A watershed moment for U.S. women

November 12, 2017

Newsday: A watershed moment for U.S. women
By Michael Dobie

In the cacophony of the moment, it’s impossible not to hear the voices of women.

They’re fueling two of the great protest movements of our time.

In speaking out in increasing numbers about sexual abuse, their exposure of the atrocious behavior of men has been inspiring. That takes courage. Because women know the truth of this. When you expose someone else, you expose yourself to more victimization. You often face a different kind of abuse, and criticism, shaming, blame and skepticism, all magnified by social media. But that equation might finally be changing under the sheer weight of credible accusations, the admission of guilt by some offenders, and the growing understanding of the damage done by abusers.

Women also are becoming the face and voice of a political revolt. That was clear in Tuesday’s elections, when more women seized leadership positions all over the country.

They won mayoral races in Manchester, New Hampshire; Charlotte, North Carolina; Topeka, Kansas; and Seattle. Record numbers of women ran for state legislatures in New Jersey and in Virginia, where 11 wins by women have Democrats on the verge of taking control of the House of Delegates. Women voters provided the decisive margin in many races.

There’s more coming. Forty women plan to run for governorships in 2018, according to published reports. Emily’s List, which supports pro-choice female Democrats, has heard from nearly 21,000 women interested in running since last year’s election, up from a record 920 who expressed interest in the 2016 campaign.

Many of them say they were motivated by the election of Donald Trump, and given his history of alleged sexual abuse, it’s not a stretch to see these two movements as being somehow related.

At the least, they take their place in a series of markers that include the suffragette movement, the women’s lib movement, Geraldine Ferraro’s vice-presidential candidacy, the treatment of Anita Hill during the Clarence Thomas Supreme Court confirmation hearing, the three women on the current Supreme Court.

There are other markers, too.

  • The “Thomas & Friends” TV series is adding two female engines, bringing the gender balance in the shed to nearly even.
  • Lego is selling a set honoring four NASA women pioneers.
  • The Girl Scouts are responding to the times by adding merit badges in coding, robotics, cybersecurity and mechanical engineering.
  • A TV ad celebrates Molly, a young girl whose series of inventions begins with an automated way to take out the trash and ends with her on the job reprogramming a robot to inspect machinery.

But measuring progress depends on where you look. For women in America, the road is still bumpy.

Women still earn nearly 25 percent less than men, though millennials are narrowing the gap. Women lead only 4 percent of Fortune 500 companies, a decline from 2015, and still are grossly underrepresented in decision-making positions in general.

In the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report, which measures gender-based disparity, the United States dropped from 23rd-best in 2006 to 49th of 144 countries last year. Our greatest weakness? The area of political empowerment, where we were 96th.

So yes, I welcome the ascension of women who want to be collaborators at a time of absolute partisan dysfunction, who reject politics based on fear, who prefer inclusion to exclusion and embrace ideas because they’re good, not because of who proposes them.

I hear lots of voices. Like my wife, my three daughters and their friends, my sisters and nieces, my colleagues and many up-and-comers on Long Island.

I hope they keep speaking.