Sexual harassment seems to be deeply rooted within our culture, but women can change that

The Hill
By Christine Todd Whitman
December 12, 2017

Sadly, sexual harassment seems to be deeply rooted within our culture. While many industries have taken their turn to investigate and terminate their bad actors, the problem is particularly acute in media and politics. At its root, sexual harassment reflects a mindset of inequality — one that has colored the political world on both sides of the aisle.

In many cases — although certainly not all — men who hold positions of power view themselves as above the people they serve. This is most blatantly evidenced by Congress exempting themselves from many of the laws that they pass.

I do hope, however, that we are slowly turning a new leaf. While men like Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.) are stepping down, women are stepping up at an unprecedented rate. It’s ironic that with all President Trump has done to denigrate women, his election may end up doing something good for women, albeit inadvertently.

EMILY’s List President Stephanie Schriock told The New York Times that more than 22,000 women have reached out about running since Trump’s election, compared to 1,000 women in the 10 months prior to the election.

According to Rutgers University’s Center for American Women and Politics, as of Dec. 7, there were 369 women running or planning to run for Congress in 2018, which would be the most women House candidates ever. That’s in addition to 41 potential Senate candidates thus far.

In November’s election in Virginia, women made significant gains in the Virginia legislature — 10 white men were replaced by 10 women, several of whom made history because they represent other minority groups. Time magazine’s 2017 “Person of the Year” issue honored the “silence breakers,” the women who spoke out, stepped up, and launched the cultural movement in the midst of which we find ourselves today.

It is this sense of invulnerability that leads to case after case of sexual harassment, inequality in pay, and the exclusion of women from positions of key decision making. This exclusion of women is not only detrimental to those individual women, it is also counterproductive to our society as a whole. When we exclude 50 percent because of gender, our country loses key capabilities and effectively experiences brain drain. These men believe they are invincible because of their power and thus assume they can can take advantage without suffering any negative consequences.

Although women are starting to take the reins, it is imperative that we learn to place more value on women’s strengths in order to build and sustain this more equal playing field. Jean Oelwang, CEO of Virgin United, shared with Business Insider, “I believe that women haven’t been assuming more leadership positions in the world today because the systems we’ve created often do not place the right value on the strengths that women can bring to the table.” Women take on different issues and they prioritize differently, and that’s a good thing for our communities and our nation as a whole.

I have observed that men tend to prioritize party, while women tend to reach across the aisle and get things done. If you look at bipartisan legislation in Congress, women are co-sponsors on every single one. Margaret Thatcher famously said, “If you want something said, ask a man; if you want something done, ask a woman.” We need to honor the values of equality, fairness and compromise that women are more likely to bring to the table.

We are entering a new era, one in which women can take control in positions of power. The female names we read on our ballots today will become the Margaret Thatchers, Madeleine Albrights, and Sandra Day O’Connors of tomorrow.

Men who apparently think the rules don’t apply to them — Conyers, Matt Lauer, Harvey Weinstein and even the president, to name just a few — will hopefully be replaced by women who are working to champion equality, reach across the aisle, and get things done.

Former Gov. Christine Todd Whitman (R) was the first female governor of New Jersey and served as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency under President George W. Bush.

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