November 29, 2010

War and Peace - Speaking Women's Unheard Voices

Though Veterans Day has already passed this year, we rightly continue to hear the many untold stories of women soldiers who are fighting tirelessly alongside men to serve our country.  While war is impacting women today on the front lines and at home like never before, Zainab Salbi's recent TED talk paints for us a portrait of the impact of war on women and girls from the other side, the conflict zones. Take a moment to watch Salbi's TED talk and visit Women for Women International, Woven, and The Center for Women Veterans on how to support and help all women of war.


November 26, 2010

Speaking Their Voices - Rehabilitation Through the Arts

From guest contributor Anne Twomey Lloyd:

I work in an arts program with women who are incarcerated in the only maximum security prison in New York state. I feel free when I’m behind bars with the women. Our classes are a combination of profound and sometimes heartbreaking moments and absolutely hilarious silliness. It’s three hours each week when nobody is judged on past actions, and all of us are witness to the innocent, radiant creativity that binds us together.
We open each session with meditation and yoga stretches, which can help provide tools for living in an environment as highly stressed as the facility in which our students live.

Currently, we’re exploring myths. We frequently discuss how these stories can be recognized in our own lives.

Just this morning, one of our students wrote a monologue from Ariadne’s point of view at being abandoned by Theseus on the island of Naxos after he promised to marry her. She wrote about Ariadne’s shock and anger at being left there as Theseus sailed off. When she read her work to us in class, Ariadne became a sorrowful, heartbroken woman sitting right in front of us. Talk about bringing a myth to life.

We meet in a huge gym inside the prison, and my workshop partner, Kim, is choreographing a dance piece telling the story of a Hawaiian myth. We work to CD recordings of beautiful, evocative, modern music that refreshes the cavernous gym’s humid, stale air.

We are beginning to create a performance piece on myths, collecting and polishing the best of our weekly work. We’ll present it using the stage in our gym to fellow inmates and prison teachers and administrators. 

Kim and I say good bye to our students and exchange wishes with all to have a good week. We come out of class energized, exclaiming about the acting of one very shy woman, or the writing and surprising wit of another. We move on to the rest of our lives, keenly aware that we get to come out of the prison. As we pass through endless heavy gates slowly sliding open and then closed behind us, past fences of barbed wire, we know that some of the closeness and commonality we share with our students is left behind the walls.

Anne Twomey Lloyd works through RTA (Rehabilitation Through the Arts), a program of Prison Communities International.  For more information about RTA and their women's program, visit

November 23, 2010

The Right Way? - What I Did Over My Summer Vacation

By Ariana P.

I did what every rising junior in college does over their summer vacation: plan their future.  Planning my future is one of the scariest things I have ever done in my entire life because the future is so uncertain, an adjective that I dislike the most.  I NEED certainty in my life; I thrive on it.  Taking away certainty from me is like taking a teddy bear away from a little girl. 

Where do you even start?  People always say start with the question: what do you like to do the most?  The hidden footnote is that it has to be something you can make money from.  I love shopping, but what stable career can I get from that?  Money is always important when deciding your career.  Sure, you can do what you love, but what if it something that does not give you benefits or gives you a crappy paycheck?  Would you still want to do it?  My major is political science, and I like it.  From studying political science, the assumption is that you want to go to law school.  That’s what I had to ultimately decide this summer.  It sounds like a simple question to answer, but let me tell you…it really, really, REALLY is not.

This summer I had an internship at the District Attorney’s office which was supposed to help introduce me to the world of law.  I did learn a lot of things from it, but in order to get there, I had to go through a phase of complete confusion.  Before starting my internship, I was about 80% sure I wanted to go to law school.  I thought this internship would be a great way to see how law school is from people who are currently going to one.  When I told them I was pretty sure I was going to law school, they all said the same thing: “Don’t do it.”  This made me stop in my tracks.  These are people who have either gone or are going to law school, and they are telling me NOT to go.  I freaked out.  If I was not going to go to law school, what in the world would I do then?  Graduate school?  Get a job?  Become a couch potato and eat junk food for the rest of my life?

I was completely overwhelmed and disheartened by these words.  I began to feel that if I were to go to law school, and it being very necessary to go to the best law school, or else what would possibly be the point – so I have been told -  I would absolutely fail.  Hearing the attorneys’ advice proved that it would be impossible to accomplish any of my goals and that I would just fail in my profession and subsequent professional life.  I then started to think of other possible career options for me.  What did I want to do?

Considering what I wanted to do was not, for me, a simple conversation I could have by myself.  Making big decisions like this needs my family to be included.  I absolutely value their opinion, and this important conversation needed to happen with them.  Cue to dinner.  I finally start talking about a possible career in psychology, and my parents asked me why I decided not to apply to law school anymore.  Finally, the story that was never said comes out.  I told them all about what I heard concerning law school and how that basically decided it for me.

The fear of not talking about this aloud to my family was so great.  If they agreed with me that would only confirm that I really would be incapable of going to law school… However, the subsequent lecture that came from my parents truly affected me.   They told me that I cannot listen to what other people say and that I should not let it affect me.  I just need to do what I know I need to do despite what others say.  While those attorneys did not say those things purposely to stop me from going to law school, they did not and do not know who I am and what I am capable of.  I had learned that I was seriously underestimating myself.  While I think that is a normal occurrence, in this particular situation, I was SERIOUSLY underestimating myself.  No matter what I do or where I go, everything is going to be hard; there is no easy way out.  If it is not hard, then it most likely is not worth doing.

Despite the lecture they gave me, I still needed to hear if my parents thought I could accomplish law school.  If they truly and honestly believed I could, then I would definitely try my hardest.  So I asked them point blank if they think I could do it, and they said yes.  The conversation with my parents taught me that I should not have internalized all that I was feeling.  I needed to trust myself and ignore what everyone else was saying.  I had let my fears and doubts make my decision for me which made me undermine my abilities and immediately decide that I was not capable.  My parents would not push me into a situation they knew I could not accomplish, and I needed to realize that I was and am capable.

I know that I need to start believing those things in order to trust myself because then nothing can stop me.  My past and present academic record should be evidence enough, to me, of my capabilities.  Yet they aren‘t.  Yes, these things have happened to me, but I don’t really see them as proving anything.  I have this feeling that some or most college women feel this way also.  We underestimate our abilities and internalize all of the struggles we go through.  Why?  Why is it so hard to simply start a conversation about major events going on in our lives?  For that conversation with my parents to happen, they were the ones who had to bring it up.  I simply did not want to.  I thought that I decided what I am going to do and there was not anything that could really change it, but I was seriously wrong.

Ariana  P. is a guest post contributor to the WCC blog with her NEW ongoing column, The Right Way? Ariana is currently a junior at Bryn Mawr College where she is majoring in Political Science and minoring in Gender and Sexuality Studies.  Her intention for the column is to share her experiences during the last two years in her college bubble before she enters the big and scary real world.  She hopes you enjoy her posts because she certainly enjoys writing them. 

November 21, 2010

Improving Lives Through Literacy

I definitely take for granted the fact that I can read.  I take for granted every opportunity that literacy affords me and, by extension. my family and community.  In the past several years, I have engaged with women in various parts of my daily life who are working very hard to learn English as either a second or primary language.  Many of them immigrated to this country in search of a "better" life for themselves and their families back home.  Some women are victims of human sex trafficking, others are second, third, or fourth generation Americans who are still struggling to find their way through literacy.

Though I intellectually know that literacy is a critical issue among women in the United States and other developed and developing countries, it was a letter from Stella, the Services Coordinator of the Literacy Volunteers of Union County, Inc program, where my mother volunteered for a short time in 2008, that really brought this issue home for me.  My mother, who died this past August, served as a volunteer working passionately with her students to teach them English as a second language (ESL).  My mother was a very intelligent, smart, passionate, loving, and caring woman, and fully embraced her role as a literacy volunteer.  She never went to college, because that is not what women in her community and family did when she was growing up, and despite being very bright and well-read, she always felt inadequate and inferior to her peers because of this.  Working as a literacy volunteer was a tremendous accomplishment for her.  She spoke to me not only of her great pride in her efforts and accomplishments, but more often of her genuine interest and investment in the lives of the students with whom she worked.  She would bring to life the very personal journey that her students were taking through their reading and writing efforts and how this made a great difference in every aspect of their lives. 

In the letter that I received from Stella, she wrote:
Jane joined our program in March, 2008 when she became a tutor.  She was very interested in helping our students because she loved to read and wanted to share her knowledge with others.  She helped 14 students to learn the language and prepared some of them to become U.S. citizens.  She was very concerned about how difficult it was for a foreigner to survive in this country without English.  She always came prepared with her lessons and activities that her students needed.  Jane was amazing, in that she always agreed to have more students, she never said no to me.  I really appreciated her commitment to this cause.  She was a wonderful and dedicated tutor and will be missed. 

It is in this spirit that I offer the WCC community a look into the need for literacy among women in our greater Philadelphia community and abroad.  As it is well known, when you take action to improve a woman's life, you in turn improve the lives of an entire community.  Dominique Chlup writes for Ms. Blog an article called Gender Equity Begins with Literacy outlining the critical importance of literacy in the effort towards gender equality and, I would argue, for the prosperity of women.  In this article she also provides a great number of resources on the topic, such as WE LEARN (Women Expanding Literacy Education Action Resource Network), and opportunities for social action.  For more information about the topic of women's literacy, check out ProLiteracy.  Here in the Philadelphia area, the Center for Literacy provides community-based literacy services to youth, adults, and families, where you can find opportunities to receive or provide services.