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FDL Book Salon Welcomes Arianna Huffington

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(Arianna Huffington will be joining us in the comments today to discuss her book, On Becoming Fearless.  Week One of the discussion can be found here .  As always with the Book Salon, please restrict your comments to the topic at hand and if you’d like to discuss.)

I’ve mentioned before that Arianna Huffington is one of my biggest role models not only for her vision but for the grace and the courage with which she handles the challenges of being a woman in public life.  In her new book, she takes us back to a defining moment where that admiration crystalized:

In 2003, I ran for governor of California, part of a large field of candidates that included then Lieutenant governor Cruz Bustamante and the ultimate victor, Arnold Schwarzenegger.  As exhilarating as the experience was, it also had its bruising moments.  None ore so than the big televised debate Arnold dubbed "the Super Bowl of debates" (perhaps because it was the only one he took part in).

Throughout the debate, whenever I was making a point — indeed, whenever I opened my mouth — Bustamante, in his deep baritone, kept repeating, "Yes, Arianna.  Yes, Arianna."  Occasionally he would throw in an eye roll.  It was a condescending refrain, weary and bored, as if he could barely summon the energy to tolerate a typical nagging woman.  It was the equivalent of "Take two Midol and you’ll feel better in the morning, honey."

It’s an exceptionally difficult situation under which to keep your composure, as anyone who has had that experience can attest (and few have had them in such a public, high-pressure way — I certainly haven’t).  Especially when the pile-on begins:

Schwarzenegger expressed his displeasure at having to debate a full-throttle female by suggesting that I drink more decaf — a comment that is hard to imagine being addressed to a man.

A lesser woman would have retreated into silence and bitterness, but Arianna retained her poise and took it as a learning experience.  She also very effectively drew the positive out of it:

In fact, that debate made me realize how deeply ingrained our culture’s fear of assertive women is and how much of this fear women have unconsciously internalized.  After the debate, I came off stage and was immediately surrounded by dozens of young female students who thanked me for taking a stand and not backing down.  I was moved by gratitude — by also stunned by it.  I certainly didn’t think I deserved any special thanks simply for speaking my mind.  Nor did I think hat young women in 2003 would still be hungering for role models to help them gain the courage to find their own voice.

The support for women of other women in these situations is critical — it’s also why the right wing sends women to dicipline outspoken women back into place (and why we stand up so stridently to exact a price from the harpies like Kate O’Beirne when they attack women like Hillary Clinton, Gloria Steinham and others for being strong and outspoken).  If you can’t find support from other women, where is it going to come from?  Certainly not from Ahnold.

As Arianna says:

Let’s face it:  Our culture still isn’t comfortable with powerful, visible, outspoken women.  We equate power with maleness, manliness, dominance — even ruthlessness — all of which happen to be traits that women fear being identified with because we know we will be called "pushy," "shrill," and "strident."  The epithets strike right at our femininity — as if the very notions of power and womanliness are mutually exclusive.  No wonder women are often afraid to stand up, take the lead, speak out.  The result?  A very uneasy relationship between women, power, and the traits necessary to be a leader.

She’s right, of course.  The conscious and unconscious sexism involved in these attacks against outspoken women, especially when they come from other women, are always stinging and you’ve just got to get used to sucking it up and know they are going to come no matter what you do.  Which is why the support of a community (and other women) becomes so important, a place to look to in order to draw strength when the hostile, bitter personal carping becomes too much.  I do not know many strong women who could keep at it, no matter how much their love of battle might be, without such a wellspring to draw upon.  It’s one of the best things about the liberal blogosphere when it’s en form — the willingness and ability to provide support for people when they have the courage to express truths which will otherwise most assuredly draw down nothing but fire from the powers that be.

Because when one person has the courage to speak out, it inspires others.  It’s one of tne of the things Arianna points out: 

It’s been very important for me to learn to recognize when, especially at work, I am affected by other people’s fears.  Because fear is not only common in competitive workplaces, it’s also contagious.  In a study of diversity, conflict, and performance in the workplace, Brian Kulik of Washington Stage University found that "expressions of fear lead to fearful affect in groups; conversely, expressions of fearlessness may lead to fearlessness among individuals in groups."  So the good news is that confidence is also contagious, and people who express fearlessness engender confidence in others. 

Arianna’s confidence, her courage and her willingness to overcome her fears is contagious — has been for me anyway.  Please welcome her to FDL and thank her for the work she continues to do to promote the progressive agenda and the role of blogs in the political conversation.  I’ll offer my own thanks for her wisdom, poise and grace and for being both an undying supporter but a constant source of inspiration.  She’s a gem.

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Jane Hamsher

Jane Hamsher

Jane is the founder of Firedoglake.com. Her work has also appeared on the Huffington Post, Alternet and The American Prospect. She’s the author of the best selling book Killer Instinct and has produced such films Natural Born Killers and Permanent Midnight. She lives in Washington DC.
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