March 8 marked the 107th International Women’s Day at time when women’s voices are being raised more prominently than ever to say, “We are here and we expect equality.” This year’s theme was #PressforProgress. Happy #IWD – it’s a great time to gather up your 9 Leadership Power Tools and do just that.
“You do not disregard my voice”, actress Kathleen Turner said to me in her resonant tones when we were working on her memoir, Send Yourself Roses. When I call a restaurant and say, ‘This is Kathleen Turner,’ they say, ‘Yes…yes it is.’ And I get a table.”
A Bit of History First
Esthetics are not an unimportant aspect of a woman’s voice. But when it comes to International Women’s Day founded March 8, 1911 (Broadsheet’s brief history is a good overview) in Copenhagen as part of a socialist movement to gain not just a seat at the table for women in global society, but also policy gains like the right to work, safer working conditions, and women’s suffrage, a woman’s voice has larger meaning: it’s a metaphor for women’s equality.
Its socialist roots have long been severed, women have made stunning advances in many parts of the world, and many ask: “Haven’t women found their voices yet?” Is a global day for women still needed, given U.N. declarations like CEDAW, World Bank programs fostering women’s economic development, and advances women are making in global leadership?
True, the preponderance of political leaders is still male, but women have ascended to be heads of state in countries as disparate as Liberia and Chile, though notably not the United States. It seems like glass ceilings are shattering all around us, making a day that focuses on women alone seem like an anachronism. At what point does a social movement declare victory and move on? How long before gender-based distinctions become irrelevant to the public’s assessment of a person’s leadership ability?
Ironically, the quality of a woman’s voice seems even today inextricably linked to the equality with which she can or cannot speak, and the responsibility she has to use her voice individually and collectively with her sisters globally. Vocal sounds will be different as more women assume leadership roles globally, along with rounded female bodies and more colorful clothing. Leadership can come with cleavage, after all.
And What of the Future?
As a long-time activist for women, I know that no movement for social justice moves forward without struggle, nor does forward movement necessarily go in a straight line. All of us who support it must have the political will, courage, commitment, stamina and a never-ending creation of inspiring initiatives that touch real people’s lives. A movement, after all, has to move. Power and energy come from moving into new spaces, not from standing still.
Two of the many great recent articles highlighting the need for an ERA in the U.S. spotlight a movement that hasn’t stopped since Alice Paul first wrote the amendment in 1923:
I had the opportunity to “wear the shirt” on behalf of a campaign by filmmaker Kamala Lopez in partnership with workout clothing manufacturer Alala.
On this Women’s Equality Day, we can proudly acknowledge that women have changed the world, much for the better in terms of justice and equality. That’s exactly what scares our adversaries so much and causes the kind of backlash from those who do not want women to be able to stand in our power and walk with intention to our own unlimited lives.
Tiffany Shlain’s overview of female political leaders and her own surprise that there have been so many is a great read, along with her videos, to help us understand that we are in the midst of an unfinished revolution—with much progress yet so far to go to reach 50/50.
Lean In did a bang up job of encapsulating in brief munchable points what they call the “Bad, the Ugly, and the Good” data about the state of women today.
And Paradigm for Parity, an organization of female corporate executives, has created an excellent Roadmap for corporate CEO’s to implement.
There’s an Awful Lot of Cuteness This IWD
PayPal partnered with Talbot’s and offered clothing discounts in honor of IWD.
Google used the opportunity to ask a bunch of women like myself to post our photo on their Women’s Equality Day graphic and we fell for it.
Clearly, even supposedly advanced nations clearly still need a day to take stock and recommit ourselves to rectifying gender-based injustices that continue to silence women in spite of great progress.
For with voice comes responsibility to use it. In the trajectory of social movements, there is often this pivot point where all that has been achieved has to come to terms with all that is yet to be done. A new lens is necessary to reevaluate the playing field and determine what new strategies are necessary. And women today cannot succeed by merely blaming the patriarchy for our plight. Having a voice, even if it isn’t yet full-throated, brings with it the responsibility to speak up effectively and courageously.
What actions can women take so we can propel the culture change the rest of the way to parity, and use our voices powerfully, in equal partnership with men in all of society’s institutions? That is the big question that must be asked and answered this International Women’s Day.
One answer is loud and clear: International Women’s Day will no longer be needed only when it can honestly be said that women’s voices are not disregarded anywhere in the world.
The quality of a woman’s voice matters. But equality of a woman’s voice matters even more.
P.S. Please join me this coming Wednesday, March 14th at 6:30 PM when I interview two women who are making history now—bring your coffee, tea, or stronger stuff and fire us up on your laptop or phone. Join in on the conversation with Rachel Feldman, director of movies, tv, and digital shorts, as well as screenwriter of the film Fair Fight which tells the story of Lily Ledbetter, and Teresa Younger, CEO, and President of the Ms. Foundation. We’ll be talking about what they barriers they have faced and surmounted, what they see in the future for women in this #metoo and #TimesUp moment, how to make change now that is long-lasting and significant. This is going to be a one of a kind conversation about women, history, and the powerTO make change happen in our lifetimes and as our legacy.