To the World-Changers

I can think of no better way to celebrate Christmas than to raise a toast to the change-makers. While I in no way compare myself to Jesus Christ, I do look to his example for how to make the world a better place. In his teachings, justice and compassion are the same thing. For me, that is both a vexing paradox and a infinite source of inspiration.

There is a tendency among advocates to become a bit self-righteous. We see all this injustice, and we recognize that the path of least resistance ends in greater suffering by the powerless. We have to call attention to these violations without giving in to the idea that we live in a black-and-white world of pure guilt and innocence. It is never that simple, even in the case I wrote about on Saturday. It appears that the plaintiff legitimately wanted to save his marriage. We can sympathize with his struggle while still recognizing that this ruling is wrong.

This morning, a friend of mine who is traveling through Asia asked for advice on dealing with men there, who misinterpret her warm personality as a sign that she wants to have sex. Having been molested on a massage table in China and stalked by a Middle Eastern man in the U.S., I struggled to advise her. Should she smile and risk violation or stuff her personality and perpetuate their misconceptions? Continue reading

It Gets Better For Us, Too

When I sat down to write something last night about the rape in New Delhi, I didn’t want to. When I finally started writing, what came out is not what I eventually posted, but a very sad reflection on how the feminists I mocked in college were proving to be right about so many things. When I began seriously to track women’s rights in the media and society, I came rapidly to the conclusion that the problems affecting me were just the tip of an iceberg, far too much of which was invisible. I think it’s important to call attention to those issues, but others are doing that quite well. The Women Under Siege project is just one of many to focus necessary attention on issues surrounding rape. Plenty of feminist blogs with a clear political agenda are offering insightful commentary on the problems in our society. That, however, is not what I set out to do.

I am here to advocate, to make us think, but most importantly, to inspire you. As I am interviewing many women on the front lines of public policy careers, I am encouraged by their stories of perseverance in the face of hardship. Determined to “have it all” – to contribute professionally toward making the world a better place and raise children who do the same – they have blazed trails in so many new areas. They are proof that no matter how difficult the circumstances, we can make the world a better place. I plan to collect these interviews in book format, but in the meantime, I want to find a way to share more of them with you. 

I leave you for the weekend with the testimony of one such woman: Shabana Basij-Rasikh, a young woman who had the opportunity to study in the United States thanks to a Congressionally-funded, Department of State-operated program called Youth Exchange and Study, which for several years sent talented Afghan youth to live with host families in the United States. They came back profoundly changed and are making profound change in Afghan society. If they can do it, well, so can we.

I hope that this holiday finds you all free from suffering. While I am not suggesting we turn a blind eye to the obstacles, I hope that we will all learn how to steer around it, to press on, and, when possible, to break a path so that others can follow. No matter how bad things are, we can always make a difference.

Newtown, India

[My response] was anger. It was anger at what our society has become. It was anger at what kind of monsters we are actually raising in our society. […] What is extremely shocking is how a human being can do this to another person. That was in fact my first, initial reaction. And then we started thinking about where are we going wrong, from a social and a legal point of view? And why are incidents like this repeating again and again?

That’s Prabhsahay Kaur, Delhi-based rights lawyer, talking about the brutal gang rape of a 23-year-old woman earlier this week, on CBC’s As It Happens (the first in this podcast). But it didn’t have to be about what happened in New Delhi. It could have been about what happened in Newtown. Continue reading

Keepin’ It Classified

[The] next time a cabinet official sleeps around, he’d better make sure his mistress keeps the affair offline.

— Spencer Ackerman, at, naming Paula Broadwell one of “The 15 Most Dangerous People in the World”

Classy, Spencer, classy – especially when just one paragraph before, you’ve noted that the General was a willing participant in the cyber portion of this affair, if not its driver. (And please, would all the women who’ve been hit on by Petraeus over the years please stand up? I know you’re out there, but I can’t do it for you.) That’s without even mentioning that we still aren’t clear how she got the information in the first place. In the actually existing world of security clearances, you get a violation not for reading stuff you shouldn’t, but for letting others have access to information they don’t need to know.

In Ackerman’s defense, he’s less lenient toward another officer: Brigadier General Jeffrey Sinclair, who stands accused of rape. However, that case is unsettling for additional reasons. Continue reading

The Trouble with Football

“NFL Coach Blames Hormones for Poor Judgment.” That’s the headine I would have given this article about ill use of a fake punt during yesterday’s Seattle Seahawks-Buffalo Bills blowout. Not that you’ll read it at that link; head coach Pete Carroll’s shifting of the blame to “hormonal moments” was scrubbed from the online version.*

It’s amazing to hear men blaming their own bodies for self-sabotage, when that argument has so often been used to dismiss women as serious candidates for positions of leadership. But at the center of it is an excuse worth examining: Aggression – testosterone, if you will – is what we celebrate. As the harrowing story of a rape by Ohio football players explodes in the national media, it’s a good time to look at the culture of impunity that surrounds male athletes and to ask a possibly unpatriotic question: Why football? Continue reading

I Can’t Take It Anymore, 12.14.2012, vol. 2

Ambassador Susan Rice giving up the fight: obviously big news for me. I am not trying to comment on all of it. These people do a better job than I could, and they’re getting paid:

* the Daily Kos offers a roundup

* Huffington Post has a slideshow

* Slate says not to give up

* Even Geraldo is annoyed

And me? I just think we need more women around in the first place. In the media, in politics, and waiting in the dugout for their turn at bat. The only other candidates for Secretary of State are men. There is absolutely no reason why we cannot nurture more women as leaders – there are plenty of critical jobs at the top, and clearly, not enough true competition to fill them.

Feminist? Humanist.

Yesterday marked International Human Rights Day and the end of the global 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence campaign. It seems like as good a time as any to clarify what I mean when I agree with Secretary Clinton that, “Women’s rights are human rights.”

Much has been made in the bottomless world of Internet feminism of the fact that certain megastars refuse to label themselves “feminist.” Having recently been immersed in the world of the American suburbs, I can understand feminist disappointment. Stereotypes I thought were long gone, i.e. “It is only natural that men should be doctors, and women nurses,” or, “If a man cheats, it’s his wife’s fault,” are alive and well. In this context, it is hard not to be angry that any woman in power would fail to stand up for other women.

But I find their position easier to understand when I step back and ask what they think that word means. Continue reading

A Kindler, Gentler Philosophy of Marriage

I love this TED talk by Alain de Botton so much that I think I have linked to it previously. When I heard it, I was thinking about how I define success in my professional life. It only just occurred to me that the advice he gives about defining career success can help calm our romantic nerves as well.

De Botton’s analysis of career anxiety applies equally to men and women in my generation, for which I am grateful. However, women – far more so than men – are judged publicly by the size or absence of a stone on our left ring fingers. Many of us want to marry and have children. But I think it is fair to say that “marriage,” like “success,” may mean something different to us than it does to those who judge us. Continue reading