#WomenWhoDo celebrates the characteristics of Anne Klein’s original founder: determination, resiliency, and thoughtfulness. We partnered with Anne Klein to celebrate #WomenWhoDo by hosting a panel featuring the (role) models in the campaign: Siri Hustvedt, Charli Howard & Deana Haggag. Our conversation explored what it means to be a powerful woman, how each of them inhabit that role, and how to find the courage to stand in your truth. Our favorite OKREAL quote: “People’s stories are important because they teach us about ourselves in a very real way.”
Siri: I’ve had a very interesting trajectory. If someone had said to me when I was twenty that I would publish a paper in clinical neurophysiology, I would have said, ‘Nope! That can’t possible be part of my future life.’ But that, indeed, is part of my life. I’m old, and it should give everyone a certain hope that life takes many very interesting turns.
Deana: I am the opposite of Siri because I dropped out of a fast-track medical program to join the art world. I have a deep affinity for the sciences, but I escaped. I am the President and CEO of an arts nonprofit, United States Artists. We give unrestricted funding to artists across the country in every genre. We fund visual arts, writing, film, theater, dance, music… anything you can think of, we’ve probably funded.
Charli: I’m a model and co-founder All Woman Project. I am also a soon-to-be author. My book, which will be published in February 2018, is about my struggles with eating disorders.
Siri: Being identified in this culture as a woman cannot help but influence how one’s life unfolds. We live in a patriarchal society and those hierarchies remain intact. I do feel very strongly that my identity as a woman has been part of my journey toward my old age. This has been hugely influential, both as a battle and a joy.
Charli: I definitely have grown into the idea of femininity and being a woman. For so long I tried to distance myself away from that term, but as I get older, being a woman means so many different things.
Deana: Being a woman is connected to many other identities. I can’t separate the idea of womanhood without considering being a working class woman or a black woman or an Arab woman. To borrow Siri’s phrase, to be at the ‘bottom of the hierarchy’, or to know that you are not at the top, has taught me how to manage the world knowing that you have to put a swerve in it.
Charli: Men and women are so fundamentally different. We should be using whatever advantages we can get. We’re not the same as men, so why try to be a man? Use whatever advantages you have to go further.
Deana: It has been interesting to raise money for the arts in a moment when it feels like everything else is on fire. Is it indulgent? I have understood myself as a woman, as a person of color, as whatever it is I identify as vis-à-vis the arts. The book that Charli is about to release is super important because it allows people into that narrative, as is Siri’s work around gender, class, and race. People’s stories are important because they teach us about ourselves in a very real way.
Charli: From a societal point of view, there was much emphasis and worry about what other people thought of me and their perceptions of me. Once you create a life for yourself that you really want, you can make amazing things happen, and that’s what I learned to do. I was a straight-sized model for three and a half years, which didn’t work out me. I then found the curve modeling route, and I’m so much happier. I’m not even curvy. In the US, I’m a size 4. I’m really embracing having boobs. I don’t like this “curve model” or “plus-size model” label because that is quite offensive to people who are bigger than me. I get a lot of messages being like “you’re not curve!” These terms should drop for women. It’s taken me a really, really long time to feel comfortable with something that society keeps telling me is horrific or ugly. Now that women are coming together, we’re starting to see that there’s beauty in flesh.
Deana: There’s really nothing like seeing yourself reflected in something. Seeing yourself, in someone who looks like you, in an image that’s in a movie or a magazine. That’s why this campaign is so important.
Siri: Over the decades I have learned or unlearned, rather, to not apologize. I go to a lot of academic conferences and I see a so many young women who get up and say, “I’m so happy to be here. I’m so honored. I haven’t actually finished my PhD yet, but I’m working on it and to be invited…” And I would go, “oh no, no, no” because you’ve undermined the paper before you’ve even given it! I have learned to not apologize for my thought, not apologize for my erudition. That also means that at certain moments you will also be punished for not apologizing. There will be people who want to slap you down. It’s not always men. In my experience, it’s more often men, but it’s not always men.
Charli: Courage is something that you have to learn. I’ve had to unlearn being submissive. I’m getting more comfortable with myself as I get older.
Deana: We’re encouraged to be agreeable. I appreciate Charli using the word learn because it’s really important to teach it to yourself. It’s so nice to stand in the shadow of so many women’s legacies who are clearly courageous and who have made tremendous strides for our society because of that courage and to be like, “Oh, this is how you get shit done.” You just have to push through. I like the idea that you’re learning courage.
Siri: My mother is 94. When she was in her 80s, she said to me, “There’s nothing wrong with getting old. Getting old is fun. The only problem is that your body starts to fall apart.” It’s true. What happens when you get older is that start getting this sense that you don’t have as much time. For me, the urgency to work is so enormous now. This is part of the unlearning. I don’t have time to apologize. I don’t have time to be submissive.
Charli: Social media has been a really great help with standing tall and being myself. Since I’ve been ‘real’ on my Instagram, people have responded really well to it. It might not be as brave as jumping off a building, but it’s brave in another way. I keep seeing these girls who are posting un-retouched images of their acne and cellulite and I do think that’s brave, especially in a world where we’re taught that’s wrong.
Deana: There are more role models out there today. Every time I see an Arab woman, a black woman, a Muslim woman, a disabled woman or someone in any of the ways that I affiliate, I immediately send it to my nieces. I still remember the first time I saw someone that I thought looked like me in the media. That’s why yesterday’s elections were so meaningful. It was the first time that we saw trans people and Muslim people and black people win major elections.
Charli: You have to be yourself because there’s only one of you. Use that to your advantage. Don’t be afraid. Don’t shy behind any character or personality or someone else’s perception of you. Find who you are and be the best woman you can possibly be.
Deana: It’s been helpful for me to be a woman who is incredibly direct. Just saying, “This is what I need, this is when I need it, I need it now.” Like, “Oh you’re a man, you made a mistake, and you’re mediocre.” In particular, you have to be direct in business or else things don’t get done or you get turned over. I want to encourage everybody who asks the question, “What are we saying to young women?” As if that’s the root of the problem. Why isn’t the question: “How are we raising men?” Why don’t we raise men to be better humans?
Award-Winning Novelist & Essayist
Model & Co-founder, #AllWomanProject
President & CEO of United States Artists
Photography by Annemarieke Van Drimmelen