The founder of the organization, Marleine, is an unwavering advocate for the Haitian community in Miami. During our initial meeting, I was struck by her similarity to Margarita, the leader of UNIDAD, the nonprofit we worked for during the first four weeks of our DukeEngage program. They share many characteristics; both are passionate and self-motivated, dedicated, confident, independent, immigrant females. Most notably, they radiate an infectious charisma. People stop and listen to their accented yet eloquently commanded speech. Basically, they’re total badasses.
Two minority women in top leadership positions? Shocking, right? Two minority women in top leadership positions who more or less single-handedly spearhead grassroots efforts to support their own communities? Amazing, huh?
Wrong. This shouldn’t be amazing, shocking or out of the ordinary. There are two strong female leaders here. Period.
So why is service work still considered feminine? There are many more women involved in humanitarian issues than men. Our own program, DukeEngage, has more female applicants and participants. To this day, it is customary that the First Lady of the United States chooses a cause to champion. Michelle Obama’s is childhood obesity, Laura Bush’s was education and literacy and current potential presidential candidate Hillary Clinton raised awareness for health care issues while her husband was in charge of the White House.
But there are two troubling issues here—the notion that service work is not as important or as serious as business and the idea that women cannot or should not be involved in “serious business.”
Let’s take a step back. Business, corporations, lobbies, they all deal with the big bucks—money that men are typically in charge of. Service, on the other hand, is delicate: it requires donations. Historically, wealthy women have been great philanthropists, and less affluent women have been nurses, volunteers and those that donate their time. Of course, there is nothing inherently wrong with that, except for the common perception of these acts as “soft.”
Hold on. Soft? Didn’t I just describe two straight up bosses? They’re innovative and visionary and aren’t the only females making real change happen—creating and carrying out programs, scrounging for grant money to find people jobs, teaching adults civic responsibility, teaching senior citizens the alphabet and even keeping kids off the streets. Their results are visible, unlike the liquid money constantly pouring down the male-dominated congressional drain.Still, since being here, I’ve caught on to something bigger—lack of resources pushes one to be resourceful and lack of progress pushes one to progress. And that is endlessly inspiring. That’s why I’m happy with leaving the view of “delicate donors” alone. I have no interest in expending energy solely to change people’s minds. These women do what needs to be done and command respect because of their hard work, and no one questions it. It’s how I plan on living my life from here on out… Tina Fey said it best, “b*tches get stuff done.”
Ritika Patil is a Trinity junior.