Behind every good woman…

Ed note: This is guest post by Feministing Editor Emeritus Courtney E. Martin

I’ve spent part of my time this fall as part of a team that created TEDxWomen’s third annual gathering. The event is a wild one–a day and half of packed programming in Washington D.C. with over 150 local self-organized events tuning in via live stream from every time zone in the world. That’s 150,000 potential people listening in at any given time.

So, obviously, the planning committee takes our speaker selections experience pretty seriously. We poured over a wide range of possible speakers, trying to discern how each would fit best into the various themed sessions. It’s a complex process–more an art than a science, as one might imagine. This year, there was one trend in particular that I found really interesting and I wanted to highlight it–not just to give props to those involved–but to offer it as a learning that other feminist guys (of which I know we have so many reading this blog) might consider.

First, there was Jose Antonio Vargas, now infamous for “coming out” as an undocumented immigrant in the pages of the New York Times Sunday Magazine in June 2011. Jose and I have become friends and I immediately thought that he would make a great speaker, as I know how much he attributes his survival in this country to what he calls the “21st century underground railroad” of mostly women (like his music teacher) that helped him along the way.

Jose considered the invitation, but then he got me on the phone and he said, “Courtney, I really want to make every effort I can to share leadership in this immigrant rights movement. There are so many amazing young women who are phenomenal speakers and proven activists. Would you consider one of them?”

It took my breath away. Here was a guy, with an opportunity to speak to nearly 150,000 people, who was choosing to prioritize his commitment to collective, feminist leadership for a movement he loves. Of course I said yes. Jose introduced me and, as I coached the truly incredible Gaby Pacheco through the experience, he was sending supportive texts and even re-arranged his travel so he could be there to witness her incredible talk:

Talk about feminist mentoring.

Another friend, Andrew Slack, Founder and Executive Director of the Harry Potter Alliance, introduced me to his Creative Media Coordinator, a badass vlogger a decade younger than him, and suggested I consider her for future speaking opportunities. When I realized that a panel that I was moderating on women and tech was chock full of political experts but missing a cultural entrepreneur, I thought of Lauren Bird and reached out. She was one of the freshest, most fascinating voices that day, and I have Andrew to thank for that, too.

And finally, when I suggested that Eboo Patel, Founder and Executive Director of the Interfaith Youth Core, speak, he graciously accepted, but he did so while mentioning, “I actually have a policy by which I try not to be away from my family on weekends.” He recognized that this was a unique opportunity to honor the women that have raised him, both literally in the case of his grandmother, and via words and ideas in the case of Dorothy Day, so he came along and spoke so eloquently about both of them:

His willingness to come was appreciated, but his unabashed commitment to his family was really heartening. It made me feel like my personal experience is real, if not universal; the next generation of men is so much more committed to being effective leaders in and outside the home.

This was, at the end of the day, a conference about women’s power, women’s solutions, women’s voices, but as with all questions of gender, it was a conference that articulated so many ways in which women’s fate is inextricably tied up with men’s. I’m certainly glad these are the kinds of men that I call friends and collaborators.

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