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Don't mistake success for activism

By Anita Alem and Lizzy Kalomeris     5/2/17 3:57pm

We were very disappointed to read the WomenLEAD winning essay featured in the April 19 edition of the Thresher. The author opens with her remorse about being unable to attend the Women’s March, but realizes that by not marching and preparing herself for a leadership position, she is marching in her own way.

The author encourages readers to work hard, abandon the “victim” mentality and choose personal success over one-day events. The last time we checked, personal success and political activism were not mutually exclusive. Although the author was forced to choose her personal goals over activism in this one instance, many leaders in the business sphere use their positions of power to advance broader social issues. You can march today and be a strong female leader at work tomorrow.

One’s personal success, while impressive, is neither a prerequisite for nor a symbol of leadership for women. What truly creates a leader is actually using one’s C-suite job to empower other women. Famous female heads of state have proven that while women can be effective at their positions and serve as female representation for young girls, they can still enact policies that hurt women who, for example, might be low-income, minorities and/or trans. Self-proclaimed feminist CEOs of the companies Nasty Gal and Thinx are evidently more capitalist than activist, as their companies face allegations of unfair wages and firing those who sought family leave.

Assuming women who have not achieved the same level of success must suffer from a victim mentality or lack ambition is counterproductive to overarching goals of gender parity, and frankly offensive. A woman affected by systematic oppression due to gender, race, class or any other minority status cannot simply replace the “negative hold of a victim mindset” like flicking a switch. If ending oppression were as easy as reframing a mindset or declaring oneself free from the results of gender bias, wouldn’t we see more women in the Jones School of Business already? Does the author really think the other 22 women who would be in her class if there was gender parity just haven’t worked hard enough?

It is easy for those in positions of power to tell unsuccessful women that the reasons for their failure lie within themselves and their laziness. It is difficult to admit one has benefited from an oppressive system. But to achieve true gender parity, those in the C-suite room must ask themselves, who is unable to be in this room and what structures are preventing them from being here? How can I use my position of power to understand and break down these structures, some of which I have benefited from?

Going to class that Saturday was not leadership. We don’t even think going to the march that day was leadership. To us, leadership was demonstrated by the group of professors and administrators who not only went to the march but also chartered two buses to take 100 students with them. Whichever executive leadership position you have achieved, just remember you don’t get to pat yourself on the back until you use that position to question a system in which only eight female students are enrolled in a class of 60 at the Jones School of Business.

Tonight, when we tuck ourselves into bed, we will tirelessly fight for eight hours a night for ALL women. But then again, maybe we could march in a real way that represents intersectional feminism and may just be a little bit inconvenient to our everyday lives.

Anita Alem is a Martel College senior and former Thresher managing editor. Lizzy Kalomeris is a Martel College junior.

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