In 1976, one year after the term “sexual harassment” was coined, the magazine Redbook reported that 90 percent of women surveyed said they’d been sexually harassed at work. Last year, the Elephant in the Valley study revealed that 60 percent of women in tech had been subject to unwanted sexual advances. It’s disheartening to think that Silicon Valley today, in some ways the most innovative place in the world, is in other ways almost half a century in the past.
But 2017 is proving to be a watershed moment for women in the workplace and beyond. Instead of being bullied into retreat or pressured into weary resignation, we are raising our voices—and raising them louder than ever before. What’s more, the world is finally listening.
The stories women are telling are not new—nor, by any means, are they limited to Silicon Valley and Hollywood. I’ve spent the last 20 years talking to women all over the globe, and I hear these stories everywhere I go. From board rooms to presidential palaces to mats spread on the ground in the world’s poorest villages, the message from women is the same: Me too. Me too. Me too.
In every country and every continent, we have been taught that being born female comes with a cost. That if we are the victims of harassment or discrimination or violence, it’s somehow our fault. It’s the price we pay for daring to have ambition, to seek a job, to express an opinion, to assert our inalienable right to decide who will have access to our bodies. But those who try to normalize this kind of inequality often forget that its costs are paid not only by women but by all of us. How many great thinkers, leaders, innovators, entertainers, disruptors have we all missed out on because the doors to these industries have been guarded by abusive men?
So let’s be very clear. Anyone who attempts to excuse any mistreatment of women by saying “what’s acceptable has changed” is missing the point entirely. Discrimination, harassment and rape have never been acceptable. They’ve just been accepted. For most of history, women haven’t had an equal say in the norms that shape a society, or an equal number of seats at the tables where decisions are made. We haven’t had an equal chance to determine what kind of world we live in.
That is why the cascade of horrifying revelations we have read this year has actually made me at least a little hopeful. In 2017, we now expect something better than what has always been accepted. We have launched a movement bent on shattering the glass ceiling for all women: women of color, disabled women, immigrant women, poor women, older women. A movement about rejecting the roles that society has assigned to us, and to our daughters, and demanding the power to choose our own roles.
We are at last confronting the fact that by staying quiet, we protect an unequal, immoral status quo. By raising our voices, we protect each other. Each woman who speaks up about her own experience is making it easier for other women to do the same. And because of the strength in our numbers, the institutions that have enabled systemic sexism and discrimination are starting to act — to fire, to expel, to ostracize, to pass laws. To change.
“I wish I had known that there were women in the business I could have talked to,” Lupita Nyong’o wrote recently. “I wish I had known that there were ears to hear me. That justice could be served.” I hope that her words are this year’s legacy—and that there will always be women to talk to and ears to hear. Because if there are, then justice will finally be served for all of us.