Monday, November 20, 2006

10 things YWTF members can do over Thanksgiving in the spirit of sisterhood

Thanksgiving is a special time in which friends and family come together and share a fantastic meal symbolic of the thanks we offer for the bounty that has been bestowed upon us. It’s also a unique opportunity to strengthen the bonds of sisterhood, both within your family and outside of it. Even though the women in your family and friends might drive you crazy sometimes, no one’s perfect, and we should all take the time to recognize the love and thanks we have for their presence in our lives.

10. Invite over all of the young moms you know (and their children) and have a special kid-friendly Thanksgiving arts and crafts party. Trace your hands to make turkeys, press leaves in wax paper, serve apple cider and turkey sandwiches with the crusts cut off. Sometimes Thanksgiving dinner can be so formal and stressful for mothers of young children; this event lets them relax and have fun while somebody else (you) does all the work.

9. Volunteer at your local women’s shelter! Thousands of women and children are displaced from their homes every year from poverty, natural disasters, domestic violence, and unemployment. They deserve a yummy dinner, too! Many shelters house their own Thanksgiving events, and need volunteers to donate, serve, and prepare food.

8. Invite all of your sisters over for a post-Thanksgiving leftover party. Open-faced turkey sandwiches taste better the next day, and besides, the women in your life are perfect for sharing stories about what your crazy family members did this year. You’ll all be glad for the excuse to leave the house and catch up.

7. Read Leslie Marmon Silko’s Yellow Woman and a Beauty of the Spirit: Essays on Native American Life Today. Since Thanksgiving is the closest thing we have to commemorating the indigenous peoples of America, we should take the time to educate ourselves about their societies (some of which were abound with female leaders!) and remember what this empire took from them. Also, Native American mythology is absolutely fascinating, and full of vibrant and awesome female characters you’ll be sure to draw inspiration from.

6. Let all of your sisters know how much they mean to you! The actual giving of thanks is often reserved for the dinner table, but that doesn’t mean you can’t show people outside of your immediate family your gratefulness. Send a card, or an email, or even just a text message, thanking them for something they did for you that year, or just for being there.

5. Especially with older couples, women are expected to prepare and serve dinner without question—Thanksgiving, and year-round. Turn this idea on its head by arranging for the male members of your family to serve everything, while the women stay seated and enjoy being waited upon. Have boys pull out chairs and set place cards, while their dads handle the heavy stuff.

4. Invite a friend who is single or whose family lives far away to have dinner with you and yours. I speak from personal experience when I say that there is nothing sadder than eating take-out on Thanksgiving alone because you couldn’t make it to see your mom. Your friend will be relieved to have plans, and removed from the situation enough to laugh at your crazy uncle (everybody has one) from a safe distance.

3. If you are going to be around extended family over the holidays, take the time to talk to the older women at the table—your grandmothers, great-grandmothers, aunts, great-aunts, etc. I once had an assignment over Thanksgiving to do an in-depth interview with my Gram, and I learned so much more about who she was than I had over years of polite conversation. These women have been through it all, so why not run some of those big questions that have been plaguing you by them? They’ll be sure to give you an answer that will make you think, and probably laugh as well.

2. Let the women dining at your house know that there will be no weight-watching at your table. Thanksgiving is a celebration of bounty, and everyone who is lucky enough to partake of such a beautiful meal should be able to enjoy it without guilt or self-hatred, if for just this one day of the year. Make sure everyone knows that fat jokes and the like will not be looked upon kindly by their gracious hostess, and that she will insist on second helpings for everyone.

1. Do not, I repeat, do not let the matriarchs of your family do the clean-up. In my family, my grandmother, great-grandmother, and great-aunt do all of the cooking. Sometimes they let my dad help (he’s a chef), but no one else is permitted to set foot in their kitchen, and that’s fine with me. However, I have to return the favor. Following the age-old rule of “if you made it, you shouldn’t have to clean it,” I believe that the arduous task of clearing the table and scrubbing pots should be left up to us young’uns. Even if your obsessive-compulsive great-grandmother does come and rearrange the dishes in the dishwasher as soon as you’re done.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Election Day

Every other November 6th, I ask my friends, “So are you voting tomorrow?”

Needless to say, I’ve heard every excuse and argument in the book.

You forgot to register. You saw what happened with the 2000 elections, and you don’t think your vote counts anyway. None of the candidates is especially appealing to you, and you’d rather not be forced to choose the better of two evils. You’re just not a political person. All of those nasty smear ads on TV are confusing, and a big turn-off. You meant to stop by the polls, but you were just really busy that day. Or, my personal favorite, you refuse to stoop to contribute to a system which is, in your opinion, farcical in terms of achieving real democracy.

As something of a skeptic myself, I understand where this type of disenchantment comes from. In recent years, the level of corruption at the highest echelons of government has become too obvious to ignore, often reinforcing beliefs held by many that the political structure is not a trustworthy one. What happened with the electoral college six years ago was certainly discouraging. And, I will be the first to admit that, at times, I’ve felt overwhelmed by the sheer Orwellian overtones of it all. But let’s be realistic: it’s not a conspiracy. Even though our forefathers were rich old men who didn’t give a thought to the rights of women or people of color, they did get one thing right: checks and balances. It’s a beautiful concept, or at least it’s meant to be. But a system that’s designed to be of the people, for the people, by the people, is not going to mirror its constituents if they do not care enough to vote. It’s just not going to work. Legislative elections are the very meat and potatoes of democracy—there is no electoral college. Your vote directly determines who will represent you and your community in our nation’s forum.

There are a unique set of challenges facing the woman who votes. Often, women are encouraged to simply vote as their husband does. They certainly are not targeted enough in campaign ads or outreach, and there are precious “spin-free” few media outlets that focus on educating women about the candidates and issues that are most likely to concern them. And, of course, we are significantly underrepresented in the executive, legislative, and judicial branches. However, we also happen to comprise a huge chunk of the electorate. Women aged 18-40 are more likely to vote than our male peers, but we’re still teetering around the fifty-percent range. What about that other fifty percent? Everybody has a reason to vote, because everybody is affected by the outcome of an election. This year, with a record 2,431 women vying to join the 240 female “holdovers” who weren’t up for reelection this year, we’re looking at a more female-friendly Congress than ever before.

There are a myriad of issues which directly affect younger women at stake in this election! Are you and your partner married? If not, the medical benefits, domestic violence statutes, and other forms of protection offered to you by the state could be in jeopardy. This affects you! Do you make a living wage, or think that the minimum wage should be raised? This affects you! Do you, or do you plan on having children that you will be sending through the public school system? This affects you! Do you think women should have the option of a safe, sterile abortion? This affects you! Do you want to keep paying exorbitant gas prices or develop cheaper, safer alternative fuel sources? This affects you! Would you be comfortable in your kids’ sexual education if all they knew was abstinence? All of this effects you! And there’s so much more. I’ll spare you the piece about how women fought for the right to vote for years and how not voting is a betrayal of your heritage if you promise to just do it. Tell your friends. Tell your neighbors. Organize a carpool, or find one that already exists in your area. Do whatever you have to do. Just do it!

Here are some neat links to voting initiatives and resources for the educated female voter.

Voting Vixen
Women's Voices, Women Vote
Emily’s List’s WOMEN VOTE!
Center for American Women in Politics at Rutgers
Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning & Engagement
League of Women Voters