Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Feminism Is

The daughter of one of our friends recently wrote to me that for her high school English project she had to interview someone who was an activist on a chosen topic and the topic she chose was women’s rights.  She said she wanted to interview me about women’s rights and my opinion about women’s rights today because she knew I was a strong and passionate feminist. 

I was very excited to receive Maren's invitation, for I knew it would be an impetus to compose my thoughts and learn more about the subject.  I asked her to send me the interview questions in advance so I could prepare.  I had never thought of myself as a feminist, but I already had a lot of things I wanted to say!  I had studied political philosophy and had read quite a lot of Jungian psychology dealing with women’s issues – and I had just finished listening to a 48 lecture series on the history of ordinary people from Paleolithic to Medieval times and I was looking forward to sharing what I had just learned about the lives of women through the ages.  

However, when I shared the news with Jack that Maren had asked to interview me, I remember I paused and, looking at him, realized that I didn't have a good grasp of the topic!  I had never taken a class on women’s studies or read much of the feminist literature, though I was always drawn to strong feminist characters like Joan of Arc.  There was a lot of controversy these days about feminism and activism for women’s rights such as the Women's March – and I was a woman after all – so I really couldn’t account for why I’d not been more curious about the actual history of our rights.

As I was explaining all of this to Jack, I remember he was in the entryway. He’d just returned from a lecture at the downtown public library and was taking off his coat and shoes as he listened to me. 

“I guess, bottom line," I concluded, "I don’t think of myself as a feminist. I think of myself more as a citizen.” 

Jack finished untying his shoe and stood up. "But they are one and the same!” he exclaimed.  And he pulled the dictionary from the bookshelf and read Webster’s definition out loud to me:

“fem-i-nism – n. 1. a doctrine advocating social, political, and economic rights for women equal to those of men. 2. a movement for the attainment of such rights.”

How could I have missed it!  Such a clear and fair expression of equality!  To be a feminist is to be a citizen and to be citizen is to be a feminist, advocating rights for one equal to those of the other.
Why is it that women did not receive the right to vote anywhere in the West until the 20th century whereas men have had the right to vote as early as before the birth of Christ?  Why did it take so long for feminism to take hold? Why is it now still controversial?  Still misunderstood?

What has been our part in this?
poster available here

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

The Simple ABC

When you set about to make a quilt, you usually have some goal in mind – to recycle those old sewing scraps, decorate the house, welcome a newborn baby, celebrate a wedding, an anniversary, or a life-long friendship.  The end is informed by your intention at the start. 

The same can be said of an education.  What you end up with depends on why you started: to make more money, to improve your mind, to master a skill, or more generally, to succeed in life.
Studies show that a college education increases self-confidence and leads to better pay and more prestigious employment, greater job satisfaction, greater social mobility, a longer life span, improved health care, less chance of incarceration or dependence on government assistance, greater appreciation of the arts and sciences, more volunteer service and higher positions of leadership. 
According to the U.S Department of Education, college graduates typically earn 66 percent more than those with only a high school diploma, earning about $1 million more over the course of their lifetime.  However, higher education is no longer a luxury for the privileged few.  At a time when jobs are going overseas, higher education is now necessary for individual economic opportunity and America’s competitiveness in the global economy.  Education is the best investment a young person can make in his or her future. 
People who have knowledge and skills, who are able to think clearly and to express their thoughts in speech and in writing, make better citizens too.  They are better able to understand themselves and the world around them and thus make more informed decisions.  Educated people also have higher voting rates. In fact, the single most important socio-economic factor affecting voter turnout is education.  The more educated a person is the more likely he or she is to vote. 
Education is good for democracy.
The Founding Fathers understood this.  After the American Revolution (1776), Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams and other American patriots saw public education as the most effective means of protecting against tyranny and preserving the democratic ideals the original 13 colonies had fought so hard for and won.
Not long after United States was founded, there was a call for public financing of education.  The aim was to instill civic virtues as much as learning and the advancement of ideas, and it was important that education be universal, non-sectarian – and free.
The whole people must take upon themselves the education of the whole people and be willing to bear the expenses of it. There should not be a district of one square, without a school in it, not founded by a charitable individual, but maintained at the public expense of the people themselves.   - John Adams, U.S. President, 1785
Indeed, the Founding Fathers saw education as a prerequisite for good citizenship.
Among those who have been denied an education, none have written more powerfully as to the power of the simple ABCs as Frederick Douglass, an American slave. 
In his book, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave, Douglass describes the new life he came to at age seven when he was sold from the plantation where he was born and came to live in Baltimore in 1825: 
Very soon after I went to live with Mr. and Mrs. Auld, she very kindly commenced to teach me the A,B,C. After I had learned this, she assisted me in learning to spell words of three or four letters.  Just at this point of my progress, Mr. Auld found out what was going on and at once forbade Mrs. Auld to instruct me further, telling her, among other things, that it was unlawful, as well as unsafe, to teach a slave to read.  To use his own words, further, he said "If you give a nigger an inch, he will take an ell. A nigger should know nothing but to obey his master – to do as he is told to do. Learning would spoil the best nigger in the world. Now," said he, "if you teach that nigger (speaking of myself) how to read, there would be no keeping him.  It would forever unfit him to be a slave.  He would at once become unmanageable, and of no value to his master. As to himself, it could do him no good, but a great deal of harm. It would make him discontented and unhappy." These words sank deep into my heart, stirred up sentiments within that lay slumbering, and called into existence an entirely new train of thought. It was a new and special revelation, explaining dark and mysterious things, with which my youthful understanding had struggled, but struggled in vain.  I now understood what had been to me a most perplexing difficulty – to wit, the white man’s power to enslave the black man.  It was a grand achievement, and I prized it highly. From that moment, I understood the pathway from slavery to freedom... Though conscious of the difficulty of learning without a teacher, I set out with high hope, and a fixed purpose, at whatever cost of trouble, to learn how to read.
It is to the memory of Mr. Douglass and my deep respect for him and his fixed purpose that I have made this ABC quilt.
What purpose is behind your education?
poster available here

Monday, January 16, 2017

Out of Many, One

The Great Seal of the United States adopted by Congress in 1782 features an American bald eagle with a red white and blue shield on its breast holding a bundle of arrows in its left talon and an olive branch, an ancient symbol of peace, in its right.  The eagle, with its great wings outstretched to denote liberty and freedom, has turned its gaze toward peace.  In its beak, is a scroll, inscribed with the motto: “E pluribus unum,” which translated from the Latin means “out of many, one.” 

When it first appeared in a literary magazine in the 1770s, the motto was accompanied by a drawing of a hand holding a bouquet of varied flowers, suggesting that unity and individuality can co-exist – a very different metaphor from a “melting pot” where the individual parts eventually become indistinguishable from one another.   The motto as included on the national seal came to refer to the union between the states and the federal government, but in early drawings of the seal, it evoked as well the six European nations that had settled North America: the rose (England), thistle (Scotland), harp (Ireland), fleur-de-lis (France), lion (Holland), an imperial eagle (Germany).  
The motto describes an action: many uniting as one.  Unity is an action, a power of the soul and the spirit.  It requires individuals to stand up as individuals, and the whole to embrace them.  It is a call to action at the foundation of our republic.  It is the cause of our liberty and our freedom and it requires courage, tolerance, care, responsibility, respect and knowledge.  
After the Revolutionary War, women began to sew quilts with patriotic themes.  Pieced or appliqu├ęd quilts (also known as patchwork quilts) featuring the American Flag, the Liberty Bell, and the American eagle became especially popular in times of national emergency or celebration, such as the Civil War or the Bicentennial.  In these patchwork quilts, hundreds of small pieces in varied shapes, sizes, colors and patterns were sewn together to form a large and useful covering, but the beauty of the quilt is the unity created by the composition of the many patches, and the strength is its firm backing, its strong binding and thread.