Thursday, March 21, 2013

181: The Self Empowered Woman: Cindy Crawford

Dear Followers,

As many of you may remember from reading about Tyra Banks in The Self-Empowered Woman, oftentimes a pretty face is a great deal more than just another pretty face. Case in point, Cindy Crawford, who at 47 has become an international household name.

Born in DeKalb, Illinois on February 20, 1966, she grew up in a family with her two sisters and a younger brother, Jeff. When Crawford was ten years old her little brother died of leukemia, and his death had a profound effect on everyone in the family. By the time she was a teenager her parents had divorced (1: No Paternal Safety Net).

When in high school, Crawford had a summer job of detasseling corn, and was "discovered" by a newspaper photographer who took a picture of her. At age 16 she decided to begin modeling (2: An Early Sense of Direction), and the next year was runner-up in the Elite Model Management's Look of the Year contest. Soon after, she signed with the Elite Agency in Chicago.

She graduated from high school as valedictorian in 1984 (10: The Critic Within), and won an academic scholarship to study chemical engineering at Northwestern University. When she entered a large science class lecture hall, the professor said, "Honey, this is the wrong room," and she never forgot how annoying it was to have someone think she couldn't be smart simply because she happened to be attractive (13: More Than Meets The Eye).

Realizing that she couldn't juggle both modeling and academics, Crawford dropped out of school to become a full-time model. Chicago photographer Victor Skrebneski became her mentor, and she credits him with teaching her what she needed to know to become successful in front of the camera (4: Supportive Someone). Three years later, she had the opportunity to go to Bali on a ten-day job, but Skrebneski insisted that she not work with other photographers because only he "could make her look good." When she disagreed with him, he warned her that if she left he would never work with her again, but in spite of his threats she accepted the Bali job and ended their professional partnership. (14: Selective Disassociation). The rest is history, and in 1995 Forbes magazine named her the highest paid model on the planet.

From 1991 to 1995 Crawford was married to Richard Gere, who was 17 years her senior. She credits him as being one of the most influential people in her life even though their marriage was a short one (15: Forget About Prince Charming). Since 1998 she has been married to Rande Gerber; they have a thirteen year old son, Walker, and an eleven year old daughter (16: Intensive Motherhood).

In addition to her modeling work, Crawford has been active on TV and in films. She has also launched a line of furniture and home goods, as well as a line of skin care products called Meaningful Beauty. These ventures have been successful even though she has no formal training in any of those fields (11: Risk Addiction).

Jeff's death as a little boy was devastating to Cindy's entire family (12: Hard Times), but she seems to have been particularly touched by his illness. She even told Oprah that his passing, in her mind, had been like a rocket booster to help guide her toward her success. For years she has worked hard to raise money for medical research and to support the pediatric oncology program at the University of Wisconsin--Madison, where Jeff was treated (7: Magnificent Obsession).

Looking forward to your comments...

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

180: The Self-Empowered Woman: Mystique/Lean

Dear Followers,


Welcome to Women’s History Month!

For today’s post, instead of introducing you to a historical woman who was a real trailblazer, I’d like to highlight two important books—published almost exactly 50 years apart—that symbolize the progress women in America have made over the past half century.

The first book, which has just been republished with an introduction by Anna Quindlen, was credited with starting second-wave feminism. The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan (who died in 2006), addressed the simmering unhappiness felt by suburban housewives across the country in the in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s. Friedan, who had given up a prestigious Ph.D fellowship in psychology because her boyfriend felt that it would “threaten their relationship,” spent years in the New York Public Library researching Freud, Maslow, Margaret Mead and David Riesman in order to better understand (and skewer) the myth of “the happy housewife.” She also examined the pervasive messages in women’s magazines (both editorial and advertising), which urged women to center their lives around their husbands and children while simultaneously scolding them for their failure to be flawless.

Friedan focused on what was then called "the problem that has no name," which was the unhappiness and sense of unease that many suburban housewives felt in post-World War II America. Without doubt, her book galvanized women and has been considered essential reading for any student of women's issues. Friedan worked for a short while as a reporter for radical newspapers, and even had a file with the F.B.I. She had critics from almost every walk of life, but there can be no denying that The Feminine Mystique changed the way millions of women regarded their life choices.

The second book, which was just recently published, is Lean In by 38 year old Sheryl Sandberg. She is the wildly successful COO of Facebook, who has two degrees from Harvard and at age 29 was Chief of Staff at The U.S. Treasury. Every year since 2007, she has been included in Fortune magazine's list of the 50 most powerful women. In other words, she is the type of woman who simply didn't exist back when Betty Friedan published her controversial book in 1963--when women couldn't even gain admission to Harvard.

Like Friedan, Sandberg is receiving a great deal of criticism for her book because it suggests that women need to be more proactive when it comes to creating an effective professional life. Her book began when she delivered a 2010 speech at a TED conference, and was also influenced by speeches she delivered at Barnard and Harvard Business School. Sandberg makes suggestions to her readers like, "You will never know what you are capable of unless you try," and "Don't let your fears overwhelm your desire."

In today's world, it's important to remember that 70 percent of women with children in the U.S. have jobs outside the home and that for the past 30 years more women have earned college degrees than men. In light of those two statistics, it doesn't make sense to her that women still earn only about 77c for every dollar earned by a man. She argues that "We deserve equal pay, we deserve an equal voice, and we deserve to sit at any table we want to sit at."

These two books--from totally different authors--are thought provoking and "revolutionary" in their own separate ways. It's helpful for us to look at what life was like before women had any economic clout, and it's also useful to hear ideas about how to best capitalize on our careers.

Looking forward to your comments...