Friday, March 30, 2012

Thirty Performances That Remade Women's History

Paste is celebrating with a look back at two decades worth of films and 30 talented female leads whose roles re-told and re-wrote key moments in history. The performances are not ranked (they appear chronologically) and the list is in no way all-encompassing, although we have tried to include a bit of everything and everyone—no actress appears more than once (we’ll make a separate list for Meryl Streep later).

As we’re sticking to biopics and female-centered period pieces, many great performances by many brilliant actresses do not appear, and it must be said that performances by women in comedies, thrillers, and other genres have also worked to re-make history. Similarly, many women who have played alongside male leads have been left out (like Reese Witherspoon in Walk the Line or Laura Linney in Kinsey) but surely will—and do—appear on other lists. It also pained us to leave out Alanis Morissette’s unforgettable cameo as “God” in Dogma, probably the greatest, most accurately cast role ever.

Oksana Loses Her Brave Battle

An 18-year-old Ukrainian woman who prosecutors say was gang-raped, half-strangled and then set on fire in an attack that sparked street protests in a provincial Ukrainian town, has died, a hospital official said.

Hundreds of people took to the streets earlier this month after police released two of Oksana Makar's three suspected attackers whose parents had political connections, re-igniting a public debate on corruption in the ex-Soviet republic.

Oksana's story went worldwide after her mother made a video of her lying distraught in her hospital bed and prodded her to describe her attack on camera.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Bat Mitzvah Turns 90

It was a simple walk from her seat to the front of the Society for the Advancement of Judaism, a New York City synagogue. But when 12-year-old Judith Kaplan was summoned by her rabbi father to read from her Bible and recite some blessings, the act was revolutionary.

On a March Saturday in 1922, two years after women in America got the right to vote, Rabbi Mordecai M. Kaplan broke tradition. He had, in essence, held a coming-of-age ceremony for his daughter, what boys at 13 had celebrated for centuries.

Of course, what Judith performed was not, in fact, identical. She didn’t read directly from the Torah, nor would the ceremony afford her the same synagogue privileges as males. But it did mark a giant step toward religious equality. Ninety years ago this month, it was the first American bat mitzvah.

Donut Dollies

From an article in the Huffington Post by Doug Bradley:

Donut Dollies were single, female college graduates who were used primarily as morale boosters for U.S. combat troops in Vietnam. Many of these young women were as motivated by JFK's call to duty and service as we guys were. But their training manuals instructed them to present themselves as reminders of girlfriends, wives and sisters waiting back home. As one SRAO member told my friend Heather Stur, author of Beyond Combat: Women and Gender in the Vietnam War Era, the donut dollies were to be "nonsexual symbols of purity and goodness." Good luck with that in a combat zone!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Update on Egyptian Virginity Test Case

Following on from this June post on Egypt: Virginity Test On Female Protestors, comes this update from VOA:
Perhaps more surprising than an Egyptian military tribunal finding one of its own not guilty of forcing a "virginity test" on a detainee, is that the case went ahead at all. There are social, economic and political restrictions faced by Egyptian women, and proposals to advance their rights.

Samira Ibrahim, the woman who lost her case of sexual assault against a military doctor Sunday, not only took on Egypt's leadership but also the nation's deeply conservative attitudes toward women.

Human Rights Watch researcher Heba Morayef said the military rulers took full advantage of those views.

“Samira has had many different battles to fight and also has to deal with the kind of reputational smearing that went on in the media, and in particular, as a result of statements by military generals who, as early as April, went on saying the women who spent the night in Tahrir [Square, protesting], or the women who went to Tahrir, were women of bad morals and ill repute,” said Morayef.

Women took a large part in the 18-day uprising last year that brought down long-time president Hosni Mubarak. But according to political analyst Rania el-Malki, “on Day 19, everything changed.”

Girl Scouts Turn 100

From WJLA:

Known for their dangerously delicious cookies, the Girl Scouts are turning 100. The anniversary comes on the same month as Women’s History Month. To commemorate both, D.C.’s Madame Tussauds has announced the creation of a wax figure of Girl Scout’s founder Juliette Gordon Low.

The figure of Low will debut this May. Monday’s announcement comes ahead of a series of initiatives celebrating the Girl Scouts' anniversary—leading up to the Girls Scouts Rock the Mall event in June. The event, which is a sing along, will host over 200,000 girls and adults on the National Mall.

"Juliette Gordon Low is a national icon whose legacy lives on through the Girl Scouts and the millions of girls and women who have benefited from what she started so many years ago," said Dan Rogoski, General Manager of The Presidents Gallery by Madame Tussauds.

Canonisation of Hildegard von Bingen

The Catholic Church seems ready to codify what music lovers have known for nearly a millennium: Hildegard von Bingen is a saint. Vatican Insider reports that Pope Benedict XVI will canonize the visionary Medieval composer this coming October.

Whether you're a confirmed Catholic, an apocalyptic atheist or a devout druid, if you haven't tuned in to Hildegard's work, you could be in for a revelation.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Women of Note

Australia may be known as the lucky country, but it must not have seemed that way to many of the homegrown female composers of the past century as they struggled to be taken seriously in their field. Margaret Sutherland's psychiatrist husband discouraged her from composing by diagnosing her as mentally insane; Miriam Hyde was advised by a publisher to adopt “M. Hydekovsky” as her nom de plume; Peggy Glanville-Hicks declared that a woman must be not as good as men but better in order to succeed – and she wasn’t just talking about composing.

It is these attitudes to women creating music and making their voices heard that prompt journalist Rosalind Appleby to describe classical composition as a “battleground”. It’s the subject of her new book Women of Note, which has its Sydney launch at the Australian Music Centre on March 8 for International Women’s Day.

Afghan Women Trapped In Tribal Law System

In Afghanistan, there are essentially two legal systems that exist in parallel. One is the Kabul central government's justice system which, despite years of funding from the US and the international coalition, is rife with corruption, widely discredited and virtually disregarded by the populace. The other track is built around traditional legal practices, including ba'ad, and the cases are heard by local, tribal courts.

"In the tribal courts, the first sacrifice is women," Sirran said. "Always. If there is a fight for land, for water, if there is violence, a girl can be given in ba'ad to settle these things."

Despite a decade of hard work and significant investment by the international community to improve the lives of women after the fall of the Taliban government, the problem of violence continues to grow.

Read more of Sakina's story here.

Chained Women

Purim is a holiday that is about women’s power, in its different forms. Thinking about the roles of Queen Vashti and her successor Queen Esther in the Purim story highlights some of the dilemmas that women have faced throughout history. I therefore think it’s particularly apt that Ta’anit Esther is International Agunah Day, the day the marks the harrowing struggle of “chained women,” or women denied divorce.

Vashti and Esther were both married to a man, the same man, for whom women were objects to be adorned and used. This was arguably the prevailing culture at the time, but there are also gradations in the exploitation of women.

Women face the insider/outsider dilemma all the time. Should we work hard and sacrifice our integrity (and money) to meet social expectations of female beauty in order to reap the significant social rewards of beauty and sexuality, or should we challenge the system, refuse to turn ourselves into seductresses, and force the world to deal with “real women,” as we are?

In Judaism the insider/outsider dilemma is faced in the most harrowing way by agunot, women who cannot get a Jewish divorce because the system relies on male volition. To stay in the Jewish legal system, agunot give up right to live independently, or to give birth to a Jew, or to be free. They can be free at any moment, but that would entail giving up their status within the Jewish legal system.

Apache Chronicle

When documentary filmmaker Nanna Dalunde contacted Douglas Miles (San Carlos Apache/Akimel O’odham) of Apache Skateboards, he was skeptical. Dalunde wanted to make a film about the female skateboarders associated with Miles’s skate crew — to investigate why they skate and why they create. The problem? Dalunde is from Sweden. Like many Natives who’ve seen skewed visions of their people on screen, Miles was wary of yet another non-Native filmmaker (even a well-intentioned one) who might depict American Indians from an outsider’s perspective. He wanted to ensure that the skaters would retain rights to how they were represented, and that they would hold partial rights to the documentary as well.

The solution was both unconventional and simple: Miles stepped up to assist and facilitate the project as a co-director.

The result is Apache Chronicle, a 41-minute look at the lives and artwork of five young Native American female artists and skateboarders. It’s a remarkable perspective that we rarely see in documentary film: the young Native female perspective.

Women With Male Titles

From The Mary Sue comes a series of articles on ten women who took upon the titles of their male counterparts.

While women taking titles normally reserved for men shows up in fiction every once in a while, what’s more impressive is that it’s not a product of fiction — this happens in real life, more often than you’d think, and in pretty high places.

For Women’s History Month, we’ve taken a break from fictional female characters to put the spotlight on a few women who became significant rulers, even kings. Yes, kings. Not queens, not empresses, but kings. Usually reserved for men, these women thought there was no need to separate themselves as an equally effective ruler by taking a gender-specific title. These are real-life examples from history, but a handful of these women are currently running their respective shows.

Helen Castor: She Wolves

“Throughout our history, women and power have made an uneasy combination”. Dr Helen Castor made it clear the path to power depended on more than the right alliances, lineage, and marriage partner. Even if all those were spot on, being female was enough to halt any rise. The series began with the medieval Queens Matilda and her daughter-in-law Eleanor of Aquitaine. Both wanted to rule, not reign like Queen Elizabeth II.

She Wolves brings Dr Castor’s book She-Wolves: The Women Who Ruled England Before Elizabeth to television. The programme’s sensational title was a given. With an audience beyond the niches of either a history readership or gender studies, the book is a natural for television with clearly told, linear stories that resonate despite being from at least 600 years ago. But with only one contemporary image apiece for Matilda and Eleanor (both seen here), televisual material was lacking.

See also this article from the Radio Times.

Events Celebrating Women

China:  Bald Girls, a feminist art show in the 798 arts district of Beijing opened on Saturday at the Iberia Center for Contemporary Art.  The exhibition, which features paintings, installations, sculptures and photographs, runs through April 3.  See further details in this article from the New York Times. 

England: The London Metropolitan Archives is hosting a day of talks and presentations which explores the lives of women as reflected in historical records and literature. This event marks International Women's Day and the 200th anniversary of Dickens.  See BBC article for further details.

USA:  At the next meeting of the Five Cities AAUW chapter on March 19 at the Arroyo Grande Women’s Center on Vernon Street, Cohon, McCall and Slater will present their portrayals of historic women.  For more details view this article from the San Luis Obispo Tribune.

Read more here:

Read more here:,

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Queen Victoria's Secret Daughter

From the Mail Online:

Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897 marked the refulgent patriotic zenith of the British Empire.  Standing less than 5ft tall, but nevertheless a towering colossus throughout the world, the iconic Queen Empress gave her name to an age that produced an empire measuring some 40 million square kilometres, with 387 million subjects.

But now an astonishing article, published this month in The Oldie magazine, seeks to explode this greatest of all royal myths.

It claims that after the untimely death of her husband, Albert, the Prince Consort, Victoria sought sexual solace with her uncouth, arrogant and heavy-drinking Highland ghillie, John Brown. It further alleges that the Queen secretly married Brown in a clandestine ceremony and then bore him a child.

The 82-year-old historian, John Julius (2nd Viscount) Norwich, son of the legendary society beauty Lady Diana Cooper, is cited as a source for this story.

Lord Norwich, it appears, remembers his friend, the late historian Sir Steven Runciman, telling him that while he was researching in the Royal Archives at Windsor Castle, he chanced upon the marriage certificate of Queen Victoria and John Brown.

Runciman was a pre-eminent expert on the Crusades and the Byzantine Empire. According to this very tall tale, he showed the certificate to the late Queen Mother.

Queen of Sheba

The legend of the Queen of Sheba came face-to-face with reality this week after an archeologist uncovered vast amounts of gold and temple ruins in the Queen’s former domain.

Almost 3,000 years since the Queen is said to have ruled, archeologist Louise Scholfield told media she found an enormous ancient gold mine in the land that once was Sheba, now moden-day Ethiopia and Yemen, The Guardian reported.

Heading the excavation in northern Ethiopia, Ms Schofield said she knew she had struck lucky when she found a 20ft stone stele with a sun and crescent moon, the “calling card of the land of Sheba”.

Mayan Women

From UCR Today:

Contrary to popular belief, women played a central role in Maya society before the arrival of Spanish explorers in the early 16th century, a University of California, Riverside graduate student has discovered. That finding is significant for modern Mayan women, whose status in society rapidly diminished under Spanish colonial rule and remains so today, according to Shankari Patel, a Ph.D. candidate in anthropology.

Patel’s groundbreaking research, which included extensive fieldwork in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula and an examination of previously uncatalogued artifacts in the British Museum, has won her the 2011 Dissertation Award from the American Anthropological Association’s American Feminist Association (AFA) and the AAA Minority Dissertation Fellowship. Patel expects to complete her dissertation, “Journey to the East: Pilgrimage, Politics, and Gender at Postclassic Yucatan,” and graduate in June.

Ancient Indian Women

From The Hindu:
Though women from India's ancient past have been generalised by early historians as a uniform group conditioned in the same way and conforming to the social codes, there were many of them who lived multi-faceted lives and exercised the freedom to pursue alternative paths of self-fulfilment, historian Romila Thapar said on Wednesday.

Delivering the “IWA Endowment Lecture” hosted by the International Women's Association and the Government Museum, Prof. Thapar said quite unlike their generalised portrayal, women in the history of Indian society were from diverse social backgrounds; therefore their activities were as diverse as their aspirations.