The Unquantifiable Loss Of Women’s Opportunity
How many talented women had jobs, promotions, and positions of power taken from them by misogynistic men?
There was a time before our days began and ended with scrolling through Twitter feeds, that I wouldn’t have described myself as an angry person. Passionate, perhaps. Stubborn, absolutely. But angry? I thought I was too logical for that.
And now here we are, in a moment of reckoning so steeped in boiling rage that I’m sure women everywhere are realizing the same thing I have.
We have always been angry.
To be a woman, to be the second sex, to be considered for one’s physical form before any other trait, is to be angry. How could we not, when since puberty we have been forced to weld armor out of dresses and when each step forward on a career path is a fight.
As the #MeToo movement continues to barrel forward in an unmasking I never truly believed I’d see, I can’t help but feel another anger growing. A retroactive disillusionment growing heavier by the day. With each story that breaks revealing the sexual misconduct of another powerful man, there is a part of me that finds herself looking to the past, wondering about the moment he first got his job.
Who else was up for the position? How many women didn’t make it to the interview process? How many didn’t apply because they knew that particular career path was a boy’s club, and their chances of even being considered were next to none?
What would our world have looked like if these jobs that went to misogynistic men went to women instead?
See, we know the ending of the #MeToo stories. In every post-Weinstein article, there is a common thread. More often than not, as some result of abuse or harassment, victims end up without career doors slammed in their faces. Consider the Vox allegations against Glenn Thrush, where Laura McGann, faced with rampant workplace misogyny and inequity spurned by a man’s gossip, began to question whether she was tough enough for the industry. If I were a betting woman, I’d wager that there are a striking number of women who have had this same experience.
Let's consider all the mediocre men who have jobs because women left industries where no one took their charges of harassment seriously.
We need an accounting of the economic toll of sexual harassment and workplace abuse on women. Having to turn down new opportunites instead of working with a harasser. Losses in productivity. Getting fired for reporting toxic behavior. Choosing to quit altogether.
But what about the beginning? How would narratives have changed if the systemic discrimination that led to this culture of harassment had faced a reckoning at work years ago? What could we have had? What did we lose out on?
In my experience, the only way to move past in anger and turn it into fuel is to give one’s self enough time to properly mourn what was taken from them.
In the late 1980s, Suzanne Farrell, a famous principal dancer with the New York City Ballet, was seen by many as the logical successor to take over George Balanchine’s leadership of the company after his death. She was known for being one of Balanchine’s muses and was (and is) seen as one of the foremost scholars on Balanchine’s choreography. Despite this, Peter Martins and Jerome Robbins were appointed co-directors, with Martins taking over full leadership a few years later.
It was considered by many at the time, an absolute slight. To add insult to injury, in the late summer of 1993, the company severed all ties with Farrell — over a phone call.
Fast forward to 2017, and Peter Martins has resigned from his post at the company while under investigation for multiple instances of alleged physical and verbal abuse and sexual misconduct. Few dancers were shocked.
A man with abusive tendencies (he was also charged with assault against his wife in the 90s) was able to shape the world of ballet for decades. What would have happened if the job had been given to Farrell? How many people would have been protected? Would dancers like Wilhelmina Frankfurt — who left the company in 1985 after Martin’s abuse — have had longer careers were it not for the power that abusive, misogynistic men wielded?
We are just beginning to untangle the unprecedented level of damage that Harvey Weinstein waged on female actresses. Beyond the repugnant cases of sexual assault, he had long been rumored to damage the careers of those who refused his advances.
Recently, Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson, exposed that these rumors were based in utter truth. Miramax — a company controlled by Weinstein — had “fed him false information about accusers Mira Sorvino and Ashley Judd,” after he expressed interest in casting the two.
As a result, both names were crossed off the casting list, removing the two talented women from consideration for roles in an epic project of generational proportions.
What we could have had, indeed.
Just seeing this after I awoke, I burst out crying. There it is, confirmation that Harvey Weinstein derailed my career, something I suspected but was unsure. Thank you Peter Jackson for being honest. I'm just heartsick https://t.co/ljK9NqICbm
Outside of the insular art world, the ramifications are even more severe. Consider how sexist undertones (and more often, demonstrative headlines) shaped the conversation around the 2016 election.
If there had been more women in media, a boy’s club if there ever was one, perhaps less attention would have been paid to Hillary Clinton’s “fitness,” which is a tactic historically used to dismiss and minimize successful, ambitious women. Perhaps, we would have seen more airtime devoted to the policies she presented, and her opponents lack thereof.
And of course, we can’t go much further without mentioning the question most of us now ask every day.
What would have happened if the Presidency had gone to her?
We wouldn’t be worrying about a nuclear war starting because of a twitter beef, that’s for sure. The 800,000 undocumented immigrants protected by DACA wouldn’t be wondering for their future. CHIP wouldn’t have lost funding. We wouldn’t be facing an onslaught of attacks on healthcare and reproductive rights. The cacophony of racist dog whistles might not be so loud. Our standing as an international leader wouldn’t be tarnished every time the President took to Twitter (frankly, there probably wouldn’t be much taking to Twitter at all).
And we wouldn’t have a man accused of multiple accounts of sexual misconduct standing in the Oval Office.
While Clinton’s record is less than perfect on these matters — proving again that women can be complicit in the insidious pervasiveness of sexual misconduct — we would inarguably be in a more stable place as a country if she were President.
(Ah, there’s that rage again).
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This issue is inherently problematic yet much more difficult to quantify than some of the other concepts brought up by #MeToo. For it all goes back to the deeper discussion at hand, both in regards to this movement and our country as a whole. The scales in the United States are tilted heavily towards white men, and this power imbalance can have disastrous consequences. I specify white men for a reason. Replace the questions posed in this article with those discussing institutionalized racism. How many people of color have been passed over for jobs, only for the position to go to a person who perpetuates systemic racial discrimination and oppression?
When one demographic wants to gain and maintain power, the professional autonomy of those they seek to hold down is a primary target. For without professional autonomy, financial freedom and economic empowerment is extremely hard to acquire. And in our society, without economic empowerment, it is near impossible to reach the level of freedom we all deserve.
This power imbalance impacts careers, which in turn impacts the shape of our society’s narrative. We are seeing the damage done when discriminatory, oppressive men hold positions of power. In moments of weakness, in times of instability, I can’t help wonder how it would have been different if a coalition of diverse women had been given the jobs these men acquired.
I have always found comfort in history, in the steps taken by those who came before, when faced with much greater injustice than I face today. Looking backward can offer us a cheat sheet on how to continue to bend the arc of the moral universe towards justice. It seems only right to explore how much further along we could have been had jobs gone to women more qualified, more deserving, and less abusive.
If for no other reason than to remind us how much more work we have still to do.