Lean In: How to be a powerful and influential woman in the workplace

Lean-in-Adaptation-Final

Since I moved to Charlotte, 3 months ago, I have been attending different networking events to get to know more people in the area. I want to know people like me, who are very passionate about empowering women, having a positive impact in the community and creating media content that stimulates people to think critically. Other ex-pats who have multiple backgrounds and know how to use their diversity into their advantage when it comes to the workplace.

Last thursday was my first time joining the Lean In discussion group. The title of the meeting was Power, Influence and Violence, and we had two discussion topics:

1. Power and influence in the office: ​How body language, speech and actions can affect your authority and approachability.

2. Power, influence and violence in our lives: Constructing valuable dialogs​

Our discussion started with how you position yourself during meetings to best achieve your goal and be heard by your peers in different industries and how you alternate authority and approachability roles according to the circumstances. That itself was such a life lesson, I left the meeting thinking and reenacting all the professional encounters I had where I felt that I could have been more emphatic about my point of view, but I didn’t force the issue because I didn’t want to be perceived as another bitchy woman.  I came to the conclusion that most of the times I hold my tongue to maintain the idea that I am a pleasant person, open to dialogue and willing to give in to sustain a peaceful working atmosphere. But, at the same time, behaving like that might have prevented me from showing others how confident I am in myself and my ability to do a good job. I might have, unintentionally, played low for too long. And just by having the notion that this was something I need to work on is so important for my professional development.

The conversation took us on to so many other topics that relates to how women are viewed by others in society, how the media portrays us and what we can do as women to help others succeed, starting for instance on how you educate your kids. In a way, things I am more familiar with discussing.

Overall, an awesome night with awesome powerful, educated, influential women whose ultimate goal is the same: succeed in their careers. I left wanting to know more about Lean In – Women, work and the will to lead, a book written by Sheryl Sanberg which is the main reason this meeting exists, and the Levo League, an international community to empower professional women that recently open up a Local office in Charlotte.

Emma, 5, gives life to strong, female role models

Jaime C. Moore is a wedding and lifestyle photographer who need creative ideas to portray 5 years old girls, since her own daughter, Emma, had just turned 5. All she could find was pictures and tutorials on how to dress your daughter as a Disney Princess. It was not so much about not liking Disney Princesses – Moore claims she loves them – but it was about how massive it had became: 95% of what she found in her research for inspiration had the princesses in it. Isn’t there any other costumes, any other role models that can inspire girls photographs and make them see themselves differently?

“Five is such a fun age, the age you realize your little one is not so little anymore. She has begun to think for herself with her own opinions and questions about the world around her, it’s pretty amazing”, said Moore. “Emma is a very creative and independent girl herself.  I had mentioned several times about needing to photograph her 5 year portraits and when I proposed the idea of doing something completely new, she was so excited. We had so much fun picking out the costume pieces and through each woman’s portrait I would tell her about each incredible woman. Learning of Amelia Earhart seemed to be her favorite (although Jane Goodall was a close second), just the idea of her dressing like the first female pilot to fly across the Atlantic and Pacific Ocean thrilled her. I love her facial expression in the photograph, I took the shot as I was cheering “Emma you just flew a plane, by yourself, over the Ocean!”, in her eyes I see so much pride and confidence. I love seeing that come through an image and it means so much more seeing it in my daughter’s eyes.”

Jaime and Emma research was extensive, but they selected 5 remarkable women: Amelia Earhart, Sunsan H. Anthony, Coco Chanel, Hellen Keller and Jane Goodall. Emma would not only dress up as these women, but mimic their poses and recreate an original photography.

“There were many different reasons why I chose these 5 amazing women. Each woman is so very different in how they’ve lived their lives and how they have changed ours for the better. A big thing for me was that these incredible women overcame such obstacles and persevered to change their lives simply because they wanted to…. Amelia wanted to fly a plane, so she did. Not letting society’s “rules” direct their lives for them, they raised the bar and we should continue to.”, Moore explains. “Oh there were hundreds more woman we loved for the project, but it was quite tricky. We needed women who had portrait style photographs of themselves that I felt we could replicate, women with quotes that were appropriate to have featured under a little girl and because of certain copyright laws we tried our best to make sure the original photographs were of a certain age or public domain.”

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Info:

Jaime C. Moore website: http://www.jaimemoorephotography.com/

and Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/JaimeMoorephotography

Little Women versus Pride and Prejudice

L.M. Alcott. Little Women. Boston: Roberts Bro...

L.M. Alcott. Little Women. Boston: Roberts Bros, 1868. Illus. by May Alcott. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I just finished reading Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott, for the very first time. I have to admit it has been a long process. Just when I started reading part II, I felt really engaged in the story and concerned about the girls distinct characters. They seemed all so amiable, diligent and so annoyingly sweet and proper that it took me a while to realize that I wasn’t giving themselves credit for being young, poor little women fighting and working to make their means. Something not quite common back them, I would imagine. Also, they seem to be acutely aware of their constrains as women, what makes them even more fascinating, specially Jo, who openly defies social conceptions of how a woman should dress, look or behave. Well, Jo is also someone who is so dedicated to writing and reading that I couldn’t help but feel closer to her, since we had so much in common.

English: Image at the beginning of Chapter 34....

English: Image at the beginning of Chapter 34. Darcy proposing to Elizabeth. Austen, Jane. Pride and Prejudice. London: George Allen, 1894. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In a battle between Jane Austen and Louisa May Alcott, though, when it comes to how they portray poor women, marriage and social conventions, Austen wins in my opinion. While Alcott writes a book embalmed in morality and virtue, often times preaching the value of work, love and family against the luxuries of money, Austen seems to have a more realistic point of view. In Pride and Prejudice, money is a big issue. It is what drives some people to act as they do, like the pushing mother, Mrs. Bennet, who wants all daughters to get married for money, or the young Mr. Darcy, who loves Elizabeth Bennet but avoids marrying her because of her family attitudes. The Bennet family, excluding Elizabeth and her sister Jane, all behave frivolously, always seeking for social status, money.

Although Jane and Elizabeth end up marrying for love, and becoming rich as a consequence, the other characters of the novel illustrate different aspects of marriage a social contract. Lydia, Elizabeth’s younger sister, rans away with George Wickham, an officer at the militia, to marry him, causing her family disgrace. She doesn’t seem to  feel any remorse about it, showing a dismay for social conventions and moral. Charlotte Lucas, Elizabeth’s friend, marries William Collins at 27 years old because she was afraid of being a burden to her family. In that sense, she marries for financial stability, but she doesn’t appear to be judged for her decision. This different situations serve two purposes: they show the customs of a the 19th century english society, and women’s dilemmas when it comes to marriage, but it also reenforces the importance of love in marriage, giving Jane and Elizabeth as the ultimate examples.

In Little Women, the March girls marry only for love. Meg falls in love with John Brooke in the end of the first part, and the second part is devoted to their life as newly weds and parents of the twins, Demi and Daisy. There is one episode where you see Meg struggles for being poor and not being able to have all the luxuries her friend has, so she buys expensive silk to sew herself a dress. When she tells John what she did, she realizes what a mistake that was, sells the silk and everything is back to normal. From that moment on, the couple is portrayed as being happier than ever in their lovely cozy home, a feeling that no money in the world could buy. Jo marries Professor Friedrich Bhaer and, after inheriting a state from Aunt March, opens her school for boys. Her dreams come true and she is as happy as she can be, although they also are poor. Amy is the only one that thinks that she should marry for money in order to be able to help her sisters, but that is momentary. She ends up falling in love with Laurie, a family friend who happens to be rich, and they too live as happy as they can be. The sisters story are, therefore, only about virtue, love and family, not bringing to the surface other examples that would add meaning to their resolutions. It is almost like moral speaks for itself, not requiring a counter argument to makes its first argument stronger.But, at the same time, the result is that you don’t have a critical view of society and marriage in all its multiple aspects, you have a statement confirming the importance of moral over money, which makes it a little dull.

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Recent attacks on women’s reproductive rights

1. Women’s reproductive rights struggles in Texas

After Sen. Wendy Davis (D), Texas, put together her 11 hour filibuster against a controversial anti-abortion bill that would diminish access to abortion services across the state last tuesday, Gov. Rick Perry (R) requested a second special section for today, hoping now he would be able to pass it. This session may last a month. The governor’s decision is, as reported by The Huffington Post and The Texas Tribune, just one of many strikes on women’s reproductive rights and women’s health care under Perry’s administration. In 2011, they produced a law saying every woman considering an abortion should have a sonogram and hear a description of their fetus. Researchers from University of Texas at Austin, as noted by The Texas Tribune, estimate “that 144,000 fewer women received health services and 30,000 fewer unintended pregnancies were averted in 2012 than in 2010.”

It is outrageous to find that women’s health care has been compromised. It is erroneous that abortion is just treated as a matter of “killing a life” and not as a broader social issue and a women’s reproductive right. A right to choose. A right to have access to Planned Parenthood clinics, a support system that could help young pregnant women to make their own decisions.

We’ll have to keep a close eye on what happens in Texas for the next few weeks, hoping social pressure may be the one thing that makes Republicans rethink their votes, since the bill is likely to pass if they remain the same.

2. And also in Ohio

Gov. John Kasich, from Ohio, signed the state’s budget bill with strong anti-abortion language. As reported by The Columbus Dispatch, the bill takes effect today and have significant measures against women’s health and reproductive rights. Here is a list of all measures:

a) Significant abortion provisions were not changed.

b) Planned Parenthood was cut off 1.4million dollars in federal family-plaining dollars and who gets the money was reviewed

c) Abortion clinics now have tougher requirements: they have to have agreements with hospitals (but public hospitals are out of the question). This measure would cause the closing of some of Ohio’s abortion clinics.

d) Doctors performing abortions have to do an ultrasound and, in case they hear a heartbeat, it must be informed to the patient. He also has to explain the chances of the fetus surviving to a full term. By the way, a fetus is redefined as “developing from the moment of conception”, not likely the more common definition, which is when a fertilized egg has been implanted on the uterus.

e) Crisis pregnancy centers will receive funds, but the way they give the informations is arguably biased.

Taken together, all this measures make Ohio the state with the most stringent laws on abortion in the US, as noted by Think Progress. The article does point out that 52% of Ohians that answered a pool from the Public Policy Polling Group about the budget said they were against it specifically because it included attacks on reproductive rights, such as defunding Planned Parenthood and shutting down abortion clinics.

The picture of a bunch of mid-aged conservative men all around the governor signing the budget couldn’t be more emblematic. Apparently, women and voters had no voice on the process. It’s a shame.

American women advance since the 1950’s

The Daily Beast recently published a list with the best websites and twitter profiles, something they called the Beast Best Awards. Browsing throw some of the websites, one of them caught my attention: Makers. It is a website filled with videos, stories, interviews with what they classify as “women who made America”. Former State Secretary Hillary Clinton, war journalist Christiane Amanpour, comedian Ellen DeGeneres, writer and director Nora Ephron and Yahoo’s CEO Marissa Mayer are just some examples of high profile women featured in the website.

As executive producer Dylan McGee describes on the making of, she and her partner Peter Kunhardt decided they wanted to make a documentary about Gloria Steinem, journalist and co-founder of Ms Magazine and activist for the feminist movement. Steinem denied interest on a documentary about herself, but  implied the movie would have to show “the bigger picture”.The producers researched and, surprisingly, couldn’t find any  definitive documentary on women’s advance in America over the last 60 years.

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Womens Liberation Movement poster

McGee states that the website was a consequence of the scope of the project: so many interviews would have to be made and edited that this multiple narratives should be put together as a “living library”, in a digital first concept.

Click here to watch the documentary.

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Disney’s Merida redesign raises debate on toys merchandising

As Merida, from Pixar’s animation Brave, was introduced as the 11th Disney princess, she suffered what some may call an extreme makeover. The fearless, tomboyish girl became someone she fought the entire movie not to be: a girlie girl.

For merchandizing purposes, the princess image was changed, representing the heroin in a sexier way. Her waist is smaller, the bow and arrow are gone, even her eyes are changed. The dress she wears, a distinct mark oh the characters dismay for fancy, uptidy clothes, was transformed into the very thing she wouldn’t feel comfortable wearing.

MeridaComparison

The redesign created a major buzz online, especially after the website A Mighty Girl launched the petition online and the campaign Keep Merida Brave.  The initiative had full support of Brave‘s writer and director, Brenda Chapman, who argued on her website that not only Merida should stay true to her character, but consumers should be more critical about what images were being sold to their kids and how those images could affect their perception of themselves.

According to Chapman, one of the issues is the message the makeover would send to Brave‘s fans: “Kids liked the original Merida, then suddenly, she changes to be what she hates in the film. What is that saying to the kids? That Merida was wrong to be self confident about what she looks like/who she is. She must be improved to be ‘good enough’.”

She says she has been so vocal about Merida’s change precisely because studios should be more concerned about the influence images and movies have on children and the public in general. “Sadly, I see studios continuing to objectify female characters by the types of roles they are given and the costumes they are forced to wear.”

“Companies need to be aware of the message they are sending children. Just as cigarette companies are no longer allowed to use cartoon characters that would attract children to their adds, in an attempt to keep them from smoking, I believe putting sexual and unrealistic images of girls and women, cartoons and live, have an adverse affect on young girls’ self image”, explains Chapman. “However, I am not saying that there should be absolutely no girlie girl sexy images out there, I’m just saying that there should be a balance. Merida was supposed to start that trend.”

Since the debate started, last month, Disney claims that the redesign was only part of a “limited line of products”.  Both A Mighty Girl and Brenda Chapman are still waiting for the company statement saying all merchandising products are going to maintain the original image. The Keep Merida Brave campaign website states that “contrary to reports on various new outlets, Disney has not pulled the new sexy design” and “the madeover Merida can still be found throughout the Disney Consumer Products page”.

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Isabel Allende’s passionate stories

Beauty has always been an issue, in the sense that we are constantly struggling to fit into the stereotype, the socially acclaimed beauty concept. Why is it so hard for people to accept and love who they are? Why is this particular issue so hard for women? A lot of people may blame photoshopped magazine covers and starving celebrities, but is that it? Maybe one of the many problems is how we are raising our kids: instead of educating them to think critically and be themselves, the message they receive is just to be one more skinny blond girly girl or a skinny blue eyed mainly boy, otherwise they won’t be accepted by society.

It is inspiring when strong, successful women, like Isabel Allende, send the message that, although they appreciate beauty, they would rather have the brains, the will, the strength, the courage and the passion to change the world they live in, trying to make it a better place. Allende addressed the issue on a TED talk from 2007, and although it may be old news, the message she sends is still contemporary. So, yes, I am posting this video.

Source: TED