Letter From The Editor, Oct 2018

By Maya Frai, Managing Editor

Over these past few months, we have seen women from many different backgrounds take charge of their stories, expertise, and knowledge. They have confronted those who have done them harm or injustice and spoke the truth for those who are unable to do it themselves. But at what cost did they have to pay for speaking up?

We saw Christine Blasey Ford publicly accuse Brett Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her while they were in high school. Even in the face of roaring audiences chanting “We Want Kavanaugh” and Donald Trump solemnly announcing “A man’s life is shattered,” Ford testified before the Judiciary Committee. As she powered through a retelling of her story, millions of victims rejoiced in solidarity, representing the movement surrounding #BelieveWomen.

And as we see time and time again, continuous acts of discrimination affect female athletes. In September, Serena Williams took charge to call out an umpire at the U.S. open for his misogynistic violations. Williams left us in awe as she has done many times before as she set an example for future players who aspire to express themselves and make the playing field a fair one.

Just this week, we saw another transparent effect of the #MeToo movement as three brave women spoke out against the treatment they endured at work. Star Simpson, Jennifer Blakely, and Liz Fong-Jones spoke out to expose sexual misconduct claims against powerful men at Google including Andy Rubin, Richard DeVaul and Amit Singhal.

So I ask, are we damned if we speak the truth that no one else has the courage to say? Or have we finally reached the point where we can be ruthless, unrestrained, and powerful in the face of disrespect? We’re now seeing that women are catching up. We’re speaking up for ourselves and rejoicing in support of others who do the same.

We so often hear that confrontation is a scary thing — a fearful interaction people most often feel burdened with to deal with issues before they snowball into something bigger. But, something we don’t hear enough of is the fact that confrontation is healthy, represents maturity and strength, and offers closure. I grew up with two older sisters and the way we were taught to deal with our problems was through active confrontation. Even though this meant swallowing our pride and dealing with one another face-to-face, we came to terms with our problems and met one another half-way. I thank my mother for this, for teaching me that you can’t run away from a problem, they’ll go away only once you decide to face them. I say this as a constant reminder to myself that I should never back down to fight for what I think is right and I shouldn’t stay quiet when I know something has gone wrong.

However, there still exists the stigma around confrontation where confronting someone often results in people labeling you as “bossy” or “aggressive” instead of self-assertive and confident. We see amazing high-profile women speaking out like Serena Williams, Reese Witherspoon, and Natalie Portman, but partially due to the fact that they already have a platform to stand on. Women often feel under-prepared or uncomfortable with confronting someone since they feel they lack the title or the inherent recognition to justify their claims. But, this shouldn’t be the way we handle confrontation. In any case, we have to hold ourselves to a higher standard and stand tall even when someone or something is making us feel small.

I once had a phone call with someone who I thought would be interesting to talk to about their work and experiences. During the call, I told him about the kind of work I have experience in and the steps I’m taking to get to where I’d like to be in my career. He would constantly stop me in the middle of my sentence and condescendingly ask “Are you sure you want to do that?” and say, “If I were you, I’d do things much differently to get to where I am.” I thought to myself, “This guy should not be talking to me like this, no matter what position he holds. Am I really going to just let this happen?” So, I told him I appreciated his advice, and advised him that during the next call he takes, he should consider re-phrasing the way he advises students to ensure that he’s not lecturing them on what to do, but instead offer his personal experiences as a way to structure the conversation and let them decide for themselves what they’d like to pursue. And today, I’m proud of confronting him even though he was much older than I was and held a much higher position. And I’ll always advise my friends, co-workers, and family members to do the same no matter how uncomfortable it may seem.

Truthfully, we need to find strength and speak up because we need to be setting an example. We see this with the spread of the #MeToo movement, where as more and more women spoke out, a global community of women banded together to tell their stories. They knew that if they set the example, others would follow. But, in order to set an example, you need to find strength in yourself to come forward and enable confrontation. This is crucial since in most cases, men don’t notice that they might have said something hurtful, demeaning, or disrespectful to someone in the first place. When both men and women are exposed to acts of sexism, men are less likely to label it as sexist. They are even less likely to label the behavior as sexism if its somewhat subtle such as when a man refers to a woman as “nice, nurturing, or maternal,” which often undermines her status as a take-charge leader. The earlier you realize confrontation is helpful, the better off you’ll be because you’ll know and understand that you deserve better. Confrontation also shows support and consideration. It shows that you are reflective and observant and can speak from your heart when you notice something is wrong and you can take steps to solve it. Once you speak up, every other time will get easier as you build up more confidence to keep going.

Speaking up will also help you realize your true potential. This is incredibly important when talking about negotiation. Women are often intimidated by the act of asking for their worth in the workplace, which leads to feelings of doubt and uncertainty. We can see this in the stats where 68% percent of women accepted the salary they were offered and did not negotiate, in comparison to 52% for men. Knowing your worth and believing that you have incredible things to offer is the first step, and the second is actually setting actions into motion to prove you believe in yourself and your potential. If we set the example for other women and actively talk about the benefits of advocating for yourself, your expertise, and your work, those numbers will surely increase.

So, I say this with utmost encouragement and support — Speak your mind, speak your truth, and speak your wisdom. You’ll see that setting an example will not only give yourself the upper hand, but also motivate others to raise theirs. Look to women who have confronted people with immense power, from chief executives to supreme court nominees, and know that these women are standing up for you in the background.

And with that, I am so thrilled to highlight the following women who embrace speaking out and confrontation on women’s issues with confidence, grace, and eloquence. They speak their minds and aren’t afraid to take a risk to do what’s right and what it’s in the best interest of the global community of women.

#LetsHearIt for the newest additions to the platform:

  • Emily Chang, host of Bloomberg Technology and author of NYTimes Best-Seller Brotopia. Emily is an active supporter of more female leadership as she aspires to “break up the boy’s club of Silicon Valley.”
  • Christine Blasey Ford, professor of at psychology at Palo Alto University and research psychologist at Stanford University School of Medicine. Christine will be forever known for her strength and power in coming forward to reject Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court.
  • Jia Tolentino, staff writer at The New Yorker. Jia powerfully reports on topics including marriage, abortion, and notions of female empowerment. She recently reflected on the one-year anniversary of the #MeToo movement.
  • Serena Williams, American female tennis player ranked #1 globally by the WTA. Serena’s numerous victories on the court as well as her power and strength to face those who treat her with disrespect has inspired many women to face discrimination and wrongdoing.
  • Tarana Burke, Bronx-born activist and founder of the #MeToo movement. Tarana has dedicated her life to helping sexual assault survivors in marginalized communities and continues to be a voice for change.
  • Eva Longoria, American actress, producer, director, activist, and businesswoman. Eva is standing up for women and encouraging female leadership in the entertainment industry. She is one of the many powerful voices behind #TimesUp.
  • Sophia Amoruso: Previous Founder of NastyGal and now Founder and Chief Executive at Girlboss Media. Best known for leading the #GirlBoss movement to redefine success for women and encourage young girls to take charge.

Letter From The Editor is published monthly synthesizing the current events shaping the community of women, the recent additions to the LHI platform, as well as interviews and contributory pieces featured on the publication.