October 26, 2010

The Women's Conference, Night at the Village

I look forward to October every year, since it’s the month for breast cancer awareness and The Women's Conference - The Nation's Premier Forum for Women. For the last three years, I’ve been fortunate enough to attend The Women’s Conference hosted by California First Lady Maria Shriver. Tickets sold out in less than two hours and the speaker list is a who's who of entrepreneurs, female leaders of industry, activists and people changing the world. More than 150 extraordinary speakers like Michelle Obama, Bono, Oprah, Madeleine Albright, Billie Jean King and Gloria Steinem come together with 14,000 women to be educated, inspired and empowered. Every year, I walk away rejuvenated and feeling part of a community and ready to make changes in myself and in society.

Despite growing up in a time where it was passé or embarrassing to call yourself a feminist, I saw my own mother deal with the Glass Ceiling and sexual harassment and I found myself drawn to learning more about strong women in history, reading outside of my classroom text books that didn’t provide much insight on that front anyway. I remember a young boy once taunting me saying, “What are you some sort of feminist or something?” I responded, “Yes, aren’t you?” He made a look as if I was crazy, but I pushed ahead and said, “A feminist is someone who believes in equal rights for women. Don’t you believe in that?” Gaping, he had no response.

This conference though isn’t just about feminist issues, but world issues covering topics like using your voice to change the world to women having the right to choose...between work, having kids, having both a career and kids, the lack of flexibility at work and how there aren't any policies in place to let women do both effectively.

Last night, I attended the conference's Night at the Village event and once again heard celebrity cook, entrepreneur and author Paula Deen speak. I was really moved by her frank conversations last year about starting her business in her 40s with just $200. However, this year I didn't hear any new as it became more of a conversation between her and Giada De Laurentiis about food being a common denominator.

Maria Shriver spoke briefly too and let the audience know that women have power. She said women come up to her saying that they feel powerless to make a change in the world. Maria answers that 80% of purchase decisions are made by women and 54% of politicians in government today were voted in office by women and that's power! We have more influence than we realize. She also said to not let the current economy deter you from your dreams, because great ideas and great companies are born in tough economic times like these.

Next up, I was surprised to find Jessica Simpson. I was like WTF? But I didn't know about her VH1 series, The Price of Beauty, which is about finding real beauty inside yourself and how different nation's look at beauty. She also reflected about being under the press magnifying glass and how airbrushed magazine covers are and that she doesn't look as pretty as she does in those photos. She also mentioned always being compared to Britney and Christina since they all became famous at the same time and that she felt competitive, but now realizes that "the only competition is with myself." Her next project she says will be about facing fears.

Academy Award winner Jane Fonda looking as fit as always took stage. She discussed how working out helps her to feel connected to herself and keeps her more present and in tune with her body. She says there is no need to run marathons, but it's important to just stay active. She's also been working with under privileged adolescents in Georgia. In this line of work she says "hope" is the best contraceptive to teach as it's important to help teens to see that they have a future and not get pregnant young or do drugs. I thought that made a lot of sense and was a powerful idea.

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