National Geographic : 2019 Nov
Women who want to change the world, or to goasfaras their talents or interests take them, sometimes have to resist or reject that little voice in their head that stokes our insecurities and suggests how we should or shouldn’t behave. thanks in large part to a “Dear Sisters” letter written on behalf of female farm- workers. Those women, led by Mónica Ramírez, now the president of Justice for Migrant Women, wrote to the women gathering in Hollywood to express solidarity and explain that they faced a similar plight in the employ of men who took advantage of the instability and powerlessness that come with poverty and itinerant work. The letter, which appeared in Time magazine, read in part: “We wish that we could say we’re shocked to learn that this is such a pervasive problem in your industry. Sadly, we’re not surprised because it’s a reality we know far too well.” Read aloud at a Time’s Up gathering in Beverly Hills by the actress America Ferrera, the letter set off a geyser of tears, said Michelle Kydd Lee, an early Time’s Up organizer and the chief innovation officer for Creative Artists Agency. “ This was just the crystallization of something that allowed us to rise above the crisis to the meta moment. Can we rise as sisters across race and class and create a new language together that allows us to celebrate our differences and truly, truly in sisterhood allows us to celebrate our link?” she explained. “On a hill or in a valley, we are all in this together.” Within a year the group had raised $22 million for a legal defense fund to help women employed as hotel workers, health care workers, factory operators, security guards, lawyers, academics, and artists seeking equal pay, safe working conditions, and protections from sexual harassment. Rhimes was able to create the kind of workplace she always wanted, but she knows that most women don’t have that luxury. In the months when the Holly- wood women were meeting at least once a day, Rhimes was the one who pushed the group to think boldly, not just imagining how they could fix the system, but imagining how the system should have worked from the beginning, free of the power dynamics that instinctively conferred subordinate status to women. Even in that moment when women were taking control and seeking to foster a truly global movement, even when they were coming together in a collective roar, gender stereotypes still could have a pernicious effect, creating a kind of knee-jerk reticence. “I continue to find it really sad that people are afraid to ask to be equal,” Rhimes told me. And women “seem very afraid to ask to be equal,” she said, adding that she’s seen it over and over, “from the way women apologize and from the way women try to negotiate their contracts, from the way women stand up for themselves.” Women who want to change the world, or to go as far as their talents or inter- ests take them, sometimes have to resist or reject that little voice in their head that stokes our insecurities and suggests how we should or shouldn’t behave. It’s like a flashing “merge carefully” sign: Push hard or speak out or act up and be prepared to be seen as the angry black woman, the feisty Latina, the shrew, the shrill, the agitator, the troublemaker, the word that rhymes with witch. Rhimes said a lot of the women struggled with the idea of demanding equality. “It was more about, ‘How do we make the men feel comfortable with the little pieces of pie that we’re asking for?’” she said. “It’s truly a ridiculous place to start, to ask people to give you a tiny sliver of what should already be yours.” So how do you change a system that is designed to dole out less to women in terms of personal safety, respect, earnings, stature, or accolades? How do you refuse to give your consent when the system slots you into a lower shelf that says “inferior”? Remember that quote attributed to Eleanor Roosevelt? It turns out she probably never uttered those exact words. In response to a question about a perceived snub, however, she had this to say: “A snub is the effort of a person who feels superior to make someone else feel inferior. To do so, he has to find someone who can be made to feel inferior.” People invested in the status quo will always be looking for people who can be made to feel inferior. It’s the wobbly floor they stand on. But in this moment, where there’s so much promise and so much at stake, let’s make sure that it’s no longer easy to find women and girls who can be made to feel inferior. Let’s make sure they know their power and their place—as equals. j Michele Norris spent a decade as a cohost of NPR’s All Things Considered. She’s the founding director of the Race Card Proj- ect, a narrative archive explor- ing race and cultural identity.