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Are There Trailblazers in Your Midst?


Are There Trailblazers in Your Midst?

A newly released book about Barbra Streisand, singer, actress, movie director and Hollywood star, is drawing attention to trailblazers who opened paths for career women. The book’s author, Neal Gabler, referred to Streisand’s “otherness” during recent promotional media appearances.

While Hollywood A-listers aren’t typically covered here, the life story of Streisand may be an eye-opener for many readers. Here’s why:

  • She didn’t have many people in her corner. Even her mother doubted her talent and ability. Her father died when Streisand was only 15 months old.
  • She wasn’t accepted by Hollywood. In fact, the author said she was actively disliked because of her need for perfection. However, he noted that the same behavior from a male director, producer or actor would be called perfectionism, not the negative diva term that was assigned to Streisand.
  • Streisand was from Brooklyn, with a distinct New York accent.
  • She was not college educated. She was a self-taught singer who used that talent to pursue her love of acting, even though she suffered from tremendous stage fright.
  • Streisand had what critics called a “Semitic” face, while others bluntly said she needed a nose job.

Her talent and appearance, which Gabler focuses on in “Barbra Streisand: Redefining Beauty, Femininity and Power,” finally won over some of the critics who judged women more harshly than men. In fact, magazines started to write that Streisand “ushered in a whole new taste for beauty.”

Instead of apologizing for her appearance, she made the most of it.

Instead of bowing to the Hollywood boys club, she fought for her right to direct movies and produce concerts and albums — a trailblazer indeed.

Still, while the doors are open to women in Hollywood and elsewhere, there is not equal footing.  There is a significant gender wage gap, and there are still more men in executive positions, board rooms and in the U.S. Congress than women, who make up 50 percent of the population.

It’s good, though, to consider the plight and fight of people such as Streisand in terms of otherness. How do we make room for others in the workplace? Are we as inclusive as we can be? Do we draw out those who are quiet? Do we brand people with words like diva or drama queen?

To add more context to this Hollywood theme, there is a new network series called “Aquarius,” which is loosely inspired by Charlie Manson and his followers. The police drama is set in 1967 Los Angeles, starring David Duchovny.

A detective, Duchovny’s character keeps his otherness to himself, telling a fellow officer, who is Cuban, but passing for Irish, that he would never disclose that his father is Jewish. Do people in your workplace think they can’t be open about who they are?

Another “Aquarius” character is a young police woman who is actively harassed by her fellow officers. Instead of carrying out real police work, she’s told to make coffee or get coffee. It’s interesting that the only officer who encourages her and takes note of her abilities and potential is the character who is hiding his Jewish background.

What diverse talents are hiding in your office? Who are your trailblazers?  

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