You can't be what you can't see

I listened to a podcast today. In the context of Trump being elected as president, it describes how women aren't included, why women don't show up and why we are surrounded by male-dominated conferences and panels. It articulates why it's vital that we see people who look like us in positions of power. You can't be what you can't see. Most importantly, it highlights a reality I unwaveringly believe in - that it is everyone's responsibility to speak out even when it scares us.

The messages drew exceptional parallels to why I created #upfront and what it stands for. They articulate the reasons why I'm dedicated to making it easy for men and women to physically and visibly include women of colour, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and people who are disabled on stage! 

These words are by Deborah Francis White and they brought tears to my eyes.

"I’m devastated by the result of the US election and what it will mean for women and people of colour and people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender and people who are disabled. I am frightened not just what it will mean for America but what it will mean for the mood of the world and the direction and speed our globe is hurtling towards selfishness, greed, fear and self-destruction. Last night I could not stop crying because I felt there was no point in trying anymore.

But today I realised that one of the factors of Hilary Clinton’s defeat is that women are simply not included enough in any level of society. People could imagine a white man in a grey suit in the oval office because that is what a person of power and influence looks like. All of us, are not used to seeing women in influential roles. Women are still an aberration on an average television show or even conference panels. We are told nightly, that one women on a comedy or political panel sufficiently includes our gender. We do not see our reflection very often. We do not imagine ourselves being seen or heard. 

We see that a woman in the public eye is an exception and therefore we quietly infer that only exceptional woman should be given a voice. We fear we are unexceptional so we exclude ourselves before we can be excluded.

Donald Trump is rich, white and male and as such was born included. He has only ever known inclusion in every room he has ever been in.

He is the judge at the beauty panel. He is the one who says who is fired. He decides who is included and who is excluded. He has become so entitled to inclusion he has manspread his way into the Whitehouse, without preparation or humility. 

Women, we need to get better at including ourselves. We need to get comfortable with being seen and being heard. So comfortable we start to enjoy it.

Women, if you are in a meeting for one hour with 6 people. You need to speak for 10 minutes over that period. I do not care what you are saying. Practice being heard. If you are interrupted keep talking. Or interrupt the interrupter. Women speaking when men are present needs to be normal. They need to think it’s normal and so do we. 

Women if you are asked to do a presentation, appear on a panel or speak at a conference say YES! If you are not asked and you even suspect you have the expertise include yourself. Tell them why you need to appear. Do this even if it scares you. Be visible.

Assume inclusion. Expect inclusion. Like money, inclusion is rarely given until it is applied for. If you’ve been routinely excluded this may cause you some anxiety. Do it anyway. Do it for women who can’t. Do it until it is normal for them and normal for you. Until we include ourselves we can’t include others. You can’t get somebody to a party you are not invited to. 

Women we need to include to others. white, straight, CIS gendered women - this is our responsibility. We drive white, CIS gendered bodies. We are included more frequently than other sorts of women. We can deny it and focus on our own exclusion but then we are on Team Trump. 

White people are especially included. We don’t notice our extra right to inclusion because it’s all we’ve known. Many white women in America voted for their white tribe over their female tribe this election. They choose exclusion for others even over inclusion for themselves. They’ve chosen to exclude people of colour even if it meant voting for a president who saw them as a number on a scale of one to supermodel. Even though he saw them as a pussy to be grabbed and a pair of lips to be kissed against their will. 

They made the choice to dehumanise others out of fear, snobbery and misplaced self-interest. Rather than fully include themselves in a society led by a president who would respect their right to autonomy over their own reproductive system. White women who find that a disgrace - it is not enough for us to tut. We must include women of colour. We must find room wherever we have influence to find platforms for their fears and voices - even when sometimes those fears and complaints include us. We must make women of colour being on the agenda normal. It is not enough to embrace Michelle Obama - she’s an exceptional woman with an exceptional platform. We must provide voice and visibility for the women around us to find their exceptional voices until that act itself becomes ordinary. We must over include and repeatedly include women of colour, queer women and disabled women until they feel included. Until they self-include. Telling those women there is a seat at your table is not always enough. We need to make them feel like they belong and prove that we mean it 

Men you have a big opportunity to exclude us now. The world just got more toxic and masculine. I would ask you if that feels like the right thing to do or just easy, safe and normal to create your panels, boards and line-ups without us. You can play along with Trumps agenda and leave us outside the rooms where decisions are made or you can put one huge middle finger up to Donald Trump and include us in whatever you are doing and we promise to show up and be seen and be heard until it feels normal."

I hope I'm lucky enough to thank Deborah in person - she is an inspiration but for now I'll just leave it here - thank you Deborah!