By Amy Morse
If Susan B. Anthony were alive today, she would most likely bike to work – perhaps occasionally next to Nelle Pierson while strategizing about WABA and expanding urban bike routes. She might serve in Congress, convene local activists on affordable childcare, D.C. statehood, equal pay, Equal Rights Amendment ratification, or ending domestic violence – and maybe even designing fashion (she would looove Betabrand). Anthony would be amazed at the concentration of smart, independent, single, professional women – especially as potential allies to enlist in advancing social justice and equality.
“Collision density” theory suggests that proximity of unique concentrations leads to reactions – in physics atomic interactions, and in urbanization the greater likelihood of innovation, collaboration, creativity, and connection. When Ann Friedman and Aminatou Sow met at a 2008 D.C. Gossip Girl viewing party, they initiated a friendship that resulted in new creations – at first the website Instaboner! and years later the popculture and politics podcast Call Your Girlfriend. Ann coined the term “Shine Theory,” asserting that we shine brighter by befriending the badass women we meet – who might initially intimidate us. These strong women should be our friends and allies. BTW, Ann Friedman runs the best newsletter evvvvverrrrr (+ Julia Carpenter’s A Woman to Know).
In this series, I profile badass local women and the ladies from history who inspire them. I hope to celebrate and elevate women in our midst who take action in their communities, care about the people around them and generally do cool shit – like start new organizations, measure glaciers, make documentaries, fight gender discrimination, and design transportation systems.
Although Anthony died before the 19th Amendment finally passed, her lifelong work and friendship with Elizabeth Cady Stanton was essential to her success – and comfort when her activism was especially difficult and lonely. Sadly, nearly 100 years later, the recent election reminded us that fear of women’s equality can still be leveraged as a tool for political manipulation. In these uncertain times, working together to advance equal rights and improving women’s share of voice in positions of influence is more important than ever.
Jay Newton Small’s recent book Broad Influence reminds us that a “critical mass” of women’s voice in leadership positions can make a difference. Despite our recent gains in educational attainment and the workforce, we still lack positions of influence in nearly every political and professional field.
Facts list per the American Bar Association, CAWP at Rutgers, Pew, Catalyst, National Museum of Women in the Arts, Women on Boards 2020:
• Women make up only 20% of members of Congress (only 38 of the 104 women serving in the 115th Congress are women of color)
• 24.8% of state legislators
• 37.5% of tenured college professors and 26% of college presidents
• Under 25% of partners in law firms
• 18.8% of Fortune 1000 board members
• 8% of governors and 18.9% of mayors
• 5.8% of CEOs in S&P 500 companies
• 3-5% of art displayed in permanent collections in museums
I hope this series brings you inspiration for common cause and encouragement to use your voice and speak up – the world needs you. Please tweet at me with suggestions of women living (or from history) who you find inspiring.