Thursday, September 21, 2017

Stories

My conversation with Angelina Jolie last Saturday, September 9th at Toronto’s acclaimed International Film Festival (TIFF) was personal. Even though I had come to hear her speak in CBC’s (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) Glenn Gould Studio with 200 people as part of TIFF’s annual In Conversation Series, Angelina said something that won my heart. Clearly passionate about her new role in film and what she intended to do, Angelina said:

I love diversity and believe our world is stronger for it. We have so much to share with each other and it’s the greatest way to deeply learn and create together.

Toronto International Film Festival, TIFF, In Conversation With, Angelina Jolie, Artistic Director of TIFF, Cameron Bailey, cultural diversity, Girl Interrupted, Gia, Maleficent, Unbroken, The Breadwinner, Louis Zamperini, In the Land of Blood and Honey, Bosnia, Yugoslavia, First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers, Khmer Rouge, Jon Voight, Marcheline Bertrand, Changeling, A Mighty Heart, Disney, Sleeping Beauty, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, UN Ambassador, global activist, Lee Strasberg, Jonny Lee Miller, Billy Bob Thornton, Brad Pitt,This message is the essence of WomanScape – building cultural connections for learning and growing together! I sat riveted. And, over the course of this hour-long interview with TIFF’s artistic director Cameron Bailey, I escaped into Angelina’s world. Bailey’s job was formidable. He avoided the impossible task of listing the more than 48 movies Angelina has appeared in. Instead, he highlighted her most prominent accomplishments as an actor, director and humanitarian.

Angelina’s Acting Career

Dressed in a simple loose fitting white shirt and a long matching skirt that floated around her feet, Angelina was ethereal. She sat very still when the movie screen behind her flashed film clips that accompanied Bailey’s references to her mounting film credits. Not once did Angelina turn around during excerpts like this one below with Whoopi Goldberg. This was not the wild-child actress of years ago, or some Brangelina figure.

Toronto International Film Festival, TIFF, In Conversation With, Angelina Jolie, Artistic Director of TIFF, Cameron Bailey, cultural diversity, Girl Interrupted, Gia, Maleficent, Unbroken, The Breadwinner, Louis Zamperini, In the Land of Blood and Honey, Bosnia, Yugoslavia, First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers, Khmer Rouge, Jon Voight, Marcheline Bertrand, Changeling, A Mighty Heart, Disney, Sleeping Beauty, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, UN Ambassador, global activist, Lee Strasberg, Jonny Lee Miller, Billy Bob Thornton, Brad Pitt,

No, Angelina’s composure and graceful movements matched her deliberately thoughtful and insightful answers. I confess, like most people, that I was curious to know who Angelina really was, in lieu of the fanfare surrounding her celebrity status in Hollywood. For years, we’ve seen photos of her beauty and tabloid-fodder stories that rip apart her past marriages to fellow actors Johnny Lee Miller, Billy Bob Thornton and, until recently, Brad Pitt.

In many ways, I think this history has eclipsed her acting artistry and philanthropy. It is a far cry from the UN Ambassador and decorated global activist who started humbly as a young theater student-in-training with Lee Strasberg in New York. Angelina’s stardom happened quickly, after movies like the 1998 film Gia (about a model hooked on cocaine) garnered attention.  It showcased her depth of emotion, opening the door to more opportunities like the action hero figure she played in 2001, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider. This led to a massive fan base and broad audience appeal, while opening the door to more serious dramatic roles and award, like her severe paranoia character in Girl Interrupted.

Dramatic scripts and meatier roles in movies like the Changeling and A Mighty Heart took her to new heights. In her personal life, Angelina adopted children from several international countries while also giving birth to children of her own. This likely influenced Angelina as she stepped into the world of Disney’s adaptation of Sleeping Beauty. The wide-eyed face and radiant smile that I saw on stage at TIFF was an equally captivating and scary sorceress in Maleficent (shown below). Angelina had become a very self-aware and seasoned professional.

Angelina as Director

Toronto International Film Festival, TIFF, In Conversation With, Angelina Jolie, Artistic Director of TIFF, Cameron Bailey, cultural diversity, Girl Interrupted, Gia, Maleficent, Unbroken, The Breadwinner, Louis Zamperini, In the Land of Blood and Honey, Bosnia, Yugoslavia, First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers, Khmer Rouge, Jon Voight, Marcheline Bertrand, Changeling, A Mighty Heart, Disney, Sleeping Beauty, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, UN Ambassador, global activist, Lee Strasberg, Jonny Lee Miller, Billy Bob Thornton, Brad Pitt,So why the director chair? Angelina is the first to admit she never planned to move behind the camera when she started out in film. As the daughter of two film actors, Jon Voight and Marcheline Bertrand, Angelina felt destined to act. Her mother just assumed she would go into the family business. However, this changed when Angelina lost her mother to ovarian cancer at just 56 years of age in 2007.

This prompted new ideas and the kind of creative work we see in Angelina’s two films at TIFF. Both films directed by Angelina explore women from other countries. In the cover photo of this article, we see a clip from the BreadWinner. It is an animated feature about a young girl in Afghanistan who disguises herself as a boy to help her mother and sister. The other movie, First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers, is a Netflix film about a child soldier in the Khmer Rouge regime in 1975. (Photo clip below is taken from the movie.)

Toronto International Film Festival, TIFF, In Conversation With, Angelina Jolie, Artistic Director of TIFF, Cameron Bailey, cultural diversity, Girl Interrupted, Gia, Maleficent, Unbroken, The Breadwinner, Louis Zamperini, In the Land of Blood and Honey, Bosnia, Yugoslavia, First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers, Khmer Rouge, Jon Voight, Marcheline Bertrand, Changeling, A Mighty Heart, Disney, Sleeping Beauty, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, UN Ambassador, global activist, Lee Strasberg, Jonny Lee Miller, Billy Bob Thornton, Brad Pitt,

Angelina says several factors explain her desire to be behind the camera.  She slipped into directing her first film, In the Land of Blood and Honey, when she wanted to learn more about the war in Bosnia and the history of Yugoslavia. A self-proclaimed history buff, Angelina says she’s always been very aware of the macro picture in filming – crews working together, the direction of the cameras, stylized costume and language, etc. Watching actors use their words and seeing the trans-formative power of scripts created a keen interest in writing. Bringing all of these worlds together just seemed like the next thing to do.

Toronto International Film Festival, TIFF, In Conversation With, Angelina Jolie, Artistic Director of TIFF, Cameron Bailey, cultural diversity, Girl Interrupted, Gia, Maleficent, Unbroken, The Breadwinner, Louis Zamperini, In the Land of Blood and Honey, Bosnia, Yugoslavia, First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers, Khmer Rouge, Jon Voight, Marcheline Bertrand, Changeling, A Mighty Heart, Disney, Sleeping Beauty, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, UN Ambassador, global activist, Lee Strasberg, Jonny Lee Miller, Billy Bob Thornton, Brad Pitt,What’s clear when you look at Angelina’s entire body of work, is the progressive maturing of her point of view. In her humanitarian work, she hopes to leave the world in a better way. She feels the weightiness of being a role model for other women and girls, and wants the dignity of all people to matter. Her focus on cultural history and stories from around the world illustrates where Angelina is headed.

For Angelina, art can help people find peace and resolution. She is one of a new breed of female directors powering their way to the top of the box offices. TIFF announced that it would make a five-year commitment to increasing opportunities for women behind and in front of the camera. Angelina is one of those women who believes her films can help humanity to learn to grieve, to heal and to be empowered. Unbroken is produced in 2014, and examines the true story of World War II hero, Louis Zamperini. Louis fights to survive the horrors of Japanese war camps.

At the conclusion of Angelina’s interview, she did something I never would have expected.  She stayed behind for more than 20 minutes signing autographs and taking selfie photos. Talk about truly moving behind the camera! It’s clear that Angelina wants to communicate with young people around the world.

Toronto International Film Festival, TIFF, In Conversation With, Angelina Jolie, Artistic Director of TIFF, Cameron Bailey, cultural diversity, Girl Interrupted, Gia, Maleficent, Unbroken, The Breadwinner, Louis Zamperini, In the Land of Blood and Honey, Bosnia, Yugoslavia, First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers, Khmer Rouge, Jon Voight, Marcheline Bertrand, Changeling, A Mighty Heart, Disney, Sleeping Beauty, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, UN Ambassador, global activist, Lee Strasberg, Jonny Lee Miller, Billy Bob Thornton, Brad Pitt,

Do you find yourself taking pictures of your food and sharing them on Pinterest, Facebook and Instagram? What is it about food that mesmerizes us, and why do we share these photos of our epicurean experiences?

Obviously, food is more than a necessity for fueling our bodies. In a provocative series of articles, WomanScape shines a lens on a few special women who are changing lives with their creative, loving, and meaningful recipes. They show us how food can be a powerful source of romance, healing, and empowerment.

Jeanette Chen is one of these amazing women and her recipes are both healing and beautiful. The photographs of food are an arresting feast for the eyes. But the real magic in Jeanette’s kitchen is the healing properties infused in her food. Within and outside of the kitchen, Jeanette is a kind of modern-age  “food whisperer”.

Her journey as an innovative cook and healer is unusual, even though Jeanette says her talent essentially stems from the passion she brings to cooking. While it is certainly one of the main ingredients, it doesn’t fully explain why over 200,000 people visit her website each month, let alone the over 1.25 million Google Plus followers.

A quick tour of Jeanette’s website –  http://jeanetteshealthyliving.com – and her past are revealing.  The website has a number of organizational tabs that include a typical “Recipes” index usually found on cooking sites. However, the website gets interesting when you navigate to the “Special Diets” tab and see the drop-down menu. It illustrates Jeanette’s dietary knowledge and provides a broad range of unique food groups for many dietary groups: gluten free, dairy free, vegetarian, vegan, cancer-fighting, liquid/soft-food diets, pureed soups & sauces, and low residue diets. This range of special needs provides help for many people but the unexpected tabs on “Faith” and “Healthy Living” take Jeanette’s “cooking” to a whole new level.

This unusual combination and vision about the role of food’s interconnectedness is what separates Jeanette from a crowded field of chefs and other cooking websites. Links to articles prompt readers to consider food in the broader sense, while still recognizing its critical role in realizing a healthy self. As I scroll through the pages of Jeanette’s website, it reads like a colorful photo album, chronicling her ever-evolving journey in colorful photos and delicious recipes infused with a deep faith in God, an understanding that all life is precious, and a selfless desire to serve others.

The power behind Jeanette’s culinary expertise has evolved organically with each stage of her life.  Jeanette appreciated good food growing up, as both of her Chinese parents loved to cook. Yet, she didn’t develop a real interest in cooking until she met her future husband, Michael, at the University of Rochester. They studied engineering and each graduated with a masters degree in business administration, but their opting out of the lackluster and expensive meal plan at school sparked Jeanette’s interest in cooking.  

Making her way in the world and working in a leadership position at General Electric (GE) as a managing director in corporate finance, Jeanette juggled a busy life. When Jeanette decided to leave her job to spend more time with her family after the birth of her fourth child, she couldn’t have known her new career path had already started and never would have guessed just how quickly it would grow.

One of the women at the office who had worked for Jeanette was diagnosed with breast cancer. Jeanette and Francine’s work relationship developed into a friendship, and Jeanette began making meals for Francine as she went in and out of treatment. When Jeanette left GE, Francine sought her help once again only this time she needed help getting to medical appointments because she didn’t have any family living nearby.

Jeanette was happy to help and became a trusted friend, developing a more personal relationship with Francine that included driving, cooking and visiting her regularly. It was this desire to help Francine and others in need that prompted the creation of healthy soup recipes (like the Thai Coconut Curry Soup pictured here) and recipes that could help fight the side effects of chemotherapy. Kindness stirred Jeanette’s creativity and knowledge turned spices and special ingredients into healing recipes that addressed side effects from cancer treatments, like mouth sores, trouble swallowing, loss of appetite, and difficulty chewing.

As her friendship with Francine evolved over an eight year battle with breast cancer, Jeanette’s husband Michael encouraged her to blog as a way to journal and organize her healing recipes. Before long, people were logging onto Jeanette’s website for advice and assistance. Sadly, Francine succumbed to cancer but Jeanette continued to work with others, many of whom did recover. These experiences and the positive feedback from people who shared how much Jeanette’s help meant to their ailing loved ones motivated Jeanette to continue to grow and shape her healing foods.

Over time, Jeanette discovered that the food science of recovery was only one part of the healing equation. It was equally important to develop foods that appealed to a variety of tastes to fit individual preferences, and patients’ changing tastes and needs. This was a much bigger challenge because what worked for one person might seem tasteless to another. As well, preferences for certain foods, tastes or textures changed as illnesses or diseases progressed or receded. This meant that healing foods needed to be constantly re-examined or re-imagined. Recipes like Jeanette’s Roasted Root Vegetable Soup needed to be as individual as the people who sought her help and her cooking advice.

When the youngest of Jeanette’s four boys developed food sensitivities, this created yet another opportunity for her to develop an entirely new category of healing recipes to help people with food restrictions. Since starting her website in 2010, Jeanette’s healthy food recipes have certainly grown. Her joy of cooking and working with others has followed suit, influencing and reinforcing other areas of Jeanette’s faith and learning.

Many women caring for sick relatives and friends log onto Jeanette’s website often searching for soft food diets or liquid foods that provide rich easy-to-digest, nutrients. Jeanette stresses the importance of using a wide variety of healthy organic vegetables for soup broths and recipes, but she also admits that individual taste is the most important criteria when deciding what recipe to make.

There’s no room for an ego when it comes to helping cancer patients make food selections. Jeanette has seen friends and family request the same recipe over and over again because it brings them comfort, even though you might assume they might want something new and would get tired of the repetition.  Recipes that can be enjoyed over and over again by cancer patients are Jeanette’s Mango Coconut Milk Smoothie and Clean Eating Lentil Soup because they are super tasty, clean and nutritious. In every recipe, Jeanette listens carefully to what people want and need.

Listening is an important ingredient when deciding which foods to make, and there are times when nothing seems to work. What someone may have liked before can completely change; this is understandable as patients experience physical challenges from their illness or side effects like a loss of appetite or an inability to taste occur.

One of my favorite recipes from Jeanette’s website that’s popular with other women is her Overnight Breakfast Oatmeal and her avocado toast. They are quick and easy, protein-packed meals that are definitely her most popular downloads.

Men love Jeanette’s Ghost Chili Hot Sauce and  Super Bowl recipes like Black Bean Turkey Chili that are healthy crowd pleasers. Jeanette’s recipes are designed to please a wide variety of tastes and needs. Lately she has been working more with cruciferous foods like cauliflower and kale because they are highly nutritious. This makes me extremely happy. If you’re like me and love roasted cauliflower after years of hating cauliflower as a kids, check out Jeanette’s Roasted Cauliflower and Beet Hummus recipe. One word for it: divine!

So where does Jeanette go from here? Until recently, her faith in God and her service to others has been a quiet ingredient. New posts by Jeanette, sharing her devotion to healing the body and mind with inspirational links to articles and philosophical resources, seems like a great direction and a natural fit. While it takes courage to share one’s journey Jeanette has never shied away from following her intuition about how to live and bring deeper value and insight to others.

Jeanette’s passion for food and its healing goodness is a gift. Food is more than a source of nourishment when we cook with a spirit and creativity that fuels our soul.  No wonder our world has fallen in love with photographs of delicious-looking food that invite you to experience bright colors, interesting textures and comforting qualities! Believing we are tapped to do meaningful work on earth, no matter how glorified or humble, helps us to realize a life rich in purpose.  Explore the “Faith” section of Jeanette’s website as welcome food for thought, knowing that daily meals are often rushed and many families even forgo communal meals at the kitchen table. I will continue to follow Jeanette’s healthy recipes and invite you to do so, as I wish you a delicious journey through life. Fill it with the very best ingredients.

I love the “City of Stars” music from the recent Oscar-nominated movie, La La Land. Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling tenderly whisper their dreams and hopes to the stars, praying for a city of lights filled with love and happiness.

When I hear this song my heart escapes to a magical place where my dreams are admittedly sentimental and gooey. For me, my city of lights shines brightly in Paris.

Every time I’m in Paris I succumb to its winding streets and famous arrondissements. While I have yet to go beyond the city, venturing into Versailles and Fontainebleau, who can blame me? Paris is filled with an endless selection of bottomless bread baskets, silky cheeses and overflowing red wine on almost every Parisian corner. These culinary delights stimulate my blissful escape into the fascinating world of Parisian stories, stretching my imagination across time and well beyond the city’s center at Notre Dame.

Historical French women call out to me like Joan of Arc, from her gable perch on the Sacré Cœur Basilica, and Josephine Bonaparte, as I walk the cobblestone streets in front of Notre Dame. Paris is alive thousands of monuments to women, whose contributions  have changed history and opportunities for other women.

In Montmartre, fifteenth century Joan of Arc is one of my favorite musings. She sits to the left of a triumphant King Louis IX. Joan is best remembered for her role in preserving France’s religious faith and national unity. During the Hundred Years War when the English occupied parts of France and threatened its sovereignty, Joan claimed to hear God’s voice telling her to lead the embattled crown prince Charles VII to victory at Orléans.

Joan of Arc’s victorious charge and horrific death as a heretic burned at the stake sealed her fate as one of France’s most cherished saints. But what if Joan had ignored her dreams or had been too afraid to take up the sword, especially since women leading the war front was unheard of at this time?

Joan’s mystic legacy as a great leader and savior of the church is honored in thousands of statues throughout Paris, and to this day she continues to be a subject of great scholarly fascination. More personally, the golden image of Joan riding on a horse into battle inspires me to feel like anything is possible in life, if you stay true to your beliefs and convictions amidst doubt and controversy.

Of all the fascinating French women of Paris, I could not write their stories without including the most famous one living in the Louvre museum.

Before you say the Mona Lisa shouldn’t be included because she isn’t technically French born, and is only an Italian subject of painter Leonardo Da Vinci’s, hear me out.

I include the Mona Lisa among the most inspiring and transformative French women for two reasons: her portrait was commissioned by the King of France in 1530 and, most importantly, she is the most visited, studied, and best known work of art in the world whose place in Paris is solidified. Essentially, there are no plans for the Mona Lisa to emigrate anytime soon.

Her resting place in the Louvre is an interesting one, after her picture first hung in the gallery of King Francois I at Fontainebleau. Napoleon Bonaparte moved her to his bedroom wall in his Tuileries apartment in 1800 before she took official residence in the Louvre four years later. The Mona Lisa has continued to live in Paris well over 200 years now, and my fixation with her place there is shared with the world.

No doubt her mysterious smile or what the Italians call, sfumato (meaning blurry, ambitious and up to the imagination) is a perfect reflection of the mysterious allure that French women exude. It is an allure that can’t be defined, any more than Nat King Cole tried in his hit song about Mona Lisa’s smile or Columbia Pictures’ attempt to classify her in the 2003 movie, Mona Lisa Smile.

The potential for women to reach new heights and to dream beyond traditional roles is enough to hold me captive.  Mona Lisa reminds us of the power of the imagination, even for any doubters who know that Da Vinci predicted many future inventions from flying machines to water inventions.

The Mona Lisa is more than a 16th century painting of Lisa Gherardini, wife of Francesco del Giocondo. Her stature goes far beyond the millions of people who have flocked to see her. She embodies that powerful combination of strength, mystery, creativity and individualism in French women that inspires me to be even more than I already am.

French history is filled with further examples of complex female figures, the last which must be included to understand revolutionary France.  During the French Reign of Terror in 1793, Josephine Tascher de La Pagerie was married to a prominent Viscount named Alexandre de Beauharnais. Alexandre was executed by guillotine for being an aristocratic sympathizer but his wife Josephine was saved from the same fate thanks to her quick intellect.

Parisian women still recount Josephine’s ingenious escape. Josephine walked up the steps of the platform to meet her death but fainted in front of a huge crowd gathered at Notre Dame. Claiming she was with child, she knew the Catholic laws protected the execution of an innocent child so her life would be spared. Able to wait out the political unrest in jail, Josephine was released when the final coup d’état ended.

Josephine would reappear on these same steps of Notre Dame to be crowned Empress years later when she  married Napoleon Bonaparte. After her prison release she became a popular leader in Paris society and caught the fancy of Napoleon, a young rising officer in the army. She used her position to advance his political fortune, and when they married in a civil ceremony Josephine insisted on a second ceremony at Notre Dame after his coronation as Emperor on December 1, 1804.

During their reign, Josephine fought for social and political reforms and joined a movement of women called the  Society of Revolutionary Republican Women, whose demands included equal rights for women and economic reforms in Paris.  Participating in a march that included over seven thousand armed women, Josephine took to the streets and protested at the Hotel de Ville and later Versailles.

Josephine secured her title as Empress with Napoleon even after he divorced her because she could not produce an heir. Despite her new status, she remained politically astute and helped assuage the marriage of her daughter, Hortense, to Napoleon’s brother Louis, and her son Eugene’s marriage to the daughter of the King of Bavaria.

When you consider Josephine’s historical legacy, her ancestry of five dynasties still reigns in Northern Europe, in the ruling families of Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Belgium, and in Luxembourg. In fact, she is even connected to Princess Diana and her son William, who will become the next King of England. How’s that for a city of lights and an Empress of all Empires?

Parisian women have changed the course of history in France and throughout the world. The new reign of terror attacks are not enough to dampen my appetite for Paris, as I stand in solidarity with them. The French commitment to helping America in its struggle for independence lives on in our Lady Liberty statue, a gift from the French designed by Auguste Bartholdi.

As she clutches the Declaration of Independence and steps out of the British chains that lay at her feet, I know France will always have a special place in my heart. This power is underscored by its women and captured in a diary entry by Napoleon to his future wife, Josephine. In it, he writes to her saying,

“I awake filled with you. Your portrait and yesterday’s intoxicating evening left no repose for my senses. Gentle, incomparable Josephine, what a strange effect you have on my heart!”

My mother grew up in Turkey in the 1950’s.  What I loved most about her was her flowing hair that reached down to her waist when she was a young girl.  She reminded me of a goddess from the old Hollywood movies.

I remember watching her apply her makeup in the mirror, praying that one day, I would be beautiful, like her. There is a photo of my mother that looks like a Botticelli Venus. It is how I want to remember her forever and ever.

When I think about my mother’s hair, I think about what it means to be woman. Lately, I have wanted to embrace my femininity. But what does that really mean? Often, as women, we veil our own true selves to appear a certain way to others. I find that we are all actors in some way in every situation.

We can’t be “too feminine” lest we not be taken seriously. We can’t be “too masculine” because that would make us threatening to both male and female. Women, in general, are programmed to please others, to nurture, to love, to give way. They are strong and resilient in the face of adversity, complex, intuitive and empathetic.

There was a time when the female image was revered and worshipped. Ancient cultures came from a matriarchal society, where the creative, holistic feminine right brain ruled, in contrast to the linear and analytical masculine left brain. Eventually, the matriarchal society of the goddess evolved to patriarchy.

In The Alphabet versus the Goddess, author Leonard Schlain contrasts the feminine right-brain teachings of Buddha and Jesus to the masculine thought process that evolved when the human brain began the act of writing. He asserts that one of the visible ways women lost their power was by having to cover their hair, or in some cases, cut their hair off once they were married because the hair was considered a thing of beauty.

Is a woman’s hair her power? It is her choice whether she wants to cut off her hair or cover it. Think about the story of Samson and Delilah. Samson’s power was in his hair. And when it was cut off, he lost his strength. But hair is symbolic of a deeper issue. The issue is our free will. A women’s right to choose how she wants to live her life, how she wants to appear to others, but most of all, how she perceives her identity stems from our free will.
On March 8, we celebrate International Women’s Day, a global day of recognition for the economic, political and social achievements of women; we celebrate our strength, courage and resilience. Women are critical for the advancement of peace and democracy in a world where inequalities continue to exist across every aspect of our lives.

How I ask, is this possible in the 21st century? Haven’t human beings evolved to a higher realm of consciousness?  How do we change this?

These questions fueled my fire of wanting to be part of a socially just and kind world. But what could I, one person, do, in the face of the hardships that so many women endure throughout the world?

Over the years, I have met numerous heroic women who are not afraid to do the work to create a world of parity for all.

One organization that welcomed me many years was the International Women Associates (IWA), a not for profit established in 1978 in the living room of a dashing woman with a Katherine Hepburn accent. Doe Thornburg. Doe Thornburg founded IWA to connect women who were either born or lived outside of the United States, or who traveled extensively as Americans and had diverse international backgrounds and cultures.
When I asked Doe what made her establish this group of women, her response was, “I wanted to start it on a spiritual basis, believing that everyone is a sacred person. You must understand that everyone is equally worthy of their highest self.”

Today, IWA has nearly 500 members from 60 countries. They share their experiences and global understanding through programs that encourage cross-cultural exchanges and most of all, friendship. They share the mission of establishing universal human rights, especially for women and girls. Doe Thornburg remains a compelling visionary for women, forever an elegant and gifted speaker at 94.

IWA was the beginning of my initiation to what it means to be a global woman. Born in another country and raised in the United States since I was 6 years of age, I recall wanting to belong like my natural born friends. I was embarrassed to be a foreigner with olive skin (something I now cherish as a friendly elixir for the years on my face!) and my mother speaking to me in our language in front of my friends. On the school bus, obnoxious little boys would take my seat and call me Mexican, as though it was an expletive. I wanted to respond, “I am not Mexican. I am Turkish.” But that would have been even worse, since they had no concept of geography and would have called me a turkey! Children can be so cruel. Oh, how I embraced my Mexican friends, who never had an unkind word for me. I was an American citizen who still felt like an outsider living far from the beautiful Mediterranean coast that no longer held a spot for me either. I had no roots.

As I grew older, I met my first real international friends at university and immediately felt at home. My ugly duckling demeanor vanished along with my insecurity and baby fat, and I blossomed into a secure young woman; determined to surround myself with a myriad of cultures.

What began with my education in college congealed into a sense of family with the women from IWA. They confirmed my American-ness in a way that embraced patriotism and my Turkish roots. The IWA cultural programs opened channels of discourse about global injustices endured by women and girls. These injustices persist but thankfully many men and women are working together are making inroads.
Women are powerful but cannot do this alone. We need to educate men at an early age to support women if we are to ensure that children are raised to respect and honor one another’s sanctity. Otherwise, there will always be a wall between the two genders.

When we celebrate the collective potential of women, as the following examples do, women are powerful game-changers. There are many women and men who are doing the work, carving a manifesto of equality for all.

Nobel peace prize winner, Muhammad Yunus, reaffirms this in his in his book, Creating a World Without Poverty. Yunus promotes micro-financing as a powerful way to bridge the poverty gap for women who struggle to achieve economic and social parity. Giving loan money to people who had nothing, especially to women, translated into a repayment rate of over 98%. This value proposition is echoed in the Half the Sky Movement, where “Women comprise 70 percent of the world’s poorest people and own only 1 percent of the titled land.” Statistically, 80% of income earned by women goes back to the family, but only 30% of money earned by men is reinvested.

Laura Rose, CEO and cofounder of Greenheart International, emerged into my life serendipitously one spring evening as I was setting up an outdoor sign in front of my gallery. We became fast friends as she explained to me the work she and her husband, Emmanuel Kuntzleman, do with Greenheart, a not for profit supporting a variety of initiatives that connect people and planet to create global change.

Laura and Emmanuel are dedicated to raising environmental awareness, promoting cultural understanding and advocating for world peace. Since 1985, they have partnered with some 250 organizations in 97 countries, providing educational opportunities and scholarships that teach young people to become world leaders.

I think of the love chakra when I hear the words “green heart.” This is exactly what Laura told me when I asked about her inspiration and goals in life.

“The creation of Greenheart was an act of love, of our love for humanity and all of its enormous potential.   When we focus that potential to empower young people to not only enrich their own lives, but the lives of others, amazing acts of generosity and kindness occur. We accomplish this by helping to expose our communities, families and participants to the values of social justice and environmental sustainability, creating opportunities for self-reflection in which powerful shifts in perspective occur.”

We have gone far in the last one hundred years, yet there is still much work to do. International Women’s Day celebrates and honors the essence of that which is woman. We celebrate the grandeur of our mothers and grandmothers, and our daughters and granddaughters. We honor those women who do not have the opportunities of education or freedom to choose their lives and live it in peace and serenity.

Although International Women’s Day celebrates women, the day also recognizes empathy, compassion, and overwhelming love. By advocating for justice, opportunity and freedom, we celebrate all humankind.

Michael Ondaatje, in his novel The English Patient, wrote, “We die containing a richness of lovers and tribes, tastes we have swallowed, bodies we have plunged into and swum up as if rivers of wisdom, characters we have climbed into as if trees, fears we have hidden in as if caves….We are communal histories, communal books. We are not owned or monogamous in our taste or experience.”

Daenerys Targaryen, Mother of Dragons and Queen of Armies, destroyed entire kingdoms in Game of Thrones. It’s easy to see why this runaway HBO TV hit has captivated audiences. The unexpected plot twists and revolving-door deaths of major characters is riveting, but there are greater reasons to tune in: the show underscores the real-life cast of characters in our American Presidential run (from Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump and those left in the dust), and the latest season is dominated by women warriors.

Almost a decade ago, I heard the term “women warriors” while riding the chunnel from England to Paris. I was feasting on a meal fit for Marie Antoinette. I can still taste the fresh slices of a French baguette (the kind with the crispy hard crust and soft, cloud-like interior), creamy camembert cheese wedges and the mini bottles of chilled Chablis. Next to my seat, someone had left a ragged newspaper that I nearly discarded except for the tiny article at the top of the page that caught my eye. It described the anniversary of Rokheya Shekhawat Hossain’s fictional story, “Sultana’s Dream.”

The paper celebrated the anniversary of Hossain’s story from 1905; it was written by a young feminist social worker from Bengal, India whose heroes were penned before George Martin’s Game of Thrones. The feminist utopia created by Hossain centered on an unlikely band of women defeating an invading army of men using nothing but mirrors and sunbeams. The story received little acclaim for many decades, probably because the “sultan” (meaning female ruler) challenged India’s traditional notion of male strength by having the women ingeniously defeat the men.  But Hossain’s use of “women warriors” caused me to wonder whether or not her image of women as warriors was groundbreaking.

Daenerys Targaryen, Mother of Dragons and Queen of Armies, Game of Thrones, women warriors, Marie Antoinette, Hilary Clinton, Rokheya Shekhawat Hossain, Sultana’s Dream, George Martin, Feminist Utopia, Julia Koenig’s 1977 marvel comic book, Wonder Woman, Joan of Arc, Harriot Tubman, Nancy Drew, Agatha Christie, Algeria’s Dihya--Berber, Japan’s Lady Hangatu--samurai warrior , Vietnam’s Trung sisters, She-king, Mulan, Ariel, Jennifer Lawrence, Amy Schumer, KatnissHistorically, female warriors have not been widely celebrated and, in some cases, women were portrayed as evil warriors like the Warrior Woman character in Julia Koenig’s 1977 marvel comic book. The cover shot depicts Warrior Woman’s epic battle with Captain America as she uses her Nazi spy background and extraordinary powers.

After further digging, I discovered a storied history of real warrior women like Hossain’s whose feats truly have gone largely unnoticed in popular culture. Sure, you’ve heard of a few exceptions like Joan of Arc and Harriet Tubman; mind you both women were often dogged by reports of strange visions and craziness. Likewise, how many times did you study historical women only in the context of how they positively impacted male leaders; whether it was their husbands, brothers, or fathers?

Growing up, I remember emulating two fictional characters whose intellectual strengths solved crimes. They were warriors and I wanted to be just like Nancy Drew and Agatha Christie. Their role modeling effect was so great that I honed my deductive skills while reading Sherlock Holmes several times over, before seriously considering a career in law enforcement.

In lieu of my binge-watching discovery of Game of Thrones, I realized it was important for more women and girls to meet a few of the hundreds of warrior women in history. They have challenged the limits and powers of women way beyond literature and pop culture. For instance:

  • Algeria’s Dihya–Berber Queen and military leader from 680’s who led the resistance against Arab expansion into Africa;
  • Japan’s Lady Hangatu–samurai warrior who helped raised an army in 1201 to prevent the overthrow of the Emperor; and,
  • Vietnam’s Trung sisters–military leaders from the first century who trained an army of women (including their mother) to become generals, and who then thwarted the Chinese invasion of Vietnam ((Trung Trac later became the first “She-king”).

Girls exposed to strong female archetypes learn they are powerful in their own right. As a mother, I was embraced stronger female Disney characters and their effect on my three daughters.  Mulan and Ariel conveyed the importance of strength and independence; with Mulan battling as a samurai warrior  in a man’s world men, and Ariel bucking tradition amongst a sea of maidens waiting to be rescued.

My middle daughter, Lauren, can still attest to the Mulan-effect in her life. Mulan taught Lauren to battle, as she demanded karate lessons to thwart schoolyard bullies interfering with her recess games. Likewise,  the rebellious streak in Ariel influenced my youngest daughter, Kelley, who took Ariel’s role modeling of freedom from convention and social expectations to heart. The only downside Kelley was her brief encounter with Ursula at Disneyland. Ursula was the evil sea queen who terrified Ariel and also gave my daughter nightmares.

We’ve made progress as television networks and Hollywood moguls have capitalized on stories about strong women. Suddenly these stories are everywhere, as executives compete for award winning programs and top-ratings in daytime talk shows. Celebs like Oprah Winfrey and Ellen DeGeneres fought their way onto the stage after giants like Lucy Ball and Carol Burnett, changing the conversation about race and sexual orientation along the way.

Entertainers like Jennifer Lawrence and Amy Schumer continue to push the conversation further. Schumer’s comedic material is unapologetic with no subject off limits. Her recent writing and acting debut in the movie “Trainwreck” challenges dating stereotypes of women as sexual victims. I’ve noticed Lawrence seems to go out of her way to choose roles in movies like “Joy” and “The Hunger Games”, both dismissing women as passive participants in life. The ingenuity of her Hunger Games’ character, Katniss, role models the virtues of intelligence over might, especially when Kat defeats the Capital government by pretending to commit a double suicide with Peeta. In many ways, her victory mirrors Hossain’s clever women outsmarting the men.1

Daenerys Targaryen, Mother of Dragons and Queen of Armies, Game of Thrones, women warriors, Marie Antoinette, Hilary Clinton, Rokheya Shekhawat Hossain, Sultana’s Dream, George Martin, Feminist Utopia, Julia Koenig’s 1977 marvel comic book, Wonder Woman, Joan of Arc, Harriot Tubman, Nancy Drew, Agatha Christie, Algeria’s Dihya--Berber, Japan’s Lady Hangatu--samurai warrior , Vietnam’s Trung sisters, She-king, Mulan, Ariel, Jennifer Lawrence, Amy Schumer, KatnissLawrence has even taken her role public, shooting a proverbial arrow through the heart of producers when asked her to lose weight for the Katniss role. Standing her ground, Lawrence refused to promote unreal expectations for young girls, saying they needed to be proud, independent and strong.

Promoting stories about women warriors from past and present is critical if we want the fate of the world to rest on equal shoulders.  Doing so helps not only to challenge strongholds on gender issues and a woman’s place to rule, it forges a path for new generations to realize anything in life is possible. In season 5 of “Game of Thrones”, Daenerys outwits her captor when she angrily responds to a threat by him: “Woman! Is that meant to insult me? I would return the slap if I took you for a man.”2

  1. https://www.scifinow.co.uk/news/jennifer-lawrence-i-refused-to-lose-weight-for-the-hunger-games/
  2. http://www.starpulse.com/25-powerful-daenerys-targaryen-quotes-from-game-of-thrones-1848479046.html?page=11

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