Because equality is still an issue.
As a woman, particularly a woman in business, I often find myself in conversations about feminism. I’ve spoken to many men and women, both for and against the movement, and have absorbed their opinions and empathized with their feelings as I tried to come to terms with how I feel about the matter. And if I’m being honest, it’s a topic that has traditionally caused a lot of internal friction.
By definition, feminism is the advocacy of women's rights on the basis of the equality of the sexes in political, economic and social atmospheres. If feminism was perceived as the dictionary would suggest, I would have no qualms with letting my femme flag fly. It’s the wrongful interpretation and all the extra baggage that has been associated with it that gives me heartburn. Somewhere in this beautiful evolution, feminism has come to sometimes be perceived as female superiority or women having negative views on men… and not just by men. I know women who embody those beliefs and it makes my blood boil. Even though these perceptions fundamentally defy the definition of feminism, or in other terms, equality, it gives me reason to pause when asked my opinion on the matter.
On one hand, when such conversations come up, I think about the times I have worked in “all boys clubs” and have felt the limitations and stagnation of my career because I’m a woman. The times I have been called “hun” in meetings. The times my contributions have been dismissed, just to be accepted coming out of a man’s mouth. The times I’ve been laughed at when introducing myself as the one in charge of certain projects. The times I’ve been accused of being overly emotional because I took proper precautions of letting go an unfit employee. And the times I’ve dodged sexual advances from upper management and felt like I had to choose between my career and my dignity. In those moments, among others, I am a proud feminist and will speak my mind — both for myself and the other women who don’t feel they can. That way of thinking, those comments and behaviors are not ones of equality and need to change. I’ll support that all day long.
On the other hand, “the future is female”, “girl boss” and other statements of the like are hard for me to relate to. Why can’t “the future be equal” or girls just be a “boss”? Personally, I don’t want to dismiss my unique strengths as a woman, I just don’t feel the need to be defined by it. It comes through in my mannerisms, in the way I genuinely connect with people, in my approach to leadership. I do not need to scream it from a rooftop. It is felt and it brings balance, isn’t that the point?
I feel particularly uncomfortable and almost like a traitor when I’m speaking with women who want to succeed to spite men, and are on a mission to belittle them. Yes, this is in fact an anti-feminist mentality, but when women who think and act that way are self-proclaimed feminists, they are skewing the perception of feminism in its purest form. And I refuse to burn my bra in support of that version. While I want to do my part in taking a stand against the oppression of women, I don’t believe the best way to do it is by positioning ourselves as superior. To me, that defeats the purpose of wanting to be treated as equals. I think we need to shift our mindset of having something to prove, to showing the world that true equality is necessary and not threatening.
Obviously perplexed by the matter, I sought to broaden my views and further challenge my perspective, as I’m known to do, by going to see Hillary Clinton while she was on tour for her latest book What Happened. I’m not politically charged, or even particularly politically savvy, but it was hard not to follow Hillary’s journey during the most recent election. And as an active feminist for many years, it was interesting to see her opinions transpire into actions in the race to become president. One of the first times I can remember really resonating with her and the term “feminist” was in a surprise appearance at a TED Women conference. She said the goal of empowering women and girls is a "central tenet" of American foreign policy. "Women's equality is not just a moral issue, it's not just a humanitarian issue, it is not just a fairness issue," she said, "It is a security issue, it is a prosperity issue, and it is a peace issue.” She continued, “We need to reach out to faith leaders and community leaders to change the perception and treatment of girls, and to persuade men and boys to value their sisters and their daughters, their talents and their intrinsic worth." This speech was delivered over ten years ago. It was not about proving a point, it was about implementing real change and leading by education rather than ego. Her story is unlike any other woman’s in history and I wanted to hear it firsthand.
I typically try to go into these experiences with very little expectations but given the hype of the election and the reviews I read of this tour from previous cities, it was hard not to go in with high hopes. The conference marketed her story of resilience, how she got back up after a loss, and how to move ahead. All useful lessons to learn from, even for those who have no intention of ever running for president. Leading up to the tour Hillary claimed, “In the past, for reasons I try to explain, I’ve often felt I had to be careful in public, like I was up on a wire without a net. Now I’m letting my guard down.” Naturally I was intrigued by what she had to say.
While I appreciated her attempts to bring humor to an otherwise devastating reality, it was almost as though she was straddling two personas; the one she had developed as a presidential candidate and the public online personality crafted by her fans as a nasty woman, appearing on trendy t-shirts and Broad City. She certainly brought more sass and entertainment than I’ve seen in her speeches online. I waited for the raw authenticity but instead heard a lot of finger-pointing. In what was sold to attendees as a candid conversation, her responses were noticeably scripted, well rehearsed and scrubbed of any responsibility. With a room full of inspired guests, it seemed like a missed opportunity to get to know the woman behind the politics.
Nevertheless, politics aside, she shared some incredibly powerful ideas that have played a crucial role in solidifying my opinion on feminism and has allowed me to comfortably identify as a feminist.
“The only way to get sexism out of politics is to get more women into politics.”
This rings true for every form of discrimination and prejudice. We need to be more representative of what makes our world so incredible: our diversity. She may have lost the election but it was a big win for equality. The only way to prompt change is to disrupt the status quo, and her efforts have proven that to be possible.
“Never doubt that you are valuable and powerful and deserving of every chance and opportunity in the world."
I will not deny that the glass ceiling is real, but it most certainly is not shatterproof. Even though there are men who consciously or subconsciously keep women small, we are often our own worst enemy. We tend to be very apologetic and have difficulty asking for what we want deserve. We have to stop doubting our value and start stepping into our power. If opportunity does not present itself, create it. We live in a time where that is possible, more than ever before.
“Too many women in too many countries speak the same language — of silence.”
This sentiment resonated with hearts around the world most recently in an acceptance speech delivered by Oprah Winfrey at the Golden Globes. In memory of Recy Taylor she said, “She lived as we all have lived, too many years in a culture broken by brutally powerful men. For too long, women have not been heard or believed if they dare speak the truth to the power of those men. But their time is up. Their time is up.” One of the most powerful ways to bring about change in the world is to use your voice… and we are clearly in need of some change.
“I believe you should channel your disappointment and frustration into purposeful action.”
It is imperative for both men and women to speak up on the topic of equality if we’re going to spark change, but the magic is in the action. Purposeful action — not shame, not fear, not anger — purpose. Harness your feelings and past experiences and use them as the catalyst for the change you want to see in this world. Men and women should be represented, respected and empowered equally. If that is evident in the actions of our society, change is inevitable.
Finally, Clinton’s campaign slogan is ironically what sums up my views on feminism.
“We are stronger together.”