Women's Leadership:

Courage in the face of chaos

Samantha Karlin

For the first time in history, The President of the United States has been impeached twice by the House of Representatives. Though I was encouraged to see 10 Republicans stand up for democracy, it feels bittersweet.

In the last week, my thoughts and emotions have been jumbled, like many of those reading this. I soared from a high-high with the wins in the Georgia Senate race to a low-low watching armed men wearing shirts bearing horrific phrases like “Camp Auschwitz” literally spread human feces on the floor of one of our most sacred institutions, not more than 1 mile from my house.

In Empower Global’s women’s leadership course, I always hold open conversation at the beginning of each class.

This open time was initially meant to be a space to workshop leadership challenges, to help women – who have borne the brunt of COVID 19 responsibilities- to find comfort, solidarity, and support from other women. There are women leaders from across industries, sectors, and geographies, of all races and religions. It’s a space to come together across differences and unite in our womanhood.

In both classes this week, the entire open discussion was dominated by the events of last week in the United States. The conversation was started by an empathetic Swiss woman, who merely said, is everyone ok over there in the US? We are thinking of you in Europe.

And the conversation commenced: every woman, no matter whether she was American or foreign, black or white, Catholic or Muslim, expressed hurt, disgust, shock, and FEAR in speaking about the insurrection against the United States capitol on January 6. There was disbelief that the president did not ensure the security of the Capitol or of Congress, and furthermore that he incited and endorsed the violence that occurred. One of our participants in a staff member for a Democratic member of Congress - her voice shook as she explained how terrified she was of Inauguration. My heart went out to her - I had interviewed her colleague on my show, Samanthropolitics, the week prior, and it was clear how traumatizing the whole event had been for him as he sat locked in the office with the Congresswoman, making plans to barricade the door and wondering how he would protect her if someone started to shoot (You can watch the episode here.)

In the past four years, as rights have been rolled back for many marginalized groups + African Americans, Jews, Muslims, and Latinos have been attacked, it has become impossible to just separate oneself from politics. You cannot exist within a bubble when nowhere is safe, when government decisions affect you, your peers, your colleagues, your children, your people on a personal level.

Just yesterday, a quiet ruling by the Supreme Court made my heart stop for a second – women must go to a hospital or medical center to not only pick up their medicine - but to stand there in front of someone and swallow it- to stop an unwanted pregnancy rather than obtain it at a pharmacy or have it delivered to them, like other medicines. In the middle of a global pandemic that is curling its spiny fingers out to millions of Americans, sucking them into its potentially fatal grasp, this ruling exacerbates the chance that women will contract COVID traveling to and from health centers, which are a hotbed of COVID infections, for no good reason. It’s not just the ruling itself that is scary – it is the worry that this is only the beginning of rulings attacking reproductive rights that the new conservative Supreme Court will make.

One aspect of feminist thinking that has rung true to me in these past four years, more than ever, is this concept: the political is personal, and the personal is political. For a long time the private sector and private citizens thought that they could stay out of politics, they could watch the game without kicking the ball. But as our democracy has slipped and slid further down than we ever thought it could, aided and abetted largely by tech and media companies, finally the private sector - and those who work for private sector companies, are saying, no more. This is not about politics - this is personal.

Abigail Esman knows more than anyone the links between our personal lives and the political sphere, as she weaves together the links between intimate partner violence, sexual assault, and terrorism in her groundbreaking new book- Rage: Narcissism, Patriarchy, and the Culture of Terrorism. I'll be interviewing her on my show this Friday, January 15.

You can watch and participate live here: Samanthropolitics on Youtube

Abigail's book shows how pathological narcissism leads to violence, and how domestic abusers often have the same psychologies and paths as terrorists.

There is so much to deal with right now. There are so many levels of anxiety.

In the literature on women's leadership, Johanna Barsh of McKinsey recognizes that all of the exceptional women leaders she interviewed had one trait in common: Optimism.

I realized while studying her work that the other trait shared by all of the women trailblazers I have met, read about, worked with and interviewed is courage. But optimism is the necessary precondition for courage. Courage requires optimism and hope – the belief that the practice of courage will lead to change. That can be really hard in the face of global pandemics and armed mobs. But that's also how we win.

That’s how we won the Georgia senate races, despite numerous attempts to hamper the vote. That’s how we won the 2020 race for the White House.

Just today, I was speaking to the Chief of Staff for one of the members of the House, offering my support and condolences. What he said struck me.

“Wednesday was a very sad day for our country, but it did ultimately prove the resiliency of our democracy and our institutions. If I wasn’t an optimist, I wouldn’t have spent the last 20+ years doing what I do. I firmly believe that brighter days are ahead. There may be additional bumps along the way, and this country is being tested more so than it has at any time since the civil war, but we will get through it. It’s the American way.” - Fred Turner

We will get through it. Hold onto optimism and hope, and courage will come.

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