Tuesday, July 24, 2007

The Green in You: Making Conscious Decisions to Help Our Environment

By: Chantelle Britton

Many of us want to be environmentally responsible, but few of us are willing to make commitments of major lifestyle changes. Luckily, there are simple and effective ways to help our planet and maintain our health and quality of life. If you are not sure where to start, consider the following suggestions.

Bear in mind that the approaches listed below do not in any way encompass all of the practices that you could take to become environmentally conscious. There are many more ways. Visit the websites and resources embedded in this article for more information on how you can play a role in protecting our environment.

1. Start by Educating Yourself
There are numerous resources via the Internet that will give you great and valuable tips on becoming and staying green. Check out Treehugger.com, a web-based magazine dedicated to modern aesthetic environmental practices. Treehugger has “going green guides” that cover everything from personal hygiene to weddings.

Idealbite offers daily doses of sassy and modern tips on eco-friendly living. They send daily e-mails on products and services that not only impact our enviornment, but will impact our lives.

The Center for a New American Dream has valuable information and resources available to help people shop smart and responsibly for the health of all beings.

2. Choose Your Mode of Transportation
Truly consider the amount of fuel consumed through our different modes of transportation. There are a variety of options to think about when choosing your mode of transportation. Some options include walking, cycling, public transportation, car pooling, or if your job allows—work from home (telecommute).

Also, when purchasing a vehicle, consider those that consume the least amount of fuels, such as hybrids, bio-diesel and reduced emission vehicles.

3. Conserve More Water
Water that we use through our taps goes through a energy intensive process of filtering, purifying and transporting, which means that fossil fuel are being emitted each time we turn on the water faucet. Some simple water saving tips include installing water saving shower heads, fixing dripping water faucets, and not letting the water run while you brush your teeth. If you garden, collect rain water instead of using a hose to water your plants.

One other tip to consider is to avoid bottled water. Bottled water is not only a billion dollar industry; its production is affecting our environment in so many ways. Consider this: The US leads the world in consuming bottled water. In 2004, 26 billion liters were consumed and the demand for bottle water is so high that the manufacturing of bottled water requires more than 1.5 million barrels of oil annually, more than enough to fuel 100,000 cars for a year (See: Center for a New American Dream).

4. Consider Your Food Habits
According to Treehugger’s website, there are four basic guidelines to follow to have greener meals. The first guideline is to eat locally. Since most foods travel long distances before you have the chance to enjoy it, locally grown food reduces transportation impacts on our environment. In addition, local growers also spend less energy on packaging processing and shipping their products.

The second guideline is to eat more organically grown foods, such as fruits, vegetables, dairy, eggs, and meat products. Organic products are produced in ways that support healthy people and an eco-friendly environment. Check out the US Department of Agriculture’s website for more organic information.

A third guideline is to consume less meat. Meat stricken diets may not be the best approach for everyone, but lessening the amount of meat you consume can be beneficial to the environment. Many resources are used up to produce meat and meat products. The production process puts strains on our water resources, land and grain resources, not to mention the potential for pollution to soil, air and water.

5. Start Recycling
The common phrase of “reduce, reuse, recycle” comes to mind when you think of recycling, but recycling has become one of the easiest ways of protecting our environment. Most local governments—cities, counties and towns, have some form of recycling program through their trash collecting systems.

Recycling involves breaking down used items into raw materials to make new items. It reduces toxic greenhouse gas emissions and conserves energy. Try, whenever possible, to recycle items such as plastic, paper, aluminum, and glass products. Also consider buying recycled items, such as paper products and even clothes. Contact your local government’s trash collecting system for more information on recycling. Visit Earth911 to find out more.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

"The Neck of the Flower: STEM, an Importnat Aspect of Women's Choices in Careers"

By Christina Stevens-Payne and Martha Young

On July 18, 2007 we went to a briefing, “STEM Education, Girls, and the Challenges that Follow: From the Classroom to STEM Careers,” with speakers Dr. Jacquelynne S. Eccles, Ph.D. and Dr. Laurel L. Haak, Ph.D. STEM is an acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math and for those who may not understand the severity of this topic, understand that there is a huge disparity between men and women in these fields. This briefing discussed the lack of women engagement in STEM careers. According to information reported by Girls Inc., a youth organization that motivates girls at high risk in their academics, there is a misconception that females have a lower aptitude than males in STEM. They stated, “The 2005 National Assessment of Educational Progress in math and science for grades 4, 8 and 12, found the largest gap between boys’ and girls’ scale scores to be a mere four points.” Additionally, half of the finalists in the 2007 Intel Science Talent Search were comprised of girls. While these numbers are very positive, they are not high enough. Girls Inc. also stated that, “Girls continue to lag behind boys in computer science and physics, comprising only 31% of AP Physics test takers and just 16% in AP Computer Science test takers in 2006.”
What really stood out to us was that according to The College Board 2005 Total Profile Report out of all the college-bound seniors in 2005, 15% of the young women planned to major in computer science, 15% planned to major in engineering and 40% planned to major in math. Fast forward to college graduation and according to the National Science Foundation, Division of Science Resources Statistics, Women, Minorities, and Persons with Disabilities in Science and Engineering you learn that women only account for 20% of the bachelor’s degrees in math and computer science. This is shocking to learn considering that women make up 60% of the undergraduate college population. Eccles’ presentation discussed this issue in-depth through her research from over the past 25-30 years, however, there were some key components within the study that didn’t sit well with us and we felt the need to discuss these further, point by point:

She Said….

Eccles said she focused specifically on communities where the participants were more “likely” to achieve higher education. Most of her participants were from the southeast Michigan area and did not include Detroit. (See our rebuttal #1 below)
Eccles said the study was based only on gender and not race, sexuality, gender, and ethnicity. (See our rebuttal #2 below)
Eccles’ study focused on primarily undergraduate and graduate women and their work while only skimming the surface of middle school and high school young teenage women. (See our rebuttal #3 below)
Eccles discussed how dangerous it was that the minority women are not able to get interested in STEM. (See our rebuttal #4 below)

We Said…

First off, it was hard for us to really get a full understanding of this issue without regards to urban and rural lower income young women. We felt the study was biased towards a specific group of participants. Southeastern Michigan is seen as a more affluent and middle class area. Only using those participants, pigeon-holed Eccles’ arguments. She couldn’t make a generalization because she didn’t use a wider range of young women.
You can’t look at women, without taking into consideration ethnicity. You can’t look at women, without taking into consideration poverty. Basically, when you talk about women, you need to include all of these factors.
Generally, since we are in the age bracket of undergraduate and graduate students, we believe young women tend to already have an idea of what they are interested in whether it be math or liberal arts. However, middle and high school students tend to not have an idea of their interests. Consequently, this is the age range where interests are developed and should be were we focus our efforts.
Frankly, it is not an interest issue, but a resource issue. If you have young women who are from a more affluent area they have access to resources in their schools, therefore, becoming interested in STEM. However, if a young woman comes from an area such as the urban or rural locations mentioned earlier, the resources are not always readily available, perpetuating further disengagement and an everlasting and widening gap between the social classes.

After all is said and done, we believe that the original context of the briefing was important and necessary, however, it is important that when researching such a colossal topic, a researcher really must make sure they have dotted all their i’s and crossed all their t’s. Eccles did not do that and we were disappointed at her study and findings, as well as her evidentiary support. Hopefully in the future, other researchers can be more aware of this factor when conducting their studies. We would never want to dissuade or discourage research studies in this field because as we all know, there is a women’s movement and these studies only help it.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Rapping to Destruction: Hip-hop's Damaging Portrayal of Women

Rapping to Destruction: Hip-hop’s Damaging Portrayal of Women
By: Chantelle Britton

Don Imus reminded the world that hip-hop rappers often insult and degrade women. His proclamation was made after he referred to some of the Rutgers University’s Women’s Basketball players as “nappy headed ho’s.” Imus’ comments have resurfaced the complex debate of hip-hop’s degradation of women, particularly black women. Political leaders, activists, celebrities and others described Imus’ statements as deplorable and unacceptable. The result: Imus was fired and branded as a bigot. Not only did Imus’ comments about the Rutgers team offend many, his words about hip-hop’s degredation of women also had a striking impact as politicians, celebrities, and activists discussed the topic.

A few years ago Essence magazine launched a campaign to “Take Back the Music,” which is designed to take a stand on hip-hop’s portrayal of black women. The campaign focuses on providing a platform for discussion on the issue; exploring the effects of hip-hop on children, particularly girls; and supporting artists who promote positivity in their music. This campaign began when a few students from Spellman College, a predominately African-American, all-female college, decided to protest a performance by rapper Nelly at their school’s charity function. Their protest was based on Nelly’s explicit lyrics and graphic sexual imagery in a song called “Tip Drill.”

Before Essence and Spellman students became involved in the debate, the late C. Delores Tucker, a US politician and Chair of the National Congress of Black Women, was an outspoken critic of rap music, primarily in the areas of exploitation of women and gangster rap. Her claim was that the message was breaking down the moral foundation of the African American community in addition to being misogynistic.

Countless others have argued for change in some sectors of hip-hop, particularly rap music. The critique exists and has existed for some time, but some believe that the destruction many sectors of hip-hop are causing is slow to change. Graphic sexuality on music videos and lyrics that encourage “pimpin and ho’in” are regular occurrences on some television programs and on radio stations across America. Songs like “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp” (which won an Academy Award for best original song in 2006) glorify the “lifestyle” of being a pimp and pimpin’ ho’s.

Where does the blame lie? Various sectors of hip-hop dehumanize and demoralize women often in sexually violent and sexually explicit ways. However, the blame cannot only be directed at hip-hop artists or their record label executives. Some blame the women in music videos for furthering a stereotype of black women as being over-sexualized and promiscuous. “Video vixens,” as they are often referred to, argue that this is the best way for them to attain success in their careers as actresses or models. For others the exploitation of their sexuality is primarily about providing for their children.

The easiest solution for an individual is to not watch it, don’t buy it—ignore it, but will ignoring this problem that has a psychological hold on many of our young men and women make it go away? Also will ignoring it, make our communities a better place or rid the world of misogyny and sexism? Probably not, but in order for women to be respected, we must recognize the implications of the messages that are being produced through some sectors of hip-hop.

There may be hope for hip-hop

The culture of hip-hop has evolved tremendously since its origins in New York in the late 1960s to early 1970s. It encompasses a variety of elements including political activism, fashion, slang, music, art (primarily graffiti) and dancing (break-dancing). From Afrika Bambaataa (the Grandfather of hip-hop) to the current beats that can be heard on the airwaves across the country, the hip-hop persuasion has spread across continents. Its influence around the world is vast.

Because of its enormous influence over billions of listeners; hip-hop can be used as a tool for social and cultural change. And in some sectors, it has been. Consider the “Rock the Vote” campaigns and the use of hip-hop in recent elections. The culture of hip-hop can be diverted from misogynistic and exploitative of women. In fact, many rappers do not promote hatred or exploitation of women in their lyrics, but rather they promote their love and dedication for women as witnessed in their lyrics and in their videos. Such main stream and underground/alternative hip-hop rappers include Talib Kweli, Pharaoh Monach, Dead Prez, Common, and Lupe Fiasco.

Additionally, people are realizing the negative messages being delivered to youth and recognizing the exploitation of women through hip-hop. A poll of black Americans conducted by the Associated Press and AOL-Black Voices showed that 50% of respondents say that hip-hop is a negative force in American society. And, though music sales in all genres are down, rap sales have declined 21 percent from 2005 to 2006. Although these statistics are significant, it does give voice to some change. To remedy the solution of misogynistic outlets, we must start with a discussion. And, that discussion will lead to action.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Lobbying for ENDA

The United States Constitution promises an accessible government. However, those we elect to represent us, as U.S. citizens, often seem out of reach. It seems, at times, infeasible to contact the elected body and, as a result, many constituents complain to friends and family when something goes wrong in the political world, rather than to their Representatives, Senators, and President. Many voters, including ourselves until recently, had never taken advantage of our ability to meet with our Congressmen and Senators.
As part of the New Faces, More Voices leadership training program for DC Interns working for Women’s Organizations, though, we had the irreplaceable opportunity to “lobby” for an issue of our choice. After some consideration, we chose the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), a federal bill which would protect against discrimination for sexual orientation and gender identity in the workforce. We then researched when the proposed bill was expected to leave committee, who was co-sponsoring it, and who generally supported the issue of equality, double checking most of our information with the Human Rights Campaign. We then made an adapted sheet of facts about ENDA to leave behind at the congressional offices we visited.
Once all of the research was finished, all that was left to do was make the appointments with the offices of our Congressmen and Senators, which was easier said than done. After several phone calls, emails, and repeated faxing of meeting requests, we were able to secure four appointments with our congressional offices.
On “Lobby Day,” we spoke with staff members, usually Legislative Directors, from the offices of Senator Hutchinson (R-TX), Senator McConnell (R-KY) and Congressman Davis (R-KY), all of whom listened attentively as we described ENDA and the equality it would ensure. At our last appointment of the day, Congressman Yarmuth (D-KY) himself sat down with us to discuss his unwavering support of ENDA and equal rights. Instead of shooing us out of his office after he assured us of his support, he stayed for nearly an hour to discuss student loans, the immigration debate, and the media.

Walking through the halls of the House and Senate buildings and advocating for ENDA was a truly awakening experience. We realized how lucky we are to live in a democratic society where we can express our opinions, not just to our friends, but to those who represent us and vote on the issues of importance. We learned that setting up an appointment and taking the time to go speak with the elected body really does make a difference. After sending those who met with us thank you emails, for example, we received two replies promising updates on the Congressman’s position on ENDA and offers to meet again to discuss any other issue of importance to the young community—proof that our advocacy did not fall on deaf ears.
After our experience, we plan to return to the Hill to lobby others to support ENDA and, after some practice, hope to expand to other issues as well. We hope, too, that all young people will take the time to visit the Capitol or write their Representatives so that, collectively and powerfully, our voices will be heard.

Martha Young and Sarah Brown