The Big Picture

Three core beliefs motivate this blog and my work on women’s issues:

  1. By making the world better for women, we make it a better place for everyone. 
  2. There is no better way to make change than to make it yourself.
  3. Change only happens when people take action.

For the past several months, while continuing to work on the In My Binder book project (if less so on the blog), I have also been involving myself in the startup community and global projects such as Escape The City. I am inspired by the positive approach these people have taken to the workplace. Instead of just criticizing the status quo, they are challenging it with compelling alternative models. 

By now, “the new freelance economy” is no longer new. Forward-thinking policies such as the Affordable Care Act, even though they fall short of perfection, enable more Americans to strike out on their own. For years, I have watched with envy as my federal contractor colleagues exercised their flexibility, navigating through uncertainty without panicking, taking advantage of whatever opportunity seemed best. I was so immersed in my institutional bubble that I was slow to recognize that my experience was not unique: In the private sector, thousands of dynamos throw in the towel every year and strike out on their own.

Yes, the start-up community, like everything else professional, is still dominated by men. There are plenty of good reasons why men might be more willing to take the big risk of jumping ship: their choice is more likely to be perceived as brave, rather than manic; their skills tend to be more highly valued in the marketplace; they know that they will always be perceived as the breadwinner and therefore entitled to fair compensation. But there are also a number of incredibly inspiring women who’ve made the leap. They’re not leaning out; they’re just leaning in another direction.

I am now following in their footsteps. Leaving a tenured, well-compensated FTE position without independent wealth seems crazy to a lot of people, but I know that I can do more professionally and have a happier personal life outside of an institution that undervalues my work. It’s a little bit forceful – I am basically asking the economy to work around my priorities instead of accepting things as they are. But isn’t that precisely how change is made? 

Henceforth, you’ll see some changes to this site as well. Stay tuned. 

Empowered Women Get Raped Less… Eventually.

Okay, I’m paraphrasing. Shankar Vedantam at NPR says this much more elegantly, citing a wide range of studies. (No kidding – if you’ve been waiting your whole life for a comparative analysis of Norwegian, Japanese, and North American pornography, this story is for you.)

When women stand up for themselves, or, in today’s catchphrase, “lean in,” they advance powerful social changes that lead to reduced violence against women. 

But there is a second conclusion, less obvious and also less pretty: When women first achieve greater power, a certain subset of men gets angry. In the short term, that backlash causes all of us to suffer:

One analysis of 109 U.S. cities over three decades found that “the short-term effect of gender equality is an increased rape rate via increased threats to the status quo; whereas the long-term effect of gender equality is reduced rape via an improved climate toward women.

Or, in plain language, it gets worse before it gets better.

One phenomenon Vedantam doesn’t touch on is the tendency of some women to join in the backlash. By distancing themselves from “feminists” and even attacking them, women protect themselves as individuals. It’s a lot like the reaction of kids on a playground when someone finally stands up to a bully. Even if a majority is suffering, it usually stands by and lets the bully take out all his or her rage on the one kid who dared to confront the issue. 

There is no easy way out of this moral trap. If the research is correct, those of us who choose to stand up for women’s rights put everyone at greater risk. It’s no wonder some women get angry at us and wish we would just honor the status quo. Some of them will suffer for a cause they did not want to get involved in. Of course that is unjust.

But what is more unjust is to condemn our sisters, daughters, and granddaughters to discrimination and sexual violence. It doesn’t take much. You don’t have to share your rape story, run around topless, or even support abortion to be a feminist. All you have to do is stand up for yourself — and support other women when they do the same.