Being dismissed never stops being shocking.
Despite experience, expertise and passion in a few different areas, there are still plenty of times that colleagues and acquaintances see me – someone who loves to smile and wear fun clothes and is a woman – as just another “chick singer”. You’d think I’d be used to it by now but as I get older and more confident the experience of being looked past, spoken over, humiliated or ignored provides an ever-sharper contrast to the truth of the skill that years and effort have brought me.
Sometimes the role of artist in a nice dress has some power in it. You can gain attention, you can use creativity to get a point across, by gaining admirers you can gain influence. This is how women are encouraged to be powerful – seduce them first, convince them later. Real power, where you can tell people what to do and be in charge? Well that’s just unseemly.
Significant women have found true power and influence through art. I think of Maya Angelou, who was given a platform at the 1993 Inauguration and is a curriculum staple and a household name. But arts can be so easily dismissed. Cut our funding, discourage students from pursuing the arts. It’s just silly stuff for silly people.
I don’t know what instrument Kamala Harris played in her middle school band, though it appears she’s a pretty good dancer. She didn’t go down any of the paths where women and people of color are “allowed” to rise to the top like music, sports or entertainment. She went straight for where the power is: law and policy. When she stood on that stage and took her oath of office, not playing dress up to look like “one of the guys” but in a beautiful and meaningful color, she made ambition and intensity look like a perfect fit.
Also striking were the artistic contributions of that inauguration by women who know the power of drama. Lady Gaga helped us all realize what we almost lost during the January 6 insurrection with a gesture and a fermata on “our flag was still there”. Jennifer Lopez illustrated the authentic diversity of our nation as she spoke patriotism in Spanish. Amanda Gorman used her words while wearing her favorite color, giving voice to what is in our hearts. They were not just the method, they chose the message, and used their immense skill to get us all to listen. They were important. They were powerful.
Expanding the models of women’s power elevates the choices we make about how to wield our own influence by making them actual choices. I hope this becomes the norm – gatherings including women whose power and contributions are valued and who feel free to be who they are, be it teacher, librarian, lawyer, advocate, artist, politician or none of the above. That they can be respected and powerful and listened to in flats or heels, in natural hair or extensions, in puffy coats or custom wool, in pants or in skirts, in any color they choose.
Image: Vice President Kamala Harris attends the 59th Presidential Inauguration ceremony in Washington, Jan. 20, 2021. President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris took the oath of office on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol. (DOD Photo by Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Carlos M. Vazquez II) Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from Washington D.C, United States, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons. The appearance of U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) visual information does not imply or constitute DoD endorsement.