Half the Sky – a needed relook on the global maltreatment of women and girls

The following piece was posted about eight years ago, but it remains relevant in today’s world. With the Taliban re-seizing control, it shows how any forward progress for women and girls can be jeopardized with more autocratic rule. We must also guard against the ice-picking away of women’s rights even here in the US.

One of my favorite columnists, Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times, was on “Real Time with Bill Maher,” last night. Kristof has co-authored a book with Sheryl WuDunn, which I have yet to read, but will put it on list to do so. The book’s title is indicated above – “Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide.” In short, when women are oppressed, it is like trying to survive with half the sky. I have written about this in earlier posts, but merely from an economic growth standpoint, if a country or region oppresses women, they are competing with the rest of the world with only 1/2 of their intellectual capital. But, it obviously goes far deeper and broader than that.

A society that treats women as lesser citizens will not flourish long term. If you oppress women, you are relegating them to a subservient role, and through your teachings, make more women less inclined to “lean in” as Sheryl Sandberg is suggesting. Last night Kristof observed that the better educated a group of people are, both men and women tolerate far less the abuse and oppression of women. Just as bigotry has to be carefully taught per the song from “South Pacific,” the maltreatment of women must be taught as well.

Kristof noted that it is not just the gang rapes in India that are now getting more attention and must stop, it is the maltreatment by male family members of girls that needs to cease as well. To this point, I have seen data which suggests that when boys and girls witness or are victimized by domestic violence, they show a greater propensity as adults than others to either conduct such violence (if male) or associate with someone who is more controlling and could be violent toward them (if female). In other words, the boys are taught by example that it is OK to do this and women are taught they must allow it.

But, this extends beyond the borders of India into many places, especially in several African nations where rivals will rape, maim and abuse women and children. It extends to nations where certain religions make women subservient, where the rape of a wife by a husband is not a crime, e.g. It extends to nations where these same religions do not want to educate young girls as they may get ideas they can better themselves. This denial of education as a means to oppress a group of people is as old as any sin that exists today.

Kristof is optimistic about change. There is a movement that has education, games, film and advocates galore. Please check it out at www.halftheskymovement.org . I made the comment this week, that one of the best things that Hillary Clinton did as Secretary of State, was be a very visible and loud voice for women around the world. I posted last summer that one of the best ambassadors for the US were its female naval officers of very big ships. When Iraqi soldiers wanted to speak with the person in charge saying this directly to a woman officer, she would respond, “I am in charge” and it made a huge impression.

This week a significant leader died – Margaret Thatcher. If you have not seen “Iron Lady” you must. Whether you agreed with all of her politics or not, she made a huge step forward for women and is to be commended. The fact people can openly disagree with her is evidence that she made a difference in moving the ball forward. And, like Jackie Robinson, she had to be tough as nails and not show weakness. The same is true for other great leaders such as Clinton, Golda Meir, Aung San Suu Kyi, Angela Merkel, Christine LaGarde, Nancy Pelosi, Condaleeza Rice and Madeleine Albright to name only a few. In the future, we need to have much longer lists to choose from.

Let me close with a different thought. We need to treat women fairly, just as we would anyone else. I often paraphrase the Golden Rule as they are words to live by – “treat others like you want to be treated.” There are no caveats to this rule. There are no race, sexual preference, ethinicity and especially gender caveats. If we do this simple task that Jesus implored us to do, we will pay it forward. If we teach our kids to do this, they will pay it forward. Just as bigotry has to be carefully taught, so should the Golden Rule. If we do, our world will be different. And, in many more places, the other half of the sky will be engaged, educated and valued trying to make it so.

Note: Since I wrote this I have read “Half the Sky.” It is an excellent book, but one of the toughest books I have ever read. It will frustrate you as it delves into girls being sold to adult men for marriage at very early ages such as twelve or thirteen. It speaks to such girls having babies long before their bodies are ready, so vaginal tearing occurs and can lead to an infection known as fistula, where bowel movements leak into such wounds. It speaks of genital mutilation which occurs in some religions which is forced upon teens without their consent.

Black man talks members of KKK to cede their robes

The following is a repeat of an earlier post written four years ago. It remains relevant today. Our blogging friend Jill highlights weekly a few people who are shining lights in our world. Typically, these folks fly under the radar screen, as they do what they do to help people, not garner publicity. They are all about substance over optics.

Daryl Davis is one of those people. An African-American man, Davis has a mission to reach out and befriend members of the Ku Klux Klan. His goal is to change hearts and minds and he has successfully influenced over 200 members of the KKK to give up their robes, which he collects.

Davis grew up mostly outside the US as his father was in the diplomatic corps. He said his school classes included the children of other diplomats from around the world. So, he was gaining a very open-minded education interacting with others. He notes if he grew up here, his education would have been either segregated or pigeonholed limiting interaction with diverse people.

Davis said he did not experience racism until his family moved back to the states. In fact, he did not believe his parents when he learned he was being maltreated because of the color of his skin. He was incredulous that people could be so cruel for such an inane reason.

Davis recognizes that bigotry has to be taught. No one is born hating or demeaning others because they are different from them. Their parents and other adults have to teach kids to be racist or bigoted. So, he would seek to change those learnings by having open conversation. Per the link below, he says how can someone hate me without even knowing me?

He is an overtly friendly and approachable man. Having seen him laugh, I would say he is cherubic in a St. Nick like way. He does not insult, he asks questions and tells folks what he believes. When a KKK person said they burn the cross to light the way for Jesus, he would say you worship a different Jesus than I do. Jesus lights the way for you.

Through these matter-of-fact discussions, he gets people to think. He has studied the KKK and through reverse examples , he can illustrate the absurdity of certain claims. When he appeared on Bill Maher’s show, he astounded the other guests into silence just to listen to what he had to say. For the longest while, even the host remained silent, which is rare for him.

Please check out the attached link to learn more about him. “Bigotry has to be carefully taught” says the famous Oscar Hammerstein song from “South Pacific.” The converse is also true. Let’s teach kids and speak with others about being open-minded. It begins with conversation. Thank you Daryl Davis for showing us how. You are to be commended.

http://www.npr.org/2017/08/20/544861933/how-one-man-convinced-200-ku-klux-klan-members-to-give-up-their-robes

Fierce Kindness

A mantra of mine is “do not mistake kindness for weakness.” Watching CBS Sunday Morning, I learned a new term “fierce kindness.”

Kindness exists in people of all colors, shapes and sizes. From the CBS Sunday Morning show, the focus was on an Indianapolis man who works with children to repair donated run down bicycles for donation to others. Another segment looked at a Boston doctor who serves the homeless community, a journey that started over thirty years ago.

The doctor noted he was told to set aside his stethoscope and soak a few feet. What he learned, by helping someone with their feet, they are above him telling him how they feel. When asked what is the most important thing to do when seeing a homeless person – look him or her in the eye and say hello.

The bicycle fixer shows kids the path of kindness. He said it is ok to be fierce with kindness.

I found this helpful, as many people see kindness as a form of acquiescence. It is not. We can disagree without being disagreeable.

That is what civil discourse is all about. Civil is an important part of the discourse equation. Name calling, shouting down others or smugly denigrating someone who disagrees with you, is not civil.

Treating others like you want to be treated is what these two men are teaching others. Be kind. And, it is ok to be fiercely kind.

When I see folks who are doing the right thing against the pushback of others, fierce kindness comes to mind.

The racist incumbent in the White House

In a article by Justin Coleman of The Hill called “Santorum: ‘Huge mistake’ for Trump not to condemn white supremacy at debate,” the former Senator chastised the president for not condemning white supremacism. Per The Hill’s article (a link is below):

“Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum (R) on Wednesday said that it was a ‘huge mistake’ for President Trump not to condemn white supremacy during the first presidential debate against Democratic nominee Joe Biden.

Santorum said in an appearance on CNN’s ‘New Day’ that Trump’s refusal to denounce white supremacy was a ‘bad error,’ saying the president has “condemned these groups before.”

‘But for some reason, he didn’t and I think that was a huge gaffe,’ the former senator said. ‘And it’s been typical of the president when he gets backed into a corner he doesn’t like to be forced to say something.’

‘He made a huge mistake, and again you can’t say anything other than disappointed,’ he added.”

This is not the first time the president has failed to condemn white supremacism or has uttered racist remarks.

– Trump’s comment about good people being on both sides in the Charlottesville, VA white nationalist march and reaction that led to one woman mowed down led to his Jewish National Economics Advisor Gary Cohn to decide to leave the White House after he passed a tax bill.
– Trump settled a court case for housing discrimination against African-Americans, and then had to be taken back to court as he did not honor the settlement.
– Trump placed a full page article accusing the Central Park Five (all African-American teens) of a heinous crime. They were convicted, but the conviction was overturned.
– Trump used derogatory terms against Native Americans in public testimony as he was losing casino business to Native Americans.
– Trump for several years continued attacking President Obama for not being born in America, the “Birther Issue.” Would he have done this is Obama was 100% white?
– Trump referenced not wanting immigration from “s**thole countries” when he decided to unwind an agreed to DACA for the Wall funding deal made verbally earlier in the day.
– Trump made reference to the four new Congress members to “go back to where you came from” as they were women of color.
– Trump announced his candidacy referencing the “rapists’ coming in from Mexico
– Trump supported the right for his mostly white followers to protest (with guns) in state capitols to re-open the economies, but references the multi-racial Black Lives Matter protestors as “thugs.”

While I am not perfect, it is pretty clear the president has made many racist remarks, which make him racist. Further, I am hard pressed to not call Trump a white supremacist sympathizer. But, don’t take my word for it. His attorney and fixer, Michael Cohen said under oath to Congress, “Donald Trump is a racist, he is a con-artist and he is a cheat.” Why did he lead with racist?

https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/politics/santorum-huge-mistake-for-trump-not-to-condemn-white-supremacy-at-debate/ar-BB19zId5?ocid=msedgdhp

Two great talents, two big hearts pass away

Rightfully so, the passing of Supreme Court Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is a huge loss for our country. Her diminutive stature belied the large intellect and courage to fight battles, first for herself, and then for women and the disenfranchised.

There are several stories whose theme is around the only woman in the room, be it the first female rocket scientist, Mary Sherman Morgan, or the first black female NASA mathematician, Katherine G. Johnson. Ginsburg was often one of only a scant few women in the room, be it Harvard or Columbia law schools or when she first joined the Supreme Court following Sandra Day O’Connor. Being told you do not belong, either directly or implicitly, requires a courageous heart.

Ginsburg was unable to get a job with a law firm since she was a female and a mother. Her husband, Marty was quickly able to gain employment as a tax attorney, but his very learned wife could not. So, she taught law. So, when she finally tried an appellate case regarding gender discrimination, very few knew the constitutional law as well as she. She knew the documented discrimination that existed in the law and what had to be changed. And, her track record on gender discrimination cases before the Supreme Court was excellent, losing only one case. The movie “On the basis of sex,” starring Felicity Jones, is an excellent drama telling her story.

Yesterday, another person passed away, who will not be as known to non-football fans, but his supreme talent was only exceeded by his heart. His name was Gale Sayers and for seven years, was one of the most exciting football players to watch as his ability to stop, start, change direction and run kept defenses at bay. He was the youngest player to be inducted in the NFL Hall of Fame at the time. Yet, his heart may be what people will remember most.

When he joined the Chicago Bears in the mid-1960s, the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act had only recently been passed. The African-American Sayers befriended a white ball player named Brian Piccolo. They became friends, teasing each other often while competing for the same position. They both made the team and were roommates on the road.

But, the story unfolds later that Piccolo gets cancer and is dying. Sayers and his wife were by the Piccolos’ side the whole way. When Sayers was given an award for a courageous comeback after an injury, in his speech, he told the audience of the courage of his friend Brian Piccolo. He said “I love Brian Piccolo. And, I hope you will love him, too.” He then asked for their prayers for God to love Brian as well.

The story is captured in the excellent movie “Brian’s Song,” starring James Caan and Billy Dee Williams. I wrote a post a while back which I will link to below, which said “Brian’s Song” was the first movie where a man was allowed to openly cry. Truth be told, I am tearing up as a type this.

Let’s remember Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Gale Sayers. Both are national treasures

https://musingsofanoldfart.wordpress.com/2014/05/22/brians-song-the-first-movie-where-men-could-watch-and-cry/

Kentucky police force benefits from hiring social workers

From an article in The Guardian called “The US police department that decided to hire social workers,” a path forward can be gleaned. Here are a few paragraphs to provide a sense. The full article can be linked to below.

“In 2016, the Alexandria, Kentucky, police chief talked the city into hiring a social worker – and four years on, the current chief sees the program as indispensable. In 2016 he decided to try a new approach: he talked the city into hiring a social worker for the police department. ‘To an officer, they all thought I was batshit crazy,’ he said of the police.

The current police chief, Lucas Cooper, said he was ‘the most vocal opponent’ of the plan at the time, thinking that the department should be using its budget to hire more officers for a force he viewed as stretched thin. But now four years later, Cooper sees the program as indispensable: it frees officers from repeat calls for non-criminal issues and gets residents the help they needed, but couldn’t get.”

Just recently, a Utah boy with Asperger’s was shot by the police after his mother called alerting them to the boy’s inability to calm down when she returned to work. Last year, a North Carolina man who called the police for help when he was having a schizoid disorder was killed in his own home because he would not put down a knife when the police arrived.

These are not rare occurrences. People with mental illness may not be sufficiently cognizant to respond to commands, or they may fearful of what is happening. Unless an attending officer is used to seeing and working with people who have mental health issues, it is quite difficult to avoid the use of force when commands are not followed.

In human services agency I was involved with, the licensed social workers used a model called “trauma informed care.” This approach let them focus on the traumas that people face. For example, a woman and family who are domestic violence victims have PTSD issues. So, if they lose their house, as well, there are two sets of trauma to deal with.

To be frank, the “defunding the police” movement has chosen a poor choice of words. Too many view it as taking all funding away – the key difference is using more wisely to serve and protect. Hiring more social workers who are licensed to offer counseling will let the police focus on other alleged criminals.

https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/sep/19/alexandria-kentucky-police-social-workers&lt

Shut the front door – common ground can be found

I am not sure when it happened, but “shut the front door” became a funny euphemism for a more colorful saying. I have witnessed it being offered up as an excited way to say the person cannot believe what has just been uttered. I will leave you to your own devices to substitute the more colorful metaphor.

So, with this in mind, please feel free to utter “shut the front door” on these truthful events or comments:

– Novak Djokovic, the top-seeded men’s tennis player in this year’s U.S. Open, was disqualified after accidentally hitting a line judge with a ball during his match. On occasion, tennis players are prone to slam a ball with their racquet when they hit a bad shot. Djokovic hits the ball harder than almost anyone on the planet. The good news is the judge is alright and Djokovic was concerned and contrite after he did it, he apologized afterwards and spoke of his poor judgment later. Common ground after an unfortunate incident.

– Ruth Bader Ginsburg is an American hero, especially for her groundbreaking work for women’s rights. She had a colorful and exemplary career, and her love of opera is renowned. Apparently, she and her conservative justice Antonin Scalia both loved opera, so attended performances together. Common ground can be found if we look for it. Note, it is reported she was allowed to participate in a few operas in full costume, but only in a non-singing background role.

– Joe Biden and John McCain were friends. McCain was renowned for his Senate trips to visit troops or improve relationships abroad. Given McCain’s POW status for five years, where McCain refused to be released unless others were, he was against torture and maltreatment of prisoners of war. Biden accompanied McCain on these trips, along with a few other Senators, and mutual respect and friendship blossomed. Again, common ground can be found if we look for it.

– I read Leo Tolstoy and Mahatma Gandhi used to write letters to each other. During 1909-10, “Gandhi solicited permission to redistribute Tolstoy’s writings among Indians, and Tolstoy in turn was pleased that his ideas were being put into practice. This collection of letters gives the reader an insight into this meeting of two great minds,” per GoodReads. Going one step further, Martin Luther King was inspired by Gandhi’s civil disobedience approach. Common ground over standing up to disenfranchisement.

Shut the front door. Common ground can be found in the unlikeliest of places. I did not mention the line judge’s name, as fans of Djokovic have been less kind. Yet, unlike an infamous politician, he recognized his mistake and made up for it and told his fans to cool their jets.

Monday musings – insignificant or significant

Life offers many experiences from the insignificant to significant. Approaching my 62nd birthday, I can share that more than a few things people believe are significant are not really important. Conversely, little insignificant things may have been gateways into something more meaningful. As Robert Frost wrote, the road not taken has made all the difference.

The girl or boy you did not ask out, as your friends labeled the person too different, might have opened your eyes to wonderful experiences.

Being prevented by your parents from attending a party may be mortifying for a teen, but does not make that big a difference in the big scheme of things.

To this point, the most well-adjusted Hollywood couples, live away from the superficial Hollywood scene. They crave the reality, not perception.

Being genuine is far more important than being popular. Choosing to help or listen to someone with a problem, is far more important than being “liked.”

Changing your mind on a major decision may prove embarrassing, but it is usually for the best. Life events are worthy of as much introspection as possible. I have never regretted unwinding a major decision.

Saying “no” may be unpopular, but it is also more than fine to decline. People sometimes overcommit and end up letting people down.

Take the time to ask your older relatives about your heritage before it is too late. I still have unanswered questions, especially after doing research online. Knowing your lineage and history is gratifying, even if the history reveals some warts. Our kids love to speak of their roots.

Finally, one of the things my wife and I miss with the COVID-19 limitations is talking to people we encounter on our travels, near and far. A trip to Ireland was seasoned by chatting with Oola, who grew up in a corner of Belgium, very close to two other countries, eg. Take the time to talk to folks. It may make all the difference.

Caleb’s Crossing – a good book with a dose of history

Take a surprising true story – the first Native American to graduate from Harvard in the 17th century. Season it with a historically appropriate context. And, mix in a story told through the eyes of a growing young daughter of a minister and you arrive at “Caleb’s Crossing” by Gretchen Brooks, who is a Pulitzer Prize winner for her 2006 book “March.”

Bethia Mayfield is the girl growing up in the settlement of Great Harbor on what is now called Martha’s Vineyard. Her father has an earnest effort to convert and educate members of the Wampanoag tribe on the island. While Bethia is not allowed advanced schooling given her gender, she listens to her father’s lessons to her older brother, Makepeace. Since her brother is not the best of students, unlike his younger sister, she gets the benefit of hearing the lessons repeated.

As she lost her twin brother in a terrible accident, she wanders the coast, woods and meadows. She befriends a a Wampanoag boy about her age. She eventually gives him an English name of Caleb. He is as curious to learn as she is and he teaches her about where good berries can be found and how to fish. He also teaches her his language and vice-versa. Yet, other than taking her berries home, she must keep her learnings to herself.

I will stop there as not to reveal too much plot. If you are a woman, this book will exasperate you at times. You will pull for Bethia throughout and wince when she does headstrong things that her mother cautioned her about. She will acknowledge that she may have said too much on occasion in the book.

While Bethia and her story is fiction, there are many parts of the story that are true. Brooks points these out at the end of the book, as she does not want her book to replace history. Yet, so much is unknown about Caleb and another Native American Harvard student, that the story is a good teaching aid.

“Caleb’s Crossing” is a good book. It is not a can’t-put-down-read, at least to me, but it is entertaining. Men will find it of interest, but women will likely be more invested with how it portrays the subservient nature of girls and women in the mid-to-late 17th century and how Bethia overcomes obstacles.

Predicted and predictable

Nate Silver is the genius behind 538, one of the most accurate predictors of election results. 538 weights various polls based on their relative veracity. What his polls showed in 2016, after the late Comey announcement, that while the median favored Clinton winning, Trump could win within acceptable standard deviation. People focus too much on the median and not the range.

With this background, Silver said something of import recently, that many of us have said less succinctly. He said the COVID-19 contagions that are cropping in schools and colleges are both “predicted and predictable.”

When people get together without strict adherence to social distancing and mask wearing, exposure to COVID-19 will occur. And, the virus spreads exponentially, not arithmetically. This means when ten people get it, they infect ten more, who infect ten more…This is why the president was forewarned of the pandemic risk in January by US intelligence and why his misinformation and mishandling is so problematic.

Let me go further. If all people don’t wear masks, socially distance, wash hands and act with some common sense, COVID-19 will be with us much longer. I know we want to get back to normal, but managers, owners, deans, school executives, and elected officials must understand that corralling the virus cannot occur unless we all do our part. Even if a vaccine is created, a recent survey said only about 70% of Americans would take it.

This is why telling people the truth is so critical. Only then, will people follow instruction. And, sadly in the absence of truth tellers who must be supported not demeaned, conspiracy sources get listened to. As an example, measles had been eradicated in the US, until the anti-vaxxers spread their conspiracy information and now it is back.

Further, unless we have a president who tells the truth, we will not solve many problems. And, as an epidemiologist and historian said, telling the truth is mission one in dealing with a pandemic.