Reflections on the ‘Women in the World Summit’

It isn’t easy to attract 2,000 people to a conference on women’s rights. But Tina Brown, editor-in-chief of Newsweek and the Daily Beast, carried it off. On March 8, she filled an auditorium at Lincoln Center in New York City with mostly high-powered professional women and kept them enthralled for three days. Even on day three, Saturday morning at 9:00 a.m., the hall was packed. This year’s “Women in the World Summit” was much larger than the 2010 and 2011 editions. The surroundings were grander, the special effects more impressive. With generous funding from HP, Bank of America, Toyota, Intel, Coca-Cola, and other corporations, the entire event was exquisitely choreographed. The program was filled with celebrities such as Angelina Jolie, Meryl Streep, and Oprah, and star journalists such as Barbara Walters, Christiane Amanpour, and Andrea Mitchell.

Yet this year’s gathering was a letdown. Last year’s summit was confident, positive, and non-partisan. It was focused on honoring and helping those who are working to advance the status — often lowly and precarious — of women in the developing world. As Facebook’s chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg then said to the assembled women, “We’re here because we know that with good fortune comes not just the opportunity to help but the responsibility to help others.” The 2012 summit, by contrast, was intensely partisan: A recurring theme was the alleged war against women waged by Republicans. More generally, the gathering was suffused with the grievances and anti-male vitriol of successful, wealthy American women. It was as if the women’s-rights activists from Liberia, Egypt, and Burma were there to offer succor and guidance to American women in our time of need. Tina Brown said as much in the Daily Beast: “It is ironic that American women now need to be fortified by the inspiration of the women of the Arab Spring, who risked so much to win basic human rights.” What is ironic, and sad, is that Brown has lost track of the purpose and meaning of the summit, her own brilliant creation.

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