Monday, May 30, 2011

108: The Self-Empowered Woman: Christine Lagarde

Dear Followers,

Many of you may have heard about the scandal surrounding the former International Monetary Fund chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn while he was staying at the Sofitel Hotel in Manhattan. As a result of his indictment, the important financial position is now open and may, for the first time ever, be awarded to a woman.

Christine Lagarde is the stylish 55 year old French Finance Minister, and the first woman to ever become finance minister of a large (G8) industrial country (13: More Than Meets the Eye). Lagarde's father, Robert, was a university lecturer who died when she was 17 years old. Christine and her three younger brothers were raised by their mother, Nicole, a teacher (1: No Paternal Safety Net).

As a teenager, she was on the French National Synchronized Swimming Team, and spent time in the U.S. as an intern on Capitol Hill. Even though she was turned down twice by the elite French civil service college (ENA), she still trained as a lawyer. At 25, she used her law degree to join the International law firm Baker & McKenzie. By the time she was 43, she became chairman of the company at its headquarters in Chicago - the first woman to ever hold that post (8: Turning No Into Yes).

Lagarde has outspoken (and sometimes unpopular) opinions about "the testosterone-fueled mood of male-dominated hi-tech trading rooms." In her words, " have a tendency to show how hairy-chested they are compared with the man who is sitting next to them. I honestly think that there should never be too much testosterone in one room." She has gone on record as feeling that men, if left to themselves, will usually make a mess of things (5: Life is Not a Popularity Contest).

The 5'10" Finance Minister is divorced (15: Forget About Prince Charming); she has two grown sons, 22 and 24, and cooking for them and spending time together is her "delight" (16: Intensive Motherhood).

This high-profile barrier-breaking woman routinely wears Christian Louboutin high heels and has zebra-print carpeting in her official office. As Maureen Dowd wrote "Perhaps a woman who dominated without being domineering is just what is needed at the IMF."

Looking forward to your comments...

Sunday, May 22, 2011

107: The Self-Empowered Woman: Lady Gaga

Dear Followers,

Over the weekend Tony and I watched the HBO Lady Gaga Monster Ball Tour, which was a real eye opener. Obviously, it was a glimpse into a different form of entertainment, and once I got over the "visuals" I started thinking about whether or not Lady Gaga would qualify as a Self-Empowered Woman. So here goes...

Born Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta in 1986, this native New Yorker has taken the musical world by storm. She began learning how to play the piano when she was only four years old, wrote her first piano ballad at 13, and performed at Open-Mike nights at 14. (2: An Early Sense of Direction). As an adolescent she attended the Convent of Sacred Heart, a private all girls Roman Catholic school on Manhattan's Upper East Side. Her take on the Unbelievable is: "I believe magic is real. I believe fantasy is real. I live half way between reality and fantasy all the time." (3: Belief in the Unbelievable). In addition to her contralto voice, Lady Gaga plays a variety of musical instruments (9: Music).

As a teenager she began to act in high school musicals, but she admitted that she "used to get made fun of for being either too provocative or too eccentric...I didn't fit in, and I felt like a freak." In the HBO Special, before she goes on stage, she begins to cry and admits "Sometimes I still feel like a loser in high school (5: Life is Not a Popularity Contest).

Only 25 years old, Lady Gaga is recognized today as one of the hardest working, most driven performers ever. Jimmy Iovine (a recording CEO who often appears on American Idol) has said "No one works like this girl. This is the first artist I've ever asked to stop. You really beg her to stop, and...she just goes." In her own words, Lady Gaga admits that in addition to concert tours and recording sessions "I write music every day" (7: Magnificent Obsession).

After attending NYU's Tisch School of the Arts for two years, she received a recording contract from Def Jam Recordings, but was dropped after only three months. In her words, "There were a lot of people that didn't believe in me...People would really try to push me around because the sentiment was always 'she can't possibly be for real'" (13: More Than Meets the Eye).

Her success is astonishing. She's already won five Grammy Awards, sold 15 million albums and 51 million singles worldwide. "Billboard" named her Artist of the Year in 2010, and she has been among the top 100 list of powerful and influential people on both "Time" and "Forbes'" magazines. Her single "Born This Way" was the fastest-selling single in iTunes history - selling one million copies in five days (8: Turning No into Yes).

A cultural icon for the younger generation, Lady Gaga has risen to the top of her field, and she did it her way.

Looking forward to your comments...

Monday, May 16, 2011

106: The Self-Empowered Woman: Mary Delany

Dear Followers,

I love when friends and followers introduce me to stories that they feel mesh with The Self-Empowered Woman theme. Thanks to Donna Brown Agins, I was able to learn about a remarkable woman who discovered her (7) Magnificent Obsession at the age of 72.

Mary Granville Pendarves Delany was born on May 14, 1700. As a young girl, she was sent to live with her childless aunt (Lady Stanley) in London in the hopes that she might be chosen as a Lady in Waiting. During this time she attended a school taught by a French refugee (Mlle. Puelle), where she learned History, Music, English, French, Dancing and Needle Work. During this time she became friends with the composer, Handel (9: Music).

Unfortunately, Queen Anne died in 1714, and when the Hanovers came to power, Mary's chances of becoming part of the Royal household evaporated. Her family moved from London to Gloucestershire, which was socially isolated, but allowed Mary to continue her education and her interest in paper cutting (2: An Early Sense of Direction).

Because of the family's reduced circumstances, at age 17 Mary was married off to Alexander Pendarves, a 60 year old man whom she described in her letters as "disgusting," "excessively fat" and "my jailer" (15: Forget About Prince Charming). She lived with him for seven unhappy years until he died in 1724. He had not included her in his will, so she inherited very little, but widows at that time had more rights than unmarried women so this time was happier for her than her years with a wealthy man whom she despised.

In 1743, after 19 years as a widow, the Irish clergyman Dr. Patrick Delany - who was 16 years older - proposed and the couple shared their joy of gardening at their home near Dublin. During this time Mary was able to paint landscapes, decorate with seashells and do needle work, all of which revolved around her love of flowers.

Dr. Delany died in Bath, England at the age of 84; the couple had enjoyed a happy marriage for 25 years. Once again a widow, Delany spent a lot of time with her friend the Dowager Duchess of Portland. One day in October, 1772, Mary noticed a petal from a geranium as it fell onto the dark
surface of a table. She had paper nearby that was the same color as the flower, and she began to create her first collage. In her words, "I have invented a new way of imitating flowers."

Her technique was to cut and glue together thousands of dots, slivers, squiggles and loops of brightly colored paper. Ultimately, "The Paper Garden" filled ten bound volumes that now reside in the British Museum. Delany only stopped creating her "Paper-Mosaicks" when her eyesight began to fail at the age of 88. By that time she had created almost 1,000 realistic and accurate paper flowers mounted on black backgrounds.

After the Dowager Duchess of Portland died, King George III and Queen Charlotte gave Mary a small house at Windsor and a pension of 300 pounds a year.

Looking forward to your comments...

Saturday, May 7, 2011

105: The Self-Empowered Woman: Rosie Napravnik

Dear Followers,

A 23-year old female jockey made history yesterday by finishing The Kentucky Derby as one of the top 10 riders. The first woman to ride in the Derby was Diane Crump in 1970, and the last was Rosemary Homeister in 2003. But Rosie is the first to finish higher than 11th at the Derby. Anna Rose Napravnik first sat on a horse when she was only two years old. Her mother trained three-day eventers, and by the age of seven she had told her mother that she wanted to become a jockey and win The Kentucky Derby (2: An Early Sense of Direction).

Anna Rose Napravnik's parents divorced when she was 16 (1: No Paternal Safety Net), and as a high school student she began riding as an apprentice jockey. She would be at the barn by four Am and gallop race horses from five am to nine thirty am and then take the bus to Hereford High School, and then she would attend night school three nights a week. On the day she would have graduated from High School she was, instead, in the winner’s circle twice at the Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore.

When she rode Pants On Fire in The Louisiana Derby she became the first woman to ever win that race. Her success rate is undeniable, and she has won riding titles in Maryland, Delaware and at the fairgrounds in New Orleans, where her 110 victories were more than 30 more than her closest competitor (8: Turning No Into Yes).

Horse trainers acknowledge that in addition to being a natural, she is both tough and competitive. In addition, she had the good fortune to win on her very first mount and went from being an unknown in the racing world to being the most successful female jockey in the country (13: More Than Meets The Eyes). Track observers know that when she loses she's really unhappy with herself (10: The Critic Within). Rosie is 5'2" and weighs 111 pounds, but has no trouble controlling a 1200 pound thoroughbred. She's had four major injuries (broken and fractured bones).

Her mother has worked extensively with horses, her sister is a horse trainer and her father works an organic farm in Asbury, NJ with Belgian Horses. Napravnik's ultimate goal is to be recognized as one of the best jockeys in the sport - male or female.

Looking forward to your comments. . .

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

104: The Self-Empowered Woman: The Brain

Dear Followers,

First of all, a huge thank you to everyone who attended today's "Meet the Author" luncheon at the National Croquet Center. Sonia Cooper and Jill Kaplan organized an amazing event, and it was wonderful to have so many amazing women (and men) in one room. I loved the Q & A session, and it was a real treat to hear the celebrity guests discuss which chapter in The Self-Empowered Woman most closely affected them. Thank you everyone!

As most of you know, I frequently get blog ideas from the New York Times. But today's article was inspired by a supplement that appeared in an April issue of the Wall Street Journal (decades and decades ago I was a WSJ book reviewer).

In April, the Journal convened an Executive Task Force of scholastic, business and government leaders to dissect the forces that hold women back in the workplace and look for ways to create new employment opportunities for them.

One of the most intriguing discussions was Dr. Sandra Witelson (a neuroscientist from Ontario's McMaster University), who discussed the differences between male and female brains. For years, some researchers have felt that because male brains were "larger" it meant that men were "smarter" than women.

Twenty-five years ago, Witelson (who is known in her field as the researcher who was given the task of analyzing Albert Einstein's brain to discover what made it unique) discovered that six year old boys and girls used different parts of the brain when they read. A boy uses one side of the brain to read, while a girl has more "bilateral" brain involvement. Female brains appear to have more connective pathways between the right and left sides of the brain, which often gives them an advantage when it comes to verbal skills. The actually have more brain cells in the brain's language region.

And while the male brain has 6.5 times more "gray" matter, women actually have 10 times more "white" matter, which is the part that consists of connections between the neurons. What this means is that a woman's brain works faster than a man's.

A Stanford University study showed that women's brains trigger greater activity in more areas when they see photographs of traumatic events. And, three weeks after seeing the photos they remember far more details than the men do (which some experts feel is why women remember emotional hurts or hostile acts for so long.

Brain scans have shown that when a man's brain is at rest, about 70% of its electricity is shut down. But when a woman's brain is in the same resting state, female brains show 90% activity. What does this mean? Women are constantly receiving and processing information from their environment.

What this means for us is that now is the time to acknowledge and celebrate the differences in the way we think and process information. Thanks to Dr. Witelson, we now know that the size of a brain is not the only thing that matters!

Looking forward to your comments...