‘Women Will Save the World’ – Book Review in Honor of International Women’s Day
This was uttered by the Dalai Lama at the 2009 Vancouver Peace Summit, and it’s inspired much discussion since. This statement was also the inspiration for the book I wanted to share in honor of International Women’s Day, entitled Women Will Save the World. The author, Caroline Shearer, was struck by this statement, and it led her to research women from the past and present who worked or are working to save their own corner of the world in some way. The result is an inspiring collection of historical biographies and contemporary essays grouped by theme into chapters on collaboration, creativity, intuition, nurturing, strength, trailblazing, and wisdom.
I think the best way to share this book, and to honor the spirit of International Women’s Day (and Women’s history month) is to share stories and excerpts from the biographies and essays I personally found the most fascinating or inspirational. Part of the value of reading about the lives of women past and present is to see ourselves as part of a continuum and momentum – to see our own actions as part of a larger wave of change. We can draw strength from this, and from the challenges others have fought to overcome.
I always find historical bios interesting, and many in here, though brief, were intriguing. Although most were of women I was familiar with – such as Juliette Gordon Low, founder of the Girl Scouts, mystics Hildegard Bingen and Teresa of Avila, or pilot Amelia Earhart – many offered new information. Here’s some that captured my attention:
– Edna St. Vincent Millay was the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize in poetry in 1923, and also wrote plays and opera scores. “Soar, eat, ether, see what has never been seen; depart, be lost, but climb” are her beautiful words.
– I had heard of Florence Nightingale, but didn’t really realize the extent of her accomplishments. Through daring to publicize the horrendous conditions she found as a nurse in warfront hospitals during the Crimean War, she led an overhaul of the medical system there that saved thousands of lives. She then went on to do the same as a consultant during both the American Civil War and the Franco-Prussian war.
– Harriet Tubman was another historical figure I was familiar with from school but enjoyed revisiting. After escaping slavery herself in 1849, she became a conductor on the Underground Railroad, saving many others from slavery. Her inspiring words: “Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world.”
– Nelly Bly was the first female investigative reporter and went undercover in many dangerous and deplorable situations to expose the awful conditions of the poor and incarcerated in the late 1800s. She went undercover as a sweatshop worker and exposed the unsafe children’s working conditions of the time. She committed herself to Bellevue mental hospital and then exposed the asylum’s horrendous practices. She also circled the world, and became the first female war correspondent.
Most of the essays by contemporary women shared very personal stories, and many brought me to tears. The first to do so was by Terry Grahl, founder of the non-profit Enchanted Makeovers, which transforms women’s shelters through renovation, design, and art. Terry had started her own interior design business when she was approached through a friend to create a mural for a local women’s shelter. However, when she toured the shelter, and saw the cracked walls, chipped paint, and dim colors, she decided to do much more. She set about transforming the shelter into a place where women and their children could truly heal, with vibrant colors, nature-inspired visuals, and inspirational phrases. Anyone who has been to such a place knows the dim environment that limited budgets usually results in – and anyone who pays attention to energy (as you probably do if you read this blog!) knows the importance of the colors and vibrations of our surroundings when we are attempting to heal or change our lives. This is the focus of Terry’s work.
I was also moved by the essay by Donna Visocky, founder of BellaSpark Productions and Media, an organization dedicated to providing access to consciousness-raising ideas, people, and information. As a mother, I found Donna’s story of losing her daughter Kristi in an automobile accident heart-wrenching, but the spiritual journey it led her on was beautiful and sincere. As she slowly climbed up from the depths of her grief, the idea for BellaSpark was born, and her life, and the lives of others touched by it, transformed.
As in Donna’s case, many of the organizations founded by the women in this book grew out of their own dark nights of the soul. Another that unexpectedly touched me was the essay by Shannon Miller, the most decorated American gymnast in history. As a gymnastics fan, I was aware of Shannon’s gymnastics legacy, but hadn’t known she battled ovarian cancer. The resulting shift in priorities and life-clarifying insights led her to become an advocate for women’s health and wellness.
These stories are typical of the stories shared here. Not all of the work described is non-profit – many of the women featured have founded their own successful businesses. But in each case, they are striving to conduct their business in a way true to their own values and goals, and to integrate inn0vative business structures and management. Many are involved in women’s empowerment or causes. All are unique and true expressions of each woman’s individual gifts. And that is perhaps the most empowering takeaway from this book – the sheer variety of ways we can work in the world, and the importance of valuing what we as individuals have to offer, on whatever scale.
This book awakened in me a new appreciation for the amazing changes that have occurred, particularly for and by western women, in the last 150 years or so. Perhaps never in history has so much social change occurred in so short a time. And that change has emanated outward into every area of life, transforming family structures, economic models, government, religious leadership, spirituality, and more. It is the way that the energetic shifts that I am personally more interested in manifest in the physical. It isn’t always easy, and it isn’t just about (or accomplished by) women, but in many ways that’s where it’s centered for the forseeable future, and we’re all a part of it, consciously or not.
Happy International Women’s Day. May you know love, peace, and your own feminine power this day and always.
P.S. Friend Joy over at Facets of Joy is offering a 30-day love dare (I am joining as both a contributor and participant) March 15-April 13th. A beautiful way to challenge yourself to open your heart even more during this Equinox season.