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I found that I could say things with colors and shapes that I couldn’t say any other way … things I had no words for.” — Georgia O’Keeffe

It’s that time of year again! The fifth annual AAUW Art Contest is upon us. During this time of year, I look forward to coming into work every morning and immediately looking at the Art Contest gallery page to see what new entries have come in. I’m always impressed by the level of artistic talent displayed by the AAUW members who enter, and I’m amazed at the variety of styles and mediums.

It’s inevitable when looking at this artwork, the majority of which is created by female artists, that I think about the lack of women’s representation in art history and museums. In fact, only 5 percent of the art currently on display in U.S. museums is made by women artists. This statistic was actually the catalyst for the art collection that eventually became the National Museum of Women in the Arts, founded in Washington, D.C., by Wilhelmina Cole Holladay and Wallace Holladay. NMWA is “the only major museum in the world solely dedicated to recognizing women’s creative contributions.”

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Thanks to the strong relationship between AAUW and NMWA we are happy to say that this year, Wilhelmina Holladay and NMWA Director Susan Fisher Sterling will select a distinction award winner from the six winners of this year’s contest! The six winning entries will be featured on a set of notecards sent to tens of thousands of AAUW members throughout the country this spring. The notecard featuring the museum’s selection will have a special recognition printed on the back. Additionally, a copy of Wilhelmina Holladay and Sterling’s selection will also be hung in the AAUW national headquarters to be admired by staff and visitors for years to come. So please show off your artistic abilities by entering the AAUW Art Contest today!

Entries will be accepted until February 4, 2013. Then, we invite all members to vote on their favorites between February 8 and March 8. For more information, to submit your artwork, and to see this year’s art gallery, please visit the AAUW Art Contest page.

I hope I see your work as I look through the new submissions every morning!

This post was written by AAUW Stewardship Associate Sarah Spencer.

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President Obama and Joe Biden at the accouncement; photo by CSPANAAUW believes that maintaining a bully-free climate at schools is a critical component to ending school violence. The White House asked AAUW to provide our recommendations for comprehensive proposals on reducing gun violence, which President Obama included in his announcement today. We were pleased by the inclusion of a top AAUW priority — school climates that are free of harassment and bullying — as one of the White House’s policy recommendations. As the White House statement put it:

We need to enhance the physical security of our schools and our ability to respond to emergencies like mass shootings and also create safer and more nurturing school climates. … Making our schools safer is not just about cops and security cameras; we also need to improve the climate of our schools to reduce violence and bullying (which sometimes precedes a mass casualty event).

AAUW strongly believes that quality public education is the foundation of a democratic society. Our member-adopted Biennial Action Priorities support “freedom from violence and fear of violence in homes, schools, workplaces, and communities.” AAUW members advocate for equitable school climates that are free of harassment, bullying, and discrimination. Every student deserves a safe place to learn.

Recent events, such as the school shootings in Connecticut and California, have demonstrated that schools face many challenges in preventing and effectively responding to instances of bullying, harassment, and discrimination, which can lead to student violence and safety problems. According to the 2004 Safe School Initiative report, almost three-quarters of those who committed school violence felt persecuted, bullied, threatened, attacked, or injured by others prior to the incident. In some cases, the experience of being bullied appeared to have been a factor in the decision to mount an attack. These numbers highlight the need to create a safe and supportive school culture and climate — a critical component in addressing school safety. The president’s proposal would provide much-needed resources to schools so they are better equipped to prevent or stop more severe violence from occurring.

Congress needs to act on several of the president’s proposals to create safer school climates. These include a comprehensive school safety initiative to help local school districts hire up to 1,000 school resource officers and school-based mental health professionals, as well as other investments in school safety, such as providing resources for schools to implement emergency preparedness plans; helping schools adopt proven strategies to reduce bullying, drug abuse, violence, and other problem behaviors; and assisting schools in gathering and sharing best practices on school discipline.

AAUW also supports the reintroduction and passage of the Successful, Safe, and Healthy Students Act, which aims to improve student achievement by promoting student health and wellness; preventing bullying, violence, and drug use; and fostering a positive school climate.

Our nation’s schools should be the safest places possible for children. We’re glad the White House is tackling the role that bullying and harassment play in school violence, and we look forward to supporting initiatives that protect all students.

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“When we can’t protect those who protect our rights, something is wrong,” said Martin R. Castro, chair of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, as he opened a hearing on military sexual assault last week.

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As government reports document and as the AAUW-supported, Academy Award-nominated documentary The Invisible War demonstrates, sexual assault is a rampant problem in our military. Only 8 percent of reported military sexual assaults are prosecuted, and only 2 percent of those end in convictions. Overall, reporting is very low.

Last week’s hearing was part of the commission’s fact-finding process before they make recommendations to the president and Congress about how best to protect the civil rights of military members and stop sexual assault. Throughout the daylong hearing, which I attended as an AAUW representative, commission members listened to the testimony of legal experts and people who work with survivors, and military leaders spoke about their initiatives. AAUW also submitted our own statement to the commission.

A common recommendation among nonmilitary witnesses was to change how rapes are reported and prosecuted. Right now, reports must be made through a soldier’s chain of command, even though their chain of command may include the alleged rapist or one of his friends. When reports are made, people in power have the discretion to change rape charges to lesser charges like adultery, allowing the offender to remain on active duty.

A few people at the briefing suggested that rape cases should be tried in civilian rather than military court, a procedure militaries in several other countries successfully use. The Sexual Assault Training Oversight and Prevention Act, which AAUW supports, calls for this kind of independent review process.

During the panel, leaders from various military branches highlighted their new prevention initiatives. For example, the Navy recently hired 66 new victim advocates, trained 150 attorneys, and gave 30,000 sailors “bystander” training to prevent assault. The Army created new “special victim capabilities” and requires soldiers to learn intervention tactics, in addition to “constant” training and education for commandants, investigators, and judges.

When members of the commission asked the military leaders if they would be open to changing the reporting process and removing the discretion that the chain of command has over rape reports, the military leaders said no. They felt it was important for commanders to retain control over the reporting and discipline process.

While I am glad the military is tackling prevention efforts in a more comprehensive way, I wonder how much will change if survivors still face barriers to reporting, if alleged rapists likely face little punishment, and if commanders have so much power?

In the 22 years since the Tailhook scandal, we have witnessed a cycle: scandals of sexual violence within the military, the revelation of abuse of power, and then congressional hearings during which the military promises to do better. Rinse and repeat.

I want to hope that this time will be different, in part because there is more public awareness thanks to The Invisible War and the high-profile lawsuits that the Legal Advocacy Fund supports. After hearing the military’s response on Friday, however, my hope is waning.

On January 23, Congress will hold a hearing on the sexual misconduct at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio. Stay tuned for my report.

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Not only was a day last week dedicated to human trafficking awareness, but January was also declared National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month. This month, President Obama is urging Americans to “educate themselves about all forms of modern slavery.”

There’s a lot of discussion about slavery these days — we’re commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, plus the release of movies like Lincoln and Django Unchained. But a different kind of slavery also draws our attention — human trafficking. According to the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, modern-day slavery involves “exploitation through fraud, force or coercion; physical abuse and/or psychological intimidation; and victims are not readily able to free themselves from their situation.” Human trafficking is a worldwide, multibillion dollar enterprise that affects 12–27 million people annually.

A recent Google Hangout on slavery and human trafficking featured Cambodian anti-trafficking advocate Somaly Mam, New York City-based Girls Educational and Mentoring Services (GEMS) founder Rachel Lloyd, and New York Times journalist Nicholas Kristof. The panel, moderated by Luke Blocher from the Freedom Center, discussed the causes and consequences of domestic and international sex trafficking, as well as the steps we can all take to address this problem.

Mam, who was profiled in last fall’s documentary Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, is the founder of AFESIP Cambodia (Acting for Women in Distressing Situations). The organization fights against the trafficking of women and children for sex slavery and works to secure victims’ rights, rehabilitation, and reintegration. Mam, a survivor of sex trafficking, understands exactly what’s needed to heal survivors. She noted during the Hangout that “you can’t just go into brothels and get the women — you have to empower them, be with them, and listen to them. Don’t look at them as victims but as human beings.” As a survivor, she understands that “it’s not easy to escape, stay out, to heal.” But once the survivors do, AFESIP provides them with skills training, since most have no education. When asked about the future, Mam has hope. She sees “students getting involved, pop stars, more social media.” This exposure has given more people a chance to understand the issue and gives survivors a voice.

GEMS founder Lloyd indicated that “100,000–300,000 young people are at risk for commercial exploitation each year.” And she reminds us that this is happening in our neighborhoods, not just in other countries. Unfortunately, the lack of attention to the issue of human trafficking reflects a similar neglect of those whom it impacts most: low-income people, people of color, and people in the juvenile justice system — those who are not “high on anybody’s priority list.” Lloyd supports the Safe Harbor for Exploited Children Act, which encourages decriminalization of survivors so that they are “not prosecuted as criminals but as people in need of services when they are picked up at the age of 12 for prostitution.” But she noted, “We can’t legislate or prosecute our way out of it.” She encourages people to get educated, find out what’s happening locally, and get involved — tutor, mentor, volunteer — because ending trafficking is more than “driving around in a van at night scooping up and rescuing girls.”

Kristof noted that “traffickers control the girls the same way around the world, whether it’s New York or Cambodia.” This control can be psychological or physical. The past strategic mistake of “people grabbing the girls instead of the pimps has begun to change but must change even more.” He stressed the importance of the empowerment of girls and education: “Just 1 percent of what we spent on the Afghan and Iraq wars would eliminate the primary education gap and end global illiteracy.” Education is critical since the “pimp model relies on illiterate girls.” Kristof, like Mam, acknowledged that there has been progress because the issue has gotten more attention, and “naming and shaming” has worked, since “the U.S. annual trafficking report does embarrass some governments.”

And speaking of pimps, all of the panelists agreed that men (and boys) need to be a part of the solution. Lloyd wants us to “socialize boys and young men differently, so that they know that they don’t have the right to purchase other human beings.” Kristof stressed the importance of “john school” to give men “a day in which they hear from survivors what trafficking is really like.” Mam simply stated that “we need to have men and boys involved and educate them.”

If you missed the Hangout, I encourage you to watch it (above).

Wondering what else you can do to help?

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Photo by by Georges Biard via Wikipedia (Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license)Last night, when she accepted her Golden Globe for best actress in a drama, Jessica Chastain thanked her Zero Dark Thirty screenwriter, Mark Boal, “for writing a strong, capable, independent woman that stands on her own.” She also dedicated the award to the film’s director, Kathryn Bigelow, who made history three years ago when she became the first woman to win a best director Oscar.

I can’t help but compare my character of Maya to you. Two powerful, fearless women that allow their expert work to stand before them. You’ve said that filmmaking for you is not about breaking gender roles. But when you make a film that allows your character to disobey the conventions of Hollywood, you’ve done more for women in cinema than you take credit for.

It’s hard to say what exact conventions Chastain might be thinking of. It’s undoubtedly true that her character in Zero Dark Thirty — the based-on-firsthand-accounts film that follows the successful CIA investigation that led to finding Osama bin Laden — defies many of the assumed rules of passive leading ladies. Maya certainly isn’t obsessed with finding a boyfriend or shopping for shoes. She’s a very capable, compelling, mission-driven, active character. But Maya does interestingly oscillate between the stereotypes of masculinity and femininity so that she seems more like a chameleon of traditional masculinity than a trailblazer for femininity.

From the moment we first see CIA officer Maya, she punctuates an otherwise dingy, male atmosphere. Her fiery curls and crisp wardrobe set her aesthetically apart from both her grizzled fellow CIA agents and the more political-minded men who run the show. From the very first scenes, she insists on modeling her professional behavior after the men. When they’re in masks for interrogation, she’s in a mask. When they’re not, she’s not. Though she seems hesitant and queasy upon witnessing detainee torture at first, she never voices opposition and quickly comes into her own as an interrogator — a job that otherwise is dominated by male colleagues. When one of the men asks if she’s a little young for this kind of work, their boss responds that “Washington says she’s a killer.” (Watch the Zero Dark Thirty trailer from Sony Pictures on YouTube, below.)

All of this — Maya’s stoic demeanor, her resolve, her ruthlessness, her complete dedication to her work in absence of any semblance of a personal life — is atypical for women in cinema, but it’s par for the course for mysterious male heroes. Though movie spies, cowboys, and action heroes tend to have a love interest, that’s not always the case. And it’s certainly not usually central to his story in the way that romance is for women characters. Maya takes after these kinds of male heroes in her mystery and single-minded obsession with her mission. She embodies the male cinematic ideal and many professional traits associated with testosterone and displayed freely by her male colleagues — physical violence, screaming matches, and the colorful language that comes with bravado.

But there’s one important part of Zero Dark Thirty’s logic that prevents Maya’s quest from being solely associated with masculinity in film. Her deductive logic, though admittedly promising and eventually verified, looks a lot like women’s intuition. And throughout most of the movie, it’s dismissed as such in favor of more empirical but low-level targets. Reading her investigation as women’s intuition might be a stretch but for what comes of another woman colleague’s hunch on a bin Laden lead and for the constant reminder, building up to the raid, that there is no real evidence that bin Laden lives in the Abbottabad, Pakistan, compound that Maya finds through her leads. The men around her alternate between belief in her confidence, outright doubt, and tentative action. According to the movie, the lack of evidence was why Navy SEALs, who can make quick exits, were deployed. The whole world knows that Maya, and the woman CIA officer she was based on, was right. But it’s interesting how often we’re reminded that she could just as easily have been wrong.

Zero Dark Thirty is a nuanced, fascinating look at a story that we won’t be able to fully discover unless and until everything about the mission is declassified. Maya as a masculine figure isn’t a panacea for women’s representation in film any more than Katniss or Merida or any other woman characters who break those boundaries are. But Maya is a bellwether. And so is Bigelow.

Another winner from last night’s Golden Globes, Lena Dunham of Girls, said in her best actress in a TV comedy speech that “this award is for every woman who’s ever felt like there wasn’t a space for her. This show has made a space for me.” It’s no coincidence that the projects that end up carving out spaces for different kinds of women characters — ones like Maya, who rightly inspires much analysis — are films and shows that women are so deeply involved in behind the camera.

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AAUW's Nzinga Shury with Delta Sigma Theta sisters“Oh, what a wonderful time to be a Delta!” will likely be chanted across the globe in the next week as the sisters of Delta Sigma Theta celebrate 100 years of sisterhood, scholarship, and service. Founded on January 13, 1913, by 22 Howard University women students, Delta Sigma Theta has grown to become the largest predominately African American sorority in the world, with more than 900 chapters in the United States, Germany, the Bahamas, Bermuda, Japan, South Korea, England, Jamaica, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

During the centennial celebration, I and other Deltas from all over will gather where it all began — Washington, D.C. — to celebrate the sorority’s accomplishments and achievements. Looking back on Delta’s history, I am most proud of its start. In 1913, our founders courageously participated in the Woman Suffrage Parade, which marked the sorority’s first national public act as well as its devotion to women’s rights at a time when women’s voices were routinely silenced.

“We marched that day in order that women might come into their own, because we believed that women not only needed an education, but they needed a broader horizon in which they may use that education. And the right to vote would give them that privilege,” founder Florence Letcher Toms later commented.

In a similar push for women’s education, AAUW took quick action after our founding to commission research proving that, contrary to popular thought, higher education does not negatively impact a woman’s health. The connections don’t end there. In 2010, AAUW posthumously honored Dorothy Height, former national president of Delta Sigma Theta and founder of the National Council of Negro Women, as a Woman of Distinction at our annual National Conference for College Women Student Leaders.

Both organizations have strived for years to level the playing field for women. During this time of celebration, it gives me great pleasure to be a member of both Delta Sigma Theta and the AAUW community. Both parties’ accomplishments have inspired and motivated me to know that I too can one day help in breaking through barriers for women everywhere.

The sorority’s 100th anniversary will be celebrated with events throughout the D.C. area. Deltas will continue the celebration by re-enacting the 1913 Woman Suffrage Parade in March and holding the official centennial celebration in July. As Delta celebrates a century of service, we encourage our local communities to help us paint D.C. in crimson and cream — the official Delta colors — this coming week and to remember that, even 100 years later, the drive toward women’s rights continues.

This post was written by AAUW Leadership Programs Intern Nzinga Shury.

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AmyandMegAs Sunday’s 2013 Golden Globes approach, it’s a pleasure to see so much praise for this year’s hosts, Tina Fey and Amy Poehler. The Golden Globes are considered a major benchmark in predicting Oscar favorites, so it’s an exciting change to have women at the helm. There’s never been a solo female host of the Golden Globes, and Fey and Poehler will be the first female pair to lead the show.

The duo is already familiar with making history as co-hosts. In 2004, they became the first female co-anchors of Saturday Night Live’s “Weekend Update” segment. Historically, comedy may be a boys’ club, but Fey and Poehler have helped break down the club’s walls.

I’ll admit I’m biased toward their hosting stint, but with good reason. As a woman studying improvisational comedy, I admire Fey and Poehler’s brilliant work with Second City and Upright Citizens Brigade. Additionally, I spent eight years running a fan website for Poehler. I had the pleasure of meeting her on several occasions, and she was exactly as lovely as one would hope.

For a brief time, I got to know my hero in person, and she always spoke to me as though I were a friend. In actuality I was an awestruck teenager, but she never let on that she noticed.

I’m grateful to Poehler for so many things, chief among them allowing me to geek out over her on the Internet for many years. She’s the reason I studied web design, and now I manage websites for AAUW. (Coincidentally, Poehler is featured in the AAUW-sponsored Every Four Years exhibit at the Newseum.) She’s a huge part of why I do what I do. She taught me a lot about the type of person I want to be, not just as an improviser but also as a woman.

This weekend I’ll join the masses in tuning in to the Golden Globes, perched on the edge of my seat as two of comedy’s leading ladies prove that they can master the hosting gig. If their past performances are any indication, they’ll rock it like they do everything else: with precision, joy, and probably a few dirty jokes. As the saying goes, “well-behaved women rarely make history!”

This post was written by AAUW Junior Website Designer Megan Morrison.

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