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By Amy Morse

When Virginia Woolf was denied a formal education and uncensored access to publishing, she defiantly launched her own printing press in her living room. Woolf refused to politely silence herself in a society that didn’t believe in women’s intellectual contributions. Today, despite unprecedented gains in education and legal empowerment, major disparities persist. As D.C. residents, we live in a majority female city with a significant concentration of well-educated, financially independent, public-service minded women who have essentially closed the pay gap (a major victory – check out IWPR’s map on the status of women in the states). However, despite this concentration and unprecedented gains in education, we are less likely to use our voices in the media, or stand in positions of leadership in government or the private sector.

Quick facts from Pew, Catalyst and the National Museum of Women in the Arts:

  • Women make up only 20% of members of Congress
  • 30% of college professors and 26% of college presidents
  • 20% of partners in law firms
  • 18% of Fortune 1000 board members
  • 12 % of governors and 17% of the mayors of the 100 largest American cities
  • 5% of Fortune 500 CEOS
  • 5% of art displayed in museums

What are the costs of the prolonged silence of women in leadership? It is difficult to say. When she became a mother and wanted to explain gender to her daughter, Jennifer Siebel Newsom directed the breakthrough Miss Representation. The documentary argues that the absence of women’s voices in writing, editing and directing contributes to the over-sexualized roles of women on television and charts the correlation associated with negative body image of girls, as well as the virtual “disappearance” of women on screen as they age. Unlike the legal restrictions that enforce discrimination, the absence of women and other minority voices in leadership, is more insidious.

Women’s History Month is an opportunity to revisit the inspiring women who have shaped society. How can our generation continue to push the boundaries of progress and leverage our unprecedented privilege to take action? The women profiled in this series inspire me, and often work behind-the-scenes in their respective fields of art, environment, faith, social and economic justice, pay equity, racial and economic inclusion, political equity, science and technology, and academic writing and research – to improve our communities. Have recommendations for women like this? Tweet at me.

My goal is to elevate the badass change maker women in our communities who are using their voices #IRL locally and globally, and the women from history who inspire them. I am deeply inspired by Danny Harris’s People’s District and new start-ups like Hosan Lee’s Table Tribes, that enable diverse pop-up conversations about meaningful subject matter #IRL. These initiatives help us to see each other as neighbors, allies, and potential collaborators to improve our communities.

Poet Mary Oliver posed the profoundly beautiful question, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” Nobel Laureate Wangari Maathai answered this question with her unrelenting work to cultivate her community of Kenyan women who planted trees to restore and protect their natural ecosystem (The Green Belt Movement). Wangari leveraged her privilege of education to lead a movement, endure physical brutality for her position, and inspire future generations of women. Her philosophy of activism inspires me everyday.

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