March is Women’s History month, and our college has hosted a number of related events. In addition, there have been many other articles, conferences and seminars generated across the state.
At our annual Women’s Studies Residency in Saratoga Springs on March 11, we experienced an amazing presentation by Barbara Seals Nevergold and Peggy Brooks-Bertram, the co-founders of the Uncrowned Queen’s Institute for Research and Education on Women Inc., at the University at Buffalo.
They are the editors of an extraordinary collection of poems, essays and letters titled “Go, Tell Michelle”, which was complied and published in record time between the election of Barack Obama and the inauguration in January, 2009.
(Kudos by the way to the State University of New York Press for getting this collection published so quickly and so well.)
These writings to the new First Lady from African American women from throughout the Unites States celebrate the joy of women everywhere for this historic moment. They talk about their mothers and their grandmothers, about their own personal struggles, and their hopes and fears for the future.
Powerful stuff, and presented to a crowd of women and men of all colors by the two editors with grace, dignity and humor, and especially with a generosity of spirit towards those of us who have benefited from various forms of privilege.
Then, on March 16, we had the good fortune to hear from former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Tarr-Whelan, who gave the college’s Richard H. Mattox Public Policy Lecture to a diverse and enthusiastic audience at the New York State Museum in Albany.
Ambassador Tarr-Whelan’s new book, “Women Lead the Way: Your Guide to Stepping Up to Leadership and Changing the World,” shares strategies women can use to leverage their unique leadership style that emphasizes communication, collaboration and consensus. She made her point by referring to the recent Oscars. It was wonderful that, for the first time in its 82-year history, a woman won the award for best director, while at every key level in the movie industry, representation by women hasn’t changed in the last 40 or so years. So, yes, let’s celebrate and cheer loudly, create individual role models and champions, but do not take individual achievements as an indication of deep change.
Ambassador Tarr-Whelan advocates working towards a “tipping point” which she says happens when just 30 percent of an organization’s decision-makers are women, a goal she hopes the U.S. will make serious effort to move forward on. She explained that “with only 17 percent of Congressional seats and 14 percent of Fortune 500 board seats held by women, the leaders defining the landscape of priorities and solutions continue to look and act much the same as generations ago.”
This is also why “Go, Tell Michelle” is such a powerful book: it celebrates the first First Lady for her heritage, her own talents and her accomplishments, but also encourages, challenges and reminds us of the work yet to be done, and that we have to be vigilant.
On a daily basis we (well, me anyway as a white male) need to think about how we may unintentionally reinforce or create barriers to full participation in our society of everyone. I see it when others are guilty (and all too often!) but I hope I am big enough to accept criticism when I miss the point too.
A dear friend of mine, when we were once engrossed in a discussion of political correctness versus authentic equality, generously offered her summary: “It’s a struggle: the point is to keep struggling, and not conclude that these problems are either hopeless, or somehow solved.”