Wednesday, September 30, 2009

No. 23 New Top Drill Sergeant

Dear Followers,

Thanks for the feedback. I am happy you enjoy the "women's stories" as much as I do. Something very special happened yesterday, and I would like to share this latest "first ever" achievement with all of you.

Yesterday, at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, Command Sergeant Major Teresa L. King, was named Commandant of its drill sergeant school. She is the first female to ever run one of the Army's schools to train drill sergeants. The 48-year old groundbreaker is the eighth of twelve children; her father was a sharecropper who grew tobacco and cucumbers in North Carolina, near Fort Bragg.

King has served in the Army for 29 years, and has a staff of 78 instructors who are in charge of drill sergeant training for the US Army. Her appointment is a major step toward "gender integration" because although more than thirteen percent of today's Army is female, only eight percent of high ranking soldiers (including Command Sergeant Major and Sergeants Major) are female.

King enlisted in the Army while still in high school, worked as a drill sergeant in her twenties, and then served as aide to then-Secretary of Defense, Dick Cheney. She served at NATO headquarters in Europe, the DMZ in Korea, and with the Airborne Corps at Ft Bragg. Interestingly, King believes that most women simply cannot accomplish what she has done. For example, at her recent semi-annual physical training test she scored a perfect 300 (during which she completed 34 push-ups and 66 sit-ups in under two minutes and then ran two miles in 16 minutes and ten seconds).

King told writer James Dao of the New York Times that she could think of very few occasions when a man had challenged her authority because she was a woman. And then she added, "...when they did, I could handle it"

King admits that since her divorce (she has no children) she has poured her heart into the soldiers at Fort Jackson. As she told Dao, "when I look in the mirror, I don't see a female; I see a soldier."

Looking forward to your comments...

Sunday, September 27, 2009

22. Women For Women International

Dear Followers,

S.B. Bingo posted a welcome comment that asked what it meant that Coco Chanel had so many of the 17 traits, while other Self-Empowered Women often had fewer. In fact, part of the reason was simply that I know (indeed we all do) more about Chanel's life because so very much about her is now public knowledge.

If you look at high achievers, it often turns out that the more you know about them, the more traits pop up. From Kathy Griffin (whose new book OFFICIAL BOOK CLUB SELECTION is on this week's NYT's non-fiction bestseller list) to Barbra Streisand (whose 64th album in being released this week), there are many women whose traits number in the teens. But I still maintain that Chanel - legend that she is - remaians prototypical.

Today I'd like to write about an amazing woman, Zainab Salbi, who is an Iraqi-American writer and activist. Salbi grew up in Baghdid and when she was eleven years old her father was named Saddam Hussein's personal pilot. Iraq was becoming more dangerous, her family was constantly being "monitored," and their phones were tapped. Politically motivated assinations were becoming commonplace.

In 1990, Salbi's mother arranged for her 19 year old daughter to marry a Palestinian-American because it was the only way Zainab could safely leave Iraq and travel to the United States. The newlyweds were worried about the plight of women in the "rape and concentration camps" in he former Yugoslavia, and they established an organization that helped women survivors of the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Since 1993, Women For Women International has helped 120,000 women war survivors around the world and distributed more than $33 million in aid and microcredit loans. According to Salbi, the most dangerous place in the world to be a woman today is the Congo, and her organization is working to protect women from the sexual violence that is so prevalent both there and in the Sudan.

Salbi's two books ("Between Two Worlds: Escaping Tyranny, Growing Up in the Shadow of Saddam" and " The Other Side of War: Women's Stories of Survival and Hope") are truly inspiring, as is she.

Looking forward to your comments...

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

21. What Self-Empowered Women Wear

Dear Followers,

By now you probably realize that Coco Chanel (who died in 1971 at age 87) could be the prototypical Self-Empowered Woman. She easily had at least 14 of the 17 traits that I write about in the book. Now, in addition to Lifetime TV's Coco Chanel movie that starred Shirley MacLaine, a new French film should be opening near you this month. "Coco Before Chanel" stars Audrey Tatou, was directed by Anne Fontaine, and sold over a million tickets when it played in France last year.

Chanel (like Fontaine) was a self-taught authoritarian woman who was determined to follow her own path. If you are as intrigued by her as I am, get your hands on "The Gospel According to Coco Chanel (Life Lessons From the World's Most Elegant Woman)" by Karen Karbo and Chesley McLaren.

I was ready to write about the effect she had on women's wardrobes (she eliminated corsets, introduced the use of flannel and other "inappropriate" fabrics, turned her back on ruffles, feathers and sequins, and introduced the shoulder bag so women's hands would be free). But then I ran across an article in (my beloved) New York Times that reminded me that how we dress really does affect how we think and how we act.

According to Sabrina Tavernise, women in Mingora, Pakistan are celebrating the fact that the Taliban has left the Swat Valley. Their departure means that women can return to public life again, and no longer have to wear Burqas. Women in this part of Pakistan, which is less tribal than West Pakistan, are rejoicing that they can walk to the market, and buy shoes, cosmetics and other items that were outlawed when the Taliban was in control. According to Tavernise, "The Burqa was not the worst of women's troubles, but it was one of the most public displays of what the Taliban wanted of women - that they horses with blinders on, women lost their peripheral vision."

Sharisa Rehman
who teaches at Sangota Girls School now that the Taliban have been defeated, summed up her time under their rule when she had to wear a burqa by saying "I was bound like a prisoner."

No matter how bad your day has been, celebrate the fact that you don't have to look, feel, or be invisible. Looking forward to your comments...

Monday, September 21, 2009

20. Artistic Women

Dear Followers,

The weekend is over and it is time for me to get back to work and get focused! The first order of business is to answer last week's question, what do actress Jessica Alba, author Isabelle Allende, dancer Judith Jamison and Margaret Thatcher have in common? Like many Self-Empowered Women they learned (from an early age) how to believe. Learning to trust something that cannot be seen or touched (religion, astrology, numerology, Kabbalah, etc.) provides the inner ability to believe in one's own talent and destiny. Interestingly, few of the women I researched were members of a particular church or faith themselves, but most had grown up watching someone older actively believe in an invisible power.

During the past year Lifetime TV (called by detractors "the estrogen network") has given us the filmed life stories of two remarkable women - Coco Chanel and Georgia O'Keefe. If you watched these programs, I hope you kept a scorecard of which 17 traits they each exhibited. And if you read, in this month's Vogue magazine, the article about Ceiline designer Phoebe Philo, you'll have noticed traits 10, 14, and 16 among others. The point I'm trying to make is that regardless of which century, profession or nationality that these women claim as their own, the hurdles they face are shared ones.

Thanks for spreading the word and sharing your enthusiasm. Looking forward to your comments...

Thursday, September 17, 2009

19. "Eve Teasing"

Dear Followers,

I'm happy to report that over 100 copies of The Self-Empowered Woman have been sold since it went on sale two weeks ago. Even though I'm delighted by that number, it seems insignificant when compared with the fact that Dan Brown's new novel (The Lost Symbol) sold 1 million copies in only two days. Bravo to him and big dreams for me...

Today I wanted to share with you an article by Jim Yardley, who writes for The New York Times. While in Palwal, India (about 100 miles from New Delhi), he wrote about a gender problem in India that has caught everyone off guard.

India has (possibly since the days of Indira Gandhi) been considered a country where women had successfully shattered the glass ceiling. After all, consider this list of positions held by women: President of the powerful Congress Party, President of India, Foreign Secretary, Chief Minister of India's most populous state, and new minister of railways. Additionally, equal pay is mandatory and sexual harassment is illegal.

In spite of this "progress," women who travel on commuter trains to get to their jobs are often pinched, groped, or the object of insults and catcalls. This form of daily commuter taunting has been labeled Eve Teasing, and has prompted the government to enact "Ladies Specials" trains so that women can travel without the presence of males. In this patriarchal country the number of working women - most of whom travel to work by train - has almost doubled in the past 15 years. Unfortunately, so has crimes against women. According to Yardley, rape rose by more than 30% between 2003 and 2007, kidnapping increased by more than 50%, and molestation and torture rose sharply...

Today's quiz asks what do actress Jessica Alba, author Isabelle Allende, dancer Judith Jamison and Margaret Thatcher have in common?

Looking forward to your comments...

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

18. More Than Meets The Eye

Dear Followers,

Were you able to guess which trait the following women share: Harper's Bazaar editor Glenda Bailey, Cher, actress America Ferrera, and TV chef Rachel Ray ? Each of these high achievers had been - at some point in their lives and/or their careers - been underestimated. Has that ever happened to you? I'm willing to bet that very few (if any) women find themselves " overestimated," so most of us learn from an early age to acknowledge and then accelerate through the condescension that often comes from people who assume that we can't do what we say we can.

Not surprisingly, it seems that stories of women of accomplishment come to my attention on a daily basis. Over the weekend, I learned about Karen Petrou, managing partner of Federal Financial Analytics. A graduate of Wellesley, she learned at the age of 18 that she had a form of retinitis pigmentosa. By the time she was in her early thirties her vision had deteriorated enough for her to be "significantly disabled." In spite of her challenges she (with the help of her husband) runs her own company in Washington D.C. that examines the impact of legislation on companies. She and her guide dog show up for meetings together and in her spare time she works for Foundation Fighting Blindness and she power walks on weekends.

The closing quote of the day is from Helen Gurley Brown, who transformed Cosmopolitan Magazine into an international juggernaut: "If you have some daily anguish from some cause that's not really your fault - a rotten family, bad health, nowhere looks, serious money problems. nobody to help you, minority background...rejoice! These things are your fuel."

Looking forward to your comments...

Friday, September 11, 2009

17. NO vs. YES

Dear Followers,

The Self-Empowered Woman has been on sale for one week and it has been really exciting to get feedback and watch the "ranking" day by day.

When I haven't been obsessing about THE BOOK, I've been immersed in Julia Child's memoir "My Life in France." There is something about her enthusiasm and determination that make her instantly likeable, and when I read about the long slog between beginning her cookbook and finally getting it accepted by Knopf, it reminded me of two qualities shared by so many Self-Empowered Women.

Many (if not most) high achievers find themselves undervalued or underestimated, but they also share the ability to turn the word NO into YES. It took close to a decade for Julia Child to find a publisher ( and an editor) capable of sharing her vision, but she never gave up.

So guess which trait the following women share: Harper's Bazaar editor Glenda Bailey, Cher, actress America Ferrera, and TV chef Rachel Ray?

Looking forward to your comments...

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

16. Sawyer and Kristof

Dear Followers,

This Labor Day weekend was a close second - excitement wise - from the one my boys and I shared way back in 1985. That was the Labor Day weekend when we (and 23 suitcases) flew from L.A. to London to begin our lives as expatriots in the U.K. At that time I'd already had two cardboard boxes full of research material about the project that eventually became The Self-Empowered Woman. The boxes travelled with us to London, and thanks to the opportunity I had to interview so many accomplished women (and men) when I was finally ready to write the book, there were interview tapes to add to the boxes that had (once again) crossed the Atlantic. No wonder Labor Day means so much to me!

Last week "bleader" SB Bingo commented about Diane Sawyer's promotion. Just thought the following excerpts from Alessandra Stanley in the NY Times might be of interest: "Women who let their ambition show too openly are usually punished for it. Ms. Sawyer, who is as relentless and driven as any of her peers, makes an art of coy deflection...Ms. Sawyer and Ms. Couric will outnumber their male counterpart two to one in an era when networks are losing their primacy and even their creative advantage over cable, and network news, in particular, is sinking in relevance and prestige....As in other fields, women seem to break through the glass ceiling just as the air-conditioning is being turned off in the penthouse office suites. Women ancors may turn out to be what women doctors once were in the Soviet Union, a majority without status or financial advantage."

"Half the Sky" continues to receive great reviews and kudos for focusing attention on the three problems that Kristof believes reflect the widespread undervaluation of female life: forced prostitution, honor killing and maternal mortality.

The next post will pose another quiz from The Self-Empowered Woman...

Sunday, September 6, 2009

15. America's Women

Dear Followers,

Exciting news! As you know, The Self-Empowered Woman is now on sale at, and my first official book signing event is scheduled to take place on Friday, October 9th at 2:30 PM at Saks Fifth Ave. on Worth Avenue in Palm Beach. Champagne and strawberries (and stories about interesting women) will be served. Hope to see you there!

I wanted to share with you an amazing book by an amazing woman. Gail Collins was the first female head of The New York Times editorial board, and has also written for The New York Daily News and New York Newsday. I stumbled across her 3rd book a while ago, and felt that I had to share it with you.

In "American Women" Collins takes a look at women in America from the 1600s to the 1960s, and manages to make what in theory is a history book read, instead, like an interesting conversation with a well informed friend. Thanks to Collins I've learned about the genuine hardships that Colonial Women faced when they landed here from England. For example, did you know that 6,000 people came to Virginia between 1607 and 1624, but by 1625 only 1,200 were still alive? The colonies' sponsors were so anxious to get women to cross the Atlantic that London recruiters offered marriageable women free passage, trousseaus, and 120 pounds of "good leaf tobacco" for their future husbands. In 1620 the first shipment of 90 "tobacco brides" arrived in Jamestown.

Although women were in demand and highly prized for their ability to help with weaving (fabric was a real luxury), cooking, soap making, etc., they essentially had no legal rights if they were married. Collins' book is a real eyeopener about the day-to-day lives of the amazing women who settled America's Eastern seaboard. I only wish I'd read this "good-for-you and good-to-you" book the minute it came off the press, but better late than never.

Looking forward to your feedback...

Thursday, September 3, 2009

14. Day One

Dear Followers,

Great News! Just found out that The Self-Empowered Woman is now officially on sale at Finally!

Also wanted to share with you the news that Laydi Mendoza, the 22 year old National Guard mother who was having trouble seeing her daughter has now been allowed the right to see her little gril every day and take her home on weekends. She, her ex-boyfriend, their lawyers, and a mediator were unable to reach an agreement, but a family court judge approved a temporary agreement.

Would love to know your thoughts about Diane Sawyer's (Chapter Six) promotion to ABC News Anchor...

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

13. 22 + 75 = Amazing

Gymboree founder Joan Barnes, Nobel Prize-Winning author Doris Lessing, entertainer Dolly Parton, and actress Meg Ryan all share a trait that I discuss at length in Chapter 14. I call it "Selective Disassociation," but what it really signifies is having the strength to say "Goodbye" - to a person, place or thing - when necessary.

Today I'm going to share two real-life stories of ordinary women dealing with extraordinary circunstances. The first is about a woman named Barbara Hillary who is 75 years old, and became the first black woman to make it to the North Pole. In her 60s she battled lung cancer and in her 70s she refused to listen to people who felt she was too old (or not fit enough) to successfully reach her goal. Neither lack of funds nor the fact that she had never worn skis before stopped her. What a great example of the ability to reach a goal no matter what!

The second woman is 22 year old Leydi Mendoza who is a specialist in the New Jersey National Guard and has spent ten months deployed to Baghdad, where she guarded prisoners at Camp Cropper. Before she was sent overseas, Mendoza and her boyfriend lived with his parents after she gave birth to their daughter, Elizabeth. She and her boyfriend broke up before she was sent to Irac, but they agreed that she would help him and his parents pay for their baby's needs while she was overseas. Once she was able to return home, they agreed that they would share joint custody.

Unfortunately, Specialist Mendoza is now back in New Jersey, but Elizabeth's father has restricted his daughter 's visits with her mother and now wants sole custody. Lory Manning, a retired Navy captain who advocates for female service members has said "We are asking these women to sacrifice for theor country and we need them. But there is not enough being done to help support them and their familied when they get home."

While in Baghdad Mendoza kept a photo of baby Elizabeth's first Christmas tucked inside the camouflaged patrol cap she wore, and called home several times a week to hear her daughter's voice on the phone. Now Mendoza has run up legal bills of over $6,000 in her quest to have joint custody of her little girl. In her words, "I wanted Elizabeth to grow up and be proud that her mother had served her country. And we needed the health care and the military benefits..."

Aren't you glad that you're not caught in Mendoza's Catch 22?