Wow: Two OEP women make WaPo’s short list!

As many of you know, The Washington Post is holding a contest to find America’s Next Great Pundit. Almost 5000 people entered the contest, and ten finalists have been chosen. Over the next few weeks, they’ll all submit op-eds to the paper, and readers will have a chance to vote on who should advance to win the grand prize: a weekly column for thirteen weeks (the short list, for those who are wondering, is half men and half women).

We are incredibly proud to announce that an OEP alum and an OEP Mentor Editor have both made the short list.

The first is Zeba Khan, who attended our seminar with the organization Muslim Leaders of Tomorrow, is a social media expert whose writing and research interests are women in Islamic societies. Our second finalist is the wonderful Courtney E. Martin, Mentor Editor. Courtney is the author of Perfect Girls; Starving Daughters and the forthcoming Do it Anyway: Portraits of the Next Generation of Activists. She’s been with the OEP almost since its inception (and taught the first OEP session I ever attended!). You can read respective winning entries below.

If you want to see these wonderful thought leaders advance to the next round of competition, read their op-eds in WaPo throughout this week and then, this weekend, VOTE! Voting starts on Saturday, Nov. 7 at 8am ET and closes on Monday, Nov. 9 at 3pm ET.

The women of the web, by Zeba Khan

It may have been the youth that used the web to elect President Obama, but if the White House wants to mobilize its virtual army to push health-care reform, it might want to consider calling on the women of the web instead.

Women have always been leaders in using and understanding social networks. Sixty years ago, Brownie Wise, a single mother from Dearborn, Mich., saved the Tupperware brand by launching the first of what would become known as Tupperware parties. As Wise hosted these parties to introduce Tupperware to her friends, some of those friends became Tupperware sellers themselves, hosting parties for their friends and on it went. Within a decade, Wise and her exponentially growing cadre of hostesses sold millions of dollars’ worth of product every year through their networks.

Today, social networks have moved online with companies like Facebook, Ning and MySpace leading the way. And just like in the ’50s, women dominate the social networks of today. MySpace’s U.S. user base, for example, is 64 percent female, followed by Ning’s at 62 percent and Facebook at 59 percent.

Not only are there more women networking online than men, but the number of older women in particular is growing at a phenomenal rate. In the first quarter of 2009 on Facebook, women aged 35-44 experienced a 154 percent growth, women 45-54 grew by 165.3 percent and women 55-65 grew by an incredible 175.3 percent.

Recently, Team Obama used its online tools to organize a national phone banking drive resulting in over 300,000 commitments to call Congress demanding health-care reform. But considering that this same pool of supporters helped turn nine states from red to blue last November, this response is hardly reflective of the potential mobilizing power this groups has.

Health-care reform is not as sexy as a presidential election. The youth vote that put Obama in the White House is the healthiest demographic in the country. It is no surprise that the urgency of health-care reform has not struck a chord with them. Women, on the other hand, are the dominant drivers in the household when it comes to health-care and understand firsthand the problems with the current system.

Social networking appeals to women because they are relationship-driven, and the White House must capitalize on this connection. If it can figure out how to reach its female supporters, it just might get the backup it has been waiting for.

Between work and life, by Courtney E. Martin

Though my dad retired over five years ago now, his ankles are still hairless and skinny, as if they can’t quite get over the 40 years that he squeezed them into dress socks befitting a man going to the office. In fact, my father’s lawyer identity is like a phantom limb. Without his daily doses of e-mail and ego-boost that the firm provided, his self-image aches and spasms. He lies on the hammock for hours at a time, bicycles in embarrassing spandex outfits, drives my mother crazy.

My mother isn’t having the same trouble adjusting. Like most women of the supermom ’80s, she juggled her clinical practice with community activism, caretaking, and even founded a film festival. For my father, the line between work and the rest of life was always thick and black. For my mother it was porous — everything was life and work, some of it better compensated in dollars and hugs.

I thought of these two, bumping into one another in the kitchen, when I heard that women are now officially half of the workforce. Despite all the recent hogwash pitting the sexes against one another, the Center for American Progress reports that three-fourths of people see this new reality — women comprising 50 percent of American workers — positively.

The women of my generation — the entitled, earnest Millennials — are not “opting out” of the workforce, as claimed by Lisa Belkin and others. In fact, I don’t know a single one who isn’t committed to having a career. Perhaps even more important, I don’t know a single young man who isn’t committed to being an involved father someday. My guy friends, late in their 20s and starting to spend fewer nights on bar stools, talk about the struggle to balance their careers with their interests and relationships. They want to do meaningful work, have love, to measure success by passion, not paychecks.

It seems that the real revolution is not that women are working as much as men; it’s that both women and men are starting to crave the porous kind of life that my mom led, instead of the compartmentalized version that my father has left behind. That’s good news for everybody, even my dear old dad who has at least a decade or two left to figure out who, not what, he wants to be when he grows up.


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