First Lady

Leaning In or Shooting Ourselves in the Foot? How the Kamala Harris Fiasco Can Hurt Women's Progress...if we let it.

So, this is how the demise of a movement happens - in 8 easy steps:
  1. It starts with an excellent beginning - with great content and wonderful thinking.
  2. Progress is made - quickly - and a movement begins.
  3. There's traction. It's early but it's clear that the movement has legs.
  4. Then, whether looking for a cause celebre or just a means of putting themselves forward, the 'other' voices start undermining that progress.
  5. Distraction ensues and the message of the movement is lost in one single incident.
  6. The movement becomes disconnected as a result of the distraction.
  7. Traction and speed are lost.
  8. Those who are already committed, invested and see benefit for themselves continue. Those who are on the fence or just beginning think twice, then think again. The beginnings of a plateau - if not a downturn - are now built.
Think the early feminist movement and bra-burning.

Now think Lean In and Kamala Harris.

If you're not familiar with the latter, in short what happened is that President Obama, after making highly complimentary comments about the capabilities and performance of the Attorney General of California, Kamala Harris, then, jokingly, commented that she's the best looking of all the Attorneys General.

That's when things went wrong - because the idiots fell for it. They took the bait. They began, systematically, shooting down what is such a positive early stage of the next iteration of the women's movement.

After all, they posit, it's demeaning to a woman when  her beauty is appreciated. It requires an apology...which the President, I believe, wrongly, gave. Because no apology was necessary.

For those women who insisted that the President shouldn't have specifically called out Ms. Harris' physical attributes, one question: Why?

Why is it that when Representative Paul Ryan puts his abs on display, he (and they) get positive play - if for his abs if not his ego - but when Ms. Harris' beauty is commented upon by an appreciative man, it requires an apology?

And why, as long as we're at it, is it okay for the First Lady to have been as excited as a teenager about having Harrison Ford in the White House - but it's not okay for that woman's husband to admire a woman without it being somehow demeaning to the woman?

Harrison Ford didn't take Mrs. Obama's compliments as demeaning. Why would he?

And why should Kamala Harris? She didn't and shouldn't. Neither should we.

This is where the women's movement went wrong so many years ago - and we're doing the exact same thing again.

The women who burned their bras at a protest weren't what defined the women's movement. What defined it was the legislative activity that led to women taking their places in greater numbers in higher levels of organizations and the government than ever before.

Now, we've got the legislation in place - at least for the moment - and we're focusing on Kamala Harris' good looks?

Lucky her. She's got looks and style and smarts - but she leads with the smarts. Because, having been a citizen of the State of California all my life, I can tell you, she is smart and she's definitely better looking than most of the men who preceded her. And I like men.

Sheryl Sandberg has started a revolution with her book and Foundation, Lean In. Women are thinking differently about themselves, their ability, their dreams for themselves and the prospects of achieving those dreams.

We've got traction. Now we're getting distracted again.

So, let's go back for another moment to how the distractions of the 70s set the stage for the stagnation we subsequently experienced.

Doing a blitz of the TV series, "Madmen" Season 5 to prepare for Season 6 (I do love that show) also reminded me how much intangible but recognizable respect women gave up with our fight for equality.

I remember when men opened doors for women instead of letting doors close in their faces and, if they notice, apologizing afterward.

I remember when men stood up when a woman came into a room or stood and pulled out her chair at the table...just like the character Don Draper did even for his tween-aged daughter at a banquet they were attending.

These were easy, thoughtful manners that showed respect for women. It didn't degrade them.

But we gave that up when, along with burning bras, we decided that having a man open a door for us was a sign of disrespect.

It wasn't. Just as the President's compliment to Attorney General Harris (who also happens to be a long-time friend of the President and First Lady) wasn't an insult.

Women, get over it and keep your focus clear. If you want to move ahead in your own life, don't fall for the crap that's coming. Because it is - and the more the Lean In movement gains traction, the more crap you're going to see.

We fell for it and, over time, that allowed those who wanted stasis to win.

Don't let them win again.
More on Leaning In:
   Lean In Applied: The Secret for Your Success (llk)