Pantsuits, A Part of HerStory

 

(first appeared on Huffington Post)

pantsuits-for-president

October 22 was National Pantsuit Day. Yeah, I missed it too. The funny thing is, I was literally #withHER at an event that day and surprisingly, Hillary made no mention of the occasion.

While all the talk of pantsuits may seem silly, just the other day I heard a story about a high school-aged girl who doesn’t want a president who wears pantsuits. Yet another sign of the lack of HERstorical knowledge many young people have about the struggle for women’s equality.

To understand Hillary is to understand the modern-day pantsuit. It’s practical, pragmatic, focused, fashionable and efficient. A woman in a pantsuit signals, “I mean business.” We need to embrace the symbolism of a pantsuit as a way to give women a leg up!

There’s nothing new about pantsuits on the Beltway. Senator Barbara Mikulski helped lead the pantsuit rebellion in 1993 at a time when women were required to wear dresses on the Senate floor. Women of a certain age, myself included, have faced similar battles.

There are many historical reasons why pants became part of more masculine dressing. European and Asian men initially dressed in gowns, robes, tunics and togas. They began wearing trousers around 3,000 years ago to make it easier for riding horses. Horses were critical to civilization as part of warfare, hunting and commerce in general. Even if women had been permitted to participate in these activities they would have had a difficult time doing so since their mobility was limited by cumbersome skirts with multi-layers of crinoline and petticoats. Pantsuits were first introduced in the 1920s, but began to trend in the fashion world in the 1960s and ‘70s with the feminist revolution.

Personally, while I’m a major advocate for women in pants and for Hillary, I’ve never been a fan of pantsuits. Where’s the creativity when there’s nothing to mix and match? But my real problem with pantsuits is more deep-seated and involves an incident that happened to my grandmother when I was a child. In 1973, she was going on a chartered tour to Israel and my mother convinced her that wearing pants would be more comfortable while sitting on a bus for hours and exploring ancient ruins. At 70 years old, my grandmother had never worn pants and therefore needed a lot of convincing. She finally agreed and purchased a navy blue pantsuit. On the group’s last day in Israel, they boarded the bus for Mea Shearim, the ultra-Orthodox section of Jerusalem. After stepping off the bus, the women and children began throwing small rocks at my grandmother and calling out that she was a “sinner.” The culprit? Her pantsuit. Ironically, my grandmother herself had grown up Orthodox. That’s why she had never worn pants in the first place!

To paraphrase the section of Deuteronomy in the Bible pertaining to this, it says a woman shouldn’t dress in man’s clothing. It doesn’t actually describe what that clothing is and as noted earlier, men were wearing clothes more akin to dresses at that time. The message, though, is clear: women aren’t supposed to be like men. And that’s the crux of why both Hillary and pantsuits are continually maligned. It’s interesting that when men wear suits, they’re simply called suits, but when women wear them, they’re referred to as (pant)suits. Could this be a result of a society that’s still hung up on women wearing pants?

Hillary Clinton made a major statement when she was the first, First Lady to wear pants in her official White House portrait. What a statement it will be when she takes the oath of office at HER inauguration rocking a pantsuit!

The Concert Across America to End Gun Violence

 

(previously published on the Huffington Post)

While House and Senate members were taking more than 50 days of summer vacation, 4,500 Americans were shot to death. We can’t afford the consequences of their inaction!

the-concert-across-america-pix

Music has always been key to helping to heal, create joy and bring communities together. If you agree that gun violence is a public health crisis in America, you can show your support for this issue on September 25 by attending one of the approximately 300 concert venues across the country, including 150 that are faith-based. Check them out: http://concertacrossamerica.org/

And when the presidential candidates debate on September 26, we need to hear solid solutions to America’s gun violence epidemic. Tell the debate moderator, Lester Holt, that you want an extensive question on gun violence during the debate. Tweet: Hey @LesterHoltNBC ask how candidates will #EndGunViolence at the #debate on 9/26 so we can #VoteAcrossAmerica for solutions

 

Let the moderators hear from you regarding questions on this issue during the other debate dates, October 4, 9 and 19, as well.

Take a moment to view this video, an example of the power of music.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RIKDx4fUXNs

You can also take action to #RockItToStopIt by signing this petition.

#ConcertAcrossAmerica to #EndGunViolence

Just My Cup of Tea Tag Project

tea bag cnf

A Micro-Essay I submitted to Creative Nonfiction Magazine’s Twitter contest was selected and published in their November/December issue. The #tinytruth I wrote: She knew she was in a vulnerable state when the words of wisdom on her tea bag made her weep. was in reference to those little sayings found on tea bag tags. This got me thinking that while tweets are more aspirational than inspirational, they are similar to those terse tea bag tag messages – both to the point and under 140 characters.

When I was growing up, we drank Salada Tea. The wonderful thing about Salada was that the tea bags contained funny sayings and witticisms to entertain its drinkers. Salada’s “Tag Lines” were the brainchild of a 1960s madman. According to the advertising campaign, the idea was to give tea drinkers, “something to do while you dangle.”  The tea bags were “steeped” in inspiration and offered maxims for daily life. I’ve managed to hang on to one of those tea tags for over 30 years. Not sure what that says about me – that I held on to it for so long and why this particular message…In this cynical age, nothing is sacred except a guest towel. At any rate, it is prominently displayed on where else? A towel rack in my home.

A few years ago I discovered Yogi Tea. I have one cup of coffee every morning followed by a cup of tea that I savor throughout the day. The words on my Yogi tea bag tag start me off for the day. Lately, I’ve been sharing the daily messages with others because it’s felt like the world is in need of a little wisdom.

In this fast pace world, I’m grateful for a cup of tea, which forces me to slow down and contemplate. Or as pointed out in 50 Differences Between People Who Sip Tea And Those Who Chug Coffee, while coffee drinkers medicate, tea drinkers meditate.

Whatever your beverage of choice may be, have you gained or shared a little wisdom today?

 

 

 

 

 

The Evolution of Barbie

Barbie head                                                                                                 Terapeak.com

(This first appeared on The Huffington Post.)

Even though I insisted on eco-friendly, child-labor-free toys for my daughters, I was excited to pass down my Barbie doll collection to them 23 years ago. As I eased Barbie’s skinny, little molded plastic appendages through sleeves, pant legs and neck holes, I was awash with that old familiar feeling. It was disconcerting, though, when we tried to dress a brand spanking new Barbie in a vintage red and silver glittery, strapless evening gown and it slipped right off. I later learned that in 1989 Barbie’s proportions were altered including a breast reduction. Barbie has been evolving all along, but until now it’s been incremental (#TheDollEvolves). Ken too has been altered over the years to have a bigger head and broader shoulders. The fact that Ken is on steroids seems to have flown under the radar. With these body changes, much of the Barbie and Ken wardrobes I saved from my childhood have been rendered useless.

It was impossible for me not to have an affinity for Barbie. After all, we shared the same name. Only my Nana could get away with calling me Barbie doll and later, when I was in high school, driving a Chevy Malibu earned me the moniker “Malibu Barbie” (even though my lifestyle was the antithesis of that 70s Barbie model). I was a hardcore Barbies player. I had one best friend who preferred playing with G. I. Joe. Her idea of playing Barbies was to have her go on life raft romps with Joe in the bathtub. But Barbie’s anatomically unrealistic shape, made it impossible for her to keep from toppling off of Joe’s regulation Army raft, resulting in a permanent bad hair day. My other best friend was much more amenable to more traditional Barbie scenarios. Our set-ups became so elaborate with furnishings and other paraphernalia, that after a few years, we shifted the game to her attic. That way we didn’t have to disassemble it every day. I pushed playing Barbies to the limit ─ beyond the point when anyone else was interested. As a child, I didn’t give any thought to Barbie’s impeccable make-up or her high heel ready feet and the term “body image” wasn’t in my vocabulary. To me, Barbie didn’t look any different than the other 1960s women I saw on TV and in magazine print ads. All I knew was that as a budding writer, Barbie was my vehicle for limitless story possibilities. In support of the new more diverse dolls, Mattel has said, “Girls everywhere now have infinitely more ways to play out their stories and spark their imaginations through Barbie.” Thankfully, this realm of childhood remains universal and timeless.

Since the focal point of the relationship with my friend was our Barbie game, when she lost interest, the friendship ended and that was also the end of my Barbie playing days. Junior high happened. High school happened. We remained neighbors only living a few doors away, but we never reconnected, not even for a moment. Eventually, we went off to college. In my sophomore year, my parents made the decision to sell our house, triggering childhood memories, particularly of my Barbie playing days. That’s when it suddenly occurred to me that with our friendship ending so abruptly, I had left my Barbies at her house. The thought of contacting her after all those years was akin to cold calling, but I was determined to get my Barbies back.

One afternoon during Spring break, I found myself walking that familiar beat I had walked a thousand times before and like an out of body experience, I entered her house, marched up the stairs, past her bedroom, into her brother’s room, and up to her attic. And there it was…our Barbie world, just as we had left it eight years earlier. Barbie was seated on the couch. My “flocked” hair Ken doll had his arm around her. Ken had lost an arm. (Vietnam is how I explained it.) For a romantic interlude, I would wrap his shirtsleeve around Barbie’s waist and tuck it into her outfit to hold it in place. Barbie was in her riding outfit─corduroy and fake suede pants and top, complete with boots and riding crop. From the time I was old enough to shop by myself at Kiddie City, I would purchase one outfit a week. I delighted in Barbie as Fashionista with her clothes changing from June Cleaver matronly dresses and slinky evening gowns to groovy pants ensembles.

For the next few hours, we sat on the floor. Little conversation was exchanged between us. We methodically sorted out the dolls. We each had a bubble cut Barbie (vintage, 1962). Mine blonde, hers brunette. I also had a bendable Barbie and a Talking Barbie. While I had Ken, she had Barbie’s best friend, Midge, and her boyfriend, Allan. I had two Skippers, a redhead and a later brunette version. We had also thrown a few Liddle Kiddles into the mix as younger sisters or sometimes as Barbie’s children. We moved on to the outfits next─hers, mine. Any crocheted or knitted outfits went to me automatically because my Great-Aunts Sophie and Roz had their own original 1959 Barbies on stands, which they used as models to make clothes for my dolls. After we were finished with the wardrobe, we sorted through the furnishings, then the cases. She had some elaborate furniture, handed down from a cousin including a sleeper sofa. That certainly spiced up our games.

Once the task was complete, we made our way downstairs to her front door, avoiding eye contact along the way. With my Barbie cases in hand, I walked down her path for the last time, through the white picket fence gate, and out of my childhood.

The Power of Pete

me and Pete

Pete Seeger will forever be referred to as a legend. The word legend is defined as “a person whose fame or notoriety makes him a source of exaggerated or romanticized tales or exploits.” But there was nothing exaggerated about Pete Seeger. He was the real deal. In fact, Pete was something much greater than a legend. He was an engaged citizen who believed individuals taking action, even on the smallest level, could save the world. Pete believed in the power of the people.

I first met Pete sixteen years ago at Clearwater’s Great Hudson River Revival, the zero-waste, bio diesel- and solar-powered music festival at Croton Point Park on the shores of the Hudson River in Croton-on-Hudson, New York. He was scheduled to give a talk about his electric battery powered cherry red pickup truck in the designated Energy Area. My husband and daughters and I went to the talk and afterwards I told Pete that I was an experiential, environmental educator and that I had recently built a homemade solar cooker using cardboard boxes, aluminum foil and glass. While building a solar cooker turned out to be a fun and educational science fair project for our daughters, it was so much more. Using the power of the sun, a solar cooker can be an essential cooking tool for communities living in developing nations that don’t have access to electricity or safe ways to gather firewood, often a dangerous task particularly for women.

Pete got really excited about the solar cooker project and asked if I would teach a workshop on how to make them at the Clearwater Festival. He said to give him a call to discuss it. He wrote a note to me along with his phone number on my Clearwater Festival program booklet. A few days later I was calling Pete Seeger. “Hello, is Pete home? His wife, Toshi, put Pete on the line and we worked out a plan to bring the project to the Festival.

The following spring I led a workshop on how to construct a solar cooker and spoke about its benefits as a healthier cooking alternative for people and the planet. Throughout the day as Festival participants passed by, we gave out solar cooked nachos and a healthy version of s’mores, along with a quick lesson on the importance of  renewable energy. It was what you call a real teachable moment. One of the reasons Pete was so enthusiastic about the solar cooker project was because for him it was always about hands-on education leading to advocacy.

The power of Pete was that he knew that in order to disseminate a message you need to engage people in a way that they don’t feel they’re being hit over the head. Best case in point was Pete’s passion to clean up the Hudson River, a local issue for him since he lived by the river. He, along with a few friends began their Clearwater mission in the 1960s when the Hudson was saturated with raw sewage, oil pollution, pesticide runoff and toxic chemicals such as PCBs caused by industrial manufacturing. Pete felt great despair over the pollution of his beloved Hudson River. Key to the mission was to connect people back to the river; to create majestic sloops from which people could experience the beauty of the river, and that also served as environmental sailing classrooms; all in an effort to move them to want to preserve it. In fact, my introduction to Clearwater was sailing on a sloop with my daughter and her class on an experiential field trip. Through the years our family has continued to be Clearwater Festival regulars; we presented other eco programs, volunteered in various capacities, and sung and strummed along with Pete. Pete touched millions through his songs, but personal moments with him were especially empowering. We will greatly miss his humble and purposeful presence.

Throughout history, music has been a catalyst for change, a medium for protest and a way to deliver a message of hope. (Clearwater website)

For Pete, music was integral to the mission because music brings people together and creates community; hopefully, a community that will take action and create change. When Pete addressed an audience, he would interject spoken messages of peace and environmental stewardship. The power of Pete was that he knew he had a captivated audience and that while they were singing along, they would learn something too. As Pete said, “My job is to show folks there’s a lot of good music in this world, and if used right it may help to save the planet.”

But he also knew that music alone was not the solution. For Pete and countless dedicated individuals inspired by him to act locally, the incredible work they did to clean up the Hudson paid off globally as well, as it led to helping to pass landmark environmental laws, both state and federal, including the Clean Water Act.

Being an environmental activist has always been challenging, and while we’ve made great strides, it’s hard not to feel discouraged in light of the omnibus spending bill that was recently passed by Congress, which essentially undermines environmental regulatory actions and environmental justice.

For Pete’s sake, we need to let our legislators know that the laws that protect our environment, do make a difference. For Pete’s sake, we need to take personal responsibility as stewards of our planet. For Pete’s sake, we need to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions if we want to have a fighting chance against the devastating effects of climate change.

More important than being a legend, is leaving a legacy.

Life is What Happens…

JFK
This is a terrible analogy to use, but it’s been like watching a car crash. You just can’t look away. That’s what it’s been like for the past few weeks of continual JFK coverage on TV. How many times have we seen the Zapruder film? Each time it’s just as gut-wrenching. How many times have we seen Walter Cronkite deliver the heartbreaking news? It never gets easy. Just hearing the crack in his voice, the attempt by this veteran correspondent to hold back his emotions, brings me to tears every time. For the past few weeks many people of all walks of life have been sharing remembrances. Here’s a brief personal reflection…
My grandparents met with President Kennedy in Philadelphia a few weeks before he was killed. My grandmother had been a delegate to the convention to nominate JFK. My grandfather was a dynamic Democratic Party Leader and judge in Philadelphia who helped spearhead a fund raising dinner on October 30, 1963 in honor of Kennedy. The president was in Philly for the same reason he went on to Dallas – to raise money in support of local leaders and to warn against the political right in order to strengthen his bid for a second term. As John Lennon sang, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”
We are left with so many questions and so many what ifs…John Kennedy’s assassination certainly set into motion a series of terrible cataclysmic events that forever changed our country, but through his idealism and good works over a very short period of time, he also set into motion a vision of hope and a greater humanity.

Making the Most…of Compost

compost cropped

One of my great weekly pleasures is the Sunday ritual of dropping off my compost in the bins at the Farmers Market up the street from my home, and then shopping for fresh, local veggies and fruit. It’s a full circle, soil cycle experience.

In a final attempt to make New Yorkers and the city they live in healthier, eco-friendly mayor, Michael Bloomberg, wants to create a mandatory food-waste recycling program – that is – mandatory composting! The city is even seeking proposals to build a plant to process food waste into biogas and convert it to electricity. The program should be citywide by 2015/16 and will start out on a voluntary basis, but will eventually be mandatory. Of course Mayor Mike won’t be around to fine New Yorkers who don’t separate their food scraps, but Democratic candidate, Bill de Blasio, says if elected, he will eventually make composting mandatory. It will be very interesting if that really comes to pass since during the NYC Democratic mayoral debate last month, all five of the candidates were asked if they composted and not a single one of them did.

Wouldn’t it be fantastic, though, if the uber-energized city that never sleeps could one day literally be fueled…by a Big Apple!