Admirable Women – Ahead of Her Time and Misunderstood

5 03 2011

Eva Perón, or Evita, hasn’t really gotten a fair shake, historically speaking. Considering the kind of power and popularity she had in her country and her advocacy of trade unions and her successful campaigning for women’s voting rights, her very public persona, and her power within her husbands’ presidency, she didn’t fit in with America’s Father Knows Best, Wonder Bread, Happy Homemaker view of women and how they should behave. There was also the fact that Argentina still had strong ties with Franco’s Spain. In the immediate aftermath of World War Two, having any sort of friendship with the fascist government was extremely unpopular with most of the rest of the world. Argentina at the time had a large population which was of Spanish descent, so they saw things a little differently. The overthrow of her husband’s government and the incoming government ‘s ban on Perónism also had a lot to do with the way she is seen even now. She was not a saint or without flaws by any means, but I think it’s about time we take another look at her and dispense with the myths and legends and whatnot.

She was an illegitimate child and when her father went back to his wife, her family was thrown into poverty. There was a significant stigma attached to be born illegitimate at the time. When her husband was president, she altered her birth records to make it appear that she had been born to married parents. That’s not good, but her efforts to improve the standing of those who she referred to as “natural children” in Argentina was. As a teen, she left home and moved to Buenos Aires to pursue an acting career. That didn’t really go too far, but she did get a job doing radio shows and eventual she was a co-owner of that company and was making a very good living. Her newly attained socio-economic status allowed her to meet new and more influential people who eventually came to include Juan Perón and the rest, as they say, is history. They married and were extremely devoted to one and other until her death. She toured Europe as Argentina’s first lady and, like all first ladies everywhere, her clothing and hairstyle choices where fodder for columnists who could rarely, if ever, be pleased. Reading her history now as the post Women’s Lib, Millennial, twenty-something that I am, she sounds like the first contemporary first lady – strange blend of Sarah Palin’s fanatical fan base and use of media as a political tool, Nancy Regan’s complete adoration of her husband, and everything bad anyone in the nineties said about Hillary Clinton’s involvement in her husband’s administration, fierce ambition, and solo traveling to other countries. It doesn’t seem like a big deal, but a lot has changed since the late 1940’s and being ahead of your time isn’t usually well-received. I find the real story of Evita much more interesting than the movie. It’s hard to believe that she died at 33.





Admirable Women – The Marble Ceiling

1 03 2011

Yeah, I’ll say it – I admire Nancy Pelosi. Yes, the same Nancy Pelosi about 90% of the county despises. Why? Because she has gotten farther than any other female politician has and that takes skill, discipline, and self-confidence – qualities that are good and that I could use more of. She’s the most accomplished woman in US political history and, hated or not, is one of the most effective House Speakers this country has ever had. Granted, she’s not a very good public speaker and when she freezes up in front of microphones, she says some monumentally silly things, but politics isn’t all poetry and the bottom line is that you don’t get to be House Speaker if you’re an idiot. It’s that simple. She might not be a great orator, but she can get the work done and the votes to get things passed. Truthfully, I hadn’t realized just how good she was at her job until John Boehner took over as Speaker of the House and the well-oiled, resolution-passing machine that had been running like clockwork for the past four years turned into a giant clusterschtup factory turning out one contested, rather random piece of legislation after another while completely ignoring the “all jobs, all the time” platform that swept the Republicans into office.

I’m not going to bash Boehner just yet – he’s still new at this – but he certainly didn’t hit the ground running like his predecessor did. She went ages – without having a bill die on her. Whether or not you like her politics isn’t the issue here. It’s organizational skill, leadership ability, and a bit of shrewd political sense. Case in point  – her not pursuing an impeachment of Dubya once she became Speaker. A lot of liberals thought it was a great idea, but she saw the serious flaws in that plan and took it off the table and once it was off the table, it stayed off.  She can keep her caucus organized and can get the votes out which is important to keep things moving. If you strip away all the layers of demagoguery, you find a strong and skilled politician. It may be my recent mad-dash-to-the-left attitude of recent months, but I find myself being one of the two dozen or so people who don’t hate Nancy Pelosi.





Admirable Women – Going Old School

27 02 2011

The life of Catherine the Great (Catherine II), the eighteenth century Russian empress, reads like an opera libretto. Lots of violence and lust, at least one illegitimate child, and grasping for power. That was what politics was in the days of yore. Modern day sex scandals look kind of pathetic in comparison to the lives of the imperial court. Catherine acknowledges having hidden away a child fathered by one of her lovers and puts the paternity of her first son in question as well in her autobiography. Political rivalries were an issue unsurprisingly, but whereas now your political rival will scour the internet until they find a picture of you in college looking drunk and stupid with a really dated hair style or hunt around for a sex tape just in case you didn’t realize that sex + video camera = your career, no matter what it is, being DOA, in imperial Russia the preferred method of killing a rival’s career was to kill the rival and perhaps start a rumor that they died of something really embarrassing. After some of Catherine’s allies killed her husband, her supporters started a rumor that he died of a sever case of hemorrhoids, thus adding insult to forced expiration.

Theatrics aside, the reason I admire Catherine the Great is actually her skills as a politician. Far from being the heir apparent, she was born a German princess named Sophie whose marriage to the prospective tsar, Peter III, was arranged by her family. Once the plans were made she essentially crafted a Russian identity, changing her name, her, religion,and her language while developing a taste for all things Russian not only to ease her assimilation and enable her to make some friends in her new home, but because she knew that, without allies, as soon as she birthed a male heir, she could become expendable and expendable people didn’t live too long. Once she arrived at the Imperial Court, she started to learn the politics of the court. By the time things with her husband had broken down to the point that her life was in danger, she had made enough connections and maintained enough popularity that there was a bloodless coup which installed her into power. Eight days later, her husband was killed by a close friend of hers. It is not known whether or not she was aware of the murder plot, but she certainly gained safety and peace of mind from his death because he couldn’t attempt to seize power from beyond the grave. Her astute political sense and aptitude as a leader allowed her to do what few famous monarchs of the day got the chance to do – die of natural causes. She died of a stroke at the age of 67 after a reign of more than 34 years. She was smart, brutal, effective, ambitious. I wouldn’t have wanted to live in eighteenth century Russia, but as a historical figure, I’m impressed by her story and how she made herself into a world leader in a time when women were viewed by everyone as the “weaker sex”.





Admirable Women – Fount of Wisdom

24 02 2011

The first time I ever heard of Dr. Maya Angelou I was in second grade. I was sitting in front of a TV along with the rest of my classmates watching Bill Clinton being sworn in as the 42nd President of the United States. I didn’t know what I liked about the poem she’d written called On the Pulse of Morning which she was reciting for the nation that day. To this day I have no clue what drew my seven-year old self to it enough for me to remember it now, but that was the best part of the whole, long thing for me. (Second-grade-me wasn’t very impressed by the new President himself, by the way. I thought he was goofy and had a funny voice.)

Now that I’m grown enough to fully appreciate her poetry and the life experiences with which she has filled several autobiographies, Dr. Angelou is, in my opinion, one of the most accomplished individuals in this country. It isn’t merely how far she’s come in her life, her fame, or  her wealth, but the way she uses her experiences to inspire others to try to rise above whatever obstacles they face. Some of us are lucky enough to have had exceptional people cross our path who have helped us along life’s way. Dr. Angelou attempts to do that for us all – or at least those who feel like picking up her books. Sort of a wise grandmother to the world. It is a mission summed up in the introduction to her latest book, Letter to My Daughter, and, since it’s always nice to have some storytime, here is that introduction read by one of this country’s most inspiring and admirable women.





Admirable Women – The Roses of Reform

22 02 2011

We have watched transfixed for over a month as autocratic, in some cases outright totalitarian, regimes quake in the face of popular uprisings for democracy and freedom. First Tunisia’s Ben Ali and then Egypt’s Mubarak were forced from power by the people they had long oppressed and, as I type this, the Libya’s Gaddafi seems like he too will be joining the list of ex-dictators. As we watch the protests, we see among them many women. This is no small thing. In many of these places, rape and other forms of sexual abuse are used as a disciplinary tool by the pro-regime mobs and even in some cases law enforcement and military officials. These women risk beatings and shaming as well. While it doesn’t sound like much here in the US, being dubbed “a shame to your family” has major consequences. It could mean that your family has to pack up and move as quickly as possible. You might not be able to marry the person you love – or anyone, for that matter. Your family could disown you and, in countries where inequality is not only accepted but in some cases institutionally sanctioned, it could be very difficult to provide for yourself without the support of you relatives. The risks are significant and far-reaching, yet they keep returning to the squares and rallying points because they have voices and they want the right to be heard. All of these women should be admired for risking so much for the chance at a better future.

Tunisia

Egypt

Libya

Bahrain

Yemen

Jordan

Iran has been in some level of turmoil since the highly contested June 2009 elections. Women have been at the forefront from the beginning of these waves of protest.

The message on her hands reads “Women=Men”