by Dr. Nancy D. O’Reilly
With so many voices crying out to be noticed right now, it’s difficult to hear each individual message. Like everyone who watched the Golden Globe Awards, I cheered Oprah’s message about how Sidney Poitier’s winning the Oscar affected her as a young black girl watching from the cheap seats and how she is aware of the young black girls watching her today. For me, too, role modeling, mentoring and bringing up the next generation of women leaders is a strong motivator. But the most important part of her message for our times is her emphasis on using our stories to expose those who abuse their power over others. This power of our stories is what women are accessing today. If you listen carefully, you will hear one tale composed by many voices speaking all together, and as Oprah said in her speech, “women are the story.”
Now is the time for us to accelerate the momentum that began with the Women’s March a year ago by supporting #metoo and “Time’s Up.” We need to change the culture in permanent ways so these events and stories don’t fade into a forgotten history. This month Leadership Ambassadors Tabby Biddle and Elisa Parker are rolling out 50 Women Can Change the World in Media and Entertainment. This Take the Lead initiative both inspires women storytellers who work behind the cameras in Hollywood and gives them the tools to rise to roles where they can tell the stories women and girls need to hear.
Women are stepping forward to run for office in record numbers, with pro-choice Emily’s List reporting last November “nearly 21,000 women interested in running since last year’s election, up from a record 920 who expressed interest in the 2016 campaign.” We have a mid-term election cycle this year and with so many veteran senators retiring, there are opportunities for women candidates to replace elderly white men. In fact, black women’s solidarity in the South is credited for defeating Roy Moore in the Alabama special election and the call is out for more capable smart women leaders of all colors to step forward and serve their communities.
The Millennial women I speak with inspire me. Unlike my generation, they refuse to betray their gender to lead as men. They step forward as educated, talented young women who expect the companies that employ them to satisfy their needs for fulfillment at work, challenges and equal opportunities for advancement. But they also expect that workplace to be led by people who look like them, with women in direct proportion to men, especially on boards and in the C-suite, where women are notably missing. Their vision is of people of both genders working together as partners with respect for one another’s skills and accessing all that is available for a sustainable future for all of us.
As special correspondent for CBS Sunday Morning, Oprah interviewed a group of Hollywood activist women involved with Time’s Up, which they described as a campaign without a leader. Women can get it done without a specific leader. Their goal is to maintain momentum for women who cannot speak – because we have the spotlight. So far Time’s Up has raised $16 million legal defense fund to help plaintiffs get a lawyer. When Oprah asked if this movement was going to succeed in ending harassment and abuse, Lucas Film President Kathleen Kennedy said, “The time’s up for silence. We can start there.” Actress Tracee Ellis Ross said, “There’s a constructive fury for a resolute pursuit of equity.”
Yes, perpetrators need to gain an understanding of consent and respect and some men need extensive relearning. But the culture is still so toxic, there are many areas where even strong powerful women are still afraid to speak up. For now, let the focus remain on hearing and healing the women, rather than immediately shifting the spotlight to forgiveness and helping the perpetrators. Let the abusers feel uncomfortable for a while and listen to women. Reece Witherspoon paraphrased a quote by Elie Wiessel, “Silence helps the tormentors, not the tormented.”
I agree with Oprah and the other activist women that a new day is on the horizon. The time is NOW! I really believe we are ready to step forward and take charge of our future. Women and men are tired of feeling less and being used and ignored. We want equality at last. In time, we can move forward to reconciliation and re-education. But right now, let’s reach out to support other women telling their stories, embrace this concept, open our hearts and souls to this new day, and heal together.