More Than Miss American Pie

Say bye bye to the absence of American women in history with the new exhibit, “American Woman: Fashioning a National Identity” at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. The collection, which features iconic women’s clothing from 1890 to 1940, addresses the evolution of women’s roles in American society through fashion.

Today, on May 5, the show — which will run

until August 15 — includes garments by designers who changed the landscape of femininity and women’s status outside the home where they were once relegated. The exhibit mixes the struggle for gender equality with women’s successes during that period, cooking up a fresh new recipe of Americana. According to the Met, figures like “Gibson Girls,”  the “Bohemian,” “Suffragist” and “Screen Siren” fashioned new perceptions of women, reflecting the “social, political and sexual emancipation” they achieved over 50 years.

The collection, which visitors can view with an

American Woman via

audio tour, is narrated by a modern American icon from the Big Apple: Sarah Jessica Parker. Costume Institute curator Andrew Bolton, told WWD, “Because of Sex and the City, she is so much associated with New York and with America, and with using fashion as a way to shape identity.”

This weekend I plan to see the exhibit in person, but today I took a sneak peak at the Met’s Collection Database online. I found the timeless elegance of Charles James‘ draped gowns from the 1930’s and 40’s to contrast sharply with the spritely summer dresses by Jeanne Lanvin, which seemed to step out of the opulence of The Great Gatsby. Yet, earlier pieces, like the antiquated black riding habit crafted by Frederick Loeser & Company, date back to 1897 and speak to the adventure women had when they were not tending the kitchen, but out in the world, looking crisp and athletic compared to the intricate and traditional ballgowns by the House of Worth.

Coincidentally, the structured riding habit also caught the eye of Anne Christensen of the New York Times, as she searched for American designers in the showcase. “The long black riding habits in this room were designed by Frederick Loeser & Co., which was founded in Brooklyn in 1887 and was in business up until 1952.” To view photos of the collection and to read her insight from a preview of “American Woman,” read “Now Showing.”

I look forward to experiencing this time of women’s stylish evolution, a complex slice of life, at a time when great American women are not simply defined by what they wear, but by what they can learn, create and do.

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What About the Girls?

Image by bass_nroll via Flickr

There are two very important topics relating to girls’ self-esteem weighing heavy on my mind lately.  Both deal with the fate of young women and how they think of themselves and each other.

Cyberbullying and Teens

First, I’d like to call attention to the recent surge of suicides among teen girls due to cyberbullying.

In Massachusetts, 15-year-old Phoebe Prince hung herself two months ago after repeated verbal assaults by classmates on social networking sites. And, horror of horrors, the nine bullies who are being charged with harassment, stalking and rape, mocked her death online after she passed.

According to an article in the New York Times, “two boys and four girls, ages 16 to 18, face a different mix of felony charges that include statutory rape, violation of civil rights with bodily injury, harassment, stalking and disturbing a school assembly. Three younger girls have been charged in juvenile court, Elizabeth D. Scheibel, the Northwestern district attorney, said at a news conference in Northampton, Mass.”

There’s a similar case underway in New York regarding 17-year-old Alexis Pilkington and the harassment she experienced on Facebook that also drove her to commit suicide. Both of these incidences show the intense need for intervention among teen interactions. In both cases, boys and girls were involved in the torment of these girls.  And, given how easy it is to verbally attack someone on Facebook or Twitter, we need to find ways of protecting girls’ self-esteem — and their lives. Even bullying among boys is often related to gender issues, specifically the notion of being more “masculine.”  Blogger Kelly Croy talks about his experiences with bullies and what he thinks people should know about it.

Not sure what cyberbullying is exactly?

  • Sending mean, vulgar, or threatening messages or images via email, text, instant message, or by posting on social networking sites.
  • Posting sensitive or private information about another person (this includes sexting).
  • Posing as someone else to make that person look bad online.
  • Intentionally excluding someone from an online group.

In an article I wrote for Channel One News you can get a closer look at cyberbullying and its affect on teens, including very interesting studies about teen behavior online and information about the psychological effects of bullying:

Women’s History Month: What Girls Need to Know

One of my other concerns for girls and young women involves self-esteem and pride. I was thinking about Women’s History Month.  I haven’t seen many tributes to women in the media. Have people forgotten about the rich cultural history women’s rights has brought to the world? Shouldn’t we be teaching young women to take pride in their accomplishments and honor those of other women?

I read this article by Allison Kimmich, about how women’s historical achievements should be incorporated in school curriculum better.  Kimmich is right. Much of what is taught about women leaders, revolutionaries, writers and activists ends up in the recycle bin after the month is over. We need to move beyond creating poster boards and find ways of including women in the classroom.

Kimmich makes another great point, women also need to be encouraged in the fields of math, science and technology. She recounted an anecdote about her daughter that reminiscent of the classroom gender dynamic many experience growing up.

“When my daughter was 5, she announced after school one day that ‘girls don’t do science.’ And in a recent meeting, her third-grade teacher praised her for helping a male classmate keep his desk neat.  So my daughter learned quickly that girls are not ‘supposed’ to excel in certain subjects, but teachers reward ‘feminine’ behaviors such as caretaking and neatness — sometimes more than, or in place of academic performance.”

Though these two aspects of you gender culture among youth seem disparate — they are not.  The subjugation of young girls and the pressure to be “feminine,” which can include taking abuse, not standing up for one’s self and even being tidy in the classroom, are all gender norms we impose upon young girls. We must teach them to defend who they are and their interests in order to preserve and encourage self-esteem among girls and women.

Until we are willing to accept that these problems are gender related and the roots lay deep in the stereotypes females grow from — we will continue to see young women suffer from problems like cyberbullying, low-self esteem, depression, suicide and even a disinterest in more “masculine” studies like math and science.

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Legislation Opens to Women in India

Henna Wedding Decoration, Pune, India
Image by racoles via Flickr

The hands of government are opening and welcoming women into power with a bill that will likely pass allowing 1/3 of the legislation seats be designated for women.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh described the 186-1 vote to the Associate Press, a “historic step forward toward emancipation of Indian womanhood.” Given India’s history of oppression among women — from the systematic killing of female fetuses, the banishment of widows and the dowry system, the Prime Minister’s goal to improve the lives of women in India is not only bold, it’s much needed.

According to the Economist, “Women are missing in their millions — aborted, killed, neglected to death. In 1990 an Indian economist, Amartya Sen, put the number at 100m; the toll is higher now.” And, despite the awareness raised by news articles, human rights groups and documentaries like the ones featured in my post “A Women’s Work is Never Done,” change needs to come quickly.

With women working in legislation, it will happen.

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Totally for Taj

After our tiger sighting we decided to leave Ranthambore a day earlier than planned.  Since we saw a tiger on our first try we left for Agra early Thursday morning and drove for seven hours.  We found Agra to be very different from the other two cities that make up the Golden Triangle.  Both Delhi and Jaipur are cleaner than Agra.  The shops seem more run down and the streets aren’t paved as well, which seems backwards since the Taj Mahal brings so many visitors to the city.  During our short time there we stayed at the Clarks Shiraz Hotel, one of the hotels in the Clarks Group chain.  It is the sister hotel to the Clarks Amer (where the conference was held).  Our transition from tent to nice hotel was not as drastic as you’d think.  We slept just as well in both places.

trip 339

We went to the Taj on Thursday afternoon before sunset.  Hundreds of foreigners and Indians filled the grounds of the Taj Mahal.  Fountains reflected the special tomb made by a king for his queen.  As we walked around I kept thinking, “I can’t believe we are actually here!”  The intricate work of marble, gemstones and carvings were breathtaking.  Even the maintenance work was interesting to look at.  They’ve cleaned two sides of the Taj for the first time.  Workers climb scaffolding in order to plaster mud which removes the dirt and stains on the marble.  Using dirt to clean, not an unfamiliar technique to those of us who have had a facial, eh?

We had a guide who led us around the monument telling us about the Arabic inscribed along the entry and within the tomb.  Verses from the Koran are engraved into the marble getting progressively larger the higher it is on the wall that way it looks the same from the bottom.  Before entering the Taj or the identical mosques on either side, we had to put wraps over our shoes.  As we walked around the Taj the sun began to set and the lighting around the structure was incredible.  The entire building glowed.  It was stunning. 

trip 397

The next morning we hoped to see the Taj at sunrise since our driver Shakti said it was so beautiful.  We got up at 5:30 a.m. and drove to the other side of the river across from the monument.  There were quite a few people who were already awake getting ready for the day.  Some were already keen to sell us stuff.  We walked out to the riverbed from the road and waited for the sunrise.  We even collected some followers including a boy with a camel.  The Taj was pretty in the morning, but it was kind of cloudy so we didn’t get the effect Shakti was hoping for us to see.

Afterwards we (some of us) went back to sleep for a couple of hours before breakfast.  When we awoke we had breakfast together, packed our bags and got in the car again!  This time we went to the Agra fort, a much larger red fort similar to the one in Delhi.  Made from red sandstone and some parts of marble, the son of the king who made the Taj lived in this fort.  He also imprisoned his father there.  I imagined him locking his father in a dungeon or something, but in reality the king was given luxurious accommodations and 5,000 women for his harem overlooking the exquisite tomb he had made for his wife.

We also went to a shop where descendants of the craftsmen who did the marble work for the Taj.  There were incredible tabletops, boxes, plates, vases and other things made from marble and inlaid stones like jade, jasper, onyx, lapis lazuli, mother of pearl and carnelian.  After viewing their studio and extensive collection, we continued our road trip by leaving Agra and heading to see a walled city called Fatehpur Sikri.  I’ll tell you more about our adventure to Fatehpur Sikri and the crazy dust storm we experienced while there in my next e-mail. 

Here are the Taj photos: