For as far back as Joy Ladin can remember, her body didn’t match her soul. Gender defines us from the moment we’re born. But, how is that related to the lifelong work of being at home in ourselves? You’ve got to check out our show this week, "Gender and the Syntax of Being." Krista’s interview with her explores this question through Joy’s story of transition from male to female — as a poet, as a parent, and as a the first openly transgender woman teaching in an Orthodox Jewish world.
How do we prime our brains to take the meandering mental paths necessary for creativity? New techniques of brain imaging, neuroscientist Rex Jung says, are helping us gain a whole new view on the differences between intelligence, creativity, and personality.
"With intelligence, there’s the analogy I’ve used is there’s this superhighway in the brain that allows you to get from point A to point B. With creativity, it’s a slower, more meandering process where you want to take the side roads and even the dirt roads to get there."
One of our most popular interviews in which Dr. Jung unsettles some old assumptions — and suggests some new connections between creativity and family life, creativity and aging, and creativity and purpose.
"A Voice for the Animals" explores the thoughts and life of Alan Rabinowitz. A profound stutterer as a child left him virtually unable to communicate with people. When he’d get home, he’d hide in his closet and talk to his pet turtle. It was the animals that helped him reenter the world of humans.
And now he’s one of the world’s leading conservationists. He’s called the “the Indiana Jones of wildlife conservation” by The New York Times and fights for some of the world’s biggest cats in some of the world’s last wild places. He offers extraordinary insight into both animals and the human condition:
"I not only wanted to go out and challenge myself against the environment, against odds, and explore wild places, I also wanted to be a voice for the animals. I did want to save wildlife. I always appreciated science more than any other course I studied because to me science was its own language. Science was a language of truths that would be there apart from whether human beings were on this earth or not. Science presented certain facts and certain realities. It allowed me to delve into a world that didn’t have to do with speech or anything else like that, that was human-centric but had a life of its own."
When I’m trying to explain to people what I think is grand and noble about movement, I say that the reason it is our most valuable connector as human beings is because that person onstage, who has a body similar to ours, is using that body in proxy for us. That kind of transference and connection is a very poetic way of saying something that I think the doctor’s given his life to understanding: how an idea about movement can actually be felt. This fact is the way that I’ve been able to deal with issues of identity. And the making of art, the sharing of it, is in some ways — healing sounds way too sentimental — but it bridges the gap between individuals. When I read some of Dr. Sacks’s meditations on how the brain works, in a way he demystifies these things that I have a feeling about. But in another way he encourages me to look with more courage at the physical world.
The Photos Used in Foreign Policy’s ‘Sex Issue’ May Be a Test Case for Cultural Insensitivity
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
The "Sex Issue" recently published by Foreign Policy magazine has received a fair amount of publicity this past week. And, from the responses I’ve read, it’s Mona Eltahawy’s article "Why Do They Hate Us? The War on Women in the Middle East" that’s been greeted with fanfare by some Western media outlets, as in this response by Newsweek:
"Some powerful photo illustrations come with Foreign Policy’s stunning cover feature on the real war unfolding on women in the middle east, written by the awesome and oh-so-brave Egyptian revolutionary Mona Eltahawy. Read it.”
I’m unsure of why Newsweek refers to these images as “photo illustrations” but I think they miss out on the complexities of the issues at hand when they frame it in this way. To be sure, I can understand why many people like these photos. They are stunning images; the article’s title is gripping. But, most of us in the U.S. lack an understanding of the history and the cultural context of using such provocative imagery. For many Arab and Muslim women, these images are offensive. The pictures represent a problem that dates back centuries: the hypersexualization of the veil and the women who wear them. Perhaps we should tread more lightly upon this sensitive ground.
For Samia Errazzouki, these are images of “a nude woman covered in a black body-painted niqab.” In her Al-Monitor rebuttal, ”Dear Mona Eltahawy, You Do Not Represent Us,” she writes:
"All of the women close to me who wear the niqab do so for different reasons. One friend only wears the niqab when she attends protests because she feels comfortable in it. Another friend has chosen to wear the niqab, against the will of her family since she was 14. The representation of the niqab as splattered body paint on a naked woman degrades the decision of women who wear the niqab as a choice. …
The monolithic representation of women in the region, illustrated by an over-sexualized image of splattered black paint over a nude body, however, does nothing to rectify the position of women in any society.”
Leila Ahmed, a revered and oft-cited scholar of women and gender issues in Islam and the Arab world, takes issue not so much with the choice of photos used but with Ms. Eltahawy’s “sweepingly dismissive views of prayer and religion” finding “almost every paragraph of Eltahawy’s essay similarly troubling as, again and again, broad brushstrokes and sweeping generalizations erased subtle nuances and garbled and swept aside important differences.”
If you’re interested in reading more responses, I recommend Muslimah Media Watch’s excellent survey of other female voices appearing in various posts and articles. The opinions vary widely. And, I’d definitely read their round-table discussion with five women who reflect on the larger issue at and and the Foreign Policy issue itself. You’ll gain a better sense of the range of opinions on the issue and the really smart women who wrestle with these issues every day.
Who Germany Wants to Be
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
Zoe Chace’s report for Planet Money on the budgetary meltdown in Greece has got to be one of the better pieces of information journalism I’ve heard on NPR’s morning air. Lost in the debate of bailout-no bailout over Greece’s debt — and the necessity of Germany floating it — runs an undercurrent: the narrative of belonging to a unified Europe, and the varying perspectives of Germans on their responsibilities and the kind of community they want to be part of.
Chace’s focused narrative and inclusion of the voices of Germans from several walks of life deepen our understanding of some of the motivating factors driving this debate. She gives the listener a sense of history: how that past is living forward in the German psyche and how their identity — as a broken people, a vibrant culture, and a affluent nation — is predicated on the past and on whom Germans want to be in the future.
My only regret is the reporter’s use of “Kumbaya” in the piece. As I’ve shared before, I’ve taken Vincent Harding’s story to heart and will never use that reference again in such a way. Nonetheless, it’s a slight quibble and this type of reporting on thick subjects is something I long to hear more of.
Did anybody else listen to this? What’s your take? I’m also thinking through this as we push forward with a more ambitious agenda for On Being online in the coming year. Let’s talk.
Wing Young Huie Photographs Remind Us That the American Experiment Lives On
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
On this Fourth of July, photographer Wing Young Huie reminds us of what it means to be an American, taking time to remember the greatness of this dynamic cultural and social mix of strangers in a strange land.
"Growing up in Minnesota, ya know, people would ask me, ‘Where are you from?’ And I would say, ‘I’m from Duluth.’ People would say, ‘No, no, where are you really from?’ And I’d say, ‘Really, I’m from Duluth.’
It’s an innocent question, but implies a lot. It’s assumed that I must be a foreigner. I think there are times where my family, or myself, we felt that I wasn’t a true American, wasn’t a true Minnesotan, growing up in the land of Lake Woebegone. But, the realities of what I am and how I’m perceived bumps up into the perceptions of what Minnesotans are, on a regular basis.
So, for hyphenated people like me, there are hundreds of thousands of people who bump into this, the myths of the state. So, in a way, what I’m trying to do is create a new iconography. One that fills a gap between the perception of who we are and the reality.”
The child of Lake Superior’s shores spent more than four years taking thousands of photographs of a dynamic range of people who inhabit a stretch of six miles of road in Saint Paul, Minnesota. Titled the University Avenue Project, hundreds of Huie’s images became an urban street installation being displayed in storefronts, on the sides of buildings, in windows of houses. If you ever question whether the great American experiment lives on, Huie’s work will challenge your assumptions and most likely give you a sobering bit of hope.
I am asking some of you old timers, the Gen-Xers, to take a breath and see how far things have come. When we were kids our parents forced us to be doctors or engineers. When I have a kid I am going to force him/her to be a governor.
—Abhi, blogger for Sepia Mutiny
Do cultural identity and role models have a different form between generations? I had to wonder after reading this article from The New York Times about Indians in U.S. politics. Nikki Haley, the Republican nominee for governor of South Carolina, and Bobby Jindal, the governor of Louisiana, are both of Indian descent. They both converted to Christianity in their early 20s. Governor Jindal changed his first name from Piyush to Bobby, after the Brady Bunch character.
The reaction is mixed within the Indian community. Many are asking whether they should celebrate the increased visibility of Indian Americans within politics, or lament their conversions that mask or downplay their South Asian heritage.
But Abhi’s quote above might point to a difference in generations. It seems the younger generation of Indian Americans views their identity as diverse and more fluid. Thus, they are more willing to revel in similarities, whereas the older generation might be more rigid in their definitions of identity. What do you think?
Shubha Bala, associate producer