A top 10 favorite things list about the United State of Women Summit complied by Women’s Center director, Jess Myers.
Maybe you heard about this little thing that happened in Washington, D.C. this week called the United State of Women Summit. If not, just to fill you in, it wasn’t little at all – it was a Pretty Big Deal. The Summit which was developed out of the White House Council on Women and Girls was the first of its kind with a charge to rally women and their allies together to celebrate what women have achieved and create solutions to help keep moving women’s issues and gender equity forward. I had the privilege of being one of the 5000 people in attendance as a representative of ACPA’s Coalition for Women’s Identities. In their opening remarks, Valerie Jarrett and Tina Tchen compared a meeting such as the USOW to the Seneca Falls Convention. And while, I’m not quite sure the Summit will have the same lasting historical event, it was nonetheless an important day for women and one which I’ll never forget.
I thought about my UMBC and Women’s Center families throughout the entire day and wanted to give you a little taste of the experience – some of my favorite things, you might say (wink wink, Oprah). Please note, this is not a critical analysis of the day’s events and speakers (you can google search for the think pieces later).
Joe Biden’s Call to End Rape Culture
Vice President Biden’s appearance at the Summit served as the kick-off to the big day. I’ve always felt conflicted in my feelings about good old Joe and his time at USOW proved no different. It certainly was a yes/and experience. Yes! Thank you, Vice President for your deeply held passion in speaking out on behalf of survivors of sexual assault. Yes! Thank you for calling men and bystanders away from complacency and into action. And, you took up a lot of space, Joe. You went over your allotted time by quite a bit and each minute you extended your time was another minute reduced or shifted for all the women following you throughout the rest of the day AT A SUMMIT FOR AND ABOUT WOMEN. It truly was the embodiment of white male privilege and I couldn’t help to feel frustrated even though I kept nodding and agreeing with his passionate and declarative call to support survivors. Yes, we need to create more space for rape culture to be discussed AND there’s a way it can be done without silencing the voices of survivors and women. But don’t let me discourage you from hearing what he has to say, he really was fired up… Listen to Vice President Biden’s speech here.
A Platform for Naming and Calling Out Rape Culture
Joe wasn’t the only one fired up about rape culture. There were a ton of other women throughout the day who did speak to their experiences and survivors and advocates for survivors. Mariksa Hargitay spoke to the importance of ending the backlog on rape kits by saying that the testing of rape kits sends a crucial and fundamental message to survivors that they matter. It’s On Us Activist, Jess Davidson, declared that we “We can change the world by getting mad” and sexual assault has made her mad enough to commit to a lifelong goal of fighting to end rape. Others such as Jaha Dukureh, founder of Safe Hands for Girls, spoke to the global epidemic of violence against women to include the fight to end child marriages and female genital mutilation. While Planned Parenthood president, Cecile Richards, wasn’t speaking directly to rape culture when she said “You only get what you fight for,” it was clearly palpable throughout the entire day that this summit of women and allies were ready to fight to end rape culture.
The Powerhouse of Young Girls!
Y’all, what were you doing when you were 11 years old? Probably not introducing the President of the United States, like Mikaila Ulmer, am I right? You probably also weren’t like Marley Dias collecting 7000+ books about black girls and working to create a culture of inclusion in children books. Yeah, me either. The awesome thing, though, is that there are real life 11 year olds doing just that and they are my newest role models! My takeaway, you don’t have to wait to grow up to do important things and be a change agent. Like Mikaila said, “BE(e) fearless. BE(e)lieve in the impossible. And dream like a kid.” To watch Mikaila intro scoll to 6:42:29 of the live stream feed and to watch Marley, scroll to 10:2230.
Podcast IRL Alert!
So, I couldn’t get a selfie with Amy Poehler (who am I kidding, I mean, Leslie Knope) but I did get the chance to meet Cristen Conger, one of the ladies from my favorite podcast, Stuff Mom Never Told You. As someone who constantly cites this podcast as a source of much of my cool lady and gender knowledge, this was a pretty big deal. So of course I walked over and introduced myself, offered up a podcast topic suggestion (a history on campus-based women’s centers, of course) and got me a selfie. Listening to SMNTY will never feel the same again. Magical.
The Barbie Commercial
Okay okay… I know. Barbie is problematic and I know this commercial did everything it was supposed to do to my heartstrings in the name of capitalism AND in this moment, I don’t care. I played with Barbies growing up until an age that I’m too embarrassed to name. My Barbies scooped ice cream, went to the hair salon, and rode in a convertible because that’s the narrative of Barbie and what womanhood was about that was given to me as a young child. It wasn’t my imagination playing at all. Capitalistic or not, I’m just happy that perhaps some girls when playing with their Barbies will feel embolden to tell a different story. And, if you can’t go with me on this, that’s okay… if you only watch it for the line that references unicorns, my job here is done.
Nancy Pelosi and Women in Congress
The past two weeks have been hard. I’m mad that a convicted rapist only received a 6 month jail sentence. I’m heartbroken about the horrific acts of hate and violence that were enacted against the Orlando LGBTQ community. I’m also thinking about (some of) the solutions and it keeps going back to voting. We must support people who will hold up and push forward our values to run for office and then we must vote for them. As Nancy Pelosi said in her speech, “I promise you, I assure you and guarantee you this: if we increase the level of civility and reduce the role of money in politics, we will elect more women, more people of color, more LGBT and more young people – and America will be the better because of it.” I believe it too. She then invited her fellow Congresswomen to join the stage with her and it was just pretty darn rad. But I also agree with you, Nancy, I want more women! You can read her speech here.
President Obama: “This is what a Feminist Looks Like.”
The last time I “saw” Barack Obama was in October 2008 when he was campaigning to become President of the United States of America. I saw a tiny fleck of his collar from time to time in between the yellow falls leaves on the oval of Colorado State University’s campus. It was a dream come true to finally see him in person again almost 8 years later as my president and hear him speak to me and my identity as a woman living in the US. He made me laugh. He made me cry. He made me proud. As he’s said so many times in the past, I do believe, he has my back. I read through his speech too many times to find a good pull quote and I can’t pick just one… so find what speaks to you. Watch President Obama’s speech here. You can also read the full transcript here.
“Working Women” and the Representation of the Labor Movement
Growing up in a Teamster family and surrounding myself with friends committed to the labor movement, it’s fair to say, I love me some union workers (who doesn’t love their 8-hour workdays and weekends?!?!)! In a summit that featured many privileged and wealthy women, it would have been easy enough to only talk about “having it all” and the joys of flexible paid leave and substantial benefits of the corporate and tech worlds. I’m glad that wasn’t the only story that was told and we got to hear from women like tradeswoman, Kevin Burton who is student-debt free because she has access to a living wage to work her way not only through her undergrad career but also through law school. To watch the conversation on working families economic policies, scroll to 7:25:50 in the live stream.
The First Lady Michelle and Oprah Love Fest
The moment we had all been waiting for all day finally arrived and IT. WAS. EVERYTHING. As a white woman, I know #BlackGirlMagic isn’t for me, but I love what it means to and for black women. It was an honor to witness the magic of love, support, and friendship between these two women. It was privilege to hear Michelle speak to the power of knowing one’s self-value and self-worth, how she practices self-care, and what she is most proud of during her time as First Lady. Oprah, as always served as the perfect midwife is helping the stories come into being and into our hearts. My takeaway… Be Better. You just must watch it for yourself. You can also get a brief summary of some of the gems of the conversation here.
Oprah ended the armchair discussion between her and the First Lady with more love for Michelle by quoting a line from a Maya Angelou book, “You make me proud to spell my name. W-O-M-A-N.” Yes. Yes! Yes!! From spending time with one of my favorite mentors, Mollie, to living out my Leslie Knope girl crush to its fullest, to meeting badass women I had never heard of until that day, there was an undeniable satisfying power of being in a room with 5000 women. 5000 trailblazers. Watch out world, here we come… we’re only just getting started.
Indeed, You make me proud to spell my name. W-O-M-A-N.
For more on the Summit, check out all the social medias using #StateOfWomen #USOW or visit the website.