Ladies I Love: Y is for Malala Yousafzai, Education Equality Superhero!

Today’s A to Z Challenge post is an especially meaningful one for me.  My Lady I Love for the letter Y is Malala Yousafzai.  I hope that you have heard of her.  She comes from the Swat Valley, Pakistan, and is 16 years old.  On Tuesday, October 9, 2012, Malala boarded her bus as usual.  A man stepped on board, asked for Malala, and shot at her three times with a Colt 45.  One of those bullets entered the side of her forehead and ended up in her shoulder.  Malala spent a significant amount of time in critical condition, but recovered, and now her voice is louder than ever.

Hero_Malala_QUOTE

Malala-Yousafzai-QuotesWhat the hell happened?  Born into a Sunni Muslim family, Malala was largely educated by her father in her early years, himself an education activist.  The Taliban became active in the Swat Valley, and their presence and power grew stronger there as Malala grew up.  The Taliban destroyed girls’ schools and banned girls from attending school altogether at certain points.  The BBC wanted to cover the growing presence and influence of the Taliban in the area, and looked for someone who would anonymously supply them with information; after searching, Malala’s father volunteered her for the job, to which she agreed.  In early 2009 Malala started secretly providing the BBC with handwritten notes which would then turn into an anonymous blog published on the BBC’s news service.  Inspired by her father’s political activism, Malala became more outspoken in both the national and international news media and asserted the rights of girls to an education; for her efforts, she was awarded Pakistan’s National Youth Peace Prize in 2011.  Yousafzai was even planning to start the Malala Education Foundation, which would help poorer girls go to school.

But of course, you know what happened next.

Only, the actions of the Taliban had a completely different effect than the one they had planned.  Both Malala and her father are alive today.  On Malala’s 16th birthday, she spoke at the United Nations and called for universal access to education, for everyone.  She stated:

The terrorists thought they would change my aims and stop my ambitions, but nothing changed in my life except this: weakness, fear and hopelessness died. Strength, power and courage was born … I am not against anyone, neither am I here to speak in terms of personal revenge against the Taliban or any other terrorist group. I’m here to speak up for the right of education for every child. I want education for the sons and daughters of the Taliban and all terrorists and extremists. — Malala Yousafzai

Time CoverMalala has been bestowed many many honors, including winning the Mother Teresa Memorial Award for Social Justice in 2012, being named one of Time‘s 100 most influential people in the world (Chelsea Clinton wrote the magazine’s article on her in 2013, and she was just included among the list for 2014); and being nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in both 2013 and 2014 (the youngest person ever nominated, I believe, to boot).  Additionally, she published her book detailing her experiences and her mission, “I am Malala” in 2013.

One Child Quote

I encourage you to watch the extended version of Malala’s interview with The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart, who is fantastically awesome.  Malala comes across as passionate and modest, and I hung on her every word – after all, with an assassination attempt under her belt and a bunch of feathers in her cap, she’s like an education rights superhero!

If you’d like to learn more about Malala and her work for education equality,
please visit The Malala Fund.

Ladies I Love: W is for the Side-Splitting Women of Saturday Night Live!

I can’t believe that April is coming to an end, and we’re rounding the final corner of the A to Z Challenge.  We’ve still got a few letters to go though, so I thought that for W, I would write about some of my most favorite Ladies I Love, the hilarious Women of Saturday Night Live (SNL)!  As I went through the entire cast history of SNL, I began to get a little overwhelmed at the thought of writing this post.  There have been a lot of female SNL cast members, and I love almost all of them.  So I decided that I would pick my top five (all pictures are from NBC) and go from there…and that was incredibly difficult in itself!

Gilda Radner - Roseanne RoseannadannaAs a member of the original cast, Gilda Radner is first on my list.  She was with SNL from 1975 – 1980, and won an Emmy for her performances in 1977.  Her most iconic characters were Roseanne Roseannadanna (a loudmouthed and crude consumer-affairs reporter) and Baba Wawa (a parody of Barbara Walters), but she also had other amazing characters up her sleeve.  Gilda Radner suffered from bulimia during her stint on the show, and eventually succumbed to ovarian cancer in 1989, with her husband (Gene Wilder) at her side.

Molly Shannon - Mary Katherine GallagherMolly Shannon appeared on SNL from 1995 to 2001.  I LOVE Molly Shannon because she was absolutely fearless when it came to throwing herself into her humor (quite literally).  She had several characters that performed physical comedy, such as Catholic school girl Mary Katherine Gallagher, who would trip over folding chairs during her talent show auditions, and 50-year-0ld Sally O’Malley who wore extremely tight and high-riding red pants and liked to kick, stretch, and kick!

Kristen Wiig - Fake Tanning MomOne of my more recent favorite SNL actors is Kristen Wiig.  She was with the show from 2005 – 2012, and also used physical humor in her sketches, doing a lot of dancing and singing in awkward ways.  My favorite characters of hers were the Target Lady, Dooneese Maharelle (the deformed singer with tiny hands on the Lawrence Welk Show), and Triangle Sally (who, uh, played the triangle).  Kristen Wiig is a very versatile actor and had many other recurring characters on SNL and there were so many to love!  I was sad to see her leave the show, but she’s had a rather successful career in movies since then.

Amy Poehler Rap with Sarah PalinI’ll bet you can guess who my next two favorite SNL actors are…and you’re right!  First is Amy Poehler, who worked on SNL from 2001 through 2008.  She was promoted from “featured player” to full cast member mid-way through her first season, an accomplishment shared by only her and Eddie Murphy!  She had a recurring role as Hillary Clinton, but also did several hysterical impressions of people like Michael Jackson and Kim Jong Il.  She, along with Tina Fey (more in a sec!) made up the first women-only pair to host Weekend Update.  Amy Poehler went on to star in several movies as well as her own show, Parks and Recreation (which I love dearly).  Also close to my heart is her project “Smart Girls at the Party“, which is a social-media based program that aims to encourage girls to be themselves, think for themselves and be confident.  Amy Poehler is not only funny as hell, but she’s a great role model for our girls!

Tina Fey as Sarah PalinFinally, it’s my very favorite SNL actor (just by a hair!), Tina Fey.  Tina Fey was on SNL from 1997 – 2006.  Aside from her doppelganger depiction of Sarah Palin, Tina Fey hosted Weekend Update (first with Jimmy Fallon, and then with Amy Poehler).  And, oh yeah, did I mention that she was the FIRST FEMALE HEAD WRITER AT SNL???  Well, I just did.  Bam.  Tina Fey also went on to make movies and write and star in her own show, 30 Rock (which I also loved very much).  AND, in 2013 and 2014, she and Amy Poehler also co-hosted the 70th and 71st Golden Globe Awards and totally rocked it.  She even wrote her memoirs in a best-selling book called Bossy Pants, and jeez – is there anything this woman can’t do???

We Killed by Yael KohenCan you believe that people have said that women aren’t funny?  Yes, and these people are even other comedians who have even worked with funny women (btw, I’m giving John Belushi, Jerry Lewis and Chevy Chase the stink-eye right now).  I know a lot of people who would disagree with these opinions…and in fact, there’s a GREAT podcast about the subject on Stuff Mom Never Told You that you can listen to here.  And, you can read the book “We Killed: The Rise of Women in American Comedy” by Yael Kohen.  I’m sad that there are too many fantastically funny women who have performed on SNL to write about, but this post has already gone too long.  If you’ve made it to the end, congratulations and thank you!  To make it worth your while, share with me your favorite funny women – who makes you laugh your head off, from SNL or elsewhere?

Ladies I Love: U is for Lieutenant Uhura, a True Star!

a_burning_trekkie__silver_by_schematization-d4rydciCan you guess what the most challenging letter for me in the A to Z Challenge has been?  Not X, not Q, not V, not even Z…but U.  However, when I thought about all the Ladies I Love and Lieutenant Uhura crossed my mind, I knew she was just the right woman for this tough letter!  That is because Lieutenant Uhura of Star Trek, played by Nichelle Nichols, was one tough lady!

Lieutenant Uhura served as a communications officer under Captain Kirk on the USS Enterprise during the original Star Trek series, which ran from 1966 – 1969.  Uhura moved up the Starfleet ranks throughout the movie franchise, making the rank of commander in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.  Nichelle Nichols portrayed Uhura throughout the series, as well as in all the Star Trek movies except for the last two, in which Zoë Saldana played a younger Uhura.  Uhura never took a back seat in the adventures of the Enterprise, and was often a key character in story lines, very much an equal among her Star Trek peers.

Uhura_and_Kirk_kissOne of the most remarkable things about Uhura’s character was that she was one of the FIRST African American women on TV to play a role that didn’t have anything to do with being a servant.  This was a ground-breaking character, and having an African American woman in a position of equality definitely stirred the pot on occasion.  For example, in the episode “Plato’s Stepchildren”, Uhura famously kissed Captain Kirk (ok, it was a forced kiss because she was under the influence of alien telekinesis…but still…) in a scene that is largely cited as one of the first inter-racial kisses aired on US television.

Apparently, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a fan of the show, and even let his children watch it, in part because of Nichelle Nichols’ portrayal of Uhura’s character.  Nichelle actually wanted to quit the show after the first year to pursue a career on broadway, but was told by Dr. King that she “could not give up because she was playing a vital role model for black children and young women across the country, as well as for other children who would see blacks appearing as equals.”  It’s a good thing she didn’t quit, because she DID inspire many to achieve success, including former NASA astronaut Mae Jemison, who said she was encouraged by Nichelle’s Uhura character.

MLK convo

Yes, Uhura was one smokin’ hot lady.  But she was also a star.  In Swahili, her character’s first name, Nyota, means “star”, and Uhuru means “freedom”.  With a name like that, how could Uhura achieve anything but success?  Set your phasers to “stunning”!

Ladies I Love: R is for Rachel Carson – Scientist, Conservationist and Writer

USFWS Employee PhotoToday’s A to Z Challenge post is brought to you by the letter R.  R stands for Rachel Carson, one of the Ladies I Love in the field of science.  If you don’t know who Rachel Carson was, as a female biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, I am very proud to be able to tell you a little bit about her.

Rachel Carson lived between 1907 and 1964.  She was fascinated by nature during her younger years, and went on to obtain her master’s degree in zoology from Johns Hopkins University in 1932.  Soon after, she got a job with the U.S. Bureau of Fisheries (which would later become the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service) where she was one of only TWO professional women working for the organization and earned under $40 PER WEEK when she started.  She did a lot of writing for radio broadcasting at that time, primarily focusing on the ocean in an effort to inform the public about the treasures that marine systems contain and the services that they provide.  She moved up in the Bureau/Service and wrote several books about oceans, which hit the top of best seller lists everywhere.

Click to enlarge!

Click to enlarge!

It was in the mid-1940’s when she learned about DDT.  I won’t go into a lot of detail here, but throughout the next couple of decades, Rachel Carson did a lot of research regarding the effects of DDT on the environment, specifically about bioaccumulation in the food web. In 1962, Rachel Carson published her book “Silent Spring”, which detailed the harmful effects of pesticides and predicted that if our irresponsible use of them continued, we would start killing off species, let alone jeopardize human health.  For example, one of the effects of DDT and bioaccumulation resulted in the inability of some bird species (primarily predatory birds) to successfully reproduce because DDT weakened egg shells, resulting in eggs being crushed in the nest.  Several species (e.g., peregrine falcon, pelican) were put on the Endangered Species list because of this!

Part of a 1947 ad in Time Magazine.

Part of a 1947 ad in Time Magazine.

There was, however, a lot of money in the pesticide industry and tremendously fierce opposition to her work, which publicized the negative effects of DDT on animals and the environment.  If you simply google DDT and look through the videos that come up, you can find old footage of people being happily sprayed by CLOUDS of DDT!  Rachel Carson actually received death threats and harassment because of her work and the questions it raised about the pesticide industry.  In fact, Rachel Carson’s research and work gave rise to the modern grassroots environmental movement that has inspired generations to protect the world around us, AND resulted in the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency.  After her death (due to illnesses contracted during her treatment for breast cancer), President Carter awarded Rachel Carson the Presidential Medal of Freedom posthumously for her landmark work, and in 1969, the Coastal Main National Wildlife Refuge was changed to the Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge.

Rachel Carson by Alfred Eisenstaedt, Time & Life Pictures, Getty Images

What an amazing woman and inspiration to younger generations of scientists!  Few scientists can claim the magnitude of influence that she had in any field, and in particular, conservation of our natural resources.  Take a look at this short video about Rachel Carson and her life’s work; there is a ton of information online as well, if you are interested in learning more (just follow any of the links I’ve provided above to start).

Additionally, just this past March (Women’s History Month), the Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Dan Ashe, honored Rachel Carson with this video.

Ladies I Love: I is for Introverts (Celebrity Females Edition)

introvert_partyToday’s A to Z Challenge post is for the letter “I”, and I thought it might be interesting to talk about a specific group of people – introverts.  I’ll relate this back to my theme, Ladies I Love, in a moment; but first, a lot of people have the wrong idea about introverts.  They think we are shy and withdrawn, or maybe grumpy and stuck-up.  However, being an introvert is not about those type of personality traits at all!  Whether you are an introvert or an extrovert, when it comes down to it, it’s mostly about how you gain and lose energy.  Extroverts get recharged by being around people, talking and interacting with groups.  Introverts, on the other hand, usually are drained by these kinds of interactions, and recharge their energy by spending time alone, often in quiet settings, with their thoughts to keep them company.  There are shy extroverts, and there are outgoing introverts.  Apparently, 1/3 to 1/2 of us are introverts, and I’m guessing that there is a high probability that YOU are an introvert because reading and blogging is generally a solitary activity (at least in the physical sense), the results of thought and contemplation.

Even though we might be in the minority, the world needs our creativity.  Because extroverts tend to be more vocal, our cultural norms favor the way extroverts develop, share and use information.  Kind of like the squeaky wheel getting the grease, right?  Well, even though the introvert wheel isn’t so squeaky, the cart still needs to maintain it to get where it’s going.  Here are several famous introverts, ladies who have contributed much to our society through the arts, politics, science, and other fields (although this list is heavy on actresses):  Audrey Hepburn, J.K. Rowling, Emma Watson, Eleanor Roosevelt, Rosa Parks, Grace Kelly, Julie Roberts, Barbara Walters, Susan B. Anthony and Virginia Woolf.  There are, of course, many many more than just these women – just google the Interwebs to find out more!

Susan Cain wrote a wonderful book called Quiet:  The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking.  Below is a manifesto for introverts, created by Susan Cain, and below that is a TED Talk that she gave a while back; if you have some time, come back to this page and watch it (it’s about 20 minutes, but it’s really engaging and fun).  She talks about how introverts fit into today’s society, what we have to contribute, and the best way to tap that resource.  What about you?  Are you an introvert or an extrovert?  Take this short quiz and see what side you fall on.  And leave me a comment letting me know how it turned out!

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Ladies I Love: F is for Frida Kahlo

Frida KahloFrida Kahlo is one of my favorite female artists, and is therefore, perfect for my A to Z Challenge theme, Ladies I Love.  Born in Mexico City in 1907, she started painting at the age of 18 while recuperating from a bus accident in which she was impaled through the hip by a metal bar.  While at the National Preparatory School, she met famed Mexican muralist Diego Rivera, whom she later married in 1929.  They had a rather tumultuous relationship, both having affairs outside of the marriage.  A communist political activist and feminist, many of Kahlo’s paintings contained surrealist images that conveyed often controversial images of womanhood, pain (she had three miscarriages) and dreams.  She used bold colors and traditional Mexican elements in her artwork as well.

Frida Kahlo died at the age of 47 in Mexico City after several years of declining health.  Her work continues to grow in popularity, and she is seen as an icon of female creativity.  Her life story was made into the film “Frida“, starring Salma Hayek.  I encourage you to search for images of Kahlo’s paintings and enjoy her creative works yourself!  Here are a few of my favorite Frida Kahlo images:

Ladies I Love: E is for Éowyn, Badass Shieldmaiden in the Lord of the Rings Trilogy

I thought finding a Lady I Love for the letter E was going to be a tough one in the A to Z Challenge, but if you haven’t figured it out by now, I do have a bit of a geeky side to me which means literary resources abound.  And today that will manifest itself in the form of crushing on one of my favorite fictional characters, Éowyn from the Lord of the Rings trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien.  I read the trilogy many years ago, and my all-time favorite scene by far is from Return of the King, when Éowyn is fighting the Witch King during the Battle of Pelennor Fields.  Although Éowyn was a trained shieldmaiden of Rohan, her uncle, King Theoden, ordered her to stay behind with the women and children to guide their people while the men went to their almost certain doom to fight against the tides of Sauron.  She said, “screw that” and disobeyed him, dressing and acting as a man to sneak her way into the battle.  In the book, she meets the Witch King (the head of the ghost kings with the Nazgul) on the battlefield just as he has injured Theoden.  The Witch King is all, “No living man may hinder me!” because there’s a prophecy that states that the Witch King could not be felled by the hands of a man.  But Éowyn takes off her helmet and reveals herself, saying:

But no living man am I! You look upon a woman. Éowyn I am, Éomund’s daughter. You stand between me and my lord and kin. Begone, if you be not deathless! For living or dark undead, I will smite you, if you touch him.

And the dumb-ass Witch King attacks her, but surprise!  Éowyn ends up kicking his ass and killing him.  Well, Theoden still dies, but it is a fantastic scene.  The movie plays it down a little bit, but it’s still a highlight for me.  To get the full impact, you really should read the book, but here’s a clip for you to enjoy in the meantime!