Last May, I was mildly surprised to see Dame Helen Mirren as the keynote speaker at my son’s commencement exercises at Tulane University in New Orleans. Curious as to just what advice this legendary British actress might convey, I admit that I didn’t think of her as commencement speaker material. However, she proved both funny and poignant and she spoke eloquently on a number of subjects. Her well prepared and delivered speech did befit an actress with an Oscar, a Tony and multiple Emmys. Along with her top five rules for a happy life, one topic in her speech continues to resonate with me. She spoke of how, until recently, she wouldn’t refer to herself as a feminist. It seemed too political, she noted.
Why is that, I wondered? Miriam Webster refers to feminism as the following:
"the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities."
That is a reasonable premise yet, many are uncomfortable with the label. Dame Mirren continued her speech with her own experience that has been replicated in places and contexts all over the world;
“In every country and culture that I have visited, from Sweden to Uganda, from Singapore to Mali, it is clear that when women are given respect, and the ability and freedom to pursue their personal dreams and ambitions, life improves for everyone.”
Harvard Business Review reports that when Fortune-500 companies were ranked by the number of women directors on their boards, those in the highest quartile in 2009 reported a
Feminism, indeed! Sounds more like common sense…
It is disturbing that some find the label of feminist as controversial, or even that there is no need for feminism. If that’s your belief, watch this video. It speaks to girls’ ability to pursue dreams and ambitions, but also to an environment that perhaps inadvertently, but stealthily, discourages them from professions like surgeon, pilot and perhaps, architect. For those of you who are parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles or just friends of young girls, try the exercise depicted in the video. See if your girl falls into the 5 of 61. After watching, you might just consider calling yourself a feminist.