Thursday, March 8, 2012

Esther and International Women's Day

Queen Esther rocks!

Seriously, if you read the story, Esther helps to save the Jews in Persia from a certain death at the hands of Haman (enter the noisemakers to drown out his name).   She is courageous.  She is beautiful.  And she is one crafty lady as she figures out how to get the King, her husband, to spare the life of her uncle Mordecai and hoist the treacherous Haman on his own petard.   And, as with all prophets of the Bible, she is able to achieve much because she calls on God to help her.   She wined and dined Haman into a place of thinking he was the most favored one in all the kingdom.   She reminded the King that it was her Jewish uncle, the man who had raised her, that foiled the plot to assassinate the King.  When the King asked Haman what should be done to honor someone who had done such good work for the King, Haman (full of himself) believed the King was talking about him, and so of course wanted lots of attention, robes and finery, riding around the kingdom to be admired.  The King, thinking this was a great idea, said, "Done!  Go get Mordecai and fit him with a robe and a horse!"  Realizing his goose was cooked, Haman went to Esther and plead with the Queen to spare him.  Too late!  Haman is hanged.  And then in a wonderfully, Biblical reward, the King tells the Jews they can have half the kingdom, arm themselves and slaughter anyone who gets in their way.

The Bible:  definitely NOT a dull read!

Today (well, last night) Jews are drinking and celebrating and gnoshing on Hamantaschen pastries with Purim fests and spiels to mark the triumph of Queen Esther.  And it just seems so fitting that this year, Purim and International Women's Day, are coinciding on the same date.

Around the world, there are women who are taking courageous stands in the face of hostile opposition.  I remember hearing how it was the Egyptian women who saved CBS journalist Lara Logan from a mob of men intent on raping her during the hey days of the popular uprising in Egypt.   In Saudi Arabia, probably one of the most patriarchal places on the planet, women organized to defy the ban on women driving.   That push has led to some important, visible changes in the lives of Saudi women.  For one, the universities are now opening fields of study in law and engineering to women.   Women are being allowed to participate in municipal elections.  And, as odd as this may sound, they are now being allowed to be the store clerks in lingerie shops (yes, believe it or not, women in Saudi Arabia are now being allowed to sell bras, a job that was exclusively male before!)

Strangely, as women in the Middle East are seeing some gains in civil rights, in this country, there is an all-out war on women from the right-wing reactionaries in the Republican Party.   How many states, including Florida, are enacting laws to chip away at the decades-old Roe v. Wade decision to legalize abortion?   And then there was the Congressional panel convened to talk about women's contraception which featured an all-male panel of "experts" on the subject.   It was that panel that drew Georgetown law student  Sandra Fluke to testify before Congress, and subsequently opened her up to the ire and viciousness of radio blowhard Rush Limbaugh.  Many of Limbaugh's advertisers have dropped their sponsorship of his program as a result of his three-day tirade against Ms. Fluke and his on-air sexist statements about her.  Sadly, but not surprisingly, the Republican Party presidential candidates have not also denounced Limbaugh.  Perhaps they don't think women care about their silence.

Perhaps they will find themselves like Haman this election year, groveling at the feet of women to please give them a chance.

A few more Queen Esthers in American politics would be a nice change.

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