The Whole World Is Getting a Spring Cleaning.
I was never much of a housekeeper. “Shmutz,” my husband lovingly calls me while he cleans up the place. I long ago decided I’d rather spend my precious time changing the world than vacuuming it.
But even I have to admit spring cleaning brings a special lightness to the spirit. This spring, in particular, feels like the whole world is getting its closets cleaned, as women speak in their liberated #metoo voices and transform their newly found #powerTO into a quest for — no, a Time’s UP demand for — equality, including leadership parity everywhere.
Seems everyone has finally realized that sexual harassment and abuse are actually about power, and more specifically imbalance of economic, social, and legal power between men and women.
And so our spring cleaning this year is about creating or restoring (depending on how back in history you go and whose rendition of it you believe) a new balance of power, one where women are not just seen but also heard and not just doing but actually leading. And we are finding all sorts of crevices and closets to clean out.
There’s nothing like a tinge of anger to make you sweep out those dust bunnies of discrimination from every corner of every social institution. They were built for men by men who had women at home taking care of, well, just about everyone. When I saw the 82 deliberately intersectional women the likes of Cate Blanchett and Ava DuVernayleading the charge for more recognition in the film industry, I reminded myself just how pervasively culture has bound our brains. The women chose the number 82 because it represents the number of female directors who have had films in the main competition — compared to 1600 films by men. As if only the male gender has something to say. No more. Net-net? A pledge by the Cannes festival and its two main sidebars to bring in more films by women.
Once recognizing the inequities, we are on a mission to vacuum up those implicit biases that continue to mess up our heads long after we changed laws that either ignored women completely or made us second-class citizens. “It’s hard to fight an enemy who has outposts in your head,” Sally Kempton famously said. This is the mental detritus that saps women’s confidence, lowers our sense of self-value, and makes us spend inordinate amounts of money on beauty treatments on the impossible task of perfecting our bodies. And voila, the notorious likes of Uber open up to sunshine disinfectant by getting rid of mandatory arbitration in alleged sexual harassment cases.
The spring cleaning extends to calling for body shaming no more by outing made-up ways of judging women’s appearance such as selling cure for cellulite.
We are sweeping up the shards of glass from the ceilings broken by brave and visionary women who could see themselves in the leadership story even when others could not, and who made it past that thick layer of men at the top to claim their rightful share of powerful positions. Rightful share, I said, not all leadership positions. Bella Abzug said famously, and said only slightly tongue in cheek, “We want it all but we’ll take half.”
Half would be amazing. Earth-shaking. So revolutionary that the very idea terrifies many men and even some women who feel safer under the protection of Big Daddy, frightened and angry.
But women have never aspired to take over the world, only to have the same opportunities to succeed or fail on their own merits as men have.
That’s why we’re scrubbing all vestiges of male privilege from the crevices of the culture during this spring cleaning session.
I mean the kind of privilege that bullies and harasses and abuses women, and less powerful men too. And I mean really scrubbing it with a fine brush and disinfectant. Even from places hailed as advances because they are showing women as strong warrior types.
At the same time, we are taking the strong soap and water to our own culturally learned penchant to ask for and accept less money than men for the same job, to stay in the secondary sidekick role, or to fail to see ourselves as the capable leaders we are. As one woman in a 50 Women Can Change the World program declared at the end of it, “I now have the courage to admit I am ready to lead my organization.”
Profound change is in the air and it smells like lilacs and freshly bathed babies.
Things I never thought I’d see in my lifetime are happening every day. Christiane Amanpour has replaced the eponymous television anchor and everyone’s (formerly) favorite celebrity interviewer, Charlie Rose.
Male politicians, comedians, and businessmen, felled by their own privilege-powered inability to behave in ways that every kindergartner has been taught are appropriate, are falling at warp speed and being replaced by women so often that Take The Lead feels the wind under our wings. It’s hastening our mission of leadership party by 2025. Nobody believed when we started that we would make it by 2025. Now I think it could happen even sooner.
Powerhouse gathering: Gloria Steinem, Teresa C. Younger (Ms. Foundation), Ava DuVernay, and Tarana Burke
I’ll take that affirmation for world-changing over vacuuming and encourage all my sisters to persist as well. This current brand of spring cleaning is actually fun.