The Afghan Women’s Writing Project

The Afghan Women’s Writing Project was conceived by Masha Hamilton after her last trip to Afghanistan in 2008. She became concerned that we were losing the voices of Afghan women and came up with the Project as a way to have access to their hopes, fears and dreams not filtered through men or the media. All of the women write at least partially in secret and often go through a lot to gain access to a computer.

The Afghan women work with women writers from the U.S., who teach and encourage them in online workshops. Women writers are used because of cultural inhibitions about working with men. Submissions are edited in a back-and-forth process for grammar and clarity, but remain the works of the original authors. All the work done on behalf of the Project is done pro-bono.

Here is a particularly poignant excerpt from one of the pieces:

“Afghan women have wings for flying. Afghan women want to be free like other birds that fly into the blue sky. But ancient cultures and old thoughts have clipped their wings and, like birds alone in cages, they remain looking out, waiting to fly to the highest point in the sky.

“Afghan women quickly become old, their wishes carried with them to the grave. Still, their children remain, becoming brave women and men. Afghan women want their children to complete their wishes. Then the souls of Afghan women are happy.”

In addition to letting the voices of Afghan women be heard and instilling a sense of pride in them, the hope is that readers will gain a broader and deeper understanding of what life is like in Afghanistan for all its inhabitants.

Please take the time to leave a comment for the writers. They work in such isolation and under such difficult conditions that any feedback or commentary helps them know they are being heard and is greatly appreciated.

Donations are also welcomed for the purchasing of laptops and thumb drives for each of the Afghan women writers. They can then write in private where they will not attract undue attention and a sympathetic male can take the thumb drive to an Internet cafe and email their writings.

Here is a Fox news story about readings of these women’s writings done by professional actresses at the Museum of Tolerance.

Antoinette Brown: Feminist Foremother

It is hard for us today to imagine a time when women were denied leadership positions, in religion and in society. One woman who did as much as any to break down the barriers was Antoinette Brown (1825-1921), who was the first woman to be ordained as a minister in the United States, and who led a long and active life as a reformer, public speaker and writer. Despite her achievements, she is not as well known as her peers, such as Lucy Stone, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony.
Antoinette Brown

Brown joined the Congregational Church when she was nine and often preached in the church in her youth. Starting at the age of sixteen she taught school in order to earn her tuition t0 the relatively new Oberlin College* in Ohio where she completed her Bachelor’s degree in 1847. She then approached the school with a request to join its theological course with the goal of becoming a minister. The administration, which was initially opposed to any woman receiving any kind of formal education in theology, finally agreed to allow her to enroll, with one stipulation: she would never receive any formal recognition of her ministry.

Without a preacher’s license she was forced to employ public speaking and writing as ways to spread her views on the abolition of slavery, women’s rights, temperance and women’s suffrage. She spoke in 1850 at the first National Women’s Rights Convention, as well as at many of the annual Conventions thereafter. She wrote for Frederick DouglassThe North Star (an abolitionist newspaper) and exhibited the beginnings of a feminist theology in her essay on St. Paul which was published in the Oberlin Quarterly Review.

She was finally given a license to preach by the Congregationalist Church in 1851 and a position as a church rector the following year. In 1856, despite her original conviction that it would be better to stay single, she married Samuel C. Blackwell (whose brother, Henry, married Lucy Stone, another women’s rights activist and friend of Brown’s). In 1857, she left the ministry to resume her career as an orator and reformer.

While many women’s rights activists opposed religion on the basis that it oppressed women, Brown believed that women’s active participation in religion could serve to further their status in society.  While she believed that the inherent differences between men and women limited men’s effectiveness in representing women in politics she also felt that suffrage would have little positive impact for women unless it was coupled with tangible leadership opportunities. Brown also split from other reformers with her opposition to divorce. [Wikipedia]

Eventually her domestic responsibilities caused her to curtail her speaking engagements and she began to concentrate on her writing. Despite having seven children (two of whom died in infancy), she wrote extensively on theology, science and philosophy.  She dared to criticize the theories of Charles Darwin and Herbert Spencer even though she considered them to be the most influential men of her day. One of her books,  The Sexes Throughout Nature was based on her argument that evolution resulted in two sexes that were different but equal.

In 1869, Brown and Stone separated from other preeminent women’s rights activists to form the American Woman Suffrage Association over their support of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution. (The mainstream position was to oppose it because it gave black men but not women–of any race–the right to vote.)  In 1873, she founded the Association for the Advancement of Women in an attempt to address women’s issues that similar organizations ignored.

In 1878 she joined the Unitarian church and applied to the American Unitarian Association to be a minister.  That same year Oberlin College awarded her an honorary Master’s Degree. (Thirty years later the college also awarded her an honorary Doctoral degree.) By this time she had resumed her career giving public lectures.

In her later years

Brown lived long enough to see the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which gave women the right to vote, the only participant of the 1850 Women’s Rights Convention to do so. She died the following year at the age of 96.

Her books include:

  • Studies in General Science. New York: G.P. Putnam and Son, 1869.
  • The Sexes Throughout Nature. New York: G.P. Putnam and Son, 1875.
  • The Physical Basis of Immortality. New York: G.P. Putnam and Son, 1876.
  • The Philosophy of Individuality. New York: G.P. Putnam and Son.
  • The Making of the Universe. Boston, Massachusetts: The Gorham press, 1914.
  • The Social Side of Mind and Action. New York: The Neale Publishing COmpany, 1915.
  • The Island Neighbors. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1871. (Novel)
  • Sea Drift. New York: J.T. White & Co., 1902. (Poetry)

Further Reading:

*Established in 1833, Oberlin was the first college in the United States to regularly admit African-American students (1835) and is the oldest continuously operating coeducational institution, having first admitted women in 1837.

The Happiness Index

Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers released a paper in May of this year for the NBER (National Bureau of Economic Research) about “the paradox of declining female happiness. ” Soon after, op-ed columnist for the New York Times  Ross Douthat wrote a column about the paper titled “Liberated and Unhappy.” And now we have Maureen Dowd, another NYT columnist, weighing in on the same topic in “Blue is the New Black.” (I don’t understand the title, but maybe that’s just me.)

We feminists are used to being blamed for all of society’s ills. In fact, women in general ought to be used to that, especially the ones who are uppity enough to sound off about their complaints. Look at parenting: which parent comes under the most fire when it comes to the success of their children? Apparently all the dad has to do is be there to be effective. (How many times have you heard it said that single-parent–read “mother” –households would be better off if there were a man in the house?) But the mother has to do far more than just be there. And God help her, if she doesn’t fulfill all her roles, she will be blamed for the problems her children have, as well as for all the ills of society.

This could be part of the reason women are unhappy. But does it account for their greater unhappiness which has coincidentally occurred since the feminist revolution? Douthat writes:

“In the 1960s, when Betty Friedan diagnosed her fellow wives and daughters as the victims of “the problem with no name,” American women reported themselves happier, on average, than did men. Today, that gender gap has reversed. Male happiness has inched up, and female happiness has dropped. In postfeminist America, men are happier than women.”

Dowd goes a step further:

“When women stepped into male- dominated realms, they put more demands — and stress — on themselves. If they once judged themselves on looks, kids, hubbies, gardens and dinner parties, now they judge themselves on looks, kids, hubbies, gardens, dinner parties — and grad school, work, office deadlines and meshing a two-career marriage.”

And yet how many of today’s women would want to trade their lives for the lives their mothers lived? And is it really all the choices that are making women unhappy?

I have compiled what I call “The Happiness Index.” What it does is list several factors that can contribute to a sense of well-being (or the reverse) and asks a woman to rate where she stands on a scale from 1 to 5, or “very unhappy, “unhappy,” “neutral (neither happy or unhappy),” “happy” or “very happy.”

  1. If you are in a committed relationship, how do you feel about it?
  2. If you are not in a committed relationship, how do you feel about it?
  3. How do you feel about your marital status (single, divorced, married)? (Indicate what your status is.)
  4. How do you feel about being a parent, if you are one?
  5. If you are not a parent, how do you feel about being childless?
  6. If you have a career outside of your parenting and household duties, how do you feel about it?
  7. How do you feel about the work you do outside of the home?
  8. How do you feel about the work you do inside of the home?
  9. How do you feel about how appreciated you are (by partner, child(ren), friends, employer, co-workers)? (Answer for each category.)
  10. How do you feel about your economic status?
  11. How do you feel about where you live (the neighborhood, city, country or your actual home)?
  12. If you have a religious affiliation or a spiritual life, how happy are you with either/both?
  13. How happy are you with the part politics and government play in your life?
  14. No matter what you do, how do you feel about the amount of autonomy you have? (Do you wish you had more or less?)
  15. What is your attitude about your looks?
  16. Are you happy with how you are aging?
  17. How do you feel about your health?
  18. How do you feel about your sex life?

Now add up your scores. The higher the score, the happier you are (and the lower, the unhappier, of course). Pretty simple.

Blaming–or crediting–the feminist movement alone for your unhappiness or happiness is pointless. It’s not the degree of choice that stresses women out, it’s whether or not they have choices. It’s not what your marital status is that makes you happy or unhappy–it’s how you feel about your status, not to mention the quality of the relationships you do have. In fact, what you make of all these situations is the greatest factor of all.

And then there’s the question of the effect feminism itself has had on all of these areas. To what degree can you blame feminism for your looks, how you’re aging and and your health? Does feminism aid or hinder your parenting or relationship skills? Has feminism made your economic situation better or worse (or are there other factors that have contributed to your economic stability or instability? If you are divorced, has feminism given you more power in the negotiations? Do you think you would have gotten that promotion, salary, admission or career without feminism? Has feminism made it more or less likely that you will be stuck in a low-paying job? Would you have had enough courage to ask for sexual satisfaction or to seek out birth control if this were the ’50s?

I deplore knee-jerk reactions in either direction when it comes to the debate about what feminism has done for women–and men–in our society. What is really called for is a thoughtful consideration of all the factors that can influence happiness levels. The pursuit of happiness is a tricky thing, but important enough to be mentioned in our constitution along with life and liberty. What part does feminism play in your life satisfaction? Only you can decide.

The Least of These…

MomsRising reports in its latest email that 7 out of 10 working-age women have no insurance, are underinsured, or are in debt because of medical bills.1 And an estimated 5 million children remain without healthcare.2

And yet the government (federal, state and local) repeatedly cuts programs that benefit these women and children. In Ohio, where I live, Governor Strickland is proposing $2 billion in cuts in areas such as: dental, vision and other Medicaid services for low-income adults, the Passport program that enables the elderly to receive care at home instead of in a nursing home, services to protect children and adults from abuse. In addition, he proposes eliminating preschool for low-income children, a planned expansion of tax-funded health coverage to uninsured children and planned increases in payments to nursing homes caring for the disabled. (Source here.)

Why is it always the least of us who bear the brunt of cost-cutting measures? Anyone who thinks that feminism has won and is no longer needed are not paying attention to the real state of women in this society. We are still relatively powerless when it comes to protecting ourselves and those we love from the ravages of budget-balancing. We still do not earn dollar-for-dollar what men earn and are discriminated against when it comes to job promotions–and this is even when there are more women in college than men. We have won some battles, but not the war.

MomsRising is asking its members to set up local, in-state meetings with their U.S. Senator’s office. These meetings, even though they generally last only 10-20 minutes, are still a valuable tool for bringing women’s concerns to the legislature. Anyone interested in doing so will be provided with all the information they need, including a booklet of true stories. All you need to do is click here. If you’re not sure about setting up a meeting yourself, at least click here for information about similar activities in your area.

Whether you do something through this organization, another one, or just on your own, your voices need to be heard. In most cases, the men in power do not take our plight to heart. They just don’t realize that those who suffer the most in an economy like ours (heck, in any economy or period of time) are those who are the weakest: “the least of these.”

I’ve often thought that you can tell the health of a society by how it treats its women. If the women have a lot of freedom and rights, if they have access to health care and birth control, if they are educated and thriving in the workplace, you will find a strong economy and an advanced level of development. If women are put down, repressed, cut off from health care, birth control, education and job advancement, the society will be struggling, or even dying.

Women can’t afford to let their needs be ignored. Their demands are not selfish or one-sided. Meeting them should be a priority, not an afterthought.

[1] S. D. Rustgi, M. M. Doty, and S. R. Collins, Women at Risk: Why Many Women Are Foregoing Needed Health Care, The Commonwealth Fund, May 2009.

[2] Children’s Defense Fund, Give Voice to Children in the Health Care Debate, http://www.childrensdefense.org/helping-americas-children/childrens-health/health-coverage-for-all-children-campaign/give-a-voice-to-children-in-health-care-debate.html