Our children deserve better

Two time Pulitzer Prize winner Nicholas Kristof wrote an editorial earlier this week in The New York Times called “Our children deserve better.” It is a clarion call to our nation showing the plight of kids in America.

Here are a few quotes to frame the issue:

“UNICEF says America ranks No. 37 among countries in well-being of children, and Save the Children puts the United States at No. 36. European countries dominate the top places.

American infants at last count were 76 percent more likely to die in their first year than children in other advanced countries, according to an article last year in the journal Health Affairs. We would save the lives of 20,000 American children each year if we could just achieve the same child mortality rates as the rest of the rich world.”

“Half a million American kids also suffer lead poisoning each year, and the youth suicide rate is at its highest level on record….The Census Bureau reported this week that the number of uninsured children increased by 425,000 last year.”

These are different views and sources of the threats to US children that note we have a problem. Another source I read a couple of years ago noted America has a much higher maternal mortality rate at child birth than other civilized countries, which further endangers children as well as the mothers.

Yet, these issues are not being discussed in the halls of government. We have a poverty problem in our country with too many living in or just above poverty levels. We have not expanded Medicaid in fifteen states whose numbers are worse than these national numbers per capita. We have not addressed our national water crisis which has a Flint, MI like exposure to lead in too many cities and a volume of available fresh water issue in other places. We have not invested as we should to diminish crime and provide more opportunities for jobs in disenfranchised areas. There are several pockets of success that can be emulated in more cities.

We also need to address better gun governance, especially with the number one gun death cause by far being suicide and a non-inconsequential accidental gun death rate. And, we have not dealt with the continuing and rising exposure to technology and artificial intelligence which have taken and will take even more jobs in the future. Finally, there is that climate change thing we need to deal with.

These are real problems. And, they will get worse. Data driven analysis of causes and solutions are needed. They are both multi-faceted. Investing more now, will save huge amounts later. This is not just an urban issue, it is rural one as well. The opioid crisis is rampant in these impoverished rural areas, for example.

None of the solutions will fit on a bumper sticker. And, political attempts to oversimplify issues should be questioned. Here is an easy contradiction to spot – if people believe gun deaths are a mental health issue, then why the effort to eliminate or not expand mental health benefits?

Please make your legislators aware of these issues and ask pointed questions. These questions deserve answers, not bumper sticker slogans. These concerns deserve to be talked about, studied and acted upon.

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Keep on pushing forward ladies

Disillusioned by tribal politics and a President who has reduced civil discourse to a new low and untruthfulness to a new high, it was nice to get outdoors and participate in the second Women’s March in my city. My wife and I joined some friends and over 5,000 more marchers to hear important messages about pushing women and human issues forward.

I am very encouraged by the 26,000 women who have moved ahead with running for office. We need more women in all forms of government as they are woefully underrepresented. Some of the highlights from the speeches in addition to the above are as follows:

– while the push for equality was mentioned most, I was impressed by a Muslim American woman, Rose Hamid who spoke of equity, to value our differences in perspectives and not let fear of the unknown drive wedges between us. Hamid gained notoriety for sitting quietly in a Trump campaign event, until she was escorted out.

– I was appalled to hear a statistic that I had written about a couple of years ago continues to get worse – we have an increasing rate of maternal mortality around childbirth and our global ranking on this statistic is even more negative. A key driver is the lack of healthcare insurance access and education in too many areas of the country.

– I was troubled by the increasing statistics around domestic violence. Locally, the first four homicides of the year in my city were related to domestic violence. Men and women need to help women get out of relationships where signals are apparent. And, better education for boys and girls need to occur that violence is not the answer to relationship conflict.

– I am encouraged by the unifying voices from various fabrics of our culture regarding the need to treat everyone with dignity and respect. And, we must listen to each other and glean points of view. We are listening to respond, not hear.

– I am encouraged by the recognition to act and not just talk or tweet. One speaker said the quote, which may have been made by Rosa Parks, that “even the mighty oak tree was once a nut that stood its ground.” So, don’t worry if someone is calling you a nut.

I have often written about the tough-to-read book “Half the Sky,” by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn about the plight of women and girls around the globe. The Chinese proverb is “women hold up half the sky.” Not only is it the right thing to do, but treating women with dignity, respect and equality is the economic best thing to do. Otherwise, a country or area is competing with only 1/2 of its intellectual capital.

As our country enters its 104 consecutive month of economic growth and closes out its seventh consecutive year of 2 million plus jobs added, we should celebrate our economic success, but it is not bearing fruit equitably for everyone. Our economic classes have become more disparate and women remain relatively underpaid. Plus, with significant pay disparity, women are subject to more sexual harassment to keep better paying jobs or get better work scheduling for their parental duties.

So, let’s applaud this push by women. We will all benefit with more female voices being heard and heeded. That sky is heavy without the extra half holding it up.

 

Women have made huge strides, but why are too many still being raped and harassed?

Two different stories this week frame an important issue. First, I read an article that said 15% of undergraduate women who attended the University of Texas at Austin had been raped. That is appalling.

Second, Bill O’Reilly has been re-signed under another Fox contract. This is after a story of five settlements of sexual harassment claims were unearthed by The New York Times. It should be noted the network who signed him let go Roger Ailes, the head of Fox News, for similar sexual harassment issues, but felt so badly they did not do it for “cause” and he was punished with a $38 million go-away settlement. Since O’Reilly has a following, his sexual harassment must be less relevant to the network.

These two stories come on the heels of the US Marine Corp sexual harassment scandal and the Baylor University football team rape scandal through a hostess recruiting program for players. And, we should not forget our President has admitted on at least two occasions that he sexually harassed or assaulted women because of his celebrity and power.

Women and girls are maltreated around the globe. Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn’s powerful book “Half the Sky” graphically describes sexual slavery,  trafficking, mutilation, domestic violence, rape and second class citizen treatment. But, we have sexual slavery, trafficking, domestic violence, rape and harassment here in the Western world, too. Former President Jimmy Carter wrote of this in his book “A Call to Action,” which is an excellent follow up to the Kristof/ WuDunn book.

Western women have made huge strides in gaining more opportunity, yet the level of sexual maltreatment has seemingly risen. Perhaps, it is due to more rapes and harassment being reported. Or, maybe it is  due to women being framed as sexual objects though advertising, marketing and entertainment media. Sexual harassment and rapes continue to be a huge problem for the military (even before the Marine scandal) and college campuses.

What do we do about this? We need to say very loudly this is not right. We need to  come down hard on leaders and institutions who have looked the other way. We need to vote with our feet and not attend universities who don’t have their act together.

We should not vote for politicians who have maltreated women. I am still stunned that our President was elected after more of his sexual harassment was revealed. In my view, there were several reasons not to vote for him, but how could anyone do so after the Howard Stern interview and Access Hollywood tape became public?

To lessen this maltreatment, it has to have more than women’s voices behind the effort. All of us need to stand up to people and organizations that maltreat women or look the other way. Women hold up “half the sky,” so we all benefit by treating women like we want to be treated.

 

 

A Path Appears – Women and Children need our help

Our friend Debra (see link below) has written a review of the much-needed book by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn called “Half the Sky.” This is one of the toughest reads you will ever take on as it discusses how women are maltreated around the globe. In addition to how awful it is to the women and children who are subject to this maltreatment including rape, sex slavery, genital mutilation, fistula due to births before the body is able, and domestic violence, it discusses the economic detriment to those communities. The book is based on the Chinese proverb that women hold up half the sky, so if you treat them poorly, you are devaluing your economy, competing with one arm tied behind your back in a world that will leave you behind.

https://debrabooks.wordpress.com/2015/02/16/who-cares-about-poor-women/

Kristof and WuDunn have followed up their first book with one called “A Path Appears,” which expands on these issues, but discusses how we can make a difference. We can find a path forward to help women, children and communities in need and how it will do the giver as much good as the receiver. Attached is a New York Times review which provides a review and summary of the book. I have yet to read this book, but have seen the two authors interviewed on PBS Newshour as they discuss how each of us can play a role in helping others.

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/19/books/review/a-path-appears-by-nicholas-kristof-and-sheryl-wudunn.html?_r=0

An additional book worth reading on this subject is penned by former President Jimmy Carter called “A Call to Action.” It leverages further the work of Kristof and WuDunn, but brings the arguments home to America as well as speaking to the global problem. While we are only beginning to give notoriety to sexual abuse in the US military and on our college campuses after long ignoring the problems, while we are finally highlighting the impact and prevalence of domestic violence toward women that occurs in our society, we are still largely unaware that we have a non-inconsequential sex trafficking industry within America. We have sex slaves being brought in from other countries in addition to the women stolen from within our own communities.

I have read Carter’s book as well and find his arguments and anecdotes compelling. It is also a difficult, but must read. Carter has been one of the best ex-Presidents we have ever had. He has done more good for humanitarian causes and his voice is a powerful one and full of substance. We should heed his, Kristof and WuDunn’s messages and begin to better address the maltreatment of women.

Our world needs stronger positioning of women. We see the wonderful examples with Angela Merkel, the Chancellor of Germany, Christine LaGarde, Director of the International Monetary Fund, and Helle Thorning-Schmidt, the Prime Minister of Denmark, to name only a few, but need more. When Hillary Clinton was Secretary of State, while not the first female, she was the most widely known ambassador of the US and made a huge difference to the issue of helping women.

But, we cannot wait on more women to get in power. We all need to see the wisdom of treating women and children fairly and as we would want to be treated. We all need to see that if we devalue women, we are limiting idea creation, market opportunities and good governance in our country and communities. We all need to see that treating a human being like property is not in keeping with the overarching messages of religious texts or answering well the Christian question of WWJD? What would Jesus do? He would treat women like he would want to be treated.

Dialogue by Chicago – the more things change, the more they stay the same

Robert Lamm, of the wonderful band Chicago, penned a song more than forty years ago called “Dialogue” that could still ring true today. The song resonates with me and is one of my personal favorites of the band because of its theme and musicality, but also the fact Lamm and lead singer Peter Cetera sang it as a dialogue. Two guys talking about the problems in the world. Here are the words:

Are you optimistic ’bout the way things are going?
No, I never ever think of it at all
Don’t you ever worry
When you see what’s going down?
No, I try to mind my business, that is, no business at all
When it’s time to function as a feeling human being
Will your bachelor of arts help you get by?
I hope to study further, a few more years or so
I also hope to keep a steady high
Will you try to change things
Use the power that you have, the power of a million new ideas?
What is this power you speak of and this need for things to change?

I always thought that everything was fine
Don’t you feel repression just closing in around?
No, the campus here is very, very free
Don’t it make you angry the way war is dragging on?
Well, I hope the president knows what he’s into, I don’t know
Don’t you ever see the starvation in the city where you live
All the needless hunger all the needless pain?
I haven’t been there lately, the country is so fine
But my neighbors don’t seem hungry ’cause they haven’t got the time

Thank you for the talk, you know you really eased my mind
I was troubled by the shapes of things to come
Well, if you had my outlook your feelings would be numb
You’d always think that everything was fine

We can make it happen
We can change the world now
We can save the children
We can make it better
We can make it happen
We can save the children
We can make it happen

I heard this song the other day on the radio for the first time in a long while and listened with my daughter as we drove to school. I found myself pointing out how the song is sung and called a dialogue. She thought that was cool. But, it got me thinking about the words. The problems then still exist today. The more things change, the more they stay the same. We have a national and global poverty problem. I am glad Pope Francis is bringing attention to this more.

We have a national and global problem with how we treat women and girls. Former President Jimmy Carter’s said his new book “A Call to Action” on this issue is the most important mission of his life. Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn’s book “Half the Sky” speaks to these issues as well. I would add global poverty and how we treat women are linked, as woman hold up “half the sky” per the Chinese proverb used by Kristof and WuDunn. If you treat women poorly, in addition to their maltreatment, you are impacting half of your intellectual capital and economic value as a community.

Per my blogging friend George Dowdell, through his vast experience on a mission to help the impoverished, global poverty is also directly traceable to violence and corruption. Corruption takes the money that could be used to help others and violence is the mechanism to keep control and keep others down. These two seem to go hand in hand. Hosni Mubarak of Egypt had a net worth of $81 Billion, while his constituents got by on less than $2 a day, e.g.

Throughout history, the “haves” have taken advantage of the “have-nots.” The “have-nots” do not have a voice or when they have, it has taken a huge effort over time to change the paradigm. It is only with this groundswell of effort that will help change the world. Per Margaret Mead, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

So, back to Chicago’s song “Dialogue.” Re-read the final chorus that closes the song. It is repeated as a mantra over and over again. The influence of the “haves” is huge and, in the US has been made easier with recent Supreme Court rulings. The “have-nots” need that voice. They need those committed citizens that Mead and Chicago talked about.

How do we do this? One step, one block, one community, one city at a time. Find your passions and reach out to help others. But, don’t just band-aid a problem. Look to find ways to improve people’s lots in life. Become better informed through reputable news sources. Speak out against injustice or just start asking more “why” questions of leaders and people with strident views that seem harmful. Why do you think that? Why should we do that? Write letters, write emails, make phone calls. Go to events to educate yourself on an issue. Go to protest injustice.

Many of the leaders of efforts to help did not listen to naysayers and blockers who said they could not accomplish change. There is an old line about change. Get people on the bus that will help you make change, not hinder it. We are more powerful than me. So, enlist or join your efforts with others. The operative word is “we” – “we can make it happen.” But, it starts with me.

“I’m a Man” versus “I am Woman” – an interesting distinction on song lyrics

Two songs. Two very different songs. Muddy Waters sang in his wonderfully unusual style about his manhood in “I’m a Man.”  Several years later, Helen Reddy pronounced to the world “I am Woman.” These are two very different songs with different meanings based on the difference in men and women’s psyche and self-esteem. These songs may be one reason why Sheryl Sandberg’s book “Lean In” resonates with so many. Here are excerpts from each song, the first being from Waters, the second from Reddy.

Waters sang:  I’m a man

I’m a full-grown man. Man

I’m a natural-born lovers man. Man

I’m a rollin’ stone. Man-child

I’m a hoochie coochie man.

While Reddy sang: I am woman, hear me roar. In numbers too big to ignore

And I know too much to go back an’ pretend ’cause I’ve heard it all before

And I’ve been down there on the floor. No one’s ever gonna keep me down again

Oh yes I am wise. But it’s wisdom born of pain

Yes, I’ve paid the price. But look how much I gained

If I have to, I can do anything. I am strong (strong)

I am invincible (invincible). I am woman

I recognize this comparison could be viewed as unfair, as one is singing about sexual prowess and the other is shouting to fellow women that they can do anything, so don’t let people deny you that chance. However, you don’t hear many songs with this kind of title about men which do not speak to sexual prowess. In other words, a man’s self-esteem could be viewed as too tied up in his perception of his sexual prowess. The movie with Jack Nicholson, Ann Margaret, Rita Moreno, Candace Bergen, Art Garfunkel, etc. called “Carnal Knowledge” was about this very point. When you do hear more impactful songs about men, it is usually about becoming a man due to events such as the one about “Patches” who had to grow up quickly after his father died or about men working hard in the fields or mines to feed their families. This is what being a man is about.

However, the reason for Reddy’s anthem is women, unlike men, have not received the opportunities and, in many cases, still don’t today. I am reminded to this day of three female colleagues that became prominent in their professions, who each started out as Administrative Assistants in the early 1970’s. They took the only viable job to get ahead that a man would dare not take at the time. The context of Reddy’s song is important as well, as it was at the very beginning of the women’s movement. Bella Abzug, Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem were just getting started when this song burst onto the scene. And, it should not be a surprise that it did become an anthem for the movement.

As a 55-year-old man, I have written about the concerns of many that unless a community, society or country embraces the equal rights for women, their economy will not flourish like it could. I recognize that some may flourish due to an abundance of a natural resource in their borders, but that wealth does not flow to everyone and, in some of these places, women are treated as chattel. Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn have written about this very issue in “Half the Sky.” You can access a post I wrote on this troubling book with the following link:

https://musingsofanoldfart.wordpress.com/2013/04/20/half-the-sky-turning-oppression-into-opportunity-for-women-worldwide/

Men don’t need to have songs written about “I am man, hear me roar” as opportunities have abounded. Men also have tended to have higher expectations that women also need to embrace more. That is Sandberg’s point in her book. Lean in as you deserve this chance just as much as a man does. Just today, I read an article by Catherine Rampell, an economics writer in the Washington Post, about women in college that would tend to shy away from a major where they earn their first “B” whereas male students would recover from a “C” with their esteem not as tarnished. Her point is the male student expected to succeed in the major more so than the female student who may have received a better grade.

So, let’s continue to look for opportunities for women, as well as teaching our boys what being a man really is all about. It is the same thing that applies to women – being responsible and being accountable. If we give women an equal opportunity, we are doubling our chance to succeed. These other countries need to know they are competing in a global world with at least one arm tied behind their back. As Reddy sang, the voices of women are “in numbers too big to ignore.”

You Don’t Own Me – Lesley Gore’s Anthem for Women Everywhere

Being the father of a teenage daughter, my wife and I try to raise our young lady to be self-sufficient and to not let anyone take advantage of her. Fortunately, she has a great sense of humor and can use it to diffuse people who are overbearing towards her or who may want to take advantage of a situation. With that context, recently we were watching one of those retro-look shows which focused on female singers from the 1960s. Lesley Gore had a couple of huge hits “It’s My Party” and “Judy’s Turn to Cry” which are more the standard fare for teenage girls. Yet, amid those songs, she sang “You Don’t Own Me” which is extremely powerful whose words resonate for all women.

Ironically, the song was written by two men – John Madara and David White – but when these terrific words are sung hauntingly by Gore, it becomes her song. Here are the lyrics which are very straightforward.

You don’t own me, I’m not just one of your many toys
You don’t own me, don’t say I can’t go with other boys

And don’t tell me what to do
And don’t tell me what to say
And please, when I go out with you
Don’t put me on display, ’cause

You don’t own me, don’t try to change me in any way
You don’t own me, don’t tie me down ’cause I’d never stay

Oh, I don’t tell you what to say
I don’t tell you what to do
So just let me be myself
That’s all I ask of you

I’m young and I love to be young
I’m free and I love to be free
To live my life the way I want
To say and do whatever I please

A-a-a-nd don’t tell me what to do
Oh-h-h-h don’t tell me what to say
And please, when I go out with you
Don’t put me on display

I don’t tell you what to say
Oh-h-h-h don’t tell you what to do
So just let me be myself
That’s all I ask of you

I’m young and I love to be young
I’m free and I love to be free
To live my life the way I want

Since her version needs to be heard, I have included a link to enable you to do that.

http://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=you+don+t+own+me+lyrics&mid=1A608AD222A0926A03DB1A608AD222A0926A03DB&view=detail&FORM=VIRE3

The song did resonate with many and was included in the movies “The Big Chill” and “Dirty Dancing.” Yet, it may have been heard by fewer people (than it should have) as Gore actually turned her back on stardom to go to college limiting her career and notoriety. She was born in 1946 as Lesley Sue Goldstein and sang “It’s My Party” in 1963 at the age of 16, the same age as my daughter is now. She turned down major contracts and eventually went on to Sarah Lawrence College in New York. To me, she may have been living the words to this anthem – “you don’t own me” and if I want to go to college, then that is my choice.

Having written earlier about Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn’s “Half the Sky” about the maltreatment of women around the world, this song had additional meaning. A link to this post is https://musingsofanoldfart.wordpress.com/2013/04/20/half-the-sky-turning-oppression-into-opportunity-for-women-worldwide/.  I am not naive, so I know that women who are treated like chattel in some parts of the world would be killed or severely beaten if they uttered these words.That is the purpose of “Half the Sky” to tell these stories, highlight the bravery of the local champions who have rebelled against maltreatment and collectively give women a voice to say “you don’t own me.” Or, at a very minimum, I will not tolerate you treating me this way.

Yet, even in more gender egalitarian countries, the same words could be said. In the US, there seems to be a new onslaught to limit women’s reproductive rights, forty years after this issue was supposedly resolved. Here in the US, we have had over 26,000 women (and men) who have been sexually assaulted in our military ranks just last year, but only 3,400 of these sexual assaults came to trial. And, the solution presented yesterday is only a good first step, but will not solve the problem (listen to Senator Kirsten Gillibrand folks) https://musingsofanoldfart.wordpress.com/2013/08/02/the-invisible-war-kirsten-gillibrand-has-it-right/. Here in the US, women still need the deserved opportunity to lead, be it in business or government. Here in the US, we still have insufficient protection for domestic violence victims, which is more about control and ownership. Here in the US, it should be OK to marry your Lesbian partner anywhere in the country. I could go on.

If you know this song, please relive it with me and share with others. If you don’t know it, give it a listen and, if you like it, share it as well. If you have not read “Half the Sky,” you should, but know this; it will be one of the hardest books you will ever read. If you don’t want to go down that path, at least click on the link above to my earlier post.

You don’t own me. Powerful words. Thanks Ms.Gore and Messrs. Madara and White.