Tag Archives: girls

Studying autism in girls may help reveal the disorder’s secrets

Think autism and an image of an awkward boy typically emerges, but the way autism strikes girls — or doesn’t — may help reveal some of the developmental disorder’s frustrating secrets.

Autism is at least four times more common in boys, but scientists taking a closer look are finding some gender-based surprises: Many girls with autism have social skills that can mask the condition. And some girls do not show symptoms of autism even when they have the same genetic mutations seen in boys with the condition.

“Autism may not be the same thing in boys and girls,” said Kevin Pelphrey, an autism researcher at George Washington University.

The causes of autism aren’t known. Genetic mutations are thought to play a role, and outside factors including older parents and premature birth also may be factors. But the gender effect is now a hot topic in autism research and one that could lead to new ways of diagnosing and treating a condition that affects at least 1 in 68 U.S. children.



Brain imaging suggests there may be an additional explanation for why many girls with autism have more subtle symptoms than boys, Pelphrey said. Even in girls who clearly have autism, he said, brain regions involved in social behavior that are normally affected are less severely impaired.

Also, recent studies on autism-linked genes have found that girls can have the same kinds of genetic mutations seen in boys with autism, but not show symptoms. They “even need to have twice as many mutations on average to actually manifest with autism,” said Joseph Buxbaum, director of an autism center at Mount Sinai medical school in New York.

He is among researchers trying to identify a “protective factor” that may explain how some girls at genetic risk remain unaffected — perhaps a protein or other biological marker that could be turned into a drug or other therapy to treat or even prevent autism.

That possibility is likely a long way off, but Pelphrey said this line of research has prompted excitement among autism scientists.



Buxbaum is involved in the Autism Sisters Project, which is seeking to enroll hundreds of families with autistic sons but unaffected daughters. The project began last year with the goal of building a big database that scientists can use to look for genetic clues and protective factors. Girls and their families visit the New York lab to give saliva samples for DNA analysis and efforts are underway to expand DNA collection to other sites.

Evee Bak, 15, hopes her samples will eventually benefit her older brother Tommy. The suburban Philadelphia siblings are just a year apart. They play in a garage band — Evee on drums, Tommy on guitar and vocals. He’s a masterful musician, but has trouble reading social cues and doing things that come easy to other teens, like shopping alone or using public transportation.

Her focus is “taking care of Tommy and making sure he’s happy and healthy,” Evee said.

Tommy was diagnosed at age 3, after he stopped using words he’d learned months earlier and showed unusual behavior including repetitively lining up toys instead of playing with them.

“He’s a wonderful person and I don’t think that we’d ever want to change him,” said his mother, Erin Lopes. But they’d welcome anything that could help him function as independently as possible “because I think that’s what he really wants, is to be independent.”



Autism is diagnosed by observing behavior, there’s no blood test for it. Some experts say gender-based differences highlight a need to develop different ways to evaluate boys and girls.

Autism screening, recommended for kids starting at 18 months, uses tools based on research in autistic boys, said Rachel Loftin, clinical director of an autism center at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago.

One widely used screening questionnaire for parents includes questions like “Does your child play make-believe, make eye contact, seek praise, show interest in other children?” Girls with autism, especially mild cases, often don’t show obvious problems in those categories _ they’re more likely than affected boys to play pretend with toys rather than lining them up by size or shape. Loftin said they’re also more likely to show concern for another person’s feelings.

Government data show that all forms of autism, mild to severe, are more common in boys and that the average age at diagnosis is 4 years in boys and girls. But Loftin said anecdotal evidence suggests a two-year lag time in diagnosis for girls, especially those with mild cases. And she suspects many cases are missed or misdiagnosed. That means a delay in early intensive behavior therapy that is the main treatment for autism.

Some girls manage to camouflage symptoms until pressures to fit in at school become overwhelming, delaying diagnosis until around age 8 or 9, said Alycia Halladay, chief science officer at the Autism Science Foundation, a nonprofit educational and research-funding group which is paying for the Sisters Project.

The prominent autism advocate, professor and author Temple Grandin wasn’t fully verbal until age 4.ß “It was obvious something was drastically wrong with me,” Grandin said. But she said she learned to adapt, in part because with “1950’s parenting” she was faced with intense encouragement to develop social skills and other talents.



Allison Klein worried about her daughter, Jillian, for three years before the little girl was finally diagnosed with mild autism. Jillian couldn’t tolerate loud noises, she grew withdrawn around her preschool classmates and she lagged behind academically. She was labeled anxious, not autistic.

“She didn’t meet the stereotypical behaviors of no eye contact, no communication, hand flapping,” Klein said. Teachers and doctors suggested she was just shy and would grow out of it.

A few months ago, just before Jillian turned 6, Loftin confirmed Klein’s concerns.

Even Pelphrey, the autism researcher, had a similar experience. His daughter, Frances, was diagnosed almost four years after her behavior raised concerns. She didn’t walk or talk until she was almost 3 years old. She tried to be “cuddly” and interact with others, but sometimes she did so awkwardly.

“Nobody really wanted to make the call,” Pelphrey said. “Had she been a boy, there would have been much more pressure to look into it.”


On the Web

CDC & Autism: http://tinyurl.com/zarznp2

Stop it with the feminist food fights

A few weeks back, major polling organizations revealed a huge divide among women voting for the Democratic presidential candidates. The polling showed a big generational divide, with large majorities of women under age 30 supporting Bernie Sanders and older women supporting Hillary Clinton.

That’s certainly news and a big concern for the Clinton campaign. What drove the news coverage for weeks, however, were comments by former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and longtime feminist Gloria Steinem that were interpreted as patronizing and criticizing young women for not supporting Clinton.

Both women apologized for their comments but not before dozens of media outlets ran stories about “aging feminists” rebuking young women and imposing their views on others, as well as about the “bankruptcy” of 21st-century feminism.

The media love a feminist food fight. Feminist accomplishments, not so much.

It reminded me of the 1980s, when the backlash to the Second Wave of feminism took hold. Major books at the time railed about “The Feminist Mistake” and “The Myth of Women’s Liberation in America.”

In 1987, I wrote my masters thesis on the history of a feminist organization in Milwaukee, the Women’s Coalition. I wrote it to dispel the claims that feminism was somehow a failure and that feminists themselves were responsible for the problems of women, a common complaint of conservatives.

What I found in Milwaukee was hard work and incredible self-sacrifice on the part of feminist activists. They pioneered the battered women’s movement, changed rape and marriage laws, established women’s studies programs, created myriad social services, reformed law enforcement practices and much more.

They achieved these things while also arguing over priorities and personal politics. At different times, there were purges of lesbians, socialists, straight women, men and transgender people. There were passionate fights over inclusion and exclusion, political involvement or cultural separatism, militant tactics or patient consultation.

The feminist movement has always encompassed a multiplicity of individuals and organizations from the grassroots to the national level. Goals vary. Tactics differ. Ideologies shift and often conflict. Leaders are effective or flawed. Mistakes are made. The women’s movement is not monolithic. It is diverse and dynamic.

Feminists do not march in step, nor do they all wear their feminism on their sleeves. They come in all ages, races, classes and sexualities. They range from genderqueer youth organizing on social media to women working across cultures to advance women’s rights in countries where women are treated like dogs.

They are the women who revolutionized women’s health care and the women today working to defend Planned Parenthood and women’s reproductive freedom. They are the women leading the fight for the $15 minimum wage and women working to make their churches less sexist.

They are the women who worked hard for years to build partnerships and raise funds for the new Family Peace Center. It’s a multimillion dollar facility that centralizes all domestic violence services in Milwaukee. It’s an amazing advance from the 1970s, when feminist volunteers risked their lives rescuing women and hiding them in a network of safe houses.

I don’t know if these women will vote for Hillary Clinton, but I believe their work transcends any one political moment. It will continue and it will endure.

So ignore the bad press. Feminism lives!



Lena Dunham begins to say goodbye to ‘Girls’

Lena Dunham is a feminist force of nature. The wunderkind actress/director/writer/producer best known for her ground-breaking TV series Girls has helped young women (and men) come to terms with the agonies and ecstasies of sex, relationships, work, and personal identity. As the eternally conflicted and self-questioning Hannah Horvath, Dunham has served as a lightning rod for female angst alongside her Girls’ castmates — Allison Williams (Marnie Michaels), Jemima Kirke (Jessa Johansson), and Zosia Mamet (Shoshanna Shapiro). Over the years we’ve watched Hannah try to make sense of her dysfunctional relationship with Adam (Adam Driver) while her friends deal with their own challenges of love, lust, and longing.

Soon audiences will get a chance to revel in more adventures in Hannah and her sisters-in-arms’ world as the fifth season of the cult HBO series unfolds. Recently, Dunham confirmed that Girls will come to an end after Season 6 (set for release in 2017) in order to avoid “overstaying our welcome” and not “soften” as many series do over extended runs.

“It’s been very rewarding to have seen this show address issues that are important to me and which are important to women in general,” Dunham says.  “I’m also proud that we have such a great and amazing team of women who are part of Girls and have contributed so much while being supportive of each other in an industry that needs to be give more opportunities to women.”

Season 5 of Girls picks up on the more hopeful ending note of Season 4, in which Hannah enters a serious, more adult relationship with her teaching colleague, Fran (Jake Lacey). Over the course of the new season, their romance evolves into a safe haven for Hannah, but it may not be what she wants after so many years of dysfunction with Adam. Meanwhile, Marnie’s marriage may be hitting the skids while Shoshanna deals with the aftermath of her decision to leave her adoring boyfriend Scott (Jason Ritter) and Jessa’s new occupation as a therapist causes her to do some soul-searching while questioning the way she looks at her relationship with the other girls.

The 29-year-old Dunham grew up the daughter of well-known members of the New York arts scene — her mother is famed photographer Laurie Simmons and her father is the artist Carroll Dunham.

Lena Dunham lives in New York City with her long-time boyfriend, musician Jack Antonoff. Said Dunham about her strong female following: “We’ve been very blessed to have the experience of people continuing to engage in the show in a really kind of rabid way.”

Dunham made an appearance at the recent Sundance Film Festival to present her new documentary film, Suited, which she produced. She also made headlines last year when she interviewed former U.S. Secretary of State and Democratic Party presidential candidate Hillary Clinton for her email newsletter.

We sat down with Dunham to talk about the final seasons of Girls, as well as what’s next for her and how she’s adapting to being in the media spotlight.

How do you feel about bringing Girls to an end?

When I started working on Girls I was 23 and I conceived it as something that would cover a very specific period in the lives of the characters. It was about figuring things out in your 20s as you become adults and now that I’m about to turn 30 I feel that it’s time the women you see in the series move on just as we need to move on to other projects. … These birds have to fly!

You’ve spoken about wanting to keep the momentum up and not wanting to keep the series going past a sixth season?

It’s important to wrap up the storylines in a way that preserves the original idea and integrity of what I wanted to say about these young women and their experience of getting a job, becoming an adult, and dealing with everything that comes with that time in their lives.

Now that I’m turning 30, it makes sense to bring my 20s to a close and be able to move on to start thinking about and pursuing other projects. I want to do films and write other kinds of stories and as much as I’ve loved Girls it’s the right time to wrap things up.

What are your feelings about your generation of women that comes to sex and relationship?

Women are as confused by sex and the emotions that come with it as ever. Our instincts aren’t helping us when it comes to dealing with men in their twenties who don’t have a deep need or understanding of romantic relationships. I doubt that most men in their 20s are emotionally equipped to handle a serious relationship.

Most films and TV are utterly irrelevant to younger women because they never get at serious issues of self-worth and communication and being able to really talk to guys. We’ve grown up with the distancing effect of Facebook and texting and that often provides a false sense of comfort. I also wanted to present sexual situations in a realistic way and not portray sex as this classically profound or deeply romantic experience. Women can watch this series and think and talk about their own experiences without feeling so awkward about it. That’s why it’s important to break down these taboos and television is the most effective medium to do that.

What do you see down the road for yourself now that you’re about to enter your 30s?

I would like to stay in New York and continue writing and directing. I love the city. It is my home and here is my family. I hope I have children. And I hope over the next ten years I’m going to make a few more movies and write some more books that I will be proud of.

I also hope that there are going to be a lot of interesting surprises. If you had told me at the beginning of my 20s that I would be where I am today, I would never have believed it!

Was fame something that attracted you?

Fame is a by-product. My goal was always to be creative and write stories that are enlightening and compelling in some way. I wanted to talk about women’s lives and the way we engage the world and all the issues and problems young women face. I felt that there hadn’t really been a lot that I’d seen in film and especially on TV that I could relate to and that really spoke to my experience and many young women like me.

You’ve been very critical of the way society judges women’s bodies?

We live in a time in which we are confronted with unrealistic body images that the media is promoting and defining women in terms of those very idealised images.

Women are constantly staring at body images that do not like ours. This creates a lot of problems with regard to how to see ourselves and the guilt and resentment and shame we feel towards our bodies. That’s not only true for women but for men as well. The difference is that men are not judged on their appearances and whether they conform to an ideal the way women are judged.

You’ve been on a running and fitness kick of late, haven’t you?

I decided that it was time to change my habits. I’m the kind of person who would stay in bed and write all day if I could. Running and becoming more active physically is not something I was really anxious to do but once I started running I actually experienced that rush of endorphins that runners talk about. I feel really good after I’ve been running.

I’m naturally very lazy physically so this has been a revelation for me and I have changed my attitude about exercise. I’ve realised that just like you need to use your brain so it doesn’t atrophy so you need to move your body to keep it healthy.

You’ve spoken many times about the kinds of nasty and even vicious comments people have made about your body?

It’s very hurtful. Anyone who goes through high school and has to deal with taunting and insults will understand that. Now most of the abuse that comes my way is on the internet and it’s easier to handle that although it’s never pleasant. But insults about your appearance are always the last resort of someone who can’t find a more intelligent or civilised way to disagree with you. I can’t take it seriously.

What advice would you give young women or teenagers who are often subject to body shaming and being called fat or ugly?

When I was a teenager, I was so confused about how my body was changing and so full of fear that I would say: “You know what? Everything will be fine.” The best thing you can do is to be interested in becoming more aware of who you are and the world around you. You should accept that some days you’re going to like yourself and feel super about who you are and your appearance and on other days you’re going to hate yourself and the way you look.

But don’t get caught up in that and just stay true to who you are and explore life with a lot of hope and passion. The most important thing is to find a way to keep the mind and body in harmony and to find a healthy way to deal with both.

You’ve produced a documentary, Suited, which you brought to Sundance. What can you say about that?

My sister is the subject of the documentary and she is someone who has always had a complex relationship with gender. She’s a gender-non-conforming person born in a woman’s body. … She’s the coolest person I know.


More sex abuse by UN troops reported in C. African Republic

A human rights group said this week that at least eight women and girls were raped or sexually exploited by U.N. peacekeepers late last year in Central African Republic, and the world body announced that, following a new policy, more than 100 troops would be sent home.

Human Rights Watch said a 14-year-old and an 18-year-old said peacekeepers gang-raped them near the airport in Bambari, the country’s second-largest city.

The U.N. peacekeeping mission in Central African Republic said later on Feb. 4 tht it had identified seven new possible victims in Bambari in cases that Human Rights Watch brought to its attention.

The U.N. said the soldiers implicated in the cases are from the Republic of Congo and Congo.

The mission said 120 soldiers from the Republic of Congo who were deployed to Bambari from Sept. 17 to Dec. 14 will be repatriated after an investigation is carried out. In the meantime, it said, they will be confined to barracks.

A fact-finding expert sent to Bambari found “sufficient initial evidence” that five minors had been sexually abused, and that one adult had been sexually exploited, the mission said. The expert was unable to interview a seventh person. One claim by Human Rights Watch had been previously reported and is currently under investigation, the mission said.

Parfait Onanga-Anyanga, the U.N. envoy for Central African Republic who traveled to Bambari on Feb. 4, expressed outrage and shame at the latest reports.

The U.N. has been unable to explain why so many rapes and other sexual abuse by peacekeepers have been reported in Central African Republic, which has been gripped by deadly violence between Christians and Muslims since late 2013. Thousands of U.N. and other peacekeepers have been in the country since then.

U.N. Assistant Secretary-General Anthony Banbury came close to tears as he described four new child sex abuse cases in the country involving U.N. troops and police from Bangladesh, Congo, Niger and Senegal. It was the first time the world body had publicly named countries whose U.N. personnel are accused, as part of a new policy.

For all of 2015, Banbury said, there are likely to be 22 confirmed reports of sexual abuse or exploitation in the U.N.’s peacekeeping mission in CAR, though that may rise as a result of this week’s statements.

Human Rights Watch said it documented the latest eight cases of sexual exploitation and abuse during research in Bambari from Jan. 16-30. The organization said the temporary deployment of Republic of Congo peacekeepers to protect the city’s airport corresponds with most of the cases.

The group quoted a 14-year-old saying that in November, two armed peacekeepers attacked her as she walked by the base at the airport.

“Suddenly one of them grabbed me by my arms and the other one ripped off my clothes,” she was quoted as saying. “They pulled me into the tall grass and one held my arms while the other one pinned down my legs and raped me. The soldier holding my arms tried to hold my mouth, but I was still able to scream. Because of that they had to run away before the second soldier could rape me.”

An 18-year-old was quoted as saying that when she visited the Republic of Congo troops’ base near the airport seeking food or money, armed peacekeepers forced her into the bush and gang-raped her.

“There were three of them on me. They were armed. They said if I resisted they would kill me. They took me one by one,” she was quoted as saying. 

Actress Charlotte Rae tells ‘The Facts of My Life’ in memoir

In “The Facts of Life,” Charlotte Rae played the unflappable Mrs. Garrett, a girls’ school housemother who smoothly guided her charges through crises and comedy.

Rae says she implored the TV show’s producers to let her character “lose her temper, yell at the kids. Let her be a human being.”

They declined. But as Rae, 89, recounts in her new autobiography, her own life bore little resemblance to the sitcom-grade serenity of Edna Garrett’s, instead marked by challenges that included son Andy’s autism and her husband’s late-in-life disclosure that he was bisexual and wanted an open marriage.

“The Facts of My Life” paints Rae as a woman determined to face the world with grace and humor, come what may, and one dedicated to her family, friends and a career that stretched from 1950s TV to Broadway.

That’s partly why she decided to do the book, to bolster others tackling their own difficulties and dreams, Rae said in an interview.

And because her other son, Larry Strauss, a writer and teacher, said she should.

“He said, ‘Ma, I think it’s time we did your memoir. You talk to me and I’ll do it,”” she recalled. “He was very sensitive to what I was talking about and wonderful (writing about) his brother, very sensitive and beautiful.”

The book, to be published by BearManor Media on Nov. 1, opens with what’s described as a “nightmare come true,” then 16-year-old Andy Strauss locked in the juvenile ward at New York’s Bellevue Hospital because he’d been deemed dangerous.

Andy’s diagnosis of autism had been long in coming at a time when there was far less understanding of or attention to the disorder, Rae said. Her son, who had other conditions including epilepsy, died in his mid-40s of a heart attack.

She saw his illness as the “most devastating thing” in her life, said Rae, who has also faced alcoholism and heart problems. Then her husband of 25 years, composer and sound editor John Strauss, who like Rae had turned to Alcoholics Anonymous for help, was urged by his AA sponsor to be honest with himself and his wife about his sexuality.

“I felt there was something wrong with me and took it personally,” Rae said. “But I gradually realized what he was going through. My God, the poor guy, hiding it and being ashamed.”

The pair divorced, and John Strauss died in 2011. He had found a long-time partner (the nice Jewish man of his dreams, Rae said) but she has remained single.

“Between the children and my career, I just didn’t have time. It didn’t happen,” Rae said. “There were people I had little flings with that were lovely, but nobody I wanted to marry.”

Son Larry, his family and others keep her busy and content, she said.

“I have wonderful friends. I’m not just a lonely old lady,” said Rae, a Wisconsin native who splits her time between Los Angeles and New York.

Her career has been divided between screen, stage and cabaret appearances (fans may recall Mrs. Garrett singing “O Holy Night” on a holiday episode). Her extensive TV work ranged from “The Phil Silvers Show” in the 1950s to “Car 54, Where Are You?” in the 1960s to “Girl Meets World” in 2014.

After introducing Mrs. Garrett on “Diff’rent Strokes,” Rae carried her over to “The Facts of Life” spin-off in 1979. The long-running series brought her an Emmy nomination, financial security and lasting friendships with co-stars Nancy McKeon, Lisa Whelchel, Kim Fields and Mindy Cohn.

(She recalls, with delight, visiting McKeon and her husband at their ranch near Austin, Texas, and having a “jammie party” with their daughters.)

Rae also appeared in movies, with her latest role this year in the Meryl Streep-starring “Ricki and the Flash.” On Broadway, she earned two Tony nominations in the ‘60s for “Pickwick” and “Morning, Noon and Night.”

But it’s an off-Broadway play, Samuel Beckett’s “Happy Days,” that she considers her career highlight and most challenging role, “like ‘Hamlet’ to a man,” Rae said, paraphrasing British actress Peggy Ashcroft’s description of it.

The play is essentially a monologue, its primary character a woman who is stuck in an onstage mound of earth but keeps her chin up, literally and otherwise.

“It’s going through life and getting through life with joy and anticipation and acceptance. She’s a noble soul,” Rae said.

Perhaps like the actress herself?

“I try. I try. And most of the time I’m pretty good at it,” she said.

School uniform rules relaxed for LGBT students in Puerto Rico

Students at public schools across Puerto Rico for the first time can choose to wear pants or skirts as part of their uniform regardless of their gender without being punished, a move that has unleashed a debate in this socially conservative island.

Education Secretary Rafael Roman said this week that the new regulation he recently signed is meant to be inclusive of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students. He added that teachers will no longer be allowed to discipline students who prefer to wear pants instead of skirts or vice versa.

“No student can be sanctioned for not opting to wear a particular piece of clothing … that he or she does not feel comfortable with,” he told reporters.

Girls at public schools in Puerto Rico traditionally wear skirts as part of their uniforms and the boys wear pants.

LGBT civil rights activists and some school officials praised the measure, which comes months after Gov. Alejandro Garcia Padilla signed an executive order prohibiting bullying in public schools based on sexual orientation.

“It’s a bit late, but it was approved, which is important,” said Cristina Torres, director of a high school in Ponce, Puerto Rico’s second-largest city. “Changing people’s mentality from one day to another will be hard … The most incredible thing is that young people can accept this with an open mind, but it’s the adults who discriminate.”

Torres is familiar with the issue. Teachers filed a complaint against her two years ago for appearing in a picture with a student who wore women’s clothing at his graduation. The student was a victim of bullying and had received an award for overcoming difficult circumstances, she said.

“Our responsibility is to protect students’ rights,” Torres said.

However, critics of the new regulation accused government officials of acting like dictators and stripping parents of their power.

“Once again, this government and the Department of Education work against what’s best for our children,'” said officials with Alerta Puerto Rico, a conservative group that says it was founded to promote family and childhood values.

But Roman argues that parents have the final word on how their children dress for school since they’re the ones buying the uniform. He added that several school districts in the U.S. mainland have adopted similar regulations.

Messages left with the U.S. Department of Education were not immediately returned.

Paola Gonzalez, a 39-year-old transsexual woman who grew up in Puerto Rico and now lives in Albany, New York, said she wished the measure would have been approved years ago.

“It would have simplified my life,” she said, adding that she has some concerns about the new regulation given what she described as Puerto Rico’s “macho” culture.

“For a student to come out and say I identify with this gender and wear these clothes … that will be a big step,” Gonzalez said. “The school may also have to consider the safety of the student.”

Garcia’s administration previously approved several measures in favor of the gay community, including one that allows transgender and transsexual people to change their gender on their driver’s license and another that protects their rights when seeking medical services.

With rescue near, Boko Haram stoned girls to death

Even with the crackle of gunfire signaling rescuers were near, the horrors did not end: Boko Haram fighters stoned captives to death, some girls and women were crushed by an armored car and three died when a land mine exploded as they walked to freedom.

Through tears, smiles and eyes filled with pain, the survivors of months in the hands of the Islamic extremists told their tragic stories to The Associated Press on May 3, their first day out of the war zone.

“We just have to give praise to God that we are alive, those of us who have survived,” said 27-year-old Lami Musa as she cradled her 5-day-old baby girl.

She was among 275 girls, women and their young children, many bewildered and traumatized, who were getting medical care and being registered a day after making it to safety.

Nigeria’s military said it has freed nearly 700 Boko Haram captives in the past week. It is still unclear if any of them were among the so-called “Chibok girls,” whose mass abduction from their school a year ago sparked outrage worldwide and a campaign for their freedom under the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls.

Musa was in the first group of rescued women and girls to be transported by road over three days to the safety of the Malkohi refugee camp, a dust-blown deserted school set among baobab trees opposite a military barracks on the outskirts of Yola, the capital of northeastern Adamawa state.

Last week’s rescue saved her from a forced marriage to one of the killers of her husband, she said.

“They took me so I can marry one of their commanders,” she said of the militants who carried her away from her village after slaughtering her husband and forcing her to abandon their three young children, whose fates remain unknown. That was five months ago in Lassa village.

“When they realized I was pregnant, they said I was impregnated by an infidel, and we have killed him. Once you deliver, within a week we will marry you to our commander,” she said, tears running down her cheeks as she recalled her husband and lost children.

Musa gave birth to a curly-haired daughter the night before last week’s rescue.

As gunshots rang out, “Boko Haram came and told us they were moving out and that we should run away with them. But we said no,” she said from a bed in the camp clinic, a blanket wrapped around ankles so swollen that each step had been agony.

“Then they started stoning us. I held my baby to my stomach and doubled over to protect her,” she said, bending reflexively at the waist as though she still had to shield her newborn.

She and another survivor of the stoning, 20-year-old Salamatu Bulama, said several girls and women were killed, but they did not know how many.

The horrors did not end once the military arrived.

A group of women were hiding under some bushes, where they could not be seen by soldiers riding in an armored personnel carrier, who drove right over them.

“I think those killed there were about 10,” Bulama said.

Other women died from stray bullets, she said, identifying three by name.

There were not enough vehicles to transport all of the freed captives and some women had to walk, Musa said. Those on foot were told to walk in the tire tracks made by the convoy because Boko Haram militants had mined much of the forest. But some of the women must have strayed because a land mine exploded, killing three, she said.

Bulama shielded her face with her veil and cried when she thought about another death: Her only son, a 2-year-old toddler who died two months ago of an illness she said was aggravated by malnutrition.

“What will I tell my husband?” she sobbed after learning from other survivors who used borrowed cell phones to try to trace relatives that her husband was alive and in the northern town of Kaduna.

Musa, who had been in pain and withdrawn after her arrival the night before, greeted a reporter with smiles on Sunday – and the news that her breasts were finally giving milk and nourishment to her yet-to-be-named daughter.

Another survivor, Binta Ibrahim, was 16 years old and accompanying her sister-in-law to the dressmaker when Boko Haram insurgents rode into their village of Izghe, firing randomly at civilians. On that day in February 2014, the AP reported at least 109 people were killed and almost every hut destroyed as the militants lobbed firebombs onto their thatch roofs.

Ibrahim, her sister-in-law and two of Ibrahim’s sisters were among scores of young women abducted.

Her two sisters escaped in the pandemonium that surrounded an air raid, but Ibrahim, who was caring for three children she found abandoned after the insurgents moved into the neighboring village of Nbitha, did not go with them.

“I had these three kids to care for and I couldn’t abandon them a second time,” she explained.

She described trekking for two days from Nbitha to Boko Haram’s hideout in the Sambisa Forest with 2-year-old Matthew and 4-year-old Elija Yohanna strapped to her back and 4-year-old Maryam Samaila clinging to her waist.

“They were so weak from lack of food that they couldn’t walk. There was nothing to do but rest when I couldn’t take another step, and then press ahead when I had recovered,” she said.

The children are Christian and Ibrahim is a Muslim. While Nigeria’s northeastern Islamic insurgency has polarized many of Nigeria’s people on religious lines, that was the last thing in Ibrahim’s big heart.

“I love them as if they are my own,” she said, striking her breast with both fists to show the depth of her love for the children, who were rescued with her and still remain in her care.

Hear (and watch) women roar on new fall TV shows

“The Good Wife,” “Homeland,” “Scandal,” “Nurse Jackie” and, well, “Girls” are just a few current shows that put women front and center.

And this fall, even more women are stepping up.

As if TV programmers were in a classroom cribbing off one another’s exams, a few common themes emerge. One prevalent theme: the fantasy world of comic books and sci-fi, courtesy of newcomers “The Flash” (CW), “Gotham” (Fox), “Constantine” (NBC) and “Forever” (ABC). Spies and anti-terrorism also remain big in our heebie-jeebie era, with “Scorpion” (CBS) as well as a couple of the shows below.

But strong females are the dominant trend – and dominate in prime time this fall.

– “MADAM SECRETARY” (CBS, Sept. 21). Elizabeth McCord is a loving wife and mother and a brilliant former CIA analyst who is abruptly drawn back into public life as U.S. secretary of state after the incumbent’s suspicious death. Tea Leoni plays a woman who has it all – including growing concerns that she, too, may be on the endangered list.

– “THE MYSTERIES OF LAURA” (NBC; Sept. 24). Detective Laura Diamond doesn’t flinch, whether it’s flouting regulations to nab a bad guy or cooking up a scheme to get her twin boys into a private school. She’s always in a frenzy, forever creating waves, and mostly getting what she wants through sheer force of will. She is played by Debra Messing.

– “HOW TO GET AWAY WITH MURDER” (ABC; Sept. 25). She is a thunderous presence in the classroom as she teaches law students how to spring their clients, whatever it takes. And in her law practice, she is a Machiavellian figure leading a team of top-flight students to help her tackle tough cases. As Annalise Keating, series star Viola Davis is powerful and often disturbing, never to be overlooked nor underestimated.

– “BAD JUDGE” (NBC; Oct. 2). Kate Walsh plays a woman who, in the courtroom, makes Judge Judy look like a pushover, then, after-hours, makes Snooki look like a wallflower. This is a woman who doesn’t hesitate to announce from the bench her relief that her pregnancy test has come up negative. The only way she could create more of a stir is if she were appointed to the Supreme Court (maybe Season 2?).

– “CRISTELA” (ABC, Oct. 10). This sitcom’s young heroine is working multiple jobs to fund her dream of becoming a lawyer. And when she gets slammed by her family for taking so long in law school, or for drinking the last beer in the fridge, she can return their salvos with equivalent gusto.

– “JANE THE VIRGIN” (CW, Oct. 13). Jane Villanueva is a radiant and ambitious young woman whose future is abruptly complicated when she learns that, despite her decision to wait, her virgin status has been compromised through an accidental sperm insemination. Now she faces yet another, very unexpected challenge – pregnancy – necessitating hard choices that will affect not only her life but also many others’ around her.

– “STATE OF AFFAIRS” (NBC, Nov. 17). CIA analyst Charleston Tucker is joining such past and present CIA heroines as Elizabeth McCord (“Madam Secretary”) and “Homeland” stalwart Carrie Mathison, but with her own specialty: compiling and delivering to the Oval Office the president’s Daily Briefing every morning. But Charleston’s bond with the chief executive is even tighter than this, since she used to be engaged to the president’s son – that is, until he was killed by a terrorist attack. And wouldn’t you know it: the president is a woman, too!

Selfie satisfaction: Today’s selfie is yesterday’s portrait

The morning after Spain lost to Chile in World Cup play, soccer fan Tony Andres snapped a sour selfie and grumbled on Twitter. “The World Cup will produce more selfies than goals,” he tweeted to #WorldCupSelfies.

He most certainly is correct. The 2014 FIFA World Cup is taking place in Brazil, where soccer fanatics, players and coaches are seemingly producing selfies by the second. The event kicked off with a celebration that featured hundreds of thousands of selfies draped across the field in the “Happiness Flag.” The massive photomosaic, sponsored by Coca-Cola, contained 223,206 soccer selfies and spanned 11,800 square feet.

Beyond Brazil, social media has been flooded with selfies by soccer enthusiasts showing agony and ecstasy and also a lot of boredom and boozing. Most of the images come from smartphones or digital cameras. They are making their way to friends and fans, as well as strangers on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.

The self-portraits express loyalty to a team and allegiance to a nation. They also help to transform the events in Brazil into global happenings.

The same day that those selfies of sour and grumbling fans of Spain showed up, there were selfies coming out of blood-soaked cities in Iraq and retweets of selfies by Jennifer Lopez and Demi Lovato minus makeup. There also was strange news of a warning from Madison police against posting #naked selfies.

The selfie as portrait. As documentary journalism.  As celebrity pop shot.  As porn.

The image-makers may be using new tools and reaching vast audiences, and the “selfie” may be a relatively new term, but self-portraiture is a very old form of art and method of expression.

Old style

Jan van Eyck’s Portrait of a Man in a Turban, painted in 1433, is described in art history books as one of the earliest panel self-portraits. In medieval and Renaissance works, artists may appear as faces in their crowds. Rembrandt painted a range of self-portraits in the 17th century. The world treasures self-portraits from artists as diverse as Frida Kahlo, Andy Warhol, Marie-Denise Villers, Raphael, Anthony Van Dyck, Gerard Sekoto, Gustave Courbet and, of course, Vincent Van Gogh, who painted himself dozens of times as a means of self-expression but also because he could not afford models. Writing to his brother about a painting he dedicated to Paul Gauguin, Van Gogh said, “The third picture this week is a portrait of myself, almost colourless, in ashen tones against a background of pale veronese green.”

American photographer Robert Cornelius created a daguerreotype of himself in 1839 that is one of the earliest photographs of a person and possibly the first “selfie,” though he recorded it as “the first light picture ever taken.” An early self-photograph by a teenager was taken by 13-year-old Russian Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna and sent to a friend in 1914, four years before she was executed by the Bolshevik secret police.

There’s also a long history of self-portraits by average Janes and Joes. The Zimmerli Art Museum at Rutgers in New Brunswick, New Jersey, recently exhibited “445 Portraits of a Man,” a collection of photobooth self-images taken by Franklyn Swantek from the 1930s to the 1960s.

The individual in the photos had been a mystery until a news story about the collection caught the attention of a man living in Minden, Nevada, who recognized his Uncle Franklyn, who had run Swantek Photo Service in Michigan for years.

Susan Sidlauskas, who co-curated the exhibit, said Swantek was able to elevate photomatics into museum-quality conceptual art.

“There’s a twinkle in his eye that suggests he had a reason for holding on to all those photos,” she said.

This summer, the museum is exhibiting “Striking Resemblance: The Changing Art of Portraiture,” an examination of the portrait as a social medium, as a way of linking people together, which is what NASA accomplished with its Global Selfie from Earth Day.

Worldwide Hug

On April 22, NASA invited people to step outside to take a selfie and share it with the world on social media. NASA created a new view of the planet made entirely of those photos, a mosaic consisting of 36,000 individual images from 113 countries and regions — Antarctica to Yemen.

“We were overwhelmed to see people participate from so many countries,” said Peg Luce, deputy director of the Earth science division at NASA headquarters in Washington, D.C.

“It’s like being part of a worldwide hug,” said Kimberly Rawlings of Chicago, who said her image is included in the Global Selfie. “The cranks who say we’re narcissistic for posting selfies, who complain about me-obsessed millennials, they miss the point of them.”

And there are critics of the selfie phenomenon. Bloggers have complained that girls posting selfies are being exploited. Plastic surgeons say the selfie trend is increasing demand for rhinoplasty, hair transplants and eyelid surgery. Mental health professionals have suggested a link between body dysmorphic disorder and a compulsion to take selfies.

But there’s little science behind the medical and mental health assertions and easy rebuttals to the exploitation assertion.

“Taking selfies, that’s empowering, that’s being proud of yourself,” said Wisconsin pediatric counselor Helen Cox, noting that one recent survey of young women found that 65 percent said taking selfies boosted their confidence. “When you share selfies, that’s bringing you into a community of people.”

Sometimes the community is small, a circle of friends.

Sometimes the community is massive, a world of Earth Day celebrants or World Cup soccer fans.


Did you know?

Generally, under copyright law, unless there is an agreement to the contrary or a photo is shot as part of a job, it belongs to the creator, the person who pressed the button on the camera. And the owner holds exclusive rights to display, copy, use, produce, or distribute the creation. The subject in a photograph has some rights but not ownership, as do social media services where photographs are shared.

Add an app

Popular portraiture apps for smartphones and tablets:

• CamMe: Take photos using hand gestures. Can take several photos sequentially, like the old photo booths. Enhance photos with cutouts. Easy sharing options. 

• Aviary: Touch up with red-eye removal. Add or remove color with splash. Add drama with sharpen. Stylize with filters and stickers.

• Mextures: Apply film grain, textures, light leaks and gradients to images — from landscapes to portraits.

• Facetune: Touch up portraits Hollywood-style. Remove blemishes. Even out skin tone. Brighten teeth. Color gray hair. Change eye color.

• Instagram: Apply filters. Easy share options. Front and back camera support. Add depth of field.

• Frontback: Shoot from the front and the back of the camera at the same time for the full story.

• Slingshot: From Facebook. Allows users to send photos, to friends, who must reciprocate before
viewing the photo. 

Lego’s building blocks to diversity

Through a partnership between Madison Metropolitan School District, the Human Rights Campaign Foundation’s Welcoming Schools program and Gender Spectrum, elementary school students analyzed LEGO sets and marketing and, taking inspiration from a LEGO ad from 1981, came up with a 21st century ad to remind LEGO that “diversity is perfect.” LEGO responded:

It’s amazing to see the outcome of all the time and effort you put into your analysis of gender and culture in LEGO sets. I enjoyed reading the letters you posted on your website. We know we’re lucky to have so many loyal LEGO fans around the world and we’re always pleased to get feedback.

When we develop a new LEGO set, we use customer feedback like yours — and most importantly, we ask children for opinions on every little detail. You’re the best play experts in the world and the toughest judges of what’s fun and what isn’t.

It’s true we currently have more male than female minifigures in our assortment. We completely agree that we need to be careful about the roles our female figures play — we need to make sure they’re part of the action and have exciting adventures, and aren’t just waiting to be rescued.

You say we should make female minifigures and sets for girls that look more like our other play themes. You’re right: we don’t expect all girls to love the LEGO Friends sets. We know that each child is unique. That’s why we offer more than 450 different toys in various themes so everyone can choose what matches their building skills and links into their passions and interests.

Our designers spend all day dreaming up new sets and ideas, and new roles continue to appear and old roles evolve for both male and female characters. Lots of strong women and girls live in LEGO City. They work as businesswomen, police officers and fire fighters. And THE LEGO MOVIE features Wyldstyle as a main character. She’s an awesome, inspiring character who’s also one of the best builders around!

We originally chose yellow for the color of minifigures so they wouldn’t represent a specific ethnicity in sets when there were no characters represented. In this way, LEGO figures would be acceptable all over the world and fans could assign their own individual roles. However, in some products where we want figures to be as authentic as possible, such as movie characters, and others we plan in the future, some minifigures won’t be yellow to stay true to their characterization.

We put a lot of effort into creating a variety of new and exciting characters for the Minifigures Collectibles line: so far we’ve had a female surgeon, a zoologist, athletes, extreme sports characters, rock stars, and a scientist — just to share a few examples. They cover a lot of everyday professions, but we’ve also developed heroic characters like a female Viking, Amazon warrior, space explorer… as well as fantasy and mythical female characters.

Here at the LEGO Group we’re also having many conversations about the topics you raised, so your comments will be shared with our marketing and development teams. After all, we want to inspire and develop the builders of tomorrow: that means both boys and girls, everywhere in the world!