Opening Night of the Women in the World 2014 Summit
When Gwynnie Bee asked me to be one of their member correspondents at the annual Women in the World summit, I jumped at the opportunity. The speaker list alone was enough to make me say yes (Diane Von Furstenberg, Meryl Streep, Hillary Clinton? Of course!), but there was more to my excitement than the big names. The reason I blog is to spread body positivity and awareness that fashion is not limited to sample sizes; and to encourage women to express themselves authentically with their style. The chance to be surrounded by people focused on women’s empowerment was tantalizing.
The night did not disappoint. Tina Brown, founder of WITW, opened the program by emphasizing that the mission of the summit was for women to tell their stories, openly and without restrictions. She also noted that in the US we can be fairly “insular,” and that the summit was meant to bring the realities of women worldwide home. As the night progressed, the raw power of the various stories did just that. We heard directly from some women; like Ruslana, a Ukranian pop star turned political activist, who has refused to quail under the aim of sniper rifles meant to silence her message; and Hiba Sawan, who survived a chemical weapon attack on her hometown in Syria and continued on working for peace. We also heard from women who could not be here, like an anonymous child driven from her hometown by bombings. Actress Mamie Gummer read the girl’s haunting words – “Little by little, home is fading away” – and though she was on the other side of the globe, her pain and loss was immediate. The auditorium was filled with muffled tears, but the night was not given over to sadness. As devastating as the stories were, we were reminded that change is possible. Moderator Miliband stated: “I don’t think people have lost their spirit of generosity; I think they’ve lost sight that they can make a difference.” To prove that we can, the summit focused on calls to action for each issue presented.
The grand finale of the opening program was a conversation between Christine Lagarde, director of the IMF, and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The two covered a variety of topics, from Clinton’s views on Putin (motivated by the past, attempting to return Russia to its “rightful place”); to the wide range of gender disparities around the world, from de jure inequalities to more subtle de facto discrimination; to Lagarde’s analysis of why women’s rights is an economic issue. Clinton agreed with the latter, calling increased gender equality “strategic.” The take-away message was “Invest in girls and women – it pays.” Hear, hear!
It was wonderful to listen to such intelligent women discuss these global issues, but they did not limit the conversation to topics that could be dealt with at arms-length. Both women shared some of their lived experiences, which made the packed auditorium feel almost intimate. When moderator Thomas Friedman asked if there is still a double standard for women in the media, Clinton rightfully scoffed in response: “Really, Tom.” Both women told stories about how their hairstyles were the subject of news stories, and how rumors attached specific meanings to long vs. short or down vs. pulled back hair. Clinton went on to say that the media is the major perpetrator of the double standard, and that if it is so pernicious even in our “open society,” how deep it must be elsewhere.
My favorite line of the evening came from Lagarde, who said that when the “grey suits” start to smirk upon hearing her mention women’s rights or gender equality, responds “Yes, I am the lunatic woman who talks about women!” I love this sentiment, as it highlights just how ridiculous it is that men still treat inequality as something ridiculous. Of course men are thinking about their own interests – that goes without saying – but as soon as women do the same, it is all too often treated as a frivolity. Lagarde’s quip puts that attitude into sharp relief.
The night could not end without an inquiry into whether Clinton will be running for President. When the question was first posed, however obliquely (“Are there any…. other jobs you’d like to do?”), Clinton just responded “Not right now.” But then, not 1o minutes later, when Friedman suggested that Lagarde and Clinton could both be presidents of their respective nations at the same time, Hillary flashed a big smile and high-fived Christine.
I left the auditorium feeling inspired, excited, and with a lot to think about. The tragic, horrific stories I’d heard motivated me to expend more energy on international issues. The strength and spirit of all the women who spoke seemed to infuse me, and I started thinking about the impact I aim to make. In the midst of these thoughts, and after walking down a lot of stairs in heels, I ran into design icon Diane Von Furstenberg (figuratively, thank goodness!) and was able to shake her hand and tell her what an inspiration she is to me. After that, I was just giddy.
All in all, I came away with an expanded viewpoint, a strengthened sense of my power as a woman, and some serious inspiration. I also came up with an idea that I will be debuting soon! Stay tuned for my OOTD for the WITW opening night, and highlights from the Saturday sessions. Thanks to Gwynnie Bee for giving us members a chance to be part of such a powerful gathering!