Sally Field—A Passionate Voice for Women
In life, as in film and on television, Sally Field demands authenticity, honesty and justice. Few actors can boast the extraordinary range and versatility of Sally Field. Almost fifty years ago, the now two-time Academy Award winner began her acting career in her well-loved roles in Gidget and The Flying Nun. Afraid of becoming typecast as an adorable not-so-serious heroine, Field, like many talented actors of the ‘50’s and ‘60’s, studied “Method Acting”—also known as “Emotional Acting,” “Divine Inspiration,” or “Feeling the Role” under the guidance of Lee Strasberg. She later won an Emmy Award in her role as a woman with multiple personality disorder in Sybil—a pivotal role in her career.
Among the films that have earned her awards galore—from Golden Globes, the New York Film Critics Award, Best Actress at the Cannes Film Festival and box office hits are Smokey and the Bandit, Absence of Malice, Kiss Me Goodbye, Steel Magnolias, Forrest Gump, and Mrs. Doubtfire. Most recently she was nominated for an Academy Award for playing Mary Todd Lincoln in Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln.
If Field’s versatility in her acting is impressive, the range of important issues she speaks about and puts her energy into is even more remarkable. As she became more serious in her acting, she also became more serious in her activism. It was through her roles that won her Oscars—Norma Rae and Places in the Heart—that she began to find her voice for women. In an NBC Nightly News segment “Making a Difference,” Field explained to Brian Williams, “I knew that I was terribly affected by playing Norma Rae, for instance, and Places in the Heart—which was about a woman struggling to take care of her children. I don’t know that I would be who I am today had I not stood in their shoes and tried to understand who they were and what they had gone through. I think it changed me and I am lucky for it.”
Many others are lucky for it as well. In 1995, Field visited Nepal with her role as an ambassador for Save the Children. Soon after, then-first lady Hillary Clinton invited Field to speak at the Beijing Women’s Conference—The Fourth World Conference on Women in 1995 made possible by the Commission on the Status of Women. Seeing the women in villages in Nepal and attending the women’s conference sparked her desire and commitment to taking on an even larger role in women’s causes.
After the Beijing conference, Field was asked to attend a luncheon with Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and Melanne Verveer, U.S. ambassador-at-large for global women’s issues and co-founder of Vital Voices—an organization dedicated to promoting the rights of women by supporting female leaders around the globe. Field was deeply affected by the work they were doing and asked to be of service.
For more than a decade now, Field has served on their Board of Directors. The mission of Vital Voices is “to identify, invest in and bring visibility to extraordinary women around the world by unleashing their leadership potential to transform lives and accelerate peace and prosperity in their communities.” According to their website, they are “at the forefront of international coalitions to combat human trafficking and other forms of violence against women and girls. We enable women to become change agents in their governments, advocates for social justice, and supporters of democracy and the rule of law. We equip women with management, business development, marketing, and communication skills to expand their enterprises, help to provide for their families, and create jobs in their communities.”
Field told the Nightly News, “We can’t have a healthy world on any level if half of our citizens are given really no human rights whatsoever. Vital Voices goes in and invests in them and helps to protect them because a lot of these women are in great danger because of what they are doing in their own societies to bring about human rights to women.”
She continues: “There are 8,000 women who have been recognized by Vital Voices. They estimate now that 500,000 women were touched by these 8,000 women. Then you imagine what these 500,000 go out and do and touch.”
One of the 8,000 is Adelaide Tega from Cameroon. Says Field, “Like Norma Rae, Adelaide Tega was a typical trader in Douala’s Sandaga Market, the largest in Central Africa. Even though women make up most of this market’s traders—only two have ever been a part of its association for workers. Adelaide was determined to amplify their voices. Vital Voices mentored her in her quest for workers’ rights, leading her to her selection as the head of the…worker’s association…What began with a handful of women has grown into a force of nature with over 200 members who each day fight the good fight to overcome daily challenges, defend equal rights among traders and further economic growth!”
Field believes women to be the best change agents in the world. When she accepted her third Emmy Award in 2007 for her role in the series Brothers and Sisters, she said, “if mothers ruled the world we wouldn’t have an more goddamned wars!” In an interview with Marianne Shnall, founder of Feminist.com, Field speaks about her own struggle to find her own voice. “At a young age, I was pressed into being a celebrity, which caused me to shut down and lock myself away from the human race for a long time.” Field described therapy, examining her own process, reading, and meditation as important parts of her quest to quiet her own mind and find the strength to go out and do the things she wanted to do.
When Schnall asked what Field thinks is possible in creating a different world and more hopeful vision for humanity, Field replied, “Well, everything is possible. Anything and everything is possible when women are brought to the table in every country, in every way.”
Field has been a consistent voice for meaningful and ambitious causes in the world, in her professional life, and for her family. In 2012, Field won the Human Rights Campaign’s (HRC) Ally for Equality Award. Her youngest son, Sam Greisman, who is gay, introduced his proud mother and called her “my constant champion.”
In her talk with Brian Williams, Field concluded, “Women give back in a unique way—different than men do. That voice, that vital voice is so desperately needed in this world.”
The world is indeed blessed to have Field’s vital and passionate voice.