Violations and Vocabulary: How Policing Language Silences Victims

**TRIGGER WARNING: The following article may contain graphic depictions of sexual abuse**

By Kimberly Congdon, PhD

At this point, you’ve probably already heard of Larry Nassar. If not, see HERE. And HERE. And HERE.  There is no question that what this man did was wrong. There is no question it was criminal. There is no question it was sexual abuse, and that he deserves to be punished for unbelievably heinous crimes against children and young women. We can recognize the incredible wrongness of his actions even without delving into the fact that his position as a doctor added another element of psychological trauma for his victims. Larry Nassar is done – quite literally. His victims have proven themselves to be remarkable, brave women who will foster a new generation of remarkable, brave women. The judge who oversaw his case has become a figurehead for women’s rights. His trial was a watershed moment for feminism and equality. The questions still loom. How was something like this able to happen? How could something so obviously wrong persist for so long? How do we stop it from happening again?

There are a lot of factors that specifically enabled Nassar to abuse women for decades. Those specific issues must be addressed, and specific individuals must face consequences. But ultimately, Nassar is a symptom of a larger problem. First, we have to acknowledge that Nassar is not nearly as rare as we would wish him to be. An investigation by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution found more than 2,400 cases of doctors sexually abusing patients since 1999, occurring across all 50 states. At least half of those physicians still had their medical licenses as of 2016. And these numbers are guaranteed to be low, as sex abuse in all forms is chronically underreported. So Nassar is a monster, but he has a lot of company. What’s going on here?

Unpacking the issues that allow abuse of women to persist would take a lifetime.  There is, however, one thing that underlies it all, and it may not be what you think. It’s language. The words we use matter, the words we emphasize and teach matter. This is the principle of linguistic relativity. It tells us that the structure of a language affects the worldview of the people who speak it. The classic example is Benjamin Whorf’s claim that “Eskimos” have 50 words for snow. His point was that snow is very important to Inuit language groups, and that importance is reflected by the fact that they have a lot of words for it. It’s a rather basic, intuitive idea. Your culture will have many ways to discuss what’s important, few ways to discuss what is unimportant, and no words to discuss what it has no conception of at all. So what happens to a culture when we restrict the words that can be used to describe reproductive anatomy? Misogyny has stolen from women the very words they need to comprehend and assert their own bodily autonomy. And when you don’t have the words to describe your experience, when the words you do have teach you shame, when they don’t empower you and reaffirm your own bodily autonomy, how can you ever find your own voice to speak out against these atrocities?

We have allowed the words that describe reproductive anatomy to become stigmatized, under the guise of “polite” behavior. Parents teach their children euphemisms for their own body parts, students are punished for using words like “penis” and “vagina” in school (and sometimes even sex-ed teachers), and often it’s because they use them as expletives, having been taught they are inherently “naughty”. All this works together to teach kids that certain parts of their body can’t be discussed, which serves to build a barrier between our own anatomy and the ownership of it. According to the Guttmacher Institute, only 24 states and D.C. mandate sex education in schools. Only thirteen of those states mandate that the instruction be medically accurate, twenty-six states require that “the information be appropriate for the students’ age”, and ONLY TWO prohibit the program from promoting religion. This combination of factors is a recipe for disaster when it comes to language. If a program is not required to be medically accurate, students are not going to learn technical terms about their own anatomy. When we accept the fallacy that sex education has an “age appropriate” element, we allow for the introduction of shame associated with female bodies. What are we telling young girls who HAVE vaginas that they are too young for the WORD vagina? If we teach girls that they have to mature into the ownership of their own body parts, is it so surprising that men with power so easily assert their own rights to those parts over their actual owners? And if we CORRECT children who use the proper terms, if we insist on euphemisms, is it such a surprise that they’re reluctant to speak out when needed?

Larry Nassar’s victims ranged from girls as young as six to young women in their teens and early 20s. He told them that inserting his fingers into their vaginas and leaning towards them to whisper “How does that feel”, often with an erection, was medical treatment. In their victim statements, many discussed how he abused their trust, how he made them ashamed to discuss what he did, some of them still referenced shame in speaking out, in a courtroom where he had pled guilty – an open admission that what he had done was wrong – and they had no reason to be ashamed. They speak of being touched in private places, the loss of innocence, but above all – confusion. Confusion over whether what he did was wrong, confusion over who to tell. They speak of knowledge that internal pelvic floor therapies exist, and are legitimate – leading to a difficulty to distinguish legitimate treatment from sexual violation. One victim STILL questions her own interpretation of the experience, she is still unable to tell if she was being molested or treated. That kind of confusion can happen when we don’t give girls the tools to tell medicine from abuse, when we don’t teach them about their anatomy, and don’t give them the words to understand what is happening to them. Rachael Denhollander, the first accuser to file a police report and start the ball rolling against Nassar, says one of her earlier complaints was dismissed because “a 15-year-old girl thinks everything between her legs is a vagina”. The assumption that girls don’t know their own bodies was used to dismiss an accusation of forced penetration – and it worked, because so many young girls DON’T know their own bodies. The girls that did come forward in the late 90s were repeatedly told they were confused about what had happened – an easy thing to push when you’ve already robbed people of the language they need to conceptualize the event in the first place.

For years, child psychologists have been emphasizing both the importance and appropriateness of teaching children proper terms for their anatomy from Day One. It will empower them to speak out against inappropriate touching, teach body positivity, and perhaps even protect them from predators who will recognize that a child who knows the words vulva and vagina likely has parents that will discuss these subjects with them, and listen if they report abuse. Body-related shame is a real and persistent problem. We all know adults who won’t use the word penis or vagina or insist on whispering them if they must be said. People who aren’t comfortable discussing their body will struggle to tell health care providers about medical problems. They will struggle to tell sexual partners if something causes them pain or discomfort. They will be more susceptible to those who would manipulate them via that shame. And if we start by teaching kids shame about body parts, we’ll continue with shame about all language that
discusses sex. This will disproportionately hurt girls, who are made to believe that they should not want or enjoy sex, that they should not express sexual desire for fear of being labeled a slut, and that if sexual contact is forced upon them, it was somehow their own fault. In short, sex euphemisms are a tool of female oppression. We de-emphasize the importance of that anatomy and suggest there is inherent shame in those body parts since we won’t use the actual words to discuss them. This is a problem that can be overcome at home, but politicians at the local and state level who advocate for comprehensive sex education also need our support. Too much of what we learn about language happens in school for this to go unaddressed.

People who criticize women inspired to speak out during the resurgence of #metoo discuss female agency, female responsibility – they ask why women don’t say no, don’t speak out against behavior that bothers them. How can we demand women speak out when we deprive them of the language to describe what happened to them and teach them that putting it into words is shameful? We have to reclaim our vulvas and vaginas, our penises and testicles. Before we can assert autonomy over our anatomy, we have to know what to call our anatomical parts and deny that discussing our bodies is shameful or wrong.

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Dr. Congdon is an anthropologist, anatomist, scientist, feminist, activist, conservationist. When those things collide, she writes about it here. She wants you to vote, and stop littering.

The Women’s March welcomes all women – except Feminist Zionists?

Power To The Polls _Womens March Anniversary Event Jan 2018See the Women’s March Host Planning Committee above? I’m in that photo. I thought the Women’s March would be a great opportunity to register Millennials to come out and vote and loved the catchy “Power To The Polls” slogan thought up to entice young people to make their vote count in these midterm elections coming up. The idea of it all was punchy and persuasive.

After the 2017 Women’s March – the largest protest in the history of the United States – I felt like I was part of a sisterhood, a feminist collective voicing their needs while wearing crocheted pink hats and locking arms together across the country (and the world). To me, the only thing missing about that glorious day that we all needed so badly after enduring Trump’s election, was the presence of the real hero for many of us – Hillary Clinton.  Let’s be real. In those one million bodies holding signs and chanting in unison most of them were heartbroken to know DJT was going to be sitting in the Oval and not HRC.

Fast forward to a year later when I got the news that a local group of which I’m a member was asked to be part of a planning committee because the founding members of the Women’s March had decided to hold their anniversary event in Las Vegas, Nevada where I live. Nevada is a key battleground state and is also home to the first female Latina United States Senator (Catherine Cortez Masto), is the state with the second largest number of females in its legislature (second only to Vermont), has the 5th largest school district in the country (Clark County School District in Las Vegas), is the number one tourist destination in the world (Las Vegas), and recently was the site of the worst shooting massacre in modern US history. You can imagine my excitement. As a dedicated feminist, activist, and a staunch supporter of progressive causes, why would I have any reservations at all when it came to this opportunity? Two words.

LINDA SARSOUR. 

Seeing the Women’s March 2017 organizers giving the cold shoulder to Hillary was a bitter pill for me to swallow, I did it knowing that Hillary herself was tweeting that she was proud of the women who were marching, who were raising their voices, who believed in racial/social/economic/political equality and justice for ALL women (the true definition of a Feminist, by the way). I did it because I saw the importance of the larger picture. I understood the strategy. This time around though, that pill is a little harder to swallow. Why? It’s those pesky two words again.

LINDA SARSOUR.

Linda Sarsour QandA Lipstick Republic Blog

Ms. Sarsour makes no secret of her disdain for Feminist Zionists. In fact,  when asked for her response to an op-ed article written by Emily Shire of the NY Times, Linda said it wasn’t possible for a person to be a Feminist AND a Zionist.  Clearly, Linda needs to brush up on her vocabulary because the definition of Zionism is not a bad thing. Zionism is the belief that the Jewish people have a right to self-determination and freedom in their historic homeland. Being a Zionist does not mean that you agree with Israeli politics or that you’re a fan of Bibi or the Likud Party or that you don’t care about Palestinian Arabs. It simply means that you believe in the things stated above and that you believe the Jewish people have a right to liberation (they have, after all, been in existence for 5,777 years without a generation passing since the Babylonians where somewhere in the world some nation or ruler hasn’t tried to lobby for their extinction) and protection. Sarsour’s misdirected and misinformed beliefs she espouses with loud vitriol have rankled me for quite some time. I decided to share some of my concerns with her at a committee planning meeting she and the other three Women’s March co-founders were at with me along with a crowd full of people.

Below is part of the transcribed version of the video/audio that was taken which is still in the process of being uploaded. 

M: It’s no secret that a lot of Jewish women felt unwelcome at the Chicago Dyke March. So my question is, what do I say to women who are hesitant to come to this Women’s March event? Are women who identify as Jewish Americans welcome? Are they going to be turned away for wearing the Star of David? Are they going to be turned away for being Zionists? What should I say to them?

Linda Sarsour: This is a domestic movement meant to bring to attention the tyranny we’re living under. This is not a moment for any community to come and invoke their political position on our campaign. We don’t talk about foreign policy. There’s been conflation by some people. Not all Jewish people are Zionists. In fact, we have included all communities in our movement. In fact, at a recent convention we just had, it was I that organized the Shabbat Friday evening. It was I that paid for the kosher meal. It was I that coordinated groups like Jews for Justice and Jewish Voices for Peace to attend. Everybody has always been included. I think it’s important for people to understand that we don’t have time in groups like this for this conversation. It’s very clear that I’m Palestinian. There’s nothing I can do about that. I’m very proud to be Palestinian. Unfortunately, that in and of itself and my very existence has created controversy just by the virtue of who I am and particular positions that directly impact me and my family.

M: So are you saying that wearing a Star of David or being a Zionist won’t make them unwelcome at the event?

Linda Sarsour: What I want to say to people is that we have a tyrant in the White House and we are being stripped of our rights and if you care about the rights of your fellow Americans then show up to this March.

*This was just one of three questions I asked Ms. Sarsour. I plan to probe more at our next meeting and then blend both video recordings to upload here on the blog. This way, readers can see and hear all the questions and answers in full. 

Her answers did nothing to allay my concerns. In fact, they compounded them for me. She completely deflected my question about the Star of David and responded by basically saying that the political positions of other communities are not meant to be heard or shown at Women’s March events. Since when was the Star of David a political position? Last time I checked it was a religious symbol. Why are attendees allowed to wear Free Palestine t-shirts and hijabs but Feminist Zionists are shut down and told they have to choose between those identities. Also, groups like Jews for Justice or Jewish Voices for Peace are about as relevant and authentic to me as Jews for Jesus or groups like BDS in representing me. For her to try to spin their participation to allyship is laughable.

Sarsour’s social media accounts are rife with her own glaring modus operandi that is illustrated flagrantly. Why is she not held to the same standards she expects of other feminists in their intersectionality? Why can she have an outspoken Muslim voice but Jews with outspoken Zionist beliefs are “invoking their political issues on the WM”?

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It would appear from Ms. Sarsour’s propaganda and behavior that she is intent on using the Women’s March as a platform for her own designs disguised as championing feminism. When author and brave victim of female genital mutilation Ayaan Hirsi Ali spoke out in her book “Infidel: My Life” about crimes committed in the name of Islam, Sarsour had some very supportive (insert sarcasm here) words about the issue.

Linda Sarsour Twitter Rant _Lipstick Republic BlogCompassion and concern for all women really just radiate from Linda.  It’s evident that all views are fine as long as they are Linda’s views. Seriously though, if that’s not enough proof for you, try a quick Google search on Linda and you’ll find that she also endorses Siraj Wahaj, unindicted co-conspirator in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing who believes homosexuality is a disease.

Linda doesn’t seem to realize that Jewish women have always been at the forefront of the both the Women’s Rights and the Civil Rights movements. Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem are Jews. In fact,  It was the Women’s Movement that made Betty the proud Zionist she grew to be and spent her lifetime defending.

I know many Feminist Zionists are choosing to boycott the event in Las Vegas because of Ms. Sarsour’s stance on Zionism and interest in competing in what many call Woke Olympics. While I can certainly understand their pain and anger, I will be taking a different approach. On January 21, 2018, in Las Vegas, Nevada I will be at the  Women’s March: Power To The Polls. I will not let Linda Sarsour’s twisted definition of Zionism or Feminism dictate my narrative. I will not take off my Magen David. I will not be silent. Linda Sarsour does not represent me or any of my values with her support of violence or intolerance.

That’s not the sort of sisterhood I want to be a part of or the sort of feminism that I believe in – not today, not ever.

______________

Mimi Bergman is a business owner, historian, wife, and mom. She’s an ardent feminist, Zionist, and activist. Mimi is a fourth generation Chicago Cubs baseball fan.

Get a grip. No, really.

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[Dr. Julie Buzby and Chloe]

According to the American Pet Products Association (APPA), in 2017 Americans spent a total of $69.36B (billion!) on their pets. With figures consistently growing year after year, it’s pretty obvious we love our furry friends in this country. Among those leading the pack, providing care and service to pet owners is Dr. Julie Buzby, who lives in Beaufort, South Carolina. Dr. Buzby is a woman on the go who wears lots of hats. We were fortunate enough to get some time with her and learn more about her amazing company, Dr. Buzby’s ToeGrips.

LR: I know you’ve been a veterinarian for over twenty years and have pets of your own. Did you ever think you’d become a product inventor too?

JB: Never. I am an accidental entrepreneur. A client of mine came up with the idea of putting something on his dog’s toenails to keep his senior dog quiet on the floors at night. He quickly realized his device did much more than that though. I saw the early prototypes at our veterinary hospital’s annual Open House and it was love at first sight! I like to say he had me at “hello”. He pointed to his dog’s toes and my mind started racing. Because my practice is now predominantly caring for senior and special needs dogs, I knew there was a huge need. We could impact and improve pain and mobility for these dogs but not slipping. Slipping is a biomechanics problem. These simple devices were what I’d been looking for my whole career, I just didn’t know what they looked like until I saw them that day. My friend didn’t want to pursue his idea. He was busy patenting something else and said, “If you think you can help dogs with it, Julie, go for it.” And that’s how our business launched. I knew this product was going to change the way we care for our senior, slipping patients and that they needed this solution.

LR: For those who aren’t familiar, can you explain what ToeGrips are and how they’re used?

JB: ToeGrips are nonslip rings that fit onto a dog’s toenails to enable traction on slippery floors. Dogs use their nails for traction. They flex their paws and engage their nails like soccer cleats digging into the ground. Hard nails can’t grip hard floors. ToeGrips work by allowing the nails to grip, unlike dog socks and boots, which interfere with a dog’s natural gripping mechanism. ToeGrips are simple, natural, affordable, and effective!

LR: What types of dogs benefit most from ToeGrips?

JB: Senior and special needs dogs and even more specifically would be arthritic dogs, dogs with hip dysplasia, dogs with cruciate ligament injury, dogs with hind-end weakness, blind dogs, Tripawd dogs, dogs that use wheelchairs, dogs with IVDD, and rehabilitating and post-surgical dogs.

LR: Are ToeGrips unisex? Do they come in different sizes?

JB: Yes, they are unisex, come in seven sizes (XS-XXXL), and are color-coded by size for simplicity.

LR: I know you operate a vet practice, run Dr. Buzby’s ToeGrips, and are a Full-Time mama to a large brood of human kiddos too. How do you balance it all?

JB: I owned a practice in Pennsylvania and sold it so I could be home with my kids. We homeschool them and that’s what I really what I consider my Full-Time job. Practicing veterinary medicine is part-time now and ToeGrips is my hobby, even though I put in about 40+ hours per a week in the company. When your work is your passion, it doesn’t feel like work. My husband often says to me when I go to the veterinary hospital, “You’re the only person I know who looks a hundred times better when you come home from work than when you go.” Caring for my clients and patients brings me great joy. Caring for our customers and their dogs is also very rewarding! How do I balance it? I have a great husband who’s actively involved in keeping me afloat. I also have great help – we have a close family friend whom we’ve hired to help us homeschool since we have seven grade levels being taught right now.

LR: What advice would you give to women looking to follow their passions and start their own business?

JB: Start on a shoe=string budget and expand as you are able. Debt is crippling. The less debt you have, the faster you will become profitable! Have a core group of wise counselors whom you go to for advice. Plans succeed with many counselors and it’s dangerous to go it alone.

LR: Where can people go for more information or shop ToeGrips?

JB: By going directly to our website www.ToeGrips.com, on Facebook by clicking HERE. or at @drbuzby on Twitter.

 

 

Hey Buddy!

FB_IMG_1512986840497Michelle Aventajado wears many hats: mother, wife, daughter, entrepreneur, writer, model, product endorser, and Non-Profit Director. She grew up in New York, one of five children, the daughter of a Filipino mother and an American father. Michelle has a degree in Education from SUNY Cortland and has worked as both a teacher in the American public school system and as a camp director. In 1996, she was on vacation when she met the man who would eventually become her husband. By 2006, they had been married a few years and decided to move their young family to Manila where Michelle is currently the Director of Best Buddies Philippines

LR: You are a mother of four children (two teens, a pre-teen, and a little girl). Your youngest has Down Syndrome. Was that largely the impetus for you taking the job as Director of Best Buddies Philippines?

MA: Actually, I’ve always been drawn to children and adults with different abilities. When I was in high school, my track coach ran a club called Interact. Besides shadowing professionals in our small town to explore what we wanted to study as we went on to college, the main thrust of the club was to “INTERACT” with others in the community. We volunteered weekly at one of the local group homes and spent time with its residents. In college, I pursued my degree in education because I knew it would be the perfect career to satisfy my desire to help kids and change the world one student at a time. After the birth of my fourth child, I realized that God had been preparing me for all that my baby would need for me to be as her mother. I could never explain the interest I had in this marginalized population I had until Evangelina – her name means God’s gift – was born. After the initial shock of her diagnosis wore off, I realized that Gelli (her nickname) suddenly gave the work and volunteering I was doing more purpose. I can’t say I immediately thought of “fighting the good fight” when she was born, though. My initial reaction was to take it day by day and make sure that my daughter and my family had everything they needed to adjust to our new normal. I read up on how to best care for my daughter because her birth changed the playing field. I felt like a new mom. A fish out of water. I thought I was already a pro at the parenting thing, and when she was born, I suddenly felt unprepared. I bought all the books I could get my hands on, watched videos, and read blogs of moms who were parenting a child with Down Syndrome in the States. I followed one particular blogger and credit her for changing my outlook. Kelle Hampton was the blogger who helped me see the positive side of parenting Gelli. I started blogging too. I had no idea that it would open so many doors for me in terms of identifying with other parents who might be in the same situation as myself. It was through blogging that I met Anj Onrubia. Anj has a son with Autism and she wanted to bring Best Buddies to the Philippines. She invited me to the training and the meetings and I signed on as a Program Manager for my children’s school. When Anj started planning her move to Canada, she asked me if I would consider taking on the role of Country Director. The rest is, as they say, history.

I do what I do with Best Buddies, not so my daughter can join the activities I organize but in the hopes that by the time she is of age to join them, that she will feel accepted. That she’ll have less difficulty than the children who came before she did. I do it so that when she’s of college age, she’ll have more than just two choices of schools to attend in Manila. I do what I do because I believe in our programs and hope for a better future for my precious six-year-old. I want more for her.  I want to change the world one friendship at a time through our programs in Best Buddies.

LR: What has been the biggest challenge in terms of bringing awareness and education to the conversation surrounding people with intellectual and developmental disabilities?

MA:  Initially, the stigma. The mindset. The culture. The belief that kids and adults with IDD are less. Less capable. Less deserving. There are still families in this country who hide their children away, who are ashamed of the beautiful child they’ve been gifted.

I have a friend who is in his mid-fifties. After asking him to get involved with Best Buddies by volunteering his time to help with a PSA on “End the R-Word”, he disclosed a sad story to me from his childhood. Apparently, when he was a kid growing up here, he remembered a child with Down Syndrome who was chained to the front porch of a neighboring home. CHAINED. Like an animal. Mimi, this was only forty years ago!

LR: Wow! That’s both tragic and maddening! That’s during our lifetime!

MA: Exactly. They say it takes seven generations to see the effects of how we live today (physically) in this world. I believe that it takes just as many generations to change a mindset. Just as many generations to shift the conversation and the perspective. We need that paradigm shift to happen before my daughter will be seen as someone who is counted and included in all aspects of society.

LR: Best Buddies is in fifty countries around the world. It’s great to see the Philippines has been involved in helping spread the organization’s message since 2014. What are some of the things you have planned for Best Buddies Philippines in 2018?

MA: Good question. After attending recent training in Madrid, Spain, I know we’re on the right path. Best Buddies Philippines has been slowly growing our membership and chapters in both public and private schools and making changes to bring added awareness to the plight of individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Also, we have an elementary school campaign that we’re hoping to launch a pilot for so that our friendship programs can begin with even younger children.

LR: Hillary Clinton famously said “it takes a village” to raise children and I know Best Buddies Founder, Anthony Kennedy Shriver, believes deeply in community service and helping those in need (Anthony’s mother, Eunice, was the Founder of the Special Olympics and his father, Sargent, was Founding Director of the Peace Corps). What is it about Best Buddies that you love most? Is it one thing in particular or a lot of little things?

MA: It really does take a village. The village I live in consists of children, families, and professionals who all can take part in our programs. Small businesses that can employ individuals with IDD. Educators. All of these people are important in furthering our mission of inclusion for all people.

I was bullied because I was different as a child. Living in a small town where there were very few Filipino kids – most of whom were related to me – makes this cause even more meaningful to me. I’ve been on the other side and I know what it feels like to be left out. Everyone wants to be a part of something. As a mother, I want Gelli to be included in all that she desires.

What is it about Best Buddies that I love most? The time I spend with the Buddies. The selfies. The stories. The smiles. The laughter. The growth of each individual as they participate in our activities. The leadership I see that is nurtured in both the typical kids and the kids with IDD. I enjoy seeing our parents sigh with relief, knowing that their children are safe in our programs, that they’re being included, and that their kids have a chance at friendship.

LR: In May, you were honored at a ceremony in Malibu, California with the award for Mother-Of-The-Year by Best Buddies International. What was that like for you?

MA:  A bit awkward. Humbling. I do what I do for Gelli and others like her because it’s personal to me. I don’t do it for recognition. In fact, I didn’t even know I was being honored. I thought they were just asking me to attend as a guest. It was a surprise to learn that I was actually being given the stage to share part of my story as Gelli’s mom and as Country Director for the Philippines. I can talk for hours about the work we do and how others can help, but talking about myself in front of all those people was difficult for me. Still, I wanted to make sure the audience understood that it was only a few years ago the Department of Education in the Philippines made it the law for my daughter to have the right to an education with her diagnosis. I bring the knowledge of that statistic to the work I do for Best Buddies and what we are up against. I felt it was my job to share these personal experiences of mine so they could understand that it was only through my motherhood of Gelli that I became aware of what the real fight was about here. I am extremely thankful for the award and the recognition but it felt a little silly being acknowledged for a job I would do anyway. Does that make sense?

[L: Michelle with Maria Shriver and R: Michelle with daughters Gia, Gelli, and Cindy Crawford]

LR: It makes perfect sense. You’re a Filipino American who made the decision to move to the Philippines with your family. What’s a big difference in terms of how people with disabilities are treated in the Philippines as opposed to in the United States? I know you mentioned earlier that there’s still a stigma, but you also noted some of the improvements you’ve seen.

MA: We are still light years behind the United States when it comes to an inclusive society. When Gelli was born, my first inclination was to move back to New York where I knew she’d have a better chance at becoming who she was meant to be. In the end, I realized there’s a reason for everything. A reason she chose me as her mother. And a reason why I found myself in Manila. There is so much work to be done here. It’s why I had to step up and walk the walk.

LR: What’s a typical day like for you as Director of Best Buddies Philippines?

MA: I wake up and see the kids off to school and then I jump on my laptop and answer any emails or messages received. I check on the activities we have planned for the week and see if any of the chapters need my help with anything. I talk to parents and check in with the ambassadors. I do this while also balancing the writing I do for my own website, attending events, and preparing meals for my family. I’m hands-on with everything and honestly, when my head hits the pillow at night I find myself making lists of things I need to tackle when I wake up. Some days are full of work with Best Buddies and others aren’t, but I’m pulled in so many different directions that no two days are ever alike.

LR: How does the Buddy System work?

MA: In each chapter, the faculty advisor and/or the program manager has to be really astute in making matches. We match according to age, gender, and interests. By getting to know the Buddy and the Peer Buddy, we can make the best match possible. It’s not easy, but with help from everyone involved, we try to make matches where a selected friendship will naturally evolve to a deeper one. In our more established chapters, you can see the matches that were made well because they stay on as Buddies long after the year-long requirement has been fulfilled.

LR: How can people volunteer or get involved with Best Buddies Philippines?

MA: We are always looking for Buddies, parent volunteers, schools, teachers, and professionals. Interested parties can contact us on Facebook at Facebook.com/BestBuddiesPhilippinesManila, on Instagram at @bestbuddiesphilippines or email us at BestBuddiesManila@gmail.com.

Whatta Dame!

Jennifer Reitman DAME Magazine _ Lipstick-Republic Blog

 

Jennifer Reitman is a lady on a mission. She wants to empower women across the country and to give voice to their concerns and issues. As the Founder of DAME Magazine, she’s uniquely poised to do so on a national scale. The content is smart, provocative, and insightful and the journalists who write for DAME are among the best and most-awarded in the industry. If the magazine itself is the vox populi of the times, then Ms. Reitman is the doyen of the playing field.

LR: How did you come up with the idea for DAME?

JR:  I conceived of DAME before media outlets were digital native. I had always worked in the magazine business, and I was a voracious reader, but  I was never enamored with traditional women’s magazines. I tended to gravitate to general interest ones like Vanity Fair or men’s magazines like Esquire. I wanted great long-form journalism with a bit of lifestyle service, but women’s magazines were full of fashion and beauty or relationship tips.  At the same time, men’s magazines were obviously for men – so the voice, the lens, the perspective wasn’t meant for me. I came up with DAME as a way to satisfy the sensibilities of me and so many of my women friends.

LR: What are you most proud of when it comes to being the Founder of a magazine like DAME?

JR: I’m proud of so many things, it’s hard to pin it down to just one thing – but none of them have anything to do with me being the Founder. I’m incredibly proud of my editors, and how beloved they are by our writers. And of course, the writers themselves, they’ve won awards for the work they’ve done for us.  Perhaps one of the things that moves me the most – that makes it all so meaningful, are the notes we get from readers. When we get an email from someone who tells us that they love our site or that a story moved them, well – it makes it all worth it.

LR: What’s been your biggest challenge in terms of the issues you cover and the stories you tell in this current political climate?

JR: There are two.  The speed of the news cycle and picking what to focus on.  As a small site, we can’t cover everything, so sometimes there are stories that are important pegs for our features that are moving so fast that we just can’t catch up.  The second challenge is finding new angles – I think we’re good at that – but finding a unique take on a topic that almost every other site is covering can be a challenge.

LR: Does it concern you that the President calls much of mainstream media fake news?

JR: Enormously. It’s hard to rank my fears with this President but his attack on one of the absolute pillars of democracy is horrifying. A free press is critical.  In less than a year, he has managed to not only erode trust in the media but also his threats are truly authoritarian.

LR: Walk me through a typical workday.

JR: I wake up at about 4am and review all of the overnight or morning trending news. From there, I check in with my editors to see the status of stories. I’ll work with the entire team, social and editors, to ideate future features, new writers etc. But a large part of my day isn’t creative at all – it’s the stuff that all small business owners contend with – lawyers, insurance, accountants and daily.

LR: What do you think the greatest threat is to women right now in this country?

JR: Reproductive rights. Without question. Denying women agency is a goal of the GOP and it opens the door to economic oppression, abuse, so many things.

LR: Were you always a Feminist? Did your parents play a big part in that growing up?

JR: I was always a very strong female – but I don’t think I discovered true feminism until I was older and had experienced all the things in terms of sexism, inequality and the like that make feminism so important.  That said, my parents truly raised me to be a feminist even if they didn’t use that word. When I was nine years old, my mother (a Swedish national) took me to march on DC for the ERA and my father, an executive, always championed me and told me that there wasn’t anything I couldn’t do as well as men.

LR: When you’re not slaying dragons and defending democracy, what do you like to do in your spare time?

JR: Sleep and resist? I actually clean my house to relax or organize closets.  I try to catch up on reading. And of course, spend as much time with my two dogs as possible.

You can follow and subscribe to DAME online at www.DameMagazine.com. on their Facebook page here, or on Twitter at @DameMagazine

Dame Magazine _Lipstick-Republic blog

 

 

A League Of Her Own

 

In 1920 women in the United States were given the right to vote. Since then, the League of Women Voters has been at the forefront of the political arena engaging with legislators and people across the country in affecting policy and helping to facilitate important discussions on both sides of the aisle that impact all Americans.

Below, is my interview with Dr. Sondra Cosgrove, President of the League of Women Voters for Nevada.

LR: You’re the President of the League of Women Voters for the state of Nevada and a Full-Time History professor at College of Southern Nevada. In addition to those titles, you’re a mom, a mentor, and a volunteer. How do you juggle?

SC: I’ve figured out how to lead a three-dimensional life. I layer my time to efficiently multitask: through technology, I can use every minute of the week as effectively as possible. This means that much of what I do happens virtually. I teach half my classes online and half in a hybrid modality, which gives my students the freedom to complete work on a schedule that best fits their lives. It also allows me to create course content and assignments while I am on break; to stay connected through email and messaging; and to grade anywhere I have an internet connection. I manage my community and family roles similarly. While League has in-person meetings, most of what I do as President of League of Women Voters Nevada happens in virtual space. I manage our social media accounts and blog electronically and I can do voter registration, community outreach, and mentor our younger members through a combination of in-person and virtual activities. My children are grown, so I’m at an age where I have a lot more time for my own goals.

LR: For those who don’t know, how would you describe the work and mission of League of Women Voters?

SC: The League of Women Voters began on February 14, 1920, six months before the 19th Amendment established women’s right to vote. The suffragists who fought so hard to gain the right to vote realized that women would need help registering to vote, engaging with elected leaders, and running for office so they created the League as a women’s organization to promote civic engagement. Since it’s founding, League has added issue advocacy to its mission. There is sometimes confusion over this part of League’s activities. We are a non-partisan, but political organization under the I.R.S. This means that we do not work directly with either political party and we do not endorse candidates, but we do advocate for issues with elected leaders. Our 501c3 legal designation allows us to do this type of political work. We still spend much of our time ensuring that every eligible voter can register to vote, learn about candidates and issues, cast an easily accessible ballot, and engage in legislative processes, but – especially since the Civil Rights movement – we also advocate for issues legislatively and through litigation to strengthen our democracy. These two main focuses make League one of the oldest women’s groups in the country that gives women leadership opportunities and a political voice outside the political party structures.

LR: LWV is neither Democrat nor Republican and is issues focused. It’s been around ninety-eight years and is still going strong. How would you like to see the organization grow?

SC: To survive for almost one hundred years, League had to become adept at evolving early in our history. This doesn’t mean that change is easy or even orderly, be we do understand that League must reflect the needs of women in each generation. We are currently refreshing League practices and issues to better align with Millennial and Gen Z needs. In addition to access to voter registration and election processes, younger women are also worried about access to affordable higher education, various forms of harassment in the workplace, and affordable healthcare. In the current iteration of League, we’ve increased our use of online forms of communicating and advocacy and we’ve integrated more professional development on diversity and cultural competency into our training programs. Each day, League of Women Voters of Nevada is listening to our very diverse community and offering opportunities for empowerment and action that reflect local needs.

LR: The current political climate evokes a lot of impassioned emotion from many people. What are some of the issues that most concern you as a woman? How is LWV participating in that conversation on a regional and national scale?

SC: While I would definitely describe Leaguers as passionate, what mainly attracted me to League is how the organization uses rational, academic processes for determining outcomes. We’re sticklers about adhering to Robert’s Rules of Order to manage our meetings and organizational processes, which ensures every member can participate and feel safe and heard. This strong commitment to using good processes to produce good outcomes also applies to how we decide which issues to support. Before any issue comes up for a vote of the membership, it goes through a detailed study process. By the time we vote on adopting an issue or position, we all feel included, heard, and sure the outcome will be fair. Personally, I am working to guarantee women have equal opportunity and are treated fairly in the workplace in political spheres. The League of Women Voters US is currently working through Congress and the Courts on redistricting reform, immigration reform, and restoring the Voting Rights Act. And in Nevada, League is working with our legislature on behavioral healthcare, renewable and sustainable energy, and reforming how we manage legislative sessions.

LR: Recently, I attended a meeting where you had speakers sharing their thoughts on Intersectionality and how LWV can be a part of that process. For people who don’t know what Intersectionality is, how would you definite it and moreover, why is it so important?

SC: Intersectionality is an introspective approach for pursuing social justice. The theory of Intersectionality teaches us that to truly address social inequality and discrimination it’s vital to be aware that every person’s reality consists of many identities and experiences. Intersectionality informs anyone dedicated to advancing social justice to be acutely aware of the oppression people of color and other minority groups face in American society. Intersectionality reminds me that what I view as important, may not be as important to distressed community members. And, to achieve social justice outcomes, I must listen, work to provide spaces where anyone can feel safe to ask for help, and be ready to address the issues that are most important to those who ask for help. League members want to make things better – it’s our reason for being. So, for me, it makes sense that the concept of intersectionality should guide how we prioritize our advocacy and how we marshal resources for immediate community needs.

LR: On days when you’re not teaching, what’s a typical schedule like for you in terms of your LWV duties?

SC: As I mentioned, I live a layered life. During most of each day, I am a professor, a League president, and many other roles simultaneously. Daily, I post reliable news and political analysis on our League social media accounts to keep folks updated on important issues. I attend events and community meetings as they arise. I find and invite speakers to our League meetings, which happen on the third Saturday of each month. We have a very active Behavioral Healthcare committee that meets once a month and we have board meetings quarterly. During the legislative session, I testify during hearings related to our issue priorities, watch hearings to keep track of votes on important legislation, and post legislative updates on our League blog. I also speak at civic and community group meetings to provide legislative updates and advocacy training. Lastly, because I am the state of Nevada LWV President, I travel to Reno/Carson City area at least once a quarter to meet with our northern League and to Washington DC or other cities to engage in national-level League business.

LR: You’re invited to speak at many events and spend a lot of time with legislators and policymakers too. What’s the most rewarding and most challenging aspects of that part of your responsibilities?

SC: I guess I’m a bit weird because I like to attend meetings and other types of events. I find that each is an opportunity to meet people with different perspectives, to exchange information, and to form new coalitions. I see every person as an expert in something and I’ve found that most people are happy to share their expertise if asked. Political work can be frustrating at times when someone disregards established protocols, practices, and rules but, by and large, the lawmakers and other elected officials I work with are all dedicated to making Nevada a better place.

LR: Nevada is among the states with the greatest proportion of female lawmakers, is home to the first Latina Senator in the United States Senate, and had a DREAM Act recipient elected to the United States Congress. In a state as diverse as Nevada, how does that affect LWV?

 SC: Nevada is an awesome place to live for all those reasons! Because League is a federated organization, state and local Leagues have great latitude to adapt in ways that reflect individual community needs. For the Nevada League, that means recognizing that every part of our rich and diverse population has unique challenges. We are aware that we cannot assume to know what issues need to be addressed on a day-to-day basis, so, we strive to maintain a constant stream of information coming in from our members and community partners. Leaguers are ready to listen and then act to help.

LR: What would you say to encourage a young person about the importance of civic engagement?

SC: As a history professor, I am an ardent advocate of civic engagement. Our political systems and processes do have problems, but I can professionally attest to the fact that our nation has achieved great things, despite these problems, when more people vote and advocate for their needs. Why would our history be so full of epic battles over voting rights if voting and fair representation didn’t bestow power? League recognizes that the fight to empower voters and defend democracy is still with us. As long as people of color and the poor are denied the right to vote and the right to fair representation, League will stand strong to eradicate those strains of injustice.

LR: How can people find out more about League of Women Voters?

SC: The League of Women Voter’s US website offers League’s history and a summary of our current efforts nationally. The URL is www.LWV.org. Anyone can access our state and local Leagues through our state League website at www.LWVNV.org. We also have a blog with updates on meetings, elections, and governing processes. The URL for that site is www.LWVNVblog.org. In addition to those tools,we have Facebook pages for the League of Women Voters of Nevada, League of Women Voters of Southern Nevada, and League of Women Voters Northern Nevada. On Twitter, you can follow us at @LWVSNV.

Healing in Heels

With 2018 around the corner and many women looking to make some changes in their food and lifestyle habits, I decided to interview Melissa Botten, a wellness guru who incorporates holistic healing through food and movement with her company, Healing In Heels.

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LR: What made you decide to start Healing In Heels?

MB: I literally looked down at my swollen, arch-damaged feet and decided I needed to heal them. I was wearing high heels that day – really cute expensive ones that I found on sale – and I realized I was ready to leave my career in corporate fashion and work on healing my feet and healing in general. I started doing lots of research on Plantar Fasciitis, bunions, and herbal remedies for feet. I found ways to treat my swollen toes, mend my damaged heels, and improve the sides of each foot. Shortly thereafter, I was introduced to a woman who has since become like a mother to me. We began working on her healing journey by eliminating meat, dairy, sugar, and processed foods from her diet. With the elimination of those items, we added strong vegan proteins, lots of nutrient-dense foods, and meditative breathing. She was super dedicated to trying anything I recommended to her and saw positive results quickly. Within a couple of months, she went from having difficulty breathing and thinking she was going to die, to doing yoga, hosting gatherings, taking long walks, and laughing with her friends again.

LR: That’s great! Have you always loved cooking and experimenting in the kitchen?

MB:  I started cooking with my dad and grandmother when I was a little girl. They taught me recipes that are special to our family. As I got older, I started learning about different Italian dishes from my aunts and uncles who lived in New York. So I guess we really are a family of chefs! My company, Healing in Heels, grew out of my desire to help people heal through yummy cuisine, organic and natural herbs, and colorful presentation. After all, food should be good for you and delicious, but it should be beautiful too.

LR: How do you make healthy taste so delicious? Do you have any favorites or “Go-To” meals for busy women on the go?

MB: That can be challenging for anyone! You know, I’ve been at this for a few years professionally, but I have been using cooking as a modality for healing my mind and body my whole life. I’ve learned the fresher and more natural the ingredients are, the more delicious the food is to even the most discriminating client’s palate. Anything you can put on collard greens or in a vegan gluten-free wrap with fruits and vegetables is probably my favorite Go-To meal. I also enjoy making muffins with five simple ingredients. They’re so amazing, I’m afraid to leave my house at night with a basket of them because someone might accost me just for those darn muffins!

LR: I need to try the muffins! What about women over forty? How does healthy eating help?

MB: Women in their 40s, 50s, or even their 60s are all experiencing different hormonal shifts and trying to figure out the necessary steps to get them through these stages in their lives. There’s definitely a transition with each decade and for some, it’s easier than for others. Our hormones can be really out of whack from things like childbirth and menopause or acute and chronic stress and medications. It can be difficult to regulate our body temperatures, keep our bones strong, and ensure all our parts inside – big and small – function properly. In addition to this, a lot of women feel their emotions and stress levels are hard to control and are exhausted emotionally, mentally, and physically. A good place to start is by adding nutrient-dense food, herbs, and spices to their diet to either help prevent or minimize some of these symptoms. Teaming up with Mother Nature is great because even if you don’t feel like something is working or it’s taking too long, you’re still making healthier choices in your daily routine and getting a vitamin or two out of it as an added perk! If targeted nutrient food healing is needed, that’s where I’d suggest a customized diet or menu for helping to heal specific ailments in the body.

LR: You’re a single mom of two. How do your girls influence your work?

MB: My children influence everything! I made a conscious decision when I decided to really take charge of my life and embark on a journey of healing. I healed from the loss of my parents and my divorce. I healed insecurities from past relationships that had been hindering my growth. I knew that I had to follow a path that was true to who we are as a family and who I am as a person – one that would influence healthy living for the three of us – especially since my girls were still so small at the time. If I keep the house positive and make it a nurturing environment then that’s what the girls are going to experience and want to emulate when they’re older too. When I’m consistent they feel safe and comfortable. I’m selective when it comes to food we keep in the refrigerator and in the kitchen, but I offer the girls choices and explain the reasons behind each option. I don’t believe in depriving them of things to eat but we do limit our indulgences to an acceptable level that works for our family’s needs.  Both of them volunteer with me in the community, help me cook, clean up around the house, and care for our dogs. We create recipes together, we paint together…I really do credit them for a lot of my inspiration, creativity, and success.

LR: I know you’re based in Southern California, but you are able to Skype and travel to clients all over the country, right? How do people contact you for a consultation?

MB: Yes, I’m based out of Long Beach, California. Ideally, I prefer to meet people in person because one-on-one connecting is vital when a woman is choosing a supportive partner to help in her healing journey. However, I know some people live in other cities and states so I offer consultations over the phone, via FaceTime, Skype, and Zoom too. Curious friends, new referrals, or prospective clients can find me at my Healing In Heels website or through social media on my Instagram or Facebook pages. There’s a contact form they can submit which goes directly to me. After I receive it, I’ll reply and we can discuss the next steps to connect.

LR: What’s a typical weekday for you? Is there such thing in your line of work?

MB:  It differs slightly depending on the day. I share custody of my children with my ex-husband but I’m very involved in their day-to-day and after-school activities. Plus, we have two puppies so the needs of the dogs are also figured into my schedule. Weekdays are reserved for clients when the kids are in school. I coach over the phone or in person and do home visits too. Some days, I may have a private cooking lesson scheduled with an individual client I’m coaching or a group I’m teaching. Since so much of my volunteering, special event guesting, and community projects are done on weekends, I’m also mindful to keep one day a week just for myself so I can do things that nurture my own soul like meditation, yoga, and roller skating.