Woman to Woman
Tucson Citizen [United States]
December 26, 2006
Smile. Be good. Forgive and forget. Little girls grow up with this mantra even in the most democratic cultures. It's an insidious form of social control, so prevalent that when the media focus heroic accolades on women, there is a good chance the praise is tied to their passivity.
Heroines forgive their tormenters. They pray for them. They're heavenly examples of femininity. It almost seems as if women are admired for being victims.
This is why Flora Jessop gets my nod for this year's most admirable woman of 2006. Flora Jessop was the victim of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, a Colorado City religious cult known for trading underage girls to pederasts.
Girls born into this polygamous cult often suffer sexual abuse at the hands of their immediate family, and most are forced into marriage with much older men. During their lifetime of indoctrination, they're told that they're destined for hell if they don't "keep sweet."
For FLDS escapee Laura Chapman, "Keeping sweet meant being forced into marriage at age 18 to a man she didn't know, let alone love," reported a Denver Post article.
"It meant having a baby every year. It meant walking 10 paces behind her husband. And, above all, it meant smiling sweetly through her pain."
Flora Jessop's activism paved the way for women such as Chapman to escape. It is a journey Jessop understands all too well, having herself run away at 14, only to be handed back over to her abusers by government authorities. She managed to escape, again, at 16. And today she helps other girls escape similar fates.
"After my sister Ruby was returned to a man who brutally raped her," Jessop told me in an interview, "I began fighting for children trapped by our broken child-care system."
Jessop's activism led to the August arrest of Warren Jeffs, the cult's mastermind, who is reported to have had 70 wives, many of them underage girls.
"Each of us must walk through life alone," says Jessop, "so I teach children to become their own heroes."
Flora Jessop is mine.
Oprah has become major social force
My pick for the most admirable woman of 2006 could be one of the most admirable women in modern history, period.
Everyone knows that Oprah Winfrey is a business powerhouse and hosts the most popular talk show in history. But perhaps her success as a pop-culture icon has blinded the public to the incredible magnitude of her impact on those in need around the world.
Twenty years ago, a local Chicago talk show called "The Oprah Winfrey Show" was launched into national syndication. Two years later Oprah bought it out, making her the first woman to own and produce her own talk show.
Today, almost 50 million people watch the show weekly in the United States, with millions more viewers in 122 other countries around the world.
In other words, Oprah talks directly to 1 in 6 Americans every week - more if you include her magazines and movies. But the story is not just her amazing reach: The story is what she does with it.
Better than almost anyone else in modern history, Oprah has leveraged her massive reach and has multiplied her impact a hundredfold. And it would be a tremendous mistake for people to associate that high leverage primarily with creating best sellers or pop-culture trends.
Instead, Oprah regularly gives a major donation to an underserved charitable cause - and is matched or exceeded by her viewers. If she gives a few million dollars to build homes for Katrina victims (using one recent example), the moment she does a show on the need, her viewers contribute $5 million to furnish the homes.
Through enlisting her viewers, she has done everything from building schools for thousands of underprivileged children all over the world to joining the battle against AIDS.
This billionaire head of a business empire started out as a child of poverty in Mississippi.
I admire that she uses her power to engage millions in not just learning about needs that would never otherwise see the light of day, but in actually meeting them, to the tune of - as far as I can tell from the sketchy information available - at least $100 million to date.
Some may call Oprah frivolous. But one day, I hope she is recognized as the humanitarian powerhouse that she is.
Diane Glass is a writer and freethinker with a B.A. and M.A. in comparative religion. E-mail: email@example.com. Shaunti Feldhahn is a Christian author and speaker and married mother of two children. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Both women have degrees from Harvard.
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