We are halfway through Women’s History Month and I just finished watching Mrs. America. I purposefully binged it last week as I felt that its relevancy was particularly important while we focus on women and their contributions to the American journey. The show is set in the early 70s; and focuses on the birth of the ERA and the advocates and critics following several main characters based on actual activists Phyllis Schlafly, Gloria Steinem, Shirley Chisholm, Bella Abzug, Betty Friedan, Rosemary Thomson among others as well as several fictional characters, the most prominent being Alice Macray who played a conservative housewife and an ally of Schlafly.
Heads up – minor spoilers revealed
I learned a lot watching this show; I think back to my education and I honestly can’t remember many, if any, teachings about women’s rights, the ERA and the pioneers behind the women’s movement. Perhaps it is because I was born right in the middle of it. It was too soon, too divisive at that time. I even went to a women’s college and still do not remember any focus about the movement. Maybe it was where I was sitting – in conservative Virginia where they would rather have swept the whole thing under the rug. Or perhaps because I was not paying attention? After all, I was raised to find a good husband with a good pedigree to provide me with a good life. Seriously. I say that with absolutely no judgment – that was the time. Can you relate?
One of the things that really struck me is the correlation between those years (early 1970s) and today, especially the past decade. As I watched Phyllis, Gloria, Betty, and others, correlations to women that I am acquainted with now kept popping in my head. I can’t believe there are still so many similarities 50 years later; particularly issues and divisiveness.
As I watched Phyllis contemplate feminism, gay rights and her place in her family vs. the world, there was a sense of sadness around her realization and dismissiveness of it. Conversely, with Alice, I was cheering with her awakening and change in stance and recognition of commonalities between both sides of the movement. Two of the most memorable for me: when she abruptly left a meaningful interchange with a woman with whom she had enjoyed a lovely evening when she found out she was part of the ERA movement, and later when she was under the influence of psychotic drugs and realized her own similarities to others in the ERA movement.
I provided a brief synopsis of Adam Grant’s Think Again (if you click, I may receive a few cents through an affiliate link) a couple of weeks ago and one of the gold, sparkly nuggets I took away related to Alice’s actualization and what we can learn from it. Alice so poignantly asked her peers at the end why they were “opposing all of the feminists’ resolutions – we’re not anti-employment, education or minority women. Shouldn’t we try to find consensus about something? We have to show we are not hard hearted; stubborn for the sake of it. Who exactly is attacking us?” The irony that the woman who they discounted throughout the show actually was the one who became the most enlightened and self actualized. And, also the one who was punished by her own for it.
The Bottom Line
We have come so far as women and as a society. However, it feels like that as far as we have come, we could go so much further. If we combined some of Adam Grant’s thinking of setting aside being a politician, a preacher and a prosecutor and moved to more data driven thinking combined with seeking out the commonalities among us, what magic could occur? Of course, it is not that easy. We all have belief systems and past experiences which shape us and our way of thought. However, it is possible to approach each situation with a learning mentality as well as to always seek commonality first rather than going on offense and trying to be right.
Both that book and Mrs. America have left a strong impression on me and I believe a changed way of thinking that I am excited to engrain in my interactions.
- Focus on commonalities first
- Take pride in being wrong; it means you learned something
- Listen, really listen, authentically question and listen some more
- Build relationships respectfully with those who do not share your views
- Don’t lose the forest for the trees
Such simple things that are so hard. But aren’t a lot of things worth doing?