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27 June 2013

Guest Post: My Platoon Tried to Sell Me

VLF is happy to welcome, Miyoko Hikiji, author of “All I Could Be: My Story as a Woman Warrior in Iraq” to the blog today. Since I am already at capacity for book reviews this summer, we decided a guest post would be the best way for you to get to know her. This is not an excerpt from her memoir, rather an exclusive essay for VLF.

Miyoko Hikiji joined the U.S. Army in Iowa as a way to pay for a college education. Near the end of her enlistment contract in the Iowa National Guard and before completing her degree in journalism, her unit was called to active duty in Iraq in early 2003. Good looking at 5’3” and 120 lbs., she didn’t “look the part,” but passed all of the qualifying tests, including weapons training and a 12.5 mile march in full uniform carrying a rifle and a 50-pound backpack.

The guys said it was a joke, but I wasn’t the only one that didn’t find it funny. The Iraqi men bartering for me, an American female soldier, weren’t laughing either.

It was July 2003 and US Forces had invaded Iraq four months prior. My Iowa National Guard transportation company was attached to an active duty combat unit that was responsible for securing the northwest quadrant of the country. This unit was armored cavalry, meaning tanks and helicopters. Our company, nicknamed “Hawkeye” after the University of Iowa’s team mascot, were the wheels that delivered the Cav’s supplies—everything from ammo and repair parts to mail and enemy prisoners of war.

I was one of about sixteen female soldiers in a unit of 150. I had worked hard early on to earn my place in its ranks, passing with flying colors the qualifications for physical fitness, weapons, first aid, land navigation and other soldier skills. I acted tough, maybe tougher than I was, never let my guard down and could hold my liquor, smoke and drink with the most macho of them. I didn’t want to be exactly one of the guys, but I knew if they called me this, I’d won them over. That reassured me that within my platoon, I was worth my weight in salt. I was proud of that fact.

It was the start of a typical mission day, simmering at around 100-degrees. We took respite in Ramadi where I used the police station’s bathroom to relieve myself. As I walked outside to rejoin my co-driver at the back of our truck, I noticed that a few other truck driving teams had clustered together and were talking with some of the locals that had approached. As I drew nearer my squad leader pointed at me and the Iraqi men flew into a bidding war.

“Two goats and two hundred American dollars!” a short stocky man shouted while waving his arms from underneath his traditional robe clothing.

“Two goats and three hundred American dollars!” a slightly taller and thinner man shouted. His unusual blue eyes were fixated on me in a glassy gaze.

“She’s a virgin too!” another staff sergeant shouted.

“Shut the hell up, sergeant!” I said in shock, tightening the grip on my weapon.

“Well you don’t have any kids, what’s the difference to them,” he said in a low voice. “She can give you many babies,” he continued grinning at the men, then me.

“Two goats and four hundred dollars!” the short man called out, upping his bid.

“What the hell are you doing?” I said looking around at my buddies. “You suck. You’re probably only worth two chickens and ten dinar but I’d damn sure sell you for that right now,” I said punching my co-driver in his shoulder.

“It’s just a joke!” he yelled at my back.

“I’m not for sale!” I said looking over the Iraqis.

Then an eruption of angry Arabic dialogue filled the air, first among the Iraqis, then directed at the male soldiers still standing nearby.

A cold sweat broke across my forehead as I leapt up the sidesteps and into the driver’s seat. I fired the engine up quickly then looked back to see the other guys double-timing toward their trucks followed by the Iraqis with raised fists shouting, “Hey, Joe. What about the deal? Hey, Joe!”

The convoy commander gave the signal to move out and hopped in the passenger seat of his Humvee. The lead vehicle lurched forward. I followed closely behind it as the convoy pulled back onto the main supply road. My eyes were fixated, watching the path of the vehicle ahead, scanning the roadside for rubble and trash or anything that could be used as a disguise for an improvised explosive device.

My thoughts returned to the sale, to my worth, which had turned 120 pounds of salt into two goats and four hundred dollars. The Iraqis weren’t just attempting to buy a wife, or sex or future babies or labor on their farm. They were purchasing my freedom. They were trading a couple livestock and a fistful of greenbacks for my choice to be in charge of my destiny and pursue my own dreams. They were operating under the rules of their culture, the only lifestyle they knew, and for that I could not fault them.

My battle buddies, however, my brothers-in-arms, were pretending to sell me and they could only do so if they assumed I was theirs to sell. Did they believe they owned me? Was I not their equal and their “sister” but a possession? Did the push ups and muscle aches and miles of ruck marches in a downpour and the tears and heartache of this life boil down to just a joke?

So maybe the joke was on them because I realized that my worth was immeasurable. I was priceless. We all were. It was that American ideal, not some political conviction, that motivated me to gear up and head out for another mission. It was that faith that I was not just a number or some female or another GI, but a life worth living; no, I was a life worth celebrating.

I’d decided all this by the time our convoy was pulling inside the forward operating base where we were dropping our supplies One promise I said to myself that I’ll never forget: don’t underestimate yourself. You’re worth more than any man can afford.

Support Viva la Feminista by purchasing "All I Could Be" from  Powells.

25 June 2013

Summer of Feminista: The Importance of Affirmative Activism and Multiple Mentors


To kick off Summer of Feminista 2013, we welcome Wendy Braun. 

Wendy recently received her PhD in Comparative Literature with a minor in Women’s and Gender Studies. She is currently educating and mentoring students at Louisiana State University. Congrats, Wendy!!

My alma mater’s English Department recently circulated a strategic plan of action for the department, part of which included a consideration of circumstances and institutional policies surrounding the lack of non-white English faculty and graduate students. After the email was sent, Facebook was abuzz with statuses and threads from students of color at my alma mater, voicing concerns about the current and future state of the department and the university at large, as well as frustrations over the career implications of under-hiring of faculty of color on the national level. A few weeks later, one of the few departmental faculty members of color (and one of two African American departmental faculty members) resigned, and students were left to wonder about the connection. In Facebook comments, students revealed a feeling of deflated ambivalence in their department, their education, and their futures.

Embedded in the department’s strategic plan was a link to a 2007 report, “Affirmative Activism: Report of the ADE Ad Hoc Committee on the Status of African American Faculty Members in English”. This report defines affirmative activism as proactive steps institutions can take to “bring the diversity of the English faculty members of the twenty-first century closer to that of the United States population and to improve the integrity of the profession itself” (74). What is clear from this report and the Facebook conversation surrounding the lack of minority faculty and grad students, and the recent departure of a faculty member of color, is the importance of having mentors within an institution that nurtures and supports the mentor/protégé relationship in order to improve opportunities and morale and the “culture and climate of the profession” (70). While the report and subsequent Facebook conversation focused on African American underrepresentation and mentorship, the same holds true for Latin@ students, faculty, and scholars: Mentoring is an important avenue for professional, intellectual, and emotional development and the underrepresentation of Latinas in academia and other professional institutions disallows for vital mentoring opportunities.

While my cohorts on Facebook lamented the loss of a faculty member of color, they made it clear that they had other mentors--those that shared their underrepresented or marginalized identities, or career aspirations, or physical fitness regimens, or research interests, or family goals. They were also hoping that the strategic plan implied a change in current circumstances. Two conclusions can be drawn from their online anecdotes: 1) It is important for junior colleagues to have multiple mentors; 2) It is important that professional and academic institutions foster an environment of mutually beneficial mentorships, especially for its traditionally underrepresented employees. Multiple mentors and diverse representation means that the loss of one would not necessarily be detrimental to the protégés or the host institution.

For those searching for mentors, I have a few suggestions:
  • Diversify your list of mentors; don’t assume that one person can fill the role for you. This also places a lot of unfair pressure on the mentor.
  • Don’t just look for mentors in senior positions; create peer support groups that are rich and diverse.
  • Don’t assume mentors will find you; do the work—research, look outside your field or comfort zone, approach qualified candidates, and give thanks to those that provide guidance and assistance.
  • Become the mentor you want; volunteer, tutor, coach. Becoming a mentor and role model can bring out the best in you, and through community engagement your help others while bettering yourself.
  • Participate in institutional as well as personal improvement. Don’t assume that because you may have found mentors, that others aren’t in need of these opportunities.
While the Facebook conversations initially revealed despondence, the fact that the department seemed intent on concrete strategies for institutional improvement reassured many. More importantly, it created a great opportunity for dialogue about how to create a climate of mentorship that benefits those historically in need of it.

Works Cited:

Hubbard, Dolan, Paula Krebs, David Laurence, Valerie Lee, Doug Steward, Robyn Warhol. “Report of the ADE Ad Hoc Committee on the Status of African American Faculty Members in English.” ADE Bulletin 141-142 (Winter-Spring 2007): 70-74. Print.


Summer of Feminista 2013 is a project of Viva la Feminista where Latinas are discussing mentoring and what it means to them. Read how you can join Summer of Feminista.  Link and quote, but do not repost without written permission.

24 June 2013

Quick Hit: Three comedians and a big fly

I didn't think I could crush on Steve Carell more than I do...
then I watched this. I'm crying I'm laughing so hard. Poor fly.

22 June 2013

The Student Loan Crisis May Bust Us for Good

When I graduated college in 1997, I walked away with just over $10,000 in student loan debt. It seemed insurmountable back then. It would seem like pocket change today.

Today, student loans are impacting a generation of young people like nothing else.

Democracy for America has created this great infographic to show us exactly what is at stake when it comes to the student loan crisis. Besides the marketplace reasons to get student loan debt under control, I am seriously worried about the number of people putting off starting a family.

I am also worried about what this crisis is doing to young women's earning and savings power. Due to the wage gap, women end up paying MORE of their newly earned income compared to the men they graduated with:
A woman with a B.A. in psychology and social work without a graduate degree brings in a median of $40,000 annually, compared to a man with the same credentials, who makes $52,000. Take-home pay can vary by state, but if this woman is single and childless and lives in Minnesota, for example, monthly income comes to roughly $2,600, versus around $3,200 for the man, which means a $300 monthly payment will take a much bigger bite out of that woman's paycheck. [link]
So what can we do about it? Senator Elizabeth Warren has a bill that will address this crisis. It won't solve it, but it will help. Click over to DFA and become a citizen co-sponsor...essentially, tell her you support her bill.

Click to Enlarge Image

Democracy for America Infographic

Banking on Education infographic via Democracy for America




18 June 2013

Review: Nine for IX -- espnW's documentary series on women sports


Get your DVRs ready! Because ESPN is bringing us nine tales of women's sports this summer, Nine for IX. The series will premiere July 2 on ESPN and air consecutive Tuesday evenings at 8 p.m. each week.

To kick off the series, espnW is bringing us the short documentary, "COACH," about the legendary Rutgers coach, Vivian Stringer. It launches today, so I'm excited to learn more about this powerhouse. Scroll down to view it here! It's amazing. She is amazing.

But I am ECSTATIC about the full series. My daughter can't wait to watch the film on the '99ers. She just loves all things soccer and I hope to take credit for her admiration of Julie Foudy. 

I did watch the first half of the July 2nd film, "Venus Vs." and it was great. I'll have more to say after I finish watching it all as I have some issue with us always waiting for "that one champion" to push us towards equality. Well, like I said, more later. It should make a great companion to Serena's memoir.

Whether or not you have pledged to attend a women's sporting event, know a girl who plays, or is a season-ticket holder to a women's team, these films will be must-watch TV.



The air dates are as follows (listed with each film's director):

July 2: Venus Vs. (Ava DuVernay)
July 9: Pat XO (Lisa Lax and Nancy Stern Winters; produced by Robin Roberts)
July 16: Let Them Wear Towels (Annie Sundberg and Ricki Stern)
July 23: No Limits (Alison Ellwood)
July 30: Swoopes (Hannah Storm)
Aug. 6: The Diplomat (Jennifer Arnold and Senain Kheshgi)
Aug. 13: Runner (Shola Lynch)
Aug. 20: The '99ers (Erin Leyden; produced by Julie Foudy)
Aug. 27: Branded (Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady)

13 June 2013

Book Review: Mac 'N Cheese to the Rescue by Kristen Kuchar

Mac 'N Cheese to the Rescue: 101 Easy Ways to Spice Up Everyone's Favorite Boxed Comfort Food by Kristen Kuchar is a cookbook made for busy families like mine.

Kuchar writes simple and straight-forward recipes. A few are a bit silly in how simple they are, but then I thought, "Well, d'uh! Why didn't I think of that?!" And that's where the genius of the book becomes crystal clear.

For the most part, "Mac 'N Cheese to the Rescue" is filled with recipes one can use on those days when you stare at your open freezer & cupboard thinking, "Oh, not spaghetti again!" Rather you'll know exactly what to do with the leftover rotisserie chicken you picked up last night. Is there a worse task to do after a long day at work than figuring out new ideas on how to eat leftovers before you have to thrown them out? OMG, do I hate throwing food (and money) away! There are also plenty of recipes that don't require leftovers.

"Mac 'N Cheese to the Rescue" could also be a great resource for older children. Whether they are fending for themselves or tasked with making dinner once a week, these recipes are easy to follow without a ton of fancy techniques. Only yummy results!

Get your copy through Powells or Indiebooks.

Disclaimer:  Kristen and I are on an organizational discussion list together. When she mentioned this book was coming out, I asked for a copy to review.

* Book links are affiliate links. If you buy your book here I could make a very small amount of money that goes towards this blog by helping me purchase books for school. Thanks!  

10 June 2013

Summer of Feminista 2013: Call for Participation! #Mentoring


The fourth annual Summer of Feminista is ready for your participation!

Over the last three summers we have explored the issue of feminism, public intellectuals and lastly electoral politics. This year we are tackling the subject of mentoring!

How do we do it? During the summer, VLF is open to guest blog posts from YOU! Don't worry, you retain all ownership of your words. You can even cross-post from your blog. 

Theme: Mentoring

Mentoring has been a hot topic this year, due in large part to Sheryl Sandberg's Lean In, and the controversy over her stance on mentoring versus sponsorship. Lean In is on my summer reading list, but if you have read it, feel free to use it as a jumping off point.

And you can define mentoring any way you want. It can be a formal mentoring program you participated in at work or school. It could be that wise Latina in your life who is always ready with great advice. Or are you that wise Latina eager to help the next generation avoid your pitfalls? 

Prompts to get your mind racing:
  • Who has been your most helpful mentor?
  • Why is mentoring important for Latinas?
  • Do you think Latinas need Latina mentors?
  • Do you think women need women mentors?
  • What has been your most rewarding mentoring experience? 
Please also include at least one tip for mentors or proteges as to how to make a mentoring relationship better.

Please use this submission form to sign up for this year's Summer of Feminista!

Disclaimer

This blog is my personal blog and is not reflective of my employer or what I do for them.

What I'm Currently Reading

I Thought It Was Just Me: Women Reclaiming Power and Courage in a Culture of Shame
The South Side: A Portrait of Chicago and American Segregation
Gabi, a Girl in Pieces


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