What is a Woman Worth?

What is a Woman Worth?

Misogyny
mi·sog·y·ny

Dislike of, contempt for, or ingrained prejudice against women

At 4PM on a Tuesday afternoon in the middle of July, I met Sophie in a sunlit room in a woman’s co-working space in San Francisco. We hugged and chatted about the weather before I pulled out my notebook. Staring at the paper and my short list of questions I took a breath, “I’ll start with the hardest question first, When do you feel most valuable?”

I sat down with 15 women this summer. In the wake of Donald Trump’s election I’d been carrying around a question I’d not dared ask aloud: What is a woman worth? In the lead up to the election I’d watched as then-candidate Trump systematically disparaged women. He ranked them on a numerical scale, suggested Hillary Clinton was unfit for office based on her appearance alone, and made fun of women’s weights, sexual histories, and personal choices.

Do you like being
a woman?

It wasn’t just women, of course. Trump disparaged whole groups of people—anyone he considered other. But watching Republicans rally around Donald Trump in the wake of sexual assault accusations, in the wake of recorded comments in which he said, “You can do anything [to a woman]” sent a clear message to me that my thoughts and feelings and views and personhood simply didn’t matter. That, as a woman, I was simply not as valuable as a man.

Women make up over half the population in the United States. We may be marginalized, but we are the majority.

For the hour I sat with Sophie, I asked pointed questions: What’s the best part about being a woman? What’s the worst? When have you felt angriest in the last two years?

Ultimately, what I was getting at was, did she—as a woman—feel valuable?

 

Experiencing Womanhood
in the U.S. in 2018

Almost immediately after taking office, President Trump began pursuing policies aimed at dismantling women’s rights. He instituted the Global Gag Rule, withheld funds meant for the UN Reproductive Health and Rights Agency, undid Obama era efforts to close the wage gap, and rolled back the Affordable Care Act provision requiring employers cover the cost of birth control. Just two days prior to publication of this article, the Trump administration proposed legislation in an effort to define gender at birth, an enormous setback for transgender and non-binary individuals.

Image via PR Week

These policies, and the specificity with which they targeted women, infuriated me. And I think, on some level, I wanted to speak to other women to know that I wasn’t alone in my anger. But because anger is uncomfortable, because it still feels messy and unruly, I approached the question from a research perspective. Instead of asking about vitriol, I asked about value. I asked about the day to day experience of life as a woman in America today. And only then, only once the woman sitting across from me was good and comfortable, would I ask simply, quietly: Do you like being a woman?

But because anger is uncomfortable, because it still feels messy and unruly, I approached the question from a research perspective. Instead of asking about vitriol, I asked about value.

I felt my way slowly in that first interview with Sophie. I stumbled over questions and shied away from the space between answers. The thing about qualitative research is that it’s a leap of faith. Oftentimes you interview a relatively small sample unsure there will be overlap—unsure you’ll be able to connect seemingly disparate threads.

In the two weeks following that first interview, I asked fourteen more women the same questions. I met Shaina at her home in Marin. And Maxie at her apartment in Russian Hill. Rachael and I found a small coffee shop in the Financial District, and Thu and I met at a cafe along the edge of South Park.

We asked the women we interviewed to write down the radical ways in which women might change the world.

The Secret World of Women

I should say right away that it was a skewed sample. The women I spoke to were all based in and around San Francisco, which is a weird and wondrous city belonging wholly to itself. I did not speak to immigrants or single mothers or anyone living below the poverty line. I spoke to a sample of women that was overwhelmingly educated and, by their own admission, overwhelming lucky. As Maxie would go on to say to me, “I came into the world at Mile 25 of the marathon.” But the women differed by race, sexual orientation, career, and culture. And this is meant to be the start of a conversation, not the end of one.

When I asked Sophie that first afternoon when she felt most valuable she said,When I know I am supporting my friends, or other women.” As I moved from one interview to the next, a pattern slowly emerged. After about the sixth interview I felt like I knew exactly what the women would say before they said it.

Laura sat with the question for a moment, sitting on her back patio one Saturday afternoon as her two year old napped in his room, “When I feel connected to other women.”

Caroline told me late on a Friday night, in the apartment she shares with four friends in the Dogpatch, “I’m very much a relationships person and I’m very much motivated by the people around me.” I asked her best friend, Cassandra, the same question when she got home, and without missing a beat, she said, “When I’m surrounded by powerful women who see the value in me.”

And when I asked what they liked most about being a woman, they spoke of a secret world of emotion.  

All the women spoke of connection, of the women in their lives, and of the intimacy and validation provided to them by their female friends. And when I asked what they liked most about being a woman, they spoke of a secret world of emotion.  

And each woman, when asked if she liked being a woman, paused, smiled, and got a little quiet.

“I love being a woman,” Sophie whispered on that first Tuesday afternoon. She looked me right in the eyes and said, “I mean, I would hate to be a man. That sounds horrible. I just think that as many weird rules that you’re taught being a woman, there are other things that boys and men are taught that are so…what’s the word…stifling. They cannot deal with their emotions.

 

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    Charisse

    "[The bond among women] is so deep and intertwined. All of our experiences of being a woman—having our period, getting to give birth, all that stuff. It's not easy, but I think that bonds you. It kind of sucks for men that they can't feel a baby growing inside of them or coming out of them, or breastfeeding."

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    Isabelle

    “Women have a more innate connection to their intuitive beings. Women’s energy runs at a much higher vibration. There’s a lot more capacity for change—and change quickly. I feel like men, in a way, are this very earthly, grounded force. Female energy is more fluid, more non-linear, there’s a lot more intuition involved.”

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    Thu

    “My parents were very terrified that I would be a victim of sexual assault. So they enrolled me in karate classes when I was nine years old, and I took it for years and years and years. Not because I loved it, but...just in case something bad happens. I don’t think boys enroll in Martial Arts classes for that reason, not to protect themselves. For them it’s a sport. And for me growing up, for my parents, it’s a big bad world out there for a girl and you need to protect yourself.”

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    Maxie

    "My experience has been that as women are evolving and they're gaining in strength, men are having to learn how to adjust. And some of them are doing that really well. Some of them are not."


As a clear pattern began to emerge in the interviews, I did some digging into where the the U.S. ranks in terms of gender equality.

The United States is one of only three countries with no paid maternity leave policy. Women in the U.S. are 16 times more likely to be killed by gun violence than in other developed countries. We have the worst maternal death rate in the developed world, 38 states still tax tampons, and the World Economic Forum’s Gender Gap Report, published at the start of 2018, ranks the United States 49th in terms of women’s equality. The U.S. Senate is made up of 21% women. Ninety-four of the 435 members of the House of Representatives are women—19.3%. And yet, women make up nearly 51% of the United States population.

I didn’t have to search hard to find that legislation often fails to advocate for women, but I wondered about the economics of womanhood. I wanted to know how the numbers broke down.

What struck me in the research was the duality of the experience. Women pay more, make less, face more obstacles, and are grossly underrepresented in government. But hell if they don’t feel valuable.

If a woman is a high school graduate, she’s likely to make about 700,000 dollars less than a man over the course of her lifetime. 1.2 million if she’s a college graduate. And 2 million if she has a graduate degree. Almost 60% of women would earn more if women were paid the same as men—holding all other variables constant.

And of course, the implications of equal pay extend far beyond the women themselves. If women received equal pay, it’s estimated the poverty rate for working women would fall from 8% to 3.8%, and approximately 25.8 million children would benefit from these increased earnings. If women were paid the same as men, the U.S. economy would produce about $512.6 billion dollars in additional income (2.6% of the US’s 2017 GDP).

And these numbers are almost certainly gross underestimates. Because if women were guaranteed the same pay as men, they would pursue (and have access to) greater education and higher paying jobs. This increased education and salary would then lead to higher wages and even greater economic impact. Because here’s the thing: money is about opportunity.

What I realized in looking at the numbers is that you cannot separate the economics of being a woman from policy. Policy both shapes and responds to the value we, as a society, give to women.

What struck me in the research was the duality of the experience. Women pay more, make less, face more obstacles, and are grossly underrepresented in government. But hell if they don’t feel valuable.

The women I spoke to loved the fact that they were women. They were fully aware of inequality and lack of representation and the ridiculousness of a male-dominated society. When I asked Maxie if she ever struggled with feelings of worthiness, she didn’t miss a beat, “I mean, I live in the patriarchy, so yes.” And while a few women cited the ability to give birth as the best part of being a woman, for the most part the experience of “womanhood” they spoke to was in no way contingent on the female form—it wasn’t an anatomical blessing, but the broad definition allowed their gender. There are so many ways to be a woman. It’s unclear if that’s true for men.

Sam, who is getting a PhD in communications, studying women’s role in the Maker Movement, said to me, “My whole life I’ve felt like there was a secret world open to me of feeling. And yeah it happens under the surface and it’s really not rewarded in business or our professional worlds and there’s a friction that comes out of that. But I feel like in my whole life, I’ve gotten to explore so many feelings and feel so deeply with others. It was just accepted in a way that I don’t know it’s usually accepted for little boys, and so I feel like with many of my male friendships, and with my husband, I see them having to learn all of that now. The world is changing—especially for men. They’re 30 and they’re having to learn something that we’ve been allowed access to since the beginning.”

 

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    Rachael

    “I love being a woman because I feel we are called to be so powerful. We’re working—we’re powerful, we’re at home, we’re raising kids, we’re helping our partners, we’re helping others, we’re doing stuff in the community. We can do so much, we’re capable of so much. And when you band us together we’re even more powerful.”

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    Sophie

    “What would I tell myself at 21? (groans). That nothing has to be black and white... That things can be gray. And don’t define things as black and white. When you decide things so harshly, you don’t give yourself enough room to explore that maybe you’re not right.”

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    Molly

    “I mean specifically as a woman, I’d say a lot of it feels thankless. It’s not to say I don’t feel valued, but I think a lot of the work that...I don’t know, I don’t want to say ‘women’s work’ because that’s so 1950s, but, I mean, it is what it is, right? Even though it’s 2018, a lot of the women’s work is thankless. And I think it’s valuable, but I don’t know if it’s always seen or heard.”

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    Sam

    “I think that if I could choose to come back, I would totally choose to be a woman. I love the company of other women. I think that some of, if not, the most meaningful experiences of my life have been shared with other women or with other people who broadly identify with a female or femme energy. I would way rather be around that than in the locker room, honestly. I tire of that so quickly.”

 

As I accumulated data points I began to ask the women a bit more bluntly, if they could choose—man or woman, what would they choose? “Woman, for sure.” “Let me ask you that again,” I’d say. “But this time, there’s a caveat: as a woman you’ll make significantly less over the course of your lifetime.” “Oh.” A pause. And then a smile. “Still a woman.” Why? “Because money isn’t everything.”

From an economic perspective, suspending the reality of the fact that—for the most part—we don’t choose, the value of a woman is the opportunity cost of a man, plus lost earnings. Which means, $700,000 or $1.2 million or even $2 million. And so the value of a woman is actually the value of a man plus a pretty hefty sum of money.

I am a visual learner so bear with me as I write out the equation:

Woman > Man + lost earnings  

First, the women overwhelmingly identified the ability to freely access and explore emotions as the best part about being a woman.

Which is…not what I expected.

But in speaking to the women, two specific points emerged from the data. First, the women overwhelmingly identified the ability to freely access and explore emotions as the best part about being a woman. And second, the women felt most valuable when pursuing connection in their lives—connection to the their families and to their friends and, perhaps most interestingly, to other women. “Heartbreak is one thing,” Isabel told me as we sat at a bar in the Inner Sunset discussing female friendship. “But I don’t think I’ve ever experienced more pain than from another woman.” It occurred to me, as we spoke, that the ability to trade in emotions was the very thing driving the connection the women so valued, and making it so excruciating when it was lost.

Emotional fluency + connection + u  > manhood + lost learnings

I sat with that data for a bit.

What frustrated me, what I couldn’t seem to figure out was this: If women feel their value so acutely—why is that worth not represented in legislative policies or in the workforce?

And a thought came back:

Twenty-one women currently serve in the U.S. Senate. Ninety-four of the 435 members of the House of Representatives are women. And as of May 2018, women make up less than 5% of the CEOs of Fortune 500 companies.

Policies in the U.S. don’t reflect or serve women’s needs because so often women simply aren’t at the table. And because women aren’t at the table, women aren’t making the policy decisions.

Of course. It’s so obvious.

In December 2017 Jacinda Ardern, New Zealand’s Prime Minister wrote in an article for the Financial Times, “Stronger empowerment of women in the democratic process and government is vital. It is not good enough to simply be heard. Women must be at the decision-making table in good numbers.”

New Zealand has a strong history of involving women in government. In 1893 it became the  first self-governing country to give women the right to vote. It would take the U.S. another 27 years to do the same.

Jacinda Ardern brings her baby to work

Image via Mashable

Recently the New Zealand government has taken a radical stance in evaluating policy. The Treasury of New Zealand must now consider a policy’s effect on society and nature, in addition to its effect on the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Most countries use only the GDP to measure growth.

In explaining the shift, Arden said,“We want New Zealand to be the first place in the world where our budget is not presented simply under the umbrella of pure economic measures, and often inadequate ones at that, but one that demonstrates the overall well-being of our country and its people.”

Official documents for the New Zealand government now read, “Life is about more than just money.”

 

The Value of Women in Politics

The first time I read the sentence, my eye snagged on the words. I’d heard them beforeor some iteration of themand recently. Of the women I’d asked if they’d choose to be a woman knowing they’d make significantly less money, they all said yes. And when asked why, it was Rachael who smiled and said, “because money isn’t everything.” Every other woman I asked gave me some variation of that same sentiment.

I’m not saying the language is inherently feminine, but I’m sure as hell saying it sounds like something a woman would say. And that languagethat positionnow informs how an entire country measures its growth. What if the U.S. were to do the same?

It’s easy to say that New Zealand is not the United States. But that argument strikes me as lazyand more than a little cynical.

Here in the U.S., political scientists have found that female politicians are incredibly effective at their jobs. Not only do they push for legislation that benefits women, children, and the environment, they bring more money back to their home districts (9%), and since 2009, they have passedon averageabout 2x more legislation than men (2.31 bills as opposed to 1.57).

 

How Do We Get More Women
at the Table?

In 2016 Iceland’s Parliament consisted of 48% women. A year later Iceland passed a law requiring companies to prove they pay men and women equally.

Almost every country in North Africa has a gender quota which requires a party to nominate a minimum number of women for office. This increased female representation has resulted in increased access to government services for women.

A recently released report by Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace, and Security details women’s involvement in the peacemaking process in countries like Ukraine and Myanmar. Peace agreements where women are involved are more likely to succeed. And a report published in 2015 by Inclusive Security states, “There is overwhelming quantitative evidence that women’s empowerment and gender equality are associated with peace and stability in society.

In Sweden, where female representation in its national parliament is 44%, parents have access to 480 days of paid leave following the birth of a child. Family leave is linked to increased birth weight, decreased infant mortality, and increased breastfeeding rates. The breastfeeding piece is crucial as it reduces a child’s risk of respiratory infections, gastrointestinal disorders, asthma, and obesity. For mothers, breastfeeding reduces risk of postpartum depression, as well as breast, ovarian, and endometrial cancers. And while breastfeeding is not right for all mothers, every women should be put in the best possible position to make that decision for herself.

Finland, whose Parliament is 42% female, provides three years of paid leave, subsidized daycare, and preschool for all five year olds. Finland has one of the most equitable and successful school systems in the world.

Speaking from her couch this past June, with her newborn daughter, Neve, in her arms, Prime Minister Arden celebrated the launch of her $5.5 billion Families Package. The stimulus includes a tax credit intended to increase the income for those with small children. The prime minister cited the growing body of early childhood development research as the catalyst for the bill.

Parents in the U.S. are not guaranteed any paid time off work.

The women I spoke to were keenly aware of their inherent value. And I don’t imagine they are alone. But in order for that value to translate to policies, women must be part of the legislative process.

And so, the question we must now ask comes into sharp focus: How do we get more women at the table? How do we get more women making and influencing and crafting policy?

But then of course, my mind snags on 2016.

I called my father three months before the 2016 election. I’d sent him a piece in The Atlantic about the role of misogyny in the election—how the numbers didn’t quite add up. The vitriol people felt for Hillary could not be explained by the data alone—there was some force unaccounted for: her gender.

How do we get more women at the table? How do we get more women making and influencing and crafting policy?

(Misogyny: Dislike of, contempt for, or ingrained prejudice against women.)

My father emailed back a few days later, “This article really highlights the need for strong women to raise strong men and strong women.” My breath caught as I read those words. I picked up the phone immediately. “Strong women?” I asked him. “This highlights the need for strong women to raise strong women and men? So the onus is on women alone?”

“I alone can fix it.” Trump had said at the Republican National Convention two months before, standing before a crowd of approximately 20,000 people.  

“Why is the onus on women? Why must women solve the problem? Why must the marginalized group, the group without the power, exert what little power they have to balance the scale?”

“You’re reading too much into what I wrote,” my father said, clearly flustered. “That’s not what I meant.” But my father is a lawyer and I am a writer; we both know arguments turn on a phrase.

 

“Lock Her Up” and the Threat
of Ambitious Women

In that same Atlantic Article, Fear of a Female President, I’d sent my father, author Peter Beinart makes the case that there is a clear link between how women are viewed and how they are treated. Hillary was hatedin large part because women are hated.

In 2010, researchers Victoria L. Brescoll and Tyler G. Okimoto conducted a study in which they asked respondents about a fictional male state senator and a fictional female state senator. They described both as “ambitious” and found  that the respondents’ views of the male senator did not change when they described him as such, but, when thinking about the female state senator, both men and women “experienced feelings of moral outrage.”

In 2008 Psychologists Jennifer K. Bosson and Joseph Vandello coined the term “precarious manhood.” Their body of research posits that manhood is something to be earned—a status that must continuously be asserted for fear of losing it. While womanhood is perceived as biological, manhood is determined by social achievements, power, status, and aggression. And men are keenly aware of this.

While womanhood is perceived as biological, manhood is determined by social achievements, power, status, and aggression. And men are keenly aware of this.

Merchandise sold in and around the arenas where Trump hosted his rallies read: Don’t be a pussy. Vote for Trump; Finally, someone with balls; and Life’s a bitch: don’t vote for one. And of course, the rallying cry of the right: Lock her up.

We assumed the “her” meant Hillary. But now the chants continue, some two years later. Over the summer, a group of high school students began chanting “Lock her up” at a leadership conference for young conservatives while Attorney General Jeff Sessions addressed the crowd. He laughed and repeated the words back. Call me crazy (and some will), but the “her” feels bigger than one woman. The “her” seems to refer to female ambition, female autonomy, female power.

If manhood is something men must constantly prove, the policies men shape cannot possibly be immune to their need to exert dominance and power. To codify that dominance into law.

At the start of September, Senator Kamala Harris asked then Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, “Can you think of any laws that give the government the power to make decisions about a male body?”

“I’m not aware — I’m not — thinking of any right now, senator,” he responded.

Lock. Her. Up.

Protestors chant "lock her up"

Image via Washington Post

 

Justice Kavanaugh, Dr. Ford, and Powerful Double Standards

On September 14, allegations surfaced that at the age of 17, Brett Kavanaugh attempted to rape a 15 year old girl when he was a senior in high school. Dr. Christine Blasey Ford took a polygraph test in August to corroborate the veracity of her claim. It is easy enough to wonder why Dr. Blasey Ford might have felt the need to take such a test, but as Sam told me in July, “We live in a culture where what men say and what women say aren’t worth the same amount.” She continued, “#MeToo is really about power. And the solution is for men to start giving some of that power away.”

If manhood is something men must constantly prove, the policies men shape cannot possibly be immune to their need to exert dominance and power. To codify that dominance into law.

On September 27, before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford spoke with care in detailing the alleged assault. Her words were considered, detailed, clear. She corrected inconsistencies, highlighted ambiguities, and kept her composure.

When Brett Kavanaugh spoke just hours later, he looked like a man undone. He raised his voice, acted belligerently, revealed an unnerving temper. He was emotional, angry, and—at times—unhinged. And then the men stepped in, twelve Republican senators. They calmed him, assuaged his anger, justified his righteous indignation. His anger was more important, his hurt more real, his “hell” more credible. And by the day’s end, it was as if Dr. Blasey Ford hadn’t spoken at all.

The thing about addressing misogyny is that it’s like unspooling a tangle of 1,001 different threads. It’s complicated and unclear and systemic and anything other than linear. And it touches everything.

Research indicates that men who have their masculinity threatened place riskier bets and act more impulsively at home. Women who have masculine personality traits, or occupy a job that is thought of as sacrosanct in the male domain, are more likely to experience sexual harassment. And in the parts of the country where individuals still hold traditional attitudes about gender, increased economic equality between the sexes correlates with higher rates of male-on-female murder.

Dr Ford taking oath

Image via CNN

 

Is American Society Ready to Accept a Woman’s Worth?

The Wednesday after Dr. Blasey Ford testified before Congress, I attended an event in which several individuals of varying expertises weighed in on the hearing. One panelist, a fellow student, argued that she found language like “We Believe Women” divisive. She said it was unfair to Judge Kavanaugh, disrespectful. As she spoke, it became clear that she valued Judge Kavanaugh’s word more than Dr. Blasey Ford’s, that  his pain was more important than her’s. 

Women are of course not immune to their own feelings of misogyny. One needs not look further than our societal feedback loop to understand this. If the messages we constantly receive imply that women are not as valuable as men, there will of course be women who believe this. And when the current power structures are built on this imbalance, there will of course be men and women who fight to maintain the status quo.

Change is uncomfortable—for everyone. But change is necessary. As writer and activist, Cleo Wade said the morning after Trump was elected, “Women don’t hate women. Our country just has not raised women to love themselves more than our institutions. We have to raise future generations to respect the space they take up in this country and not look at themselves as servants to the legacy of men. We especially have to teach them that we are not safe just because a man is in charge.”

 

To Empower Women, We Need to Give Something Away. To Men.

It occurred to me that in figuring out how to get more women at the policy table, perhaps we need to design a solution for men, not women. And that solution should entail giving men access to the world of emotion that comes so easily to women—that world which facilitates connection and drives value.

It occurred to me that in figuring out how to get more women at the policy table, perhaps we need to design a solution for men, not women.

The solution would be to throw open the windows, to invite men in to that “secret world.” To dismantle precarious manhood by giving men the language, and the permission, to experience the full range of emotions that makes life so messy, and yes, so valuable.

Because, it’s worth stating explicitly, the question of how we get more women to run for elected office is different from the question of how we get more women elected.

Will it matter if women run for office, if that space is seen as belonging to men? Will it matter if women run for office, if men (and women) respond with feelings of moral outrage? And if women seek office, will it matter if a woman in power is still seen as a threat to a man’s worth?

In Many Ways to Be a Girl, but One Way to Be a Boy: The New Gender Rules, Claire Cain Miller writes, “Boys seem to have been largely left out of the conversation about gender equality. Even as girls’ options have opened up, boy’s lives are still constricted by traditional gender norms: being strong, athletic, and stoic.” Or as one man in my life said about a friend, “He’s got two emotions—laughter and anger.”

Because, it’s worth stating explicitly, the question of how we get more women to run for elected office is different from the question of how we get more women elected.

It feels counterintuitive to suggest that to facilitate equality, women actually have the ability to give something away—to let men in on their secret. But in the same way that men have something to gain by giving away power, perhaps women have something to gain by letting men in on a robust and meaningful emotional experience. It’s important to note that the thing women can give away is a renewable resource. There is no bottom to kindness, empathy, and understanding. But once women give it away, the responsibility lies with men to do something about it.

 

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    Cassandra

    “I think this is the third wave of the women’s movement. There was the suffragettes and the 70s and I think this is the big third-wave of femininity. I think there’s an oppression that we’re trying to overcome, but I also think we’re allowed to be freer than men in some ways. We’re allowed to do different things, wear pretty things, and we’re also allowed to dress like a tomboy. We’re allowed to have vulnerability, and I think we’re allowed to be a lot more human than men. And I think that’s society’s fault and something that we can overcome--and I think women have to play a big role in that.”

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    Sarah

    “I’m glad it’s national discourse. I think it makes me feel more connected to other women. Before we were all people operating under the shared illusion of equality. And now it’s very clear that things are not equitable and being male is being powerful and having money and being powerful and being male can make being a woman a really dangerous place to be in the workplace and otherwise. I’m glad that the rug has been pulled out from under that illusion. And I think it kind of transcends gender and into sexuality and into race. I don’t think this country is very open to women or to people that are other than us.”

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    Shaina

    "Now I'm realizing that there's a spectrum of how you can balance your career. You can be all in—60 hours a week. And I love those women because they are the most bullheaded in changing the name of the game for women in career. And then there are moms on the other end of the spectrum who are staying home with their kids, but what I don't think people know about these moms is they go to seminars, conferences, they read novels about raising kids in the same way as the woman rising to the VP level is reading 'Lean In.' So the women over here are paving the way for women in career and the women over here are paving the way for their daughters, so everybody's doing it, in their own way."

 

Five hundred and twenty-nine women filed to run in a primary in advance of this year’s midterms. More democratic women have been nominated to serve in the House of Representatives than at any other time in our history.

We are now 14 days from the 2018 Midterms.  

Women don’t have to win to prove their value or their worththey’re already worthy. Women are running because they’ve got shit to do.

According to a report by NBC news, more than a hundred women may be elected to the House of Representatives. The last time we saw a similar surge of women running for office was in 1992 after Anita Hill testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee during Judge Clarence Thomas’ confirmation hearing. Mrs. Hill accused Thomas of sexual harassment. Thomas was confirmed by a narrow vote of 52 – 48.

On October 6th, Brett Kavanaugh was confirmed 50 – 48.

In the wake of Donald Trump’s election, and the acknowledgement of widespread sexual misconduct by men across various professions, with varying levels of power, women aren’t just running for the House and the Senate. They are running for Governor. For state legislature. For school boards. Women are seeking a seat at the table, and they’re winning.

In the last two years, more than 40,000 women reached out to Emily’s List, a political action committee, about running for office. The group, unprepared for such an uptick in interest, knocked down a wall in its Washington office to make space. It’s no glass ceiling, but it’s a start.

When asked what’s prompting women to run the answers range from healthcare, to women’s rights, to education. But there’s also something more fundamental at worka willingness to fail. Women don’t have to win to prove their value or their worththey’re already worthy. Women are running because they’ve got shit to do.

But as key as proportional representation is, electing women is not the only thing we can do.

Research suggests there’s a direct link between the people who vote, the number of people who vote, and the legislation politicians then enact. Women may be underrepresented in government, but as the majority of the population, we represent a formidable and untapped voting bloc. The problem is that womenespecially young womendon’t turn out to the polls in large numbers.

We have the power to unseat each and every person who voted to confirm a man accused of sexual assault to a lifetime appointment. We get to dismantle the system as it currently exists. We just have to vote.  

In August, Refinery29 published results from a poll in which they sampled 2,093 American women. They found that 70 percent of millennial women currently “feel their individual rights and liberties are being threatened.” But only 30 percent indicated they will definitely vote in the 2018 midterm election.

We have the power to hold accountable every politician who works to legislate women’s bodies while dismissing their concerns. We have the power to unseat each and every person who voted to confirm a man accused of sexual assault to a lifetime appointment. We get to dismantle the system as it currently exists. We just have to vote.  

 

Women Matter. So Does Your Vote.

It kills me to admit this, but I think perhaps my father was right. We both were, actually. I spent so much time focused on the first half of his comment I failed to consider the second: “to raise strong men and women.” We must raise strong men and women. But the onus cannot be on women alone.

Trump said, “I alone can fix it.” But no one person, and no one group, can shoulder the burden of systemic change. We must redefine—as a culture—what “strong” means and what that strength looks like. We must empty that word of that which inextricably links masculinity and aggression. We must open a world to boys and girls, men and women, in which all emotions are valid and necessary.

I’ve begun to wonder how men might respond to a series of questions probing their inherent value. How they might answer questions about the best and worst parts of manhood. I’ve asked a few guys I know if they like being a man and there’s always an uncomfortable pause, a quizzical look. I can feel them searching in that moment for some sort of external answer. But as long as men try to answer that question externally, as long as their worth is relational to women, and as long as mostly men govern, our government will fail women.

But as long as men try to answer that question externally, as long as their worth is relational to women, and as long as mostly men govern, our government will fail women.

And this matters because Sophie matters. Sarah matters. And Maxie and Paige and Isabel and Molly. And every woman I didn’t speak to. Every woman whose voice isn’t often listed to, let alone well-represented. Women matter. Cisgender and transgender and gay and straight. Women of all colors, from all places, of all backgrounds. 

But, and it’s important to say this, trading in emotions, recognizing the humanity of other individuals isn’t just about leveling the playing field for men and women, it’s about leveling the playing field for everyone. It is the undoing of other-ing. The rebuke to legislation that attempts to dehumanize and invalidate identities and experiences. Perhaps the most subversive, most powerful thing any one of us can do is also the simplest. To recognize the humanity of the person next to us, across from us, the person whose life seems unlike our own.

Everyone has a story, everyone is connected. Trump rode a wave of populism to the White House in which he got to define “ordinary people.” And that definition extended only as far as anyone who looked like him. Enough. Let’s take that back. The empowerment of women is the empowerment of all people.

My humblest thanks to Molly Hayward and Morgan Newman for creating a company that believes prioritizing women is not only the right thing to do, but damn good business. To Megan Lierley for trusting me enough to get lost in this research. To The Assembly for carving out such a badass space for women. And to Laura Jane Williams and Alisha Giampola for reading my words before they were fully-formed and championing these ideas. And to the entire team at Cora—for taking the leap of faith into this research with me.

 

 

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