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Owning our Power

This is such an important time in our herstory. Could we be at a tipping point, on the verge of large, important changes in women’s equality?

Reading Selma Hayek’s survivor story, in the New York Times article that came out last month, I was struck with a profound realization. All the stories of sexual abuse, are about much more than sex crimes. These are really stories about how women have been controlled and demeaned by people with power, since the dawn of time. It is impossible to own our power when we’re being abused – no matter how much we think it doesn’t affect us.

Have you heard the term gaslighting? It comes from a movie from the 1940s, called "Gaslight", where a husband tries to convince his wife that she’s insane by causing her to question her judgement of reality. This form of mental abuse, works to destroy the victim’s perception of what is true, by making them think there’s something wrong with them or that they’re inadequate in some way. Eventually, the manipulated victim becomes discouraged and unsure of their judgement. This constant state of insecurity and doubt, gives the abuser the power to give and take their approval and acceptance, to exploit, dominate and control their victims. By making women feel they’re “overreacting” in reporting sexual abuse, and making women afraid it will hurt their own reputations, predators have long used this technique to keep women quiet. Until now.

I had a talk with my father recently, about what sexual harassment was like in the company he worked for. He worked in middle-management for a large company from the 1960s to the 1990s. He told me several women that were being harassed, came to him and asked if he would talk to the man bothering them. He always would, and the answer from them was the same, "Oh, they love the attention. They don't mind." After Dad set them straight, they'd usually stop. I’m so proud of him for being an ally.

But the story he told me that bothered me the most, was about hiring searches. When the best candidate for a position he was hiring for was a woman, his boss questioned him. My father and the new hire would be traveling together, to go to conferences and meetings out of town. His boss asked him if he thought “hiring a woman was a good decision,” to make sure nothing “inappropriate” would happen. My father assured him it was not an issue, and hired the woman for the job. When he told me the story, it hit me – how many women haven’t gotten upper-level jobs for this reason. How many women have been held back from the “C-Suite” because of this fear of impropriety?

The issue is not that women shouldn’t be included in the “C-Suite,” so there’s no temptation. The answer is there needs to be more women there, to change the culture. Could the end of this kind of sexual control and predation, be a new beginning for women owning their power in the workplace? Now that all these reports of sexual abuse are coming out, I hope we can keep this going and finally get closer to equality, but it is my fear that this discrimination cloaked as protection, could get worse.

Karen S. Carter

Karen S. Carter, Chief Inclusion Officer of Dow Chemical Company

We must watch to see that this doesn’t happen, and help other women along the way. As Karen S. Carter, the Chief Inclusion Officer at Dow Chemical Company told us at the Know Your Worth Women’s Leadership conference, “When the elevator gets to the top, send it back down.” Rather than competing against each other, let’s work on collaborating with each other. When one of us makes progress, we all do. Giving young women positive role models, inspires them to have bigger dreams. They are our future, so we must pioneer the way – just like so many women have done before us.

For centuries women have been paving the way to get us to the point we’re at now. Just in the United States, women fought for the right to vote until it became an amendment to the Constitution. They fought for the right to hold office, to make it illegal to discriminate against women in jobs, housing, obtaining credit, and so much more. (Check out this timeline of the legal history of women in the United States on the National Women’s History Project website.) Many women, including ones in my city of Wichita, have worked and sacrificed to make all our lives better. I think it’s important we honor these women, and the progress they made.

My memories of the women I saw fight for the Equal Rights Amendment when I was a teen, deeply influenced my life and gave me role models I still work to honor in my actions. One of my favorites was Connie Peters, the mayor of Wichita from 1975 to 1979. She was fearless and fought hard for women. Outraged by a discriminatory city statute that required some female “cabaret and go-go dancers” to be licensed by the police, Connie Peters applied for the permit herself. By showing how ridiculous the regulation was, it didn’t take long for it to be struck down. I remember watching a clip of her on the news, dancing to prove her point. I was impressed and forever changed by her moxie and the extent she’d go to make a point.

I know we’ve felt near the tipping point of women’s equality before. The Equal Rights Amendment came so close to giving us equal rights in employment, property and other legal aspects. Even if what is happening today, doesn’t end up being the point-of-no-return in how women are treated, we must persevere.

We are bigger and stronger now. Women are coming together as never before. Just take a look at the Women’s March last January and how many women around the world came together to show their solidarity. I’m excited that we’re doing it again on Saturday, January 20, and am honored to be a speaker at this event! I’m hoping at this March to the Polls gathering we can inspire women to get involved in politics and vote, which is one of the most effective ways to own our power. I hope you will join us and come show your support.

Hope to see you soon!

Headmistress Jill

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