Editor’s Letter: Balls in the Air

Marin Magazine Editor Mimi Towle

Marin Magazine Editor Mimi Towle

READING THROUGH OUR second annual “Celebrating Women” issue, I’m beaming with community pride. Last year the issue was a huge success, and the challenge this year was to repeat it. I wasn’t sure if we could pull it off.

How were we going to come up with an article as heartwarming as 2018’s “Fantastic Four,” about the decades-long supportive friendship between local female powerhouse entrepreneurs? We did. And then some. One fun surprise this year came in Conversation, when Carol Levalley of Rustic Bakery recalled the huge boost of confidence and sales she got by partnering with Peggy Smith and Sue Conley of Cowgirl Creamery — another local instance of women helping women.

Any initial hesitation I might have felt about devoting an entire issue to women was proved wrong. I’d wondered whether overtly celebrating women might be suggesting women “needed” the boost. At 50ish, I’ve had the luxury of not letting gender determine my future — because decades before I even thought about a vocation, the real-life Mary Tyler Moores were paving the way as the Ed Asners supportively held open the doors.

There is no better duo to dispel my doubts than the team who created our cover: pro surfer Bianca Valenti and photographer Sachi Cunningham. While a 60-foot mountain of kinetic aqueous energy makes no exception for gender, until this year the World Surf League did. Valenti and Cunningham’s tenacious campaign to change such inequity and their ballsy insistence on pay parity for female surfers have put them in the national spotlight. Yes, I know I just used a word associated with male virility to describe the strength and drive that propelled 5-foot-5 Valenti to tackle a giant wall of water and any barriers denying her right to be there. I did a quick internet search on the origin of ballsy (OK, I actually spent way too much time on it) and found the definition I was looking for in the Online Etymology Dictionary: among the iterations, starting with the old English ballocks, was “ball buster,” a disparaging term for “dominant female … who destroys a man’s self-confidence,” dated 1954. Sounds a little harsh, right?

This “he versus she” brought me back to the brouhaha over author Emily Chang’s memory of what motivated her to write Brotopia: Breaking Up the Boys’ Club of Silicon Valley. In a podcast recorded at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco, she recalled meeting with a male chairman of Sequoia Ventures, a VC fund that at that point employed only men in the executive roles. Asked about his responsibility to hire women to equalize the workforce, he said, “I think we are completely blind to race, gender, sexuality. We are looking for women very hard, but what we aren’t prepared to do is to lower our standards.” I gasped along with the recorded audience. “Wow,” I thought, imagining the characters in Mad Men toasting him with their lunch martinis.

Looks like women still have some work to do after all. I hope we can see the humor in the fact that whoever wrote the definition for “ball buster” back in 1954 was probably a man, and probably feeling a crisis of confidence as he thought about the impending wave of women poised to threaten his world. I’d like to think he has changed his stance. In 2019 we have so many real threats to consider, and blocking a surfer’s ability to make a living because of her gender or a VC’s opportunity to create wealth because she is a mom is not moving the needle forward.

And to men reading this who might be rolling their eyes and thinking “Enough,” just remember that we are your mothers, wives, girlfriends, sisters, daughters, employees and now, in some cases, your boss. How does this affect you and your future? Ball’s in your court.

Mimi Towle, Editor