Thursday, September 27, 2007

RIP, Anita Roddick

This interview originally ran in the SF Examiner in 2001.
Dame Anita Roddick, environmentalist, activist and founder of the
Body Shop died from a cerebral hemorrhage on Sept 10, 2007



In 1976 Anita Roddick founded The Body Shop. Today (2001) her environmentally-friendly, beauty products chain of stores numbers 2,000 around the world, 300 in the U.S., 6 in San Francisco. Once dismissed as a 60's liberal flake Roddick's environmentally ethical and moral business beliefs are now championed as the new world order.

Fred Dodsworth: Do appearances count?
Anita Roddick: Yes it does in a culture like America - a graphic culture, a visual culture. You're measured by what you look like. You are more believed if you are "good-looking" than if you had some quirky, idiosyncratic look.
This is totally peculiar to the Western culture - including Europe - and more southern than north. And some parts of the body are seen as much more attractive than other parts of the body. In Japan it's your neck, your hands, your feet, and not your mouth. You hide your mouth when you talk. In Europe, it's other parts of the body, mostly cheeks and lips.
This notion of what you look like, and you're measured by your look, and the language around that, is absolutely shored up by our culture, our visual culture.

Q: Are we doing young women a service by promoting beauty?
A: It's how you define it. If you define it as sort of a combination of features, stuck in a box of 18-25 years old, there's no value. We're not doing anybody a service. Because you're actually saying that what you've done in life, you know, raised great kids, being a support for every damn social movement, whatever it is women have achieved, has absolutely no value at all.
So on to the trash heap of life you go if you're my age with crow's feet and dimples in your bum. And the messages that are given are really: Shut up; Get a face lift, and Diet.
Even thirty-five years after the women's movement we're still bombarded with images of passive and compliant women, which is really bizarre. Who knows a compliant woman? I know no one, anymore.
So we're doing no service and education is doing sweet f-all. There's nothing in our education that tells young girls they're remarkable. There's nothing in our education that says what their role in history is. It's almost like his-story, it's not her-story anymore. The Masai said that hunting would be different if the lions could tell the story. Our history would be different if women told the story.

Q: Ideals of beauty in indigenous cultures are very different than our ideals. Women from our culture are thought to be sickly by folk from indigenous cultures.
A: The West Africans have a wonderful description of sensuality of woman. They say, "A women to be beautiful, she has to walk like her bum is chewing gum." This great rotundity, with a magnificence of flesh, that was a pre-European definition of women. It was always about how the body signified the valleys and the mountains. The mounds of the flesh were supposed to reflect nature.

Q: Are women and men different?
A: Of course they're different. They're different by conditioning. They're different by language. There's no doubt about that. We shape them by how we talk to them, what we show them, and what we purchase. Different colors. Blue. Pink.
Yeah, I think they're different. Women are funnier. I think one of the things that will shape women in the next millennium is laughter. When women are together in groups they laugh. It t cuts through fantasy. It cuts through fear. I think women have a better sense of humor than men.

Q: Can women really be successful in business?
A: Why not? They don't need to have male characteristics. Only for the last century have women been allowed to take their place in business. Females were supposed to be support for the male breadwinner, but two world wars changed that pretty fast.
Look at the great French wine company Clicquot and the woman who ran that amazing champagne company. She was a trader, a merchant. It was not considered a woman's place.
Yes they do make good business people. Now whether or not they want to play the game, the collegiate grouping around the Rotary clubs, the Lions' clubs or whatever bloody clubs they're called - women don't like. They spend seven to ten times more time with their kids than their partner does. They have a different balance.
What do you need to be a good businessperson? You need to have a bright idea. You need to be able to be a trader, a merchant. Selling it for a profit, thank God if you can. You need to be able to speak it up, i.e., story-tell about it, i.e., market it. And you need to be consistent, and have a passion. And all of those women have.

Q: Then why are so few women successful in American corporations?
A: Women are leaving corporate America in droves because they don't like what power is doing. They don't like the nature of power as seen by hierarchy, control. They're much more seamless in their connections and networks. They like -- I believe -- a much more grassroots way of organizing.
They don't like being part of an organization that is very male-run, like a city, or like the stock market, because they end up having very male characteristics. They're much harder, more aggressive.

Q: Are the issues the same for young and older women?
A: In my experience, women at my age (post menopausal) do become more radical as they get older. I love this quote of Dorothy Sayers -- "A woman in advancing old age is unstoppable by any earthly force." And they ARE demanding to be heard.
Going back to your original question about what you look like - when you get my age, what you look like is not priority. It's about being heard. Being sure your place matters, whether it's in the community or in business or in society.
Being heard in a respectful way is something that is not given naturally. Having wisdom, which is your accumulated knowledge with it's moral overtone, is of no value. That's one of the great losses in our society, where in many other countries wisdom is embraced.

Q: What is the current status of women in the first world?
A: We're pretty lousy at the moment, in terms of stages. The United Nations, a couple of years back, gave out this pretty appalling statistic which said it would take another 500 years before women would get the same level as men, on the political agenda. And another 750 years on top of that, we're talking about a bloody 1,000 years before women will achieve the same economic status. I don't know about you but I haven't got much time on this stuff.

Q: No hope?
A: There's a lot of interest in things going on but it never hits the radar screen because it's deemed by the media as not sexy. There's a lot of grassroots activity going on in isolation. Women in the developing world, the majority world, are the leaders of the grassroots organizing. Thousands and millions of small, economically self-reliant groups pushing at the environmental mess and public education. You get half a dozen women building a well or teaching kids, but together their impact is monumental. If you think you're too small to be effective then you've never been to bed with a mosquito.

Q: If you could speak to every young woman in the world and say one thing that they might take with them throughout their lives …
A: Challenge everything. It's not just by being confrontational but seeing there's another viewpoint, because there's another story.

Q: Does business have any moral authority or responsibility?
A: It doesn't, but it should have. Businesses are now more powerful than government. They're the most powerful institutions on this planet. They're beyond the influence of religion. They're beyond the influences of government. Tthat's why they need more than anything now, to have a moral influence and an honorable code of behavior. But they don't. Because by the nature of the system, they're allowed to be corporate criminals. They're allowed to be financial fascists. They're allowed to act in a way that if a human being acted, they would be imprisoned. They're allowed to do anything in the name of profit, and yet there has never been one clause written, one word written, that says you have to, by law, maximize your profit. Never, ever.

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