Tag Archives: CNN

On the Table: Reproductive Health

As part of the Affordable Care Act, the US Health and Human Services Department just announced new guidelines requiring insurance companies to offer free birth control:

Developed by the independent Institute of Medicine, the new guidelines require new health insurance plans to cover women’s preventive services such as well-woman visits, breastfeeding support, domestic violence screening, and contraception without charging a co-payment, co-insurance or a deductible.

According to the HHS Department website, the following will be included in all health insurance plans at no additional cost by August 1, 2012:

  • Well-woman visits: This would include an annual well-woman preventive care visit for adult women to obtain the recommended preventive services, and additional visits if women and their providers determine they are necessary. These visits will help women and their doctors determine what preventive services are appropriate, and set up a plan to help women get the care they need to be healthy.
  • Gestational diabetes screening: This screening is for women 24 to 28 weeks pregnant, and those at high risk of developing gestational diabetes. It will help improve the health of mothers and babies because women who have gestational diabetes have an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes in the future. In addition, the children of women with gestational diabetes are at significantly increased risk of being overweight and insulin-resistant throughout childhood.
  • HPV DNA testing: Women who are 30 or older will have access to high-risk human papillomavirus (HPV) DNA testing every three years, regardless of pap smear results.  Early screening, detection, and treatment have been shown to help reduce the prevalence of cervical cancer.
  • STI counseling, and HIV screening and counseling: Sexually-active women will have access to annual counseling on HIV and sexually transmitted infections (STIs). These sessions have been shown to reduce risky behavior in patients, yet only 28% of women aged 18 to 44 years reported that they had discussed STIs with a doctor or nurse. In addition, women are at increased risk of contracting HIV/AIDS. From 1999 to 2003, the CDC reported a 15% increase in AIDS cases among women, and a 1% increase among men. 
  • Contraception and contraceptive counseling: Women will have access to all Food and Drug Administration-approved contraceptive methods, sterilization procedures, and patient education and counseling. These recommendations do not include abortifacient drugs. Most workers in employer-sponsored plans are currently covered for contraceptives. Family planning services are an essential preventive service for women and critical to appropriately spacing and ensuring intended pregnancies, which results in improved maternal health and better birth outcomes.
  • Breastfeeding support, supplies, and counseling: Pregnant and postpartum women will have access to comprehensive lactation support and counseling from trained providers, as well as breastfeeding equipment. Breastfeeding is one of the most effective preventive measures mothers can take to protect their children’s and their own health. One of the barriers for breastfeeding is the cost of purchasing or renting breast pumps and nursing related supplies.
  • Domestic violence screening: Screening and counseling for interpersonal and domestic violence should be provided for all women. An estimated 25% of women in the U.S. report being targets of intimate partner violence during their lifetimes. Screening is effective in the early detection and effectiveness of interventions to increase the safety of abused women. 

This historic victory for women’s rights (almost 4 decades after the invention of the birth control pill), came with its critics.  

Colbert comically sums up the retort to the new initiatives:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

CNN reports about the guidelines and their conservative critics:

The decision to offer contraception at no additional cost was not supported by everyone. For example, the Family Research Council claims the decision “undermines the conscience rights of many Americans.”

Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, chairman of Committee on Pro-Life Activities with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops says “pregnancy is not a disease, and fertility is not a pathological condition to be suppressed by any means technically possible.” They feel the decision forces people to participate who may have moral or religious convictions that oppose contraception use.

The Obama administration released an amendment to the prevention regulation that allows religious institutions offering health insurance to their employees the choice of whether or not to cover contraception services.

Here’s a link to the guidelines, with pdfs at the bottom.  Happy Friday!

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On the table, 7/6

Happy 4th!  I’m still recovering from my weekend of little sleep, grilling out, and eating lots of peaches.  I miss it all already.

Here’s what’s been brewing over the weekend:

In his book, Michael Billig coined the term “banal nationalism” to draw attention to the ways in which nationalism was not only a quality of gun-toting, flag-waving “extremists” (p. 5), but was quietly and rather invisibly reproduced by all of us in our daily lives.

So, what’s the problem with banal nationalism?  Sociologists have critiqued nationalism for being the source of an irrational commitment and loyalty to one’s nation, a commitment that makes one willing to both die and kill….  [Read on]

 

Read more: Check out Michael Billig’s book Banal Nationalism

 

 

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A few months ago I read about encouraging advances in the science of male contraception. That led me on a long search to speak to the leading minds in the field.

As readers know, I had a vasectomy several years ago. But I have several buddies who are either on the fence about wanting kids or don’t want them right this second. So, for those guys, I wanted to ask these scientists: What’s taking so long? [Read on]

 Read more:

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Georgia is having mixed results with a new program replacing migrant farm workers with probationers.

Republican Gov. Nathan Deal started the program after farmers complained a crackdown on illegal immigrants was scaring away the mostly Latino workers needed to harvest labor-intensive crops like blueberries and cucumbers.  (This article sparks a plethora of conversation points – worker’s rights, prisoner’s rights, the value of migrant work and the claim that migrant workers take jobs from US citizens, and the intersections of class, race, and ethnicity to name a few.) [Read on]

Read more:

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“The moment when something is transformed into something else is the most beautiful moment; it’s a magical moment,” said Brazilian artist Vik Muniz in the 2010 Oscar-nominated documentary Waste Land (in Portuguese, “Lixo Extraordinário”), directed by Lucy Walker, João Jardim and Karen Harley.

The movie tells the remarkable story of how the “catadores,” scavengers of recyclable materials found in an enormous landfill on the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro, are coached by Muniz to transform mountains of discarded items into breathtaking works of art….[Read on]

 

Read more:

Watch the documentary Wasteland on Muniz’s work.  Check out the trailer here or watch the film on Netflix.

NPR also has a few more articles on the project.  Check them out:

 NPR – “Recyclers Turn Rio ‘Waste Land’ into High Art”

NPR – “Film Chronicles Artist’s Work from Rio Dump” by Pat Dowell

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Word to the Mother

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Baby Storm, posted with vodpod
 
Kathy Witterick, mother of “gender-neutral” Storm speaks out about being a mother, their family’s decision to keep the baby’s sex a secret, and the hoopla it has caused.  (Posted from Men Stopping Violence)

The bus driver smiled at me, my three children, the snacks that were rolling in all directions and the grocery bags hung too heavy on the back of the stroller. As always, he said, “You got everyone?” Then he added, “I haven’t seen you this week!” I was so relieved. “I’m glad to hear that,” I said.

We went to soccer class, played in the park with friends, read books at the library, learned a little bit about dinosaurs and observed the butterflies that only yesterday hatched from chrysalises in our kitchen. Jazz and Kio drew pictures. Jazz wanted to go to badminton at a local gym. An ordinary day.

My name is Kathy Witterick. I’m shy and idealistic, and all my life I’ve worked in the field of abuse and violence prevention. I married a teacher named David Stocker and we have three children.

Jazz is five years old. Since he was a young baby, he’s enjoyed colour, texture and vibrancy. When he was 18 months, he loved to wear layers of wildly striped and mismatched clothing and when his grandparents took him to get his very first pair of shoes, he chose the ones with orange toes and pink flowers on the side. When his brother was born, I joked I’d grow old as woman in a man’s world.

As Jazz grew, his love of bright colours (especially pink) and lots of fabric (especially dresses) continued, and he wanted to grow his hair. The older he became, the more he met with pressure from peers and adults to adjust his image and “act more like a boy.” Jazz remained committed to his own style.

I re-read the research and approaches of Alfie Kohn, Barbara Coloroso and Adele Faber to find ways to support him. The firm rule around self image became: it has to be clean and healthy, but you can choose the colours and the lengths.

When Storm was near arrival, Jazz was listening to Free to Be You and Me on repeat (it was a gift from a friend). He wondered if people would respond differently if they didn’t know the baby’s sex. What gifts would they bring? If Storm were a boy, would he be allowed to wear dresses? Pink?

There are these moments as a parent when you wish your child could bring a different issue to the table — but there it is, plop! And if you really mean what you say about being kind, honouring difference, having an open mind and placing limits thoughtfully where they help children develop competencies and be safe, then you better walk the talk.

We agreed to keep the sex of our new baby private.

It is true that an infant, at four or five months is still learning to recognize themselves — to look in the mirror and think, “Hey, that’s me!” — and is not ready developmentally to find a place in a gender binary. It is true and demonstrated in research and in the day to day world that strict gender stereotyping causes suffering to both men and women. So surely, we thought, people would understand our five-year-old’s curiosity about why people need to know the baby’s sex.

The events of the last week suggest otherwise.

More accurately, we have received many letters that include intelligent, heartfelt, research and experience based support for the idea. We’ve also heard some articulate and meaningful concerns expressed. We’ve witnessed a discussion erupt that could be transformative. It is important to challenge orthodoxies and raise questions, because the discussion that emerges not only “outs” issues (in a rush to pass judgment, people articulate prevailing views, prejudices, and misconceptions), but also has the effect of helping people examine whether they truly do believe the status quo to be the best that we can do. Will these norms grow healthy, happy, kind, well adjusted children?

The strong, lighting-fast, vitriolic response was a shock. These voices demonstrate how much parents are in the world’s critical eye — in particular mothers, who are judged based on little (mis)information and not offered opportunities to share, grow, learn and be supported and celebrated by the community to raise children.

The psychologist on the Today Show for example, was willing to make strong, unqualified conclusions about a family (and children) he had never met, based on (generously) one per cent of what there is to know about said family. Will that behaviour help grow healthy, happy, kind, well adjusted children? Ironically, the idea to keep the baby’s sex private was a tribute to authentically trying to get to know a person, listening carefully and responding to meaningful cues given by the person themselves.

This short letter won’t help you to know my family. And to protect our children from the media frenzy that we did not anticipate, we have declined over 100 requests for interviews from all over the world, including offers to fly to New York all expenses paid and to appear on almost every American morning show.

We have learning to do, parks to visit and butterflies to care for. But we do feel it’s important to correct clear factual errors in the media, who incidentally have been reporting false information.

Having spent many years facilitating on the topic of abuse and violence prevention, particularly as it pertains to children, I would never tell my children (or anyone) to keep a secret.

Secrets are not safe and healthy. I, like many parents, have taught my children that some things are private matters, and when you want to share them, you need to do so honestly with sensitivity and consideration. If I had to convince my children not to share Storm’s sex (which I don’t because my children simply are not interested at this point) — I would teach them that someone else’s genitals and sense of how they relate to their gender is their private business, to be shared by them or in a context where safety, acceptance and sensitivity are paramount. Storm will certainly need to understand his/her own sex and gender to navigate this world (the outcry has confirmed this clearly!), but there has never been any question that within our family, the issues of sex and gender and the decisions relating to it are open for age appropriate discussion and action.

In my heart of hearts, I squirm when my son picks a dress from the rack (won’t people tease him?), even though I know from experience and research that the argument that children need a binary gender orthodoxy taught to them in order to feel safe is simply incorrect. My children know who they are, through supported and facilitated experience with their world, and I avoid hypocrisy, inaccuracy and exhaustion by saving my energy for non-negotiable limit-setting related to safety, kindness, self respect, health, fulfilment and fairness.

None of my children are gender-free or genderless (and neither am I). It is true that my oldest son Jazz does not have a traditional notion of what boys should wear, look like or do. It is also true that we believe our children should have the right to choose their clothes and hairstyle. Jazz has a strong sense of being a boy, and he understands that his choices to wear pink and have long hair are not always acceptable to his community. He chooses freely to do them anyway, because he also has been taught to respect difference, love himself and navigate the world in a way that is true to his own voice. Kio also strongly self identifies as a boy, and his choices around behaviours and image are different but have an equal amount of two-year-old integrity.

Storm has a sex which those closest to him/her know and acknowledge. We don’t know yet about colour preferences or dress inclinations, but the idea that the whole world must know our baby’s sex strikes me as unhealthy, unsafe and voyeuristic.

Storm is my third child and this is what I know — some day soon, Storm will have something to say about it, so in the meantime, I’m just listening carefully.

— Kathy Witterick is the mother of Jazz, Kio and Storm. They live in Toronto.

© Copyright (c) The Ottawa Citizen

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Gifts that Keep on Givin’

There was a great article on CNN today about thoughtful gifts for the holiday season.  I’m not suggesting you go out and buy something, but if you feel you must you might consider purchasing something that will benefit an artisan, a family, or a community rather than Wal-Mart’s CEO.

Here is CNN’s charitable gift guide with fun, practical — and even edible — presents for almost every kind of person and cause.  I’ve adapted Stephanie Chen’s original list to include other websites and only gifts $25 and under.  If you know of any more great sites that offer fair trade gifts or support nonprofit organizations, share them in the comments.  Happy Holidays friends!

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The artist

Nest, a nonprofit that provides micro-loans to female artists and then sells their artwork, is featuring brightly colored decorative plates from Turkey for $10 and hand-carved statues from Rwanda for $24.

Ten Thousand Villages is a fair trade retailer that promotes handmade artwork from all over the world. Founded in 1946, the organization started out of a car trunk and has expanded to more than 390 stores in the United States.

Paired Chopsticks and Cloth Bag from Ten Thousand Villages for $14

The school supporter

If you want the power to customize your gift, giving money to DonorsChoose.org will let you do just that. Most of the public high school teachers that post projects on there are from high poverty areas in dire need of funding.

You can donate whatever amount you want to any project or you can also select a project that needs $25 or less to complete, such as this class that needs books or this class that just needs headphones.  In return, you receive a cost report that shows how the money was spent so you can be assured your donation is going to the right place. If you give more than $100, you receive handwritten thank-you notes from the classroom you helped.

The musician

Global Exchange is an international human rights organization dedicated to promoting environmental, political and social justice by selling fair trade items.

These Peruvian gourd music instruments vary in price from $11 to $22.95.

The animal lover

The Animal Rescue Site donates money to animal shelters with every purchase.  You can find a wide assortment of items here from really silly animal items to more eye-pleasing clothing and home decor.

When you purchase that <—— $10 cup, The Animal Rescue Site will donate 14 cups of food.

Heifer International has been working to end world hunger for more than 65 years by donating farm animals, seeds, trees and educational training to families. You can enjoy reading their holiday catalog and decide whether you’d like to donate a water buffalo, a llama, a pig, a hive of bees or flocks of chickens or geese.

For $20, you can purchase a flock of geese for a family or you can provide a family with a starter flock of 10-50 chicks. Some geese can lay up to 75 eggs a year, the nonprofit reports, which means food and extra income for the recipients. The water buffalo is a bigger gift, with a price of $250, but you can buy a share for $25.

The fashionista

If you’re a fan of vintage clothing, then check out Shop Housing Works. The site offers bargains on second-hand designer items.

The money goes to Housing Works, a community-based service organization that works to assist HIV/AIDS patients in New York.

You can find eco-friendly bracelets made of recycled papers and earrings made of seeds at Global Goods Partners, a nonprofit that helps women in Asia, Africa and the Americas. The agency, founded in 2005, provides literacy programs for women and safe housing. If you’re on a budget, the group offers a selection of gifts under $15.

Here's a felt change purse for $7 from Nepal

The foodie

Do you have family and friends with a sweet tooth?

You can satisfy their cravings with gourmet turtles and caramel-covered popcorns, starting as low as $2 from HELP USA. All proceeds will go to this national nonprofit that works to house the homeless and help them become self-reliant. Since 1986, the organization has given assistance to more than 250,000 people by providing shelter and on-site support services.

Grounds for Change is a family owned and operated coffee roasting business located in the Pacific Northwest. All of their coffee is Fair Trade Certified by TransFair USA and certified organic.  The vast majority of the coffee they sell is also Shade Grown Coffee which ensures healthy habitat for migratory birds.

Besides the wide variety of coffee available there, you can also buy other tea/coffee related products like this burlap tote for $19.95.

If you’re looking for a stocking stuffer, Biscoff Gourmet Cookies and Gifts is selling its famous crunchy cookies in a festive box. A set of six boxes costs about $15. Ten percent of the proceeds go to support Teach for America, an organization that aids new teachers serving underprivileged kids in low-income communities.

The shoe addict

TOMS, an American footwear company that was launched in 2006 by a participant on the reality television show “The Amazing Race,” has a motive beyond profit: Each time a customer buys a pair of shoes, the company will give a pair to a child in need. The company’s “One for One” mission tries to transform “customers into benefactors.”

These comfy and stylish flats come in dozens of different patterns and colors. Children’s flats start around $35 and adult shoes cost around $55. As of September 2010, TOMS had given more than 1 million pairs of new shoes to children in poverty.

A $25 Gift Card for TOMS Shoes

The cancer fighter

Cancer is the leading cause of death by disease among U.S. children under age 14, according to the National Cancer Institute.

All the funds from items purchased from the annual “Hope Gift Book” will be given to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, a pediatric cancer research center. Parents can find unique gadgets for kids such as a dog shaped pencil sharpener and a Juicy Couture gumball machine for under $25.

Lucky Brand jewelry for $9.99

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DEA wants to hire Ebonics translators

This article is fascinating for a wealth of reasons.

If you think about it, Ebonics is a protest language just like Gayspeak and radical feminists’ language of degendering (creation of title Ms., police officer not police man, etc, see John DeFrancis On Degendering English) – these have all been ways of protesting the dominant power structure and taking back some of that power.

Ebonics has also been used against black people, such as in the case of history.  For example, when southern blacks were interviews about their experiences in slavery for the WPA slave narrative project, their stories were transcribed in Ebonics and can be very difficult to read.  Despite the fact that their white southern interviewers shared the same dialect due to lack of education, lower income class, and regionalism, their voices were transcribed in modern English.

However, probably the most interesting thing that the article doesn’t really address is why Ebonics is now in the news as a crime-related racial issue rather than education which initially grew the public’s attention.  Unlike “Gayspeak” and “Radical Feminism,” “Ebonics” has always been denigrated due to its ties with class and race.  Its current linkage with undercover DEA investigations continues that history, despite this article’s argument that Ebonics crosses geographic, racial, and ethnic boundaries.

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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Linguistic Society says Ebonics a valid dialect
  • Ebonics is “a language form we have a need for,” DEA says
  • Ebonics became controversial with a 1996 school board proposal
  • The DEA is seeking translators in 114 languages

(CNN) — Wanted by the Drug Enforcement Administration: Ebonics translators.

It might sound like a punch line, as “Ebonics” — the common name for what linguists call African-American English — has long been the butt of jokes, as well as the subject of controversy.

But the agency is serious about needing nine people to translate conversations picked up on wiretaps during investigations, Special Agent Michael Sanders said Tuesday. A solicitation was sent to contractors as part of a request to companies to provide hundreds of translators in 114 languages.

“DEA’s position is, it’s a language form we have a need for,” Sanders said. “I think it’s a language form that DEA recognizes a need to have someone versed in to conduct investigations.”

The translators, being hired in the agency’s Southeast Region — which includes Atlanta, Georgia; Washington; New Orleans, Louisiana; Miami, Florida; and the Caribbean — would listen to wiretaps, translate what was said and be able to testify in court if necessary, he said.

“The concept is right and good,” said Walt Wolfram, distinguished professor of English linguistics at North Carolina State University. “Why wouldn’t you want experts who can help you understand what people are communicating?”

“On one level, it’s no different than someone from the Outer Banks of North Carolina who speaks a distinct brogue,” he said. “The problem is that even the term ‘Ebonics’ is so controversial and politicized that it becomes sort of a free-for-all.”

And Ebonics is no longer spoken only by African-Americans, Sanders said, referring to it as “urban language” or “street language.” He said he is aware of investigations in recent years in which it was spoken by African-Americans, Latinos and white people. “It crosses over geographic, racial and ethnic backgrounds,” he said.

“[African-American English] is linguistic defiance being reinforced by hip-hop,” said professor John Baugh, who leads the public relations committee of the Linguistic Society of America.

The DEA’s recruiting “has it half right,” Baugh said.

Although having translation help is a good law enforcement tool, Baugh said, the term “Ebonics” may be counterproductive because “the social positions of speakers have been the object of ridicule.”

The Washington University professor also is concerned about racial profiling resulting from assumptions made from a speaker’s dialect.

While the DEA wants to have the translators available, it may not need to call upon them, Sanders said. He did not know how much it would cost to have the translators available.

“I can’t say it’s spoken all the time, like Spanish and Vietnamese,” Sanders said. “But there are people trying to use this to evade detection” while trafficking in drugs, he said.

Asked whether agency currently has agents who can translate Ebonics, Sanders said some who have worked on local police forces can help pick out words on wiretaps.

The term “Ebonics” — a blend of “ebony” and “phonics” — became known in 1996, when the Oakland, California, Unified School District proposed using it in teaching English. After the school board came under fire, it voted to alter the plan, which recognized Ebonics as a distinct language.

The revised plan removed reference to Ebonics as “genetically based” and as the “primary language” of students. The board also removed a part that some understood to indicate that African-American students would be taught in Ebonics, although the board denied such intentions.

“There is something of substance here,” said Wolfram, who said he has studied African-American English for 40 years. “There are differences in terms of language and lexicon and so forth that are difficult to understand for most people. So it is an issue. What, of course, happens is, it gets politicized and trivialized by the very term ‘Ebonics.'”

The Linguistic Society of America calls Ebonics a form of communication that deserves recognition and study.

“Characterizations of Ebonics as ‘slang,’ ‘mutant,’ ‘lazy,’ ‘defective,’ ‘ungrammatical’ or ‘broken English’ are incorrect and demeaning,” a 1997 resolution said.

For Baugh, all languages or dialects are “fundamentally equal.” Ebonics is a dialect spoken by slave descendants who live in many countries and don’t speak just English, he said. Its early speakers were enslaved, isolated from other speakers of their language and denied access to formal education, Baugh said.

Wolfram — who has authored more than 20 books on English dialects, including African-American English — recalled the Black Panther trials during the 1970s, when there was debate over whether the saying, “Off the pigs,” was a genuine threat to kill police officers or a more metaphorical saying.

Wolfram acknowledged Ebonics often presented as “nothing but bad language.” But, he said, “However you view it … why wouldn’t you want to avail yourself of all the interpretive capability that you can get?”

African-American English is “a systematic language variety, with patterns of pronunciation, grammar, vocabulary and usage that extend far beyond slang,” according to the website of the Center for Applied Linguistics, a Washington-based nonprofit organization that says it aims to improve communication through better understanding of language and culture.

“Because it has a set of rules that is distinct from those of standard American English, characterizations of the variety as bad English are incorrect,” the center said. “Speakers of AAE do not fail to speak standard American English, but succeed in speaking African American English.”

U.S. English, a political advocacy group, supports the DEA’s recruitment, said Tim Schultz, director of government relations.

“Having somebody to explain slang terms … spoken by a particular community is an advantage if it allows them to understand a conversation,” he said.

U.S. English’s primary focus is making English the official language of the United States and backing laws that ensure immigrants learn English.

Language barriers that contribute to conflicts between nations can be a “serious issue,” Wolfram noted. “It’s the same point here.”

He said the translators could help in investigations, as “the differences between dialect and code words can get pretty blurry at times.”

Sanders said DEA plans to continue seeking the translators.

“African-American English is an evolving dialect and in some ways is growing in stature,” Baugh said.

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Bikini or headscarf — which offers more freedom?

I’m the kind of person who could care less what the general public wears.  I don’t care if your shirt is low-cut, if your pants are saggy, if your swimsuit is too revealing, if your shoes are from Gucci, if your skirt is so tight I can see your cellulite – I could care less.

I care about comfort, creative expression, and reasonable prices.  I would be a nudist if it weren’t for everyone else.  So why would I care if you wear a headscarf?

This is a beautiful story about a mom trying to understand the motivations behind her daughter’s choice to wear a Muslim headscarf.  Although many women in other countries don’t have this choice, in making this decision her daughter chooses to be seen for more than a pubescent teenager, a self-conscious girl, or a shallow consumer of designer clothing – which is pretty remarkable.  There is hope yet!

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Krista Bremer holds her daughter Aliya in the scarf the child decided she wanted to wear. CNN

Nine years ago, I danced my newborn daughter around my North Carolina living room to the music of “Free to Be…You and Me”, the ’70s children’s classic whose every lyric about tolerance and gender equality I had memorized as a girl growing up in California.

My Libyan-born husband, Ismail, sat with her for hours on our screened porch, swaying back and forth on a creaky metal rocker and singing old Arabic folk songs, and took her to a Muslim sheikh who chanted a prayer for long life into her tiny, velvety ear.

She had espresso eyes and lush black lashes like her father’s, and her milky-brown skin darkened quickly in the summer sun. We named her Aliya, which means “exalted” in Arabic, and agreed we would raise her to choose what she identified with most from our dramatically different backgrounds.

I secretly felt smug about this agreement — confident that she would favor my comfortable American lifestyle over his modest Muslim upbringing. Ismail’s parents live in a squat stone house down a winding dirt alley outside Tripoli. Its walls are bare except for passages from the Quran engraved onto wood, its floors empty but for thin cushions that double as bedding at night.

My parents live in a sprawling home in Santa Fe with a three-car garage, hundreds of channels on the flat-screen TV, organic food in the refrigerator, and a closetful of toys for the grandchildren.

I imagined Aliya embracing shopping trips to Whole Foods and the stack of presents under the Christmas tree, while still fully appreciating the melodic sound of Arabic, the honey-soaked baklava Ismail makes from scratch, the intricate henna tattoos her aunt drew on her feet when we visited Libya. Not once did I imagine her falling for the head covering worn by Muslim girls as an expression of modesty.

Last summer we were celebrating the end of Ramadan with our Muslim community at a festival in the parking lot behind our local mosque. Children bounced in inflatable fun houses while their parents sat beneath a plastic tarp nearby, shooing flies from plates of curried chicken, golden rice, and baklava.

Aliya and I wandered past rows of vendors selling prayer mats, henna tattoos, and Muslim clothing. When we reached a table displaying head coverings, Aliya turned to me and pleaded, “Please, Mom — can I have one?”

She riffled through neatly folded stacks of headscarves while the vendor, an African-American woman shrouded in black, beamed at her. I had recently seen Aliya cast admiring glances at Muslim girls her age.

I quietly pitied them, covered in floor-length skirts and long sleeves on even the hottest summer days, as my best childhood memories were of my skin laid bare to the sun: feeling the grass between my toes as I ran through the sprinkler on my front lawn; wading into an icy river in Idaho, my shorts hitched up my thighs, to catch my first rainbow trout; surfing a rolling emerald wave off the coast of Hawaii. But Aliya envied these girls and had asked me to buy her clothes like theirs. And now a headscarf.

n the past, my excuse was that they were hard to find at our local mall, but here she was, offering to spend ten dollars from her own allowance to buy the forest green rayon one she clutched in her hand. I started to shake my head emphatically “no,” but caught myself, remembering my commitment to Ismail. So I gritted my teeth and bought it, assuming it would soon be forgotten.

That afternoon, as I was leaving for the grocery store, Aliya called out from her room that she wanted to come.

A moment later she appeared at the top of the stairs — or more accurately, half of her did. From the waist down, she was my daughter: sneakers, bright socks, jeans a little threadbare at the knees. But from the waist up, this girl was a stranger. Her bright, round face was suspended in a tent of dark cloth like a moon in a starless sky.

“Are you going to wear that?” I asked.

“Yeah,” she said slowly, in that tone she had recently begun to use with me when I state the obvious.

On the way to the store, I stole glances at her in my rearview mirror. She stared out the window in silence, appearing as aloof and unconcerned as a Muslim dignitary visiting our small Southern town — I, merely her chauffeur.

I bit my lip. I wanted to ask her to remove her head covering before she got out of the car, but I couldn’t think of a single logical reason why, except that the sight of it made my blood pressure rise. I’d always encouraged her to express her individuality and to resist peer pressure, but now I felt as self-conscious and claustrophobic as if I were wearing that headscarf myself.

In the Food Lion parking lot, the heavy summer air smothered my skin. I gathered the damp hair on my neck into a ponytail, but Aliya seemed unfazed by the heat. We must have looked like an odd pair: a tall blonde woman in a tank top and jeans cupping the hand of a four-foot-tall Muslim. I drew my daughter closer and the skin on my bare arms prickled — as much from protective instinct as from the blast of refrigerated air that hit me as I entered the store.

As we maneuvered our cart down the aisles, shoppers glanced at us like we were a riddle they couldn’t quite solve, quickly dropping their gaze when I caught their eye.

In the produce aisle, a woman reaching for an apple fixed me with an overly bright, solicitous smile that said “I embrace diversity and I am perfectly fine with your child.” She looked so earnest, so painfully eager to put me at ease, that I suddenly understood how it must feel to have a child with an obvious disability, and all the curiosity or unwelcome sympathies from strangers it evokes.

At the checkout line, an elderly Southern woman clasped her bony hands together and bent slowly down toward Aliya. “My, my,” she drawled, wobbling her head in disbelief. “Don’t you look absolutely precious!” My daughter smiled politely, then turned to ask me for a pack of gum.

In the following days, Aliya wore her headscarf to the breakfast table over her pajamas, to a Muslim gathering where she was showered with compliments, and to the park, where the moms with whom I chatted on the bench studiously avoided mentioning it altogether.

Later that week, at our local pool, I watched a girl only a few years older than Aliya play Ping-Pong with a boy her age. She was caught in that awkward territory between childhood and adolescence — narrow hips, skinny legs, the slightest swelling of new breasts — and she wore a string bikini.

Her opponent wore an oversize T-shirt and baggy trunks that fell below his knees, and when he slammed the ball at her, she lunged for it while trying with one hand to keep the slippery strips of spandex in place. I wanted to offer her a towel to wrap around her hips, so she could lose herself in the contest and feel the exhilaration of making a perfect shot.

It was easy to see why she was getting demolished at this game: Her near-naked body was consuming her focus. And in her pained expression I recognized the familiar mix of shame and excitement I felt when I first wore a bikini.

At 14, I skittered down the halls of high school like a squirrel in traffic: hugging the walls, changing direction in midstream, darting for cover. Then I went to Los Angeles to visit my aunt Mary during winter break. Mary collected mermaids, kept a black-and-white photo of her long-haired Indian guru on her dresser, and shopped at a tiny health food store that smelled of patchouli and peanut butter. She took me to Venice Beach, where I bought a cheap bikini from a street vendor.

Dizzy with the promise of an impossibly bright afternoon, I thought I could be someone else — glistening and proud like the greased-up bodybuilders on the lawn, relaxed and unself-conscious as the hippies who lounged on the pavement with lit incense tucked behind their ears. In a beachside bathroom with gritty cement floors, I changed into my new two-piece suit.

Goose bumps spread across my chubby white tummy and the downy white hairs on my thighs stood on end — I felt as raw and exposed as a turtle stripped of its shell. And when I left the bathroom, the stares of men seemed to pin me in one spot even as I walked by.

In spite of a strange and mounting sense of shame, I was riveted by their smirking faces; in their suggestive expressions I thought I glimpsed some vital clue to the mystery of myself. What did these men see in me — what was this strange power surging between us, this rapidly shifting current that one moment made me feel powerful and the next unspeakably vulnerable?

I imagined Aliya in a string bikini in a few years. Then I imagined her draped in Muslim attire. It was hard to say which image was more unsettling. I thought then of something a Sufi Muslim friend had told me: that Sufis believe our essence radiates beyond our physical bodies — that we have a sort of energetic second skin, which is extremely sensitive and permeable to everyone we encounter. Muslim men and women wear modest clothing, she said, to protect this charged space between them and the world.

Growing up in the ’70s in Southern California, I had learned that freedom for women meant, among other things, fewer clothes, and that women could be anything — and still look good in a bikini. Exploring my physical freedom had been an important part of my process of self-discovery, but the exposure had come at a price.

Since that day in Venice Beach, I’d spent years learning to swim in the turbulent currents of attraction — wanting to be desired, resisting others’ unwelcome advances, plumbing the mysterious depths of my own longing.

I’d spent countless hours studying my reflection in the mirror — admiring it, hating it, wondering what others thought of it — and it sometimes seemed to me that if I had applied the same relentless scrutiny to another subject I could have become enlightened, written a novel, or at least figured out how to grow an organic vegetable garden.

On a recent Saturday morning, in the crowded dressing room of a large department store, I tried on designer jeans alongside college girls in stiletto heels, young mothers with babies fussing in their strollers, and middle-aged women with glossed lips pursed into frowns. One by one we filed into changing rooms, then lined up to take our turn on a brightly lit pedestal surrounded by mirrors, cocking our hips and sucking in our tummies and craning our necks to stare at our rear ends.

When it was my turn, my heart felt as tight in my chest as my legs did in the jeans. My face looked drawn under the fluorescent lights, and suddenly I was exhausted by all the years I’d spent doggedly chasing the carrot of self-improvement, while dragging behind me a heavy cart of self-criticism.

At this stage in her life, Aliya is captivated by the world around her — not by what she sees in the mirror. Last summer she stood at the edge of the Blue Ridge Parkway, stared at the blue-black outline of the mountains in the distance, their tips swaddled by cottony clouds, and gasped. “This is the most beautiful thing I ever saw,” she whispered. Her wide-open eyes were a mirror of all that beauty, and she stood so still that she blended into the lush landscape, until finally we broke her reverie by tugging at her arm and pulling her back to the car.

At school it’s different. In her fourth-grade class, girls already draw a connection between clothing and popularity. A few weeks ago, her voice rose in anger as she told me about a classmate who had ranked all the girls in class according to how stylish they were.

I understood then that while physical exposure had liberated me in some ways, Aliya could discover an entirely different type of freedom by choosing to cover herself.

I have no idea how long Aliya’s interest in Muslim clothing will last. If she chooses to embrace Islam, I trust the faith will bring her tolerance, humility, and a sense of justice — the way it has done for her father. And because I have a strong desire to protect her, I will also worry that her choice could make life in her own country difficult. She has recently memorized the fatiha, the opening verse of the Quran, and she is pressing her father to teach her Arabic. She’s also becoming an agile mountain biker who rides with me on wooded trails, mud spraying her calves as she navigates the swollen creek.

The other day, when I dropped her off at school, instead of driving away from the curb in a rush as I usually do, I watched her walk into a crowd of kids, bent forward under the weight of her backpack as if she were bracing against a storm. She moved purposefully, in such a solitary way — so different from the way I was at her age, and I realized once again how mysterious she is to me.

It’s not just her head covering that makes her so: It’s her lack of concern for what others think about her. It’s finding her stash of Halloween candy untouched in her drawer, while I was a child obsessed with sweets. It’s the fact that she would rather dive into a book than into the ocean — that she gets so consumed with her reading that she can’t hear me calling her from the next room.

I watched her kneel at the entryway to her school and pull a neatly folded cloth from the front of her pack, where other kids stash bubble gum or lip gloss. Then she slipped it over her head, and her shoulders disappeared beneath it like the cape her younger brother wears when he pretends to be a superhero.

As I pulled away from the curb, I imagined that headscarf having magical powers to protect her boundless imagination, her keen perception, and her unself-conscious goodness. I imagined it shielding her as she journeys through that house of mirrors where so many young women get trapped in adolescence, buffering her from the dissatisfaction that clings in spite of the growing number of choices at our fingertips, providing safe cover as she takes flight into a future I can only imagine.

Krista Bremer is the winner of a 2008 Pushcart Prize and a 2009 Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers’ Award. She is associate publisher of the literary magazine The Sun, and she is writing a memoir about her bicultural marriage

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The Speed Sisters in Palestine – NPR

What do you think of when you hear “racing?”  The roaring of engines?  Drunken fat men cheering?  Bikini-clad women waving checkered flags at the finish line?  I hear the victory bells of equality!

So gender equality in racing is no reality yet, but women the world over are staking their claim in this quest of man over machine.  NPR, CNN, and BBC ran stories recently on The Speed Sisters in the West Bank – a growing group of competitive female race car drivers tackling gender politics on the race track in the Middle East.

And since I believe in activism, show some support for these fearless leaders by friending them on Facebook or following them on Twitter.  On their Facebook fan page you can see some really amazing photos of their fun and daring endeavors.

Here are some segments from the three articles.  Check out the articles in their entirety by clicking the links.

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“The Speed Sisters,” BBC

The eight-strong team is made up of Muslim and Christian women aged 18 to 39.

Not only are they challenging their male counterparts on the track, but also the often conservative nature of Middle Eastern society.

They recently competed in their first race as a team on what has always been a male-dominated circuit.

In another event they took part in, 50 competitors of both sexes had to race against the clock around the car park of a vegetable market in Jenin.

Matthew Bannister spoke to Suna Aweidah about how she came to be a competitor and how male attitudes towards her and the team have changed.

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“In the West Bank, Women with a Need for Speed,” Sheera Frenkel, NPR

Khaled Khadoura, head of the Palestinian Motorsport Federation, says that it took no time for women to move from novelty racers at the track to serious competitors. “I’m very proud to see our young women today taking an interest in race car driving, and training in order to improve themselves,” Khadoura says.

But not everyone is happy to see her on the track. Despite the growing popularity of racing across the Arab world, a number of Muslim clerics have spoken out against the sport.

Teammate Sahar Jawabrah says she’s heard men call it haram, or forbidden, but she thinks they are ill-informed. There is nothing wrong with racing, she says.

While most of the men at the races applaud just as loudly for the female racers as for the men, some say they are uncomfortable with women at the racetrack.

(Click for photo gallery) Mona Ennab, a former beauty pageant contestant, has been racing for more than seven years. But this year she's found herself as part of a team, the Speed Sisters - a group of Palestinian female race car drivers that's breaking stereotypes in the Arab world's increasingly popular auto racing scene. Photos by Maya Levin for NPR

Tareq Sarsou, a 33-year-old Ramallah store owner, says that while he was impressed by the sport, he isn’t sure it’s appropriate for Palestinian society. “I would not allow my wife, my sister or my daughter to race here,” Sarsou says.

In this season’s races, nearly all the women fared well against the men. And one of the Speed Sisters earned a spot in the top 10 rankings.

Like many of the women on the team, Ennab says she began her racing career almost by accident. “I love cars, I love speed, so I drive fast. And after they see me in Ramallah when I drive fast they told me to come to the federation and join,” she says.

“I think for me, driving isn’t like any other sports; men and women can compete in the same race. And you know what — they’re beginning to get there,” McLuskie says. “At the beginning of the season we had one of our girls who won her category. And you should have seen the faces of those guys.”

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“The Palestinian women racing drivers with a need for speed” by Paula Hancocks, CNN

Noor Daoud is 20 years old and car-crazy.

She wears black-and-yellow overalls rolled down to her waist, her curly hair tied back in a ponytail, and holds her helmet loosely in a perfectly manicured hand: This Palestinian woman who freely accepts she’s a tomboy.

Daoud has been driving since the age of 11 and used to run errands in the car for her mother in East Jerusalem. She was tall for her age, which is how she was able to reach the pedals.

Some of her male friends have come along for moral support and she says when other men see her race, they have no idea at first she’s a girl.

“They think I’m a boy, they don’t know I’m a girl,” she said, adding that she gets some raised eyebrows when she takes her helmet off. “They’re really surprised, they say ‘How can she? Where did she learn?’ And I never learned really, nobody taught me, it’s all me,” she said.

Daoud recently had some expert coaching from British trainer and former competitor Helen Elstrop. Elstrop told CNN: “The determination I see is just much stronger in these girls, and the Palestinian women I have met. They have worked very, very hard to achieve. Just to be out there is such a big, huge step.”

As Elstrop helped to break down gender barriers in Britain in what was traditionally thought of as a boy’s sport, she is helping the Palestinian women to do the same.

“When you have a crash helmet on, when you have your overalls on, when you have the windows up, who knows [who is] in the car?” she said. “It doesn’t matter, we like a level playing field.”

That was certainly the case on Ramallah race day. Seven women were competing with 43 men, and as the cars spun past scarily close to the spectators it was almost impossible to tell who was inside.

Although a man won this race, one of the women came seventh out of 50 — an impressive achievement considering how young the sport is for Palestinian women.

Little disappointment from Noor. She said “It’s been fun watching people win … because we’re all winners, we’re all sisters. We’re all speed sisters.”

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