“But I also did not know that there was a world in which anybody would care about my experience with him. You see, I was entering into a community that Harvey Weinstein had been in, and even shaped, long before I got there. He was one of the first people I met in the industry, and he told me, ‘This is the way it is.’ And wherever I looked, everyone seemed to be bracing themselves and dealing with him, unchallenged. I did not know that things could change. I did not know that anybody wanted things to change.” — Lupita Nyong’o
In recent weeks each time I have logged onto a computer or scrolled through my newsfeed on any device, I have been unfortunately (maybe even a little embarrassingly), consumed by the revelations of gross sexual misconduct, bullying, and harassment in Hollywood. But it’s not just celebrity news.
As I’ve scrolled through my timeline, my eyes have immediately darted to the countless #metoo. These stories, shared by far too many brilliant women that I personally know, have overwhelmingly been admissions to the silent shame and confusion they’ve experienced due to the inexcusable conduct of men and boys in their lives.
Every so often news breaks about allegations against a rich, powerful man and his mistreatment of famous women, and society turns its collective gaze toward the issue. Then it gets quiet. Men go back to being men, and women go back to dealing with their uneven power dynamics in work (and according to the #metoo stories, every place men or boys are present with women).
Lupita Nyong’o’s essay in the NYT was particularly thought-provoking for me. Mostly, I could empathize with her sense that recusing oneself from a toxic situation sometimes feels like the only option, because speaking up and out almost never seems even remotely viable to a newcomer. When everyone else seems committed to staying silent, saying something is sabotage at least and suicide as best. And yet, somehow, in this bizarre collective moment, speaking up has felt to so many women the only right thing to do.
Being female in spaces designed by men for men who had neither the desire nor the will to share said spaces with women is extremely difficult. The workplace as it has traditionally been conceived is such space. Yet despite the lack of physical, emotional, and mental safety, and against vastly unequal odds, women have made progress in every industry.
It’s possible that the lesson in this moment is that there are limitations to navigating spaces that were never designed for us in the first place, and that the next frontier for the progress of women is through what some are now calling “necessity entrepreneurship.” I’m not in love with the term itself, but the concept speaks to something that too often goes unnamed. As more and more women come forward with the stories of abuses they have sustained just trying to make a living, maybe what we’re awakening to is the necessity of entrepreneurship that builds the future workplace in ways that are radically different, this time designing for and by women (and with men who know how to share).
When any community is backed against the wall, shut out from traditional paths, it is forced to come together to create new opportunities. This ingenuity is what has fueled industry and innovation throughout the modern era, and there’s no reason to suspect that it won’t take on new shape in this current time. Women, particularly women of color, are fighting for access to investment capital and are starting business at higher rates. Undoubtedly this is a result of a combination of factors, but what’s undeniable is that a generation of women whose talent, connectedness, and level of educational attainment has never been higher, will not settle for the grossly abusive and exclusionary practices of the traditional workplace indefinitely.
Make no mistake: Women won’t end #metoo because we’re not the cause of it. Men and boys will have to change their behavior toward women and girls for the abuses to stop. But there is power in recognizing the legacy that women across a whole range of professions have created. Even in the decades before there was widespread acknowledgement of or any protection against harassment in the workplace, there were brave women willing to suffer indignities, putting their bodies on the line to advance what was possible for themselves and others. These women forged a path that have afforded the generations to follow the incredible good fortune and privilege to be able to choose with whom and for whom we will work.
Kudos to all of the women who are using that hard-earned freedom to create yet a new path — too often out of necessity — toward greater fulfillment and success on their own terms.
The future is female; and I’m here for it.
Danielle Kristine Toussaint, founder + CEO of She Thinks Purple, is a storyteller, strategist and social impact leader. She has been the writing pen behind op-eds and speeches for Huffington Post, Forbes.com, and TEDx. Danielle holds a B.A. in Political Science and African American Studies from Yale University and a M.S.Ed from the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education. She’s a founding member of Tide Risers and excited to expand the network to Washington, D.C. in 2019.