A Model for Girls and Women of All Ages

“I have four daughters who have grown or are still growing from childhood through adolescence to womanhood, learning what it is to be a woman and how to make their way in a world in which many men still believe they are entitled to rule. Observing and writing about Catherine, I learned to admire her remarkable human qualities — her intelligence, courage, perseverance, humor, wit, resourcefulness, lack of pretension. Over time, I have come to see her as a model — in some, if not all respects — for girls and women of all ages.”

–Robert K. Massie, author of Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman

Fascinated by writers, she wrote hundreds of letters to the philosophers and authors of her time. Here are a few of her pithy observations:


In my position you have to read when you want to write and to talk when you would like to read.


I am one of the people who love the why of things.


I beg you take courage; the brave soul can mend even disaster.


I like to praise and reward loudly, to blame quietly.


In politics a capable ruler must be guided by circumstances, conjectures and conjunctions.


Power without a nation’s confidence is nothing.


Men make love more intensely at twenty, but make love better, however, at thirty.


Your wit makes others witty.

Sing Truth to Power! We are separate and still not equal.

The National Women’s Political Caucus (NWPC) is a multicultural, inter-generational, grassroots organization dedicated to increasing women’s participation in the political process and creating a  power base to achieve equality for all women. The Caucus offers campaign training for candidates and campaign managers, as well as technical assistance and donations. State-and-local chapters support candidates running for office by raising money and providing volunteer assistance.

Without the Equal Rights Amendment can there be enforcement of equity for women in wages, pension, social security and health care?

The fight for women’s rights is about equal rights for everyone!

Therefore, NWPC has created a video to energize a sense of righteousness among young women who may know little or nothing of the issues around equity.

Visit it at:

The Service Convergence

What do waitresses and women enlisted as soldiers share in common? Wage equity!

Command Sergeant Major Jane Baldwin and Colonel Ellen Haring, both Army reservists, have just filed a lawsuit against the U.S. military’s restrictions on women in combat. They argue that being barred from assignments on the basis of gender violates equal protection under the Fifth Amendment. In February, the Pentagon opened 14,000 more positions to women in the military. However, serving in infantry, armor and special-operations units is still barred due to front-line combat.

Ultimately, such restrictions mean fewer opportunities to rise within the ranks, which results in lower current-and-future earnings and lower retirement benefits.

Meanwhile on the home front:

According to the 2012 Basic-Economic-Security Index, ninety percent of female servers do not earn enough to afford housing, utilities, food, transportation, child care, health care, and emergency and retirement savings. The same sorry state is true for seventy-five percent of male servers. In 1991, a federal provision established a sub-minimum wage ($2.15 per hour) for tipped workers, or $4,333 a year for full-time work. By comparison, the federal, full-minimum wage is $7.25 per hour, about $15,000 a year.

A national-nonprofit, restaurant-worker organization wants to raise the federal minimum wage for tipped workers to seventy percent of regular minimum wage.

Gender inequality is widespread among restaurant workers; female workers averaged $1.53 per hour less than male restaurant workers in 2009.

AAUW advocates for initiatives that seek to close wage gaps between men and women.

The Senate will vote June 5 on the Paycheck Fairness Act (S. 3220), which Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) reintroduced this week with a new bill number to bypass the committee process and go straight to the Senate floor. The bill contains the same content as legislation that fell victim to arcane Senate rules two years ago.

Needless to say, AAUW urges passage of the legislation!
AAUW has been on the frontlines of the pay equity battle for decades, issuing its first of several research reports on the wage gap way back in 1913! We’ve been dealing with this for a century now!

Equal pay for equal work is a simple matter of justice. Wage discrimination impacts the economic security of families today and directly affects retirement security as well. In Michigan, we can all thank Senator Stabenow for her steadfast support of this legislation.

Take a moment to help make this happen. Call 888-876-9527. You’ll receive talking points and be connected to your senators’ offices. In light of our recent Memorial Day remembrance, celebrate your freedom by participating in our democracy.  A lot of people have sacrificed life and limb so that we can!

Where voting is required by law

Decades ago while traveling in Australia, it seemed to me to be quite the freest of places. [There is nothing measured, nor scientific, in that observation.] The further north we drove, the more we felt we had entered “the wild west” of America’s frontier days. Of course, we were hurtling along on largely deserted roads. The greatest danger was the possibility of a kangaroo hopping in front of the car. For the most part, speed limits felt superfluous.



Although driving on the left side of the road in a car equipped with right-hand steering felt preternaturally normal to me, a lifetime lefty, I still occasionally had trouble with left-hand turns, turning into the far, instead of the near, lane. Repeatedly, police pulled us over, chastised us, expressed concern, and always wished us a final “G’day.” Evenings, in some restaurants, we observed drunken louts devolve verbal slurs into messy fisticuffs. All this to say, the country seemed extraordinarily open to individual whims.That’s why I was amazed to learn recently that Australia has mandatory voting and enrolls all eligible adults at age eighteen. It seems oddly un-Australian, not at all in line with my memories of that zany place. It feels left-handed in an upside down sort of way!



However, it got me thinking about how many articles and opinions I have read recently on current voter suppression efforts in the United States of America. What if we flipped our American world upside down and made voting compulsory here? Would it drive people into a paroxysm of proclaiming their rights were being denied? Would they feel their freedom was at risk? Would the State be viewed as unduly oppressive?



Attending school is mandatory. Seat belt use is mandatory. Motorcycle helmets are mandatory in many states. Jury duty is compulsory. Vaccines are mandatory. Age limits are specified for driving and voting. Taxes are certainly compulsory! At one time, military conscription was mandatory here. So what would happen if we made voting mandatory? Would it be a violation of free speech? Clearly, the law would have to grapple with and prescribe permissible reasons for some citizens not to vote.



Ideally, every citizen should feel a duty to participate in decision making; but realistically some would balk. Therefore, if participation were enforced, some consequence would be sought. Community service? A ticket? A fine? Jail time? Some social disgrace? Denial of passport? Denial of some government service? Increased taxation? Instead of thinking about non-compliance first though, let’s consider some potential positive outcomes.



Democracies should  take into account the interests and views of all citizens. Political scientists argue that citizens with lower levels of income and education are less likely to vote, as are young adults and recent first-generation immigrants. Therefore, their needs and concerns can more easily be ignored by politicians. By enhancing inclusiveness, compulsory voting could potentially level the influence-playing fields among citizens of differing incomes, educations and ages.

If citizens are weak, their democracy cannot be strong. In recent years, Americans have become increasingly vocal about their rights and increasingly hushed about acknowledging their civic responsibilities. Perhaps being a citizen simply requires too little of us!

Changes in our political system have magnified disparities.  Mid-twentieth century political machines connected citizens with neighborhood institutions and gave them a sense of significant political participation. Organized labor echoed this. This sort of mobilization has largely evaporated. Mandatory voting  might re-energize the electorate.

Requiring people to vote in national elections once every two years could reinforce pride in a representative form of government through civic participation.  Increasing levels of participation would stimulate civic-and-political education leading to a better informed citizenry.

Mandatory voting would protect the disenfranchised from voter suppression efforts. Everyone would be assured access to voting.

Victorious national candidates would be elected by a majority of the population and claim  more legitimacy than those of non-compulsory systems with substantially lower voter turnouts. Compulsory voting would reflect the “will of the people.”




Australia went from a voter turnout under sixty percent to over ninety percent the first year their compulsory-voting law went into effect. Now it hovers around ninety-five percent! Australians report that voting is now perceived as a civic obligation. Clearly, their law altered civic norms, no small feat in a country that prides itself on nurturing citizens that are feisty and rambunctious. Also, polarization has eased while trust in governmental institutions has been enhanced.

Salute American Servicewomen on Memorial Day

As you experience Memorial Day this year, please take a moment to reflect that women make up more than 15 percent of today’s active duty military forces; and that there are 1.2 million women veterans in America.

The Defense Department lists American Female Casualties of Wars.

World War I: At least 359 servicewomen died, mostly from influenza and vehicle or aircraft accidents.
World War II: 543 died, mostly from vehicle or aircraft accidents. Sixteen Army nurses died from enemy fire.
Korean War: 17 died, mostly from vehicle or aircraft accidents.
Vietnam War: 8 military nurses died, one from hostile fire, one suicide, and the rest from vehicle or aircraft accidents.
Persian Gulf War (Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm): 16 died, mostly from vehicle or aircraft accidents and hostile fire.
Iraq War: 52 have died from hostile fire at base camps or supply convoys

Two decades of  Defense Department policy changes have increased combat risks for servicewomen.
~In 1992, the Air Force allowed women to fly some missions exposed to combat.
~In 1993, the Navy allowed women on combat ships.
~In 1994, female Army soldiers were no longer barred from positions that posed a substantial risk of capture.

Policy states that service members: “are eligible to be assigned to all positions for which they are qualified, except that women shall be excluded from assignment to units below the brigade level whose primary mission is to engage in direct combat on the ground.”  Consequently, women fly helicopters, serve in bomb-disposal squads, drive trucks, handle checkpoints, and treat the wounded on battlefields – leaving them exposed to lethal fire.

~In 1976, West Point, Air Force Academy, and Naval Academy began admitting women.

~Women’s roles were again widely expanded in the 1990s.

~Nine percent of Army jobs are still closed to women; in the Marine Corps it is 38%.

~However, 99 percent of the Air Force’s jobs are open to women!

~In the Navy, women are excluded from ground combat, SEAL teams, special boat units and submarines.

Women are the fastest growing segment of people serving in the military, but they still experience substantial sexual harassment and cultural discrimination due to the military’s male culture and masculine dominance. Twenty percent of servicewomen report being the subject of sexual assault or rape during their time of active duty.

The hierarchical structure and loyalty issues of the military may promote sexual violence and decrease the chances that a victim will tell a superior because victims of sexual trauma in the military are usually younger and of lesser rank than the men perpetrating the crimes. One who reports a sexual crime may face dishonorable discharge or risk blemishing a career.

Even as the racial distribution of those serving in the military grows, minority military personnel find themselves serving amongst a cohort that is 65-70 percent white. Besides having to battle sexism, minority servicewomen may find themselves battling racial stereotypes and cultural discrimination as well.

Clearly, not all military battles occur in theaters of war!

A Name, a Face, a Story

When I went to college, one of the most fascinating courses I took was Michigan History. It was compelling because it made all the institutions, statues and street names that had surrounded my life in Southeast Michigan come to life. As a wise English prof once said, “Story is the primary act of mind.” As human beings, we connect to story on numerous-fundamental levels. My research paper for that history class focused upon Ford-family members and how the institutions named for them had shaped and formed my life.

Last night, Lisa Lark, teacher at Edsel Ford High School and adjunct at Henry Ford Community College, was the guest speaker at our annual-branch-installation dinner. She told us the compelling story of Dearborn, Michigan’s inextricable, tragic, and sometimes achingly ironic links to the war in Vietnam. She has a book coming out in October, and it should be a best seller if it is anywhere near as fascinating as her talk was last night.

Lisa’s father had been a marine, and she grew up instilled with values that celebrated virtues such as  loyalty, duty, courage and service.  Edsel Ford High School holds a Memorial Day ceremony every year to honor the twenty-three veterans from the school who died during the Vietnam conflict. Students asked questions about the deceased that Lisa, their teacher, could not answer; so like all good teachers, she was determined to find the answers.

Her extraordinary research project has personalized Dearborn’s losses. Due to her efforts, faceless names and numbers are being turned back into real individuals.  Even the stories of city politicians and bureaucrats are being fleshed out.  Contacts with families and friends have obviously seared the pain of that conflict into Lisa’s profound understanding of the event. She acknowledged being moved as families shared precious photographs, letters, mementos and tears.

The project which originally focused upon those lost from Edsel Ford High School soon grew to include veterans from the other schools in the community. From there, it grew to include veterans from the entire state!

The City of Dearborn, the Dearborn Allied War Veterans Council (DAWVC) and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund (VVMF) have provided invaluable assistance. The VVMF raised the money to build the memorial, the most famous part of which is the black granite wall designed by architect Maya Lin. Now the same group is raising money for an Education Center to be a companion facility to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial (The Wall). One goal is for the Education Center to have a photograph of each of the 58,272 men and women lost in that conflict. Stories are going to be the primary act of mind there. The Vietnam era was a time of horrific conflict, both at home and in southeast Asia; and conflict is at the heart of all stories.

Lisa Lark deserves our admiration and thanks for a job well done! Her story is a remarkable one.

For more information visit <vvmf.org> .

Nuance Paralyzes America!

“Complexity is, er, complicated: It has been a leading excuse for inaction during atrocities–during the Armenian genocide, during the Holocaust, during Rwanda, during the Bosnian slaughter. Each episode truly was complicated, but in retrospect, we let nuance paralyze us.”

— Nicholas Kristoff

Timothy Williams published a disturbing piece on the front page of today’s New York Times, entitled “For Native American Women, Scourge of Rape, Rare Justice.”

“‘There’s no quick fix. There’s no one thing that will fix the system,’ said Virginia Davis, deputy director for policy development in the [Justice] department’s Office on Violence Against Women. ‘We’re taking a systematic approach to this — thinking about different ways to solve the problem.’”

Ironically, Congress mandated a study in the year 2004 “to examine the extent of sexual violence on tribal lands.” Eight years later, the Justice Department reports that the study remains unfinished. No doubt, nuance has something to do with its inability to bring the study to fruition.

The Justice Department does share some facts however:
~One-in-three American Indian women has been raped or has experienced an attempted rape; more than twice the national average!
~In rural villages, the rate of sexual violence is as much as 12 times the national average.
~Arrests are made in just 13 percent of the sexual assaults reported by American Indian women, compared with 35 percent for black women and 32 percent for white women.
~Indians make up ten percent of the population in South Dakota, but constitute forty percent of the victims of sexual assault.
~Indians make up 15 percent of Alaska’s population, but constitute 61 percent of the victims of sexual assault.
~The Justice Department failed to prosecute 65 percent of the rape cases on Indian reservations in 2011.

The prevalence of sexual assaults may be linked to:
~lack of education about sexual violence
~alcohol abuse
~inter-generational behaviors and attitudes

The difficulties are myriad, due to:
~a shortage of sexual assault kits
~a lack of cameras to document injuries
~too few nurses having been trained to perform rape examinations
~too many tribal police discouraging victims from reporting sexual assaults
~fears of retaliation from attackers who live in close proximity within villages
~isolation and lack of roads
~undependable telephone, electrical and Internet services
~an abundance of convicted sexual offenders living on tribal lands

Sadly, “the Indian Health Service…provides exams for rape victims at only 27 of the 45 hospitals it finances and, according to a federal report in 2011, did not keep adequate track of the number of sexual assault victims its facilities treat”!

The reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act passed in the Senate easily. However, within the House of Representatives, “the issue of sexual assaults on American Indian women has become one of the major sources of discord….” It will be interesting to see if the two bodies can find a compromise. Don’t count on it however. There is just too much nuance for the average House member to handle.

Related posts within this blog:
Senate Reauthorizes VAWA! posted on April 28, 2012
Worthy of Justice — posted on April 27, 2012
April–Sexual Assault Awareness Month in Michigan — posted on April 4, 2012
Victimization of Women — posted on February 24, 2012