When my friend invited me to be her guest at the annual New York Women’s Foundation’s Celebrating Women Breakfast yesterday, I was honored, but I really had no idea what to expect. I arrived at 7:33 AM, rushing, late, through the lobby of the Hilton, and immediately got a sense that this was going to be something pretty impressive. The halls were filled with women: attendees, volunteers, staff, all coming together for one of the most inspirational gatherings of women supporting women I have ever seen. And I’ve seen some.
The group does incredible work, which I’ll talk more about below. But the most amazing thing to me was not just the incredible reach of this organization. It was the energy in the room: powerful, fierce, FEMALE energy: unapologetic about the ways women are different and the ways our children’s needs are woven into our own.
In a week where our most powerful female representative, Hillary Clinton, was scrutinized for appearing to emote while watching a live video of an assassination, this message seemed more exciting and necessary than ever.
When Hillary held her hand over her mouth in that iconic war room photo, was she expressing concern? Exhaustion? Or was she coughing, as she later suggested? What actually inspired the gesture doesn’t matter. What matters is that we cared. What if Hillary had her hand over her mouth in horror? The scrutiny implies that emotions are out of line, that a woman who expresses feelings is demonstrating weakness with these typically “female” characteristics. The debate about her hand made it somehow more resonant when she was photoshopped out of the image by an Orthodox Jewish newspaper (they claimed she was not shown for religious reasons). The subtext: Maybe those messy girls and their feelings shouldn’t have been in the war room at all?
When Jennifer Buffett spoke at yesterday’s breakfast, she told the story of writing materials for her organization, NoVo—they helped create “The Girl Effect” and other amazing philanthropic projects. When Buffett presented her mission to a (male) friend, she was surprised that he suggested removing the words “nurturing” and “loving” from the text. Buffett’s response? “If we can’t even say it, how will we ever have it?”
These are the values of women, the jobs of mothers. The more we learn about what makes people happy, the clearer it is that these values are crucial to the culture in general. When I went to see a psychologist speak last night on the forces that matter to children and adults, connection and love were at the top of the list. Nothing else came close. These are the most powerful forces we have, yet they are considered embarrassing and inappropriate in any broader context. What could we accomplish if we weren’t so afraid to let these crucial values into the culture at large?
Last year, the New York Women’s Foundation gave away over $3,500,000 to organizations dedicated to the physical, emotional and economic well-being of women, girls and families. Just a few of the great projects they have made possible:
- buildOn, an After school program in the Bronx that engages kids in community service and volunteer work while teaching leadership skills.
- Hot Bread Kitchen, which teaches foreign born women to create food-focused micro-businesses based on their own ethnic recipes
- ParentJobNet, an education and resource program to help parents of NYC public school kids get better jobs
- SPARKS, A support network for low income Orthodox Jewish women with PPD who face barriers to getting help within their community
- Voices UnBroken, a creative writing program for girls in foster homes and juvenile centers to help them express their stories and gain confidence
- Families for Freedom, an education program for families separated by deportation as a result of post 9/11 policy changes