The Lady, directed by Luc Besson, is the extraordinary story of the Burmese activist Aung San Suu Kyi that opened this week in New York theaters. The film emphasizes the many characters one woman can play: a prisoner of war, a politician, a mother, a lover and a democratic hero. Womanliness is something that Suu Kyi lacks none of -- with orchids in her hair, pearl earrings and consistently dressed in floor length skirts, she embodies the quintessential composed woman. The severely oppressed Burmese people were drawn to the idea of a tangible figure that symbolized hope; they wanted a figure that in and of themselves embodied peace and confidence for a future democratic society. Suu Kyi offered just that.
Despite the "movie version" of Burma's oppression, the conversation on Suu Kyi and the role of woman in politics is more relevant than ever. With an identifiable gender gap in the upcoming election and a current discourse on the role of women in the workplace (also known as the Ann Romney vs. Hilary Rosen stay-at-home mommy wars) Suu Kyi can shed light on the particularly unique power a woman withholds in the workplace.
The Lady takes the typical notion that a woman is the sole means of comfort for her children and reverses it. Not only is Suu Kyi absent when needed by her family, but her absence is indirectly inflicting much pain on her growing boys and sick husband. And so the question arises, how exactly do women maintain their inherent "womanly" roles while also breaking grounds for, say, a Democratic revolution in one of the world's most oppressed countries? The answer is they don't. And this can be a lesson learned on women's roles in contemporary society -- they cannot and will not always be there for everybody and everything all at once. So women have to make the deeply personal choice of where to take their careers, and while many women work by choice or for love of the job, many more work to support their families. In the end, all us fellow women can do is empathize with one another's choices. We need to support one another with the knowledge that working while being a mom (or just being a mom) are some of the most difficult jobs of them all.
Rather than judge women who have made the personal choice to stay at home, why not offer support for the women like Suu Kyi who are confronted with many obligations? It is a mere waste of time to pinhole a stay-at-home mom into a person that cannot relate to those who are less fortunate?
I am the perfect example of why that is simply not fair, nor correct. My father, Sam LeFrak, was fortunate enough to build many large developments in New York. Rather than doing what some envision the wealthy to do, I founded the company Same Sky, whose sole purpose is to help those who have suffered the most. I travel to Rwanda to find those women who are HIV positive, many of whom were raped during the 1994 genocide; we then employ many of them to make jewelry for a trade-not-aide initiative. According to the comments of Hilary Rosen, under my privileged circumstances, I would not be able to identify with these women who have suffered the most unspeakable of genocides. But it is empathy that brought me to where I am now. It is empathy that has led me to be the founder of a cause for women empowering women. And it was empathy for the Burmese people that led Suu Kyi to forfeit her family and personal happiness for a democratic revolution.
Celebrate the power of women supporting one another by going to see Suu Kyi's story in the fantastic new film The Lady. Be sure to bring your husbands. I'm sure they'll enjoy it just as much as mine did.
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