Black History Month Spotlight: Mae Jemison

Mae_Jemison_in_Space

As we come to a close on Black History Month, I would like to turn the spotlight on another influential Black female figure: Mae Jemison. Mae Jemison is widely acclaimed in the sciences industry as being the first Black Female astronaut. In 1992, she made significant strides as an astronaut by flying into space on the Endeavour spacecraft, officially establishing herself as the first African-American woman in space.

Born in October 1956, in Decatur, Alabama, Mae Jemison and her family moved to Chicago, Illinois where she grew up for the majority of her youth. There in Chicago, she was able to witness and experience first-hand the peak of the Black civil rights movement in the United States. As a young girl, she lived in fear by the frequent protests and the heavy presence of the National Guard on their streets. At a mere 12 years old, although scared, Mae Jemison knew the importance of the civil rights movement and its impact on herself as an African-American girl and the Black community as a whole. Living through such an experience growing up, Mae Jemison’s African-American identity became a crucial part in her academic and career pursuits.

She spent her life in the pursuit of science – specifically, astrology. Even as a kindergartner on her first day of school, she already declared herself a “scientist” when asked what she wanted to be when she grew up. Taken aback by her answer as a woman, much less a Black woman, people were skeptical and doubtful. These doubts and odds against her didn’t stop her in her pursuit.

She began her pursuit for higher education in the sciences in college, where she studied physical and social sciences. Jemison developed a passion for linguistics while in college and also learned how to speak Russian and African-Swahili fluently. She progressed in her academic career by earning another degree in chemical engineering and African studies. She always stuck true to her roots as an African-American and ensured that her African identity remained an integral part of who she was in every aspect – both as a student and as a professional in the sciences. Mae Jemison continued on to study medicine in medical school, where she earned her MD and also became a medical doctor.

In June of 1987, she was admitted into NASA’s astronaut program, being the first African-American woman to be admitted into the astronaut-training program. In 1992, Mae Jemison made even more significant strides as an African-American and as a female astronaut by initiating her first launch into space. On September 12, 1992, Mae Jemison set aboard the Endeavour spacecraft among 6 other astronauts on mission STS47. On this day, she officially established herself as the first African-American woman in space.

Mae Jemison spent 8 days in space conducting various projects and experiments in collaboration with the rest of the team of astronauts. She returned back to earth on September 20, 1992 and spent a total of 190 hours in space. Upon her return, Jemison remarked of the importance of both integrating males and females, as well as various minority groups, into societal activities. She emphasized that all kinds of people are able to be productive members of society and contribute to the development of the world, so long as the equal opportunity is afforded to them.

In recognition of her astonishing repertoire of accomplishments, Jemison received numerous awards and several honorary doctorates. Some include:

  • The 1988 Essence Science and Technlogy Award
  • The 1992 Ebony Black Achievement Award
  • The 1993 Montgomery Fellowship from Dartmouth College
  • The 1990 Gamma Sigma Gamma Woman of the Year Award

Mae Jemison was also fundamental in the progression and development of various organizations in the scientific community, including the American Medical Association, the American Chemical Society, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Mae Jemison is not only influential, she is a model of excellence for all people – especially women, African-Americans; particularly African-American women. Her significant work in the STEM fields proves her to be role model for young girls and young women, showing them that women not only can be a part of the STEM fields, but they can also excel in the STEM field. She has paved the way for women to make positive and remarkable contributions into an industry that is primarily dominated my males. As an African-American, she has proven to be a figure of strength and intelligence, proving to society that despite every odd set up against a marginalized population – despite the lack of equal opportunity – resilience, perseverance, and strength can uplift yourself and an entire community from an oppression. Moreover, it can influence society to adopt ideologies that are more inclusive, aware, and integrative, and foster a society that offers equal opportunity to all people, regardless of gender, race, sex, sexuality, etc.

Resources:

http://www.biography.com/people/mae-c-jemison-9542378

http://www.jsc.nasa.gov/Bios/htmlbios/jemison-mc.html

http://teacher.scholastic.com/space/mae_jemison/

http://www.biography.com/people/mae-c-jemison-9542378

Mediations on Aging

depicts a young girl, a middle aged woman and an elderly woman

They streak through the brown waves. Little streams, trickles of silver. Unruly, they spring, wild, untamed. Refusing to be hidden, they revel in their freedom. My age proclaimed by their unrestrained rivulets.

I have celebrated the thirty-fifth anniversary of my birth. I see the streaks of silver, the laugh lines, the aging process reflected in my physical self. Nothing else seems to have changed. Oh, I may have gained more knowledge, more experience, but I my character is no different.

Until recently, I would have argued that I refused to buy into the defined limits and demarkations of aging as a woman. I notice these limits more frequently now and can see myself reflected in their definitions. Society tell us to be good little girls when we are younger, the teenage and early adults years are a confusing mix of the saintly virgin and the desirable whore. Many of us become mothers, ‘the hot mama,’ squatting and sweating our way through baby boot camps. The over arching theme being that we are told to age gracefully. We pluck, shave, and dye our way back to youth; to beauty.

I am tired of being told how to be a woman, how to be feminine, how to age. I am tired of us doing this to ourselves. There is nothing wrong with looking and feeling your best, but why must this ideal come out of a magazine or an ad and not from our own understanding of ourselves? Why must aging become yet another trend that must bend women to its will?

I refuse. The creases by my eyes tell a story. The many times I have laughed till I cried, the times I squinted in concentration learning a new concept, the times I attempted to read a map in my travels, the times I wept. I see my ancestors in the creases. The women who came before, who cried and laughed with me. The women who stroked the hair that would one day become streaked with silver.

I wear the silver in my hair like a badge of honour. The streaks glimmer and shine. Silver is a valuable commodity, is it not?

There is a trend to embrace our inner child. Let us not forget our inner crone. Let’s laugh with the abandonment of children at our streaks of silver, but let us celebrate the lives that created them. I may yet choose to change my appearance, but it will be because I choose, not because I am bullied into hiding my age.

Cat-Calling in Toronto

It’s interesting… After reading a link someone had shared on facebook regarding sexual harassment towards women on the street (i.e. mainly cat-calling and lewd verbal comments), I decided to see how women of Toronto felt about the issue. A reddit feed had circulated approximately three months ago with the following title: “Women of r/Toronto, how bad is sexual harassment in public places in this city?” With over 200 comments by women from various areas of the city, a common theme overall was shared; Many women of Toronto have experienced sexual harassment in public which results in feelings of discomfort and/or anger.images-1

It is apparent that many women, especially at night, cannot walk the street alone without having to constantly check their surroundings. Not only this, but also many women refrain from wearing particular clothing that may come across as “provocative” or “sexy” due to past experiences with cat calling. Women have commented that many of the men that approach them are under the influence, and I’m sure we can all agree that this is no excuse. Women should be able to walk the streets in a shorter dress, a plunging neckline or sweatpants for that matter without having to fear potential male commentary or even worse, their own safety.

So why? Why do men (not all men of course, I’m generalizing here) continue to call out “Hey sexy!”, “Nice ass”, “I want some of that” or worse? I can honestly say I don’t know the answer to the question. It still baffles me why men do this, as it certainly doesn’t appear to work. Cat calling does not lead to dates, or sexual encounters. Cat calling leads to situations where women are afraid to wear apparel that may arouse too much attention and situations where women are afraid to walk alone in public.

After reading these posts and thinking about why men cat-call, I decided to ask some of my male friends about female cat-calling. I asked them the following questions:

  1. Have you ever cat-called a female on the street/in public?
  2. Would you ever cat-call a female on the street/in public?
  3. What are your feelings towards cat-calling females on the street/in public?
  4. Why do you think men cat-call females in the street/in public?

The responses were very similar. The overall shared belief was that no, they hadn’t engaged in cat-calling and no they would never engage in cat-calling, however, many know individuals who have. When asked about their feelings towards it, the men I spoke to touched on ideas suggesting that the men that do engage in this behaviour “have no idea how to talk to women civilly” and they questioned why any woman would enjoy it. When asked about why men do it, themes of dominance arose, as it is the males’ way of suggesting who is in charge and where the power lies. It was also suggest that for some men, it is a way to get a rise out of women and one male who had engaged in cat calling stated that it was “usually as a joke”. Having considered the male perspective (keep in the sample of males I questioned was a very small sample and thus these responses are simply to be viewed as opinions and not as factual data) in addition to my own experiences with cat-calling, I would agree that there is a level of dominance that is involved and I would take this a bit further and suggest that it may also involve a level of peer pressure. Many men who cat-call are in the presence of a group of males and thus their own feelings of inclusion and acceptance may be a factor in why this occurs.

At the end of the day I think most of us can agree that women don’t enjoy cat calling. It makes us feel belittled, womanized and sometimes even disgusted and ashamed. When we wear clothing that flatters our figure, we do it because we want to and because we can, not because we want to be called at from across the street. In most cases, cat calling DOES NOT make us feel sexy. It DOES NOT make us want to give you our number. So please, take your thumb off the horn, roll up that window and refrain from cat calling.

Visit original reddit post at: http://www.reddit.com/r/toronto/comments/1y32qx/women_of_rtoronto_how_bad_is_sexual_harassment_in/

Image from: http://meninsider.com/2012/09/the-hipster-cat-calling/

Noise Complaint: Violence Against Women

A friend had recently told me about this video that had been circulating on Facebook. I asked her to send it to me so I could watch it for myself. The ad begins in Johannesburg, South Africa with a man in his living room playing a drum set. As he continues to play, neighbours from the suburban area hear the noise and one by one begin to complain. He is given a letter from a group of neighbours stating that the drumming is too loud. On a different night, the same man plays a recording of an argument that takes place between a woman and her partner, which results in the woman being beaten. Screams are heard (approximately as loud, if not louder than the drumming noise from the night prior) and the man patiently waits for neighbours to approach. One might expect for the neighbours to intervene. Surely if they heard the drumming from the other night they could hear the woman screaming in agony? But no matter how extreme the situation, no one stepped forward to assist or intervene.

This ad was created by the organization, People Opposing Women Abuse (POWA), which was established in South Africa. After watching this ad, I decided to take a look at some statistics in Canada for violence against women, which according to the United Nations, can be defined as, “any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life.” Unfortunately, since the age of 16, at least half of all women in Canada have experienced at least one physical or sexual violence encounter. Another shocking statistic is that approximately every six days, a woman in Canada is murdered by her spouse/partner. When looking at the facts, it is hard to swallow that such disturbing acts are still occurring in Canada, and in the world in general today. What’s even more upsetting is that the statistics are based on the files that go reported, while many victims remain in hiding for fear of what will happen if they report such violence, or fear of the potential shame or guilt that reporting might bring.

Stop-Violence-Against-Women

The question remains, how do we end violence against women? I’m sure many people would suggest the need for women to engage in safer activities, dress in non-provocative clothing, attend to their partner and refrain from engaging in activities or discussion that could bring about bursts of anger which could lead to physical violence. Does that seem like an appropriate answer to you? Unfortunately, many people (both males and females) still hold these views and refuse to place blame on anyone except the woman involved. It is our job to change the mind set of the future generations and begin an open and on-going dialogue of how to prevent and end violence against women. We must educate others on how to respect women’s minds and bodies and that violence should never be a choice, a solution or a last resort. What men need to realize is that they play a huge role in the eradication of violence against women, not only by abstaining to engage in such acts, but by teaching others how to respect women and becoming active participants in this dialogue.

With that said, it is important to be aware of the resources that are available both within and outside of the Ryerson campus. If you or a woman you know has experienced violence whether physical or sexual, the Centre for Women and Trans People (located on the 2nd floor of the Student Centre at 55 Gould St.) is available on campus. They offer a variety of services to advocate and support women who have experienced violence, one of which is the Sexual Assault Survivor Support Line where you can speak with fellow peers for support and additional resources. Outside of campus, other support networks include, but are not limited to, The Assaulted Women’s Helpline, Victim Services Program of Toronto, Toronto Rape Crisis Centre: Multicultural Women Against Rape and Family Service Toronto (see below link for contact information).

I leave you with the video’s concluding text, “every year, 1400 women are killed by their partners… Don’t you think that’s worth complaining about?” I sure do. Help advocate for violence against women by spreading the word, educating others and even getting involved with various agencies that help support this very serious and tragic cause.

 

Check out the ad here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BW30WslahMc

POWA: http://www.powa.co.za/

Canadian Statistics: http://www.canadianwomen.org/facts-about-violence

Available Resources: http://www.familyservicetoronto.org/programs/vaw/centres.html, http://rsuonline.ca/section/19

Image from:http://9bri.com/the-international-problem-of-violence-against-women-and-the-effectiveness-of-domestic-legislation-in-asia/

 

The Monster in the Mirror

Look at this girl. Look at the way her lower stomach protrudes. Look at the way her arms droop downwards when she holds her arms outward to the side. Look at her huge thighs; they shake with every step. And of course with her huge legs come her large bum. A bum so large it forms dimples just from standing still. A bum so large he left her saying “I never said I was a booty guy”. The way her hips stretch across the sides of the mirror! Look at her chin. I’m sure from a side angle it will sag, leaving her with a rooster’s throat.  Her small breasts are okay I suppose, the only part of the body with limited fat… where fat should be. Her face is rounder than before. Does everyone else notice? Who would want to look at her? Who would find this girl attractive? She might look okay once in a while with heavy makeup and clothes to hide her form. Nothing tight to show the rolls.

Women are harsh. Not only are we harsh on one another, but we are harsh towards ourselves. We are our own worst critic. Up until three months ago, the above paragraph would be a similar portrayal of how I saw myself in the mirror. I wouldn’t describe myself as a big girl, nor would I look at someone of a similar weight or ever larger and consider them “fat” or “big”. But what I saw in the mirror was not what others saw. I did see someone who was fat and I did see someone who was big. Such thoughts did not change the healthy lifestyle I already adopted through healthy eating and exercise, but it did affect my emotional state. When a woman looks inward and sees nothing but superficial ugliness, her whole being is put into a state of distress.

16What do we call this? Is such a feeling and such a state of sadness tangible? I knew other women shared similar thoughts and saw a similar demon starring back at them in the mirror. It wasn’t until I watched the documentary, Miss Representation, that I discovered that there is a term to describe what I was experiencing; Body Dysmorphic Disorder. This disorder can take on different traits but overall can be described as a fixation or obsession having to do with the body. It could be focusing on how big your nose is, feeling so ashamed by acne you refuse to leave the house or refusing to wear tight pants as they accentuate your large thighs. With this disorder, your nose may or may not be large, your acne may or may not be severe and your thighs may or may not be large, but the fixation itself becomes so serve that all you can see is the absolute worst. This ideology goes hand in hand with the monster my thoughts and society have created that stares at me everyday in the mirror.

I am still battling with my negative thoughts and insecurities on a daily basis but each day I try to be proactive towards my self-worth, self-love, and self-beauty. I recognize myself as a beautiful person, engage in mindful activities such as hot yoga that not only help strengthen my body, but help strengthen my mind and try to see the positive when I look in the mirror. It’s an ongoing battle that many women, and even men, face. So let’s do our best to stop the self-hate, one day at a time.

Sources:

Image from: http://fitness.makeupandbeauty.com/body-dysmorphic-disorder/

http://film.missrepresentation.org/

“Why Chivalry is Dead”: A Review

            After reading John Picciuto’s entry entitled: “Why Chivalry is Dead, From a Man’s Perspective” on elitedaily.com, a million thoughts popped into my head. In this entry, Picciuto discusses his conservative upbringing and learning the etiquette women should hold towards themselves and towards men. He discusses men’s lack of chivalrous acts that were once considered the norm such as paying for dinner, holding open doors and pulling out chairs etc. He makes a very forward point by stating that in this day and age, that dating realm no longer exists but instead, men and women engage in loose forms of intimacy (if you can even call it intimacy anymore). This has now, according to Picciuto, become the norm, which happens on the regular. I think Picciuto takes this a little bit far as relationships still exist. People meet, engage in conversation, date, and if all is well, establish a relationship. Intercourse may or may not have come to play somewhere in this process, but reality still shows that true relationships still exist that are not based solely off of sex. In addition, even with technology playing a large role in relationships through online dating (which yes, some of which are purely based on a “hook up” nature), traditional dating still exists whether it is going to dinner, a movie, for coffee or for a drink.

beingagentleman             I think Picciuto is valid to some degree, but it was when I read this that a horrible shiver ran through my entire body, which resulted in curled toes and griped fists. “The real problem here is that women, for one reason or another, have become complacent and allowed men to get away with adhering to the bare minimum. We no longer have to put in the effort of flowers, chocolates, dates, etc., and if we do, we come off as stage-five clingers.” What Picciuto is really trying to say is that it is women who are at fault for chivalries demise. What Picciuto neglects to point out is the fact that dating/relationships, whether chivalrous or not, is a two way street. Both parties are to blame here, not just women. I have met both types of women and both types of men: those who engage in common etiquette and chivalry and those who don’t. It’s a matter of values, how the individual was raised, and what the individual is ultimately looking for. Why do men get to call the shots in regard to casual sex? Do men really believe that all women want the romantic relationship and when engaging in casual sex, are merely giving in to men’s needs? This may happen for some, but not for all. Women make choices just as men do. Women choose to engage in casual sex just as men do. This should not be frowned upon, as it is merely a matter of choice. Just as some choose to wait to engage in intercourse until there are in a solid and stable relationship. Whether sex occurs on date one, date three or date twenty, this does not make women receive less or more than they deserve. Just because women engage in casual sex does not mean they don’t believe in chivalry and does not mean that they have lowered their self worth. It means that they are in tune with their sexual needs, which alongside men, need to be met. Maybe a relationship will come further down the road, but women are allowed to be focused on the here and now just as men are.

            Ultimately, relationships, dating and sex are a choice. You decide what you deserve and base your actions on such. This doesn’t mean you can’t have a little fun here and there outside of a relationship. Chivalry is not dead to those who still wish to experience it. We are only lowering our standards if we are going against our values and against what we feel we deserve.

Original entry by John Picciuto: http://elitedaily.com/dating/sex/why-chivalry-is-dead-from-a-mans-perspective/

Image from: http://liveabundantly.ca/r-e-s-p-e-c-t/

The perils of caregiving

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For the majority of us, our first memories are of our mother’s caring for us.  The goal always being to move on from that type of dependent relationship to one in which we are independent.  We are taught to grow up, take care of ourselves and emphasis is placed on caring for ourselves. This push away from interdependence or dependency has the potential and in many cases devalues the role of those providing the care.  A role which is typically filled by women.

Did you know that in Canada 66% of caregivers are female, that there are 65.7 million caregivers in the US, 35% of caregivers view their own health as poor, and that many women give up their jobs to provide care, losing income, benefits and security later in life.  Not to mention the proven negative health effects of caregiving.  For example, did you know that caring for a person with dementia can have an impact on your immune system for up to 3 years increasing the caregivers chances of developing a chronic illness and themselves needing care (Family Caregiver Alliance, http://www.caregiver.org/caregiver/jsp/content_node.jsp?nodeid=439).

So where does that leave us?  With communities of people who require care and receive care, mainly from women, these women carers leaves holes in the workforce, lose their financial security, leaving them open to poverty and illness and then full circle the carers are in need of care. All the while, the health care and caregiving services was valued at $450 billon in 2009.

So why the disconnect?  Well, according to Health Canada’s, Women’s Health Strategy, “women are under-represented as policy makers, decision makers and educators in many segments of the health sector. Certain groups of women are doubly disadvantaged in these respects, because of their ethnicity or their sexual orientation or because they have a disability and are less likely to be included in key roles and areas of the health system” (http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/ahc-asc/pubs/_women-femmes/1999-strateg/index-eng.php). So basically, care giving is provided by women and policy makers who are predominately men do nothing to address the fundamental issues surrounding ethics of care.  Issues which can, in turn, lead to more people requiring care due to caregiver related illnesses.

As a woman who has worked in a care giving capacity for several years it boggles my mind that this state of affairs is allowed to continue.  Devaluing those who require care and those who give care places the very fabric of our society at risk.  In the words of the feminist philosopher Eva Feder Kittay “the first goal of public policy must be to empower society’s dependency workers” (Ethics. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/feminism-ethics).

Considering that the majority of society began with a woman caring for them, will have women caregivers throughout theirs lives and potentially at the end of their lives, it only makes sense that caregiving is valued accordingly.

 

A Woman’s Place

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I have a habit of reading the news while laying in bed with a cup of tea.  All the news I can.  Toronto Star, Globe and Mail, BBC World News, New York Times, Al Jazeera.  Recently, I have noticed an increase in articles relating to the epidemic of violence against women.  The rape gang in Acapulco, the protests of rapes in South Africa, the use of rape and mutilation as a weapon of war in the DR Congo, the 64, 000 rapes reported in South Africa last year alone, the unsolved rapes and assaults on native women in Thunder Bay, the rape and coverup in Steubenville, Ohio, the gang rape and death of a 23 year old student in Delhi, the sexual assault allegations against Dr. Doodnaught in Toronto, the assaults on women protesting in Tahrir Square, the rape and murder of three young sister in Maharashtra state in India, the police arrested in Mexico for rape, the murder of Reeva Steenkamp; the list never seems to end. A friend of mine even posted on Facebook a photo from the elementary school where they teach in South Korea.  It is of a ‘sexual violence relief room.’

When I was relating these horrors to an acquaintance, they said that these stories are related to the upcoming international women’s day.  I can’t believe this.  The only way that I can deal with onslaught of news (other than sticking my head in the sand which is not an option for me) without being reduced to a pile of tears or seething anger is to believe that these articles represent a change in our consciousness as a society.  In South Africa rape is rarely reported by the victim let alone by the news, except in cases where the victim was elderly or a toddler.  However, the gang rape and murder of Anene Booysen finally got the country (not only the women) talking on a large scale about the problem of violence against women.  Reeva Steenkamp even tweeted about it before her own brutal murder.  In India, the brutal gang rape and murder of Jyoti Singh Pandey sparked protests and called for change in the practice of victim blaming and ‘eve teasing.’

Rape is not about sex.  It is about control.  We live in a world where women have been traditionally and are still controlled by men.  Perhaps things are starting to change. (Slowly mind you, but change nonetheless).  Organizations, actions and protests, like Slutwalk and One Billion Rising are capitalizing on our (women and men’s) anger over the injustice of the systemic epidemic of violence against women.

However, we are still operating at the individual level.  I recently read an article about a group of women in India who run a female driver only taxi company.  This provides women a safe option instead of riding buses and provides the female drivers with income and a chance to be of service to other women.  These women are exceptionally brave and I don’t want to diminish their efforts, but placing the onus on the individual to change the situation is only one way to deal with issue.  It will not address the systemic problems that allow men to get away with violence against women and for people to think that gender based violence is acceptable.  We need to change the systems which keep the status quo.