Sep 14

Reviewing Some Speeches

I think the best speeches were the ones during which it was obvious the speaker had prepared and practiced their presentation. They talked smoothly and more confidently, and took less time to stop and bury their face in their note cards. The most impressive deliveries were the ones where presenters looked up and made eye contact with the audience. They used their hands and walked around as they talked, often gesturing to their visual aid. The spoke loud enough for everyone to hear them and for the most part didn’t trip over their words.

The most useful visual aids in my opinion were the powerpoints, in which the presenter was able to change the image every so often as they were speaking. This kept the audience more engaged–an alternating image is more interesting than one which never changes. Switching through images also provided the audience with more information and visual reference, depending on what the speaker used them for, and made him/her appear more thoughtful in their presentation.

One of the common problems I noticed was that some people didn’t understand the civic artifact assignment. They would bring in an artifact, but instead of analyzing how it promoted civic engagement, they would explain why whatever the artifact was promoting was civic. While these speeches weren’t necessarily bad, their content wasn’t what the assignment was calling for. When it came to presentations involving interviews, a common snag people ran into was spending too much time giving background information on the person they interviewed. In the end, they were only able to talk for about a minute on what that person thought it meant to be a good citizen–which should have been the meat of their speech. In fact, many people had issues where they over- or underestimated the amount of time they had–myself included.

Sep 14

The Neuro-Psychology of Good and Evil

I was pleasantly surprised when on the second day of the social good summit, I recognized one of the speakers from a TED talk I once watched for my AP Psychology class. In her presentation, “The Neuro-Tech Network of Humanity,” Neuroanatomist Jill Bolte Taylor explained how human brains are designed in a way that makes social activism possible. One half of our brain (the left brain) makes it possible for us to plan, communicate, and organize things, while the other half (the right brain) is able to think holistically and creatively. More interesting is the idea that the left brain is what allows us to see ourselves as individuals, while the right brain understands that we are part of something much bigger. So we don’t just understand that we are all a part of this planet; we also understand that we as an individual can make a difference.

Taylor went on the explain how our most basic and innate functions were located in the center of the brain, while our higher “additional” functions developed through evolution and aging. If you ever learned about the brain’s anatomy, you know that the limbic system (emotions) is right in the center of everything, while our frontal lobe and cerebral cortex (thinking and higher reasoning) are at the edges of our brain. So in Taylor’s words, “We aren’t thinking creatures who feel, we are feeling creatures who think.”

Why is that important? Well according to Taylor’s argument, our natural tendencies lead us to feel for others. We are sensitive to the suffering around us and want to make a change. The thing which separates humans from other animals is that our brains have both the capacity to feel for others, and  the reasoning and thinking skills to make accomplish the goal to make their lives better. If we go by what Taylor is saying, we are basically designed to be good people and help one another.

But if that’s true, why is it that so many people often choose to make decisions which harm others? The answer, coincidentally, can be found in yet another TED talk I viewed in my AP psychology course.

Philip Zimbardo, world-renowned psychologist and professor at Stanford University, has spent his career studying what makes humans “go bad.” In his book The Lucifer Effect, he analyzes the ways in which we can span the spectrum between kind and cruel, caring and indifferent, and so on. What he eventually found is that people don’t just become evil; rather, it is a higher power, or “the system,” which causes them to do bad things. In Zimbardo’s words, it’s not the apples that go bad, it’s the barrel.

He found that when people are put in an unfamiliar situation, they tend to do what the authoritative figure tells them to do–even if that means hurting people. Anonymity is also a large factor. When people disguise themselves, 12 out of 13 are willing to harm others, compared to 1 in 8 if they just appear as themselves. I know this sounds extreme, but there have been several studies to back this up, including Zimbardo’s himself, which tested college students like us. Kids were assigned positions in a makeshift prison, either as inmates or guards. The guards were instructed by authority figures to taunt the prisoners, humiliate them and abuse them. And they did, because that what they’d been told, and they didn’t know what else to do. They adapted in order to cope within a bad situation.

Humans are impressionable, and though I’d like to believe in what Taylor asserts about us being engineered to do good, we also have to remember how easy it is for us to do bad as well. If we keep a close watch on our leadership, and constantly ask ourselves if what we’re doing is really okay, I think we could make the progress everyone at the summit was talking about. We just have to remember: The most important person to monitor is ourselves.


Jill Bolte Taylor. Stroke of Insight, 2008.

Philip Zimbardo. The Psychology of Evil, 2008.

Philip Zimbardo. The Lucifer Effect, 2007.

Sep 14

Why People Who Went To Preschool Have A One-Up On The World

During the summit, authors Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn were interviewed in the presentation, “Actions Speak Louder Than Hashtags.” In it, and in their books, they talked about why the American Dream might not be all it’s cracked up to be. However, they did provide the viewers with a few suggestions on how to change that.

People often wonder why it has become so hard to move up economically in the world. If it’s possible for 1 in 7 people to move from the lowest class to the highest class in places like Scandinavia and the UK, why can only 1 in 12 people do so in America, this “land of opportunity?” One of the factors Kristof and WuDunn pointed was that in several European counties, early childhood education is provided to everyone, whereas in the US, we act as if education doesn’t matter until you’re in high school. However, to put it bluntly, this is not true at all.

As Kristof and WuDunn explained, children’s plasticity is highest when they’re young. In other words, and their brains are more malleable, which means they retain more information and pick up new, complex concepts easier (think languages, reading, and some basic math). As you can imagine, learning these things early makes it a lot easier to deal with more advanced things later, and ultimately you become more likely to do well in school–and in turn, the world.

This fascinated me, and I wondered: is there anything else early childhood education does for you, other than eventually leading to an impressive paycheck? I did some of my own research and learned that…

Early childhood education increases kids’ self esteem, social skills, motivation, and cognitive ability. They’re more likely to attend and succeed in college, and less likely to commit a crime or get arrested. Even more interesting is that the advantages children gain in preschool stay with them all the way through their educational career. They will always stand out among their student peers, because they had a leg up on them from the beginning.

What’s coming into focus, and what President Obama keeps repeating to no avail, is that we are investing our money for education in the wrong places, and in the wrong people. And with the evidence that more than half of our nation’s kids don’t have the adequate math, reading, or behavior skills to profitably start kindergarten, or our slipping international ranking in college attendance, this is becoming even harder to contest. The national government has doubled the amount spent on Pell grants in the past year, but this doesn’t do much difference if it doesn’t bridge the simple gap in education which preschool fills. Economists like James Heckman (winner of the Nobel Economics prize) also point out that it is much faster and cheaper to teach a six-year old a new skill than it is an eighteen-year old (remember: plasticity).

Since 2013’s Economic Report of the President last month, Obama has reissued his call for universal early childhood education, generously citing Heckman’s research. Although it won’t happen overnight, I do believe our country is headed in the right direction with this, shall we say, preschool promotion. If America really is the land of opportunity, than kids should have every opportunity available to them–especially something as fundamental as education.


Council of Economic Advidors. Economic Report of the President, 2014.

James J. Heckman. Schools, Skills, and Synapses, 2008.

President Barack Obama. State of the Union Address, 2014.

Sep 14

Women and the Digital Revolution

During the seminar “Accelerating Global Change: Women & the Digital Revolution,” several women shared their experience connecting online through World Pulse, an online resource for women around the world. The founder, Jensine Larson, created it as a way for women to support and inspire each other, using the web campaign to provide women with information in areas where they need it most. I really enjoyed hearing how girls were using it, and how it encouraged them to try things that women in their communities had never tried before. But later I realized: Larson isn’t the only women who’s created something like this.

If you’re ever looking for a feminist article, you’re most likely not going to find it in the shelves of a library–or at least, you won’t find anything modern. This is because feminism for the most part has taken to the internet, and the blogsphere in particular is booming. There are literally thousands of feminist blogs out there. Some talk about anything feminism, while others focus on black feminism, queer feminism, feminism in hip-hop culture, or even just feminism from the male perspective. There is so much information being shared out there, and more and more women are beginning to take part.

I always appreciated online discussion groups. I think it encourages more people to speak honestly and come out of their shells, especially young girls in this case. But another thing blogging publicly does is make these websites available to anyone and everyone. You don’t have to attend a rally like you did in 1980 if you want to hear about a women’s rights movement anymore. Girls have taken over the web, and in turn, so is feminism.

Despite all this, it hadn’t occurred to me that women from places like Nepal and Tunisia were also getting involved in these online movements. But now that the social good summit has drastically expanded my world view, I’m definitely proud that it has. Women everywhere are beginning to feel empowered, and it’s because all of us are finally able to connect with each other; to inspire and support ourselves as one. Things like country borders, language boundaries, and cultural repression are fading away with the innovations of technology.

My Women’s Studies professor has been having all of her students write blogs sharing our feminist feelings for the week, and then comment on our classmates’ blogs. She did this knowing that if we really wanted to get involved, the blogsphere was the perfect way to start. And while I understood her logic at the time, I never truly appreciated it until further into the semester, as I discovered the seemingly endless amount of females supporting each other and sharing ideas.

Can you guys understand how fantastic this is? Imagine you’re just browsing online, and you suddenly come across an entire worldwide community, devoted entirely to supporting you and making sure you live happy, equal lives without oppression; which understands the challenges you face and actively takes steps to end them. Now imagine that you were like these girls from Nepal and Tunisia, who never had any resources like this before, and came across the same thing. That is what we call the feminist blogsphere.

I would say the internet is a wonderful thing, but we wouldn’t have this community without the women who made it. And I must say, I’m truly proud of this.



Sep 14

Think Globally, Act Locally

On the first day of the Social Good Summit, listeners were introduced to the idea of looking at a situation holistically, and then take steps toward solving the problem with the bigger picture in mind. In the words of children’s rights activist Graca Machel, “Think globally, and then act locally.”

During the seminar “Women Power. Empowered Women,” Machel went into further detail. She explained how even if we can’t reach the entire world at once, if we proceed towards solving a problem with the entire situation in mind, it’s much more likely to succeed the way we want it to. During the summit, Machel and the three other women in her seminar were mostly discussing ways to solve the problem of childhood marriage. But when I considered what they were saying afterwards, I realized this advice to think holistically could be applied to several other issues.

For example, last fall I did a research project on Mississippi’s education program, and found it was one of the five worst programs in the U.S. Their standardized test scores are dismal, and only 60% of the student population ever graduates high school. That means almost half of the state’s youth has never achieved a high school education. I also learned that despite this, Mississippi’s government is taking its money out of its schools, and using it to fund bigger and better prisons in an attempt to combat the state’s rising crime rates. But does that actually solve their problem?

Let’s take a step back and look at the situation holistically–because if Mississippi’s government had, they would have realized that one of the traits most commonly associated with criminals is a lack of education. If you have an education, you’re more likely to get a job, and less likely to be out on the street robbing convenience stores. You’d also be giving back to the economy by working, and the state would be making even more money. I think it’s fair to say that Mississippi didn’t think this one through.

In contrast, the seminar which followed “Women Power. Empowered Women,” gave an example of how holistic thinking is successfully solving problems–even from across an ocean. In “One Year Later: Progress in the Pursuit of Conflict-Free,” the CEO of Intel Corporation Brian Krzanich explained how his company is refusing to purchase conflict minerals (slave-mined minerals from the Democratic-Republic of the Congo often used to build computer chips). Roxanne Rahnama, a student activist at the University of California Berkley, explained how her University and several other like it had pledged to only buy computer supplies from companies which, like Intel, had stopped buying into the Congo’s slave trade. This is an example of how looking holistically at a problem can help us find solutions that are not always obvious, but still get to the heart of the issue: These activists thought globally, and acted locally.

This concept is important to keep in mind, especially since we are out in the world now and making decisions on our own. It’s always good to look at a situation from every angle before deciding how to act. It can save you a lot of time, and probably get you closer to what you wanted in the first place.

Sep 14

The Media as an Agent Against Feminism

Last week I got a comment on my post, asking me what I thought was most at fault for feminism being viewed in such a negative light. To be fair, there isn’t one specific source for this problem, since this opinion is generally permeated throughout our entire culture. The question then becomes, how did this misinformation spread so universally? Well, consider this: What is the most reflective and therefore most influential image of our modern culture?

Answer: the media.

From what I’ve noticed, there are two forms of female power in the media, normally directed at two different generations of women. In her article, “The Rise of Enlightened Sexism,” feminist columnist Susan Douglas defines these portrayals as “Embedded Feminism,” and “Enlightened Sexism.” Within embedded feminism, women in the media are displayed in positions of power which are traditionally held by men (Business Executives, Company CEO, etc.), and it’s usual market towards women over 35. While this portrayal seems to promote a positive view of women in power, it also leads us to believe, since we see so many powerful women so often on TV, that the feminist movement is no longer necessary–when in reality, women have come nowhere close to achieving this level of equality in the workforce, let alone to the extent we are lead to believe.

The second form, enlightened sexism, is aimed primarily at young women and girls. This is where all the photoshopped beauty, sexy music videos, and fawning young men come into play. If you’re a girl in today’s society, you can’t go a day without being bombarded with images of the “ideal” woman–someone with perfect skin and a “bangin’ bod’”–who exerts her power by putting her body on display and waiting for men to approve of her; showering her with praise and worshiping her. What girls are being taught is that–while being smart, or funny, or talented are all good things–being “hot,” is the most valuable trait of all. If a girl isn’t attractive, or she doesn’t have the perfect body, she ultimately has no power. Essentially, if a young woman can’t get the approval of her male peers, she is insignificant. Forgettable. Unloved. We can look at the rates of depression in girls and women–which has doubled in the past decade–to determine the effect this message is having on female youth.

So we have half the media convincing us that feminism is no longer an issue, and the other half implying that women can only be powerful by hypersexualizing themselves. But there is yet another thing the media has done to undermine female empowerment, which exists outside the messages themselves:

By offering different versions of feminine “power” to different audiences, the media are creating a cultural divide between women: the mothers and the daughters. A key part of the feminist movement is the unification of women–all women. We can’t transcend to a societal level which is equal to men if we are constantly fighting each other. By providing us with these contrasting feminist ideals, the media ensure that women have different versions of what will be best for them, what is respectable, and what will make them feel powerful.

I’m not saying either of these views on feminism aren’t the “real”feminism; with so much inaccuracy behind the portrayals, how could they be? But when you’re working on a movement, all parties involved need to be united, and with these two generations pitted against each other, nothing will ever get done. Not all women need to have the same views on feminism, but they can’t be so different that the very existence of one version is a threat to the other.

My suggestion is for women to start a conversation. We need to recognize the end goal of equality is something feminists still need to work for, but not what the media teaching us. I want girls to understand that the media is not a reflection of reality, and that the path to empowerment is something we need to create ourselves. Together.

Sources: Susan J. Douglas. “The Rise of Enlightened Sexism,” 2010.

Sep 14

Rhetoric Artifact Outline

If you look at my RCL post from last week, you’ll see the artifact I’ve chosen. It’s an advertisement, advising citizens to be careful on the road and watch out for children. The image is taken from the backseat of the car. A man is in the driver’s seat, talking on his cell phone, and a woman is in the passenger seat, holding a map. Neither of them are watching the road. Through the windshield you see a young boy just in front of the car, raising a hand and screaming. His eyes are blocked by the rear-view mirror, which is reflecting the eyes of an even smaller child sitting in the backseat.

I plan on talking about three things:

1. Time: In the caption, it says more children are involved in car accidents during school holidays, so if a holiday was coming up, it would be especially relevant.

2. The man using his cell phone. Most people can relate to this because they own a cell phone, and there’s been a lot of evidence which suggest it’s dangerous to be on them while you’re driving. So with that prior knowledge, the advertisers don’t have to prove to to their audience that what’s going in the car is dangerous. At the same time they’re offering an image of something the target audience probably does everyday: talking on their cell phone. This makes it seem more relevant to them.

3. I want to consider the audience itself and how pathos plays a part in the ad’s rhetoric. Everyone has a family, and pretty much everyone has a young child which they worry about getting hurt. So it’s easy for the viewer to imagine the fear invoked by the idea that it could be their young loved one about to get run over by the car, or their young loved one in the backseat during the accident. The fact that the child’s eyes reflected in the mirror are strategically placed over the eyes of the child in front of the car compound this effect.

Sep 14

Feminists: What Do Those People Want, Anyway?


If you read my first passion blog, I talked about why I wanted to write about feminism. It’s a unspeakably important movement which is often misinterpreted, degraded, and more and more frequently, simply passed off no longer necessary, since women are “already equal” in our society… at least, that’s what we’ve been told.

Given all of these misconceptions of the topic itself, I believe for my first blog, a bit of an introduction is in order.

Feminism has been given many definitions, some more ridiculous and accusatory than others. My personal favorite, which I’ll be referencing throughout my blogs is as follows: “Feminism is a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression” (Hooks, viii). What’s fantastic about this definition is it makes it very clear that the problem feminists are confronting is with sexism, not with men. This makes three things clear immediately.

1) Contrary to urban legend, feminists are not simply a bunch of angry lesbians who hate the entire male gender.

2) Men can also be feminists without betraying their sex.

3) Women themselves can contribute to the very sexist notions which feminists combat.

Feminism then, has never been something just for women. Rather, it is for anyone who believes the sexes should be equal.

So now that you’ve had your crash course on the movement, I still have to explain why it’s relevant to us today.

Unlike what many of us like to believe, women still are nowhere equal to men, particularly in the U.S. Here are two examples of this:

1) Currently, working women make on average thirty-three cents less of every US dollar a man earns in her exact same position. So even when women work as hard as men, it is impossible for them to achieve the same amount. Our society simply doesn’t allow it.

2) 51% of the U.S. population is female, but make up only 17% of our government.  This is the result not only of women being subconsciously discouraged to run for office, but also of our media subtly implying that women are not fit for the job. Over and over again on film and television, woman are portrayed as irrational. We are too emotional, too fragile, to survive in the world of politics. And so women aren’t elected. What this ultimately means is that the decisions being made for that 51% of the population are being made by people who cannot possibly understand the everyday difficulties they  face.

No wonder our country has so many problems. The people who hold enough power to make the laws represent about 6% of our population. (White, male, over 30, educated, born in America).

At any rate, the question remains: What do those feminists want? Well, as a feminist, here’s a sampling of what I’d like to see happen:

-I want women to start being judged for their accomplishments, not their bodies.

-I want women to be welcomed into positions of power, not discouraged or told that having ambition is not “feminine.”

-I want music videos which feature women to show them doing something other than dancing around half-naked.

-I want the glass ceiling to disappear.

-I want the rate of depression in young girls–which has doubled in the past decade–who don’t have the “perfect body” to start lowering.

Most of all, I want people to realize that when it comes to equality of the sexes, there is far more work to be done. That’s what this blog is about. I hope reading it will be both enlightening and inspiring. And maybe we can even make some progress together.


Bell Hooks. Feminism is for Everyone. 2000

Bell Hooks. Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center. 1984

Miss Representation. 2011

Sep 14

Civic Artifact Analysis

As an example of rhetoric which takes notable advantage of kairos, I’ve provided the advertisement above.

If you can’t see the caption at the bottom very well, it reads, “The number of car accidents involving children increases during school holidays. Please be extremely careful!” And so we see the first mention of the rhetorical situation: A school holiday was most likely coming up when this was printed, and so a message like this would have been in perfect time to give drivers a head’s up.

The second way kairos is taken advantage of in this ad is through the image of the man driving on his cell phone. The conversation about how cell phones distract us from everyday life and what really matters has been going on for about a decade, and keeps getting brought up again with each new generation of smart phone. Another crisis revolving around cell phones is their increasing involvement in car accidents, which is why it’s become illegal to use them while driving in most states. The large majority of the audience this ad is directed to also own cell phones, and so showing the man on his phone is something they can relate to. They’re probably already aware of the risk based on recent conversation, so it takes less explanation for them to accept that something which they own and operate can be so deadly.

And finally we get to the kicker. Look at the picture, and look at the rear-view mirror. You’ve probably already noticed, but the eyes of the child they’re about to hit line up exactly with the child sitting in the backseat of the car. This is directed at anyone who’s ever cared about a young child. Subconsciously it’s saying to the viewer, “What if this was your son, daughter, little brother or sister, niece or nephew, grandchild or cousin, who’s about to get hit? What if this was your young loved one, sitting in the back of your car, while you hit that child?” In this case, kairos is audience-specific, and the emphasis in recent years on responsible driving really digs deep here. If the audience didn’t care as much about kids, this appeal to pathos wouldn’t work. But it does, and the fear this ad instills really hits close to home.

Sep 14

Passionate Ideas

I’m about to start another blog about things I care about. Here are my top two ideas:

1. Music in the hard rock/metal universe

I listen to a lot of heavy music, which is typically not considered mainstream. It’s more an underground subgroup of rock, and is often passed over by the less hardcore world. I really love this music, and I’m actually just discovering it for myself, so I thought it would be fun to post about it as I came across new bands and new styles. If I’m going to be honest with myself though, I don’t think anyone would want to read it–at least in this class. Maybe like… one person? And even if they did, they probably wouldn’t listen to the music. That’s okay though, because I know there must be a more relevant topic which I can write about. Something I’m really passionate about. Something like…

2. Feminism

Oh yes, I’m going there. I’ve actually already decided this is the topic I want to settle on. Why? Because most people really don’t know what it is, or how it’s relevant to them, and they should. We’re talking about civic life in this class? Well as a political science/women’s studies major, I consider teaching people about feminism to be part of my civic responsibility. My goal for the blog each week would be to write about a feminist issue in society today. To give you a sampling of what I have in mind, I’ve already picked out a few topics: What is the real definition of feminism and what are its goals, the politics of feminism, women in the media, women in relationships, the difference between sex and gender, how men can be feminists, and so on. I want to make it interesting and accessible to everyone, because I want people to actually enjoy reading it. That way, they’ll come back to learn more about this important topic. And I doubt I’ll ever run out of things to say.

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