Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Our Daughters Need Women’s History Month All Year Long by Melia Keeton-Digby, M.Ed

Photo by Alyscia Cunningham

Today marks the first day of Women’s History Month in the United States, United Kingdom, and Australia. The purpose of Women’s History Month is to highlight and honor the contributions of women to historical events and contemporary society. Every year at this time, school curriculums focus on a handful of well-known, front-runner women-in-history.

Unfortunately, besides this one month every year, chances are your daughter will spend a disproportionate amount of time in school studying the men who shaped their country (and the world at large). Although some respectable attempts have been made to correct this imbalance in the U.S., since the introduction of Title 9, which prohibited “sex discrimination against students and employees of educational institutions” in the 1970s, textbooks and classroom lessons today still fall short of a complete and equally represented history. Dr. Myra Pollack Sadker pioneered much of the research documenting gender bias in American schools. In her book, Failing at Fairness: How America’s Schools Cheat Girls, Sadker shares that a history text for sixth graders, published in 1992, only mentioned eleven female names! Sadker and colleagues conducted a research experiment in which people were asked to list famous women from history, the only limitation being that they could not name entertainers or president’s wives. How do you think people did? How would your daughter do? Too often, the lists only contained a few names or none at all.

Why does this matter?

Dr. Alan Ravitz, a prominent child and adolescent psychiatrist at the Child Mind Institute in New York City, explains that, “as kids individualize themselves from their parents, which is a natural part of development and growing up, they try to establish psychological and emotional independence. No matter the culture, they need somebody to look to, aside from their parents, for guidance and a model for becoming an adult.” Considering the lack of women’s history and real-life role models offered in our school curriculums, to whom are our daughters turning to meet their developmental (and universal) need for role models? Culture icons and the influence of advertising are not sufficient substitutes. Young girls wearing Taylor Swift or Miley Cyrus t-shirts, engrossed in the latest YouTube videos, need role models with a more lasting and positive impact. Sure, we did it as children too – Madonna and Kylie Minogue graced many of our childhood bedroom walls - but what exactly did these teen idols offer us and what are they offering our daughters? Celebrity worship and an obsession with teen idols can result in lost self-esteem in children, and this loss of self-esteem can lead to poor family relationships, poor body image, and even eating disorders. Dr. Lin Fang, assistant professor in the faculty of social work at the University of Toronto cautions parents of adolescent girls against the common, but not actually harmless, idolization of pop stars:

“Research shows that girls who strongly idolize celebrities tend to buy into other aspects of commercial culture and may become overly materialistic. The pressure coming from celebrities with perfect bodies may lead to an unrealistic body image and possibly nurture eating disorders, which can consume a child’s life.”

By sharing herstory with our daughters– by imparting knowledge of our past, from a feminist perspective, and emphasizing the role of women told from a woman’s point of view – we can leverage the innate desire for role models and provide our daughters with an abundance of strong, healthy women with whom she can choose to identify and emulate. When introduced in the right way, women such as Joan of Arc and Ruby Bridges can truly meet a girls’ developmental need for role models.

Women’s History Month is indeed a step in the right direction, but our daughters deserve (and need) more than one month a year. Herstory is ours to tell and we are the ones we have been waiting for.

For inspiration and guidance on sharing women’s history with your daughter all year long, check out Melia Keeton-Digby’s revolutionary new book: The Heroines Club: A Mother-Daughter Empowerment Circle, coming April 22, 2016 from Womancraft Publishing.

Melia Keeton-Digby, M.Ed, is the founder of The Mother-Daughter Nest, a sacred women’s gathering space in Georgia, USA. She is passionately invested in supporting mothers to raise confident, connected daughters. A mother of three, she works as a Speech-Language Pathologist, Transformational Life Coach and Sacred Circle Facilitator. Her work has been featured in a variety of online and print publications, and she is the author of the groundbreaking book, The Heroines Club: a mother-daughter empowerment circle (April 2016, Womancraft Publishing).

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Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Batay Ouvriye (of Haiti) on International Working Women’s Day

"Most workers in the world don’t know the date of March 8th is of the greatest importance for them. And many of those who do know it don’t realize what the date really represented in history. For us, conscious workers, for whom the struggle is our daily life, it is absolutely necessary we know our true history, the various battles waged by our class and the lessons we should draw from them.

First of all, since many workers in Haiti and throughout the world, especially in the maquilas and free trade zones, work in the textile industry, we should know that the mobilizations held on March 8th, 1908, were carried out precisely by textile industry workers. Despite this, presently, most workers in this branch know nothing of this part of our history.

In 1975, the United Nations proclaimed March 8th “International Women’s Day.” Once more, this was a recuperation of the international ruling classes to distort the real significance of our battles. In this way, they have attempted to wipe out the collective memory of the real working-class mobilization that occurred on this date, turning it into a wide-ranging, limited celebration completely void of class content, in which all women partake, including totally anti-worker and reactionary bourgeois women. In this way, the nature and logic of our battles are obliterated. Our own history is robbed from us.

What was March 8th?

March 8th is a historic date! Doubly so. First of all, on March 8th, 1857, a large number of factory workers in the United States took to the streets to demand their economic and political rights. The owners called the police who arrived immediately and opened fire, engaging in blind repression. Later on, in 1908, the same date of March 8th was once again a memorable date of struggle. On this day, capitalist bosses in Chicago set fire to a textile factory where over a thousand women worked. A very large number was terribly burnt. 120 died! This heinous crime happened simply because the workers were demanding that the legal 8-hour work day be respected, as well as substantial ameliorations of their work conditions since they were working in a hellish environment in which their very dignity was constantly and totally denied. In this factory, however, the workers refused to cower. They fought daily. And having reached a certain level of organization, they held protests, work stoppages and strikes… On this day of March 8th, 1908, instead of obeying the law and satisfying the workers’ legal and legitimate demands, the factory owners decided to bar in this way what they called “the rising disorder”.

Solidarity Mobilization and the “Commemoration”

An enormous national and worldwide solidarity campaign was launched, denouncing the workers’ situation. Work stoppages, strikes and even factory occupations were held throughout the world to protest against this practice that revealed so crudely how capitalism has no consideration for human life when its economic interests are on the line. The campaign didn’t succeed in really dealing with the capitalists responsible for this organized crime that happened on March 8th. But combatants in the entire world registered this date as highly significant of this factory’s working women’s immense courage; and, for all, this eternal flame glows in our hearts. Several years later, in Germany, Clara Zetkin, a great combatant and revolutionary, suggested setting this precise date of March 8th as international day of the WORKING WOMAN, given its double significance for working-class struggles. But, with the ebb of our class’ struggles during the second part of the 20th century, March 8th began to lose its true meaning and, progressively, mainly due to petty-bourgeois deviationists, it was changed into “women’s day”, in which much talk goes on concerning feminism and where, instead of consolidating working-class unity by calling men and women workers together in the struggle – just as, precisely, occurred during these historical March 8ths –, we’re called to fight one another. The field thus prepared, in 1975, the UN easily resumed March 8th as “International Women’s Day”.

To Understand and Draw Lessons

It’s important to point out that one of the reasons for this deviation is the partial abandonment of working-class memory by members of this very class and, at the same time, the taking in hand of such an important theme as that of women by agents of other classes. Indeed, the specific theme of women, concerning the contradictions that may exist – and do exist – in the relations between men and women of the working-class, is of great importance. But it should always be resolved within our own class. First, because there exist here specificities that ar totally our own; secondly, because once regrouped, only within our class can we find a true and complete solidarity. Finally, and above all, because we can’t and shouldn’t, under any conditions, consent to class collaboration under any circumstances, since these options will always lead us to lose our own independence, which is the most important for our class’ emancipation, a key element for that of the entire humanity.

It is no coincidence that our struggles, of the working-class, gave rise to the date of March 8th. All battles for the peoples’ emancipation, for the emancipation of humanity, emerge from the class interests of the working-class. This is also true of the struggle for women’s rights. The working-class’ liberation, in its true, wider, sense, will have to be a total liberation. Otherwise, it won’t exist. The emancipation of the working-class is the only one that demands, indeed commands, concurrently, the emancipation of women. Since this theme affects them too, many middle-class and even liberal bourgeois women have engaged in gender struggles and, deliberately – since they have several objectives and never forget what’s most important – combine all women as having the same nature, mystifying us and, especially, taking the lead of initiatives. They completely detach March 8th from its first and basic meaning as a class battle where working-class women headed the struggles with hope and courage. They obscure all but gender considerations, thus twisting this date so profoundly belonging to us, when in practice, precisely the practice of struggle, we, men and women, had united together.

At present, during March 8th celebrations, women denounce the abuses they endure in patriarchal society. These problems are real and these denunciations have great importance. We can say that they contribute to the resolving of real, significant, human problems that we, as women workers and women of the peoples’ camp suffer in our flesh as well. But never, either, will we forget that during this March 8th, we faced the bosses – and their women! As always. We bear in mind the exploitation that we, women workers, suffer in the factory-prisons, the humiliations owners and managers submit us to on a daily basis, the constant and casual sexual harassment. This capitalist domination that feeds off our dehumanization, treading our human dignity, reminds us, that just like on this historical date of March 8th, capitalism is built over our corpses. And that, always, each time our deep, economic class interests are concerned, when even death may come into question, we’ll clearly and surely find ourselves standing across from these bourgeois women organized with us in the gender struggle. The only permanent and fruitful unity for us is within our own class, in alliance with the entire people – brothers, friends, comrades. Here and only here can we resolve our problems."

Read the full post via Batay Ouvriye

News: batayouvriye.wordpress.com/
Batay Ouvriye (Workers Fight) is an autonomous workers’ organization—not run by establishment unions, NGOs, students, or other outside groups, but by workers. In 1995 it launched a struggle against Disney contractors who were paying workers 30 cents an hour to stitch together Pocahontas t-shirts. It has branches in most geographical areas of Haiti, organizing garment workers in assembly factories of the Free Trade Zones, agricultural laborers, unemployed workers, and others.
Batay Ouvriye also organizes amongst other sections of the popular masses, such as small peasants, and builds alliance with other organizations. They fight for better conditions, livable wages, and for an end to occupation by UN military forces.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Year Of The Woman

"In the fall of 1973, a documentary following women’s rights proponents at the 1972 Democratic Convention played at a small Greenwich Village theater to crowds wrapping around the block. But after a limited run, the film disappeared for more than 40 years. Now, thanks to Huffington Post reporter Rebecca Traister, this doc that the Washington Post deemed “too radical, too weird and too far ahead of its time for any distributor to touch” has finally resurfaced.

The Year of the Woman was shot by an all-female crew including Barbara Koppel, Claudia Weill, Martha Coolidge and more, and captures the likes of Coretta Scott King, Shirley MacClaine, and other well-known feminist leaders of the 70s. Together, these talented and ambitious young women provide us with an extraordinary lens through which we may examine this upcoming election when a woman, rather than seeking leverage from male candidates, may actually *be* the candidate."
Watch the film now, only on Vimeo On Demand, then read more about its incarnation and miraculous comeback; highline.huffingtonpost.com/articles/en/lets-go-full-crocodile-ladies/

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Coretta Scott King (1927-2006): We See You, We Hear You by Melia Keeton-Digby, M.Ed

Here in the United States, we are about to celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. In honor of this sacred day honoring this extraordinary man, I’d like to re-introduce you to a woman you may think you already know: Ms. Coretta Scott King.

For many of us, when we hear the name Coretta Scott King, we think: Martin Luther King Jr.’s wife and widow… and the story stop there. But there is so much more to the story of this beloved, powerful-in-her-own-right woman!

Coretta was born in 1927 in Marion, Alabama, a town drenched in racism and segregation at the time. Her grandparents were former slaves, and her own parents had not been allowed to receive a formal education. For this reason, her parents were adamant that their children be educated. Coretta once quoted her mother as saying, “My children are going to college, even if it means I only have one dress to put on.” Every day, Coretta and her three siblings were bused miles from their home, passing excellent schools, to attend the closest one room black high school. After school, Coretta worked on her family’s farm picking cotton to help earn money for her family. As a child, her family’s lumber mill (and primary source of income) was burned down by white neighbors. Coretta knew hardship and injustice firsthand, but thanks to her mother and the strong ties she developed within the local black church, she grew into a strong, confident woman who believed in a better future for herself and the world.

Upon graduating as valedictorian, Coretta joined her older sister, Edythe, at Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio. Edythe had been the first African American student to attend Antioch, paving the way for her little sister to join. In college, Coretta became active in the nascent Civil Rights Movement and joined the Antioch chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. She forged her own legacy of peace, tolerance, and understanding, and held freedom concerts to raise money for the Civil Rights Movement. (She did all of this before she had even met Martin Luther King, Jr.!) Later, she won a scholarship to the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, so she transferred out of Antioch to study singing in Boston, which is where she met her beloved husband.

After much courting, Coretta fell in love with and decided to marry Martin, but she remained a woman unto herself. She even had the vow to obey her husband removed from the ceremony, which was very unusual at the time.

The newlywed couple moved to Montgomery, Alabama in 1954, when Martin accepted an invitation to be the pastor of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church. Before long, they found themselves in the middle of the Montgomery Bus Boycott, and Martin was elected leader of the protest movement. Coretta and Martin believed in nonviolent protests as a way of expression consistent with the teachings to which they adhered. During the movement, Coretta, a gifted musician who loved to sing, used her gifts and abilities to enthuse crowds, inspire change, and tell the stories that needed to be told. While raising four children, Coretta made speeches and performed more than thirty fundraising concerts for the cause. She assisted her husband from the earliest days of his involvement in the Civil Rights Movement- marching next to him, leading marchers in song, and coordinating supplies and events.

A terrible tragedy occurred on April 4th, 1968. The beloved and wise Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated by an evil, racist man. How did Coretta respond to this personal and social tragedy? Did she crawl into her cave of grief and step away from the cause that had meant so much to her and her husband? Not at all. Instead, Coretta took her husband’s place at the helm of the Civil Rights movement. Four days after his death, rather than canceling the march that had already been planned, Ms. King herself led the march. As her involvement in Civil Rights deepened, she extended her focus to include Women’s rights, as well as the rights of LGBT people, for Coretta believed that “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

Later that same year, Ms. King established the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change as a living memorial to her husband and his (their) belief in attaining social justice through nonviolence. Today, the King Center continues to allocate millions of dollars in resources and trains thousands of volunteers each year to promote racial harmony and social justice in their communities. We have Coretta to thank for this.

Do you know why Martin Luther King, Jr. day is observed every January as a federal holiday? Because Coretta Scott King lobbied for fourteen (yes- fourteen- how’s that for not giving up on what you believe in!) years to have this date recognized. She finally succeeded when President Regan signed the 1983 bill establishing Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day as a federal holiday. It was Coretta who tirelessly strived to preserve her husband’s legacy.

One of the most influential African-American leaders of her time, Ms. King received honorary doctorates from over 60 colleges and universities; authored three books and a nationally-syndicated newspaper column; and served on and helped found dozens of organizations, including the Black Leadership Forum, the National Black Coalition for Voter Participation, and the Black Leadership Roundtable.

During her lifetime, Mrs. King dialogued with heads of state, including prime ministers and presidents, as well as participating in protests alongside rank and file working people of all races. She met with many great spiritual leaders, including Pope John Paul, the Dalai Lama, Dorothy Day, and Bishop Desmond Tutu. She witnessed the historic handshake between Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Chairman Yassir Arafat at the signing of the Middle East Peace Accords. She stood with Nelson Mandela in Johannesburg when he became South Africa’s first democratically-elected president. A woman of wisdom, compassion and vision, Coretta Scott King tried to make ours a better world and, in the process, made history.

Coretta Scott King was one of the most influential women leaders in our world, but not unlike many heroines, her place in history has been over-shadowed. As we honor the great Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. this month, may we also recognize his right-hand woman for her contributions, both to Dr. King’s work as he lived, to his legacy after he died, and to her own important work for social justice.
As women and girls rewriting herstory, let us say loud and clear:

We see you. We hear you. Our Sister, Coretta. Thank you for your supreme contributions to making our world a better place.

Author Melia Keeton-Digby, M.Ed, is the founder of The Mother-Daughter Nest, a sacred women’s gathering space in Georgia, USA. She is passionately invested in supporting mothers to raise confident, connected daughters. A mother of three, she works as a Speech-Language Pathologist, Transformational Life Coach and Sacred Circle Facilitator. Her work has been featured in a variety of online and print publications. Her upcoming book, The Heroines Club: A Mother-Daughter Empowerment Circle will be released April 2016.

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