Justine Musk Blogs about The OpEd Project

JustineMuskJustine Musk is the author of two dark fantasies from Roc/Penguin (Blood Angel and Lord Of Bones) and a YA supernatural thriller from MTV/Simon+Schuster (Uninvited).  She is currently working on an edgy psychological thriller called The Decadents.  She blogs at www.justinemusk.com about creativity, women, writing and social media.  Musk, an alum of The OpEd Project’s public seminar “Write to Change the World,” recently blogged about her experience on her website. In her post, she muses about the role of femininity and power.

Barack Obama is TIME’s person of the year. Again. I like Obama, but in my ever-so-humble opinion TIME got this one wrong.

It should have been Malala.

Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani schoolgirl shot three times in the head and neck for speaking out for the rights of females to an education.

As Joanne Bamberger pointed out in a recent op-ed:

…she has raised awareness about the issue of violence against girls and women all over the world — an epidemic that few seem focused on. At a time when Republicans in Congress are fighting about which women should be protected by the Violence Against Women Act here in the U.S., and in a year where many people have had their awareness raised about what women and girls around the world face, through the book and movie HALF THE SKY, TIME Magazine could have sent a powerful message that it’s time to stop turning away from all the other stories like Malala’s that we never hear about.

I scanned the TIME masthead to try and guess how many female editors had been involved in this evaluation of Obama as being of greater symbolic importance than a fourteen year old girl shot for challenging a brutally misogynist government. I didn’t see a lot of female names – certainly not enough to equal the tipping point percentage (33) of a group required to influence and shape consensus – but then again, I didn’t expect to.

“We silence ourselves,” said Katherine Lanpher at a seminar I went to last fall called WRITE TO CHANGE THE WORLD. It’s part of something called The Op-Ed Project, which asks

“Who narrates the world?….Most of the voices and ideas that we hear in the world come from an extremely narrow echo chamber – mostly western, white, privileged, and overwhelmingly male.”

A big part of this is because women don’t participate in these conversations with anywhere near the same frequency that men do.

“At the Washington Post, for example, a five-month tracking found that roughly 90% of op-ed submissions come from men – and about 88% of Post bylines are male. If you think about it, women are actually being fairly represented, in relationship to our participation/submission radio.”

The Project aims to change that, by training and encouraging women and other minority voices to get their perspectives out into the world. To take our part in the discourse; to claim, or reclaim, our power.

I keep thinking about the time some months ago when a twentysomething woman asked me to recommend some biographies about cool ladies who, as she put it, “could rock being a woman.”

Now and then I fantasize about writing an ebook called How To Rock Being A Woman. It’s not because I think I know the answers. It’s an interesting question to explore. What I intuited my younger friend was really asking isn’t so much how to be a woman but how to be a powerful woman – how to be a badass – when words like power, badass and femininity don’t match up so well in this culture.

If anything, to be perceived as powerful you have to distance yourself from blatant signs of femininity (wearing pink, getting teary, raving about the cuteness of kittens) which has been synonymous with soft, with weak, with a vague sense of defection or contamination (ask the men around you if they’d rather be reborn as girls and gauge their reactions). I still remember the time a famous actress sitting next to me at a dinner party criticized Hillary Clinton for being “power-hungry”. Implication being, for a woman to even want power is a sign that she shouldn’t be trusted with any.

Power concerns the ability not just to follow your own agenda but to influence others to do the same. Yet any woman who puts her agenda first and foremost has to deal with being called selfish (and maybe crazy), which cuts against the good-girl dictate to be selfless and self-sacrificing.

Read the rest of the post on JustineMusk.com.

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