“When I dare to be powerful, to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid.” – Audre Lorde
According to the OpEd Project only 21% of the bylines in the nation’s top oped forums are by women. This is in stark contrast to the 79% of men whose viewpoints help bend the wide arch of public perception and opinion. Audre Lorde’s statement remains of great relevance when we think about the gender disparity that exists between men and women not only in the professional sector but also in public discourse.
The OpEd’s Project’s core seminar – “Write to Change the World” – was designed to help offset this trend and to increase the range of voices by inspiring and empowering women (and those from underrepresented groups) to embrace their unique worldviews and to write op-eds.
As the new Chicago-based regional management intern, I was invited to participate in the appropriately titled and highly interactive seminar on Saturday, April 28. Organized in partnership with The Medill School at Northwestern University and Make it Better, “Write to Change the World” was led by Deborah Siegel and Michele Weldon: the Midwest regional seminar leaders.
Siegel and Weldon steered a room of nineteen women (including myself) and one man through a self-reflection process that reminded us of the power that our individual voices hold. I sat in awe as we opened with introductions and I listened to each participant describe his or her professional achievements. From a published and well-traveled spoken word artist to an award-winning film producer to several entrepreneurs leading a successful business or national grassroots campaign, I was undoubtedly sitting in a room with some bold and powerful people.
Then we were asked to engage in an activity that required us to define our expertise. The tone in our voices immediately changed to one of uncertainty. We remained modest or willingly pushed ourselves to the margins when it came to listing our accomplishments. For example, one participant stated, “I’m a behind the scenes person.”
At one point Weldon asked me whether I had ever won any awards for my writings and I convincingly responded that I had not despite the fact that it is not true. I have been awarded several research and writing grants, am a three-time public policy debate city champion, and most recently was named an alternate for a prestigious Fulbright Fellowship to Morocco. None of these accomplishments surfaced to mind when I was asked to acknowledge my efforts, and it was certainly the case for others as well. (A memorable quote of the day was offered by a participant who stated, “Oh, and I have a Ph.D.!”). As Siegel declared, when it comes to our shiny baubles and our qualifications, we need to “own it!”
Through this activity, which required that we answer what our name is, what we are experts in and why, we learned that there is value in the ability to hone and narrow down our expertise, and that this does not mean that we can’t be multihyphenates. We can and need to be unabashed experts and visionaries in multiple arenas.
The second half of the seminar walked us through the elements of an evidenced based argument that facilitated our comprehension of how to write a cogent and authoritative op-ed. After breaking out into small groups that allowed participants to interrogate each other’s arguments and provide critical feedback, we left with a solid outline for our first pieces.
The seminar was followed by a happy-hour at the neighboring Elephant & Castle where we were able to dialogue about the day’s realizations and to make personal connections.
In the end, the “Write to Change the World” seminar illuminated an important fact that the OpEd Project’s founder and guest visitor Catherine Orenstein highlighted: that we can do this because there is room for our voices, for us.
So let us own our voices and our strengths in the service of our visions. Let us dare to be powerful. Let us dare to write that first op-ed!