In this week’s Wednesday Five we highlight Natasha Trethewey’s views on the healing power of poetry; examine Debora Spar’s theory that women are caught in a “purgatory of perfection”; return to the past for a glimpse on the 1956 woman as boss; learn that 73% of speaking roles in film and television belong to men (yikes!); and, finally, have some fun with the new “Middle-Aged Diva” Terisa Griffin covering Adele.

U.S. Poet Laureate Natasha Trethewey on Her New Job and the Healing Power of Poetry

“Poetry,” says U.S. Poet Laureate Natasha Trethewey in an interview with Jeffrey Brown on PBS NewsHour, “is . . . way more diplomatic than we ever are in our everyday lives.” We shared in a June article that Ms. Trethewey was born to a black mother and a white father in Gulfport, Mississippi, in 1966—a time when interracial marriages were illegal. Tragedy would follow Trethewey: her parents’ marriage ended, as did her mother’s second marriage to an abusive husband, who murdered her in 1985 after their divorce.

Perhaps it’s that personal tragedy that allows Trethewey to see her role as Poet Laureate in a broader light. For her, it’s more than bringing poetry to as wide an audience as possible. In a time rife with divisiveness, she believes in poetry’s healing power:

[I]t can speak to all of us. It helps us not only to grieve our losses but to celebrate our joys and triumphs. It is open to all of us. It’s the best thing we’ve got. It’s the most humane repository for our feelings and our thoughts, our most humane and dignified thoughts.


Natasha Trethewey on her role as Poet Laureate.

Purgatory of Perfection, and Why We’re Stuck in It

Debora Spar—president of Barnard, mom, professor, mentor, all-around badass—has some salient advice for women: Stop trying to be perfect!

Indeed, rather than leaping with glee at the liberation that has befallen women since the 1960s, we are laboring instead under a double whammy of impossible expectations—the old-fashioned ones (to be good mothers and wives, impeccable housekeepers and blushing brides) and those wrought more recently (to be athletic, strong, sexually versatile, and wholly independent).

She writes in The Daily Beast of all the harm this “purgatory of perfection” continues to inflict on women. But Spar takes the debate on “Can women have it all?” to the “It takes a village” level. She argues, “We somehow believe that we need to do all of this at once, and without any help. Almost by definition, a woman cannot work a 60-hour-per-week job and be the same kind of parent she would have been without the 60-hour-per-week job. No man can do this; no human can do this.” Spar’s ending point is that we remember that feminism was fought so that women would have the freedom to choose the lives they desire, not for us to develop and nurture a “be-perfect,  have-it-all” complex. “The challenge,” she says, “lies in recognizing that having choices carries the responsibility to make them wisely, striving not for perfection or the ephemeral all, but for lives and loves that matter.”

Debora Spar on why women should learn to say no.

Flashback to 1956: Women as Bosses

To complement its annual Most Powerful Women list, offers a flashback by re-publishing a  story from 1956 in which Katharine Hamill looks at the progress and challenges women were making and facing in the workplace. Specific numbers and data about women of the time aside, the general rhetoric from the 1950s can easily be applied to the 21st century. Hamill wrote:

There are more women in executive jobs today than there were fifteen years ago, five years ago, or a year ago, and men’s reluctance to give them executive rank seems to be diminishing. . . A woman sitting in on an executive conference is less of a shock to the male than she was only a few years ago.

If you’re wondering how the “purgatory of perfection” that Debora Spar speaks about evolved, this 1956 throwback from Fortune offers some insight: 

If women are efficient in business they usually are efficient in planning the orderly running of their homes, and if they have good enough jobs they can afford to hire good household help . . . . Practically every married woman executive puts her home and family ahead of her business, but most of them feel that they can handle both jobs—if they want to badly enough.

73% of Speaking Roles in Film and Television Belong to Men

Speaking of what has remained the same since the 1950s, actress Geena Davis recently gave a speech at the Women’s Foundation of Colorado and shared that “the ratio of male to female characters in films has remained virtually stagnant since 1946.” Her nonprofit, the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, recently conducted a study on the number of women in film and television roles and found that 73% of speaking roles belong to men. This means that women’s voices are largely absent—literally.

Read more about Geena Davis at The Huffington Post.

Resounding Joy: Finding Your Voice in Middle Age

And finally, we have a treat for you! Yesterday, our Anne Phillips asked, “How can someone go through life never singing?” in her article Finding Your Voice in Middle Age. If you’re a fan of Adele, check out Terisa Griffin’s moving rendition of “Someone Like You” on NBC’s The Voice. The Internet is dubbing her the new “middle-aged diva.” We just think she’s plain Diva!

Terisa Griffin sings “Someone Like You” on NBC’s The Voice

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