Saturday, October 29, 2011

124: The Self-Empowered Woman: Royal news

Dear Followers,

Those of you who know me are well aware of what an Anglophile I am. Who else would give up a cushy L.A. Times job to move 6,000 miles away to spend five years working as a journalist in London? And my framed invitation (plus menu card) to have dinner with Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip on the Royal Yacht Britannia is among my most-treasured life souvenirs.

So, naturally, I felt it was worth special notice to share the news that leaders of Commonwealth countries decided at their summit meeting on Friday (in Perth, Australia) to change Royal Succession Laws. This represents a major paradigm shift for gender issues. The Commonwealth decision means that first-born daughters of future British monarchs now have an equal right to the throne. Previously, a younger male heir would inherit the crown rather than his older female sibling. What this means is that if the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge (pictured above) have a daughter as their first-born child, she would be the next monarch before any younger brothers. This new ruling would also allow any future rulers to marry a Roman Catholic.

British Prime Minister David Cameron said that "Attitudes have changed fundamentally over the centuries. The idea that the younger son should become monarch instead of an elder daughter, simply because he is a man, or that a future monarch can marry someone of any faith except a Catholic, this way of thinking is at odds with the modern countries that we have become."

The discussion about changes in Royal Succession Laws was prompted by Prince William's marriage to Catherine Middleton earlier this year. Queen Elizabeth's opening statement at the summit did not directly address the Succession Laws, but she did say that women should play a greater role in society. There are 54 Commonwealth States, and twelve of the 20 countries have the highest rates of "child brides" are in the Commonwealth.

Looking forward to your comments...

Sunday, October 16, 2011

123: The Self-Empowered Woman: Tyra Banks

Dear Followers,

Today’s remarkable woman is beautiful, a multimillionaire, only 37 years old, and has become a household name in America. Most women know Tyra Banks as the TV host of America’s Next Top Model or of the past program The Tyra Banks Show, while most men remember her as the first African-American model to be chosen as a Cover Girl for Sports Illustrated Magazine.

Banks was born in Southern California in 1973, to a mother who worked as a medical photographer and a father who worked in the computer industry, but her parents divorced when she was only six years old (1: No Paternal Safety Net). Carolyn London-Johnson has always been exceptionally close to her daughter, and has been there with love, advice and guidance ever since she became a single mother, three decades ago. Banks openly acknowledges that her mother was a great example of an independent woman (4: Supportive Someone). Tyra Banks graduated from L.A.’s Immaculate Heart High School, and was accepted by both USC and UCLA, but decided—instead—to pursue a modeling career.

She began modeling in the eleventh grade (2: An Early Sense Of Direction), but was told by many agencies that she “wasn’t photogenic.” Fortunately, she had a good runway walk and scored a great victory when she was chosen for extensive work as soon as she landed in Paris. She broke the record by being booked for an unprecedented 25 shows as a newcomer, and modeled for (among others) Badgley Mischka, Chanel, Christian Dior, Dolce & Gabbana and Donna Karan (8: Turning No Into Yes.) Soon, however, as she began to mature she also began to gain weight, and (very upsetting for Tyra) her mother was told that Banks needed to slim down in order to get work.

Instead of trying to please the high-fashion agencies, they began to explore different job possibilities where her curves were not considered a liability (5: Life Is Not A Popularity Contest). To this day, Banks considers the day that she landed the contract to pose for Sports Illustrated as a professional turning point. After succeeding as a cover model for GQ and Victoria’s Secret catalog, Banks expanded into film and music work. She made a number of TV, music video (remember George Michaels' "Too Funky" with the supermodels?) and movie appearances (11: Risk Addiction), and started her own production company, Bankable Productions. The time had come where she knew that her future would have more to do with other forms of media, and less to do with modeling (14: Selective Disassociation).

In 2008, she won a daytime Emmy Award for The Tyra’s Bank Show, which ran from 2005 to 2010. America’s Next Top Model started in 2003 and remains popular today: Banks serves as the show’s hostess, judge and executive producer. In addition, she is credited with performing the theme song for the program (9: Music).

Tyra Banks openly admits that in grammar school she was a true “mean girl,” who taunted her classmates in the worst way. But when - at eleven years old - she grew three inches and lost 30 pounds in a single year the tables turned and she became the one being bullied. Ever since that experience she has tried to help girls and young women to make good choices and live wisely. In 1999, she established the TZONE program, which became a public charity (The Tyra Banks TZONE Foundation) in 2005 (7: Magnificent Obsession).

Banks, who is 37 years old, has never married and has no children. Today, the woman who was once told that a) she wasn’t photogenic enough to be successful and that b) she weighed too much to make it as a model is attending Harvard Business School’s Owner/President Management Program.

Looking forward to your comments…

Saturday, October 8, 2011

122: The Self-Empowered Woman: Nobel Prize Winners

Dear Followers,

Instead of focusing on one amazing woman, today's blog will introduce you to the three women who received - on Friday - this year's Nobel Peace Prize . Their selection highlights not only the "Arab Spring" movement, but the increased power and influence women are experiencing globally. President Obama said that the winners pictured above are "a reminder that when we empower women around the world everyone is better off, that countries and cultures that respect the contributions of women invariably end up being more successful than those that don't."

The woman on the left is 39 year old Leymah Gbowee, who was born in Liberia and experienced the horrors of the First Liberian Civil War in which Charles Taylor's army used child soldiers. A mother of six, she realized that "If any changes were to be made in society it had to be by the mothers." So she organized the Christian and Muslim women to pray for peace and holds non-violent demonstrations. By 2003, the women's movement brought an end to the Second Liberian Civil War and led to the election of the woman pictured on the far right, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the first woman to become president of an African country. Gbowee is the central character in the 2008 documentary film "Pray the Devil Back to Hell" as well as the author of "Mighty Be Our Powers: How Sisterhood, Prayer, and Sex Changed a Nation at War." Her group protested outside the presidential palace by sending politicians this statement of intent "In the past we were silent, but after being killed, raped, dehumanized, and infected with diseases, and watching our children and families destroyed, war has taught us that the future lies in saying NO to violence and YES to peace! We will not relent until peace prevails." She earned an Master of Arts in Conflict Transformation from Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, Virginia. When told of her award she said "Three women receiving the Nobel Peace Prize is really overwhelming...It's finally a recognition that we can't ignore the other half of the world's population."

The second picture is of 32 year old Tawakkul Karman, who is a mother off three and has played a pivotal role in Yemen's political upheaval. To many, she is known as "Mother of the Revolution" and in 2005, she founded an advocacy group called Women Journalists Without Chains. Two years later, she began staging sit ins in front of Yemen's Parliament, and in January she took to the streets with several dozen protesters calling for Mister Saleh's resignation. She has been arrested, received death threats, been called a traitor, and criticized for the fact that three years ago she stopped wearing the full facial veil. She has been inspired to fight for marginalized groups by Ghandi, Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King. She called her prize "A victory for the entire Yemeni Revolution" and she hopes that it would bring additional international support. The head of the Nobel Prize committee, Thorbjorn Jagland said that the committee "included the Arab Spring in this prize, but...if one fails to include the women in the new democracies, there will be no democracy."

The last photo is of Liberia's president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who at age 72 is the mother of four sons and has eight grandchildren. Although she has transformed her country, she is facing a difficult bid for re-election. About 250,000 people were killed during the country's civil wars back when Liberia - Africa's first independent republic - was called "a poster child for Africa's ills." Mrs. Johnson Sirleaf, who was the first woman elected as an African head of state, managed to bring peace to the country. She holds degrees from: the University of Colorado, Boulder; the University of Wisconsin, Madison and Harvard. She also served as assistant United Nations secretary-general, and as a vice-president at Citibank. When she was inaugurated as her country's president, both Condoleezza Rice and first lady Laura Bush attended. The Liberian election is scheduled for this Tuesday, and her opponent is a popular soccer star. While admirers refer to her as the "Iron Lady" her political opponents have used the phrase "Too Old To Hold." After learning of her award she said "We are now going into our ninth year of peace, and every Liberian has contributed to it. We particularly give this credit to Liberian women, who have consistently led the struggle for peace even under conditions of neglect."

Looking forward to your comments...