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Designing Women, Part Two
Mothers of the Earth unite!

by DK Holland

The goddess Kali emerges from the darkness a fearless warrior as well as the ultimate multi-tasker. She grasps the severed head of a demon in one of her many hands as she triumphantly clenches her bloodied sabre in another. Her left foot rests atop the belly of her slain lover, the Lord Shiva. Her black figure is surrounded by the golden glow of enlightenment: for she represents the highest reality, existing before life itself. Kali is the most powerful Hindu goddess, she is Mother Earth.

Fast-forward thousands of years to 1972. The unofficial title of the liberated woman is ‘Ms.’ and illustrator Miriam Wosk paints Kali as a modern housewife on the launch cover of Ms. magazine. In one of Kali’s many hands is a telephone receiver and in another is a frying pan. By her right foot is a fluffy kitten. Lord Shiva is not in the picture, but a fetus glows inside Kali’s belly, so we know he’s been around. The lead article, “The Housewife’s Moment of Truth,” was penned by feminist writer Jane O’Reilly, who posed a prophetic question: “What if we finally learn that we are not defined by our children and husbands, but by ourselves?”1 Perhaps then, women could shape their own destinies.

With all the daunting realities we face on this planet, we are pain-fully aware that we have many demons to slay. We need enlightened women to conjure their best qualities to face these challenges, women who are not enslaved by the shackles of a poor self-image.

Just because a woman identifies as a Ms., does this mean she is free? The media still prefer a cuddly kitten to a stalking lioness, cherry-picking the thinnest, fairest of maidens to trot out on the stage. This narrows the icon of “woman” down to that of a cinch-waisted plastic Barbie doll—statuary, eye candy. The stunningly beautiful, Academy Award-winning actor Geena Davis played Thelma, the tragically passive housewife in the film Thelma and Louise, as well as the president of the United States in the television series Commander in Chief. Geena, a modern day Kali, is now exploiting her fame and good looks as a fearless advocate of change for girls. Her site,, cites statistics that are at once disheartening, eye-opening and motivating: girls, who spend seven hours a day watching television, movies and computer screens,2 are seeing three times as many males as females in the family films they view. Females, when included, are often just part of the décor. This encourages girls to reach not for the stars but for their makeup kits. Might this have something to do with some other statistics? For instance, that there are four males for each female working in key roles in the making of family films? And since 93 percent of directors are men,3 chances are their films are based on their mind-sets. In order to create a greater awareness of “real” girls, don’t women need to get up front and center? Until then, aren’t women complicit in perpetuating the “woman as eye candy” syndrome?

Miss Representation is a multifaceted, social-action strategy centered on a dot-org of the same name. Run primarily by women, its focus is on eradicating the objectification of women (i.e., women as inanimate objects). also looks into the larger political picture of America, citing the United States as an embarrassing 90th in the world for the percentage of women in national legislatures.4 The group’s documentary film, Miss Representation, was directed by Jennifer Siebel Newsom, who is also the executive producer of The Invisible War, the documentary that brought the epidemic of sexual abuse in the military into public view. This film ignited a movement in Congress led by yet another modern day Kali, Kirsten Gillibrand, junior senator from New York, to change the chain of command for resolving claims of abuse, largely of women by men, in the armed forces.

While logically the overall world population should be 50/50, it isn’t. Some countries, like India and China, have significantly larger male populations.5 Why is this? Girls in certain cultures are abused, abandoned, aborted, killed at birth. Girls are sold or abducted into sexual slavery. And the prettier the girl is, the more apt she is to be exploited. As Pulitzer Prize winner and journalist Nicholas D. Kristof, who has put a focus on this travesty, says, “It appears that more girls were killed in the last 50 years, precisely because they were girls, than men killed in all the wars of the twentieth century.”6 This painful reality brings the urgent role of women as intrepid change agents, as modern Kalis, into ever-sharper focus.

The oppression of women must be tackled in many ways, in many places, if we are to ever achieve parity between the sexes around the globe. This new balance could make the world a far, far better place because of the values and qualities that women bring to the table.

Eileen Fisher is both a quintessentially feminine and highly principled brand. This women’s clothing company provides an excellent, scalable model of a cooperative, creative, for-profit company that strives to nurture transparency, social awareness and inclusive thinking. Eileen Fisher, the woman, the designer, makes clothing for real women: women of all shapes, ages, colors and sizes. She wants her customers to feel comfortable in their own skin so she makes her fashions extremely wearable in petite as well as plus sizes. The EF customer is generally in her 40s and up, well educated, professional, stylish, strong, independent and not driven by fashion trends. She is just the kind of individual who cares about the world and the impact she has on it. In other words, the Eileen Fisher customer is a lot like Eileen Fisher the woman. Holland
DK Holland writes about design and teaches in two MFA design programs in New York, one at SVA and one at Pratt. She is an advisor to Project M and Design Ignites Change. Holland has been the editor of Design Issues since she started it in 1990. She is the author/producer of many books on design as well as Branding for Nonprofits. She is the producer of CitizenME, which creates transmedia tools that engage students in understanding how to become proactive citizens. Holland lives and works in her tiny nineteenth-century restored Italianate house and garden in Fort Greene, Brooklyn.