This question intrigues people, but rarely does anyone have as clear and direct answer as Merle Hoffman, this week’s “She’s Doing It.” She seems to have been born knowing, and born quite willing to buck the norm of being the archetypical nice and compliant “good girl” in favor of getting done the things she believes are important.
Merle, the President and CEO of Choices Women’s Medical Center, has recently published a memoir I highly recommend, Intimate Wars: The Life and Times of the Woman Who Brought Abortion Out of the Back Alley and Into the Boardroom.
Merle was kind enough to answer some questions about her life and times for 9 Ways:
Tell me your personal story…why and how did you come to be doing what you a doing?
I really fell into it serendipitously. My early years and adolescence were spent preparing to become a concert pianist. After I graduated from Music and Art, I also dabbled in painting and drama. When I finally decided to go to college at the age of 22, I need three part time jobs to pay for tuition—and one was with an internist , Dr. Martin Gold, for whom I worked as a medical assistant. At just this time (1970), abortion was decriminalized in New York which was three years before Roe v. Wade legalized abortion nationally. Dr. Gold, one of the architects of HIP, wanted to start a service for women subscribers. I got involved in the beginning of this project and it has become my life’s work.
What motivates you? What’s your passion?
I am motivated by very deep feelings of responsibility which began with the first patient who came to Choices.
You’ve probably seen author and commentator Keli Goff on MSNBC and elsewhere, read her opinions on TheLoop21 or Huffington Post, or perhaps have read her books Party Crashing (which I love) and the brand new one, The GQ Candidate (which I know I will love but haven’t read yet). I ran into Keli at the HBO screening of “Gloria: In Her Own Words”, the moving documentary about Gloria Steinem that’s been getting so much well-deserved play lately. After the screening, she wrote this eloquent commentary about her self-perceptions and the f-word, and then delivered it as her “rant” on Dylan Ratigan’s MSNBC show…
Shannon Drury of The Radical Housewife is the lucky winner of my Wear the Shirt contest. Thanks to my stellar team of interns, Gabrielle Korn and Dior Vargas for making the selection, because I love all of the photos. But I guess the rule that one should never try to compete against a small child still holds, and Shannon’s exuberant daughter Miriam in her shirt proclaiming “Feminism runs in our family” won the day.
Shannon is a writer, an at-home parent, and a community activist who has been blogging about parenthood and politics since 2006. She is a prime example of Power Tool #8: Employ Every Medium. The accessibility of blogging and social media has truly changed the political landscape by making it possible for everyone to speak at the same decibel level. Shannon writes about gender, politics, and parenting, among other topics. I’ll be sending a set of my four signed books to Shannon, and maybe Miriam will read them, too, in a few years.
Thank you to everyone who participated in the contest. You can view the complete slide show of all the entries here.
And by the way, though this contest is over, don’t hesitate to send me more photos of you in shirts that proclaim your convictions. I’ll keep posting them and I am sure readers of this blog will keep enjoying them. Most important, keep wearing them!
No Excuses Power Tool #6 is “Wear the Shirt.” It’s a metaphor for sharing your convictions with others. Whether it’s a slogan, a DIY ensemble, or your Feminist Majority “this is what a feminist looks like” shirt, it’s important that we wear our shirts proudly. That’s why I’m hosting a Wear the Shirt photo contest.
Send me a photo of you in your favorite message shirt, and I’ll include you in the slide show on my homepage. One lucky winner will receive an autographed set of my four books, including No Excuses.
I would love for you to participate in this opportunity to socialize and share your favorite shirts! There are three ways to participate:
1. Take a picture of yourself in your favorite shirt and send it to me in an email.
2. Post the picture on your blog and let your readers know about this contest! E-mail me and I’ll link to the post and also put it on my Twitter and Facebook page.
3. Tweet your shirt and about the wear the shirt campaign, linking to @GloriaFeldt.
Last Monday night, thanks to my great friend Dede Bartlett’s orchestration, I had the pleasure of speaking about No Excuses at the New Canaan (CT) Public Library. What made the event really special was that two of the women I interviewed for the book were present.
So I invited Sophfronia Scott, writer and founder of Done for You (a service that helps authors write and package their books) and executive coach Bonnie Marcus, who also hosts the “Head Over Heels” radio show, to share their stories with the audience.
Both demonstrated power tool #6: wear the shirt, by revealing their authentic selves, their passions, their aspirations.
Marcus described how she went to a job interview at a cardiac center with no management experience– in fact, no business experience whatsoever, and yet by showing her passion she got the job. “I talked about my passion for cardiac fitness,” she said. “I had been teaching aerobics. I talked about how the mission of their company resonated with me because my dad had a heart attack at fifty-seven and my family completely changed our lifestyle at home, becoming more active and eating heart-healthy foods. I showed the cardiac center how their mission and message was my way of life. They hired me! Certainly not because of anything but my passion and energy for the company and their mission.”
Scott told us how she decided to tell the world (via a powerful blog post January 1) that 2010 would be her year of living fearlessly.
“I love your T-shirt,” chuckled Jenny, my twenty-something personal trainer, as she stretched my aching legs. “I never saw that before.”
I hadn’t noticed which of my many message T-shirts I had thrown on when I rolled out of bed before sunrise. Most of the folks who populate New York’s Columbus Circle Equinox gym sport workout clothes that bear designer labels, but seldom do I see any that pack a message punch. I figure my chest is valuable real estate—why not use it to communicate my convictions?
I looked down and saw that I’d grabbed one of my favorites: Well-Behaved Women Rarely Make History. Historian Laurel Thatcher Ulrich’s wry observation became one of the guiding principles of the women’s movement during the 1970s, and living it seems as natural to me now as balance ball crunches do to my lithe trainer.
Perhaps because of their delicious candor laced with felicity of expression, these words have become a slogan for boundary-breaking women everywhere. But just because it’s proudly emblazoned on mugs and bumper stickers and, yes, T-shirts, doesn’t mean we should let the message be reduced to merely a personal assertion of gutsiness. The context of Ulrich’s observation, the thing that actually makes it true, is both personal and political. Although history is often taught in schoolbooks as a sequence of significant acts by Important Men (and the occasional important woman), what Ulrich recognized is that making history is a communal act, requiring us to break the boundaries of what is considered proper behavior.
Wednesday, Oct. 2-Nov. 13, 2013Gloria will teach a 6-week online course "9 Practical Leadership Power Tools to Advance Your Career".This is a Take The Lead event in partnership with Arizona State University Online. Participants will receive a certificate to enhance their resumes along with practical skills and understanding of power dynamics in the workplace. Don't miss this opportunity and register today!