Miss Representation

My Coming Out as a Feminist

I won a $1,000 ticket to a Ms. magazine fundraiser luncheon featuring Gloria Steinem last week.  With only thirty women in attendance it was a coveted win.

Feminism: a word I didn't like

I'm slowly waking up to feminism.

Half of my readers will be appalled that I feel a need to use the word feminism at all, and the other half of you are probably rolling your eyes that I ever had any hesitation around word.

I was raised in the eighties when the women's movement experienced its backlash after all the progress of the sixties and seventies. To say the least, the word feminist didn't hold positive correlation for me for most of my life, it wasn't something you wanted to be.  I'd repeatedly heard women start sentences with "I'm not a feminist, but...", modeling for me that we wanted to distance ourselves from some scary picture of women burning bra's, hating men, and causing a ruckus.

Adding to the distance I created between me and feminism was the fact that being a girl often proved to be an advantage to me.  I liked being a girl. (shows how much I misunderstood the feminism message!) More than a sense of oppression, I actually felt singled out, rewarded, and applauded.  Being among the first females running for Student Association president in college was an honor, attending seminary with less than ten women in my program felt pioneering, and serving as many people's first female pastor felt like a privilege. It wasn't without gratitude that I recognized that I had those opportunities because of women who had fought the good fight before me, but I didn't see the need to keep fighting.  I wasn't one of them. I thought we had made it.  Or, at least that there was enough momentum to keep us on our way.

I look back now with a twinge of regret that I cared more about being likable, agreeable, and your all-around-good-girl, than I did about being an advocate for women.  But I either didn't see the need or assumed the cause was doing fine without me waving the banner.

My own feminist awakening

Feminism is a loaded word. A word that few of us would disagree with in definition: "the advocacy of supporting women's rights as equal to men." In words alone, who among us isn't a feminist?

But as soon as the word is uttered-- we sometimes back away because we don't sense the urgency, don't relate to those in the media who represent the word, or don't necessarily feel like there is anything we can do, or want to do. I've had an entire career distancing myself from a word while still believing in the concept. Being a naturally positive person has more-or-less allowed me to look away from numbers as I argue that change takes time; choosing to feel encouraged by how many amazing women I knew who were doing so much.

And yet. Positivity shouldn't include denial.

Women still make up only 3% of creative directors, less than 5% of movie directors (that number dropped in 2011!), only 14% of Hollywood writers, and are shown as protagonists in only 17% of films. These numbers aren't all that different from a decade ago. Only 6 of our 50 state governors are women, and of the 535 seats of Congress, only 90 of them are women.  While we celebrate that we hold 22.1% of all statewide elected offices, that number was 22.2% in 1993 so the last twenty years hasn't shown tremendous strides there either.  I can keep going... reminding you that only 3% of Fortune 500 CEO's are women, that we are still earning double-digits less than our male counterparts, and that even though we own somewhere around 30% of businesses we still receive less than 10% of the funding.

So this last year I'd say I'm having a bit of an awakening. An awakening where I realize that we women still need to consciously play bigger games, speak out more, and offer our best in this world.  This has nothing to do with what choices you make--to get married or not, stay home with kids or work outside the home, wear stilettos or reject fashion--it has to do with being honored completely in whatever choice we do make. Not just for our sakes, but because the problems in our world need us.  The ways we engage, make decisions, and nurture those around us is being called out.  The challenges around us need us.

Like Katie Couric said in the documentary Miss Representation: If women spent 10% less time worrying about our weight and appearance, and instead applied that energy to others, she’s pretty sure we could solve all the worlds problems in a matter of months.

We can do that.

Feminism in Friendship

I've always wanted to live up to my best.  And I was always told I could.  In that sense I have always been a feminist.

But it hasn't been until this last year that I'm getting more comfortable with the word and my belief that I need to contribute to what that word stands for. I'd say that one of the forces that has transitioned me into the passion I feel for the cause were my relationships with other women.

When you experience women cheering for you-- supporting you, believing in you, thanking you, and helping you-- you realize how much more powerful you feel.  And you want everyone else to have that.

Whether it was Ayesha (who is pictured with me and Gloria above, who invited me to participate in an entrepreneurs group of women who were committed to helping each other) or Christine Bronstein from A Band of Wives who gifted me the ticket to attend the luncheon and has done nothing but cheer me on in our shared passion for women-- these two women are fabulous examples of women who have modeled their willingness to promote other women.

And when you have been given to, you want to give back.

The word feminism is still an awkward word on my tongue.  But the concept has taken root in my heart.  I hope that those of us reading this can keep living it out in our interactions with each other-- being constant reminders of each others value and potential. That as women who value friends-- we know that we are empowering each other in ways no one else can do. We can hold up mirrors to each other that remind us of our inherent worth.

In that sense, what we are doing in GirlFriendCircles is sacred work.  On the surface it would be easy to think it's just networking and social events.  But it's women showing up ready to commit to each other, willing to invest in the forming of bonds, honoring the fact that friendships with others are important enough to us to do something about it.  That's feminism.  Saying we matter.  Putting actions behind our words. We're ensuring that we don't do this journey of life without a local community, cheerleaders, allies, and friends.

Upon meeting Gloria Steinem-- I thanked her for the path she helped pave for so many of us.  Her response was "the hardest part is still ahead."

Good thing we have each other.

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p.s. a couple of good resources:

  1. Find a screening in your area for Miss Representation or plan to order the DVD when it's available late February.
  2. Subscribe to Ms. magazine which is like supporting the cause since it's a non-profit magazine that seeks to tell inspiring stories about women and highlight issues and challenges facing them.

 

 

3 Baby-Steps Toward Girl Effect's Dream of Changing the World

I still remember my jaw dropping open a couple of years ago after hearing the New York Times human rights columnist, Nicholas Kristof make a historical comparison, when he was promoting his book "Half the Sky: Turning Oppression Into Opportunity For Women Worldwide" that he co-authored with his wife Sheryl WuDunn.  His haunting words:

"At the peak of the transatlantic slave trade, 80,000 slaves were transported from Africa to the new world. Now, more than 10 times as many women and girls are being forced into brothels or other forms of slavery around the world."

It's so easy to look back in judgment, wondering how our ancestors didn't do more to fight against oppression in various forms.  Yet here we are... still facing similar choices and battles.

Add to that slavery statistic all the other massive issues that are interconnected: girl’s education, AIDS in the developing world, child marriage, child prostitution, domestic violence, population growth, and global poverty, and the complexity is both mind numbing and heart wrenching.

I rarely know what to do that could possibly make a difference.  So when given the opportunity to participate today in  Girl Effect Blogging Campaign day, I not only jump on it, but also extend the invitation to you to participate with your own words. This week hundreds of bloggers will collaborate in bringing awareness to the Girl Effect, the “unique potential of 600 million adolescent girls to end poverty for themselves and the world.”

I'm also walking around this week in a heightened state of awareness after watching Miss Representation as this award-winning documentary highlights the issues girls and women face right here in the U.S. It's a sobering reality that even in our developed and educated country (where women now make up the majority of the workforce and are earning more college degrees than men), we are still communicating in our media and culture that

"a woman’s primary value lay in her youth, beauty and sexuality—and not in her capacity as a leader, making it difficult for women to obtain leadership positions and for girls to reach their full potential."

While the credits rolled, my heart was heavy with the challenge we face in our own country. Add to it the millions of women behind us.  We simply have to be willing to do more for each other, whether you like the word feminism or not.

Three Possible Baby Steps

Some of us may be clearly called to jobs and roles where our daily actions attempt to right the injustices in classrooms, counseling chairs, boardroom tables, and world-wide non- profits. Some of us may be able to help bring awareness to these causes, like Tara Sophia Mohr who started this blogging campaign, or Jennifer Siebel Newsom who wrote and directed the film mentioned above.

And then there will be masses of us who feel the ache but don't see how our actions can make a difference.

But they do.

We can't risk doing nothing just because we can't do everything.

Here are three "small" actions we can take to help turn the tide for our sisters around the world.

1.  GROW: Keep Getting Healthier

It's hard to give energy to causes, dream with others, or live with generosity when there is an energy leak in your own life. If you're still living as though your value is determined by what others think, what size of clothes you wear, or whether you're pretty enough, then there is wound in your own life that still needs healing so you can show up with joy, power, and strength. If you believe there isn't "enough" in your life, you're less likely to want to give to others. If you hold victim mentality by refusing forgiveness to someone then you risk not feeling like you have power to give.

We all have our insecurities.  But that doesn't mean we have to live from them. Do what you need to do to not ignore them or devalue others in your attempt to make yourself forget about them. Meditate, read, talk to a coach/therapist, attend mind-expanding and centering workshops, sit in sacred space, get enough sleep, own your worth apart from what you do or look like, hike a mountain, sing more, read poetry, find your five minutes of daily silence, pray....

In Miss Representation, Katie Couric says that she thinks if women spent 10% less time worrying about our weight and appearance, and instead applied that energy to others, she's pretty sure we could solve all the worlds problems in a matter of months. That's sobering. Where can you cut back 10%?

Do anything that increases your compassion toward yourself and others. Conversely, stop doing anything that decreases your compassion toward yourself and others.

2. GIVE: Donate a financial gift today to start a new ripple....

Sometimes giving a financial gift can be your way of saying to yourself that you trust that there is "enough" in this world for all of us. Hoarding and greed come from fear. Lean into the belief that the vision of what we can do together is greater than our individual fear.

Your gift of $15 can buy schoolbooks for a girl in Panama. A gift of $60 will teach a grown woman in Afghanistan to read and write. Those dollar amounts may not sound life altering, but consider this chain of events when a girl or woman receives education:

When a girl in the developing world receives seven or more years of education, she marries four years later and has 2.2 fewer children. The later women marry they are less likely to be beaten and threatened by their husbands, die in childbirth, or get AIDS. Additionally, every year of education boosts her eventual wages by 10-25 percent. When women and girls earn income, they reinvest 90 percent of it into their families and communities. (all sources on the Girl Effect Fact Sheet)

A cycle of poverty gets broken, in part, with the earning of education.

Each quarter GirlFriendCircles.com compiles all of your gifts of $3-$5 that are given in exchange when you have to cancel your attendance at the last-minute from a ConnectingCircle you committed to attend. This quarter in our Show Up or Save the World campaign, I have matched your $174, so that we gave a combined gift of $348 to Girl Effect.  It doesn't sound life altering.... but it will be to someone.  Add $10 more!

3.  CHEER: Help Spread the Word(s)

On a literal level, spread the word about these resources that help bring awareness and conviction. Tweet or Facebook share this blog today (see icons at the bottom). Decide to write your own posting. Promote these causes through your social media outlets. Tell your friends that you feel convicted.  Host a screening of  Miss Representation in your house on October 20. Put energy out there that shows what way you are leaning.

And on a deeper level, sharing the word might mean encouraging and promoting other women and girls.

  • In every day life that might mean encouraging a friend in her choices (career, love, finances, ambition, children) even if they aren't yours.
  • In politics and business it might mean being open to seeing women where they haven't been and letting them do it in their own armor. Don't make someone choose between being powerful or likeable-- choose to not be intimidated and simply cheer for her.
  • In media it may mean voting for movies, products, and TV shows that reflect strong portrayals of women with our attendance (or lack thereof), purchases and watching habits.
  • As a mother it might mean intentionally raising your daughter to not have your body self-esteem issues, or making sure you don't put out judgment on another mom for making a different choice in how she is raising her kids.
  • As a citizen of the world it might mean publicly cheering for other women, even when we feel jealous.  Cheer for them when they buy your dream house before you do, quit their job when you wish you could, get the promotion you would die to have, have the baby you cannot, find the love you haven't yet found, accomplish the feat you wish you had the courage to take on.  You can trust that them getting something doesn't diminish your value or worth one iota.

The truth is that sometimes our own lives feel stressful enough that we simply don't always feel that our hearts can take on any more feeling.  Compounding that numbness, we can easily feel overwhelmed by the issues posed by Nicholas Kristof, Girl Effect and Jennifer Siebold Newsom. But I beg you to just take a baby step... just lean into the movement.

For as Alice Walker, the author of The Color Purple, is quoted in Miss Representation as writing:

"The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don't have any."

You do have power to contribute to the movement. Pretend that life is a rubber band being pulled two directions... and that the direction it eventually snaps will be determined by which side had a little more pull.

Grow in your joy, Give your $10, and Cheer for another woman toward the direction of a better world.

 

p.s.  The Girl Effect Blogging Campaign invites you to post your own blog this week! If you do-- leave a comment here with a link so we can all come and read it!