Women’s Engagement

So much discourse about women’s empowerment over the last few years has inevitably referenced Sheryl Sandberg’s 2013 book, “Lean In”.  For many in the paid-work world, her words were a salve:  women can achieve their work ambitions.

Without taking away from the way she energized a new movement in corporate America, within feminist circles, there was unrest. bell hooks’s critique:  “Dig Deep: Beyond Lean In”1, Hooks argues that Lean In ignores “the concrete systemic obstacles most women face inside the workforce.” Hooks reasons that instead of “Lean In” and its accompanying movement inciting social change, its purpose is to provide women advice on how to become successful within existing conditions. Lean In does not consider the reality of intersectionality, which has been a growing subject in the contemporary feminist movement.


Women’s March 2017

Fast forward to November 2016.  After a firey presidential campaign whose result shocked much of the punditocracy, three white women realized it was critical for their voices to be heard:  they wanted to “send a bold message to our new administration on their first day in office, and to the world that women’s rights are human rights”.2 And so the seeds of the Women’s March were planted.

Understanding that three white women leading the masses in protest might not send the desired message, they quickly expanded the march to include: “ immigrants of all statuses, Muslims and those of diverse religious faiths, people who identify as LGBTQIA [ Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer/Questioning, Intersex, Asexual ] , Native people, Black and Brown people, people with disabilities, survivors of sexual assault”2 AND encouraged all allies (of any race, class or gender) to join in day to let their voices be heard.  Intersectionality?  Check.

January 21, 2017, Washington DC, Independence Avenue:  Here I am with basically one spot to stand, dumbstruck at the sheer volume of humanity surrounding me.  But, let me tell you, this was not your mother’s feminist march.  This was a glorious outpouring of anger and fear on the one hand but support and hope on the other.  The designated space along the edges of the National Mall was packed with people of all genders, many in pussy caps (pink knit caps created to look like cat ears, a play on the now infamous “Grab ‘em by the pussy”), young, old, from just about any corner of country, had come together to let their voices be heard loud and clear:  “Women’s rights ARE human rights”

By the final tally, estimates were that there were over 450,000  participants in the DC march, and up to 3 million worldwide.  And, most exciting, was the phenomenal number of young women and men who felt this important enough to be part of physically.  I expected online support from young people from all corners, but that they actually made the effort to travel and be present shot me through with hope.

When I got back to my hotel that night, I saw the coverage of the DC march and sister marches around the globe.  What struck me was that this was not a protest just for the metropolitan folks or the white women or the corporate women, it was about respect for women, no matter your shape, size or origin.  This was a leaning in moment for everyone.


Going Forward

But it important not to be satisfied by one day of speaking out.  Now is the time to reignite a sustained movement for all women.  An International Women’s Strike has been called for March 8th to draw attention to the enormous value of women in the paid and unpaid workplaces.

Anyone, anywhere, can join “A Day Without a Woman”, in one or all of the following ways:

  1. Women take the day off, from paid and unpaid labor
  2. Avoid shopping for one day (with exceptions for small, women- and minority-owned businesses).
  3. Wear RED in solidarity with A Day Without A Woman3

Please visit:  https://www.womensmarch.com/womensday/ for information and to learn how you can be involved.

Dare I hope that this march was just the beginning of the next exciting wave of feminism?


Pauline Sobelman is a Senior Vice President with Risk Strategies Company. Pauline also serves on the Editorial Board for LIFT Newsletter.

1.  hooks, bell (October 28, 2013). “Dig Deep: Beyond Lean In”. The Feminist Wire.
2. “Guiding Vision and Definition of Principles” (PDF). Women’s March on Washington
3. https://www.womensmarch.com/womensday/

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