By Emily Blobaum, Fearless editor
Earlier this month, The 19th – a national nonprofit news organization that covers the intersections of gender, politics and policy – hosted its annual virtual summit.
More than 50 speakers, including Billie Jean King, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, Priscilla Chan, Michelle Obama, Nikole Hannah-Jones and Whitney Wolfe Hurd, discussed topics of democracy, sports, business, culture and voting.
I often tune in to events like these for research and story ideas. Although Fearless covers women’s and gender issues locally, it’s helpful for me to get a sense of what’s being talked about at the national – and occasionally international – level for context.
I encourage you to check out their coverage of the summit, but if you’re strapped for time, here are four of my takeaways.
“If you don’t have a seat at the table, you’re probably on the menu.”
Last year, Rep. Ritchie Torres, along with Rep. Mondaire Jones, became one of the first two openly gay Black men to serve in the U.S. House. When asked whether being a first felt like a cause for celebration, Torres talked about how although he feels the “weight of history” on his shoulders, it’s humbling to know that he has a seat at the table.
“If you don’t have a seat at the table, you’re probably on the menu,” Torres said.
In a separate conversation, Layshia Clarendon, a point guard for the Minnesota Lynx, was blunt about representation needing to go beyond visibility.
“We need more than just seeing a Black girl out on the page, putting a Black girl in a Gap commercial. … Who’s the CEO of the company? Who’s really going to make the decisions on how these people’s lives are changed?”
Representation actually means that we are creating institutions that can do their best and greatest work because they have minds that are reflective of the actual country that we live in, Nikole Hannah-Jones said in her keynote address.
“A lot of institutions want phenotype diversity. … Representation means you are represented, you are there, you have power and you have a voice.”
Women “deserve the cake, the icing and the cherry on top.”
If you’ve followed tennis legend Billie Jean King’s story at all, you’ll know that she is an outspoken advocate for pay equity in sports.
Girls and women are taught to be quiet, thankful and to not ask for what they want or need, King said.
“Don’t be happy with the crumbs. No. No. No. We deserve the cake, the icing and the cherry on top.”
Another panel, featuring soccer player Jessica McDonald; Andrea Nix, director of the documentary “LFG”; and sports lawyer Jeffrey Kessler, discussed the issue of equal pay for the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team.
McDonald said the USWNT’s equal pay lawsuit at its core is about equality.
“At the end of the day, we’re fighting not just for ourselves but for all females everywhere. This is bigger than us.”
Kessler chimed in and said, “Women don’t have to perform at a world-class level to be entitled to an equal rate of pay.”
(Side note: Billie Jean King just released her memoir, “All In.” It’s on my to-read list – would anyone be interested in reading it along with me this fall?)
“Being the best accomplice doesn’t always mean your voice is needed.”
Recently, there’s been a movement to transition the word “ally” into “accomplice.” To sum it up, an ally is someone who advocates for groups of individuals who come from a different place of privilege while an accomplice assists others in creating a space of inclusion, often at the risk of their own standing.
Opportunities for White People in the Fight for Racial Justice gives an example where allies will volunteer at a local racial justice-focused organization, while accomplices will join an organization with an explicit aim of naming and disrupting racial injustice.
Often, being a good accomplice means that you step aside and listen, rather than centering yourself.
“Being the best accomplice doesn’t always mean your voice is needed,” Oklahoma state Rep. Mauree Turner said during a panel. “But your presence can help so others’ voices can be heard.”
“Women are always at the helm of historic gains.”
During her brief remarks on the final day of the summit, former first lady Michelle Obama touched on the importance of women’s involvement in their communities.
Women “set the tone of our households, of our health care, where our kids go to school,” Obama said. “Women are always at the helm of historic gains. It’s up to us as women to step up to make sure that the issues we care about are addressed.”
Three days later, I listened to a podcast featuring Malala Yousafzai where she talked about how change begins at home. Now, granted, she was talking about her father breaking away from traditional patriarchal norms in Pakistan and being a strong advocate for girl’s education and women’s equality – but I think it has broader implications, too.
“Oftentimes people want to fix the world rather than look at their own role in it and how they can change themselves,” Yousafza said. “It’s easier to tell others what to do, but can you do it yourself?”
This is something that I am trying to work on myself. In any situation – be it a natural disaster, a humanitarian crisis, challenging a practice or policy, or simply aiding a friend in need, stop and ask yourself: “What am I actually doing to help?”