It's not every day that you get to witness history being made. As a member of the Women and Public Policy Board of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, I had the privilege of watching the historic inauguration of Drew Faust* as President of Harvard last week. Let me tell you, though the day was wet, no amount of rain dampened the spirit and hopes of that event. The inspirational day began with the opening greeting by Amy Guttmann, President of the University of Pennsylvania. She knew how to warm up a crowd in spite of acclimate weather -- offering a great build up about the historic nature of what was taking place. As everyone was on the edge of their seats awaiting the source of this history, Guttmann announced Drew Faust as the first Southerner to lead Harvard. Roars of laughter preceded her add-on, as we all knew the main headline: Faust was set to be Harvard's first woman President.
Yet many, perhaps, did not know the tremendous significance of this event, or the road Faust had traveled to achieve the position. She got to this place by resisting messages that dampen many a woman's ambition to this day. She resisted the usual messages about the role of women -- a task made evermore difficult as a privileged southern woman pushed to be a perfect girl: quiet and obedient, curtsies and all. She resisted the template offered to her, opting to be called "Drew" instead of "Catherine;" marching for civil rights and against the Vietnam War; and going on to earn a doctorate in American Civilization.
Faust's achievements are truly admirable. But the real lesson for women everywhere is the current and urgent need for the kind of resistance that she inspires. The last three decades have birthed three different movements calling on women to be "good girls" -- to leave or never enter public life, to be wives and mothers only. In the mid-eighties, we were fed "the new traditionalist," with stories appearing everywhere about how women were returning to traditional roles. In the nineties, it was the Backlash threatening women with the prospect of never marrying or having families if they didn't go back home -- where they belonged. Now, we are confronted with the "opt out" revolution -- where any woman who leaves the workplace for even a short time is considered to be opting permanently for private life.
These calls were not and will not be honored. Realistically, very few women in this country could afford to "go back home" even if it they want to. But more importantly, our institutions can't afford them to. Our country needs all of our talent, all of our resources for this challenging period in our history. We must have women at the table, women who can bring people together, and bare their teeth at the right time. We need resisters and rebels who, like Faust, can stand up to the siren songs that call women to abandon their dreams for themselves, their institutions and their communities. Only a richly diverse, critical mass of women leaders who enter the public arena to lead alongside men can bring new visions to a troubled world. It's the only solution we haven't tried -- and we cannot afford to ignore it anymore.
Join the new president of Harvard. Join the resistance. Make history.
*Drew Faust is one of the invited guests for the Gala Celebration at the International Women Leaders Global Security Summit just one month away. The Gala celebrates an historic gathering of 75 women heads of state and government and other high-level leaders from across the globe who will tackle the world's most pressing security issues at the International Women Leaders Global Security Summit on November 15th-17th. For more information, visit WomenandGlobalSecurity.org.