By any measure, Barbra Streisand is an entertainer without peer. She has sold more albums in the U.S. than any other female recording artist. She’s won Oscars and Grammys, Emmys and a Tony, along with a slew of honors including the Presidential Medal of Freedom. She’s one of those rare individuals in the entertainment business who’s known by their first name alone: Barbra.
Streisand’s political activism as a Democrat is well known, but perhaps less familiar is her advocacy for women in the fields of biomedical research and clinical care. To advance that effort, in 2012 she created and funded the Barbra Streisand Women’s Heart Center at Cedars Sinai in Los Angeles. It was a major philanthropic effort by Streisand to bring gender equity to women’s cardiovascular care. But she also wanted to raise awareness among women before they found themselves in the hospital and to help drive public policy change at every level — local, state and national. That’s why in 2014, she joined forces with New York businessman Ronald O. Perelman to found the Women’s Heart Alliance (WHA), which aims to prevent women from needlessly facing and dying from heart disease and stroke. WHA focuses on the differences between women and men, and it promotes activities that spread knowledge and drive change, whether working with local communities, college students, medical professionals or policymakers.
In a Q&A with me for the new issue of Stanford Medicine, Streisand said that her quest for equality for women in health care and biomedical research was instigated by gender bias in Hollywood. In 1983, Streisand made the movie “Yentl,” based on Isaac Bashevis Singer’s play about a young woman who has to pretend she’s a boy to get a formal education. Initially, she was unable to get a motion picture studio to finance the film (a common-held belief then was that a woman couldn’t direct or manage a film budget) and that incident “fueled my determination to help women get the same chances in life as men.”
Readers of Stanford Medicine may be surprised to see Barbra Streisand within the pages of a biomedical publication. But perhaps you won’t be after you read the conversation. She’s articulate, focused and passionate — key ingredients for any director or advocate, for that matter. In this issue’s special focus on sex and gender we were looking for a voice that stands out. And, what better voice is there than Streisand’s?
Previously: Stanford Medicine magazine reports on sex, gender and medicine, Stanford conference highlights gender differences in heart health and Why it’s critical to study the impact of gender differences on diseases and treatments
Photo by Russell James