I have a long time friend whose invitations’ elicit a fast response from me. Ninon has had this effect on me since we first met in LA while working in the entertainment industry. She is a political sage and an intuitively powerful networker. So when she invited me to attend Senator Barbara Boxer’s Annual Women Making History Luncheon in Beverly Hills on August 23, I gladly accepted.
The alarm started buzzing at 4 am. I tip-toed to my closet careful not to disturb our 22-month old who had climbed into our bed a few hours prior. After painting my face in our dimly lit bathroom, I slipped into my tangerine dress and said a silent prayer to remain wrinkle free. I quickly learned why my Spirit Airlines ticket was half the price of my trusted SWA. I was only allowed to carry one limited-size personal item for free. I placed my favorite stilettos, wallet and a clutch in my travel bag and snuck out the door. I hadn’t experienced same day plane travel since mommy hood had commenced. The flight was smooth. I traded my comfy flats for my heels and walked into the Montage. I enjoyed a green smoothie at the hotels café and awaited Ninon’s arrival. Her gorgeous bouncing locks and big bright smile caught the corner of my eye. We dialogued on everything from current politics to her consulting business to stem cell research and renewable energy. We ran into our mutual friend, Isabelle, and her boyfriend on the way to the ballroom. Isabelle was a powerful ally on Gabe’s campaign. We exchanged hugs and checked in at registration together.
Senator Boxer walked up to the podium and started with, “Politicians do not like to admit when they have made a mistake. I want to share with you what I believe to be one my biggest professional failures.” Okay she has got my attention, I thought.
She continued sharing that this would be the last Woman Making History Luncheon she would host. Most of us in the room knew about her decision not to run for re-election. There was one brave woman she had left to honor. This woman spoke her truth under the most unimaginable pressure and in doing so removed the veil of shame women have lived with for centuries. The testimony of Anita Hill started a national conversation that led to the passage of major legislation to protect women in America from sexually harassment and assault. Today, we would honor Anita Hill and hear her story.
“To this day, I believe one of the biggest mistakes of my career was taking my eye off the ball and not following through to fight for the four women who had come forth to corroborate Anita Hill’s testimony.” Then she read the following from her book ‘The Art of Tough’, “looking back I failed to do the follow-through. I failed big time. Not that it would have been easy. We woman of the House were seen as the enemy. We really were…enemies of the status quo, the way things were, of the gentlemanly way things were. I believe even my buddy Joe Biden had to succumb to the vast majority of his committee members on both sides.” My sense was she had not forgiven herself.
As Anita Hill rose to applause and approached the podium, my mind started to flood with memories. The high school teacher who asked me to sit in the front row when I wore a skirt to school. The accounting professor who made innuendos at me during office hours. I thought about how I diminished many of the transgressions over the years where men had been inappropriate with me. Overtime we become numb to such behaviors when we keep them to ourselves in shame or worse apathy.
Anita Hill shared about the intensity of her experience and how it shaped the past 24 years of her life. There was retaliation. She was soon fired from her position as a law professor at the University of Oklahoma. Threats came from many directions, even to close her school, the only public law school in the state. But her focus was on what her testimony did accomplish. We now have a better vocabulary to talk about aggression against woman. Legal tools like Title IX* are allowing woman to access athletic competition scholarships previously denied. The results of which we witnessed with our women’s recent success at the Olympic Games. Ideas about women’s bodies and their capabilities are changing. Of course, we can not change centuries of bad behavior overnight. Sexual assault on our college campuses will occur to one in five women. “It is time to enforce the broad mandate Title IX allows for gender equity and access to educational opportunities,” said Hill. She concluded that she had no plans to retire as a professor or stop fighting for woman.
As I flew home that evening I contemplated my own daughter’s empowerment and possibility. My expectations of her future were shattered years ago with the acceptance of her Infantile Spasm and RARE disease diagnoses. This experience was probably one of the best things that could have happened to my personal growth and transformation. It left me hopeful, free and open to the infinite possibilities for her healing and development. It left a blank canvas for Mickie to create the most inspiring piece of art, herself. She continues to push false boundaries. In the past few weeks alone I have witnessed her successfully ride her brother’s old bicycle with training wheels. Today she will start swim lessons and tomorrow piano and voice. I sometimes wonder if she will ever live a completely independent life. I hold the space that she absolutely will but I’m at peace if she doesn’t. She is perfect. I was the one who got to shift and take my limited view spectacles off. Mickie is a story of victory that I am called forth to share. I believe together we will lift the veil of shame, stigma and silence that is holding the progress of Epilepsy awareness, research and cure from moving forward.
*Title IX is a portion of the United States Education Amendments of 1972 that states no person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.