Entering the beautiful and inspirational United States Institute of Peace on a sunny Friday morning set the stage for the entirety of my experience at the TEDxWomen conference in Washington, D.C. last weekend. In this pristine venue with jutting ceilings and immense glass windows, envisioning a new world felt especially feasible. Over the course of the weekend, an array of passionate speakers, singers, dancers and artists shared their stories, ideas and visions for a world in which women and girls will be given the tools they need to succeed. Beyond calling for greater gender equality, male and female speakers of all ages and backgrounds discussed the importance of implementing feminist ideals (such as peace and collaboration) in order to ensure a better world.
Although labeled as a “women’s” conference, the weekend encompassed so much more. For me, the most powerful talks were those that identified real problems (such as the stigmatization of obesity or the lack of women in high positions on Wall Street), yet assured the audience that the way things are is not the way they have to be. Through their activism and incredible imagination, these speakers encouraged me to see things in a new way.
I found session four, “The Mirror” (hosted by Courtney Martin, pictured right) to be the most applicable to my life and personal vision of feminism as an exceptionally broad form of activism. Sue Austin, a performance, multimedia, and installation artist spoke about her life in a wheelchair not as debilitating but liberating. Austin’s underwater wheelchair performance film is not only an incredible work of art, but truly groundbreaking in its ability to redefine common conceptions of disability. Emily May, cofounder of Hollaback!, expressed her commitment to ending street harassment against women and LGBTQ individuals in New York City. Together, these and several other young activists helped show how diverse the “women’s” movement is today.
Although TEDxWomen was undeniably global, it was also a distinctly individual and personal experience. Meaningful change requires both worldwide collaboration and the kind of individual commitment expressed by every speaker, performer and artist who contributed in creating such an unforgettable event.
Callie Strickland is a senior at Columbia University majoring in Women’s and Gender Studies. She is passionate about women’s advocacy and plans to pursue a career in non-profit work and possibly attain a law degree. Callie grew up in Denver, Colorado, and loves snowboarding, hiking and white-water rafting. Callie interned for the New York Paley Center team and volunteered with two friends at the recent TEDxWomen conference in DC.