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Thursday, April 14, 2005

Scars are spurs

Damn! How ‘bout that Tina Brown bringing it on home in this WAPO column about New York’s annual Matrix Awards.

This was the teaser from mediabistro’s Daily News Feed that led me to read on:

Women in their fifties are finally blowing past the men who didn't hold the door. They've been in the workforce for 30 years — and they're unapologetic about their sense of success.

The column begins with Oprah Winfrey’s comment about O, The Oprah Magazine editor-in-chief, Amy Gross being “a real woman, not an aging female.” Gross was one of the women recognized at the event. Brown says the roar of applause signaled that the women gathered in that room at the Waldorf-Astoria knew exactly what Oprah meant.

And so do I. I’m part of that generation of women who were raised to be autonomous idea warriors. We may be a little slow in revving up, but make no mistake, you will hear our roar.

I’ve had some great models of strong women in my life. When I turned 30, my editor at the time wrote me a note about how this decade is only the beginning of feeling empowered. And it only gets better, she says, now in her mid-60s.

I’ll be 40 in two years and I’m embracing the idea with gusto. I would never want to be the naïve, insecure, tentative creature I was at 20. Nor would I want to be the matronly, insecure, tentative creature I was at 30.

Last weekend, SPJ hosted a workshop for young working journalists on reporting. I spoke about interviewing, but was touched when a young female journalist said: “You’re young and attractive, how do you get people to take you seriously?”

It’s tough. I battled with this for a long time and, to some extent, still do. My advice to her and to anyone is to be a professional through and through—in your manner of speech, dress and conduct. Be very good at what you do. Speak up and be heard. We simply have to be prepared for a good dressing down when we do speak up and we're reminded of our age, gender or station in life.

Several years ago I was editing a large chamber business publication. During an editorial advisory committee meeting, I was passionately defending research on a story about business continuity planning. I was strong in my defense of the subject's importance for small business owners and said as much to one of the women on the board.

After the meeting I was pulled aside by another woman a few years older than me who proceeded to tell me that I was out of line in expressing my passion for the subject, that I had to remember I was dealing with volunteers and that it was clear to her (a behavioral consultant) that I was defensive. It was one of the most humiliating experiences of my life.

Later at my office I emailed the much older woman with whom I was verbally sparring and apologized to her about being so strong in my defense. She promptly emailed back that no apology was necessary and that woman today spend too much time trying to figure out when to speak up and when to demure. And she, for one, would gladly work with someone with the moxie to speak up and be heard.

I capitulated, but went home that day knowing that I wasn't a defensive individual, but one with moxie!

It takes these kinds of experiences, scars if you will, to help us become more confident. And it takes being older to realize how to dress and look more comfortable in your own skin. I'm still working on that one, but hope it's something I'll master.

Brown writes of 47-year-old CNN reporter, Christiane Amanpour (a terrific name!) arriving to the Matrix event in a black pantsuit with a T-shirt that reads, “SEXY.” And how Camilla Parker Bowles’ “rather used” look is what gives her an edge. But she ends with the mother of all strong women: Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton. “Her scars are spurs,” says Brown.

Clinton’s message at the Matrix luncheon — Nothing is sexier than survival.

1 comment:

Jami said...

I don't want to put any thoughts in crazy rightie brains, but they seem to be unfamiliar with "What does not kill me makes me stronger."

Hillary is double-reinforced steel at this point.