Tuesday, February 5, 2008

The Writer is Inspired

On Saturday I attended a fantastic event that was sponsored by the Woodhull Institute and Dove. In the morning, they held a panel on the topic "Defining Beauty." Panel members include the fabulous Naomi Wolf, author of The Beauty Myth, which I have skimmed but never fully read (shame on me), who is one of the best speakers I have had the pleasure of listening to. There was another author there whom I hadn't heard of - Courtney E. Martin who wrote Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters - and she was just so cute and smart. (I call her cute because I don't know how old she is, but she had a little girl voice that was delightful.)

There was some great discussion on beauty, pressure, eating disorders, work discrimination, and other issues. We also watched some powerful videos from Dove's Campaign for Real Beauty. I enjoyed it very much. It was also nice to see some Dads with their young daughters in the audience.

In the afternoon the Woodull Institute gave free seminars on different topics. I took "Financial Literacy" and "Writing to Change the World." The writing course was on writing op-eds for newspapers and was incredibly useful. Catherine Orenstein, an accomplished op-ed writer who is also the author of Little Red Riding Hood Uncloaked, led the session. She began by saying, "I am Catherine and I'm an expert in the story of Little Red Riding Hood because I published a book on the subject." She then went around the room asking every woman to do the same. The first one, a college student, protested that she wasn't really an expert in anything. Catherine used this opportunity to point out that every time she conducts the seminar, women say that very same thing, while men do not. She asked why and the answers were generally centered around the same point: "I don't want to seem cocky." (Women are taught to downplay their achievements and be humble.) There was also, "What if I'm wrong about something?" indicating insecurity.

Catherine asked us to imagine that we were scientists who thought we had discovered the cure for cancer and were in a room surrounded by terminal cancer patients. Would we remain silent for fear of being wrong or sounding arrogant? A couple of women admitted that they would but most said that they would speak up. She talked of the responsibility to share what you know, especially if it will help another person. And so it is with writing op-eds (or anything else, for that matter).

More information is at the Op-Ed Project. I encourage you all to check it out!

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