Here is the speech that Barbra made as she picked up the Glamour “Woman of the Year Lifetime Achievement” award at Carnegie Hall on Monday November 11th 2013.
Thank you, Katie…the first woman to anchor the evening news on her own…and also the girlfriend we’d all like to have because she really listens…and asks tough questions in such a sweet way that she makes people reveal who they really are…And I want to thank Glamour magazine for this honor…and for focusing our attention not only on fashion, but also on the most important issues affecting women today.
I always loved fashion. When I was 12, I saved my earnings as a cashier in a Chinese restaurant to buy frilly frocks. At 18, when I couldn’t get a job as an actress, I started to sing and won a talent contest, but what would I wear? That’s when I discovered thrift shops and antique clothes…exquisite creations from the 1890s that were less expensive and more beautifully made than anything I could find at a department store…a black velvet top embroidered with jet and steel beads…white lace combing jackets…I wore them at the Bon Soir, a little night club in Greenwich Village. But the press started talking about my antique clothes and I didn’t want that to be the main attraction. So I bought men’s fabrics and designed feminine outfits to wear on stage. I was always intrigued by the relationship between the masculine and the feminine.
Fortunately, I was lucky enough to be born with a good singing voice. And that voice ultimately allowed me to speak out and have my opinions heard. I don’t think anyone should underestimate the power of their own voice…Each voice can effect change.
One of my heroes, Congresswoman Bella Abzug, had a loud voice. I campaigned for her in 1970. She once said, “The test for whether or not you can hold a job should not be the arrangement of your chromosomes.” Yet even though women are the breadwinners in nearly half the households in the United States today, they still take home only 77 cents for every dollar a man makes… We’re still fighting for equality.
There is progress, as women now make up the majority of college students, with more opportunities than ever before…But despite some high-profile women CEOs, women make up only 16% of corporate boardrooms…Women make up 51% of the country but only 19% of Congress. Of course, there has never been a woman President…BUT I HOPE THIS WILL CHANGE VERY SOON.
We really need her now because we are witnessing reversals in Congress and certain states that will set back women’s reproductive health…Battles fought and won decades ago are under attack… Planned Parenthood clinics are being shut down, even though they offer so many health services to both sexes beyond reproductive care…and the radical right in the House of Representatives continues to try to abolish access to affordable healthcare for millions of Americans.
In fact, last month the Tea Party minority forced our government into an unnecessary and destructive shutdown which accomplished nothing…but hurt our economy and damaged our nation’s standing in the world. Suddenly we saw just how fragile democracy can be. Those politicians held our government hostage over a law they didn’t happen to like…And those same politicians are making it more difficult in some states to vote. (This should particularly concern women, who spent almost 150 years fighting to “earn” this right.)
Undeniable science on climate change is being ignorantly refuted as we watch the deterioration of our planet…from the water we drink…to the food we eat. Even honeybees, which propagate our food supply, are in danger from environmental poisons!
The gun lobby is blocking modest background checks even though every day…every hour…people are being shot. More than 10,000 people have been killed by guns since the Newtown shootings.
If more women were in office, would this be happening? Maybe not!…But to achieve change, we must speak up…AND EVERY VOICE IS IMPORTANT…Remember in the presidential election of 2000, 104 million people voted and only 537 votes in Florida triggered events that changed the course of history…Al Gore would have enacted regulations to tackle climate change…and I doubt we would have become involved in unnecessary wars…Think what we could have done with all that money if we had spent it on solving problems in this country, instead.
One final point I’d like to make…I’ve always been concerned about gender inequality and I was surprised to find it even in the way we treat heart disease…Did you know that heart disease is the number one killer of women? It actually kills more women than all cancers combined…Over the last fifty years, myriad studies focused solely on men…So heart disease came to be understood as a man’s disease, even though more women die of it now than men…Our lives literally depend on equality in research and treatment.
It’s funny…As a young woman, I wanted nothing more than to see my name in lights on a theater marquee…I couldn’t have guessed how much more satisfying it would be to see my name in stainless steel on the Women’s Heart Center at Cedars-Sinai, where the world-renowned Dr. Noel Bairey Merz is making groundbreaking progress in treating women’s hearts.
Females are very powerful…even female stem cells. It was a woman doctor, Doris Taylor, who has actually grown the first human heart from stem cells…and the breakthrough came when she used only female stem cells…because the male stem cells didn’t work…they got totally lost. This is hardly a surprise, because…just like men…even male stem cells won’t ask for directions.
It’s my privilege to be included among the honorees tonight, They are an inspiring group of women from all walks of life…I would just like to single out the youngest among us, Malala, who dared to believe that every child has an equal right to an education…The outpouring of support for her is the perfect example of the power of one voice.
So, to all the girls and women in the audience today, I encourage you to believe in the power of your own voice…Anything is possible if you have a dream or a vision of how the world should be…Let’s speak out until women are treated equally by the people who pay us; by the people who heal us; and by the people who claim to represent us!
Put your signature where your heart is…write the White House…write a check…Vote! Call your Congressman…Contribute in any way you can to candidates who support your views.
The world is waiting to hear from you…You are the women we’ve been waiting for.