You’d think that at the age of 43, I’d know what I’m good at. But there I was recently participating in a workshop run by Katie Orenstein of The OpEd Project, completely freaked out at the notion of having to identify what I am an expert in. My mind was a blank. I knew I could handle the first part of the assignment Orenstein was giving us, but the second and third parts were the killers. She gave us our instructions and a few minutes to gather our thoughts.
The assignment? To introduce ourselves to the rest of the group by simply saying, “My name is —. I am an expert in/at —, because —.”
Sounds easy, right? It’s not. I kept thinking and thinking (and panicking and panicking), but I couldn’t get beyond, “My name is Renee Ghert-Zand.”
Luckily for me, Orenstein decided to have us go around the room clockwise, and I was sitting at 10 o’clock. By the time it was my turn, I found out that I was not the only one who found this undertaking extremely challenging. What I assumed would take us a few minutes to get through ended up taking over two hours. (Orenstein, a tough teacher, was not letting any of us off the hook.)
Therein lies the raison d’etre for the organization Orenstein founded and directs. A few years ago, Orenstein became troubled by the fact [that women’s voices were greatly outnumbered by men’s in the public sphere, and she set out to do something about it. She discovered that the problem wasn’t that editors were refusing to publish op-ed pieces by women, but rather that women were actually submitting such articles at a far lower rate than men.
And why were women not writing and submitting thought pieces? Because they didn’t think they were expert enough to voice their opinions. Accordingly, the first thing Orenstein and her team teach the participants in their workshops is that being an expert is not necessarily a matter of having academic degrees or obtaining a high-level professional position. The OpEd Project defines being an expert as having something of value to share with others.
The organization’s vision is for a truly merit-based public debate, so it does not advocate for quota systems. It is crucial that the country’s leadership and public have access to more information and ideas, so it is up to women themselves to stand up and be heard . Or, more accurately in this case, to put fingers to keyboard, compose, find the email address of the op-ed page editor of a major media outlet, and hit “send.”
After listening to the others go before me and get feedback from Orenstein, I pulled myself together and introduced myself as an expert in Jewish issues, especially Jewish women’s issues and Israel education issues. For more details about my expertise, you’ll just have to wait to read the op-ed piece I have written and am submitting for publication.
Renee Ghert-Zand is a Jewish educator, community professional and writer. She blogs at Truth, Praise and Help.