America the Pervert: Why Our Promotion of Sex Leaves the World Scratching its Head

* This piece was written with Nick Pulgine for http://www.millennialinflux.com. The original piece can be found here

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We are a culture obsessed with celebrities. A glance at the most digested news of many Americans would not show The New York Times or The Wall Street Journal, but rather People Magazine or Sports Illustrated. Furthermore, the power of Americans to create celebrities is revealing towards the people that we choose to elevate to “super star” status. This kind of infatuation leads the rest of the world to believe that our capitol is Hollywood, not Washington D.C.

What are the consequences of a society like our own where the likes of Miley Cyrus and the Kardashian circus are the most celebrated and publicized figures in the United States?

We would argue that the consequences are grave, indeed: not only are we perverting our culture with the glamorization of sex, drugs, and rock and roll, but we are also forming a negative world perception of the United States based on the things (and people) that we are endorsing and supporting.

In an article for The Wall Street Journal, Lee Siegel spoke to the increased vulgarity in American celebrity culture. Referring specifically to language used by the musicians that we elevate to hero status (think Madonna, Jay Z, Beyoncé). “Making public the permanent and leveling truths of our animal nature, through obscenity or evocations of sex, is one of democracy’s sacred energies… But we’ve lost the cleansing quality of “dirty” speech. Now it’s casual, boorish, smooth and corporate,” said Siegel.

What kind of message is the promotion of this kind of vulgar and immoral activity suggesting to our allies and enemies abroad?

When our only public portrayal of a “real” American family is the voyeuristic Kardashians or the dysfunctional Real Housewives franchise, we send a message to the world that this minority of ostentatious wealth and bad behavior is the norm in America.

And it does not stop there. Sexuality in America has become synonymous with identity – a value that is made evident to the world by the lack of censorship we demand from those in the public eye. In addition, we send a message to the world about what we value based on the emphasis that we place on exploiting both women and men in increasingly lewd displays of sex as entertainment.

From its (fairly) modest beginnings in 1964 to its raunchy release in 2013, Sports Illustrated’s “Swimsuit Issue” has become one of Time Warner’s top sellers, according to Forbes. The issue alone accounts for 7 percent of Sports Illustrated’s annual revenue. Likewise, the now-infamous graphic video for Miley Cryus’ “Wrecking Ball” has been viewed almost 400 million times, breaking VEVO’s 24-hour record, a feat that she also accomplished with her equally salacious “We Can’t Stop.”

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These videos are accessible all over the world. When the only messages that we are sending to citizens across the globe are the ones that we publicize through the media, we are degrading our reputation, not only as a country, but also as a culture.

Unless we learn to promote the Steve Jobs instead of the Kanye Wests and the Condoleeza Rices instead of the Kate Uptons, we will continue to fail in representing America to the world.

Our public perception needs to change, and that will only result from an internal shift – one that demands an upheaval of values and the development of a moral calculus that, currently, America lacks.

More of Nick Pulgine’s writing on entertainment can be found here.

What to Expect When You’re Expecting… to become an aunt

4 Myths about aunthood busted by a first-time aunt

My sister and I dropped into our seats, excited and exhausted. After a long nine months, we were so ready to meet our new niece. Both first-time aunts, we had supported our older sister with baby showers and baby clothes in anxious anticipation and now it was all about to pay off. Our energy was palpable: just a few more minutes and we would be holding the sweet baby, congratulating our sister and toasting to new life. Just a few more minutes… or so we thought.

36 hours later: we are finally on our way to the hospital, where our niece has yet to be born.

 

Patience has never been my virtue, and as I sat in the cramped, dimly lit family waiting room at the hospital, I felt duped. Tricked. Fooled. A lifetime of watching movies like Father of the Bride Part II, What to Expect When You’re Expecting, Baby Mama and The Back Up Plan had done me a disservice: in my head, the story went as these movies depicted- mother’s water breaks, she dramatically goes into labor, she sweats and pushes and screams for a few minutes and then the baby is born, squirming and squealing. 

MYTH #1: The movies are wrong. Labor can take forever. If you are my sister, it can take 42 hours. Never mind your time frame – the baby doesn’t care if you flew in on a rush flight from Chicago.

After FINALLY being told that we could see our newest addition, I entered the hospital room with excitement and trepidation, flanked by my sister and mom. I saw my sister, exhausted and radiant, holding the smallest, most fragile package of pink skin that I had ever seen. There perched my niece, Elsie Lillian, in all of her newborn wonder. As she was placed into my arms for the first time, tears welled in my eyes – the feeling of joy was indescribable, and the love in the room electrifying.

MYTH #2: Holding a baby is scary. Wrong. It’s therapeutic, especially when that baby is your new niece or nephew.

The next few days were busy and sleep-deprived for my entire family. Between getting my sister, brother-in-law, and niece out of the hospital to cooking an entire Thanksgiving meal and spending time with extended family, we had not a minute to spare. After the holiday, I threw myself into working Black Friday and, far less bitterly, caring for my new niece. With my sister laid up on the couch with an after-birth medical condition, I was put to work changing diapers, holding Elsie,changing diapers, entertaining Elsie, and, oh, did I mention changing diapers?

MYTH #3: Because they are so small, babies do not use the bathroom very often. Wrong again. They use the bathroom QUITE often, like 3 times in 20 minutes often.

One particular afternoon, my sister went to take a quick nap. While the rest of my family was otherwise occupied with projects or conversations, I got the privilege of taking care of my niece for an hour while my sister got some much deserved rest. A long-term nanny, I have held many babies and cared for many children. I love kids, and although I am glad that I don’t have any of my own right now, I generally enjoy being around children. The feeling I get when I hold my niece, however, is beyond that of enjoyment, it is bliss. 

Though she doesn’t know it yet, I am going to be the one she can come to when her parents are driving her crazy, when she wants that expensive pair of shoes or when she needs a trip away. I am going to be the one to teach her how to speak French, to paint her nails, to keep her clothed in designer duds, and to support her unconditionally (okay, I won’t be the only one doing this, but it is still important).

She is my blood relation, yes, but unlike a sister or brother, I get to choose how much time I spend with her and how involved I am in her life. That’s what makes it so special– I get to CHOOSE to be her aunt, (her tati, which is French for auntie) and I get to be a part of her life not because I have to, but because I want to and desire to.

MYTH #4: Being an aunt isn’t a big deal. One last time, wrong. It’s a huge deal. My little world just got a little bit bigger, and I couldn’t be more thrilled.

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Confident and Driven: Why You Should Hire Millennials

I waited anxiously on the opposite side of the phone and, coincidently, the opposite side of the country as a woman who was holding a piece of my future in her hand dropped the bomb: “This is a really complicated program, and there just isn’t room for an intern. I can tell you have a lot of drive and will do great things.” What she didn’t have to add was those great things just will not be here. 

I hung up after taking down her information with plans to contact her again, her superior, and then her superior’s superior to see if there was someone who would listen to me and hear the truth in what I was speaking. I was offering to work- for free- for this company, to give up my entire summer, and to pioneer an innovative internship program (they didn’t have one) for the corporation’s charity platform that would bring awareness to their cause and ultimately increase business and revenue. I had a list of objectives that I knew I could accomplish in a summer, a strong knowledge of the program and company (I had worked at the corporation for almost two years) and had worked my way up the bureaucratic corporate ladder to find the right person to speak to, all of my own volition.

Still, after a mere 10 minutes on the phone I was shut down. It wasn’t because of my GPA, because of my qualifications, or even because of my lack of connections, so what was it? While I am not suggesting that it was because I am a millennial, I am saying that there is little to no reason to not let a young, passionate 20-something who says she wants to help you increase revenue and better your program work for you, for free, for an entire summer. I am saying that businesses who aren’t welcoming to millennials are MAKING A HUGE MISTAKE. Businesses: put in the extra work, create the internship, and take the risk- it may pay off in ways you never imagined.

I am a go-getter. I am driven, focused, communicative and willing to work hard for what I want. These are all antitheses to the stereotypes lobbed at my generation, the dreaded “millennials,” who roll their eyes at the idea of anything that doesn’t involve their iPhones, their Instagram, their Facebook, and their immediate gratification. I am not alone, either. In fact, I would argue that the majority of my peers, my comrades, and even my acquaintances do not fit the stigmatized opinion forced upon us by those who are either jaded by a bad past experience or are too- dare I say it- lazy to look for the hard-working, humble, ambitious millennials that according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor, while make up 50% of the workforce by 2020. 

If we are the people that are going to work for you and, quite possibly, one day be your boss, then why are companies like the one I interacted with hesitant to welcome us with internships and entry-level positions? Maybe because one bad apple ruins the whole barrel, and millennials that live up to the name- lazy, entitled, unwilling to fetch coffee, start at the bottom, or work hard- are the only ones these companies encounter. That being said, those of us who live outside of the stereotype are increasingly showing companies that will let us just why we are such an asset.

According to a study done by The University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler Business School, millennials are a gain- not a burden- to your company. For one, millennials (those born between 1976 and 2001, for the purposes of this survey) are global- thinkers. In fact, 71% said that they would like to live abroad. In addition, they are eager to advance and grow within a company. 65% said that “the opportunity for personal development was the most influential factor in their current job” and 52% says “opportunities for career progression made an employer attractive.” 

Millennials can bring a fresh perspective to your company. They can bring innovative ideas about marketing, about investing, about communication, and about expanding and reaching your demographic. We are the next generation of politicians, of businesspeople, of musicians and artists, of humanitarians and philanthropists and of entrepreneurs and CEOS and you do not want to miss an opportunity for us to fall in love with your company. 

 There is a tone of bitterness to this article. It’s a classic case of rejection: I was turned down by a company that I thought I could really benefit. That being said, this is greater than me. This is a plea to businesses to hire millennials, to give them a chance, and to be surprised. This article also serves as a warning, because if you don’t hire us- or at least employ us for an internship- we will take a lesson from our millennial playbook and move on, because our “entitlement”– let’s rephrase that, confidence has led us to believe that we have something to offer. 

 

 

Uprooted: One girl’s journey from The U.S. to Taiwan and back again

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            When you pull a plant from the ground and put it into a pot, you leave remnants of its roots– of itself –in the place from which you took it. Likewise, when you uproot a tree and replant it elsewhere, you never fully remove it from the space it once resided. This process is taxing, it is challenging, and it is seldom performed without a great deal of mess along the way. Like a tree or a plant pulled from the ground, Alexandria Kuo knows what it is like to uproot.

            A self-professed “third culture kid” who moved from New Jersey to Taiwan when she was 11 and from Taiwan to Wheaton, Il. when she was eighteen, she has uprooted and replanted in ways that many of her peers cannot fathom. Now a college student in a city different from her native Tai Pei City, Kuo is learning how to adjust to her new environment, and how to plant roots in a place where she has no familiar soil.

            Though she is Taiwanese and identifies herself as a “third culture kid,” Kuo had previously only visited Taiwan for vacations so packing up her life in New Jersey and moving to the BUSTLING ISLAND was a frightening and daunting experience.

            “When I first got there, it was a culture shock,” said Kuo. “I felt not at home, like a stranger in a different world…I had already made a circle of friends back in New Jersey, and it was so hard to just be torn away from that friendship and everything that I had gotten used to. “

            A sixth grader at the time, Kuo had to adjust to new friends, a new school system much more rigorous than the one she had encountered in the states, a new culture and a new city.

            “The city is very different from America, and as a suburban kid, moving to the city was like, ‘oh my goodness, it is so messed up and all the streets are dirty,’” said Kuo. “There are some traditions in Taiwan that I have grown used to, and I have actually made my own, so when I first came to Wheaton, I was kind of like, ‘oh, I kind of miss it back home.’ I didn’t know that I would miss it [Taiwan] until I came here, so it is a broadening of perspectives, I guess.”

            Though she learned to love- and even miss- Taiwan, Kuo returned to the United States after graduating high school because she feels that this is home- or at least one of them.

            “I have always thought of coming back home, because, after all, Taiwan is not really my home, because although I call it home, it is not where I want to stay for the rest of my life because I feel like it is still a narrow bubble on this one little island, and so coming back home has always been in my mind,” said Kuo.

            Specifically, Kuo chose to plant her roots in a part of the United States that was new to her, settling at Wheaton College, a private Christian university just outside of another big city, Chicago.

            “For a really long time, I was in a secular bubble, so I though that I should come back and re-focus my real mission here on earth that God called me to do, and so I just hope that coming to Wheaton and coming back to America can help me just re-center what I want to do, and what I want to do in Him.”

            Kuo’s aspirations for the future include working in broadcast journalism and media, specifically, working as a news anchor. She credits this vocational decision in part to her life in Taiwan and to the global perspective she gained while living there.

            “Understanding global perspectives has made me more interested in this path, and being able to communicate with other cultures and understand what their life is like and what their news is like has really helped me figure out that I actually do want to take this path, because I have both the American and Taiwanese worlds to figure out and understand both worlds.”

            Kuo feels that spending a part of her childhood in Taiwan has also given her another advantage: that of language. Kuo speaks both English and Mandarin Chinese, a skill she feels will aid her in communicating with people from cultures other than her own.

            ““If I stayed here in America for all of my life, language-wise I couldn’t be good in Mandarin Chinese and I wouldn’t be able to communicate in that language, and slowly that part of me would fade away, but back in Taiwan, I was able to communicate with people in that language and see the world differently through a global lens,“ said Kuo.

            Though she said that she felt she has gained a global perspective from living in both suburban American and metropolitan Taiwan, Kuo noted that living in two worlds so opposite from one another has caused her to separate her two lives, something she is still working to overcome.

            “When I land on American ground, I communicate in a different way than when I am in Taiwan. My mind would automatically switch to the American mindset, and in Taiwan I would switch to a Taiwanese mindset, based on the environment I am in, so I haven’t found common ground on that yet, although it is really easy for me to switch back and forth,” said Kuo.  “I still need to work on how to combine both of them together.”

            As Kuo once again replants her roots in Wheaton, it seems that this third culture kid’s life is looking more like a field of trees, spread across the world, than just one plant being transported from place to place. Roots in New Jersey, in Taiwan and now in Wheaton, Kuo continues to seek to find the place she can call her own, never forgetting the places she once called home.

 

           

 

 

 

 

The Paleo Diet: Changing Lives?

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My sister, Allison Niebauer, with some of her SCD delicacies

We have all heard it before, whether from a friend after a dramatic weight loss, or within the pages of a glossy magazine with accompanying before-and-after photos that leave our mouths agape: THIS DIET CHANGED MY LIFE. While trend diets tend to promise just that – a drastic change in feeling and appearance – the brevity of the results received and the toll which they take on one’s body are usually just as extreme.

Growing in popularity over the last 5 years, a new- or rather old, considering its origins date back to the Stone Age- diet trend has emerged: the Paleolithic diet, or “paleo” for short. Promising not only weight loss, but also increased health benefits for people suffering from a slew of maladies, including osteoporosis, autoimmune diseases, cardiovascular disease and even cancer, this pre-historic diet is coming back into fashion- and people are taking to it like cavemen to fire.

The Paleo Diet, which was developed through research done by Dr. Loren Cordain, has become a popular health trend, not only for those trying to fit into their bikinis or beat the winter bulge, but also for those who suffer from chronic illness or disease. Paleo relies on dieters going back to basics- unprocessed foods, lots of fruits and vegetables, and fresh meats and nuts, just like our earliest ancestors would have hunted and gathered for so long ago.

Personally, I know about Paleo because my sister, Allison Niebauer, follows a diet very similar to it, the “Specific Carbohydrates Diet,” as a means of controlling her Crohn’s Disease, an autoimmune disease that she was diagnosed with three years ago. Whereas the Paleo diet requires its adherents to abstain from cereal grains, refined sugar, dairy, salt, refined vegetable oils and processed foods, the SCD diet allows its constituents to consume specific types of dairy and legumes.

Although my sister remains my personal “face” for the Paleo/SCD diet trend, another young woman, Danielle Walker, has published a New York Times bestselling cookbook and has a popular website a blog due to her success with managing her Ulcerative Colitis, an autoimmune disease, through following the Paleo diet. Walker has gained success through sharing her story and publishing Paleo-friendly recipes on her website “Against All Grain” and in her cookbook of the same name.

Walker has been able to manage the symptoms of her disease and go without a flare-up since she has committed to strictly adhering to the Paleo diet. “I was diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis, an autoimmune disease, when I was 22 years old,” said Walker on her website. “After a few years of suffering, multiple hospitalizations, and doctors telling me that what I ate wasn’t a factor in my disease, I decided to take matters into my own hands and drastically change my diet.”

Walker’s story is not unique, either. Hundreds of people with similar stories to her own post on her blog, on various health forums and on Paleo websites to speak of the transformation that they have undergone since committing to the Paleo or SCD diet. Doctors in support of the diet say that the typical Western diet is responsible for obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and more. However, the diet is not without controversy.

According to an article published by Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD, LD on WebMD’s journal, “Some nutrition experts assert that humans have adapted to a broader diet including whole grains, dairy, and legumes. Others question the evidence for the diet’s evolutionary logic.”

While I can personally attest to the transformative impact that it has had on my sister, who has had significantly improved health since strictly adhering to the SCD diet, I can also acknowledge questioning the impact that abstracting multiple food groups from our diet that have been previously deemed as “good for you” (dairy? whole grains?). Skeptics wonder, what problems may arise from a lack of nutrients provided from a “well-balanced” diet?

By adhering to the Paleo or SCD diet, dieters are still consuming a wide-variety of foods and eating a balanced diet, but are avoiding foods that are hard for the body to digest, and that can cause heart problems later on. This isn’t the Atkins diet, which encourages dieters to cut out an entire food group in order to lose weight – this diet is, for many people, about better health; a form of medicinal therapy for serious ailments and disease that is more a lifestyle change than even a diet.

Cordain argues that even foods like grains and dairy, which seem to be good for us, come with a price. “Our genome has not really adapted to these foods, which can cause inflammation at the cellular level and promote disease,” she said in a statement to WebMD.

While I can’t imagine giving up grains and sugar, which seem to sneak their way into everything I consume, I have been floored by the power of our diet on our health and well being, as evidenced by my sister and many others who have found relief to ailments that were otherwise unsolvable with prescription medication.

As science evolves and we get more information on what is best for our bodies, we learn that the foods we once thought were most important for our health may now be our greatest demise. Trend or not, the findings of the Paleolithic diet are hard to ignore, and the testimonies of its followers speak for themselves on the power of this new-old diet.

 

INTERESTED?

Check out Allison Niebauer’s blog at: livingfullywithout.com

Check out Danielle Walker’s blog at: againstallgrains.com

The First Time I Got a Brother

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I’ve never wanted a brother. I haven’t blown out candles for a football-tossing, video gaming big guy, or gotten down on my knees for a bookish, intellectual little boy to join the ranks of the four powerful women and one resilient man who make up my family. Rather, I have basked in a childhood of shared emotions, shopping trips, movie nights, and aerosol hair spray. My father, bless his heart, has been enough “guy” to suffice for my family. I saw what my friends had with their brothers, and I didn’t envy it.

Here’s the thing about having beautiful, intelligent, charismatic, caring sisters: you aren’t the only one who finds them to be incredible.  I am not referring to their friends, or even their boyfriends, who may discover some of their magic and, if they’re smart, embrace it. I am talking about the one man who discovers them and is utterly enchanted. This happened to me. Twice. My sisters’ charm wasn’t lost on two lucky men, and so they got married. They are living happily ever after. As for me, I got exactly what I had never wanted: not one, but two brothers.

They’re not really your brothers, I can practically hear you smirking as you read my ironic disappointment through your computer screen. You’re wrong, though. They are as much a part of my family as my own kin, because, like it or not, when they married my sisters, they became a part of my sanctum. My family is my safe place, my place of fervent trust and vulnerability, of relaxation and utter reality. They are my toughest critics, and my biggest supporters. On my best day and my worst day, they treat me with love. My sisters invited two new people into that.

The day that Peter proposed to my sister Amy was like a turning point in a novel, the top of a roller coaster, the chase scene in a good spy film: I knew something big was happening. I was hyper aware of the change this presented in my family, and I felt an invasion on my sanctum taking place. My family reality had shifted, and I found, under anger and frustration at the present of a brother that I didn’t want, and at the prospect of a separation from my sister that I didn’t desire, fear. Fear that having a boy in my family would change how I acted, how my sister acted, how my parents acted, how my family acted. I was scared that I would lose my confidant and my friend to a man who had a warm smile and my sister’s affections.

The wedding planning ensued and I, with bitter acceptance, threw myself into being a supporter sister, helpful maid of honor, cooperative daughter and kind soon-to-be sister-in-law. I hate that title. It’s as if it’s mocking those of us who never asked for a brother, and emphasizing that whether or not you like it, BY LAW he is your brother. Thanks for that. A supportive, kind, funny, and genuine man who loves my sister and respects her deeply, I couldn’t dislike Peter, because I saw how happy he made Amy. I saw how much my parents cared for him (though I knew they felt the same way I did- wary of bringing someone new into the equation) and I saw how my middle sister, Allison, seemed to yearn for what Amy had found with Peter. The marriage went off without a hitch, and I could say without growing a nose that I liked Peter. He didn’t push me too hard, he didn’t interfere with my business, and he treated my sister well. Okay. Maybe I could handle the brother thing, if this was what it entailed.

In the weeks, months, and now years that followed my sister becoming Mrs. Peter Williams, I have ever so slowly opened the door to my family sanctum. Don’t misunderstand me – I still feel uncomfortable letting loose in front of my brothers in the same way that I do with my parents and sisters, and my sister’s name is still Amy Morris is my phone, but I have warmed up to the idea of having a brother. I don’t mind the addition of another body on the couch, or the difference in opinion that a male perspective brings. I think it’s endearing that Peter feels the need to protect me, and I desire a relationship with him that isn’t founded because we are bound “in law,” but that stems from a mutual respect and love for one another and for my family, and forming a relationship that looks more like that of two siblings from birth and less like one of two strangers brought together just mere years ago.

I’ve never wanted a brother. I was happy to remain steadfast in my family structure, to protect my sanctum, to push away new people. I think that’s exactly why it’s great that I got two. I am learning, often with much humility, pushback, and grace, that family is about more than what it gives to YOU, because it’s about what you give to IT. It’s about evolving and adjusting so that the things- the people- that bring your family joy and who show them love are welcomed with open arms. It’s about accepting the people who they present to you and giving them your best, but also giving them your real: your honest and raw portrayal of who you are, what you’re about, and what your family means to you. For me, that meant accepting that I got Peter and Mike as brothers. It means loving them and getting to know them and working with them to form a relationship that strengthens and compliments my relationship with my sisters and with my family. It means learning to love having brothers, and accepting that this change is one that will further strengthen my sanctum, not destroy it.

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My new family- BROTHERS and all!

Why Malala Matters: This sixteen-year old is changing the world

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Photo couresy of vitalvoices.org

Malala Yousafzai is a target. A native Pakistani who was shot by the Pakistani Taliban after advocating for girls’ education in her home country, she was nominated this year for a Nobel Peace Prize for her continued work in empowering young women through education. Last week, she met with President Obama and his family and was recognized by the United Nations Security Council. She has appeared on numerous talk shows and has met with the Queen of England. She has achieved international notoriety for her resilience and bravery, as well as for her peaceful response to the Taliban, who continue to try to kill her. Yousafzai is just sixteen.

Yousafzai has become an icon of resilience against injustice for girls in Pakistan and has used her notoriety to continue to promote her platform: that girls need education and that it is the lack of education available for girls keeping young girls in oppressive situations

Recently appearing on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, Yousafzai blew Stewart away with her answer when he questioned how she would respond if attacked by the Taliban again (she was formerly shot in the head and neck and made a miraculous recovery in England).

Yousafzai responded by saying, “I would tell him how important education is and that I would even want education for your children as well,” the Pakistani girl said. “That’s what I want to tell you, now do what you want.”

Yousafzai is talking about peace and change when other girls her age are talking about Miley Cyrus and The Kardashians. Although she is disliked by many people in her country for her stance on education and disowned by others who don’t want to be targeted for agreeing with her ideals, she remains loving towards her country and hopes to one day serve as Prime Minister.

“Even if its people hate me,” she said in one interview, “I will still love it [Pakistan].”Speaking towards becoming Prime Minister, she told CNN,“I can spend much of the budget on education,”

Yousafzai continues to bravely press forward with her promotion of her new book, I am Malala, which not only describes her harrowing ordeal of being shot and her recovery after the fact, but also reiterates her hope for a brighter future for girls in Pakistan. She continues to be a target for the Taliban in Pakistan, and after she was not chosen as the Nobel Peace Prize recipient, the Taliban expressed their sentiments.

“We are delighted that she did not get it. She did nothing big so it’s good that she didn’t get it,” spokesman Shahidullah Shahid told the Agence France-Presse. “She is not a brave girl and has no courage. We will target her again and we will strike whenever we have a chance,” Shahid previously told AFP.

In a culture obsessed with pop culture and tragedy, Yousafzai’s story is not the norm in the typical news line- up. Yousafzai’s story of courage and resilience has taken the nation by storm, and many people have spread Yousafzai’s story over social media. President Obama, Mrs. Obama, and their daughter Malia met with Yousafzai to commend her for her “inspiring” work for girls’ education in terrorism. In characteristic honesty, Yousafzai also had a few words for the president.

“I thanked President Obama for the United States’ work in supporting education in Pakistan and Afghanistan and for Syrian refugees,” Yousafzai said in a statement published by the Associated Press. “I also expressed my concerns that drone attacks are fueling terrorism. Innocent victims are killed in these acts, and they lead to resentment among the Pakistani people. If we refocus efforts on education it will make a big impact.”

Yousafzai told Stewart that she could not believe that the Taliban would want to kill her for her beliefs. She became a target for the Taliban after posting her thoughts on girls’ education on her blog. She also elaborated on how she would respond to an attack by the Taliban if it were to happen again, because as it stands, Yousafzai lives in England because of the danger that returning to Pakistan would pose to her.

“If you hit a Talib, then there would be no difference between you and the Talib,” she said. “You must not treat others with cruelty. … You must fight others through peace and through dialogue and through education.”

Yousafzai continues to inspire through her peaceful response to violence and her steadfast dedication to her belief that girls have the power, when educated, to use their knowledge for good and to enact change.

“If a terrorist can change someone’s mind and convince them to become a suicide bomber, we can also change their minds and tell them education is the only way to bring humanity and peace,” she said at the World Bank Fund annual meeting, after insisting, “I am proud to be a girl, and I know that girls can change the world.”

On a personal note, I will add that I think girls like Malala give hope and promise to an often dark world. The realities of oppression and sexism are real, and although we are blessed to live in a country where, as women, we have made great strides towards equality, many of our sisters continue to struggle. I read in the NY Times that, recently, pastors in Pakistan have started preaching a message called “My daughter is a blessing, not a curse” following Malala’s work for female empowerment. How awful is it that a pastor would need to remind their congregation that their daughter is not a CURSE. What kind of effect does that kind of dialogue have on a young woman’s confidence, ability to thrive, vitality, or even will to live? My heart breaks for these women, but this also motivates me to continue to push for education and empowerment for women. I applaud Malala’s bravery and fierce loyalty to peace and to her cause, and I pray that I will have the ability and the drive to follow in her efforts to give women a fair chance to live well, to be loved, to be empowered, and to thrive. Oh, and all you women reading this? You are SUCH a blessing to this world.

Gap Inc’s secret weapon in fighting factory controversy: P.A.C.E.

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I wrote a new post last Friday for Millenial Influx and  #WCJ (Wheaton College Journalism) on Gap Foundation’s P.A.C.E. program, which seeks to empower female factory workers through education and career guidance. This was timely in light of yet another factory tragedy in Bangladesh last week :http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-202_162-57606628/bangladesh-garment-factory-fire-kills-10/

I will be transparent and say this: I have worked for Gap, Inc. for over a year (Banana Republic) and am currently trying to look into the possibility of Gap, Inc. creating an internship for me this summer, where I would work for the P.A.C.E. program.

I understand Gap’s stance post- factory collapse last April (Rana Plaza), but also think that MORE needs to be done if they refuse to be held legally responsible. (Being an employee of the company, I got to hear more reasoning behind Gap’s decision to not sign the treaty/agreement made by British retailers and instead to make their own with several other big American retailers. 

That being said, I think programs like P.A.C.E. really matter. Having a presence on the ground, in the situation, and bettering the lives of their employees by empowering them to help themselves is something I believe in at my core. For that reason, I was really excited to write this article.

Read about Gap’s secret weapon in fighting factory controversy HERE

Here’s an excerpt from the post:

Gap, Inc., the $6 billion retailer with millions of Millennials for customers, has some ground to make up. Coming under fire last year for their controversial response to the April 2013 Rana Plaza factory collapse in which 1,132 garment workers died and another 2,500 were seriously injured, Gap Inc. is looking for a progressive solution to bettering conditions for factory workers in production countries like Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Cambodia. This iconic American company may have found its solution in P.A.C.E., the Gap Foundation’s program to empower female factory workers (who make up 80% of factory workers) and to give them education and training to advance their careers – and their lives.

 

Rand Paul on the Rise?

Rand-Paul

Is this junior senator running for the White House?

An article written for Vogue magazine by journalist Jason Horowitz explores the rise of Rand Paul, the junior Senator of Kentucky. The article aims to provide background for the reader on who Paul is through giving details about his family life, upbringing, education, and notable political achievements. Paul has caused considerable buzz within the Republic Party, particularly after a filibuster this summer over President Obama’s use of drones, in which Paul argued his opinion for 13 hours straight. Giving the Senator a profile for which readers can get to know the quiet Paul and his family (the author argues that his wife, Kelly Ashby, is his “secret weapon”), the author aims to ask the million dollar question: Could Republican Senator Rand Paul Win The White House?

HERE ARE THE BASICS:

WHO: Rand Paul, Junior Senator of Kentucky, Republican

WHAT: Paul’s rise to success within the Republic Party, the possibility of him running for president in 2016

WHERE: America, baby

WHEN: Now and, more specifically, in 2016.

WHY: Paul has had several substantial accomplishments while serving as junior Senator, could lead to a possible campaign for President (His dad is RON Paul… he tends to run for President, too…)

This article is not the first, nor the last, that we will see on Rand Paul. The Senator, though widely criticized even within the Republic Party for his Tea-Party ideas and constitutionalist stance on many issues, is beloved by many on the right (and particularly the far right). Paul has been praised for his hard-stance against many policies proposed and supported by Democrats, and has, thus far, upheld a clean private life. This article is particularly interesting, because instead of taking the style of the New York Times, Politico, Horowitz’s “home” publication, The Washington Post, or the like, it is written in typical colloquial Vogue style…. lots of background research, cheeky anecdotes, probing questions looking for a scandalous answer, and imagery that makes the reader feel as if they are part of the subject’s life. I chose this article, because it takes a more personal look at a public figure and discusses not only his past and private life, but also looks at the accomplishments he has had in his position as junior senator and the feathers he has rustled- both outside of the Republican party and within.

Articles like this one will only get more prevalent during 2014 and certainly during 2015 as possible candidates for president emerge before the 2016 election. Even in this article, which merely muses on the idea of Paul running as President (and doesn’t truly answer the question of if he could win, instead leaving it to readers to decide), Hillary Clinton is mentioned as a possible “opponent” of Paul’s, as well as Vice President Joe Biden and, on the Republican side, Ted Cruz. Readers can use this article to begin to understand the possible candidates for the 2016 presidency or, if nothing else, see a decidedly different view to that of our current president, Barack Obama.

Information is power, and knowing about possible candidates before the race has even begun is one more way for Vogue readers (though they may just be looking for the newest Marc Jacobs collection) to be in the know and ahead of the trend.

Original Article HERE: http://www.vogue.com/magazine/article/republican-senator-rand-paul-for-president/#3

There’s no “Life After” for Amanda Knox

Amanda Knox during her interview with the Today Show. Knox has said she will not return to Italy for her retrial. Courtesy of Reuters.com,

Amanda Knox during her interview with the Today Show. Knox has said she will not return to Italy for her retrial.
Courtesy of Reuters.com,

Once again, Amanda Knox has her head on the chopping block. Caught in a seemingly endless case that has gone on since 2007, her innocence is back in question and she is set to face re-trial in Italy.

Knox has recently announced to the Today show that she will not be returning to Italy for her retrial, which is a decision made within her legal rights. Instead, she will be represented by lawyers. She cites financial reasons and school behind her decision, though her quotes suggest fear is the real root of the decision.

For those of you who have not followed the story (or for those millennial friends of mine who were only 13 when the heat of the trial took place), here is a basic run down:

Amanda Knox was studying abroad with her friend Meredith Kercher in Italy in 2007. Knox had recently started seeing an Italian man who was 22 (she was 20 at the time) named Raffaele Solicito. All three were living in the same house, studying in the town of Perugio.

On November 7, 2007, Meredith Kercher was found dead in her bedroom. Knox and Sollecito became the primary suspects in the case. Other suspects were Rudy Guede, a drifter who later admitted to having sexual relations with Knox, and Patrick Lumumba, the owner of the bar where Knox was working.

To make a VERY long story short, Guede was eventually convicted and put in jail on an expedited trial. He is the only person in jail for the murder of Meredith Kercher. Knox and Sollecito were convicted on all counts, appealed the court’s decision, and were eventually acquitted on October 3,2011. This is a very shortened account. The lengthier story involves Knox getting sued for libel by Lumumba, Knox’s parents getting indicted for libeling Perugian police, and a whole series of DNA testing and re-testing that eventually led to the demand for a re-trial.

Do yourself a favor and read CNN’s timeline of the case here. This story is unreal.
http://www.cnn.com/2011/09/28/world/europe/italy-amanda-knox-timeline/index.html

There has been no “life after” for Amanda Knox. That is to say, she has not come back into society, regained even a sense of normalcy, or been able to move on and enjoy her innocence (even that is disputed by many people, myself included).

Knox spoke to ABC about the panic attacks that she began to suffer in prison, and the PTSD that she continues to be plagued by, saying that her physical freedom has not freed her mentally from the distress and damage caused by the case.

“I was continuing to have panic attacks and nightmares, and I was continuing to think that strangers on the street were prisoners that I had known,” she told ABC News in a recent interview. “I had panic attacks and just broke down. And I couldn’t breathe.”
http://abcnews.go.com/US/amanda-knox-haunted-prison-suffers-panic-attacks-isolation/story?id=20270684

In addition, her ex-boyfriend Sallecito has come out and spoken candidly about the lack of normalcy in his life, that even though he has been freed, he still remains prisoner to the case and to the many people who doubt his innocence.

“Every tiny little day, it is constantly on my shoulder, because these trials, this kind of situation, has put my life on hold,” said Sallecito to ABC News. “I cannot find a normal life, a job, a career or something to focus on instead of thinking about the trial, about the documents, about what will happen, about how to pay lawyers, how to pay my bills.”

This is often true for those who suffer from huge scandals in the public eye. Think Monica Lewinski, Jerry Sanduski, George Zimmerman, or especially Casey Anthony. These people never regain a sense of normalcy in their life, and they live in infamy as the “person who….”

Would we want to change this? I understand that for people like Sanduski or Lewinski, whose role in the act was proven, they have made their beds. I believe in second chances and God’s grace, but I also believe that we must take responsibility for the mistakes that we make and be accountable for our actions. Though Anthony, Zimmerman, and Knox were all proven innocent, the American public is not so sure. This is particularly complicated because Knox is under Italian legal rule, not even the American justice system. Do we continue to condemn her, or do we try to let her slink into oblivion and find shreds of a normal life?

Knox has gone on record to the Today show saying that she wants to meet Kercher’s parents and visit her grave with them. She is asserting her innocence, and she feels that by not going to the trial, she is further stating her confidence that she was not involved in the murder of Meredith Kercher.

I think that the re-trial will be either the nail in the coffin that will put Knox and Sallecito back into jail (not very likely), or it will be another development in a life forever plagued by the ghosts of her past.