I read Oprah Winfrey’s Golden Globes acceptance speech, and there is little doubt Ms. Winfrey has a close and masterful relationship with the English language. No surprise there. For decades, millions of Americans have looked to Oprah as an inspiration; when you know her back story, it is almost impossible to deny that she has earned every accolade and award cast her way. And while I admit it took me some time to understand her appeal—because I tend to gravitate toward quiet, reserved, low-key types—I do get her, and I believe she is a worthy aspirational beacon for countless young girls and women, as well as an important figure for men to study.
So, when Oprah closed her speech with this,
In my career, what I've always tried my best to do, whether on television or through film, is to say something about how men and women really behave. To say how we experience shame, how we love and how we rage, how we fail, how we retreat, persevere, and how we overcome. I've interviewed and portrayed people who've withstood some of the ugliest things life can throw at you, but the one quality all of them seem to share is an ability to maintain hope for a brighter morning, even during our darkest nights. So I want all the girls watching here, now, to know that a new day is on the horizon! And when that new day finally dawns, it will be because of a lot of magnificent women, many of whom are right here in this room tonight, and some pretty phenomenal men, fighting hard to make sure that they become the leaders who take us to the time when nobody ever has to say 'Me too' again.
I could well understand how many people would take her words as a trumpet call for her own candidacy for the presidency (already CNN is hyping the 2020 run). I hope that is not the case, but not because she couldn’t do the job; only because there needs to be a woman in the Oval Office who has been striving for that position all her life, and whose vision for America has been informed by years on the political battlefield.
Just as Oprah committed herself to a life of excellence as an actor, writer, and champion for the underdogs around the world, so, too, is there a woman in the political arena today—local, state or national—who, as a girl and as a young adult, saw public service as her way of making a difference and championing change.
Perhaps she joined the military and saw combat; perhaps she stood for unpopular principles when she first ran for office, but she stuck to her guns and won.
Perhaps she is a single mother who understands the education inequalities and financial hardships so many single moms face.
Perhaps she had to work much harder than men in her profession, just to get a smaller paycheck.
Perhaps she was strapped with student debt on her way to a post-secondary or graduate education, and understands the enormous burden such a debt places on millions of Americans.
Perhaps she took care of aging or dying parents while trying to balance her own health needs and those of her family, experiencing the injustice of inflated prescriptions and medical costs, not to mention basic health insurance costs.
Perhaps one of her children struggles with a disability that requires special care and attention.
Perhaps she started out as a small-business owner, coming to grips with the challenges of entrepreneurship.
Perhaps sometime in her life she had to deal with an abusive relationship, or, at least, boorish and unthinking men who made her life’s progress a real emotional slog.
Perhaps she loves the arts, and worries that funding for arts and music education is slowly disappearing from the American education canon;
Perhaps she has watched too many people around her fail to gain traction in the American community—immigrants seeking better lives, Black Americans still fighting the old hatreds, impoverished Americans unable to see any light ahead—and she knows she can make a difference and that’s what motivates her to get up every day and put herself in the political arena on their behalf.
In April, 1923, Teddy Roosevelt—a man who knew adversity first-hand—spoke to an audience at the Sorbonne in Paris. The topic of the speech was “Citizenship in a Republic.” Within that speech is what is called “The Man in the Arena.” If I had license to do so, I would, for this example, replace the word “man” with “woman” in order to make the point that, in the 21 century, men and women have the right to compete in the arena,
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.
I do believe it is time for a woman whose life experiences are common to us all to be elevated to the nation’s highest office. Oprah Winfrey may be—should be—that woman’s beacon. In such a role, Oprah will serve a much higher cause by lending the power of her voice to champion that rising woman in the arena.