Thursday, April 28, 2011

103: The Self-Empowered Woman: Debbie Wasserman Schultz

Dear Followers,

Today I'd like you to meet the Florida Congresswoman who is scheduled to become the first woman elected to lead the Democratic National Committee. The married mother of three from Florida's 20th Congressional District is 44 years old, which means that she will be the youngest committee leader in decades (13: More Than Meets the Eye).

Debbie Wasserman Schultz was born in Forest Hills, New York and grew up in Long Island. She came to Florida for college and earned a B.A. in Political Science in 1988 and then a Masters in the same subject in 1990; both from the University of Florida.

In Washington, D.C. (according to the New York Times) "Wasserman Schultz has long been one of the '-est' girls: youngest, smartest, funniest, toughest." Before coming to Washington, she served in the Florida State Legislature where, at age 26, she became the youngest woman ever elected to the Florida House. She is so popular in her Broward County District that in 2010 she was re-elected to Congress (where she has served since 2004) with 60% of the vote. She is the first Jewish woman to be elected as a Congresswoman in Florida.

One of her former Congressional roommates, Melissa Bean, commented that Wasserman Schultz would fall asleep at night with her head on her laptop or briefing book. And that drive even extended to her annual charity softball game where she was so anxious to slide into second base that she broke her ankle (10: The Critic Within).

In 2007, she was diagnosed with breast cancer, but only told her closest friends because "I didn't want it to define me." She scheduled her double mastectomy operations during congressional breaks (12: Hard Times). In addition to her husband ("I married a great guy"), Steve Schultz (4: Supportive Someone), she has eleven year old twins and a seven year old daughter (16: Intensive Motherhood).

In 2005, Forward, a national Jewish newspaper, named her as one of the 50 most influential leaders in the American Jewish community.

Looking forward to your comments...

Monday, April 25, 2011

102: The Self-Empowered Woman: Violet Cowden

Dear Followers,

Two weeks ago, Violet Cowden (who was a member of WWIIs Women's Flying Training Detachment - later known as the WASPs) died at the age of 94. I found her story inspiring, and I hope you will, too.

Born in 1916, in a sod house in Bowdle, South Dakota, Violet was fascinated by the hawks that flew over her family's small farm. At the age of seven, she decided that she wanted to find a way to fly with them (2: An Early Sense of Direction).

Even before she got her driver's license, she enrolled at an airfield for her first flying lesson even though she had to ride her bicycle six miles each way. As she later told an interviewer, "I feel so in oneness with life and with the world and everything when I'm in the air" (7: Magnificent Obsession).

In 1936, She received her teaching credential and taught first grade; she also received her pilot's license. When Pearl Harbor was bombed on December 7, 1941, she tried - unsuccessfully - to join the Civil Air Patrol. Her next choice was the Navy, and she became one of 25,000 women who applied for the WASPs; Violet was one of 1,830 who were accepted (only 1,074 completed training). She only weighted 92 pounds, and for a week stuffed herself with bananas and malted milk to reach the minimum weight requirement of 100 pounds.

She flew hundreds of thousands of miles in a variety of airplanes, worked seven days a week, and slept on commercial flights that took her to and from assignments. She was fearless when it came to flying untested planes, flying in bad weather, and landing on runways that had no lights (11: Risk Addiction). Thirty-eight WASPs died in the course of delivering planes.

The purpose of the WASPs was to free male pilots for combat duty. At the time, they were not considered military personnel - they were civil service employees and had to pay for their own food, lodging and clothes.

By December of 1944, the Army felt that male pilots could again be used to transport aircraft and the WASPs were dissolved. Violet later said that it was one of the worst days of her life (12: Hard Times).

Rejected as a pilot for the commercial airlines because women were not accepted at the time, Violet recalled "It was a kick in the face. It was just horrible." Cowden worked briefly behind the ticket counter at TWA, said it was painful being so close to airplanes and so far from the cockpit so she quit. She later moved to California, married, and had a daughter.

Thirty-three years after the WASPs were shut down, President Carter passed a bill that made them eligible for Veterans Benefits (8: Turning No Into Yes). For decades, Violet spoke at colleges, schools and civic meetings about how women took airplanes from factories to training fields and points of debarkation. In her words "I feel the story is an inspiration to young people that if we could break down the barrier only men could fly for the military, they would have a chance to do anything they can work with people to reach a life goal."

At age 76, Violet skydived in tandem with an instructor, and at 89 she dived with the Army's Elite Parachute Team, the Golden Knights. She is survived by her daughter, two sisters and three grandchildren.

Looking forward to your comments...

Sunday, April 17, 2011

101: The Self-Empowered Woman: Julia Gillard

Dear Followers,

Today's post is about Australia's brave and outspoken 27th Prime Minister, Julia Gillard. Born in Wales in 1961, she and her family moved to Australia in 1966 in hopes of improving Julia's respiratory problems (and the family's economic prospects). Like most migrants from the U.K. at that time, they arrived by boat.

Active in student politics studied at the University of Adelaide in 1982 she was elected vice-president of the Australian Union of Students. After moving to Melbourne, she graduated from the University of Melbourne with Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Laws degrees in 1986.

The decision by the French government to ban religious head coverings has angered many fundementalists, but Gillard has gone even further. Here's the content of her recent speech regarding Islamic immigrants in Australia: "Immigrants, not Australians, must adapt. Take it or leave it. I am tired of this nation worrying about whether we are offending some individual or their culture. Since the terrorist attacks on Bali, we have experienced a surge in patriotism by the majority of Australians.

This culture has been developed over two centuries of struggles, trails and victories by millions of men and women who have sought freedom.

We speak mainly ENGLISH, not Spanish, Lebanese, Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, Russian, or any other language. Therefore, if you wish to become part of our society, learn the language!

Most Australians believe in God. This is not some Christian, right-wing, political push, but a fact, because Christian men and women, on Christian principles, founded this nation, and this is clearly documented. It is certainly appropriate to display it on the walls of our schools. If God offends you, then I suggest you consider another part of the world as your new home, because God is part of our culture.

We will accept your beliefs, and will not question why. All we ask is that you accept ours, and live in harmony and peaceful enjoyment with us.

This is OUR COUNTRY, OUR LAND, and OUR LIFESTYLE, and we will allow you every opportunity to enjoy all this. But once you are done complaining, whining, and griping about Our Flag, Our Pledge, Our Christian beliefs or Our Way of Life, I highly encourage you to take advantage of one other great Australian freedom, THE RIGHT TO LEAVE.

If you aren't happy here then LEAVE. We didn't force you to come here. You asked to be here. So accept the country YOU accepted.

Looking forward to your comments...

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

100: The Self-Empowered Woman: Xinran

Dear Followers,

Mea Culpa for the long stretch between posts. Part of the reason had to do with the loss of my intern due to class schedule changes, and the rest was simply because life (etc.) got in the way.

At any rate, it's time to continue our look at issues of interest to women, so here we go. As I'm sure you've noticed, I enjoy learning about female-centric developments in other parts of the world. In earlier posts, we've visited Afghanistan, Kenya, Cambodia, Qatar, Zimbabwe, etc. Today's area of note is China.

Xinran is a Chinese broadcaster and writer who could be described as that country's Oprah Winfrey, even though her following came through the radio waves. Her program "Words on the Night Breeze" had millions of listeners in the 1990s, beause in those days fewer Chinese were able to read or own television sets. In 1997, Xinran moved to the U.K., but her writings have given a voice to China's "unheard" women, most of whom were poor.

Her latest book (Message From An Unknown Chinese Mother) deals with the ramifications of the Communist government's one-child policy. Started in 1979, it was an effort to control China's population growth. Xinran tells us, however, that since families could only have one child many parents chose to "get rid of" girl after girl after girl until a boy child arrived.

According to the book, when a child is born the midwife prepares a bowl of warm water. If the baby is a girl it will be called "Killing Trouble Water" and used for drowning, but if it's a boy it's called "Watering The Roots Bath" and will be used to wash the baby.

The baby girls who survive, but are abandoned by their families, are often adopted by childless couples in the West. Xinran has established a charity called Mothers' Bridge of Love to help these unwanted girls.

China is just now discovering the economic ramifications of the accepted belief that "you do not count as a human being unless you have a son." The one-child family rule will result in a Chinese population that - by 2040 - will be older than that of America. And by 2050 nearly one out of every four Chinese will be elderly.

In some areas of China, couples are allowed to have two children only if they married three years later than the average age of the rest of the country or if they waited six years between the first and second births. But because the Chinese work force is shrinking to dangerous levels, the government has decided to employ a number of exemptions. For example, if either the husband or wife is an only child the couple may then have two children. In China, parents who don't qualify and give up their daughters in the hopes that their next baby will be a boy are called "Extra Birth Guerrillas."

Looking forward to your comments...