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Jo Ann Jenkins, CEO, AARP and Kathy Lette at The 2017 Women In The World Summit in New York City.

Smashing stereotypes

Women who just don’t give a damn about following the rules …

April 7, 2017

Donald Trump didn’t invent the patriarchy. Women in positions of power have long had to push back against gender stereotypes and social mores to attain their success. It stands to reason then that female titans of industry — from tech moguls to Hollywood stars — are now at the forefront of the resistance.

“I’ve been disrupting for a long time,” said iconic designer Diane von Furstenberg at the Women in the World Summit. “I became who I wanted to be and I want to help women do that.”

Furstenberg sat on a panel with Teen Vogue Editor Elaine Welteroth, AARP CEO Jo Ann Jenkins, entrepreneur Jeannine Sargent, and Tracee Ellis Ross, an award Golden Globe Award-winning actress and activist. Overseeing the conversation was Australian author Kathy Lette who lauded these “bad-ass women” as “outliers, pioneers, innovators, or women who just don’t give a damn about following the rules.” The group had a wide-ranging discussion about how to undermine gender stereotypes and disrupt the patriarchy.

Be Nasty

The first step to disrupting? Speak up, said the panel. It’s about “owning who I am and supporting other women in that,” said Ross. “Pushing up against the status quo.” Sargent agrees. “For me, it’s about equalizing the field and changing the game.”

Age Ain’t Nothing

Ageism is a huge barrier to female empowerment — “like kryptonite to Superman,” noted Lette — but panelists argued that it doesn’t have to be. “I don’t understand this thing about age; maybe it’s because I’m European,” said Furstenberg. “At what age do you stop being proud of getting older?”

“I think the biggest opportunity is for age not to define who we are,” added Jenkins, the AARP boss. “Sixty is not the new 40, 30 is not the new 20. 50 is 50 and it looks good.”

Next Gen

Ageism isn’t only the bane of older women, as Welteroth, the youngest editor at a Conde Nast title, knows all too well. “I’ve waited in conference rooms with people waiting for the editor-in-chief to turn up,” Welteroth says.

Under her leadership, however, the magazine has been wildly successful. Teen Vogue made waves during the election cycle with its savvy political content. While the publication, Welteroth noted, has been “belittled by ‘mansplainers’ because [we] talk about politics,” the young editor isn’t changing tack. “I’m as proud of our fashion and beauty coverage as I am of our political coverage,” she said. And she certainly isn’t apologizing for her age: “The world is waking up to the power of young women and the necessity of young voices.”

Confront Insecurity

Society, the panel noted, undermines female confidence. “There are a lot of reason that we’re insecure and a lot of them are coming from external forces,” said Ross. “There is systemic, cultural, institutional, there are things that support this patriarchal idea that women are simply an object that are used to swipe wallpaper or whatever that may be.”

Furstenberg warned about giving in to these forces, though. “Women are strong, powerful. Why the f**k are you insecure?”

Own it

In a parting gesture, the panelists offered the one piece of advice that would advance them to leadership in their profession.

“In the words of Solange, own your seat at the table,” says Elaine Weltereth.

“Get engaged, be active, participate” adds Jo Ann Jenkins.

For Tracee Ellis Ross, the question is not about having it all. “Turn it back on you, what do you want? Stay curious, use your voice, because once you do that, there will be a backlash, so make sure you have a support network.”

“Be smart smart and connected,” says Jeanine Sargant. “Change the way you’re getting information. Change the way we think our lives.”

“If you doubt your power, you give power to your doubts,” said Diane von Furstenberg. “Drop the mic,” said Ellis Ross approvingly.

Additional reporting by Laura Macomber.


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