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29 May 2014

Women's Health Activism & Online Feminism

If you aren't following Jessie Daniels on SlideShare, go do it now. She just posted another great presentation (although I wish it came with all her thoughts) about online feminism. This time it is about women's health activism.

27 May 2014

Summer of Feminista 2014: Girlfriends

 Why yes my dear readers, it is that time of the year! 

Memorial Day is in the books and as we wonder what summer will bring us, we do know it will bring us a conversation between Latinas about feminism. To facilitate that conversation, I am proposing this theme:


And to clarify, I don't mean the romantic "girlfriend." But your friend who is a girl. The one who pop culture tells us we sit around drinking martinis with talking about our sex lives. Also the one that pop culture warns us about -- The catty woman in our lives who might turn on us. 

What is Summer of Feminista?

It is my annual summer blog event where I ask you, yes, you! to share your thoughts on an idea related to feminism and being Latina. Although not all those who share consider themselves feminists or Latina. You write a blog post and I post it here. And if you have a blog,  can post it there too. If you don't have a blog, that's ok! You can read about SoF 2013, 2012, 2011 and 2010...Yes, making this the fifth annual Summer of Feminista! It's pretty simple. And it leads to some great conversations over the summer.

Back to our theme...In the realm of feminism, girlfriends are often synonymous with sisters or the sisterhood. Yet, as we know not every woman is a girlfriend and not every girlfriend is a sister. 

As you can tell, the concept of girlfriends is a tricky one. One that changes as we move through our lives, especially in times of crisis when we need them the most. Sometimes they rise to the occasion, sometimes not so much.

When I think of my BFF girlfriends, for me, feminism is central to our relationships. One of them I met online on a feminist listserv back in the late 1990s. The second time I met another was at a Planned Parenthood volunteer orientation sealing her BFF potential. Others get how sports fit into my life and world view. They are the ones I fall back on when I am wrestling with ideas. In many ways they are my sisters.

Prompts to get you thinking...
How do your girlfriends fit into your life? Into your feminism? 

Were you the girl who didn't get along with other girls growing up? How has that changed? Or not changed as you have gotten older?

Do you & your girlfriends actually sit around drinking wine & talking sex? 

Is your girlfriend always your plus-one at feminist events? 

Do you still have trouble trusting women? Do you think this impacts how you view feminism?

If you want to participate in this year's Summer of Feminista, just sign up for a week and ponder these prompts. Take the theme of "Girlfriends" anywhere you want to. I do reserve the right to not publish, but most of the time we'll chat before I say no. 

Looking forward to this discussion! 

Summer of Feminista 2014 is a project of Viva la Feminista.  Link and quote, but do not repost without written permission.

21 May 2014

Test driving the Captain America car

During the Chicago Car Show I participated in a GM social media event. We were given a tour of the show before the public had a chance to see the cars and we went to lunch with Anita Burke, the Chief Engineer for the Mid-Size GMC and Chevrolet new trucks. While it was an event for social media influencers, I attended as I know some of the students I work with would benefit from any connections to GM I could create. This was another instance of where I try to leverage all the awesome doors social media opens for me for my students. I say all of this as a disclaimer to the rest of the post.

In the thank you email I received from GM for attending their event, they also invited me to test drive a car for a week. Normally I turn these down as living in Chicago means parking any extra cars on the street. On our permit-only street. What a hassle. But my family and I were planning a quick trip down to Starved Rock and I figured I would give it a shot. 

We ended up test driving a Chevrolet Impala in a beautiful shade of blue. OMG, it was so much bigger than our Prius. I hadn't driven a car that big since the Mercury Sable my grandma gave me (she bought a new car & thus gave me the car should have traded in). Suffice to say, after a week we all ended up enjoying the car. And the  week we had the car, Chicago experienced all the seasons, so FAB week to be test driving a car. 

* Smooth driving. I live in Chicago. We've had a record craptastic winter. There are potholes eating cars. But we drove like a boss the past week. We didn't drive through the streets like we didn't need to slow down, but when we couldn't avoid a pothole, it didn't sound as if we were killing the car. And on the highway to Starved Rock, it was AWESOME. 

* XM radio. We naturally station jump, so having even more stations to jump to was a lot of fun. You can also file XM under a con considering that it was distracting to one of the adults in the car. 

* Sunroof. 'nuff said.

* Our small city garage looked too small for this baby. Honestly we didn't even try it, but we know we have 10" to give with the garage, so we didn't want to risk harming the test drive car.

* Compared to our Prius, this was a gas guzzler. I know, I know, pretty much anything compared to a Prius is a gas guzzler. And while the GM tour guide made a snide remark about those of us with Toyotas not caring about style, I will say that after 9 years of sipping gas, it is a very hard habit to break. Wallet & environment > style.

The car also had rear view camera assistance and almost no view from the rear window, meaning that we *had* to rely on the camera assistance. OMG, this is soooo hard to get use to. But after a week we did. In fact, there are moments when I think, "Oh, I wish I had that camera!" The beauty of the rear camera is that when you are backing out of a parking spot, it shows you the trajectory you are moving in and if there is anything in your path.

Would I buy this car? Maybe. I'm not a power-car gal, so the fact that we could go zero-to-superfast in a blink of an eye is not a selling point for me. But if it is for you, then check this car out. Full disclosure: My husband and daughter were super sad to see the car go back to GM. They really liked it.

19 May 2014

Book Review: This is Not a Test by José Vilson

My family is privileged, especially in terms of education. We live in Chicago, home to the much-maligned Chicago Public School system. She has caring teachers who push her to be her best, encourage her when she is still learning a skill and remember us by name (at least first, some still fail to remember my daughter & I don’t share a last name). Outside of the weight of her backpack, we have little to complain about. For her.

Yet we understand that where we are privileged, we know it is not an even distribution across the city.

When I was pregnant and even throughout the first years of Ella’s life, we would field the question, “So you’re going to move to the suburbs right?” No. As a kid who grew up in the suburbs, I dreamt of moving to “the big city” of Chicago when I was old enough. And I did. I love Chicago and the fact that despite the economic segregation we live under, we still manage to have a diverse group of people in our lives. My husband and I are also committed to public education. For me it is an easy commitment. I went to a good elementary school that funneled us into a college prep public high school. Throughout my 13 years in public school, I found mostly supportive teachers who went out of their way to get to know me, push me, and support my dreams. My husband was not as lucky as I was, but we agreed that Ella would go to public school. We would fully invest in the system. We simply lucked out that Ella scored well enough on her entrance exam, at the age of 4, to earn a spot in the selective enrollment arm of CPS.

Teachers have always been my champions and that is why I requested a copy of “This is Not a Test: A New Narrative on Race, Class, and Education” by José Vilson for review. I have followed José’s banter on Twitter for some years now. He has said things that I have agreed with and other things that challenged how I view our education system. The same thing happened as I read his edu-memoir.

Clearly something is wrong with our collective public education system. Rather, as Vilson points out, the way we manage our public education system is deeply flawed. Like an onion, there are many layers to “the problem.” Where Vilson shines is, obviously by the subtitle of the book, peeling back the layers to the race and class challenges our public school system faces.

Far too many people still believe that the biggest problem with inner city students of color is that they are headed by a single mother and/or parents are not engaged. Vilson deftly points out that by seeing these as challenges, we are imposing middle-class values on working class or poor families. And the problem with this is that we then ignore the values the students and families bring to the classroom. “When we assume poor kids behave as they do just because of their poverty and not as a manifestation of their frustration with poverty, we do an injustice to their humanity (p 86).” Ever been grouchy when you have to skip breakfast? Imagine if you had little to eat for dinner and then breakfast? No wonder some of our kids are hellions by the time they get to their desks.

Now don't take that analysis as an excuse, because Vilson does not. He wants every child to excel in school and do their best. But he challenges us to look beyond the acting out to dive into the why a child acts out. Our current policies are set up in a manner that punishes and attempts to put the child "back in line" versus getting to know them and why they are acting out. Vilson shows us that sometimes acting out truly is a cry for help.

And this is where Vilson struggles. He knows so many of the kids that come into his life, especially those who are “bad kids” just need more attention, love and support, but he can’t save them all. There is a touching chapter where he discusses the 10% who will always fall through the cracks despite his attempt to catch them all.

Vilson's grasp of the racism that is inherent in our public school policy may blow your mind - especially his discussion of microaggressions. Microaggressions are those tiny everyday things that happen that are racist or classist, but because they are so small, some people will ignore them, shrug them off, or be told "it's just a joke!" They happen not just our every day encounters with people, but also then written into laws and policies. CPS has a policy that parents must pick up report cards twice a year. The hours for this are about 12 pm - 6 pm. One would think that parents can plan well ahead to be there, but one neglects the fact that some parents work in jobs where they may not be in control of their schedule or know it until the week before. Our daughter attends school 45 minutes away from home, what if we relied on public transportation to get us there and back? I am sure the policy is in place to "ensure that parents are engaged" with their children's education and to see their teachers twice a year. But I know parents, mostly parents of color, who are racing around the city during those 6 hours because there is no guarantee that all of your kids are in one school. Some schools hold back up to one full classroom to accommodate sibling requests.

But "This is Not a Test" is not just a book about our broken public school policy, but also a tale of his journey from a young person who allowed doubt to stand in the way of his innovative thinking to a veteran teacher who will not be silenced. Vilson's self-discovery should be inspiration to any of us who struggle to meet our expectations. Social media is flooded with "no excuses" memes as inspiration to run a marathon or finally start that small business, Vilson's tale explains how challenges are real and our struggle to overcome them are not excuses, but our reality.

If you have ever doubted the commitment of teachers or taken as evidence of the many, a story of a teacher who can't do simple math, but because of the unions cannot be fired, this book is for you. A simple tale of one man who gets up every day to teach our youth, but also fight for a system that does not test them to boredom, values them as humans, respects their heritage instead of stripping it from the history books, and above all wants every child to not just race to the top, but grasp their dreams and be happy.

As Vilson points out time and again, teachers are not simply complaining, they are not complaining that they have to do something new, rather most teachers complain when they feel their voices are not valued in a national debate over education. They are the ones with education degrees and we continue to ignore them. What other career do you here that as a solution to a problem? Instead of shutting teachers out, we should be listening to them as they implement innovative education policy. They are the ones implementing and witnessing how well it is or is not going. Why not listen to them?

And that is the question you will want answered when you are done with this book. So grab your favorite micro brew and dive in.

Support Viva la Feminista by purchasing your book through Powells or Indiebound.

Disclaimer: I requested a copy of the book from the publisher. 

14 May 2014

Sterling and Racism in the USA

My mouth dropped when I heard NBA Commissioner, Adam Silver, announce that he was suspending indefinitely, the owner of the LA Clippers, Donald Sterling, over his racist remarks which were recorded. At first I was happy that he would no longer be able to conduct business with the team, but then I realized that this was the worst outcome for the anti-racism conversation.

No, I do not want to see his smug face on the sidelines with whomever he happens to be dating this week. But let us step back and examine what has happened. Truly examine what message this explusion from the NBA says about racism in America. It means keep your mouth shut.

Mike Florio thinks that this is a big signal to sports owners across the country. You are on notice! Your racism will not be tolerated. But he is wrong. Racism is tolerated. Racist remarks recorded on a phone is not tolerated. We must be honest and forthright about the difference.

And this difference is why we see Sterling trying to apologize his way back into control of the Clippers.  Of course, he can't even manage a decent apology. How else would someone think they can say what they said, do what they did and think an apology will make it all better? Because Sterling was only sanctioned when he was caught on a recording saying racist things.

From all accounts, Sterling has been an open racist. From his slumlord actions to plantatation mentality, I do not believe Commissioner Silver when he responded to a question at his press conference that he had no idea Sterling was vying for racist of the year. I believe Elgin Baylor when he says Sterling wanted white coaches and black players. Racism within sports is not a new conversation. The NFL has a rule that a team must interview at least one minority candidate. MLB does not automatically offer translators to their Spanish-speaking players, despite the fact they make up at quarter of the players in the league. Not to mention the number of racist team names we still have embroidered on jerseys and hats (psst...Washington DC is not the only team either).

No, the actions the NBA took were decidely not anti-racist, rather it was an act to sweep racism under the rug. And the reactions of "good riddance!" just confirm my judgement. The purging of one bad apple does not mean the rest of the barrel is clean. Sterling exhibited racism and sexism over the course of many years. The NBA and other big sports need to take this moment to truly address their global racist and sexist actions.

Big sports (NBA, MLB, NFL, NHL) need to chart out a method to investigate ethical questions that is independent of the powers that be. Let's look at the NFL and their attempt to whitewash concussion research. Instead of working with medical professionals to understand the issue and find solutions, they hired medical professionals to release poor scientific papers and wooed mom bloggers with safety tips. The next time (and we know there will be!) a professional athlete is accused of rape, bring out the independent investigator. Heck, we don't need four, just one mega independent investigator to sort things out.

If Commissioner Silver is truly commited to heading a league that reflects high morals and values, he will have zero tolerance for rape, sexual harassment, and racism on and off the court. With or without a recording. Yes, with real evidence, but we don't need a smoking digital file to take action.

If we are truly disgusted by Sterling's comments, we should be equally disgusted by his off court actions - even if a court cleared him of wrong-doing. And we should not let this be about one conversation, but rather a series of events and actions that Sterling and others like him do every day. We need to continue to pressure every team to remove racist mascots from their franchises, hats and baby onesies.

We cannot let the conversation about race in sports end when Sterling cashes out.

08 May 2014

Drums please! Summer, Summer, Summertime!

My semester is over and it was around 80 degrees today, so it's time to pull out the Fresh Prince.

I won't lie to y'all, 2014 is not going that great. But on the other hand, it's going pretty good. I guess that's how life is sometimes. Cue the "Facts of Life" theme song! As Joey would say, "How you doin'?"

I have a lot of stuff to deal with in terms of #PhDLife. More soon, I hope on this. I also have a growing pile of books to read for review on my dining room table. I'm sure Tony wishes my pile of books would move somewhere else, but that is certainly a goal for this summer - to get my mess of a home office in usable form.

I also have a backlog of reviews to write from places I've been, some products I've used and books I've read. Yes, I'm still working on my "Lean In" review. Hey, people are still asking for it.

And yes, my loyal readers, "Summer of Feminista" will be returning. The call for participants will be coming soon.

Until then, grab a drink and enjoy...


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

Veronica's favorite books »
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