Wonder Woman and Empowering Speaker: Chelsea Clinton

Picture of chelsea Clinton with her father, former President, Bill Clinton. Image from Creative Commons.

Picture of chelsea Clinton with her father, former President, Bill Clinton. Image from Creative Commons.

By Maritza Gordillo

February 24 finally arrived and I got the privilege of attending the Starr Women’s Hall of Fame Kickoff Event at which Chelsea Clinton was the featured speaker. To give you a bit of history, this event was made in commemoration of Martha Jane Phillips Starr whom “spent her life empowering Kansas City women. The Starr Women’s Hall of Fame-dedicated in Starr’s honor-recognizes the past and celebrates the present of leading metropolitan women whose contributions have left a lasting impact on Kansas City and beyond.” Chelsea gave so many ideas and shared the issues she’s been working to improve in collaboration with her father Bill Clinton and her mother Hillary Clinton. As a young woman, attending this event was so empowering because to see her so passionate for what she feels is the right thing to fight for is what we should all be doing. It would be so easy for her to just not do anything for her community,  yet she goes to events like these to promote and push everyone into advocating for what they are passionate about and want to see a change in; “be the change you wish to see in the world.”

Wonder Women: The Fictional Ladies of T.V.

By Amber Charleville

I do a lot of thinking about fictional ladies. Don’t look at me like that! I mean it in a purely academic sense. Mostly. For the purposes of this blog, I want to talk about some of my favorite TV Shows with amazing women characters who are treated fairly and dynamically. I do a lot of talking about the way the media gets it wrong, but I think it’s also important to talk about the shows that get it right!

Image from Creative Commons Search.

Image from Creative Commons Search.

Without further ado, here is Amber’s List of Favorite Fictional Ladies in the Past Year:

  1. Dr. Cristina Yang of ABC’s Grey’s Anatomy, played by Sandra Oh. Cristina Yang demonstrates again and again what it means to be a woman who chooses career over having children, to not be someone who wants to be a mother. Cristina shows us how that can be both empowering and alienating in a society who expects all women to work toward motherhood as the ultimate accomplishment and goal. While there is certainly nothing wrong with having children (as demonstrated by numerous other characters on the show), Cristina’s struggle speaks to those of us who don’t feel that drive and know we never will.
  2. Detective Amy Santiago and Detective Rosa Diaz of Fox’s Brooklyn Nine-Nine, played by Melissa Fumero and Stephanie Beatriz. Funny, quirky, driven, and inspiring, both of these women show us that women don’t have to all act the same to be badass and amazing. They also teach us something about how important camaraderie and mutual support is among women, especially women in a “boys club.”
  3. Sophia Burset of Netflix’s Orange is the New Black, played by Laverne Cox. Sophia Burset brings some much needed exposure to Transgender Women and their experiences with transmisogyny and cissexism. She’s funny, smart, and beautiful, and she shows us that what it means to be a woman in this world isn’t regulated by the sex you were assigned at birth.
  4. Carol Peletier and Michonne of AMC’s The Walking Dead, played by Melissa McBride and Danai Gurira. When it comes to drama at the end of the world, The Walking Dead does an amazing job of exploring gender essentialism, gender roles in survival situations, and what it means to be willing to do anything to stay alive. They are every bit as broken, dangerous, compassionate, and brutal as their male counterparts, and watching their growth over the past several seasons has been riveting.
  5. Sarah Manning, et al. of BBC America’s Orphan Black, played by Tatiana Maslany. It would be impossible to list every single character played by Tatiana Maslany on Orphan Black, but each and every one of the clones she portrays is unique, dynamic, and has different experiences and views in the world. It shows us what our identity looks like when it cannot rely on our physical features.
  6. Allison Scagliotti from Warehouse 13. Image from Google Images through Creative Commons Search.

    Allison Scagliotti from Warehouse 13. Image from Google Images through Creative Commons Search.

    Myka Bering and Claudia Donovan of Syfy’s Warehouse 13 played by Joanne Kelly and Allison Scagliotti. Warehouse 13 is one of my favorite shows on television even though it occupies a relatively obscure corner. Myka is ambitious and rule oriented, Claudia is daring and creative, and they both shine as individuals capable of so very much. They explore different and evolving relationship dynamics, what it means when the family you create is more important than the family you were born into, and how love is more than just romance. It’s friendship, partnership, sisterhood, and so much more. The show itself is maybe a little cheesy, but the characters, especially the women, make it stand out.

Women are WONDERful Artists: There Needs to be Gender Equality in the Arts

Let's crush the gender gap in art! "Like" the Her Art project page on Facebook, and help support female artists in Kansas City!

Let’s crush the gender gap in art!
“Like” the Her Art project page on Facebook, and help support female artists in Kansas City!

By Anna-Maria Kretzer

The other night I was watching the Antiques Roadshow and I saw a story about a mobile by Alexander Calder that I got really excited about.  The woman who brought it explained that Calder had attended a party at her aunt and uncle’s house in 1958.  When he saw a pillow that the woman’s aunt had embroidered with an image of his artwork, Calder was “astounded.”  I imagine he had never seen modernist abstract imagery interpreted in a textile medium before that.  Calder was so excited about the pillow that the woman’s aunt gave it to him.  And in return Calder sent her one of his own creations: a mobile.

As a huge fan of textile arts I was thrilled to hear this story!  Alexander Calder recognized the aesthetic value of a needlepoint pillow as equal to his own work during a time that pretty much anything a woman might make in her own home had inferior status to art made by men in studios.  Although many feminist writers, including Rozsika Parker and Griselda Pollock, have written about art forms that have traditionally been made by women, they are often still placed way below painting and sculpture in the hierarchy of high art.  A growing number of professional artists use “craft” media in work that is destined for a museum or gallery, but there is still a prejudice against people who learn their technical skills at home from a relative instead of at an art school.

Alexander Calder was able to see past the rigid boundaries of the established boundaries of what ART was in his time.  A newfound respect for Calder blossomed within me as I watched the show.  The appraiser, Christopher Kennedy, went on to explain that the mobile in question was probably made earlier than ’58, and that Calder was making larger “public art” by that time.  In contrast, this mobile was constructed on a smaller and more intimate scale.  Even so, the appraiser revealed that it would probably bring a million dollars at auction.  The story about Calder’s interest in a needlepoint pillow and the exchange that followed had almost roused me to that complete state of awe experienced by art nerds such as myself when I heard the (male) appraiser say, “Not bad for a pillow.”

My awe switched instantly to anger.  Calder may have valued a needlepoint pillow as much as one of his works of art, but the appraiser obviously didn’t.  His condescending comment made it clear that sexist ideas about what art is and who makes it are still very much alive today.  I wish I could see the pillow that “astounded” Calder so.  I would love to see it in exhibit with the mobile that Calder gave in thanks.  Especially if that meant that a needlepoint pillow would be on display in the Modern gallery at a prominent museum!

To support women in the arts in Kansas City, and promote gender equity in the arts, “like” our Her Art Project Facebook Page.

Wonder Woman and Body Peace Advocate: My Close Friend, Bailey

Nowfoundation.org's Love Your Body Campaign Poster from 2009.

Nowfoundation.org’s Love Your Body Campaign Poster from 2009.

By Morgan Paul

Earlier this week I sat down with a good friend of mine to talk about body image. While I’ve been incredibly fortunate to be surrounded by a supportive peer ground, I wanted to know how they became so supportive. Bailey and I met in the 6th grade, but it’s only been the past few years that I began to notice her body positivity. As a child she said that she was unhappy with her body, as most children are, but she also told me that when she would talk to her friends about her insecurities they would agree with her. So not only was she having these negative thoughts, but they were then being reinforced by her peers.

When kids openly talk about insecurities, it normalizes the notion that we should be unhappy with our bodies, and schools don’t help this idea. There is no intervention to body negative talk, and no support for body positive talk. When I asked Bailey about public school health classes she said that they leave things too broad. She believes that “schools should ask kids what they think, get opinions, and let them know that there are people they can talk to.” Growing up in public school I would have to agree that schools do next to nothing to inform students about health or to promote body positivity. We spent the majority of the time in my high school health class watching movies like Transformers and Cool Running.

Bailey was fortunate, as many of us are, to have access to alternative media. She soon began to think independently and stopped responding to the media’s images of women. She believes that media is a significant cause of insecurities and that exposing children to media so young is not healthy. She also explained that actresses in kid’s shows are too old to be playing the parts. Bailey found herself wanting to look like the character who is 16, but really she was trying to look more like the actress who was around age 25. Pressures from the media like this one are causing kids to grow up too quickly. Another example is the way break-ups are perceived in the media. We naturally get defensive and want to compare ourselves to their new partner, but Bailey says that we should focus more on the fact that there was obviously a problem in that relationship and that you should just be happy that you got out of it. She also says that it is never healthy to compare yourself to others. “Everyone is on their own journey,” she said, so you are not any better or worse than anybody else, you’re simply at a different part of your journey.

One of the things that stood out to me most in our discussion was when Bailey said “The amount of beauty you see in yourself you should see equally in other people.” I find that an important rule to live by, no matter how hard you try. Balance your negative thoughts with positive ones. I have been talking a lot about loving your body, but Bailey made me rethink my approach when she told me “you don’t have to love your body, but you need to love yourself.” It’s such a subtle approach to the significance placed on beauty. When we say “love yourself” people assume body, but really you need to love all of yourself. Love your imperfections and your talents and your quirks. “Loving yourself is the greatest thing you can ever do and loving yourself and others goes hand in hand,” Bailey said. “Any way that you want to better yourself and life, loving yourself will help you get there. You’ll be surprised.”

Wonder Woman, Healer, and Educator: Professor Brenda Walker-Williams

By Amber Charleville

As I traverse the bumpy and challenging terrain of higher education, I’ve been helped along by a few Wonder Women occupying the role of educator. It’s even made me aspire to follow in their footsteps one day after I pursue my first dream of running a women’s health clinic.

When Katie (of Graduate Assistant Fame here at the Women’s Center) suggested I do one or two profile pieces on professors who have inspired me, one of the first that came to mind was Professor Benda Walker-Williams. I had Professor Walker-Williams as my instructor in two classes this past spring: Nursing 101 (along with the equally wonderful Professor Jolene Lyn), and Anatomy and Physiology Lab.

Professor Walker Williams. Picture from her personal collection.

Professor Walker Williams.
Picture from her personal collection.

Professor Walker-Williams has been in nursing for 30 years and has been a nurse educator about half that time. She’s been with us here at UMKC since 2008, full time since fall of 2010. Also an avid poet, one of her areas of focus is how art such as poetry, music, etc. can be used to facilitate healing. She was kind enough to make time for me in her busy schedule, and this past Friday we sat down to talk about nursing, science, being a woman professional, and some of the unique challenges she faces as a woman of color.

*****

Amber Charleville (AC): Starting out with kind of a basic question, but what do you love about nursing?

Prof. Walker-Williams (WW): What I love about nursing is that you get to recreate yourself. […] I always feel like I want my mind to be growing and I want to be learning new things. I like to go outside my comfort zone, and so when I do that, in order to do that, sometimes you have to change your interest in nursing, and I love that nursing gives you the opportunity to do that.

AC: And what do you love about being a nurse educator?

WW: I love being among students who are  serious and motivated about coming into nursing gives as it gives me hope for the future profession of nursing. I feel like I am contributing to them and their knowledge, their ability to take care of myself, family members, or other persons who might be entering into the healthcare arena. I feel like this is my way of giving back, passing on some of my pearls of wisdom for those who are interested and want to know.

AC: How do you feel like nursing empowers you as woman?

WW: For nurses, you have to be able to critically think. You have to be able to think on your feet. You need intelligence and fortitude. It helps you to be strong when you need to be strong, and to tap into your weak side when you need that, too.  It teaches you to challenge situations, don’t just automatically accept what is – question, question, question.

I wish I had the gumption I have now when I first got into nursing because back then it was like what we taught you all in Nursing 101, talking about the folk image and the servant image*. We actually had the servant image more so when I first came into nursing. When doctors came around, you got out of the seat so they could sit in their special chair, and you brought them coffee or tea.  You made sure they had a pen and access to all the charts which were put on a chart rack.

My first job in pediatrics it was like that, and I kept thinking, “That’s not what I came into nursing to do.” So I’m glad to see a lot of that has changed. Particularly with nursing today, it does give you that fortitude to be strong.  Sometimes you need to be strong, particularly when you’re dealing with different healthcare issues, advocating for the client to get them the assistance they need. It takes a strong and a motivated person to be able to do that.

[*AC: ”Folk image” or “Servant image” refers to the old image of nurses tirelessly slaving at the bedside without complaint, the white skirts and the cap, the doctor’s servant without any autonomy in patient care.]

AC: As you mentioned, we talked a lot about the image of nursing and the profession of nursing in Nursing 101. What does it mean to you to be a nursing professional?

WW: It’s about how you conduct yourself. It’s about your ethical and moral principles that guide you day to day. How you interact with not only patients, but staff and the students here at the school or other colleagues.

AC: How do you feel about nursing being seen as “Women’s Work” and therefore not as important?

WW: Well, women have always historically taken care of the sick before the profession started. So it’s hard for us to totally get away from that stereotype or that image because it’s what’s put on us because we happen to be female. So, again, I think as time evolves, I can see some changes coming about. We have more men, more people from the LGBTQ community, more people from all walks of life. I think is a good thing because why not have representatives of all walks of life in nursing? I mean, that’s what it’s going to take because sometimes you need someone that looks just like you when you’re that person lying in the bed. When you make that connection, it might be what they need to get them to the next step toward wellness.

AC: Speaking of inclusivity, how do you feel the challenges and the experience has been different for you as a woman of color in nursing?

WW: Well, there have been some challenges, and I know they still exist. We all know even with us having a black president, you still have people who are… narrow-minded, I’d say. And we have the same thing in healthcare. As far as the nursing profession, we still have people who are narrow-minded, and so sometimes just because you are a person of color […] they don’t give you a chance.

You always feel like you have to work that much harder than other people would have to work to get the same recognition, the same… even pay. There have been a lot of instances where just because you are who you are, that’s what you’re going to get paid. It doesn’t matter about your education background or your experience. They automatically will give you a lower pay than some of your colleagues. There are a lot of injustices as far as that goes.

That’s a whole issue that I’m thinking someone will tackle one day, and who knows? It might even be me. I haven’t thought about this in a long time, but I know it exists. It’s something that needs to be dealt with.

AC: Definitely, and I know even in my class, the majority of the students are white like myself. So I think it’s important that the students of color do have persons of color on the faculty and staff, especially such a strong role model like you. It’s like you were saying with patients, it helps when there’s someone that looks like you. As a student, it lets you know there’s someone that understands where you’re coming from, and makes it easier to picture yourself in that position.

WW: Yes, right, it does!

AC: So, I know that you’re the director of the Anatomy and Physiology labs. Can you tell me a little about nursing as a science, why it’s important for nurses to be scientists?

WW: Well, that’s the spirit of inquiry, where you question. So that automatically leads you to using the scientific method. You need to figure out what is the answer? Why is the answer what it is? Do I need to challenge that answer?  And that’s important for when you have patients and you need to advise and teach them about their disease and how their body is responding, why they’re having the problem that they’re having.

AC: I just want to wrap things up by asking if you’re working on any research yourself right now?

WW: I have a few things in mind. I’ll be starting hopefully by the end of the year. I’m not sure if you know I write poetry and it’s kind of my therapy. And in grad school, I came up with an intervention that had not been done before, using my poetry. And so that’s the first thing on my plate that I want to address. How you can use poetry to deal with families and some family issues. It’s a way to make people feel important particularly when you write something about them. Sometimes people don’t see their own worth. They’re never told they have worth, and when an outsider shows them they have worth, it  makes all the difference in the world.

*****

I just want to thank Professor Walker-Williams again for taking time out of her schedule to speak with me for the Women’s Center blog. She truly is a Wonder Woman, and I hope that she sees her own worth just as much as she helps her patients and students to see theirs!

Malala Yousafzia: Survivor, Activist, Feminist, and Wonder Woman

By Morgan Paul

We’ve been talking a lot about Wonder Women this year at the Women’s Center, and the media’s been talking a lot about Malala Yousafzia, so what better woman to blog about than sixteen-year-old Malala!

I first heard about her a few nights ago while watching The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. The Daily Show is a show that I frequently watch, but I have never seen Jon Stewart admire anyone the way he did Malala. By seventh grade Malala, was blogging for the BBC about life under Taliban rule. Her home was taken over, her school was closed, and she survived an assassination attempt. Although she has been surrounded by violence most of her life, Malala still promotes peace and believes that education is the key to ending war. It’s terrifying to think about having to take that stand at such a young age, but Malala had support. Her father is an teacher, school owner, and activist as well. He is obviously very proud of her, and has coerced her to be a politician. She says she hopes to found a political party based on education. She has been awarded Pakistan’s first National Youth Peace Prize along with many other nominations and awards. Her book I am Malala is out now, and I strongly urge you to read it. Also, if you haven’t seen it yet, I encourage you to watch her interview with Jon Stewart.

A “Thank You” to all of the Feminists

Image from Google Images.

Image from Google Images.

By Amber Charleville

It’s been a busy semester here at the Women’s Center, and we’re only halfway through.  (On the other hand: Woohoo, we made it through the first 8 weeks of classes!) We’ve done events at the Kansas City Public Library, the Plaza, across campus, and everywhere I’ve gone I’ve met women eager to reach out and connect with each other. Even when I’m not working events, when I tell people where I work, they always ask me questions. They want to know more: how they can get involved, what kind of services we offer, and if it’s okay if they just come by. (The answer to the last one is a resounding YES).

One of the biggest arguments against feminism I hear is that “women don’t have it that bad.” It’s not like we can’t vote or hold a job. It’s not like we can’t go to school. What’s the big deal? But when I meet women from all different backgrounds who all face the many and varied challenges of being a woman every day of their lives, I know it’s not all in my head. It reminds me why I proudly tell people that I’m a feminist. It reminds me why I don’t stay silent and why, no matter how tiring it can be, I always try to educate people on what it means to be a feminist.

Basically, what I want to say is: thanks. Thank you to the women I’ve met this semester (and all the semesters previously) who have inspired and encouraged me. No matter how corny it sounds, it gives me strength knowing I’m not in this on my own.

In acknowledgement of that, some of my blogs going forward are going to feature WONDERful WOMEN right here in our own backyard: professors who make me proud to be a part of this school, who fuel my drive to count myself among UMKC’s alumni.

Wonder Woman and Eating Disorder Survivor: My Friend, Jamie

By Morgan Paul

Image from Google Images

Image from Google Images

As a part of the new body positivity project I am starting I plan on talking with various people who are willing to sharing their journeys and perceptions of body image. For my first article I got the opportunity to interview a strong woman, and good friend of mine, about living with Bulimia Nervosa and her recovery. Jamie was diagnosed with Bulimia Nervosa at 15, Depression at 15, Generalized Anxiety Disorder at 16, Bipolar Disorder at 17, and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder at 17. Although she was never clinically diagnosed with Anorexia, she also suffered from Anorexia at a very young age, beginning at age 10. It began with diets, which led to restricting food intake and obsessive exercise. She was a gymnast at the time so she soon realized that with all the exercise she was doing she could eat whatever she wanted without fear of gaining weight. After quitting gymnastics at age 13, she realized she could not stop binge eating, and then rapidly gained weight. One Friday night, before a high school football game, she stuck a toothbrush down her throat for the first time. This is what started it all, and all because of a small salad. By age 15, she said she was binging and purging five to seven times a day.

Although she recognized her depression and anxiety from an early age, it got more severe as the Bulimia Nervosa worsened. Her other diagnoses played a huge role in her eating disorder. She told me that her bipolar disorder caused her to eat when depressed, and restrict when she was manic. Her PTSD made her blame herself, causing her to want to harm by body. And eating was a way to cope with anxiety. On top of that, she has a family history of alcohol abuse and depression.

Her distorted body image and past abuse caused her to believe that somehow her body fat was connected to her emotional baggage and pain, so losing weight would be rid her of said baggage. She strived to be pure; emotionally, physically, and sexually. But she identified other causes as well. For example, pressure to be thin from gymnastics, and the media exacerbated the disorder. I was surprised to hear that media did not have a huge impact on her, although it obviously did not help. She told me that when seeing very thin girls she would make plans to not eat for days, but she never held other girls to the ridiculously high standards she held for herself.

Jamie has received treatment five times, two of which for her eating disorder. She told me that she is a firm believer in hitting rock bottom, and explained that the first three times weren’t helpful because she simply wasn’t ready. She had friends who tried to force her into recovery, but she said it was the opposite of helpful. Even though Jamie has recovered, she still combats thoughts of restriction, binging, and purging. But it helps her to think about how well she is doing now, and she’s not willing to jeopardize that. It helps her to think of her supportive family and how proud she is making them with her new-found health. And since her recovery, her friends have been nothing but supportive. She believes that she still has a distorted body image, some days worse than others, and she is sometimes discouraged by the size she wears, even though she is working hard towards body positivity.

When I asked Jamie how often she tells herself she’s beautiful, I was ecstatic to hear “every day, whether I believe it or not.” Personally, I find this to be the first step to body positivity. Even if you have to lie to yourself, it’s nice to hear that you’re beautiful, and soon you may start believing it.

I also find it important to list things you love about yourself. Jamie told me that she loves her sense of humor. It is witty and cynical. She said that she used to be terrified that if she was happy she would lose her humor. As it turns out, she didn’t. Another thing was her creativity. It’s what has gotten her through the roughest of times. And lastly, has her ability to be bounce back from whatever her disorders decide to throw at her any given day. And what makes a woman beautiful in her opinion is their personality. And freckles. She love freckles. But she explains that beauty is different for everyone. Each person can “pull off” different things that make them a beauty.

Her advice for those still suffering? IT GETS BETTER! The road to recovery is the hardest thing you will ever do, but it is so worth it in the end. Happiness and acceptance is possible.

NEDA

Image from Google Images

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) can help. Call their toll free, confidential Helpline at 1-800-931-2237

A Wonder Woman and Inspiring Chicana: Dr. Norma E. Cantú

Picture from http://bit.ly/1dOkMsv

Picture from http://bit.ly/1dOkMsv

By Maritza Gordillo

Dr. Norma E. Cantú is a postmodernist writer and an English and Latina/Latino Studies professor at UMKC. Her areas of specialization are: border studies, Chicano/a literature, cultural studies, folklore, and feminist studies. I recently went to a book reading she had on September 5, 2013 at the Central Library on one of her award winning books, Canícula, as well as other works of hers. The pieces she read were inspired by her own life experiences and with lots of humor like in one of her recent projects, Hair.

After hearing her childhood experiences, I have come to realize that we all have our own story that we should be writing. As women, we go through a lot of experiences from childhood to adulthood changing physically, emotionally, economically, etc… that make us who we are. We need to embrace them and share them with others. Dr. Cantú continues to inspire me through her work as an empowering Chicana, feminist, and poet. I feel honored to have her as my professor, to have her as a friend, and to have her as a mentor.