A League of Her Own

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Geena Davis (thanks to my colleague, Sally Clark, for snapping the pic)

A blurry Geena Davis (thanks to my colleague, Sally Clark, for snapping the pic)

Women’s charities used to be funded by the farmer’s wife contributing egg money to overseas missions. That’s definitely not true today — not since the YWCA began its tradition of Inspire Luncheons 25 years ago.

What began modestly a generation ago has become a three-venue production, raising somewhere around $1 million annually to empower women and families. This week’s 25th anniversary event at the Washington State Convention Center first paid tribute to the late KOMO Anchor Kathi Gertzen who would have celebrated her 55th birthday that same day, April 29. For 24 of the 25 years of luncheon fundraisers, Gertzen served as mistress of ceremonies.

The tribute to Gertzen was followed by a keynote address by actress Geena Davis who heads the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, dedicated to reducing gender stereotypes. The actress has built a career depicting women of strength including, but not limited to, her performances as the first female president of the United States and a World War II baseball star in “A League of Her Own.”

Davis told the story of how surprised she was to hear from a woman who told her that she was trying to relive Davis’ role in “Thelma and Louise.” Seems a little much to pattern oneself after a heroine, no matter how strong, who brandishes guns, commits robbery and ends up killing herself. But still, Davis believes it matters that there are some strong roles for female characters.

An interesting statistic cited by Davis was a survey, taken by her institute, that shows that at all levels of the movie industry (actors, technicians, extras etc.) women only constitute about 17 percent. It’s very much a male-dominated industry.

Davis said that, growing up, she’d never played baseball or other sport as she always thought of herself, tree-top tall, as uncoordinated. When it came to basketball, she didn’t know how to play, but because of her height – more than six feet – she was told that she should “just stand there.”  She told the Convention Center audience that she finally took up archery at the age of 41 and, surprisingly, became a semi-finalist for the Olympics’ team. She describes attaining that goal as “changing the course of my life.”

Davis’ stories of groundbreaking achievement served as a powerful metaphor for the YWCA’s mission in supporting women and families. Few were yesterday’s luncheon guests – more than 2,500 women and a few good men – who didn’t leave the event with a warm glow. Once again, the luncheon was taking women-centered philanthropy to a whole new level.