WAITING IN THE PAST FOR THE FUTURE TO COME
Dulles Airport. Waiting. For once I’m early for my flight. I am not good with waiting. Or being told to wait. I came to D.C. to attend the first ever State of Women Summit, and had to wait about an hour and a half to register, because there were so many women, from all over the country who showed up for this. Standing in that endless line, and later for the “gender-neutral” bathrooms, I was strangely patient. I felt as if something was shifting inside me. Maybe it was for many of us, as we came together to listen to powerful speeches from the President, First Lady, V.P Biden and a parade of amazing women leaders, inventors, educators, entrepreneurs, all ages, races, religions, regions. Maybe I was O.K with waiting because for the first time, I was feeling like, well: WE HAD ARRIVED!
|At the State of Women's Summit, all the female U.S. Congress and Senate members|
The Summit felt like part-sporting event, part-political rally. Being lifted by all those super-achiever XX Chromosomes concentrated under one roof made me giddy. Collectively, it’s so much easier to feel empowered. And my big take away from this awesome gathering was to reach out more, create community more, lean across the aisles, tables, chasms and differences and really listen. If the answer isn’t forthcoming, I think I am also learning how to wait for it.
See, for a long while I have resisted the story of women being told from a place of lack. We’re not this, we’re not that, we're just not enough. Even Oprah, as she was interviewing Michelle Obama during the closing session (and my table-mates were having mild seizures of ecstasy), brought this up… how every woman she has ever interviewed spoke of suffering at some time from debilitating low self-esteem. As a young feminist, I countered this with outer defiance, recalcitrance, rage. Over the years, I strengthened my armor with stories of pioneering women, explorers, artists, first-timers, and would devour their biographies. Amelia Earhardt was a childhood heroine, then Beryl Markham, Isabelle Eberhardt, Alice Guy Blaché, Rosa Luxemborg, Margaret Bourke-White, Martha Gellhorn. Receptivity, passivity, nurturing, these so-called Jungian feminine traits were to be avoided at all costs.
I wanted nothing to do with feminine weakness. My best friend even nicknamed me “bobcat” for the little bulldozer you see on construction sites. My favorite Sylvia Plath line, from the poem “Lady Lazarus,” was always, “I rise with my red hair, and I eat men like air.” But in the last few years, building GlobalGirl Media around the world with so many different young women, from such a wide array of family, cultural and personal backgrounds, watching them navigate their teens and twenties, I started to notice something. Unlike me, many of these younger women were not afraid of revealing their vulnerability. Schooled in posting sexy selfies and snapchat, maybe it was part of their overall subtext. Much more nimble with the “emoji” than me, could they also be embracing a femininity I was afraid of? Without being reductionist here, and I know I am venturing into thorny territory even just broaching the subject, but I really am talking about a new prism for feminism. The one that allows for fluidity, for contradictions, for fierceness and grace.
Or as Moxie filmmaker Tiffany Schlain once said in an interview: “ Feminism is the thing that declares without apology and with absolute logic that the things I know to be true in my heart are true indeed.” That is a beautiful way of saying, what you are feeling inside, is just as important as what you present on the outside.
Contrast this with Luis Vuitton appropriating “Lightning” the heroine from the hugely popular video game Final Fantasy. For their latest ad campaigns, they proclaimed her the perfect avatar for the “globalized, modern woman.” In a world where social media and all its endless iterations are so integral to our lives, this digitized fembot doesn’t necessarily spell strength. You could also see Lightning as The metallic tin-woman (man) without a heart.
|Lightning, from FINAL FANTASY|
I recently attended the Geena Davis Institute’s See Jane Salon, “Keeping Up With Generation Z,” where I learned from Annie Leal, the vibrant, young Social Media Manager of We are Mitu. She spoke of how youth are actually becoming less public on social media, more discerning of what they post than my generation, shunning facebook and even instagram for platforms like snapchat, where their presences instantly become absences. Like self-curators in a sense, they are O.K. with both objectifying and then silencing themselves.
As the media world shifts from consumption to creation, and as more and more women challenge the barriers to their entry into this world, so long dominated by the male narrative, is it enough to encourage young women to merely tell or even yell her own story? Or do we need to make space to really consciously listen, and wait?
A quick google search of the word “quiet,” brings up a reference to one of my favorite books of late, Susan Cain’s “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in A World That Can’t Stop Talking.” Cain reminds us that it was introverts—Rosa Parks, Chopin, Dr. Seuss, Steve Wozniak—that we owe many of the great contributions to society. But right beneath this is an Op-Ed in the Washigton Post on the Orlando shooter, Omar Mateen: Troubled. Quiet.
Not being heard can be tragic, deadly. And it’s exactly the media’s dominant drilling of Mateen’s outer-allegiance to extremism that misses the inner, awful truth: since a child, he was bullied. He was brutalized by a society that demonized his difference: chubby, of Afghan descent. We may never really know what would drive this very troubled young man to such savagery, but that’s just it: we shouldn’t pretend we do. If the stories we tell around such tragedies beget more hatred, othering and intolerance, then how are we ever to stop the insanity?
In wandering around the photography exhibit at the Women in Arts Museum in D.C., called “She Who Tells A Story,” I was struck by the series, “Girl In Her Room,” by Lebanese photographer Rania Matar. By photographing young women in Beirut and Palestine in their bedrooms, she was able to capture a remarkable vulnerability, an interiority that is rarely showcased in teen-age girl’s lives. Roland Barthes said about privacy: “the absolutely precious, inalienable place where my image is free…” These photos were both intimate and liberating. As viewers, we are asked to see these young women as individual, authentic, complex, real.
|From "She Who Tells A Story" Exhibit, Photo credit: Rania Matar|
|Photo credit: Rania Matar|
If stories are to heal us, become creative interventions to the staggering violence and inequity in this world, we need to allow them the space to flow, like social currency, in between those sticky spaces we are so quick to either define or dismiss. Like just what is a terrorist, or for that matter, a feminist? Without a doubt, women and girls’ voices have been so often ignored and their stories rendered so invisible in the information spaces we all use to navigate our lives we do need to turn up the volume, over and over.
Yet, as I wait for my plane back to California, I’m thinking more about how to live from our insides, how to speak from the silences, the softness, how to be better protagonists of our own stories. And if that means getting better at waiting, for the bathroom, the bus, the answer, well, what’s the rush?