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← Dangerous times call for dangerous women

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Showing Revision 7 created 01/02/2020 by Erin Gregory.

  1. Recently,
  2. I've been declaring
    to anyone who would listen
  3. that I am a dangerous woman.
  4. (Applause)

  5. Now, declaring that boldly like this

  6. still feels a bit dangerous,
  7. but it also feels right.
  8. At this time in my life,
  9. about to be 77,
  10. I have --
  11. (Applause)

  12. I love when you're applauded
    for your age --

  13. (Laughter)

  14. but I'll take it.

  15. (Applause)

  16. About to be 77, I realize
    that I have nothing left to prove,

  17. less to lose,
  18. and I'm more impatient about everything.
  19. The true, slow pace towards equality,
  20. the rise in sexism, racism,
  21. violence against women and girls ...
  22. And I'm angry, too,
  23. at the climate deniers
    who are stealing the future
  24. from our children and grandchildren.
  25. Friends, we are living in dangerous times.
  26. And such times call for all of us
    to be more dangerous.
  27. Now, what do I mean by this?

  28. I don't mean being feared.
  29. It's not that kind of dangerous.
  30. But I do mean being more fearless.
  31. I mean speaking the truth
  32. when silence is a lot safer.
  33. I mean speaking up in rooms
    for those who aren't present,
  34. especially those rooms
    where decisions are made
  35. about our lives and our bodies.
  36. We need to be in those rooms,
  37. showing up for one another,
  38. challenging the cultural construct
  39. that encourages us,
    especially women and girls,
  40. to compete, compare,
  41. criticize.
  42. We have to end this.
  43. And speaking out
  44. against the policies and the politics
  45. that divide us and diminish
    our collective power
  46. as a global community of women,
  47. and the men and the allies
  48. who stand with us.
  49. Becoming dangerous also means
    embracing whatever risks are necessary

  50. to create a world
    where women and girls are safe
  51. in their homes and at work,
  52. where all voices are represented
  53. and respected,
  54. all votes counted,
  55. the planet protected.
  56. And this is all possible.

  57. Because we're ready for this.
  58. We're better prepared
    than any generation ever before us,
  59. better resourced, better connected.
  60. In many parts of the world,
    we're living longer than ever.
  61. Women over 65 are among
    the fastest-growing populations on earth,
  62. with the potential for becoming
    the most powerful, too.
  63. Now --
  64. (Applause)

  65. What a change this represents.

  66. Postmenopausal women like me,
    not that long ago,
  67. were considered useless
  68. or crazy.
  69. We were valued for caregiving
    and grandmothering --
  70. and I really love that part.
  71. But we were pushed aside
  72. and expected to retire
    to our rocking chairs.
  73. Women on the dangerous side of 60
  74. are not retiring.
  75. We are rewiring --
  76. (Applause)

  77. taking all that we know and have done --
    and that is a lot --

  78. to redefine what age looks like,
  79. can do, can accomplish.
  80. But becoming dangerous isn't about
    becoming a certain age,
  81. because at each end of the age spectrum,
  82. brave women and girls are stepping up,
  83. taking the risk to create change.
  84. I became a risk-taker
    early in my life's journey.

  85. I had to,
  86. or have my life defined by the limitations
  87. for a girl growing up in the rural South,
  88. with no money, no connections,
  89. no influence.
  90. But what wasn't limited
  91. was my curiosity about the world
    beyond my small town,
  92. beyond the small minds
    of a still-segregated South,
  93. a world that I glimpsed in the newsreels
  94. at the one movie theater in town,
  95. and a world that got a lot closer to me
  96. when I met Miss Shirley Rountree,
    my eighth-grade English teacher.
  97. From the minute she walked
    into the classroom,

  98. her high heels clicking,
  99. she was a woman in charge,
  100. with perfect hair, signature red lips,
  101. colorfully coordinated, head to toe.
  102. I wanted to be her.
  103. Gratefully, she became my first mentor
    and helped me become me.
  104. With her support, I got
    a scholarship to college --

  105. the first in my family --
  106. and landed at a big state university,
  107. right in the middle of two
    great social justice movements:
  108. civil rights for African Americans
  109. and equal rights for women.
  110. I joined both with enthusiasm,
  111. only to discover that my newfound activism
  112. and my fermenting feminism
  113. would often be in direct conflict
    with my deeply embedded need to please
  114. and be popular.
  115. In my first job as a college teacher,
    I broke the rules,

  116. and I encouraged students
    to join me in the protest marches.
  117. And when I found out
    that my male colleague
  118. with the same experience and education
  119. was being paid more than me,
  120. I mounted a personal protest.
  121. When my raise was denied,
  122. with the excuse that
    he had a family to support,
  123. so did I as a single mom.
  124. But I dropped my protest to keep my job.
  125. Today, millions of women
    are making this compromise,

  126. staying in their jobs without equal pay
  127. for equal work.
  128. And as one of the first women
    on television in the '70s,

  129. I was warned that focusing
    on women's stories
  130. would limit my career opportunities,
  131. and maybe it did.
  132. But I got to produce and host
    breakthrough programming for women,
  133. while at the same time,
  134. remaining silent
  135. about sexual harassment
  136. and listening to consultants
    who were hired to advise me
  137. about my appearance.
  138. "Become a blonde."
  139. I did.
  140. "Lower your voice."
  141. I tried.
  142. "Lower your necklines."
  143. I didn't.
  144. (Laughter)

  145. But I did wear those ugly anchor suits

  146. with those scarves that look
    something like men's ties.
  147. And later, in the power
    positions in media,
  148. often as the first or only woman,
  149. aware of being judged
    through that gender lens,
  150. I struggled from time to time
  151. to find the right balance between
    being a leader for women
  152. and not being entirely defined
    as a woman leader.
  153. But today, I'm proud to be known
    as a woman leader.
  154. (Applause)

  155. As an activist, advocate, feminist

  156. and as a newly declared dangerous woman,
  157. I'm caring less what others say
  158. and saying more clearly
    what I think and feel.
  159. And let me be clear:
  160. I acknowledge my privilege
    in being able to do that,
  161. to speak my truth.
  162. And to stand here today
  163. with this opportunity
  164. to talk to you about women and power --
  165. note I did not say "empowered."
  166. I don't think we're waiting
    to be empowered.
  167. I think we have power.
  168. (Applause)

  169. What we need are more opportunities
    to claim it, to use it,

  170. to share it.
  171. And yes, I know --

  172. there are women with power
    who don't use it well or wisely
  173. and who don't share it.
  174. I've heard, as I'm sure you have,
  175. those stories that begin with,
  176. "The worst boss I ever had
    was a woman ... "
  177. And we could all name women leaders
    who have not made us proud.
  178. But we can change all of that

  179. with a simple but brilliant idea
  180. that I first heard from a risk-taking,
    dangerous congresswoman from New York
  181. named Bella Abzug.
  182. Bella said, "In the 21st century,
  183. women will change the nature of power
  184. rather than power changing
    the nature of women."
  185. From the moment I heard that --
  186. (Applause)

  187. I thought, "This is our call to action.

  188. This is our biggest opportunity."
  189. And as a journalist and an activist,

  190. I've seen this idea in action,
  191. documenting the stories of women
    on both sides in long-term conflicts,
  192. coming together
    and defying the official power
  193. to form alliances and find their own ways
    to ending violence in their communities.
  194. And as an activist,
    I've traveled to places
  195. where it's dangerous to be born a woman,
  196. like eastern Congo,
  197. where a war is being waged
    on the bodies of women.
  198. There, at a healing and leadership
    center called City of Joy,
  199. brave Congolese women
    are transforming pain into power
  200. by training survivors of sexual assault
  201. to return to their villages as leaders.
  202. And at recent climate summits,
  203. I've observed women climate leaders
    working behinds the scenes,
  204. out of the public spotlight,
  205. making sure that the negotiations
    toward global climate agreement
  206. continue to move forward.
  207. So as we move forward
    in our lives and work

  208. and we have more power and influence,
  209. let's change the nature of power
  210. by dismantling some of the barriers
    that remain for those who follow
  211. by advocating and agitating
  212. for fairer and truer
    and more equal representation
  213. in every room and at every table.
  214. Now, be warned:

  215. if you advocate for a woman
  216. for an open position or promotion,
  217. you could be challenged with,
  218. "You're playing the women's card"
  219. or "the race card"
  220. if advocating for a woman of color.
  221. I've had this experience,
    as I'm sure you have.
  222. "Are you running an affirmative
    action program here at PBS?"
  223. asked one of my board members
    when, as a new president,
  224. I announced my first hires
    as five qualified women.
  225. Now, my affirmative action had been
  226. to ask that the search firm
    bring me a candidate list
  227. that included the names of women
    and people of color
  228. who just happened to be, in my judgment,
  229. the best candidates
    for the position as well.
  230. I say, dangerous women
  231. and our allies:
  232. it's time to play the women's card,
  233. play the race card,
  234. play all our cards.
  235. (Applause)

  236. Not to win the power game,

  237. but to lead to better outcomes
  238. for everyone.
  239. And it's time, too,

  240. to discard that scarcity theory,
  241. the one that says,
  242. there's only room
    for one of us at the top,
  243. so protect your turf,
  244. don't make friends or allies.
  245. Changing the nature of power
  246. transforms "protect your turf"
    into "share your turf,"
  247. it encourages coalitions,
  248. it builds alliances,
  249. it strengthens and sustains friendships.
  250. My women friends
    are my source of renewable energy.
  251. (Applause)

  252. So are my mentors, my champions,

  253. my supporters, my sponsors,
  254. and all of the ways that we can
    and do show up for each other.
  255. We can become our sources
    of renewable power
  256. for each other.
  257. And along the way,

  258. we need to take better care of ourselves,
  259. and here, I am not the best role model.
  260. I don't meditate.
  261. I don't exercise regularly.
  262. But I do live aerobically.
  263. (Laughter)

  264. (Applause)

  265. Because I believe we can't be dangerous

  266. from the sidelines,
  267. and there's just too much to be done.
  268. So let's use all our power.

  269. How about the power of money?
  270. Let's allocate more
    of our philanthropic dollars,
  271. our campaign donations,
  272. our investment funds,
  273. to increase economic and political equity.
  274. And let's leverage the power
    of media and technology
  275. that we have
    in our hands, quite literally,
  276. to elevate each other's stories and ideas;
  277. to practice civility;
  278. to seek the truth,
  279. which is diminishing
  280. and is threatening
    free and open societies.
  281. Yes, we have all that we need
    to move our communities forward.

  282. And the best thing we have,
  283. and what we must remember,
  284. is to be there for each other.
  285. We will move forward together,
  286. willing now to take more risk,
  287. to be more fearless,
  288. to speak up, speak out
  289. and show up
  290. for one another.
  291. George Bernard Shaw once wrote

  292. that he believed in his opinion
    that his life belonged to the community,
  293. that the harder he worked,
    the more he lived
  294. and that he wanted to be
    thoroughly used up when he died.
  295. He went on to write,
  296. "Life is no brief candle to me
  297. but a splendid torch
  298. that I have got hold of for a moment
  299. before passing to future generations."
  300. I, too, do not view my life
    as a brief candle,
  301. although I am burning it at both ends.
  302. (Laughter)

  303. And I do want it, and me,

  304. to be thoroughly used up when I die.
  305. But at this point in my life's journey,

  306. I am not passing my torch.
  307. I am holding it higher than ever,
  308. boldly, brilliantly,
  309. inviting you to join me
    in its dangerous light.
  310. Thank you.

  311. (Applause)