Léna is also a Regional Manager for Writopia Lab whose mission is to foster joy, literacy, and critical thinking in kids and teens from all backgrounds through creative writing.
"Well, the question is, what do you want to believe? Do you want to live in a world where things are possible, or in one where they aren't?" Cin, Edges.
Saturday, April 10, 2010
Thank You, Catherine Orenstein
"Your opinion matters, and is important," were the words said today to a group of mentees and their mentors today at the monthly Girls Write Now workshop. Today's focus was on journalism, and we started a lengthy discussion on Op Ed pieces.
Normally, this wouldn't stop me in my tracks, but today I started to tear up. I am embarrassed to admit that I grew up holding onto a belief that my opinion didn't count. I have held on to the idea that I am "bad" at arguing, when really I just have a fear of conflict.
So I've been a shrinking violet, guilty of learned helplessness that we as a culture both abhor and encourage. I turned to the world of fiction to sort out how I thought and felt. I find, or at least look for, my "voice", in writing.
I have been turned off from expressing my opinion too strongly, by others who lack empathy and respect. I've been intimidated by others' ability to back up their opinions with facts, when I forget mine in the heat of the moment. Yes, I'm "bad" at debating, so I've given up.
Not any more. Not after hearing our guest author today, journalist Catherine Orenstein, Founder and Director of The OpEd Project, "an initiative to expand the range of voices we hear from the world, with an immediate emphasis on enlarging the pool of women experts who are accessing (and accessible to) our nation's key print and online forums." I scribbled furiously as she talked, this woman in her late 30's who had an enviable ease and confidence, comfortable in her own skin. No shrinking violet.
She said: "The Op Ed pages are the gateway drug of thought leadership and public debate - these are the pages where ideas become policy." She quoted some staggering statistics - that women make up only 10% of the voices we hear in Op Ed pieces and on TV. 10%! But it isn't merely sexism. She points out that only 10% of submissions are from women.
To make her point, she showed us a scene from the movie, Being John Malkovich where John Malkovich himself goes through the tunnel to a restaurant where all he sees is himself, and he is the only thing on the menu. It is a scene of nightmarish hilarity. Orenstein said that this was a good representation of the public debate. Rich, white men are the only thing on the menu.
When Orenstein spoke of the reason that women aren't on the Op Ed pages, my eyes smarted with tears again. Women are afraid of being attacked, of being called "bitches". (Evidently a word sanctioned by the New York Times). That's me to a tee. Afraid of not being "liked". She asked the question, "what is the cost to society when half of the nation's best minds and best ideas - women's minds and women's ideas - are missing?"
I had to pull myself away to go back uptown and teach at Writopia, but I've been thinking about this all day. I don't want to live in a world where there's just one thing on the menu a la John Malkovich, or even a la Léna Roy for that matter. I want to live in a world where my voice will be heard, but I have to take responsibility and actually SPEAK, and be willing to be strong enough to stand up for what I believe in, not letting emotion wash me away when faced with the opposition.
What am I passionate about? I'm passionate about helping both girls AND boys find their voices in creative expression. And I've been putting my money where my mouth is. I'm devoting my life to writing and the arts, but I need to ramp up my advocacy skills. Thank you, Catherine Orenstein for this epiphany, and for showing me what I have to work on. And, as always, thank you Girls Write Now! I needed you twenty-five years ago when I thought my opinion was meaningless!