Marianne Schnall: Why did The Women's Institute decide to choose this theme, Connecting Across the Generations, for the theme for this year's Women & Power conference?
Elizabeth Lesser: Over the past few years of organizing the women’s conferences at Omega, we have come to understand that new language needs to be found to express what women are feeling in the world today. The feminist movement has changed as have opportunities and challenges for women. What worked in the 20th century will not necessarily work today in the 21st. These new, fresh ideas and words and actions need to be informed by what came before, but they will be created by the generations coming up now. Therefore, a verdant conversation between generations is our greatest hope to birth the next wave of the feminist movement.
Why to you is intergenerational dialogue among feminists so important?
EL: Ask young women what they think about the feminist movement and many will not even know what you are talking about. They take it for granted that women are where they are today—at home, work, in society. But look around the rest of the world. So many strides that women have made have been snatched away from women and girls, or have never been realized. We must safeguard the work that has been done and that is best accomplished by making history alive. On the other hand, excellent, timely and new things are being created every day by young women. Older women need to hear about this, understand it, and embrace the new. This can only happen when women of different generations gather together to share and learn and celebrate.
MS: Why doesn't it happen more often and how can we change that?
EL: Birds of a feather tend to flock together. That’s understandable. So, it takes effort to break out of habits and meet new people from different backgrounds and generations. This conference is such an effort. We hope that the conference will inspire other efforts to be done in other situations.
How would you describe what is going to take place at the conference? Why should people go?
EL: First of all, lots of talk! Women love to talk and we are going to provide many opportunities for people to get to know each other across generational boundaries. And there will be celebration, entertainment, time to relax in the beauty of Omega’s campus, and of course, electrifying speeches and panel discussions from totally inspiring women from different backgrounds and generations.
MS: What are your goals for the conference? What are you hoping participants will come away with?
EL: My top goal is for women to leave charged up to make a difference in their own lives and homes and work. Each person coming to the conference has the power to uplift her world—her kids, her mate, her colleagues, her community. A conference is just a weekend; what matters is what the women do once they get home. My hope is that women will be inspired by the speakers—all of whom have done amazing things against a lot of odds—to let go of fear and inertia and to listen to their own wisdom and become bolder.
MS: What do you think are the most important issues facing women today?
EL Now that we have a foothold in many of the power-places in the world, our challenge is bring who we are as wise women—young and old—into the halls of power. To redefine what it means to be a leader, to be strong, to be creative. Women often have a different way of being in the workplace and the family and the society—a more inclusive, emotionally intelligent, and compassionate way. That way has been denigrated or ignored in the places where it is most needed. THE issue for all women is to stand firm in what you know in your heart of hearts; to be exactly who you are, unapologetically and with great passion and positivity.
MS: What particular wisdom do you think older women have to offer younger generations?
EL: Older women have the perspective of history and therefore a sense of gratitude for the strides women have made and an understanding that they could be taken away. Older women need to keep talking about where we came from; they need to keep honoring the ancestors who were so courageous and visionary.
What can older women learn from younger women?
EL: Younger women have the energy to take the threads from the past and weave them into the future. They speak the language of today and know the landscape better. Older women need to sit back and hand over the reigns and express faith in the younger women.
MS: What do you think is the biggest misconception people have about older women these days?
EL: I don’t know! I’m an older woman. I don’t really know or care what people think about older women. That’s one of the huge perks of being an older woman. I am much more alive in the moment, not looking back or ahead too much, and certainly not around at what other people are saying about older women!
MS: What words of wisdom would you personally most want to offer younger women?
EL: When someone asks you what you think about the feminist movement, do your homework before you say you are not a feminist! All it means is someone who wants the wisdom of the feminine to be respected—to be a full partner with the wisdom of the masculine. Until those two energies are on equal footing, no one will thrive. We’ve had thousands of years of an abundance of the masculine as the driver of human affairs. Now we need a big dose of the feminine to balance things out. This is not about taking anything away from men. It is not really even about men and women. It is about the spirit of care and love and protection being the values that prevail now. And women seem to have an abundance of those qualities. More and more men do too. That’s a good thing. So, young women need to claim their inherent feminine qualities, trust them, love them, teach them, and help awaken them in their men friends too.