21st Century Feminism
After the latest Hollywood sexual harassment bombshell, I am reminded of how far women have come in business and politics but also, how far we have to go. On one hand, Gretchen Carlson’s sexual harassment lawsuit against FOX News and Roger Aisles, for which she reportedly settled for $20 million opened the floodgates for other women to speak out, the fact that she felt the need to remain quiet for so long was abhorrent. The culture inhibited her and others from speaking out for fear of retribution. Based on New York Times reporting, too many well known and talented actresses in Hollywood had similar experiences with Harvey Weinstein. How many others are there?
And we cannot forget that the Republican Party nominated and then enough American voters elected a self-declared philanderer and sex offender to be the leader of the free world. Americans made this choice when the alternative was a well-established, experienced, brilliant, prepared, former First Lady and Secretary of State with decades of public service on her resume. When the history of this time period is written, sexism and misogyny will be part of the conversation. Email explanations, Russian interference, blaming the wife for her husband’s bad decisions and other nonsensical and sexist rationale for casting said ballot will not hold water in the light of day.
I have not encountered sexual harassment in the workplace (knock on wood) but I know plenty of women who have. Some handle it extremely well. Like almost everything in life, you get better with practice. Others speak of an opposite reaction. Laugh it off, get away as fast as you can, and hope that you do not get stuck with him again.
But there are workplace challenges beyond harassment that apply to both women and men and I think it is important that both genders acknowledge the difficulties each side faces. For some reason, and perhaps it is the nature of politics and this “tribalism” idea that has taken hold of culture these days, when we talk about an issue affecting women or want to give a benefit to help women, it is somehow seen as a negative to men (or another peer group). If one group wins, the other group loses. That automatically leads to the “Why, not me” or grievance mentality, when in reality, women’s issues are also men’s issues and vice versa. I go further and argue that championing social justice for communities of color does not take away from white Americans but instead, lifts all of our boats. We all benefit. Why do we doubt that?
For good reason, we spend most of our time calling out sexual harassment cases that are swept under the rug and salary inequalities between genders. I noted in my commentary of Hillary Clinton’s memoir of the 2016 presidential election What Happened, how studies show that men become more “likable” as they move up an organization while women, become less likable the more successful they become. While “likability” is not necessarily a metric for success in business, it certainly is in politics; and can come in handy in the boardroom as well.
Women and men are treated differently in the workplace. It has nothing to do with sexual harassment; it has everything to do with communication and how we interact with one another. When it comes to communication, the industry matters. I have worked in insurance, financial services, and software and while there are some similarities across verticals, there are more differences. Women have to recognize their communication style, particularly if it tends to be more blunt or direct, where men tend to have more leeway in those same situations. Of course, men might vehemently disagree with this statement and see the same situation in a completely different way. I am quite confident that the opposite sex has their own challenges in the workplace; challenges emanating from different perceptions from a changing work dynamic.
Being a working Mom is hard. I am not one, but I’ve got eyes and I’m not stupid. One of the hardest parts of being a modern, working wife, mother, and feminist, has to be meeting everyone’s expectations of each role, including our own. How in the world can you be a perfect wife, mother, and feminist at the same time? Good God, how can you be a GOOD wife, mother, and feminist at the same time? In the modern era (which I define as the last 30 years), women are encouraged to reach for the stars and to have it all. The problem is, having it all is really hard work and almost impossible to do on your own. We need help, from our partners and employers, and through public policy that supports strong families and quality education. Fathers and husbands should not be lost or left out as women advance in the workplace. Equality means equality; women do not advance at the expense of men. We should grow together.
Too often, when we have conversations about sexual harassment or even the challenges women face, we attack and judge each other. “Why didn’t Gretchen Carlson say something years ago?” “Why didn’t Ashley Judd report Weinstein?” “Oh come on, Glenn Close didn’t know Weinstein was a pervert?” This bothers me and it should bother all women. It also bothers me when I hear voters say that they would vote for a woman; just not Hillary Clinton. In any other election and with any other opponent, that argument might be credible. But not in 2016 and not with Donald Trump. Because at the end of the day and in the annals of history, America had the opportunity to elect the most qualified person ever to be nominated for the Presidency of the United States and instead, chose not only the least qualified but the one individual who posed a grave national security risk. 59 other countries including some majority Muslim nations have elected women as their head of state. America has not. Sit with that.
Fortunately, most women will not be put in a position similar to Ashley Judd or Gretchen Carlson. I hope that no one has to endure the criticism and disgusting ignorance that Hillary Clinton had levied against her these last 30 years. The majority of us have to deal with the daily grind of meeting expectations without the support of loving partners or helpful employers. Others may have to raise children on their own or after working two jobs on minimum wage. What I would hope is that before we judge other women for the choices they make (or in some cases, did not make), that we recognize that every situation is difficult and turning against each other benefits no one but those in power.
And finally, if you do decide to turn on another woman and pass judgment on her decisions, think one last time: she is someone’s daughter. She could be yours.
Post Script: As part of my normal routine when wrapping up posts, I run through a checklist that includes proofreading and grammar checks (sadly, I still miss items). I also look for graphics. Well. I happened upon this one that transported me back to 1992, sophomore year of college when Iowa was evaluating an Equal Rights Amendment. I remember this quote and the letter; was disgusted then and am now. Pat Robertson, The 700 Club and The Christian Broadcasting Network have gone all in on President Trump and thus, his treatment of women. For all our fear about religious liberty, this small band of Christian Evangelicals is doing more to tarnish the faith than any government could ever imagine.