Catherine Orenstein | Whoever Tells the Story Writes History

The Department of Art History and Communication Studies, Media@McGill and the Office of the Dean of Students at McGill University invite you to a public talk by CATHERINE ORENSTEIN, Founder and Director of The Op-Ed Project on Monday, 23 March, 6pm, Beaverbrook Seminar Room (230), 840 Dr. Penfield (Ferrier Building), McGill Campus.

The title of the talk is "Whoever Tells the Story Writes History:  Public Debate  and the Politics of Persuasion."

NB: Audio recording of this event is now available.

In the United States, public debate across a variety of platforms is overwhelmingly dominated by a narrow section of society - mostly white, privileged and (about 85%) male.  What are the reasons - and more importantly, what are the consequences - and solutions?  To what extent is the same true for the Canadian public sphere? These questions have been heavily debated, particularly in recent years, and I give a brief overview (and critique) of some of the conventional thinking on the root cause of the problem, before addressing the consequences and solutions from the perspective of a journalist, activist and founder of The OpEd Project. I talk about how the narrow range of voices that shape our national (and international) conversation has colored the topics we hear about, the things we understand as problems, and our understanding of leadership. In particular, I discuss how the dearth of women's voices in public discourse has affected the way research is conducted,  stories are reported, and history plays out. I use examples from folklore and mythology, journalism, and science (our understanding of human conception, sexual selection, and heart disease, to take three examples, has been heavily shaped by gender stereotypes.)  Finally, I share observations and raise questions, generated by our work with 2,200 women experts (in some ways like a series of intense focus groups), about why this imbalance exists, why women in particular tend to write themselves out of the story, and how to reverse what I call the "culture of self-abnegation" - in which marginalized voices affirm their marginality.

CATHERINE ORENSTEIN, Founder and Director of The Op-Ed Project, has contributed to the op-ed pages of the New York Times, Washington Post and Miami Herald.  Her opinion pieces on women, popular culture, mythology and human rights have been nationally syndicated and appear in anthologies. She has lectured at Harvard and appeared on ABC TV World News, Good Morning America, MSNBC, CNN and NPR All Things Considered.  Her first book, Little Red Riding Hood Uncloaked: Sex, Morality & the Evolution of a Fairy Tale, explores the stories told about women over five hundred years, and how these stories impact our lives. It has been translated into multiple languages and is under consideration for a television series. Newsweek called it "revelatory," The Wall Street Journal called it "beguiling," feminist author Naomi Wolf called it "laid back, readable brilliance," and Harvard folklore authority Maria Tatar wrote, "trained as a folklorist, Orenstein also has a writer's gift for making her account sparkle with dazzling in-sights."

Orenstein has lived and worked around the world and particularly in Haiti, where she traveled as a folklore student and journalist in the 1990s, during a time of political upheaval. As a result of that experience, she has reported extensively on Haiti; organized fact-finding delegations for journalists, scholars and lawmakers; and consulted with the United Nations human rights mission. In 1996 she worked with a team of international human rights lawyers to assist victims of military and paramilitary violence in seeking justice. She investigated tortures, rapes, political assassinations and massacres; interviewed hundreds of victims, witnesses and alleged criminals; and coordinated lawyers' and victims' efforts to build cases against their persecutors. She has written about some of these cases and their aftermaths in Haiti and in the United States.

Orenstein graduated magna cum laude from Harvard University and has a masters in international affairs from Columbia University. She received a Peabody-Gardner fellowship, Tinker Grant and Cordier Essay Prize, and was a finalist for the Prize for Promise, designed "to identify young women, aged 21-35, of great promise and vision who could...become world leaders in their respective fields."  She is a fellow with The Woodhull Institute for Ethical Leadership, and winner of a 2008 Echoing Green Fellowship for The OpEd Project.

Orenstein is fluent in Haitian Creole; conversant in French and Italian; and speaks basic Spanish.