Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Judith Jones

'Tis the season to eat a lot so this year I frequented many holiday gatherings.  At one party, my roommate and I were admiring the different dishes on the table and one plate in particular that was empty.  I was telling Kelly how good the empty dish had been, when its creator happened to come by.  To make conversation by being hilariously self deprecating, Kelly jokingly asked her what it is like to be able to cook food that others actually want to eat.  We were told not to worry; once we had husbands and countless wedding showers, we would have the tools AND the reason to cook well!  Now, I'm sure this was well intentioned advice, however, are you serious?  Firstly, we cook well.  Secondly, we already have a very good reason to cook well, OURSELVES!

Cooking for friends is a great reason to make food as well.
This of course ignited a million questions and thoughts.  Are we to believe even eating is better while married?  Singles cannot create and enjoy beautiful food alone?  Is this something reserved only for our paired off peers?  Women only have reason to cook when a man is around? Why do we wait around for bridal showers to get suitable kitchen tools?

Millions of Cookbooks
Certainly this can't be true but if you check out the cookbook aisle at your local bookstore or library, or scroll through the countless food blogs on Pinterest, you will see most recipes are meant to feed more than one.  Grocery stores offer better deals in bulk and the price of a good set of knives these days requires multiple incomes.

Judith and Julia 
Leave it to CBS Sunday Morning (favorite show!) to provide the antidote to this sickening societal fail.  After they profiled her and her new book, The Pleasure of Cooking for One, I knew I wanted to know more about Judith Jones.

Working as an editor for most of her life, Judith is responsible for rescuing The Diary of Anne Frank from the reject pile and turning Julia Child into a household name.  Her new cookbook was inspired by life since her husband, Evan, passed away in 1996.
Evan and Judith
While married, Judith and Evan worked together to publish some of the greatest names in the culinary world.  They also co-wrote several cookbooks and enjoyed a life filled with fine dining, cooking, and traveling.  After he died, she felt that she would also lose her vibrant culinary life.  Cooking alone could not be as enjoyable.

This is what makes her new book so amazing.  It's basically a manifesto for the single cook.  She proves that you should live out what you love regardless of who you have (or don't have) to share it with.  This is not only a book for women or those who have found themselves single after years of having a partner.  She is simply writing about the joy of cooking for yourself.  She describes the tools you need, how to make the most of the food you buy, and how to prepare new meals from leftovers.  Most importantly, Judith takes the memories she has from life with her husband as inspiration for life with herself.

I'm sure there are many other cookbooks for the single chef, but this is more than that.  It's a reminder that no matter your age, gender, or relationship status, you are entitled to live life to the fullest extent.  Judith is 85 and after having an immensely successful career she is still reinventing her work.  Those who are unafraid of evolving and moving forward end up with the most beautiful lives.

Jones with the cows she raises at Bryn Teg Farms

Friday, December 18, 2009

Katharine Dexter McCormick

Like many other Americans, I have been thinking way too much about how hopeless the health care situation has become.  After this week's Joe Lieberman shit storm obliterated any type of true reform from the REFORM bill, my hope balloon was officially deflated.

I do, however, like to remind myself that what happens on the front page usually isn't the full story and that reform and progress continue behind the iron curtain that is the main stream media. 

Luckily, there are plenty of women who have led the way to great societal achievements without the help of being front and center. 

Katharine Dexter McCormick transformed life as we know it for basically the entire planet.  Yet she isn't a household name and most certainly doesn't have her head carved into the side of a mountain in South Dakota.  (I hate Mt. Rushmore.)


Ms. McCormick was born to a wealthy family and grew up in Boston.  She was educated in Massachusetts, Chicago, and Europe.  This education, while extensive, was geared towards the arts and subjects suited for proper "female minds" and did not fully prepare her for her dream school, MIT.  She had to first enroll in the institute as a special student to catch up and eventually became a regular student completing her degree in Biology in 1904.  After finishing school she married Stanley McCormick whose father had invented the reaper and, because of this, was extremely well off.  After two years of marriage, Stanley was diagnosed with schizophrenia and sent to live in California.  Under the advice of a doctor, Katharine was kept away from Stanley and did not see her husband for two decades.
Katharine at work in a lab.

Left without a husband, she became a major player in the suffrage movement.  She spoke to thousands in Massachusetts, raising support for the cause.  After winning the right to vote, she acknowledged the men and women who had opposed the 19th amendment and called all suffragists to forget them and their deceitful anti-suffrage tactics because "Victors can afford to be generous."  Wouldn't the world be better if we had taken this advice after the '08 election?  Maybe Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck, and the other crazies would have faded away by now.  I know, I know...too idealistic.

While tirelessly advocating for women's rights, she was also working with scientists to figure out a true cure for her husband's illness.  This is a key part of what makes her such a revolutionary.  Medicine, up until the first half of the 20th century, was still very primitive.  No major gains had been made as far as cures were concerned.  Most treatment consisted of alleviating the ailment as much as possible but really couldn't guarantee a full recovery.  Treating mental illness was even more behind and Stanley's family believed that the best thing for him was psychoanalysis.  Katharine's hope for real medicinal correction was an unheard of idea that was completely ahead of her time.  The McCormick family did not want her using all of her husbands money for medical research and charity so there, of course, was a long court battle that she ultimately lost.  Upon Stanley's death in 1947 however, she became the sole benefactor of his estate, allowing her to do with the money as she wished.

Back in the early 1900's she became interested in the cause of birth control.  She befriended Margaret Sanger, a women who was a major birth control advocate, and started to support her as best she could.  This was a time where you could be jailed for such work and smuggling illegal contraception into the country was completely forbidden.  However, she did what she could regardless of the consequences.  Once she was in control of her wealth, she was able to begin to contribute funds to researching an oral contraceptive.  It was this direct involvement that lead to the first birth control pill that was released in 1960.  And it goes without saying what that has done for the world at large. 

McCormick left her massive wealth entirely to MIT when she passed away and by doing so solidified women's education at the institute.  This in turn lead to a ripple effect throughout the higher ed world, opening numerous doors to women in the fields of science and technology. 

Katharine lead a life bursting with accomplishment for the greater good.  Most of what she did was for the betterment of others.  Imagine if the "Real Housewives" knew about her and aspired to serve others as she did.  Or any of our modern day socialites for that matter. 

The recognition of her accomplishments is incredibly minimal but she does give me hope.  I have to believe that there are people out there solving the problems of our generation in a selfless and real way.  It helps me cope with the ever present ignorance of the incompetent blowhards the media constantly high lights. 
Suffrage days (McCormick on the left)

Monday, December 7, 2009

Carol Leifer

Funny women.

There are a lot of them.

Just like there are a lot of funny men.
It seems however, that the popular opinion, cleaved from the reality of those who star in sit-coms, movies, and late night, is that men are funnier. Not only are they funnier, they seem to not be able to be entertained by the feeble jokes of the "lesser" sex. "How could a man laugh at what a woman has to say?" is at home in the same vein as "How could a man follow a woman in ANYTHING?"

My contempt for this mentality is assuaged by the numerous women who make me laugh and think on a daily basis. There are actually so many women succeeding at comedy right now it's hard to choose one to highlight. One specific woman who has changed the comedy world/world by making it fresher and more interesting is Carol Leifer. If you haven't heard of her by name, you certainly know of her work. She joined the writing staff of Seinfeld in its 5th season and created some of its most memorable episodes. She is also the muse that inspired Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld's creation of "Elaine".

Leifer began her stand-up career in the late 70's and performed with a lot of soon to be big names. She was close friends with Paul Reiser, Seinfeld, and David. She also is revered by David Letterman and Jay Leno appearing on both the Tonight Show and Late Night. She has written for shows such as Saturday Night Live and The Larry Sanders Show. Just this summer, she released her book When You Lie About Your Age, the Terrorists Win, speaking about her coming out after the age of 40, her life with her partner of 12 years, Lori Wolf, and the adoption of their son Bruno.

She is definitely a pioneer not only for female comedians but for comedy in general. She began her career in a time where the art of stand up was being fine tuned and was beginning to be taken more seriously by the entertainment industry. She is actually really inspiring because she never says that it was harder to be a female comic, in fact she says that she felt like it was an advantage since there weren't that many women out there attempting it. I think this is an interesting point of view because I feel like its so overwhelming to think about being the first to attempt something. It's fair to say that since we don't have a lot of examples of other women going before us, proving that something can be done, we feel bogged down or like all the odds are stacked against us. Sure, that may be one part of the reality, but to look at it the way Leifer does is liberating. She sees her gender as a benefit, not a hindrance.

The thing that Seinfeld did was make the ordinary hilarious and really put the way our society works in this new light. I really don't think we would have shows like The Office or 30 Rock if the Seinfeld team hadn't paved the way. While most of the credit goes to front men Seinfeld and David, they will be the first to say that Leifer played just as large a role in establishing their brand of comedy. Elaine has to be considered one of the first female characters who was more than a romantic conquest for any sit-com. She was an equal in all situations the Seinfeld foursome experienced. She was a new female figure in an arena that usually only had room for silly wives, boring, irrational mothers, and old "ball n' chains". Had the producers of the show not been so inspired and led by Leifer, I don't think we would have had this outcome. Just watch the pilot episode. The female characters are props, like most shows of their day, and Seinfeld says it was clear that they didn't know how to write about a fictional woman until they started thinking about the real women in their lives. Elaine's character makes the show more complete in its representation of reality as comedy. This is one show that I like to watch with the commentary on because as they review the work that they did, they can now see how many social waves they were making. Talking about abortion, masturbation, birth control, etc., in prime time was basically unheard of. Weaving these topics into the everyday lives of relatable characters was definitely unheard of. This is the power behind Seinfeld and based on what the show's creators say about her, Leifer was a driving force within that power.

Successful comedians captivate us not only because of their performance skills but because of their ability to believe in the value of their world views. This takes a measurable amount of security in one's self and a sort of "Fuck you" mentality to any negativity generated by critics and the audiences they perform for. Carol Leifer knew she wanted to be a comedian and didn't wait around for someone to tell her or show her that that was an OK aspiration for a little girl. She just listened to herself and went out there and did her thing. Now it's a lot easier for other little girls to hope to one day make the same life for themselves. Maybe one day, they will inspire a man here or there as well!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Ayaan Hirsi Ali

In my Denver days, I did a lot of reading. One of the books that I came across while wandering through the public library was "Infidel". I had a little familiarity with the book's author because I read a little blip about her when she was mentioned in TIME. After I read the book, I became completely impressed by her. I get into these phases, especially after I finish a good book, where I become totally immersed in the subject matter. This was definitely one of those times for me.

Ayaan is the example of feminism in action. She is beyond courageous and faces very real threats to her life. So much so, she is now exiled to the United States. This however, does not deter her from her mission; to fight for the rights of females everywhere.

Born in Somalia to a Muslim family, Ali faced many challenges. The survivor of genital mutilation (an experience described in horrific detail), forced marriage, abusive surroundings, moving from country to country, the general insecurity of Somalia, and escape to the Netherlands, she has a first hand experience of the life of a Muslim female.  It is her personal experience and doesn't represent all Islamic women, but I can understand why she feels a strong need to speak out for the rights of others who could face the same types of abuses.  The early years of her life where engulfed in uncertainty and instability orchestrated by a system that gave her no voice.   

After gaining asylum in Holland, she began working odd jobs, earned her BA and MA, and eventually a seat on the Dutch Parliament. She also speaks 6 languages.

Her education and position in Dutch society has given her a platform to voice her ideals that oppose the Islamic community. This has caused great danger to her and those around her. Hirsi Ali, along with Theo Van Gogh, created the film Submission, an artistic criticism of the treatment of Muslim women. The film outraged many Muslims and created violent reactions. As a result, Van Gogh was murdered on the street in 2004 and had a death threat to Ayaan stabbed to his chest. After this, the Dutch government ordered secret service protection for her, eventually leading to her move to the United States. (The picture below is a photo from Submission.)

Even with the high stakes against her life and the fury of her critics, Ayaan stands firm in her beliefs. Her organization, The AHA Foundation, is dedicated to working towards the rights of all women. They are outspoken against the Islamic world, circumcision towards females and males, and are working towards keeping church and state separate in all governments. Read more about her foundation here... http://www.theahafoundation.org/index.php.

Ayaan is just so remarkable in her resolve. Even though attempts on her life have not succeeded, she has certainly given all of her being to working towards a better existence for women. Proof that the fight is still very much unfinished in most of our world.

While I admire her so much I do have to admit she has caused some dilemma in my mentality towards the idea of freedom of religion and separation of church and state. How can it be OK for Muslim men in the UK to have their polygamist practices protected? Well, essentially, if they are free to worship how they choose, and polygamy is a part of that, then it should be protected under freedom of religion. Clearly, that doesn't take into consideration the women in the dual marriages, but it is a point that many who oppose Hirsi Ali argue. I also feel conflicted by the idea that Ayaan's beliefs are influenced by her personal experiences, which may not be the experiences of all Muslim women. I trust the work that she is doing, however, and believe she is working for a better world for all women.

Hopefully, I will someday be able to hear her speak, but until then, I plan on keeping myself informed through her foundation and continuing to read her books.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Susan Perryman

Whatever your personal feelings are towards traditional marriage, I haven't met too many people who can't help but watch the addicting TLC show "Say Yes to the Dress".

Most of it is cringe worthy.

Brides who want to look like "Barbie".

Brides who repeat the phrase that they "can't make a decision without him." (the fiance)

Brides who spend ridiculous amounts of their parents earnings to have the "Dream Dress".

All that aside, its a pretty fabulous show. And to the credit of its producers, it presents a range of different types of people. As much as they possibly can anyways, given the limits of Kleinfeld's typical clientele.

There was a lesbian couple,

a woman who wanted to wear as much pink as possible,

and then Susan Perryman.

I don't know much about Susan. Anything at all really. But in her 15 minutes of spotlight on SYTTD, she inspired me more than anyone else in the entire series and made me think more about what it takes to be an individual than what it takes to be a bride. Which selfishly, makes me feel better about watching the show. :)

Susan is from the south, marrying the love of her life (most are), and from a traditional, conservative family that LOVES and HONORS its traditions. Her great-grandmother purchased a dress in the 60's that has been worn by 6 other relatives, including Susan's mother and sister. It is expected that when you get married, you will wear the long, satin, boat neck gown that has gone down the aisle many times before.

Susan has decided against this pre-set destiny. She is getting married in Mexico, on the beach, and doesn't want all that fabric. AND she wants to look and feel sexy. As her episode goes through the normal motions, Randy (the style guru of the store), nonchalantly verbalizes this feeling much to the dismay of her mother and aunt. Susan doesn't bat an eye however and says, "Yes! exactly." Then it cuts to her declaring that there is nothing wrong with feeling sexy.

This seems rather small in the grand scheme of our society. This sort of thing has been exclaimed to the point of over-exclamation. Except in Susan's world. You can tell her family is not comfortable with these ideas of hers. Yet, she goes forward, determined to do as she feels is best in her life. In the end, her family totally supports her, but you can see she did take a risk with her rebellion.

All of this got me thinking, how am I brave in my daily choices? Who are any of us standing up to? I feel like Susan affected me so much because she was a living example that the struggle for individuality is something that is completely personal. She had to know that she would create some type of hurt feelings within her family, but she also probably suspected that the choice she was making was a choice that the rest of her family had avoided. These "go against the flow" decisions can sometimes rip families apart. You can't help but feel encouraged by her sheer lack of fear in the face of a very real adversity. There are many times where I do and say things because I don't want to hurt those that I love. You can say its just consideration for family values, but values become outdated and aren't always as "valuable" as advertised.

Sure, in the current feminist environment, Susan is relatively outdated and potentially anti-progressive (heteronormative marriage and all). But I wonder what her stance will mean within her family and her immediate world? How will this affect her mother, aunt, and the rest of the women that wore the dress because it was what was expected of them? Maybe their own needs and wants will now be awakened and they will begin to value their own individuality. She has definitely affected me and I would have to assume others who watched her episode. Susan was a great reminder of the ripple that can be created when a female thinks for herself, no matter what the circumstance. In a time that is craving a new wave of feminist energy, even a ripple will surely produce some type of lasting change.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Sloane Crosley

I just turned 25 in September and like most 20 somethings, I have no idea what I'm doing with my life. The myth of life just working out has definitely disintegrated and now I'm in need of some decision making. I'm an anti-decision maker though. I like to wait until the last possible moment before I make up my mind about anything. Like going away to college; I did nothing throughout high school to plan for this and then up and moved my entire life to Chicago four days before classes started. Or when I left Chicago for Denver and just decided that I would go, without having a plan for it. I lasted for 8 months and then  I up and left Denver for Chicago in a week without really thinking about where I would live or what job I would have when I got back. My decisions are always rushed and unplanned. Which has just gotten me all tangled up in a life that is wonderful, but unfocused.

It's hard not to feel like the only person in the world who feels this way. Or to think that everyone else has something cool going on when you seem to have nothing. That's why the discovery of someone else sharing in your agony of life building is so valuable. You are no longer an island but part of a network of people, struggling to beat their own paths.

As a birthday gift, my sister Catherine gave me Sloane Crosley's book, I Was Told There'd Be Cake. I think I had first seen a picture of her book cover inside a copy of NYLON mag, which I don't really care for anymore, so in my mind I decided I wouldn't go out of my way to read it. But then I read the back cover of the actual book where Crosley boasts an article in "the worst selling Maxim edition of all time", I thought "OK, she might be awesome."

After reading it, I instantly felt like my life was a little less abnormally vague. Crosley's essays are full of insecurity and uncertainty without feeling helpless. You know she is in charge of her life and she goes through her 20's in a haze like the rest of us. Since her book is super fabulous, you know she comes out on top. And HBO has just purchased the rights and are in the midst of creating a show, so I'm pretty sure she will be more than on top in the near future.

She has been compared to David Sedaris and serves on the board of themoth.org which is a wonderful story telling network. She also doesn't shy away from the F word. She declares herself a feminist in one of my favorite pieces from her collection, "Smell This". Well, actually her friend's douchey boyfriend tells us that she is, which is perfect really because isn't that usually how it all works out? She doesn't shy away from the other F word either, when she asks the boyfriend "Why do you have to be such a fuckface?" Which is pretty bad ass. I think I've fantasized about saying this to so many "douchey boyfriends".

I most connected with Sloane because her tone is so candid and honest, you know she could care less about whether people think she is weird or not. She admits to sleeping with her blanket as an adult, she writes about summer camp and how it was monumental in her adolescent life, and the struggle of volunteering because you should versus because you want to.

She is obviously, unafraid of imperfection, which is in my opinion what makes her a real feminist. She's removed the cloak of perceived perfection, that shadows many women, to allow whomever picks up her book a glimpse inside the life of a real person, bumping along, trying to make it work.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Calista Jones

As a fourth grader at Fletcher Elementary School in Jamestown, NY, we began our first history project. This was an incredibly exciting time in my life because I was (am) a huge history buff. Luckily, I'm from a town that has done a really great job recording and preserving its historical record, especially if you consider Lucille Ball. ;)

This particular program at my school was devoted to the study of the settlement of Jamestown. Each student was assigned a founding member of the city to embody and study and at the end of the program we put on a show for our parents and reenacted that person's accomplishments.

Who was I going to be assigned? And, more importantly, who was I going to be married to? This was a big deal because this project was about a month long and all the girls were the wives of the founders. I was definitely worried about which little boy would have to be my husband; I didn't want a weirdo after all. And it would be more fun if one of my crushes HAD to be nice to me in class. Well, to my surprise I was cast as Calista Selina Jones, the unmarried school teacher. What!? Lame! I watched all the other kids in the class paired off and I was left alone as the only single person in town ever apparently. I took it in stride however and set off to find out more about Ms. Jones.

We went to the Fenton History Museum, which I will always remember as one of my favorite places from home. The old smells and stories from that building are just so thrilling to me. I attended history camp there for 2 summers and whenever I think about it I smile.  I loved it very much.

Calista Jones was born in Ellicott, NY in 1823. She became a teacher in 1841 and was asked to take over a school district after a male colleague was asked to step down. Ms. Jones said she would take the position if she was paid the same salary as the man, $1 a day. The male administrators said no, so she said no. After their initial stubbornness, they couldn't deny her abilities as an educator and ended up giving her the position on her terms. She worked for the school system for 50 years and helped it become strong and viable. 

Studying Calista was a true awakening for me as it was when I first realized I was a feminist. Her character resonated with me on a really personal level. Why shouldn't a woman be paid the same as a man? I felt incredibly proud to be portraying her. My jealousy towards the other girls melted away as I realized that I actually got to be someone who did it her way and wasn't just an extension of the husband character. As a nine year old this was really powerful. I actually had a little too much pride in the part. About a month after the program ended, I was still signing my homework and tests as "Calista Jones". My teacher had to ask me to go back to Julia Olson.

It was hard to find a lot of information on Calista seeing as we are from a small town and she was a woman, so there isn't much more than this out there. I couldn't find any drawings or portraits of her so you will have to use your imagination.* Going back through her life as an adult has made me realize that she is just as inspirational to me today as she was when I was a child. I don't think I could have done what she did, but I am working towards becoming a better person and she definitely contributes to my motivation.

*My former Social Studies teacher, Jeff Kresge, went and did some extra research for me and found more information and a portrait! I'm reading through the material now but I was way too excited to wait to post the pic! 

This summer, after Senator Kennedy passed away, I noticed all the flags were being flown at half-mast to honor his legacy. Since childhood, this tradition has captivated me because I think it is a really cool way to remember those who have served America. As an incredibly patriotic person, I like how it creates this sense of unity no matter where you live. I mean, every flag in the country has to be flown at the lowered level, even McDonald's! (which definitely caught my attention as a kid)

This time however, I began to think more about who gets this honor. What do you have to achieve to be remembered nationally? Not that Kennedy didn't deserve the half-mast status, it just got me thinking about who we remember. It's fair to say that most of the honor reserved for those in our country has gone to male accomplishments throughout history. Some would say that this is because they are the ones doing what it takes to leave their mark. While I feel they are deserving of the honor, I cannot for a second believe that there aren't as many women throughout history who have served us in great and inspiring ways. Maybe female gains have been off the battlefield or outside of government (seeing as for a very, very long time we were legally restricted from these "honor heavy" fields) but does that mean they don't matter as much?

I know some women, Rosa Parks, Jackie Kennedy, Eleanor Roosevelt, are remembered; it just doesn't seem to be at the same level as their male counterparts. If you ask men to list who inspires them to reach greatness, they can and will choose from a list of any number of politicians, generals, businessmen, doctors, astronauts, explorers, etc.  But women? Most of us will respond with our mothers, grandmothers, sisters, and aunts. Usually they are personal relationships, which should not be discounted, but have to be considered when we question the disparity between the genders in roles of leadership.

How can this be remedied? By recording the women out there who are inspiring us and making their accomplishments so appealing that they start to reach beyond gender. When women have as many streets, schools, airports, holidays, and half-mast honors bestowed on their memory as men, equality can be claimed.

This is where my inspiration has come for this blog. I want to create a record of women who have or are achieving greatness . I want to find women that history has left behind and start the process of uncovering their accomplishments with the hopes of inspiring future generations to not allow barriers to get in their way of living the fullest lives available to them.

Sure this will be a very personal list since it's coming from my experience and perception, however, I think it is time to start somewhere and develop this idea as I go along.

With that, my inaugural posting will feature my blog namesake, Calista Jones.