Take the Lead, Change the Narrative
“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
–Martin Luther King, Jr.
All week I’ve been thinking about state senator Wendy Davis’s 11+ hour filibuster in Texas. More than just inspiring, some stories are so incredible they stay with us long into the future so we can draw upon them later.
One of the most exciting things about movement building is watching a new story or a narrative, or a new powerful idea, emerge in our collective consciousness and take clearer shape over time. In the women’s movement, this is usually a new story about women or gender, our relationships to each other as citizens, what leadership looks like, or how change happens. This is not a process in which we are passive; we must be active players in the creation of new stories; but many of these stories are emergent.
Whatever happens in Texas, the Wendy Davis filibuster is a great example of an easily recognizable, quick story (at least for now) of change that occurred over the course of a just few hours and days. Something happened, someone did something courageous, it was recognized, news traveled quickly. Wherever we picked this story up, we understood its power. We witnessed Davis’s strength of character and appreciated the mental and physical endurance her action required. We expressed our support. Then journalists chimed in and kept this story going, not only to make sure it got out there, but to build upon it, learn something from it, take it one sentence or chapter further. We will continue to make meaning out of this story for a while.
But sometimes a new story is quieter and slower to emerge. It emerges over months, decades, or longer. It’s harder to recognize and understand, and it doesn’t travel so fast. Rather than spring forth out of an individual event, it emerges like a pattern over time. More than just a trend, it’s like the world begins to wake up to some new knowledge or insight that seems to have been there all along. These are some of the most powerful stories we have to tell, and while I don’t think they can easily be “stopped” from happening—I’m reminded of the Martin Luther King quote—they do require a great deal of patience and dare I say it… nurturing, from all of us. Otherwise our old stories about how the world works (and bad habits and comfort zones) win out.
A new cultural story about women is being written now, and we’re just at the beginning of it or smack in the middle of it, depending on our view of history. This new story is asking us to rethink almost everything we know about leadership and power. Take the Lead is one of several organizations at the forefront, helping to write this new story and push it forward. As individuals, we are all helping to write it, too.
The new story is no longer about the problem of too few women in positions of power and leadership in society, it’s about women and men who are out there creating solutions to gender imbalanced systems. It’s no longer about empowering women; it’s about recognizing, making visible, and listening to women who are out there ALREADY demonstrating leadership. It’s no longer just about women, it’s about all of us.
In order to change the larger narrative on women’s leadership together, we must also do the work of changing our own personal story and life narrative if necessary. This starts by examining our own relationship to power and stepping into new work and risks. Join us for Gloria Feldt’s next webinar on July 23rd and 30th to learn more about how to do exactly this.
If, like me, you’re a little surprised to find yourself wanting to “take the lead” one way or another, that’s ok. Perhaps taking the lead is not the story you had imagined or planned for yourself. But if you’re feeling called to step into bold action, I would ask you, which larger story do you want to be a part of?
And while we’re on the topic of new stories, some of this change-the-narrative stuff is wonderfully fun. Be sure to check out Six Fairy Tales for the Modern Woman.