Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Half the Sky

As I was riding the T I looked up and glanced at an advertisement, which stated “The Sex Trade Destroys Lives…” As I read the description, “Seductive Blonde Angel 19” I became overwhelmed in a cloud of anger and guilt. Why were girls and women in Boston being sex trafficked? Why is modern slavery allowed to exist? Why was I not fully aware of these issues? As these questions built up in my mind I finally arrived home and slept with these thoughts still lingering. Listening to the news and hearing about cases of domestic violence, rape, sex trafficking and politicians fighting over birth control policies I realized once again that women are victims of modern slavery all over the world, and many are unaware. After coming to terms with the fact that anger wouldn’t resolve any problems for women being sex trafficked, I made a decision to educate myself on this issue and do something to help. I went to my computer and searched “sex trafficking in Boston” and discovered a number of groups in addition to Amirah who are addressing the issue of human trafficking and helping women reclaim their lives. I was happy to see these shelters, but at the same time sad when I realized these women had been trafficked in neighborhoods twenty minutes from my house.

The next step in educating myself was discovering a book titled, “Half the Sky” written by New York Times journalists Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. The title comes from a Chinese proverb which believes that women hold up half the sky and must be treated with love and respect in order to have a prosperous society. This book, although focuses on women’s issues outside of the United States opened my eyes to a whole new world. Each chapter covers a different theme relating to women, including sex trafficking, prostitution, healthcare, education and others. This book not only informed me about tragic issues occurring in Africa, The Middle East and parts of Asia, but made me realize that ending sex trafficking will not happen overnight and there is not one answer. In my mind sex trafficking is wrong and it should be stopped. When reading the book this was the same perspective that the authors held, yet through their research they revealed the complexities of this corrupt system. Although sex trafficking is killing women certain victims become dependent on their work as sex slaves. Some become addicted to the drugs their “owners” give them. For others, it is their only source of income and for many, returning to their village involves the risk that they may be ostracized from their families or in some cases face death. These different views changed my understanding of sex trafficking and made me realize that education is one of answers to help women who are trapped in the chains of modern slavery. Education will allow women to support themselves, build their self esteem and show them that they are valuable.

I chose to educate myself and now I am more aware, but realize I have much more to learn. I recommend that everyone go out and buy or borrow “Half the Sky” from their local library. In the coming month I hope to learn more about sex trafficking in Boston and continue to spread the word on how we can all help end modern slavery.

Peace and Love

Angela Spignese

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Finding Purpose

“What is the meaning of beauty?” This is one of the many complex and deep questions that we have been asked this year in Mr. G’s senior honors English class. When one of these deep questions would come up I would often sit there, realizing that I myself had never really answered this question. This year I have tried more and more to answer deep questions such as these. Obviously there is no exact answer, but pondering these questions has helped shape my beliefs and has helped me discover what my purpose is. Writing has always been something that I have enjoyed. Growing up I loved to write stories and poetry, but not until this year’s English class did I realize my full potential as a writer. I became extremely interested in many of the topics that we read about and I felt that I could apply them to my life. Learning about tragic heroes and destiny allowed me to analyze my life and others around me. Also, I absolutely loved reading feminist and psychoanalytical criticisms because they were filled with new ideas and theories that I had never learned. During this year’s class I feel that I learned how to write with style and how to use literature to analyze these “deep questions” that were addressed during discussions. Although I love this class and what it has taught me the beginning started out a bit rough, but as things started to pick up I started to catch on.

The first assignment of the year was to write an essay which analyzed the poem “Red Shift” by Ted Berrigan. I was very excited and interested because I loved poetry, but I was also nervous because my English class my previous year did not include any writing. I remember receiving my grade, which was a 70. I was furious, mostly because writing is something I love and I did not wanted to be good at it. I returned to Mr. Gallagher for help on my next paper and I suddenly realized what it meant to write a paper and a complete thesis. I realized that I needed to be specific when writing a paper and needed to be consistent with my thesis throughout. On my next paper I received a 95 and I was so happy. I now understood the writing process a little bit better and found that it allowed me to express my ideas and opinions more clearly. After we completed a few more writing assignments we began to have discussions and started to analyze literature on a deeper level.

One of the most memorable parts of the year was when we read and had discussions on A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce. I really found his writing style unique and while reading this book I realized how many things in this world are connected. I also enjoyed when we analyzed what Stephen Deadulus and his artistic theories of the world. Stephen is an artist and he believed that he must isolate himself in order to truly be an “artist”. This got me thinking because I am also an artist, a vocalist. I have often wondered if pursuing music and music alone would be the best thing as Stephen had suggested. But, as I continued to read I realized that if one wants to be an artist than they must be immersed in many ideas and learn from many different areas. Also, when we read the Stranger by Albert Camus I began to analyze my life along with Monsieur Meursault. I tried to find what purpose I serve in this world as well as others. Whenever I need to make a decision I always think back to the myth of Icarus which we read after reading the Stranger. I constantly think about Icarus and how his father told him to “choose a middle path in life”. This quotation always remains in the back of my head and reminds me to stay grounded yet to not be afraid to take risks when necessary.
I also enjoyed reading Hamlet by Shakespeare. I specially enjoyed analyzing the character Ophelia. I became interested in this idea that a woman is either a whore or a virgin. I wanted to know why this idea even exists and I was so intrigued by it. This encouraged me to study a female artist for my research paper and helped me form my thesis and develop my ideas. In my final research paper I felt not only that I was writing but that I was creating a work of art. I really enjoyed writing that paper and feel that it represents my progress as a writer.

This year’s English class has been one of the most memorable ones in my entire high school career. I learned more than I probably realize and I enjoyed every single lecture and discussion. When I go on to college I will continue to ponder these “deep questions” which helped me analyze life and literature. I also will never forget those moments of silence right after Mr. G asked the class one of these “deep questions”. Those moments were so peaceful and beautiful. It was amazing that we were all an energetic group of teenagers, but suddenly a question would be asked and the whole mood would change. In this class we were not only taught to read and analyze literature but were forced to realize our purpose in life and the decisions that we must make in order to be happy.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Adult Female Sexual Organs

Adult Female Sexual Organs by Wangechi Mutu is an interesting collage which addresses the female body, appearance and a female’s overall role in society. When first glancing at this collage the large red lips stick out and seem to be artificial. The woman’s actual face is natural and is looking ahead, but her lips seem to not only be artificial but seem to be holding her or blocking her from reality. Also, lips are essentially the part of our body which allows us to form words and speak. The artificial lips may suggest that she is unable to speak or find truth in her life. The lips are a deep red which looks like the women has put lipstick on. These lips seem as though they were done by plastic surgery and this woman only did this to conform to society and feel “beautiful”. Other than her eyes the rest of her face seems to be covered in duck tape. This also suggests that she has had other surgery in order to fit in with society. The woman’s eyes seem to be sad and she seems to be lost. Also, there is a magazine clipping of a Caucasian model and she seems care free and happy. The face of the African woman and the model are completely opposite. This suggests that women in Africa or on other eastern countries are influenced by western countries and the images of society. In America the ideal women is thin and she is composed of perfect body parts. Women all over the world see those images in these magazines and in the media and want to become them. There is something missing from these women’s lives and therefore they feel pressured from media and society and try to change themselves. This woman’s whole head, except for her eyes are covered with duck tape and than peeking through is a “beautiful” model or rather what society deems as acceptable beauty. The fact that the woman’s eyes are not covered suggests that she knows that this is not the correct way to feel beautiful. She sees the truth but society and media, represented by the large lips are preventing her from speaking. Another small detail which caught my attention is the paper in which the collage was made on. The paper is ripped in some places and looks old. This suggests that women who are facing poverty or who are lower middle class try to find comfort in transforming their bodies and making themselves the “perfect” female. There is also a white spot on the woman’s face or rather on the duck tape. The color white is often associated with purity, virtue and virginity. The fact that there is very little white on the woman’ s face may suggest that she is giving into society’s standard and is no longer virtuous. Also, this may suggest that this woman is caught between being the pure virginal woman or the sexually attractive woman. It also appears that there were traces of other white spots but they disappeared into the duck tape. The woman’s head is also huge and is almost cartoon like. This may reveal that this woman’s natural characteristics or shape is rather large and therefore not acceptable in society and therefore she must get surgery.

Another interesting part of the collage is the title: Adult Female Sex Organs. In the collage there are no visible sex organs except perhaps at the bottom of the women’s neck there is, what looks like an organ sticking out. The rest of it is covered by the duck tape. This is interesting because female sex organs other than used for pleasure and used to procreate and bring children into this world. The fact that this women’s “sexual organs” or sexuality is covered by duck tape, which represents society, suggests that women’s sexuality is suppressed in society and they are never allowed to truly express themselves. They are stuck trying to hide or cover their sexuality and instead are transforming themselves into the “ideal” women. Sex and beauty are two things which are beautiful and pure, but society has changed this for women and gives a false perception of sex and the purpose that it serves for females.
The color scheme in this collage seems to be rather dark. The only images which are bright and cheery is the model and the artificial lips. This suggests that the only things which bring this women or women in general, joy is being “beautiful” according to society’s standards. The part of the female sexual organ which is visible is in black and white and ahs no color. Also the woman in the collage looks as if she is of African decent. She appears to have beautiful dark skin which is covered by duck tape. This suggests that women’s pleasure from sex is not accepted in society and there is no reason for it to have any color. Women are expected to be beautiful and pure yet there sexuality must be hidden because they must be virtuous. Also, there is a blue sky in the article clipping but it is covered by the duck tape. This suggests that the sky which is naturally pure is blocked from this woman’s world. The sky holds the sun, moon and stars and give of natural light. This woman is not able to have this natural beauty and truth due to society and the standards that they have set.

Overall this woman seems to feel sad and unhappy with the changes that she is making. She does not have a voice and her sexuality is obviously lost somewhere. She is looking ahead perhaps to fins the truth which she has been stripped of. This collage suggests that female sexuality has been suppressed and this has caused women to be confused with their identity. Women are faced with this dichotomy, sexual whore or pure virgin. There is no room for women to be sexual and respected in society. Women need these artificial lips and perfected body parts to be seen as beautiful sexual objects, which causes their true “sexual organs” and identity to be lost and unnoticed.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Joyce: Journal Entry

“Art thou pale for weariness of climbing heaven and gazing on the earth, wandering companionless among the stars that have a different birth and ever changing eyes that finds no object worth constancy”.

This poem is the one that Stephen alludes to more than once throughout the novel. This poem reveals that Stephen is loosing his innocence. He has gazed down on the Earth and realizes that the world is harsh and tragic and sometimes lonely. Stephen has lost his innocence and realizes that like the moon he is forever changing and always loving different things and is not always constant with his feelings and emotions. Also, the moon represents that maternal figure that Stephen is longing for and needs in his life. This poem s allowing him as an artist to avoid his maternal threats and forget about his sorrow.

Monday, April 7, 2008

On Demand Writing: A Thousand Splendid Suns

Mariam is an amazing character and hoes through many changes throughout the book. In the beginning of the book, when she was younger Mariam saw herself, “reflected in the brown of Jalil’s eyes,…her face blazing with excitement, the sky behind her”(20). Mariam loved her father even though he left her as a harmai. Eventually Mariam’s mother commits suicide and Jalil marries her off to Rasheed. After she gets married the “bus pulled away” and “she did not look back to see him receding, to see him disappear in the cloud of exhaust and dust”(51). Now, Mariam is disgusted with Jalil and realizes that he is a dishonest person. After her poor marriage Mariam grows hatred for Rasheed and remembers “how women like us suffer, how quietly we endure all that falls upon us”(82). She realizes that Rasheed is making her suffer and she does not deserve it. Once Rasheed marries Laila, Mariam becomes jealous and upset with her, but eventually they from a bond. Mariam bonds with Laila’s baby and after sometime they would look at each other and “in this fleeting wordless exchange…know that they were no longer enemies”. They are now like sisters and Mariam has someone to love her. One day Mariam is holding Aziza and “her eyes watered. Her heart took flight. And she marveled at how, after all these years of rattling loose, she had found in this little creature the first true connection in her life of false, failed connections”(226). Mariam has never truly been loved and she finds truth in Laila’s baby. Hosseini writes that “two sprouted new flowers sprouted in her life”, revealing that Laila and Aziza are two beautiful people that she will grow relationships with.
Later on in the story Laila and Mariam try to escape but get caught and this leads Rahseed to be more strict than usual and causes him to attack Laila and try to kill her. Mariam will not have this and she kills Rasheed. This “was the first time that she was deciding the course of her own life. And, with that, Mariam brought down the shovel. This time she gave it everything she had” (30). This is a major turning pint in Mariam's life. She kills her husband for the only two people who have ever loved her. She realizes that she can’t let people control her and she must stand up for herself. Mariam is than jailed for her actions and as her mother said, “a man’s accusing finger always finds a woman” (323). Mariam, while in jail looks out at “children playing a blindfolded game”, revealing that there is truth in their game. They were singing a rhyme which Mariam remembers form childhood with Jalil, “Lili birdbath sitting on a dirt path, minnow sat on the rim and drank, slipped and in the water sank”(366). In this passage it seems that Mariam realizes that she was that bird who wanted the drink of “water” or love in her life but she always “sank” or never had these things. Now she realizes before facing death that she will be free, as a bird is, of all her worries and that she has experienced love. She entered the world as a “weed” and “yet she was leaving it as a friend, a companion, a guardian., a mother. A person of consequence at last”(329).
Before her execution Mariam realizes these things and although she struggled through life, in the end God guided her and after reciting the last words of the Koran a man tells her to kneel down and to look down. And for “one lat time, Mariam did as she was told”(329)., suggesting that death will bring Mariam to a better place where she will continue to be loved.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Madame Bovary Post 2

This passage is when Emma went to talk to the priest about her suffering.
“How are you?” he went on.
“Not well at all,” relied Emma. “I’m suffering”.
“So am I,” said the priest. “These first hot days make you feel terribly faint, don’t they?...”(97).
The Priest and Emma continue you to talk while he never addresses Emma’s suffering. Finally the priest returns to preparing his boys for their First Communion. Emma hears the priest talking to them. Emma could “hear the booming voice of the priest and the lighter voices of the children:
“’Are you a Christian?”
“Yes I am a Christian.”
“What is a Christian?”
“A person who, having been baptized…baptized…baptized”(99).
This passage is interesting because it is the first time in the story when Emma chooses to tell someone about her suffering. The priest does not quite understand that a woman may be unhappy with her marriage and unhappy doing house chores. I feel that Flaubert puts the priest in this chapter to reveal that during this time period women were not expected to suffer and they were thought to always be perfect. Emma is the exception to this society and she wants more than this society has planned for her. I looked up the name Emma and found that it means “whole, or universal”. Flaubert possibly named her “Emma” to show that at this time there were many women feeling this way and that Emma’s story is “universal” and that many women can relate to it.
At the end of the passage as Emma’s leaving she hears the boys say that a Christian is someone who has been baptized. This must have meaning because baptized is repeated three times. I feel that this passage reveals that the French Church and society at this time were backwards. A Christian is much more than someone who is baptized and that reveals that the priest and the church are not correctly teaching these boys.

“The whitish light coming in through the windowpanes wavered as it slowly died away. The furniture, standing in its usual place, seemed somehow more motionless, and lost in the shadows as in an ocean of darkness. There was no fire in the fireplace, the clock was still ticking, and Emma felt vaguely amazed that all those things should be so calm when there was so much turmoil inside her. Then she saw little Berthe between the window and the sewing table, tottering in her knitted shoes as she tried to approach her mother and take hold of her apron strings”(100). Emma tells her to leave her alone and than she shoves “her away with her elbow. Berthe fell at the foot of the dresser, cutting her cheek on one of its brass ornaments. She began to bleed; Madame Bovary rushed over to pick her up”(100).

This passage reveals the pain and suffering that Emma is feeling. I like Flaubert’s word choice in this passage especially when he says that she is “lost in the shadows as in an ocean of darkness”. The fact that Emma is wondering why everything else in her house is normal while she is suffering reveals her selfishness. She feels that just because she is hurting that everything and every one else must feel pain as well. Than Emma becomes so worked up that she takes all of her stress and pain out on her poor daughter. She ends up hurting someone else due to her pain. Also I looked up the origin of the name Berthe and it means “famous or bright”. I found this interesting because it seems that this baby is the only “light” in Emma’s life, but instead of embracing and loving the baby, she hurts her.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

The Right to Choose

There are a myriad of activities which activate the imagination and allow one to leave their reality. Reading, along with acting or watching a movie, is one of the many activities that stimulate the imagination. As one begins to read a book the words jump out of the pages and suddenly create people, images and ideas. These creations that come from books enable one to reevaluate their lives and cope with struggle, by entering a world full of fiction. In Reading Lolita in Tehran, by Azar Nafisi, books are essential. Dr. Nasfisi and her seven girls read literature to escape their reality. In the following passage Dr. Nafisi suggests that the challenges and actions of females in works of fiction are similar to the seven girls in Reading Lolita in Tehran as well. Azar Nafisi suggests this by analyzing the Western novel Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen and connecting Austen’s writing style to the overall feel of her book also revealing how the events in the novel connect with the girls in Reading Lolita in Tehran. Also, this passage reveals that the writing style of Austen is similar to Nafisi in the way that she creates her characters and their personal situations. Dr. Nafisi uses this great work of fiction to reveal that the characters in Pride and Prejudice share similarities with Dr. Nafisi’s seven girls.

The passage begins with Dr. Nafisi discussing the novel Pride and Prejudice. She says, “…there is seldom a physical description of a character…”(305), “yet we feel that we have seen each of these characters and their intimate worlds; …”(305-306). This first sentence suggests that although Austen does not necessarily describe these characters physically, one is able to recognize them as people they are familiar with in their every day lives. These characters come alive and become a part of the imagination. Also, Austen’s style is similar to Nafis’s in the fact that they both have the ability to create characters and make the reader feel as if they know them. After the first chapter of Reading Lolita in Tehran, the reader already has a feeling for each character and is able to relate one of the seven girls to someone they know. Nafisi continues to write that “we can see Elizabeth’s reaction to Darcy’s denunciation of her beauty…”(306). The word “see” in this line suggests that Austen’s writing creates an image or paints a picture for the reader and once again taps into their imagination. The image that Austen is creating is through her use of “different tones”(306) and “words that become haughty and naughty, soft, harsh, coaxing, insinuating, insensible, vain”(306). This sentence reveals the wide range of emotions that can be associated with words in a story and how they create characters. Nafisi is suggesting that creating tone is an essential part of literature and allows one to understand these characters. Nafisi than says that Austen’s “sense of touch” is missing from her novel and that it is replaced by “…a tension, an erotic texture of sounds and silences”(306). Once again Nafisi is revealing to the reader how Austen is creating these characters. In Pride and Prejudice the main characters, “Elizabeth and Darcy are placed near each other…but in public places where they cannot communicate”(306). This scene full of “frustrated tension”(306) is similar to the lives of the girls in Reading Lolita in Tehran. The girls are almost always in situations where they want to speak to a member of the opposite sex but cannot because they will be reprimanded. They live with this fear and struggle to escape it. Nafisi than begins to discuss the party scene of Pride and Prejudice which takes place at Elizabeth’s house. Elizabeth is filled with anxiety and wants time alone to speak with Darcy. Nafisi discusses the scene and Elizabeth anxiously pouring tea until Elizabeth finally says, “‘if he does not come to me, then, I shall give him up forever’”(306). The reader sees how anxious Elizabeth is and how this one sentence creates tension and makes the reader want to know what will happen next. Finally, Darcy approaches her, but a girl says to Elizabeth, “‘the men shan’t come and part us…We want none of them; do we?’”(306). Darcy than moves away and he and Elizabeth watch each other all night. Nafisi pulls out these suspenseful scenes in Pride and Prejudice to reveal how Austen is creating the relationship between these two characters. This is also a scene related to the girls in the story. They are always discussing men and love and can easily relate to Elizabeth. After discussing this scene Nafisi reflects on Austen’s writing saying that she “manages to make us aware of the most intriguing aspect of the relationship: the urge, the longing for the object of desire that is so near and so far”(306). Nafisi is explaining to the reader how Austen creates this imaginary world of fiction. She continues to say that Austen is “more interested in happiness than in the institution of marriage…”(306). Nafisi reveals that Austen’s characters are interested in love and being cared for. This is another aspect of Austen’s novel that the girls in the story can relate to. The girls in the story are constantly discussing marriage and discussing their troubles with love. This is one of the aspects of Austen’s novels that Nafisi is interested in and is why she chooses to discuss this book. Nafisi continues to reflect on Pride and Prejudice, she says, “boundaries are constantly threatened by the women in Austen’s novels, who feel more at home in the private than the public domain, the domain of heart and of intricate relations”(307). The girls in Reading Lolita in Tehran also feel more comfortable in their private secret literature classes than almost anywhere else. Nafisi is making the connection that women, despite the time period or situation, are similar because they have struggled and continue to struggle. Nafisi says that Pride and Prejudice “placed the individual, her happiness, her ordeals and her rights at the center of the story”(307). Similar to Pride and Prejudice, in Reading Lolita in Tehran the story revolves around these seven individuals and their rights and happiness. Nafisi goes on to say that “women created the complications and tension which moved “the plots forward”(307) in stories. She also says that many novels “put at the center of attention what Austen’s novels formulate: not the importance of marriage but the importance of heart and understanding in marriage; not the primacy of conventions but the breaking of conventions”(307). This quotation reveals that women have played a vital role in literature and without their struggles there would not be anything to write about. The girls in Nafisi’s story similar to these Western novels are going against the norm of their society and are making changes for females. Finally, Nafisi states, “These women, genteel and beautiful, are the rebels who say no” to their, “silly mothers, incompetent fathers, and the rigidly orthodox society”(307). Women in literature fight for what they believe in and go against the life style which has been created for them like the girls in Reading Lolita in Tehran. These women, “risk ostracism and poverty to gain love and companionship.”(307). These women act this way in order to “embrace that elusive goal at the heart of democracy; the right to choose”(307). Female characters in Western novels took risks and crossed boundaries in order to have freedom and rights as women. The girls in Reading Lolita in Tehran also take risks without even knowing it. The fact that they attend secret literature classes and study Western novels makes them courageous women who are doing something that their rigid society frowns upon.

Dr. Nafisi uses Pride and the Prejudice, along with other Western novels to reveal how women have struggled with marriage, parents, and society through the ages and deserve the right to choose. She also uses Austen’s novel to reveal the similarities between her novel and the girls in Reading Lolita in Tehran. They both struggle to find their identity, to find love and in the end to have the right to make their own decisions