Tag Archives: Girls

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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Adult Witnesses of Child Abuse Held Accountable

On my parents anniversary a few weeks ago they reminisced about trying to secure a particular Catholic officiate at their wedding.  But the priest they selected was not permitted by his superiors to oversee a half-Catholic wedding, and besides, Ron Voss was already in trouble in the diocese for violating traditional practices like hosting mass in someone’s house.

The irony of the story, my parents continued, was that this priest’s most offensive act did not face sufficient punishment from the church. He molested children, and the church’s solution to the problem was to send him far away, to Haiti, where conflicting reports suggest Voss continued his abusive habits.

This anecdote from my parents revived an issue I’ve been mulling over since the Jerry Sandusky trial this summer. Protecting children from predators should be the understood responsibility of all adults. Standing by with knowledge of child abuse condones the crime and is criminal in and of itself. Within the unequal power dynamic of an abusive relationship, children cannot be expected to protect themselves from older, larger, and more influential figures in their lives who may try to hurt them.

The UN’s Universal Declaration of the Rights of the Child (this is a human rights document) states that “The child shall be protected against all forms of neglect, cruelty and exploitation.” While the US helped draft this declaration we have not ratified it and are not held to the terms. But many states on their own, have passed legislation naming mandatory reporters who monitor for suspicious treatment of children. Florida just passed an act that “criminalizes failure to report child abuse” in the state.

Reporting charges of child abuse can be painful to pursue. I don’t doubt this. No institution — be it the Roman Catholic Church, the legendary football program at Penn State, or any other establishment — wants to set aside their mission and reputation to deal with a scandal. And no individual witness likely wants to challenge people they’ve previously respected with an accusation of molestation.   Taking responsibility for knowledge like that requires courage, and for those who don’t have the will-power to speak up, the judicial system has started to hold them responsible. 

While former Penn State assistant coach Jerry Sandusky already received a conviction for sexually abusing 10 boys,  other cases are pending around the people who may have known of Sandusky’s abuses; related allegations include failure to report and perjury. A report from Louis J. Freeh, director of the F.B.I., outlined that many support staff suspected the abuses and choose to silence concerns, rather than address them. This alleged evasion of confrontation allowed Sandusky to continue to abuse minors over the course of several years.

[In an interesting side note, a primary witness in the case against Sandusky, filed his own suit against the university. Mike McQueary, a former graduate assistant, claims that Penn State used him as a scapegoat, damaging his reputation. His testimony played an important role in the trial, though his subsequent strife illustrates why some may be reluctant to expose the crimes of superiors.]

The Sandusky trial wasn’t the only sexual abuse case to come out of Pennsylvania this summer. In July, a Catholic official, Monsignor William J. Lynn, was sentenced to 3-6 years for concealing sex abuses by priests. This trial marked the first conviction of a Roman Catholic official in the U.S.  — although charges of sexual abuse of minors in the catholic church arose frequently over the last few decades.

A petition through Change.org started circulating recently to address a parallel issue in a Kansas City, Missouri diocese. Bishop Robert Finn “shielded a pedophile priest,” reported the New York Times. And the author of the petition, Jeff Weis, wants the bishop to resign his post.

I don’t think this is a tall order, requesting the removal of someone convicted of protecting adult offenders over vulnerable children. The criminal justice system must be careful of newly criminalizing offences, but when it comes to child abuse someone must advocate for children.  That means expecting adults to take information they probably didn’t seek or desire and share it with authorities to prevent further abuse. If adult witnesses don’t take action, more and more children will be subject to the predation of abusers.

FYI: Jerry Sandusky faces sentencing this Tuesday, October 9.

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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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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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Cupcakes Against Child Abuse

Four Madison-area bakeries will observe Child Abuse Awareness Month (aka: April) with multi-colored cupcakes. A portion of the proceeds go to The Rainbow Project, a local non-profit that addresses family trauma and abuse with therapy and support.

Of the 1.3 million children in Wisconsin, 4,839 child victims were reported to Child Protective Services in 2010. That means that more than three of every 1,000 children in the state suffered abuse.

The federal Administration for Children and Families posted six factors that help prevent abuse and promote healthy families and communities. They include:

  1. Nurturing and Attachment
  2. Knowledge of Parenting and Child Development
  3. Parental Resilience
  4. Social Connection
  5. Concrete Supports for Parents
  6. Social and Emotional Competence for Children.

The Rainbow Project addresses these factors within the Madison community. The cupcake sales this month will serve to raise awareness in the community about child abuse and raise funds for the organization. The bakeries participating in the cupcake drive include Daisy Café and Cupcakery, Cupcakes A-Go-Go, Madison Sweets, and La Brioche True Food. (For full disclosure – I am an employee of La Brioche.)

The La Brioche Rainbow cupcakes cost $3.50 with 25% going towards The Rainbow Project. The cupcakes make for a visually appealing display, and draw attention to the cause, but it will take a great deal of cupcake sales to fill the coffers at The Rainbow Project.

Please, indulge your sweet tooth in support of child victims; buy them for your friends and family. And if you feel like contributing more than a few bucks to the cause, The Rainbow Project has a wish list including car seats, individually packaged snacks, and volunteers.

 

Cupcakes by Ubaldo Mora for La Brioche

 

 

 

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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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Insights from National Eating Disorder Awareness Week

National Eating Disorder Awareness week (NEDAwareness) lasted from February 26 to March 3, but I’m still thinking about it. I took the opportunity to catch up on research about the disorders and follow current conversation on the topic through twitter and comment threads.

I noticed a major difference from when I first tuned into these diseases in the late 1990s. For one thing, people are talking about them. Those afflicted open up about their experiences and recoveries through memoirs and online testimony. Various organizations have sprung up to offer frank discussion on the causes, treatments, and preventative approaches against anorexia, bulimia, and other eating disorders.

I was disturbed to learn about pro-ana and pro-mia. This online movement consists of people afflicted by anorexia and bulimia who claim their disorder is a lifestyle choice and share techniques on how to continue the mentally and physically harmful practices in secret.

Another disturbing fact: more and more women – and men – continue to develop these diseases. Between eight and ten million people suffer from these diseases. And some of the afflicted die from related physical complications or suicide. According to the South Carolina Department of Mental Health, eating disorders have higher mortality rates than any other mental illness.

Most with these diseases do not seek treatment, and maintain disordered behaviors in private. Treatment can be extremely costly, requiring tens of thousands of dollars or comprehensive health insurance. And certainly not all sufferers have health insurance. To make matters worse, not all health insurance plans cover eating disorder treatment.

2003 review of literature revealed that only a third of anorexics and six percent of bulimics receive mental health care.

The sheer volume of people suffering from eating disorders can be viewed as a symptom of national low self-esteem (0.5% of American women have anorexia, 2-3% suffer from bulimia). These diseases reflect major issues our society has with food, dieting, and body shape. We have so many obese residents, and yet our models lose more and more inches through the Photoshop process. My colleague posted extensively on her blog regarding this subject. 

The fact that Americans spend $40 billion a year on diets and diet products, suggests rampant dissatisfaction with our bodies. The industry literally banks on people’s low self-esteem. I highly recommend Naomi Wolf’s The Beauty Myth for an in-depth look at the media, advertising, and body image.

But skinny models and ubiquitous diet regimes cannot be held fully accountable for the development of eating disorders. Recent research suggests that 50% of the formation of an eating disorder derives from genetic factors. Other environmental factors contribute to these diseases such as stress or trauma, or a family members’ obsession with body image and food.

Research and dialogue on eating disorders continues to progress, and yet so do these diseases. They are entrenched in our population. Forty percent of Americans suffered from an eating disorder or knows someone who has.

Please visit this sensitive letter from Ms. if you or someone you know needs a push to begin the recovery process. To end on a hopeful note, people recover from these illnesses with psychological, emotional, and medical support.

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