How to know the future

Issue 49 — May 11, 2018

I attended “The Future of Everything” conference this week. Hosted by The Wall Street Journal, it featured an array of speakers as sparkling as Sarah Jessica Parker’s shoes, in short panels that provided just enough fodder to get your brain synapses firing like popcorn.

Futuristic speculations are as addictive as popcorn to me, and I really, really love popcorn.

I attended the Equality Track. It started with a look at the future of men and ended with a ringing affirmation by Sarah Jessica, rocking her glittery SJP shoes, that the future of women in society and the workplace has been irrevocably changed by #metoo and Time’s Up. As a student of movement history, I am not that sanguine that progress always goes in a straight line, but let’s go with it for now.

While there were many nuggets worth chewing on during the conference, those two sometimes divergent bookends stood out most for me.

In between the bookends, we heard Tracy Chou of Project Include opine that companies get the best bang for their Human Resources buck by focusing on retention: nurturing and creating cultures in which the women and men already in their workforce can thrive. We were treated to a lively look at Marvel Comics superheroes present and future by their Vice President for Content and Character Development (what a fun title that is!), Sana Amanat. I asked the panel whether simply creating female superheroes in the male model changed anything culturally. Can’t say I got a satisfactory answer. What do you think?

Actor/activistAmber Tamblyn delivered a paean to women not just finding their voices but asserting absolute right to speak and assert our truth and she offered the opinion that men not only can be feminists but must if they want to survive.

And what of the future of men?

Here’s the topic description:

“From the bedroom to the boardroom, definitions of manhood and masculinity are rapidly evolving. Women have spent the last 50 years redefining their role in domestic and professional contexts, yet modern masculinity remains a Gordian knot of conflicting expectations. What ‘future of masculinity’ are we shaping today at home, at work, and in culture?”

Inevitably, I have found, discussions about gender roles break down first to “But what about sex?” as though humans are essentially walking genitals and we have to get that out of the way before we can deal with the rest of the issues.

Not surprisingly, “What is the future of sex?” was, in fact, the opening question from the moderator, WSJ’s Live Journalism Editor, Nikki Waller.

Panelist and pundit Baratunde Thurston didn’t seem too worried than men and women will stop being romantic in the #metoo age, despite all the handwringing about how men don’t know how to act toward women anymore. He believes we will find new, and we assume healthy, ways to play.

Thurston and the other panelist, psychotherapist Esther Perel bantered in good humor about the often fraught topic. But I thought Perel’s serious observation that “Powerful men seduce. They don’t harass. Insecure men harass,” was intriguing.

The best way to predict the future is to create it. — Steve Jobs

Which is exactly the message I got from Tina Tchen, a founder of Time’s Up and former chief of staff to Michelle Obama as she crisply ticked off Time’s Up’s short and long-term goals:

— The Legal defense fund

— Intersectionality in everything, including the plus one principle- take someone who might not have had access along to powerful events

— the entertainment industry’s pledge of 50–50 Leadership gender parity by 2020

Tchen and the optimistic actor/businesswoman/activist Sarah Jessica Parker of the sparkly shoes closed out the conference but not before SJP confessed that “Sex and the City” would probably look a lot different if it were reprised today.

All in all an uplifting day.

Despite the bad news we are bombarded with daily, I was reminded of Eleanor Roosevelt’s quote: “The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.”

Here’s myself brazenly quoting myself: “Don’t follow your dreams — lead them.” To me, that truly describes the possibilities for the future of everything.