10 Quotes from Female Authors to Celebrate International Women’s Day

When I look back on the authors that changed my life, I can honestly say that most of them have been women.

Mary Shelley. Jane Austen. Virginia Woolf. Emily Dickinson. Zora Neale Hurston. Anne Frank. Margaret Atwood. The list goes on.

There are so many women whose words I have held close to my heart. From thoughts about compassion and empathy to encouragements of strength and action against injustice, the following quotes are just a few gems that I continue to return to for inspiration and hope.IMG_1366 - Version 2

1. “Wear your heart on your skin in this life.” Sylvia Plath

2. “You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.’ You must do the thing you think you cannot do.” Eleanor Roosevelt

3. “Try to be a rainbow in someone’s cloud.” Maya Angelou

4. “Why shall I wait for someone else? Why shall I be looking to the government, to the army, that they would help us … for them to help me. Why don’t I raise my voice? Why don’t we speak up for our rights?” Malala Yousafzai

shadow5. “I am a person who believes in asking questions, in not conforming for the sake of conforming. I am deeply dissatisfied – about so many things, about injustice, about the way the world works – and in some ways, my dissatisfaction drives my storytelling.” Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

6. “If there’s a book you really want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” Toni Morrison

7. “Let me listen to me and not to them.” Gertrude Stein

8. “Where we come from in America no longer signifies. It’s where we go, and what we do when we get there, that tells us who we are.” Joyce Carol Oates

9. “What keeps you going isn’t some fine destination but just the road you’re on, and the fact that you know how to drive.” Barbara Kingsolver

10. “We do not need magic to transform our world. We carry all of the power we need inside ourselves already.” J.K. Rowling

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Have another quote from a female author that you find meaningful? Share the love in the comments!

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A few ways to advocate for gender equality

As I discussed in my previous post, gender discrimination is still alive and well pretty much every where you look in today’s world. It rears its ugly head in politics, in magazines, on television, in the office, on the street, even at your local bar. But what can we do about it? This is by no means a comprehensive list, but I hope you come away with a few concrete ways to take action on this issue.

Stand up for women in your everyday life: We all have moments when gender bias comes out amongst friends, at work, or when we are going about our daily errands. Consciously acknowledge and push back against these instances.

  1. Support women in your workplace. If you are a woman in a higher position at your company, reach out to them with kindness and offer encouragement or mentorship. We need to fight to change the idea that the other women in the office are competition–instead, let them be colleagues. Just the other day, I overheard three women gossiping about a co-worker. Two of the women were really digging in, insulting her actions and even accusing her of lying to get the job. This all stopped when the third woman spoke up and provided positive examples of how hard the woman in question in worked. Be the third woman.
  2. Find your voice at work. Even though studies show that women’s ideas get shut down more than men’s in the workplace, fight to get your points across. The study also shows examples of companies who started a “no-interruption” policy during meetings. The result? More satisfied employees and better collaboration between all staff members. If you are a man, support female co-workers by listening to and collaborating with them just as much as you would a male coworker.
  3. According to Missrepresentation, women hold 86% of purchasing power in America. How you spend your money matters. Boycott products (including movies) that objectify women and share your choices on social media with the hashtag #notbuyingit.

  4. Don’t put up with stereotypes or negative talk towards women. If you are a man, step up when you hear other men talk or treat women badly. If you are a woman–same thing. We need to stop judging and treating each other so harshly regardless of gender. You have the power to walk away from negative conversations.
  5. Be a model for the children or young adults in your life. As someone who works in schools, too many times I have heard kids make gendered statements. For example: “Girls can’t be pilots, they are the people who give out the drinks” (YES, this is something I actually overheard between a group of 6 year olds, so I stepped in). Step in where you can and model healthy interactions in your own relationships so that children can learn through observation.
  6. Consider donating to or getting involved in organizations who work towards gender equality. Here are a few to check out: Women in FilmSisters of Hope, Black Girls Rock!, Women Sports Foundation, Girls Who Code, Girls for a Change. Share in the comments more organizations you love!

Support more female representation in the media: This is hugely important because of the power media has over perception.

  1. Support female-driven movies by seeing them in theaters on opening weekend. The big studios still don’t believe that big numbers will turn out to see stories about women on screen. Prove them wrong by giving these movies your support. Opening weekend is important because studios base on lot of their decisions on how well a movie is received when it first come out. Showing up for a movie early in its release shows that it was highly anticipated. Big studio movies that star women this year? InsurgentJupiter RisingTomorrowland, and Mockingjay: Part Two.

    Stockholm, Pennsylvania. Directed by Nikole Beckwith. Photo by Aaron Epstein - © 2014 by Aaron Epstein

    Stockholm, Pennsylvania. Directed by Nikole Beckwith. Photo by Aaron Epstein – © 2014 by Aaron Epstein

  2. It is also important to support female directors and writers, which means being a smarter film consumer. Look into movie credits before the movie and seek out those with women behind the camera. Unfortunately only 4.4% of big studio movies are directed by women, so this feat might take a trip to an independent theater. Check out the this year’s Sundance favorites and get out there!
  3. Have you noticed that in news articles, female politicians are twice as likely than their male counterparts to be described in emotional terms? This has to stop. Call out biased journalism when you see it by commenting on the article or writing to the news source it came from. Most news websites have a ‘Contact Us’ section. Use it.
  4. Only 20% of news stories focus on women. Share your appreciation for positive media that empowers women via social media by using hashtag #MediaILike or #MediaWeLike. Hashtags hold power.They are tracked and analyzed by industries and the media. Use them wisely.
  5. Share your story. We need more quality narratives about women, by women.

In case you need some proof that one voice can change the world, here is Emma Watson’s latest speech supporting UN Women’s HeForShe campaign.

Ellen responds to hate the RIGHT way

Humor. Honesty. Positivity.

When the haters hate, it is so tempting to throw hate right back at them. I myself have certainly fallen into the trap of this in the past. When you are deeply emotionally invested in a subject it can be hard not to. But there are better avenues to take that won’t result in elevated blood pressure.

Whatever you do, don’t feed the troll. Haters love to get emotional reactions from their targets. Getting all heated up and responding back negatively will only feed their sense of power and likely encourage them to continue to bother you.

This doesn’t mean keep silent. Don’t let someone else’s problems take away your voice.

Here Ellen show us a perfect way to stay true to yourself and respond appropriately in situations like this.

She is calm, cool, and collected. She addresses the negative statements with class (no reverse trash-talk). She comes from a place of openness and honesty. She promotes positive aims and shines light on the good causes that drive her instead of letting the hate rule the conversation.

Thanks Ellen, for being our model this week.

Je suis tout le monde

“I do not ask the wounded person how he feels, I myself become the wounded person.”

Walt Whitman

So says much of France and people across the world this week with the declaration “Je Suis Charlie.”

“Je Suis Charlie” has become the uniting phrase that the French have clung to in the wake of the terrorist attacks that began in the office of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. These three words have been splashed across signs, newspapers, Twitter, and have even been taken up by George Clooney, who solemnly spoke them during the Golden Globes.

Why is this statement so powerful?

Just like the quote from Whitman, “Je Suis Charlie” expresses the idea that an attack on one person is felt by aje_suis_charlie_fist_and_pencilll. It is at once an expression of empathy and defiance, mourning those lost while also defending free speech and expressing patriotism. This past Sunday, over a million people marched together in Paris to show their unity and strength, while about 3.7 marched countrywide. “Je Suis Charlie” was the cry of the day.

However, some fear that the phrase is more divisive than it is unifying. After all, it is no secret that Charlie Hebdo was a magazine that offended many people. Does that justify the staff’s brutal murder?–of course not. But it does create complicated feelings for those who did not support the magazine before the shootings now that “Je Suis Charlie” has become the slogan associated with the terrorist acts.

In his op-ed, “I am not Charlie” David Brooks claims that the magazine would have never been tolerated in the U.S. because of its “hate speech.”  Indeed, Anthony Faiola, reporting for The Washington Post,  reveals that many French Muslims have felt ostracized by the phrase, “By putting the publication on a pedestal, they insist, the French are once again sidelining the Muslim community, feeding into a general sense of discrimination that, they argue, helped create the conditions for radicalization in the first place.”

It is a catch-22 for French Muslims–either embrace the “Je Suis Charlie” movement, despite the fact that the magazine regularly made fun of their religion, or remain silent and risk being seen as sympathetic towards the extremists.

Instead, many have found comfort in the story of Ahmed Merabet, the police officer who was murdered when responding to the initial scene at the magazine’s office. He was also a Muslim and died at the hands of those who “share” his religion. His death illustrates the vast differences between the majority of practicing Muslims, who are just regular citizens interacting positively with society, and the extremists at the fringe, who interpret Islam’s teachings in ways that justify murder and terrorist acts. “Je Suis Ahmed” is now heard alongside Charlie, telling the story of a Muslim who not only worked to defend his country but who also died trying to protect those who had insulted his own religion.

“I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.”
-Voltaire

Whether you use #JeSuisCharlie” or #JeSuisAhmed, it remains clear that people everywhere must continue to come together against terrorism and push back against stereotyping or alienating others.

Even as I write this, reports of a foiled terrorist plot in Belgium and a cyber attack on more than 19,000 French websites rule the news outlets. And then there is the lack of media coverage of Boko Haram’s devastating attacks in Nigeria. Some reports claim that the terrorist group massacred over 2,000 people last week, though the Nigerian government has downplayed the event, reporting the death toll at 150. The difficulties that the media faces when covering the area are frustrating, but there is no excuse for how little this horrific event was covered.

Even last weekend, as the French were preparing to march in their solidarity against terrorism, a ten year old girl was used to deploy a suicide bomb, killing 19 in the Nigerian city of Maiduguri. Catholic Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama of central Nigeria has asked those in the West to show his country solidarity as they did for France, “We need that spirit to be spread around.”

Though Baga is a not a place where we can march, the least we can do is give this tragedy the same attention as events that occur closer to home. Many people have tried to raise awareness of the attack with the hashtags #BagaTogether or #WeAreAllBaga.

We live in a global society and can no longer ignore atrocities that occur, even if we feel helpless. Even if we are separated by distance, nationality, or race.  Knowledge is empowerment–it is taking ownership of your role on this earth by engaging with current events.

Je suis tout le monde.

Though I initially cringed at the hashtag trend of raising awareness for causes or tragic events, I now see it as just another way to share our knowledge with others and show our solidarity via social media. Parade when you can but listen, observe, share, and remember when you cannot.

Pink for Leelah

Leelah_Alcorn

Photo via Leelah’s tumblr http://lazerprincess.tumblr.com/

Make no mistake, a fingernail can be a parade.

There is a new hashtag trend that is taking over Facebook and Tumblr–#pinkforleelah. It is a movement to honor 17 year old Leelah Alcorn, who took her own life and posted her suicide letter to tumblr for the world to take note. To participate, simply paint your ring finger pink on January 6th to raise awareness of both Leelah’s tragedy and, as she wished, call attention to the discrimination of trans people.

If you haven’t read the note yet…it is heartbreaking. Unfortunately, Leelah’s personal tumblr was recently deleted, probably at the hands of her parents, but the note lives on across the internet. You can also find the full text of the note here and in case any of you doubt the truth of this story, here as well. If you have a tumblr you can easily find it reblogged thousands of times over. In fact, the tumblr community has exploded in support of Leelah, with new tribute  pages popping up with nearly every refresh, dedicated to remembering her as she wished to be remembered–as a beautiful woman.

Leelah Alcorn’s birth certificate tells a different story of her identity. On paper, she was a boy named Josh. To her parents, that was that. Despite bravely coming out to them as a trans-person, they rejected her identity and, according to Leelah’s writings, began a series of harmful actions that led her to severe depression, including taking her out of school and isolating her for five months from her friends.

The saddest thing, to me, is that at 17, Leelah was so close to reaching an age where she could get out from under her parents’ oppressive beliefs and seek a more supportive community. But to her, the reality of entering adulthood, completely unsupported by her family and lacking her once-close friends, was horrific to imagine.

Since her tumblr post, additional posts from Leelah have been found on reddit, titled I’m sure someone on here can convince me not to kill myself and Is this considered abuse? Though the content of the first post has been removed, her responses to commenters remain below (for now). Many redditors did their best to convince her that her living was worth living, but her depression continued to drip from every sentence.

When asked what she was looking forward to when she turned eighteen she replied:

“I’m not looking forward to anything. My life is only going to get harder.”

In the next thread, she asks for help, wondering if her parents’ actions toward her qualify as abuse. There are so many aspects of these posts that are chilling, but this excerpt is perhaps the most tragic (emphasis added):

“The way I feel when I talk to my parents and the way my parents treat me like I’m subhuman and that my feelings aren’t valid all make me think that I’m going through abuse, but I don’t know if it counts or not.”

Though many redditors did comment and provide their support, it wasn’t enough to counteract the years of emotional abuse she experienced from those who were supposed to love her the most. To her parents, Leelah Alcorn’s emotions were invalid and her pain, irrelevant. But that Josh Alcorn, they loved and fought for him. His mother even expressed her sorrow to CNN, by stating, “But we told him that we loved him unconditionally. We loved him no matter what. I loved my son.”

Too bad her son didn’t exist. She could have worked to build a wonderful relationship with her daughter. I don’t mean to diminish the pain that Leelah’s family is going through. Nothing will bring her back. But the ideology her family used made her feel worthless. This is what I take issue with.

Subhuman.

I can’t stop coming back to that word. To me, this word comprises the root of discrimination and provides the answer to why we still do not have social equality. The idea that some people matter more than others, as if we can quantify every individual’s net worth by the race, gender, sexual orientation, spiritual affiliation, etc., needs to be eradicated once and for all. The reality is that our present society makes beautiful souls like Leelah feel unworthy of life. Is there a bigger indicator of needed change than that?

Leelah hoped her death would mean something.

“The only way I will rest in peace is if one day transgender people aren’t treated the way I was, they’re treated like humans, with valid feelings and human rights.”

In one of her reddit posts, Leelah typed a simple request:

“Please help me…”

Though we couldn’t help her then, we can help her now by taking action to bring her final dream to life.

A change.org petition has racked up 277,140 signatures in the hopes of enacting “Leelah’s Law,” a bill that would ban the harmful practice of conversion therapy, already banned in Washington, D.C., California, and New Jersey. You can sign the petition to protect the gender identity of children nationwide from this emotionally damaging and ineffective practice.

Whether you paint a nail pink, sign the petition, or simply make Leelah’s story a part of tomorrow’s conversation–don’t be afraid to parade around. There are teens like Leelah who need to hear you.

For more information on how to prevent suicide or fight for the rights of trans-people, check out Human Rights CampaignAmerican Foundation for Suicide Prevention, and  The Guardianwhich has compiled an excellent list of resources for trans-people and those who love them.

Why Parade?

I recently came across this amazing article from the beautiful mind over at Brain Pickings about Mark Twain. It chronicles his views of slavery as a young, impressionable child and how just a few words from his  soft-spoken mother changed his mind forever towards those around him.

In the Autobiography of Mark Twain: Volume 1, he writes,

“In my schoolboy days I had no aversion to slavery. I was not aware that there was anything wrong about it. No one arraigned it in my hearing; the local papers said nothing against it; the local pulpit taught us that God approved it, that it was a holy thing, and that the doubter need only look in the Bible if he wished to settle his mind–and then the texts were read aloud to us to make the matter sure; if the slaves themselves had an aversion to slavery they were wise and said nothing.”

Twain would have gone on accepting slavery without a thought had his mother not one day shown sincere empathy towards a young slave boy, Sandy, making Twain suddenly recognize that Sandy was a young boy like himself, a human with joys and sorrows and the innate impulse to sing.

All it takes is one voice to tear down the ideology of an entire culture.

Nowadays I hear often that you should keep your views to yourself–vote in their favor come election time, yes–but otherwise do not cause trouble by bringing up politics in presence of others. I shudder to think what our society would be like if people throughout time conformed to this rule. And I shudder to imagine a future unchanged from the present because those with opinions are too afraid to offend.

Racism still exists. Sexism still exists. As does homophobia, educational inequality, and religious (and nonreligious) persecution.  And not just in pockets here and there, but on a national and global scale.

Like young Mark Twain, it is easy to be oblivious to the faults of the culture around you. After all, it is all you know, all you have ever known. But we can all purposefully become more conscious of the issues embedded in the daily life surrounding us. And then, we must act.

Whether with bells and whistles down a city sidewalk or a soft voice over a dinner table, we must parade by marching out our alternate opinions and revealing the human face behind our society’s prejudices. Twain’s mother was a soft-spoken woman, but in that moment with her son, she defied everything that her society triumphed as truth, inspiring him to realize that he could form his own judgments concerning the worth of others.

Without speaking out or taking action we perpetuate the biases around us. Find a way to make your own parade.