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What I Learned About Feminism From Malala, RBG, Gloria Allred…and Trump

What I Learned About Feminism From Malala, RBG, Gloria Allred…and Trump

I don’t know about your social feed last week, but mine was dominated by the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, and the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. Lots of snow; lots of high-profile people tweeting; lots of searching for meaning. And at Davos, lots of “manels,” aka all-male panels, in which (in my favorite description of the confab) “billionaires tell millionaires what it’s like to be middle class.”

Here’s How to Really Lead at Davos

From Davos, we learned a few things: that President Trump does not identify as a feminist...and that he also probably doesn’t know what a feminist is. His words: “I’m for women. I’m for men. I’m for everyone. I think people have to go out…and they have to win. And women are doing great, and I’m happy about that."

His interpretation — which is presumably that feminism is the advancement of women at the expense of men — is probably not too surprising; after all, Microsoft Word’s synonym for “feminism” is “radicalism.”

We also learned that Malala is just so frickin’ mature and dialed in — and ahead of both Trump and Microsoft Word. She said she initially found the word “feminism” to be “tricky,” but then “I realized feminism is just another word for equality.” (Yes, that’s exactly what feminism means.) So she identifies as a feminist.

Her other insight on the #MeToo and #TimesUp moment we are in is “…that first we wanted men to do something for us. But that time is gone now. We’re not going to ask men to change the world. We’re going to do it ourselves.”

Hell yeah, Malala. (And she’s 20 years old. When I grow up, I want to be her.)

A Tale of Two Badasses

Over at Sundance, if you squinted, you could see evidence of some of the attitude changes still needed to drive the movement that Malala is advocating. One could see it in the treatment of two female badasses — Ruth Bader Ginsburg (“RBG”) and Gloria Allred — who each had a movie about them showing at the festival.

I mean, who doesn’t love RBG? What a story. Going from no job offers — despite graduating first in her class from an Ivy League law school — to a female-advancing, I-want-to-be-her, meme-worthy Supreme Court justice. (Heck, one of the conference rooms is named Ruth, after her.)

As for Gloria Allred, also the subject of a Sundance film? Many fewer I-want-to-be-her’s, though she has won rights for women collectively (helping get rid of the statute of limitations on rape in California, Nevada, and Colorado) and individually. (One of the conference rooms is named Gloria, but it’s after Gloria Steinem.)

They’ve both broken through crazy thick glass ceilings, and they’ve both successfully advanced women. Why the adoration for one and not for the other?

Perhaps a key difference is that RBG’s mom’s singular advice to her was “never get angry.” And Allred seems to be all anger and attention-seeking and press conferences.

Our society — often through the well-meaning messengers of our mothers and grandmothers — tells us it’s unattractive for women to be angry. Or to be seen to be seeking attention. Or to be looking for power. Or to talk about money. (!!) And the research tells us that we — men and women — can recoil from women looking for power and attention.

It’s hard to change the world if you have to do it in a behavioral straightjacket. Recognition of these double standards is an important step forward. And maybe even an essential one.

You do you, Gloria. You do you.

This piece was originally featured in the Ellevest newsletter, What The Elle.


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