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by Abigail Carter

Our mission, as we sat in the rustic long house at Hedgebrook, was to determine our organization’s BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal). A BHAG is one of those statements you hear from those non-profit organizations during NPR broadcasts, statements like “Eradicating Childhood Disease” or “Equal Education for All.” BHAGs are almost impossible to achieve, but the thinking goes that if you don’t set such goals, you have no hope of ever achieving one. Since Hedgebrook is a writing retreat specifically for women, our main goal is to support women writers. But really, Hedgebrook is bigger than that.

As it turns out, Gloria Steinem is one of Hedgebrook’s biggest supporters and cheerleaders. And on this day, excitement was in the air because Gloria was joining us in our discussion. Years earlier, Gloria had mentioned to our executive director the need for a “New Girl’s Network,” an idea borrowed from the 80s corporate world. A network of women that could compete with the mostly exclusionary “Old Boy’s Network.” Where an Old Boy’s Network might be seen by men as a necessary means of furthering their own careers, The New Girl’s Network is seen as furthering the cause of all women, albeit, one woman at a time.

Of course, supporting women writers makes sense, but it wasn’t until I was sitting around that table with my fellow board members (all women) and two sympathetic men, that I’d ever really thought about why. Widowhood has taught me the sisterhood is a pretty powerful force for healing. Women seek support from each other in a way that men don’t. Men muscle through trauma and grief alone with that whole “boys don’t cry” attitude, whereas women seek each other out for comfort and advice and inspiration. I learned first-hand how powerful my own story was in terms of healing others, an outcome of writing my book that I had hoped for but that I didn’t truly understand until I read it first hand from many of you in your emails to me.

I’ve learned from following the work of Brené Brown that the power of being vulnerable and telling one’s story honestly and authentically gives others’ permission to tell their own stories. In teaching my memoir writing workshop a few weeks ago at Camp Widow, I was blown away by the strength of the stories that I helped to unleash. We listened to people read their work – none were professional writers – and witnessed magic in the form of bravery, heartbreak, and honesty. Tears, tissues and sometimes laughter was shared among us all.

Back at Hedgebrook, we continued to bat around our BHAG. Words were tossed like a salad: Equality, Network, Voices, World Transformation, Stories, Change, Women, Power.

Given that women’s literature makes up only 30% of all literature published in the US, we clearly have a long way to go in terms of having an equal voice to men, at least in the publishing world. In other countries, publication seems more evenly split between the sexes. I was left to wonder what impact the equality or inequality of women’s voices in the media might be and how it varies from country to country.

Eventually, after three hours of discussion, we had come to an agreement. Our final BHAG:

“Equality for women’s voices to achieve a just and peaceful world.”

It was clean and simple and I was struck by how it meshed with what I had already learned through my own story-telling experiences. I hadn’t changed the world, but I had changed individuals. I know from emails that many of you have sent me, telling me how my story healed or inspired, or simply made you feel like you weren’t going crazy. If just my words had that power, I can imagine the combined words of many women and how their stories could change entire universes.

After a break, Gloria joined us along with two of Hedgebrook’s published alumni, Nassim Assefi & Pramila Japaya. We talked about publishing in other countries like India, where women are more equally represented; of self publishing being a potential equalizer; and needless to say, talk became political.

Todd Akin’s comments about “Legitimate Rape” were galvanizing fodder. At one point Gloria said something along the lines of “It’s only when women take a stand against such things as gun control and reproductive rights and rape that any change will actually happen. It wasn’t until “Mother’s Against Drunk Driving” formed, that attitudes toward this driving drunk began to change.”

Indeed a New Girl’s Network has the power to change and heal the world, one story at a time. There’s no better time to tell your story than now. Our world needs you.



This piece was originally posted on Abigail’s personal website.  You can access it here.


Hedgebrook supports visionary women writers whose stories and ideas shape our culture now and for generations to come. The opinions expressed here are not necessarily representative of the opinions of Hedgebrook, its staff or board members.

Abigail Carter
About Abigail Carter
I wrote The Alchemy of Loss: A Young Widow’s Transformation (HCI, 2008) as a form of catharsis after my husband’s death in the World Trade Center on September 11th, 2001.

1 Comment

  • jim carroll
    7:26 PM - 6 September, 2012

    i love this piece, except i DO grow weary of hearing “how men are”. as a sensitive old boy who has never joined the network, i relate to the pain of your objectification and stereo-typing. how about we make a deal that you don’t do it either? nice that you keep a couple of sympathetic men around. in the OBN, they used to call that “window dressing.”

    this is a 2D medium, and it may be hard to tell that my tongue is partly in my cheek. but only partly. i understand that there is ground to be made up, and injustice to be righted. but consider your tactics, eh?


    your ally

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