Martha Michael | Women in White: A Colorful Display


You cannot whitewash what happened in the last couple of weeks (pun intended). 

There was a string of historic, dramatic moments carving out the new shape of power for all of us to see. November’s election spelled it out. The congresswomen dressed in white at the State of the Union speech punctuated it. And the female presence at the Grammy Awards underscored it. 

It made me aware that there are many gears moving simultaneously, which is helping to propel causes for females (and for people of color), and they’re moving in the same direction, which I hope means it will speed up the process. In the past, women’s movements have involved more singular, strained efforts (oftentimes diminished by other women), and therefore taken generations to see even the smallest step for womankind. 

The first women’s rights convention was in 1848, but we all know it was another 70 years before women could even vote. Feminist causes such as equal pay for women got on the public radar in the 1950s and ’60s, but unfortunately, we still consider it a big win when women are recognized or rewarded in decent numbers. It should be commonplace by now.

It’s true, movements typically need to push pretty far to gain even a little ground, but maybe the multi-faceted efforts – people in power stepping up – will get us closer to equality.

I asked newly elected 25th Congressional District Rep. Katie Hill to comment on the statement she and the other women in Congress are making.

“This is a huge moment in our nation’s history – we have more women in the 116th Congress than ever before and that’s not a coincidence,” she said. “It’s a call to action. Women across sectors and industries are standing up and demanding their voices be heard and experiences be counted. There’s a drastic lack of representation of women in leadership positions and sitting on corporate boards, which is one of the main reasons I pursued leadership in Congress, myself. We have to ensure that all women have the basic tools to succeed in our communities, like equal pay and paid leave to care for newborn babies and sick family members alike. The coordination of wearing white on the 100th anniversary of women’s right to vote is a powerful statement about how far we’ve come and how far we still have to go to get to true equality.”

It may sound paradoxical to call their actions “colorful,” but it was amazing how they stood out. And I saw the same thing Sunday night at the Grammy Awards.

It began with a female host (Alicia Keyes); the “powerful four” launching the show (Michelle Obama, Jennifer Lopez, Lady Gaga and Jada Pinkett Smith); first solo woman to win “best rap album” (Cardi B); and finally, watching them honor my hero, Dolly Parton, an eight-time Grammy winner and the Recording Academy’s MusiCares Person of the Year. She’s been a shining example and a voice for women for a very long time.

Right now the movement is calling out sexism and racism, and the cause is more successful as people in different fields and on various platforms move the needle in the same direction. It’s a beautiful show of support.

This week I listened to a TED Radio Hour podcast about “gender, power and fairness” and it brought to mind a few things. There were some discussions with Tarana Burke, who began the #MeToo movement (made global by Alyssa Milano). Burke is a great Ted Talk presenter who reminds us that bringing attention to such issues as sexual abuse has been great, but unless we see movement away from the sexist attitudes that are baked into our culture, it won’t last. She pointed out that firing an inappropriate employee or kicking individuals off a board of directors is fine, but the collective – families and communities – have to eviscerate these destructive worldviews, or else they’ll live on. 

Burke made good points and so did Ashley Judd, who’s very outspoken about the uphill battle it is to confront injustices by such powerful men as Harvey Weinstein. But I was really impressed by a man I heard on the podcast: Jackson Katz, an anti-sexism educator who has a Ted Talk questioning why it’s women who soldier on, fighting the problems of sexual harassment. His point is – it’s men who need to change, not women. Why is the onus on women to point out comments and actions that demean and insult them, when it’s men who need to stop the condescending treatment and outright sex abuse? 

There was something about hearing a man step up and take responsibility that felt like solid support. That’s interesting in itself. 

With all the gears moving in the same direction simultaneously, the new shape of power is gaining definition, but it’s also making a statement. I can almost hear an audible “MOVE OVER. MAKE ROOM.” 

My takeaway from this week is so multi-faceted it’s almost tough to verbalize in a column. But suffice it to say, if you like celebrating, February’s a great month: You have Black History Month, Presidents’ Day and, of course, Valentine’s Day, which reminds us how important the force of love is. What’s great is that they all apply. 

Martha Michael is a contributing writer for The Signal. Her #WeToo column regularly appears on alternating Fridays.

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