Two days after I finished this book, Bill and Melinda Gates announced their divorce. Since I loved this book and I suddenly felt irrationally close to Melinda after reading her words, I was heartbroken. I have struggled to finish this post ever since.
I admittedly don’t know very much about Bill and Melinda Gates, besides their involvement with Microsoft and the Foundation. But I will be the first to tell you that I don’t think you need to know someone’s entire biography in order to read their books, articles, media, etc. and listen to what they have to say. So I was excited to read Melinda Gates’ The Moment of Lift: How Empowering Women Changes the World.
By the title alone, I was already inspired. But I had a small-minded perspective. Or perhaps, more accurately, a privileged perspective. I thought the book would be more about empowering American women in the workplace, in the home, and in life. Equal pay, equal seats at the table, equal politics, equal rights. But Melinda Gates’ book, and of course the Foundation and her life’s work, go so much farther beyond any American workplace. And for that reason, this book captivated me.
I realized in reading this book that I had a lot to learn about the world and the cultures that she describes. She tells stories of her travels to these poor countries and villages, where women and their place in the world are overlooked. She writes about how she worked in various ways to bring access to contraceptives and maternal care to the more remote areas. She talks about how she put programs in place to help reduce and hopefully end child marriage. She writes about how encouraging and promoting equality in marriage and the home actually helps the entire village and brings more prosperity to the family.
While the examples in her book are specific and refer to specific trips, programs and people, I couldn’t help but think that everything she wrote about was applicable to so many other situations. Empowering women in any way can truly change the world. Giving women the power to stand up for themselves and their needs, to work, to make decisions, to have a fair and equal space in the world, only serves to help everyone, both men and women.
I feel so strongly about this topic and I have read so many other books and articles about the subject (feminism, working moms, family and maternity leave, etc), that it is almost unfathomable to me that women are not yet seen as equal contributors to society. I personally feel empowered and equal in so many parts of my life, that I feel there’s truly nothing I couldn’t do. But that’s privilege. That’s not everyone’s situation, even here in one of the wealthiest countries in the world.
Some of the criticism I saw briefly of this book was that it was a collection of Melinda’s stories and travels and featured programs, and it didn’t give readers enough action steps to take. It was inspirational, but it was not a call to arms. In the version I read (Kindle ebook from the library), there was a section at the end that had resources, places you could donate money and suggestions of ways you could help. I’m not sure if that was added after the original publication. In any case, I still think that inspirational stories can be a catalyst for change. For many people you need to hear the stories first. You need to connect the action back to a reason and back to the Why. You need to know what your donation (of time, of money, of resources) is going toward. You need to know that you’re not just signing the check, you’re actually making an impact.
I think books like this one are necessary, to open readers’ eyes to new ways of thinking. From the surface, so many people may think that these topics and lessons aren’t relevant to them, that they don’t apply in the United States or in a wealthier community. But all of them actually do. Because information is power. For us and for the people Melinda met in these communities.
It’s too easy for women to settle down into their role, whatever that may be, and to not question whether it’s fair or not, or whether they have all the resources they need. They don’t think about how the world might change if their role changed even slightly because they can’t even conceptualize how it could be different. This book helps you think and imagine a future that’s even a little bit better because women are empowered. It’s a wonderful thing to know that we don’t have to be stuck in the way things are, that we really do have the power to change the rules.