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19 May

Whats-The-Deal-With-3Hey! Let’s talk about concubines! Doesn’t that sound like fun?

Here’s the story: Whilst casually browsing Twitter one day, I came across a tweet by Bronwyn Lea, who has a lovely blog about faith, family, and life, asking for help to understand concubines and their place in the history of God’s people. Though polygamy is part of my Mormon religious history and even my family history, I hadn’t given too much thought to polygamy, but after the recent essays on polygamy by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, combined with my growing interest in girl power, I had started exploring the issue (including this excellent podcast).

You can read the result of my explorations on Bronlea’s blog. My answer to the question of concubines is very much a work in progress–I am sure my understanding will evolve and grow over time, as human understanding is wont to do. I look forward to the day that I can fully understand difficult issues like this, but for now, I wanted to share what I’ve learned–and welcome you to share anything you have thought about or learned. Please feel free to weigh in with comments here or on Bronwyn’s blog.

I also wanted to add a few thoughts to my initial answer. (Because I am never, ever brief.) Namely, what can we do?

What More Can We Do?

For me, making peace with difficult elements like concubines in the Old Testament is not simply a matter of saying “OK, I’m fine with this,” and shelving the matter. There are things we can do while we wait for further understanding.

First, we can confront the manifestations of inequality in our own time. As you mentioned, sex trafficking is tragically prevalent today. The Half the Sky Movement advises that we put pressure on officials worldwide “to shut down jail-like brothels, investigate criminals buying underage girls, and crack down on corruption and trafficking across borders.” You could start with writing to your elected officials to let them know what you think, and consider supporting an organization that helps victims of trafficking.

Second, we can remember and ponder about the women we read about in the scriptures—like Sarah and Hagar or Rachel and Bilhah. Their stories deserve more than to be glossed over or explained away. We can consider what their lives were actually like, what their relationships were like, what they might have struggled with and how they found joy. (I am also discovering wonderful resources that explore women in the scriptures, like this blog and this book.)

Third, we can draw closer to Jesus Christ. Whenever I struggle with something—in the scriptures, in church, in life—Christ is what gives me the greatest hope. He is hope; he is the light and the life of the world.

Christ gives me hope specifically in regards to women. The first person to whom he declared His role as the Messiah was a Samaritan woman. He showed compassion for the woman taken in adultery. The first witness of his resurrection was not an apostle but a female disciple, Mary Magdalene. I believe what James E. Talmage wrote in Jesus the Christ: “The world’s greatest champion of woman and womanhood is Jesus the Christ.”

And Christ gives me hope in all things. The good news of the gospel is that Christ allowed himself to be broken, and in doing so overcame this broken world (concubines and all!) and wants to help us do the same. As we invite him into our hearts and our relationships, we can be healed and united: “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).


Twitterature: Girl power

16 Mar

womanreadingWoman Reading, Édouard Manet, The Art Institute of Chicago

Twitterature = quick reviews of books I’m reading these days, inspired by the brilliant bibliophile blog Modern Mrs. Darcy. This edition of Twitterature is overdue (and, sorry, NOT CONCISE AT ALL)–it’s a summary of books I read mostly last summer and fall that inspired my 31 Days of Girl Power series.

tannenYou Just Don’t Understand, Deborah Tannen (4 stars)

I regret it took me so long to read this book–it is a fascinating combination of linguistics, gender, and sociology. Tannen’s thesis is that male-female communication so often perplexes and challenges us because we are, without realizing it, speaking different dialects. Girls and boys are socialized differently–girls are encouraged to be cooperative and boys to be competitive–which leads to different conversation styles. Not only that, the purpose and goals of conversation are viewed differently: for men, conversation is a way to negotiate power and status; for women, conversation is a way to negotiate closeness, confirmation, support, and consensus. Tannen deconstructs these differences and gives illuminating examples from real life, research, and literature. While she makes it clear that the communication clashes tend to harm women more than men, she impressively maintains that each gender’s typical conversation style is equally valid–but we have much work to do in understanding the other style. (My only quibble is that Tannen’s analysis was sometimes lost in the sea of examples, and a short summary accompanying each chapter would have been helpful.)

halftheskyHalf the Sky, Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn (5 stars)

This is another book I postponed reading for years. Frankly, I thought it would be too depressing. But once I started reading it, I couldn’t put it down. Yes, it details the harrowing experiences of women and girls around the world who suffer from violence, neglect, and oppression. It’s hard to confront that reality, particularly in contrast to my own comfort and freedoms. But the stories of survivors are infused with hope and resilience, and the authors offer pragmatic suggestions for making a difference in the lives of these women. It was painful and visceral to see so vividly that injustice toward females runs wide and deep, even in this supposedly enlightened age. Still, that knowledge drives me to seek ways to get involved in the fight against injustice.

malalabookI Am Malala, Malala Yousafzai (4 stars)

I’ve discussed previously why I’m a fan of Malala. Her autobiography offers details about her infamous experience of surviving being shot by the Taliban, but even mundane aspects of her life demonstrate her courage and conviction. What also shines through is the heroism of her father, who always encouraged Malala to learn and to stand for education. I also appreciated the explanations of the region’s geography and history and a new-to-me perspective on the war in the Middle East. As a teenager when 9/11 happened, I clearly remember the picture painted by politicians, of a people who rose from desert caves and attacked us simply because they hate our freedom. It was easy to project that image onto the entire region. But of course, it’s more complex than all that.

dewWomen and the Priesthood, Sheri Dew (3 stars)

I came into this book with high expectations, hoping it would neatly answer all my questions about, well, women and the priesthood in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. So perhaps it was no surprise that I was disappointed. First, those are high expectations for any book. Second, though I continue to admire Sheri Dew’s writing and gospel thinking, the approach in this book simply didn’t work for me. Throughout the book, she mentions that she is not concerned about this or that gender-related Mormon doctrine or practice because of her own testimony–which isn’t very helpful to readers like me who picked up the book because they do have concerns they’re struggling with.

Furthermore, some of the arguments seem contradictory. For example, she mentions that LDS women in the early days of the Church were more empowered than other women because 19th-century “society at large was still highly patriarchal and, as such, strictly limiting of women’s rights.” Then she mentions the idea that the LDS Church has a “hierarchical structure” where “men make the rules and they enforce the rules.” But rather than refuting the idea, her examples only address how nicely men make and enforce the rules. Which, in my experience, is generally true. But benevolent patriarchy is still patriarchy, which Dew herself defined as inherently limiting to women. It’s something I’m still trying to make sense of.

All that said, I still found the book to be full of insights on womanhood, motherhood, prayer, and humility–and most importantly that “the doctrine of the priesthood is known only by personal revelation.” It helped me realize I can’t rely on one book; I need to find my own answers through study and prayer.

mcbaineWomen at Church, Neylan McBaine (5 stars)

I was the opposite of disappointed by Women at Church. Amidst the controversy about the group pushing for female priesthood ordination in the LDS Church, Neylan McBaine had commented that “ordaining women won’t end sexism.” The premise of her book is that, assuming there were no changes to priesthood doctrine or Church leadership structure, there is still “much more we can do to see, hear, and include women at church.” She suggests strategies aimed at the local level, reasoning that we won’t be ready for systemic, Church-wide change until we exercise our “spiritual imaginations” to implement smaller-scale solutions. The local-only approach isn’t foolproof, but I think the suggestions are a very good place to start, and admire McBaine’s consistently optimistic, pragmatic perspective in this book and on her blog.

She speaks both to women who are currently struggling with the place of women in the LDS Church, and to people who don’t understand that struggle. (Her own biography seems perfectly positioned for street cred on both ends of the spectrum–she grew up in NYC and is a working mom who kept her maiden name, but she’s also a lifelong Mormon living in Utah doing marketing for the LDS Church.)

More broadly, McBaine deftly navigates the myriad paradoxes a faithful person confronts: “How do we reconcile the eternal search for knowledge with the sincere claim that we ‘know’ the Church is true? … How do we honor the prophets, writers, and editors of our scriptures while holding at the same time a concern that half of their populations are silent? How do we reconcile millennia of male-centric priesthood while also having faith in our doctrine of eternal gender equality and Restoration-born improvements for women? … How we do this, how we wrestle with this tension, is a true test of our spiritual maturity.” Fittingly, McBaine advises that through our wrestling, we look to the example of Jesus Christ, who was “mature, principled, and selfless” in even the most vexing circumstances.

Rather than tidily answer all my questions, Women at Church articulated my feelings more clearly and concretely than I could on my own, and helped me progress in my seeking. I am in awe of and grateful for Neylan McBaine’s careful thinking and writing.

talmageJesus the Christ, James E. Talmage (5 stars)

Reading Jesus the Christ was a truly enriching experience. It covers what we understand of Christ’s life and mission, from before we came to Earth, to His mortal life, to the prophecies of His return. Though I have learned about Jesus Christ since I was very young, this book gave a new level of cohesion to His story and helped me better understand and appreciate His love for us all.

Favorite quote: “The world’s greatest champion of woman and womanhood is Jesus the Christ.” (A recent Church magazine article also discusses this quote.)

womenNTWalking with the Women of the New Testament, Heather Farrell (4 stars)

I know the Bible is filled with wonderful eternal truths, but I have a hard time getting through the violence, slavery, and women-are-unclean-and-property business. The real challenge is to discern which painful elements were not of God and simply due to the failings of men, and which were OK but have become obscured because we lack the historical, social, and theological context to understand their value.

In this book, Heather Farrell shares her rigorous yet accessible approach (it’s primarily exegetical) to scripture study, and the insights she has gained in her study of women in the New Testament. I learned so much from her treatment of topics like menstruation, birth, and adultery, and from her illuminating commentary on each woman’s story. Many of the women I had never noticed or given much thought to, and I found new ways to look at the well-known women like Mary the mother of Jesus and Mary Magdalene. This book, as well as her blog, is a great starting point for improved scripture study habits and greater understanding of women in the scriptures. (This writer/editor’s nitpicky quibble: There was an awkward amount of blank space between chapters, and it could have used a slightly closer copyedit.)

pinkblueParenting Beyond Pink and Blue, Christia Spears Brown (4 stars)

This book offers a solid evidence-based approach to understanding gender differences in children. (It was a great complement to reading about adult gender differences in Tannen’s book.) The book is dense with research and analysis, yet thankfully avoids opaque academic writing and instead opts for straightforward prose and clearly organized points. Plus, the author tells her own stories from the front lines of parenting as well as research to make sense of the concepts presented. Though I agree with many of the author’s conclusions, I liked that the book was focused on research, so I could assess the evidence and draw my own conclusions.

Favorite quote: “The process of paying less attention to gender and more to the individual child begins by noticing how little gender really predicts our own children’s skills and abilities. Because we tend to exaggerate the differences between groups but overlook the differences within them, we rely on stereotypes without intending to. The goal, then, is to start paying more attention to each individual child.”

girlschoosegodGirls Who Choose God, McArthur Krishna, Bethany Brady Spalding, and Kathleen Peterson (5 stars)

This is a lovely new children’s book about women and girls from the Bible, with a focus on courageous choices they made. The book highlights well-known ladies like Eve, Mary, and Esther, and lesser-knowns like Zelophehad’s daughters. The storytelling is inspiring but not preachy, and the illustrations are absolutely beautiful.

backlashBacklash, Susan Falaudi (want-to-read list)

OK, so technically I haven’t read this yet. But I’ve read a handful of articles about it, if that counts for something. Matter magazine did a series of interviews with people about each chapter and how the book, which was written in 1991, relates to today. Falaudi argues that the 1980s saw an anti-feminist backlash, led by the mainstream media, basically telling women that they were only unhappy because they were too darn liberated, and the cure to their alleged unhappiness was to return to their traditional status/roles. It was, Falaudi wrote, an “attempt to retract the handful of small and hard-won victories that the feminist movement did manage to win for women.” When I actually get around to reading this book, there will definitely be a full post about it.

Note: Amazon links are affiliate links.

Girl crushes

12 Jan

I watched Tina Fey and Amy Poehler’s opening monologue for the 72nd Golden Globes tonight, and I knew it was time to make an addition to my girl power series: girl crushes. The way I see girl crushes, it basically translates to wanting to be that person. (I’m pretty sure it works the same way for guys and “man crushes,” no?) While there are many women–friends and family, famous and obscure, past and present–whom I love and admire, here’s a quick list of celebrity-type ladies I am (pardon the Valley Girl-ness) totally crushing on right now.

1. Amy Poehler

Loved her book Yes Please, especially in audiobook form, which she recorded herself. It was my first celebrity memoir; I gave it a chance because I love her so much on Parks & Rec, and I came to love her as a person too. She manages to be both grounded and goofy. She writes about her past and herself with such self-awareness and gratitude. I don’t agree with her on everything, of course, but she has wise words on friendship, motherhood, and being a girl in this crazy world. She has an organization that supports smart girls. And she’s hilarious.

Favorite quote from Yes Please, which Poehler says women should repeat over and over (image designed by me):

Second favorite quote:

Amy Poehler (love her!) in Yes Please: “However, if you do start crying in an argument and someone asks why, you can always say, "I'm just crying because of how wrong you are.” " | via spifftacular.2. Tina Fey

Do I even need to elaborate? She’s Tina freakin’ Fey. She’s funny, smart, and gorgeous. (Also, from Philly! And she mentioned hoagies in her monologue!)

Fey ripping on unrealistic beauty standards for women:

Tina Fey at 72nd Golden Globes: "Steve Carell's Foxcatcher look took two hours to put on, including his hairstyling and makeup. Just for comparison it took me three hours today to prepare for my role as human woman."3. Robyn

(1) It’s impossible to listen to “Call Your Girlfriend” and not dance and feel happy and triumphant. (2) She’s a Swede! (3) This perfect thing Ann Friedman wrote about her: “If pop music’s about sanitised emotions and sexuality for sale, then Robyn’s no pop star. Her lyrics bubble from genuine feeling, and she prefers 6cm platform basketball shoes to tottering in heels. … The lyrics are about being vulnerable but strong, lovelorn but independent, and they’re set to a beat so infectious that dancing is involuntary.”

(Ann Friedman herself is girl crush material–I am addicted to her weekly newsletter and podcast.)

4. Ava DuVernay

Ava DuVernay: "The "first" of it all is the bittersweet part. I'm certainly not the first black woman deserving of this. You can't tell me that since 1943 there's not been another black woman who's made something worthy of this kind of recognition. But for whatever reason it hasn't happened. The time is now. I thank them for recognizing Selma. I just hope … that we get through all the 'firsts,' that we can just get to the good stuff and that people can just make their work and move on from [that conversation]."Image via WBEZ/Flickr, quote via USA Today.

I haven’t even seen Selma yet (I will!) but I already love this lady. I read this New York Times profile of her and saw her interviewed on The Daily Show, and while both highlighted her talent as a director, what struck me was how she simply oozes power and poise. And that’s just what she needs as a member of, as the NYT noted, “‘a small sorority’ of black female filmmakers, who are part of another modest American sisterhood: female directors of any color.” When most of the people in charge of producing, directing, and portraying stories in film and TV are white men, those stories are inevitably going to have a somewhat narrow view, even if there are good intentions. Ava DuVernay and her work offer an awesome example of how right it is to have greater representation of women and people of color in media. (More gals in the Senate wouldn’t hurt, either.)

5. Bonnie Oscarson

OK, so she’s not a Hollywood type or famous beyond the world of Mormonism, but I’m including her anyway. Bonnie Oscarson is the Young Women General President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. When she was called to that position a few years ago, my mom and I had fun poring through her Pinterest page. I like the quote she has on her profile page, and turned it into a design that reflects her cute red-and-white-themed pinboard (see, I told you I’m a fangirl):

Bonnie Oscarson on her Pinterest page: "If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report, or praiseworthy, we seek after these things." And may I add just downright cute to the list? | via spifftacular.

I like her style, including her “All things Swedish” pinboard (plus, her username is “mormor,” which means maternal grandmother in Swedish). And I loved her talk about sisterhood and how women can learn from each other and support each other.

Now it’s your turn to share: Who are your girl crushes, and why?

* Links to Amazon are affiliates. Fonts used in designs above are, in order, Quicksand, Raleway, and St Marie.

Twitterature: Best-sellers

15 Nov

I still need to make good on my promise to recap my “adventures in feminist summer reading” as mentioned when I started the 31 days of girl power series, but first I feel obligated to cover all the other books I’ve been reading. As it happens, they’re all best-sellers. Here’s a list of short(ish) and sweet reviews, inspired by the twitterature of the brilliant bibliophile blog Modern Mrs. Darcy (which I discovered thanks to Charlotte).

First, two questions for you:

1. Does best-selling status make you more or less likely to read a book (and why)?

I can see both ways–sometimes I don’t mind the sticker of approval from the masses–I am terrible at picking books on a whim at the library or bookstore. But I’m also skeptical–popularity doesn’t equal literary virtue.

I can kind of relate to Britta on Community, who proudly declares that she only just started watching a Game of Thrones-esque show because “I don’t start watching shows until they’re so popular that watching them is no longer a statement.”

britta2. Do you read discussion questions at the end of the book? Do you like them, learn from them? Do you care if they’re written by the author?

I ask because I thought the questions written by Kathryn Stockett for The Help were uninspiring and slightly cheapened the satisfaction I felt at completing the book. But the Q&A section John Green wrote for The Fault in Our Stars was nearly my favorite part of the book. Perhaps because he was answering questions and not posing didactic questions? Anyway, let me know what you think.

On with the reviews! (Links are to Goodreads, although next time I may get fancy and use Amazon affiliate links.)


The Help, by Kathryn Stockett (4 stars)

Procrastinated reading this–assumed it was a best-seller because it’s a feel-good girlfriend novel. Nope. Female relationships were sometimes catty but still believable. Gained perspective on the grueling racial discrimination and violence of the not-so-distant past. Enjoyed character development and dialects. Loved Aibilene, and her tenderness for and teaching of Mae Mobley. Loved the NY editor. Fave quote: “Wasn’t that the point of the book? For women to realize, We are just two people. Not that much separates us. Not nearly as much as I’d thought.” #fiction #worththehype

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows (4 stars)

Loved the glorification of reading/books, appreciated the commentary on war and learning about a little-known story of the occupation. Found the ending so forced and ridiculous I thought my audiobook had somehow cut out the real ending. (Maybe it’s because the author’s niece helped her finish?) A little annoyed by the saintliness of the two protagonists (Juliet/Elizabeth). Still, an enjoyable, rewarding read. #historicalfiction #perfectaudiobook #goodbookbadending

2612The Tipping Point, by Malcolm Gladwell (5 stars)

Gladwell takes complex/important/abstract ideas and makes them seem obvious. (Actually, he uses the phrase “this may seem obvious, but…” a lot.) Fluid writing, solid research, compelling synthesis of ideas. #nonfiction #audiobook #obviousnotobvious

11870085The Fault in Our Stars, by John Green (4 stars)

It’s hard to separate my admiration for John Green from the story. Love his Crash Course videos and nerdfighteria, love his belief that “books belong to their readers!” and love the Q&A at the end. The book is brilliant because it capitalizes on classic YA tropes (teen geniuses, star-crossed lovers, a manic pixie dream girl boy) but still finds ways to challenge its audience. #YAfiction #worththehype #onlycriedonce #ihavenoheart

3636The Giver, by Lois Lowry (5 stars)

Reread this classic to refresh my memory (still need to see the movie). Always love seeing things in a novel I didn’t discern as a younger reader. Also interesting to contrast to currently popular dystopian YA novels, as this was the first of the genre. On this reading: most compelled by the denigration of birth mothers in the novel’s society, and the overwhelming truth that an existence without pain is without progression and without love (an idea reinforced in my current book, The God Who Weeps). Worth listening to the audio, if only for the narrator’s amusing pronunciation of the word “awkward.” #YAfiction #audiobook #justsaynotosamenes

Currently reading… The Crucible of Doubt and The God Who Weeps, both by Fiona and Terryl Givens.



Is it “best-seller”? “Best seller”? “Bestseller”? I prefer “best-seller,” but here’s what the style guides have to say:

  • AP Stylebook: best-seller Hyphenate in all uses.
  • Chicago Manual of Style: No explicit guideline, but one example in 5.54 states “the writer whose book was a best seller.”
  • New York Times Style Guide (it is their list, after all): best-seller list Make it the New York Times best-seller list when the newspaper’s name serves as a modifier or The New York Times’s best-seller list when the newspaper’s name serves as a noun. But the books are best sellers.

To reluctant readers and feminists, from Hermione.

24 Oct

watson{Image via}

It’s been a month since Emma Watson’s speech launching the U.N. HeForShe campaign went viral. Though Vanity Fair called it “game-changing,” the message was decidedly unrevolutionary; though it received a mostly glowing reception, the buzz has mostly subsided. So perhaps Emma Watson will simply be one star in the expanding constellation of those who identify as feminists. But it’s possible she will have a significant, if subtle, effect on feminism.

Watson is, after all, the brightest witch of our age. She is inextricably linked to her onscreen character Hermione Granger in the “Harry Potter” series. She is also closely linked to her millennial peers—the timing of the series was such that many of them feel like they grew up alongside Watson and her co-stars, and she is outstandingly popular on social media. It is thanks to these links that she has the potential to meaningfully engage new supporters of feminism—and it is not unlike the way the beloved series revolutionized reading.

The setup

The story of Harry Potter’s magical effects on reading is nearly as well-recited as the story of the boy wizard himself: Literature-reading among young adults had dropped by a record 20 percent over 20 years. “Harry Potter” came along, selling millions of books worldwide. Young adult readership jumped 21 percent. And now, young people read more than people over age 30.

Scholastic, the publisher of “Harry Potter,” commissioned a study finding that half of “Harry Potter” readers ages five to 17 said they did not read books for fun before they started reading the series. The trend was somewhat more pronounced among boys—61 percent said “Harry Potter” introduced them to reading for fun.

Research on literacy and gender has shown that boys tend to read less than girls do and perceive reading as a feminine activity. “Harry Potter” deftly incorporates what often interests boys—action, escapism, humor, plus the hype of popular books and movies—and gives them both permission and motivation to enjoy reading.

The audience

This cohort of initially reluctant readers is precisely the prime audience for Watson’s message, which invites men and boys to advocate for gender equality. Those who once shunned reading may also have no interest in feminism. But Watson may convince them to give it a chance.

Just as the books managed to appeal to boys’ interests, Watson cited issues that personally affect men and boys, such as “young men suffering from mental illness [being] unable to ask for help for fear it would make them look less ‘macho’” and her “father’s role as a parent being valued less by society.” She declared, “Gender equality is your issue too.”

There’s another reason they might give it a chance: They are already more open-minded. This is true generally—a 2010 Pew Research Center report revealed that millennials are more accepting than previous generations of interracial dating, immigrants, and nontraditional family arrangements.

And it’s especially true among “Harry Potter” fans: A study published this July found that reading “Harry Potter” improves attitudes toward stigmatized groups.

Harry “fights against social inequality and injustice,” the study authors write. As he interacts with characters who “suffer the consequences of prejudices and discrimination, [he] tries to understand them and to improve their situation.” In addition, Hermione is a passionate crusader for the rights of house elves (though that storyline is bypassed in the films).

The study assessed groups of children, teens and university students who had read “Harry Potter” and their attitudes toward stigmatized groups, including immigrants, homosexuals and refugees.

The authors concluded that participants had “observed the positive attitudes and behaviors of Harry Potter toward stigmatized fantastic groups, and projected them onto real stigmatized categories,” particularly when people identified more with Harry Potter and less with the villain Voldemort.

That identification works in favor of Watson’s feminist message. Fans the world over have come to positively identify with Harry, Hermione and friends. The characters’ fair treatment of house elves, Mudbloods and Muggles can prompt readers to more positively view real-life stigmatized groups, which is at the heart of the aim of feminism. (It’s worth noting that Watson’s speech didn’t mention minorities and other groups that face additional discrimination, but as one critic put it, the omission doesn’t “limit its cultural significance.”)

The message

Though it was probably unconscious, Watson actually echoed sentiments that will resonate with “Harry Potter” fans.

First, there’s the classic injunction from Professor Dumbledore: “Call him Voldemort, Harry. Always use the proper name for things. Fear of a name increases fear of the thing itself.”

We all know how divisive the term “feminist” can be, so Watson spent nearly half the speech clarifying what feminism is not (namely, hating men) and what it is (namely, equal rights and opportunities for both men and women).

Second, recall Sirius Black’s lesson to Harry: “The world isn’t split into good people and Death Eaters. We’ve all got both light and dark inside us. What matters is the part we choose to act on. That’s who we really are.”

Watson called the mentors and influential people in her life “inadvertent feminists who are changing the world today” and stated that “if you believe in equality, you might be one of those inadvertent feminists.” Focusing on actions more than labels, Watson found another way to appeal to those who may be skeptical of feminism.

Third, we have more words of wisdom from Dumbledore. He warned: “Time is short, and unless the few of us who know the truth stand united, there is no hope for any of us.”

Watson wove throughout her speech a sweeping call for unity. “We want to end gender inequality—and to do that we need everyone to be involved.”

The future

The HeForShe campaign certainly has its flaws: It might imply that women need to be rescued by men, or that men haven’t joined the cause simply because they haven’t been asked nicely enough, or that tweeting a feminist-friendly hashtag is enough to effect real change. In fact, the “action kit” on the HeForShe website primarily involves starting a student group or hosting an on-campus event, demanding a bureaucratic array of measurables that focus on awareness-raising rather than, you know, equality-raising.

But perhaps Watson’s awareness-raising stint as U.N. Goodwill Ambassador will lead to equality-raising. Perhaps reluctant-turned-engaged readers will also be reluctant-turned-engaged feminists, and they will join with those who have already spent years working toward equality in real, substantive ways. It may be that, much like the “Harry Potter” effect on literacy, Watson has found herself at the Gladwellian tipping point of being the right messenger with the right feminist message at the right time. Or? It may be magic.

This post is part of a 31-day series on girl power. It was also published on Medium.

Girls do what needs to be done

16 Oct

womepioneers-handcarts-833354-gallery{Image via LDS Media Library}

I stared down the hill, about 20 feet down, a roughly 45-degree incline. It was steep.

It was also the only way to access the park nearby my house. The next closest park is a 20- to 30-minute walk, and I didn’t have time for that. My one-year-old wanted to play on the swings, for goodness’ sake. So I did what needed to be done: I gripped the handle of the stroller, tilted the front wheels out so the baby would stay level in his stroller, and carefully plodded down the hill. When we were ready to go home, I slowly backed up the hill in the same fashion.

As I trekked down and then up the hill, I thought of my pioneer ancestors. Some of my ancestors traveled from Europe to the United States and across the plains to Utah. And I’ve heard many stories of other pioneers in the larger story of Mormon pioneer heritage.

Whenever I hear these stories, I am struck by the strength and resilience of the women. Many men had to leave to serve in the Mexican-American War; some also went to serve missions elsewhere; some died. Meanwhile: The women literally pushed through the wilderness, suffering hunger, cold, illness, persecution, loss of loved ones. They comforted and mourned with their sisters and brothers who experienced similar suffering. They cared for the sick and afflicted, bore children, helped deliver other women’s children, led and nurtured their families.

As a teenager, I participated in a pioneer trek reenactment, a two-day journey that involved pushing and pulling handcarts through California’s foothills. Toward the end was a “women’s walk” where all the men and boys had to go ahead and leave us girls to pull the handcarts on our own. Whatever difficulty we endured was miniscule compared to that of the real pioneers. It ingrained in me a deeper appreciation for the grit and faith of those who came before me.

For example: A brief life sketch of one of my ancestors, Anne Halling, notes this:

“Two days after they started West, Peder [her husband] died on June 27 1856. It was hard for Anne but she continued. They arrived in Salt Lake Valley in September 1856.”

I wish I could know more of Anne’s thoughts and feelings, but I am grateful to know of her example. It was hard, but she continued. She did what needed to be done: She followed the prophet and journeyed with her family to Zion.

Then I look back further in my heritage, and I come to Eve. I come to one of the most cherished (by me, at least) statements by an apostle about Eve and the implication of her choices on womankind and mankind:

“Happily for them, ‘the Lord said unto Adam [and Eve]: Behold I have forgiven thee thy transgression in the Garden of Eden’ (Moses 6:53). We and all mankind are forever blessed because of Eve’s great courage and wisdom. By partaking of the fruit first, she did what needed to be done. Adam was wise enough to do likewise.”

Eve was wise enough to recognize that she, Adam, and their future children could not progress eternally without partaking of the forbidden fruit. Though she didn’t fully understand what the consequences would be, surely she knew she would face a harder life than she had in the Garden of Eden. Yet she chose to do what needed to be done.

When I’m faced with decisions, with steep hills both literal and figurative, I look at the girls and women who came before me, and I know that I can do what needs to be done.


(Note: Emphasis added in quotes above.)

If you’re afraid of a little girl… you should be

10 Oct

malala1{Image by U.N. Information Center}

“She was targeted just because of her determination to go to school. The extremists showed what they fear most–a girl with a book.”

–U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, at a July 2013 U.N. event celebrating Malala Yousafzai

When we hear about a terrorist organization fearing a little girl, we recognize the irony and even humor in the idea. Girls tend to be associated with weakness, smallness, fragility. It’s a piercing point to make: If you are threatened by a girl, you must be pretty weak yourself.

But here’s the thing about being afraid of a little girl: You should be.

A girl is a powerful force. Girls face oppression in many ways throughout the world, but when that oppression is turned into opportunity, as presented in the 2009 book Half the Sky, the benefit is exponential, for each girl, her family, and her community. For example:

  • Several studies suggest that when women have more power of the purse, less family money is devoted to instant gratification and more for education and starting small businesses (p. 192).
  • When women have greater power in family decision-making, child health and nutrition improves (p. 194).
  • Even after noting caveats–like overzealous education advocates cherry-picking evidence–there are several rigorous studies that suggest expanding schooling for girls, even just elementary education, led women to marry later and have fewer children (an outcome that yields health and well-being benefits in developing countries)  (p. 171).
  • A study of the aftermath of women gaining the right to vote in the U.S. showed that landmark public health legislation quickly passed and child mortality declined by 8 to 15 percent (p. 198).

Malala Yousafzai exemplifies the powerful force for good–for revolutionary change–a girl can have. She gained worldwide attention by being shot by the Taliban and miraculously surviving, but her memoir, I Am Malala, reveals the courageous choices she has made every day to defend and support the right to education.

I was thrilled when I heard a few months ago that my former employer, the National Constitution Center, chose to award Malala with the 2014 Liberty Medal (which is often a precursor to a Nobel prize). I was even more thrilled when I learned today that she’ll be receiving the Nobel Peace Prize.

Awarding Malala Yousafzai the Nobel Peace Prize sends a much-needed message that empowering girls and women is an essential part of defending human rights and working toward a peaceful world. And anyone who doesn’t want a peaceful world? They should be very, very afraid. Especially of little girls with books.

The power of supportive women

9 Oct

To begin, watch this (and if you’re wary of SNL being unfunny and crude, this one is actually neither of those things):


Basically, it’s about a “forgotten” TV show called Supportive Women, “the first serial drama to break away from the soap opera cliché of catty, back-stabbing female characters and instead portray them as nurturing and empathetic. Audiences tuned in in whatever the opposite of droves is.”

You don’t have to be a Debbie Downer to agree that the stereotype of back-stabbing women is bad. Out of curiosity, I searched “backstabbing women stereotype” on Google Scholar and found a fascinating thesis called “Women at Work: Working Girl, Disclosure and the Evolution of Professional Female Stereotypes.” The author, Hayley Strickland, analyzes the representation of working women in film and TV over the past few decades, arguing that the increasing inclusion of professional female characters “were simply façades used to both mask and perpetuate longstanding gender norms.”

I don’t think Hollywood types are huddling in boardrooms conniving the various ways they might keep women in their subordinate place. I do think they see contention as the only or easiest way to create a compelling drama. I think they’re risk-averse and myopically interested in money and see these damaging stereotypes as simply a tool to appeal to audiences. Oh, and also, they’re mostly men, which kind of makes it difficult to offer realistic representations of women’s experiences. (I’m not saying men can’t do that, I’m saying that can’t do it without talking and working with women.) Consider a few numbers from the Center for the Study of Women in TV and Film–in 2013, women made up:

  • 6 percent of U.S. directors
  • 16 percent of all directors, executive producers, producers, writers, cinematographers, and editors working on the top 250 domestic grossing films
  • 10 percent of writers

Hollywood needs more girl power. Until that happens, film and TV will continue to send the message that, as the paper says,  “the way for women to succeed in the American workplace is, first, to become like men and, second, to betray other women.”

But I’ve seen in my life and with many other women I know that betrayal is not the key to success and happiness–we find our power in supporting each other. We can avoid judging other women for their choices, and even better, we can find ways to actively help and support other women along the way. Like today–a friend knew I had a writing deadline coming up and offered to watch Lars for me. I was touched by her thoughtfulness, and it was seriously helpful. I also love listening and participating in discussions among Aspiring Mormon Women, a community that exemplifies loving, constructive support.

There is something unique and powerful about sisterhood. Nowhere have I seen that more evident in Relief Society (the women’s organization of the Church of Jesus Christ Latter-day Saints). I have seen women share their joys and their triumphs with their sisters–sometimes in superficial ways, but many times in courageously vulnerable ways–and have other women put their arms around them, literally and figuratively, to fiercely support them. I love what Bonnie Oscarson, Young Women general president, said:

“The adversary would have us be critical or judgmental of one another. … There is nothing that is worth us losing our compassion and sisterhood over. We just need to relax and rejoice in our divine differences. We need to realize that we all desire to serve in the kingdom, using our unique talents and gifts in our own ways. Then we can enjoy our sisterhood and our associations and begin to serve. … We must stop concentrating on our differences and look for what we have in common; then we can begin to realize our greatest potential and achieve the greatest good in this world.”


P.S. Apparently Mean Girls Day is a thing, and I missed it! Since it’s applicable to the discussion at hand, there’s this:


I like to ride my bicycle

8 Oct

Actually, my cycling skills are severely lacking, but a Queen reference was in order for the title of this post.

I just had to share this piece from Brain Pickings about how the bicycle advanced the emancipation of women. It explains:

“From allowing young people to socialize without the chaperoning of clergymen and other merchants of morality to finally liberating women from the constraints of corsets and giant skirts (the “rational dress” pioneered by bike-riding women cut the weight of their undergarments to a “mere” 7 pounds), the velocipede made possible previously unthinkable actions and interactions that we now for granted to the point of forgetting the turbulence they once incited.”

wheelsofchange5{Image (c) Beth Emery Collection via Grist}

Consider this gem from Susan B. Anthony in 1896:

“Let me tell you what I think of bicycling. I think it has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world. I stand and rejoice every time I see a woman ride by on a wheel.”

It’s all enough to make this girl want to get back to the pedals and practice biking again.

P.S. Brain Pickings also has a roundup of anti-suffragette postcards. They are ridiculous and hilarious. Check it out.

Off-topic but awesome

7 Oct

I know, I’m delivering yet another I.O.U. post in the 31 Days of Girl Power department. Just working on an article that I’m submitting for legit publication that necessarily detracts from blogging time. Theories about Harry Potter and feminism do not write themselves, people.

But. I do have something fun to share: You can go visit Leah’s blog The Ordinary Snowflake and read my guest post there, “A retrospective of one girl’s questionable taste in music.” You may recall Leah guest-posted on my blog on why writing is awesome. I think her writing is awesome, and totally dig reading her blog. You should go visit it right now, and make sure to share in the comments your favorite angsty teenage music.