Thank You to the Women of 2017

December 22, 2017 Elizabeth Johnsen

Insights from The Opportunity Agenda

This year has been a hard one for reasons political, societal, and personal. Yet one of the many things that has gotten me through 2017 is seeing the Statue of Liberty every morning on my commute to work.

Each weekday morning, I’ve had the fortune of seeing America’s preeminent symbol as I shuttle into Manhattan on the D train. Years after moving to New York from a small suburban town, I still feel a sense of excitement and awe upon seeing the Statue of Liberty out there in the harbor – the same stunning sight that my father, aunt, and grandparents all saw when immigrating to this country as refugees more than 60 years ago.

A photo of the Statue of Liberty

Lately, I’ve been thinking about the powerful message of feminism that the Statue of Liberty represents: Persisting with her beacon of light, her jaw firm and brows steadfast, her foot ever so slightly moving forward, never stepping back. In her unyielding silhouette, I am reminded of all the women in our past and present who have brought, and continue to bring these qualities to life every day.

I am reminded of my grandmother, who after fleeing war and raising two children in a Displaced Persons Camp – a camp that my father called home for more than five years – had the courage to once again travel into the face of the unknown on a ship to America, reassured only by “Lady Liberty” (as she would say) when first setting eyes on the horizon of her future.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about the powerful message of feminism that the Statue of Liberty represents: Persisting with her beacon of light, her jaw firm and brows steadfast, her foot ever so slightly moving forward, never stepping back.

I think about the thousands of women facing the unknown today – whether applying for asylum, crossing a border in Mexico, or immigrating to more freely embody the gender of their identity – and the devastating obstacles they continue to encounter. Obstacles that we can change.

I think of Cristina Jiménez, a 2017 MacArthur Fellow and Opportunity Agenda Creative Change Awardee who is playing a vital role in changing perceptions of immigrant youth. As Executive Director of United We Dream, Cristina has boldly led a national movement in which undocumented youth – including herself – share their personal stories and struggles, shifting the narrative on immigration in unprecedented ways.

When I see the Statue of Liberty, looking into the face of America from her personal stage, I am reminded of Zahra Noorbakhsh, a brilliant comedian and Creative Change alumna who spoke candidly about using her identity as a Muslim woman not only as material, but to expose tensions and point out “the absurd” in politics and society – a superpower unique to comedy that could not be more important today.

And I think about the women on the cover of Time – Adama Iwu, Susan Fowler, Taylor Swift, Ashley Judd, Isabel Pascual – and their allies on the inside pages. The “silence breakers” who spoke out against inflated egos of fame and tyranny to prevent others from personal and professional harm, injustice, and suffering. They have done far more than that. These women have started a cultural revolution. They are shifting the scale toward gender equality in real time.

The Statue of Liberty embodies all of these women, and to move forward in this country we must recognize that. In her lofty bronze stature, she gives an unmistakable message to America and the world: Women will continue to lean in, step forward, and speak out for equality. This year has seen that in spades, and 2018 will undoubtedly see more.