On Friday, Variety (in partnership with Lifetime Television) held its 10th annual Power of Women: Los Angeles luncheon. The event honors women (primarily in entertainment) who make outstanding contributions to charities, activism, or other philanthropic causes — and don’t worry, they also host one in the spring in New York with a different set of honorees. The LA luncheon celebrated an outstanding group of women: gun reform advocate Emma Gonzalez (March for Our Lives), Emmy Award winner Tiffany Haddish (The Unusual Suspects Theatre Company), Emmy Award winning actress Regina King (I Have A Dream Foundation), Emmy Award winning writer-producer-actress Lena Waithe (The Trevor Project), and Oscar-winning actress Natalie Portman (Time’s Up).
Now that’s a helluva spread of talented, influential people — but honestly, sometimes these sorts of events seem like a toothless vanity parade. A way for the honorees to get some accolades while the organizer gets some star power. So I was sort of ignoring all of it, until I heard about Portman’s speech. This? This is NOT toothless.
Portman starts with her natural gee-shucks charm, then dives right into a pointed discussion of Harvey Weinstein — that the story isn’t just about his vast history of sexual assault but the way he retaliated against women to strip them of their professional power (and thus their ability to speak out against him), and that our legal system is so flawed a man “whose name has become synonymous with ‘serial rapist’” might never suffer any legal consequences. But from there she expands the topic, blowing open the boundaries of systemic sexism to talk about gender parity in the workforce, dispelling the easy explanations for why there aren’t more women in positions of power that she admits even she bought for a long time.
“The reason women in nearly every industry are not represented in powerful positions is because women are being discriminated against or retaliated against for hiring and for promotion,” she said — and then she proceeds break down just what women face, from unsafe work environments to unequal pay, and the problems with reporting any issues. But it’s not all doom and gloom. She also offers some hope, in the form of some handy guidelines for what those at the luncheon (and all of us) can do to help the cause:
- MONEY: donate to the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund, to help women fight back.
- GATHER: meet with women and proceed together toward change.
- LISTEN: “If any group you are in has people who only look like you, change that group.” There are lots of ways to be marginalized, so open yourself to the experiences of others.
- DEMAND: Women in power can negotiate or advocate for equal pay. They can pay attention if they are surrounded only by people who look like them on the job. If you have power, pay attention and use it.
- GOSSIP WELL: “Stop the rhetoric that a woman is crazy or difficult. If a man says to you that a woman is crazy or difficult, ask him, ‘What bad thing did you do to her?’ That’s a code word. He is trying to discredit her reputation.”
- DON’T BE SHY: Don’t shy away from consequences, because as she notes, “Those who abuse power aren’t going to have a change of behavior out of the goodness of their hearts — They are motivated by self-interest, and they will only change their behavior if they have to worry they will lose what they care about.”
And her last ask, to a roomful of Hollywood movers and shakers?
- TELL A NEW STORY: What if everyone just… took a year off from producing entertainment that depicts rape, murder, or violence against women? What would that look like?
And then she ties it all up with “the message of the mammaries”: giving women equal power doesn’t strip any influence from men, because “the more milk you give, the more milk you make.”
So if you wanna take 15 minutes out of your day and watch something that’ll fire you up — let Natalie Portman light that fire. Or milk it. I dunno, she ends with boobs and fire and I just really needed that combination of images today.
Header Image Source: Getty Images