A 19th century writer, Anna Cora Mowatt, had a saying: “Misfortune sprinkles ashes on the head of the man, but falls like dew on the heart of the woman, and brings forth [gems] of strength, of which she herself had no conscious possession.”
Anna would have loved the mayor of San Juan, Puerto Rico, Carmen Yulín Cruz. In a week rife with bad news about worse executives who use their power to abuse women — and men! — when outside the spotlight, Mayor Cruz stepped up and fought — hard — for the residents of San Juan. Wearing a ”nasty” t-shirt, in response to a tweet by U.S. President Donald Trump, she told her interviewer:
“What is truly nasty is that anyone would turn their back on the Puerto Rican people.”
Mayor Cruz we need more of.
Particularly because another pattern of “leadership” — most recently revealed as the not-so-secret life of Hollywood super producer Harvey Weinstein — is all too familiar. Powerful man meets less powerful individual and takes advantage. Powerful man promises success if she/he goes along and threatens her career if she/he doesn’t. Again and again and again.
It’s not naive to think, “Hey, it’s 2017, leaders should know better.”
To hope that with each passing year, we would all get a bit wiser, a bit more considerate...a bit more empathetic. As humans, we want things to make sense, and what sounds better than the idea that as we age, we — including society — grow more “enlightened”? That individuals in power would use that power for good?
Instead, it’s what we need to insist on. And when leaders like Mayor Cruz show up, we need to celebrate and lift her up. Progress isn’t inevitable; it doesn’t follow a calendar. It takes bravery and action to effect change: on the part of those speaking out and those of us who are listening to what's being said.
We’re seeing this in the women who are sharing their stories about sexual harassment and assault involving Harvey Weinstein.
These women are following in the very recent footsteps of the women who have taken on the VCs and CEOs in Silicon Valley and the VIPs at Fox. (Those stories were quickly followed by leaves of absence, resignations, and firings. And rightly so.)
By speaking out and publicly denouncing these men, these women have taken on significant reputational risk, which can impact their careers and lives permanently. They spoke out anyway. If that isn’t bravery, I don’t know what is.
Though let's be perfectly honest here: Not every woman can risk her career in this way...especially since it can really damage her financial security. That’s a luxury many women simply cannot afford. So when these women stood up, they stood up for us all.
Because none of us can afford to sit idly by while this is going on.
We owe these women — who are able to speak out — our support, and our respect, and our time, to hear their stories. They’re the ones helping us get to where we should be; and without them, we have very little chance of getting there. Off to pull my own ”nasty” t-shirt out of the drawer…
This article originally appeared in Ellevest's newsletter, What The Elle.