Saturday, October 30, 2010

Name It. Change It: Sexism and Equality Don't Mix

This summer, I was without internet access so I got out of the blogging habit.  I'll eventually get around to sharing my adventures since coming back to Europe but for now, bear with me as I get all of my thoughts out about current events.

Frequently, on an expat blog like mine, the expat writing describes and explains the locals to the audience back home.  Today I want to do the opposite.  Czech Ladies, this post is especially for you.  I want to explain American thinking to you because our cultural gap is GIGANTIC on what I'm about to describe.  You can chose to tell me later that we Americans have it all wrong in the comments section.  

Back home in America, there's a hotly contested midterm election.  My friends back in the States are suffering through an average eight robo-calls a day (automatically-dialed, tape-recorded phone messages that tend to arrive during dinner time), 30-50 political ads on TV every day  (each one describing the other guy as a loser and the candidate in the commercial as a saint), and more election anger, zaniness, over-the-top media hyperbole than you would expect any democracy to be able to survive (the jury is still out on ours - we'll see).
 Into this crazy, over-the-top American election cycle (with more secret money than ever - almost $4 billion), a new advocacy organization started to try and hold media types accountable for how they choose to talk about female candidates. The name of the group is called "Name It. Change It."  Here's how they describe their mission:
Widespread sexism in the media is one of the top problems facing women. A highly toxic media environment persists for women candidates, often negatively affecting their campaigns. The ever-changing media landscape creates an unmonitored echo chamber, often allowing damaging comments to exist without accountability.
We must erase the pervasiveness of sexism against all women candidates — irrespective of political party or level of office — across all media platforms in order to position women to achieve equality in public office. We will not stand by as pundits, radio hosts, bloggers, and journalists damage women's political futures with misogynistic remarks. When you attack one woman, you attack all women.
I read that and said, sign me up! I'm a 1970's feminist. Feminist activism was the ferment of my youth.  Indeed, the feminist heroine of my twenties, author Gloria Steinem, was one of the founders of this new group (Czech ladies, the definition of that word in America is not "woman who henpecks her husband" as it is in the Czech Republic - I don't even have a husband.  It is woman who believes in Equal Rights for Equal Work, etc.).  I knew there was a need.

Yet, even I - someone who pays a lot of attention to this stuff - had no idea how much need! Every day "Name It. Change It." shares a different sexist media outrage.  When someone takes the time to organize and send media examples day after day after day, the toxicity of America's misogyny toward women is baffling and mindblowing.

Imagine if you were a Harvard-educated physician running for Governor, and your local newspaper declared that what you were a prime candidate for  - was a makeover! Or imagine this: as a candidate for President of the United States and the first woman to ever achieve 18 million votes for the office, you wake up to find a famous news and opinion aggregator is wanting readers to evaluate the hair clip you wore to the U.N - " is it a do or don't?" It happened to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Yes, I know, she'll survive.  But once you have put the time and work in to reach a certain level, you'd expect to be treated with some gravitas. One of America's shakier Senate candidates, a political novice named Christine O'Donnell of Rhode Island, is the subject of an anonymous severe misogyny attack.  "Name It. Change It." describes sexism in the media according to this pyramid of egregiousness. 

So this week I was reading their latest missive and it's not about American elections, it's about Czech elections! Apparently, the ladies you've elected have chosen to model in a calendar that emphasizes their body parts over their policy positions. Hence, our unbridgeable cultural gulf!  American women decry the treatment of a candidate who gets discussed in the media like this but if your female politicians are voluntarily choosing to pose for a pin-up calendar, are they not asking to be accepted based on how they look, not how they believe and vote?

I remember being in the room once with a bunch of Czechs politicians.  By the end of the night, it came out that the most respected man in the room was the one with bright red cheeks and the biggest belly in the room.  Not a single ounce of him was judged on his looks.  But every man at my table spoke of him with admiration. Reversibility is a key measure of media equality - that Czech politician would never need to, be expected to, or want to pose for something like a pin-up calendar to inspire voters.

Ask yourself, Czech ladies, if your female politician's calendar impedes achieving the gravitas needed to gain that level of respect. It's not useful for you to say that the standards are different for women.  They'll never be different if you don't ask for them to be different. Name It. Change It.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on this issue. Americans, if you want to support the work of this exciting new group, you can follow them on Facebook and Twitter.  What leaders you would be - there are less than 1,500 people following their work to date - they are simply that new.  Once, you sign up to follow Name It. Change It., can you ask your friends to follow them too?  Election season will soon be over.  If you're a journalist, I would suggest following them as well.  Heightened sensitivity to how media plays into old archetypes brings progress in coverage.  Name It.  Change It. Sexism and equality don't mix!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Czech People Overlooked Yet Again for the Nobel Peace Prize

I am sure that 2010 Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo of China is a brave and amazing person who puts mere mortals to shame. However, it made me sad this year to hear that yet another year passed without Vaclav Havel receiving the Nobel Peace Prize.  It would have been so moving for him to receive the most prestigious decoration humanity offers  - last year - when the Czech Republic was celebrating the 20-year anniversary of the Velvet Revolution.  It could have been one giant festival of appreciation between President Havel and the Czech people who helped him transform their nation.

Instead of using the prize as a carrot and a capstone for a statesman's career, it seems the Nobel committee wants to use the prize as an accelerator of change, demanding almost through recognition that winners and their governments conform to what the Nobel Committee thinks should happen.  This cheapens the prize in my opinion because it switches it from honoring the noblest and bravest among us to having a political motivation.

Last year, when Barack Obama won, I was offended, because I felt that as President he would need to make decisions that could be at odds with the Peace Prize goals.  It felt manipulative to me, as an American, that the Committee would try and influence the course of his Presidency while it happened.

My emotions conflicted, though, because I recognized that anyone who voted for Barack Obama could feel a bit of pride in the Nobel Committee's contention that no one of that particular year had done more to change the landscape than Barack Obama.  Since he had been in office such a short time, the American people could be proud that we had changed the landscape with new leadership.

I remember when I got on my half-full bus at 6 a.m.on that bleary day, I shouted out to the whole bus "how about that Peace Prize?" I was living in Madison, Wisconsin at the time where there was close to a 100% certainty that anyone on a bus in that town had voted for the President.

The Peace Prize selection glory reflects to those who followed.  No one can be a prophet without followers. Vaclav Havel was the statesman he was because the Czechs chose to follow him.  Barack Obama was elected President because the people of America chose to follow him.

Vaclav Havel's moral authority transitioned the country from Communism to freedom without violence and retribution in the Velvet Revolution and again to the stand-alone Czech Republic during the Velvet Divorce with Slovakia.  How fraught those giant changes were and how much worse they could have been!

Even in retirement, Havel's moral authority can slice through rationalizations made in the name of strategic interests. Once, meeting with an American reporter for an interview, he asked,  "Is it true Barack Obama cancelled his meeting with the Dali Lama?" (presumably to pacify China's leadership).  Havel demonstrates the courage it takes to speak truth to power when your own country's is less.

America is comng to the age where our power will be eclipsed in size by China.  Havel's success in keeping true to his values while navigating this size differential between the Czech Republic and the former Soviet Union is an example the whole world can learn from as the globe copes with China's rising, and frequently bullying, power.

One measure of a leader is how institutionalized the changes he embodied becomes;  yearly, the citizens of the Czech Republic set new attendance records at the internationally-famous "Jeden Svet (One World) Film Festival in Prague, devoted to human rights around the globe.  Czech people, having lived through totalitarianism, have a sophisticated understanding of oppression that is rarely found anywhere in the Free World. Havel, and the citizens of the Czech Republic, have something to teach all global citizens about what it is to speak truth to the larger power.

As I understand it, Liu Xiaobo and his fellow Chinese dissidents who created Charter 08, were inspired by Vaclav Havel and the Czech people who were signatories to Charter 77.  Would a science Nobel go to a scientist whose work was derivative of another's theory? Wouldn't the committee honor the original thinker of the idea? Shouldn't Vaclav Havel receive a Nobel for inspiring freedom in the Czech Republic but now also China? It seems he is becoming worthier and worthier.  Is there not time to honor that young man and not much time to honor Vaclav Havel?

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Czech Women Seek Horrifying Plastic Surgery

How great can culture shock be when you become an expat?  I didn't actually hear about this in the Czech Republic, instead coming across the article in American news and opinion aggregator "The Huffington Post." Regardless, it's jaw-dropping.  We have a word for this in English: it's 'misogyny.'  But since these ladies are doing this to themselves, maybe it falls under the category of 'self-hatred' or 'body dysmorphic disorder?'  Click on my title to read the article (not suitable for work or minors).

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

New Prague Pub Celebrates Czech Beers

 What's on tap at the Prague Beer Museum?

Here's a story that could prompt every reader to think, "Gee, I wish I'd thought of that."  It's so deceptively, brilliantly simple an idea that there is no way it could not possibly succeed.  Someone has started a Prague Beer Museum with the idea of collecting some of the nation's' best brews in one place for beer aficionados to sample. Brilliant! Click on my title to read the whole article.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Are Guidebooks Facing Extinction?

 Travel writer Benji Lanyado in Vienna
Should he be looking at his phone instead?

My goodness, I never expected to be away from my blog for so long. This week I expect to begin blogging again, so I invite you back.  In the meantime, I was fascinated by this article and wondered if other people are using suggestions specific to the moment as you travel?  Is a newly-printed guidebook too out-of-date for you the minute it is printed? Are you turning to locals real-time via Twitter for suggestions? Click on my title to read how one traveler does it.
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