Last Thursday, I was lucky enough to attend TEDxWomen at the Paley Center in New York. On December 1, TEDxWomen events happened all around the world, including events in Saudi Arabia, Libya, Turkey, Jordan, Zimbabwe, Pakistan, Haiti and Estonia.
I have qualms about the idea of TEDxWomen, which feels like a ladies’ auxiliary to the “real” TED conference. I have qualms about some of the people who spoke on Thursday – Nick Kristof and Dr. Oz, for example. I have qualms about the fact that the word “feminism” wasn’t uttered on stage until the sun had set, and I have qualms about the fact that Gloria Steinem was one of the only people who uttered it.
But I won’t deny that there were some great presentations. Here in New York, we heard from Lamis Zain, the head of Lebanon’s first ever all-women bomb squad, and from Busisiwe Mkhumbuzi, a seventeen-year-old women’s rights activist from South Africa. Jennifer Siebel Newsom, the filmmaker behind Miss Representation, also spoke.
One of the best presentations, in my opinion, was from Rachel Simmons, friend of the site and author of Odd Girl Out and The Curse of the Good Girl. She shared the stage with Claire Sannini, a 13-year-old girl who spoke about being ostracized by her friends and about how she learned, at Simmons’s Girls Leadership Institute, to form and sustain healthy friendships.
At the end of her presentation, Simmons talked about how older women can teach girls and young women, through deeds as well as through words, how to ask for what they need:
My mom had a powerful role in my own inner resume development. She was a teacher at the school where my brother and I went, and she would take us after school for snacks. And we would go to a restaurant, we would go down the cafeteria line, and something would happen, I could see it coming from a mile away, and it drove me insane. My mother would start to feel the french fries on the little trolley of food. And if they weren’t hot enough, she would ask the fry cook to reheat them. I want you to understand this was the most humiliating thing my mother could ever, ever do to me. And I would stand there, and I would just be bursting into flames. “Mom, just eat the fries! Stop being so rude! The fries are fine!” My mother looked at me like I was insane.
Now, years later I was skiing in my late twenties. I pulled over to eat. Sat down, ate a french fry. And without thinking about it, walked right over to the person who had made them for me and said, “Could you please reheat these fries?” And in that moment, I realized that my mom had given me the script to ask for what I needed. The permission, and the sense of authority. The sense that I was entitled to that. I wasn’t ready for it at the age of 9, 10, 11, 22. But when I was ready, I was able to draw on it. The moral of this story, ladies and gentlemen: Embarrass your daughters.
Here’s the whole presentation, starting with Sannini: