THE BLOG
09/24/2014 10:42 am ET Updated Nov 24, 2014

To Win the War Against Women, You Need Leverage

kieferpix via Getty Images

As I wrote previously, America must grasp with the broader issue of the mistreatment of women both nationally and around the world. The disempowerment of women transcends any single issue such as rape or domestic violence. Any woman or man that supports women (enemies of women notwithstanding) believes that the importance of women's empowerment is paramount to a strong, healthy world. And in my own work in building a movement to empower women globally through Girl Justice, I have carefully studied the optimal ways to accomplish this mission. My studies brought me to The Art Of War, a legendary book on military strategy that provides important insights to any feminist seeking to improve the state of women around the world.

The first lesson from The Art Of War that you must never forget is that you must declare victory against your enemy before the war ever begins. If you begin the war with no clear outcome in mind, then you do not have any chance of success. Victors declare victory before they fight. Losers fight, and then hope for victory. And the second principle that you must always maintain in the forefront of your mind is that your continued success in empowering women hinges on your ability to focus on finding the leverage in any situation.

Leverage is a large component of any victory, and it can be defined as the ability to turn a minor advantage into a larger victory. It is, in essence, your ability to use a tool of advantage in order to exact larger gains than would otherwise be possible. And, you must also remember that the player without leverage loses.

Yes, war is a game. But in the battle of the sexes, war is the most dangerous game of all. I say this because the battlefield has real consequences, strewn with the carnage of rape victims, murdered women, abused wives, women with mutilated genitals, female infanticide, and illiterate women.

As everyone has clearly seen, the NFL made a serious blunder in the execution of its response to the Ray Rice domestic violence atrocity (and any violence against a woman anywhere is indeed an atrocity). Roger Goodell has done his best to maintain the focus on making appropriate choices for the future, but he must be held accountable for his failure to get this situation right. Fans of the NFL (myself included, Go Lions!) want nothing more than to return to the game that they love. But until the NFL institutes a zero-tolerance policy on domestic violence, America will continue to discuss domestic violence, and this discussion will continue to overshadow the league's desire to "get back to football".

This situation is an important example of the application of leverage for the continued progression of America and the world towards more equitable results for women. This conversation could have been small and short-sighted, but those that care about women seized the lever of the Ray Rice incident to initiate a conversation about domestic violence that continues to this day. As a person that cares about women and actively works to empower them, you must seize opportunities such as this, even if the action that preceded the "opportunity" was offensive. Because of individuals that care about women judiciously taking control of the conversation, a horrible tragedy turned into an opportunity for national dialogue and progress.

Another outstanding application of leverage for the purposes of empowering women can be found in Emma Watson's recent launch of the HeForShe Campaign. Actress Emma Watson just this past weekend took a brave stance in the fight for improved gender equity in a speech she made at the United Nations. If you have not already seen the video, then I recommend that you do so now:

Emma Watson, whether she knows it or not, is a master of leverage. First of all, she has leveraged her celebrity status in order to build a platform on which to share her message with the world. Without the lever of her celebrity, no one would care what Emma Watson had to say. Having an important message is not enough. You must have the right platform, and the institution of the United Nations is one such platform. Emma is a student of good timing, because she understands that when you leverage the right message with an appropriate vehicle for sharing that message with its intended audience, you can create ripple waves of change that cause a much larger impact than you would otherwise be able to accomplish. As a result, Ms. Watson's HeForShe campaign has catapulted her message throughout the world, with global press coverage.

What's more, Emma Watson is leveraging her role within the context of her generation. Today's millennials grew up watching Emma Watson in the magical world of cinema. They know her face and voice, and therefore they respond to her. So when she speaks to them, they listen. Some of you may call that power. But what is power if not the effective application of the principle of leverage, over and over again?

There is one more meaningful story of the application of leverage to the cause of women's empowerment that I must mention before I close this article. You may have heard of Emma Sulkowicz. According to the New York Times, she is a "typically messianic artist." Rhetoric aside, Ms. Sulkowicz made waves when she decided to carry a 50 pound mattress over her head on the campus of Columbia University for four weeks in protest against her sexual assaulter not being kicked off campus.

Ms. Sulkowicz is a particularly intelligent applier of leverage because she understands that one of the greatest levers available to any social change artist or anti-patriarchy warrior is the command of your audience's attention. Her brave act compels those around her to pay attention to her issue. This causes them to come to grips with the reality that rape is an issue that 1 in 5 American women have already dealt with personally. Attention is one of the highest leverage points a person can have. Even the title of the recent New York Times article about her is "In a Mattress, A Lever for Art and Political Protest." The New York Times is correct in that her mattress is a lever, but the real lever for Ms. Sulkowicz is her understanding that one must not be afraid of the avant garde and the bizarre in order to attract your audience's attention.

In sum, there is a cultural zeitgeist occurring within America at the moment. And that cultural zeitgeist is the fact that our entire society is now paying attention to women's issues such as rape and domestic violence in a way that has never happened before. Ever since Malala was violently shot in the head, ever since #YesAllWomen became a national conversation starter, and ever since the Ray Rice tragedy turned into #WhyIStayed and #WhyILeft, Americans have united in paying attention, as one, to the issue of women. Which brings me to my point.

If you want to make the world a better place for women, then you must apply the principle of leverage in all of your activities. America is paying attention. Your allies are listening, and they are aching for your action. And what's more, your enemies are reacting. They are backtracking. Defending themselves. Seeking safer ground. As a result, you have a considerable advantage at this precise moment, right. So the question that matters most is, what can you leverage to continue your advance of women in the world? When you answer that question, the world will not be able to stop you.

Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) for the National Domestic Violence Hotline.

Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-656-HOPE for the National Sexual Assault Hotline.