Living in New York City, I thought I’d seen it all but I hadn’t. Not until 1995 when I went to the Beijing women’s conference, the largest gathering of women in history.
So many women – so many ages, races, ethnicities – all of us, trying to make the world a better place.
I went with my comedy partner, Emmy Gay. We performed street theater outside of the Once and Future Pavilion, the technology tent. We called ourselves the Ebony and Ivory of Stand Up Comedy.
Before we left, we produced and performed comedy fundraisers at places like Surf Reality to piece together enough money to pay the deposit for our trip.
The day I left, I kissed my new husband good bye. “I’ll send you a postcard,” I promised.
But I did better than that.
I sent missives to my husband, not through snail mail, as we’ve come to call the handwritten form, but a new form of communication I discovered in China: email.
From the Apple tent, I emailed my tech-savvy father in Florida who then faxed the email to Chris, my Luddite husband who was working at the Depot, the family summer stock theater in upstate New York.
I felt like a wartime reporter, dashing off important, breathless, and newsy missives:
I heard Aung San Suu address the SRO crowd from her house arrest in Burma! I simultaneously translated her words into French for a woman from the Congo.
I saw Betty Friedan!
I met Hilary Clinton and Pat Schroeder and they encouraged me and women from all over to run for elected office! They told us not to be afraid of politics.
When I returned to New York, I sold video footage that I’d shot and articles I’d written. I covered the cost of the trip which was about $2,000. But the experience was, as they say, priceless.
The kind of women I met and the commitment and creativity they had inspired me. They broke barriers of what women looked like; what women could do. Life was more varied than I could ever have imagined from my sheltered life on the Upper West Side of New York City.
When I was at the conference, I occasionally saw a middle-aged woman with her daughter. I wondered if the ruggedness of the experience – the long flight, the rain, the mud – was too hard on a girl. At the time, my husband and I were trying to have a child. I wanted a daughter desperately.
I am now a middle-aged woman with daughters of my own. I wonder if I could or would take my daughters to a UN women’s world conference.
I hope in their lives my daughters have the kind of experience that I had. I hope that my girls will learn of the beauty and power of women in all their diversity, the intelligence of women, the good will and sisterhood of women from many countries, the vast array of possibilities for women and girls.
And I also hope that they have someone nice at home waiting for them – mother, father, sister, brother, husband, partner, son, daughter, or friend – eager to hear of their adventures; read their emails; forward them on.
I hope that my daughters and son will travel the world to make friends and promote peace. Then, of course, I hope they come home, safe and sound, enlarged by the world, as I have been – that they, like me, will be made bigger as they see the world grow smaller.