Monday, September 20, 2010

In Women We Trust

There are few reasons to get out of bed before 6am: catching a plane to somewhere fabulous, a small fire in your home, a hurricane.

And Donna Karan.

At 6:45 a.m, I slid into my black trench dress, pearls and heels. I fluffed my hair and looked in the mirror. Ready? Go.

I checked in to the Women: Inspiration and Enterprise Symposium at 7:30 am. The symposium itself was created to gather creative women in hopes of letting them meet and work together to influence societal change and inspire further generations of women. The WIE Symposium was also partnered with the White Ribbon Alliance, which raises awareness of the 600,000 women who die each year due to pregnancy-related complications around the world. It was genuinely an honor just to be there among women who were really making a difference across the globe like Christy Turlington and Queen Rania of Jordan. I am so glad I was able to be there, even for a few hours.

I was there as a guest of the founders of Her, the online college women’s magazine for which I am Style Editor. Fabulously enough, the founders of Her had been chosen to speak on a Young Innovators panel that day, and had invited me to attend the conference with them (another major win for living in New York!).

When we were getting our tote bags filled with endless amounts of goodies, though, I saw her. She was very darkly tanned and was wearing a thick coat of foundation. Eyes were smudged black with eyeshadow and reddish-chocolate hair curled on the side of her face. She was wearing all black, black tights into black boots and a black dress with a black cardigan and a string of thick black leather beads. I had just written about how much I loved her Spring 2011 collection and there she was. Donna Karan. I knew she was going to be there because she was a host of the event, but I didn’t think I’d actually be standing there meeting her, breathing the same air as her.

But then we Her Campus girls introduced ourselves and I heard the most amazing words, delivered by Her Campus’s publisher:

“This is our Style Editor, Elyssa.”

I have heard these words before, but they have never sounded so beautiful as they did when I shook hands with Donna Karan. I, Style Editor of Her and recent college graduate, was shaking hands with one of the great divas of American fashion. Was this my life? Was this real? Would I suddenly wake up at 6 a.m. wondering why the crap I had woken up then fall back asleep for another three hours like I normally would have? No.

I smiled and politely said hello, though my brain was actually lodged inside a giant bounce house going “DONNA KARAN DONNA KARAN DONNA KARAN OH MY GOD” over and over again. I swear, I could have left at that instant and been happy, even though I spoke to her for all of five seconds and rode in an elevator with her for all of two minutes.

But later, inside the green room, some of the world’s most powerful women were walking past us every second as we sat and waited for the conference to begin. I realized meeting Donna Karan would not be the only highlight of the day. The three hosts of the event were Sarah Brown, wife of former UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown and the Chairwoman of the WIE Symposium; Arianna Huffington, of The Huffington Post; and the aforementioned fashion icon. The three ladies spoke about the power of women, what it means to be a female leader today, and how we as women can make a difference in the lives of other women (note: there were no men allowed at the conference except press).

One thing I distinctly remember is Pat Mitchell talking about the news world when she first started in the 1970s. There were almost no news stories about women anywhere on television. But today, stories about women are still only about 16% of everything aired. Can you imagine, still only 16% some thirty- or forty-odd years later? It’s unsettling, because usually we think we’ve come so far—but things like this remind us that there’s still a huge gender gap.

Additionally, Arianna Huffington talked about “self-expression as the new entertainment,” where we’re actually producing something and sharing it with the world instead of just sitting on our butts watching television for nine hours. It made me feel less vain for having a blog and a part of something bigger. Especially when BlogHer founder Lisa Stone said that even in areas where it’s very difficult to get internet access, women still outnumber men as bloggers. Food for thought (and food for blog).  For me, the WIE Symposium reached its goal—it was definitely inspiring. It made me think more about what I want my life to be not just as a person in the workforce, but as a woman in the workforce. What can I do to inspire generations of women, too?

And of course it was nice to see the Her Campus girls go forth and be awesome in their own panel, speaking eloquently and elegantly (in true Her Campus fashion) about what it’s like to start a magazine in the changing face of media. I was even more proud than usual to be a part of the team. It’s crazy to think that a year ago it was this tiny website, but is now gaining more and more national recognition every day. Way to go, ladies! And thank you again for an incredible day.

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