Jasmine Lobe, thirties
Writer, actress and producerAlthough Sex and The City may have romanticised the term “sex columnist,” for actress Jasmine Lobe, it was a difficult career path to accept. “Often what you are most afraid of, is where the gold lies,” says Lobe, who pens “The J-Spot” in The Observer [Candace Bushnell’s former “Sex and The City” column], despite her initial hesitations. With the goal of opening up honest dialogue for women everywhere, Lobe has now set her sights on producing. And, like the illustrious Carrie, she’s optioned her writing for a TV show.
1. What made you choose this career path? What has been your greatest achievement?
It sounds cliche but I didn't choose to be a sex columnist, it chose me. I was an actress in Hollywood and wrote about my crazy experiences to stay sane. I showed my writing to a good friend of mine who took a shot on me and gave me my first column in an online magazine called New York Natives. Shortly thereafter, the Observer approached me to be their new sex columnist. The Observer is where Candace Bushnell’s column “Sex and the City” originated so I had big shoes to fill. But I couldn’t think about it that way— I had to make it my own, otherwise, I would have freaked out. I called my column “The J-Spot”, for um, you know, Jasmine. I’m very proud of my column. And then, just recently I optioned the “The J-Spot” to Universal Studios through Full Fathom 5 Productions. So now “The-Jspot” may be a TV show!
2. What’s the biggest criticism/stereotype/judgement you’ve faced in your career?
I was told if I didn’t make it as an actress by the time I was 25, I should find another career. Of course, now it looks like I’ll be producing, so when the time is right, I’ll produce shows or movies to cast myself in. Also, I always knew in my gut I was a writer as well as a performer, and thinking back, it was the harsh words I told myself that hurt the most. How could an actress in Hollywood trying out for parts like "hot blonde #2 in push up bra", break into the media / literary world from her studio apartment in West Hollywood?
3. What was the hardest part of overcoming this negativity? Do you have an anecdote you can share?
One of the biggest stereotypes of being a sex columnist is a lot of people assume you’re into orgies or are always up for having sex. One guy accused me of being a prude and a bad sex columnist because I didn’t want to have sex with him. “Do it for research,” he said. As a woman, if you don’t have enough sex your labeled a prude and if you have a lot of sex you’re labeled a slut. It’s really hard to “get it right” if you’re in the habit of pleasing men.
4. How did you #SWAAYthenarrative? What was the reaction by those who told you you “couldn’t” do it?
It took courage to sway the narrative or at least my own narrative. I’d walk into a party in Hollywood as the sweet, pretty girl, maybe even on some producer's arm, and only when asked, I’d say,“ I’m an actress.” But inside I was dying. I knew I was so much more than getting rejected from so many ditzy, blonde acting roles.
I was sick of feeling powerless and not honoring the tiger within me. But I was also afraid to write about my inner most feelings about sex, power dynamics, social status, money and all the issues I felt compelled to unravel. I was afraid to show my anger. I was afraid people wouldn’t like me anymore and that I'd shatter that passive, sweet girl image I had cloaked myself in. Well, I think I shattered that and thank God!
5. What’s your number one piece of advice to women discouraged by preconceived notions and society’s limitations?
I think my number one piece of advice is often what you are most afraid of, is where the gold lies. It can seem safer in the familiar, but the joy is in the expansion. So don’t be afraid to find your joy. I’ve always loved Elizabeth’ Appell’s line, “And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”
Women of the Middle East have made significant strides in the past decade in a number of sectors, but huge gaps remain within the labor market, especially in leadership roles.
A huge number of institutions have researched and quantified trends of and obstacles to the full utilization of females in the marketplace. Gabriela Ramos, is the Chief-of-Staff to The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), an alliance of thirty-six governments seeking to improve economic growth and world trade. The OECD reports that increasing participation in the women's labor force could easily result in a $12 trillion jump in the global GDP by the year 2025.
To realize the possibilities, attention needs to be directed toward the most significantly underutilized resource: the women of MENA—the Middle East and North African countries. Educating the men of MENA on the importance of women working and holding leadership roles will improve the economies of those nations and lead to both national and global rewards, such as dissolving cultural stereotypes.
The OECD reports that increasing participation in the women's labor force could easily result in a $12 trillion jump in the global GDP by the year 2025.
In order to put this issue in perspective, the MENA region has the second highest unemployment rate in the world. According to the World Bank, more women than men go to universities, but for many in this region the journey ends with a degree. After graduating, women tend to stay at home due to social and cultural pressures. In 2017, the OECD estimated that unemployment among women is costing some $575 billion annually.
Forbes and Arabian Business have each published lists of the 100 most powerful Arab businesswomen, yet most female entrepreneurs in the Middle East run family businesses. When it comes to managerial positions, the MENA region ranks last with only 13 percent women among the total number of CEOs according to the Swiss-based International Labor Organization (ILO.org publication "Women Business Management – Gaining Momentum in the Middle East and Africa.")
The lopsided tendency that keeps women in family business—remaining tethered to the home even if they are prepared and capable of moving "into the world"—is noted in a report prepared by OECD. The survey provides factual support for the intuitive concern of cultural and political imbalance impeding the progression of women into the workplace who are otherwise fully capable. The nations of Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco, Libya, Jordan and Egypt all prohibit gender discrimination and legislate equal pay for men and women, but the progressive-sounding checklist of their rights fails to impact on "hiring, wages or women's labor force participation." In fact, the report continues, "Women in the six countries receive inferior wages for equal work… and in the private sector women rarely hold management positions or sit on the boards of companies."
This is more than a feminist mantra; MENA's males must learn that they, too, will benefit from accelerating the entry of women into the workforce on all levels. Some projections of value lost because women are unable to work; or conversely the amount of potential revenue are significant.
Elissa Freiha, founder of Womena, the leading empowerment platform in the Middle East, emphasizes the financial benefit of having women in high positions when communicating with men's groups. From a business perspective it has been proven through the market Index provider MSCI.com that companies with more women on their boards deliver 36% better equity than those lacking board diversity.
She challenges companies with the knowledge that, "From a business level, you can have a potential of 63% by incorporating the female perspective on the executive team and the boards of companies."
Freiha agrees that educating MENA's men will turn the tide. "It is difficult to argue culturally that a woman can disconnect herself from the household and community." Her own father, a United Arab Emirates native of Lebanese descent, preferred she get a job in the government, but after one month she quit and went on to create Womena. The fact that this win-lose situation was supported by an open-minded father, further propelled Freiha to start her own business.
"From a business level, you can have a potential of 63% by incorporating the female perspective on the executive team and the boards of companies." - Elissa Frei
While not all men share the open-mindedness of Freiha's dad, a striking number of MENA's women have convincingly demonstrated that the talent pool is skilled, capable and all-around impressive. One such woman is the prominent Sheikha Lubna bint Khalid bin Sultan Al-Qasimi, who is currently serving as a cabinet minister in the United Arab Emirates and previously headed a successful IT strategy company.
Al-Qasimi exemplifies the potential for MENA women in leadership, but how can one example become a cultural norm? Marcello Bonatto, who runs Re: Coded, a program that teaches young people in Turkey, Iraq and Yemen to become technology leaders, believes that multigenerational education is the key. He believes in the importance of educating the parent along with their offspring, "particularly when it comes to women." Bonatto notes the number of conflict-affected youth who have succeeded through his program—a boot camp training in technology.
The United Nations Women alongside Promundo—a Brazil-based NGO that promotes gender-equality and non-violence—sponsored a study titled, "International Men and Gender Equality Survey of the Middle East and North Africa in 2017."
This study surveyed ten thousand men and women between the ages of 18 and 59 across both rural and urban areas in Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco and the Palestinian Authority. It reports that, "Men expected to control their wives' personal freedoms from what they wear to when the couple has sex." Additionally, a mere one-tenth to one-third of men reported having recently carried out a more conventionally "female task" in their home.
Although the MENA region is steeped in historical tribal culture, the current conflict of gender roles is at a crucial turning point. Masculine power structures still play a huge role in these countries, and despite this obstacle, women are on the rise. But without the support of their nations' men this will continue to be an uphill battle. And if change won't come from the culture, maybe it can come from money. By educating MENA's men about these issues, the estimated $27 trillion that women could bring to their economies might not be a dream. Women have been empowering themselves for years, but it's time for MENA's men to empower its women.