their power to overturn this ban. In the last six weeks more than 1,200 volunteers have petitioned more than 38,000 signatures from every county in the state, double the signatures needed to have voters repeal the ban. One of the major lobbyists for the South Dakota abortion ban is Leslee Unruh, founder of the Abstinence Clearinghouse, a national group based in Sioux Falls, South Dakota that advocates abstinence until marriage. Unruh, who is pictured here with First Lady Laura Bush, has received direct funding from the Bush administration, most significantly in 2002, when the Congress gave the Clearinghouse $2.7 million for their "Abstinence Only" campaigns. William Smith, vice president for public policy of Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States says, "If you follow the money, there is no other conclusion: Our tax dollars financed the South Dakota anti-choice lobby."

In early 2005, Unruh worked with South Dakota legislature to “set aside politics” and provide scientific and medical evidence to help end the abortion debate. In what was supposed to be a strictly scientific analysis of evidence, 10 of the 17 governor-selected members of the committee were well known abortion opponents, including Unruh’s own husband; as well as other experts whose work has also been published on the National Right to Life Committee website, a major “pro-life” organization. Among many ludicrous findings, the Committee concluded that abortion traumatizes and exploits women, and that abortion providers have a legal duty to the unborn, not to the pregnant woman. Leslee Unruh continues to manipulate and misuse scientific evidence to support her claims, ultimately misguiding and harming women who could potentially benefit from having this procedure.

In South Dakota the consequences of a statewide abortion ban would be devastating. On the poverty stricken Rosebud Indian reservation in South Dakota, pictured to the left, 80 percent of female high school seniors report having been raped. Nichole Witt of the White Buffalo Calf Woman Society, the reservation's shelter for women, says, “Control over our bodies is being decided by white men who have no concept of our lives here as Indian women. We have children, young girls, being molested and raped by their family members.” Witt explains that these Native American women do not have the resources to travel long distances to an out of state abortion clinic. While banning abortion in South Dakota may satisfy the wishes of “pro-life” conservatives, it will increase the number of unwanted children being born into the Native American community. Although Native Americans make up just 8 percent of the state's population, an astonishing 56 percent of children in South Dakota state care are Native American.

The South Dakota abortion ban poses a huge threat to the safety and health of women in America. In a country where almost half the teenage population is sexually active and almost 16 percent of sexually active teens report using no form of contraception, abortion is necessary. If our government proceeds to fund abstinence campaigns instead of safe sex education, teenagers will continue to have unprotected sex and the rate of unwanted pregnancy will rise. Unfortunately, our society is not perfect, and accidents do happen. A South Dakota doctor says, "By the nature of being adolescents, they are the ones more inclined to take risks. They are in a position where unwanted, unplanned pregnancy has the ability to most greatly affect their lives." Until we find a way to effectively reduce the amount of unwanted pregnancies in our country, abortion must be a legal and available service. The doctor, who flies to South Dakota once a month to provide abortions for South Dakota natives, warns, "Women with resources will get safe abortions. It's these young women who will try to end their pregnancies in dangerous and unhealthy ways."

Although South Dakota is just one small state, those who oppose the ban believe that if it is not defeated on a state level, it will inevitably make its way to the U.S Supreme Court. Sarah Stoesz, CEO of Planned Parenthood in South Dakota, North Dakota, and Minnesota explains, “This is about an ill wind that is beginning to blow in South Dakota and will ultimately blow across the country unless stopped. A Win in this state will advance our movement for reproductive rights to the next level, and change the current politics of the country."

Monday, January 29, 2007

Moms, Wives, Presidents: The Balancing Act of a Lifetime

With Hillary Clinton as the favored Democratic candidate and Nancy Pelosi appointed as the first female Speaker of the House, it seems that women are finally breaking the marble ceiling to take their rightful seats in the political world. But despite these advancements, as more and more women take on previously male dominated roles, women face the difficult challenge of embracing their femininity while earning the respect and support of their male audience.

As the only major female candidate, Senator Clinton hopes to break a longstanding historical barrier and become the first female president. As she kicked off her campaign in Des Moines, Iowa on Saturday, she was greeted with excitement and praise. As can be expected, one of Clinton’s major campaign issues will be ensuring equal pay for both men and women in the workforce. She says, “Women have made progress, and I'm very proud of that, but it is still not equitable."

At the 2,000-person rally at Des Moines school gymnasium, Clinton responds to criticism that a woman cannot and should not be president. She exclaims to a cheering crowd, “Well, I don't believe that, but we're going to find out.” Senator Clinton says that she rejects the double standards against women in politics, but jokes that she does expect more gossip about her hair and dress than the rest of the male candidates.

While Senator Clinton certainly does not shy away from her responsibilities as a candidate with a unique opportunity to change the world for women, she makes it clear that she wants to be judged in her entirety, and not just for being a woman. Clinton proves that she is both a capable and experienced candidate for the presidential office when she addresses her position toward the war in Iraq. In response to questions about her 2002 vote to authorize the war, Clinton expresses regret about her decision, and is vehement now that President Bush must be stopped. The Senator boldly states that his policies must be overturned and that 20,000 more troops must not be deployed to Iraq.

At the Des Moines, Iowa rally Senator Clinton also discusses her objection to her husband and former president’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy about homosexuals in the military. The Senator believes that gays and lesbians in the military should be allowed to be open about their sexuality without the risk of discharge or harassment, and states that she aims to put an end to their forced silence.

Senator Clinton’s support of gay rights and women’s rights has instilled hope in and revitalized women’s political organizations around the country. Since Nancy Pelosi was appointed as House Speaker in January, she has been working closely with The Congressional Caucus for Women’s Issues, providing them with exclusive access to resources to help realize their goals. With the leadership of former caucus member and a female ally Nancy Pelosi in office, the women’s caucus plans to reboot their programs for women’s health, domestic violence, sex trafficking, and women in business.

With Senator Clinton on the rise and Pelosi already in power, the stage has been set to redefine the role of women in our society. Not only are our women rising to the top and standing their ground next to high-powered male politicians and CEO’s, but they are also helping to shed light on important women’s issues such as breast cancer research, education equity, and prison reform.

Unfortunately, despite the progress that is being made, stereotypes and double standards about women’s abilities still exist today; and groundbreaking women such as Clinton, Pelosi, and Condoleezza Rice are still being judged on a daily basis for their physical appearance, style of dress, and roles as mothers and wives. As trivial as it may seem, a simple error in fashion could actually set women back, and lose them both male and female support. A female politician has to achieve just the right balance of sex and sophistication, and must be careful not to rely on her sexuality nor deny it.

Despite these burdens, as women rise to the top, they shatter outdated stereotypes and prove that a woman can be both a loving mother and wife, and a political force to be reckoned with. As Senator Hillary Clinton storms the scene with overwhelming support, (after all, our country is 50% women), it seems that the disbelieving men of our country and those who are still stuck in the repressive ways of the past, should brace themselves for the transition into a female-run society.