Friday, November 25, 2005

Now Let Us Praise Famous Women

What do these countries have in common?
Philippines, Indonesia, Israel, Pakistan, Argentina, Nicaragua, Haiti, Bangladesh, Turkey, Rwanda, Sri Lanka, Guyana, Mozambique, Panama, and Mongolia?

Struggling Economies? Nope.
Repressive governments? Nah.
Places on my next round-the-world trip? Hardly!

Give up? All of these countries have had WOMEN presidents or prime ministers!

But wait! That's not all! There's more!
Lithuania, Finland, New Zealand, Germany, France, Britain, Iceland, Malta, Canada, Ireland, Switzerland, and Latvia!

South Korea almost had a woman prime minister and Burma's Aung San Suu Kyi would have become prime minister had the current military government accepted the election results where her party won 82% of the vote despite her house arrest. Liberia's President-Elect Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf will become president next year in January.

Excuse me. Does anyone see anything wrong here?

My parents have recently become fans of the television show "Commander In Chief." In this flight of fancy, my country is actually being lead by a woman, played by Geena Davis. With my trademark snort of contempt (copyright pending) I wondered out loud whether I would actually see a US female head-of-state in my lifetime. My mother tried to defend the "land of the free and the home of the brave" by saying we have far more women in power than most countries. Somehow after reading the list above, that pride seems to fall a little short.

This leads me to wonder then-are we as Americans afraid of powerful women? Or do we just dislike them? Women candidates initially are stereotyped as domestic issue oriented, specifically more interested in education and social issues than foreign policy. However it seems to me that if an American woman is smart and confident about her abilities (i.e. Hillary Rodham Clinton), people write her off as a "feminist." Do we only like women who are humble and not opinionated? This is tragic. We have so many capable and talented women in the U.S. that, despite their talents, routinely earn less and are promoted less. There are the few exceptions, like Oprah and Martha Stewart but these influential ladies are too smart to get involved in politics.

Earlier this year a friend of a friend loaned me a microwave. On the side was a magnet that stated "All My Heroes Are Women." It caused me to think about all the women in my life that have been my heroes. Women who have inspired me, encouraged me and saved me. If it wasn't for the women in my life, my life would be vastly different than it is now. It was a woman who taught me to love reading, a woman that taught me music, a woman who taught me compassion and a woman who taught me to face my inner fears. I have shared bitter tears and riotous laughter with women. With women I studied and gained my education and it has been my privilege to teach side by side with women in the trenches of education. Finally it was with women that I shared my secret hopes and dreams.

It seems to me that if my life could be so enriched by women in my life, that the United States could only benefit as well from a woman in charge. A recent Newsweek article agrees: "Studies show that women are better at creating and keeping the peace in post-conflict societies because women are-generally-less violent than their male counterparts."

The same Newsweek article states:
Swanee Hunt, head of The Initiative for Inclusive Security, a multimillion-dollar nonprofit supporting the work of women in conflict zones, says: "During the [Bosnian] war, I asked the prime minister of Bosnia, Haris Silajdzic, "If half of the people around the table at the very beginning had been women, would there have been a war?" And he said, "No. Women think long and hard before they send their children out to kill other peoples' children".

"Men are stubborn," says Monica McWilliams, a signatory to the Northern Ireland's Good Friday agreement in 1998. "Women are more comfortable seeking compromise. They see it as a strength, not a weakness."

It should go without saying that in praising women, I'm not demeaning men at all, far from it. I just feel it is high time that not only should women have "a place at the table", but rather that we would all benefit by placing her at the head of that table. It's not about feminism, it's about humanism.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Rainbow Connection

It's hard to believe but only a month ago my boyfriend and I were on holiday in sunny Australia! One of the best memories of the vacation was a road trip we took to Canberra, the capital. As we were driving down the highway (or I should say he was driving, I was navigating) we noticed there was a rainbow in the sky, directly in front of us. And as we kept going, the colors got more and more intense and vivid. By the time we had joined the others and pulled off to get a picture, the rainbow had grown to encompass the whole sky and our camera wasn't capable of capturing it all. I was standing there lost in the glowing colors when I heard a sudden intake of breath beside me and I turned to see AnTaek pointing to a SECOND rainbow forming above the first one! It was simply amazing. When we finally did get back on the road, there were times we thought we were close enough to drive right under it or that the end would be in the farm field to the right, just over the hill. Somehow the elusive rainbow was always just out of our reach.

This got me thinking about all the layers of meaning the rainbow holds for me. The most obvious to most probably would be rainbow as a symbol of gay pride and identity. Since 1978, when the rainbow was used as a pride flag in San Franscico, the rainbow has been used on bars and in districts to let people know that these are places that gay people can be themselves without fear. And of course there is the merchandising and crass commericalism. One year for AnTaek's birthday I did a whole theme of rainbows with the bag and all that was within: a wristband, belt, candles, necklace and T-shirt. I think he wore the belt once!

All the overkill of rainbow use has led some to proclaim they are "SO over the rainbow" which refers to the song "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" from the cult classic movie "The Wizard of Oz." Sung by Judy Garland, this song expresses a desire for another world that's better than the one we currently inhabit. Garland, called "Elvis for homosexuals," had legions of gay fans, so much so that the catchphrase "Friend of Dorothy" was coined to refer to gay people at a very closeted time in our nation's history. And it's no wonder that this song became a gay anthem.

For me, the song never had anything to do with that. Whenever I hear "Over the Rainbow" I feel a sense of longing for my home. Like Dorothy, after seeing fabulous places and meeting amazing people, I always feel drawn back to Kansas. Kansans have embraced the movie, adopting the slogan, "Kansas-Land of Ahs" and even have a museum (and of course merchandise to go with it!).

And as for the rainbow, I'm always reminded of a book marker I got when I was a kid, as a reward for helping out with Vacation Bible School (the first of my many teaching experiences). It said "The Rainbow is a Promise" which refers to the covenant God made with Noah to never again destroy life on our planet through water (Genesis 9:12-17). To me the book marker's meaning was less global and more personal. Whenever I saw a rainbow, it was God's promise to me. No matter what storms asail my life, this symbol of hope promises to provide for me and keep me safe.

So whether it be a symbol of pride, a desire for a better life, a longing for home, a promise of security or all these things, today I thank God for the miracle of the rainbow!

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Sweet Dreams Are Made of These

One of the first things my boyfriend and I talk about in the morning is our dreams. Lately I had a dream that my grandmother had married another man and had returned a book I had given her and changed all the pictures in her home to hide the fact that she was old enough to have grandchildren. Of course in reality this is laughable but in the dream her rejection was very hurtful to me. I was told that in Korean culture, when one has a dream that an older family member gets remarried, this means that they will die soon! Obviously this is a self-fulfilling prophecy as she is in her mid-80s...but I hope she'll be around for a little while longer!

I shared this dream and the Korean interpretation with my brother and he of course "saw my bet and raised it" with one of his own dreams. He dreamed that our father had actually died and that he was having to cope with taking care of the details and wondering how he would manage without Dad's advice and counsel. I hope that when this does happen that I'll be able to help out and that my brother won't have so much of the burden. In Korean culture, this dream is interpreted to mean that you want to get closer to that person. I guess that makes sense.

Most dreams I just feel are a conglomeration of things I've thought or experienced throughout the day and my subconscious is just trying to put them all together. Most dream interpretation in my culture is seen in the same light that we view our daily horoscopes: entertaining but not something to be taken too seriously. However some dreams come to us so vividly and clearly that you have to wonder: is there a message here and if so, from whom?

Many characters in the Bible had messages from God communicated to them in dreams. Joseph son of Jacob would be the obvious one to start with. I always wondered about just how clever he really was. I mean if you had a dream that so obviously had to do with your brothers, would you go and tell them about it? Doesn't seem like the smartest move ever does it? However Joseph does state ""Do not interpretations belong to God? Tell me your dreams," (Gen. 40:8) which tends to lead credence to the argument that our dreams are messages from God.

Other Old Testament characters such as Laban, Daniel, and King Solomon all had dreams which determined a certain course for their lives and gave them divine guidance. In the New Testament, Joseph, father of Jesus, had three pivotal dreams, one to keep his betrothal to Mary, one to flee to Egypt and one to return to Palestine again. Both Peter and Paul received important messages through dreams that changed the course of the Christian faith (Peter's dream made it possible for Christians to do away with Jewish dietary laws, namely pork and seafood. Paul's dreams led him to take the message of Christ to the Gentiles, changing the Christian church from a Jewish off-shoot to a "world" religion.). Message-filled dreams weren't limited to people from the Jewish culture either. Pilate's wife is recorded as having a dream regarding the trial of Jesus.

However the Bible also cautions us about holding too much stock into dreams and their interpretation. Three passages warn about false prophets who claim to receive revelations through dreams (Deuteronomy 13:1-5; Jeremiah 23:25-32;27:9;29:8; Zechariah 10:2).

In my humble opinion, the "jury's still out" with regards to dreams and their importance. Part of me wants to believe that they serve an important purpose and many times when I had a sense of deja vu, I felt like I was experiencing something I had previously dreamed. I kept a dream journal for a long time just in case I had something like that happen again and then I could go back and find that occurance but I was unsuccessful.

Perhaps someday I will figure it out one way or the other. Until then I'll keep on dreaming!