It started with women wearing pink hats on marches and moved to women wearing black dresses on the red carpet…while many don’t know what to make of this; it is creating a greater narrative which can’t be denied. Change is a foot and society is viewing women through a new lens which is bringing them in from the shadows as they demand equality. It’s confusing for many and changing the outcome of what used to be considered routine and predictable events….it’s time to get ready for a new reality.
President Trump’s election strategist Steven Bannon woke up to this as he watched the Golden Globes and saw the women dressed in black proudly commemorating the #MeToo movement (as well as the downfall of powerful Hollywood ogres like Harvey Weinstein). The New Yorker magazine reported that Bannon exclaimed, “It’s a Cromwell moment! It’s even more powerful than populism. It’s deeper. It’s primal. It’s elemental. The long black dresses and all that—this is the Puritans. It’s anti-patriarchy.” The article said that Bannon spoke of it as a threat of wholesale emasculation. “If you rolled out a guillotine, they’d chop off every set of balls in the room.”
While I agree that the women at the awards ceremony were feeling their power and that this is a pivotal time in our culture, Bannon doesn’t understand the female psyche. He is looking at this movement through his eyes and his value system and like most of the male ruling class, sees the world in the terms of ‘power over’ and ‘power under’. They don’t understand that feminism isn’t hierarchical. Feminism is humanism which means that it wants to replace the hierarchy with a flat structure based on sharing rather than conquering.
Women don’t want to create winners and losers, nor do they want to cut off men’s balls. They want instead to be partners in those areas that until now have been reserved for men. They want monetary freedom and political power. They want to have security without being beholden to a man and they want their opinions heard in the media and valued in religion. They are not looking to overthrow and dominate but instead to be included as equals.
How can businesses prepare for this redefinition of our culture? Sitting back, crossing your arms and being resistant is not a good strategy right now. This is a movement, not a moment and it isn’t going to pass. Organizations need to be proactive, clean things up and become a true ally of feminism. That means seeing the world from a new vantage point. For example, companies need to take responsibility for equal pay for women rather than using the excuse that it is women’s fault if they aren’t good negotiators and are paid less. These attitudes are no longer acceptable and a company trying to hide behind such rhetoric will hurt their reputation.
Consider what happened to Mark Wahlberg and his agent when the financial disparity between their compensation and that of Michelle Williams for shooting the new scenes in All the Money in the World became known. The old arguments that it was Michelle Williams fault for not asking for more didn’t pass the smell test. Eventually both Wahlberg and the agent could see they were fighting a losing battle and it was hurting their reputations. They donated their payment to the #TimesUp fund.
The same thing is happening in politics. Left out for far too long and not feeling that their issues were being addressed, there is an unprecedented surge of first-time female candidates running for seats in the U.S. Senate, state legislatures and local school boards. For example, ‘Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America’ is targeting members of Congress who are “beholden to the gun lobby”, aiming to replace the culprits with politicians who will fight for gun safety and “throw out” those who oppose stricter gun laws. In the past politicians could safely ignore women’s issues but not so in the new reality.
In media as well, the larger narrative of the #MeToo movement is changing how stories play out. For more than a year the media fact checked thousands of Presidential lies, the White House deflected the stories, calling all damaging reports ‘fake news’ and the public shrugged. But this strategy didn’t work on the news of staffer Rob Porter’s domestic abuse. While the White House was denying it, the story gained momentum. When a photo surfaced of Porter’s wife’s black eye, the public paid attention and the White House lost credibility; they went on the defensive, forcing his removal. The lesson: people now believe the women.
These situations are just a sampling of the wholesale change that is underway. There has never been a greater time in history, since the Suffragette movement in which women have claimed their voices in such a unified manner. What we learned back then, was the women could band together for a mutual cause, and facilitate changes that have lasted to this day. In fact, there are now more female voters than male voters that turn out for elections in both Canada and United States.
The Suffragette Movement wanted votes for women and thus, it was easy to quantify. The current #MeToo movement is not as definitive and more multi-pronged, but at its base it is exposing the abuse of power by men in power which has marginalized women. History is repeating itself, as similar to what happened with the Suffragettes, men are becoming defensive and over-reacting. Like Bannon, men’s entitlement is showing, and many are accusing women of attempting to emasculate them which misses the reality of what is really being asked.
Women are not taking “back” power because they never had it to begin with. This is new ground and the question of what is gender and how does it affect our daily interactions is being explored. Instead of “he” and “she” in the new reality we recognize that it is really “us”. This will play out much as it did in the 1920s when there was no further need to discuss women’s right to vote, because they had achieved it and it became the norm. However, reaching this satisfactory resolution and not getting caught in the crossfire in the interim means that society must recognize that it is time to adopt the attitude that women are equal and to demonstrate that principle in all dealings and transactions. So much easier than getting the guillotine don’t you think?