Thursday, 24 November 2011

Thanks and Giving

I love Marlo Thomas. Not just as an actress, although she is tremendously funny and wonderfully human in almost everything she has done. No, I love Marlo Thomas the feminist icon, the social activist, the educator, the philanthropist, and the role model for young women. It is hard to believe that it has been 45 years since  "That Girl" premiered. At the time, Thomas' Ann Marie was the only single woman living an independent life on network television. The show depicted her living in her own apartment-without roommates-striving to make a name for herself as an actress in New York. The other characters, her boyfriend Donald, her parents, her myriad of temporary bosses, were secondary storylines to that of her striving to live life on her own terms. Behind the scenes, Thomas was a co-creator and a producer of the show-almost unheard of in those days unless your name was Lucille Ball. Without Ann Marie blazing the way, we probably wouldn't have seen Mary Richards, Murphy Brown, Carrie Bradshaw, or Liz Lemon.

After "That Girl" ended Thomas went on to educational projects-Free to Be...You and Me-which encouraged individuality in children and to develop pride in who they are. With the success of the book and subsequent television program, Thomas established the Free to Be...You and Me Foundation designed to "ensure children's wholeness as human beings: their right to nurturing care from women and men; their right to schools, homes and a society that are free from discrimination based on sex, race, culture, class, or any condition of birth; their right to non-sexist, multiracial education; and their right to grow up in a positive, diverse, supportive setting that encourages independence." Whew! How can you not love a woman who actively works for and believes in something like that. In 1973, Ms Thomas joined Gloria Steinem, Patricia Carbine, and Letty Cottin Pogrebin as the founders of the United States' first women’s fund, the Ms. Foundation for Women. The organization was created to deliver funding and other resources to organizations that were presenting women’s voices in communities nationwide. She did all of this phenomenal work while still maintaining a thriving acting career and a successful marriage.

But it is at American Thanksgiving that I am most impressed with Marlo Thomas. Carrying on the work begun by her father Danny Thomas, Marlo serves as the national outreach director for St. Jude's Children's Hospital raising funds for their tremendous work. In 2004 she started the Thanks and Giving program. Using her connections with corporate sponsors and within Hollywood, Marlo began this annual fundraising blitz which occurs during Thanksgiving week and the week beyond, and has raised almost a quarter of a billion dollars for the hospital in 7 years. Stunning. 

When I hear young women spout nonsense like feminism is dead and it isn't necessary for them to be involved in causes to raise awareness, I always point out that it is because of women like Marlo Thomas that they have the opportunities that they do. When I watch women idolize the Real Housewives of anywhere or regard the Kardashian sisters as a positive image for girls to aspire to, I turn them onto the work of Marlo Thomas and gently explain why she just might be a better role model.  

Happy Thanksgiving to my American friends. Enjoy the day. Just remember that as you all convalesce from your turkey stupors it is all about the Thanks and the Giving. 

Baruch atah Adonai Eloheinu Melech ha-olam she-natan lanu hizdamnut l'takein et ha-olam.
Blessed are You, Adonai, our God, Ruler of the universe, for giving us the opportunity to mend the world.

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