The Sum — The Meaning of This Week by Gloria Feldt

Issue 28– December 8, 2017

Word of the week is PIVOT

As in turning point

As in pushing the fulcrum

As in a cultural pivot point* when systemic change can be made

Astonishingly, people were actually tuning in to my first solo Facebook Live at 4 pm on a Wednesday afternoon.

I’d clicked the “Live” button at the urging of four USC students who had taken me on as their personal branding class term project. I felt sort of silly sitting in my office talking into my computer but to my surprise, people started showing up…likes and hearts floated across my screen…and people were commenting. It’s just the feedback that glues a social media enthusiast like me to the screen.

The instant response relieved my anxiety about having dead air time, to hearken back to the first no-no I was taught when I worked in radio.

My rough idea was to host a discussion of last week’s Sum of the Week. That word was complicit, and my point was that we must consciously become complicit for good if we seriously want to eradicate the pervasive sexual harassment that has existed in our culture for eons. Because we are all in some way complicit. And as the late leadership icon Peter Drucker was fond of advising, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”

The paradox is that our cultures are the ties that bind us to each other. Cultures form us — literally, they make us who and what we are. And while the culture we grow up in can lead us to be complicit with bad things like sexual harassment, it is also what gives us the positive values and the social capability to be complicit for good.

The discussion quickly turned to the question of what’s next now that the beast has been outed. Between a week ago and today, the dizzying array of toppled male icons of media and politics continued. NPR host John Hockenberry–gone. Weirdly I had just been on a panel with him and sensed something seemed wrong when I asked what he is doing now professionally. This interview with Farai Chideya, one of his many former co-hosts, is a must listen.

Paris Review editor Lorin Stein — gone. Senator Al Franken (D-WI) resigned, as did my old nemesis from my years in Arizona, Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ), proving once again that sexual misbehavior is bipartisan.

While an alleged pedophile is running ahead of his opponent in the Alabama senate race, I agree with New York Times gender editor Jessica Bennett when she said in her new #metoomoment newsletter that the complicity code has been cracked.

I mean, the very fact that the paper of record has a gender editor says a lot.

Time magazine, after publishing its almost all male list of top contenders for person of the year, ended up selecting the “Silence Breakers” — the women who are speaking out, Tarana Burke, the woman who started the #metoo movement, the women whose voices and stories of sexual abuse and harassment are finally being heard.

Yes, we are at a cultural pivot point.

What makes a cultural pivot point?

To be sure, technology can create cultural pivot points by changing how we live, work, and even how we think. Social media, for example, made possible by computer technology and the internet, has connected us globally in profound ways, not just with high school classmates and far-flung family members but with communities of interest. I could crowdsource my word of this week by hosting a Facebook live that allowed me to talk simultaneously with 500 people across the U. S. and even other countries.

Similarly, the gender social power balance was changed 50 years ago by a technology we take for granted today. The birth control pill gave women a reliable way to plan and space their childbearing. More importantly, it gave them a sense of control over their lives. As a young wife and mother, it freed me to start college and a career. And once women have education and the ability to support themselves, they no longer need to stay in abusive marriages in order to feed their children and themselves.

But ultimately the most important precursor to a cultural pivot point is an “accumulation of acts,” as Clarissa Pinkola Estes calls it.

Anita Hill gave sexual harassment in the workplace a name so that the next generation of women knew what it was and that they didn’t have to put up with it. And now the chorus of women, celebrities, and unknowns, are speaking out in an accumulation so vast that it no longer allows any of us to be unwittingly complicit with bad behavior.

Saying #metoo is important. But whether or not we maintain that “accumulation of acts” so that they transform this #metoo moment into a complicit for good women’s #powertolead moment once and for all will determine if this cultural pivot point sticks. The just released report from PerryUndem shows just how much a difference a year can make — I urge you to read it. To quote the report: “Where are we now?Somewhere new… The data suggest we are in a new place on gender, sexism, and equality.The differences we see are significant and the speed with which they seem to have changed are uncommon in our experience.” Thoughts?

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  • With thanks to Martia Nelson for this word of the week, and especially for the term “cultural pivot point.” But I also want to thank others who suggested words of the week, all of which I will undoubtedly use eventually. Kerry Giangobbe suggested “boundaries defined” and “Pledge respect.” Sharon Almaguer suggested “enough,” “accountability” and “throw them out.” And Christine Nicole Vargas put forward “breakthrough.” Thanks again to you and all who tuned in for a stimulating conversation. And thanks to my team of college encouragers — Zoe, Christine, Chloe, and Margaux — I’ll be back next week with another Facebook Live. Time and day TBD but follow me here to find out.

Gloria Feldt is a New York Times bestselling author and co-founder and president of Take The Lead, a nonprofit women’s leadership organization.