Saturday, November 25, 2017

Media

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,

Adriana Bertini: A Passion for Fashion for Good

Her unusual talent and passion for fashion turns discarded condoms into something good. Sounds crazy doesn’t it, but this talent has taken Adriana Bertini around the world visiting over 35 different countries in Asia, Africa, South America, North America, Europe and Oceania.

This inventive artistry has also caught the attention of celebs like Charlize Theron, Richard Gere, Bob Geldof and Elton John. I can’t imagine cutting and fashioning a condom 80 different ways, but this feat is even more impressive as her mind-boggling art collections – over 200 sculptures, 160 dresses and 80 tapestries – transform our understanding of sexual health, love and respect.

Adriana Bertini is a remarkable woman and native of São Paulo, Brazil. She started making haute couture clothing until she became disillusioned with society’s rampant material consumption. Bothered as well by the negative environmental footprint of consumerism and condoms (defective condoms from factories are incinerated and send toxic chemicals into the air), Adriana put her artistic talents to work uniting fashion and health.

Adriana Bertini: A Passion for Fashion for GoodAs a fashion activist for over twenty-five years, Adriana has devoted her time and talents to important social causes surrounding inequality, discrimination and stereotyping. Some of her greatest efforts include working with Amnesty International’s Brussel campaign to end female genital mutilation, as well as helping a variety of other non-governmental organizations and AIDS patients.

This kind of dedication is infectious and has become more popular among artists and celebrities who share Adriana’s passion for changing the world. Organizations like clothing brand H&M have also stepped up to partner for causes, like this 2008 t-shirt design glossing the cover of ELLE magazine. It was a collaborative project in support of Designers Against Aids (DAA).

Adriana’s collaboration with artist-friend Ninette Murk is also a great example of artists working together on projects like DAA. Adriana’s friend Ninette is the founder and creative director of DAA, and each year new initiatives like her Beauty Without Irony in 2008 raise financial support and awareness for AIDs, while also examining superficial perceptions of beauty.

Adriana was inspired by her work with Ninette and other fashion designers, but the heavy toll of her challenging volunteer work with AIDs patience started to negatively impact her life. The sadness of caring for so many sick and neglected people, who suffered from injustice and prejudice, weighed heavily on her artistic sensitivities.

The grief from losing friends impacted her physical, emotional and creative work, causing Adriana to rethink her approach.

Influenced by her father, a sociologist who taught her to believe anything was possible, Adriana knew she had the power to change the world with three simple tools: compassion, generosity and love.

Armed with this renewed spirit, Adriana shifted gears. She decided to focus on proactive health initiatives and educating younger generations. This moved the conversation away from treating diseases to positive conversations amongst families. Adrianna saw how many parents were uncomfortable talking to their kids about sexual health. As a result, young people weren’t aware of important questions relating to how they treated or viewed their own body. Attitudes about self-esteem, implications related to sexual behavior, the risks of infection from sexually transmitted diseases, gender identity, sexual abuse, discrimination, abortion and a long list of other considerations were simply ignored.

Adriana Bertini: A Passion for Fashion for Good

But where to start? There’s nothing like wowing an audience and this photo from journalist Leo Goulart does exactly that, illustrating the wow factor of Adriana’s creations. Adriana knew the social aspects of using condoms naturally tied into sexual health awareness, so she created amazing dresses and sculptures. Some of these dresses in the photo above used as many as 80,000 condoms and were fantastic attention-getters.

Even though most people don’t immediately identify her art with environmental consciousness, it certainly draws you in. By creating Condom Art Workshops, like the one described in the photo below, Adriana started collaborating with high schools and universities to build awareness around the use of condoms.

Adriana Bertini: A Passion for Fashion for Good

These workshops were an immediate success, and Adriana saw how much women in particular benefited.

Women learn they have the power to negotiate condom use and to protect themselves against sexually transmitted diseases. But deeper discussions about topics like self-esteem, respect your body, the purpose of sex, and loving yourself follow from these insightful conversations.

As the mother of two young children, Adriana can relate to the sensitive nature of these topics and the need for professional support from educators to guide students. Adriana has also welcomed a psychologist into her work to ensure education workshops are age appropriate and ideologically sensitive.  In a short time, Adriana watched as more parents and kids talked about sex and its complex issues, and this continued to push her to want to do more. The photo below shows Adriana’s stop in Senegal, as she travels the world sharing her vision.

Adriana Bertini: A Passion for Fashion for Good

Adriana believes it’s not enough to talk about condoms and more needs to be done to break stereotypes and stigmas surrounding their use. You can see kids at work in the photos below, as  Adriana creates internships and opportunities that inspire a new generation of leaders. Eventually, Adriana would like to open her museum and work space dedicated to growing her cause. She’s open to partnering with organizations and hopes that one day everyone will see  condoms as a second skin.

Adriana Bertini: A Passion for Fashion for Good
Adriana Bertini: A Passion for Fashion for Good

I think it was destiny that helped me discover Adriana’s incredible story. Pursuing research for another article brought me to New York’s Museum of  Sex on 5th Avenue. The museum was completely underwhelming and filled with racy collections, except for one glass enclosed case. Inside was a mesmerizing purple party dress that was part of an exhibit tracing the evolution of the condom.

Adriana Bertini: A Passion for Fashion for GoodThe New York Times had written a piece about Adriana but the 1,200 hand-dyed purple condoms (pictured left) moved me to want to learn more about its creator. The dress promoted the condom as a image of prevention and pleasure and I knew I had seen one like it about seven years before in Bangkok, Thailand.

I had dined with my cousin in a restaurant called Condoms and Cabbages; where a portion of all sales helped undeserved populations have access to birth control. I still remember the odd looking Santa and Thai woman condom costumes in the middle of the restaurant, a popular tourist site. A small sign drew attention to the need for safe sex and  awareness about HIV. Evidence of declining HIV infections in Thailand suggests programs like these are working.

Adriana Bertini: A Passion for Fashion for GoodWhen I asked Adriana about this restaurant, she admitted that many of her creations have been copied. She had worked on an exhibit in Thailand in 2004 and answered questions about her designs before the restaurant was opened. Whether this was coincidence or not, Adriana is flattered and focused on the larger impact that her work serves.

Adriana and the creators of WomanScape share a common belief – that art has the power to change the world and to build greater self-awareness and understanding. So I couldn’t help but smile when Adriana added that she took solace in Coco Chanel who believed that if you want to be original, you should get ready to be copied.  Like Coco who blazed a trail in the fashion industry, Adriana is doing that and more with her determination and creativity.

If you’d like to know more or connect with Adriana, she can be reached through Instagram @AdrianaBertini or on Facebook. You can also contact Adriana by email at: condomart@gmail.com

Wonder Woman Kaboom

Wonder Woman is back and wrestling the cosmic powers of darkness. If you haven’t seen the movie, get ready for Gal Godot’s big screen portrayal of DC Comic’s character Diana Prince, Princess of the Amazons. She’s lassoed a huge following and a new generation of Wonder Woman fans while topping world box office charts with early sales in excess of $450 million U.S.

This action-packed, visually compelling, and smartly written movie packs a whole lot of superhero battle scenes. They are punctuated with delightful comedic bouts that underscore a powerful and timely message about women and their place in the world. Yet I couldn’t help ponder its success: what is this message, and why now? Is there a dearth of good movies right now or maybe a worldwide consciousness about women bolstered by the resurgence of a global women’s movement?

Gal Gadot is WonderWoman and the Director on setThe answer is yes and no. Yes, there is a dearth of good superhero movies, if you follow tweets from social media and movie reviewers. Both have called Wonder Woman the most inspiring superhero movie in years. Twitter feeds by men and women alike celebrate film director Patty Jenkins’ blockbuster ability to capture the essence of the Marvel hero story-line.  (Photo: Clay Enos/TM & DC Comics) And, here’s a newsflash: gender doesn’t seem to matter in any of these tweets!

Just ask Mike who says, “Christopher Reeve’s Superman: true north superhero w/ no angst or cynicism, which is needed right now.” Or Adam, who wrote: “Happy — no, RELIEVED — to report that #WonderWoman is truly good. Funny, stirring, kick-ass, romantic. A solid, entertaining superhero film.” A woman name Alison chimed in, adding that “Gal Godot is absolutely phenomenal as #WonderWoman. She KILLS it, just surprisingly good. A truly heroic light DCEU desperately needs.”

But these joyful responses move beyond gender confines, praising Wonder Woman outside of its superhero genre. Twitter follower Alisha said, “There’s a scene in #WonderWoman that made me cry tears of joy – so rare to see a (literal) army of women acting so competently on film.” Alisha’s sentiment, bolstered by thousands of other women and girls who shared their elation across Facebook and Twitter, hints at the movie’s deeper appeal. Wonder Woman celebrates the empowerment of women and the critical (yet often subjected) role of women in fighting the “evils” of the world.

the power is in us all to be wonder womanThis moves the feminist wave, felt round the world in January 2017, past the #WomenMarchGlobal twitter trend. The discussion #WhatWomenWantin4Words trend is a gender equal world, as movie audiences applaud Wonder Woman in countries like France, U.K. and Brazil. It’s not surprising to see women empowered in these places, but it is in other countries like Russia, China and the United Arab Emirates. Wonder Woman’s success in countries where women struggle for equality signals their strong desire to recognize and harness their power. It also says that women all over the world are willing to spend money to see women-centered movies.

Melissa Silverstein, founder and publisher of Women and Hollywood magazine, agrees. She says people everywhere will watch movies with women protagonists and women-focused stories when these movies have the necessary budget and the right amount of real marketing and advertising dollars to be a successful large-scale international release.

This truth reaches new heights when you consider one of the most memorable lines from the Wonder Woman movie. Early in the film, Hippolyta warns Diana early to “be careful in the world of men (Diana), for they do not deserve you.” Diana realizes this truth when she decides to help humanity despite our mortal flaws and maybe because of them. Steve Trevor (played by Chris Pine) is willing to sacrifice himself for the good of humanity, disproving that all men are undeserving of Diana’s help.

So, while Wonder Woman is undoubtedly good storytelling with a sizable marketing budget, its success is also explained by key factors in our changing world. The first of these is the growing number of men like movie reviewer Roy Sexton who are joining with women to help promote the Diana-like warriors in our world. Roy lends his unabashed support and writing talents advocating for feminism and equal rights.

Roy is the creator of ReelRoy Reviews, a website dedicated to movie reviews and personal musings about the theater. After stumbling upon Roy’s Wonder Woman review, I realized it was more than a fascinating historical account of this Marvel Comic Book character’s iterations. Roy’s article is filled with gritty praise and a few sections that he kindly allowed me to share on WomanScape. Please navigate to Roy’s site and send him a note if you like what he has to say in this paragraph below. Roy can be reached at: Reel Roy Reviews and Twitter.

After this section in the article, Roy goes on to describe the backdrop to the movie’s setting and the nascent suffrage movement that continued to make waves for women in society during World War I. He freely admits “the movie is most thrilling when Diana leads a ragtag band of adorably mismatched soldiers across the Western Front, [with Diana] marching directly through the battle lines, armed only with her wits, her magic bracelets, and her righteous indignation over the horrors she has just witnessed befalling everyday families (and horses).”

While Roy admits to crying during this movie sequence, I felt like I was Diana pushing through the front line alongside her. When I suddenly realized I was gripping the edge of my seat and clenching my teeth, I relaxed back into my chair and noticed a packed audience that looked just as invested as I felt.

WomanScape celebrates Roy’s kicking definition of feminism, the affirmation from Wonder Woman’s box office sales and the powerful message it brings to audiences. The world needs wonder men and wonder women who embrace compassion and inclusivity.  Human beings are worth saving if we can believe and follow the examples of Steve and Diana and not lose faith.

Wonder Woman is the creation of William Moulton Marston, a man who believed women were superior to men and should rule the world. But this wasn’t something men could say back in the 1940’s in America. Thanks to Jill Lepore’s book, The Secret Life of Wonder Woman, we know how much Marston’s unusual personality  and exceptional intelligence (as a graduate of Harvard) affected Diana’s costuming and character. If we suppose that Marston’s invention of the lie detector machine helps to explain why Wonder Woman’s lasso forces captives to tell the truth, it’s not a stretch to suggest Marston also saw women as keepers of the truth. If Wonder Woman embodies the power of all women, women are critical for honesty to prevail in the world and they must be given the same opportunities as men to exercise their powers.

Gal Gadot is Wonder Woman

(Photo: Clay Enos/TM & DC Comics)

Our heads smack against the inside roof of the black 4×4 Land Rover like kernels of  popcorn. We scream so loudly that when I glance sideways to see my husband’s face it’s purple. The setting sun and our perilous speed make it impossible to know if it’s just the light or if he’s having a heart attack. I breath deeply to slow my pulse just in case we need to make the hospital our next stop!

This is the start of my Arabian adventure – giant sprays of white sand swooshing underneath the tires. It is terrifying and exhilarating, and not what I expected when I asked the hotel concierge about Bedouins and a desert tour. I pictured a less dramatic tour retracing the history and lifestyle of ancient desert caravans.

But I should know better. In Dubai, people expect the unexpected and this tour is grand like the Palace Hotel we’re staying at in downtown Dubai. The Palace is surrounded by lush gardens and spectacular views of the Dubai fountain, nestled in front of Dubai’s world renown shopping complex. Visitors inhale exotic floral scents as they enter the lobby and feast on jewel-colored interiors.

Our tour of the desert started when guides arrived in luxury all-terrain vehicles to chauffeur five parties of six people to the desert conservation area less than an hour from the city center of Dubai. The promise of a falcon demonstration and tented campground dinner with music and festivities under the setting sun was a dream come true for me.  I had been to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) once before but it had been to Abu Dhabi, one of the seven UAE states that definitely felt culturally more conservative than Dubai.

My desire to see the desert stemmed from memories sitting with my father and watching American spaghetti westerns and the Oscar winning Lawrence of Arabia movie. Long flowing robes and headscarves were as foreign as my grasp of British colonial history and the state of the Arab world during the First World War.

So when Werner Herzog’s “The Queen of the Desert” was released early in 2017, I felt that same allure watching Nicole Kidman play the female version of Lawrence of Arabia in her portrayal of Gertrude Bell. I remembered highlights of my touristy Dubai desert adventure as I watched Kidman’s performance; of course, my experience paled in comparison to the 30 years Bell spent roaming vast desert lands in the Middle East.

Born into 1868 Victorian England, Gertrude Bell’s education was unusual. She was the first woman to graduate Oxford with a degree in modern history and her personality was considered “too academic” to attract marriage offers, despite her family’s significant wealth. So when her father encouraged her to visit her uncle, a diplomat stationed in Iran in 1892, Bell fell in love with the Middle East. The wanted to make a life for herself writing and documenting her desert travels so she taught herself how to speak Persian and Arabic. Bell’s archeological and academic interests became a love affair that lasted a lifetime.

During this time Britain was struggling to maintain its Imperial Rule and Bell’s knowledge of Middle Eastern culture and her travels throughout present-day regions, that include Palestine, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Iraq, became a valuable asset to the government. Bell helped to stop the expansion of the Turkish Empire with her knowledge and the unorthodox relationships she had forged roaming freely and meeting with Sheiks and Bedouin communities. Her geopolitical knowledge of borders surrounding Iraq and Jordan were critical in helping the British negotiate diplomatic settlements at the end of World War I.

There’s a scene in the “Desert Queen” where Kidman poses for a picture with Winston Churchill, just as Bell did at the 1921 Conference in Cairo, Egypt. She was the only woman delegate in the group and were it not for her trusted relationship with the Arabs, Churchill’s diplomatic efforts and relations with these Arab countries would likely have turned out quite differently.

Obviously much has changed since Bell’s time and her legacy helping to build the Museum of Antiquities in Iraq and her preservation of desert history. Her  passing in 1926 marked the end of her adventures long before the United States bombed her beloved Baghdad in 2003. Camels that once transported Bedouin tribes and foreigners like Bell who rode through the desert are now used in other ways, like camel racing for sport. Mechanical robots have replaced traditional child jockeys who used to ride on top (thanks to protective United Nations child labor laws) and robotic whips are used to lead a camel to victory while a lead truck races alongside the camel.

Riding a camel in Dubai was as thrilling as I thought it would be after our stomach churning Land Rover drive dropped us at the Desert Conservation Reserve. It was daunting to mount a camel, as they are huge animals who need to bow the front of their bodies so low in order for you to straddle their bumps. You then have to trust your body to lean way back in order for the camel to uncurl its long front legs allowing it to stand. But my nerves were buoyed by the smells of roasted meats, spicy scents and thick coffee smells permeating our campsite; a stark contrast to Bell’s lifestyle, where her desert survival depended on the hospitality of Arab tribes visited and personal rations of food and water needed to survive the grueling desert conditions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Seated in tented areas and regaled with stories about the nomadic existence, I learned about the Arab’s falcon traditions. Professional falconers demonstrated the hawking skills of these majestic birds of prey used for scouting and hunting food, until a sudden sand storm had our group running back to the cars for cover. It’s not unusual for this to happen and the sands are like shards of glass that sting your face and fill your eyes and nose.

I can still taste the grit between my teeth as we reach the campsite replete with portable bathrooms, until I think of the whirling belly dancers who entertained us and the magnificent dining feast at this final stop. Tucked in the starry heavens overhead was a sky filled with centuries of history that will forever beckon me back. I can remember standing out in the open air and walking back to the car thinking about my infinitesimal place in the world and the deep connection I felt to the desert.

Bell’s legacy as a gentlewoman of the desert –  a Khatun in the Arab culture – is wrapped in that same dark sky that I see when I look up at the night wherever I am. It’s a place where her legacy as a queen of the desert lives forever.

Bell wrote a series of letters collected into a number of publications that I hope to read one day. They can be found in the New York City Public Library or one of the many libraries around the world that house copies of these letters. Her words in the preface of one book, “Amurath to Amurath”, remind us of our place in the world:  “We wither away but they wane not, the stars that above us rise; the mountains remain after us, and the strong towers when we are gone.”

Note: You can read more about Gertrude Bell in, Desert Queen: The Extraordinary Life of Gertrude Bell: Adventurer, Adviser to Kings, Ally of Lawrence of Arabia

 

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

So maybe the Sydney Harbor bridge was extreme but I wanted to climb to the top of the world to announce the launch my new website, WomanScape.  It had to be dramatic and fearless, and towering almost 450 feet above sea level certainly fit.

Remove term: 5 Minute Read 5 Minute ReadRemove term: Australia AustraliaRemove term: Bridgeclimb BridgeclimbRemove term: Nina Simone Nina SimoneRemove term: People’s Bridge People’s BridgeRemove term: Rose McInerney Rose McInerneyRemove term: Sydney Bridge Sydney BridgeRemove term: WomanScape WomanScapeI walk under foreboding clouds from my nearby hotel to the “Rocks” area just under the bridge and arrive at the checkpoint station. Changing into my spiffy climber’s suit, I follow my assigned group through a series of simulator test climbs, before we are cleared to walk the narrow staircases and challenging heights1. My team of twelve moves in convoy hoping the heavy rain will slow enough to prevent the climb from being canceled. I hum Nina Simone’s Feeling Good song to bolster my nerves. (You can listen on YouTube as you read on.)

From the onset, everyone is individually tethered to a sliding clamp that ambles along the metal rails for the duration of the climb. You can’t disengage the harness until you finish so your climb and your pace are connected to those in front and behind you.

As my rollercoaster nerves resonate with the clinking sounds of the noisy clamp I gradually fall into a steady rhythm, and my fear gives way to a new focus – reaching the summit. The ache in my legs signals progress and rest stops become conversations with others while slower teammates catch up.

I learn each of us has a story – a reason for climbing. Few are as dramatic as the 42 years of construction and the workers who soldered more than 6 million steel rivets (without harnesses) to complete the “people’s bridge” in 1922. But our stories are a shared connection of tribulation and conquest – they are our bridge to self and to each other2. The climbers on each side of me reinforce this, my sense of purpose and the reasons for my climb.

In front of me, a bubbly and fit computer engineer named Krissy chats easily and smiles often at our rugged-looking guide. Her climb is part of a three month exploration of Asia, Africa and Oceania before starting her first full time job in the maps department at Google. The woman behind me is a veteran climber, less talkative but committed to doing this every year. It reminds her to take chances and live life boldly. This is also a great story. Like Krissy, I am designing a new map for myself, but the expensive cost of climbing the bridge is enough for me to be a fast learner with a Remove term: 5 Minute Read 5 Minute ReadRemove term: Australia AustraliaRemove term: Bridgeclimb BridgeclimbRemove term: Nina Simone Nina SimoneRemove term: People’s Bridge People’s BridgeRemove term: Rose McInerney Rose McInerneyRemove term: Sydney Bridge Sydney BridgeRemove term: WomanScape WomanScapelong memory; no need to be a repeat climber like the woman in front. I will be fearless and brave enough to fail.

As I near the top of the summit, I flashback through the stages in life that I have already climbed. My education, 28 years of marriage, several careers, motherhood and the loss of a child. In the 52 years it took to me get here, I am just beginning and the clouds have cleared. I can almost touch the sky and the Blue Mountains to the north. The landscape is endless as far as I can see and the ground rises up around me.

Looking out over the deep waters, my eyes settle on the breathtaking oyster-colored Opera House and I imagine peeling away its outer shell. I will create from my core and dance to my own music.

As I stand on the summit, the camera snaps my picture. I marvel at the powerful sun and the gust of wind that sweeps through my
hair.

“It’s a new day, a new dawn and I’m feeling good.”

I’d love to hear your story, your climb. Reach out and send me a note or a pic. There’s plenty of room on the bridge.

  1. To learn more about the climb, see http://www.bridgeclimb.com/#your-arrival
  2. To read about the bridge history, see http://www.harbourbridge.com.au/hbpages/historycontx.html

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