Hollywood actress and author Mirtha Michelle spoke with SWAAY this week, to discuss the launch of her new book "Letters, To Women Like Me." Mirtha's life in Hollywood has earned her a roster of figures for her books as she has also built up a significant circle of influence, including close friends like Selena Gomez and Zendaya. This third book, follows two very successful love poem compilations that have earned her considerable praise and respect amongst other contemporary poets. Below she discusses love, life, loss and how poetry has pervaded her entire life.
1. What drew you to write poetry?
Poetry has been a natural passion of mine since I was a child. It's part of my life, like a sport is to an athlete.
2. What are some of your childhood memories that inspire your writing?
Love is always a muse but my first inspirations came from missing my native country of Dominican Republic. I was born by the ocean, so my first works always had hints of the ocean.
3. Which of your current life moments keep inspiring your poetry?
Love, life and loss. Maybe, not the painful immigrant story but more like the loss of people in my life.
I am woman who believes and walks in love; a woman who continues to hope for a better future for myself and my family; a woman who dresses in strength and gets up after any failure.
4. Your new book is titled "Letters to Women Like Me" - How would you describe the woman "like you"? Who is the woman you are addressing?
I am a woman who turned a negative experience into a positive. I am woman who believes and walks in love; a woman who continues to hope for a better future for myself and my family; a woman who dresses in strength and gets up after any failure. I think there are many women who are like me, but sometimes need reminding. This book can serve as a reminder. It's a very relatable book.
5. What is your biggest goal with this new book? What is the overall message behind the Letters, to women like me?
My biggest goal with the book aside from empowering and uniting women is to provoke anyone who reads it to understand themselves. We take so much time getting to know other people that we don't always take the time to build a relationship with ourselves. In this book I share many questions that led me to get to know myself better. The moment I built a strong sense of self I was able to confidently pursue my dreams and happiness.
6. What has been your biggest career challenge thus far? How did you overcome it?
I think I've encountered many challenges but I've learned that my mind will always be the biggest challenge. Overcoming pessimistic thoughts and replacing them with positive thoughts of myself has made a huge difference; and that takes work.
7. As a woman in Hollywood, how do you approach personal growth and self-development to always stay confident in your own skin?
I've never been afraid of making mistakes. I can't live passionately and expect not to make mistakes. I believe mistakes always teach me valuable lessons which help my growth. But overall you have to program your mind to think positive thoughts. That helps your confidence at all times.
8. What is the process of self-publishing? What's the advantage of being self-published vs. going through a publisher?
The advantage is the control you have and always owning the rights to your work. The disadvantage is the amount of work that goes in to a project. Being my own publisher I have to rely on free-lancers, word of mouth and my own marketing efforts.
9. What has been your most efficient strategy to market your books and build up such a loyal readership?
I'd say social media has been an essential help. I think it helps the word of mouth efforts because people can easily check your work out by clicking on a hashtag.
10. What are your top 3 advice pieces for the young women looking up to you and hoping to rise to the spotlight one day?
Firstly, I'd say to learn yourself and place yourself first. Especially when you're young, because so many times young people dedicate so much time to a significant other that their identity gets lost. Secondly, don't share your aspirations with everyone. Not everyone will be supportive of your dreams, listening to other peoples' opinions can cause confusion and lack of confidence.
Thirdly, be assertive and have genuine conviction. In a world in which people lack authenticity, stand up for the things you believe in and be proud of who you are, where you come from, and where you want to go.
Listen to the full interview with Mirtha on Entrepreneurs En Vogue Podcast.
Women in the workplace have always experienced a certain degree of discrimination from male colleagues, and according to new studies, it appears that it is becoming even more difficult for women to get acclimated to modern day work environments, in wake of the #MeToo Movement.
In a recent study conducted by LeanIn.org, in partnership with SurveyMonkey, 60% of male managers confessed to feeling uncomfortable engaging in social situations with women in and outside of the workplace. This includes interactions such as mentorships, meetings, and basic work activities. This statistic comes as a shocking 32% rise from 2018.
What appears the be the crux of the matter is that men are afraid of being accused of sexual harassment. While it is impossible to discredit this fear as incidents of wrongful accusations have taken place, the extent to which it has burgeoned is unacceptable. The #MeToo movement was never a movement against men, but an empowering opportunity for women to speak up about their experiences as victims of sexual harassment. Not only were women supporting one another in sharing to the public that these incidents do occur, and are often swept under the rug, but offered men insight into behaviors and conversations that are typically deemed unwelcomed and unwarranted.
Restricting interaction with women in the workplace is not a solution, but a mere attempt at deflecting from the core issue. Resorting to isolation and exclusion relays the message that if men can't treat women how they want, then they rather not deal with them at all. Educating both men and women on what behaviors are unacceptable while also creating a work environment where men and women are held accountable for their actions would be the ideal scenario. However, the impact of denying women opportunities of mentorship and productive one-on-one meetings hinders growth within their careers and professional networks.
Women, particularly women of color, have always had far fewer opportunities for mentorship which makes it impossible to achieve growth within their careers without them. If women are given limited opportunities to network in and outside of a work environment, then men must limit those opportunities amongst each other, as well. At the most basic level, men should be approaching female colleagues as they would approach their male colleagues. Striving to achieve gender equality within the workplace is essential towards creating a safer environment.
While restricted communication and interaction may diminish the possibility of men being wrongfully accused of sexual harassment, it creates a hostile
environment that perpetuates women-shaming and victim-blaming. Creating distance between men and women only prompts women to believe that male colleagues who avoid them will look away from or entirely discredit sexual harassment they experience from other men in the workplace. This creates an unsafe working environment for both parties where the problem at hand is not solved, but overlooked.
According to LeanIn's study, only 85% of women said they feel safe on the job, a 5% drop from 2018. In the report, Jillesa Gebhardt wrote, "Media coverage that is intended to hold aggressors accountable also seems to create a sense of threat, and people don't seem to feel like aggressors are held accountable." Unfortunately, only 16% of workers believed that harassers holding high positions are held accountable for their actions which inevitably puts victims in difficult, and quite possibly dangerous, situations. 50% of workers also believe that there are more repercussions for the victims than harassers when speaking up.
In a research poll conducted by Edison Research in 2018, 30% of women agreed that their employers did not handle harassment situations properly while 53% percent of men agreed that they did. Often times, male harassers hold a significant amount of power within their careers that gives them a sense of security and freedom to go forward with sexual misconduct. This can be seen in cases such as that of Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby and R. Kelly. Men in power seemingly have little to no fear that they will face punishment for their actions.
Source-Alex Brandon, AP
Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook executive and founder of LeanIn.org., believes that in order for there to be positive changes within work environments, more women should be in higher positions. In an interview with CNBC's Julia Boorstin, Sandberg stated, "you know where the least sexual harassment is? Organizations that have more women in senior leadership roles. And so, we need to mentor women, we need to sponsor women, we need to have one-on-one conversations with them that get them promoted." Fortunately, the number of women in leadership positions are slowly increasing which means the prospect of gender equality and safer work environments are looking up.
Despite these concerning statistics, Sandberg does not believe that movements such as the Times Up and Me Too movements, have been responsible for the hardship women have been experiencing in the workplace. "I don't believe they've had negative implications. I believe they're overwhelmingly positive. Because half of women have been sexually harassed. But the thing is it is not enough. It is really important not to harass anyone. But that's pretty basic. We also need to not be ignored," she stated. While men may be feeling uncomfortable, putting an unrealistic amount of distance between themselves and female coworkers is more harmful to all parties than it is beneficial. Men cannot avoid working with women and vice versa. Creating such a hostile environment is also detrimental to any business as productivity and communication will significantly decrease.
The fear or being wrongfully accused of sexual harassment is a legitimate fear that deserves recognition and understanding. However, restricting interactions with women in the workplace is not a sensible solution as it can have negatively impact a woman's career. Companies are in need of proper training and resources to help both men and women understand what is appropriate workplace behavior. Refraining from physical interactions, commenting on physical appearance, making lewd or sexist jokes and inquiring about personal information are also beneficial steps towards respecting your colleagues' personal space. There is still much work to be done in order to create safe work environments, but with more and more women speaking up and taking on higher positions, women can feel safer and hopefully have less contributions to make to the #MeToo movement.