Recently I spoke to the first “class” of Progressive Women’s Voices, an exciting new program of the Women’s Media Center, where I serve on the board. I was asked about the lessons I learned leading a social movement where I worked a great deal with the media and messages as vehicles of social change. Here are my comments:
Once, soon after we arrived in New York, my husband Alex and I were on the corner of 57th and 8th talking rather intensely with our realtor. A homeless man approached us and asked, “Will you give me the money for a lobster dinner?” We paid no attention and went on talking about our apartment options.
“Will you give me the money for a lobster dinner?” the man repeated a little louder. Again, we didn’t respond. Again the man made his request. At this point, my Brooklyn born husband quipped back, “What’s the matter, a hamburger isn’t good enough?” The man pulled himself up to full height, puffed out his chest, and precisely enunciated every word as he retorted: “Answer the question as asked!”
The lesson is this: when you are making change—and with Progressive Women’s Voices (PWV), we’re changing the way the media portrays women and women’s stories and issues–we do not answer the question as asked. We determine what we want the question to be and start there.
Your passion for your substantive areas of expertise and the power of your knowledge are key elements to enable you to frame the questions as you think they should be. That’s the obvious part.
But the most important thing is that you must also learn to embrace controversy, not run away from it if you want to use your message to get your ideas into the political and cultural bloodstream. Here’s why: