Greetings from the 2018 Women in the World Summit! If we may say so ourselves, it’s been a wonderful three days of rousing performances, inspiring speakers, and informative panels. If you weren’t able to make it to the event, don’t worry — we got you. Let’s take a look back at some of the Summit highlights, or as Tina Brown put it in a post-Summit speech to WITW staff: “Theater ripped from the headlines.”
#MeToo, the watershed anti-sexual assault movement that has spread across the world, was at the heart of several panel discussions. Model Ambra Battilana Gutierrez and actress Asia Argento spoke to Ronan Farrow about the backlash they faced in their native Italy as a result of going public as alleged victims of Harvey Weinstein. After speaking out against the disgraced Hollywood mogul, both women endured harassment and trolling. Argento revealed that she was called a prostitute by the Italian media, but said this only strengthened her: “It was fuel that they threw into my fire because of my truth.” Joanna Coles, the chief content officer of Hearst Magazines and author of Love Rules, later joined actor and former NFL player Terry Crews to discuss how #MeToo has forced men and women to rethink their perceptions of sex, dating, and masculinity. “People have to understand that masculinity can be a cult,” said Crews. “A guy is not looking at you as even all the way human. And this is what you have to understand: There is a humanity issue here.”
Throughout the Summit, fearless activists took to the stage, among them Nobel Peace Prize winner Leymah Gbowee. In the early 2000s, Gbowee mobilized a force of Muslim and Christian women who brought an end to Liberia’s civil war through non-violent protests — including a sex strike. At Women in the World, Gbowee shared her thoughts on bringing about social change — and said that today’s activists should take inspiration from the students who are protesting gun violence in the wake of the Stoneman Douglas school shooting. “What those young people have done is show the adults of this country that we can no longer afford to be polite,” she said. The Summit audience also heard from Australian Madeleine Habib, who captains her own cargo ship and rescues refugees in the Mediterranean Sea. “You don’t leave home because you want a wide screen TV in Europe,” Habib said. “You leave home because it’s not a safe place to be anymore.”
The world of American politics is, erm, an interesting place right now — just ask former Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates. She spoke to Tina Brown about standing up to President Donald Trump — and getting fired by him, after she refused to defend his so-called “Muslim ban.” She also touched on a number of other hot topics in the headlines including the Mueller investigation, former FBI Director James Comey and addressed the possibility of running for elected office. Hailing from a less chaotic political realm, Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, gender equality advocate and spouse of Canadian Prime Minister/sock enthusiast Justin Trudeau, discussed the importance of engaging men and boys in discussions about equality and feminism. “They deserve better than to grow up in a society that teaches them to be only strong, only courageous, dominant and ego-centered,” she said. “Let’s not underestimate their potential.”
And while we’re on the subject of powerhouse Canadian women … The Handmaid’s Tale author Margaret Atwood spoke about how her celebrated dystopian novel, which is set in a world where women are treated as uteri-for-hire, is not seeming all that fictional these days. “I think The Handmaid’s Tale has escaped from its book and is being reinterpreted,” she said. “This movement of dressing as handmaids and sitting meekly in legislatures or standing outside is quite brilliant.”
We had money on our minds, thanks to BBC journalist Carrie Grace, president and co-founder of ROC United Saru Jayaraman, and First Lady of New York City Chirlane McCray, who opened up about their efforts to demand fair wages for women. Wealth manager Paula Polito, high-powered family attorney Laura Wasser, and economist Carmen Rita Wong emphasized the importance of women taking control of their money and not buying into the “prince-charming myth.” Even today, many women leave financial matters to the men in their lives.
The Summit got a sprinkling of star power from our queen Viola Davis, who opened up about her urge to tell human stories — not just ones with a social message. Davis pushed back against the assumption that every role she takes as an African-American actress should make some kind of a weighty statement. “Sometimes we just want to tell a story,” she said. “We just want to be. We don’t always want to go up against the KKK.”
Intrepid journalists held us spellbound with their tales of reporting on the year’s biggest news stories. Patricia Evangelista, a Manila-based journalist, exposed the brutal realities of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s so-called “war on drugs.” “Manila is where murder has become a meme,” she said. New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof spoke about his experience reporting in the Rohingya villages of Myanmar. Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton led a keynote discussion with four journalists — Yevgenia Albats, Tamara Chergoleishvili, Carrie Gracie and Ece Temelkuran — who are doing incredibly brave reporting on the regimes of totalitarian leaders like Vladimir Putin, Xi Jinping and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
“I was thinking how rare it is to actually allow brilliant women to have a conversation, develop ideas — in fact, to finish a sentence, Tina Brown said at the conclusion of the powerhouse intellectual roundtable. “I was thinking, this is bliss. This is brain sex!” The remark drew an eruption of laughter from the crowd and Clinton. Brown then turned to the former secretary of state and said, “This is your new TV show: Brain Sex with Hillary Clinton,” sending her into a fit of laughter.
And while this year’s finale did not feature “celebrities” per se, it boasted some real star power: Eva Maria Lewis, Delaney Tarr and Naomi Wadler, three activists who have just recently emerged on the national stage as exemplary young leaders of the #BlackLivesMatter and #MarchForOurLives movements — and who wrapped up the event with a remarkable level of poise and sophistication on par with any luminary who had closed before. They were followed by five young activists in a powerful Call to Action that made our hearts burst.
That’s all for now, friends! We’ll see you next year — at the 10th anniversary summit!
More from the 2018 Summit