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The Women's Movement Now

Gloria Steinem, Sheryl Sandberg and more inspired a conference on equality

By Nancy Southgate | March 3, 2014

Inspirational and enlightening.

For me, those two words sum up The MAKERS Conference, intended to address issues and opportunities in the women’s movement. (MAKERS began as a PBS and AOL initiative.) Most conferences have speakers talking at you rather than to or with you. This one, held Feb. 10-12 in Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif., was the perfect blend of discussion, thought, conversation and feedback.

There was a stellar array of speakers, including Gloria Steinem, Sheryl Sandberg, Martha Stewart, Geena Davis, Kara Swisher, Chelsea Handler, Gabrielle Giffords and Mark Kelly (among many, many more). While all were informative, here’s a re-cap of my favorites:

Gloria Steinem 

As part of the opening session, Steinem spoke on issues such as equal pay and the definition of feminism (simply put, equality for all). One of her comments that drew a large laugh from the audience: “If women could sleep their way to the top, there’d be a lot more women at the top. It doesn’t work.”

Steinem remains inspiring and thought-provoking, describing herself as a “hopeaholic,” a brilliant term that everyone can relate to.

(MORE: At the Front Lines of the Women’s Movement)

Sam Gordon

The youngest speaker was 10-year old Sam Gordon, who was accompanied by her dad, Brent.

Sam became a YouTube sensation in 2012 when her football tackle video went viral. Her father summed up her success by crediting her confidence. My favorite quote of his was “Don’t underestimate your daughters.” (And I’d add granddaughters as well.) Success starts with the support of others and having friends and family behind you make any road easier to follow.

Sam got a huge round of laughter when she said your kids will make mistakes, “so get over it or take anger management classes.”

Insightful, intelligent and incredibly poised, Sam is destined to continue inspiring women of all ages for years to come.

As a side note, I noticed she was in the audience for the entire conference. That made me wonder how many other 10-year olds could benefit from listening to so many intelligent and inspiring women?

Geena Davis

The well-known actress has become an agent for change because her Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media targets gender stereotyping in films and television. Here’s one fact the Institute’s research has uncovered: Crowd scenes on the big and small screen are unrealistic as far as the percentage of females within them — even in animated films. On average, only 17 percent of those in film crowds are female.

To change gender stereotyping, many things must change — this being just one of them. Stereotyping ends if young girls begin to see on screen a more realistic, gender-balanced world.
 
(MORE: Why We Fear Aging More Than We Should)
 
Megan Smith

The conference included a great deal of discussion about women in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) careers.

Megan Smith, vice president of GoogleX at Google; Maria Klawe, president of Harvey Mudd College; astronauts Cady Coleman and Mae Jemison and Gwynne Shotwell, president and chief operating officer of SpaceX spoke about the importance of encouraging girls to take an interest in STEM education and ultimately STEM-based careers.

From the Internet to space, a huge range of careers are based on STEM. Young girls need to start looking at that as an area they can and should focus on.

Gabrielle “Gabby” Giffords

The most inspiring story came from former Congresswoman Gabrielle “Gabby” Giffords. Hearing about how she was shot in Tucson at a speaking engagement, about the deaths of six others there and her extensive recovery is difficult even now, yet her story reminds us of the resilience of the human spirit. Having the opportunity to see her speak was an honor.

Her story touched me on another level. Her husband, retired astronaut Captain Mark Kelly, stood by Giffords through her recovery and continues to stand by her. It was plain to see how bound together they are. The love and devotion they so openly share reminds me of the importance of standing by those we love.

Ultimately, Giffords remains a force of change in all she undertakes. As she said, “strong women can do anything.” She is living proof of that.
 
(MORE: JFK’s 3 Enduring Legacies for Boomers)

Dyllan McGee and Maureen Sullivan, who started MAKERS and produce the stellar PBS series, MAKERS: Women Who Make America, put on this amazing conference. For me, it was a reminder to find your inner strength, your talent and your purpose and go for it.


Nancy Southgate has been the associate general manager of content for Eight/KAET-TV, an Arizona PBS station. She is a graduate of PBS’ 2008 Leadership Development Program and a winner of five Rocky Mountain Southwest Emmy Awards.

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