women’s voices


Do I need to look nice for you?

 I’ve been conditioned from an early age that what I look like to men matters. My mother was one who would put on lipstick at the time she knew my father was coming home from work and, based on 50+ years of conditioning, I have a part of my brain which worries all the time about what men think of how I look.

I had a chance a few days ago to remind myself of just how ridiculous this brainwashing is. It was Sunday and I had spent the whole day in sweats. I’d been to meet my best friend for coffee (she was also in sweats), I’d been to visit Bret’s mom (her Alzheimer’s is so advanced now she is just pleased to see me and doesn’t comment on my looks any more), I’d decorated the house for Christmas with my family and cooked dinner. A typical busy Sunday.

In the late afternoon my husband Bret had been watching the weather and decided to drive to Tahoe after dinner to snowboard; he coordinated with a friend to meet at the house and drive up together. We had roast chickens in the oven and lots of food and so I invited the friend to dinner.

And this is where my brainwashing kicked in. I found myself standing in the kitchen worrying and wondering if I should go and change. I did look like crap, I confess, but I was reasonably clean. Why did I care? Why such a concern that a man is coming to dinner and I am worried what I look like. If it had been a female friend it would not have even occurred to me. And I know for certain the friend did not care.

This sense of the need for women to please men and to worry about what they think is drilled into my brain and even though I am conscious of it now it frustrates me. The continuous voice in my head is perfectly captured in this powerful short video of the things women hear, over and over, throughout their lives that diminish them. Worth a watch whether you are male or female.

I know most of my male friends simply don’t have the same toxic voices in their head – and many of them, my dear husband included, don’t care what they look like 99% of the time. I’m determined to learn a new way of thinking about myself through my own eyes, not the eyes of the men around me.


How Smith College Turned Christine Lagarde’s Cancellation Into a Win for Women’s Voices

Ruth Simmons gave a brilliant, beautiful and moving commencement address
at Smith College, MA on Sunday. Emotional to be back at Smith where she
was previously president, she spoke to the students about free speech,
about the importance of “tak[ing] good care of your voice” and the power
of the opinions of people who disagree with you.

Her perspective
is one of a child growing up in the South: “My coming of age was marred
by the wide acceptance of the violent suppression of speech,” she said.
“No forums of open expression existed for me in the Jim Crow south of
my early youth. Once you have tasted the bitterness and brutality of
being silenced in this way, it is easy to recognize the danger of
undermining free speech.”

But what made her speech so perfect for
that day was a disappointing event that had happened earlier. A small
group of Smith students (less than 500) signed a petition objecting to
Christine Lagarde as their commencement speaker because of objections to
the policies of the IMF. Christine is the first female leader of the
IMF, and a powerful role model of how a woman can change the world, so
perfect for Smith College but, given the controversy, she withdrew, as
Condoleeza Rice had withdrawn from giving the commencement address at Rutgers a few weeks earlier.

Ruth spoke about the importance of allowing, and hearing, opposing
points of view. How when you speak out, and someone disagrees with you,
and then you stand up your voice is stronger. How disagreement is a key
part of learning, and freedom, and something we must all protect. And
so, how it was limiting free speech to reject Christine Lagarde. The
Smith faculty agreed in a HuffPost article
and Smith’s president, Kathy McCartney, told the students “Those who
objected will be satisfied that their activism has had a desired effect.
But at what cost to Smith College?”

It is still so new that we,
as women, have a strong voice. It needs to be heard and not suppressed,
no matter how much we may disagree with some of the voices. The movement
to suppress women’s voices is alive and strong. In radical Islam in
Nigeria, in attacks on Hillary Clinton (she’ll be a grandmother — she
can’t be president), in the relentless drive to reverse our rights to
our own bodies.

Nora Ephron spoke so eloquently about this in her commencement address at Wellesley in 1996 (as Jessica Goldstein reminds us here).
Every attack on our path to leadership, and our voices, is an attack on
women’s progress to equality. To reach the goal of equal opportunity
regardless of our gender (or color, or sexual orientation) we must all
vigorously pursue equal pay (Jill Abramson stood up and was fired),
equal seats at corporate decision making bodies (less than 17 percent of board seats are held by women in the U.S.), equal representation in our governments (still only 20 percent of the U.S. senate and 18 percent of the house are women).

have a long way to go. But Ruth Simmons strengthened Christine
Lagarde’s voice on Sunday by reminding the audience of parents (me
included), students and faculty, with clarity and passion, that we must
speak, and protect our right to speak, and just as importantly protect
the right of those who disagree with us to speak, so we can move forward
to a world of learning and equality of opportunity.

Posted on the Huffington Post earlier today