Tag Archives: Empowerment

The Brazen Optimism of “Girl Rising”

girlrisingWe parked a few minutes before the viewing was scheduled to start and hustled towards the Barrymore Theatre in Madison, WI. Two members of the group did not yet have tickets to see the documentary Girl Rising, so they made their way to the end of the long box office line snaking around the building. In the other “line,” groups of tweens and teenaged girls pushed their way to the front with chaperons assertively pushing after them.

I had a hard time keeping my cool in the chaotic crowd, but I felt grateful at the end of the film that all those young people had watched the movie. I hoped they felt inspired as I did, possible, I think, because of the film’s bold optimism and omission of some dark details.

Richard E. Robbins’s Girl Rising succeeded aesthetically and narratively and in promoting its theme that educating girls will make the world a better place — for everyone. Girl Rising featured the stories of nine girls from nine different developing countries and (in most cases) overcoming their plights towards education.

Each of the girls shared their experiences with an author from their home country, who in turn interpreted the stories with a unique voice. These are not face-to-face interviews à la traditional documentaries, there’s reenactment, dream sequences, and animation on top of the lovely narratives.

Artistic shots captured the details of the landscapes each girl called home and the lines and details of their faces. (Alert: Spoilers ahead.)

Ruksana’s family in Kolkata, India manages to stay in the city to send three girls to school even though they live in a makeshift house on the pavement. She is a budding artist whose father bares the expense to buy her art supplies. The footage of her story is overlain with fantastical animations of a blue monkey and flowers that reflect the art in her notebook.

The stories feature obstacles that the girls overcome to attend school, and throughout the entire film we see poetry, song, art, and even physics embraced by the girls as survival tactics. My favorite character, Senna of La Rinconada, Peru, turns to poetry after the death of her father, and begins to write her own. Her father named her after the title character in the television show “Xena: Warrior Princess.

Bravery and fortitude also run through the various stories of the nine featured girls. The stories of two, kept anonymous through name changes and actress portrayals, demonstrated strength but touched on the tough themes of rape, youth marriage, and early motherhood. Yasmin’s story in which she defends herself against assault is told via animation, where she takes on a superhero persona. We see Amina as a neglected girl child, who gives birth when she is still a child herself.

The stories of these girls ends with an almost brazen optimism that I bought into, because I became wrapped up in the story. And yet, as I left the theatre, I felt sad for all the stories of Yasmin and Amina that ended with a flourish of hope but unconcluded stories.

The Girl Rising website offers a follow-up to each of the girls, and Yasmin’s and Amina’s next steps cast a shadow on the hopeful sheen of the movie: “…despite our partner NGOs efforts to enroll [13-year-old] Yasmin in literacy classes, Yasmin’s mother considered a marriage proposal to be a more secure investment in her daughter’s future,” reads the website.

This video was well crafted to uplift (as evidenced in the title, Girl Rising). It also conveys the remaining problems for girls throughout the world, albeit with a glossy, optimistic over layer. It ended with a call to mobilize, and I hoped the young girls in the audience got the message: appreciate your education, it’s a right we all deserve but don’t all have access to.

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Gender in Star Wars and Other Media

11212012StarWars-jpg_180602In January, the universe brought my attention to the convergence of two things: the Star Wars sequels and the Bechdel Test. I’ve known of Star Wars for a while (like most of us with a pulse), but the Bechdel Test shed new light for me on the popular series and all the other media I have consumed or will consume in the future.

The Bechdel Test serves as a tool to measure female representation in the media. I often notice when movies and television shows present one-dimensional female characters. And while I’m happy to suspend my disbelief for various fantasies of fictive media, I like for those fictions to represent both women and men.

The Bechdel Test has been around since the year I entered this earth (1985), created by comic artist Alison Bechdel. It’s a sequence of three questions:

  1. Are there more than two women [in a particular piece of media]?
  2. Do they talk to each other?
  3. About something other than a man?

The first reference to this came from the video game website IGN, in an article titled “Why Star Wars: Episode VII Should Have a Female Protagonist.” Author Lucy O’Brien makes a strong case for the forthcoming Star Wars sequels to feature a female hero. She applies the Bechdel test to Star Wars, and it does not pass all three stages. In fact, Princess Leia, the fairly tough female lead, doesn’t have other women to talk with and she plays a secondary role to Luke Skywalker and Han Solo. O’Brien boils her argument down to a simple statement, “girls need heroes too.”

A TED talk that narrowly preceded O’Brien’s commentary features a father, Colin Stokes, as he discusses, “How movies teach manhood.” Stokes also draws on the Bechdel Test to critique Star Wars. Rather than arguing for a new female protagonist, Stokes suggests that a lack of female characters is bad for boys too. In a world in which men and women work together in a variety of circumstances, says Stokes, movies should reflect the cooperative nature of the genders today.

Like these critical fans, I too am looking forward to Star Wars, hoping to see enough tough women (with the men) to pass the Bechdel Test.

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25th World AIDS Day Covers the Spectrum of this Global Pandemic

  1. The twitter-verse lit up on and around Dec. 1 in observance of World AIDS Day and the global issues surrounding the AIDS epidemic. Advocates, governments, and ordinary folks commented on tragedy, hope, stigma, and vulnerable populations. And some even found comic relief.
    AIDS is a fairly young disease. It gained mainstream attention in the 80s, then swept across the world leaving millions of bodies and orphans in its wake. When people in the United States started paying attention to AIDS and the virus that causes it, HIV, it was associated with the homosexual male population. But history demonstrated that women and men, heterosexual and homosexual, are equally vulnerable to the virus. World AIDS Day was established in 1987, and one of the purposes of the event is to remember those who have succumbed to the illness.
  2. aliciakeys
    It’s #WORLDAIDSDAY – Let’s remember those who have passed & re-commit to the struggle.We can achieve an #AIDS-free future in our lifetimes
  3. JoyceMeyer
    Today is #WorldAIDSDay. Join us in praying for the victims as well as for the families who’ve lost loved ones to this devastating disease.
  4. UNAIDS
    RT @un_women: Globally, AIDS is the leading cause of death for girls and women age 15-44. #AIDSfree @unicef_aids
  5. SLangeneggerCBC
    @dsmyxe I had so many friends in Africa who died of AIDS – so many women whose husbands brought it home and they had no idea until too late
  6. While the overall message of AIDS Awareness is as serious as life and death, many promote lighter-hearted awarenss, coupled with statistics. Red remains the color of the day.
  7. RT @geraldinegugo: @IPSForg In the laboratory… #WorldAIDSDay http://pic.twitter.com/xTT61XHV
  8. #UniversityofLiverpool s tribute for #WorldAidsDay #HIV #HIV- #1stDec #1stDecem @ Hele-Shaw Lecture Theatre http://instagr.am/p/SwERohiyqC/
  9. RT @standardny: It’s official, we turned RED with
    @joinRED for #WorldAIDSDay! #nyc http://instagr.am/p/Sts582rHOl/
  10. RT @RealTheWriter: Be positive you’re negative.. Get tested! Protect yourself! #WorldAIDSDay #RED #AMFAR http://instagr.am/p/SwFCSCPYwf/
  11. While AIDS on the continent of Africa gets a lot of coverage, it remains a problem in the United States and throughout the world.
  12. Thethamz
    RT @firstworldfacts: In America, someone is diagnosed with AIDS every 10 mins. In South Africa, someone dies due to AIDS every 10 mins. #WorldAidsDay
  13. Government officials, including both Clintons (former President Bill and Secretary of State Hillary), obeserved and presented plans to address HIV/AIDS.
  14. ClintonTweet
    “On this #WorldAIDSDay, we all need to recommit to the end of AIDS.” President Clinton’s statement: wjcf.co/Sn3rfV
  15. Medical treatments for HIV/AIDS have come a long way in the last few decades, but many people still live with an unknown, HIV positive status. World AIDS Day opens a conversation about and opportunities for destigmatized testing.
  16. ShelbyTNHealth
    #WorldAIDSDay was yesterday, but the Shelby County Health Dept. will offer free HIV counseling and testing ALL December. Know YOUR status.
  17. #WorldAIDSDay Rhema Wellness – 2 days of free testing and Counseling. 200 professionals volunteered http://pic.twitter.com/HTjHPzth
  18. ChristineIAm
    RT @thinkprogress: HIV testing will now be covered under Obamacare; 1st over the counter test was FDA approved this year #WorldAIDSDay thkpr.gs/Rp8pM9
  19. Testing and treatment are not always so accessible in African countries, where HIV/AIDS spread rapidly over the last three decades. Poverty and accessibility to health care play a major role in the large numbers of HIV infections on the continent. But this year some governments and observers highlighted progress, and South Africa even featured puppets against AIDS.
  20. HuffingtonPost
    Sub-Saharan Africa is home to 90 percent of the world’s children who have HIV/AIDS huff.to/SliuH8 #jnj #globalmotherhood
  21. manila_bulletin
    AIDS day:JOHANNESBURG (AFP) – South Africa, home to the world’s largest HIV caseload, on Saturday unveiled … bit.ly/11n49yG
  22. mikehamilton63
    Progress-more to be done “@AfricaDailyNews: Africans mark significant progress on World AIDS day sns.mx/bsY0y6
  23. treebu
    Harper government fails Africa on low-cost drugs for AIDS fb.me/1r2DclH7b
  24. NickKristof
    A sign of progress against AIDS: coffin-makers in southern Africa say their business is slumping: nytimes.com/2012/07/08/opin…
  25. Power2thePuppet
    This week is the 25th anniversary of South Africa’s Puppets Against AIDS, see pics and video here: puppetrynews.com/puppets-ag… @actupny
  26. Stigmas against AIDS and presumed sexual activity and orientation remain a problem around the world.
  27. artisticnesss
    1987 was around the time political figures started saying the word HIV/AIDS and talking barely of gay rights in public…smh
  28. JSIhealth
    “I was drawn to #HIV/AIDS work because it had been so closely connected to the gay/lesbian civil rights movement” ow.ly/fE27I
  29. The following article explores in detail how stigma affects an HIV positive gay male in Canada.
  30. planete8
    Albert Knox on fighting segregation of HIV positive prisoners in #Alabama: bit.ly/11gaf3H #WorldAIDSDay via Gay GUARDIAN RT@
  31. Women experience HIV/AIDS differently than men and are affected in higher numbers. Paul Farmer would say they are made vulnerable by their gender and possibly, depending on their location and circumstances, poverty level (see his book: Women, Poverty, and AIDS: sex, drugs, and structural violence).
  32. UN_Women
    Girls bear a disproportionate burden of #HIV in most-affected regions.
    #AIDSfree @unicef_aids
  33. DAWNInc
    In Sub-Saharan #Africa, young women aged 15-24 are EIGHT times more likely than men to be living with HIV ow.ly/fEgia #WorldAIDSDay
  34. TeeWhyOwei
    Women account for 59% of adults aged 15 and over said to be living with HIV/AIDS in Africa.
  35. msnafia
    1998 saw women exceed men in sub-Saharan Africa living with AIDS #WorldAIDSDay
  36. Some commentators drew connections between HIV infections among women and other issues that affect women.
  37. TheShelterTweet
    Promoting and protecting women’s human rights helps keep them safer from HIV & a multitude of abuses ow.ly/fGeme #wad #dv
  38. CancerAfrica
    @UN_Women “Getting to Zero”: Working together to end twin pandemics of #HIV/AIDS & #violenceagainstwomen—least we forget #Cervical #Cancer
  39. WorldHungerDay
    Why it’s vital to support women with HIV/Aids with Microfinance – meet Elizabeth bit.ly/mcYdIT #Opportunity4All #AFRICA plsRT
  40. Every year my school buys badges like these, handmade in South Africa from women affected by HIV AIDS #WorldAIDSDay http://pic.twitter.com/PktcR0li
  41. In my experiences with World AIDS Day (and I’ve been following it for the last fifteen years), the event is not complete without sex-positive condom distribution. The city of Paris took a strong stand with 350,000 condoms to distribute and their own controversial logo.
  42. George Dexter Omoraro
    2 clicks gives a condom to a project that needs it. Be part of #1share1condom for #worldaidsday to help prevent HIV. 1share1condom.com
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International Day of the Girl

  1. International Day of the Girl took place last year on a much smaller scale, but this year it was supported by the United Nations. I loved following the conversation on Twitter on October 11 and into the weekend, so I’ve gathered a few highlights here. The day focused on  child brides and education for girls. It drew global attention towards the wedding of young girls to older men.
  2. pleziavi
    “#SecClinton announced new initiatives to prevent child marriage & promote girls’ education worldwide. http://go.usa.gov/Y8AP #DayoftheGirl”
    Sat, Oct 13 2012 15:48:56
  3. ONECampaign
    Today is International #DayoftheGirl. Help raise awareness by RETWEETING this fact: 25,000 girls become child brides every day.
    Thu, Oct 11 2012 06:38:45
  4. UN_Women
    #EndChildMarriage! Let girls be girls, not brides. Check out this new report by @UNFPA http://bit.ly/PZoYtV #dayofthegirl #IDG2012
    Fri, Oct 12 2012 05:01:53
  5. social_entre
    “Let girls be girls, not brides,” says Desmond Tutu. @TheElders’ video on why we shd #endchildmarriage http://bit.ly/p4B6Za #dayofthegirl
    Fri, Oct 12 2012 18:04:55
  6. BrittForPeace
    Oct 11 was Intl #DayoftheGirl but fight to #endchildmarriage must cont. 365 days/yr. Here’s why: http://bit.ly/WaqOf5 via @MailOnline
    Fri, Oct 12 2012 08:59:43
  7. ColleeninLondon
    Child Brides Denied Education, Face Violence, Health Catastrophes http://allafrica.com/c/-4c7Ad #africa via @allafrica #dayofthegirl #vaw
    Thu, Oct 11 2012 23:02:47
  8. zarasnapp
    1 out of 7 girls worldwide is married before age 15! #childmarriage #dayofthegirl #IDG2012 let’s end this and promote female education!
    Thu, Oct 11 2012 12:56:31
  9. Educating young girls gives them survival tools and impacts whole communities.
  10. WLP_Cal
    Girls Education = The FUTURE @10x10act #basicmath #dayofthegirl #IDG2012 http://pic.twitter.com/NlIm4x4R
    Fri, Oct 12 2012 13:05:57
  11. bridgetminamore
    “If you educate a man, you educate one person. If you educate a woman, you educate and liberate a whole nation” – Malcolm X #dayofthegirl
    Sat, Oct 13 2012 16:50:31
  12. USAID
    Educating #girls can transform entire communities. Learn how http://ow.ly/eqC33 #DayoftheGirl
    Fri, Oct 12 2012 17:15:07
  13. IDLONews
    #Girls in households without #water sacrifice livelihoods and education in order to wait in line at water stations #DayoftheGirl
    Thu, Oct 11 2012 11:17:02
  14. stellasglobe
    My first Int’l #dayofthegirl special story: Girl children of sex workers in #India finally access #education. http://bit.ly/SUWWxK
    Fri, Oct 12 2012 07:11:52
  15. mercycorps
    Girls who complete primary school cut their chances of contracting HIV in half. http://bit.ly/OrpZg8 #dayofthegirl
    Thu, Oct 11 2012 13:02:38
  16. ALupel
    MT @DFID_UK “Giving girls a good quality education gives us the biggest chance to break the cycle of poverty” B. Northover #Dayofthegirl
    Thu, Oct 11 2012 11:13:13
  17. AnnaSemanova
    “It is through education that the daughter of a peasant can become a doctor” #NelsonMandela #DayoftheGirl via @NelsonMandela
    Thu, Oct 11 2012 11:16:27
  18. Day of the Girl provided a forum for many to discuss the Taliban’s shooting of Malala Yousafzai, a 14-year-old girl who advocated for girls education.
  19. Mechanic_mel
    #StandWithMalala #DayOfTheGirl http://pic.twitter.com/Rox30p4O
    Sat, Oct 13 2012 18:15:09
  20. Yogabilities
    What a difference one girl can make “@CBCNews: Thousands rally for Pakistani girl shot by Taliban http://bit.ly/WkeEAk”#DayoftheGirl
    Sun, Oct 14 2012 10:50:40
  21. These aren’t the only issues facing girls globally. Many in the twitter-verse spoke against Female Genital Mutilation and in favor of building self-esteem.
  22. sereyab
    #DayofTheGirl stop FGM! Girls need to enjoy all their body parts and stay healthy!!
    Wed, Oct 10 2012 21:55:33
  23. DrGwenPKeita
    This comprehensive rsrc on #teen girls covers self-esteem, body image, peer relationships, etc.: http://bit.ly/SS65Y7 #dayofthegirl
    Thu, Oct 11 2012 10:33:46
  24. For the girls out there 15 and younger, many remarkable women shared advice to their 15-year-old selves. The story showed up in re-tweets throughout the day.
  25. womenofbaycrest
    Did you follow the launch of the International #DayoftheGirl? Check out the advice of these remarkable #women http://ow.ly/eqW4A
    Fri, Oct 12 2012 10:49:47
  26. What advice do you have for your 15-year-old self? What issues would you like to see addressed on next year’s International Day of the Girl?
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Acknowledging Columbus’ Painful Legacy

Totem Pole, Washington state

The Trail of Tears took place nearly 200 years ago, and thousands of Native Americans died during this forced migration. Yet, in the United States we don’t often reflect on this black mark in our history. We do annually reflect on the arrival of Christopher Columbus to the America’s in 1492. An arrival that marks the start of the European colonization of the continent, as well as the subsequent death and subjugation of indigenous people and the establishment of the Atlantic slave trade.

Today marks Columbus Day — a federal holiday since the 1930s. It wasn’t until I heard of Howard Zinn’s The People’s History of the United States (published first in 1980) that I began to reconsider the American history I’d learned as a child (which painted Columbus as a curious explorer and civilizing cornerstone). The arrival of Columbus in the Bahamas marked a dramatic shift in our nation’s history, but whether it should be celebrated or not is a question in a growing debate. Some activists have sought to change the focus of the holiday towards, “Indigenous People’s Day.”

In observance of the colonization and genocide that followed Columbus’ arrival in the Americas, I’ve gathered a few stories worth checking out today.

1. On Columbus Day, Indigenous Urge Celebration of Native Culture and Teaching of Americas’ Genocide: Democracy Now filmed this segment in Fort Lewis College, which hosts a large Native American student population and an event today called, “Real History of the Americas.” Three women affiliated with the college talk about alternative histories, identity, and cultural trauma experienced by generations of Native Americans.

2. Stand on the Side of Love with Native Women: This blog posted a reminder today about the tenuous position of the Violence Against Women Act facing congress. It’s fitting on what some call “Indigenous People’s Day,” that we remember the disproportionate rates at which Native Women continue to experience sexual assault and violence. One in three Native Women is estimated to be raped in her life.

3. Columbus’ Legacy of Categorization: The Yale student paper published a really interesting column from a Native American student addressing his take on Columbus day and his own identity. He explains how he struggles when people ask him, “How Native are you?” This piece indicates where we still have room for improvement in addressing our history of colonialism and it’s insidious, lingering effects.

Christopher Columbus

4. Columbus Day Vs. Indigenous Peoples’ Day: How About Happy Immigration Day?: Mediaite addressed the conflict of whether or not today should be a holiday. Author Philip Bump dismisses some of the arguments for Indigenous People’s Day with the explanation “People are — and always have been — selfish jerks… Our forefathers were oppressed and were oppressors.” He suggests forgetting the controversy and celebrating the diverse fabric of America caused by immigration. It’s an interesting piece, but it feels dismissive for the sake of a rosy conclusion.

Regardless of the name of the holiday, it’s important for Americans to observe the reality of our history. Acknowledging historical trauma on the Columbus Day holiday provides national validation and healing for part of our tumultuous history and a voice for our Native American fellow citizens.

What are your thoughts on Columbus Day? Is it antiquated? Is it important to maintain?

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WI Girl Scouts Event Boasts New, Empowering Brand

I dove into a cold puddle of mud for the first time this weekend, and it was an invigorating experience. The One Tough Cookie mud run I participated in felt like the most positive female-oriented experience I’ve been part of for years. The 5K course with obstacles promoted camaraderie and health.

Equipped with a new logo (shaped like a dog tag with a Venus symbol on it)  and a brand promoting strength and toughness, the event had the ingredients necessary to empower. Two female National Guard members who served in Iraq designed the course. All participants were female and ranged in age from 14-year-old Girl Scouts to older adult leaders. And the event raised funds for Girl Scouts of Wisconsin Badgerland. While men manned parts of the course and cheered on participants, the female majority lent itself to a non-competitive and sisterly vibe.

At the start line an emcee pumping up participants reminded us to be patient if there were lines at the obstacles. “This is a not a race, it’s a challenge,” he told us. And that set a cooperative tone for the whole event. I ran with four other women, and we stayed together throughout the course, cheering for each other and the women we didn’t know. My friend who coordinated our team even boosted up a complete stranger who struggle to climb an inflated wall on the bounce house obstacle (imagine something from American Gladiators).

Saturday’s event marked the first annual mud run by the Girl Scouts in Wisconsin, and the event had a few hang-ups. The lines stretched long and moved slowly, but I take that as a testament to the popularity of the event. At the finish line, young scouts presented mud covered runners with boxes of cookies and dog tags. I thought the tags provided a perfect stand in for medals, with every participant receiving one.

There was one odd supporter that stood out to me. All participants over 21 received a free beer after the event, but rather than having the option of other beers on tap, the only available free beer was Michelob 64. I imagine Michelob banked on sharing their low-calorie variety with a swath of fit females.

I skipped the beer, but enjoyed the all-female band. And my favorite part — besides romping around with friends — was the nostalgia I felt for my time as a Girl Scout, tramping around the trails and fire pits of local scout campgrounds. I also loved embracing the mud, dirt, and scraped knees.

Photos courtesy of Jonas Hackett

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Three Different Tribes, Three Different Systems

Image by Salvatore Vuono

Amanda Rockman stood back from the podium during her keynote address, as dictated by her nine-month-pregnant belly. Rockman spoke at the Coming Together of Peoples Conference, just seven years after she graduated from the UW Law School

“I can remember being in law school and thinking, ‘Jeeze, I really hope that’s me someday giving that keynote address,’” said Rockman. “[I thought] when I go, I’ll have long, grey hair.”

Rockman, despite her lack of grey hairs, plays an important role in the Ho-Chunk tribe as an associate trial judge. Rockman presented about the Ho-Chunk Healing to Wellness Court, a drug court operated by the tribal judiciary that provides an alternative to prison.

The wellness court offers a non-punitive treatment that works to “restore traditional values,” explained Rockman. The Ho-Chunk Nation consists of pockets of land throughout the state, but the Healing to Wellness program serves native and non-native offenders in Jackson County.

The court has special jurisdiction allotted by the legislature, and the program includes community service requirements, cultural activities, education, and rehabilitation services.

The Ho-Chunk tribe has assumed more judicial responsibility while also developing their tribal police force. As Wisconsin remains a Public Law 280 state, the tribe is not allowed to prosecute felonies. Rockman and other Native American law specialists strive for more sovereignty for law enforcement and prosecution.

The Menominee tribe in Wisconsin regained full criminal jurisdiction over misdemeanor and felony crimes. Anecdotes from the Menominee prosecutor at the conference, however, made it clear that tribes with criminal jurisdiction are still working out kinks in their judicial systems. They still have limits on the length of sentenced prison terms as well as ongoing struggles with funding and staff support within tribal legal systems.

The Lac Courte Oreilles tribal police are co-deputized with the Sawyer County police. The tribal police address misdemeanors on the reservation while the county takes on the rest. Because of this relationship the tribal and county police can also work together.

Tribal communities maintain a balance of cooperation with and independence from local law enforcement and jurisdiction, and each tribe faces unique issues. Each tribe has different revenue, and while many of them have casinos for community income, geographic location often affects the success of the casinos. Location, funding sources, and relationships with local law enforcement all affect how tribes are able to address crime on their reservations.

Ho-Chunk’s drug court illustrates a tribal judiciary working to better the tribe and surrounding community through rehabilitation. The Healing to Wellness Court allows the Ho-Chunk to address the addictions that drive repeat crimes, rather than repeatedly provide the same punishments to the same offenders.

As CJ Doxtater, Oneida member and advocate at Wisconsin Coalition Against Domestic Violence, explained, “we don’t throw our people away.”

Rockman outlined all the logistics and challenges that face the growing Healing to Wellness Court and touched on the growing responsibility assumed by the Ho-Chunk judiciary and law enforcement. Despite the challenges, Rockman felt good about gaining sovereignty for the tribal nation and working to improve the community.

“I think it’s really important for Ho-Chunk people to have the ability to become a part of our society, as opposed to just shame and guilt,” said Rockman. “What I’ve seen from the participants has been nothing but hope.”

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Tribes Fight Violence Against Women

Enjoy News from the Margins’ first podcast! M. Brent Leonhard, tribal attorney and supporter of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), presented on the impact of VAWA on tribal sovereignty. He spoke at UW-Madison for the Indigenous Law Students Association’s Coming Together of Peoples Conference on March 23, 2012.

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Roller Derby Journeys

Mad Cowgirl (Maddie) sought a sport requiring little hand/eye coordination — aerobic exercise in an empowering environment — and she found much more. She discovered derby before Whip It brought the sport mainstream attention. Maddie became a referee with the Mad Rollin’ Dolls  (MRD) and a founding member of the recreational league, the Mad Wreckin’ Dolls.

Roller Derby harks back to the late 19th/early 20th century when roller skating was new. Skaters would race around tracks to gain points when they lapped their opponents. Derby lost mainstream favor around the middle of the century, even after becoming more of a contact sport. The sport began it’s most recent revival in 2001 when a group of women in Austin, Texas strapped on skates and began coordinating a league.

When my friend (who I know as Ann) strapped on her skates she became a passionate athlete and inspired member of a community of bad-asses. Maddie introduced me to this spectator sport that manages to be amusing, inspiring, and unique within the arena of women’s sports. For these reasons, I began exploring the Mad Rollin’ Dolls for a 10-minute documentary.

The derby founders in Austin designed the sport for spectators, donning short skirts and edgy personas. The founders named the organization Bad Girl Good Woman (BGGW). Due to personality and business conflicts within the league, BGGW split. Skaters in Austin endured the drama to become the Lonestar Roller Girls (TXRD), where they now play on a banked track.

I enjoy the research I conduct for this project. I have interviewed interesting women and absorbed as much media as I can find on the subject, including a few documentaries. Hell on Wheels chronicles the beginning of derby in Austin. The doc does, admittedly, contain some catty bickering, but the excitement and stress of starting a movement from grassroots carries through. Brutal Beauty – about the skaters in Portland (Rose City Rollers) – includes the softer side of its characters and the people who support them. An interview between skater Cadillac and her boyfriend shows that men (support staff and fans) celebrate women at the center of this rough sport. The ultimate message from some skaters in Brutal Beauty inspires: “Derby saved my soul.”

The Mad Rollin’ Dolls, Madison’s own league, began saving souls eight years ago. The original dolls met, fundraised, and promoted the budding organization in 2004, and began with a full season of bouts in 2005. Their slogans include: “hurt in a skirt,” “real hits, real women, real roller derby,” and “find the derby in you.” The group runs on local sponsorship and volunteer power, including refs, announcers, and support staff at bouts. Papa Razzi explores his photography hobby by taking professional grade photos at bouts, and this man has two daughters who’ve broken legs in derby!

Through my interviews with veteran players I see that roller derby players often commit body and soul to the sport and the community. I went to my second bout last Saturday and the event sold out. The women I’d interviewed blew me away with their skill on the track and leadership on the sidelines. I found myself on the edge of my seat (literally gripping the riser where I filmed) in hopes that Mouse, of the MRD Reservoir Dolls, would make up a large point differential to win against a visiting team from Chicago. Mouse scored 23 points during one jam temporarily reviving the crowd and her team. I cheered.

Derby grows everyday as it enters its second decade. Flat-track roller derby has a governing organization, with hundreds of leagues, tens of thousands of players, and even more fans who support them. Websites now broadcast bouts for international viewership. The first roller derby world cup took place in 2011. Now there’s talk of an Olympic bid. These athletes become faster and fitter to compete on an international scale.

My growing fixation on this game proves that I have morphed from derby researcher to derby fan. I look forward to telling the stories of the MRD athletes I admire in my film, but I can’t wait to return to a bout without my camera to yell from the stands.

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Happy International Women’s Day!

I wonder as I write the title to this post, if life today can be considered a happy time for women. As women’s health sits center stage with the religious freedom controversy, for better or worse, it has a lot of people fired up.

Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood, headlined on last night’s The Daily Show with an inspiring, no-nonsense attitude and an arsenal of statistics. She showed uncompromising confidence in Planned Parenthood, and the support they provide to the entire nation (supporting American women = supporting our nation). She acknowledged that one in five American women receives services from Planned Parenthood in her lifetime. She also pointed out that 90% of care from Planned Parenthood is preventative. I highly recommend the interview to curious or skeptical readers.

A few days ago, Jessica Winter provided a wry, critical look at how legislators, employers, judges, and commentators throw their weight around to the detriment of women’s civil liberties. The article confronts the status quo through a serial list of offences against women. She implies that in this world where talking heads resound and court cases set precedents, a slight to one woman is a slight to all women. I can’t think of a better message for International Women’s Day.

Photo from NPR, via The Daily Beast

But women are talking about more than just health care. Newsweek hosts the third annual Women in the World Summit, with an impressive line up of speakers. Since Tina Brown took over as editor, they have done a great job covering women’s issues. A few days ago they published a retrospective pieceabout how female journalists rose to prominence with NPR when other media outlets were not so open to women. These women took the slim opportunities available to them and made a name for themselves. The story describes the “Fallopian Jungle” where these “Founding Mothers” worked.

The internets flow today with a surplus of stories by, for, and about women. I can’t possibly reference all the stories I’m interested in, but I hope they extend beyond International Women’s Day. Here’s to today’s conversation!

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