The Pulse on Gender Equity in Seattle & Beyond


Four reasons the Womxns March on Jan 21 is Just What Seattle Needs

Gender Equality OverallMartha BurwellComment

I took a break over the holidays. Not just a break from work, but a break from reality. I checked out from social media, stopped reading the news, and forced my mind to turn away from the terrifying upcoming inauguration of Donald Trump. I knew I needed to recharge for the hard work that is to come. 

It all begins with tomorrow’s inauguration, followed by a global Womxns March on Saturday, including one here in Seattle which is estimated to have many tens of thousands of people. 

Even though I desperately wish that this march was not necessary, that we did not have a president-elect who denies the full humanity of women, there is a silver lining.

Seattle in particular needs this march, and there are four big reasons why.  

A realization of the need for intersectionality

When I joined the peaceful Seattle protest on November 9, 2016, the day after the election of Donald Trump, an amazing thing happened.

Because the march was a reaction, because it hadn't been planned in advance by any one group, everyone just showed up, and mixed together. 

As we walked through the city, chants were led sporadically, by individuals throughout the crowd.  We heard chants for “Black lives matter,” “Queer lives matter,” "native lives matter," “Immigrant lives matter,” and “Trans lives matter,” alongside “misogyny has got to go!” and “my body my choice!”

At the University of Washington, one stop on the Nov 9 march

At the University of Washington, one stop on the Nov 9 march

After awhile, something shifted slightly. Organically, the crowd became aware of distributing time to each of the chants. No one person or group was leading, but if #BlackLivesMatter chanted for a few minutes, it was followed up by LGBTQ chants. If one group started gender equity rhyme, immigrant rights were prioritized next. A sense of unity began to grow, an understanding that calling for the equality of someone who is different than me is the same as calling for equality for myself.

This sounds like an incredibly simple realization, but it's one we're usually sheltered from, particularly in Seattle, where we tend to sweep inequities under the rug, which makes it very difficult to see how they intersect. 

There was also a realization that where we do have power and privilege, we can and must use it positively. Men shouted for women’s rights, white people shouted for racial justice, straight people shouted for LGBTQ equality. People were addressing their own privilege in real time, and it was amazing to see that. It was honestly the first time I had seen large numbers of men actively engaged in calling for gender equity. 

This Saturday, it's vital that we're having a march for women in particular, because there are gender-specific structures of privilege and oppression that must be addressed directly. But I'm hopeful that we're learning how the fight for gender equity cannot be segregated from other social justice movements, because women are part of all of those groups as well. I'm certainly still learning, and will be for a very long time. This intersectionality has been built into the principles of the national march, and the organizers have also acknowledged that they are still learning.  

This is a long overdue shift in mindset--it's been almost 30 years since the tern "intersectionality" was coined by Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, but my computer still tells me it's not a word every time I type it. It's about time for that to change. 

Bursting the Seattle bubbles

Seattle has a culture of segregation.

It has a literal history of geographic racial segregation, with a significant legacy. This is why north Seattle is mostly white, and south Seattle has significantly more people of color. We also have a gender segregation in the workforce, particularly the tech industry. Seattle isn’t particularly unique in this regard, but we tend to ignore this segregation, because we view ourselves as a progressive city that has “solved” these types of things. 

We also have a culture of personal segregation. To put it differently, we like to stay with our own group of friends and family. We like being comfortable in our own little bubbles.  One effect of this is the existence of the “Seattle Freeze.” This is not inherently a bad thing at all, but it does affect our interactions, meaning we're less likely to meet people who are different from us. 

The local social justice movements are not immune to this culture, and being able to burst those bubbles, if only for a few hours, is an immensely valuable thing. 

It’s no secret that the women’s rights movement has struggled with a racism issue. The Black Lives Matter movement has likewise struggled with a sexism issue. The LGBTQ rights and environmentalism movements have struggled with both.

This is by no means intentional—these groups are full of amazing people with the best of intentions. But most of us grew up in a culture that teaches us to value certain people over others, and it’s impossible not to absorb some of that. Being able to stand together in this march and future actions and learn about each other’s work will lend strength not only by bringing our communities closer together, but also allowing us to grow personally. 

Breaking down the myth that ‘this doesn’t happen here’ and embracing discomfort

When doing gender equity work here in Seattle, I often come across the belief that gender inequity doesn’t exist here.  We’re Seattle. We’ve solved it. Or, the variation--Yes it does exist here, but my company/organization/group is very progressive and does not have gender bias.

First, let’s just put that to rest right away. Seattle, though we’ve made some great progress, we have serious inequity issues. There is ample evidence to document this, and I’m not making that case here, but I will give you one fact to illustrate—we have the worst gender pay gap in the country.  In the country.

Why does this “we are perfect” mindset perpetuate, then? I believe it’s in part due to the bubble effect I mentioned earlier—we tend to surround ourselves with people just like us, which makes it easier to be blind to the realities of those outside our groups. If we work at a tech company, live in north Seattle, and shop only at PCC, it’s easy to not notice that there are serious injustices happening here, because it’s out of sight.

But it also has to do with an unwillingness to be uncomfortable.

Many of Seattle’s leaders, in business, in government, and in other ways, still tend to come from privileged backgrounds. Not all of them, by any means, but a majority still hold significant amounts of privilege due to their gender/race/sexual orientation/class, and so on. 

This does not mean they're bad people--not at all! But the trouble with powerful people also being the most privileged is that with privilege comes comfort.  And with comfort, particularly if it runs deep and you’ve had it for a long time, comes an unwillingness to be uncomfortable.  It’s much harder to venture out into a snowstorm if you’re used to spending your days tucked up in a cozy house with the kettle on and a roaring fire.  You might not have the right clothing.  You might not know how to drive in the snow.  You might not have snow chains or know how to stick your arm in the wheel well to put them on safely. So you find reasons to stay inside, where you don’t need to work on those difficult and uncomfortable tasks. 

But that unwillingness to be uncomfortable has very real consequences.  It’s part of the reason why we have the worst gender pay gap in the country.  It’s a major factor is why our city is becoming less diverse as people of color are actively being pushed out, or opting out. 

That’s not to say that we aren’t doing amazing work here---we truly are. But we’ve got to remove the blinders that trick us into thinking we’ve solved everything, and we’ve got to be willing to step into that discomfort.

Gaining energy and validation for equity work

At one point during the march the day after the election, we were walking in the University District, chanting “Who’s lives matter? Black lives matter!” and a Black man who happened to be standing on the sidewalk at this moment, was smiling hugely, laughing with joy, and shouting Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

When the men in the group began chanting “her body her choice” after the women chanted “my body my choice,” I felt the same way. 

The importance of receiving positive feedback and validation cannot be understated. 

The fact that I get ten times the facebook “likes” for posting about going on a hike than I do when I post about my gender equity work means something real.  It affects the energy I have to do the work, it affects my outlook, sometimes even making me question if I'm doing the right thing, it affects how much I can keep giving, usually unpaid, to the movements I'm working on. 

One thing I’m looking forward to the most is the positive energy and support that coming together as such a large group will bring. It shows that yes, people are passionate about this cause, and there are many allies out there. Working to achieve goals as a group is incredibly powerful--especially if the group is physically all in one place. This is part of the reason why group activities like watching or playing football and singing together at church are so popular. There's nothing that can replace that feeling of standing side by side with like-minded people.  

We are not alone. We can do this.  We are strong together. 

Launch of diversity survey for Seattle startups

SeattleMartha BurwellComment

Before we begin: a note from Martha.  Friends, I'm sorry I haven't posted in far too long! It's been an exciting year and my projects have grown.  I am not abandoning my passion project EqualiSea.org, and have some exciting posts coming up.  Thanks for reading, and for your support. 

Seattle is a very special place. Whether you moved here for the tech scene, for the access to the outdoors, or for the coffee, you know it has it’s own je ne sais quoi that sets it apart from any place in the world.

The startup environment here is also unique. Last year, I began my own entrepreneurship adventure and launched a small consulting business, focusing on diversity and inclusion.

As I learned and grew, had countless conversations over coffee, and met with dozens of startup leaders, the seed of an idea began to take shape in my mind.

I had worked with startups in the past, and had done gender equity work as well, but always separately. I began to realize—those two worlds needed to collide. 

Image  by  Eric Ringsmith  is  licensed under   CC BY 2.0.

Image by Eric Ringsmith is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

“Fixing” gender inequity once it was already built into the way we run our businesses, though not impossible, is incredibly difficult. What if we prevented it from gaining a foothold in the first place? What if we worked with entrepreneurs to create businesses that were not only profitable, but also equitable? 

As I began to explore this concept, I looked around to see what already existed. 

The truth? Not much. 

Yes, there were trainings. There were consultants, and academic papers. But nearly all of the existing resources were designed for established businesses, and didn’t translate well to startups. Startups move extremely quickly. They pivot, they iterate, they grow in spurts. Teams are small, and overhead is low. They value innovation and fresh thinking; they have a different relationship with risk. Much of which clashed with the way traditional diversity and inclusion training worked.

Next, I looked around for data on inequities in the startup world. I found a few national pieces, and some interesting studies out of San Francisco. But none applied directly to the unique startup world that we have in Seattle. Like our natural environment, the startup ecosystem here is complex. Many of our startups exist on the fault lines of ideologies—the drive to do good, and the drive to profit. Just as much as the existence of our mountains depends on the crashing together of tectonic plates, the brilliance and innovation that emerges from Seattle startups depend on the discomfort and risk that this collision of ideologies brings. 

And, as the lack of research showed, those fault lines are often just as hidden as the ones that lie under our feet. 

I wasn’t content accepting that void of information, so I reached out to Christy Johnson of Artemis Connection, and Ruchika Tulshyan, author of The Diversity Advantage, to collaborate on a project that would help us understand diversity in the Seattle-specific startup scene. 

Today, we are thrilled to announce the launch of the first survey on gender and racial diversity in Seattle startups. We’ve included questions about both gender and race, to gain a more complete picture. 

Whether you are a CEO or a brand new hire, if you are employed by a Seattle-area startup of 250 employees or less, we would love to invite you to take our survey. Your individual responses are confidential - only aggregate information will be shared. The survey takes about 10-15 minutes. Click here to begin

Lastly, after taking the survey, please forward it to one or more people you know in the startup world, and invite your colleagues to participate.  If you do not work for a startup, please invite those from your network who do. 

Seattle is a leader, both socially and in the startup world, and we’re so glad to have you’re help on pursuing this next great adventure.  

Take the survey here.

How a Pakistani-American Girl Superhero is Saving Her World--And Ours.

Gender Equality Overall, SeattleMartha BurwellComment

Kamala Khan is a teenage Pakistani-American living in Jersey City, and she’s out to save the world. 

Until recently, Kamala Khan lived a perfectly normal life.  But everything changed when she suddenly acquired super powers, and weird things started happening in her neighborhood.  Now she has to battle villains, investigate the mysterious force that's poised to take over the earth, and figure out how to use her new powers.  All on top of dealing with the normal teenage stuff like overprotective parents, new feelings, and complex friendships.  Though her friends know her as Kamala, when she puts on her homemade superhero outfit (a modified shalwar kameez) you may call her Ms. Marvel.

While Ms. Marvel is saving her world from villians, she’s also saving our real-life world a little at a time by busting down stereotypes and showing us that a hero can be a girl, a hero can be muslim, a hero can be real and imperfect and a little bit awkward. 

When the first Kamala Khan Ms. Marvel was released in October 2014, it was an instant best seller.  Since then, more episodes have been released, each of which has built on the initial popularity.

Part of this popularity can be attributed to the fact that Kamala takes on real topics that lots of people can relate to.  Topics like what consent and victim-blaming mean, what it’s like being a second-generation immigrant, and how tough it is to resist bacon (‘delicious, delicious infidel meat’).  

We see the exploration of unfamiliar gender roles, where men are allowed to have heart-to-heart conversations with each other, and Kamala is more often the one saving the guy, rather than the other way around.  We learn about Pakistani culture through Kamala’s interactions with her family and friends.  We even learn a little bit of a new language via Kamala's conversations and when Captain Marvel (aka Carol Danvers, the original blonde-haired, blue-eyed, big chested Ms. Marvel) appears in a dream-like state to Kamala and recites a poem by a 13th century Sufi poet—in Urdu.   But most of all, we see a teenage girl figuring out that despite all the pressure to try to be someone else, it’s best to just be herself— imperfections included.   

To find out more about how Ms. Marvel has been received, I went to Comics Dungeon, a Seattle comic store that has been a staple for comic lovers since 1992.  I had a chance to ask a few questions to Nicole Lamb, a long-time employee, comic insider, and author of the article series "Hardcore Lady Types," that explores female comic heroes. 

Me: What is your overall opinion of the new Ms. Marvel series with Kamala Khan? 

Nicole: Before the series came out I thought Marvel was forcing a new character and was skeptical how it would be executed. Since it's release it has shown that it's not only an excellent story and with great art, but exactly what the community of comic lovers has needed. This representation in both Kamala being a Pakistani Muslim American, but also a young woman navigating through high school, relationships and parental expectations, hits just what the mainstream industry had been missing.

How have comic readers responded?

They have responded positively, in a “must have more Kamala” kind of way… So there's an acknowledgement that this is hitting specific demographics, like families, women (of all ages), or any gender who like their superhero stories to be fun and endearing. It's a big demographic, it's just not all of it. Overall, Ms. Marvel stays at the top of our sales, near the likes of Saga.

What is one of the most interesting or important aspects of the new Ms. Marvel? 

The most exciting moment I've had with sharing Ms Marvel was when I went to a school in west Seattle to give a presentation about the history of comics. Towards the end I made mention of some of the recent series being released and said there's a Pakistani Muslim American superhero named Ms. Marvel and heard gasps in the crowd. That shock and awe shows me that Khamala's heritage is an important aspect and a sorely needed voice in our country. My hope is that this sets a precedent.  I'd like our future to be filled with great stories that won't create a shock because there will be so much diversity that whoever reads comics can see their reflection in the characters.

What would Kamala say about the current presidential elections?

I think she'd be frustrated that there is such immaturity on a presidential level and mad that there is a perpetual anti-Muslim rhetoric on one side. Perhaps though, on another side, she'd be hopeful there might be a President of integrity. 

What are your thoughts on how Marvel has handled gender and ethnicity in this new series? 

I think they asked the right people to be involved. Because of that, Kamala was able to have a strong voice and strength of character that is consistent throughout. I don't think you have to pair like with like though. For instance, having Brian Michael Bendis write Miles Morales Spider-man has worked even though he is white. If you get people who care about what they're doing and who they are writing (or drawing), you'll get good stories. 

What do you think the next big hit will be?

Nicole Lamb of Comics Dungeon  (Photo courtesy of Nicole Lamb)

Nicole Lamb of Comics Dungeon (Photo courtesy of Nicole Lamb)

My thoughts are to mainstream companies: you have to diversify your line, have characters of different genders, sexuality, religions, have different types of stories, dark and gritty, fun and light, have all-age tales. Try different things and see what sticks. I see the market as always changing and the demographics are shifting. Ultimately, if you tell a wide variety of stories you'll have a wider fanbase because one size doesn't fit all in comics. When Marvel put out Khamala Khan Ms. Marvel, they did something no one had done before and it was wildly successful.

That's not to say do a cookie cutter version of this. 

Find voices that are not being heard or written about and tell those stories, such as gay men, transfolk and people of color. I hear time and time again from our community, where are the brown superheros? People want to see themselves in stories, especially those where the characters are being strong and are victorious. 

In closing, I'll mention one of my favorite moments of Ms. Marvel, which takes place in the most recent episode.  The world is about to end, and Kamala's best friend Bruno finally tells her that he has feelings for her. Her response?  She gently says to him: "Being Ms. Marvel--it's filled up my heart and my life in a way that nothing else I've done ever has...I'm not ready to be anything else, to anyone else.  I need to give this everything I've got."  In essence, she's choosing personal development and growth over the attention of a boy.  

This seems like a small thing, but it's incredibly important.  Far too often, we see teenage girl characters in pop culture defining themselves mainly in relation to a boy or man.  It was refreshing to see a young female lead defining her worth through her own strength and individuality.  And the most important part: she defined it for herself.

Next, I hope she gets to battle some more of our real world villians—racism, sexism, perhaps Donald Trump?  Find out in the next volume, to be released on June 14th.  

This interview has been lightly edited. 

For more posts on gender and diversity, see the "It's All Connected" intersectionality series.  

Ruchika Tulshyan thinks it’s time to turn the tables.

Gender Equality Overall, SeattleMartha BurwellComment

For far too long we’ve been putting the work of achieving gender equality in the workplace on women.

I’ll admit it.  I’ve gone to more than one “how to negotiate” workshop. 

I can do power poses like no one’s business.  Strong eye contact, shoulders back, spine straight.  But also making sure to sit at a slight angle so I don’t look “too aggressive.” Staring at myself awkwardly in the mirror, I’ve practiced comebacks for common arguments as to why I should be paid less.  And I’ve even used cute phrases like “wiggle room” to soften the blow of –-gasp—a woman asking to be paid more!

But the truth is, I can do power poses for the rest of my life and I still won’t be paid the same as my male counterparts.  Because individuals can only get so far within a system that’s constantly pushing back on them.

As Ruchika Tulshyan writes in her new book, The Diversity Advantage: Fixing Gender Inequality in the Workplace, “too much of the existing narrative focuses on ‘fixing women’—getting more women to negotiate, assert, demand, be confident and ‘lean in’ to leadership.”

Author Ruchika Tulshyan   Photo by  Jama Abdirahman

Author Ruchika Tulshyan
Photo by Jama Abdirahman

Instead, if we take a closer look, we see that gender inequality is something that we unintentionally built right into the structures of our businesses.  With the example of negotiation, we know that we have social stigma against women asking for more money.  But we keep salaries secret, we keep requiring employees to negotiate, and we keep penalizing women for it. 

Perhaps we’re ready turn the tables, to evolve our workplaces so that they work for women, as well as men.  Because our old systems were designed for a different time, and a different workforce.  And frankly, we’ve outgrown them.

That doesn’t mean that we have to demolish our way of doing business altogether—but we do need to be open to a steady stream of renovations. 

The good news?  These investments will also benefit the business.

This is what Tulshyan calls “The Diversity Advantage.”  It’s the idea that “diversity isn’t just the right thing to do.  It’s also a financially savvy strategy in today’s hyper-competitive digital marketplace.”

Tulshyan’s 2015 ebook guides the reader through the many deeply-ingrained, but often unintentional, ways that businesses disadvantage women.  Being solution-oriented, it also offers a gold mine of ideas for correcting this, so that the companies may tap into the full potential of the talent of 50% of the population.

Last month, I had the chance to sit down with the Seattle author, and ask her a few questions about some of the themes in her book. 

We started with one of the most-publicized effects of gender inequality in the workplace—the gender pay gap.

The book states “one of the biggest obstacles to resolving the gender pay gap is denial.”  Yet there is so much evidence on the systemic gender pay gap. Why are people still in denial? 

Right now, a lot of businesses are still run by middle-aged, or older, white men.  And from their point of view, they see that there are more women in the workforce than there were previously.  Which is true, but the problem is that they are concentrated in lower-level jobs.  The higher up you get in leadership, the fewer women there are.  And many leaders don’t look hard enough to see this, or don’t question why, and decide to prioritize other things.  

They also may tend to think that the lack of women in leadership roles is a result of individual choices.  But in reality, this has been disproved time and again.

Or, they assume that they themselves are not sexist, and no one they work with is sexist, so they jump to the conclusion that they’re not doing anything wrong.  They may not understand the implicit biases that we all hold. 

So it really comes down to a lack of knowledge and understanding about the actual situation.  They need to understand that it is a priority that impacts the performance of the entire business.

The book demonstrates how pay secrecy is harmful to reaching pay equality, advocating instead for more pay transparency.  Right now, in Washington state legislature, we have a bill being considered that would make it illegal for employers to punish their employees for discussing wages.  Would this new law be enough?

This is a first step, but it’s not enough. 

We are very uncomfortable talking about money in this culture.  In fact, we’d rather talk about relationships and sex at work than talk about money! 

Until we have a cultural shift in which it becomes less of a taboo to discuss salaries, we’re still not going to see a lot of pay transparency.  Businesses can address this by slowly phasing in transparency, or at the very least taking a comprehensive look at how they are currently paying their employees. 

When it comes to supporting parents, the book states “the most impactful solutions are initiatives and policies that benefit both genders such as paid leave, flexibility, and child care support.”  Why is that the case?

It’s been well documented that creating benefits that are only for women actually harms women, because it treats them like a special population.  So the businesses will start to discriminate against them because they now come with additional expenses.  So instead, those benefits should be for all employees. 

Another reason has to do with millennials, who will soon be the largest demographic in the workforce. Both male and female millennials have shown time and again that they value those types of benefits, demonstrating that businesses must provide them if they want to be able to attract and retain talent.

Lastly, in order to truly make change, we need a cultural shift about who’s doing the caretaking and the homemaking.  Right now, women still shoulder most of that work, and it is a big burden.   We must culturally start allowing, or requiring, men to take on some of that burden.  So making these types of policies accessible to men helps achieve that.

Sponsorship is something the book advocates highly for.  What is sponsorship and how can it be implemented successfully? 

First of all, sponsorship is very different from mentorship. A mentor is generally someone who you meet with occasionally and get guidance from. A sponsor, in contrast, is someone who is in a more senior position that works with you to strategically advance your career, using his or her own reputation and connections to help you move forward.

However, a sponsor may not understand the nuances of gender.   And as more sponsors will be male, simply because there are so many more men in top leadership positions in business, it’s important that we consider gender training with sponsorships. 

For example, in many companies, networking and relationship building among leadership still occurs after hours over dinner and drinks.  This is part of what’s considered the “old boys club.”  But, if a (typically younger) female protégée is invited by her (typically older) male sponsor to these events, it is often perceived very negatively, and it can actually harm her career.  To avoid these types of situations, it’s recommended to create a more formal sponsorship program that includes guidelines and training around gender.  Formal programs also help create accountability by having points at which other leaders check in to see if the sponsor is successfully helping the protégée meet her career advancement goals.    

There are quite a few countries in Europe, and several in Asia, as well as India, that have legally mandated gender quotas for corporate boards.  In the book, it states that quotas do have some effect, but that there are other ways to get more women on boards that are more effective.  What are the recommendations?

Quotas have their ups and down.  On the one hand, they are useful in that they provide accountability.   It’s too easy for a company, without quotas, to say “we tried it and it didn’t work.” A quota requires that they keep trying.  Facebook is a surprising example.  They have only 2 women on their board, and no women of color.  This seems odd, because the most rapidly growing segments of their market are overseas, and they could clearly use diverse leadership to help understand those markets.  Facebook does not utilize quotas.

On the other hand, quotas are not enough.  There also has to be a cultural shift. 

Otherwise you may see something like what happened in Norway, in which the same few women are asked to be on 4, 5, or more boards, and most women still don’t have access.  Lastly, women are much more likely to stay on boards if there is a culture that makes them feel welcome in a leadership position. 

Here in the US, we are culturally quite far away from having legally mandated quotas. In fact, we have a Supreme Court case this year that will question whether affirmative action (which quotas fall under) is even constitutional.  Why is there such a difference between attitudes about quotas in the US, as compared to other countries?

We believe in the US that we have a meritocracy, where anyone who works hard enough will achieve success.  It’s the American Dream.  But that is simply not true for everyone.  That mindset ignores the systematic oppression that is present in our society, and fails to recognize that only some people can participate fully in our “meritocracy,” and those people happen to be mostly white men.  

We are uncomfortable with the fact that our belief in meritocracy may be an illusion, because it challenges the idea that those white men achieved success based solely on their own talent. 

The introduction to the book states “make no mistake: this is no feminist manifesto.  Sure, gender equality is a human rights issue. But engaging women in the workforce is primarily an economic issue.  Diverse leaders drive bottom-line growth and high-level innovation for global corporations.” 
After reading the book, I’d argue that it IS a feminist manifesto, as well as an economic argument.  So I’m curious why this disclaimer was included.

The book was also meant to appeal to men, so that phrase was included to emphasize that the book is first and foremost an economic argument. 

We must have men participate in this movement in order for it to be successful. There isn’t a case in history in which an oppressed group has overcome oppression without the participation of those in power. 

The only exceptions are when extreme violence was used.  In the case of gender equality, men are still largely in power, and they must participate as allies in order for us all to succeed.

Lastly, Ruchika noted that compared to other places she’s lived in (The UK, India and Singapore), in our Seattle culture, we tend to avoid tough topics like this.

But Seattle, we’ve got to talk about it.  And more than that, we’ve got to take responsibility and act on improving gender equality in the workplace.  If the ethical case doesn’t sway you, the business case can’t be ignored. 

You can purchase Ruchika’s book on Forbes.  A paper version will also be available soon. 

Where is RooshV’s opposite?

Gender Equality OverallMartha BurwellComment

I’m sure many of you saw the headlines last week.  “Pro-rape blogger organizes meetings for men across U.S.—Including Seattle, Everett” “Pro-Rape International Meetup Day” “RooshV Plans ‘Rape Should Be Legal’ Meetups”.  If you haven’t heard, this was a day of meetups around the world planned by Roosh Valizadeh, the owner of the misogynistic blog “Return of Kings.

RooshV is second from right.     IMG_0423   by  Joe Loong  is  licensed under   CC BY 2.0.

RooshV is second from right.  IMG_0423 by Joe Loong is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Thankfully, the meetups did not happen, at least officially, because there was an uproar on social media protesting them. 

This uproar was inspiring, and overall, effective.  But it made me think: where is the radical feminism pulling our culture in the opposite direction, to counterbalance the RooshVs of the world? 

First, I’m happy that there are no direct equivalents to RooshV in the feminist world.  His hate-filled doctrines are of a tone and intention that do not belong in any movement. 

But the point stands: when it comes to certain aspects of gender, particularly with women’s sexuality and reproductive health, the scales seem to be tipping in a conservative direction over the past few years.   And those radical voices, as much as we try to discount them, matter a lot

You might be thinking, instead of more radical feminism, wouldn’t it be better to have an increase in more moderates? 

I would love an increase there too, but we can’t do without our radical feminists.

This is because of something called the Overton Window.  This fancy term basically just refers to the range of ideas around a topic that the public will accept.  It changes constantly, being pulled in one direction or another.   

Let me explain. If you’ve seen the movie Selma (which I highly recommend), there’s a scene that portrays this concept well.  Martin Luther King Junior is planning a march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, demanding equal voting rights for black Americans.  He has been treading extremely carefully, because he knows this action has the potential to influence national law, and supporters have been facing severe violence.

A few days before the march, Malcolm X shows up.  He wants to give a speech in favor of MLJK’s march.  But Malcolm X does not exactly have a reputation for treading carefully, so when he meets with Coretta Scott King, the decision maker in this case, she initially denies his proposition, because of the risk of damaging their movement. 

But she changes her mind when Malcolm X says one thing.

“I thought that if the white people understood what the alternative was that they would be more inclined to listen to your husband. And so that’s why I came.”

In other words, Malcolm X was offering to use his radical reputation to pull the Overton Window --what the public would accept--in the direction of civil rights.  This would move MLKJ’s more moderate views towards the center of the window, garnering him more public support.  

A more local example of this concept is Dan Savage, Seattle LGBTQ activist, who explained his role in moving the Overton Window for LGBTQ rights in an interview with Seattle Met last year.  As he put it, “When you’re trying to move the center, you need people at the edges screaming and yelling.  You need the unreasonable people for the reasonable people to move in.  This is my life.”

When it comes to gender in the past few years, particularly with women’s reproductive health, the Overton Window has had a lot of weight put on the conservative end. 

Ted Cruz, presidential candidate who opposes abortion in all cases, even incest and rape.        03072015_TedCruz_001_3x2_1080   by  iprimages  is  licensed under   CC BY 2.0.

Ted Cruz, presidential candidate who opposes abortion in all cases, even incest and rape. 03072015_TedCruz_001_3x2_1080 by iprimages is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Women’s health clinics being violently attacked and intimidated.  Politicians making misogynist comments with little consequence to their career. False Planned Parenthood smear campaigns (which have been disproved).  Leading 2016 presidential candidates demanding to ban abortion in all cases, even rape and incest. Our government threatening to defund women’s health services.

These actions are extreme.  What’s worrying is that they seem mainstream.  A sure sign that the Overton Window has been pulled sharply in a conservative direction, and away from gender equity.

Can you think of any actions on the other side that are this extreme? Any individuals or groups that are as radical?  It’s quite difficult to draw many to mind. Though the radical feminist movement had quite a large participation rate in the 1960s and 70s, with explicit goals to achieve personal and political equity, that movement has dwindled. This can be seen as a success in some regard, because the things they were fighting for have become normalized.  But certainly not everything. 

We cannot ignore the fact that we're slipping back.  Rights we thought we had firmly won have become eroded.   We’re starting to think that restricting women’s sexuality and reproductive health is normal.

So yes, we need radical feminism.  We need those people at the edges to drag the center forward.  Though we may not always agree with everything they do, as feminists, we cannot, we must not, dismiss them.  Even if we don’t agree with each other 100% of the time, we still must respect and acknowledge their role in the movement towards gender equity.    

What’s the call to action?  I’m not sure yet.  I was hoping you would help me out with that one. 

In part, it’s a call to the media to cover more radical feminism stories.  In fact, to make women’s voices heard more overall. There is much more action around gender equity than we are aware of, because our media chooses not to cover those stories.  And that, in itself, is an act of misogyny.

In part, it’s a call to our political representatives to actually represent us women—not represent what they think we should be. 

In part, it’s a call to us, feminists, to be radical, and to support radical feminism.  We tend to be hard on ourselves, and each other, in the feminist movement, and I think we can work on that. 

In part, it's a call to everyone, to be politically active and demand change that actually works for us. We tend to think we're powerless when it comes to politics and determining laws.  We're not. 

Let’s get our window back, bitches.