March 9, 2009: Barbie turns 50

March 9, 2009


(Amerigo Vespucci, the Prophet Mohammad, and Barbie at 50)

Today’s a big day for holidays.

March 9, 2009 is the start of Purim in the Jewish calendar. It begins at sundown.

In the Sunni Muslim calendar, March 9, 2009 is Mawlid al Nabi, the birthday of the Prophet Mohammad.

The second Monday in March is also the holiday formerly known as British Commonwealth Day (now just “Commonwealth Day”) across the former British Empire.

March 9 is the birthday of America. Or rather the birthday of its namesake Amerigo Vespucci. The mapmaker was born on this day in 1454.

But most important, March 9, 2009 is the 50th birthday of the Barbie doll.

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The Barbie doll, conceived by Ruth Handler in the late 1950’s, has been mass-produced 800 million times since March 9, 1959. That means, if there were a country solely inhabited by Barbie and her pals, it would be the third most populous nation on Earth.

I had the opportunity to meet the “real” Barbie — the doll’s namesake, Ruth Handler’s daughter Barbara — many years ago at a friend’s Bar Mitzvah. I remember being disillusioned that she had red hair at the time. As she has had to explain on countless occasions, “I am the name behind it, but I’m not the doll, you know…It was never made to look like me.” (The Oprah Winfrey Show)

The lack of life-like dolls for Ruth Handler’s daughter to play with once inspired the Barbie doll’s creation. However, by the time the doll came out in 1959, Barbara was 17, a Hamilton High School student in Los Angeles, California, long past the age of playing with dolls. She once told People Magazine, “Much of me is very proud that my folks invented the doll. I just wish I wasn’t attached to it.” (People Magazine, March 6, 1989)

Mattel received criticism from women’s groups in recent decades regarding the unrealistic bodily proportions of the doll, and the effect this had on young girls’ self-esteem and body image. In the last few years, Barbie sales have taken a hit, largely due to competition from the newer Bratz Dolls, created by former Mattel employee Carter Bryant. The top-heavy Bratz Dolls have also come under fire in recent weeks for their alleged effect on girls’ self-image, a controversy (ingeniously) exposed by the Onion News Network:

Bratz Dolls heighten girls’ insecurity about head size


Cougar Barbie video

Quiz: Which Messed-Up Barbie Are You?

International Women’s Day 2009

Intl Women's Day poster, USSR, 1920
Women's Day poster, USSR, 1920

Over a hundred years ago today 15,000 women in New York City came together to march for better working conditions and universal women’s suffrage.

The following year the Socialist Party of America declared February 28 to be National Women’s Day. In Copenhagen in 1910 an International Women’s Day was proposed and unanimously agreed upon by 100 women representing 17 countries. It would be observed simultaneously by women around the world on March 8, 1911.

Over a million people observed the first International Women’s Day in countries like Austria, Germany, Switzerland and Denmark.

That same month the devastating Triangle Shirtwaist Fire in New York City killed over 140 women workers, mostly poor immigrants, and propelled the appalling working conditions of women laborers to the forefront of national politics.

In 1917, International Women’s Day played a significant part in one of the most important revolutions of the 20th century: the February Revolution, which took place in, of course, March.

Before 1918, Russia was still on the Julian calendar, so Russians observed Women’s Day on February 23 Julian to coincide with the March 8 observances in the rest of the world. On February 23 (Old Style), 1917 thousands of women demonstrated in St. Petersburg, Russia, demanding “Food for our Children”, and for the return of their husbands and sons from the war with Germany. These massive demonstrations and strikes served as the catalyst for the series of events that led to the abolishment of the centuries-old Russian Czardom one week later, and paved the way for Bolshevik Revolution.

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Over the past century International Women’s Day has served as a day to address issues of women’s rights in countries around the world, notably the developing world and Europe. The holiday has not garnered as near as much of a following in North America, perhaps because of its communist roots.

This year [2009] Every Day’s a Holiday attended the International Women’s Day Rally in Westwood, California. A Communist Rally “in the heart of Capitalism” as the speakers put it.

The theme of rally was solidarity with Afghani and Iranian women against both Islamic fundamentalism and U.S. imperialism. Afghani and Iranian women have born the brunt of the upheaval in these two nations since 2001, indeed since 1979.

Having just finished reading Jung Chang’s Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China I was dubious about communism being the most ideal route for women’s equality. The book tells the story of three generations of Chinese women, focusing on the author’s mother, who joins the Communist Party in post-war China because it appears to be the best means to bring about long-overdue equality to women. However, once in power, the Communist Party creates an even more brutal and powerful aristocracy than the one it disbanded. The author’s family witnesses party policies that kill tens of millions of men, women, and children, and ruin the lives of millions more families, in the stated aim of achieving a more just society.

Regardless of political and economic ideology, today International Women’s Day fills a purpose long abandoned by another holiday: Mothers’ Day.

The original intention of Mothers’ Day in the United States—as conceived of independently by Julia Ward Howe and Ann Jarvis—was a day for mothers to join together to act as a collective force for social justice.

Having witnessed the brutality of the Civil War, both women sought to bring mothers together on Mothers’ Days of Peace to declare war on war itself.

“Arise then…women of this day! Arise, all women who have hearts! Whether your baptism be of water or of tears! Say firmly: “We will not have questions answered by irrelevant agencies, our husbands will not come to us, reeking with carnage, for caresses and applause. Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn all that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience. We, the women of one country, will be too tender of those of another country to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs…”

–Julia Ward Howe, Mothers’ Day Proclamation of 1870

The Mother’s Day we celebrate today in the United States is quite different. It was pioneered by Ann Jarvis’s daughter, Anna Jarvis, after her mother’s passing. Anna conceived of the holiday, not as a day of social activism, but as a day of recognition and gratitude for one’s own mother. And by placing the apostrophe before the ‘s’ rather than after, Mother’s Day became a very personal day rather than a collective one.

And far more commercial. Mother’s Day is a bigger day for the flower industry than even Valentine’s Day.

The greeting card companies haven’t yet figured out how to commercialize upon Women’s Day’s 100 year old tradition of social activism. But give it time.

Likewise, as the holiday grows more mainstream, the creators of Women’s Day rallies have yet to rediscover how to turn the date into one of social revolution.

Cindy Sheehan, Women's Day Rally
Cindy Sheehan, Women's Day Rally, March 2009

Southern California native Cindy Sheehan, whose son Casey was killed in the Iraq War, was on hand at the Los Angeles rally to deliver an address to the crowd on Westwood Blvd. Appealing to a more targeted audience than Obama’s “Yes We Can” campaign, her credo was the more direct: “What the F***?”

International Women’s Day

March 8


Over a hundred years ago, 15,000 women in New York City came together to march for better working conditions and universal women’s suffrage.

The following year the Socialist Party of America declared February 28 to be National Women’s Day. In Copenhagen in 1910 an International Women’s Day was proposed and unanimously agreed upon by 100 women representing 17 countries. It would be observed simultaneously by women around the world.

The first official International Women’s Day was observed on March 8, 1911. Over a million people celebrated in countries including Austria, Germany, Switzerland and Denmark.

That same month the devastating Triangle Shirtwaist Fire in New York City killed over 140 woman workers, mostly poor immigrants, and propelled the appalling working conditions of woman laborers to the forefront of national politics.

Russia, which was still on the Julian Calendar, celebrated Women’s Day on February 23 to observe the holiday concurrently with the rest of the world. On February 23, 1917 thousands of women demonstrated in St. Petersburg, Russia, demanding Food for our Children, and for the return of their husbands and sons from the war. The Women’s Day march led to further demonstrations, and the abolishment of the centuries-old Czardom of Russia four days later.

Today, a century after 15,000 women banded together on the streets of New York, International Women’s Day is one of the most widely-celebrated secular holidays in the world.


February 13-15

She-wolf suckles Romulus & Remus

It’s Lupercalia time, baby.

On this day the ancient Romans remembered the She-wolf who suckled the baby Romulus—the future founder of Rome–and his brother Remus.

The priests of Rome, known as the Luperci, or ”Brotherhood of the Wolf,’ would commemorate this day by running around in loincloths smacking women on the back with an animal-skins.

What is immediately apparent in a comparison between the sacred rites of then and now is that then it was much more fun being a priest.

The ritual was intended to promote fertility, and the part about whipping girls legs is still practiced on Easter Monday in parts of Eastern Europe.

Over time this festival of the Romans was superseded by the Purification of the Virgin and the Festival of Saint Valentine.

Women’s Heart Disease Awareness Day

February 5

Today’s Wear Red Day, but it’s not a fashion statement. It’s a life statement: to build awareness of women’s heart disease.

Today women are at greater risk of fatal heart attack than men.

Each year more women die of cardiovascular disease than cancer, tuberculosis, AIDS, and malaria combined. While mortality rates for men have gone down, the danger for women has risen. Around the world 16 women die of cardiovascular illness every minute.

Recognizing the early symptoms of a heart attack is essential in saving lives. Women rush their husband or male family members to the hospital, but tend to be more dismissive of the same warning signs in themselves.

Sweats, heart palpitations, shortness of breath–Could be more than menopause.

The “Hollywood Heart Attack” in which someone clutches their chest in pain is not the standard for everyone. Chest pain is the most common symptom, but almost half of all women who experience a heart attack do not have chest pain. Atypical symptoms include:

  • back, neck or jaw pain
  • nausea or vomiting
  • indigestion
  • weakness, fatigue
  • dizziness, lightheadedness

Symptoms that can occur months prior to a heart attack include:

  • fatigue
  • sleep disturbance
  • shortness of breath
  • chest pain
  • indigestion
  • anxiety
  • shoulder blade or upper back pain

Recognize the symptoms: Women tend to end up at the emergency room 15 to 20 minutes later than men, and those minutes can mean a life.

Both women and men can fight heart disease through cardiovascular exercise, a healthy diet, and regular screenings.
Heart Disease Signs
Heart Healthy Women

Carmenta – Roman Sex Goddess

January 11

If you’re like everyone I know, you had a baby this Fall.

But if you (or your loved one) are still expecting, you might want to give a shout out to Carmenta today, the Roman Goddess of Prophecy, Protectress of women in childbirth, and an early symbol of women’s lib.

Today marks the first day of Carmentalia, the Roman festival in her honor, observed by the women of ancient Rome.

This corresponds in name to the Latin Carmenta or Carmentis, of whom Preller says: The Goddess of Birth, Carmenta, was so zealously worshipped near the Porta Carmentalis, which was named from her, that there was a Flamen Carmentalis, and two calendar days, the eleventh and fifteenth of January, called the Carmentalia, devoted to her worship. These were among the most distinguished festivals of the Roman matrons. Etruscan Roman Remains<

She also bears much in common with Themis (below), the Greek Goddess of divine law and wisdom.

According to Ovid, she traveled from Greece to Italy with her son Evander, where Evander founded the city of Pallantium. Pallantium was named after their Greek hometown of Pallantium, Aracadia, and was one of the 7 hills that later became Rome.
Carmenta was famous for chanting her prophecies in verse. Her Greek name was Nicostrate, but when she arrived in Italy, the locals called the singing woman Carmenta, for the Latin ‘carmina’, or ‘song’.

Another explanation holds the opposite: Carmenta predated the Latin word for song, and ‘carmina’ derived from the prophetess’s name.
‘Mente’ meant ‘wise’ or ‘mind’. Car-menta could have meant ‘Car the Wise’. Or as Plutarch suggests, ‘Out of the Mind’, because she acted crazy.
She was associated with artistic and technological innovation and is co-credited for inventing the Latin alphabet (with Al Gore and her son Evander.) There is little evidence to support this, but Latin was indeed based on a Greek variant.

According to Virgil she used her powers of prophesy to choose the best site of the future Rome on which to establish her son. Once she even foretold Hercules the fate that awaited him.

How she came to be the Goddess of Childbirth is unclear. The women’s cult that grew around her was said to have predated Rome. However, Plutarch’s and Ovid’s description of the origin of her temple is more about contraception (and possibly abortion) than fertility.

During the Second Punic War (215 BC) the Roman Senate restricted the rights of women to ride in carriages or to wear certain clothing. This was an attempt to save resources such as horses, fabrics, and gold for the war effort.

But when the war ended, these rights were not reinstated.
The women of Rome banded together and protested, the Lysistrata way. They refused to conceive children. (You can work out the details.) According to Plutrach they:

“kept their husbands at a distance until the husbands changed their minds and made the concession to them.”

After the laws were revoked, the women had numerous prodigy, and built the Temple of Carmenta in her honor.

At the temple the Goddess Carmenta could be invoked with one of two carmentes, lesser goddesses of childbirth, and Porrima–literally, “feet first” and “head first”. Possibly referring to which way the baby was delivered. It can also be read as “looking backward” and “looking forward,” citing Carmenta’s ability to tell the future.

View from Palatine Hill
View from Palatine Hill

All forms of animal skin were banned in her temple. This meant no shoes, no leather, and no animal sacrifice:

For on the day they had received life, they did not want to deprive another life.” –Varro, Cens. 2.2

The Carmentalia festival was unique in that it was celebrated on two separate dates, four days apart. (The second date was on January 15th.)

[The reason for this is uncertain. One theory is that it was originally on the 11th and 13th, but the 13th was the Ides of January. Or, as mentioned earlier, the Romans didn’t have anything better to do in the middle of January.]


Wiccan Spell-a-Day book


Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities

[originally written January 2008]

Women’s Equality Day

August 26

“Susan B. Anthony is not on trial; the United States is on trial.”

— Matilda Joslyn Gage

Susan B. Anthony

Women’s Equality Day celebrates the anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment on August 26, 1920. The amendment gave American women the long-fought-for right to vote. One of the most vocal and influential activists for women’s suffrage was Susan B. Anthony. In fact, in Massachusetts it’s Susan B. Anthony Day today, in honor of the famed activist, human rights defender, and convicted felon.

That’s right. Susan B. Anthony was arrested on November 18, 1872 for voting in the November 5 presidential election, “without having a lawful right to vote and in violation of section 19 of an act of Congress.”

In order to prevent damage to her reputation, Commissioner Storrs sent word to Anthony, requesting that she come down to his office. Anthony responded saying she “had no social acquaintance with him and didn’t wish to call on him.” The Commissioner was forced to send a deputy marshal to Anthony’s residence in Rochester, New York. She later recalled:

“He sat down. He said it was pleasant weather. He hemmed and hawed and finally said Mr. Storrs wanted to see me… ‘what for?’ I asked. ‘To arrest you.’ said he. ‘Is that the way you arrest men?’ ‘No.’ Then I demanded that I should be arrested properly.”

Anthony refused to pay bail. The case made national headlines, and letters flooded in. To her dismay, Anthony’s lawyer did pay her bail without her knowledge, explaining “I could not see a lady I respected put in jail.” (This however, later ruined her chance of bringing the case to the Supreme Court.)

Anthony’s lawyer argued—as Anthony had done herself outside of court—that the wording of the 14th Amendment gave all citizens of the United States the right to vote. After a lengthy trial, covered daily in the national press, and at which Anthony herself was not allowed to testify, the judge announced: “The Fourteenth Amendment gives no right to a woman to vote, and the voting by Miss Anthony was in violation of the law…Upon this evidence I supposed there is no question for the jury and the jury should be directed to find a verdict of guilty.”

The judge pronounced her guilty without ever calling on the jury to deliberate.

Before sentencing, the judge asked Anthony: “Has the prisoner anything to say why sentence shall not be pronounced?”

Not one to make waves, Anthony told the judge:

“Yes, your honor, I have many things to say; for in your ordered verdict of guilty, you have trampled under foot every vital principle of our government…May it please the Court to remember that since the day of my arrest last November, this is the first time that either myself or any person of my disfranchised class has been allowed a word of defense before judge or jury…All of my prosecutors, from the eighth ward corner grocery politician who entered the complaint, to the United States Marshal, Commissioner, District Attorney, District Judge, your honor on the bench, not one is my peer, but each and all are my political sovereigns; and had your honor submitted my case to the jury, as was clearly your duty, even then I should have had just cause of protest, for not one of those men was peer; but, native or foreign born, white or black, rich or poor, educated or ignorant, awake or asleep, sober or drunk, each and every man of them was my political superior; hence in no sense, my peer.”

Anthony continued for some time, ignoring the judge’s orders for silence. Finally the judge ordered Anthony to pay $100 and the costs of prosecution. Anthony simply said:

May it please your honor, I shall never pay a dollar of your unjust penalty. All the stock in trade I possess is a $10,000 debt, incurred by publishing my paper–The Revolution–four years ago, the sole object of which was to educate all women to do precisely as I have done, rebel against your manmade, unjust, unconstitutional forms of law, that tax, fine, imprison and hang women, while they deny them the right of representation in the government…And I shall earnestly and persistently continue to urge all women to the practical recognition of the old revolutionary maxim, that ‘Resistance to tyranny is obedience to God.’

She never paid the fine.

Oh, and in case you were wondering, she voted Republican.

Women’s Day – Tunisia

August 13

Women’s Day in Tunisia isn’t celebrated on March 8th like much of the rest of the world, but on August 13, in commemoration of the Tunisian Code of Personal Status, enacted on this day in 1956.

The Code and the principles it endorsed sent shock waves across the Islamic world when it was created. Among other things, the Code established judicial divorce proceedings, gave women the right to request divorce, set the minimum age for marriage at 17, abolished polygamy, regulated alimony payments, improved women’s standing in child custody proceedings and inheritance matters, and reduced gender inequality in general.

The Code of Personal Status was one of the first major legislative actions of the new government. Tunisia had only gained independence from France in March of that year.

It’s been said, the Code differs from women’s rights legislation in other nations in that, though supported by active women’s groups such as the National Union of Tunisian Women, the Code was not a reaction to a widespread grass-roots movement, but an action of a reformist government in a recently-independent nation with the purpose of modernizing Tunisian societal structure to enable Tunisia to compete in an industrialized, post-war world.