DAVID GREENE, Host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm David Greene.

STEVE INSKEEP, Host:

And I'm Steve Inskeep.

Tina Brown is with us once again. She's the editor of the Daily Beast and Newsweek. And she joins us regularly for a feature we call "Word of Mouth." We hear what Tina's reading; we get reading recommendations for ourselves.

Hi, Tina.

TINA BROWN: Hi, Steve. How are you?

INSKEEP: I'm doing fine. And you've sent us some readings on the changing role of women - which, I guess, for a very personal reason has been on your mind lately.

BROWN: Yes. It's really on my mind, because Newsweek and the Daily Beast have launched a project that's very close to my heart. It's our Women in the World Foundation, which came out of these summits that we do every year, where we bring in incredible women from all over the world to tell inspiring stories.

And after the summit, so many people say, how can we help? that now we're launching, on the Daily Beast, a channel, WomenintheWorld.org, where all of the great work that women are doing in the whole sort of women's area can be aggregated. And you can choose causes to get involved in, which do help women.

So one of the women who's coming in, and who is really one of the women who inspired me in the first place, is this incredible Liberian activist, Leymah Gbowee. And she's published a book this week about how she was raised in this small neighborhood in Monrovia, and her life was torn asunder by civil war. And for the next 14 years, she's a displaced person living in refugee camps and trying to have a makeshift life as this fighting goes on and on and on, until she takes action.

INSKEEP: Well, there is the point. Because in this book, "Mighty Be Our Powers," you have the story of a woman who is a victim, as you describe her there, but also is insisting on being an activist and pushing things to change.

BROWN: Yes. Well, what was incredible was that in 2003, she starts this movement where she brings together Muslim women and Christian women from her church, groups from mosques. And she persuades them all to create a huge demonstration in Monrovia. And she demands a meeting with the president, and demands that he listens to this peace treaty - which they do; they come out, and she gives it to them.

But when they push her to one side, she does something that is unthinkable in African culture. She says, I didn't have a plan, but I started taking off my clothes. My thoughts were a jumble. These negotiations had been my last hope, but they were crashing. In threatening to strip, I summoned up a traditional power. In Africa, it's a terrible curse to see a married or elderly woman deliberately bare herself. For this group of men, to see a woman naked will be almost like a death sentence.

INSKEEP: I guess this explains why this book, "Mighty Be Our Powers," which you published, the subtitle says that she changed a nation at war through sisterhood, prayer and sex. We're getting around to why sex got into the subtitle there, I guess.

BROWN: Well, indeed. I mean, one of the things that Leymah did was that she actually helped to lead a sex strike, where the women of Liberia basically withheld sex from their men to show that they would not be a party to what was happening. And although the peace did not happen that day - she did that in July - it did turn the tides. The convention went back in, and really did start to talk about peace in a serious way.

INSKEEP: So that's a reading on the changing role of women in West Africa, in a West African nation that was deeply, deeply troubled. You've also sent us an item from The Economist, about the changing role of women in Asia. And its headline: The Flight From Marriage. What's that mean?

BROWN: Well, what it means is that in these new, changing economic times, with globalism and with increased economic advantage, which is good, there's also - has a corollary of problems, transition and difficulties. And it talks about how in Asia now, there is the rise of the golden misses. And these are the girls who are educated, emancipated, but finding themselves without husbands.

INSKEEP: Most shocking information in here for me had to do with China, where there is an excess of men and a relative shortage of women - because of a preference for boys and their one-child policy, and everything else. You would think that any woman who is available would be snapped up. And yet there seem to be a large number of women in their late 30s who are single or never been married.

BROWN: Well, that's right. But also, I think, there's a lot of danger involved now. There's a - could be a really terrible imbalance, side effects. For instance, the rise of prostitution, poor women being forced to marry multiple men, the importing of foreign brides, who are often illiterate.

There's a lot of danger now coming up for women in these countries where they went for the selective abortion, because there's going to be such a shortage of women. Women are going to have to bought, found, coerced. And this is going to become, I think, another major problem with regard to sexual trafficking and a lot of violence against women.

INSKEEP: You have also sent us an article from Vogue Daily, that well-known financial chronicle, about Christine Lagarde, the new head of the IMF, who's thinking about what she thinks is perhaps a shortage of women in that financial institution.

BROWN: Yes. I love Christine Lagarde, I must say. I think she's sort of crisply self confident and enormously appealing. And you know, she's a passionate defender of women's equality - and even superiority - when it comes to management skills.

But she tells, in this piece, the rather nice story about how when she was interviewed, you know, there were 24 men in the room and just her. And she had to kind of go around in a kind of speed date, to kind of show her qualifications for taking over the IMF after Strauss-Kahn had messed up. But, you know, I think Lagarde really feels that, you know, men have had their way to sort of make things work, and seem to be failing catastrophically.

INSKEEP: The Vogue Daily article also suggests that she has been subtly criticized for seeming a little bit too elegant, maybe too focused on fashion. But I guess the fact that she posed for photographs for Vogue suggests that she's not too concerned about that.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

BROWN: Well, women can never win, you know. I have to say that I think Legarde, if you're ever going to have a model of sort of elegance in office, she really has it because she wears these kind of crisp, business-like suits. And there's no sense in her of a kind of vanity of appearance. It's business-like but it's super elegant, and she has real charisma when she walks into a room.

INSKEEP: Super elegant discussion from Tina Brown, of The Daily Beast and Newsweek. Tina, always a pleasure.

BROWN: Thank you.

Copyright © 2011 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and Terms of Use. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.