Women power

As someone who grew up in a neighborhood of boys, whose best friend in high school was a guy and who was a long-time sportswriter with colleagues — and friends — that are primarily male, I have long been comfortable with men.

It is interesting to me that I step into a new chapter of my writing and editing career by becoming the next owner of the 33-year-old Minnesota Women’s Press, starting with the January 2018 issue. As preparation, I’ve been sitting down with women to talk about the powerful ways they build community.

One of them recently sent me this quote from Bella Abzug: “In the twenty-first century, women will change the nature of power rather than power changing the nature of women.”

As a nation, we are dramatically impacted by the reaction many voters had in considering a woman as President of the United States in 2016. Our expectations of powerful women, especially compared to powerful men, are skewed — as is, I believe, our very definition of power.

My grandmother went to beauty school after she became a young widow in the 1940s. She raised my mother and uncle in a one-bedroom apartment above the salon in their small town. That takes power.

My mother was 10 when her father died. She put herself through nursing school, and returned in her 50s for an advanced degree as a nurse practitioner so she could earn more money. She was the initial investor to help me purchase the magazine. That’s power.

One version of power

It has been nearly 20 years since I worked as an executive in New York City magazine publishing, but I will never forget when a colleague loudly chewed out an art designer within earshot of everyone in the office — and our boss applauded that show of “power” from his office. A previous boss — a legendary power in publishing for decades — regularly had emotional outbursts directed at staff. One editor talked openly about buying sex.

I have worked with some fantastic male editors and writers over the years. But as many women and people of color have been calling out for decades, the vision of power that continues to be promoted and elected is in need of a significant overhaul.

On the other hand

My storytelling mission at Minnesota Women’s Press will be to spotlight the power of women. We benefit when we see who truly builds our communities, and how. As Abzug indicated, the nature of power is (slowly) being redefined — and will not resemble the definition of power in past decades.

Power looks like the women I am meeting in conversation, such as:

 

  • LaDonna Redmond, diversity and engagement coordinator at Seward Community Co-op, who started her career in food justice after her young child (now a tall 19-year-old young man) suffered from severe food allergies. She learned about the impact of pesticides and discovered there was nothing organic about the affordable food sold within an hour of her home. Redmond knew it was wrong that it was easier to get an automatic weapon than an organic tomato. She mobilized community and turned a vacant lot of compacted soil into a neighborhood garden of healthier produce.

 

  • Nausheena Hussain, who co-founded an organization that strengthens the power of Muslim women in community and in action. She knew that no one resolves the issues we face except our individual selves in connection with others. Together they lobby, bring their grandmothers to primaries for the first time, elect leaders and work to change the narrative of what our values are. In early 2016, the women hosted a discussion with Ilhan Omar, who has since become nationally recognized as the first Muslim refugee elected to a state House seat, from Minneapolis’ District 60B.

 

For a future feature in Minnesota Women’s Press, I asked Kate Lynch — a musician who has long connected women in my East Isles neighborhood — about what comes to mind when she hears the word “power.” Her reply: “When a person is in a position of power by virtue of their status as a member of the dominant culture, I am often suspicious. Entitlement and power seem related. Though ferocity, justice and bravery can be cousins to power as well.”

Lynch asked her 80-year-old mother the same question. The response: “Are we talking about the palpable personal power that I see when I watch my determined granddaughter scaling a sheer rock wall? Or is power more directly portrayed on my television as Ken Burns documents the tragic foolishness of the United States’ use of power in the unwinnable Vietnam War?”

Her 12-year-old daughter, whose personal experience does not include the limited walls and ceilings of past decades, connotes nothing but positive use of strength with the word. “Fist in the air. Standing together. The Women’s March. MLK. Gandhi. Joan Jett.”

It was Kate and her daughter, in fact, who offered the new tagline for the 2018 iteration of Minnesota Women’s Press: “Powerful. Everyday. Women.”

I love many of the men in my life. But I’m excited about the community-building women in my future.

 

Mikki Morrissette is writing “Attainable We,” a book of essays about community building in our polarized society. To learn more about her plans for Minnesota Women’s Press, visit bit.ly/MWP2018.

More in Attainable We