There is a new narrative from and among women that is both empowering and troubling at the same time. What seemed to begin, most recently, as a push within the technology industry for greater inclusion of women at all levels of the ecosystem has now extended into a full examination around sexual harassment issues, particularly within the areas of entertainment and media. This is only the tip of the iceberg and much more will come in terms of examination, pushback, exposure, and policy. This is about rattling the cage about everything from common decency and respect to start-up funding and C-suites, but just who is setting this neo-agenda for all women?
One would have to be asleep at the level of Rip Van Winkle to miss the growing volume of the feminine voice today in America. The stance is about much of what many are calling Feminism 2.0. However what is glaringly being forgotten is that “feminism” does not often look the same for all ethnic groups, particularly that of African Amercan women, in the United States. As Caucasian women barrel ahead with their demands based on a particular set of values and experiences, a very valuable voice is being trampled over time and time again.
Somehow Caucasian women have taken the lead in the modern conversation about women, and they seem to be setting the entire the tone and agenda without so much as any invitation of sensibilities from other racial groups since there is so little social intersection with between such demographics in the first place. Thus it would seem that she who has the biggest megaphone wins. But such approach may not only b unjust, it may, perhaps even more importantly, be inaccurate.
For example, concerning the cry for equal pay, the numbers are curiously skewed. According to cultural critic and writer/editor Ijeoma Oluo noted in a popular tweet thread on October 16, 2017 that Caucasian women actually do not make less than all men, among other important statistics. They make less than Caucasian men, but still more than Black and Latino men, on average.
Further, given the assertion with which this group of women moves, a recent article in The Guardian noted that Caucasian women are actually benefitting more from the diversity in tech movement over any other group that is crying out for inclusion. Similarly, the rise of venture capital intended for women seems to be awarded more frequently to Caucasian female founders in tech. Once in place, their hiring practices also seem to curiously and fiercely maintain tech status quo of 1-5% African-American hires within their offices, such as proudly displayed via video.
And even with the sexual harassment focus, the Black woman’s voice was nearly co-opted once again had it not been for a few mainstream editors that picked up on the cry of the founder of the #MeToo movement long before actress Alyssa Milano borrowed it.
In looking at cultural patterns I would say that one of the very next disruptive narratives in our country will be that of analysis and critique within, between and among women. This dialogue will take place due in large part to both to what is seen as an often times strong-arm approach and narrow perspective with which Caucasian women are carrying out this new movement in feminism.
What is most important to examine are the factors at play that have allowed for such a climate in the first place. According to Kim F. Hall, a professor of English and Africana Studies at Barnard College, Columbia University, “Although white women don't actually dominate the US workforce, they tend to be closest to power and so their concerns get much more play,” told me. This means mainstream media access for concerns and validation, for one.
“ And many women of color resist white liberal feminism precisely because of the perception that it is anti-male. I think right now many feminists of color are focused less on that critique than on 1) power. Too often, these white women's voices are not about feminist transformation, but about having access to the corridors of power in the same ways the white men they work and are partnered with do. The whole faux-feminist corporate power genre by Sheryl Sandberg and Ivanka Trump feed into this and 2) lack of intersectionality, meaning basing interventions and institutional change on the situation of white women does not change the fundamental values of the institution that is needed for full inclusion.”
Professor Hall explains that historically the focus on Caucasian women's lives and experiences has been the default for concern in feminism and popular media. “This has a problem from the beginning,” she says. “To name one example, ‘work/life’ balance is not a new issue. Black women have had to balance labor and family since we were brought to the US as chatell slaves. So too, most women, particularly women of color, are in the workforce without the option of being ‘stay-at-home’ moms, yet most of the mainstream coverage is of white women's struggles over this ‘choice.’ “
Professor Hall cautions that allowing Caucasian women who may have little or no political analysis beyond their own experience take the lead on change in any industry will not produce truly inclusive workplaces. She also notes that women of color have consistently pointed out how slowly Caucasian women have been to rally around women of color who come under fire. Such an example of this might be that of “Saturday Night Live” comedian Leslie Jones and Twitter attacks last year.
“It’s also important to note that the idea that it is individual bad white men who are the problem leads to simple solutions, ” explains Hall. “The harder work is looking at how the overall economy is built on hierarchized labor and power dynamics as well as laying out an intersectional analysis of these systems.”
Indeed, while the current narrative around sexual harassment is extremely important there is also a very significant opportunity now for women of various ethnic backgrounds to come together, for example, to meet with executives at such corporations who now have high-profile openings, studio bungalows, and budgets, as a result of recent firings, that need to be re-distributed and to ask how such assets will be allocated among all appropriate female candidates and truly close the circle on this conversation. Such a strategy for creating such a collective can be discussed here. As I mention in my book, cultural intelligence regarding various demographics is key for true and lasting change. In fact, the power of the Black female voice is being noted today as it pertains to the outcome of the Senate race in Alabama. Such power is present, will grow, and cannot be denied for much longer. Given the level of complexities of the era and our inter-dependence , such a new perspective of inclusion is vital.
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