Akin to many women, I wear a myriad of “hats and coats”, including mom, wife, daughter, friend, writer, volunteer, and outdoor enthusiast. I am inspired often by the actions, involvement, excitement and stories of women I meet. Daily, I am reminded of the impact women make in other people’s lives. They bridge past, present and future into meaningful and shared experiences.
In the last few weeks various newsworthy and journalism personalities shined their media spotlight on girls and women, illuminating our gender as emerging and growing “bridge builders” and accelerants for change.
“Half the Sky”
First is the amazing work of Nicholas Kristoff and Sheryl WuDunn, the Pulitzer-prize winning husband and wife team whose recent book “Half the Sky: Turning Opportunity into Oppression for Women World Wide” provides an eye-opening collection of stories of women and girls overcoming unimaginable adversity to create a better life for themselves. The authors share their perspectives on how women can serve as economic catalysts for changing the world.
“Half the Sky” is a horrifying, heart-breaking and truly inspiring compilation of narratives about the brutal treatment of girls and women in many countries. It is also a call to action one will not be able to ignore. Although each individual story is painful and disturbing, I was immediately captured by the displays of courage, strength and resilience. The many women brought to life in this book give life, hope and a future to their communities and those around them. If this book does not awaken your conscience, I am not sure any other could. As much horror poured forth in each subsequent chapter, I could not stop reading. I laud Nickolas Kistoff and Sheryl WuDunn for describing parts of the world many can’t or won’t see in person. Several people, including Bill Gates, Sr., have called “Half the Sky,” one of the most important books of the year.
“When Everything Changed”
Turn to Kristoff and WuDunn’s New York Times colleague and op-ed columnist, Gail Collins. Collins is the author of four books, the most recent of which is “When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women,” a history of American women since 1960. Although I have not yet read it, early critiques of the book suggest it’s chronicle of the shift in “women as a cultural force” is compelling. My understanding is this book picks up where Collins 2003 book “America’s Women” and is a cultural and social timeline told through personal stories of progress and setbacks throughout the last five decades
In the past several days three other television personalities shared stories of their own personal mentors and inspirations. Maria Shriver, in partnership with The Center for American Progress (CAP) and the USC Annenberg Center on Communication Leadership and Policy, is working on a project to promote the shifting economic and cultural landscape of the United States.
Women for the first time now make up half of all workers and are increasingly becoming the primary breadwinners in more families. Shiver’s project, “A Women’s Nation”, is scheduled to air in mid-October. This multi-year project, in various forms of television, round-table discussions, town-hall meetings, and eventually a book, is intended to capture an accurate and contemporary “portrait of the American Woman and developing next steps to remove barriers to her success.”
Earlier this week I learned of “Today’s Mentors and Inspirations” by Kathy Lee Gifford and Hoda Kotb. In what appears to be a regular segment, the co-hosts share the stories of those people, friends and family members who changed them or performed an amazing task.
At the White House
During President Obama’s first 100 days in office he created, by executive order, White House Council to advise him on issues facing women and girls.
In creating this panel he once again shared stories of the challenges and successes of the women his own life—his grandmother, his single mother, his wife and two daughters that reflect the challenges of all women.
Obama told the story of his grandmother, a bank vice president who was denied promotion because of her gender. Speaking about his wife, he said, “I’ve seen Michelle, the rock of the Obama family, juggling work and parenting with more skill and grace than anybody that I know. But I also saw how it tore at her at times, how sometimes when she was with the girls she was worrying about work, and when she was at work she was worrying about the girls. It’s a feeling that I share every day.”
This cross-government panel is intended to assist various governmental departments, agencies and the Presidential cabinet on ways to ensure women are provided the same opportunities as men. He reminded everyone that the fight for gender equality is far from over.
Obama said, “So now it’s up to us to carry that work forward, to ensure that our daughters and granddaughters have no limits on their dreams, no obstacles to their achievements _ and that they have opportunities their mothers and grandmothers and great-grandmothers never dreamed of That’s the purpose of this council; those are the priorities of my presidency.”
Nothing and everything in common
Although I have nothing in common with the celebrities and politicians previously mentioned, I do hope to ride the wave of interest they are creating in women’s issues, I am working in my own right to contribute to that body of work that outlines positive role models and leadership and mentoring by sharing stories of women in the military.
“Porcelain on Steel: Women of West Point’s Long Gray Line” springs from my experience as a high school volleyball coach in 2004. Concerned about whom some of my athletes admired and considered role models (e.g. super models, socialites and actresses), I began thinking about some of the women with whom I studied and served at West Point and in the Army.
For more than 200 years, West Point has produced soldiers and leaders who have served our nation in and out of uniform. Women have been part of the famous Long Gray Line of graduates for the last 30 years. As Army officers, athletes, wives, and mothers, as leaders in business, in non-profits and even the clergy, they’ve met challenges and overcome obstacles to lead others with strength and courage. These women are real role models, and I wanted to share their stories with my team in an effort to educate them about the many possible paths they could pursue.
Where do you look for opportunities? Who are your role models? Share your story.