One of the precursors to the FED project was a series of Women's Empowerment events I ran with my dear friend and FED consultant, Liya Palagashvili. One was on decision-making and involved a choose-your-own-adventure game; another was on releasing negative emotions and entailed a cathartic writing exercise in the park. But the motivating principle wasn't these specific topics (or even all the food which of course the evenings centered around as well). The idea was for there to be a supportive space for women to share stories and build relationships -- so as to feel empowered to achieve whatever it is that our talents and dreams held in store for us all.
Why do women need to be empowered? The existence of the "glass ceiling" -- something keeping women from rising up the corporate ladder -- has been much debated, denied, and puzzled over in various quarters of society, and some have valiantly attempted to shatter it. Several reasons come to mind as to why the ceiling has prevailed to the extent that it has:
- Women and men tend to think about and present themselves differently. This has to do with factors including: self-confidence, internally and projected; linear vs. non-linear thought processes; the instinct to consult and engage with others rather than to go it alone; and how much individuals seize pride of ownership and take credit at the end of the day.
- Success is perceived differently on a subconscious level when achieved by men and women. In her thought-provoking TED talk, Sheryl Sandberg talks about a Harvard Business School study where a successful individual was presented to two groups of students -- to one as Heidi, and to the other, Howard. Even though everyone felt the individual was highly competent, Sheryl reports, "Everyone liked Howard. He's a great guy. You want to work for him. You want to spend the day fishing with him. But Heidi? Not so sure. She's a little out for herself. She's a little political. You're not sure you'd want to work for her."
- In terms of family care, it is still not completely socially normal (at least in my experience in the US) for men to assume upward of 50% of the childrearing responsibilities, let alone to stay at home entirely. This may limit the careers of women with children (as Anne-Marie Slaughter writes).
While there are male-dominated spaces, others remain female-dominated.
In a Washington Post article, "A Toast to a [Female] Diplomat with a Cook's Heart" (January 3, 2007), chef and journalist Joan Nathan wrote, "In 1985, when a senator called Jeane J. Kirkpatrick to ask why she was leaving her position as the first female U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, she replied, 'Harry Truman used to say that if you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen. I believe the converse: If you can't stand the heat, get back to the kitchen.'"
It's been 30 years. What progress has been made? While I am not sure the exact same dialogue would have taken place today, the boardroom/kitchen disparity has endured to a surprising degree.
Perhaps part of the answer is sharing stories of the world we want to see, while still acknowledging the challenging nature of the path ahead. As Sandberg continued in her TED talk, "We have to tell our daughters and our colleagues, we have to tell ourselves to believe we got the A, to reach for the promotion, to sit at the table. And we have to do it in a world where, for them, there are sacrifices they will make for that, even though for their brothers, there are not."
As part of my empowerment efforts, I wrote and held a Women's Empowerment Passover Seder. Storytelling is a powerful concept in the usual Seder, which has a section by that name (Magid). In that section, I included:
"One way in which we fuel ourselves is through the power of storytelling — the stories we tell ourselves and each other. On Passover, Jews are commanded to tell the story of the Exodus and to see ourselves as having lived through that story, so that we may better learn how to live our lives today. The stories we tell our children shape what they believe to be possible, just as the stories we were told as children have shaped us."
Can we change the narrative, and if we did, would it change our subconscious thoughts and behaviors, our own success and our perception of that of others?
For the upcoming FED on 11/17, I plan to draw upon the recipes of Nathan, a female success story whose Jewish and Israeli recipes have inspired me along my culinary journeys. Full menu to come.
My hope for my children and for those of their generation is that boys and girls should be raised to stand the heat: whether in the kitchen, the boardroom, or wherever their paths lead them.
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