The Importance of Helping Other Women
I have seen the film Miss Representation twice and each time I watch it, after the feelings of frustration and disgust dissipate, I am filled with immense gratitude for the mentors I have had in my life. It has also been a major call to action for the need and importance of helping other women.
In today’s media climate, it is hard for young women to find positive role models and images of what is possible for their future that are empowering. As the film illustrates, if we take cues from what we see on TV or read in magazines, our only purpose in life would be to fight for the attention of a man, vying for his love at all costs or essentially disappearing while trying to emulate dangerously thin models and actresses. As a result, competition among women is far too common and detrimental in so many ways. Instead we need to be learning from the women who have come before us and working together to help those who will follow in our footsteps. This is why we need to see other women, not as potential competition, but possible mentors and mentees.
Margaret Thatcher once said “there’s a special place in hell for women who don’t support women” and although this may be a slightly more extreme view, I find it equally valid.
Growing up in Southern California, I was at the epicenter of this phenomenon of disempowerment. Women are celebrated for how good they look in bikinis and the less that comes out of their mouth. And rather than working together and bringing each other up, the first thing women usually say about other females revolves around deriding their physical appearance to remove them as a threat.
Fortunately everything changed when I spent a quarter interning in Washington DC and worked with Emira Woods. Rather than tell me my ideas are not welcome, explaining exactly where I belong and need to stay on the organizational hierarchy, or exerting her control in other bizarre ways, career competitiveness I have actually encountered since then particularly from young and insecure female supervisors, she did everything she could think of to help me feel empowered. She always introduced me as her colleague, listed off all the things I did well and made a point to ask my thoughts at meetings, validating them no matter what.
Most importantly, she led by example. As Miss Representation reminded me, it is hard to be what you have never seen. Before then I had never seen firsthand a female activist, fighting for equality, peace, human rights, social justice, and so much more. Seeing her speak at conferences or interviewed on news outlets like Al Jazeera English and the BBC provided a much needed image of what is possible for my career. And she genuinely believed I deserve nothing less.
She constantly reminds me that silence about the things that matter to me, rather than being the desired norm, is actually not an option. Her eloquence and bold ideas have always filled me with hope and excitement. I still channel this vision of her when I speak in front of others. The calmness she radiates as she relays brilliant ideas in such an articulate manner is the image of what I want for my future.
It is amazing how much more productive our time can be spent if we see how we can work together and help hold the women around us up rather than bring them down because of the threat they may one day pose as they move up the career ladder. We need to be doing our part to help other women because their success is a reflection of our own.