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Let the women lead!

The last two presentations I’m going to catch at TED are two utterly remarkable women, Tracy Chapman and Isabelle Allende. The topic of the session is passion, and the two rise to the occasion.


Chapman tells us that she wants to sing about “love, marriage, and the midnight hour” – she invokes marriage because “when I’ve made something entirely new, I find it’s something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue.” She tells us the stories behind the songs – they’re oblique but revealing. “Give Me One Reason” was sung into an answering machine, she tells me… and it worked…

(Chapman’s music has meant a lot to me over the years. We went to the same very special high school in Danbury, CT, though we didn’t overlap. Our school put heavy emphasis on physical labor, and I remember cleaning the music center library and finding an early composition of hers, titled “War Song”. I brought it to the director of the music center, who treated it as a holy relic. A few months ago, I was visiting a pair of remarkable, strong women activists in Zimbabwe and was thrilled to see that, in one of their collections of inspirational music as Chapman’s “Talking ‘Bout a Revolution” – and I hope I get the chance to tell her that later tonight.)

Isabelle Allende starts her talk with an old Jewish saying: “What is truer than truth? The story.” She tells several – a funny tale about being asked to carry the flag in the Winter Olympics in Turin, and the challenge of keeping up with Sophia Lauren. She tells us that she likes to write about people with passion, people who bend the rules and take risks: “Nice people with common sense do not make good characters – they only make good former spouses.”

The people with passion she tells us about have stories that are hard to hear. We hear about a women who survives a refugee camp in DRCongo, protects her children from rape and goes on to a rich life living in Phoenix, Arizona. A woman who volunteers in a rural dental clinic, pulling the teeth of people desperate for assistance. The value of empowering women, which has more of a power to transform society than “technology, design and entertainment”. She tells us she would love to have the breasts and legs of Sophia Lauren, but that she “would rather have the warrior heart of Wangari Mathai” and these other brave women. I think everyone hearing her would love to have Allende’s huge heart,pwoerful mind and sharp tongue.