Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Feminism Incarnate: My Day at The Summit

We were lucky enough to have a fellow Women, Money, Power Summit attendee as a guest writer. Here's what she had to say:

As I reflect on the day in my best friend's new D.C. apartment, I realize: There are powerful women all around me all the time. Hundreds from countless backgrounds and locales surrounded me today during the start of the 2009 Feminist Majority Foundation Women, Money, and Power Summit. Five are watching a movie in this apartment, relaxing before another week in brand new Congressional Office Staff and Intern positions. Ten work with me in Philadelphia's Women's Opportunities Resource Center (WORC), a non-profit striving since 1987 to promote social and economic self-sufficiency to low-income women and their families through microlending, training, and savings programs. One gave birth to me and passed on her ferocious personality. After she passed away, another helped me grow and taught me that she and I would be lying to ourselves if we did not embrace the feminist spirit that our mother passed down to us.

Talk about power! Today I learned, re-learned, and re-thought the meaning of several words:

"Feminism" has never been a dirty word to me, but it has often been hard to declare to the world. I was a bit timid even as President of The University of Delaware's Feminist Majority Affiliate Organization last year. It's hard to be a hardline feminist in a country where the glass ceiling has been reached in so many ways, yet reinforced with steel plating in others. Just like Obama's election doesn't put us in a "post-racial" society, a rate of women's election into Congress that will put us at parity in 150 years doesn't put us in a "post-gendered" society. We are feminists, and we are the majority. Let's be proud and ring it out!

"Confidence" is something I've had trouble with since graduating from college in May. However, today's rallying cries from countless powerhouse feminists threw my spine back into realignment, and I will make sure to never forget to stand tall, talk loudly, and "Speak my truth, even if my voice shakes." Moreover, I have support from women like Congresswoman Donna Edwards (MD) bolstering my confidence by telling me that she is an ally in the US Congress--"we give [you] our voices, our feet, and our fists to knock at the door," she said. There were not just handshakes, but hugs every time a new woman walked to the podium. Every speaker was ready to converse with me. The encouragement that every speaker gave to the young women in the audience overwhelmed and brightened me to the point I feel I walked out of the hotel glowing. I finally embraced the cliche that age is really just a number. Congresswoman Amy Klobuchar (MN) has been a rebel since she wore bell bottoms to a "dress-only" school in 4th grade, and, fortunately, the punishment only bolstered her resolve. I really can do anything I want--not in 5, 10, or 25 years, but right now. I can be a Congresswoman or the President of my own non-profit or President of the United States of America (okay, maybe I have to wait another 13 years for that). Eleanor Smeal personally told me there is no such thing in the Feminist Majority Foundation as "condescension," and she is proud to know that there are young, up-and-coming feminists ready to jump in and take the reigns. The feminists in the room know that Women in power must beget women in power until we reach full equality and parity. We must harness the "Tend or Friend" communalist response that Amy Brenneman spoke about rather than the "fight or flight" individualist response. That is one takeaway lesson that every women in the world must hear loud and clear.

"Diversity" generally means difference, but today it doubled to also mean "solidarity" and "strength in numbers." We were a room of women with no two like stories. A room of Black, white, Brown, and Pink. A room of 2nd wave and 3rd wave. A room of North, East, South, and West. A room of poor college students and wealthy retirees. A room with Congresswomen and lawyers chatting energetically with picketers and revolutionaries. And we all knew enough to realize that our differences are nothing compared to our similarities. We're all women, and we will only get the results women need worldwide if we use our diversity to our advantage and stick together.

"Beauty" in human form was more clear to me today than ever before. I believe I have an eye for beautiful, wondrous, mindblowing things, but, unfortunately, I find that beauty in people is harder to focus on than in other creatures. Today, I was blown away by the beauty in the Washington Court Hotel. From the moment I walked in and heard a woman with radiant skin at a merchandise table talking about her abnormally minimalistic "beautification" routine, I knew I was among sisters. I have no idea how old anyone in the room was. When Congresswoman Edwards proudly announced that she "loves 51" and has a 21 year old son, my jaw dropped. She is physically flawless, has clearly embraced the beauty she was born with, and is just one example among all the women I met today. Beauty is not skin deep; in fact, I've come to realize that healthy skin is just a lucky bystander in the realization of a holistically healthy mind, spirit, and body. Obviously, there is nothing superficial about the women in this conference, and their outer layers speak to what lies within. However, it can't be forgotten that beauty and age mean a lot in the current healthcare debate. As young and aging women "not getting older" but "getting better," we are facing very real, scary threats to our well-being. The battle rages on.

My personal dictionary was refined today, my heart lit on fire, and my mind opened to a world in which it will be an incredibly exciting future to live as a feminist.

In feminism, sincerely and truly,
Robyn Mello

Family Savings Account Program Contract Compliance Officer and Executive/Development Assistant, Women's Opportunities Resource Center (WORC), Philadelphia, PA

photo credits: surrealmuse on

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