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Michele Willens Headshot

Face It: Our Power Is In Our Invisibility

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What does true empowerment mean for women?

Clearly, it means the right to choose, and that encompasses everything from having the baby to having the job to having a mate of either sex. But it also means proving ourselves at the box office, on the Billboard charts, on the best seller lists. Right now, The Help is the top movie in America; Adele, Katy Perry, Beyonce and Lady Gaga are ruling the music scene. I went to the bookstore at the beginning of August, armed with a list that had been collected from the recommendations of fellow readers whom I trust. It wasn't until I was deep into my fifth that I realized all the books had been written by women.

Never have I felt more pride in my womanhood. And never has it seemed less of a story (though I am writing one) that women are doing so well. Have we finally reached the point of Invisible Invincibility?

Back to my summer reading. Upon reflection, some were more obviously penned by women: Emma Forrest's memoir, Your Voice In My Head, was the painful but illuminating story of a once suicidal creative soul; the novels Stone Arabia and The Great Man, were character driven with strong female (as well as male) characters, though hardly what one might call soft or mushy.

The only time, frankly, I actually looked to see who I was reading was smack in the midst of Major Pettigrew's Last Stand, due to its wonderful wit. It deals primarily with an elderly male character and former military hero, so I was somewhat surprised to see the name of the female author. But then I, like millions of others, had read Unbroken earlier in the year by Laura Hillenbrand who took us deep inside a brave and macho man's ordeal.

What strikes me is not that women can bring both sexes beautifully to life on the page, or even that women have probably written the best books of the past year. Recent Pen Faulkner nominees for Fiction Writing of 2011 include Jennifer Egan, Deborah Eisenberg and Jaimy Gordon -- three of the five. What strikes me is that nobody mentioned it!

Also of little mention, gratefully, is the fact that off Broadway's most interesting works lately have come from female playwrights and they are treated as normally as their male counterparts. (Recent Pulitzer winner: Lynn Nottage) I even feel some pride in the fact that Michele Bachmann is ridiculed only for her skewed historical facts and weird policies. (And no more so, incidentally, than Rick Perry is for his lack of serious smarts.)

They hear us, buy us, watch us, read us without second thoughts. The roaring has stopped as a new kind of invisibility has been achieved.

Funny, because "invisible" is a word often used today in discussing midlife women as we begin to show our well deserved character lines. It was certainly repeated anecdotally in the book I worked on -- FACE IT: What Women Really Feel As Their Looks Change. What do we feel? Nobody notices us like that anymore and it rankles. The book offers a psychological guide for the generation of women who thought they'd never get old and have. But in the end, it is a rallying cry to band together one more time to fight the anti-aging culture threatening to swallow us up.

Being a spin master who is now trying to live life by focusing on the great moments rather than the overall scorecard, I urge this view: our place in the world at large has finally reached a point where, as a group, we have succeeded in blurring more than just our character lines. Next time you get down, think of all those writers and singers making news and creating art. Think of how the country got wrapped up in the U.S. Soccer team this year ... and those players were female. Remember that Oscar winning violent war film was made by a woman. Not to mention this season's most talked about, complex and gritty television series The Killing and The Hour. That head of state is named Angela.

I am not blind to the still sour statistics when it comes to how women fare. More importantly, I am not unaware that female voices are different, that female managing techniques are different ... and they should remain that way. Newsweek has a more feminist skew since Tina Brown took it over, but no one would say it is less interesting or missing the big stories. The fact they aren't may be the best story of all.