Are You A Dangerous Woman?

Photo of Pat Mitchell reading to an audience at a book launch party.
JZ’s photo from a book party in Park City, Utah at the Susan Swartz Gallery

As published on LinkedIn Influencers on November 25th, 2019.

I just finished reading Becoming a Dangerous Woman, and let me tell you, it left me a little fired up. With a title like that, how could it not? The book is the autobiography of Pat Mitchell, a woman who has become a cherished friend, mentor, colleague, and confidante to me over the years. She is not only one of the great trailblazers in media over the past several decades, but she is also one of the most authentic, steadfast champions for women and underrepresented people that I have ever had the honor of knowing. Simply put, Pat is the real deal.

Despite this, I know that this book was not easy for her to write, and it took many, many years for it to come to fruition. Ironically, Pat is known for helping so many other people tell their stories, and yet it was not until the age of 76 that HER incredible life story is finally out in the world. As she tells it, “my life began in an unlikely place; on my grandparents’ small cotton farm with no electricity or indoor toilets.” In the book she talks about growing up in the south, and goes on to chart her incredible personal and professional journey that has covered many decades. It is an extraordinary story, so let me give you some highlights.

Pat began her career in media as a news reporter and news anchor, and went on to shatter one glass ceiling after another over the course of several decades. She became the first woman to host and produce a nationally syndicated day time talk show in the 1980s called Woman to Woman. In 1993, she became the first female president of Turner Original Productions and CNN Productions after having been recruited by Ted Turner himself. The story of their first encounter is well documented in her book in the chapter entitled “Taking My Shot”, and it was the chapter she read aloud to a group in Park City at one of her launch parties. She went on to become the first female president and CEO of both PBS and the Paley Center for Media, and in 2010, she helped co-found TedWomen and remains a curator to this day. In just two weeks, Pat will be giving her first TED Talk after years and years of coaching countless people to do theirs. Along the way, Pat has been recognized with 37 Emmy Awards, 5 Peabody Awards, and two Academy Award nominations. She has been named one of the most powerful women in Hollywood by the Hollywood Reporter, and in 2009, she was inducted into the Broadcasting & Cable Hall of Fame.

And then there is the non-profit work that she has done and continues to do. She currently serves as the Chair of the Women’s Media Center, an organization dedicated to advancing women’s representation in the media, and in 2012, she was awarded their Lifetime Achievement Award. However, her commitment to positive social change extends beyond media, as she is actively involved in numerous nonprofit organizations and foundations throughout the world, including the VDay movement to end violence against women and the Acumen organization, which is dedicated to ending poverty. Close to my heart is her work with the Sundance Institute, where I am honored to also serve as a Trustee. Not only is Pat Chair of the Board, but she is also out in the world, championing for the support of independent artists, with a particular focus on marginalized groups who are so often underrepresented.

The above is truly an incredible list of accomplishments, but what is special about Pat is her character. Not the what, but the how. I’m reminded of David Brookes book, The Road to Character, where he talks about resume virtues versus eulogy virtues. The latter, of course, being the ones that truly matter. Ones like kindness, generosity, bravery, all of which Pat has in spades. This is evident in how she wrote her book. It couldn’t just be her story. No, instead she has punctuated it with brief interviews of other dangerous women, including Christiane Amanpour, Ava DuVernay, Ruth Ann Harnisch, Zoya, and many more. Similar to the ridiculously fabulous Gloria Steinem, Pat’s story has to ALSO be about other women’s stories. In the chapter describing Pat’s tenure as the host of Woman to Woman, she talked about ending every program with the mantra, “Woman to woman, that’s how we learned, that’s how we change, that’s how we support each other.” Heck yes!

So why the title, Becoming a Dangerous Woman? For her it means that “at whatever age or place in life’s journey, to embrace risks and engage with renewed passion and collective purpose in the truly dangerous work of making the world a safer place for women and girls. …For me, it doesn’t mean being feared but being fearless; it does mean speaking the truth when silence is safer; showing up for one another even within the patriarchal construct that encourages us to compete and compare; and it does mean speaking out about the politics and policies that diverted us and diminish our individual and collective power. It also means optimizing that power to be effective in allying with those who don’t have access to opportunity, influence, or privilege. It also means, for me, sharing our stories as women have done for generations to survive, thrive, and move forward.” Again, heck yes!

This is a book for anyone and everyone, but it is especially applicable for women navigating the separate, yet inseparable spaces of career, home, and community service. For Pat, it was not always easy, nor it is for most women, and she openly shares how her choices for prioritizing one over the other came with consequences. At the end of day, we all must own our choices, while also understanding that those choices are informed by things that happen to us along the way, but over which we have no control. Pat, like so many other children, suffered the pain of incest, and her choice to share this story was made to “help raise awareness of the vast number of women carrying the lasting wounds and pain of it.” Brave? Heck yes! Hmm… maybe the title of this article should have been, Heck yes!

Pat is clearly an extraordinary individual, and I’m thrilled that even more people will now know about her and celebrate her accomplishments with the release of this book. More importantly, I hope it inspires others, and in particular women, at all stages of their lives to be dangerous women themselves.

Shop the Dangerous Woman Collection

You can pick up your own copy of the book HERE. Farasha Style and Zenzee have partnered together to create the Dangerous Woman Collection. Products are created by women-led, sustainably minded companies, and all proceeds go towards the organizations mentioned in the book. This is truly shopping with a purpose in time for the holiday season. My favorite pieces are the dangerous women red scarves and the sustainable bamboo straw/utensil kits. To shop, please click HERE.

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