A superhero once said: “with great power comes great responsibility,” and throughout time, no one has demonstrated this more than women. You are the very first bond we make, and it’s this powerful connection that endows you with the responsibility of preserving life. It may sound easier to don a cape and fly to the moon, but the secret to achieving a task of this magnitude is simply that it begins with one example: You.
Women are by nature orchestrators and caregivers, nurturing and guiding simultaneously. Earlier this year, my wife Lisa released her best-selling book Us: Transforming Ourselves and the Relationships That Matter Most. It presented some insightful information about relationships – including our own (my copy came with a pop quiz). What fascinated me the most was its nurturing theme. We must take care of our bodies and our spirits before we can begin to cultivate our relationships; it goes from singular to collective. One person can change the world.
Lisa and I are avid proponents of healthy living – and not just because I am a physician. I’ve yet to meet a more health-conscious person than my wife, and she is a true stickler about making sure that we are setting an example for the rest of our family. She makes all the day-to-day health decisions, ensures that the food we eat is healthy, and provides that essential emotional support. Plus, her decisions prop open the doors for discussion – particularly when we were dealing with four inquisitive children – and have laid brick by brick the bridge that has built some of our strongest and most important relationships.
I trust Lisa’s health choices because I’ve seen first-hand their effects in my life and in the lives of our kids. Even though I am a trained medical professional, when the kids have an issue, they run to their mom first, like most other families. Earlier this year when one of the kids had a skin condition, Lisa did the research, scheduled the second opinion office visits, and found an elusive cure.
That’s just one of the many cases where Lisa exemplified being the first line of defense. Her reaction set the stage for how the rest of us respond. When it comes to making those all-important health decisions, I consider myself her trusty sidekick. She values my advice as a physician and will consult me when she wants support on a topic. It reinforces the groundwork we are laying for our children, and sets the example that open dialogue is essential to any healthy relationship. In effect, her decisions are seeds of change, planted deep to take root. They are watered and fed by my support, and promise to yield fruit that will scatter and multiply.
Women all over the country have the immense opportunity to incorporate these same changes within your families. When your children see you eating healthy, they develop a subconscious awareness of what they are putting into their bodies. It’s a phenomenon that traces all the way back to the womb, when what mother ate and how well she took care of her body affected the baby as well. Progressively build upon these elements, never forgetting that healthy communication is “give and take.”
What I’ve learned from Lisa at home has helped me recognize how important it is to support the health decisions being made by women all around me. You are the lifeline, armed with an inherent ability. You can build the bridge, but getting to the other side starts with one step - the very first one.
Dr. Oz, Daytime Emmy Award-winning host of “The Dr. Oz Show,” is Vice-Chair and Professor of Surgery at Columbia University. He directs the Cardiovascular Institute and Complementary Medicine Program at New York Presbyterian Hospital. His research interests include heart replacement surgery, minimally invasive cardiac surgery, complementary medicine and health care policy. He has authored over 400 original publications, book chapters, and medical books, has received several patents, and still performs heart surgery on a weekly basis. Learn more at doctoroz.com
Dr. Oz will be speaking at The Women's Conference 2010.
Since I write regularly about everything from sex trafficking to maternal mortality, I’m periodically asked: What’s a man doing worrying about “women’s issues”? Sometimes this is said in a welcoming way with delight and a hug, while at other times there’s a sense that I’m trying to sneak into a sorority. So let’s think about that question: What role should men play in any women’s rights movement?
My take is that if these broad issues of justice and human rights become reduced to a “women’s movement,” then the fight will be lost. One reason gender equity issues haven’t gained traction historically is that they’ve been marginalized as “women’s issues.” Well, the Holocaust wasn’t a “Jewish issue,” and civil rights weren’t a “black issue.” By the same token, equality of all kinds should be an issue that matters to all of us.
Gay rights gained immeasurably when straights, as well as gays, spoke up for an end to gay-bashing. And frankly, I notice that when I, as a man, write about mass rape on the N.Y. Times op-ed page, suddenly it’s legitimized as a more serious issue, even though women have been writing about the issue for years. So at a pragmatic level, it seems to me that male-female coalitions will achieve more for women than sisterhood alone. That’s one reason why my wife and I wrote Half the Sky, our new book about women’s rights around the world, as a joint effort.
It’s also noteworthy that many women have never been fans of women’s rights, and that any movement needs all the allies it can get. In the 19th century women’s suffrage movement, there were some very wealthy women philanthropists – but they refused to support women’s suffrage. Instead, they gave their money to all-male schools and colleges. It was in fact men who provided they key early funding in the drive to get women the vote.
There’s another, related point. Because men undeniably engage in some pretty barbarous behavior to women around the world, there’s a tendency to conclude in a very facile, glib way: Men are the problem! Period. In fact, our research for Half the Sky underscores that it is far more complex than that.
Brothel owners and sex-traffickers, for example, are typically women. And it’s not just that they are fronts working for men – I’ve interviewed traffickers in Cambodia, India and elsewhere, and they kidnap girls and lock them up and prostitute them of their own initiative. Likewise, female genital cutting is practiced by mothers on their daughters; men in the family are rarely consulted. In India, the mortality rate for girls aged 1 to 5 is 50 percent higher than for boys that age. One of the main reasons is that mothers are twice as likely to take their sons to be vaccinated as their daughters.
Most surprising, in countries like Congo and Liberia, women are involved stunningly often in gang-rapes. For example, women soldiers may go find a girl to bring back to a military camp to be raped. Or they may hold a woman down as she is raped. This seems to be because raping women is a way that these militias bond and build trust, and that’s as true of female troops as of males.
In short, the problem is typically one of a patriarchal, oppressive culture, but women can absorb and transmit patriarchal and oppressive values as much as men. The best remedy is education, which can chip away at these kinds of attitudes. So I’m not suggesting a name change from The Women's Conference to "The California Men’s and Women’s Conference.” But I do think it’s important, for the sake of actually achieving change, to have men involved in any social movement on behalf of women.
Nicholas D. Kristof, a columnist for The New York Times since 2001, is a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner who writes op-ed columns that appear twice a week. Mr. Kristof will be speaking at The Women's Conference on October 27th.
In this interview, WSJ Columnist and Published Author Jeffrey Zaslow talks about what it takes to raise three daughters.
You wrote The Girls from Ames, a book described as “a moving tribute to female friendships.” You have also written a number of articles on women’s relationships. Meanwhile, you’re the father of three girls. How does all the research you’ve done for your book and articles affect your experience as a father?
It’s hard to be a teenage girl today, and it’s hard to be a father to girls. Two years ago my daughter was asked to Homecoming. She got a dress, flowers, her hair done. Then a couple of days before the dance the guy decided that Homecoming was for nerds, but there was this party, so she should meet him and his friends at the party. And, you know, she was sad.
And I thought, what could I do for my daughter? Embarrass these boys in front of millions of people by publishing an article on The Wall Street Journal. So I wrote up the incident, Some Date: How Homecoming Is Losing Out to Hanging Out. The lesson of the story – and of that night – is to teach your sons to be chivalrous, and your daughters not to take it.
Wow, that sounds like quite a reaction. How did your daughter handle it?
My daughter was not thrilled. And the boy was not thrilled. But you know what? The next time you want to take my daughter to the dance, follow through.
Do you have any pointers for fathers?
It’s hard. I don’t have any sons, but you know, a lot of girls look in the mirror, and they say, “I’m fat, I’m ugly, I’m stupid.” The father’s role is to say, "Here’s why you’re special."
I’m not perfect. My kids will say to me, “You need to read The Last Lecture." [The Last Lecture is a book Jeffrey Zaslow co-wrote with Randy Pausch about “Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams” and how parents can help make that happen.] I talk a good game. But I do know girls need someone in their lives who loves them.
You can do simple things. Put a note in your child’s lunchbox that says, “I love you.” I wrote a column for The Wall Street Journal about this, and readers followed my advice. I put a note in my daughter’s lunchbox, and at the end of the day I asked her if she’d gotten it. She said, “I did dad, and so did four other girls at the lunch table. What’s the deal with writing ‘I love you’ in your kid’s lunch box?”
I’m not great. My daughters complain about me. I’m trying my best… Well, I’m not trying my best. I could do better. We could all do better. But sometimes it’s better to leave them alone. It’s better to not be too overbearing. My eldest daughter is at college. I call her once a week.
How is your approach to parenting different from your wife's approach?
My wife has a harder time with the girls. It’s good cop, bad cop, and I’m the good cop. The relationships between women are complicated, and they take those relationships very seriously. Women, mothers, daughters – their relationships are almost visceral.
How can women encourage their husbands to get more involved with their children?
Fathers need to keep showing their love. There are statistics that show that a girl who has an involved father is less likely to have sex earlier, to do drugs, to commit suicide. Girls completely need their fathers’ affection. You can’t get back the time you could have spent with them while they were growing up.
How is being a father to daughters different from being a father to sons?
Marriages are tougher when the parents have daughters. Research shows that marriages are 10 percent more likely to end in divorce if the parents have three daughters than if they have three sons. One reason, according to the study, is that mothers feel their sons need a father figure in their lives (so the wives keep their husbands around). When people learn that I have three daughters, they say, “Oh, three daughters -- good luck.” I’ve never had sons, but there’s a lot of drama with daughters.
But I do know that being a father is a gift. When I was working with Randy on The Last Lecture he had these little kids. I had these teenagers. He always envied me because I'd get to see my children grow up, while he wouldn't. [Randy Pausch had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.] Before Randy died, I used to send him all these links to websites referencing our book. After a while he said to me, “Will you stop Googling me and go hug your kids?”
He’s right, you know. I’m grateful to still be here with my daughters.
This is the first of a series of interviews, posts and features written by and about the Guys We Love – whether for their bravery, tenacity, social conscience or creative genius. We love them because they, too, are Architects of Change.
In this interview, Luke Russert, youth correspondent for NBC News and son of Tim Russert and Maureen Orth, talks with us about how his mother shaped his approach to journalism – and how she inspired his commitment to social justice.
You grew up with two journalists for parents – your father, Tim Russert, was the NBC News Washington bureau chief and moderator of “Meet the Press.” Your mother, Maureen Orth, writes for Vanity Fair.
Clearly, your father influenced your career. What was your mother’s role in influencing your approach to journalism?
My mother brings a certain kind of compassion to her work. With my father – people were intimidated. My mother really cares about her interview subjects; she really plays their ball. She doesn’t throw people over.
She is extremely respectful – extremely fair. She almost befriends the people she interviews – and she stays friends for years. I’ve really tried to do that. And I benefit because, when I take this approach, people see me not just as solely obsessed with the story, but interested in my fellow human beings.
In the media world, folks go out there and they get one-trick ponies [for their stories]. If you keep in touch, it makes the reporting more personal. My mother got some of her most exclusive leads because people felt really comfortable with her. She was honest. She was committed to telling the truth.
Your mother has a history of service. How has she inspired you to get involved with social causes?
My mother cares enormously for the less fortunate, and she has an immense love for Latin America. She was a Peace Corps volunteer in the early 60s, inspired by President John F. Kennedy’s call to action, “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.” She built the first school in Medellin, Colombia with a roof and a bathroom. The school (Escuela Marina Orth) has grown to be very vibrant. It is one of the first schools in Latin America to introduce the “one laptop per child” program.
As a young person – who’s been around a little bit – my interest lies closer to home. I’m particularly interested in the plight of Native Americans. In March I went to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation to film a report on the situation there. It was an eye-opening experience. Right here in the U.S. there is a population that is completely ostracized. The government looks the other way. The average life expectancy on the reservation is 49 for men, 52 for women. The only place with a lower life expectancy in the Western Hemisphere is Haiti. I’d like to get involved to really drive change on the reservation, and to drive change in terms of how Native Americans are perceived in our society.
What my mother has -- that I think is really important – is great faith. She is extremely well grounded. She has a clear sense of self. Her philosophy is, “It’s not about me – it’s about helping others.” She has ambition with dignity. With that attitude, I know I too can effect positive change. I too can have a positive impact on less fortunate populations.