You Don’t Forget



by Karen Topakian

You don’t forget. The unwanted hands covering your body. Their laughter. The grinding hips. The thrusting. The smell of alcohol. The faces so close. Bearded. Shaved. Stubbled. The fear. The embarrassment. The humiliation. The guilt.

You do forget the date. The time. The make and model of the car but not how your bare calves feel pushed repeatedly against the vinyl seats. You do forget the story you made up to explain your disheveled clothes and hair to your parents.

You tell no one. You lock the secret in your heart. Push it down deep. You try to shake it off.  You convince yourself you dreamt it. Imagined it. You tell yourself. You’re ok. You can handle it. It doesn’t matter. You tell yourself it never happened. Until it happens again.

In Senegal, Women Carry Everything


by Karen Topakian

While traveling in Senegal, I intentionally paid attention to women, noting what they wore, did and carried.

Clad in bright colored tunics (boubous) with matching head wraps or in long skirts with matching blouses, women walked with perfect posture.


Women work in fields. Till the soil behind a horse or donkey. Sell clothes, jewelry, bottled water, fruits and vegetables and fish in make shift stands on the sides of dusty roads or in the market place. Care for children. Pull water from the well, Tend to goats and sheep. Work in hotels. Clean.

Women often work in groups, Sharing the shade under the broad canopy of a baobab tree. Eating communally from a big metal bowl.


Women carry children. Mostly on their backs tied with an mbotu, a broad piece of soft cloth, like a sarong or pareo that keeps the baby close to the woman’s back.


Or they walk hand in hand with a child.

Women carried everything, often on their heads.


Empty gourds full of greens. Plastic buckets full of water. Pans of fresh fish, whole mangoes. Or cut up mango pieces parceled into small plastic bags. Shelled peanuts in small plastic bags.


Women carry everything.
















After Wearing Black, What’s Next ?


by Karen Topakian

On Sunday night, the Golden Globe stage stood awash in black. Black dresses with plunging necklines, black off the shoulder gowns, black mermaid style dresses that required a helping hand for the wearer to ascend the stage, black dresses with big wide skirts, black body hugging gowns covering all but an arm. Beautifully rendered. Exquisitely worn. A statement that drew attention and awareness.

A few winners used their moment at the mic to speak about assault, harassment, bullying, inequity and inequality.

Several lent their names, support and ticket to organizations advocating for women’s rights in the workplace.

Without the limelight glaring, what can and should these actors do next?

What would you tell them to do today, tomorrow and the day after? Here are my ideas. What are yours?

  1. Ask workplace advocacy and women’s rights organizations how to help. Then listen and follow their directions.
  2. Leverage your status, privilege, access, and resources by making a significant financial gift to these advocacy organizations and announce it publicly. Offer to raise money for them. Invite your friends, colleagues and family members to get involved in the cause. Write an op-ed about the issue and why it’s important to you. Re-post and re-tweet the organizations’ messages to your fans for free. Deliver a keynote address for free at their conference. Appear in a video about the organization and its mission. Work behind the scenes to open closed doors. Show up at rallies and public demonstrations without much fanfare
  3. Cede your privilege. When a reporter approaches a celebrity standing with a woman representing an advocacy organization, direct the reporter to the advocate. Give her the moment to speak.
  4. When you’re interviewed for your latest project, talk about these issues and the organizations, too.
  5. Tell your own story about work place harassment, bullying, inequity and inequality.
  6. Publicly name the abusers. Push through the silence. Prepare yourself for the haters.
  7. Advocate publicly and privately for pay equity for all women in your sector from the production assistant to the director, from the assistant dresser to the starring actor.
  8. Convene women at your tier in the acting world and commit yourselves to serving in solidarity.
  9. Find out the pay scale for other women in your field and advocate with them for pay equity.












by Karen Topakian

Retired General John Kelly, White House Chief of Staff, longs for the days when we treated women, religion, “life” or Gold Star families as sacred.

Don’t treat women as sacred.

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan once said, “Women are to be championed and revered, not objectified.”

Don’t revere us.

Why can’t you get it through your thick skulls we are equals. E-Q-U-A-L

Mr. Kelly, born in 1950, must be remembering back to those halcyon days of alleged sacredness when women, 50+% of the U.S. population, didn’t have:

  • The right to equal pay
  • Access to birth control
  • The right to not be discriminated against in all aspects of education programs that receive federal support
  • The right to terminate a pregnancy
  • The right to serve on a jury
  • The right to unemployment benefits during the last three months of pregnancy
  • The right to seek civil rights remedies for gender-related crimes and to sue our attackers in federal court
  • And the list goes on.

Seeing us as sacred and revered prohibits us from living full intentional lives. Lives of purpose. Lives of value outside of the home and hearth. Lives of our own making.

Why Women Didn’t Serve as Jesus’ Disciples

imgres  by Karen Topakian

Pope Francis recently re-affirmed the Church’s position on not ordaining women as priests. According to the Pope, since Jesus chose only men to serve as his apostles, the Church cannot ordain women.

Here’s an example of why women might not have served.

Bartholomew, a fisherman, walked quickly through his small courtyard toward the gate.

Sapphira, his wife, hung a wet sheet onto the clothesline, while watching him steal past his fishnets.

“Aren’t you going fishing today?”

“I’m going to hear the prophet, Jesus,” answered Bartholomew.


“Come listen. You’ll like him.”

“What about all this work?” asked Sapphira, waving at a pile of wet laundry, a young child wheezing and a stack of encrusted bowls. “And don’t give me that ‘god will provide’ business.”

“I didn’t say anything.”

“But you did the last time a prophet sailed through Nazareth. I had to stay up all night cooking and cleaning.”

He shrugged.

“I don’t think your friends Mark, Luke and John want women around. When my friend Mary went, they sneered at her, ‘Show us your ankles.’ Others called her a whore.”

“What do you expect men to do when she cinches her robe so tight.”

“A woman at the well told me she believed in Jesus and wanted to follow him but your buddies wouldn’t allow her near him. She couldn’t break through the stucco ceiling.”

“Again, with the ceiling?”

Bartholomew put his arm around her and pulled her close to him. “I really think he’s the one.”

“The one, what?” she responded wriggling herself free from his grasp.

“The Messiah,” answered Bartholomew beaming.

“Is he? Probably promising he’ll make Galilee Great Again! If he says he can perform miracles, why doesn’t he get us a new oil lamp…that doesn’t leak?”

He looked at her crestfallen.

Sapphira reached for her husband’s hand. “What’s the matter with our religion? I thought you liked Judaism. What, you don’t like Rabbi Jacob?”

“I like Rabbi Jacob but how many times is he going to read from Leviticus? All those rules!”

“He’s reminding us how to live our faith.”

“Enough already about avoiding the cloven hooves and the unclean. I get it.”

Saphhira dropped his hand and resumed hanging up the wet laundry.

“You’ve changed. I remember when you enjoyed fishing, repairing your nets and teaching our children,” exclaimed Saphhira. “Now it’s Jesus this and Jesus that.”

“He says things I’ve never heard before,” confessed Bartholomew.

“You want to hear things you’ve never heard before? You’re a lousy husband. There I’ve said it. I guess my mother was right.”

“His words stir my heart.”

“I’ll give you something to stir, “ said Saphhira pointing to a pail of milk and a butter churner.

“He’s promising us a better life.”

“What’s he going to do, put food on our table, clothe us, keep us warm? You’re supposed to do that, you big lug. Because that’s your job as a husband and a father.”

Bartholomew shook his head, saddened by his wife’s negativity and walked out.

Sapphira pulled another sheet out of the pile and shook it within an inch of its life.

“What’s this one promising, the keys to heaven?”









How Hard Could It Be?

imgresby Karen Topakian

Several years ago Harvard University needed to replace its president, Lawrence Summers, who resigned after making this controversial statement, “the under-representation of female scientists at elite universities may stem in part from ‘innate’ differences between men and women.”

This Ivy League school had never selected a women president, the timing seemed right. Why not apply? But was I qualified?

A Harvard Business Review article said, “men apply for a job when they meet only 60% of the qualifications, but women apply only if they meet 100% of them.” And who gets the jobs? Men!

I certainly possess 60% of the qualifications. Honestly, how hard could it be to serve as Harvard’s President?

First, Harvard draws on the greatest minds of people in numerous fields and I would access everyone of them to help me schedule meetings, make travel plans, draft speeches, disparage Yale, return overdue library books… I wouldn’t even need to learn how to pronounce Hav-vad like a local. Remember, I’m from Rhode Island!

Second, I would only have to manage the university’s finances, fundraise, lead meetings, represent the University in public affairs, report to the governing bodies and develop big-ass visions.

A piece of cake.

My credentials and qualifications would make the job a snap.

On the finance front, numbers don’t scare me. Armed only with a calculator, a yellow pad and a Number 2 pencil, I can attack any financial statement. When the numbers get too big, I just kick off my stilettos and use my toes.

Trust me, I know how to ask people for money. Just ask my mother about my teenage tantrums whining and begging for extra cash. While in graduate school at the San Francisco Art Institute, I worked In the Admissions and Financial Aid offices, where I learned how to sell big-ticket tuition costs to parents who foolishly questioned the “value of a fine arts education.“ Plus I’ve honed the science of glad-handing, schmoozing and chit chatting while balancing a plate of crudités on my knee.

Fundraising also involves relating to all kinds of people. My multi-discipline business experience makes it easy to relate to the titans of industry. While working summers in a mind-numbing dead end job at the family business, General Plating, I experienced what kind of careers awaited me with only a high school degree. During my days working at a noted RI clothing store, I mastered the art of customer relations by politely telling men that I couldn’t model the lingerie they contemplated buying for their wives.

Leading meetings only requires a few skills – standing up and out yelling the other losers at the table. And when that doesn’t work, banging my shoe on the table.

Representing the University in public affairs means wearing the right garb for the right crowd – LL Bean for the New Englanders and Chanel for the sophisticates. Plus I expertly dress up any outfit with jewelry.

I also have good elective skills. While serving as the first director of the University of Rhode Island’s first Women’s Center, situated directly across from the rifle range and the turf farms, I learned to dodge speeding bullets and mastered the art of watching grass grow.

Finally, Harvard is practically my alma mater. My partner’s father graduated from Harvard Law School during the Truman Administration. In the early 1970s, I occasionally studied at the Widener library during the brief hours it allowed access to women.

In closing, I think it would be fun to serve as Harvard’s president. I could organize events and research on topics of my choosing. For example, I could invite Madonna and the Pope to speak at a symposium about religious icons in the 21st century. They would have to attend. Or authorize scientific research on the curative digestive powers of klushab, an old Armenian recipe of stewed prunes and raisins. And what about the benefits of free parking in Cambridge?

I still believe the job wouldn’t be that hard. Certainly not as hard as the US Presidency and now there’s a woman running for that.