Empower— for some reason I’ve never liked that word. It also happens to be the key word in the mission of Maria Shriver’s annual Women’s Conference, that I attended this week in Long Beach: We Empower Women to be Architects of Change.
I say this with due respect—-and new respect—for what California’s First Lady accomplished at this conference: for me, although the Women’s Conference was powerful, it wasn’t about empowering.
Possibly that’s due to where I stand—part of the pioneer generation of women. I look back at where we were, and I think women are already empowered. Instead, the Women’s Conference—and the times—represent another significant change—one that also begins with “em”.
For me, the conference was less about empowerment and more about emotion.
It started—appropriately enough—with Eve. Not the biblical Eve, I mean Eve Ensler. The woman who made it popular to carry on monologues about our vaginas….is moving up….geographically speaking….to our hearts.
Her own emotion– and her passion— rocked and roiled the Long Beach Convention Center like a tsunami….as she read from her upcoming book: I am an EMOTIONAL Creature: The Secret Life of Girls Around the World.
I thought this might be the emotional high point of the day—-but the emotions were just getting started. If Eve was a hurricane, other speakers were the storm surge— in a day filled with emotional, memorable moments. There was Somaly Mam ‘s saga of her life of slavery in the brothels of Cambodia, then her return to help thousands of others escape. Katie Couric’s odyssey of resilence— both professional and personal—told with honesty and humor.
I thought about all the times I’ve heard woman say, “I’m an emotional mess” —when I heard ABC anchor Robin Roberts repeat her mother’s mantra: “Make your mess your message.” (I love that one.)
And the waves of emotion continued, peaking during the session on Grief, Healing and Resilience.
Probably there is no more indelible and undeniable part of the human experience—- than grief, loss and suffering. Nothing is more painful; nothing is more private.
So possibly nothing is more profound than 4 amazingly brave women who open their hearts, take their most private emotions and express them in public. This conversation was a symbolic, powerful gesture that will resound and ripple into countless other lives—-effectively multiplying the emotional impact—-as others take in the emotions, share them, and learn by example. All around me, women sat stunned and sobbing in their seats, listening to four remarkable women:
Lisa Niemi, widow of Patrick Swayze, making her first public appearance since his death two months ago.
Susan Saint James— —so real, so raw, so authentic, so open about the loss of her 14-year-old son Teddy.
Elizabeth Edwards, who has lived several versions of every woman’s nightmare …. and is still standing….strong.
Maria Shriver—embodiment of everything powerful; yet, in her own words, “brought to her knees” by an event that is a natural and inevitable part of life, the loss of her mother.
Maria’s comments about her mother as her touchstone were echoed later by Jane Goodall, the essence of elegance and eloquence. Her emotional words of gentle grace and quiet dignity, mixed with her amazing rendition of simian sound, sent us on our way as we left for home, taking our emotions with us as we re-enter our own lives.
After being immersed and inspired by incredible stories, for me, the take-home message of this enormous energetic coming together —-is something we can all see reinforced every day in ourselves and in the other women around us:
Instead of our emotions as a source of weakness, our emotions are a source of our strength.
To me the power of this conference—-and the power of women as individuals and as a group—comes from embracing those emotions—by letting our emotions rule us in a positive way—-and by harnessing our emotions to change our lives, and to change the world.