Sunday, November 21, 2010

87: The Self-Empowered Woman: Saudi Women/Sports

Dear Followers,

Thanks to Katherine Zoepf of the New York Times, I've learned about an issue that should be of interest to all of us who took sports and physical activity for granted as just another unremarkable part of life as an American woman.

The girl wearing a green jacket is Dalma Malhas, an 18 year-old Saudi Arabian equestrian who recently won a bronze medal in show jumping at the first Youth Olympic Games in Singapore. What makes this achievement noteworthy is that she had to enter the competition on her own and pay her own expenses. Malhas is the first Saudi woman to ever compete in an international event.

Physical activity is forbidden in Saudi Arabia's state-run girls' schools, and conservative Muslims consider sports for women either immodest or (potentially) immoral. A few large Saudi cities have gyms where women can workout, but they are usually unmarked to avoid attention.

So here comes the kicker. Saudi Arabia (like Brunei and Qatar) does not permit women to compete in international athletic competitions, which means no women can be part of the Olympic Games.

The man pictured above is Ali al-Ahmed, a Saudi dissident, who directs the Institute for Gulf Affairs in Washington, D.C.. Three months ago, he began a campaign called No Women, No Play, with the goal of urging the IOC (International Olympic Committee) to suspend Saudi Arabia from future competitions until women are allowed to participate.

Critics might consider this a case of feminism gone wild, but the precedent was set in 1964, when the IOC banned South Africa because of apartheid. The Olympic Charter states, "... sport is a human right..." and "... discrimination with regard to a country or a person on grounds of race, religion, politics, gender or otherwise is incompatible with belonging to the Olympic movement."

The woman in white is Lina al-Maeena, who founded a growing and very popular women's basketball team named Jeddah United. But whether or not liberal Saudis approve of gyms for females, the fact is that Saudi Arabia is a monarchy in which the king and a Salafist religious establishment create the laws. Unfortunately, most of the clerics oppose sports for women because it's felt that athletic females might a) wear immodest clothes, b) want to travel, c) compete in public, d) leave their homes unnecessarily, and (if virgins) e) damage their hymens and become unmarriageable.

Ms. Maeena has tried to put a good face on her country's restrictive approach by arguing that the U.S. didn't give women "equal rights" in sports until Title IX passed in 1972. And while that "equality" changed academic sports, the truth is that American women had been participating in sports and competing in the Olympics decades earlier.

How lucky we are that our grandmothers and granddaughters were and are able to play tennis, golf, ride, run, and compete without fear of government reprisal. Hats off to Dalma Malhas!

Looking forward to your comments...

Saturday, November 13, 2010

86: The Self-Empowered Woman: Taylor Swift

Dear Followers,

As I reviewed the last dozen or so posts, I noticed that there was (possibly) an overdose of women who were either foreign or older. So today's Self-Empowered Woman is 20 year-old American recording sensation Taylor Swift.

When she was only ten years old (2. An Early Sense of Direction), a computer repairman showed her how to play three chords on a guitar, and that inspired her to learn as much as she could about music. Soon after, she wrote her first song, "Lucky You."

At age eleven, she persuaded her parents to take her to Nashville because she wanted to get a record deal. She bravely showed a demo tape of her singing to recording companies (11. Risk Addiction), but even though she visited all of the label companies in town, she was rejected by every single one (13. More Than Meets the Eye).

At the age of twelve, she began playing the twelve-string guitar; writing songs and playing the guitar helped Swift cope with the pain of being bullied at school (5. Life is Not a Popularity Contest). Soon she was performing at Pennsylvania fairs and festivals.

When she was 14, her family moved to a Nashville suburb to help her chances of getting a recording deal. That year, she became the youngest staff songwriter ever hired by the Sony/ATV Tree Publishing House. For her junior and senior years of high school she was home schooled. She received her diploma in 2008.

Not surprisingly, Swift has used her personal life as the basis for many of her wildly popular songs. Her romantic disappointments with Joe Jonas, Taylor Lautner, and John Mayer have become public knowledge (15. Forget About Prince Charming).

One can only imagine how much those other labels regret overlooking her early talent. Here are a few of her musical accomplishments:

  • Her 2008 album "Fearless" was the bestselling country album in digital history.

  • Swift was the first artist ever in the history of Nelsen SoundScan to have two different albums in the Top 10 year-end album chart.

  • She is the youngest artist in history to win the ACM Album of the Year Award.

  • She was also the youngest ever to win the Country Music Association Award for Entertainer of the Year (only six other women have won this honor).

  • Swift has sold more than 28 million digital tracks, as well as received three Gold Mobile Ringtones for the 14 million ringtones sold. She has sold more than 13 million albums worldwide.
  • She was the first country music artist to ever win a MTV Video Music Award.
  • Last year, Swift became the first female artist with the most Top 40 singles of the decade, surpassing Beyonce.
  • She made her acting debut in the movie Valentine's Day, and her song "Today Was a Fairytale" was on the movie's soundtrack.
  • Swift was on People magazine's "100 Most Beautiful People" list in 2008, 2009, and 2010.
  • According to Forbes, she is this year's twelfth most-powerful celebrity with earnings of $45 million.

Imagine what she'll have accomplished by the time she's 40! A big thank you to everyone for all the amazing birthday wishes.

Looking forward to your comments...

Sunday, November 7, 2010

85: The Self-Empowered Woman: Dilma Rousseff

Dear Followers,

Now that our American election fever is over (for a little while) I thought that today I would introduce you to Brazil's first-ever female president. Dilma Vana Rousseff (who was born on December 14th, 1947) is the daughter of a Bulgarian immigrant; her father had been an active member of the Bulgarian Communist Party in the 1920s. He moved to Brazil to escape political persecution, and became financially successful. He married Dilma Jane Silva, a schoolteacher, and they had three children, but he died when Dilma Vana was only 15 (1. No Paternal Safety Net).

The new President of Brazil (which has the seventh-largest economy in the world) received her early education at a Catholic (3. Belief in the Unbelievable) boarding school, where the students and nuns primarily spoke French. After her father's death, the teen aged Rousseff went to the Central State High School where she became more aware of politics and realized that "The world was not a place for debutantes." This is where she first became interested in The Worker's Politics Organization (POLOP), and became opposed to Brazil's dictatorship (2. An Early Sense of Direction).

Rousseff became so involved with politics that the authorities gave her several nicknames: "The Joan of Arc of Subversion," "Political Criminal,"
"Female Figure of Sadly Notable Aspect," and "the She-Pope of Subversion." Obviously, such name-calling didn't upset her (5. Life Is Not a Popularity Contest).

In 1968, she married Claudio Galenao Linhares, a political activist five years her senior. Two years later, he was arrested; she was captured by the authorities, sentenced to six years in prison, and her political rights were suspended for 18 years. During her time in prison, she was tortured for several weeks with punching, ferule, and electric shock devices (12. Hard Times).

She was released from jail in 1972, but was barred from continuing her university studies the next year. Ultimately, she applied to the Rio Grande do Sul Federal University, where she majored in economics and graduated in 1977. In addition to politics and economics, Rousseff is an opera lover (9. Music).

Her first marriage (in 1968) ended with an amicable divorce in 1981, but she used her first husband's name until 1999, when she reverted to her maiden name. Her second (common law) marriage was to Carlos Araujo, even though he had an affair with actress and fellow militant Bete Mendes, he and Rousseff had a daughter, Paula Rousseff Araujo, who was born in 1976. In 1994, Rousseff found that another woman was pregnant with Araujo's child (15. Forget About Prince Charming); Rousseff and Araujo separated, but later reconciled. They remained together until 2000, when she left.

Politically, Rousseff had served as Brazil's Energy Minister and was chosen by former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva (Lula) to be his Chief of Staff, the first female to hold that position. Many believe that his support helped her win last month's election.

In 2009, Rousseff disclosed that she was battling Lymphatic System Cancer, and she also suffered from Myopathy as a result of the cancer treatment. During much of her campaign, she wore a wig due to chemotherapy-related hair loss. The story of a former left-wing, urban guerrilla who has risen to become her country's (first female) leader is a stirring one.

Looking forward to your comment...