Last night I happened to catch the tail end of “Invictus,” a 2009 movie starring Matt Damon as Francois Pienaar, a real-life member of South Africa’s rugby team who’s summoned by Nelson Mandela (Morgan Freeman) to rally support in the country and unite the racial divide. At one point Mandela is speaking about inspiration with Matt Damon’s character and says (and I’m paraphrasing), “how do you get people to be better than they think they can be?” In the movie Mandela was seeking to inspire folks to simply forgive after decades of horrid, tortuous behavior that divided South Africa. Decades earlier a first lady, Eleanor Roosevelt, penned “It’s Up To The Women,” daring to inspire the ladies of our country at a particularly horrid time for our nation; the Great Depression. Both leaders relied on inspiration to get folks to accomplish more than they thought possible. My summary is the same for transition; we simply need a bit of inspiration.
Truth be told I was looking for something patriotic and a little less weighty this week given our July 4th holiday. You may recall that I adopted a somewhat quirky project in late May; to use the summer to review books on transition for Novofemina’s readers. At five weeks in, I took a bit of a field trip from the core transition literature and found a well-preserved 1933 time capsule.
“The attitudes of women will shape who we become as a society” opines our first feminist, Roosevelt. Prior to this I’d never read Eleanor Roosevelt; I’d read countless biographies and articles about her but never anything by her.
Scholars often say history repeats itself. Here is some of what she describes in her current state ’33:
- a need for equal pay for equal work (It’s up to the Women, pg 167);
- the sheer necessity of quality education (It’s up to the Women, pg 157);
- the disappointment related to an indifference regarding the right to vote which had been gained in 1918 – a mere 15 years earlier (It’s up to the Women, pg 192); and
- the necessity of knowing one’s neighbors for both urban and rural citizens.
Most of Roosevelt’s transition commentary is rooted in stark “condition” changes related to the Great Depression: homelessness, hunger; and alterations in the social order within communities and within families (i.e. woman & children called upon to work outside the home due to a father’s unemployment). Within this context Roosevelt calls upon the women to lead. Here are a few examples that I found both energizing and wholly valid today:
- A call to women to progress as far as their ability & character will permit (It’s up to the Women, pg 175);
- A challenge to get on with thinking about what we want out of life. Ms. Roosevelt states, “we should be able to realize that making up our minds as to what gives us the greatest amount of pleasure and then working for it, is one of the (great) satisfactions of life. Drifting along is too easy to do.” (It’s up to the Women, pg 9);
- A call to prioritize our lives and understand that what one has matters little (It’s up to the Women, pg 32 ). Throughout the text Roosevelt calls women to rise above material conditions. She dedicates a chapter to enjoyment outside of material endeavors, i.e. heading to a park for a Sunday afternoon with family.
- A wish that women seek harmony in life. Roosevelt feels strongly that “your physical condition reacts on your mental condition and on your spiritual attitude towards life” (It’s up to the Women, pg 60). She calls on all women to cultivate the spirit such that a women’s energy can propel both herself and her family throughout the toughest of times.
Roosevelt was writing to a nation in a time of severe and wrenching change. She held a deep-seated positive notion about the power of women and their influence on our society. She sought to inspire a generation. Have you found an inspiration like Eleanor?
Roosevelt’s book inspires me to think that SO MUCH is within our reach. Over the summer if you can’t take a few minutes to read “It’s Up To The Women,” take some time to think about what is right for you. Trust what you hear yourself say. No other answer is worthwhile.
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