Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Pink Ribbon: How it All Started...

October is almost here and you'll likely be seeing a lot of Pink Ribbons around in honor of Breast Cancer awareness month. We all know what the pink ribbon symbolizes, but how did it come to represent Breast Cancer? I wrote about it in last year's October issue of Rochester Woman Magazine and thought I would share:

How it all Started... By Jennifer Magar
As Printed in the October 2010 issue
of Rochester Woman Magazine
Ribbons are a symbol of support. We wear ribbons to support a cause, research and awareness, or to support a loved one. For decades, people have been wearing ribbons to show their support for cancers, the troops or AIDS.

The movement began during the Iran hostage crisis in 1979,when the wife of a hostage tied yellow ribbons around trees in her front yard. The nightly news explained the ribbons were a symbol of hope for her husband's safe return. Suddenly, yellow ribbons spread acros the country in support of the hostages in Tehran.

When the popularity of the yellow ribbon surged again during the Gulf War, AIDS activists asked, "What about something for our boys dying here at home?" The activist art group Visual AID is credited with changing the yellow ribbon to red - the color of passion - in honor of those living with HIV/AIDS.

By this time, the stage was set for the pink ribbon to emerge. It all started when the Susan G. Komen Foundation began handing out pink visors to more than 8,500 walkers in its Race for the Cure in 1990. The following year, the foundation handed out pink ribbons to all the participants in the New York City race.

While the Susan G. Komen Foundation was the first to distribute the pink ribbon in support of breast cancer, there are other who are believed to be the originator of the pink ribbon. In 1992, Alexandra Penney, the editor-in-chief of Self Magazine, had the idea to pin ribbons to each cover of their second National Breast Cancer Awareness Month issue. Realizing it was impractical to pin ribbons to the cover of every issue, she partnered with Evelyn Lauder of Estee Lauder, who had the idea to distribute ribbons at the company's cosmetic counters.

Around the same time, however, 68 year old Charlotte Haley was creating peach ribbons in her dining room. She had a history of breast cancer in her family and she attached a card to the ribbons that read: The National Cancer Institute annual budget is $1.8 billion, only five percent goes to cancer prevention. Help us wake up our legistlators and America by wearing this ribbon."

Self Magazine contacted Haley asking her to collaborate with them with one stipulation; she had to hand over the concept of the ribbon. Haley refused, fearing the ribbon would become commercialized. And so, they changed the color of the ribbons from peach to pink. Estee Lauder distributed 1.5 million pink ribbons in the fall of 1992 popularizing the ribbon as a symbol for breast cancer and spreading the myth that Evelyn Lauder was the creator of the pink ribbon.

Today, pink is widely recognized for respresenting support for breast cancer. But the pink ribbon has not been without its share of controversy. More and more corporations began endorsing pink products in support of breast cancer, but these products are not always used to put money back into the cause. Some products are meant only to promote "awareness" and do nothing to raise money for cancer research, leaving some to wonder whether these corporations are using pink simply to make a profit.

We wear ribbons to honor survivors and those who are currently fighitn an illness. But they also show support for the friends and relatives who encourage their loved ones during their battles and honor those whose battles were lost. Ribbons show support for the doctors who help those in need and the researchers who work toward a cure. In addition to being a symbol of suppport, ribbons are also a sign of hope. They represent our hope for survival and hope for a cure.

This October, don't just wear a ribbon, take action to support Breast Cancer Awareness.

Information was acquired from (Official Website) International Breast Cancer Awareness and Funding and the official site for Susan G. Komen for the Cure

Saturday, September 24, 2011

The Help: Movie vs Book

I recently saw The Help in theaters and I have to say, this is one case where the movie version does a good job of portraying the book. I'm always disappointed when the movie changes the storyline and leaves or critical scenes, but I think this is one case where the film did a good job of representing the book version. That being said, I think the movie simply couldn’t put all 444 pages into a movie a little over 2 hours long.

I recently read a guest essay in the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle. In it, Essayist Karen Culley writes about the discrepancy in historical events when told by white people and African-Americans.

She uses the movie adaptation of The Help as an example saying that the film “displayed a familiar wispy nostalgic picture: The black mammy, scrubbing, cooking and washing her heart out, completely devoted to her white employees, while her own family is merely a footnote in the film.”

I was disheartened to read this as I thought The Help did a good job at portraying both sides of the story. But reading this essay brought me to realize that perhaps the movie adaptation did not do as good of a job at representing black domestics in 1960s Mississippi as the book did.

In the movie, we just don't get to spend as much time with Aibileen and Minny. The movie focuses instead on Skeeter publishing a book about black domestics in 1960s Mississippi and the risk and backlash she faces in doing so. We don't get to see as much of their side of the story, hear about their families and their own struggles like we do in the book which they each take turn in narrating.

Maybe Culley is right, in pointing out that Hollywood can create a feel-good version of history that glosses over the details. But it's important to also see the friendships that can come out of an awful period in American history and I think the movie version of The Help highlights this. To Culley, and others who have this criticism of the movie version of The Help, I encourage them to read the book.

At the end of The Help in what she calls, Too Little, Too Late. Kathryn Stockett, in her own words, Kathryn Stockett says:

“I don’t presume to think that I know what it really felt like to be a black woman in Mississippi, especially in the 1960s. I don’t think it is something any white woman on the other end of a black woman’s paycheck could ever truly understand. But trying to understand is vital to our humanity.”

She then quotes one line in the book she truly prizes:

Wasn’t that the point of the book? For women to realize, We are just two people. Not that much separates us. Not nearly as much as I’d thought.

Monday, September 19, 2011

The Help, Kathryn Stockett

After reading (and loving) Kathryn Stockett's The Help I was shocked to learn that the novel was rejected by publishers 60 times before becoming a bestseller. I'm glad Stockett was persistent (or as she puts it, stubborn) enough to keep trying and get this book published.

The story is told from the point of view of colored maids, Aibileen and Minny, and the white woman who wants to tell their stories, Eugenia Phelan, better known as Skeeter.

The Help is set in the turbulent early 1960's in Jackson, Mississippi. The Help presents us with a hypocritical time when white people simultaneously loved and shamed their colored help. It was a time when the Help were part of the family, yet they weren’t allowed to sit around the dining room table to eat the meal they cooked; instead they were required to eat separately in the kitchen. The maids raised white children but were forced to use separate bathrooms for fear they might spread disease.

 “We all know about these laws,” Skeeter says of the Jim Crow laws, “we live here, but we don’t talk about them. This is the first time I’ve ever seen them written down.”

While the issue of civil rights is certainly not a new topic, and the treatment of African-Americans in this time period is not news, what’s refreshing about this book is the relationships between the characters. Skeeter’s decision to write a book from the point of view of the Help is a risky one, but one that ultimately brings the women together in a way they never would have otherwise known. They crossed the line drawn between the white side of town and the colored side to tell the stories that needed to be told.

We see Aibileen, raising her seventeenth white child whom she affectionately calls Baby Girl about whom Aibileen says “I know, deep down, I can’t keep from turning our like her mama.” We see the pain in raising a white child only to have her grow up to be just as racist as her parents:

“I see her listening to Miss Leefolt call me dirty, diseased. I want to yell so loud that Baby Girl can hear me that dirty ain’t a color, disease ain’t the Negro side a town. I want to stop that moment from coming – and it comes in ever white child’s life – when they start to think that colored folks ain’t as good as whites.”

Stockett examines the "lines," between blacks and whites, between maids and the families they work for. Minny says, "Not only is they lines, but you know good as I do where them lines be drawn... I know they there cause you get punished for crossing em. Least I do."
In response, Aibileen says: "I used to believe in em. I don't anymore. They in our heads. People like Miss Hilly is always trying to make us believe they there. But they ain't…”

Readers will fall in love with Minny for her tell-it-like-it-is attitude and Aibileen for her nurturing side - in the end, she feels like a mother to all us.

For her debut novel, Stockett took on risky subject matter. The result is a story that will draw you in and stay with you long after you've put it down.

After reading the book (twice) I’m left with something Aibileen said about the “lines” we draw between us. Lines we still draw today: for example between the rich and the poor, lines that exist simply to make us believe some of us are better than others. But we’re all people, and just as Aibileen tells Minny: “All I'm saying is, kindness don't have no boundaries."

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Rafaella Borasi, Dean of The Warner School

In college, when I told people I was an English major, I almost always got the response: "Oh, so you want to be a teacher?" To which I would respond: "No, a writer." But that's not to say I haven't considered a career in teaching.

In college, when I thought of being a teacher, I could only think of late nights staying up grading papers written by kids who were bored to death by Shakespeare and Dickins.

I'm a little older now, and while I'm not a mom I am an aunt to two young girls. I care about their education, and as a book nerd, I want them to love to read. So now when I think of being an English teacher, I think of it as an opportunity to instill a love of reading and an appreciation for literature in a child. Idealistic? Perhaps.

But after interviewing Rafaella Borasi, Dean of the Warner School of Education at the University of Rochester, I am reminded of the importance of good educators. It’s not only what our children are learning at school but how they are being taught – that too, will stick with them.

The Warner School offers an incredibly opportunity for future educators to be innovators and change the way we look at teaching our children. Click Here to read about it in the September 2011 issue of Rochester Woman Magazine.
Dean Rafaella Borasi of The Warner School
by Jennifer Magar
as printed in Rochester Woman Magazine, September 2011

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Books for Writers: Bird by Bird

Whenever I want to learn more about something, I read a book about it. It's why I own Small Business for Dummies, and why I hold on to texts from college classes on topics like Greek Mythology and Documentary film.

It's also why I have acquired a nice collection of books about writing. The first book on writing I ever owned is Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird. I received it as a Christmas gift from my aunt when I was in high school and dreaming of becoming a bestselling novelist. I read the title and thought, "Why is she giving me a book about birds??" But when I looked at the full title I noticed it said: Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life.

 It's a book I didn't fully appreciate for a long time until I finally sat down and really read it. I have since re-read it many times and often pick it up to reference particularly helpful passages. I find that I discover something new each time I read it.

One of my favorite bits of advice from Anne Lamott is about shitty first drafts. Most writer's have heard the quote from Ernest Hemingway that "The first draft of anything is shit." Lamott expands on this, encouraging writer's to write shitty first drafts. "You need to start somewhere. Start by getting something - anything - down on paper." Lamott goes on to say the best way to get started is to simply write it all down without self-editing "because there might be something in the very last line of the very last paragraph on page six that you just love, that is so beautiful or wild that you now know what you're supposed to be writing about... but there was no way to get to this without first getting through the first five and a half pages."

Lamott also writes about the writing life and issues like jealousy and silencing your inner critic (see the chapter on Radio Station KFKD.) She writes about publication (and the myth of publication) about which she says, "...if what you have in mind is fame and fortune, publication is going to drive you crazy" (she reminds us the real payoff is the writing itself.)

Anne Lamott is funny and honest, sharing her own triumphs, tribulations and humiliations. Reading about her experiences reminds me that I'm not alone in those moments when I sit at my computer staring at the cursor blinking back at me, feeling as though I should just give up on writing altogther.

If you are a writer this book is an absolute must-have.