Marianne Schnall Speech
Audio version

First let me say that this is one of the happiest, most special and profound days of my life. The room is filled with so many people that I admire who have been so important to me, most especially Gloria and Eve who are two personal heroes and mentors of mine, longtime supporters, and constant sources of inspiration. I can’t even express what a thrill and honor it is to have them here at this event. Thank you Gloria and Eve for gracing this event with your magical and powerful presence and for all the incredible work you do in the world.

For quite a while I have been thinking about what I was going to say at this event, especially as the guest list began to fill with some of my favorite people on Earth. And then last week, I realized I better start writing something down! And then came all the distractions, one by one. The chaos, busyness and excitement of a book launch and promotion. All the many details and planning that go into putting together’s first event and fundraiser in all its fifteen years. Two sick kids home from school and my own eventual succumbing to congestion and exhaustion. Mounting pressures, responsibilities, opportunities and a general sense of overwhelm. And all the while I am thinking, when am I ever going to get around to writing my speech? When will all these distractions die down, when will my head clear so that I can write a brilliant, perfect, polished, impressive speech with something important and intellectual to say?

And then I realized, my experience last week, which included occasionally being near tears at how I was ever going to manage and balance everything, should be in my speech. I shouldn’t bury it away and pretend like I have it all together, all figured out, because I don’t. I think it is sharing the personal truth of our stories, particularly women’s, that is called for now. Because until we speak our truth, the messiness, the confusion, our needs and challenges, we will never know how we can help and support each other, we will never know what needs fixing in society and ourselves. And when I say “fix” ourselves, I actually mean the opposite of what you might think. Fixing something often means that something is imperfect. That is the opposite of what I mean. We were all born perfect. I mean restoring ourselves to our true being, to our raw experience of who we really are, a self-knowing that we are taught to suppress and deny by so many outside forces, beginning when we are girls.

So, now onto some of the messy truths of my own childhood. I blew my curly hair straight everyday obsessively for hours, wanting desperately to have the straight hair I saw in the teenage magazines. I began to dye my hair blonde to complete the effect. I tried every crazy diet and even used laxatives to lose weight, and I watched as one close friend in high school became severely anorexic and the other bulimic, leaving our gatherings frequently to purge. In my mind, this was all just normal. I did everything I could to fit in and be in the popular crowd. And, convinced the name “Marianne” wasn’t cool enough, I changed my name to “Chris” for several years, which my parents, who are here, can attest they weren’t too thrilled about. But it was the ultimate proof and testament to the fact that I was convinced that who I was simply wasn’t acceptable. I needed to change everything about me, to fit into some outside, impossible to reach ideal that had been subliminally put in my psyche by the media and in our culture about who I should be. And I was lost and miserable. Popular, blonde and thin - but miserable with no real idea of who I was or what the meaning of my life was to be, other than this striving to be someone else entirely.

It has taken me until my thirties to gradually shake myself out of that spell prompted by little epiphanies, life changes, and big and small revelations. I began to take the time to get to know myself again, to find the time and space to have some important inner dialogues. As one of the signs of this, I came to love and accept (well, on most days) my brown curly hair and the natural, non-supermodel state of my body. And to begin to discover and use my true voice. To speak out for what I believe in. And to just be who I am.

And that is the ultimate message of this book, to dare to be yourself. When I looked at the one theme that seemed to recur again and again in the book, through the eloquent and wise mouths of the incredible women I interviewed, it was that single concept. And as the wonderful Cambodian activist and writer Loung Ung told me, “Courage is when you dare to be yourself.” So that is the other element we must call up in ourselves, courage. It takes boldness, strength and bravery to do this in our society, to just brazenly be yourself, even when it means going against the tide. And now that women have access to so many choices in our lives (thanks in part to the trailblazing work of visionary women like Gloria), it is essential that we have some sense of ourselves first, so we know what choices are truly right for us, both in terms of our happiness and fulfillment, but also in order to contribute our unique gifts and full potential into the world. And the world needs us now, to wake up and come into our inner power. And it needs this from men too, to be able to be their authentic selves, since men and boys are just as impacted by destructive gender stereotypes and pressures. And we especially need to value those qualities often associated as “feminine” that exist in each one of us and are so often undervalued and dismissed, such as compassion, love, caring and feeling. Feeling. That’s one of the things I love about Eve and Eve’s writings and performances, she always makes us feel, so deeply human and alive. We need to do that, so we can feel love and joy in our lives, as well as notice and bear witness to the suffering in ourselves and humanity, so that we can help put a stop to it. It is essential now more than ever.

And I am so hopeful for the future given the magnificent work being done by all the people here in this room, all the women in my book and all the people doing this type of work throughout the world. I am thankful to do work that allows me to interact with and learn from so many inspiring people contributing to positive change in the world, and also to be a part of a hugely exciting and transformative medium like the Internet. Having been a part of the Internet’s beginnings since 1995, I can attest to its amazing growth - and that it is still evolving in its potential to facilitate activism, provide alternative sources of information, give everyone an opportunity to have a voice and to usher in change. And on a personal note, I am heartened by watching my two amazing daughters Lotus, nine and Jazmin, who turns thirteen today, who unfortunately can’t be here tonight. Both my girls are so much more centered , independent and in touch with who they are than I was at their age. But it still irks me when they occasionally obsess a little too much about their looks, what they are wearing, or begin to doubt what they know – I think to myself, how did that get in, despite all my efforts to keep that out? That is what another one of my heroes, also in my book, and who is also here, psychologist Carol Gilligan said when this happens to girls, right around my daughters’ age (much younger in boys), when they begin to doubt their true voice, they often never reclaim it again, or to even notice that this loss has happened. This almost happened to me. This is happening all over the world to women everywhere. So I take seriously the work of, and of the incredible people and organizations that we work with and support in this global movement to help women and girls to discover and use their voice. And the world is starting to realize how the empowerment of women and girls is intricately connected to so many issues we all care about and effect us all.

Working on has been such a blessing, personally and professionally. I have learned so much through all the issues, thinkers and organizations we represent. And writing and sharing this book has been such a gift. It was my honor to act as a conduit for the wisdom and insights of the inspiring women that I had the great pleasure and privilege of interviewing. And I am so happy that a few of the women in the book were able to be here tonight to allow us to celebrate them, such as Gloria and Eve, Carol Gilligan, and Charreah Jackson and we celebrate the others who have sent their regrets that they couldn’t be here but are here in spirit. And since this is also a celebration of the amazing milestone of’s 15 year anniversary, I need to acknowledge and thank the phenomenal women on the Board of Directors, many of whom have been with me since the day we conceived this site, all of whom I love and respect dearly: Karen Obel Cape, Ophi Edut, Tamera Gugelmeyer, Lauren Wechsler Horn, Sheherazade Jafari, Jennifer Meyerhardt, Amy Richards, Pamela Shifman, and Susan Swan. A special acknowledgement must go to Amy Richards who has personally responded to thousands of emails through “Ask Amy” over the years, offering her caring and thoughtful advice, feedback and guidance. I want to thank her on behalf of myself and all of the people she has helped at the site. My husband Tom Kay was also a founding board member, but he can’t be here tonight, since as an example of shared parenting, he is taking care of my daughters. I also want to thank my incredibly supportive parents, Carol and Norman Schnall, as well as my amazing brother Eric Schnall, who are all here and I love them with all my heart. They know firsthand my twisty journey to this day, to being here with all of you, celebrating so many wonderful people and things. Thank you so much to all of you for coming and I am honored to share this special evening and magical moment with you.
And now I get the pleasure of introducing one of the most inspiring women on the planet, and a force of nature, Eve Ensler. Not many people know that many of the first ideas for V-Day originated at a board meeting at my dining room table over ten years ago when Eve came to talk to us about her idea to use her groundbreaking play The Vagina Monologues to help stop violence against women, so I can truly attest to the amazing power and force of Eve’s passion, commitment and vision combined with her incredible capacity for generosity and love. It is my honor to introduce, the one and only Eve Ensler.

December 3, 2010, New York City

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