Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The First Stiletto

The ancient Greeks depicted Aphrodite in elevator shoes. Centuries later, Venetian courtesans clopped around in towering chopines, while during the reign of Louis XIV, red heels were a mark of nobility. But it was after World War II that the stiletto took hold. Soldiers who spent years abroad dreaming of high-heeled pinups, one historian wrote, came home to wives whose wartime work required more sensible shoes. As women returned to domestic life, higher heels could, and did, become all the rage. From the 1950s’ froth of experimentation, the stiletto was born.

Where Is Lyudmila Putina?

She will soon become Russia's First Lady for an unprecedented third time - but mystery is surrounding exactly who, and where, is Lyudmila Putina.

As her Kremlin strongman husband Vladimir prepares to once more take up his nation's Presidency, speculation is mounting as to why she is never seen by his side.

Some say an affair with spy-turned-lingerie model Anna Chapman, which has been strongly denied, is the reason the former Aeroflot-hostess is now rarely seen out in public.

Other tongues say he is still seeing former Olympic gold medallist Alina Kabayeva, claims also heavily rebutted, but who he was alleged to have fathered a child with.

A third theory is his 54-year-old love is 'locked away' in a £1million state-built guest house in the grounds of the ancient Yelizarov monastery outside Pskov - close to Estonia's border.

Treasures of Mary Queen of Scots

Rare treasures linked to Mary Queen of Scots are to be brought together for the first time for the biggest ever celebration of her life and legacy.

The National Museum of Scotland, in Edinburgh, will be showcasing rarely seen jewellery, portraits, documents and other personal possessions in a one-off exhibition which will only be staged in the capital, in the summer of 2013.
Curators are also promising it will shed new light on one of the most enigmatic figures in Scottish history.
George Dalgleish, keeper of Scottish history and archaeology at the museum, said: “I know that this will prove a hugely popular exhibition as there is a continuing fascination with her life story which has over decades been the subject of many books, plays and films.

Cleopatra's Twins

Giuseppina Capriotti, an Egyptologist at Italy's National Research Council, found the statues of the babies  Alexander Helios (Sun) and Cleopatra Selene (Moon) in the museum that were discovered  near the temple of Dendera on the west bank of the Nile in 1918, according to Discovery News.

The researcher identified the children as Alexander Helios and Cleopatra Selene, Antony and Cleopatra's twins, following a detailed stylistic and iconographic analysis published by the Polish Centre of Mediterranean Archaeology at the University of Warsaw.

Capriotti noticed that the boy has a sun-disc on his head,‭ ‬while the girl boasts a crescent and a lunar disc ("selene" = moon). The serpents, perhaps two cobras, would also be different forms of sun and moon, she said. Both discs are decorated with the udjat-eye, also called the eye of Horus, a common symbol in Egyptian art.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

End To Foot Binding In China

From the Blaze:
Believe it or not there are still some Chinese women alive who practiced the ancient, incredibly bizarre tradition of binding their feet to prevent them from growing.

The feet of girls as young as 5 would be broken and bound tightly with cotton strips, forcing their four smallest toes to gradually fold under the soles to create a so-called 3-inch golden lotus, once idealized as the epitome of beauty.

Chinese men were hot for tiny Chinese lady feet, for some reason.

But not any more. Today there are only about 30 women alive in China who did this when they were younger.

See also a more in depth article in the LA Times.

Ancient Female Gladiator

A small bronze statue dating back nearly 2,000 years may be that of a female gladiator, a victorious one at that, suggests a new study.

If confirmed the statue would represent only the second depiction of a woman gladiator known to exist.

The gladiator statue shows a topless woman, wearing only a loincloth and a bandage around her left knee. Her hair is long, although neat, and in the air she raises what the researcher, Alfonso Manas of the University of Granada, believes is a sica, a short curved sword used by gladiators. The gesture she gives is a "salute to the people, to the crowd," Manas said, an action done by victorious gladiators at the end of a fight.

The female fighter is looking down at the ground, presumably at her fallen opponent.

It’s not known where the statue was originally found, though it is currently in the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbein Hamburg, Germany.  

The rarity of such statues likely reflects the idea that female gladiators in ancient Rome were scarce. They were banned by Emperor Septimius Severus in A.D. 200 with only about a dozen references to them in ancient writing surviving to present day. The only other known depiction of them is a carved relief from the site of Halicarnassus (now in the British Museum) that shows two female gladiators fighting. There have been claims made in the past of burials of female gladiators being uncovered, but none has attracted widespread support among scholars.  

Indonesian Women Settle Madagascar

From the Jakarta Post:

A new research report shows that 30 women of Indonesian descent settled in Madagascar about 1,200 years ago, raising the possibility that the island nation was settled through a small, perhaps even unintended, transoceanic crossing, instead of a large-scale planned colonization.

The study titled “A small cohort of Island Southeast Asian women founded Madagascar” published by Proceedings of the Royal Society B reveals that Malagasy, a term that represents people living in the island located off the east coast of Africa, have biological and linguistic connections not only to east African populations but also to Southeast Asia, particularly Indonesia.

Herawati Sudoyo, a senior research fellow of the Eijkman Institute for Molecular Biology in Jakarta said on Monday that Malagasy people descended from the East and West as their ancestors came from both Africa and Indonesia.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Lambayeque Priestess Found

Researchers at the Chotuna-Chornancap archaeological digs near the Peruvian city of Chiclayo have found the funerary remains of a woman who was a priestess of the Lambayeque or Sican culture, said the project director, Carlos Wester La Torre.

The preliminary conclusion of physical anthropologist Mario Millones is that this was a woman between 25-30 years old who lived during the second half of the 13th century A.D. in the waning days of that culture on Peru’s northern coast, whose most important historical figure was the Lord of Sipan, considered the Tutankhamun of America, in the 3rd century A.D.

The research, promoted by Peru’s Culture Ministry, got started eight months ago with an excavation that two months later came upon the tomb, but it wasn’t until a few days ago that the sex and age of the priestess were determined.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Jharkhand Women Still Witchcraft Victims

From the Daily Pioneer:
In a shocking revelation, a report released by Jharkhand Human Rights Movement 2001-2011, says every three days a woman becomes victim of crime related to witchcraft in Jharkhand. Jharkhand has reported 1,157 cases of murder between the year 1991 to 2010, where a woman was branded a witch and killed.

The report says that every third day a woman is persecuted under the garb of witchcraft. According to the facts and figures of Jharkhand State Legal Authority 175 women were branded as ‘witch’ and subjected to atrocities every year in Jharkhand.

Being the State capital, Ranchi registered the maximum number of cases of witchcraft. About 250 cases of witchcraft were registered in Ranchi during the past decade. On the other hand Godda, a backward district as compared to Ranchi registered only 11 cases.

Witchcraft is a never ending story in Jharkhand. Illiteracy, lack of awareness and medical facilities are the major reasons behind this. Ojhas (witch doctors) play an important role in this medieval practice.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Yeman: Women's Struggle Continues

From the Vancouver Sun:
When Sara Ahmed joined a protest in November to demand the resignation of Yemen’s president, she and the other women marched at the very front of the crowd. But no sooner had they set off through the capital than they were shepherded towards the back.

“On that day, I realized we had two fights,” said Ahmed, a 24-year-old sociology student and women’s rights advocate, who took part in some of the first protests in Yemen last year that helped oust President Ali Abdullah Saleh from office.

“A battle against the regime, but also another struggle — a fight within the fight — against those elements inside the revolution who oppose us and our rights as women.”

One of the poorest countries in the world and the worst for gender equality, according to a UN study based on literacy and other factors, Yemeni women defied deep-rooted traditions by even participating in the campaign against Saleh, then became pivotal players in it.

Now with Saleh deposed and a political transition underway, female activists fear the country is moving forward without them, and that men who were keen to have them on the streets crying freedom do not now want them in parliament, universities or the workplace.

End Invasion Searches Of Female Prisoners

The American Civil Liberties Union said it plans today to urge the Michigan Department of Corrections to ban an invasive vaginal strip search that humiliates female prisoners.

It said women are forced to expose themselves, often with unclean hands while sitting on an unsanitized chair and in full view of other prisoners, while a female guard checks to see whether they're concealing contraband.

The ACLU said it believes Michigan's is the only prison system in the nation to routinely use such searches as a matter of policy.

The searches can be especially traumatic because many female prisoners are victims of sexual assault, the ACLU said.

Over the years, female prisoners in Michigan have been awarded more than $100 million in suits resulting from sexual assaults by corrections staff.

Book: Jewish Womens' Customs

From Haaretz:
The clothes and the jewelry, like the covers of the prayer books and the inscriptions on the women's amulets, tell the story of Jewish women down the generations. Aliza Lavie has traced their history and customs and collected every detail she could in order to shed light on the role of women in Jewish ritual and in the community. The result is a new book, "Minhag Nashim: Masa Nashi shel Minhagim, Tekesim, Tefilot Ve'siporim ("Women's Customs: A Journey of Jewish Customs, Rituals, Prayers and Stories" (Yedioth Books, Hebrew).

Historically, Jewish activity centered around men. The burden of obligation fell on them: checking the house for chametz before Pesach, carrying the lulav on Sukkot, standing next to the mohel at their sons' ritual circumcision and praying in the main chapel of the synagogue.

The new book surveys customs from East and West, from North Africa to Europe. Many of the rituals, naturally, have to do with pregnancy, childbirth and the mikveh, the Jewish ritual purification bath. She describes, for example, amulets that women wore when one of their number went into labor, and that were placed in the beds of infants. In Morocco, women were guarded during labor and ceremonies against the "evil eye" were held that included readings from Scripture and the singing of piyutim, or liturgical songs.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Émilie du Châtelet

From the Daily Maverick:
Émilie du Châtelet could possibly be one of the greatest female intellectuals, mathematicians and thinkers in history, but the love of Voltaire’s life who contributed significantly to the Enlightenment all but vanished from the history books. That is until science author David Bodanis stumbled across her and decided to ensure she wouldn’t be forgotten.

One of her greatest accomplishments was the translation of Newton’s Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica (Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy). The achievement is remarkable when one realises that she made what is considered one of the greatest texts in the history of science accessible and that, three and a half centuries after it was originally published, it still remains the standard French translation.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Movie: The Women

This movie - The Women - made in 1939 has to be one of my all time favourite films.  Its cast features women only - not man in sight - only the reference to any male.  The premise of the story is one of divorce amongst the rich Manhattan set when one of our heroines discovers her husband's infidelity via a manicurist in the department store.  And off we journey on the divorce train bound for Reno.

The cast is stellar - some of the most wonderful actresses of the period - Joan Crawford, Norma Shearer, Marjorie Main (she of Ma Kettle fame), Rosalind Russell - to name a few.  

Here is a little snippet from the IMDb website:
"Wealthy Mary Haines is unaware her husband is having an affair with shopgirl Crystal Allen. Sylvia Fowler and Edith Potter discover this from a manicurist and arrange for Mary to hear the gossip. On the train taking her to a Reno divorce Mary meets the Countess and Miriam (in an affair with Fowler's husband). While they are at Lucy's dude ranch, Fowler arrives for her own divorce and the Countess meets fifth husband-to-be Buck. Back in New York, Mary's ex is now unhappily married to Crystal who is already in an affair with Buck. When Sylvia lets this story slip at a country club dinner, Crystal brags of her plans for a still wealthier marriage, only to find the Countess is the source of all Buck's money. Crystal must return to the perfume counter and Mary runs back to her husband."

Now - there was a remake - in 2008 - with Meg Ryan - which in my humble opinion was a complete train wreck as re-makes go.  There was no way that this 1930s storyline was ever going to transpose into the modern day world of the 2000s.  Eva Mendez sizzles with va-va-va-voom as the husband-stealing shopgirl - and hers is the only decent performance from what purports to being a top-notch female cast.

So I strongly recommend getting your hands on a copy of this original movie and enjoy it for what it is - a wonderful story with extraordinary characters!

See also the wikipedia site for "The Women"

Liberian Women Divided Over Nobel Prize

Leaders of three of Liberia’s foremost women’s peace advocacy groups – the Liberia Women’s Initiative (LWI), the Mano River Women Peace Network (MARWOPNET) and the Women In Peace-building Network (WIPNET) – are at loggerheads apparently over who might have been more deserving of the prestigious Nobel Peace Prize, won in part by two daughters of Liberia.

The 2011 Nobel Peace Prize, according to the Chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, Thorbjørn Jagland, was awarded to two Liberian women, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Leymah Gbowee, and a Yemeni co-winner, for “their non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women’s rights to full participation in peace-building work.”

The two Liberian peace and human rights campaigners shared the Prize with Yemeni activist Tawwakol Karman.

But eminent personalities of the women’s movement in Liberia, including Mother Mary Brownell and Madam Theresa Leigh-Sherman, have described the awarding of the Prize to Leymah Gbowee as a misplaced decision by the Nobel Committee because, according to them, Gbowee “should have been there when the bullets were flying.”

Daughter of the Sultan

In Arabic pop culture, a Sultana is the object of desire in an old Egyptian folk song, "Bint el Sultan," which literally translates to "Daughter of the Sultan." It represents a familiar reference for those with a particular affinity for Arabic music. In fact, one only needs to peruse the internet to find that a spicier version of the original tune, the lyrics of which revolve around a stunningly beautiful Sultana whom the singer lusts, may be heard at Arabic dance parties, clubs and concerts.

There is, however, a lesser known historical account of the Sultana which has been frequently dismissed or in the alternative, overlooked. Nevertheless, she remains an inextricable part of Islamic history.

She is the female Muslim ruler.

And, her story exemplifies the flexible environment Islam has traditionally provided for women to flourish not only spiritually, but even, politically.

Humewood House 100 Years Old

For 100 years, Humewood House has been a refuge for vulnerable young unwed mothers, who have stood on its doorstep, suitcase in hand, their hearts filled with fear of what the future held.

More than 5,000 young women — many of them mere children themselves — found a haven at the home, just north of St. Clair Ave. on Humewood St., once the home of the province’s first chancellor, William Hume Blake.

For decades, it was where “bad girls” were shut away and hidden from society until they gave birth. Many had been disowned by their families for the shame they had wrought. Most gave their babies up, never to see them again.

Those who returned home had to deal with their trauma on their own, often living lives of silent desperation, their secret never to be revealed.

Monday, April 9, 2012

The Woman Who Fell from the Sky

When Jennifer Steil took on the challenge of editing the Yemen Observer for a year, she was prepared for an adventure.

But what the American journalist had not bargained for was falling in love with the country and eventually leaving with a fiancé and baby in tow.

"It was a wonderful place to live and ended up being the most exciting and rewarding year of my life," she recalls on a visit to Abu Dhabi, where she was invited to speak at last week's book fair.

The 43-year-old, who wrote about her experiences in the book The Woman Who Fell from the Sky, was first enticed to the Arab country by a former boyfriend. Then living in Yemen, he invited her to teach a three-week training course at the daily newspaper to journalists who had no notion of how to investigate and report stories.

Feminist Sikh - Guru Nanak

From the Vancouver Sun:
“Guru Nanak is to me a feminist,” says Sikh scholar Nikky-Guninder Kaur Singh.

That’s why the Punjabi professor can’t accept how her religion has become so patriarchal; filled with “machismo” and a “warrior” mentality that often contradicts its original teachings.

The founder of Sikhism, Guru Nanak (1469–1539), was a truly “egalitarian,” “inclusive” man and a champion of women’s rights, Kaur Singh said this week before giving a lecture at the Asian Centre at the University of B.C.

The author of a dozen books, including the just-released Of Sacred and Secular Desire: An Anthology of Lyrical Writings from the Punjab (I.B. Tauris), laments how virtually all sacred duties within the 23-million-member religion continue to be performed by men.

Interview: Princess Basma Bint Saud Bin Abdulaziz

From BBC News:
Princess Basma Bint Saud Bin Abdulaziz tells the BBC there are many changes she would like to see in Saudi Arabia - but that now is not the time for women to be allowed to drive.

I speak as the daughter of King Saud, the former ruler of Saudi Arabia. My father established the first women's university in the kingdom, abolished slavery and tried to establish a constitutional monarchy that separates the position of king from that of prime minister. But I am saddened to say that my beloved country today has not fulfilled that early promise.

Our ancient culture, of which I am very proud, is renowned for its nobility and generosity, but we lack, and urgently need, fundamental civil laws with which to govern our society.

As a daughter, sister, (former) wife, mother, businesswoman and a working journalist, these are the things that I would like to see changed in Saudi Arabia.

President Joyce Banda

History-making Joyce Banda , who rose to prominence in Malawi as a champion for women's rights and empowerment, yesterday became the second female African head of state of modern times after Liberia's Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.

Banda, her maiden name being Mtila, was born on April 12, 1950, in Malawi's colonial capital of Zomba where her father, was an accomplished and popular Police brass band musician and instructor.

Prior to an active career in politics she was the founder of the Joyce Banda Foundation, founder of the National Association of Business Women (NABW), Young Women Leaders Network and the Hunger Project. She was listed in Forbes Magazine 2011 as the third most powerful woman in Africa.