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Follow This, TEDxColumbus, TEDxWomen, Viewing Events

[by Kendra Hovey]

I’ll start with some facts:

  • TEDxWomen is for everyone. It is, explains host Pat Mitchell, “for a world that needs the full participation of women and their ideas, their experiences, their compassion and convictions, their activism and their artistry.”
  • Women and men speak at TEDxWomen.
  • Women and men attend TEDxWomen, though, to date, women in much greater numbers.
  • The talks at TEDxWomen are as universally relevant as the talks at TED.
  • 15,000 people watched TEDxWomen 2012 at various live viewing events across 53 countries.
  • “The Space Between”—this year’s theme—refers to the gray, the and, the full spectrum that lives between polarities, be they black/white, rich/poor, work/family, right/left, male/female…

Next, some history:

  • TEDWomen launched in 2010 as a TED conference.
  • The x was added in 2011. Because of the large number of local TEDxWomen events that sprouted alongside TEDWomen, the TEDx community was thought to be a more logical home.
  • Talks from the past two conferences have been viewed 20 million times and translated into 50 languages.

Now, an opinion:

  • TEDxWomen is fast becoming my favorite TED-related event.

Like TED, TEDxWomen blows my mind, captivates, educates, stirs and moves me. It also has the benefits built into TEDx, namely, access to the fascinating nooks and crannies of life that (big)TED is sometimes too big to see.

By the same token, TEDxWomen shares the realities of TEDx: less time, energy, resources—less rigor—and as a result there are some talks that don’t quite hit their mark.

But where TEDxWomen beats all is the connecting. Interaction is part of the TED platform—if you attended TEDxColumbus you might remember introducing yourself to your neighbors and lunching with five (now former) strangers.

At the TEDxColumbus TEDxWomen event, this element is seamless and unprompted.

TEDxColumbusWomen 2012For whatever reason, people tend to bring and express their full selves—not a compartmentalized professional one. As a result, discussions get rich and interesting real fast. In short, it’s fun.

It also makes perfect sense for TED. Watch almost any TEDTalk and invariably the subject percolated and took shape out of this inseparable mix of passion, personal and professional.

But exactly how this ease in expression and connection I see at TEDxWomen happens, I can’t say. And how to tap into it on a larger scale . . . I wish I knew.

This question—how to scale-up?—came up again, in fact, almost every time a speaker shared yet another project, idea, model, theory or good work.

One particularly poignant example is the counter-terrorism efforts of Edit Schlaffer, Archana Kapoor and Arshi Saleem Hashmi that enabled Pakistani and Indian women, both, to move from victimhood, and the defaults of fear and hate, to agency, understanding and empathy.

 

Some quotes:

“The loss of a son, no matter whose son, is the loss of a son.”

 

“Terrorists know how to use the power of women, why do not counter-terrorists?”

 

 

 

Another great quote from the day comes from John Gerzema, who said:

“Femininity is the Operating System of 21st century progress.”

Maybe you want to pause…go back, read that again. It’s quite an interesting thing to say, isn’t it?


It is the basic idea of what he calls the Athena Doctrine. Surveying as many as 60,000 across the globe, Gerzema found that character traits classified as “feminine” were rated as highly important for leadership, success, morality and happiness. “Feminine values,” he states, “are ascendant.” I, personally, would love to see what more empathy, respect, patience, expressiveness and flexibility, among other traits, would do for the world. I hope he is right. But I would also like to see research on the correlation between what people say they want and what people actually do.
TEDxColumbusWomen 2012
Four reasons (and there are undoubtedly more) to watch Eboo Patel’s talk are:

  1. it’s a great trajectory story (how I got from there to here);
  2. Patel speaks about faith in a way meaningful to believer, non-believer and all that’s in-between;
  3. if you don’t already know about Dorothy Day, you will; and
  4. trust me, you don’t want to miss out on meeting his grandmother.

Two speakers, Angela Patton and Shabana Basij-Rasikh, share particularly poignant stories about the importance of fathers.

[When the Taliban threatened Basij-Rasikh’s father with death if he didn’t stop his daughter from going to school, he said this: “Kill me now if you wish, but I will not ruin my daughter’s future.”]


The target of a massive online misogyny and harassment campaign, Anita Sarkeesian’s appalling, eventually hopeful, but still appalling, story is essential viewing, and her analysis increasingly relevant.

The talks I mention are just a few of many that struck a chord. TEDxWomen covered a range of topics from transcendental meditation, computer programming, street art, autism, the “war” on obesity, the freedom of a wheelchair, the benefits of getting lost, and more—plus those still to be discovered as I watch the last 20 or so online.

One presenter, the explorer and “way-finder” Elizabeth Lindsey, is concerned that we have come to live our lives by “fickle criteria.” “We are following the wrong stars,” she says, “we’re being sold a lifestyle when what we want most is a life.”

To continue her metaphor, one inspiring through-line in this year’s TEDxWomen is example after example after example of people following different stars—and the innovative and positive destinations they create. And, from 17-year-old Brittany Wengar to CEO Charlotte Beers, one thing seems clear: Counter to what women, at least American women, have been told—to check their gender at the workplace door (and men, too, to check their femininity)—these stars shine brighter when we tap into and value the full range of who we are.

 Kendra Hovey is editor and head writer at Follow This. On Twitter @KendraHovey, she blogs at kendrahovey.com

Photos from TEDxWomen by John Lash c/o The Paley Center for Media;  Photos from viewing event by Allyson Kuentz c/o TEDxColumbus

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