Two Terms of Hope and Change Comes to an End

Exactly eight years ago today, November 9th, I arrived in Kabul, Afghanistan.  It was the first day of my first trip to a country where I have worked as an activist and ‘humanitarian’ ever since.  Exactly eight years today.  I flew to Afghanistan the day of the elections in 2008, and  I watched anxiously as some of the early results came in during my layover in Dubai.  I arrived in Kabul, bleary eyed and jet lagged, to hear the words, “Hello, Shannon. Welcome to Kabul.  Barack Obama is your new President.”

I nearly hugged the slight, bespectacled, Afghan man who spoke those words.  Najibullah was holding a sign that read “Shanon Galpin” in the meeting area of the old Kabul terminal.  A hug, of course, would have been the worst possible thing I could have done in a crowd of Afghan men for Najibullah’s reputation, and my own.  I restrained myself, instead looked over at my friend and photographer, Tony Di Zinno, and grinned.  I couldn’t hug him in public either.  He grinned back and said something about ‘auspicious signs’.   This was everything.  I had arrived in Afghanistan to start my work at the same time that Americans historically voted for our first black President.  A man whose campaign was based on ‘Hope and Change’.  A man, who over the next eight years would exemplify the best of humanity in the highest political office. But for now, in this moment, I simply agreed with Tony’s assessment of an auspicious omen in which to begin my journey down a path that was also firmly rooted in the belief that hope leads to change,  if backed up with a boatload of grit and determination.

Now let’s not get ahead of ourselves.  I am NOT comparing myself to President Obama.  I am simply reflecting that the time period that bookends his two terms of office is now also bookending my own work in Afghanistan.  Because after eight years, multiple humanitarian projects and collaboration, soul-crushing fundraising and outreach, a groundbreaking street art installation, two books, a shit ton of corruption, two recent brain injuries, and a historic series of mountain bike rides, I am ready to ‘leave office’.  I cannot envision a third term, even though I am free to take one and desperately wish Obama could too.

I have been struggling with this for the past year.  I was admitted to the ICU in 2015 with a blood clot in my brain.  I worked through recovery, supported my ongoing work with the Afghan National Women’s Cycling Team from my home in Colorado until I was allowed to go back there in May.  Yet while I was there, everything I had been working towards for the past three and a half years with the team was crumbling.  Corruption, dysfunction, and increased security risks were overwhelming and disheartening.  Amidst several suicide bombings in the capital, increased control by the Taliban, and the emergence of ISIS in two provinces, I saw a country reeling with an exodus of NGO’s, media, aid workers, and Afghan citizens and a dysfunction stemming from the power sharing agreement that has led to effectively two heads of state; Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah.  This has rippled down the food chain in bizarre but not unexpected ways.  I met colleagues that talked about meeting with two governors in a province, two Ministers for the same office.  There were two official Afghan Olympic Committees operating (not legal by IOC standards).  There were also two Afghan Cycling Federations (also not legal by UCI standards).  There was corruption so blatant and vile that I spoke openly about it with the New York Times for a piece about the women’s sports federations and corruption.  This increased the risk against me personally, calling people out for illegal and corrupt behavior rarely wins you friends.  All this while I was emerging from eight months of brain recovery.  I came home and wanted nothing more than a lobotomy.

Six days later, my mother passed away.  Two months later and I was back in the ICU with a second brain injury.

I am now nine weeks out of the ICU and freshly back from unplanned trips to Denver and NYC to organize two Pussy Grabs Back Protests in the wake of Trump’s continued brush aside of rape culture in our public discourse.  I wrote blogs about rape culture and locker room talk, and engaged on a soulless social media experiment on trolling. I’m tired. I don’t have a third term in me.  I have reflected on what I have accomplished in eight years ‘of office’.  I see what Obama has accomplished in his. He wins. No question.

But eight years is an unusual timeframe to reflect upon my work in Afghanistan and what’s ahead. Because after eight hard, dangerous, corruption filled years in Afghanistan, I still believe hope and change are possible.  I’ve seen it.  I’ve seen it over shared meals with female members of Parliament discussing their role in the future of their country.  I’ve seen it on the streets when women marched against street harassment and gender violence, despite the rocks that were thrown at them.  I’ve seen it with the emergence of Afghanistan’s street art scene, giving voice to the youth that believe their have a voice.  I’ve witnessed it when the first girls to ever ride bikes in Afghanistan conquered the last taboo and inspired other girls to grab their freedom.

Here in the US, I’ve witnessed it with President Obama supporting gay marriage and repealing ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ putting LGBT rights front and center with our nation’s idea of equality. His stimulus plan prevented a second great depression and turned our economy around. He signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. Passed universal health care reform. He ended the war in Iraq and drew down in Afghanistan. He expanded wilderness protection, and supported the Paris Agreements on climate change.  I could go on, but you can google his long list of progressive accomplishments.  He did this despite an intransigent and obstructionist GOP and amidst constant attacks on his legitimacy as President, most of it coming from our now President Elect Trump.

More than that what he accomplished… he inspired our country.  He showed that this country is indeed open for all who dare to dream, that America was no longer a country solely controlled by white men.  He showed that while racism still exists, a black man with a Muslim sounding name could become President.  That he could weather the continuous onslaught of racial slurs and birther conspiracies with dignity.  He and Michelle have brought grace, humor, joy, and some killer dance moves into the office.

He did all this with hope and change.  Not because hoping for something gets shit down, but because if you dare to believe that hope is stronger than fear, that equality and justice is possible, and then you fight for it with your actions, change will occur.  The fight is worth fighting and that fight doesn’t happen without hope.  Hope that we can address the wrongs of those that came before us. Hope that the future can be remade in the image of our diversity.  Hope that equality and social justice will prevail and build a foundation for future generations over a history of racism and sexism.   I believe in hope, and I believe in Obama.

Today I woke to the news that the nightmare we all watched unfold last night was indeed our new reality; Donald Trump is our new President Elect.  Eight years of progressive policy and a scandal free Presidency by our first black President ends with our country electing a racist, sexist, bigot with no governing or military experience?  How the fuck did this happen?

I listened to Hillary Clinton’s concession speech, and then Obama’s speech 30 minutes later on NPR as I drove to the airport this morning. Both were dignified, respectful, and called on us all to take the high ground and peacefully begin the transition of power to the democratically elected President Elect.  Yet there is a subtle call to action underneath the peacemaking; justice and equality must not be pushed aside, no matter who is the leader of our country.  We must unite in keen opposition, activism, and protest to ensure that the fight for  e quality and justice does not get sidelined.  That women’s rights, LGBT rights, civil rights, indigenous rights, and environmental rights do not get trampled or ignored.  This is still a fight worth fighting, we cannot abandon hope.

For the past eight years, I’ve fought for women’s rights and girls’ empowerment in a war zone.  I’ve fought to build awareness of gender violence at home and abroad.  The more I work in Afghanistan, the more I see the work we need to do back home.  We are more similar than we care to admit.  Our country was founded on the words of equality and justice.  Many of us would argue that words do not make it so.  Women, particularly women of color, black men, native americans, hispanics, and specifically targeted in this election cycle as our latest ‘demon’, Muslims, are all too aware that equality and justice are not evenly dispensed, despite what the words on our Bill of Rights may state as our founding ideals.  My work was in a country repeatedly ranked the worst country in the world to be a woman.  What does it say about our country when I realize that I need to work here more than ‘over there’.

White men, and far too many white women, voted for white supremacy, sexual assault, ignorance, and racism yesterday.  I heard family members talk about a return to the ‘way things were’ when they were growing up.  Yes, for many white middle class American men and women, the 1950’s were probably idyllic.  You were born in a period of prosperity and white privilege.  Congratulations white men in America, you won the human lottery.  White men wrote the rules that this country was founded on, they oppressed and subjugated other men to build this country while maintaining a status quo that kept women and people of color as second class citizens, and they have proven that they won’t give that power up easily.  Not to a black man, no matter how good a leader he proves himself to be.  Not to a woman, no matter how qualified she is.  Instead…we elect a man whose best known for beauty pageants, dodgy real estate deals, bankruptcies, and a reality tv show.  But he’s white, and he’ll protect you from the bogeyman that he, himself, along with the media circus, created.

Two terms. Eight years.  I’m exhausted.  I’m sure everyone is.  The progress made in Afghanistan is at risk of a corrupt government and increased violence.  The progress made here in the United States is at risk under a Trump presidency and Republican led Senate.  He has campaigned on the platform of rolling back much of Obama’s key legislation. He is a serial liar. He has threatened to jail his opponent.  The future of the Supreme Court is on the line.  The future of my daughter is on the line.  My 11-year-old went to bed truly fearful of a Trump win.  She has watched the debates.  She understands at age eleven that debate is about respect and discourse; interrupting is rude and bullying is wrong.  She has heard him in his own words talk about grabbing women by the pussy, and she understands that the principals of consent are key to women’s rights and to her safety.   She went to bed after she wrote a list of all the uncounted states left and their electoral votes, believing there was still a chance of a Clinton win.  I dreaded waking her up this morning for school. As I climbed into bed with her to give her a cuddle, she immediately asked me sleepily, “who won?”  To which I replied, “Trump did, but it’s going to be okay.”  Because I want to believe it will be.  Over breakfast we talked about democratic process and the words we use going forward.  We can be disappointed, sad, and even angry, but we must follow Obama’s lead and take the high road.  We talked about bullying, sexism, and racism.  But how do you explain to a sixth grader that a bully, a man that demeans women, that calls Mexicans rapists (she goes to a bi-lingual school with 50% hispanics) can be elected to lead our country?  You can’t.  You just have to hug it out and continue to talk through it, openly and honestly.

Many of us have said publicly that no matter who wins we have exposed the sexism and racism fault lines that exist in this country.  We knew they were there, but they are deeper than many of us realized.  So no matter who won, we knew that today, November 9th, we had to continue to work for social justice.  Women’s rights, civil rights, LGBT rights, and indigenous rights.  The work is right here in our backyard.

So today, as I sit on the airplane, insulated from my twitter feed and the media’s breakdown of this election result, I allow myself to be sad. I allow myself to feel depressed.  I need the quiet and the dark.  I need to be cut off from my phone.  I need to mourn the fact that the country I thought I had a voice in, the country that sets itself up as the standard bearer for equality, is much further behind than I thought.  Eight years of an Obama presidency made me believe that we were on the right path, occasionally stumbling, but generally headed forward in the right direction as a nation.  It was something we could continue to build on.

Now I feel different.  Racial inequity, sexism, misogyny, gender violence, rampant homophobia, and religious intolerance are our country’s reality.  Unless we all get back to work, building coalitions, and fighting the good fight together, arm in arm.  So let’s hug it out.  Let’s take a moment, or two, or maybe even three, to hibernate and grieve the state of our nation.  Then let’s dig deep, and unite together to continue the fight.  Because sexism and racism are not measured by election cycles.  We have work to do.  We have to protect Roe v. Wade, Planned Parenthood, and women’s right to choose.  We have to fight DAPL.  We have to make sure the Paris Agreement on climate change isn’t ignored.  We have to continue the civil rights movement that didn’t end with Martin Luther King Jr. or with Barack Obama, and so we must support Black Lives Matter.  We must protest.  We must organize.  We must believe in hope and work for change.  Our voices need to be louder than ever before, because our voices need to drown out the dying gasp of white male privilege.

So yeah, fuck these guys.  Let’s get back to work.  See you on the front line.  Midterms are in two years.  Let’s make some noise.

2-photo-kate-shippen-roosevelt-suffrage-headquarter-new-york-city-opposed-to-woman-suffrage-wiki

 

Pussy Grabs Back Protests – NYC and Denver

130614_5e69z_rci-statusquo-karencho_sn6351

Ladies,

It’s time we said ‘Enough’.  Rape culture, gender violence, and sexual assault and harassment are taking over the headlines, but instead of inciting action, its being dismissed as a political move.  Victims are coming forward only to be shamed or shut down as per usual.  On Twitter #WhyWomenDontReport has been a powerful hashtag illustrating the very heart of rape culture and why we as victims often don’t come forward.

My recent post about rape culture, got so much trolling that I turned the trolling into a social experiment and turned the trolling commentary into proof of the rape culture they were denying.  Mostly I just tried to find a silver lining out of so much hate and misogyny.  Throughout the responses I see from women on social media sharing stories and speaking out, many openly adding their voice to the conversation for the first time, I see old wounds being ripped open and a bizarre collective PTSD emerging. It feels less about the old wounds than about the new hate.

Enter the Pussy Grabs Back Protests.  It’s time to raise our voices and collectively push back against the misogyny, racism, and hate talk that insists that there is no rape culture, that we are too sensitive, that we need to shut the hell up, that we are lying.  It’s time to reclaim Pussy as a derogatory word meaning coward, or as a way to dehumanize us down to a body part. It’s time to fight back with our voices and our spirits.

I’ve created two protests, both scheduled before the election.  It’s not about politics, although politics is what has brought this conversation to the streets in protest, it’s about voicing our stories and showing that rape culture exists and we will not accept it any longer.  It’s about seeing survivors in the thousands opening the door and welcoming the nation in to see what we, as women, have been putting up with for far too long.  Activists like Gloria Steinem and Betty Friedan the feminist movement of the 1970’s should have kicked this in the balls a long time ago but apparently we have not come as far as we thought since the suffragette movement ensured us the right to vote almost a century ago.  The open racism and misogyny that is fueling this election cycle, but is seemingly brushed aside is staggering in its roots of ignorance and hate.  Calls from Trump supporters to roll back women’s rights to vote, to roll back civil rights?  The only option is fight the ignorance with protest and to combat the apathy of those unaffected with our voice.

My own small, yet diverse community of men and women in New York City are coming together to protest on Saturday, October 29th at 10am. We want you to join us.  The location details will be announced on social media  through Twitter at @sgalpin Instagram at @sgalpin74 and my public Facebook page next week.  The fabulous women at WorldMuse and CTZNWELL are supporting these protests with outreach and support and for that we are grateful to them.

We need your help mobilizing the NYC community to join us; college students, artists and musicians, the yoga community, women’s groups, anti-violence and anti-human trafficking groups, activists, writers, journalists, business leaders, and media to join the protest and be aware of it.  Please reach out to your community, share this post, invite your friends, and get involved.  If you can help with signs, media, social media outreach, or anything else please email me through my website at www.shannongalpin.com

The second protest is in Denver, Colorado on Wednesday, October 26th the state which I call home.  We were approved for a permit today so that we can protest on the steps of the state capitol building.  Please join us at 8am on the west steps of the capitol.  Same thing as NYC, rallying your community, showing up to the protest, encouraging others to join you is our biggest need.

Get creative, make signs or wear tshirts in protest that focus on the issue not the political candidates.  Pussy Grabs Back, Combat Apathy, Enough, Feminist as Fuck, Rape Culture Exists, VAG (very articulate girls), Vote Your Vagina are a few of my personal favorites.  Let’s make this protest the first step in a broader discussion and specific actions to combat rape culture and gender violence beyond Nov. 8th.  Our work is just beginning, no matter who wins this election, the work we have ahead of us to combat gender violence and rape culture is just beginning.

#CombatApathy

graffiti_bigredheart_new_web

 

 

Pussy Grabs Back

Ladies, its time to wear your words.

img_0161

Donald Trump and his supporters think that words don’t matter.  That words are just words and can be easily forgotten.  That bragging sex talk is the same as sexual assault talk.  That women can just be ‘grabbed by their pussies’.

It’s time to fight back.  I am choosing to write about it, tweet, and engage my family members that support Trump.  But words do matter and so do actions. Trumps are appalling,  but when we talk action Pence is a quiet offender which is even worse, than Trump.  Because me and my pussy need Planned Parenthood, and birth control, and the Constitution ensures my right to choose what to do with my own body. Pence has been on a one-man crusade to defund Planned Parenthood, roll back access to abortions, and has even said he would consider jail for women that have had abortions.  The 2nd amendment is untouchable for the gun owners petrified Clinton is coming for their guns, but the 14th isn’t?  So says Pence every time he lobbies, votes, and legislates against women.

My pussy also deserves equal pay for equal work by men.  Pence has voted AGAINST equal pay measures THREE times.

Now we see Trump supporters calling for a recall of the 19th amendment that gives women equality and the right to vote?  This is beyond incredible.  What country am I living in?  What country is my daughter going to inherit?  I guess its 1920 and I have to march in the streets to fight for my equality?

So Pussy is fighting back.  I just ordered this t-shirt from the incredible team at Female Collective and plan to wear it every goddamn day till Nov. 9th.

So ladies, words matter.  No one is grabbing my pussy without my consent.  I’m fighting back every day in little ways.  I ordered the tshirt, so can you. Wear it every goddamn day. And on November 8th, I’m voting with my pussy. Vote with yours.

#PussyGrabsBack

#ImWithHer

Sexual Assault Isn’t Locker Room Talk

Enough already.

My heart hurts.  My soul hurts.

Several weeks have gone by now, and I’ve been listening to the media and even close family members excuse away Trump’s behavior on a number of issues that blow my mind. But now we have a new phrase; the ‘locker room’ excuse, in response to his words on a leaked tape. Grabbing pussy and forcing himself on women? Classy, just the sort of talk I know I want to hear from the future leader of my country.

This is just one more excuse in a long line of a very public and systemic attack against women that goes back decades.  Whether it’s judging women’s appearance either by insisting that we aren’t beautiful enough for his high standards, or we have gotten too fat, or by simply lying about non existent sex tapes to humiliate a woman he’s previously insulted via an uncontrollable 3am twitter rant.  Trump has a nasty habit of publicly calling women “pigs, slobs, and dogs”.  He insulted and bullied journalist Megyn Kelly after the debate she moderated for having the audacity to ask him to defend his own words.  His lowest low, he used menstruation as an insult to a woman that was doing her job.

This isn’t new.  He has spent his life, much of it public and on record, objectifying and debasing women, including one my favorite lines, “Women, you have to treat ‘em like shit.” Yeah, we love that.

Here’s the thing though, this isn’t ‘locker room’ talk.  This isn’t dirty talk between guys and this isn’t talking about sex. This isn’t the way normal guys talk about women, or dating, or sex. Just look at the number of professional athletes who hang out in locker rooms fairly regularly who have bashed the media calling this locker room talk.  Men are appalled by Trump’s words.  Appalled that their daughters would be talked to like that.  This kind of talk that Trump is shrugging off, and the media and many of you are letting him shrug off, is talk about sexual assault.  Forcing yourself upon women unasked.  This is lack of consent.

 

 

When you explain this away as a non-issue in the media and public discourse, you need to remember that our sons and daughters are watching.  At a time where college and high school sexual assault is off the chart, nearing an epidemic on our campus.  In a country where one in three women are sexually assaulted.  This isn’t something we can be making excuses for ever.  Those of us who have been raped, sexually assaulted, or sexually harassed are fighting tooth and nail to discuss consent in real ways with young men BEFORE they assault women.  1 in 3 women – that means you know at least one woman who has endured the crime of sexual assault.  Who has not given consent.  Who has lain there wondering, “why me?” as your life is ripped apart by a man who felt it was his right to take what he wanted.  If you’re in my family you know at least two.  Probably more.

You cannot excuse this away.  His entire campaign, his entire life, he has shown his true colors.  You just don’t seem to care.  Why? As Maya Angelou said so succinctly, “When someone shows you who they really are, believe them.

Why don’t we believe him when he says what he says over and over and over again, in public, on tape, on tv, in debates, on twitter?  Is it the same reason that when over thirty women accused Bill Cosby of rape that you didn’t believe them. Because Bill Cosby was on our tv and we thought we knew him like a real family member? The only difference is, Bill Cosby hid his predatory history.  Trump’s is front and center and bragging on tape.

And he still has your vote?

Abusive language, predatory talk, do not automatically make a man a rapist.  Just a misogynist that has no right to hold public office of any kind.

This is a man whose own wife accused him of rape under oath.  There are multiple cases filed against him for sexual assault harassment.  MULTIPLE. Google it, its all there, recently reported on and fact checked.  I’m not going to waste my time delving into it all, you can easily find out all you need to.  It pains me to tell you to dig into other victim’s lives in order to prove to you that Trump is a predator, a misogynist, and wholly unqualified to be a leader.  I shouldn’t have to.  His own words should be enough prove.

No woman should be talked about the way Trump talks about women.  It’s vile, grotesque, and cannot be allowed to go unchecked.  It’s misogyny. It’s rape culture.
Thank you for the men that speak out against him and other men like him.  Thank you for the women that are coming forward to give a face and a story to show Americans what the ramifications of rape culture actually are.  Thank you for shows like The Daily Show that don’t allow ‘locker room talk’ to be an excuse for predatory behavior.
#pussygrabsback

Reflections Forward

photo by Deni Bechard

                                                                                                                                                            photo by Deni Bechard

7 years ago I first mountain biked in Afghanistan.  It was on a dry riverbed in the Panjshir Valley, and it was a first attempt in a series of rides to challenge and explore the gender barrier that prevents Afghan girls from riding bikes.  It was four years, and multiple trips in multiple provinces, before I met an Afghan girl that rode.  That meeting changed my work dramatically, in Afghanistan and back home, and as I get ready for another major shift in this work I found myself looking back at photo archives and reflecting on the past 8 years of work and adventure in Afghanistan.

The irony was that my memoir, Mountain to Mountain, was in its final stages of editing with my publisher in New York City when I met these girls.  So it ends, right where everything came full circle.  I’d spent several years working on various women’s rights and ’empowerment’ projects in Afghanistan, and the theme I had evolved my overall focus around was ‘voice’.  I spoke specifically about the power of voice and how it validates, informs, and empowers and why it matters when we look at the effectiveness of international aid in my first TED talk in 2012. Since then I have focused on projects that amplify the voice of those at the forefront of changing perceptions of women’s rights and their role in society.  Graffiti artists, photographers, activists, and athletes in particular.

Each trip, twenty in total so far, I took time to ride and explore a different part of the country on my bike. Always on a singlespeed mountain bike, always exploring the ‘whys’ that make Afghanistan such a conundrum for everyone that lives and works there.  Specifically, ‘Why can’t girls ride bikes?”

Fast forward a few short years, and today there are Afghan girls riding bikes in various parts of the country for the first time in their country’s history, and while the numbers are still incredibly small, the effect is rippling out in unique and overlapping ways.  I’ve spoken often about the Afghan National Women’s Cycling team and my work with them for the past 3 years. Fatima Hadairi started a bike club in Kabul as a Girl Up project, it only lasted one summer, but one girl, Naheed, went on to join the the national team, and another, Halima co-founded Afghanistan’s newest bike club the BorderFree Cycling Club.  Zahra Hosseini started teaching girls to ride in Bamiyan, and organized three races and public events to spotlight the right of girls to ride, involving the community at all levels to gain traction for social acceptance of girls riding.  Last year she formally registered a cycling team with the sports federation to give her a more legitimate platform to continue to develop from.  There are young women like Kabul-based musician, Ramika, who cycles often and encourages younger girls in her neighborhood to join her.

The girls aren’t operating in a bubble, they are inspiring people around the world through the extensive press and media attention that gives them voice beyond their community. The Afghan Women’s National Team were chosen as National Geographic Adventurers of the Year and nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize which only amplify their voices and their story of a two wheeled revolution further.

As I look ahead to my next trip and a major change with my work and Mountain2Mountain, I am overwhelmed and proud of the the progress these girls have made.  At the same time, I am also saddened by the increased violence in Afghanistan that threatens the progress that has occurred throughout the country for women and girls in all sectors of life.

On a project level,  I’m deeply frustrated and disgusted by the continued corruption that has played a large role as a roadblock for the national cycling team in particular.  I wrote about it in detail on the Mountain2Mountain Field Notes blog.  As I continue to work in support of these girls and others like them, its amazes me that the same men and institutions that are put in place to support and encourage these girls are also the very same ones that lie and cheat these girls out of the opportunities ahead of them.  While I slammed the door shut on the corrupt cycling federation, another door opened with a solution.  I am working hard to make it a reality so that I can continue to support these girls so they can in turn have a bigger say in shaping their own destiny, on or off a bike.

Stay tuned and pedal onwards….. You’re going to love what’s a little bit further down the road.

T4M44rlRjf5NruInlY0FepMsAtdrwPeQ0eSLzVOU9kU

photo by Jenny Nichols

Roar, Baby, Roar

Afghan women were once compared to as sleeping lions, that when woken, would play a major role in social revolution.  I now think that you can take the Afghan label away and simply say, WOMEN are the sleeping lions.   And we need to wake up and ROAR.

Here we are, living in United States, the so-called bastion of equality, in the year 2011.  We have the vote and  the legalese to ensure our place among men as equals.

And yet.

The talk this week around the water cooler by a group of men that should know better, tears apart my motivations and abilities to work in Afghanistan.  The comments at the bottom of online news stories that call me an unfit mother or rant that I have no right to do what I do because of the ongoing military conflict,  have so far been all men.  I know I’ve read them all and took them to heart.

You want to hear me roar?

Call me a barbie.  Say I’m naive.  I’m crazy.  I’m reckless.  Tell me its impossible.

Dismiss me  by my blond hair, my gender, or my audacity.

Damn right I’m audacious.  I’m also unconvential, impulsive, direct, and fearless.   I’m also a woman.  And a mother.   You act as if that’s a bad thing.  No, you act as if I don’t have the right.  BECAUSE I’m a woman and a mother.   The controversy isn’t that I risked everything to start working in Afghanistan, or that I did it without a degree in international development, or that it means I have to spend time away from  my daughter, or that it without security, or that I became the first person to bike across the Panjshir province.  The controversy is my gender.

Men are doing what I do.  Fathers are doing what I do.  I don’t hear the same commentary.  I don’t see their experience, motivations, or mental sanity questioned.  Its the same in the mountaineering world.  Men risk their lives to climb the highest peaks in the world, and many die every year.  They are sung a heros song, celebrating their lives as trail blazers. And the women?  Those that climb the same peaks have their motivations and their motherhood questioned, and the few that meet the same unfortunate demise are vilified as irresponsible and reckless.

Sitting on the sidelines has never changed the world.  Turning a blind eye doesn’t bring justice to those victimized.  I’m not going to do either just because I’m a woman and a mother.  I refuse to bow to apathy.  I’m going to jump in, and when you jump, there’s risk.

But here’s what you don’t see when you seeing me leaping, seemingly reckless, into the deep end.  I checked the water when you were looking the other way.  I know how to swim in these depths.  I made sure of it.

Don’t dismiss my blond hair and broad smile as one of a Pollyanna thinking she can change the world with rainbows and unicorns.  I’m doing it with sweat, blood, and tears.  Covered in mud, under headscarves, fighting injustice in the murkiest waters, where others dare not swim.

Reckless I am not.  Impulsive?  You bet.  Do you know that I studied Afghanistan for years before I ever started working there?  Did you know that I lived abroad for ten years, living in other cultures and learning how to swim in their waters?  Did you know that I worked for myself since my early twenties, creating a job and later a business, out of sweat, guts, and sheer stubborness?  Do you know the relationships I have developed with Afghans and how their invaluable advice and opinions have shaped the prism in which I measure risk, and give me the freedom to ride my bike in a country where women don’t.  It was Afghan’s that taught me and encouraged me to ride a motorcycle in the back streets of Kabul.  It was Afghan’s that invited me into their homes to discuss girls education and rural health care.  It was Afghans that offered me the chance to ride a buzkahsi horse before a match, and taught me to fish in the Panjshir river.  It was Afghans that told me, yes you can ride your bike here.

That doesn’t make me reckless or crazy.  It makes me curious, adventurous, and yes, audacious.

Naive?  Definitely not.  Idealist?  maybe.   I know that the realities.  I know the risks.  I know that this is a country that may not be able to claw its way into the 21st century, much less back to where it was in the 1960’s.  The cards are stacked against me and others like me, succeeding.  There will be women and girls that are still raped, abused, and victimized, but guess what.  That happens in our own country.   But I am not going to throw my hands up and say ‘its impossible’.  The lives we affect, are forever changed, and those lives will affect others, and so on.

You want to throw labels?  Here’s one.  Coward.   You stand back, safe on shore, have never spoken with me, and base your assumptions on my appearance and my gender?   How dare you.  That you would fall back on the basest of stereotypes in order to dismiss me is an insult to men and women alike.

So stand back and watch, because the dye has been cast.  Crazy isn’t a fact – its an opinion.  So is impossible.

While you are standing there watching, open your ears, because the sleeping lions are waking up – and man are they going to roar!

Palin – an interchangeable vagina?

Having lunch yesterday with my good friend Christiane to discuss my upcoming trip to Afghanistan, the talk eventually turned to the RNC and more specifically, Sarah Palin’s nomination as veep.  Disclaimer:  I’m voting for Obama – no question.  Despite being a feminist, I believe Obama is the change this country needs.   A woman as president?  Hell ya.  I loved seeing Hillary dispelling the myth that women can’t be strong, competent leaders.   We seem to be one of the few western countries that hasn’t had a female leader.  England, New Zealand, France, Germany, Iceland, Switzerland, China, Ireland, Israel, many African and South American nations, and India have all had female head’s of state.  Twenty six countries in all have had women at the helm.

The fact that it’s such a big deal that we have women vying for the two top positions in the country is a sad indictment of the state of our nation.  Seriously, Burundi? Liberia? Haiti?  These are nations not considered progressive by Western, democratic nations like the United States, and yet they’ve all had female leaders.   Switzerland has had five female heads of states, two of those as President.   At home in the United States, many can’t get pass the hormones, menopause, and perceived irrational mood swings that would make women seemingly incapable of leadership.  Soft on national defense? Hillary was more hawkish than many of her male colleagues in Congress.

Its now 2008 and we are finally breaking ceilings and letting the glass rain down.  So it should be an simple choice right?  Vote for the woman and prove that women should be standing shoulder to shoulder with men as their equal.  Let the feminist’s voices ring loud and clear.  Right?

But feminism is not feminism when you are willing to vote for a woman JUST because she is a woman.  As Christiane’s husband put it – “You can’t just substitute one vagina for another”.  Really?   Tell that to McCain.

As for McCain’s choice for vice president…let’s not kid ourselves, he wouldn’t have chosen Sarah Palin if she was a man.  Her lack of experience coupled with a closet bursting with skeletons would have made her way too risky.  He picked her because she’s a woman and thus can potentially sway the woman voters to stop using their brains and automatically side with the Republican ticket.  No questions asked.

The true irony is that Sarah Palin, while being in possession of said vagina (one assumes), is not on the side of women’s rights.  She is not a feminist.  That’s okay.  Woman have the right to choose their political viewpoints liberal or conservative the same as men – ironically its women’s ‘right to choose’ that may be at risk should the McCain Palin ticket prevail this November.  As a woman, I’m simply insulted that the Republicans think my vote could be swayed by gender rather than issues.  That we’re lumped together in big gender pie and that a Hillary vote is the same as a Sarah.   Causes be damned.

Neurontin is taken orally with or without food or with pischey buy neurontin