Tina Brown, editor of The Daily Beast and Newsweek, tells us what she's been reading in a feature that Morning Edition likes to call Word of Mouth.
This month, on the eve of the launch of the Women in the World Foundation, Newsweek and The Daily Beast's women's advocacy organization, Brown has been reading about the changing roles of women around the globe: from an activist who calls on women to help end the Liberian civil war, to how women are changing the state of marriage throughout Asia, to Christine Lagarde's rise to the top of that notoriously male-dominated financial institution, the International Monetary Fund.
'Mighty Be Our Powers'
First up is Liberian activist and Daily Beast columnist Leymah Gbowee's new memoir, Mighty Be Our Powers (published by the Daily Beast's Beast Books imprint), in which the author tells the story of how her small-neighborhood upbringing in Monrovia was torn apart by civil war in 1989.
"For the next 14 years, she's a displaced person living in refugee camps and trying to have a makeshift life as this fighting goes on and on and on," Brown tells NPR's Steve Inskeep, "until she takes action."
In 2003, Gbowee begins organizing women into peace demonstrations. She even writes up her own peace treaty, then demands to meet with the president so she could show it to him.
"They come out, and she gives it to them," Brown says. "But when they push her to one side, she does something that is unthinkable in African culture. She says, 'I didn't have a plan, but I started taking off my clothes. My thoughts were a jumble. These negotiations were my last hope but they were crashing. In threatening to strip, I summoned up a traditional power. In Africa, it's a terrible curse to see a married or elderly woman deliberately bare herself. For this group of men, to see a woman naked would be almost like a death sentence.'"
Sex turned out to be a valuable tool in Gbowee's activism. At one point, she led a sex strike in which Liberian women withheld sex from men to show their opposition to the fighting.
"And although peace did not happen the day she did that in July, it did turn the tides," Brown says. "The convention went back in and really did start to talk about peace in a serious way."
'The Flight From Marriage'
Brown's next pick takes us from the changing roles of women in West Africa to the changing roles of women in Asia. In "The Flight from Marriage," The Economist delves into the consequences of increased economic advantages in Asia.
"It talks about how in Asia now there is the rise of the 'golden misses,' " Brown says, "girls who are educated, emancipated, but finding themselves without husbands."
Just look at China, where a combination of the one-child law and a preference for boys led to the sex-selective abortions of tens of millions of female fetuses. Today, the country suffers from an excess of men, but it's also seeing a growing number of single, never-before-married women in their late 30s. And the more that number grows, the more likely it is that some serious problems will arise.
"There's a lot of danger now coming up for women in these countries where they went for the selective abortion, because there's going to be a shortage of women," Brown says.
According to The Economist, that shortage could potentially lead to a rise in prostitution, the trading of brides like commodities, and women being forced to marry multiple men.
'Changing Of The Guard'
Brown's last pick focuses on the rise of Christine Lagarde to the post of director of the IMF. In "Christine Lagarde: Changing of the Guard," Vogue's Diane Johnson explores Lagarde's thoughts on the shortage of women at the IMF.
"I love Christine Lagarde, I must say. I think she's crisply self-confident and enormously appealing," Brown says. "She's a passionate defender of women's equality — and even superiority — when it comes to management skills. But she tells in this piece the rather nice story of how, when she was interviewed, there were 24 men in the room and just her. And she had to go around in a kind of speed date to show her qualifications for taking over the IMF."
The article also touches on the criticism Lagarde has received for being too elegant and too focused on fashion, an accusation she doesn't seem too concerned with, considering she posed for Vogue photographers.
"Women can never win," Brown says. "I have to say that I think ... if you're ever going to have a model of elegance in the office, she really has it because she wears these kind of crisp business-like suits, and there's no sense in her of a vanity of appearance. It's business-like but it's superelegant, and she has real charisma when she walks into a room."
DAVID GREENE, Host:
It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm David Greene.
STEVE INSKEEP, Host:
TINA BROWN: Hi, Steve. How are you?
INSKEEP: I'm doing fine. And you've sent us some readings on the changing role of women - which, I guess, for a very personal reason has been on your mind lately.
BROWN: So one of the women who's coming in, and who is really one of the women who inspired me in the first place, is this incredible Liberian activist, Leymah Gbowee. And she's published a book this week about how she was raised in this small neighborhood in Monrovia, and her life was torn asunder by civil war. And for the next 14 years, she's a displaced person living in refugee camps and trying to have a makeshift life as this fighting goes on and on and on, until she takes action.
INSKEEP: Well, there is the point. Because in this book, "Mighty Be Our Powers," you have the story of a woman who is a victim, as you describe her there, but also is insisting on being an activist and pushing things to change.
BROWN: But when they push her to one side, she does something that is unthinkable in African culture. She says, I didn't have a plan, but I started taking off my clothes. My thoughts were a jumble. These negotiations had been my last hope, but they were crashing. In threatening to strip, I summoned up a traditional power. In Africa, it's a terrible curse to see a married or elderly woman deliberately bare herself. For this group of men, to see a woman naked will be almost like a death sentence.
INSKEEP: I guess this explains why this book, "Mighty Be Our Powers," which you published, the subtitle says that she changed a nation at war through sisterhood, prayer and sex. We're getting around to why sex got into the subtitle there, I guess.
BROWN: Well, indeed. I mean, one of the things that Leymah did was that she actually helped to lead a sex strike, where the women of Liberia basically withheld sex from their men to show that they would not be a party to what was happening. And although the peace did not happen that day - she did that in July - it did turn the tides. The convention went back in, and really did start to talk about peace in a serious way.
INSKEEP: So that's a reading on the changing role of women in West Africa, in a West African nation that was deeply, deeply troubled. You've also sent us an item from The Economist, about the changing role of women in Asia. And its headline: The Flight From Marriage. What's that mean?
BROWN: Well, what it means is that in these new, changing economic times, with globalism and with increased economic advantage, which is good, there's also - has a corollary of problems, transition and difficulties. And it talks about how in Asia now, there is the rise of the golden misses. And these are the girls who are educated, emancipated, but finding themselves without husbands.
INSKEEP: Most shocking information in here for me had to do with China, where there is an excess of men and a relative shortage of women - because of a preference for boys and their one-child policy, and everything else. You would think that any woman who is available would be snapped up. And yet there seem to be a large number of women in their late 30s who are single or never been married.
BROWN: There's a lot of danger now coming up for women in these countries where they went for the selective abortion, because there's going to be such a shortage of women. Women are going to have to bought, found, coerced. And this is going to become, I think, another major problem with regard to sexual trafficking and a lot of violence against women.
INSKEEP: You have also sent us an article from Vogue Daily, that well-known financial chronicle, about Christine Lagarde, the new head of the IMF, who's thinking about what she thinks is perhaps a shortage of women in that financial institution.
BROWN: But she tells, in this piece, the rather nice story about how when she was interviewed, you know, there were 24 men in the room and just her. And she had to kind of go around in a kind of speed date, to kind of show her qualifications for taking over the IMF after Strauss-Kahn had messed up. But, you know, I think Lagarde really feels that, you know, men have had their way to sort of make things work, and seem to be failing catastrophically.
INSKEEP: The Vogue Daily article also suggests that she has been subtly criticized for seeming a little bit too elegant, maybe too focused on fashion. But I guess the fact that she posed for photographs for Vogue suggests that she's not too concerned about that.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
BROWN: Well, women can never win, you know. I have to say that I think Legarde, if you're ever going to have a model of sort of elegance in office, she really has it because she wears these kind of crisp, business-like suits. And there's no sense in her of a kind of vanity of appearance. It's business-like but it's super elegant, and she has real charisma when she walks into a room.
INSKEEP: Super elegant discussion from Tina Brown, of The Daily Beast and Newsweek. Tina, always a pleasure.
BROWN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.