Listening to women

On January 21, 2017, an estimated 4.2 million people in the United States participated in the Women’s March, according to the Washington Post. Here in King County, about 134,000 marchers packed a 3.6-mile route from Judkins Park to Seattle Center. The signs they carried echoed a broad set of “Unity Principles” put forth by organizers of the Women’s March on Washington, D.C. – to end violence and support reproductive rights, LGBTQIA (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning, intersex, and allies) rights, worker’s rights, civil rights, disability rights, immigrant rights, and environmental justice.

While excluding no one, the agenda was grounded in women’s rights.  From the Unity Principles’ “Women’s Rights are Human Rights and Human Rights are Women’s Rights” to signs marching down streets across America, the message was clear: it was time to LISTEN TO WOMEN.

Unlikely as it seemed last January, women’s voices are being heard at the highest levels of the entertainment and media industries, are echoing through the halls of government, and are even altering the curricula of the nation’s leading business schools.

In some cases, there have already been real consequences.  Allegations of sexual misconduct led to the expulsion of movie mogul Harvey Weinstein’s from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the firing of long-time NBC Today Show host Matt Lauer, and the resignations of Minnesota Senator Al Franken and Seattle Mayor Ed Murray.  Popular actors and athletes have been publicly shamed.

Most of the media coverage concerned actions that may have taken place decades ago, so the risks of speaking up — public embarrassment, loss of career opportunities, and trial by disbelief and innuendo — may have passed. And not much has been heard from women (or men) in low-paying jobs that they can’t afford to leave. Imbalance of power always invites abuse.

But the power structure may also be shifting.  Crosscut reported that Washington voters elected 38 women mayors in November, including 6 in King County cities (Seattle, Auburn, Kent, Black Diamond, Duvall, and Issaquah). And, according to NW News Network, a bipartisan mix of 175 women legislators, lobbyists, and legislative staffers in Olympia have signed a letter calling for improvements in the current process for handling reports of sexual harassment and abuses of power. The letter, titled “Stand With Us,” states, “We have no safe, neutral place to report our experiences.”

This is only a beginning of what will certainly be a long journey.  But there are signs that people making accusations about sexual misconduct may be accorded a new level of respect.  Last week the New York Times reported that while crime rates of all major felony groups in New York City fell to record low levels in 2017, reports of “misdemeanor sex crimes – a catchall for various types of misconduct that includes groping” were up more than 9%, and reports of rape started climbing after widespread publication of accusations against Harvey Weinstein.  Perhaps, standing together, women feel safer speaking out.

And we may soon see a real shift in corporate culture.  According to another recent New York Times article, business schools are teaching students “how to create a workplace culture in which people feel comfortable reporting [sexual harassment].” Perhaps more importantly, they’re acknowledging that behavior in the workplace is an important business issue that transcends gender.

We won’t see changes overnight, but this news hasn’t been lost on the younger generation. Budding stars and power brokers might think twice about actions that could, today or decades in the future, destroy everything they care about. Something big may come from this year of listening to women.

Watch for Communities Count’s upcoming update on domestic violence.

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