Donald Trump: The One Man SWOT Team

In marketing, the acronym SWOT stands for the analysis of Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. Any successful businessperson has without a doubt done his or her market research in order to target one’s product to the appropriate sector and develop a strategic business plan. Given “The Donald’s” billionaire status – is he the 0.1%? – we certainly know he has done his due diligence and market research in order to make his own fortune, along with inheriting a vast fortune from his father.
Given his recent (unfortunate) foray into politics, do we think he would have been any less shoddy in contriving a plan to become the next President of the United States? How else could a man who has zero political experience rise to such despicable heights, unless he knew how to pander to the masses? Trump is a mastermind of manipulation! The following is a SWOT analysis of “The Donald’s” frightening rise to power, and perhaps a guide for those who want to take power and use it for good:

STRENGTHS:
-Trump is a master of self-promotion. He has no shame in promoting himself, in whatever form of media. The more outrageous, the better. Harassing and teasing opponents, making unsubstantiated claims – he is his biggest ally.
-He has inherited wealth. This is a very rare asset that he has used to his advantage, and tremendous wealth is imperative to run a presidential campaign.
-Nepotism. There is speculation that he got into Wharton Business School due to family connections. This does not seem implausible, as his undergraduate record does not seem worthy of entering an Ivy League graduate program.
-An MBA. He knows the ropes of how to make money and get ahead, and he applies those strategies of identifying the market and tailoring your product to fit it. In this case, his market is the conservative, uneducated American public, and he is the product.
-Hide your dark secrets from your supporters, or try to. A Jewish-convert daughter (imagine the anti-Semitic fans of Trump hearing that!) Contributing to Democrats in addition to Republicans over the years. An immigrant wife. Support from David Duke. Immigrant labor on his real estate. All things that might cost him votes with Joe Q. Public. But these are all carefully hidden as best as possible.
-Be enough of a hypocrite that you give the opposition some credibility. Trump can’t be entirely anti-immigrant, can he? After all, his wife is a Slovenian immigrant. And he would let London mayor Sadiq Khan in to the United States – just not the other Muslims.

WEAKNESSES:
-A basic lack of experience in politics. Enough said about his key weakness, which is a very serious matter.
-A total lack of true knowledge of foreign policy. He might know the markets, but there is more to building diplomacy than whether the stock exchange is bullish or bearish.
-Megalomania. A politician has to be rational and balanced, and not operate on hysteria from the public in order to form policies.
-No legitimate political advisors. Not even the worst of the Republicans want anything to with Trump.
His solution? Bully when someone attacks your weaknesses.

OPPORTUNITIES:
(This is where Trump preys upon his targets)
-Disenfranchised lower-middle-class whites. We have worked so hard to help minorities achieve equality, but these people understandably feel neglected. To disenfranchise anyone can only lead to bad consequences down the road.
-Racists. Whites who feel that they “were there first” have a lot of hidden animosity that is not allowed to be expressed. Donald gives them a public mouthpiece for their hatred, even though he himself may very likely not believe in what he is saying.
-Fears of immigrants. Whether it is threats from the Middle East or south of the border, xenophobia is a key issue Donald uses for his campaign. He is able to magnify smaller incidents and make people believe they are rampant.

THREATS:
-Muslims. As Mrs. Clinton suggested, he is only stoking the fire for America to be more vulnerable to terrorist attacks if he harasses Muslims.
-Illegal immigrants. Never mind that half his empire was built by them anyway.
-The media. They have the power to expose every last flaw of Trump’s (where are his tax returns, anyway?), to tar and feather him.
-Foreign heads of state dislike him. How can we continue with diplomacy and trade and foreign relations if we have a buffoon in the White House that no one wants to officially recognize?
-Lack of political support. Even the shadiest of politicians seem to be loath to support him, and without support from Congress, a President is merely a figurehead who accomplishes nothing.

Trump is, therefore, a market researcher of the highest order. Perhaps looking for his latest business venture, he has sought the office of President as another line to add to his resume. All we can hope for is a miracle before the Republican National Convention. If not, Canada is a short drive away.

The English Imagination: Bravo for British Books!

Of all the cultures in the world, there is one that seems to endear itself to readers everywhere: British culture. (I will here on use the word “English” though it is inaccurate, because it refers to the language as well as England, where many writers from Great Britain based themselves.) The tradition of English literature is long and vast, starting all the way back from the time of The Canterbury Tales, through the development of the novel in the 1700s, into the beloved Victorian period, and even through the 20th century with canonical classics like 1984. And the love of the English novel has been rekindled in the 21st century with the Harry Potter series, spreading globally like a wildfire.

Given this centuries-long, global mania that has touched the lives of literally millions, if not hundreds of millions, we must simply ask, Why? What is it about the English imagination that captivates us so?

Here are some possible reasons:
-The English have an imagination. This tautology might at first strike the reader as silly, but we need to acknowledge that the English have given us fanciful settings like in A Clockwork Orange, imaginary characters, talking and anthropomorphized animals like Winnie the Pooh, creatures that can perform magical spells, and even myths and legends like King Arthur. The presence of the Celts is certainly one factor in the English collective imagination. The isolation of an island nation may be another, for in an isolated setting, one must create and invent stories and fantasies to keep oneself entertained. Also, in a culture of rigid social hierarchy, the imagination is what makes one free.

-The English have royalty. Kings, queens, dukes, and duchesses, nobility, palaces, and their courts–there is plenty of glamour, intrigue, history, and power struggles that keep the reader entertained. Royalty = continuity, both in terms of a dynasty and a place. Place is very important to royals, as they are defined by the land they own.

-The landscape. There are the seacoast, lakes, stately homes on grand parks with magnificent gardens. There are parlors warm and cozy in which to do needlework while it is cold and dreary outside. There are beautiful spring days in the unparalleled English countryside in which to have a tryst, as Julia and Winston do in 1984. By contrast, there are the industrial wastelands, belching smoke and coated in grime, the sad byproduct of the Industrial Revolution. There is Dickens’s London, squalid and overcrowded. And of course, one cannot discuss the English landscape without including the gloomy, tempestuous Moors as in Wuthering Heights, a setting that is perhaps the original “dark and stormy night.”

-A sense of mysticism. Someone (likely JB Priestley) said that the English are “reasonable, not rational,” which can be interpreted as that the English are willing to entertain ideas that are not entirely pragmatic and realistic. Anglicanism embraces a sense of mysticism, and as mentioned above, the culture of the Celts and pagan traditions embrace gods and goddesses, fairies, et cetera. There might be trolls, wizards, signs, and omens. None of these are considered too far-fetched or outlandish, though Continental readers might find it so.

-Women sometimes feature prominently. While I think it is very wrong to look back on centuries of literature through a modern lens of political correctness and gender studies, we cannot fail to note that English literature has quite frequently featured female protagonists or major characters. This includes characters by both male and female authors. Jane Eyre, Austen’s heroines, Elizabeth Bowen’s Stella in The Heat of the Day, Eliza Doolittle in Shaw’s Pygmalion, Virginia Woolf’s women and especially A Room of One’s Own, even Lewis Carroll’s children’s book character Alice – the list goes on and on. This is not to deny the sexism and secondary status of women through the history of English literature; rather, there has been a significant presence of women that is indeed influential.

-Colonialism. Needless to say, this has been an atrocious facet of history that still has a negative impact today. But strictly from a literary point of view, it broadened the scope of literature. Jane Eyre features the exotic subplot of Mr. Rochester’s time in the Caribbean and his marriage to the tempestuous Bertha. Kipling, for however politically incorrect he is now, set works in India, and one of his most vocal critics, George Orwell, spent time in India and in Burma, the latter providing fodder for his work.
Ironically, it is those who have grown up in former British colonies who read primarily British literature and have a great affinity and even affection for it. Global powerhouse Salman Rushdie has spoken of his love for The Lord of the Rings and Wodehouse. Ask a typical Indian reader (not a current literary scholar or writer) whom s/he admires, and you may very likely hear “Dickens.” Nobel laureate St. Lucian poet Derek Walcott has spoken of his very English education and influence by British poets and writers.

-The class system. Another skeleton in England’s closet, in addition to colonialism, the stratified class society of England has made for very important themes that entrance the reader, namely from low-high. Austen’s novels prominently feature poor women marrying wealthier men. Jane Eyre is a penniless orphan who marries the rich man in the stately home who favors her over the glamorous Lady. The foundlings on the doorstep turn out to be kings–or at least, they marry well. Shakespeare abounds with this theme, in works such as A Midsummer Night’s Dream (recall a character named “Bottom”).  High-to low, and vice-versa, makes for a thrilling story.

-A sense of decorum. This relates to in some degree the previous point about class. The stiff upper lip and social conventions expected of people can be both a source of humor, as we see in Wodehouse or Pride and Prejudice, as well as a source of discomfort and tension, as in Great Expectations. Impropriety makes for good humor or good stories, as it is a form of transgression. How does it get resolved? This is a key question that keeps the reader engaged.

Here’s to hoping that England will continue to produce more writers that capture our imaginations and our hearts through the 21st century and centuries to come!

Hillary vs. Bernie: What Liberals Need to Know

I have been a longtime admirer of Mrs. Clinton, and who wouldn’t be? Strong, principled, experienced, and smart as hell, Hillary Rodham Clinton has broken through many barriers for women, showing us that the sky’s the limit. Or almost the limit: she is trying to break through the last glass ceiling, trying to become commander-in-chief of the most powerful nation in the world, a country that has not yet had a female president or prime minister. She has the knowledge of five people, knows America and the world inside and out, knows the common people (given her own middle class roots and her activism for underprivileged children) as well as those at the top. Many hate her simply because she is a woman, and an ambitious one; she has endured invective that no man could ever possibly endure.

However, there are those who raise a legitimate criticism: Madam Secretary is disliked not due to her gender, but due to her links to power. Again, we must distinguish here that this criticism is not about her being a woman who desires to be politically powerful. Rather, it is that she is allied with the forces that possess tremendous power in this country, power that is simply inaccessible to the vast majority of Americans. Those who dislike her say that she is part of the establishment, the 1%, makes tremendous amounts of money and receives tremendous amounts of money to support her campaign from questionable and influential sources. Objectively, one cannot deny these facts.

This is what provides strength to the campaign of Bernie Sanders, someone else whom I admire greatly. Senator Sanders has truly led a life of simplicity and commitment to public service. Originally an independent “democratic socialist,” he has a long track record of taking concrete action to help the common man and woman, and fighting for social justice. Sanders runs, unhypocritcally, on a platform of transparency and sincerity. One cannot deny that his campaign has been a grassroots one, with his claim that the average contribution made to his campaign is merely $27 and that he does not accept money from super PACs. His ideas for helping the middle class – and all non-wealthy Americans in general – are extremely necessary, sane, and in line with the rest of the civilized industrial world. It is very reassuring to know that we have a politician who is really working for us, and is willing to take on Wall Street and the institutions that really work to our disadvantage. Sanders gives visibility to “the rest of us,” the honest, decent, hard working people who want a better society and who despise a system that favors financial corruption in the hands of a few.

But the question is, can such a “man of the people” (who until recently flew economy class) really succeed without big money behind him? I believe the answer is that liberals who have made it to the top usually have one foot in the corporate or mainstream/establishment door. Being a grass roots activist alone will not enable someone to have the power necessary to make large-scale social change. It is one of the “dirty” secrets of our country that even the most liberal-minded social activists need to realize. Or perhaps it is not so dirty, but a necessary and resigned acceptance of how the structures in American society work.

There are many noteworthy examples of people who have had one foot in each door. Rachel Maddow was very leftist and involved in LGBT and women’s issues, even writing a thesis on AIDS, then became a Rhodes Scholar and journalist, accepting the opportunities offered to her by Air America and then corporate giant MSNBC. A Stanford friend who developed a program to send medical supplies to Bosnia during the time of war later worked in corporate finance. Another friend who is works in bonds and is one of the 1% had worked for a feminist think tank in college. We can also look at our politicians. Barack Obama grew up in developing country Indonesia, and was a community organizer in Chicago in his earlier days. Al Gore has straddled both high-level politics and environmental activism. So has California Governor Jerry Brown. Even the most wholesome of nonprofits receive funding from corporate sources.

Even Bernie Sanders has contributions behind him from Apple, Amazon.com, and the U.S. Navy, according to opensecrets.org. Also noteworthy is the fact that Sanders implicitly acknowledges that he accepts money from PACs, just not super PACs. A super PAC not approved by him called Billionaires for Bernie formed last year, though it seems to have dissipated. Certainly, there are millionaires and billionaires who do support Sanders’s vision; some might find this hypocritical, while others find it commendable. And the Washington Post recently reported that the average contribution made to his campaign is slightly over $27.

This is in no way meant to speak ill of Sanders, who is a very commendable politician. Rather, it is to remind liberals that even our most honest politicians do have to work with big money. Also of note, liberals need to know that the Ivy League and elite schools train students to be able to contribute to the community in a sincere way, understand poverty and disadvantage (many students come from such backgrounds themselves), but are inescapably allied with the establishment and its institutions of politics and corporations. Many liberals are quick to tar and feather anybody who works in finance or corporate America. While these people are often worthy of great scorn and even punishment, too many white-collar criminals get away unpunished, and our tax system favors the ultra rich, there are still many commendable individuals in these fields. Though I personally wish the system and structures would change, I would encourage liberals to understand how the country works and not to make sweeping generalizations or dismiss everyone in the establishment. Study economics, finance, and political science, even law. Don’t be blind to how things really work, and don’t underestimate how difficult it is to climb to power while maintaining a liberal agenda.

As we wait on the edges of our seats to see who the Democratic candidate will be, at least we can talk about Sanders’s greatest accomplishment so far: bringing national visibility to- and discussion of social issues and ordinary people’s contempt for the establishment that takes advantage of them.

Either way, be it Hillary or Bernie, we will be in good hands.

Truths about American Culture

Life in the United States is very often misunderstood, especially by those who come from countries that are fairly isolated from American influence, or that have a very old history of which its citizens are proud. Needless to say, the American media does much harm (and perhaps some good) in portraying life in the United States, full of stereotypes. One can only wonder how many American-hating terrorists have ever set foot on American soil or ever interacted with Americans before waging a campaign of hatred against them. Here are some characteristics about American culture that those overseas may not realize:

-Americans really ARE that friendly. Many visitors to the United States are surprised to find out that Americans in general are nice. They don’t usually have some agenda, ulterior motive, or centuries-long opinion by which to judge someone. American culture places a high value on being “nice,” friendly, pleasant, and smiling. (Americans are probably the only people who smile in their passport photos). Of course this can vary from region to region in the United States, with the brusqueness of the Northeast contrasting with the take-your-time-to-get-to-know-someone manner of the South. One must not read into the friendliness of Americans too deeply. Rather, it must be seen as the necessary social glue that holds us together, a country of nearly 320 million people made up of every imaginable culture, spread out over thousands of miles.

-All people in America are considered “Americans.” It is sadly true and hegemonic that race is based on a white standard in the United States. But the most insulting mistake foreigners make when coming to America is not understanding that “American” is a nationality, not an ethnicity, and it relates to birth and living here. This is especially difficult for Western Europeans, who generally come from extremely ethnically homogenous societies, to grasp; in their societies, nationality and ethnicity are one. Even those who accept that African-Americans are also “legitimate” Americans along with those of European ancestry fail to realize that the fabric of America is multicultural. People overseas might be astonished to find that even white Americans have a diversity of cultures in their ancestry: it is not uncommon to have German, Irish, English, Scottish, and perhaps some Native American blood in one’s “white” background.
And now, with the racial mix of America increasing further, many people have a mix of white and non-white ancestry, or a mix of non-white ancestries: many half-white/half-Asians in California, Hawaiians of European/native Hawaiian/Japanese ancestry, many individuals whose international parents of different races who met in graduate school or the military overseas (Indian and Filipino, Persian and Italian, etc.), and modern Americans of mixed races who marry others of mixed races which produce truly multicultural children (for example, someone who is half Korean, one quarter white and one quarter Cuban, someone who is Puerto Rican, Italian, and Jewish, etc.).
President Obama has brought some awareness globally to this issue, but still, American diversity is extremely difficult for many foreigners to grasp. It is of note that there are indeed other countries and cultures that are arguably more progressive with matters of race, such as Brazil, and with the recent spate of police killings of African-Americans, we still have a long way to go with creating a more harmonious society.

-America is not the same country everywhere. Many visitors or foreigners who come to the United States do not realize how regional America is in character. A Bostonian is as different from a New Mexican who is as different from a “Hoosier” (Indiana citizen). Midwesterners place a high value on community and non-confrontation; Californians value personal fulfillment and ambition; Washingtonians (from DC) value family name and status. Even among ethnic groups, one can contrast, for example, Indians in other parts of the country and Indians in California, or Jews around the US and New York Jews. Again, the homogeneity of finding the same McDonald’s, Target, or Trader Joe’s in different places may be what helps unify us when we are so physically spread out.

-The American education system, at its core, is about teaching students to think flexibly and differently. Many countries in the world, such as former colonies, place a high value on rote learning and a more hierarchical system of imparting knowledge (think Paulo Freire’s “banking model” of education). Communist countries focus(ed) on history and ideology (the verb in both present and past tense, given that there are still a few remaining communist countries). Western European countries focus on tracking students at an early age and specializing in high levels of sciences, humanities, etc. and ground students in their culture and deep-rooted history. The Nordic countries value academic as well as vocational education, and developing the whole person.
But here in the United States, what matters most is your individual opinion, even if it means challenging the system. Our heroes are individuals who did that–Martin Luther King Jr., Steve Jobs, and George Washington defying the British. Being creative and innovative are highly valued traits.

-Religion plays a significant role in the United States, even if many people are atheists or not religious. The irony is that we are by law a secular society. America has a strong reputation overseas of having a very conservative, Christian right-wing religious streak. However, there are many Americans who live quite to the contrary who oppose the religious conservatives and fight ardently for a culture free from religion. They oppose the teaching of religion in schools or even wishing others a “Merry Christmas” instead of “Happy Holidays.” There are also many Americans who practice a variety of religions, who are Christian as well as Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Wiccan, Native American, etc. who are rooted in their traditions and also respectful of other traditions. Many foreigners, especially Western Europeans, fail to realize that America is a haven for the religiously persecuted from around the globe. Diana Eck of Harvard has done much to shine light on America’s religious pluralism.

-Success is not a taboo. Granted, this will differ in degree in different regions of the country. More traditional parts of America that are highly community-based may frown on being too successful and regard it as being “too big” and a betrayal of one’s humble origins. But generally speaking, one is expected to be a success, there is no sin in being upwardly mobile or a social climber, countless courses, websites, seminars, and TV shows focus on how to improve oneself. The “can-do,” positive spirit is something that always takes foreigners by surprise, but again, like American friendliness, it really is true.

First Lady, Second Priority: The Dumbing-Down of the President’s Wives

My college reunion books are peppered with comments by admirable women who left their careers as doctors or lawyers or bankers who say their children are more satisfying than their job ever could be. These are women who were at the top of their game with their careers, highly educated women who are as intelligent as any man and still bring life into this world. A magnificent combination!

However, what I cannot understand is this: the forced exile from the workplace of our First Ladies. In the recent administrations, the First Ladies have been highly intelligent, educated, well-read, sophisticated, and professional career women who often took a backseat to help further the political aspirations of their husbands. Some of these women could have been presidents themselves. True, the presidential families may have wished for one parent to be more present and at home for the children while the other parent is away traveling the country or the globe, attending summits and talks or attempting to rectify communities after natural disasters.

But we are not talking about normal families here; we are talking about families that have access to literally the best resources in the world, who have ability to pull strings to have any lifestyle adaptations they wish, and whose family dynamics will naturally be different than ours. These families could have a mother who works a professional job part-time, or from home, or who is very vocal about political interests of her own. This does not have to be a conflict of interest. Instead, these women are stifled for whatever reasons. The bottom line is that John Q. Public and the American establishment still cannot accept a First Lady who pulls her own weight equal to her husband’s. The First Lady cannot be involved in politics like her husband.

Naturally, Eleanor Roosevelt must spring to mind when anyone thinks of a dynamic, active First Lady. Her role seemed almost a counterpart to FDR’s, and perhaps she really ran things behind the scenes when her husband’s health did not enable him to do so. Mrs. Roosevelt’s career even continued after her husband’s death, and she was an equally acclaimed woman in her own right. Perhaps it was the only benefit of the war, in that women at that time had a certain degree of public presence and worked when the men were fighting overseas.

Jacqueline Kennedy — though Sphinx-like, feminine, graceful, and in a sadly traditional marriage that tolerated rampant cheating–was extraordinary in her championing of the arts. In her quiet way, she developed a culture and served as the impetus for other institutions that brought high culture to America, as well as boosted American’s profile overseas. Well read, multilingual, and intelligent, it wasn’t till later in life that she got the chance to use her knowledge when she worked as a book editor in New York.

Betty Ford was also an arts lover. A bohemian former dancer and divorcée, she supported equal rights for women, various “liberal” social causes that are considered normal today, and made alcoholism and its treatment a visible issue through her own struggles before founding the Betty Ford Clinic. But certainly, she came under criticism for discussing taboo issues in public. It was possibly one of the first times that a First Lady showed the cracks in the façade, showed that she was human and not simply an elegant figurehead to host state dinners.

But then jump ahead a couple of decades to the fiercely intelligent and accomplished Hillary Rodham Clinton. There had been no one quite like her before coming to the White House, as she arguably could have shared the job of president with her husband. Mrs. Clinton tried to embark on major health care reform and tried to get seriously involved with policy matters. Unfortunately, she was bullied, criticized, and harassed for trying to hold equal role of her own in the White House. The White House experienced a setback with Mrs. Laura Bush. She returned to a more traditional role, championing reading and literacy, which were more “safe” causes. This is not in any way to criticize Mrs. Bush’s intelligence, for if you have heard her speak, it comes across very strongly and she is well read. Some might even say that she is more intelligent than her husband!

With Michelle Obama, we have again revisited a situation not unlike that of Mrs. Clinton. She is a brilliant woman who made her way from Southside Chicago to Princeton to Harvard Law School, then to a law firm and then the University of Chicago. Granted, she has two small children and she is clearly a very devoted mother who has her kids as a priority. But why is this brilliant woman not encouraged to use her legal knowledge to do more for society and hold a strong position of her own? She has certainly done great work with military families as well as tackling childhood obesity and healthy eating, which is extremely crucial at this time. But the point is–

These highly educated– women who should not be criticized if they choose to spend more time with their children or if they want to ease off on the stress of having a career–should also have the option to pursue a dynamic career while in the White House that utilizes their previous training. Jill Biden, the Vice President’s wife, is a wonderful example, as she has a doctorate and teaches full time at a community college while still being involved in helping military families as her “cause.” First Ladies should not be expected to only take on “neutral” causes that are “safe.” They should be allowed to help make policy, serve in the cabinet, etc., because after all, they did support their husband in his campaign to become president, are obviously in the same political party, and are often extremely knowledgeable themselves about politics. And often overseas, presidential/prime ministerial spouses hold their own independent careers such as Joachim Sauer, Angela Merkel’s husband, who is a chemistry professor.

We need to rethink the role of the presidential spouse, especially because there is a possibility in 2017 we will have a First Man!   William Jefferson Clinton has already served in the highest position in the country, so will he have to relinquish everything, including the Clinton Global Initiative, by his own independent work? He knows more about the White House and presidency than anybody, so why not put it to use?

Naturally, there are going to be lots of questions as to what are the ethical boundaries of this role and where is there a conflict of interest? These are things that will have to be worked out, and that will be a large cause for debate. However, this is a necessary step in empowering that rarest gem of a woman, the First Lady.

Mini-post: The Brilliance of Balanchine

Last weekend I was privileged to see a trilogy of three ballets by the Russian-Georgian genius George Balanchine beautifully performed by the City Ballet of San Diego. Having been a fan of the New York City ballet when I lived there, a ballet he cofounded, I was eager to see his works once again after many years. The pieces performed were “Concerto Baroco,” “Jewels,” and “Square Dance.”

What struck me the most was the way in which Balanchine understood the music. “Concerto Baroco” was performed to the “Bach Double” (a piece with which all Suzuki violin students are familiar). While in most ballets the music serves to underscore or highlight the movements of the dancers, movements that are determined by the choreographer, here, the dancers were the music. That is, the choreography was music-driven, rather than dancer-driven.

Choosing the music for choreography is more than putting a soundtrack to movement; it requires understanding how the dancers will serve the music and vice versa. It requires a deep sense of rhythm, melody, phrasing, and music. It also requires a deep understanding of the body and its abilities, its angles and lines (a very key concept to classical ballet), and also spatial thinking, as dancers do not stand still but move across a stage. Anyone who is a musician can only benefit from training in dance, because dancers are musicians who make music with their bodies. Flamenco and tap dance are great examples of dancers who have to create their own music and rhythm, for the sound of their feet accompanies them.

Choreographers who do not understand music well will only produce a palatable or unpleasant result. Non-experts or non-connoisseurs of dance may not be able to pinpoint what they didn’t like when viewing a ballet dance performance, but they might sense that something was “off.”

Choreography is indeed an underrated and underappreciated art. Let’s continue to look for and support the Balanchines–male and female–of tomorrow.

Why American Feminism Has Failed

Much of my work on The Women of Letters has focused on bringing a cross-cultural/international perspective to American culture and institutions. It is time to turn our attention to American feminism and to see why, despite the United States being the most powerful country in the world and a leading developed nation, certain markers of progress for women still lag behind other developed nations.

Mine was the first American generation that was equal by law in terms of race and gender. I grew up feeling strong and capable of anything, unhindered by gender. However, at Stanford, I found that the definition of “feminist” was something entirely foreign to my own conception of feminism. I felt very alienated by the women who called themselves feminists, found their conception of feminism and women’s rights extremely militant and divisive. Once I entered the “real world,” I indeed encountered sexism on a concrete level that was often subtle and not easy to prove. I also saw how difficult it was for working women, especially married mothers, to balance career and family, to be able to afford childcare and to take time off from their jobs. I saw how this affected women across class and race, and how the law and health care system did not address women’s needs adequately. A woman’s co-pay to see a gynecologist, who is wrongly considered a “specialist,” costs more than a visit to a primary care physician.

The feminists of the 60’s and 70’s who laid the groundwork for my generation focused on the wrong perspectives or took the wrong approaches. Some academic feminists have contributed to the problem as well, focusing on esoterica and frivolity. Here are some reasons why I believe American feminism has not achieved enough:

-American feminism has focused on sexuality rather than economics. The Nordic countries have the lowest rates of economic inequality and the best policies for maternity leave, and rank highest on various global indices for “best countries for women.” American women can read about the best sex positions in Cosmo, enjoy the antics of “Sex and the City,” debate the use of the word “history” instead of “herstory” (which is ridiculous, as it reveals an ignorance of Latin etymology), sign petitions about being proud to have an abortion (is it really a source of pride, when it shows the failure of effective birth control for women?), go to endless performances of “The Vagina Monologues,” but in the end, a woman will have to put her baby in daycare at six weeks, if she can even afford it, because women are not paid as much as men. How is this progress?

If we use our rather short-sighted American criteria as for what is “progressive” for women (which usually means sexual freedom), then popular opinion has it that Nordic women are very open in their sexuality and sexually fulfilled (one study cited in “The Economist” showed that Finnish women are the most “promiscuous” in the world, having had the most number of sexual partners). Based on this simplistic American criterion, we would find that the country that is rated best for women on numerous indices, Iceland, had a lesbian prime minister. But this is overlooking the key point–if we attend to a woman’s economic needs, then she will be free to be whoever she is sexually. We have focused too much on sex, and now a woman can be sexually equal to a man. The problem is, he still won’t call you the next morning, and your insurance might not cover your birth control.

-American feminism has focused too much on individualism. We see individual women who have followed their paths and found success–the Hillary Clintons, Sheryl Sandbergs, Alice Walkers, Meryl Streeps of America have all been extraordinary women in their respective fields. Women like Gloria Steinem have been idolized for decades. While I certainly admire Ms. Steinem’s accomplishments, I feel that she and her 1970’s ilk have focused too much on their own positions, which are unlike that of the majority of American women who are concerned with getting good schooling for their kids, getting vacation time, and negotiating with their spouse about who is doing the vacuuming.

The problem comes because it raises the issue of marriage as the norm for society. Feminists who have opposed marriage have cited that it is oppressive as an institution, and that individual freedom is the antidote. We are in an era where women are free to make their choices as to their lifestyle and lovers, which is a healthy thing. But again, we have to look at the majority of American women who are wives and mothers, even lesbian couples, or single or married but childless women who help care for children or child relatives. American feminism has refused to see family as the normative unit, all under the name of “oppression.” How is it oppressive to a non-married woman, who is now free to live as she likes, and her society is able to care for her as well as families? The late Betty Friedan was aware of these things, and NOW was originally founded to help the ordinary woman. Unfortunately, things took a different turn and feminism lost its focus on helping the majority of women. This is not to say that a woman must be married or partnered in order to be whole and fulfilled, that she is any less than a married woman. It is simply saying we need to address the issues that will help as many women as possible.

-American feminism has not included men enough. This relates to the above point–even even women who have no intention of getting married or having children lament the irresponsibility of the modern American male who can’t even commit to a romantic relationship. This is the result of the lack of focus on feminism and its relation to human relationships, be it marriage or motherhood. Men have not been held responsible since women are free to be whomever they want as an individual. Many women say that men are not as “evolved” as they are, while men say that they do not feel like they can “be a man” anymore. We have not reevaluated male gender roles, nor taken their needs into account.

And yet, there still is a lot of deeply-ingrained sexism towards women: out-of-touch male politicians make decisions about women’s reproductive rights, rape and sexual assault are too prevalent on college campuses, and paid maternity leave is very inadequate. We still have a long way to go for institutional change.

-The LGBT community still suffers. While we see sensationalized girl-on-girl action in movies or an openly gay show host on TV, our LGBT friends are dealing with a host of issues: domestic violence among lesbian couples, transgender youth being beaten up, discrimination in the workplace, and hate crimes. If our society focused on collective welfare that began with taking care of women, I believe that people would be able to accept people who were not heterosexual. Certainly, women who are not straight would certainly accuse society of being “heteronormative.” This is a legitimate criticism. However, once again I cite the Nordic example of having the best cultures for women as well as gays, and also the fact that one of the key psychological issues many LGBT people suffer is being shunned by their families.

It is time that we look at American society as a bit aberrant compared to most other places in the world. It is time we reevaluate our definitions of feminism, our individualism that is both our greatest asset as well as, perhaps, our curse. It is time we truly, deeply respect women.