This Broad’s View: Why the Women's Movement May Be Doomed to Fail
By Sara Blanchard | Guest Contributor | @sarablanchardauthor
I’m a feminist. A modern-day feminist, one who believes we should earn opportunities based on our abilities, and not be limited by our gender. I have two young daughters; I want them to grow up in a world where they can focus their energy and learning on things they love, and be equally considered as any boy for a job of their choosing within their skill set.
But I also want my girls to grow up in a world where they feel safe from harassment when they walk down the street, safe from assault as they go jogging in a park, safe from teachers or coaches who grab their asses, or even worse. I want them to become mothers in a world where they can choose whether they want to stay at home to raise their children or continue working. I want that workplace to offer them 6 months to a year of maternity leave, so they’re not forced to rush back to work when they’re neither physically nor emotionally recovered to do so.
We had a fabulously intense dinner party the weekend of the Women’s March 2018. One of our close friends is a head of a large company. He asked, sincerely and pointedly, what is it that women want? As in, what can he do to shape his company? What are specific things we, as women, want and expect him to do and advocate for?
After quite some discussion, we came no closer to a clear answer for his questions. More concerning was that three major issues percolated up from under the surface of enthusiastic support for women. With these deep-seated issues identified, it occurred to us that, unless we sort them out, perhaps this movement is doomed to fail. What are these obstacles to success?
Women Don’t Believe in Women
Corporate competition and backstabbing. Mommy wars. Reality TV. Class wars. Catfights. Plastic surgery. Criticism of the appearance of any female in power. Not to mention that 53% of all white women who voted in the last presidential election, voted for Trump. Do I need to explain why voting for someone who so egregiously disrespects women qualifies as not believing in women? Any movement rife with infighting and a lack of respect for the very population it seeks to serve is not set up for success.
Too Many Voices, Too Many Desired Outcomes
Some women march because they want control of their own reproductive life. Some women march because they want equal pay with men. Some others want to shatter the glass ceiling, to have close to equal representation at the top of the corporate and government ladders. Some women march because they want maternity leave granted along the lines of Canada and England and so many other first world nations. Some women march because they don’t want their pussies grabbed. Duh. And some women march for climate change and black lives and religious freedom. There are simply so many things that we stand for, and without a clear set of actionable points, how will we ever get the other 50% of the population to stand with us, to fight for us, to make changes that support our goals? We must clearly define our goals so we can provide our supportive men and women with specific, actionable steps to move us toward our vision.
The Status Quo Seems to Be Fine for Many Women
We asked our history buffs at the dinner party what has led to societal change in the past. Their answers? Wars, revolutions, and social movements where people put their lives on the line. Think: Martin Luther King, Jr., and the civil rights movement. Think: The major labor strikes in the 1920s. What’s the common thread? People felt like they had no other choice but stand up to the status quo and assume some measure of risk for the sake of social change. In other words, things were bad enough to inspire this level of dedication, activity, and risk.
So how bad are things for women? Are we ALL being assaulted? Are we ALL giving birth and struggling with decisions around motherhood and work? Are we ALL unsuccessful because of our gender? No, but a lot of us are.
We live in the United States where, according to the Center for Disease Control, homicide is a leading cause of death for pregnant women. We’ve developed into a nation where a level of apathy has blanketed our souls to such an extent that this level of domestic violence is not a problem for you because it’s not happening to you. We need to lift that blanket and see that this is happening to women, and that it’s happening to women as a result of our status as women. If we did shift our viewpoint, I bet we would (and should) collectively be mad as hell.
When did we lose our ability to relate, to care for thy neighbor, to be a society united? Has technology - social media, reality TV, smartphone addiction - made us lose our empathy, to the point where we are detached from the conditions of our fellow women? I am all for independence and meritocracy, but it is a major problem that we see other women as totally separate, instead of a collective group. Which circles back to points number one and two.
What will it take for us to band together and say ENOUGH, we have no other choice but to put ourselves out there, together, maybe even in harm’s way, to pave the way towards change? More personally, what will it take YOU to stand with other women, to put yourself out there, to use your voice and body to make change for all of us?
Let’s keep up with our marches and with our rallies, our articles and our advocacy. But let’s also continue to grow our conversations, and identify our real goals. Let’s outline the issues and points behind which we can potentially rally as women, and cultivate the support of people who feel the same way so we can champion our way to very tangible change. It may take a few years, a decade, or even a generation (or two). But let’s keep working at this to make it successful, lest it be doomed to fail.
Sara Blanchard is a happiness consultant and facilitator. author of Flex Mom, and champion for women who speak the language of corporate America. Having worked at Goldman Sachs and taught positive psychology at Harvard, Sara bridges the gap between the serious mission of supporting a long-lasting, successful business, and the lighthearted yet impactful actions that build quality relationships and happiness for teams.