As a women’s organization with over one hundred years of history, The Junior League is proud to celebrate the achievements and gains women have made since our founding in 1901. Yet, there is still work to be done, as women continue to be underrepresented in arenas such as government, media and business. Unsurprisingly, our community includes many members and partner organizations working to address these gaps. We asked a few of them to share about their work and thoughts on Women’s History Month.
Lynn Yeakel is founder and president of Vision 2020, a national coalition of organizations and individuals working together to achieve economic, political and social equality for women, and a long-time member of the Junior League of Philadelphia.
Maggie Tinsman began her political career by serving 11 years as the first woman elected to the Scott County Board of Supervisors, and went on to serve 18 years in the Iowa Senate. A JL Quad Cities sustaining member, she is now founder and co-chair of 50-50 in 2020, a non-profit bipartisan, issue neutral organization for the sole purpose of achieving political equity for Iowa women.
Tiffany Shlain is an Emmy-nominated filmmaker and founder of The Webby Awards. Tiffany and her film studio Let it Ripple host two global days where companies, schools and organizations can host screenings and discussions about some of the most pressing issues of our day. 50/50 Day, set for May 10, will explore how a more gender balanced world is better for everyone.
Carol Scott, AJLI’s very own Board President, is also an active member of the Junior League of Pasadena, and serves on the Board of the National Women’s Hall of Fame. Professionally, she is the CEO of the Children’s Museum of the Desert in Rancho Mirage California.
1. Tell us a little bit about your work in the area of women’s representation/equality/empowerment.
Lynn: Vision 2020, which was founded and is administered by Drexel University College of Medicine’s Institute for Women’s Health and Leadership, is a national coalition of individuals and organizations in all 50 states working together for women’s economic, political and social equality in the United States. Our goal is to achieve shared leadership among women and men, with an initial focus on government and business since these areas are where decisions are made and policies set that affect all our lives. Women are seriously underrepresented among senior leadership positions in both of these fields.
Maggie: After serving in the Iowa Senate (Republican) for 18 years, I dreamed of having an Iowa Campaign School for women. In 2009, I asked former Democrat Senator Jean Lloyd-Jones to join me in forming 50-50 in 2020, working towards 50% women in the Iowa Legislature, as well as a female governor, U.S. Senator, and two women in the U.S. House of Representatives. We run an intensive two-day bi-partisan campaign school for women who are running for office, and an annual behind-the-scenes look at the state governmental process during the legislative session for women thinking of running for election.
Tiffany: This past fall our Emmy-nominated film studio, Let it Ripple, premiered a 20 minute film called 50/50: Rethinking the Past, Present, and Future of Women in Power. As a studio, we’re passionate about the positive impact gender equity across all sectors of society can have on reshaping the world today. On May 10th, we’re producing 50/50 Day, a single day to bring everyone together to push the global conversation further and add momentum to a growing movement. Thousands of organizations, companies, schools, museums, libraries and homes—anywhere people already gather—will join a global conversation about what it will take to get to a more gender-balanced world.
Carol: For years I have been involved with Junior Leagues and the National Women’s Hall of Fame; both organizations are champions for women. I have volunteered for other organizations that involve the empowerment of girls and women, including the Girl Scouts and The Board of Governors of Converse College, an all-women’s college in South Carolina. One of my favorite experiences was traveling to the UN Conference on Women in Beijing China.
2. What does Women’s History Month mean to you in the context of that work? Why is it important?
Carol: I think it allows us all to lift up the issues of women around the world and in the US that still need to be recognized and advanced.
Tiffany: Understanding our history strengthens our roots as we reach for the future. The 50/50 film explores the 10,000 year history of women and power, from setbacks and uprisings to where we are today, reframing our history from one of scarcity to one of growing abundance. Right now, we are at a critical moment on that greater arc of history. If we take all that context—the thousands of years of history that so many of us lose sight of—and combine that with the critical mass we now see taking to the streets and marching for gender equality, we could realize that full potential. These stories need to be told and re-told until they are fully integrated into our general un-silo’d history.
Maggie: Women’s History Month is most important, for it focuses on women working for results and problem solving. We need a much stronger emphasis on women helping to enhance our quality of life. Women have done this in the past. We at 50-50 in 2020 simply want to extend the emphasis on women leaders.
Lynn: The history of women’s achievements has been omitted from our education from the beginning. It’s extremely important to remember and honor the contributions of women over the centuries; however, it is my personal goal to reach a point where Women’s History Month is no longer necessary because the history of women has been incorporated into all of American history.
3. Who are your favorite women in history? Why?
Maggie: Mary Louise Smith from Iowa was the first woman leader of any National Political Party. This was the National Republican Party. She was a master of pulling people together from opposite viewpoints to work together for compromise. She was a great diplomat. Earlier in her career, she worked for women’s equality. Yet, her greatest gift was encouraging people to work together to solve problems amicably.
Carol: There are too many to name, but two favorites are Eleanor Roosevelt and Mary Harriman. Eleanor Roosevelt because of her outstanding boldness in breaking tradition in the White House. Mary Harriman because of her risk taking in helping others, going against the norm for women and what she means to The Junior League.
Tiffany: One of my heroes as a filmmaker is Maya Deren. She was an avant-garde filmmaker from the 1940s & 50s and is considered the mother of independent filmmaking. When there wasn’t a venue for showing her experimental films, she used to host screenings in her West Village apartment… which planted seeds for all the art house cinemas. She created a space for alternative films and helped birth independent cinema.
Lynn: One is Lucretia Mott, who was from Vision 2020’s headquarters of Philadelphia, and was a key organizer and speaker at the first-ever Women’s Rights Convention that took place in Seneca Falls, NY in 1848. Mott called for women’s civil, social, political and religious equality as outlined in the Declaration of Sentiments, written by Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Another is Alice Paul, who courageously led women as they picketed in front of the White House, and who was jailed for confronting the status quo that had perpetuated women’s inequality. Without Paul, we might not have achieved the passage of the 19th Amendment. Both of these women made tremendous contributions in the fight for women’s equality—Mott at the beginning of the movement, and Paul seven decades later as she carried the torch for women to finally achieve voting rights.
4. What do you think is the biggest issue/hurdle facing women today? What’s their biggest achievement or strength?
Maggie: Women’s biggest hurdle is realizing that they could get elected; they have enough knowledge, but they lack confidence. They are not exceptional just because they are female, but many are excellent because they know how to bring men and women together to solve a problem. They are good listeners and excellent workers. They win the same amount as men; they just tend to be afraid to RUN.
Lynn: Institutional and attitudinal barriers continue to perpetuate women’s inequality. The pace of women’s progress would be much faster if women’s organizations worked together, and that philosophy is the basis of the Vision 2020 collective impact model. It is crucial that we identify first as women in order to act like the majority we are. We are a powerful, unstoppable force when we’re together, and our history of breaking through many barriers over the last century is evidence of that strength. The greatest and most positive strength that women have is our commitment and ability to help each other succeed.
Carol: Issues include representation in legislature, recognition of the accomplishments of women in this country, workforce opportunities and equality in compensation. The continuation of raising issues that women face is crucial, as is the proud and humble recognition that we stand on the shoulders of the women who were the early trailblazers.
Tiffany: I think the biggest hurdle facing women today is overcoming centuries of systemic structural imbalance, as there is greater diversity of participation by people of different life experiences, points of view, socio-economic status, then the institutional systems that were created by a few can evolve to more holistically serve all. Our expertise for the past several years has been in creating films around character development and gender equality. Both go hand in hand. We believe one of the largest hurdles men and women have to face today is unconscious gender bias- what stereotypes society makes us believe are masculine versus feminine, and which character strengths we value. Leadership is powerful, but so is love. Empathy can be just as important as bravery, optimism, or humor. It is time to reevaluate what it means to be human and how to let all genders be who they want to be.