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Our Declaration of Independence from a Man's World
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patriarchy. Building on the lessons shared in Dear Madam President, Palmieri argues that women have gone as far as they can in a world made for men, and it is time to break from it.
She Proclaims declares what most women know in their souls but have yet to say out loud-that they deserve something better than a life where men hold a vast majority of power and women continue to be undervalued. It is a manifesto for the second century of feminism that no longer chases a man’s elusive path but proclaims the value, ambition, and emotion women have had all along to change their world by changing how they engage in it.
This book celebrates the accomplishments and history of the women’s movement, and through personal reflections and stories of other inspirational female leaders, Jennifer shares concrete advice and insights she’s learned from her journey out of a man’s world that will inspire you to boldly chart your own course in life.
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You wanna fly, you got to give up the shit that weighs you down
Song of Solomon
* * *
Whereas, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for people to dissolve a set of beliefs, biases, and behaviors that fail to recognize the inherent value of one half of the population and perpetuate impediments to achieving all that their God-given rights and talents entitle them to;
We proclaim, as women who continue to live in a world in which we are undervalued and underrepresented in positions of power relative to men, our declaration of independence from a man's world.
In July 1848, four women sat at Mary Ann M'Clintock's kitchen table in upstate New York to draft the Declaration of Sentiments and accompanying resolutions that were to be presented at the Women's Rights Convention at Seneca Falls later that month. Seated alongside M'Clintock was women's rights leader and Seneca Falls organizer Elizabeth Cady Stanton, along with Mary Ann's grown daughters, Elizabeth and Mary Ann.
These women gathered at a time when they had virtually no power in the eyes of the law. Giving women the right to vote was considered so radical an idea that even some of the movement's most ardent supporters argued against including a demand for suffrage in the Seneca Falls resolutions. The women who drafted the Seneca Falls document believed their situation to be dire, and the language of the Declaration of Sentiments reflects both their desperation and their certainty in the cause—arguing that women in America had been "aggrieved, oppressed, and fraudulently deprived of their most sacred rights" as citizens. There was no precedent for their actions; all they had was faith in their own abilities and in the inherent righteousness of their crusade. Stanton brought some draft versions of the document with her to the M'Clintock home for the women to work from, but they were not satisfied with what they had produced until one of them had the idea to model the Declaration of Sentiments on the Declaration of Independence itself.1
Seventy-two summers earlier, Thomas Jefferson had committed to paper the radical concept that it was "self-evident, that all men are created equal," so Stanton and the M'Clintock women amended Jefferson's sentence to include two universalizing words: "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men and women are created equal." Using the founding fathers' own words and formula to validate women's equality positioned it as a natural progression of the principles upon which America was founded. I admire their ingenuity. Despite their efforts and commitment to their cause, however, another seventy-two years would pass before women finally secured the right to vote, on August 18, 1920. But it was through the perseverance of those women and their successors that the right was eventually secured, and in their honor I chose their declaration as a model for my own.
For the time has come for the women of America to make a new declaration. One hundred years after women won suffrage, we still live in a world where men hold the vast majority of power and women are consistently undervalued relative to them. Despite all women have done to fit in, and all that well-intentioned men have done to help us along the way, we have only been able to rise so far in this man's world. It is no longer serving us well. We should not continue to prop it up by following its rules. It is time to declare our independence and proclaim the start of an exciting new era for women—an era in which we break from a world that does not value us enough and create a place where we are able to reach our full potential. I see millions of women in America waking up to the same realization—this man's world was never our destination. It was never ours. We have always been visitors here, and now we are moving on to create our own space.
I want to be clear that this is not a declaration against men. I do not believe that men are my enemy, nor do I feel my life has been one long exercise in subordination to them. Like many women, I learned a lot observing how men work, had male mentors, and gained some invaluable skills as I attempted to model myself after them. Those skills I acquired served me well and will continue to help all of us going forward. But I believe we have gone as far as we can following a man's model. After decades of making so many strides, we reached a plateau. A man's path turned into our rut. Our dependence on the old male models and our belief that following their path would eventually work out for us has ended up sustaining the very power systems that keep women from succeeding.
In the fall of 2017, I began work on a book called Dear Madam President: An Open Letter to the Women Who Will Run the World. Less than a year after my former boss Hillary Clinton lost her historic bid to become the first woman president, writing a letter of advice to the future first woman president and insisting that women will run the world could seem to some like a bold move—but not to me. Because at my core I believed in my own ability and in the ability, strength, and sheer willpower of women in America, and so did millions of other women.
Just look at everything women in America have accomplished in the last two years. We turned out by the millions as part of Women's Marches. In both 2017 and 2018, women ran for elected office in historic numbers, and won by historic numbers, too. Today in America, there are more women starting their own businesses than ever before. Women accounted for 40 percent of business owners in 2018.2 In 2019, America saw not one but six women stand on the national debate stage to compete to become the next president of the United States. And starting in the fall of 2017, women who had been sexually assaulted and harassed by men stood up and demanded that they be held accountable as part of the MeToo movement. It was a watershed moment for efforts to even out the power dynamic between men and women in the workplace.
I see the 2017 Women's March as the turning point. It is when I first saw women break away from the world we had known. The march was held the day after President Trump's inaugural and just a couple of months after we had lost the 2016 presidential election.
My normal reaction to losing a political campaign is to leap up and start fighting again as soon as possible. I thought that this was my duty; that if I did not pick up the fight, no one else would. Like a lot of women, I had spent my career with an outsize sense of what was my responsibility. I thought if I did not dive for every ball, no one else would be there to catch it. And if I let any ball drop, I would not be let back into the game.
But the 2016 defeat took more out of me than the average campaign loss. It made me question a lot of the assumptions I had made about my place in the world, including whether my effort mattered at all. I was not ready to just jump back into the fight, not without being sure there would be a point in doing so. Instead, I decided to watch and see what America would do in that moment.
So I stood on the sidelines for the Women's March and watched as millions and millions of women dove for the ball. As soon as I saw the news reports detailing the numbers of women who'd turned out for the march, I knew that women had turned a corner for good. Women in America had each other's backs in a way I had never experienced before, and it made me grateful beyond measure. It also gave me hope.
Much of what women need to proclaim now was on display in the Women's March—the power of women supporting other women, the resolve of women who know they should be valued as much as men, and the ability of one woman to make a difference. Those are the tenets we need to embrace now.
Suffrage gave women tools to pry open entrance to the man's world. Women finally had political power and could advocate for themselves, and they began to infiltrate the many industries that had been reserved only for men for so long. For many years, it had felt like we were making consistent progress—and then the momentum sputtered out. We plateaued, found ourselves banging up against the same glass ceilings. A 2018 study done by the Center for American Progress presented a compelling portrait of all the ways women's progress has stalled in the workplace.3 The report noted that after decades of women making economic gains, the narrowing of the gender wage gap decelerated in the 1990s and 2000s and the percentage of women in management jobs stalled. Women accounted for only 5 percent of all CEOs in the 2018 Fortune 500. Consider this one telling fact alone: There were more CEOs named James in the Fortune 500 in 2018 than there were women CEOs. More than a hundred years after the first woman was elected to Congress, men still hold nearly 75 percent of the seats in Congress, and only nine out of the fifty governors are women.
I remember seeing a story in the New York Times detailing how there were fewer female CEOs in America in 2018 than there were in 2017.4 I didn't find the downturn in female representation surprising or even demoralizing. It was validating. It was confirmation of what I already knew. Women aren't doing it wrong; there's just nowhere else for us to go in this world that was built for men. It can no longer contain us.
An exciting number of women have already broken out. They are the women who marched, who ran for office, who broke out on their own to start a new business, who refused to be intimidated by men who had abused them. These women are the ones who cannot be defeated, who know they deserve more, who don't listen to the rules in the man's world that say they do not have power, do not have options, cannot succeed, or have to behave according to the old rules for women. They know better. It is time to follow the lead of these women who are well on their way to running the world. It is time to finish the job they started—they and the millions of women who fought for women's equality before us—by declaring our independence from this man's world.
In the two years since I wrote Dear Madam President, I have sought to learn more about the women who fought for suffrage. I am no historian and by no means an expert, but I have immersed myself enough to feel like I know some of these women. They were human, and that means they were flawed. There were different factions within the suffrage movement, and they were often at odds with each other. But these women were also pioneers. They could not look to history to learn from the experiences of others who'd worked to advance women's rights, as we have the benefit of being able to do.
The story of the M'Clintock women happens to resonate with me. There are more such stories I will share in the hope that they will inspire you to learn more about the fight for suffrage and to see your own struggle reflected in these women's stories. We are part of a long line of women who have been pushing for equality, and I hope that knowing their stories will make you feel, as I do, that we owe them our own commitment to the cause.
The Declaration of Sentiments enumerates the many ways women were treated unfairly in nineteenth-century America. Most of their grievances—the inability to vote, or to own property, or to earn wages independent of their husbands—were injustices that had been enshrined in law. The ways women were held back were easy to identify and, even though not all who attended the Seneca Falls Convention supported suffrage, in the end they affirmed the belief that giving women political power through the right to vote was the best solution for addressing women's problems.5 And they were right. However, it took too long to win suffrage and to address all of the inequities laid out in the Declaration of Sentiments, because those efforts took place squarely within the man's world. By declaring our independence from that world, we are free to effect the changes we seek immediately, in real time.
The obstacles that are holding women back now are less easy to identify, as are the best ways to tackle them. Without question, America should ratify the Equal Rights Amendment; having women's rights enshrined in the Constitution is long overdue and would provide women with important protections. But the truth is that there's no silver bullet law that would change the anti-equality biases that continue to exist in the minds of both men and women.
Which is why I have written this book: so we can explore the beliefs, biases, and behaviors that exist in the world—and in our own heads—that hold women back, and then declare our independence from them. We will take new stock of the knowledge, skills, and strength that we have developed during our time in the man's world that make us better prepared to succeed now. Declaring our independence from the man's world means we are going to stop being dependent on it for our success, and stop expecting it to work out for us the way it has for men. Instead we will proclaim the undeniable power that has been in women all along, pushing us to this point. We will harness the power we have to change the world.
Just as the women in Seneca Falls had to make the declaration that it was self-evident that men and women were created equal, we must proclaim our own freedom and our worth. Let the world know that women will no longer be dependent on broken models not built for us. And so, like the M'Clintock women, I sit at a kitchen table to write a new declaration—this one written at a home in Missoula, Montana, the birthplace of the first woman ever elected to the US Congress, Jeannette Rankin. She was elected in 1918, two years before the suffrage amendment was ratified, and has the distinction of being the only woman to have voted in Congress to give women the right to vote. She could have been born anywhere, but she was born in Missoula. I write here drawing inspiration from her spirit and all the good ghosts of the women who came before us who saw how their world needed to change and believed in their own power to bring it about.
Man's World, I'm Just Not That into You
Whereas, the long trail of obstacles women have faced in a man's world has evinced its design as one created by men, for men;
We proclaim that it is our right, it is our duty, to throw off the fetters that have hindered our progress and to provide new guards for our future security and fulfillment.
If you are a woman in the workplace today, you have been trying to succeed in a world that was designed for someone else. The foundations of the power systems under which business and government operate today were established hundreds of years ago by men, and they were specifically designed to accommodate men. I was going to say they were designed to exclude women, but I doubt those men believed women would ever be capable of rising up far enough to bother excluding them. Women were simply ignored in their plans, and that deeply embedded thinking continues to exist today. I do not say this to suggest we are defeated or to make us victims, but to acknowledge this history, to accept that the man's world can never be our final destination, and to proclaim that we are throwing off the constraints that have held us back and moving on to someplace better. Considering all the obstacles women have been pushing up against for all of human history, it is amazing what we have been able to do here.
Women are told to fight the imposter syndrome—that pesky feeling that we don't really belong in the positions we hold. But there's a kernel of truth behind the imposter syndrome: We are attempting to succeed in a workplace that was built by men, for men. Of course it doesn't feel natural to us, and of course men fit into it better. It was designed for them. We need to reorient our thinking and behavior accordingly, and toward that end let us imagine what it would be like for men if women had been in charge from the start.
Praise for She Proclaims:
"She Proclaims reminds us that we, the people, are powerful. And while we stand on the shoulders of those who have come before, as an intersectional ceiling shattering movement we're just getting started."
—Congressional Representative Ayanna Pressley
- "She Proclaims skillfully and movingly uses the stories of women who fought for our right to vote more than a hundred years ago to inspire women in America today to believe in the righteousness of our cause, break from the constraints that have traditionally held women back, and make our own path that improves the world."—Valerie Jarrett, former senior advisor to President Barack Obama and New York Times bestselling author of Finding My Voice
- "Jennifer knows the fundamental truth: ambition is not a dirty word. Women must embrace their own ambition and dare to dream big. Women will do things differently, and that's a good thing. Together, we will break down the barriers standing in our way."—Senator Kirsten Gillibrand
- "She Proclaims delivers a rousing 21st century prescription for a path forward that refutes the notion of gender equality as a zero sum game. This is an essential crie de cour not only for all women who want to reach their full potential but for men who understand that systems of oppression ultimately defeat us all."—Tony Goldwyn, actor
- "She Proclaims is centered around the simple but profound recognition that the world as it is was never built for women. As women everywhere are realizing, the time for trying to retrofit ourselves to systems built by men and for men is over. As Jennifer writes, women have nothing left to prove; we are ready to build something better."—Cecile Richards, former president of Planned Parenthood and New York Times bestselling author of Make Trouble
"Jennifer Palmieri guides us - women and men alike - into a deeper understanding of what true gender equality looks like. An empowering manifesto written with a generous spirit, She Proclaims provides us with new insight on women's past efforts, tools for the future, and inspiration for all of us to strive for the mutual empowerment that will benefit everyone."
—Connie Britton, actress
- "Inspiring and invigorating, this brief, sharp call to action cries out for continued feminist action in order to create an American society based on 'equality for all.' A provocatively progressive declaration."—Kirkus Reviews
- "A spirited and accessible manifesto for women seeking to combat the patriarchy through both personal and collective action."—Publishers Weekly
- "In Dear Madam President, Palmieri addressed the hypothetical first female president of the U.S., guided by her experience as former White House communications director for President Obama and director of communications for Hillary Clinton's 2016 presidential campaign. Now she expands her audience, encouraging every woman to realize her power...It will especially appeal to readers who responded to Sheryl Sandberg's Lean In."—Booklist
- On Sale
- Mar 22, 2022
- Page Count
- 208 pages
- Grand Central Publishing