Maggie Carter’s boss was “in the oil business.” He relentlessly harassed her, a situation she could not tolerate for long. Perhaps it was her own naiveté as a 20-year-old, or her own sense of self-worth. But she did what was unheard of in 1972 and reported him to his superiors.
For her courage, Carter, now Maggie Hempen, was fired. “For years I wondered if I was at fault, whether I provoked him, whether my clothes were too tight, whether he felt encouraged,” she recalls.
Clearly, the episode still pains her. “Forty years later today, women are still blamed for their own abuse, that they somehow bring it onto themselves,” she noted.
Scroll forward to 2011 in Hawaii. There, at the Soroptimist International convention, Hempen and fellow Laguna Beach delegate Connie Burlin took in a screening of “Miss Represented,” a documentary about the myriad ways women’s self-perception is perverted by sexism masquerading as popular culture.
In one scene, a panel of men debate the merits of a woman in the White House. A mediator bellows, “What’s the downside, beside PMS and mood swings?”
With other footage of commentators denigrating Hillary Clinton and Condoleezza Rice, the film raises questions about women’s continuing battle for respect and opportunities.
For Hempen and Burlin, the film proved an epiphany. They vowed to see it distributed on the mainland to the widest possible audience of young women still in their formative years.
Their vision will take form for the first time with the Healthy Girl Festival on Saturday, April 27, starting at 10 a.m. on the Festival of Arts grounds.
“We started building the Festival around the film, offering healthy and self-affirming choices for women. We need women to make decisions on behalf of the work, to be smart instead of (just) cute,” said Burlin.
Hempen blames fashion magazines and television ads for pushing young, vulnerable women onto paths of poor choices. “Images we see every day in magazines and everywhere else are simply unrealistic, Photo-Shopped pictures that women, consciously or not, buy into, often warping their own body images irreversibly,” she said. “We are being sold a bill of goods and the film shows how insidious the problem is.”
Even she chides herself for a few extra pounds, even though she has built a solid reputation as a business woman, as former owner of a limousine service and more recently as an event planner and caterer. At age 62, she is happily married, a mother, grandmother and devoted to community service as communications director for Soroptimist.
Hempen grew up in Downey, but always dreamed of living in Laguna Beach. On her 21st birthday, she drove down and never looked back.
A passionate cook, she teaches an after-school culinary class at Top of the World Elementary, serves as chief chef at the Friendship Shelter and, accompanied by Soroptimist sisters, helps feed the homeless occupants of the city’s shelter in Laguna Canyon.
She helped organize the recent A La Carte Uncorked food and wine-tasting event and Susi Q Senior Center’s Legacy Ball. Her hand guided other Laguna Art Museum and Laguna Playhouse events as well.
In 2008, she tried to retire but grew depressed doing nothing. The 40-member Soroptimists, with their global outlook and dedication to community service, re-engaged her talents with new purpose.
“Maggie treats the festival as if it were her daughter’s wedding; she has a phenomenal heart,” Burlin said.
Nancy Lindsay, who has traveled widely through Europe and Asia as a Soroptimist delegate, praises Hempen as someone who takes a logical and practical approach to any task.
“I firmly believe that when women get their stuff together, they can save the world,” Hempen said. “But we have to start supporting each other and stop beating each other up, educate the men as well and realize that we can’t have or do it all, at least not all at the same time. We need to make the right choices.”
Healthy Girl Festival, Festival of Arts Grounds, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
MC: local musician/singer Shaena Stabler.
Music: Yours Truly
Food: The Lime Truck
10:30 a.m., 1:30 p.m., Screening “Miss Representation” and discussion with Caroline Heldman, Occidental College professor
Heldman specializes in the presidency, media, gender and race in America. She is the co-author of “Rethinking Madame President: Are We Ready for a Woman in the White House.”
“Miss Representation” includes commentary from Rosario Dawson, Nancy Pelosy, Devanshi Patel, Rachel Maddow, Carol Jenkins, Geena Davis, Katie Couric, Margaret Cho and Jane Fonda. Introduced first at the Sundance Film Festival and broadcast on “Opra,” it is written and directed by Jennifer Siebel-Newsom.
Exhibitors: James Pibram-Eco Warrior; Ellison Sisters; Sarah Vanderveen-Author, Once by the Pacific; Malea Anderson-Zumba Instructor; Eat Cleaner Chef- interactive cooking demo; Hobie; Standup Paddle Company; Health in Balance; doTerra Essential Oils; Bubbles; Roots Beauty Underground; Om Meditation Studio; United Studios of Self Defense; Yoga Works; and Smart Girls Who Surf.