New Congresswomen 2017

screen-shot-2017-01-09-at-11-00-58-amCatherine Cortez Masto is the First Woman elected to the Senate from the State of Nevada. In addition she is the first Latina ever elected to the Senate. A Democrat, she replaced former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. She was sworn in this month, along with three other new women members of the Senate (all Democrats):

–Kamala Harris of California replaced outgoing Barbara Boxer;

–Tammy Duckworth of Illinois defeated Mark Kirk; and

–Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire defeated Kelly Ayotte

Another seat held by a woman, that of Barbara Mikulski of Maryland who retired, was filled by a man, bringing the net change of women in the Senate to +1. In the previous Congress 20 women served in the Senate; now the number is 21 women.

Only 50 women have ever served in the United States Senate. I realize we are late coming to the game, as we couldn’t vote for 60% of our nation’s history. But come on, we have had the vote for 96 years. We still only fill 21% of the seats in the Senate and twenty-two states have never elected a woman to the Senate.

screen-shot-2017-01-09-at-11-02-14-amThere are two new First Women in the House of Representatives: screen-shot-2017-01-09-at-11-01-26-amIlhan Omar of Minnesota is the first Somali-American lawmaker and Pramila Jayapal of Washington is the first East Indian-American to serve in the House.

There are 52 new members in the House of Representatives. One-half are Republicans and one-half are Democrats. A grand total of eight are women, 15% of the incoming class. Of those, two are Republicans and six are Democrats. There will be a total of 83 women in the House of Representatives, 19% of the body. This percentage means that almost half the countries of the world exceed the United States in the percentage of women represented in their governing bodies.

Although the numbers of women are discouraging, I found something encouraging among the incoming Representatives. In addition to the two First Women in the House, who represent minorities in this country, there is also a Vietnamese refugee going to Congress, Stephanie Murphy, formerly named Đặng Thị Ngọc Dung. Another newcomer, a gentleman from California, was born in Mexico and his father was a farmworker. Perhaps the congress is slowly beginning to reflect this country. Unfortunately for women, however, at the current rate of progress, it will be another century before women achieve parity in Congress.

 

Wonder Woman Firsts

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This year the United Nations selected Wonder Woman as an honorary ambassador to promote gender equity. An uproar ensued, and the United Nations withdrew the ambassadorship because Wonder Woman was too sexy. Apparently strong women cannot also be sexy women.

Fortunately, the United Nations did not have the authority to compel the United States Postal Service to stop issuing a Wonder Woman stamp in October (with a preview at Comic-Con in July). In celebration of the 75th anniversary of Wonder Woman—she first appeared in 1941—USPS printed four power poses, representing four ages of Wonder Woman.

In the first row she wields a hammer. Although this image carries an allusion to Thor, it is intended to represent the Modern Age and show Wonder Woman’s “power and determination.” The second row represents the Bronze Age, with bullets bouncing off Wonder Woman’s bracelet as she fights injustice. In the third row Wonder Woman has her golden lasso close at hand, the instrument with which she compels her enemies to tell the truth. (Where is she when we need her so today?) Representing the Silver Age, and demonstrating her strength and speed, she “prefers compassion to the use of brute force.” Finally, we see Wonder Woman of the Golden Age, just as William Moulton Marston created her. Yes, you read that correctly. She was created by a man. It was his wife who suggested that Marston create a woman superhero, but it was Marston’s belief in a woman’s strength and ability to determine her own path in life that led Marston to imbue Diana Prince with power and dignity.

Nor did the United Nations have the ability to diminish the honor bestowed by Entertainment Weekly earlier this year. The magazine evaluated 50 Superheroes along a number of dimensions and Wonder Woman came out on top. Granted, the ten criteria used to evaluate the superheroes included Cultural Impact and Modern Relevance, where Wonder Women received perfect scores. Her overall score of 90.3 (out of a potential 100) just beat out Spider-Man at 90.0 and Batman at 89.7.

The United Nations also could not stop the production of a movie about Wonder Woman—the first movie about a woman superhero. To put this in perspective: Batman has had nine movies made about him and Superman has headlined seven. And to put icing on the cake: A woman, Patty Jenkins, will direct. Jenkins has the distinction of being the first woman hired to do a Marvel movie. She was to direct the sequel to Thor but “creative differences” led to another director taking over. Jenkins credits the studio for hiring her, even if she did not complete the movie. The movie about Wonder Woman is scheduled for release in 2017.

 

For more Information on Wonder Woman: I highly recommend Jill Lepore’s book The Secret History of Wonder Woman

Women’s Day – Election, 2016

screen-shot-2016-11-08-at-4-08-46-pmBoth of the editorials in The Seattle Times today are about women, not surprising given that today is historic. For the first time since this country was founded we are voting in an election where a woman is a major contender for the Presidency.

Hillary Clinton is not the First Woman to run for President,but she is the First Woman to represent one of the major political parties. Translation: This is the first time a woman has the possibility of gaining the Presidency. So, it’s not surprising that one of the editorials in today’s paper was about her. The evidence of how far women have come, after slogging through centuries of battles, is apparent.

But, the evidence is also there for how much work remains, right there in the second editorial about how Harvard University cancelled the season for their men’s soccer team after the team produced “scouting reports” on the women’s soccer team, ranking them by appearance and ideal sexual position.

It is important that we not become complacent because a woman has the opportunity to reach the top of the government. After all, only 20% of the Senate seats are filled with women and a slightly smaller percentage in the House of Representatives—and men still rank women by their appearance and not their skill. We must remain vigilant if women are to be assured that their views and opinions are considered, that they can affect how this country treats its citizens and one another.

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Today’s paper also carried an obituary for Janet Reno. The article points out that she was the First Woman Attorney General in the United States, appointed by Hillary Clinton’s husband. It recounts her achievements and her mistakes. What it does not mention is her terrific sense of humor. She was an amazing woman, full of strength and an ability to laugh. I wish I could have met her.

Fanfare for the Uncommon Woman

screen-shot-2016-10-26-at-12-58-35-pmLast weekend I attended a concert by the Lake Union Civic Orchestra and found a First Woman in the program. But, first, about the concert.

I was attracted to the concert because they were playing two fanfares: Aaron Copland’s stately Fanfare for the Common Man and Joan Tower’s energetic Fanfare for the Uncommon Woman. The Copland I knew well, but I had never heard the Tower piece before.

Although they are scored for the same instruments (with Tower using a bit more percussion), they are a contrast in gender. Copland’s fanfare is a majestic melody, fit for royalty. It is often used for sports spectaculars, corporate promotions, commercials, and space flights. Tower’s fanfare is more frenetic, much like a woman’s life. And yet the repeated patterns exchanged between instruments felt like cooperation between disparate elements, an art women learned long ago.

One of the most entrancing parts of the concert evening was watching the percussion players. Two of the three were women and they were amazing. During the Copland fanfare, the bass drum player struck the massive drum with her whole body, not just her arm, lifting herself off her feet. During the Tower fanfare, the timpanist made sounds on the kettledrums I had never heard before. Mallets, sticks, wrists, and flickering fingers flew through the Tower piece.

Joan Tower says her fanfare honors “women who take risks and are adventurous.” Doesn’t that include most women? Aren’t most women “uncommon” in that they are capable of amazing things? Perhaps Joan Tower’s Fanfare for the Uncommon Woman should be the theme song for my First Woman Project.

First Woman: Tower dedicated her fanfare to Marin Alsop who, as music director for the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, was the First Woman conductor of a major U.S. metropolitan orchestra. Alsop is also music director of the Sao Paulo State Symphony Orchestra. She has won prizes and recognition for her conducting throughout the world. One of her first awards, the Koussevitzky Prize awarded to the outstanding student conductor at Tanglewood, was also presented to Seiji Ozawa and Michael Tilson Thomas when they were at Tanglewood as students.

You can see Marin Alsop conducting Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZdqjcMmjeaA

Sutematsu Yamakawa Oyama – First Japanese Woman to Earn a Bachelor’s Degree

screen-shot-2016-10-12-at-1-19-01-pm        Sutematsu Yamakawa Oyama was the first Japanese woman to earn a bachelor’s degree. Her remarkable feat occurred in the late 1800’s at Vassar College. Sutematsu was part of a Japanese experiment that is engagingly recounted in Daughters of the Samurai by Janice P. Nimura.

After Admiral Perry’s show of force in Japan’s Edo Bay, as the era of the samurai is ending, five young girls are selected to come to the United States. Their mission is to learn American culture and return to Japan to help the isolated Japanese kingdom progress to a culture that will have credibility in the “civilized” world.

Three of the girls, Sutematsu among them, remain in the United States for ten years. What they learn is to be curious, well-bred, and independent. What Japan wants is women who can teach other Japanese women to be “cultured,” but only as intelligent partners for their husbands and role models for their children. Japanese men do not see women as independent of the family. All three of the girls struggle with the conflict between their acculturation into American ideas and the reality of Japanese culture.

In Japan the three take different paths. One, Ume Tsuda, remains unmarried, an unusual situation in Japanese culture and eventually establishes a school where English is taught as she wishes, rather than as the Japanese culture had dictated. Another, Shige Nagai Uriu, teaches the music she learned in America, marrying and struggling to balance her work life with her career.

Sutematsu marries well, to a man who becomes general of the Imperial Japanese Army. At first it appears that, in spite of the fact that she does not read or write Japanese well, she has succumbed to Japanese culture and is filling her designated role in Japanese society. However, Sutematsu quietly goes about acculturating Japanese women to Western ways, teaching them about philanthropy and public service. She also raises funds for her friend’s English school and assures that the Empress knows of their success.

Daughters of the Samurai is beautifully written. The author pulls you into the scenes with her meticulous descriptions. She uses letters written by the girls and their correspondents, but never makes the reader feel as if she is merely quoting; the quotations flow naturally from her storytelling. I highly recommend this book.